Monday, December 21, 2009

Copenhagen Over, Now What?




UPDATED - 12/21/09, 5:40 PM

Many of the world's leaders have now returned from Copenhagen's climate summit talks -- to some it was a real disappointment, to others it was a start.  This was supposed to be the opportunity talked about for over a year, when the world would come together and make binding agreements to reduce emissions to levels that would safeguard the planet.  They were also to make agreements to protect and restore forests, a huge necessity for reducing greenhouse gases.  Instead, as is so nicely outlined at The Daily Beast, politics reigned.

That said, the NRDC has some thoughtful information (here) about what happened and how we can all think about the summit, including a list of what really was successfully accomplished and what needs to be done to build on the summit.  In the NRDC summary:

  1. "Heads of Government from key Countries are engaged" -- not just a few heads of state and world leaders showed up.  Instead, nearly all of them, which underscores the importance of the summit.
  2. "All major emitting countries will have to commit to take action and solidify them in the international agreement" -- while we didn't get written how's in their commitment at the summit, those how's are due the end of January 2010.  So, you can guess that there will be a lot of phone calls, e-mails, and tele/video-conferencing over the next month as countries work with each other to come in with equal and just commitments ... not to mention the strategic PR that's going to be part of whatever is committed.
  3. "We will have a system to regularly know whether or not countries are making progress towards their commitments" -- another forthcoming.
  4. "We secured real commitments to finance for investing in efforts in developing countries to reduce deforestation emissions, and adapt to the impacts of global warming" -- yahooee! that we could make headway on deforestation issues.  But the whole adaptation thing, while a devastating reality, just makes me shake my head that we have to do any of that at all.

Sitting here at home, one can only wonder "what can one person do to help keep things moving forward?"
  • You can continue to do your part to choose products and behaviors that would lessen your family's impact on contributing to greenhouse gases on this planet.  I truly believe solutions start at home.
  • You can influence your friends to make the same climate friendly choices you do.
  • You can write your local, state, and federal government officials to implement regulations that would have the U.S. set the example in greenhouse gas reduction.  Any reduction the U.S. does will IMMENSELY help the situation because the U.S. is such a heavy emissions polluter and purchases such a large amount of products (i.e., beef, oil, non-certified paper, etc.) that contribute to greenhouse gases in a major way.   You can also ask that the U.S. take the lead in continuing talks with countries, one by one, so that they come together with the U.S. and other leading emissions-reducing countries to work together to reverse climate change.
One person, each of us, can make a difference here by showing that we still care about these issues that are slowly changing the world.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

NY Times' New Series on Toxics in Waters

The New York Times has done an amazing job of putting together a new series on the safety of the water we use.

You can also click on an extensive interactive feature that let's you know how tainted/untainted is the water in your state, county, and city.

It's worth your time being informed.  Click here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Al Gore's Thought-Provoking, Emotional Comments at U.N. Climate Conference

Al Gore - Call for Action from Project Survival Media on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Join in Terra Madre Day!




Tomorrow is "Terra Madre Day"!! Never knew I had such an influence that Slow Food would name a sustainable food day after me. But, heh, it's okay to give myself a pat on the back now and then.

All kidding aside, tomorrow is Terra Madre Day but not named after me. It is day Slow Food has set aside to promote local, sustainable, ethical food.

This week, make a point to buy from your farmer's market or from a store, like Whole Foods, that is carrying more locally and organic-produced foods.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

NPR's "Tell Me More" - Are You An Ethical Omnivore?


More on supporting your local farming community from my earlier post.

WORD TO KNOW: Biomimicry

What if nature had all the answers? Well, there's a new science afoot that is increasingly looking to the way the world works on its own to spawn new ideas to solve old and new problems. It's called biomimicry.

Says the Biomimicry Guild "Biomimicry is an emerging discipline that studies nature's best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems."

The reason why biomimicry is becoming more important is that we are increasingly looking for more simple and cost-saving ways to make our world "go round." And nature knows how to do it sustainably, integrating each part of itself into the surrounding world without taking more than it needs and not harming the future cycle of life. So with nature as the template, you get the best of both worlds -- efficiency and sustainability.

Examples from the Biomimicry Institute are -- "non-toxic adhesives inspired by geckos, energy-efficient buildings inspired by termite mounds, and resistance-free antibiotics inspired by red seaweed."

If we ever needed yet another reason to protect nature, this promising new science makes nature a valuable natural resource that should be undeniably safeguarded.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Way to Support Your Rural Economy

The New York Times has an article today about adding yet another pharmaceutical to your beef to try and stem E. coli bacteria contamination from entering slaughterhouses. But, I say that it is only a band-aid. What really needs to happen is a change in culture that demands humane meat (which will immensely cut down the need for pharmaceutical intervention) and probably eats less meat overall, so that we can produce humane meat sustainably and economically benefit our small and regional cooperative farmers.

Here's a great video from Certified Humane to explain some of the issues -- don't worry, it's not a shock video:


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sign GMO Petition! Protect Your Ability to Know What You Eat

Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs) are a serious health and food safety/security issue that is coming to public light. Documentaries like Food, Inc. and The World According to Monsanto have recently exposed in a more mass media way many of the serious GMO issues. The Center for Food Safety has been feverishly trying to protect the public from GMO's, including now going to The Supreme Court on the public's behalf.

