Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Opportunities

I have gathered different bits of information over the past few years about this plot of land.  Though I do not know for a fact that any of my conclusions are true, but my observations are.  We have walked by this place regularly for years and have seen its evolution.  All things change and we can help direct that change for good.

First, if you can imagine, there was a house here.  The house was torn down and soon after hand made signs were put up expressing anger, sadness, injustice, and grief over what took place.  Some of the signs were written as apologies to the person that lived there.  Her home was gone and now so was she.

Very soon after all the small hand-made signs were torn down and replaced by a large city council sign:

Land Use Action Site

Proposed Development Permit

Or something like that.  Anyway, the land had been bought and what they hoped to build was another set of tightly packed, 3 story town homes, each probably being budgeted to sell for at least $500,000.  This has become pretty standard here—probably not just here.  Well, it did not take long before the sign was covered in graffiti, some of it protesting the newly proposed construction.  Fences were put up and the lot set empty for at least a year.  The next thing to happen was that the land continued to sit empty, but one day the large sign was down.  Then again, nothing.  Just an empty lot.

From the beginning you could tell that something in the neighborhood was stirring about this piece of land.  Since, we were mere walk-by observers and remained to be (it wasn’t our fight, sometimes you just know) the signs were our only guide to what was happening.  We just kept hoping the good guys would win….to me that meant the community winning!

The next thing we know, we walk by and there is a notice that the City of Seattle now owns this property.  That still could mean anything.  They could sell or they could turn it into a community space.  But, it wasn’t long before we walked by and saw that it would be a future neighborhood park!  As of right now they are still planning out the space.  There are meetings and discussions, but the lot is not longer vacant.  They have opened it up for temporary use (before the official park construction actually takes place) and it is great.  The community has very respectfully taken advantage of this opportunity.  At first it was just a rocky patch of weeds, which Finn and I played in!  But it is growing.  Now, people are growing food. There is a picnic table.  A table and chairs.  Chalk and a big wall which people of all ages draw on.  Finn and I love going there and I actually like it better than most designed public parks.  It feels like a community backyard.  I kind of think this is the way a lot of things are supposed to work.  People being involved and caring.  It gives the community an opportunity to take ownership and pride in it.

I know I could have gotten involved in this or at least used my curiosity to do some research, but I didn’t.  One thing I think we all need to know are the battles we are and are not going to fight.  We can’t fight them all and sometimes it’s just nice to go for a walk, observe, and wonder.  Remember, this is important too.  Balance.

However, when something does stir in you and pull you toward it…go after it!  There are opportunities and sometimes it works out!

Thank you for all those who created this pleasant and peaceful space.  I already have many lovely memories of time spent here.

Links for more detailed (and accurate information):

Capitol Hill Seattle Blog (CHS): Post #1 Post #2

Seattle.gov: Federal/Republican Park Info

Yahoo Groups: Federal/Republican Park

Stop Unwanted Phone Books

In Seattle if you want to stop getting unwanted phone books the city has made it very easy to accomplish this.

Go to www.seattle.gov/stopphonebooks

I just did it and it took me 2 minutes.

April 22, 2011: Earth Day

Earth Day.

This year for the first time I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day.  I never remember celebrating it growing up and I don’t know whether this is true or not, but I have always remembered thinking that all the wearing green, dying rivers green, and drinking green beer was for Americans.  And, that most American’s used it as an occasion for getting drunk.

I know it’s judgmental.

But I was born in Northern Ireland.  Most of my extended family still lives there.  We moved to America when I was young.  I am Irish, but I have no accent.  I used to have to “translate” when my mom spoke because people couldn’t understand her English through her accent.  My full name, with my maiden name, is “very Irish” as people say.  I never say that one of the interesting things about me is that I am Irish.  Growing up whenever people asked me if I was Irish I would say, “yes”…because I was and still am.  And I would always hear in response that they were also Irish, but I wanted to say, “No you’re not.  You’re American!”  Instead, I would say, “Oh.”

I know, this is a very snotty side to me.  Looking at it now I see that what I have really wanted was to hold onto my roots because I felt like I had lost them when we moved here.  I am not American, but I also felt like I wasn’t exactly Irish either.  No accent.  No history.  Very few memories of growing up in Ireland.  Americans even seemed to know more about Ireland than I did because they traveled to see and explore Ireland.  We traveled to see family that happened to live in Ireland.

This year, however, I understood the desires of Americans to hold onto their family history, their family stories, their family roots.  I came to this understanding because I wanted to pass that part of me along to my son.  I wanted him to know that part of his story, part of the history of his family, part of the blood running through his body is Irish.  And, in sharing that with him, telling him stories and checking out books from the library, I also found more of my own roots.

