Category Archives: Earth Matters

Facts about Recycling, Part 2

By Dale J. Harrington

This is the second of my articles on the importance of recycling. In the first article, I identified some of the many products created from recycled materials. This post identifies some additional ones. Examples include: food containers, tote bags, small cork coasters, paper towels, paper plates, napkins, envelopes, coffee filters, paper condos for cats, notebooks, egg cartons and trash bags.

As mentioned in my August 24th blog post, there are products you might be surprised to learn are made of recycled material. In this post, I will include some products made using recycled material. It is possible some of the following will be new information to you.

The website links in this post are intended for the reader’s convenience only.  No endorsement or promotion by Sustainable Rossmoor is expressed or implied.

Dakine men’s surf pack

One need only look at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to realize a lot of the plastic we use ends up in the ocean. So it’s cool this wet/dry surf bag is made with 100 percent recycled PET fabric from plastic bottles. The bag also includes a waterproof wetsuit pocket. Furthermore, Dakine offers other packs, duffle bags, totes, iPad bags and carry-ons made for both men and women. The company also doesn’t use PVC coating—an environmental toxin—on its products, so they’re ultra-Earth friendly. To go to Dakine:

Record bowls

Vinylux finds new use for old vinyl phonograph records by turning them into functional bowls. Most of the records the company recycles are “scratched, warped or otherwise played-out.” As a result, there’s no need to feel bad. The bowls are molded into shape over custom-made forms, the label is laminated and the spindle hole is sealed with clear tape. Additionally, the company also makes clocks, ornaments, sketchbooks, bookends and mirrors. No part of the record is wasted; the paper is collected and recycled and the vinyl scraps are sent to a plant in Nashville, where they’re recycled and turned into brand new records. To see more:

Baseball bat bottle openers

Sure, they’re a tad on the expensive side. But these bottle openers are made from bats swung by the Major Leaguers. Considering the cost game tickets, they’re cheaper too, when you factor in stadium prices for a hot dog and beer.  Each opener also includes a number, which can be plugged into a database to find out which game the bat was played in. Check it out at:

Too much waste!
Pi kitchen towels

Pi kitchen towels are made from cotton flour sacks and eco-friendly ink.

Coal Headware cottonwood beanie

Coal Headwear’s makes its cottonwood beanies from cotton yarn, repurposed from clippings and scraps made during manufacturing. Additionally, the color is already in the scraps, so the company uses fewer dyes and chemicals repurposing the materials into new yarn. For Coal Headware:

ReCycle Bikes

ReCycle Bikes are handmade in Portland, Ore., from recycled aluminum. The seats are made of renewable cork, and they use belts instead of chains because belts require less maintenance. Though it’s not quite there yet, the company hopes to one day have the bikes made of entirely recycled materials.

Green Toys

Green toys are super cute. They are also akin to retro toys and made out of recycled plastic milk jugs. Further, even their packaging is 100 percent recycled (and recyclable) – and, as a bonus, the retro toys don’t have any of twist ties that make regular kids’ toys such a pain to open. To check out Green Toys:

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, October 31, 2018.  Email Dale J. Harrington at

Can We Talk About Overpopulation?

by Anne Foreman

These days, all the attention about saving the planet is focused on protecting the earth’s natural resources and stopping climate change. Why isn’t attention also focusing on the other side of the equation? For example, how many people can the earth sustain? Why has overpopulation disappeared as a concern? Moreover, it’s no longer a part of  our political conversations. How was this critical issue muzzled?

I heard a lot about overpopulation as a college student. I remember joining the organization ZPG–Zero Population Growth. Paul Ehrlich at Stanford wrote The Population Bomb, a seminal work that raised awareness of the dangers of overpopulation. Similarly, we saw documentaries that explained the phenomenon of exponential growth in our human population. For instance, the global population increased by billions in just the 20th century. The facts are staggering. For example, in 1900 the world’s population was 1.2 billion and, in 2018, it is 7.6 billion!

Xiamen slum dwellers street
Overpopulation – from Concern to a Blind Eye

What changed? Why don’t we hear about population issues now? Unfortunately, I believe the role of conservative religion played a part in suppressing this important issue. That is to say, the idea of controlling population through birth control measures got mixed up with the controversy over abortion–a very toxic subject. In the interests of transparency, I confess I believe in a woman’s right to have an abortion if she really doesn’t want the child. But putting the abortion issue aside for the moment, we should, at the very least, be addressing the challenge of overpopulation.  Contraceptives need to widely available–in the United States and abroad. Yet they aren’t. Why?

