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Population Control

I'm taking an environmental communication class, and we discuss a wide range of really interesting issues. One topic that's come up in light of the octuplet birth in California is the idea of population control. Population control might not be something we have to worry about for hundreds of years, so it won't be us, but rather it will become the problem of our grandchildren or their grandchildren.

Imagine a world even more crowded than it is today. I'm not really afraid of crowds, but I have an aversion. I tend to avoid the grocery store at prime shopping hours, such as the few hours when people are leaving work, or right before a winter storm approaches, or even in the hours leading up to a football game. I don't love parades, lines or any other place where I might end up a sardine. It's easy enough now to avoid these situations, but what about in the future?

It won't be long until we've filled the earth, and so then what?

An overpopulated planet risks resource depletion, limited food supply and more waste. It's easy to foresee a point in time where there are more people than there are homes or places to build homes. So what's the solution to population control? After being asked to ponder this same question, I realized there's no easy answer. How can a nation enforce population control without compromising one's morals and religious beliefs or without squandering basic human rights? Perhaps, we could start to think of this as a serious issue now, before it becomes one, and start a campaign that encourages individuals to limit their breeding in the name of common good. That was my best idea, but I wonder if readers have any better alternatives.

Circle of Life

I recently visited Epcot in Orlando, and while I enjoyed my day there immensely, I couldn't help but especially enjoy a few attractions that made me think of how desperately communities like Bicycle City are needed. Circle of Life, a 20-minute film starring characters from The Lion King, was like BicycleCity.com brought to life. The film stressed the negative effects of transportation and sprawl and encouraged viewers to take an active interest in the environment and to understand and care about how their actions affect the world. The film opens with Timon and Pumbaa damming a river so that they can form a lake around which they plan to build a resort community. Simba then explains all of the reasons their plans aren't so great, including how a community impacts wildlife. They suggest that communities need to be built vertically, rather than horizontally, and that builders need to consider natural habitats as well as transportation. It moved me, perhaps because I was thinking of Bicycle City as I watched, but I hope that it moved everyone else in the room as well. If your future plans include Epcot, don't skip The Land or the Circle of Life, even if they aren't the most famous and glittery attractions in the park.

 

What Does Organic Food Taste Like?

The earth-friendly pizza chain, Pizza Fusion, opened a location in the Pittsburgh area last year, and the restaurant was profiled in this weekend's Post-Gazette. This particular pizza shop is located near me, so when it first opened, I ordered an organic pepperoni pizza. The reviews in the newspaper were far kinder than I could ever be; while I appreciated the all-natural and organic ingredients, I thought the total cost of $25 (including a delivery fee, not including the tip) for a lone pizza and breadsticks was exorbitant for what was fairly mediocre food. My negative opinion comes more from the fact that I could make a similar pizza for far less myself. They just don't offer that pizza shop taste, and that's what I was hoping I was paying for.

I haven't ordered from them since, although I considered it when they sent me a coupon asking for me to come back. The postcard was addressed to "Out of Area," which made me wish someone had taken the time to do a find and replace throughout their mail merge and at least address their cards to "Resident" if they couldn't find names.

But I digress. What really struck me about the article was that every person interviewed said they did not expect organic food to taste good, that it would taste like weeds or other plant matter. Granted, many were children, but still. This thought has never once occured to me, nor anyone else I know (who was willing to admit it). I've had lengthy discussions with friends who fully understand that organic fruits and vegetables are pesticide free, which generates debate over the merits of paying more for something when so far, we all seem fine having grown up consuming all those pesticides.

I find it quite interesting, and quite bizarre, that in today's world, where every other word you hear has something to do with the environment, that people aren't up on all of this. My hope is that Pizza Fusion, and other environmental efforts, will help create an awareness. As much as I wanted to fall in love with Pizza Fusion, I didn't, but I hope they find success and stay in the neighborhood. I also hope they help bring awareness on what eating natural and organic can be like.

Top 10 Green Headlines

Among other end-of-the-year lists, Time magazine included the Top 10 Green Stories in its recent lists issue. They included:

1. Barack Obama Elected President - While McCain backed fossil fuels, Obama supported alternative-energy investments for green jobs.

2. Renewable Energy Credits Passed By Congress - Energy credits that were due to expire at the end of the year were renewed as part of the October bailout bill.

3. Drill, Baby, Drill - The slogan spread throughout the country, but the debate continues over the merits of off-shore drilling.

4. Failed Warner-Lieberman Bill - The bill, which would have reduced greenhouse gas emissions to 65% of 2005 levels by 2050, failed by just 12 votes.

5. No New Coal Plants - A board at the EPA put a stop to new coal plant certification, putting nearly 100 planned plants on hold.

6. Bursting of the Ethanol Bubble - The $32 billion corn ethanol industry started to dissolve after food prices shot up and research determined ethanol isn't as green as once thought.