 

My son has the ability to completely change my perspective.  And, while I can be jaded and cynical about things.  I can also choose to see things as opportunities.  I think Earth Day is one of those things.  It can be an opportunity to reflect, to learn, to celebrate, to become aware, and to do something.  I hope that many of you will see tomorrow, Earth Day, as an opportunity for yourself and if you have them, your little ones.

Cheers!  To growing roots.

Why Compost?…Garbage Land

Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte

I am often asked why people should compost.? My general answer has been because it is better for the environment and then I usually say something about how organic materials do not break down well in landfills.? My attempt to find a better answer to this great question led me to the book Garbage Land written by Elizabeth Royte.? I want to first disclose that while I made my way through the majority of the book, I was unable to finish it before it was due to return to the library.? I will however share with you what I was able to learn from my limited reading.? Care to hear?? Well, to get your mouth watering, your mind turning, and your hands eager to make change I present you with a brief (and by no means thorough) list of reasons WHY:

  1. Limited Space:? So, when your garbage leaves your possession–as it does with your neighbors and their neighbors…–it eventually makes it way (after a few stops) to a landfill.? Now the current system encourages the public towards an out of sight, out of mind approach to garbage.? Sanitation workers come by weekly to remove garbage from our presence and after that occurs we no longer have to think about it, and because we do not have to, we don’t.? For this reason we have no comprehension of the vast amount of garbage we individually and collectively create.? We have, as a group, become disconnected from the waste process. Let us try to get reconnected. To do so we must think.? 1.? If everyone produces as much or more waste as you do AND 2.? All that waste gets put in landfills AND 3.? We know that even organic matter will not break down in your lifetime or even in many lifetimes (The book goes over why organic material doesn’t break down in landfills.? It basically has to do with the vacuum that landfills create, keeping out oxygen, a necessary component of decomposition) AND 4.? There is a limited amount of land space then, what is going to happen?? We will run out of room and the out of sight, out of mind mentality will no longer be a possibility or our means of disposal will need to be more creative.? This leads me to the next reason….
  2. Poor neighborhoods get stuck (or are paid to get stuck with) the stink.? So, it turns out that not everyone has the luxury of not being impacted by garbage.? Once, it gets put in the bin and placed on the curb it becomes public property.? Yet, it does not become the burden of all.? It often becomes the burden of those already marginalized and/or in need of financial assistance.
  3. Large amount of gas is used as fuel-inefficient sanitation vehicles transport increasing amounts of material (garbage).
  4. Fossil fuels are used to make fertilizer when compost could be used.? 5.5 gallons/acre of land (p. 125)
  5. Organic material gets mixed with toxic material and goes from having the potential of being nutrient rich soil (see #4) to being polluted by toxic substances that are also being deposited in the landfill (such as, that bottle of nail polish remover you threw out).? In some cases, depending on the design of the landfill, apples have been found intact decades after finding a “resting place” in a landfill.
  6. AND….my contribution to The List…..the cycle of life.? This is not to be taken lightly, especially given the fact that it has existed since life on Earth began.? A perfect example of this is the Amazon Rainforest whose rich biodiversity depends on the “life –> death –> decomposition –> life” cycle.? (A side note:? the soil of the Amazon Rainforest independent of this cycle is actually not all that nutrient rich.? When parts of the Amazon Rainforest are clear cut for timber and/or cattle ranches within a few years the soil is becomes dry, depleted of nutrients, and thus no longer is able to produce much vegetation.)

There you have it.? A few reasons to begin composting your organic waste, as well as incentive to decrease the amount of overall waste you produce.

As for Garbage Land, I would definitely recommend giving this book a read.? Be aware (but not discouraged) that this is no easy book to process as it is packed with information–history, research, studies, interviews, book references, etc., but Royte does a applaudable job presenting it in an interesting manner.

How can you help those sweet bees and chirpy birdies….

The Birds and Bees

The Bees:

Since the cause of colony collapse disorder (CCD) is still being debated by bee keepers, researchers, and scientists we unfortunately can do little to help with the solution.? However, we do know when these kind of crises occur, it is always the small scale operations that are hit the hardest.

So, what can you do?? Support small, local bee keepers by purchasing their products.

