Is Going Organic Worth the Cost?

August 6, 2014  
Filed under Sustainable Living

August 2014

Buying organic food can reduce your exposure to chemicals and toxins, but sometime buying locally grown produce and other food items is the best way to improve your health and the health of the planet.

Buying organic food can reduce your exposure to chemicals and toxins, but sometime buying locally grown produce and other food items is the best way to improve your health and the health of the planet.

By Dr. Stuart Offer
Once upon a time, organic food was available only at health food stores, marketed to “tree-hugging” consumers willing to pay extra for “natural,” environmentally friendly foods. Today, organic foods are undeniably mainstream. Not only can they be found at most every neighborhood grocery store, but even giants like Walmart are getting into the act. People who buy organic are seeking assurance that food production is gentle to the earth, and/or looking for safer, purer, more natural foods. But are organic foods really worth the added expense?
When I say “going organic,” I do not mean an all or nothing approach. As with all of my advice, I strive to focus on what will give the most “bang for the buck” in regards to convenience, cost, your comfort zone and health benefits. As with many nutritional subjects, there are far more questions and confusion than definitive answers. With most topics, I read about the prevailing research and mix in a heavy dose of common sense and voila, I find my direction. There is always a middle ground that makes the most sense to me.
Here are the compelling reasons to choose organic, even if it’s only a portion of your purchases. Organic produce often has higher levels of potentially healthy compounds. These are polyphenols, a strong antioxidant that combats many chronic diseases including cancer and Type 2 diabetes. Organics will also reduce your exposure to many toxic chemicals that have been shown to cause health issues. The impact is greater on developing children and developing fetuses, but we all can benefit from a lower dose of toxins. Many of these substances are neuro-toxins and carcinogens. Research has shown that high levels of these toxins resulted in lower IQ scores in children. Another issue is the environmental impact on the world. Reports paint a stark picture of diminishing populations of pollinators such as bees and butterflies, as well as the pollution of our waterways.
What does the term “organic” mean? Organic foods can include fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy foods, eggs and, to some extent, meats and poultry. Organic foods are defined as those foods that are grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge (human and animal waste—yuck), irradiation, genetic engineering, pesticides or drugs. Pesticides are chemical or control agents made to kill insects, weeds and fungal pests that damage crops.
Over the past few years, there have been many studies that have stated there is no benefit to organic produce vs. conventional produce. The confusion is rooted in poor research. In order to make a good comparison, you need to study produce from the same environment. A poor study would compare conventional grapes grown in New York with organic grapes grown in Florida. A good piece of research would study the grapes grown side by side with the same soil, sunlight, etc.
Here are some thoughts and recommendations: Food does not have to be organic to be safe and environmentally friendly. One good strategy is focusing on eating food grown close to where you live. Some organic foods come from multinational companies and have been trucked across the country. They may be organic, but the environmental footprint includes lots of petrochemicals used in transportation, whereas if you buy produce from your local market, it may not be organic but it is farm-fresh and less impactful on the environment. Some smaller farms may not have the organic label—which can be costly to obtain—but follow similar practices. Buying local allows you to talk to the farmers and get to know their practices.
And just because food is labeled organic doesn’t mean it is completely free of pesticides. Contamination can occur from soil and ground water containing previously used chemicals, or during transport, processing and storage.
I advise those on limited budgets to consider buying organic versions of foods on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list, or focus on organic versions of foods eaten most frequently. Eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and less processed foods remains the goal.
EWG’s Dirty Dozen for 2014 (see list of produce contained a number of different pesticide residues and showed high concentrations of pesticides relative to other produce items.
EWG’s Clean Fifteen for 2014 includes the produce least likely to hold pesticide residues, and tests found low total concentrations of pesticides. Don’t waste your money buying organic here, go for the conventional to save a little.
One thing the experts agree on — regardless of whether you choose locally grown, organic, or conventional foods, the important thing is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. The health benefits of such a diet far outweigh any potential risks from pesticide exposure. Given what we know, the best diet advice I can give is to eat a wide variety of produce and whole grains. What do I do? I buy organic as long as it fits into my budget and does not break my piggy bank.



The Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list includes produce with the highest levels of pesticide residues. Focus on organic versions of these foods or the foods eaten most frequently.

Apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, imported nectarines, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and potatoes.

EWG’s Clean Fifteen for 2014 includes the produce least likely to hold pesticide residues. Relatively few pesticides were detected on these foods, and tests found low total concentrations of pesticides. The list includes:

Avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes.


The Last Fish

March 6, 2014  
Filed under Sustainable Living


Ocean fish are the last wild creatures that people hunt on a large scale. We used to think of the ocean’s bounty as endless until recently, when we have discovered its limits. Between 1950 and 1994, ocean fishermen increased their catch 400 percent by doubling the number of boats and using more effective fishing gear, according to Seafood Watch from the Monterrey Bay Aquarium.

In 1989, the world’s catch leveled off at just over 82 million metric tons of fish per year. We have reached “peak fish” and no amount of boats will help us catch more fish. Today, only 10 percent of all large fish — both open ocean species including tuna, swordfish, marlin and large groundfish such as cod, halibut, skates and flounder — are left in the sea, according to research published in National Geographic.

“From giant blue marlin to mighty bluefin tuna, and from tropical groupers to Antarctic cod, industrial fishing has scoured the global ocean. There is no blue frontier left,” lead author Ransom Myers told National Geographic. “Since 1950, with the onset of industrialized fisheries, we have rapidly reduced the resource base to less than 10 percent — not just in some areas, not just for some stocks, but for entire communities of these large fish species from the tropics to the poles.”

“The impact we have had on ocean ecosystems has been vastly underestimated,” said co-author Boris Worm. “These are the megafauna, the big predators of the sea, and the species we most value. Their depletion not only threatens the future of these fish and the fishers that depend on them, it could also bring about a complete re-organization of ocean ecosystems, with unknown global consequences.”

Marine biologist Sylvia Earle says, “I don’t blame the fishermen for this, we, the consumers, have done this because we have a taste for fish and ‘delicacies’ such as shark-fin soup. Our demand for seafood appears to be insatiable … driven by high-end appetites. I’ve always believed that even when there is only one bluefin tuna left in the sea someone will pay a million dollars to be able to eat it.”

Some seafood can be sustainably farmed. Clams are raised in special beds on sandy shores, where their harvest does little to disturb the ecosystem. Oysters and mussels are often raised in bags or cages suspended off the seafloor, doing little damage as they’re harvested. Many farmed fish, such as salmon, are grown in net pens, like cattle in a feedlot. This is as environmentally damaging in the ocean as cattle feed lots are on land. Additionally, Mangrove forests have been cut down and replaced with temporary shrimp farms that supply shrimp to Europe, Japan and America until the water becomes polluted.


Poorer But Happier

February 27, 2014  
Filed under Sustainable Living


The National Opinion Research Council tries to quantify how happy Americans are with a yearly poll. Since 1950, the number of Americans responding that they were “very happy” has steadily declined. Between 1970 and 1994, it dropped five full points, indicating that less than a third of Americans were “very happy.” In 2006, our happiness level was at a new low in spite of a healthy economy and record amounts of consumption per capita.

1991 was a time plenty for average Americans. We owned twice as many cars, drove twice as far, used twenty-one times more plastic and traveled 25 times farther by air than did the average family in 1951, according to environmentalist Alan Durning. Our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per person has tripled since the 1950s. So did the square footage of the average house and the circumference around our waists. However, homelessness increased, alcoholism and drug abuse statistics rose and divorce rates doubled.

Surveys have found virtually the same level of happiness between the very rich individuals on the Forbes 400 and the impoverished Maasai herdsman of East Africa. In contrast, Bhutan, a small Himalayan country, recently decided to stop measuring GDP, and replaced it with a “happiness index.” Citizens of Bhutan are no longer measured by how productive they are at work, instead, they are measured by how happy they are in life.

“There is no necessary relationship between the level of possession and the level of well-being,” said Thakur S. Powdyel, a Bhutanese official to the New York Times. As a result, household incomes in Bhutan are among the poorest in the world, but life expectancy has increased by 19 years, and government funding is spent on education, health care and the environment.

In the U.S., with a recession raging, we can still communicate with people all over the world instantly, eat fresh foods from the other side of the planet and watch over 100 channels of TV anytime of the day or night. We have mountains of stuff crammed into mountain-sized houses, which hold smaller families who report they are still “not happy.” Clearly it is not money or the stuff that makes us happy. So what does?

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied dozens of human activities to see what made Americans happy. He found that volunteer work of all kinds generated “high levels of joy, exceeded only by dancing.” Why volunteer work? The most common answer is that “you make new friends” and “it gets me out of myself.” For others it was “doing something meaningful” and “building a sense of community.” In human society, relationships trumps money.

In his book, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of the American Community,” Robert Putnam notes that as our incomes have climbed, our civic participation has dramatically decreased. This decrease takes the form of lower attendance in churches, civic groups and volunteer organizations, as well as reduced involvement in local government.

Putnam notes, “Each generation … since the 1950s has been less engaged in community affairs than their immediate predecessor.” People born before 1945 and after 1964 both see family, friends and co-workers as providing a sense of belonging. However, these two generations disagree that neighbors, churches, local communities and organizations prove a sense of community. The fabric of communities is woven by volunteers, and recently, it has begun to unravel.


Localization Instead of Globalization

February 13, 2014  
Filed under Sustainable Living


Recently, we have seen the effects of globalization. As local jobs are increasingly outsourced and recessions continue to loom, we should realize that it just isn’t working. Economist and author Michael Shuman notes, “About 42 percent of our economy is ‘place based’ or created through small, locally owned businesses.” This means that almost half our economy depends upon small independent businesses that make up the backbone of our hometowns.

These small businesses are what give our towns local color and local flavor. They are what differentiate us from every other exit on the highway that has the same six chain stores. Local businesses are also committed to their hometowns and support the local economy through hiring people in the area, donations to little leagues and volunteer ambulance and fire service, and paying local taxes.

The key to economic recovery is localization, reversing globalization. Shuman estimates that we could expand our national economy to be 70 percent local or more by incorporating these ten simple steps that will also save you money.

– Localize your home. The biggest expense most of us have is our mortgage. Actually, 60 percent of our annual expenses go to shelter. By renting from a local landlord or buying your own home with a mortgage from a local bank, you can localize this expense. Local banks and credit unions typically have the best rates anyway, possibly saving you money in the process.

– Drive less. According to Shuman, Americans spend one out of every five dollars on transportation. That amounts to almost $5,000 per year! Until we can start replacing imported oil with locally produced biofuels, our best bet is to drive less.

– Using mass transit, bicycling or walking is highest on the list, but not very easy for us rural folks. Use the car sparingly, buy gas from an independent gas station if you can find one and use a local repair shop you trust.

– Eat independently. Households spend about $2300 per year on restaurants; unfortunately, it’s mostly fast-food chains. This one is a simple matter of choice. It takes very little effort to find a wonderful independently owned restaurant.

– Support local arts and entertainment. Most people opt for a movie at a corporate multiplex at the mall. Enjoy homegrown talent! Visit the small repertory theater to see a real play instead of a movie. Visit an art show, buy art from local artists and buy music directly from the bands.

– Localize your health care. Get your meds from an independent pharmacy, preferably one that also uses local suppliers

– Buy locally grown food. Eating locally, meaning buying fresh vegetables, meats and dairy from local farms reduces transportation costs and vitamin loss. The closer you eat to home, the more you improve your health, your view and your local economy.

– Localize electricity. You could save thousands per year just by increasing your energy efficiency.

– Give locally! More than 6 percent of the U.S. economy is nonprofit, according to Shuman. Most of these nonprofits are in the forms of hospitals, universities and churches, but locally we also have arts organizations, environmental groups and many others.

– Buy local! In the time it has taken you to read this, Americans have collectively spent $23 million. Shuman says that $16 million of this figure could be spent in small locally owned stores. How far would $16 million go in your hometown today?


