Stop eating meat & dairy to save the planet. Really. Science* says so.

Researchers of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research have found that reducing the consumption of meat and dairy products and improving agricultural practices could decrease global greenhouse gas emissions substantially. By 2055 the emissions of methane and nitrous oxide from agriculture could be cut by more than eighty percent, to levels below those of 1995, if demand for  "livestock products" (i.e., meat and dairy) decreases by 25% over each decade from 2015 to 2055.

Early in June, even before the results of this study were published, the UN issued a report suggesting that "a global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change."

In a study published today in the peer-reviewed journal, Global Environmental Change, climate impact researchers modeled the impact of future changes in food consumption and technological mitigation of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions on the effect on climate in a scenario over the next 45 years, to 2055. The global model combined information on world population, income, food demand, and production costs with environmental data on potential crop yields. The calculations show that global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions (e.g., methane and nitrous oxide) increase significantly until 2055 if food energy consumption and diet preferences remain constant at 1995 levels. However, the agricultural emissions of greenhouse gases have increased steadily over time, and show no sign of slowing down. In fact, in 2005 they accounted for "14% of the total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions." Assuming world dietary preferences continue to shift towards animal-based foods, i.e., meat and milk, in regions and countries that have typically not favored these food sources, emissions will rise even more.

To gain an idea of how one person's food choices impact the climate, I consulted The Nature Conservancy's Carbon Footprint Calculator. As a baseline, "in 2004, the United States emitted 7074 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent green house gases. This equals approximately 27 tons per person." An "average" American's carbon emissions from diet, calculated only on the basis of a predominantly meat-based, non-organic diet alone, is 4.1 tons of CO2 and carbon-equivalent emissions a year. When I changed the selections to more accurately reflect my diet, or the diet of any "average" vegan or vegetarian, ("I eat meat in my diet... never" and "I eat organic food... most of the time") the CO2 and carbon-equivalent emissions decreased to 0.6 tons per year, 85% below average. The cumulative power of vegans and vegetarians to positively effect the environment is easy to calculate, even if you're not great at math. Playing with the calculator is fun, and informative. Even simply reducing meat intake to "Rarely" from "Most days" and taking the middle road with respect to organics, "I eat it sometimes" reduces individual emissions (again, from diet alone) to 1.3 tons per year, 69% below average.

If you're curious about how the calculator actually works, this gives a very detailed explanation of how your carbon footprint is calculated. The following excerpt about "Food and Diet" outlines the impact one person's meat-heavy, non-organic diet has on greenhouse gas emissions in very clear terms.

"Average: Agricultural activity (crop, land, and animal including management, and including farm vehicles) accounts for 7% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, with 91% of that being from methane and nitrous oxide emissions. 
Behaviors: Vegan and vegetarian diets emit 72% and 42% less than the typical American diet, respectively. A heavy meat diet emits 24% more than the average. For the organic food responses, "Most of the time" reduces your emissions by 29%, "Sometimes" reduces emissions by 15%, and "Never or rarely" is the average emissions figure."

It's pretty clear that every small choice makes an incremental, yet measurably cumulative effect on the environment, and for our future. Something to think about the next time you're in the grocery store. Start small: eschew the hamburger for a veggie burger once in a while.

*Source: Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) (2010, June 28). Conscious choice of food can substantially mitigate climate change, research finds. ScienceDaily.

How Much Oil Has Leaked Into the Gulf of Mexico?

It's an incomprehensible amount, but this real-time ticker (source: PBS) gives one some idea of the rapidity of which entire ecosystems are being killed. It is easy to feel helpless and hopeless in the face of this massive disaster, but now more than ever, is the time to do something about it.  Politicians and big oil are playing the blame game, and the liability for this spill is already spinning out into a very complicated legal web which will no doubt result in one of the largest, probably most protracted legal battle in history. However, more important than who will pay monetary damages is to acknowledge that the earth, and by extension, we who inhabit earth, will suffer damages that are only going to get worse. It's critical to stop this continual gushing and more importantly, ensure it never happens again.

 

No other country consumes more oil than America. America consumes the majority (more than 20%) of the world's oil, but has less than two percent of the world's oil reserves. We need to reduce, if not eliminate entirely, our "oil addiction," and pour our efforts into developing clean, sustainable methods to power our lives. If our earth becomes an uninhabitable wasteland, it won't really matter who cashes out at the end of the day, or who lands in jail as a result of  gross negligence. Ultimately, we all will pay.

It's hard to remember, but before healthcare reform and related hoopla took over the country's attention last summer, the House had passed "the most sweeping climate change policy ever considered by Congress."  The bill aimed to incrementally cap America's production of greenhouse gases, reducing it by 83% by 2050, mandating that 15% of the nation's electricity come from renewable sources such as wind and solar power by 2020, and investing in renewable energies and sustainable technologies. The effort in the Senate stalled last fall. When the Copenhagen climate summit came and went, with disappointing, diffident results, by the start of the year, climate legislation seemed to have reached a standstill if not taken several slides back.

With the Gulf oil spill gushing (it's still going! yet it started at the end of April. April!), President Obama began pushing publicly once again for an energy and climate bill. And in the aftermath of the spill, polls show that most Americans support strong actions to reform climate legislation.

Yet, a vote in the Senate this week suggests bleak prospects for any climate legislation change. The issue was a GOP proposal to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to regulate greenhouse gases. While that resolution (thankfully) failed by a vote of 47-53, the narrow gap  demonstrates that even in the wake of the massive oil spill, Congress still remains divided over how best to address climate change.