Jeffrey Smith of the Institute for Responsible Technology is a vocal advocate of eliminating GMO's and requiring GM labeling. Mr. Smith appeared on this radio program (captured on YouTube below) talking about GMO's -- although this program has a Christian slant, don't be turned off by that. It's the info that is important to help you quickly get up to speed on the issues. It's the first in a 9-part taping posted on YouTube.



Here is a way you can get involved in protecting your food supply by signing this petition to require mandatory labeling of GMO foods.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Big Thank You -- Environmental Awareness Success

As I get toward the end of the year and in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I would like to thank the sponsors who have helped me to give my environmental work a lift:

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Make a Planet and Family Friendly Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving! It doesn't require candy or presents. The weekend is long. Family is full. And after the meal is done, there's lots of relaxation.

This year I ordered a heritage turkey. Makes me feel better about the meat part. Here's more info on choosing a sustainable turkey.

And, going back to the basics of Thanksgiving gives us a more planet friendly approach to the holiday.

Here's some tips --

Plan to take time: The irony of today’s world is that you have to set aside time to relax.Preparing a Thanksgiving meal that is meaningful and home-based takes time. So, plan for it. Take off the day. Ask for family help. Work together to prepare the meal and create family ties and traditions in the process.

Cook up a storm: Cooking your own food tends to not only be healthier and more cost effective but also promotes family bonds and traditions. At its most basic, you have the turkey, potatoes, gravy, another vegetable or salad, rolls, and a dessert. The easiest way to learn how to cook is from a parent, relative, or friend. Keep it simple and build from there. And in the cleanup, recycle all your packaging and compost your uncooked veggie and fruit scraps. You can also compost any used paper napkins and bread scraps.

Be happily picky: Your future food security and safety depends on choosing food that is raised more sustainably with the least amount of chemicals and closest proximity to where you live. For your turkey, make the effort to go organic, certified humane, or heritage.Heritage turkeys help to protect poultry diversity. If you choose a smaller turkey, this will help to offset the expense. Also choose organic or locally produced vegetables whenever possible; seasonable is best.

Really says thanks: What is your family really grateful for? Say it with word and deed.Speak up at the family meal and have father, mother, or another family member state the obvious – what you are celebrating Thanksgiving for. Then, strengthen those family ties by doing things with each other over the holiday. These are traditions and memories that stay with you. And having had a very stressful year for most of us due to economic trying times, studies show that this reconnecting with family and friends is one of the best ways to relieve that stress.

Connect beyond the bird: After Thanksgiving, you can connect with nearby food groups to learn how to cook better, how to find cost-effective local foods, and to support community-based agriculture. Go to sites like slowfoodusa.org and localharvest.org or your local farmer’s market or farm to find fresh, regional food, understand local food issues, and eat more seasonably all year round.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Of Men and Boys, Chemicals Never Looked So Guilty

There are two new studies that have just come out that shower guilt all over two types of chemicals that wreck havoc on the bodies of boys and men. I wrote about these two chemicals in my book The Mom's Guide to Growing Your Family Green: Saving the Earth Begins at Home (St. Martin's Press). They are:
Environmental Working Group has reported on the hormone-altering effects of BPA for some time. But on their website, they are now reporting yet another piece of evidence that supports the fact that BPA causes sexual disfunction in males who are regularly exposed to the chemical. See the story here. Here is also a link that talks more about BPA in a previous post of mine.

Now, in a very surprising study being reported on by the BBC in Europe, the University of Rochester is releasing a study that shows that phthalates alter the brains of baby boys, causing them to engage in more feminine behavior. This is because they disrupt hormones. Phthalates are found in MANY places -- plastics (especially PVC), personal care and household products, glues, paints, and beauty products. Essentially, we have been surrounded by phthalates for a very long time. In my book, I talk about detailed ways to avoid them, including some product recommendations. There is also some info on Environmental Working Groups website.

If you are concerned with knowing what is in the products you buy and banning some particularly egregious chemicals from the marketplace (such as BPA and phthalates) due to them having detrimental effects on your children and your family, then write your state and federal officials at Congress.org. At the very least, if these chemicals are not banned, we should be warned through proper labeling. Your voice counts!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How Green Are You? Top 10


A Harris Interactive poll was recently released that outlined where we are putting action and money in being green. The top 10?
  1. Turn off lights when you leave the room (83%)
  2. Always/often recycle (68%)
  3. Always/often reuse whenever possible (65%)
  4. Replaced lighting with energy-efficient light bulbs (63%)
  5. Making efforts to use less water (60%)
  6. Paying bills online (46%)
  7. Donated an electronic device for recycling (41%)
  8. Switched to paperless financial statements (40%)
  9. Unplug electrical appliances when not in use (40%)
  10. Purchased locally grown produce (39%)
The study administrators say "Many people are beginning to take some steps that save energy or water and reduce their carbon footprint, to slow global warming. As such, this poll is encouraging in showing that it is possible to change human behavior in ways that can make a difference. But – to mix metaphors – we have only scratched the surface of what is possible."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mercury and the H1N1 Vaccination

I have been concerned about the lifting of bans in many states to allow mercury preservatives into the H1N1 vaccine. Not all of us in my family will be vaccinated, but for those that will receive the vaccine due to susceptibility and health concerns I have tried unsuccessfully for the past week to find a mercury-free version -- one that would be free of Thimerosal. The only exception was if you were pregnant, then you could get the mercury-free H1N1 vaccine -- but that is not our situation.

