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Written by the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine   
Tuesday, 27 October 2009 09:24

Dear EarthTalk: Has anyone ever studied the environmental impact of discarded

"Studies done by Johns Hopkins
University, the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention
and even the tobacco industry
itself show that contaminants
from cigarette butts can get
into soils and waterways, harm
or kill living organisms and generally
degrade surrounding ecosystems."

cigarettes? I’m constantly appalled at the number of drivers I see pitching their butts out their car windows.
-- Ned Jordan, via email

It’s true that littered cigarette butts are a public nuisance, and not just for aesthetic reasons. The filters on cigarettes—four fifths of all cigarettes have them—are made of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic that is very slow to degrade in the environment. A typical cigarette butt can take anywhere from 18 months to 10 years to decompose, depending on environmental conditions.

But beyond the plastic, these filters—which are on cigarettes in the first place to absorb contaminants to prevent them from going into the lungs—contain trace amounts of toxins like cadmium, arsenic and lead. Thus when smokers discard their butts improperly—out the car window or off the end of a pier or onto the sidewalk below—they are essentially tossing these substances willy-nilly into the environment.

Written by Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine   
Wednesday, 21 October 2009 08:04

Dear EarthTalk: How are heating, cooling and electricity produced by

"A utility-grade geothermal energy
plant in Iceland, which derives 26.5
percent of its electricity needs from
the technology. Here in the U.S.,
where geothermal is in its infancy,
the Obama administration has set
aside $750 million for geothermal
development, and Congress has
allocated $129 million to the Department
of Energy for various geothermal programs."

geothermal energy? I don’t understand how it works.       -- Delano Stewart, Wyandanch, NY

The term “geothermal” is derived from the Greek words for Earth (geo) and heat (therme). In essence geothermal energy is power harnessed from the Earth itself. Heat from the Earth’s core, which averages about 6,650 degrees Fahrenheit, emanates out toward the planet’s surface. Heated springs and geysers up to three miles underground can be accessed by special wells that bring the hot water (or steam from it) up to the surface where it can be used directly for heat or indirectly to generate electricity by powering rotating turbines. Since the water under the Earth’s surface is constantly replenished, and the Earth’s core will continue to generate heat indefinitely, geothermal power is ultimately clean and renewable.

Written by From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine   
Monday, 05 October 2009 11:55

Dear EarthTalk: Is it true that environmental non-profits have been hit hard by the economic downturn, and has this had an impact on their effectiveness? -- Bridget W., Bainbridge Island, WA

Non-profits of every stripe have been suffering from the economic downturn. In a recent survey of 800 U.S.-based non-profits, 75 percent reported feeling the effects of the downturn, with more than half already experiencing significant cuts in funding from both government and private foundation sources.

According to a recently released report from Civic Enterprises and the Democratic Leadership Council entitled “Quiet Crisis: The Impact of the Economic Downturn on the Nonprofit Sector,” few of these groups have strong reserves to weather the downturn—more than half have less than three months of operating funds on hand, while three-quarters cannot make it six months on existing cash reserves.

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