Tuesday, July 30, 2013

There's *Another* Chemical Type Involved in CCD?!

I've talked about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) a few times in the past, and I honestly thought I'd be giving it a rest for a while.

I mean, there are only so many times that I can talk about it before it becomes repetitive and dull, after all.  People need breaks.

But then I caught an article on Treehugger.com.  

Jaymi Heimbuch brought up something vastly different from what I had heard before.  The article was entitled, Scientists discover another cause of bee deaths, and its really bad news.

In this article, Heimbuch discussed a study that was recently published in PLOS One that pointed to fungicides as a major contributor to massive bee deaths.  In this study, it was found that bees exposed to high loads of two different fungicides, esfenvalerate and phosmet, were more susceptible to Nosema infection.

Nosema is a digestive infection that causes high die-offs of adult bees, mostly away from the hive, with only a few found near the hive entrance.  When the spores that produce this infection are ingested, they germinate within only 30 minutes.  The infected cells of the stomach lining are shed, but instead of producing normal stomach juices, they produce more spores.  The eggs of queen bees in infected hives may not mature.  Nurse bees stop producing honey to feed the larvae. Bees become more likely to develop dysentary. Life span of bees is reduced by half. 

Don't worry... Monsanto isn't off the hook.

Neonicotinoids are still a strong factor in CCD.  The huge bee die-off still occurred in a Target parking lot after pesticides were used.  Nobody is trying to redirect attention.  For that matter, the study even pointed out that these chemicals were found in collected pollen.

But it also points out that the problem is worse than we think.  You see, we hadn't considered fungicides to be a problem before now.  We thought they were relatively harmless to bees, and yet, two specific fungicides seem to be a very big problem.


The first step is acknowledgement.  Now that we see there's a problem, we can take steps to fix it. Indeed, that step was deemed necessary in the study's abstract, as well.
"While fungicides are typically seen as fairly safe for honey bees, we found an increased probability of Nosema infection in bees that consumed pollen with a higher fungicide load. Our results highlight a need for research on sub-lethal effects of fungicides and other chemicals that bees placed in an agricultural setting are exposed to." (full PLOS One study)
But what can the rest of us do, while the scientists are working at their end?

Garden organically.  Learn companion planting methods.  Go permacultural, even!

That may not seem like much, but if non-farmers like us stayed away from pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, total use of these chemicals would drop significantly.  These chemicals are overused in people's yards, anyway, since we have to habit to drown weeds in chemicals, rather than simply apply the necessary dosage.

We can blame the chemical companies all we want, but it'll do no good unless we change our own habits.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Technology and Nature CAN Coexist in Harmony

I ran across an article on Resurgence & Ecologist that I really feel needs to be shared.  

This piece, entitled Latent Healing, discusses technology not only as an addiction (as most of us view it), but also as a special part of humans as a species

Don't let the title turn you away. 

I'm not a crystal-toting New Age devotee.  This isn't filled with a bunch of spiritual chants or meditations.  It is filled with one highly unusual, often ignored device, though:

Common sense.  Tons of it.

The author, Charles Eisenstein, begins in the manner that we're used to seeing.  He examines our love of technology, our dependence on it, as an addiction.  Not just any addiction, though.  An addiction based on our need to control things.
"As the word ‘fix’ implies, the logic of technology has very often been the logic of addiction. Feel bad? Have a drink. Feel even worse the next morning? Get drunk again. Depressed because you’ve now lost your job, your marriage and your health due to drinking? Well, why not do what made you feel better last night? Have another drink. As with agricultural chemicals, ever-increasing doses become necessary to maintain what was once your natural, normal state, and all at the cost of everything precious."
He examines not only why this is, but why technology doesn't have to be seen as the enemy. Specifically, he looks at the mentality he refers to as 'human exceptionalism', which is a pretty self-explanatory term, I think. 

On one side, we have people using technology to grow and control, while pushing back other types of growth.  On the other side, however, we have people demanding an end to this, and going back to the old ways... dreaming of an idyllic, better time that, (let's face it) never really existed.

He points out that as something created by humans, technology can be used as a way to be interconnected with ecology, rather than simply as a device that enables us create an artificial reality apart from nature. 

Enhancement and growth. For the entire eco-system.

