Category Archives: In the News

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Invasive Species: Zebra Mussels Now In Texas

InfoCross_2_Strayer_USGS_zebra_mussel_map

Zebra mussels are an invasive species in the US. They first arrived in 1988 on European ships ballast. Lack of predators against the zebra mussels gave them the ability to infest eastern US waterways from the start. When they arrived here they increased competition for native aquatic species. They attach to our boats and are hard to see because they are only about an inch long. Zebra mussels spread faster than bunny rabbits- they multiply by producing about one million larvae per one single zebra mussel. Texas should be worried about their lakes because as you can see in the graph, they’ve now spread down here. According to texasinvasives.org, “Zebra mussels can cause tremendous environmental and economic damage – hurting aquatic life, damaging your boat, hindering water recreation and even threatening your water supply.” Find out about if zebra mussel are in our area here.

So what can you do? Firstly, you can spread awareness. Many people don’t know what invasive species are. Spreading awareness brings attention to people like Dan Molloy, a researcher who is trying to find a “natural killer” to eradicate the pests. You can find more information about his research here in this short article. You can also go on outings to help get rid of the zebra mussels.

Zebra mussels attach to many parts of your boat and clean thrive for days. To make sure they aren’t attached to your boat, clean all parts of, drain it completely, and dry the boat for at least a week before entering into a new body of water.

Humans vs. Earth’s Climate: Preparing for Battle

When I first heard the phrase “climate change”, I, like many others, was undecided on the matter and really didn’t have a clue what that phrase was supposed to mean. Should I be scared? I hope the daily climate would change all the time over here in Texas. This confusion led to a trip to the internet, where ignorance is optional, and over time I read a lot about it, trying to avoid opinionated rants while relying on credible sources of information to mold my perception of the truth. I found myself studying the carbon cycle, reading those really long and uninteresting scientific papers, and watching documentaries such as Chasing Ice, where a scientist captures glaciers in motion through time lapsed photography as they recede and disappear. I really dove in. The deeper I dove the more evidence came to support the notion that earth’s climate system is changing and our planet is slowly warming in a way that will likely be detrimental if not dealt with.

the blue marble

Home Sweet Home

What a massive and complex force to have to deal with. Trying to mitigate a change in the Earth’s climate seems like a pretty daunting feet. So, how do we solve this problem? I guess the default answer would be, “to find the solution.” However, I believe “the solution” needs to be rephrased with “many solutions, collaboratively recognized and implemented worldwide.” A major part of this solution needs to face one of the most influential causes of climate change, such as our current escalated contribution of greenhouse gases (GHG’s), namely carbon dioxide and methane, to the atmosphere.

Explanation of Green House Gases (GHG’s):

GHG’s, when in higher concentration in the atmosphere, cause the atmosphere to trap more and more of the sun’s energy, resulting in the warming of our planet.

Nasa's explanation of GHG's

Nasa’s explanation of GHG’s

This process becomes worrisome when you consider that the carbon dioxide concentration in our atmosphere has increased by more than 35% since 1975 and is at an 800,000 year high. Even more worrisome is the fact that, according to the National Research Council, “the average temperature of Earth’s surface increased by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit  over the past one hundred years with 1 degree of this warming occurring over just the past three decades.”

So if this is really happening, how do we stop it? Well, one could start with the major source of this greenhouse gas concentration increase, which can be attributed primarily to the growth in carbon dioxide emissions from rapid expansion of fossil fuel burning. Other attributing factors include deforestation and land use and land cover changes.

Explanation of fossil fuel burning’s role in the carbon cycle:

Previous plant and animal remains trapped within geological structures in places all over the world, along with millions of years of heat and pressure, have created reservoirs of natural gas, oil, and coal. These reservoirs, in the form of hydrocarbons (long chains of Hydrogen and Carbon), have been stored sources of Carbon for a great amount of time. When these reservoirs are extracted and undergo a combustion reaction, they produce energy in the form of heat with new chemical species being formed, such as carbon dioxide (a green house gas).

I’m fascinated by our capability to discover these remains of ancient life forms and even more so at our ability to use them to meet the present day needs of our energy-reliant society. However, with a global oil production of 83.6 million barrels a day in 2011, this Carbon which has been stored underground for an extremely long amount of time is now being released into our system at a rapid rate… so would the statement, “too much of a good thing, is a bad thing” apply here?

