Category Archives: Economy

Social and Environmental Change for the Holidays

It’s that time of year when people start shopping for holiday gifts…

A great way to support environmental movements is through consumerism. If consumers demand more environmentally, sustainable goods and socially conscious products, that’s what will be provided. Also, what better way to support  socially conscious causes than to purchase gifts that assist them. This way they benefit and even more people learn about the cause through your gift.

We are going to showcase a few online stores whose mission is to improve social justice and/or promote environmental conservation and stewardship.

Definitely don’t stop here, but be encouraged to search and find all the many organizations and companies that are making an impact on being environmentally and socially conscious in producing their goods.

This is just a start.

SOCO Hammocks

hammockhammock1

This Texas-based brand’s mission is to, “empower underprivileged populations through partnerships with nonprofit organizations who provide humanitarian aid”. They  pay fair wages to the artisans at Indocrafts in the small village of Ubud, Indonesia who make the cozy hammocks. Ten percent of the profit goes to a new nonprofit each month.

These  pack down to the size of a softball, making them great for camping. They also are a good hint for that person who just needs to take time, post up a hammock, and relax. Check out their website here and their blog here.                Kick Back Give Back in a SOCO Hammock!

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Greenheart Shop

Greenheart Shop is an online store based out of Chicago that offers an array of products that are both fair trade and environmentally friendly. These products range from kids clothing, to food, to Oil Drum art. Their products are made using sustainable materials and methods and they pay the artisans fair wages. As well as being fair trade and eco friendly, this initiative supports the non-proft, Center for Cultural Interchange, to help international students in the US and Americans traveling abroad to partake in different environmental and social volunteer opportunities.

                  

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Olive Barn

Do you love gardening and want to share your love with others? Or do you know someone else who does? Olive Barn, who’s tagline is “Rooted in Sustainable Living”, has organic seed kits, wind chimes,and  sun catchers. Their seed kits would be really great for someone who wants to start learning about gardening or an avid gardener. All their seeds are organic! The business also happens to be owned and operated by a former Texas A&M Aggie and ranked in the top 100 fastest growing Aggie-owned companies.

These are just a few examples of companies working towards more sustainable, earth friendly, socially conscious consumerism. When you start shopping for your holiday gifts, search for stores that offer the items you want to buy, with an environmental mindset attached to their production.

Comment below with other great, conscious companies you have found.

Consumption for Function

Reduce/Refuse, Reuse/Repurpose, Recycle

A lifestyle of less stress, more money, and healthier environment!  

They say less is more, but what exactly does that mean? This statement is trying to stress that as you cut consumption and downsize on the “stuff” you own, the more:

  • money in your bank

  • ease when it comes to moving

  • free time you will have because you do not have to clean as often/as much

  • clean air from fewer emissions from manufacturing and transportation

I can remember seeing photographs in my geography and sociology classes in college comparing average personal belongings for Americans to people from around the world in countries such as Japan, Mexico, Europe, Africa, India, and so on. There was an alarming difference in the amount of resources used for consumption in the United States compared to other nations, many of which are also developed nations. You can also view a world clock and experience just how much the U.S. and the world is consuming every day, week, month, and year.

I also was introduced to TED Talks and came across a video that got the ball rolling on downsizing and streamlining my life. 

When I began researching this streamlined lifestyle I came across several blogs and videos about people living in tiny houses. Some of which included stories of people who lived in New York apartments within 100 square foot, and they would also challenge people to live within 100 personal items. One blog that stands out most in my mind was written by a couple in Portland, OR that was overwhelmed with debt, working overtime, and in over their head with stress and daily life. They sold both of their cars to use Portland’s great public transportation system, as well as take advantage of bicycles to cause fewer emissions and stay in shape. During this process the husband went back to school to get his PhD while the wife went from working overtime to part-time and now spends her free time volunteering her efforts towards her passions. Their new lifestyle caused me to examine my life and begin taking inventory of my personal belongings. At one point in my life my collections were getting out of control, but have since sold everything. I now feel less anxiety when it comes to moving, and the reduction of clutter frees my mind of stress. I no longer feel I am missing something from my life and search for it in the big box stores and malls.

