Monday, May 31, 2010

Hundreds Die in India - Hottest Year in 100 Years

Photo courtesy: Sulekha

India is currently facing the hottest season ever recorded in the nation -- the hottest since record keeping began in the late 1800s. And the heat has been disastrous: Hundreds of people have died already, and many more are seriously ill. Hospitals in one region in the north have been receiving 300 people a day. And it looks like it's going to get worse.

The Guardian reports:
The death toll is expected to rise with experts forecasting temperatures approaching 50C (122F) in coming weeks. More than 100 people are reported to have died in the state of Gujarat where the mercury topped at 48.5C last week. At least 90 died in Maharashtra, 35 in Rajasthan and 34 in Bihar ... Officials admit the figures are only a fraction of the total as most of the casualties are found in remote rural villages.

This tragedy is especially brutal for India due to those large swaths of Indians who don't have proper access to medical facilities.

Livestock and wildlife have been suffering as well, with deaths of animals being reported all across Northern India.

And 50C, or 122 F, is hot. The highest temps that I've ever endured have been in the 105-110 F range, and that was pretty unbearable. I can't begin to imagine what 122 F feels like -- especially without access to cold running water or A/C.

But the fact remains that this record-breaking hot summer in India is unlikely to be an anomaly going forward. As Matt reported earlier today, the record breaking high temps have continued to outpace record breaking lows by a ratio of around 2:1 -- and that this past April was the hottest on record, globally. And the Guardian reports that according to the Indian Meteorological Department, "Mean temperatures for both March and April were the highest in more than 100 years."

Which means there's more of this devastating weather on the way, as climate change causes temperatures continue to rise over time.

A train passenger quenches his thirst in Allahabad as temperatures in the Indian city soared above 113 degrees Fahrenheit. Photograph: Diptendu Dutta/AFP/Getty Images. Photo courtesy: Guardian

Record temperatures in northern India have claimed hundreds of lives in what is believed to be the hottest summer in the country since records began in the late 1800s.

The death toll is expected to rise with experts forecasting temperatures approaching 50C (122F) in coming weeks. More than 100 people are reported to have died in the state of Gujarat where the mercury topped at 48.5C last week. At least 90 died in Maharashtra, 35 in Rajasthan and 34 in Bihar.

Hospitals in Gujarat have been receiving around 300 people a day suffering from food poisoning and heat stroke, ministers said. Officials admit the figures are only a fraction of the total as most of the casualties are found in remote rural villages.

Wildlife and livestock has also suffered with voluntary organisations in Gujarat reporting the deaths of bats and crows and dozens of peacocks reported dead at a forest reserve in Uttar Pradesh.

"Because of the heat, lakes and other water bodies have been reduced to parched land, making dehydration common in such birds," said Neeraj Srivastava, a wildlife campaigner.

Even India's northern hill stations – historically a refuge from the heat – have not escaped. Temperatures in Shimla, recorded a peak temperature of 32.4 Celsius, eight degrees hotter than the seasonal average.

After a drought last year, India's farmers are now impatient for the arrival of the monsoon, which irrigates 60% of India's fields. National meteorologists have forecast "normal" rains for this year, a relief in a country where prices of basic foodstuffs have rocketed in recent months due to growing shortages and structural problems with agriculture.

Forecasters have predicted that the south-west monsoon could arrive over the southern state of Kerala as early as today, but it is unlikely to reach the parched north before the end of June.

"It's too long to wait. We'll all go mad before," said Sanjoy Kumar, who sells dumplings from a stall in south Delhi.

The capital has sweltered under intense heat for weeks though, having endured temperatures of around 45C last week, dust storms and scattered rain brought some relief over the weekend. The new air-conditioned metro has seen record numbers of passengers as travellers abandon buses, taxis and auto rickshaws.

Parts of the city have suffered prolonged electricity blackouts and, in outlying suburbs, water shortages. In upmarket Mehrauli village, residents were forced to buy from private suppliers plying door to door with tankers. In the new town of Gurgaon, entire apartment blocks have run short. In the city of Nagpur, Maharashtra, petrol pumps ran dry after railway wagons which normally carry fuel were switched to supply water.

The Indian Meteorological Department attributes the record heat to lack of atmospheric humidity, hot dry winds blowing across the south-western Thar desert and the effects of last year's El Nino cycle.

Mean temperatures for both March and April were the highest in more than 100 years.

Columnists have wondered why, given that scorching temperatures in India are inevitable, the heat has become the centre of every conversation. For Jug Suraiya, a well-known writer, the answer lies in the concept of karma and rebirth.

"That's why we moan and bitch and bellyache," Suraiya explained in The Times of India newspaper. "Because by doing so we hope in our next incarnation, life will, in all senses of the term, be cool."

Via TreeHugger, Guardian and Climate Progress

Quotable Quotes

"At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done--then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago."

- Frances Hodgson Burnett, American author.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Long-tailed Tit Mother Finds 11 Chicks Overwhelming

DINNER QUEUE: A long-tailed tit and her brood of 11 chicks. Picture: Gary Shilton. Photo courtesy: Wildlife Extra News

Dinner time can be a strenuous affair no matter what size your brood is; but, spare a thought for the long-tailed tit captured on camera feeding her eleven chicks. Normally, a long-tailed tit would expect a brood of between six and eight.

The picture was taken by RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) volunteer Gary Shilton who spends two or three days a week at the RSPB's Fairburn Ings nature reserve near Castleford, West Yorkshire, UK, meeting visitors and talking about the wildlife.

Many birds are busy feeding their young at this time of the year; and, with some species having two or three broods in the coming weeks, the RSPB is urging everyone to continue putting out food and water over the summer. With global warming, this is sound advice for all bird lovers no matter where you live.

Long-tailed tits were among the birds that struggled with the unusually cold weather in the United Kingdom this winter. They, like other small-bodied birds, are particularly susceptible to the cold having to eat almost continuously to stay alive.

Long-tailed tits flew into the Top 10 of the English wildlife charity's Big Garden Birdwatch for the first time last year suggesting they were getting used to feeding on seeds and peanuts in hanging feeders and on bird tables. But this year's survey showed a 27% drop in sightings, pushing them to No 12.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Plant my Phone?

Photo courtesy: Care2

Here is one of the best recycling programs around. Please let everyone you know who uses a cellphone know about Plant My Phone. The article is reprinted from Care2.

Plant My Phone is a new company designed to reduce the very large number of old cell phones that end up in landfills. The idea is both simple and potentially far-reaching. You send them your old, unwanted cell phone for free using their postage-paid self-mailer bags. The free postage-paid plastic bags are available in cities like Chicago, San Francisco, Medford, MA, Corvallis, and New Orleans. If you don’t live in these cities, you can print a free shipping label from their website, or request a free self-mailer bag to be sent to you. Then mail in your old phone.