7. Polar Bear Threatened - The first animal considered threatened because of global warming, the polar bear was added to the threatened list on the Endangered Species Act.

8. Indonesia Takes Cash for Preservation - Indonesia took the first steps in November to allow Americans to trade cash for rain forest preservation.

9. First Auction for Carbon Dioxide - Utilities companies bid over $38 million so that they could emit 12.5 million tons of CO2.

10. Hypermiling as Word of the Year - Oxford Dictionary bestowed this yearly honor on the word that means "an attempt to maximize gas mileage by making fuel-conserving adjustments to one’s car and one’s driving techniques. Rather than aiming for good mileage or even great mileage, hypermilers seek to push their gas tanks to the limit and achieve hypermileage, exceeding EPA ratings for miles per gallon."

"How do we get more people walking and bicycling in the US?"

Good question.

MSNBC reports on the results of a global study that shows a positive link between fitness and active transportation, stating what I could have told you for free: people who walk and bike instead of drive everywhere weigh less. Not surprisingly, the US came in last.

Susan Handy of UC Davis' Sustainable Transportation Center asked the million dollar question: "How do we get more people walking and bicycling in the US?"

The problem really isn't that we're all lazy and addicted to our cars. Okay, that's part of the problem. But a bigger part of the problem is infrastructure. Our cities simply weren't designed for active transportation. We built a nation to support the automobile, not the human being.

Anne Lusk, one of Bicycle City's advisors and a Harvard School of Public Health research fellow,  is featured in the piece:

"What I found most exciting about this excellent research is the applicability," she said. "The issue then becomes should we improve our transit, walking or bicycling opportunities simultaneously or should we focus on one of the three?"

Lusk said her first choice is bicycles — and not just because of global warming, fluctuating gas prices or the economic downturn. When Dutch researchers asked people to match emotions with various forms of travel, she said, "The greatest emotion was joy for bicycling."

The evidence is mounting that a community like Bicycle City is needed now more than ever.

It Can Be So Easy

recycleThis morning I took my dog for a walk. It's trash day, and I couldn't help but notice how few of my neighbors actually recycle. I could see soda cans and plastic salad dressing bottles poking through the plastic bags. House after house, there is was: evidence that no one is taking the time to recycle. In my community, recycling is very easy. We all have blue plastic bins and all that's required is that we fill them, place them on the curb by Monday morning, and wait. We don't even have to sort. It's impossibly easy, so I am completely befuddled. Why isn't anyone recycling? One of my neighbors, in particular, is usually a recycler. I know this because I usually have to take their bin from my yard and walk it back to their house. But this morning, their blue bin was nowhere in sight, and their cans were brimming with cardboard and plastic #1 and #2 and cans. It was heartbreaking.

Naysayers will claim that one person recycling isn't going to make that much of a difference. No, it probably won't. But if everyone recycles, we can make a huge difference. And really, recycling is the easiest thing we can do to help.  Little by little, we can make a difference.

Have a Happy Eco-Holiday

This time of year, the debate between artificial and live trees rages on, and I've been reading up on this topic for a few years. Seems that the overwhelming conclusion is that a live tree, purchased close to home is the way to go, provided that tree came from a tree farm. Trees from tree farms are replanted right away, so there's no loss to forests. The process to manufacture artificial trees emits a lot of waste and uses lots of harsh chemicals, though if you're going to use your tree for many years, it might be a better option. Really, there's no right or wrong answer. You should use whichever tree is best for your family. If you buy a live tree, you can have it recycled into wood chips. Earth911.com has a search feature that will help you find out where to take your tree after the holidays. Some trash services designate a day for tree pick up, too, so you can call your collection company to find out when that is.

Another green holiday concern is wrapping paper, a concern that comes up on holidays and birthdays and any other day one gives and receives gifts.  We waste a lot of wrapping paper, but there are a few ways to be smart about it, including recycling. RecycleNow.com offers some insight about why wrapping paper can and cannot be recycled, so be sure to check with your local collection agency. Before your paper even hits the curb, though, think about conserving. One way to stay green is to buy recycled paper, and then reuse it. Kids tend to tear into their gifts without regard, but adults are generally more careful, and you can save the paper to use again and again until it's time to recycle it. I overheard a conversation recently in which someone lamented her grandmother for reusing wrapping paper. Using our grandparents' tricks for saving money and conserving waste can be very smart as well as very eco-savvy.  

Another way to be green during the holidays is by using LED lights. LED lights use less energy (as much as 33% less), so you won't pay as much in electricity charges. LEDs cost a little bit more (see Target's page of icicle lights for comparison), but those are savings you'll recoup on your electric bill.

