Archive for June, 2008

Our Chemical Diet

Monday, June 30th, 2008

The ContraCostaTimes is running a story by Steve Butler about the chemical content in our foods. He argues that the antibiotics in our meat and diary, the pesticides on our vegetables, and our growing resistance to conventional medical treatments may be linked. Is an epidemic next?

Will Allen, author of The War on Bugs, makes a similar argument in his book. Eating locally produced, organic food, is the only way to eat sustainably—for your health, the environment, and the economy.

From the article:

How can we expect to live long enough to enjoy a hard-earned retirement if the food industry is trying to kill us? A friend who just returned from Scotland said that his cattle-farming host had pointed out that antibiotics in cattle were banned in Britain 14 years ago. Meanwhile in South Korea, people are rioting as the country lifts the ban on U.S. beef. What do they know? Are we like sheep to some slaughter?

The story with the meat processing industry is that it has been dramatically consolidated from lots of small farms into giant industrial complexes that grow cattle and hogs as fast as possible. Massive doses of antibiotics are the only hope for keeping these animals alive long enough to slaughter.

And then there are those “free-range” chickens. Apparently, to earn this designation for its fowl, a chicken processor has only to make available an open fenced-in area at the end of a large chicken “coop.” Unfortunately, for those of us who would like to think we are eating chickens that got a lot of fresh air and sunshine in place of antibiotics, the chickens tend not to want to go outside. They like to hang out with a few thousand of their friends — inside.Let’s start connecting the dots. Today, in hospitals across the country, staff infections resistant to antibiotics seem to be an epidemic. It’s a safe guess that all the antibiotics in meat may have contributed to our resistance to antibiotics.

Read the full article here.

Hawaii Takes ‘Leed’ in Green Building

Monday, June 30th, 2008

Just yesterday as I traveled down a sunny Vermont road, I couldn’t help but notice all the empty rooftops. Such a wasted solar opportunity, I thought. It seems that someone high-up in Hawaii thought the same thing. Hawaii has just become the first state in the nation to require solar hot water heaters on new homes.

The Hawaii Reporter ran a story about the new law today.

From the article:

Hawaii has become the first state in the nation to pass into law a requirement that all new homes built after January 1, 2010, be equipped with solar or other energy efficient hot water systems. Signed into law by Hawaii’s governor on June 26, the bill’s introducer, Senate Majority Leader Gary L. Hooser (D-Kaua’i, Ni’ihau) said, “Hawaii is almost totally dependent on imported oil for its energy needs and estimates show that, with this law, our oil consumption will be cut by 30,000 barrels during the first year and continues to decline exponentially thereafter.” While allowing for other energy efficient choices, the new law is widely seen as a solar hot water mandate and is expected to cut home energy usage in Hawaii by an average of 30% starting in 2010. With the price of oil recently reaching $140 per barrel, Hooser considers Hawaii’s move towards cheaper, cleaner energy “a vital decision for our island state.” Hooser also noted, “While the instituting of broad mandates is never an easy thing to do, the public benefits resulting from the passage of this measure are huge.”

Hawaii currently has the highest electricity costs in the nation and it is estimated that homeowners will save $600 annually for a family of four. “The additional disposable income combined with a cumulative multiplier effect of that income circulating in the Hawaii economy, rather than being exported to import foreign oil, will result in significant additional economic activity”, Hooser added.

Economics aside, the groundbreaking measure enables Hawaii to lead the nation in the country’s growing effort to combat global warming. Hawaii’s switch to solar will prevent the emission of over 10,000 tons of greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere every year. Heating water via a solar system is significantly more efficient that using a conventional electric resistant water heater. Utilizing a typical family of four, conventional heaters consume electricity at a rate of 240 to 400 kWh/month. Solar water heaters consume at a rate of only 20 to 80 kWh/month.

The countries of Israel and Spain presently also require solar heating in all newly built residences — and Hawaii becomes the first state in the nation to institute such requirements. Senator Hooser said his next move was to “spread the gospel of solar” and that he would be meeting with legislative and community leaders in other “sunshine states” such as California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and Florida, encouraging them also to follow Hawaii’s lead. According to Hooser, “Mandating solar hot water heating for all new homes is a no-brainer. This is the low hanging fruit, a low cost proven technology that saves homeowners money and is great for the environment”.

