Week of 01/10/2010

Dear EarthTalk: Are there any conservation efforts focused on animal species endemic to islands likely to be submerged by rising sea levels?

—H. Wyeth, Anahola, HI

Islands are indeed likely to be the areas hardest hit by our warming climate. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of leading climate scientists from around the world convened by the United Nations to assess the ongoing risk of global warming, predicts a global average sea level rise of between 3.5 and 34.6 inches over the next century. And the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a coalition of 42 small island and low-lying coastal countries that have banded together to lobby United Nations policymakers, reports that warming-induced sea level rises could threaten the very existence of some island nations including the Maldives, Kiribati and parts of the Bahamas.

Those low-lying nations that do manage to hang onto some land will contend with not only continuously rising seas and stronger more frequent storms, but also declines in the productivity of their agriculture and fisheries. Salt water intrusion will limit the amount of freshwater available for crops and in some cases undermine the integrity of the soil itself. And as coral reefs die off, the abundant marine life that once congregated around them will disappear.

Thanks to rising sea levels, land forms that sustain wildlife may no longer be above water or otherwise suitable for some species who may be hard pressed to find places to go. Pictured: a Galapagos penguin, one of thousands of endemic island species facing likely extinction unless we can get a handle on greenhouse gas emissions in short order.© Wikipedia

As for wildlife, it’s unclear just how much certain endemic species will be affected by rising sea levels and other environmental hazards exacerbated by global warming. Clearly the biggest threat is habitat loss: Land forms that once sustained certain animals may no longer be above water or otherwise suitable for some species. Those fortunate enough to be on big continents may be able to move away from shore to neighboring areas that can provide the resources needed for survival. But animals on islands may be hard pressed to find places better to go to where they can keep on keeping on.

The IPCC lists a few examples among thousands of endemic island dwellers facing likely extinction unless we can get a handle on greenhouse gas emissions in short order: the Tuamotu sandpiper of Tuamotu Island, the Bristle-thighed Curlew of French Polynesia, the Manus fantail of Papua New Guinea, the lorikeet and rail of New Caledonia, the moorhen and Savai"i of Samoa, the Santo Mountain starling on Espiritu Santo, penguins in the Galapagos, petrels in Bermuda and seabird colonies from the Kerguelen, Crozet and outer Hawaiian islands, among others. The IPCC adds that endemic flora may fare even worse, which will in turn drive more animal extinctions.

What can be done to stem this rising tide of endemic species loss? According to the IPCC, the establishment of terrestrial, marine or coastal reserves has been found to be a "useful management option." Results from existing model reserves on islands across the Caribbean (including Dominica, Bonaire, the Grenadines and St. Lucia) have shown promise. Groups including Conservation International, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Nature Conservancy and others, are working to create more such reserves in other biodiversity hotspots, including many non-threatened islands around the globe.

CONTACTS: IPCC; AOSIS; Conservation International; Wildlife Conservation Society; Nature Conservancy.

Dear EarthTalk: I recently got my car detailed at a local place and then gasped at the chemical fumes when I got inside. Are there green detailers out there, or products that I could use myself to keep my vehicle clean and my family out of harm’s way?

—David Berkowitz, Newton, MA

Traditionally, auto detailing has employed a range of not-so-green-friendly products such as ammonia, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nonphenolethoxolates (NPEs), abrasive detergents, and chemical-based leather, vinyl, fabric and carpet treatments. Inside the car, they can off-gas harsh airborne pollutants; when washed down storm drains they can wreak havoc on public water supplies.

Traditional auto detailing employs a range of not-so-eco-friendly products. But the industry is starting to examine its environmental footprint and some shops have a decidedly green bent. There are also now many do-it-yourself green detailing products and kits out there, easily found through an Internet search.© Getty Images

Unfortunately, while environmental awareness is beginning to crop up among auto detailing services (online discussion boards are full of posts from professional detailers sharing their tips for greener, more effective products and formulations), finding a green detailing service isn’t very easy just yet, so doing it yourself might be the only way to ensure that the environment and your health are spared chemical insult. There are green detailing products and kits out there, easily found through an Internet search.

Two leading suppliers are Laura Klein’s Green Cleaning, and Mean Green. These companies, among others, specialize in degreasers, dashboard dressings, tire cleaners, spot removers and other products made with natural, biodegradable water- and plant-based substances (including coconut, palm, citrus, corn and soy), combined and concentrated to be as effective as or better than their chemical-laden counterparts.

Another way to be green and clean at the same time is to choose wash and wax products that don’t contain harsh chemical surfactants—and as such don’t require water-wasting, polluting rinses. No-Wet Waterless Concepts and Optimum Polymer Technologies are two leading manufacturers for such goods.

Do-it-yourselfers should be careful not to dump wastewater into nearby storm drains not intended to carry toxic run-off. Most reputable car wash businesses go to great lengths to make sure the water, soaps, oils and other dirt from your car doesn’t end up polluting groundwater, rivers and streams, and so should you. If you clean your car in your own driveway or garage, try to collect any run-off and dispose of it into a drain or toilet that will send it through the sewage treatment system, not into the curbside storm run-off drain that may well lead directly to a local water body or shoreline.

While finding a green detailer may not be easy, you can start by asking those operators in your region if they currently use environmentally-friendly products and/or processes. If not, ask them if they would be amenable to greening up their operations for the sake of attracting customers like you.

Some detailers that have already taken the green plunge include: Ecodetail Services of Sacramento, CA; Car Wash Concepts of Aliso Viejo, CA; Gia’s Detailing of Long Island, NY; Scott’s Mobile Auto Detailing of Tarrant County, TX; and Elite Detailing Service Inc. of Plainfield, IL. These providers share an interest in environmental protection, use minimal amounts of water and other resources, and dispose of run-off according to the stringent standards set forth under the federal Clean Water and Clean Air acts.

CONTACTS: Laura Klein"s; Mean Green; No-Wet Waterless; Optimum Polymer Technologies.

EarthTalk is now a book! Details and order information at: emagazine.com/earthtalkbook.