Nature and Environment

Because at 160,000 years, the party is just getting started.

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2/24/2015

Have you noticed a lack of variety in local shopping options? As big businesses move in, the small ones get pushed out, which results in the somewhat stagnant local commerce options representing the interests of large brands – not your community.

A 2011 study conducted by the Maine Center for Economic Policy revealed that choosing to purchase goods and services from locally owned businesses impacted the local economy nearly twice as much as the same purchases made at regional or national retailers. Because the return is higher – as much as 76 percent, the study found – more local job, business and growth opportunities are created.

So what can you buy locally without breaking the bank?

local economy

1. Fresh Produce

Local farmers can offer fruit, vegetables and herbs straight from the source, guaranteeing your family has the freshest foods. Compared to produce found in supermarkets, produce from local farmers doesn’t travel long distances or incur additional costs to get from farm to table.

Vern Grubinger, a vegetable and berry specialist writing for the University of Vermont, noted that purchasing local produce maintains the genetic diversity of foods, which results in better nutrients, colors and flavors.

2. Clothing

It’s easy to walk into the nearest chain store to purchase your wardrobe, but do you know where each piece came from? Often, larger retailers outsource the production of clothing to other countries, which takes business away from the local community.

Instead, consider shopping at locally owned consignment or thrift stores for clothing and working with a local tailor or seamstress to ensure secondhand clothes fit you well.

3. Repair Services

Whether your heating and cooling system is on the fritz or you’re looking for ways to reduce monthly energy costs, opting for local repair services is beneficial to your home and wallet. Local home repair companies understand the factors impacting energy efficiency and offer local green options capable of saving you money while enhancing the sustainability of your home’s energy use.

4. Personal Care

When buying soap, lotion or hair products, can you recognize the ingredients? If you’re like most people, simply reading the ingredients can be challenging, let alone understanding why it’s used. Purchasing name-brand personal-care products might seem tempting, but you receive better quality and value when shopping locally. Shop at local stores for handmade soap, lotion and beauty products containing natural ingredients.

5. Florists

Ordering flowers online has become the norm for many people, as it’s quick and convenient. However, using online services takes your business away from local florists who offer fresh flowers, innovative arrangements and quick service. Unlike paying extra money for rapid delivery via online flower retailers, buying from local florists offers the same selection at a lower price while supporting local flower suppliers.

6. Books

Between Amazon and Kindle, buying books online is effortless. Unfortunately, choosing online book vendors does nothing for the local economy. Supplement online shopping with local booksellers and traders.

The best part is most local sellers offer cash or store credit for your old books, meaning you may even make a little extra cash for gently used tomes. Reduce clutter, get new-to-you books and support fellow members of your community when shopping for books locally.

7. Tax Services

It’s tempting to file your taxes online or trust a national tax-solution chain to complete forms, but saving a few dollars initially could lead to costly errors.

Instead, work with a local tax firm or accountant to ensure your household’s annual income, expenses and deductions are properly recorded before filing. In addition to supporting the local economy, hiring an accountant ensures you have professional representation in the event of an audit.

Become a Community Contributor

Everyone wants a thriving, vibrant community, but how and where you spend your hard-earned cash affects how much or little your community can grow. The next time you need to purchase goods or services, search for locally owned businesses instead of opting for large brands.

Image by PublicDomainArchive.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



2/21/2015

Concerns about the environment, energy efficiency and conservation stretch across the globe. The options available for research, analysis, safety and protection practically boggle the mind. The environmental discipline encompasses many natural sciences such as air, soil, water, wildlife, plants, historic or archaeological impacts, agriculture and more.

And when someone says “environmental audit,” you may easily picture everything from a Googled checklist to a team of archaeologists digging in the backyard on a multi-agency investigation.

So how does an average homeowner or small-business owner wade through all the information to find what they need? It helps to narrow the focus or break a multi-faceted audit into parts organized by science type.

Why Do You Need an Environmental Audit?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers guidelines for conducting an audit and says the first step is to determine why it’s needed. The two most common reasons are for compliance or some level of environmental management.

The person requesting the audit usually defines its purpose and scope, and then chooses whether to hire a consultant or do it themselves. Few audits are the same, but most follow general steps and protocol:

• Determine an objective
• Define the scope
• Gather data
• Monitor subject
• Report results
• Implement action

States, counties, cities, land trusts, wildlife associations, farm bureaus and natural-resource organizations offer different kinds of information that may be relevant to your objective and scope.

The data-gathering part of an audit often requires special equipment, creating a need for everything from radiation-detection kits and submersible cameras to devices that measure dangerous gasses and volatile-organic compounds (VOCs). For professional and do-it-yourself environmental auditors, look for testing and safety equipment, such as water-quality meters, to use on site.

