Australia's track and field athletes won't be marching in the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics due to fears that prolonged exposure to Beijing's smog could negatively affect their performance. Instead, the athletes will fly up from their training camp in Hong Kong a few days before their events are scheduled. Beijing has vowed to bring down pollution levels before the games begin, but the performance manager of Athletics Australia believes the smog poses a serious health risk for Australian athletes:
We have had athletes come back from a recent test event and one athlete has got 10 days off training because of a respiratory problem," he told ABC radio. "We don't want our athletes to be undertaking that sort of risk."
If skipping the ceremonies is perceived as giving the Australians even the slightest competitive advantage, it's hard to imagine that other countries won't follow suit.
This week's Tuesday Map comes compliments of a new atlas, released today by the United Nations Environment Program. "Africa: Atlas of our Changing Environment," paints a grim picture of the African landscape, as climate change, deforestation, urban pollution, and refugee flows are all taking their toll.
Vegetation and forests in the Jebel Marra foothills in Western Sudan (below) have declined significantly from 1972 (left) to 2006 (right). The authors of the study attribute this change in part to an "influx of refugees from drought and conflict in Northern Darfur." Reuters reports that deforestation is occurring in Africa at twice the world rate.
While many people are familiar with the snows of Kilimanjaro, or lack thereof, climate change appears to be having an impact on smaller peaks as well. The second map illustrates a noticeable shrinking of the Rwenzori Glaciers, which border Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, over just an 18-year period.
Explore more climate change maps -- both in Africa and worldwide -- at UNEP's Web site.
I can't imagine how La Scala intends to stage An Inconvenient Truth:
La Scala officials say the Italian composer Giorgio Battistelli has been commissioned to produce an opera on the international multiformat hit for the 2011 season at the Milan opera house. The composer is currently artistic director of the Arena in Verona.
After all, the movie was basically an extended PowerPoint presentation. Are they going to put Al Gore's slides up where the libretto usually goes? And what's the plot?
The biggest winner from the Kyoto protocol, the 1997 treaty that requiries participating countries to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions?
That would be China, Fiona Harvey reports for the Financial Times:
China has been by far the biggest winner from the Kyoto protocol, receiving tens of billions of dollars in investment to finance low-carbon technology. Last year, 73 per cent of carbon credit projects certified by the United Nations under the protocol were based in China.
The next-biggest shares of the carbon pie went to Brazil and India, with 6 percent each, while the entire continent of Africa captured just 5 percent of U.N.-certified carbon credit projects.
What's going on? Under Kyoto, developed countries can meet their carbon targets partly by investing in emissions-reduction projects in the developing world. And China, as Harvey explains, produces a great deal of hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs, greenhouse gases produced as a byproduct of manufacturing refrigerants. HFCs are roughly 11,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide, so investing in relatively cheap HFC projects in China gives you a lot of bang for your carbon credit buck. (The World Bank has played in major role in promoting these projects, with some controversy.)
Most carbon credit projects in China, therefore, are related to HFCs rather than things like windmills and solar panels -- at least so far. New HFC projects are increasingly hard to come by since most factories already have the proper equipment installed.
But what about Africa? Why so little investment? Well, the continent has few factories -- hence few carbon projects.
Even so, [Noah's ark] would struggle to comply with modern marine transport guidelines, even with a few thousand creatures.
That's from a very weird Reuters story that uses the upcoming U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity as a peg to discuss whether or not the Noah's ark story really happened. Biologists, environmentalists, creationists, shipbuilders, and "livestock shipping experts" all weigh in.
By the way, if you're ever in the greater Cincinnati area, I highly recommend a visit to Answers in Genesis' infamous Creation Museum. In addition to learning just how all those animals did fit on the ark, you can also see some pretty scary animatronic dinosaurs in the full-scale Garden of Eden replica.
