Sunday, November 29, 2009

'Tis the season...

...for JustSaying to remind you about our favorite simple ideas to help make the holidays more green than red. Save money. Save carbon emissions. Win win!

  • Get a real tree. Not only will your home smell like lovely pine without any artificial sprays or candles, but you are contributing to a business that is actually great for the planet. I know, I know: Instinct dictates that cutting down trees = bad. But that isn't the case in the business of Christmas. Of course, purchasing the tree - roots and all - to be replanted after the holidays is the absolute greenest of the green. But getting a recently cut tree is still better than artificial. Christmas tree farms are a big business. 56 million trees each year that, without demand, wouldn't be planted and grown for 5-16 carbon dioxide-absorbing years before their sale. Read all about it in last years post, purchase the pine, people. (By golly gosh, those are some cute sisters in that picture!)

  • Make your own gift tags from last years Christmas cards. Or email me to receive a bag full of them for free in exchange for donating your old cards. JustSaying did this last year but on a much smaller scale. Tags were given to friends and family and we were working with less than a hundred discarded cards. Since then, volunteers have popped up to help make the tags and tons of cards have been donated to the re-use/re-purposing cause.

  • Consider purchasing gifts through organizations like the World Wildlife Fund. Not only will you be donating to an important cause, you'll get on the mailing lists for similar organizations that send out holiday-themed return address labels and wrapping paper made from recycled materials (and a request for a small donation).

  • About online shopping. Amazon is one of my favorites because of their eco-friendly frustration-free packaging. If you can't find what you are looking for on there, be sure and sign up for an account on your favorite sites so that you can save items in your cart until all your purchasing is complete and can be sent in a single shipment. Save yourself the shipping fees and save the packing materials and shipping miles.

Please feel free to share any green holiday tips of your own in the comment section.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Slowly slowly

Illustrator, author and designer Maira Kalman posted a wonderful photoblog today about our nation: spattered with cities filled with fast walkers, fast talkers and fast food. She had a chance to spend time with Alice Waters, Bob Cannard and Michael Pollan and bring those experiences together in this photo essay on the democracy of healthy eating.

Considering the focus of Back to the Land, you'd think this would be my favorite of hers to date but I am still rendered speechless and peaceful when I revisit Time Wastes Too Fast, which she posted earlier this year (June).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Heroic squirrel saves her baby

First off, Jack Shepard found and posted this on Buzzfeed so kudos/cred to him. Second, holy awesome. I love dogs as much as I love squirrels and therefore am not upset with this pup for doing what dogs do: chase cute little animals. But seriously, how great is this story? Here are the pics:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Gratitude, not gluttony.

Ahhh... Turkey Day. Here we go again. I know what you're thinking, "Here comes her tofurkin' PETA agenda push." I don't blame you. It was awfully tempting to use the holiday as a platform to point out the environmental and ethical horrors of factory farming but I will resist. Instead, I ask that everyone simply:

Be mindful.

Sure, it's far better to travel by train than car or plane for the holiday, and cooking with local, in season vegetables is ideal, but I trust that the flood of articles on the interweb about hosting an environmentally friendly feast have already told you that stuff. What I'm saying - or rather what I am just saying - is that Thanksgiving shouldn't be about overeating birds stuffed with other birds stuffed with pigs or pumpkins or whatever goes into those. It's about gratitude. Be considerate of what you are eating, think for a moment about where it came from, the efforts that went into growing and preparing the ingredients for each dish, the many moving parts in this country that made such a meal possible for you and yours and give thanks.

That's it. Just mindful and grateful. Enjoy the fruits of your labor and the delicious, peaceful fullfillment that comes along with a home-cooked meal.

Silly snake. New amphibian species are for scientists.

How cute is this little Magombera chameleon?! (Image credit: Andrew Marshall/African Journal of Herpetology)

Conservation scientist, Dr. Andrew Marshal, was surveying endangered red colobus monkeys in the low-land forests of Tanzania when he came upon a twig snake that was eating one of these guys for lunch (I decided not to post that photo). The startled snake quite literally lost his lunch and just like that a new chameleon species was discovered.

