Monthly Archives: October 2011

Is City Living Greener?

A City Can Be Green? 

When someone says a “city,” one thinks about dirty, and unhealthy. No one thinks that city living is the way to be more green. David Owen, the author of Green Metropolis proposes that living in the city is greener.

How David Owen thinks Cities are Green

Transportation

    • Everything is condensed so people either take public transportation, walk, or bike.
    • Only half of the population has cars, most are rarely used.

Energy

    • City dwellers use almost half the amount than people who live outside cities..
    • Less big appliances.

Living Space

    • Living space is very small, which does not allow for the accumulation of things.

How not living in the city creates more pollution 

People have sprawled out over a large area, in order to get anything they have to drive there cars. They have more space in their cars. They have more space in their homes so they accumulate more.

Owen Claims that Solar encourages people to consume more energy and that the more green energy and cleaner energy for cars just continues to encourage the environmentally damaging behavior.

How to change?

In order to change the car-dependent lifestyle he claims that driving has to be unpleasant so no one wants to do so. He also says that HOV lanes only allow for a better flow of traffic. In order for them to really work environmentally they need to eliminate regular lanes and charge single-occupant cars. I would have to argue that carpooling is not always a realistic expectation. My mother, for example, is a doctor who has very different shifts than anyone else, she can not realistically carpool with someone, I do not think it’s fair to punish these people when there is no way they can carpool and no public transportation that is available and efficient.

Is it really greener?

While I do agree all these things make city dwellers have less of a direct environmental impact, I do not think that its impact is much less. Cities have a dense population leading to a dense concentration of pollution. Also what about all of the resources it takes to get goods and services to cities? Is that factored into his pollution equation? I think if this is factored in we might find that fossil fueled trucks, trains, and other forms of transportation are being used to supply these resources.

Health Risks

New York has the third highest cancer risk caused by airborne chemicals. Cities concentrate pollution that contributes to many health problems. Cities also have very high amounts of particulate pollution. With such a large population there is a large amount of garbage that needs to be disposed of. Although I realize that they would have a similar amount if they lived in the suburbs, cities do not have adequate plans for their garbage disposal. They often send it to other land fills in other states. Urban air pollution causes around 1.3 million deaths worldwide per year.

Long term exposure to air pollutants:

  • Increase the risk of respiratory illnesses they include: 
    • Allergies
    • Asthma
    • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
    • Lung Cancer
    • Cardiovascular disease
  • Children and the Elderly are especially susceptible to Health Effects of Ozone, fine particles, and other airborne toxicants.
  • The more polluted cities are with pollutants and smog, the more someone is at risk for hospitalization and early death.

I think that Owen makes good points but, there are many things he does not take into consideration that make the city solution appear less green. I think all communities need to have more self-sustaining practices, rather then relying on outside sources to bring in many of their goods. There will always be a portion of the population that wants to live in the city and a portion that wants to live in a rural setting. Irregardless of where one is living the use of public transportation, biking and walking should be encouraged. Communities should be as self-sustaining as possible utilizing local resources whenever possible. How will we get to a green world? Maybe a combination of ideas that Americans can adapt to and accept.

Should you read Green Metropolis? 

I highly recommend that you read the book, it contains some excellent ideas and is very insightful. Although, I do not think it is the all answer to our environmental problems it does bring up some very good points. I highly recommend the reading to broaden your look at environmental issues and some possible solutions. I find Owen’s writing to be very opinionated and his model for an environmental world to be very unrealistic.

What do you think? Is city living the way towards an environmentally friendly future?

“Cities all over the world are getting bigger as more and more people move from rural to urban sites, but that has created enormous problems with respect to the environmental pollution and  general quality of life.”

~Alan Dundes

Advertisements

Do you know whats in your food?

Do you know how much of your food is Genetically Modified? 

  • 94% of soybeans are a GMO crop
  • 75% of HT Cotton
  • 73% BT Cotton
  • 72% BT Corn
  • 65% HT Corn

This data was obtained by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service

The FDA does not require the labeling of genetically modified foods. I think this is very misleading, the American Public has a right to know if their food is GMO or not.

What is a GMO? 

Organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally, allowing selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another and between non-related species(also called gene-slicing).

I found out about GMO crops my senior year of High School in my AP Environmental Science class. I was astonished that I had not heard anything about it and was appalled that there was no way I could tell what foods contained genetically modified ingredients.

Why did it all start?

