Pandodyssey™ Panda Blog

This is a blog devoted to Giant Panda enthusiasts, environmental wanna-bes and peace loving funimals, world-wide.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I am Anti-Wildfire!

Do wildfires emit greenhouse gases? You bet they do - and how.

According to the American Forest Resource Council, on average, one acre of burned land emits six tons of CO2 and other GHGs. Depending on the fire's severity and the type of brush, up to 100 tons of CO2 can be released into the atmosphere. This figure does not include emissions from fire suppressants. Somewhere in the area of 400,000 acres of California land have burned so far. That equals 2,400,000 TONS of GHGs emitted into the atmosphere in just the last 7 days.

I wondered how this figure compared to CO2 emissions from vehicles. According to the EPA, on their subversively complicated "Emission Facts: GHG Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle" page:

127,721,000 is the number of cars on the road in the United States.
73,775,000 is the number of light trucks on the road in the United States.

This is a total of 201,496,000 cars and light trucks in the US. Multiplying that by 5.2 metric tons (the average used by the EPA of one vehicle's annual CO2 emissions) =

1,047,779,200 metric tons of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere by cars and light trucks in the United States annually.

So, it does appear to me that wildfires are a significant source of CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases and the AFMC and tap-happy Senator Craig would agree on the specific point that forest fire management policy changes are necessary to any meaningful climate change policy. This is a pretty new concept to me because I never read about forest fire management as an important facet of global climate change policy. Even so, the fact that wildfires emit CO2 is hardly an excuse to not bother reducing our own CO2 emissions as Senator Craig has obliquely suggested. It's everyone's problem Senator, not just the trees'.

Labels: , ,

I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.

Of all the panda-loving kid stories I read daily, this one out of Redding Elementary has all the makings of THE Perfect Story:

* Fourth graders : Fifth graders are either jaded - having mastered the intricacies of cursive writing - or worried about more immediate concerns - such as the sudden onset of adolescence - to care much about animal advocacy. Third graders haven't had enough world history to feel empathy for any place other than their immediate community and/or most recent place they spent their summer vacation. Sixth graders? Forget about it! Their cells have already been surgically grafted onto their ears to prepare them for middle school.

* Kid initiated, Vice Principal approved : Nobody wants to hear about out-of-work-adults with inexplicable panda fetishes wax poetic about saving pandas (sniff!). Nor does anyone care about panda initiatives started by adults that cater to kids. These darling enviro-preneuses came up with The Panda Project all by themselves and petitioned the school's Kindness Klub to help them raise money for the WWF's endandered species program. (On a side note, "Kindness Klub" - how cute is that?!?)

* Enthusiasm : Any great advocate knows that you must exude enthusiasm for that which you are advocating. These girls are well on their way to becoming great conservationists. One of the project's founders, Danielle, stated that she has loved pandas since pre-school - that's over half her life, a HUGELY long time for an elementary student. THAT is dedication my friends! With dedication that strong, we can practically count the panda as saved!

Finally, check out the picture above and just try to convince me that's not a Great Wall of Panda in the making. These young activists are destined for great things. Yay for kids!

Labels: , ,

It's Cool to Be Anti-Panda

Panda: International symbol of peace and hope, or easy scapebear? Discuss.

Hot on the heels of the most recent 'when pandas attack' news, come two op-ed pieces, one rife with anti-panda analogies and the other, bitter environmental irony.

The first piece, Finally. A panda shows its teeth, pontificates whether China, once exporter of pandas as symbols of diplomacy, is now exporting panda fear, and what could this mean? That China wants a "tougher" reputation around the world? That China is not to be messed with? That if you crawl into China's den, drunk and demanding affection, it will bite?

The author never quite resolves the China question, choosing instead to spend the better part of the editorial hilariously discussing the reasons why the panda is his least favorite bear: "I’m not fooled by his face, spray-painted into that perpetual, plaintive simper. He’s a loser. He’s on the way out. This isn’t some beleaguered Yangtze dolphin we are talking about. They have been given every chance. Nature just doesn’t want to make pandas. Pandas don’t even want to make pandas, even when there is nothing else to do. Why? Who knows. Newborn, they look like the crime that sticks out of a flasher’s raincoat. " (I didn't know flashers used sticks of butter to intimidate their victims!)

