There are some interesting activities coming up in the next week.
Organic bottled tea producer Honest Tea will bring “The Great Recycle” event to Washington, D.C., April 17 and 18 at Union Station.
The recycling and educational event will feature either Honest Tea’s original 30-foot tall or brand-new 12-foot tall recycling bin. Honest Tea encourages people to trade in their empty beverage containers for items such as T-shirts, yoga mats, gift certificates, bicycles, and more. The more bottles people bring to recycle, the better the reward.
The efforts to require labeling of genetically engineered foods took a giant step forward this week in Pennsylvania with the introduction of Senate bill 653.
Introduced by Sen. Daylin Leach, of Montgomery County, and co-sponsored by 12 other senators, the bill has the backing of national and local organizations, food cooperatives, organic farmers, environmentalists and food justice proponents.
But don’t get your hopes up that labeling requirements for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will change anytime soon here. The push for GMO labeling is still growing and there are deep pockets that will fight this and other measures tooth and nail.
“I really don’t think anyone expects the bill to pass this time around, but it’s the kind of thing that will build momentum each time it’s introduced,” said Brian Snyder, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. “More likely, this effort, along with similar efforts going on in several other states at the same time, will push the federal government to seek a resolution that would keep the labeling rules the same everywhere.”
It’s a David vs. Goliath case that could have ramifications for all Americans.
Indiana soybean farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman will take on agricultural giant Monsanto next week in a case before the Supreme Court. The 75-year-old farmer is one of the few to challenge Monsanto, which has sued hundreds of small farmers in the United States in recent years in attempts to protect its patent rights on genetically engineered seeds that it produces and sells.
The case centers on patent law but could decide whom, if anyone, should control the rights to living organisms.
Nearly 500,000 spectators are descending on Scottsdale, Ariz., this week for the PGA’s Phoenix Open. And for the second straight year there will be no trashcans at the popular golf event.
Tournament sponsor Waste Management is again making the event a “Zero Waste Challenge” and is setting the bar about as high as it can go.
Since taking over the sponsorship of one of the PGA’s most popular tournaments in 2010, Waste Management has set the standard for sustainability in sporting events.
That year, the company diverted 62 of the tournament’s waste from reaching landfills.
About one-third of all the food produced in the world, some 1.3 billion tons each year, is thrown away.
Yet, nearly 1 billion people go to bed hungry every night, and at least 2 billion more people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies.
A new interactive website, Food Tank: The Food Think Tank, launched last this week is tackling that contradiction and a host of other food-related issues in this nation and around the world.
Described as a bold new voice to push for health-based agriculture, Food Tank is dedicated to alleviating hunger and poverty, stemming the tide of obesity, and improving nutrition.
It’s an ambitious goal for energetic founders Danielle Nierenberg and Ellen Gustafson, who hope the site becomes a go-to resource for food and agriculture related issues and helps bring together food producers, consumers, policy-makers and activists.
Today (Jan. 7) I start my first “Meatless Monday.”
While I typically go days here and there without eating meat, they are somewhat by chance and not particularly because of a conscience effort. I do enjoy steak, chicken, pork, sausage – the list goes on – and I’ve never made an effort to become a vegetarian.
But I’ve also known for a long time that the traditional meat-production industry is responsible for a significant source of carbon dioxide emissions, as well as contributing to other environmental damage and linked to human heart disease.
A few years ago, the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization published its “Livestock’s Long Shadow” report which found that 18 percent of greenhouse gases were attributable to the raising of animals for food. Some accounts since then have that number even higher.
Apparently, it takes 100 times more water — up to 2,500 gallons — to produce a pound of grain-fed beef than it does to produce a pound of wheat. And nearly 45 percent of the world’s land is either directly or indirectly tied to livestock production, with forests around the world being cleared to create new land for grazing animals or growing feed crops.
So this year, I’ve decided to put my stomach where my mouth is and join the “Meatless Monday” movement. Initiated by Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health some 10 years ago, the movement has taken off recently in the U.S., tied to efforts pushing for a healthier population and climate change solutions.
A host of celebrities have signed on in support of the movement, including Jessica Simpson, Oprah and Paul McCartney. Celebrity chefs Michael Symon, Diane Kochilas of Greek Food TV, and Asata have also joined.
The clincher for me was when I saw John Tesh’s name among those going meatless on Mondays.
But seriously folks. Considering the amount of land, water, fertilizer, oil and other resources it takes to produce meat, cutting back is a no-brainer for anyone serious about their personal carbon footprint.
Giving up my cold-cut sub or pork chops once a week really shouldn’t be much of a hurdle. It’s more a question of getting into the habit and remembering. I am afraid I’ll be halfway finished that sausage, egg and cheese muffin one Monday morning next month when it will dawn on me I’ve slipped.
But I expect it will finally force me to come up with some tasty vegetarian recipes to use on a regular basis. I’ll also try to purchase more locally grown and grass-feed beef that somewhat mitigates the overall impact of my meat consumption.
Who knows, it might even lead to a few more meatless days in the week for me.
For more about going meatless on Mondays, to to http://www.meatlessmonday.com, http://www.meatfreemondays.com/helptheplanet/ and http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-a-livable-future/projects/MMP_old
I saw the film “Chasing Ice” over the weekend at the Charles Theater in Baltimore.
The movie chronicles environmental photographer James Balog’s efforts to document the loss of glaciers in Iceland, Alaska and Montana over a three-year period.
The film is not only tightly edited and visually breathtaking, it dramatically drives home the devastating effects of climate change.
Through time-lapsed photography, Balog captures the retreat of glaciers that have (had) been around for hundreds of thousands of years. Remarkable footage of massive ice sheets calving into the Atlantic and expanding streams of water undercutting the ice show why sea levels are rising and the planet’s ecosystem is out of balance.
