December 2, 2013 § 24 Comments
In 1984 the local garbage hauler launched curbside pick-up of recyclables in our town. We were issued a small blue box for glass, big blue bin for co-mingled recyclables, gray bin for yard waste, green bin for garbage. It’s a good feeling to get everything all sorted out.
How are we doing? Official statistics look good. In 1992, 9 million pounds of material was “repurposed.” This past year, 62 million pounds. Yeah!
Wait. What does “repurposed” mean?
1. Glass: The machines which sort glass are expensive. Our town doesn’t have one. Best case: glass is crushed and used as drainage material or for roads. Usually it goes to the dump.
2. Plastic: Most is sent to China for recycling. Last year China announced a new Green Fence policy, and stopped taking all but the cleanest, tidiest bales of plastic, and only certain types. If it there is a number 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 on the bottom of a container, China won’t take it, so it’s probably getting dumped in a landfill.
3. Cardboard: Has to be clean. Greasy pizza boxes with cheese stuck on them? To the dump.
4. Block styrofoam. This has never been picked up curbside, but for awhile there were places willing to take it. Not now. Everybody’s storage spaces are full of the stuff.
Luckily, several local breweries offer a waste-free option to drown our sorrows with while we contemplate next moves.
How goes the recycling efforts in your town? Time to lose ourselves in the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch?
September 5, 2013 § 18 Comments
To the Traffic Sign Wizards in Eugene: We’re still waiting…
Spot the “bicycle crossing” signs:
Curb cutout for bicyclists:
Time for the annual appeal to the city Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator and the Assistant Traffic Engineer to beg for better signage on this bicycle route. Join me! It just takes a few clicks. Here’s a link to the City of Eugene’s Transportation Department web page, with e-mail links for bicycle and transportation coordinators: https://www.eugene-or.gov/index.aspx?NID=487
July 11, 2013 § 10 Comments
Canola ban clears Legislature
I’m flag waving today because round 1 in the Willamette Valley canola battle went to the specialty seed farmers, a group that consists largely of smaller-scale operations. Grass roots politics work!
Canola is an all right crop — just don’t bring it here. Businesses from all over the world order Willamette valley seeds, many varieties of which are organic. Canola was banned in a 3.6 million acre portion of the valley because it cross-breeds with other plants in the same genus (mustard, cabbage, kohlrabi, turnips, broccoli, brussel sprouts and kale and more), and is susceptible to, and spreads, disease and pests. Also, 95% of it is genetically modified, although this wasn’t part of the official fight against it. The other problems were enough.
I wrote earlier (Rapeseed, Gas vs. Grass) about an underhanded attempt by the Oregon Farm Bureau (good friends of Dow Chemical, Syngenta and Monsanto) and the Department of Agriculture to pass an under-the-wire “temporary exception” to the ban on canola. Temporary, of course, would haven meant an opportunity for canola to spread and become permanent.
Thanks to farmers who showed up for hearings, organizations like the Friends of Family Farmers who spread the word, and volunteers who wrote to legislators and attended rallies, the Oregon State Legislature just banned canola in the valley until 2019, and allocated money to study the effects of canola on other crops.
A sweet victory for Oregon seed farmers, and for those of us who fear we can’t make a difference. We can.
June 27, 2013 § 7 Comments
At last report, the Oregon Department of Agriculture was accepting comments on whether to allow canola, a.k.a. rapeseed, in the 3.7 million acre protected agricultural zone in the Willamette valley.
Canola can legally be grown in much of the state, but the protected zone is home to a $50 million/year specialty seed industry, and genetic purity drives the business. Canola cross-pollinates with other crops, spreads easily and is notorious for transmitting disease and pests, so it’s a problem here. Also, although you won’t find this mentioned in official reporting, 95% percent of canola is genetically modified. In Oregon, the Department of Agriculture doesn’t distinguish between GM and natural canola, hence no official discussion of the matter, but the truth is, once Round-up Ready canola mixes with other brassica, it is darn near impossible to get rid of it.
Last fall the Oregon Department of Agriculture issued a quiet, some say sneaky, ruling (at 5 p.m. on a Friday night) allowing a temporary exception to the ban on canola, so farmers can grow it as a rotation crop and, with state and federal energy tax credits, to press as an oil for fuel. Seed growers feared, with good reason, that temporarily admitting canola would mean a de facto end to international demand for organic cauliflower, broccoli, cabbages, mustards, kohlrabi and other brassica seed crops.
At a public hearing in September, 99% of the speakers, including biologists from Oregon State University, opposed allowing canola in the valley. Funny thing — while representatives from the big GM seed companies didn’t testify at the hearing, it’s hard to imagine a few weren’t around for the annual Farm Bureau Classic, a golf tournament sponsored by Monsanto, DOW and Syngenta, which was held the day before.
The Department of Agriculture issued a ruling allowing canola into part of the protected area. Undeterred, specialty seed crop farmers, biologists and activists kept the pressure on, and this week the Oregon House, rebuffed the Department of Agriculture and passed HB 2427, which would prohibit canola in the valley until 2019, and provide money to Oregon State University to study the risks of cross-pollination and disease. It now moves to the Senate. If this is an issue you care about, contact your (or an) Oregon State Senator, a.s.a.p! Here’s how. For more information: see Friends of Family Farmers, and The online research magazine for the Oregon State University Agricultural Experiment Station
June 14, 2013 § 6 Comments
The other day friends and I were having lunch, when we got into a lively and heated discussion about state budgets, public pension funding and unions. Afterwards, we hugged and one friend said, “I’m glad we live in a country where we can talk about what we believe and nobody will throw us in jail!”
That’s probably true for us, white, flag-waving, not very political women with Protestant-sounding names.
What if your views don’t line up with the State Department’s?
In 2010, in the case of Holder v. Humanitarian Law, the Supreme Court for the first time, ruled that free speech in the form of any kind of advocacy for a black-listed group, is a crime; that is, it is against the law to provide “material support” to any group that the State Department designates a terrorist organization. Material support includes humanitarian aid, advice, “services,” “political advocacy,” and “coordination.” Suspected violators are subject to raids on their homes, “special administrative measures” which is a nice way of saying solitary confinement for indefinite periods of time without trial, time in a “super-max” prison or a notorious “communications management unit,” facilities designed to isolate violent criminals.
Don’t worry if you’re a judge, T.V. commentator, wealthy businessman, former mayor of New York, former governor of New Jersey or former White House advisor. The rule doesn’t to apply to you.
If, however, you are an ordinary person who supports workers in Columbia, if you’re a Muslim, or if you send money to a Palestinian aid group, or speak out against wars in the Middle East, or publicly oppose NSA surveillance of your phone calls and e-mails, beware.
Here’s the story of former NSA computer program designer William Binney, when he raised his head a little too far in protest of NSA surveillance.
March 26, 2013 § 27 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 § 3 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 § 10 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