Precautionary Principle

February 6, 2014  
Filed under Sustainable Living


“When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.” — Wingspread

That is the Precautionary Principle. It stems from the German word “Vorsorgeprinzip,” which literally means “fore-caring.” It is a willingness to take action in advance of scientific proof or hard evidence on the grounds that further delay would prove to be too costly to society, nature and future generations.

Sometimes if we wait for scientific certainty, it is too late, and the damage is irreversible. Think back to the link between smoking and lung cancer. In the 20-year gap between when scientists first began to suspect smoking as a cause of lung cancer and when they were finally able to link it to lung cancer scientifically, millions of healthy people developed cancer and died. Some people realized the risk and stopped smoking without waiting for doctors’ orders. These people wisely exercised the Precautionary Principle.

Another part of the Precautionary Principle is, “The proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.” That is the opposite of most of our environmental policies. Policymakers assume that ecosystems can absorb a certain amount of contamination and allow polluters free rein to pollute until scientists prove that damage is done and protective action needs to be taken.

“Instead of asking the basic risk-assessment question — ‘How much harm is allowable?’ — the precautionary approach asks, ‘How little harm is possible?’” notes Peter Montague in “The Precautionary Principle in the Real World.”

If we were to adopt the Precautionary Principle as a basis of environmental legislation in our country, it would shift the burden of proof to the shoulders of those who profit from pollution. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District adopted the Precautionary Principle to limit pesticide use in schools, citing possible damage to children’s development. Many other school districts across the nation have followed suit. They are not waiting for scientists to establish a link between pesticide use and neurotoxins’ inhibiting brain development. They are taking preventive action now as stewards of the next generation.

Other countries have adopted the Precautionary Principle as a guideline for environmental policy. The European Union has incorporated the Precautionary Principle and is requiring all chemicals to be tested for their effects on health and the environment. It would put the burden on chemical manufacturers to demonstrate that their products are safe. And it would give government immediate authority to regulate substances that show problems.

Even major corporations are beginning to adopt the principle voluntarily in an effort to avoid harm. In 2001, Verizon Wireless sent a brochure to its U.S. cell phone customers describing the potential harm to children from radio frequencies emitted by the phones. Verizon suggested that parents adopt the Precautionary Principle and limit children’s use of cell phones.

So, how can we apply the Precautionary Principle to our own communities?

Carolyn Raffensperger, in “Environmental Vision and Action in Municipalities,” suggests that you start with a vision for your community. For example, “What would it take to make this the best place to mature?”

Then look at the threats. For example, two environmental health reports on threats to healthy aging found that asthma, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease all have environmental contributors. “Local action,” Raffensperger writes, “such as increasing the walkability of a town or guaranteeing access to nature has the enormous potential to help people live healthier lives and cut down on the costs to society and families of sick people, particularly the elderly.” Applying the Precautionary Principle to the town’s master plan would result in adding more sidewalks to encourage walkability, creating more green spaces and parks, limiting emissions of idling vehicles, and rerouting heavy trucks away from populated areas.

Raffensperger points out that many of the problems we face in our communities are interrelated. For example, the absence of sidewalks contributes to obesity and increases the use of cars, consequently increasing air pollution and the likelihood of climate change. Applying the Precautionary Principle to our decision-making process at a governmental level would address multiple problems with a common solution.

To incorporate the Precautionary Principle approach to decision-making, we need to adopt these theories, which the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has adopted:

“1. Anticipatory Action: There is a duty to take action to prevent harm. …

“2. Right to Know: The community has a right to know complete and accurate information on potential human health and environmental (threats). … The burden to supply this information lies with the proponent, not with the general public.

“3. Alternatives Assessment: An obligation exists to examine a full range of alternatives and select the alternative with the least potential impact on human health and the environment including the alternative of doing nothing.

“4. Full Cost Accounting:” We must consider all costs, including those that will be paid by future generations.

“5. Participatory Decision Process: Decisions applying the Precautionary Principle must be” democratic and engage all affected parties.


Farmers’ Day in Court

January 30, 2014  
Filed under Sustainable Living


Monsanto’s seed monopoly has grown so powerful that they control the genetics of nearly 90 percent of five major commodity crops including corn, soybeans, cotton, canola and sugar beets. This has resulted in onerous costs to farmers through high technology patent fees for seeds as well as burdensome litigation costs in defending themselves against lawsuits asserted by Monsanto, which has filed a motion to dismiss the current lawsuit.

This is ironic, considering how often Monsanto has sued farmers. From 1997 through April 2010, Monsanto filed 144 lawsuits against American farmers in at least 27 different states, for alleged infringement of its transgenic seed patents and/or breach of its license to those patents, while settling another 700 out of court for undisclosed amounts. As a result of these aggressive lawsuits, farmers live in fear of accidental cross-pollination of their fields by genetically-engineered crops. Monsanto has generated an atmosphere of fear and loathing in rural America and driven dozens of farmers into bankruptcy.

“I don’t think it’s fair that Monsanto should be able to sue my family for patent infringement because their transgenic seed trespasses onto our farm and contaminates and ruins our organic crop,” testifies farmer Bryce Stephens of Kansas-based Stephen’s Land and Cattle Co. “We have had to abandon raising corn because we are afraid Monsanto wouldn’t control their genetic pollution and then they would come after us for patent infringement. It’s not right.”

Some 200 million acres of the world’s farms grew biotech crops last year, with many of these farms located next to or nearby organic farms. Genetically-modified organisms move around in the ecosystem through pollen, wind and natural cross-fertilization. The Union of Concerned Scientists conducted two separate independent laboratory tests on non-GM seeds “representing a substantial proportion of the traditional seed supply” for corn, soy and oilseed rape. The test found that half the corn and soy, and 83 percent of the oilseed rape were contaminated with GM genes, eight years after the GM varieties were first grown on a large scale in the U.S.

The reports states that “Heedlessly allowing the contamination of traditional plant varieties with genetically engineered sequences amounts to a huge wager on our ability to understand a complicated technology that manipulates life at the most elemental level.” There could be serious health risks if drugs and industrial chemicals from the next generation of GM crops were consumed in food.

Some organic and conventional farmers are forced to stop growing certain crops in order to avoid genetic contamination and potential lawsuits. Jim Gerritsen, OSGATA President and owner of Wood Prairie Farm, in Maine states; “We are family farmers and we are in court to let the judge know that our survival as farmers depends on this lawsuit. We’re not asking Monsanto for one penny. We just want justice for our farmers and we want court protection from Monsanto.”


Alternatives to Road Salt

January 23, 2014  
Filed under Sustainable Living


Winter weather has struck hard this year, and many people and municipalities are pouring on the road salt. According to the National Research Council, we Americans dump between 8 million to 12 million tons of salt on our roads per year. Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York report the highest level of salt use, with New York weighing in at 500,000 tons per year. The New York State Department of Transportation requires a road-salt application rate of 225 lbs. per Lane-Mile for light snow and 270 lbs. per Lane-Mile for each application during rapidly accumulating snow.

When you consider that there are approximately 6,000 mi. of paved roadways near NY watersheds, you begin to see how all that road salt adds up. Some roads may get up to 300 tons of road salt per Lane-Mile each year. Recently, many scientists have begun to study the effects of so much road salt on ecosystems, water quality, public health and road quality. Here are a few things you should know before you break out that sodium chloride, the most commonly used deicer.

– Salt destroys soil structure by killing some soil bacteria. This allows more soil to erode into streams, taking the salt with it. Salt erosion contaminates drinking-water supplies to levels that exceed standards.

– Salt doesn’t evaporate or otherwise get removed once applied, so it remains a persistent risk to aquatic ecosystems and to water quality. Approximately 55 percent of road-salt runs off with snowmelt into streams, with the remaining 45 percent infiltrating through soils and into groundwater aquifers, according to a 1993 study.

– Salt slowly kills trees, especially white pines, and other roadside plants. The loss of indigenous plants and trees on roadsides allows hardier salt-tolerant species to take over.

– Salt can change water chemistry, causing minerals to leach out of the soil, and it increases the acidity of water, according to Dr. Stephen Norton, a professor of Geological Sciences at the University of Maine.

– Elk, moose and sheep eat road salt, causing “salt toxicosis” where they lose their fear of vehicles and humans, causing many fatal encounters.

– Salt cracks animal paws, making house pets particularly susceptible.

– Road salt seeping into drinking water changes its flavor, and supplies the excess dietary sodium associated with hypertension.

– Salt corrodes metals like automobile brake linings, frames and bumpers, and can cause cosmetic corrosion. To prevent this corrosion, automakers pay almost $4 billion per year.

– Salt can penetrate concrete to corrode the reinforcing rods causing damage to bridges, roads and cracked pavement.

Canada is considering classifying conventional deicers as toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. California and Nevada restrict road-salt use in certain areas to reduce damage to roadside vegetation. Massachusetts is using alternative deicers to prevent contamination of drinking water. New York State is considering doing the same to protect New York City’s watershed.

There are alternatives to sodium chloride that are relatively harmless to the environment and still get the job done. Calcium magnesium acetate and potassium acetate are two chloride alternatives currently available. They are much more expensive than road salt, but if you factor in the loss of wildlife, soil erosion, water quality and corrosion, these alternatives start to look like a real bargain.


Sustainable Living – Older Posts

January 16, 2014  
Filed under Sustainable Living

January 16th, 2014
Dirty Truth


In our culture, “dirt” is a derogatory term, as in “dirt poor,” “dirty,” or “soiled.” Yet, we need only look back a few years to the Dust Bowl era to see how important dirt really is. In the 1930s, the prairie grasses were plowed under to grow crops. After several years of intense drought, the soils dried out and no crops or native grasses survived to hold the topsoil in place. Winds whipped the topsoil into huge dust storms, causing many families to become refugees and the loss of more than 5 inches of topsoil from almost 10 million acres, according to the United Nations.

Five inches may not sound like much, but it takes nature up to 500 years to produce 1 inch of topsoil. We are depleting our topsoil at a rate 10 times greater than nature can replenish it, according to several studies. Topsoil loss is three times worse in more populated countries such as China and Africa. Chinese topsoil can be found in Hawaii during the spring planting season, blown in the wind to the islands from tilling. African topsoil can be found in Brazil and Florida, according to a USDA report. American topsoil often winds up in our rivers and streams as silt. Many rivers are now brown from topsoil erosion, such as the Hudson River in my region.

Our diet and farming practices are the main culprits behind topsoil erosion. Corn is one of the most environmentally devastating crops to grow. The soil must be tilled, keeping it loose and dry, and vulnerable to erosion. Most of this corn is fed to animals or shipped overseas. For every pound of beef (fed with corn) we lose 5 pounds of fertile topsoil, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study. This adds up to more than 2 million acres of topsoil lost every year. On top of this, we lose another million acres to urban sprawl.

“Land degradation and desertification may be regarded as the silent crisis of the world, a genuine threat to the future of humankind,” says Andres Arnalds, assistant director of the Icelandic Soil Conservation Service. “Soil and vegetation is being lost at an alarming rate around the globe, which in turn has devastating effects on food production and accelerates climate change.”

A highly effective tool to conserve topsoil is the Conservation Reserve Program, according to Lester Brown of the Earth Policies Institute. Under the program, farmers were paid to plant trees or “cover crops,” such as clover, on highly erodible farmland. Reducing tillage was also encouraged. These techniques in combination reduced U.S. topsoil loss from 3.1 billion tons in 1982 to 1.9 billion tons in 1997.

Here are a few things you can do to reduce topsoil loss:

– Compost fall leaves and vegetable trimmings. Use the compost to enrich the soil in your yard or garden.

– Eat only pasture-raised local meats and avoid corn-fed factory-farmed meats.

– Don’t buy or support biofuels made from corn.

– Buy direct from small farmers who are less likely to use large-scale cultivators.


