October 30, 2010 - by Molly Mann
The idea that pharmaceuticals leach into groundwater, fresh water, and salt water really scares me. Birth control pills, which enter the water supply through improper disposal and human waste, are threatening reproductive patterns of marine life. And now, scientists have found that antidepressants are affecting the behavior of crustaceans.
This past week, researchers at the University of Portsmouth's Institute of Marine Science in the UK released a study showing that coastal waters increasingly contain levels of antidepressant medication, and that the presence of fluoxetine (generic Prozac) in these waters changes the way that shrimp and other shellfish behave. Shrimp exposed to fluoxetine are five times more likely to swim towards the light instead of swimming away from it as they naturally do to hide from predators, according to the researchers.
A 2006 study also revealed that Prozac also causes female mussels to release larvae too early, threatening their populations as well. And a group of scientists at the University of Georgia report that even low levels of antidepressant medications in waterways delays the sexual maturation of mosquitofish and frogs.
October 22, 2010 - by Molly Mann
The debate this Monday, October 20, 2010 among the seven candidates for governor of New York was more theater than politics, if there is such distinction. But aside from the rent being too, um, high, another issue took prominence: hydraulic fracturing to develop the Marcellus Shale.
So what is hydraulic fracturing, or hydro fracking as it is commonly known? And why is there such strong opposition to it?
It's a process of creating openings in rocks in order to release the oil and gas below, in this case natural gas beneath the Marcellus Shale mass in western New York. Carl Palladino and Andrew Cuomo, the two major candidates for governor, both support hydro fracking as a way to reduce dependence on foreign oil, bring revenue to the state, and move away from "dirtier" fossil fuels like coal and oil.
But those against the fracking worry about damaging surrounding watersheds that supply drinking water to New York residents. Though Cuomo, Palladino, and current governor David Patterson assure New Yorkers that the fracking process is as safe as can be, they admit there is always the chance of an accident and concerned environmentalists still aren't comfortable with the idea. In the wake of the BP oil spill, I don't blame them.
The debate was fun to watch, but let's not forget that the candidates were discussing some weight issues that will determine New York's future, perhaps irrevocably.
October 16, 2010 - by Molly Mann
In this morning's Newsday, Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) is shown in a photo, obscured by a big, white toilet. The picture was taken while Denenberg addressed Nassau County fire, school, and library officials about his opposition to the so-called "toilet tax" proposed by County Executive Ed Mangano in his 2011 budget.
Mangano would charge local governments and non-profit organizations, including hospitals and colleges, a $1 fee on every gallon of sewage generated. The fee would help to balance the sewer budget with the added $38 billion it is estimated to bring the county.
Those organizations affected by the proposed fee say that they cannot afford it and that taxpayers shouldn't have to pay the burden of the sewer budget.
Seriously? Aren't those same taxpayers responsible for the um, sewage? Why not ask them to help clean it up, too? Social service and environmental advocates speak longingly of "how it is in Europe," where cities have tiny carbon footprints, and citizens have their needs met by the state. While this vision of blissful Euro-living is no doubt romanticized, it's true that public services run better and more efficiently in most European countries. But that's not because money grows on trees over there; it's because citizens of these countries understand that if they want their government to meet their needs and to act in an ecologically responsible way, they have to contribute. It's a particularly American view that government "steals" your money; most Europeans understand that they get their tax money back ten-fold in public services and a better quality of life for all.
So to Denenberg and other Nassau officials against the "toilet tax," I say, if you flushed, you gotta pay.
October 08, 2010 - by Molly Mann
Frito-Lay Inc., owner of SunChips snacks, struck out with consumers who found the company's newly-introduced fully compostable packaging too noisy. Late in 2009, Frito-Lay began selling SunChips in bags made from plant-based polylactic acid, which degrades completely in a hot active compost. This was a change from the usual non-biodegradable petroleum-based polyproplyene, used for most chip bags, and a first in the industry.
But consumer complaint have driven Frito-Lay to discontinue the compostable bags. Chip lovers say the new packaging is just too noisy. According to The Wall Street Journal, some have likened the sound heard upon opening a bag to a "revving motorcycle" or "glass breaking."
