The Miracle of Seeds

cuttheplastic:

As we approach the March Against Monsanto globally, it’s important to spread the knowledge of seeds, bees and the processes of nature in our daily lives. I hope you enjoy this blog by Shawndra Miller!

Originally posted on Shawndra Miller:

I’ve been thinking about how tenacious life is, encapsulated in a tiny seed. Some seeds I plant, but others sprout all on their own.

I’m probably the only person on my block who gives a cheer when she sees these coming up.

Lamb's quarters Lamb’s quarters

These are lamb’s quarters, considered a weed, but deliberately planted two years ago in my garden. This is the second year they will have reseeded, and I can’t wait to taste them again when they get a little bigger. (They’re terrific fried crispy in my cast-iron skillet, with a couple eggs cracked over them. And incredibly energizing, as all edible weeds are.)

Here is part of another patch of self-sowing plants that are on their third (or fourth?) year of growing freely in my garden: arugula.

Arugula volunteers in leaf mulch Arugula “volunteers” in leaf mulch

I wasn’t sure they would come up this year because I mulched so heavily last…

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HB 15-1144 – Plastic Microbead Legislation – Did Colorado add Greenwashing to the list of legislative priorities?

Today Governor Hickenlooper signed HB 15-1144 a ban on solid synthetic microbeads added to cosmetic materials like face scrubs and body washes!  This bill is designed to keep tiny particles of plastic out of our waterways and local biospheres because of the negative impacts of plastic in these locations.   Colorado joins a variety of states, the first being Illinois, who are banning these microbeads.  In Illinois, efforts to introduce scientific legislation was attempted by members of the 5 Gyres Institute and the Ban the Bead Campaign.
Scientifically there are two primary problems with microbeads in our waters.  The first issue is that plastics are made with binding agents that  seep into the water when issues where the plastics leach chemicals into the water impacting the quality and purity of water.   The second issue is that these plastics are often viewed as food and are then consumed by insects and fish where two serious impacts occur.  Since plastic does not get digested by animals it accumulates in their bellies, filling up space for nutrient providing foods.  This accumulation causes a lack of space for real consumable, nutrient rich materials while leaching into the body of the animal that has consumed it.

Banning microbeads is a noble and valuable activity that should push regulations on corporations and manufacturers to be accountable and responsible for the materials they create and the environmental damage they do.  The scientific facts speak for themselves, microplastic is bad for the environment.  The Wisconsin Lakes Partnership dedicated the first three pages of it’s Fall 2014 newsletter exclusively to this topic.

The unfortunate truth is that the corporate lobby built a loophole into the rules they are placing upon themselves.  They introduced the legal terms of “Solid Synthetics” and “Nonbiodegradeable” as the specific type of plastic that would be banned.  There is scientific concern about this verbiage based on the fact that truly biodegradable plastic must have microbial breakdown.  This breakdown is only found in commercial or “hot compost” facilities.  In their 2015 publication in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, Michigan State University student’s published a study concluding:

“anaerobic and aerobic biodegradation are not recommended as feasible disposal routes for nonbiodegradable plastics containing any of the five tested biodegradation-promoting additives.” (Selke et all – 2015)

There are dozens of journal articles and news pieces that support this thought process leading educated consumers to understand that purported bioplastics are still going to enter our waters, causing deadly toxins to enter Colorado waters, causing the same concerns for bioaccumulation that  has proven to exist in our waters.  As this piece by Mother Jones from 2009 explains; “Real biodegradable plastic should be sent to a commercial composting facility, where it will spend its final days being eaten by microbes. But here’s the catch: In 2007, only 42 communities nationwide offered compost collection. (Seventeen were in California.) And though some biodegradable plastics can be recycled, no curbside recycling program will take them.”
The unfortunate part in the current movement to ban microbeads is that this effort is being led by corporations who wish to regulate themselves so they have the control and upper hand.  In an earlier post, I commented on how Johnson and Johnson, as well as other entities showed up to Colorado House Committee Meetings to introduce soft legislation that would offer a consistent level of legislation they could manipulate in order to have “consistent legislation”.   These organizations are already phasing out these plastics from their products., but want to allow for the weakest levels of legislation to be enacted.   This process began with Unilever in 2012 and has gained momentum as you can read about in this post on Beat The Microbead’s page.

This is exactly what Director of the 5 Gyres Institue’s predicted would happen in a 2014 EcoWatch Article stating “According to Marcus Eriksen of 5 Gyres Institute, plastics industry lobbyists worked hard to block it, wanting legislation more like the far from ideal bill that passed in Illinois. The Ilinois bill leaves a loophole for plastic, like Polylactic Acid (PLA) the so-called biodegradable plastic that corn cups are made of. Unfortunately, PLA doesn’t biodegrade in the environment, it requires an industrial composting facility.”

And this is what has happened here in the state of Colorado.  Colorado HB-15-1144 bill specifically states:.

4) “SYNTHETIC PLASTIC MICROBEAD” MEANS AN INTENTIONALLY ADDED, NONBIODEGRADABLE, PLASTIC PARTICLE MEASURING LESS THAN FIVE MILLIMETERS IN SIZE   INTENDED TO AID IN EXFOLIATING OR CLEANSING AS PART OF A RINSE-OFF PRODUCT.”

This is exactly the actions that have been predicted by many environmentalist groups, that the efforts of the science community to curtail the effects of microplastics would be mitigated by corporations who originally fought microbead legislation so they would have the opportunity to craft and create looser regulations that would present “Greenwashed” material information that would weaken future efforts to protect our water.  Colorado is known for being a state that has fought hard to protect our waters and this bill is an unfortunate example.

