November 24, 2012 § 1 Comment
The holiday season is upon us! Though Black Friday might be over, there’s still plenty of time until the holidays themselves, and more than likely, also plenty of presents still left to buy. Fortunately, I’m here to tell you about a brand-new, completely sustainable gift.
I discovered this product while watching a favorite TV show of mine, Shark Tank. There have been plenty of “sustainable” products pitched on the show. Some got funded, including an eco-friendly toy box. Some – like a line of products made from recycled chopsticks and a mail-order printer-ink refill service – did not.
These shoes are made to be 100% recyclable. The “canvas” is a special polyresin blend, and the “rubber” soles are another polyresin blend. To recycle them, all you have to do is mail them back to the producer – and you even get a discount on a new pair for recycling. They’re pretty fashionable too. Check ‘em out:
ReKixx are finally hitting the market in time for the holiday season, and would make a great, sustainable gift for your eco-conscious loved ones. I know I wouldn’t mind a pair!
(Note: I am not in any way affiliated with or contracted by ReKixx. I just think they’re awesome.)
November 20, 2012 § Leave a Comment
I can’t remember the time I first heard the story of the first Thanksgiving, but it very well may have been around kindergarten. We all know this story – the Pilgrims land on Plymouth Rock, and are helped to adapt to live off the land by helpful Native Americans – led by Squanto, of course. It was a celebration of the harvest, and only later did it become a national holiday.
As we grow older, we begin to learn a bit more about Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims. Certain details are revealed, corrected, adjusted. We learn that Pilgrims are often misrepresented as dressing like Puritans. We learn about the significance of the Mayflower contact. We learn about all those Pilgrims who died in that first winter. We learn about the massacres that occurred soon after. We learn about the way that this relationship with tribes like the Wampanoag quickly turned towards prejudice and persecution.
When we finally begin to know about something, we begin to contextualize it. You can the first Thanksgiving it as the epitome of intercultural exchange and understanding. On the contrary, you can see it as the beginning of the “white man” beginning his forceful dominance of the American continent.
I choose to see it as a parable of sustainable agriculture.
There’s an important question that kind of gets blown over in schools. Yes, the Native Americans showed the Pilgrims how to farm successfully, but why was this so?
The Pilgrims came from Europe, where farming was practiced much like it is in modern America – if perhaps, on a much smaller scale. Large, sprawling fields grew one crop at a time – usually wheat. Many, many peasants would work these fields night and day, from planting to harvest. What their field didn’t grow, they could trade or buy from others, or at least their Lords could and would.
When the Pilgrims first began to farm in New England, they more than likely attempted to model their efforts on those of their former homeland. This wouldn’t work here, however, and here’s why:
The crops grown in the Americas – in particular, corn – requires quite a lot of nutrition from the soil, and often removes most of the nitrates – one of the most important nutrient groups – within a few plantings. In Europe, similar problems were taken care of by a simple cycle of crop rotations. In Plymouth, however, there was neither the manpower nor the available farmland to do this. Thus, the information imparted by Squanto and his people was invaluable.
How was it that the Wampanoag taught the Pilgrims to farm? The method by which Native Americans had been planting and farming for countless centuries prior: Using the Three Sisters.
The Three Sisters is perhaps the most ingenious yet simple agricultural method ever devised. A few corn stalks – maize, as they would call it – are planted, surrounded by squash plants, and covered by climbing beans. The three work together, benefiting each other, creating ideal environments for each plant.
The maize, which is the largest grain provider of the three, provides a structure on which the climbing beans can grow. The beans in turn puts nitrogen back into the ground, while the squash works to prevent weeds and pests.
If modern farms took a note from the Native Americans, we’d be in much better shape agriculturally. Today, we are the Pilgrims of the modern era, and boy are we screwing up. We, just like our forefathers, are trying to farm in large monocultures – huge, one crop farms, that grow anything from corn to chickens to beef – and only that. There’s plenty wrong with this system of farming, and rather than listing them, I’ll just explain the solutions.
Polycultures. Polycultures are the solution. The Three Sisters are a perfect example of polyculture, and are exactly why and how the first Thanksgiving needs to become a something that teaches us more than history. In his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan presents the working of a “grass farm,” a pristine example of polyculture at work. On this farm, grass feeds the pigs and cows, who help the grass and other crops grow better via their manure. Pigs work hand in hand with the compost to create better crop outputs and to renitrogenate the soil. Without use of pesticides, antibiotics, or most industrial feed supplies, this farm, and those like it, produce unbelievable quantity at a fairly sizable quantity.