Their site says mailing in an average two-year old phone will result in the planting of fifteen trees. A first generation Apple iPhone in good condition equates to the planting of 79 trees, and a Nokia80 equals about 30, (depending on the condition). You can look at the phone to trees conversion table to see if your phone is there.

The mailed phones are recycled, and their materials are sold to fund tree planting. They say focusing on cell phone recycling is important because, “…of the 140 Million old cellphones each year, only 10% get recycled.” Cell phones contain heavy metals which are toxic to the environment.

The types of trees planted are: Cocoa, Coffee, Banana, Orange, Cedar, Teak, Mahogany, Oak, Acacia, Eucalyptus, Laurel and Leucaena. Their trees are planted in twelve countries: Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Burundi, Senegal, Zambia, India, Philippines and Haiti.

PlantMyPhone has a goal of planting seven billion trees. They are an official partner of the United Nations Environment Programme’s: Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign.

Friday, May 28, 2010

How Does Christmas With BP Sound?

Photo courtesy: Nasa (public domain)

All the attempt to plug the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico have failed so far (even if the top kill seemed to be succeeding at first), and even the latest attempt to cut-and-cap the well has hit a snag when a diamond-bladed saw operated by a remote-controlled underwater robot got stuck in the riser pipe. All of this is making experts skeptical of BP's time estimates, and if we have a rough hurricane season, things could get apocalyptic.

Photo courtesy: BP

If the relief well misses the target and takes longer to complete because of hurricanes. Other unforeseen technical problems could happen... It's not that far-fetched to imagine that the leak could still be gushing oil in the fall of 2010, and even the winter. That would be worst case scenario, but so far, we're pretty far from the best case scenario. It might turn out that we can plug the well within a couple of months, but that we discover that a lot more barrels were leaking each day than we first thought (maybe because of those underwater oil plumes that BP says don't exist).

The following is a reprint of an article from Bloomberg. I didn't feel I was able to do the justice to the tragedy that this writer has.

“The worst-case scenario is Christmas time,” Dan Pickering, the head of research at energy investor Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. in Houston, said. “This process is teaching us to be skeptical of deadlines.”

Ending the year with a still-gushing well would mean about 4 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf, based on the government’s current estimate of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels leaking a day. That would wipe out marine life deep at sea near the leak and elsewhere in the Gulf, and along hundreds of miles of coastline, said Harry Roberts, a professor of Coastal Studies at Louisiana State University.

So much crude pouring into the ocean may alter the chemistry of the sea, with unforeseeable results, said Mak Saito, an Associate Scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

BP, based in London, says it can’t guarantee the success of its attempt now underway to capture the flow of oil and divert it to a ship at the surface. Thad Allen, the U.S. government’s national commander for the incident, said operations may need to be suspended to allow for an evacuation ahead of a tropical storm or hurricane, during which oil would continue to gush into the Gulf.

The so-called relief well being drilled to intercept and plug the damaged well by mid-August might miss -- as other emergency wells have done before -- requiring more time to make a second, third or fourth try, Dave Rensink, President Elect of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, said.

Robert Wine, a spokesman for BP, declined to detail the company’s own worst-case scenario.

In its original exploration plan for the Macondo well about 40-miles from the Louisiana coast, BP estimated the worst-case scenario for an oil spill was 162,000 barrels of crude a day, according to a filing with the U.S. Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service.

BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward has more recently put the maximum potential leak rate at 60,000 barrels a day.

Wine reaffirmed BP’s estimate that it will take 90 days to stop the leak with a relief well, which would be the first half of August. He said an early, vigorous hurricane season could have an impact on the schedule.

The ultimate worst-case scenario is that the well is never successfully plugged, said Fred Aminzadeh, a research professor at the University of Southern California’s Center for Integrated Smart Oil Fields who previously worked for Unocal Corp. That would leave the well to flow for probably more than a decade, he said in a telephone interview.

More likely, the relief wells will eventually succeed, though it might take longer than the three months predicted by BP, he said.

It took Mexico’s state-owned oil company, Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, nine months to plug its Ixtoc I well after an explosion and fire in 1979.

The company’s first attempt with a relief well failed, so it had to drill a second. Eventually, more than 140 million gallons of crude spilled into the Gulf of Mexico -- the biggest offshore oil spill on record.

Last year, an explosion at a well off the Australian coast owned by Thailand’s national oil company, PTT Exploration & Production Pcl, required five attempts before it could be plugged by a relief well 10 weeks after the spill began.

BP has improved its odds by drilling two emergency wells at once. If a first attempt fails, it will have the second well ready to try again. The company is using techniques such as a larger well bore, raising its chances of hitting its mark, said Robert MacKenzie an analyst with FBR Capital Markets in Arlington, Virginia.

Plugging the well is another challenge even after BP successfully intersects it, Robert Bea, a University of California Berkeley engineering professor, said. BP has said it believes the well bore to be damaged, which could hamper efforts to fill it with mud and set a concrete plug, Bea said.

While these efforts are underway, BP could face delays if a hurricane enters the Gulf, forcing an evacuation. BP says it is developing a mechanism to quickly disconnect the ship collecting oil from the well so that it can evacuate ahead of a storm. That would leave the well gushing oil, Bea said.

Ocean biologists are concerned the oil could linger in deep layers in the sea, generating oxygen-depleted “dead zones” that kill marine life.

Plumes of oil spinning off of the spill have been detected in two directions, and researchers suspect there are more.

“Clearly, oxygen levels are going to be decreased in the vicinity of the plume area, and it looks like it could be a very large plume area,” said Saito, of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The crude oil could enter a current that would draw it out of the Gulf and up along the East Coast of the U.S. all the way to Nantucket, Roberts, of Louisiana State University, said.

The American Bird Conservancy has identified 10 key regions on the Gulf Coast where birds could be harmed. If the oil is spread widely by a hurricane, there could be long-term damage to bird populations, the non-profit organization has said.

“What is difficult to measure is the loss of future generations of birds when birds fail to lay eggs or when eggs fail to hatch,” George Fenwick, the organization’s president, said in a statement on at-risk areas in the Gulf Coast.

Marine life may take decades to recover, wiping out businesses along the coastline that depend on the fishing and seafood industry.

Al Sunseri, who runs P & J Oyster Co., the oldest continually operated oyster dealer in the U.S., said he could end up out of business:

“This could be the end of our 134-year-old business,” he said. “I’ve been doing this 30 years. I have a son and I don’t know if he’ll be able to carry on this next generation.”

Via TreeHugger and Bloomberg

Quotable Quotes

"Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages."

