Talking the talk, walking the walk, chapter 6I

Mar 31 2014 • Posted by

My internship at the SouthCoast Energy Challenge has opened my eyes and caused me to deal with my own energy-wasting habits.  It has also helped me to see how much I have in common with others who find it difficult to change their old ways.   I have been very successful in being less wasteful about food this week.  My plastic bag use has been greatly reduced and I am avoiding packaged foods for fresh ingredients or minimally packaged food products.   I am in the habit of checking the back of the box to check the portion size, calorie count, salt and sugar content.  Now I also consider the package itself.   Can I recycle it?  Is there a better and less wasteful choice?

I have been humbled as I have struggled to keep my word about reducing food waste.   There have been many times when I get very cranky and wonder if all this extra effort is worth it.   Hey, life hasn’t been easy recently.   I’m tired, stressed.   I don’t have the time and energy to be tackling energy savings.  I can see where that thinking is taking me — and I remind myself that it may be tough but being energy efficient is essential to my goal of living a happier and healthier life.   I have read how our wasteful energy use is destroying our planet.   Even though I don’t want to bother at times, I cannot ignore how my habits are contributing to our collective willful blindness about our energy use.   It helps me to keep on trying because we all need to do our part and how the aggregation of all our individual energy-savings habits will make us all healthier and happier.   It will also help to save the planet.

This has helped me to connect with people when I encourage them to sign up for the Energy Challenge, home energy assessments and solar evaluations.  Yes,  we all want to save money on our energy bills but, as I talk to people, we agree that we also want to protect our beautiful South Coast environment.   We want a better world and are ready to sacrifice to make it happen.   This gives me that hopeful boost that enables me to get past my resistance to fight on.

 

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Michael Broadbent’s Efficient Dorm – Week 4

Mar 24 2014 • Posted by

This week, we aren’t really going to talk about my sustainability goal.  I’m pretty sure all one of you reading this are already quite familiar with my struggles of stagnation, and nothing has really changed since last week.  Instead, we’re going to talk about CORN. KING CORN.

King Corn is a documentary following the decision of two guys who want to grow an acre of corn to see why so much corn is in our diet these days.  Not because we eat a lot of corn itself,  but because of corn syrup and other food additives made from corn.  As a result, we’re essentially “made” of corn, since most of the cells in our body are made from what we eat.  (It’s a little disingenuous to word it that way, since some of the atoms in our body came from the atoms in corn, and beyond a very basic chemical level no longer resembles corn in any way…)

The film showed the usage of corn in the livestock industry.  A lot of our beef comes from corn-fed cows and cows actually cannot survive for very long on a diet of just corn.  Over time, they get sicker and sicker until they can barely move and, eventually, succumb to death. However, since corn is cheap, cattle are fed nothing but corn for up to one year before slaughter.  This even makes the resulting beef more unhealthy.  I found it somewhat surprising that cows were able to last even a year on a purely corn diet.  Since corn is something they were never meant to eat, I would normally expect the negative impacts to appear much faster.

Corn syrup is interesting in a different way.  It’s bad for us, yeah, but not in the “slowly poisoning us” kind of way a lot of other food additives are.  It’s just really sugary and fatty.  I actually felt somewhat relieved at that, which says something about the state of food and nutrition in our country today.  I was actually happy that something was only really unhealthy in the normal sense, and not actively killing me as the days go by.

So, long story short, it turns out corn is evil now.  Who knew, right?  Even vegetables are being turned against us.  I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, considering what potatoes have done to our diet.  I wish there could be one industry where the machinations of an evil corporation weren’t actively ruining everything for everyone, but I suppose that’s a bit too much to ask for.

Sadly, “not eating corn” isn’t really feasible (unless I go on a strictly organic diet, which could be problematic in other ways), so the only real form of protest I have is writing negatively about it on the internet.  Better than nothing, I suppose.

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Local Environmental Action’s 2014 Conference

Mar 24 2014 • Posted by

On March 2, 2014, I attended the Local Environmental Action Conference which was held at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. Both the Massachusetts Climate Action Network and the Toxics Action Center hosted this event. The Massachusetts Climate Action Network (MCAN) is an organization that coordinates the work of locally organized groups across Massachusetts fighting the climate crisis. The Toxics Action Center’s mission is to “work side-by-side with communities, providing you with the skills and resources needed to prevent or clean up pollution at the local level.” This event occurs every year and this was my first year attending, but certainly not my last.