January 9th, 2014

David Takes on Goliath

Genetically modified organisms have become so pervasive in our food system that we unknowingly eat and feed our children many of them each day. GMO’s are made from genetic materials from one organism (such as a soil bacterium) combined with an antibiotic resistant marker gene and spliced into a food crop (such as corn) to create a genetically modified crop that resists specific diseases and pests.

There has been no long-term independent testing on the impacts of these “Frankenfoods” on the ecosystem or human health. Instead, there is a long litany of concealed truths, strong-arm tactics and even outright bribery by the world’s biotech giant, Monsanto. Monsanto has fought to keep GMO foods unlabeled on supermarket shelves and the public in the dark about current agricultural practices.

Most recently, the growth hormones from GE organisms known as rBGH, which is given to cows to make them produce more milk, were banned in Europe and Canada after the authorities found out about the health risks that result from drinking milk from cows treated with rBGH hormones. California recently tried to pass Proposition 37 to require labeling on all GMO products, as part of an effort by American milk producers who are labeling their milk “rBGH- and rBST-free.” Monsanto, which sells bovine growth hormones under the brand name Posilac, began suing dairy producers to force them to stop labeling their milk.

Monsanto has a long litany of court cases against small farmers who refused to “toe the line” with GMO’s. It’s unfair when a giant corporation goes after a small farmer that doesn’t have the resources or means to fight back. Monsanto has set aside an annual budget of $10 million dollars and a staff of 75 devoted solely to investigating and prosecuting more than 150 farmers (15 per year) for a total of more than $15 million dollars. More than 4,500 of these court cases were resolved out of court, usually resulting in a farm going out of business.

Many farmers have started to fight back. One New York farmer, Linda Borghi, of Abundant Life Farm, has begun a campaign called “Monsanto: Just Label It!” calling on the biotech giant to label all GMO containing products. These products include commercially farmed meats and processed foods on store shelves. In our country, 89 percent of all soy, 61 percent of all corn and 75 percent of all canola are genetically altered. Other foods such as commercially grown papaya, zucchini, tomatoes, several fish species, and food additives such enzymes, flavorings and processing agents, including the sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet) and rennet used to make hard cheeses, also contain GMO’s.

“I am really mad about the defeat of Prop 37 in California (an initiative to label food containing GMO’s).” Says organic farmer Borghi, “Why would anyone not want to know what’s in the food they’re eating?” Borghi was inspired to start the “Monsanto: Just Label It!” campaign and make signs and bumper stickers with that slogan. “God knows we use enough lawn signs and bumper stickers for things that don’t really matter nearly as much as the right to know what’s in our food,” quips Borghi.

Borghi’s campaign is in the educational arena engaging the public, rather than the legal arena behind closed doors. Borghi explains; “the people who don’t know anything about GMO’s will ask the people displaying the lawn signs and the bumper stickers what they mean. This is a simple, but effective way to move this information, educate everyone and visually see our progress.” Borghi hopes that her grassroots campaign will encourage legislators to mandate food labeling so consumers will have a choice.

What can you do to avoid GMO’s?

– Support Borghi’s campaign at

– Know how your food is grown by buying directly from local farmers.

– Support organic agriculture, and food producers who label their ingredients, particularly dairy farmers.

– Demand labeling on all GMO-containing products so that we at least have a choice!


January 3rd, 2014
Green New Year’s Resolutions


Lucky for us, Santa is very kind, or we would have received a lump of coal in our stockings for being major contributors to climate change. Instead of giving us more stuff, I imagine Santa probably snuck into our houses and swapped out those incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescents. He’s probably pretty peeved about the climate changing at the North Pole — and that his flying reindeer may soon join all the other Arctic creatures on the endangered species list. Indeed, we Americans have been very, very naughty.

Most of us realize that we can’t go on this way. We are running out of planet to consume and will need 3-5 more earths to keep up our current consumption. We cannot continue to gorge ourselves at the all-you-can-eat buffet created by our fossil-fueled agricultural system. Nor can we keep adding more and more coal-burning plants to feed our lust for power, nor continue driving gas-guzzling SUV’s. We have already burned through our share of the world resources and are now dipping deeply into our children’s and grandchildren’s meager allotments.

Each American household has to commit to change, changing light bulbs and changing paradigms. Let’s embrace a culture built on conservation of resources instead of waste and excess. Here are a few New Year’s resolutions that will set us on the right track:

1. Go on a “low carbon” diet. Woodstock author David Gershon leads you through energy-slimming actions to lose 5,000 pounds of carbon or more. Considering the average American household has a carbon footprint of 22,000 pounds per year, there’s plenty of carbon to cut.

2. Take the “100-mile diet” challenge. Eating locally is the single best thing you can do to curb climate change. The average American fork-full of food traveled 1,500 miles to reach your mouth. By eating locally, we save emissions from transporting food and the livelihoods of local farmers. We also eat fresher, more nutritious food and we become intimately connected to the land and the seasons.

3. Set the “zero waste” goal. Make recycling, composting, washing and reusing a common practice. Carry your own mug or reusable water container to avoid generating more petroleum-based plastics. Stash a set of tote bags in your car for shopping, and refuse to accept any disposables.

4. Take the 10 percent challenge. Try spending 10 percent of your income at locally owned businesses. Move your mortgage to a local bank or credit union, buy from consignment stores instead of chain stores and eat at locally owned restaurants. This keeps your money flowing locally, where it grows and multiplies as local businesses frequent other local businesses. This one act will improve your local economy and save Main Street, and maybe even your job.

5. Convert to renewable energy. Curb 30 percent of your family’s emissions by switching to renewable energy. If solar panels or a wind turbine are out of your price range, consider buying wind energy through your utility for about $15 per month.

6. Exercise your political will! We need real leadership at all levels of government willing to address climate change, and stop the growing disparity between rich and poor. It is time for creative direct actions like our youth demonstrated in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

7. Create community. Be the change you want to see. Take time to know your neighbors, walk to the store and see what small businesses you could be frequenting that you didn’t even know existed. Spend precious time and energy getting involved in your community by volunteering and becoming politically active. Become deeply rooted in your community and bloom where you are planted!


December 19th, 2013
Greener Holidays


It’s hard not to feel Grinch-green during the holidays because of the rampant consumerism, waste and emissions generated by all that shopping and gift giving. Here’s a few ways to green your holidays without being a Scrooge or Grinch.

Those lovely twinkling lights can generate as much global warming pollution as about 250,000 cars, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. That means that if you decorate your home and tree with 10 strands of 100 bulbs lit 8 hours a day from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, it can cost you up to $200. Powering the same amount of LED mini lights would cost less than $10.

Why not donate all your old lights to Salvation Army and invest in LED mini lights. Don’t balk at the higher cost of LED’s; you’ll get that money back on your electric bill. Generally, LED’s will pay for themselves in the first two years. An added benefit is that there is a lesser likelihood of fires because LED’s give off very little heat and last up to 20 years.

Tinsel and plastic decorations are an environmental hazard. Most are made from plastics that cannot be recycled and may photodegrade when exposed to sunlight. That means that they break down into smaller and smaller particles that get absorbed into living things and wind up in our bodies. Skip the phthalate-laden plastics and use natural materials for decorations, such as popcorn and berry strings, cut-paper snowflakes and real greenery.

What you put under the tree is as important as what you put on the tree. Gift-wrap paper is costly and often used only once before winding up in a landfill. Many of the shiny parts of gift-wrap are environmental hazards. Consider buying recycled gift-wrap, or better yet, make your own. Paper grocery bags turned inside out make sturdy wrapping paper that can be decorated with real holly, straw and other natural materials. Putting unwrapped gifts in reusable tote bags instead of gift bags is giving two gifts in one.

Emailing cards is the greenest way to send holiday greetings. Homemade cards or cards printed on 100 percent recycled paper are the next best. Opt for cards with an enclosed coupon or gift certificate instead of mailing bulky gifts to far-flung relations. Bulky gifts take much more gas to deliver and generate more emissions in the process.

When entertaining for the holidays, plan seasonal menus and cook what is available locally in your area, even if it takes a little extra effort and money. This reduces the “food miles” your ingredients travel and generates less greenhouse gas. If you are a guest, bring a bottle of local wine or a dessert from a local baker. When you buy from local food producers, you are not only spreading the wealth locally, but you also have an interesting story to tell at the dinner table.


December 12th, 2013
The Greenest Tree


Before you head out into the woods with your axe, in search of the perfect Christmas tree, consider a greener alternative.

The greenest tree is a potted Douglas Fir tree from a local nursery that you can plant outdoors in warm weather. Your little fir tree will clean your indoor air during the holidays and clean carbon out of the atmosphere year round when you transplant it. If you bought a live tree every year and planted it in spring, you could offset your family’s carbon footprint in 20 years and create a green holiday tradition.

The next in line for the “greenest tree award” goes to the locally grown cut tree. Locally grown trees and greens are agricultural products that add to the economic and environmental health of your region. These trees are grown specifically for the holidays on marginal lands that wouldn’t support other crops. Buying one of these trees stimulates your local economy and improves the life of a local farm family.

“Go without a twinge of environmental guilt,” suggests Deborah Brown, a horticulturist from University of Minnesota Extension Service. “During the seven to 10 years that a Christmas tree grows, the tree provides wildlife habitat and helps hold the soil and prevent erosion,” says Brown. “Commercial tree operations plant and harvest trees every year. Each year’s harvest is quickly renewed and tree farms never strip large portions of land for a single year’s holiday greenery.”

If you live in a place where a live tree won’t work, consider a second-hand artificial tree. Plastic trees require major amounts of petroleum to manufacture and generate tons of greenhouse gasses in the process. Plus, they are generally not recyclable, and wind up in landfills. Using that second-hand tree for several years helps to lessen its environmental impact. It is usually more economical than a cut tree. If you have an artificial tree producer in your community, buy it from them instead of a big box store.


November 21st, 2013

Shop Small Saturday, Nov. 30


Judging from our media, you would think that Americans made the Thanksgiving holidays specifically for shopping. Each American spends an average of $856 on the holidays, according to the American Research Group.

Most of those hard-earned dollars will go straight to China, since more than 70 percent of the goods on store shelves are from there. If we multiply that by the current U.S. population, that’s $257, 775, 794, 632 leaving home for the holidays! I was surprised that shopping wasn’t an Olympic event this year, considering how skilled we have become at sending our money overseas.

If you shop for the good of the economy, keep in mind that buying products made outside of your community means that your money also leaves home for the holidays. Instead, feed your local economy by making your own gifts and buying what gifts you can’t make from local, independent stores and artisans.

A recent economic study conducted in Austin, Texas found that if each household in Travis County (population 921,006) simply redirected just $100 of planned holiday spending from chain stores (carrying cheap imports) to locally owned merchants, the local economic impact would reach approximately $10 million. Imagine how $10 million would boost your community’s economy.

It used to be that time was less important than money in our culture, but we have become a nation of work-a-holics. A recent survey found that 70 percent of us (making more than $30K/year) would gladly give up a full day’s pay to have that day off from work. If you are buying gifts or giving money, you are cheating your loved ones. Instead, give gifts of time. Offer to change an elderly parent’s light bulbs to compact fluorescents, or give them a coupon good for a free day’s worth of caulking and winterizing. This is something they could really use, and time spent together will benefit you both.

On average, we spend between 20 and 40 hours shopping for holiday gifts and waiting in long lines. You could easily make most of your holiday gifts in that time and have the added bonus of time shared as a family. Climate writer Bill McKibben, in his excellent book “Hundred Dollar Holiday” says, “I can remember almost every present that someone’s made for me since we started doing these Hundred Dollar Holidays. And that’s testimony in itself. I have no idea what gifts came in all those great piles under the tree in previous years. They didn’t attach themselves to particular faces, particular memories.”

Saturday, Nov. 30 is National Shop Small Businesses Day, encouraging consumers to spend their holiday dollars in mom and pop stores instead of large chain stores. If you’re buying gifts, shop local. Even better, spend time with your children and make presents for everyone.


