Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Save the honeybees!

Seems like every day we are confronted to save something -- polar bears, our schools, your sanity : ) But there is a lowly yet vitally important member of our food chain that is in great danger for unseen reasons right now -- and if we don’t save it, our food supply will collapse.

The honeybee.

Colony collapse disorder, or CCD, has killed off nearly one-third of the honeybee population in the United States. Honeybees don’t just make delicious honey for your afternoon tea; the busy buzzing guys are responsible for pollinating a large portion of important crops, such as almonds, apples, pears, berries and other vine crops.

The hives are not littered with little bee carcasses. Instead, the bees merely disappear. Scientists say the bees become disoriented and fail to return to the hive, but are not sure why - although there is a mind-boggling array of theories.

Everything ranging from infection to cell phone interference has been blamed for CCD, but scientists are focusing on the three most likely suspects: a virus, a fungus or a pesticide. They know that something is weakening the immune systems of the bees, most likely multiple microorganisms they have found in collapsing hives that suppress the immune systems of humans with AIDS or cancer.

Chemicals are another likely source, particularly a pesticide that has been banned in France due to concerns it was causing colony collapse, but is still in use here in the US.

According to an April 24, 2007 article in the New York Times:
“In the late 1990s, French beekeepers reported large losses of their bees and complained about the use of imidacloprid, sold under the brand name Gaucho. The chemical, while not killing the bees outright, was causing them to be disoriented and stay away from their hives, leading them to die of exposure to the cold, French researchers later found. The beekeepers labeled the syndrome ‘mad bee disease.’”

But more likely the issue is being cause by a combination of factors, including pesticides, reemerging infectious bee diseases such as Israeli acute paralysis virus, and stress from transporting bees back and forth across the country to pollinate crops.

But for now, the problem is still getting worse. Ice cream maker Haagen-Daz, who depends on the bees for 40 per cent of their flavors, has donated $250,000 to Pennsylvania State University and the University of California to fund CCD research. They have also created a new flavor, Vanilla Honey Bee, to raise awareness on the issue and will use funds from the profits of the flavor to further aid research. Check out their site specifically dedicated to this cause: Help the Honeybees.

How can you help at home? Lots of ways. First, try planting some honeybee-attracting plants in your backyard to keep native populations strong. Bees like bright and/or strongly scented plants like lavender, glory bushes, jasmine, rosemary, coreopsis, violets, thyme, wisteria, bluebells, trumpet vine, cone flowers, cosmos and sunflowers. Support your local beekeepers by buying only local honey and hive products like beeswax candles -- I buy honey gathered from hives the next town over right in my large box grocery store! Many beekeepers are being driven to financial ruin over this problem, and your money will go to helping keep your neighbors in business.

And if you see honeybees in your yard, don’t spray them or call an exterminator. (Honeybees are the smaller fuzzy ones - the large fuzzy ones are bumble bees.) They are peaceful creatures who only attack if they feel their babies or hive is being threatened. If you see a large hive, your best bet is to call your local beekeeper and see what she recommends.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Hollywood dream factory is a nightmare for animals

Yesterday a very famous bear caused a very big tragedy. Rocky, most recently seen wrestling Will Ferrell in the movie “Semi-Pro”, killed one of his trainers with a quick bite to the neck.

Stephan Miller was a skilled and experienced trainer, and Rocky was a skilled and experienced bear. But there is one huge difference between the two: Rocky is a wild animal whose actions cannot be predicted like those of humans.

Stephan’s death is extremely tragic; there is no disputing that. But there are other tragedies here. One is that Rocky is kept for human amusement and a big paycheck for Randy Miller, who owns the training facility where Rocky resides. One is that there is a very real possibility that Rocky will be put to death for doing something instinctual. Another is that Rocky has never lived a free life in the wild of the sort that bears are meant to have.

Virginia McKenna, founder of the wildlife charity Born Free, said it best:

"The movie industry urgently needs to use its technological and creative imagination to put an end to the use of live wild animals in commercials and movies. Hollywood is a dream factory -- this time the dream has become a nightmare."

