04 February 2009

You Are Here: A review

Submitted by M. P. Crawford

Tom Kostigen's 2008 provacative read, You Are Here - Exposing the Vital Link Between What We Do and What that Does to Our Earth, will alternately provide his readers with chills of fear and glimmers of hope. One thing is guaranteed: you will change your thinking on at least one aspect of how you are dealing with the climate crisis.
I thought it would be beneficial to share a few simple everyday tips from Kostigen, who prior to researching for this current expose, was the co-author of the New York Times best-seller The Green Book. These ideas (and many more which await your discovery in these 256 pages) will help you help the Earth (aka 'Here'). Believe me, many of these are eye-openers!
Do you want to save on your water bill AND save the planet 35,000gallons of water yearly? Sure you do. Just install inexpensive low-flow toilet(s) and showerhead(s). The water saved is worth three months' use.
Listen to your mother...turn the water off while brushing your teeth! Save 1,400 gallons of the wet stuff per year.
In to experimenting? One night after all flushing is completed (forgo that last soda and save a can as well!) add a few drops of food coloring to the toilet tank. Do not flush. If the bowl has changed color in the morning, you have a toilet leak. Fixing the leak will save a whopping 500 gallons daily!
This one may surprise you (and save your hands as well). Use that dishwasher. Run full loads. Believe it or not, dishwashers use less water than the old-fashioned manual way. If you do four full loads a week, you are saving 2,300 gallons a week.
Switching from those bubble baths (I'm guilty here) to daily ten minute showers can save 12,000 gallons yearly. And here's a really simple one: cutting out just ONE toilet flush daily will save 5,000 gallons each year.
Amazing, isn't it? Taking the car to the car wash instead of doing it yourself nets a water savings of 100 gallons.
These are your choices/my choices. The eye in the sky isn't hovering over our homes to account for that one less flush or monitor dishwasher usage. We posses the free will to make that conscious decision to alter our rote behaviors, just a single habit change will effect a positive outcome on our neighbors in India, China, Minnesota or the Amazon. What an empowering feeling this can be to know the effect for the good we create while dancing within OUR planet's web of life.

Check out the book's website here.

04 January 2009

City life driving you nuts? Yeah, it does that.

So, we've all heard about the toll urban development takes on forests and the critters dwelling therein, but have we stopped to think about the concrete horizon's ramifications for the human psyche?
The Boston Globe recently reported on the mind-numbing effects of surrounding ourselves with blaring horns, neon signs, cross walks, distracted pedestrians, and the overall bleak gray vista of the average city. Check it out here, and you'll be ready to book your next nature walk or weekend in the hills.

02 January 2009

Ice caps? So what?

Have you ever wondered what people are talking about when they refer to the polar ice caps? Are you unsure of the reason for all the fuss over the melting of these frigid-sounding locales? International Polar Year is a study focused on the nuances of the Arctic and Antarctic regions from March 2007 to March 2009. IPY will allow scientists from 60 countries to research physical, biological, and social aspects tied to the poles.
Check out the website (http://www.ipy.org/) for breath-taking photographs, information on the different studies, and ways to get involved. You can even take an interactive spin around the poles (and track cold-dwelling creatures) using IPY's Google Earth presentation.

21 December 2008

Happy holidays from Shift the Tide

In this season of giving it may seem trite to reiterate the simple fact that we are all connected. Many of us use the holiday season to express this connection through an exchange of gifts and sharing in each other’s presence, but this is also a good time to contemplate the often overlooked facet of human interconnectedness: that our every action has an impact on the people whose lives we share and the world in which we live, and in ways that far surpass cookies, carols, and presents.
Shift the Tide is a project devoted to reminding us to be mindful of this connection in our daily lives. We must remember that even the smallest of daily strides can help to alleviate the burden we lay on our crowded planet. We can each make a difference as one person, and we can absolutely make a difference as many acting as one. The challenge ahead of us is daunting but the little changes we make can ensure that we give one another the best gift of all, the promise of a healthy future.
Happy holidays from Shift the Tide.

17 December 2008

Meat Consumption and Climate Change

Below is a wonderful article from the New York Times about the direct link between meat consumption and the climate crisis. Everyone should read this article when they get a chance. Reducing meat consumption in your diet reduces more greenhouse gases than changing your car to a Toyota Prius!


05 November 2008

Sometimes you just have to eat a banana

Submitted by Meredith Epstein

Ah, the banana: that mellow yellow crescent of tropical sweetness. Pan-fried in a bath of butter and brown sugar. Serving as a vessel for mounds of frozen cream, lattices of chocolaty syrup, and a sprinkling of nuts and cherries. Simmered in a deep pot of black beans with a hint of ginger and cocoa. Overripe, mashed into a cellulosic goo, baked with allspice into a warm loaf. Or simply smothered in peanut butter. You really can’t go wrong.