Here again, religion looms large. The dogma of the Catholic Church maintains birth control is a sin. Similarly, Islam teaches birth control is a sin. Moreover, many religious conservatives of all faiths share this belief. The U.S. government once provided contraceptives through its international aid programs, such as USAID. Unfortunately, the Bush administration reversed this initiative under the Global Gag Rule (see Population Action International below).

Even here, in the United States, access to modern birth control is now curtailed. For example, employers no longer have to provide contraceptives to women in their insurance coverage if they object to contraception for “moral” reasons. Furthermore, evangelical groups and organizations are trying to shut down Planned Parenthood clinics. Such is the power of the religious right.

Urban Slum, Favela, in Brazil
Overpopulation Statistics

The nonprofit organization Population Connection (formerly ZPG) reports:

• Worldwide, nearly half of all pregnancies are unintentional

• Not surprisingly, an estimated 214 million women want to avoid pregnancy, but lack access to modern contraception

• Every second of every day, our global population grows by 2.6 people

• At the current rate, the population of the least-developed countries will double in the next 30 years

In short, we ignore the danger of overpopulation at our peril. Controlling our population is one piece of the puzzle in our quest for a sustainable world. We need to separate the issues of contraception and abortion, push back on religious conservatives and reestablish the issue of overpopulation as a critical issue of our time.

In my college days, there was a slogan/bumper sticker that I thought said it all–“Every child a wanted child.” What a different world this would be, if only that were true.

For more information from Population Connection, click here:

See Population Action International for more information:

For information from Negative Population Growth, click here:

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, October 17, 2018. Email Anne Foreman

Carbon Intensity

By Wayne Lanier, Ph.D.

Your average five-year-old in the West Texas oil fields knows the “geology of oil.”  His family is probably in the business, so he knows about oil.  He knows the history of West Texas about as well as a college geology major. Most of us don’t, so I will put this story in context.

In 1968, I returned to the United States after four years living and working in London. To get around, I bought a VW “Thing.” Its design is based on the German command car of WWII. It did not sell well, so was very cheap. I decided to visit my uncle, who lived in Midland, Texas. He was retired and living off his oil wells. I had not seen him in some years.

During the visit we talked of Carlsbad Cavern, a nearby attraction in New Mexico.  I decided to drive over to Carlsbad and tour the cavern, which I had not seen since childhood.

An Unexpected “Norther”

When I came out of the cavern darkness had fallen and so had snow from a “Norther.” A “Norther” is a blizzard in the 6,000-feet high flat land of the Llano.  Llano runs north from New Mexico and Texas all the way to Canada. I found the two local motels full, with beds even in the hallways. No room at the Inn.

So, in the darkness, I filled the gas tank and started the 160-mile drive back to Midland. The “Thing” had a canvass top, and a separate gasoline heater instead of drawing heat from the air-cooled engine.

Even with the heater on, it was dreadfully cold. The snow continued to fall. It was hard to see the road. Hours passed and the gas gauge continued to fall. You don’t stop in a Norther; if you do they dig your body out of the snow when it’s all over. Suddenly I topped a rise and saw hundreds of flares to my right. I had come to the big oil field outside Midland. I was safe. Even if I ran out of gas, I could hike over and sleep under the warmth of a flare.

The Permian Basin

Well, this is where the geology comes in. We have to think first about how oil comes to be. The oil in that field was in a rock formation called the Permian Basin. The Earth’s geological history is divided into periods. The Permian Period began about 350-million years ago and came to a close about 250-million years ago, thus comprising about 100-million years.

Gas Flaring

At that time continental drift had pushed the earlier continents together into one single continent now called Pangea. Pangea encircled a shallow sea, called the Tethys Sea. As continental drift continued, Pangea was pulled apart. One part, consisting of some upland above the sea basin drifted to a position where Russia is today and came to be recognized as a distinctive rock formation, named after the town of Perm – The Permian Formation.

Another part, including both upland and part of the shallow sea, drifted around the world to the present location of west Texas – the Permian Basin. The rim was pushed farther up by this process to become the present 3,000-foot upland where Midland is now located. The sea was covered by other continental material in a series of continental collisions and now lies from several hundred to several thousand feet below the plain.

