Where Has The Summer Gone
After an early dinner, Mrs. Morris and I retired to the front porch where we are enjoying the breeze, the Rose of Sharon bush and the bees that are having their dinner there. The Rose of Sharon has been beautiful this year, but seems to be blossoming early. Most of the flowers on it are spent already.
Right beside the Rose of Sharon, the hydrangeas are making their debut. The blooms are little yet and slightly green, but before long some will be as big as footballs with shades of pink and purple blending with the white. They are wonderful flowers to dry. In fact, I just threw away a bouquet of dried ones Id had since last fall.
Where has the summer gone? It seems like a few weeks ago the robins were making nests; now the fall flowers are beginning to bloom and my neighbors potato plants are dying down. I noticed a big display of mums at the local produce market. Guess I had better buy some to add color where the deer ate all my summer perennials.
The new growth on the spirea and rhododendron has outdone itself this year. Must be all that rain that Ive enjoyed so much! My friend told me, "According to the home and garden magazines, the entry to your house is not inviting because its too overgrown." Then she added, "But I like it." I told her that I did, too. Im nearly hidden if I sit in the right place, and sometimes thats nice.
I did cut both of those bushes back away from the sidewalk out of deference to my mailman, but they filled right in again, even fuller this time.
As I pass the home of my neighbor in the next block, I am amazed at her beautiful and extensive flowers and how the deer havent bothered them. I knew she must have a secret that I didnt know. So when I saw her husband outside working in the flowers, I quizzed him. Sure enough. They had come up with a mixture that the deer didnt like for spraying on their flowers. He says it has beaten egg in it, and deer dont like eggs. Next year Ill have to get the recipe and spray everything thats green.
Im also thinking Id better be moving pots off the front porch railing tonight before I go inside. Weather forecasters are calling for heavy winds and rain. I dont want to be picking up my beautiful hibiscus from out of the lawn tomorrow.
Im also hoping the wind and rain blows itself out before Friday when Im leaving very early in the morning for an uneventful (we hope) flight to Chicago. Its actually the fog that gets you on that trip from Montrose to Route 81. And fog and rain are a very bad combination. More to the point, its fog, rain and deer that are the hazards.
But thats a couple days away and theres no sense fussing about what could be. From my point of view, this has been the best summer weve had in years. Cool weather, rain, big beautiful flowers. Theres been hardly a night when it was too hot to sleep. Havent even brought the big window fan from the attic yet.
I know everyone doesnt share my enthusiasm for cool weather, but theyve had theirs for the last several years. This one is for me!
SOUTH GIBSON: Ninety-one persons were in attendance at the Brundage reunion held in Harford, August 10, despite the rainy morning. Those from a distance were Mrs. A.N. Brundage and Mrs. W.W. Michael of Syracuse; Freeling Brundage, Salem, Pa.; Ed Hight, wife and two daughters of Tunkhannock; A.W. Howard and wife and Mrs. Norman Howard and sons of Scranton; Mrs. Marion Betts of Binghamton; Mrs. Mabel Bell and son of Philadelphia, and Oliver Payne and wife of Poyntelle.
SUSQUEHANNA: One morning recently while Joseph O'Connor was walking near a clump of bushes in Drinker Creek, a large rattlesnake emerged from the bushes and was about to spring upon him. He picked up a large stone and killed it; the snake measured 4 1/2 ft, and had 12 rattles. It also had 36 young ones. AND: In Hallstead, Mrs. Jacob J. Compton had an exciting experience with a rattlesnake near her home. She was returning through her garden when she was attacked by the snake. With her hand she tore the reptile loose from her garments and as she shook her clothing she was horrified to discover that it was a rattlesnake. Upon examining her clothing, Mrs. Compton found that the snake had bitten into her garments, its fangs having passed through three thicknesses of cloth, and upon this clothing the large green stains made by the poison were plainly visible.
HERRICK CENTRE: The Baptist Sunday School will picnic at Crystal Lake, Friday. AND: The East Ararat Ladies' Aid Society will meet at the home of Walter Hobbs, at Burnwood, Thursday.
FRIENDSVILLE: The Juniors of Friendsville crossed bats with the Juniors at Camp Choconut, Monday, and resulted 11 to 8 in favor of Friendsville.
SILVER LAKE: The barn recently burned was that of Jerry Mahoney, not Donovan, as printed in the last issue.
