This mesmerizing video shows city lights, wildfires in Australia, and even gas flares in the Middle East, all photographed from a satellite high over our heads.
YouTube video posted by NASA Goddard
The MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff has been featured in videos covering topics from seed starting to skin toner. Check out our full collection of wiser living videos on our video page.
Fleas and ticks (and mosquitos) can bring severe itching, allergic reactions, discomfort, and even serious diseases (such as lyme disease) to your pets, so it’s important to protect your pets from them. However, studies have found that some common flea and tick control products—including many that are readily available at stores and have been recommended by vets—aren’t just harmful to fleas and ticks; they can actually poison pets, and some are also dangerous to humans and other animals, as well.
Some conventional flea and tick treatments (including many of the topical, spot-on treatments that are applied directly onto pets’ skin, as well as flea collars, powders, and sprays, and even some ingestible products) contain highly toxic pesticides, some of which have been shown to cause a range of serious reactions in pets, from skin problems, vomiting, and excessive drooling to neurological problems (e.g., seizures or uncontrollable shaking), heart attacks, and death. So, tragically, some pesticides end up serving as pet-icides.
Toxicity of Flea and Tick Control
The Center for Public Integrity did a study in 2008, and found that at least 1,600 pet deaths related to spot-on treatments were reported to the EPA over the previous five years. According to the NRDC, cats may be more susceptible to adverse reactions than dogs, since they are more likely to lick the treatments off of their fur and they often lack enzymes for metabolizing or detoxifying the pesticides. Many of these pesticides are toxic to humans, as well, and children are especially vulnerable to exposure.
Avoid products that contain pyrethroid, pyrethrin, or permethrin pesticides, organophosphate insecticides (such as tetrachlorvinphos/TCVP; chlorpyrifos, dichlorvos, phosmet, naled, diazinon, and malathion), carbamates (e.g., propoxur, fenoxycarb, and carbaryl), or Amitraz. The NRDC has identified many common products that should be avoided, due to their high toxicity risks. Also note: Never use products on cats that are meant for use on dogs (and vice-versa), and never give your pet more than the recommended dose.
It’s disturbing that so many of us might have been unwittingly sickening our animals (and possibly shortening their lives) by using these products, often at the recommendation of our veterinarians, who trusted the manufacturers’ assurances of the products’ safety. It’s yet another example of how you can’t trust that a product is safe just because it’s been allowed into the marketplace. According to the Humane Society, the EPA did not start reviewing pet products for safety until 1996, and there is still a backlog of products that need to be tested. However, the overarching problem is that ingredients that the EPA had deemed “safe” clearly were not. This message seems to have finally gotten through. In 2009, the EPA announced that it would be developing stricter testing and evaluation requirements and could place new restrictions on flea and tick products.
Prevent Fleas Naturally and Safely
Fortunately, there’s no need to wait for those changes to take effect. Safe and natural alternative products and methods for controlling fleas and ticks already exist. Here is some guidance from the NRDC on ways to prevent flea problems. And when treatments are necessary, some pet supply stores and many online sites (see links below) now carry flea and tick products that are made up of plant-based ingredients, such as peppermint oil, citrus oil, clove oil, or Neem, which is a natural insecticide that comes from a tree. See the NRDC's Flea and Tick Product Directory to look up the ingredients and risks of specific products. Some flea and tick solutions can even be made at home. Fleas and ticks are repelled by rosemary, thyme, eucalyptus, and lavender. So to ward off the bugs, you can tuck sprigs of one or more of those plants under your pet’s bed cover (or under your rugs), or boil some of those herbs in water and pour the cooled water onto your pet, rubbing it into their coat.
(Note: Some herbal or "natural" ingredients can cause allergic reactions or toxicity in animals. Be sure to test any treatment in a small dose first; and always apply treatments sparingly and only as needed. Also, never use pet products that contain pennyroyal oil, which is toxic to animals. Furthermore, while some sources say that adding a little bit of garlic to a pet's diet will repel fleas, other reputable sources say that garlic can be toxic to dogs and even more so to cats, even in small amounts; so I steer clear of using garlic, just to be safe.)
