March 26, 2013 § 24 Comments
It is prohibited to employ weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering.
It is prohibited to employ methods or means of warfare which are intended, or may be expected, to cause widespread, long term and severe damage to the natural environment.
Geneva Conventions, 1977 Amendment, Article 35, Protocol 1
In a hospital in Fallujah, Dr. Samira Alani records new cases of birth defects and cancer. She’s seen a sharp increase in the number of miscarriages and babies with birth defects like hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”), neural tube defects (“open back”), extra limbs, tumors, elongated heads and other deformities, some that don’t even have a name. Since 2009 she’s recorded 699 cases of congenital birth defects. The numbers are highest in areas that were targeted in bombing raids.
What’s the cause? Studies point to depleted uranium, lead and mercury left behind by bullets and bombs.
A toxicologist writes: ”Our research in Fallujah indicated that the majority of families returned to their bombarded homes and lived there, or otherwise rebuilt on top of the contaminated rubble of their old homes. When possible, they also used building materials that were salvaged from the bombarded sites.” She and other scientists tested hair, teeth and blood of children living in areas bombarded in 2004 and found elevated levels of lead and mercury in children with birth defects.
With no official system for registering cancers and birth defects, and no support from the Iraqi government, Dr. Alani works pretty much alone, documenting a tragedy. “I will not leave this subject,” she told a reporter. “I will not stop.”
The war in Iraq might be officially over, but its legacy will haunt us for decades.
December 7, 2012 § 15 Comments
Oregon voters! Where were you? Gone the pioneer spirit? Gone the 1970′s sheen from being the first to charge a deposit on bottles and cans? Washington State beat us to the punch and legalized marijuana.
We take the lead on this kind of thing. Remember?
- First to institute gas taxes to pay for roads,
- First to declare all beaches in the state open to the public,
- First to require land use planning by cities.
- We pioneered the Oregon Health Plan to cover uninsured people,
- We were the first to legalize physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill,
- First to make elections vote-by-mail,
- First to make cold medicines (aka methamphetamine ingredients) prescription drugs.
Marijuana? Pah. We’ve always been out front in the battle to empty jails of tokers. We were first to decriminalize it, and second (after California) to legalize medical marijuana. Despite handwringing and predictions of doom, the world did not end. We’re royalty when it comes to states that pass scary, don’t-you-dare legislation. Or at least we were …
How could we let Washington (and Colorado!) take away the scepter?
This calls for a little motivation. Hmmm. I know! Brush off the Oregon State Song, to remind us what kind of stock we’re made of:
Oregon, My Oregon
Land of the Empire Builders, Land of the Golden West;
Conquered and held by free men, Fairest and the best.
On-ward and upward ever, Forward and on, and on;
Hail to thee, Land of the Heroes, My Oregon.
Land of the rose and sunshine, Land of the summer’s breeze;
Laden with health and vigor, Fresh from the western seas.
Blest by the blood of martyrs, Land of the setting sun;
Hail to thee, Land of Promise, My Oregon.
If that didn’t rouse the blood, here’s an inspiring rendition:
Never mind the part about ‘land of sunshine.’ We don’t need sunshine to be brave anyway. Just put on the galoshes and macintosh, and head down to the jail the next time a batch of violent criminals is let loose because the county has run out of money.
You can’t make something illegal that grows like a weed. Well OK, we did make it illegal, and KEPT it illegal (ahem), but it’s still the biggest industry in the state. You call that success? Get the smokers back to their bongs and out from behind bars so there is room for rapists, robbers and murderers.
I’m not saying marijuana is benign. It’s not. It’s a drug, like alcohol and nicotine are drugs. I’m not saying I’m a marijuana fan, either (tried it in college. YELCH!), but the state has better things to do than chase after potheads and people with cancer, and we Oregonians have a reputation to uphold.
October 27, 2012 § 2 Comments
Plastic Bag Ban Update: The City council banned plastic bags this week. Not all plastic bags, just checkout counter bags, the ones that look like this:
Not covered by the ban: plastic bags on rolls in the produce section …
… plastic bags for meat and the thicker bags you get at clothing stores. Stores are also required to charge 5 cents for paper bags.
