Friday, April 30, 2010

The Cove

The CoveI have to thank my brother Steve for turning me on to The Cove, the Academy Award® Winner for Best Documentary of 2009.

It is a film the Japanese government did not want the world to see — the gripping tale of how dolphins are herded into a serenely beautiful cove in Taiji, Japan for viewing and selection by representatives of aquariums, marine parks, and swim-with-dolphins programs from around the world. The shocking secret is that the dolphins not chosen as show animals are then brutally slaughtered for their meat, a meat so tainted by mercury that it is unsafe for human consumption. In this remote part of Taiji, which visitors are forbidden to enter, the water of the cove at times turns red.

If only this film were fiction and not a documentary. It is set in a charming tourist town where visitors are transported in cute buses that look like smiling dolphins. The tale has all the elements of a great thriller — intrigue (stealth filming, cameras hidden in rocks), suspense (Will the filmmakers get caught?), and a gripping plot with many players and accomplices. There is even some forensic science. Some suspected that the dolphin meat was being being packaged and falsely labeled as fish for sale in supermarkets; DNA testing proved that the questionable fish was actually dolphin meat.

The Cove was finally released in Japan this month. The village portrayed in the film is still defending its practices. You can read more here:

One of the key players in this film is Richard O'Barry, who captured and trained dolphins for Miami Seaquarium in the 1960s. These dolphins included five who played the role of Flipper in the TV show I and so many other American kids loved. OʼBarry is convinced that Kathy, one of the five, committed suicide. After she died in his arms, O’Barry began a new life as a dolphin activist. He has spent the last 40 years educating people throughout the world about the plight of dolphins in captivity, sometimes taking very public (and sometimes illegal) actions.

I have to confess I experienced pangs of guilt while watching this film. I had grown up with Flipper and had taken my son to aquariums and marine shows. And then I recalled that I had witnessed what looked to be very bored beluga whales blowing rings, catching them, and breaking them to amuse themselves at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. So I am part of the problem.

What can we do besides boycotting dolphin shows?
Since 2007, O’Barry has been the Marine Mammal Specialist for Earth Island Institute and Director of Save Japan Dolphins coalition: This website outlines a number of ways you can get involved.

Back to the mercury.
The dolphin meat, its mercury content, and the meat’s fate becomes the strong second plot of the film. In short, the tainted meat was quietly being fed to Japanese schoolchildren, despite its mercury content and potential to cause harm to the brain and nervous system. It took efforts of some courageous fishermen/parents to put a stop to the practice.

On the DVD there is a bonus feature dealing with the mercury content of seafood. Don’t miss this feature! One of the filmmakers has his blood tested for mercury with alarming results. You can find more information about mercury in seafood here

Once you ascertain the mercury content of the fish you enjoy (enjoyed?) eating, you can also check on its sustainability by downloading a Seafood Watch Pocket Guide at the Monterey Bay Aquarium site

Do watch The Cove. Maybe not on date night, but sometime soon. For the dolphins. And for your own well-being. If the tale is told and no one hears…

Monday, April 26, 2010

Environmentally Friendly Solutions to Three Common Problems

WA4 Window Alert Decals 
First Problem: Birds Banging Into Office Windows
Some weeks ago now I blogged about a hawk attack which involved a crash into my ground-floor office window. The hawk survived and got its meal.

On Earth Day there was a smaller thud and we looked out to see a dazed wren; we didn’t even know they were frequenting the yard. We decided to take some action. We knew our nearly-local birding store, The Fat Robin, would have the answer. So the next morning we pooled some trips and made the Fat Robin the third stop. They had just the thing, a product called WindowAlert, a set of four vinyl decals, available in several patterns, for applying to the outside of your windows. Almost invisible to our eyes, they are plainly visible to the birds. The manufacturer claims, “The decal contains a component which brilliantly reflects ultraviolet sunlight.This ultraviolet light is invisible to human, but glows like a stoplight for birds…WindowAlert decals help birds ‘see’ window and thus avoid striking the glass.” At a mere $5.99 per set, it seemed worth a try. So far so good. No thuds since we installed four hummingbirds on each window. WindowAlert has received rave reviews and in 2007 People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) awarded it the National Proggy Award for Best Humane Wildlife Innovation. It is also made in the USA, and packaged by a group “Empowering People with Disabilities.”

