Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I'm Dreaming of a Green Christmas

Christmas does not have to be a burden on the environment. With a little effort and imagination, we can reduce the environmental impact of the holiday season. Here are some ideas to help celebrate the season while caring for the earth:

Food & drink at Christmas
1. Buy local, seasonal, winter vegetables (these include sprouts, carrots, cabbage, leeks, onions, parsnips, and potatoes).
2. Support your local farmers' market (visit Local Harvest to find out your nearest farmers' market )
3. Look for meat from traditional breeds of sheep, beef or poultry, raised naturally and locally. Ask your butcher about the history of the animal. If you choose a bird opt for free-range organic or even try an alternative like goose.
4. If you can't buy local, buy fair trade products such as fruit, nuts and chocolate
5. Buy wine with real corks - not a single tree is cut down in their production and it is one of the most environmentally-friendly industries possible. The
Natural Cork Quality Standard website has more information and guidance.
6. Try to buy food and drink packaged in materials that can be recycled in your area, such as paper and glass and avoid disposable items on the Christmas table such as paper serviettes.
7. Compost vegetable leftovers – try vermiculture
8. Use 100% recycled aluminum foil or baking paper for Christmas cakes

Christmas Trees, decorations, cards & wrapping paper
1. If you buy a real Christmas tree, check that it has the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) logo, which guarantees it has been sustainably farmed.
2. Buy a small pot grown tree and plant it out after Christmas.
3. Buy LED Christmas lights which, as well as lasting longer than conventional lights, use can 80% less energy.
4. Solar powered Christmas lights are also a great alternative - they can be bought in a number of online shops now, just search for them in Google.
5. Use old cards to make gift tags.
6. Send an E-card.
7. Wrapping paper is often treated, colored and sometimes covered in glitter which isn't easy to recycle - choose cards and wrapping which contain recycled paper.
8. Check to see if your community recycles real trees.
9. Recycle cards and wrapping paper.

May the spirit of Christmas bring you peace,

The gladness of Christmas give you hope,

The warmth of Christmas grant you love.

Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Giving thanks for: water.

Thanksgiving is just a few days away and millions of people in the U.S. will be busy planning their Thanksgiving feasts with little thought to their water. Water is absolutely essential to the human body’s survival, yet this important resource is taken for granted by most people in developed nations.

Right now, approximately one billion people on this planet do not have access to clean drinking water. They must take water from polluted rivers and streams, contaminated water holes, and sometimes filthy mud puddles. Here are some of the facts:
  • Each year more than five million people die from water-related disease.
  • 30 % of water-related deaths are due to diarrhea.
  • 84 % of water-related deaths are in children ages 0 – 14.
  • 98 % of water-related deaths occur in the developing world.
  • Less than 1% of the world's fresh water (or about 0.007% of all water on earth) is readily accessible for direct human use.
  • A person can live weeks without food, but only days without water.
  • A person needs 4 to 5 gallons of water per day to survive.
  • The average American individual uses 100 to 176 gallons of water at home each day.
  • The average African family uses about 5 gallons of water each day.
  • 90 % of all deaths caused by diarrheal diseases are children under 5 years of age, mostly in developing countries.
One of the UN Millennium Development Goals of 2000 is to "Reduce by half, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water." The World Summit on Sustainable Development, Plan of Implementation (2002) states "... we agree to halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of people who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water (as outlined in the Millennium Declaration) and the proportion of people who do not have access to basic sanitation." Clean water is a global concern.

Many organizations are working diligently on the issue of clean water. Among them are:
Clean Water Action: an organization of 1.2 million members working to empower people to take action to protect America's waters, and build healthy communities.
National Resources Defense Council: Founded in 1970, its mission is to safeguard the Earth: its people, its plants and animals and the natural systems on which all life depends.
WaterAid works towards achieving its vision of a world where everyone has access to safe water and sanitation.
GLOBAL WATER was founded in 1982 by former U.S. Ambassador John McDonald and Dr. Peter Bourne to help save the lives of people in developing countries that are lost due to unclean water.

charity:water is relatively new on the scene but has become a powerhouse non-profit dedicated to bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. Founder Scott Harrison started charity:water a little over two years ago and, as of this posting, has raised over $7 million and completed 890 projects serving over 400,000 people in some of the poorest places on earth. Private donors, foundations, and sponsors cover the cost of running the organization so that 100% of all donations will fund direct costs associated with the construction and maintenance of freshwater projects. This includes fuel for the drill rig, cement for the casing of wells and community training programs.
There are opportunities galore to help these organizations in their quest to provide clean water for all. This holiday season give the gift of life: clean water.
Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The High Cost of Progress

We have become a world dependent on modern conveniences. No doubt this is in response to our fast-paced, stress-filled lifestyles. There simply is no time to do things the "old-fashioned way". We have become prepackaged, plastic-wrapped, instant-gratification-seeking humans. Some would call this progress. What makes all this progress possible?

Chemicals. Lots and lots of chemicals.

Worldwide chemical production increased by 3.1% in 2007. In 1997 the chemical made in the largest quantity was sulfuric acid or hydrogen sulfate (H2SO4). In the US, about 40 million tons were produced that year.

In its pure form, sulfuric acid is an oily liquid, also known as oil of vitriol. Pure sulfuric acid is very dangerous because it reacts quickly with water, releasing a large amount of heat. Sulfuric acid is usually sold in a dilute solution, which is much easier to work with. Sulfuric acid is used in a wide variety of processes in almost every major industry. About 65% of it is used to make phosphate fertilizers. It is also important in the manufacture of explosives, dyes, paper, glue, and lead-acid batteries. But sulfuric acid is only one of many we encounter in our everyday lives.

According to OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) 1,3-Butadiene ranks 36th in the most produced chemicals in the United States. Three billion pounds per year are produced in the United States and 12 billion globally. 1,3-Butadiene is produced through the processing of petroleum and is mainly used in the production of synthetic rubber, but is also found in smaller amounts in plastics and fuel. Exposure to 1,3-Butadiene mainly occurs in the workplace, including the following industries: synthetic elastomer (rubber and latex) production, petroleum refining, secondary lead smelting, water treatment, agricultural fungicides, production of raw material for nylon, and the use of fossil fuels. Exposure can also occur from automobile exhaust; polluted air and water near chemical, plastic or rubber facilities; cigarette smoke; and ingestion of foods that are contaminated from plastic or rubber containers.

Acute low exposures to 1,3-Butadiene may cause irritation to the eyes, throat, nose, and lungs. Frostbite may also occur with skin exposure. Acute high exposures may cause damage to the central nervous system or cause symptoms such as distorted blurred vision, vertigo, general tiredness, decreased blood pressure, headache, nausea, decreased pulse rate, and fainting.
Phthalates: This chemical is stored in the body fat where it can damage the kidneys, liver and reproductive organs, especially the developing sex organs in males. These are especially dangerous to pregnant women’s fetuses. It can also disrupt hormonal processes and increases breast cancer risk. These chemicals are widely used in beauty products such as lipsticks, hair sprays, perfume and nail polishes.
Di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP). The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has determined that DEHP may reasonably be anticipated to be a carcinogen. (Ref. 5.8) IARC designated DEHP to Group 2B (possibly carcinogenic to humans) (Ref. 5.9).

