Category Archives: Earth Matters

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

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: https://www.populationconnection.org

See Population Action International for more information:  https://pai.org

For information from Negative Population Growth, click here: http://www.npg.org

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, October 17, 2018. Email Anne Foreman anneforeman60@gmail.com

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 waynelanier-phd@gmail.com

“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: https://www.drawdown.org

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, September 19, 2018.  Email Jim Ware at jim@jimware.com

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 kper@sbcglobal.net