Ban The Phone Book

April 14, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Government
Ban Phone Book

Just this past week, I received not one or two, but four different phone books.  The bag part is that I simply put all of those books right into the recycling bin because I do not use them.

Just to think that over 5 million trees to produce these books that many of us don’t even look at.  On top of just the environmental impact, we are spending over $17 million as well as the environmental impact to have those books recycled.  Seeing that so many people would rather use online resources instead of a thick, often hard to navigate book, why do we continue to receive them?

Now it’s your turn to do something about it.  BanThePhoneBook.org is pushing to make a difference by promoting an opt-in program.  Instead of trying to get everybody to opt-out of receiving phone books, they would like to have a program in which individuals have to request to receive a white pages phone. This plan makes so much sense.  It still allows individuals who want to receive a phone book, while keep the rest of us from receiving these useless books.

So how can we help?  Visit their site to sign their petition to get local governments to institute an opt-in program.  You can also support the cause by becoming a fan of their Facebook page.  I have done both and hope you do the same.

EPA Study on BPA in Plastics

April 2, 2010 · Filed Under Government, News

The Environmental Protection Agency is set to begin a study to determine the environment and health risks of BPA.  There will also be a set of actions that include adding BPA to a list of chemicals of concern as well as determine the levels of the chemical in our environment.  This includes surface and ground water as well as our drinking water.

If you are not already familar with BPA, it is a plastic that is heavily used in many of the products we buy, in particular drinking bottles.  The FDA declared that it had concerns over the potential negative health impacts it could be having on us.  There has also been an outrage in recent years over the use of BPA in plastic and even aluminum water bottles we drink from.

This concern about BPA is not new and in my opinion should be avoided at all costs, now more than ever…

USDA: Friend or Genetically Modified Foe?

March 2, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Food, Government, Green, Health, Local, News

Bear with me, this is long but informative…read on if you dare.

It is do or let GMOs die time at the United States Department of Agriculture, and they are letting you weigh in on their decision. The USDA’s mission is to utilize public policy, science, and management to provide leadership on food agriculture, and natural resources. Yet organizations like the Center for Food Safety have not been satisfied with their leadership, as is the European Union among other large entities. The current debate revolves around Genetically Engineered (GE) crops that were previously approved by the USDA as safe. But after being sued in 2006 by the Center for Food Safety and with pressure from a multitude of organizations and farmers, they are reviewing their approval of Monsanto’s GE Roundup Ready alfalfa. Now is your time to send them your thoughts on GE crops and their process for approval, but your time to act ends tomorrow, March 3rd!

Genetically Engineered Crops aka “Frankenfood”

Genetically modified organisms have been growing exponentially in the United States since the early 2000s in the field of agriculture. Some argue that Mendel, who originally discovered hybridization and gene characteristics in plants, was in fact creating GE crops. Yet the majority of scientists in the field disagree, they suggest it is when laboratories started manipulating the specific genes within a plant and injecting foreign genetic material. For example, scientists input salmon DNA into tomato plants to increase their cold weather resistance. This type of gene manipulation is what the European Union has banned from their food system and US food exports, calling it “Frankenfood.” While in the US very little of this seething debate was heard and companies such as Monsanto were privately patenting a large variety of seeds they claim as their own.

What are the risks of GE Crops?

For the average consumer, first and foremost your health is at risk. Next is the integrity of our food system as a whole. And of course the larger underlying threat is our ecological system and the long-term irreversible impact GE crops have already had in North America. If you are a farmer, the risks are a hundredfold.

Health
Human health issues always get a great deal of attention, and are often the primary reason action is taken when ecological disaster arises. For GE crops, this is a sensitive issue in the United States. Scientific research originally studying the long-term health impacts of GE crops was put under intense scrutiny by GE crop companies, and ultimately their funding has been revoked or minimized. Their decisive response has been to align themselves with highly respected Universities across North America (since GE crops are not allowed in the majority of developed nations) and fund only GE crop research that would shed a positive light on its nutritional and ecological ‘value’ as the company deems appropriate and favorable. This type of controlled science is unlikely to produce a result that will benefit the general public’s knowledge base and health. The original studies and those conducted in Europe prior to banning GE crops demonstrated an increase in allergies, carcinogens and cancer rates, and an overall increase in chemical build-up in the body’s fatty tissue leading to a variety of health issues.

