July 30, 2009

Is it really such a boring topic?

I'm talking about energy efficiency*. (AKA "resource intelligence")

McKinsey & Company just released a report with a mind-grabbing number in it. They found that we Americans waste $130 BILLION per year in energy. . . and they do NOT include transportation costs here. We could save up to $1.2 TRILLION by 2020 if we'd take some actions. There are of course structural barriers--poor home insulation and drafty windows. But there are behavioral barriers as well. All of us know that we should have replaced our incandescent bulbs by now, installed a programmable thermostat (and learned how to use it), and turned off our computers when not in use.

They offer practical solutions available to unlock the potential within us. Some are governmental and regulatory, but many are people-focused and educational.

What can YOU do? Begin by forwarding this blog to your friends. Help educate them on environmental issues.

What Are you Having For Dinner?

You gotta smile when you see this promo for Food, Inc.

Food, Inc. is the riveting new documentary that’s for anyone “hungry for change.” Variety said that this film “does for the supermarket what Jaws did for the beach.” It will take you inside a modern-day chicken coop and tell you more than you want to know about your hamburger.

A good portion of the film focuses on the dichotomy of cheap food versus expensive healthcare. Monsanto calls it a biased film about our food supply, but that’s from the company that developed rBGH for dairy cows and genetically modified seeds.

See "Meatless Monday" website from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to reduce your consumption of meat.
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Food recalls — Are becoming a regular occurrence. The world’s largest beef producer recalled tons of sketchy beef in the summer of 2009--possibly tainted with E.Coli. Did you know that these recalls are voluntary? There is no legal requirement [YET!] that the products be tracked down by the processor and yanked from store shelves. Surprised? So was I.

The Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be designing a national food registry so contaminated food can be traced back to its source, and so consumers can be alerted immediately once a problem is discovered. But don’t get complacent. There are more than 150,000 food processing plants and a small number of FDA inspectors.

The FDA just announced a special initiative on eggs. Egg producers will have to buy chicks and young hens only from buyers who monitor for salmonella bacteria.

July 22, 2009

Can U.S. really become the "Saudi Arabia of wind"?

A new report from Harvard University, published this week by the National Academy of Sciences, predicts that the total U.S. wind capacity is MUCH higher than expected. Many green energy experts have been touting wind power as a potential source of renewable energy sufficiently abundant to meet current energy demand in the United States. But skeptics have been casting doubt on those claims.

But this study shows that the U.S. could supply 16 times its current energy demand using wind power--if primary wind regions are harnessed.

The other good news is that Russia and China can far exceed their current energy demand by implementing large-scale wind projects as well. Instead, China opens a new coal power plant every 10 days (yes, you read that correctly) to keep up with its growing energy demand.

However, a great deal of infrastructure would need to be put in place to make this potential a reality, including a network of high-capacity transmission lines and new technologies.

Large 2.5 wind turbines contains a lot of steel and over 80,000 parts which translates into lots of jobs. Sounds like a good deal for former autoworkers in the midwest, doesn't it?

July 21, 2009

Williamsburg Promotes "GREEN" to Tourism Industry

Combine good environmental practice with a unique marketing opportunity

The City of Williamsburg, Virginia, has joined forces with MBA students from the Mason School of Business at the College of William & Mary to encourage local businesses in the hospitality industry to be certified Virginia Green by the Virginia Tourism Corporation and the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.

Beginning this week (7-20-09), the students are mailing letters and contacting businesses individually to help them understand the value of going green and provide assistance in the application process. “With the current economy, we want to do everything we can to assist our local businesses to be as successful as possible,” said Michele Mixner DeWitt, Economic Development Director for the City of Williamsburg. “More and more travelers are choosing environmentally friendly businesses when they plan their trips, and we want our businesses to be the ones they choose. We’re very excited to be able to partner with interns from the Mason School of Business, who are bringing their expertise, time and enthusiasm to this project.”

Virginia Green is a statewide program to reduce the environmental impacts of Virginia’s tourism industry. The program awards VirginiaGreen Certification to tourism-related businesses such as hotels, restaurants, and attractions taking voluntary actions to reduce harmful impacts on the environment.