10 Steps to Improving Your Local Economy
November 14th, 2013


Recently, most of America’s industry has been “outsourced” overseas, causing a loss of jobs and the disintegration of hometowns built around factories. Our current recession is an indication that this global economy is not working. Economist and author Michael Shuman said recently “about 42 percent of our economy is “place based” or created through small, locally-owned businesses.” This means that almost half our economy depends upon small independent businesses that make up the backbone of our hometowns.

These small businesses are what give our town local color and local flavor. They are what differentiate us from every other exit on the highway that has the same six chain stores. Local businesses are also committed to their hometowns and support the local economy through hiring people in the area, donations to little league and volunteer ambulance and fire service, and paying local taxes. Shuman estimates that we could expand our national economy to be 70 percent local or more by incorporating these 10 simple steps that will actually save you money in the process.

–Localize your home! The biggest expense most of us have is our mortgage. Actually, 60 percent of our annual expenses go to shelter. This money often flies out of our pockets and communities and into absentee landlords’ hands or corporate banks in other places. By renting from a local landlord or buying your own home with a mortgage from a local bank, you can localize this expense. Local banks and credit unions typically have the best rates anyway, possibly saving you money in the process. Try to find a bank that doesn’t repackage and sell loans on the secondary market, which would stop your money from flowing through the community.

–Drive less! According to Shuman, Americans spend $1 in $5 on transportation. That amounts to almost $5,000 per year! Until we can start replacing imported oil with locally produced biofuels, our best bet is to drive less.

–Using mass transit, bicycling, or walking is highest on the list, but not very easy for us rural folks. Use the car sparingly, buy gas from an independent gas station if you can find one and use a local repair shop you trust.

–Eat Independently! Households spend about $2,300 per year on restaurants; unfortunately it’s mostly fast food chains. This one is a simple matter of choice with very little effort required to find a wonderful independently owned restaurant.

–Local Arts and Entertainment! Most people opt for a movie at a corporate multiplex at the mall. Enjoy homegrown talent! Visit the small repertory theaters; see a real play instead of a movie. Visit an art show and buy art from local artists. Buy music directly from local bands.

–Localize Your Health Care! Most of us have health care plans that are far from local, yet two components — high-tech equipment and prescription medications — can be localized. Get your meds from an independent pharmacy, preferably one that also uses local suppliers. If we take better care of ourselves — walking more, eating locally, building strong family and community ties — we will reduce our need for the high-tech equipment. Using local midwives instead of OB-GYN’s, and naturopaths or herbalists are alternative ways.

–Buy Locally Grown! Eating locally, meaning buying fresh vegetables, meats and dairy from local farms, reduces transportation costs and vitamin loss. Farming is one of the few industries that isn’t totally outsourced yet. The closer you eat to home, the more you improve your health, your view and your local economy.

–Localize Electricity! We could save $3,000 per year just by increasing our energy efficiency. Simple things like using compact fluorescent bulbs, improving insulation and having a home energy audit are some ways. Invest in solar hot water through a local provider and save even more.

–Give Locally! More than 6 percent of the U.S. economy is nonprofit, according to Shuman. Most of these nonprofits are in the forms of hospitals, universities and churches, but locally we also have arts organizations, environmental groups and many others.

–Buy Local! In the time it has taken you to read this, Americans have collectively spent $23 million. Shuman says that $16 million of this figure could be spent in small locally owned stores. How far would $16 million go in your hometown today?


November 7th, 2013

Low Carbon Diet


When you hear the words “peak oil,” the first image that springs to mind is that of the long lines at the gas pump during the ’70s energy crisis. However, the continual decrease in the world’s oil reserves will more likely result in longer bread lines than gas lines. Collectively, we Americans (SET ITAL) eat (END ITAL) almost as much fossil fuels as we burn in our automobiles.  American agriculture directly accounts for 17 percent of our energy use, or the equivalent of 400 gallons of oil consumed by every man, woman and child per year, according to 1994 statistics.

How did this come about? We have seen a major leap in farm productivity in the last 50 years with food production doubling and even tripling in the case of cereal grains. This amazing leap did not come from new farms or farmlands, since we have lost more than half our small farms in that same period. Farmlands are also in decline and being gobbled up by urban sprawl. These massive gains in food production are because of the use of synthetic fertilizer and, to a smaller extent, better plant hybrids. “2 in 5 humans on this earth would not be alive today” without the widespread use of chemical fertilizer, says Vaclav Smil, Canadian professor, author and energy expert.

We are eating fossil fuels in the form of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. These marvelous inventions can be traced directly to chemist Fritz Haber. He won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1918 for “improving agriculture” through his invention of nitrate fertilizer. Unfortunately, Haber’s invention was also used by the Nazis to create Zyklon B, the gas used in the infamous death camps.

Today, a formulation based on Haber’s is spread “in quantities of over 50 million metric tons per year” on American farms as insecticides, according to author and energy efficiency guru Amory Lovins. This is 20 times more pesticide used than when Rachel Carson wrote her compelling book “Silent Spring,” warning of environmental catastrophe occurring from pesticide overuse.

The unpalatable truth about our oil-based food system is that “it takes 10 calories of fossil fuels to make 1 calorie of food energy,” according to a study by David Pimentel and Mario Giampietro, published by the Carrying Capacity Institute. This scary statistic only takes into account the production of the food itself. If you factor in the processing, packaging, transportation, refrigeration and all of the other petroleum-intensive processes, that statistic can inflate to 87 calories of fuel per calorie of food. Why so much? Most of our food travels an average of 1500 “food miles” to get from the farm to our fork. Once these “fossil foods” get to our house, we spend even more energy on refrigerating and cooking until each bite we eat is metaphorically soaked in oil.

Clearly, we cannot keep eating this way. As oil reserves dwindle, our children and grandchildren will face drastic losses in food productivity. Some experts are predicting massive “die-offs” when grain prices soar. We must start the transition now from the “SUV diet” to a “low carbon diet.” But how can all earth’s people be fed without fossil fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides degrading the environment?

What sustainable agriculture advocates call “organic farming practices,” was simply the right way to do it for many centuries. This “new” model could double yields in highly populated countries without significant expense or resources. It is based on ecosystems’ regenerative capacity as a result of different plant associations; some of you gardeners may call it companion and rotational planting.

Want to lower the carbon in your diet?

Follow our First Lady’s example and maintain a garden in your backyard, instead of a lawn.

Visit farms and farmer’s markets in your region. Money spent at a local farm has twice the economic stimulus of money spent in a chain grocery store. To find the farms, visit LocalHarvest.Com or .

Host a “locavore” potluck and ask each guest to source ingredients for their dish within a 100 mile radius.

If we opt out of our national eating disorder and start eating foods grown closer to home and in their season, we can counter almost a third of our greenhouse gas emissions and improve the health of our economy at the same time.


October 31, 2013

Climate Quick Fixes

By Shawn Del Joyce

A year ago this week, Richard Branson, mega rich head of Virgin Airways, announced a prize of $25 million for anyone who could devise an effective way of removing one billion tons or more of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year for at least a decade. Since then, many scientists and inventors have come up with some imaginative solutions to the climate crisis.

Some suggestions border on the ridiculous, such as painting much of the world’s surface a reflective white to radiate heat out of the atmosphere. Others are prohibitively expensive, such as implanting giant mirrors in space to reflect sunlight. Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen suggested creating an artificial haze to block sunlight, and reflect it back into space. Sir David King and Gabrielle Walker explain in their book, “The Hot Topic,” that none of these so-called solutions take carbon out of the atmosphere. “Putting more carbon dioxide in the air creates a more acidic ocean,” they point out.

Freeman Dyson, author and Princeton Professor of Physics, suggests that we start growing more “carbon eating trees.” He suggests that the biotech industry start experimenting with tree genomes to create new versions that devour carbon at rates higher than natural.

“Carbon-eating trees could convert most of the carbon that they absorb from the atmosphere and other useful chemicals.” Dyson explains; “If one quarter of the world’s forests were replanted with carbon-eating varieties of the same species, the forests would be preserved as ecological resources and as habitats for wildlife, and the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be reduced by half in about fifty years.”

Following the carbon eating tree idea is “Bio-Char”– the process of allowing nature to sequester the atmospheric carbon as plant matter, and then charring it at high temperatures in the absence of oxygen. Bio-Char keeps the carbon out of the atmosphere almost indefinitely. The charred pieces can be plowed into farm fields to help soils retain water and build fertility.

Klaus Lackner, a researcher with Columbia University, came up with a “carbon chimney” approach. Lackner turns the chimney idea upside down, and has chimneys sucking up vast quantities of pollution and scrubbing out the carbon with a mineral that would release carbon in a storable stream. An advantage to Lackner’s plan is that the chimney could be built near depleted oil fields where carbon could be sequestered underground. A drawback of the chimney approach is that it would need an opening 1,000 feet wide to soak up the required amount of carbon dioxide.

An international team based at Carnegie Mellon University took the carbon chimney approach one step further by spraying sodium hydroxide solution from the towers to trap carbon dioxide. A huge drawback for this approach, and all others involving capturing carbon, is the enormous expense involved.

Father and son team Dominic and Alex Michaelis, and Trevor Cooper-Chadwickt figured out how to harness the change in the ocean’s temperature to generate electricity. They would build a network of floating islands similar to oil rigs. Each island would house 25 people and may be connected to form larger colonies. Marine turbines would harness energy underwater, while floating devices on the edges of the islands would collect wave power. On deck, windmills and focused solar panels capture renewable energy. Each island could produce 250 Megawatts of power, but we would have to string together 50,000 of them to meet the world energy demand.

While all these ideas are innovative and may help to reduce atmospheric carbon, they are still “like a junkie figuring out new ways of stealing from his children,” according to the King/Walker book. There is no “climate quick fix.” The best solution is to stop adding atmospheric carbon now, and begin removing it from the air and oceans. This means using energy more efficiently with better insulation, more efficient vehicles and investing in solar panels and other renewable energy sources. Couple that with planting more trees, preserving more rainforests and open spaces, so that we have natural “carbon sinks” that wash carbon from the atmosphere.

“What we need is a near miracle to undo the harm that we have done,” says James Lovelock, scientist and Virgin Earth Challenge judge. “We have spent far too long sleepwalking towards extinction.”


October 24th, 2013

Made in China


It is difficult to buy anything that is not made in China today, since the U.S. imports more than half of its consumer goods from that one country. Many people are starting their holiday shopping this week, and most of that hard-earned money will go right to China.

The flood of consumer goods from China has nearly tripled since 1997, and the number of recalls has grown proportionately. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is deluged by this flood. The FDA has only 1,317 field investigators for 320 ports of entry. The agency inspects just 0.7 percent of all imports — half of what it did a decade ago. David Acheson, an assistant commissioner for food protection at the FDA, points out that it would be impossible to test all imports from China. “It’s got to be based on risk,” says Acheson.

And we have seen how risky it is, with recalls on pet food, produce, toothpaste and hundreds of other products. FDA inspectors report that tainted food imports from China are being rejected with increasing frequency because “they are filthy, are contaminated with pesticides and tainted with carcinogens, bacteria and banned drugs.”

Recently, China quietly surpassed the United States as the world’s top polluter. China has no real environmental safeguards in place to protect drinking water from contaminants, no labor laws to keep children out of sweatshops and no legal ethics to keep entrepreneurs from producing dangerous products. In addition, our communities suffer financially when we buy imports over locally made goods. When we opt for a cheaper import, our dollars flow out of our community and fund a system that degrades people and the planet. Our small businesses suffer, manufacturing jobs leave, and we find ourselves with boarded-up storefronts in our downtowns. This economic exodus further devalues our currency and increases the demand for “cheap.”

A recent economic study conducted in Austin, Texas, found that if each household in Travis County redirected just $100 of planned holiday spending from chain stores (carrying cheap imports) to locally owned merchants, the economic impact would reach approximately $10 million. Imagine what $10 million could do for your community.

