Wasting Away

There are many criticisms of America: fat, corporate-driven, uneducated … and the list could go on. One very real criticism is how wasteful we are, especially when it comes to food.

It’s said less people are cooking and more are eating out, and we tend to throw out a large portion of the produce we do buy because it goes bad—or so we think.

In an article titled “Spoil Alert” Whole Living writer Elizabeth Royte says, “Confused by expiration dates, ‘sell before’ dates, and ‘best before’ dates, most people err on the side of caution. We toss food because it looks a little bruised, because we’ve bought too much of it, because we’ve forgotten it’s hiding behind the tamari bottle, and because it’s gone bad.”

Royte is right. Wastefulness isn’t just throwing away good food, it’s throwing away money. Royte states that putting that food in landfills costs $1 billion each year.

But, there’s yet another big issue here: the environment. In landfills, food waste decomposes and generates methane, which has more than 20 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

So essentially, wasting food isn’t just a waste of the effort to produce it, but also the money we spent on it, the money municipalities spend to get rid of it, and the harmful effects it has on the environment. I think it’s safe to say I’ll be eating all of the vegetables on my plate from now on.

Greener Gifting

I came across some good tips for having an eco-friendly holiday in the December issue of Whole Living.

Some recommendations are to give gifts that aren’t a waste — like many stocking stuffers, buying items that use less packaging, and get TVs and video games systems that have the Energy Star label.

But more than the gift itself, the wrapping paper can be the real waste. Whole Living’s suggestions for alternative, greener wrapping include using newspaper, or re-using gift bags. This reminded me of ways my Mom and I would wrap presents when I was a kid. We would definitely re-use gift bags (and still do) but there were a few years my Mom got me to wrap our presents using paper grocery bags and paint.

Of course Mom was doing this more for crafting and saving money reasons, but I think it’s still a great idea for eco-friendly wrapping. All you need is newspaper or paper grocery bags and some finger paint or any kid-friendly paint (assuming your doing the activity with a child) in Christmas colors.

Once you have those items and the gift, you have the perfect ingredients for making a wrapping masterpiece. Simply cut the paper or bags so that it’s just enough for the present you’re wrapping. Before wrapping, use green and red — or whatever colors you like — to decorate the paper. As a kid, I would always do my hand print in green and red all over the paper.

Then, when the paint dries you’re free to wrap the gift and top it off with stickers or any other decorative bows you may already have. It’s not only greener and cheaper, but also a fun! And your gift receivers will surely appreciate their custom wrapping.

The Fluoride Fight…Continued

Last week I wrote about the fluoride debate taking place in Columbia, Missouri. This week I want to discuss the reaction to the story I did for KOMU about that debate.

Here is the link to the video story: Local Advocates and Protestors of Fluoride Deeply Divided

And here is the link to the web story and viewer comments.

As you can see by the comments at the bottom, which wind up taking more space than the web article itself, this issue really is deeply divided.

I know I discussed last week how it’s important with any complex issue such as fluoride for people to do their own research and decide for themselves. Connie Kacprowicz, with Columbia Water & Light, and Amy Bremer, the resident protesting fluoride, also made this point to me during their interviews.

I bring up the issue again because reading all of the comments shows how vital researching is for environmental issues.

One person commented: “The only real way to ‘preventable dental decay’ is for everyone to lower their sugar consumption, increase nutrition dense foods instead of ‘dead foods’ and practice proper oral hygiene; then tooth decay will decrease significantly. That’s what’s happened in Europe. Why do we insist on band aid solutions when the real solution is staring us in the face?”

Another writes: “Studies show that fluoride reduces cavities an additional 20-40% over and above the use of other sources of fluoride. That mean big savings in dental bills. ‘Mass medicating’?! What is all this hysteria! Please, the EPA has authority over fluoridation and considers it safe for humans and the environment.”

And these are only two of the 29 comments.

I struggled to really dive deep into this story because the issue is so polarizing. I wanted to remain unbiased and to not bring out the side that I agree with any more than the other side. What was also disappointing was my inability to further explain the issue because of time. In broadcasting, time is everything and my story was already over two minutes. This meant I didn’t have time to use the graphics showing other cities in Missouri that recently stopped using fluoride in water. I think in environmental reporting, however, this added information is important for the viewer.

By taking into consideration all of the controversy surrounding this story, I’m hoping I can do a follow-up story once the city makes its decision in February and go even further into the issue.

Something In The Water

Adding fluoride to the water supply is a practice that began in the United States in the early 1950’s to prevent cavities and tooth decay. It’s been widely debated ever since.