So, my research lead me to the CDC's website that outlined exactly how much mercury is in the H1N1 vaccine. There is some but not a lot. And this vaccine is given by itself -- not as part of a group of vaccines on one day -- which reduces the total amount of mercury in one's system. Though, you might end up having to get two doses.

Result? I've decided to stop looking for a mercury-free version and follow the excellent advice from Gina Solomon who is a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Says Solomon --

"According to the package insert, a multi-dose vial of the H1N1 flu vaccine contains about 25 micrograms of mercury per dose. In comparison, an average can of albacore tuna contains about 60 micrograms of mercury. So the vaccine offers a dose of mercury that is less than that in 1/2 can of tunafish. At the same time, the vaccine protects against a disease that at best results in several days of discomfort and missed school or work, and at worst results in serious complications and even death. Seems like a worthwhile trade-off."

Gina's full commentary on the issue is found at the NRDC's Switchboard blog site here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Prototype: California's Sustainable Seafood Bill -- Boosting a Green Economy

This week, California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law what is being called California's Sustainable Seafood Bill. It is essentially a prototype for other states and maybe nationally in the certification and promotion of sustainable seafood.

Currently, there is an Ocean Protection Council in California. This Council coordinates activities and sharing of data among all state agencies relating to ocean conservation and protection. What is unique about this bill is that it requires this Council to also "develop and implement a specified voluntary sustainable seafood promotion program." This program would guide fisherman and their companies on how to obtain international sustainable seafood certification, provide marketing assistance to them once they are certified, and also incentivize with a loan and grant program. Essentially, this is a great example of boosting a green economy.

Also, of note, this bill prohibits "seafood produced through aquaculture or fish farming from being certified as sustainable under these provisions until nationally or internationally accepted sustainability standards have been developed and implemented." Aquaculture is basically the same as fish farming -- sounds better to say aquaculture, but it's really the same thing. So, this bill sends a strong message about fish farming that it really is a cloudy practice that has little support. This was the feeling I also got when I attended a conference at The Monterey Bay Aquarium back in May -- far too many concerns about the sustainability of aquaculture and how it infects disease and pollution on the surrounding native fish population.

If you are concerned about the sustainability of the fish you eat, make it easy on yourself. Only purchase the Best Choices from the lists at Seafood Watch.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Love my CSA!!!

My local community-supported agriculture program is wonderful. All USDA Organic produce, all seasonal, all delicious, all community based. You can find a CSA near you at Local Harvest.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Joe Berlinger On His New Documentary "Crude"

"Crude" is a crushing documentary-thriller about the destruction of the Ecuadorian rain forest by oil giants.

Be aware -- tell your friends -- get involved with organizations who will fight oil corporations into cleaning up and stopping their atrocities against nature and the area's indigenous people.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Education and negotiating on protecting the planet

The World Wide Views Project has been established and coordinated by The Danish Board of Technology and The Danish Cultural Institute to define and communicate opinions about global warming to those attending and making decisions at the upcoming Climate Change Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen in December 2009. You may have heard about the COP15 in U.N. news reports last week.

The WWV project has some very interesting statistics about the urgency of preventing more global warming.

For example, 4,400 citizens from 38 countries across the world were surveyed.
  • 90% believe it is urgent that a global climate deal is made at COP15
  • 89% think that developed countries should be required to reduce their emissions by 25-40% or higher
Education to influence the public to help reduce emissions is also a big component that those surveyed feel is important. Here's ideas by country --
  • China: PSAs and short films disseminated to the public to educate them
  • U.K.: Education programs funded by the government to make the public more aware
  • France: Environmental education from pre-school onward
  • USA: Establish international education fund to standardize and implement environmental climate education with various public, private, and non-profit partners
  • Finland: Require a carbon footprint guide be printed on every product sold so that the public can make better choices.
You can urge your U.S. Senator to pass a strong climate and energy bill so that as our U.S. leaders go into the COP15 we will have a stronger negotiating position. You see, if the U.S. leads by example, then it will be harder for other countries to have excuses. They will be more compelled to follow our lead and do what is right. The Natural Resources Defense Council has more about the bill and an EASY way to write into your senator -- here.

Plants aren't just for beauty

I love this very quick Ted talk on how to clean up your indoor air with plants. I talk about this in my book, giving additional suggestions.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Extraction and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

I attended the NRDC's Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. speech in Santa Monica last night. He is a riveting and motivational speaker.

Issues that he is focusing on these days are related to energy. His Washington Post Op-Ed from July about the atrocities of coal is disturbing enough to make you want to cry AND write a passionate letter to Obama to plead for justice.

The extraction operation that Kennedy talks about is happening across the world. Not just in coal but in every environmental resource. As shareholder-driven companies have grown in power, they have also become less interested in the environment and more interested in greed. They are extracting soil from both wealthy and impoverished nations to replenish destroyed soil from industrialized farming. They are extracting fish from the oceans at such an alarming rate that there will soon be none left. They are extracting trees from the planet to satisfy other economic gains, only to reap climate change and deserts in return. Oil has been extracted for decades, and now it has peaked. Extract. Extract. Extract.

We can not sustain any type of quality living for our children and their children under the extraction model.

Instead, we have to be driven toward the sustainability model. There are just as many jobs, and more, with that model.

The NRDC has put together an action site for you to write to your government officials -- http://www.nrdc.org/action/default.asp . This is one way every person who cares can take action on crimes against nature, your community, and your health.

