Monday, July 28, 2008

Stopping the Plastic Bag Addiction

A friend of mine sent me this fabulous link from the Pocono Record, a newspaper in Northeast Pennsylvania. It's a great little green slide show outlining how many plastic bags the U.S. consumes and wastes, as well as stats and info on how plastic bags pollute and harm, and where plastic bags have been banned in the world. This link is on the heels of my post from yesterday talking about the need to reduce and ban plastic bags.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Think Beyond Petro Plastic

There's an article in the Los Angeles Times today that talks about the possibility of Los Angeles banning plastic bags, similar to what happened in San Francisco almost a year ago. What I didn't like was the fact that the L.A. City Council isn't just going cold turkey -- they're saying either impose a 25 cent charge per bag or ban bags altogether but not until 2010. Waffling. Just go for it L.A.

The other troubling note in the article is the fact that so many average people just don't seem to get the fact that petroleum, non-biodegradable bags are an environmental nightmare. Just go to this video (Warning! Graphic video) of a Laysan Albatross' necropsy; you can see just how much plastic is pulled out of this bird who ate from the ocean -- more than half is plastic. Animals eat plastic and die. Marine life eats plastic and dies.

Petroleum-made plastic also doesn't biodegrade. It either sits forever in a landfill or floats forever out in the ocean. In fact, if you go to the research that Algalita is doing, you'll learn the real truth of where so much of our plastic waste goes -- the ocean. In fact, there are giant garbage dumps out in the ocean, largely containing plastic. One such dump is about the size of Africa, and it floats in circular currents above Hawaii. And we want to keep on producing, using, and tossing more plastic bags???

If we must have plastic bags, then let's get completely away from non-biodegradable options and immediately move to biodegradable. Biodegradable already exists -- you can buy biodegradable bags in stores and online.

Be concerned about anyone making the case to keep or make more petro plastic. When there are better alternatives, support a change.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What You Can Do About Helping Polar Bears

I've often read about the plight of the polar bears in light of global warming and wondered what I could do that would make an immediate and real difference. The Natural Resources Defense Council has a new program called Polar Bear SOS! that I believe has great promise for helping this species. This initiative asks the Bush Administration to make the polar bear an endangered species, not just a threatened species.

By giving the polar bear an endangered species status, it allows loopholes to be closed in the current legislation and protects the polar bear's habitat against global warming pollution, oil and gas development, and other threats.

I believe that without this endangered species status, polar bears may cease to exist (except in zoos) in my lifetime.

Check out Polar Bear SOS! and see how you can join with the NRDC to save the polar bear.

Here's also a video to improve your understanding of some of the gains made thus far:

Why So Much Push for Offshore Drilling?

Now is a pivotal time for you to care about offshore drilling. Why? Because with the gas prices over $4.00 a gallon a lot of people, including you and your family, are feeling the economic crunch every time you go to the pump. And the knee-jerk reaction is asking for you to possibly support your U.S. senator in expanding offshore drilling, but think again before you say yes.

As of July 24, 2008, Republicans on the hill were threatening to block nearly all bills if the Democrats don't vote with them in expanding offshore drilling and oil speculation. The Republicans want to score political points for appearing to do something about energy. But the Democrats and environmentalists say that such oil drilling expansion and speculation not only wouldn't potentially benefit us for another 10 years but also drills in areas previously off limits due to significant environmental impacts.

According to a July 24, 2008 article from The Hill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said "Our goal is to stay on the subject that the American people are demanding that we do something about and finish the job." But what job is that? To help us for the long term? or just to get political brownie points for the short term's November election, with a public that knows very little about how energy is found, made, exploited, and consumed? Democrats, too, are feeling the political pressure with the Wall Street Journal reporting that they made a call to increase oil supplies by asking that 70 million barrels of crude oil from the nation's strategic oil reserves be released; but this would not improve our long-term oil situation either.

However, you can help in all this. Instead of adding to the whip lash, you can write your senator and tell him or her that you would like an energy bill to
  • not expand drilling or oil speculation

  • increase incentives for development and distribution of 2nd-generation alternative fuels that do NOT cut into our food supply -- see my July 19, 2008 posting; also fuel cell (hydrogen) and electric are excellent options for the best alternative fuels

  • impose a more strict cap-and-trade emissions program that would force current oil production to reduce their impact on the environment and instead invest in more renewable and responsible fuel production

  • increase the minimum mile per gallon requirements for vehicles

  • improve incentives for manufacturers and consumers who make and purchase vehicles with more fuel-efficient, fuel-sustainable, and fuel-responsible options

By changing what we buy in both vehicles and how they are fueled, this is the more responsible and sustainable approach to the current madness.

We are in the midst of change, coupled with massive economic pressures. Only the people can push for reason at this time. Who better than moms.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Better Fuel Options on the Horizon

While it does take years of development to mass produce new technology, good news came out this week about Shell's investment in advancing cellulosic ethanol.

