Week of 8/14/2005

Dear EarthTalk: I’ve heard that, despite U.S. refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol climate agreement, a number of global warming reduction efforts are underway nonetheless. What are some of them?

—Michaele Goodman, Port Chester, NY

Indeed, the Kyoto Protocol—an international accord signed by 141 countries agreeing to scale back carbon dioxide (CO2) and other "greenhouse" gas emissions—has gone into effect now despite non-involvement by the U.S., the world"s largest polluter. But despite lack of official participation, many carbon-saving programs are being launched around the U.S., achieving real emission reductions while saving money.

The state of Wisconsin has undertaken numerous upgrades and retrofits to water heaters, air conditioning, cleaning systems and lighting in government buildings throughout the state. It retrofitted lighting in 53 million square feet of office space and realized annual savings of more than 15.6 million kilowatt hours (kWh), which translates to 33,900 tons of CO2 emissions and $7.5 million saved. The other building upgrades saved Wisconsin 108 million kWh and more than 42,000 tons of CO2 and $11 million per year.

In Iowa, a program that helps schools, hospitals and local governments install energy improvements has saved more than $23 million yearly on energy bills, and avoids the emission of 796,000 tons of carbon and 360 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx) per year. In Missouri, the Gas Recovery Project created a system enabling Pattonville High School in Maryland Heights to burn methane from a landfill to fuel its boilers. The project saves the school $40,000 per year, and each year prevents the emission of 2,000 tons of CO2.

Seattle is developing a public transportation network that includes free downtown buses, a monorail, waterfront trolleys and the West Seattle Water Taxi. The monorail system, known as the Green! Line, is expected to offer, by 2020, a car-free transportation choice to 20 million riders per year. And San Francisco counts many climate-friendly initiatives including light rail, ferries, buses and cable cars, widespread use of solar arrays (the city recently put 60,000 feet of solar panels on Moscone Convention Center), and agreements by 273 regional employers to reduce pollution and increase energy efficiency.

Portland, Oregon began plying its CO2 reduction strategy a decade ago, and now has one of the nation"s best public transit systems. The city also requires companies that offer employee parking to also subsidize bus riders. Some other initiatives include: purchase of renewable energy for over 10 percent of municipal electricity use; the planting of 750,000 trees and shrubs to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere; and the weatherization of nearly 11,000 single- and multi-family homes. The city has also replaced all of its traditional traffic lights with energy-efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs), at a $500,000 annual savings.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof calls Portland a model city for climate change reduction, rebutting claims that the Kyoto accords would "wreck" the economy. "Portland, America"s environmental laboratory, has achieved stunning reductions in carbon emissions," he wrote. "It has reduced emissions below the level of 1990, the benchmark for the Kyoto accord, while booming economically."

CONTACTS: Kyoto Protocol http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/kpeng.html; Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/aw/air/ED/fallwin982.htm; Portland Office of Sustainable Development, www.sustainableportland.org/.lineine

Dear EarthTalk: I"ve heard that a number of fish commonly available in seafood restaurants are now threatened with extinction. Is this true?

—Glenn Hammond, San Francisco, CA

No doubt the age of commercial/industrial fishing, which dawned in the 1950s when large offshore trawlers and at-sea processing facilities first plied the open ocean, has taken its toll on a number of fish species. Atlantic Cod, for example, once teemed off the coast of New England and sustained millions of settlers and then immigrants. But populations have been reduced by more than 90 percent in the last half century, and diners would be hard-pressed to find any for sale at restaurants or fish markets these days.

Ocean activists have been working hard to prevent another tragedy on the scale of the Atlantic Cod, though several other endangered fish species are still widely available throughout the U.S. and elsewhere. Examples include shark, red snapper, bluefin tuna, wild shrimp, wild caviar and orange roughy. Over-fishing, the illegal trade, habitat loss and pollution have put these and many other marine species at risk.

On the bright side, some threatened populations are now on the reboun! d, thanks to efforts to reduce consumption. Chilean Sea Bass, for example, was all the rage at gourmet eateries in the 1990s. But in just two decades, the average size of individual fish caught dropped by more than 60 percent, meaning that fishermen were taking all the adults, thus decimating their reproductive capacity. By getting hundreds of restaurants to stop serving the trendy fish, a coalition called the Seafood Choices Alliance (SCA) was able to significantly reduce the strain on the species. Similar campaigns are underway now to try to bring the Atlantic swordfish, shark and bluefin tuna back from the brink.

SCA also works to educate seafood wholesalers, chefs and consumers about which types of fish consumers can indulge in guilt-free. SCA lists 19 species on its SeaSense Safe List for 2005, including abalone, Dungeness crab, northern pink shrimp, oysters and sablefish. The organization also produces the "Sourcing Seafood" handbook to help seafood buyers navigate the murky waters of purchasing sustainably harvested seafood.

Meanwhile, the Monterey Bay Aquarium"s website features Seafood Watch, a free series of guides to help consumers figure out which types of fish are OK to eat. And the company EcoFish sells a wide range of sustainably harvested seafood products to more than 1,000 grocery and natural food stores and to over 150 restaurants nationwide. Consumers can buy EcoFish products directly via the company"s website.

But eater beware: Even if the fish on your plate is not threatened with extinction, it might contain traces of mercury, the heavy metal which is emitted from coal-burning power plants and has been found to cause a wide variety of human health problems. As a result of the threat, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while acknowledging that fish provide one of the healthiest sources of protein in our diets, recommends that pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children limit their intake to two meals pe! r week of seafood such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish.

CONTACTS: Seafood Choices Alliance, “www.seafoodchoices.org; Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, www.montereybayaquarium.com/cr/seafoodwatch.asp, EcoFi

sh, www.ecofish.com, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), www.epa.gov