Food System
Our food system is and has been in great peril since the 1970s food crisis. The major issues such as intensive chemical dependency, unsustainable land use, and unjust farmer-company relationships have sprouted up in literature by Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, and Francis Moore Lappe and movies like Food Inc. Movements revolting against this system, that cry for something more just, such as Slow Food and Slow Money, are only seedlings relative to the extensive power the major corporations hold over our food system in the United States.

History of our Food System
Let’s take a quick look at history to help put the unraveling of our food system into context. In the 1970s the price of oil flew sky high, demolishing the savings of farmers across the Midwest, America’s breadbasket. Their reliance on petroleum to run their machinery and utilize pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers left many families broken and in debt. Major corporations took advantage of their downfall by purchasing their land and designing a deal that would lure debt-ridden farmers under the company’s control. The main strategy was to purchase the land, and then allow the farmer to stay on the land and ‘lease’ it from the company. In return, the farmer would grow the crops the company demanded in the method the company deemed appropriate. The seeds, machinery, and upkeep of the land were all on the farmer and still are today. The United States transformed from a land of opportunity filled with small and medium-sized farms to a privately-owned land that could be yours (partially via lease) for a price.

Manipulation of our Food System
The food system that these companies have manipulated to their best profit margin is dependent upon their crops, their specialized fertilizers, their herbicides, and their desired management practices. GE crops made the monopolization of agriculture all the easier for these companies. Now a company, for example Monsanto, designs a seed that has a special mutation to fight disease and pests. They also design a special herbicide that will kill everything except that special seed. The farmer is now locked into part of the company’s system. They must purchase Monsanto seed, as Monsanto has dictated or aligned with land owners to dictate, and then purchase the Monsanto herbicide since it is the only product on the market that will work with their seed. Did I mention that Monsanto has designed the majority of these seeds to be “terminator” seeds, meaning they only last one season and cannot be saved to be replanted the next summer? This fact alone led to a revolt across all of India. They were outraged that they could not practice seed saving. A practice in the US that gets you on Monsanto’s notorious “Blacklist”, where they block you from customers, other farmers, and buyers of your crop, not a pleasant place to be for farmers who work with large risks of debt in their business.

Profiteers of our Food System Hint: its not you.
These companies also failed to mention two other major factors that will determine a farmer’s profit margin, other than the requirement to be locked into purchasing their products. First, the farmer’s relationship with the land is permanently altered. The companies will dictate the seeds based on desired stocks, their own Research and Development (which they test on farmers, not at their own testing facilities), among other ‘confidential’ factors. Meaning a farmer may be required to grow soy for 10 years straight with no regard to the land’s natural nutrient cycle or capacity. Soy, the one of the largest monocultures in the United States, requires a 5 year replenishment cycle for soil. If you have ever driven through Iowa, you will see miles and miles of soy, year after year. This requires the farmer to pay for large quantities of fertilizer to simulate the land’s nutrient cycle every year. So farmers have not escaped from their main source of vulnerability in the 1970s; the price of oil.

The second major factor is the power companies hold over the grain silos and the price of a crop on particular days. The unethical nature of this initially sounds like a conspiracy theory, but after speaking with farmers in company-infested farm towns, it turns out that it is more than true, it is deeply disturbing. They will purposefully manipulate the price of a crop based on the farmer and their relationship or lack their of with the company, a collaboration among industry giants that keeps farmers out of the marketplace who do not concede to their ‘rules of the game’.