Second Problem: Mosquito Season Imminent
Two Saturdays ago there was a special event at the Yale Peabody Museum called “Bio-Diversity Bites Back.” Representatives from a number of local agencies, including the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, were at the museum that day to talk about how to best protect yourself when spending time outdoors. (Gone are the days when you can just head to the beach or the woods without worry. Sigh.) One of the topics was West Nile Virus, a mosquito-borne disease, which is on the rise in Connecticut. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in shallow water. The simplest means of protection? Prevention — keep any eggs from hatching. Eliminate all standing water on your property. Two of the biggest culprits? Bird baths and flower pots. By merely emptying the water in the flower pots and changing the water in the bird bath every 48 hours, you will prevent any mosquito eggs from becoming larvae. The handout further cautioned that even the smallest amount of water can breed hundreds to thousands of mosquitoes.

Third Problem: Slugs Love My Tender Plants
I don’t recall having this problem years ago, but I certainly have it now. There are tiny slugs under every flowerpot, and large ones stuck to the lid of the compost bin when I lift it to dump my scraps. Their luminescent trails criss-cross the bluestone walks and the lower windows. In summer there are nightly slug fests on the cool wall at my back entrance. The slugs love to eat the coleus I plant under the apple tree and the leaves of the salvia I plant in pots near the bed of hosta and pachysandra. I try to put the young plants out of reach, but many fall victim to these naked, nocturnal, far-reaching gastropods and their voracious appetites.

I had heard once that if you pour them some beer, they will drink it and drown. Well, they must have known I poured them the cheap stuff, because that trick didn’t work.

My West Coast son has had his own slug wars. They bothered his plants. He was reluctant to give them beer. But when one determined slug slimed his way across his patio threshold and was discovered well into living room territory, that was the last straw. At the East Palo Alto Home Depot they offered Dan a solution — copper tape. He was told that slug slime reacts with the copper to produce an electrical shock, and that if he laid tape on the threshold, the slugs would not cross over. It worked! The slugs have been keeping to their side of the line ever since then.

For some reason the East Coast Home Depots don’t stock this item, but you can find it online. Copper is pricey, so it is a bit impractical to think you can create a total anti-slug force field. But you can use it selectively around your most prized potted specimens. At Van Wilgen’s Garden Center, in Branford, a couple of towns over, you can purchase ready-made handcrafted SlugsBeGone baskets, with a ring of copper around the top, fabricated by an enterprising baby boomer, a teacher in his former life. If you are extraordinarily frugal and have plenty of time on your hands, you can harvest your own copper from electrical wiring as Mags from the UK did on the thriftyfun site. I have already sold my old wiring at the scrap yard and don’t have quite that much time. But I plan to roll out some tape before setting my babies out for the summer. I do hope I won’t have to share my best beer.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It’s Earth Day Today

It's Earth Day's 40th birthday today. How will you observe it?

Here are a few ideas.

Take time to appreciate the world around you. Walk or ride your bike to work if you can.

Be or become aware of your impact on the planet. As a first step, calculate your carbon footprint. There is a good calculator at the Nature Conservancy site:

Then commit to a few easy actions to make your impact a little smaller. Here are two fun and easy ones posted at Yale’s Payne-Whitney Gym by Bulldog Sustainability:
The Briefly Nude Challenge: Save water (and time) by taking a quicker shower.
The Shake It Off Challenge: Minimize the paper towels you use by shaking off excess water before drying your hands. (Tip: 20 good shakes and you should only need 1 sheet!)
The EPA’s Earth Day site has more ideas: And for those of you with more time, there is a great article “Ten Solutions for Climate Change” at the Scientific American site:

Re-Purpose or Recycle something. Perhaps you have some clothes you have outgrown or books you will never read again. Start with your local Goodwill and Salvation Army and ask your librarian where to make book donations. Every city has groups in need of gently used items. At you can download a pdf with ideas for recycling and donating. This site may also help:

Support a Cause. These links are to some of my favorite groups. There are so many more.

Find a Way to Get Involved in Your Community.
In many communities across the planet, there is a fun way to meet like-minded people and find out what is going on in your area. It’s called Green Drinks (see my post of January 10). If you go to this site you can determine if there is a group near you.

Become informed. There are a number of informational links posted on this website. 

Do something, anything. It is easy to feel overwhelmed, but you will feel better if you do something! Every action makes a difference. As Howard Dean used to say, "You have the power!”

Let me close with a tip my husband sent out yesterday:  You may have heard people say, "I don't need to recycle, I use so little." That may be true, but all the "Littles" add up to "Bigs." Say we, all 300 plus million of us in the US, individually waste one cent’s worth of our natural resources every day. That is equivalent to $3 million every day, or $1.095 billion dollars worth in a year.  EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS, so please recycle.  It all adds up, fast.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Shopping to Save the Earth??????