A nightmare for everyone involved -- for Stephan Miller, for his cousin Randy and the rest of Miller’s family, for Rocky, whose short life will also probably come to an end soon, and for all wild animals kept in captivity for non-conservation purposes.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Leo DiCaprio buys a green NYC condo

Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t just tout green causes -- he walks the walk. In addition to driving a Prius, having solar panels placed on his LA home and serving on the board of directors of Global Green USA, Leo just purchased a green condo in NYC’s Riverhouse.

Riverhouse, an eco-friendly community overlooking the Hudson River in the Battery Park City area of Manhattan, is slated for occupancy this summer. The complex features a 264-unit condominium glass tower overlooking the river and a park, low emission paints, a 24-hour fresh filtered air system, a water treatment facility and rotating solar panels.

According to the property’s website, residents receive the following green benefits:

1. Clean air - Fresh air is filtered twice before entering residences. Indoor humidity levels are adjusted seasonally.
2. Pure water - Water purification is provided by an on-site filtration system.
3. Healthy interiors - Local, renewable materials and non-toxic, low- or non-pollutant paints, sealants and adhesives are used throughout the buildings.
4. Solar energy - A custom photovoltaic grid caps each building, maximizing the amount of energy captured for clean, usable energy.
5. Green roofs - 75% of roof space will be planted with greenery, creating parks in the sky.

But green doesn’t come cheap, at least not on this property. Prices start at $895,000.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Recycling printer cartridges

Part 7 in a series on recycling. This originally appeared as part of a larger piece written by your truly that appeared on

Forget about those “refill-at-home” kits. Not only are they incredibly messy, but they use up nearly as much plastic for packaging as a new cartridge would. Cartridges can be recycled so the manufacturer can refill and reuse -- same with toner cartridges. Ecycle Group is an example of a great way to get this done, and make a little cash along the way!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Recycling electronics

Part 6 in a series on recycling. This originally appeared as part of a larger piece written by your truly that appeared on

Do not toss that old TV, cell phone, or computer in the trash. Not only is it a wasteful practice, but it is also illegal in most places. Electronics often contain heavy metals like lead, dioxins, PCBs, cadmium, chromium, radioactive isotopes, and mercury -- stuff we definitely don’t want hanging around our environment. Some cities have collection services for such items, and organizations like PC Disposal can take care of proper disposal and recycling of your equipment while ensuring your personal information is secure.

Better yet, find a way to reuse these items. Donate your old computer to a local school or non-profit job training facilities. Battered women’s shelters gladly accept old cell phones so their residents always have a line to safety. Check out Collective Good for some great programs.

Recycling kitchen waste

Part 5 in a series on recycling. This originally appeared as part of a larger piece written by your truly that appeared on

Food scraps are biodegradable, but they still take up lots of room in our landfills. Reduce this waste and improve your garden by composting. You can also compost paper soiled with food products, like napkins and paper towels -- just make sure they are dye-and-fragrance-free and were not used with any toxic household cleaners.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Treeless Squirrel

There's few things sadder than a treeless squirrel. Why not celebrate Earth Day (April 22) and Arbor Day (April 25) by planting a tree?

Recycling glass

Part 4 in a series on recycling. This originally appeared as part of a larger piece written by your truly that appeared on

Like aluminum, glass can be recycled indefinitely as long as the mix is not contaminated and weakened. Recycled glass is remade into bottles and jars, or road paving material. As mentioned above, make sure you remove lids from glass bottles before tossing them in your bin.

Pyrex and sheet glass can not be recycled. Pyrex kitchenware pretty much lasts forever anyway, so just pass it along to your favorite cook or donate to a soup kitchen. Mirrors usually can’t be sent to recycling facilities because of their foil backing, but your local artist’s guild might like them.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Recycling plastic

Part 3 in a series on recycling. This originally appeared as part of a larger piece written by your truly that appeared on

Most plastics can be recycled by local facilities. How do you know what to throw in your blue bin? Look at the number. Every plastic item has a special resin code on it that signifies its chemical makeup. Some cities only accept plastics with specific numbers for recycling, usually one and two, because some types are less cost-effective to recycle than others. Check your city website to make sure. You can also find this information in your local phone book, or even on the lid of your city recyclables collection bin!

