Tuesday, December 22, 2009

For those who would like to donate to a worthwhile charity and provide desparately poor people with clean water please go to my Christmas campaign at: http://mycharitywater.org/isabellechristmaswish

To all my readers, friends, and family I wish a safe and joyous holiday season!

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

Monday, December 21, 2009

To Every American in favor of Green Housing

Dear Readers and Friends,

There is an alarming trend developing that is sabotaging environmental progress. Citizens of the US should have the right to choose safe, environmentally-responsible housing. Unfortunately, new appraisal rule changes have been implemented that prevent a logical environmental choice from being made. It is imperative that people have a choice to build disaster-resistant structures that are also energy efficient, cost-effective, and beautiful.

Please read the article below from David South, of the Monolithic Dome Institute. Then check out their website and learn more about the monolithic dome as a safe, green housing choice.

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

To Every American in favor of Green Housing

The President's Sphere

Please demand the rules to allow it to happen.

For thirty plus years America’s leaders have been wanting more energy efficient, more hazard resistant, more cost efficient green structures for houses, churches, schools, etc.

We have heard those leaders as well as concerned citizens make statements such as:- If we could only get a more energy efficient home, the energy savings would help pay for our house. – Greener homes will cut carbon emissions. – Safer homes will save lives and control property damage.

To those leaders and citizens we now say: We have such structures! Please implement the rules to allow them to happen.

Over the last thirty-five years Monolithic (with a lot of help) has developed a paradigm shift in the technology of building structures. Many meet all FEMA 361 regulations as tornado shelters. Some have been funded by FEMA for that very reason. All are Micro-energy users.

Monolithic Domes cut heating and cooling costs by more than 50%. This is well proven by thousands in use. They are also tornado, hurricane, earthquake, fire and termite resistant.

But suddenly after more than 2000 of these homes built to date, changes in appraisal and lending laws have virtually locked out these greenest of all homes. Now prospective owners are not able to find a single appraiser for these super energy efficient, super strong, super long life homes because of appraisal rule changes. All lenders and appraisers now say they cannot do the appraisals.

Result: No appraisal; No loan!

Ironic, is it not? Property tax collectors can appraise dome-homes for taxes, but lenders cannot! Perhaps such homes should be exempt from taxes.

You leaders need to push the buttons, pull the chains and make the rules that will allow reasonable appraisals and loans on the greenest, toughest homes that have ever been built. The construction of these green homes should be encouraged, not stopped. There will never be progress if the “green buildings” are killed by the lenders.

We invite you to look at our website: www.monolithic.com. You will see beautiful, big homes and small, simple homes. The price to the owner is roughly the same per size as that of conventional homes. Yet their energy bills are less than half. And most are built with steel studs for the inside walls, making them very close to fireproof. Their contents may burn, but they will not. With minimal maintenance, Monolithic Domes will last for centuries. The savings will pay for the home again and again. And think of the thousands of tons of carbon emissions they save.

Those of you with the say need to help our little industry by leveling the playing field. About 17 of these homes will be built this year by owners who have their own money. But more than a hundred will not be built because those owners cannot borrow the 80% they need since they cannot get a decent appraisal.

Notice the word, “decent”‚ We are not asking for the recognition of the dome’s superior qualities. All we want and need is the same per square foot value that the owners of wood houses with the same level of finish-out get.

If this world is to have better, safer, more efficient homes there needs to be innovation. You need to help. There can be no innovation if home loans are only available for the same old technology used for the last thousand years.

Since Monolithic homes are built all over America, we need appropriate appraisals and lenders so owners can secure the building loans they need. No one is looking for, “no downs" or "less than market financing.” The necessary loans are for 20% down to top notch borrowers.

Please help all of us. Send this to your banker, your legislator, any wheel that can help us get fair appraisals done for fair lending.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Nature Knows Best

Biomimicry is the science and art of emulating Nature's best biological ideas to solve human problems. Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature states:
"If we want to consciously emulate nature's genius, we need to look at nature differently. In biomimicry, we look at nature as model, measure, and mentor. "

Nature as model: Biomimicry is a new science that studies nature’s models and then emulates these forms, process, systems, and strategies to solve human problems – sustainably. The Biomimicry Guild and its collaborators have developed a practical design tool, called the Biomimicry Design Spiral, for using nature as model.

Nature as measure: Biomimicry uses an ecological standard to judge the sustainability of our innovations. After 3.8 billion years of evolution, nature has learned what works and what lasts. Nature as measure is captured in Life's Principles and is embedded in the evalute step of the Biomimicry Design Spiral.

Nature as mentor: Biomimicry is a new way of viewing and valuing nature. It introduces an era based not on what we can extract from the natural world, but what we can learn from it.

Biomimicry is already a growing scientific discipline. Pioneering advances in agriculture, medicine, and manufacturing (just to name a few) are scientists dedicated to the principle that "nature knows best". Here are just a few of them:

  • Thomas and Ana Moore and Devins Gust ( University of Arizona) are studying how a leaf captures energy, in hopes of making a molecular-sized solar cell. Their light-sensitive "pentad" mimics a photosynthetic reaction center, creating a tiny, sun-powered battery.
  • Wes Jackson (The Land Institute) is studying prairies as a model for an agriculture that features edible, perennial polycultures and that would sustain, rather than strain, the land.
  • Peter Steinberg (Biosignal) has created an anti-bacterial compound that mimics the sea purse. These red algae keeps bacteria from landing on surfaces by jamming their communication signals with an environmentally friendly compound called furanone.
  • Bruce Roser (Cambridge Biostability) has developed a heat-stable vaccine storage that eliminates the need for costly refrigeration. The process is based on a natural process that enables the resurrection plant to remain in a desiccated state for years.
  • Daniel Morse (UC Santa Barbara) has learned to mimic the silica-production process employed by diatoms. This could signal a low-energy, low-toxin route to computer components.
  • A. K. Geim ( University of Manchester) has developed a glue-free, yet sticky, tape modeled on the dry physical adhesion of the gecko's "setae" ---tiny bristles on their feet that adhere to surfaces through Van Der Waals forces. The sustainability potential here is in "design for disassembly." Assembling products using gecko tape instead of glue would allow recyclers to disassemble products without adhesive contamination.
In her book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, Ms. Benyus talks about what is needed for a biomimetric revolution to take place. She says four simple, yet profound, steps are necessary:

  1. Quieting human cleverness. (Acknowledging that nature knows best.)
  2. Listening to nature. (Becoming ecologically literate by immersing ourselves in nature.)
  3. Echoing nature. (Matching human needs with nature's solutions.)
  4. Protecting the wellspring of good ideas through stewardship. (Safeguard nature.)
Learn more about biomimicry at the Biomimcry Institute and Ask Nature.

