September 20th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
By Kathy Bond-Borie, Guest Columnist
Storm water runoff can be a big problem during heavy thunderstorms. As the water rushes across roofs and driveways, it picks up oil and other pollutants.
Municipal storm-water treatment plants often can’t handle the deluge, and untreated water ends up in natural waterways in many areas. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates as much as 70% of the pollution in our streams, rivers and lakes is carried there by storm water.
To reduce excess water runoff, many towns are encouraging businesses and homeowners to install rain gardens in their yards: specially constructed gardens located in low areas of a yard where storm water can collect. The idea is to have the water funnel naturally to this garden, which collects runoff and stores and filters it until it can be slowly absorbed by soil.
Read More:Plant a Rain Garden
July 20th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Swordfish has been on the eco-worst list of seafood choices for as long as I can remember. Between high mercury levels and ocean-savaging fishing practices, this protein has been banned from my shopping list for 20 years.
In January 2007, I bashed swordfish in Making Safe Fish Choices and substituted Pacific halibut in a featured recipe for Kabobs with California Dried Plums and Bay Leaves.
But the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program now rates Hawaiian, Canadian and some U.S. swordfish as “best choices,” while discouraging the purchase of imported and certain U.S. swordfish. (Click here for the fishy details.)
And just this month, Whole Foods Market introduced sustainable swordfish that has been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). If you’re interested, shop quickly: The fish will be available only through August and while supplies last.
Whole Foods has been working with an “incredibly special fishery” in Nova Scotia, says Dan Rand, one of the natural/organic food chain’s port buyers. He and his colleagues hand-select and grade swordfish as it arrives on dock, and they choose fish that meets specific criteria: white meat, firm texture and bright blood lines. These requirements help ensure that the cooked fish has a mildly sweet flavor, optimum moistness and a meaty texture.
“To get this many fishermen on board 100% with the MSC fishery sustainability program is no easy task, and it is a testament to their commitment to the future of the fishery and the fish,” Rand says.
Caught one at a time by harpoon, a swordfish is targeted only when it’s mature. Whole Foods is working with the Canadian government to avoid overfishing, which means swordfish are caught over three 5-day intervals.
“As [Whole Foods] customers better understand the importance of certified sustainable seafood products and the rigor of the MSC’s independent, internationally recognized standard, the more consumers can play a role by their choices in realizing the vision of oceans teeming with life for this and future generations,” says Kerry Coughlin, MSC’s Americas Region director.
Read More:Sustainable Swordfish Available at Whole Foods Market
July 15th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Having broken box-office records with Avatar, director James Cameron and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment have partnered with the Earth Day Network to create the Avatar Home Tree Initiative—an effort to plant 1 million native trees in 15 countries (the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Brazil, Mexico and Haiti).
Each Avatar Blu-Ray and DVD has a unique code, which buyers can register here. Fans who do so can adopt one of the million trees and receive a virtual home tree that represents it. At press time, 227,713 trees have been adopted.
“We find ourselves facing the greatest challenge of our time: saving our natural world from ourselves,” Cameron says. “The time has come to stand up and be warriors for the Earth. Avatar takes place on a distant world, but it’s really about this miracle planet we have right here.”
“Climate change is a worldwide problem, and we have a universal responsibility to protect the world’s natural resources from man’s exploitation,” adds Earth Day Network President Kathleen Rogers, who calls Cameron an “environmental steward.”
Check out these official interactive sites:
- Pandorama. Using a webcam, immerse yourself in the world of Pandora. Insert yourself into different movie locations, and interact with the elements. Snap postcards, and share them with friends.
- Pandorapedia. Enter the official guide to the world of Pandora, with hundreds of online facts.
- Immersive Trailer. With this interactive trailer, click on any part of the video to explore frame-by-frame and in-context “hot spots,” which offer meticulous information on characters and locations.