Technology can be a tool, rather than a way of life.  We just need to find a way to get to that point.  As he explains,
"Ecology says that each species has a gift that enhances the wellbeing of the whole. The extinction of one species impoverishes the whole. Humanity is no different. The problem isn’t that we have the power of technology. The problem is that we have not used that power in the spirit of a gift. We have not used it in the spirit of ecology. We have not asked: “How might we best serve the totality of all life on Earth?” In contemplating a nuclear power plant, an incinerator, a subdivision, a mine, even a new patio behind our house, we are not in the habit of asking: “Does this best serve the wellbeing of all interested parties?” Our cost–benefit analyses do not include the trees, the water, the fish or the birds."
Eisenstein believes that this is something that could happen.  Not easy, of course, but attainable.  Consider what could be accomplished.
"What would the expression of our uniquely human gifts of hand and mind look like exercised in the spirit of service to all life? In the short and medium term, this is not a difficult question to answer. The most urgent need before us is to heal the damage that has been done in the millennia-long course of separation. Vast realms of technology, much neglected today, have been developing in the margins, awaiting their moment for full expression."
 He goes on to give a few examples of conservation and restoration technologies.  Some I've seen, such as composting toilets, and others I have only briefly heard mention of, such as the use of fungi for land detoxification purposes.  Awesome stuff, and well worth looking into.

The point is that these are technologies that can help us be more in harmony with the natural environment without forcing us to step away from the intellectual advances that are part of human nature. 

But it means taking the road less traveled. 

And that's scary.

We're already staring at that fork in the road.  We recognize that we need to do something to change.  Will we have the strength to follow through?

I've only brushed at the surface of what Charles Eisenstein is saying. You can find the entire article at the link for Resurgence & Ecologist below:

Latent Healing

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Trail of Wild Strawberries

A while back I talked about the patches of wild strawberries growing in my grandmother's yard.  They're everywhere. 

And I haven't gotten any fruit from any of them.

The thing is, lawn mowers happen.  The strawberry plants get cut down right as they're about to start delivering their glorious, succulent fruit.  The fruit that makes your mouth water when you simply think about it.  The juicy, red -

Ok, you get the point.  It's amazing.

And none of that awesomeness was occurring in the yard.

There's good news, though.  See, there's this bike trail that runs along the highway. Sometimes the trail is straight, and sometimes it meanders away from the highway for a stretch before heading back.  It goes over bridges and hills.

A perfectly paved bike trail with dense forest right beyond the path.

It's a scenic bike trail, and well worth using... even if all you're doing is walking on it.  Especially if all you're doing is walking on it!

You see, when you walk the bike trail, you see things that bikers tend to miss as they zoom by.

Like strawberries.

A miniscule but deep red strawberry, less than half the size of my fingertip.

I know.  It's tiny, as I mentioned in the previous post.  Really tiny.  But it's totally worth it.  So are its beautiful ruby red friends that also share the space along the bike trail.

There are a bunch.  So many, in fact, that every time I walk the bike trail I have a snack.  Animals will get to them, but there are so many this year, that there are plenty left over for the rest of us.

Another glorious thing about the North Shore of Lake Superior!

In Faribault, I often picked violets (both flowers and leaves) for salad.  Here I have strawberries.  What wild, edible plants grow near you?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What we're NOT hearing about Climate Change

A friend introduced me to a Bill Moyers interview with Marty Kaplan that had me thinking, "Oh, crap... yeah."  I'm not a fan of Bill Moyers.  Not because I don't like him, but rather, because I don't know him.

I kind of live under a rock.  Intentionally. 

I couldn't point out Kim Kardashian on a magazine cover.  Kanye West?  I know a friend of mine thinks he's smoking hot, but I know nothing beyond that.  I couldn't name any of the actors in Big Bang Theory.

This doesn't mean I'm completely clueless, of course, but it does mean that I know very little about popular culture.  On the flip side, though, I would argue that popular culture knows very little about the news.

The real news, that is.

And that's what this piece was referring to.  Kaplan talks about how unemployment is skyrocketing, the divide between rich and poor is increasing, and we're worried about what Kanye West's baby is named.

Well, ok, that wasn't exactly what he said... but it's a pretty good example.

The phrase used was "weapons of mass distraction."  Nothing holds our attention for long.  The things that do are often trivial.  Important pieces of information get ignored.  Or simply mentioned in brief asides.

I wanted to ignore everything I read, not because I disagreed, but because I agreed too strongly.  I felt bias was getting in the way of reason.