If your pet has a flea infestation that does not respond to any of the plant-based solutions listed above, look for the lowest-risk commercial products listed in the NRDC's directory, which include Spinosad-based products.
Which non-toxic substances or methods have worked best for keeping fleas off of your pets?
To take action on this issue, print out the info from some of the links below, bring it to your pet store and to your veterinarian, and ask them to stop selling flea control products that contain the most dangerous pesticides (and to start selling the lowest-risk products)--to protect the health of pets and their people.
Natural Flea and Tick Control Resources
NRDC GreenPaws website (w/ a searchable product directory)
Center for Public Integrity study: Perils of the New Pesticides
Humane Society article on Flea and Tick Product Ingredients
NRDC report: Poisons on Pets: Health Hazards from Flea and Tick Products, 2000
Photo from The Humane Society of the United States
More and more sustainably produced wines are being made available across the country, with labels such as "organic," "100% organic" and "biodynamic" making their way onto wine shelves. (Read a summary of Choosing Sustainable Wines to help sort through these options.) Many consumers are not as aware of the small obstacle that holds wine safely in its glass home — the cork; or, as is common these days, the synthetic cork made of plastic compounds or the aluminum screw cap. Choosing a natural wine cork stopper, however, has a much larger environmental impact than its small size may lead you to believe.
Sustainable Wine Corks
The Cork Forest Conservation Alliance is dedicated to educating wine drinkers on the ecological and social importance of choosing a real cork stopper. Last summer, thanks in large part to the Alliance, I was able to witness the cork harvest in Portugal firsthand, as well as tour several plants that turn the cork oak bark into wine stoppers, cork flooring and more. The montados (cork oak forests), throughout Spain and Portugal support a wide range of plant and animal species, including honeybees, herbal plants, and the well-known Black Iberian pigs that feast on the oak trees' acorns. Workers (often families who have owned the land for generations) harvest by hand the outer layer of bark from the oak trees, leaving the vital cambium intact. In general, a tree's bark is only harvested once every nine years. The bark that I witnessed being harvested is taken to zero-waste facilities where it is transformed into myriad products, from wine stoppers to wall insulation.
In short, natural cork wine stoppers are an environmentally sound choice, especially when compared with the manufacturing of plastic and mining of aluminum that is required to produce the synthetic options. Patrick Spencer, director of the Cork Forest Conservation Alliance, explains in more detail the sustainability of the cork harvest and production process in this TEDxSalem presentation:
More Cork Resources
Cork is not only used for wine stoppers. It has also been integrated into eco-friendly flooring options. Learn more about the ins and outs of cork flooring in the articles below.
Sustainable Cork Flooring: Elegant and Eco-Friendly
Benefits of Cork Flooring
Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely working in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can find Jennifer on Twitter or Google+
The 2014 Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) takes place from Friday, February 14 through Monday, February 17. Each year, volunteers tally the birds they see in backyards, parks and natural areas. In 2013, participants from all seven continents reported more than 4,000 species, documenting 39 percent of the world’s bird species in just four days! Counting birds during GBBC helps scientists gain a snapshot of how bird populations are changing. Some interesting stories from the 2013 North American count include:
Massive flocks spotted in Missouri. Observers at Mark Youngdahl Urban Conservation Area in St. Joseph, Missouri, reported the largest flock with an estimated 5 million Red-winged Blackbirds and 1.5 million American Robins. The second largest flock was also spotted in Missouri – between 700,000 and 1.1 million Snow Geese at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.
Cedar Waxwings missing from the Northeast. A common species, Cedar Waxwings were tallied in low numbers in northeastern North America during the 2013 count. Where did they go? Scientists think that a lack of winter fruit to support birds in the northeastern region meant that a large number of them headed to their core winter range along the Gulf Coast. Tallies from the Gulf Coast showed large numbers of Cedar Waxwings.
