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Polar Bear to Us: SOS

Photo of a polar bearIn a decision that may have far-reaching consequences, the Bush administration has proposed listing the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. In doing so, it has recognized warming Arctic temperatures as the prime suspect in the destruction of the bear's habitat. If the polar bear were to be named to the official "threatened" species list, the administration would be legally bound to ensure that its actions do not jeopardize the bear further, and federal agencies would have to prepare a full recovery plan, including steps to protect melting Arctic ice. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its proposal in December, in response to a petition and a lawsuit filed by NRDC, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Greenpeace. Recent studies predict the Arctic may be ice-free in the summer as early as 2040, significantly limiting the bears' ability to migrate and find food. NRDC has launched the Polar Bear SOS campaign, found on the Web at

--Ben Carmichael

Punk Energy

Photo of a forestGreen Day, the rock trio that emerged from the California punk scene in the mid-1990s, quickly rose to superstardom among rebellious teenage fans and is widely credited with popularizing American punk music. The group has since solidified its place in American music history with three Grammies, most recently the 2006 Record of the Year award for the song "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." The band's members are now putting their pop-culture power to good use: In November, they signed on to NRDC's Move America Beyond Oil campaign, creating a partnership to mobilize music fans to demand clean, re-newable energy. Visit for video clips of the band discussing pressing environmental issues and easy ways to take action.

-- Erin Kiley

Business 101

In the 30 years that physicist David B. Goldstein has worked at NRDC, he has had countless opportunities to ponder the relationship between the environment and the economy. His groundbreaking work improving the efficiency of appliances (most notably energy-guzzling refrigerators) helped him earn a prestigious MacArthur Foundation fellowship in 2002. Since then, Goldstein has continued to learn firsthand how environmental innovations can boost a company's bottom line. In his new book, Saving Energy, Growing Jobs (Bay Tree Publishing, $18.95), Goldstein explains the social and economic benefits of a more efficient, sustainable economy, drawing on examples from the hard-nosed world of business. Innovation, competition, and growth, Goldstein argues, are the core principles of this more enlightened economic model and a basis for the political alliances necessary to achieve it.

--Ben Carmichael

Trash Landings

Think of the kinds of stuff you throw out on airplanes: soda cans, magazines, newspapers -- all recyclables, right? It may come as a surprise, then, to learn that airport and airline recycling programs fall short of the national recycling rate by more than 30 percent. If they were to improve their programs enough to simply match the nationwide average, the energy saved each year by reusing raw materials would be enough to power 20,000 U.S. households. Fortunately, 75 percent of airport waste is recyclable or compostable, and in its latest report, Trash Landings: How Airlines and Airports Can Clean Up Their Recycling Programs, NRDC offers practical guidance for turning this wasteful industry around. Aluminum and paper recycling programs are obvious priorities, but other opportunities for saving money, energy, and resources abound. For example, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, managers send coffee grounds to a compost facility, which costs the airport just a quarter of what it would spend if it sent them to a dump. Read the report online at

-- Raluca Albu

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Washington Watch
Washington Watch

"Let us permit nature to have her way. She understands her business better than we do."
-- Michel de Montaigne

ExxonMobil's net income for 2006 -- $39.5 billion -- was the highest ever reported in the United States. The previous high, recorded in 2005, was also set by ExxonMobil. So when industry representatives bemoan a provision in the House energy bill, passed on January 18, that would increase oil royalties to pay for a clean-energy fund, it's hard to feel much sympathy. The bill, H.R. 6, closes tax loopholes, such as the one that allows oil companies to qualify for tax breaks under the Jobs Act of 2004 by reclassifying oil production as a domestic manufactured good. That's what ConocoPhillips did in 2005, lining its pockets with an additional $106 million despite posting annual profits of $13.5 billion. In addition, the new bill repeals other free passes on royalty payments, shifting a total of $14 billion into a fund for clean energy development. How that money would be divvied up -- among energy-efficiency tax breaks or wind power subsidies, for example -- would be decided through further legislation. NRDC was a strong supporter of H.R. 6 and is working with key congressional staff members to promote its passage in the Senate.

NRDC also supports the creation of a special House committee on energy independence and global warming, as was recently proposed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California. Already in the House, the committees on Science and Technology as well as Energy and Commerce have scheduled hearings on global warming, as has the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Altogether, these are encouraging signs that global warming may finally be taken seriously during the 110th Congress.

To take action online on these and other environmental issues, visit NRDC's Earth Action Center.

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Illustration: Yina Fong

OnEarth. Spring 2007
Copyright 2007 by the Natural Resources Defense Council