This is unfathomable to me; we couldn't ask for a more violent wake-up call for change than this oil spill. At least, I don't want to imagine one. Now, more than ever, it is critical to take a stand, make your voice heard, and contact your Senator, urging him or her to vote in favor of a change to support new, renewable clean energy. In addition to writing and calling your Senators and Representatives, you can add your name in support of President Obama's clean energy plan, and sign this petition (via MoveOn.org), which will be sent to the White House and Congress, demanding an end to America's addiction to oil.

Turn it Off Everyday - Inspired by the 4th Annual Earth Hour, 2010

Turn off the lights and join nearly 1 billion others in saving energy to raise awareness about energy consumption - during the fourth annual Earth Hour, March 27, 2010 at 8:30 pm - your time zone, wherever you are.
It's hard to imagine that something as easy as turning off your lights could have a real impact in combating climate change, but that’s the idea behind Earth Hour, a global event sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) designed to highlight the importance of energy conservation in the fight against global warming.

More than 1 billion participants on March 27 will help stage what has become a visually stunning event: People around the world, including whole cities and national monuments, will come together to make a bold statement about their concern for climate change by doing something quite simple—turning off their lights for one hour.

Participation is easy. By turning off the lights for an hour, starting at 8:30 p.m., on March 27, know that you are participating in a global movement that for that brief period of time, signals your commitment to combating climate change, even if it's just in your own home. If you missed Earth Hour, it's not too difficult to consciously integrate the concept into your daily life. Why not reduce the temperature in your house and put on a sweater instead? Make sure you turn off lights in rooms you're not using, and DEFINITELY unplug those unused appliances. Turning them off is not enough, especially for "transformers" - anything that has a large, black box on it, sometimes with a light. Those transformers suck about as much electricity when the appliances (computers, cell phones, etc.) they charge aren't in use as when they are. The amount of passive energy drain (or "standby loss") from unused plugged-in appliances and chargers is
astounding. For example, approximately 23% of the total electricity used by a TV is from standby loss.

A study conducted by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found that leaking electricity from normal household appliances estimated for normal use across homes in the United States could light 25,984,000 homes. In addition, to really hit the point home, passive energy loss from appliances in all homes across America is responsible for more than 6 million metric tons of U.S. carbon emissions. For more specific numbers on energy loss per appliance, see this chart.

From the WWF website: "Last year’s participants made some bold statements in support of the movement. In Peru, the population woke on the morning of March 28, 2009 to see the national El Comercio newspaper with an entirely black front page, and it wasn't because the ink had run. Instead, it was a way for the nation’s most prominent daily newspaper to issue a call to action on climate change for Earth Hour." (Although the amount of ink wasted to run entirely black front pages was not, apparently, considered).

Here are some dramatic pictures of Earth Hour, 2010:

Seattle Space Needle (an iPhone photo from my living room window):



The Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza:


And my favorite, the new Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world. Here it is alit at night:

 

and dark for earth hour:  




See more pictures of Earth Hour 2010 via The Huffington Post.

To learn more about how to participate, get more information on the environmental impact of energy conservation, or to find out how you can support the WWF’s eco efforts, visit EarthHour.org

Using The Vernal Equinox As A Time of Balance

Today, March 20, is the first day of the solar new year, otherwise known as the vernal equinox, the first day of spring and one of two days each year when the hours of daylight and nighttime are equally long. The word "equinox" actually derives from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night). As the earth's angle of inclination towards the sun changes throughout the year, lengthening or shortening the days according to hemisphere and season, there are two times a year when day and night are of nearly equal length: the spring and autumn equinoxes. These celestial times have been recognized for thousands of years among all cultures and have given rise to a significant body of seasonal folklore and ritualistic traditions. Across all cultures and spanning centuries, spring is celebrated as a time of renewal as lengthening sun-warmed days take the place of the short, dark and cold days of winter.

Though there are many superstitious beliefs around the equinox, one of the most prominent is that you can stand a raw egg on its end on this day, and this day alone. Apparently this phenomenon has been attributed to the "special gravitational forces" that arise due to the sun's equidistant position between the poles of the earth at the time of the equinox. 


It's not true. You can stand a raw egg on its end anytime. 

However, the principle that a feat of precarious balance can most easily be achieved on this day got me to thinking about the principle of balance and the notion of integrating more balance into our daily lives. What better time to start than on the vernal equinox, in spring, when the planet is most astronomically "in balance"?  

Hasn't the quest for "balance" become a constant refrain in our hectic 21st century, techno-driven, globalized world? The numbers on a clock mean very little now, with the ability to communicate 24 hours a day with people in time zones on the other side of the earth. Yet, people are forever striving for "work-life balance" even as they work more hours, blur lines between work and home, and utilize mobile and wireless technologies to stay "connected anytime, anywhere." As a result, people become mentally, physically, and emotionally drained and exhausted, throwing themselves even more out of whack as a result. 

Spring, specifically the vernal equinox, is the perfect time to reassess the balance (or imbalances) in your life and take stock of areas in your life that you need to replenish and renew, and reduce those that are depleting and draining.  If the unfolding events in most days seem to direct (and maybe overtake) you, it can be nearly impossible to even think about how to refocus and redirect your energy. Here are five simple ideas to help get you started on rebalancing... These are things I have integrated into my life that I have found help me regain a sense of balance and equanimity.

