Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bamboo: A New Solution for An Old Problem

I just love bamboo. It is such an ethereal plant; and, nothing is more soothing than relaxing to the sound of wind through a stand of bamboo. My love affair with bamboo began many years ago when I first held a piece in my hand and could feel the life inside. Later I came to realize the versatility of bamboo and its hidden strengths. The more I learn about it, the more amazing it appears to me.

There are many bamboo species; but, they all share the same strange trait. I find it absolutely fascinating that every 20 – 125 years, depending on the species, a bamboo will flower profusely, set seed and die back. A complete die-back of a species on a regular basis is very unusual in the plant kingdom and this happens in every species of bamboo on the earth. In places where bamboo is an active participant in the local economy, there must be at least two or more species. This ensures that when one species dies back, the other can sustain the local population until the original species has a chance to grow back.

Strangely, bamboo is actually classified as a grass not a tree; even though they can grow to over 60’ tall. So, I guess us tree-huggers can be grass-huggers, too!

Bamboo has great resilience and strength. In fact, certain varieties have been compared to steel. Besides using bamboo as flooring, serving ware and furniture, some countries use bamboo in the construction of homes and even bridges. Pretty impressive!!

Not to be left out of such a good thing, the textile industry has developed many uses for bamboo also. Recent manufacturing technology has developed a method of turning bamboo pulp into fiber, which can then be transformed into a luxuriously decadent fabric. Designers both big and small are turning bamboo into blouses, T-shirts, skirts, pants, socks, baby clothes, sheets and towels.

There are additional hidden benefits to bamboo linens, clothing and other textiles. They provide 100% natural antibacterial protection. This is because of an inherent quality in the plants called “bamboo kun” that functions as an antibacterial even when spun into bamboo fibers. Throw in the added benefits of wicking away moisture, being more breathable than cotton, and thermal regulating (keeping you warm in summer and cool in winter) and; in my mind, it’s kismet.

North Americans are becoming increasingly aware of their environment and the changes that must be made in order for life on this planet to continue. As more and more people become eco-aware and increasingly eco-conscious, more research is being done into replacing our technology with greener options.

Many of the options we use now incorporate green aspects; but, is it enough? Many of these resources that we use now are renewable (naturally restock or renew themselves); but, our demand has grown greater than these resources can handle. We want more before they have managed to attain complete renewal. Its obvious things can’t on like this for much longer before everything collapses under the weight our greed.

Bamboo is thought to be the fastest-growing plant on the planet and has attracted the attention of eco-aware contractors; clothing manufacturers; textile manufacturers and furniture designers because it is considered to be one of our most sustainable resources.

It’s a farmer’s dream plant – some species can be harvested at 4 years (much sooner than a tree); requires no pesticides and is resistant to both pests and pathogens; continually repopulates itself through a complex root system that constantly sends up shoots (until die-back); and, finally totally reseeds itself during die-back so no planting need ever be done.

Bamboo looks like a good choice to me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Offsetting Our Carbon Footprint

I have found the most amazing website:

There is a wealth of information (including the list below) to help us all make small; but, significant changes in our lives locally that will help us in our dealings globally.

Heating conservation

Draughts waste a lot of energy by losing heat. One quick and relatively cheap win is to put a brush or seal on your doors to prevent air escaping round the edges. Letterboxes and keyholes also lose heat and can be covered too. Gaps in floorboards and skirting boards also let in draughts; you can fill in these gaps with newspaper, beading or sealant.

  • Stick aluminum foil or reflective panels behind radiators. This reflects heat back into the room rather than being absorbed into walls.
  • In winter close your curtains at night to stop heat escaping.
  • Make sure your loft has loads of insulation. It’s one of the cheapest and easiest ways to save energy and will pay for itself in hardly any time.
  • Consider insulating your cavity walls.
  • You can reduce 50% of your heat loss buy installing double glazing which in turn could cut your heating bill up to $180 a year. Make sure they are properly installed though, as gaps around the outside will lose heat.
  • Turn your thermostat down to 18°C and put on an extra sweater.

Electricity conservation

  • Switch to a renewable electricity supplier.
  • Buy A-rated electrical appliances.
  • Switch to energy saving light bulbs, when your old bulbs break. They last around 10 times longer than ordinary light bulbs; they will save you money and come in loads of different styles.
  • Items left on standby can use up to 85% of the energy they would use if fully switched on. Turn them off at the wall – it doesn’t take long. Or use a power cord and turn them all off at once with one simple click of the switch.
  • Electric dryers use a huge amount of energy. If it’s a nice day, dry your clothes outside or even inside if it’s not so nice.
  • When using a washing machine ensure there is a full load and turn down the temperature. Also, you only need a small quantity of laundry powder to get the job done. Use only ½ or less the recommended amount. This way the extra soap that doesn’t get removed in the rinse cycle will not left in your clothes.
  • If you have lights in your garden use solar powered lights that charge during the day and don’t require electricity.
  • Take your phone charger out of the wall. It uses energy even when it’s not charging your phone.

Water savings

  • Make sure your hot water tank is insulated with a thick jacket. It will save you lots of money not to mention reducing emissions.
  • A dripping tap can be not only annoying; but, if it is a hot tap it can cost you in both water costs and water heating costs. Remember, water also has a carbon footprint associated with it from processing.
  • Always use the correct size saucepan, and when heating water only use the amount you need. And use the lid!
  • When making a cup of tea or instant coffee, only boil the amount of water that you need.
  • Turn off the tap while cleaning your teeth.
  • If your toilet tank holds more than 6 liters of water (likely if it was installed before 2001) put a Hippo (or any reliable brand) water saving device in it or insert a one liter bottle filled with water into the tank. This will displace the water in the tank by one liter and save that amount per flush – that’s a lot of water.
  • Have a shower instead of a bath, which uses far less energy and water.

Food and the fridge

The location of your fridge can make a difference in how energy efficient it is. Make sure it is out of direct sunlight and not close to the oven. Keeping it against an outside wall will help the heat it generates escape easily, and always make sure that there is a few inches’ space all around the fridge so that air can circulate.

  • Make sure you defrost your fridge and freezer on a regular basis.
  • Only set your fridge to as cold as you need it and avoid keeping the door open for long periods of time as the more cold air that escapes, the harder the fridge has to work. You should check the seal regularly as well; if it is damaged then cold air will be escaping.
  • You should never put warm or hot food into the fridge as this will make the fridge work extra hard to try and keep it cold; always allow food to cool down first.
  • Defrost frozen food in the fridge as this helps to keep it cool as it thaws.
  • Buy locally produced organic food.
  • Eat less meat; producing 1 calorie of meat requires a lot more land and energy, compared to 1 calorie of vegetables.
Driving Tips

Cars are generally very energy inefficient and traveling by train, bus or bike is much better for the planet. If you can’t manage without a car, changing your driving habits can help reduce its greenhouse emissions. Find out how much your car produces with our car calculator.

  • Anticipate road conditions and drive smoothly, avoiding sharp acceleration and heavy braking. This saves fuel and reduces accident rates.
  • Plan your journeys to avoid congestion, road works and getting lost.
  • Drive away immediately when starting from cold - idling to heat the engine wastes fuel and causes rapid engine wear.
  • Check your revs - change up before 2,500rpm (petrol) and 2,000rpm (diesel).
  • The most efficient speed depends upon the car in question; but, is typically around 55 - 65mph. Faster speed will greatly increase your fuel consumption.
  • Check your tire pressures regularly - under-inflated tires are dangerous and can increase fuel consumption by up to 3%.
  • If you're stuck in a jam, switch the engine off if you expect to be there for more than a minute or two. Cutting the engine will save fuel and reduce emissions.
  • Use air conditioning sparingly as it significantly increases fuel consumption.
  • Avoid short journeys - a cold engine uses almost twice as much fuel and catalytic converters can take five miles to become effective. Cycle or walk instead.
  • Accessories such as roof racks, bike carriers, and roof boxes significantly affect your car's aerodynamics and reduce fuel efficiency, so remember to remove them when not in use.
  • Get your car serviced regularly to keep it running efficiently.

