Tuesday, August 31, 2010

League of Women Voters to tackle bottled water

The Centre County chapter of the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters is holding a panel discussion on the effects of plastics and other chemicals on human health. One of our most consistent allies, Lydia Vandenbergh from Penn State's Office of Sustainability, will lead things off.

Plastics, Pesticides, and Pharmaceuticals: Understanding the Potential Health Risks to Ourselves and Our Children

State College, Pa—Did you know that many plastics, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals contain harmful chemicals such as BPA that can disrupt our hormone systems? What are these harmful chemicals and how can we protect ourselves and our children from them?
A panel discussion, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Centre County, will answer these and other questions. The panel discussion—which will be held on September 15, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. at the State College Borough Council Chambers located at 243 South Allen Street, State College, PA 16801—will feature keynote speaker John Vandenbergh, a professor emeritus of biology at North Carolina State University, who is an expert on endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) and their human health risks. Also, presenting research on remediation of EDCs will be Rachel Brennan, an assistant professor of civil engineering at Penn State, as well as the following local water officials: Max Gill, the executive director of the State College Borough Water Authority, Cory Miller, the executive director of the University Area Joint Authority, and James Baird, a utilities system engineer at Penn State. EDCs mimic or block the action of natural hormones in our bodies. Research suggests that they may cause a host of reproductive problems in animals and humans, such as cancer of the reproductive organs and the early onset of puberty. Babies and young children are particularly at risk.
Read the rest of the release here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The greenhouse is finished

Hey biophiles! Look! It's finished! Becky M went with her husband and attached the roof. It looks beautiful! I think we owe Becky and her family a lot of praise and thanks.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Responding to Nestle

3E-COE president Peter Buckland responds to a Nestle employee who has argued for bottled water in the campus paper.

To the editor:

Yesterday, Nestle employee Tom Uhl argued that “bottled water is actually a better environmental choice than other packaged beverages.” Newsflash: water is better for you than soda full of chemical additives and high fructose corn syrup. Uhl’s argument is a distraction.

From beginning to end, the more than 50 billion bottles of water sold in the United States wreak environmental, social, and economic havoc.

First, it takes 1.85 gallons of water to manufacture one bottle of water – more than 14 times the amount of water finally delivered in a 16 oz. bottle itself. Why waste so much water?

Second, bottled water is fossil fuel intensive through its production, transport, cooling, and its disposal. Why waste so much oil to move water around?

Third, with a national plastic recycling rate of between 17% and 20%, I hardly think that we can call this a good environmental choice. Why waste so much plastic?

Finally, bottled water commodifies a biological need. It puts water into a “beverage” (it is still water isn’t it?) for “on-the-go” people (what are we hamsters in wheels?) at a price 700 to 10,000 times that of municipal water. Who profits? Not local communities and economies and the bioregions in which they live. It lines the pockets of already excessively rich people who have no right to that water. Why waste the money?

So do your part – grab a reusable bottle or cup and drink essentially free water from our Spring Creek Watershed.

"The wisdom to follow nature’s example..."

These were my statements to the press today for the National Wildlife Federation's call for more sustainable action:

Thank you for coming today.

It is my great joy to say that the Centre region gifts us with abundant rainfall, mountain gap streams, deep wells, fertile soil for agriculture, gorgeous forests, and wildlife that brings rich experiences to all lives. As a modest gardener and naturalist (and I do mean modest), mountain biker, teacher, and father I love this place so much.

By disposition, I am an optimistic person. What isn’t to love about the Seven Mountains or the fields of the Penns Valley? Just go to Allen Seeger or Penn’s Creek and you will know what I mean.

But by forecasts and data, I am a pessimist. I doubt our collective ability to get out of this mess. As a nation, we are failing to act responsibly in the brotherhood and sisterhood of nations. As a wealthy community, much of whose wealth comes from the dizzying success of Penn State University, we are failing to act responsibly in the brotherhood and sisterhood of interconnected Pennsylvania communities. Why?

If you look at the data of the recent past and the experience of too many people in Pennsylvania and the American northeast you find troubling trends.
- Pennsylvania, according to an assessment released last year by Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Governor’s office, generates 1% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions though we only house a smaller portion of that global population.
- We see fish kills in rivers because of rising temperatures that make life great for fish parasites and awful for fish. Fishermen can tell you this. This is climate change in action.
- If you listen to farmers, like my Uncle Tony from Whitney Point, New York you know that hay crops come in almost a month earlier than they did in the 60s. And it’s not because of advances in fertilizers. Steadily rising seasonal temperatures.
- If you listen to the Union of Concerned Scientists you’ll see that temperature spikes caused by climate change hurt everything from the hemlock tree susceptible to bark beetles to dairy cows who have trouble thermoregulating in extreme heat let alone produce milk under duress. Many of us eat beef and drink milk. This will be a challenge.
- If you examine the wake of our fuel consumption, you see tragedy. Whether it’s the TVA coal ash spill almost two years ago, the Gulf oil gash and geyser, or the natural gas tragedies across the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and the delinquent companies that run them, we are confronted with the limits of our progress at the expense of people and the places where they live with the plants and animals that support them

All of these things align with the sad and quite certain statement contained in the National Wildlife Federation’s 2010 report.

Let us speak plainly. Poor and weak people and the non-human environment have paid, are paying, and will increasingly pay for our way of life. These may seem like radical statements but they are corroborated by too much data to be waved away.

If we want to live with something approximating the standards of living we enjoy, we need to act now to maximize our collective welfare in a way that stops doing what President Lyndon Johnson called an experiment with the atmosphere. This is no longer an experiment. Today, the United States plays a game of chicken with other “developing nations” that is running millions of humans off the road, runs over thousands of non-human species a year, and is in a collision course with the physical limits of our planet. The United States, for all its power and might, cannot overcome planetary physics. Nature limits us.

