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Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. (Source unknown, claimed by local New Englanders) This column is intended to empower the consumer, the voter, the parent, the taxpayer, and anyone attempting to adapt to global realities without losing their sanity. The information on this page may be somewhat outdated, but it has never been more relevant than in is in today's global economy and at a time when climate change science is treated as a reality. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is the most powerful tool remaining to give the public the "right to know" about information affecting its own health and the health of its environment. We salute librarians, the gatekeepers of this information.
February, 2019 Planter is back after a two-year hiatus. Since things seem to spinning out of control in our government sectors, we focus on monitoring our retirement accounts, our taxes, and our travel budget closely. If you do your own taxes, you may find that the promise of tax breaks from the new tax law turn out to be higher taxable income. And, you have to pay the IRS $1,000 if you need them to help you. Your bank and information is now secured by adding a new layer of entry before you can get to your information. And have you noticed how quickly our shopping options are disappearing? JC Penny is the only large anchor store left in our Concord shopping mall. Not to mention: who will pick our tomatoes and strawberries if the immigration policies get tougher? Carolyn Consumer
August 21, 2017 was the first cross-country total eclipse in the U.S. in 99 years! Nice to see everyone coming together for a change.
August 2007The scariest national news so far this month is the underwater mapping activites in the North Pole by Russian explorers. Canada and the U.S. are not far behind. This black gold rush takes place as faster than the ice cap can melt. The mapping scramble is an attempt by each nation to prove the Arctic seabed is an extension of their own continental shelf. This makes ANWR development look like child's play.
The National Audubon Society reports the populations of 20 common American birds are half what they
were 40 years ago. The reduction is attributed to suburban sprawl, climate change, and other
The evening grosbeak population has plummeted 78% during that period.
Planter can confirm that. This year, we saw the rose-breasted grosbeak only once last month.
An estimated 25% of the country's bee colonies have been lost since last winter (Washington Post, June 2007. Moreover, a recent National Academy of Sciences report says all pollinators are in decline (beetles, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, and bats.
Bees are transported cross-country, following crops. This may contribute to the "colony collapse disorder." Other causes could be genetically modified crops, pesticides, unanticipated diseases.
A local angler and member of NH Trout Unlimited writes in the Concord Monitor (7/16/07) of the vanishing brook trout population: less than 50% of the habitat it once occupied is gone. "Brookies" inhabit only the cleanest, most pristine rivers and streams with groundwater springs that provide the unpolluted waters. See the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture report, "Roadmap to Restoration" at easternbrooktrout.org.
On March 6th, Mt. Washington almost broke a record for March: 37 degrees below zero. Winds at 107 mpg brought the wind chill temperature to 85-100 degrees below zero. Visit their web site and see for yourself: www.mountwashington.org.
Our low temperature at Planter was 5 degrees below zero on March 7th and 8th.
The UN's Environmental Programme Panel released their Second Assessment on Global Climate Change this week (March 5th). Visit the Union of Concerned Scientists (see References Page) for a discussion the layman can understand.
Global Climate Change
According to an article in the LA Times, 18 bath products for children and adult were found to contain a "probable" human carcinogen, 1,4-Dioxane. It is not added intentionally to products, but can be a by-product of the manufacturing process.
While this consumer generally avoids scented, non-organic bath washes, I recently bought one of the named products on sale: Olay Complete Body Wash with Vitamins. Doh!
The Association representing cosmetics and toiletries says consumers should not be concerned about the levels in the data. No standards exist for the ingredients that may be tainted with the toxic chemical.
While the nation focuses on the Iraq war, and the President is telling us we are addicted to oil, the U.S. Dept. of Interior has begun quietly implementing its 5-year oil leasing program for the Gulf of Mexico.
The National Energy Security Act of 2006 mandated five-year leases in the Gulf of Mexico and in portions of the North Aleutian Basin area in Alaska. Those areas had been declared off limits to the OCS leasing program under the Clinton Administration. Portions of the Gulf were reviewed in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) last November. This October, the DOI will offer the first lease sale in the Central Gulf region. At the same time,it will offer a draft EIS in the Eastern Gulf Planning Area, off the coast of Florida.