Why should the average mom care? Because when it comes to forthcoming fuel options, your E85 corn ethanol isn't the best option. Yes, E85 corn ethanol gives you much less emissions, but it destablizes our food supply, sucks up land that would be used for food production or otherwise left natural, and its non-organic farming practices pollute the soil and water. Sugar cane ethanol, like what is found in Brazil, gives you more energy yield than corn, but it also has similar food supply and environmental problems, not to mention that sugar cane fields are often burned at the end of each harvest which contributes to carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.

When it comes to ethanol options, the best option is biofuel made from cellulosic sources -- with the resulting fuel called cellulosic ethanol. This type of ethanol is made from waste (like corn stalk waste), algae, or prairie grass sources -- therefore, it doesn't cut into your food supply and has the potential for not only cleaning up waste (such as by using corn stalk waste) but also to be produced regionally.

Shell calls this type of fuel "next generation" or second generation biofuel. It is considered sustainable and has the potential to be a highly responsible fuel -- being responsible from start to finish, including the manufacturing and distribution process. And while is it obvious that a company like Shell is in the money-making, shareholder-pleasing business, I appreciate the fact that there is serious investment being done into advancing cellulosic ethanol from a major distributor. We all buy our fuel from major distributors.

Additionally, most large corporations that have begun to heavily invest in more sustainable and responsible products and operations are doing it because the writing is on the wall: if they want to survive in the future, then they have to protect their supplies or create more sustainable supplies. This is happening with organics, with sustainable seafood, and now starting to happen with fuel.

As a mom, the more you understand what are the best choices and the driving market forces, the more you are able to more articulately voice your opinion to let companies and your government know what you want. And then when better choices arrive, you can help fuel demand by buying products that are better for your family and the economy.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Energy Worth Its Salt

It used to be that when you would read a more seemingly off-kilter story of some scientist and his or her ideas of how to save the world you would chalk it up as a cartoon version of life. But not anymore. The world is looking to scientists more than ever to help us solve some of our climate change and environmental problems.

Such is the case with Scientist Carl Hodges and his Seawater Foundation who was recently featured in any in-depth story in the Los Angeles Times. Hodges has found a successful way to cultivate coastal deserts with rising sea water, producing a unique crop of salt-loving plants called salicornia that can be used for food, cooking oil, ground into a high-protein meal -- OR, and this is the kicker, converted into biofuel.

This is the kind of biofuel that I talk about in my upcoming book, The Mom's Guide to Growing Your Family Green: Saving the Earth Begins at Home (St. Martin's Press, March 2009). On a scale of which current and future fuels would be the best to pursue, this salicornia falls into one of the best categories. It's the kind of development we want to support and nourish with dollars and public support, including writing to our government representatives to let them know what kinds of energy we'd rather see available to us. Our government regulates and provides incentives to many industries, so we want the more sustainable and environmentally friendly ones to get the best advantages -- industry then changes its focus after government regulation, including emissions cap and trading which is talked about so clearly in Environmental Defense President Fred Krupp's book Earth: The Sequel.

Hodges is currently down in Mexico's northwestern coast developing his salicornia crops. There has been some concern about the conversion of a desert landscape to farming. If the farming only lasts a few years and then stops, then the desert that was sacrificed for farming could pay a destructive price. But on the other hand, these desert areas are projected to likely be covered with rising sea levels anyway due to climate change, so I think Hodges is right to consider all the options and make the best environmental choice available -- including the choice to look for ways to divert those rising waters and try to avoid catastrophe. Besides, Hodges' seawater farms also create commercial opportunities for farming shrimp and fish, and the ocean canals also create man-made wetlands and mangroves that are sold as emission offsets -- multiple environmental benefits. And the Sonora, Mexico people also benefit from jobs.

According to the LA Times story, Hodges says that "diverting the equivalent of three Mississippi Rivers inland would do the trick" enough to build 50 good-sized seawater farms that would counter the rising sea levels. NASA has estimated that if salt-water-loving crops like salicornia were planted on an area, or multiple regional areas, that would add up to be the size of the Sahara Desert then the resulting plants combined with technology could supply more than 90 percent of the world's energy needs.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Politicians and the Environment

There's an interesting article from Reuters news service today that talks about what might happen on the "green" front if either McCain or Obama is elected. The angle is that McCain will be faster to implement environmental policies than Obama but that Obama, in the end, will be greener. Gunter Greiner, a portfolio manager for VCH New Energy Fund says "The funny thing is that although Obama will be a better bet for green energy, it could be the other way around at the beginning."

Personally I think that a thoughtful approach -- the kind that Obama is likely to do -- is better for all of us. We've had enough of knee-jerking politics that cloud the real issues.

The League of Conservation Voters is a great resource for you in determining who you would vote for based on environmental track record. According to their scorecard, McCain has a dismal record of voting for the environmental good -- and he doesn't always vote, which means he's been absent. Obama, on the other hand, has a superior record of voting for sound environmental policies. The proof is in the pudding -- vote for who has the better record.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Wall-E's Big E

Wall-E, like Happy Feet, is not only a great, endearing film but also has a lot of subtle environmental and wellness messages that are indicative of the times we live in. I highly recommend this film for children and adults.