The reason is very simple.  Biodegradeable plastics have not been proven to biodegrade in cold water settings.  According to Brenda Platt, coordinator for Sustainable Plastics Project:

  “Truly biodegradable plastics are plastics that can decompose into carbon dioxide, methane, water, inorganic compounds, or biomass via microbial assimilation (the enzymatic action of microorganism). To be considered biodegradable, this decomposition has to be measured by standardized tests, and take place within a specified time period, which vary according to the “disposal” method chosen. The American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) has created definitions on what constitutes biodegradability in various disposal environments.”

What this boils down to is sadly is that  that Colorado’s Microbead ban, HB 15-1144 is a piece of greenwashing legislation presented by corporations who are willingly removing certain types of plastics from their products – ones they already agree to take out, while  having consent to pollute in a slightly different way that still has negative impacts on our environment. The bill, is a bill with solid foundations.  Unfortunately, it happened so fast that even those individuals in the community that tried reaching out to the bills writers didn’t get an effective chance to effectively communicate the scientific realities major corporations were able to step around in the writing of this bill.

Fortunately, there are a wide variety of solutions that already exist!  Besides avoiding purchasing products that already include microplastic, consumers are advised to look for exfoliating products that include natural or real plant products that are effective exfolliants.  Common materials include oatmeal, apricot or peach pits and walnut shells.  These products are already commonly found in supermarket shelves.

How I want to change the world in 500 words.

As a non traditional student, I found myself returning to school after a decade being a health insurance agent.  My passion for our planet re-awoke while attending classes to complete my associates degree.  At first I learned about the Pacific Gyre, an oceanic current that is loaded with plastic that not only accumulates within the middle of it’s spiral current; but also transports this debris onto land masses where it accumulates and increases the levels of negative impact.  The primary two concerns are direct consumption of the plastic by animals, and the environmental toxicity that forms due to chemical leaching into the water.   Currently humanity is dumping over 8 million tons of plastic into the ocean annually.  Scientific studies and photographic evidence is proving that life from mites and ticks to whales and birds are consuming; and dying; from directly consuming this material.  Additionally, science is proving that these plastics are recyclable, even though they have been exposed to ocean waters for years at a time.  The recycling can be done in two specific ways, the first being using the plastics as a partial blend for new plastic products.  Additionally, Pyrolysis is a chemical melting process that returns the plastics to a synthetic oil that can be used to reclaim many of the natural resources used to originally create the plastics, while also capturing any natural gasses.

Due to the multifaceted nature of the environmental impact of these materials are having on our planet, remediation plans must be created and acted upon.  It is well known that areas around the globe are feeling the impact of these materials when they are disguarded into the environment.  My plan is to actively clean up areas of the world where these plastics find there way on shore.  By developing recycling plans that connect local oceanic communities to the plastic pyrolysis and recycling factories that will effectively re-purpose the natural materials that have already been extracted from the planet.  These plastics can be sold to recyclers, providing an income stream for those that work to protect the quality of their natural communities while protecting a multitude of forms of life in the process.

My goals after graduation are to leave the United States and spend time directly working with organizations like The Plastic Bank in Peru who work with local communities to develop the skills needed to create successful remediation programs.  By working directly to clean up this trash while experiencing how community programs that make a difference operate; I will gain valuable experience. I then expect to start a non profit that will fund efforts to keep plastic debris out of our oceans while providing educational connectivity to environmental groups like Earth Force, a grade school education program that teaches students about their connection to the planet.  My overall goal is to allow for a network of remediation efforts to be crated so that existing plastic operations will have sufficient waste plastics and reformulated oils to impact the demand for extracted natural resources.

2015 Colorado legislation: HB15-1144 (Prohibit Plastic Microbeads Personal Care Products) moves out of committee

cuttheplastic:

Here’s another article about Colorado’s HB 15-1144 on Micro Plastics Pollution. I think there are several concerns not addressed in this article, including the fact that the exact verbiage as introduced was written by corporations who have a specific agenda on what types of plastics are permitted to be continued to be placed. However, this activist has been bringing topics like this up in Colorado since 2012.

Originally posted on Coyote Gulch:

Polypropylene microbeads via CBS Chicago Polypropylene microbeads via CBS Chicago

FromTheDenverChannel.com (Theresa Marchetta, Sandra Barry):

A bill that would ban the production, sale, and promotion of any personal care product containing microbeads moved forward Tuesday at the State Capitol.

State Representative Dianne Primavera (D-Broomfield) and State Senator Nancy Todd (D-Aurora) introduced HB15-1144, which would be implemented over several years to take full effect in 2020, with penalties for violations as high as $10,000.

The House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee, which Primavera chairs, voted Tuesday afternoon to approve the bill.

In May 2014, the CALL7 Investigators were first to expose concerns over microbeads in Colorado water. That investigation confirmed the plastic particles — which are found in some toothpastes, face washes, body washes, shampoos, eyeliners, lip glosses and deodorants — had made their way through state filtration systems and into the South Platte River. The CALL7 Investigators sent water samples…

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Colorado introduces Microbead Legislation HB 15-1144

Plastic pollution is a growing global concern that continues to draw attention from around the world.  One of the greatest reasons plastic pollution attracts so much attention is that it can literally take hundreds of years, even thousands of years to break down.  Over the years many scientific organizations have examined the impacts of plastic pollution on our waters and the life within.  These studies have covered everything from the impacts of ingested plastics on fish to how plastics leach chemicals into our bodies like Bisphenol A, an endocrine disruptor that has similar impacts to estrogen in both humans and animals.