ST. JOSEPH: One day last week, Henry Jenner, a man nearly 80 years of age, went a-berrying on the farm near his home at St. Joseph. During the day he had a bad spell, and lay down. Being alone, he was not able to find his way out when he recovered; consequently he spent the night in the woods. His family sent out an alarm and were about to search for him, when he returned apparently none the worse for the experience. It had rained hard during the night.
MONTROSE: Harry G. Weeks, of Binghamton, Syracuse University, '03, has been chosen a coach for the football eleven of Beloit College of Beloit, Wisconsin. He is a son of E.L. Weeks, formerly of Montrose and has been prominent in athletics. AND: On Sunday night, an employee in Becker & Wilson's cut glass factory, attempted to pawn a handsome gold watch for $2 and by other acts aroused suspicion against himself, so that an order was issued for his arrest. At about the same time [he] thought it wise to leave town and in company with a woman, who had become infatuated with him, they departed. Constable J.I. Chapman captured them at Alford and brought them to this place. In the suit case they had with them was a watch taken from John Corbett, a revolver from G. K. Stoddard and two cut glass bowls and a pitcher valued at $36 from the factory. He pled guilty to the charge of stealing the cut glass but claimed he bought the other two articles from another fellow. It is thought that the case will never be brought to trial as the articles taken have been returned and the plaintiffs are not particularly anxious to prosecute.
EAST LENOX: The large barn of George Ledyard was struck by lightning and totally destroyed by the fire that followed. Sixty tons of hay, a new reaper and binder and considerable other machinery was consumed in the flames. The barn was insured for $1000 and the loss was much greater. This is the second misfortune Mr. Ledyard has had from fire since purchasing the farm, which is the old Manzer homestead. Some years ago the large house, which was one of the finest in that section, was burned.
HARFORD: At the lumber camp of C. F. Curtis, in South Harford, at about 5 o'clock Friday, Aug. 12, the fourteen year old son of Mrs. Annis Frank was instantly killed while standing on the top of a lumber pile, by the discharge of his own gun. He was seen resting over the muzzle of his gun, and the supposition is that the butt slipped off the pile and the hammer, striking the top of the pile, discharged the gun. The entire contents took effect below the heart, ploughing a terrible furrow through his lungs, heart and neck, and lodging in his head, near the temple.
NEW MILFORD: James O. Wellman and Leroy Wellman, his son, lived alone on a small farm a short distance east of this place. Saturday night Leroy went home and engaged in a quarrel with his father, an aged and feeble man. The father went across the way to the home of D.W. Rice to remain during the night. Some time later cries were heard coming from the Wellman house and Mr. Rice, who hurried out, found the building in flames. The fire had gained such headway that there was no possible way of saving it. The next day it was learned that the son had $1000 in cash laid away in the building and that it had been destroyed. Later, when the fire cooled, about $300 of the amount in gold and silver was recovered.
FOREST CITY: According the News, a crusade is to commence which will do away with slot machines, speak-easies, etc. In speaking of the matter that paper says: Until a few years ago, Forest City was one of the most law-abiding towns, in the matter of selling liquor, in the county, but of late there has been a growing disposition to run things in a free and easy manner and all citizens will now undoubtedly be compelled to hew back to the line. A leading hotel man said that he was perfectly willing to confine himself to the law if the other fellows do. That usually is the case.
JACKSON: W. W. Resseguie will offer at public sale, on the late Guilford Tingley farm, on Monday next at ten o'clock, 13 choice cows, four brood sows, one boar, six pigs, cream separator, butter workers, barrel churn, crosscut saw, coal heater, carpet loom, spinning wheels and numerous other articles. All sums under ten dollars cash; over that amount nine months' credit. G. H. Stephens, auctioneer.
FAIRDALE: The ladies of Fairdale will have a Harvest Home festival, Thursday evening, Aug. 18, in the tent on the lawn in front of the church--if stormy, in the basement of the church. Ice cream will be served. All are cordially invited.
EAST BRIDGEWATER: Our cemetery is in a deplorable state of weeds and briars. Some few clean up their lots; others are content to let their friends sleep in a briar patch.
HEART LAKE: Annual Grange picnic, Wednesday, Aug. 24. Good music, good speakers and a good time for all. Everybody invited whether grangers or not. Come and see and hear.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly!
When there is trouble with lawbreakers in Susquehanna County, chances are pretty good that the county Probation Department is involved be it chasing down a parole violator, a delinquent teen, or someone who has reneged on a court fine.
