Appeared: E-The Environmental Magazine, 17-Oct, 2018 San Diego Free Press, 24-Oct, 2018 Natural Life Magazine, 24-Oct, 2018 The Sunbury News, 26-Oct, 2018 Fullerton Observer, Early Nov, 2018 (p.17) Times of San Diego, 04-Nov, 2018 The Escondido Grapevine, 13-Nov, 2018 Voice of OC, 16-Nov, 2018 Irvine Community News & Views, 14-Dec, 2018
Mankind has only 12 years left to make unprecedented cuts in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions if we want to stave off unimaginably catastrophic effects of runaway global warming. This is the warning detailed in October’s report from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the recognized global climate authority which represents the investigations of hundreds of climate scientists and 195 participating nations.
A 2.0 degree Celsius average global temperature rise above pre-industrial levels was previously viewed by the IPCC as the tipping point beyond which global warming would spiral out of control with incomprehensibly negative consequences for humanity and the planet. We are fully half way to this cut-off, but more to the point is the revised projection by the IPCC that the worst effects will emerge with a smaller temperature rise of just 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Preventing the 1.5 degree rise necessitates, by 2030, a 45 percent reduction in GHG emissions compared to 2010 levels, with “net zero emissions by 2050” which means all emissions need be balanced by removal of an equivalent amount from the air.
If GHG emissions continue instead at the current rate, the 1.5 degree mark will be reached in 2040, producing environmental havoc that effectively ensures the end of civilization as we know it. Picture a future defined by poverty, food shortages, coastal flooding, mass migrations, ferocious storms, bigger and more intense wildfires, plus unrelenting heat that makes parts of the world unlivable.
Hearing this, Americans should be screaming from the rooftops, demanding to know how our government will prevent this very real existential threat to our own and our children’s future.
Appeared: Irvine Community News & Views, July 2018 (p. 9)
California Congressional District 45
The California Primary contest for the “top two” candidates in Congressional District 45 is over. On November 5, incumbent Rep. Mimi Walters will be facing UCI law professor Katie Porter. The City of Irvine lies entirely within District 45, and the fact that Irvine residents comprise 40 percent of the district’s population means Irvine voters are extremely important to determining who will win.
The voters whom both Walters and Porter need to attract are increasingly concerned about climate change. Fully 73 percent of registered voters believe that climate change is happening, and 59 percent believe it is mostly caused by human activities, according to the latest national poll. At the constituent level – even if not in the halls of Congress – climate change has become noticeably less “political.” Belief in human-caused climate change is still strongest among Democrats, but now includes a significant majority of liberal/moderate Republicans as well as voters with no party preference (small “i” independents). “Worry” about climate change has even increased by 7 points among conservative Republicans since just last October.
Mimi Walters serves the 45th Congressional District which includes Irvine, Tustin, North Tustin, Villa Park, Laguna Hills, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Rancho Santa Margarita, Mission Viejo, the Canyons and parts of Anaheim Hills, Coto de Caza and Orange.
Appeared: Voice of OC, 27-Mar, 2018 Irvine Community News & Views, Apr, 2018 (p.9)
In November, residents within California’s 45th Congressional District will be deciding whether to entrust Mimi Walters with a 3rd term in the House of Representatives. She is facing a tough reelection battle, so in a race where every vote counts, it’s incumbent upon voters to take a serious look at her performance record before entering the polls.
Because the projected impacts of unchecked global warming are so dire, climate change has become the number one challenge facing humanity. Worsening storms, droughts and wildfires, catastrophic sea level rise, mass species extinction, disrupted food supplies and political and social unrest are all in the offing if we fail to transition from a fossil fuel economy to one based on renewable energy sources.
Though poorer communities and nations will be impacted most, material wealth cannot guarantee that our children and grandchildren will be spared serious consequences.
The years 2016 and 2017 were the first and third hottest on record, respectively. Many residents of Orange County have personal stories of how climate change is already touching their lives.
The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication tracks public opinions on climate change, down to the individual district level. It turns out that California’s 45th is very much in step with the nation as a whole: 71 percent in the district believe climate change is happening, 74 percent want carbon dioxide regulated as a pollutant, and 72 percent believe future generations will be harmed.
As a public servant, Mimi Walters is obligated to represent the views of her constituents, especially on an issue as vital to public security and prosperity as climate change. But, does she?
Versions have appeared: Escondido Grapevine, 05-Dec, 2017 Fullerton Observer, Mid-Nov, 2017 (p.17) Algalita Marine Research Foundation Blog, 05-Nov, 2017 Daily Pilot, 03-Nov, 2017 Voice of OC, 02-Nov, 2017 San Diego Free Press, 02-Nov., 2017 Times of San Diego, 31-Oct, 2017 E-The Environmental Magazine, 27-Oct, 2017
Tiny lanternfish is vital to carbon sequestration in ocean.