- Thomas Edison, American inventor.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Human Infected With Computer Virus

Photo courtesy: Discovery News

As if humans didn't have enough viruses to worry about, one British researcher has successfully infected himself with a computer virus.

Mark Gasson, senior research fellow at the University of Reading, was able to infect a tiny, radio frequency identification (RFID) chip with a virus before he placed it under the skin on his hand. He uses that chip to activate his cell phone, as well as open secure doors.

Thanks to the computer chip, his cell phone knows when he's using it, and when someone else is trying to operate the device. If someone else tries to use his phone (after, say, stealing it), that person is not able to use it. Only Gasson can.

And instead of him swiping an ID card to enter his building, he just needs to wave his hand to gain entrance. The convenience of not taking out his ID and the safety of his phone come with a price, however.

He served as a carrier, and was able to pass the virus on to an external computer. The virus was of Gasson's own design and was not malicious. But he was able to show that computer viruses can move seamlessly between computers within and outside the body. And theoretically, if a person had several computers in his or her body, a computer virus could spread from one to another, infecting them all.

Why would people have computers in their bodies? Researchers around the world are developing tiny electronics that can be ingested or embedded in people for health or even security reasons. Consider the camera pill, which records data from the intestines, bionic eyes, bionic limbs, implantable telescopes to improve vision, and more.

The kind of computer chip that Gasson installed in his body is not in wide use, so no need to worry as of yet. In fact, you have more reason to worry about bed bugs than computer bugs. But in the future, computers will get under our skin, and people will have to take precautions to spread digital infections.

Via Discovery News

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wow!! Nature Amazes

This 125-year-old rhododendron is located in downtown Ladysmith, BC on Vancouver Island.

This rhodo is incredibly beautiful and is in full bloom now. It is about 25' high and 30' wide.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Quotable Quotes

"The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature."

- Anne Frank, child author during Holocaust.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Would You Go This Far To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint?

Photo courtesy: Ahmedabad Mirror.

How far would you go to reduce your eco-guilt? You know, that feeling that racks a person when he/she realises the amount of damage he/she has inflicted on environment? Anupam Majumdar, a successful apparel designer used to drive luxury cars; wore expensive, designer clothes; owned gadgets galore; and, enjoyed a life of extravagance and excess; but, gave it all up to reduce his carbon footprint. He is a man whose goals and aspirations have changed.

Majumdar sold his two gas-guzzling cars and purchased a fuel-efficient car,the Maruti 800; recycled his expensive clothes and switched to clothes that were discarded by others; gave away his cellphones and other gadgets - all to embrace a new lifestyle of austerity. He even quit his high-paying job to begin his own business of recycling fabrics - usually khadi. Khadi is a traditional home-spun material usually made from organic cotton made popular by Mahatma Ghandi.

The 42-year-old Majumdar became the opposite of the well-known American dream. Instead of going from rags to riches, he went from riches to rags - literally.

“I realised how my lifestyle was harming environment; so, I changed it completely. I no longer buy things I don’t need. I make the best out of what is available,” he says.

Majumdar used to enjoy wearing expensive clothes; but, today, he wears his brother-in-law’s hand-me-downs. He refuses to buy new shoes wearing only old, repaired pairs. “My brother-in-law, who lives in Mumbai, buys new clothes every three to four months. When I came to know about this, I asked him to send me all his old clothes,” he says.

Majumdar’s company, Genesis Designs makes outfits from discarded bits of fabric. Photo courtesy: Ahmedabad Mirror.

Majumdar feels that too many throw out clothing that is still totally acceptable for no apparent reason. “One just gets bored, so he/she discards them,” he theorizes. “I keep some of the garments my brother-in-law sends me and distribute the rest among my relatives in Vallabhipur, Bhavnagar. I have realised that what goes out of fashion in Mumbai is pretty much in style Vallabhipur.”

How did his wife accept this sudden change in lifestyle? It did not upset his wife, Rupal, in any way. In fact, she welcomed the change. “I was always against the ostentatious way of living. I am glad he gave it up,” she says.

Fueled by his desire to ease his carbon footprint, he has started his own company called Genesis Designs. His company designs and promotes garments made from recycled fabrics. He collects discarded bits of fabric, such as khadi, from the larger fabric companies using them to design capris, wraparounds and kurtis (tunic/tops) for the aam junta (the masses). This is a great way to prevent waste cloth material from ending up in a dump yard.

“Khadi has become too elitist. It’s time to take it to the common people,” states Majumdar. “The rich can afford to get their clothes styled by designers, who have best tailors at their service. I want to cater to the aam aadmi (common person).”

Majumdar manages to make use of even randomly cut pieces of cloth and rejected khadi bales. A khadi weaver will throw away a bale if he fails to get colour consistency. “If the weave is defective, we run perpendicular prominent bands through texturing or embroidery. This is done to ensure the finished outfit looks beautiful,” he says.

Majumdar believes in sharing his expertise to make a difference. Currently, he is working with the Madhya Pradesh government and is trying to come up with ways to make good use of waste generated by artisans.

“Some day, I will set up a store where everything, from a simple pair of tongs to the most complicated machine, will be repaired. I feel we need a campaign to discourage the practice of use and throw. It’s not part of the Indian culture. People must realise the benefits of recycling and reuse,” he says.

Via Ahmedabad Mirror

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Trouble in the Democratic Republic of Congo

A man stands in a pool of water in a gold mine on Feb. 23, 2009, in Chudja, near Bunia, northeastern Congo. (Photo: Lionel Healing/ AFP-Getty Images) Photo courtesy:

I find this story very disturbing as I have 2 sponsored children in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They both come from incredibly poor backgrounds; but, fortunately live in a World Vision project where their most basic needs are met.

With all the fighting and civil unrest in DROC, I worry about them.

This story is taken from and outlines the newest problem for the Democratic Republic of Congo.

First there were "blood diamonds," the gems that fueled conflict and human rights abuses in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Then there was "conflict cocoa," the chocolate source that's harvested by children and funds civil war in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast). Now concern is rising about the minerals that go into common consumer electronics.

Countries rich in minerals such as cobalt, coltan, cassiterite, copper and gold are often marred by corruption, authoritarian repression, militarization and civil war. Rebel groups, governments and mining companies exploit mineral resources, fuelling civil and interstate conflict as players vie for control over riches.

Countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DROC), previously known as Zaire, have fallen victim to rebels who use revenue from minerals such as coltan and cassiterite to purchase arms and fuel conflict. Governments often establish repressive military regimes in mineral producing regions to protect their "national interests," but local populations rarely see the profits and are subjected to environmental damage wrought by corporations.

