Monday, October 27, 2008

Eco Records of VP Candidates on Full Display

This is the best listing I've found of the VP Presidential Candidates' environmental records and positions. I encourage you to read through the entire list, even if you already know who you are voting for.

The list, from Plenty Magazine, not only points out environmental positions but also forecasts upcoming political battles -- no matter who wins in November -- that revolve around global warming, the environment, energy, wildlife, and your health and safety. It is important that every family understands these issues and what it means to them, their children, and their future.

More Tax Credits for Energy Efficiency

With the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which was signed into law on October 3, 2008, homeowners can obtain tax credits for energy-efficient home improvements, hybrid vehicles, and fuel-efficient vehicles. See a comprehensive explanation at this link on the Alliance to Save Energy's website.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Stop the Plastic Ribbons Already

There's two new trends at my local grocer.

First, this grocer is carrying more organic produce. A lot more. Yippee! And the volume purchasing is really bringing organic produce prices down to more reasonable levels.

The second trend is that because I'm seeing organic produce migrating from the corralled-off "organic" section and now integrating in with everything else that's fresh there has emerged a new problem. The supplier is now adding plastic ribbon labeling around individual pieces of produce that says "organic."

I asked the store manager why they were doing this. I like more organic but not more non-biodegradable petro plastic. He said that customers want to know that the store isn't just saying that apple or that carrot is organic when it looks the same as the non-organic variety. An interesting comment.

Although I understand the rationale of wanting to have all appearances of organic also back up the actually organic-ness of a product, I still don't like the packaging choice. So I wrote to my grocer chain and asked that they stop doing this extra plastic labeling. If they want to add an extra paper "USDA Organic" sticker to each apple, fine. Or if they want to keep up the labor-intensive ribboning of each piece of produce with "USDA Organic" then it better be a 100%-biodegradable-in-30-days-non-petro-plastic ribbon. But NO MORE PETRO PLASTIC PLEASE.

Yes I can go to my local farmer's market on Saturday and avoid some of this packaging snafu, but I'm not always able to do that. This grocer chain has listened to me before, so I'm hopeful they will listen to me again. And, mind you, when I write in I don't tout that I'm an author or any special person other than one of their concern patrons. So I'm crossing my fingers.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Guilt-Free Sushi Party Time

My husband and I go out to our favorite, little sushi restaurant in the Los Angeles area about once a month. The owner always remembers us, and it's a cozy little place where we can have a chat and then go to a movie.

However, it's tough to figure out which fish dishes are more safe and ocean friendly. It would be easier if our little sushi spot wrapped itself around ocean conservation and offered only sustainable seafood, but it's still rare to find a sustainable sushi restaurant within easy access. And where I live, even in Los Angeles, it's no exception. I imagine you've found yourself in the same boat I'm in. I make my best effort at making good fish choices, even if it limits the menu for me.

But today I'm excited to say that you can now go to Seafood Watch and download a brand-new Seafood Watch Sushi Pocket Guide. They've been printing regional fish guides for some time now, but this is the first time they have done a sushi guide. Now I don't have to struggle so much to figure out what are the best choices. I can use my Sushi Guide!

To celebrate the Guide's debut, Seafood Watch invites you to a sushi party: "Help us celebrate the launch of the new Sushi Pocket Guide by going out for a sustainable dinner at your local sushi bar between October 22 and October 28."

You can also do what I did and take a pledge to share Seafood Watch cards with restaurants, friends, and family by going to this link and becoming a Seafood Watch Advocate. Seafood Watch will send you an action kit and free t-shirt for spreading info about the cause.

Enjoy!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Frontline in Heat

Make sure you DVR or TiVo Frontline's "Heat" special -- starts tomorrow, 10/21, on your local PBS station.



More info at PBS.org.

Purifying the Facts

Want to save yourself an awful lot of money? Buy yourself a Brita or PUR faucet attachment or pitcher and purify your own water for cheap instead of buying bottled water.

And now there's even more reason to do so according to a study by Environmental Working Group. See the Associated Press report here, and EWG's report here. The brands more in question were from Wal-Mart, Sam's Choice, and Acadia.

Says EWG, "our tests strongly indicate that the purity of bottled water cannot be trusted. Given the industry's refusal to make available data to support their claims of superiority, consumer confidence in the purity of bottled water is simply not justified."

Yes, there are times when bottled water is your only option or you've been given bottled water and don't want to be an ungrateful guest, or perhaps you've got to hand out bottled water at a group function -- but I'm talking about when you do have a choice. Reduce petro plastics, know for sure how pure your water is, and take the simplified route. Purify your own water and use a reusuable water bottle. Here's a useful safe-water guide from EWG.

Finally, there is the question about what to do with water filters once you've finished using them. In the case of Brita or PUR, their filters are made of plastic and the carbon contents. And there is still no recycling program in the U.S. to take back and recycle these filters. This was recently brought up in a New York Times article, along with the Take Back The Filter campaign where you can sign a petition asking for companies to take back their filters and reduce waste.

