Louis Hayner, Chief Sales Officer for Alteva, responded to our favorite question for the folks we interview. Following is Hayner’s response.
BPGL: What are the five most important things we can do to protect the planet?
- Implement Hosted Technologies.
When a customer chooses a hosted vs. premise-based phone solution for its communications, they contribute to an overall reduction in resources and costs of power and cooling by up to 84 percent. By reducing energy consumption, they reduce the carbon dioxide gas emissions produced as a byproduct of generating electricity.
We estimate that our solutions reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 900,000 pounds per year. This is equivalent to the annual emissions generated in 64 average homes! Additional contributing factors to such hosted-service savings include ability to support home teleworking, video conferencing and remote meetings, less maintenance and site support visits, lower power consumption, money saved on gas, reduced traffic congestion and CO2 emissions pollution.
- Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
Statistics show that 90% of the world’s information is still on paper. You don’t necessarily have to implement an electronic filing system, but reducing your carbon footprint can be as simple as reducing your paper usage. Pay your bills online. Cancel any unnecessary magazine subscriptions and junk mail. Make phone calls or send emails in place of handwritten letters when possible. Don’t print out documents unless it’s necessary. By keeping electronic copies or files, you are also saving on your office real estate from having to load up on filing cabinets and/or lease additional off-site storage space.
- Out with the Old
Buy rechargeable batteries. A single rechargeable battery can replace between 50 and 300 throwaway batteries. Regular batteries are not biodegradable and are full of toxic materials. When they are not probably disposed of, old batteries can leak toxic materials. Also, make sure to donate any old items that you are not using anymore to the appropriate venues. This can include car batteries, old computers, cell phones, ink cartridges and paint cans.
Many towns recycle, but many offices do not. Keep buckets or bins around the office and urge employees to recycle their paper, bottles, and cans. If there is a shared kitchen space in the office, make sure to buy products in bulk – there’s less packaging and you’ll save money.
- Conserve Your H20
While bottled water comes in recyclable plastics, why not install a water filter in your kitchen faucet or purchase a pitcher filter like a Brita? You can also save water by taking shorter showers and installing a low-flow shower head and toilet. Also, don’t let the water run while you are brushing your teeth or washing your face. It’s hard to break some of these habits, but it beats breaking the bank!
Chief Sales Officer
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
April 5, 2010 by Julia Wasson
Filed under 2010, Agriculture, Blog, Composting, Conservation, Desertification, Drought, DVDs, Environment, Events, Front Page, Movie Reviews, Slideshow, Soil, Sustainability
Since the beginning of time, of all the planets in all the galaxies in the known universe, only one has a living, breathing skin called dirt. — Dirt! The Movie
We wash it off our hands, our clothes, our cars, our bodies. We walk on it, drive on it, dig in it, build on it. We bury our loved ones in it. And in it we grow the plants that feed us. But how much do we really know about the dirt beneath our feet?
Unless you are a farmer or an active gardener, you may never have given much thought to our planet’s skin. Although I love to garden and have, at times, raised a good share of my family’s produce, it turns out there’s an awful lot I don’t know about dirt. Maybe that’s true for you, too.
Recently, I received an advance copy of Dirt! The Movie, a documentary that opened my mind to the wonders of soil. I’ve watched a lot of great videos in the past year: Food Inc., A River of Waste, Blue Gold: World Water Wars, Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai and more. Each one has been fascinating — sometimes disturbing. And each has huge value in educating regular folk like me about both the potential and the problems facing our planet.
But Dirt!, directed and produced by Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow, stands out for me, probably because the content is so surprising and enlightening. Let’s face it, few of us talk very deeply about dirt in our daily conversations. We may complain about the health of the local rivers and waterways. We may talk about the horrible chemicals added to processed foods, the pesticides and herbicides that coat our foods. But it’s not often that we discuss worms and microbes and the exchange of nutrients in the soil. (Well, maybe you do.)
When I say the film was “surprising,” I may be admitting my ignorance. Did you know that dirt’s alive? I didn’t. I never really thought of dirt as much more than a medium in which to grow things. Yet there are millions of living, working microbes in a single handful of dirt. These microbes are an essential part of life on Planet Earth. Without them, our soil would not support the bigger varieties of life – the plants and animals, including us humans. Living dirt. What a concept!
When I write a review of a film or book, I like to include quotes that illustrate the topic and entice people to view or read the subject of my post. But I encountered a problem while watching Dirt! — I found myself wanting to quote nearly every line in the film.
There are probably a couple dozen experts interviewed in Dirt!, covering a wide variety of disciplines and viewpoints. Each contributes valuable insights to the discussion. We hear from diverse sources around the globe, such as the following:
- Vandana Shiva, physicist, farmer, and activist in India
- Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Laureate and founder of Kenya’s Greenbelt Movement
- Gary Vaynerchuk, wine expert and host of Wine Library TV
- Janine Benyus, biologist and writer, the Biomimicry Project
- Peter Girguis, assistant professor of biology, Harvard University
- Miguel Altieri, entomologist at UC Berkeley
- Sebastiao and Lélia Salgado, photographers and co-founders of Instituto Terra
- James Jiler, director of the Greenhouse Project at Riker’s Island prison facility
- Andy Lipkis, founder and president of Tree People
We also hear from less public figures, like the young couple who use dirt mixed with horse manure as a building material in California; prisoners and ex-prisoners regaining their dignity and their lives through the Riker’s Island Greenhouse Project or by participating in the Green Team after-release program founded on the same principles. We learn how digging one’s hands in dirt to nurture a living plant can redeem a human life.
Here’s a sampling of the comments I found so intriguing:
We think that diamonds are very important, gold is very important — all these minerals are very important. We call them “precious” minerals, but they are all forms of the soil. But that part of this mineral that is on top, like it is the skin of the earth, that is the most precious…. — Wangari Maathai
Our wealth is imaginary. It comes from soil. — Janine Benyus
If we don’t take care of the soil, which is just the first five centimeters of life that is on the earth, our future is totally condemned. — Miguel Altieri
We take the soil for granted because it’s there, it’s everywhere, except when all of it is taken by the wind or by the running water. And then you are left with bare rock, and you realize you can’t do much with bare rock. — Wangari Maathai
The process that turns garbage into a garden is central to our survival. We depend on dirt to purify and heal the systems that sustain us. — Peter Girguis
But the film isn’t just about inspiring a new respect for dirt. It talks frankly about the practices of business that are causing horrendous environmental harm. For example, professor David Orr, Oberlin College, says of dirt, “This is a fabric of life being torn apart that can never be put back together again….
The practice of coal mining that’s called mountain top removal — it’s strip mining with a vengeance with equipment the scale of which is difficult to conceive. Mountains are literally cut off and leveled, and they’re being destroyed in the name of cheap of electricity. It isn’t cheap at all. It’s unbelievably expensive. The attitude toward nature that says, “Nature is only resources to be used, and not for the benefit of everyone but for the benefit of a very, very small number of people at a very, very thin slice of time in this human journey.
So the coal companies can come in and blast and remove one layer of what they call “overburden.” The overburden is a boulder field, which will have no water table. That will support no vegetation. And the mountaintops, with all the things that are in mountains, the heavy metals, cadmium and selenium, all of that now is free to get out into the watershed. — David Orr
Our cities, too, disrespect the land beneath us. In file footage from 1990, Andy Lipkis, founder of Tree People, says,
“We took the rivers and encased them in concrete. We paved literally two-thirds of Los Angeles so that now, when it does rain, instead of being absorbed by the soil, the water runs off. And it’s billions and billions of gallons.
The City of Los Angeles itself spends close to a billion dollars a year to bring in water from as far away as Wyoming and Utah…. They don’t need to. We have half the water falling here now, but because we’ve sealed the dirt and sent the water away, 20% of our electricity is to bring water here. So when you turn on the tap, it’s a climate change event.”
Monoculture Threatens the Soil
The narrator, Jamie Lee Curtis, tells us in a voice over, “Throughout history, we’ve seen civilizations rise and fall based on how they treated dirt.” This is illustrated in the documentary with video from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl of the 1930s, resulting from monoculture farming practices that killed the soil and left it to erode in the wind.
Vandana Shiva warns, “Monocultures don’t produce more, they produce less. Monocultures produce nothing for the soil. The idea that we are increasing soil fertility and productivity through industrial monocultures is one of the biggest lies.… What this system produces is food empty of nutrients but loaded with toxics. We weren’t designed to eat that kind of diet.”
Describing another problem associated with monoculture farming, Janine Benyus says, “We have this one species planted for miles, and it’s a all-you-can–eat restaurant for pests. So once a pest learns to unlock the key and get into one kind of plant, and you’ve got that plant planted for miles around, it can open every single plant. … [T]hat’s how pest epidemics get going, so then we add pesticides.”
Of course, the heavy application of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers brings with it problems, too, from compromising the health of the workers who apply it and the residents who live nearby to serious water pollution.
Maathai tells us, “When we pump those nitrogen fertilizers into the soil, we’re not just killing the life of the soil. This is mobile nitrogen.”
Berkeley’s Altieri adds, “Only about 20% [of the nitrogen] is taken up by the plant. Some of it goes into water tables and the rest goes into rivers.” And, as many of us are aware, in the central part of the United States this leads to the massive dead zone that continues to expand in the Gulf of Mexico. You might be surprised, as I was, to learn that this mobile nitrogen doesn’t just pollute the water. Curtis goes on to say, “Mobile nitrogen combines with oxygen to make nitrous oxide that floats up to the atmosphere” as a greenhouse gas.
Here’s another tidbit I found scary and frustrating. “Each year 100 million trees are turned into 20 billion mail order catalogs.” How many of those catalogs are actually used by the recipients? Think about your own home. Do you toss catalogs as soon as you get them? Are they worth the expense to the company publishing and mailing them? And more important, are they worth the cost to the environment in killed trees that could be serving as oxygen producers and carbon sinks? Not to me, at least.
Degradation and Reclamation
There’s so much information packed into this film that I can only touch on a small part of it. If you watch this film, you’ll learn about the catastrophic effects of genetically modified organisms on small-scale, international agriculture. You’ll discover why the narrator says, “In India over the last decade an estimated 200,000 farmers have killed themselves, many by drinking the pesticide they can no longer afford.”
You’ll clearly see what photographer Sebastiao Salgado means when he says, “You start to see that there is a very strong correlation between human degradation and environmental degradation.”
But you’ll also rejoice that soil can be reclaimed, forests can be replanted, and lives can be rebuilt through a healthy relationship with dirt.
You’ll be amazed by microbial fuel cells, which can light a room using the living energy of the microbes in soil.
You’ll learn about people who have turned desert land into arable soil. You may well find yourself inspired to plant something, even if only a potted plant on your desk or a small backyard garden.
And at the end of the film, don’t be surprised if you find yourself agreeing with Wangari Maathai, when she says, “Even though what you are doing may be very small, may be very insignificant as far as you’re concerned, collectively, if so many of us … are doing the same thing, we would accomplish a lot.”
A Film Worth Sharing
Watching Dirt! The Movie is an experience worth sharing. Packed with information that is alternately troubling and inspiring — but mostly inspiring — it’s a totally accessible film about a fascinating subject. I guarantee you’ll come away from this film with a new respect for the soil that keeps us all alive on this planet.
Dirt! The Movie, from Common Ground Media, will be released by docuramafilms on April 6, 2010. Dirt! has been honored as an Official Selection of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, is the Winner in the Green Documentary category at the Maui Film Festival, the Winner of Best Film for Our Future at the Mendocino Film Festival, and Winner of Best Documentary at Visions Voices Environmental Film Festival.
You can watch the broadcast premiere on PBS’ Independent Lens on April 20th at 10 p.m. nationwide. (Check your local listings to verify the time.) Better yet, purchase your own copy of the film on the Dirt! The Movie website. It’s a film you’ll likely want to watch more than once — and, chances are, you’ll learn something new each time.
DISCLOSURE: Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of Dirt! The Movie in order to review it for this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided.
Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with Amazon.com. If you purchase this film or any other products through Amazon by clicking on our affiliate link, Blue Planet Green Living will receive a small financial compensation from Amazon, which we use to sustain this website.
Blue Planet Green Living’s review policy is to only review those films we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a film, we do not review it. We are not influenced by complimentary copies and provide our honest opinions. For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
“A hundred years ago there were one and a half billion people on earth; now over six billion people crowd our fragile planet. But even so there are still places barely touched by humanity,” says narrator David Attenborough in the opening scene of the 11-part mini-series, Planet Earth. “This series will take you to the last wildernesses and show you the planet and its wildlife as you have never seen them before.”
Four years before audiences around the world saw the wonderment of Planet Earth on television, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) set out to make the most ambitious documentary ever witnessed. Planet Earth captures the full range of experiences in observing wildlife in their natural setting, and arouses emotions in the viewer typically associated with major Hollywood films.
Baby chicks leap courageously out of a nest only to bounce off the ground unscathed, evoking both awe and feelings of triumph. Orca hunt a baby whale for fun, eliciting fear, anger, and sorrow. Animals attempt to court a mate, calling forth a variety of personal memories with each suitor’s success or failure. A group of chimpanzees kills a member of a rival group, stirring both horror and empathy.
Planet Earth shows audiences that the world around us is much more than a simple concrete jungle that consists of busywork from nine to five. The creators of this documentary clearly demonstrate just how diverse and intriguing our blue planet truly is.
From the Remarkable to the Mundane
In the various episodes throughout the documentary, the audience witnesses many wonders that quite possibly have never been filmed before: the absurdly strange, yet beautiful, birds of paradise; the amur leopard – the rarest cat in the world; and bactrian camels eating snow in the Gobi desert. Attenborough’s enthusiasm for the subject matter is evident throughout the series. The inflections of excitement in his voice and the urgency with which he tells some of the stories let the audience know that these events on screen are truly spectacular.
Yet Planet Earth does not focus solely on animals; one episode is devoted almost entirely to grass! While this may initially sound unremarkable, the filmmakers and the excellent narration make the subject fascinating by explaining just how grass has shaped our world and benefited life on the planet. This is just one of the many examples where Planet Earth drives home an important message that many of us may never have considered: Grass was the only food source with an ample enough supply to feed the great herds of buffalo that once roamed the planet.