Ecology
GE crops impact on the environment is not understudied, despite companies such as Monsanto’s best efforts. GE crops have been proven to mate with other plants, are not contained by 15 foot high wind barriers (previously deemed suitable by Monsanto, Dupont, and after closed door discussions the USDA), and leave an array of chemicals, unusual residue and genes in the soil beyond conventional agriculture’s significant impact on the land. The most important fact to keep aware of is that GE crops are capable of contaminating organic agriculture, meaning unless every plant is tested there is no way to determine if certified organic food in the US is free from GE crops. Farmer’s have sued Monsanto for contamination and Monsanto has sued farmers claiming patent infringement, every case to date Monsanto has won. Most often because the legal fees and barrage that they throw at the farmers literally put them out of business. The US has not determined sufficient containment procedures, resulting in the contamination of an entire portion of an island in Hawaii. This also means that GE crop seeds are spreading to plants in the wild. Since not all of their seed are terminator seeds, it is an unseen and unknown issue that is slowly creeping through our road ditches and grain spills.

This article’s intent is not to scare you, it is to make you aware of a major issue within our food system. Unfortunately, the budgets of large companies has consistently overridden the concern for the well-being of the general public. GE crops were originally touted as the cure for world hunger and a source for alternative fuel sources to eliminate the need for oil. To date, they have accomplished neither, and in the majority of cases made each issue worse. Mexico’s farmers did not appreciate the US’s ‘aid’ of goodwill terminator seeds when their rural communities tried to harvest their corn crop the following year. Farmer’s to date are more reliant on oil as is their supply chain, than in the 1970s.

The wonder and awe of our scientific games is long gone in the world of GE crops.

Current Debate – Act by March 3rd

If this has you concerned, than I encourage you to review and decide if you would like to take action. You may do so by telling the USDA that you support the Center for Food Safety’s position that GE crops, specifically Monsanto’s GE Roundup Ready alfalfa should not be grown in the United States. Please review the True Food Network’s write-up and sign by tomorrow, March 3rd if you would like to support their efforts. Their website has an overview of the debate and a pre-written letter that you can email through their website.

Shopping Tips
For those of you who would still like to eat your food in good conscience here are some important shopping tips for selecting food.

1) Numbers matter! Check for these hints on your produce at the grocery store:
If it begins with a…
9 = Organically Grown
4 = Conventionally Grown
8=Genetically Engineered

2) The EU has banned GE crops, so although I encourage you to shop locally, seasonally, and to get to know your farmers and food system, EU products outright state that they are not made with GE crops. So feel free to use this as a good guideline. Many companies based in the US have different EU and US brands, selling the GE crops to US markets, so finding EU approved companies isn’t enough. Check the product for information.

3) The Shop non-GMO App for IPhones and consumer guides can be found at The Institute for Responsible Technology

Of course local, organic, seasonal food choices will always help, but you may be surprised (possibly horrified) to learn how GE crops have infiltrated your diet. So I encourage you to read about it, speak out about it, and continue to take an educated stand on this issue. Please note that the US had a national discussion about labeling GE food, but after significant publicity efforts and closed door discussions, the government decided there were no additional dangers. The opposite conclusion the EU reached after their extensive scientific research into the issue.

The United States Department of Agriculture is in the midst of a discussion that will ultimately determine its stance on food safety. What will be your role?

California Plans To Have Green Building Standards

January 13, 2010 · Filed Under Government

California is proposing  statewide green building standards, the first of its kind throughout the country.  These new standards would require green practices to be implemented when building new homes, schools and other commercial buildings.

The new green code would require that the materials used in buildings be more environmentally friendly.  This includes recycling a large portion of the construction waste and using energy efficient materials throughout the building.

There is both praise and anger of the new green code.  On the one side, some feel that there are no standards today and that providing it provides a basic standard for which buildings can be made.  Many environmental groups on the other side feel that the standards may not be strict enough and fall short of the popular third-party LEED rating.  Some cities within California already enforce green building standards which are much stricter than the ones proposed in this bill.