This, while The DOI's Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to list the polar bear as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act (FRN, 12/27/06)
A day after Great Britain released a report warning of serious economic distruptions due to global warming, the Cato issued this response: "There's just a very small part of GDP" in industrialized nations "that's affected by weather in a direct or indirect way," Jerry Taylor, senior fellow.
Since that quote appeared in the Washington Post 8 days ago (10/31/06), NOAA reveals that fisheries may disappear in 40 years. The University of NH Climate Change Center tells us that maple syrup production,fall foliage peepers, and skiiers are moving Northward toward Canada due to warming NH temperatures. The International Coral Reef Task Force warns us of declining tourism revenues as coral reefs die off. And, the biological clock continues ticking: millions of babies are born every day.
November 8, 2006
Planter has been unable to keep up with the avalanche in data, which explains the one-year gap in this discussion.
The Concord Monitor published an AP article (9/7/06) on a new climate "time bomb," methane gas trapped in Arctic permafrost. One of the more powerful of greenhouse gases, it is being released into the atmosphere by melting permafrost. The rapid melting is caused by increasing temperatures, which are caused by CO2 emissions trapped in our atmosphere. Talk about vicious cycles. . .
This comes at a time when countries are thinking of mining their oceans and arctic regions for methane as an acceptable alternative for importing Middle Eastern oil. Scary, no?
A scientist with NOAA's Global System Division agrees that greenhouse gas emissions are a major cause of global warming. One of his favored solutions, though not discussed much, is global population reduction (paper, 9/5/2006). Presumably, he is talking about birth control, not ethnic cleansing. He prefers focusing on a technical solution: hydrogen fusion. He has a lot of company. Who wants to take the prickly path of population control when we could chose the rosy road to technological miracles to solve this mess?
The USGS released a study early in the month on the formation and melting of ice in the Northeast during the past 30-40 years. The Agency discovered that 75% of the 16 rivers it studied registered an earlier "ice-out" (melting) date in the spring. The USGS ducked the question of whether the melting can be attributed to global warming.
The Agency's top web page contains a link to the press release. Past studies by the USGS during the past 3-4 years point to other interesting weather trends in the Northeast, all confirmed by Planter's personal experience .
* NOAA is predicting a stronger than normal hurricane season this year.
The Agency also reports drier than average April in the South and wetter and cooler than average in the Northeast. The increased hurricane activity is attributed to warmer seas and changes in wind patterns.
* Last month it was UN scientists addressing global warming. This month, it's American State treasurers. They are worried about the long-term financial risk to their pension funds posed by global climate change. (NY City alone monitors $82 billion in investors' assets.) Energy companies are responding to investor concerns by disclosing steps they are taking to reduce emmissions. North Carolina's Duke Energy will lobby for a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. AP, Environmental News Network, May 11, 2005
* Qatar is using a "secret process" in gas-to-liquid (GTL) reactors to produce a clean-burning diesel fuel from natural gas. AP, Environmental News Network, May 11, 2005
* Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi dresses down. All employees are to leave their suit jackets and ties at home to reduce the need for air conditioners this summer. That's a low-tech solution to the energy crisis that would be welcome in this country.
While our politicians and news media debate the moral issue of the day, the global community is taking action -- this in spite of, not because of, American leadership -- to conserve energy and preserve the health of our planet.
Scientists from 95 countries agreed, in a UN report, the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, issued on 3/30/05, that demand for global resources (clean water, oil, arable land) are outstripping supply. If people continue to use up much of these resources, we will run out of them in 50 years.
We stumbled on the Report in the online web site of National Public Radio.
On its April 1st online report, Forbes Magazine talks about the move in China away from purchasing big, gas-guzzling cars imported from America, toward small, fuel-efficient autos from Japan and South Korea.
BBC reports England is assessing its first steps toward conserving carbon emmissions for meeting compliance with Kyoto Treaty goals.