Judging from letters to the editor, some people are pretty upset. One writes he won’t shop in our town anymore. Another that the nickel charge for paper bags will hurt low income people, and that paper bags are worse than plastic ones. Another writes that the number of bags in the rivers and oceans is exaggerated and asks why we should ban one kind of plastic if we aren’t going to ban all plastic? Someone else complained about having to wash reusable bags.
What a bunch of hooey. Forget the bickering about whether the city was right or wrong. We don’t need throwaway bags. Bring your own. Use them many times. Toss them in the washer with your socks. It’s easy. Once you get used to it, it’s fun.
KEY: buy bags you like. Don’t invest in any old thing. Any woman who carries a purse will tell you, if you hate your bag, you won’t use it. Three recommendations:
- String bags. Like a Volkswagen Beetle stuffed with clowns, you can fit an astounding number of things into string bags. They are inexpensive, washable and last forever. Store clerks like them. People ask if you’re from Europe.
- L.L. Bean bag. This is an investment. It starts at about $25 new, but like the string bags, these babies last for decades. Because they have sturdy sides, clerks (and you) don’t have to fiddle with holding them open when loading up, very handy at farmer’s markets. The bottom is steady enough to support cartons of eggs, berries and other delicacies. I like the long-handled version which can be carried as a shoulder bag.
- Lightweight, see-through mesh bags. My grocery store sells 3B Bags, but there are several brands out there. They weigh next to nothing, are washable, durable, and inexpensive. Use these, and there is no need for the produce bags on a roll.
Don’t wait for a city ban. Bans start fights about the law rather than discussions about sensible solutions. Move the lowly shopping bag up in the world to something worth a little thought and investment. We need fossil fuels and trees for more important things.
What do you think about the bag fights? Do you use re-usable bags? Any favorites?
Earlier post on ins and outs of the bag war: http://holdouts.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/bag-lady/
October 11, 2012 § 4 Comments
Week 24 in the quest to cycle 104 times this year.
The weather report says that today is the last in a long line of late summer days.
Tomorrow brings rain.
How many of us cyclers greet this news with mixed feelings? Leaf blowers are already corralling leaves into the bike lanes in anticipation of the city pickup, which won’t happen for another two months. It’s kind of fun to roll through the leaves when it’s dry, but once the rain starts, look out.
Today we ride. Tomorrow we slide.
I’m considering, in my quest to cycle 104 times this year, starting to count walking as the same as bicycling. Isn’t the point to just get out of the car?
Ah, but walking takes so long.
I take solace in the graffiti garden …
… which is tucked next to a field of wild fennel,
behind the jail and the train tracks …
… which reminds me that next summer, probably, coal trains will be chugging through the city. The county commissioners vote next week on whether or not to allow coal trains through town. The coal will be headed for the coastal town of Coos Bay for shipping and processing overseas. Four trains a day, up to 150 open cars each.
Coming soon to the fennel field: a veil of coal dust.
|This is not what people usually mean when they call Eugene Track Town|
Coos Bay needs the 165 jobs the coal trains will bring. Get a community desperate enough for work, and worries about air pollution count for nothing.
Pedal on. Here, a small consolation, a sign next to the bike lane:
Are you ready for winter? How do you feel about coal trains, and coal in general? Any solution to the city’s leaf recycling program, which leaves (pun not intended) bike paths treacherous for weeks?
Update on the quest to bicycle 104 times in 52 weeks. Week 24: rode/commuted twice. Grand total: 63 (15 rides in the bank).
September 19, 2012 § 7 Comments
It’s a standoff.
In one corner, canola growers.
In the other corner, seed producers, opponents of genetically modified crops and fresh vegetable farmers.
In Oregon it’s a long-standing feud.
For the last decade or so, Oregon’s Department of Agriculture weighed in by prohibiting canola from being grown without special permission on 3.7 million acres in the Willamette Valley.
Why? Canola likes it here a little too much. It’s a good rotation crop that doesn’t need to be watered, which means it grows like, well, a weed. It takes off quickly, and happily cross pollinates with other members of the brassica family, including grasses, radish, turnip, mustard, rutabaga, cabbage. This is fine for farmers who need to give fields a rest with an alternate crop, or are looking for a quick buck with an off-season crop. It’s not so good for the $32 million a year specialty seed business, which depends on 100% pure and untainted seeds. Unlike most agricultural states which focus on a crop or two en masse, say corn or soy, Oregon farms produce over 200 crops, many grown for seed, which is internationally famous for high quality and purity. If you’re a fan of saving seed species diversity, this valley is heaven.