The species is named after it's habitat, the Magombera Forest, which is under threat so Dr. Marshal hopes this will "create a banner for the desperate needs of the endangered ecosystem."

Read more here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Calling All Jack Fans!

Any of you who have ever spent more than two minutes with me probably know a little something about my furry sidekick, Jack. But just in case, dear readers, I should let you know: he is a rescue puplanthropist and overall darling. His latest fund raising efforts are going on right now via the Hallmark Cutest Dog of the Season Contest and we need your help.

The Grand Prize-Winning pup will get a $1,000 cash prize and $1,000 donation to their favorite animal charity. But get this: Jack says he wants to give his cash prize to his favorite animal rescue organization, the Maryland SPCA, too! That would be $2,000 going to feed, shelter and snuggle local Maryland pets this winter!!

If you'd like to help Jack reach his goals, please click here and scroll down to click on the big red VOTE button.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dumpster Diving: The Ultimate Re-Use

I wasn't actually dumpster "diving" per say... at least in the beginning. I was simply being a good dog-owner and cleaning up after the dog on my morning run and happened to notice this gem in the pile of discarded items beside the trash receptacle.

Post jog, when we returned to the dumpster, the crew had jammed this grocery cart (that I was so looking forward to using as motivation to walk to the grocery store instead of drive) into the dumpster so diving ensued.

That wheel can be bent back in to shape, right?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Carbon Footprint of Fruits and Veggies

Once upon a time I thought that simply purchasing anything and everything organic was the greenest option. I went about my merry way in the organic produce section and slept well at night. But last year I took a closer look after realizing that the organic apple in my hand had traveled to Maryland all the way from New Zealand. I remember looking around at the bananas, pineapples and watermelon and thinking to myself, "I have never even seen a banana on a tree. Do pineapples grow on trees or in the ground? Surely the ground, right? Oh man...there is no way eating watermelon in the middle of winter is sustainable!"

Yes, fertilizer is the enemy of the oceans but there is a lot more to keeping the carbon footprint of the crops you consume at a minimum. Brendan Borrell for Slate's Green Lantern, addressed this very dilemma in Tuesday's post Sustainable Salads:

"...Certain crops require loads of phosphate fertilizer, for example, which is mined from the ground and can eventually cause stream-choking algal growth. Other fruits and veggies are grown with heavy doses of pesticides, fungicides, and other chemicals that can pollute waterways and cause reproductive problems in animals. So how do you know which crops are best to eat? Here's the Lantern's rule of thumb: Try to keep your more extravagant fruit cravings in check, but don't sweat the low-impact calories that come with your carbs.

As it turns out, it's not hard to find digestible data on the use of fertilizers. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization offers a handy list of various crops and their associated fertilizer loads. Bananas consume the most by a very large margin, requiring a whopping 427 pounds of nitrogen, phosphate, and potash fertilizer per acre of cultivation. Sugar beets and citrus crops are next, followed by vegetables, tubers, and grains. Peas and beans require just 35 pounds per acre, in part because they have capacity to absorb nitrogen from the air. In short, eat more beans.

...What does all this fancy number-crunching mean? Considering that about one-third of greenhouse gases (PDF) emitted from agriculture in the United States come from fertilizers and pesticides, identifying low-impact crops can be at least as important as sourcing your foods locally. For instance, switching from strawberries to oranges in your fruit salad cuts pesticide use by half and fertilizer use by a factor of 10. For those who can't do without their berries, your best bet may be to buy from a truly sustainable source that avoids the worst pesticides, sticks to manure and other organic fertilizers, and prevents excess nutrients from flowing into waterways. Major organic growers like Cascadian Farms and others provide limited information about their agricultural practices on their Web sites.

What about organic versus conventional produce? When it comes to dietary staples like corn, wheat, and rice, the choice isn't so clear. David Pimentel of Cornell has estimated that it takes about 30 percent less energy to grow organic soy and corn than it does to grow the conventional kind. On the other hand, organic doubters, including the father of the Green Revolution, Norman Borlaug, have suggested that the spread of fertilizer and pesticide-free agriculture would result in more land being cleared for crops to match today's conventional yields, a view that has been supported by a British government report. The USDA has just started surveying some organic crops, and we'll have to wait until all the data is in to issue a final verdict on that front. As for fruits and vegetables, going organic is the eco-friendly choice. The switch will reduce your impact on the soil and water and won't require a vast expansion of the agricultural footprint.