The first certified restaurant in Williamsburg to be Virginia Green is Aberdeen Barn. Photo Caption: L-R: J.C. Morton, Manager of Aberdeen Barn; MicheleMixner DeWitt, Economic Development Director; Brendan Pevarski, MBACandidate 2010; Yosuke Kobayashi, MBA Candidate 2010

The first certified hotel was Williamsburg Hospitality House.

The current outreach includes contact information for recycling and other services to assist businesses wanting to go green. For more information: Michele Mixner DeWitt, 757.220.6120, mdewitt@williamsburgva.gov

July 20, 2009

Ahoy Plastiki

Plastiki — Is a 60-foot catamaran that you’ll see in the news later this summer. It will draw attention to the growing problem of plastics in our oceans, especially the hundreds-miles-wide “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” The plastic, most of it swept from coastal cities in Asia and California, is trapped indefinitely in the region by the North Pacific Gyre, a vortex of currents that circulate clockwise around the ocean. Scientists estimate that there is six times more plastic than plankton by weight in the patch. Fish and seabirds mistake this plastic for food and either choke to death or become part of our food chain.

David de Rothschild, from the famous banking family, is putting the finishing touches on his boat made of 12,500 2-liter plastic bottles and other recycled waste products (artist rendition here). His goal is to sail Plastiki 12,000 miles from San Francisco to Sydney—a three-month voyage. That should make a huge environmental statement about rethinking waste and how it can be used in constructive ways. His crew of six will include Thor Heyerdahl’s grand-daughter. It should spark as much conversation as Kon-Tiki did in 1947. I assume he’ll depart before the Pacific cyclone season begins.

The Plastiki will feature computer and communications technology from Hewlett-Packard. Stationary bicycles will be used to generate electricity, along with a small wind turbine. “Biodigestible composting” toilets will safely take care of dispoal at sea.

Did you know . . . that an estimated 46,000 pieces of plastic litter float on every square mile of ocean?. We only recycle about 20 percent of plastic bottles. Instead they end up in the world's landfills, and about 10 percent in our oceans.

De Rothschild will collect water samples and post blogs, photographs and video clips of the area, in an attempt to publicise the perils posed by plastic pollution.

Last year, a raft built of waste and debris, known as the Junk Raft, was built by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, which had been set up by Charles Moore who discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This simply constructed craft floated on a mass of 15,000 plastic bottles and was sailed through the patch by oceanographers.

July 13, 2009

What's on my food?

Greener Pastures Are Coming — As more farmers use fewer chemical fertilizers and pesticides on their crops. But don’t believe that rinsing and peeling eliminates pesticide toxicity. These are potent products that kill bugs, fungus, and weeds.

You can find almost 50 fruits and vegetables on the Environmental Working Group’s “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides” website, ranked by their likelihood of being consistently contaminated with pesticides. They based this on 87,000 USDA and FDA tests for pesticides conducted from 2000 to 2007.

Peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, and imported grapes are the most suspect. Onions, avocados, and corn have the least pesticide residue. But that’s a pretty limited diet!

You really are what you eat.

Food and health care reform have been in recent headlines, and there is a connection. More than half of chronic diseases are linked to our diet. You really are what you eat! 17 percent of our gross national product is now spent on health care, and that is on track to increase by 5 percent in the next few years.

Whatever your view on health care reform efforts in Congress, you probably realize that obesity is a major factor in driving up American health care costs, and the number of overweight and obese Americans still grows. There’s also a big jump of diabetes in adults as well as children. You can’t have health care reform in this country without changing our food system and food habits.

Plus, I’m not even addressing the pollution from fertilizer and poultry farm runoff that easily makes its way into the Chesapeake Bay or whatever the closest watershed might be. Or the countless gallons of fuel expended in the “food miles” to transport these foods.

“Food Politics” is here. Not familiar with this term? The Washington Post just launched Ezra Klein's new bi-weekly food politics column, appropriately called “Gut Check,” about the high cost of cheap meat and farm subsidies. Simply put—subsidized food may not be in your best interest. Suspected carcinogens, hormone disruptors, neurotoxins, and developmental or reproductive toxins may be in your pantry. Meat dosed with antibiotics and genetically-modified foods? Milk with bovine growth hormone (rBGH)? Yum! By the way, rBGH has never been approved for commercial use in Canada or the European Union due to concerns about the drug’s impact on animal health. AND the FDA is seriously looking at antibiotic use in animals destined for our tables.