The recently deceased, noted diplomat, George Kennan, made note in his later years of the real national security issue: environmental degradation.
NOAA and its scientific counterparts in other countries have been tracking what the news media colorfully describe as "whacky weather" for several years. These weather anomalies were brought home vividly by the Indian Ocean tsunami last month and recent record rainfall in California and snowfall in the Sierra Nevadas.
Scientists outside the federal government are the first to agree publicly that global weather patterns are fulfilling what environmentalists have been asserting for years. Global populations are outstripping natural resources and influencing the earth's health in ways that may be irrevocable if not altered soon.
Third Report recommendations by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (AP, 1/24/05)
* renewable sources by 2025 (tree farms, windmills)
* shift agricultural subsidies from food crops to biofuels.
* international use of emission trading schemes, a concept born in EPA as way to meet CAA requirements
* build on Kyoto Protocol by working closely with heavily populated developing nations like India and China.
U.S. Representative on the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Resigns, Reuters 1/21/05:
The U.S. representative, a hurricane scientist at NOAA claim's the Panel's lead author of the report wrongly linked the intensity of hurricanes last year to global warming. The Report's author works for the U.S. National Center for Atmosphere Research in Colorado. This link seems to coincide with NOAA data (see next article). The Panel's recommendations above will be discussed by the G-8 countries. Another U.S. government turf battle at the expense of U.S. public interest?
Climate At a Glance, Source: http://www.noaa.gov/climate.html
Northeast: The average temperature in December 2004 was 27.7 F. This was 0.9 F warmer than the 1895-2004 average, the 51st warmest December in 110 years. The temperature trend for the period of record (1895 to present) is 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit per decade.
3.68 inches of precipitation fell in December. This was 0.44 inches more than the 1895- 2004 average, the 33rd wettest such month on record. The precipitation trend for the period of record (1895 to present) is 0.03 inches per decade.
Southwest: The average temperature in December 2004 was 34.5 F. This was 1.7 F warmer than the 1895-2004 average, the 35th warmest December in 110 years. The temperature trend for the period of record (1895 to present) is 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit per decade.
1.15 inches of precipitation fell in December. This was 0.28 inches more than the 1895- 2004 average, the 32nd wettest such month on record. The precipitation trend for the period of record (1895 to present) is 0.01 inches per decade.
New England Regional Assessment, conducted in 2001 by UNH Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (funded by NOAA?). The study's conclusions are based on current and past consumption of energy.
* New England and upstate NY temperatures will increase by 6-7 degrees and
precipitation by 10-30 percent over next century.
* Maine and NH temperatures since 1895 are warmer, Maine is cooler.
* The evidence strongly indicates that global warming fluctuations are caused by human factors, primarily by burning fossil fuels.
* Depending on which of the two models were used, Boston's 30-year average temperature would equal that of Richmond, Virginia (51.3() or Atlanta, GA (57.7().
* Air quality will worsen, affecting human health.
* Maple, beech, birch, and spruce-fir will become extinct. Dominant species will be oak-pine in the northern regions and oak-hickory in southern regions.
* Coastal flooding will occur and some fish species will be adversely impacted.
NOAA is working with the Department of Energy to increase its weather research capabilities. For more, see http://www.er.doe.gov/production/ober/CCRD/tcp.html.
* The science is changing as fast as the weather. In February, 2003, this column reported:
"New findings were presented to the American Association for Advancement of Science. Researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder CO have a new explanation for extreme winter weather: Arctic Oscillations. Winds over the Arctic allow cold air to escape South, causing fluctuations in cold and warm weather. Will this be used to debunk global warming?"
We learn in 2004 that, in fact, the nation's weather-tracking governmental agency, NOAA, is tracking "weather anomalies" now on a monthly basis.
The Agency is also partnering with other national and European agencies, universities, and research institutes to study the link between air quality and climate changes. The photo below illustrates the resources being used in the study. (click to enlarge)
The research center is based at the University of New Hampshire.
In September, 2004, daily air quality forecasts for the Northeast will be published. To add fuel to the fire, the federal government has established an online drought tracking center.
