Category Archives: Earth Matters

Environmental Impacts of Cruise Ships

By Jennifer Mu

Many people I know have taken at least one vacation onboard a cruise ship in their lifetime. Some of our friends vacation on cruise ships only. Why not? On a single cruise, you can have all the luxury of a resort hotel while visiting many exotic destinations. You can also avoid the headache of packing and unpacking every other day.

Ocean cruises are becoming ever more popular with vacationers worldwide. Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) projected a six percent (6%) increase in cruises in 2019.  It estimated 30 million travelers onboard oceangoing cruise ships.

As the popularity of ocean cruises grows, so have the number and size of cruise ships. The cruise industry added nine new oceangoing ships to its fleet in 2018.  The industry reports 50 more ships are on order between 2018 and 2025. The average passenger capacity of ocean liners is around 3,000 guests; the largest ship in 2018 has a maximum capacity of 6,680 passengers and 2,200 crew members.

Cruise Ship Waste Streams

Wherever humans travel, they generate waste. Large cruise ships are often referred to as “floating cities.” The ships produce waste amounts equivalent to a small city. According to a 2008 USEPA report, an average cruise ship with 3,000 passengers produces about 21,000 gallons of sewage a day.

Using USEPA data, Friends of the Earth (FOE) estimates cruise ships dump more than one billion gallons of sewage annually. FOE says the estimate is conservative because the newer ships are significantly larger in capacity.

Cruise ship waste streams include sewage (black water), gray water, bilge water, ballast water, solid waste (food waste and garbage), hazardous waste (including medical waste) and air emissions. Ships also burn garbage using onboard incinerators, contributing to smog in coastal communities and on the ocean. The ashes adversely impact both water and air quality. The “luxury” factor also generates waste. For example, some ships offer teeth whitening services, acne treatments or detox body wraps.

Large vessels are required to have Marine Sanitation Devices onboard to treat both sewage and graywater to required standards before discharging into state waters. Outside the state waters, ships can dump untreated sewage anywhere except areas designated as “No Discharge Zones.” In 2012, USEPA approved California’s petition to ban all sewage discharges from large cruise ships and other oceangoing ships to the state’s marine waters and surrounding major islands.

Environmental and Health Concerns

Cruise ships often operate in pristine coastal waters and sensitive marine ecosystems. But the very character of these marine waters that attract cruise ship passengers also can be harmed by pollution from these ships.

As the number of cruises increased, cruise ships’ waste management practices have increasingly become a public concern. We’ve heard stories of oil spills and deliberate dumping of waste into the ocean. More recently, in 2016, Princess Cruise Lines pled guilty to seven felony charges and paid $40 million in fines for deliberately dumping graywater and oily bilge water into the ocean from 2005 through 2013 and lying to cover it up.

Increased ship size has resulted in more waste

Air pollution by cruise ships took center stage in 2018. An international coalition of environmental groups launched a global “Clean Up Carnival” campaign, calling the company to stop using heavy fuel oil to power their ships traveling in fragile Arctic and sub-Arctic waters. A German environmental watchdog, Nabu, also called on European ports to ban cruise ships that burn heavy fuel oil.

In January 2019, an undercover study found the decks of four Carnival cruise ships as polluted as smog-ridden cities such as Beijing and Santiago, containing toxics that are harmful to passengers. Stand.earth, an international environmental group, commissioned the study.  It was conducted by a faculty member at John Hopkins University.  Stand.earth is currently campaigning to get Carnival to stop using heavy fuel oil. Carnival accused Stand.earth of creating “fake tests” for fundraising purposes.

Cruise Industry’s Green Efforts

Cruise lines are keenly aware of the importance of a greener image. CLIA has developed its own environmental standards. As a result, it now promotes recycling and waste management programs, cleaner fuels and boosting the efficiency of onboard sewage and gray-water treatment systems. There are ships that burn excess cooking oil to help power engines, separate and sort recyclables onboard, use environmentally friendly cleaning products, employ low flow toilets and connect to shore power to avoid fuel burning in port.

So, when you plan a vacation onboard an ocean-going cruise ship, consider an eco-friendly ship to enhance your enjoyment. Friends of the Earth periodically publishes a Cruise Ship Report Card. It grades the cruise lines in four categories – sewage treatment technology, air pollution reduction, water quality compliance and transparency. You can get it on FOE’s website.

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News March 6, 2019. Email Jennifer Mu at barnhartmu8833@gmail.com

Tips on Helping the Environment and Yourself

By Dale J. Harrington

I recently found the following quote: “Environmental sustainability doesn’t mean living without luxuries, but rather being aware of your resource consumption and reducing unnecessary waste.” (Author Unknown) The main focus in this article relates to “resource consumption and reducing unnecessary waste.”

Some of the ideas include reducing household energy use, disposing of disposables, recycling, donating items, saving water and drinking from the tap instead of from single use plastic containers. If you do not like the flavor of your tap water, get a filtration system.