Additionally, the Sierra Club has an action center just for stopping coal mining mountain top removal. See this video below.




And heroic 81-year-old Roland Micklem in this video below is asking for senior citizens to march against mountain top removal this October. Details here.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Check out the Green Grades Report for Paper Products

ForestEthics, a non-profit organization that protects endangered forests and wild places, has issued a Green Grades Report outlining retailers who are using their purchasing power to benefit the environment, selecting FSC-certified paper products, and phasing out paper products that come from endangered forests.

Surprisingly, FedEx Office (aka Kinko's) has the best grade: A-. They avoid using paper from caribou habitat, endangered Indonesian forests, and US South tree plantations. They prefer FSC paper. And they have been encouraging their suppliers to be more responsible.

Other top grades:
- Office Depot: B
- Staples: B-
- Officemax: C

Other retailers:
- Target: D+ (scores above Walmart due to recent policy-making changes that next year will probably improve their ranking)
- Walmart: D+ (has sustainable wood and packaging purchasing but not for paper, including sourcing from endangered international forests)
- Amazon.com: F (no known policies to protect endangered forests or purchase from responsible suppliers; no transparency in their practices)
- Costco: F (no known policies to protect endangered forests or purchase from responsible suppliers; no transparency in their practices)

You can find out more about the destruction in Indonesian Forests at this link from Greenpeace.

And Scholastic has been increasing its use of FSC and recycled paper -- see this story here.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bat Cave Pest Management at its Finest

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sign the "Real Food in Schools" Petition -- for your kids, for the nation


Slow Food USA is asking you to sign this petition by September 7. You would be asking the federal government to provide your children with real food during the school lunchtime.

Real food is "good at every link in the chain. It tastes good, it’s good for us, it’s good for the people who grow it, it’s good for our country and it’s good for the planet," say the Slow Food USA organizers.



Saving Your Own Seeds -- Promoting Diverse Crops

If you saw the documentary Food Inc., then you've been introduced to the importance of seeds and how allowing farmers to capture seeds, store them, and nurture their own varieties is critical to our economics and sustainability of crops.

Yesterday, NPR's Marketplace program aired a story about the necessity of native seeds and how through industrialization of crops we have lost so many seed varieties -- all of which are becoming critical to sa
ve, plant, and nurture as we go into climate change. I encourage you to listen to the story and write your government leaders about your support of regional and family farming to promote native agriculture, and your discontent and dislike of genetically modified seeds as a threat to your family's current and future health and well-being.

Native Seeds is a non-profit organization that sells seeds for the Southwest and Mexico. These seeds are for plants that are unique to growing in low-water areas. If you have a family garden and live in these areas, I encourage you to buy seeds from them and learn how to save your own seeds after the harvest. Here's how.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Food Crisis Hits Center Stage

Time Magazine's August 31, 2009 issue focuses on food issues, similar to what was covered in the documentary Food, Inc. And on the heels of this issue is a KCRW radio segment on this very issue, with the Time Magazine article staff writer, Bryan Walsh, and Rancher Joel Salatin offering the most truthful accounts of the issues at stake. You can listen to the podcast version below (it's the first segment of the show's podcast).


Friday, August 14, 2009

Update to Greener Tissue Products


I wrote about the Greenpeace guide to greener tissue products several months ago. Now there is a new development in that the activist organization has been able to put enough pressure on one of the largest producers of tissue products to really make a difference.

The Kimberly-Clark company will now be using more recycled content in its paper products and also require FSC certification. You can write the Kimberly-Clark company here to show your support of these efforts.

And you can read more about this story here. And more about Greenpeace's successful efforts here.

Post Consumer Waste: A growing trend

With all that recycling (also called recycled post consumer waste, or PCW) we're doing, it's got to go somewhere ... and hopefully somewhere useful. In fact, more and more products are popping up with PCW content listed.

I was in Walmart yesterday and saw a whole section devoted to 100% post consumer waste cards -- "100% post consumer waste" was the headlining sign to get your attention. They could have
chosen 100% recycled, but instead they are using PCW. Why?

Post consumer waste is better than simply saying recycled. Recycled can come from two sources: 1) recycled waste from consumers who have already used the material once (PCW) and 2) pre consumer waste, which is the virgin material leftover on the factory floor and is picked up and "recycled" into products. PCW is best because you are not using up virgin material -- you are truly reusing material.

So, when you see that a product is made from recycled materials, see if they are also labeling the amount of PCW -- the closer to 100% PCW the better.

Other recent examples of companies promoting and supplying PCW product options ...

Barnes and Noble just announced they will be carrying 100% PCW planners -- a sought-after back-to-school item.

Staples has long been a supporter of PCW products, along with inventories of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified and Rainforest Alliance endorsed paper products.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

"BioPreferred" Label Coming Your Way -- Your Voice Counts!

The USDA has announced a public comment period for the new consumer label of BioPreferred. The label is meant to help better identify products that "are composed wholly or significantly of biological (biobased) ingredients - renewable plant, animal, marine or forestry materials."

While there are significant benefits, there are also some concerns. And you as a consumer have the chance, until September 29, 2009 to let the USDA know what you think.

