For the Conservation Curious

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Green Czech Republic October 3, 2014

On Tuesday I received some excellent news… I was selected as the team leader for the Rotary District 7390 Group Study Exchange trip to the Czech Republic and Slovakia this coming spring. I’ll lead four communications and journalism professionals on a one-month educational visit to these two countries, visiting Rotary Clubs and cultural sites along the way. I went on a similar trip, as a team member, to Germany five years ago and it was a life-changing experience. I know this will be similar, although more challenging with the added responsibilities as leader, but I’m looking forward to it all.

In honor of this upcoming adventure, I wanted to blog a bit about the environmental and conservation-related aspects of the Czech Republic. I ran across some of this information as I prepared for my interview, and have added further information that I found since then:
• According to the Czech Republic’s environmental agency, the Czech people ranks sixth in the European Union in packaging recycling and are the leaders in the EU for reusing materials from new products and energy generation (a whopping 68%!!).

• They have six UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, which are areas of the country set aside for natural resource management. There are more than 600 reserves in 119 countries across the globe.

• Unlike our country, they have ratified the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and ratified the Kyoto Protocol, committing their country to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and acting against climate change.
• They are above the EU average for the number of acres of organic farms in the country (10.5% of their total ag lands).
• More than 71 percent of the forests in the Czech Republic are certified as sustainably managed.

Not everything is rosy in terms of the environment there. No country is perfect. They deal with air and water pollution from industry, habitat loss and impacts to species, and other issues, but those are common to just about every developed nation. But they are trying hard to clean up sins of the past and move into a more sustainable future.

Of course there is so much about the Czech Republic that I am excited to see. Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and since it wasn’t bombed during WWII, much of the old architecture remains intact. In Germany I saw a lot of restored churches, castles and other buildings… now I’ll get to see the real deal. Plus the Czech Republic is the birthplace of pilsner beer, so I won’t go thirsty while I’m there. My trip is still many, many months away, so my excitement will continue to blossom. Na shledanou (goodbye in Czech)!

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Environmental Benefits of a Vegetarian Lifestyle August 22, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — newdomino @ 11:00 AM
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In my last blog post I talked about the origins of my vegetarianism. Now I’d like to discuss why I think everyone should embrace the vegetarian lifestyle for at least a portion of every week, if not every day. Not only will it help your health (assuming you don’t eat pizza and French fries like I did in college practically every day) but it will help the environment. How so?

The average consumption of meat in the U.S. is eight ounces a day, which is twice the average of the rest of the world. That equals 200 pounds of meat per person per year. The meat and dairy-based diets that we have in the U.S. are very resource intensive; and it’s not just a problem in the U.S. In places like Brazil, where they consume a lot of beef, it is estimated that 1,250 acres of rainforest were cut down in just a five-month period to create grazing land for cattle. If that continues unabated for a year that’s at least 3,000 acres lost and most likely unrecoverable. Nearly 20 percent of the land across the world (not counting that covered with ice) is used for the growing of livestock.

So eating meat uses up a lot of land that could otherwise be used for wildlife habitat, growing vegetables and fruit for the ever-expanding world population, setting aside parks for recreation, and a whole host of other, better things. But it’s not just land conversion that’s a problem with the meat industry. According to an article in the New York Times on January 27, 2008 by Mark Bittman:

“To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.”

So the raising of livestock is a very energy intensive industry. It also has a huge impact on water resources. According to an article in the Cornell Chronicle on August 7, 1997, animal agriculture is one of the biggest consumers of water in the U.S.:

Grain-fed beef production takes 100,000 liters (26,417 gallons) of water for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of food. Raising broiler chickens takes 3,500 liters of water to make a kilogram of meat. In comparison, soybean production uses 2,000 liters for kilogram of food produced; rice, 1,912; wheat, 900; and potatoes, 500 liters.

With the droughts that have been ever-present these last few years in the Western and Southern United States, where many of our grain-fed cattle are raised, this will continue to be a major issue as reservoirs and groundwater reserves dwindle.