Take the lids off your plastic bottles before recycling. Lids are usually made of a different plastic than the bottles and must be sorted separately. (This goes for glass bottles and jars with metal lids, too.)

Some grocery stores have a collection area for plastic bags. If yours does, use it! If it doesn’t, request one. Some stores even offer a discount on your bill if you return used bags. Your best course of action? Skip both the paper and the plastic bag options and bring your own canvas bag. While this might not be feasible for a big weekly grocery shop, it is perfect for the times you need to pop into the store and just pick up a few things. Reuse your produce bags or skip them all together and place delicate fruits and veggies at the top of your cart.

What about plastics your city won’t accept? Donate as much as possible wherever possible. School art classrooms and local art programs might be able to use your cleaned items. Make sure you ask before leaving a pile of trash on their doorsteps! Better yet, don’t purchase goods with excess plastic packaging that can not be recycled. You really don’t need your avocadoes pre-sliced and plastic-wrapped. You can take the extra minute to slice it yourself. Know what numbers your city accepts and check packaging prior to purchase.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Recycling Paper

Part 2 in a series on recycling. This originally appeared as part of a larger piece written by your truly that appeared on

All paper can be recycled one way or another, but your city might not accept all types. Check your municipal website. Whatever they don’t accept, you can compost -- just be careful of dyes and glues. Be aware that as paper rots it releases methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Recycle as much paper as you can before choosing to biodegrade.

Paper can generally be recycled four or five times before the fibers become too weak to reuse. Most post-consumer paper is mixed with virgin pulp to provide strength. When shopping for computer paper, stationary, journals and even checks, choose those with the highest amount of post-consumer content possible. According to the Energy Information Administration, a paper mill uses 40 per cent less energy to produce recycled paper than paper from new pulp. Many mills even use waste product from the recycling process as an energy source!

Phone books, newspapers, office paper, old books, magazine, cardboard, and construction paper are most commonly recycled. Paper products with a waxy finish, like cardboard milk containers or butcher paper, are difficult to recycle, and many facilities do not accept them -- check before tossing them into your bin.

Recycling aluminum

Part 1 in a series on recycling. This originally appeared as part of a larger piece written by your truly that appeared on

Did you know that recycling aluminum only uses 5% of the energy it takes to create a product from virgin sources? Aluminum can be recycled indefinitely. Today’s tuna can is tomorrow’s hub cap is next year’s soda can! According to Earth911, 54 billion cans were recycled in 2003, saving 15 million barrels of crude oil.

Aluminum recycling drives earn millions of dollars for organizations like Habitat for Humanity, schools, and Boy and Girl Scouts. Aluminum beverage cans are the most often recycled product, but don’t forget other aluminum items like home siding and lawn furniture, and aluminum kitchen wrap.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Green isn’t just the color of the Eagles’ uniforms

One doesn’t normally think of big budget sports teams as environmentally friendly entities. Huge concrete arenas taking over farmland or forests, huge amounts of trash generated by fans at games, huge amounts of carbon emitted into the atmosphere through travel by both the team and its fans. But the Philadelphia Eagles are proving this formula wrong.

In 2003, owners Christina and Jeffrey Lurie launched the Go Green campaign as a means of reducing the team’s carbon footprint. To date, the initiative has both saved and generated enough power to provide electricity to 1,300 homes for a year, eliminated greenhouse gases comparable top that of almost 1,800 cars, eliminated enough trash for 550 Americans and saved 2,300 trees. So far, Eagles fans have prevented 1,059,559 pounds of carbon from being emitted into the atmosphere per year.

How do they do it? The owners implemented an extensive recycling program at the football stadium, purchase and support green power (the teams has invested in the development of solar power sources, purchased enough wind power for all ten home games and offers reimbursement for employee wind power purchases), reclaims unused city spaces to plants trees and other greenery, and teams with environmental groups to play carbon neutral games. Carbon credits are purchased for team air travel, and an Eagles Forest is in the works.

