Posts filed under ‘Environment’
I’ve been taking a bit of a break from the ThinkingShift blog but you can still find me on the DailyOxford and ChinchillaBluePhotography blogs as well as on Twitter. Meanwhile, I’ve been working on doing a special post for a ThinkingShift reader who asked me why is it that people aren’t concerned about privacy. I am doing that post dear reader but – the Christchurch earthquake got in my way, as well as huge winds that are a frequent occurrence in the Canterbury region. So I’m way behind but it will happen as they say.
My favourite media company contacted me recently and I must blog on this issue because it’s quite a compelling, if not disturbing, story. When you think about sustainability, saving the planet, recycling and so on – do you ever stop to think about toilet paper packaging? You would think that if the packaging says “100% recycled paper” or “sourced from sustainable plantations” that you are buying a product that is environmentally friendly. But perhaps not.
A Choice investigation has found that environmental claims on toilet paper packaging are sometimes vague, leading the consumer into the trap of believing they are buying a superior product that protects native forests and biodiversity. Choice sites the example of a new toilet paper on the market that claims to be made from bamboo, straw, reeds and cotton – but cotton is a water and chemical-intensive crop and should be avoided for a single-use product such as toilet paper.
And then there are some toilet paper products that display an eco-label, such as Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), but a number of conservation foundations and societies say that this particular eco-label is meaningless as PEFC lacks on-ground auditing of forests and meaningful stakeholder engagement. So the consumer cannot be confident that the fibres sourced for the toilet paper are in fact environmentally and socially sustainable. Choice also could not find any toilet paper products that carried the The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) global eco-label, which is supported by Greenpeace, ACF and The Wilderness Society. An FSC label would indicate that the product is made from certified virgin fibre sourced from sustainable forests.
The Choice investigation found that most toilet papers do not use an eco-label yet claim the fibre is sourced from sustainably managed forests. But when asked to verify the source of the fibre, the companies are vague or cannot back up claims. Most toilet papers claim to use a process known as “elemental chlorine-free bleaching”. Supposedly this is an environmentally-friendly bleaching process to whiten, but it uses chlorine. A far better choice is unbleached toilet paper because this is chlorine-free.
Another eye-opener is the triangular recycling symbol with the number four and LDPE acronym you often see on toilet paper packaging. It signifies that the product is low-density polyethylene. But Local Councils in Australia prohibit LDPE film in their recycling bins. The consumer is also led astray when it comes to logos of environmental organisations displayed on toilet paper packaging, saying that profits go to certain environmental projects. The problem here is that these environmental groups do not always audit environmental impacts or fibre source. Sadly, Choice concluded that most toilet paper manufacturers’ claims about sustainable forestry are unsubstantiated and those using the PEFC eco-label are not supported by some major environment groups.
So is there any particular toilet paper that the consumer can be confident is a sustainable product? Choice gave a 5-star rating to the following (in order of sustainability):
- Coles Green Choice, which has 100% recycled content from used office paper;
- Dandy Enviro Friend, which you can buy from Aldi. Funds environment groups and projects;
- Envirosoft – elemental chlorine-free bleaching or unbleached;
- Naturale – Wastepaper from process is recycled; and
- Safe brand.
Singled out for favourable comment was Kleenex Cottonelle Toilet Tissue. Choice acknowledged this toilet paper for environmental innovation with its waste reduction strategy for kids. A puppy is printed on every three to four sheets, letting kids know when to tear off.
So next time you go to the supermarket, read the toilet paper packaging carefully and be a more informed consumer with the help of Choice.
The town officials of Camden, Maine and Greenwich, Connecticut USA are pretty smart if you ask me. They’ve thought about something that maybe you and I don’t give much thought to – the use of pesticides in public spaces, particularly parks where kids frolic and play. I remember growing up, I used to get bindi-eyes stuck in my feet. It was a rite of passage really. Bindi-eyes piercing your thongs and pricking your feet. Ouch. But then along came weed killer. Bindi-eyes are a weed and competes with grass so local councils and homeowners spray the little bastards with weed killer. Wouldn’t want bindis to spoil a lush green lawn now would we.
The use of weed killer and various pesticides can be harmful to humans, birds and animals. My grandmother used to knock off bindi-eyes with a very simple home remedy: 2 tablespoons of iron sulphate; 4.5 litres of water. That’s it. Mix it, shake it and spray it on the bindi-eyes. Even household vinegar can be used as an organic weed killer.