In the Car
November 14, 2005. A bipartisan vote, almost unanimous, to remove ANWR drilling from the budget package signals a revolt in Congress against Administration policies. The budget is still held up as the fight over budget cuts and earmarking (pork) continues.
March,2005. The ayes have it. Drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) was tacked on to a budget bill, which means no open discussion and only a simple majority instead of 60 votes required for a filibuster. If Americans used only ANWR reserves to drive their cars, the potential reserves would last 6 to 8 months, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. See an excerpt in ANWR Oil.
The vote this week passed by a narrow margin: 3 votes. Were those three votes the three Democratic defectors who voted for the bill? One of the Senators extracted a price for his vote--no drilling off the coast of Florida for a decade or so. Another vote for humans and against wildlife.
May, 2004 . Oil prices across the nation soar to an average of $2.07 a gallon. CNN. Money (5/24/04) compares purchase price with fuel costs and depreciation. It also calculates the cost of owning the automobile, (insurance, fuel costs, maintenance and repairs and other costs). Union of Concerned Scientists compare payback values and fuel cost savings in 2002 values. Meanwhile, reports of maintenance problems in hybrids are popping up in the news.
Consumer Reports, in a TV interview recently, claims EPA's testing system for fuel mileage inflates fuel efficiency figures, required to be posted on all vehicle sales stickers. If so, hybrid vehicles, endorsed by the Agency, are not as economical as they may seem.
January, 2004 . The regional air quality district in southern California requires local governments and postal services to choose cleaner-burning vehicles when replacing older ones with diesel engines. Local regulators said 70% of the cancer risk from bad air comes from diesel particles. The decision of a federal judge to reject a challenge by diesel and oil industries was upheld in the local appeals court. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.
December, 2003 . Appeals courts shoots down administration attempts to loosen energy and environmental rules established by the Clinton administration. The court determined new rules allowing older power plants to continue using outdated equipment when expanding were in violation of Clean Air act regulations.
In the Home
January, 2004 . The Administration slashed energy efficienty requirements by 10% for residential air conditioners and heat pumps. Not coincidentally, they are two of the biggest energy hogs on the market. The court ruled in favor of environmentalists and against the Dept. of Energy.
Energy consumption goes far beyond just driving a car or turning the thermostat up. Put some hand lotion on, buy a polyester shirt or toys for the kids, build an air-tight house, fertilize your lawn, take a pill, clean your toilet, and you're using an oil-based product.
These products are no less toxic than the industrial solvents that are now polluting drinking water wells and surface waters. And, they are in almost every room of our house. Since the collapse of the World Trade Center, inhalation of toxic fumes have been recognized as a significant occupational hazard for emergency first responders.
Most all-purpose cleaners contain the industrial solvents like xylene and toluene, two organic compounds that are on several agency 'highly hazardous lists' and appear in drinking water wells across the country.
Bathroom deodorizers and household disinfectants contain phenol. Contact with fluids or breathing vapors can cause severe breathing and other problems.
Glues and adhesives are in laminated countertops, in particleboard and plywood ("engineered wood"), and in household furniture.
Particleboard uses more glue than plywood, but costs less, so it's tough to avoid the temptation of opting for the more toxic product for an immediate savings. Even if you want solid wood products, try and find them it in your local Home Depot!
Florida Power Corporation encourages less energy usage in the home by offering lower rates.
* A U.S. EPA online self-audit may be helpful for homeowners.
* U.S. DOE offers tips and Pacific Gas and Electric checklist for cutting down on energy consumption.
* Energy Efficient Product List by the Consumer Federation of America guides consumers to EnergyStar or EnergyGuide products.
Certified organically grown forests are being supported by some retailers (e.g., Home Depot).
Sierra Club offers an "MPG Calculator" that calculates the costs of gasoline based on miles driven.
As this article is being updated (January 15, 2004), gas prices are soaring, in some places closing in on $2.00 a gallon. Another good reason to look for more fuel efficient cars!
