Nature and Environment

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

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6/9/2014

At a time when greenhouse gas emissions from cars and electricity generation around the world are at an all-time high, Heifer International in Cameroon is leading initiatives and programming to help reduce such emissions from livestock production there.

Cameroon biogas

Bih Judith lives in the village of Njong in Santa, Cameroon. She first got involved with dairy cattle farming in 2009 as a way to escape hunger and poverty. Five years later, Judith has a steady source of income, and she and her family eat balanced meals three times a day. At 43, Judith has succeeded in establishing a new life for her family. However, more than 70 liters of cow dung are produced daily from her stables, creating a possible threat to the environment.

Renewable Biogas Energy in Cameroon

Through Heifer Cameroon’s training and support, Judith’s household, along with nearly 100 other families, set up domestic biogas units. Judith now cooks with biogas instead of wood, which saves trees and increases access to clean, renewable energy. She also practices integrated dairy cattle farming, rearing three dairy cattle using a zero-grazing system. She has enough dung to maintain her biogas unit year round.

Ban Patience also lives in Njong and benefits from Heifer’s support and training. She says the effects of climate change are felt by the hotter weather they are experiencing in the community. Patience, who is raising three goats and three dairy cattle, was taught that using cattle dung to generate biogas reduces emissions of greenhouse gases and is much cleaner than burning fuel wood and coal. She, like Judith, uses biogas to cook and now plants trees in her community.  She and her family have always used wood to fuel their fires and heat their homes, but now their use of biogas helps to save their environment, time and about $10 each month.

“This is my own little contribution to fighting climate change,” she says proudly.

Patience also uses a biogas byproduct called bio-slurry as a natural fertilizer. Bio-slurry contains 93 percent water and 7 percent waste and is a ready-made, high quality, organic fertilizer that can be used in fields to grow crops. The use of bio-slurry decreases the use of costly chemical fertilizers, which saves the environment and their income. Thanks to bio-slurry, agricultural productivity has increased for Patience and her family.

Patience is now financially empowered and manages a bank account she opened in her own name.

Natural Fertilizer from Biogas Effluent

Fon Linus, another farmer in Njong, is also reaping rewards from biogas. Using biogas helps him cut down on the use of wood, and he uses bio-slurry on his crops and vegetable farm plots. Linus, along with many other farmers in his community, has stopped using chemical fertilizers since adopting the use of bio-slurry.

“I replaced chemical fertilizers with cattle manure and I have adopted organic ways of farming,” Linus explains. “I found that through organic farming, crops had longer lives, generated more income, and were healthier to eat.”

Fon Asa’ah, known in Njong as “His Royal Majesty,” says the farmers who have benefited from Heifer are role models in the community. “They are championing the cause of environmental protection and teaching us how to care for the Earth.”

Heifer Cameroon continues to encourage improved livestock breeding and simple technology practices like zero-grazing, biogas units and the use of bio-slurry. Thanks to their continued support, farm efficiency and production has gone up without damaging the environment. This leads to more food and a higher income for people like Judith, Patience, and Linus.

What do you do to help bring your carbon footprint down?



6/4/2014

elk.jpg

Several years ago when challenging our association about careless spraying of a toxic herbicide, I learned several lessons.

Perhaps the most important lesson was that neither state nor federal authorities are there to stop dangerous practices unless they are sizable. Our community has about 4,000 acres of common mountain meadows which we members have access to for recreational purposes. Because everything ultimately washes down mountains to lower elevations, I believe those living on mountains should have a higher standard or responsibility to protect those lands below them. The leaders from our land owners association decided to kill invasive weeds by liberal application of 2,4,D Amine.

Another lesson learned was that state regulations apply to professional applicators, wherein they have to follow strict criteria. For an organization like ours, there are basically no rules or laws that directly apply. There were two enforcement agents for the entire state and primary enforcement was primarily focused on ranchers and farmers. A professional applicator is required to post where the herbicide has been applied, mix herbicides properly and follow specific safety rules. Our association not only refused to tell us where the spray was being applied but stated the law did not require them to do so. In checking the law I found they were right and no legal requirement was in place for private applications.

Which Government Agency?

My first effort was to enlist the help of the EPA. I incorrectly assumed the Environmental ‘Protection’ Agency was there to ensure that we citizens were protected from toxic materials. I was politely passed off to the state Department of Agriculture (DOA). They in turn listened to my concern and informed me that they did not have the ability or inclination to look into the problem. Because regulation fell under the DOA, this simply did not sound right, so I then wrote the governor explaining their lack of concern.