During the latter part of the Permian’s 100-million years, the sea life in the shallow Tethys Sea lived and died.  Fish and vegetation remains settled in the mud to be covered by increasing layers of mud, then rock at greater and greater pressures. This vast amount of accumulating biological material became the west Texas oil field over the millions of years.

Pumping Oil, but Flaring Gas

Oil deep in the earth is under enormous pressure.  Its gas component stays dissolved in the oil, even when the oil rises to the surface. At the surface, the gas boils off the oil. It can be captured and piped to homes, but out in West Texas, as in most oil fields around the world, there aren’t many homes nearby.  Piping the gas would  cost more than its market value. So it is burned off in a flare. This is true for oil fields all over the world.

The scientific journal Science featured a “Policy Forum” article on such flares in August. The article’s authors examined data from 8,966 on-stream oil fields around the world (about 96% of world production). The total atmospheric carbon production from these burning flares amounts to 1.7-gigatonnes, a figure that will increase as oil fields age, to 23 percent of the total atmospheric carbon production in the next decades. Most of this production is too far away from population centers to support the cost of collecting and shipping this gas, either by pipeline or tankers. As long as we produce oil, this increase in atmospheric carbon will continue.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, October 10, 2018 edition.  Email Wayne Lanier at

“Somebody Should Do Something About It”

As greenhouse gasses decrease, earth’s health with increase

By Jim Ware

If you are at all concerned about climate change, you have, like me, frequently uttered the phrase, “Somebody should do something about it.” 

Several years ago, a good friend commented, “One day I woke up and realized, ‘I am someone.'” Then he added, “That’s when I became an activist.”

When we talk about global climate change it often feels daunting. The problem is so big and so complex. Impactful solutions appear limited to global corporations and national governments. The reality is our actions matter, on a daily basis.  Our actions either compound or reduce the challenge of climate change.

Yes, your individual actions may seem minuscule, but if a butterfly flapping its wings in Shanghai can contribute to a thunderstorm in New York City, our individual actions, in combination with those of millions of other like-minded individuals, will certainly make a difference.

Project Drawdown

Several years ago, Paul Hawken convened a brainstorming session.  Hawken is an environmentalist, thought leader and activist. He asked the assembled experts what actions individuals could take to avoid “our becoming Venus.”  The result became known as Project Drawdown.  Its mission is to drawdown the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted annually into the atmosphere.  Its goal is reach a year when greenhouse gas emissions would peak and gradually decline.

Some of the Drawdown initiatives are indeed of such a scale that only multinational corporations can achieve them. However, Hawken recently told New York Times columnist David Bornstein, “There’s a belief that there’re only a few things individuals can do beyond recycling, riding a bike and eating less meat. In fact, there’s an extraordinary diversity of solutions to global warming that are at hand, being implemented and scaling.”

Two of Project Drawdown’s top four solutions are things we as individuals can do, on our own, every day.

Project Drawdown – Solution 3

Solution number 3 is reducing food waste. In the United States alone we throw away over 133 billion pounds of food every year. This waste is close to one-third of all the food we produce. Such wasted food production consumes energy and produces greenhouse gasses. It takes energy to grow crops, feed animals, process both and transport food from the farm to our tables. We are wasting a full third of the energy we use to produce, transport and consume food. That wasted food accounts for approximately eight percent (8%) of global emissions!

Farmers Market – Local produce is fresher

One of the biggest reasons for such waste is much of the produce we buy is already several weeks old when it reaches store shelves. Food travels long distances to reach the urban markets where most people live. California lettuce is shipped to New York, Boston and Philadelphia.  Washington apples find their way to Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.  Georgia peaches travel west, California tomatoes travel east. You get the picture.

Farm to Table

“Farm to table” is a concept gaining popularity and growing in practice. It generally means buying and consuming local food crops. Crops that have traveled far shorter distances are much fresher when you purchase them. Rossmoor’s Farmers’ Market is a perfect example. The number of urban farms is also increasing. Such farms are typically located much closer to the vast majority of consumers, again reducing both the time and the cost of moving the produce from farm to table.

Even more intriguing, many of these urban farms are indoors. Nor are they traditional greenhouses. For example, a converted steel mill on the south side of Chicago is now an organic soap factory. The renovation included a 75,000 square-foot enclosed rooftop greenhouse.  The greenhouse produces over one million pounds of fresh, pesticide-free leafy green vegetables a year. The greenhouse is actually an automated slow-moving conveyor belt. It begins with freshly-planted seeds at one end of the building and delivers fully-grown lettuce or other veggies to the other end about 30 days later.

