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Earth Talk
Written by the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazi   
Monday, 31 January 2011 09:15

Dear EarthTalk: Global population numbers continue to rise, as does the poverty, suffering and environmental degradation that goes with it. Has the U.S., under Obama, increased or at least restored its family planning aid to developing countries that was cut when the Bush Administration first took office?         -- T. Healy, via e-mail

The Obama administration's reinstate-
ment of funding to the United Nations
Population Fund helps the agency's
efforts around the world to reduce
poverty and to ensure that every
pregnancy is wanted, every birth is
safe, every young person is free of
HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman
is treated with dignity and respect.
Photo courtesy CIMMYT/Flickr

The short answer is yes. President Obama is much more interested in family planning around the world than his predecessor ever was. One of Obama’s first acts upon assuming office in 2009 was the restoration of funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). George W. Bush had withheld some $244 million in aid to the UNFPA over the previous seven years. UNFPA works with developing countries around the world to “reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.”

Reinstated U.S. funding will help the agency pursue its goals of universal access to reproductive health services, universal primary education and closing of the gender gap in education, reducing maternal and infant mortality, increasing life expectancy and decreasing HIV infection rates.

Along with restoring UNFPA funding, Obama also overturned the so-called “Global Gag Rule” that prohibited groups funded by the U.S. Agency in International Development (USAID) from using any government or non-government funds for “providing advice, counseling or information regarding abortion, or lobbying a foreign government to legalize or make abortion available.” Foreign nonprofits were already not allowed to use U.S. funds to pay for abortions, but the Global Gag Rule—first instituted as the ‘Mexico City Policy’ in 1984 by the Reagan White House, then overturned by Clinton and later reinstated by George W. Bush—went further by restricting the free speech rights of government grantees and stifling public debate on the contentious topic. Foreign NGOs that accept U.S. funding still cannot perform abortions, but can discuss the options openly with the families they serve.

Written by the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine   
Monday, 24 January 2011 09:09

Dear EarthTalk: A number of federal energy efficiency related tax incentives expired at the end of 2010. Will any such programs remain in force and if not, are there other ways to save money on green upgrades?        -- Jen Franklin, Chicago, IL

During 2011, purchases of any of the
new all-electric cars, such as the Chevy
Volt or Nissan Leaf (pictured here),
qualify for up to a $7,500 federal tax
credit. The federal government now
also offers a tax credit for 10 percent
(up to $4,000) of the cost of a kit to
convert an existing hybrid vehicle into
a plug-in hybrid. Photo courtesy Nissan

It is true that some federal tax credits for energy efficiency upgrades expired at the end of 2010, but there is legislative effort afoot to extend some of those credits—and there are plenty of other ways to defray the costs of turning over a new green leaf or two this year and beyond.

One of the best known green federal tax incentives, the Residential Energy Efficiency Tax Credit—which kicked in 30 percent of the cost of household efficiency upgrades up to $1,500 on items including water heaters, furnaces, heat pumps, central air conditioning systems, insulation, windows, doors and roofs—is no longer available as of January 1, 2011. However, some lawmakers are looking to extend the credit. U.S. Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico) have drafted legislation calling for keeping the program going, in a slightly revised form, for another two years.

Written by the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine   
Monday, 17 January 2011 13:54

Dear EarthTalk: What is being done to enable ocean fish populations to rebound after being so over-fished? Are nations coming together on this in any way?  -- Deborah Kay, Milford, CT


"Although 75 percent of the world’s
fisheries are now neither overexploited,
fully exploited, significantly depleted
or recovering from overexploitation,
many governments continue to provide
huge subsidies -­ about $20 billion
annually -­ to their fishing sectors.
Pictured: A fisherman hauls in a catch
in the North Sea." Credit this image
to "Thinkstock."

There is no overarching international agreement to limit overfishing globally, but a few governments have been able to implement and enforce restrictions at regional levels that have resulted in rebounding fish stocks. The success of these isolated examples gives environmentalists and marine biologists hope that protecting marine hotspots from overfishing can save the biodiversity of the world’s oceans.

The results of an extensive four-year study released in 2006 by leading fisheries expert Boris Worm of Canada’s Dalhousie University and colleagues showed that overfishing would put every single commercial fishery in the world out of business by 2048, with the oceans potentially never recovering. But University of Washington fisheries scientist Ray Hilborn challenged Worm’s frightening conclusion, offering evidence that several fisheries in parts of the U.S., Iceland and New Zealand were recovering. So the two men decided to team up on a new, even more comprehensive survey of fisheries around the world.

The results the second time around, published in 2010 in the peer-reviewed journal, Science, provided ocean advocates with somewhat more encouraging results. In half of the 10 fisheries studied by Worm, Hilborn and their researchers, closing some fisheries, creating protected areas, setting catch limits and modernizing equipment did result in lower exploitation rates and some fish are indeed on the rebound.