We realize that sometimes people have no choice but to fly. However, the best thing for the planet is if you don’t fly at all. The resulting emissions can often represent the biggest chunk of your carbon footprint. Many short haul flights can be replaced by other forms of public transport such as trains or buses. In the meantime, if you have to fly you can offset your flight using our flight calculator.

  • If you are feeling adventurous and have the time, there are many options for traveling long haul without flying. There are many websites available offering advice on how to travel all over the world without flying.
  • When you have to fly, always consider if you can combine trips.
  • It’s best to fly direct rather than stopping over, airplanes use a lot of fuel taking off and landing.

At the Office

  • A lot of the things you can do are the same as you would do in your home, but if you are feeling adventurous, you can always have a go at persuading your boss to go green as well! Why not point them in the direction of our business calculator?
  • Only use the lights you need. Turn off lights in unused rooms. Better still; get your building to install occupancy sensors.
  • Turn off your computer monitor when you leave the office at the end of the day.
  • Do you really need those hard copies, or can you save it on your computer instead?
  • Print double-sided.
  • Open up - if you have windows you can open, use them to intelligently save energy.
  • Can you share a lift to get to work? Can you use transit?
  • Perhaps see if you can teleconference and work from home occasionally.

Some Interesting Stuff

The Giri Raja Chicken

Worsening food prices world wide have caused a hardship on everyone particularly the poor, the uneducated, the unemployed and others. India has started a new project for impoverished rural farmers using the Giri Raja chicken – a practically extinct chicken native to India. Giri Raja means “forest king.” The chicken is a particularly hardy breed that requires little care and little in the way of extra food when allowed to forage outside around the farmer’s home and fields.

With this bird, the government is trying to turn the tide against factory-farmed chickens which offers advantages to the poor farmer.

John Callahan of “Compassion in World Farming” is backing this project for its ingenuity and ability to raise the standard of living amongst the poor rural farmers of India. The chickens have a very hardy immune system and do well foraging outside all year round. The farmers don’t need any special or expensive food for these chickens as foraging is natural to them. If they require extra feeding, the farmers can use local, cheaper feed thereby drastically reducing the cost of both eggs and meat.

By raising these chickens, poor farming families can raise their standard of living twofold. First, they have the eggs produced by these chickens to either eat themselves, sell, or a combination of the two. Secondly, by allowing a certain percent of the eggs to be fertilized and develop into chicks, they can subsidize their income by selling some chickens for meat, not to mention the added bonus of chicken for their own meals.

The Indian government is having such great success with this program; they are considering suggesting it to other countries.

Whales Losing Blubber

Scientist in Japan have made a discovery regarding the condition of the earth’s whales. This discovery is a startling one and has impressed upon scientists the need to act now regarding global warming.

The Japanese are using this discovery to defend their controversial whaling program. They claim that the information could only be captured by killing the animals.

The Japanese have been collecting data on the thousands of Minke whales they have slaughtered since the late 1980’s. This data establishes that the animals have lost a significant amount of blubber. Forty-five thousand Minke whales show that the blubber is decreasing at a worrying rate of speed say researchers.

The researchers from the Institute of Cetacean Research located in Tokyo offers the first evidence that global warming could be harming the whale population by restricting food supplies.
Lars Walloe, a Norwegian whale expert at the University of Oslo, who helped the Japanese team analyze the data, and an author of the study, said: "This is a big change in blubber and if it continues it could make it more difficult for the whales to survive. It indicates there have been some big changes in their ecosystem."

Blubber is used by whales for energy and insulation. There is a possibility that this loss of blubber could make reproduction difficult.

The Lungs of the Earth to be Exploited Again

Energy companies have upped their land use for oil and gas explorations in the Western Amazon to around 180 zones. Combined this land covers an area of 688,000 sq. km., almost equivalent to the size of Texas.

Conservationists warn that this will put some of the planet’s most pristine and biodiverse forests at risk. The majority of the planned oil and gas projects are in the most species-rich areas of the Amazon.

Researchers used government information on land that has been leased to state or multinational energy companies over the past four years to create oil and gas exploration maps for western Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Colombia. The maps showed that in Peru and Ecuador, regions designated for oil and gas projects already cover more than two thirds of the Amazon. Of 64 oil and gas regions that cover 72% of the Peruvian Amazon, all but eight were approved since 2003. Major increases in activity are expected in Bolivia and western Brazil.

"We've been following oil and gas development in the Amazon since 2004 and the picture has changed before our eyes," said Matt Finer of Save America's Forests, a US-based environment group. "When you look at where the oil and gas blocks are, they overlap perfectly on top of the peak biodiversity spots, almost as if by design, and this is in one of the most, if not the most, biodiverse place on Earth."

"The real concern is when exploration is successful and a zone moves into the development phase, because that's when the roads, drilling and pipelines come in," said Finer.

However further research has proved that it is not just the plants and animals that are at risk in the Amazon. Many of the planned exploration and extraction projects are planned for land that is home to indigenous peoples. These people may be being consulted; but, they have no say in whether a project goes ahead or not.

At least 58 of the 64 regions in Peru are on land where isolated communities live, with a further 17 infringing areas that have existing or proposed reserves for indigenous groups.

"The way that oil development is being pursued in the western Amazon is a gross violation of the rights of the indigenous peoples of the region," said Brian Keane of Land is Life. "International agreements and inter-American human rights law recognize indigenous peoples have rights to their lands, and explicitly prohibit the granting of concessions to exploit natural resources in their territories without their free, prior and informed consent," he added.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Energy/Sports Drinks

Are energy drinks and/or sports drinks good for the environment we call our bodies?

Whether you are looking for “wiings” or just a bit of a “buzz” to keep you going awhile longer, energy drinks have become the new drink of choice for many. They are being touted as the new “sports drink”. However, there is a difference between sports drinks and energy drinks. Sports drinks, such as Gatorade and PowerAde, are formulated to recharge the body by replacing the materials used up by the muscles when exercising. While they are popular with the average consumer; they are really geared toward athletes (not weekend warriors) who want to replenish their bodies after serious activity. Sports drinks usually contain sugar, water and electrolytes (which can include sodium, potassium, phosphate, calcium and magnesium).

Energy drinks, such as Rockstar, Full Throttle, Red Bull, Erectus and Cocaine, contain legal stimulants such as caffeine, carbohydrates, herbs (such as guarana, ginseng and gingko biloba) and sometimes sugar. Wrap all this up in slick advertising aimed at young people, students and sports players; and, it spells success. What they fail to mention is there could be problems with misuse of these products.

While sports drink can help athletes rehydrate themselves after a strenuous workout – those who rely too heavily on the drinks may overdose and make themselves sick by upsetting their electrolyte balances.

The risks with energy drinks are even greater. The combination of excess caffeine and herbs (the effects of which are still relatively unknown) can be harmful. Caffeine is capable of leaching calcium from bones. So…the risks taken are in direct proportion to the number of energy drinks consumed.

What are the alternatives? For those of us who are not finely-tuned athletes everything we need to stay hydrated, energized and focused can be found in our diets. Water keeps us hydrated while whole fruit and/or fruit smoothies replace the carbohydrates and protein we used and help maintain our stamina.

Unfortunately, energy drinks have found their own little niche in the market and that may spell disaster. Energy drinks are now being mixed with alcohol so the drinker can stay alert longer and drink more. These drinks claim to stimulate the mind and body plus provide a boost of energy. This sounds wonderful to the consumer; but, fails to give a clear picture of what happens.