Two current Walnut Creek City Council members spoke at Rossmoor during Earth Awareness Week last April. They showed several photographs of a vertical conveyor belt about five stories high that produces hydroponically-grown lettuce and other greens. The most exciting aspect of these indoor “farms” is the food grown this way uses 95 percent less water than traditional “dirt” farms and requires no pesticides because the buildings are kept sterile.

Hydoponic Lettuce
Project Drawdown – Solution 4

Project Drawdown’s other top solution that we can individually implement is moving to a more plant-based diet. That may be a more challenging kind of behavioral change than buying locally-grown fruits and vegetables, but it can have an even bigger impact. A new analysis, published in Science last June, reported meat and dairy production provides just 18 percent of calories and 37 percent of the protein consumed worldwide, but requires  83 percent of farmland and produces 60 percent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Reducing the amount of meat and dairy products in your diet does not mean you have to become a vegan or give up meat altogether. However, as Hawken observes, “Levels of protein that are healthier for you are healthier for the planet and atmosphere, too.”

Reversing global climate change will take far more than individual actions like the two I’ve described here. But every step we take in the right direction helps – especially if many of us take action. Remember, you are “someone;” you can do something about climate change right now.

For more information about Project Drawdown click here:

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, September 19, 2018.  Email Jim Ware at

Monsanto Loses Historic Lawsuit

By Karen Perkins

A San Francisco jury recently awarded DeWayne Johnson $289 million from Monsanto Chemical Corporation.  Johnson was a Benicia Public School groundskeeper.  He has Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, a type of cancer.  For years he applied Monsanto’s product, Roundup/glyphosate, on school grounds.

The jury found Roundup/glyphosate, “having been a substantial factor in causing Mr. Johnson’s cancer.”

The lead attorneys representing Johnson were Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Brent Wisner.  After the verdict, Wisner said, “We were finally able to show the jury the secret, internal Monsanto documents proving that Monsanto has known for decades that…Roundup could cause cancer.”

In addition, their case was strengthened by the World Health Organization having declared Roundup/glyphosate “a probable carcinogen” and California’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placing Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, on the Proposition 65 list as “Known to the state of California to cause cancer.”

Johnson is 46 years old. He has terminal cancer and is expected to live only to 2020.

You might think your exposure to Roundup is small, certainly less than Johnson’s.

But how would you know? There is often little to no prominently displayed postings near where it has been sprayed. It has been sprayed for decades on school grounds, park grounds, grounds of public buildings, businesses, offices, shopping centers, median strips and walking trails.

In fact, Roundup is the most widely and heavily used herbicide in the history of the world.

Applying herbicides and pesticides on crops
Roundup’s Spreading Toxic Effects

What has been the cumulative effect, particularly for those with chronic exposures over many decades, as well as for those with more constant exposures, such as Johnson, a pesticide/herbicide applicator? While Johnson’s particular case focused on Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, many independent studies by reputable scientists at highly esteemed universities indicate Roundup/glyphosate may cause all sorts of cancers as well as autoimmune and neurological diseases.

Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, believes her studies of Roundup show it to be a major factor in the rise of autism and dementia. Similarly, we now know smoking tobacco is a “substantial factor” contributing to heart disease, osteoporosis, dementia and other diseases as well as causing cancer. Independent scientists have also found glyphosate contributes to many health problems by disrupting beneficial intestinal bacterial mechanisms.

Employing the Tobacco Handbook

Industry observers accuse Monsanto of sowing doubt and confusion, suppressing unfavorable scientific studies, cherry picking data, buying scientists and politicians and having cozy relationships with regulatory agencies. Additionally, at least one Monsanto vice president became a deputy administrator of the EPA. In other words, Monsanto borrowed from Big Tobacco’s playbook and tactics.

There are 4,000 individual cases pending against Monsanto all over the United States. The jury found “Monsanto acted with malice.”  It awarded a $289 million fine, of which $250 million are in punitive damages to Johnson).  The size of the fines are unprecedented. Anyone following this issue for decades is rejoicing and hoping that Monsanto’s game may be up.

Monsanto, anticipating billions in fines, is trying to “hide” by merging with Bayer Chemical Corporation. It is appealing the case and obviously will try, by any legal means, to avoid monetary compensation.

