10 Things to Know by 10 a.m. – July 28

Oliver728a1. Climate change policies could hit California consumers at the pump early next year; come January 2015, gasoline and other fuels will fall under the state’s cap-and-trade system for reining in greenhouse gas emissions, and Californians can expect to see a jump in their gas prices that already register as the highest in the country.

2. Bees continue to drop like flies as their massive death toll reached 10 million since 2006, an estimated $2 billion loss for the United States. Agriculture in the U.S. depends on the insect to pollinate $15 billion worth of crops annually, a third of the food we eat, and is now working with the Obama administration to combat bee population loss. Star Tribune’s in-depth exposé here and here.

3. As the renewable energy industry grows worldwide, Triple Pundit released its “A to Z of Unusual Renewable Sources” this past week. The piece highlights use of everything from algae to chocolate to dance floors, among many others, to help produce and harness renewable energy.

4. Economists and environmentalists alike continue to ask one question about climate change: what is the cost of inaction? In a bipartisan effort to measure economic risks of unchecked climate change in the U.S., the following independent analysis American Climate Prospectus was released this month.

5. A two-year check in of NASA’s revolutionary green building in Mountain View this past week proved it to be the “greenest building ever built.” The building, a potential model for future architecture and smart home technology, produces twice as much energy as it consumes each year. Read Huffington Post’s coverage and interview here.

6. As environmental labels abound, it becomes easier and easier for consumers to make sustainable purchases…and for greenwashing to trick consumers. The good news? According to a recent study by Triple Pundit, the variety of tools is actually proving effective and sustainable purchasing continues to increase.

7. Last week, San Francisco played host to “Stories & Beer,” a fireside chat featuring Michelle Ferguson, VP of Marketing for Clif Bar, and Ben Mand, VP of Marketing for Plum Organics. Some talk highlights included food product companies moving towards organics, building consumer trust and total business transparency. In case you weren’t one of the lucky few to attend, here is a video of the panel discussion – sorry I couldn’t include the beer in this post.

8. New studies report that the United States rates only second to China in illegal ivory imports – and San Francisco could be one of the worst offenders, particularly Chinatown. The shattering statistics have U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife cracking down on ivory imports, implementing even stricter legislation and punishments. Currently, 96 elephants are killed a day for their tusks.

9. As global demand for cocoa is projected to grow $98.3 billion in 2016, CSR Asia and Oxfam joined together to address sustainability across the cocoa industry. Their research, Inclusive Business in Asia: A Study in Cocoa, calls for development of more inclusive business approaches to benefit “smallholder producers, consumers and participants” across the value chain.

10. With species going extinct every day, Russia decided to conduct an experiment to study weightlessness and the ability to reproduce, and sent geckos into space last week; unfortunately, they lost contact with the biosatellite. Despite Russia’s assurance that the geckos will continue to orbit safely (at least until they run out of food), the internet is up in arms and #gogetthosegeckos began to trend on Twitter.

Environmental Buzz Words

organicAdvertisers slap environmental buzz words all over their products, hoping to entice you as you wander around the grocery store. But now that “being green” is becoming mainstream, I think it’s time we all properly understand the eco-vernacular…especially when it comes to food.  Here are the top five eco-adjectives I’ve seen being tossed around, and what they actually mean.

Organic

Probably the most commonly used buzz word, organic refers to the process through which something is grown. For produce, it means it was grown free of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, GMOs, etc. For animal bi-products like meat or dairy, it refers to not treating with antibiotics or growth hormones. Be sure to look for the USDA organic seal here! But don’t let the label fool you, the term doesn’t address the conditions that the animals were raised in or if the process was environmentally friendly.

Cage-Free or Free-Range           

Both terms essentially mean the same things – the animals are not constricted to cages. But be wary here too, it sounds like they are free to roam about grassy fields for days on end, but the reality is far less pleasant. Most cage-free or free-range poultry is contained within a barn and has limited, if any, access to the outside. And because there is no third-party auditing, this term gets thrown around quite loosely.

Grass-Fed

Ideally, cattle would feed on grass their entire lives, but corn and grain are far cheaper to produce and often become the majority of a cow’s diet. Nutritionally, grass-fed cattle produce beef with less saturated fat and more nutrients than grain-finished beef. Grass-fed beef ensures that the animal has an grass-and-hay-only diet and has access to a pasture year-round. Just like organic, look for a USDA seal here as well.

Sustainable

Here is perhaps the most vague of all the eco-buzz words. Sustainable is NOT a certified label or official policy. It can be used to refer to anything from an environmentally-friendly growing structure to an energy efficient production method to eco-friendly packaging. The term is an ad hoc device, a catch-all used in marketing to appear “greener” and rally consumers’ support.