There are two main problems when you mix these two types of beverages. The first problem being that the energy drink is a stimulant while the alcohol is a depressant. This gives your nervous system mixed messages and puts an added burden on your heart.

Think of it this way. What happens if you take a car and rev it in gear as fast as you can while holding the brake down with your other foot and having the emergency brake engaged? The stress eventually (and quite rapidly) causes the engine (heart) to blow.

The second problem is dehydration caused by the alcohol consumed made greater by the caffeine in the energy drink. Serious health problems can result from dehydration.

Now think of our car that has one foot on its gas and one foot on its brake. Imagine now that we are draining the oil out of the engine. Need I say more.

Fatigue is one of our bodies’ ways of saying that to maintain optimum health; we must stop what we are doing and rest. The energy drink masks this feeling and allows us to go on longer. Now there is a completely different problem to deal with.

New research from Wake Forest University School of Medicine shows that researchers found students who drank the energy cocktails were twice as likely to be hurt or injured; twice as likely to require medical attention; and, twice as likely to ride with an intoxicated driver. On a more frightening note, the study also found that students who drank these alcohol/energy drink cocktails were more likely to take advantage of someone else sexually, and also most twice as likely to be taken advantage of.

Amazingly, while the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) limits caffeine to 65 milligrams per serving of either a food or a beverage; energy drinks can contain as much as 300 milligrams of caffeine in a single serving. This is because it’s not covered under the FDA, the researchers noted. This was reported at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in Washington, DC.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Is Organic Food Really Worth More Money?

Organic food is worth more, not only from a financial point of view; but, also from an environmental one. Sadly, in today’s society, every living person carries pesticides in their bodies. Whether they are newborn or seniors; vegetarians, vegans, or meat eaters; city dwellers or farmers; no matter what the lifestyle or the region lived in, pesticides in the body is unavoidable. However, how much pesticide is present in any body is controllable to a large degree by the owner of said body.

Many health conscious consumers are turning more and more to organic produce in an attempt to keep to a minimum the amount of pesticide and toxins contained in their body tissue. The human body can eliminate some; but, not all of the poisons that find away into our systems each and every day. Logically, the less we take in, the less we have to eliminate and the less is retained to create that most insidious of traps – the cumulative effect.

More and more people are turning to a healthier lifestyle; one that is gentler to the earth and all her creatures. Organic food leaves a smaller footprint environmentally than food that has been grown with modern technology. True traditional wisdom incorporates crop rotation, occasionally allowing field to lay fallow, organic fertilization, proper soil aeration and other natural methods of soil replenishment.

At one time, we grew produce bursting with natural goodness, vitamins, and minerals sufficient for our physical needs and the needs of our animal companions. In turn, we respected Mother Earth giving her time off to rest and restoring her life-giving energy and nourishment with natural compost and manure.

Unfortunately for Mother Earth and all her children, this has been replaced with the high-tech efficiency of chemical fertilization and insect control used in conjunction with artificially-enhanced growing cycles which contribute to higher crop yields. Higher crop yields mean greater profits for all connected to the agricultural assembly line that moves the produce from the soil to the table.

Greater profits may be desirable; but, at what price? All the chemicals, poisons and toxins that are used in the fight against soil and pest depletion gradually make their way into the groundwater. Eventually the groundwater is utilized for drinking by both animals and people. Water is one of the two items most necessary for health and life. The other item is food. Neither animal nor human can consistently drink tainted water and maintain optimal health and life expectancy. We are thereby robbed not only of quantity of life; but, quality as well.

To our peril, we ignore the fact that we are stripping the soil of all its nutrients and life-giving capabilities eventually depleting that area as a source of agricultural viability. By this time, we have changed the food chain in the immediate area by artificially controlling the insect population. This insect population supports (or tries to support) the various bird species, fish population, frogs and other wildlife.

At one time in our history, great thinkers used to ponder such philosophical quandaries such as “how many fairies can dance on the head of a pin?” The new quandary could easily become: “How much would a bunch of carrots cost IF we were still able to grow them?”

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Reader Says

"Fun addition of the game! If anyone doesn't like the music playing, one way to make it stop is to click "play" until game opens; then, click the little music icon on the lower right to turn off the music."

Thanks, Kathi. I hope others enjoy the games as much as you do!

Al Capone's Vault/Tom Biscardi's Bigfoot

Does anyone else remember Geraldo Rivera and Al Capone’s lost vault? In 1986, a recently-fired reporter named Geraldo Rivera hosted a 2-hour special showing the opening of a previously-undiscovered vault believed to have been sealed and forgotten by Al Capone.

It was broadcast live on April 21, 1986. This greatly-hyped special was practically promising dead bodies, great riches or some other titillating discovery would be made. So extensive was the hype that there a medical examiner present in case they found bodies and the Internal Revenue Service was there to collect any money Al Capone may have sealed up and forgotten.

The vault was finally opened amid much fanfare and hushed speculation to reveal absolutely nothing of worth – just debris and bottles. The term “Al Capone’s vault” has since become slang for a heavily-expected event with disappointing results.

It is my opinion that we can now add another name to this illustrious list of one: Tom Biscardi’s Bigfoot.

After a week of shameless promoting and huckstering by Tom Biscardi, Palo Alto, CA., became the scene of an out-of-control press conference. The purpose of this "news" (and I use the term loosely!) conference was to determine whether Tom Biscardi (owner of had actually bought a genuine Bigfoot in a freezer as promised or the proverbial “pig in a poke.”

Steve Kulls, a self-described “Sasquatch detective” was sent by Biscardi to Muncie, IN, to check out the specimen. After all, Biscardi had just paid $50,000 to so-called Sasquatch hunters and Georgia residents Matthew Whitton (a police officer with Georgia, GA police force) and Rick Dyer (a former security guard) and wanted to keep an eye on his investment.

Kulls gives a statement on detailing what he found at the dethawing and subsequent examination of the body.

"I extracted some [hair] from the alleged corpse and examined it and had some concerns," Kulls writes. "We burned said sample and said hair sample melted into a ball uncharacteristic of hair." He immediately called Biscardi in California to report his concerns.

Biscardi told Kulls to hasten the thawing.

Within one hour, a portion of the head had become free of the ice and thawed enough for examination. Kulls states, “I was able to feel that it seemed mostly firm; but, unusually hollow in one small section. This was yet another ominous sign."

Oh Dear!! This is not looking good for the Sasquatch Hunter.

Then came the discovery that removed all doubt from everyone’s mind and made Tom Biscardi $50,000 poorer.

"Within the next hour of thaw, a break appeared up near the feet area. .. I observed the foot which looked unnatural, reached in and confirmed it was a rubber foot,” Kulls reports.

Biscardi states that he now feared he had been hoodwinked. He allegedly called Whitton and Dyer in their California hotel room. Apparently, they admitted it was a hoax and agreed to sign a promissory note at 8:00 am. PST at the hotel.

However, when Biscardi arrived (**surprise**), they were nowhere to be found.

"At this time action is being instigated against the perpetrators of this fraud," Kulls writes on Biscardi's website. "On behalf of myself I can say with certainty Matthew Whitton and Ricky Dyer [are] not the best Bigfoot trackers in the world!" (Really?), a website devoted to mysterious, mythical beasts is run by Loren Coleman. Coleman told this about Biscardi: "he's a huckster, a circus ringmaster. It's all about money with him. It probably didn't matter to him whether it was real or not."

Coleman speculates, "They probably started out small, as a way to promote their Bigfoot tracking business; and, got in way over their heads. These are not very intelligent individuals."

Coleman goes on to further speculate, "in a way, both sides may have been trying to out-con each other."

A Bigfoot group that refused to believe any of Biscardi’s hype, The Bigfoot Field Research Organization, wants everyone connected with the hoax (Biscardi, Dyer, Kulls, and Whitten) arrested.