The smaller the renegade province, the bigger the pawn -- at least so it seems in the world of post-communist geostrategic positioning. Just as the dust has begun to settle around the Kosovo independence issue, Georgia’s breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia now find themselves front and center in the separatist question lime light.
In recent months,
With Moscow-Tbilisi tensions running high, let’s take a look at what Abkhazia and
According to this week’s Tuesday Map of Georgia’s environmental and security issues from the IDMC (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre), the two rebel provinces come complete with two refugee camps (orange triangles), two nuclear waste sites (yellow markers), and one “large aging Soviet industrial complex still generating pollution” (red circle).
Abkhazia does have a beautiful coast -- so beautiful, in fact, that the most famous Georgian of them all incorporated it into
All in all, I can see why neither
Fortune has an interesting interview with Google cofounder Larry Page. Here he is pontificating about alternative energy, one of his company's eclectic new research areas:
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
You can be a bit of a detective and ask, What are the industries where things haven't changed much in 50 years? We've been looking a little at geothermal power. And you start thinking about it, and you say, Well, a couple of miles under this spot or almost any other place in the world, it's pretty darn hot. How hard should it be to dig a really deep hole? We've been drilling for a long time, mostly for oil - and oil's expensive. If you want to move heat around, you need bigger holes. The technology just hasn't been developed for extracting heat. I imagine there's pretty good odds that's possible.
Solar thermal's another area we've been working on; the numbers there are just astounding. In Southern California or Nevada, on a day with an average amount of sun, you can generate 800 megawatts on one square mile. And 800 megawatts is actually a lot. A nuclear plant is about 2,000 megawatts.
The amount of land that's required to power the entire U.S. with electricity is something like 100 miles by 100 miles. So you say, "What do I need to do to generate that power?" You could buy solar cells. The problem is, at today's solar prices you'd need trillions of dollars to generate all the electricity in the U.S. Then you say, "Well, how much do mirrors cost?" And it turns out you can buy pieces of glass and a mirror and you can cover those areas for not that much money. Somehow the world is not doing a good job of making this stuff available. As a society, on the larger questions we have, we're not making reasonable progress.
And yet, Page is optimistic that this progress can accelerate:
Look at the things we worry about - poverty, global warming, people dying in accidents. And look at the things that drive people's basic level of happiness - safety and opportunity for their kids, plus basic things like health and shelter. I think our ability to achieve these things on a large scale for many people in the world is improving.
Felix Salmon weighs in on the unintended consequences of water pricing:
[P]ricing water can have interesting and not necessarily intended effects. In Australia, for instance, water rights can be traded. When the country was hit by drought, the price of those rights rose, and wheat growers started selling their water rights to the vineyards, because doing so was more profitable than growing wheat. And that, in turn, contributed substantially to the rise in global wheat prices.
The world would be better off right now if Australia's wheat growers had continued to grow wheat, and if Australia's wine growers had simply produced less wine. But that's not how the market incentives played out.
Well, the problem is about to get worse. The Australian government announced today it is buying $2.9 billion worth of water rights from farmers in an effort to safeguard drinking-water supplies. People have been predicting for years that water would become more precious than gold. Now, drip by drip, it's happening.
Germany's environment minister, Sigmar Gabriel, issued a statement today with some strong criticism for George W. Bush's big climate change speech. But the harshest words were actually in the title of his press release:
Gabriel criticises Bush's Neanderthal speech. Losership, not Leadership".
With a title like that, why even bother with a statement?
(Hat tip: The Lede)
President Bush's call today to stop the growth of greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 shouldn't be seen as any kind of White House policy shift.
If you think about it, he's really saying that it's fine for emissions to grow until then. Bush's speech today was a fairly vague and empty statement of intent, lacking in any plan to actually set specific emissions targets or reduce the United States' output. And when it does come time to halt growth, what Bush hails are the tired fallbacks: fuel-economy standards (not very helpful) and those frequently hyped and rarely identified "new technologies" that will surely do something. And since something's on the way, there's surely no need to reduce or cap today. Or so goes the thinking.
