Of Course

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is now reporting that certain chemicals found in public drinking water supplies might be linked to the act of hydraulic fracturing, a method used to extract natural gases from the earth. Well, duh! The contamination of drinking wells in close proximity to sites of hydraulic fracturing has been studied, criticized, and disputed by the energy companies for many years now; and the appearance of certain telltale chemicals in drinking water has long indicated the guilt of the fracturing companies.

As I shared with you earlier last month, these companies are protected from adhering with the Safe Drinking Water Act, which binds any polluting action from being carried out in or around public drinking water supplies, by a loophole provided by the Bush Administration in 2005. Also, since that loophole was instilled, the powers of the E.P.A. have been restricted, and their ability to investigate water wells for contamination from natural gas drilling has been removed. Also, a trade secret loophole assured that energy companies did not have to publicly reveal exactly what chemicals they used in the process of hydraulic fracturing. Thank you, again, Mr. Cheney.

But a recent discovery of chemicals associated with natural gas drilling in people's drinking water in Wyoming has raised the issue once again, and the E.P.A. has found its own loophole- the Superfund Program. The designation of a site as a Superfund gives the E.P.A. extended sovereignty over the testing and rehabilitation of that area. In the case of the Wyoming water wells, they have the power to investigate chemicals found in drinking water, as well as to subpoena information from the energy companies- allowing them to access the data on what chemicals are being used and in how much abundance.

The agency is currently investigating whether or not the wells are indeed contaminated by fracturing chemicals. So far agricultural poisoning is reasoned out, as no pesticides or herbicides were found among the harmful chemicals; as were common household cleaners, whose chance of contamination is "less than one in a million," according to Dole Ward, and independent water specialist living in Wyoming.

It would not be the first time that fracturing companies stood guilty in the face of the public. Although never proven guilty in a court of law, the Canadian company Encanca has settled out of court with many residents surrounding its drilling sites, and has even bought residents' land and supplied them with fresh drinking water from a separate source, after a woman suffering from poor health found many dangerous contaminants in her water.

It is a terrible shame that local residents of Wyoming have lived with such detrimental components in their water. If the E.P.A.'s findings prove the guilt of hydraulic fracturing, however, it could mean monumental changes in the policy affecting the practice. Perhaps the currently proposed amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act, which would call for the accountability of the energy companies in terms of public health safety and environmental responsibility, would be passed and made into law; preventing the further contamination of our water wells and reservoirs, and giving us the peace of mind that our water is clean and safe... ahh, now that would be refreshing.


Flower of the Week

They say that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but why should something need a name to be enchanting? The flowers in his bouquet, which I gathered with my sister at the southern tip of Staten Island, are no doubt labeled by some means of scientific nomenclature. But to me, they are simply elegant. They were given to my mother as a gift, and their beauty made her just as happy as any extravagant assortment would have. Hope they do the same for you!



World Water Week

According to statistics collected by the U.N., there are approximately 880 million people worldwide who live without access to a safe drinking water source. EVERY DAY about 5,000 children die from water-borne illnesses related to poor sanitation and a lack of access to clean drinking water, and every year 2.2 million people die from the same cause. By 2030, the number of people living in areas of severe water stress could rise to 4 billion. This enormously detrimental predicament is being addressed by human rights advocates, development and aid agencies, and local initiatives which fight to have water declared as a human right, implement reliable water system infrastructures, and to promote sustainable water use, so as to stifle and prevent further suffering related to this dire human need. The problem is also being addressed by private companies, who seek to earn large profits from the growing global scarcity of fresh water drinking supplies. It has already been estimated that the global water market is worth nearly 250 billion dollars, and that figure is set to rise to a staggering 660 billion by 2020. Basically, there is a lot of money to be made off of the commoditization of our survival. In order to prevent the privatization of water, the most basic necessity to human life, it is imperative that human rights organizations work in conjunction with environmental groups to address the situation at hand; and this past week a global meeting of a variety of stakeholders proved to be an excellent example of such benevolent cooperation.