I understand that the burning of fossil fuels is integral to our way of life and energy needs. The intricacy and complications of making rapid emission cuts would have great impacts for our infrastructure and societies. However, the likely effects of climate change/global warming could have even greater, more damaging, impacts on our infrastructure and societies. This is why it is necessary to confront this issue now and progress towards a greater reliance on renewable energy for our present and future energy needs.

This progression is much easier said than done and will undoubtedly be met with great opposition, especially by those involved in fossil fuel energy production (people like my mom). However, I like to perceive it as simply as one of my favorite environmental quotes, “if you get to the cliff, you can take one step forward or turn 180 degrees and take a step forward”.

For one, we’ve already discovered, engineered, and implemented many new means of capturing energy (wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass), all of which are readily available in specific regions, produce nearly no emissions, and are, except for hydroelectric, far less water intensive. We already have a large part of the solution, all we need is implementation. More positive progression was initiated this week as President Obama, leader of a nation that ranks as a close second place behind China in GHG emissions and energy consumption, made a speech that presented some bold, progressive goals: using full authority of the clean air act of 1970 to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, accelerating the implementation of more renewable energy that will “power 6 million homes by 2020”, and reducing energy waste through new energy efficiency. He also is trying to push congress to end the tax breaks for big oil companies to invest in  “the clean energy economies that will fuel our future” and is calling for initiatives to prepare for the inevitable future effects of climate change.

Implementation of these plans will take time, will require governmental initiatives to speed up the process, and will require specific measures to alleviate the negative impacts such change will have on certain individuals. An example of governmental measures to take would be to reduce the massive amount of money that is used to subsidize fossil fuel production and to allocate that money to renewable energy implementation. To alleviate this energy production shift on individuals, retiring fossil fuel companies will need to provide a just transition for its employees: examples include a large preliminary warning, new training, and good retirement packages.

It’s very exciting that the willingness and need to change has been stated by one of the world’s most influential people, but the battle has only yet to begin and many other solutions will need to be presented and implemented if we hope to come out on top. However, optimism is reborn from the depressing ashes of climate change talk as I reflect on how incredibly smart we are as a human race, how much we already know about the issue, and our amazing problem-solving abilities and can’t help but think, this is going to be a good fight.

Written by: Chase Cobb

Texas Water Fluoridation Controversy

When you turn on the water faucet in your kitchen to fill up a water bottle, you don’t usually think about the origin of the water you’re about to drink, how it was treated, and what may have been added to it. The only thing you’re really thinking about is how thirsty you are. We all need water, so we’re all used to just drinking whatever water we can get, as long as it looks clean and comes from a home, business, or water bottle. So it’s not surprising that most people have no idea that fluoride is put into their drinking water every day for dental hygienic reasons, not water treatment.

Woman Drinking Glass of Water

                Water fluoridation started in the 1940’s, when tooth decay was a problem and scientists had been researching the differences in natural fluoride concentrations in water sources. What they found was that areas with moderate amounts of fluoride in the water had fewer cases of tooth decay than those with water sources with lower amounts of fluoride. While they also found that excessive amounts of fluoride could cause things like dental fluorosis, communities started adding moderate amounts of fluoride into their drinking water to keep teeth healthy, at the recommendation of several dental associations as well as the FDA.

Today, water fluoridation has stirred some controversy. The side that promotes water fluoridation states that the benefits of fluoridated water completely outweigh the negatives. Fluoridation costs about fifty cents a year per person, which is cheaper than dental visits, and it has been proven to prevent tooth decay, reducing a person’s risk by about 25%. People who oppose community water fluoridation state that the government should not be in control of medicating communities through public resources because it does not allow people to make the choice of whether or not they want to be medicated, especially since the amount of fluoride one should have for dental use differs per person depending on age, etc. They also state that with increased public knowledge of dental hygiene, there is no longer any reason for the public to be given extra amounts of fluoride. Lastly, they state that many countries in Europe and the US have similar amounts of tooth decay, but most countries in Europe do not use fluoridated water, so the true effectiveness may vary.

Here in Texas, around 80% of the population that uses public water drinks water that is fluoridated. Some communities, including places like College Station, Lago Vista, and Alamo Heights, have voted against water fluoridation, and many more have groups that are trying to end fluoridation. Whichever side you stand on for community water fluoridation, water is our most important resource, so continue to be educated about what is in your water and how it affects you.