And it seems that town officials in Camden and Greenwich have woken up to the environmental hazards of spraying weed killers and pesticides. Here’s a photo of a public park in Camden:
A healthy lawn boasting gorgeous lush green grass. No chemicals, pesticides or weed killers used. Camden town officials have adopted a new policy, which you can read here in full. Apparently, a group of concerned citizens (Citizens for a Green Camden) put the pressure on authorities to eliminate toxic pesticides and weed killers from public parks and fields. And here’s a section of the policy:
“All pesticides are toxic to some degree and the widespread use of pesticides is both a major environmental problem and a public health issues. Federal regulations of pesticides is no guarantee of safety. Camden recognizes that the use of pesticides may have profound effects upon indigenous plants, surface water and ground water, as well as unintended effects upon people, birds and other animals in the vicinity of treated areas. Camden recognizes that all citizens, particularly children, have a right to protection from exposure to hazardous chemicals and pesticides”.
Of the thirty most commonly used lawn pesticides ,14 are probable or possible carcinogens, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 15 with neurotoxicity, 26 with liver or kidney damage and 27 are sensitizers and/or irritants. So it’s essential that local councils adopt a pesticide free policy.
I use this collection of simple, organic recipes when out and about in the garden to control insects and bugs. No nasty toxic stuff. There’s absolutely no need to use chemicals. You don’t want to end up like this poor dude. With no nasty sprays, you’ll find birds and butterflies happily returning to your garden.
Image credit: Irregular Times.
I’ve been monitoring with interest a court case going on in the good old US of A because it could have serious implications for the food we ingest. I am not a fan of genetically-modified (GM) foods due to the unknown long-term effects of gene-mixing, possible creation of super-viruses and antibiotic resistance, potential toxins, allergens and carcinogens. Basically, introducing changes into the DNA of plants and crops and producing transgenic products is an unnatural process IMHO. GM foods (so we’re told) enhance desired traits within crops and plants, such as increased resistance to herbicides, or they offer improved nutritional content. And with an exploding world population, GM crops are designed to be pest and disease-resistant; they can tolerate cold or harsh climates and droughts. So on the surface, GM foods make sense. But scratch beneath the surface and you start to worry.
The court case I’ve had my eye is a cat-fight between Monsanto and the Center for Food Safety, the Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds and the Sierra Club, amongst others. The coalition of plaintiffs were seeking a temporary ban on genetically-modified Roundup Ready sugar beets and sugar beet seeds developed by Monsanto. The cat-fight goes like this:
- the coalition argues that the US Department of Agriculture approved the glyphosate-resistant sugar beets (commercially known as “Roundup Ready) without properly determining socioeconomic and environmental impacts. The approval dates back to the Bush administration.
- the coalition is arguing the possibility of genetic contamination of organic and conventional crops such as Swiss chard and red table beets.
- they are asking for a temporary ban on the planting of Roundup Ready sugar beet seeds until the US federal government does an environmental and health impact study.
- and they are arguing that both farmers and consumers will be forced to grow or buy GM sugar beets because of limited choice.
So really the legal argument is that federal regulators wrongly approved the commercialization of GM sugar beets. The US Department of Agriculture deregulated genetically engineered RoundUp Ready sugar beets in 2004. And in September 2009, the federal district court for the Northern District of California ruled that the Bush administration had unlawfully approved the GM sugar beets. You can read the court order here. Naturally, Monsanto wasn’t taking this lying down and appealed.
Federal district Judge, Jeffrey White, has just denied the coalition group’s preliminary injunction but has left the door open for permanent relief when he says:
“The parties should not assume that the court’s decision to deny a preliminary injunction is indicative of its views on a permanent injunction pending the full environmental review that [Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] is required to do“.
I think the denial of the injunction means that farmers can go ahead in April 2010 and plant sugar beets. The coalition group is seeking a permanent injunction and will be back in court to fight it out with Monsanto in July 2010. To gain perspective as to why this will be a huge cat fight – 1 million acres of Roundup Ready sugar beets have been planted in 10 US States and in two Canadian provinces. That’s a whole lot of sugar beets and they account for more than half of the United States’ sugar production. And of course contamination from GM sugar beet seeds would be devastating for farmers planting organic seeds, making their crops pretty much worthless.
This is an important case because Roundup Ready sugar beets are genetically-engineered to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup glyphosate-based herbicide and this results in the creation of Roundup-resistant “super weeds”. To overcome resistance, farmers often resort to nasty, nasty herbicides like 2,4-D, the active ingredient in Agent Orange. Apart from this horror scenario, the sugar produced from Roundup Ready sugar beet crops have greatly elevated levels of the herbicide glyphosphate, which may end up in the products we consume ranging from breakfast cereals to bread.
I’m being asked more and more to review products and books. I guess due to the emphasis of this blog on topics like frugal living, sustainability, anti-The Brands, organic products and so on. I should point out that any product review I do involves two things: not being paid for it and putting the product through its paces. The review I do will be an honest assessment.
So….I was contacted by a Sydney-based PR company who asked if I’d heard of Weleda products and if I’d like to receive some samples to try and perhaps do a review. I received a generous selection of products and put them through what I consider a pretty gruelling test. More about the test later.
