Back to School Shopping- Steer clear of toxic school supplies

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Remember the excitement and promise of a new binder and Pee Chee folder ready to be filled and decorated at the start of a new school term?  When back to school shopping this year, be careful that the new binder is not the source of harmful toxic exposure to your child.  The heavy paper, cardboard and fabrics traditionally used for backpacks and school supplies are now often replaced with toxic plastics, such as polyvinyl chloride, (PVC), commonly know as vinyl- that are extremely detrimental to our youth.  According to the Center for Health Environment and Justice (CHEJ):

From production to use and disposal, vinyl releases a toxic cocktail of chemicals including dioxins, phthalates, mercury, PCBs, vinyl chloride, chlorine gas and numerous other substances harmful to our health, some of which are building up in our children’s bodies and food supply.  Scientists have found find certain vinyl chemicals linked to asthma, cancer, birth defects, learning and developmental disabilities, obesity, diabetes and other preventable chronic diseases on the rise.

Last year, independent laboratory testing commissioned by CHEJ and the Empire State Consumer Project found toxic chemicals linked to asthma and birth defects widespread in children’s vinyl back-to-school supplies. Seventy-five percent of children’s “back-to-school” supplies tested in a laboratory had elevated levels of toxic phthalates, including popular Disney branded school supplies, such as vinyl lunch boxes, backpacks, 3-ring binders, raincoats, and rainboots. The levels of phthalates found in children’s school supplies would be illegal if these products were toys. 

So what do we do?

First, we need to educate ourselves about what we are buying to steer clear of companies that are negligently (and unnecessarily) using harmful toxins in their products.  PVC is now ubiquitous. It can be found in the most unsuspecting products.  Lucky for us, the good people at CHEJ have compiled a guide for PVC- free supplies.  They cover a wide range of products, including art supplies, backpacks, lunch boxes, food wrap,  clothing and electronics. There are lots of alternatives available and quite a few small companies working to produce quality products that respect consumers and the environment.                                                

Image Click here to get the guide.

Secondly,  we need to press for changes at the policy level and fix the broken federal toxic substances law. Industry must be required to show that the chemicals they use in their products do not pose a threat to health and the environment. Groups like the Environmental Working Group are working to reform the laws regarding the use of chemicals. Do your part and tell Congress that you support a stand for public health.

Here’s to a happy healthy school year!!

 

 

 

Dispatch from Dwell on Design 2013

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This past weekend Telios was pleased to participate in the Dwell on Design Show at the LA Convention Center.Image

 Working with Architecture for Humanity,  Harold Powell provided consultations and expert design advice to attendees for their “The Architect is In” presentation.Image

Building a more sustainable future using the power of design through a global network of building professionals, Architecture for Humanity brings design, construction, and development services to communities in need. This was a natural organization for Telios to collaborate with!

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Dwell on Design is America’s largest modern design event and there was a lot to see. Here are a few of our favorites:

ImageThis year Dwell on Design hosted an artist-in-residence Tanya Aguiniga. An LA based furniture designer/maker and activist, Aguiniga created and ran an audience-interactive atelier for creating move-in kits for the formerly homeless and recently housed people of downtown LA.

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Trying my hand at the knitting machine.

Attendees were encouraged to participate in knitting blankets, making tables, stools and artwork for these kits which will be donated to People Assisting the Homeless (PATH).  It was a great project and we enjoyed participating.

We couldn’t resist the eco-amp from Eco-Made.  It is a passive amplifier that slides onto the end of an iphone to increase sound without any external power.  Made in LA with green electricity, from 100% recycled fibers, no toxic adhesives andprinted with soy based ink, it is smart simple design and works great!

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The eco-amp at work in the studio.

Modern-Fabrics has a great line of reclaimed designer textiles. Great for use in your next upholstery project.

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Schumacher Chiang Mai Dragon: Aquamarine from Modern Fabric

Orta’s self-watering seed-starters are an easy way to start a kitchen garden. 

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We were especially delighted to see so many presentations on sustainable design at the event. Great job Dwell!

America Recycles Day: Santa Barbara Style

Santa Barbara already diverts over 70% of its waste from the landfill, but that still leaves over 170,000 tons going into it each year.  On Tuesday, November 13, just in time for America Recycles Day, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors gave the approval to begin the environmental review of the Resource Recovery Project.   The project looks at the 170,000 tons of waste as an opportunity. Its objective is to reclaim resources currently being buried, increase recycling, provide compost, generate energy, extend the life of the landfill and decrease the generation of greenhouse gas.  After extensive review of  proposals from four different companies, Mustang Renewable Power Ventures was initially chosen by the County to construct and operate a project that includes 3 facilities:

  •  Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) – this facility would sort the waste into three streams:  recyclables, organics and residue
  • Anaerobic Digestion Facility (ADF) – this facility would convert all organics recovered from the waste into digestate (compost) and biogas.
  •  Power Plant – this facility would use the biogas generated by the ADF for fuel to generate electricity.