We started the day with our first keynote speaker, Teri Blanton, a fellow of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and member of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council. She explained the issue of mountaintop removal in Kentucky which she has been working on for over 30 years. I had never heard of mountaintop removal before this conference. To explain it in layman’s terms, it occurs when coal companies run out of coal underground and under the mountains, so they resort to utilizing the small amounts of coal in the top of the mountain. There are only thin strips of coal located in the mountain tops, but if the coal companies see coal they’ll do anything to harvest it. They clear cut all the trees and shrubs off of the mountaintop, then burn it. Using explosives to blow off the top of the mountain causes toxic particulates to end up in the air. The coal companies use harsh toxic chemicals to separate the coal from the soil. These chemicals end up in the water, making the water toxic for people in the surrounding communities to drink, bathe, cook with, etc. After listening to Teri Blanton, I learned what an atrocity the people of Kentucky and ultimately the entire country is facing. Teri Blanton is an amazing woman who has the charisma that everybody in the room could feel and it was good to know that she will continue with her amazing work to end mountaintop removal.

The first workshop that I attended was entitled “Mission Possible: Zero Waste Communities” and was presented by Brooke Nash, branch chief of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, and Christin Walth, project manager for Toward Zero Waste Newburyport. Brooke Nash emphasized that if a product can’t be reused or recycled, it should have never been made in the first place. I definitely agree because it really brings up the issue of plastic bags and Styrofoam products. She went on with a very technical breakdown of waste production in Massachusetts. She talked about how effective Pay As You Throw (PAYT) trash programs are and how there is a direct correlation to an increase in recycling among towns. She went on to explain all of the benefits of the Pay As You Throw program in towns. Christin Walth spoke next and she focused on organic waste disposal. She opened a lot of our eyes by explaining how food waste accounts for 25% of the waste that we produce. Given this, she explained how our state legislation recently passed an Organic Waste Disposal Ban which will be implemented in October of 2014. This would ban businesses and institutions from throwing more than one ton of organic waste per week in the trash. It was made very clear that organics are the key to living a zero waste lifestyle. To sum up their presentation, they stated that moving towards zero waste is “an evolution, not a revolution” which was a great way to conclude.

The next workshop that I attended was entitled “Sharing Our Resources: Co-ops, Time Banks and Peer-to-Peer Renting” and was presented by Katherine Fisher, Mike Brown, and Judy Bennett. Katherine Fisher talked about her new three-person solar company that she has been working on for the past few years. She taught everybody about co-ops and explained how they work. Mike Brown is the co-founder of GearCommons, a sharing website that focuses on outdoor equipment. He explained how his business works and what led to its development. Brown also stressed and brought awareness to how important sharing is – environmentally and financially. The last speaker, Judy Bennett, talked about the work that she has been doing for Time Trade Circle. The way Time Trade Circle works is that someone does work for someone else and gets online credits. You can then spend your credits by having someone else work for you.

In the afternoon, we had our second keynote speaker, Robin Chase, the founder and CEO of Buzzcar, co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar, and founder of GoLoco. Robin Chase talked to us about how she has shifted her life focus to bringing awareness to climate change. She gave us a bone-chilling statistic that by the 2060s, the earth will increase in temperature by seven degrees Fahrenheit, but on land, it will increase by eleven degrees Fahrenheit. She explained how worried she is for her three children and their future. She also wanted people to remember that climate change is going to affect them, as well as their children. The three key points that she wanted everybody to leave with, and focus on, is the importance of energy, consumption, and community.

The last workshop that I attended was entitled “What we can (and must) do about our massive food waste problem” and was presented by Randi Mail and Elise Vergnano. They presented all of the different ways that organic waste can be disposed of other than in your trash. We found out that residential waste accounts for 60% of all waste and commercial waste accounts for the other 40%. They showed how municipal waste is only the tip of the iceberg since manufacturing waste is seventy times greater than municipal waste. Then we learned how awful incinerators are for our environment. They are more polluting to our environment than coal burning plants. This was surprising to me and made think that we should be shutting down all incinerating plants before coal burning plants. Idealistically, they should all be shut down immediately and replaced with alternative forms of energy. One of their shocking statistics was that 40% of food produced in the United States is wasted: from the source and all the way down to your home. Massachusetts produces one million tons of food waste annually and only 10% of that waste is diverted from landfills. Regarding the Commercial Organics Ban that is supposed to be implemented this October, they showed an ideal form of composting that is being implemented in Cambridge, MA, beginning in April of 2014. Cambridge is starting a curbside composting program where everybody receives totes that they put out every week to be collected by composting trucks.