Ripple Effects Will Last for Years

If Monsanto is successful, it’s likely plaintiffs will start suing the employers using Monsanto’s and similar products. Employers, like the Benicia School District where Johnson worked, and/or their landscaping companies. The potential cascading effect will create real financial liability for these companies and employers.

Several countries, cities, counties and municipalities worldwide have already banned Roundup. Wisner said the verdict sent a message to Monsanto.  He added, “its years of deception regarding Roundup is over and that they should put consumer safety first over profits.”

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, August 29, 2018. Email Karen Perkins

Plastics: A Two-Edged Sword

By Brad Waite

Plastic touches all of our lives.  It’s convenient, flexible and lightweight.  For all its usefulness, plastic is a two-edged sword.  It’s tough to recycle.  It breaks down, but doesn’t biodegrade.  It’s clutter is everywhere.

There’s an even nastier, more perilous side to plastic.  Its production and use is a significant source of greenhouse gases (GHG).  Increased levels of GHG causes environmental degradation and health problems.

As a society, we must accelerate efforts to reduce production of GHG.  Many are addressing this by driving greener cars such as electric vehicles, opting up to MCE’s Deep Green 100 percent renewable power offering and taking public transportation more. Hopefully, we’re doing all of the above. There’s more to do.

Moving Beyond Hybrids, Wind and Solar Energy

Researchers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) recently discovered several greenhouse gases are emitted as common plastics degrade in the environment or are intentionally burned. The biggest problem with plastics is that they don’t biodegrade, certainly not within a human lifetime. Biodegration means the process whereby bacteria in the soil transforms an item, like wood, grass and food scraps, into other useful compounds, such as beneficial compost. However, bacteria mostly ignore plastic.

For example, a plastic bottle takes at least 450 years to completely decompose. Plastics don’t biodegrade. They do photo-degrade, when exposed to sunlight.  According to the University of Hawaii SOEST study mentioned above, “plastic is known to release a variety of chemicals during degradation, some of which have a negative impact on organisms and ecosystems.”  They discovered the unexpected production of GHGs methane and ethylene when the most common plastics are exposed to sunlight.  Methane warms the planet by 86 times as much as carbon dioxide (CO2), according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, significantly accelerating the speed with which our planet itself degrades.

Reduce Your Reliance on Plastics

Thus, the world’s heavy use of plastics is a major environmental issue.  The story doesn’t end there.  Plastic is negatively impacting both wildlife and human life. As plastic degrades, it brakes down into smaller and smaller pieces.  Wildlife, especially marine life, ingest these particles as food, ultimately killing them. I expect these micro-plastics (MPs) will be discussed in more detail in future Earth Matters articles. The smallest of MPs, nanoplastics, have begun showing up in drinking water.

Bird feeding on plastic netting

We all need to take concerted action to reduce our use of all forms of plastic as quickly as we can. Yes, being diligent about recycling our plastic is helpful, but only to a certain extent as it is becoming increasingly difficult to recycle plastic for several reasons. First, China has outlawed its acceptance of used plastic and they historically have been the United States’ biggest destination for it. Secondly, most plastics can only be recycled once. Thus, it is imperative we greatly reduce its use in the first place.

I realize how we all became addicted to using plastics. Most plastics make our lives better in some way, from plastic bags at the grocery store, plastic beverage bottles, even the plastics used to make our synthetic clothing. They’ve become so ubiquitous in our lives that we don’t stop to realize the prices we as a society are paying to use them. I suggest we each start by taking an inventory of all the plastics in our lives. Then decide which we can stop using, or at least radically reduce our usage of. We must start now.

Ways to Learn More

Weather is increasingly becoming more extreme.  The pace of change is accelerating. All reputable climate scientists attribute the changes primarily to the build-up of greenhouse gases (GHG) in our atmosphere and oceans.  Human burning of fossil fuels increases GHG. For those climate deniers reading this, I direct you to the website titled “Climate Change Evidence and Causes: An overview from the Royal Society and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.”