Then an example was brought up that I couldn't ignore.
"MARTY KAPLAN: Well, the stuff that is being reported on the news tends not to be the kind of stuff that we need to know about in order to be outraged. Climate change is one of the great tests of journalism.
There was "The New York Times" headline about the first time that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million. Which "The Times" said that carbon dioxide had reached a level not seen in “millions of years.”
MARTY KAPLAN: My jaw fell. You would think that that would cause a worldwide stir. And instead, it was a one-day story, onto the next thing.
BILL MOYERS: As you know, President Obama recently made a major speech in which he announced a new plan to tackle climate change. All three cable networks turned to the president's speech, but then they cut away from it well before it was intended to end. Fox News cut away saying the remarks could be streamed online, and then they turned to a guest critical of the president." (source)
It happens a lot.  Not just with this subject, but with others, as well.  Important information gets sidelined in favor of infotainment, as it's called in this piece.

The thing is, as Kaplan points out a little later in the interview, this was the first time a sitting president has actually and truly addressed climate change as a serious issue.  He's correct about this.  When I discovered that Obama was going to deliver an entire speech about climate change I was amazed and excited.

Obama hasn't done much to gain my support, so finding that he was going to speak about climate change at Georgetown University had me overwhelmingly happy.  This was something I could actually support.  This was something that I could truly get behind.  I was so relieved that Obama was finally doing something that I was proud of him for.

But the speech, of course, was on a Tuesday.  That meant that I wouldn't actually have anything until the following Thursday.  Everyone else would have already spoken about it, and I'd have nothing new to say.

So I wrote nothing.

And that was overwhelmingly stupid, because as I mentioned in the beginning, the news outlets brushed over it.  As if that wasn't enough, though, the environmental news sources also said very little.  What did they all say?

Basic gist of all of them:  
Obama gave a speech about climate change.  He said we need to act.  Yay, President!  And in other news...


The only source that really gave more than a paragraph or two was Treehugger.com, which, coincidentally, was also the site in which I first learned he was going to do his speech.

So what was so important?

He was adamant that change is necessary.  He insisted that we have to do something before it's too late.  Most importantly...

In his speech he acknowledged that scientists have proven this over and over again.  Something that most politicians are afraid to say, and that some will even deny.

"The overwhelming judgment of science – of chemistry and physics and millions of measurements – has put all that to rest. Ninety-seven percent of scientists, including, by the way, some who originally disputed the data, have now put that to rest. They’ve acknowledged the planet is warming and human activity is contributing to it.
So the question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late. And how we answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind not just to you, but to your children and to your grandchildren.
As a President, as a father, and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act."

I don't usually like our president, to be honest, but during that speech I supported him.  Do I believe that he'll really do anything to enact significant change?  No.  Not at all.

But it's a huge step in the right direction.

Granted, some of what he said was a bunch of pretty words that mean absolutely nothing, just as you hear from all politicians, such as,

"Since 2006, no country on Earth has reduced its total carbon pollution 
by as much as the United States of America."

Pretty and worthless words because, well... we also pollute more than anyone else, thereby making the numbers pretty inconsequential.  We do have to get thrown a bone every now and then, though, so... yeah.  I can ignore this exaggeration.

He also pointed a finger at energy companies - something that politicians are generally too scared to do.
"Today, about 40 percent of America’s carbon pollution comes from our power plants. But here’s the thing: Right now, there are no federal limits to the amount of carbon pollution that those plants can pump into our air. None. Zero. We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air or our water, but power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free. That’s not right, that’s not safe, and it needs to stop. (Applause.)
So today, for the sake of our children, and the health and safety of all Americans, I’m directing the Environmental Protection Agency to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants, and complete new pollution standards for both new and existing power plants. (Applause.)"
Whether or not the EPA actually does anything is left to be seen.  It hasn't happened in a very long time, after all. The EPA brought about some pretty significant change when it was first created, though, so there is hope that the agency will protect the environment yet again.

And he took a stab at big money.  A stab that a president up for re-election would never take:
"Now, what you’ll hear from the special interests and their allies in Congress is that this will kill jobs and crush the economy, and basically end American free enterprise as we know it. And the reason I know you’ll hear those things is because that’s what they said every time America sets clear rules and better standards for our air and our water and our children’s health. And every time, they’ve been wrong."
and later:
"See, the problem with all these tired excuses for inaction is that it suggests a fundamental lack of faith in American business and American ingenuity. (Applause.) These critics seem to think that when we ask our businesses to innovate and reduce pollution and lead, they can’t or they won’t do it. They’ll just kind of give up and quit. But in America, we know that’s not true. Look at our history."
I have to admit it: That made me smile.