Recently, local waste management company Marborg Industries asked that they be allowed to submit their own proposal for the Resource Recovery Project and, according to Nick Welsh’s piece for the SB Independent, “MarBorg’s proposal will be considered in the alternatives section of the environmental impact report for the Tajiguas extension plan.”   The battle for the garbage begins.

John Hill / Foter / CC BY-SA

                I say three cheers for Santa Barbara. Hip Hip Hooray!

In the words of Supervisor Salud Carbajal, “This is another case of our community being a leader in sustainability by recycling even more than we do now and getting even closer to zero waste. This is a financially responsible local solution to managing our communities’ waste that places us back into a leadership position in environmental action.”

 Here are 4 more ways that we can increase our recycling…beyond the bin:

1) Recycle or Donate Electronics – Doing so conserves many valuable resources and materials, including metals, plastics, and glass.  It saves energy and avoids air and water pollution caused by the mining and manufacturing of virgin materials. For example:  For every million cell phones we recycle, 35 thousand pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered.

2) Recycle Clothes-   Every year Santa Barbara County throws away more than 11 million pounds of usable clothing and household textiles into its very limited local landfill space. Textile waste makes up approximately 8% of the total waste in California. The EPA estimates that about 97% of post-consumer textile waste is recyclable. Textile recycling requires less energy than any other type of recycling and does not create any new hazardous waste or harmful by-products. Compare that to growing conventional cotton which alone uses approximately 25% of the world’s insecticides and more than 10% of the pesticides. Most communities do not have systems in place to address the fabric component of the waste stream but Textile Waste Solutions in Santa Barbara County offers an environmentally and economically friendly alternative. They make regular pick ups from local thrift stores giving clothing, bedding, belts, shoes, and soft toys – virtually anything made from fabric – a second lease on life. So even if your old t-shirt is stained and ratty..drop it off at the thrift store. If it is unwearable, Textile Waste Solutions will recycle it.

3) Recycle Food-  Food waste when buried in a landfill creates potentially wastefull greenhouse gases. Alternatively when food waste is composted, it becomes a wonderful resource to build the soil and grow more food. Instead of tossing your food scraps into the trash, start composting. Don’t know how? Go to lessismore.org to learn about local workshops, discounted composter bins and more.
4) Close the Loop-  Don’t stop at the bin!  After materials are processed and back on the shelf as new items, it is up to you to buy them.  Look for products and packaging with the highest recycled content.
Finally, if you ever have wondered where you can take those used batteries, or what to do with the little bit of leftover paint, Santa Barbara County Recycling Resource Guide  is a fantastic and very thorough guide to help you reduce, reuse and recycle just about anything. Happy Recycling!!

 

photo credit: Pete Prodoehl via photopin cc

7 tips to Green your Halloween

tinyfroglet / Free Photos

There is a lot to love about Halloween.  What other time of year do people open up their homes to strangers just to give something away?  The smell of roasting pumpkin seeds and images of fairy princesses and dinosaurs roaming the neighborhood are powerfully happy, but nowadays there is a mostly scary story behind the way we are celebrating. Our traditions have been largely stolen by big business who have some truly frightening skeletons in their closet. How to conjure up some real magic?  Reclaim the holiday and bring some of the happy back to Halloween. Here are some ways to do it:

  1. Buy organic pumpkins…even for your Jack-o-Lanterns.
  2. Give Fair-trade and organic candy,  home-made treats (gasp), or non-edible  treats…get creative
  3. Host a costume swap, Create a costume from finds at a local thrift or second-hand store, or use things you have around the house. If you must buy new, support a small ethical company
  4. Use non-toxic make-up
  5. Use decorations that can be re-used year to year, recycled, or composted. Use soy based or beeswax candles or LED lights.
  6. Have the kids carry a re-usable, washable, cloth bag or pillow-case to gather treats
  7. Use washable plates, cutlery and napkins for your parties. If you must use disposable, make it compostable and actually compost it.

                                                                                                        Why? and How?

Organic Pumpkins:

Twilight Greenaway wrote a funny piece for grist.com where she describes her inner dialogue about buying pumpkins:

“Voice of hedonism: Buying lots of pumpkins and cutting them up so they’ll eventually rot in front of your house is your right as an American. Plus, it’s fun!

Hotash / Free Photos

Voice of conscience: But they’re food. And you are really careful about food. All the winter squash in your kitchen came from local farmers. So why should you get a free pass just because you’re planning to waste these ones?

Voice of hedonism: Look, they have big ol’ giant ones, classy white ones, and teenie tiny ones. Clearly you need one of each!

Voice of conscience: You’re right. Is anybody looking?”

I have definitely been there…but here is the thing:  Pumpkins are big business and we are always voting with our dollars. Even if we are not going to eat them, those pumpkins grown conventionally used up a whole lot of toxic chemicals and when we buy them we support those practices.  When you buy organic you are voting for better health for farmers and farm workers, less polluted streams and rivers, healthier soil and cleaner air.  So buy organic and support the local farmers who are doing it right.