Reduce Use of Single Use Plastics

I believe most of us have used single-use forks, spoons, knives, cups, bags and food storage containers. We rarely wash these for future use. Therefore, they often end up in landfill. Most of the containers we get from a restaurant for our “take home” extra food items end up in the landfill. I have a sister-in-law who takes her own reusable container to a restaurant for her leftover food.

When you make purchases, consider the item’s life expectancy: How long can you use the item? Keep in mind that stamped dates are often conservative estimates. Will it have more than one use? When you’re done with it, will it end up in landfill? Start investing in reusable containers to replace items you most often throw away.

Although some plastic bags we get in the grocery store may be recyclable, use reusable cloth or netting bags (or at least look for biodegradable bags) when purchasing fruits and vegetables.

Recycle Clothes You No Longer Need

Consider donating clothing to a not-for-proit organization such as Goodwill, Salvation Army or American Cancer Society. There are four Goodwill stores in our area. They are in Walnut Creek, Moraga, Pleasant Hill and Concord. There is a Salvation Army store in Pleasant Hill. Throwing a useable clothing item in the trash deprives someone who could benefit from it.

Conserve Water

Water conservation can involve low-flow shower heads, water-efficient toilets and running shower water into a container until it is warm, rather than letting it go down the drain. My wife and I have a plastic bucket in the shower, and we use the water for outside plants or to flush a toilet. Take shorter showers. Turn the water off while brushing your teeth. Use your clothes washer or dishwasher only when you have a full load.

Some of these suggestions may seem like they could not make much of an impact, but we need to think beyond our self. If everyone in a community were to take these steps, the impact could be significant.

Winter Considerations

On cold days wearing a jacket or sweater in the house enables us to set the thermostat at a lower temperature. Use dimmer switches for lights to save energy and money on your utility bills.

Not burning wood in a fireplace helps keep the air cleaner. Several years ago, I lived in Benicia and drove to San Jose on Interstate 680 every day. During the winter, when I got to Danville, I could smell fireplace smoke in my car even though my windows were closed. In fact, there were times I could even see the smoke.

This problem was even more prevalent when I was young and I lived with my parents in West Sacramento. Not only did many people burn wood in their fireplace, but during the fall, leaves from trees were piled in the gutter next to the curb and then burned. At least we do not have that problem in the East Bay.

More about Plastics

Many food containers retain part of the product on the inside when we have used what we want. Two examples are peanut butter containers and mayonnaise containers. These containers can be processed more easily and efficiently by the recycling center if we thoroughly wash the containers and dry them before putting them in the recycling bin.

Brad Waite wrote a comprehensive article about plastics and their effect on the environment. The Rossmoor News published it on Dec. 12, 2018. Read it here, in the Earth Matters blog, on March 20, 2019. The article reminded me when I was young, the milkman delivered bottles to our house. When we were to receive a new delivery, my parents would place the empty bottles out on our porch to be retrieved when the new full bottles were delivered.

This was so different from now, when we dispose of our milk containers. Even recycling causes processing issues.

Present day recycling of paper, cardboard, metal cans and plastic containers is an improvement over what existed many years ago. When I think of all of the present-day recycled items that used to go to landfill, I shake my head.

Thank goodness we have made progress and continue to do so.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, February 27, 2019. Email Dale J. Harrington at: dalejharrington@gmail.com

PG&E Bankruptcy – Who Will Win or Lose?

By Anne Foreman

PG&E filed for bankruptcy on Jan. 29. What does this mean for California ratepayers? How will it affect California’s goal to have 100 percent of electricity come from renewable sources of energy (wind, solar and geothermal) by 2045? The short answer is “nobody knows yet.”

First, some background: PG&E already filed for bankruptcy in 2001 due to the Enron debacle. That settlement allowed PG&E to pass on about $7 billion in costs to California ratepayers via increased rates.

Now, PG&E has filed for bankruptcy again, this time because of the wildfires in 2017 and 2018 caused by its equipment. The company estimates it has $30 billion in wildfire claims. However, on Jan. 25, PG&E was cleared of liability for the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County, which could have amounted to $8 billion in damages. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection found that private electrical equipment at a home was responsible for that fire, not PG&E.

Wild Fires Are Adding Up

In addition, the cause of the disastrous Camp Fire in Paradise that killed 86 people is still under investigation. It could be months more before officials reach a conclusion on that fire.

Even without liability for the Tubbs Fire and possibly without liability for the Camp Fire, PG&E estimates it is liable for tens of billions of dollars for other wildfires in 2017 and 2018. California officials say PG&E’s equipment caused at least 17 of 21 major fires in the state in 2017.

Is PG&E Approaching a Crossroads?

At the end of last September, the company’s assets exceeded its debt by about $20 billion and yet it claims that bankruptcy is its “only viable option.” PG&E is investor-owned and one has to wonder whose interests the company favors – its investors, or its ratepayers. PG&E doesn’t pay dividends, but its investors have “equity value” so anything that hurts its stock value hurts investors.