 

Houses have grown by three times in the last few decades, so we should have plenty of room for our possessions, right? Wrong. With the purchase of larger homes came the trend of purchasing a greater amount of items to fill those homes until consumption spins out of control. With this came a booming industry of storage units. Not only are our homes not big enough to hold our things we “cannot live without”, but we can’t park our car in the garage. Yet, we force ourselves to rent storage space for the things not quite worthy of being in the house rather than downsizing on items we no longer truly need. I say we should start a revolution to free ourselves of the clutter, while at the same time-saving the earth from our wasteful tendencies and ever-growing piles of trash. Larger homes and storage units mean more land use, over consumption in a throw-away society means more land use and tax dollars to buy the land for landfills.

 Politics can be a mess and seem like we are going nowhere, the industry lobbyist are armed with money and tailored suits, however we are armed with our voice and our votes. So I encourage you to create and keep a relationship with your representative whether you agree with them or not. However we are also have a vote with our dollars. Whenever we buy something it means that we approve of that product, materials it is made of, and the business practices. With this being said let companies know you want products made out of recycled materials or that use less packaging. Shop second-hand and thrift so people invest and create an economy that supports recycling. Politicians and business really pay attention to what we want by what we spend our money on.

-Mike, Sierra Club Lone Star chapter Intern

 

White Stallion Coal Proposal Cancelled

Local Advocates & Environmental Groups Declare Victory

BAY CITY, TX – After years of grassroots challenges, White Stallion Energy Center developers have chosen to suspend the proposed plant. When the project  was first announced, local residents joined together to question the air pollution, water consumption, and accuracy of the developers’ promises. More and more Matagorda County residents joined together to oppose the plant, along with business owners, land owners, members of the medical community, and local elected officials. The Sierra Club, Public Citizen, SEED Coalition, Environmental Integrity Project, and Environmental Defense Fund join the No Coal Coalition in celebrating the cancellation of the White Stallion Energy Center.

Houston Vice Mayor Pro-Tem Speaks out Against White Stallion in 2012

Houston Vice Mayor Pro-Tem Speaks out Against White Stallion in 2012

“The White Stallion developers came to Matagorda County, thinking they could lure us into supporting a project that would suck up our water, pump mercury into our bay, and pollute our air. Brave residents asked tough questions, and realized the White Stallion plant would harm our community and our economy. This plant is cancelled because we organized to protect our families and Matagorda County,” said Eva Malina, president of the No Coal Coalition, the local organization fighting the plant.  “I think they thought that since we were a small rural community, they would not encounter opposition.  They were wrong.”

Developers had trouble securing sufficient water to operate the plant and the necessary funding to develop the proposed plant in earnest. In November 2011, amid strong grassroots opposition, the Lower Colorado River Authority voted to deny a contract to provide water to operate the plant. In May 2012, local fishermen and business owners publicly announced their opposition to the plant because it would be a major new source of mercury pollution in a community whose economy is tied closely to the bay. The plant also suffered a blow when a court ruled against its challenges to Clean Air Act safeguards.

Since the plant was proposed in 2008, the Texas electricity market has shifted substantially, with wind power and natural gas driving electricity prices so low that huge, capital-intensive new coal plants could not compete. Wind power provided over 20% of Texas’ electricity on peak days in 2012, and new wind farms will bring more clean, low-cost electricity to the Texas grid in 2013 and the near future.

Matagorda County Landowner opposed to White Stallion Coal Plant

Matagorda County Landowner opposed to White Stallion Coal Plant

“Huge, dirty coal plants like White Stallion can’t compete with cheaper, cleaner fuels. Texas wind energy is booming, and will continue to grow. We haven’t begun to tap our solar and geothermal resources yet, which will further fuel a clean energy revolution in the Lone Star State,” said Lydia Avila, organization representative with the Sierra Club. “Ultimately, the White Stallion proposal didn’t match the values of the community or the direction of the Texas energy economy. This is a major victory for everyone fighting for clean air, clean water, and the health of our families.”

