NRDC releases beach pollution numbers

Even without a headline-grabbing accident like the BP oil spill in 2010, the water along the country's coastlines is constantly subjected to different pollutants, man-made or otherwise. That's why, every year the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) takes samples from America's beaches and tests them for toxins that could have dangerous consequences for existing wildlife and eager beach-goers.

But, the NRDC not only takes stock of the pollution levels in the water. It also pays close attention to how local authorities react to high contamination rates, and what measures they take to keep the public informed and protected. According to the figures, in 2011 there were 23,481 reported beach closing and advisory days, which is the third highest number recorded in 22 years. The NRDC found that about two thirds of the issued warnings involved dangerous amounts of bacteria from animal or human waste in the water.

These levels are cause for concern because the EPA has found that 3.5 million Americans develop illnesses because of contact with raw sewage annually. In addition, the Center for Disease Control has also discovered a correlation between exposure to polluted water in recreational areas and the development of gastrointestinal infection in the Great Lakes area.

In this year's report, the NRDC determined that 8 percent of the monitored beaches had higher levels of toxic matter than national health standards for the recreational areas allowed, which is identical to last year's findings.

And, though this a fairly small percentage of America's beaches overall, the researchers conclude that their discoveries still show that water pollution continues to pose a threat to Americans who flock to the nation's public waters.

Report proposes using public lands for green tech

As the third largest nation in the world, the United States has an abundance of natural resources, not to mention physical space. However, after two centuries of mining for coal and drilling for oil, the nation is running low on its reserves. And, with ever-increasing rates of global warming, the government must look to sustainable energy for the good of its people and the planet as a whole.

According to a study released by the Center for American Progress, coal is by far the federal government's top priority when it comes to utilizing public land for energy production.

As of 2011, just under 66 percent of the electricity derived from communal spaces came from coal, with natural gas and conventional hydroelectric methods trailing behind with 18 percent and 14 percent, respectively. Sustainable energy sources like solar and wind power both made up less than a tenth of a percent of the electricity produced from federal territory.

By using these areas primarily for coal combustion, the researchers argue that the U.S government is favoring "a dirty electricity resource that has been shown to have serious health and environmental impacts," and is in turn overlooking the potential that they offer for clean energy alternatives.

While the report compilers acknowledge that the Obama Administration has taken considerable steps to increase renewable energy production, even after the 29 new solar, wind, offshore and geothermal projects approved by the government last year are up and running, coal will still be the dominant resource.

In order to combat the effects of global warming, the researchers propose that the federal government sets a clean energy standard for public lands and waters, and that it no longer make concessions for coal mining companies using these regions.

Court rules in favor of EPA regulations

Despite Congress' general reluctance to approve any legislation that limits the production of fossil fuels in the United States, the Obama administration has still advocated for greener corporate practices across the country.

Earlier this year, the EPA issued regulations on carbon pollution for the first time, an essential step in the country's transition to sustainability. But, while many celebrated the new laws as a sign of growing eco-consciousness across the country, others riled against it, and eventually took legal action.

But on June 26, a federal court found in favor of the EPA's rules on carbon emissions, The Associated Press reports. The disputed policies dictate that power plants, factories and other large-scale industrial compounds have to meet a certain greenhouse emission standard under the Clean Air Act. The regulations also specify the amount of six specific gases that are in vehicular exhaust.

Various corporations as well as state governments have openly disputed these policies, arguing that they damage certain industries and regional economies that rely heavily on fossil fuel production. In light of this week's ruling, many of these entities have vowed to appeal the decision.

Jay Timmons, the president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, told the source that the EPA's environmental policies are a burden to American businesses.

"We will be considering all of our legal options when it comes to halting these devastating regulations," he told the media outlet, adding that climate change policies should be determined by Congress.

However, the court found that the EPA was absolutely right to use federal law as a means to promote green technology and slow the pace of global warming.

Car company produces only green energy vehicles

While many sizable car manufacturers around the world have begun to experiment with clean energy sources in the last few years, the majority of vehicles on the road are still powered by carbon-based gasoline. However, one small company based in Silicon Valley has devoted itself wholeheartedly to green living by only producing electricity-powered vehicles.

Tesla Motors was founded in 2003 with the intention of "accelerat[ing] the world's transition to electric mobility," according to the company website. In the past nine years it has made quite a stir in the auto industry, and was featured on the cover of Wired Magazine in 2010 because of its innovative and environmentally-friendly methods.

Tesla has always faced an uphill battle with its products, with investors and consumers alike still undecided on the potential of battery-powered car. In fact, the company has yet to make a substantial profit since it began. However, the company has stated its belief that its latest electric vehicle – the Tesla Model S Electric Sedan – will change that.