Canola is a problem for organic farmers. About 90% of the canola grown in the U.S. is genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides. Canola’s prolific cross-pollination means that unintended crops end up with GM genes, and organic farmers lose their licenses if their produce is crossed with a GM crop. The USDA doesn’t make a distinction between GM and non-GM canola, so Oregon’s Department of Agriculture doesn’t either, and offers no relief.
GM canola’s tendency to spread beyond its fields also causes problems if farmers re-plant tainted seeds, even if they do it unknowingly. See Monsanto v. Schmeiser. Why? Because once a company creates a genetically modified plant, all its offspring are the private property of said company, forever and ever. It sounds a little like me taking credit for my son’s senior college project, but whatever. Farmers have been sued. Courts have ruled in company-creators’ favor.
If all that isn’t enough, canola attracts cabbage maggots, is susceptible to stem cankers and black mold rot and other insidious plant illnesses, which then spread to other crops.
This issue, like all issues, is complicated. There are different kinds of canola, which is actually a variety of rapeseed, used throughout history for lamp oil, but until recent incarnations, too bitter for food. Recently developed strains are now usable for animal and human food, produced from the seeds. The name in fact comes from the abbreviation Can. O. L-A (Canadian Oil Low-Acid).
Anyway, on with the story. Canola’s well-documented problems were taken note of by Oregon’s Department of Agriculture, and a relatively small slice of the state was set aside as canola-free. All is well, right?
Enter biofuels. Rapeseed oil, it turns out, works pretty well as a biofuel, and so the pressure to open up more acreage to GM canola heated up. Permits for test plots in Rickreall and Baker were issued, with 3-mile protection zones set up around them, and all went well, according to the canola growers. Then the Department of Agriculture tried to pull a fast one.
On Friday, Aug. 3, just before 5 p.m. the department sent out a news release announcing that they were going to “refine” (i.e. shrink) the no-canola zone. Temporarily. (Making it temporary allowed the department to sidestep public notice or comments.) Planting to begin immediately.
Oregon, however, is not a state of slackers. Within days, seed growers, farmers and environmentalists filed suit against the temporary ruling. Over 10,000 people signed a petition asking the department to hold its horses. 23,000 people world wide signed the petition, which gives you an idea of how much people care about this, everywhere.
Given the immediacy of the question, the Oregon Court of Appeals granted a stay to the temporary rule (i.e., in favor of the no-canola plaintiffs),
which will be in effect until …
… the newly drafted permanent rule, which makes the temporary “refinement” of the no-canola zone immutable, takes effect. Follow all that? Translation: canola will be allowed into the protected zone unless in the coming month public pressure convinces the Department of Agriculture otherwise. This time the hearing will be public: 9:00 a.m., September 28, Salem, Capital building. Comments also accepted up to Oct. 5 via e-mail or by mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mail to: Canola Hearings Officer; ODA; 635 Capitol St. N.E.; Salem, OR 97301.
As with so many of the things we care about these days, the jury is out. Will canola be grown in Oregon’s protected agricultural zone? Does the need for fuel outweigh the need for untainted seeds and crops? Can canola be grown safely in areas where cross-breeding crops are grown? To be continued …
Sources: http://www.newsregister.com/article?articleTitle=seed-growers-sue-oregon-over-canola-expansion–1345144694–4358–apnews, http://www.opb.org/news/article/court-will-rule-on-growing-canola-in-oregon/, http://www.culinate.com/articles/sift/canola_oregon, http://www.friendsoffamilyfarmers.org/?p=1622
August 28, 2012 § 4 Comments
Anyone else turning off the radio and TV when presidential campaign ads or stories come on? Seems like a waste, considering how much money is spent on campaigning these days, but the content is so empty and repetitive, it isn’t worth watching.
As awful as the process is, I’m having to remind myself that it works, and not always in favor of the people with the biggest checkbooks. Here’s a template from the not too distant past when Republicans and Democrats, loggers and conservationists, righties and lefties teamed up.
Opal Creek Wilderness Area
The Opal Creek Valley includes 50 waterfalls and the largest contiguous portion of low elevation old growth left in Oregon, a remnant of the forests which once covered the western part of the state.
Starting in the 1840′s, the area was mined for gold, copper, zinc, lead and silver.