But you can hear for yourself.
Is a noisy bag worth going back to the old petroleum-based material, as Frito-Lay as done? Only two percent of food waste is composted in the U.S. is currently composted. We need more innovation like this, and fortunately Frito-Lay promises to continue working on the bag until it's quiet enough to release again.
As the signs that Frito-Lay has posted in stores, "Yes, the bag is loud. That's what change sounds like."
October 04, 2010 - by Molly Mann
In August 2010, Silicon Valley's elite gathered at Google's company headquarters to plan their opposition to Proposition 23, the ballot measure that would suspend California's global warming law. One speaker at the rally predicted that Texas oil companies backing the measure would spend up to $50 million dollars to ensure its passage. But the No on 23 campaign is bringing in far more money in donations than the oil barons at this point, by far.
Over the past few days, the Nos have collected over $5 million from venture capitalists, New York financiers, renewable energy companies, and other supporters, according to California Secretary of State records reported on Grist.org.
The Yes campaign, on the other hand, has received a single $10,000 donation this week, from a Houston company that provides services to the oil and petrochemical industries.
Absentee voting in California begins today, Monday, October 4, 2010, so contribute what you can to this worthy cause. And if you don't have money to contribute but know someone who lives in California -- I'll be on the phone with my brother in Los Angeles shortly! -- reach out and tell them why they need to get out the vote against Prop 23.
September 26, 2010 - by Molly Mann
On the heels of Fashion week in NYC, it seems like everybody is worried about what everyone else is wearing. Most notably, Lady Gaga raised a ruckus with her meat dress, angering vegans and vegetarians and earning her plenty of attention from the tabloids (as if she needed more).
Now Grist has published photographer Ted Sabarese's shots from his "Hunger Pains" project. These outfits are really organic and fair trade, not to mention gorgeous. Man, I want a chocolate dress!
September 18, 2010 - by Molly Mann
The new trend in sustainable dining gives me the creeps. Bugs, which are supposedly packed with protein and low in fat, are gaining cachet around my neighborhood in Brooklyn as a way to meet your nutritional needs without increasing your carbon footprint, and as a way to show how un-squeamish you are.
For the record, I am very squeamish.
I first starting noticing the neighborhood's nascent entomophagy (insect eating) when my new favorite fro-yo spot, Wicked Spoon, opened on 9th street and started boasting chocolate-covered crickets as a topping.
Now, The Brooklyn Kitchen in Williamsburg, a cooking school and supplies store, will host Entomo Cusine, an $85 four-course insect dinner tonight, Saturday, September 18, 2010.
Fortunately, guests will have plenty of mezcal to, erm, whet their appetites.
"I think the mezcal will definitely help with the bug eating," The Brooklyn Kitchen co-owner Taylor Erkkinen told The Brooklyn Paper.
San Francisco-based entomophagist Phil Ross is behind the dinner, which will feature dishes like meal worms in garlic and corn custard with moth larvae. His girlfriend, Monica Martinez, also has a gallery opening at EyeLevel BQE called WURMHAUS, which positions bug-eating as the answer to agribusiness.
"It's all psychological," Martinez told The Brooklyn Paper. "Once you try insects, they are amazing. You just want to keep eating them. They really are yummy."
I'll take her word for it.
If you're curious about entomophagy, though, The Brooklyn Paper's Kristin V. Brown recommends you try the following insects first. Also, you're weird.
- Mealworms, according to Brown, have "a very nutty, almond-like taste with hints of bacon. Use roasted or fried in anything."
- Wax moth larvae, which also have a "mild nutty flavor," are so named because they have a tendency to eat pollen and chew through beeswax. Brown recommends using them in ceviche.
- Maguey worms, caterpillars that infest maguey and agave plants, are a traditional delicacy in Mexico. "They taste nutty and rich, with an agave-like sweetness. Use deep fried or braised, and served in a tortilla."
- Crickets have an "earthy, crunchy mouthfeel. Roast with chili and lime and dig in." Or, head to Wicked Spoon for some chocolate-covered chirpers on your fro-yo.