Oh, the banana: the most environmentally destructive human rights infringement in a peel. You would be hard-pressed to find a productive banana tree pushing soil anywhere from Maine to California, yet it is a regular on the American grocery list. It is the most widely cultivated fruit crop in the world, grown in well over one hundred countries and ringing up four billion dollars annually in export trade. Seventy-two and a half million metric tons of the sunny fruits were produced worldwide in 2005, with India, Brazil, China, Ecuador, and the Philippines rounding out the top five growers. In the United States bananas are a luxury commodity that we grab for a breakfast on-the-go. For millions of people in developing nations who depend on them for daily calorie intake and wage, they are a matter of life or death.

The industrial plantations where most bananas are grown in Latin America, South America, Africa, and Asia are a nightmare. Critical spans of forest are clear-cut to make way for monolithic monocultures of hybrid crops that are doused with petrochemical biocides and fertilizers. Planes sweep over the rows of trees, hawk-like, dusting both plants and workers with Organochlorines. Chemical exposure has been linked to higher cancer rates among banana workers than the general population. Lack of genetic diversity in the fields makes the crop extremely susceptible to diseases and bacteria that can wipe out entire regions’ yields. This threatens the livelihoods of both workers and regional consumers.

The banana industry, like most others, is dominated by a handful of multinational corporations—Dole and Chiquita own over half of all banana cultivation in the world. Their plantations are ridden with child labor, disregard for pesticide regulations, and wages below half the legal minimum. Most employment with these companies is through contractors, so workers have no job security, do not receive benefits, cannot form unions, and are often relocated with no say in the matter. In effect, these people become migrant workers on their own land.

In March 2007, the United States Justice Department fined Chiquita Brands International $25 million for funding terrorist organizations in Latin and South America—specifically Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), among other rebel groups in the volatile nation’s countryside. This right-wing paramilitary group is responsible for most of the country’s brutal civilian slaughters and cocaine exports. Chiquita paid AUC millions of dollars in cash over an eight-year span in exchange for armed patrol of their banana plantations. That same month on her nationally syndicated public radio show Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman discussed a 1998 exposé in the Cincinnati Enquirer that revealed how “…Chiquita exposed entire communities to dangerous U.S.-banned pesticides, forced the eviction of an entire Honduran village at gunpoint and its subsequent bulldozing, suppressed unions, unwittingly allowed the use of Chiquita transport ships to move cocaine internationally, and paid a fortune to U.S. politicians to influence trade policy.”

Not such an everyday fruit, now is it?

Equipped with these banana facts, am I morally obligated to give up one of my favorite fruits? I’d say that I eat roughly one banana per week, which means 52 bananas per year. I will probably have consumed well over one thousand by the time I turn 25! How do I deal with the realization that that may as well be considered a crime?

Over the last five years I have been working to embrace the responsibility of conscientious consumption. Some of the changes I have been compelled to make have been easily incorporated into my daily life. Others, not so much. Sometimes I cheat. But ultimately, no matter what I am “giving up,” it seldom brings a sense of deprivation when I get into the swing of it. On the contrary, the adjustment brings greater feelings of fulfillment in the sense that I am sparing someone or something, somewhere, some suffering.

Nowadays it seems as if these are straightforward solutions that are becoming common knowledge and practice. The ultimate purpose of such customs is to be aware of the complexity of supply chains and to examine the social, economic, moral and environmental consequences of goods all the way from production to consumption to disposal. The difficulty in gaining awareness lies in the sheer extent of that complexity over the entire lifecycle of a product, be it an apple, a steak, or a sedan. Industries devote billions of dollars every year to covering up the pathway of suffering that begins with the cotton seed in the ground and ends not with the shirt on your back but in the landfill where that shirt ends up once you’ve worn it out. Even the “simplest” of goods—a banana—is not simple at all.

Some bananas are obviously better than others. Goodman concludes her article by saying, “That next organic, fair-trade banana you buy just might save a life.” But even if I make sure that the bunch is organic and fair trade certified, it is still shipped thousands of miles, emitting tons of carbon dioxide. The only justification I can find for purchasing the damn things is this: I love them. I love their slick, sticky meatiness. I love them in pancakes, over cereal, in trail mix, as pudding, covered in chocolate, or just as is.

I have become so hyper-conscientious and downright fearful about the smallest shred of consumption that every now and then I wonder if some therapy wouldn’t do me some good. I’m getting burned out and I’m only 21 years old. I eat, sleep, and drink sustainability—except I do not have time to eat or sleep because of it. My life is organic farming and dumpster diving and cooperative housing; committee meetings and conference calls and trainings; lobbying and education and direct action. When I told a seasoned anti-nuclear activist that I was too burned out to host an event for him, he responded, “Of course you’re burned out! We’re all burned out! And that’s not going to change because the Earth is burned out! So get used to it.”
There are many vital components to a successful sustainability movement, but if you ask me, the key point is this: it must be a sustainable sustainability movement. Surely no one can stay strong after ten, twenty, thirty years of burnout! How do we sustain ourselves? There are species to save and solar panels to install; organic vegetables to harvest and policies to pass through Congress! There are forests to protect and mountains of trash to pick up; children to teach and rights to defend! How am I going to keep up?

