Saturday, March 21, 2009

presidential vegetable garden

The Obamas are planting a garden!

Promoting healthy eating for American families has become a part of the Michelle Obama's agenda. She said she was inspired by her own experience as a working mom feeding her girls convenient, but less healthy, meals. She has vowed to raise awareness of the difference a healthy diet can make.

The entire Obama family will be involved - even President Barack Obama will help with weeding!

To start the project, twenty-three fifth graders from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington helped break ground on the 1100 sq. ft. garden. (see diagram below). These students will be invited back to help plant, harvest and cook with the vegetables and herbs.

There are 55 varieties of vegetables, as requested by the White House kitchen staff. Some of the vegetables include: spinach, chard, collards, black kale, arugula, cilantro, tomatilloes, broccoli, various lettuces, assorted herbs and blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. But no beets. The President doesn't like them. There will also be a beehive and Michelle Obama hopes to be able to make their own honey.

Some White House garden history: In 1800 John Adams, the first president to live in the White House, planted a garden. Eleanor Roosevelt planted a Victory Garden during the World War II (read FDR's statment). The Clintons had a small rooftop garden where they grew vegetables and herbs in pots.

Alice Waters (you may recognize her as the head chef at Chez Panisse!) has been lobbying the White House to plant such a garden for more than a decade. (She also designed the Edible Schoolyard program at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley.)

The White House chefs will use the the produce to feed the Obama family and for official events. And in the spirit of service, some crops also will be donated to Miriam's Kitchen, a soup kitchen near the White House where Michelle Obama has recently volunteered.

Read more about the garden:

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

chicago and san francisco go dark for earth hour

The Chicago Tribune reports that there will be dark spots in the Chicago skyline for an hour Saturday night when more than 160 downtown buildings switch off their lights. The Sears Tower, John Hancock Center, the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, 485 area McDonald's and Chicago's theaters (Oriental Theatre, Cadillac Palace and the LaSalle Bank Theatre) all plan on participating by switching off as many "non-essential" lights as possible as part of the Earth Hour global campaign to raise awareness about climate change. The Allerton Hotel will even be turning off its historic "Tip-Top-Tap" sign during the night-time hours for the first time since the 1940s.

The World Wildlife Fund
’s (WWF) Earth Hour climate change campaign is largely symbolic in an effort to get the word out about reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions.

Although it can be a little more than symbolic. At the first Earth Hour in Sydney, Australia, on March 31. 2007, the site claims, "Over 2.2 million Sydney residents and over 2,100 businesses switched off, leading to a 10.2% energy reduction across the city." But organizers stress that Earth Hour is more than cutting back for one hour. It's about "taking a stand and thinking ahead about what you, your neighbors and your city can do to slow climate change."
Chicago will serve as the U.S. flagship city for Earth Hour in 2008, with Atlanta, Phoenix and San Francisco joining as leading partner cities. But everyone throughout the US and around the world is invited and encouraged to turn off their lights for an hour on March 29 at 8 p.m. local time--whether at home or at work, with friends and family or solo, in a big city or a small town. (main site)
Interstingly enough, San Francisco was so inspired by last year's Sydney event, that they created Lights Out San Francisco and held a citywide energy conservation event on October 20, 2007. For that hour, such icons as the TransAmerica Building, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate and Bay bridges and City Hall turned off their lights. To promote long-lasting energy saving, organizers distributed free compact fluorescent light bulbs throughout the city. They were planning the second Lights Out event for March 29, 2008, but out of solidarity, Lights Out has chosen to support the Earth Hour campaign instead.

Both of my favorite cities offer suggestions to promote energy consciousnes after the event - check out both San Francisco's and Chicago's energy saving tips.

According to NBC News, Earth Hour will "literally be a worldwide event. It will start in Christchurch, New Zealand, and then roll through 14 time zones and 25 cities in 10 countries, including Brisbane, Bangkok, Tel Aviv, Copenhagen, Dublin and Toronto. It will be the largest worldwide voluntary power down in history, according to WWF officials." Pretty good for an event that only happened in Sydney last year!

Some of the international cities choosing to participate in the 2008 event include Atlanta, San Francisco, Phoenix, Bangkok, Ottawa, Vancouver, Montreal, Dublin, Brisbane, Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide, Copenhagen, Aarhus, Aalborg, Odense, Manila, Suva, Chicago, Tel Aviv, Toronto and Christchurch.

Will you participate?

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

use less oil

License plate in San Francisco, CA. Not surprisingly, on a hybrid Toyota Prius.

Using the United States Environmental Protection Agency's ratings, the Prius was ranked the most fuel efficient car in 2007.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

precycling and the 5 r's

We are all familiar with the 3 R's of recycling: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. However, I have been hearing more about the interesting idea called precycling: the idea of supporting responsible packaging and consciousness of waste before you even use the product. It just makes sense.

I was surprised to find an article using this term that was posted back in 1994. Reading more about the history of precycling, I found out one of the first communities to focus on precycling was Berkeley, CA all the way back in 1989!