Planet Earth is a highly relevant and often poignant series that gives its audience access to scenes most viewers would never be able to witness any other way. After an entire field has burnt down, time-lapse photography shows the greenery sprouting out of ashes; if grass is destroyed, it will always restore itself. It even showcases the significance of the most commonplace creatures on the planet.
Pole to Pole
The first episode of the series, “Pole to Pole,” is an overview of the upcoming episodes, yet stands on its own by delivering a sensory overload of gorgeous animals and blooming plant life. As the series progresses, the audience explores the highest mountain peaks, the deepest oceans, and the tallest waterfall — Angel Falls, in the comfort of home. The series’ filmmakers and photographers spanned the globe, and with special access to normally protected animal reserves and sanctuaries, the audience learns the importance and hardships of survival.
Watching Planet Earth is a stirring experience. Early in the first episode, the filmmakers take the audience into a secluded polar bear sanctuary to show a mother and two cubs emerging after months of hibernation. The sight is remarkable as the mother tumbles down the slopes, presumably cleaning her fur, as well as stretching her reawakened body. Her cubs soon follow, curiously poking their small heads out from the snow. Immediately, I fell in love with this precious family of bears.
But Planet Earth does not always feature such feel-good moments. I was left mortified as I watched a Great White shark leap out of the water in slow motion to catch a seal in its jaws. In this scene, every droplet of water is miraculously captured, and the experience is nearly as harrowing as if I were there to witness it.
While the cuteness of the polar bear cubs and the aggression of the shark took me to extreme opposites on the emotional spectrum, the vast majority of what I felt while watching Planet Earth was awe.
Earth is represented as a treasure of experiences and sights, from the most common to the most bizarre plants, animals, and ecosystems. I was moved by the series, seeing even the ubiquitous field mice no longer as mundane, but miraculous in their forms and functions.
This mini-series powerfully reinforced to me that our planet does not exist in isolated pieces; everything is interconnected. After watching this documentary I not only felt a greater understanding of my world, but I had a much more profound appreciation for it and my place within the order of things.
Filming Planet Earth
The actual footage of Planet Earth is something to behold. From serene time-lapse forests coming into bloom, to the aerial perspective of wolves chasing young caribou across plains, the footage can be dreamy or visceral. In either case, it is remarkable.
The development team created a stable camera-mounting system that allows for long-range lenses to attach safely to the exterior of helicopters. This allowed the filmmakers to take footage without disturbing the animals. They captured other footage by hand, and collected still more using remote cameras that detect even the most miniscule motions.
These various techniques give viewers insight into natural cycles and animal activities, some of which had never been captured on film before.
A Love Letter to the Planet
Sadly, many segments within the episodes are prefaced with warnings informing the audience that the species on screen are on the verge of extinction because of human interference. The visual information, coupled with the informative narration, elicit an emotional reaction.
Sometimes viewers feel reverence for the sheer majesty of the natural beauty, sometimes awe at the ferocity with which animals struggle for life, and sometimes wonderment at the diversity present on our own planet. Other times the audience can feel nothing but fear as a predator descends upon its prey.
As the planet changes, so do its species and inhabitants. Planet Earth reminds its viewers that the world has so much to offer beyond human life. Above all else, the documentary strives to paint a portrait of a lush and living planet, a planet we call home.
We humans have brought much harm and degradation to the natural environments and species of the world, but instead of focusing entirely on the negative, Planet Earth serves as a reminder of what is left and why it is worth preserving.
Never have I been so moved or compelled into action by a single piece of film as I have with Planet Earth. This documentary is more than just that, it is a love letter from its makers to the world we live in, and a message to its inhabitants that there is no end to the wonders one may encounter on this planet.
Since watching Planet Earth, I find myself buying more products that are produced naturally and that give back financially to organizations that help preserve wildlife; I’ll even pick litter up off the street. But most importantly, I am constantly educating myself on other ways that I can give back to the planet, whether it’s in the form of the foods I eat to the products I use, in order reduce my carbon footprint one step at a time.
E. coli on lettuce. Salmonella on peanuts. Corn sweetener laden with mercury. Growth hormones and antibiotics in dairy cows. Arsenic in chickens. Sub-therapeutic antibiotics in swine. … Consumers have plenty of reasons to be concerned about the safety of our food supply.
Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) asked Angie Tagtow, a registered dietitian, who has spent many years working in the public health sector, to talk with us at about the role of public policy in assuring safe, nutritious food.
After working at the Iowa Department of Public Health for 10 years, Tagtow opened a consulting firm to focus on her passion: the connection between the environment, food systems, and public health. She also is a Food and Society Policy Fellow with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy out of Minneapolis. As we began our conversation, she explained to us what she does as a Fellow. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
TAGTOW: After leaving public health, I recognized that policy is influential with all elements of our food system. So I am connecting the dots between soil, food, and health. Food, of course, is directly related to environmental issues — soil, water, biodiversity and those types of things. I do a lot of public speaking. I work quite a bit with universities, with undergraduate and graduate classes in delivering the message that there is a very important connection between the health of our environment, the health of our food system, as well as overall public health.
Being a Food and Society Policy Fellow is almost an independent study in a way, in the fact that we are located all over the country, though we do collaborate on a few projects. The most recent project that I have been involved with is to launch a National Gardening Initiative in partnership with the USDA. Five of us have been working together on doing that: Rose Hayden Smith out of University of California Davis Extension. We have Roger Doiron, who is the director for Kitchen Gardeners International out of Maine. We have Fred Bohnson, who has established church-based community gardens in North Carolina. Lisa Kivirist, who is an innkeeper, farmer and author in Wisconsin, and myself. We’re now working together as a group, bringing our different networks and skill sets to the table to help the USDA launch a national school-community-workplace-home gardening initiative next year.
BPGL: What would that look like?
TAGTOW: It’s really capitalizing on what USDA has already done with the People’s Garden Initiative, as well as what the First Lady, Michelle Obama, has done at the White House. We had the privilege of visiting the White House garden three weeks ago with the assistant executive chef, Sam Kass. And they are actually launching their own White House Food Initiative. It’s taking this new momentum in people growing their own food to a greater level from a campaign perspective, very similar to the Victory Garden initiative in the 1940s. But of course, using the latest in technology and social media to do that.
BPGL: Will you reach out to people through social media to encourage them to participate in this effort?
TAGTOW: Absolutely. And we will follow the lead of USDA, and offering our services to them to help them with a national campaign.
Funding with Transparency
BPGL: Who supports the Fellows program?
TAGTOW: The Fellows program is administered by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Support comes from a couple of different foundations. The bulk of the funding comes from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, from their food systems and health initiative that they started many years ago. The Woodcock Foundation out of New York City is providing funding for a couple of the fellows. And we did have, at one time, funding from the Fair Food Foundation, Oran Hesterman’s group out of Michigan; however, that foundation went under last year because of the Madoff scandal.
We have diverse funding for the fellows, and hopefully the funding will continue in future years.
BPGL: So often, research is underwritten by companies with a vested interest in the results — whether it’s about food or pharmaceuticals or coal. Is the Kellogg Foundation that supports the Food Policy Fellows independent of Kellogg cereals?
TAGTOW: Although it is the same company, the foundation is not influenced by the food industry part of Kellogg. The Fellows report to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, so there is really no connection between the WK Kellogg Foundation per se and the work of the Fellows.
And we wholeheartedly believe in transparency in this process. There is no influence by the Foundation over our work.
An Ecological Approach to Food and Health
BPGL: Tell us about your work as a Food and Society Policy Fellow.
TAGTOW: A lot of the work that I’ve done over the last five to seven years looks at food system perspectives as it relates to nutrition and health. After coming out of the Iowa Department of Public Health, I recognized that policy plays a huge role in people accessing food. But I’ve been able to look a bit broader at the food system and at how policy dictates everything — how food is grown, how it’s processed, packaged, transported, exported, imported and ultimately available for consumption.
BPGL: Are you talking strictly about vegetable matter, or are you also talking about meat?
TAGTOW: I’m talking about everything. Investigating how decisions we make in our current food system influence the quality, quantity, and biodiversity of the food and overall health indications for eaters has steered me toward connecting these dots. I deliver these messages not only to dietitians but to public health practitioners, the medical community, and students in all of those programs. I’ve been able to branch out and deliver more of an ecological approach to food and health to other health professionals. My one-minute elevator speech is, “The science proves that healthy soil grows healthy food. The science also proves that healthy food nourishes healthy people — and healthy people live in healthy communities.”
I’ve had the opportunity over the past few years to work quite a bit with the American Dietetic Association in advancing the concept of sustainable food systems as a core component of dietetic practice. And I’ve done a lot of work in that area. The American Public Health Association is advancing these concepts as well.
In addition, I have had the opportunity to work with farm organizations in Iowa and learn how I can contribute to meeting the needs of their members in creating a healthy food system.
BPGL: When you work with dietitians or the American Public Health Association, what can they do? What influence do they have over agricultural practices?
TAGTOW: Very good examples are the different position statements that come from the American Public Health Association [APHA], the American Medical Association [AMA], the American Dietetic Association [ADA] on the link between sustainable food systems and how it influences the nutrition and health of the population.
Each of these organizations have policy statements now that have put the tools in the back pockets of health professionals to create change in agricultural practices and the larger food system. AMA and APHA have statements about the use of growth hormones in cattle and dairy cows. They have position statements on the use of antibiotics in livestock. It’s things like that that put health professionals in a position of being able to influence policy using evidence-based information.
BPGL: Are you seeing changes in agriculture based on the policy positions of the physicians and the dietitians?
TAGTOW: Absolutely. It’s been slow, mind you, but the first step that needs to be taken is to increase awareness among those professions. I can speak to that. I was never formally trained in the role of policy and how policy influences nutrition and health. And I was never formally trained in the link between agricultural practices and its influence on nutrients and health. I think that’s a huge disservice within the formal training of health professionals and not having this broader food system framework as a context of practice.
A Recommendation to All Eaters
BPGL: In a nutshell, summarize what you feel about sustainable agriculture and health. What should we be changing about what we’re doing? On Blue Planet Green Living we talk a lot about CAFOs and the detrimental effects of the excess manure and arsenic in the chicken feed, and so on. What might you say to speak to that?
TAGTOW: I think a recommendation to all eaters, regardless of where they’re coming from, if they’re a health professional or not, is that they need to instill some critical thinking when it comes to our food system. Ask questions. Not only, Where is the food coming from? but also, How is it grown? How is it treated? What chemicals are being used? What sub-therapeutic pharmaceuticals are being used?
We need to first establish those critical thinking skills not only among the health professionals but among all eaters. That’s my first recommendation.
What I see dietitians do, especially, is to create an environment in which they can comfortably ask these questions. When we talk about issues of transparency, this is where we definitely have some issues with our professional associations and their connections to the food industry, agribusiness, and pharmaceutical companies. We need to create an environment in which we can comfortably ask the questions and engage in evidence-based dialog about the issues.
BPGL: In what setting might that take place? In public discourse? Social media?
TAGTOW: All of the above. I think it first needs to happen internally within those professional associations, for example within the American Dietetic Association there is a Hunger and Environmental Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group, which is the only group of dietitians within ADA that look at nutrition and health from a food systems perspective. They’re the only ones who address the role of sustainable agriculture in providing for a healthy, green, fair, and accessible food supply for all eaters. We also dabble in water security, organic farming, and agriculture policy as well. Some of these groups are emerging and forming the environments in which these discussions can take place. And they’re also influencing policy within these organizations.
BPGL: So you’re making a difference.
TAGTOW: We hope to think so. But it never fails that there’s always a new challenge on the horizon.
Organic Food Has Greater Benefits
BPGL: What’s the current challenge?
TAGTOW: The current challenge within the dietetic profession has to do with the nutritional characteristics of organically grown products versus conventional products. For years, the ADA has always framed the discussion by saying that there is no evidence to support that organically grown foods have more beneficial nutrients as compared to their conventional counterparts.
Just this year, the Hunger and Environmental Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group came forward and said, we need to really evaluate this. So after several months, the ADA released a Hot Topic on organic food production. They finally put in writing a position of the American Dietetic Association that says that, depending upon the growing practices, there is evidence to suggest that organically produced foods do have higher beneficial nutrients as compared to their conventional counterparts.
That in itself was a milestone. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but with an organization that has very close ties to food industry, that was a celebratory event for many of us.
Dietitians often reduce issues down to nutrients and their link to treating disease. But I think we need to emerge from the classic nutritional reductionist paradigm and think about food as a complex system and that the health of the environment in which food is grown is the better indicator for human health.
Part 1: Healthy Soil -> Healthy Food -> Healthy People -> Healthy Communities (Top of Page)
Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) asked Ken Cook, president and founder of the Environmental Working Group, two questions we like to ask all our interviewees. Following are our questions and his responses. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
5 Ways to Save the Planet
BPGL: What are the five most important things we can do to save the planet? (You can answer as the head of Environmental Working Group or as a parent, if you prefer.)
COOK: Those two things — my job as a parent and my job as the head of Environmental Working Group — have come together in lots of things. It’s a blessing to be able to do this work now, and have both of those sets of objectives in mind, because they do merge pretty well.
- One of the first things we need to do, obviously, is deal with climate change. We need to reduce our carbon footprint — and our environmental footprint, generally. That means in our everyday life as well as at the government level.
- Second, we think one of the most important environmental campaigns in history is to protect our health from toxic chemicals. So, again, we need to take steps in our everyday life. We can do a lot of things as individuals to protect ourselves and our families from toxic chemical exposures, but we also need laws at the state level and at the federal level, the reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act, the enactment of something that looks like the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act. That would be number two for me.
- Third, I think we really do need to focus strongly on diet and nutrition in this country. We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the food that’s available to us and the price it’s available. We need to do a better job of paying attention to which foods, individually, we can eat and which foods we have available, not just for those of us who can live in a big city and can afford to shop anywhere, but for the disadvantaged in this country and around the world. We need to be smarter about providing adequate nutrition, healthy nutrition that leads to a nice, productive life.