The Birds:

We do know the causes (and there are quite a few) of the sharp decline of common backyard birds and fortunately we are able to still act to help.? The best overall resource is the National Audubon Society.? They are a terrific organization that has been around in one form or another since the 1800′s.? This is a list of things you can do straight from their site:

Protect Local Habitat
Join local Audubon Chapters and other groups to protect and restore habitats close to home. Audubon’s Important Bird Areas program offers opportunities to save critical bird habitat, from small land parcels to broad landscapes.

Promote Sound Agricultural Policy
This has enormous impact on grassland birds and habitat. Promoting strong conservation provisions in the federal Farm Bill and Conservation Reserve Program can help to protect millions of acres of vital habitat.

Support Sustainable Forests
The Boreal Forest in the Northern U.S. and Canada is essential breeding territory for many species of birds. Federal and state legislations promoting sustainable forest management will help fight habitat loss from inappropriate logging, mining, and drilling.

Protect Wetlands
Support for local, state and federal wetlands conservation programs is essential to protect a wide array of species. Learn more.

Fight Global Warming
Declining birds populations is just one impact of global warming’s mounting threat to people and wildlife around the world. Individual energy conservation along with strong federal, state, and local legislation to cap greenhouse emissions can help to curb its worst consequences. Learn more.

Combat Invasive Species
Invasive non-native species disrupt the delicate ecological balance that sustains birds and other wildlife. Federal, regional, state, and local regulations are needed to combat this growing environmental threat. Learn more. The Audubon At Home program also offers tips for supporting birds with native plants.

The Audubon Society also has a page called Healthy Yard.? It is a great interactive picture that allows you to hover over aspects of it, such as the bird feeder and click through to find out more information, such as:

In the United States, 54 million people FEED BIRDS around their home. Tens of thousands participate in citizen science projects, conducting bird censuses in their own backyards to help ornithologists track population trends.

I found it very accessible and helpful.? It is also a great activity that you can do with your kids and then together you can pick a project to work on.? Encouraging your kids to be informed and be a part of the solution empowers them and teaches them to be actively involved in the world.? If you are looking for more birding activities to do with your children, the Audobon Society has a space on their site dedicated to children’s education.

In addition to/with emphasis on here are my own tips to keeping those crazy birds around:

  1. Condensed urban living is the way to go to combat urban sprawl.? The less land we bulldoze, cover with cement, lots of houses, and perfectly manicured lawns the better.
  2. SHARE.? Whether you live in a house or an apartment transform your yard or the area surrounding your apartment into a healthy living space for birds and other animals (again I will point you to Audubon’s Healthy Yard).? Remember that much of being a good steward and being a part of a healthy ecosystem means having biological diversity within our shared space.? It is not OK or healthy to move into a habitat once occupied by many species and transforming it into a controlled and sterile environment.? So, make room for the birds and other creatures.? We can have our space and they theirs.
  3. Do a little research on what birds are native to your area (look online or check a book out of the library).? They buy or make a bird feeder filled with food for those birds.? It is important that you keep your bird full of clean food.? Birds will come to depend on this food, especially in the winter, so please keep it stocked.? Also, do not feed birds moldy bread or seeds, this will make birds sick when they eat it and try to get or make a squirrel proof feeder.? As a side note, if you do the research of birds in your area with your kids they can begin to look out for those birds.? Encourage them to draw the birds, their feathers, the eggs, what kind of nests they have, and even what they eat.? Some kids may even want to keep a journal recording their bird encounters.

A few resources:

Books

Feeding Our Feathered Friends by Dean T. Spaulding

The Backyard Bird Feeder’s Bible by Sally Roth

Make Your Own Bird Houses and Feeders by Robyn Haus

Sites

Important Bird Areas Program

Audubon At Home

The Crafty Crow: Feed the Birds and Wild Bird Treats

Mongabay

Birds in Backyards

Mary’s View

Make and Craft have a lot of tutorials on making your own bird feeder

Build A Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder for Under $10

The birds and the bees

There is a weird rabbit guy at the Farmer’s Market and by weird rabbit guy I mean, the guy who sells honey that has the Flemish Giant rabbit. I have heard so much about this rabbit and I have never even bought honey from the guy or even gone up to his stand to peruse his goods.? I love honey, especially local honey, but I so d.r.e.a.d. getting stuck in a conversation about his giant rabbit that I am completely deterred from approaching his stand.? Thus, it was to my surprise that last Sunday as I was walking through the market the sound of his voice caused me to slow my steps (yet, despite my curiosity, habit would not allow me to bring myself to a full halt).

It was the content of his words that caught my attention?