President Obama talked about the Keystone pipeline, as well, but in that case he stayed pretty neutral.  No big surprises there.
"Now, I know there’s been, for example, a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build a pipeline, the Keystone pipeline, that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf. And the State Department is going through the final stages of evaluating the proposal. That’s how it’s always been done. But I do want to be clear: Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. (Applause.) The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant."
I wasn't very impressed with that, but I suppose that when you're talking about making changes that big corporations don't want to hear about, you have to have at least a little neutrality.

Anyway, he showed his fangs again a little later, while talking about changes he is demanding, and yet again, what he had to say gave me a bit of hope.
"So the plan I’m announcing today will help us double again our energy from wind and sun. Today, I’m directing the Interior Department to green light enough private, renewable energy capacity on public lands to power more than 6 million homes by 2020. (Applause.)

The Department of Defense – the biggest energy consumer in America – will install 3 gigawatts of renewable power on its bases, generating about the same amount of electricity each year as you’d get from burning 3 million tons of coal. (Applause.)
And because billions of your tax dollars continue to still subsidize some of the most profitable corporations in the history of the world, my budget once again calls for Congress to end the tax breaks for big oil companies, and invest in the clean-energy companies that will fuel our future. (Applause.)"
Will it happen?  I really don't think so.  I think that's asking for too much.  But again, just putting the words out there would have an effect -  if people heard about them.

Lastly, he spoke about what is being done to protect communities against climate driven disasters.  

The President talked about fortifications that are being built in New York post-Hurricane Sandy.  He talked about helping to fund communities that seek to protect themselves against future disasters.  He even talked about opening climate data and imagery to the public to aid in risk assessment.

He also took an international step:
"Today, I’m calling for an end of public financing for new coal plants overseas – (applause) – unless they deploy carbon-capture technologies, or there’s no other viable way for the poorest countries to generate electricity. And I urge other countries to join this effort.
And I’m directing my administration to launch negotiations toward global free trade in environmental goods and services, including clean energy technology, to help more countries skip past the dirty phase of development and join a global low-carbon economy. They don’t have to repeat all the same mistakes that we made. (Applause.)"
He then went on to talk about the need for a new international agreement to reduce carbon pollutants, and followed that up with a mention of Gina McCarthy, his choice to lead the EPA (who has just recently been confirmed).

Finally, he put forth a challenge to those Georgetown students.
"Understand this is not just a job for politicians. So I’m going to need all of you to educate your classmates, your colleagues, your parents, your friends. Tell them what’s at stake. Speak up at town halls, church groups, PTA meetings. Push back on misinformation. Speak up for the facts. Broaden the circle of those who are willing to stand up for our future. (Applause.)
Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. (Applause.) Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth. And remind everyone who represents you at every level of government that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote. Make yourself heard on this issue. (Applause.)"
I'm normally not someone to sing the praises of our President.  Quite the opposite.  But I agree with those two paragraphs 100%.

I never talked about this speech because I was so certain that everyone else would do it before I got a chance.

But all I found was a bunch of asides.  We heard very little at all.

And I'm changing that now.  I'm talking now.

Late is better than never.  Don't let the important news pass you by because the media simply wants to entertain you.  You deserve more than that.  We all do.

***Read the entire transcript of the President's climate change speech at the Environmental News Service.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

About Those (Not So) Flushable Wipes

Let's talk about sewer systems!  Woooo!!!

Wait... don't run...  Please?

That really is what I want to talk about, today, but not the system itself.  Rather, I want to talk about what's placed in the sewer systems across this country... and shouldn't be.

"Flushable" wipes.

The things are great.  I'll be the first to admit it.  As a woman with a young child that very occasionally has accidents that need to be taken care of, those wipes are a godsend.  It's either that, or locating a washcloth... which is never anywhere near where it needs to be.  And let me tell you: toilet paper does not do the job in those cases.

So I like them.  But!!!

Flushing the flushable wipes is a big no-no.  It's common sense, really.  I mean, have you ever accidentally torn one of them with your fingertip?  Nope.  But I bet it has happened with toilet paper, now, hasn't it?  Admit it.

The point is, they don't come apart in the sewer system.  

Septic safe?  Those have the same problem.  They're "flushable" because they don't clog the original pipes as they get forced through.  Later, though... well, just take a look at this photo from the city of Boise, Idaho:

I don't know about you, but I can see a few of those flushable wipes in that mess, and they're still whole.