"It's definitely become a passion," Christina Lurie said. "I have children, and I worry about the planet. Is our world going to exist in 50 years? What kind of a world is it going to be?"

The Go Green program has inspired other sports teams to rethink their waste habits, too. Last year the NFL planted 500 trees on an island off of Miami in an effort to negate the one million pounds of carbon emitted by the 2007 Super Bowl. The San Francisco Giants are installing 600 solar panels. Seattle’s Safeco Field recycles 97 percent of its plastics. And the new Washington Nationals stadium is the world’s first green ballpark.

Good to know that green extends beyond uniforms and cash in pro sports!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Synthetic ingredients to avoid

If you have sensitive skin like I do, you know how hard it can be to find beauty products that don’t wreak havoc on your body. I suffer from a recurrent autoimmune skin inflammation that is exacerbated by stress and chemical pollution, so using products that are as natural and organic as possible is of the utmost importance to me.

I found this great list of synthetic cosmetic ingredients to avoid at Aubrey Organics and carry it with me whenever I go shopping.

"1. Methyl, Propyl, Butyl and Ethyl Paraben — Used as inhibitors of microbial growth and to extend shelf life of products. Have caused many allergic reactions and skin rashes. Studies have shown that they are weakly estrogenic and can be absorbed by the body through the skin. Widely used even though they are known to be toxic.

2. Diethanolamine (DEA), Triethanolamine (TEA) — Often used in cosmetics as emulsifiers and/or foaming agents. They can cause allergic reactions, eye irritation and dryness of hair and skin. DEA and TEA are 'amines' (ammonia compounds) and can form cancer-causing nitrosamines when they come in contact with nitrates. Toxic if absorbed into the body over a long period of time.

3. Diazolidinyl Urea, Imidazolidinyl Urea — These are widely used preservatives. The American Academy of Dermatology has found them to be a primary cause of contact dermatitis. Two trade names for these chemicals are Germall II and Germall 115. Neither of the Germall chemicals contains a good antifungal agent, and they must be combined with other preservatives. Both these chemicals release formaldehyde, which can be toxic.

4. Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate — A cheap, harsh detergent used in shampoos for its cleansing and foam-building properties. Often derived from petroleum, it is frequently disguised in pseudo-natural cosmetics with the phrase 'comes from coconuts.' It causes eye irritation, scalp scurf similar to dandruff, skin rashes and other allergic reactions.

5. Petrolatum — Also known as petroleum jelly, this mineral oil derivative is used for its emollient properties in cosmetics. It has no nutrient value for the skin and can interfere with the body's own natural moisturizing mechanism, leading to dryness and chapping. It often creates the very conditions it claims to alleviate. Manufacturers use petrolatum because it is unbelievably cheap. 

6. Propylene Glycol — Ideally this is a vegetable glycerin mixed with grain alcohol, both of which are natural. Usually it is a synthetic petrochemical mix used as a humectant. It has been known to cause allergic reactions, hives and eczema. When you see PEG (polyethylene glycol) or PPG (polypropylene glycol) on labels, beware—these are related synthetics.

7. PVP/VA Copolymer — A petroleum-derived chemical used in hairsprays, styling aids and other cosmetics. It can be considered toxic, since inhaled particles can damage the lungs of sensitive persons.

8. Stearalkonium Chloride — A quaternary ammonium compound used in hair conditioners and creams. Developed by the fabric industry as a fabric softener, it is a lot cheaper and easier to use in hair conditioning formulas than proteins or herbals, which are beneficial to the hair. Causes allergic reactions. Toxic.

9. Synthetic Colors — Used to make cosmetics 'pretty,' synthetic colors, along with synthetic hair dyes, should be avoided at all costs. They will be labeled as FD&C or D&C, followed by a color and a number. Example: FD&C Red No. 6 / D&C Green No. 6. Many synthetic colors can be carcinogenic. If a cosmetic contains them, don't use it.

10. Synthetic Fragrances — The synthetic fragrances used in cosmetics can have as many as 200 ingredients. There is no way to know what the chemicals are, since on the label it will simply read 'fragrance.' Some problems caused by these chemicals include headaches, dizziness, rash, hyperpigmentation, violent coughing, vomiting, skin irritation—the list goes on. Advice: Don't buy a cosmetic that has the word 'fragrance' on the ingredients label."