What in fact caught my attention was that his voice which carried farther than one might hope was talking not about his rabbit, but about bees.? The sentence that almost-stopped-me-in-my-tracks-but-not-quite was, “In the past two years I have lost $91,000 worth of bees.”

What is causing the disappearance of bees?? Have you heard this question being asked?? Sitting here at 1am, the question has the feel of a Steven King movie.? Unfortunately though, it is true.? The bees are disappearing and so are backyard birds though not necessarily for the same reasons.

The bees first:

The disappearance of bees is officially called colony collapse disorder (CCD).? The peculiarity behind this phenomenon is that bee researchers don’t know what has happened to the bees, although there has been speculation that it is the result of pathogens.? However, the only known is that colonies are abandoning their hives and disappearing, leaving no trace of dead bees anywhere.? In this process the adults are leaving the hives, while the queen bee and a few younger bees in the pupa stage are left behind.? To add another puzzling clue to the mystery is the fact that no pests or other bees are invading the hives affected by CCD.? Bee losses are between 30-60% on the West Coast, while on the East Coast and in Texas there are losses of up to 70%.

The loss of honey bees does not only present problems for our honey supply.? Honey bees are a vital part of our ecosystem, particularly as pollinators.? Without bees to pollinate fruit crops we can have no fruit.? According to the USDA about 1 out of every 3 bites we consume is dependent upon honey bees for pollination.? In addition to the foundational loss of honey and food that we rely on, the structure within which those products are traded will also be negatively impacted.? Unfortunately, the decline of honey bees will cause the global economy to suffer.? While honey bees are not completely gone, the $14 billion worth of seeds and crops pollinated by honey bees annually in the United States alone will certainly be affected.

Some possible causes of the disappearance of honey bees are: pesticides, stress put on the bees by a shorter off-season, stress of having their colonies transported across the country, mites, insecticides, or a yet unidentified pathogens.

The Birds:

Audubon’s unprecedented analysis of forty years of citizen-science bird population data from our own Christmas Bird Count plus the Breeding Bird Survey reveals the alarming decline of many of our most common and beloved birds.

Since 1967 the average population of the common birds in steepest decline has fallen by 68 percent; some individual species nose-dived as much as 80 percent. All 20 birds on the national Common Birds in Decline list lost at least half their populations in just four decades.? National Audubon Society

Some of the reasons that are thought to be causing the decline in a wide range of common backyard birds are:

  • urban sprawl: the habitats of these birds (grasslands, forests, and wetlands) are being destroyed as an increasing amount of vegetation is destroyed and replaced with homes, non-indigenous landscaping, strip malls, parking lots, highways, and energy development.? The ecosystem that these birds once thrived in has been transformed, in no time at all, into an inhospitable environment.
  • Climate Change: climate change is changing the seasonal calendar.? The internal clocks of the birds have not been notified of this shift.? Thus, if Winter lasts a couple weeks or a month longer than they biologically anticipated then the birds and their chicks are unable to sustain themselves without the nourishment provided by Spring.? Additionally, in some northern climates:

Greater Scaup and other tundra-breeding birds are succumbing to dramatic changes to their breeding habitat as the permafrost melts earlier and more temperate predators move north in a likely response to global warming. Boreal forest birds like the Boreal Chickadee face deforestation from increased insect outbreaks and fire, as well as excessive logging, drilling, and mining.

  • Intensification of Agriculture: farming in general has a negative impact on animals, including birds, as land is stripped in order to grow crops and again, as tractors sweep through to harvest.? As the demand for food rises with the growing population more land is needed to grow food.? Although all farming has its animal casualties, industrialized farming is especially harmful.? The single production of crops has a negative impact on the ecosystem as it limits biodiversity.? Additionally, the enormous quantities of pesticides and herbicides that are used in this form of farming are devasting to the life surrounding the farm.? Birds (and other animals) will invariably ingest these toxins which are incredibly harmful to their health and life.

Sweatshop Free/Fair Trade Shopping

I was asked in response to my post yesterday to provide some suggestions as to what some of the best/worst companies to support are with regard to fair trade or to provide a resource.? Co-op America’s Repsonsible Shopper is probably the best resource that I can point you to.? It allows you to search for companies and get information about their environmental and social track record.? It is not a comprehensive list, but they are always adding new companies to their directory. Gap (this includes Old Navy and Banana Republic), Wal-Mart are some of the most notoriously bad companies as far as fair trade practices go.? Gap has repeated accounts of terrible working conditions overseas, including employing children as young as 10 years old in their sweatshops.? Some of the biggest complaints against Wal-Mart involve its treatment of workers in America.? According to reports, thousands of their employees are underpayed and rely on government assistance to meet their basic needs.? Nike is another traditionally bad company to support, however, they have been making a concerted effort to change their overseas labor practices. They recently have been more transparent about the locations of their factories and are being independently monitored.