Total cloggage. 
(Is cloggage even a word?  We'll go with it.)

Don't get me wrong, there are other things that clog the city sewers, such as dental floss and kitty litter (Yep, it's true), but flushable wipes are a growing problem.  Utilities in various cities are trying to educate the community.  Some place fliers in envelopes, along with bills that ask people not to flush any wipes at all.  It's a growing concern.

Indeed, according to a USA Today article,
"A spokesman for Kimberly-Clark, which makes Cottonelle flushable cleansing cloths, says the product is designed to be flushed. They undergo extensive testing to ensure they are compatible with home and city sewer systems, Bob Brand said in an e-mail.
However, Consumer Reports tested several brands of wipes labeled flushable and found that while toilet paper disintegrated after about eight seconds, the wipes still hadn't broken down after 30 minutes." (source)
This makes one wonder just how much time was given for the wipes to break down in the lab experiments.  Think about it.  If it doesn't break down in the sewers, it won't break down once it's transported to a landfill.

Forego the flushables.  Or, at least, only use them at times of great yuckiness... and throw the things in the trash.  Not the toilet.

Or even better... use compostable ones!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Little Farmer Market: A Community Joy

At long last, I've finally made it to another farmers market!

This one is held every Tuesday morning of the season, from 9:30 to 12:00.  And this one is far different from the others I've been to in the past.

The Little Farmer Market is held at the local school in Silver Bay, MN.

I know what you're thinking.  You're saying, "What's so special about that?"  Well, the reason this farmers market is so different is that the produce that is sold there is actually grown at the school.  In a garden.  In a huge garden.

A view of the garden with a large zucchini plant in the foreground.
This is just a segment!

I got there late... as in we're-about-to-start-packing-up late, so there was very little remaining.  Some lettuce, spinach, basil, kohlrabi, and strawberries were all that was left on the tables that had been so thoroughly picked clean.

The garden was first created in 2011, according to a story about the William Kelley School Garden that I found on twoharborsmn.com.  They had received a $6000 grant from SHIP (Statewide Health Improvement Program) that enabled them to buy everything necessary to begin a garden at the school.  It even has a greenhouse so that they can start their crops a little early!

All proceeds from sales go back into the garden, which they estimate has a yearly cost of about $500.


The students also find produce grown within their own garden in the school salad bar.

How awesome is that?!

Student involvement is key, of course, so brainstorming new methods to ensure that involvement is always going to be important.

When I went to the Little Farmer Market I saw smiles.  

I saw people that were proud... and happy.  It was a place that a person would want to return to.  And not just to buy organic produce. I mean, sure.  The strawberries (organic, of course) were extraordinarily mouth-watering, and the spinach had a special zing that made toothbuds sing.

But the project, the people, were a huge draw.  They're doing something amazing, and this is the third season that they've been doing it.  It's a gift of knowledge and pride for the students, but it's also a gift to the rest of the community.

This is how change is accomplished.

With a combination of community, knowledge, and happiness.

The Little Farmer Market does exactly this.  And more.

"Welcome to the garden!" is painted onto a river rock, and laid at the entrance beside a container planter.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Heading Out Into Nature... To Use Technology?!

Yep.  You read that title correctly.

Who ever thought I'd say that, right?  We know me.  I'm the type that spends her time in nature listening to wind, feeling like I'm a part of everything around me.

So why in the world, then, was I heading off into nature to use technology?

The answer isn't nearly as wacky as you may think, and it's something that most people don't consider about rural places:

There isn't cell phone signal everywhere.

True story.

Where I'm currently at, no cell phone carrier can reach me.  The towers just can't reach here.  Oh, there's internet, but my cell is, for the most part, just a very expensive decoration here.

And that gets kind of lonely.  I've never been someone that's attached to their phone via some sort of invisible umbilical cord, but I like having the ability to talk to a friend every once in a while.  Humans are social creatures, after all.

So, I drove a few miles in order to get to Gooseberry Falls State Park, one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.

The Main waterfall, part of  the Lower Falls

And pecked at my touch screen while sitting on a bench beside such splendor. 

I never thought I'd see the day that I'd do something like that, let me tell you!

Of course, that's not all I did.  I may have driven there specifically to use my phone, but my daughter and I had a great time walking the trails, as well.  The views are extraordinary.

Looking down on the river as it breaks into small waterfalls at various points.

In the end I realized that maybe it's ok to take a distracting piece of technology into nature while you're exploring.  At least you're there, right?

And that piece of technology gave me some fun photos!