Last week was marked by a seven-day convention of over 2,500 parties from 130 countries, representing 175 different organizations, all gathering in Sweden to address the world's most urgent water-related issues. The Stockholm Water Symposium was organized by the Stockholm Water Institute, and featured a variety of workshops, lectures, and discussions which focused on water security and provision in terms of development, aid, sustainability, and public health. The global summit offered up an environment within which both contrasting and corresponding state policies would be examined and analyzed, and solutions to the world's pressing needs would be presented. Regarding the availability of water as a natural resource in relation to its comparative uses, many nations from both the industrialized and the developing world were presented with the effects of their agricultural practices. Similarly, the unregulated pollutants in drinking water, such as wastewater, pharmaceuticals, endocrine disruptor's, herbicides and pesticides were discussed across country lines; as well as the power of farm lobbyists in effecting policy. In terms of solutions, several ideas and initiatives were discussed, including the formation of plebiscites demanding water as a basic human right; water as a public trust, an idea supported by the U.N. senior advisor on water issues, Ms. Maude Barlow; and ecosystem restoration, which is an emerging movement spreading wide across the globe in hopes of establishing clean and safe watersheds for the benefit of our ecosystems and our drinking supply.

Also this week, a report was publicized at the symposium by the water advocacy organization Circle of Blue, indicating that people worldwide view water issues as surpassing the threats of climate change, becoming the most crucial environmental problem to face humanity. The desperation, disease, and death which are caused by a lack of access to clean drinking water and healthy sanitation practices were seen by a majority of the 1,000 respondents from 15 different countries to be a fundamental human concern. The most prominent facet of this concern, according to the survey, was water pollution and the public health crises that emerge from a lack of proper sanitation. Water scarcity was also a top priority for the respondents. The results varied by state, which developing countries showing greater concern for water issues in general. With most all of the environmental efforts within industrialized nations seeming to revolve around climate change in recent years, the results of this survey prove to be a startling glimpse at the immediate plight of human beings around the world.

And in terms of climate change, the participants in the Stockholm Symposium released a statement last week directed at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, where world leaders will meet to reach a resolution on a global cap on greenhouse gas emissions. The statement asserts that water must be considered as an integral facet of climate change and its effects, and states that "water is a key medium through which climate change impacts will be felt. Managing the resource effectively, including through well-conceived IWRM [Integrated Water Resources Management] approaches and at a trans boundary level, is central to successful adaptation planning and implementation, and to building the resilience of communities, countries, and regions."

The Stockholm Symposium is the second gathering to address water issues in 2009, the first being a forum organized in March by the World Water Council which included governments, water utility companies, and groups associated with environmental research and education. The forum was widely criticized by activists who claimed that the forum was exclusionary and promoted private interests moreso than advocating for the earth and the world's poor. The Stockholm International Water Institutes' program, conversely, was celebrated for its global perspective and its focus on real issues. Hopefully the convergence of participants at this massive gathering will result in resonating thought and policy geared towards water sustainability and improved access to safe drinking water at no charge to those who need it. The next World Water Week has already been set for September 5-11, 2010. Mark your calendars!


Bigger Better Bottle Bill

Earlier this year, a landmark environmental bill passed in the New York state senate with a vote of 32 to 20, and was signed into law by Governor Patterson. The Bigger Better Bottle Bill added a 5 cent refund to those consumers who choose to return their non-carbonated plastic water bottles for processing at recycling centers, adding bottled water to the list of consumer beverages which could be returned in this way. The cash reward offered an incentive for individual recycling which undoubtedly helped to prevent plastic water bottles from piling up in landfills and littering New York City's streets and beaches. The bill also included a provision which required distributors to return 80% of unclaimed deposits to the state, a measure which would generate $115 million in revenue for New York, a state which is currently facing a deficit of $2.1 Billion.

The decision reached by lawmakers in April was almost immediately blocked by those in the bottled beverage industry. In June, the state was sued by several groups, including Nestle Waters North America and the International Bottled Water Association. In addition to opposing new labeling requirements, the plaintiffs argued that the compliance deadlines for new implementations were too constricted, and that exemptions for sugar-water beverages such as Gatorade and other sports drinks were unconstitutional.