Handing out Happy treats

There is nothing good or happy about candy that is made for our American children off the scarred backs of  children overseas, but the awful truth is that almost every snack-size candy bar available in stores this Halloween is tainted with child slavery. The connection between the major candy bar manufacturers (which includes Hershey, Mars, Nestle, and the U.S. division of Cadbury) and child slavery has been one of the world’s best-kept secrets until fairly recently.  So far government has not been able to do much. In 2001, after Congressman Eliot Engel (D) NY learned of these terrible practices, he slipped in an addendum to the FDA bill about to hit the Congressional floor requiring chocolate companies to mark their bars “No Slavery Here” if that was the case. When the candy lobby got wind of it, they hired George Mitchell and Bob Dole as their lobbying henchmen to thwart the bill before it went to the Senate.  They were successful. Instead of any new laws they got  The Harkin-Engel Protocol an unenforceable  promise from candy makers that they would voluntarily clean up the supply chain of the worst forms of child labor with remediation to be done by 2005.  How has that worked out?   Not so well.  According to Chris Bayer, a Tulane University researcher studying the problem, “We have seen very little implementation of the actual commitments. Industry did not live up to the Harkin-Engel Protocol.”  So if the politicians do not have the backbone to pass a law, we must once again vote with our dollars. In the past few years a few excellent documentaries including CNN’s “Chocolate’s Child Slaves” and “The Dark Side of Chocolate”  have helped to educate consumers about the issue. As a result, many consumers are being choosier about what they buy.  Perhaps this is why earlier this month Hershey pledged to end child slave labor in its cocoa production by 2020. ( 7 more years of child slaves is acceptable!?)  This is quite possibly another empty promise for the sake of marketing, but Hershey does seem to be feeling some market pressure.  Our voting dollars at work. So if you are not buying tiny Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups what can you get?   Quite a few local stores sell fair trade and organic Halloween candy now. Check the IV Co-op, Whole Foods and Lazy Acres. You can also buy them online here.

You could also just make some homemade treats.  I love Lenore Skenazy’s idea to “Occupy Halloween.”  She writes about the homemade treat phenomenon on her bog post:

“Start with the fact that there has NEVER been a case of children poisoned by a stranger’s candy on Halloween. That’s according to University of Delaware sociologist Joel Best, who has studied the urban myth since 1985. Nonetheless, the advice we ALWAYS hear is to “check your child’s candy for tampering,” and treat homemade goodies like radioactive waste. All of which is based on the belief that we are quite likely surrounded by psychopathic child killers  (who hold it in till Oct. 31st).

But that idea isn’t just wrong,  it’s corrosive. Start thinking of your nice neighbors as potential killers ONE day a year and how are you supposed to trust them the REST of the year?”

Going back to homemade treats is one small step to reclaim our communities and move away from the fearful society we have become.  I like the idea of including a little note explaining that your treat was made with wholesome ingredients (no high fructose corn syrup here) and a lot of love.

If you want to stay away from the sugar craze entirely, you can choose to get creative with non-edible treats. Here is a list of green treat ideas to get you started.

Costumes

woodleywonderworks / Free Photos

When you buy that cheap costume at the big box store you are supporting all kinds of bad…inorganic cotton that uses 25% of the worlds insecticides and 10% of its pesticides, petro-chemical fabrics that will never biodegrade, terrible conditions in polluting  factories…you get the picture. Here are some other options:  Join the  National Costume Swap or host your own.  Check out thrift stores like Alpha Thrift or one of the local children’s second-hand stores like Polar Bear or My Sweet Pineapple for costumes or clothing that can be made into a costume.  Get creative and use things from around your house.  You might just come up with a traffic stopping idea like this ;)  and recycle your cardboard while you are at it!  If you need to buy new, be sure to support a good company. Sarah’s Silks is a “Green America Approved Business” and a fun source for dress-ups.  Sites like ETSY also have a lot of eco-offerings.

Make-up

dnudson / Free Photos

Make-up can make your costume rock, but it can also be full of toxic chemicals. You clearly don’t want to be using lead filled lipstick,  especially if you using it on a child. It is always a good idea to check the ingredients of any cosmetics before you use them.  Environmental Working Group has a fantastic data base to check the safety of cosmetics. For the DIY types, here are some recipes for homemade Halloween make-up.

For decorations, parties, and moreGreen Halloween.org has lots of “eek-o-friendly” suggestions.

Holidays are a great time to reconnect to each other and our own core values.   We have to be brave enough to shine the light on those skeletons in the closet and then choose to cast our spell for love, creativity and a healthy planet for all. What’s in your spell book?

Are your cleaning products toxic?

jbcurio / Free Photos

When you look at the label on your jar of peanut butter or bag of chips, you will see all of the ingredients in the jar or bag listed. (You might not be able to tell if they used GMO corn in those corn chips, but you will see corn listed.)  You see it is mandatory to show all of the ingredients on labels in all food, cosmetics and drugs sold in the U.S.  That way,  you can choose to nix the face cream that is loaded with parabens and pass on the hydrogenated oil filled crackers.