Hawaii’s new law also establishes a process to insure quality control, provides for exceptions and other energy efficient alternatives and shifts existing state solar installation tax credits to homes built prior to 2010.

With Hawaii’s sun and high electricity/oil expenses, I’m not surprised that it was the first state to mandate such a ‘green’ measure. Let’s hope other green states (I’m looking at you California and Vermont) follow suit.

Organic Farms will Feed the World

Monday, June 30th, 2008

Reuters UK is reporting on the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements’s (IFOAM) reaction to a recent U.N. food summit touting chemical fertilizers and genetically modified (GM) crops rather than organic solutions to tackle world hunger.

From the article:

At the U.N. food summit in Rome this month, the World Bank pledged $1.2 billion in grants to help with the food crisis.

“The $1.2 billion the World Bank says will solve the food crisis in Africa is a $1.2 billion subsidy to the chemical industry,” said Vandana Shiva, an Indian physics professor and environmental activist speaking at the forum in Modena.

“Countries are made dependent on chemical fertilizers when their prices have tripled in the last year due to rising oil prices,” she said. “I say to governments: spend a quarter of that on organic farming and you’ve solved your problems.”

She said industrial farming was based on planting a single crop on vast surfaces and heavy use of chemical fertilizers, a process that used 10 times more energy than it produced.

“The rest turns into waste as greenhouse gases, chemical runoffs and pesticide residues in our food,” she said.

In contrast, organic farms could increase output by 10 times by growing many different species of plants at the same time, which helped retain soil and water, she said. “In a one-acre farm in India they can grow 250 species of plants,” she said.

Read the full article here.

As organic farmer Eliot Coleman points out in this video, he can produce—on his small four-season farm in Maine—up to 24 times the number of carrots per acre in a year than a large-scale farming outfit. (And his fields are filled with the biodiversity necessary to support and benefit from the local bee population.)

City Bees, Country Bees, and Guerrilla Beekeeping

Monday, June 30th, 2008, an online news portal for the Napa Valley and surrounding areas, is running a story by Alastair Bland about the current state of beekeeping in northern California. Apparently, city bees are having more success than country bees. One theory is the increasing monoculture of the country’s crops. Almonds for miles. Self-pollinating grapes blanketing the valley floors. It’s possible the area’s bees are dying of malnutrition due to a poor diet.

From the article:

“When you come to the reasons that bees are dying, like colony collapse, loss of habitat, stress, loss of genetic diversity and the use of pesticides—all of these things can be addressed to an extent by beekeeping in urbanized areas,” says Serge Labesque, a beekeeping teacher at Santa Rosa Junior College.

But many cities, like Santa Rosa and Napa, have safety ordinances against keeping bees, and the political climate is not entirely apiarian-friendly. Rob Keller, an artist and leading figure in the local beekeeping community, lives in Napa and keeps scores of hives around the North Bay. Keller has observed his rural bee colonies deteriorate, showing particular susceptibility to the problematic Varroa mite. For most of the past year, however, he stashed over a dozen hives in his Napa backyard.

“Those colonies of mine were of great genetic material, and I had them here in the city to make it easy on them to get food and to keep their health up,” he says. “They were getting a much more varied diet here.”

So what does one do when your city’s ordinances prevent urban beekeeping?

For Keller, beekeeping borders on a personal responsibility. While he negotiates on cordial terms with city officials for the right to bring his bees back to town, he encourages others to take a beekeeping class, invest in the basic equipment and, he smiles, “go guerrilla.”

“Drastic times call for drastic measures,” Keller says. “This is the right thing to do. You can’t go to the city and ask, ‘Can I please keep bees within the city limit?’ They’ll say no.

“You just do it.”

Diane Wilson’s Arrest During the Hunger Strike (15 days and counting…)

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

Diane Wilson, author of An Unreasonable Woman and Holy Roller, continues her hunger strike of Union-Carbide. She’s written a new post her arrest.