If you are getting fed up with cheap imports flooding our stores and damaging our economy, and dangerous products slipping through the holes in our safety nets, then here’s a few simple actions you can take today:

–This year, think “home for the holidays,” and spend your money locally. Visit local artists, crafters and artisans for gifts. Look for items that are made using local products as well, like wines from local grapes and jams from local fruits.

–Boycott anything made in China, even for only a week. It will make you aware of how over-dependent we are on imports and may protect your family from unsafe products.

Make it illegal to sell defective goods, and hold every business in the supply chain legally responsible for what they sell.


October 17th, 2013

Going Paperless

By Shawn Dell Joyce

Americans still use more than 90 million tons of paper, or about 700 pounds per person, per year. Developing nations like China, India and the rest of Asia are the fastest-growing per-capita users of paper, but at about 100 pounds per person, per year. Australians use about 300 pounds per person, per year, and Western Europe uses more than 400 pounds per person, per year. To feed this intense hunger for wood pulp, half the world’s forests have already been cleared or burned, and 80 percent of what’s left has been seriously degraded.

The world’s forests are also the world’s lungs. Forests clear carbon from the atmosphere and generate fresh, clean air for us to breathe. It’s estimated that forests clean and store half the carbon from the atmosphere, making them our single best defense against climate change and acidification of the oceans. In addition to chewing up the world’s forests, the paper industry is the 4th largest contributor to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

If we recycle paper, and use recycled paper products instead of products made from virgin wood, we will use 100 percent less trees, 44 percent less energy and produce 38 percent less greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, recycling paper hasn’t really caught on yet in our country, and less than half the office paper used is recycled. If the United States cut office paper use by just 10 percent, we could prevent the emission of 1.6 million tons of greenhouse gases — about the same as permanently parking 280,000 cars.

Recycled paper currently makes up about 37 percent of our pulp supply, and winds up becoming 6 percent of office paper, 45 percent of tissues (including toilet paper) and 32 percent of newspaper. The newspaper industry is one of the earliest and most willing to embrace recycled paper, so remember that before you cancel your subscription to save paper.

Here are some very effective ways to save paper:

–Buy only 100 percent recycled-content paper for office use, toilet paper and paper towels (if you still use them).

–Switch to online billing! If every U.S. household made the switch, we would save more than 750 million pounds of paper and 9 million trees, thereby avoiding nearly 10 million tons of global warming emissions, each year.

–Say no to receipts. U.S. banks alone print 8 billion ATM receipts each year. In addition to excess paper consumption, these receipts are printed on coated “thermal” paper that cannot be recycled.

–Check out books from the library, buy books second-hand or read them online instead of purchasing newly printed books on virgin paper.

–Eliminate junk mail by contacting the offending companies directly or opting out of national and regional mailing lists. This will save about 40 pounds of paper per person, per year.

–Adjust print settings to use as much of the available space on your paper as possible. For example, copy emails, web pages and text from PDFs into a word-processing program, which allows you to reduce margins and font size and delete unwanted images or text. Print on both sides of your paper, and consider squeezing two or more pages onto each side.

–For the more hard-core — commit to a paperless office and learn to do without printing. Instead of tossing paper in the garbage, reuse it by printing on the backside, cutting it into quarters and using it for scrap, or shredding it and using it for packaging. In the home, commit to a paperless home by switching to cloth napkins, hand towels and a chalkboard for family notes.


October 10, 2013Get an Energy Audit


Almost half of our energy use goes into heating and cooling our homes. We are already paying an average increase of 20 percent for home heating costs. Any way you can reduce your costs will help pay for this increase. A professional home energy audit costs $100-$300, but if you take their recommendations, you will quickly make that money back.

Some states, like New York, will reimburse you for the cost of the audit and make you eligible for a low interest rate loan (2 percent) to pay for major renovations. If you take out the loan and make the improvements, the money you save on your electric bill will easily cover the loan payment, often with plenty left over. If you plan to go solar, or incorporate some form of renewable energy into your home, the same program will pay for half the installed cost.

Having a trained eye look at your home is invaluable. My auditor spotted right away that my furnace was operating at 80 percent efficiency in spite of just being serviced. He also found some leaky and uninsulated ductwork that we never noticed.

The blower door is a tool that auditors use to test your home’s envelope. They install a powerful fan that fits exactly into an open outer door. The air is sucked out of your house causing negative air pressure. The auditor walks around with a hand-held smoke machine and points out the major gaps and leaks, usually around doors and window frames. If added together, all these gaps and leaks can equal a huge hole in your wall.

Here are a few ways my home energy audit saved us money and reduced our energy use:

–Just by caulking all the gaps and leaks, we could save almost $1,000 off our annual heating and cooling bills. Even if we hired a contractor to do this and had to pay $4,500 for caulking, we would make that investment back in less than 5 years. You can’t get a rate of return that good on the stock market right now.

–One of the most obvious leaks in any home is an uninsulated attic and basement. We were losing much of our heat right though the roof of our house. A modest investment of about $1500 added six more inches of insulation to our attic. It made a considerable difference in how warm the house feels and how much energy we use to heat it. We reinsulated many of our outside walls at the same time and were able to cut our home heating costs dramatically last year.

–If you have an unisulated basement, insulating exposed crawlspace ceilings and walls could save you as much as $800 annually, depending on the size of your house. Again, if you paid someone to do it, you would make a return on your investment in less than five years.

–Switching out your incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescent or LED lights can save you an immediate 20 percent off your electric bill. The more bulbs you replace, the greater your savings.

–About 14 percent of our home energy use is spent on keeping water hot at all times. An on-demand water heater will pay for itself in about 2-3 years.

–Appliances and cooking can account for 33 percent of our home energy use. If you replace older appliances with Energy Star Rated appliances, you can save an average of about $100 per year, per appliance. This savings helps to offset the cost of the new appliance over the years.

–Replacing windows can be expensive, making the payback period much longer. In my case, we would save $30-$50 annually with a payback period of 10 years. We opted instead to invest in window inserts to use during the winter. An immediate action you can take is to cover every window with clear plastic window sheeting from your local hardware store. It curbs heat transfer, and will save you energy.

To find a qualified energy auditor near you, go to and click the “partners” tab. You can look up a home energy rater by state.

If you can’t find an auditor, do it yourself by gathering last year’s utility bills and using the “Home Energy Yardstick” option on to get energy saving home improvement advice from Energy Star.


September 26th, 2013

Think Local For a Stronger Economy!

by Shawn Dell Joyce

Have you noticed that some communities are suffering less than others in times of economic downturn? In communities with a strong localized economy, there is less fluctuation, and more money flowing from local business to local business. These communities tend to have a higher quality of life, lower crime rates and a friendlier, more neighborly attitude. What makes these towns different? They think local!

Many towns are realizing that local independent businesses return more money to the local economy than the national chain stores. Towns that are able to grow a good amount of their food, and source many of their consumer goods and services through local manufacturing and businesses are much more financially stable in uncertain times. They are also more sustainable, and have a lower carbon footprint.

Local businesses are not shipping goods over thousands of miles and paying the higher fuel costs. Also, they tend to bank local, advertise in local papers, purchase local, use local contractors and pay good wages and benefits to local people. That keeps money bouncing around longer in the local community. Each time that money passes through another pair of local hands, it improves the local economy a little more.

A recent study revealed that $1 earned by a local farmer had the impact of $2 on the farmer’s community because it changed hands so many times locally.

“About 42 percent of our economy is ‘place based’ or created through small, locally-owned businesses,” notes economist and author, Michael Shuman. He estimates that we could expand this figure to 70 percent or more by localizing some of our main expenditures. In the process, we would boost our local economy, and save money at the same time.

–Local Food: Most of our urban areas are surrounded by farms that produce lots of local foods, which are shipped thousands of miles away. Ironically, 75 percent of fresh apples eaten in New York City come from Washington State and foreign countries. Meanwhile, a few miles upstate in New York, farmers grow 10 times more apples than the Big Apple consumes. If we all started eating closer to home — say within a 100 mile radius — eating in season and lower on the food chain, we could localize our food system.

–Local electricity: The electricity for our houses and businesses most often flows through hundreds of miles of power lines from the source to our home. Imagine if cul-de-sac residents teamed up and purchased a communal wind turbine, or set up solar panels on all the southern-facing garage roofs. We could create a series of small-scale energy providers that could potentially meet their own power needs.

In my community, a waste-recycling entrepreneur has found a way to generate electricity from bagged household garbage. Also, a farmer has developed a way to turn old hay and agricultural waste into pellets for home heating. Two huge leaks in my local economy could be met locally if we started using heat and power more efficiently.

–Suburban renewal: If we relocalized our towns so that residents could walk to the farmers market, hardware store, library and post office all in the same area, we wouldn’t have to drive so much. Driving is expensive and environmentally devastating. When you walk or bicycle you go slower, appreciate the architecture and history, wave to the neighbors and possibly engage in conversation. This kind of walkable downtown encourages local spending and reinforces community bonds.

–Local currency: If you want to stimulate economic growth in a geographic region, one tried-and-true method is to generate a local currency. It functions like the good old dollar, but is not legal tender; instead it is more like a local barter. The people who use local currency make a conscious commitment to buy local first. They are taking personal responsibility for the health and well-being of their community. This also distinguishes local businesses that accept the currency as those who have made the same commitment.

The state of Vermont recently issued its own currency — Vermont Freedom Currency — which is a silver coin worth 10 Credits.  Vermonters can use the coin for any service, fee or tax throughout the state, or as barter currency accepted by certain individuals and businesses. These coins circulate through Vermont and have proven to be a real economic stimulus as people have fewer qualms about spending the Vermont currency freely.

While you may not be able to buy everything you want locally, chances are if you can’t find it in a local store, at a yard sale, or on Craigslist, you could probably do without it.


September 19th, 2013



Recently, scientists have started looking to nature and emulating natural processes to replace carbon-intensive manufacturing. Think about the humble spider web, three times stronger than steel yet light and flexible. We humans have not been able to design anything quite so useful and biodegradable.

Biomimicry stems from the Latin word “bios,” meaning life and “mimesis,” meaning to imitate.

“Biomimicry is basically taking a design challenge and then finding an ecosystem that’s already solved that challenge, and literally trying to emulate what you learn,” said Janine M. Benyus, who coined the term and is the author of “Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.” “It’s not hoping our systems work like natural systems; it’s actually trying to get into a deep conversation with the organisms. Then it takes a biologist working with an engineer, architect or designer to bring that knowledge to a product,” she says.

It means to study nature’s most successful developments and imitate these natural processes to solve human problems with less pollution.

Probably the most famous case of biomimicry to date is Velcro. In 1941, Swiss engineer George de Mestral was inspired by the burrs in his dog’s hair. He marveled at how tenaciously they held to the hairs and studied them under a microscope. He noted the tiny hooks on the end of the burr’s spines that caught any loop from fur to clothing. This formula became the Velcro fastener system we use today. Hooks line one strip and connect to loops on the other strip.

Imagine heating and cooling your home without using any electricity, wearing clothes that wash themselves, or having a window made from mother-of-pearl. All these things are happening in the field of biomaterials. There are many materials in nature that could be manufactured and used more efficiently than their human-made counterparts.

Think of the glue that mussels make to hold tight to rocks and ships underwater. Our best efforts cannot simulate glue like that. Mussels do it without chemicals, polymers and petroleum. And it’s biodegradable. Most human-made compounds will not biodegrade and will be around long after the last human is gone. Also, nature is able to manufacture these materials without high temperatures, a feat we can only dream of.

Think of how easily plants convert water and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and oxygen. Scientists have tried to replicate photosynthesis in the lab to generate hydrogen for fuel cells and clean carbon from the atmosphere. This process, when perfected, could make hydrogen fuel cells more efficient and self-recharging. Vehicles made with these fuel cells would actually help clean carbon out of the atmosphere and would generate their own power, giving them an advantage over electric and fuel-burning cars.

