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You cannot fake blueberries or can you?

Just got this in from Natural News:  Mike Adams, an investigative journalist exposed the deceptive chemical ingredients and dishonest marketing of “blueberry” products from very well-known brands of food and cereal companies.  It turns out companies are faking blueberries in cereals, muffins, bagels and other food products!  Can you believe this?!  And I’m not only talking about those generic brands that no one knows about or even heard of; this is hands down big companies like General Mills which makes the Total Blueberry Pomegranate Cereal, which does not have even a drop of anything that has to do with a real blueberry or pomegranate.  What it does have mimicking the blueberries is artificial colors red #40, blue #2, other artificial colors, and sucralose (an artificial sweetener).  

Other deceivers include Kellogg’s Blueberry Pop Tarts and Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats,

Betty Crocker‘s Fiber One Blueberry muffin mix, and Special K Blueberry Fruit Crisps for which they actually state on their website that they “are filled with blueberries…”!

To my pleasant surprise Fox News was the first news outlet to actually cover this story.   When they contacted Kellogg’s, the company said that “the term ‘Blueberry Muffin’ is used to describe the flavor of some products” and their “products are labeled in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.”  Sad isn’t it, that consumers cannot rely on every piece of information on a food product they buy?

The law firm of Finkenstein Thompson LLP began an investigation into this issue and now calls on anyone who purchased a product marketed as if it had real blueberries even though it did not to contact them (See the contact information below).

So what can we do to combat this issue?

(1) For those of you who already don’t, please please PLEASE get into the habit of reading the ingredients on all food items!  This is essential as more and more companies lobby our government officials who then choose what and how to regulate.

(2) Boycott the companies who practice this kind of labeling.  My husband always laughs at me when I tell him that I will not purchase something from a store or a certain brand that does not reach my expectations, since “one person cannot change anything”; but I don’t care.  As the internet and truth becomes more and more available to all people, we can all have the luxury to support one product over another based on its qualities.  If a piece of negative information on some product has merit and each informed person boycotts that brand, then trust me, it WILL make a difference.  Plus, it is also a matter of principle.

(3) Contact the Finkenstein Thompson LLP law firm that I mentioned above by calling (877) 800-1450 or email them at and let them know about your concerns.

(4) Finally, you can contact Food and Drug Administration directly and demand for the regulations to be changed.  Make sure you sound rational and thoughtful to make your message heard.  Here is where you can find out all the information on how to attempt to influence a regulation.


When I read about this issue, I was appalled.  Can you believe that companies actually fake blueberries?  I thought that the awareness that the GMO battle and the revelation on organic apples brought would somehow push the companies to be a bit more trustworthy.  Boy, was I wrong!  So don’t stop your awareness, be more mindful!

In the meantime, here is my favorite blueberry pie recipe that I want to recommend to you; we make it every summer after collecting a few buckets of blueberries on a farm.  

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the many ways to cycle through life

I really feel like talking about things, you know those every day things that can sometimes seem worthless, that can make a person feel like a hoarder.  I used to say that I’m not a hoarder, that I’m just waiting for a bigger house.  In truth, I just feel horrible when I throw something out knowing that it will end up in a landfill adding to all the other unwanted things in an unsuccessful tetris game.  But hey, you know what?  Someone can see old bicycle chains, but to someone else they stretch into a beautiful chandelier.

by Carolina Fontoura Alzaga

Now, is that really being frugal or is it thoughtful and practical?

To many there is only two choices:  recycle or landfill, but in truth there is a whole 6 options!  There is a whole concept of waste minimization by which waste can be organized into 6 categories with prevention being the most preferable and disposal the least.

Prevention:  by far the best option!  How can you prevent something as a tiny being on this big dear Earth?  First, you can start using reusable bags.  This will cause a chain of events that can alter our future forever:  the store cashier will not give you a plastic bag, leaving a few more bags at the counter; the manager will put in his order a bit later than usual; the bag manufacturer will lower his supply of bags and purchase less petroleum or natural gas needed to make the bag; the energy market will see less demand for energy and less permits will be given to oil and natural gas drillers because of lower demand.  And all “because a little bug went ka-choo!”  Other ideas are requesting less packing materials when purchasing items online, use towels or sponges for cleaning, dress your LO in cloth diapers, and definitely think about investing in rechargeable batteries.

Minimization:  our second best option, encourages people to optimize their resources by donating things they no longer need or use (have you heard of Freecycle?) or avoiding purchases of novelties.  Another way is skipping the middleman – instead of buying toys online that are shipped with unnecessary packaging with tons of packing materials, you can find similar toys available on Freecycle or in your closest thrift shop.  Last, but not least is to reduce waste by simply printing documents on double-sided paper.  Easy, right?