DEHP is principally used as a plasticizer in the production of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and vinyl chloride resins. Estimates are that at least 95% of the DEHP produced ends up in these uses. PVC is flexible and is used in many common items such as toys, vinyl upholstery, shower curtains, adhesives, coatings, and as components of paper and paperboard. PVC is also used to produce disposable medical examination and surgical gloves, the flexible tubing used to administer parenteral solutions, and the tubing used in hemodialysis treatment. Non-plasticizer uses include the use of DEHP as a solvent in erasable ink; as an acaricide in orchards; as an inert ingredient in pesticide products, cosmetics, and vacuum pump oil; as a component of dielectric fluids in electrical capacitors; to detect leaks in respirators; and to test air filtration systems. DEHP is a ubiquitous environmental contaminant. The principal route of human exposure to DEHP is ingestion of contaminated food, especially fish, seafood, or fatty foods, with an estimated daily dose of about 0.25 mg. The highest exposures to DEHP result from medical procedures such as blood transfusions or hemodialysis, during which DEHP may leach from plastic equipment into biological fluids. Workers in industries manufacturing or using DEHP plasticizer may be frequently exposed to above average levels of this compound. (Ref. 5.8)

Sodium Laurel or (Lauryl) Sulfate (SLS) / Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES): This harsh detergent is found in car washes, engine degreasers, and garage floor cleaners as well as in over 90% of the personal care products. It is used for its foaming action. It causes eye irritations, skin rashes and allergic reactions. SLS breaks down the skin’s moisture barrier and easily penetrates the skin allowing other chemicals to easily penetrate the skin as well. When combined with other chemicals, SLS can be transformed into “nitrosamines”, a potent class of carcinogens. The American Journal of Toxicology states that SLS stays in the body up to 5 days. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is frequently disguised in pseudo-natural personal care products as “comes from coconut”. It is believed to cause hair loss and scalp irritation similar to dandruff.
Health Hazard Data
Route Of Entry - Inhalation: YES
Route Of Entry - Skin: YES
Route Of Entry - Ingestion: YES
Emergency/First Aid Procedure:
Precautions for Safe Handling and Use
Supplementary Safety & Health Data: NONE SPECIFIED BY MANUFACTURER.
Label Required: YES
Technical Review Date: 17MAY95
Label Date: 17MAY95
Label Status: M
Chronic Hazard: YES
Signal Word: WARNING!
Acute Health Hazard: Moderate
Contact Hazard: Moderate
Fire Hazard: None
Reactivity Hazard: None
Special Hazard Precautions:
Protect Eye: YES
Protect Skin: YES
Protect Respiratory: YES
Signs and Symptoms of Acute Overexposure: May cause skin irritation. May cause burns to eyes.
Signs and Symptoms of Chronic overexposure: Prolonged skin contact my cause dermatitis and skin sensitization. May cause eye burns.
Medical Conditions Generally Aggravated by Exposure: Sensitive skin.
Ingestion: Relative to other materials, as single dose of this product is rarely toxic by ingestion. Irritation of the mouth, pharynx, esophagus and stomach can develop following ingestion.

A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) is a fact sheet developed by manufacturers describing the chemical properties of a product. Material Safety Data Sheets include brand-specific information such as physical data (solid, liquid, color, melting point, flash point, etc.), health effects, first aid, reactivity, storage, handling, disposal, personal protection and spill/leak procedures. As required by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), the target audience for information in a MSDS is the occupation worker who may be exposed to chemicals at work. However, much of the information is also relevant to consumers.

MCS is a condition medical science began to recognize in the 1950’s. At that time it was
exceedingly rare and initially had no agreed-upon name. Its name implies the presence of
synthetic chemicals. In 2003 approximately 80,000 synthetic chemicals existed which had
not yet been invented in 1950. DDT, a biological warfare agent declassified for
agricultural and garden pesticide use, was the most widely used toxic chemical in 1950. From
1960 to 2003, synthetic chemical production rose from approximately 10 billion pounds per year to an estimated annual release of about 35 billion pounds into soil, air and water in the US alone. Of these only about 600 are known to be carcinogenic, neuro-toxic and/or teratogenic because the rest have never been tested for safety.

By 1999 MCS was integrated into mainstream medical research and supported by animal
and human experimental investigations, theoretical explanation, therapeutic interventions,
and some statistical and epidemiological data. Below is a list of the signs and symptoms commonly observed with MCS according to the research done by the University of Toronto published in the Archives of Environmental Health , September 2001.

Central Nervous System
Increased sense of smell, problems with concentration, fatigue, confusion, headache,
temporary memory loss, dizziness, sleep disorders (some people can’t sleep, others sleep
14 hours every night), anxiety, hyperactivity, and generalized sense of disorientation and
confusion (following exposure) known as “brainfog”, a term coined by a famous MCS patient, the Chief Librarian of the United States Library of Congress (he was a patient of Dr. Randolph’s), intolerance to bright light and to heat and cold.
Musculoskeletal Symptoms
Joint pain, backaches, muscle spasms, swollen joints or limbs, muscle twitching, and
severe muscle weakness.
Respiratory System Symptoms
Frequent colds or bronchitis, asthma, heavy chest, shortness of breath.
Hematological System
High or low platelets (depending on status of immune function), easily bruised, anemia or
Genitourinary Symptoms
Water retention, frequent urination and urgency, inability to void, chronic infections of
urinary tract, enuresis, infertility.
Gastrointestinal Tract Symptoms
Nausea, diarrhea, bloating, constipation or all of these in rapid succession, often followed
by vomiting.
Cardiovascular Symptoms
Rapid heartbeat, irregular beat, hypertension, severe flushing of the face (sometimes
involving the whole upper body) when exposed to an offending chemical or reduced
oxygen supply), tingling in hands and feet.
Ear, Nose and Throat Symptoms
Chronic stuffiness and runny nose, earaches, frequent ear infections, watery and itchy
eyes, frequent sinus infections, intolerance to noise.
Dermatological Symptoms
Rough skin, sores, generalized itching, intolerance to certain fabrics.

It is important to note that MCS patients may have many of these symptoms at the same
time, not necessarily in the same order or combination, or progressing to the same
severity level. This makes them such a challenge for doctors not trained in environmental
medicine who attempt to treat all these many symptoms traditionally: one at a time, or
refer the patient to a psychiatrist – the doctor of last resort. Of course, each of these
symptoms could also, when presented in isolation and without a history of chemical
exposure at home or at work, be responsive to standard medical intervention. In the final
analysis, the history and the multiplicity of symptoms should alert the doctor to the
possibility of environmental illness.

I will be the first to agree that not all chemicals are villians. However, there is definitely a lack of sufficient testing before products are released, and insufficient labeling on products that have not been adequately tested. This is most prevalent with fragrances and fragranced products. There does seem to be a correlation between increased chemical production/use and increased health problems.

Once considered a minor ailment affecting only a small portion of the population, asthma is now the most common chronic disorder of childhood, and affects an estimated 6.2 million children under the age of 18. The fact that asthma runs in families suggests that genetic factors play an important role in the development of the disease, however, environmental factors also contribute to the disease process.

Although recent studies indicate that the number of autism cases is increasing dramatically each year, the causes of this disorder are not well understood. Twin and family studies suggest an underlying genetic vulnerability to autism, and a growing area of research indicates that the disease may be caused by an interaction between genetic and environmental factors. One hypothesis is that the disease may be triggered during early fetal development, and that environmental exposures during pregnancy could cause or contribute to the disorder.

