Photo via Flickr: Jeferonix

Photo via Flickr: Jeferonix

Methane. It’s what led to the explosion that caused the Deepwater Horizon to burn and sink in the first place, unleashing a torrent of crude into the ocean that has now surpassed the Exxon Valdez as the worst oil spill in United States history. The gas is also still being released along with the oil: According to BP, the mixture spewing from the ocean floor is about half methane and other gases, and half petroleum compounds. Oh, and it’s a greenhouse gas that’s 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

A powerful greenhouse gas. That makes up half of the estimated 500,000 to 1 million gallons of oil leaking each day. Of which an unknown portion is escaping into the atmosphere. Why is no one talking about this?

When I contacted Jeff Chanton, a professor in the Department of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science at Florida State University who has been closely following the BP spill, he was quick to point out that the immediate short-term threat to the ecosystem in the Gulf, is, of course, the oil itself. But, he says, “Methane is undeniably bubbling out with this oil and escaping to the atmosphere. This will exacerbate the greenhouse effect.”

How much so is not so clear. Based on Chanton’s recent research looking at natural oil seeps on the sea floor, he estimates that anywhere from 10 to 50 percent of the methane released might make its way into the air. This, he says, is because the oil actually forms a protective coating around the methane bubbles, allowing the gas to escape to the surface instead of being dissolved in seawater and consumed by natural methanotrophic bacteria.

“We looked at several sites this past summer, and at one of the sites, the natural seep was very oily,” he says. “At the site that was very oily, we did find elevated methane concentrations in the atmosphere over the site. But another site that was more shallow, where the bubbles were not oily, we didn’t see that. So the oil helps the methane get to the surface by kind of armoring the bubbles and then they don’t dissolve as much.”

So now, for the holy cow analysis: For calculation’s sake, let’s use the natural gas leakage figure given last week by BP: 15 million cubic feet a day (although based on BP’s oil spill estimate at that time of 5,000 barrels a day, that figure is probably a lot higher).

According to the EPA Interactive Units Converter:

1 cubic foot (CF) methane (CH4) = .04246 pounds of CH4
15 million CF CH4 x .04246 = 636,900 pounds CH4 = 318.5 metric tons CH4
318.5 metric tons CH4 = 6,066.9 metric tons CO2 equivalent a day

For comparison, that’s more than a third of daily CO2 emissions for the entire New York metro area.

Any other number crunchers want to take a crack at it?

–Jennifer Grayson

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New to Habitat for Humanity homes in the US: Energy-efficient LED lighting from Cree. Photo via Flickr: FirstBaptistNashville

New to Habitat for Humanity homes in the US: Energy-efficient LED lighting from Cree. Photo via Flickr: FirstBaptistNashville

Too often, people think of eco-friendly home improvements like solar panels and LED lighting as being for the conscientious wealthy. But ironically, it’s the people with the least money who could benefit most from the cost savings a green home can provide. So why aren’t energy-efficient lighting and appliances automatically incorporated into new low-income housing?

They should be: Habitat for Humanity, for instance, just announced that it will be putting high-efficiency LED downlights from Cree in the kitchens of all new Habitat homes in the United States. The eco-friendly lighting will mean significant savings: In California, for instance, homeowners can expect to save nearly $100 a year on energy costs.

Eight dollars a month may not seem like a lot of money, but to low-income families, every little bit makes a difference. And keep in mind that this is only the savings for energy efficient lighting in the kitchen. Could you imagine if the whole house employed these LEDs?

Other organizations are working to bring green building practices to affordable housing. Global Green has assisted over two dozen low-income housing developers nationwide through its Greening of Affordable Housing Initiative, including the Nueva Vista Family Housing project in Santa Cruz, CA (solar electricity, fluorescent lighting, hydronic heating, and Energy Star appliances) and the Plaza Apartments in San Francisco (abundant daylight, rooftop PV panels, natural gas–fired boilers, and radiant hot water).