The complete passage of the bill was stalled until April of 2010 at the earliest, and environmental groups who had spent years advocating for its passage were deeply disappointed. But good news came quickly, as Monday a decision from Federal District Court Judge Deborah Batts called for the immediate enactment of the expanded law, following an appeal from the state. Her ruling has ended two months of legal disputes over the issue, and has again allowed for the recycling of single-serve plastic water bottles for a cash incentive.

But how much good will this new law really do for New York's recycling efforts? Although now 80% of the unclaimed deposits will be rerouted into the state budget, many environmentalists, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., are opposed to the idea that the funds from recycled products would not be given directly to statewide environmental movements, instead being directed into an obscure account within the New York State budget. They argue that the bill will do more to hamper recycling efforts within New York than to encourage them. This remains to be seen.

And does this expanded law redeem the bottled water industry? Hardly. In fact, according to Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, 90% of the environmental impact of bottled water is inflicted before it reaches the consumer. If you take into account the oil used in manufacturing the plastic bottles, and in shipping and refrigerating the final product, recycling the bottle seems to be a meager counteraction. The NRDC released a report which stated that the 43 million gallons of bottled water received by New York City annually from the European Union results in approximately 3800 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year. That is the equivalent of 660 cars running continuously all year long. And that is only from the E.U. New York recieves bottled water from many countries around the world.

I would like to congratulate the New York State Senate, Governor Patterson, and more recently Judge Deborah Batts, for passing the expanded bottled bill. It is a commendable stride in the direction of sustainability. However, we still need to find an alternative to single-serve packaged water. We MUST continue to TAPIT!


Flower of the Week

Flowers are precious. They exist to delight our souls with their beauty and their delicacy, reminding us of the similar beauty and fragility that we experience within our own lives. They lift our spirits and rejuvinate that pleasant warmth which swims around within us. They never cease to make us smile, and in our volatile world they are truly a saving grace. We give them to our partners, to remind them of our love; we give them to police officers, to remind them of our oneness; we give them to those who are sick, to remind them that life is a beautiful gift. I would like to give one flower each week on my blog, to remind us all that despite the disheartening nature of many of the world's realities, there is still so much beauty and magic that exists all around us, and that we should never, ever take it for granted. So here is my first flower of the week. It is from the rose gardens at Washington Park, in Portland, OR. I was there with my partner, and stunned by the graceful bushes surrounding us. It was romantic, colorful, and oh-so floral! Truly delightful, and this beauty was the crowning jewel! Hope it makes you smile :-)


[Not So] Enthusiastic for Plastic

The dominion of disposable plastic products may soon be coming to an end. Several countries and even certain cities within the U.S. have initiated a total ban against plastic shopping bags, while many supermarkets and other shopping outlets are offering incentives for costumers who choose to bring their own reusable alternatives with them to the store (BYOB- bring your own bag!). In similar cases, some local governments are considering further pressure to slow or halt the distribution of plastic bags by placing heaving taxes against them. There are also some grassroots movements working hard to reduce the production and usage of single-serve plastic water bottles, such as the national Take Back the Tap campaign, and NYC's own TapIT local campaign. These movements are supported by the growing popularity of reusable water bottles, like the nifty, BPA-free Kleen Kanteens, of which I happen to be a user :-) Citywide recycling and composting programs are also taking off, proving to be both cost-effective and environmentally sound for those who still choose to purchase single-serve water bottles and other recyclable plastics.

These are all extremely important steps towards ensuring the health and safety of our world's ecosystems and natural resources, especially in light of a recent discovery of a floating island of garbage, found in the Pacific Ocean. It is twice the size of Texas by some reports, twice that of the continental U.S. by others, consisting mostly of discarded and non-biodegradable plastic products. The pollution of our world's oceans is far more critical than we might have guessed, and it is both entirely our fault and entirely our responsibility to fix it. Already there are at least 400 oceanic dead zones; areas of water that are so heavily polluted that they contain hardly any oxygen and therefore cannot support sea life- at all. We are making it increasingly difficult for our fish, who nurture and feed such a large portion of the human population, to survive in any kind of habitable environment. And besides global warming and the increasing taxation of industrial over-fishing, the most prominent offenders to the oceans' situation are, not surprisingly, plastics. They are so destructive, in fact, that even the United Nations has called for increased regulation of plastic bags.