At one point, Balog sticks his hand in the muck left after the retreat of a glacier, into a combination of industrial soot, residue from forest fires and algae. It is the grim results of more than a hundred years of burning fossil fuels.
The movie also shows Balog’s dedication to capturing this change on film. He first photographed Arctic glaciers in 2005 as part of a National Geographic assignment. He was so overwhelmed by the extent of the ice retreat he decided to assemble a team and expedition called Extreme Ice Survey to set up cameras in some of the harshest conditions of the world to better document the effects.
Balog’s perseverance, through sub-zero temperatures, equipment failures, dangerous situations and knee surgeries, is inspiring and enough to make the most avid environmentalist feel a little guilty.
In the end, Balog’s motive is simple; To gather undeniable evidence of the changes to our planet in the hope to bring us together to stop this disaster.
The evidence is there in plain sight. Now it is up to us.
Remember the Keystone XL pipeline? Well, the real decision on the 1,700-mile pipeline proposed to carry oil from the tars sands of Alberta, Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast will likely be made early next year.
The U.S. State Department in late 2011 ordered a review of alternate routes to avoid putting large freshwater reserves located in Nebraska at risk and conveniently remove the issue from the presidental election for President Obama.
But pipeline expansion is expected to come up again in the first few months of the new year and environmentalists will have to gear up for battle once again.
Because extracting, transporting and processing the sticky oil from the tar sands emits three times as much carbon dioxide than typical oil production methods, it is considered devastating to efforts to limit climate change.
Bill McKibben and other environmental leaders say building the pipeline, which would allow free flow to overseas markets, would be the nail in the coffin for climate change.
A new report, entitled “Crude Behavior: TransCanada, Enbridge, and the Tar Sand Industry’s Tarnished Legacy,” by the National Wildlife Federation slams the energy companies involved in the pipeline for their disregard for the environment and their mistreatment and bullying of landowners, communities and Native American nations.
The report calls out TransCanada and Enbridge, major architects of the proposed pipeline, for their history of influence peddling, wildlife deaths, oil spills and greenwashing their environmental actions.
For the full report go to www.nwf.org/crudebehavior. It is why billion-dollar energy companies have a bad reputation.
Aside from the presidential race, there is another vote going down on Nov. 6 that will likely have national implications.
California voters will decide on Proposition 37, a measure that would require labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in foods.
If approved, California would be the first state to require GMOs to be labeled, setting the stage for major changes in the nation’s food production industry. Europe, China and dozens of other nations already require such transparency labeling.
Proposition 37, or the “Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act,” is in response to growing concern by consumers about the food they eat and how it is grown. California voters petitioned to force “the right to know” measure on the November ballot. If passed, labeling of all GMOs would become mandatory and those products that have been genetically engineered could not be advertised as “natural.”
Since the first genetically modified tomato was sold in the United States in 1994, GMOs have become a primary component of many processed foods like bread, cookies, crackers, and salad dressings, which are made with genetically modified soybean and cottonseed oils, and corn syrup. Some “fresh foods” such as sweet corn, sweet potatoes, squash, and beets are also genetically engineered. GMO crops now constitute roughly 80 percent of the nation’s food supply.
Proponents of GMOs say the process helps protect crops against pests and herbicide absorption and keeps food costs down.
Those against GMOs cite a growing body of research that suggest genetically engineered foods contribute to childhood allergies and autism and certain types of cancers. They also point to biodiversity loss and the emergence of “super bugs” and “super weeds.”
Russia has suspended all imports and use of GMO corn after a recent French study linked Monsanto’s genetically engineered corn to cancer.
California is the eighth largest economy in the world and food producers and suppliers big and small will be forced to adjust their practices if the labeling requirement passes. Other states are also likely to follow California’s lead.
Consequently, the proposition is running into stiff opposition from corporate agribusiness, which is outspending the pro-labeling side by more than 8 to 1 in an effort to defeat the measure. Firms such as Monsanto and Dupont have spent more than $34 million to try and persuade voters they don’t need to know what they’re eating.
The labeling would not say the foods aren’t safe, but would simply let consumers make an informed choice. That is not too much to ask.
What the large corporations that dominate our food industry seem to be afraid of is not so much the cost of labeling but the public finding out the truth. Without transparency there is no accountability.
And in the end, it’s what you don’t know that can hurt you.
Dallas is the latest major North American city to announce plans to reach “zero waste.”
City officials recently announced a plan to recycle or redirect more than 80 percent of the city’s 2.2 million tons of annual municipal waste.
City leaders have given themselves until 2040 to reach that goal, but at least they are moving in the right direction.
Los Angeles, Seattle, Boulder, Colo., Palo Alto, Calif., and Austin, Texas, all are working toward “zero waste,” which would not only save precious landfill space but millions in disposal costs.
The term “zero waste” is a little misleading. No one expects to eliminate every piece of trash headed for landfills and incinerators. But through serious recycling, composting and reduction efforts, municipalities can get pretty close.
Dallas’ goal is to redirect 84 percent of its garbage currently carted off to landfills, while Austin’s goal is to redirect 90 percent.
Those aren’t pie in the sky numbers, especially given the nearly 30 years to reach them.
San Francisco has set the standard for waste diversion, reaching a 77 percent diversion rate, meaning only 23 percent of its waste gets hauled to the landfill. The rate is far greater than the overall 32.1 percent nationally that is recycled or diverted.
San Francisco promotes its program as an overall environmental effort, not just waste management but as waste reduction, reuse, recycling and energy efficiency.
It proves that significant waste reduction is very possible, and people just need the proper resources, education, and policy in order to make it a reality.