1) Spend a few seconds focusing on your breath. Note I didn't say "minutes" - just spend the "seconds" it takes to count just 10 breaths. I find that before I do anything else in the morning, focusing on my breath helps me focus my mind before I have to get up and face the day. Often, this simple act helps me to plan for, and subsequently approach the course of my day with a feeling of control and enthusiasm. Whenever you focus on your breathing, you're in the present moment. And what is balance if not being fully present in the moment? Focus on your breath anytime throughout the day, particularly in moments you feel stressed, anxious, tense, bored, or overwhelmed.

2) Plan and cook one meal a week. Think carefully about what you would like to eat, how it will taste, nourish your body, and energize you. Plan it out and take the time to prepare it from scratch. It doesn't matter if it's a simple salad, a pot of pasta, or a five-course meal. Just plan it out and "cook with love." I used to never cook. Now I cook meals from scratch four, sometimes five nights a week. I feel so much more connected to flavors, innovation and creativity, and my body. Not to mention, I have become a pretty awesome cook, if I do say so myself.

3) Spend some time outside each day. I know I can become fully "tunneled" into the virtual world of my computer screen, and find entire hours have completely slipped away. Whenever this happens, I usually find that along with the disappearing time, my neck and back have stiffened and cramped, my head is swimming, and my vision has blurred. These are all signs that it's time to physically get outside into the real world and inhale some fresh air. Connecting with nature has been shown to have a direct impact on people's moods and productivity. And not just when it's sunny, which for me, is a hard pill to swallow. But I try to get out, even when it's raining, or worse.

4) Get some exercise. Exercise is a natural mood-lifter, depression-antidote, fitness-enhancer, etc. We have all heard the benefits, yet many people still feel as though they don't have the time to fit a half-hour of exercise into their day. It's easy if you can integrate this with #3 above! Get outside a couple of times a day: go for a walk to grab your lunch, walk or bike to and from work if possible, walk your dog, plant a garden (hey, it's spring after all!), hike a trail - all of these are very viable forms of exercise that will also have you soaking up some Vitamin D from the sun and absorbing the benefits of fresh air and green space around you! 

5) Express gratitude. Psychology research has shown that one's level of happiness is very stable over the long-term, regardless of external events. That means that whether a person won the lottery or suffered a paralyzing accident, that person will return to their usual baseline level of happiness in approximately three to six months. It's not what happens to you in your life that makes you a happy (or miserable) person; it's your internal frame of mind. If you're a pessimist, reading this probably didn't do anything to raise your hopes of happiness.

However, one thing that can increase overall levels of happiness permanently is through consciously expressing thanks (yes, even for die-hard pessimists). A leader in the relatively new field of positive psychology, Dr. Robert Emmons, discusses the "psychology of gratitude" in his new book, Thanks, as well as his more academic text, The Psychology of Gratitude (Series in Affective Science). Emmons conducted an experiment in which he asked people to either 1) record things that they were grateful for, 2) record neutral events with neither a positive nor negative attribution, or 3) write down events that annoyed, angered, or upset them. The three groups did this once a week for ten weeks, and those who were in the "gratitude group" were 25% happier at the end of the study than when they started the study, and happier than those who recorded either neutral events or, the group that fared the worst, those who wrote down things they were annoyed or upset by. "People in the gratitude condition were more optimistic about the future, they felt better about their lives, and they even did almost 1.5 more hours of exercise a week." Research has shown that the content of the event a person is grateful for is much less important than simply feeling grateful.  

Of course, taking time out each day to -- breathe, walk outside, prepare and eat food, and say thank you -- may be too overwhelming to consider packing into an already full schedule. 

...Or perhaps not. Taking the time for these obvious necessities of life may be just the first small steps to a more realigned - and balanced - life.

Eating: Caution Ahead: Massive food recall of processed foods!

Amidst the head-spinning nonsensical food labels that normally cause us to stand, frozen in the dairy case, debating the relative safety and moral high ground of "cage-free" vs. "free-range" (hint: neither mean much), a massive food recall has quietly taken place over the past couple of weeks.

Are you aware that the FDA's recall of foods containing HVP, or hydrolyzed vegetable protein, originating last week, may become the largest food recall in history? I wasn't. I only became aware of this yesterday, when apparently the recall wave swept Pringles along too, ensuring that this would not go unnoticed.

First, why should you care?
Because hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) is in thousands of food products.

More specifically, HVP is a "flavor enhancer" for processed foods, and is found in products that run the gamut from soup to nuts, literally. HVP is in chips to dips, packaged burritos, prepared entrees including pasta and vegetarian tofu dinners, salad dressings, prepared salads, cheese, and hot dogs.

Second, what the heck is HVP?
Here's a picture of its chemical structure!


Hmm, it appears that hydrolyzed vegetable protein is really just MSG. Not exactly, though the chemical explanation around the relationship between the two is rather convoluted. For all practical purposes, HVP and MSG might as well be one and the same. HVP is made by breaking soybeans, corn, or wheat into amino acids through a chemical process. One of these amino acids is glutamic acid, which in its salt form is known as monosodium glutamate, or MSG. According to the FDA, if the glutamic acid in a food binds to a free source of sodium in that food it can form MSG - but this doesn't require labeling the product as containing MSG. That's only required if MSG is added directly. (Is HVP MSG? Not technically, but it's created like it, used like it and can result in it, and as such, can be a hidden source of MSG.)

Why the recall?
Because of contamination with salmonella. "Salmonella Tennessee," to be exact. On March 4th, the FDA announced an overarching recall of many of these products containing this HVP, which is made by Basic Food Flavors, Inc. in Nevada. The recall dates to products manufactured since September 17, 2009, which is a lot of food.