–Jennifer Grayson

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freepeople

Whether in anticipation of future plastic bag taxes or to back up the brand’s eco-luxe bohemian aesthetic with some real tree-hugging action, no matter; I was duly impressed to see shoppers heading out with their Free People purchases in these reusable mesh fabric totes when I visited the store in Highland Park, IL, this past weekend.

Reusable bags have become a common sight at grocery stores (at least where I live, in Los Angeles), but retail shops are an entirely different matter. Even my friends who dutifully take their pile of Trader Joe’s canvas totes with them marketing wouldn’t turn down a glossy black Barneys shopping bag should they have the occasion to splurge.

Somehow, that Carrie Bradshaw moment doesn’t feel quite the same when you’re walking down Madison Avenue with a wrinkled hemp tote, does it? (Although it’s never stopped me: I admittedly don’t do a lot of clothes shopping, but when I do, I pack up my purchases in this expandable nylon number that I carry on my key chain.)

This Free People cutie is the perfect compromise: It’s cool looking, you don’t have to remember to bring it to the store, and most importantly, it’s not made of petroleum-based plastic.

–Jennifer Grayson

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curriedlentil

Just got back from four days in Chicago. Walked into my apartment, starving, only to be faced with a completely empty fridge and a meagerly stocked pantry. Oh man! It shouldn’t have come as a surprise; I always try to use up everything in the kitchen before I travel so nothing spoils.

But after all the schlepping, I can’t bear the thought of leaving the apartment to grab some lunch or hit up the grocery store — especially not with the pile of work and unanswered emails I’m facing.

Luckily, I spy a bag of red lentils in the corner of the pantry. Do I have an onion? Check. Do I have a few pathetic stalks of wilted celery? You betcha. Are there any vegetable bouillon cubes to whip up some stock? Hooray! Add a liberal dose of the curry powder in my spice rack, and I’ve got the makings of a hearty, flavorful Meatless Monday soup.

It’s a spartan meal, but after all the fries and char dogs I ate this weekend (OK, only two hot dogs, but that’s a lot for someone who hasn’t eaten one in almost a year), it’s a welcome cleanse.

Quick Curried Lentil Soup

Serves 6

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3-4 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups red lentils, rinsed
8 cups vegetable broth
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large stockpot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and celery and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, curry powder, cinnamon, and bay leaves and cook, stirring, for 2 more minutes. Add lentils and broth, cover pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, partially uncovered, until lentils are tender and soup has thickened, about 45 minutes. Remove pot from heat, discard bay leaves, season with salt and pepper, and puree with a hand blender until soup is smooth. Serve garnished with a dollop of plain yogurt.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Photo via Flickr: Nexeus Fatale

Photo via Flickr: Nexeus Fatale

This post was originally published on 11.17.09, but I thought about it yesterday en route to Chicago for the weekend: I left my stainless steel reusable bottle sitting on the dish rack at home and had to buy a $4.39 plastic bottle of water when I got to LAX. I know I should feel guiltier about the 965 lbs of CO2 emissions from my flight than about a plastic water bottle, but still…

I sometimes wonder if the TSA ban on liquids is a secret ploy to encourage the sale of bottled water at airport shops. OK, so I don’t really believe that. But for those of us who have become dependent on our Kleen Kanteens et al, there aren’t really a lot of options for a decent H20 fill-up at the airport.

This, I realized, after three weeks of traveling that took me through five US airports. It was heartening to see that recycling bins for cans and plastic bottles have now become commonplace, but if I didn’t want to cave and purchase a $4 bottle of Aquafina, my only options were to either: a) fill up my reusable bottle from the sink at the airport bathroom (fine at O’Hare, with its top-ranked tap water; pretty gross at LAX); or b) go to a restaurant/bar and ask to be filled up (usually met with weird looks).

I realize that green airport is an oxymoron — after all, the flights I took over the past few weeks emitted 2.5 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere — but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to eliminate waste whenever possible. A lot of airports now have green initiatives that include recycled building materials, energy-saving lighting, and even miniature wind turbines to generate electricity; why not install filtered water stations by the gates where passengers can fill up reusable bottles before their flights? The airlines could even conceivably get behind such a measure, since less passengers requesting water on board would reduce their costs.