From Diane’s blog:

The security cops have confiscated my computer. Said they had to check for threats, bugs, secret messages.  That type of thing. I’m arrested. In handcuffs.  The handcuffs THAT acting consulate general said wouldn’t happen.  Oh, no no. We don’t do handcuffs, he said.  But here I am.  Sitting in the Security office for the Three towers at Post Oak Boulevard in Hot Houston. In handcuffs.

I was arrested unexpected like.  I was sitting in a folding chair outside the Reception Room of the General Consulate of India.  I had brought the folding chair from the house I was staying in and I had my  poster with Day 15 of a hunger strike posted and leaning against the wall.  An armful of flyiers was in my lap and I had already passed out about forty.  Very interesting reception that I was getting.  Almost every Indian I talked with acted totally surprised that the situation in Bhopal still existed.  Yes, it does, I said.  30 Bhopalis are dying a month from that release in l984.  Over 25,000 dealths.  Over 8 times the amount of  Americans that were killed during 9-11.  And the USA invaded two countries over that one!

They express astonishment and some want to know EXACTLY what they can do.

About this time, here come 3 men  sashaying out of the elevator.  They are dark suited, under-cover cops wearing badges.  They come directly to my chair.

I’m astonished.  “Are ya’ll coming for me?”  I’m totally flabbergasted.  My jaw has dropped.  “Why that consulate general said I could sit here. “

No no, they say. You don’t have permission.

Why,yes yes, I do have permission.  The acting consulate on Friday said I could stay here.  Just a bit away from that fancy consulate sign is all.”

The three security cops exchange puzzled looks.  Consulate General?  Really?  Then they shift gears.  No no, you don’t have permission.

Well, I refuse to leave because I know I DO have permission, but they’re not bothering to even check.  So I’m getting arrested.  The security cop says, C’mon, Momma.  C’mon with us.”  (Later and in confidence, the security cop says maybe that consulate knew what he was doing when he got you to move away from that sign.  Are you sayin he set me up? I say.  Could be, he says.)

Pretty fast I’m delivered to that wicked ole Harris County jail. It’s wicked alright. It averages 22 deaths a year.  Just recently, in April, a prisoner that was brought in for a hot check died because of some sort of choke hold administered by some sort of guard.  So the Feds are coming in to investigate the string of deaths and wondering what else is being violated.  What will they find in Harris County Jail.

What I find is  36  hours of  a processing nightmare. No sleep unless you like sleeping on a cement floor where a stream of women have come and gone for days.  Plus its  crowded, plus its  cold.  One woman got a roll of toilet paper and wrapped her legs.  Another woman pulled the plastic garbage liner out of the trash can, ripped a hole for her head, and pulled it over her.  I get double time in that cold holding cell because a guard took a real dislike to me and put my processing papers back for the next shift.  They tell us over and over again.  “We can turn out the lights and nobody will know you’re even there.”  It’s not a veiled threat. It’s a real threat.

Around six oclock of the next evening Im ordered into a medical unit with fifty women.  Every seat on the bench is taken.  At least twenty women are sprawled on the floor.  I’m one of them on the floor and confused out of my mind. I get dizzy lifting my head.  I haven’t had water in two days but liquids are one thing these guards are not big on.  My breath is beginning to stink but I don’t worry. Everybody in this cell is stinking.  For once it is not cold.  This time it is hot– and fifty female bodies make it worse.  The medical unit is a little strange.  Not something that I remember from the last time I was in Harris County Jail. Then– way back when– dying on the floor wouldn’t get you into the medical unit.  Having a heart seizure wouldn’t do it neither.  You could bleed to death and it would be alright.

One of the girls explained the crowed room.  The feds are coming in next week, she said.  Checking who is and who ain’t getting medical attention if they want it.  Seeing who died too, and what were the circumstances.