But what of Whitton? Isn’t he an actively-employed police officer? What of his involvement with this hoax?

When confronted with this question, Clayton County, GA., Chief-of-Police Jeffrey Turner had this to say, “You mean ex-officer Whitton?”

"As soon as we saw it was a hoax, I filed the paperwork to terminate his employment," he went on to say before concluding with, "once he perpetrated a fraud that goes into his credibility and integrity. He has violated the duty of a police officer."

Turner confirms that he hasn’t heard from Whitton yet; and, admits that he can’t understand why he did it.

In the meantime, the woman who answered the phone at Biscardi’s Searching for Bigfoot office located in Menlo Park, CA., claims he is away sick and would return calls when recovered.

And so the debate continues....

Monday, August 18, 2008

Three Interesting Stories

Once again, I have been to one of my favourite sites “” ( and have decided to share three of the stories that are making headlines in Europe.

Our world is indeed a global village and what happens in one corner of the planet will soon find its way to the other corners eventually. No one is safe from what their global neighbours are doing – good or bad. And that brings me to the first story.

Europe’s Pine May Be Wiped Out, say Experts.

Europe’s pine forests are at risk from the nematode bug. This bugs literally swarms through a pine tree’s pulpy interior interfering with and; eventually, cutting off the tree's sap supply. Two species of pine are known to be susceptible: the Maritime pine (which makes up almost a quarter of Portugal’s forests) and Scots pine (the most widespread pine species in Europe often used as Christmas trees). Frighteningly, here in North American, it has been reported on Austrian and White pines also.

Tens of thousands of trees have already died in Portugal and experts fear that this disease could spread further. “Pine Wilt Disease” has become out of control in the south-west portion of Europe. Pine Wilt was first detected in the Setúbal region, south of Lisbon, in 1999, when 340,000 trees died in two years. In the 1970’s, Japan’s enormous pine forests were totally destroyed by the pine nematode bug.

The symptoms of Pine Wilt are: trees wilt and die rapidly usually within a short period of time although trees may occasionally survive for more than a year; needles turn yellow/brown and remain attached to the tree; needles initially show a light grayish-green discolouration before turning yellow/brown; foliage decreases and resin production is reduced. The disease may or may not progress uniformly through a tree.

Pine Wilt disease has been described as “out of control” in Europe. Strict restrictions on the export of Portuguese pine have been laid down. Roddie Burgess, head of the Plant Health Service for the British government’s Forestry Commission says: “Given the scale of the problem…it’s going to be very difficult to get on top of this”.

A UN Report States That Millions World Wide Are Eating Food Grown With Contaminated Water.

A major study was done in 53 world cities looking into the quality of water used in the agricultural fields of the world. Urban farms in 80% of cities survey were found to be using untreated waste water. That’s at least 200 million people globally who daily risk their health by eating food grown using untreated waste water, some of which may be contaminated with heavy metals and raw sewage.

However the report goes on to state that by using waste water, farmers provided vital food for quickly-growing cities at a time of unprecedented water shortages and the worst food crisis in 30 years. The UN study which was backed by the IMWI (International Water Management Institute) said that surprisingly the use of waste water to grow foods was not confined to the poorest countries. It is prevalent in many mid-income countries as well.

A report launched at World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden found the practice “widespread and practically inevitable”.

"As long as developing countries lack suitable transport to deliver large quantities of perishable produce to urban areas, urban agriculture will remain important. In the face of water scarcity generally and a lack of access to clean water, urban farmers will have no alternative except to use … polluted water", write the authors.

Few third-world countries have official guidelines regarding agriculture and the use of waste water. For those that do have some guidelines, monitoring and enforcement may not be realistic and; therefore, very rarely enforced. Officials in these countries tend to turn a “blind eye” making it “unofficially tolerated.”

Earlier this year (2008) WHO (the World Health Organization) stated that both a global environmental and health crisis were waiting to happen with more than 200 million tonnes of human waste a year being dumped untreated into water systems. This will expose hundreds of millions of people to disease.

Nepalese Guides May Lose Jobs Due To Commercial Development

I have always thought of Tibet and Nepal as two pristine cultures that would never change. How wrong I was!! It seems that the powerful sound of a dollar to be made can be heard even in the Himalayas.

There is very real risk that one of the world’s classic mountain-trekking routes is at risk of obliteration from plans to bring golf and skiing package tourism to the mountain range.

The Annapurna circuit, which was only opened to backpackers in 1977, will be competing with a new road running through the heart of the Himalayas. This road will allow free movement of buses, taxis, motorbikes and tractors into areas they were previously unable to reach.

This desecration of the landscape is to connect the mountain resort of Manang to Nepal’s national transport network. Manang is currently reachable by foot or air only. Wildlife and plants will be destroyed. The air will become more polluted as will the water and other natural resources. There will also be a human price to pay – many of the native guides and porters will lose their jobs and be unable to support their families.

However, tourism chiefs in Nepal are eager to replace their traditional “trekker with no money” with a new generation of tourist. They will be actively wooing the wealthier clientele seeking adventure holidays that include such things as heli-skiing and paragliding.

Aditya Baral, Nepal's senior foreign affairs adviser, has been quoted as saying: "After the construction of the road ... the number of trekkers will be reduced. We have a trade-off here between economic development and infrastructure and the effect on tourism and the environment. We need to create alternative attractions to just trekking."

Baral, who is also a former public relations director at the Nepal tourism board, went on to say "We are trying to create man-made tourism attractions, like theme parks, adrenaline sports like bungee jumping and rafting."

The Annapurna Conservation Area Project group has legitimate fears. They state that benefits from such activities as heli-skiing and golf "will mainly go to a few specialized tour operators and some more expensive hotels.” It further stated “Although there will be some trick-down (of profits), for the majority of the local people these activities will have little effect on alleviating poverty”.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Biodegradable - A Win-Win Solution

Finally, companies are beginning to make biodegradable products for items that will only be used for a finite time. What a win-win situation!! These items can do their job and then be composted; so, they do not linger for eternity in a landfill or add dangerous toxins to our environment.

I will be adding the websites of some of the companies that are on the cutting edge of this newly-discovered niche; so, anyone who is interested can drop in on the sites and learn more.

Cereplast Compostables ( has a full range of biodegradable cutlery and other foodservice items. Their resins are renewable, ecologically-sound substitutes instead of the traditional polluting petroleum-based plastics we use now. These resins replace nearly 100% of the petroleum-based additives used in plastics today.

These resins are starch-based, made from corn, wheat, tapioca and potato starches that come primarily from the US Midwest (versus oil from the Middle East). They have a cutlery line made almost entirely from corn. These products break down in less than 180 days when placed in an industrial compost facility. Perhaps one of the major benefits is that because composting is a natural process, carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) is released into the soil instead of the atmosphere. Two other benefits are noteworthy: 1) the variety of starch options available, the price can remain relatively stable; and, 2) the manufacturing process for these resins takes place at a lower heat than used with petroleum-based plastic thereby lowering the manufacturing costs.

Genpak ( handles a wide variety of biodegradable and compostable items aimed at the foodservice industry. They carry compostable food containers, compostable cups and compostable dinnerware. In places such as Universities, food fairs and other places where food is regularly served to the customer in a styrofoam container (that is used once and then hits the landfill); these compostable items are not only less expensive; but, they compost easily thereby reducing the strain on the landfills. Genpak uses resins containing polylactic acid or PLA proteins obtained from potatoes, wheat or rice as well as other bio-based materials.

Earth Straws Inc. ( Biodegradable drinking straws and stirrers are produced with renewable, starch-based resins that make the product a less expensive and ecologically-sound alternative to conventional polypropylene straws. These products are 100% biodegradable and compostable requiring only 180 days to fully decompose.