The products are too numerous to list here, but this is a continually updated list by the FDA of recalled products. I must admit to just quickly scanning the list because in general, I try to avoid processed foods, and for anything that does come in a package, I try to ensure there are less than 5 ingredients (and that I recognize - and can pronounce - all of them). However, I have read that HVP is usually not specifically named outright among ingredient lists on packages, but because it is derived from soy, corn, or wheat, HVP is usually disguised in the ingredient list as the very innocuous sounding "natural flavors" or "flavor enhancer."

To me, the most salient question arising from this most recent food recall is what are the possible health effects of ingesting this manufactured artificial ingredient? In a book entitled "Grocery Warning" written by consumer health advocate Mike Adams in 2006, HVP is listed as a potential hidden source of MSG, which is recognized as an excitotoxin. Chemical additives with excitotoxic properties can directly affect neurons (nerve cells), overexciting them to the point of cell death. Dr. Russell Blaylock, a neurosurgeon and author of "Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills," explored the link between MSG and other excitotoxin food additives including aspartame, mercury, and aluminum and their deleterious effects on human neurology. Blaylock claims that there is growing evidence that excitotoxins are a major cause of degenerative brain diseases including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's ALS, and multiple sclerosis.

Of course, there are skeptics of this viewpoint; after all, the FDA has deemed artificial food additives and other chemicals like MSG, HVP, TVP (textured vegetable protein - a major ingredient in many vegetarian prepared foods such as veggie burgers and veggie "meats"), aspartame, and other "flavor enhancers" as perfectly safe for human consumption. I find it rather ironic that these processed foods, little more than chemical constructions of artificial preservatives, fake flavors, thickeners, and texturizers,  are being recalled for the health hazard of bacterial contamination when the damage to one's health becomes much more pervasive and insidious through the consistent ingestion of these so-called "foods."

Note: If you're interested in the events that led up to the recall, read NYU professor Marion Nestle's entry about it in her "Food Politics" blog. In addition, this is the Washington Post story that broke the news about the recall.


<----------- mmmm... yummy! bon appetit!

A week of eating in - An experience in culinary consciousness


Huffington Post Green, one of the top 5 websites I visit daily, has issued a challenge to its readers: "The Week of Eating In" starting today: Monday, February 22. Now, eating at home for a whole week may not sound like that big of a challenge; however, the typical day in the food-life of an American often consists of: no breakfast, or perhaps a hastily purchased coffee and danish from Starbucks, a quick run to the deli for lunch, a vending machine snack, and rushing to get home with no time to cook, maybe a quick drive through the drive-thru or pulling out a frozen dinner to throw in the microwave. We celebrate the weekend by making drinks plans with friends, and then make reservations at a favorite restaurant or two for Friday and Saturday nights.

I have to admit, when I lived in New York City, the thought of preparing a meal in my miniscule kitchen with nothing more than a sliver of formica that constituted "counter space" filled me with dread. I nearly resorted to using my oven for additional shoe storage, as Carrie Bradshaw did in Sex and the City... except I needed it to heat up takeout. I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that I can probably count the times I prepared "real" food (from scratch) on two hands during the entire decade I lived there. Braving the mayhem of the markets, cracking open a cookbook, juggling cutting boards on that aforementioned counter-sliver, and dealing with all of the cleanup (dishwasher? in that kitchen? ha!) sounded like unnecessary sado-masochism, and I avoided the whole brouhaha at all costs. Plus, in a city where any restaurant would deliver to your door almost 24 hours a day, (almost) no one I knew cooked at home.

Since living in Seattle and having more time on my hands as well as a significantly larger and more user-friendly kitchen to work in, I have become much more proficient at cooking meals at home. I usually cook four days a week, and I really do "cook," rather than "heat up." I prepare all of my foods from scratch with fresh (occasionally frozen) produce and fish. Whole Foods is two blocks away from where I live and Pike Place Market, the largest and most famous daily farmers market in the country, is just a few blocks down the street. As a result, I have tried to emulate the European market methods by shopping for food almost every other day, which ensures the produce and fish I use are as fresh as possible. I have grown to love buying bread that was baked fresh that day from the local bakery, fish that was caught that morning in nearby Alaskan waters, and seasonal produce that was picked as recently as yesterday from a nearby farm.

I like the experiment for the following reasons:
  • When you don't cook what you eat, it is so much easier to be disconnected from what it actually is and what it contains (typically, there are much more fattening ingredients in restaurant foods, and portion sizes are HUGE!)
  • Personally, I'm hoping to try out some new recipes and challenge myself further - to actually shop more often at Pike Place Market and get to know some of the growers, acquaint myself with the changing produce and fish, and create inspired dishes out of what I happened to find freshest and most beautiful that day at the market.
  • I'm admittedly a little curious about tracking cost per meal when cooking this way vs. eating out. I actually suspect it's not that much cheaper, because I kind of have a penchant for fine ingredients and all-things organic, but I've never actually compared these costs before (and I've read that it's cheaper to buy and cook your own organic food than to eat out). 
  • Cooking can be empowering, and the act of cooking requires mindfulness, depending on how one approaches the act. As the old, oft-quoted Zen saying goes: "Wash the dishes when you are washing the dishes." Staying in the moment and fully immersing oneself in the experience - of chopping, washing, stirring, sauteeing - can create a rhythmic meditative state and affects consciousness, which, according to Ayurvedic medicine, among other traditions, influences the resulting dish (in good ways).  We'll see.
For more information, or to participate, see The Week of Eating In: A HuffPost Green and Eyes and Ears Challenge

I'll post my results and the recipes I used, after the week is over. If you choose to join me, I welcome your comments and recipes too!