The same person in the DOA who blew me off initially suddenly had renewed interest and said he would dispatch an investigator to check matters out. The investigator showed up and advised they lacked enforcement ability other than utilization of proper safety equipment while handling the herbicide. I had called, written and pleaded and was right back where I started on getting regulatory agencies involved, with the exception that the investigator did stop the spraying until the applicators could equip themselves with proper safety gear.

Herbicide Impact on Deer and Elk

What initiated my concern was when I had been accidentally sprayed as I drove down the road with the truck window rolled down. The reaction was immediate. I had difficulty breathing and my eyes burned so badly I was barely able to see to drive home. When I asked what I had been sprayed with I was met with stony silence, making me suspicious.

Our property is a natural refuge for wild animals and I had noticed deer and elk with large tumors hanging on them. Whether they were caused by a parasite or from the toxic spray I couldn’t tell. I had never noticed deer or elk in this condition previous to the spraying and when they stopped spraying I did not observe any more deer or elk with tumors. After the herbicide has been applied it can be ingested, absorbed or inhaled by humans or animals. I had additional concerns since it was also used along ditches which were then plowed back onto dirt roads where it was converted into road dust and became airborne when vehicles went down the road.

The U.S. Deptartment of Agriculture provided me a study wherein contaminated road dust which had been previously sprayed with 2,4,D Amine was a legitimate concern. In addition, I had observed spray being applied to specific areas and noticed later the same day deer and elk browsing on the herbicide-treated vegetation. The applicators wore back packs walking throughout the meadows and along streams spraying this toxic material everywhere. All this time those responsible for the spraying were indignantly proclaiming they posed no health risk and refused to reveal the areas treated so they could be avoided by landowners.

Kill Weeds vs. Protecting the Environment

Being made aware of the harmful effects of this toxin was not the issue because there are numerous reports available to detail the dangers of this herbicide. The real problem was indifference by those who would prefer to kill weeds over being responsible for protecting the environment, animals and humans. The government officials quickly stated this herbicide had been approved by the EPA and was therefore acceptable for use and there was nothing they could or would do. It was a bureaucratic morass at its worst when trying to obtain enforcement.

When asked about the harmful effects on animal, bird, insect and human health, the same government agencies would not answer or evaded the issue by repeating it was an approved herbicide. Involving other environmental groups was equally frustrating. They were not interested, because they are involved in so many other destructive areas that they simply did not have time or volunteers to assist but they at least wished me success. Some meaningful information was gained from the environmental watch group Beyond Pesticides, which proved helpful and educational. Most of our applicators believed that if a little works then a lot will work better. It was being used liberally throughout our common lands.

Over-Worked Government Agencies

This is not intended as condemnation of our government agencies. Government agencies have larger problems to deal with than 4,000 acres in a private community. Additionally the state agencies required landowners to kill invasive weeds and their recommended method was with toxic herbicides. The Agency’s primary interest was that the applicator used proper safety gear and they had no additional interest in public safety. It was a learning experience in dealing with all these different agencies and mostly it was like chasing your tail and getting nowhere. I am confident that these agencies have many redeeming qualities but on the specific issue of controlling herbicide/pesticide use, it was not very apparent from my viewpoint. They mandated killing weeds, openly advocated using powerful herbicides, and had very little interest in protecting the public, animals or insects.

Suggestions for Remedy Limited

I can not offer suggestions to help any reader who happens to find themselves in a similar situation. The most valuable resources were properly identifying the herbicide and its side effects, plus exercising perseverance, persistence and patience. Perhaps nothing is more true than the saying "the squeaky wheel gets the grease," but you have to squeak long, hard and to the right people. It also helps when dealing with reluctant people to stick to the main issue with just the facts and not be drawn into peripheral unrelated issues, which they will try to draw you into. It can be a long and grueling process and a frustrating one. But don‘t give up, because that is what they expect you to do if you have a small violation. 

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their challenges in the mountains go to www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com.



6/3/2014

water smart gardeningOf all the water we use at home, an average of 30 percent is used for outdoor activities like watering lawns and washing cars. But in some of the hotter areas and times of year, that number can shoot up to 60 percent.