If you’re a land developer seeking investment property, you most likely need an environmental assessment to ensure that a potential site doesn’t have characteristics that might impede progress. You don’t want contaminated soil, a building with asbestos or lead, dangerous floodplains, protected species, or an unknown historical or archaeological feature. The audit can be used for compliance — you can consider hiring a professional scientist, if not a team of them, to perform it.

If you own a home by the river, you might want to know why you saw dead fish in the nearby creek last summer and if there is any threat to area groundwater. You’ll find plenty of free information on your own, but a consultant will save you time. Consultancy options range from companies that charge thousands of dollars to conduct audits regularly to qualified individuals who review basic information and report verbally.

Follow a Logical Flow

Using the dead fish example, you might start an audit by checking with a reliable source to see what kills fish, such as a list at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Dead fish can result from:

• Erosion
• Dirt deposit
• Excess nitrate and phosphorous
• Dissolved oxygen
• Water temperature
• Decaying materials

The next step is to make calls to the local river-protection association, water-management organization department and land trust downriver. Ask to see water-quality test results if they’re not accessible online and scan the local drinking water quality reports for any red flags. Research what exists upriver to see if any industrial or agricultural operations could be affecting water quality, knowingly or unknowingly.

The next typical audit steps involve:

Objective – determine why the fish died
Scope
– consider the small stretch of creek
Data – gather from multiple sources
Monitor – test water and watch fish
Report – make notes about what you learn
Action – clean debris periodically

You may learn that there are no major issues but find that low oxygen can kill fish during summer months. Warm water holds less oxygen than cool water, and it also encourages algae blooms and other plants that hog oxygen at night.

If the data reveals how built-up debris causes poor circulation and the accumulation of toxins, clear away the branches and leaves to free the creek’s flow, boost the water’s oxygen level and prevent more fish deaths.

Share Your Information

What you learn during any kind of environmental audit produces information that is helpful to others. Tell your neighbors how the local river association offers incentives for green infrastructure like rain barrels, green roofs, shade trees, porous pavement, and rooftop-runoff catchers.  

Ask if anyone wants to organize a volunteer-cleanup day and pass along the EPA’s list of ways to preserve healthy waters:

• Adopt a watershed
• Clear debris after a storm
• Join a stewardship program
• Stop or prevent pollutants
• Use water efficiently
• Bring back the water fountain

Large or small, collaboratively or independently, an environmental audit presents a challenging but fulfilling puzzle to solve. Audit results provide a valuable benchmark and lead to necessary corrections, enhanced protection and deeper education.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



2/18/2015

Peter Robertson

It’s holiday time. The normal workday habits had me awake early and I was enjoying a moment of idleness. Traffic noise on the road was a fraction of the normal, so the pre-dawn hoot-hoo-oo-hoot caught my attention. I often heard owls in the warm months as I finished work late or before sleep. This winter call was a pleasant surprise. I checked the field guide during coffee and narrowed it to either a Great Horned or Barred Owl.

Later, as I finished hanging out the wash to dry, I peered around the house toward the pines across the road and scanned. Owls are likely the best at hiding of the big birds. Not like a sparrow constantly twittering or flitting about. Or like a Chickadee, calling to let you know they are still at hand. Or a Blue Jay, bullying the neighbor birds and aggressive enough to try with me. No, the owl just mellows in its oblique roost unseen. No sign of the owl. Later, it dawned on me why the owl would choose to roost close to a busy rural road when unbroken woods were nearby.

The corn harvest on surrounding fields was finished late this year. The wet fall and early snowstorm had made early November a time of haste for farmers hoping to get their crops in. Late one day, I heard the approach of a combine and it seemed to make a stop right in front of the house. I looked out to see the neighbor in his JD4 row harvester, stopped out front and corn spilled all over the road. It appears that the augur was in operation as he travelled down the road spilling many bushels of corn. The neighbor resumed his travel but the following safety pick-up driver hastened to clear the road of spilled corn, which involved grabbing the leaf blower out of his bed and blasting corn to the shoulder. The next morning, and every morning since, all birds within flying distance have made the starting meal at the edge the road.

I managed to get my popcorn in before the rains and snow. It filled several 1/2-bushel baskets. Some went in the market barn while some went into the mudroom. One morning, I slipped a left shoe on and discovered the secret cache of about 1/4-cup of popcorn. Recognizing the busy work of mice and voles, I set out traps. In the first few nights I trapped quite a few. Then, it snowed and the traps stayed empty. After the warmth returned and the farmers were back in the fields, the trap remained untouched. The popcorn was eventually moved to storage but the trap had been left alone for a long time…and I realized that the mice and kin were likely feasting on the corn near the road like the birds did during the day (attracting the owl in their effort).