Science has spoken: Blowing up mountain tops is bad for mountains. Help end the madness!

Today, bloggers are banding together in a response to a "Social Media Call to Action" to bring attention to the current terrible practice of mountaintop removal mining and its financing, dominated largely by JP Morgan Chase. Rainforest Action Network are the organizers behind the effort and outline ways in which we can effect change to put an end to this practice.  

In an article published in the January 8, 2010 issue of Science, one of the world's most respected peer-reviewed scientific journals, twelve scientists from institutions around the country outlined the significant human health and ecological impacts of mountaintop coal mining (the current practice in which Appalachian peaks are blasted off to obtain coal, rather than older strip mining or seam mining methods), and conclude by calling for a ban on the practice.

In the most comprehensive study on the effects of mountaintop removal coal mining to date, the paper describes how the resulting pollutants get dumped into the surrounding valleys and streams, obliterating the ecosystem. In addition: "Adult hospitalizations for chronic pulmonary disorders and hypertension are elevated as a function of county-level coal production, as are rates of mortality; lung cancer; and chronic heart, lung, and kidney disease." The illnesses and increase in mortality includes women and children, so the incidence "...is not simply a result of the direct occupational exposure of predominantly male coal miners."

The conclusion of the paper states: "...The science is so overwhelming that the only conclusion one can reach is that mountaintop mining needs to be stopped."

If mountaintop removal sounds bad, but difficult to fully imagine, watching the following video of the practice and its resulting effects will convince you of just how terrible this practice is for our environment, not to mention how senselessly inefficient. To use Stephen Colbert's analogy (seen in the video at the bottom of this post), this practice of obtaining coal from mountains is akin to filling a cavity by blasting off the top of the skull and drilling through the brain. There is most certainly a better way to obtain energy than to obliterate our beautiful 300 billion year old mountains and all of the life that's supported by them.




What can you do? A LOT....! In addition to signing up at Rainforest Action Network and adding your name to the list of thousands who oppose mountaintop removal mining, I recommend the following:

1) Use this form on the Sierra Club website to tell the White House Council on Environmental Quality that no more mountaintop mining permits should be issued (the website address is: action.sierraclub.org/mtrscience)
2) Sign the petition at EarthJustice.org to tell Congress to pass the Clean Water Protection Act, which would protect our waters from being filled with millions of tons of waste from mountaintop removal mining.
3) Forward these two forms to everyone you know and urge them to take a minute (it only takes one!) to add their name to these petitions
4) Learn more about this practice and what you can do about it at: http://www.ilovemountains.org/
5) Forward this post to anyone and everyone you know to help spread the word about this destructive practice and that with enough grassroots action, we can help end this madness.

For an entertaining take on the subject, Stephen Colbert interviewed the lead author of the paper, Dr. Margaret Palmer, in his inimitably incisive way, and highlights the lunacy of the current practice:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Coal Comfort - Margaret Palmer
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorSkate Expectations

Spreading the Sunshine, Spreading the Love!


This Sunshine award was given to me by Radiance Within, of Watchful Eyes, Thoughtful Mind. It is a great honor and compliment to be recognized in this way. Thank you so much Radiance!

This award gives each recognized blogger an opportunity to pass the award on to other great bloggers whom they might like to call attention to.

The rules for accepting the Sunshine Award are:
  • Put the logo on your blog or within your post.
  • Pass the award on to 12 bloggers who bring sunshine into your life.
  • Link the nominees within your post.
  • Let your nominees know they have received this award by commenting on their blog.
  • Share the love and link to the person from whom you received this award.
I am passing this award to the following 12 bloggers, from whose blogs I always learn something or feel inspired by. It's a motley crew covering the gamut from the environment, to psychology, social media, technology, travel, science, and food. But such are my interests: diverse and disparate, yet all are interconnected. You'll definitely want to check out their sites:

1. The EcoSpheric Blog - Just a great blog about all things dedicated to living more sustainably. Plus, she's based where I grew up! Gotta love Coloradoans!
2. Treebanker's Blog - All about the disappearing rainforests and how to take action: we CAN replant 250 million acres of Rainforests in the next 11 years. 
3. The GreenMan's Grove - a fellow nature-lover and tireless defender of Mother Earth - he discusses issues related to the earth, nature, paganism, news, and other interesting tidbits.
4. Artemis in the City Blog - Danielle is a certified holistic health counselor and natural whole foods chef who helps people reclaim their health through the healing power of natural foods, and she writes about healing foods, as well as foods to avoid.
5. Ulterior Motives - written by Art Markman, a former grad school professor of mine at Columbia, his blog for Psychology Today is chock-full of really fascinating research and findings on how goals drive behavior.   
6. McGee's Musings - Academic and thought-provoking practical discussions on Enterprise 2.0 technology and business, organizational change, and the impact of social media in all of the above. I always learn something new whenever I check Jim's blog. 
7. TravelEco - Blog by "Eco Hotels of the World" there are some great ideas for eco-friendly travel destinations, hotels, gadgets, and general information on traveling responsibly.
8. Notes From the Road - Just about the most beautiful travel blog out there that I've seen. Gorgeous writing and photography, for armchair travelers, as well as providing constant inspiration to hit the road. The choices are endless.
9. Green Options - This is actually a community and network of blogs dedicated to all things green. I've deliberately chosen to include small, and/or individually-written blogs, with the exception of this one, which is simply a fantastic aggregate resource.
10. Neha Ayurvedic Life Spa - A new blog that is already lovely, inspiring and full of great information for those interested in Ayurvedic medicine and natural health.
11. Five Minutes For Going Green -  A really clean and well-organized blog with a team of writers, each taking a separate "category" dedicated to the green-o-sphere. The posts are short, simple, and easy to follow: every small step, 5 minutes at a time, does make a difference!
12. The Confident Copywriter - Victoria's blog is a very useful resource for any writer, freelancer, or independent contractor. She's built a very strong community through engaging the fellow copywriters, bloggers, freelancers, and the like in lively dialogue.


