Dear EarthTalk: I heard of an effort to save what are being called "BioGems." What are BioGems and what is being done about them? -- Larry Dibner, Tallahassee, Fla.
"BioGems," a term created by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), describe the most endangered natural treasures around the Americas. NRDC selects special places in our hemisphere that face an imminent threat of destruction, from pristine coastlines that could become industrial ports to ancient forests that could be stripped of trees to unspoiled wildlife habitats that could be sacrificed to oil and gas drilling.
"Our imperiled BioGems are irreplaceable remnants of wilderness that curb global warming, preserve biodiversity and provide sanctuary for rare and extraordinary wildlife, from threatened polar bears to endangered gray whales," reported NRDC.
NRDC launched its BioGems Initiative back in 2001 as a way to harness the power of online citizen activism to help save threatened lands. The group mobilizes its 1.3 million members and online activists "to bring overwhelming pressure to bear on governments and companies bent on industrializing the world's last wild places."
Never afraid of a little attention, NRDC has enlisted the help of several celebrity partners in championing the cause of saving the BioGems. Robert Redford is spearheading NRDC's campaign to keep the Polar Bear Seas safe from oil drilling, while Pierce Brosnan is leading the charge to try to bring an end to the commercial slaughter of whales. The group has also brought the star power of Leonardo Di Caprio, Paul McCartney, Alec Baldwin, Seth Myers, Jason Mraz and others to bear for the sake of saving BioGems.
"Together, BioGems Defenders and our local partners on the ground have scored dozens of historic victories for the environment, proving that individuals can be a powerful force for conservation," reported NRDC. Some of the campaign's recent successes include: helping to persuade Iceland to call off its fin whale hunt for the second year in a row; protecting the last 340 beluga whales of Alaska's Cook Inlet through filing a lawsuit; helping secure a breakthrough agreement for wild buffalo that allows them to roam outside Yellowstone National Park during the harsh winter months; and winning in court over trophy hunters keen on stripping the polar bear from its endangered status.
Currently NRDC is focusing on a half dozen primary BioGems campaigns: keeping Shell out of the American Arctic (unfortunately the company's drills just went in); stopping Big Oil's attack on whales in Alaska's Cook Inlet and up and down the Atlantic seaboard; stopping the pipeline from Alberta's tar sands to Texas refineries (Obama has kiboshed the pipeline for now); stopping the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska; and saving British Columbia's Spirit Bear coast.
Individuals can get involved by customizing and sending pre-written e-mail messages to decision makers who are key to the particular locales in need of protection. NRDC will also gladly take donations of any size toward the BioGem campaign of the giver's choosing. Of course, telling your friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members what you have learned about the potential despoliation of natural treasures, many in our own backyard, is also a big help.
Contact: NRDC BioGems, www.savebiogems.org.
Dear EarthTalk: What is the "Green Scissors" campaign, which I understand can help the environment and has support from both liberals and conservatives? -- Jeff Nickson, Butte, Mont.
The Green Scissors Campaign was launched in 1994 as a partnership between the environmental group Friends of the Earth (FoE) and budget watchdog Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) to call attention to subsidies and programs that both harm the environment and waste taxpayer dollars -- and which should be cut accordingly. The campaign has been issuing reports since 1996 detailing how Congress can cut specific programs to save money and the environment.
For the most recent report, Green Scissors 2012, the two organizations were joined by free market think tank R Street, which was started by former staffers of the libertarian Heartland Institute (previously a Green Scissors partner). This unlikely trio that spans the political spectrum left to right identifies some $700 billion in wasteful and environmentally harmful programs that could be scrapped over the next decade. Such savings would amount to almost two-thirds of the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts Congress is required to make beginning in 2013 under the terms of last year's Budget Control Act.
"It is perverse that we are staring down the barrel of budget cuts that will lead to dirtier drinking water as we reward corporations with tens of billions of dollars a year to poison the public," said Benjamin Schreiber, tax analyst with FoE. "We need to take the common sense solution of saving money by ending environmentally harmful spending."
The proposed cuts include $269.78 billion from energy programs, including $158.7 billion of fossil fuel subsidies; $167.09 billion of agricultural subsidies, including $89.82 billion of federal crop insurance disaster aid; $212.02 billion of transportation subsidies, including $125.80 billion of general revenue transfers to the Highway Trust Fund; $101.8 billion of federal flood, crop and nuclear insurance subsidies; and $24.99 billion from wasteful or environmental damaging public lands and water projects. Given the collaborative nature of the Green Scissors campaign, only those programs that FoE, TCS and R Street agreed were both wasteful and environmentally harmful were included on the list of recommended cuts.
"As lawmakers argue over what to do about the enormous deficit and looming automatic budget cuts, we have come together to present them with almost $700 billion in cuts," said Ryan Alexander, president of TCS. "Whether it's getting rid of high-risk energy loan guarantees, reining in wasteful crop insurance or ending lucrative oil and gas tax breaks, eliminating wasteful spending that harms the environment just makes sense."
Those interested in finding out more specifics can download the entire Green Scissors 2012 report for free in PDF form from the campaign's website.
"Taxpayers want Congress to stop bickering and get cutting," Alexander said. "Green Scissors shows them where to start."
EarthTalk is by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss of E -- The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to email@example.com.