Winter ranges shifting for some birds, especially insect-eaters. One example is the Northern Rough-winged Swallow. The bird typically winters in Mexico and Central America, but has recently established winter populations in new areas, including Atlanta, New Haven and Philadelphia. Some of the new populations have been found near sewage plants. Why? Warm wastewater attracts flying insect food sources which, along with warmer winters, are allowing the birds to survive.
Snowy Owls concentrated in the Northwest. Most birds were reported in Canada, but some also showed up in Washington, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ontario in 2013. This year, snowy owls have been spotted along the East Coast which should make for interesting counts.
Viewer Tip: Collecting all this data would be impossible without the help of volunteers. Anyone can participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count by tallying birds for at least 15 minutes on any day of the count. Simple instructions for counting and reporting birds are available at birdsource.org. You can also find regional bird checklists, photo galleries, resources for kids and more!
Read more bird, weather and environment tips at Earth Gauge.
GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon and Bird Studies Canada.
Snowy Owl image courtesy of Diane McAllister via Great Backyard Bird Count.
In seemingly unrelated stories, activists from Oregon to Mexico City to Berlin have taken to the streets protesting genetically modified (GM) crops, and the Australian government has decided to ban the future sale of most 2,4-D herbicides because of risks to the environment. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plans to deregulate new strains of GM corn and soybean engineered to tolerate spraying with 2,4-D, which experts say will result in profound increases in how much 2,4-D is applied to American farmland.
What’s wrong with this picture?
So far, comments on the USDA’s plan are mostly from alarmed citizens who want neither genetically modified varieties nor 2,4-D involved in their food supply. Many sound very surprised!
“You obviously don’t care about your children or their children, or the future of America.”
“Growing food with toxins built in, in the long run, is dangerous at best and potentially deadly. Just because you can do something does not mean you should.”
You can post your opinion on this matter here; additional details on the USDA’s proposed action are included in my previous post on this topic, Take This Chance to Speak Up on Genetically-Modified Crops and 2,4-D herbicide.
Dangers of 2,4-D Herbicide
So, what’s wrong with “a profound increase” in the use of 2,4-D herbicide? First, some scary information, copied verbatim from the National Pesticide Information Center’s fact sheet on 2,4-D:
Because 2,4-D has demonstrated toxic effects on the thyroid and gonads following exposure, there is concern over potential endocrine-disrupting effects.
Work examining incidents of exposure to 2,4-D without simultaneous exposure to 2,4,5-T [which has been banned] has found some association between 2,4-D and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
2,4-D was detected at low concentrations in urine samples collected from all age groups in a large study of the American public.
Traces of 2,4-D were detected in 49.3 percent of finished drinking water samples and 53.7 percent of untreated water samples.
Looking beyond the imminent threats to clean water and health posed by much heavier use of 2,4-D, there is an unanswered question about 2,4-D and dioxins, one of the most potent and persistent group of carcinogens on the planet. Although many known sources of dioxins have been eliminated or controlled, nobody can explain why right now, today, there are enough dioxins in a conventionally produced hot dog to exceed a child’s dietary maximum for the day.
It is suspected that dioxins may be entering the food chain through tainted or substandard batches of 2,4-D, which is sold under more than 80 trade names, often combined with other herbicides, and it is widely available as a generic herbicide at farm supply stores nationwide. The chemical was once manufactured close to home, but current supplies often have international origins and come from chemical plants in Argentina, China, India or Russia. The United States government has decided that these are all trustworthy sources, and has no reality check in place to validate this belief.