High Voltage Transmission Lines

Although investor-owned, PG&E is regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission. The Commission has proposed some interesting options: One is to break up PG&E into smaller companies; another is to convert PG&E into a public utility.

Some might cry “socialism” at this proposal, but, in my opinion, the safety and wellbeing of the residents is paramount and should be a higher priority than the interests of investors. A crucial need like electricity shouldn’t be hostage to the profit motive. I think converting PG&E into a public utility deserves serious consideration.

New California Governor Gavin Newsom has a vacancy to fill on the commission. He could make his appointee its president. So doing, he potentially determining whether the agency will tilt toward consumers or the utilities in its approach. In any case, PG&E will need the Commission’s approval for any bankruptcy plan that would impose new costs on ratepayers.

Bankruptcy’s Potential Losers

So, who are potential losers in this bankruptcy? Solar companies that supply electricity to PG&E are nervous because the bankruptcy could allow PG&E to renegotiate their contracts, paying them less than the original contracts stipulated. According to a California Solar & Storage Association spokesperson, a number of solar companies are in discussions with Newsom, stating their concerns about losing out in the bankruptcy settlement.

Other potential losers in the bankruptcy are PG&E’s workers, who could face pension losses, and, of course, ratepayers who could see their electricity bills skyrocket. Wildfire claimants may not get what they are owed, either.

Bankruptcy’s Potential Winners

On the winners’ side, PG&E has asked the bankruptcy court to approve roughly $130 million of 2018 bonus payments to employees, who stand to get $5,000 to $90,000 each. This does not include the bonuses for 12 senior PG&E executives. The company has not yet asked the court to approve payments to executives. Yet it noted that senior officers are typically eligible to receive bonuses in bankruptcy.

Also benefitting will be the lawyers, bankers and consultants who will work on the bankruptcy execution. PG&E’s last bankruptcy in 2001 cost more than $400 million in fees. The current case could cost a lot more, because lawyers’ hourly rates have gone up a lot since then.

Looking Forward

And on top of everything, climate change is here.

Rising global temperatures, driven by man-made greenhouse gas emissions are drying out California’s forests. In the future, wildfires will be even more intense and long-burning. Droughts, heat waves, rising seas and fiercer storms will put more stress on PG&E’s infrastructure. Undergrounding power lines, cutting back trees from power lines, installing insulated wiring, replacing aging equipment – all these mitigation measures cost money.

How the bankruptcy plays out will be a crucial test for Newsom. He promised to “ensure Californians have access to safe, reliable and affordable service.”  At the same time, he’s pledged continuing “forward progress on our climate change goals.”  Let’s hope he succeeds. So much depends on it.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News Feb. 13, 2019.  Email Anne Foreman at: anneforeman60@gmail.com

Sustainable Passenger Air Travel

by Wayne Lanier 

Sustainable air travel is on its way. Electric aircraft have not only been built and flown, but they are expected to inherit the same advantages found in electric automobiles.

Greater efficiency, greater reliability, quieter operation and lower cost in volume production, operation, and maintenance. So, how would all this work and how do we get from this concept to a passenger fleet of such airplanes?

Electric Flight “Comes of Age”

Traditionally, new aircraft designs “come of age” with a successful flight around the world. In July 2016, the Solar Impulse landed in Abu Dhabi after a 26,000-mile flight around the world.  Four solar-powered electric motors turned Solar Impulse’s propellers.

Solar powered plane ‘Solar Impulse 2’, piloted by Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard, flys over the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, after a flight from Hawaii (Photo by Jean Revillard via Getty Images)

For those who were out to see it, the Solar Impulse flew over the Golden Gate Bridge on its way east from Hawaii. I saw it from the end of Pier 39, at a great distance through my binoculars.

Certainly, this experimental phase of sustainable flight has been successful. But don’t pack your bags for a sustainable passenger flight just yet. The average speed of the Solar Impulse was just 45 mph. It is, essentially, a giant propeller-driven glider.

Small, privately-owned aircraft have been successfully converted to electric power for many years. For example, consider the very popular Piper J-3 Cub. Its gasoline engine is 65 horsepower and runs at 2,350 rpm. Piper Aircraft built over 20,000 J-3 Cubs between 1937 and 1947.  Most are still in service (the result of strict FAA requirements for very regular maintenance).

The Piper gasoline engine weighs 170 pounds. GE and other companies make DC (direct current) electric motors in the horsepower and rpm range of the Piper’s engine. The physical design is simpler. The engines weigh less than the Piper gasoline engine, and they are far more reliable. So, as you might expect, with modest engineering, electric motors can replace the original engines of this and similar small aircraft. And, among the experimental aircraft folks, they have been.

The Barrier to Sustainable Flight: A Potent Alternative Fuel Source

There are, however, three big problems standing in the way of sustainable passenger flights: fuel, fuel and fuel.

First, aviation fuel is, essentially, cheap kerosene. It has an enormous energy content per unit of weight; a 20-to-1 advantage over present-day rechargeable batteries. At issue is not “bang for the buck,” but “bang for the fuel volume/weight.”