- Fourth, I would say, we need to take care of the creatures in the world. We really do need to focus on the incredible threat that we are posing, as a species, to all the other species on the planet. We need to protect biological diversity, including the rainforest, with the native people living there and the incredible resources that still remain. We need to conserve those, as well as our ocean resources.
- Then, the final thing I think is really important is, generally speaking, we need to have high expectations and engagement with our government. I don’t care what end of the political spectrum you’re on, this is not a time, and there never will be a time again, to step back and assume that we can let the government run along by its own power, influenced by the various special interests that come to influence it, and expect we’re going to have a good outcome.As a citizen, you need to be engaged with your government at the federal level, the state level, the local level. It doesn’t mean a full-time job; but it does mean, pay attention, get involved, get engaged, find organizations that you can work with, and, if you need it, organizations that can provide some access to information, ideas, and actions you might take. The EWG wants to believe it is, and tries to be, an organization that provides that for citizens. But being a citizen is one of the most important challenges all of us face, rather than just retreating into our own lives, our own homes, without paying attention to the bigger world around us.
2 Minutes with the President
BPGL: If you had two minutes with President Obama, what would you say to him?
COOK: I would say, “Hang in there. You’re trying to do a lot of the right things, and you’re trying to lead the country from a broad base; that hasn’t always worked out, but we salute you for trying.” I would say, in particular, “These environmental issues can really unite people. We have seen, in the case of our work on toxic chemicals, that across the spectrum — whether it’s the spectrum of religious beliefs or from conservative to liberal [politics] — people want to take care of the next generation and its health. And if, by providing additional protection for toxic chemicals, we can do that, that’s something we ought to do. I’d encourage you to do that.” And I’d say, “Thank you, Mr. President. ”
Ken Cook, President and Founder
Environmental Working Group
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
There is perhaps no better way to enjoy the warm weather than taking to the woods. Whether you enjoy day hiking, camping, or more extended and remote backpacking trips, the following guidelines will help you protect the outdoors you love so much. Most of these tips apply to parks, forests, and wilderness areas, both locally and nationwide. This list just scratches the surface, though; additional resources are provided at the end of this article. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
Trekking into the great unknown may seem exciting and adventurous, but it is always best to learn a few things about the area in which you will be traveling. Those who don’t prepare often end up compensating for poor planning by making decisions that compromise the environment.
How long is the trail? What is the difficulty level? What rules and regulations govern the area? Are dogs allowed? Are reservations or trail passes required? What dangers should you be aware of? What types of animals frequent the area? Check the weather forecast, and plan for emergencies. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return, and don’t leave home without The Ten Essentials:
The Ten Essentials (Okay, Actually 14)
This list was compiled in the 1930s by a Seattle-based organization called the Mountaineers.
- First-aid kit
- Matches and fire starter
- Pocket knife
- Extra food
- Water and water purification
- Sun protection (sunscreen and sunglasses)
- Rain gear and extra clothing
Many hikers and backpackers today add the following: whistle, mirror, insect repellent, and emergency blanket.
Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints — and Other Tips
When you hike or camp, always leave the area at least as good as — or better than — you found it. Though you might want to take home a flower, rock, or arrowhead as a reminder of your trip, think about the results if everyone followed that impulse. Also, removing natural objects or artifacts from public lands is forbidden by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and National Historic Preservation Act.
Small Is Better
Keep group sizes small, ideally six people or less. This will minimize the impact on the area and also help keep noise levels low so that you don’t disturb others seeking the solace of the wilderness.
Stay on durable surfaces
Examples include rocks, gravel, sand, firmly packed dirt, dry grasses, pine needles, and snow. Stick to established trails, even when muddy, and walk single file. Park managers design trails to restrict traffic and control erosion. By walking side-by-side, going around puddles, or cutting across switchbacks, you break down the soil at the edges of the trail and possibly also redirect rainwater flows.
If you decide to venture off-trail, spread out rather than walk in line, to disperse your footsteps and decrease your impact on a single area. Avoid creating new trails. If you see footsteps or other early signs of impact, avoid those areas to allow them to “heal.”
At your campsite, try not to create “social paths,” those early signs of trails-in-the-making. Disperse your footsteps between your campsite, the water source, and your cooking and food-storage areas.
Campsites Are Found, Not Made
Opt for an obviously high-use campsite. If you are in the back country and need to camp in a pristine area, do not set up your tent in a spot displaying signs of recent use. Instead, go for a low-use area, and if you stay there more than one night, move your tent to lessen the impact on the grass underneath. Keep your site small, and don’t create structures, “furniture,” or trenches. Camp at least 200 feet from the trail, to avoid distracting other hikers by your presence.
Protect Water Sources
Set up camp at least 200 feet from water sources. Do not wash dishes or yourself in a lake or creek; take care of these duties at least 200 feet away. Even biodegradable soap can harm the creatures that live in and drink from water sources.
Pack It In, Pack It Out
If you brought it into the wilderness, you are responsible for taking it out. This includes toilet paper and hygiene products. Many parks no longer provide trashcans, forcing visitors to take responsibility for their own garbage. A large resealable plastic bag makes a good, odor-minimizing trash bag. Consider repackaging foods to decrease the amount of waste you’ll need to deal with. Strain dishwater, and put crumbs in your trash bag. Discard the water by scattering it broadly.
Don’t Feed the Animals
Be careful not to leave food residue behind on the trail or at your campsite. When animals become dependent on human visitors for food, they rely less on their natural hunting and foraging behaviors. A loss of self-sufficiency puts them in danger once the recreation season is over. Also, food residue draws animals to high-use areas, possibly endangering future campers. If dangerous animals, such as bears, become a nuisance, returning again and again to campsites and trails, wildlife managers may have to put them down. A fed bear is often a dead bear.
Store food in airtight containers, and never eat or store food in your tent. At night, hang your food bag in a tree well away from your tent and well out of reach of any curious creatures (10 feet from the ground and 4 feet from the tree trunk).
Keep Your Distance
If you encounter an animal on the trail, give it a wide berth. Don’t approach or follow it, and never come between a mother and her offspring. If you bring along a dog, keep it well under control so it does not stress other animals. Avoid water sources at dawn and dusk, when animals often go for water.
Be Responsible with Fire
Many public land use areas no longer allow campfires in the back country; check park regulations. A lightweight, portable stove (they get tinier every year) will cook your dinner faster and cleaner than a campfire and will reduce the impact of firewood foraging, as well as your odds of starting a forest fire. If you must have a campfire, use an established fire ring or pit, and remember the Three D’s when collecting firewood: choose only wood that is dead, downed, and detached. Keep your fire small, and make sure it is thoroughly extinguished before leaving it unattended.
Leave Your Site Better than You Found It
Go over the area, looking for any trash, food, or other signs of human habitation. Pack out any trash, even if it isn’t yours.
Think of Others
Help others have a positive wilderness experience. When newcomers are able to experience the outdoors in as pristine a state as possible, they are more likely to become wilderness lovers and environmental advocates. Consider traveling during low-traffic periods, and keep a low profile by not making too much noise. Avoid creating “visual pollution” by opting for subtle colors in clothing and equipment. Yield to others on the trail; hikers traveling uphill have the right-of-way, as do livestock.
Leave No Trace
These tips are just a few of the ways you can be a better steward of our natural areas. To learn more, including detailed guidelines for specific types of environments, such as deserts and coastal areas, read Soft Paths by The National Outdoor Leadership School, or check out the Leave No Trace website.
- Plan ahead and prepare.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
- Dispose of waste properly.
- Leave what you find.
- Minimize campfire impacts.
- Respect wildlife.
- Be considerate of other visitors.
By following these guidelines, you’ll not only lessen your impact on the environment, you’ll also encourage others to do likewise. It is much more tempting to be irresponsible in the wilderness when it is obvious that others have been as well.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Blue Planet Green Living recently became aware of Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI), a progressive farming group that promotes sustainable agriculture. As you well know, the simple issue here is farming responsibly, knowing the short- and long-term effects of what you grow. Farms in Iowa not only feed the planet, but also are causing a great deal of damage to it. Iowa’s soil, air, and water are at stake.
We’ll be posting notices of several of this group’s upcoming events that are open to the public, so you can attend and meet the farmers who are trying to help. If you live in the Midwest — or even in the U.S., this affects you in many ways. We hope you care enough to listen, read, and learn. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
Join Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) and One Step at a Time Gardens on Saturday, July 25, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. to explore the many benefits diversity on the landscape offers to the sustainable farm. At 6:00 p.m., PFI will hold the first of its summer potlucks. Bring a dish to share and your own tableware, and enjoy music from the local band The Shifting Gears during dinner. Beverages will be provided.
During the field day, tour One Step at a Time Gardens and hear presentations from local conservation offices. PFI staff member Sarah Carlson will discuss current and emerging opportunities with the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) of the 2008 farm bill.
One Step at a Time Gardens operates a 6+-acre community supported farm (CSA) on their 130 acres near Kanahwa, Iowa, raising high-quality vegetables for farm members and direct sale through farmers markets and regional wholesale. A pastured poultry operation is incorporated into the crop rotation, producing 900+ chickens each summer. Nestled in the rolling glacial moraine hills near East Twin Lake, more than 31 acres are in windbreak and the EPA‘s Wetland Restoration Programs (WRP).
Directions: From Belmond, go north 5 miles on Hwy. 69. Turn west (left) at B63 at Goodell and travel 3 miles. Turn north (right) on R56 at the top of the hill; go 1 mile. Turn west (left) at the first gravel onto 120th St. Go 1.25 miles; turn north (right) into the driveway. East Twin Lake will be on the south (left).
This field day is free, and everybody is welcome.
Sustaining sponsors for Practical Farmers of Iowa field days are the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University Extension, American Natural Soy, the Wallace Chair for Sustainable Agriculture, Albert Lea Seed House, Seed Savers Exchange, and the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). Major sponsors are the Center for Energy and Environmental Education, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, ATTRA National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, Organic Valley and Organic Prairie Family of Farms CROPP Cooperative, Iowa Forage and Grassland Council, and King Corn.
Practical Farmers of Iowa includes a diverse group of farmers and nonfarmers. Corn, soybeans, beef cattle, and hay are the top enterprises for PFI farmers, although many have a variety of other operations, including fruits and vegetables. PFI’s programming stresses farmer-to-farmer networking through research and demonstration, field days, conferences, and more. For more information, call 515-232-5661 or visit www.practicalfarmers.org.
Courtesy of Practical Farmers of Iowa
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
I am admittedly more sensitive than many people about the lack of attention paid to the contributions of women in science. Since I was a young girl, I have bristled at stories about women who did the same work as men — better, often enough — but whose names never were put forth for prizes, awards, or any kind of recognition. The simple fact is, more talented women have been overlooked by history than celebrated in it. Certainly, this is also true in cases of racial and ethnic inequities, and I ache to hear these stories, too. Though I do not wish to denigrate the work of talented, deserving men of any race or religion, my own hot button, quite honestly, is about women. So, I was gratified to find in my inbox today a press release about an award honoring the contributions of six outstanding women conservationists.
You may know the Audubon Society as the protector of birds, as well as other wildlife and their habitats. The Society’s dedication is legendary. This 200-year-old organization supports a national network of community-based nature centers and chapters, as well as educational and scientific programs. Significantly, it also awards women environmentalists for their important — and often overlooked — contributions toward conservation.
Since 2004, the Audubon Society has been honoring “visionary women whose dedication, talent and energy have advanced conservation and environmental education locally and on a global scale.” The award is named for Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, who revealed to the world the environmental tragedy of DDT and other pesticides. Carson is often said to have started the environmental movement, and the award is fittingly named in her honor.
The 2009 award ceremony, which took place on May 19 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, honored recipients Dr. Sylvia Earle; Sally Jewell; Elizabeth C. Titus Putnam; and Elizabeth Colleton, Jane Evans, and Susan Haspel.
Dr. Sylvia Earle
Dr. Earle is described by the Audubon Society as “a leading oceanographer, author, lecturer and National Geographic Explorer in Residence whose work has expanded awareness and conservation of the fragile marine environment.” Previously, she served as the chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She founded, and is currently president of, Deep Search International.
In 1970, she led the first expedition comprised solely of women aquanauts. The leader of more than 60 deep sea expeditions, Earle is also known for solo diving to a record depth of 3,300 feet. Her research is centered on deep-sea ecosystems and remote environments. You might recognize Dr. Earle as a 2009 recipient of the TED Prize. At the end of her TED Prize speech, she declared her wish that we all would work to protect the “blue heart” of our planet, the oceans — something she has been doing for decades.
As president and CEO of Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), Ms. Jewell was acknowledged for her role in environmental preservation and for her work to get children outside to play in a natural environment. REI, which markets outdoor gear and apparel, does its best to inspire, educate — and outfit — people who love the outdoors and want to protect it. Jewell currently serves on the National Parks Second Century Commission and The National Forum on Children and Nature Advisory Board. She is a member of the board of directors of Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, the University of Washington, the Initiative for Global Development, and the National Parks Conservation Association. She also serves on The National Forum on Children and Nature Advisory Board and the National Parks Second Century Commission.
Elizabeth C. Titus Putnam
Ms. Putnam is the president and founder of the Student Conservation Association (SCA), the nation’s largest youth conservation leadership organization. The SCA grew out of Ms. Putnam’s vision and activism while a student at Vassar College in the 1950s. Today, as a result of her efforts, some 4,000 SCA students volunteer at U.S. parks and recreation areas, giving more than 2 million hours of their time and talents.
Elizabeth Colleton, Jane Evans and Susan Haspel
Environmentalism doesn’t always happen outdoors, as evidenced by the recognition of three executives responsible for NBC Universal’s “Green is Universal” Initiative. Susan Haspel, Jane Evans, and Beth Colleton are implementing a variety of green programs, including a pilot program that will serve to green NBC’s operations, reduce carbon emissions, and provide green grants totaling more than $300,000 to under-served public education programs. The purpose of Green Is Universal is to heighten awareness of environmental issues and encourage people to take positive action.