David Pimentel, an ecology professor at Cornell University, said that the U.S. could feed 800 million people with the grain that we instead feed to our livestock. A wholesale switchover would never happen, but imagine if we converted even a fraction of the soybean and corn fields to growing other vegetables and fruits instead? But with the current manner in which the federal government provides subsidies to large scale farmers that grow corn and soybeans, and not to small scale veggie farmers, that is unlikely to happen any time soon. That will be fuel for a future blog post…

In the meantime, please allow me to introduce you to the Meatless Monday movement. Meatless Monday began in 2003, launched by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In May, 2009, Ghent, Belgium, became the first non-U.S. city to go meatless. Shortly thereafter, Paul McCartney introduced the U.K. to Meat-Free Mondays. Meatless Monday is now active in 34 countries. The website, http://www.meatlessmonday.com, has a wide variety of tasty recipes to prove to you that eating vegetarian dishes can be just as enjoyable and filling as one with meat in it. Check it out and let me know what you think.

And for those times when you know you’re going to eat meat, consider eating as efficiently as possible. What I mean by that is choosing animals that are better at converting their food to flesh. Pimentel found broiler chickens to be the most efficient, and beef, the least. Chicken meat production consumes energy in a 4:1 ratio to protein output; beef cattle production requires an energy input to protein output ratio of 54:1. Other ratios range from 14:1 for milk protein to 17:1 for pork and 26:1 for eggs. And of course if you select locally raised animals, especially grass-fed beef, free-range chickens, a deer that you hunted yourself, etc., you will have a lower carbon footprint than if you choose a steak from a feedlot in Colorado.

Many people ask me, “Don’t you worry about not getting enough protein?” No, I don’t. I know that I can get enough protein from the veggies and legumes I eat, and the studies agree. According to Mark Bittman’s article, the average American consumes close to 110 grams of protein a day, about twice the federal government’s recommended allowance (which others suggest is larger than it needs to be). Out of that total, 75 grams come from animal protein. We could easily live off 30 grams of protein a day, with all or most of that coming from plant sources. So giving up meat for Meatless Monday won’t leave you feeling tired or sluggish. Not to worry.

So what are you waiting for? Give it a go! The planet, the animals and I will give you a big round of applause.

 

Wine for the Conservation Curious July 16, 2014

I am a big fan of wine – reds in the winter (Malbec and Cab Sauv. being my favs), whites in the summer (Pinot Gris. and Sauv. Blanc preferred). I like craft beer too but drinking more than a couple of those can leave me feeling so heavy and full. Wines are a much lighter feeling, more easily drinkable alternative and they go better with a nice meal. Sometimes I wonder though about the environmental impacts of drinking wine. Am I contributing to some horrible habitat impacts when I down a glass of the alcoholic grape juice?

So I decided to do a little digging that will clue me in and perhaps educate you as well…

Wine Spectator magazine had some helpful information that I have summarized here:

There are two types of organic listings on wine bottles. Wines can be made from certified organically grown grapes, avoiding any synthetic additives, or, to take it a step further, “organic” wines are made from organically grown grapes, and are also made without any added sulfites (though naturally occurring sulfites will still be present).
The term “biodynamic” is similar to organic farming in that both take place without chemicals, but biodynamic farming incorporates ideas about a vineyard as an ecosystem, and also accounting for things such as astrological influences and lunar cycles. A biodynamic wine means that the grapes are farmed biodynamically, and that the winemaker did not make the wine with any common manipulations such as yeast additions or acidity adjustments. A wine “made from biodynamic grapes” means that a vintner used biodynamically grown grapes, but followed a less strict list of rules in winemaking.

“Sustainability” refers to a range of practices that are not only ecologically sound, but also economically viable and socially responsible. Some third-party agencies offer sustainability certifications, and many regional industry associations are working on developing clearer standards.