Refuse what you don't need
Reduce what you do need
Reuse what you can't reduce
Recycle what you can't reuse
Rebuy (buy recycled) whenever possible.

Here are just some of the many 5R suggestions:
  • Avoid the paper vs. plastic dilemma.

  • Buy large single containers.

  • Pass on styrofoam.

  • Don't buy plastic razors, throwaway cleansing pads and cigarette lighters, non-refillable pens and foil baking pans. Reduce or eliminate your use of disposable plastic diapers, which make up 2% of the total U.S. landfill volume. Gr-oss!

  • Compare the size of the package to the size of the product.

This mom's blog post offers more ideas on being eco-responsible.

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Saturday, December 8, 2007

oxford word of the year: locavore

Well, the New Oxford American Dictionary recently announced its "Word of the Year."


It's "locavore."

A "locavore" buys food from farmers’ markets or grows the food him- or herself. This is partially because locavores claim local food tastes better and is healthier, but also to avoid the environmental costs of shipping food over long distances.

“The word ‘locavore’ shows how food-lovers can enjoy what they eat while still appreciating the impact they have on the environment,” said Ben Zimmer, editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press. “It’s significant in that it brings together eating and ecology in a new way.”

“Locavore” was coined two years ago by a group of four women in San Francisco who proposed that local residents should try to eat only food grown or produced within a 100-mile radius.
(I recently ate at a San Francisco restaurant, Fish and Farm, which focuses on sustainable and organic food. Fish and Farm grows all its own herbs and its produce is organic and sourced within a 100-mile radius. Also, whenever possible, so are their meats. )

This is especially interesting for me, since I just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, published in May of this year. A combination of this book and living in California with locavore roommates has ignited my interest in local and seasonal food. The book itself chronicles one family's experience as they move to Appalachia to experiment with eating locally for one year. I found myself laughing at their adventures with squash surplus and turkey sex. But more importantly, I found myself thinking about food seasonally and considering the environmental effects of having bananas in December. (Many people want carbon cost labeling on food products.) Most surprisingly, I found myself trying out the recipes at the end of each chapter. And, I ate a persimmon (seasonal in November) for the first time in my life.

Interestingly enough, 2006's Word of the Year was similarly environmentally-themed: carbon-neutral.

Being carbon neutral involves calculating your total climate-damaging carbon emissions, reducing them where possible, and then balancing your remaining emissions, often by purchasing a carbon offset: paying to plant new trees or investing in “green” technologies such as solar and wind power.

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Monday, November 5, 2007

global warming halloween costume

So, this was my first Halloween at an elementary school, and it was a day of wacky celebration. My favorite costume was that of a fellow science teacher.

FRONT: You can see the drips on her skirt, the clue that this wasn't your everyday glacier costume. Even though scientists predict that melting ice will not threaten coastal communities for some time, there is incontrovertible evidence that ice is melting at a rapid rate. "Last year Eric Rignot ... calculated that Greenland lost a total of 54 cubic miles (225 cubic kilometers) of ice in 2005, more than twice as much as ten years ago—and more than some scientists were prepared to believe."

BACK: On her back, she displayed the June 2007 issue of National Geographic entitled The Big Thaw (The magazine also has a pretty cool interactive site where you can learn more about global warming.)

It's very interesting teaching in a Berkeley, CA school. The other day, I showed the 3rd grade class part of a YouTube video to introduce them to Rube Goldberg. I explained that I was only showing part of the video, since it was actually a 1940s advertisement for gasoline. ("Fortunately for us, man has discovered a virtually unlimited source of power... gasoline") I mentioned that I thought is was amazing that just 50-some years ago, there was such positive excitement around using oil.

One third grader raised his hand and said, "That's funny because in 2007 we know that burning gas causes pollution and that pollution affects the atmosphere, which causes global warming. So, the ice is melting in places around the world, and some polar animals are losing their habitats." Many kids nodded along. He continued, "But, my family has a hybrid car, so we are trying to make the problem a little bit better." After a bit of discussion, I learned that over HALF of the students had at least one car in the family that was a hybrid, electric, or ran on natural gas. Which reminds me of a sign I saw this weekend at a Berkeley street fair.

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Thursday, April 5, 2007

$25 million global warming prize

A British billionaire Richard Branson teamed up with Al Gore to offer a $25 million prize to anyone who can develop a way to remove carbon dioxide gas from our atmosphere.

Gore and Branson said that although scientists are working on technologies to capture carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases at power plants and other industrial sources, no one has developed a strategy to remove gases already released into the atmosphere.

The winner of the contest must devise a plan to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere without creating adverse effects. The first $5 million would be paid upfront, and the remainder of the money would be paid only after the program had worked successfully for 10 years.

Another article tells that "Scientists have been looking into removing the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere and storing it in oil and gas fields, injecting it deep into the ocean, or chemically transforming it into solids or liquids that are thermodynamically stable."

So what exactly is up with all this talk about "greenhouse gases" like carbon dioxide?