Whenever an environmentalist is singled out for his or her accomplishments, I feel deep gratitude. The road is difficult for anyone who fights to protect the planet against the financial, political, and industrial forces that seem to be hell-bent on destroying it. And when the fighter is a woman, I am even more impressed, because, in most cases, the odds she has battled have been much greater than those of her male peers. Kudos to Dr. Earle, Ms. Jewell, Ms. Putnam, and Ms. Colleton, Ms. Evans, and Ms. Haspel. I applaud you and thank you for your contributions to the collective welfare of all the travelers on this planet.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
It’s no secret — and, sadly, no surprise — that those of us living in industrialized nations are using up more than our share of the planet’s resources and releasing alarming amounts of greenhouse gases. In 2006, for example, the Sierra Club reported, “industrial countries with less than 20 percent of the world’s population are responsible for more than 60 percent of the total carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere.”
Yet, when we talk about making small sacrifices to save our species from extinction — or from future water wars, as the planet heats up and snowfalls all but disappear — most people resist making changes. We all have our limits, certainly. But without making sacrifices now, what quality of life will we leave our children or our grandchildren? What gives us the right to run lights, TVs, and air conditioners with no one in the room? To drive huge, gas-guzzling vehicles with no passengers or cargo? To plant and water lush lawns in the desert? To waste space, resources, water, energy — all of which are in limited supply? …
An environmentalist friend vows never to fly. “I won’t ever see Hawaii,” he says, “but that’s okay.” He doesn’t want his carbon footprint to be that big. And I applaud him for it. But I don’t know that I’ll join him in his aeronautic boycott. My elder son lives in California. If we’re ever to see each other, one of us will have to travel.
A retiree we know refuses to give up flying, but she makes other choices that reduce her impact. She and her husband live in a compact condominium. Though they have the resources to live more grandly, they deliberately choose to live small — and have throughout their careers. She also bikes or walks or takes public transportation, rather than driving where she needs to go. Her goal is to live an eco-friendly life, and other than the luxury of travel, she’s well on her way to achieving it.
Other friends keep their thermostat so low in the winter that I want to wrap myself in a blanket when I visit. They’re used to it, and consider it environmentally responsible as well as economically beneficial. When I visit, I find it hard to keep from shivering. As a young woman, I lived for several years in an old farm house with a single oil burner; the dog’s water froze in the kitchen over night, and I had to wear gloves to do household chores. I won’t do that again, if I have a choice at all. Yet my friends’ conscientiousness inspires me.
Trimming Our Footprint
Joe and I are alone now, with our two sets of kids grown and gone except for visits. So it’s easy to get consensus on what we two can do. Here’s how we are cutting back, trimming our collective footprint, at least for now. And like the increasingly tight fuel standards and tougher Energy Star ratings, we will work to make improvements every year.
No more meat and dairy. Perhaps this is the most significant contribution we are making, and one of the toughest. The meat industry is responsible for more greenhouse gases than the auto industry. The antibiotics injected into and fed to swine, poultry, and cattle are reducing our own immunity. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) in milk cows has been shown to be harming our children. And none of this even begins to address the cruelty of mass animal confinement operations. We’re well on our way to becoming vegans. But we’re finding it challenging. (Suggestions will be appreciated.)
Become a locavore. We’re not truly locavores; we don’t exclusively eat local foods. But we’re working on it. We’re opting more for locally grown fruits and vegetables, and less for imports from thousands of miles away. We want to help sustain our local farmers and growers, but our choices are limited during the off season — and the off season covers two-thirds of the calendar here.
Buy organic and natural foods. This takes some work. And it isn’t always easy on the budget. But if we want farmers to invest in growing organic and natural foods, and if we want the cost of those organics to come down, then we must support organic farmers and producers with our dollars.
Use only natural cleaners. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in many of the cleaners on the market are unhealthy to breathe. And the harsh chemicals used to scrub our toilets and our tubs are unsafe to touch, let alone drink. If we want the air to be safe for our children and ourselves, we must not use dangerous, gaseous products. If we want clean water for future generations, we must not send toxic chemicals down our drains. We’ll save money, too, as the natural cleaners (vinegar, baking soda, water) are far more economical than other cleaners.
Grow food. We are transitioning part of our lawn into a vegetable garden. We’ve planted peas, beans, tomatoes, zucchini, and squash — all vining plants that we hope will climb the trellis Joe built. If I could, I’d plant fruit trees, but our yard is tiny and doesn’t get much sun.
Compost. All of our food waste now goes into the compost. Our gardens will soon be reaping the benefits of the additional fertilizers. We even recycle tissues, coffee filters, and Q-Tips. Will it all break down? We’ll find out in a few months.
Use less water. This means turning the water off between each dish we rinse, not letting it run as a constant stream in the sink. It means wearing our jeans a day or two longer than we used to and washing full loads, not partial ones. It means shorter showers, or showering together. It means not flushing every time — and purchasing dual-flush toilets when we next replace the ones we have. And it means we are filling up watering buckets rather than carrying a hose to water individual plants. (Yes, a nozzle on the end of the hose would work well, too, but we’re waiting till we have additional hardware needs instead of driving across town to the store for just one item.)
Heat/cool small spaces. We have a large house, which was designed for a lot of people. Our own numbers have dwindled, but the house hasn’t shrunk. So, we find ourselves heating or cooling just one room at a time. The rest of the house isn’t unbearable, but we don’t keep the thermostat set at our preferred temperature. We save a lot of money and resources by using a small space heater in the winter and a window air conditioner in the summer. (Did you know: “Only 2 to 3 percent of the energy produced by burning coal in a power station is eventually used to light a bulb or boil a kettle, because of inefficiencies at every stage of its conversion to electricity, its transmission and ultimate use.” That’s according to the AAAS Atlas.)
Shop with care. Americans in general have a lot of stuff. And we’re no exception. We’re used to finding bargains and getting excited by how much we saved on any given item. But we’re learning to shop more selectively, purchasing only what we really need and seeking the best quality we can afford. We want every dollar to count, and we don’t want junk that will fall apart and head to the landfill before it has time to gather dust. It’s not economical or good for the planet.
Buy quality used items. We know lots of people who’ve gotten great bargains on used clothes, used cars, used homes, used wood, and used furniture. We’re not big shoppers, but when we need something, we’ll consider the option of quality second-hand goods.
Don’t buy over-packaged goods. We look critically at the containers holding the products that we buy. Can the packaging be recycled? Is it made from post-consumer waste? How many layers of protection are there?
No new gold or gems. We don’t purchase a lot of jewelry, so this particular action doesn’t affect us much. After learning about the pollution associated with mining gold, silver, and precious gems, we won’t be buying jewelry unless it’s used or recycled. (Did you know that six tons of rock must be mined to yield two average gold rings?)
Print less. I used to think I had to have paper copies of just about everything. Those reams of paper took a huge toll on my time and consumed many square feet of space in my office, only to end up in the recycling bin after months and years of neglect. Crazy, eh? And I shudder to think of all the chemicals I used to print those papers, the trees that died unnecessarily, and the money that I wasted.
Here are a few sobering facts from the American Association for the Advancement of Science Atlas of Population and the Environment:
The average European uses 130 kilos of paper a year — the equivalent of two trees. The average American uses more than twice as much — a staggering 330 kilos a year. The paper and board industry is the United States’ third largest source of pollution, while its products make up 38 percent of municipal waste.
Replace old appliances. With rebates and incentives, in some states it makes a lot of sense to replace old appliances before they wear out. We’re not quite ready to do that — most of ours are less than 10 years old — but when we do, we’ll buy appliances with solid Energy Star ratings.
Pass stuff on. For 33 years, Joe ran the local university’s surplus system. He’s fond of reminding people that having stuff requires energy. If you rent space, you have to waste good money storing stuff you’ll never use. It requires space that has to be heated or cooled, and whatever you store has to be handled, dusted, moved, repaired… We are selling — or giving away on Freecycle — the things we do not need, passing them on for others to use and enjoy.
NOTE: For a good read filled with helpful suggestions about how to trim the stuff in your life, I highly recommend our friend Greg Johnson’s book, Put Your Life on a Diet: Lessons from Living in 140 Square Feet.
Recycle more, trash less. Because we have increased our recycling dramatically, we have reduced what we send to the landfill by about 60-70 percent. Our city requires us to sort recyclables for pick up. It takes time to evaluate every item in our trash, but it makes us more conscious consumers.
Collect rain water. This isn’t legal everywhere, but in our city, we can collect our rain water for watering our garden and flowers. A friend gave us clean, used 55-gallon drums to make into rain barrels. Now, all we have to do is camouflage them so they don’t stick out like sore thumbs at the front of our house where all the gutters run. We are still working on that one.
Refuse lawn chemicals. It’s not worth having a pretty lawn when it comes at the cost of clean water. If you should see a dandelion in our turf, great! I hear they make great salads. In fact, we’d prefer to get rid of our lawn entirely and use our small plot in a more productive way. But that’s for another day.
Use alternative energy. If we get this done, it will be at a significant cost. We’re looking into adding solar thermal panels for heating our water, and setting up a geothermal system. But this is an older home, and retrofitting is expensive. It might not yet be feasible with today’s technology.
Use less gasoline. When we were faced with a long-distance move last year, we had no choice but to replace our old cars with a newer one. We bought a hybrid that gets 46 miles per gallon. It’s not a perfect solution. But we now work out of our home, and we limit our travels. We try to walk if the distance isn’t too great or time is not pressing. We’re toning up on a stationary bike, with plans to hit the actual pavement in the near future (if our knees don’t rebel too much).
No more newspapers. We save a lot of trees by getting our news on line. The down side is that newspapers are going out of business at record rates as consumers turn to electronic media. The world still needs investigative reporters, the likes of which are rarely seen outside of printed publications (with the exception of National Public Radio).
Toss the television. We haven’t owned a TV for about two years, and we rarely miss it. Besides the huge electricity drain, it’s a brain suck. (Ask us how we know. We used to have our brains sucked regularly.)
Our (Current) Non-negotiables. We all draw our own lines somewhere. Joe and I won’t give up our computers. We won’t give up our cars entirely. We won’t say “never” to air travel. And we will take daily showers. Will we always feel so tightly bound to these conveniences? Perhaps not. In the meantime, we’ll do our part by cutting back on the things we can live without.
I started the article by calling the things we do to limit our footprint “small sacrifices.” But as I look over the list, none of these things Joe and I do are sacrifices at all. Some take a bit more time, some take more energy, and they all take discipline. But the payoff — the small reductions in our carbon footprint and the lessened amount of pollution for which we must take responsibility — is well worth any extra effort.
So, I challenge you. Reimagine your own life with a smaller impact on the environment. Cut back on those things you can do without. Trim your household’s waistline. Reinvent your way of interacting with the world. Do what you can — whatever it is, whatever you’re willing to do now, today. Then tell us about it. Let’s learn from each other.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Water shortages in California are contributing to a drought that could end farming in California’s rich agricultural areas by the end of this century, according to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. And farms aren’t alone in the danger zone. Cities, too, are facing disaster, if we don’t slow global warming, Chu said in a February 4 interview in the L.A. Times.
But, slowing global warming is a long-term process that requires efforts on a global, or at least a national, scale. What can Californians — or any other drought-affected people — do about the water shortage right now, on a local level?
One suggestion is to reuse the waste water generated by showering, washing clothes, and using the sink. These sources of waste water are called greywater, and though you won’t want to drink it, you can easily reuse it to water some of your plants and trees.
Although soapy water is bad for rivers and streams, it’s actually good for watering plants, according to The Natural Home Building Source, which offers plans for greywater treatment systems.
“From an environmental standpoint,” their website says, “the main reason for greywater reuse is to actually reuse the soaps, skin particles, shampoo, and hair conditioner as plant fertilizer, keeping them out of waterways. Phosphate rich soaps and mild cleaning chemicals in your wastewater are considered pollutants because they accelerate algae growth in the waterways, which in turn leads to oxygen depletiion for fish and other marine life.”
Hands-on Workshop in L.A.
But how do you capture greywater in a manner that’s convenient and doesn’t make a mess? If you’ll be in Los Angeles this Wednesday, you can find out at a Greywater Workshop at the GOOD Space on Melrose.
The workshop includes a hands-on demonstration, which will prepare attendees to collect and reuse greywater from their homes. Presenter Erik Knudsen will also explain other strategies for conserving greywater, cutting your water bill, and saving freshwater resources.
The following agenda for Wednesday’s workshop is quoted from the GOOD website:
- “How to hack your plumbing
- How to create a greywater surge tank for your washing machine
- Greywater compatible detergents
- Choosing the best plants for greywater
- Creating mulch basins
- Greywater dos and don’ts
- Water conservation and efficiency”
You’ll also see the following notice — worth paying attention to — as well as the date/time/location information for the workshop:
“It just so happens that much of what we’ll be demonstrating is illegal under current plumbing codes. But codes be damned! We’ll show you how to be a discreet and responsible greywater outlaw.
Erik Knutzen’s Greywater Workshop
Wednesday, May 27
7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
GOOD Space, 6824 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles CA 90038
What about the rest of us, who won’t be at the Los Angeles workshop? The GOOD site recommends the following books for do-it-yourselfers:
I can testify to the excellence of Dam Nation, as I purchased a copy from Change of State Performance Project, the acting troupe that presented Take This House (And Float It Away), in Iowa City last month. Among a number of excellent and well-written articles, you’ll find drawings that show how to adapt your plumbing to divert greywater to an outdoor storage container. So, if you can’t get to the workshop, you can still learn what you need to do to conserve and reuse greywater at home.
Of course, greywater is only one source of water you might capture. Watch this website for a future post about how we will be collecting our rainwater for reuse here in Iowa City. But be sure to check your local regulations; you may be surprised to learn that capturing rainwater is illegal in some locations.