The car, which Bloomberg News reports was the first to be produced entirely in-house, was released last week. The company has already received deposits on its newest product from 10,000 customers.

Though the mission statement of the company is to make renewable energy more accessible and affordable, at $49,900 after a $7,500 federal tax credit, this Model S Sedan doesn't quite fit the typical household budget. But, it is just the beginning for a burgeoning business, and the source states that Wall Street analysts have faith that the company will see continued success in the next year.

And though electric cars haven't exactly taken the country by storm in the last 10 years, sustainable living is increasingly becoming a priority for Americans, who may be more willing to make the conversion when more affordable models are available.

Green public transit a top priority at Rio+20

In 2010, the U.S Census Bureau's American Community Survey showed that the number of cycling commuters in the country had increased by almost 40 percent in the past 10 years. However, bike riders still make up less than one percent of American commuters, so in order to limit daily carbon emissions, other modes of transportation will have to become more energy-efficient.

For those who travel too far for walking or riding a bike to be a viable option, riding public transportation has long been a means to reduce commuters' individual carbon footprints. A recent announcement from the U.N. Sustainable Development Conference in Rio de Janeiro indicates that this practice will be enabled and encouraged across the globe.

Reuters reports that eight of the world's largest banks, including World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, have pledged to invest $175 billion into sustainable transportation programs on a global scale over the next 10 years.

The source states that this commitment was largely motivated by reports that urban populations in certain African and Asian countries are expected to balloon in the coming years. In order to accommodate the surge, cities will need to install efficient transportation systems to combat increased congestion and pollution.

At the conference, the banks issued a statement predicting the amount of money various regions would need to implement new sustainable transportation systems, or revamp existing ones, saying that Africa would need $2.5 trillion and Asia would need $18.3 trillion by 2020. Transportation in Latin America is expected to require $700 billion in this time.

But, this investment won't solely go toward building new systems. According to the banks, "If current trends continue, the transportation sector will become the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, accounting for 46 percent of global emissions by 2035," which indicates that existing transportation systems need to be modified as well.

Recycling rates vary widely across country

Long before global warming was a topic of national conversation, children across the country were being taught about the all important three R's – reduce, reuse, recycle.

However, the actual practice of recycling isn't as widespread as you may think. Though it's one of the easiest ways for people to help protect the environment, some of the most educated and affluent cities in the country are still struggling to get residents on board.

The Boston Globe reports that, despite a huge spike in recycling rates in the last few years, Boston's figures are still pretty dismal compared to other U.S. Cities. Currently, 19 percent of the city's household waste is recycled, or one out of every five pieces of trash.

Those numbers may seem promising on their own, but city officials were undoubtedly disappointed by their standing when Waste & Recycling News released a survey on the recycling habits of the thirty most populated cities in the country earlier this year.

The results showed that West Coast cities like Seattle, Washington, and San Jose, California, were recycling 60 percent of their household waste. A few southern states also made a strong showing in the study, with Austin, Texas, Memphis, Tennessee, and Jacksonville, Florida, all reporting 30 percent household waste recycling rates.

Boston's disappointing numbers are especially surprising since it was ranked as one of the top five in the U.S. and Canada Green City index, which was released by the Economist Intelligence Unit last year.

Jim Hunt, chief of the mayor’s office of energy and environment services, told the Globe that Boston still struggles with recycling and waste management, despite spending $5 million on recycling programs annually.

But, no matter how much cities invest in these programs, it comes down to individuals to actually take the time to sort through their waste products and make sure that everything that can be recycled actually is.

Airline announces its first biofuel-powered flight

Though airlines around the world have taken many strides towards making air travel more environmentally friendly, the industry still relies heavily on fossil fuels.

According to a 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office on aviation and climate change, air travel is responsible for roughly 2 percent of the global carbon-emissions produced by humans. However, in recent years, several airlines have been making steps toward replacing carbon-based jet fuel with biofuels – which can be made from plants and other living organisms as well as recycled cooking oils.

On June 18, Flight AC991 from Toronto to Mexico City became the first Air Canada voyage to utilize biofuel. A press release from the airline states that the flight would produce 40 percent fewer emissions by using a 50/50 combination of standard jet fuel and fuel made from recycled cooking oil.

Although commonplace jet fuel is still the norm across the industry, Air Canada isn't the first airline to experiment with alternative energy sources. The Huffington Post reports that KLM, Lufthansa, Finnair, Thomson Airways and AeroMexico have all invested significantly in biofuels. In addition, big name American companies like U.S. Airways, Delta and American Airlines have also pledged to investigate renewable energy options.