BENEFITS:
  • Less petroleum and fossil fuels used in making products
  • An incentive for creating non-synthetic products that may be more biodegradable
  • Less toxic chemicals in products because many non-synthetic alternatives, especially plant-based, tend to be more safe and less polluting
  • Reduction in dependence of foreign oil and nonrenewable fossil fuels
  • A focus on using renewable materials
  • This may spawn economic opportunities in agriculture
CONCERNS:
  • The word renewable needs to be better defined -- the USDA needs to have renewable include that the bio material is 1) grown or caught in a sustainable manner, including in relation to soils, waterways, forests, and animals, 2) does not take away from the natural biodiversity of the material in the wild, organic, and farmed environments, 3) does not pollute or degrade soils and waterways as materials are grown and managed
  • Genetically modified plants are not acceptable as renewable.
You can submit your comments about BioPreferred directly to the USDA here. Since so few people take the few minutes it takes to voice their opinion productively, your voice counts!

Monday, August 3, 2009

"The Cove" -- another witness to the destruction of oceans

Yet another horrifying documentary has come out -- The Cove -- that chronicles the hidden destruction and captivity of wild dolphins ... all for greed and profit.

While a couple of months ago, I talked about the more broad-based ocean problems featured in the excellent documentary The End of the Line, this documentary is focused on a more specific problem in Japan that has reverberating effects across the oceans and on land -- but again, it is more specifically about disrespecting our planet and our future for the short-lived love of money.

Because of the apparent immensity of ocean problems and, in this case, the problem being in Japan, it would be easy to toss aside this documentary and its issues and say there is nothing you can do. But that is not true.

The filmmakers have pointed us to ways we really can make a difference re: this issue -- on this site there is more info. Here are points I would like to highlight:
  1. Understand the dolphin captivity issue and what choices you can make -- a great deal of planet protection comes about through simple education. Here's a brochure to help you.
  2. Don't eat dolphin -- simple enough. For other more safe and sustainable fish to eat, use the Seafood Watch Guide.
  3. Make your voice known by writing -- here are a list of ideas on how to express your opinion by writing
The Cove opened in New York and Los Angeles July 31st, and will screen in additional select cities starting August 7th. Here's a trailer --


Thursday, July 9, 2009

LEARN: Landscaping in water-tapped areas

Many areas of the West, and some places in the Southeast, have been undergoing water shortages. With climate change already underway and many underground water sources already tapped, it is inevitable that less water will be the norm in the foreseeable future. As a result, you may already be experiencing water restrictions in your area and may be wondering what you can do to save your landscape -- which has likely been used to more regular watering.

In my book, The Mom's Guide to Growing Your Family Green, I offer more extensive education and ideas for helping to conserve water -- both for the home and garden. It is a handy resource for you. But to get you started, you might consider these beginning tips:
  • Install drip irrigation -- consider changing out your watering to drip irrigation wherever possible. This will waste less water. Areas where you have bushes and trees are some of the best spots for installing drip systems, as well as gardens.

  • Go native -- little by little change our your landscape to include more native plants. Sometimes you have to do a little research to find out what is native and what is not because importation of plants from other states and countries is now the norm. But native landscape will better withstand drier weather.

  • Xeriscape -- plant less grass and more of other plants that can be more drought tolerant. Even most heat-hardy grasses still needs more watering than drought-tolerant bushes and trees. So, put grass down only where you need it. Some drought-tolerant, low-level groundcovers can look like grass and even be cut like grass, so this is another possibility as well.

  • Plant trees -- There is nothing like trees in your landscape to lower surrounding outdoor temperatures, give partial shade to plants and the soil, and add beauty to your landscape. Water your trees deeply instead of superficially, and they will withstand periods of drought more easily.

  • Amend your soil -- I recommend you have a compost. You can add this compost material to your landscape soil, once or twice a year, to help the soil retain moisture and enrich its health.

Some people may consider synthetic grass to save on water, pesticides, and fertilizers -- and I mentioned this in my book as a tremendous water saver with environmental benefits and tradeoffs. But since then I have reconsidered the extent to which these new-generation artificial grass products should be used, even if the company states they are made with recycled materials and will take back the product for recycling. This is because birds and other animals cannot access food in the dirt below, artificial grass has a tendency to intensify heat, and there are other environmental and health concerns that I now believe outweigh most the initial benefits (like significant water conservation) that people would have bought into.

So, I recommend you only consider artificial turf for specific situations and used in small quantities. Possible examples are an enclosed dog run, a situation where you need to reduce allergens for people who are highly allergic or have severe respiratory issues, or an outdoor area of an elderly person's home when the person cannot maintain natural grass (though, even in that case you might just use low-maintenance bushes and trees instead).

There is a debate over if synthetic turf should be used for high traffic areas -- like a sports field or daycare center -- I would say no based upon new 2009 research by the University of Arkansas. The University found that natural grass is cheaper, more easily renewed, much cooler, safer (due to less heat injuries, less chance of contracting disease from the grass), filters water and air pollutants, releases oxygen into the air, and it captures carbon dioxide.

If you don't want natural grass or can't support natural grass with water restrictions, you may consider not having any grass at all in your landscape, instead just landscape with a variety of trees, bushes, and naturally occurring plants and flowers that are specific to your area. And add compost to your soil so that it retains moisture longer.

This may require you to look at landscape in a different way -- my family and I were reminded of this when we visited the Piedras Blancas Light Station along the Central Coast of California this summer -- they have been undergoing an extensive plant restoration project to renew the area with native plants. And I have to say that the areas where native plants are now growing tends to be the most beautiful and biodiverse.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

More: Revisiting Particulates

Another revisitation today -- this time with air quality. There's was an interesting interview today with Chip Jacobs and William Kelly at the NPR station KCRW in Los Angeles talking about smog and how it relates to particulate matter and global warming.