It was included in the first Wilderness bill in Congress in 1967, but didn’t make it into the final version.
In 1980, a 6’8″ Bunyan-esque* District Ranger of the Detroit Oregon region, Dave “Chainsaw” Alexander, vowed to “cut Opal Creek.” Soon after, the Forest Service laid boundary markers to clear cut the area, but the sale was halted in 1982, when (future Mayor of Salem) Mike Swaim brought a lawsuit against it. Opal Creek was included in the 1984 Wilderness bill, then pulled at the last minute by Republican Senator Mark Hatfield. A 1989 fight to make Opal Creek an Oregon state park spurred the production of an Audubon video, “Rage Over Trees.”
Industry opponents got advertisers to boycott the film, so Ted Turner showed it 6 times on his network, without commercials.
Local activists like George Atiyeh (nephew of Republican Governor Victor Atiyeh), Michael Donnelly and Jerry Rust worked to keep the issue alive, and were joined by Republicans like Oregon Logger of the Year, Tom Hirons. As public pressure grew, Mark Hatfield arranged for a group of conservationists to meet with industry representatives and a mediator from Willamette University. The upshot was a Hatfield-sponsored bill designating Opal Creek a Wilderness area. It passed in 1996.
Tens of thousands visit every year. The Opal Creek Forest Center runs education programs, an outdoor school and backpacking trips for kids, and old logging camp cabins are available to the public for rent.
It is spectacular.
If you have stories about political successes, or just want to commiserate about the politics this season, I’d love to hear from you.
April 20, 2012 § 13 Comments
Could there be an image more iconic than a big ship docked on a small island? As the world remembers the Titanic, and as images of the sinking of Carnival Cruise’s Costa Concordia fade …
…a friend and I found ourselves sitting on a sea wall in Kralendijk on the Island of Bonaire, watching a cruise ship dock.
Visitors disembarked and scattered, many to the buses and taxis to be driven around to beaches, boat tours or to scuba dive. Some just rode around to see what’s what.
Later in the day everybody got back on the boat and just before sunset the ship sounded a long, mournful toot and sailed away. The tents came down, restaurants opened, all was quiet and low-key and everybody was happy.
Or were they? Just below these sunny doings, the ecosystem is being rerouted.
The island is about 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela, 26 miles from tip to tip and about as wide as an airplane strip. Unlike it’s popular neighbors Aruba and Curacao, until recently Bonaire was considered mostly good for salt production.
Scuba divers knew better, quietly cherishing the reefs, teeming with tropical sea life, the 100 foot water clarity and easy accessibility from the shore.
- 1 million gallons of “gray water” from sinks, showers, laundries and galleys
- 210,000 gallons of “black water” or sewage from toilets
- 25,000 gallons of oily bilge water
- 100 gallons of hazardous wastes (including perchloroethylene from drycleaning, photo-processing wastes, paint waste, solvents, print shop wastes, fluorescent light bulbs, and batteries)
- 50 tons of solid wastes (plastic, paper, wood, cardboard, food waste, cans, and glass)
- Air pollution from the ship’s diesel engines equivalent to thousands of cars
For many years cruise ships paid to have raw sewage dumped inland on Bonaire, but as evidence mounted that sewage was seeping into the ocean, destroying coral reef and polluting the water (see Sponge Blog), the Dutch and Bonairean governments (Bonaire is a Dutch municipality) funded an improved sewage disposal system, which went online in 2011.
- Is it enough? Probably not, but more data needs to be collected. Volunteers are monitoring seawater around the island, and its companion, the uninhabited island Klein Bonaire. Funding is tight.
So much at stake. Not only does Bonaire have one of the healthiest marine ecosystems in the Caribbean, it is also one of four places in the world where flamingos nest …
… and may be the last best hope for the Yellow Shouldered Amazon Parrot (see “Parrots of the Caribbean” http://mag.audubon.org/articles/travel/parrots-caribbean)…
… and uncountable unique and fragile ecosystems (see WorldKid’s Blog, on orchids). As Bonaire is discovered by more people, construction is proceeding apace, and tensions mount between those who want to preserve Bonaire’s natural bounty, and those anxious to capitalize on Bonaire’s natural bounty.
Must we bend every wild and beautiful place to suit the tastes of people like me, who want the upsides, warm weather, beautiful beaches and natural surroundings, without having to deal with inconveniences?