Not so for the products you use everyday to clean your dishes, clothing, sheets and showers.

There are no requirements to label ingredients in cleaners.

Hence,  only 7 percent of companies adequately disclose the ingredients of their products and it is common to list just a few of the ingredients or describe them in vague terms such as “surfactant” and “solvent.” Well that “solvent”  might just be a known carcinogen. Once again, the Environmental Working Group has come to the rescue of the modern consumer.  They recently  created the first online guide that rates more than 2,000 household cleaners with grades A through F for safety of ingredients and disclosure of contents.

“Keeping your home clean shouldn’t put you and your family at risk, and with EWG’s new online guide you won’t have to,” EWG senior scientist Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D, said. “Quite a few cleaning products that line store shelves are packed with toxic chemicals that can wreak havoc with your health, including many that harm the lungs. The good news is, there are plenty of cleaning products that will get the job done without exposing you to hazardous substances.”

EWG’s staff scientists spent 14 months researching and compiling the guide.  They found that even some “green” brands do not disclose ingredients adequately.

I decided to check the cleaners I use to see how well they fared. I do most of my cleaning with baking soda and vinegar (this inexpensive, simple disinfecting spray works better than most commercial cleaners)  but I do buy dishwasher detergent, dishwashing soap and laundry detergent.  I tend to buy whatever “green” brand is on sale..in fact  there was a great sale on Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwashing Gel the other day so I  just bought five bottles.  Well, according to the EWG guide, those five bottles got a big fat F!  The funny thing is that Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwashing Powder, Free and Clear got an A.  Looks like I will be doing an exchange!   Obviously it is important to look at the specific products that you are using and not just the brand.  So how did my other cleaners do?  The Planet Ultra Dishwashing Liquid  got a “D” and the Trader Joe’s laundry detergent I have been using received an “F”!                                        Time for some changes.

According to a post on the EWG site, the day after their guide came out they were contacted by many of the manufacturers of poorly rated products.The manufacturers said they had added new ingredient information to their product labels, changed the ingredients – or both.  They were eager to give the EWG their updated information and, hopefully, get a better score on their products.   (Speaks to the power of information and why some companies fight so hard to avoid transparency.)  Weak disclosure or potentially harmful ingredients were two of the big reasons why many well known product lines ended up with low grades.  EWG responded:

We’re happy to get the new information and will use it to update the Guide on a regular basis, but for the most part, the original scores will stay.

Why?

Unlike a tomato or a banana, cleaning products don’t go bad in a hurry. If you’re like most consumers, you probably have bottles of window or floor cleaner under your sink or in your cleaning closet that have been there for months – if not years. In stores, too, it can take a long time before old inventory sells out and gets replaced with the “new, improved” versions.

I took a look at the Seventh Generation website to see if they had anything to say about the guide, and found that they did. While they were very supportive of the EWG and the guide, they took exception with some of their findings.  EWG considered ingredients listed as “essentials oils” or “preservatives” as “incomplete disclosure” but Seventh Generation said that the exact ingredients were also listed. They had differing opinions on other ingredients such as methylisothiazolinone with Seventh Generation explaining, “There’s also the sticky wicket of methylisothiazolinone, a synthetic preservative used to maintain freshness in our plant-based products. (Natural microbes love to eat our natural plant-based ingredients!) EWG gives this ingredient a D, though it meets our rigorous safety and environmental standards.”    In any case the end result is that Seventh Generation promised to continue improving their products and hope to eventually get an “A” rating on all of them.

The guide, it seems, is already having a positive influence.  Consumers can better understand what might be in the cleaners they buy and manufacturers are feeling the pressure to improve the transparency of their products.

So take a look at what is in your cupboard. See how your favorite products fare.  Think about whether you really need them at all.  Check EWG for their recommended products. Then vote with your pocketbook next time you buy a cleaner. Support a company that is making safe products.

…  and don’t forget to vote on the ballot for the other “information to the people” initiative  California Proposition 37, Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food.

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Green homes sell for 9% premium

According to a recent article by Kenneth R. Harney posted on latimes.com:

A new study involving an unusually large sample of homes sold in California between 2007 and early 2012 has documented that, holding all other variables constant, a green certification label on a house adds an average 9% to its selling value. Researchers also found something they dubbed the Prius effect: Buyers in areas where consumer sentiment in support of environmental conservation is relatively high — as measured by the percentage of hybrid auto registrations in local ZIP Codes — are more willing to pay premiums for green-certified houses than buyers in areas where hybrid registrations were lower.

The study found no significant correlations between local utility rates and consumers’ willingness to pay premium prices for green-labeled homes.