Reuse:  ok, so your wonderful useful toaster that you religiously used for the past 5 years just died on you; you can either buy a new toaster or fix the one you have.  Of course the latter is the eco friendly option, but it might cost you more.  The corresponding issue with fixing something is that nowadays it is becoming easier and cheaper to just buy something new; but can you guess why that is?  Well, it is all because most items are made in China or some other developing country that has unbelievably disproportionate salaries of its “blue-collar” workers compared to the everyday living expenses.  If you choose to get something fixed here, in your local repair shop, you will have to consider the fair salary that gets incorporated in the final price of repairing the product.

Recycling:  probably the simplest task for a non-environmentalist.   The only problem with this one is that many counties, especially rural, recycle only a small percentage of the total waste generated.  Many times a person who is eager and determined to recycle something, has to put in extra energy to find out when and where to recycle those special items like plastic bags, unconventional plastics, batteries, mercury thermometers, etc.  For all my questions about recycling, I just visit which allows me to find a pick-up center for almost any type of item, even batteries!

Energy Recovery:  is something that I wrote about in one of my earlier posts.  In that post I discussed the Puente Hills landfill that manufactures energy from the methane gas produced by decomposition.   But energy recovery does not have to be so distant as a landfill.  You can recover energy by composting in your backyard in late fall after the last harvest, which will fertilize your soil into the next year to yield beautiful nourished crops for you and your family.  And you don’t only have to include food waste, but also leaves, paper, and anything else that is fairly quick to biodegrade.  Here is a wonderful guide on what you can compost and what effect it will have on the soil.

I really encourage you to read more on this topic, it’s an eye opener.

Disposal:  the one method we always should try to avoid.  Just think about it, the world population is growing exponentially and more and more countries are developing into first world powers.  People are becoming wealthier, spending more on things that they don’t need, and ultimately, generating more waste.  Disposal of anything should be a moral issue, especially disposing things that don’t biodegrade like Styrofoam.   I guess we can talk about the dangers of these materials in a later topic, but I hope I encouraged you to look at waste management in a totally new light.


The wheels of imagination are turning, people are upcycling, recycling, bicycling.  The world is a better place.


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a stroll for us, a walkabout for the little one

Last week I had a short business trip to Idaho (which was unexpectedly amazing) so my grandma came from New York to help out with Bee while I was gone.  The Saturday after I came back we all decided to go to the Children’s Day at Brookside Gardens.  When we strolled into the park, there were hundreds of people walking around, eating, dancing, competing on who can spit a watermelon seed farther, and there was even a band playing music (very good music, may I add)!

Jay Mankita’s songs are all free for download on Bandcamp.

You should’ve seen Bee’s face, she was so astonished from seeing dancing vegetable people, literally; from all the noise coming from all corners of the world; and from so many moving people that kept racing past her eyes like falling stars that she didn’t even flinch one face muscle for at least 15 minutes; she was just standing there trying to understand why are all these people here.

I could see how overwhelmed she was so we migrated to a coloring and gluing workshop, in a much quieter spot of the park, where she was able to gather her thoughts and create a beautiful paper plate with vegetable embellishments.

After reality sunk in, she was ready to go to the concert again.  One of the dancing vegetable people tried to “give her a five”, but that scared her a little bit so we ended up as spectators for a few songs.

On one of the sidewalks there were promoters of organic Honest Tea that were selling the tea pouches for $1 each.  It turns out that they “only” contain 12 grams of sugar (sweetened with fruit juice only) per pouch and although I wouldn’t usually buy a sugary drink for her at all, I thought, what the heck; plus she loves drinking from a straw and it was HER day anyway.

We decided to spend the rest of the festival walking around in the gardens.  We lounged on the grass field,

visited bumble bees (what a fun and educational workshop, even for me!), smelled some flowers,

and saw the butterflies in the pavilion.

At that point Bee was ready to pass out, so she jumped into the stroller and rode all the way to the exit, requesting periodic stops next to floating balloons which hung near every workshop.  By the time we got to the car, she was fast asleep and only woke up 3 hours later.

Well, that was our wonderful weekend!  How did your go?