Bush devoted the majority of his remarks to what he still finds wrong with the emissions debate, making it clear how truly opposed he is to any type of regulation. He threw in a jab at the Supreme Court and its "unelected judges" for good measure:
The Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act were never meant to regulate global climate change. For example, under a Supreme Court decision last year, the Clean Air Act could be applied to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.
If these laws are stretched beyond their original intent, they could override the programs Congress just adopted, and force the government to regulate more than just power plant emissions. They could also force the government to regulate smaller users and producers of energy from schools and stores to hospitals and apartment buildings. [...]
Decisions with such far-reaching impact should not be left to unelected regulators and judges. (my emphasis)
In short, the climate speech doesn't really alter the political landscape on the issue. Not a surprise, really, though I'd expected something a little more ground-shifting this morning when I read the WSJ's advance on the speech and noticed the hilariously sad Bush hedcut included therein. That Bush looks like he's had to make concessions. Apparently, though, 3-D George didn't agree.
(On a side note about hilarious hedcuts, who at the WSJ hates Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai? Because this is not a flattering rendering.)
EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs has a great new blog, and he's wasted no time in taking on a controversial issue. Biofuels have taken a lot of hits lately, but Piebalgs says the relationship between them and food prices is overblown:
Biofuels, have become a scapegoat for recent commodity price increases that have other causes – poor harvests worldwide and growing food demand generated by increased standards of living in China and India. In Europe, we use less than 2 percent of our cereals production for biofuels, so they do not contribute significantly to higher food prices in the European context. Even if we reach our 10% biofuels target by 2020, the price impact will be small. Our modeling suggests that it will cause a 8 to 10% increase in rape seed prices and 3 to 6% increase in cereal prices. Increase in the price of the latest has very small influence on the cost of bread. It makes up around 4 per cent of the consumer price of a loaf.
Even if price food price distortions are minor, I'm still not convinced the biofuels are worth the trouble given that it's not entirely clear whether they really do anything to reduce greenhouse emissions once land clearance is taken into account. Still, Piebalgs' blog should be great opportunity to hear from an informed voice in the debate.
Here's Ted Turner, the media mogul turned restaurateur whom serious people routinely label an "environmentalist," commenting on the impact of global warming by 2048:
Most of the people will have died and the rest of us will be cannibals. Civilization will have broken down. The few people left will be living in a failed state — like Somalia or Sudan — and living conditions will be intolerable."
Come on, Ted. These kinds of comments are the reason many people don't take climate change seriously. (You can read more sober comments from Turner in an interview with FP here.)
(Hat tip: Mike Nizza)
Increasing global demand for food along with biofuels production has meant that rising food prices have been hitting our paychecks hard. But the news will likely only get worse.
In a recently released National Bureau of Economic Research paper, Wolfram Schlenker of Columbia University and Michael J. Roberts of the U.S. Department of Agriculture reveal the effects of climate change on crop yields in the United States. The results are alarming: According to Schlenker and Roberts's model, which employs data on crop yields in the United States between 1950 and 2004 along with a matching weather/temperature data set, yields are likely to diminish significantly by the end of the century.
Although yields for corn and soybeans increase until temperatures reach about 29° Celcius and yields for cotton increase until about 33° Celcius, temperatures above these thresholds result in a rapid and steep decline thereafter. Global warming is expected to shift temperatures upward and produce more damaging heatwaves. As a result, Schlenker and Roberts predict that corn yields will decrease by 44 percent, soybean yields will drop by 33-34 percent, and cotton yields will decline by 26 to 31 percent -- and that's just under the "slow warming" scenario of the model. If the model assumes "quick warming," the news is even more dire. Corn, soybean, and cotton yields will plummet by 79-80 percent, 71 to 72 percent, and 60 to 78 percent respectively.