But there is, as we have mentioned here in the past, another side to the guys and gals in the department. It is a compassionate side that offers physical help when kids in any community are in need and especially when it involves athletics and teamwork of any dimension.
The latest chapter in the book of good deeds from the department involved overhauling the ballfield at the Lathrop Elementary School in Montrose. Working with the school district, Probation Officer Sami Bourizk and the President Judge Kenneth W. Seamans were instrumental in helping to secure a $20,000 federal grant that was used to eliminate a drainage problem, level the infield, and do landscaping.
Hats off to all who worked together to make the project such a huge success. Thats good.
Apparently there is a problem in the 9-1-1 Communications Center and for reasons known only to them, the county commissioners are reluctant to step in and try to straighten things out. Sometime back, a few dedicated fire and ambulance people recognized the problem and agreed to bail out the commissioners. The idea of a committee to act on behalf of the commissioners was kicked around for some time and finally, the present crop of commissioners decided that, just as previous administrations found, it was too hot for them to handle. With all volunteer fire companies in the county, elected officials certainly do not want to alienate such a huge block of votes.
And so, last week, the present Board of Commissioners gave birth to a brand new agency, the Susquehanna County Emergency Advisory Committee (SCEAC). It has some mighty impressive members and I am sure each of them will take their responsibilities seriously. But the question that goes begging for an answer is, "Is SCEAC really necessary?" The opinion here is no.
For the commissioners to shun their responsibility and pawn off the problems at 9-1-1 to a volunteer agency is absurd. The thinking here is that the committee will do the leg work and the commissioners will come out smelling like a rose because everything they do that will impact on 9-1-1 will be explained as having been recommended by SCEAC. Its a Catch 22 situation for the 9-1-1 employees and it creates a win-win situation for the commissioners.
A committee to offer constructive criticism and helpful advice based on experience at emergency situations, makes a great deal of sense. So does giving the 9-1-1 employees a voice in SEAC. As one dispatcher put it, "We are where the rubber meets the road." So true. They handle the emergency calls, not the fire and rescue people who respond. Commissioner Roberta Kelly asked the dispatchers what they were afraid of because they asked for representation on SCEAC. Thats bad.
At last weeks public meeting, the commissioners listened to a number of individuals regarding the creation of the Susquehanna County Emergency Advisory Committee (SCEAC). Much of the concern was expressed by the 9-1-1 dispatchers and rightfully so. Not only is their livelihood involved, but also their dedication as dispatchers who are constantly thrown into life-saving situations. These dispatcher are trained at state-sponsored seminars to react quickly in emergencies.
It was bad enough when Commissioner Roberta Kelly asked the dispatchers why they appeared afraid of the new advisory committee. Since when is asking questions relevant to the topic of discussion a sign of fear? But when Mrs. Kelly dropped the other shoe, my ears could not believe she said the words. "If you are not happy in the department and you have problems, it might be time to look elsewhere," Mrs. Kelly told one dispatcher. Wow! State-trained and certified 9-1-1 dispatchers are paid hourly rates in double figures all over the country and Susquehanna County pays them $7-plus dollars an hour and a commissioner has the nerve to suggest they leave if they are unhappy. What she should have said is if the employees are unhappy, the commissioners will meet with them after the meeting and discuss ways to improve the working conditions. But Mrs. Kelly didnt say that. And about what she did say, in a word it was Ugly!
SPORT SHORTS of Old Timers (Where are they now?) Lenny Dystra, former Met and Philly outfielder, is now 41. He owns a car washing business in California. Larry Bird, three-time MVP retired in 1992. Coached Indiana Pacers three years. He is now the Pacers president. Dick Butkus, former Chicago Bear football player, now 61, lives in Malibu and enjoys every minute. Tom Osborne, Nebraska football coach, won three national titles and is a Republican member of Congress. Jack Kemp, Buffalo Bills quarterback, a former congressman is now director of nonprofit Empower America. Jim Bunning, former Hall of Fame pitcher, is now a Kentucky senator. He was responsible for hiring Marvin Miller to represent players. Carl Yastrzemski, of the Boston Red Sox, lives in Massachusetts. He retired in 1983 and limits public appearances. In 1967, he topped the American League in batting average, homers and runs batted in. Marvin Hagler, boxer, 50, ruled the middleweight division with an iron hand. He is now in Italy training his sights on the Italian cinema. Greg Luzinski, 15 years in baseball with the Phillies is now grilling barbecues for the Philly fans. (A question was posed to me asking what "the rotation play is in baseball." I have a good idea. What is your definition of the play?)