We rely on fossil fuels the way that dope fiends rely on heroin. We all do. In this room almost every piece of technology that we use relies on coal, natural gas, or petroleum. They will run out. Everyone knows this. You. Me. Ed. Dr. Mann. We all know. And yet we do not collectively act to change it knowing that we are driving ourselves right over an abyss. It’s like we are the alcoholics on the Titanic who’d rather fight for the last bottle of bourbon when we know that we can survive if we just drop it and get on the lifeboat…if we only knew where the lifeboat is.

I think we do know where it is. It is in a more sustainable way of life. To start, and only to start, it lives in the reduction of our dependence on the obviously disastrous path before us that will bring us to 600 ppm CO2. In part, that means a retooling of our national economy, our industry, and our education systems away from fossil fuels and focus them on the sources that have fueled organisms on this planet for billions of years – plants have harnessed the sun and birds and insects have taken flight on the wind and we all need water. With all of our ingenuity and intelligence, I hope that we can have the wisdom to follow nature’s example and sustain ourselves without eating ourselves, and the rest of nature, in the process.

Thank you. (Peter Buckland)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Let's follow one of our own through the process of teaching

Derek Luke was a member of both 3E-COE and EcoAction at Penn State. He now teaches in Alaska. Derek organized the PowerShift conference in 2009 at Penn State and so many other events. And he is not one to shy from risk...And as someone who is a perfect commodity for the globalized educational economy why not take a kid from Pennsylvania and move him to Alaska?!?

So let's follow him on YouTube! Here is installment #1:

Here is installment #2:

Installment #3:

Installment #4:

...and #5 is at this link.

An adventure for sure.

The National Wildlife Federation's "Extreme Heat in Summer 2010"

This in from the National Wildlife Federation:

The National Wildlife Federation has released “Extreme Heat in Summer 2010.” This summer is the hottest on record so far and a sign of more to come. The Eastern and Southern United States are especially suffering, with many states having one of their hottest summer months on record. A new analysis from National Wildlife Federation finds that summers like the current one could become the norm by 2050 unless steps are taken to curb global warming. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are on a list of those cities most vulnerable to heat wave effects as the planet warms. Approximately half of the residents in both cities have relatively high levels of vulnerable populations and low rates of air conditioning.

The analysis comes a few weeks after the U.S. Senate shelved action on comprehensive climate and energy legislation.

The State College community is better equipped than most to deal with extreme heat because most residents have air conditioning. However, many communities are not so fortunate. Our failure to take action on global warming will affect those who can least afford to deal with extreme temperatures. It is the poor, elderly, and those with health problems who will bear the brunt of the expected extreme heat events.

When: August 25, 2010, 10:30am

Where: Schlow Memorial Library, Community Room

Who: Dr. Michael Mann, Director, Earth System Science Center, Penn State University
Prof. Sylvia Neely, Creation Care Coalition, Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light.
Arno Vosk, MD, Fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians
Peter Buckland, President of Environment - Ecology - Education, Penn State University

Contacts: Ed Perry, National Wildlife Federation, Phone - 814-880-9593

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Reflections on Dirt! The Movie

In recent years, filmmakers of varying stripes have collectively released a spate of ecologically-minded films, including Food Inc., Fresh, Gasland, Blue Gold, Flow, The 11th Hour, and An Inconvenient Truth, to name only a few. This seeming plethora of films dealing with our looming global ecological crisis and its corollary, sustainability, led a journalist with Time Out: London to ask a rather pointed question: "can eco-films save the planet?"

Putting that question aside, and being the glutton for punishment that I sometimes can be, I sat down this evening to watch Dirt! The Movie, a film that, as the title suggests, is about soil. Given the tenor of similar films that I have viewed in recent months, I was expecting to once again experience two hours of familiar arguments regarding the industrial systems and institutional relationships that are slowly destroying our planet, one farm field and local economy at a time. I was also preparing for the emotional recovery I would need following said anticipated experience.

Dirt! did present arguments regarding how "our butts is in the ringer," to quote a friend of David Orr's, but only for a concise and pointed fifteen minutes. The remaining hour and five minutes of footage addressed human relationships to the soil, how to keep humans and the soil healthy, and what is being done to promote peace and responsible stewardship of our communities, land, and food.

The first half hour of the film is part microbiology lesson and part spiritual awakening, which is a combination of perspectives that I have found increasingly pleasant and enlivening in recent years. The argument presented, in short, is this: we, as humans, come from the soil, and the minerals in the soils came from the stars. Our relationship to the soil, therefore, connects us with ourselves, creation, and the cosmos. Furthermore, there is a proper balance to be struck in this relationship that has ensured, and might still ensure, the flourishing of life on this planet.

The majority of the last half of the film is a panorama of organizations and people who are striking that balance to foster better relationships between humans and the soil. The organizations include The Land Institute, Hearty Roots Community Farm, Cannard Farm, Navdanya Farm, Sustainable South Bronx, Tree People, The Edibile Schoolyard, Kinney Compost, Four Seasons Farm, and even some Harvard biology laboratories. Throughout this exploration of professional and community groups, there is a focused discussion of the principles that enrich the soil upon which life on earth depends. While enriching the soil, however, relationships between humans and the soil are strengthened, as are relationships between individuals and their communities.

I will close this post with an observation presented in the early minutes of Dirt!: in Hebrew, the name Adam means "dirt or clay," and Eve means "life." We are, in the words of a fellow biophile, "earth standing."