Texas utilities had proposed to build more than two dozen new coal boilers at new and existing plants over the past decade, yet in keeping with national trends, a total of 13 plants and 21 coal boiler proposals have failed and were cancelled. Recently, Chase Power, LLC., suspended the proposed Las Brisas plant in Corpus Christi, and  Tenaska’s proposed Trailblazer Energy Center near Sweetwater, TX, has been unable to secure the water needed to operate and has been stalled for more than a year. Nationwide, 175 proposed coal plants have been cancelled, and 139 existing plants are on the path to retirement. Coal is providing the lowest share of U.S. power in more than a generation as clean energy powers more homes and businesses across Texas.

whitestallion dead

Strong Texas Wind Industry Bolsters Triple Bottom Line

Technicians work to install a wind turbine in West Texas. (Photo credit: New York Times)

Technicians work to install a wind turbine in West Texas. (Photo credit: New York Times)

Due to the economic difficulty of the past several years, much of our country has become enveloped by a sense of urgency to recover from recession. Obviously, the central focus of this urgency is to create jobs, and, as some might suggest, create them even at the expense of the environment. Indeed, economic recovery and environmental protection seem to be pitted against one another with astonishing frequency. However, an increasing amount of evidence suggests that we can accomplish one without compromising the other – and that we already are, to some extent. In fact, by simply looking within our own state, we see proof of a renewable energy industry – led by wind power generation – that is creating a wealth of economic opportunities for Texans.

Since the revision of the Texas Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) in 2005, which mandated an expansion of the state’s renewable energy capacity to 10,000 MW by 2025, there has been increased emphasis on fostering a strong renewable energy industry in Texas. This effort, aided by state programs and incentives, has enjoyed its share of success. In fact, Texas renewables blew the lid off of the aforementioned target in spectacular fashion – by 2010, wind energy capacity alone surpassed the 10,000 MW goal that was set for all renewables to achieve by 2025. Consequently, Texas has become the leading state for wind energy production and accounts for over 22% of the nation’s installed wind capacity. Accordingly, this large investment in Texas wind power has come to support many high-quality jobs for skilled workers. According to a report by the Governor’s office, wind energy-related employment in Texas accounted for 25,798 jobs as of the fourth quarter of 2011. Furthermore, the average annual wage was $61,908 – a figure that is well above the average income for Texans.

The prospect for continued growth in wind industry employment is promising, as well. According to a report by the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, the wind and solar energy industries are projected to add 6,000 jobs per year in Texas through 2020 (with a strong likelihood that a larger proportion of these will be created by wind energy). Such strong growth in renewable energy employment goes hand-in-hand with the increasing competitiveness of renewables in the Texas energy market. According to a recent study by ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas), wind and solar energy in Texas will enjoy much more significant growth over the next 20 years than they had previously expected – a conclusion that was reached after recalculating wind and solar competitiveness using more recent cost and energy output measures.

ERCOT's updated capacity forecast is located on the right side of the graph. Their previous capacity assumptions are on the left side. (Illustration credit: EDF)

ERCOT’s updated capacity forecast is located on the right side of the graph. Their previous capacity forecast is on the left side. (Illustration credit: EDF)

If ERCOT’s assumptions about the Texas wind industry are correct, investors and employees alike will be pleased, but so will rural Texans, who will continue to benefit from the economic development that wind farms bring to their communities. Landowners, including farmers and ranchers, are able to lease their properties to wind developers for an extra source of income. Property values in rural communities that are suited for wind development continue to rise. Local businesses in rural Texas have received new customers to serve in businessmen and turbine technicians alike. Furthermore, increased tax revenues for previously cash-strapped rural governments have provided some financial flexibility.

This trend bodes well for the Texas workforce, which will benefit from an increase in well-paying jobs. Moreover, meeting new demand through drought-resistant energy resources will provide tremendous benefits to the state in saved water resources and curbed toxic emissions (both of which help prevent environmental and economic losses), and will also help prevent pollution-related health problems for our citizens. As renewable energy projects grow in numbers, our state’s capacity to positively affect the triple bottom line (economy, environment, social responsibility) will only grow larger, which should make renewable energy development a policy priority moving forward.

Written by Diego Atencio