Political news covereage has buried two important laws that jeopardize consumers' choice.
The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (S.
1460/H.R. 2932) is a bipartisan proposal to phase out the use of antibiotics for "nontherapeutic" purposes. An estimated 70% of antibiotics produced in this country are used to speed up animal growth and prevent disease caused by overcrowded industrial "factory farms." See the Union of Concerned Scientists link on the Cobwebs Page for more.
A Senate bill mandating that food labels include the country of origin, beginning this September. According to a 1/20/04 Washington Post article, the National Farmers Union supports the legislation. It conducted a poll showing 81% of those polled were willing to pay slightly higher prices for U.S.-grown food.
Beef sales are soaring despite the announcement early in January 2004 about the infection of one or several cows with BSE ("mad-cow disease"). But then, so are food products labeled as low-carb, according to one recent news article.
Soaring cholesterol levels and a declining confidence in our food industry forced us to reduce our beef intake and turn to fish, poultry, buffalo and vegetables. But now we learn that mercury and lead levels are increasing in fish and poultry may also be fed recycled body parts.
Organically grown products are a more expensive alternative. We've been buying free-range, organic turkeys for the past three years. They are moister, plumper, and only $20 more than a normal turkey would cost. We also belong to the Northeastern Food Coop, which offers a wider selection of organic food products than retail grocers, and prices are discounted. Our local fish supplier, based in Portsmouth NH, is now offering wild salmon. Like turkey, it was about 1/3 more expensive than farmed salmon but much better tasting.
Vote with your pocket book and create a market for safer food products. The organic foods industry already has proven it can be done. When you factor in the health and environmental costs of mass-produced meat, pork and poultry, it would be cheaper to go organic! Check out the Cobwebs links and shop around for organic food products and food coops.
Genetically Altered Food and Livestock Products
* An alliance of environmentalists, farmers, and scientists, petitioned the US FDA to require compulsory testing and labeling of bioengineered food and livestock products.
* FDA issued guidance to industry, partly in response to litigation, on "voluntary labels" for genetically modified food (GMO) products. Close of comment period was April 3, 2001. While the Agency recognizes these products may be different in form after the introduced genetic material, it does not believe there is scientific evidence to recognize it as unsafe.
* Genetically engineered food crops and livestock cannot qualify for organic certification, under U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's final rule.
* Disease-preventing phytochemicals are best taken naturally, through a healthy 5-a-day diet.
Genetic cloning has existed for 10,000 years, scientists say, when Stone Age "plant breeders" in Southeast Asia began propogating cuttings from seedless fruit of a mutant form of a wild jungle herb called Musa acuminata. The beginning process of monoculturing that leaves plants more vulnerable to disease.
The plant was transported to Africa and later to South American plantations where it flourished until 40 years ago. The Asian form of a leaf fungus tracked the plant down and has devastated a favored hybrid cultivar. The fungus took on a new face after intensive applications of fungicides and now threatens to decimate an alternative cultivar.
Hybridizing with wild plants may provide a more disease-resistant plant. But, it is a time-consuming process that science believes consumers will not accept. Yet another excuse for geneticists to step in. Maybe it's time for consumers to step in and say -- we'd rather wait! (from The Boston Globe, 2/18/03)
The same fungus, potato late blight, (Phytophthora infestans) a major cause of the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840's is back.
It thrives in cool, moist climates. (Note that the primary US potato-growing areas are located in Maine and Idaho, both northern states.)
Once the fungicide, metalaxyl, was developed to control the blight, research on resistant varieties lost interest. Now a more aggressive strain of the fungus has surfaced. It travels by air and can now devastate a field in days.
Resistant varieties have been developed by breeding wild species that naturally defend against the fungus. But, they aren't right for making potato chips or french fries; or, they need too much water; or, they take too long to mature. (reported in Concord Monitor, 10/23/00)
New Hampshire gets terrorist protection funds from the USDA to look for the Asian long-horned beetle. They have appeared in New York City and Chicago; feed voraciously on maple trees; are resistant to any insecticide; and, hitchhike on pallets from China that is supposed to be pre-treated before shipment. (reported in Concord Monitor, 12/15/02)
Home and Garden
Make your own household cleansers. Store-bought products are petrochemical-based and can be very toxic.