Second, as the plane burns its fuel it gets lighter, and weight is everything in aircraft efficiency. This decrease in weight shapes all aspects of aviation, from take-off issues to high-altitude flight advantages and to the construction of landing runways. Indeed, if the landing weight of large passenger aircraft becomes the same as the take-off weight, all landing runways would have to be rebuilt to stronger and more expensive construction standards.

Turbojet Engine

Third, the most efficient aircraft engine for high speed flight is the turbojet. The turbojet compresses a fuel-air mixture and burns it at the front-end to spin the turbine. The turbine then drives the resulting compressed carbon dioxide (CO²) out the back of the jet to push the airplane. Designs of an equivalent electric motor driven compressor/jet are still “in the works.”

So, how much CO² does a turbojet spit out into the atmosphere? Using a standard calculation of passenger-space share in this carbon exhaust, every economy passenger taking a round-trip flight from San Francisco to New York and back is responsible for 2.32 metric tons of atmospheric CO². When you fly first class, the cost triples to almost seven (7) tons of CO² (since you take up more space and space equals weight). By comparison, the average total yearly household carbon footprint in California is about 21.5 metric tons of CO².

Sustainable Air Travel Is On the Horizon

Is there any hope at all for regular, practical, sustainable passenger flight? Well, Forbes Magazine recently published the following article: “Hybrid-Electric Passenger Jet Gets 100-Plane Launch Order from JetSuite.” See the article: https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelgoldstein/2018/05/22/hybrid-electric-passenger-jet-gets-100-plane-launch-order-from-jetsuite/#70d3bb435c08

Production orders are not made on the basis of vague hope. The concept behind this order is a sort of “air hybrid,” with a hybrid electric/gas turbine powertrain, which they expect to upgrade to full electric as the technology improves.

Apparently, they will pack the batteries in the wings and use a hybrid power unit generating 1,300 horsepower (1,000-kilowatts), driving two ducted fan engines, along with something called a “range extender” gas-only turbine mounted in the rear of the aircraft. This aircraft will carry 12 passengers and the delivery date is 2022. The cruise speed specified is 340 mph and the range is 1,000-miles. The estimated seat-cost per mile will be about 8-cents.

JetSuite claims they have been working with FAA for the last three years on small commercial passenger electric aircraft standards for certification.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, January 30, 2019. Email Wayne Lanier at waynelanier-phd@gmail.com

STEMming the Tide


By James Ware

It’s hard to be an optimist these days.

The United States is mired in cultural division, dissension and downright anger. The Trump Administration has pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord.  Administration appointees seem intent on attacking our environment just about every day.  The Administration is trying to allow oil companies to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It is gutting anti-pollution regulations put in place to prevent the dumping of toxic waste into our rivers and lakes and the emission of toxic gasses into the air we breathe.

Yet, I remain hopeful. I believe we will see meaningful changes in Washington in 2019.  I also believe deeply in the creativity and commitment of our younger citizens. These youthful activists are increasingly applying their energy to environmental causes. They are also demanding racial justice, gender equality and gun safety.

The STEM Initiative

Perhaps the biggest contributor to this new level of environmental awareness is the educational initiative known as STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The STEM focus began with President Barack Obama’s 2011 State of the Union speech.  He called for upgrading science and mathematics education programs as “…our generation’s Sputnik moment.”

STEM skills promote practical solutions

Why is STEM so important? For me, it is the fact that STEM initiatives are not just about teaching more science and math courses. STEM’s goal is to integrate the scientific method and critical thinking into every curriculum area.  This includes history, biology, social studies and even the arts.

In fact, there is now a more recent movement to include the arts explicitly into STEM curriculum planning.  Some now call the initiative the STEAM program, because it adds “fuzzy” topics like creativity and design thinking to the skills students are encouraged to develop.

The STEM/STEAM approach is really about making science and math interesting and fun.  It does this by applying critical and innovative thinking to real-world problems. STEM students don’t just learn the periodic tables or conduct dull laboratory experiments. Their teachers encourage them to tackle significant challenges outside their classrooms and to develop creative solutions that actually can make a difference in the quality of human life.

Two STEM Successes

Consider these two examples of how young students are applying their STEM skills to solve real problems:

Microplastics

Melanie Quan is currently a sophomore at Los Lomas High School in Walnut Creek. Last year, as a freshman, she was the national winner of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award” for her project that developed a simple way to remove microplastic particles from water using an electrostatic filter (for a detailed discussion of plastic pollution, see Brad Waite’s “Earth Matters” column: https://sustainablerossmoor.org/wp-admin/post.php?post=2446&action=edit

Ms. Quan described her project at a Sustainable Rossmoor members’ meeting last August. We were all impressed not only with the quality of her solution to the significant pollution coming from microplastics, but also with her maturity and her presentation skills. If she is at all typical of her peers, the planet will be in good hands when her generation takes charge of our future.