One of the main reasons that our planet is filled with plastic is that there are minimal restrictions on a global level to regulate the recapture of plastics around the world.  In the United States, many states attempted to regulate the manufacture and recapture of used plastic bottles through the use of a legislative measure called a Bottle Bill.  These bottle bills required a deposit, or small fee, at the time of purchase.  The manufactures would then be held accountable to ensure that the materials The concept required the consumer to incur a financial liability in order to encourage the return of the empty packaging in order to receive the money back.  Many bottle bills were opposed by the manufactures, who gathered together to form the Beverage Consumers of America, a lobby organization who fought against end user responsibilities based on the premise that it would be to expensive to manage these materials.
In a general way, manufacturing companies are consistently known for their unwillingness to hold themselves liable for the impact of materials they sell once consumers have disposed of them.  This problem, when it comes to plastic, has become so great that some scientists like Dr Marcus Erickson of the 5 Gyres Oceanic institute have recently come to the understanding that there are more pieces of plastic in our oceans than stars in the sky.  Among the efforts of the 5 Gyres team, the effort to eliminate Plastic Microbeads has not been a short lived effort.  The first win was when the state of IL passed the first ever microbead legislation, banning plastic microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products by 2017.

On Monday Febuary 9th, I learned that the State of Colorado would be presenting it’s first ever legislation on plastic microbeads.  Without any hesitation I knew I had to be there!  For the last 3 years all I have been talking about is plastic pollution across our planet and my personal actions have included eliminating the purchase of Bath and Body Works pump soaps, an item I had been handing out as presents to friends and family for years, simply because they contain plastic microbeads.   My investment in this topic has included presenting to the Colorado Water Board as they held open roundtables regarding the efforts of developing a State Water Plan, providing an opinion that microbeads should be banned as part of the state’s developing plan.

Going to the Colorado State Capitol in and of itself was quite an experience.  The building is beautiful and has an extensive history within, including being made of the only Red Marble known in the world, which comes from Bula, Colorado. I had little trouble find the room I was seeking, so many Sargent at Arms in their green jackets.  The capitol is a warm building and the basement room in which the house committee met had windows in which the sun warmed the room.  The environment was pleasant and by the time Representative Premavera was called in I was starting to get a feel for the procedures of the day.

The thing that shocked me most in her testimony and introduction of the bill was the fact that it was sponsored by Johnson and Johnson, a company that makes personal care products full of these plastics. I watched as a variety of preferred expert witnesses came forward representing various organizations like the Manufactures Association, the Denver Waste water District, Colorado Water Board, Johnson and Johnson and Cosmetic Producers Association.  As each came up they had brief prepared statements describing their support for the bill, and how they were actively looking for uniform laws across the states to make their jobs easier.  They justified the low levels of financial penalties, the timeline of delay and the specificity of limiting the use of plastics in their specific items.  Each was asked a few questions from varying  House representatives.  During the entire time I was taking notes on a copy of the written text of the bill I was able to scrounge up ( love those Sargent’s at Arms).

After the preferred testimonies, the floor was available to those who chose to sign up and do so.  I had shown up, having spoken about plastics and micobeads at many different events over the last 36 months, including roundtable meetings regarding Colorado’s State Water Plan.  I introduced myself and my position as a student at MSU Denver and as the senior club president of the Water Association of Student Stewards Urban Program.  I explained that I was there to testify on behalf of Water, yes that is what I said, I was there to represent myself on behalf of Water itself.  I did not have a prepared testimony, and I apologized to the representatives as I had received short notice on the presentation but was experienced in the topic.  I responded to the idea that this was a corporately sponsored bill, that there were no expert scientists presenting data on bio -accumulation of plastics, the resulting impacts to fish, hydro accumulation of other toxins that accumulate by attraction and a plethora of other factors that would surely solidify the import of their support.  I explained how the industry at one time was fighting these exact bills and were, quite honestly presenting a very soft version of legislature that allowed for future use of “biodegradable” plastics was an open loophole they had written in.  This loophole is dangerous because the same factors of leaching from unregulated plastic ingredients are already causing significant impact on our environment.  I made commentary on how the fines are minimal compared to profits available and how the IL state bill was significantly tougher on companies than the bill that was presented today.

In the end, I provided a rebuttal answer to each of the questions the preferred witnesses had not answered in a way that was as complete or full as I believed a scientist would have.  And at the end of the day, I testified on Colorado HB 15-1144 in the House Committee furthering my resume and experience as an authority on the topic.  In addition, I was able to make some network connections.  It was my first formal experience in front of a state house committee in the capitol, and the only way I could ask for a more gratifying one is if you act right now to pledge to eliminate microbeads from your consumer goods today.

Online Petitions – Do They Really Bring Change?

If you use the internet, you have seen them – online petitions.  Generally they come with a form letter of some kind, laying out the standardized logo or pitch on why this thing or that is wrong with the world.  Most of the time, the authors and hosting web sites are truly passionate and desire to create real change within the system they are focused on, as well as having a real need or concern to fix a system that appears to be broken.  In most cases, as a compassionate individual who believes in the process of teaching love and fair treatment of all people, I tend to agree with the cause to bring awareness and light to the topic.  At one point in my life I signed up and shared these petitions with my friends and family, thinking that in the long haul they would bring real change that would someday impact my life.

Boy was I right, and I didn’t have to wait a very long time for that change to come into my life!  Under the current system of politics in the United States, the practice of lobbying is bigger than it has ever been in the past 300 years of colonized control of North America.  Major corporations spend billions of dollars annually on lobby efforts.  According to this article from about.com

 “Lobbyists are people who are (often) paid to influence policy-makers at the local, state and federal levels. They represent special interests in the decision-making process in the legislative and executive branches of government.  There are more than 11,000 lobbyists registered at the federal level.”