Now: with more USDA regulation! The shocking truth about your "organic" milk/dairy products


The other day, after I wrote about how non-organic milk is a terrible thing to put into your body (among other things), I was patting myself on the back for never having even looked at a non-organic carton of milk for years. But then when I got out the gallon of organic, non-RBGH milk to go with my chocolate chip cookie (can't seem to cut those out of my otherwise healthy diet...), I noticed some fine print on the bottom of the label that I've never bothered to read before: "*Our milk is made from cows not treated with rBGH. The FDA has said there is no significant difference between milk from cows treated with rBGH and untreated cows. No test can now distinguish between milk from treated and untreated cows." I suddenly shivered. Or maybe that was from standing in front of the open fridge. Whether I was having a paranoid reaction or not, I felt that the manufacturer was hinting subtly, or not-so-subtly, at a possible deception that they (or other "organic milk" manufacturers) may or may not be engaging in.

This is my translation of each sentence:
1) Our milk is made from cows not treated with rBGH.  = Assuming 365 Organic (Whole Foods' private organic label) is not outright lying in their first statement, their cows are not treated with rBGH, which implies other cows might be.
2) The FDA has said there is no significant difference between milk from cows treated with rBGH and untreated cows. = The FDA  "concluded that rBGH presents no increased health risk to consumers" [and approved it for use in 1993].  However, this declaration proved highly controversial, and opponents of the drug argued that the effects of rBGH were never properly assessed. In 1998, a study by Canada's equivalent of the FDA, Health Canada, recommended that the studies be replicated before rBGH would be approved in Canada.  However, as of today, the European Union, Japan, Australia and Canada have all banned the use of rBGH due to animal and human health concerns.
3) No test can now distinguish between milk from treated and untreated cows. = Irrespective of whether or not rBGH has any effect on humans, as a human, there's no definitive way of being assured you're drinking rBGH-free milk aside from trusting that your milk manufacturer is telling the truth. Apparently, rBGH-positive [if you will] cows don't test positive.

My interest was piqued enough to investigate this milk controversy further, and ah-HA, my timing was right-on! This morning, a very timely news report hit my twitter feed: "New USDA Rules Establish Strong Organic Standards for Dairy Cows and Other Livestock."

Apparently, the family farms of America have been lobbying the government for over 10 years to institute more stringent regulations around the grazing and pasturing of dairy cows and other livestock. Why? Because a number of mega-dairies, or illegitimate factory farms, who have blatantly abused the "organic" label by confining thousands of animals in feed lots and barns are able to produce very cheap organically-labeled milk against which the ethical, small-production family farms can't compete.

Although there have been a number of investigations into the alleged violations of organic livestock management practices on many of the 20 largest factory farm facilities, the biggest scandal centered around one investigation in which the regulators found “willful” violations of 14 organic regulations on factory farms operated by Aurora Dairy, a $100+ million company based in Colorado, which produces private-label, store brand milk for Wal-Mart, Costco and large grocery chains, as well as investigations into alleged improprieties by the largest organic milk producer in the country, Horizon Organic (by Dean Foods).

The new regulations "...require that dairy cows and other ruminants be out on pasture for the entire growing season, but for not less than 120 days. It also requires that the animals receive at least 30% of their feed, or dry matter intake (DMI), from pasturing. In addition, organic livestock will be required to have access to the outdoors year-round..." Read more here. 

Most importantly, “These minimum benchmarks will assure consumers that industrial-scale dairies don’t just create the ‘illusion’ of grazing and continue producing illegitimate organic milk.”

The basic lesson here is: you get what you pay for.  If your organic milk, cheese, yogurt or other dairy product was: "...such a great deal! As cheap as or almost as cheap as regular" it is highly likely that it was not in fact, organic.

The good news is that "over 90% of all name brand organic dairy products are produced with high integrity."  Cornucopia Institute, the farm policy research group representing family farms, has a consistently updated "brand scorecard" for all of the organic labels, in which each brand is given a score based on the aggregation of detailed ratings such as disclosure of information, amount of time cows are spent on pasture, antibiotics used, hormones used, oversight and processing.

I'm happy to report that Whole Foods 365 Organic brand gets a "4 Cows" rating or "Excellent" as determined by the Cornucopia Institute. Notably, with respect to Whole Foods' private-label brand as compared to other brands (e.g., Wal-Mart, Costco, others): "It is impressive that over 90% of all name-brand organic dairy marketers fully participated in the Cornucopia research study permitting their customers to understand how their products are produced. Unfortunately, 0% of private-label marketers (store brands) were initially willing to participate. Whole Foods Market should be applauded as the first retailer willing to be transparent with their private-label products."

To see how your favorite brand of organic milk fares, simply point your mouse at Cornucopia Institute's BRAND SCORECARD and scan the list: it's organized from top rated producers to the lowest, with additional details. In addition, you can search (Control-F, or Find) for brand(s) carried in your local store.


