Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Good news, bad news - green news

Just when I think we'll never learn how to be good citizens of this miraculous blue planet, along comes some news that lifts my spirits. Like "Executive on a Mission: Saving the Planet," the New York Times profile of Ray Anderson, the 72-year-old owner of Interface, one of the world's largest makers of carpet tiles. In 1994, Anderson read up on environmental issues and realized he was running a company that was "plundering the environment."

So he challenged his employees to turn Interface into a "restorative enterprise," a sustainable company that recycles or reuses all of its materials, is carbon- and emissions-neutral, and doesn't use harmful materials or processes, by 2020. They're well on their way. Much to Anderson's surprise, going green has not only not cost them anything, it's turned a profit. And turned Anderson into a sought-after speaker and green guru for other companies.

Then there's the U.S. Forest Service's announcement yesterday that they're initiating a $1.5 million "Kids in the Woods" project to get schoolkids out of their classrooms and into the out-of-doors. In case you've missed all the recent research or haven't been around kids lately, turns out that a lack of time spent in nature is epidemic today, and has been blamed for the concurrent epidemic of childhood diabetes, obesity, and attention deficit disorder. One-point-five million dollars isn't much when spread over the whole country, but it's an admission that we need to get kids back outside, and not just to play soccer and other organized sports. Like us, they need time to explore and discover the community of the land. It's good for our health, physically, mentally, emotionally. Time spent in the company of other species feeds our often-harried and spiritually impoverished souls.

Then there's the bad news: the mother humpback whale and her calf who swam up the Sacramento River as far as California's state capitol city ten days ago, taking a 90-mile detour into freshwater on their migration north to Arctic waters, are not doing well, say biologists. After charming some 15,000 observers over several days spent in the port of Sacramento, the two started back downriver last weekend. But they only got as far as the Rio Vista Bridge, 20 miles downstream, before beginning to swim in circles, probably, say biologists, because they're confused by the underwater vibrations from the traffic passing over the massive bridge. Now the two, both of whom sport large gashes probably inflicted by boat propellers, are beginning to look bad: their skin is pitted and sagging. There's no food for them in the Sacramento, and the freshwater is not good for their health. They need to get back to the bay and the open ocean, but their navigation systems are impaired by the overwhelming din of humanity.

It makes me profoundly sad to think that we've created a world that is convenient and comfortable for us, but is unhealthy for so many other species, a world where humpback whales, those huge and intelligent creatures, cannot swim their thousands of mile annual migrations in peace as they have for millennia. It's their world too. Their loss diminishes our lives as well.

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