To make matters worse, "hotter southern [U.S.] states exhibit the same threshold as cooler states in the north, suggesting there is limited potential for adaptations." In other words, the prospect of crops evolving quickly to adapt to a warmer environment looks slim. Technology, too, appears unlikely to save the day just yet. The authors conclude, "[W]e find no evidence that technological progress increased heat tolerance over the last 55 years: while average yields have gone up almost threefold, the breakpoint where temperatures become harmful is the same in later periods as it is in earlier periods." As the Earth gets hotter, expect inflation to soar. Time to stock up on corn, soybean, and cotton products.
With a 98 percent population decline between 1970 and 2005, the distinctive scalloped hammerhead shark is one of the latest species to make it to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) endangered list. The cause? Overfishing due to a growing demand for shark fins in China.
Julia Baum of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, told the Times of London, "[T]he oceans are being emptied of sharks, and the scale of the problem is global.... If we continue in the way we are going, we are looking at a really high risk of extinction for some of these species within the next few decades."
Another eight species of shark will be added to the IUCN's list in October. Baum and other shark researchers attribute this increasing threat of shark extinction to China's economic boom, and its attendant rise in demand for shark fin. Served at weddings and important business functions, the dish is considered a delicacy in China. Shark fins can sell for $300 a kilogram, and 26 million and 73 million shark fins are sold annually in the Hong Kong market -- more than three times the total declared to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation.
But it's not just sharks that are coming under threat due to the burgeoning Chinese middle class. In this week's List of the World's Worst Poaching Markets, FP identifies four other creatures that are facing extinction through illegal poaching for reasons ranging from taste to treatment. Check it out here.
Michael Specter of the New Yorker, as he tends to do, files a brilliant article on a subject that you would think has been beaten to death: climate change and carbon footprints. It's a must read. (I still recommend his 2006 article on water scarcity to anyone remotely interested in development.)
Even though the article isn't just a fact barrage, there are some salient factoids worth pulling out:
It was already a bad PR week for the Beijing Olympics after director Steven Spielberg quit as artistic consultant in protest of China's role in the Darfur genocide. Now, in a further embarassment, the British Olympic Association has decided to allow British athletes to wear masks while competing to minimize the effect of air pollution. The masks have already been designed and tested, apparently, but details and images have been kept under wraps.
Regardless of what they look like, Chinese officials can't be thrilled about the prospect of millions of viewers watching masked marathoners running through Beijing's smog-choked streets. The U.S. Olympic Committee has decided not to allow masks in order to avoid offending the hosts. China's international coming-out party seems increasingly likely to turn into a complete fiasco for the country's image. And the worst is yet to come.
Ethanol is a product that would not exist if Congress didn't create an artificial market for it. No one would be willing to buy it... Yet thanks to agricultural subsidies and ethanol producer subsidies, it is now a very big business - tens of billions of dollars that have enriched a handful of corporate interests - primarily one big corporation, ADM. Ethanol does nothing to reduce fuel consumption, nothing to increase our energy independence, nothing to improve air quality."
-John McCain, November 2003
I support ethanol and I think it is a vital, a vital alternative energy source not only because of our dependency on foreign oil but its greenhouse gas reduction effects.
-John McCain, August 2006, Grinnell, Iowa
The widespread use of ethanol from corn could result in nearly twice the greenhouse gas emissions as the gasoline it would replace because of expected land-use changes, researchers concluded Thursday. The study challenges the rush to biofuels as a response to global warming.
-Associated Press, February 7, 2008
McCain has more often than not spoken against subsidies for corn-based ethanol, and he therefore claims he's been consistent on this issue. Sort of. Here's him trying to explain his ethanol flip-floppery to Tim Russert back in 2006, when he was still planning to contest Iowa. Judge for yourself whether you find it convincing.
As for Barack Obama, winning Iowa was the linchpin of his electoral strategy, and pander he did. And Hillary Clinton? She says she opposed ethanol subsidies on behalf of her New York constituents, but supports them as a presidential candidate—big time.