The dioxin issue came into sharp focus in Australia last year, when investigative journalists found high levels of dioxin in supplies of 2,4-D (the same supplier that provides 2,4-D to American customers). Australia subsequently cancelled registration of most formulations. The dioxin concern is also made clear in a multinational analysis of 2,4-D sponsored by the Munich-based Institute for Independent Impact Assessment in Biotechnology, as well as the brief submitted to the EPA by the Center for Food Safety. It said:
“EPA should undertake a comprehensive review of 2,4-D-related dioxin. … To briefly summarize, CFS found that EPA is relying heavily on pesticide industry assurances of reduced levels of dioxin contaminants in 2,4-D; that independent scientific testing casts great doubt on such assurances, suggesting that dioxin levels in 2,4-D have not declined as claimed by industry; that EPA should itself conduct, or commission independent scientists to conduct, a comprehensive testing program for dioxins in a broad array of 2,4-D formulations; that EPA should consider dioxins generated during the manufacture of 2,4-D, and dioxins emitted during incineration of unwashed 2,4-D jugs, in its overall assessment of dioxins related to 2,4-D.”
Is this not common sense? Isn’t this the sort of thing the EPA is supposed to do? If the EPA and USDA have their way, a whole lot more 2,4-D imported from Argentina, China, India, Russia and other nations will be drenching American soil and polluting our water, with no monitoring for possible dioxins.
The Threat of 2,4-D Herbicide Drift
One of the characteristics that has limited 2,4-D use in the past is that it will injure or kill many broad-leafed crops, including cotton, soybeans, tomatoes, roses, grapes, fruit trees, and many other home garden crops. It does not have a history of safe use, but rather of one drift accident after another. According to a story in the Des Moines Register, drift from 2,4-D used by farmers after World War II is one of the reasons the Midwest lost its grape industry. More recently, Wisconsin grape growers have lost vineyards to 2,4-D drift, and 250,000 acres of Arkansas cotton were damaged by 2,4-D drift in 2012. In California, 15,000 acres of the San Joaquin Valley were accidentally treated with a fog of 2,4-D in the same year.
In home gardens, herbicide drift damage can occur when a neighbor has their lawn treated with herbicides containing 2,4-D, including granular products. In addition to droplets carried on the wind, damage can occur when the herbicide vaporizes and a persistent chemical cloud forms close to the ground. This is what happened last year to organic farmer Will Reed in Tupelo, Miss., who lost his heirloom tomato crop to herbicide drift that came out of nowhere.
Damage to home gardens from herbicide drift is common enough to merit bulletins from numerous state extension service offices, though gardeners have little hope of recovering their losses. As explained in this advisory from the University of Minnesota, “The ‘garden variety’ dispute between neighbors is usually not taken through the trial and appeal process, because of the financial realities of paying for lawyers, expert witnesses, scientific analysis, and other litigation costs.” There are no public resources for residue testing, which can cost $100 to $300 per sample. Tired of being put in this no-win situation, Iowa farmers who don’t want herbicides drifting onto their land are arming themselves with “drift catchers” that capture air samples for analysis.
Rather than forcing organic gardeners and farmers to defend themselves against 2,4-D drift, the USDA needs to change its priorities, get out of bed with Big Ag, and start working to protect our environment and help farmers farm without poisons. Do you feel the push to do something, to share your opinions on GM food crops and ever-present pesticides? You have until midnight on February 24, 2014, to make your voice heard on the deregulation of genetically modified crops that tolerate treatment with 2,4-D. The only thing that will overcome the pressure from chemical companies will be greater pressure from you, the public.
Photo by Fotolia/Sandra Cunningham
Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on Google+.
Do you ever wonder how the tiny birds hopping around your backyard and neighborhood stay warm during the winter? Weighing in at 10-25 grams – the weight of a few nickels – birds hardly seem like they’re fit for frigid temperatures. But winter residents in chilly parts of the U.S. have some smart strategies for surviving the cold:
Fill up on fat and calories. As far as a bird’s concerned, calorie-rich and fatty foods like sunflower seeds, nuts and suet are the best for providing energy to stay warm.