Though burning fossil fuels is the primary cause of global warming, fossil fuels could also be driving climate change via a completely different mechanism involving ocean plastic debris and tiny, bioluminescent fish living hundreds of meters beneath the ocean’s surface.
Lanternfish (aka myctophids) are only a few inches long typically but so ubiquitous that they account for over half the ocean’s total fish-mass. They are vital to the ocean’s ability to sequester more carbon than all the world’s forests do on land through a daily mass migration that plays out in all seven seas.
By day, lanternfish avoid predators in deep, dimly lit waters, but they ascend nightly to the surface to gorge on carbon-rich plankton before descending back down where they deposit their carbon-rich poop. They also sequester carbon when eaten by larger fish.
Carbon sequestration by lanternfish is central to the overall role of marine environments in reducing human-caused CO2 emissions in the atmosphere – by an estimated 20-35 percent.
Thus, anything harmful to lanternfish could hinder the ocean’s capacity to act as a carbon sink. Alarming evidence that small bits of floating plastic debris resemble the plankton lanternfish feast on could spell trouble for them and, consequently, the climate. Read the rest of this entry »
Appeared: Escondido Grapevine, 05-Sep, 2017
Fullerton Observer,Early Sept, 2017, p.3 Center for Global Development, 31-Aug, 2017 Daily Pilot,31-Aug, 2017 San Diego Free Press, 31-Aug, 2017 Coronado Times,30-Aug, 2017 Times of San Diego, 30-Aug, 2017 EarthTalk, 29-Aug, 2017
Average annual global temperatures since 1880 compared to the average across the last century. Blue years are below the average and red years are above. (Source NOAA)
I fancy myself an environmentalist. I recycle, backyard compost, have rooftop solar, rarely use AC or heat, drive a hybrid, don’t have a lawn and eat vegetarian.
Yet the truth is I am as responsible for climate change as the next guy. Here’s why.
Doing those things definitely makes me feel good about myself, but none of my personal actions move the world measurably closer to solving the climate crisis. My journey to this conclusion started by first looking into my personal carbon footprint using readily available online tools.
The U.S. EPA’s carbon footprint calculator, for example, looks at three sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: home utilities for heating, cooling and cooking; vehicle fuel efficiency and miles driven; and waste generation. In these areas, my carbon footprint was roughly half that of other people living in my zip code, suggesting my eco-conscious efforts are paying off.
However, it’s eye-opening that roughly two-thirds of Americans’ GHG emissions are embedded in so-called “indirect” emissions released during the production or manufacture of other things we consume, such as food, household supplies, apparel, air travel, and services of all types, according to an in-depth analysis by the Center for Global Development, a non-profit policy research organization. Another way to understand indirect emissions is to think of the money spent on everything not included in the EPA’s more limited carbon footprint calculator.
Various versions have appeared: Irvine Community News & Views, 14-Aug, 2017 Times of San Diego, 04-Aug, 2017 Fullerton Observer, Aug, 2017 (p.2) The Daily Pilot,26-Jul, 2017
Coronado Times, 24-Jul, 2017 Escondido Grapevine, 19-Jul, 2017 San Diego Free Press, 11-Jul, 2017
EarthTalk, 06-Jul, 2017
Though President Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, this is no time for the 70 percent of Americans who believe climate change is happening to recoil in defeat. Rather, we should feel empowered that a 2016 post-election poll of registered voters found that majorities of Democrats (86%), Independents (61%) and Republicans (51%) alike wanted the United States to participate in the accord and that two out of three voters said the U.S. should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do.
Thus, it is exactly the time to speak out against the misguided actions of The White House by taking decisive steps well within our reach as individual citizens and communities. After all, the Paris Agreement is only a broad-stroke commitment from participating countries to collectively limit global warming to 1.5 to 2.0 degrees Celsius (°C) compared to preindustrial levels. It has always been true that only Congress and legislative bodies at the state and local level, not the President, can enact laws that can move us from a fossil fuel to a sustainable energy economy.
Here’s what’s happening at various jurisdictions around the nation already.
Irvine led on restoring the ozone layer and should lead now on climate change.
By Sarah “Steve” Mosko
Appeared: Irvine Community News & Views,02-Jun, 2017
Ozone Depletion: The First Global Environmental Crisis
The depletion of the protective ozone layer in the Earth’s atmosphere by man-made chemicals was the global community’s first environmental crisis. Today, climate change, largely attributable to greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, is the second and far more frightening crisis.