Styrofoam

And for a second example, take a look at this TED talk from March 2017 by Ashton Cofer, then an 8th-grader at Gahanna East Middle School in Ohio: http://www.ted.com/speakers/ashton_cofer

It upset Cofer and several classmates to see so much Styrofoam waste littering beaches and garbage dumps.  They knew Styrofoam essentially does not decompose. However, when they learned Styrofoam, or polystyrene, is over 90 percent carbon, they got an idea. They figured out that heating and treating styrofoam with simple chemicals would turn the trash into an activated charcoal filter that could be used to purify water.

Now that is a double win if ever there was one!

Ashton and his team won the Scientific American Innovators Award, sponsored by Google. Not only that, they have received several patents for their design.  They’ve been awarded grants in excess of $25,000 to continue their research and turn those patents into viable products. And they were only 14 years old.

The Future Is in All Our Hands
STEM transfers lab skills to address real world issues and problems

“Kids are born scientists,” says Scientific American Editor-in-Chief Mariette DiChristina, “They ask great questions, and we should foster their efforts to learn the answers firsthand.”

I find these stories both inspiring and humbling. We are fortunate that young people today not only care about the environment but are actively tackling such globally important problems. These kinds of stories make me an optimist, in spite of the recent reports that we are running out of time to prevent a global climate disaster.

However, the kids can’t stave off disaster by themselves. Solving our global climate crisis is going to take a whole lot more than brilliant teenagers applying their STEM education. We have much to do, and many miles to travel before we can sleep in peace. STEM is helping, but every one of us has to contribute our own creativity and design thinking to everything we do, every day, if we are to survive another 20 years.

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, Jan. 16, 2019.  Email Jim Ware at: jim@jimware.com

How Can We Be Sure Our Food Is Safe?

By Joy Danzig

Is the food we buy safe to eat?  Is food containing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) really safe for consumption?  Are organically grown foods worth the additional cost?  Why aren’t food producers required to disclose GMO related information on food labels?

There is an on-going debate around the subject of GMOs.  GMO proponents emphasize the advantages of GMOs, e.g. increased crop yields, resistance to herbicides and pesticides.  Skeptics question whether such “benefits” are worth the trade-offs.  A significant factor in the debate centers around crops genetically modified to be impervious to glyphosate pesticides, such as Roundup.

The Background

Characterization of a genetic modification

An organism is genetically modified when genetic material from another organism is injected into its DNA. Both organisms are typically unrelated to each other.  Genetic engineers must force the DNA from one organism into another, because of natural barriers typically prevent transfer of DNA.  This is done by using viruses or bacteria to “infect” animal or plant cells with new DNA, or by firing the foreign DNA into a target cell with a special gun.

The rationale for growing GM crops is herbicides, such as Roundup, control weeds on a large scale. and the crops had to resist the herbicide to flourish.  Monsanto developed “Roundup Ready” seeds to sell to farmers.  Unlike traditionally cultivated seeds, farmers must purchase GMO modified seeds annually.

Monsanto’s Monopoly

By 2007, Monsanto established a virtual monopoly.  Its American Seeds, Inc. sold the most crop seeds in the United States.  The biochemical industry claimed GM crops, easily grown on a large scale, would provide enough food for ever-growing worldwide demand.  Critics say global food production is sufficient, but distribution is inadequate.  As with other commodities, corrupted agents disrupted the distribution of food.

As weeds mutate, growing stronger, resisting Roundup, they require more powerful, more toxic herbicides. A similar pattern occurs in insects, requiring more powerful, toxic pesticides.

Biotech companies, however, have not acknowledged the effects these modified foods have on human and animal consumption.  A GM Monsanto corn was found to have high concentrations of a neurotoxin.  Monsanto withdrew an application for its approval in Europe in 2009, after regulators raised safety questions.  No such withdrawal happened in the United States. Crops most often modified are soy, corn, canola (largely Canadian), sugar beets and alfalfa.  GMO soy, corn and alfalfa, used as animal feed, have resulted in GMO-contaminated meat and milk.  GM soy and corn derivatives contain additives in foods commonly consumed.

Concern Is Growing

The film “Modified” depicts an avid gardener’s concern that Canada and the United States do not require GMO labels on foods with GMO additives.  Worldwide, 64 countries require GMO labeling.  Her daughter contacted Health Canada repeatedly.  Sadly, the agency didn’t respond.  Sustainable Rossmoor featured the film in Rossmoor on Nov. 27, 2018.  In case you missed it, here’s a link: http://www.modifiedthefilm.com

Annie Taylor, a biology major at Middlebury College in Vermont, investigated Monsanto’s apparent evasion of regulatory oversight.  She attributes some of Monsanto’s success to the “revolving door” of employment between Monsanto and agencies regulating its products.  The regulatory agencies include: the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Notably, the Federal Government invalidated Vermont’s GMO labeling law, effective July 1, 2016.  The Federal Government required all states abide by its guidelines, which are confusing and inconsistent.  They also substitute the term “bioengineered” (BE) for “genetically modified” (GM).  Taylor’s paper, “The Evolution of Monsanto” by can be found on Middlebury’s Political Ecology of GMOs blog site: http://sites.middlebury.edu/politicalecologyofgmos/