The greenhouse effect is responsible for the Earth being warm and for us being able to live there. Gases in the atmosphere surround the earth and trap heat, just like the glass in a greenhouse traps heat for plants and flowers. The Earth is about 60° F warmer than it would be without these protective gases.

The sun sends light and radiation toward Earth. When the sun's rays reach the atmosphere, some of the radiation bounces off the layer of gases and back into space. Some of the sun’s rays pass through the atmosphere and are absorbed by the land and water. The Earth changes this radiation to heat.

“Greenhouse gases” take in any extra radiation and release more heat, which also raises the temperature of the Earth's surface. This is how greenhouse gases “trap” heat to warm our planet.

Or, if you prefer, watch this animated guide to the greenhouse effect.

Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, water vapor and ozone. Carbon dioxide makes up almost 84% of all the greenhouse gases we produce. And guess how we produce it?

➢ burning gasoline to drive cars and trucks
➢ burning oil, coal or wood to produce electricity for heating, cooling, and other purposes
➢ burning forests to clear land

Since I do not foresee us not driving cars, building buildings or heating and cooling our homes, maybe Branson has a good idea. If getting people to stop producing carbon dioxide is a daunting task, why not develop ways to get rid of it once we produce it? NASA/World Book has great information about alternative energy sources (not creating so much carbon dioxide) and carbon sequestration (getting rid of it once we produce it).

Anyone looking for $25 million can get more information here.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

blue man group & global warming

In November, the Blue Man Group participated in the TBS special, Earth to America!, a "two hour comedy special celebrating life on Earth by taking aim at one of our planet's most serious problems, global warming." As part of their participation, they created this video. The end is particularily interesting.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

organic clothes not just for hippies anymore

I must admit, when I think of "organic clothes," I think of those scratchy, free-flowing pants and tops, in muted browns and greens, that are sold in stores next to the hacky sacks, incense holders and tarot cards. However, a recent AP article in the Chicago Tribune article (.pdf) made me think about "organic" in a whole new light. (I borrowed its title for my post, catchy, isn't it?)

The Tribune explains,
Whether shoppers are buying eco-friendly because it's trendy or because they hope to preserve Mother Earth, they no longer have to sacrifice fashion for philosophy. With major retailers like Target, Victoria's Secret, H&M and Nike joining the green trend, there's something for fashionistas of every price range in 2007.

Target, which carries a select number of organic baby clothes, is expanding its line this year. (Sam's Club and Wal-Mart are among the top five brands who use the most organic cotton globally, according to Organic Exchange.)

Victoria's Secret will also add organic cotton to its collection this year, Klein said.
People have been embracing organic food and health and beauty products for years, why the interest in organic clothes, seemingly all of sudden ?
With celebrities endorsing hybrid cars, vegetarian diets and launching their own eco-friendly clothing lines, experts say it was only a matter of time before the Hollywood trend caught on with fashion.

"It clearly has gotten more attention now because .... It's a global phenomenon," said Marshal Cohen, chief analyst for the NPD Group, a market-research firm. "We're seeing it in cars, we're seeing it in homes products, apparel, food."
Organic clothes used to mean only help, which was, for the most part, brown and scratchy. Now, you will find cotton, hemp, bamboo, wool, soy, corn and other natural fibers being used to manufacture natural and healthy fabrics. But, like many responsible ecological choices, it is not only about the product. The process is also better for the environment.

It takes about a third a pound of pesticides to produce one cotton T-shirt. About 180 to 300 pounds of chemical fertilizer is used on one acre of cotton in the U.S. About 90 percent of the fertilizer doesn't stay on the plant, but washes off, ending up in water supplies and habitat, says Klein.

Retailers say it's not just about buying organic, it's about the entire process. Under The Canopy uses a dye factory fueled by rice husks instead of fossil fuels. Growing organic also requires crop rotation, meaning a field that this year is used for cotton could be used for food the next.

With all these benefits, who wouldn't buy organic? Well, it's back to those two staples of American life: convenience and price. While organic clothing is becoming more widespread, it is generally easier to find non-organic clothing. Any organic clothing will cost you more. According the the Tribune, "A men's vintage-style organic cotton T-shirt at Wal-Mart is $9.83, while a similar regular cotton T sells for $8.83. Levi Strauss & Co. started offering organic denim jeans in select stores in November -- $68 for their Red Tab jean compared to $40 for non-organic. "

A blogging couple explains why organic clothing costs so much. (Plus, you can learn a lot more about the topic, on their blog, Organic Clothing!) They basically explain that organic seeds are more expensive to plant and harvest. The cotton or other fiber is also harder to manufacture and advertise, due to the relatively small market and lack of the mass-buying power that large chains have. Also, many organic vendors recoil from using "sweat shops," instead choosing to keep the labor in the US, paying fair wages. All of these factors contribute to the higher price.

An inconvenient truth is that organic and all-natural clothing will always be more expensive than conventional, chemical clothing. The good news is that the price gap will continue to shrink as the market size of organic clothing grows and the economies of scale improve. Doing what is right is not always easy … or cheap...

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