The people of Irvine can be proud that actions taken by the City Council in 1989 were instrumental in creating a blueprint at the local level for carrying out the aspirations set forth in the 1987 Montreal protocol, the international agreement to restore the ozone layer. It is widely hailed as the most successful global environmental treaty ever. As the global community today faces the reality that unchecked global warming could unleash catastrophic effects impacting all future generations, Irvine can and should resurrect the same purpose and determination that inspired the City to make a difference back then.
In 1974, scientists at UC Irvine, led by Nobel laureates (1995) F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario J. Molina, predicted that the Earth’s protective ozone layer would be seriously diminished by the rampant use of halogens — chemicals, such as CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and other ozone-depleting compounds then used as refrigerants, spray can propellants, and solvents. The ozone layer acts as a shield, preventing the most harmful ultraviolet radiation in sunlight (UVB) from reaching the Earth’s surface. Excessive exposure to UVB is known to cause not only sunburn, skin cancers and cataracts but also damage to crops and reduction of plankton populations vital to the ocean food web.
It wasn’t until 1985 that the infamous hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica was discovered, as Rowland and Molina predicted. That triggered the international alarm that led to the Montreal Protocol. Because action at the federal level was painfully slow in coming, the Irvine City Council, then led by Mayor Larry Agran and City Councilmember Cameron Cosgrove, boldly passed the most far-reaching, legally enforceable measure anywhere to eliminate CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances. This remarkable ordinance prohibited using CFCs and other targeted halogens in most industrial processes in the City of Irvine.
The City Council, in taking responsible action at the local level, believed that other jurisdictions would be empowered to use Irvine’s ordinance as a model. That is exactly what happened in many cities and counties across America and throughout the world, and today we know that the hole in the ozone layer is shrinking and we have overcome that global environmental crisis. Read the rest of this entry »
Various versions appeared: Dana Point Times, 31-Jul, 2017 Fullerton Observer, Early Apr, 2017, p.12 Escondido Grapevine, 04 Apr, 2017 The Coronado Times, 04 Apr, 2017 San Diego Free Press, 05 Apr, 2017 Times of San Diego, 11-Apr, 2017 EarthTalk.org, 17-Apr, 2017 San Clemente Times, 20-Apr, 2017 Capistrano Dispatch, 24-Apr, 2017
Within moments of Donald Trump’s inauguration, the White House web page on climate change was purged, and on March 28 Trump ordered the dismantling of the Clean Power Plan which was designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Many members of Congress are still openly climate change skeptics or deniers.
In a representative democracy such as ours, one might conclude that most Americans don’t believe in or are unconcerned about climate change. Two recent polls reveal how wrong this is.
Seventy percent of Americans believe global warming is happening, according to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication which used a national survey of over 18,000 adults spanning 2008 to 2016. Fully 75% favor regulating CO2 as a pollutant.
Consistent with this, 62% of Americans responded “no” when asked if President Trump should “remove specific regulation intended to combat climate change” in a nationwide poll just released on March 8 by Quinnipiac University. Furthermore, a Yale Project post-election poll of Trump voters found that more than six in ten support taxing and/or regulating the pollution that causes global warming.
An obvious next question is whether these national averages are masking major state-to-state variations in public opinion. The answer is no. The Yale Project concluded that in all 50 states a solid majority of the public both believe global warming is happening (between 60% and 78%) and favor regulating CO2 as a pollutant (66%-81%). Majorities in every state also believe global warming will harm future generations.
Appeared: Irvine Community News & Views, Aug, 2017 PopularResistance.org, 10 Apr, 2017 Fullerton Observer, mid Feb, 2017 (p. 20) San Diego Free Press, 03 Feb, 2017
EarthTalk, 02 Feb, 2017
Luckier Americans are insulated from many everyday worries, like struggling to pay the rent or mortgage on time. Some even enjoy life in gated communities, fine dining and first-class travel. But, just as money is no guarantee of happiness, neither is it assurance of protection against all of the frightening impacts of unchecked global warming.
2016 was the third straight year that the Earth’s temperature was the hottest on record. Contrary to what one might hear in politicized discourse, climate scientists are nearly unanimous in concluding climate change is happening and is the result of burning fossil fuels for energy.
The United Nations and scientific organizations worldwide warn that effects of climate change are already being felt and that the Earth is more than half the way to a temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius, beyond which runaway global warming will produce irreversible, catastrophic effects. Even worse, if global greenhouse gas emissions remain on their current trajectory, children living today can expect to experience the fallouts of a temperature increase topping 4 degrees Celsius by end of this century.
Despite such dire predictions, Americans, rich and poor, overwhelmingly believe climate change is not a threat to them personally. In a nationwide, county-by-county poll conducted in 2015, in not a single county did the majority of respondents believe climate change will affect them personally, though majorities in 99% of counties felt future generations would be.