“This is a watershed,” Worm told reporters. The new study “shows clearly what can be done not only to avoid further fisheries collapse but to actually rebuild fish stocks” and provides a baseline which scientists and managers can use to gauge progress. “It’s only a start, but it gives me hope that we have the ability to bring overfishing under control,” he added.

Of course, a little bit of good news hardly means we’ve solved the overfishing problem. Environmentalists were particularly disappointed last year when the European Union (EU) announced it would set quotas for deep-sea fisheries even higher than expected. According to Uta Bellion, director of the European Marine Programme for the non-profit Pew Environment Group, the EU’s decision “will give fleets from France, Spain and Portugal the opportunity to continue plundering these stocks.” She adds that the new quotas go against a 2009 United Nations General Assembly resolution that commits the EU to implement a set of measures to ensure the long-term sustainability of deep-sea fish and the rebuilding of depleted stocks.

Meanwhile, some groups are trying to end the government subsidies that effectively bankroll overfishing, legal or otherwise. The nonprofit Oceana, for instance, led an ill-fated 2010 effort to persuade the World Trade Organization to ban subsidies that encourage the depletion of fish and other marine resources. “Although 75 percent of the world’s fisheries are now either overexploited, fully exploited, significantly depleted or recovering from overexploitation, many governments continue to provide huge subsidies—about $20 billion annually—to their fishing sectors,” says Andy Sharpless, Oceana’s CEO. “The fleets are fishing at a level that’s as much as 2.5 times more than what’s required for sustainable catch levels.”

CONTACTS: Pew Environment Group,; Oceana,; Boris Worm’s Lab,; Ray Hilborn,

From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: What’s being done to “green up” professional sports? I know that the last two Olympic Games both made some effort, but are there others?  -- Rob Avandic, Chicago, IL


"The Philadelphia Eagles' Lincoln Financial Field obtains all of its energy from
wind power, pours fans’ beverages in biodegradable corn-based plastic cups,
powers its scoreboard with solar panels, and has reduced electricity use
overall by a third since embarking on a program with the help of the Natural
resources Defense Council to save energy and reduce waste."  Credit this
image to "Kevin H., courtesy Flickr." 

The last two Olympics were indeed greener than any before, but environmental awareness isn’t limited to the realm of international amateur competition. In fact, in just the last few years all of the major professional North American sports leagues have made strides in greening their operations.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has helped blaze the trail through its “Greening the Games” initiative. Since 2003, when the National Football League’s (NFL) Philadelphia Eagles turned to NRDC for help saving energy and reducing waste, NRDC has helped dozens of pro teams evaluate their environmental impacts and make changes. Today the Eagles obtain all of their energy at Lincoln Field from wind power, pour fans’ beverages in biodegradable corn-based plastic cups, power their scoreboard with solar panels and have reduced electricity use overall by a third. The NFL itself has also jumped on the bandwagon, implementing various green initiatives at the Super Bowl, the Pro Bowl and other big events.

In 2008, NRDC teamed up with Major League Baseball (MLB) to first green the All Star Game and, the following year, the World Series. Subsequently, NRDC assessed each team’s environmental footprint and made recommendations for improving it. Several teams have gone on to build or refurbish their stadiums with sustainability in mind. Boston’s Fenway Park, Atlanta’s Turner Field, Washington, DC’s Nationals Park, and San Francisco’s AT&T Park all get high marks for pro-environment features and operations.

In 2008, NRDC began working with the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) to green its signature event, the U.S. Open. For one, this led to a move to 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper for tournament programs. And an environmental review of all operations at the National Tennis Center in Queens, New York led to a number of green improvements, including the switch to 90 percent post-consumer recycled paper for some 2.4 million napkins and a move to wind turbines for the tournament’s electricity.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) jumped on the NRDC sports bandwagon in 2009, working with the group to organize its first annual Green Week in early April whereby the entire league works in concert to generate environmental awareness and funding for related causes. As part of the festivities, which took place in 2010 as well and will happen again in April 2011, each NBA team hosted community service events including tree plantings, recycling drives and park clean-up days.

NRDC got the National Hockey League (NHL) in on the act as well, helping to green the Stanley Cup Finals and working with individual teams as it did with baseball and football. In announcing the launch of the NHL Green program, league commissioner Gary Bettman commented that it’s only fitting for professional ice hockey to care about staving off global warming: “Most of our players learned to skate on outdoor rinks. For that magnificent tradition to continue through future generations we need winter weather—and as a league we are uniquely positioned to promote that message.”

CONTACTS: NRDC,; MLB Team Greening Program,; NBA Green,; NHL Green,; USTA,

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . E is a nonprofit publication. Subscribe:; Request a Free Trial Issue:

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