September 07, 2010 - by Molly Mann
The BBC reports that the city of Sheffield in England has debuted six vans that run on biogas generated from the treatment of raw sewage. The vans are part of the Sheffield City Council's initiative to test eco-friendly alternative fuels.
The vans, says the BBC, "do not smell unpleasant."
Kelda Water contributes the biogas from its sewage treatment works in Sheffield. A spokesperson from the company says, "Should the trial go as expected then the prospects for using biomethane in more vehicles is exciting and offers lots of potential."
Sheffield's six vans aren't the first "poo-powered" automobiles in England. A biomethane-fueled Volkswagen Beetle debuted in Bristol in early August that can go (no pun intended) 10,000 miles for the amount of waste generated by 70 average households.
It may take the world some time to ...digest...the idea of a car that runs on raw sewage, but we have the Sheffield City Council's word that the reality doesn't stink.
September 06, 2010 - by Molly Mann
My roommate, Jen, recently ended a 23-year stint as a vegetarian. Why? She met a cheeseburger, and it was love at first bite.
We all tease her about this "lapse," but really Jen articulates perfectly the dilemma that most thinking, caring adults with taste buds have. We want to feed ourselves in a way that is environmentally and socially conscious, but man, is it hard.
But maybe there's a middle road. Meatless Monday, a non-profit initiative of the Monday Campaigns, in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is trying to get Americans to reduce their meat consumption by 15 percent by abstaining for just one day a week.
Harking back to the days of war-time rations, leaders of the initiative believe that just one day a week of going meatless is manageable and sets a pattern of behavior. The initiative offers recipes and tools on its Web site, along with suggestions for other Healthy Monday ideas: Monday 2000 (a day to reset your calorie budget after indulging over the weekend), Monday Mile (a day to start walking), and Quit & Stay-Quit Monday (for smokers who want to stop).
I've tried and failed to stop eating meat completely. I can easily achieve that goal only one day a week, though. And if I can do it one day, I can do it the next. But first things first.
August 28, 2010 - by Molly Mann
Most of us need that first cup of coffee in the morning before we can think clearly. But the brew itself is so complicated! I'm not talking about all the bells and whistles on your coffeepot. I'm talking about the environmental issues surrounding that a.m. cuppa' joe.
First of all, how much are the workers who grew and harvested those beans getting paid? Even "Fair Trade" is a shaky standard to determine this. And are they organic beans? Shade-grown?
Ugh. Caffeine headache.
There's another consideration to add to the mix, you know. What about that paper coffee cup from Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, or your neighborhood independent coffee house? It's wasteful, but because it's paper, you can recycle it, right?
Wrong. The waxy coating that keeps your take-out coffee cup from turning into a soggy mess when the barista pours hot liquid into it every morning makes the container a real recycling challenge. And Dunkin' Donuts' styrofoam containers are an even worse environmental nightmare. Starbucks plans to set up recycling for cups within their stores by 2015, and this program is already available at 400 of the company's 7,500 locations. But with 58 billion coffee cups entering landfills each year, Starbucks alone can't solve the problem.
Is the answer to brew your coffee at home? Not if you use those single-use K-Cups; they are unrecyclable. Ironically, Green Mountain Coffee -- the company that puts out K-Cups -- built its business around environmental responsibility, but these little plastic caffeine pods made up more than 80 percent of Green Mountain's sales last quarter.
Tips for a green cup o' bean:
- Brew and drink your coffee at home (no K-Cups!), or bring a travel mug when you're on the go.
- Bring your own container if you buy beans or ground coffee from a store. Just make sure they weigh the container before putting coffee in it so you don't pay more than you should.
- Choose a coffee-maker with a thermos-like metal pot so that you don't have to keep the burner running all morning and waste electricity.
- The Fair Trade label has its critics, but its still the best indicator of social and environmental standards for growing coffee.
- And if you want to make your java really sustainable, keep it black. It takes 53 gallons of water to make one glass of milk.
August 20, 2010 - by Molly Mann
Discovery News reports the results of three studies linking common pesticides with attention and behavioral problems in children.
