Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Northwest Folklife is a huge festival with tens of thousands of people descending upon Seattle Center. Many a year, I have been to Seattle Center and viewed tons and tons of plastic garbage from the bottled tap water that they try to sell you. This year, they had the water stand pictured below so that you can refill your bottles. What a concept! At the end of the day, I did witness a grown man show his son how to point the nossel directly in his mouth. But other than that it was a great idea and much appreciated.

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It’s kind of important.

Info on Mt. Rainier, here. This excellent photo is via Seattle rainscreens photostream.

Update: CNN article, here.

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What is it about animals in distress that tugs at our heart strings in a way human suffering often doesn’t? I suppose it’s because we believe animals are not at fault in their demise and they don’t have the resources that humans have to get out of their situation. While Australia burns, I find these images of koalas heartbreaking.

Koalas in Australia that are approaching humans out of desperation after suffering through four days of temperatures in the 100s (40C).

Via Americablog by way of ABC Adelaide.

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An interesting post from Matt Yglesias full of gems like this:

And Iceland is a very small country with an economy that revolves more-or-less exclusively around fish, tourism, Bjork, and banking so a banking collapse amidst a global economic slowdown leaves them in bad shape and facing national bankruptcy.

A Canadian solution?

But David Hayes in a letter to Canada’s National Post suggests a Canadian solution:

Iceland, in the words of its President, is facing the “very real danger” of national bankruptcy. If the situation deteriorates, Canada should invite the small island nation to join our confederation, just as we did 60 years ago with another island in the Atlantic facing bankruptcy.

The island in question, for those not up on their Canadian history, would be Newfoundland which until 1949 was a politically separate element of Britain’s evolving empire-then-commonwealth.

Now that would be a tragedy. I read the book Collapse by Jared Diamond a few years ago. It talked a lot about the fragility of Iceland, both environmental and economical. Back then I thought the book was overstating things in the world a bit. Now I wonder if I should pick it up again.

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On our last day at Glacier National Park, we did a modest six mile hike and finally we were able to see up close some moutain goats.

More photos after the jump. (more…)

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The weather finally cleared and we were able to do a 12 mile hike along the Garden Wall trail at Logan Pass in Glacier National Park. You get absolutely stunning views.

Lots more pictures after the jump.


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For a Glacier National Park ground squirrel with straw in its mouth.

Or for a cute ptarmigan.

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The last two days it’s been raining and I’ve seen at least five rainbows. I guess that’s because the rain and clouds tend to stick to the mountain areas while there is sunshine in the flatter parts. The weather report is categorized by whether you are east or west of the continental divide. It’s exciting knowing the park is straddling two tectonic plates.

We hiked yesterday about 8 miles in the rain. By the time we finished we were both completely soaked, but the hike did allow me to visit the beautiful Grinnell Lake pictured below.

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As I mentioned in my previous post, we asked where in Glacier National Park was the best place to spot animals. The answer was the Many Glacier area. Bears are very popular at the park. You want to see a bear, but you don’t want to see a bear…if you know what I mean. Almost everyone I’ve met that has been to Glacier has a bear story to tell, so I was waiting to see if we would see a bear. We weren’t disappointed.

I show the animals in the order that we saw them. Perhaps you too will feel the escalating excitement with each animal spotting as we did. Some of the photographs are a bit blurry due to the amount of zooming I needed to do both with my telephoto lens and with the computer.

This squirrel seems pretty tame. I think he’s eaten people food before.

More photos (including a bear) after the jump.


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Our second day at Glacier National Park in Montana took us to the area known as Many Glaciers. Many Glaciers got its name from the fact that in 1850 there were 150 glaciers on the mountainside. There are now only 26. Judging by these pictures, the remaining 26 probably won’t last very long.

We were told that Many Glaciers was the best place to spot wild animals and many wild animals we did see, but that will have to go into another post.

Iceberg Lake at Many Glaciers

More photos after the jump.


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Our first hike at Glacier National Park was around Two Medicine Lake. Here are the photos.

More photos after the jump.