Co-op America also has a great article on sweat shop free clothing.

Here is a list of some basic tips:

  1. Buy local.? Not only does this support your local economy, but you get to know the person creating the product and you can ask them as many questions as you like about their practices.? This goes for anything from food to clothing.? The clothing will more than likely be more expensive because it is handmade, but it guarantees that the product that wasn’t made in a sweatshop.? Etsy is a fun site to check out for handmade goods.
  2. Buy used products.? Go to a thrift store or local consignment shop and look around.? You will find some great deals.
  3. Research the companies you are buying from.
  4. Look for a UNITE label.

It is important to note that none of these can guarantee that the entire product was made in a fair trade facility.? Most products are assembled from pieces made all over the world and a Made in America label could mean that only the finishing touches were put on in America (like buttons).? However, following these guidelines is still important.? It is just not a perfect solution to the social justice issues of labor practices.

Here are a few more helpful resources in your search for responsible shopping:

No Sweat Apparel

Co-op America’s National Green Pages

Green Home’s Products Page

Fair Green Trade

The Green Earth Directory

Finally, I would like to leave you with an interesting article on Portland, OR, a city that is attempting to go sweatshop free.

Apple goes green with new aluminium MacBooks

Apple unveiled it’s new campaign to promote it’s new line of laptop computers. They call it the greenest notebook Apple has ever created. They have also released their Environmental Report for 2008 which outlines and gives environmental information about their products and facilities.

Some highlights about the new line of MacBooks and MacBook Pro laptops (information provided by Apple).

  • Arsenic-free glass
  • Mercury-free LED-backlit display
  • Brominated flame retardant-free internal components
  • PVC-free internal cables
  • Highly recyclable aluminum and glass enclosure
  • Up to 41 percent smaller packaging

Apple has taken a lot of heat over it’s environmental practices in the past. A couple of years ago they pledged to remove PVC and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) from all of their products by the end of 2008. CEO Steve Jobs says that they are on track to meet their goals.

It’s pretty cool when a company that has as much attention and mindshare as Apple makes these claims and then meets the goals they’ve laid out. This, along with many other reasons, is why our household is committed to buying Apple products.

Seattle City Council approves 20 cent fee for plastic bags

The Seattle City Council approved a proposal (by a 6-1 margin) that will charge shoppers 20 cents for each plastic shopping bag they use. This is great news. The fee will go into effect in January.

Opponents of this proposal have said that it taxes those who cannot afford to purchase reusable bags. So to alleviate that cost, the city of Seattle will distribute reusable paper bags to all residents, also giving lower income residents additional bags to use.

The council also passed a ban on plastic foam food containers that is a two-phase project. The first phase will address take out containers and it will take effect in January as well. Restaurants will not be allowed to use plastic foam in their takeout containers. The second phase will take effect July 2010 and focuses on all plastic food containers and utensils. Businesses will be able to use only recyclable or biodegradable products for their food containers.

I’m glad to see that our city is taking steps to reduce the unnecessary waste produced by convenience. If you live in a place that is using plastic bags and you feel like you want to make changes to that, Bring Your Own Bag is a great organization that is fighting for that. They also recently posted to their blog specifically addressing the situation in North America.

Informative New Solar Energy Report

In June Co-op America and Clean Edge Inc. released an assessment of the potential of solar energy in the next fifty years entitled Utility Solar Assessment Study. The 75 page report is detailed enough to include data and evidence to support it’s claims while refraining from being written in a dry, unengaging fashion.

The report’s analysis includes a general introduction to solar energy, including CSP (concentrated solar power), PV (Photovoltaics) technology and the electric utility industry. The report goes on to give a comparison of projected solar energy costs per megawatt with fossil fuel costs. I found this section especially intriguing because the solar cost projections given here, which are based on progressions in similar computer technology and the annuals decreases in solar energy costs in the last 20 years, are what will inevitably draw electric utilities toward major solar investments. Solar Utility investment as well as updating an aging, one way electrical grid are the greatest obstacles that stand in the way of major U.S. solar development according to solar energy experts. Presently, .1% of U.S. energy consumption is produced from solar energy, but Co-op America and Clean Edge Inc believe that this could reach 10% by 2025 if solar energy continues to grow at a rate of 40% each year as it has for the last decade. It’s an excellent report and I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in solar energy.

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