The difficulty Americans have in understanding their own vulnerability to climate change stems in part from failing to see beyond the direct effects of climate change – heatwaves, droughts, storms and floods – to appreciate all the indirect effects on health and safety from air pollution, spread of infectious diseases, food and water shortages, population migrations and conflicts.
These indirect effects of climate change place everyone at risk.
Appeared in: Southern Sierran, 21-July, 2015 E-Magazine’s EarthTalk, 09-July, 2015 San Diego Free Press, 14-July, 2015 OB Rag, 15-July, 2015
More and more Americans are taking responsibility for their personal contribution to global climate change by driving fuel efficient cars, insulating their homes and switching to energy efficient lighting and household appliances.
However, even someone that’s gone to the extremes of traveling only on foot or bicycle and forsaking home heating, cooling, lighting, food refrigeration and cooking will likely shrink their carbon footprint by only about a third. That’s because roughly two-thirds of Americans’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are embedded instead in consumption of other goods and services, according to a recent analysis by the Center for Global Development (CGD), a non-profit policy research organization.
Most of us attribute our GHG footprint to the easily discerned energy we consume for personal transportation and home utilities. Yet these so-called “direct” emissions account for just 36% of the average American’s annual GHG emissions which are equivalent to 21.8 tons of CO2.
The remaining 64% of GHG emissions are “indirect” and produced during the manufacture and production of literally everything else we consume, such as food, shelter, clothing, furniture, cars, bicycles, appliances, electronics, pets, toys, tools, cleaning supplies, medications, toiletries, entertainment and air travel. The fact that indirect emissions typically take place somewhere distant and out of our sight, like in a factory overseas and during transport of products to the point of sale, underlies our lack of connection to them.
A plant-based diet beats a traditional meat-based one hands down when it comes to trimming one’s contribution to greenhouse gases, but not everyone is willing to plunge head-long into a life of tofu dogs and bean burgers.
No doubt there are even plenty self-proclaimed vegetarians out there who guiltily sneak in some fried chicken, pork chops or a tuna melt from time to time and face self-recriminations afterward for satisfying such cravings at the expense of a warming planet.
The good news for either lapsed vegetarians or meat eaters with an environmental conscience is that meats and dairy products are not all created equal when it comes to the quantity of greenhouse gases (GHG) produced. In fact, a study just released by the non-profit organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) and titled “Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health” reveals that by avoiding just the three worst GHG offenders – lamb, beef and cheese – even hardcore meat eaters can make a sizable dent in their diet’s climate change footprint.
EWG, in partnership with CleanMetrics, an environmental analysis firm, examined the “cradle to grave” lifecycle, from farm to retail to plate to disposal, of 20 popular foods in four categories – meats, fish, dairy and vegetable protein – and compared the GHG produced by each.
Huntington Beach is recognized by National Resources Defense Council for energy efficiency
Residents of Huntington Beach (HB) can take pride in being the only Orange County city that landed a spot this year on a list of 22 ‘Smarter Cities’ nationwide being recognized by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for setting good examples for the rest of nation in the areas of green power, energy efficiency and conservation.
The announcement came at the end of July, and Long Beach is the only other city in southern California earning this distinction. The NRDC extended initial consideration to all 655 U.S. municipalities with populations of at least 50,000.
HB and other Orange County cities made an initial cut because the county’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, as measured for 2002 by a North American monitoring program called Project Vulcan, averaged 1.8 tons per capita which met the qualifying per capita cut off of less than 2.5 tons. That HB alone made the final list reflects both the city’s record in improving the energy efficiency of its city facilities and its community outreach efforts to empower residents to save energy and money.
Recharge solar lanterns and small electronics with solar rechargers
Does the prospect of spending a weekend away from your favorite e-gadgets (cell phone, laptop, iPod or PDA) stir up separation anxiety? Around our house we’ve dubbed this e-angst, and it can kill enthusiasm for an otherwise welcome family camping vacation.
For teens or adults similarly infected with e-angst, a diversity of devices are on the market which let you bring your e-gadgets along with you camping and also trim your carbon footprint because they utilize only sunshine for power.
Solar chargers An assortment of portable solar-powered chargers is available that adapt to virtually any handheld electronic appliance including digital cameras and GPS units. Most rely on photovoltaic silicon cell technology akin to what is used on rooftop solar panels. Many are small enough to fit in a back pocket or certainly a glove box so can travel with you virtually anywhere. The cost is as little as $15 on up to $150 depending on the capacity. Because rechargeable batteries are incorporated, gadgets can be recharged even after the sun goes down. Small electronics generally charge in 2-4 hours.