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“Like the resource it seeks to protect, wildlife conservation must be dynamic, changing as conditions change, seeking always to become more effective.” — Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
As the recent PBS Frontline story “Poisoned Waters” so vividly brought home, once pure and pristine, our extraordinary natural treasure of beautiful shorelines, waterways, estuaries, lakes, rivers and ponds continues to be polluted by the home and industrial waste that we persistently both knowingly as well as unwittingly contribute to — so much so that it now severely threatens our own health and that of the flora and fauna with which we share our planet. Wreaking havoc on global well being, with animals and individuals becoming ill daily from contact with contaminated water eco-systems, without dramatic and fundamental action, it’s a problem that’ll only continue to grow exponentially. Point blank — our water systems are being altered to the point of no-return by our own selfish human impact.
Often invisible to the naked eye, the most destructive elements to our planet’s life’s blood, our water, are hidden, secret, and malignant — agricultural pollution and excrement in runoff waters, chemicals from home waste treatment systems, everyday cleaning supplies gurgling down our drains and flushing down our toilets, lawn care products leaching into the ground water — plastics, lubricants, petro-fuels, body lotions, bug repellents, deodorants, soaps and even the decomposition of the soles of our shoes as we walk and jog all adding to the problem. With dangers to everyone and everything living and growing now being found in water — we all stand to be negatively impacted.
The particulates from our own medicated bodily fluids are so fine that there are no water processing plants in the world that can trap them, and so, to be perfectly frank, your neighbor’s Viagra, your daughter’s birth control, your uncle’s HIV/AIDS medications, your grandmother’s diabetes drugs, your minister’s pain medications, your teacher’s thyroid supplements, your dog’s flea and tick protection, etc., are all ending up in micro doses in the water we all brush our teeth with every day.
The run-off from some agricultural livestock is so densely polluted that it creates dead zones in water masses that not only cannot sustain life, but also kill any life forms that unfortunately find their way into their morass.
Through our toilets or from our tap, we’re discovering that the most refined water processing doesn’t always remove the new synthetic forms of pollutants, and with more and new kinds of contaminants being found in water, we no longer know what’s lingering in the H2O we drink and bathe in. It’s our failure to monitor and control what gets into our water that haunts this life force all over our planet.
Any investment in environmental science and the actions of well meaning politicians and civic groups may solve some of these problems, but until we begin to seriously tackle what are even today insurmountable issues, this same “bureaucracy” may also indefinitely continue to keep the purity of our water tied up in a giant toxic bow of red tape.
The time is urgent and the stakes are high. The danger signs are everywhere and we have mountains of choices that need to be made. There’s no question in my mind that we all need to make small and simple changes because, unfortunately — we’re all polluters — and it’s our shared responsibility to no longer be such.
I suggest that the answers lie within each and every one of us. Daily mindful actions carried out by each and every person — all of us stepping up and taking responsibility to restore what we’ve already lost or are about to lose forever — one person at a time, one family at a time, one block at a time, one neighborhood at a time, one city at a time and so on can and will make a difference. As oft quoted, the late anthropologist Margaret Meade emphatically stated, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
But here is where paralysis sets in — the point where we all become deer caught in the headlights, unable to move this way or that, doomed to the fatal onslaught of our own making. We’ve been taught to believe that it’s only the powerful, the wealthy, the political, the connected that have any real control over our lives and our actions. But again, the perceptive voice of Rachel Carson can powerfully move us beyond our complacency: “Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species — man — acquired significant power to alter the nature of his world.”
So conversely it should also be true that in our present century, only our species can acquire the significant power to reverse the nature of this world for the positive. As the mindful, free-thinking, creative individuals we were born to be, please consider what Rachel Carson tried to instill in us 60 years ago: “If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.” The truth of the matter is however, that somewhere along the way we each self-destroy that power and validate it to “the powers that be.”
Take just a few steps back and fully understand that until only 50 years ago, almost every chemical found under almost every kitchen and bathroom sink in the developed world today existed only in chemistry labs — and now they are part and parcel of products that have been marketed to us as “new and improved,” “germ-fighting,” “antiseptic,” and “essential” to modern life. So when asked to consider what you, as one mere individual, can do to strengthen the environment, consider some of the following and surely you will tap into your own creative nature and develop other mindful adaptations.
For instance, the next time you’re cleaning your kitchen or bathroom, consider sprinkling baking soda onto your nonporous bath and kitchen surfaces instead of chlorine bleach, cutting a fresh lemon in half and using the fruit side as your scrubby pad, wiping down the surfaces and then rinsing them with freshest tap water available (micro-Viagra notwithstanding!) [Note: Also never use anything acidic on marble or similar surfaces. No lemony fresh scent, but no pock-marked counters either.]
You can also do the same thing to your body. (What a bill of goods we’ve been sold by the cosmetics industry!) More than 85% of the active ingredients in personal grooming products have never been tested for safety, and fewer than 5% of ingredients need, by law, to be listed on the package. And that’s cradle to tomb — from baby shampoo to denture cream. And what doesn’t get absorbed by our own bodies gets washed down into the water supply and absorbed by the babies and elderly down the block, the fish and fauna at the beach, etc.
But by thinking mindfully, acting safely, and respecting all manner of life on our planet, you can achieve the same results for less money, less packaging, and less pollution. For instance, by creating a three-to-one paste of baking soda and H2O and massaging it gently all over your face and body, your skin will glow with a new-found polish by eliminating those dead skin cells, leaving your skin soft, tender and smooth. Rinse well with warm water and allow your skin to air dry. Do it every day, and watch your transformation.
Tired of spending $30, $50, or $100 on the newest wonder youth cream at the cosmetics counter? You can revive your skin with [a] spritz of natural olive oil combined with water. Mix one-third olive oil to two- thirds water in a small, clean (recycled) spray bottle to give yourself an exhilarating after-bath all-over body moisturizing treatment. Let it soak in without towel drying.
The above all work well, are super-affordable and harmless to you, to your kids, to the fish and fowl, and to the environment. By simply taking a moment, musing over what has brought us to this toxic abyss, and channeling Ms. Carson, you can start a new eco-movement of your own, do your part for this and future generations, and preserve the precious water systems that would otherwise be altered by your own human impact.
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©2009 Michael DeJong, author of Clean Body:The Humble Art of Zen- Cleansing Yourself Author Bio Michael DeJong, author of Clean Body:The Humble Art of Zen-Cleansing Yourself, is an environmentalist and eco-activist.
DeJong and Joost Elffers are generously donating all of the royalties from each of the books in the Clean Series to the OneCleanWorld Foundation. a philanthropic, not-for-profit organization that supports environmental projects worldwide with grants, technical assistance and/or microfinancing.
The following book review is part of a series writer Jordan Jones calls the “Environmental Canon,” books that have shaped the environmental movement. — Publisher
For far too long, critics of environmentalism have resorted to a now-familiar false dichotomy pitting humankind against Nature. Human beings are a species apart, they say, detached from the ecosphere but still able (indeed, morally obligated) to reap its benefits. This fallacy is backed up by a related either/or argument, in which any environmental regulation is equated with obstructing the progress and well being of the human race. According to this philosophy, the protection of the proverbial spotted owl threatens the welfare of humanity.
Over the course of decades, science has unambiguously disproved these premises. It has become increasingly clear that in addition to providing innumerable non-material benefits to humankind, the natural world and the creatures that inhabit it bestow upon us equally incalculable eco-services, such as water purification and soil enrichment. Humanity requires Nature to survive. Therefore, it is in our best interests to protect, preserve, and nurture the environment.
This is the argument behind E.O. Wilson’s The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth (2006). Refuting the tired ideas of anti-environmentalism and presenting the reality of human dependence upon Nature, Wilson demonstrates that the environmental crisis will affect us all, regardless of our ideological differences. It is appropriate then, that the book is not simply a sermon to the converted. Rather, it is a direct address to the very people who stand in the way of environmental progress. Of course, the converted can enjoy it too.
Written in the form of a letter to an unnamed Southern Baptist pastor — a member of a famously anti-environmental, anti-science political coalition — The Creation is Wilson’s compassionate plea to safeguard and care for the biosphere. Though Wilson is obviously attempting to bridge sharp political, cultural, and religious divides — to forge a truce, if you will, between Red States and Blue States — he is just as interested in expressing his personal conception of Nature and humanity’s place in it. And the reader is lucky for that, for Wilson is a fine chronicler of the natural world and his musings are as effective an argument as any.
Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for General Non-fiction, E.O. Wilson has long been one of America’s most prominent naturalists and theorists. In The Creation, he clearly draws upon his decades of work in the fields of sociobiology, entomology, and conservation to produce a document that is brief without being shallow and compassionate without being impractical.
Beginning with a salutation to the unnamed pastor, Wilson goes on to describe the wondrous workings of Nature and the problems that humanity — with its mix of “Stone Age emotion, medieval self-image, and godlike technology” — has caused it. “Civilization was purchased by the betrayal of Nature,” Wilson tells us in the first few pages. If humanity and Nature are to survive, this betrayal must be mitigated as much as possible.
Refreshingly, The Creation is not simply a screed or list of grievances, and Wilson doesn’t try to assign blame. Though the many environmental problems we face are well-documented, he is equally interested in compelling a sense of reverential awe for Nature. For each current or coming ecological catastrophe, there is something uplifting, fascinating. So while “the pauperization of Earth” is examined in-depth, Wilson is generous enough to provide a profile of the wolverine and the pitchfork ant (“two magnificent animals”) and the occasional incredible fact (“700 bacterial species thrive as symbionts in the human mouth”). Along the way, he touches upon his own thought-provoking theories of “biophilia” (the theory of humanity’s innate connection to Nature) and “consilience” (the unity of all knowledge), as well as his long love of ants.
And somehow it all works. When I came to the final page, I didn’t feel despondent or angry, but rather, inspired. I was excited to protect that pitchfork ant, as I was every other living thing.
The Creation is less concerned with all of the past crimes perpetrated against Nature than it is with preventing future ones. Wilson only devotes half of the book to the sorry state of the environment. The other half is dedicated to biology as a subject of study — its definition, laws, discoveries — and how to effectively teach a love of Nature to children and students. He closes with a proposal to the pastor to create “An Alliance for Life.” But what of the profound differences separating the author from his symbolic opponent? Wilson has an answer:
“Forget the differences, I say. Meet on common ground. That might not be as difficult as it seems at first. When you think about it, our metaphysical differences have remarkably little effect on the conduct of our separate lives. My guess is that you and I are about equally ethical, patriotic, and altruistic. We are products of a civilization that rose from both religion and the science-based Enlightenment. We would gladly serve on the same jury, fight the same war, sanctify human life with the same intensity. And surely we also share a love of the Creation.”
Published just three years ago, The Creation seems well-suited to the historical moment. With all this talk of national unity and the bridging of partisan divides (cross your fingers), it seems fitting to read a book about hope and change from an author who’s truly a uniter, not a divider. For its affirmative tone, Wilson’s text strikes me as one that begs repeated readings. For those of you fighting the good fight out there — through activism, conservation, recycling and the like — you may occasionally feel as if it is all in vain. But, sometimes, great causes should be undertaken regardless of their chances of victory. The Creation will tell you why.
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Jordan Jones’ Environmental Canon
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March 16, 2009 by Joe Hennager
Filed under Agriculture, Blog, CAFOs, Environment, Events, Food Safety, Front Page, Heavy Metals, Iowa, Natural Resources, Pesticides, River, Slideshow, Soil, USDA, Water
For 25 years, I’ve lived two blocks from the Iowa River. I used to water ski on, swim in, and fish from it. I don’t anymore. Twenty years ago, I felt safe including my children in these activities. We felt safe swimming in the river and eating bass, bullhead, catfish, and walleye from its waters. I had hoped I would be able to share the same experiences with my grandchildren someday.
Nowadays, you shouldn’t just drop in a line and catch your dinner. You should check with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) before you eat the fish. The agency does federally mandated testing for pesticides at least once a year. They test for other contaminants every two years, also as mandated by law. On their Fish Consumption Advisories page, you’ll find warnings like this one:
“The Cedar River from the Highway 218 bridge at Floyd (Floyd Co.) to the Iowa/Minnesota state line (39 mile stretch): Eat only 1 meal/week of smallmouth bass, walleye, and northern pike due to elevated levels of mercury.”
Sound healthy to you?
The DNR website has no current warnings about eating fish caught in the Iowa River. You can eat Iowa River fish, if you want to, but you won’t find many Iowa City residents willing to take the risk. We locals are a little less tolerant of the words “acceptable levels,” especially when it comes to mercury, PCPs, and E. coli.
Yes, that’s E. coli, the bacteria found in feces — from humans and animals. It’s in the water. No worries, though, according to the DNR; E. coli won’t harm you as long as your fish is cooked properly. But don’t try eating it as sushi.
The pollution in the Iowa River is a very complex problem. We can’t just point a finger at one group and say, “Hey, stop polluting our river!”
One of the main sources of E. coli is human sewage. In all of Iowa, there are more than 700 small, unincorporated towns that have no sewage treatment facilities. That’s right, nothing. Nada. Dumping raw sewage is not against Iowa law for a community with fewer than 400 houses. More than 100 such communities dump their sewage into the Iowa River. That’s thousands of gallons of raw human sewage, every day. Whatever goes down those people’s toilets goes directly into the Iowa River — eventually dumping into the Coralville Reservoir (the “Res”), our primary local recreation area. It’s the favorite place for boaters, waterskiers, swimmers, fishermen (and women), canoers, kayakers, and sunbathers.
A friend of ours was canoeing upriver of the Res last summer. “What’s that white stuff in the water?” he asked his companion. “Looks like toilet paper,” the other man said. It was toilet paper. And there were kids swimming not 10 yards away.
I understood from a conversation with Claire Hruby at the Iowa DNR last week that the economic recovery package should provide money to help fund waste water treatment plants for many of these unincorporated areas. Mix that with the low-interest loans already available from the State of Iowa, and there appears to be a chance this problem might get fixed. We did not discuss how soon.
Another major problem is caused by the fertilizers and pesticides that farmers use to grow corn and soybeans, Iowa’s staple crops. We’re the Corn State, you know. Last year we grew 2.2 billion bushels of it on 12.5 million acres. We used to have the best soil in the world for corn. Now we have to make it that way with tons of chemicals spread largely on fields with non-rotated, monoculture crops. When it rains, those chemicals don’t stay where the farmers put them.