Want to Spend the Summer in Austin Fighting Climate Change?

Are you looking for a meaningful, professional internship in Austin this summer? Great! We’re looking for Summer interns!

Austin, TX

Austin, TX

As you may know, The Sierra Club is the oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization in the country. The Texas chapter focuses on many environmental issues including but not limited to energy efficiency, fossil fuel dependency, endangered species, and water conservation. Interns will have the opportunity to help organize a grassroots campaign, work in communications, and conduct policy research. Interns will also learn real skills through professional training workshops and work with a professional staffer as a mentor and resource.

Qualifications: A passion for environmental issues and social change, strong communication and people skills, and a desire to develop campaign organizing skills. No previous experience required.

Interns and Volunteers Making a Difference

Interns and Volunteers Making a Difference

Check out our Craigslist post!

To apply: Please send your resume and cover letter to Student Outreach Coordinator Tansy Stobart at tansystobartsc@gmail.com and CC Internship Manager Lydia Avila at lydia.avila@sierraclub.org. Applications are due Wednesday, May 8th at 12:00 PM.

We hope to hear from you soon!

Sierra Club Tells House Energy Resources Committee, “It Ain’t 1983,” Supports HB 3598 to Raise Maximum fines on oil and gas polluters.

For Immediate Release: April 10, 2013

549061_10151518113817920_4140573_nFor More Information: Lone Star Chapter Conservation Director Cyrus Reed – 512-740-4086, cyrus.reed@sierraclub.org

Dressed in his best imitation Don Johnson/Miami Vice white suit, Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter Conservation Director Cyrus Reed testified in support of legislation to raise the maximum fines the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) can assess against oil and gas companies violating state laws from the current $10,000 to $25,000 per violation per day.

“The $10,000 maximum was set in 1983, when the Police and Michael Jackson were the two biggest musical acts, and the Ewings out of Dallas were the biggest oil developers in Texas,” Reed told members of the House Committee on Energy Resources. “You should support HB 3598 (Rep. Lon Burnam – Fort Worth) to raise the maximum penalty from $10,000 to $25,000, because $25,000 today essentially equals $10,000 in 1983.”

Reed noted that the Sunset Advisory Commission recommended raising the RRC maximum fines to $25,000 four years ago. The Texas Attorney General, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency already have maximum fines of $25,000 per violation per day.

Reed wrapped up his testimony quoting Sting and Michael Jackson, “It is time for the Railroad Commission of Texas to watch ‘every move you make’ and tell companies operating in Texas with egregious regulatory violations to pay the fines, clean up their act or ‘beat it’.”

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Seafood Watch

For special occasions, we turn to a nice sushi dinner or some good salmon. When we’re on the beach in Hawaii or sightseeing in San Francisco, we like to finish off the day with shrimp cocktails and fresh crab. Sometimes when we’re visiting exotic places, we’re introduced to enormous Tiger Prawns, shark fins, and conch. Admit it, seafood is usually an interesting and delicious twist to our everyday lives. For some people, avoiding things like shark fin, dolphin, and sea turtle is obvious. But it’s not just the exotic seafood choices that are the most harmful. In fact, it’s often the things we eat every day.

Bluefin Tuna

Seafood can be considered unsustainable for many different reasons. Some species, sea turtles included, are already endangered, often due to environmental strains other than fishing such as habitat loss and climate change. However, many other species such as the prized Bluefin Tuna (shown above) are on their way to endangerment simply because of unsustainable fishing practices and overfishing in the wild. This often makes fish farming seem like the most sustainable way to produce seafood, but unfortunately, this practice can also have downsides, such as drinking water pollution and natural habitat destruction. This makes eating seafood in general look grim. So should you be eating seafood and if so, how do you know?

The Bad News…

Location is everything with a lot of seafood out there, so it isn’t always as easy as saying yes or no to a certain type of fish. In some cases, sardines for instance, regulations or safe practices from one source make them a great option, where another source without safe practice should be avoided at all costs. The good part is, even though this is a tiny bit of effort on your part, you can always ask a restaurant or grocery store where that fish is from, and they’ll usually have an answer for you. If not, it’s up to you whether or not you want to buy it.