The second piece, "It's not easy being green" explores one columnist's frustration with the strident overzealousness of neo-enviro-nazis. The author, Jim Schembri, is no dubya-lovin', environment hating, CO2-spewin' RePub - he's actually an environmentalist himself and has been his whole life. He merely disagrees with the vehicle in which "being green" sometimes rides around, judging and talking, more so than doing. "(T)he environment and I were getting along just fine before all these people started barking at me to do things I'd already been doing all my life. I kind of resent it." So in protest, the author wonders what a panda burger tastes like and if "it tastes better if you shoot the panda yourself"? He also ponders "Is it wrong to want a doona made from the fur of baby seals? Of course it is. Baby seal furs make much better car seat covers. For the doona, use tiger pelts."

Admittedly this article - like pandodyssey - is only tangentially panda-related. But your point has been made, Mr. Schembri. I, for one, pledge to be less strident and more informed about my views. I vow to be less judgmental and more forgiving of others whose (erroneous) view points may differ. I promise to be a ... consensus bringer, and not a divider. Happy? Now can you come on back to the right side?

Pictured above: Simper? Moi??

Labels: ,

Leading the Way from the Middle

Seemingly from the middle of nowhere comes promising signs of environmental progress from the local and state levels.

First: In Montana there's growing resentment against the use of coal fired power plants in the Great Plains region. The no-coal peoples consist of the usual enviro-nuts, greenie-wanna-bes and Democrats, but also consists of many Republican farmers who fear the impact of gobal warming on the water supply.

Second: In Kansas, a state regulator has flat out denied a permit to approve the construction of a brand new coal-fired power plant due to the greenhouse gases the plant would emit. This is the first time in the US that any such state permit has been denied solely for environmental reasons. A Senior VP for the energy company trying to build the coal powered plant stated:

"People use fossil fuels because the good Lord put them on earth for us to use." I'm not even going to name him or his energy company because I don't want to give him the satisfaction. Hmph. It's in the face of this kind of logic that some Kansasians (?) are trying to keep the coal burning power plant out and invite more environment-friendly energy sources in. Good luck Kansasites (??) and thanks for leading the way from the middle.

Pictured above: Not the future of energy.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

San Diego is Burning

Another California first - a wildfire holiday. I never knew such a thing even existed. All county schools are closed as are many businesses, as people scurry home to save their houses and properties from several raging wildfires. While the coastline is not in danger of wildfire, the entire county and most of southern California is clouded over in thick smoke. White ash has blanketed every outdoor surface like snow and it smells like winter and burning fireplaces, only it's hot and sunny and your eyes burn whenever you step outside.

The good thing is there has only been one casualty and few injuries thus far related to the widespread fire - a fire some are calling the worst in recent history. A lot of credit is due to the preparedness of state and county emergency officials who have been doing an amazing job. Qualcomm Stadium has been turned into an evacution center and is so well prepared, they can take evacuees with pets, even horses! They have to stay in the parking lot of course because their horse butts won't fit into the seats, but still! That's huge. Fortunately, all the animals at the SD Zoo's Escondido Wild Animal Park have been safely evacuated and are out of harm's way.

The bad thing is that hundreds of homes and properties have been destroyed with still more devastation to come. The Santa Ana winds blow hot dry air from the desert with gusts as high as 60 mph so there's little that firefighters can do until the wind dies down. Meanwhile, people who have been evacuated are left wondering whether their homes still stand. One of the local news anchors returned to his neighborhood in an evacuated area, just in time to watch his home burn to the ground on live television. In the telecast, he sadly and dutifully reported "There goes the patio. There goes the garage. There goes the pool..." Multiply his experience by a few hundred.

I'm having technical issues, so instead of a pic, here's a link to a space photo of what these wildfires look like from space. Unfortunately, Mexico - which is where I decided I would go if the fire reached me - also seems to be on fire!