Find reliable water sources. Melting snow and ice for water uses up calories and body heat, so finding a reliable source of fresh, clean water is key. Heated bird baths make life much easier during winter.
Find shelter. Evergreen trees, brush piles, birdhouses and roost boxes provide a respite from wind and cold.
Fluff those feathers. Feathers help trap heat close to a bird’s body to maintain warmth.
Some birds can even enter “regulated hypothermia” to reduce calorie burn and conserve energy during cold weather. Black-capped chickadees – familiar winter feeder visitors – can drop their body temperature by as much as 14 degrees Fahrenheit at night! They also shiver to generate heat, which gets trapped in those fluffy feathers.
Give feathered friends a hand this winter by adding food and water sources to your yard, then sit back and enjoy some winter birdwatching. Providing a variety of feeders and foods will attract different species of birds – try suet, cracked corn, seeds and nuts. Once a few birds find your feast, others will likely follow. Providing a water source will also attract birds. Use a heated bird bath or place a bath in a sunny area where it’s less likely to freeze over. Don’t forget to clean feeders and baths regularly to prevent spreading disease, and remove old, wet seed that can breed bacteria.
Get more winter birding tips from National Wildlife Federation and read more tips of the week at Earth Gauge.
Photo: Black-capped chickadee image courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
(Sources: Eldermire, C. “How Bird Survive the Cold: Feathers + Food = Warmth.” All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://blog.allaboutbirds.org/2014/01/16/how-birds-survive-the-cold-feathers-food-warmth/; Mayntz, M. “Make Winter Your Top Birding Season.” National Wildlife Federation, http://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Birds/Archives/2014/Winter-Birding.aspx)
When the Broncos and the Seahawks hit the field on Super Bowl Sunday, they’ll be playing in the NFL’s most energy-efficient stadium, according to the Alliance to Save Energy. Compared to the original Giants Stadium, MetLife Stadium – which is nearly twice the size – has reduced energy use by about 30 percent by using an automated lighting control system and energy efficient window coating that reduces heat gain. Water-efficient plumbing reduces the stadium’s water demand by 25 percent, compared to Giants Stadium. And, MetLife Stadium is reducing its waste by providing compost bins and expanding its recycling efforts. In 2012, the stadium composted 153 tons of waste and pulled 152 tons of recycling from its waste stream.
Viewer Tip: Take a page from MetLife Stadium’s playbook: Use some of the same strategies to save energy, save water and reduce waste at home. Oh, and you’ll save money, too.
Save energy with efficient lighting. Replace traditional light bulbs with energy-saving light bulbs. Use lighting controls, like dimmers, motion sensors and timers, to automatically turn lights on and off as needed.
Install energy-efficient window treatments. Awnings, blinds, draperies, window coatings, insulated panels and other window treatments can help keep the heat in during winter and out during summer. Learn more about your options from Energy.gov.
Save water with efficient products. According to EPA’s WaterSense program, toilets are by far the main source of water use at home, accounting for nearly 30 percent of an average home’s indoor water consumption. Replace old, inefficient toilets that use as much as 6 gallons per flush with WaterSense labeled models that use less than 1.3 gallons and are independently certified to perform well. Your family could score savings of up to $120 per year on water costs!
Reduce, reuse, recycle. Recycling just one aluminum can saves the amount of energy needed to power a laptop computer for five hours! Before you toss a household item in the trash can, find out if it can be recycled. Visit search.earth911.com to find out what you can recycle, how and where
Image courtesy of ct.gov.
(Sources: The Alliance to Save Energy. “Here Are the NFL’s 5 Most Energy-Efficient Stadiums,” http://www.ase.org/blog/here-are-nfls-5-most-energy-efficient-stadiums; MetLife Stadium. “Sustainability,” http://www.metlifestadium.com/stadium/sustainability; EPA. “WaterSEnse Program,” www.epa.gov/watersense, EPA. “Reduce, Reuse, Recyle,” http://www2.epa.gov/recycle)