-Tree People Love

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I want to be like Malvina

As I was reading The New York Times discussions on whether organic food is worth the cost, I bumped into many “disbelievers” and skeptics.  Well, most of you probably already know where I stand on this issue; but mind you, that this confidence and certainty did not come out of nowhere.  The credence in me sprouted from years of analyzing the facts and learning about different cultures.  Different cultures, you ask?  Yes, not everyone in the world lives the way people in the U.S. do.  Farming practices differ from country to country based on the political climate, poverty levels, and education.  Let me bring you a few examples which I’m sure will sway you to reconsider and strengthen your view-point on organics to a favorable stance.

1.  Political climate

Have you heard about what happened in Cuba?  Well, after the Soviet Union collapsed, which was supplying Cuba with its fertilizers, pesticides, and agricultural machinery, Cuba was forced to become self-reliant in its agricultural production and she did this by creating “organoponicos” or urban organic farms.  When the collapse happened, 80% of Cuba’s sugarcane trade was lost.  Consequently, in the beginning of 1990’s the land that was used to grow industrial amounts of export crops was switched to domestic food production, and tractors were switched for oxen.  More people moved from the city to this land and began implementing organic farming methods.  They really went all the way:  incorporating crop rotation, implementing composting and soil conservation, and integrating pest management.  Almost overnight, people became experts in techniques like worm composting and biopesticides (which is now one of Cuba’s biggest exports).  Those that stayed in the city established an urban gardening culture.

The way an organoponico works is by allocating an amount of land in an urban area to local gardeners, who get to keep 50% of the profits.  The produce is sold by the people who work in the garden to the people who live nearby.

The system is not perfect – Cuba is still importing 80% of its food, which I think has a lot to do with its lack of machinery.  Cuba’s imports are largely composed of wheat, corn, powdered milk, flour, and soybean oil.  Wheat, for example, requires planting, watering, harvesting (grain separation and winnowing); now imagine doing all that without machinery…  And if you notice, most of Cuba’s food exports are those that provide a high yield and can be harvested at high densities with the right machinery.  My conclusion from this is that with a little imagination, proper machinery, and constrains, Cuba can become self sufficient in a matter of time.

2.  Poverty levels

Poverty is a tricky category.  If you would draw a graph with the levels of income on x-axis and the instances of organic farming on y-axis, the graph would be a total mess with the lines jumping up and down.  This is because poverty levels are at many times correlated with other issues.

For example, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, Luxembourg, has only 3% organic farms out of its total farms.  The demand, however, is rising.  Luxembourg ranks third in the European Union on the amount of euros spent on organic food per person.

Norway, similarly, owns 4.3% organic farms, but the rate has been declining throughout the last few years.  Reasons for the decline include unexpected, frequent, and stricter organic standards changes; requirements of high long-term investments; problems with weed control; difficulty obtaining 100% organic feed; low sale prices; and high employment rate and salaries in off-farm job market.

Rwanda, however, is a developing country where many people live from dollar to dollar each day.  To your surprise, there has been a steady movement towards organic farming recently.  Similarly, rural communities in Haiti are moving toward organic farming which provides prospects for young adults and creates a secure and sustainable source of food.  Humanitarian organizations come to these small villages and train families to farm organically to decrease food shortages and dependence on outside support.

There are many other reasons for the lack of or an abundance of organic farming as it relates to poverty.  For example, wealthy countries might want to import organics rather than give up land that they can better use for other more profitable production; poorer countries might be willing to farm organically if that means more exports to wealthier countries; there are also politics in effect.  Notice the situation that we have here in the U.S:  conventional farming is closely tied to the Republican political party because of its preference for less regulation and more subsidies.  It’s also the mindset of the people; I find that people who are less tied to material things and have a connection with their natural environment tend to be more open and eager to be eco-friendly.

Here are some statistics of the worldwide makeup of organic farming:

Shares of organic agricultural land in the regions 2010

Very disappointing to see that North America is way down on the list…

The countries with the highest shares of organic agricultural land 2010

Falkland Islands, hmm…  I should do a post specifically about this curious place.

The ten countries with the most organic agricultural land 2010

Now this chart is a little misleading since some countries are huge and the size of their organic agricultural land is just a small percentage of the total size of the country.

3.  Education

Education has a lot to do with organic farming.  People who buy organic tend to be more educated than people who choose conventional, causing countries with high average education index to have higher organic farming rate.  The biggest market in Europe can be found in Germany, Denmark and Switzerland which experience the highest per-capita organic food expenditure and are some of the countries with high education index levels.