Eco Products ( has developed bio bags. There are compostable and biodegradable lawn & leaf bags; trash bags and can liners; and dog waste bags. They have a huge variety of foodservice trays (3 compartments, sushi trays, hinged herb containers, deli takeaway tubs) and some are made from sugar cane.

EnviroArc ( For gardening enthusiasts (that’s me!!) a line of biodegradable pots have been developed. Now instead of disturbing sensitive roots by having to remove the plant from the pot before sending that pot to the landfill; you just plant the pot AND the plant in the soil. The pot composts giving your plants a more comfortable growing environment without the shock that comes from removing them from the pot before planting.

EcoFuture BHD ( is an environmental-conservation and technology-based company situated in Malaysia. They have managed to find a use for the oil palm biomass (empty fruit bunches – EFBs). This is the previously unused refuse which is left over from the Group’s milling operations. This resource is reclaimed and recycled into biodegradable products such as foodstuff containers. Metro-Knight, a subsidiary of EcoFuture converts palm oil biomass (an ecologically sustainable agricultural residue) into pulp. This pulp is used to manufacture various types of paper and paper-based products. The pulp is chlorine-free and low in lignins.

I thought it only fitting the final entry is from Everlife Memorials (
). They sell a wide variety of biodegrable urns and biodegradable cremation urns. Each urn is made from recyclable materials and painted with water-soluble colours. These urns are environmentally friendly, biodegrade within hours, days or a year (depending on urn), and are ideal whether it is a land or sea burial. They also have biodegradable urns for pet ashes.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Odds & Sodds

Since I have long been a fan of the strange, the bizarre, the unexplainable (I Want To Believe), I thought I’d have a little fun with this column. So, here is a collection of recent strange happenings.

This week tongues started wagging when Tom Biscardi, a known Bigfoot hunter, claimed to have in his possession a dead Bigfoot. He is keeping the remains in a freezer at an undisclosed location. He states that the creature is 7’7’ tall, his feet are 15”+ long while his palm measures 11"+ in length and 6”+ across. He has no fangs which Mr. Biscardi feels prohibits Bigfoot from being a meat eater. He claims he was alerted to the body by two hunters in Georgia who found the already dead body. Mr. Biscardi claims he will let the media examine the body; but, hasn’t set a definite place for the encounter.

It is now official. The drunker you are the better everyone around you begins to look. A study was done at the University of Bristol in England by researcher Marcus Munafo, an experimental psychologist. At the end of the study Mr. Munafo declared that both men and women who drank found faces more attractive. “A roughly 10% increase in ratings of attractiveness, “ he claims.

There is a monk named Brother Cesare Bonizzi who resides in a Capuchin Friars monastery near Milan, Italy. The 62-year-old brother has a very bizarre sideline. He is the lead singer for a successful heavy-metal band that recently performed at the “Gods of Metal” festival headlined by Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.

The world’s smallest snake has been discovered. The snake could easily be mistaken for a worm as it is only about 10 centimeters long (>4” long) and can fit on a quarter with room to spare. This reptile was discovered on Barbados – a Caribbean island.

A sweetshop owner in Aviles, Spain has discovered a 5-cent euro coin that had been altered somewhat. The head of King Juan-Carlos which usually decorates this piece had been morphed into the profile of Homer Simpson. Jose Martinez, the owner of the shop says, “the coin must have been done by a professional.”

Joseph Marine III, a fourth-generation candy maker, is making a fortune at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk seaside amusement park. And he isn’t the only one – Famous Dave’s at the Minnesota State Fair is making his own brand of this confection. The only difference being that Famous Dave's sprinkles theirs with sea salt. “It was a good combination of sweet and salty”, says the fair’s spokeswoman Brienna Schuette after trying one herself. What is that has everyone wanting more? Crispy bacon coated in dark chocolate.

Cash, a female German Shepard, has been in the news lately. She has demonstrated beyond doubt that a dog is man’s (or woman’s) best friend. Her owner Jake Baysinger, 25, took her into a deserted area where he committed suicide. Cash stayed by her dead master’s side for six weeks living on rats, rabbits and other small prey as she kept her beloved owners body safe from the coyotes. When found, she was thinner and dehydrated; but, alive. She received veterinary care and has gone home to with her master’s widow and their son.

What will they think of next? Kitchen Craft in the United Kingdom has come up with a rotating ice cream cone which rotates the scoop of ice cream in a gentle counter-clockwise motion. This is so no one need be forced to actually have to lick the ice cream – they just have to stick out their tongue and let the cone do the rest.

I can’t believe someone has enough time on their hands to come up with something like this!! Bellevue, Wash. Designer Britta Bacon (no relation to the snack mentioned previously) has come up with stilettos for toddlers. They have started selling recently in Toronto for $39.95 a pair. It should be noted (for the safety conscious) that the stilettos are plastic. I can’t help but wonder where it will all end.

The US Transportation Security Adminstration announced June 10, 2008, that security scanners with amazing capabilities were being installed in 10 US airports. These scanners emit “millimeter waves” that can literally see through clothes in an attempt to identify metal, plastics, ceramics, chemical materials and explosives. Security screeners, who sit in a separate room, can clearly see the passengers’ sexual organs and other details of the body. The Transportation Security Administration reassures (?) us by stating that the passengers’ faces are blurred out to maintain the passengers' anonymity. Wow!! I sure feel better.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wind Energy

T. Boone Pickens is a man who not only has a vision; he has a plan. He is a Texas billionaire who, ironically, made his billions in the oil business. Now he is pushing what he calls, the Pickens Plan. The Pickens Plan ( describes his plan to use wind energy to replace 20% of the American use of electricity in the coming 10 years.

T. Boone shows how our dependence on foreign oil has grown out of all proportion. In 1970, 24% of all foreign oil used was imported; in 1990, that figure rose to 42%; and, now in 2008, the United States imports 70% of its oil. That amounts to $700 billion dollars a year spent on foreign oil – that’s 4 times the annual cost of the Iraqi war.

It has been shown that the while the United States of America has only 4% of world population; it uses 25% of the oil. A plan is definitely needed.

T. Boone Pickens has predicted that if the U.S. could replace the 22% of electricity currently supplied by natural gas and replace it with wind energy, the U.S. could save approximately $3 billion a year. He suggests moving the 22% of energy created by natural gas into the transportation portion of energy allotment. Natural gas is the cleanest form of natural energy, so far, for long-distance transportation of goods.

He further predicts that if things are left the way they are the cost of purchasing foreign oil in 10 years will be $10 trillion – the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind.

T. Boone Pickens stands behind his claim that the United States is the Saudi Arabia of wind power.

He points to the fact that world-wide studies have shown the Great Plains States (extending into Canada) has the greatest wind energy potential in the world. The Department of Energy has agreed that this wind corridor can provide 20% of America’s electricity. In fact, North Dakota alone has the potential to supply wind-derived electricity to over ¼ of America. Pretty amazing stuff!! Don’t forget – Canada has this same potential as the wind corridor extends into Canada from the Great Plains States.

A study done by Stanford University in 2005 shows that there is enough wind power worldwide to generate 7 times the energy needed. This amazing fact becomes even more amazing when you realize that the study was based on only 20% of this wind power being captured and harnessed. A 3-megawatt wind turbine produces enough energy in one year to replace 12, 000 barrels of imported oil.

The cost to build a wind farm in this corridor that stretches from the Texas panhandle to North Dakota does not come cheap; however, it is a one-time cost. It would cost $1 trillion to build the farm and another $200 billion to build the infrastructure necessary to transmit that energy from the wind farm to the ultimate destination our residential homes. It won’t take many years at $700 billion a year to recoup this money and more.