I find it wonderful that this incidence has lessened pressure on my popcorn and resulted in a pre-dawn serenade. Nature can be amazingly resilient at cleaning up and benefitting from our simple mistakes. As long as they are as inconsequential as a few bushels of spilled corn.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



2/17/2015

tv shows

If you love everything about the great outdoors, chances are you spend most of your time in nature and as little as possible in front of a TV screen. However, on the occasional rainy day or sick day, that black screen in your living room may be your only source of entertainment.

If you’re tired of sitcoms, reality shows and sports commentary but are searching for something that aligns with your nature-loving interests, you’re in luck.

Recently, TV shows that focus on green living and the environment have become increasingly popular, giving viewers plenty of options. Not sure what to watch? Here are six DVR-worthy nature series you need to see.

1. “Survivorman” – Science Channel

This series has been on the air for quite some time, however, it never gets old. This show documents the tactics and techniques of Les Stroud, as he survives alone in the wilderness for a week. You’ll no doubt be amazed – if not inspired – to see this survivalist successfully rough it as he enters into the wild with only his camera and forages for food, shelter and water.

2. “Renovation Nation” – Planet Green

This TV show on Planet Green is all about eco-friendly home-improvement ideas. This show documents the process of environmentally conscious renovations from start to finish, giving viewers an inside look into how to renovate their own homes. “Renovation Nation” is hosted by Steve Thomas, who once hosted the show “This Old House,” giving viewers a familiar face as well as helpful home-improvement tips.

3. “Frozen Planet” – BBC and Discovery Channel

This show that was created by the same team behind the programs “Planet Earth” and “Blue Planet” gives viewers an up-close and personal look into life in the arctic. Frozen Planet features stunning footage of wildlife whose habitat is in arctic climates, including polar bears, killer whales and arctic wolves. As your outdoor adventures most likely won’t lead you to the frozen tundra and the animals that live there, getting to learn about these creatures and this habitat from the couch in your warm living room is an enjoyable and safe alternative.

4. “Carbon Cops” – Sundance Channel

If you’re into going green, wasting less and reducing your household’s carbon footprint, “Carbon Cops” can help you do just that. The hosts of this show evaluate the energy consumption and lifestyle of average families and give them tips on how to implement more environmentally friendly habits into their homes and daily lives.

5. “Nature” – PBS

This documentary-style show on PBS lets viewers get a glimpse into parts of the natural world that they wouldn’t otherwise get to see. From rare wild animals – including snow leopards and snow monkeys – to exotic locales, this show brings even the most isolated or undiscovered parts of nature into your living room. As the footage for Nature is collected by expert wildlife filmmakers, there’s no doubt that you’ll be impressed by what you see.

6. “Eco-trip: The Real Cost of Living” – Sundance Channel

If you were a fan of the discovery channel show “How it’s Made,” you will no doubt enjoy “Eco-trip: The Real Cost of Living,” which could be considered its environmentally conscious twin. From T-shirts to solar panels, host David de Rothschild visits factories to discover how manufacturing of these products impacts our environment. This informative series helps to shed light on not only the manufacturing, but also the transportation process of products and the environmental impact it has.

While nothing beats discovering the great outdoors for yourself, when there’s no other choice, your TV set can be a viable second option. TV shows like “Nature” and “Frozen Planet” can quench your thirst for the natural world and show you a wild side of the outdoors you wouldn’t usually see. Also, if your interests lie with sustainable living and protecting our earth, shows like “Carbon Cops” or “Renovation Nation” can give you ideas and inspiration.

So whether you’re stuck indoors or are just in the mood for a little TV time, these shows will make your day.

Image by RonPorter


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



2/16/2015

pot store002.jpg 

This is a subject that draws divisive comments from critics and proponents alike. This topic is not intended to take either side but instead to point out some of the down sides of legalizing marijuana. When marijuana was legalized in our state of Colorado it was pointed out to us voters how much revenue it would generate but little was said of the possible problems it could cause. Our Governor called it “the great social experiment” and it has lived up to his statement both good and bad. This blog is directed toward the unforeseen hazards that legalization of marijuana creates. In Colorado we have already seen the enormous revenue it brings in and the down side is just surfacing. While the debate continues over whether it should be legal or not this article is not written to take either side but simply to report on what this writer has observed subsequent to legalization.

