Saturday, November 29, 2008

As the Economy Tanks, Don't Forget the Environment

Much clearer today, a nice November day, as it should be.

With my eye on the environment and the economy, it is obvious national attention is centered on the economy. As it should be really since this is the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, affecting millions of folks, even world wide. But this new focus should not lessen the severity of what is happening to the our environment. What was a nice, increasing green movement has seemingly been put on the back burner - a very dangerous place.

Two new articles point to the increasing, disturbing evidence that the not so good global warming predictions are turning out to be more severe. For instance, the logical thinking that reducing CO2 emissions would eventually (like soon, a few years or so) result in a lowing of atmospheric CO2 has just been thrown out the window. In fact, scientists are reporting that it could take thousands of years to reduce the level and that the problem is once CO2 is produced, it's here to stay, maybe forever. Say what? Now that demands a holy @$*%! response.

Another report on the continuing rise in temperature
, summarizes the effects as evidence supported by well known scientific studies and publications with excellent links for further details. This is a really hit home article for anyone who still needs a shot of reality. Pretty hard to run away from the real science and facts behind this article. If you need to sink your teeth into a whole book of facts, try the recently released "The Long Thaw: How Humans Are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth's Climate" by David Archer. This should be on everyone's holiday list.

We, as in humans, usually like to tackle things one at a time. But we can not afford to do that right now. There are two catastrophic events going on right now that require equal attention - the economy and the environment. The goods news out of this is both can benefit from each other if the solutions for each include the other. Some call it the new green economy and there certainly is some truth in this idea.

The challenge then is to keep both of these in mind with your daily decision making. Luckily a lot of green behavior (energy efficiency for one) and consideration for the products you buy can save you money - a win win for all.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Your Green Turkey Options - Take That Butterball and Stuff It

The pollution is exceptionally bad this morning, hazy, pink and thick. Very disturbing.

So I just picked up my natural locally raised turkey for the big day tomorrow which set me back a whopping $2.99 per pound. I had ordered a "fresh turkey" assuming it would be organic but no one asked me, so I got a "natural" one instead. The organic one would have set me back $4.99 per pound.

Meanwhile, the grocery stores are selling "specials" at .49 cents per pound. A financial person would call me nuts. A vegetarian would say I'm cruel. An environmentalist would say "right on". (yes, I know the most environmentally thing to do is not eat meat at all, but I have a family to feed so I stay local, local local) But it did get me wondering, "Is it worth it?"

The piles of turkeys you see in the traditional grocery store, most notably Butterball, are of one commercial type - the Broad-Breasted White (BBW) variety, bread over the years to create super sized breasts. Bred to grow very fast (with a little help from hormones), they are fed genetically modified corn and soy meal and if were allowed to reach adulthood, would not be able to fly (because of big breasts) or enjoy a little nooky (because of big breasts). Over 400 million birds are raised each year, an over whelming number in the south, in huge factory settings and crowded cages, requiring vitamins and antibiotics to ward off disease that comes with crowded conditions. (the industry will tell you to keep you safe from salmonella but we know better) An investigation into these factories was captured on video and if you can stomach it... warning - I had to stop after 3 seconds. Then you have companies like Butterball that add insult to injury and inject saline, sodium and other stuff into the big breast to keep it moist after it has been frozen for so long.

So what's a green turkey lover to do? One other option is to buy the new(ish) heritage types that are making a nice comeback, part of the heritage livestock movement. Heritage turkeys were the old fashion variety of turkeys before the "industry" settled on the BBW and went crazy over breeding its big breasts. Just like there are many breeds of chickens (like dogs and cats), there are many breeds of turkeys that were bred and registered. Some of these were a result of mixing European turkeys and a little American Wild. Buyer beware though, any farmer can take a nice heritage turkey and still feed in genetically modified corn and soy, and still give it antibiotics.

Other terms to consider are "pastured" "free range" and "natural". Pasture raised does indeed mean the turkey enjoyed the great outdoors, hopefully eating just grass but with no guarantee of anything else. "Free range" is a joke, meaning they have access to an open door, during limited times, to a possibly tiny outdoor space. Big deal. "Natural" usually means not fed any antibiotics or hormones, but the rest of all of the above conditions may apply.

