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Ivory Merchant

Ivory MerchantSome recent listings on eBay, chosen at random: elephant ivory bangles originally bought in Senegal, a blue whale figurine carved from Alaskan walrus ivory, a set of ivory scrimshaw piano keys. The Internet is now a handy tool for poachers and dealers to circumvent restrictions on the trade in wildlife products. No surprise there. But eBay, home of the vintage Beanie Baby?

In a recent report, "Bidding for Extinction," the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) charges that the global online auction house is complicit, both directly and indirectly, in the poaching and sale of products made from endangered wildlife, especially ivory. IFAW researchers tracked eBay sites in eight countries, and the record of most nations, including the United States, was dismal. EBay USA does have a policy restricting trade in wildlife, but IFAW found this "not only confusing and ill-defined but hopelessly weak." Of 90 ivory items examined on the eBay USA site, only four were fully compliant. None had a permit for ivory from CITES, an international treaty aimed at protecting wildlife through the regulation of trade. The auction house has told IFAW it welcomes the report and will review its policies.
-- Adam Spangler

Wilderness Be Dammed

Our Fall 2006 cover story, "Patagonia Under Siege," looked at plans to dam the two biggest rivers in southern Chile. Together the Spanish utility Endesa and the Chilean energy company Colbún want to invest $4 billion in four colossal dams that would supply Chile with 2,400 megawatts of urgently needed electricity.

This always had the feel of an unequal fight: local activists pitted against powerful corporations. Now the government seems to have signaled which side it's on. The dams, says Rodrigo Iglesias of the National Energy Commission, will "strengthen [Chile's] energy security and independence."

Now here's the irony: While Iglesias talks of energy security, the dam-builders cite hydropower as proof of their environmental commitment. The Matte Group, which owns a controlling interest in Colbún, is making large investments in biomass, wind, hydro, geothermal, and solar. Endesa is now the fifth-largest generator of wind power in the world. Meanwhile, another Chilean company has requested water rights to a dozen other rivers, all of which could be easily plugged into the 1,000-mile transmission line that Endesa and Colbún want to build to connect the far south to the Chilean heartland. And that would destroy Patagonia.

In the fight to reduce carbon emissions there are bound to be tradeoffs. But the risk is that things that were once at the heart of the environmental agenda -- like the preservation of our last wild places -- may just come to be seen as the necessary collateral damage.

Prince of Wax

Prince of WaxThese are exciting times at Madame Tussauds in London: first a new figure of Justin Timberlake (known as SexyWax), and then another of HRH Prince Charles. Think of this one as EcoWax.

Strictly speaking, the statue isn't a replacement, but a $298,000 refurbishing of the 1989-vintage model of the prince, supplemented with 82 pounds of organic beeswax and 55 pounds of clay and fiberglass. HRH's delicate skin tones were rendered in organic pigments. To save electricity, the sculptors worked only by daylight and without power tools. And to offset the tiny amount of carbon generated by the project, Madame Tussauds planted three trees in Cornwall.

You may chuckle. But the real prince's credentials are actually pretty solid. His green career began more than 20 years ago, when he started the Duchy Originals line of organic food, from produce grown on his Gloucestershire estates. (Check out Duchy Original ginger biscuits at your local market.) He's now bought a Prius and abandoned private aircraft in favor of commercial flights and trains. And in January Al Gore presented him with the Harvard Medical School's annual Global Environmental Citizen Award -- arguably an even greater honor than standing next to Justin Timberlake.

How to Save a Monkey
A Nasty Gas Attack
Our Weather Man
Come Back, Sir Richard
Who You Gonna Call?
Sniffing the Air
Ivory Merchant
Wilderness Be Dammed
Prince of Wax
Where the Gas Is Always Greener


Where the Gas is Always Greener

"A little better": that's bp's slogan for helios house, its new eco-friendly gas station in Los Angeles. "When I first heard of it I was intrigued but also skeptical," says photographer Steve Labadessa -- intrigued by BP's use of solar panels, recycled glass, and recyclable aluminum; skeptical because, after all, "L.A. is the car capital of the world!" Labadessa debated the best way to capture the "outer-space look" of Helios House. In the end he decided, "To breathe life into the photos I had to shoot at night."

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Illustration: Joel Castillo
OnEarth. Fall 2007
Copyright 2007 by the Natural Resources Defense Council