Ever since I saw last year’s 60 Minutes piece on the worldwide disappearance of bees, I’ve been fascinated by colony collapse disorder — partly because it is such a mystery that no one has conclusively solved, but mostly because of the dire effect this could have on the future of the world. Without bees to pollinate our crops, there are no crops (i.e., food).

It’s suspected that bees are succumbing to a whole host of modern assaults — pesticides, a slew of new pathogens and parasites — that their immune systems were never designed to handle. Which makes me wonder: Is what’s happening to the bees a microcosm of what’s happening to us?

Set your DVR for tonight at 8 pm (or stay in — I won’t tell), because The Last Beekeeper is premiering on Planet Green. The documentary follows three commercial beekeepers over the course of one year as they struggle to save their bees, their livelihoods, and agriculture as we know it.

Interestingly, urban beekeeping seems to be the hot new DIY green movement, though it’s illegal in many parts of the country (like New York City, which has been the topic of heated debate). Though rooftop hives can’t be used for the widespread pollination of crops, proponents say they could help minimize the decline of bee populations. Not to mention the sweetest part: the 44 pounds of honey that you could harvest each year!

–Jennifer Grayson

Do this now: Check out Los Angeles’ very own Backwards Beekeepers. (Or do a Google search: Just type “beekeeping” and the name of your city. I even found one in Cleveland.) If the idea of your very own swarm scares the bejesus out of you, stop by a farmers market this weekend and support your local apiarists by buying a couple jars of honey.

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Photo via Flickr: Pink Sherbert Photography

Photo via Flickr: Pink Sherbert Photography

When the report came out last week that cell phone use is linked to an increased risk of brain tumors (why this was buried in the Living section of The Huffington Post and the Business section of the LA Times, I don’t know — seems like important news to me), my first thought was Wow, we’re really screwed. It doesn’t matter if I eat organic or eschew plastic containers or get eight hours of sleep a night if the electromagnetic radiation from something that I and 87 percent of Americans hold up to our heads every single day is going to negate all that.

Some say this study isn’t the be all and end all. According to the LA Times, the World Health Organization and the National Cancer Institute still maintain that there’s no hard evidence that using a cell phone will negatively impact your health. But why take a chance, right?

Thankfully the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is way ahead of the game, as usual. Yesterday, the group’s research team released its online consumer guide to cell phone radiation, which rates more than 1,000 mobile phones available in the US. I’m not so thrilled that my new Blackberry Curve made the top 10 highest radiation list, but you can bet I’ll be taking steps to minimize risk, like always using my headset or speakerphone, and embracing text whenever possible.

Check out the EWG’s interactive online guide to cell phone emissions (it’s free).

–Jennifer Grayson

Do this now: Contact your members of Congress and tell them that cell phone makers should be required by law to disclose each phone’s radiation output on the label. Don’t know your senator/representatives? Click here.

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Yesterday, I met with Josh Tickell and Rebecca Harrell of The Veggie Van Organization as they raced to get ready for their nationwide tour to promote their film Fuel (which, by the way, won the Best Documentary Audience Award at Sundance 2008 — this film is going to be huge). While I was there, they gave me and The Huffington Post a first glimpse of the Algaeus, the world’s first algae-fueled, 150 mpg, plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

There’s been a lot of buzz about algae fuel, which is actually a synthetic gasoline (albeit one that’s completely biodegradable — even drinkable!), not biodiesel, as Harrell relayed yesterday. Stay tuned for an in-depth look at this fuel of the future.

Click here for the full story on today’s HuffPost.

–Jennifer Grayson

Do this now: One of the goal’s of The Veggie Van Organization is to make available a free 35-minute educational cut of the film to every classroom in America. Visit the website to make a donation.

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flexitarianI know I probably should wait until (Meatless) Monday to post about this book, but I’m finding it so inspiring that I thought it might be a good beach-read recommend for your holiday weekend.

When I adopted Meatless Monday several months ago, I was a full-fledged meat-eater (although I always buy organic). But a funny thing happened by making that one change: As the weeks went on, I found myself experimenting with more vegetarian eating, like making lentil soup for weekday lunches, or ordering tofu when I went to my local Thai joint for dinner. And then, I started buying slightly smaller portions of meat for us at home, filling the void with more vegetables and complex carbs.

If every American going veg one day a week is the equivalent of all of us switching from our regular cars to fuel-efficient hybrids, why shouldn’t I see how far I can comfortably take this? I do call myself an environmentalist, after all. And the changes I’ve been making are so small, I barely notice the difference on a day-to-day basis. Yet I’ve probably managed to cut my overall meat consumption by about 30 percent since May.

Why not just embrace a vegetarian diet wholeheartedly, you ask? Well, during my college years, I had a brief, poorly planned foray into veganism that left me fairly ill and malnourished. The plus side is that I’m no stranger to sprouts and tofu, but I am a bit wary of saying goodbye once again to my favorite food (lobster) and my beloved LA taco trucks. So when I heard about The Flexitarian Diet — where you adopt a mostly vegetarian lifestyle but still have the flexibility to eat meat when the occasion warrants it — I thought, This is brilliant.