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), based in the United States, recently published information concerning Roundup (primarily glyphosate).  EWG reported finding glyphosate in virtually all non-organic oat-containing foods.  The World Health Organization (WHO) has determined glyphosate is a likely cause of cancer. Information about the effects of genetically modified foods on human and animal health is growing, and documentation linking GM crops and chronic diseases is growing. For EWG’s website: https://www.ewg.org

Medical Concerns

Recently, physicians linked a growing number of diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease and other digestive disorders, to GM foods.  Children are especially vulnerable.  Researchers also report dangerous food allergies, asthma, eczema, neurodevelopmental diseases, such as autistic spectrum disorder, and obesity.

Developing internal organs in children are more susceptible to damage

In a 2018 GMO Science article, “We Can Turn Children’s Health Around,” Dr. Michelle Perro, an integrative (holistic) pediatrician practicing for over 37 years, wrote, “A staggering 1 in 2 American children now has a potentially lifelong disease. For the first time in modern history, children will be less healthy than their parents and will most likely live shorter lives.”  To access the GMO Science website: https://www.gmoscience.org

In 2017, Dr. Perro and medical anthropologist Vincanne Adams co-authored, “What is Making Our Children Sick? How Industrial Food is Causing an Epidemic of Chronic Illness and What Parents (and Doctors) Can Do About It.”  For more information about Dr. Perro: https://www.gordonmedical.com/team/michelle-perro-m-d/

In an interview, available online, with Jeffrey Smith, author, filmmaker and founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology (https://responsibletechnology.org/), Perro details her treatments and their results in patients and their families.  Perro also explains how toxins in GM foods pass into the circulatory system, due to intestinal permeability (“leaky gut”).   From the circulatory system, toxins may pass through the blood-brain barrier, leading to mental and emotional syndromes.  Her first-line treatment is for families to maintain an organic diet, which often produces immediate relief.  Smith’s extensive research corroborates much of Dr. Perro’s findings.

With awareness regarding GM foods, often containing glyphosate, reading labels, choosing organic, we can achieve food safety for ourselves, family and friends.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, January 2, 2019.  Email Joy Danzig at joyfuld@gmail.com

Use of Plastics Is Making Us and Planet Sick

By Brad Waite

The use of plastics has created increasingly harmful effects across the globe.

A previous Earth Matters post (see “Plastics: A Two-Edged Sword“), pointed out plastic takes, on average, about 400 years to degrade.  As plastic degrades, it continually emits greenhouse gases, especially methane, the primary cause of climate change.  Such damage to our environment is cause enough for us, as a society, to radically reduce, if not out-right eliminate, our use of plastic.  It is especially critical to eliminate single-use plastics such as water bottles, take-out food containers, product containers and wrapping, disposable flatware, straws, etc.

Single-use and other plastics adversely affect the health of humans and other living creatures.

Microplastics Are Everywhere

As plastic degrades over time, through its exposure to sunlight, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. Eventually those pieces become so small they become microplastic particles.  Eventually these micro plastics become too small for humans to see with the naked eye. Those pieces end up almost everywhere, including in our water, our air and our soil.

Health Effects on Humans
Discarded plastic bottles degrading in water

For example, I read an article recently reporting the results of studies of plastic in tap water. It reported 84 percent (84%) of tap water, worldwide, tested positive for containing plastic. In the United States, 93 percent (93%) of the samples tested positively, primarily because the United States uses far more plastic than almost anyone else in the world. Thus, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the vast majority of Americans tested positive for plastic in their feces. This is a significant health issue because the chemicals those plastics are made from leech into our bodies, causing a wide range of health issues such as hormone disruption, asthma, cancer, obesity and insulin resistance, among others.

Plastics in the Food Chain

But humans aren’t the only ones whose health is impacted. These microplastic pieces are mistaken as food by a variety of wildlife, especially fish. This not only impacts the health of the fish, but also our own health when we eat the fish. I suspect these days almost everything we eat has some amount of plastic in it, either from plastic used in the production process, to the plastic container and wrapping it comes in, to the plastic plates frequently used to serve it on. And world-wide, we humans do a poor job of recycling our plastic, which is why vast amounts end up in our rivers and oceans. The most recent issue of Central Contra Costa Sanitary District’s newsletter, Pipeline, contains this statement: “If plastic production isn’t curbed, plastic pollution will outweigh fish pound for pound by 2050.”

Take Action – There’s No Time Like the Present

I ended my prior column on this topic by saying, “I realize how we all became addicted to using plastics. Most of them make our lives a bit 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 price that we as humans 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 limit our use of or stop using altogether. We must start now.”

Legislative Action – International and Local

Recently the European Parliament voted to ban the 10 most common single use plastic items, including beverage bottles, plates, cutlery, straws and drink stirrers, as well as to require a significant reduction in other items.