Read More:Help Director James Cameron Plant 1 Million Trees
July 14th, 2010 - Scott Shaffer
The Washington Post says environmentalists and culinary enthusiasts agree: we should chow down on lionfish. It tastes good and we need to get rid of it, for the sake of coral reefs. The invasive species was moved from the western Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic near Florida in the 1980s, where it became a top predator, feeding on Grouper and Snapper. Lionfish populations in the south Atlantic grew by 700% from 2004 to 2008, and it looks like it’s going to spread, destroying ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico (if the oil spill doesn’t beat it to the punch).
So what’s the only predator higher on the food chain than this venomous fish? Homo Sapiens, of course. But just because you’re saving the environment doesn’t mean your food can’t taste great! Seafood distributer Sean Dimin says “this fish is delicious.” Chef Teddy Diggs sauteed lionfish in brown butter, drizzled it with vinegar, and served it over greens.
If you can, get in on this trend and help out the Atlantic ecosystems (Fish2Fork has other tips on eating sustainable seafood). It can be a healthy move, too: fish are high in healthy omega 3 fatty acids. Bon appetit!
Read More:Sustainable Seafood Advocates Say: Eat Lionfish!
July 7th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
You’re no doubt familiar with the warning “Don’t Mess with Texas,” but do you know the slogan’s roots?
In 1986, late jazz guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn filmed a “Don’t Mess with Texas” public service announcement for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), designed to reduce the ever-increasing costs of litter pickup.
In short order, the slogan made its way into U.S. pop culture, and over the last two decades, 26 celebrities—including Willie Nelson, Lance Armstrong and Matthew McConaughey—have served as spokespeople for TxDOT’s antilittering campaign.
The latest star to issue the “Don’t Mess…” message is country legend George Strait, whose TV commercial began airing statewide in May. (Click here to view it.)
“Ironically, some of the most prideful Texans are also some of the worst litterers, according to new research,” says TxDOT Travel Information Division Director Doris Howdeshell. “If you love Texas so much, why in the world would you throw trash on it?”
Indeed, the latest research shows 24% of Texans are proud of their state and believe roadside litter makes it look bad—but they also readily admit to littering and aren’t concerned when others do so.
Approximately 13% of Texans, who TxDOT classifies as “fun-loving antiestablishment” types, believe having fun is the whole point of life, and they represent the highest percentage (55%) of litterers. They say unintended littering is OK and see no need to teach their children about litter prevention.
Howdeshell hopes the new TV spot will reach both groups.
“When George Strait reminds people, ‘Don’t Mess with Texas means don’t litter,’ we think they’ll listen,” she says. “After all, he epitomizes Texas pride.”
For Your Children’s Organic Bookshelf: Cleaning Up Litter
Read More:Don’t Mess with Texas by Littering
July 5th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
I recently urged you to watch GasLand, HBO’s outstanding documentary on “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing)—a dangerous drilling procedure that allows natural gas to infiltrate our water supply and create pools of toxic wastewater.
Since my June 28 blog post, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has quarantined 28 cows from a Tioga County farm, as they were exposed to a large pool of drilling wastewater from a nearby natural gas operation.
Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding says he doesn’t know how much wastewater the cows consumed, and he announced the quarantine to prevent potentially contaminated beef from entering the food supply.
“Cattle are drawn to the taste of salty water,” he says. “Drilling wastewater has high salinity levels, but it also contains dangerous chemicals and metals. We took this precaution in order to protect the public from consuming any of this potentially contaminated product should it be marketed for human consumption.”
The cows were out to pasture when a wastewater holding pond leaked, sending contaminated water into the adjacent field. The resulting toxic pool killed a 30’ x 40’ patch of grass.
While no cows were seen drinking the wastewater, their tracks were evident throughout the pool, which had extended 200 to 300 feet into their pasture. Tests found the wastewater contained chloride, iron, sulfate, barium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, strontium and calcium.
Redding says he’s most concerned about the strontium, which can be toxic to humans (especially children).
The state’s Department of Environmental Protection issued a notice of violation to the drilling company, East Resources Inc., and required further sampling and site remediation. This simply isn’t good enough. The site should be shut down before it causes even greater harm, and fracking should be outlawed altogether.