*And as an aside?  They have free wifi.  SCORE!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Fukushima is Still Leaking, but at Least Farmed Fish are Cozy.

Today I discovered an article in the Seattle Times that caught my attention.  It was an article written by Mari Yamaguchi, entitled:  Japan: Radioactive water likely leaking to Pacific.


The Fukushima power plant, which is still using jury-rigged cooling systems, is stated to still be leaking contaminants such as cesium into the waters around Japan.

We've all suspected this for some time, of course.  

There's a reason, after all, that fish along the coast of Japan are barred from being exported to other countries, and fish further out are heavily tested. You don't have to be an expert to consider this is likely. 

What is interesting, however, is that it's finally gotten the attention of the Nuclear Radiation Authority. To quote Yamaguchi's piece,
"TEPCO has said it has detected "no significant impact" on the environment. It says cesium tends to be absorbed in the soil, and denies water contaminated with that element reached the sea.
But the Nuclear Regulation Authority said Wednesday that samples from both the pit water and coastal seawater indicated that contaminated underground water likely had reached the sea.
Watchdog chairman Shunichi Tanaka said he thinks that the seawater contamination has been happening since the accident, but that it was worst early in the crisis.
"What's most important is to minimize the leak to the outside and reduce the impact on the human society," he said." (source)
This brings up another question.

What can be done?  

Where does the problem lie, exactly?  While on the surface the answer seems to be centered around the plant itself - rebuild and contain - I question that.

I look at economy and wonder if perhaps they don't have the funding to do that.  

If they don't have the funding, why don't they?  I'm sure everyone remembers the red cross donations set up specifically to help with the tsunami that caused this.  You probably even donated.

But did any of that go toward the Fukushima nuclear plant?  Who, aside from Tokyo Electric Power Company, is putting any money into fixing this problem, which effects every single person living in Japan - and therefore the world?

Well, it appears that 1 billion yen did get alotted to power plants... but only one plant, Chubu, actually grabbed that money.
"The disaster fund disclosed by Asahi Shimbun allowed any nuclear plant operator to request funding to deal with additional costs due to the reactor shutdowns. So far only one, Chubu Electric in Shizuoka has taken the funds. The company’s reactors at the Hamaoka nuclear plant were ordered to shut down after the 3-11 disaster. Part of the 19.2 million dollars given to Chubu was used to offset additional costs for non nuclear power generation and to install a boiler in a fish hatchery." (source)

Disaster funding is going toward keeping water nice and warm on a fish farm.


                   ...maybe it's just me, but it seems like putting money into keeping the Fukushima plant from spewing toxins into Japan and its waters is a much better option.  I mean, I understand that Japan's staple food is fish, but protecting the naturally occurring fish population would have a much farther reaching, longer lasting benefit.

But then again, what do I know?  

Perhaps keeping a few farmed fish nice and cozy is more appealing.  Perhaps it's better to ignore the future in order to be more comfortable in the present.

I don't think so, though...  

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Effects of Coal on Lifespan in Northern China

China's at the top of environmental news again, this morning, and just as always seems to be the case...

That's not a good thing.

So what's the problem this time?  Coal.  Specifically, the reduction of lifespan due to coal that's burned in Northern China.  To quote the Environmental News Network,
"The study, which involved researchers from MIT, China, and Israel, estimated the impacts of particulate matter from coal-powered heating on life expectancy. In the process, the authors developed a rule-of-thumb for the effects of air pollution: "every additional 100 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter in the atmosphere lowers life expectancy at birth by three years," according to a statement from MIT." (source)

Again, this is only in Northern China.  Everyone that lives South of the Huai River is doing just fine.  What's the reason for that, then, right?

It's simple.  

Northern China gets its coal boilers from the government for free.  Southern China doesn't.

As it turns out, Northern China is where their coal is mined, and the Chinese government began to provide these free coal boilers to people North of the Huai River for winter heating back in the 1950s. 

Free heat?  Living in Minnesota, I know exactly how attractive that idea is.

As mentioned in the Washington Post,
"“The original policy to provide free heating was obviously very well-intentioned,” says Greenstone [one of the study's researchers]. “But it had a large unintended consequences that were unpredictable” — not least since so few people at the time realized the large health impacts of pollution." (source)
Apparently,the average decrease in lifespan is about 5.5 years, due to the high concentration of coal particulates in the air.  Southern China is saved from this health calamity, all because they didn't recieve free boilers. 

Who knew such a good program could go so bad? 