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

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A special thanks to farmers

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and it is no secret that most Thanksgiving Day traditions revolve around food. In my large family, it is the cornerstone of the celebration.

This is a time to give thanks for the bountiful selection of food available to the average American. And we, as a society, definitely take for granted where much of that food comes. Although a great deal of our food supply is imported, I'm talking about the American farmer.

America has a long history with farming. Farming is a tradition that has morphed from predominately family run enterprises to vast corporate agricultural machines. Due to the plentiful fields and inventive techniques, America has been able to raise a wide variety of grains, vegetables, fruits, and livestock.

There is still a rising need for a return to local farming and the availability of local, sustainably-grown food supplies. I encourage everyone to check out Local Harvest. They say it best on their website home page:

"The best organic food is what's grown closest to yo
u. Use our website to find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies."

The site is full of helpful information. Here is an interesting fact from Local Harvest:

"There are almost two million farms in the USA. About 80% of those are small farms, and a large percentage are family owned. More and more of these farmers are now selling their products directly to the public. They do this via CSA programs, Farmers' Markets, Food Coops, u-picks, farm stands, and other direct marketing channels. Would you like to support your local farmer? Use our map to find a small farm near you!

Large scale chemical agriculture is poisoning our soils and our water, and weakening our communities. By buying direct from a family farm you can help put a stop to this unfortunate trend. By buying organic produce from your local farmer, you are working to maintain a healthy environment, a vibrant community, and a strong and sustainable local economy for you and your kids to thrive in.

This Thanksgiving remember to thank the farmers responsible for your feast!

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A special birthday gift

Next month is the third anniversary of charity: water.
Most of us have never really been thirsty. We’ve never had to leave our houses and walk 5 miles to fetch water. We simply turn on the tap, and water comes out. Clean. Yet more than 1.1 billion people on the planet don’t have clean water. It’s hard to imagine what a billion people looks like really, but one in six might be easier. One in six people in our world don’t have access to the most basic of human needs. Something we can’t imagine going 12 hours without.

My birthday is in a couple of days and I am asking all my readers, friends, and family to donate a couple of dollars to this very worthwhile charity.

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

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Destroying the earth in the name of food safety

I recently read an article from the San Francisco Chronicle that completely alarmed me. Here is the beginning paragraphs of “Crops, pond destroyed in quest for food safety” written by Carolyn Lochhead:

Dick Peixoto planted hedges of fennel and flowering cilantro around his organic vegetable fields in the Pajaro Valley near Watsonville to harbor beneficial insects, an alternative to pesticides.

He has since ripped out such plants in the name of food safety, because his big customers demand sterile buffers around his crops. No vegetation. No water. No wildlife of any kind.

"I was driving by a field where a squirrel fed off the end of the field, and so 30 feet in we had to destroy the crop," he said. "On one field where a deer walked through, didn't eat anything, just walked through and you could see the tracks, we had to take out 30 feet on each side of the tracks and annihilate the crop."

In the verdant farmland surrounding Monterey Bay, a national marine sanctuary and one of the world's biological jewels, scorched-earth strategies are being imposed on hundreds of thousands of acres in the quest for an antiseptic field of greens. And the scheme is about to go national.

Invisible to a public that sees only the headlines of the latest food-safety scare - spinach, peppers and now cookie dough - ponds are being poisoned and bulldozed. Vegetation harboring pollinators and filtering storm runoff is being cleared. Fences and poison baits line wildlife corridors. Birds, frogs, mice and deer - and anything that shelters them - are caught in a raging battle in the Salinas Valley against E. coli O157:H7, a lethal, food-borne bacteria.

In pending legislation and in proposed federal regulations, the push for food safety butts up against the movement toward biologically diverse farming methods, while evidence suggests that industrial agriculture may be the bigger culprit.

To those who believe, as Mr. Peixoto does, that food should be free of chemical pesticides this strategy is a huge step backwards! And blaming E.coli for this ridiculous policy is ludicrous. Where was this problem 100 years ago? 200 years ago?

The bigger issue is how corporate agriculture has affected the safety of our food supply.

Seattle trial lawyer Bill Marler, who represented many of the plaintiffs in the 2006 E. coli outbreak in spinach, said:

"In 16 years of handling nearly every major food-borne illness outbreak in America, I can tell you I've never had a case where it's been linked to a farmers' market.

Could it happen? Absolutely. But the big problem has been the mass-produced product. What you're seeing is this rub between trying to make it as clean as possible so they don't poison anybody, but still not wanting to come to the reality that it may be the industrialized process that's making it all so risky."

Overuse of antibiotics over the last 30 years has resulted in resistant strains of bacteria in humans. Couldn’t the same reasoning be applied to bacteria in animals? E.coli dwells mainly in the guts of cattle, which are routinely dosed with antibiotics. The first appearance of E.coli, in the early 1980’s, was in hamburger meat and then later found in certain produce – mainly leafy greens.

I see this as another inevitable result of industrial agriculture’s unhealthy, destructive processes.
In a previous post from March of this year sustainable agriculture was discussed. Also discussed was the return of family farms, and smaller scale, regional and local farming as the preferred source of our food supplies. The beneficial effects on population health, local economies, and the environment cannot be emphasized enough.

To find a local farm, or farmer's market in your area visit Local Harvest or contact your local county extension agent. Please support your local farmer!
Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The quest to save the oceans

"The oceans are in jeopardy. At no time in the span of human civilization have we faced such extreme and global threats to our marine ecosystems." So begins Saving Our Oceans-An Urban Challenge written by Major Jeremy Harris, Ret.

Mayor Jeremy Harris served for more than ten years as the Mayor of the City and County of Honolulu, Hawaii, the 12th largest city in the United States. He retired from politics in January of 2005. Prior to becoming Mayor, Harris was Honolulu’s longest serving Managing Director, a position he held for nine years.

Under Mayor Harris’ leadership Honolulu achieved world wide recognition.