The NY Times article's conclusion was that at-home water filtration significantly reduces our plastic use when compared with bottled water. However, the obvious next step would be to recycle the filters so that we move to zero waste. After all, it's not like the filter is going to break down in the landfill -- you have 3 months of use at home and then the filter literally sits forever in the landfill. It may photodegrade (break up into smaller plastic pieces), but it will never biodegrade unless the plastic is made from a non-petroleum, biodegradable/compostable source like corn.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Finding Eco-Friendly Detergent Where It's Supposed to Be

I wrote about an experience I had at Target a few weeks back in which they had decided to move all the "natural" products in the home cleaning section to a "natural" section. And suddenly my Seventh Generation laundry detergent wasn't where all the rest of the detergent options were -- instead it was around the corner and two aisles down. I didn't like that. I think that when you want to buy something as basic as toilet paper or laundry detergent you don't go searching in 2-3 places in the store -- you go to one place, one aisle. Although maybe someone thought that a special "natural" section was the way to go, I didn't agree. Not only was it inconvenient but also it felt like eco-friendly and natural brands were being marginalized and also they wouldn't get their fair chance at getting consumer attention.

So, I wrote into Target and let them know what I thought. I wrote in as an everyday person -- did not tout anything other than that I shopped at their store.

Guess what? They listened. All my eco-friendly laundry detergent options are in the laundry detergent aisle -- only one aisle. Hurrah!

Calling All Tree Citizens

There's an innovative group in Los Angeles called TreePeople that's got my attention. They are focused on restoring and maintaining urban forests and have community efforts aimed at educating and motivating local citizens.

Why trees? The group has a clear and easy list for understanding why you should care about trees. Here are some of those tree benefits:
  • Reduction in greenhouse gases, which reduces global warming

  • Cleaner air and more oxygen, which means a healthier environment for your family

  • Heat absorption -- for most areas of the U.S., we are looking to reduce heat. Trees absorb heat from concrete and asphalt and also give us significant shade for our homes and buildings

  • Food production -- trees give us and our surrounding wildlife, including birds, many fruits and nuts

  • Psychological benefits -- trees reduce stress, help to calm, increase your attention; it's the greenscape that our bodies and brains are craving
Additionally, according to the Center for Urban Forest Research in Davis, California "A large front yard tree can intercept 760 gallons of rainfall in its crown, thereby reducing runoff of polluted stormwater and flooding."


Ways that TreePeople gets people interested and involved in urban forestry --
  • Assistance in organizing a neighborhood tree planting event

  • A calendar of events where you can simply go and plant trees for a day -- you get exercise, fresh air, social benefits, and help the earth

  • Organized volunteer days where you go and take care of the young trees that have been planted as part of the TreePeople programs

  • Workshops where people can learn about trees and how to take care of them

  • Community leadership opportunities

If you live around L.A., you can check out this group. If you don't look for a similar group in your area, perhaps in conjunction with the Arbor Day Foundation or referred to you by your local Cooperative Extension Office or city's beautification department.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

HOLIDAY TIPS: Eco-Friendly Halloween Ideas

Here's a list of some practical things you can do to make your Halloween more eco-friendly:
  • Buy organic treats -- you will still have the individual packaging for safety reasons but at least you'll spend your money on something better for the earth and for children. Go organic. Ideas include individual bags of organic microwave popcorn, organic lollipops, organic snack bars, organic fruit rolls, small bites of organic chocolate, organic individually packaged beverages. You can type into Google any of these keywords and come up with brands and online vendors. Your grocery store may carry some of these items, at least the snack bars and popcorn. And Whole Foods is likely to have a selection of options.


  • Buy paper-wrapped treats -- If you're not going organic, look for treats that are individually wrapped in paper instead of plastic. Taffy is often wrapped in paper. Also, some gummy snacks are also found wrapped in paper. I found Milk Duds sold in bulk in individual paper boxes.

  • Buy alternative treats -- instead of food, you can look into giving out alternatives to sugary treats. Look for options that steer you away from plastic if at all possible or at least give the child something that will last. I've seen toothbrushes given out, but it's a toss up to know if that's cost effective or even popular with kids. Any little toy made of wood and painted non-toxic is a go, but might be expensive. But maybe you could be more creative -- what about giving out a quarter? a $1.00 gift certificate to McDonalds? (it pays for an ice cream) a miniature magnifying glass? (will last a while because all kids like to explore and is sold in bulk at http://www.makingfriends.com/ ) Halloween-themed stickers? (you can cut up a sticker sheet into 4 or 5 pieces) trading cards? (go to your local comic book store and ask what are the hottest trading cards for kids; buy a couple boxes and hand out a card to each kid as the treat) Literally, think outside the box.