We live near the small town of Ft. Garland, Colorado, with a population of roughly 433 persons. Since marijuana has become legal in Colorado we have had two marijuana stores open for business and a third one seeking rezoning to be able to both grow and sell from one of our historic buildings. That will be three stores for about 433 residents not including rural customers. There is a community school on the main highway going through the area and there is a marijuana store situated on both sides of the school within legal set back distances. The third store plans to open up next to a historical fort that attracts tourists and visitors from all over our state and around the world.

We have noticed more vagrants in the area and talking to a resident of the town recently I was told that he is now regularly shooing vagrants out of his yard. I have heard on the Denver news channels that the increase in homeless and vagrants in that area is also significantly on the increase which is straining their ability to provide social services to those in need. This influx of people which seem drawn to legal marijuana puts a serious drain on not only social services but emergency services as well.

The path to legalization started with legalization of ‘medical’ marijuana and then to full legalization. This writer understands that medically it does have benefits for some diseases or illnesses. When it went to full legalization it seems that keeping up with regulating it is an ongoing struggle for our state. The marijuana industry is growing so fast that regulators seem to struggle to keep up. In one aspect or another it is in our news every day. Today the news channel was reporting that recreational marijuana is being sold with mold that causes respiratory issues and it needs to be more carefully tested like medical marijuana is tested. With all the shops opening that is going to present a regulatory challenge and it seems that regulation is falling further and further behind.

One area that is particularly challenging is consumable marijuana products which look remarkably like normal candy, cookies etc. The new industry and state agencies have been struggling for months on how it can be marketed so people can tell the difference between the two. The industry doesn’t want the increased burden of special labels and the state wants to stop children and adults from consuming more THC (hash oil) than is allowable and ending up in the emergency room. It is being put into multiple food products with no definitive label warnings or identification to tell consumers of the potential risks involved or how much THC they are eating. Extracting THC from marijuana has also resulted in several residential house fires by do it yourself people. The consumables have been showing up in our schools also.

Marijuana is not allowed to be smoked in a public place and is easy to detect due to the unique smell. I’m not sure how they can enforce using consumable marijuana in public places because it mimics normal food products and is in most cases indistinguishable except for the THC. Also the only way to be sure if a person is driving under the influence of marijuana is by taking a blood test. That requires more effort than blowing into a breathalyzer along side the road. The officer must have probable cause in ordering a blood test and no effective road side blood test is currently available. A recent study has determined that a person smoking marijuana within the last week is twice as likely to be involved in an accident as a non user. In large cities within our state the problems or down sides are much different than in a rural area or small town like in our area.

Since it has been legalized in our state two adjoining states where it is still illegal have filed suit against our state. A third state is contemplating joining that suit. In their states it is still illegal and their difficulty in keeping it from coming across their borders has increased their financial burden of enforcing their laws. So while it can be legally purchased here it is creating problems for adjoining states where it is not legal and our neighbors are not happy.

I’m sure some will choose to misread this topic and use it as a platform to either promote national legalization of marijuana or denounce making it legal. That is not the intended purpose of this article but instead to consider not only the large revenue enhancement but also realize there is an equally important down side to making it legal and therefore weigh both options. This writer does not profess to be an expert but I am writing on what I hear, what I read and from what I have seen myself. It seems to me that the Colorado social experiment should be closely studied from all aspects by those states considering legalization. It should be an open discussion that involves both the positive and negative aspects and then and only then a decision should be made. Regulations should be ready to implement when and if it becomes legal and not ‘as you go’ regulations which take months to formulate and enact.

For the record I myself have never used or had the desire to use marijuana but I hold nothing against those who do and believe it is a matter of personal choice. Once it is legalized it is off and running at remarkable speeds and playing catch up at that point is a real race.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their mountain lifestyle check out the McElmurray's Mountain Retreat.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



2/13/2015

You come into the house, parched from working outside in your garden. Turning on the tap, you wait for the water to get cooler, and then fill a tall glass. Drinking it all down, you feel quenched and satiated. However, could that seemingly good-tasting, fine-smelling water be hiding toxic, unhealthy and environmentally unsafe ingredients?

The answer is a disturbing yes.

Most people are surprised to learn about all the impurities that regularly leach into our water supply. Even if you have a private well, you may be susceptible to unknowingly drinking water tainted with the following substances:

Pharmaceutical and over-the-counter medications – It’s not uncommon for people to flush their unused drugs down the toilet or send them flowing down the kitchen sink drain. Unfortunately, those pills, tablets and syrups wind up in our drinking water. While the amount of them can vary widely, the possibilities of unwittingly ingesting hormones, antidepressants and more is horrifying. It can be especially worrisome if infants, toddlers and children are being exposed to these items.