* 1st Place Gold Award for Large Cities-International Award for Livable Cities 2004
* Best City Government Website in the United States, 2003
* Special Achievement Award in Geographic Information System Technology, 2003
* #1 City in U.S. - Use of Technology in Delivering Government Services, 2002
* America’s Best Transit System, American Public Transportation Assoc., 2000 & 1994

During his three terms as Mayor, Honolulu was recognized as one of the best managed cities in the United States. In addition to the hundreds of awards the City received during his tenure, Mayor Harris also earned national and international acclaim. Several of his awards include:

* Keystone Award, American Architectural Foundation, 2005
* Outstanding Achievement Award for Sustainability, U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2004
* Lifetime Achievement Award in GIS Systems, ESRI, 2004
* Lifetime Achievement Award for Support of Information Technology, CDG, 2004
* City Livability Award for Exemplary Leadership, U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2003
* Distinguished Leadership Award in Planning, American Planning Association, 2002

Mayor Harris is the only individual to receive the award of Public Administrator of the Year for two consecutive years from the Hawaii branch of the American Association of Public Administrators. He has served as the Public Director on the National Board of Directors of the American Institute of Architects. Mayor Harris is currently a senior visiting faculty member in energy and environment at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, and an advisor on sustainability to the National Academy of Science in Washington D.C.

Mayor Harris holds a Masters of Science degree in Population and Environmental Biology, specializing in urban ecosystems, from the University of California, Irvine, and is the author of a new book, The Renaissance of Honolulu, The Sustainable Rebirth of an American City.

I include the lengthy bio because it is important to recognize Major Harris' credentials as I would encourage you to read the entire paper.

It is Major Harris' assertion that "the single biggest contributor to the destruction of our global marine environment has gone largely unaddressed. That destructive force is unsustainable urban development." Accelerated growth in urban populations along with increased consumption of goods and services are straining available natural resources and generating unprecedented amounts of waste.

Climate change caused by increased greenhouse gas emissions is threatening coral reefs worldwide due to elevated sea temperatures and ocean acidification. Most emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels, primarily in vehicles. Highest concentrations tend to be found in urban areas where the density of vehicles causes extremely high emission levels.

Localized pollution also threatens coral reefs and near shore marine habitats. Poor land use practices increases erosion rates and cause increased sedementation on the reefs. Stormwater runoff carry contaminants and sediment onto coral reefs and into coastal wetlands.

Hydrocarbons, household hazardous wastes, and other toxins are poured down catch-basins each day in urban areas, flushing out into estuaries and reef ecosystems when it rains. The agricultural areas surrounding urban areas burden the marine environment with runoff containing topsoil, herbicides and insecticides.

The aquarium fish industry, overfishing and the use of destructive trawls, dynamite, bleach, and rotenone to poison and stun fish for easy harvesting has a severe impact on marine ecosystems.

Major Harris sums up the challenge for cities:
"While it is clear that building sustainable cities is necessary to halt the deterioration of the oceans, the challenges that cities face in this effort are enormous. The scope of the transformation that is needed in urban infrastructure, land use, transportation, energy policy, and waste management systems for urban sustainability is daunting, but these challenges are well understood and the technology to meet them is largely available. The most critical challenges that cities face in the struggle for sustainability are those of capacity building, leadership development and infrastructure financing. While these efforts are fundamental in the battle to build sustainable cities, they are the most neglected. "
The oceans cover about 71% of the Earth’s surface and have a significant effect on the biosphere. The evaporation of ocean water (as a component of the water cycle) is the source of most rainfall, and ocean temperatures determine climate and wind patterns. It would seem prudent, then, for us to be extremely aggressive in our efforts to halt further destruction and repair existing damage.

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

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Reconnecting with our natural heritage.

June 5th is World Environment Day, which was established by the UN General Assembly in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. The theme for 2009 is 'Your Planet Needs You-UNite to Combat Climate Change'. This reflects the immediate need for nations to agree on a new course of action at the climate convention meeting in Copenhagen in December, and the links with overcoming poverty and the improved management of forests.

Mexico is the host country, this year, which reflects its growing role in the fight against climate change, including its growing participation in the carbon markets. A leading partner in UNEP's Billion Tree Campaign, Mexico, with the support of its President and people, has spearheaded the pledging and planting of some 25% of the trees in that campaign. Mexico accounts for roughly 1.5 % of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the country is demonstrating its commitment to climate change on several fronts.

While I applaud the numerous global and national "days" dedicated to environmental concerns and awareness, we need to involve ourselves in these issues on a daily basis. We need to have a global "Shift Your Attitude" Day to impress on people the need to change the way we think about our environment and our place in it.

The first step is to stop thinking of ourselves as separate from nature. We ARE nature, we ARE our environment. The only separation is in our own minds. Earth is life and the source of our sustenance. Sustenance can be defined as: the act of sustaining : the state of being sustained :a supplying or being supplied with the necessities of life. Which brings us back to the ongoing issue of sustainability.

For humans to live sustainably, the Earth's resources must be used at a rate at which they can be replenished. Humans, until recently, lived in harmony with their environment, and primitive peoples still respect this basic premise of life. As a materialistic society with unchecked population growth, we have exhausted the earth's ability to replenish itself.

The delicate balance necessary for any natural system to survive has been severely compromised. With this in mind there is an imperative need for humans to understand their connectedness to their world and everything on it. As my friend, Andrew, so eloquently put it:

"There have been moments of grace though. The quiet time first thing in the morning when I’m able to connect with the beauty of nature that surrounds me. The silence punctuated by bird song and the wind through the trees."

"That is the way of nature. There is perfection as we look not only closely at the plants but also at the panoramas of the bigger picture."

In keeping with the "bigger picture" there is a calendar of global environmental events available here. My challenge to you, the reader, is to start making a positive impact NOW, by shifting your attitude and awareness about your place in the environment. Reconnect with your natural human heritage.

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

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Our food, our future.

Today's agriculture with its modern processes and use of chemicals has a burdening effect on the environment due to its intensity. The use of mechanization creates a huge load with large energy inputs in the form of mineral and natural fertilizers, pesticides, and various land improvements. The facts about corporate food-by the numbers.

In the 1930s, about 25% of the country's population resided on the nation's 6,000,000 small farms. By 1997, 157,000 large farms accounted for 72% of farm sales, with only 2% of the U.S. population residing on farms. As of the census of 2000, less than 1% lived on farms.

No other human activity affects the Earth -- or what we put in our bodies -- so directly, as farming.

There are alternatives to the mechanized, chemical-laden, corporate farms, with their questionable products. A return to regional and local farms is a viable solution to the issues of energy output, sustainability, and healthy food products.

This is being implemented in many areas, especially urban locations in big cities.
At the northern outskirts of Milwaukee, in a neighborhood of boxy post-WWII homes near the sprawling Park Lawn housing project, stand 14 greenhouses arrayed on two acres of land. This is Growing Power, the only land within the Milwaukee city limits zoned as farmland.

