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.

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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.

“Sandy!”…

…”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.

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.

Power in the Hands of Solar

While working at KBIA, the NPR affiliate in Columbia, Mo., on Thursday, I was assigned to do a story about a couple in Fulton, Mo., that installed solar panels on their home’s roof. Of course, I was immediately excited to do the story because of its environmental angle, but also because of something called “net metering” that was mentioned in the Fulton Sun’s article on the couple.

Net metering is basically a system in which those who use renewable energy sources in their home, like solar, will receive credit for any excess electricity generated by that source. So, after the electric company deducts the energy that Judy McKinnon and Jim Stevermer, the Fulton couple, consume they will see if they generated more energy with their solar panels. If so, the couple gets a check from the city.

This may sound like a pretty sweet deal, but the problem is solar panels are still really expensive. I haven’t yet interviewed the couple, but I can already guess that low energy bills aren’t the main reason for going solar. Some say it can take years and years to finally earn back your investment, so it’s likely this couple is very passionate about the environment.

Whatever the reason, I think it will be a great story and I can’t wait to talk to this couple to see what inspired them to make the change.

Crude

Documentaries are a great way for important stories to evolve from merely a news article or short broadcast, into something with depth and creativity. I’ve also learned a lot about important environmental issues by watching documentaries.

Recently, I watched Crude on Netflix. Joe Berlinger directed this documentary detailing an ongoing legal battle between 30,000 residents of Ecuador and the oil company Chevron. The Amazonian people want Chevron to be held accountable for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste on their land.

The documentary, released in 2009, only follows the case for two years, but explains that for years Chevron delayed the proceedings. I found that interesting because (as seen by the BP oil spill) I doubt a company such as Chevron could evade going to court if the situation happened in the United States. Of course, the BP oil spill case will take years and years to settle because of all the parties involved, but this case seen in Crude shows a completely different scenario in which Chevron refuses to take responsibility.

What is most saddening are the personal stories told by these residents throughout the film of their struggles. Many of them have gotten cancer or have seen odd skin rashes on their children, but they can’t prove for certain the toxic oil waste is what is causing health problems in their community.

This documentary is an investigate piece made to reveal the corruption in legal proceedings and in Ecuador’s government. Watching it made me disheartened by the fact that such an obvious environmental catastrophe could fly under the radar. Regardless, it’s a great piece because it captures the story of these people and their way of life so completely. I highly recommend watching Crude to see their struggle and what some call “Amazon Chernobyl”.