Which explains to me why – within hours, if not moments later, the flow of email begins.  The system in and of itself is a burdensome beast that may feel requires fighting fire with more fire.  This online method of saying, ” Yes, I also agree that this circumstance is not appropriate and I would like to see this issue addressed as well.”  So we  sign on, feeling good about ourselves for taking 30 seconds of action to pay attention to something that is important in our lives.   Then it comes – that first email.  Often its a simple thank you and don’t forget to check out our website.  Then comes day 2 and a new email or letter from a director asking me to share this valuable information with my friends or to donate to their cause because, lets be honest – this work isn’t cheap and if it’s important to you then maybe helping kick in against the multi-billion dollar evil corporate giants isn’t such a bad thing is it?

One email, one group – eh not so bad.  If you are like me however, deleting that email isn’t top priority #1 in my life today.  What generally happens is that my phone or tablet beep saying that I have a new email and I see it, swipe the notice off my screen and move on with life.  Then one day I notice that I have over 8,000 emails in my mailbox.  Each organization that I signed a petition for is now sending me one or two or three emails a week and quite honestly – I don’t read them.  I saw the tag line, I know they want me to care more – but I’M A BUSY PERSON!  I already signed your petition to say I cared, now let me pay attention to the _____________ [insert your favorite gladiator style activity that detracts from the stresses of the job and the problems with the world that allows you to forget about the problems of the world (while receiving advertizing from the corporations most responsible for the problems in the world that I told you I cared about ), all the time spending your hard earned money that you have been programed to believe that mindless consumption is the solution – when really it’s the problem].

And that’s when it hit me, I am the problem.  The way I consume is the problem here.  With 8,000 unread emails in my email box and over 10k  total emails just sitting there; I’m consuming data storage space, which requires electricity – and I live in a coal burning nation where my carbon footprint is increased every day just because I agreed that I believe that things need to change – so now I’m causing more damage than good.  The use of data storage for all those emails means that I’m contributing to: plastic waste, water pollution, the destruction of natural and pristine environments, carbon pollution and the overall destruction of the planet.  The sites have to be built – causing greater human sprawl.  Equipment needs to be made, so natural resources have to be mined.  Electricity has to be used, contributing to water and air pollution.  Here’s the kicker – I gave my permission for this to happen.  I signed that online petition, through a third party who I know is all about marketing and collecting my information so they can send me updates, ask for money and bring new issues to my email box so that I might consider being concerned about them too!

Let me be honest, I am by a lobbyist.  I am not paid by some major corporation, or even a minor one.  I have taken on jobs in the past to acquire such work, but I never kept those jobs more than 3 days.  They have left a major annoyance in my spirit that I could not ignore.  I write blogs to engage people in discussion, hoping we will think about both the actions, decisions and financial contributions we make on a daily basis.  Also, I am a consumer.  I like to go out and spend money too, I like to feel good and the physical and chemical changes that happen for you when ‘going out’ are not unique.

So, what is to be done?  Are we to be expected to go backwards in time and live like cavemen with minimal comforts or pleasures in life? No, no we should not.  It is important to note however that the individual actions we take, explaining to another person face to face why we are choosing the decisions we make.  With so much noise out there in the world today – including this very blog – it’s important to understand the factors of internalization and the living of behaviors, including shopping habits, that create the greatest of changes.

How can this be done?  It’s a great question.  Supporting change in all levels of the planet is important.  So, here are some simple suggestions.

1.  Contact the business directly.  Begin by having a conversation.  Ask the person you speak with if they are aware of the circumstances in which you are concerned and if they have heard about this problem before.  Remember that you are speaking to a person too!  This person in most cases is not going to be the person directly responsible and may not even know there is a problem.  In the movie GMO OMG, Jeremy

Jeremy Seifert Director / Writer / Editor

Siefert uses the telephone and personal visits to engage in a conversation, if not with Monsanto Corporation, with viewers of his movie on the topic of Genetically Modified Foods.  While I don’t remember the number he quotes; in one part of the movie he notes how many receptionists have left the company.  When people know that there is something wrong with the company they represent, or the products they make – they are usually willing to hear the concerns of their customers.

2.  Spend your money where your values lie.  In a world of technology many great tools like Buycott, an online application for smartphones allows you to indicate what kind of values you have.  Are you against human trafficking or slavery, do you support veterans or gender/orientation issues, maybe pesticide use or diseases like cancer or autism are of concern for your.  This easy to use app allows you to scan the barcodes of anything you purchase and learn if the manufacture of that product is an active supporter or partner celebrating the concerns you have about making the world a better place.  This app will also tell you if there is a conflict like the company is known to use child labor, use or create demand for deforested lands or use products that are scientifically known to cause issues like Cancer or Autism in their products.

3.  Use the tools provided by government agencies to communicate with them effectively.  Did you know that there is a whole process of approval for most every government activity that occurs. For example, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permits a company like Bayer Chemical to produce and use agents like Neonicanitoids on American Soil, it’s because the company provided requests  clearly stating what the chemical was, what it was most likely intended to be used for, how it was likely to be used and expected outcomes of that product.  This is a requirement of law.  The corporation is a for profit entity and it is likely that a full suite of disclosures outlining the worst possible scenarios will not occur.  It is the responsibility of the EPA, by law, to provide an open public comment period where people can provide examples of reasonable information that would guide the process.  The site regulations.gov to provide public input on decisions being made by government agencies.  The processes of using pesticides, building projects on government land, the approval of chemicals for use in the USA and a lot more are all open to public opinion periods where citizens can provide their insights or concerns regarding practices and products before they are approved.