  • Creation of new construction and maintenance jobs
  • Thousands of locals will be employed in the building of these wind farms. These are high-paying, highly-skilled jobs on a par with aerospace jobs
  • No threat to farming and/or grazing so there is no threat to human health, animal health, local food production and/or existing local economies
  • Natural gas now used to produce electricity can be used in the transport business. Natural gas emissions are 23% lower than diesel and 30% lower than gasoline, according the California Energy Commission, making it the cleanest transportation fuel available today
  • Once the turbine is built, the energy it produces does not create any green-house gases or any other pollutant
  • Many people love the look of a wind farm
  • Could be a tourist attraction
  • Areas to which electricity has NOT found its way can use wind turbines to produce their own
    Wind turbines come in many shapes and sizes making them available to everyone from a single household to and entire village or town
  • Doesn’t contribute to acid rain
  • It is one of the cheapest sources of renewable energy technologies
  • Wind energy requires very little maintenance (approx. 40 hours/year – 20 hours twice yearly)


  • Wind speed is not constant and there are days when it does not blow at all
  • Many people find the sight of a wind farm to be a blot on the landscape
  • The turning of the blades is noisy. They produce a swooshing sound equivalent to the sound of a family car traveling 70 mph. This noise is produced as long as the blades are turning – this means nighttime as well
  • There is pollution involved in the manufacturing of wind turbines
  • Suitable areas for wind farms are often near a coast or shoreline where the property is very expensive
  • Capable of killing birds - good knowledge of migratory routes is essential
  • Can affect TV reception if you live nearby
  • Wind turbines may cause loss of habitat to wildlife due to the disturbance from its noise, movement of blades, subtle food chain changes and electromagnetic fields. The electromagnetic fields can affect the sonar systems of some animal species

Just in case you think the use of wind power is a new technology, think tulips and wooden shoes. The Babylonians and Chinese used wind technologies to pump the water for irrigating their crops inland 4,000 years ago; what about, sailing ships, paragliding…….

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Reader Says....

Shannon has left me a comment under the topic of Air Fresheners, Incense, and Scented/Aromatherapy Candles. She makes a very valid point that some of the plants listed to help clean the air are toxic to cats and possibly other pets. She is absolutely correct and I thank her for bringing this aspect to my attention. Shannon recommends visiting this site for more information: Thanks, Shannon and I look forward to more comments.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Green House, Green Driveway

There is a house in Oshawa, Ontario developed by Marshall Homes that is causing people to talk. It is an environmentally-friendly, green home that hosts one of the first green driveways. It was the driveway that first attracted all the attention – not your usual black asphalt; but, a soft grass-green substitute that filters out impurities and keeps salt, sealants and other chemicals out of the sewer systems. Passers-by weren’t sure what to make of this new material. The colour was certainly beautiful and it did soften the look of the house; but, what about the watering, weeding, and mowing. What is this wonder material? Think grass.

The trick to keeping the grass driveway from developing ruts and sinking is the plastic support grid that sits just below the surface and absorbs the weight of the vehicles. Not even heavy trucks or SUVs can destroy this driveway.

This technology has been around for many years; but, so far most installations in Canada (at least) have been in business settings. Most homeowners did not even realize that it existed or that it could be installed in personal residences. Marshall Homes feels that with the growing concern for the environment – NOW is the time to market this technology to home owners.

Grass driveways can prevent petroleum products such as driveway sealants, oil, salt and car care products from entering the sewer system. It does this by absorbing and/or reducing the runoff that would occur with an asphalt driveway. Keeping it out of the sewer also keeps it out our lakes, rivers and other water sources. This reduces the damage to the fish habitats and the ecosystems involved.

There are only two problems that Marshall Homes can see with installing a green driveway and they are working to remove the kinks. In winter, the grass could die back and in summer, if you leave a vehicle parked on it for days, it could yellow out.

However, Rick Cavallero of Invisible Surfaces, a company in Colorado that sells similar green driveways, says, "snow is not a problem for the surface; but, constant traffic is". He recommends that people not go in and out in exactly the same spot over and over – vary the places you park. He reminds us that this is real, growing grass and needs to be treated a little differently than asphalt. While this may take a different standard of care; at least, you won’t have to spray it with tar every year.

This driveway prices in at about $10 a square foot – less than an interlock driveway; but, five times the cost of a standard driveway. Possibly the only environmentally-unfriendly aspect of this technology is that extra water is required to keep your driveway green. However, many other environmentally-friendly components of the house make up for this.

Low-flow toilets, shower heads and faucets are installed throughout the house with a special tank in the basement that takes all the grey water from showers, baths, dishes, etc. and reroutes it to be used in the toilets. Reusing this water in-house not only stops 30% of your water and sewage usages; it also prevents this water from having to go through a treatment plant before being pumped back to you, consuming extra electricity in its journey. The only drawback to this plan is that the toilet water may be a little soapy; although, this could reduce your need for toilet cleaning supplies.

The final green touches to this home are energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs and recycled paint with low levels of volatile organic compounds.

When do I move in?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Solar Energy

Is it any wonder that the world is looking at alternate energy with world conditions the way they are today? We are already beginning a recession due to the continually rising prices of gasoline and other petroleum products.

A world food crisis is beginning due to the cost of shipping food worldwide. Added to that are the problems with the world rice harvest. Already people living in the third world are dying of starvation. Rice is a staple food for more than three billion people world wide. The increased rice prices are causing wide-spread starvation in some countries. But the problem doesn't there.

While the financial pinch we are feeling due to the rising cost of gasoline used to transport foodstuffs, petroleum produces more than gasoline. The Rankin Energy Corportation ( provides a partial list of products made from petroleum. This list represents only 144 of 6000 items made from oil.

Solvents, Diesel, Motor Oil, Bearing Grease, Ink, Floor Wax, Ballpoint Pens, Football Cleats, Upholstery, Sweaters, Boats, Insecticides, Bicycle Tires, Sports, Car Bodies, Nail Polish, Fishing Lures, Dresses, Tires, Golf Bags, Perfumes, Cassettes, Dishwasher, Tool Boxes, Shoe Polish, Motorcycle Helmet, Caulking, Petroleum Jelly, Transparent Tape, CD Player, Faucet Washers, Antiseptics, Clothesline, Curtains, Food Preservatives, Basketballs, Soap, Vitamin Capsules,
Antihistamines, Purses, Shoes, Dashboards, Cortisone, Deodorant, Footballs, Putty, Dyes, Panty Hose, Refrigerant, Percolators, Life Jackets, Rubbing Alcohol, Linings, Skis, TV Cabinets, Shag Rugs, Electrician's Tape, Tool Racks, Car Battery Cases, Epoxy, Paint, Mops, Slacks, Insect Repellent, Oil Filters, Umbrellas, Yarn, Fertilizers, Hair Coloring, Roofing, Toilet Seats, Fishing Rods, Lipstick, Denture Adhesive, Linoleum, Ice Cube Trays, Synthetic Rubber, Speakers, Plastic Wood, Electric Blankets, Glycerin, Tennis Rackets, Rubber Cement, Fishing Boots, Dice, Nylon Rope, Candles, Trash Bags, House Paint, Water Pipes, Hand Lotion, Roller Skates, Surf Boards, Shampoo, Wheels, Paint Rollers, Shower Curtains, Guitar Strings, Luggage, Aspirin, Safety Glasses, Antifreeze, Football Helmets, Awnings, Eyeglasses, Clothes, Toothbrushes, Ice Chests, Footballs, Combs, CD's, Paint Brushes, Detergents, Vaporizers, Balloons, Sun Glasses, Tents, Heart Valves, Crayons, Parachutes, Telephones, Enamel,
Pillows, Dishes, Cameras, Anesthetics, Artificial Turf, Artificial limbs, Bandages, Dentures, Model Cars, Folding Doors, Hair Curlers, Cold Cream, Movie Film, Soft Contact Lenses, Drinking Cups, Fan Belts, Car Enamel, Shaving Cream, Ammonia, Refrigerators, Golf Balls, Toothpaste, Gasoline

Americans consume petroleum products at a rate of three-and-a-half gallons of oil and more than 250 cubic feet of natural gas per day each! But, as shown here petroleum is not just used for fuel.