The debate continues here in Columbia, Missouri, where some residents are proposing for the city to stop fluoridation. Their reasoning is fluoride causes many more health risks that outweigh the dental benefits. Some of these health risk claims include “acute toxic hazard, such as to people with impaired kidney function, as well as chronic toxic hazards of gene mutations, cancer, reproductive effects, neurotoxicity, bone pathology and dental fluorosis.”

Now, I didn’t understand many of those terms, but when I spoke with a Columbia resident who is protesting fluoridation she explained dental fluorosis a little better by saying it’s the bright white spots that we get on our teeth and those are caused at a young age from the fluoride we consume in the water. One worry she has: if fluoride can cause cosmetic stains to our teeth…what is it doing to the bones in our body? She also believes it contributes to bone cancer.

For the most part, dentists are in favor of keeping fluoride in the water system so that people that cannot afford dental care can still receive the benefits, but there are many ways in which we receive fluoride. Probably the most common is the fluoride in toothpaste.

Columbia is taking all of these claims, both for and against fluoride, into account as the health department compiles research so that city officials can come to a conclusion about whether or not to stop adding fluoride to the water.

Whatever your opinion on the issue, it is something that affects not only our health, but our environment. If the health concerns are legitimate, other communities may soon reconsider fluoridation as well. Researching both sides and keeping an open mind is the only way we can make an informed opinion.

Turkey Day The Greener Way

Many of us will enjoy turkey this Thanksgiving, but have you ever considered what turkey farmers go through to raise those birds before they reach our plate? I certainly gave it a closer look when I saw a story from the MU News Bureau about a University of Missouri engineer that developed a geothermal heating system for turkey farms.

My first thought was “Why would a turkey farm need a geothermal system?” Little did I know that turkeys need to be kept in 90 degree temperatures when they are young and at least 70 degrees when they are older. The turkeys are not as comfortable and won’t eat as well if temperatures are too low, but keeping such high temperatures must cause the utility bills for turkey farmers to spike through the roof.

Lower utility costs is one benefit of the geothermal system. The prototype farm in Cooper County Missouri is said to have cut costs in half. The researchers hope similar systems could be installed at other turkey farms by next year in time for winter.

While I think this seems like a great and innovative idea to use geothermal for agricultural purposes, I’m not sure just how practical it is for other turkey farmers to take on such a system. It may help with utility costs once it is installed, but it’s unknown if many farmers will want to go through the installation process, which is likely expensive.

Regardless of how many farmers install geothermal next year, I think this is an awesome step forward for agriculture.

Climate & Coffee

A new story from Scientific American says this beloved form of caffeine is in danger. But, why is the Scientific American covering a story about coffee? Climate change.

Christopher Intagliata (who says his last name way too fast in the podcast) explains a new scientific study, which finds that rising temperatures harm “populations” of Arabica coffee, the “most cultivated species in the world.”

Notice, I put quotation marks around the word “populations” because there is a better way to explain Arabica coffee than by saying its populations are in danger. Although it may be the scientific way to explain the problem, it’s likely that populations of people will come to mind—not coffee or plants.

Another downfall of this story is that it is misleading and confusing. The lead causes us to believe coffee might not be around any longer, but Intagliata later explains the study predicts 2080 as the year we’ll see the affects. And at the end he says “Of course the coffee in your cup doesn’t come from wild trees”, which causes me to question the point of the story. It’s misleading to the listener/reader when he says something is in danger but then causes confusion about that statement toward the very end.

This is just one example of how science stories are often sensationalized through headlines and leads in order to attract the attention of readers. Of course, it’s important to draw in readers, but it’s more important to uphold the integrity of the story. This story could have benefited from a text piece better explaining why the wild coffee plants are important.

Despite its content flaws, I did enjoy the 60 second podcast. I typically just see articles on Scientific American so it’s refreshing to see a science publication try to utilize multimedia. I think scientific stories are often easier to understand when they are explained in more conversational mediums like this podcast.


…”Tell me about it, stud.” — This famous moment in the movie Grease happens when Sandy appears in front of Danny for the first time in her new, badass clothes and makeup, proving to him that she’s not just an innocent girl he can take for granted. Danny’s shocked reaction to Sandy smoking a cigarette and wearing scandalously tight pants captures the shock of another badass Sandy — the deadly storm that swept over much of the East Coast.

Okay, so while the shocking moment in Grease was a pleasant one, rather than one of terror, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many stories about how this storm correlates to climate change. That was one plot twist I certainly didn’t see coming.