Genetically engineering food started in the 1950s

  • To improve product
  • Extended shelf life
  • Greater Quantity of food (on less land)
  • Resistant to pests (costs less)
  • Can grow in undesirable conditions

Companies Selling GM Seeds

Monsanto is the dominant company Currently over 90% of Soya in the United State is Monsanto’s. The problem is these big companies control the political actors who have the power to impose regulations on agriculture.

Why the Controversy?

The FDA did not study the impacts of GM food in the environment or on peoples health. Companies that proposed this gave results that they were substantially equivalent. In 1995 Greenpeace started to campaign to stop the release of genetically engineered food and have raised awareness of the issue.

Potential Side Effects 

  • Toxins & Poisons to humans and animals
  • Increased Cancer Risk
  • Food Allergies
  • Damage to Food Quality & Nutrition
  • Antibiotic Resistance
  • Increased Pesticide Use
  • Genetic Pollution
  • Damage to Beneficial insects and soil fertility
  • “Superweed” and “superbugs”
  • Creation of new viruses and bacteria
  • Bio-invasion

Monsanto vs. Family Farmers

Monsanto has the right to sue farmers for patent infringement if Monsanto’s transgenic seed or pollen should land on their property. Once released into the environment, genetically modified seed can contaminate and destroy organic seed for the same crop. For example, soon after Monsanto introduced genetically modified seed for canola, organic canola became virtually impossible to grow as a result of contamination. Monsanto has sued farmers in the United States and Canada, in the past, when their patented genetic material has inadvertently contaminated their crops.  There are many documentaries on this issue. On Hulu.com you can watch one streaming live called Food Of the Future, I would highly recommend it if you have time.

GMOs in other countries 

All around the world GMOs have been banned or restricted in the import, distribution, sale, and utilization. These Include: Algeria, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Thailand, China, Japan, Philippines, The European Union, The United Kingdom, Brazil, Paraguay and many others.

Public Outcry

The American public has slowly started to realize the potential and dangers and wants labeling. A survey in July 2003 showed 92% of Americans supported biotechnology labeling.

What Congress Has Done? 

The Genetically Engineered Safety Act

  • This bill would therefore, require the FDA to screen all GE foods through the current food additive process to ensure safety for human consumption and require that unique concerns be explicitly examined. Furthermore, the bill places a temporary moratorium on pharmaceutical crops and industrial crops until all regulations required by the bill are in effect.

The Genetically Engineered Technology Farmer Protection Act.

  • This legislation gives farmers the ability to save seeds and seek compensation for failed GE crops, prohibits genetic engineering designed to produce sterile seeds and places all liability from negative impacts of GE organisms squarely upon the biotechnology companies that created the GE organism

The Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act

  • It would require all food that has been genetically engineered to be labeled as such and would require periodic testing of these foods to assure the accuracy of their labels
  • Despite the public’s desire for more legislation because of the control  GM companies have over congress the  bills do not get passed.

What Needs To Be Done

  • The Scientific research on GM foods in almost non-existent and it is difficult to tell what the true effects are until this is done.
  • The public has urged officials to label these, but few have gotten behind the wide public support for labeling them. Labeling them would allow for the public to make an informed decision about the food they are eating.

How Can You Stay GMO Free? 

  • ›The Non-GMO Project, a non-profit multi-stakeholder collaboration committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices. ›
  • This website provides a guide to shopping GMO free!
  • They believe that everyone deserves an informed choice about whether or not to consume genetically modified organisms.

Do you know what you are eating? Will you make an effort to eat GMO free?

“High-tech tomatoes, Mysterious milk. Supersquash. Are we supposed to eat this stuff? Or is it going to eat us?
~Annita Manning

Damn the big dams

Energy is needed

  • Increased power is needed in the rapid developing world we have today.
  • The need for electric power will continue to grow with the spread of urbanization and rising population
  • Many World Organizations and the World Bank got behind the idea of hydropower as a ‘sustainable’ way of producing energy.
  • Large Scale Hydropower does not benefit the local population and environment.
Some large dams include: 
Warragamba (Australia)
Chapeton (Argentina)
There are over 450,000 dams that are over 5 stories high.
Large scale dams have been built all over the world.
Countries with large dams include; the United States, Canada, Argentina, South Africa, China, India, and Australia.
Displacement of people
  • Displaced people are often not given the appropriate housing and living conditions (their cultural beliefs are not considered).
  • Displaced people are never given the compensation they were promised.
  • Those living downstream no longer have fisheries and water to support themselves.
  • Cultural artifacts and Archeological sites are lost.
  • Building dams destroys the land nearby through earthquakes created because of the pressure of the water collected by the dam.
Habitat destruction
  • Fish are unable to migrate upstream to spawn, decreasing the amount of fish available for food.
  • Huge amounts of habitat is filled with water.
  • Animals are disoriented by the sudden amount of water in their migration path, and they drown while trying to pursue their migration paths.
  • Downstream less water is flowing, which endangers the ecosystems.
  • Ecosystems are disrupted because many animals rely on the size, timing, and other seasonal changes to the water flow survive.
  • Wildlife living downstream can go extinct.