Fortunately, concerted actions have also started locally.  The Walnut Creek City Council began deliberating a ban on plastic straws.  Several Rossmoor residents addressed the City Council at its meeting, encouraging the City to broaden its scope to include most single-use plastic. Please consider writing or calling the City to add your support to the efforts on this ban.

Personal Action

What else can you do?  Here are some of the actions I’m taking that you could consider.  I’ve drastically reduced the times I use the store-supplied plastic produce bags unless they are bio-degradable.  I choose to bring my own washable mesh bags.  I now include the amount and type of packaging in my purchase decisions whenever I buy anything.

When I do end up with a plastic container, I reuse it as many times as I can.  Then recycle it when I no longer can use it.  I’ve stopped using plastic plates, cutlery and glasses.  When I do need disposable items such as those, I buy ones that are compostable, not plastic.  I spend a little extra money when I buy clothing and get items made completely of natural fibers.  What else can you think of that you can and will do to help us all?

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, December 12, 2018. Email Brad Waite at bradwaite@com-cast.net

Groundwater Adds to Flooding Risks in Bay Area

by Judith Schumacher-Jennings

As sea levels rise, the water beneath our feet will be rising too.  Rising oceans will punish shorelines hit by increasingly powerful storms.  Salt water will inundate rivers further upstream. The rising seas will also push groundwater closer to the surface, exacerbating flooding throughout coastal regions, like the Bay Area.

With all the dire warnings about rising sea levels, it’s probably easy to envision how rising seas will overtop existing shorelines.  Watching television coverage of Hurricanes Florence and Michael in 2018, it’s also easy to understand how more powerful storms increase storm surges and create devastation farther and farther inland.

Those are the obvious impacts of rising oceans.

Scientists are also observing increased urban riverine flooding due to extreme precipitation events, such as an atmospheric river or in years of El Nino. Forecasting models show both phenomena will occur more frequently in the future.

New Research on Groundwater

Compounding these issues, scientists now report the amount of water underground will contribute to flooding.  New research shows the groundwater table must be considered to create a more accurate understanding of the potential for flooding.

Ellen Plane and Abby Mohan presented the new research at the 2018 Bay Delta Science Conference in Sacramento. The Nov. 8, 2018 edition of Maven’s Notebook, a website devoted to California water issues, had extensive coverage of the presentations. Ellen Plane is from the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley and Abby Mohan is a marine geographer and Geographic Information System (GIS) analyst at Silvestrum Climate Associates. Link to Maven’s Notebook: https://mavensnotebook.com

Groundwater Levels Are Up and Down

Shallow groundwater depth varies with large rainfall events, periods of drought and tidal influences near shorelines. In addition, groundwater levels vary seasonally with the water table at its highest during the rainy season and falling during the drier months.

A saturated water table heightens flooding risks

As sea levels rise, the saltier bay water along the coastline will push the fresher groundwater layer up creating a rise in the groundwater table. The groundwater will likely rise to the surface and pond, creating emergent flooding. This will particularly occur during wet years. Saturated ground will create emergent ponds in areas that extend well beyond the areas where sea level rise is likely to flood.

In New Orleans and in the Delta with similar soil to the Bay Area, pumping has had little success in mitigating flooding because it causes subsidence (land to sink), which could be even more pronounced in areas of fill.

Emergent Groundwater Flooding

Groundwater will displace impervious surfaces, pushing the surface up, cracking and breaking it apart as the water finds its way out. If the groundwater table were well below a concrete parking lot there would be no issue. But if the groundwater table lies immediately underneath the concrete, water would find a way to get into the cracks and cause infrastructure instability and flooding.

Additionally, rising groundwater will cause inflow and infiltration into wastewater pipes, causing backups. Underground systems need redesign to be more waterproof and more resilient, not only to sea level rise, but to rising groundwater.

Effective Planning Must Consider Groundwater

New building regulations to address the potential of rising groundwater could result in a requirement for additional FEMA flood insurance, adding to the cost of housing. As sea levels rise and intrude farther inland, the interface between the salt water and fresh water will rise and push the fresh water lens upward, especially in a shallow unconfined coastal aquifer areas. This rise will potentially cause emergence and inundation in unexpected areas, not directly connected to salt water.

The East Oakland area is not directly connected to the bay. Yet the area could experience ponding from groundwater emergence alone. In the East Palo Alto area there is a lot of high-value development, such as the Google campus. Adaptation planning is already taking place, but its focus must not be limited to preventing direct inundation.  Such a singular focus would not address the ponding from groundwater behind the levee. It could become a cost-prohibitive and ineffective project if the additional threat from groundwater is not taken into account.

The Bay Area Is Very Vulnerable
San Francisco Bay Infill Development         Photo by Paul Moderacki

A lot of development around the Bay Area is built on artificial unconsolidated fill. Marin County, especially around San Rafael, has high groundwater and direct inundation threats from sea level rise. As a result there would be a higher liquefaction risk during a seismic event.