In addition, everyone concerned about the state of our planet should watch the documentary Merchants of Doubt.  The film makes a compelling case that the fossil fuel industry is using the playbook developed by the tobacco industry decades ago. The industry denies culpability, then obfuscates as long as possible by executing a well-coordinated misinformation campaign.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, August 29, 2018 edition.  Email Brad Waite at

Human Impact on Ecosystems

By Jennifer Mu

A recent visit to a small country in the South Pacific once again reminded me how fragile nature is, how destructive human behaviors can be, how quickly an ecosystem can be altered or completely annihilated by human activities and what tremendous efforts it would take to save a devastated ecosystem.

Land of Eden 

New Zealand is the last major habitable landmass on earth settled by humans. For nearly 80 million years the land was free of mammalian predators.  Its geographic isolation created created an evolutionary path unique from the rest of the world. Adapting to life in a predator-free environment, the life forms developed no traits to protect against predation. Birds grew larger and flightless (a giant moa could reach 12 feet tall). Trees took their time to mature. Indigenous trees, such as the Kauri, took about 300 years to mature and had a lifespan of over 600 years.

Human Discovery

Then humans arrived. Polynesians (Maori) came first, along with dogs and rats. Europeans came next with Norway rats and ship rats in tow. They later imported numerous pests, including stoats and possums that still plague the land today. In less than 800 years humans destroyed the ecosystem’s indigenous biodiversity that was 80 million years in making.

New Zealand-Carving-Indigenous Woman and Man

Soon after Maori settlers arrived in New Zealand, they hunted the moa and many other large birds to extinction. Today more than 50 indigenous bird species are extinct and nearly 3,000 species of native wildlife are threatened. Deforestation, wetland drainage, introduced predators and loss of habitat through urbanization and development are some of the major contributing factors.

Human Impact

Before human arrival, forest covered more than 80 percent of New Zealand. Land clearing and logging destroyed large tracks of ancient forests and their associated biodiversity. The introduction of browsing mammals, such as deer (for sport hunting) and possums (for fur) damaged the remaining forests. Today, indigenous forests cover merely 25 percent of New Zealand’s total land area.

The devastation extended into the seas surrounding New Zealand. Large-scale sealing and whaling by early European settlers quickly diminished seal and whale populations. Outside observers called for controls. The New Zealand government protected all marine mammals 150 years later.

A Slow Road to Conservation 

People slowly realized the devastating effects of human activities on their environment. Attempts to repair the damages followed, but serious conservation measures did not occur until the mid-20th century. There were early efforts by conscientious landowners to preserve ancient forests. One example is the Riccarton Bush. If you ever visited Christchurch, you probably enjoyed taking a walk through this 15.7-acre native lowland podocarp forest. The landowner donated the forest to people of Christchurch in 1914 on condition the forest be preserved permanently in its natural state.

A predator-free fence, built in 2000, stopped further damage from possums, rats and other pests. The government responded to public concerns about dwindling bird populations and growing tourism with some early preservation measures by the government.  New Zealand created national parks and preservedscenic areas. It designated sanctuaries on mammal-free islands and relocated large numbers of endangered birds to prevent their likely extinction.

New Zealand – pasture and crops
Advocacy Brings Results

The creation of environmental advocacy groups, such as the Native Bird Protection Society and the NZ Forestry League, helped pressure the government to better protect the country’s natural heritage. By the mid-20th century, attitudes changed from exploitation to preservation. The government enacted a series of major environmental protection laws to preserve environmental resources for future generations.

A more recent effort to restore and preserve New Zealand’s native ecosystem is the creation of Zealandia in Wellington. This world-first, fully-fenced urban eco-sanctuary has an ambitious 500-year vision to restore more than 500 acres of forest and freshwater ecosystems in a former reservoir valley as closely as possible to their pre-human state.

Today, New Zealanders are proud to tell visitors about their belief in protecting and preserving their natural heritage for future generations. At the time when right-wing politicians in Washington, D.C., led by the global warming denier in the White House, are doing everything they can to reverse long-established and hard-fought federal environmental protection measures to benefit the wealthy few, I find New Zealanders’ conviction to preserve their indigenous nature for future generations refreshing and encouraging.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News July 18, 2018.  Email Jennifer Mu at

Over-Pumping Groundwater and Arsenic

By Judith Schumacher-Jennings

Over-pumping groundwater in California increases arsenic levels in well water. Groundwater is increasingly used to supplement finite surface water supplies.  Aquifer levels are decreasing due to increased demand and decreased precipitation. Groundwater is one of the world’s most important resources.  Groundwater provides about half of all drinking water globally, including the United States.