DROC is immensely rich in natural resources and is thought to be the wealthiest country on earth in regards to natural resources. Current patterns of resource extraction have, however, severely compounded the nation’s troubles. The consumer electronics industry is the largest end user of the minerals that are fueling the fighting in eastern DROC.

In DROC, many people—especially young children and women—are suffering at the hands of armed groups who are trying to make a profit from mining "conflict minerals."

According to a recent U.N. report, the mainly Rwandan Hutu rebels of the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda continue to exploit gold and cassiterite in North and South Kivu provinces in DROC with the help of trading networks in Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and the United Arab Emirates, while irregular arms deliveries have come from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Sudan.

The rebels also get weapons leaked to them from the army itself while the rebel Diaspora abroad, particularly in Europe, coordinates fundraising and operations. The factions—which include a mix of renegade Congolese army troops, Rwanda-influenced Tutsi rebels and fugitive Hutu fighters from the 1994 Rwandan genocide—control mines that generate an estimated $144 million to $218 million each.

A campaign is growing in the United States to end wars and atrocities in eastern DROC by discouraging the export of conflict minerals. In May 2009, U.S. Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Russ Feingold (D-WI) introduced the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009. The Act calls on the United States to support multilateral efforts to investigate, monitor and stop activities involving natural resources that contribute to illegally armed groups and human rights violations in eastern Congo.

The bill also would require that the State Department closely monitor the financing of armed groups in mineral-rich areas of eastern Congo. Under the legislation, U.S.-registered companies selling products using columbite-tantalite, cassiterite, wolframite or derivatives of these minerals would be required to annually disclose to the Securities and Exchange Commission the country of origin of those minerals. If the country is DROC or neighboring countries, the company would need to disclose the mine of origin.

If passed into law, the Conflict Minerals Trade Act will give consumers the choice to purchase conflict-free electronics products.

Regarding eastern DROC, Senator Durbin said, "Without knowing it, tens of millions of people in the United States may be putting money in the pockets of some of the worst human rights violators in the world, simply by using a cell phone or laptop computer. We ought to do all we can to make sure that the products we use and the minerals we import, in no way support those who violate human rights abroad."

The United Nations estimates that 200,000 women have been raped, and the armed factions still active in the country's east have used children for mining, fighting and other work, according to Human Rights Watch, the United Nations and others. U.S. officials and rights groups say militias in eastern DROC are forcing villagers to extract the minerals, and that profits from their sale help purchase weapons used in ongoing violence.

The Obama administration is pressing American industries to end the use of conflict minerals that are fueling ongoing violence in eastern DROC. At a meeting at the State Department on May 14, U.S. officials met with executives from electronics, automotive and other companies whose products contain tungsten, tin, tantalum and gold. These minerals are often illicitly mined in the conflict zone. The department said they discussed ways to ensure the company’s products do not contain conflict minerals.

After the U.S. senate’s move to stem the flow of money from mineral mines fuelling the brutal civil war in DROC, the watchdog group Global Witness (GW) is calling on Europe to follow suit. According to GW, armed groups control much of the mineral trade in eastern DROC. These armed groups profit from the multi-million-dollar mineral trade by forcibly controlling the mines and exacting bribes or taxes. Those buying the conflict minerals include companies based in E.U. member states.

Minerals from eastern DROC are shipped mainly to middlemen in Malaysia, Thailand, China and India, and there's no certification system for minerals from the region. Human rights activists have long called attention to how conflict minerals are sold to purchase arms by rebel groups that regularly commit horrific abuses against civilian populations, including mass murder, rape, torture and forced recruitment.

Some experts are suggesting an adapted "Kimberley model," similar to the one regarding diamonds, while others think that it is unlikely that international legal measures would make a contribution to the fight against illegal exploitation of minerals.

Simply avoiding minerals from the region isn't perfect either, both because rebels profit from other sources, like charcoal sales and bribery, and because legitimately mined minerals are a critical economic driver for the region. Coltan and Bauxite in particular are two prized resources that are fraught with conflict.

Coltan, short for columbite-tantalite, a metallic ore that contains elements used in cell phones, is mined in DROC's war-ravaged Kivu region. The United Nations estimates the DROC made $750 million worth of profits from coltan between 2000 and 2004.

The 13-year-old civil conflict, which has so far claimed 5 million lives and pulled in armies from Rwanda and Uganda, is essentially a resource war over the DROC's minerals: vast reserves of diamonds, gold, tungsten, tin, and coltan. There have also been 200,000 recorded cases of sexual violence against women and girls, not to mention the destruction of one of the world's most endangered rain forests.

The West African republic of Guinea is the world's primary supplier of bauxite ore, used to make the aluminum that goes in everything from soda cans to airplanes. Twenty percent of Guinea's GDP, or $857 million a year, comes from its bauxite-dominated mining industry. A Chinese firm recently agreed to invest $7 billion in Guinean infrastructure in return for mining rights.

The bauxite bounty has not trickled down to the 70 percent of Guineans living in poverty, though mining companies are technically supposed to pay development taxes to their local communities. Meanwhile, bauxite revenues have enabled the military junta to consolidate power and ignore international sanctions.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Oil Spill Reaches Louisiana

No joke, this is Philippe dipping his hand into oil on a Louisiana beach. All photos and video courtesy of Philippe Cousteau.

The following is a blog by Philippe Cousteau regarding the BP oil spill reaching the mangrove swamps of Louisiana. Enjoy (in a manner of speaking)!

Guest blogger Philippe Cousteau is chief ocean correspondent for Planet Green, and will host the network's forthcoming Blue August programming. He is reporting from the Gulf oil spill in Louisiana.

Grand Isle, Louisiana - May 25, 2010
Another early morning, all the more early because we didn't stop work till 2 a.m. last night. Today we head off to Grand Isle, about three hours away from Venice, to visit with Louisiana Wildlife and Fish department. Oil has made its way into the mangroves which means some of our worst fears have been realized. These wetland habitats are some of the most fragile in the world and also some of the most important: 40% of all the wetlands in the lower 48 states exist along the coast of Louisiana and they are directly in the oil's path. Look at the photos and you will see why once the oil gets into these tight intricate bodies of water, there is no getting it out.

By the time we arrived, it was midday and the sun was hanging hot in the sky. Horse flies surrounded us as we made our way to the Wildlife and Fisheries boat and headed out into the bay. The despair was visible in the eyes of the scientists and researchers who accompanied us. There was frustration, too, and it wasn't long before they told me why.

The red tape (darker spots) on this map shows where the oil has already hit.

"BP has been sitting around for almost a month without preparing this area for the oil," I was told. "The local authorities had to commandeer their equipment just a few days ago when it was clear they were doing nothing. Now the oil has made it into the marshes and mangroves and we have no idea what the long-term impacts will be but we are concerned that this will be worse than Katrina."