Scientists participating in the Termite Emulation of Regulatory Mound Environments by Simulation project have scanned a termite mound to create 3-D images of the mound structure. They are studying how termites are able to regulate the temperatures of their mud mounds in the hot sub-Saharan climate. This termite technology has been applied to a Zimbabwe office building, which manages to stay cool using only 10 percent of the energy a conventional building the same size would use. Termites may soon change the way we build and cool our human structures.

British researchers at the University of Leeds studied bats and their use of echolocation to see in the dark. This research led to a new tool for the visually impaired called UltraCane, which senses obstacles using echolocation and guides people around them.

Our species has spent much of its time on this planet looking for ways to conquer and rise above nature. Finally, we are learning from our mistakes and taking advice from our fellow creatures that have been quietly whispering to us all along.

As our natural resources diminish and fossil fuels become prohibitively expensive, we have to find new ways to build our sagging economy and generate our consumer goods. Our current economy is based on continuous growth fed by plentiful natural resources converted into a steady stream of consumer goods. At some point, and perhaps we have reached that point, the resources run out and the growth slows to a stop. Biomimicry may help us replace these environmentally harmful methods with ones that generate real wealth — a clean planet with ample resources to sustain the future generations.


September 5th, 2013

Adapting to Climate Change


Many scientists agree that we have waited too late to address climate change and are now suffering some consequences. What is debatable is how severe and long lasting those consequences might be.

We still have a chance to act now to reduce the impact on our children and grandchildren. It is only a matter of time before a carbon cap is legislated and we begin to reduce emissions. Atmospheric carbon can have up to a 100-year lifespan, so even if we stop all emissions today, we will still have an impact on climate for the next century.

So how can we adapt to our changing climate and prepare our communities for the weird weather we are enduring? Adaptation at a local-government level begins with reducing emissions, and then preparing for drought or deluge (depending where you’re located), rising sea levels, changes in agriculture and growing seasons and the potential loss of livelihoods. There is an organization that helps local governments learn where they are vulnerable and take steps to reduce the catastrophic consequences of climate change.

ICLEI is an international agency that thinks globally but acts locally to help communities. Annie Strickler, ICLEI communications director, suggests that “you can’t just choose mitigation or adaptation strategies; they go hand-in-hand. While we’re working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, many if not all communities need to prepare for impacts that are currently happening or will happen in the years and decades to come.”

Strickler also notes that it is much cheaper to adapt now than try to catch up later or pay to clean up the consequences of not adapting. To help local governments, ICLEI cooperated with the Climate Impacts Group and King County, Wash., to produce a free guidebook.

The guidebook “takes the mystery out of planning for climate impacts by specifying the practical steps and strategies that can be put into place now” to help communities adapt.

One ICLEI success story is Keene, N.H. Keene is in a low area experiencing terrible flooding. In 2005, more than a third of the city was submerged, causing massive evacuations.

Scientists predicted more frequent extreme precipitation for the Northeast, and so, Keene got proactive and worked with ICLEI to assess how to adapt now to avoid catastrophes.

The process engaged all city department heads, medical, social and emergency personnel in brainstorming and goal setting. What they discovered is a need for better storm water management, green building codes and a way to feed the community when all the roads are washed out by flooding.

Some of the adaptation ideas included:

–Providing loans to companies that might be affected by a warming climate, such as the ski industry, snow plowing and maple sugaring industries.

–Supporting local farmers to increase local food security by 20 percent, so that when droughts and floods disrupt outside food supply lines, local farms will be able to feed the population.

–Building stronger roofs to handle wetter, heavier snow in the warming winter.

–Using porous pavement to prevent storm water runoff, and improving infrastructure such as storm sewers to handle a higher flow.

Keene has forged a path that other cities — including Fort Collins, Colo., and Fairbanks, Alaska — are following, too. Keene city Planner Mikaela Engert points out that “this is something that can be replicated, whether you’re a community of 1,000 people or 1.5 million, it doesn’t matter. You can do this. Ultimately we’re talking about protecting people property and our community.


August 22, 2013Water Is the New Gold


As a teen, I remember using all my strength to open a giant valve in a ditch that diverted part of the Rio Grande River into my grandparents’ citrus orchards. The brown water would bubble up from the valve and flood into the orchards following the little trenches I made with a hoe. This method is called flood irrigation and is the least efficient way to use water. Yet 93 percent of the world’s farmers irrigate their crops using this method.

In my younger days, I would never believe that the mighty Rio Grande would ever dry up. Yet it, along with the Nile, Ganges, Colorado and many other rivers, does not always reach the sea.

Westerners seem to take water for granted on this sparkling blue planet. However, less than three-thousandths of 1 percent of all fresh water is available to us humans. The rest is locked tightly into ice or buried too deep for our powerful pumps to reach, according to the United Nations. We still manage to use over a quarter of the Earth’s total fresh water in natural circulation, much to the dismay of our fellow creatures. But even that doesn’t slake our thirst.

Worldwide demand for water has tripled over the past fifty years as the world’s population has doubled. Millions of wells, powerful diesel pumps and the diverting of streams and rivers are drawing down the water table below the natural recharge levels. To put it bluntly, we are using up our children’s water today. What will we leave for our grandchildren to drink?

Humans need less than two gallons of water per day for drinking and cooking. Yet we must have a thousand gallons more to grow our food. In affluent societies like ours, where meat is a primary staple, we need two thousand gallons or more per day just to feed one person. Agriculture ties up about half our water, mostly to grow grains to feed animals. It takes about a thousand tons of water to produce one ton of grain. It is much cheaper to import grain than to grow it where water is scarce. Many countries that are running low on water have become grain importers, so they don’t have to tie up precious drinking water for agriculture.

Our country is still a grain-exporting country but at a great cost to our future generations. Our water is subsidized, so most big agro-giants don’t pay the real cost of water. Some California large-scale farms buy water at $5 per acre-foot, while the government estimates the real cost is more like $40 per acre-foot.

What isn’t factored in is that most of that water comes from fossil aquifers underground like the Ogallala Aquifer, which underlies most of our grain-producing states. This aquifer is drawn down at a rate of about ten feet per year and recharged at a rate of half inch per year. Two-fifths of our feedlot cattle are fed grain made of Ogallala water. Amory Lovins, efficiency guru from the Rocky Mountain Institute, points out that “growing that feedlot steer consumed up to a hundred pounds of eroded topsoil and eight thousand pounds of Ice Age vintage groundwater.”

As water becomes the new “gold standard” around the world, we begin to see water being used more efficiently. In our country, water efficiency is improving faster than energy efficiency as municipalities and farmers begin to address shortages. Like energy efficiency, the biggest gains are made by taking the simplest steps. Just by using drip irrigation and sprinklers, we could save enough water to meet the needs of the expanding population.

Here are a few success stories, courtesy of Amory and Hunter Lovins from their book “Natural Capitalism:”

–Palo Alto, Calif., saved 27 percent of its water use by hiring college students to teach high-usage homeowners about ways to be more efficient.

–South Africa’s Kruger National Park saved 74 percent of its water and 52 percent of its electricity by installing meters, educating people and finding other simple solutions.

–Oregon farmers saved 10 percent to 15 percent of their water use, thanks to a three-hour visit by a water efficiency consultant.

“Like energy, it is much cheaper to buy efficiency than it is to buy water,” says Lovins. Let’s leave a little water for the next generation by using our water more wisely today.


August 15th, 2013

Sustainable Population


Our population is hovering at 7 billion, leading some to wonder if we have already passed our planet’s carrying capacity. It took thousands of years for humans to first establish a firm presence on this earth. Then, our population began doubling very quickly. If you are a baby boomer, and were born in 1945, you have seen the population double with your birth to 2.3 billion. And then double again around 2003. You even have seen the population more than triple in the span of one single lifetime to 7 billion in 2012.

Looking at Earth as a whole, we have about 22 billion acres of usable land. This is contains about 3.3 billion acres of farmland, 8.4 billion acres of pastureland and 10.1 billion acres of forestland. Not all of the land is fertile, which will affect its ability to produce food. We also must share this land with other species already dependent upon that land for survival.

According to Dr. Sidney Liebes’ book “A Walk Through Time, “if the earth were the scale of a ball that you could hold in your hand, the amount of usable farmland would look like a tiny speck of dust by comparison. Additionally, all the drinkable water would look like a tiny water droplet, while the breathable atmosphere would be a thin coating of shellac.

Our current ecological footprint, which measures how much land it takes to feed, clothe and shelter a typical American, is about 9.6 global hectares, compared to the available 1.8 global hectares of usable land (according to Wikipedia). If everyone used resources and land the way we Americans do, we would need three more planet earths to sustain our population.

Estimates of the Earth’s carrying capacity vary according to which population you are measuring, since some populations live more sustainably than others. Some scientists say that not only are we living beyond earth’s carrying capacity, but we are also eating up future generation’s ability to live within earth’s means. We are literally emptying the earth’s bank account rather than living off the interest as our ancestors have done, and leaving a “balance due” for future generations.

British geographer, Ernst George Ravenstein is credited with first estimating the carrying capacity of the earth to around 6 billion. Presently, at 7.1 billion, more than a billion of our population does not receive enough food energy to carry out a day’s work. Even through Ravenstein was operating on statistics from last century, he hit fairly close to home.

Before Ravenstein, the English clergyman Thomas Robert Malthus argued that human population always increases more rapidly than food supplies and that humans are condemned to breed to the point of misery and starvation. The two hundred years since Malthus’ essay was first published have proven him wrong. We can artificially increase food production above birth rates and decline in numbers in the presence of plenty.

The World Hunger Program at Brown University estimated, based on 1992 levels of food production and an equal distribution of food, that “the world could sustain either 5.5 billion vegetarians, 3.7 billion people who get 15 percent of their calories from animal products (as in much of South America) or 2.8 billion people who derive 25 percent of their calories from animal products (as in the wealthiest countries).”

Clearly we have passed all sustainable estimates and are now entering the “borrowed time” area of the population chart.  In order to provide the projected 9 billion people in 2050 with 2100 calories per day (what food aid agencies declare as the minimum caloric intake) we would have to double our global agricultural production. Humans have already plowed over most of the usable farmland on the planet, and there is a limit to any field’s fertility. Could Malthus be right after all?

This is not a new chapter in human history. We have faced starvation before, and triumphed. According to Lester Brown, “In the 15th century, Icelanders realized that overgrazing of their grasslands was leading to soil erosion. Farmers then calculated how many sheep the land could sustain and allocated quotas among themselves, thus preserving their grasslands and a wool industry that thrives today.”

Here are some steps you can take to reduce your ecological footprint.

–Measure your ecological footprint at

–Walk, bike or share a ride instead of driving or flying

–Have a home energy audit and increase your home’s efficiency

–Adopt energy-saving habits and use “low-tech” clotheslines and curtains

–Eat local, in season and organic, and eat less meat

–Invest in a greener home instead of a bigger home

–Buy less, reuse more

–Have smaller families and support zero population growth


August 8th, 2013

Sustainable Seafood

Ocean fish are the last wild creatures that people hunt on a large scale. We used to think of the ocean’s bounty as endless, but recently we have discovered its limits. Between 1950 and 1994, ocean fishermen increased their catch 400 percent by doubling the number of boats and using more effective fishing gear, according to Seafood Watch from the Monterrey Bay Aquarium.

In 1989, the world’s catch leveled off at just over 82 million metric tons of fish per year. We have reached “peak fish” and no amount of boats will help us catch more fish. Today, only 10 percent of all large fish — both open ocean species including tuna, swordfish, marlin and the large groundfish such as cod, halibut, skates and flounder — are left in the sea, according to research published in National Geographic.

“From giant blue marlin to mighty bluefin tuna, and from tropical groupers to Antarctic cod, industrial fishing has scoured the global ocean. There is no blue frontier left,” lead author Ransom Myers told National Geographic. “Since 1950, with the onset of industrialized fisheries, we have rapidly reduced the resource base to less than 10 percent — not just in some areas, not just for some stocks, but for entire communities of these large fish species from the tropics to the poles.”