A small farm with a white picket fence and cutesy red barn? Erase that iconic vision in your brain. Agribusiness is really big industrialized business. A handful of corporate farms put cheap foods with minimal nutrients on our plates. Subsidized corn and soy goes into hundreds of foods, as well as cheap feed for cattle. Small farmers who are not getting a sovernment subsidy can’t compete with the mega-corporations.

We taxpayers thus subsidize crops that make certain foods dirt-cheap at the check-out counter or fast food window, and possibly make us less healthy and overweight by turning into sugar in our bodies. Plus it takes a lot of gasoline to transport these processed food to our stores.

Profit ahead of public health and environment? It certainly seems so. 30 percent of U.S. cropland is planted in corn—for livestock feed and fructose and corn syrup, a major ingredient in so much of our food.

Food recalls — Are becoming a regular occurrence. The world’s largest beef producer just recalled tons of sketchy beef possibly tainted with E.Coli. Did you know that these recalls are voluntary? There is no legal requirement that the products be tracked down by the processor and yanked from store shelves. Surprised?

The White House just directed its agencies to design tougher production standards for marketers of poultry, beef, leafy greens, melons and tomatoes, some of which may make it harder for small farms. The Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be designing a national food registry so contaminated food can be traced back to its source, and so consumers can be alerted immediately once a problem is discovered. But don’t get complacent. There are more than 150,000 food processing plants and a small number of FDA inspectors.

The FDA recently announced a special initiative on eggs. Egg producers will have to buy chicks and young hens only from buyers who monitor for salmonella bacteria.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Make responsible food choices, by reading labels carefully. But you need reliable information to do so, and we’re not getting all we need. We finally have mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for meat, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, and several kinds of nuts, helping us make informed choices about where our food is from and how it was raised. But there’s a huge loophole that allows a lot of these foods that are roasted, smoked, or cured to go unlabeled.

Then there’s Genetically modified foods or GMOs. Did you know that up to 40 percent of U.S. corn is genetically engineered and 80 percent of soybeans? 60 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves contain genetically engineered ingredients.

What is a GMO? We get them after scientists combine the DNA of a plant with the DNA of something else and create a novel organism that has not yet existed in nature. Many of the GMO crops currently approved and marketed in the United States make their own pesticides or resist herbicides, so that farmers can spray an entire field with a strong chemical herbicide and kill everything but the GMO crop. You’ll start to see the “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal on products in stores this fall.

Look for the words "no artificial hormones or antibiotics used" or rBST-free” on your milk carton the next time you shop.

August 2009 Update: The Food Safety Enhancement Act was approved by the House. Check it out at Food & Water Watch at http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/. They watch out for the interests of both consumers and small-scale farmers. This bill does NOT cover farms, but it would give the FDA the power to recall suspect food—but NOT meat or poultry, since the USDA monitors that. Sure seems like some reorganization is needed soon. The bill gives the Department of Health and Human Services 3 years to set "science-based standards" for growing, harvesting, packing, and transporting our foods.

July 9, 2009

What's YOUR Carbon Footprint? Nitrogen Footprint?

Size 5 narrow or 9 wide?

There are a variety of websites that you might use to calculate your carbon footprint. Just try "Carbon footprint calculator" on Google. You'll be amazed.

Some are better and easier than others. Some are probably just a guesstimate at best. User-friendly is my litmus test.

The Nature Conservancy has one that plots your footprint as you enter your info: http://www.nature.org/initiatives/climatechange/calculator/

EPA has an emissions calculator at http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/ind_calculator.html. It will take you about 10 minutes if you have your recent electric, gas, and/or oil bills so you can use real numbers for your household’s energy consumption.

BP even has one too at http://www.bp.com/productlanding.do?categoryId=6941&contentId=7050870

Now how about your nitrogen footprint too?

It was a VERY rainy June for the Chesapeake Bay area. . . and we're seeing even more Canada geese! Well aware of the bacteria danger to human health after rain events, the Anne Arundel County Health Department in Maryland issues a blanket advisory to avoid contact with our estuaries for at least 48 hours after a rain event.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has a nifty nitrogen pollution calculator at http://www.cbf.org/Page.aspx?pid=1136

iPhones Go Green

Just in case you are not already addicted to your iPhone, Grist.com recommends these iPhone apps (all available at iTunes):
  • GoodGuide: Find out what’s in 75,000 common household products. Free. No iPhone? Check out goodguide.com.