They went on to explain that as the oil penetrates the vegetation, it kills it and leaves bare soil to be washed away, which will decimate this once vital and productive eco-system.

"We are seeing birds covered in oil during the height of nesting season and tar is washing up on the beaches," they explained. There was real concern in their voices, people who have grown up here and who are now watching the entire ecosystem and economic bases of the community fall apart before their eyes. As I dipped my fingers into a puddle of oil--one of many strewn across the sand--I was angry, too. This is the price of our arrogance, I thought. This black poison is choking the life out of one of the most incredible places on earth.

Cousteau speaks with a local naturalist about weathered oil on the beach.

Oil-drenched and fresh booms precariously surround an island where birds are nesting.

As I drove back to New Orleans last night, the images I saw helped to reinforce the urgency of this issue. We have a clear choice: continue to pollute our planet or fight for a cleaner world. As Ted Danson reinforced yesterday on "Larry King Live," this is not an economics-vs.-environment issue. A true champion for the environment, Danson reminded us that clean energy creates more jobs than oil and gas and that this illusion that our economy can't afford to go green is just that--an illusion. The truth is that we can't afford not to.

Tanker truck are being used to store oil skimmed from the water.

For more from Philippe and his travels to the Gulf, check out Earth Echo International.

Via TreeHugger

Friday, May 21, 2010

10 Horrifying Facts About The BP Oil Spill

Photo courtesy: Care2

Despite promising efforts to stop the Gulf oil leak through a 'top kill' effort, a mind boggling amount of damage has already been done to this precious ocean ecosystem.

It can be hard to keep track of all the devastating statistics, quotes, and facts concerning this disaster, but it is essential that the public maintain a working knowledge of what's going on, both politically and environmentally.

As a people, we must demand change from both an oil industry that drills first and asks questions later, and the corrupt government agencies that let them get away with it. We must also realize that we have encouraged this sort of behavior through lifestyles that are addicted to oil, and an unwillingness to make sacrifices for a cleaner, healthier future.

Here are 10 of the most horrifying facts about the Gulf oil spill. Read them and let their gravity weigh heavy on your hearts and minds. Let them motivate you to take action so our planet never experiences this kind of manmade disaster ever again.

1. New estimates show the undersea well has spilled between 17 and 39 million gallons. These estimates dwarf those of BP, who claimed the spill had only released 11 million gallons to date, and mean that the Gulf leak is far bigger than Exxon Valdez, making it the worst spill in American history.

2. The National Wildlife Federation reports that already more than 150 threatened or endangered sea turtles are dead. And 316 sea birds, mostly brown pelicans and northern gannets, have been found dead along the Gulf Coast as a result of the spreading oil.

3. The Minerals Management Service, directly under the supervision of the Interior Department failed to impose a full review of potential environmental impacts of the BP drilling operation because preliminary reviews of the area concluded that a massive oil spill was "unlikely."

4. The Department of the Interior’s Office of the Inspector General released a report indicating that at one Gulf Coast office of MMS, agency officials attended sporting events on the dime of oil companies, stored porn on company computers, used cocaine and crystal meth, falsified inspection reports, and accepted "gifts" from "good friends in the oil industry." (Links via ProPublica).

5. A significant amount of the oil slick is being drawn well to the south in the east-central Gulf of Mexico, meaning that it has been captured by the Loop Current. Oil in the loop is a hazard to the Florida Keys, (and entire East Coast) as well as areas of the west coast of Florida. Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico could also be at risk of exposure to the oil, which also could be drawn into the Gulf Stream through the Florida Straits, and perhaps northward to part of the Atlantic Seaboard.

6. As much as we'd like to forget it, the Gulf Coast is prime hurricane country, and if a storm blows in, the result could be devastating. The presence of oil could lead to a more powerful hurricane because crude accumulating at the surface could be raising the temperature of the surrounding water.

7. Transocean Ltd., the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig leased by BP, has been flying under the radar in the mainstream blame game. Because of past experience with Gulf Oil spills, Transocean decided to insure the Deepwater Horizon rig for about twice what it was worth. In a conference call to analysts earlier this month, Transocean reported making a $270 million profit from insurance payouts after the disaster.

8. Perhaps because it knows the possibility of remedying the situation is practically impossible, BP has made publicly available its laughable "Oil Spill Response Plan" which is, in fact, no plan at all. Besides mentioning the protection of Arctic wildlife (probably lifted directly from the Exxon Valdez plan), the plan does not include any disease-preventing measures, oceanic or meteorological data, and is comprised mostly of phone numbers and blank forms. Most importantly, it includes no directions for how to deal with another deep-water explosion in the future.

9. A large number of fishermen are becoming seriously ill - and many of them believe that the chemicals that BP is using in the Gulf are to blame. Local shrimpers in Louisiana are already predicting that it will be seven years before they can set to sea again.

10. Gambling websites are now placing odds on what species will be first to become extinct as a result of the oil belching from BP's ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico.

Via Care2

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Beijing Zoo Puts Its Animals on The Menu

Visitors to the Beijing zoo can be forgiven for being confused about the mission of zoos. Are zoos promoting preservation of animals and their environments or are they promoting the captivity and breeding of exotic animals for consumption by people with too much money?

While there are signs at the zoo requesting visitors not to feed the animals, patrons of their restaurant are encouraged to try tasty morsels from their exotic menu. In short, they were selling animals for human consumption that they had just presented to the visitors as endangered or under threat.

After spending the day watching the animals and seeing displays of love like the one pictured below, diners at the zoo's restaurant can gnaw on the webbed toes of a hippopotamus, chew a kangaroo tail, nibble a deer's penis or slurp down a bowl of ant soup.

A mother hippopotamus gives her female calf a nudge on the behind as they swim. Visitors to Beijing zoo can view the animals then eat other members of their species. Photo courtesy: Ken Bohn/AFP/Getty Images (Guardian)

The Legal Daily newspaper released this information in one of its articles earlier this week; and, since then there has been outrage from environmentalists and conservationists worldwide.

"It is utterly inappropriate for a zoo to sell such items," said Ge Rui of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "One of the zoo's missions is to foster love of animals and a desire to protect them. But by selling the meat of caged beasts, this zoo stimulates consumption and increases pressure on the animals in the wild. It is socially irresponsible."

Chang Jiwen, a legal expert at the China Academy of Social Sciences said: "Although it is legal, I don't think it is humanitarian. It is very inappropriate and immoral of them to sell such products. It is against the aim of the zoo." Jiwen is trying to draft an animal protection law.

Online comment was also predominantly critical. "Watching animals imprisoned in a limited space while eating their siblings, how would you feel?" wrote Zheng Yuanjie. Yuanjie is the founder and sole writer of a children's magazine known as the "King of Fairy Tales". He also writes a popular microblog.