Local

Local food, be it produce or otherwise, refers to food produced or grown within a certain distance of you as a consumer, the thought in this being that consumers are pledging support for your local economy and cutting down on your food’s carbon footprint. Unfortunately, there is no set definition of what distance qualifies something as local – so use the term as a clue to check where exactly the food is coming from and then decide about your purchase.

I know all these definitions seem rather skeptical, but I think it’s important that consumers are wary of the products they purchase. Supporting better products, means better products will be provided – it’s simple supply and demand. So demand food that’s not only good for your but also good for the environment.

Suburban Backyard Chickens

chickens

Sorry for the hiatus – I spent most of November and December locked in the library finishing up my thesis. After that I spent my winter break bouncing between informational interviews in San Francisco and taking care of chickens…yes, you heard that right, chickens. And that’s actually what I write about.

First, allow me to preface this post with the fact that I am afraid of birds. So when I agreed to pet sit for my new neighbors, I assumed I would just be feeding some fish or scooping a litter box – not letting five chickens out to roost and collecting eggs. I mean, who keeps chickens in their suburban backyard? Apparently quite a few people do…and for good reason.

As it turns out, chickens are an incredibly environmentally friendly pet choice. First, just look at their eggs. Not only is it convenient to wander into your backyard for fresh eggs, but those eggs have virtually no carbon footprint. Talk about a “local” food source! Not to mention, they’re downright delicious. Plus, because you’re raising the chickens yourself, you know what the chickens were fed and what their living conditions were. Organic, cage-free, whatever – it’s more than just a label on a package.

But, to my surprise, chickens offer more than just eggs. The birds are scavengers and can be fed much of your kitchen waste (though I don’t recommend feeding them leftover pot-pie if you know what I mean). For those of you who don’t have a compost collection, this is a great alternative to help keep scraps out of landfills. Plus, at the other end of the spectrum, chicken waste is an excellent and nutritious fertilizer for your garden.

Who knew chickens were so green?

Now before you go out and get a few chickens, I will warn you there is a time commitment associated with them. You’ll need to feed them, let them out in the morning, put them in at night and clean their coop. Plus, I would do some research on which variety of chicken you want – what size works best for you, what type of egg production do you want, etc. After my experience, I would recommend a heritage-breed variety; they’re not only beautiful and quirky, but they’re threatened by modern production standards and their numbers are beginning to dwindle. Forget about them as an entrée and start thinking about chickens as pets.

Better, Greener Beer

bar-growler-w650From shopping to Starbucks to cheesecake, we all have our vices – after all, we are only human. For me it’s all about a good beer. And with the growing popularity of growlers, my good beer vice could actually be good for the environment…okay, well it’s not as bad anyway!

For those of you who have yet to get on board with the growler trend, or have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, allow me to make my case. A growler, as seen in the picture, is a squat, 64-ounce sealable container that you can get filled with your choice of beer at a variety of refill stations or breweries. The growler gets sealed with CO2 and stays fresh for up to three weeks, or three days once opened.  But why should you choose a clunky jug-o-beer over the classic six-pack you can pick up at 7-11 around the corner? Here are some reasons, to name just a few…

Less Waste

You use a refillable water bottle, why not a growler? Choosing one washable container will quickly cut down on the number of 12-ounce bottles or beer cans cluttering up your kitchen and recycling bins. Plus, you don’t have to rummage through your drawers looking for that pesky bottle opener.

Think Local

Most growler refill stations offer up a wide selection of beers, many of which are local crafts or microbrews. Beer produced closer to home and on a smaller scale has a significantly smaller carbon footprint (or water ring?) than a common domestic beer. Supporting local businesses supports your local community. It’s a win-win really.

Cost Effective

I’m not going to lie and say that growlers are super cheap, but they’re cheaper than you’d expect. Growlers generally run about $8-14 a refill, which isn’t any different than a pitcher of beer at bar or buying a local 6-pack at a specialty store. Not to mention that you don’t have to pay those darn bottle recycling deposits.

Better Quality

This part is both blatantly opinionated and fairy self-explanatory. Growler stations and tap houses have a wide selection of beers so you can choose the beer that’s best for you. Or, you can do what I did, and mix a couple beers together – chocolate espresso stout and pumpkin ale any one?

So let’s raise a glass, or growler, to better, greener beer. Cheers!

The IPCC – They’re Kind Of A Big Deal

melting-ice-floating-490x250

So for those of you who come to my blog for your environmental news (which, in hindsight, would be a terrible idea for I post far too irregularly to properly do the topic justice – sorry folks), I decided to provide you with a little bit of current events. Today, September 27th, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released part of its fifth climate change assessment – the full, 2,000-page document to go public this coming Monday. How’s that for current?