According to the American Cancer Society, this chronic disease is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. with half of all men and one-third of all women developing some form of cancer during their lifetimes.

Research has shown that exposure to environmental pollutants may pose the greatest threat to reproductive health. Exposure to lead is associated with reduced fertility in both men and women, while mercury exposure has been linked to birth defects and neurological disorders. A growing body of evidence suggests that exposure to endocrine disruptors, chemicals that appear to disrupt hormonal activity in humans and animals, may contribute to problems with fertility, pregnancy, and other aspects of reproduction. (From 1980-2005 there was a 41% increase in thyroid cancer in the U.S.)

Many immunotoxicologists say that exposures to certain chemicals can have a significant effect on immune function. Studies have shown that chemical exposures can affect immunity in two major ways: by causing hypersensitivity reactions, including allergy, which can be harmful to organs and tissues, and autoimmunity, in which immune cells attack self; or by causing immunosuppression, a reduction in the responses and activities of the immune system.

After all is said and done, we are left with an overwhelming amount of information about chemicals and their effects. As conscious consumers and concerned humans, we should educate ourselves as much as possible and limit our exposure to synthetic chemicals whenever possible.

Perhaps the answer is to pursue a simpler life.

Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

What makes a company "green"?

According to Co-op America, “Green businesses operate in ways that solve, rather than cause, both environmental and social problems. These businesses adopt principles, policies, and practices that improve the quality of life for their customers, their employees, communities, and the environment.”

Companies like Whole Foods, the first major U.S. corporation to purchase enough wind-energy credits to offset 100 percent of its electricity use, and GE, whose sales of its Ecomagination products topped $12 billion in 2006, are considered "green". Tesla's Roadster—the hybrid for the environmentally conscious adrenaline junkie—rips from 0 to 60 miles per hour in four seconds without a puff of carbon-dioxide pollution. SC Johnson's innovative Greenlist process is a classification system that evaluates the impact of thousands of raw materials on human and environmental health.

And then there is Sharp.

As a winner of the 2007 Evergreen Award (in the Technologies and Electronics industry category) Sharp is reducing the negative environmental impacts of their production facilities, and is working to “lead the way into an era of clean energy” by expanding the use of solar power. Sharp has been in the forefront of alternative energy development since 1959 when it began researching solar cells. Mass production first began in 1963, and Sharp is now the world’s largest photovoltaic module and cell manufacturer. In July 2008 Sharp announced it would build the world's largest solar cell plant in Sakai, western Japan, by March 2010, along with an advanced liquid crystal display (LCD) panel plant.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded Sharp its "SmartWay Excellence Award" for conserving energy and lowering greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and freight activities. Sharp was one of the first members of the SmartWay Transport Partnership, which was created by the EPA in 2004 as a voluntary alliance that establishes incentives for fuel efficiency improvements and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Sharp has been in the forefront of alternative energy development since 1959 when it began researching solar cells. Mass production first began in 1963, and Sharp is now the world’s largest photovoltaic module and cell manufacturer. In July 2008 Sharp announced it would build the world's largest solar cell plant in Sakai, western Japan, by March 2010, along with an advanced liquid crystal display (LCD) panel plant.

There's “green” and then there's "super green".

Sharp has deployed a “Super Green Strategy” that aims to achieve the highest level of environmental consciousness in all corporate activities. This has resulted in such successes as plant-based resin paint, converting 10 factories to “super green” factories, achieving development goals for “super green” products and devices (for the last three years in a row), making all factories world-wide “green” factories, and developing a nation-wide environmental education program for elementary schools in Japan.

In 1997 Sharp established its Environmental Protection Group. The group has seven important elements:
1. Super Green Management
a. continuously making efforts to strengthen environmental sustainability management
b. raising employees' environmental awareness by building an Integrated Management System
2. Super Green Technologies
a. developing unique environmental technologies that contribute to environmental conservation
b. reducing environmental impact during production
c. developing superior technologies as an essential factor in the performance of products and devices
3. Super Green Products and Devices
a. establishing increasingly higher objectives with the goal of continuously improving the environmental performance of products and devices
b. increasing the percentage of net sales accounted for by Green Seal Products, Super Green Products, Green Devices, and Super Green Devices
4. Super Green Factories
a. certifying a factory with a high level of environmental consciousness as a Green Factory (GF), and a factory with an extremely high level of environmental consciousness as a Super Green Factory (SGF)
b. achieving medium-term plan to convert all domestic and overseas Sharp Group production sites into Green Factories or higher (2007)
5. Super Green Recycling
a. recycling used products effectively
b. recycling products that have reached the end of their service life based on three concepts:
i. improve the recycling rate and aim for zero landfill disposal
ii. improve the efficiency of the recycling system to reduce recycling costs
iii. incorporate recycling technologies into the development and design of products
6. Environmentally Conscious Logistics
a. creating a system to accurately assess environmental impacts in distribution
b. promoting initiatives to optimize transport methods and load efficiency
c. setting a goal of slashing annual CO2 emissions per sales unit by at least 1%
7. Environmental Communication
a. disclosing environmental information through exhibitions and various media, including Environmental and Social Reports, websites, and newspaper ads
b. promoting dialogue on environmental topics with local communities by sponsoring various events and holding factory tours

An excellent example of a Super Green factory is the Kameyama plant. The plant uses a variety of technologies to control the amount discharged then reuses and recycles as much as possible, thereby achieving zero discharge to landfill. (Sharp is already achieving zero discharge to landfill at all its domestic production sites.)

Through construction of a closed system that recovers and reuses all the wastewater from manufacturing processes (the largest wastewater recycling system in the industry) 28,300 tons per day of water used in manufacturing processes at the Kameyama plant is completely purified.
A photovoltaic power system covering a total area equal to three baseball stadiums, a 1,000 kW fuel cell system, and a cogeneration system (the largest of their kind in Japan), comprise an impressive array of alternative energy sources. Creating energy, reducing CO2 emissions, and reducing environmental impact are all accomplished with this integrated energy strategy.

The ISO 14000 environmental management standards exist to help organizations minimize how their operations negatively affect the environment (cause adverse changes to air, water, or land) and comply with applicable laws and regulations. ISO 14001 is the international specification for an environmental management system (EMS) and specifies requirements for establishing an environmental policy, determining environmental aspects and impacts of products/activities/services, planning environmental objectives and measurable targets, implementation and operation of programs to meet objectives and targets, checking and corrective action, and management review.

In keeping with their environmental policy, all Sharp plants worldwide are now ISO 14001 certified. In 2002 Sharp introduced its own Environmental Management System adding 49 additional control points to supplement ISO standards.

Sharp’s focus on building a sustainable society through environmentally-conscious policies is reflected in their expanding use of solar energy, environmentally-conscious product design, and reduction of negative environmental impacts in production facilities. A model of environmental and social responsibility, Sharp has raised the bar on standards for the rest of the business world.

Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

You see weeds...I see wildflowers!

According to the American Heritage Dictionary a weed is defined as: "a plant considered undesirable, unattractive, or troublesome, especially one growing where it is not wanted, as in a garden." The same dictionary defines a wildflower as: "a flowering plant that grows in a natural, uncultivated state." But honestly, aren't these one in the same thing? Almost every "weed" has flowers of some sort.