Also, going back to the examples of organic farming in rural Haiti, many farmers damaged their environment by clearing trees and bushes to plant more produce due to the decreased harvest caused by worsened conditions.  They did this because they lacked the knowledge of the ecosystem and the importance of trees in keeping healthy soil and preventing unsteady ground.  After learning the methods of organic farming, they realized they can work with their environment to cultivate their farmland.  This example is not directly related to preference for organic food but it just shows how someone inexperienced and untrained can have a hard time making informative and beneficial decisions.

Finally, education drives the ability of a person to find out why organics are more beneficial and many schools are promoting organic food initiatives in their communities.


So, where was I?  Oh yes, skepticism.  Skepticism is a wonderful thing until there are cold stone facts to wipe it away.  My advice (and this is addressed towards some of the debaters from The New York Times article) is before making a final decision on whether you are for or against organics, try to do some research, get the facts, see the root of the issue at hand, and only then when you are as informed as anyone can be, only then make your decision to rebuke or praise something.  Until that point, we are all only fanatics.

Tree People Love


Falling into the loopholes

After recently learning that USDA approved a final rule (at least until October 21, 2014) allowing organic apple and pear growers to use antibiotics when “natural methods are insufficient to address critical issues of production”, it made me wonder what other loopholes the USDA has created for the farmers to take advantage of.  I did an analysis of the main food categories: meat, fruits and vegetables, and dairy and here is what I learned:


The amount of space or time outdoor and stocking density (crowding) are not regulated for any animals.  Some producers have a small outside space added on the buildings that house tens of thousands of chickens, but only a few birds can access it.  Access to outdoors, does not require that animals actually spend time outdoors which the free-range/free-roaming label implies.  Access may be insufficient relative to the number of animals needing access.  Outdoor access and stocking density (crowding) are not regulated. Chickens may be severely crowded and still labeled as “cage-free.”

Chickens raised for meat may be kept in continuous lighting, which does not allow rest and promotes excessive eating.  This creates a sick and stressed animal that then gets labeled “organic“.  Because the USDA does not permit the use of antibiotics sick animals may not receive needed treatment because they will lose this certification and will either be slaughtered for meat in their sick state or left to die.

Grass-fed is also a fun label full of loopholes.  Cows may be confined, yet grass-fed.  The label does not equate to grazing in a pasture.  The label may include in small print “grain-finished,” indicating that the cow spent some time confined in feedlots.

In products from birds or pigs, the label “no antibiotics” is misleading as hormones are already outlawed.

At last, with the certified humane label, there is no requirement that pigs or chickens have access to the outdoors.  Chickens may be debeaked and pigs may have their tails docked (cut off without painkillers) and still be labeled certified humane.

Fruits & Vegetables

Organic standards require that produce be grown from organic seeds, which means they are not genetically modified (GM), unless the organic seeds are not commercially available, then the conventional seeds are allowed (non-GM).

National regulations require that organic produce be grown for three years without synthetic pesticides.  Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries go through at least one rotation as non-fruiting plants, but virtually all plants — whether they will go on to produce conventional berries or organic ones — are treated with fumigants and other synthetic pesticides, including methyl bromide, a soil sterilizer and pesticide known to be depleting the ozone layer.

In 2007, the USDA released a list of 38 non-organic ingredients that could be allowed into organic packaged/processed foods and still be labeled 100% Organic.  The list includes hops, which allows Anheuser-Busch to market its Wild Hop lager as “organic,” even though the hops are grown with pesticides.

The loopholes for fruits and vegetables are rather serious and because many people cannot buy organic all the time, the chart above will help you decide on when it is important to choose organic based on the pesticide content.


In 2010, the USDA closed a loophole in their organic regulations, so all organic dairy cattle must now spend much of the year grazing in open pastures, as opposed to feed lots or indoor feeding pens.  There will also be an increasing the number of unannounced inspections conducted by certifiers without any prior notice.  This is probably the biggest move towards transparency in the organic market.  With all my research on the loopholes of dairy, I feel like I can honestly say that organic dairy regulation is the most transparent and trustworthy out of all other food categories.


Reading about these issues made me realize that most, if not all, big organic producers should be denied an organic label because most of them use loopholes.  Specifically, Horizon (Dean Food’s), Cascadian Farms (General Mills), Kashi and GoLean (Kellogg’s)…

The following chart graphically focuses on the organic brands with ties to the top 30 food processors in North America and I would avoid them like the plague:

On a good note, the next two charts show major independently owned and private organic brands, respectively, which are more or less reputable:

Disreputable meat producers take advantage of the loopholes that allow inhumane practices; disreputable organic fruit and vegetable growers take advantage of the loopholes which allow for the use of pesticides; and only organic milk has become what it was supposed to be from the beginning.  In my point of view, fruits and vegetables regulations are the most disturbing because of the frankness of the law which openly allows pesticide use and will still be labeled organic.  What can we, Consumers, do?  Many things!