Chlorine and other chemicals – If your water comes from a public water supply, you can count on it having been filtered and strained through municipal treatment centers. The chemicals these treatment facilities commonly use include chlorine. Although chlorine does kill off bacteria, the chlorine itself isn’t necessarily gone from your tap water. This means you might be frequently drinking small doses of chlorine, which is poisonous to humans when taken in larger quantities.

Pesticides – Your neighbors down the street may be innocently creating a health hazard when they hire a professional to spray pesticides on their lawn and around their property. The same is probably true of the local golf course. The chemicals used in pesticides soak into the earth and into the water table. This means that even if you have a well, you could be exposed to pesticides being used to keep homes bug-free or grass greener.

Metals – Metallic particles can land in your drinking glass every time you turn on the faucet. Some of these metals may be naturally occurring in the soil, but others may be from inside your home via your pipes. If your pipes are older, they may contain lead. Even if they are newer, it’s commonplace for the metals to break down over time. Who wants to drink metals, which are poisonous to the body’s system?

Fluoride – Cities, boroughs and other types of municipalities often add fluoride to the public water supply to help support healthier teeth. Still, you may not appreciate this addition to your water. Some reports suggest that ingesting doses of fluoride may have a connection to cancer, especially in young boys.

So what do you do if you discover that your drinking water isn’t as pure as you thought?

First, don’t panic. You can take action starting today by getting your water tested. There are home tests, as well as experts who will come to your house to check your water quality. If you discover that you have a problem, you can install a product that will solve your issue, such as one that focuses on filtering out chlorine or removing fluoride.

Other ideas include boiling your water regularly. Though this will not ensure that all contaminants are removed – metals, for instance, cannot be boiled away – it will at least cut down on any disease-causing bacteria that may be present in the water.

We all do our best to make sure our water is safe for us, as well as our loved ones. By being cognizant of the realities of impurities in our water, we can take charge and lead an even healthier lifestyle.

Image by flyupmike


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



2/11/2015

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs) help decrease energy usage costs and prevent greenhouse gas emissions, as opposed to usage of traditional light bulbs (incandescent). CFLs were originally developed in 1976 by Edward E. Hammer, an engineer with General Electric. The design met its goals, however it would have cost GE about $25 million to build new factories to produce the lamps, therefore the invention was shelved. In 1995, the design was copied and manufacture and sales of the bulbs became more readily available. Since that time sales of CFLs has increased and incandescent bulbs are soon to become a thing of the past. In 2007, legislation was passed setting standards for maximum wattage requirements. This effectively banned the further manufacture and importation of incandescent bulbs.

CFL

Less Energy, Longer Usage

The advent of CFLs brings wonderful energy efficiency for the consumer. According to the Energy Star website (a US Environmental Protection Agency and US Department of Energy program.) “ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs use up to 75 percent less energy (electricity) than incandescent light bulbs, last up to 10 times longer, cost little up front, and provide a quick return on investment.”

Additionally, the CFL bulbs emit far fewer mercury emissions ( known to damage our environment) than the traditional incandescent bulbs. When in use, an incandescent bulb emits approximately 5.5 mg. of mercury. The CFL emits only1.2 mg. Now this is all terrific, energy savings AND helping to eliminate greenhouse gases…the problem begins when you try to dispose of the used bulb.

Disposal Issues

When CFLs are disposed, the mercury in them is released into the environment in the form of a gas. Mercury is not released if the bulb remains intact/unbroken. The amount of mercury in an individual bulb is negligible, but when multiplied by millions of households it bears consideration. In recent years, manufacturers have reduced the amount of mercury substantially. The average mercury content in CFLs has dropped at least 20 percent in the past few years. When CFLs were first introduced on the market, recycling options were readily available. Now that the mercury levels have decreased, vendors that previously offered recycling stopped offering that service. If you are using CFLs and need to find a recycling facility in your area, a quick search on Earth911 will help you find a local facility. There is also the consideration that CFLs may someday be replaced by LED lighting.

LED 

LED Lighting

LED lighting has expanded usage in the market, but may not replace CFLs in the foreseeable future. Many of the LED applications, started as indicator lights and later were frequently used in digital clocks. While LEDs have the advantage over CFLs that they do not contain mercury, they may contain other hazardous metals such as lead and arsenic. Also, their popularity for household lighting is limited because of high cost compared to the CFLs. However, with increased expansion in the marketplace, and consumer demand, prices of LEDs will probably decline. With improved technology, and the benefits that they provide, LED bulbs could very well soon become choice for economical, green lighting.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 












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