Nobody, in other words, looks good on this issue right now.
When pricing a house next door to the contaminated site of a former uranium smelter, even a house with waterfront access, most realtors would aim low. In Sydney, though, one such house is on the market for roughly $3.6 million. The realtor describes the site nearby, full of radioactive dirt contaminated with "traces" of uranium and thorium, as just "a slight variation from the norm."
Not surprisingly, the house has been on the market for awhile. Many potential buyers have expressed interest, but so far nobody has purchased it (the crackle of Geiger counters from across the street may have something to do with this). As nuclear power expands, though, it is worth examining just how dangerous such contamination can really be.
Few specifics about the case in Sydney have been released, but it is possible to speak generally about the materials involved. Uranium is only mildly radioactive, and exposure even to high levels of uranium is not known to cause cancer (high levels, if ingested, can cause kidney and tissue damage, though). So, "traces" of it are unlikely to be dangerous. Thorium can give you cancer if you inhale it in large amounts (or possibly when you ingest it), but has not been known to cause birth defects or fertility problems, as some other radioactive materials can. Again, "traces" of thorium are likely harmless.
The wild card in this situation is the radioactivity from the soil. When certain types of powerful radiation encounter everyday materials, those materials can become "activated." In other words, they become radioactive (to a weaker degree) themselves. However, after nearly a century, the soil at this site in Sydney would have reverted to a very low, though perhaps above "background," level of radioactivity. (The New South Wales government and an independent consultancy say the radiation level is higher than background, but safe.)
While a higher than usual level of radiation in the area sounds scary, it is probably not all that dangerous. Many studies have found that constant exposure to low levels of radiation does not pose a health risk. One study, performed by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, found no increased cancer risk for people living near 62 large nuclear facilities. If nuclear power spreads, we should remain vigilant, but there is no need for paranoia.
Tyler Cowen relays some disturbing news:
It turns out, by the way, that the world's supply of Cavendish bananas -- the ones we eat -- is endangered by disease (more here) and many experts believe the entire strain will vanish. Most other banana strains are much harder to cultivate and transport on a large scale, so enjoy your bananas while you can. The previous and supposedly tastier major strain of banana -- Gros Michel -- is already gone and had disappeared by the 1950s, again due to disease. Today, European opposition to GMO is one factor discouraging progress in developing a substitute and more robust banana crop.
Imagine the following scenario:
Water, the source of human survival, enters the global marketplace and political arena. Corporate giants, private investors, and corrupt governments vie for control of our dwindling supply, prompting protests, lawsuits, and revolutions from citizens fighting for the right to survive. Wars of the future will be fought over water, not oil. Past civilizations have collapsed from poor water management. Can the human race survive?"
This is the plot synopsis for an upcoming documentary film Blue Gold: World Water Wars, but it could just as well be a quote from Ban Ki-moon at today's World Economic Forum panel, "Time is Running Out for Water." The U.N. chief painted an equally sobering picture of the potential effects of a global water shortage:
The consequences for humanity are grave. Water scarcity threatens economic and social gains and is a potent fuel for wars and conflict.”
It's not just the U.N. that is warning of an impending crisis. A report on climate change and conflict by the NGO International Alert highlights water shortages and their potentially aggravating effects on violent conflicts around the world. Although the report outlines some pretty worrisome consequences of water shortages, conflict need not lead to war, an author of the report tells the Times of London, but can result in opportunities for collaboration and innovation. For more information on freshwater resources around the world, check out the Pacific Institute's Web site.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has just officially unveiled its plans to build the world's first carbon-neutral city. Situated on Abu Dhabi's desert outskirts, "Masdar City" is designed from the ground up to be the first completely environmentally sustainable city and a hub for renewable energy research. The UAE's rulers hope Masdar will eventually house at least 1,500 businesses and 50,000 people, powered by solar and other renewable energy sources.