The Good News…

Seafood is great! And you can absolutely still eat a ton of it. You can still eat the following delicious seafood treats (and more) without worrying about sustainability:

  • Mussels
  • Clams
  • Mackerel
  • Catfish
  • Oysters
  • Scallops
  • Squid
  • Tilapia
  • And more!

Sometimes being sustainable isn’t the easiest choice, but the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California has an easy to use Seafood Watch List that you can look up online or through a phone app. The best thing you can do in this case and in any environmental matter is to keep yourself informed and inform others, so please visit the links to learn more.

-Morgan, Sierra Club Intern

DON’T WASTE WATER

We are all aware that our area is going on its third year in a drought. Texas had a lovely surplus of rainfall last year in the early months, but we have not seen many raindrops since then. As I look over the forecast for the next few days, and even weeks on some weather sources, I do not see much hope for precipitation. The scary reality is that we went almost an entire month (November 2012) without significant rainfall in Austin, according to Camp Mabry. This concern reminds me of  some similarities in the conditions that led to the Dust Bowl. Instead of hoping, wishing, and praying for rain we could take actions to use our precious resource more effectively.  We may not have a choice in the amount of rainfall for the area, but we do have a choice in the amount of water resources that we consume. There is a great deal we can do in our everyday water usage.

LANDSCAPING

  • Consider newer species such as Buffalo Grass, that require less water than St. Augustine and Bermuda
  • Irrigate lawns during the early morning hours or late in the evening because of evaporation from direct sun exposure
  • Use native plants that adapt well to Texas summers (Xeriscaping) -they are called “native plants” for a reason
  • Zone or group plants together that require similar amounts of water
  • Consider using rocks, wooden decking, and patio fixtures to reduce lawn areas
  • Construct or purchase a rain barrel for rainwater collection to water your plants
  • Adjust automatic sprinklers to turn off when it rains

  • Install modern landscape devices, such as drip irrigation, that applies water at the plant root level

  • Mow grass at taller heights when the summer sun becomes intense

INSIDE THE HOUSE

  • Wash clothes and run dishwashers only when you have a full load, or when absolutely necessary
  • Utilize front loading washing machines, which use ½ as much water as traditional clothing washers
  • Wash fruits and vegetables in a pan of water, then recycle the water on your potted plants

  • Retrofit with new low-flow water fixtures, shorten your showers, and lower bath water level

  • Repair leaking faucets and toilets that “run” continuously
  • Place a plastic bottle in older toilet tanks to reduce the water volume level

  • Do not waste a flush on items such as bugs, facial tissue, cigarette butts, or other trash down the toilet

  • Turn off the faucet when brushing teeth, shampooing hair, applying soap

  • Invest in a tank-less, on demand, hot water heater

  • Use a bucket to save water for watering plants while waiting for the shower to heat up

IF YOU MUST

  • Consider if you actually need to wash your car, or if the pool and hot tub are necessities

  • Turn off the hose while washing the car or use a bucket of water

  • Fill swimming pools at lower levels to avoid water loss

  • Cover hot tubs when not in use to reduce evaporation

  • Do not “sweep”  your deck, driveway, etc. with water from a water hose

A great deal of this may come off as common sense and common knowledge in the environmentally conscious community, but I have seen people misusing water first-hand. For example, tropical trees in a semi-arid climate zone, washing their clothes daily, using their dishwasher daily without filling it, etc, yet wondering why their utilities are so high. Yes, the world is made up of 67% water, but only 3% of that is freshwater and 2% of that is locked away in natural dams we call glaciers. Therefore only 1% can used by a growing global population.

Even if the environment is not your first consideration, saving water is saving money. Misuse of water leads to throwing your money away for unnecessary luxuries.

For further reading on Texas lawmakers addressing the drought, click here.

No matter your political affiliation, this is a bipartisan concern. So while the above list addressed habits that can be acquired around the house, a great deal of water usage comes from industrial uses.

source: http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/graphics/wateruse/wuin-map.gif

Texas is behind Louisiana and Indiana in terms of industrial water withdrawals. Now with this bit of knowledge there is something else you can do to conserve water, contact your local representative, express concern and urge for regulations on industrial water usage.

-Mike Ray

Sierra Club – Lone Star Chapter Intern

Sources:

http://www.arlingtontx.gov/water/waterconservation_tips.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/environment/conservationnow/global/freshwater/