I’m not reinventing the wheel here; these “water stations” used to be a common sight in this country before advertising agencies snookered millions of us into paying for what is essentially free tap water in a plastic bottle. They were called drinking fountains.

–Jennifer Grayson

Do this now: Before filtered water stations become a reality, check out EcoUsable’s Ech2o stainless steel (and BPA-free) reusable bottle, which has a built-in filter.

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Whether or not you believe that global warming was responsible for the devastating floods in Nashville, you can’t argue with the environmental destruction left in their wake. Below, photos of the rubble awaiting landfill disposal, from my uncle who lives in Nashville. As of yesterday, more than 31,000 tons of flood debris had been collected.

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nashville_2

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He says:

The city hired contractors to collect refuse from people’s lawns, then moved everything to sites around town until such time as they can transfer all of this stuff to disposal locations. These collections have to be breeding bacteria, but are better off on these sites than in neighborhoods. These collections are in every part of town.

Not much else to say, is there? Except: Here’s what you can do to help.

–Jennifer Grayson

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The Environmental Protection Agency's "Submit a Technology Solution" web page, where even you can submit an idea as to how to clean up the Gulf oil disaster

The Environmental Protection Agency's "Submit a Technology Solution" web page, where you too can submit an idea as to how to clean up the Gulf oil disaster

As 200,000 gallons of crude continue to gush daily from the Deepwater Horizon well site in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s becoming more painfully obvious that no one — not the federal government, not the Gulf region marine scientists, not even BP’s own experts — has any clue how to even begin to clean up this mess. It turns out that what few options we have (including burning the oil or attempting to disintegrate it with toxic dispersants) may, in fact, do more harm than help.

Want some scary evidence that the cleanup efforts have become a complete crapshoot? Check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s very own “Submit a Technology” page on its website, where you and any shmoe with a corn cob and a prayer can suggest ideas to our federal government for how to mop up the spill.

I mean, really? Could you imagine if EPA had set up a similar website after the meltdown at Three Mile Island? Uh, well, we kind of allowed this technology to be built that had the potential to destroy our planet, but we never really figured out what to do if something went horribly wrong… Suggestions, anyone?

I said this today in my column today for HuffPost, and I’ll say it again: Because of our desperate need for oil and other fossil fuels, we’ve allowed corporations to develop ultra sophisticated technologies to plumb the depths of the ocean for oil, but not required them to construct solutions to deal with a disaster scenario when those technologies fail.

Not surprising, considering that BP spent $16 million lobbying Congress last year alone.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Photo via Flickr: Ilovemypit

Photo via Flickr: Ilovemypit

Those still miffed with Whole Foods CEO John Mackey over his decidedly right-wing health care harangue last summer will not be pleased to read that their most effective epithet — Whole Paycheck — may no longer be valid. According to a recent study by JPMorgan Securities, the natural foods chain seems to be taking on Walmart’s “falling prices” M.O. (Which, ironically, are falling no more; Walmart’s food prices are up 2.3 percent since February.)

From CPG Matters, a monthly e-zine for the consumer packaged goods industry:

According to [JPMorgan], Whole Foods has dropped its prices on food by an average of 5 percent since December [2009]. Of course, even with lower prices, Whole Foods is still seen as being significantly higher priced (about 14 percent) than traditional grocery store rivals such as Harris Teeter, Kroger, and Safeway.

In a separate market basket analysis, Ryan Krueger, co-founder of Krueger & Catalano in Houston, concluded that Whole Foods is — in its way — price competitive.

Mr. Krueger told the Minyanville website, “I spent time with a store manager putting together a basket of everyday items — stuff like chips, bread, and peanut butter. We compared 10 average products to the closest big grocery chain and it was closer than you would think: $25 vs. $21. The unknown might be that the $21 basket came from Whole Foods, and its private labels….”