There are some quick sources that can take you to local sources for turkey. Eat Wild promotes eating pastured raised animals. Local Harvest can give you the nearest turkey farm given your zip code. Plus they have much more general good farm, food, co-op and CSA information. The new Eat Well Guide is a fantastic source for looking up organic food.

So after doing all this research, I have come to the conclusion that the $2.99 per pound price is indeed worth it. (especially since one website had organic turkey for $10. per pound!) I would have preferred organic since there is no indication of what the turkeys were fed, but I now know better. I did look up the farm from where my turkey came, and it does say no "drugs" and all, so that is good.

I am still a reluctant meat eater (Fast Food Nation did it to me) but have narrowed myself to eating organic (or no antibiotics/hormones/GMO's) and animals that enjoyed a good life and were humanely treated. I live where hunters eat their own meat which I much sooner endorse than cruel factory raising conditions. Call me a product of my environment. I enjoy watching many a wild turkey feed in my field knowing they have been around for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, and were part of the human condition that preceded the early settlers.
Happy (green) Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Clothes Drying Racks - Build It Into Your Life

Clear and cold, but that darn brown haze on the horizon just hangs there.

So with my mind wondering back to Italy, I still have some thoughts to share. And besides, I don't want my laundry art photos to go to waste. I was so impressed with small yet important lifestyle differences in Italy, that it bares my continued blogging.

Washing clothes is one of those necessities in life, like eating and taxes. It's a daily, or at least weekly, chore that's been around as long as humans have worn clothing. And so a household has to some how accommodate washing laundry and therefore clothes drying. It was clear in Italy that clothes drying in the form of hanging it outside is the first choice for most homes.

Clothes drying lines or clothes drying racks are built into the frame work of homes, balconies and/or windows. Look closely at the above photo and you can see that the balcony railings extend and hold several lines for clothes drying. This is a real commitment to hanging your clothes out to dry, it's just what is done. Laundry isn't shamefully hung out the back of the home, it's hung right out front for the world to see. And I love it.

And if there isn't a balcony, the rigs are built into the side of the building with easy window access.

While admiring this lifestyle and the beautiful colors it adds, I can't help but be amused by the idea that some are offended by hanging clothes. You know those covenants that restrict outside clothes drying. I just don't get that. Is it the underwear? Doesn't everyone wear underwear? I think if you walk through any mall in the U.S. you're likely to walk by several stores with displays that could pass for soft porn. I find that more objectionable than the real world of undies hanging out to dry.Others must find it amusing that we even have these restrictions. I find it ridiculous. I'm all for civil disobedience in this case.

Hanging your clothes on a line or clothes drying rack really doesn't take that much time. The time is little enough to easily build it into your day, into your life. It's a commitment, a lifestyle, a pledge that will make a difference - an environmental difference for us all. Ciao!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

We Should All Follow Denmark's Green Footsteps - Or Bike Paths

It's November, no leaves, but no snow - cold wind.

My daughter just reported back from Denmark after visiting a lifelong buddy who was also doing a semester abroad. (man these lucky kids) And what amazed her most about this small but sweet ancestral country? (her grandmother was Danish) It was the bikes, lots of them.. more than she has ever seen before.

And folks use them too. Copenhagen is no slouch of a capital so it must have been fun to see so many bikes maneuvering around a city with around one million people. The bikes aren't fancy either. There are many a plain old one gear bikes that get people around just fine. And they probably won't be stolen either.

Imagine if all these bikes were replaced with cars? Ouch. But that isn't likely to happen since Denmark has adopted a green mission and has reduced its CO2 since the 1990's. (remember the Kyoto agreement was first signed in 1992) Denmark ranks 36Th in CO2 emissions per person compared to the U.S.A. in 10Th place. So I imagine one less car helps.

Denmark is considered one of the greenest countries in Europe. They have communities that are zero waste or darn close to it. Can you imagine zero waste? They are also taking advantage of their water surroundings and making the most of wind power. Their efforts are to be applauded though are considered more a way of life after riding the band wagon for over 15 years now.

Where would we be now if we had started 15 years ago? More bikes? Maybe, maybe not. But more of other green ideas for sure.