TOM HURLEY "Pictured" Tom Hurley, State Democrat committeeman of Susquehanna, was prominently pictured in the Scranton Times newspaper on July 31. He was shown with several other fans gathering to see and hear Presidential candidates Kerry and Edwards. According to Mr. Hurley, it was a sweltering day with many getting sick. But Tom said, "I, along with Rick Franks got to shake the hand of the next president, John Kerry." Also attending the rally were Mary Ann Warren, county commissioner and son, Brad Warren; Ben Franks, Young Democrats Chairman.
RICH THOMPSON "Doing Great" As of July 31, Rich Thompson, Montrose High graduate, outfielder with the Nashville Pirates AAA team, was hitting .311, 286 at bats, 89 hits, 54 runs, 30 stolen bases.
The YANKEES "Are IN" So says Badie Caffrey, a longtime Yankee fan. When asked about the Yankees, "No problem," he said, "well be there in October." (Badie knows what he is talking about. He should, he was the Susquehanna Tri-Boros bat boy, a "few" years ago.)
HAPPY NEWS, Kids Susquehanna Community School classes will start August 30; classes end June 2, 2005; Graduation Day, June 10. (New) Schedule changed to 8-period day.
TURNPIKE Tolls "Up" Effective August 1, 2004, the Pennsylvania Turnpike raised its tolls almost to 40 percent. Tolls rose 1.8 cents a mile over the 531 miles of roadway including the Northeast Extension. Many motorists said they will use alternate routes.
GOOD NEWS "For Smokers" A Duke University study of 20,000 smokers says those who quit by the age of 35 have a good chance of living a longer, healthier life. There it is folks. Want to live a lot longer? Now is your chance. But you dont have to wait until youre 35. You can quit now!
GEN. FRANKS says: 5 More Years Retired Iraq General Tommy Franks believes that five years is a realistic timeline for the United States to be involved in Iraq, in order for them to be able to govern themselves. He also said, "America is not responsible for terrorism against America. Terrorists are responsible." He said that, "to keep a free America we must also deal with far away problems."
A LAUGH OR TWO
AT A NUDIST COLONY for communists, two old men are sitting on the front porch. One turns to the other and says, "I say, old boy, have you read Marx?" And the other says, "Yes, I believe its these wicker chairs."
HIS ONE AND ONLY Eve: "Adam, are you seeing another woman?" Adam: "Do you think Im made of ribs?"
A WOMAN answered her front door to find a plumber standing there. "Im here to fix the leaky pipe," he announced. "I didnt call a plumber," the woman said. "How do you like that?" the plumber grunted. "They call you up and tell you its an emergency, and then they move away."
AFTER A SHIP sank in the ocean, three men ended up stranded in a lifeboat. They floated for days without food and water. One afternoon, a bottle floated up to the boat. The men grabbed the bottle, and when they pulled the cork a genie appeared.
"Ill grant each of you one wish," the genie said.
"I wish I was home," the first man said. Poof! He disappeared.
"I wish I was home, too," the second man said. Poof! He disappeared.
The third man looked around. "Gee, Im kind of lonely," he said. "I wish my friends were here with me."
A MAN AND HIS WIFE argued about who should brew the coffee each morning. "You should do it," the wife said. "You get up first, and then we wont have to wait as long for the coffee."
The husband shook his head. "Youre in charge of cooking around here. You should do it, because thats your job. I can just wait for my coffee."
"No, you should do it," the wife said, glaring. "It says in the Bible that the man makes the coffee."
"Show me," the husband challenged.
The wife fetched the Bible, opened it to the New Testament and pointed to the top of several pages: "Hebrews."
Although there may be many readers sick of hearing about the Scott Peterson trial, it offers a few terrific examples of evidence commonly used by prosecutors in homicide trials. Generally, there are two forms of evidence direct evidence and circumstantial evidence. In terms of strength and persuasiveness, direct evidence is preferred as it generally results from the witness personal knowledge, i.e., an eyewitness to a homicide who testifies as to what he or she saw. In the vast majority of cases, there is little or no direct evidence, but circumstantial evidence pointing to a particular defendant.