It’s one thing to make ourselves safe and comfortable, to have the opportunity to explore new places and to relax. It’s another to acquiesce to the idea that in order to explore and relax, we must also subscribe to the idea that the highest good and best way to judge any enterprise is whether it makes a profit.
I was overwhelmed by the beauty of this island, and sad that it seems unlikely we’ll be able to save the way it is for future generations.
Maybe this is how it is supposed to be. Maybe we are here on the earth to change it, to gobble it up a like a yolk sac, but the trouble is, we don’t really know. We are plowing ahead, hoping for the best. Talk about faith in ourselves. I am not a scientist or a Bonairean, not a professional or a politician. All I can do is witness, and wonder, so I will.
For a list of environmental projects on Bonaire, and how to donate to them see Support Bonaire
March 29, 2012 § 5 Comments
“The truth? You can’t handle the truth!” Jack Nicholson as Col. Jessup in “A Few Good Men”
In July, 2010, a Houston Mom named Bettina Siegal wrote an article in her blog: One Burger, Please, Extra Ammonia and Hold the E. Coli, an expose on Finely Textured Beef, a.k.a. pink slime. She followed up in early March 2012 with a petition requesting that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack remove pink slime from school lunch menus: Let’s Put a Stop to “Pink Slime” on School Lunch Trays. Eight days later, she’d collected over 200,000 signatures, and things started to change.
By mid March, the USDA announced schools could opt for ground beef without filler. Supermarkets and fast food restaurants began to cancel orders, and a processing plant was threatened with closure. Bettina’s life turned upside down. She was inundated with calls from the press, offers of interviews for national news and on T.V. She’d tapped into a monster of frustration that was ready to spring. She was as surprised as anyone.
Back on the ranch, meaning my house, friends and I ping-ponged over the Internet about this new hullaballoo. The R’s wrote (I’m paraphrasing, actually quotes much more ahem colorful) there’s nothing wrong with pink slime, it’s treated beef, just like all the other beef we eat, and we have no right to keep people who want to eat it, mostly people who are poor who can’t afford Grade A, from eating it.. The D’s wrote this is a massive failure of the USDA regulation, which is dominated by corporate money.
Who is correct?
A recap: pink slime starts with leftover trimmings (fat, cartilage, tendons and meat bits), and is usually contaminated with e coli and salmonella. In the past these were relegated to scrap heaps or used for dog food. In response to public demand for affordable hamburger, a researcher for a company called Beef Products, Inc. figured out a way to separate the beef bits and other things from the fat (heat and spinning in a centrifuge), and then decontaminate it with an infusion of ammonium hydroxide gas. The name pink slime was coined by a Department of Agriculture scientist in an e-mail to a colleague, later leaked.
Yuck. Sounds like the evil CAFO industry doing its work.
So are my R friends right? Ye-e-s… So are the D’s.
Ammonium hydroxide is used to kill the pathogens in Finely Textured Beef. It sounds awful, but ammonium hudroxide has a seal of approval not only from the USDA, but also from the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization (WHO). It’s added to baked goods, cheeses, chocolates, caramel and puddings. How much is too much? I don’t know, and can’t find an answer, but until then, have no grounds to argue with WHO.
How about the beef itself, infested with e coli and not too long ago considered fit only for dogs?
This “filler” has been around since the 1990′s, and if you buy ground beef, low fat hot dogs, pepperoni, lunch meats, frozen entrees, meatballs or canned foods, you’re eating it. Are you grossed out by pink slime? Stop buying these products.
How good of a job does the ammonium hydroxide do in decontaminating? Not so great. A little too much ammonia and the product smells bad. Too little and you don’t kill the e.coli and salmonella. Beef Products, Inc. has had to recall batches: Safety of Beef Processing Method Is Questioned
Are USDA regulators overly influenced by industry? Judge for yourself: The USDA approval of Finely Textured Beef was pushed through in 1991 by G.W. Bush’s USDA undersecretary Joann Smith, reputedly known for this quote,”It’s pink, therefore it’s meat”. She had a long and distinguished career in the beef products industry, which included a stint as the head of the National Cattlemen’s Association (pre-USDA) and as a member of the Board of Directors of none other than Beef Products, Inc after leaving the USDA.