The central valley of California accounts for roughly 20 percent of groundwater withdrawals in the United States. The central valley is an arid region that supports a $17 billion agricultural industry. In the region of the valley known as the San Joaquin Valley, groundwater is the main source of drinking water for about one million people.  High water demands stress aquifers, especially during extended droughts.

Arsenic occurs naturally

Arsenic is a ubiquitous, naturally occurring contaminant.  It is present in drinking water of many aquifers. When present in significant amounts, arsenic increases the risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.  Arsenic is transported to the San Joaquin Valley from the Sierra Nevada and coastal mountain ranges for millions of years by rivers cutting through arsenic-bearing formations. Clays at or near the surface are the primary host of transported arsenic. Arsenic absorbs onto clay surfaces in significant amounts in the San Joaquin Valley.

As the clays are buried over time, their increasingly restricted oxygen supply reduces arsenic in the clay at depths greater than 200 feet.  The arsenic dissolves into the water in the pores of the clay. Higher levels of arsenic in the aquifer result from anaerobic conditions where oxygen is lacking and arsenic becomes more soluble. These anaerobic conditions occur naturally in thick clay, in manganese and at lower elevations.

California aquifers

In the aquifers of the San Joaquin Valley, the greatest depth typically drilled for groundwater pumping is 1,640 feet. An aquifer consists of alternating layers of sand, gravel and clay. In California, the aquifer system consists of an upper aquifer, a thick clay confining unit known as the Corcoran clay and a lower aquifer. The upper and lower aquifers contain sands and gravels, as well as numerous thin clay layers.

When undisturbed, groundwater within the aquifer primarily flows horizontally through the sediments with highest permeability, typically sands and gravels. Initially, pumped groundwater comes mostly from sands and gravels, which have lower arsenic concentrations.

Arsenic within pumped groundwater of the San Joaquin Valley has been noted for decades. Approximately 10 percent of the wells tested within the last 10 years have shown arsenic. Maintaining water quality is vitally important as groundwater pumping increases to meet agricultural and domestic needs.

Worker adjusting pump gauge
Droughts stress aquifer use

Two long droughts, from 1986 to 1993 and 2007-2015, recently hit the San Joaquin Valley.  During both, over-pumping stressed the aquifer system. The over-pumping sucked larger volumes of water into the aquifer from less-permeable anaerobic clays, inducing the release of pore water with high arsenic concentrations. Groundwater pumping in the San Joaquin Valley has caused declines of about 200 feet in groundwater levels over the past century, leading to subsidence, or sinking of the land, as much as 30 feet from 1925 to 1970 or about eight inches per year.

In addition to groundwater depletion, over-pumping results in land subsidence and increased extraction of pore water from clay layers. Clay drainage causes most aquifer compaction and subsidence of the overlying ground surface. There is thus a link between land subsidence and groundwater arsenic concentrations. Historic subsidence highly impacted historic arsenic concentrations, but has virtually no impact on recent arsenic concentrations.  Arsenic levels slowly return to their original levels after the groundwater pumping decreases. This implies arsenic stops leaking from the aquifer over time. Thus, avoiding over-pumping of aquifers should gradually improve water quality for the San Joaquin Valley.

Reducing groundwater pumping to sustainable levels should decrease both the rate of subsidence and arsenic concentrations.  The aquifers will eventually recover to normal levels of arsenic. With a global trend toward increased use of groundwater, effectively managing water quality along with water quantity is essential to preserve the continued use of this critical resource.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, August 8, 2018 edition.  Email Judith Schumacher-Jennings at

Source information for this article appeared in the June edition of peer reviewed journal Nature Communications by Ryan Smith, Rosemary Knight and Scott Fendorf.

Some Surprising Facts About the Importance of Recycling – Part 1

All of us are aware that the main reason recycling is so important is that products that can be recycled do not end up in landfills, thereby reserving landfills for material that has no redeemable value. All of us know about products we use that were created from recyclable materials. However, there might be some that you did not know about.

In this article, I will identify some of them and in a later article I will include some others. Here is a list of some products that come from recycled material: recycled paper shopping bags; compostable soup containers; eco-friendly takeout containers; disposable cups – hot/cold; sugarcane and bamboo plates; clear food containers; wastebasket; writing paper; two-ply bathroom tissue; paper towel rolls; and custom cup tops.

However, there are products you might be surprised to learn that are made using recycled material. Here are some of those products. It is possible some of the following will be new information to you.