The owners of the Bin Feng Tang restaurant were unwilling to make any real comments to the Guardian; but, they have admitted to the media that the meat was obtained from exotic animal farms that bred these exotic species strictly for consumption by wealthy patrons. They allege that the sales have been going on for several years now with the full knowledge and approval of authorities.

However, bowing to pressure, the staff said they will be revising the menu which includes such environmentally-challenged species as scorpions, peacocks, ostrich eggs, shark fin (soup); and, the cost of these luxuries...between 10 - 1,000 yuan (£10-£100) ($14.32-$143.20)

Photo courtesy: Flickr, Creative commons
Fortunately, it seems that the zoo responds to negative criticism; and, that as people become more aware, the criticism becomes more intense and widespread. At one time, the animal cages contained informative signs detailing such things as which parts were the tastiest, which parts were more medicinal; and, other useful snippets.

The removal of the signs and the revamping of the restaurant's menu are steps in the right direction.

Via TreeHugger and Guardian

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Greenland is Rising

Satellite image of Western Greenland. Narrow grey band in center is melting ice, between the rocky coast to the left (west) and thicker, non-melting, higher altitude ice to the right (east). Small lakes form in this region during the summer. Arrow points to darker grey zone of rapidly thinning ice near the outlet of Jacobshavn glacier, which also loses mass due to iceberg calving. Photo courtesy: NASA

Reprinted from LiveScience

The ice is melting so fast in Greenland that the giant island is rising noticeably as the weight is lifted. In some spots, the land is rising 1 inch per year.

A vast ice cap covers much of Greenland, in some places up to 1.2 miles (2 km) thick. The ice, in place for eons, presses down the land, making the elevation at any given point lower than it would be sans ice.

Scientists have documented on Greenland and elsewhere that when longstanding ice melts away, the land rebounds. Even the European Alps are rising as glaciers melt.

Now, scientists at the University of Miami say Greenland's ice is melting so quickly that the land underneath is rising at an accelerated pace.

Some coastal areas are going up by nearly 1 inch per year, the scientists announced today. If current trends continue, that could accelerate to as much as 2 inches per year by 2025, said Tim Dixon, professor of geophysics at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) and principal investigator of the study.

"It's been known for several years that climate change is contributing to the melting of Greenland's ice sheet," Dixon said in a statement. "What's surprising, and a bit worrisome, is that the ice is melting so fast that we can actually see the land uplift in response."

Dixon added: "Even more surprising, the rise seems to be accelerating, implying that melting is accelerating."

The results, based on a study of data from global positioning system (GPS) receivers stationed on the rocky shores of Greenland, were published online by the journal Nature Geoscience. The data stretches back to 1995.

"During ice ages and in times of ice accumulation, the ice suppresses the land," explained Shimon Wdowinski, research associate professor in the University of Miami RSMAS, and co-author of the study. "When the ice melts, the land rebounds upwards," Wdowinski said. "Our study is consistent with a number of global warming indicators, confirming that ice melt and sea-level rise are real and becoming significant."

The measurements are restricted to places where rock is exposed, limiting the study to coastal areas. However, previous data indicate that ice in Greenland's interior is in approximate balance: Yearly losses from ice melting and flowing toward the coast are balanced by new snow accumulation, which gradually turns to ice. Most ice loss occurs at the warmer coast, through melting and iceberg calving and where the GPS data are most sensitive to changes. In western Greenland, the uplift seems to have started in the late 1990's.

Melting of Greenland's ice contributes to global sea-level rise. If the acceleration of uplift and the implied acceleration of melting continue, Greenland could soon become the largest contributor to global sea-level rise, said Yan Jiang of the University of Miami RSMAS and another co-author of the study.

"Greenland's ice melt is very important because it has a big impact on global sea-level rise," Jiang said. "We hope that our work reaches the general public and that this information is considered by policy makers."

Via LiveScience

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Baby Sloths: Too Cute For Words

A short video taken at a sloth refuge. So cute! Take a minute, watch the video, then spend the rest of the day smiling.

Meet the sloths from Amphibian Avenger on Vimeo.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rare Photo of Cuvier Beaked Whale

Photo courtesy: Wildlife Extra

Cuvier's beaked whale is probably the most common of all the beaked whales, and they are the most commonly seen. These whales are found worldwide in tropical and temperate waters. They can grow up to 7m (23 ft) long and weigh up to 3 tons.

Cuvier's beaked whale hotspots: The Azores, Madeira, The Falkland Islands & the Bay of Biscay.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

I'll Huff and I'll Puff and I'll Blow Your House In

Take a look at the house below. I'd move in there in a flash - it's good looking; and, there's a lot of windows. Works for me! Well, this house is made from an unusual, environmentally-friendly material that is proving to be tough as nails.

All photos courtesy: balehausatbath

This house is being put through rigorous testing; and, the results have been very impressive so far. Despite the fact that it's built from straw bales (yes, you read that right - straw bales), this home is strong enough to survive hurricane-force winds. When exposed to the equivalent of 120 mph winds, it only moved one-sixth of an inch. The results weren't too surprising to me. In one of my past lives, I worked on a farm. Anyone who has ever had to "sling bales" (lift them and sling them to another location) knows those puppies are heavy.

A housing co-operative in Leeds, UK is so impressed they are seeking permission to build 20 straw houses. And why not? Not only are they completely environmental; but, they look sleek and modern (and, I still love those huge windows!) A little landscaping and the squareness of the building can be used to great advantage.

The University of Bath's Centre for Innovative Construction Materials have been carrying out a major research project for the past two years to scientifically assess straw as a sustainable building material. The two-storey house was opened last year. Since then the group has been monitoring it for sustainability in a number of different areas such as insulating properties, humidity levels, air tightness and sound insulation qualities.

But; it doesn't look like straw? The straw bales are actually between the inner and outer wall acting as insulation; and, performing other amazing duties. The wood panels are prefabricated; and, the straw is just dropped in at the construction site. This wall and roof cladding system is called Modcell; and, uses only straw bales and hemp. The walls are 1'6" thick making it an incredibly sturdy structure. Remember the hurricane-force winds?

The insulating properties are pretty superior too. The heating bills for a straw home were 80% lower than for a brick home due to the insulating properties of the panels. Construction had a much lower carbon footprint because of the ease of transport.

Straw and hemp are the ultimate environmentally-friendly building materials because they are totally renewable. Straw absorbs carbon dioxide as it grows; so, the buildings made from it can have a small; or, even negative, carbon footprint. It is a by-product of farming (affordable); and, can be grown locally in many places (easy availability).