Read More:Cows Quarantined After Exposure to Natural-Gas Wastewater
July 3rd, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
After the catastrophic BP oil spill, President Obama declared a moratorium on permits for drilling new offshore oil wells. But reports indicate that federal regulators have granted at least five environmental waivers and seven new permits for various types of drilling—some in waters deeper than BP’s Deepwater Horizon site.
These permits and waivers were huge mistakes, according to A. James Barnes, a professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University.
“I find it inexplicable that we are not taking a timeout after being faced with what is being characterized as the worst manmade environmental disaster in U.S. history,” says Barnes, who formerly served as general counsel and deputy administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“We have very limited experience with deep-ocean drilling in U.S. waters, and we don’t really have a good understanding of why this disaster occurred and how it might have been prevented,” he adds. “What is painfully apparent is that neither BP and its drilling partners nor the federal government were prepared to deal with the consequences if something went wrong.”
Questions have been raised about the adequacy of the environmental review, permit requirements and provisions for governmental oversight.
“Equipment failures and possible human error appear to have played a part, and ad hoc—and, to date, unsuccessful—efforts to stem the flow of oil have put a spotlight on the absence of viable and redundant mechanisms to stop the flow of oil into the water column should a problem develop,” Barnes says.
“Day by day, we watch the continued destruction of a very valuable fishery and ecosystem as the oil moves into the marshes of Louisiana and onto the beaches to the east. We see humans and wildlife frantically trying to deal with the oily goo, as well as the pain of Gulf Coast residents watching their livelihoods and way of life wiped out. We do not yet know the full extent of the tragedy that is unfolding as oil continues to flow virtually unabated.”
Barnes is calling for a timeout for any further drilling “until we can figure out what went wrong and how to prevent another environmental disaster of this magnitude.”
Read More:We Need a Timeout from Oil Drilling
June 28th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Ever try to light your tap water on fire?
Josh Fox has witnessed the phenomenon firsthand (see photo, above).
The filmmaker chronicles the largest natural gas drilling boom in U.S. history in his documentary GasLand—and the environmental ramifications aren’t pretty. The film premiered on HBO last week and will air through 2012. (Click here to view the trailer.)
The film’s genesis was Fox’s discovery that natural gas drilling was about to start in the Catskills/Poconos region of New York and Pennsylvania, where he lives. He was offered $100,000 to sign over drilling rights to his land.
Fox traveled to 24 states to expose how Dick Cheney’s pals at Halliburton developed a new drilling system called “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing), which may permanently contaminate the country’s water supply and worsen air pollution.
Chronically ill residents in drilling areas shared common symptoms and discovered that an urban legend held true: They could light fires straight from the faucet.
Drilling-related pools of toxic waste were also killing cattle and vegetation. Oil-well blowouts and gas explosions regularly occurred, only to be covered up by officials.
Not an HBO subscriber? A 2010 Sundance Film Festival award winner, GasLand will be available on DVD in December.
Photo courtesy of International WOW Company
Read More:HBO Documentary Exposes Natural Gas in Water Supply
June 26th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
By S. David Freeman
We keep staring in frustration and anger at the giant flow of oil spilling into the water in the Gulf of Mexico. It is a disaster.
But what is even a greater disaster is what we would see if we looked up, rather than down, and opened our eyes to the millions of deadly toxic “spills” into the air we breathe from cars, trucks, buses, power plants, ships, oil refineries, etc. They spill deadly poisons into the air we breathe every day.
We are more endangered than the birds and the fish in the Gulf. While we are rightfully concerned about the wildlife, let’s wake up to what we are breathing every day of our lives. And there is ample scientific evidence to prove that the “spills” of pollution in the air are just as deadly to human beings.