The source states that this flight was deliberately schedule to fall in line with the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio, and was organized by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

But, converting to biofuel isn't the only way for these business to reduce their carbon emissions. Airlines have also reportedly lowered overall energy consumption by implementing eco-friendly practices like limiting taxiing on the runway and modifying takeoff and landing procedures.

All-time low predicted for arctic sea ice

The sight of a polar bear clinging to an ice floe as its habitat slowly begins to disappear is one of the most iconic images demonstrating the effects of global warming. While other parts of the world may see bizarre weather patterns that don't seem immediately linked to the earth's temperature, the melting of the polar ice caps in the Arctic circle sends a clear message: the world is getting warmer.

Using satellite images of the Arctic circle, the analysts at the U.S National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) have been monitoring the ebbs and flows of the region's sea ice – which sits just below the water's surface – since 1979. Walter Meier, an NSIDC research scientist, told Wynne Parry of LiveScience that sea ice levels generally rise and fall in line with the seasons.

However, overall sea ice levels have been on the decline in the last few years. The source states that the lowest recorded ice level was in 2007, but the second lowest measurement was reached last year. And though Meier was quick to say that it was too soon to tell if this year would surpass the 2007 record, downward trend makes it a real possibility.

The scientific community has been speculating about the cause for this decline ever since levels first began to plummet.  Currently, most scientists have settled on two joint causes: natural weather patterns and global warming.

The melting of arctic ice has already had a detrimental effect on arctic wildlife, but it could also harm the rest of the world too. Because ice naturally reflects the sun's rays while water simply absorbs them, the source states that the rate of global warming may actually increase as a result of lower ice levels.

New study shows just who goes green

In order to promote green energy efficient products and eco-friendly practices, government agencies and private organizations alike could benefit from learning more about the people who choose to go green.

Now, one researcher is attempting to help by determining which personality traits correspond with eco-friendly habits. Dr. Rune Gulev, who teaches International Negotiations at the University of Applied Science in Kiel, Germany, has taken an international approach with his research, matching the qualities that are most valued by specific European countries with their overall use of green energy techniques.

According to a press release from Inderscience Publishers about the study, several elements must be considered as global efforts to promote green living begin to increase, such as "the concepts of gender and income inequality, literacy rates, education possibilities, life expectancies and poverty alleviation."

The study revealed that countries where people ranked tolerance and social cohesion as important qualities also had a better track record for using clean energy sources and implementing other eco-friendly practices. Also, countries that valued socially responsible business leaders also tended to have better sustainability rates.

In an article on the study, BusinessDailyNews managing editor Jeanette Mulvey expressed her surprise over some of the findings, however. She notes that countries where citizens were prioritizing personal income had higher sustainability ratings, while those that favored social equality did not.

However, this relationship actually does fall in line with findings from a recent AP-NORC study, covered by this blog, which indicated that the eco-friendly efforts of many American families were primarily constricted by their budgets.

Gulev's study, titled "Exploring cultural values connected to sustainability: why some people are more likely to act in a sustainable manner than others," will be published in full in the International Journal of Sustainable Economy.

USGBC certifies 20,000 eco-friendly homes

The benefits of green technology have become increasingly important for property developers in recent years. More and more structures, including shopping malls, offices and private homes, are being built with eco-friendliness and sustainability in mind. And as proof of that trend, earlier this week the U.S. Green Building Council (USBGC) announced that 20,000 homes have received their eco-friendly LEED certification.

The USBGC is a non-profit organization that promotes green living by building sustainable homes that use energy efficiently. The USBGC does this through Its prestigious LEED certification program, which helps business, federal agencies and private property owners take full advantage of green technology resources.

By advising organizations and communities on how to equip their schools, offices and other buildings with green energy sources and streamline their waste removal practices, the LEED program is meant to produce buildings that conserve energy and emit less greenhouse gases. The end goal of the certification process is to make these structures safer and healthier for inhabitants, while reducing energy costs and, in some cases, qualifying the organizations involved for tax rebates.

Launched in 2008, the LEED for Homes project focuses on making single and multi-family homes mores sustainable. To achieve certification, these homes had to follow strict standards regarding water-efficiency, energy consumption, waster production and general environmental quality indoors.

In a USGBC press release, Nate Kredich, vice president of residential market development, said that the 20,000 milestone boded well for the housing market and the environment, and that LEED certified homes were "moving the residential market … toward high-performing, healthy homes that save residents money." The source included the prediction that the number of green homes would continue to rise, and could take up between 29 and 38 percent of the housing market by 2016.

The success of the LEED program is a clear sign that sustainability is becoming a top priority for government agencies, corporations and private citizens alike.