This is not now nor will it ever be a site that encourages wanton shopping. But there are occasions when we just have to shop. With Spring and Summer weddings coming up fast, it’s Shower Season—gifts needed.

The Environmental Task Force (ETF) of the United Church on the Green in New Haven recently put together some “Green Living Bags” for an Earth Day Silent Auction (proceeds to buy a new, energy-efficient dishwasher and some stainless so we can forgo paper and plastic at church events). These bags include a number of our “small steps best in show” discoveries of the past year.

It struck me that these bags could be an inspiration for do-it-yourself shower gifts.

The Green Living Bag pictured here (total value $45) contains:

• One reusable shopping bag (from Whole Foods)
• Two heavy-duty spray bottles filled with green cleaners (made by the ETF) + recipe so the recipient can make his or her own refills. Get the most durable bottles you can find. These came from Home Depot.
• One, two-pound box baking soda (a main ingredient in many do-it-yourself cleaners)
• One can Bon Ami polishing cleanser (found at the supermarket in the cleanser section)
• One dishwashing brush (from IKEA)
• One pack Super Amazing Kitchen Cloths (found at Trader Joe’s)
• Two books:
      • Green Cleaning for Dummies
      • Food Rules, by Michael Pollan
• One, two-pack 11 watt CFL lightbulbs (from IKEA)

This bag is a great base, but you might want to add a few more things or mix it up for a shower gift.

Here are some useful tips:
• Consider the recipient (s). Do they cook, for example?
• Be mindful of your budget.
• Try to give useful things, and if at all possible, include at least one something that will last for years. I have been married for a long time and can still recall those who gave me some of my most treasured wedding gifts.

The following suggestions are all in the “affordable” range.
Goodbye Detergent GDB101 Original Spaghetti Scrub, 2 Pack, Gentle• You might consider this cute product I have only seen online. The original Spaghetti Scrub is partially fabricated from recycled materials and comes in course (corn cobs) and gentle (peach pits). It is available in some stores, but none local to me. The quick-drying scrub will last 3-6 months and can be sanitized in the microwave. It just has that wedding shower look.
1l (Approx 34 Oz) Round Italian Swing Top BottleLodge Logic 12-Inch Pre-Seasoned Skillet• Or an elegant Italian water bottle with a swing stopper for the dining table.
• Or a cast iron pan (see my post of February 21.)
• Or a cookbook. Cooking in Season is a great one that not everyone knows.
William Bounds GP TW Pepper Mill, American Black Walnut• Or a pepper mill from William Bounds, Ltd. Made in Torrance, CA, these mills  have an “innovative mechanism" that functions by crushing, rather than by grinding the peppercorns. They have a lifetime guarantee and are a thing of beauty.

The possibilities are endless. Have some fun thinking of ways to encourage the new couple to join you On the Road to Greenness.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Milk Your Mower

Here's an interesting Green lawn maintenance idea for those of you with really big yards.

Just think, you can watch your grass be mowed and fertilized — in just one step. And back on the farm, your lawn will be turned into someone's cheese.

Cool as this sounds I will be sticking to my pushmower. Be sure to let me know if any of you give this a try.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Soup Du Jour

Years ago there was a television commercial with the punchline, “Like I always say, you have to try new things.”

That could be me talking. I’m always looking for something new.

One of my recent discoveries is Meatless Monday. (See my blog post of March 12 .)

What a great site! I made the commitment to make every Monday a Meatless Monday and submitted my original recipe for Split Pea Soup with Root Vegetables.

Today Meatless Monday is featuring my Split Pea Soup as the lunch recipe on their site.  It is posted along with the nutritional information and a nice credit and link to my blog.

Even if you’re not quite ready to make every Monday a meatless one, please give the site and my pea soup a try. This soup is easy, low in fat, and highly nutritious. All you need is a few ingredients and a little time.

Happy eating.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

It’s A Haiku Day


New Haven’s in bloom.
 Suddenly, Spring has arrived.
 All’s right with the world!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Times They Are a-Changin'

How our lives in the US have changed since the first Earth Day!

There is less soot in the air. Cars are equipped with pollution control devices. Rivers no longer burn. We recycle now.

But let me say it again. How our lives in the US have changed since the first Earth Day!

In 1970, the population of the US was 203,302,031. On January 1, 2009, the population in the US was estimated to be 305,529,237.

In 1970, the average size of a single family home was 1,400 square feet, with 3.1 people in the average household. In 2007 it was 2,507 square feet for 2.6 people.

In 1970, there were approximately 170,000,000 registered automobiles in the world. In 2009, there were 246,000,000 registered in the US.