Peace Lily ranks in the top 10. Photo courtesy of Noodle snacks.
Eliminating indoor air pollution can be as simple as dotting your house or office with potted plants, according to research stretching back as far as the space program of the 1980s.
It’s a widely held misconception that staying indoors avoids exposure to air pollutants. Indoor air quality, in fact, is usually worse because contaminants that emanate from a vast assortment of consumer products add to the pollution that drifts in from the outside.
Given that urban dwellers pass 90% of their time inside, any strategy to improve indoor air quality is of widespread interest, especially one as appealing and environmentally sustainable as adding potted plants to the décor.
Suburban Habitat Restoration: One Backyard at a Time by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
Yards certified through the National Wildlife Federation can post this sign.
Whether you fret over dwindling rainforests or attribute disappearance of neighborhood cats to displaced coyotes, most of us recognize loss of wildlife habitats as a growing environmental concern.
As an alternative to hand-wringing, the National Wildlife Federation offers ordinary citizens the means to take action by establishing a Certified Wildlife Habitat in their own backyard. It’s not only enjoyable but very easy. I know because I did it in a matter of weeks despite starting out a gardening illiterate unable to name one in ten plants in my own yard.
Here’s how the program works. A yard has to qualify in all five areas outlined below, but each offers a wide range of options and only one to three is required per category. Then there’s a two-page checklist to fill out – works on the honor system – and a $15 processing fee. That’s it.
San Fernando Valley Sierra Club newsletter, May-June, 2006 & July 2009
So You Like that “New Car Smell?” Think again. (#10 of the Plastic Plague Series)
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
Your car’s interior is a major source of exposure to two classes of toxic chemicals, according to a first-of-its-kind report from the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Titled Toxic At Any Speed, the study measured levels of PBDEs (flame retardants) and phthalates (used to soften plastics) in both interior car dust and windshield film samples from cars made by 11 leading auto manufacturers.
These chemicals exude from seat covers, instrument panels, floor coverings and other plastic parts. Studies in lab animals have linked exposure to a variety of health effects, Read the rest of this entry »
A Wave of Green Hits Surfing Industry
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
At first glance, surfing might seem like an inherently earth-friendly sport. Surfers paddle out and catch waves by sheer force of will and muscle. No need for fossil fuel-burning speed boats to get around. And, surfers have a reputation for caring about ocean pollution.
But a closer look reveals that, like most human activities, the environmental impact is far from nil and, consequently, there’s a nascent movement within the surfing industry to clean up it its act.
The Essentials The bare necessities of surfing are surfboard, wetsuit, good waves and wheels to and fro. The waves are courtesy of Mother Nature, but the choices surfers make to otherwise outfit themselves determine the toll on the environment.
According to a recent investigation, divorce creates pretty hefty costs to the environment. Courtesy Orange Coast Voice
Stay Married to Stay Green
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
If you are looking for reasons to patch up a rocky marriage, here is one you have probably overlooked – do it for the planet! While it is common knowledge that divorce can be costly to the pocketbook, a recent investigation exposes pretty hefty costs to the environment too.
Divorce is on the rise in the United States as evidenced by an increase in divorced households (households with divorced heads) from 5% to 15% of total households between 1970 and 2000. The proportion of married households (with married heads) sank from 69% to 53% over this same interval.
One spouse typically moves out during a divorce. Michigan State University researchers Eunice Yu and Jianaguo Liu hypothesized that this splitting of families should translate into more but smaller households with loss of resource use efficiency on a per person basis. Their predictions were in fact borne out by tapping into the largest publicly available census based on individual U.S. households – the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series-USA.
Better Food Choices Get Better Results in Global Warming Battle than Food Miles Reduction
By Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
California Certified Farmers' Markets let genuine California farmers sell their fresh-picked crops directly to the public in over 500 communities throughout the state.
“Buying local” has become a mantra of many committed to shrinking their personal climate footprint by limiting the miles their food travels from producer to plate. The increasing globalization of food supplies has served to fan this trend.
However, a new study finds that what you eat has a far greater impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than where that food was produced. What’s more, saying no to red meat and dairy products even one day a week matters more than buying local all week long.
Number crunchers Christopher Weber and Scott Matthews at Carnegie Mellon University drew on U.S. government statistics from 1997 to expose the entire life-cycle GHG emissions associated with the diet of the average American household.
Emissions fell into one of four categories, starting with upstream supply chain transportation wherein equipment and supplies are supplied to food producers. Then comes the food production phase, followed by final delivery transportation from point of production to retailer. The latter is synonymous with so-called food-miles that are the focus of advocates of buying local. The fourth source of emissions occurs during wholesaling and retailing and includes store heating and air-conditioning and food refrigeration.