So keep up the great work Denmark and thanks for being such a beacon for us newbies.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

BPA Leaches in Supposedly Safe Products - Thank Goodness for Watch Dogs

Cccccold - Like it should be.

Thank goodness for some feisty reporters from the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. Susanne Rust and Meg Kissinger have been relentless in keeping BPA in the news and keeping honest facts emerging from the secret plastic world. The American Consumer owes a great deal of debt to this sleuthing duo.

They just recently had 10 containers analyzed for leaching BPA and the results are disturbing, because some are containers were not suppose to be an issue. Imagine my surprise when containers made from plastic 1,2 and 5 were shown to leach BPA. What's next?

One of the products they analyzed were Munchkin Bowls. Now on the Munchkin Website, they claim "Non-toxic Plastic safe for baby". I suppose that "safe" word is the sticking point. According to the leaching results, the munchkin bowls did leach, and in amounts that the experts say do cause harm. I can't find what number the munchkin bowls are, but I think its a 1,2, 4 or 5, ones considered "safe".

The big message from this recent analysis is certain plastics that were thought to not leach, are leaching, and heating any kind of plastic in the microwave probably is buying you some added, unwanted hormone disrupting chemicals in your food.

Thanks Meg and Susanne. Thanks for putting all the pieces together and finding answers to consumers' concerns. There are still a lot of products being passed off as safe and I for one am grateful to these two diggers. Keep on the digging!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Clean Coal - Do I Look Stupid?

Rain, cold bbbrrrrr. Finally November.

Who came up with the term clean coal? It's laughable really. Does the coal industry think we are that stupid?

I thought I knew the basics of coal - it's basically dirty, really dirty, has been and will be. Then the presidential elections brought the term clean coal to the surface as one of the viable solutions to our energy needs. As I repeatedly heard this term, I figured a new breakthrough had occurred that missed my radar despite being fairly tuned in. I guessed some new technology was about to take over that I just hadn't come across it yet. It sounded pretty good.

Finally, a headlines caught my eye, and my time, and I was able to get updated, which then lead to more articles and some more googling. And what a disappointment it was. It showed me the power of marketing, well chosen words, and of course ... money.

My uncle was in the coal industry, and I remember him working on a way to filter the burning of coal. He worked on it for years. He had many other patents under his belt but he really wanted to find a way to have coal burn cleanly. He knew this was important, that it would solve the pollution problems and it wouldn't hurt his wallet either. That was early 1970's.

Not a whole lot has changed. Coal is still very dirty. The burning of coal for electricity is responsible for 40% of CO2 released in the U.S. The CO2 is bundled with lots of other really bad stuff too: mercury, lead, heavy metals and the longest list of pollutants compared to any other form of energy production. It's dirty, dirty, dirty.

There are lots of ideas about "cleaning" or "washing" coal, or pumping into the ground (with no proof of long term safety) but not a lot in practice and seems to be a waste in and of itself compared to putting that technological effort and money into something else more clean, more efficient and renewable. What happened to our push for renewables????

There are 100 coal plants in the works for the US right now. In China, about 2 plants PER week are being built. That was not a misprint. I just can't get my head around that idea. This is totally counter to the efforts needed to curb CO2 emissions to reduce climate change. This scenario offers little hope.

So if you have been scratching your head about "clean coal", join the club. It's sort of like artificial grass, compassionate narcissist, painless torture, victimless crime or... healthy cigarette. You have to admit, clean coal is in the top 10 for oxymorons. Seems like anyone can call anything what they want, wrap it in some pretty words and voila, life is okay. Boy was I duped for awhile, but not stupid. Beware those words that sound too good, they probably are.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bloomberg wants to Tax Plastic Bags - Yes!

Finally seasonably cold, cloudy but clear.

What a great idea. Plastic bags are one of those ridiculous modern conveniences that has made a mess of our environment. From processing to their long drawn out end (plastic can be around for a thousand years minimum) they could easily be the worst useless polluter of modern people.

Okay, so New York City Mayor Bloomberg is desperate to raise money for his city and he thinks a 5 cent tax on plastic bags will cough up an easy 16 million, but if it means fewer bags, I'm all for it. Any money initially raised would probably dwindle as it has in other taxed cities but I say take it and run into a cleaner environment.

