2006: The Year in Green

From business to politics to pop culture, the environment took center stage in 2006

By Victoria Schlesinger and Sarah Parsons

While Washington fiddled, states acted
- The California legislature passed a bill, signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, reducing state carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

- A group of Northeastern states agreed to cut their greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels. Participating states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont.

- Eleven states and cities are suing the U.S. government for ignoring greenhouse gas emissions.  The plaintiffs include: Oregon, California, Connecticut, Maine, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., and New York City.

- California’s Attorney General filed suit against six automakers—Chrysler, GM, Ford, Toyota Motor North America, Honda North America, and Nissan North America—for building vehicles whose pollution has contributed to global warming.

- New laws in Alabama aim to reduce mercury pollution from in-state power plants by 70 percent.

- The White House:During his last State of the Union address, President Bush declared, “America is addicted to oil.”  The powerful rhetoric was followed by...nothing.

Virgin Sacrifice
In September, Sir Richard Branson, CEO of the Virgin Group, swept the alternative energy industry off its feet when he announced that, for the next decade, his personal profits from his airline and rail companies will be earmarked for research and development of green energy sources. The donation is estimated at $3 billion. 

Sometimes it seems that every piece of environmental news is dire: More pollution, more glacial melting, more endangered species. But the news isn’t always grim. Around the world in 2006, researchers and explorers discovered animals that no one knew existed previously. Meanwhile, in university labs and corporate offices, scientists concocted new ways to study, preserve, and safely harness the environment and its riches.

Salmon Run
Three English scientists developed a DNA computer chip that monitors the health of salmon by identifying genes that increase or decrease during infection. The chip could help increase the health and safety of farmed salmon.

Love that Dirty Water
Department of Energy scientists discovered new ways that ions, electrically charged particles, interact with minerals in water—revealing how contaminants such as lead affect water quality.

Natural Wonders
1. New Daddy longlegs species (Alaska)
2. Giant predatory fairy shrimp, a.k.a. “raptor” (Idaho)
3. Mouse lemur (Madagascar)
4. New type of babbler, a tropical bird (Arunachal Pradesh, India)
5. Epaulet sharks (Indonesia’s Papua province)
6. New species of parrot and mouse (Philippines)
7. Six new species of frogs (Laos)
8. Golden-mantled tree kangaroo (Indonesia’s Foja Mountains)

Let There be Green (White) Light
Scientists Mark Thompson and Stephen Forrest announced the invention of an LED that can replace fluorescent bulbs, facilitating more stylish white lights and using 20 percent less energy than standard fluorescents.

The Worldwide Webs
Researchers at Tufts University and elsewhere found ways of using spider webs to regenerate ligaments, as well as for artificial tendons and sutures for sensitive areas such as around the eyes.

Tilting Windmills
MIT engineer Paul Sclavounos completed the latest design phase of his oceanic floating windmills, a potential sustainable energy source. The windmills could be located up to 50 miles offshore, mitigating the impact of their enormous size and loud rotors.

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto
Engineers at the University of Illinois designed a solar-powered robot for use by farmers. The robot picks weeds and places herbicide on the cut stems, a less toxic method than the total-field spraying generally used in modern agriculture.

In 2006, environmental themes permeated our culture like never before. Environmentalism stopped being a grassroots issue, a liberal passion, or the province of well-meaning “special interests,” and truly went mainstream.

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Issue 25

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