The house has passed (surpassed, actually) fire tests. It was exposed to temperatures over 1000°C with the requirement that they had to withstand the heat for more than half an hour. After two hours the panel still was intact: that's 4x the time required. That would make me feel much better about my chances of surviving a fire in this home!

Worried about a flood? No problem, the straw can be easily replaced in the panels at a minimal cost. In the Centre's view, the house could last more than a hundred years.

About that housing co-op in Leeds? They are planning to build 20 of them. The price of a single-storey flat (condo) will be £60,000 ($US 86,000 ) and a 4 bedroom row house (town house) will be £160,000 ($US 230,000).

Via TreeHugger

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Dirt is Becoming Haute Cuisine

Photo courtesy: Food & Wine

Nothing sets your teeth on edge quite like biting down on a piece of dirt or a little sand in your salad. Yuck!

However, despite the fact that most people find dirt in their salad repulsive, the latest copy of "Food & Wine" discusses an interesting new trend in haute cuisine. Unbelievably, chefs across the world are experimenting with dirt; both real and lovingly created.

Eating dirt or clay (geophagy) has actually been around for a long time. Most people who eat dirt/clay live in Central Africa and the southern United States. While, in some instances, it is a cultural practice; it also fills a physiological need for nutrients.

The clay commonly ingested in Africa contains important nutrients often lacking in the daily diet due to poverty; unavailability of fresh fruits and vegetables; and, many other reasons. These nutrients include: phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, copper, zinc, manganese, and iron. The tradition of geophagy spread from Africa to the United States with slavery.

Now it would seem that dirt has attracted the attention of the culinary world. Some chefs are so intent on "getting back to the land" that they are incorporating the soil into their dishes.

TreeHugger says:
Kristin Donnelly of Food & Wine reports that the trend is widespread - chefs around the world are experimenting with dirt on the plate. Some are creating imitation dirt from ingredients like dehydrated beets, or crushed dried-mushrooms. But others, like Spain's Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca are using high tech devices like the Rotavapor—more commonly used in the perfume industry—to distill soil, the essence of which is used to create an earthy foam. The trend isn't just confined to chefs—installation artist Laura Parker asks gallery goers to sniff soil samples, and then taste vegetables that were grown in that soil.

If you are of trusty European stock (as I am), I grew up hearing that a little dirt never hurt anyone - not that my mother ever recommended eating it. However, if a little dirt was eaten all that was required was a bit of a wash.

Old English farmers who farmed by traditional methods would taste their soil to determine mineral content and other factors. One taste; and, they knew what the earth needed.

Who knows maybe the next fad will be gardening by the taste of your soil. Night classes to learn the fine art of soil tasting?

Via TreeHugger

Friday, May 14, 2010

Genetically-Modified Crops Cause Liver and Kidney Damage

Photo courtesy: Health Freedom Alliance

I, and many others like me, have long been against genetically-modified foods. We believe that our food is fine the way it is. I, and many others like me, are particularly outraged over the fact that there is no law requiring food companies to label these frankenfoods as genetically-modified. I maintain its my right to know what you are trying to feed me. When I came across the following article, I just had to reprint it.

Reprinted from Health Freedom Alliance

A report published in the International Journal of Microbiology has verified once again that Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) crops are causing severe health problems. A legal challenge issued against Monsanto forced the multi-national agriculture giant to release raw data revealing that animals fed its patented GM corn suffered liver and kidney damage within just three months.

Adding to the mounting evidence that GM crops are dangerous all around, this information provides a damning indictment against Monsanto which continually insists that its GM products are safe. Not only are GM crops proving disastrous for the environment, but study after study, including those conducted by Monsanto itself, is showing that GM foods are detrimental to health.

Monsanto’s data indicated that the company had conducted tests on three varieties of its GM corn, two of which contain the dangerous Bt protein, and one designed specifically to resist Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. All three are widely grown in the United States while only one is currently grown in Europe.

Dr. Gilles-Eric Seralini, a French researcher from the University of Caen, was tasked with examining the data and providing a review. While stopping short of declaring GM crops to be toxic, he did emphasize that chronic negative effects were apparent and that there were “statistically significant” indications of kidney and liver damage.

The specific effects observed in test rats included a buildup of hormones in the blood indicating that their liver and kidneys were not functioning properly. One variety of the corn led to elevated blood sugar levels and increased triglyceride levels in female rats given it.

Dr. Seralini concluded that, because GM crops are foreign substances that have never been a part of a normal diet, there is no telling what the long-term effects of consumption will be on people. In animals, significant disruption of normal bodily function has been observed even in the short term.

Genetically-manipulated food crops are not fit for human consumption and should not be classified as food. No legitimate study has ever proven them to be safe or nutritious. The burden of proof is on the producers of such crops to verify their safety and, to date, all data has revealed that they are unsafe. Claims that GM foods will end world hunger are baseless, propagated only by those that have a financial interest in converting the world’s food supply to their own patented varieties in order to control it.

Via Health Freedom Alliance

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Five Everyday Items That May be Killing You

News last week that many popular perfumes and colognes contain chemicals that can trigger allergic reactions and disrupt hormones drew attention to the hidden potential danger posed by popular products. Here's a list of the five things you use every day that may be affecting your health.

Photo courtesy:

1. Cellular phones

While studies have been claiming mobile phone use can lead to cancer and other neurological ailments for years, the evidence remains hazy. That said, cellular signals aren't the only way your phone can kill you. Phone calls made in the car, even when made hands free, are extremely dangerous. According to the U.S. National Safety Council, 28 per cent of all car accidents are related to phone use. Texting is even worse and is causing an epidemic of accidents amongst young drivers. The problem is beginning to attract celebrity attention, with Oprah waging a very public campaign to end the use of phones in cars. The death of a 9-year-old girl near the host's home, hit on her bike by a distracted driver, inspired Oprah to begin her "No Phone Zone" drive.

The daytime TV mogul says she sees the campaign as similar to that waged by Mothers Against Drunk Driving in an earlier era; hopefully using a mobile while driving will soon be viewed with the same scorn.

Photo courtesy: aromaterapia

2. Perfumes and Colognes

While scents have already been banned in many offices for the havoc they can wreak on sensitive snouts, a study released last week, revealed that hidden ingredients in many popular perfumes may pose hidden dangers. The report by Environmental Defence in Canada and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics in the U.S. found many popular fragrances contain chemicals that can cause allergic reactions and disrupt hormones. Most disturbing, is that these chemicals were not listed on labels. The tests also turned up a large number of other substances that have yet to be reviewed by regulatory bodies. Industry spokesman Darren Praznik argues cosmetic makers are not required by law to list chemicals found in minuscule quantities and that none of the compounds noted by the study are on the list of prohibited ingredients maintained by Health Canada. Researchers warn to pay particular attention to avoiding products that smell like a rain forest or strawberries, as they likely contain lilial, a chemical that causes estrogen-like effects on the body.