In 1970, we did not worry about the “perils of plastics,” a cover story in the most recent issue of Time. We did have Tupperware, but plastic had not hit the grocery stores. Most babies wore cloth diapers. Bags were made of paper.

Air travel was a luxury for people, let alone flowers or produce. I was nearly 19 when I flew home student stand-by on the shuttle from La Guardia to Logan for $15 (including tax), white knuckling it the entire way.

In 1970 there were no personal computers, cellphones, or I-Pods. We now have EnergyStar and more energy-efficient forms of lighting and appliances. But we have more appliances and ever-growing energy needs.

In 1986, the Canadian government recognized that the cod catch was declining but took no action. In 1990 the cod biomass survey was 400,000 tons; in 1994, 1,700 tons remained “in a fishery that had for over a century yielded a quarter-million ton catch.”

The American Bald Eagle recovered after DDT was banned. But there are currently 409 species of animals and 601 species of plants on the Endangered Species List; an additional 165 species of animals and 149 species of plants are threatened.

Decades ago we tackled the problem of “dirty air.” Particulate emissions are not so much of a problem now.  But in 1970, we were not yet aware of the growing hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica or the dangers of the now-banned CFCs.

Most scientists now acknowledge global warming. They say that 350 parts per million is the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere. And we are now at 390. We can watch icebergs breaking apart on YouTube.

Near the end of March it was reported that an uninhabited, 81 square mile island had vanished from satellite images. New Moore Island, claimed by both India and Bangladesh, has been reclaimed by the Bay of Bengal. Sugata Hazra, director of the School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, India, warns that this type of event may become commonplace; five inhabited islands in this same region could vanish in the next 10 years. The U.N. predicts that low-lying Bangladesh could lose almost one-fifth of its territory and see 20 million citizens displaced by 2050 if, as expected, sea levels rise by 3.3 feet.
We need Earth Day now more than ever — one with the raw energy of that very first observance. But this time the day needs to be a global call to action, followed by a global environmental decade. The battle won’t be easy, but the Earth can’t wait.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Very First Earth Day

Nearly 40 years ago, on April 22, 1970, Americans observed the first Earth Day, an event envisioned by Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin). (Its logo, pictured at right,  appeared on a flag with green and white stripes.) Inspired by the political activism on college campuses in response to the Vietnam War, Nelson had proposed a national teach-in on the environment  to send a message to Washington that public opinion was solidly behind a bold political agenda on environmental problems.

Nelson insisted the first Earth Day's activities be created not by organizers in Washington, but by individuals and groups in their own communities. He later reflected, “Earth Day planned itself.”  On April 22, 1970, some 20,000,000  Americans participated in Earth Day events across the nation. In New York City, Mayor Lindsay closed Fifth Avenue for a demonstration attended by thousands. I attended a “teach-in” at Belmont High, its message so strong that I remember convincing my AP American History teacher that it was much more important to do a detailed project on air pollution than to take the AP exam. I recently re-discovered that handwritten paper, complete with copious footnotes and correspondence with Boston’s Mayor Kevin White, and now find myself picking up a thread that I began some four decades ago.

Let me put the first Earth Day in context.

In 1969, Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River had caught on fire. Yes, a river had actually burned — for two hours! DDT was legal (not banned until 1972). In 1963, there were less than 500 pairs of American Bald Eagles in the entire lower 48 states. There was no EPA. Gasoline and paint contained lead. Students played with mercury in science class. Most importantly, there were no laws regulating the particulates and chemicals dumped into the environment. Factories, trash incinerators, and power plants spewed their filth, unregulated, into the air and waterways.

With the first Earth Day, the country seemed to wake up. According to information on the EPA website, “Born in the wake of elevated concern about environmental pollution, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency opened its doors in downtown Washington, DC, on December 2, 1970. EPA was established to consolidate in one agency a variety of federal research, monitoring, standard-setting and enforcement activities to ensure environmental protection. EPA's mission is to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment—air, water, and land—upon which life depends.”

In the decade following the first Earth Day, 28 pieces of environmental legislation were passed, including: the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Water Pollution and Control Act Amendments, the Resource Recovery Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.

America’s eyes were finally open and the country pulled together to begin the work of undoing the damage caused by years of “choices neglected…in our efforts to achieve the most spectacular ‘progress’ the world has ever known.” (Pamphlet printed by the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare 5/1/70)

Think of it, 28 pieces of legislation, driven by a movement inspired by Democrats under a Republican president, were enacted in just one decade — all of which imposed a tremendous cost on doing business. Hard to imagine that today!