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Despite a great deal of apprehension, riding Amtrak to Glacier National Park has so far been a success. You can read about all of the planning of our Amtrak trip and pricing information from my previous post here.

Knowing that Amtrak is notoriously late, I didn’t quite know what to expect when we arrived at the station a half hour before it was scheduled to depart. I was prepared to wait a long time, but fortunately I didn’t have to as wee left bang on time. With the exception of one person, the Amtrak staff were wonderful people.

We first met our attendant, Ryan, who showed us to our roomette. I’ve got to tell you that the roomette is small though very roomy compared to a plane seat. At the edge of the seat is the sliding door, so it does get a little small in there. A friend reminded me before I left to take advantage of the lounge car and dining car in order to get some space.

Ryan brought us champagne for the journey. Very nice. We then explored the lounge car and the dining car which I’ve pictured here. You get an amazing view. Our dinner was great too and it was included in our fare because we got a roomette. We had a very large flat iron steak with two sides.  I’m going to the try the trout on the return journey.

There was an older couple from Eugene Oregon sharing our table who have gone to Glacier National Park by train three times. They like going to Glacier because they don’t have to drive. While I may not be willing to 14 hour train journeys all the time, the nice thing about this trip is that most of it is spent sleeping. You wake up in Montana. That’s a huge plus.

And how was sleeping? The vibration of the train as well as the champagne and the enormous dinner do a good job of getting you in the mood to sleep. The train creates some pretty good white noise also so you don’t have to listen to your neighbors conversations. I won’t pretend that it was the best sleep I’ve ever had, but I did sleep and I slept enough to be perfectly capable of an eight mile hike the next day.

All in all, I highly recommend it.

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This story has been well reported, so I don’t expect anyone reading this will be surprised, but I thought it might bring about a good topic for discussion and that is “is this guy psychotic or what?”

Bush has said many times that history will vindicate him as a president. I just have to wonder how can he possibly think that when he behaves so contemptibly. There is no doubt that humans are responsible for climate change which will have devastating consequences. History tells us this. So why blacken your name for the next century as the man who was such an idiot that he made a joke out of being the worst polluter at an environmental summit. It’s beyond belief and truly pathological.

I’ve only worked at country club, not been a member of one, and I think I can safely say this is the guy in the corner with the martini glass laughing at everyone. This is the guy at the country club who pisses on the cars. This is the guy who staunchly believes in wars and people dying in wars so long as it’s not him. What can you say about America, knowing that either this man was either elected president or stole the presidency and no one did anything about it. The country is just not worth verbally defending. When it comes to November, this country will truly get the leader it deserves.

The American leader, who has been condemned throughout his presidency for failing to tackle climate change, ended a private meeting with the words: “Goodbye from the world’s biggest polluter.”

He then punched the air while grinning widely, as the rest of those present including Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy looked on in shock.

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In the winter we often drive through the town of Enumclaw on the way to Crystal Mountain ski resort. It’s a small humble town where some parts look more affluent than others. The town gained some notoriety a few years back due to a rather embarrassing story that I won’t go into here.

But Enumclaw is in the paper today because of their refusal to even consider an offer from the Nestle company to bottle Enumclaw’s water.

Last spring, in the small town of Enumclaw, a company came calling. What it wanted was water. One hundred million gallons a year, to be precise.

It would pay nicely for the privilege. It would set up a bottling plant and provide jobs for the people. If only somebody, somewhere in Enumclaw, would listen to what Nestlé Waters North America had to say.

But it was not to be.

Last month, without so much as a public hearing, Enumclaw sent a message to the multinational corporation: Go tap someone else’s spring.

I have to say I can relate to the people of Enumclaw. Big business in general hasn’t exactly earned much respect from the communities they operate in. In the people’s minds, big business wants to exploit communities of their resources and leave little in return. Bottling tap water is hardly mining, but in people’s minds it’s the same thing. I was surprised to read in this article how much Nestle was offering to pay for the water.

Nestlé would pay $250,000 a year for the water, plus property taxes on the $40 to $50 million plant.