Founded by MacArthur Foundation “genius” fellow Will Allen, Growing Power is an active farm producing tons of food each year, a food distribution hub, and a training center. It’s also the home base for an expanding network of similar community food centers, including a Chicago branch run by Allen’s daughter, Erika. Growing Power is in what Allen calls a “food desert,” a part of the city devoid of full-service grocery stores but lined with fast-food joints, liquor stores, and convenience stores selling mostly soda and sweets. Growing Power is an oasis in that desert.

Community food systems begin with small farms working with natural cycles and end with fresh food and stronger communities in nearby cities. Small farms, sustainable distribution, local markets, and home gardens are all elements of this system.

Other solutions for improving the food system include: restore seed diversity and native varieties, steward water, build resiliency, process locally and cooperatively, treat everyone fairly, get local foods to local outlets.

People worldwide are rediscovering the benefits of buying local food. It is fresher than anything in the supermarket and that means it is tastier and more nutritious. It is also good for your local economy--buying directly from family farmers helps them stay in business.

LocalHarvest is an organic and local food website.
They maintain a "living" public nationwide directory of small farms, farmers markets, and other local food sources. Their search engine helps people find products from family farms, local sources of sustainably grown food, and encourages them to establish direct contact with small farms in their local area. An online store helps small farms develop markets for some of their products beyond their local area.

Over the last 20 years, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of "shares" to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a "membership" or a "subscription") and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.

Nearly 80% of the earth's population will reside in urban centers by the year 2050.Conservative estimates show the human population will increase by about 3 billion people during the interim. An area of land roughly 20% larger than the size of Brazil will be needed to grow enough food to feed them, if traditional farming practices continue as they are practiced today. According to the FAO and NASA today, worldwide, over 80% of the land that is suitable for raising crops is in use. Some 15% of that has been destroyed by poor management practices. A potential solution? Farming vertically.

There are a multitude of viable solutions to the current food and environmental crises. It will take a concerted effort on the part of the global human population to embrace a return to older, more traditional systems of agriculture.

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

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day to all!

Just a quick mention about Good Search and Good Shop.
GoodSearch is a search engine which donates 50-percent of its revenue to the charities and schools designated by its users. It's a simple and compelling concept. You use GoodSearch exactly as you would any other search engine. Because it's powered by Yahoo!, you get proven search results. The money GoodSearch donates to your cause comes from its advertisers — the users and the organizations do not spend a dime! Today's Charity of the Day is The Nature Conservancy.
In 2007, GoodSearch was expanded to include GoodShop, an online shopping mall of world-class merchants dedicated to helping fund worthy causes across the country. Each purchase made via the GoodShop mall results in a donation to the user's designated charity or school – averaging approximately 3% of the sale, but going up to 20% or even more.
Put these sites in your favorites and use them often.
Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Earth Day

Having battled "the mother of all sinus infections" this past week, I haven't managed to get my new post completed. So this will be a quick reminder that Earth Day is coming up this month on Thursday, April 22nd.

Check your local newspaper or other publication for events in your area and PARTICIPATE in one. Find an environmental group and volunteer. There are a number of ways that people can contribute to the efforts being made on behalf of the environment.
Make it Earth Day, every day!
Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The case for harmony with nature

This post was intended to be an introduction to a series on agriculture's effect on the environment. I felt that with the advent of spring, this was a relevant direction in which to proceed.

In doing the research for this, I ran across an article that was so eloquent, and so completely stated my philosophies and beliefs, that I was stunned. I wish I had written it!

The article is written by John E. Ikerd, former Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics University of Missouri Columbia College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. Since retiring from the University in early 2000, Mr. Ikerd spends most of his time writing and speaking out on issues related to sustainable agriculture with an emphasis on the economics of sustainabilty.

I hope you will be as inspired as I was, after reading. Here is the article in its entirety:

In Harmony with Nature
John Ikerd
University of Missouri

Much of human history has been written in terms of an ongoing struggle of "man against nature." The forces of nature – wild beasts, floods, pestilence, and disease -- have been cast in the role of the enemy of humankind. To survive and prosper, we must conquer nature – kill the wild beasts, build dams to stop flooding, find medicines to fight disease, and use chemicals to control the pests. Humans have been locked in a life and death struggle against "Mother Nature." We’ve been winning battle after battle. But, we’ve been losing the war.

We humans have killed so many "wild beasts" that non-human species are becoming extinct at an unprecedented rate – except in prehistoric times now labeled as global catastrophes. It’s clear that humans cannot survive – nor might we want to survive – as the only living species on earth. How many more species can we destroy before we lose more than we can afford to do without? How many more battles with Mother Nature can we afford to win?

We have dammed so many streams the sediment that once replenished the topsoil of fertile farmland through periodic flooding now fills the reservoirs of lakes instead. Populations of fish and wildlife that once filled and surrounded free flowing streams, and fed the people of the land, have dwindled and disappeared. Floods may come less often now, but when nature really flexes its muscles, as in 1993 and 1996, nothing on earth can control the floods. How many more streams can we afford to dam? How many more battles with Mother Nature can we afford to win?

We have wiped out plague after plague that has threatened humankind, and we now lead longer, presumably healthier, lives than ever before. But new, more sophisticated diseases always seem to come on the scene as soon as the old ones are brought under control. We may live longer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are healthier. Much of the medicine we take today is to treat the symptoms caused by the medicines we take. On average, we Americans spend more money for health care than we spend for food. How long can our new cures keep ahead of new diseases? How many more medical miracles can we afford? How many more battles with Mother Nature can we afford to win?

We can quite easily kill most insects, diseases, weeds, and parasites using modern chemical pesticides. This has allowed us to realize the lower food prices brought about by a specialized, mechanized, standardized, industrialized agriculture. But we still loose about the same percentage of our crops to pests as we did in earlier times. In addition, health concerns about pesticide residues in our food supplies and in our drinking water are on the rise. In addition, rural communities have withered and died and industrial agriculture has replaced the family farm. Good paying jobs in the city are no longer there for people forced off the land. How many more pests can we afford to kill before we kill ourselves? How many more workers can we displace before we displace ourselves? How many more battles with Mother Nature can we afford to win?

Every time we think we have won a battle, nature fights back. Nature always seems ready for the counterattack. And, people are beginning to lose faith in "man’s" ability to ever conquer nature. They are concerned about whether we can win the battle with the next flood, the next disease, or the next pest that we create with our efforts to control the last one. They are concerned with their own safety, health, and well being. But, they are concerned also about the sustainability of a human civilization that continues to live in conflict with nature. They fear we cannot win our war against nature, because we are a part of nature – the very thing we are trying to destroy. They are searching for ways to find harmony with nature – to sustain the nature of which we are a part.