4.  Be effective in incorporating the tools of social media to inform and educate others.  Write your own blog, share factual articles, scientific reports and engage in conversation.  Liking and sharing doesn’t create change by itself.  It requires the both the aspects of understanding the information and creating dialogue where insight and enlightenment occur though dialogue.  Where many people miss the boat is that they don’t incorporate the action of changing their personal habits to align with the issues they are signing up to speak out against.

At the end of the day, you may find that online petitions are a way to speak out against an issue, however if you don’t align your practices with the issues you speak out against – are you just creating more of the same?

Jeremy Seifert Director / Writer / Editor
Jeremy Seifert Director / Writer / Editor
Jeremy Seifert Director / Writer / Editor
Jeremy Seifert Director / Writer / Editor

Have you ever thought about Kyoto?

The Kyoto Protocol is an active treaty that was put into effect on February 16, 2005 as an addition to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  The primary concept behind this treaty is to reduce the global production of Greenhouse gases like CO2, which as we have learned in class is a primary concern for the global rise in temperature.  One of the problems with the Kyoto Protocol are that it does not do enough to address CO2 and other Greenhouse gas emissions because it does not establish limits on the output of emissions in developing countries.  While the initial 30 countries that signed the treaty  are needed for the purpose of maintaining or stabilizing CO2 sinks, preventing expanses of emissions in developing nations like China and India is extremely important.   Without such restrictions addressing important topics like Carbon Trading and population growth, effective global regulation is not possible.  Instead, this treaty actually pushes greenhouse gas emissions from one location on the planet to another as businesses have the ability to move high polluting manufacturing processes to countries where developing new sources of pollution would not be highly regulated.  

Additionally, this treaty does not effectively calculate the cost of growing populations, and in fact does not regulate India and China in an effective manner to balance these nations consumption under populations that are growing at an exponential rate.  The fact, these nations which combined population exceeds 1/3rd of the world’s population yet as nations their participation in Kyoto protocols came without binding emission targets.

Many people believe that because the Kyoto Protocol does not do enough to address CO2 and other GHG’s, includes weak measures in regulating Carbon Trading and does not address factors of population growth, this treaty does not bring effective measures that balance GHG emissions on a global level to justify participation by the United States.

Three Main Argument points

The kyoto protocol does not do enough to address CO2 and other GHG Emissions

The Kyoto Protocol, while achieving amazing levels of cooperation amongst nations did not effectively establish Global reduction of Carbon Emissions. In fact, a variety of conditions under which the Kyoto Protocol was established have significantly changed, especially in the areas of manufacturing and pollution discharge.  These increases are in part because these regulations allowed manufacturers to move their operations to these nations where emissions are unregulated.

In order to produce a standard that works on a global level to achieve and maintain a permanent reduction of inorganic atmospheric greenhouse gasses – which include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), , hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs),and other gasses into the atmosphere, all nations must find these regulations apply universally so that manufactures and corporations must fall into equal compliance.   In fact because the provisions allow for carbon trading, the primary methodology behind these provisions is flawed.  Not only will there be financial advantages to trading that will will allow underdeveloped nations to increase their gas emissions, increasing global output, but by ‘trading away’ their emissions, more developed nations could instead shift the location of production and could potentially further increase the overall global output.  

This is not just a fear.  In fact China can be used as a primary example.  

The air quality conditions in China are a primary example of why the current recommendations for carbon offsetting via planting forests to alleviate carbon under the concept of carbon trading is not an effective plan for reducing global carbon in our atmosphere.  While the long term global air quality may be improved because of forest growth, it doesn’t eliminate the problem of uncontrolled pollution at the source.  Even if China cleaned up it’s air quality with strict regulations, manufacturers who find the cost of cleanup to expensive would move their operations to other developing nations where regulations and emissions limits are not established

According the the Dag Hammarskjold foundation, “the most fundamental point to note about carbon offsets is that they increase global emissions rather than decrease them”  The reasoning behind this is that “ even if ‘emissions reduction sold by an offset project developer could be verified as successful, any gain would – by definition be nullified by increased emission allowed to the buyer, delaying the transition to a post – fossil fuel economy elsewhere.  If every project were designed and implemented perfectly, the net result would be to move emissions from one place to another with no net reduction.”  Carbon Trading How it works and why it fails “ Nov 2009    Essentially the concept of carbon trading allows for a major polluter to avoid significant and lasting changes to their facilities.  Instead they are riding the coattails of those who are producing minimized pollution by “buying” the amount of pollution the newer facility didn’t create.  

There are two negative behaviors associated with Carbon Trading.  The primary one,is that high polluting factories avoid cleaning up after themselves by bearing the financial burden and potential shutdown times by retrofitting factories or changing out machinery for less polluting models.  This practice offsets pollution in one high pollution area and credits global areas of the southern hemisphere that are underdeveloped.  In fact, this practice forces nations into a continued poverty based on the need to retain areas of the planet that are still healthy and full of vital life.

A secondary impact of Carbon Trading is the effort to push disruptive and unnecessary projects in communities that may not need them.  One example of such is a case in Thailand where A.T. Biopower wanted to create 5 biomass factories to use rice husks for energy development so Japan’s Mitubishi UFS Securities and Chubu Electric could create Carbon offsets.  In this example the movement of people protected their land, rivers and local need for the proposed alternative use of rice husks which is used for animal beds and a staple of compost to provided needed filler for blending with animal wastes.  