I, for one, am surprised by the Krueger & Catalano breakdown. I’ve known for some time now that it’s significantly less expensive to buy organic produce at Whole Foods than at my local big-chain supermarket (click here to see my comparison), but packaged foods like chips and peanut butter? That’s news to me.

Stay tuned for my own “market basket” analysis…

–Jennifer Grayson

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Dietary concerns? Don't worry, there are plenty of options for Meatless Monday besides this one. Photo via Flickr: Malias

Dietary concerns? Don't worry, there are plenty of options for Meatless Monday besides this one. Photo via Flickr: Malias

This post was originally published on July 27, 2009.

I don’t know if it’s because I live in Los Angeles, land of the wheatgrass shot and diet-obsessed (at my favorite breakfast spot, the waiters actually assume you want egg whites; I always have to specify whole eggs), or the rising incidence of food allergies, but a few friends have recently confessed that their dietary restrictions have made it difficult for them to embrace Meatless Monday.

“I can’t eat carbs — I only have three weeks to slim down for a wedding,” said one friend. “Aren’t grains the staple of a vegetarian diet?” Another friend with celiac disease was worried she’d go hungry: “There’s so little I can eat as it is,” she opined. But if you know where to look, and are willing to experiment beyond your eating comfort zone, you can find wonderful recipes for even the most spartan of diets. A few ideas:

Celiac disease/gluten-free. While it is possible to find gluten-free substitutes for foods that normally contain wheat (pizza crust, pasta, bread), I think it’s much easier — and more satisfying — to embrace the foods of cultures that are naturally vegetarian and gluten-free. Think of the legume-based stews and rice of Indian cuisine (chana masala, dal); Italy’s polenta and risottos; and the hundreds of ways to cook tofu, which the Chinese call “meat without bones.” My favorite recipe resource: Karina’s Kitchen, a blog about gluten-free cooking, with an entire section devoted to vegan and vegetarian recipes.

Low carb. Admittedly, a low-carb diet is a challenge as a vegetarian, but remember that we’re only talking about one day a week here. Egg-based dishes are always a good source of vegetarian protein (try my Fresh Summer Frittata), as are tofu stir-frys (just skip the rice, and add lots of crunchy vegetables). And remember: A low-carb diet may help you lose weight in the short term, but overall, vegetarians tend to be slimmer than meat eaters.

Allergic to soy. Again, the vegetarian recipes of Indian and Italian cuisine are a great place to start, because they rely on one of the most nutritious vegetarian sources of protein: beans. (Anti-aging expert and frequent Oprah guest Dr. Perricone names beans in his top 10 superfoods, thanks to their low-glycemic rating and beneficial phytochemicals.) And yes, soy is a bean, but there are hundreds of other varieties for you to try; for a unique treat, check out these resources for heirloom beans.

Got another dietary concern preventing you from enjoying Meatless Monday? Post a comment and I’ll make some recommendations.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Photo via Flickr: Respres

Photo via Flickr: Respres

This has been a week of some seriously heavy environmental news, what with the BP oil spill showing no signs of slowing down and the introduction of the new climate bill to the Senate, and I know I should be offering some astute analysis of either; but the truth is, I’m fried. It’s Thursday night as I write this, and I’m already dreaming about the weekend.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we only had to work four days a week?

As it turns out, embracing the Friday fatigues could actually be good for the environment. According to a new article in Whole Life Times, if the entire California workforce bypassed its Friday commute, the state could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 8 million tons a year. Utah implemented a four-day workweek for its government workers last year, and cut the state’s energy use by 13 percent.

How to ditch a day without reducing productivity? Simple: Add an extra two hours to each of those four days — something a lot of us do for the five-plus days we work, anyway.

Of course, avoiding the Friday commute doesn’t curb carbon emissions when that commute consists of making your way from the bedroom to your laptop at the kitchen table. Would a power-down day be too much to ask for, too?

–Jennifer Grayson

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