Regarding particulate matter -- they addressed the same issues I talked about almost exactly a year ago. Those issues being that the pollution in our air is getting finer and finer, in terms of size, and perhaps becoming equally or more dangerous than the pollution of yester-year -- only, we can't see it as much because it has changed. So people may not be complaining as much. And the interviewees notioned that perhaps we need added pollution measurements now. You can see how clean your air is where you live by looking at the map at www.airnow.gov.

You can listen to the interview below -- tip ... after you press play and see the moving guidebar under the smoggy city, move the guidebar to the 32 minute mark.

Revisiting Tissue Products

You are going to see more and more "naturally" labeled tissue products coming out, as the green movement swiftly moves through all consumer goods. One such example is tissue products. I wrote about how to select greener tissue products a couple of months ago in a two-part series, but now that some of the larger companies are starting to gain more distribution I will mention some key points again --
  • Carefully read the labels -- again, you are looking for 100% recycled content with at least 40 percent of that being post-consumer waste AND bleaches with NO toxic chlorine compounds

  • Print out the Greenpeace Tissue Guide for specific brand guidance

Also to note, if you see "ECF" (Elemental Chlorine Free) on the label or on the company's website, it doesn't mean chlorine free. It just means there is no elemental chlorine in the bleaching process because elemental chlorine was banned by the EPA in April 2001 due to toxicity issues. Instead, the company is using some other type of bleaching, probably chlorine dioxide. The Natural Resources Defense Council has outlined the various chlorine acronyms for you and what they mean here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Major Food Victory for Consumers and Non-Industrialized Ranchers and Farmers

If you've seen the documentary "Food, Inc." (see my review here) or have been staying on top of news in the farming and organic industry, this past week was a potential tipping point in the favor of conscious consumers and non-industrialized ranchers and farmers. According to The Center for Food Safety's report "the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has re-affirmed its previous decision upholding a nationwide ban on the planting of genetically-engineered (GE) Roundup Ready alfalfa ... genetically modified alfalfa can result in potentially irreversible harm to organic and conventional varieties of crops, damage to the environment, and economic harm to farmers."

I foresee this ruling being a domino effect in reversing the flow of genetically modified plants and seeds and Monsanto's strangle hold on the farming industry.

The organizations you and your family have to thank in protecting your food supply in this courageous lawsuit are not just The Center for Food Safety but also Western Organization of Resource Councils, National Family Farm Coalition, Sierra Club, Beyond Pesticides, Cornucopia Institute, Dakota Resource Council, Trask Family Seeds, and Geertson Seed Farms. You can subscribe to these organizations' blog and newsletters to be kept up to date on future issues.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

How I Support My Local Food Producers

I was at my local farmer's market this morning. Thankfully it was busy. Hopping with customers and lots of produce booths.

Most of my vegetables I now get from my local CSA (see my post about community supported agriculture) and would love nothing more than for my CSA to have a pickup spot at my local farmer's market -- here's hoping. So, I buy extra, needed veggies (like if I need more lettuce or onions than appear in my CSA weekly box) at the farmer's market and nearly all our fruits. Sometimes we buy freshly baked bread.

There's an organic farmer at my farmer's market who sells seasonal fruit all yearround. I love the guy!!! He is so genuine. I can say I actually know who grows the food my family eats!!!! I bought a BIG bag of seasonal peaches, plums, and nectarines -- ALL ORGANIC. I said nothing would make me happier than if I had a reason to buy him out for the day. Then he said, "I sometimes drive home at night from these farmer's markets and wish someone would stop my truck and say 'I want to buy all your fruit.' But then I wouldn't get to talk to the folks at the markets." A rare moment of sincerity.

I used to get eggs at the farmer's market, but not now. They aren't cage free and aren't organic -- so I go to my local grocer for that.

My farmer's market also has a booth for "catch of the day." It's a local guy selling fish. But I stood there and went through each of his offerings, comparing them to Seafood Watch recommendations -- all of them were on the avoid list. So, even though frustration showed all over his face, I talked to him about how "catch of the day" doesn't mean sustainable. Wild doesn't even mean sustainable. And that he could sell more fish to the enlightened crowd that comes to these farmer's markets if he were to sell fish exclusively on the Seafood Watch Best Choices List and advertise as such. I think he still doesn't get it. So, next week I'm going to take him a seafood watch card and talk to him more about it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

REVIEW: Food, Inc.

In another film review this week, I present "Food, Inc." A trailer is posted below.

This documentary has received more press and interest than my last review "The End of the Line" but both films are equally important and required films, I believe, for the public and politicians at large.

"Food, Inc." deals with the industrialization, ownership, and safety of our food -- your food, your family's food, your health, and your future.

Most people who are not following environmental and organic-themed articles on a regular basis would find this documentary revealing and shocking. And guess what? They might actually change their food buying behaviors after seeing this film. Kudos!

One of the issues in the film that I feel is one of the greatest threats to our food supply is the monopolistic ownership of our food by corporations. Monsanto was a focus of a good portion of the film, since the company has moved into farming by genetically altering seeds and patenting them. The company and its vast money and legal resources has been able to find insane but legal reasons to stop local farmers from saving their own seeds and planting any crops that are not grown from Monsanto's seeds. Not only this, but even with scientific evidence pointing to many health and environmental dangers with genetically altered seeds and animals, large companies like Monsanto have been able to infiltrate the government with powerful relationships and lobbying tactics that have prevented the general public from knowing which foods are altered or not. This has forced many farmers into bankruptcy and puts our food safety and security into question. This issue also threatens the future of organic foods.