A new paradigm or model for working and living in harmony with nature is arising under the conceptual umbrella of sustainability. Sustainable systems must be capable of meeting the needs of those of us of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs as well. In simple terms, sustainability means applying the Golden Rule across generations. It’s about short run, self-interest – meeting our present needs; but it’s also about long run, shared-interest – leaving equal or better opportunities for others both now and in the future. Sustainability requires that we find harmony between others and ourselves as well as between those of us of the present and those of the future. Sustainability requires that we find harmony.

The sustainable agriculture movement is but one small part of a far larger movement that is transforming the whole of human society. But a society that cannot feed itself quite simply is not sustainable. Human civilization is moving through a great transformation from the technology-based, industrial era of the past to a knowledge-based, "sustainable" era of the future. Agriculture is moving through a similar transition.

The industrial model of the past, and present, was based on the assumption that the welfare of people was in conflict with the welfare of nature. People had to harvest, mine, and otherwise exploit nature, including other people, to create more goods and services for consumption. Human productivity is defined in terms of one’s ability to produce goods and services that will be bought and consumed by others. Quality of life is viewed a consequence of consumption – something we can buy at Walmart or Disney World. The more we produce, the more we earn, the more we can consume, and the higher our quality of life. The more we can take from nature, and each other, the higher our quality of life.

The sustainable model is based on the assumption that people are multidimensional – that we are physical, mental, and spiritual beings. We have a mind and soul as well as a body. All three determine the quality of our life -- what we think and what we feel as well as what we consume. And, the three are as inseparable as the height, width, and length dimensions of a box. A life that lacks the physical, mental, or spiritual is not a life of quality, as an object that lacks a height, width, or length dimension is not a box. The industrial model has focused on the physical body, the self -- getting more and more to consume.

The sustainable model focuses on finding harmony among all three – the physical, mental, and spiritual -- on leading a life of balance.

Spirituality is not synonymous with religion. Spirituality refers to a felt need to be in harmony with some higher unseen order of things – paraphrasing William James, a well-known religious philosopher. Religion, at its best, is simply one means of expressing one’s spirituality. Spirituality assumes a higher order to which humans must conform – if we are to find peace. Harmony cannot be achieved by changing the "order of things" to suit our preferences. Harmony comes only from changing our actions to conform to the "higher order." A life lived in harmony is its own reward.

A sustainable agriculture must be economically viable, socially responsible, and ecologically sound. The economic, social, and ecological are interrelated, and all are essential to sustainability. An agriculture that uses up or degrades its natural resource base, or pollutes the natural environment, eventually will lost its ability to produce. It’s not sustainable. An agriculture that isn’t profitable, at least over time, will not allow its farmers to stay in business. It’s not sustainable. An agriculture that fails to meet the needs of society, as producers and citizens as well as consumers, will not be sustained by society. It’s not sustainable. A sustainable agriculture must be all three – ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially responsible. And the three must be in harmony.

Some see sustainability as an environmental issue. They are wrong. It is an environmental issue, but it is much more. Any system of production that attempts to conquer nature will create conflicts with nature, degrade its environment, and risk its long run sustainability. Industrial agriculture epitomizes a system of farming in conflict with nature. Sustainable farming systems must function in harmony with nature.

The fundamental purpose of agriculture is to convert solar energy into products for human food and fiber. Nature provides biological means of converting solar energy into living plants and animals. Nature provides means by which things come to life, protect themselves, grow to maturity, reproduce, and die to be recycled to support a future generation of life. Agriculture attempts to tip the ecological balance in favor of humans relative to other species. But, if we attempt to tip the balance too far, too fast, we destroy the integrity of the natural system of which we are a part. A sustainable agriculture must be in harmony with nature.

But, a sustainable agriculture also must be in harmony with people. Since people are a part of nature, with a basic nature of our own, a sustainable agriculture must also be in harmony with human nature. A socially sustainable agriculture must provide an adequate supply of food and fiber at a reasonable cost. Any system of agriculture that fails this test is not sustainable, no matter how ecologically sound it may be. But "man does not live by bread alone," and a socially responsible agriculture must contribute to a positive quality of life in other respects as well.

The industrial system of farming has destroyed the family farm as a social institution, has caused rural communities to wither and die, and has changed the social impact of agriculture on society in general from positive to negative. A sustainable agriculture must meet the food and fiber needs of people, but it cannot degrade or destroy opportunities for people to lead successful, productive lives in the process. A sustainable agriculture must be in harmony with our nature of being human.

Finally, a sustainable agriculture must be in harmony with the human economy. The greatest challenge to farming in ways that are ecologically sound and socially responsible is in finding ways to make such systems economically viable as well. Our current economy seems to favor systems that exploit their natural and human environment for short run gains. Those who choose to protect the natural environment must sacrifice any economic opportunity that might result from exploiting it. Those who show concern for the well being of other people – workers, customers, or neighbors – must sacrifice any economic opportunity that might result from exploiting them. So it might seem that sustainability requires that one sacrifice some economic well being to achieve ecological and social sustainability.

Conventional thinking assumes the relationship among the environment, social, and economic wellbeing is a trade-off relationship – that one can have more of one only by sacrificing some of the others. However, this represents a highly materialistic worldview. If anyone gets more of something, then someone else must have less of it. There is only some fixed quantity that must be allocated among competing ends. This materialistic worldview ignores the fact that we can gain satisfaction, for ourselves, right now, by doing things for others and by saving things for future generations – just because we know these are the right things to do. Our satisfaction is not dependent on realizing the expectations of some future personal rewards – the reward is embodied in the current action rather than the future outcome. There is inherent value in living and working in harmony. Getting more of one thing without having more of the others only creates imbalance and disharmony – making us worse off rather than better off.

However, the necessity for economic viability is a very real concern – even for those who pursue harmony rather than material wealth. If our endeavors are not economically viable, we lose the right to pursue those endeavors. But, how can a person make a living farming without degrading either the natural environment or the surrounding community? Industrial farming sets the standard for dollar and cent costs of production – and industrial farming exploits its natural and human resource base to keep those costs to a minimum. How can a sustainable farmer compete? The answer is not to compete with industrial farming but to do something fundamentally different.