The 9% average price premium from green-rated homes is roughly in line with studies conducted in Europe, where energy-efficiency labeling on houses is far more commonplace. Homes rated “A” under the European Union’s system commanded a 10% average premium in one study, while dwellings with poor ratings sold for substantial discounts.
It is well understood that greening your home is the prudent and responsible thing to do for your personal health and well-being and that of the planet, but it has been greatly debated whether or not it pays economically.  In my opinion, if you look at the broader economic impact of home building and ownership, taking into consideration all of the negative externalities (costs of production and consumption not factored into prices, such as the health impacts of exposure to toxic materials) then the economic benefits of green building are stunningly obvious.
Even without factoring in all of the more comprehensive benefits,  this study finally demonstrates that greening your home is good for your pocketbook as well as your karma ;)

 

So be a smart investor!   Go green with Telios Environmental.

 

photo credit: Alan Cleaver via photopin cc

If you live in Goleta..take action to reduce plastic pollution

Here is an important announcement from Santa Barbara Channelkeeper
Goleta Residents – Our Oceans Need Your Help!
Let Goleta City Council know you support an ordinance to reduce plastic pollution. 

Californians use over 14 billion plastic bags every year, and only 3% are recycled.  This translates into 150,000 tons of waste going to our landfills or ending up on our beaches, creeks and roadsides as litter. Taxpa yers and local governments spend millions of dollars each year to clean up this unsightly litter. Cities and counties across California are taking action to prevent plastic bag pollution by banning disposable plastic shopping bags, and the time has come for Goleta to join the growing effort to address this costly environmental problem.The Goleta City Council recently considered joining a South Coast region-wide effort to assess the environmental impacts of single-use plastic bag bans – the critical first step towards adopting an ordinance – but they delayed a decision until they hear whether Goleta residents feel the City should pursue a plastic bag ban.Channelkeeper has been a lead advocate for action to reduce disposable bags use on the South Coast since 2008.  To date, 52 municipalities in California have adopted single-use bag ordinances to stem the tide of plastic bag pollution, including Carpinteria and Ojai. Santa Barbara has also drafted a bag ordinance which will be adopted after the EIR is complete in early 2013.  Let’s make sure Goleta also takes action to protect our oceans and marine life by adopting a bag ordinance.TAKE ACTION!

Let Goleta City Council know you support an ordinance to mandate reductions in the use of single-use shopping bags. Send an email or make a personal phone call to Goleta City Councilmembers to let them know you support action.Goleta City Council Contact Information:

Phone: 805-961-7500

Emails: eeaston@cityofgoleta.orgraceves@cityofgoleta.orgmbennett@cityofgoleta.org

mconnell@cityofgoleta.org; pperotte@cityofgoleta.org.

Sample email:

Dear Mayor and Councilmembers,

I am concerned about the environmental and economic costs associated with the use of disposable shopping bags. Cities and counties across California and the nation are taking action to prevent plastic bag pollution by banning disposable plastic shopping bags, and I believe the time has come for Goleta to join the growing effort to address this costly environmental problem. I strongly support and urge you to enact a plastic bag ordinance in Goleta as soon as possible.

 

photo credit: thebiggoodbye via photo pin cc

The 2012 Election and the Environment

The Democratic and GOP conventions are now over and both have produced very distinct written platforms.   I decided to actually read each of the parties’ documents and compare them, specifically in the area of environmental policy. (Don’t be too impressed…it is pretty light reading! )  I have to say while I anticipated some of the differences, I was fairly shocked at how stark the contrast was.  The Democratic platform is far from perfect on its environmental coverage, but compared to the GOP platform, they seem downright progressive!    I think I can suffice to say that If you care about the environment  (ie: clean air, clean water, addressing climate change, healthy food…)  the GOP is not for you. I think  Steven Colbert summed up Romney’s position on environmental policy perfectly.      

                            So let’s stick with the Dems.

How have the Democrats done in the last four years and what is being proposed for the next four?

Let’s examine what our most pressing environmental issues are. When Whit Gibbons, Professor Emeritus of Ecology at the University of Georgia, asked two dozen ecology graduate students what the top environmental problems were, he came up with a list that included:

  • Invasive plants and animals
  • Pollution of Marine Habitats
  • Air Pollution
  • Unsustainable Agriculture
  • Threat of Disease
  • Water Quality and Quantity
  • Habitat Loss Fragmentation and Degradation
  • Overpopulation
  • Global Climate Change

So how are these problems being addressed?  Well, we can cross out four of them from the start.

  • Invasive Plants and Animals
  • Threat of disease  (from an environmental perspective)
  • Unsustainable Agriculture
  • Overpopulation

are never addressed in the Democratic platform.

In the case of  unsustainable agriculture,  this is a monumental loss of opportunity.  Our current food system is devastating our environment and economy while ruining our health and well-being.  An overhaul of the food system could help save our environment  and enrich our lives.  Unfortunately, there is not much “hope and change” in this platform, or in the record of the last four years.  The platform’s section on rural communities and agriculture  includes the bragging point that “U.S. biofuel production is at its highest level in history.”  This misguided policy is hardly something to brag about!  It has been widely proven that biofuel made from corn and rapeseed actually generates more greenhouse  gases than diesel, and the conversion of food crops for fuel has caused the suffering, displacement and starvation of poor around the world.