I can’t vouch for the quality of Aubrey Organics, as I have never used the products, but this is a great list. Basically, forget buying anything at your local grocery, pharmacy or big box store. Philosophy has a nice line of cleansing products that I love. The Body Shop is also great (and they never test on animals or use ingredients that have been tested on animals). Aveda hair products are the best in the business, in my opinion.

I’m lucky enough to live in a major city with an abundance of greener stores like Sprouts and Whole Foods, which carry a wide selection of organic beauty products. If you don’t have those stores in your area, look for GNC or The Vitamin Shoppe -- pretty much every mall has at least one of these. They often carry natural, organic shampoos and lotions, at the very least.

Anyone have any organic beauty brand reviews to share?

Friday, February 29, 2008

Earth Hour 2008

What if the overwhelming issue of climate change could be solved in an hour? What if cities across the world banded together to cooperatively cure our planet?

The World Wildlife Fund has such a hope -- for people to reduce their energy use and as a result, make our planet cleaner. The group is sponsoring Earth Hour 2008, a day in which for one hour they hope people around the world will do exactly nothing -- nothing involving any non-essential energy use, that is.

At 8 PM on March 29, WWF is asking people to turn off anything non-essential, like TVs, dishwashers, computers, lights, radios, etc. The hope is that by showing people how easy it is to drastically reduce energy usage for a short period of time, we will begin making such changes over longer periods. Since most cities use multiple carbon creating sources for electrical power, such as nuclear, coal and natural gas, a reduction in usage equals a reduction in carbon emissions, which means cleaner air for you and me and maybe lots of happy polar bears removed from the brink of extinction.

More than 20 cities around the world will be participating in the hour. "A lot of people feel global warming is too big of a problem for any one of us to make a difference," said Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon. "This shows we can do something."

"We are building awareness," Leslie Aun of the World Wildlife Fund said from her office in Washington, D.C. "Change can happen."

Don’t forget, though, that simply turning things off does not stop their energy usage. An appliance when turned off, but remaining plugged in, still consumes 40 percent of the energy it consumes when turned on. That means 40 percent of your toaster’s power is still running from the wall, through the plus, up the wire and into the toaster, even when you are not toasting anything. Unplug the toaster and save that energy. Do the same with every appliance you have -- except your fridge and freezer, of course! -- like your coffee maker, blender, that adorable red Kitchen Aid mixer, your cell phone battery charger, lamps in the guest room, your hair drier, fans, anything you can think of that plugs in!

Get more info and sign up at

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Throw a green wedding

Planning a green wedding is not as difficult as one would think -- actually, because it streamlines and simplifies certain aspects of the celebration, planning a green wedding is often easier than one non-green!

Your invitations are the first introduction guests have to the environmentally-friendly nature of your wedding. Earthly Affair offers environmentally friendly stationary, including save-the-dates, invitations, RSVPs and thank you cards. The company uses 100% recycled paper, earth friendly printing methods, an eco-equipped studio, and carbon free shipping to give you unique and stylish invitations.

One of the easiest and most significant choices you can make to ease your wedding’s blow to the environment is to choose an appropriate venue. Opt to have your ceremony and reception on the same site, eliminating the need to transport guests from one location to another and saving carbon emissions. Forget the local country club -- the grass might be green, but that’s about it. Golf courses are one of the most environmentally unfriendly places around, using tons of pesticides and water. A great option is a lodge within a state or national park. Many are quite grand, and all are held to strict conservation codes.

Rent everything you don’t wish to hold onto as keepsakes. Tables, dishes, linens, lighting, candle holders -- everything. An item’s ability to be reused is of immense value to the environment. Alternately, use the services of Recycle Your Wedding, Freecycle, eBay or Craiglist to get your hands on gorgeous wedding goodies that have been loved before -- even your dream dress!