That doesn’t seem like much money considering their entire resource, you know the thing they’re actually selling, is coming from the town’s resources.

Image via FastCompany.com.

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The price of gas is a topic that has consumed Americans for the last year. Now Republican senator John Warner has made a surprising suggestion: reduce the national speed limit to stretch gas mileage. It sounds perfectly reasonable. In fact, there is a precedent. In 1974 faced with an energy crisis Congress decided to create the limit. Furthermore, this national limit was only removed in 1995 when the price of gas was a mere $17 a barrel.

Warner cited studies that showed the 55 mph speed limit saved 167,000 barrels of oil a day, or 2 percent of the country’s highway fuel consumption, while avoiding up to 4,000 traffic deaths a year.

“Given the significant increase in the number of vehicles on America’s highway system from 1974 to 2008, one could assume that the amount of fuel that could be conserved today is far greater,” Warner wrote Bodman.

Warner asked the department to determine at what speeds vehicles would be most fuel efficient, how much fuel savings would be achieved, and whether it would be reasonable to assume there would be a reduction in prices at the pump if the speed limit were lowered.

I have to give Warner credit for a smart idea that may not be popular among his party. Given the national importance that gas prices seem to have, it will be interesting to see if Americans embrace Warner’s suggestion or not. If they don’t, then it’s hard to feel that they truly feel the grip of the price of gas. I love this part about the Energy Department’s response:

Energy Department spokeswoman Angela Hill said the department will review Warner’s letter but added, “If Congress is serious about addressing gasoline prices, they must take action on expanding domestic oil and natural gas production.”

Instead of implementing a speed limit that has proven in the past to reduce oil consumption, let’s instead make our oil friends rich. Isn’t that a better idea?

Many of our Republican friends are so often upset at increases in taxes cite the need for public officials to make sacrifices. Social services should be reduced instead of raising taxes, they say. The government should learn to make do with what they have like the rest of us, they say. Warner is using the same logic in return. Instead of opening up domestic oil production, why can we not make do with what we already have? Can we not sacrifice a few moments of the day by reducing our highway speed?

Photo courtesy of americansforsharedsacrifice.org

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I remember being a kid and learning about “bad” things in school like the effects of smoking and drugs. Later we would learn about recycling and re-using. I remember Arbor Day when we would plant a new tree. I suppose the idea was to encourage children to practice good habits hoping that some of those habits would have an impact on the parents’ habits. It seems no different now to encourage children to be conservationist today, but I suppose the vocal minor-minority has to whine about something.

In WALL E, the Earth has become uninhabitable due to piles of garbage. Garbage is probably more tangible to a child than global climate change, but there are unpredictable dust storms in the film hinting at just that. And how fictitious is its subject manner anyway?

Electronic waste in China.

Trash heaps look like buildings in WALL E.

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The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World is an exhibition at the Burke Museum in Seattle of Steven Kazlowski‘s amazing photography.

The polar bear — a charismatic icon in the struggle against climate change — faces a precarious future along with other ice dependent species as its Arctic habitat rapidly continues to melt away. With camera in hand, wildlife photographer Steven Kazlowski has dedicated over eight years of work to bring to life the immediate reality of this most pressing environmental crisis — the devastation of the Arctic ecosystem through global warming.

Organized by the Burke Museum and Braided River/The Mountaineers Books, The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World will present approximately 40 large-format color photographs by Kazlowski and document the polar bear in its Arctic coastal habitat from Hershel Island in Canada to Point Hope, Alaska.

I can’t help think of the safety of the photographer looking at this photo. The exhibition runs until December 31, 2008.

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Oh the joys of Amtrak in America. Amtrak is the company which manages U.S. rail travel. It’s completely underfunded and never gets any of the lobby money that air travel companies get. Trips on Amtrak are often costlier and are exponentially longer than car trips. Take for instance a drive from Seattle to Portland which can take about 3 hours. The same trip on an Amtrak train can take an average of 5 hours and sometimes more.