Meanwhile, The United States is establishing amazing standards imposed upon the Green Revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s.  Programs like the multiple revisions to the Clean Air act, National Ambient Air Quality Standards (for ozone and particulate matter the Clear Skies Proposal as well as others, are already working.   “In the case of particulate matter (PM), EPA has also been working hard to provide States with appropriate tools and guidance to implement the 1997 air quality standards.   According to Congressional Testimony “ – these standards will define the further reduction and implementation of matter that were not covered in earlier policy like the: the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR), and Best Available Retrofit Technology (BART)  as well as establishing guidelines based on “ reasonably available control measures (RACM); reasonably available control technology (RACT); and a  policy on PM2.5 and precursors such as SO2, NOx, VOC, ammonia, and direct emissions (including organic carbon, elemental carbon and crustal material); “    These standards will continue to phase out unfiltered GHG Emissions that regulate American consumption much more rigorously than standards established by other nations.

In fact the conditions in the US are improving.  “On October 5, 2009, President Obama signed Executive Order 13514 on Federal Sustainability, setting measureable environmental performance goals for Federal Agencies.  Each Federal Agency was required to submit a 2020 GHG pollution reduction target from its estimated 2008 baseline to the White House Council on Environmental Quality and to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget by January 4, 2010  Because  President Obama made a commitment to reduce active emissions of greenhouse gases within United States by 28% by 2020.  It is perceived that this will additionally establish future employment opportunities through the construction of new infrastructures and scrubbing technologies.

But does this really make a difference?  As the United States is actively facing areas of drought in major food production areas of the southwest, talk of faltering infrastructures come up time and time again.  Had the United States signed on to the Kyoto Protocol when it was first ratified by the world, how would aspects of our infrastructure remain the same, or change?  Would there be more train stations, would recycling programs be more effectively supported so as to reduce materials manufacturing costs to reduce pollutant contaminants and CO2 emissions?  Would there be more sustainable practice education and access?  Would businesses like coffee shops, gas stations and fast food restaurants charge for the carbon cost of plastics and waste materials?  Would recycling be the law of the land where US based systems processed the materials instead of sending virtually all plastics, precious metals and e-wastes to third world countries?  

We will never know what could have been, but – if you have followed this blog you already know how bad it’s getting.  Just some food for thought.

 

The Midway Atoll – an example of Plastic’s Destructive Power

The oceans make up 70% of the surface area of our planet and support a wide array of life on our planet.  The beauty and splendor of this life has drawn the adventures of the world to seek the areas of greatest beauty.  One type of this beauty is known around the world as corral reefs, the most famous of these is the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.  The dangers and damage of human impact has often been a topic of great discussion for many, especially for those in Australia that have watched these changes over their lifetime.  However, not all our corral reefs get such attention.  One example is the Midway Atoll, a circular corral reef that circles Midway Island.  After the end of WWII, where Midway Island was the scene of a week long battle to secure this ‘Midway point’ between Hawaii and Japan, the area was turned into a natural wildlife preserve.  For the Albatross that call this island home, the assurances that man would not be a regular interference must have been a nice change.  According to a recent NPR Article, Albatross are one of the most faithful animals on Earth, taking up to 15 years to decide on a mate and stay mated for life.  According to the same article, these birds also raise young for many years, one of note was raising young at 62 years old!  While this is an amazing statistic, there are some scary things to be concerned about when we examine what this far away location look like up close. https://i0.wp.com/farm7.staticflickr.com/6088/6128493158_24904ca3f3_z.jpg

From afar, the Midway atoll can generate images of beauty and relaxation, the idea of clear waters and sandy beaches could generate images of rest and relation for many.  Unfortunately, things aren’t as beautiful up close as one would prefer – the culprit is of course man made materials that have been carelessly discarded to have a second life as the materials of death for many forms of life.  These materials are of course – PLASTICS.

Plastics, first created in the 1850’s, quickly became a manufactured good that when discarded; entered the waste stream with little concern or flair.  These materials entered, as did much poorly managed waste over the last 150 years, landfills and garbage barges.  These landfill barges, like the ones discussed in this previous blog, took garbage out to sea, sometimes as close as 3 miles out to sea.  What happened next is that these wastes began to travel the world’s oceanic currents.  These gyres, mechanically broke down many of the materials, especially those that were of organic material like food wastes and paper.  Unfortunately, many of the items could not break down in the currents.  These materials travel the currents and travel around the globe.  Some of the plastics break down by photo degradion, the sun and salt water breaking down the chemical bonds.  At the same time these plastics return the favor, releasing chemicals like formaldehyde, asbestos, BPA and DDT into the water.  Additionally, the plastics don’t really go away, they just break down into smaller pieces of themselves much in the way rocks break into particles of sand.  The plastics that don’t break down, they float around the world until landing on a beach somewhere.   This is the case for the Midway Atoll.

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Images like the one above, are often far from the mind of the common consumer as we purchase an ice cold bottle of soda on a sweltering day, leaving the lid of the bottle where it lands in the parking lot.  What we don’t realize is that the sudden rains that come in overnight pick up that bottle cap and deposit it into the storm-water system where it’s carried directly to an outbound water system.  Eventually, it is likely that this plastic will find it’s way into a major river system where it will then travel into the ocean.    The problem is so common that earlier this month an article was written about a theoretical boat being designed by the Dyson family, that would vacuum plastic and other pollutants out of river waters before they enter the ocean.