The Woodrow Wilson Foundation Leadership Program for Teachers 2000 Summer Biology Institute on Biodiversity lists these 10 common weeds:

Milkweed - An important nectar source for bees and other nectar seeking insects, and a larval food source for monarch butterflies and their relatives, as well as a variety of other herbivorous insects. It is not the most beautiful flower in the world, but it serves an important function in the environment.

Mullein - The down on the leaves and stem of the common mullein makes it burn quite readily when dried, so it was used for lamp wicks before the introduction of cotton; therefore, an historic name for the plant was “Candlewick Plant”. Today, a decoction of the flowers is still used as an emollient and treatment for ulcers, wounds and hemorrhoids and for relaxation of the digestive tract and mucous membranes. It also sooths the liver and gallbladder. The leaves have exhibited strong anti-inflammatory properties.

Plantain - Current use of plantain is the commercially significant extraction of its mucilage – a carbohydrate fiber that is used in gentle laxatives. Mucilage also acts as an appetite suppressant and reduces intestinal absorption of fat and bile. It reduces LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. Plantain is commonly used as an astringent; its juice, when rubbed on an insect bite or bee sting, immediately sooths the area and begin the healing process. It can also stop poison ivy from blistering and itching if applied to the skin immediately after contact.

Dandelion - were actually brought to the United States from Europe to provide food for honeybees. Various clinical studies have demonstrated the legitimate use of dandelion as a diuretic, a bile production stimulant, a mild laxative, and an excellent source of potassium. Dandelions are still used as food; many enjoy the dandelion leaves boiled like spinach or mixed in salads. Baby dandelion leaves are often found in haute cuisine. The root, when dried, has been used in coffee substitutes.
Queen Anne’s Lace - Queen Anne’s Lace contains flavonoids, essential oils, vitamins B and C, pectin, lecithin, glutamine, phosphatide and cartotin, a vitamin A precursor. Chinese research has confirmed the function of Queen Anne’s Lace seeds as an abortifacient; other research has shown the plant to be a bactericidal, a diuretic, a hypotensive, and an effective treatment for parasites. It is said to have been named after Queen Anne of England, an expert lace maker. When she pricked her finger with a needle, a single drop of blood fell into the lace, thus the dark purple floret in the center of the flower.

Red Clover - Studies are being done in the use of red clover for combating AIDS, diabetes and the increased cardiovascular risk associated with menopause. Red clover is a member of the legume (pea) family. These are a group of plants that are able to take nitrogen from the atmosphere and make it biologically available to other plants. Nitrogen fixation is of critical importance in protein production in plants and makes the legumes a critical player in agricultural planning.

St. John’s Wort - St. Johnswort is undoubtedly one of the most heavily researched herbal remedies. People use St. Johnswort in capsule and tea form to elevate their moods. Research has verified its efficacy as an anti-depressant, antibiotic and anti-inflammatory. Other studies have shown it as a potent anti-retroviral agent, making it a possible treatment for AIDS. It may also prove to be useful against other viral infections.
White Clover -A member of the Leguminosae family, which includes red clover and other plants such as peas, beans and peanuts that are nitrogen fixers. Native Americans used whole clover plants in salads, and made a white clover leaf tea for coughs and colds. It makes excellent feed, pasture, hay, and silage for livestock and poultry. Once established it serves excellently as a cover crop and in stabilizing soil and reducing erosion.

While it is true that there are some truly unwanted, unloved, and uninviting weeds in the world perhaps we should change our perception a bit. By educating ourselves and identifying noxious, invasive weeds, we might begin to see the beauty (and uses) in some of our wildest flowers.
Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ozone Day 2008

The United Nations' (UN) International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer is celebrated on September 16 every year. This event commemorates the date of the signing of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in 1987. The theme for 2008 is “Montreal Protocol – Global partnership for global benefits”.

In 1987 representatives from 24 countries met in Montreal and announced to the world that it was time to stop destroying the ozone layer. In so doing, these countries committed themselves, via the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, to rid the world of substances that threaten the ozone layer.

On December 19, 1994, the UN General Assembly proclaimed September 16 to be the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, commemorating the date when the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was signed in 1987. The day was first celebrated on September 16, 1995.

Ozone depleting substances (ODS) are those substances which deplete the ozone layer and are widely used in refrigerators, air-conditioners, fire extinguishers, in dry cleaning, as solvents for cleaning, electronic equipment and as agricultural fumigants. ODS cause higher rates of skin cancer, eye cataracts and damage to people's immune systems. It also diminishes the productivity of food crops and reduces levels of plankton in the ocean.

Ozone depleting substances include:

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) **
Carbon tetrachloride, Methyl chloroform
Hydrobromofluorocarbons (HBFCs)
hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)
Methyl bromide ~~
Bromochloromethane (BCM)

**Trichlorofluoromethane, also called freon-11, CFC-11, or R-11, is a chlorofluorocarbon. It is a colorless, nearly odorless liquid that boils at about room temperature. It was the first widely used refrigerant. Because of its high boiling point (compared to most refrigerants), it can be used in systems with a low operating pressure, making the mechanical design of such systems less demanding than that of higher-pressure refrigerants R-12 or R-22.

  • Because of the high chlorine content and the ease with which the chlorine atoms can be displaced when the molecule is subject to ultraviolet light, R-11 has the highest ozone depletion potential of any refrigerant, by definition assigned the value 1.0. U.S. production was ended in 1995.
~~Bromomethane, commonly known as methyl bromide, is an organic halogen compound with formula CH3Br. It is a colorless, nonflammable gas with no distinctive smell. Its chemical properties are quite similar to those of chloromethane. It is a recognized ozone-depleting chemical. It was used extensively as a pesticide until being phased out by most countries in the early 2000’s. Some use, notably in the United States, continues. Trade names for bromomethane include Embafume and Terabol.

  • Because bromine is 60 times more destructive to ozone than chlorine, even small amounts of bromomethane cause considerable damage to the ozone layer. In 2005 and 2006, however, it was granted a critical use exemption under the Montreal Protocol. The most recent set of 'critical use' exemptions in the US include use of Bromomethane for tomato, strawberry, and ornamental shrub growers, and fumigation of ham/pork products.

A new study led by Columbia University researchers has found that the closing of the ozone hole, which is projected to occur sometime in the second half of the 21st century, may significantly affect climate change in the Southern Hemisphere, and therefore, the global climate. The study appears in the June 13th issue of Science.

"Our results suggest that stratospheric ozone is important for the Southern Hemisphere climate change, and ought to be more carefully considered in the next set of IPCC model integrations," said Seok-Woo Son, lead-author of the study and a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS).

It wouldn't do for us to get complacent, however. This is a triumph, as yet, unrealized. There is much to be done to stop all air pollution. There are hazardous chemicals being used whose adverse effects still aren't fully known. At some point we will have to ask ourselves if the conveniences made possible by the substances are worth the risk to our future and that of future generations.

Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The landfill blues

How many times have we driven down a street and seen a perfectly good (albeit used) piece of furniture on the side of the road, or sitting in (or outside of) a dumpster? Multiply that by hundreds of streets in your town, tens of millions of streets across the country, and hundreds of millions of streets around the globe. How much good stuff is ending up in our landfills? What about all the people who need that stuff but can’t afford to buy it? What if there was a way to save the planet and help people at the same time?

