elephants, efficiency, and san anto

Enviro Texas's Anna Lange dishes on fast, clean ways to sustainability.

Damn Sun. It’s low in the south, making a photo op in front of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center impossible. The small group, members of Environment Texas, Solar San Antonio, and Metropolitan Partnership for Energy, pack themselves together in front of the intersection of Alamo and Market and that great blowing ribbon of steel expressing the solidarity of two nations.

As we swing from Position A (fronting convention center) to the Univision cameraman’s preferred Position B (curbside), Solar San’s Bill Barker barks, “Come on guys, we have to get behind her.”

Then we’re rolling.

Across town, Mr. Pickens was cutting ribbon on the City’s admirable compressed natural gas fueling station was being unveiled. Better yet, where the one of the state’s largest fleet of clean-burning CNG-powered trash trucks is housed.

If I weren’t so picky about the company I choose (leaving me a lonely man most days), or could traverse both roads diverging in those woody woods, I’d be there, too. You may remember, I accused the corporate raider turned water pirate of covering his less-than-lovely tracks and later picked apart his Plan in Drilling Rhetoric.

So, instead, I’m admiring the enthusiasm of another idealistic supporter of clean energy development here on this heavily trafficked city block.

“Texas and the nation can no longer afford the toll dirty energy is taking on our environment,” Anna Lange is saying.

She’s right, of course. And Environment Texas has a prescription for priming the pump of clean energy through the breathlessly anticipated Obama stimulus package.

From their summary (soon to be online here, I’m thinking):

Our reliance on dirty energy is fueling global warming, harming our health, threatening our security and stalling our economy. Burning coal, oil and gas for energy and transportation is responsible for 80 percent of U.S. global warming pollution and most of our smog and soot pollution.We can protect our environment and strengthen our economy by investing in clean energy and green infrastructure. A green economic recovery plan would mean less global warming pollution, fewer asthma attacks from air pollution, more clean lakes and rivers for drinking water, swimming and fishing, more secure energy in the long term, and more jobs than investing in the dirty energy technologies of the past.

President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to make clean energy and green infrastructure a cornerstone of America’s economic recovery. In his first radio address of 2009, the president-elect said “to put people back to work today and reduce our dependence on foreign oil tomorrow, we will double renewable energy production and renovate public buildings to make them more energy efficient.”

San Antonio leaders are hard at work putting the finishing touches on their stimulus request now. Concurrently, San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger has a lot of (admittedly) late-coming, but eco-sensical stuff he wants to see the city tackle in the near future: city-spanning efficiency retrofits, in-fill development along the San Antonio River, and the Holy Grail of public transport, light rail.

Unfortunately, these green dreams — the big stuff, anyway — aren’t part of the city’s list of projects being used to hunt down stimulus project cash from the incoming Obama Admin. They’re timed for visionary release as part of Mission Verde, to be announced during the State of the City address in two week. (Catch our forecast, ‘Mission Verde’ possible.)

In one of his weirder columns, SA Express-News columnist Carlos Guerra sought to take the city to task for not rolling Mission Verde efforts into the stimulus list. That was my read, anyway. Green-list preppers defend themselves, saying those stimulus items must be able to be completed in two years to qualify. Light rail — true, by our own lack of readiness, perhaps, and the enormity of the undertaking, for certain — doesn’t qualify.

Guerra also faulted the city for planning solar atop the convention center behind us (???) and for not pushing enough tree planting measures. So, I am challenged by this usually reliable voice for social improvements to read the City’s stimulus list.

First one: $50 million for native habitat restoration and bike trails (including 6,600 trees to be planted) from Mission Concepcion to Mission San Jose.

Farther down: $78.8 million in parks improvements.

Yes. It’s not perfect. But you have to give the City props for these items and more, including:

* $7 million for 150 miles of bike lanes* $30 million for timing traffic lights and switching to energy efficient bulbs

* $27 million for environmental projects like solar-topping the convention center and airport

* $5 million tree-planting campaign

* and another CNG fuel station.

Yeah, (again) it is just a wish list. But it’s a wish list with a healthy shake of green num-nums in it.

Out on the street, the lone cameraman has gone, and the remnant of eco rabble is splitting off into orbiting conversations. Bottom line: Expect Environment Texas to stick around for a while pushing this plan. Initial forays are promising, but most folks I know are still digesting it. But it would be great to send a message to Washington that South Texas wants the green projects (and job skills) of the future, today.

Drop a line on the Mayor and ask him to read it, if you take to it (after it’s popped online).

Ah, blessed Sun. It’s low in the south, helping stabilize winter temps somewhere between 80 and 30 degrees here in San Anto. Our little press skirmish is breaking up …

Efficiency could get greased with Straus

A house divided? A call for unified energy action headed to Austin.

As you might expect with the steady drumbeat of climate change woes, roller-coastering energy prices, and anxiety rippling out of our hemorrhaging economy, there is a lot  of interest being expressed in what direction the Texas Legislature will be taking on energy issues this session.

Having San Antonian Joe Straus at the helm offers a vast improvement over the dearly departed Craddick but offers no lock on sustainable energy solutions.

joe strausYou may recall that is was Straus who carried House Bill 3693 last session, which got the Texas Public Utility Commission examining potential savings the state could realize through energy efficiency.

“Energy efficiency is our cheapest, cleanest and quickest source of new energy,” Straus said back in ‘07. “Today the House voted to double our current energy efficiency and conservation efforts by 2009. This effort will help our state avoid the predicted energy shortfall.”