For all this, one of the simplest ways to ballpark the impact of a conventionally grown fruit or vegetable is to glance at its price. The trick doesn't always work, but, in general, the cheaper one probably required less fertilizer, pesticide, land, and energy."

As always, I fall back to the same advice: Buy local, in season produce *when possible. This is going to be a long winter, huh?

*** I emphasize "when possible" because everything here on JustSaying is a suggestion - encouragement in an eco-conscious direction only. Nothing changes overnight and not even yours truly can live here in America without giving in to the convenient option now and then. Just remember: a little bit goes a long way and do the best you can for yourself, your family and your environment and know that any effort whatsoever makes a difference.

Monday, November 16, 2009


File under: Good for you - good for the environment.

For a one-time payment of $43 bucks you can stop delivery on a ton of junk (snail) mail, receive two energy-efficient light bulbs, get an easily transported reusable bag, and reduce the energy costs of recycling! Did I mention that they will also plant five trees?! Love it. Visit Planet Green to sign up for the Precycle Package.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunny Sunday

There was a time when a warm day in November seemed like a gift to gardeners - the perfect temperature to spend a few hours cleaning up the yard before winter sets in. These days it seems a bit more bittersweet because there is this looming sense that the 68 degree high set for today, albeit quite a few degrees short of the record of 79, comes with a price of dangerous weather patterns somewhere else. Like the "hot April day" Maryland encountered earlier this year.

Anywho, while on the topic of climate change, I've been meaning to share a factoid from J.S. Foer's new book (that I'm about halfway through and looking forward to discussing):

"Animal agriculture makes a 40% greater contribution to global warming than all transportation in the world combined; it is the number one cause of climate change."

Just saying, folks.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Polluted Pacific

After a loyal reader pointed me towards a recent NY Times article about the island-sized patches of garbage afloat in the Pacific Ocean, I realized that I must not have given this topic enough attention when I was reading Thomas Kostigen's chapter "Where the Currents Take Our Trash" in his book You Are Here this past spring.

We're talking about huge islands of trash floating in remote areas of our oceans, folks. Here's a sampling of what these toxic whirlpools consist of (some still in their original shapes and form, others broken down into tiny, confetti-seized pieces that are gobbles up by marine life):

Light bulbs, Tooth brushes, Plastic water bottles and caps, Glass, Pill bottles, Buoys and fish nets (more on this momentarily), Traffic cones, Plastic bags, Tires, Disposable lighters, Paper, Oil and oil cartons, Wood, Rope, Toys...

The patch  Lindsey Hoshaw explored for the Times is about 1,000 miles east of Hawaii and is said to be doubling in size every decade. It is one of five ocean areas where heavy currents and slack winds keep the trash swirling in a giant vortex known to experts as a gyre. The impact of these patches on marine life is tremendous. There is a passage from a portion of Kostigen's book looking at the growing number of animals endangered by ocean debris that really hits it home:

"[Dr. Marcus Eriksen, director of research and education aboard the Charles Moore's Alguita vessel that discovered the Eastern Garbage Patch] spent time on Midway Island examining the effect of trash on albatross. 'I found birds with syringes sticking out of their stomachs and toothbrushes caught in their mouths,' Marcus says. He explains that albatross have two stomachs: one where they store food to feed their young and another where they digest food for themselves; plastic filled both. When he arrived on Midway he was shown a series of Laysan albatross skeletons. 'Every single one had plastic in it. Every single one.'"

Scientists have identified more than 250 species known to have been injured or killed by this ocean debris and bear in mind: this is only one aspect of the problem. These dangers eventually make their way to us.