Environmentalism encompasses every aspect of existence. I am learning to devote my energy to one main struggle—which is?-- because each of our struggles is part of the greater whole.
The world has evolved into such a tangle of globe-spanning systems that it seems impossible to do absolutely everything right. The entire way our society is structured is wrong but we have to live in it the way it is. We can’t fix it all this instant, but we can acknowledge our roles in the process and act. Joni Mitchell said it right – we are stardust, billion year old carbon, we are golden, caught in the devil’s bargain, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden. So gather your friends. Pick your fights. Pack your bags. Don’t forget the snacks. Sometimes, if you want a banana, you just have to eat one.

[This article originally appeared in the October-November 2008 issue of River Gazette, published by St. Mary's College of Maryland. www.smcm.edu/rivergazette]

16 September 2008

Little-known Plastic Bag Facts

Submitted by M.P. Crawford

While perusing the Fall 2008 issue of "Chesupioc", the newsletter of ther Chespeake Audobon Society, I happened upon these share-worthy facts researched by Kathy Woods, a Wildlife Rehabilitator, regarding plastic bags and the impact upon OUR environment. Are you ready?

Four seemingly unlikely allies, Rwanda, China, Bangladesh and Ireland, have all banned free plastic bags at the grocery store. Plastic bags are manufactured from polyethylene- a thermoplastic derived from oil. Wishing to decrease their foreign oil dependency (what a great idea!), China expects to SAVE 37 million barrels of crude oil by adhering to the bag ban. Ireland now taxes the bags and therefore has reduced usage by 90%.

As we know, these bags find their way into every imaginable airspace, water space and landscape on OUR Earth. Two-hundred species of sea life have been victimized by either consuming, choking on, or becoming entangled in plastic bags carelessly discarded. Don't think that recycling gets rid of the problem: less than one percent of plastic bags are recycled, and the cost is enormous.

So, if you think that switching from paper or plastic and carrying cloth bags (preferably of the 100% organic derivative) isn't helping much, then consider this: according to a report from National Geographic, worldwide dependence on plastic bags is set at 500 billion to 1 trillion. In one lifetime, we could save over 25,000 bags! Now that's a fact to get choked up about.

05 September 2008

Living like Locals

Marhaba from the Middle East! I have recently moved to a region where food choices are quite limited, and environmental constraints on agricultural productions are obvious. Here, I don't have to worry that I might be buying something out of season--the only produce really available is local. But for those of you in the States, there are important decisions to be made regarding what you purchase from supermarkets and stands. Food travels thousands of miles to arrive in your area grocery store, and has used tons of energy in the packaging and transportation process. Part of the quest for sustainable living involves choosing to buy and cook things that have the least impact on the environment. This adventure can be an enjoyable and educational process, as one begins to learn what fruits and vegetables are naturally available nearby and at what times. Sure, we all know that pumpkins arrive in the fall--but these days, canned pumpkin is in the store year round, and heavy cans take a toll in production and transport. How about broccoli or tomatoes? Or oranges and peppers? I'm not saying that you must give up all food that can't be grown next door at a certain time, but you can make a significant difference in consciously buying your groceries with the Earth in mind! Besides cutting fossil fuel consumption, buying from local cooperatives and farmers builds great relationships and helps the economy. The trend towards local and organic food is definitely on the rise, and there are lots of great resources to introduce people to this concept. So don't just trust me--check it out!

For a more in depth discussion of the facts of how food affects the environment see The Sustainable Table

If you doubt that tasty, nutritious meals could be created from what is in season, check out my favorite cookbook "Simply in Season."

Lastly, Barbara Kingsolver has written a hilarious memoir of her adventure in living locally in the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It is definitely worth a read and has some helpful resources and recipes inside!

Have fun living locally!

28 August 2008

122 by 2100

As we enjoy the cooler, crisper days that signal the approach of autumn here in the Mid-Atlantic we can't let our fight against climate change die down. While the phrase "global warming" loses some of its perceived gravity in the cooler days of the year, don't forget that our actions have consequences year round and the effort to keep our environment safe for all creatures inhabiting it continues. In fact, a recent Reuters article serves to shock us out of our end of summer complacence: Dutch scientists released information that the projected course of climate change has the world on its way to dangerously high temperatures by 2100. Peak temperatures and summer heat waves will become more severe, jumping even higher than the average temperature increases caused by climate change. This means that regions in India, the Middle East, Australia, and the equatorial parts of Africa and South America will see temperatures nearing 122 degrees Fahrenheit, 50 degrees Celsius, by 2100. While temperatures in the US and Mediterranean will experience slightly smaller peak increases, those heat waves will be far from comfortable, to say the least.
To view the full article, click here.
To convince more of your friends and family members to hop on the environmentally friendly bandwagon, click here.

22 August 2008

Disturbing News

A crack seven miles long and a half-mile wide has emerged at the top of Greenland, scientists from NASA and Ohio State University announced yesterday. Floating as far north as possible, this region of Greenland was previously thought to be resistant to the effects of global warming- yesterday's announcement is clear evidence to the contrary and disintegration of the glacier is now expected to occur this year.
Not yet convinced that global warming is a real threat? Take an end-of-summer vacation to Nuuk and ask the locals.

Source: http://www.comcast.net/articles/news-science/20080821/SCI.Greenland.Glaciers/