Yes, the book title does have the word “diet” in it, but it’s not a diet book in the true sense: There are no rules, calorie counting, or forbidden foods. It’s really more of a balanced, sane approach on how to make healthier — and, consequently, more eco-friendly — choices in your everyday life. (Although author Dawn Jackson Blatner does say that if you adopt a flexitarian eating plan, you can expect to see a 20-pound average weight loss in six to 12 months; all the more reason to crack it open this weekend, in between the barbecues and beer!)

–Jennifer Grayson

Do this now: Try going meatless for just one extra meal this week. It’s not as hard as you think — nearly 25 percent of Americans already eat four or more vegetarian meals a week, says Blatner.

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Distilled white vinegar and GMO

September 3rd, 2009

Photo via Flickr: Faeryboots

Photo via Flickr: Faeryboots

A reader raised an important point in response to my HuffPost Eco Etiquette column this week, in which I share my favorite natural home cleaning products (the “holy trinity”): distilled white vinegar, baking soda, and Dr. Bronner’s.

She emailed:

I do have a concern now that I read that normal distilled white vinegar is made from GMO corn. Is this true? Does that make it toxic? I usually buy the huge plastic jug of Heinz brand. Is this a problem for greenies? I am now on a kick to boycott GMO everything because I don’t want to support their environmentally toxic agriculture policies.

The frustrating thing about trying to lead a green life is that there are no easy choices. I spend a lot of my days just trying to weigh which is the lesser of two evils, and I’m sure you do, too: Should you drive to the farmers market that’s 10 miles away or bike/walk to your local grocery store? Wash dishes by hand or wait to run a full dishwasher? Keep your old relatively fuel-efficient car or shell out for a new Prius that you have to drive for 46,000 miles before you realize its environmental benefits?

Of course, distilled white vinegar isn’t completely free and green. Normal DWV is probably made from GMO corn, although the Heinz brand does make its vinegar completely from grains. (Some people think that some of the cheaper brands may use petroleum as a starter.)

If you’re determined to completely eliminate GMO products from your life, good luck: You’d probably have to eliminate half of your wardrobe, since cotton is one of the largest GMO crops. You can buy organic white vinegar, although this is considerably more expensive.

Here’s why I’m sticking with DWV (which I think in this case, is the lesser evil): Unlike most cleaning products, it won’t pollute our waterways, isn’t carcinogenic, and I can buy it in bulk, which means I use less petroleum-based packaging than if I bought several bottles of other commercial eco-friendly cleaners.

I think we greenies need to stop obsessing over the minutiae, make the best decisions we can on a daily basis, and focus on the big picture issues. If we really want to make a difference when it comes to GMO, then legislation — not random boycotts of gallon jugs of distilled white vinegar — is what’s really going to make a difference.

–Jennifer Grayson

Do this now: If fighting GMO is your passion, volunteer for an organization that is working to enact anti-GMO legislation, like Greenpeace.

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Photo via Flickr: Jurvetson

Photo via Flickr: Jurvetson

From today’s New York Times:

The British oil giant, BP, announced on Wednesday the discovery of what it characterized as a “giant” oil field more than six miles under the Gulf of Mexico, but it may take years to assess how much crude can actually be recovered.

…It is part of a new frontier of exploration where oil companies are spending billions of dollars to find oil off the shores of Brazil and West Africa and boring through miles of rock, salt, and packed sands.

The discoveries have been made possible by leaps in development of offshore drilling technology, computers, and three-dimensional imaging that can pinpoint where the best reserves lie, and advanced mooring equipment to stabilize platforms in deep waters.

I’m hoping that by the time the hypocritically named Beyond Petroleum begins to extract the oil — estimated to be at least three years from now — we’ll be zipping around in our algae-powered cars of the future. I just don’t get it: If gazillions of dollars have been devoted to developing technology that can drill farther under the ocean than the height of Mount Everest (tantamount to exploring outer space), for a substance that will only continue to pollute the planet and increase global warming, why in God’s name can’t we commit the same funding and brainpower to creating sustainable fuels?

That’s where the real money will be, anyway. This is just a desperate last attempt by an industry that’s chosen to bury its head in the proverbial oil sand for far too long.

For the full story, click here.

–Jennifer Grayson

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As some environmentally minded families are making the choice to stop at one child, or, more drastically, choosing not to have children at all, I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone will bring up the issue of population and the environment re the Duggars, who are expecting their 19th child next spring.

OK, I guess I’ll be the one to broach this topic, not so much to chastise the Duggar family — since clearly, Michelle and Jim Bob were genetically hardwired to be fruitful and multiply (though there is such a thing as birth control) — as to spark an intelligent discussion about the tremendous environmental ramifications of an exploding world population.

It’s definitely not as “fun” of a green matter to debate as, say, eco-friendly fashion or organic gardening — who wants to tell people to stop having adorable babies? — but it’s arguably the most important one: A recent Oregon State University study revealed that in the United States, the environmental impact of an extra child is 20 times more important than nearly any other green decisions people might make throughout their lifetime, such as recycling, driving a hybrid car, or using energy-efficient appliances.

–Jennifer Grayson

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