  • 3rdWhale Mobile: Using GPS, find green restaurants, stores, and travel destinations in 100 cities in the U.S. and Canada. Displays results on a map with directions. Free.

  • Go Organic!: Find organic grocery stores and Earth Day events near you. Free.

  • Gorgeously Green Survival Guide: Chemicals to avoid in makeup and sunscreens and gives tips on food and product labels. $0.99

  • Greenopia: This Los Angeles-specific app boasts 1,000+ searchable and map-able listings of green businesses, restaurants and services. More U.S. cities to come later in 2009. Free.

  • Greenpeace Tissue Guide: Research brands of consumer paper products to find the greenest tissues, paper towels, and toilet paper. Free.

  • shopgreen: More than just a shopping tool. Enter information about your green habits and the app will connect that information with promotions from local businesses. $0.99

Is Your Sunscreen Safe?

The Environmental Working Group just announced their review of 1572 suncreen products (including lip balms).

Not to sound alarming, but they found that 3 out of 5 brand-name sunscreens either don't protect skin from sun damage or contain suspect chemicals--or BOTH!

They identified fewer than 100 products that offer very good sun protection with ingredients that present minimal health risks to users.

Click here to view EWG's 2009 Sunscreen Guide.

Water Saving Kits for Williamsburg Folks

Kate Hoving, Communications Specialist for the City of Williamsburg's sends in this helpful info:
In order to encourage water conservation, the City of Williamsburg offers Water Saving Kits to its residents. One of Council's Goals, Initiatives and Outcomes 2009/2010 is Environmental Sustainability, and promoting water conservation is one of the key initiatives of that goal. The kits include: dye tablets to detect leaks; a spray clean shower head; water saving bathroom aerators and a toilet displacement bag.

According to the EPA, fixing easily corrected household water leaks can save homeowners more than 10 percent on their water bills in addition to conserving one of our most precious resources. There is no charge to residents for the kits, but they should call to reserve one, and they must be picked up in person at the Municipal Building at 401 Lafayette Street.

For more information or to request a kit, please contact Public Works at 220-6140 or publicworks@williamsburgva.gov .

The City also has additional conservation tips in its green section on the City website: www.williamsburgva.gov/green

July 7, 2009

James River "ghost fleet" getting smaller

The "ghost fleet" shrinks to smallest size

The good news today is that two more of the James River ghost fleet relics are going away—to be scrapped in Texas at a substantial cost due to plummeting steel market prices. Not too long ago, we were paid for the scrap metal.

But good riddance to the 27+ tons of waste oil in the Ortolon and the asbestos and lead in the Gage. Hurricane Isabel could have caused a major spill just a few years ago.

Since 2001, 78 of these rusting behemoths have gone to salvage yards or been converted into artificial reefs. Less than 30 will remain soon. That is the lowest number of these ships EVER.

July 2, 2009

Santa Alert

Listen up, Santa! It's not just alarming news for walruses and polar bears.

Just in time for the July 9 G8 Summit, a geophysicist at the Centre for Ice and Climate at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen announced that the extent of ice in the Arctic is lower today than at any time in the last 800 years. This new record stretches back to the days of Genghis Khan in the 13th century.

Scientists arrived at this conclusion after testing ice cores and comparing tree rings to 16th century logs.

Concurring, the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center also found that the long-term trend indicates a decline in glacier ice of 2.5% per decade, or (to put it into terms we can get our heads around)--an average of 13,000 square miles of ice per year.

Will the G8 Summit attendees see the political urgency in this? Or will they be influenced by the climate change skeptics and deniers? Is Oklahoma's Senator Inhofe totally off base when he calls global warming the "greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people?"

Some glaciers, such as Argentina's Perito Moreno glacier, are actually surviving. Now I'm not a climate expert, but I do believe my eyes . . . and last summer, I saw some diminishing glaciers up close and personal in Glacier National Park in Montana. Perhaps Senator Inhofe needs to get out of Oklahoma more and visit that national park to open his eyes.