 

Why would someone want to clean the rivers of plastic?  It is estimated that tens of thousands of pieces of plastic enter our oceans as former land based pieces of pollution or consumer goods on a daily basis.  We know that these estimates are true by viewing studies of both the gyres themselves, and looking at pictures like those here.  Each of these pieces of plastic, containing unknown internal contaminants is bringing its own forms of destruction on the planet.  In far away places like the Midway Atoll, these plastics bring real damage.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) have found that of 1/2 million albatross born in the Atoll- 200,000 die annually due to plastic consumption.  Adult birds may know how to stay in a committed relationship, but the introduction of plastics into the environment did not come with a clear cut instructions not to eat.  What happens is that from the point of hatching, plastic enters the food stream.  All to often this means full bellies with no room for healthy nutrients to develop strong bodies and bones structures.  Photographs like this one from Chris Jordan bring the starteling truth to light.  Unfortunately, the Midway Atoll has been littered wiht such carcases for over a decade.

 

On a recent study of Freshwater Seafarers off the mainland near Tazmania, Australia – Dr. Jennifer Lavers discovered that 16% of hatchlings were fed plastic.  She also hypothesis that these plastics are poisoning the birds with heavy metals and other contaminates.  She also highlights in this blog how she pulls over 400 pieces of plastic out of one Albatross on Midway.  Because these areas of contamination are far from human existence, they are often forgotten about.  Fortunately, there are those who are interested in keeping this, and many other formerly pristine areas of the planet in the best condition possible.  Once such crew pulled over 14 tons of plastic from the Midway Atoll in 2013. You can read more about their efforts here. Upon seeing this much plastic pollution, maybe you will consider making significant changes in your consumption patterns today.  While the average reader will not believe it to be the case, just one refillable water bottle can reduce plastic and oil consumption by as much as one barrell per year!  Other things that you can do to help eliminate this pollution is to learn about your communities recycling regulatons and become an effective recycler of post consumed items and always, always carry a bag with you so you can say no to a plastc one, each and everytime you go shopping!

James Morioka, Kerrie Krosky, Kristen Kelly, Tomoko Acoba, Kevin O’Brien, Kerry Reardon, Edmund Coccagna, Joao Garriques, and Russell Reardon (clockwise from upper right) pose on April 18 atop the large, 13,795-kg pile of derelict fishing gear and plastic debris collected during their 21-day mission at Midway Atoll. NOAA photo by Edmund Coccagna

 

Some thoughts on Storm-water pollution

Water quality in the United States may be one of the most understated concerns facing future generations.  As the spread of human development continues to grow, the concerns and understanding of maintaining a vibrant and consumable water supply chain continue to push their way to the forefront of society and governmental concerns.  As Americans we do many things to put our water at risk of being safe for our planet.   While oil spills, hazardous waste and major contaminants like sewage are items that bring recognition to most peoples consciousness, especially when concerning the impact to drinking water, this is not the case for one of most common daily sources of pollution to our open water sources.  These contaminants, known as Non Source Pollutants (NSP’s), threaten to destroy our lakes, streams and watersheds on a consistent basis.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the direct street to stream aspect of storm-water runoff and is one of the primary culprits of this growing pollution source and education is one of the most valuable solutions for solving this problem.  

Non Source Pollutants are  the wide range of incidental chemicals and elements that end up in natural watersheds through particulate collection of materials by water as it  travels from humanized environs to natural biospheres.  The incidental nature of NSPs are at the core of the dangers they represent.  According to the EPA, “The term “nonpoint source” is defined to mean any source of water pollution that does not meet the legal definition of “point source” in section 502(14) of the Clean Water Act. (EPA, web).  The secondary primary  aspect of this water is that it is not processed by municipal water treatment facilities.  According to Aurora, Colorado Water’s website,  “In an urban setting these (NSP’s)  include: pesticides and fertilizers, automotive fluids from leaks including oil and antifreeze,  as well as a wide variety of chemicals that are leaked or spilled within our communities.” (Aurora Water, web).    These chemicals are generally absorbed by water during precipitation and flow through storm water systems to open source water where the contaminants can gather and have a greater impact on their surroundings.   Additional items considered NSP include bacteria, viruses and trash or litter.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NSP pollution can have negative impacts on the economy through: shipping issues, tourism, and available foodstocks.  

    In addition to liquid chemicals, plastic and other man-made material pollution is being studied in many areas for the chemicals that they can leach into the environment in addition to the problem they pose as litter.   This type of pollution is relatively new in scope as it is a secondary pollutant to water and a direct result of littering, or improperly disposing consumed goods for recycling or landfill.  Examples of this include but are not limited to: grocery sacks,metal food containers, drinking bottles, tires, and shoes.  As these materials are exposed to a variety of climatic conditions they can leach or release chemicals  as water comes into contact with it.  One of the major chemicals known to come from plastics is BPA or Bisphenol A.  It is a highly used chemical in certain plastics that has been proven to mimic estrogen when consumed by humans , According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH), “Plastic containers have recycle codes on the bottom. Some, but not all, plastics that are marked with recycle codes 3 or 7 may be made with BPA.”  (NIH, web)

    To solve the impacts of both chemical and litter pollution from impacting storm-water runoff directly, governments have established a wide variety of solutions to directly counter the variety of sources that fall under the NSP category.  The internet has become an extensive resource for providing general access to educational resources for a wide variety of community solutions.  These range from ready to print flyers and classroom modules to details of infrastructure improvements and plans that impact collection and capture of water. In addition, special collection days and community activities like litter remediation continue to prove valuable techniques in reducing the quantity of NSP’s in our storm-water systems and natural waterways.  