The other reason why this polyculture is to be preferred as the premeir method of farming is the low use of fossil fuels. The problem that the Pilgrims faced early on was, as I mentioned, the need for a large labor force to work their giant monocultures. In modern society, we have replaced the slaves and peasants of our past with tractors and plows, reapers and combines, all of which are making us slaves to big oil instead. A polyculture, since everything is produced on-farm, can be run with little manpower and little machinery – an incredible bonus for our nation and our planet.
On a final note, let me wish a happy Thanksgiving to all. I hope you are all safe and healthy, and lastly, I hope that we all learn from our past this Thanksgiving.
November 14, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Last week, I mentioned an uptick of Climate Change talk in the media. Today, as part of his fist White House press conference since March, he mentioned the need for climate change solutions. Here’s the Washington Post’s coverage of it:
The president noted that the political differences that arise on environmental issues extend beyond those falling along party lines. “There are regional differences,” he said.
But, he added: “we have an obligation to future generations to do something about it.”
Change is coming. Fast.
- Addressing climate change is an ‘obligation’ (washingtonpost.com)
November 7, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The world appears to be ending: Hurricane Sandy has ravaged the east coast, a nor’easter is now blanketing the northeast in snow, and the DOW dropped over three hundred points this morning. Weed is legal in two states; gay marriage added two more to its list. The country that President Obama is going to face in his second term is one that has changed drastically in the course of a week.
He couldn’t have asked for a better set-up.
The Four Years After the Day After Tomorrow.
With all that has transpired in the past week, it’s safe to say that if the nation isn’t already in a state of crisis, it’s on the brink. People are likening the weather situation to that of 2004′s The Day After Tomorrow or the more recent 2012 (in which the American president was also Black). I repeat again, however: President (elect) Obama could not be coming (back) into a better situation.
The United States, at this critical juncture, needs a leader who will handle this the right way. I can safely say that Obama, in his Federal-to-State-to-Local aid-giving approach has been pretty damn effective. He’s been praised by the once-republican Mayor Bloomburg, and by the heavily Republican (and recent GOP Convention Keynote Speaker) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for his handling of the rescue and aid efforts in response to Hurricane Sandy. He’s likely going to face challenges like this in his coming four years, so it’s nice to know that he’s on top of it.
As mentioned in my recent post about Hurricane Sandy and the climate science that explains it, while we can’t blame global warming for Hurricane (Superstorm/Frankenstorm) Sandy, we can safely say that global warming created the conditions that allowed it to build as large and as damaging as it did. (If you’re still confused as to how this work, check out this video). To quote Bill McKibben, perhaps the leading climate activist in the world right now, from his latest book, Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet:
“Earth has changed in profound ways, ways that have already taken us out of the sweet spot where humans so long thrived. We’re every day less the oasis and more the desert. The world hasn’t ended, but the world as we know it has— even if we don’t quite know it yet. We imagine we still live back on that old planet, that the disturbances we see around us are the old random and freakish kind. But they’re not. It’s a different place. A different planet.”
This new planet, she’s a feisty one. It’s gonna take a man with a plan to keep things going.
Red, White, Blue, Black, and – Green?
Obama’s that man, and he’s got a plan. Sure, it includes some great effort in responding to disasters, but you can just keep bailing the boat out – you’ve to plug the hole.
Before you can plug the hole, it helps to know what it is. Fortunately for us, President Obama, unlike many of his opponents on the right (Fun Fact: 20% more Republicans believe in demon possession than believe that Global Warming is real), understands that our excessive use of fossil fuels has pushed the climate to it’s breaking point. Climate Change is real. It’s imminent. And it’s dangerous.
President Obama isn’t usually given too much credit in the media for his environmental responsibility. Granted, up until recently, no one really has been. Despite this fact, however, Obama’s got a pretty solid history of doing the right thing for the environment. The short list:
- Sending the Keystone Pipeline plans back to the drawing board, effectively preventing anything from ever getting approved.
- Working on and supporting a Cap and Trade proposal that would have put a major halt on the fossil fuel industry.