  • Use a reusable goodie bag -- instead of purchasing a plastic Halloween treat bag, have your child use a reusable bag. A pillowcase works great. But a canvas bag of any kind is also a great choice.

  • Choose low-impact costumes -- nearly every child wants to look cool on Halloween. More eco-friendly costume choices are ... going to the second-hand store to buy a used costume or pieces of clothing that can be morphed into a creative costume. If you buy a ready-made costume from the store then ideally your child would get more than one use out of it; when my son was very young he was into Power Rangers and wore his Power Rangers Halloween costume for months on end after Halloween (good thing he doesn't ready this blog!) as a part of creative play. You can also rent costumes. And you can make your own costume from clothes and materials you already have at home, perhaps only purchasing

Monday, October 6, 2008

NEW REPORT: 38 Percent of World's Species Threatened with Extinction: What Can You Do?

According to the newest report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) that documented 44,838 species of animals and marine life, 16,928 are now currently threatened with extinction (38 percent). This includes an assessment of world’s mammals, showing 20 percent known to be threatened with extinction. Additionally, the report says that 1 in 7 birds (14 percent) are threatened or extinct.



Like canaries in the coal mine, any extinction of species or threatening of extinction sounds a major warning bell to us that viability of human life and our quality of life is decreasing. With so many species on the brink of disaster, you may ask why? The IUCN says that these species are on the decline because of --

  • Climate Change: There is growing evidence that climate change will become one of the major drivers of species extinctions in the 21st Century. One study suggests that 15-37% of terrestrial species may be ‘committed to extinction’ by 2050 due to climate change. -- IUCN report "Species Susceptibility to Climate Change Impacts" Here's a short travelogue slide show from David Elliott Cohen on cnn.com about the effects of climate change.

  • Loss of Habitat: Deforestation and land development continue to encroach on habitats. According to the BBC's analysis of the IUCN report -- "About 40% of mammal species are compromised because human expansion is putting a squeeze on their habitat. "

  • Loss of Fresh, Clean Water: Wetlands are being destroyed, drained, or developed at a rapid rate. One example -- over the last 50-100 years, 60 percent of Europe's wetlands have been lost. Freshwater scarcity is also draining many ecosystems of water -- from lakes, from streams, from wetlands. Dam construction also is often a resulting solution that has both pluses and minuses for ecosystems. Pollution also plays a part in the health of fresh water.

  • Ocean Troubles: According to the IUCN, "The oceans drive weather, shape planetary chemistry, generate 70 percent of atmospheric oxygen, absorb most of the planet’s carbon dioxide, and are the ultimate reservoir for replenishment of fresh water to land through cloud formation. Trouble for the oceans means trouble for humankind. The preservation and protection of our ocean resources, not only for the marine species they contain, but also for the food, products, and ecosystem services that they provide for billions of people around the globe needs to become an urgent priority."

But there is hope. According to the IUCN -- "The [report's] results also show conservation can bring species back from the brink of extinction." Here is what you can do:

  • Write Your Government Officials: Let them know that you are concerned about the above issues and that you would like to see more conservation efforts.

  • Ask For Water Conservation: No more over development. Put a focus on redevelopment and restoration. Have your government focus on restoring wetlands, protecting fresh water, protecting underground aquifers, and water conservation. If this means that those protections put a squeeze on development and water usage, then this is not bad. It just means the environment can be protected, your safety and health can be protected, and the land will only be supporting what it is meant to support. Humans will adapt.

  • Ask For Reforestation and Habitat Conservation and Restoration: Plant more native trees. Look to your zoos, your botanical gardens, and your environmental groups for ideas of what you can support in restoring local and regional habitats.

  • Only Buy Sustainable Seafood: Although climate change is a major blow to marine life, what seafood you buy can make or break their future. Always shop using a seafood shopping guide, like the Seafood Watch pocket guide. If you can't afford the best choices, forgo seafood altogether.

  • Support Foods and Products that do Not Deforest: Learn what foods and products do not deforest. The Rainforest Alliance is a good resource. Also, purchasing recycled paper products are another good choice, as well as wood and paper products that have a recognizable certifications on it like the Forest Stewardship Council.

  • Reduce Your Energy Usage / Choose Alternative Energy: Reducing how much energy you are using and also choosing cleaner and more sustainable energy choices are key. Both of these choices will reduce your personal impact on global warming by reducing the excess of greenhouse gases that are causing climate change.

More about the IUCN Red List Report can be found here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Palin Sidesteps Any Accountability for Global Warming

This is from the Katie Couric interview last night. Governor Palin resists the notion that global warming's cause is man made and shifts the focus away from any accountability on reducing or eliminating the excessive greenhouse gases that are man made -- rather she suggests we just deal with climate change. Irresponsibility is all I'm going to say about that -- you can see the interview below for yourself.

You can also read what I previously wrote about the McCain/Palin ticket, what that means for our environment, and how their election to President and Vice President could spell environmental disaster -- putting your family at significant risk.