Got that? You may also see the term “natural” on a bottle of wine but that’s about as helpful as seeing it on a box of crackers or a tube of toothpaste. The term “natural” is unregulated so it lacks any meaning. Sure, lead is natural but I certainly don’t want it in any product I ingest or put on my body. So don’t fall for the greenwashing there.

I haven’t noticed a large number of organic or biodynamic wines in the local liquor store, but there does seem to be an emerging niche for them. Just because a wine comes from organic grapes doesn’t necessarily mean that is environment-neutral (the vineyard could have been placed on prime habitat for wildlife or the wine was shipped a thousand miles via aircraft to get to your door) but it can be a better alternative than one made from traditionally-grown grapes. According to an article in Slate, the best bet to be environmentally-friendly when drinking wine is to avoid purchasing any wine in a bottle that had to be flown to get where you live. You would think that would make it quite difficult to enjoy a wide variety of wines if you live on the east coast of the U.S. but that’s actually not true. Most international wines are shipped via container ship, so it’s better to purchase a bottle from Europe than it is to buy one from California, where it would have been shipped, most likely, via airplane or truck – both of which have higher emissions and greater carbon footprint. That’s excellent news for Bordeaux lovers!

Another way to balance your wine consumption with your environmental footprint is to purchase wine in bulk… and yes, I mean via the box. Boxed wine doesn’t have the heavy glass bottle that contributes to more carbon emissions. The box itself may be recycled in some areas. You get more wine for your buck so you don’t have to drive to the store as often. The wine stays fresher much longer so there’s less chance of waste. And nowadays the wine in those boxes can be just as high quality as many bottled wines. What’s not to like?

Now that I’ve given you plenty of reasons to enjoy some wine, why not grab a box of biodynamically produced wine, call some friends over, and enjoy?! Can I come too?

 

Trees do so Much April 9, 2014

Filed under: Science,Uncategorized — newdomino @ 1:15 PM
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Trees are terrific! Can anyone argue with that? Well, I guess I should add a caveat to my statement, “MOST trees are terrific!” There are invasive tree species out there that are the bane of many people’s existence, including mine, like Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), Norway maple (Acer platanoides), Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) and Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana), to name just a few. And some trees are more terrific than others. Trees native to your specific area are generally better than non-natives, although if you live in an urban area you may need some non-invasive, non-native trees to withstand road salt, the urban heat island effect and the other tough growing conditions found in urban areas. Trees like Goldenraintree (Koelreuteria paniculata), Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulate) and Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrate) will grow well under tough conditions, yet not grow uncontrollably like an invasive.

Spring is a great time to plant trees, but you need to make sure you’re planting them in the proper site, with the proper techniques. Check out the TreeVitalize program website to learn all about proper tree selection, siting, installation and maintenance – http://www.treevitalize.net. Plus, if you live in certain parts of Pennsylvania you can download a coupon to save $15 off the purchase of a tree at participating nurseries. Municipalities and non-profits can even apply for grants to help defray costs on bulk tree plantings.

redbud_paul wray
(Photo of Eastern Redbud by Paul Wray, Iowa State U., http://www.forestryimages.org)

I live in a city center, surrounded by a lot of pavement. In such situations adding tree canopy cover is essential. Trees provide us with cleaner air and cleaner water, shade to lower heating bills and make sitting outside on a hot day more enjoyable, and aesthetic beauty. There was already a Japanese maple in my backyard when I purchased my home, but I added a native Eastern redbud tree too. It has grown a lot over the last three years, even given the poor quality city “soil” and is just plain beautiful in the spring with its pinkish-purple flowers. The flowering dogwood in front of my house provides food for the squirrels (they love to eat the fruits, sometimes to my chagrin) and blocks some prying eyes from being able to look into my living room window. Trees do so much for us!