This was my entire day at the Local Environmental Action Conference. Everybody was able to choose which workshops they went to and those were the workshops that I chose. I would highly recommend that all environmentalists and frankly, anybody that cares about our future, should attend this annual event.

This is the website for the conference: http://localenvironmentalaction.org/

 

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Portable Solar Panel

Mar 24 2014 • Posted by

I wanted to share this great solar product that I just purchased, Solar Restore. It is a small portable solar panel for charging USB powered devices. It can be attached to a backpack so that you can charge your cell phone or iPod as you walk. For me, this is a great solution for campers. One thing that annoys me when I’m camping is the sound and smell of a car engine running for fifteen to thirty minutes, so that a cell phone can be charged. This portable solar panel would greatly reduce both noise and air pollution for everyone trying to enjoy the great outdoors.

Overall, this is a perfect way to reduce the use of electricity needed to charge any electronic device with a USB port. I highly recommend this solar product. It is well worth the fifteen dollars!

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Collecting the Water You Don’t Use (continued)

Mar 24 2014 • Posted by

I have been great at collecting the cold water I don’t use for plants. But even though the process is easy, some members of my family still neglect to do it. Maybe they don’t find it attractive to use an old, ugly milk bottle to store the water for better use. From my observations, my grandmother and I are the only ones using this water conservation method. I’ve been doing this simple task regularly, but my real goal was to get my family to do so as well. This feels like a failure because I use my family as a test for what society is willing to put up with. I just have to re-evaluate and think of something that would interest them in storing water. Maybe I could buy decorative matching watering pots.

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King Korn: My Response

Mar 24 2014 • Posted by

King Korn is a documentary that anyone who eats things other than what comes directly from the security of their own backyard should watch. With that said, I’m pretty sure that covers just about anyone. It’s really a shame that people seem to have less and less control over their food choices. The industrialization of large-scale food harvesting and preparation have lead Americans, along with other citizens of developed countries, to grow the economy and boost production. This is great, but there comes a point when people need to question how much is too much? How much are people willing to sacrifice (their health and nutrition) in exchange for cost of production?

This film made it very apparent to me that people and corporations are willing to completely lose sight over the things that make them and their valued customers healthy, if they can achieve growth or save money along the way.  Saving money will allow customers to spend their money on other things to make their life “great.”  I wonder how people are able to enjoy these things in life if they are medically and mentally unhealthy after consuming cheap, highly processed, and nutrition-deficient food?

This is where my sustainability goal comes in to play. I want to find out what it means for my body physically as I begin to avoid foods that are not only deficient in nutrients, but come with a high carbon output. Pretty much anything processed means it takes more energy to produce it, ultimately resulting in higher carbon emissions. Everything, from the tractors that harvest genetically-modified corn, the factories that produce products like high fructose corn syrup, and the slaughterhouses that warehouse cattle, add to a packaged item’s carbon footprint. Pretty much anything you consume out of an individualized package has a story behind it of how it got to that point.

By avoiding consumption of these things, I’m not only creating a lot less waste but lessening the demand for processed foodstuffs. My body is benefiting and so is the environment. I just hope more people are able to hop on the bandwagon. It hasn’t exactly been easy to start eating healthier, but I’m noticing some changes, mainly changes with the amount of money being spent on junk food.  I don’t think my consumption of junk food is dramatic enough for my body to feel healthier, but I’m hoping that that is coming next.

I’ve been pretty bad about getting Frosty’s at my school’s Wendy’s every so often, but now whenever I eat beef or dairy products I imagine the plight of those cornfed cattle. I imagine the amount of disgusting, sawdust-like corn they eat, and imagine it going into my body. That’s enough to discourage me from eating it.  Yick. Thank you, Diana, for encouraging me to sit through that documentary! It was really difficult to stomach at times, but I feel that it will assist me in achieving my goals of a healthier environment and a healthier lifestyle. My body thanks you.

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Is That a Hamburger or a Corn?