Organophosphates (OP) are widely-used pesticides that work by attacking the nervous systems of insects. When exposed to these chemicals frequently and at high doses, people can develop anxiety, confusion, impaired concentration, and other serious neurological symptoms, writes Discovery's Emily Sohn. To delve further into OP's effect on the developing brain, Brenda Eskenazi, an epidemiologist and neuropsychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and her team of researchers followed up with a long-term study tracking more than 300 Mexican-American women in an "agriculturally intensive" region of California since these women were first pregnant in 1999 or 2000. Researchers measured the levels of pesticide breakdown products in the pregnant women's urine, and now Eskenazi and her team have collected urine samples from the children and, according to Sohn, "evaluated measures of attention." Sohn does not specify what these measures were, but the published study in Environmental Health Perspectives reports that the researchers applied the Mental Development (MDI) and Psychomotor Development (PDI) Indices, as well as the Bayley Scales of Infant Development, and queried the mothers on the Child Behavior Checklist to obtain a score for Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD).
The results show that by age five, the children who had been exposed to higher levels of OP in the womb were five times more likely to have some kind of attention deficit or developmental disorder, and the risks were even higher for male fetuses. However, neither Sohn nor Eskenazi account for the fact that all of these children were exposed to OP, and that there was no control group in the study.
A second study, published in the same journal and by the same authors, reports the discovery of a gene that determines how susceptible a person is to the ill effects of OP. The gene itself affects how the body breaks down pesticides, and Eskenazi concludes that a better understanding of how this gene works could help scientists figure out what exactly OP do to child brains.
Finally, a third study, which appeared in the June issue of Pediatrics, shows that children with especially high levels of OP in their urine are twice as likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) as children with "average" amounts of the pesticides in their systems. The study examined 1,100 children from ages eight to 15.
The lead author of this last study, Maryse Bouchard, an environmental health researcher at the University of Montreal, recommends buying organic produce or shopping at a farmers' market, where consumers can speak to the growers themselves about their pesticide practices. He adds that OP are soluble in water, so a good scrubbing should get rid of them.
Eskenazi urges consumers -- especially pregnant women -- not to shy away from fruits and vegetables because of these findings.
"If you have to weigh your risks," she says, "it's more risky not to eat fruits and vegetables."
August 13, 2010 - by Molly Mann
My goal for this post is to avoid all the tasteless jokes I really want to make, because this is a serious issue.
National Geographic reports that oysters -- those aquatic aphrodisiacs -- are contracting, and dying from, herpes. The virus, which seems only to infect the Pacific variety of oysters, is ravaging populations near the English coast.
According to National Geographic, this epidemic is the result of global warming. This particular herpes strain is only active in waters above a certain temperature, so warmer oceans provide ample breeding ground. It was first detected in France in 2008 and is deadlier than previously detected strains of the virus because it attacks young oysters in their breeding phase when their immune defenses are low. Ocean acidification, another side effect of global warming, also weakens mollusks' immune systems.
Oysters having herpes is yet another wild and unexpected result of rising ocean temperatures from global warming. And then there are the crabs....
August 06, 2010 - by Molly Mann
I'm in Prospect Park at least once every day, so I can testify that the Park's biggest feature is not the rolling hills, the running dogs, or the spandex-clad joggers. Nope. It's the ubiquitous geese poop that gets into your shoes no matter how hard you try not to step in it. It's annoying, but merely a fact of life; geese are around, they poop, so there's a lot of geese poop around.
Since the "Miracle on the Hudson," however, many city and federal officials view the geese as more than an annoyance; the geese, they tell us, have become projectiles with the ability to take down a jet liner.
(For those who don't recall, the Miracle on the Hudson refers to U.S. Airways Flight 1549, which went down after being struck by a flock of Canadian geese. Captain Chelsey "Sully" Sullenberger successfully ditched the flight in the Hudson river near midtown Manhattan, and there were no casualties from the incident.)
In the name of air safety the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) gassed nearly 400 Prospect Park Canadian geese on Thursday, July 8, 2010. According to the New York Times, wildlife biologists and technicians descended on the park in the early morning and herded the birds into a fenced area. In conjunction with the USDA, the biologists packed the geese in crates of two or three birds and carted them to a nearby building where they were exterminated with lethal doses of carbon dioxide.