There’s a solution to this problem, too. It’s a practice that both respects the waterways and saves topsoil. Crop farmers who have waterways on or next to their property can create “setbacks,” buffer strips of natural grasses between crops and streams. These buffer strips absorb the majority of the toxic chemicals and stop soil from eroding. But it gets better yet for farmers. Those who sign up for the program get paid NOT to plant crops in the buffer strips. It’s a program modeled on the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which pays farmers to plant “vegetative cover, such as tame or native grasses, wildlife plantings, trees, filterstrips, or riparian buffers.”
The biggest polluters, of course, are the CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations). Each year, Iowa supports about 25 million hogs, 4 million cattle, 8 million turkeys, and 57 million layers. Iowa, a state of only 3 million people, supports about 94 million farm animals. By support, I mean that we breed, feed, and deal with the fecal waste of those 94 million animals each year, over a quarter of which are hogs. The majority of those animals live in CAFOs.
Iowa is the equivalent of the second-largest hog-producing nation in the world. China is number one. Hogs produce ten times the fecal waste that humans do. According to NEUSE Riverkeeper Foundation,
Each and every day, those 10 million hogs produce fecal waste equivalent to what is produced by all the citizens in the following states combined: North Carolina, California, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, New Hampshire and North Dakota (100 million people). This ten to one ratio is verified by the research of Dr. Mark Sobsey (UNC, Chapel Hill).
In one year, just the hogs that live within the Iowa River water basin will produce more fecal matter than all the people in California (33,871,648) combined. That’s a lot of sh*t.
Iowa has a lot to be proud of. We are the corn capital of the world. We are the largest hog producer in the nation. And now, we are the toilet of our continent, or, rather, our rivers are. In 2007, the advocacy group American Rivers named the Iowa River the third most endangered river in the US. (According to the DNR, it is possible that American Rivers group selected the “Iowa River” to symbolize it’s location, understanding that there are many rivers in Iowa that are much worse and many better. The DNR conceeds that the Iowa River, indeed, does have its share of problems.)
According to American Rivers, “Iowans are proud of their state’s high rankings for education and livability compared to other states, but on a crucial aspect of the Clean Water Act, our state lags far behind the rest of the nation. Iowa has failed to adopt adequate clean water rules thirty years after passage of the Act that set a baseline to keep water quality from getting worse. If this baseline isn’t enforced, the state will continue to issue permits that allow increased pollution in the Iowa and other rivers. Faced with a growing load of sewage from both humans and livestock, it is no wonder that the Iowa River is one of the Most Endangered Rivers in America.” The floods last year made Iowa’s rivers even worse, creating exponential increases in runoffs of chemicals, topsoil, and sewage.
DUMPING ON FROZEN GROUND
Just a few days ago, the Iowa Senate Agriculture Committee in both houses of the Iowa Legislature released a bill to the floor (S308 and H574) that will restrict the Iowa DNR’s ability to control midwinter sewage dumping. For those who live in warmer climates, let me explain the problem: In winter, when farmers dump raw animal sewage on frozen ground — especially when they dump in January and February, when the snow and ice are more compact — little, if any, soaks into the ground to fertilize next season’s crops. A much higher percentage of that raw, animal sewage washes directly into the streams and rivers during the first rains and snow melt. If the proposed legislation goes directly to the floor, there’s a chance that it just might pass.
Many environmentalists believe the bill should go back to committee, say, to the Natural Resources Committee (last time I checked, water was still considered one of our natural resources). If it goes to the floor and passes right now, this legislation will deal yet another serious blow to all of Iowa’s rivers.
But lest you think this is just an Iowa problem, consider that Iowa’s rivers dump into the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Our waters touch South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, and eventually, run into the Gulf of Mexico.
Take a look at the NASA photographs of the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. That colorful ring clinging to the land mass around the curve of the Gulf is our runoff. All those pretty colors in the water show the effects of the Midwest’s pesticides, fertilizers, topsoil, animal wastes, and human sewage hugging the shores of Louisiana and Texas. By this summer, due in part to last year’s floods, the Dead Zone is expected to grow to 10,084 square miles. That’s an area roughly the size of Massachusetts and 17 to 21 percent larger than at any time since the mapping began in 1985.
Due to the nitrogen and phosphorus runoffs from farm fields here in the Midwest, large blooms of algae are depleting the oxygen in the Gulf. This hypoxic water is causing massive fish kills, and driving shrimp and crabs closer to the coast as their habitats are destroyed. Iowa’s crops are killing crops in the Gulf. If the condition worsens, fishing and the coastal economies from Texas to Florida will be irreparably damaged. But the world will still have plenty of corn, soybeans, and hogs.
For those of you who follow Iowa politics, this small vote on this small bill brought a surprisingly large response from some of Iowa’s farm lobbyists, the Iowa Pork Producers, and the Iowa Farm Bureau. There is a lot of money behind these groups. In my opinion, Big Ag runs the State of Iowa. It’s our largest industry. This situation is no different from the coal lobby in West Virginia, the steel and auto lobbies of the Great Lakes region, or the lumber lobby in Washington and Oregon — environmentalists’ voices are drowned out by the clamor of Big Money. The quality of our rivers appears to be far less important to some folks than the almighty dollar.
STEPPING OUT OF THE EQUATION
So, this morning, I stood on the Park Road Bridge over the Iowa River, asking myself, “What can one person do?” Farmers may believe they are the stewards of the land, but they are killing our rivers. This doesn’t have to be a battle between us and them. We all need the rivers.
This is simply a failure to communicate. I know that members of the Farm Bureau have children and grandchildren. Their future generations, too, will drink this water, eat the fish, and simply enjoy the rivers’ beauty.
There is some good news. Inventive minds are creating technological solutions for some parts of the CAFO problem. For example, Iowa’s farmers are throwing away a great potential energy source. Methane burns. It’s a fuel. It just needs to be captured and processed. It can be done. The technology is already working in California and has been for five years.
Roger Treloar, a local hog producer, has patented an organic air filter for hog confinements that naturally — and inexpensively — reduces the smell and methane release by 75%. If you want to call him, I have his number. There is more hope for the future.
But I’m not willing to wait until someone invents a solution to handling excess hog waste so that farmers don’t feel compelled to dump in the middle of winter. I won’t stand by and be silent until more farmers act responsibly and plant buffer strips along waterways.
I have decided that I cannot complain about this problem if I am partly the cause of it. You see, I eat meat. So, today, I am going to partially take myself out of the formula. I am going to pick one meat and stop eating it. I choose not to eat pork, because of what the pork lobby is doing in the Iowa legislature right now.
An average person in the US eats 62.8 pounds of pork per year. That’s roughly one 250 pound hog every four years. If I live another 20 years, that’s 5 less hogs consumed. The 1,276 or so pounds of pork that I would have eaten in my remaining years will not have any noticeable effect on the huge hog industry. But I’ll feel good, knowing I’m not part of the demand that’s causing the problem. By not eating the levels of nitrates that are often cooked into or are a part of the pork processing, I’ll even lower my chances of getting chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pancreatic cancer, or contracting MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant staph infection that kills 18,000+ Americans annually. (I strongly suggest that you read about a study done recently at the University of Iowa.)
By not eating pork, I’ll be healthier and happier, and so will my favorite river.
The Iowa Pork Producers won’t notice that I’ve thrown away that last package of bacon from my fridge and two cans of pork and beans. I don’t think they’ll notice that I will never again buy hot dogs at baseball games, or eat pork ribs at barbeque restaurants. I will never buy another McRib at McDonalds or a ham, egg and cheese Croissanwich at Burger King. These businesses will not miss me. I am just one person.
Oh, my wife just said she’ll join me. Thanks, Honey. And now, six of our volunteers are cutting out pork, too. Thanks, guys. A few of my friends are joining in. We’re up to 72 hogs already, and I haven’t finished writing this article. Let me make some phone calls and send a few emails. I know some other folks, too, who agree that our Iowa River is an embarrassment to the world. (Check our group on Facebook: Save The Iowa River.) Maybe there are other Iowans living near any of the 72,000 miles of our Iowa waterways, who would like to be able to enjoy them safely.
If you are one of these folks, and you think you can live without pork, let me know. We are each just one person. Our not eating pork is a very small thing. The Iowa Farm Bureau will probably not even notice.
I believe the Iowa DNR should have the power to protect our rivers. I also believe that if I am going to complain about something, I should not be a part of the problem.
Maybe next week, I’ll stop eating beef. After that, chicken… Maybe I’ll have to become a vegan to save my river.
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February 5, 2009 by Julia Wasson
Filed under Blog, Books, Books on Kindle, Climate Change, Deforestation, Easter Island, Environment, Forest, Front Page, Habitat, Haiti, Iowa, Natural Resources, Sustainability
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jared Diamond addressed a crowd of about a thousand at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on February 3. Dr. Diamond, a professor of history at UCLA, held us in rapt attention while he talked about the subject of his 2005 book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. “That doesn’t seem like the most cheerful subject to write about,” he wryly pointed out, causing a fair amount of laughter among the crowd.
“The real question,” Diamond said, “is, why do some societies collapse, having failed to solve problems that other societies succeeded in solving?” He outlined five factors that negatively impacted the survival of some of the societies he had studied for his book: the Anasazi, the Easter Islanders, the Pitcairn Islanders, the Maya, the Vikings who had once lived in Greenland, and the Haitians of today. These five factors include:
- climate change (caused solely by natural forces, until now)
- conflict with neighbors
- dependence on trade partners
- environmental problems
- the society’s response to those problems
“Today we’re struggling with all the same problems of forest, water, fish, topsoil, climate change,” he said. Even in Montana, “the most beautiful, pristine, underpopulated, least-stretched state of the lower 48… if you scratch the surface, you find … all the environmental problems with which the rest of the world is struggling.” These include toxic waste, climate change (“as a result of which Glacier National Park will be Glacier-less National Park by 2020″), soil erosion, air quality, and population shift.
Not all factors equally affected each society Diamond studied, but every single society that collapsed experienced environmental degradation and destruction. For me, two examples stood out because of the role of deforestation. The first was the island of Hispaniola, which Diamond called “a natural experiment in history.” On one side of the island is the Dominican Republic, a lush environment and a stable, if not wealthy, economy. On the other side of the border, over the wall, is Haiti, a nation that has been deforested to the point of barrenness. The citizens are desperately poor and their side of the island is overpopulated. While deforestation alone was not the cause of Haiti’s economic and social problems, it was a deciding factor.
Another society whose fate was determined largely by deforestation was the “statue-building society” that once inhabited Easter Island. This remote island, some 2,300 miles west of Chile, in the south Pacific Ocean, is the home of “gigantic stone statues, up to 30 feet tall and weighing up to 9 tons, that were somehow transported up to 12 miles, hitched into a vertical position, and erected by people without draft animals….” According to Diamond, the first European explorer, who arrived on the island in 1722, described Easter Island as “the most barren island in the Pacific.”
When Easter Island was first settled by Polynesians, “roughly 1,000 years ago, the island was not the treeless wasteland that we see today, but it was covered with a lush, sub-tropical forest of dozens of species of trees, including the world’s biggest palm tree. The settlers of Easter Island proceeded to chop down trees for the same reason that we and all other people chop down trees: They chopped them for fuel for cooking. Chopped them for firewood to warm themselves. Chopped them down for construction… Chopped them down to make levers to transport and erect the giant statues. They chopped them down to make dugout canoes with which to go out to sea and fish for … tunas and dolphins….
“Roughly around 1680, they chopped down the last tree on the island… Without trees, the landscape of Easter Island was exposed to wind and water erosion. Without trees, they couldn’t build canoes to obtain their main protein source from tuna and dolphin. And with a large population and shrinking resources, Easter Island society collapsed in an epidemic of civil war.
“Rival clans on Easter Island fought each other for pieces of this shrinking resource pie. Victorious clans would tear down and wreck the statues of rival clans. And in the absence of what had been the largest source of protein — tuna and dolphins — people turned to a protein [from] the only big animal left on the island… Easter Island society collapsed in an epidemic of cannibalism.”
Certainly deforestation wasn’t the only problem for Easter Island, but it was a pivotal factor in the society’s collapse, according to Diamond. Deforestation also plagues Haiti, leaving the residents without wood to burn for cooking their food or for warmth.
Environment vs. Economy
After describing the societies and the reasons for their collapse, Diamond took the opportunity to help his audience understand the lessons that we can draw from the collapse of other societies. His goal in doing so was not to lead us to despair, but to “guide us in becoming a success story rather than one of the failures. The most obvious lesson,” he said, “is to take environmental problems seriously. Environmental problems did destroy some of the most advanced societies of the past. They could well destroy us today. “
He warned against the objection that “we have to balance the environment against the economy.’ Just listen to that phrase, ‘Balance the environment against the economy.’ The tacit assumption is that the environmental measures impose costs that detract from the economy, and that one can afford the luxury of environmental degradation. … If you don’t deal with [environmental problems] early on, when they’re soluble, they’ll become insoluble, or prohibitively expensive to deal with later on.”
As an example, he described the refusal of local, state, and federal agencies to spend $200 million to repair the levees in New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina, the cost of repairs has been “several hundred billion dollars, not to mention a couple thousand dead Americans, all because we had ‘balanced the environment against the economy.’ ”
Diamond further warned, “[W]hen a collapse comes, it happens very quickly,” pointing not only to the long-ago societies that failed, but also to the sudden demise of the Soviet Union.
He also warned against the insulation of the wealthy and powerful from the problems of the masses. In his view, gated communities today are similar to the walls of the temples, behind which the powerful Mayans were shielded from the very problems that destroyed their nation and their power. “When the elite of a society insulate themselves from the consequences of their action, that is a recipe for disaster, because then the elite can make decisions that are good for themselves in the short run, but bad for the whole society, including themselves, in the long run.”
A Global Risk
The eminent historian explained that we can learn from the past, though we must acknowledge differences. “One obvious difference is, we have far more people in the world. And we have far more potent destructive technology than at any time in the past,” he said.