Labels: ,

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

SoKo's in the Hizzouse

This Korean guy, Lee Myung Bak, will be featured as one of Time magazine's Heroes of the Environment issue next month. Hero candidates were chosen, not for their super powers, but for their involvement in improving the environment in their respective countries. Lee, former mayor of Seoul (the capital), is commended for his efforts in cleaning up the Cheonggye Stream and the restructuring of public transportation around the city.

Perhaps more amazing (to me) is the discovery of the English version of the popular Korean newspaper, the Chosunilbo, which means "All the news that's fit to print" in Korean. Just kidding - that phrase is copyrighted by the Pusan Herald-Union-Tribune. I don't know what it means at all. My Korean vocab still consists mainly of "Go clean up your room!" and "Stop smacking your sister!" Regardless, I've always wanted to keep up with news from the Motherland except the news was in Korean and I didn't want to spend 12 hours of my day trying to decipher the day's weather. Now, finally, it's in Engrish!

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

China and the Environment

There's nothing I can add to the New York Times series titled "Choking On Growth: A series of articles and multimedia examining the human toll, global impact and political challenge of China’s epic pollution crisis" except to encourage everybody I know to read it.

Not to pick on China - every nation has got its own green skeleton in the closet. But China is in the world spot light now due to the unprecedented growth of their economy, world-wide press coverage of the upcoming 2008 Olympic games, and just plain old curiosity about the once insular Communist country. Basically, the new millennium IS China and every country on the planet knows it.

In Installment One, China's failed "Green GDP" plan is discussed. I wondered in an earlier post why the US had no similarly government sanctioned plan. Well, now China doesn't either! It appears that, once the green numbers were calculated in, the news was so sobering that the Chinese government decided to shelve the project and never discuss it again. In some areas, the green GDP figures came out to ZERO and government officials were afraid that civil unrest might ensue.

China is learning to recognize that short term gains might not be worth the long term pain. But in the meantime, China says that developed Western nations like Britain and the US started the global warming problem, and that they (we?) (us?) were permitted to expand our economies unfettered, so why shouldn't they? Touche. However, to borrow the NYT's metaphor, China is like "a teenage smoker with emphysema" - meaning China's environmental problems are growing at a rate never before seen in a developing nation. We're in uncharted territory here and there's no denying that all nations are eventually going to have to work together to fix it. It may be China's economy but the environment is everyone's to share. Just ask LA about its smog problem.

The NYT series is long - at five+ pages per article - but well worth the read.

Pictured above: Subversive cute pandas want you to read this article. Not this one, the NYT article.

Labels: , ,

Monday, October 15, 2007

I need $121,000! Any suggestions?

This lucky guy, a Norwegian man living in China, paid a million Chinese yuan (or 718,000 NOK or $131,000 bucks) to officially adopt Jing Jing the panda. Jing squared is the official mascot for the 2008 Olympic games. Stein Frode Ertzeid can now visit Jingy any time he wants to and the Chengdu facility is required to send him regular updates on the panda's life. Ertzeid lobbied the director of the China Committee of Breeding Technique for Giant Pandas for months for the honor and was selected for his earnestness and sincere love for the Giant Panda.

Huh! Does Ertzeid have an entire website devoted to the panda?? Mister Director Sir, Zhang Zhihe, I'm coming for my panda!

Labels: ,

Blog Action Day is here!

In honor of Blog Action Day, here are some fun quasi-environment related nuggets.

* According to photographer-artist, Chris Jordan, 106,000 aluminum cans are consumed in the US every THIRTY seconds! I haven't checked this fact out myself but I heard it on The Colbert Report, so therefore it must be true. Mr. Jordan created a replica of George Seurat's "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" using 106,000 aluminum cans. Mr. Jordan also stated that 426,000 cell phones are thrown out in the US every day. Go check out his work and his statements on American consumerism. (Plus, he's kinda cute in that clark-kent-might-be-Superman-in-disguise kinda way.)