The thought I had was, in the end, Monsanto is actually decreasing its sustainability. In a world without crop diversity and heritage seeds, it is conceivable that one error in Monsanto's seed experiments could wipe out an entire crop ... forever. All for greed. May you shudder every time you hear Monsanto's name as a sponsor on NPR (more about this here).

Says The Center for Food Safety in its "Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers Report":

As growing numbers of farmers become subject to harassment,investigation, and prosecution by Monsanto over supposed infringement of its seed patents and technology agreements, there will have to be increased pressure to reverse the governmental policies that are allowing this persecution. Various policy options include passing local and state-wide bans or moratoriums on plantings of genetically engineered crops; amending the Patent Act so that genetically engineered plants will no longer be patentable subject matter and so that seed saving is not considered patent infringement; and legislating to prevent farmers from being liable for patent infringement through biological pollution. Implementation of these, and a variety of other options discussed in more detail in the report, is critical. Nothing less than the future of America’s farmers and farming communities is at stake.


Here's how you can choose better food and protect the future sustainability of our food:

  • Speak up: Write your government officials and let them know you support The Center for Food Safety's recommendations above, bolded in red. Also, ACT BY JUNE 29 to write in your support of more oversight on genetically modified crops by going to this link at truefoodnow.org.
  • Make everyday changes: Food, Inc.'s website has a list of everyday things you can do to help change our food system, including eating as much organic food as possible, frequenting farmer's markets, opting into a CSA, and reducing the amount of meat you eat.



Monday, June 22, 2009

REVIEW: The End of the Line

This is the first in a series of reviews that I will role out this week of planet/people focused films that I've recently seen.

Over the weekend I saw The End of the Line, a film about overfishing and the state of the oceans' marine life. Recently I talked about the film, after being introduced to Charles Clover at a Monterey Bay Aquarium event in May. Clover is the author of a book by the same name as the film -- he is the environment editor of London's Daily Telegraph and is featured in the piece.

This documentary is quite hard hitting. It is my belief that every politician and citizen in the developed world should see this film. Massive, immediate change is needed in fishing and ocean policies -- and those policies cannot be politically driven. They must be scientifically based. If we did it to save the whales, one can only hope we can do it on a larger scale -- but it will take a lot of voices in high and important places to save our ocean marine life.

One point that was suggested in the film was frightening to me. The fact that some corporations are seemingly fishing species after species down to the last fish, deep freezing them, and waiting until there are no more left of each species so that they can command the highest price in selling off their reserves of a now-extinct species. It sounds like a bad movie, doesn't it?! But this is real-life, human greed gone mad. Are we so insane about money and power that we are willing to implode the planet just to live like a king? Apparently we may be on that path.

Another greater problem (if there could be one) is apathy. People can know a lot about how to take care of themselves but still be obese. The same is true with the marine life problem. You can educate yourself until you're blue in the face but still choose unsustainable seafood and not voice your concerns. This was demonstrated when we went to go see The End of the Line; as we were leaving the theatre I took it upon myself to let the audience members know, as they were coming out of the theatre, that Seafood Watch cards were on a table in the lobby. They looked at me like dazed zombies. I explained what Seafood Watch cards were, and still no takers. This was from a group of people who had just seen a film that knocked them up silly about the need to be more sustainable!

Therefore, ACTION IS THE WORD OF THE DAY.

Here is a link to a post I did on World Oceans Day about the complexities of the overfishing problem and what the average person can do about it.

Below is a trailer of The End of the Line. Find a way to see the film so that you understand the issues more completely, and invite several of your friends to come with you.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What to do with the government's report on climate change

Yesterday, the White House released an extensive report on global warming's effects on the U.S. -- "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States." The findings are not new, if you've been following global environmental events, but they surely are revealing in terms of the seriousness that we find ourselves in.

In the findings, we can expect ... more devastating fires, "wild west shoot outs" for water in Western states, more large-scale flooding, ocean rising of critical proportions, ocean ecosystems' destruction, increasing insect infestations, and extreme heat.

For me, all these issues are of big concern to me and my family and highlight the urgency of what do you do to protect and safeguard your family?

The report encourages adaptation to a changing world of climate change, as well as ways to slow down and prevent emissions that caused excessive greenhouse gas emissions in the first place.

In the end, it is all about choices. We are at a critical crossroads. What will be choose? The status quo or a different path?

For our survival, we MUST choose a different path. As the report conveys, we must improve "energy efficiency, using energy sources that do not produce carbon dioxide or produce less of it, capturing and storing carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use, and so on. Choices made about emissions reductions now and over the next few decades will have far reaching consequences for climate-change impacts."

Furthermore, "no matter how aggressively heat-trapping emissions are reduced, some amount of climate change and resulting impacts will continue due to the effects of gases that have already been released. This is true for several reasons. First, some of these gases are very long-lived and the levels of atmospheric heat-trapping gases will remain elevated for hundreds of years or more. Second, the Earth’s vast oceans have absorbed much of the heat added to the climate system due to the increase in heat-trapping gases, and will retain that heat for many decades. In addition, the factors that determine emissions, such as energy-supply systems, cannot be changed overnight. Consequently, there is also a need for adaptation."