 

Sustainability Makes Sense for All March 12, 2014

Sometimes I am amazed by how controversial a seemingly harmless word can be to certain people. I understand why some people don’t like the terms “climate change” and “global warming” – they have become highly politicized and the actual events behind the terminology threatened people’s comfortable way of life. Even I have become annoyed by the abuse and misuse of those terms in the media. But I cannot fathom why the term “sustainability” has such a negative connotation in various quarters of the population. Lately I have had to defend the importance of this term, so I thought I’d blog about it here.

I first came across the negative perception of sustainability in reference to the Agenda 21 movement. Agenda 21 is itself a non-binding, voluntary action plan of the United Nations in regard to sustainable development. However, groups of right-wing and libertarian organizations have used Agenda 21 as an example of the UN’s desire to take over the world. The Republican National Committee adopted a resolution opposing Agenda 21 and their party has stated that “We strongly reject the UN Agenda 21 as erosive of American sovereignty.” Numerous states have passed (or are drafting) legislation barring government participation in the Agenda. The Tea Party calls Agenda 21 a conspiracy by the UN to deprive people of their property rights.

That’s a lot to put on the imaginary shoulders of a non-binding, voluntary document!

I have only read portions of Agenda 21 so I’m not going to defend the document here. What I will do is discuss why even if someone is opposed to the tenets of that document they can and should support sustainability. A compilation of the definitions for “sustainable” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary equate to something that can be used now but still be around for future generations to enjoy. When we practice sustainability we are ensuring that our future generations are not harmed by our actions of today. To me, that seems like a non-partisan ideal.

Through my job I promote sustainable landscape design and management for anyone who deals with land – municipalities, schools, homeowners, business owners, etc. The goal of the program is to show people how they can save money and improve human health and quality of life by rethinking how they deal with the natural world. You don’t have to be a tree hugger to appreciate saving money. And you don’t have to be a doctor to appreciate better health. Anyone can find benefits from sustainability.

I do believe that there is a limit to growth. If we sacrifice the environment and natural resources for ever-increasing economic growth we will reach a point where it all crashes. I don’t believe anyone would want that or have something to gain from it. So if we start to incorporate sustainability into our daily lives we can continue to have enjoyable experiences without dooming future generations. And in the end we may even save some money to put toward things we’ll really enjoy (like vacations and better benefits for employees) while enhancing the aesthetics of our communities.

So when you think of the term sustainability, think of a town where kids walk to school, getting enough exercise to cut the obesity rate dramatically: a town where small businesses thrive, where tree-lined streets clean our air and shade us during the hot summers. A sustainable community is one that will survive the ups and downs of the market, find new ways to compete in the global marketplace and attract new residents because of its desirable homes and businesses. Sounds like a place I’d like to live in!

 

Conservation Wish List for 2014 January 2, 2014

It’s 2014, which means it’s time to create a list of things I hope to see happen (or not happen) in the coming year. I like to think about my sustainability and natural resource conservation dream list… if the sky’s the limit, what could we see take place in 2014? Here are some of my desires, in no particular order…

The Sustainable PA Program will be rolled out to the public and embraced by municipalities across the Commonwealth

New York will keep its moratorium on fracking

Orcas can no longer be held in captivity

Genetically modified foods will have to be labeled if they are sold in the U.S.

More people will embrace the use of native plants in their gardens and yards

Dolphins and whales would not be killed for food or “research”

No new invasive species will enter the country

More municipalities will embrace “green” storm water management strategies like porous pavement, rain gardens and bioswales

Pennsylvania gets a new governor

More climate change deniers are shown the light and start spreading the word about its dangers

When someone abuses an animal they get more than a slap on the wrist

More people decide to live a vegetarian lifestyle or at least cut way down on their meat consumption

Do you have any conservation-related hopes for 2014? If so, let us know about them. Thanks!