*Image Source: www.mindfully.org

Even though it's snowing on the East Coast, sorry, climate change is still happening

It's disturbing to me that something as ever-present and non-controversial as the weather has become such a divisive tool in politics. Because the east coast, and Washington D.C. in particular, has suffered a massive winter storm this week, many climate change deniers have been using this circumscribed occurrence as gleeful evidence that global warming has been disproved (or has been a hoax all along). It is pure pigheaded ignorance to blatantly ignore science, as so many of these deniers are doing. And to what end? We all inhabit the same earth... if there is one issue on which all of humankind should be in agreement about it should be to protect and nurture the only home we have.


Thinking weather patterns through rationally and calmly, it is clear that an overall increase in the earth's temperature leads to warmer temperatures overall, and one "unusual" weather incidence in one location does not disprove a pervasive and global phenomenon.  Mild temperatures and the effects of El Nino in the winter leads to increased evaporation of surface water, which leads to more water in the air. More water in the air leads to massive storms, including rains, and when the temperature drops below freezing, snow. Indeed, increased volatility and variability in weather patterns and cycles is one of the effects of climate change, leading to periods of extreme heat and extreme cold.  


NASA has shown that 2009 was the second warmest year in modern record (2005 was the warmest), and that January 2000 to December 2009 was the warmest decade in the past 2000 years.  The chart below (source: www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/info/warming/) shows average global temperatures from 1850 to 2008, where the dramatic rise in global temperature over the past twenty years comparative to the temperature fluctuations in the prior century, is obvious.



In addition, although December 2009 was unseasonably cool in North America (as climate change naysayers gleefully rubbed their mittened hands at such chilling temperatures, quipping childish jokes like, "what happened to that global warming? Can we get it back please...?") due to some unusual Arctic air pressure and jet stream effects, it's important to note that "the contiguous 48 states cover only 1.5% of the world area, so the U.S. temperature does not affect the global temperature much." said James Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in NYC. It is undeniable that the average global temperature has increased by about 1.4 degrees F (or 0.8 degrees Celsius) since 1880 (and will keep increasing).  This may not seem like much, but this supposed negligible change in global temperature could in fact result in the extinction of approximately 20-30% of the earth's species, if increases in global warming exceed 1.5-2.5 degrees celsius (relative to the average temperature from 1980-1999). 


Bill Nye (the Science Guy) explains it all to Rachel Maddow:

Top 7 "NO-EAT" Foods (with BETTER OPTIONS): You'll be surprised by some of these "Food Terrors"

In an earlier post, I wrote about six key foods to avoid due to scandalous practices and effects on the environment, the world, our health, or some combination of all three. Here are seven more foods to add to your "NO EAT" list - it's like the Terrorist "No-Fly" list, but for your fridge. Due to all of the toxins and chemicals in the foods listed here (which, interestingly enough, have NO overlap with the other list), stick this up under the heading: "NO EAT" - your body will thank you.

Prevention Magazine asked a group of food experts who actively research levels of chemicals and toxins in foods and packaging used to contain those foods: "What foods do you avoid, and what is a better option?" Here are their answers.

1. Canned Tomatoes.  Go with tomatoes in glass bottles or tomato sauce.
2. Corn-Fed Beef. Don't eat beef. Or make sure it's grass-fed beef.
3. Microwave Popcorn. Pop it the old fashioned way.
4. Non-organic potatoes. Buy organic.
5. Farmed salmon. Buy wild-caught Alaskan salmon, but buy it sparingly or else it will all be gone.
6. Milk with rBGH. Buy organic, rBGH-free, or rBST-free milk.
7. Conventional apples. Buy these organic too.

For more, including all the details on why these foods are chock-full-'o' terror, click below!

Social media is a major part of the Haiti relief effort - Help Haiti Now

The catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake to hit Haiti on Tuesday, the worst earthquake in Haiti in over 200 years, has resulted in unimaginable destruction, with death tolls estimated in the tens of thousands. Thousands of buildings have been destroyed, including the National Palace, akin to the White House in the US, Parliament, schools, and hospitals. 

However, if there is any relative upside to this disaster, it has been the universal and immediate bond of altruism across the world as a global flood of support and donations as soon as the news of the earthquake hit the social media networks. Within one day, the viral fundraising campaign via Twitter and Facebook raised over $5 million for the Red Cross's relief efforts. @RedCross tweeted: "text "HAITI" to 90999 to donate $10 to Red Cross relief efforts in #haiti" on Twitter, and within minutes, this message spread throughout the world via social networks, facebook status messages, and twitter updates and retweets. The one day total of $5 million that's been raised so far by the Red Cross far exceeds the 2009 mobile text donation total of nearly $4 million, said a spokeswoman for the organization which undeniably proves the power and necessity of social media and viral information dissemination to mobilize action. 


In 2005, Haitian-born rapper Wyclef Jean founded a nonprofit organization, Yele Haiti, to provide global awareness for his homeland, the poorest in the Western hemisphere. Yele has become another major fundraising organization for disaster relief efforts in Haiti, either via the Yele.org website or via text: "Text "Yele" to 501501 to donate $5 to YELE HAITI. Your money will help with relief efforts. They need our help..please help if you can" (as @wyclef initially tweeted). Within 1 hour the system was overloaded and within a day Yele had received $1 million in donations.


Excellent additional organizations to donate to include Oxfam, who promise that "we are providing clean water, shelter and sanitation and helping people recover – your donation will go immediately to the most critical needs in Haiti, and we will ensure that every penny is used wisely" and Doctors Without Borders (Medicins Sans Frontieres), who state on their website, that "we have already treated more than 1,000 people on the ground in Haiti following Tuesday's earthquake, but the needs are huge. An inflatable hospital with operating theatres is expected to arrive in the next 24 hours."