The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 4,593 groups with 5,760,000 members across the globe. This is an entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) free items in their own local areas. It's all about reusing and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer and membership is free. To sign up, go to Freecycle.org and find your community by entering it into the search box or by clicking on “Browse Groups” above the search box.

If you are handy with tools, have knowledge of upholstering or refinishing, why not cruise the neighborhood and retrieve items you see on the side of the road? If they can be reclaimed, why not fix them up and donate them to someone in need? If you don’t know of anyone personally, contact your local United Way or other charitable organization. There are many people in need who don’t have the resources, or skills, to obtain essential items for their homes.

What a wonderful way to turn a hobby into a means to help people, and the environment! Only recently, have people developed a “disposable” mentality with regard to material objects. In the past, furnishings, clothing, housewares, etc. were of good quality, expensive, and treasured. Items that were damaged, or worn, were repaired or refurbished – not thrown away! Average people had few possessions and those were well cared for and made to last for as long as possible.

It is time that we went back to producing goods of quality, rather than cheap, disposable merchandise that clog our landfills at an alarming rate. It is time to embrace a different design philosophy.

In their pioneering book “Cradle to Cradle”, William McDonough and Michael Braungart explain how waste equals food. This principle explains how products can be designed from the beginning to provide nourishment for something new (after the products’ useful life has ended). They can be conceived as biological nutrients that will easily re-enter the water or soil without depositing synthetic materials and toxins – or as technical nutrients that will continually circulate as pure and valuable materials within closed-loop industrial cycles. Rather than being recycled, these products can be down-cycled into low-grade materials and uses.

Not only will this benefit the planet, it could positively impact the global economy, as well. By incorporating this principle in world-wide global manufacturing practices, we could reduce the strain on natural resources, reduce landfill sizes, and create new jobs in recycling, and remanufacturing.

Take a minute to think about ways that you can reclaim items in your own home, or those you find abandoned by the side of the road. Someone in need will thank you! The earth will bless you!
Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The future of housing may lie in the past.

We are frequently confronted with life style decisions that can impact our environment, some more urgent than others. One of the biggest decisions we make with regards to the environment is in our choice of housing. In the United States, the average home emits about four metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent per person per year -- about 17 percent of all U.S. emissions -- according to research by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Conventional building methods often overlook the interrelationships between a building, its components, its surroundings, and its occupants. Conventional buildings consume more of our resources than necessary, negatively impact the environment, and generate a large amount of waste. According to Laurence Doxsey, former Coordinator of the City of Austin Green Builder Program, "a standard wood-framed home consumes over one acre of forest and the waste created during construction averages from 3 to 7 tons." Often, these buildings are costly to operate in terms of energy and water consumption. And they can result in poor indoor air quality, which can lead to health problems.

Green building practices offer an opportunity to create environmentally-sound and resource-efficient buildings by using an integrated approach to design. Green buildings promote resource conservation, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, and water conservation features; consider environmental impacts and waste minimization; create a healthy and comfortable environment; and reduce operation and maintenance costs.

How does alternative housing construction fit into this concept? Alternative housing methods have been available for decades, mostly for financial reasons, I think, but were usually associated with "hippies" or other "eccentrics". Cob, adobe, straw-bale, subterranean, earth-ship, rammed-earth, cordwood, earth bag, salvaged - these are all construction methods that are still being used by people who care about their planet, and can't afford (or don't want) expensive mortgages. Let's look at a few of these alternatives:

Cob -- Building with earth is nothing new to America; the oldest structures on the continent were built with adobe bricks. Cob has been a traditional building process for millennia in Europe, even in rainy and windy climates like the British Isles, where many cob buildings still serve as family homes after hundreds of years. Cob building uses a simple mixture of clay subsoil, aggregate, straw, and water to create solid structural walls, built without shuttering or forms, on a stone platform.

Straw bale -- Straw bale building typically consists of stacking rows of bales on a raised footing or foundation, with a moisture barrier between the bales and their supporting platform. Bale walls can be tied together with pins of bamboo, rebar, or wood (internal to the bales or on their faces), or with surface wire meshes, and then stuccoed or plastered, either with a cement-based mix, lime-based formulation, or earth/clay render. This method generally works best in locations with a hot, dry climate.
Subterranean -- Underground homes, according to Mike Oehler (author of "The $50 & Up Underground House Book"), when properly designed and constructed, provide pleasant surroundings, a better view, and are esthetically pleasing, inside and out. They are weatherproof, soundproof, relatively fireproof, and require less maintenance. Warm in winter, cool in summer, with superior flooring, and the pipes never freeze. They have no foundation, use less building materials, require less labor, and are ecologically sound.

In Cooper Pedy, Australia, the majority of residents live in caverns. Some are left over from opal mines, others are dug out for living spaces. Throughout dry and mountainous northern China, an estimated 40 million people still live in caves or subterranean dwellings.
Earthship -- An earthship refers to a passive solar home made of natural and recycled materials. Designed and marketed by Earthship Biotecture of Taos, NM, the homes are primarily constructed of earth-filled tires, utilizing thermal mass construction to naturally regulate indoor temperature. Earthships are a type of off-grid home, which minimizes their reliance on public utilities and fossil fuels. They are built to utilize the available local resources, especially energy from the sun.

The major structural building component of the Earthship is recycled automobile tires filled with compacted earth to form a rammed earth brick encased in steel belted rubber. This brick and the resulting bearing walls it forms is virtually indestructible. Aluminum cans and glass bottles are a great, simple way to build interior, non-structural walls. Aluminum can walls actually make very strong walls. The 'little bricks' create a cement-matrix that is very strong and very easy to build. Bottles can create beautiful colored walls that light shines through.

Recycled/Salvaged -- The local dump is a great place to look for building materials. Dumps/landfills will sometimes have an area set aside for potentially reusable items, and they encourage people to sort through them. The virtue of recycling used building materials lies in diminishing the need for industry to recreate it. All of the energy that is spent in manufacturing and transporting something can be saved. The raw materials that would be drawn from the earth can be saved. The need to cover the item in the local landfill can be saved. The financial savings to the potential home owner can be significant.

Perhaps the time has come for natural building techniques to become the "norm" rather than the exception. Kelly Hart, who runs the websites Green Home Building and Dream Green Homes wrote an article "Building With Nature" which eloquently addresses the need to return to nature as our guide in construction. In it, Mr. Hart states:
"Building with nature means being aware of how much embodied energy exists
in the materials that we use, so that we don't unnecessarily squander fossil
fuels and contribute to global warming. It means building compactly so as to
not waste materials and energy. It means using materials that are
biodegradable or recyclable. It means designing our homes in ways that use
the sun and the earth to heat and cool them. It means utilizing forms of
renewable energy wherever possible. It means incorporating greenhouses and
naturally cooled pantries in our homes to help feed us."
Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Liveable Streets

From Paris Plage to New York's Summer Streets, and Bogota's Ciclovia to Portland's Sunday Parkways, cities around the world are embracing the concept of liveable streets. Special days are set aside and miles of city streets, become car-free zones. Sidewalk cafes, special events, booths and stalls of amazing variety create a festival atmosphere as cyclists and pedestrians roam freely, and safely through the streets.

Donald Appleyard was a Professor of Urban Design at the University of California, Berkeley. He had a strong interest in environmental perception and community based planning. He studied the social and psychological effects of traffic and neighborhood layout, devised sensitive tools for the analysis of peoples’ environmental perceptions, and took issue with the power conflicts inherent in mainstream urban planning processes. Over the years, his interests became focused on the livability of cities and neighborhoods, particularly upon streets. His book Livable Streets was published in 1981.