Photo courtesy: mommyofmany

3. Cleaning Products

While improved household hygiene in the modern era has helped push life expectancies in the developed world toward triple digits, the products that have helped accomplish the feat pose dangers of their own. Many all-purpose cleaners contain ammonia, an irritant that can be fatal when swallowed and which can burn the skin and lungs. A popular antibacterial found in soap and toothpastes called triclosan is being investigated in the U.S. after an animal study found it may alter hormone regulation. Furthermore, according to the World Health Organization, the overuse of anti-bacterials and antibiotics poses a risk to public health by helping to breed drug-resistant strains of germs. And so called green products may not be much better. Montreal schools recently banned green cleaners because they contain enzymes linked to rhinitis, conjunctivitis, dermatitis and, most importantly, asthma. What is safe? Vinegar and water is recommended most as a safe and easy way to keep things clean at home.

Photo courtesy: Kitchen Mall

4. Non-stick cookware

While non-stick pans and pots may be cheap, convenient and easy to clean; they also pose an increased cancer risk. The chemicals PFOA (pentadecafluorooctanoic acid), PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene), and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate), all linked to cancer and hormone problems, are commonly found in the cookware. If you are going to use them, make sure to cook at a low to medium temperature to avoid the release of dangerous fumes - baking and broiling should be strictly avoided. So what should you cook with? Buy stainless steel, copper or cast iron pans and keep them clean using a paste made from flour, salt, water and vinegar.

Photo courtesy: yogabearblog

5. Plastic bottles

With giant plastic islands devastating life in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, there is no doubt that disposable bottles are a threat to life. Already, many countries ban the import and sale of baby bottles containing the chemical bisphenol A after studies in animals suggested the compound may be linked to obesity, infertility and insulin resistance. The substance, found in many hard plastics, is now being studied for adverse health effects in the United States. Furthermore, Both PVC (#3) and polystyrene(#6) plastics commonly used for drink containers have been linked to cancer and the disruption of hormones. Check out this list of seven commonly used plastics to discover which numbers are safe for use.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

25 Wasteful Things We Can All Live Without

All photos courtesy: Care2

We produce a lot of waste. In 2008 alone, Americans generated 250 million tons of trash, and though about a third of that was recycled, a lot went into landfills or was incinerated. Our culture is centered around disposability, and only we have the power to change that.

Take stock of the disposable, overly-packaged, and single-use products that you use, and then look for reusable alternatives. Not sure where to start? Here are more than two dozen items that many people use . . . and can easily live without.

25 Wasteful Things You Can Live Without:

Tin foil — Use an oven-safe pot or dish with a lid.
Plastic wrap — Instead, use a container with a lid.
Disposable cleaning cloths, dusters, etc. — Use a microfiber cloth that can be washed.
Paper towels — Use a tea towel, instead.
Disposable pens — Buy a good pen that only needs the ink well or refill changed.

Plastic cutlery — Use the metal stuff.
Paper plates — Washing dishes may be an effort, but it’s worth it.
Paper or plastic single-use grocery bags — Get a few reusable bags.
Packaged fruits and vegetables — Produce does not need to be packaged.
Individually wrapped snacks — Snacks travel better anyway in a hard container.

Disposable razors — Invest in a razor that only needs the blades changed.
Juice boxes — Put juice in a reusable container (not plastic).
Electric pencil sharpeners — Use the hand-crank version of days gone by.
Disposable diapers — Cloth diapers aren’t that much more difficult to use.
Disposable cloths — Fabric cloths can be washed regularly to avoid bacterial or viral build-up.

Plastic cups — Stick to reusable cups.
Bottled water — Install a water filter on your tap or pick up a water jug with a filter.
Non-rechargeable batteries — Make the investment for rechargeable batteries and you’ll save money in the long run.
Electric can openers — Use a little muscle.
Single-serving pudding or yogurt cups — Buy a large container of yogurt or make your own pudding, and send it in a reusable container.

Antibacterial wipes — If you must, use a gel hand sanitizer.
Disposable table cloths — Spills are a reality of life; just clean them up as they happen.
Facial tissues — Unless you have a bad cold, a handkerchief will work just fine.
Paper billing — Switch to e-billing for your bank statement, credit card bill, utility bill, etc.
Plasticized sticky notes — Use the original paper sticky notes; they can be recycled when you’re done with them.

Via Care2 and PlanetGreen

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Dandelions: Powerhouses of Nutrition

Photo courtesy: Care2

Reprinted from Care2.

Pity the American dandelion. In countries across the world the dandelion is considered a delicious vegetable and is consumed with love, and dandelion has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. In America, it is most often cursed as an irksome weed and is pulled, poisoned and otherwise generally maligned.

Fortunately, dandelions do have a small and very allegiant cadre of fans here in the States. Along with traditional eaters, a new group of greenmarket enthusiasts, and those interested in foraging and wild greens are taking a shine to dandelions. And for good reason. They are delicious, and hugely healthy.

Nutritionally, dandelion greens and roots are chock full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They are one of the most nutritionally dense greens you can eat. Along with the punch of nutrition, they have many medicinal qualities as well. They are potassium-rich and have a strong diuretic quality, as well as efficacy as a blood detoxifier and good for the liver. They have long been used to treat digestive disorders and to treat arthritis and eczema.

Dandelion greens have a reputation for bitterness, but they are nicely so, and the bitterness is balanced by a lovely spiciness similar to arugula. Mature greens can get pretty bitter, but this can be tamed by blanching them.

The time to harvest dandelion greens is early in the spring, when they are their youngest and before they flower. They can be harvested again in late fall as they loose some of their bitterness after a frost. Look for young dandelions growing in rich, moist soil, making sure not to forage close to roads (they can accumulate pollution) or from areas that have been treated with garden chemicals. For a special treat, get out early in spring and look for the crown, which is the cluster of new buds that sits above the taproot. These are the tenderest, sweetest parts of the plant.

Young dandelion greens are tender and delicious served raw in salads or sandwiches. If you use the greens that have been harvested after the plant has flowered, you can blanch them in water to remove the bitterness; dump the bitter water, and blanch them again. You will loose a lot of vitamins this way, but there are still plenty of beneficial nutrients left. Use sauteed or steamed dandelion greens as you would any other greens. Dandelion root can by ground and used as a substitute for coffee, and dandelion flowers can be used in recipes and for garnish.

The French have a well-known soup called creme de pissenlits (cream of dandelion soup), which is easy to make, as is Dandelion Syrup.