My husband and I have decided to take a car-less vacation for our summer. Our decision came about because it just doesn’t feel like a proper vacation if your destination is too close to you, and we chose Glacier National Park in Montana because it is directly on the Amtrak Empire Builder rail line (unlike Yellowstone.) I’ve never done extensive rail travel in America and this would give me the opportunity to see some lovely countryside as well as going to what is considered a beautiful National Park in a state I have never been to.

You would think that the expense and hassle of plane travel and the contemporary fear of a terrorism would drive people to re-embrace rail travel in this country. You would think wrong, but what has started a surge in rail travel is the price of gas. Here’s an article about how Amtrak is having difficulty accommodating all of their new customers.

Record prices for gasoline and jet fuel should be good news for Amtrak, as travelers look for alternatives to cut the cost of driving and flying.

And they are good news, up to a point.

Amtrak set records in May, both for the number of passengers it carried and for ticket revenues — all the more remarkable because May is not usually a strong travel month.

But the railroad and its suppliers have shrunk so much, largely because of financial constraints, that they would have difficulty growing quickly to meet the demand.

Many long-distance trains are already sold out for some days this summer.

The whole article is a very good read for anyone interested in learning the history of how Amtrak operates in this country.

The following details perhaps explain why rail travel has yet to really take off in America.

The journey from Seattle to East Glacier Park Montana is 16 hours long. A flight from Seattle to Kalispell Montana is roughly 2 hours long. Of course add extra time for getting to and from the airport, and certainly the nice thing about taking the train is that we will be dropped off right at the entrance to the park.

The price for two tickets to and from Seattle to East Glacier Park Montana is $302.40. Because the journey is 16 hours, we are also purchasing what is called a roomette. The roomette isn’t a room, but it is two seats next to a window that can be reclined into a sleeping position. Meals are also included. To get a roomette you can add to the return journey $484.00 making the total cost of the journey $786.00.

A return trip by Horizon air from Seattle to Kalispell is $534.00. Once again, you’ll need to add some expense to getting to and from Kalispell, but as of right now you’re comparing a $786 rail journey with a $534 plane journey. So as you can see it is more expensive to travel by train and more time consuming.

We decided to go ahead and go for it. Maybe it’ll be a blast and we’ll never know unless we give it a shot. Our trip is in August.

But going back to the joys of rail travel in America… Within 5 minutes of purchasing our Amtrak tickets online, we got a call from our credit card company’s fraud department. We just noticed you charged a large amount to Amtrak, they said. We wanted to make sure that someone hasn’t stolen your card and is using it, they said. You’ve got to be kidding me, I’m thinking. Is rail travel so rare in America that it is considered a fraud warning if you purchase a ticket? Perhaps our credit card company just couldn’t believe that anyone in their right mind would spend over $200 more to travel by rail for a journey that will take 8 times as long as it would than by plane.

Picture courtesy of BritainByRail.

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One has to give credit to the BBC for the juxtaposition of this photo and headline. The article is here.

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In this article about Naples shipping some of its waste to Germany, I was struck by Hamburg’s waste management. This matches the experience from a friend of mine who lived in Stuttgart for a time. She told me people were given containers for recycling and garbage, but the garbage container was the same size of an typical American bathroom garbage bin. A typical American kitchen garbage bin is usually 3 to 4 times larger than the one used in bathrooms probably because of the popularity of packaged foods in America. But since my friend was given such small containers in Stuttgart, she became very good at sorting out every bit that can be recycled.

Anyway, here’s a bit about Hamburg:

Despite population growth, Hamburg produces less garbage today than it did almost a decade ago. What it does generate is either recycled or removed to high-technology, low-polluting incinerators.

It may not be surprising that Hamburg, governed by the German Green Party, should take the lead. On the street, pedestrians are required to divide trash into four types of bins, depending on its recycling potential.

Germany and a few northern European countries have spent most of the past decade developing strategies to reduce and dispose of waste: closing polluting landfills and investing heavily in recycling and trash-reduction programs.

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So the mayor of Seattle, Greg Nickels, wants people to stop buying bottled water.