Keen’s Harvest Wallet and Bags: Keen makes the bags, totes and wallets, which comprise its Harvest Collections, out of pre-consumer automobile side airbags. The leftover, excess or obsolete airbags are shipped from the manufacturers to a recycler in Salt Lake City, where they’re sorted before being shipped to a facility in Chico. There, the bags are cut into bag pattern pieces either by hand (using a rotary knife) or with a die-cut machine. Crafters sew the product together; when completed, each item is hand numbered and signed by the person who made it.

Looptworks Leather iPad Covers: Looptworks is no stranger to using recycled materials. The company previously crafted items from neoprene wetsuit fabric, cotton jersey, Italian wool, hemp, nylon, vinyl and recycled polyester—but these upcycled iPad cases are its first foray into leather. The cases are made from scraps of excess shoe leather eliminated because it had natural blemishes. This discarded material can amount to 4,500 pounds per day from just one factory.

Cardboard FM Radio: This radio, made mostly from recycled cardboard, can also be recycled at the end of its life. It’s powered by four AAA batteries and catches FM signals with its antenna, but you can plug your iPod in to listen to your own music, too.

Moving Comfort Active wear: The grounds used to create your daily jolt of caffeine have to end up somewhere—namely, a landfill. Many pieces in Moving Comfort’s active wear line incorporate a fabric called S. Cafe, which uses a patented process to remove the phenol, ester and oil from coffee grounds and turn them into yarn. That yarn is incorporated into a fabric that, thanks to the coffee, is naturally odor repellant, protects from UV rays and dries quickly.

Skateback iPhone back: Each week, skateboard factories create enough waste to fill a city bus—so Grove and Maple xo collaborated to make iPhone backs out of the discarded post-industrial skateboard material. The backs are each milled and finished by hand, so no two are alike; they attach to the back of the phone with a 3M adhesive.

Wonderful Wizard of Oz iPad Cover: Put the “book” back into ebooks with this awesome iPad cover, which looks just like the first edition of Frank L. Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” available in the mental floss store. They’ve also got “The Great Gatsby” and “Pride and Prejudice.” All of the covers are made of 30 percent recycled materials.

Courtesy of July 3, 2018 edition of the Rossmoor News. Author Dale Harrington can be emailed at

Fossil-Free California: Fabulous Nonprofit Organization

Last October I spent two weeks in London, and while I enjoyed my visit immensely, the air pollution was a nasty surprise. An inversion layer of low clouds kept diesel emissions near the ground making breathing most unpleasant. A metallic taste was always in my mouth. I had forgotten that most of Europe still relies on diesel fuel for cars and trucks.

What a relief it was to come back to California and breathe fresh air. I feel so grateful to live in a state that has done more than most states to clean up air pollution, from stringent requirements on controlling gas emissions to promoting clean energy sources – solar, wind and geothermal.

California benefits from the work of many volunteer citizens who are making our state a better place to live. During Earth Awareness Week in Rossmoor, I learned about a wonderful nonprofit organization called Fossil-Free California. This nonprofit was formed in 2015 and has three main goals: 1) to encourage investment entities – pension funds, banks, private equity firms – as well as individuals, to divest their funds from fossil fuel investments (coal, oil, and gas); 2) to promote legislation that encourages clean, renewable energy rather than fossil fuels; and 3) to use litigation to stop polluting practices of companies and governmental agencies.

Fossil-Free California volunteers are currently lobbying for two bills in the state legislature. Senate bill 964 (sponsored by Senator Ben Allen of Santa Monica) would require CalPERS and CalSTRS to consider climate risk in their investment decisions and to stop making new investments in coal, oil and gas by 2020. These two public pension funds together control a huge amount of money – nearly $500 billion. If these two entities stopped investing in fossil fuels, the belief is that banks and private equity funds might follow. This bill has passed in the Senate and is currently under consideration in the Assembly.

The second bill that Fossil-Free California is supporting is SB100 sponsored by Senator Kevin de Leon (24th District of Los Angeles). This bill would set a 2045 target date for 100 percent clean electricity for California.

Whenever I get discouraged by climate change deniers, I take heart from thinking about the fabulous volunteers in California who are giving so much of their time and energy to improve life for all of us. To become a member of Fossil-Free California or to volunteer, visit the website

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, June 20, 2018 edition. Anne Foreman can be emailed at