This something different includes letting nature do more of the work of production – working with nature rather than against it. Production costs may be competitive with, if not lower than, industrial systems if you let nature do enough of the work. Organic production methods, management intensive grazing, pastured pork and poultry, low-input farming -- these are all systems that rely less on off-farm commercial inputs and more on one’s ability to understand and work with nature. Industrial systems require uniformity and consistency, but nature is inherently diverse and dynamic. Harmony comes from matching what you produce and how you produce it to the unique ecological niche in which you produce. The greater the harmony the more of the work nature will be willing to do.

Finding harmony means reconnecting with the land. . Wendell Berry puts it most succinctly in his book, What are People For, "...if agriculture is to remain productive, it must preserve the land and the fertility and ecological health of the land; the land, that is, must be used well. A further requirement, therefore, is that if the land is to be used well, the people who use it must know it well, must be highly motivated to use it well, must know how to use it well, must have time to use it well, and must be able to afford to use it well (p. 147)." Sustainable production is possible only if farmers have a harmonious relationship with the land – if they know it, care about it, know how to care for it, take time to care for it, and can afford to care for it – only if they love it.

Something different also means marketing in the niches – giving people what they really want rather than coercing or bribing them to take what you have for sale. The conventional wisdom is that niche markets are limited because individually they are small. The conventional wisdom is wrong. All consumer markets are niche markets, because they are made up of individuals, and we all want and need something a bit different. Industrial systems of mass production and mass distribution treat things as if they were pretty much the same. The cost saving in industrial systems come from doing the same basic thing over and over again – producing uniform commodities in large volume. Niche marketing means giving people what they actually need and want – producing in harmony with the market.

Finding harmony means reconnecting with people – as fellow human beings rather than as consumers, producers, or some other generic economic entity. Joel Salatin, a Virginia farmer and agripreneur, refers to this as "relationship marketing." When you have a relationship with your customers, they do not simply represent a market to be exploited to make a few more dollars. They are friends and neighbors that you care about and don’t want to lose. When your customers have a relationship with you, you are not just another supplier to be haggled down to the lowest possible price to save a few dollars. You are someone they care about and don’t want to lose. When you know, care about, and have affection for each other, you have a relationship that creates value above and beyond market value. You are contributing directly to each other’s quality of life. You are creating a harmony that arises only among people who love one another.

Neither land nor people can be sustained unless they are given the attention, care, and affection – the love -- they need to survive, thrive, and prosper. The necessary attention, care, affection, and love come only from lives lived in harmony -- among people and between people and nature.

Finally, as more farmers and customers, sharing common concerns for ecological and social sustainability, develop relationships through the marketplace, their economic communities of interest will expand as well. Customers will be willing to pay more and farmers will be willing to provide more because they are both getting more from the relationship than just money. Those who might attempt to exploit these new economic communities for short run gains – those motivated by economic value rather than ethical or moral values – are destined to find disappointment. Those who join in seeking balance among the economic, ecological, and social dimensions of their lives – among the physical, mental, and spiritual – will be rewarded. They are helping to create a new world in which people may learn to live in harmony with each other as well as in harmony with nature.

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

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What's all the noise about?

One of the best definitions I have found for noise pollution (environmental noise) is:

Noise pollution is a type of energy pollution in which distracting, irritating, or damaging sounds are freely audible. As with other forms of energy pollution (such as heat and light pollution), noise pollution contaminants are not physical particles, but rather waves that interfere with naturally-occurring waves of a similar type in the same environment. Thus, the definition of noise pollution is open to debate, and there is no clear border as to which sounds may constitute noise pollution. In the most narrow sense, sounds are considered noise pollution if they adversely affect wildlife, human activity, or are capable of damaging physical structures on a regular, repeating basis. In the broadest sense of the term, a sound may be considered noise pollution if it disturbs any natural process or causes human harm, even if the sound does not occur on a regular basis. --more

An EPA press release dated April 2, 1974 stated:

"Noise levels requisite to protect public health and welfare against hearing loss, annoyance and activity interference were identified today by the Environmental Protection Agency. These noise levels are contained in a new EPA document, "Information on Levels of Environmental Noise Requisite to Protect Public Health and Welfare with an Adequate Margin of Safety."

One of the purposes of this document is to provide a basis for State and local governments' judgments in setting standards. In doing so the information contained in this document must be utilized along with other relevant factors. These factors include the balance between costs and benefits associated with setting standards at particular noise levels, the nature of the existing or projected noise problems in any particular area, the local aspirations and the means available to control environmental noise."

It should be noted that the EPA does not have any regulatory authority governing noise in local communities. In the past, EPA coordinated all federal noise control activities through its Office of Noise Abatement and Control. In 1981, the Administration at that time concluded that noise issues were best handled at the state or local government level. As a result, the EPA phased out the office's funding in 1982 as part of a shift in federal noise control policy to transfer the primary responsibility of regulating noise to state and local governments. The Noise Control Act of 1972 and the Quiet Communities Act of 1978, however, were not rescinded by Congress and remain in effect today, although essentially unfunded.

Also note that all federal noise regulations remain in effect, and are enforced by either EPA or a designated federal agency. These regulations cover standards for transportation equipment, motor carriers, low-noise-emission products, and construction equipment.