If the price of petroleum continues to rise, we could be in for a world-wide recession.

So…what can we do? Is there a way to make changes now and avert disaster? Several new technologies are being investigated as replacement sources of energy. Probably the one most talked about is solar energy.

Shi Zhengrong, the world’s first solar billionaire, predicts solar power will rival oil and coal before the end of the next decade.

Even though solar energy remains more expensive than nearly any other form of energy, it is being investigated now due to concerns about climate change. However, carbon is becoming more expensive and improved technology combined with increased capacity has driven down the manufacturing cost of photovoltaic cells (directly convert light into electricity at the atomic level) to reduce the price gap between solar and other energies.

Two examples of how the use of and interest in solar power is taking off.
· Last year in China, the National Development and Reform Commission, announced that solar projects would be initiated in ten provinces
· Florida started a solar rebate program that proved to be overwhelmingly successful. If residents of Florida purchased and installed a new solar energy system into their homes between July 1, 2006 & June 30, 2010, the state would rebate a portion of the purchase price

An excellent website which discusses ALL aspects of solar energy is:
They compiled the following list describing the pros and cons of solar energy.

Solar Energy Advantages

Saves you money
  • After the initial investment has been recovered, the energy from the sun is practically FREE.
  • The recovery/ payback period for this investment can be very short depending on how much electricity your household uses.
    Financial incentives are available form the government that will reduce your cost. (visit to find out about incentives available in the state you live in!).
  • If your system produces more energy than you use, your utility company can buy it from you, building up a credit on your account! This nifty little scheme is called "net-metering".
  • It will save you money on your electricity bill if you have one at all.
    Solar energy does not require any fuel.
  • It's not affected by the supply and demand of fuel and is therefore not subjected to the ever-increasing price of gasoline.
  • The savings are immediate and for many years to come.
    The use of solar energy indirectly reduces health costs.

Environmentally friendly

  • Solar Energy is clean, renewable (unlike gas, oil and coal) and sustainable, helping to protect our environment.
  • It does not pollute our air by releasing carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide or mercury into the atmosphere like many traditional forms of electrical generation does.
  • Therefore Solar Energy does not contribute to global warming, acid rain or smog.
  • It actively contributes to the decrease of harmful green house gas emissions.
  • It's generated where it is needed.
  • By not using any fuel, Solar Energy does not contribute to the cost and problems of the recovery and transportation of fuel or the storage of radioactive waste.

Independent/ semi-independent

  • Solar Energy can be utilized to offset utility-supplied energy consumption.
  • It does not only reduce your electricity bill, but will also continue to supply your home/ business with electricity in the event of a power outage.
  • A Solar Energy system can operate entirely independently, not requiring a connection to a power or gas grid at all. Systems can therefore be installed in remote locations (like holiday log cabins), making it more practical and cost-effective than the supply of utility electricity to a new site.
  • The use of Solar Energy reduces our dependence on foreign and/or centralized sources of energy, influenced by natural disasters or international events and so contributes to a sustainable future.
  • Solar Energy supports local job and wealth creation, fuelling local economies.

Low/ no maintenance

  • Solar Energy systems are virtually maintenance free and will last for decades.
  • Once installed, there are no recurring costs.
  • They operate silently, have no moving parts, do not release offensive smells and do not require you to add any fuel.
  • More solar panels can easily be added in the future when your family's needs grow.

Solar Energy Disadvantages

  • The initial cost is the main disadvantage of installing a solar energy system, largely because of the high cost of the semi-conducting materials used in building one.
  • The cost of solar energy is also high compared to non-renewable utility-supplied electricity. As energy shortages are becoming more common, solar energy is becoming more price-competitive.
  • Solar panels require quite a large area for installation to achieve a good level of efficiency.
  • The efficiency of the system also relies on the location of the sun, although this problem can be overcome with the installation of certain components.
  • The production of solar energy is influenced by the presence of clouds or pollution in the air.
  • Similarly, no solar energy will be produced during nighttime although a battery backup system and/or net metering will solve this problem. See for details on how net metering allows you to save electricity and money.
  • As far as solar powered cars go - their slower speed might not appeal to everyone caught up in today's rat race.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Toxins in Cosmetics and Personal Care Products

“They’ve lived a hard life; you can see it in their face.” How many times have we heard someone make this comment about a person who looks older than their age?

Aging, along with wrinkles, sagging, dull skin and various other signs, is a very personal experience based on two factors – intrinsic and extrinsic features. Intrinsic aging depends on internal factors such as your health, your genetic makeup, even your ancestry. Extrinsic aging is affected by factors external to your body such as pollution, cosmetics, climate, and many others.

The old adage “You are what you eat” by Brillat-Savarin has been modified for use today. “If you wouldn’t eat it; don’t put it on your skin” has become the new war cry of those opposed to the cosmetic industry’s seeming lack of concern for the health of their customers. This sage advice has become prevalent in the last decade or so. People are becoming more aware of not only what they are putting into their bodies; but, also what they are putting on their bodies.

Slathering killer cosmetics on our faces and bodies has been with us for eons. The Egyptians used a combination of malachite (green ore of copper), galena (lead sulfide) and kohl (soot, fatty matter, and metal [lead, antimony, manganese or copper]).

The ancient Greeks plastered lead all over their faces. This “cream” was supposed to clear up blemishes and improve the colour and texture of the skin. It was so popular that lead-based face masks became a must-have beauty treatment.

It would appear that not much has changed since those times. The amount of chemicals and toxins in our modern-day cosmetics and skin care products is so high that been stated by biochemist Richard Bence that 4 lbs. 6 oz. of chemicals a year is absorbed through the skin by cosmetic-wearing women.

Cosmetics worn on the face are not only absorbed through the skin. They can also be absorbed by inhaling particles through your nose, tiny particles entering the eyes to be absorbed by the mucosa lining, and/or eaten by such things as chewing on your lipstick and swallowing.

A study conducted by the University of California among 58,000 hairdressers, cosmetologists and manicurists showed these beauty-care workers had four times the average rate of multiple myeloma (a malignant bone tumour).

Some of these chemicals to be aware of are mercury (eye make-up), lead (lipstick), aluminum (lipstick), propylene glycol (personal care products), sodium laurel sulfate (shampoo), placenta (skin care), phthalates (nail polish remover) and petroleum products (skin cream, shampoo).

Instead look for products that are composed mostly of plant essential, oils or derivatives. A good rule of thumb is “if you can’t pronounce it – you don’t need it.” Of course, the best defense against unsafe cosmetics is to read the label and investigate the ingredients you find listed there. There are two excellent web sites that can help you sort through the insanity so you can decide whether this cosmetic is a product you want on your skin. - helps you to determine which cosmetics and personal care products are safe. The results of an intense cosmetic ingredient study are available here. – will give you all the ingredients in various personal care products and which ingredients are safe and which are not. Not all labels give you all the details and “Campaign for Safe Cosmetics” helps you determine which product contains what.

Perhaps the safest way to wear cosmetics is: Don’t – unless you really have to. After all, who wishes to share the same epitaph the famous Irish beauty, Marie Gunning (the Countess of Coventry) whose death in 1760 had many calling her a “victim of cosmetics.”

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Do Air Fresheners,Scented and/or Aromatherapy Candles, and Incense Freshen The Air?

Who doesn’t love a room that smells fresh and clean with the hint of a comforting fragrance tickling our noses? Advertising has done a wonderful job of convincing us that a room is not really clean unless the air has been “freshened”. After all, those cute, cuddly forest creatures wouldn’t be trying to sell us something that could harm our health, would they?