New Yorkers waste an estimated 1 billion bags annually which is equivalent to about 120,000 barrels of oil. (that's barrels not gallons) Since only 1-5% of the bags get recycled, disposing of them becomes a huge issue. Many unfortunately end up in our oceans, polluting our marine life and killing birds.

While I was recently in Italy, walking along the cliffs of the beautiful western coast, I looked down and my serenity was interrupted by a bag floating in the water. The moment was ruined for me. I wondered who would have let that happen. Why didn't they retrieve it? Is anyone going to get it now? (I couldn't get down to it, I really was on a cliff) How long before a bird pecks away at it? It happened again later on the trail. It made me sad to think that plastic is so apart of every one's world.

Now in Florence, a plastic bag will cost you 30 Euro, about 45 cents. I am not sure if it is a tax or city mandated but either way, my daughter and her friends are sure to bring their cloth bags when they go shopping. And they are none too happy when they forget them.

I won't go into all the plastic bag facts here but they are staggering, try the link if you dare. And because of the facts, I applaud Mayor Bloomberg for wanting to encourage people to reduce their waste of plastic bags, however method he suggests and for whatever reason.

You go Michael!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Laundry Art

Over cast day, mild temperatures prevail.

Okay, so I am hooked on these beautiful Laundry Photos. Just look at the colors. Maybe it brings back glorious memories of spending the day walking along the Italian coastline, stopping at villages for a meal and then topping the day off by watching the sunset over the Mediterranean, but you have to admit, this is one heck of a photo. This really is laundry art at its best.

So how is it this way of life, of hard work that we as Americans would claim we don't have time for, result in some pretty darn happy people (and great photos)? Why are we still bustling around, with no time to do anything, and what do we have to show for it? Is it the 2 person income required to survived or maintain a certain lifestyle that leaves no one at home to do those mundane jobs a home needs, like laundry?

I am getting into sticky territory here but I can't figure out how a simpler life but with more household "jobs" to do results in a relaxed lifestyle versus our hurried, harried lifestyle with all its modern conveniences.

What the heck happened? Is our time falsely taken up with too much technology in TV and computers? How is it Italians still have time to begin their evening meal after 7 pm (the restaurants open at 7 pm the earliest, some not until 7:30 pm) and have a leisurely meal. Banks close for nap time and don't open until 9:15 AM (not 9 because workers get there at 9 and need 15 minutes to get ready to open), and they close at 4:15. (not 4:30 because they need 15 minutes to shut down)

And what the heck does this have to do with climate change?

My laundry art is my reminder to you that mundane, saving the planet efforts can fit into your lifestyle. That many things we claim can't, can fit into our lifestyle. That a simpler life can be a happier life. Perhaps some reflection about our lifestyle is in order. Think of doing laundry as...making art? Yes, that's right. So when you need some motivation, think ... laundry art. (Isn't she just so cute?)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Pope Goes Green - And So Goes Italy

Early morning, warm November, hmmm.

I couldn't believe my eyes. What a statement this makes. Here we are at St. Mark's Square, Venice, perhaps one of the the largest plazas in the world, home to ancient religious customs and amazing human works of art and low and behold, a sign of modern environmental concern. The not-so-attractive tubular CFL (compact fluorescent lightbulb) ready to go in a gracious pink glass lantern.

I had already noticed during my trip the more-than-I-was-used-to green living behaviors such as rain barrels, recycling, outdoor laundry hanging, and CFL's. In fact, I did not see one old fashion incandescent at all. So what gives?

Are we that behind the eight ball that a quick trip to Italy smacks me to realizing that we have a lot more work to do? Is our country still in denial about climate change or is getting Americans to do something en mass sort of like herding cats? Or is it that the highest religious, most notable position on earth is demanding that the citizens of this planet take notice and action?

I had heard that the Pope had gone green. In fact he talks about our responsibility to the planet a lot. He calls it a "moral issue" and "a grave responsibility to preserve [the earth's] order for the well-being of future generations". I like that idea. You go Pope Benedict XVI.

The Vatican is actually the world's only sovereign state that can claim to be carbon-neutral. That is so cool. The city, country, or what ever it is, just installed solar panels, lots of them. Talk about setting an example to the world!