I am overwhelmed with profound sadness for the people of Haiti, but am somewhat buoyed by the glimmer of light that manifests in the power of global empathy and outpouring of generosity in the face of such tragedy. My only wish is that a similar mobilization of attention and resources would manifest in a proactive way to protect and nurture our planet and halt further harm (massive deforestation, unthinkable wastestream contributions, mountaintop mining explosions, overfishing the oceans, global pollution, etc.) resulting from human hands. Ignored amidst the immediacy of this disaster is the simple fact that earthquakes and volcanoes are triggered by climate change, and as the natural balance of earth's climate becomes more disrupted, and global warming careens out of control, geological disasters will occur with increasing frequency and severity.

Support Doctors Without Borders in Haiti

Will 2010 be the year of the electric car?


The trends from automakers at the Detroit Auto show, happening this week, seem to suggest so. Due to the current economic climate, the worsening recession, and increasing concerns around climate change and global oil reserve depletion, car manufacturers are eager to highlight new versions of smaller, less expensive cars, many of which get up to 40 miles per gallon on highways. Hybrids and electric cars are also taking center stage, with many auto manufacturers debuting electric models. Electric cars still seem to be firmly rooted in the future realm in the majority of the United States, with lack of ubiquitous charging stations and the current high cost of electric cars, but hopefully this is changing. A $100 million federal grant to the Electric Transportation Engineering Corporation is a great start, as are the 2500 electric car charging stations in 5 chosen cities (one of which is Seattle - yay! For more on Seattle's Electric Vehicle initiative, see the following November 1, 2009 story in the Seattle PI).

The Dirty Secrets of 6 Scandalous Foods - and Healthy Alternatives

Today, one of my favorite online resources for interesting and topical environmental, health, and green living news, The Daily Green, posted an interesting and enlightening story about six "scandalous" foods that are in some way bad for the environment, the world, our health, or some combination of all three. In addition to elucidating the careless and even exploitative business practices of these foods, not all hope is lost: better alternatives are given. This short list is easy to remember and certainly will factor into my decisions the next time I'm at the grocery store or at a restaurant.

While some of the "scandalous" foods and the reasons they're on this list may not surprise you (the ubiquitous presence of corn and corn products in the form of high fructose corn syrup has been widely exposed as the main culprit behind the US's obesity "epidemic," type 2 diabetes, blood pressure problems, not to mention liver and kidney problems, and even osteoarthritis), many others are eye-opening, to say the least. For example, I learned that the dominance of corn in our food products is not only dangerously threatening to our own individual health, but has resulted in massive deforestation across the world. In addition, the widespread use of chemical fertilizer on corn fields in the U.S. has created a massive "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico – a 7,900 square-mile area patch of water that is so oxygen-depleted that sea life cannot survive.

So what are the other top offenders? Click below to find out:

What do you need? Think about it. Then give it to yourself.


The other day at the end of my yoga class, the teacher suggested we take a minute and ask ourselves: "What is it that I need right now?" In context, she meant simply: do whatever pose you want, if you want, before you collapse into corpse pose. She continued: "Your body is your true teacher. What is it calling out for right now: a twist, a forward bend, an energizing back bend? Something else entirely? Only you know what you need today, in this moment."

As a result, I got to thinking -- how often do we, in the course of our often hectic daily lives, pause to really listen to ourselves; our bodies, our heart, our inner selves, and give it what it's calling out for? We hear, loud and clear, the obvious cues of hunger, exhaustion, pain, and general malaise, all signs that our bodies are screaming in protest to whatever it is that we are currently doing, or have neglected to do. And yet we often blithely persist in doing what we're doing, or not doing. We unconsciously, or consciously, ignore these cues, often choosing to deaden them with alternative substances (caffeine? sugar? alcohol? painkillers?), rather than listen, stop, and address the real root of the problem. It's a known fact that by the time we feel thirsty our body is already dehydrated. People also often mistake thirst for hunger and eat something, usually salty or sweet, instead, which only heightens the true problem. How often do we simply grab whatever is quickest and easiest to eat by the time we notice we're ravenous? How many other times do we find ourselves mindlessly snacking away for other non-hunger related reasons... out of boredom, anxiety, stress, exhaustion, habit, fatigue, socializing, or peer pressure?

What other needs in our lives do we suppress in lieu of other pressures, expectations, and routine? How many times do we say "yes" to things we have neither the desire nor time for?How did this "no problem" habit become so pervasive, such that hearing (and giving) an affirmative answer is expected, regardless of the consequences? Saying yes to opportunities and upholding responsibilities is one thing, but at what cost: to one's relationships, one's quality of life, one's health?

In mulling over the many contexts this simple question, What Do I Need?, can be applied to, I think it's something we should be asking ourselves on a moment-by-moment, daily basis from the most minute level (am I really craving fries? Or do I need to drink more water?) to much deeper and meaningful contexts pertaining to relationships, life, love, career and aspirational goals. Only by learning to listen to our one true guide - our inner selves - can we find a starting point from which to truly address, rather than palliate, our needs.

I initially started this blog with the idea of exploring the relationship between mind/body and our environment through the constant choices we make. Many life choices we are careful and deliberate about, but most simple daily decisions we make are subconscious, spontaneous, or all too often, habitual. Life is complicated enough; the very least we can do for ourselves is to pay attention to our true needs, and satisfy them. I suspect life would become simpler, and more satisfying, as a result.