 

My Stance on Marcellus December 13, 2010

I am editor of a quarterly e-zine that deals with wildlife and conservation news and the fall issue’s theme is Energy.  The cover story was on Marcellus shale drilling and, as expected, it brought in many more letters to the editor than any previous article had.  So far most comments have been of the same sort – saying that the article is one-sided and pro-drilling.  We aimed to be as neutral as possible, mentioning some negative impacts to the environment while not directly calling drilling a bad industry.  I had to keep my personal feelings out of it; something that was VERY difficult for me to do.  That is the role of a good journalist, however: to remain impartial.  Yet I was so upset by some of the letters that I had to vent here and share some of my feelings about drilling in the Marcellus shale.  These thoughts in no way represent what my organization thinks; they are solely my own.

I did a lot of research for that article and even visited a few drill sites.  I will be honest, they were not as horrible as I imagined they would be, using my preconceived notions formed from watching “Gas Land” and reading various articles and non-profit organization websites.  But they still weren’t what I’d ideally like to see in a forest.  A lot of trees are cut down to build the pad site, the area is graded with heavy machinery, which will compact the soil (and once soil is compacted it is difficult to fix), and there were a lot of vehicles coming and going through the area.  It’s not a “natural” site, to be sure, and one that shouldn’t be built willy-nilly throughout the Commonwealth.

Friends ask me whether I am for or against drilling for natural gas.  That’s a tough question for me to answer.  The part of me that is a pure conservationist screams, “No! I am NOT for it!”, but the more practical side of me pauses and thinks, “Well, we need energy to power our daily lives. The natural gas question isn’t going away any time soon. Basically, it’s complicated!”  Do I wish we could put solar panels on every roof in the state and grow native grasses for biofuel? YES! In a perfect world we could make much of our energy using alternative sources.  If Germany and other European countries can do it, why not us?!  But in our current democrat fighting with republican world, that isn’t likely to happen, so what else can we do?  Does this mean we must drill for natural gas?  In the short-term, I think the answer is yes.  Is that the answer I like? No, not really, but unless we’re all willing to go back to lighting our homes with beeswax candles and taking a horse-drawn buggy to the general store (ask your kids if they’d be willing to give up their video game systems and tell me how that works!), we have to find some sort of energy source in the U.S. and in the short-term that probably means natural gas.

Am I a bad environmentalist for saying that? Perhaps. I’ve participated in a protest or two in my life but generally I’m not that hard-core and prefer to make change in a more constructive manner.  The Greenpeace-types of the world deserve big kudos for the difficult and sometimes dangerous work they do, but that’s definitely not my style.  I’m the kind of person that watches “Whale Wars” and thinks that sometimes the people are doing more harm than good when they sabotage the Japanese whaling ships, but I digress…

Back to Marcellus. Conservation of our natural resources is, in my opinion, the most important thing we as conscientious human beings can do.  Yes, we have to make money so we don’t starve, but once our basic needs are taken care of I think we have a responsibility to protect our natural world because it’s the only planet we have, our very health depends on it, and once something is destroyed or exterminated we can’t bring it back.  If companies are going to continue to drill for natural gas in Pennsylvania and elsewhere it needs to be done in a very cautious, science-based, enlightened way that takes into consideration the health of our forests, waters, wildlife, plants and people.  This is happening now, but in a piecemeal fashion.  We need more people, not fewer, out there inspecting sites, making sure companies are doing what they’re supposed to. 

So those people who wrote angry or concerned letters about the article, I hear you. I understand where you’re coming from in terms of your fears and worries. Pennsylvania was manipulated and trashed by industries in the past – think turn of the century loggers and coal mining, just to name a couple – and you can’t blame people for expecting the worst.  We need to have those people out there with very strong opinions and keen eyes to keep everyone in line, doing the right things.  I may not be allowed to picket a drill site (unless I want to lose my job), nor would I necessarily want to, but it comforts me to know that there are folks out there who are making sure our resource extraction – not just of natural gas, but of other energy sources and minerals – does as little damage to the environment as possible, until we reach the day when we can power our homes, vehicles and lives with something that does little to impact the Earth.  Keep up the good fight!