The Pennsylvania Suggested Standard Criminal Jury Instructions describes the differences between direct and circumstantial evidence with the following example: "If, while walking outdoors, you hear thunder and see lightning and see water falling on the ground and on you, you have direct evidence that it is raining. On the other hand, if you leave a movie theater and see that the streets, sidewalks and grass are wet, and that people are carrying umbrellas and wearing coats, even though you didnt see it raining, you have circumstantial evidence that it rained while you were at the movies." In this regard, juries are routinely instructed that a defendant may be convicted upon circumstantial evidence so long as all of the evidence, considered as a whole, convinces the jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
How does this relate to the Scott Peterson case? There are no eyewitnesses to the homicide itself, so the prosecutors must rely upon circumstantial evidence to prove that Scott Peterson murdered Laci Peterson. As of the writing of this article, Amber Frey, the paramour of Scott Peterson, has been testifying to their romantic relationship, including the intimate specifics of the relationship, the statements made by Peterson to Frey prior to and after the death of his wife, and the general conduct of Peterson after the death of his wife. Petersons defense will suggest that this simply proves that Peterson was a bad and unfaithful husband. The prosecution will stress that the evidence provides motive for the homicide, and demonstrates that Petersons state of mind immediately prior to and following the death of his wife.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has defined motive "some cause or reason that moves the will and induces action." Commonwealth v. Trunk, 167 A. 333 (Pa. 1933). "Knowledge of human nature tells us that an ordinary person is more likely to commit a crime if he has a motive than if he has none." Pennsylvania Suggested Standard Criminal Jury Instruction 3.13(2). Proof of motive is a classic example of circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial evidences draws upon common human experiences and asks jurors to draw logical conclusions from their common and shared experiences to interpret the circumstantial evidence. A husband does not generally kill his wife and unborn child. The act itself is so heinous that any juror would want some explanation for the conduct a reason for the action. Motive provides that reason Peterson wanted a new life with Frey. Given the intensity of the relationship with Frey, and the interference that his wife and child would pose to continuing that relationship, Peterson had the "case or reason that move[d] his will and induce[d]" the murder of his wife and unborn child.
Finally, as additional circumstantial evidence, the actions of Peterson following the death of his wife and unborn child also provides the jurors with circumstantial evidence tending to support the prosecutions case. Peterson showed no sadness, remorse or depression, he continued to call Frey at an astonishing rate of calls, he repeatedly lied about his whereabouts and location, and he continued to assure Frey that they would be together and have a long and happy life. None of these actions represents direct evidence that Peterson killed his wife and unborn child, but the actions are strong circumstantial evidence, when considered with other evidence, that Peterson committed the homicide. In the absence of direct evidence, the prosecution will continue to use little pieces of circumstantial evidence to provide a framework for the jury to conclude that Peterson murdered his wife and unborn child.
Dear EarthTalk: How are pesticides, particularly malathion, dangerous?
Mary J. Russell, Fort Peck, MT
Organophosphate pesticides (OPs), which include the widely used insecticide malathion, are chemically related to nerve gases developed during World War II. For decades, scientists have been debating whether such pesticides cause birth defects, cancers and other health problems. Studies have shown links between regular exposure to malathion and various human maladies, including non-Hodgkins lymphoma, childhood leukemia, anemia, chromosome damage, and weakened immune systems. Meanwhile, aerial sprayings have been known to cause allergic reactions or flu-like symptoms for people inadvertently exposed.
Malathion was developed by the Swiss chemical giant Ciba-Geigy back in the 1950s as an agricultural crop insecticide and for pest control in homes and gardens. Today, more than 15 million pounds are applied annually in the U.S., according to the Pesticide Action Network. While such OPs are used to control crop-damaging insects, they kill beneficial bugs as well. OPs are found in hardware stores under names like Dursban, Diazinon, Sevin Dust and Baygon. Theyre also widely used by exterminators.
Malathion and other pesticides are especially dangerous to children, who are more vulnerable to neurotoxins than adults, notes Kert Davies, pesticide specialist for the Environmental Working Group. "We recommend avoiding the use of any organophosphates in the home or garden," he says.
To protect your family from pesticide residues on foods, eat organic food as much as possible. If organic offerings have not yet made it into your supermarket, the on-line informational resource Local Harvest provides a national on-line directory to help you find organic stores and farmers markets near you.
To control lawn and garden pests, use the least-toxic method you can find, and pull weeds the old-fashioned way: by hand. The organization Beyond Pesticides maintains an on-line searchable database, called "Safety Source for Pest Management," for locating pest management companies around the U.S. that use non-toxic and least-toxic methods. Also, The Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides has several informative fact sheets on pesticide-free solutions to various types of pest problems.