Food and flowers will be most fresh and beautiful if they are in-season, local and organic. Chef Michel Nischan offers several amazing organic menu options in his book Taste Pure and Simple: Irresistible Recipes for Good Food and Good Health (Chronicle Books, 2003). Ask your caterer to source organic items locally and replicate a favorite recipe. Organic flowers can be ordered from Organic Bouquet; alternately, ask your florist of choice to use blooms from the local flower market instead of a regular shipment. Pair up with a wedding within a day window of your own and share flowers -- a great way to reduce your costs and your waste! has a general list of what flowers are in season when; keep in mind this may vary by region.

Green favors are a snap. Give guests a succulent plant to take home, a sapling to plant in their yards, or a seed packet to grow some of the flowers present at your celebration. Need a beautiful little favor box? These woven green boxes from Little Things are beautifully made and organic. Consider buying carbon offsets to compensate for fossil fuel usage of guests traveling from out of town or making a donation to a favorite green charity and leaving a note at each guest’s plate to let them know.

Then breathe easy, knowing that your special day did not come at the expense of Mother Earth!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Wardrobe refashion

There are not words for how much of a clotheshorse I am. It is a rare week that passes without the purchase of a little something lovely. Luckily for my budget I am a whiz at finding a great bargain. Once or twice a year I sort through everything and give away a large chunk, things I haven’t worn in a while and don’t foresee wearing again. I gave to Goodwill several times, but recently found a local no-kill animal shelter that gets the majority of its funding from sales through its on-site thrift shop.

While I feel good about helping to support homeless kitties and pups, I would also feel good about reducing my footprint when it comes to my clothing purchases. Most clothing is shipped around the world before it gets to us. Countless insecticides are used to grow the crops used in making the fabrics, chemicals used for dyes, fossil fuels used to power the factories and to ship the items to our stores, and workers are exploited in the name of profits.

A full wardrobe of completely organic and locally-made clothing is not in the cards for me right now due to cost and availability, but I realized that I have the tools and the skills needed to make good with much of what I’ve already got -- a sewing machine and my imagination.

Wardrobe refashioning is a great way to give new life to old clothes. You can do some pretty major things to make an old piece unrecognizable -- making a flowing skirt into a flirty top, for example -- but even small and simple changes can breathe new life into a garment.

I recently found a stack of tee shirts that I never wore because I hated the necklines. They were all really high, above my collarbone, and thick-banded. Regular tee-shirt necklines, I suppose, but not my style. With an overseas vacation looming, including lots of warm-weather outdoor activities, I needed tees but didn’t want to go out and buy more when I had this stack sitting there. So I just changed the necklines. I cut the offending collars off, reshaped them into boatnecks, and refinished the seams with my trusty Hello Kitty sewing machine. They came out exactly as I was hoping, and it was a very easy project -- perfect for me because I am a novice sewer.

Since then I have looked at my wardrobe in a new light. I will still give items away if I can’t think of a new purpose for them, but now I can think of so many new purposes! Skirts from old pairs of jeans, tops from scarves and scarves from tops, making a dress into separates. It doesn’t stop with clothes, though -- make curtains out of bed sheets, pillow shams out of curtains, napkins out of pillow shams, and modern quilts out of anything. Check out Wardrobe Refashion for inspiration.

The only limit is your imagination!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Plant a Row for the Hungry

Believe it or not, gardening season is right around the corner. Those mounds currently insulated under piles of snow will soon be bare and ready to plant. When it comes time to reap your summer bounty, how often do you have so much left over that you give away dozens of tomatoes and zucchini to neighbors and coworkers?

This year, consider planting a row for those less fortunate than you instead. Jeff Lowenfels, a gardening writer from Anchorage, Alaska has started Plant a Row for the Hungry several years ago when he asked his readers to contribute their garden extras to a local soup kitchen. It has since grown tremendously, and millions of pounds of veggies have been donated to churches, shelters and food banks across the country.

According to their press info:

“The purpose of PAR is to create and sustain a grassroots program whereby garden writers utilize their media position with local newspapers, magazines and radio/TV programs to encourage their readers/listeners to donate their surplus garden produce to local food banks, soup kitchens and service organizations to help feed America’s hungry.