But first – you can check out the Weleda website here in Australia and here internationally. I have seen Weleda products in various health food stores over the years but never tried them. So I checked them out and can tell you that they produce organic skin & body care and what’s really interesting is that the finest ingredients are sourced from specially selected biodynamic and organic farms and gardens. There’s no nasty chemicals, colourings, synthetics – the natural ingredients are often wild-harvested (meaning that the plants have grown in the wild) and have been picked in a sustainable way.
The company’s heritage was a surprise – going back to 1921, Dr Rudolph Steiner and the movement known as anthroposophy. I know a bit about anthroposophy because my mother was a bit of a health nut who followed the teaching of Gaylord Hauser. Anthroposophy is about seeing the body, mind and spirit as linked to the world and part of a holistic system. So Steiner, along with Dr. Ita Wegman, developed Weleda products using natural ingredients that holistically work with and support the body’s healing tendencies. “Weleda” is the Celtic goddess of wisdom and healing, so they chose a pretty apt name.
Anyway, I was sent some products from the Almond range for sensitive skin, toothpaste and some smaller sample products. Here’s what I received:
- Almond Cleansing Lotion
- Almond Moisture Cream
- Skin food
- Sea Buckthorn Oil
- Sea Buckthorn Creamy Body Wash
- Plant Gel Toothpaste
- Ratanhia Mouthwash Concentrate
- Pomegranate Hand Cream
- and finally, a pretty little bag full of small samples.
Now to the test. I have the world’s weirdest skin. Being of mixed Welsh and Russian origin, I have VERY fair skin that is prone to going berserk over the slightest thing. Heat and wind in the face can send it bright red. I simply cannot (and will not) tan, so any slight skin imperfection is front and centre. I also travel a fair bit and constantly find products leaking all over the place.
So I need a skin care product that is super gentle and for sensitive skin. And preferably products in tubes that don’t leak and take up too much space in my toiletry travel bag. Since giving up The Brands, I have been using organic skin care, my favourite being Avalon Organics’ Vitamin C range. I’ve been sticking to this for well over a year now. And I prefer natural ingredients.
The Weleda products arrived just in time to take on the road to Taiwan. What a test!! The products would be stuffed into a toiletry bag, thrown around in a suitcase and tested on my skin for over a week, in a country with different climatic conditions (always a hassle for my skin). So I took all the products and here’s my review:
- the Almond cleansing lotion and moisture cream. The Almond range is for sensitive and reactive skin – hello!! The cleanser is creamy, fragrance free and is packed with sweet almond oil that helps nourish and soothe sensitive skin. Frankly, I expected the cleanser would not be not very effective at taking off my make-up or might leave my skin feeling tight but…nope. It was a pleasure to use and very little was needed to swipe off the make-up. As I also have skin that tends to be oily, the moisture cream was surprisingly light and didn’t leave me looking like an oil pit. Both these products I found to be extremely soothing on my skin, which often feels hot. So far so good!
- the toothpaste I looked at with trepidation. I am used to the Colgates or whatever you get from the supermarket. The gel toothpaste is made from plants. Frankly, I thought it wouldn’t be very effective. After a week of using this toothpaste, I wouldn’t buy anything else. LOVE it. I have sensitive gums too and often find a toothpaste stings or is too full of mint or some other strong taste. This toothpaste is made from organic chamomile flower extract, along with myrrh and organic ratanhia (with mild disinfectant and astringent properties). The mouthwash was similar. Both are excellent products. It took me probably 3 or 4 days to get used to the toothpaste as it’s quite a different texture in the mouth.
- After hours and hours of flying to Taiwan and back (and recent trips to New Zealand), I found Skin Food a wonderful problem solver for the rough and dry nasty bits. Skin Food is an intensively nourishing, hydrating cream made from organic pansy. I smacked it on the elbows, heels of the feet and any other bits that were a tad dry. I believe this is known as the “hero product” of the Weleda range and has been around since 1926.
- The Sea Buckthorn Creamy Body Wash is super creamy, with a subtle, delightful smell of orange sea buckthorn berries. The Sea Buckthorn Body Oil I used alternately with the Skin Food for the rough bits. I was very happy that these two products didn’t have some awful fake smell (like so many of the vanilla-scented products around these days).
- Pomegranate Hand Cream: I often forget about the hands, so after a week of using this hand cream, I reckon my hands are looking smoother. Organic pomegranate seed oil is naturally rich in antioxidants so this hand cream is going to help protect the hands from free radical damage.
I’ve been using the Weleda products for nearly two weeks now and can truly tell you that my skin has not done its usual thing – feeling hot, going red, breaking out as often, looking dull and so on. It’s calmer and more soothed. None of the products leaked in my suitcase. Most of them come in handy tubes that can get squished and thrown around without any leakage dramas. Obviously, Weleda puts thought into a product’s ingredients rather than giving you some fancy looking jar. The size of the products is good too for travel bags.