After farming out a study on the topic, the PUC agreed with the rest of thinking people that there are big savings in this so-called negawatt stuff.

Wrote Tom Fowler in the Houston Chronicle:

Texas could reduce its peak electric usage by more than 23 percent in the next seven years if utilities would invest more in efficiency programs, according to a study released recently by the Public Utility Commission.The efficiency efforts, which would funnel through existing programs administered by the electric transmission companies in the parts of Texas open to competition, would save consumers as much as $2 for every $1 invested, according to the study.

But to really move the mountains that remain — to canvass the state’s greenhouse gas emissions in preparation for C02 regulation, create strong incentives for solar energy’s booming in the desert, and implement aggressive efficiency measures from deregulated Texas — will require some staffing changes in Austin.

One legislator spotlighted in a recent Texas League of Conservation Voters report is that of Angleton’s Dennis Bonnen.

From LCV’s 2007 Score Card (pdf):

Craddick’s appointment to chair the-House Environmental Regulations Committee, Angleton Republican Dennis Bonnen, effectively squashes any sensible environmental legislation that hasn’t received pre-approval from the polluter lobby.Most bills suffer one of two fates: they’re never brought up for public testimony or they’re left in committee to die. In that sense, Chairman Bonnen is merely fulfilling his marching orders from Speaker Craddick.

What sets Chairman Bonnen apart, and has earned him the nickname, “Dennis the Menace” from House colleagues, is his rude and bullying tactics towards conservation advocates and citizens who testify before his committee and dare to offer a different opinion than his.

We wanted to hear from Straus’ office what was to become of Bonnen, where he hoped to see the Lege move with energy efficiency goals, establishing new renewables portfolios, and the overall economic “greening” that will spur new, clean industry. However, seems Straus is floating without a designated press agent at the ready. We’ll have to update you later in the week.

Until we get those answers, get yourself familiar with the measures being advocated by groups like the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. Their 12-Step plan (pdf) for the Texas Lege is in their most recent State Capitol Report.

You know, the first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem. On that point, when it comes to energy, we all appear to be on the same page these days.

Your hometown zoo (still) does wrong by Lucky

lucky on screen

Don Elroy, former advocacy director for Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation (and his reprehensivly long hair) explains concerns about Lucky's health at a recent dinner.

Okay, we’ve told you all about Lucky the Asian elephant at the San Antonio Zoo, the effort to Free Lucky and release her to the Tennessee sanctuary, the fact the zoo has no longterm plan for the pachyderm that not so long ago was giving irritating tourists and locals alike “piggybacks” under Brackenridge’s lofty canopy (see “we’ve told you,” above).

Since our first story on Lucky ran, the Animal Care Services Advisory Board has written to the zoo to advocate for Lucky’s release (See “Lucky’s Charm”).

Now, a recent article published in Science magazine confirms long-repeated and pretty well understood thought on elephants in captivity, chiefly that they live shorter, sadder lives than their wild counterparts.

Those of you who have seen Lucky doing that repetitive-motion thing (which Zoo Director McCucker likened to a dog waiting for the dinner bell, in our sit-down), will be interested to read this tidbit from the BBC on the Science article:

A separate study looking in detail at all the elephants in UK zoos has found significant health problems and evidence of widespread psychological distress.Researchers from Bristol University studied 77 animals in 13 zoos and found that almost half of the elephants displayed abnormal behaviour.

This included repeatedly swaying the trunk, pacing backwards and forwards and retracing their steps over and over again.

“Some of the animals were born in the zoos and must have developed it there,” said Chris Sherwin, from Bristol University’s Department of Veterinary Science.

“It’s possibly their way of coping with stress, but almost certainly indicates they’re in an environment which is inappropriate for their needs. This is not behaviour you see in the wild.”

The report says unless the animals’ health and psychological suffering can be addressed, the ethics of keeping elephants in zoos must be questioned.

Taking their cue from the prominent report, In Defense of Animals released their “2008 Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants” on January 6. Guess who’s topping the list? It’s not a proud moment, SA.

From the IDA press release:

The San Antonio Zoo continues to hold its only surviving Asian elephant, the woefully misnamed Lucky, in solitary confinement since the death of her companion, Alport, in November 2007.Elephants are intensely social animals who need companionship in order to thrive. Free-ranging elephants live in large matriarchal family groups in which females remain with their mothers for life. Unlucky Lucky has been alone for over a year, and without another Asian elephant since 2004.

The zoo refuses to do right by Lucky and send her to a sanctuary where she can live in a spacious, natural environment with others of her species, even though San Antonio’s plan is to replace Lucky with African elephants.

Experience has shown that solitary elephants can turn into social butterflies in sanctuary settings, yet the San Antonio Zoo stubbornly continues to isolate Lucky in an outdated exhibit far too small to meet her natural needs.

The San Antonio Zoo can change this sad elephant’s luck by moving her to a sanctuary without delay. This is the zoo’s second appearance on IDA’s Ten Worst Zoos list.

Will the renewed movement for release finally prompt our City leaders to intervene on  Lucky’s behalf?

Come on San Antonio. Where’s your heart? At least “friend” her on Facebook, for goodness-networking’s sake.

[The preceding (which may also be viewed at the Queblog) is the product of continued mostly gainful employment at the San Antonio Current for which I am deeply grateful.]

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