Southern Sierran, June 2009 as ‘Thinking Outside the Dump: Zero Waste’
Fullerton Observer, Oct. 2009, page 11, as ‘Zero Waste: Thinking Outside the Dump’
Let’s Get Out of This Dump
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D .
Our throw-away habits are making a dump out of our world.
A fond memory from my childhood is of visiting the neighborhood “dump” with my dad to drop off whatever refuse, like old tires, we could not burn in our backyard incinerator.
Nowadays, the local dump has been supplanted by centralized landfills, and major restrictions have been placed on backyard incineration. Our waste stream has been transformed also since the introduction of petroleum-based plastics, single-use disposables, and packaging excess. Too, products once designed for durability and repair have been replaced with flimsier versions intended to be tossed and replaced.
This article updated August 2009
Appeared in Orange Coast Voice newspaper May 2008, page 11.
Potted Plants Ease Indoor Air Pollution by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
Australian researchers heeded by Margaret Burchett at the University of Technology have revealed fascinating twists on the potted plant story. Photo courtesy Orange County Voice.
It is a widespread misconception that staying indoors avoids exposure to air pollutants.
Indoor air quality, in fact, is generally worse because contaminants that arise from a vast assortment of consumer products add to the pollution that drifts in from the outside. Given that urban dwellers pass 90% of their time inside, strategies to improve indoor air quality are of interest to nearly everyone.
Indoor Air Chemistry
The chief forms of pollutants generated indoors are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that off-gas primarily from common petroleum-based products. They are impossible to avoid since the sources are nearly endless: furniture, carpeting, paints, varnishes, paint strippers, synthetic building materials, air fresheners, cleaning solutions, toilet bowl deodorizers, personal care products, tobacco smoke, pesticides, and solvents in inks and adhesives.
The number of VOCs is also long – the U.S. EPA indicated that more than 900 had been identified in indoor air in a 1989 Report of Congress. While some pose no known danger to health, others are Read the rest of this entry »
The Polystyrene Ban Wagon Laguna Beach will require biodegradable eating utensils
by Sarah S. Mosko Ph.D.
Foam cups and other food containers made from polystyrene are outlawed in Laguna, a first in Orange County.
“To-go” orders in Laguna Beach soon will have a new look because of a city ordinance passed last month prohibiting restaurants from using any polystyrene (PS) for food service cups and containers . . . an Orange County first.
Polystyrene (PS) is most recognizable in its foamed form (expanded polystyrene or EPS) as hot cups, food clamshells or packaging materials, although non-expanded PS is also made into clear plastic food containers. Restaurants have until July to come up with replacements, e.g. paperboard or a plastic that is biodegradable or easier to recycle.
The Laguna Beach regulation follows on the heels of similar bans enacted recently in Santa Monica, Calabasas, and Malibu and applies to private food vendors as well as city-sponsored events and Read the rest of this entry »
Appeared in Orange Coast Voice newspaper January 2008, page 11.
Is Your Coffee Green?
How to find your eco-responsible coffee shop
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
Not the winner: Starbucks does not report percentage of coffee grown without synthetic chemicals.
It takes 12 coffee trees to support a 2-cup-a-day coffee habit, according to the Sightline Institute, a non-profit research center in Seattle. And not all coffee is created equal from an environmental standpoint.
People who frequent specialty coffee stores seek a perfect brew served up in a connoisseur’s ambiance. If you are one of them, but also care how eco-friendly your cup of java is, you might want to know how different establishments stack up environmentally. A little background on how coffee is grown and labeled is essential.
Coffee Talk: The dizzying selection that entices the gourmet coffee drinker is every bit linked to the varying conditions under which coffee is cultivated. Read the rest of this entry »
If your paper cup has a plastic lining, it will end up in the landfill.
For the very first time, certain paper packaging products with a shiny resin lining are being produced that can be recycled or composted.
The obstacle to recycling and composting has been the petroleum-based polyethylene moisture barrier that lines hot coffee cups and many other paper food/drink packaging containers. Since the polyethylene resin resists biodegradation, it fails to meet standards for compostability and is an unacceptable contaminant that precludes diversion to the paper recycling waste stream. (Click for related article).
A paper hot cup is the first in a series of novel resin-lined paper products dubbed “ecotainers” that are being rolled out in a joint effort by two companies, International Paper and DaniMer Scientific. The new cup lining is based 99% on the corn-derived resin called PLA (for polylactic acid) that has been tweaked chemically to produce a coating that sticks well to paper (PLA alone sticks poorly). Part of the good news is that petrochemicals do not contribute to the 1% of synthetic chemicals added to the PLA, according to DaniMer’s President. The hot cup not only meets international BPI (Biodegradable Products Institute) standards for compostability, but is also “repulpable” so can even be recycled in the paper waste stream. Look for cups bearing the logo of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters who are the first to adopt the new technology.