Tip: Planting a water-smart garden can help you save water when temperatures heat up. Look for low water-using plants and flowers that are native to your region. Unlike some thirstier varieties, these plants require little watering beyond normal rainfall once they are established. Your local garden store or water utility may be able to help you find the right plants for your area, and you can search for native plants in the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Native Plant Database. The U.S. EPA’s WaterSense program also has some ideas for you.

Earth Gauge

Image courtesy of U.S. EPA.

(Sources: U.S. EPA WaterSense Program. EPA WaterSense)



6/2/2014

growing garlic

In sitting down to write this week’s article, it strikes me that these final days of May are the time for describing everything, and nothing.  Each day a new flower appears, a garden plant gets a little taller, the search for slugs goes on, the birds begin singing a little earlier, the river roars with rain until it calms itself down.  On the other hand, we are waiting, anticipating, working towards many things not yet come to fruition.  Our major projects for the summer are discussed and planned, but not yet begun.  Firewood is ongoing, and mentioned so often anyway.  The garden is seeded and planted - and while it seems to change each day, the story of seeds to sprouts is no doubt amply described each year.  The bold unfurling of beans, the confident eruption of asparagus, the delicate awakening of carrots: I know, easy to describe and not exactly new material.  

And of course the weeds. This is the time of ceaseless growth.  Just as I’ve made it through the garden beds tidying rows and freeing young plants from the competition of grass, thistle, dandelion, clover, and sorrel, it’s back to the beginning, it seems.  

And somewhere in the categorical middle ground between weeds and gardens is our herb plot.  This rock ringed area has hosted a particular duel this spring.  Home to both chives and mint (along with lemon thyme, catmint, oregano, horseradish, lavender, and sage), these two titans are vying for increased spheres of herbaceous influence.

herb garden, summer 2012

Early in the season, chives were ahead in the race for herb garden domination.  Mint - a wild peppermint (my spearmint is much more docile & provincial) - was slower to push it’s way above ground. The earliest round of weeding reined in the chives back to their original plot, eliminating more than a handful of mint weeds along the way.  The aftermath, though, has definitely turned in mint’s favor.  A don’t-take-no-for-an-answer sort of neighbor, this pernicious plant is not only emerging in my paths, coldframe, kale patch, and others, but now also taking on the sorrel, wild strawberries, and brambles that dominate our yard.  

To mark time while this silent but steady process unfolds is our yellow-bellied sap sucker.  Starting at approximately 4:37am, he begins hammering away on, first, our shed roof, then the wheelbarrow propped up outside, then the decorative metal knick-knack tucked in the very same herb garden.  He may not have found his mate yet, but he’s beating a rhythm to which the season unfolds.  As the garden grows lush, plants’ fortunes unfold, the days warm up, and the sun rises earlier and earlier.  The fecundity of spring is bringing us to summer.

Don’t wait any longer - jump start your garden with starts from Beth’s nursery: Choose from select varieties of herbs, flowers, and veggies while supplies last. Garden prep, planting, and weeding services also available. Contact Beth via b.a.weick@gmail.com for your garden and orchard needs.



5/23/2014

UN World Environment DayOn May 27, the Rachel Carson Homestead Association and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History are hosting the Celebrate Biodiversity Symposium in Pittsburgh, Penn., to celebrate the United Nations World Environment Day. The founder of biodiversity study, Edward O. Wilson, and other international and local biodiversity experts will be speaking at the event, held at the Carnegie Museum. From the news release:

“Featuring Edward O. Wilson as keynote speaker and including a panel of experts, we can begin with an initial visioning for a New American Dream — one that helps avoid a serious and fundamental breakdown in the Earth’s life support systems.

“The five principal pressures directly driving biodiversity loss — habitat change, over-exploitation, pollution, invasive alien species and climate change — are either constant or increasing in intensity. According to Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, ‘Many economies remain blind to the huge value of the diversity of animals, plants and other life forms and their role in healthy and functioning ecosystems from forests and freshwaters to soils, oceans and even the atmosphere.’ 

"E. O. Wilson, two-time Pulitzer prize winner, world-renowned entomologist and one of the scientists who provided research data to Rachel Carson while she was writing Silent Spring, will be joined by Elisabeth Guilbaud-Cox, Deputy Director of the United Nations Environment Programme North America, Dr. Richard Benedick, U.N. Ambassador (ret.) and President, National Council on Science and the Environment, and Terry Collins of the Institute of Green Science at Carnegie Mellon University at this once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Click to find out more about the Celebration of Biodiversity Symposium or to register online.