- Using the Clean Air Act to impose six new regulations, limiting various major airborne pollutants, including the first ever national limits set on mercury.
- Setting new standards for automobile emissions – the strictest ever, in fact – requiring an average of 54.5 mpg by 2025.
- A goal has been set by cutting federal agency greenhouse gas emissions by 28% by 2020.
- Electricity generation from renewable sources has doubled since Obama took office.
- 2 Million new acres of wilderness were reserved, in addition to restoration programs in places like the Everglades.
I won’t lie and say that there’s been much coverage of all of this – Obama himself has done a pretty poor job of bringing his success up in speeches – but nonetheless, progress has been made. A lot of progress has been made. And there’s more to come.
One thing has caught the eye of many during these past few months of campaigning. Energy. In particular, the effects of our nation’s oil dependence. It’s bad for the economy. It’s bad for the environment. Perhaps most alarming to the American people, however, is the effect on our global politics. We’re stuck in the Middle East. At this point, our dependence on oil has two possible futures: We burn to death slowly in a stifling climate, or we burn quickly in a fiery bombing from any of a dozen possible suspects, ranging from small terrorist sects to entire nations. Either way, it won’t end well.
Obama’s got a plan to fix this: Get us off of foreign oil, and on to domestic oil. Ok, so it’s still oil. Not the best possible solution. However, it greatly alleviates the political-economic tension, and I mean, it does save some oil and fossil fuel emissions in the reduced transport. Not great however.
Good thing the plan doesn’t stop there! As he’s made clear over and over again, and as his website currently promotes heavily, the plan to fix American oil dependence (part 2) is: Renewable Energy. Yes, you heard me right. Wind. Solar. Geothermal. A little bit of Nuclear here and there. Obama is and has dedicated public lands to the production of wind, solar, and geothermal energy, and he is proposing various updates to our grid to make it “smart,” and able to manage all of this energy without the devastating blackouts, like the one my family on Long Island have been living for almost two weeks.
He’s got a plan. He’s got some backing in the Senate. Maybe we have a chance.
Voices From the Peanut Gallery
I like to think I’m a pretty smart guy, but I’m no expert. However, these guys are:
“There was only one candidate in this race who doubled down on our nation’s clean energy economy. There was only one candidate who consistently fought to hold oil and coal companies accountable and only one candidate who stood up for landmark protections to keep toxins out of our air and water. And there was only one candidate who took historic steps to mitigate the climate crisis. Because of those positions, President Obama faced an unprecedented assault from deep-pocketed oil and coal execs who inundated the airwaves with millions of dollars in attack ads.”
– Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune
“The American people have rejected the candidate who mocked the threat of climate change on behalf of the carbon industry. Americans of all political persuasions agree that the president’s job is to explain existing threats to the public welfare, and lead the nation in tackling them head on. Obama’s forthright response to the immediate disaster of Superstorm Sandy demonstrated his ability to lead in a crisis. Now he must tackle the root causes of that disaster, including the terrible scourge of carbon pollution. The campaign over, President Obama must end his climate silence and speak out. …Talking about climate change will not be enough. What is needed is bold action, and that will require overcoming any number of practical and political challenges. … Words alone won’t save us, but silence seals our fate. It’s time for President Obama’s silence to end.”
–ClimateSilence.Org and Forecast the Facts
“Big Oil-backed special interests brought unlimited resources to bear this election cycle and were expected to overwhelm the presidential race. But voters … chose a different course – reelecting a president who has championed building a clean energy economy.”
– League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski
“During his first term, President Barack Obama strengthened the economy and created jobs by issuing executive orders improving fuel economy standards and advancing manufacturing and building efficiency. The president invested heavily in energy efficiency through the Recovery Act; weatherized more than a million homes; and made energy efficiency a central pillar and the ‘first fuel’ of choice for the nation. … We expect — and will press hard — for President Obama and his team to continue on this important path to make the United States the most energy productive country in the world.”
– Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy
(Quotes courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle)
All’s Well That Ends Well
Last night, as the election was called, I had my coverage tuned to two different stations. Of course, I followed CNN, waiting for the official announcement. The other channel, however, was Comedy Central, with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s coverage of the elections. Yes, they’re comedians by trade, but as it often is, with comedy comes the truth.