    As the demand for water increases in urban communities like Aurora, concerns for development of additional water collection are under active consideration.  The Prairie Waters Project (PWP) is an example of one such project.  This project will divert river water from the Platte River where it will be transported and then processed for consumption before being returned to sources downstream or away from the of the collection point.  It is important to note that much of the water will have come from storm-water runoff that is  naturally filling the South Platte River.  It is important to consider that this water will have NPS’s contaminants from farms, forests, animal and rural activity upstream of the collection point. Besides transporting elevated nutrient content and suspended sediments, bacteria and viruses may be in the water being transported.  In the map of the PWP’s infrastructure plans, it is important to note that part of this system includes a storm drain bypass that will feed directly into the Aurora reservoir.  

This presents potentials for elevated levels of contamination as storm-water runoff could contaminate the reservoir itself.  To alleviate these risks, monitoring of water quality at both the Platte River and along the Storm Drain Bypass Extension will have to maintained as well as increased monitoring of potential sources of pollution upstream whose activities could change classification status to ‘Source Point’ pollutants.  In addition, it will be necessary  to monitor the ways that new  NSP nutrients will impact the overall health of the Aurora Reservoir.

    to the varying nature and impact of Non-Source Pollutants on our water system, as well as the wide array of possible initial sources, non source pollutants are a danger to natural ecosystems as well as viable groundwater sources for human consumption.  Their impact on the environment can be hard to directly measure as these pollutants accumulate over time generally on non permeable surfaces and generally accumulate during a precipitation event.  Because these events are varied and are not regulated, the frequency at which they occur and the rates they introduce accumulated pollutants is hard to capture or resolve.  This causes the primary methods of monitoring watersheds, maintaining riparian zones for diffusion of pollutants as well as education processes and active community efforts to limit and control non source pollutants in urban areas necessary practices.  I believe the monitoring of watersheds and potential source points is expected to expand as our society grows.  Understanding how this need will expand or need to be intensified for downstream communities will be a problem that will likely continue to grow.

Works Cited

“Aurora – Prairie Waters Project.” Aurora – Prairie Waters Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2013.

“National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.” Bisphenol A (BPA). N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2013.

News Releases By Date.” 10/30/2013: EPA Announces Cleanup Plan for the Ellis Property Site in Evesham Township, New Jersey; EPA Cost of Removal of Contaminated Soil Estimated at $13.6 Million. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2013

“Nonpoint Source Pollution.” NOAA’s National Ocean Service Education:. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2013.

Boyan Slat has a great idea, but I don’t believe his claims are realistic

Have you heard that a 19 year old has made a presentation about cleaning up plastic from our ocean? If you haven’t I have to tell you that this Ted talk is worth watching. If there is one thing I hope you walk away with from watching his presentation – its  that you contribute to plastic pollution without thought or intentionality.   His video  a real problem for our planet. I hope that you are so moved by this young mans ideas that you begin to realize how big of a problem we have made by the thoughtless ways we are habitually destroying our planet.

Does Boyan Slat have a good idea?  YES, YES he does.  His idea is amazing, use the motion of our planet’s oceans to clean up the mess we have made.  Sounds good to me.  Is the idea to clean our planet in a manner of 7 years realistic? No, not really.  The first and most basic reason is that the time to build his theoretical machinery could take a decade just to build.   There are some concerns in how machinery could remove plastics that are known to be suspended up to 90 meters below the ocean.  An additional concern for this particular project focuses on the dangers that occur when you add physical materials directly to the ocean that weren’t there to begin with.  In the case of the plastics themselves, we already know that they leach chemicals into the ocean.  How would a new material added to the ocean impact life?  One answer is that life will begin to develop under and around the introduced product.  We know this is true because there are multiple examples of efforts to build and grow habitats using man made structures.  Below is one such example, from attempts to regrow corral reefs in Florida.  This blog from the Scuba Divers Travel Network discusses many areas regarding the efforts of rebuilding the reefs as well as many global concerns for our oceans.

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But the truth is, I don’t believe this solution is the end all be all to ‘saving our planet’ from ourselves. I don’t think that this well intentioned and idealistic man really intended to misrepresent his ideas as an end all solution to plastic pollution in our oceans. Unfortunately, this is what has been happening.  Because I’m into telling people about plastic pollution in the ocean, I often feel that I’m the first person that people run to when they first hear of this concept idea.

The truth is, that it would  take a massive fleet of ships, ones that are stationary – one that are actively moving about our gyres to clean them.  If you have followed my posts you know that there are reasons for Plastic warriors to  unite!  The reality is that all of our planets oceanic systems are being clogged at the arteries with plastic and we are approaching a time when active remediation will be required for life to survive.  These sad truths are represented in studies like this one by Dr. Jennifer Lavers, shows that birds are not only eating plastic, but that they are becoming weak from the leaching of contaminants into their bodies.

As a person who daily preaches the dangers of our addiction to plastic, I have been aware of the problems facing our planet and I communicate them regularly in all I do. I ask the waitress or bartender to not bring straws to the table, or to be used in a beverage delivered to the table. I bring my own bags to the store, or I grab used bags from the recycling bin. In fact there are many times that flat out refuse a bag, or specifically request paper bags.

But that’s my story about my personal activism.   In my experiences, the majority of people don’t really think about how we consume, or what happens when this consumption is over and the materials end up outside in a rubbish or recycling bin.  In an earlier blog I discussed the advantages of setting up a second waste can for recycling.  Those who do find that this one act changes both their awareness and effective recycling rates!

Why do we want to change these rates?  Because materials consumption is at a rate greater than anytime previous in our history.   This poses problems as we are consuming materials at a rate greater than our planet can support.  The cost of industry is pollution.  This pollution comes in the form of CO2 emissions, foreign materials in our water supply, spills and fires from oil.  This trend isn’t going to end any time soon.  This is why it’s so important to recognize that each individual action we take today, impacts the ability for us to fix things in the future.