Besides the amendments we make to our own personal consumption, there are larger groups working to undo some of the damage inflicted upon world's oceans, and they have proved to be nothing short of heroic. Nextek Limited, for example, is a company that is based out of the UK and Australia, and is doing some really impressive stuff to counter-act plastic pollution. Although it boasts a variety of noble projects, the company's primary purpose is to process and recycle polymer plastics in a sustainable and responsible way, from discarded bottles and mixed plastics into clean, safe milk bottles and other products. By far their most impressive work is done at sea, where they collect the materials they need in order to forge these recycled gems. They sustainably gather floating plastics from the surface of the south Pacific ocean, while at the same time returning any accidentally captured sea life to the water. They then process the plastics in order to decontaminate them and subsequently recycle them. To read their full story, follow this link to Positive News.

How amazing! Congratulations to these benevolent and innovative businessmen who've created such a fantastic answer to plastic! They can't single-handily drain the ocean of its estimated 4 million tons of plastic pollution, but they have certainly set the bar in terms of environmentally-oriented social entrepreneurship.



I've always considered myself to be a bit of an old-fashioned gal (despite my newfound lust for blogs and the blogging world.. ;-). I'm one of those you might refer to as a technophobe: when something electronic malfunctions, my first, usually only response is to turn it off and turn it back on again. I prefer re-heating my leftovers in a pan rather than in a microwave; hand-sewing and knitting my own clothing; using maps instead of GPS and bicycles instead of cars; and I simply don't understand the need for such silly portable devices as the i-phone (no offense, technophiles, but that's just me).

With that being said, I've recently purchased and perused Technopoly, a book written by Neil Postman in the early 1990's. I thought that it would be a great fit as my newest conspiracy-theory indulgence read; and although the book is somewhat dated, I felt that my distrust of all things technological would be vindicated through its relevant socio-cultural data. In fact, the book turned out to be a relatively accurate and compelling rundown of our limitless submission and consecration to the ubiquitous power and pervasiveness of technology. Really, it was much more of a serious account than I expected it would be, and a very haunting sign of our shifting cultural times.

I'm halfway through the book now, and thought that it would be a good idea to share some excerpts from it here (I think that good literature should always be shared).

Here is the first, about the beginning of the information revolution:

As the twentieth century began, the amount of information available through words and scriptures grew exponentially. With telegraphy and photography leading the way, a new definition of information came into being. Here was the information that rejected the necessity of interconnectedness, proceeded without context, argued for instancy against historical continuity, and offered fascination in place of complexity and coherence. And then, with Western culture gasping for breath, the fourth stage of the information revolution occurred, broadcasting. And then the fifth, computer technology. Each of these brought with it new forms of information, unprecedented amounts of it, and increased speeds (if virtual instancy can be increased).

What is our situation today? In the United States, we have 260,000 billboards; 11,520 newspapers; 11,556 periodicals; 27,000 video outlets for renting video tapes; more than 500 million radios; and more than 100 million computers. Ninety-eight percent of American homes have a television set; more than half our homes have more than one. There are 40,000 new book titles published every year (300,000 worldwide), and every day in America 41 million photographs are taken. And if that is not enough, more than 60 billion pieces of junk mail (thanks to computer technology) find their way into our mailboxes every year.*

From millions of sources all over the globe, through every possible channel and medium- light waves, airwaves, ticker tapes, computer banks, telephone wires, television cables, satellites, printing presses- information pours in. Behind it, in every imaginable form of storage- on paper, on video and audio tape, on discs, film, and silicon chips- is an ever greater volume of information waiting to be retrieved. Like the Sorcerer's Apprentice, we are awash in information. And all the sorcerer has left us is a broom. Information has become a form of garbage, not only incapable of answering the most fundamental human questions but barely useful in providing coherent direction to the solution of even mundane problems. To say it still another way: the milieu in which Technopoly flourishes is one in which the tie between information and human purpose has been severed, i.e., information appears indiscriminately, directed at no one in particular, in enormous volume and at high speeds, and disconnected from theory, meaning, or purpose.