Louis Hagler, MD, in his Summary of Adverse Health Effects of Noise Pollution, lists seven categories of adverse health effects of noise pollution on humans. As documented by the World Health Organization they are:
  1. Hearing Impairment
  2. Interference with Spoken Communication
  3. Sleep Disturbances
  4. Cardiovascular Disturbances
  5. Disturbances in Mental Health
  6. Impaired Task Performance
  7. Negative Social Behavior and Annoyance Reactions
Given that humans are biological organisms, is it safe to say that the above adverse effects would affect all biological organisms? If not, why not?
The Noise Pollution Clearinghouse published a fact sheet entitled Noise Effects on Wildlife. It reads as follows:
Sources of noise that have the potential to effect wildlife include aircraft overflights, recreational activities such as snowmobiling and motorboating, automobile traffic, and heavy machinery and equipment. The effects of aircraft noise have been studied more intensively because of their threat to wildlife populations in national and state refuges and parks. Impacts to wildlife habitat in remote areas have increased from military aircraft overflights and helicopter activity related to the tourism and resource extraction industries (National Park Service, 1994).
The study of animal response to noise is a function of many variables including characteristics of the noise and duration, life history characteristics of the species, habitat type, season and current activity of the animal, sex and age, previous exposure and whether other physical stressors (e.g. drought) are present (Manci, et al., 1988).
Physiological responses: Disturbances from aircraft noise range from mild, such as an increase in heart rate to more damaging effects on metabolism and hormone balance. Long term exposure to noise can cause excessive stimilation to the nervous system and chronic stress that is harmful to the health of wildlife species and their reproductive fitness (Fletcher, 1980; 1990).
Behavioral responses: Responses vary among species of animals and birds and among individuals of a particular species. Variations in response may be due to temperament, sex, age, and prior experience with noise. Minor responses include head-raising and body-shifting. More disturbed mammals will trot short distances; birds may walk around flappping wings. Panic and escape behavior results from more severe disturbances (National Park Service, 1994).
Behavioral and physiological responses have the potential to cause injury, energy loss (from movement away from noise source), decrease in food intake, habitat avoidance and abandonment, and reproductive losses (National Park Service, 1994). Studies have shown that when certain bird species are flushed from nests in response to noise, eggs are broken and young are exposed to injury and predators (Bunnell et al., 1981; Gladwin, 1987). Young mammals have been trampled as adults attempt to flee from aircraft (Miller and Broughton, 1974). Another study compared mortality rates of caribou calfs exposed to overflights to those not exposed (Harrington and Veitch, 1992). Mortality rates were significantly greater in the exposed group. Milk release may have been inhibited in mothers disturbed by the noise leaving calfs malnourished.
Animals rely on hearing to avoid predators, obtain food, and communicate. Auditory systems of some animals are particularly at risk to physical damage from chronic noise, for example desert animals that have evolved an acute sense of hearing. Studies have documented hearing loss caused from motorcycle noise in the desert iguana (Bondello, 1976) and the kangaroo rat, an endangered species (Bondello and Brattstrom, 1979)
Ninety-eight species of birds and mammals on national park lands have been identified as threatened or endangered. The impacts on these species from aircraft noise are largely undocumented. Some of the species became threatened or endangered because of loss of habitat. Further relocation necessary because of noise disturbance might not be possible for these species (National Park Service, 1994).
Studies are needed to determine the long term effects of noise disturbance. Long-term studies have been difficult because of the effort required and the complexity of the variables affecting animal survivorship (National Park Service, 1994).
The overwhelming focus of recent research seems to be on the effect of noise on marine mammals.
“Ocean noise is an invisible but potentially deadly form of pollution. IFAW is calling on governments to recognize ocean noise as a pollutant and act now to turn it down,” said Jorge Luis Basave, IFAW Asia Pacific Campaigner.
“Ocean noise has doubled in each of the past four decades. The world’s 100,000-strong commercial shipping fleet is the biggest single man-made noise generator - and by 2025 the gross cargo tonnage shipped internationally is forecast to double or even triple,” Mr Basave said.
While the favored target of most of the research seems to be on the military, the effect of increased shipping traffic cannot be overlooked. The fact that shipping lanes coincide with normal migratory routes for many species of marine mammals would contribute greatly to that effect.
Using information derived from the Coral Reef Temperature Anomaly Database (CoRTAD) and 16 other layers of data, Dr. Ben Halpern from the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) and a team of researchers including NODC's Dr. Kenneth Casey published a paper in Science documenting human impacts on marine ecosystems.
The study reveals that over 40% of the world's oceans are heavily affected by human activities and few if any areas remain untouched. The project is the first global-scale study of human influence on marine ecosystems.
Bernie Krause, is a professional field recordist and bioacoustician. Krause has a word for the pristine acoustics of nature: biophony. In 40 percent of the locations where Krause has recorded over the past 40 years, human-generated noise has infiltrated the wilderness. "It's getting harder and harder to find places that aren't contaminated," he says.
Krause proposes that in a biophony, animals divide up the acoustic spectrum so they don't interfere with one another's voices. He states that no two species are use the same frequency. "That's part of how they coexist so well," Krause says. When they issue mating calls or all-important warning cries, they aren't masked by the noises of other animals.
When man-made noise — anthrophony, as Krause dubs it — intrudes on the natural landscape it interferes with a segment of the spectrum already in use, and suddenly some animal can't make itself heard. The information flow is compromised.
Krause brought biophony to the masses by creating an add-on for Google Earth. Download it from his WildSanctuary.com site and you can click on dozens of locations worldwide to hear snippets of their soundscape.
While the subject of environmental noise pollution and its effects on wildlife are still the subject of vigorous debate their is no doubt that our world has become increasingly noisy. With our technology expanding exponentially it seems like there should be a way for us to be less auditorily intrusive.
Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Cultural Perception and Nature

One of the best definitions of nature I’ve found is from the Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World.

“Nature is often taken to be the reality of the physical and material world. It is placed in opposition to culture, the product of human intervention and production. Yet historians recognize that nature is actually a product of human culture—a complex concept that has changed according to the views of particular individuals and cultures in history. Nature can be thought of in terms of its components—for example, the cosmos or material substances—and it can be conceptualized as an entity in itself. In both respects the early modern era marked numerous controversies concerning the nature of nature and concerning the makeup and behavior of its constituent components.”

Many have observed that one of the most severe problems in our culture stem from our perception and definition of nature. People tend to see the places and spaces that they inhabit as not nature. Nature is in national parks, or in foreign countries, some place far removed from their familiar environs. Friedrich Engels called this “an estranged worldview”.

How much of our cultural and societal development is born out of our daily activities and habits? How are these habits and activities shaped by our living and working spaces?

The Great Law of the Iroquois states, "In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations." Supporting exploding human populations by exploiting the resources of future generations (of every living species, not just humans) has led us to the brink of destruction.

It is important to note that the natural world and the living and working environments of primitive cultures (past and present) are one in the same. There is an inextricable harmony in this symbiotic arrangement. An arrangement that limits population by a single species to what the resources of their environment can sustainably maintain.

The renowned naturalist, Joseph Wood Krutch, summed it up when he said:
"The famous balance of nature is the most extraordinary of all cybernetic systems. Left to itself, it is always self-regulated."

Here are a few ways in which modern humans can reconnect with the natural world and incorporate it back into their daily environment:

Redesign and construct living and working spaces to mimic the natural world.

In their cradle to cradle design philosophy, McDonough and Braungart challenge us:

“But what if buildings were alive? What if our homes and workplaces were like trees, living organisms participating productively in their surroundings? Imagine a building, enmeshed in the landscape, that harvests the energy of the sun, sequesters carbon and makes oxygen. Imagine on-site wetlands and botanical gardens recovering nutrients from circulating water. Fresh air, flowering plants, and daylight everywhere. Beauty and comfort for every inhabitant. A roof covered in soil and sedum to absorb the falling rain. Birds nesting and feeding in the building's verdant footprint. In short, a life-support system in harmony with energy flows, human souls, and other living things. Hardly a machine at all.”