I guess the best thing I can say is that I will now be switching from Avalon Organics and going with Weleda products from now on. That’s how good I think the products are. I know that my fav health store doesn’t stock Weleda, so thank goodness I can purchase online. Thx to Katja at the PR company for asking me to test Weleda!
No doubt you’ve heard of the fracas going on over the global warming emails that were allegedly hacked from computers at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Centre in the UK and leaked to the world on the Internet. Now known as Climate Gate, the leaked emails have been feasted on by global warming skeptics. Just in case you’ve been hitting the snooze button and missed the whole thing, you can search the emails on this handy website. If you want a potted version of the emails, Andrew Bolt of the Herald Sun provides excerpts of the juicy bits.
Around 1079 emails and 72 documents supposedly show that scientists have been behaving badly by manipulating climate change data; colluding to suppress data that suggests there is no heating up of the planet happening; and darkly wishing to beat the crap out of scientists who are skeptical about anthropogenic global warming (AGW). So the allegation is that a bunch of nerdy scientists are guilty of fraud and conspiring to cover up the warming theory.
On the other side of the fence, there are those who are loudly suggesting that the emails have been taken out of context and that skeptics are “cherry picking” the emails, searching for words and phrases that spectactularly reveal some grand plan on the part of climate change scientists. I think this is an important point to ponder. We all know that email communication can often be blunt, direct, suggestive and misinterpreted by a recipient. And I’d say that scientists are a pretty direct lot and heavily critique or criticize their peers’ work. Without contextual information, we can all jump to incorrect conclusions. And I’d suggest that’s what might be happening with Climate Gate. Here is a thoughtful analysis that provides some of the missing contextual information surrounding the emails.
Now, before you jump all over me, I’m not a climate scientist (nor are most of the climate change skeptics I’d say). But I am someone who likes to explore issues before jumping up and down, pointing the finger of blame. So I’ve now read many of the key emails skeptics have seized on and I’ve even taken the time to read a few of the original articles of the named scientists and I do think that things have been taken out of context.
For example, Phil Jones (Director of the Climate Research Centre) in a 1999 email said (about temperature reconstructions):
“I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”
Yep, on the face of it, not looking too good for old Phil. It does read as though he’s been up to some tricky stuff, manipulating data. But…I took the time to track the original article (referenced as “Mike’s Nature trick). It appears to be from a 1998 article in Nature, entitled “Global-scale temperature patterns and climate forcing over the past six centuries” by Mann, Bradley and Hughes (the dudes of Hockey Stick fame) Nature 392, 779-787 (23 April 1998). I actually waded my way through it. I’m no pointy-headed scientist (although I do have a Masters in Complexity) and I confess to not understanding some of it because it deals with Paleoclimatology – but seems to me that Jones is using language commonly employed by scientists (let’s remember that every profession has its own language) and he means bag of tricks or a technique to resolve a problem.
In this case, as I understand the article, Jones is referring to a divergence problem. Briefly, proxy data (such as tree rings and ice cores) - going back thousands of years but ending in 1980 – were examined and appeared to diverge from modern instrumental temperature records post-1960. The authors were trying to construct long-term (centuries to millennia) temperature records. Instrumental records from the late 20th Century were pointing to global warming but reconstructed temperatures from trees were showing cooling or no change. Hence, a divergence problem. I read somewhere (I’m hoping to find the reference) that climate change itself could very well be affecting trees, so they don’t grow as they once did and therefore don’t provide useful proxy data. The “trick” that Jones mentioned in his email is the technique of plotting recent instrumental data along with the reconstructed data – not to “hide” a decline - but because the scientists understood that the tree-ring data was suspect due to global warming (which is shown by the instrumental records). In his words:
“.. they’re talking about two different things here. They’re talking about the instrumental data which is unaltered – but they’re talking about proxy data going further back in time, a thousand years, and it’s just about how you add on the last few years, because when you get proxy data you sample things like tree rings and ice cores, and they don’t always have the last few years. So one way is to add on the instrumental data for the last few years.”
The future of our planet depends on whether or not anthropogenic global warming is a reality. For non-scientists and conspiracy theorists to pounce like wolves on a series of emails and cry “fraud” is itself suspect. IMHO we all need to go back to the original sources, the articles, the science itself and have a whole lot of PhDs after our names before we can even remotely begin to comment.
If you want a conspiracy theory, how about this – no hacking of computers or emails took place (by Russians it’s suggested). It was an inside job. Someone or a group of shadowy dudes, who want to discredit climate change scientists and knew what they were looking for, leaked the material. Because let’s be honest, there are a range of vested interests that would like to smack AGW in the chops and see the whole issue fade away.
For a good laugh: read this….brilliant.