5/23/2014

Step Forward Paper is a new type of paper made mostly from wheat straw (80 percent to be exact) with the remaining 20 percent made of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood fiber. And Step Forward just got its biggest client: Staples in Canada. (That was easy!)

Guess who is helping Step Forward Paper? Woody Harrelson! You know Cheers, Natural Born Killers and countless other great movies. I had the privilege to interview him about this private venture. He said there is just so much of this leftover straw that it’s senseless not to do something.

Don’t worry U.S., Woody and Step Forward Paper comes in 2013!

“Straw-based copy paper is a great example of an innovative product that uses a byproduct from one industry and transforms it into a solution for others,” says James Tansey, CEO and founder of Offsetters. “Offsetters is pleased to recommend Step Forward Paper as a sustainable choice for businesses and consumers looking to reduce the environmental impacts associated with paper use.” 

Straw Bale

“It’s always been a big concern of mine that paper comes from forests,” says Woody Harrelson, a co-founder and investor in Prairie Pulp & Paper Inc. The two-time Academy Award nominee and longtime environmental advocate, who received an honorary doctorate from York University for his environmental work, said, “Step Forward Paper is a real plus for the forest, and it’s a real plus for the farmers, and it’s going to be great for our future.”

Best Part of All

Offsetters, Canada's leading carbon management solutions provider, released a research report that concludes that Step Forward Paper is one of the most environmentally sustainable paper types currently available in North America. When using weighted ranking system for environmental indicators that places greater importance on climate change, Step Forward Paper is the best-performing copy paper type studied, with the lowest overall environmental impact.

See the Life Cycle Study. 

For the entire story on my site at The Green Living Guy, please click here.



5/23/2014

Memorial Day weekend signifies the unofficial start of summer, and in many parts of the country, the arrival of hot weather. According to National Weather Service, heat is one of the leading weather-related killers in the United States. And, the number of heat waves has been on the rise in recent years – the recently released National Climate Assessment found that the number of intense heat waves in 2011 and 2012 were almost triple the long-term average. Heat waves can be particularly brutal in cities, where the surface temperatures of roofs and pavement can be from 50-90 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the air temperature on hot sunny days. These hot surfaces contribute to urban heat islands where temperatures in cities are hotter than surrounding, less developed areas. Hot weather and heat waves have a number of impacts, including increased energy use for air conditioning, increased emissions of air pollutants and impacts on human health.

Viewer Tip: May 23 is Heat Awareness Day. This is the perfect time of year to brush up on tips to keep yourself, family members and friends healthy during hot weather. Remember that infants and young children, people 65 years and older, people who are overweight, and people who are sick or use certain medications are especially vulnerable to heat-related illnesses.

  • Seek out A/C: A few hours per day in an air-conditioned building can reduce risk of illness. If your home does not have A/C, visit a senior center, movie theater, library, mall or designated community cooling center. A fan may provide some relief, but when temperatures reach the high 90′s, electric fans do not prevent heat-related illness.
  • Dress the Part: Wear light-weight, loose clothing that is light in color.  Drink plenty of fluids and avoid drinks with caffeine, alcohol or lots of sugar, which can cause dehydration.
  • Check Up: If you have a family member, friend or neighbor who is at risk, visit them regularly.  If you see signs of heat-related illness – confusion, hot and dry skin, hallucinations, or aggression – seek help immediately.

National Weather Service issues Excessive Heat Outlooks, Excessive Heat Watches and Excessive Heat Warnings/Advisories to help you stay informed. Learn about these alerts and get more information about heat-related illness and preparedness.

Learn more about extreme heat in this infographic from the Centers for Disease Control.

An Infographic on Extreme Heat.

 (Sources: National Weather Service. “Heat: A Major Killer.” ; Melillo, Jerry M., Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and Gary W. Yohe, Eds., 2014: Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, 841 pp. doi:10.7930/J0Z31WJ2.U.S; Environmental Protection Agency. “Heat Island Impacts.” ; “It’s Too Darn Hot – Planning for Excessive Heat Events.” Publication number: EPA 100-F-07-025, www.epa.gov/aging; Centers for Disease Control, “Extreme Heat












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