In particular, Stephen Colbert brought on an old friend of The Report, Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan, a British expatriate, is a noted conservative who, in recent times, has begun to stray from many of the views of the Republican Party. In explaining his support for Obama and why he was pleased with America’s choice, he made a short, direct, incredibly poignant statement: “I want the Republican Party to understand that global warming is happening.”
Global warming is happening. We need to stop it. Barak Obama has got a plan. We’ve got new faces in the House and Senate. Maybe, just maybe we can work together. Maybe, just maybe, we might save our country, and our planet. America appears to have made the right decision, on the environmental front at least.
I leave you now with a quote from last night. Obama, in his victory speech, made a wish, for “A nation….that isn’t threatened by the danger of a warming planet.”
Goodnight, Ladies and Gentlemen. A new horizon approaches. God Bless America.
November 3, 2012 § 2 Comments
The nation is abuzz with talk. It’s pretty apparent that Hurricane Sandy was no ordinary storm. There was clearly some other force at work here. And up until recently, most of the nation would never know.
Climate Change is that unspoken cause. The media avoids it like the plague – at least until now.
The change was almost instant. After Hurricane Sandy hit on Monday night, the “mainstream media,” as some of our right-wing friends might call it, couldn’t avoid the fact any longer. Climate change caused Hurricane Sandy. It caused Irene. It caused the droughts this summer, and the super snow storms last winter. They avoided the topic for years on end. Now, the cat’s out of the bag.
Take this video from MSNBC for instance:
For those of you who don’t know, his first guest was governor Andrew Cuomo, son of the much beloved former governor Mario Cuomo. He’s a pretty serious politician, and he’s not afraid to say something on TV. The tides have turned. It’s ok to talk about climate change now.
Cuomo’s not afraid to make some bold statements either, and I like to believe what he says to be a pretty widespread opinion at this point:
Anyone who says there’s not a dramatic change in weather patterns, I think is denying reality….I said to the President kiddingly the other day, ‘We have a 100-year flood every two years now.’
Let me repeat that. The governor of one of the biggest, most prominent states in the country, just made it clear, on national television, that climate change is real. This is a BIG DEAL.
How will this come to affect the fight against climate change? Only time will tell. My advice, however, is this: If there was ever a time to strike, it’s now. Make a statement. Get the word out. People are listening. People are ready for change.
Satire Hits Home: “Nation Suddenly Realizes This Just Going To Be A Thing That Happens From Now On | The Onion – Americas Finest News Source”
November 1, 2012 § Leave a Comment
It’s technically satire. It’s the truth. Read it. Laugh, then catch yourself and realize its not a joke.
October 30, 2012 § 1 Comment
As I roam Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc., I’ve come across hundreds of friends, family, colleagues, schoolmates, and acquaintances who keep posting about the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy. Headlines on local news sites read “Plainview Resembles War Zone as Hurricane Winds Pound Region” and “Hurricane Sandy: Massive Fire Destroys Dozens of Homes in Queens, NY.” Downed power lines, destroyed homes, flooded streets, beloved places in ruin. It breaks my heart to see what damage has been caused by nature, but at the same time, it gives me new hope that now, maybe, just maybe, people will understand: This is no ordinary storm.
Of course, to many people, hurricanes are, by their definition, no ordinary storms. Unfortunately, however, they are quite ordinary. Hurricanes form in tropical climates, where the water is at least 80 Degrees Fahrenheit. The storm continues to build as it moves from the western coast of Africa to the Caribbean, where the bands of thunderstorms that encircle the calm eye of the storm provide a positive feedback loop that builds the storm bigger and bigger, until it eventually hits land and dissipates. The movement and rotation of hurricanes is caused by the Coriolis effect, the same effect that creates the crosswinds and trade winds that helped the sailors who discovered America and that up until recently moderated our climate. It’s all a perfectly normal, natural process.
Hurricanes are normal. Sandy was not your typical hurricane, however.
Jim Cisco, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecaster coined the term that best describes Sandy: Frankenstorm. It’s a mashup of worst-case scenarios. While slightly comedic, ABC News was spot on to mix in footage from The Perfect Storm, the 2000 George Clooney/Mark Wahlberg picture based on the 1991 nor’easter that mixed itself into Hurricane Grace and ravaged the northeastern United States exactly 21 years ago. Sandy approached the Northeast just as a cold front was approaching from the west and winds were blowing down furiously from Canada. Oh, and it was happening on a full moon, which means the highest tides of the month were ready to surge up onto land. It was to be, perhaps, a more perfect storm.