“The impact we have had on ocean ecosystems has been vastly underestimated,” said co-author Boris Worm. “These are the megafauna, the big predators of the sea, and the species we most value. Their depletion not only threatens the future of these fish and the fishers that depend on them, it could also bring about a complete re-organization of ocean ecosystems, with unknown global consequences.”

Marine biologist Sylvia Earle says, “I don’t blame the fishermen for this, we, the consumers, have done this because we have a taste for fish and ‘delicacies’ such as shark-fin soup. Our demand for seafood appears to be insatiable … driven by high-end appetites. I’ve always believed that even when there is only one bluefin tuna left in the sea someone will pay a million dollars to be able to eat it.”

Earle, who is also an author and sustainability advocate, points out that “most people also don’t know how bad it is for us to be eating so much fish, not only because of the destruction of an ecosystem vital to survival but also because the big predatory fish are full of the toxins and other pollutants that we cast into the oceans. It’s not as healthy to eat fish as most people believe.”

Three factors are responsible for the depletion of our oceans:

–Coastal wetlands are a fertile habitat for fish and shellfish, but they also popular places for people. More than half of the world’s people live near a seacoast, placing most of our large cities next to the ocean. Sewage, oil, chemicals and agricultural fertilizer pollute bay waters. Paved surfaces near wetlands and tidal areas increase storm water run-off.

–Trawling and dragging are fishing methods that destroy habitat by dredging up the sea floor. Some trawlers put rockhopper gear, including old tires, along the base of their nets to roll over rocky reefs giving sea life no place to hide. Dredges drag nets with a chain mesh base through soft sand or mud to catch scallops and sea urchins, crushing other life on the seafloor and damaging places where fish feed and breed. Some scientists believe that fishing with rockhoppers and dredges harms the ocean more than any other human activity.

–According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, one in four animals caught in fishing gear dies as bycatch (unwanted or unintentional catch). Tons of fish are tossed out because they’re not what the fishing boat was after, they have no market value, or they are too small to sell. Bycatch often takes young fish that could rebuild depleted populations if they were allowed to grow up and breed. It is estimated that for each pound of shrimp caught in a trawl net, an average of two to ten pounds of other marine life is caught and discarded as bycatch.

Some seafood can be sustainably farmed. Clams are raised in special beds on sandy shores, where their harvest does little to disturb the ecosystem. Oysters and mussels are often raised in bags or cages suspended off the seafloor, doing little damage as they’re harvested. Many farmed fish, such as salmon, are grown in net pens, like cattle in a feedlot. This is as environmentally damaging in the ocean as cattle feed lots are on land. Additionally, Mangrove forests have been cut down and replaced with temporary shrimp farms that supply shrimp to Europe, Japan and America until the water becomes polluted.


Thursday August 1st

Green Your Vacation


Did your travel plans get curtailed this summer like many other Americans? Rising gas prices and a slow economic recovery have many people rethinking vacations.

Driving is the easiest travel option, but it is getting more expensive and is one of the leading causes of climate change, generating almost 20 pounds of carbon emissions for every gallon of gas used.

Air travel seems like it would be more efficient since more people travel in less time. However, a single transatlantic flight for a family of four creates more carbon emissions than that family will generate domestically for an entire year.

Consumer Reports points out that a flight from New York to Los Angeles can generate from 1,924 to 6,732 pounds of carbon depending on the carbon calculator you use (and variables in fuel efficiency, passenger load and air traffic). Although air travel is seen as the most convenient method of travel, it is also the most environmentally devastating, leading many conscientious passengers to resort to carbon offsets.

According to TerraPass, Inc., offsetting that flight would cost around $10. Your ten bucks is invested in clean energy and efficiency projects such as wind farms, which results in verified reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

If you’re traveling great distances, the most fuel-efficient way to travel is by train, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. In a recent report, the DOE states that Amtrak — on an energy-consumed-per-passenger-per-mile basis — is 18 percent more energy efficient than commercial airlines.

Nearly 1 billion tourists crisscross the globe every year, now more than ever it’s so important that we tread lightly wherever we go.

Here are a few ways to save fuel costs and emissions this summer:

–Take a local vacation. Stay closer to home, and explore the places you haven’t been in your own community. Set aside a week of local family fun, and schedule a different local museum, farm or small town for each day. Plan your stops according to the route of a train or bus to maximize your efficiency.

–Explore the rail trails in your area by bicycle. Most communities have rail trail projects connecting larger cities by walking and biking paths. Explore your area by riding in five miles sections each day. Use to find local places.

–Stay in a green hotel when possible. If you strive to be green at home, why not on vacation as well? Check out the websites from and for ideas.

–Travel with friends, and share the costs and carbon of each car trip. If you carpool, then share a vacation rental including meals, you form tighter friendship bonds, use less gas, and eat out less.

–Stay with friends or camp. Hotels are very resource intensive, from air conditioning and cleaning to disposables. When you stay with friends, you lighten the environmental and economic costs. Use and other websites to pick a perfect spot for your family.

–Consider a working vacation and volunteer to work on an organic farm located in a place you wish to visit. Many countries also have programs for whole families to spend a vacation working as part of a relief effort. and are helpful resources.

–Indulge in roadside attractions by visiting the places near you that you secretly always wanted to see but never went to. You know, the ones advertised on giant billboards on the major highway. Usually they are caverns, zoos or other unique oddities that you really should see at least once.


Thursday July 25th, 2013

A Greener Funeral


Most of us hardly give a thought to planning our own funerals. We would prefer to leave that to our relatives, along with a hefty insurance settlement to pay for the whole thing.

Yearly, 50 million people die. In our country, 22,500 cemeteries bury approximately 30 million board feet of hardwoods, over 100,000 tons of steel, copper and bronze, and a million tons of concrete, all soaked in 827,060 gallons of formaldehyde and other embalming fluids, according to the Casket and Funeral Supply Association of America.

That’s a lot of resources and chemicals being sent to their death to shelter an already deceased corpse. Many Americans, 21 percent over age 50, would prefer an eco-friendly end-of-life ritual, according to a recent survey. Consumer demand is pushing the funeral industry to use more Earth-friendly burial methods.

If you’re concerned about going out of this world in a greener way, here are some things to consider.

–Cremation uses less resources than a traditional burial, but is still not considered green because it uses a large about of fossil fuels.

–Embalming is pumping the body full of formaldehyde and other chemicals that are considered environmental pollutants. In green funerals, the body is preserved for viewing through refrigeration and the use of dry ice.

–Caskets are traditionally made from hardwoods preserved and varnished with caustic chemicals. Green and biodegradable caskets are made of plain wood, cardboard or even paper mache. You can find these caskets at the Passages International website.

–Burial vaults and grave liners are unnecessary in an era without grave robbers. No state or federal laws require use of a vault, though a cemetery can insist that one be used.

–Green cemeteries are dedicated to providing a natural setting for green burials without chemicals, using biodegradable caskets, native plants and minimal grave markers.

–Home funerals are funerals that take place in a private home, with a doula or midwife trained in assisting grieving families. These funerals are often more personal and use far less resources (including money) than traditional funeral parlors.

–Home burials on private land are the most green, being the way nature intended us to leave this world, but may be difficult to do legally. Information and advice on how to be buried on your own land can be found at the Green Burial Council website.

–Many cemeteries are allowing natural burials, and greener practices. Check out, for help finding one near you.


July 18th, 2013

Building a Stronger Community is Good for Your Health!


In his book, “Outliers,” author Malcolm Gladwell cites a study that proves a strong localized community actually improves your health. The study is centered on Roseto, Pa., a small community comprised mainly of immigrants from a small Italian village also named Roseto. This village attracted international attention in 1950 when it was exposed as having the lowest rate of heart disease in the whole nation.

The study, led by physician Stewart Wolf, studied the entire population of two thousand people and discovered that the death rate from disease was 35 percent lower than the rest of the country. There was no suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction and very little crime. No one was on welfare, and no one had peptic ulcers.

They found that Rosetons ate pretty much what the rest of the country was eating, deriving 41 percent of their calories from fat, with many struggling with obesity, and lots of heavy smokers. The difference between Roseto and the rest of the country was not diet, exercise or a genetic predisposition to good health. It had nothing to do with the land or the water and everything to do with the town itself.

What these immigrants brought with them to rural Pennsylvania was an “old world” sense of community. Rosetans made the time to stop and chat with each other on the street, cooked for each other in backyard parties and held friendships in high priority. Extended families lived under the same roof, with elderly parents commanding respect. There were twenty-two civic groups serving the small population.

Roseto had a healthy and prosperous localized community where everyone knew each other, and the entire community was there to lend a helping hand when things got rough. Wealth was never flaunted, and those falling on hard times were never shunned. The villagers had woven a social fabric of interconnected relationships where each thread was valued and needed for the good of the whole.

As a result, individuals had a sense of belonging and well-being. Their labor was valued and all were considered equally important to the community, whether they were the mayor or the garbage man. This fabric was economic as well as social, with much of the community’s needs met by member’s labors. No chain stores, big box stores, or Chinese imports were valued over locally produced goods and services.

Sound familiar? Yes, there are still a few American towns and villages that could pass for Roseto.

Researchers who worked with Wolf found new ways to look at heart disease and treat the patient holistically, as a member of a community. The ongoing recession and state of the world weigh heavy on our communities. Money is tight for most of us, family relations are strained, and stress is wearing out our last nerves. Now is the time when we need to pull together and look above our individual problems to build a stronger community.

When we look at individuals in our community, they are each unique and beautiful. What makes a work of art is seeing each individual brushstroke as part of a whole painting. As an artist, I often have to take a few steps back from my work to see the painting as a whole. As a community member, let’s collectively take a few steps back, regard the lovely tapestry of friends, neighbors and small businesses and ask, “What can I do to make this better?” Realize that your efforts toward building a stronger community are good for your health, your family’s health and the well-being of us all.


Wednesday July 3rd

Natural Home Cooling


Cooling our homes in the summer can account for 45 percent of our home energy use, yet it could be reduced to 10 percent or less with a few thoughtful changes. Incorporating natural ventilation into your home will help you slash your energy use and carbon emissions drastically.

Become aware of the seasonal wind patterns and the air flow around your home. Most areas have gentle breezes in the summer that can be directed into your house through landscaping and opening certain windows. If you don’t know which direction the prevailing winds are coming from, hang laundry on the line and watch. Once you find the wind’s direction, look at your landscape and geography. Are there trees and bushes that help to funnel the breeze toward your home, or are you parking your car right in the way?

Windows make a big difference in the temperature of a room. Keep windows open on the side of your home facing the wind. If they are double hung, have both open so that cool air flows in the bottom window, and warm air flows out of the top. If you open windows on two opposite sides of your home, you create cross-ventilation. This is increased by opening bottom windows on the windward side and top windows on the opposite side.

Sunlight streaming through an open window warms your room and floors. A warm floor acts as a “thermal mass” and keeps warming the room long after sundown. To avoid this, close the windows and shades on the sunny side of the house first thing in the morning. You seal in the cool air, and keep out the “thermal gain.”

Use ceiling fans to circulate the cool air throughout the day. Many energy-efficient ceiling fans on the market have programmable thermostats, which turn them on automatically as the room warms. People will tolerate warmer temperatures as long as the air is circulating well around them.

Ceiling fans work best in the summer when they are adjusted to pull the air up from the floor and circulate the cooler air. Switch the fan blade direction in the winter to have the fans push the warm air from the ceiling toward the floor. Ceiling fans use a fraction of the energy of an air conditioner, and can be more effective at cooling the whole space when well placed. Using ceiling fans in combination with natural ventilation can usually eliminate the need for air conditioning in a well-insulated, tightly sealed home.

Twenty-five years ago, most architects and builders were beginning to incorporate passive solar into new structures. Our reliance on cheap oil trumped our common sense. Now we are seeing a resurgence in passive solar, as more people realize that we have to live more consciously. Part of conscious living is aligning our lives with the seasons and the region. Our survival once depended on knowing what local foods were in season, what local weather to expect and how to use seasonal landscaping to our benefit. Now our future generation’s survival may depend on it.