So apparently EVERYBODY coming in now goes straight to medical after 30 hours of a processing torture.  Some are sick (staph infection that is a potential killer), some are mentally ill (one girl has gone off three times into a hysterical frenzy about being a model and a college graduate and having 4 boyfriends and the only reason she’s in jail is because SOMEBODY stole her air conditoner.)  One young black girl, 21 years old, is eight months pregnant.  She said she knows three women who lost their babies in jail. Even though her water is leaking and she is bleeding, she thinks she will do alright, though.  She will be ok.

One woman inmate said “Do not dare talk to those investigators coming here.  You will end up dead dead.  “  Her own daddy died in the same jail.  Ruled a suicide, but the girl said, Tell me how he could’ve killed himself.  There wasn’t no way he could’ve  where he was found.”  Another woman inmate is trying to convince her to talk.  She said she saw a woman die.  Right there, she says and points to a low cement bench in the unit we’re in.  Margarita was her name and before she died that woman said to me, “Lookey here at these sores. Lookey here”.  Margarita had two huge cankerous sores: one on her chest and another on her arm.   Well, Margarita died right there.  She had diabetes.  Plus stapth infection.  Anyhow, she died.

Looks like we’re gonna be in medical a long long time. Guess I’m right because a guard comes in and says, Y’all gonna be here a long long time.  Might even have to pull y’all out in the morning for court, then throw y’all back in.   Eventually the girl with the air conditioner goes crazy and some of the inmates start howling to be let out of the room.  One girl says. Don’t matter. It’s crowded upstairs, too.  Wherever you go, its crowded.

Next is the strip down.  Total strip down.  Worse than having a baby.  Im getting a little sick with the whole thing and try to imagine myself in a room all by myself.  But nope. Twenty women in the middle of a strip down.  Worse than having two babies.  Finally I get issued my orange jail outfit and ten minutes later I find I’ve been bonded out but I’m totally paranoid that I really won’t be allowed to leave.  I’ll be stuck in a cell with the lights out.  Nobody will know I was even there.

Project: Your Summer Outdoor Solar Shower

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

Summer is a great time for projects. Especially when they’re outdoors. What could be better this summer than an eco-friendly outdoor shower? Easy to build, easy on the environment, and when your girlfriend uses it…it’s easy on the eyes.

Stephen and Rebekah Hren, authors of The Carbon-Free Home, offer this great outdoor solar shower to help you clean off from your afternoons at the beach…or supermarket…or wherever….

Project: Outdoor Solar Shower
Renter friendly.
Project Time: One day.
Cost: $25–100.
Energy Saved: Medium to high.
Ease of Use: Medium; must be refilled to heat.
Maintenance Level: Medium.
Skill Levels: Carpentry: Basic. Plumbing: Basic.
Materials: Water tank, plumbing fittings, wood, nails, hose bibb.
Tools: Flat or Phillips-head screwdriver, adjustable wrench, hammer, nails.

For many years, prior to moving to Durham, our only summertime shower was a solar shower, and after running through a few leaky off-the-shelf models that either didn’t heat up or dripped all the hot water out before we could use it, we found that the temporary solution of leaving a hose in the sun was just as effective, although sometimes the water would get too hot and the supply was very limited!

The best possible solar shower is one you make yourself: a small black container or water tank that sits in the sun, above your head on a wood or metal stand, and has a high-quality hose bibb or boiler drain valve that turns on and off securely, to which you can attach either a showerhead or a handheld sprayer.

There are also a lot of basic prefab models on the market; the most common is a 5-gallon thick-gauge plastic bag (either black or with a clear front and black back) that you hang in the sun, with a dangling small-diameter hose with a rudimentary closing clip or valve.

Siting the shower. There are three things you need to think about when siting a solar shower: first, privacy; second, water access; and third, sunshine. The most annoying thing about premanufactured solar showers is that you often have to take them down from the spot where they are hanging to fill them up, and then you have to struggle with a large heavy bag of water in the rehanging. If you can designate a spot for the shower and make it easy to get water into the container (usually with a hose, or even better via rainwater catchment), your solar shower will see a lot more use. It is hard to generalize about the amount of sunshine solar shower tanks need. If you live in Arizona, you might prefer that your water stays in the shade to provide relief on 100-degree days. If you live in Vermont, you’ll need at least four hours of direct sun on the tank to get it up to an enjoyable temperature. We found that in North Carolina, the water from the ground averages about 55 degrees, and it takes three hours in the sun for the water to reach a decent shower temperature. We can happily use a solar outdoor shower from May to September.