* The wonderful and fabulous sister o' mine sent me a delightful gift! She said she was sending me a "panda snack" so I assumed it was edible but it's not. It's a shirt made by Panda Snack, a NYC clothing and apparel company that features clothing made of bamboo! In case you hadn't heard, bamboo is the latest and greatest wonder-fiber to hit the market. Why? According to the company, it's green because bamboo is renewable and sustainable. Bamboo is naturally resistant to plant disease and microbial bad guys so pesticides are not necessary to grow it so that makes it organic! Bamboo's natural resistance to microbes gives it anti-bacterial properties as well so you won't stink. As much. Unlike other apparel companies that advertise anti-bacterial products, this one is naturally anti-bac so there's no danger of skin irritation or harm to the environment during production. Bamboo also breathes, also helping you not to stink. As much. The best part? A portion of the proceeds go to panda preservation. You can visit the website at and listen to their funky new age music. My impression? I LOVE it! It's soft and comfy and machine-washable and has a cute little panda logo on it. Gotta love that. Neither I nor my sister are in any way affiliated with this company.

* Cut down on pesky mail that you neither asked for nor want by going to Your mail carrier will thank you.

Happy Blog Action Day! Now go forth and do something green!

Labels: ,

Friday, October 12, 2007

Who Even Needs to Be President?

Al Gore has had far more success as not-TPOTUS, so one has to wonder if he would even want it at this point? WE need him way more than he needs to be Chief. Though the planet probably needs him the most, and he certainly doesn't need a stressful job like the Presidency distracting him from what's really important.

In any event, is petitioning the Emmy award winning, Academy Award winning and now Nobel Peace Prize winning former VP to quit his day job and help a country out. The petition has gathered over 100,000 signatures to date. You can also volunteer to help out the non-campaign, or donate to the site by purchasing this creepy/awesome poster.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tai Shan Update

All this newborn cub talk makes me wonder how Tai Shan is doing. He's now two years and three or so months old. Weighing in at a husky 153 pounds, he seems to be getting along just fine. Some other Tai Shan news bits from the past year:

* The National Zoo is the only zoo in the US to allow mother bear and cub to undergo the natural weaning process. As a result, Tai Shan is the only panda cub bred in captivity to stay with his mother for more than 18 months. In the wild, panda cubs start leaving their mums around a year and a half, so cubs in US zoos are generally weaned at about that age. (In China, panda cubs are weaned at around six months). As Tai Shan grew closer to his second birthday, Mei Xiang began pushing her cub away, allowing Tai to grow into an independent and confident bear of his own right. Tai now lives apart from his mother and, even when in enclosures right next to each other, mother and son generally ignore one another's presence. His father, Tian Tian, has never had much to do with the cub's upbringing. He's not a deadbeat, that's just the way pandas do it.

* Tai Shan has learned a neat trick - he will stick his arm through the bars of his training cage and let the keepers draw blood from him without flinching. This makes it easier for the keepers to take blood samples without anesthesia. I'll bet a lot of pediatricians wish their patients were similarly trained! What a good bear.

* Tai Shan is a south paw. He holds bamboo stalks in his left paw as he chows down.

* Tai can eat upwards of 17 pounds of bamboo in a single night. He has the honor of holding the Zoo record for most piles of panda poop in a single night - 18.

* Tai Shan is clicker trained by zoo staff, much like dogs are.

In April, the National Zoo announced that Tai Shan would be extending his stay in the US for two more years. The original terms of the loan agreement between the Smithsonian and the China Wildlife Conservation Association were that any cub born to the leased adults would be sent back to China after the cub's second birthday. Thanks to the Zoo Director's efforts, DC residents get to keep him for two more years. Which is totally fair, because China has lots of pandas already. Here's to two more years!

Labels: , ,

I need a job again

Poor E. He was trying to relate to his coworkers and he made the innocent mistake of introducing them to the SD Zoo panda cam. Now, it's a black and white Pandaland at work for him, each and every work day. Bwahahaha! He has now (inadvertently) taken over Panda Watch for me, who, in my work hiatus, can no longer seem to find the time. The dogs don't walk themselves you know. So whenever the siren call goes up (starts with a "E" and ends with a "E!") he ims me to go check out the panda cub's doings, for which I am grateful and amused by the irony. The above image is from this morning. It's a little dark but you can barely make out the cub playing with her feet. Too cute!