The platform also supports a proposed increase of  “funding for research and development to improve agricultural productivity and continue to pursue global food security.”  This is most likely a reference to funding Obama’s buddies in bio-tech. The big players here are the so-called “Big Six” agrichemical companies—Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow Agrosciences, BASF, Bayer, and Pioneer (DuPont). They have a huge global presence, but the biotech-friendly US is their profit center.  Tom Philpott  writes in Mother Jones that  “two things could mess up the Big 6 here in the US:

  1.  any delay in the regulatory process for a new generation of seeds engineered for resistance to multiple herbicides
  2. any major move to require labeling of foods containing GMOs…”

Regulation and labeling fall under the jurisdiction of the USDA and FDA respectively,  and big business fully understands the role these agencies play. When asked about the regulatory philosophy at Monsanto, Phil Angell, director  of corporate communications, declared that  “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is FDA’s job.”  The trouble is,  it doesn’t seem like biotech wants the FDA and USDA to do their job. Since 1999 they have spent more than half a billion dollars lobbying Congress not to regulate genetically engineered crops.  They have also heavily contributed to politicians campaigns…including Obama’s.  How is this paying off?

  • In 2009, much to the disgust of many of his supporters, Obama appointed Michael Taylor, a former vice president for Monsanto, as a senior advisor for the FDA.  Cries of the “fox guarding the hen house” were ignored.
  • In 2011,  as detailed in a piece by Robbie Hanna Anderman for Truthout.org,  “Obama pushed the Secretary of Agriculture and the USDA to deregulate genetically engineered alfalfa and sugar beets in the United States. The USDA came through as he directed, totally deregulating these Monsanto-patented genes in early February. In so doing, Obama and the USDA have chosen to override and ignore decisions and injunctions made by the U.S. Supreme Court that banned planting of genetically engineered alfalfa and sugar beets without consideration of the Environmental Impact Assessments, which showed high risks to organic and conventional (chemical) farmers.”   Since sugar beets provide over 50% of the sugar we Americans use and alfalfa is used widely in animal feed and to enrich soil in organic farming, “Obama’s push for deregulation potentially also means the end of the organic meat and organic dairy industries as we presently know them. Essentially, he is choosing to favor the profits of big agribusiness over the survival of America’s family farmers, and especially America’s organic farmers.”
  • Despite his campaign promises to label GMO’s, Obama has done nothing to promote labeling and neither has his FDA.  Mind you, 91% of voters favor labeling.  With such overwhelming support obviously cutting  through partisan lines, it is hard to imagine why Obama has failed to keep his promise.  Many who voted for him feel betrayed, …or maybe we were misguided from the beginning. Perhaps as Anderman posits, “When Obama cried, “Yes, we can!” he obviously was speaking for a different “we” than those who voted for him imagined.”

Looks like big bad agribusiness is breathing a little easier with the President on their side.

billb1961 / Free Photos

The unhealthy food coming out of our current food system has been contributing to a myriad of health problems including childhood obesity. The Obama administration, with the help of First Lady Michelle Obama, initially seemed to be strong advocates for children.  Unfortunately, according to a Duff Wilson and Janet Roberts’ article for Reuters, “In the political arena, one side is winning the war on child obesity.  The side with the fattest wallets.”  After intense lobbying, “the White House all but abandoned a multi-agency effort that recommended healthier food be marketed to children,” according to Wilson and Roberts.   Only two years ago Michelle Obama was telling the Grocery Manufacturers Association that they needed  “to step it up.”  She demanded that “we need you not just to tweak around the edges but to entirely rethink the products that you’re offering, the information that you provide about these products and how you market those products to our children.”  By last November however, “Mrs. Obama was praising the manufacturers for product improvements.”   The First Lady (with free advertising from broadcasters)  was now emphasizing not choice of food but exercise. This is just what the companies that lobbied against stricter food guidelines wanted.  Kelly D. Brownell, a Yale professor and director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, said he believes the First Lady has become too friendly with industry even as she has been a passionate, effective advocate for healthier food and exercise.” He continues that “with the Citizens United case and the companies being able to lobby almost without limit, it’s not surprising that the White House is more friendly toward the industry.”  Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest had a similar view: “I’d focus more on exercise, too, if my husband was up for re-election.”

Meanwhile, according Wilson and Roberts, “Congress declared pizza a vegetable to protect it from a nutritional overhaul of the school lunch program this year. The White House kept silent last year as Congress killed a plan by four federal agencies to reduce sugar, salt and fat in food marketed to children.”

On the upside,  the Democratic platform does address:

  • Air pollution
  • Water pollution and quality
  • Protecting public lands
  • Protecting environmental standards in global trade
  • Climate Change

Air Pollution: The platform states that  “President Obama has taken the most significant strides in decades to cut pollution and advance public health—protecting our children and communities from harmful pollution by restoring and advancing safeguards for clean air and water and by working to reduce carbon pollution. Pollutants like nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and mercury are a threat to human health, and Democrats will continue to stand up to polluters in the interest of environmental and public health.”  Generally Obama has supported the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.  Some greenhouse emissions have declined under his watch, although, according to the piece Obama’s Environmental Report Card, most of the measurable declines are due to the slowdown in the economy and can not be attributed to any policy from Obama.