Mar 24 2014 • Posted by

Upon recently watching the documentary, King Corn, I realized very quickly how much corn is in our everyday diet. This film pointed out how corn ends up as different by-products in foods, how inexpensive it is to grow it, and how much surplus is grown as well. One fact, however, disturbed me the most throughout the film. The cows that are bred to become meat to feed the U.S. are fed on a strict grain (corn) diet. It is inexpensive, make the cattle fatter even quicker, and therefore reduces the cost of beef.

What most people don’t realize is that cattle are not supposed to be on a grain diet eating that much corn for as long as they are. A cow’s stomach needs to be at a pH of 7 for it to be normal and healthy. When a cow is on a corn diet the acidity level skyrockets and causes acidosis in the stomach. Now that the cow is sick, it requires medication, which raises the likelihood of the meat to contain antibiotics. Grain-fed diets also increase the risks of E.Coli in the animal. So not only is the cow suffering from this diet but it is creating potential risks for its consumers.

That isn’t even the sad part about this whole situation. The fact that fast-food companies are the top users of corn or corn by-products as fillers or sweeteners for their food is the shocking part. They have corn in their hamburgers, they use corn oil for their french fries, there is even high fructose corn syrup in their breakfast sandwiches! The overuse of corn in  meat and other products is one of the leading factors in risks for diabetes, obesity, cancer, and heart problems in the U.S.

Both Americans and the cattle we raise deserve better! We need better products, whether it be the corn or the meat. It’s a never-ending cycle of bad nutrition and blindsided individuals. So think twice before you bite down into your “100% beef” hamburger patty.

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South Carolina = A Whole New World

Mar 24 2014 • Posted by

During my recent visit to Hartsville, South Carolina, I experienced a whole new atmosphere. Not only were the people friendlier, their clean way of living was unique as well. I saw a lot more recycling in that small town than I have seen in mine back home.

There was a waste system set up in the school so that each dorm had one trash basket for regular trash and one for recyclable items. The cool thing was that if the trash bin was full and the recycle bin was empty the students would get a warning. My friend – who I was visiting – told it me it was the school’s way of keeping students on their toes to remind them to recycle.

To me, this is a great idea. Everyone keeps saying that college students and high school students are this country’s future, so why not start with us when it comes to saving this country from pollution?

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Two Easy Ways to Conserve Water

Mar 24 2014 • Posted by

My family likes to take advantage of any opportunity to save resources. Here are easy and simple ideas to try:

Take a pitcher, old milk gallon or even watering pot that you don’t normally use and place it by any sink or shower. While you are running the faucet and waiting for it to warm up to a certain temperature, use the container you’ve placed by the sink or shower to collect the water that is too cold and would end up running down the drain. Use that water to water plants or use it for something else.

Another way to conserve water may seem odd, but has been surprisingly successful for me. I take a Gatorade bottle (any similar plastic bottle will work) and fill it up with water.  I then take the back lid off of my toilet so that I can place the bottle in the corner or in a secure tight space so it doesn’t move. When the toilet is used it will fill the back compartment with water until an apparatus signals the water level is high enough. The Gatorade bottle will displace 20 oz. of water, saving that much with every flush. This water savings will add up; plus, you’re not throwing away a plastic bottle but putting it to good use.

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Talking the talk, walking the walk, chapter 5

Mar 24 2014 • Posted by

Changing old habits always seems like two steps forward, one step back for me … and I think it’s a universal challenge.  I’m feeling good when I remember to take my shopping tote into the supermarket and purchase groceries without a lot of packaging.  I cook a healthy meal at home and generate little waste.   I’m on my way to a more sustainable future.   Not so fast because the next day I’m stressed, tired and in a bad mood and undo all the good from the day before.   I am frustrated but realize that kicking myself is not helpful.     Changing behavior is never easy and there will be many setbacks before new healthy behaviors take hold.   In fact, changing unhealthy behavior is a lifelong challenge.   In the face of high recidivism rates, why bother if old habits continually call to you like a siren’s song?   When I feel like giving up, I have to remind myself that pursuing my goal of a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle is worth pushing through all the obstacles.   Yeah, it’s tough…yeah, it’s frustrating but it is worth it.   I’ve handled tough obstacles before.   I look past the fatigue and stress that sabotage my good intentions and remember how great it is to be healthy and physically active.   I closely observe the world around me and remind myself how great is to to breathe clean air, drink clean water and savor nature’s many delights.  It helps me to keep trying when I’m feeling grumpy not grateful.   It also helps me to be more empathetic toward my neighbors who struggle with the same problems.       We need to support each other to keep trying and not to give in to cynicism and despair.

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