And how does it get fixed?  Let's be realistic.  You don't just go tell a bunch of people to give up their heaters and replace them with new ones.  I mean, sure... you could do that.  The point though, is that it won't happen. It probably would happen if you were talking to the affluent, but coal miners that barely scrape by?

Not going to happen.

It seems then, that this is something that the Chinese government would have to step in and fix.  Replacement with heaters that burn cleaner fuel, perhaps? I just don't know. 

I'd hate to be the one to deal with this issue...

**study on the effects of coal particulates can be found via pdf at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

MIT's Itsy Bitsy Solar Brilliance

Is it just me, or am I rather crazy about MIT?

I mean, not only have I spoken about various MIT projects off and on, but I also have an entire post written about MIT's Open Courseware Project.

(I have to admit to slacking off on the whole Biology class taking thing, by the way...)

Anyway, as you may have guessed by now, I'm talking about MIT.  Again.

This time I blame it all on an article about solar cells that I found on Treehugger.  It's therefore not my fault that I'm raving about MIT again.  Really.  It's not.

Ok, maybe it is...

The thing is, MIT has gone and done it again.  They've gone and found yet another way to impress me.

Darn it.

So what am I so excited about?

Itsy bitsy, teeny weeny extra tiny solar cells.  Stackable.  Gorgeous.

:: cue loud cheering ::

Not interesting enough?  That's ok.  I'll take it a step further:

A group of three MIT researchers have come up with an idea for a solar panel that's only 1 nanometer thick... and stacked with solar cells. 

Let me explain that a bit more completely:  A DNA helix is 2 nanometers thick, and this is half that.

See?  I told you so!  Total awesomeness on a stick.

Stick figure holding a stick which holds a pink lollipop with the word "awesomeness" .

The team says that graphene and molybdenum disulfide are what it would be composed of.  That basically means a 1 atom thick piece of graphite (which is used to make pencil lead) and some stuff that's almost like graphite and used as a lubricant. 

That's it.

Imagine how much less space a solar panel would take up.  Imagine how light it would be.  Imagine just how much this would benefit the environment.


The efficiency of these panels isn't exactly stellar - 1-2% - but they're stackable, remember?  stack a few of these together and they can easily compete with the average solar panel. Smaller than DNA, remember?


But that's not all.  These things would be tough.  Really tough.  Just ask Jeffrey Grossman, one of the project researchers.  He says,
"An additional advantage of such materials is their long-term stability, even in open air; other solar-cell materials must be protected under heavy and expensive layers of glass. “It’s essentially stable in air, under ultraviolet light, and in moisture,” Grossman says. “It’s very robust.”" (source)
That's something that would be necessary for any power source within my Zone of Clumsiness.  Sure, you can claim that I'd never break a solar panel that's attached to my roof.  You'd say that it's protected, and I'm too short to reach it, anyway.

You'd be so wrong.

I'm a special sort of klutz.  I, therefore, need this technology.

I really, really hope they make this idea economically feasible.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Economy, Children, and the Great Outdoors... Say What?!

One of the challenges I've encountered while in a rural area is the lack of internet reliability.

This has both benefits and drawbacks. Here's a great example I encountered that's still extraordinarily fresh:

I was unable to read my normal online news, which would alerted me to the fact that last week was GO Week.

Now that I do know that it was GO Week, I don't have to worry about being distracted and lured away from outside activities... next year.

Now that I've said this, you're probably asking yourself, "What the heck is this GO Week she's referring to?"

Valid question.  I'd be asking the same.  

GO stands for Great Outdoors.  Great Outdoors week, as you've probably already guessed, is a week devoted to... well... going out and having fun in the great outdoors.  It also focuses on a central topic.

GO Week 2013 centered around "Conservation and the Outdoor Economy."
"Built on the conservation infrastructure of our nation’s protected public lands and America’s love of these special places, the outdoor economy is one of our nation’s strongest economic segments. Moreover, conserving the future of America’s Great Outdoors addresses larger economic issues, and plays a critical role in the ongoing health of our communities especially with young people." (source)
Naturally, I focused on the 'especially with young people' part.  The combination of children's health and the economy was intriguing.  How do the two relate?  I mean, obviously, the children will handle our economy in the future, but how does that relate to 'the ongoing health of our communities', and how does that apply to the environment?

I can come up with several conjectures here, but what do others have to say?  Specifically, what do those that focus on both children and the great outdoors have to say about it?

You guessed it! 