Mow your lawn less frequently. It helps keeps grass roots shaded during extreme heat and drought conditions. Not to mention the savings in energy (yours and the lawn mower), air quality, noise levels. . .
One of the principles of sustainable growing is not forcing something to grow where and when it shouldn't. Then we find ourselves using more chemicals to compensate.
Our own yards and households are a major source of runoff carrying pesticides, fertilizers, and industrial solvents into streams, rivers, and other waterbodies. Keeping informed and changing habits will go a long way to reducing water and air pollution.
Look for the toxicity rating on a product label. CAUTION means "Slightly toxic,"(an ounce or more can kill an average person). WARNING means "Moderately toxic," (a one teaspoon kill-ratio), and DANGER or POISON means "Highly Toxic" ( a few drops will do the job). See label statements for details.
Manufacturers must make the statements clear and easily understood by the user. EPA is authorized under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) to require waterproof labels, smaller containers, and a list of non-chemical alternatives on the label.
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), the same bacteria used to produce genetically-altered corn, has over 50 different product case numbers and multiple manufacturers, each with a different name and many listed as "inactive." Each product is targeted for a specific species. For example, Bt is used to target tomato hornworms. It probably will not work against a tobacco hornworm.
Bt is ineffective if applied in sunlight (it "deactivates"); or, in rain (it washes off); or, at the later larval stage, when the worm is too big to kill and has eaten 30% of your tomato plant before you can even see it!
* Mow less frequently. Short grass is more susceptible to drought and facilitates weed growth.
* Seed in fall. Spring rains can wash seed away and summer heat and drought can kill newly established seeded grass.
* Compost your own yard wastes.
* Replace turf with wildlife plantings or ground covers.
Waste DisposalThe law does not mandate collection of household hazwaste. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates solid and hazardous wastes, and can only encourage States and communities to regulate them under its Universal Waste Rule.
New data on wastewater contaminants shows increasing amounts of antibiotics, steriods, cholesterol-lowering drugs, pain relieves, antibacterial soap, and caffeine in national waterbodies. "Pass-through pollution" was discovered in Europe and is now being studied in the U.S. Drugs are supposed to be either absorbed or pass through the body quickly so the active ingredients do not accumulate and damage the liver. Consequently, 50 to 90 percent of every drug (pill, capsule, or liquid capful) ends up in the wastestream.
Invasive SpeciesStates are expanding their bans as introduced species begin to take over native plants. In New Hampshire, bittersweet and the beautiful burning bush are two of 18 species now banned from sales. Bittersweet, whose berries are used in ornamental wreaths, is invading our neighborhood.
Hydrilla verticillata, or water thyme.
It grows an inch a day! Imagine how a small amount imported from boat props and trailers, drag lines, aquariums could multiply to look like this:
The light green on either side of the water is hydrilla. It can be argued that hydrilla provides a beneficial habitat for some sportfish and fowl, but it wreaks havoc on water recreation and native vegetation.
**Twenty years ago (1986), we added a second story to our NH home, using Solarizing Your Present Home (1981) as our source, published by he Rodale Institute. The group was then considered a refuge for disenfranchised hippie homesteaders. Tyvek had just comeon the market, low-e and double-paned glass was new, and photovoltaic cells were not affordable for the average homeowner. In 1989, a new dawn in mass transit development and fuel efficient cars rose out of the OPEC oil crisis . There was a waiting list for our VW diesel Dasher, but we bought it and drove it for 20 years. The body was so rusted from road salt that it failed to passinspection.
Almost two decades later, many of Rodale's energy-conservation ideas are reflected in almost every new building in the country. Another radical idea rising out of the '80's was the notion that noxious clouds created by polluting cars and industries were blocking heat and other pollutants from leaving our atmosphere. Glaciers have been melting faster than they expected, because air and water temperatures are rising.