Think again!!

What these air fresheners do instead is coat our nasal passages with a film that deadens our nerve endings. This confuses us into thinking the room is fresh smelling because it reduces our ability to detect odours.

It is no wonder that problems such as asthma, cancer, SIDS, and Alzheimer’s are becoming more prevalent when you realize exactly what goes into these air fresheners.

The ingredients may include chemicals such as formaldehyde (used in embalming), naphthalene (derived from coal tar or petroleum), artificial fragrances (derived from petroleum), 1, 4 dichlorobenzene (1,4 DCB may harm lung function), camphor (affects the central nervous system), ethanol (synthetic ethanol is from petroleum) and benzyl alcohol (depresses the central nervous system). Wow!!

Are scented and aromatherapy candles any better at clearing the air safely? Not when you take a closer look. Most candles of made of paraffin wax (a petrochemical), artificial scent (a petrochemical) and/or pure essential oils. Essential oils convert into unhealthy byproducts when burned. Metal or lead core wicks are used in most scented paraffin candles. When the wick burns, lead is released into the air to be inhaled or cling to furniture and walls. All of the lead you breathe in ends up in your bloodstream. Lead has been proven to contribute to irreversible neurologiecal damage as well as renal disease, cardiovascular effects and reproductive effects, and reproductive toxicity. The black soot created from burning these candles is toxic.

The American Lung Association gives this warning: "scented, paraffin candles cause lead poisoning and using slow-burning paraffin candles cause poor indoor air quality, and a serious health concern."

Incense has been proven to release dangerous amounts of cancer-causing toxins into the air. These toxins are inhaled and circulated throughout the body doing the same damage to your body as air fresheners and candles. So…how do you freshen a room?

Here a few simple, inexpensive, healthy ways to freshen the air in your home.

  • Open the windows
  • Burn 100% pure beeswax candles with 100% cotton or paper wicks
  • Simmer fragrant herbs such as rosemary or thyme in a saucepan or warming diffuser
  • Use baking soda in your closets and bathroom as well as your fridge
  • Use vinegar and water to clean
  • Mix a few drops of a pure essential oil with water in a mister and spritz
  • Crush dried lavender and place in a small lidless container out of sight
  • Grow air-cleaning household plants. The top ten air cleaners (in descending order) are: areca palm, Reed palm, Dwarf date palm, Boston fern, Pothos, English ivy, Australian sword fern, Peace lily, Rubber plant and the Weeping fig. An additional benefit these plants provide is to reduce the carbon dioxide in a room
  • Use volcanic rock to absorb odours
  • Simmer homey spices like cinnamon and cloves on the stovetop

Monday, August 4, 2008

Saving Money AND the Environment

Well, it doesn't get much better than this, does it? Saving money and the environment. Since this blog is still in its infancy, I thought I would start with tips we may or may not be familiar with.

1. Take an empty 1 litre plastic bottle, fill it with water, cap it securely and place in the toilet tank. By doing this, you are displacing 1 litre of water that will not be used per flush. Most people don't realize (until it's pointed out to them) that the same quality of water you use in your toilet is the same quality water that you drink from your kitchen tap. Yup!! If it were not for the container it comes in, you could drink your toilet water.

So what does this mean for us consumers? It means that unless we change the way we handle some of our water delivery, we will literally be flushing good, drinkable water down the toilet.

Our water-processing plants have a finite limit on the amount of water they are able to process without building new plants. Unless we conserve water where we can, we could soon be experiencing the kind of water conservation problems that places like California are having.

Not only does this tip save the environment 1 litre a flush; but, it also helps to reduce the risk of the toilet overflowing as less water is being circulated. If you are living in a place that charges you for water, you'll save a little there too.

2. Start checking out water-saving shower heads immediately. Again, another incidence of water literally going down the drain. Water-saving shower heads work by mixing air in with the water. This allows for less water without having to extend shower time.

Some of these heads have managed to reduce the amount of water they use to 1.5 gallons per minute. This a water saving of at least 1 gpm. They can use up to 1/3 less water and 6% less energy. For a family of four these water and energy savings can be approx. $600.00 a year. WOW!!

3. Let's talk electricity for a moment. Our electric power is in somewhat the same position our water power is in. While we have all the water we need to make the electricity in most places, what is missing are the power plants to process it.

While we all know about turning off lights (and TV) when we leave a room, using lower wattage, energy-saving bulbs, etc.; how many of us have thought about the "ghost" electricity used by instant-on appliances. For every instant-on appliance we have uses electricity whether it is turned on or off. This is the "ghost" electricity used to keep it in an "instant-on" mode. Electricity we don't see being used.

The solution is as simple as a power bar. Plug these energy pigs into a power bar that you can turn off at night. You will have to wait a moment or two for these appliances to power up; but, the environment will thank you.

4. Save electricity when baking and/or cooking with these tips.
  • when using your oven, try to bake as many things as possible at one time. When roasting chicken and vegetables on the top rack, try baking the cherry pie for tomorrow's dessert on the bottom rack.
  • turn the oven off 15 mins. before the items are thoroughly cooked. Leave the oven closed for the next 1/2 hour. Do NOT open the door. This traps and allows the residue heat in the oven to finish the cooking without using any energy.
  • always cover pots - they boil much faster that way

5. Try to buy organic whenever possible. Much of our agricultural land is becoming unuseable due to overuse of artificial fertilizers and pesticides. The nutritional value in soil is becoming more and more depleted meaning fewer crops, less nutrient-rich food, and more land becoming worthless as farm land.

Organic farming treats our soil with more respect. No chemicals or pesticides are allowed anywhere on the property. Absolutely nothing that is not 100% natural and/or organic is used in crop production.

The result? Produce that is tasty; healthy; loaded with valuable vitamins, minerals and fibre; and, good for our bodies. The even better news is that organic produce costs approx. the same as that produce grown on artifical fertilizer and chemical-laden pesticides.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Global Warming

Where to start? There are so many areas on this planet that require attention. So...having to make a choice - I decided on global warming.

Global warming has been raising his ugly head for many years now. Unfortunately, many have refused to see it because it didn't mix with their bottom line -- the earning and hoarding of money. We are now reaping the rewards of such thinking.

Recently, three disasters have begun to occur in our many ice shelves world-wide. There is a crack in the ice shelf of the Antarctic, an Argentenian glacier is beginning a rare winter rupture and; in China, there is a glacier melting in the Tian Mountain Range.

Here's more on each:

Crack in the ice shelf of the Antarctic:

160 square miles of the Wilkins ice shelf has broken away from the Antarctic peninsula. This threatens a collapse of the much larger ice shelf behind it. This has shocked scientists who in 1993 predicted the collapse of the ice shelf within 30 years. However, this would appear to be too early.

Elsewhere on the peninsula, peripheral ice shelves have broken away allowing the inland ice to move towards the sea. This could cause rising sea levels.

In a catastrophe in the making, six other ice shelves have already been totally lost. They are the Prince Gustav Channel, Larsen Inlet, Larsen B, Wordie, Muller and Jones shelves. Since the Wilkins ice shelf is farther south and should be more protected by colder temperatures.

Argentenian glacier:

This Argentenian glacier named "Perito Moreno" acts a dam between the two halves of Lake Argentenia. The 60 metre tall glacier breaks apart every year; however, it does so in annual summer cycles. This winter it began a rare winter rupture - not seen since 1917.

Melting glacier in China

The "Urumqi No. 1" glacier is melting at the rate of 10 metres a year. This glacier supplies the drinking water for the 2 million people in the city of Arunci below the glacier. Not only is the glacier shrinking (since 1962, it has lost more than 20% of its volume); but, the glaciers are becoming black with some of the greenhouse emissions from the city downstream.

If the Urumqi No. 1 glacier melts, it will have consequences that go far beyond the 2 million people downstream.