“When the Eastern Islanders, around 1580, were chopping down the last tree, that was roughly 10,000 islanders with stone tools, and it had taken them something like 600 years to deforest their island of 64 square miles. But today, we have 6.7 billion people with chain saws and nuclear power deforesting the whole world far more rapidly than the Easter Islanders with their stone tools deforested Easter Island. That combination of much larger population and much more potent destructive technology than at any time in the past makes our present situation far more dangerous….
“Today in a globalized world, when any society gets in trouble, it affects the rest of the world…. [I]t’s no longer possible to have local collapse. Instead, the risk we take is global collapse.”
But Jared Diamond did not end his talk with despair. He gave us a message of hope. “The situation is, I think, hopeful, because of another difference between the present and the past, which gives us a big advantage…. [W]e are the first society in world history with the opportunity to learn from societies remote from us both in space and in time.”
We have the technology to not only know about, but also to learn from, other societies’ tragic mistakes. We don’t have to go the way of the Easter Islanders or the Haitians or the Mayans. It’s our choice. Let’s choose wisely.
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In Jagdish Poudel’s first entry in the “Notes from Nepal” series, he told us that he would soon be going to the Himalayas to teach uneducated rural residents about climate change. Last week, Poudel, along with fellow environmental science M.Sc. students Aseem Kanchan, Raju Pokharel, and Mausam Khanal, journeyed to Khudi, high in the Annapurna Mountain Range. What follows is Jagdish’s second entry, in which he tells us about giving a presentation to Khudi villagers, who live in a place where the once-abundant snow has turned to rain, and the mountainsides are losing their coat of white. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
Nepal is rich in biodiversity and natural resources. While the nation leaps through the process of economic development and embraces globalization at an accelerated pace, she also demonstrates concern for biodiversity conservation and sustainability. Central to this process, however, is the understanding that it is never easy to balance the delicate relationship between conservation and development, especially given the complex effects of climate change.
As the environment warms, the survival of a large number of plant and animal species will depend on their ability to move to higher latitudes and altitudes. The ever-accelerating warming of the environment can, therefore, cause a loss of ecosystem integrity or destroy the habitats of certain species. Consequently, large populations of plant and animal species could be wiped out due to climate change and habitat fragmentation.
Keeping these things in mind, three other M.Sc. students and I went to the village of Khudi to organize a workshop on climate change and its impact on the local people. We had an idea about the things that we would need to show to them. We had been wondering whether we could make them understand. We four friends gave three presentations, including some important points about temperature increases due to greenhouses gases; the melting of snow and ice; and changes in rainfall patterns, with increased frequency of extreme rains. People living in and around Khudi watershed are experiencing different rainfall patterns than in previous years, sometimes heavy enough to cause the loss of fertile soil, as well as flooding and landslides.
Observers have noted an overall decrease in annual rainfall in the arid and semi-arid regions of the Annapurna Range. So far this year, there has been no rainfall in the area. Consequently, there is less snow on the Himal (mountain) and the water level in the river has been low. I saw that the Himal was bare, where there used to be a huge amount of snow just a few years ago. Meanwhile, there has been an increasing tendency of extreme showers and storms in summer, leading to severe flood disasters and soil erosion. Besides increased floods, there is also an increase in the frequency of other natural disasters, such as heat waves, drought, dust storms, and typhoons.
In the development process and expansion of human activities, lots of range land and forest areas have been, and are still being, replaced by agricultural lands. Besides the above-mentioned impacts of climate change, there are other direct and indirect threats to biodiversity from climate change. We anticipated that the local people would mention these at the workshop. Some points I was expecting them to mention included: widely spreading invasive organisms, especially weeds and pests; shortage and uneven distribution of water resources (we saw this at Khudi, when we took a look around the area); growing vulnerability of grasslands, forests, and wetlands, and of the people who are dependent on those natural resources; and a decrease in the health of the ecosystem.
Above all, the increase in climate variability and extreme events will alter environmental conditions and threaten many species that live in narrow habitats. We couldn’t find any data over there yet, but study has to be done on that area for this purpose. The giant panda, for example, has a very brief breeding period in the later spring and early summer. Changes in the timing of seasonal temperatures may upset its breeding season and place further stress on this species. This may apply to many other species, as well, such as the snow leopards and the red pandas that are found in Sagarmatha National Park, Annapurna Conservation Area, and Langtang National Park.
The people at Khudi told us that some vegetables and improved seeds of agricultural crops are growing better this year than before, even though they don’t understand why. People also experienced an increased number of mosquitoes and insects around Khudi. This, too, is due to climate change.
As far as I could tell while interacting with local people, they didn’t know what climate change is. But in government and private schools, students are learning about it from their teachers.
I had a deep interaction with an old man of age 71. He was trying hard to understand the presentation I was making. After my presentation, he told me that he now knows what climate change is and how it happened. The old man was not in the mood to know why this is happening; he doesn’t even want to know more about climate change. But he was keen to understand about the mitigation techniques and precautions he needs to take to protect his land and his family from natural disasters that might occur if the Khudi river floods in summer.
He is an old man. Even if he tries hard to know how all these things happen, he will hardly understand all our scientific data and facts. He does understand the pictures and videos that I took there to show the people. I am happy that he wants to know more about mitigation techniques and precautions against natural hazards.
But climate change is not a problem that can be solved just by the effort of a few people. It needs global support and determination. Educating the younger generation and school students is the most important thing we can do to stop further harmful impacts from climate change.
It was a nice workshop, where most of the local people and school students participated. I would like to do such work again and again in those places where people are directly affected by climate change.
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The following book review is part of a series writer Jordan Jones calls the “Environmental Canon,” books that have shaped the environmental movement. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
Photographer and naturalist Ansel Adams (1902-1984) is surely one of the most accomplished and ubiquitous artists in American history, his career a rare intersection between extraordinary popular success and widespread critical acclaim. Though now decades old, his striking black-and-white photographs still maintain a large cultural presence through museums, books, magazines, calendars, coffee mugs, posters, and clothing. Almost every American has had some contact with Adams’ work, if only in passing.
Despite this familiarity (or perhaps even because of it), I found my understanding of the man and his work to be incorrect, simplistic even. Adams was primarily a photographer of the natural world, and his most famous compositions are monumental landscapes, shot in stark black and white (Adams rarely worked in color). To the casual viewer like myself, these works appear to express the hugeness, the permanence, of nature — everlasting beauty. As I would come to learn, though, he sought not to depict the eternal, but the ephemeral.
Adams was born in San Francisco at the turn of the twentieth century. Though he lived an urban existence and was the offspring of upper-class parents, he quickly developed a love of nature. He possessed an energetic, irrepressible personality well-suited to the rigors of the outdoors. Struck by the beauty of the West’s relatively unspoiled wilderness, he would devote his life to its preservation and be inspired to document it through photography.
As he aged, Adams deftly combined the roles of environmentalist and artist. He joined the Sierra Club at 17 and was deeply involved with the organization for the rest of his life, even serving as its director for a time. Though he wielded great influence through the group, Adams’ photography was arguably a more effective, and universal, means of communicating environmental concerns. His stunning photographs of the great Western wilderness — many taken before the bulk of industrialization occurred — are as eloquent and direct as any written argument. Indeed, if one’s aim is to depict ineffable beauty, words are unnecessary.
During the catastrophic years of the 1930s and 40s, Adams would be criticized for choosing to focus on the natural world rather than on contemporary social and political problems (the Great Depression, World War II, etc.); but, ultimately, history would vindicate him. As the natural world became more polluted and despoiled, Adams felt a pressing need to remind both the citizenry and the politicians of the worth and vitality of nature. In a sense, he was ahead of the curve. Decades before the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring — which electrified the public and the environmental movement — Adams had already been hard at work on these issues.
Examining his photographs, I came to realize that, as an artist, Adams was not interested in simply depicting the natural world, but in depicting the natural world and its relationship to light. He explored this relationship with his so-called “zone system” technique, which enabled him to measure and manipulate tones of light. He was also concerned with expressing the way a particular scene made an observer feel. His work then, as critic John Szarkoski observed, does not seek to present only the basic appearance of a scene — its “external event” — but also to convey the emotional content of a scene — its “internal event.”
A fine example of this is Adams’ breakthrough 1927 piece, Monolith, the face of Half Dome. In it, a massive slab of stone juts into a black sky, as grim and beautiful as an ancient fortress. Adams intentionally darkened the sky, in order to demonstrate the scene’s power and majesty, or at least the power and majesty he perceived. As he said of the photograph in his autobiography, “I had been able to realize a desired image: not the way the subject appeared in reality but how it felt to me and how it must appear in the finished print.” He would more fully articulate this artistic philosophy with his technique of “visualization,” which, as one might guess, involved visualizing the desired result and feeling of a photograph before creating it.
The ephemeral aspect of nature is the primary concern of Adams’ work, as demonstrated by his fascination with nature’s most transitory element — light. In one of Adams’ most famous photographs, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, the tombstones of a village cemetery reflect the last light of a dying sun. In the background, a mysterious moon rises into the sky, already beginning to imbue the scene with its own eerie glow. The photograph is a beautiful meditation on the ephemeral nature of all things, including nature itself. A similar effect is achieved in Sunrise, Mount Tom, in which a black, gnarled stump dominates a barren foreground against a backdrop of shining, snow-covered mountains.
Adams’ work is really about the briefest of interactions between light and matter; it is about moments. And though these moments may occur in the seemingly eternal, natural world — on the surface of a lake older than humanity or on the jagged tops of primeval cliffs — they are moments, nonetheless. If nature is a “Divine performance,” as Adams said, then it is as fluid and fleeting as any play or recital.
Once one begins to view Adams’ photographs with these concerns in mind, they take on a completely different character. A pretty flower becomes a symbol of fragility. Distant mountains dwarfed by clouds and sky remind us of our own smallness. As I learned, “prettiness” or “bigness” are not Adams’ first priorities. They are, rather, byproducts of his pursuit of natural epiphanies. And epiphanies are not permanent.
This concern with impermanence and fragility highlights one of the major ironies of Adams’ career. His photographs and work with the Sierra Club were a driving force behind the creation, promotion, and maintenance of national parks, most notably Sequoia and Kings Canyon. But the popularity of his work — which celebrated the tremendous beauty of nature — also led to increased tourism to the same wildernesses he had worked so hard to protect. In his later years, he would become embittered by the National Parks Service’s philosophy of “resortism,” which, in its drive to allow the public greater accessibility to its national treasures, cheapened and despoiled many of them through the building of roads, hotels, and the like.
The vitality and wonder he labored so hard to depict were in danger of being lost — sold and commodified like something off a conveyor belt. He once wrote, “Wilderness is not only a condition of nature, but a state of mind and mood and heart. It cannot be confined to the museum-case, seen only as a passing diorama from superlative throughways.” It would prove extremely difficult to instill in the public (and the federal government) the deep reverence and understanding of nature that Adams desired them to have.
His work and life, then, have taken on an even greater significance since his passing. As Ansel Adams himself once said, “The response to natural beauty is one of the foundations of the environmental movement.” If this is true, then he is arguably one of the movement’s most articulate and influential figures. At the same time, his work is a chronicle of what has been diminished, or even lost. In addition to environmentalist and artist, Adams unfortunately took on a third role as well: historian.
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Blue Planet Green Living invites our readers around the world to send us reports about the environment in their home countries. In the first of the “Notes from ….” series, we published a post from Jagdish Poudel, an environmental science student from Nepal. Today, we are pleased to share a report from Snezana Pavlovic, a 25-year-old student of Balkan languages from Niš, Serbia. “Avoiding pollution and ecology are my passion and hobby,” Snezana writes.
In her post today, Snezana introduces us to a beautiful nation that is plagued with plastic litter. She tells us how her government is taking steps to not only deal with this problem, but also to teach children how to protect the environment. We invite you to read Snezana’s post about her nation and to be challenged by the Ten Ecological Laws she presents to us from Serbia. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
“We can impose punishments against those who pollute, and we can establish European ecological laws, but we won’t achieve anything if we don’t set forward the conscience of the nation about how important it is to protect our environment,” says Miladin Avramov, secretary in Serbia’s Ministry for Environment and Location planning.
Protection of the environment could become an optional subject in Serbian elementary schools. An initiative to include ecology in schools was established by the Ministry of Environment, in order to develop young people’s conscience about the environment. The Serbian Ministry of Education is supporting this idea, and just started working on the concept. They are currently considering whether children will learn “protection of the environment” in low or in high grades and for how many hours during the week.
“The youngest are our main focus, because they study very fast, and they are able to transmit their knowledge to their friends and parents,” says Director of the Institute for Protection of Nature in Serbia, Lidia Amidzic, Ph.D.
“It is amazing how many kids want to know everything about plants, how they grow and how to take care of them. Also, they are very interested in animals too,” emphasizes Amidzic. “Kids have humane feelings toward nature, and that’s why they can transmit this positive habit to adults, who unfortunately, often have inappropriate and environmentally destructive habits that are very difficult to change.”
A Problem with Plastic
Vranje is the first town in Serbia to forbid the use of plastic bags, and that restriction will start in 2010. This decision was made by the government of Vranje because of the very bad influence of plastic on the environment.
Six years ago, Vranje also was the first town in Serbia to set up a waste disposal site, yet they now have a problem with plastic garbage.
“When the site was developed, it was expected to last for 22 years, but because of the accumulation of plastic articles, the expiration date of the site will be shortened,” says Nela Cvetkovic from the government of Vranje.
The accumulation of plastic in the landfill was one of the reasons the city decided to restrict plastic bags, just as the European Union does. “We have one year to do that, and we will use that period to educate our nation about the bad influence of plastic bags, and also to warn manufacturers to focus on other products,” says Cvetkovic.
To produce 1kg of polyethylene from which plastic bags are made, 2 kg of carbon dioxide are dumped into the atmosphere. A single market in Vranje distributes 600 plastic bags every day.
To solve the problem of plastic garbage, most of the countries of the European Union introduced taxes on plastic bags that fall on sellers’ backs. In this way, Ireland’s consumption of plastic bags has been reduced by 95%. This is the goal we hope to achieve in Serbia.