“Americans used 60 billion pint bottles of water last year,” said Nickels. “That required 1 million tons of plastic and generated 2.5 million tons of greenhouse gases.”

“What flows from our taps is some of the finest-tasting, purest-source water in the world,” he said. “That’s why it makes little sense for Seattleites to waste their money on bottled water.”

I completely agree. I love Seattle tap water and I have lived places where I didn’t like the tap water.

But if Nickels wants to encourage people to drink tap water then he should ensure that people have an alternative source. The only reason why I ever buy bottled water is if I am outside of the house and I’m thirsty. Anecdotally, I can say that the number of working drinking fountains in the city has been reduced.

Take for instance this photo from the new Seattle Art Museum Sculpture Park. There used to be a water fountain here for users of Myrtle Edwards park, but it was removed when the Sculpture Park moved in. Why it was removed, I can’t say. But it looks like there is a water source in the vicinity.

So my question is why are public drinking fountains disappearing and what can we do about it?

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Yes, that’s a highway in between this sign and the waterfront.

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I’ll give him credit where it’s due. Nice work. I’m crossing my fingers that he won’t be announcing a snowmobile theme park in the wilderness area tomorrow. Click here for more pictures.

Nearly six years after it was first introduced, a bill to create a Wild Sky Wilderness northeast of Seattle has become law.

President Bush signed a bill Thursday making Wild Sky the first new wilderness area in Washington state in nearly a quarter-century.

The House gave final approval to the bill last month. It designates 167 square miles in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest north of Sultan, Wash., as federal wilderness, the government’s highest level of protection.

Wild Sky, sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen, both D-Wash., is the first new federally designated wilderness in Washington since 1984.

“Reaching the end of the trail never felt so good,” said Larsen. “Today marks the summit of a long journey made possible by many committed people and years of community input. Together, we not only created a new wilderness bill, but a new model for creating wilderness in the future.”

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Can there be anything more flagrant than offering to suspend the gas tax for the purpose of getting elected president of the United States?

Sens. Hillary Clinton and John McCain are pushing for a gas-tax holiday, but Sen. Barack Obama says the plan is a quick fix that would do more harm than good.

McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, was the first to propose a temporary suspension of the federal gas tax.

His plan would lift the 18.4 cents per gallon tax during peak summer travel months. It also would suspend the 24.4 cent diesel tax.

Clinton, who rejected a similar idea in 2000, said her plan is different from McCain’s. She said the Republican’s proposal would cost the government up to $10 billion — money that is used to improve roads.

Obama does not support a suspension of the gas tax, which he described as a political scheme that would save the average driver $25 to $28.

“It’s typical of how Washington works — let’s find some short-term, quick fix, even though we’re not really doing anything,” he said.

McCain and Clinton — employing the tactics of Hummer Salesman everywhere.

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This is why I have a coffee category.

If you prefer your coffee fresh-brewed when hiking, Spokane-based GSI offers a number of coffee solutions. If you want a steaming mug of Starbucks Yukon blend during your hike, toss your favorite lightweight stove into your pack, then add a GSI Lexan Javapress — a French-press style coffee maker.

Available in three sizes, the GSI Javapress is light, yet incredibly tough. The 10-ounce size proved to be perfectly sized for solo hikers wanting a single cup while the 33- and 50-ounce sizes can serve four to eight hikers at a time. I found the 10-ounce press, weighing a mere 8 ounces, a lightweight way to get fresh java while snowshoeing on Mount Rainier. The 10-ounce Javapress sells for $19.95, while the group-sized 50-ounce runs $29.95.

Of course, being Northwesterners, many of us are addicted to powerful espresso brews. Even here, we are covered in the backcountry. GSI’s stainless-steel Mini Expresso espresso makers sit atop pack stoves and pump out one to four shots of espresso at a time. The 4-cup Mini Expresso kicks out four flavorful shots during one brew cycle, and with a small 10-ounce box of soy milk, I was able to serve my friends fresh lattes at Panorama Point on Mount Rainier this winter. The 4-Cup GSI Mini Expresso runs $49.95. See http://www.gsioutdoors.com.

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