A second fully biodegradable & compostable hot cup on the market has solved the polyethylene lining dilemma by eliminating the lining completely. Brought to us by World Centric, the cup is made from 100% bagasse, the sugarcane fiber left over once the sugarcane juice is extracted. The cup comes without a label and sports a less high-tech look and feel than theecotainer. Although it is soak proof, hot beverages do create some “perspiration” on the outside. However, some big environmental pluses might easily make up for these esthetic drawbacks. Bagasse is sometimes eliminated by open-air incineration after the sugarcane juice is extracted, so converting it into cups both makes more complete use of a natural resource and rids a source of air pollution. Plus, no trees are ever cut down!
Forward looking companies as described here will no doubt continue their quest for the perfect, environmentally friendly hot cup and make it available to retailers. Now it is up to us consumers to tell our favorite gourmet coffee stores that we want our cup of coffee “green” whether we drink it black or with cream!
To participate in a California-based statewide plastics reduction campaign, contact Earth Resource Foundation or call (949) 645-5163.
Appeared in Orange Coast Voice as Solar Energy Made Simple: How technology uses the sun’s power, September 2007, page 10.
Grabbing Some Rays or Solar Made Simple
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
Installing solar panels on a little less than 30 million homes and businesses could power the entire nation.
There is a wellspring of hope that 2007 is the tipping point in the fight against global warming.
This is the year that the hundreds of experts on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded, with near certainty, that global warming is for real. It is the year Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth turned “greenhouse gases” into an everyday household expression.
With the finger of blame pointing squarely at the reckless burning of fossil fuels, renewable energy has become the hottest of topics. Whereas renewables of every ilk will most likely fill important energy niches, solar energy dwarfs all others in ultimate potential because of the sheer abundance of sunlight.
Global energy consumption in the year 2004 averaged about 15 trillion watts (terawatts, TW), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The amount of sunlight reaching the earth’s surface (120,000 TW) literally exceeds this global demand thousands of times over. In fact, Read the rest of this entry »
San Fernando Valley Sierra Club newsletter in two parts in July and September 2008.
Southern Sierran in August 2007.
Orange Coast Voice newspaper as It’s No Bull, Beef production creates global warming in June 2007, page 2.
A Beef About Beef
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
The connection between our meal choices and global warming might be another “inconvenient truth” that is particularly hard to swallow. Illustration by Willis Simms.
Global warming is on the tip of many tongues these days, but so are hamburgers, pork chops, and fried chicken. As hybrid car sales are up and SUV sales on the decline, it seems Americans might be waking up to the reality that each of us bears some responsibility for climate change through our everyday consumer choices. John Robbins, the once heir-apparent of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream company, has authored bestsellers, such as The Food Revolution, detailing the detrimental environmental impacts of a meat-based diet. He and other experts make a strong case that food choices rank right up there with what car you drive in determining your personal contribution to global warming. A quick look inside the hamburger bun easily makes the point.
Massive Fossil Fuels Consumed to Produce Beef
Most U.S. beef comes from cows raised on factory farms where hordes of animals are crowded onto concrete lots and fed grains, mostly corn. The grains are also grown using industrial farming methods that rely heavily on application of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides manufactured from Read the rest of this entry »
Driving on Sunshine
Ethanol: Starve While You Drive Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
From President Bush on down, it seems everyone is talking up “biofuels”, especially corn-grain ethanol and soy-diesel, as the panacea to the country’s energy woes . . . global warming, air pollution, increasing prices at the pump and dependence on foreign oil.
Automakers are promoting flex-fuel cars that run on either E85, a gasoline mixture that is 85% ethanol, or straight gasoline. Agribusiness giants like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland are trumpeting their ethanol, Read the rest of this entry »
If your paper cup has a plastic lining, it will end up in the landfill.
Did you ever notice the shiny lining on the inside of those paper cups designed for hot beverages . . the ones you get at your favorite specialty coffee store? Although the lining’s purpose is noble (prevents the liquid from seeping through the paper), its presence is the very reason those paper cups all end up in landfills.
Manufacturers tell me the lining is typically a polyethylene resin or some other petroleum-based emulsion. As such, it is a contaminant that prevents recycling as a paper item, and like petroleum-based plastics, it doesn’t biodegrade so is not appropriate for composting.
Such resins also coat milk cartons and many paper picnic products, thus preventing you from putting them in your curbside recycling bin or your backyard compost.
Vall-E-Vents, suppl. to Southern Sierran, March 2010.