I am not a huge fan of enforcing policies like this, but I can see its value.  Though it will cost businesses and consumers more upfront, the energy savings will reimburse some of those costs down the road.  It should really be on consumers to stop allowing builders to use cheap materials that are substandard just so that a house can be built bigger and cheaper than they really should be.

Regardless, this is at least a step in the right direction and hopefully will improve the quality and how green our newer homes are.

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-green-building11-2010jan11,0,1841989.story

United Nations 15th Climate Change Conference Recap

December 21, 2009 · Filed Under Environment, Government, News

The United Nations 15th Climate Change in Denmark (COP15)  came to an end on December 18th leaving many feeling disappointed with the results. The long two weeks that strove to make a big difference on combating global climate change did not end in the manner so many thought it would.

The Copenhagen Accord is the final result that was drafted between several major countries including the US.  Many of the tough provisions that were originally thought to be included in this agreement were removed because of conflicts between some of the nations.  The deal set lower standards on climate changes and allowed many of the more developed nations to set their own targets.  There will also be an initial $30 billion a year fund to help developing nations cope with the affects of the rapid climate change we are facing.  This number will rise in 2020 and also be used to help slow down deforestation and having developing nations move to more green technologies.

One of the biggest complaints of this accord is that the temperature targets set for climate change are not strict enough and that this is not a legal binding document.  That basically means that no nation is forced to follow it.  There is also concern that some nations may be trying to prevent their emissions to be independently monitored.

With so little that seems to be gained from this accord, there are some still that feel that having all nations in the UN to sign this document is huge progress.  Another good result of the document is that deforestation could drastically reduced in many developing nations.

Regardless of how many felt about the results of this conference, hopefully more change will continue to occur and next years conference will be more successful.

Reactions to California’s TV Energy Efficiency Standards

December 2, 2009 · Filed Under Government, News

Since I last posted the article on California’s Energy Efficiency Standards on televisions, there have been reactions for all sides of the issue, the state of California, television manufacturers and electronics stores.  Here is a great video that goes into the reactions by all parties.

There seems to be such a mixed reaction over this regulation.  I mentioned this in the prior article that we as consumers need to make better decisions and not continue to buy bigger televisions.  No matter how much regulation is put into place and how energy efficient electronics become, huge electronics like televisions use tons of energy.

Seventh Generation’s Million Baby Crawl

November 10, 2009 · Filed Under Government, Green

Seventh Generation is taking action with their Million Baby Crawl to ensure that toxic chemicals found in many of our household products are better regulated.

There current Toxic Substances Control Act that should be protecting us from harmful chemicals, is outdated and not effective like it should be.  Since the 1970′s, the EPA has only required safety testing on 200 of the over 80,000 chemicals found in common household products many of us use.

The new Kid Safe Chemical can help strengthen this previous legislation and make sure that all chemicals found within products we use are safe.  This means safe for everybody, including our children and pregnant women.

Dr. Greene, notable pediatrician and author of several popular green health books for children, speaks about legislation and what we can do to keep our families safe:

Who knows the effect that many of these chemicals are doing to our families and in particular our children.  That’s why it’s great that Seventh Generation is taking action to make sure that this bill gets passed to protect our children from all of these chemicals.

So what can you do to make sure this bill gets passed?

You can join Seventh Generation in their Million Baby Crawl to make sure this bill does in fact get passed.  This doesn’t mean you have to march down to Washington DC either.  Their site provides a way you can contact your local representative so that they know the importance of passing this legislation.  There are also events being held in several major cities throughout America to get the word out.

There are also things that you can do to make sure that you are not exposing dangerous chemicals to your family just as Dr. Greene said.  We can begin using safe products in our households including products from Seventh Generation and EcoMist or try making homemade cleaners.  By simply using more natural products, especially cleaning products, we can reduce our families’ exposure harmful chemicals.

Good Luck to Seventh Generation and hopefully the Million Baby Crawl is successful in making our households safer.

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