Brooklyn residents are enraged and disconsolate over this measure, which Jeanne Grifo calls "carnage" committed by "assassins" in The Brooklyn Paper. More than 100 Brooklynites gathered on the evening of Saturday, July 18, 2010 to hold a vigil for the "slaughtered" bird in the park.
"I'm not an 'animal nut' or anything, but the magnitude of this operation was just so disgusting to me," Andy Gensler, a Kensington resident who attended the vigil with his young daughter, told The Brooklyn Paper. "My daughter fed those geese. It's just so horrible."
Despite USDA insistence that the gassing was a necessary measure to preserve "passenger and property safety," most of us in the 'hood see the act as undemocratic (no one knew this was going to happen) and completely unnecessary (Prospect Park geese are not migratory and therefore pose little hazard to nearby flights).
Since the extermination, Brooklyn bloggers have triumphantly reported sightings of geese in the park, hoping that one or two birds will signal a mass revival. And we're all still really mad and appalled at the administration's behavior. Gassing these birds to keep them out of the way of planes is like shooting pedestrians on the sidewalk so that cars in the street don't hit them. Even if the birds did pose a real danger to overhead flights, it's more practical and humane to change flight paths so these planes aren't going directly over the park; extermination is not a sane or proportionate answer to inconvenient natural processes.
Even if you're not a Brooklyn resident, you can write the USDA about this issue. There's already been a huge outcry, but every voice is important to preventing this mindless killing from occurring again.
August 01, 2010 - by Molly Mann
After decades of being a relatively rare problem, bedbugs are once again plaguing New York City's more than eight million inhabitants. The itchy invaders are taking a huge bite out of the Big Apple and requiring that residents throw away all of their belongings, fumigate their apartments, and - when nothing else will work - leave town. The city is trying to come up with new and effective methods of fighting the infestation, including bedbug-sniffing dogs, but right now, the bugs are winning.
Between the fumigation chemicals and the piles of trash that are amassing outside apartment buildings, bedbugs are belying the urban lifestyle's increasingly green reputation. They prove that the model of densely-populated cities has at least one major problem: when people live so close together, they pass infections and parasites like wildfire. If one tenant in an apartment building brings in bedbugs, the whole building becomes infested. And when the tenants discard their critter-laced books, clothing, and furniture, passers-by looking for free stuff often bring these "finds" home, bedbugs and all.
It's hard to avoid bedbugs, because you'll be as infested as your neighbors, but in general, avoid bringing home any used or "free" items from sidewalk sales or thrift stores (another urban way of life that is quickly coming to a necessary end). Even non-fabric items can harbor the pests. When washing clothes at the laundromat, set all washers and dryers to high heat to kill whatever the previous user has left there, and if you send your laundry out, specify that you would like your garments done in high heat. Your jeans may feel a little tighter, but at least you won't itch!
Also - and I can't believe I'm writing this, but I am - if you do get an infestation of bedbugs, don't mess around with the "green" pest control methods. Blitzkrieg those little suckers with DDT! You want them gone so that they don't spread (and incur more pesticide use), and chemicals are the only way to end the bug-egg-bug cycle.
Seriously, folks. Bedbugs bite.
July 27, 2010 - by Molly Mann
It seems the major media sources can't get enough of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It's the biggest such disaster since the Exxon-Valdez spill in 1989, as if that were the only spill to use as a reference point. Sure, it's the event that will resonate with most Americans, but spills like these happen in Nigeria all the time. In fact, according to John Vidal of The Guardian, "More oil is spill from the Niger delta's network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico."
Vidal reports that Nigeria's 606 oilfields supply 40 percent of United States crude imports. It is also the "world capital of oil pollution."
"If this Gulf accident had happened in Nigeria, neither the government nor the company would have paid much attention," the writer Ben Ikari, member of the Ogoni people, told Vidal. "This kind of spill happens all the time in the delta."
In a region where most of the people rely on the environment for their livelihoods, the pollution from these spills is devastating. Half of the rural communities in the delta have no access to clean water.
It's great that the media are focusing on the crisis in the Gulf. Let's not appreciate how dire that situation is any less. But let's also turn our eyes and ears to Nigeria, where crisis is the norm.