Joann Smith, Image source: http://www.florida-agriculture.com/agwoman/smith.htm
Should pink slime be out of school lunches?
I think so (GO BETTINA), but we’ve whittled down school funding so much that filler-free beef might be out of reach for many school budgets. Not necessarily bad if it means we ease kids away from burgers, but nobody is suggesting that, at least not on a large scale. Schools that can’t afford 100% ground beef may well opt for the cheaper stuff with pink slime.
So where does this leave me? All of us? Are we having a moment of truth, a face to face with our agricultural industry? Are we saying we don’t want cheap hamburger, pepperoni and low fat hot dogs? The next time we see that tempting package of ground beef on sale will we say wait! Let’s buy lentils instead?
Or are we just, temporarily, grossed out?
Either way, hats off, kudos and a huge thank you to Bettina for her dedication to kids and her willingness to put herself and her family in the spotlight. She inspired me to do a lot of hard thinking and reading, and might just have sparked a revolution. Disclaimer: I’m no expert in the field, and appreciate the complexity. Feel free to send corrections, additions and updates, and check out Bettina’s blog: The Lunch Tray
March 5, 2012 § 7 Comments
Oh ye plastic baggers, the day of reckoning approacheth?
The other day I dutifully brought cloth bags to the grocery store. While I was chatting with the checkout clerk, a bagger packed things up. ”Have a nice day!” she said and smiled, setting the groceries in a cart.
Everything, including my cloth bags, were bagged in plastic.
Serves me right you say? I should bag my own damn groceries? All right. Let’s not anybody not get their danders up. I smiled back and said, “Thank you.”
But there we have it, the plastic grocery bag, icon of American wealth and folly. There is momentum toward banning them. City councilors in our town of 150,000 recently gave the go-ahead for a draft ordinance banning single-use plastic bags. Portland, Oregon, the nearest big city, recently enacted their own plastic bag ban. Others in the club: San Francisco, Austin, the big Island in Hawaii …
… And there is a veritable storm of anger, science, art and righteousness coalescing to defend or do away with the polyethylene prince.
In one corner, the (villainous?) plastics manufacturers …
… represented by Stephen Joseph, who points out that because most reusable bags are made overseas and most plastic bags are made in America, bag bans kill American jobs. He doesn’t believe that consumers use reusable bags as often as they should. The bags get dirty, so people don’t want to use them for food. Also, while plastic is a huge problem on land and sea, it is only a tiny portion of the total waste stream. http://www.sfgate.com/cgiin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/12/03/INC81LA627.DTL#ixzz1oHFunur4
In the other corner, the bring-your-own baggers …
… like Andy Keller, founder of a multimillion dollar company, ChicoBag, which sells trendy reusable shopping bags. In the photo above Andy is wearing his Monster Bag outfit, made of 500 bags, about the number used per person per year in the US. He tracks laws banning bags and publicizes information about the harm they cause to the environment.
Mr. Keller was recently sued by three plastic bag companies, Hilex Poly Co. LLC, Superbag Operating LTD. and Advance Polybag Inc. for “irreparable harm” to their business. He is philosophical. ”When you get sued for trying to make a difference in the world,” Keller says, “you must be doing something right.”
There are controversial studies like this one:
“…a draft report by the Environment Agency, obtained by the Independent on Sunday, has found that ordinary high density polythene (HDPE) bags used by shops are actually greener than supposedly low impact choices.
“HDPE bags are, for each use, almost 200 times less damaging to the climate than cotton hold-alls favoured by environmentalists, and have less than one third of the Co2 emissions than paper bags which are given out by retailers such as Primark.” 2/20/11, http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/plastic-fantastic-carrier-bags-not-ecovillains-after-all-2220129.html?action=Popu
The researchers studied seven types of bags and the pollution caused by each of them via extraction of raw materials, production, transportation and disposal. They concluded that cloth bags are less damaging to the environment than plastic if you use them 171 times, but that most use their cloth bags only 51 times. Paper bags? You have to use them four times. This report was scheduled for publication in 2007 but is sidelined while it is peer-reviewed, or perhaps, as bag lovers claim, because of a conspiracy by environmentalists who can’t take the truth.
- There is a question of money. If grocery stores stop offering plastic bags, they will have to have reusables available. Should they charge a lot, making people value them less and thus more likely to throw them away before their 171 uses? Or charge more, and make people mad?