PAR’s success hinges on its people-helping-people approach. The concept is simple. There are over 70 million gardeners in the U.S. alone, many of which plant vegetables and harvest more than they can consume. If every gardener plants one extra row of vegetables and donates their surplus to local food banks and soup kitchens, a significant impact can be made on reducing hunger. Food agencies will have access to fresh produce, funds earmarked for produce can be redirected to other needed items and the hungry of America will have more and better food than is presently available.”

By planning for extra and donating your organic, home-grown produce to local organizations, you will be making an immediate and concrete positive impact on your community, and you won’t be wasting food.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Why corn ethanol is a really bad idea

Corn ethanol fuel has been touted as a miracle cure for our dependence on fossil fuels, but in reality, it hurts more than it helps. Here’s why.

As more corn is routed to ethanol production and out of food production, costs rise. Corn is an oft-used ingredient in animal feed. The cost of corn, due to ethanol demand, has more than doubled in the last two years. Meanwhile, a farmer’s cost of feeding a hog has gone up 85 percent this year alone. Prices for meat and dairy from corn-fed animals rose 10-25 percent in 2007. Corn tortilla prices jumped 70 percent in Mexico.

Filling up the tank of an SUV with ethanol uses enough corn to feed a person for a year. One study predicts that world hunger will increase by 600 million people by the year 2025. All this because corn is being diverted to fuel stations instead of dinner plates.

There are negative environmental aspects, as well. As more land is being used for corn crops, more fossil fuels are used to sow and reap these crops. To fertilize, harvest and transport a single acre of corn takes 110 gallons of gas or its equivalent. Fuel corn is not organic, so chemical insecticides and fertilizers are released into the soil and air.

Doesn’t sound like such a great deal anymore, does it?

Of course, fossil fuels aren’t a great idea either. In the near future I’ll explore other alternatives -- hydrogen looks promising. Until then, ride your bike, carpool, and at the very least buy a hybrid if you’re in the market.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Catalog Choice

My mailbox was regularly overflowing with catalogs and fliers I never even glanced at, let alone ordered from. They would go straight into the recycling bin, but so many resources are wasted in creating this marketing noise that rarely gets paid attention to: trees and power to make the paper, fossil fuels to deliver the paper ingredients to the paper factories and the finished products to mailboxes, dyes to print the catalogs, and jacked-up prices on the products inside to cover all of these costs.

What a waste!

Luckily, lots of merchants are starting to feel the same way and are partnering with Catalog Choice. The free service allows consumers to opt out of receiving catalogs and advertisements from specific vendors. When you sign up, you tell them what you no longer wish to receive -- you can still get the ones you want!

So far, Catalog Choice members have opted out of nearly seven million pieces and saved untold pounds of carbon, tree pulp, water and fossil fuels. An easy way to stay green!

Norway builds Noah's Ark seed vault

With Doomsday prophesies attacking our ears and our airwaves, it isn’t difficult to understand how Norway came to the conclusion that we need to insure our survival in case of agricultural catastrophe. The kingdom has built an Arctic repository to preserve the seeds of our food stores in case most of our civilization dies out.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a repository in the Arctic Circle built to store safety copies of vital agricultural info in case of disaster. The first specimens, including 7,000 seeds from 36 different African nations, have shipped to the storehouse, which is due to open February 26.

The Nigerian-based International Institute of Tropical Agriculture sent thousands of duplicates of unique varieties of domesticated and wild cowpea (black-eyed pea), maize, soybean and Bambara groundnut. Shipments from Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, Syria and Benin are expected later this month.

The seed bank will eventually hoard refrigerated samples of nearly all of the world’s food crops in an effort to preserve our agricultural heritage. If this sounds fatalistic, think again: these crops are vital to nourishing human populations.

“So called ‘orphan’ crops like cowpea and groundnut are not minor or insignificant crops,” said Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust. “They are of great importance to regional food security. In addition, they are often adapted to harsh environments and are diverse in terms of their genetic, agroclimatic and economic niches.”

What this means to you: if a man-made or natural disaster threatens our agricultural systems, the seed bank will bolster our food security. Cowpea cupcakes for everyone!