Blogs, such as the recent one on Huffington Post, discuss Sandy’s implications and stress that this storm is not just a one time occurrence. Scientists predict we will see more and more of these “once in a century” storms and even the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, admits there is a huge change in weather patterns.

While it is great to hear more concern from not only bloggers, but major media outlets about climate change, it’s also disheartening. At this point, given the grim scientific predictions, it seems as though it’s almost too late to do anything about it. We’ve spent too long here in the U.S. making climate change a partisan issue (as Andrew Steer addresses in the Huff Post blog). And now the issue is yet another pawn in the election, but will anything actually be done after the election?

Climate change affects OUR environment, OUR world, OUR lives. So, it’s time to push politics aside and fix the problem. I don’t intend to be a cynic, because I do hope climate change continues to be in the conversation and I sincerely hope that politicians who claim to want to fix the issue work to do so. I just worry we are running out of time. We must continue to address the issue before the next Sandy hits.

Oh No Ozone

This week I read some interesting news about the ozone hole above the Antarctic: it’s the smallest it’s been in 20 years.

But don’t let the headline fool you. The size of the ozone hole fluctuates according to the temperature and because this year was unseasonably warm, the hole was smaller. So, larger ozone holes are associated with very cold winters and vise versa.

I find this fascinating that the miserably hot summer and drought all of us endured actually had a beneficial effect on the ozone. The way it works is the CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) that destroy the ozone layer have a harder time breaking down ozone particles when it’s hot.

Scientists say, however, the size varies a lot year to year and unfortunately, they don’t expect it to get back to its original state until 2060.

Knowing more about this ozone hole fluctuation isn’t just interesting, but I think it’s important for anyone who has a passion about the environment to understand. After-all, the ozone hole was one of the first real signs that humans were causing climate change.

Everything’s Bigger…in Lubbock?

This week I’m in Lubbock, Texas (of all places) for the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) annual conference. And as the saying goes everything’s bigger here – even the environmental issues.

So far, I’ve gotten to sit in on some interesting discussions involving fracking, water usage, water quality, food, sustainability, and the list goes on.

Perhaps what I’ve enjoyed most from this conference, however, is networking with journalists who have such a wide variety of experiences reporting all the issues previously mentioned.

I’ve only been interested in making the environment my beat for a short amount of time, so it’s been great to seek out advice from veteran journalists such as Jeff Burnside, an investigative reporter for KOMO-TV in Seattle.

Burnside is possibly the only broadcast reporter here at the conference. Most environmental reporters are in print. Burnside, however, did tell me that it is good for broadcast reporters to have a couple beats that they are interested in and can focus on.

As someone going into broadcasting, his advice comforted me and helped me see that I can pursue this as my niche. It’s just one of the many great things I’ll take with me after leaving Texas.

Energy Efficiency Saves Cities Money

​Energy efficient upgrades are now complete at Paquin Tower, a Columbia Housing Authority property that currently houses almost 200 elderly and disabled residents. CHA’s $3.6 million project took three years and Paquin will soon showcase the improvements.

The project is a great example of how cities can save money on utilities by going green.

I spoke with Greg Willingham, the modernization coordinator and systems specialist for CHA. He said upgrades were funded through federal stimulus money and a Capital Fund Recovery Competition grant.

​“With the CFRC grant that we got and the energy performance contracting that we did, it allows us to take a lot of capital improvements off our books to invest some more of that money into the other properties,” Willingham said.

​Previously, the building was heated with a boiler system built in 1995. The old heaters in each unit were not adjustable and residents often resorted to opening their windows in the winter.

“You used to see steam coming off the building in the winter time, exhaust fans pushing out lost energy. You don’t see that anymore. You don’t see windows open,” Willingham said. “The energy is staying in the building and you’re not wasting energy.”

Now, a geothermal heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system (HVAC), along with new temperature controlled heating and cooling units, allow residents to live more comfortably.

“I like the upgrade. We’re allowed to use our air-conditioner all year round which is nice,” Michelle Adams, a Paquin Tower resident, said. “I have allergies so I never open my windows. So, I would have a tough time living here if this new system was not in place.”

​Willingham said this new heating and cooling system has already reduced utility costs for the building. From July 2010 to June 2011 the total utility cost for Paquin was $264,930. The following year, after the new heating and cooling system took affect, costs went down to $166,141. That equals a savings of nearly $98,000.

​“It’s tax money. With these amounts of water savings, it’s less tax payer money going in, and less money going out,” Willingham said.

​CHA will hold an open house at Paquin Tower to showcase the energy efficient upgrades from 4 to 6 p.m. Oct. 10.