Hurricane/Frankenstorm/Superstorm Sandy was poised, from the beginning, to wreak havoc. Sure, the natural weather conditions I just discussed were set to make it a pretty rough storm to begin with, but if this storm had happened 50, even maybe 10 years ago, it would not have been nearly as destructive. The main destructive forces at work were Sandy’s diameter of gale force winds (at about 1,000 miles, they made Sandy the largest Hurricane in history), the high storm surge (at least 10 feet), and the heavy rain (up to 12 inches in some areas), which is associated with massive flooding. All of these factors are what make Sandy a freak of nature Frankenstorm, and they can all be attributed to one thing: Global Warming and Climate Change.
Cynics and climate-change deniers, before you say a word, I’ll make it clear. Global warming did not cause Hurricane Sandy. As I said earlier, hurricanes are very regular, natural things. It did, however, exacerbate it, by creating climate conditions that fostered a more dangerous storm. And here’s how:
- Warmer Oceans = Stronger Hurricanes. Hurricanes are warm-water storms, so by raising the temperature of our oceans, we create more hospitable territory for hurricanes. Normally, when a hurricanes reach the Northeast, they hit water too cold to survive in, and downgrade to tropical storms, make landfall, and disintegrate. Thanks to the greenhouse effect and the unimaginable amounts of greenhouse gasses we have emitted over the past three centuries, our oceans have risen about 5 degrees Celsius, creating northern waters that can continue to support hurricanes longer, allowing them to hit harder and over a larger area.
- Higher Sea Levels = More Damaging Storm Surges. Melting sea-ice has, as we all know, raised sea levels quite dramatically. Even if we hadn’t raised ocean temperatures (hypothetically, since then we obviously also wouldn’t have melted the sea ice), higher sea levels make shorelines more susceptible to gigantic storm surges. It’s plain and simple: There’s more water, and it’s closer to the land, so it makes for floods like no one has ever seen.
- Paved Roads = Nowhere to Go. Ok, so this is less to do with global warming, but still important. Humans have paved the world, in the interest of giving us places to go and ways to get there. Ironically, this has given water nowhere to go. In a natural ecosystem, water would be absorbed into the ground, and any excess would become runoff that would eventually find its way to streams and rivers. When we’ve paved over the entire northeast, however, there’s nowhere for that water to be absorbed. Asphalt is non-pourous. So, all of the water – from the 12 inches of rain and the 10ft storm surges- becomes runoff, pooling up and flooding many neighborhoods. Check out the gallery below for pictures of what that looks like.
It should be quite obvious now as to why Sandy is no typical storm, and how we’ve made this problem worse for ourselves. Don’t get me wrong: This was an absolute tragedy, and my thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by this storm, especially all those back home on Long Island and in the Tri-State Area. It’s going to be a long recovery, but this is not the time to wallow in self-pitty. This is a time to wake up, and get going.
Think of Hurricane Sandy as Mother Nature throwing a bucket of water on you to get you up and out of bed. Get moving people. Repairs will take some time. While they’re happening, let’s fix some other things as well. This isn’t a problem that can be solved by building just a new levy, or by perparing better next time. No, this problem will only be solved by changing our ways. We NEED to stop our fossil fuel dependence. We need to stop polluting our air. Hopefully, we’ve all now finally felt the effects of global warming. Lives are at stake here. We’re not going to see the change overnight. We might not live to see it. But if we stop now – not in 20 years, not in 10, but NOW – we might leave a world for our grandchildren to inhabit.
Bill McKibben, one of America’s greatest environmentalists, has wrote extensively on this subject. He’s put out a recent piece about the hurricane, but the more important piece of writing he’s recently put out is a Rolling Stone article about climate change, in which he reminds us that we’ve already surpassed the safe level of carbon that can be in our atmosphere. It’s no longer a problem for our grandchildren. Its our problem We’re living it. Sandy is a wakeup call. We need to fix this.
Special thanks to Prof. Bob Wilson (Syracuse University) for some of the key facts for this post.