So my theory is that this is an example of trickle down Popeness. Whatever you want to call it, and what ever it takes, Italians have made a big dent in their carbon footprint. The birthrate in Italy is one of the lowest on earth, down to 1.2 per woman. I don't think the birth rate is a function of the current green Pope, but it is an interesting coincidence.

I applaud the Italians and the Pope for doing such a good real green job. Maybe we can actually learn from others, so ... change your light bulbs, please.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Italy Recycles - A Lot

Unusually warm, calm day - I'll take it.

I wasn't in Italy nearly long enough but the days were packed and wonderful. I did have the chance to go to several different cities and was pleasantly surprised to see that, not only did they manage their recycling well, but it seemed to be quite consistent in all the places we visited.

Every city or village I went to seemed to have a well established recycling program that was mostly in the form of designated banks of recycling totes or large bins. It seemed that it was the responsibility of each person to take care of their own waste and take a hike to the bins. In Bologna, every one to three blocks had a row of 3 to six bins that were designated paper, metal, glass, (okay so lots of wine bottles) plastic, trash and/or compost. Yes, that's right, compost. One big huge bin, as large as the others, labeled "organici". Including international symbols for "No Dairy and No Fats", which was no small feet.

Where the heck did this compost go? I hope they actually do compost it or send it to a local pig farm. It was pretty impressive either way.

What was truly amazing was where all these bins were located. So in downtown Florence, it was to be expected but the shocker was our Cinque Terra hike along the Mediterranean. This was a remote area along the west coast accessible best by train. The villages were difficult to get to, a couple were down right sitting on top of cliffs. So out in the middle of no where, down narrow very steep curvy streets were banks of recycling bins. I was hard pressed to imagine what type of vehicle could even get to them, let alone empty them. Check out the photo looking down a steep hill side. I was impressed.

The train stations were well equipped with recycling bins, nice round brightly colored ones, very modern with 3 choices. The bags were clear which apparently causes some controversy all over (not very nice looking, like laundry you know) but when people can see through the bag to the other items in the bag, the dumper are more likely to get it right.

My daughter and her roommates were keeping their plastic bottles until further notice since in the heart of ancient Florence, bins are a little bit harder to come by. Indeed, lack of sidewalks, lack of width of roads is a major issue. But at least they were mindful of recycling. I hope they find a place soon.

By the way, November 15th is America Recycles Day. I thought I might mention it now in case you want to plan something for it. We have much to do as a Nation in this department. We waste WAY too much. Seeing other countries' efforts is a reminder that we all too often have too many excuses to do something as easy and as important as recycling.

What have you recycled today?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

FDA Doesn't Do Their Homework on BPA - So Who's in Charge?

Time change is great for early morning views.

Finally truth prevails. The FDA Subcommittee did the right thing and concluded that the FDA didn't do their homework. It was a unanimous vote I might add. For the full report click: . It is an excellent report and I urge you to read it.

Seems at the root of all these FDA issues is...who's in charge? The article makes reference to Andrew von Eschenbach who was appointed and heads the FDA and it is important to understand who this guy really is. His bio initially sounds good, an M.D. (no guarantee to real interest in health!), a cancer survivor but then it goes downhill with his huge links to the drug company industry. And we know what that means.

So back to the original article about the subcommittee conclusion. Von Eschenbach is doing some serious back peddling and ridiculous justifying why the FDA isn't taking a stronger stand about the dangers of BPA. He says they used the latest research ( basically a fib, oh alright...a lie) and then talks about not taking a hurried, alarming response so as to avoid reacting to every new study that comes down the pipe. Hello???? How long has BPA been reported to cause hormone disruption? Try decades? So let me get this straight, there's a fire in the building and because we're not really sure things continue to burn and can get out of control, we'll just stay inside for further evaluation? Let's remember, a lot of doctors still smoke too.

I guess it is the prerogative of any administration to appoint whom they wish. This very premise is why electing the right people for the job is so critical in all facets on our country. Think about that when you vote from here on out and forever. From Town Hall Clerk, to Mayor, to ...President. Will they appoint folks who will do the right thing? Or will they put in old buddies with agenda's and links to big money.

So, go out and VOTE. (didn't think it would go here did you?)