In the late 1960s Appleyard conducted a renowned study on livable streets, comparing three residential streets in San Francisco which on the surface did not differ on much else but their levels of traffic. The 2,000 vehicles per day street was considered Light Street, 8,000 traveled on Medium Street and 16,000 vehicles passing down Heavy Street. His research showed that residents of Light Street had three more friends and twice as many acquaintances as the people on Heavy Street.

Further, as traffic volume increases, the space people considered to be their territory shrank. Appleyard suggested that these results were related, indicating that residents on Heavy Street had less friends and acquaintances precisely because there was less home territory (exchange space) in which to interact socially.

Light Street was a closely knit community. Front steps were used for sitting and chatting, sidewalks for children to play and for adults to stand and pass the time of day, especially around the corner store, and the roadway for children and teenagers to play more active games like football. Moreover, the street was seen as a whole and no part was out of bounds.

Heavy Street, on the other hand, had little or no sidewalk activity and was used solely as a corridor between the sanctuary of individual homes and the outside world. Residents kept very much to themselves, and there was virtually no feeling of community. The difference in the perceptions and experience of children and the elderly across the two streets was especially striking.

Project for Public Spaces is undertaking a major initiative called “Streets as Places.” This initiative seeks to engage citizens, policymakers and the transportation industry at-large to reshape the planning and design of transportation networks and streets to promote and support economic vitality, civic engagement, human health, and environmental sustainability, while simultaneously meeting peoples’ mobility needs.

Bicycles are commonly used by people seeking to improve their fitness and cardiovascular health. In this regard, bicycling is especially helpful for those with arthritis of the lower limbs and who are unable to pursue sports such as running that involve more impact to joints such as the knees. Furthermore, since cycling can be used as a form of transportation, there can be less demand for self-discipline to maintain the exercise because of the practical purpose of the activity.

Walkers have less incidence of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other killer diseases. They live longer and get mental health and spiritual benefits. Research shows adults who are physically active in their 50s and early 60s are about 35 percent less likely to die in the next eight years than those who are sedentary. For those who have a high heart risk because of diabetes, high blood pressure or smoking, the reduction is 45 percent.

Gerontologist Thomas Glass thinks we should also be cognizant of the importance of being sociable. "As a society, we should be finding more ways for people, especially older people, to stay involved and active. At any age, we need to begin to think beyond the boundaries of the Stairmaster.

"Physical fitness is important, but social engagement is turning out to be just as critical to longevity. What I tell people is, 'Find something you really like doing that involves other people, whether it's playing cards or walking in the mall.' Social engagement adds a sense of purpose to people's lives. It also seems to add years to those lives."

Perhaps by creating more liveable streets, we will not only improve the health of our planet by reducing emissions from motor vehicles, but we can also improve the health of planetary citizens everywhere.

Until next time, become the change you imagine.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Flight of the Monarchs

Monarchs are known for their extraordinary annual migration. In North America they make massive southward migrations starting in August until the first frost. A northward migration takes place in the spring. Female monarchs lay eggs for the next generation during these migrations.

By the end of October, the monarch population of the Rocky Mountains migrates to the sanctuaries of the Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve in Mexico. The western monarchs overwinter in various sites in central coastal and southern California. (Most notably in Pacific Grove and Santa Cruz.)

What is even more remarkable is that the ones that return to the places where Monarchs hibernate have never been there before. They are the great-great-great-grandchildren of those that performed the journey from southeast Canada and the United States to central Mexico.

The monarch (Danaus plexippus) is a milkweed butterfly and is perhaps the best known of all butterflies. Since the 19th century, it is also found in New Zealand, and has been known in Australia since 1871. Its wings feature an easily recognizable orange and black pattern, with a wingspan of about 4 inches. Female monarchs have darker veins on their wings, and the males have a spot in the center of each hind wing from which pheromones are released. Males are also slightly larger.

Monarch butterflies are one of the few insects capable of making transatlantic crossings. They are becoming more common in Bermuda due to increased usage of milkweed as an ornamental plant in flower gardens and remain year round due to the island's mild climate.

Monarch larvae appear to feed exclusively on milkweeds in the genus Asclepias. Milkweeds are perennial plants, growing each spring from rootstock and seeds rather than seeds alone. There are approximately 110 species in North America known for their milky sap or latex contained in the leaves. Most species of milkweed are poisonous to vertebrate herbivores if due to the alkaloids contained in the leaves and stems.

When Monarch larvae ingest milkweed, they also ingest the plants' toxins, called cardiac glycosides. This causes the larvae and adults to be toxic to many potential predators. Vertebrate predators may avoid Monarchs because they learn that the larvae and adults taste bad and/or make them vomit. There is considerable variation in the amount of toxins in different species of plants. Some northern species of milkweed contain almost no toxins while others seem to contain so much of the toxins that they are lethal even to monarch caterpillars.

Habitat destruction throughout North America is resulting in the loss of milkweed and the reduction of overwintering habitat. One way you can help is by planting a butterfly garden.
Planting a butterfly garden will enable you to watch not only monarchs but also many other butterfly species right in your backyard.

The Butterfly Website has a nice page devoted to butterfly gardens, and organic gardening. Needless to say, the use of pesticides on your plants is not conducive to a healthy butterfly population, so read up on organic gardening techniques. Enjoy the beauty of flowers and create a healthy habitat for insect and bird species in your own backyard!

Until next time, become the change you imagine.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

To mulch, or not to mulch?

Landscaping, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. To some, the perfect landscape is very manicured, geometric, and symmetrical. To others, a natural, untamed environment is preferable. Some gardeners prefer to use an arsenal of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers along with a rigid trimming and pruning schedule to achieve their results. Organic gardeners prefer non-toxic tools and natural methods to achieve theirs.

A hotly debated topic seems to concern mulching. While mulching can control moisture-loss in the soil and deter weed growth, it also prevents soil-boring bees from creating nests. With bee populations in crisis, is it wise to limit their nesting opportunities?

Bright green bees, small black bees, striped and fuzzy bees. These busy little creatures are responsible for pollinating a large variety of fruits, flowers, and vegetables. They are an important and vital part of our ecosystem.

Once favored as THE mulch of choice, cypress mulch use is now being discouraged. Because cypress is grown primarily in wetlands areas, opponents of cypress mulch say cutting the trees contributes to the destruction of habitat and the erosion of wetlands, an important line of defense against hurricanes. Huge information campaigns by organizations across the Gulf Coast, like the Save Our Cypress Coalition are trying to inform the public of this destruction. Thanks to dedicated individuals like Houston's Moira Glace, who handed out brochures in the 100-degree Texas heat, their message is getting out.

Eco-friendly gardeners can also rejoice that they won't be losing anything by boycotting cypress mulch: It doesn't work as effectively as once believed. Scientists at the University of Florida have shown that there are equally effective sustainable alternatives that don't deplete our natural wetlands and don't deprive our gardens of the benefits of mulching.

Dan Favre, campaign manager of the nonprofit Gulf Restoration Network recommends that gardeners instead use pine straw, pine bark nuggets, eucalyptus mulch or melaleuca mulch. Melaleuca is an invasive species being removed from the Everglades. He adds that the simplest and most sustainable method is to create a mulch pile from leaves and lawn clippings. "It's free, and it does great things to the soil quality in your yard," he said.