There is a housing crisis around the Bay Area, especially in Silicon Valley. When locating new developments, planning must consider emergent groundwater. The combination of direct inundation and groundwater emergence on coastal development will mean increased flooding.

There is a lot of contamination in the soil around the Bay Area. As sea levels rise, those contaminants are going to become mobilized and cause public health threats around the Bay.

Therefore we need to start shifting how we think about sea level rise planning to include this additional threat of rising groundwater. Adaptation and resilience measures must consider all three flooding components.

Watch a nine minute time lapse of the 2018 Atlantic Hurricane season: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=547&v=3j1_gxTnJok

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, November 28, 2018. Email Judith Schumacher-Jennings at sjmadrone@sonic.net

Benefits of Wetlands

By Jennifer Mu

Politicians love to use “drain the swamp” as a campaign slogan. It’s beyond frustration when I hear on the news the repeated chanting of “drain the swamp” by politicians. Sadly, it perpetuates the popular misconception that swamps are wastelands and of little use. The truth is, swamps, wetlands and coastal estuaries are extremely beneficial. In fact, they are among the most valuable ecosystems on Earth.

Wetlands with Great White Herons
Swamp and Wetland Benefits

Freshwater wetlands and swamps and coastal wetlands provide a multitude of benefits. Wetlands enhance the food chain and provide habitat for wildlife. Two-thirds (66.6%) of the fish and shellfish commercially harvested worldwide are linked with wetlands. Swamps also improve water quality. Wetlands filter chemicals and sediment out of nearby rivers and lakes before discharging the water into the ocean.

Swamps also serve as natural flood control barriers. When there is excess water swamps work like a sponge, absorbing much of the water before it reaches farms and urban developments. Saltwater swamps and tidal salt marshes help anchor coastal soil and sand. During hurricanes, coastal wetlands slow down storm surges, weakening the force of the water hitting the shores. Inland, freshwater wetlands soak up torrential rains, moderating the effects of flooding.

Before the enactment of environmental laws to protect wetlands in the 1970s, almost half (50%) of the wetlands in this country disappeared. Most were drained and/or filled in for development.

New Orleans – After Katrina
Katrina’s Lesson

Remember Katrina? The 2005 hurricane destroyed the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida. Katrina claimed 1,800 lives and caused close to $100 billion in damages. New Orleans sustained the worst damage. The scale of the disaster was later attributed to the destruction and disappearance of much of the region’s wetlands.

In New Orleans’ case, the loss of swamps and marshes was largely due to the infamous Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MRGO) canal.  This 76-mile canal was an artificial shipping channel built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the mid-20th century.  Its construction destroyed lush, fresh-water cypress swamps, including the 30,000-acre Central Wetlands, which is only 15 minutes away from the city’s French Quarter. Between 1982 and 1992, about 1.6 million acres of wetlands on nonfederal lands were lost; 57 percent (%) of these wetlands were converted into land for development and 20 percent (%) were converted into agriculture land. See more about the MRGO: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi_River–Gulf_Outlet_Canal

Coastal wetlands help protect people and buildings
Wetland Restoration

After Katrina, wetland restoration received a renewed focus. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website lists five major coastal wetland protection/restoration programs – Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, San Francisco Bay Delta Watershed and the National Estuary Program.  The EPA is also partnering with broad coalitions of federal, state and municipal and private nonprofit agencies to implement these programs. See about the EPA’s wetlands initiatives: https://www.epa.gov/wetlands

Sandy’s Lesson

Hurricane Sandy, despite its widespread destruction, demonstrated the benefits of wetland conservation. In 2017, a study found coastal wetlands saved $625 million worth of property damage during 2012 Hurricane. Thus, wetlands reduced the cost of damages by 22 percent (22%) in more than half the zip codes along the East Coast in Sandy’s wake. In sum, wetlands spared hundreds of homes and thousands of miles of roads from more damage.

Trump’s Wetland Policy-Reversal-In-Progress

Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has consistently cut funding for these programs since taking office. Trump’s 2019 fiscal year budget would stop funding programs to restore water quality in the Gulf of Mexico, Puget Sound and other large water bodies. Funding for the Chesapeake Bay program would see a 90 percent (90%) reduction, from $72 million to $7 million. A similar 90-percent (90%) cut in the Great Lakes Program  would decrease funding from $300 million to $30 million.

Obviously, such policies run counter to destructive weather events of the past two decades. Hurricanes are more frequent and much more powerful. Additionally, 100-year floods are now the norm. It is vital our government continues to fund the work to protect and restore wetlands.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, November 14, 2018.  Email Jenifer Mu at barnhartmu8833@gmail.com

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: https://www.dakine.com/en-us/

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: http://vinylux.net

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: https://www.uncommongoods.com/product/game-used-baseball-bat-bottle-openers

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: https://coalheadwear.com

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: http://www.greentoys.com

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, October 31, 2018.  Email Dale J. Harrington at dalejharrington@gmail.com