Water pollution:   “Democrats will continue working to ensure the integrity of the waters Americans rely on every day for drinking, swimming, and fishing, by supporting initiatives that restore our rivers, oceans, coasts, and watersheds.”  In fact Obama has been effective at implementing his clean water agenda, including reinvigorating the drinking water standards that were weakened under Bush, helping to restore better federal financing for water and wastewater treatment infrastructure, and protecting the Great Lakes. Unfortunately Obama has been a strong advocate of hydraulic fracturing, a highly polluting practice which is shockingly exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Protecting Public Lands: The Democrats promise to “continue to work with local communities to conserve our publicly owned lands and dramatically expand investments in conserving and restoring forests, grasslands, and wetlands across America for generations to come.”   The Democrats tout the restoration of  “landscapes like the Great Lakes, the Florida Everglades, and local wilderness areas.”  They also promise they will be  ” preserving sensitive public lands from exploration, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Pacific West Coast, Gulf of Maine, and other irreplaceable national landscapes.”

Protecting environmental standards in global trade:  The Democrats strongly support the creation of green jobs along with supporting local communities with “developments such as passenger rail, bicycle and pedestrian paths, and other projects to support livable cities.”  There are promises to protect environmental standards when participating in any trade agreements.  Generally,  the similar promises made by Obama in the 2008 election have fallen short. His promise to include labor and environmental standards in any trade agreements, was unfortunately abandoned.

 Energy: The platform outlines an “all of the above”  approach to energy, including using “wind, solar, biofuels, geothermal, hydropower, nuclear, oil, clean coal, and natural gas.”
  • The nation’s first offshore wind farm was approved under Obama. US  wind and solar power capacity  increased 39 and 52 percent (PDF) from 2008 to 2009 and Obama’s decision to extend tax credits and create a new grant program for residential renewable energy  likely was a factor in this increase.
  • The current policy on biofuel needs to be reexamined for the reasons stated above.
  • Whether or not nuclear should be considered in light of the terrifying ramifications associated with waste storage, accidents etc… is another long (or short..depending on how you look at it) debate.
  • Obama has been promoting “clean coal”  since the 2008 election which I consider to be a huge mark against him. “Clean Coal”  is a lie. It does not exist, nor does any viable plan to create it yet.  Enough said.
  •  Natural gas is being heavily promoted. Unfortunately, the practice of fracking, although known to be highly polluting, is completely unregulated and citizens around the country are joining in an effort to ban the practice from their communities.   The platform makes some concessions to these environmental concerns.   “Harnessing our natural gas resources needs to be done in a safe and responsible manner, which is why the Obama administration has proposed a number of safeguards to protect against water contamination and air pollution. We will continue to advocate for the use of this clean fossil fuel, while ensuring that public and environmental health and workers’ safety are protected.”  The administration has done nothing so far to ensure the health and safety of the public in the arena of natural gas production. It remains to be seen if they will.
  • There is a general tone of support  for expanded oil-and-gas drilling,  including “expediting the approval process to build out critical oil and gas lines essential to transporting our energy for consumers.” This could be a troubling hint at a softening on Obama’s  position to reject the rapid approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Climate change is strongly addressed in this platform, although it is noteworthy that it is generally weaker than the platform of 2008.  Since the evidence in support of the dire threat of global warming has only grown stronger, one can only read this as an unfortunate continuation of Obama’s history of  deserting or toning down difficult positions when they are perceived as “politically risky”. An analysis on the blog “Get Energy Smart! NOW!”   states that “the silence from the administration and the Obama-Biden election team on climate issues has been deafening.” Joe Romm comments in his piece  for thinkprogress.org that “recently, climate change has been the Voldemort of the Obama Administration: The Threat-That-Must-Not-Be-Named  In January, the President omitted any discussion of climate change from his State of the Union address, since, what really does the gravest threat to Americans and indeed all homo ‘sapiens’ have to do with the state of the union? Then the White House edited climate change from Obama’s Earth Day 2012 proclamation.”