Redesign and transform existing cities to efficiently handle increased population densities with minimal impact on the natural environment.

This can be done through expanded use of :
a) renewable energy sources
b) neighborhood-centric infrastructure, goods, and services
c) pedestrian-friendly landscapes
d) public green spaces
e) local sustainable agriculture

Redefine economic structures by creating sustainable industrial systems using regenerative and restorative manufacturing processes.

William McDonough sites an example of a shift in manufacturing philosophy:

“Moved by environmental concerns, Pendleton Woolen Mills conceived an ecologically intelligent wool baby blanket. Most wool products are dyed with chemicals that are harmful to human health, which makes recycling of any kind problematic. But working with McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, Pendleton assessed every ingredient in the dyeing and fixing processes and created a completely safe, perfectly biodegradable product--infants can literally eat the blanket, and when it wears out it can be tossed on the garden to become food for the soil. The blanket is also a model of thrift and social value, a profitable product that requires no regulations and carries no hidden costs for waste management or health care. It turns on its head the notion that ecologically intelligent design is expensive.”

Simplify Lifestyles

According to Duane Elgin, "we can describe voluntary simplicity as a manner of living that is outwardly more simple and inwardly more rich, a way of being in which our most authentic and alive self is brought into direct and conscious contact with living."

Ultimately, there is no universal panacea for the challenges we face today. Complete restoration and healing of the environment will not happen overnight and not by one person. However, the efforts of every individual in stemming the tide of destruction should not be discounted. Life is change, and if we are to survive as a species we must change our attitudes and perceptions of our place in the natural world.

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

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A year of change

2009--A brand new year full of hope and promise. This will also be a year of great change. In keeping with this idea, the blog will be changing just a bit.

The focus this year will be on the interaction between humans and their physical/natural environment. How have we influenced changes in the natural world? What is our current impact? How are we (and nature) adapting to these changes?

Every day we are bombarded with conflicting statistics about the state of the environment. Numbers and "facts" fly at us from every direction from any number of "experts" and it has become difficult to know what information, if any, to trust. The term "global warming" is held in reverence in some circles, and held in contempt in others. New buzz words are added to our vocabulary at an alarming rate. But what does all of it mean?!

I invite all readers to take the information presented this year and use it as a platform for thoughtful, constructive discussion. Solutions to our environmental challenges are possible if we don't lose sight of the goal: Balance. We must somehow balance the needs of our species with the needs of our planet and all other species. If we fail to do this we doom all species to destruction. It is not just a change in behavior that is necessary, but also a change in attitude and the way we think of ourselves in relation to the world around us.

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

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Mining e-waste: The New Gold Rush?

From April 2007 to February 2008, the city of Odate, Japan
gathered about 17 tons of e-waste (according to a report from Harufumi Mori in Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper). The gadgets collected range from broken appliances to hair dryers to cell phones -- all too small to fall under the scope of recycling laws in Japan. By putting collection bins outside supermarkets and community centers the city diverted small electronics from landfills and turned their e-waste into cash.

After looking through just over one-third of the waste, Mori reports that Odate might find as much as half a kilogram of tantalum, one kilogram of gold, and as much as 4 kilograms of silver and palladium. All of this in less than one year of collections in a city of 80,000 in a country with over 127 million residents. Imagine what a city the size of New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles could recover?

The United States generates more e-waste than any other nation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Some of that waste is recycled. For example, steel, aluminum and copper are often stripped from outdated machines and reused in newer models.

But even recycled parts come at a price. An estimated 50 to 80 percent of e-waste collected in the United States for recycling is exported to areas such as China, India or Pakistan, where workers taking apart the old machines are handling toxic chemicals that can pose serious health problems.

Some manufacturers are beginning to assume greater responsibility for what happens to their products after they become obsolete. For example, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Gateway, IBM, and Sharp have programs to collect old computers, monitors, televisions, and other electronics.
Japan and the European Union have adopted progressive e-waste recycling laws. The European parliament approved legislative mandates to require manufacturers to cover the recycling and collection costs for their own take-back programs.

Europe's Restrictions on Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive are setting the global standard for computer recycling. Under the RoHS initiative, any manufacturer who wants to do business in Europe has to produce lead-free products.

The Computer Report Card from Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition says that some U.S. companies have a double standard when it comes to recycling. While some companies have implemented recycling policies in the European Union and Japan, where such programs are mandated, they've yet to do so in the United States.

Our favorite resource for recycling information is Earth 911 - your one-stop shop for all you need to know about reducing your impact, reusing what you’ve got and recycling your trash. Earth 911 was founded in 1991 and started off as a hot line for recycling. It has grown into a mature, intelligent and attractive site. They also maintain a bilingual hot line, 1-800-CLEANUP.

The Earth 911 recycling database can help you find over 100,000 recycling locations across the country. With information provided by local governments, industry insiders, organizations and everyday consumers, you can recycle hundreds of products from packing peanuts to computers.

Let one of your goals for 2009 to be learning the four R’s: (From Earth 911)

Reduce: Waste reduction is the process and the policy of reducing the amount of waste produced and ultimately disposed. Waste reduction or waste minimization, also known as source reduction, is simply reducing waste at its source. In the waste management hierarchy the most effective policies and processes are mentioned first. Waste minimization is also strongly related to efforts to minimize resource and energy use. The fewer materials used for the same production output means that less waste is produced.

Reuse: When you use an item more than once, it is called reuse. Conventional reuse is where an item is used again for the same function, like when you refill a coffee cup instead of throwing it in the trash. It is also reuse when an item is reused for a different purpose, like when you use a 2-liter soda bottle as a seed-starter greenhouse.

Reuse helps the planet, but it also saves money. Today’s consumer is becoming more aware of environmental concerns and this awareness is gradually changing business and government policies, and consumer attitudes about what the convenience of a disposable society is really costing us.

Recycle: Recycling is the processing of making used items into new raw material. Recycling conserves our natural raw material resources, and typically uses much less energy. Saving energy means that smokestack emissions of greenhouse gas and other pollutants like mercury are reduced at the power plant, and our energy sources are not depleted as quickly. Recycling is critical to today’s waste management programs.

React: Conscientious Earth citizens have the ability to learn about the right things to do. After you learn, get out of your chair and actually do something about it: React! Make today the day YOU start to do something about it.

Until next time…become the change you imagine.