I told E that if his coworkers needed help constructing a Great Wall of Panda in the office, I have the requisite building experience. And that if he wanted to start a support group for coworkers of coworkers with panda-monium, I might know a couple of people.

Labels: , ,

I've got spirit yes I do! I've, whatev

I've never really been a "rah-rah-sis-boom-bah-let's-go-[insert anthropomorphized school animal representative here]" type of student and, not surprisingly, smell even less like team spirit as an alumnus. So when the Mason Spirit, alumni magazine for GMU, appears in my mailbox, it usually goes directly into "File 13 - trash can" without a thought. (Well, one thought: How do they and the United Color of Benetton catalogs keep finding me no matter where I move?) However, I actually kept and even read the Fall 2007 issue, whose cover story is titled "It's Easy Being Green" and, I have to say, I was pretty pleased with what I saw.

Perhaps the most significant measure GMU has undertaken to go green is to contract with Siemens Building Technologies, allowing the school to update old, inefficient mechanical systems without hefty upfront costs. Through this single measure, GMU has reduced its CO2 emissions by 32+ million pounds this year, and expects to continued doing so for the next 15 years. This is equivalent to taking 2800 cars off the road. GMU saved over $1 million last year in avoided energy costs, by taking other measures such as replacing incandescent lighting with CFLs and installing occupancy sensors on switches.

Looking forward, all new GMU buildings will be designed and constructed to meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver standard, the national benchmark for measuring new green construction. The factors weighed in the LEED standard are:

* sustainable site development
* water conservation
* energy efficiency
* material selection
*indoor environmental quality

In addition to these major changes, the school has also implemented smaller steps aimed at encouraging the student body, faculty and staff to be more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Masonites who bring their own reusable coffee mug receive a discount on java. Employees are encouraged to use public transportation when possible and receive a transit subsidy if they do.

Green has always been a pretty popular color around campus, and I'm pretty happy about the fact that the school is aggressively pursuing an even greener future. They've come quite a ways since my non-studious self strode the halls of the Johnson Center. I might even have to consider buying my first piece of GMU apparel. Now, if we could just fanagle ourselves back into the NCAA tournament.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Just Call Him the Green Downer

Please please please just don't blame the messenger. This article in The Green Lantern in Slate is the Debbie Downer of all environmental articles if you're a sports fan. TGL has done the modeling and extrapolating math for us, so all I need do is regurgitate it and cut to the chase. I didn't double check any stats or math so take that for what its worth. I take it as gospel.) So according to the Green Lantern, how bad are sports for the environment and which are the worst?

Hosting a home game at your average NFL stadium pumps roughly 47.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, or about 1.35 pounds per attending fan. (Small garbanzos when you consider that the average citizen's daily carbon footprint is 64.81 pounds per day.) However, 47.6 metric tons is nothing compared to what it takes to get all those fans to and from the stadium - a whopping 232.84 metric tons under the most conservative of estimates! So it seems that the standard by which we should measure a sport's impact on the environment is not the greeness of the facility itself but the total number of attendees and how often they travel.

At least football is a short season, with the average stadium hosting 8 games per season. Baseball on the other hand, is far dirtier with the average stadium hosting 81 games every season, and fans schlepping by plane, train but mostly automobile to cheer on the home team at every game. MLB draws an average 2.66 million fans per stadium each season, compared to the NFL's 542,000 fans per stadium. Owch!

Both the NHL and NBA are greener by virtue of the fact that they have shorter seasons and are played indoors in smaller arenas, though obviously it takes far less energy to keep up a hardwood floor than an ice rink. The NBA draws an average 728,037 fans per club per season. The NHL draws 678,440 fans per club per season.

"(The Lantern didn't even bother to crunch the numbers for NASCAR; any sport that centers around vehicles that get four to six miles per gallon is obviously pretty far from green.)" This might be the most startling fact in the entire article (ahead of "In the United States, where roughly half of our electricity still comes from coal, each kilowatt hour of electricity produces an average of 1.55 pounds of carbon dioxide.") FOUR TO SIX MILES PER GALLON??????