Now, this assessment is actually a really big deal. The IPCC is made up over 800 scientists from around the globe and they get their facts from over 9,000 publications. Pretty much, they’re about as reputable as they come. So what new and, regrettably, depressing conclusions did the IPCC come to? Among them the following:

“Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.”

How is this new information? you may wonder. Well it really isn’t but the more facts and studies we have to back up this claim, the more likely people are to come to their senses and realize the severity of our situation.

The IPCC did, however, come up with some new information. For starters, they said they didn’t expect to see the increase in temperature slowing down in the next 15 years, as many reputable studies have been suggesting, but rather that the warming is going to be going on long beyond that. On a more optimistic note, they also released the first established budget for the amount carbon that can be released into the atmosphere…though, regrettably, we are already more than half way through that quota…

Okay, that got a bit depressing. But this really is exciting news guys, promise! We live in a cynical society; I can admit that because I too am a cynic. But having official assessments like the IPCC’s is where we start to validate our concerns. Having the international community join together to brainstorm and hold each other accountable? That’s a start. That’s progress. That’s the seeds of change.

In An Instant

YosemiteSelfie

Flashback to four years ago when I decided I wanted to be an environmentalist – all because of a little trip to Yosemite National Park.

No, this blog post isn’t my typical eco-friendly and slightly optimistic rant; rather, it’s more of an obscure nugget about the author…me. But I figured, as the Rim fire inches closer and closer to Yosemite, I should pay tribute to my endangered environmental motherland and try writing something a little different.

I was a senior in high school and my only experience with “roughing it” was sleeping in a tent in the backyard. Don’t get me wrong, I had always liked being outside, but I elected to take an environmental science class to see the outdoors, to learn what it was I had been missing. That’s what brought me to Yosemite; a week of camping and hiking, of learning and being outside my comfort zone. One week is all it took. Actually, one moment is all it took. There I was, standing on the valley floor, surrounded by El Cap and Half Dome and the falls…

To some, the valley blocks out the rest of the world, but to me it was more than that. It was as if Yosemite had swallowed me whole. This sense of awe coursed through my veins, an overwhelming feeling of being consumed by nature. I had never felt anything like that before.

Here was this geographic masterpiece, so bold and so big that it could change my sense of being in an instant…and yet still so vulnerable. In that moment Mother Nature thrust perspective in my direction, but she also awarded me with a certain sense of responsibility. I’m not just talking about protecting the Ansel Adams, John Muir hotspot from the current blaze; I mean something so much bigger than that.

At the time I was considering being a journalist because I wanted to give a voice to the voiceless. My trip to Yosemite let me know just whose stories I was supposed to help tell. And so began my employment by Mother Nature.

Petri Dish Patty

Screen Shot 2013-08-18 at 8.41.17 PMChicken or fish? Man, how I wish choosing meat was simple as it is on wedding RSVPs. Now you’re flooded with options like organic, hormone-free, cage-free or some other alternatives even I don’t fully understand. But what if the stores start carrying another option? Yes, like so many others right now, I’m talking about vitro meat.

I’m sure you heard of the alleged $330,000 hamburger tested out two weeks ago. And if you didn’t initially hear about the petri dish patty, I’m sure you heard the outcries coming from everyone from environmentalists to consumers to politicians. But in the midst of the sea of opinions, the facts are a little fuzzy.

First, let me just clear something up. Not every hamburger is going to cost $330,000 – it’s a concept in its infancy right now, and though that may seem obvious to some, you’d be surprised how many people are fooled by the price tag. Paying that much for a burger is impractical…but so are our current rates of meat production.

How impractical you may ask?

In the US, 70% of all our grain production goes to feeding livestock. Right now to produce one pound of beef, a farmer would need at least 13 pounds of grain and 2,500 gallons of water. That is an inefficient system…and that’s not even looking at the environmental concerns. Livestock currently accounts for about 20% of the world’s green house gas emissions, and livestock runoff is the largest water pollutant in the US.

Close to ten percent of Americans are (or have been) vegetarians – it’s obvious we’re starting to care about where our meat comes from. Regardless, we can’t seem to kick this hamburger habit, and I think that’s where petri dish patties and test tube tacos is going to come into the picture. A few cells from a cow can produce 10 tons of meat. Now that is an efficient system…once we get the price down in 10-15 years.

I wouldn’t consider myself a vegetarian or a vegan, actually I wouldn’t even put a label on it (though perhaps in saying this I’m inadvertently labeling myself as a hipster), but I care about where my food comes from. I don’t eat meat unless I know where it came from, and call me crazy, but I think vitro meat might be a decent a solution. Yes it seems far-fetched and science-fiction-esque, but let’s celebrate the innovation here. We’re making something out of practically nothing…something I wouldn’t mind smothering in barbeque sauce on a bun.