We need to remind ourselves that what we call smog is a witch’s brew of toxic stuff far more deadly than crude oil. No matter what we burn, whether its gasoline, coal, “clean diesel,” natural gas or biodiesel, it creates tiny particles invisible to the eye that become part of the air we breathe. They go past your nasal passages into the deep recesses of your lungs and into your bloodstream.
Study after study has proven that air pollution is the cause of epidemics of asthma among kids, and heart disease and premature cancer deaths among adults. The tragedy in the Gulf should be a wakeup call to remind Americans that we need to get off oil, not just to save wildlife in the Gulf, but to save our own lives.
It is time to recognize that forms of energy that are inherently dangerous (atomic power, deepwater drilling, and burning coal and petroleum) must be phased out. The truth is that—as we have seen—technology is not perfect and humans do make errors, as the BP oil spill and Three Mile Island reveal.
Remember, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. So, let’s stop going for the poisons, and commit our future to clean energy. The convenient truth is that a serious effort to bring on a renewable energy future, in addition to stopping large future oil spills, would:
- Clean the air we breathe
- Reduce the risks of climate change
- Reduce our dependence on oil imports
- Stop the flow of billions of dollars each year to foreign oil-producing nations
- Create a large number of new green jobs for Americans
I have just returned from a visit to China. The leadership in clean tech is now being captured by the Chinese. But it is not too late for America to at least be a major player. But if the tragedy in the Gulf is not a wakeup call, America will lose out. What is needed is leadership that calls for green action now.
There are vast publicly owned lands where solar and wind projects can be built by private companies if the government will grant speedy permission and financing. And the auto industry can be told by the government that, in a few short years, all your cars must be plug-in hybrids or all-electric.
We must make a firm national decision to say no to poisons: crude oil and coal and inherently dangerous radioactive atomic power. The future must be all renewable. Only then can we preserve our way of life.
Wake up, America. Stop talking, and start building green power—and no more fossil fuels or nuclear. Only then will America’s best days be ahead of us.
S. David Freeman is the former chairman of the board of Tennessee Valley Authority and headed the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and other large public power agencies. He is the author of Winning Our Energy Independence and a principal in the Renewable Energy Accountability Project, a nonprofit renewable energy watchdog agency.
Read More:Stop Talking and Start Building Green Power
June 21st, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Hey, Tony “I Would Like My Life Back” Hayward!
Now that you’re no longer the bloated public face of BP, it seems your narcissistic wish for some “me time” has been granted.
Hope you enjoyed sailing off the oil-free shores of Britain on your $270 million yacht. What else would one expect from a tone-deaf CEO whose 2009 salary and bonuses totaled about $4.5 million?
Tony, you may want to publish the Cliff’s Notes for wrecking other countries’ ecosystems. I’m sure Exxon would be interested.
Just in case you’re unfamiliar with what you’ve done, we turn to Carl Hacker, PhD, JD, an associate professor of ecology and health law at The University of Texas School of Public Health, who explains what happened after the massive Gulf Coast spill:
- First up was the immediate ecological impact. Fish, crabs and birds sported lethal coatings of oil and washed up along the coast. Some species now face extinction.
- Grasses, which made up the wetlands, were destroyed. As a result, food and foraging surfaces for surviving animals have been lost.
- Humans, also part of the food web, had to say goodbye to crabs, shrimp, oysters, and finfish. Many fishermen lost their livelihoods, and workers died in the explosion that caused the spill.
“How long the effects of this well blowout will last is hard to imagine or forecast,” Dr. Hacker says. “A coastal wetland is an ecosystem: an assemblage of plants and animals with their physical environment. Although we know an ecosystem can be destroyed and recover in time, we do not know what the ecosystem will look like when it returns.
“It is likely that many of the species that formed the coastal wetland will be lost. The relationship among the plants and animals that make up the ecosystem will certainly change. We have no experience with estimating how long it will take for this coastal wetland to recover, or indeed whether it will recover. If it does recover, it will most certainly take a very long time.”
Heckuva job, Tony.
Photo courtesy of NOAA
Read More:How to Destroy an Ecosystem in 3 Easy Steps