The work of GRN has brought some results. After sending a delegation to New Orleans to speak with scientists and visit the wetlands, Wal-Mart announced in August 2007 that, effective earlier this year, it would stop selling cypress mulch harvested in Louisiana. Favre said his organization will continue to talk with Lowe's and Home Depot.

Gardeners: Do some homework. Find mulch from sustainable sources and create some bee-friendly areas in your landscape. Xeriscape whenever possible. Xeriscaping uses native plant and flower species that tend to be drought-tolerant and pest-resistent. Native flower species are actually preferred by bees over exotic, non-native species.
Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Taking the "Bull by the Horns" in Texas

"First Published on Qassia"

What do you get when ranchers, farmers, mayors, and a host of other people take on TXU - a giant-sized electric company? You get a Texas-sized fight!

From the governor's fast-tracked permitting process, to the sketchy environmental information, the idea of 18 coal-fired power plants to be built in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Waco area was more than Laura Miller could take.

The former Dallas mayor led a group of mayors representing 36 Texas cities, counties, and school districts to form the Texas Clean Air Cities Coalition. The TCACC successfully challenged the building of new coal-fired power plants that would have added over 100,000,000 tons of CO2, nearly 4,000 pounds of toxic mercury, and 30,000 tons of nitrogen oxides to the atmosphere each year.

Due to the efforts of Mayor Miller, the coalition, and all the concerned ranchers, farmers, townspeople, and environmentalists, TXU cancelled the construction of all but three of the proposed plants. In May of this year, Ms Miller was honored for her outstanding efforts to protect the Earth's climate and ozone layer.

A documentary, narrated by Robert Redford, was made about their struggle, and subsequent victory.

Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Zero-Waste Town

In Kamikatsu, Japan you will not find a garbage can in any of the town's homes, and there is no dump anywhere around. This is because the resourceful residents must compost all waste from their food, and sort other trash into 34 separate categories, with sections for plastic bottles, razor blades, Styrofoam, and various other items.

Interestingly enough, the locals seem to like this extreme recycling process. One resident, claims that the town's no-waste policy makes her more mindful of what she's using, and helps her to take advantage of every last scrap. When she cannot use the whole vegetable, or all of the meat, she cooks it again, often making soup.

Most of us may not be as ecologically-advanced as the residents of Kamikatsu, but the idea that people on the opposite side of the world are separating their trash into 34 categories may inspire people to recycle their cans and bottles, at least. Check out Lime's Guide to Recycling to learn how to get rid of trash without heading to the dump.
Embrace the concept of zero-waste. Use less, and use wisely.

Until next time, become the change you imagine.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The answer to our survival is BALANCE

Our Common Future is a report from the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) and was published in 1987. An excerpt from page 4 reads:

"Until recently, the planet was a large world in which human activities and their effects were neatly compartmentalized. ... These compartments have begun to dissolve. ... the various global crises that have seized public concern ... are not separate crises ... They are all one."

Written over twenty years ago, it is as true today as it was in 1987. If we were to analyze the root causes of most of the world's conflicts we would find a recurring theme of imbalance. Poor vs. rich, famine vs. abundance, cities vs. nature, war vs. peace...ad nauseum. When humans live in harmony with nature their essential needs are met. Everything needed to survive is available. Materials for housing, clothing, and tools. Food, clean air, and clean water all provide for a healthy population. Healthy people tend to be happy people.

In her 1992 article Utgard , Diana Paxon wrote:

"The human brain is an example of an organism which has developed by adding new structures and functions to older ones. Most people today have access only to the newer levels of consciousness, and are disturbed by the "irrational" emotions that shake them when the older parts of the brain are aroused. In the same way, our civilization thinks of itself as "modern," and has trouble understanding the social movements that arise when deeper needs revive older ways.

A major paradigm shift in our relationship to Nature is taking place in this century - a change that must occur if humanity is to survive. Ours is the first generation to be aware of the fragility of the environment. "Primitive" people retain an instinctive awareness that the only way to survive in an environment that is more powerful than they are is by learning to live in harmony with its forces. But as civilization and the development of technology have given humans more control over their surroundings, Nature has become an adversary. In the natural world, birth and death, creation and destruction, are parts of a continuing cycle in which both are equally crucial to long-term survival. Modern man can accept this in theory so long as he remains insulated from its realities by his technology."

Are we addicted to technology? Will it be the cause of our demise? Not necessarily.
Humans can create technology that is sustainable in its manufacturing, with energy that is clean and from renewable sources. We can use our formidable technology to address and conquer our waste problems, clean and reclaim natural habitats. We must find a balance again. We must take action.

By creating processes that eliminate further pollution and reclaim damaged environments, we can stop our inevitable destruction. The earth will survive. If we don't change our ways, and soon, it is the human race that will become extinct.

Until next time, become the change you imagine.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

International Year of the Reef 2008

The International Coral Reef Initiative has launched their International Year of the Reef 2008 campaign. The aim of the campaign to raise awareness about the value and importance of coral reefs and threats to their sustainability, and to motivate people to take action to protect them. All individuals, corporations, schools, governments, and organizations are welcome and actively encouraged to participate in IYOR 2008.

One organization that is taking action is Coral Watch.

CoralWatch is an organization built on a research project at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia. They have developed a cheap, simple, non-invasive way to monitor coral bleaching, and assess coral health. Their Coral Health Chart is a series of sample colors, with variation in brightness representing different stages of bleaching or recovery, based on controlled experiments.

In the field, users simply compare colors of corals with colors on the chart and record matching codes. The charts can be used by anyone - scientists, school children, tourists and politicians.
Their aim is to provide a scientific tool and increase awareness about global warming by demonstrating one of its devastating effects. Coral Watch is asking us to please help by using their kit to monitor local reefs, or any that we visit.

CoralWatch has also joined forces with Project AWARE Foundation, a nonprofit environmental organisation working with divers to conserve underwater environments through education, advocacy and action. Project AWARE has registered over 500 CoralWatch monitoring locations worldwide making it easy for divers and snorkelers to get involved. You can view a list of participating dive centers or find out more by visiting Project AWARE.

You can request a free DIY Coral Health Monitoring Kit by contacting them at info@coralwatch.org. The chart is currently available in English, Chinese, simplified Chinese, Japanese and French with more languages becoming available this year.

As you travel this summer, be aware of the the watery world around you. Find ways to experience the beauty of the earth's oceans with minimum impact to the environment. Educate yourself about them and find ways to become involved in their recovery.

Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Monday, June 16, 2008

So you want to live organic...but what does that mean?!

The American Heritage Science Dictionary defines organic as:

1. Involving organisms or the products of their life processes.
2. Relating to chemical compounds containing carbon, especially hydrocarbons.
3. Using or produced with fertilizers or pesticides that are strictly of animal or vegetable origin.
4. Relating to or affecting organs or an organ of the body. An organic disease is one in which there is a demonstrable abnormality on physical examination, laboratory testing, or other diagnostic studies.

That seems pretty straightforward, but as with much of the new "green-speak", it loses alot in the translation. Once every ten years, the Merriam-Webster dictionary is updated. Their 11th edition for 2003 included some 10,000 new words along with 100,000 new meanings to words already existing and some 225,00 revised definitions. According to M-W, the adjective organic dates back to the 14th century and its original meaning was instrumental.