Water quality

  • In warmer climates dams create a breading ground for diseases such as Malaria and Schistosomiasis.
  • Increase in Salinization can occur. This causes natural salt to rise to the surface. Elevated groundwater and increased salt content has killed many trees and wetlands have been eliminated.
  • Sedimentation also occurs in large dams.
  • Hypoxia, a reduced oxygen content is damaging to aquatic life.
The picture below shows what Salinization does to the land.

I would highly recommend reading Jacques Leslie’s book Deep Water it is very educational and shows the consequences of dams in different places all over the world. I would warn you that the book is dry at sometimes, but the benefit from reading it is well worth it.

China admits Three Georges Dam has ‘problems’

Large dams will affect the community living near the dam in the long-term. Take for example the Three Gorges Dam, as the above video stated, it has had a significant effect on the drought in China.

Lesson learned

World Organizations, as well as the countries themselves, need to take into account the large impact building a big dam has on wildlife, culture, people, and weather. To be clear I am not against all dams, but there has to be a balance between energy demand and environmental consequences.

Did you know of the millions of people that have been displaced by dams? Do you think there is an equivalent compensation to them? There are many large scale dams being built in China, will anything be done to help the people who live there?

We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.

~Thomas Fuller

Do you know where your e-waste is going?

What is E-waste? 

E-waste is electronic waste that makes up 5% of municipal solid waste worldwide. E-waste includes phones, computers, televisions, audio equipment, printers, DVD players, and any electronic device.Every year 25 million tons of e-waste is produced, and a large percent of it is dumped abroad.

A Consumerist Society 

In American society we have this notion that we need the newest gadget and we need it now! In each new generation there is an increasing need for instant gratification. Our society no longer purchases only their true needs, but over consumes without  considering the environmental impact. American society is materialistic, and consumers only care about their own selfish needs.

Hazards of E-waste 

E-waste being burned to salvage parts in Ghana

There are harmful elements found in electronics like PVC, mercury, solvents, flame retardants, and lead. Lead can be very disastrous to many organs and tissues (heart, bones, intestines, kidneys), as well as cardiovascular, reproductive, and nervous systems. It can cause symptoms from headaches to seizures, coma, or death. Flame retardants can cause abnormal thyroid metabolism, and poor brain development. When burned, plastic and other materials in electronic products release toxic chemicals. Plastics release dioxins such as; PVC or hydrofluoric acid, which can damage the lungs of those exposed to it. Not only are people who are actively participating in this getting exposed, but also the surrounding communities ground water and air is contaminated. The contaminated water leads to contamination of crops, animals and anyone who drinks it.

Check out the video on the right side that is titled “Toxic U.S. E-waste: Third World Problem.”

Shipped off  

The map above shows the known and suspected routes of e-waste dumping (sorry the picture is so small but it was the only one I could find that contained suspected routes). E-waste is shipped overseas to Asia, India, Africa and other developing countries. Because these people are so impoverished they work at ‘recycling facilities.’ At these facilities they do not wear any protection so their health and environment declines rapidly. These people earn about 1 meal a day while damaging their health. Many of these people are not aware of the risks involved with their work.

What can you do to ensure your e-waste does not end up overseas? 

E-waste recycling programs that have been certified by                        e-stewards have to comply with certain standards. These include waste not being disposed of in solid waste landfills or incinerators, prohibits the exports and imports of electronics and specifically prohibits export of hazardous waste to developing countries. In order for this dangerous oversea shipping to stop, it is necessary for the public to be aware of this issue, and make sure that the e-waste recycling program will not ship overseas.

How are you disposing of your e-waste? Is your e-waste recycler certified?

“Shall we surrender to our surroundings or shall we make our peace with nature and begin to make reparations for the damage we have done to our air, to our land and to our water?”

-Richard Nixon