(Outdoor solar showers are fun and investigating and, best of all, can provide carbon-free hot water.)

The tank and stand. We built a basic wooden stand for our previous cob house’s solar shower (we don’t currently have a solar shower, as our water is already heated by the sun and our current house is on a corner lot with an alley in back, making privacy harder to come by). Our first solar shower consisted of four posts (4 × 4s) and a flat plywood top. The diagram in figure 6.3 shows another possibility, with brackets tied into house wall studs holding up the platform. Make sure that shower water drains away from the house foundation rather than toward it. Water is heavy, about 8 pounds per gallon, so depending on the size tank you want to use, the stand has to be of sufficient sturdiness to support the weight (see “Building a Horizontal Trellis for Shading” in chapter 10 of the book for information on attaching brackets).

If you oversize the tank, it will take much longer to heat up. Each outdoor showerer should use under 10 gallons of water, with 5 gallons often sufficient. The common 55-gallon rain-barrel-size tank is too large and would not heat up sufficiently. A 30-gallon or smaller tank is about right, depending on household size, showering frequency, and available sunlight. A black 5-gallon bucket can be a cheap solution for individual use. The more surface area the tank has relative to water, the faster it will heat up. The tank should either be black or be painted black, and it will need both a hose bibb (boiler drain) for the shower and a cap or cover that can be removed so you can fill the tank (see “Rain Barrel” in chapter 8 of the book for advice on inserting a hose bibb into a tank). If you rescue an old tank, make sure it didn’t contain something caustic or toxic in a previous life.

Building a solar outdoor shower is a good place to put your creativity to use. You might be able to fill the tank with rainwater overflow from your gutters. You could build an elaborate showering platform with built-in hooks and shelves and tiled walls. If you plumb the tank into the existing house water lines, refilling it will be a breeze. Just because you live in a city doesn’t mean you can’t have an outdoor shower. Nearly every home at the beach has an outdoor shower, and we’ve seen plenty of inner-city outdoor showers tucked away in the backyard behind simple board-and-batten walls. Just invest in a good bathrobe and you’ll have no trouble.

Review: The Carbon-Free Home is Completely Legit.

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

Jetson Green (no relation), recently reviewed The Carbon-Free Home by Stephen and Rebekah Hren. They had a few nice things to say about the book, which we appreciate. And they’re giving away a copy to one of their lucky readers. Check out their full review here.

From the review:

To give you an idea of the quality material contained in the book, here’s a review comment from the green guru Bill McKibben: “It’s hard to imagine a more comprehensive, and comprehensible, guide to making your home work for you and for the planet, inside and out.  It’s frugal, it’s sensible, and it will help!“  I’d like to echo the comments of Bill McKibben myself, because this book is completely legit.


I’ve found this book to be incredibly resourceful — it’s thorough, practical, and authentic.  Plus, the authors know what they’re talking about.

I agree. Stephen and Rebekah are the real deal. Thanks for the review!

U.S. Freezes Solar Energy Projects

Friday, June 27th, 2008

The New York Times is reporting today that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has placed a two-year moratorium on new solar projects using public land.

From the article:

The Bureau of Land Management says an extensive environmental study is needed to determine how large solar plants might affect millions of acres it oversees in six Western states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

But the decision to freeze new solar proposals temporarily, reached late last month, has caused widespread concern in the alternative-energy industry, as fledgling solar companies must wait to see if they can realize their hopes of harnessing power from swaths of sun-baked public land, just as the demand for viable alternative energy is accelerating.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Holly Gordon, vice president for legislative and regulatory affairs for Ausra, a solar thermal energy company in Palo Alto, Calif. “The Bureau of Land Management land has some of the best solar resources in the world. This could completely stunt the growth of the industry.”