So now where does that leave us, in the search for organic meaning? I tend toward American Heritage's definition #1 above. We are living, carbon-based, organisms designed to live in a natural environment. Yes, we are adaptable, but our modern technology has forced all organisms on this planet to adapt at a rate that is unnatural. Extinctions are not from the process of natural selection, but from man-made forces.

With the exception of those peoples who have not been corrupted by "civilization" we are the only species on this planet that does not live within the limitations of our natural environment. As living organisms, humans are at the same risk of extinction as other species. The real difference is we will be responsible for the demise of our own kind. Contrary to being a "higher life form", we are as dumb as a box of rocks (sorry, rocks) when it comes to living in harmony with our environment.

Organic.org has the top 10 reasons to support organic in the 21st century. They all make sense to people who want a future that doesn't involve gas masks, and a contaminated food chain. What real solutions can be offered to the growing list of environmental and societal woes?

1. Find a balance. Consumption should not exceed sustainable availability.

2. Put our formidable technology to work for the good. If we can think it, we can do it...in an environmentally responsible way.

3. Clean up our mess. We know where it is and what it is. It's time to stop the finger-pointing and clean it up. See #2 above.

4. Learn from the past. We need to stop repeating our mistakes. Anyone who is curious about living within our "environmental means" can talk to a Native American, an Australian aborigine, a Maori elder, or the Jaguar people of the Amazon. Civilized man has managed to wipe out a great many of these people, but there are still some remaining that know the old traditions.

Bottom line...there is no EASY button for this issue. We are 6 billion (and counting) in number, and every individual effort is significant. Educate yourself, and take action. Our future depends on it.

Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Children and Nature

I think everyone will agree that in the last two decades television, computers, and video games have replaced outdoor play as the primary recreation for a majority of children in the developed nations. If children are not reconnected to nature and encouraged to establish a bond with their environment, then the future of our planet is indeed in jeopardy.

Their are a number of organizations that are dedicated to educating children about environmental issues. But education alone is not enough. Children must feel empowered to make positive changes in their environment. By allowing them to devise solutions to the problems, and engaging them in the planning and execution of those solutions, we empower them to become more involved in the preservation of the planet.

Parents, teachers, adult family members can all contribute to this process. There are a number of things they can do:

1. Walk in nature with children. Find hiking trails, walk in a park or other greenspace.
2. Plant a children's garden. Take a small plot of ground and help them plant flowers, or vegetables. Show them how to care for the plants and then watch what happens.
3. Watch nature documentaries together. Let the time in front of the television be meaningful.
4. Create outdoor learning games. Teach them how to observe their environment.

It is unfortunate that the burden of solving these issues - created by past generations - falls to our children and their descendants. Ultimately, our success in educating and empowering children will affect the future of our world.

Until next time....become the change you imagine.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

World Environment Day 2008

Hot on the heels of Earth Day, the world will celebrate World Environment day on June 5th.

New Zealand is hosting World Environment Day 2008 in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on June 5. The Ministry for the Environment is the lead government agency coordinating the event alongside UNEP.

World Environment Day was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. Another resolution, adopted by the General Assembly the same day, led to the creation of UNEP.

World Environment Day can be celebrated in many ways, including street rallies, bicycles parades, green concerts, essay and poster competitions in schools, tree planting, recycling efforts, clean-up campaigns and much more. In many countries, this annual event is used to enhance political attention and action.

Heads of State, Prime Ministers and Ministers of Environment deliver statements and commit themselves to care for the Earth. Serious pledges are made which lead to the establishment of permanent governmental structures dealing with environmental management and economic planning. This observance also provides an opportunity to sign or ratify international environmental conventions.

Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Earth Day 2008

Earth Day is April 22nd and although most people are familiar with the day, they are not familiar with the history behind it.

Gaylord Nelson, the former U.S. senator from Wisconsin, is widely credited for starting Earth Day in 1970. An estimated 20 million people nationwide attended festivities resulting in the largest grassroots environmental movement in U.S. history. It became the impetus for national legislation like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. By 1990, more than 200 million people in 141 countries participated in Earth Day celebrations.

Earth Day is not without historical precedent. Both Arbor Day and Bird Day were established in the late 1800s to support forestation, conservation, and the appreciation of nature. Native American peoples have long recognized and celebrated in story and song the interdependence of the earth and all her creatures.

Envirolink Earth Day Calendar has a list of national and international events for 2008.

The Earth Day Network has event lists, and interactive map of the world, as well as a section for contacting governmental officials on current environmental issues.

Participate in local events if available, or better yet, start one of your own! And remember to live Earth Day every day through conservation, recycling, and restoration.

Click on the photo to the right to
shop for Earth Day tees and gifts.

Until next time....become the change you imagine.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Earth Hour 2008

On 31 March 2007, 2.2 million people and 2100 Sydney businesses turned off their lights for one hour - Earth Hour. If the greenhouse reduction achieved in the Sydney CBD during Earth Hour was sustained for a year, it would be equivalent to taking 48,616 cars off the road for a year.

With Sydney icons like the Harbour Bridge and Opera House turning their lights off, and unique events such as weddings by candlelight, the world took notice. Inspired by the collective effort of millions of Sydneysiders, many major global cities are joining Earth Hour in 2008, turning a symbolic event into a global movement.

As of today, 24 cities have joined together to make this year's Earth Hour event truly inspiring. Individuals from other cities all over the world have signed up to participate. Kudos to the people of Sydney for leading the way! Sign up, get involved...this year's event takes place on Saturday, March 29th at 8:00pm.

Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Wildflower Rhapsody

Spring is on the way, and with it comes visions of trees "greening up", flowers blooming, and birds singing. Gardener's begin to ready their tools for a brand new season of weeding, tilling, and planting. Homeowners begin to visualize their landscapes full of color and texture.

But what of the neglected spaces? "What neglected spaces", you ask? The vacant lots full of weeds and trash, the medians of divided highways within the city limits, the easements between the sidewalk and the street. These are all places that present opportunities for beautification and a restoration. What a wonderful project for student service clubs, civic organizations, gardening clubs, or just interested individuals! Everyone knows of such places in their cities and neighborhoods.

The first step is getting permission. Many county property appraisers have websites where you can get information on the owners of the property in question. If a highway median is something you'd like to improve, then usually your state Dept. of Transportation office would be the one to contact. Once permission has been obtained, the next step is to do a little research.

Most of these types of areas have no irrigation, so the best type of plants are wildflowers. They are more likely to be drought-tolerant, pest- and disease-resistant. Always choose varieties that are going to grow well in the USDA hardiness zone you are located in. Find out about invasive plant species in your area and what plants are prohibited, or banned in your state.

What is a wildflower?
By expert estimates, there are over 20,000 species of flowering plants in North America, belonging to about 300 different families. Those that grow in the wild or on their own, without cultivation, are called wildflowers. Wildflowers indigenous to the continent are called “natives”. Others, which may be quite common, but not indigenous, have been introduced from some other part of the world and are referred to as “naturalized.” Both types share one common distinction: They are equipped to grow on their own in nature.
Wildflowers.org has good information on noxious weeds and invasives, as well as very complete information on wildflowers for each area of the country. Their recommended wildflower seed supplier is American Meadows, and it also has an excellent website with great information.

This spring let's all do our part to get outside and get involved!

Until next time...become the change you imagine!