Residents will be able to get by on foot, despite the region's blistering climate, thanks to architectural techniques that promote shading and help generate cooling breezes. Stops for the city's solar-powered "personalized rapid transport pods" will be no further than 200 meters apart. Lord Norman Foster, the founder and head of the architectural firm in charge of the Masdar development, said the project "promises to set new benchmarks for the sustainable city of the future." Is he right? Is the project even viable?
Ann Rappaport, an urban and environmental policy specialist at Tufts University, spoke with FP about the project a while back. She seems to share Foster's optimism:
[F]or almost everything, it's easier to do it right the first time. That's true of a new building versus renovating an old building, [so] why shouldn't it be true of [building] a new city, [rather] than transforming an old one? ...
[Y]ou can think about spatial patterns, you can think about their notion of creating walkable spaces... shading—all these things that we now understand to be very important to our carbon budget. We just weren't thinking about that hundreds of years ago when our major world capitals were developed. So that's exciting.... [Your first reaction may be that this is] a city in the middle of a place that others might define as a desert. On the other hand, I think that climate change is challenging us all to think about where the good locations are for human development.... When many of the world's foremost cities were developed, we were looking at transportation access by boat, and now that means that these cities are really vulnerable to sea level rise... [T]he prospect looks attractive, and perhaps the devil's in the details, but it’s not a ludicrous concept.
No country needs this type of innovative thinking about the environment more than the UAE, designated by the World Wildlife Fund as the country with the world's worst per capita ecological footprint. Obviously, one project is not enough to exonerate the country's wasteful and unsustainable practices. But at least it's a start.
This, by the way, is classic Chinese government media management at work:
[China Daily, a state-run newspaper] said officials stored large amounts of water behind the massive Three Gorges Dam across the Yangtze last month, causing the flow volume in the river to fall by 50 percent.
Still, it quoted the Yangtze River Water Resource Commission as saying the drought had nothing to do with the dam.
The evidence from Bangladesh:
One unexpected consequence of the rising water levels in Bangladesh is that river erosion has reduced the number of operable ferry berths, so men wait longer to cross, which in turn increases the demand for prostitution.
The European Union is reexamining its biofuels policy after finding evidence that increased demand might be endangering rainforests and causing other nasty side effects:
A couple of years ago biofuels looked like the perfect get-out-of-jail free card for car manufacturers under pressure to cut carbon emissions...Since then reports have warned that some biofuels barely cut emissions at all - and others can lead to rainforest destruction, drive up food prices, or prompt rich firms to drive poor people off their land to convert it to fuel crops.
It's hard not to get excited about the biofuel breakthroughs on the way (switchgrass, anyone?), but sorting out sustainable supply chains will take some time. One thing seems clear: Ethanol from corn ain't the answer. And with the Iowa caucuses now behind us, some presidential candidates may even be able to say so.
Today India's Tata Motors unveiled the $2,500 Tata Nano, a tiny four-door "People's Car." Some industry analysts say it could revolutionize Indian society the way the Ford Model T did in the United States 100 years ago. Unsurprisingly, Thomas Friedman has already warned Indians not to follow the first world and turn their country into one filled with even more traffic congestion and air pollution. We'll have to wait and see how many takers there are for the Nano, but meanwhile, here's a Nano vs. Model T comparison:
|Introductory Price||$2,500||$850 (about $19,000 in 2006)|
|Number of cylinders||2||4|
|Top speed||60 mph (97 km per hour)||45 mph (72 km per hour)|
|Fuel economy||50 miles per gallon (21 km per liter)||13-21 miles per gallon (5.5-9 km per liter)|
|Windshield wiper||Just 1||A vacuum-powered wiper could be added to the driver's side of the 1926 model for $3.50|
Photos: RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images; INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images
Are you an unemployed youth in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh? If so, the government may have a job for you: monkey sterilizer.