If your kids schools are not using least-toxic pest management methods, lobby them to start immediately. Beyond Pesticides "Safer Schools" report provides on-line case studies of hundreds of schools across the country that have controlled pest issues successfully without exposing students to pesticides.
While malathion and other OPs undoubtedly can wreak havoc on human health, its producers, many scientists, and even some environmentalists believe the problems pesticides solvethat is, the curbing of infestation outbreaksoutweigh the risks of using them. But regardless, taking precautions against unnecessary exposure is our best hope for preventing ill effects.
CONTACTS: Environmental Working Group, (202) 667-6982, www.ewg.org; Pesticide Action Network North America, (415) 981-1771, www.panna.org; Local Harvest, www.localharvest.org/; Beyond Pesticides, www.beyondpesticides.org; Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, www.pesticide.org/factsheets.html#alternatives.
Dear EarthTalk: What exactly are "fuel cells" and what can they power that will end or reduce our dependence on oil and gasoline?
Alex Tibbetts, Seattle, WA
First developed as a power source for NASA's Apollo missions, fuel cells convert hydrogen and oxygen into usable electricity, with heat and water as byproducts. While gasoline engines like those found under the hoods of todays cars harness energy by burning fossil fuels, fuel cells derive power much more efficiently via chemical reactions between hydrogen and oxygen.
Fuel cell technology is extremely versatile, and can be used to run everything from laptop computers to power plants. Cities in the U.S., Europe and China currently operate public bus fleets powered by hydrogen fuel-cell engines. King County in Washington State is using fuel cells to power its new water treatment plant. And eight of the worlds top auto makers are developing prototype cars and trucks powered by fuel cells.
Ballard Power, United Technologies (UTC Fuel Cells), Plug Power and other companies are vying for dominance in the newly emerging global fuel-cell market. Meanwhile, governments and auto makers are supporting the research and development with various investments, grants and subsidies. In 2002, President Bush launched the FreedomCAR program, a public-private partnership between the Department of Energy and the "Big Three" auto makers, to fund development of fuel-cell technologies for American cars and trucks. A year later the White House announced the creation of the Hydrogen Fuels Initiative to offer support for a hydrogen-refueling network throughout the U.S. and beyond.
But environmental critics are suspicious of the Bush administrations motives, especially since the Energy Departments priorities lie with generating hydrogen from coal or nuclear power, rather than from sustainable sources like solar or wind power. Late last year, however, the U.S. and European Union agreed to work jointly on fuel-cell development initiatives, which has been interpreted as a positive sign.
The promise of a transportation sector powered by hydrogen fuel cells is appealing for economic and political reasons as well as for environmental ones. Besides the well-understood negative impacts of fossil fuel emissions on our air, water and health, experts are predicting that the peak of oil production will soon be reached, with remaining supplies largely in the volatile Middle East.
Despite their promise, though, fuel cells are not about to take over anytime soon. "Fuel-cell vehicles will not make a significant national impact for at least two decades," says Jason Mark, director of the Clean Vehicles Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists. But Mark remains bullish on the future of fuel cells. "Given the pressing economic and environmental risks posed by automobile travel, we can't afford to pass up the tremendous long-term potential of renewable hydrogen fuel cells."
CONTACTS: Ballard Power, (604) 454-0900, www.ballard.com; UTC Fuel Cells, (866) 383-5325, www.utcfuelcells.com; Plug Power, (518) 782-7700, www.plugpower.com; FreedomCAR Program, (202) 586-9220, www.eere.energy.gov/vehiclesandfuels; Hydrogen Fuels Initiative, www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/02/20030206-2.html; Union of Concerned Scientists, (617) 547-5552, www.ucsusa.org.
GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; or submit your question at: www.emagazine.com, or e-mail us at: email@example.com.
Dear EarthTalk: What is "shareholder activism" on behalf of environmental protection?
Michelle Zanler, Austin, TX
When the international environmental advocacy group Greenpeace made a decision in 2001 to invest in Shell Oil, it caused gasps in the environmental community, which wondered why the group, known for its daring tactics against polluters, would invest in one of the very companies it criticized. But buying $250,000 in Shell stock made Greenpeace a shareholder and thus enabled the group to file a "shareholder resolution" asking the company to substantially increase its investment in renewable energy technology.