The 2008 platform included multiple pledges to free the nation  from the “tyranny” of oil,  while the 2012 platform echoes Obama’s frequent statements of support for expanded oil-and-gas drilling as part of a wider energy strategy.  Obama has had some success with climate change policy, especially with the raised fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks. But his overall performance has been spotty.  This was recently addressed  in a brilliant piece for Rolling Stone written by Al Gore. He commends President Obama for his initial work on climate change such as “including climate-friendly initiatives in the economic stimulus package he presented to Congress” and the fact that “during his first six months, he clearly articulated the link between environmental security, economic security and national security”  However Gore concludes that  “in spite of these and other achievements, President Obama has thus far failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change. After successfully passing his green stimulus package, he did nothing to defend it when Congress decimated its funding. After the House passed cap and trade, he did little to make passage in the Senate a priority. Senate advocates — including one Republican — felt abandoned when the president made concessions to oil and coal companies without asking for anything in return. He has also called for a massive expansion of oil drilling in the United States, apparently in an effort to defuse criticism from those who argue speciously that ‘drill, baby, drill’ is the answer to our growing dependence on foreign oil.   The failure to pass legislation to limit global-warming pollution ensured that the much-anticipated Copenhagen summit on a global treaty in 2009 would also end in failure.”   He goes on to say that  “without presidential leadership that focuses intensely on making the public aware of the reality we face, nothing will change. The real power of any president, as Richard Neustadt wrote, is ‘the power to persuade.’ Yet President Obama has never presented to the American people the magnitude of the climate crisis. He has simply not made the case for action. He has not defended the science against the ongoing, withering and dishonest attacks. Nor has he provided a presidential venue for the scientific community — including our own National Academy — to bring the reality of the science before the public.”

I think this brings up an issue that is problematic for many disappointed Obama supporters.  It is generally understood that Obama has had to battle a very strong, well-funded and entrenched opposition when seeking to enact many of his promised policy changes.  I think that many supporters forgive some of his failures at passing meaningful legislation because there is an underlying belief  that change might not  be possible in the current landscape, and that he has “done his best”.  But  there is no excuse for not using the “bully pulpit” to inform and educate the American people and to fight for the policies that he purportedly supports.  When considering the possibly devastating effects of ignoring global warming, Obama’s consistent caving on the issue makes one wonder how much he really cares.

When Professor Gibbons compiled his list of the biggest environmental problems,  number one was apathy.   He explained: “A clear indicator of our foremost problem is that world leaders seldom acknowledge, let alone propose solutions to, environmental problems. For those leaders around the world chosen by a democratic election process, that apathy is condoned and mimicked by the people who elect them.”

It is hard to tell whether or not we can really trust Obama and the Democratic party, but at least their rhetoric about the environment is heads above Romney and the GOP.  In any case, we the people, cannot be apathetic.  Educate yourself about the issues at hand, hold your representatives accountable for their decisions, and where the system is not working, organize to create one that does.

opensourceway / Free Photos

Innovative Shoe Design

Martha Davis’ two month residency with San Francisco’s Workshop Residence resulted in some seriously drool- worthy  shoes!  The challenge was to re-examine the processes, materials and components of a shoe and create a collection of footwear made with under utilized local resources. Davis has created three fantastic styles.

Kahsa

The Kasha is made from reclaimed wood from a 50 foot piece of old growth redwood that was salvaged from a wildfire.   Davis added polyurethane resin that was tinted red, turquoise and black in the workshop to create the 3″ heel.

Sugi Low

Sugi High

The Sugi incorporates an adjustable heel height transforming from a two-inch heel to a three-inch heel by rotating the ellipse and locking the bronze bearings into position. Reclaimed Douglas Fir brake stops from the cable cars in San Francisco have been repurposed into the heels of these shoes.

Simone

 The Simone style features live-edge heels cut from a round of Black Acacia wood that was harvested in the San Francisco Bay. Each pair is carefully selected, from the undulating folds of the tree trunk.  They also have specially designed and custom fabricated spring steel shanks by a local machine shop and vegetable-tanned leather.
Davis designed belts are available in one-inch  and two-inch widths with turquoise or red resin in natural leather, or black resin with black leather.This innovative and inspiring collection can be found at the online store for the Workshop Residence.

Say hello to great biceps…and a healthier kitchen

I know, I know, you LOVE your handy teflon coated non-stick pan. It makes the “over easy eggs” in the morning, well…so easy!   But  that quick flip comes at a potentially high toxic cost.  According to a report by the Environmental Working Group, “In two to five minutes on a conventional stove top, cookware coated with Teflon and other non-stick surfaces can exceed temperatures at which the coating breaks apart and emits toxic particles and gases…at least six toxic gases, including two carcinogens, two global pollutants, and MFA, a chemical lethal to humans at low doses.”

I say, no thank you!  I prefer my eggs with a little salt and peppa!

The truth is,  you can get a great non-stick surface on most stainless steel or cast iron pans by seasoning them yourself.  The process basically entails cleaning the pan,  coating it with oil,  and then heating it,  to form a carbon non-stick surface. Here are some detailed instructions.  I have seasoned my own cast iron pans and they work beautifully.

What to do with your Toxic Teffy?

  • Some cities will recycle them, so call and find out if you can put yours in the bin.
  • Call the manufacturer and ask if you can send it back (along with a sweet note about their responsibility to STOP making these mess makers in the first place!)
  • For really good quality pans, you might be able to have a local sandblaster remove the offending coating, leaving you with pristine pan ready to be properly seasoned.

So there you have it, turns out that sexy sculpted arms are not the only  benefit to using grandmas old cast iron!