- We can go around and around about public policy and economics, but in the end, common sense must prevail.
We don’t need a new plastic bag for every apple we buy. Most of us have access to washing machines, and can keep cloth bags sanitary. We are, like it or not, part of a waste stream.
Here’s the rule: Use grocery bags 172 times. Yikes! Really? Really. No excuses. Use them for about a year and a half. Nobody is going to be counting for you, not if we want to keep the American Way strong and healthy. Need something for dog poop? Use compostable poop bags. Five bucks for 50. If you can afford a dog, you can afford these.
Need something to line the garbage pail in the kitchen? Newspaper works fine. So does no lining at all.
It’s not easy. Most things ahead of us aren’t. We had a great run with our plastic bags. They are light and convenient and just disappear into the garbage trucks at the end of the week — right to the landfills and the treetops and into albatross gullets.
No need to wait for a city ordinance. Attach yourself to some fine quality bags, and use them. Keep in mind though, you might have to help with the bagging.
February 21, 2012 § 5 Comments
If you’re like me, you’d rather not know the gloomier facts about how food gets to us. I like to buy food at a good price and just eat it.
Sometimes though the hard facts leak through. Take chocolate. It’s practically a staple at our house and I’d prefer not knowing anything dark about chocolate except its color. 72% dark is ideal, but I’ll go all the way to 85.
It was hard to hear that the industry uses child slaves. The reporter of this sad fact was one of our children, a middle schooler at the time, who’d been assigned to study the country Burkina Faso.
One of the poorest countries in the world (average per capita income $300), Burkina Faso, along with other poor countries in the region, is a source for child slaves for the cocoa business.
The issue is numbingly complex. The drivers of the cocoa business, Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM, Fortune 500), Barry Callebaut and Saf-Cacao, buy from local traders who mix beans from many growers, so it’s difficult to (cheaply) source where beans come from.
70% of the world’s cocoa is grown in Western Africa, mainly in Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon. Much of it comes from small family farms where children work alongside their parents.
Many child workers, however, are not family. Some arrive voluntarily, looking for better lives. Some, about 200,000 a year (2002 Sustainable Tree Crops Program of the Institute of Tropical Agriculture of Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Nigeria report), are brought forcibly from neighboring poorer countries like Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo and Benin. Most are paid poorly or not at all. Conditions can be horrific.
“The children work under inhumane conditions and extreme abuse, working with sharp machetes and poisonous sprays, from 6 in the morning, till 6 at night…One ex-child slave said 18 children were locked into a 24 X 20 foot room, sleeping on a wooden plank. A small hole was just big enough to let in some air, but they were forced to urinate in a can.” http://www.tropicpost.com/child-slave-labour-and-the-chocolate-industry/
A boy who was beaten after he tried to escape:
In 2001 Congress passed a law requiring that US companies voluntarily stop buying from farms that use slave labor.
Several companies jumped on board.
Others dragged their feet:
It’s tempting to lay all the blame on the corporations who bring us chocolate, but as long as people like me opt for cheap stuff and ignore how it gets to us, the big companies will also keep ignoring where it comes from.
Thanks to steadfast pressure from political activists, including thousands of bloggers, there is progress. After being threatened by the International Labor Rights Forum with exposure on the Superbowl Jumbotron this year January, Hershey’s declared it would certify its Bliss chocolate bars under Rainbow Alliance standards.
Let’s keep it up. If you can afford it, try Trader Joe’s Fair Trade chocolate:
Rather than its unsourced Belgian chocolate:
Look for chocolates with the Fair Trade label:
Note that there are several levels of “fair trade” ratings. For instance, the Rainbow Alliance certification that Hershey’s opted for with its Bliss chocolate is only a level 3 certification: it prohibits use of slave labor, but doesn’t protect worker rights to organize, doesn’t agree to a price floor and only 30%of the ingredients need to be certified.
Here’s a handy chart to figure out what all the “fair trade” labels mean and what brands are most likely to have come from farms that use slave labor:
For inspiration, watch this January 2012 special report (excerpt below):
The more I know, the easier it is to dig deeper into the pocketbook rather than reach for the cheapest thing on the shelf.
What is your favorite chocolate? What is the best Fair Trade chocolate? Have you struggled with the issue of sourcing food or have first-hand reports on the child-slavery/chocolate connection? I’d love to hear your stories and learn more.