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?