Sierra Club – San Fernando Valley chapter newsletter January 2008.
Orange Coast Voice newspaper asThe Ocean Cries Out: Under attack on all fronts,March 2007, page 8.
Southern Sierran newspaper January 2007.
Illustration by Willis Simms.
Distress Calls from the Ocean by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
When one tugs at a single thing in nature,
he finds it is attached to the rest of the world.
— John Muir
Whether you are a career fisherman, weekend angler, surfer, snorkeler, skinny dipper, fish dinner connoisseur, or simply a never-gets-wet admirer of the ocean’s majesty, there’s nothing but bad news coming from recent assessments of the ocean’s health.
The scope and severity of the ills that experts report have made commonplace the phrase “collapse” in reference to the global loss of sea life and ecosystems. The assaults that appear responsible all stem from human activities, including over-fishing, deforestation, overdevelopment of coastlines, overuse of pesticides and fertilizers, oil spills, and general use of the ocean as a dumping ground for sewage, industrial chemicals and other human wastes. What follows is a brief look at some of the tragic changes scientists are reporting.1-3 Read the rest of this entry »
The City of San Francisco was first to nix some toxic plastics. Photo courtesy of my.sfgov.org
As of Dec. 2006, plastic toys and childcare products containing either of two chemicals known to disrupt sex hormones will no longer be manufactured, distributed or sold in San Francisco.
One targeted substance is bisphenol-A, the building block of polycarbonate plastics (#7) used to make some baby bottles, teethers and toys. It is an estrogen mimic that has been linked to miscarriage, birth defects, diabetes and prostate cancer. Leaching of bisphenol-A from polycarbonate bottles or containers into the contents has been documented.
Also banned are several plasticizers called phthalates added to PVC (#3, polyvinyl chloride) plastic products to make them soft and squishy. Many children’s toys and teethers contain phthalates that can migrate out since they’re not chemically bonded to the plastic polymer. Phthalates interfere with testosterone during fetal life, and exposure has been linked to abnormal reproductive organ development, infertility, premature breast development, shortened pregnancy, and asthma. Read the rest of this entry »
There goes the neighborhood! Illustration by Willis Simms
In the Jan. 2006 State of the Union address, President Bush finally admitted that “America is addicted to oil.” He pointed out the need to improve energy and fuel efficiency and reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but said nothing about how our mindless consumption of petroleum-based plastics is symptomatic of this national malady.
However, just a few facts suffice to illuminate the seriousness of our unhealthy relationship to plastics.
Since the mid 20th century start of the plastics explosion, consumption of plastics has skyrocketed to the point that the weight of plastics produced in a year in our country is twice the weight of the entire US population.1 And as is true for any addiction, we live in denial about our problem…denial that plastics are non-biodegradable and denial of the threats they pose to the environment and human health (see previous articles in this series for details).
Our denial is so complete that we’ve allowed plastic debris to accumulate to frightening levels in our oceans – some parts of the Pacific have 6 times more plastic than zooplankton.2 We’ve created a society where just about everything is made out of plastic without taking responsibility for the impact on our own health and the health of the planet. Read the rest of this entry »
Most bioplastics on the market require industry composting, so the products just end up in the landfill.
Bioplastics. They gotta be better than petroleum plastics, right? A short list of problems linked to petroleum plastics includes oil spills, release of toxins during synthesis, exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals during routine use, threats to wildlife from ingestion or entanglement, environmental pollution during disposal, and maybe even a basis for wars as global petroleum supplies dwindle. Furthermore, petroleum plastics do not biodegrade, creating a ballooning litter problem on land and sea as global plastics production has risen to about 250 billion pounds annually.
But will conversion to a plant-based substitute really solve everything? Considering a few key questions should help us ferret out some of the critical issues that would need to be addressed before we can give bioplastics a thumbs up or down.
Is bioplastic technology ready?
Even though you won’t find them on major supermarket shelves, some forward-looking companies have figured out how to make disposable plastic items (such as cups, bowls, plates, clamshells, Read the rest of this entry »
Plastics Damaging to Health: fetuses and children particularly at risk by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
The Environmental Working Group reports that toxic fire retardants (PBDEs) are found in mother's milk.
Plastics can pose threats to human health at all stages in our life cycles, with specific risks varying with the type of plastic.
In the process of converting petroleum or natural gas into plastic, toxic chemicals can be released into the air and water supply. For example, vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen, is used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics. A chemical called perfluorooctanaote (PFOA) used in the production of plastic-coated non-stick cookware is also carcinogenic.
An assortment of “additives” is often needed to lend particular characteristics to a product. Many items, like computer casings and hair dryers, require flame retardants because plastics are highly flammable. Read the rest of this entry »