ALl of this has called into being a new world. I have referred to it elsewhere as a peek-a-boo world, where now this event, now that, pops into view for a moment, then banishes again. It is an improbable world. It is a world in which the idea of human progress, as Bacon expressed it, has been replaced by the idea of technological progress. The aim is not to reduce ignorance, superstition, and suffering but to accommodate ourselves to the requirements of new technologies. We tell ourselves, of course, that such accommodations will lead to a better life, but that is only the rhetorical residue of a vanishing technocracy, We are a culture consuming itself with information, and many of us do not even wonder how to control the process. We proceed under the assumption that information is our friend, believing that cultures may suffer grievously from a lack of information, which, of course, they do. It is only now beginning to be understood that cultures may also suffer grievously from information glut, information without meaning, information without control mechanisms.

*I would just like to point out that this book was written nearly 3 decades ago, and that the torrent of information assailing our lives has undoubtedly grown enormously since then.... just something to think about the next time you update you open your inbox, or turn on Fox news!



Omnipotent Olympic

Look what I found! Olympic National Park, where I just recently spent three glorious days camping, hiking, and basking with my boyfriend, was featured today in the article "The Top Ten Best National Parks You Don't Know About." Well, in fact, I do know about it and... sigh... will forever reflect back nostalgically on the peace and majesty that I found there.

Never in my life have I witnessed such rapidly changing topography within a day's travel. We spent our first night camping in an old-growth forest on the edge of the Pacific coast, and woke up within a 5 minue walk of the ocean. From there we hiked through a temporate rain forest, cooled off in a glacial river, hugged some of the tallest sitka spruce and cedar trees in the world, walked over a powerful waterfall, and rode along the edge of a deep mountain lake which offered generous vistas to delight any soul. We finished our day with 17-mile climb in our budget rental up the side of a mountain, to witness the sunset over hurricane ridge. It was silent as we watched the sun disappear over the ridges of the Olympic mountains, with no one nearby but grazing deer in moutaintop meadows to keep us company. The two of us communicated in the quiet air over the shadowy peaks, the sleeping giants whos pride and majesty filled the valleys like water rushing into a pool, bathing us and overcoming us with their power.

This is a place where nature still reigns, and the sheer size of it all- nearly a million acres- is at the same time both inspiring and daunting to any single person on foot. It was a humbling experience for me to be amongst the ancient roots and ecosystems; being my tiny self in such a big world. Now I'm back in New York again, and the steel, branchless frames loom over my head in place of the proud sitkas- but I'm happy still, because I retain the peace that I gained from what I now recognize as a spiritual retreat, and anticipate eagerly when I will again be emersed in my natural world- to bask in wonder at the beauty of the earth.

I'm so happy that I saw this article this morning! For the rest of the day, my soul and my mind will have drifted across the continent and are back on the left coast, dozing peacefully in the crsip fresh air of the Pacific Northwest. mmm...


Bacon as a Weapon of Mass Destruction.

READ THIS ARTICLE! It was written by Arun Gupta for the Indypendent, and is an impressive chronicle of all of the processes and consequences surrounding America's addiction to bacon. It comprehensively touches upon such exigent topics as factory farming, COFAs, swine flu and other infectious diseases, nutritional health, the fast food industry and our larger food system, and ties them all together as they are inextricably linked both to each other and to our well-being. I have yet to see a better account of the meatrix that we live in, or a better explanation of why bacon's prevalence in our society indeed makes it a weapon of mass destruction.

Find it here ~> http://www.indypendent.org/2009/07/23/bacon-as-weapon/