Thursday June 27th

Cost of Food


We Americans complain bitterly about the rising cost of food. Most Americans don’t realize just how good we really have it in the land of plenty. In other countries where people make much less money, they spend a much higher percentage of their income on food.

Wealthier industrialized nations spend a small percentage of their weekly budgets on food. According to the Economic Research Service, part of the U.S.D.A., we spend only 5.7 percent of our total household budget on food. In the U.K. and Denmark, people spend between up to 10 percent compared to people in less developed nations who spend from 40 to 50 percent. Azerbaijan tops the chart at 50.4 percent.

In their delicious book, “Hungry Planet: What the World Eats,” photographer Peter Menzel and writer Faith D’Aluisio document the weekly food budgets of twenty-four international families in full-color photos. A family of eight in Guatemala spends 573 quetzales (equivalent of $75.70) in groceries each week. The average yearly income is around $4,000, making groceries the highest expense for most families. Most families grow a good portion of what they eat and barter with the excess.

Meanwhile, back in the states, a family of five can spend a whopping $242.48 per week on groceries out of an average income of $35K per person. While the cost sounds much greater, compared to income and other expenses, Americans eat the cheapest food in the world and lots of it.

We humans need about 2,000 calories per day to survive. We’ve moved from an average of 2,358 kcal available per person in 1965, to 2,803 kcal in 1999, to a projected of 2,940 in 2015, according to the World Health Organization. But not everyone has equal access to the “all you can eat” buffet. In developing countries, only 2,681 kcals were available per day, while industrialized countries had 3,380 kcals available per day in 1999.

Marion Nestle, author of “Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health” writes, “Here we have the great irony of modern nutrition: At a time when hundreds of millions of people do not have enough to eat, hundreds of millions more are eating too much and are overweight or obese. Today … more people are overweight than underweight.”

In the U.S., 72 percent of men and 70 percent of women are overweight. Cheaper food does not translate into healthier food. In fact, our current agricultural policy is to subsidize corn to the point where it is ridiculously cheap and ubiquitous in our food system. So cheap that we even burn it as fuel for our automobiles, a crime against humanity when you consider all starving people that could be fed.

Corn is one of the cheapest food additives and the single-most highly subsidized crop in the world. This mountain of cheap corn is primarily used in processed foods. Corn and corn syrup products as sweeteners can be found in almost every product on supermarket shelves, and are primary ingredients in most fast foods. That makes processed foods much cheaper than whole, natural and nutritious foods. Plus, they don’t spoil as quickly as fresh produce, and taste better to humans already evolutionarily inclined toward sweet and fatty flavors.

Looking back at our Guatemalan family cited above, their weekly diet consisted mainly of rice and beans, potatoes and vegetables from their garden. Meat was added to a meal less than once a week. While the American family ate mostly processed foods like canned soups, frozen meals, packaged cookies, cakes, crackers and lots of meat. Another major difference is cooking. Guatemalans eat every meal at home and one person spends most of her time cooking, preparing and purchasing ingredients for meals. Americans eat one out of three meals at home.

How can we curb our national eating disorder?

–Eat local! When we eat what is grown in our own region we eat healthier and at the peak of freshness. This is better four our health and the environment, as well as boosting the local economy.

–Grow your own food! Victory gardens helped our grandparents survive the wars and Great Depression. Save money at the grocery store by skipping the imported produce and processed food.

–Eat lower on the food chain! Meat is a threat to our health and environment. Treat it as a condiment and purchase locally raised meats from farms you trust.


Thursday June 20th

Low-Tech Ways to Keep Cool


Here are a few low-tech ways to stay cool gleaned from around the world:

Mexico: Dampen a sheet and hang it in the window like Mexico City tenement dwellers. The water evaporates in the breeze cooling the room in the process. Another method is to place frozen 2-liter bottles of water in front of a fan for instant air conditioning.

Egypt: Egyptian nights stay in the 90s. Dampen a bed sheet and use it as your blanket. Evaporation does the trick.

China: Keep a bamboo mat between your skin and a hot or hard surface like a car seat or chair. The bamboo allows air to circulate and keeps bare skin from sticking to hot plastic.

Bahamas: In humid climates people often dress down and get wet. Getting wet reduces your core body temperature by 3 degrees, and will last up to an hour. If you wear clothes that can get wet as well, the cooling effect will last for longer. You don’t have to have a pool; a water hose, faucet or misting bottle will also work.

Bedouin: You can actually stay cooler in arid climates by covering up your skin. Picture desert dwellers in their turbans and flowing white garments; the white reflects the sun, and the natural, loose fabrics shade the skin where there is no shade. Bedouin cultures often wear two layers in the heat of the day. Skin exposed to direct sun is hotter than skin insulated by clothing. Turbans and bandanas shade the eyes and soak up sweat from the head, which evaporates and helps cool you off.

NYC: Apartment dwellers in major cities often move bedding onto the fire escapes to sleep in the cooler night air. Rural counterparts can sleep on screened in porches or outdoors. Another trick is to fill your bathtub with cold water and take periodic dips to keep cool. If you live on the top floor, turn on the ceiling fan (or attic fan) and open the windows to draw out the hot air. If possible, go downstairs to the basement in the heat of the day. Turn off incandescent lights as they generate 90 percent heat and 10 percent light. Use compact fluorescents or LEDs instead.

West Indies: Spicy foods make you perspire more, which cools the body. Spices also help stop foods from spoiling as quickly and give you an endorphin rush that feels good in any temperature.

Italy: Train grapevines over window trellises to provide shade in the summer and let in light in the winter. Slightly opening windows on the bottom floor and fully opening upstairs windows maximizes Mediterranean breezes through your villa.

Southern Comfort: Front porches are part of the cooling system of a southern home. Sitting in a lawn chair or rocker that has slats or openings (for air flow) on a shady porch with iced tea is a southern tradition. You hold the iced tea against your neck to cool the blood to your brain and on your pulse points in your wrists. Blow into the iced tea and cool air will rush around your face and neck. In temperatures over 105 degrees, soak your clothes then sit in the lawn chair with iced tea.

Women’s wisdom: Women in hot climates carry a folding fan in their purses. Another secret is to dampen a handkerchief and tuck it into your cleavage. It is very cooling and keeps sweat from running down your chest. Southern women often spritz with rubbing alcohol then stand in front of a fan. Follow that with a sprinkling of baby powder at your pulse points and you’re cool as a cucumber.


June 13, 2013

Toxic Lawns


A farmer friend pointed out to me recently that homeowners in our community use more chemicals on their lawns than most farmers use on their crops. Sure enough, a little research turned up some really startling statistics behind the American obsession for the perfect lawn.

Pesticide application rates for farmers are 2.7 pounds per acre, while homeowners (and lawn care companies) slather on 3.2 to 9.8 pounds per acre. According to a recent Virginia Tech study, homeowners commonly use up to ten times as much chemicals as farmers.

Each year, homeowners apply at least 90 million pounds of pesticides to their lawns and gardens, according to the Boston-based Toxics Action Center. Homeowners represent the only growth sector of the U.S. pesticide market, as agricultural uses of these chemicals are declining. This market trend was started by the pesticide industry in an attempt to establish new markets for old products. Most lawn pesticides were registered before 1972, and were never tested for many human health hazards like carcinogenicity, neurotoxicity, and environmental dangers.

Lawn chemical companies are not required to list all the ingredients on their containers. Many toxins are hidden on the product label by being classified as inert. Inert does not mean inactive and in the case of benzene and xylene, can be even more toxic than the listed chemicals. Some of the listed chemicals include components of defoliants like Agent Orange, nerve-gas type insecticides and artificial hormones.

The blue meanies of lawn chemicals are 2,4-D, Captan, Diazinon, Dursban, Dacthal, Dicamba and Mecocrop. These chemicals were registered without a full safety screening. A combination of several of these toxins is usually found in on store shelves. 2,4-D is a hormone disruptor, Dursban concentrates in the environment, and Diazinon is an organophosphate, which damages the nervous system. Some of these chemicals have been banned for use on golf courses and sod farms due to massive water bird deaths, but are still widely used on lawns and gardens.

Pesticides applied on lawns are harmful to humans who inhale them, ingest them, or absorb them through skin contact. These chemicals also get tracked into our houses on our shoes and pets. An Environmental Protection Agency study found outdoor pesticides loads build up in carpets and can remain there for years, where they do not degrade from exposure to sunlight or rain.

This leaves our pets and children most vulnerable, as they most frequently play on lawns and carpets, and breathe in toxins. The Toxic Action Center report notes that “children’s internal organs are still developing and maturing and their enzymatic, metabolic, and immune systems provide less natural protection than those of an adult.” Researchers caution that children are most vulnerable in the fetal and adolescent stages when “chemical exposures can permanently alter future development.”

The EPA’s risk assessments indicate that home lawn care products account for 96 percent of the risk associated with using this chemical for women of childbearing age, and that anticipated doses are “very close to the level of concern.” EPA’s studies found that rats exposed to the most common lawn chemical; 2,4-D in utero showed an increased incidence of skeletal abnormalities such as extra ribs and malformed ribcages. In rabbits, 2,4-D and its diethanolamine salt caused abortion, skeletal abnormalities, as well as developmental neurotoxicity and endocrine disruption. Even though many lawn chemicals are legal, and widely available, that doesn’t equal safe.


June 6, 2013


By Shawn Dell Joyce
Instead of making pricey travel plans that damage the environment as well as your bank account, take a local vacation, or a “staycation.” This is a chance to rediscover the beauty of your home region by taking the time to visit cultural attractions and natural places that you may be too busy to see in your daily routine.
A staycation does not mean staying home and doing yard work or the list of jobs you’ve been putting off for the past year. “Instead,” suggests Pauline Frommer of Frommer’s Travel Guides, “become a tourist in your own hometown.” Plan to see tourist attractions, historic sites, take an art class, learn to swim or go on a number of small adventures you always wanted to do if you had the time.
A fringe benefit of staycations is that you develop a deeper connection to your community and hometown. People feel more connected to a place when they experience the history and natural beauty of it firsthand. Try to see something different each day: a different spectacular view, a different museum and a new restaurant. At the same time, you benefit your local community by pumping vacation money into the local economy.
Some staycationers go so far as to camp in a nearby campground to get away from the daily routine. If you are addicted to technology, and can’t imagine a day without email or Internet, then consider leaving the house and staycationing in a local campground or a bed and breakfast. You’ll still save gas money and travel expenses, but you’ll feel refreshed after being away from the computer for a few days.
Here are a few tips for a successful staycation:
–Explore the rail trails in your area by bicycle. Most communities have rail trail projects connecting larger cities by walking and biking paths. Explore your area by riding in five-mile sections each day. Find local rail trails on the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy website.
–Go to the local tourism office or website for a list of historic sites and museums to visit.
–Spend a Saturday touring farms and farm markets in your region to find out what is grown locally and get a fresh delicious taste of the local flavors. Find local farmers markets via the LocalHarvest website.
–Pick a nearby town on the map, and spend the day walking through the whole town, antiquing, eating in local restaurants and getting a real sense of the history and culture of the place.
–Take an art, music or acting class. Do something you always said you would do if only you had the time.
If you really must go out of town, make your vacation as green as possible by:
–Staying in a green hotel when possible. If you strive to be green at home, why not on vacation as well? Check out the “Green” Hotels Association and websites.
–Travel with friends, and share the costs and carbon of each car trip. If you carpool, then share a vacation rental and bring some meals with you, you form tighter friendship bonds, use less gas and eat out less.
–Consider a working vacation and volunteer to work on an organic farm located in a place you wish to visit. Many countries also have programs for whole families to spend a vacation working as part of a relief effort. Check out the websites for Global Aware and Global Volunteers Partners in Development.
–Offset the carbon emissions from your air travel by purchasing carbon offsets through the airline or the Foundation.