So what's a sports fan with an environmental conscience supposed to do? How can we spectate guilt-free now that we know? The leagues themselves are listening to the public and trying to go greener with recycling programs and solar powered what not, but it appears that fan transportation ought to be the primary focus if leagues are serious about reducing the sport's impact on carbon emissions. Maybe there's an environmental group out there who will start organizing natural gas powered party buses to and from sporting events. This would minimize environmental impact and maximize tailgating so its a win for everyone! It might also get a drunken driver or two off the freeways. Another idea is for leagues to work together with public transportation to get the majority of fans to use mass transit. Or take the Fenway Park approach and have so little parking available that the public has to use public transportation.

And maybe NASCAR can race kangaroos or wheelbarrows instead of cars. Just a thought.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Eat Meat FOR the Environment?

I thought I thoroughly understood and accepted the fact that a vegetarian diet is the "greenest" way to go, at least as far as the environment is concerned. It seems to make perfect sense - plants are easier to grow than animals - so I never gave the idea much more thought. Also, I never gave it much thought because I have little desire to go vegetarian. Ahem, again. Here's a hint for the Heloise crowd: carrot sticks and a handful of gummi bears does not constitute a meal under ANY diet.

But now, that "greenest of green" diets has been challenged. According to this post in New Scientist's blog, adding a little meat to your diet may actually be greener than greens alone. Citing a new study out of Cornell, NS suggests that if everyone ate around 63 grams of meat protein (including eggs) in addition to their veggies, the ecological footprint to produce that diet would be LESS than that of a strict vegetarian diet. How so you ask? Livestock can be raised on land that is unsuitable for farming. Livestock can also be raised on farm land that is resting.

I think this is how farming was accomplished in the old days, right. Crops were rotated on plots of arable land and livestock would move from plot to plot and "fertilize" the resting plots. You know, with rakes and plows and Scotts Lawn products from Home Depot.

However, the Cornell study doesn't give us license to go forth and be unflinchingly carnivorous. The study makes it a point to say that their model assumes that all the food, meat and plant, comes from local sources. Once you start calculating the costs of importing meat overseas, the environmental footprint is considerably higher.

Under no circumstances should one eat green meat.

Labels: , ,

Friday, October 05, 2007

News Anchors Act Unprofessional, Go "eeeeeeeee!" on Local TV

This clip from ABC-Chicago about the San Diego panda cub is funny. The video shows the female news casters squealing and cooing as they watch the news bite, which shows the baby cub crying as she receives a vaccination and attempts to wriggle free. Then it cuts to the lone male news caster on this night's broadcast, who is holding his hand over his mouth and looking like he's trying not to hurl. Now where might I have seen this look before?

The San Diego Zoo is soliciting names for the new fuzzball from zoo goers, today through October 14. Quick, someone help me translate "I-can't-believe-it's-not-Tai-Shan" into Chinese!

Labels: , ,

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Smith College Becomes Environmentally Proactive

Anyone out there still drinking bottled municipal city tap water? Not Smith College who, through their own research and a little environmental soul searching, decided to stop handing out bottled water with its "Grab-N-Go" box lunch program. Instead, Smith College gave out reusable 16 oz plastic water bottles to the students at fall registration in an effort to reduce the school's output of those pesky disposable plastic water bottles. Smith researchers discovered that the school was going through 2500 bottles of water every week - not even counting other soft drink and beverage bottles! (Smith is fairly small school too! Imagine how many bottles a larger school might go through in a week's time.) Way to go Smith College for taking a moment to look inward and ask "What can we do differently?"

Naysayers might argue that what Smith has done is a money saving measure - and not an environment saving one - and that organizations tout these types of changes as "green" when in fact it just saves them money, period. Hotels have been doing this with sheets and towels for years. I would argue "So what??" So often, that which is green just also happens to be cost-efficient. Which is why reduced consumption can play such a big role these days in shaming, I mean CONVINCING, companies and organizations into taking a cold hard look at their practices and streamlining their processes. Businesses and organizations that might not otherwise be incentivized to look into "green" measures are certainly interested in anything that will increase profits or decrease overhead costs. Thus, call it what you will - I'm calling it progress.

Labels: , ,