The manager of the Bureau of Land Management’s environmental impact study, Linda Resseguie, said that many factors must be considered when deciding whether to allow solar projects on the scale being proposed, among them the impact of construction and transmission lines on native vegetation and wildlife. In California, for example, solar developers often hire environmental experts to assess the effects of construction on the desert tortoise and Mojave ground squirrel.

Water use can be a factor as well, especially in the parched areas where virtually all of the proposed plants would be built. Concentrating solar plants may require water to condense the steam used to power the turbine.

Read the full article here.

Nine Tips to Save Water this Summer

Friday, June 27th, 2008

Global warming is changing the Earth’s weather patterns. The extremes of weather that we’re accustomed to are pulling away from each other. Floods are sweeping through new areas of the country, wildfires are rampaging through neighborhoods, and droughts are drying up once fertile lands.

Amidst all this climate turbulence it is important that each of us does all we can to conserve and protect our water sources this summer—whether that’s a well, a spring, or a resovoir. Here are nine ways that you can save water this summer and protect the resource we all need—and need to share.


1. Wash your car at home rather than at a car wash. (It takes about 70 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of gasoline.)

2. “If it’s yellow let it mellow. It it’s brown, flush it down.”

3. Store drinking water in a jug in the refrigerator, rather than waiting for the tap to run cold. (This will also help your refrigerator stay down in temperature! See this video tip.)


4. If you have an old toilet, you can reduce the amount of water it uses by putting a “displacement device” in the tank. Using small plastic bottles filled with water works well. (Over a quarter of all the clean, drinkable water you use in your home is used to flush the toilets.)

5.  While waiting for your sink water to run hot, collect the cold and use it on your plants and garden.

6. Garbage disposals use a considerable amount of water. Start composting—put the vegetable peelings in your compost bin.


7. Use a rain barrel to collect the rainwater from your roof, rather than wasting treated drinking water on your garden. Some water companies either provide them free or at a reduced price. You can also build your own.

8.  Build up your garden’s soil by using plenty of manure and compost. This will increase its ability to retain moisture—reducing the need for watering.

9. Hand-wash your laundry.

If you have more tips, let us know in the comments! We’d love to hear them.

Low Sperm Counts and Deformed Penises, Thanks Plastic!

Friday, June 27th, 2008

Joshua Zaffos posted an article recently to AlterNet titled, “Low Sperm Counts and Deformed Penises: The Chemical Industry Has a Hold on Your Reproductive Future.” The article address the chemical industry’s abuse of our trust that the products we use have been tested and are safe. As Mark Schapiro points out here, this is not the case.

Two of the offending chemical compounds mentioned in Zaffos’s article, bisphenol-A and pthalates, are covered in Mark’s book Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power.

From the article:

I am half the man my father is.

This disturbing fortune came to me about five years ago, but not from an odd relative or a sadistic girlfriend. Instead, this dinner-table diagnosis came from Theo (short for Theodora) Colborn, an internationally known scientist who has helped develop the field of research exploring how chemical compounds interfere with the hormones that guide human development.

Known as endocrine disruption, chemicals found in computer screens and car seats, shower curtains and shampoo, plastic water bottles and prophylactics are skewing our odds against cancers and causing developmental delays and reproductive roadblocks, including declining sperm counts.

So, when Colborn informed me of my inferior manhood, I took consolation in the fact that she was indicting my entire generation — and her own — for loading our natural environment, our workplaces and our homes with tens of thousands of chemical compounds without really having a clue about what we’re doing. Our Stolen Future, the book Colborn co-authored in 1996, first delivered this bad news to the general public.

More than a decade later, scientists are still conducting experiments and measuring results, from cramped basement labs at universities to expansive high-country lakes in the wilderness. The hypotheses generally aren’t questions of whether chemicals are pervading and persisting in the environment, but rather how severely they are stunting our development and health. The federal government has investigated these questions with timidity, if not contempt, operating a regulatory system practically beholden to the chemical industry.

With half of my manhood at stake and hopes for a better assessment in the future, I’m wondering how we can heed the warning signs and reverse our chemical course.

 The full article can be found here.

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