The state has become so overrun with monkeys that curbing them became a major electoral issue last month. On Thursday, the chief minister unveiled a solution that would solve two problems—the monkey menace and youth unemployment—at once: Train young people to capture and sterilize marauding wild monkeys. Or as the state's press release puts it, "lazer [sic] sterilization of the monkeys on war footing."
This monkey madness probably sounds wacky to those who don't live near monkey habitats, but it may well be a pragmatic solution to a vexing problem. For devout Hindus and conservationists who don't want monkeys to be killed, for instance, sterilization might be more benign. And let's not forget that in India, the monkey population is out of control. Monkeys ravage farmers' crops and even attack people such as New Delhi's deputy mayor, who fell off his balcony and died while fighting off a gang of monkeys last October.
Admittedly, part of the problem is us humans: We're encroaching on monkey territory and taking away their habitat. To that end, Himachal Pradesh is also considering developing dedicated wildlife preserves for monkeys. (Puerto Rico, by the way, is simply shipping theirs to Florida.)
In all, the monkey eradication plan doesn't sound as bizarre once all the hype is stripped away: Train young adults to capture, enumerate, tag, and sterilize monkeys.
Of course, what happens if novice sterilizers botch a case? One dissenting conservationist asked:
Can you imagine what having badly sterilized monkeys running around will do to the levels of aggression?
Perhaps there's nothing to worry about. According to Himachal Pradesh's press release, the young adults are only going to be assisting "experts" in carrying out the project. Presumably, the experts know how to wield a sterilization "lazer."
Just about every newspaper, magazine, and website has published a holiday gift guide. And inevitably, their lists include lots of eco-friendly products, such as bamboo bowls or bamboo clothes. But how about a bamboo computer? Cashing in on the green trend, Taiwan's Asustek Computer has developed a laptop encased in bamboo. Most laptops are encased in plastic that contain toxins like polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, whereas bamboo is a fast-growing, durable natural grass. Sadly, though, you can't buy it. Asustek has only unveiled a prototype. Maybe it'll hit the market by next year's holiday season.
The Weather Channel recently announced something called the "Forecast Earth 2007 Hot List," billed as the world's most influential people when it comes to climate change. Most of the list is predictable, if a bit myopically focused on New York (New Yorkers always think their glorified provincial town is the capital of the universe):
The last honoree on the list? Wal-Mart. That ought to set some tongues wagging.
...know that the luxury brand that made it is probably flunking the ethics test.
So says "Deeper Luxury," (pdf) a new World Wildlife Federation (WWF) report grading the social and environmental performance of the world's top 10 luxury brands. From safety in the workplace to reducing emissions and protecting human rights (a.k.a. steering clear of sweatshops), the social quality of the big 10 is decidedly unluxe.
Both Bulgari, the famed Italian jewelry and handbag line, and American leather goods brand Tod's get fat "F"s for their performance. L'Oreal, Hermes, and LVMH — the world's largest luxury goods conglomerate, with Fendi, Marc Jacobs, and Givenchy under its umbrella — all muster only average scores of C+.
The report may be just potent enough to hold fashion's notoriously short attention span for more than a minute or two. But beyond that, I'm skeptical. The middle classes in India and China will explode in the next few decades, and these brands will have more than enough new customers who probably won't give two shakes about the life and death of the snake that made their bag.
But if appealing to the do-gooder side of consumers doesn't work, the WWF has an alternate plan: Guilt the celebrities. The report has a whole chapter pointing out that famous faces shilling diamond-encrusted, environmentally unfriendly watches are the same faces campaigning against climate change and AIDS. It even gets personal:
[A]ctress Sienna Miller campaigns against climate change through her associationwith Global Cool. She also endorses Tods, which came bottom of our index of ESG perfomance. Tods may represent a liability to Sienna Miller’s reputation.
As if dating Jude Law didn't already do that.
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