Let's start at the bottom. Plankton is the base of the marine food chain. The amount of plastic fragments in the central Pacific outweigh zooplankton sixfold.  Zooplankton are non-selective feeders and ingest anything small enough which is inevitably plastic. Then marine mammals feed on zooplankton and so forth up the chain. Our fate and the oceans' are certainly looking more and more parallel. I'll let Hoshaw take it from here:

"PCBs, DDT and other toxic chemicals cannot dissolve in water, but the plastic absorbs them like a sponge. Fish that feed on plankton ingest the tiny plastic particles. Scientists from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation say that fish tissues contain some of the same chemicals as the plastic. The scientists speculate that toxic chemicals are leaching into fish tissue from the plastic they eat.

The researchers say that when a predator — a larger fish or a person — eats the fish that eats the plastic, that predator may be transferring toxins to its own tissues, and in greater concentrations since toxins from multiple food sources can accumulate in the body."

If you can't picture it from words alone, I urge you to view the collection of photographs in this slide show from Hoshaw's visit to the patch with Charles Moore, the captain who came upon the patch in 1997 during the Transpacific Yacht Race and has dedicated his vessel to researching it since 1999. Keep in mind, the pictured patch is said to pale in comparison to the Western Garbage Patch, just south of Japan, that captures trash from Asia, Russia, India and the Malaysian Peninsula.

We're all in this together. What the what are we going to do!?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Love: City Harvest

"Rescuing Food for New York's Hungry"

This program has been underway in New York City since a few caring, innovative folks noticed two things back in the early 1980s:  A growing hunger problem in the city -and- Local restaurants discarding perfectly good, unused/uneaten food. They recruited friends, borrowed vehicles, and over the past 25 years have evolved into an the efficient, cost-effective program they are today. From their website:

"...City Harvest has distributed more than 200 million pounds of food to a network of over 600 community food programs throughout New York City. The organization now delivers an average of 71,000 pounds of food daily and more than 25 million pounds this year... Picking up and delivering food the same day keeps costs down and allows us to focus on fresh, perishable foods that are often in short supply at soup kitchens and food pantries. Currently, our cost to deliver a pound of food is just 26 cents, making City Harvest a smart, simple solution to ending hunger in New York City..."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

BPA: It's not just in plastics anymore

In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, Campbell's and Progresso engage in what foks in the advertising business call "Soup Wars." If you pay attention, you'll find that the commercials and print advertisements evolve from self-propelling, your-grandmother-gave-us-this-recipe, mmm mmm good jingles to smear campaigns against the other candidate. This year, I wouldn't be surprised if bisphenol A, or BPA, is the new MSG and plays a role in the race.

From Nicholas D. Kristof's recent Op-Ed:

"...More than 92 percent of Americans have BPA in their urine, and scientists have linked it — though not conclusively — to everything from breast cancer to obesity, from attention deficit disorder to genital abnormalities in boys and girls alike.

Now it turns out it’s in our food.

Consumer Reports magazine tested an array of brand-name canned foods for a report in its December issue and found BPA in almost all of them. The magazine says that relatively high levels turned up, for example, in Progresso vegetable soup, Campbell’s condensed chicken noodle soup, and Del Monte Blue Lake cut green beans.

The magazine also says it found BPA in the canned liquid version of Similac Advance infant formula (but not in the powdered version) and in canned Nestlé Juicy Juice (but not in the juice boxes). The BPA in the food probably came from an interior coating used in many cans..."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Dr. Phil on the Childhood Obesity Epidemic

I am not a huge fan of the Dr. Phil Show. Not that I am working with much of a sample size (about three episodes in my lifetime), but it seems to me that the guy spends a lot of time talking in depth about problems and breaking people down and judging them, and not enough time discussing solutions. That said, I've got to tip my hat to him today for using the power of the visual medium that is television to put some pressure on adults and parents to take responsibility and combat the growing childhood obesity epidemic in America. The episode, found here, is sort of hard to watch but it's effective.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hard to argue with this evidence

According to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 85% of the snow on Mount Kilimanjaro has melted away since 1912. The primary cause: "increase in global temperatures." Experts predict that it will disappear completely within twenty years. The images above, taken in 2001 and 2009, show the near 26% decline in the last decade alone. Read more here.