What to Look for in Green Cosmetics

January's O, The Oprah Magazine, offers a feature on natural cosmetics and what to look for if you're interested in going green with your skincare and makeup. They describe a few organizations that offer seals of approval when products meet certain criteria:

  • Natural Products Association - This seal is granted to products that are at least 95% natural, and they define natural as coming from a renewable or plentiful source in nature. 60% of a company's products must meet their standards before any of said company's products can bear the seal of approval. Animal testing is forbidden. Their approved product list includes JR Watkins, Burt's Bees, Aubrey Organics and Highland Laboratories.
  • ECOCERT - Similar to the Natural Products Association, they mandate that products must be 95% natural. At least 10% of those ingredients must be organic, and there can be no animal testing. Aveda and Physician's Formula are just two of the companies listed on their approved list.
  • US Department of Agriculture - Their seal goes on prodcuts that are comprised of at least 95% certified organic ingredients. Those ingredients must be certified by the USDA National Organic Program. The USDA offers a handy fact sheet that explains exactly what can and cannot go into something to get their seal of approval. Animal lovers, take note: the USDA seal doesn't factor in animal testing.
Curiously enough, underneath O's spread on how to spot natural cosmetics is a blurb about umbrellatoday.com, which sends text messages to people reminding them to carry an umbrella on days in which rain has been forecasted. While this may be handy, I deem it decidedly unnatural. When rain is coming, use your sense of sight or even smell. Or watch the news or weather channel. Read the newspaper. Visit any of the myriad weather websites available. Or not.

Eliminate that Pesky Junk Mail

My copy of Time this week offered some interesting stats on junk mail:

  • Americans receive 40 pounds of junk mail each year.
  • Each household averages 848 pieces of junk mail annually.
  • 30% of the world's mail includes junk.
  • 19 billion catalogs hit mailboxes every year.
  • 44% of junk mail ends up in landfills.

The phrase "junk mail" indicates that it's roundly accepted that no one even looks at this stuff. But apparently, direct mail (the term people who send it like to use) leads to around $646 billion in annual sales, which means that not only does it work, but that it won't stop unless you take active steps against it.

If you're anything like me and really tired of receiving endless offers and catalogs, here are some steps you can take to make it stop:

  • Some catalogs have a number inside that you can call to ask to be taking off their mailing list. If you're receiving lots of catalogs and think that might be too tedious, check out CatalogChoice.org, a free service that can help you quit the catalog game. I signed up for this about six months ago, and I haven't noticed an improvement at all. However, I will admit that when they asked for information on my mailing labels beyond things I have memorized, like my address, I couldn't provide it. So maybe this service works better if you have catalogs in hand.
  • ProQuo.com is a free service, and once you put in your mailing information, you can select exactly which lists from which you want to be removed. I signed up for this and was taken through a series of mail types and clicked on images of junk mail types. I haven't been a member long enough to tell you if it works, but I can tell you that the sign up process was great. For example, in the coupons section, I was shown four images. I knew I was receiving Val-Pak and not Pennysaver, so I click Val-Pak. Poof! It's gone. The images are really helpful because, since I typically chuck half that stuff in my recycling bin as soon as I get it, I don't know their names, but I do recognize what they look like. So kudos to ProQuo for their innovation. One caveat - some companies make you print and send a letter verifying you want to be removed from their lists, so it's not as easy as a few clicks. Most of the catalogs want information from your mailing label as well.
  • GreenDimes.com is another option, but this costs $20 annually. Your $20 comes with a 90-day, 90% reduction guarantee, which CatalogChoice can't offer. Plus it works to get rid of all the other junk mail beside catalogs. I have not tried this, but maybe in the future, I might be willing to shell out the cash.

Pesticides for Breakfast. Yum.

Over Thanksgiving, I found myself riding the Metro in Washington, D.C., and sat facing a cute advertisement featuring a little girl eating cereal. Upon closer inspection, I saw that the ad was actually pro-pesticide. As in, the pesticides we used on the farm to harvest this wheat that later became your Lucky Charms. Delicious.

I'll admit that I don't know a whole lot about pesticides. I want to say that they're poison and useless and everyone should eat naturally. And maybe I'd be right in saying that. But honestly, I'm not sure. I know that in the summer, I can grow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, lettuce, beans and pumpkins, and the only thing they get from me is the occasional splash with a hose. Everything is crisp and delicious. So I suspect it's possible to feed the world without a pesticide. But I know nothing about wheat farming, and I'm not going to pretend that I do. My point is that once I realized what that ad was for, I was disgusted.

Whether they're needed or not, I don't want to know about it. I eat a lot of organic food, but I also eat stuff that isn't organic, and even if my food is covered in pesticides, the last thing I want is to be reminded of it. And really, the last place anyone wants to think about pesticides is while enjoying breakfast cereal. If farmers and pesticide manufacturers want pesticides to get a better reputation, I don't think that associating themselves with our kids' breakfasts is the way to go.