I went to my beloved Children and Nature Network to get an answer.  Upon reaching C&NN, I discovered a news snippet that led to a piece written by Christopher Mulligan of Huff Post Green, entitled, Great Outdoors America Week: Replacing Screen Time with Green Time

Mulligan reminisced about his childhood, much of which was spent playing outdoors.  He then mentioned something many of us like to forget:  Children are spending less time outside, and more time inside.

On their phones,

their computers,

the television.

The list goes on, but one thing is remarkably clear, and he saw it clearly.  We need to get outdoors as a family.  We need to focus on physical activities, be they chores or fun games.  We need to change this growing trend that will only harm their futures, as well as our own.

You may recall a previous entry of mine, in which I discussed the correlation between time spent in nature and increased creativity.  Let's look at that as it relates to the economy.  Creativity leads to innovation.  Innovation leads to progress.  Progress, in turn, leads to jobs.  Jobs fuel the economy.

And all of that, just because we allow our children to do what comes naturally:
Play in the dirt and create anything they need by using what is around them.

I mean, think about it.  

Is it really necessary to watch a movie in which a princess is saved from the evil queen when a child can simply create a princess using sticks, cast a parent as the queen, and cast him or herself as the princess's savior?

Let's face it.  We'd all prefer to be the hero rather than watch some other person do something heroic.  Why would children be any less inclined to prefer it?  If we keep children inside and occupy their time with technological devices, we're taking that away from them.

We need to give that back.

My loss of internet reliability was a great way to begin that process.  I may have missed GO Week, which ran from June 24-27 in Washington, D.C., but the decrease in technology use that accompanied that loss has ensured I've begun to take those steps naturally.

And really, GO Week should become GO Year... or even GO Life!

Don't ignore it simply because you didn't know about it on the given days.  Make the great outdoors a part of every week.  Get out there and do some gardening.  Take a hike.  Go swimming! 

Life is what you make it.  Make yours naturally wonderful!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Joy of Raised Garden Beds

And I'm gardening, again!

Ok, we all know I've been container gardening... I've mentioned that a few times.  But now I'm doing some in-ground gardening, as well.

Don't worry.  My containers are here with me, and my tomatillos are covered with brilliant yellow blooms.

several yellow tomatillo blooms on a full-sized plant.

But now I've been able to help my mother begin her garden patio.  Her patio will consist of four raised beds along the corners of a square area.  I believe she'll be using paving stones to create the platform.

So far, this is all that's been done.

one 3x3 square and one 3x6 rectangle, both black and standing roughly one foot high, arranged to create a perfect corner

There will be three more like it.  Indeed, a little birdie (named Mom) told me that I'll be out there helping to get a second bed done this afternoon.

Dimensions?  The raised bed here consists of one 3x3 square, and one 6x3 rectangle.  They're set approximately 1 foot high.  The result?

Lots of room for vegetables and herbs!  Yummers!!!

I bet you think that garden bed was filled using store bought soil... or maybe compost.

Well, the soil was actually taken from an area off behind my grandparents' garage.  Soil was deposited there after construction of my grandfather's workshop - ages ago! - and forgotten.

Big heap of half dug out soil overgrown with wildflowers and leaves.

Well, it has now been remembered. 


I mean, seriously... who wants to get their soil from a bag?  It has to be bagged up in plastic, which is produced by using petroleum, then transported to your local nursery, thereby using unnecessary fossil fuels, then emptied out, after which the bag ends up in a landfill.

Local is a much better option.  

It's free, it doesn't require extra packaging, and it's nutritious.  My mom is one smart cookie.

Anyway, after everything was ready we planted cucumber, carrot, and beet seeds, as well as two tomato transplants.

A week later, we discovered this:

A line of cucumber sprouts bursting out from the black soil.
Cucumber joy!!!

They're extraordinarily healthy and there are a lot of pollinators in the area.  You know what that means?

It means you'll be getting a blog post on how to can yummy, crunchy, perfect cucumbers in the future!  I'm thinking dill and spicy dill.  Although sweet pickles are another possibility...

What do you think?

As an aside... do you remember my itty bitty cinder block herb garden?  You could use old cinder blocks to create a garden this same size and shape - and you could plant shallow rooted herbs within the open spaces of the blocks as a bonus.

One raised bed + cinder blocks = separate zones for herbs = better use of space!

Plus... it'll keep herbs that propagate via roots (like my beloved mint) in check.


So what are you waiting for?  Go plant some homegrown joy!