Bottom line, this is what you do:
  • Aggressively speak your mind about emissions reduction to your federal and state government representatives, stating that your family's economic viability and physical safety is at stake.

  • Do everything your budget allows to switch to transportation, electronics, household appliances, and other gadgets that are energy efficient, zero-emission producing, and non-fossil-fuel-renewable-energy using. For example, sign up for renewable energy (like wind) through your electrical company today.

  • In water-strapped zones, do your part to conserve water in every way possible and encourage a cap on development that uses more water resources.

  • Plant native trees -- lots of them, everywhere you can. And if you can contribute to legitimate reforestation projects with your money, do it. There is evidence that reforestation has a rapid effect on balancing the climate in your area -- even regionally.

  • Encourage local food growing. As climate change wrecks havoc on growing areas around the world, we need to be able to grow our own food here in the U.S. to feed ourselves without reliance on outside forces.

  • Eat less meat (primarily beef). Livestock contribute a huge amount to greenhouse gases. Convert your family's diet to a vegetarian or Mediterranean diet. <-- These links take you to food pyramids to help you visualize how to eat that way; it's not difficult. You and the planet will be more healthy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

CNET Lists Greenpeace Electronics Rating

CNET.com, which reviews and reports on electronics and its industry, has now started to add the Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics on the specifications info of many electronics details found on CNET's site.

CNET is listing the green info under "Sustainability" along with the Greenpeace score.

Here is a sample -- scroll to the bottom to see the sustainability rating.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Great idea for your older kids! Greenpeace Organizing Term

I love this program idea -- ship off high school and college students to work with Greenpeace for a term. Awesome!
Greenpeace has what they call a "Greenpeace Organizing Term" to train students how to become environmental leaders and activists, how to run a campaign, leadership and organizing skills, and they obtain solid environmental connections and relationships, as well as are educated about environmental issues. These young adults are put right to work and have the time of their life. And college students can get credit for school with this program.

Greenpeace is now accepting applications for its Fall term.

Monday, June 8, 2009

World Oceans Day - June 8 - How are you helping? hurting?

The oceans are in trouble. Two of their biggests issues are overfishing and warming (due to climate change). One of these issues is immediately solvable. Imagine that.

The solvable issue is overfishing. I wrote about this issue in a previous post: Will There Be Seafood For Your Children When They Are Your Age? Solving this issue is so simple yet so complex.
The simple part is just stop fishing so much -- problem solved.

The complex part is ...
  • Cultures across the globe are now used to eating so much fish of whatever kind they want, and most of that fish is overfished -- so it is a cultural barrier that fuels world markets who are demanding more fish than the oceans can supply

  • Fishing subsidies by governments to fishermen fuel overfishing and destrutive fishing methods, like trawling (which is equated to burning centuries old Amazon forests and killing all the animals in that forest too with no intent or knowledge of restoring any of it ... only underwater) -- HERE'S A SHORT, EDUCATIONAL VIDEO ON TRAWLING




  • Lack of regulation by governments to stop overfishing -- and a lack of interest by governments to disappoint any fisherman or their businesses

  • Rampant piracy of fish in underpoliced areas of the globe, causing a complete wipe out of fish in those areas and leaving nothing behind for local coastal residents to subsist on

  • Aquaculture (farmed fish) in the oceans with (nearly always) a complete disregard for how that farming affects the health of wild populations

  • A public, who when even informed about the dire circumstances of fish populations across the globe don't seem to care and eat whatever they want whenever they want, demanding nothing different from their government, their restaurant, nor their grocer

Do your part today:

  • Eat fish only moderately

  • Eat only fish that are the best options from Seafood Watch
  • You can also look for fish products that are certified with the blue Marine Stewardship Council label.

  • Give your grocer written feedback that you want the store to only sell the best options from Seafood Watch and products with the Marine Stewardship Council label

  • Write your federal and state representatives asking that more regulation be imposed on fishermen and imported fish -- http://www.congress.org/ -- encourage them to watch the documentary "The End of the Line"

Your voice counts!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Check out CSA's for Your Produce

My family and I recently joined the South Central Farmers' Cooperative Community Supported Agriculture group -- a mouthful ... SCFCSA for short. I located them through Local Harvest, a website where you can find local farmer's markets, farms, CSA's, and co-ops.

A CSA is an organized effort to connect people in a community with their local farmers -- in a VERY CHEAP way. A box of USDA-certified organic veggies with SCFCSA lasts a family of five 1-2 weeks and costs between $15-40 (you pay what you want in that range).

For us, we order online for a weekly box of organic veggies and pick them up at one of many local farmers' markets in the area. SCFCSA has been expanding their pick up locations and days to the point that it is worth it for me to go every week or every couple of weeks to pick up a box.

What has been interesting about this experience is that you don't choose what goes into that box. So that means you get what is in season. This has forced my family to try new foods and find new recipes to make things like chard, kale, and beets be exciting. I signed up at Epicurious.com to find recipes, and SCFCSA also lists really good recipes on their website too.

With so many of our U.S. children used to eating a very narrow set of foods that have little taste, unless they are loaded with sugar, it has been challenging to get my kids interested in new tastes. So, I usually combine new flavors with familiar ones. And I'll find recipes that mix in greens with other things they like.

Also, another interesting point is that ever since we started with SCFCSA we've been eating more veggies. This is good health news for my entire family.

I encourage you to see if there is a CSA in your area -- check it out.