Other recent high-profile environmental shareholder resolutions have challenged the use of genetically modified ingredients in foods, urged more recycled content in packaging, opposed pollution that contributes to climate change, and pushed for computer "take-back programs" by manufacturers that could re-use components in making new ones. According to Tracey Rembert of the Social Investment Forum (SIF), there were more than 30 resolutions relating to climate change alone filed in 2003.
Shareholder activism is not just for advocacy groups like Greenpeace and SIF. Individuals who own stock can get involved, too, by filing resolutions on their own or in partnership with an advocacy organization, by voting their proxies (the ballots mailed to shareholders), and by simply writing letters to the CEO (which have more clout coming from shareholders). Investors can also ask their pension plan or portfolio managers to contact a company on their behalf about an issue.
What fruits, if any, have these efforts yielded? A resolution asking American Electric Power to report on its greenhouse gas emissions received nearly 27 percent of the vote, and a resolution asking ChevronTexaco to report on its plans for developing renewable energy sources received 25 percent of the vote. "If a vote gets about 20 percent it usually pushes the company enough to take some action," says Rembert.
Resolutions sometimes never reach completion, but instead succeed by drawing enough advance attention to start a dialogue with company management. Negotiations with ConocoPhillips following the threat of a resolution led to a pledge from the CEO to produce a climate change plan for the company. And office supplies superstore Staples agreed to set company greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets because of pressure from shareholders.
Filing a shareholder resolution requires legal savvy, and many investing professionals recommend getting guidance. "Start with co-filing a resolution under the direction of an organization like the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility," recommends Carsten Henningsen, chairman of Portfolio 21, an environmentally focused mutual fund. "If you have people filing that don't have political sensitivities, or that aren't aware of others strategies, it could cause harm to shareholder efforts," he says.
CONTACTS: Greenpeace, (202) 462-1177, www.greenpeaceusa.org; Social Investment Forum, (202) 872-5313, www.shareholderaction.org; Portfolio 21, 877-351-4115, www.portfolio21.com; Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, (212) 870-2295, www.iccr.org.
Dear EarthTalk: Why are recent wildfires in the American West bigger, harder to control and more damaging than those in previous decades?
Joe Lyons, Jamaica Plain, MA
Indeed, the first few years of the 21st century have played host to wildfires of unprecedented proportions throughout the American West, killing hundreds of people and displacing thousands more, while causing billions of dollars in property damage. While natural forces such as lightning strikes started many of these fires, the forest management policies of the 20th century are to blame for the huge scope of individual fires and the destruction left in their wakes.
Historians credit a series of wildfires in 1910 that scorched three million acres of forest and claimed 85 lives in the Northern Rockies of Idaho and Montana with forcing the U.S. Forest Service to take on fire suppression as a top priority. Symbolized in later years by Forest Service mascot Smokey Bear (who is 60 years old this year), this policy did prevent many fires during its half-century reign, but it also caused a large build-up of tinder-like woody debris that eventually fueled the largest wildfires on record in recent years. When fires did begin to return, they burned out of control with a vengeance.
Foresters began to question the Smokey Bear fire suppression policy in the 1960s when they realized that no new sequoia trees were growing in California. Researchers found that these trees depend upon the high temperatures of forest fires to pry open their cones so new seeds can spring forth and take root. Looking past the case of the sequoias, researchers found that fire is an essential part of the ecology of forests. In fact, several types of trees, grasses and wildflowers have evolved in relation to fire, and depend upon occasional burns for propagation of their species.
Beyond local ecological effects, the raging fires of recent years are also contributing to global warming. Intact forests act as carbon sinks" by storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in their woody debris, thus lessening the impact of pollution from cars and smokestacks. Forest fires release this stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere, which only exacerbates climate change.
The U.S. Forest Service now stages some "controlled burns" in order to minimize the impacts of naturally-occurring fires. While the idea of fighting fire with fire may seem strange, it is not new: Native Americans first employed controlled burns to help keep larger fires in check for many years before the arrival of Columbus. Today, individual landowners with acreage vulnerable to forest fire can help by conducting their own controlled burnsin accordance with state and local laws, of courseto help prevent larger and more destructive fires.
CONTACTS: U.S. Forest Service, (202) 205-8333, www.fs.fed.us; SmokeyBear.com, www.smokeybear.com; American Forests, (202) 955-4500, www.americanforests.org.
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