Ten Ecological Laws
Following are 10 ecological laws that we try to respect in my country:
- Don’t expect from nature more than you gave her.
- Protect this planet, because we don’t have another, and we won’t get a new one.
- Take care of the air before you take time to admire the sky.
- You must know that the planet and nature will be good only if you are smart.
- Remember that the life of a tree is assurance for the tree of life.
- Don’t let the birds give up from their return home from the South.
- Count the price of preserving nature in the price of every product.
- Don’t look for a hole in the law of nature.
- Think more about waste so we don’t end up in it!
- When you build, don’t steal from nature – share with it.
Take care of the environment, and we will avoid the end of mankind.
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Miriam Kashia, a Peace Corps volunteer who returned from Namibia one year ago, recently spoke with Blue Planet Green Living about her experience. What follows is Part 2 of a two-part interview. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: I’ve heard, over the years, about problems with poaching of African game. Is that an issue in Namibia?
KASHIA: In almost all African countries, there’s been a lot of poaching of the wildlife. And most animals now only live in the game parks. There are very few left just roaming wild. There are still many varieties of antelope and, depending on where you are, a few others. But most of the more exotic animals now live in game parks or on game farms, actually. When I say farm, I’m talking about what we would call a ranch. Because it’s a desert, it takes thousands of hectares to support their livestock of goats, sheep, cattle, and wild animals.
BPGL: When you talk about the game farms, or ranches, are these private properties?
KASHIA: Yes. And there are many of them. They raise livestock for market and wild game to promote tourism. This has to do with Namibia’s government and what they’re trying to do, which is to promote economic development, as well as preserve the natural resources. Some of the ranches — in fact, a lot of them — bring in tourists from Europe or the United States, who then hunt on these farms. It’s in their interest to keep the wildlife balance healthy. Some of them are lodges that have wildlife areas for people to visit, like on a mini-safari. Some of these farms have grown into projects to help save rare animals from extinction. The cheetah is an example of that.
There are also a few large national game parks. Etosha National Park in northern Namibia is one of southern Africa’s premiere parks.
The government has also supported the development of constituencies, as they’re called, which are run by local settlements of tribal people in various parts of the country. They set up campsites or other points of interest and preserve them to attract tourists and share their cultural traditions. I stayed at one of those a couple of times, when I was on holiday, traveling. It was far more interesting than staying in a very Western-looking tourist lodge.
These constituencies are a very positive project funded by the Namibian government — probably underscored by our government as well — to bring financial resources into these communities. Making a living in a poor, developing country in the middle of the desert is not an easy thing to do. And at the same time, they then realize that conserving the beauty, the wildlife, and their cultural practices is to their advantage.
BPGL: Is saving the environment and culture a recent effort in Namibia?
KASHIA: I think that, probably, some people have recognized the importance of conserving wildlife for a long time, but it’s hard, very hard, in a country where people don’t have enough to eat sometimes, to tell them not to hunt. I don’t think there are too many problems left in Namibia with poaching and killing endangered wildlife. Ostriches, for example, are protected. There are eight species of desert tortoise that are all endangered and protected, as well as wild dogs and the rare desert elephants.
BPGL: Tell me about your HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention work.
KASHIA: It’s a male-dominated society. Unfortunately, the gender inequality issue is one of the factors that drives the HIV rate. There are very, very, very many female-headed households, at least where I lived, though I think that’s true in general. Historically, under colonialism, in order to get jobs, men had to go work in mines or along the farms near the rivers on the north or south borders, and they had to leave their families behind. This undermined the family system and helped to spread the AIDS virus.
There’s a long list of reasons for the spread of HIV in Africa. There are probably 20 factors that I felt contributed to the HIV infection rate. Although, thanks to the United Nations, the USAID, and the Peace Corps, it isn’t because of ignorance anymore. Research shows that 95 percent of the people in Namibia do know what causes HIV and how to prevent it. So, the information is out there. But getting them to change their behavior is a whole other issue.
There are also a lot of myths and stories that undermine the information about HIV/AIDS. One is that condoms cause AIDS. Another is that AIDS doesn’t exist. And another is that sex with a virgin will cure a person of AIDS. A lot of the AIDS prevention work that I did was giving accurate information to young people and talking to them about behavior change.
BPGL: Did they believe you?
KASHIA: I think so. These were high school kids who knew us and came to our workshops. It was virtually impossible to get older adults to come. Not talking about sex is a cultural norm. So, when we talked openly and honestly to young people about their bodies, about sex, about HIV, it was the first time anybody ever had. In school, they got the bare essentials. The parents don’t talk to the kids about sex. It’s embarrassing for them. It’s like this country 100 years ago.
BPGL: Did the kids tell their parents what they learned?
KASHIA: The ones who really felt like they couldn’t talk with their parents about it probably didn’t tell. More importantly, though, I think it opened the door for young people to talk with one another about sex and about using condoms.
One of the things I participated in was a workshop for high school young women, called the Southern Girls Conference, which the Peace Corps started several years ago. About 60 young women — mostly 10th and 11th graders — from the two regions in the southern part of Namibia (a region is like state) attended a three-day conference to empower young women.
I taught a course on reproductive health, which was a smashing hit, because I wasn’t afraid to talk to these young women in very frank, honest terms about their bodies and men’s bodies, pregnancy, preventing pregnancy, and preventing disease. They were just spellbound. It was quite thrilling for me.
BPGL: What was your primary focus as a Peace Corps volunteer?
KASHIA: My focus was working with orphans and vulnerable children. My job — what I thought my job was when I got there, was to support an organization that was helping the children. When I arrived, there really wasn’t an organization, which isn’t all that uncommon with the Peace Corps. So I spent the first eight months trying to figure out what I was doing and which people I needed to work with, and going through quite a bit of difficulty with that.
I wrote grant proposals and got money from CAFO to support educational efforts for the kids. When I say, “the kids,” I’m talking about orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). In Namibia, OVC is a technical term. OVC are eligible for government grant money, which is like welfare support for these kids. It’s the equivalent of $30 US a month per kid. That doesn’t go very far.
Education isn’t free there. You have to pay for it, you have to have a school uniform, and you have to buy your own supplies. There’s usually one book for 5 kids, and there may be 50 kids to a classroom. In addition, we provided blankets, shoes, winter coats, toiletries, an after-school program, and food programs.
The committee that I helped to create was a group of Afrikaner people, who are the white people, working with the Nama people, who are the very poor, local tribal group. I got them sitting in the same room, working together, talking about how they can help the kids. It was very gratifying. I served as a kind of a bridge.
There are 13 cultural, ethnic, tribal groups in Namibia and 28 different dialects. English is the official language. It was adopted in 1990 at independence. The little kids and old people don’t speak it. They speak “Namlish,” a combination of Namibian and English. It took me a year to be able to understand that, much less Afrikaans.
BPGL: How do the Nama people make a living?
KASHIA: I tried for two years to figure that out. The cultural expectation is that people help each other. I knew many women without jobs who were trying to raise their own children plus the orphans of deceased relatives. Very basic needs, food, and clothing are a big problem.
When you turn 60 in Namibia, you automatically get a pension, the equivalent of $85 US. The old people, whether they’ve ever worked or not, automatically get this pension. A lot of the oumas, the grandmothers, are trying to raise their grandkids, whose parents have died or are missing, to support themselves, and to send the kids to school — all on this money. Many of the costs there are as much as here in the U.S. They can’t raise crops in the desert. They can’t support themselves. It’s really very difficult. A few can get some domestic work or jobs clerking in shops, but that’s pretty much it.
BPGL: What hope is there for their economic future?
KASHIA: Namibia is a land of stark contrasts, beauty, and diversity. Fortunately for Namibia, because of that, it is attracting a fair number of tourists now. The cultural and natural and geological diversity are a plus for Namibia. But a lot of the tribal groups are rapidly losing their cultures. Their languages are disappearing, and their tribal customs and traditions are, too, because of Western influence.
BPGL: What are the goals of the Peace Corps program?
KASHIA: The Peace Corps has three goals:
- To accept an invitation to help a developing country. We only go where we’re invited and where it’s stable and politically safe to go.
- To teach people in our host country about the U.S.
- To teach people in the U.S. about our host country.
BPGL: Is the work you started in Karasburg continuing?
KASHIA: I’ve been getting emails from my Afrikaner friends, who say it’s been very hard for the Nama people, but they’re carrying on, and they’ve still got projects going. I’m very glad, because I didn’t know if it was going to be sustainable.
The last grant I wrote was to buy goats so that there would be some sustainable income for continuing to help the children when the grants dry up. Most of the current grant money comes from the U.S., through USAID. Somewhere in Namibia, there is a herd of goats that is busy making more goats to help provide for the needs of these kids. We had about 300 children on our roster, but there were many others. They weren’t all orphans, but they were all vulnerable children.
USAID provides funds to CAFO, which are then distributed through grants to local projects for helping children. You have to meet strict requirements to get the money. They have to approve your projects, and you have to send in monthly reports. I spent a lot of time writing reports. And I had to train my replacements (volunteers) to do that, to write grant proposals and fill out the monthly reports, including receipts. It’s just like running a business. It was very well monitored. That’s called capacity building. The Peace Corps is huge on sustainability, and it’s really, really hard to do that. Where I lived, agriculture wasn’t a viable option. There were no raw materials to produce products to sell. And there were no local markets because of the poverty.
So goats were about the best option. We bought a herd of goats for meat. The goats pretty much raise themselves. They can survive in the scrub better than cattle. When the goats are mature, the people sell them. And the goats keep making more goats, so you can sell them too, and have money to help the children. They’re the wrong kind of goats for milk and cheese. And there’s not enough water; if you’re going to produce milk from goats, there has to be enough water. There’s enough water, generally, for them to survive, to give milk for their babies, but not enough to make cheese. And maybe it’s a cultural thing [to not eat milk or cheese].
BPGL: What do you see as your biggest accomplishment during your time in Namibia?
KASHIA: One of the things that I’m most proud of and that I think was probably the biggest contribution that I made in terms of its overall impact, was that I co-created, with another Peace Corps volunteer who was an IT specialist, a database which is now being used throughout the country to track the OVC (orphans and vulnerable children). It also tracks their caregivers, and information about children, their needs, and how their needs are being met. We’re helping to gather better data about how many of these kids there are, who’s taking care of them, and what their caregivers’ resources are.
We implemented the database just before I left Namibia. UNICEF provides computers for CAFO groups that are running programs for OVC. We set up a training program for gathering data and using the database. And now they’re doing it on their own. So they have better reporting and better tracking of the children, and it’s just more efficient for everybody.
The Namibian government spent a lot of money for five or six years trying to create a database, and it never happened. We gave them this one for free. So that’s something very sustainable that I feel very good about. It’s going to have a large impact and help a lot of kids.
Part 2: Seeking Sustainability in a Harsh and Beautiful Land (Top of Page)
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Jagdish Poudel holds a Master of Science (M.Sc.) in environmental science from Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal. He works as a researcher and environmentalist for the nonprofit organization World Forestry Institute in Portland Oregon.
Jagdish consults regularly with executives from a variety of environmental fields to help create synergistic solutions to world problems, such as climate change, natural resources conservation and management, pollution control, and solid waste management.
Prior to his current position, he created and led a Living Earth team at the national level in Nepal.
Raised in Damuli, Tanahun, Nepal, Jagdish moved to the U.S. from Kathmandu. His master’s dissertation was entitled, Land Use Change, Biodiversity Conservation, and Economic Development of Ratna Nagar Buffer Zone of Chitwan National Park, Chitwan, Nepal.
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“There is no finer temple than nature, and man is closer to his god when calmly enjoying the glories and grandeurs of enchanting scenery of the green forests, high peaks of the mountains and flowing rivers, than in any man-made lofty shrine.” — King Mahendra, Nepal (1920–1972)
Nepal has an amazing range and variety of fauna and flora. In this country, the vegetation of the east and west Himalayas meet. As one proceeds across Nepal from east to west, there is a gradual change in the forest at any particular altitude.
Owing to its geography and the great variety of plant and animal life, Nepal could rightly be called Nature’s Paradise. This developing country is still virgin territory for the study of the environment and its exploitation for human use, because a great percentage of the total population depends upon the natural resources for their livelihood.
As part of my Master of Science program at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, I will soon be heading to Lamjung district, which is a catchment area of Annapurna Conservation Area. I will be traveling with four classmates to make a presentation about climate change to uneducated people living in rural areas. We’ll also find out how much they know about climate change and its effects.
Annapurna Conservation Area encompasses the Annapurna range and its adjoining areas in western Nepal. It is bounded to the north, by dry alpine desert of Mustang District and by Tibet; to the west, by Kali Gandaki River; to the east, by Marsyangdi Valley; and to the south, by the Pokhara Valley and the foothills leading to Pokhara, the nearest town. Pokhara is some 30 km to the south. It is the largest conservation area in Nepal and covers an area of 7,629 sq. km.
In excess of 45,000 foreign trekkers visit Annapurna Conservation Area each year. More than 120,000 people of various ethnic groups inhabit the 59 village development committees in the region.
Most of the inhabitants are subsistence farmers, dependent on the natural resources of the area and using traditional land-management practices. Annapurna Conservation Area project has its main emphasis on natural resource management, promotion of tourism through local participation, and conservation education.
Over the next five or six years, my fellow students and I will carry out studies on forest conservation, alternative energy, conservation education, tourist awareness programs, community development projects, community health and sanitation, research, and training. These programs are supported by both government and non-government organizations.
Our study group will be staying at Khudi, a small village in Lamjung. We will organize a one-day public discussion program for the local people to talk about environmental issues. Climate change will be our top priority this time.
Afterward, we will draw conclusions about what we have learned there. We will also give our recommendations about how to increase participation in conservation programs and environmental issues.
In the coming weeks, I will be reporting about our progress. I look forward to sharing my story with you.
“The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness that makes no demand for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its activity: it affords protection to all beings, offering shade even to the axe man who destroys it.” — Gautam Buddha.
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Notes from Nepal: Cautions about Expanding Eco Tourism