  1. Buy from meat, fruits and vegetables from local farms where you can check the quality of organic produce or from private and independent farmers.
  2. Support pending state laws to label Genetically Engineered Foods or tell President Obama yourself.
  3. Sign up to Cornucopia Institute‘s and Organic Consumer’s Association website where you can keep track of new developments in the organic industry, support pending laws, and check the score cards on its organic for different produce.


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Hello wonderful people!

This is just a quick post about an amazing mushroom festival that will be happening in Baltimore, MD in October this year.  Specifically, it is an educational two-day festival exploring the Mushroom as an organism, focusing on it’s impact on our environment, culture, art, and technology.  The art part is what really makes me curious (well, now that I think about it everything about mushrooms makes me curious, but art is pretty up there!).  They will have sculptures, paintings, films, performances, and music inspired by mushrooms with hands-on workshops and educational discussions.

Ahh, these are the type of events that really make my day!  I hope to see you there; let me know if you will be going.  I’ll try to do a little photo recap of the wonderful things that happen at the festival, so stay tuned!

What:   Mushroom City Art Festival

When:  October 6th & 7th
12-7 Saturday, Party 8-12:30
1-5 Sunday

Where:  3510 Ash Street
Baltimore, MD 21211

Why:     Because humans are more genetically related to mushrooms than they are to plants. Ha!

Also, everyone has an opportunity to submit art and although the deadline is September 1, you can still whip something up.

Finally, how can I leave without showing you a few wonderful mushroom moments..?


Angie Scarr


Jim Ehle




Svetlana Serdyukova






Yury Popov

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about a necklace

I’m working on a big topic now for this blog, which is taking me longer than I thought.  I recently read somewhere that great ideas and insights usually come late at night when you release your concentration and let your mind sink into total ambivalence.  The logic to this is that when you let go and reevaluate, you start looking at a problem “outside the box”.  The step essential in this process is letting go.

Sometimes it’s difficult to let go.  As humans, we instinctively prefer familiar rather than strange because the latter suggests danger, whether it’d be emotional or physical; we like to predict the future.  And this instinct for familiarity is contradictory to personal evolution – how can a person grow without taking chances and being impulsive?  I once heard a story on RadioLab about a man who had a brain tumor removed, inadvertently causing him to lose his ability to make impulsive decisions.  This condition ultimately caused him to spend hours in a supermarket trying to decide which cereal to buy.  My point is that impulsion does wonders in small doses.  Just think about it, you primarily make rational decisions in your life by eating, going to work, crossing the road on a green light, watering your plants, servicing your car, etc, etc.  But sometimes we only lack the smallest raindrop of courage that can change our whole life.  Courage is evolution.

I had a big epiphany a few months ago, when my husband and I visited a bonsai tree farm.  The owner of the farm was a quiet man in his sixties who was an enlightened artist and a bonsai lover.  He inherited many of his trees from old friends and he exulted at the ages of his favorite specimens.  Our stop at his farm was totally impromptu and we were walking around it a few minutes before Jay came out of his house and greeted us with a warm and content smile.  He patiently began touring us around his garden, showing his prized possessions.  I really wanted to buy a tree as a souvenir of our impulsive and rewarding decision to turn around into the parking lot that plainly said “Bonsai Trees”.  As we were walking around the garden, we stopped by a miniature ivy and I knew she was the one.  Her stem curled into a 7 and she had the tiniest little leaves that followed the branches like paws.  And then Jay told me something that really made me reevaluate everything that I know; he told me that the secret of a bonsai is training.  So aside from manipulating the branches to form pleasant shapes, a grower must also train the leaves.  This is done by cutting those that grow too big and leaving the tiny ones.  That way after a few years of discipline, the bonsai tree will only grow small leaves.  He concluded by saying that although some house plants love the sun, many of them die when taken out of the house for the first time after winter.  This is because their leaves are very tender from the sunless room it lived in during the winter and they need time to adapt to direct sunlight; they should be taken out gradually with shade first, direct sunlight last.  I was in awe.  I never knew that plants adapted to their surroundings, just like people.  I realized also that a person can be trained to do anything, just like the plants.  There is a Russian tradition called “zakalyanie”, which means to gradually train the body, whether it is become insensitive to germs or to function in cold temperatures.  The latter is more exciting though – people train by running naked in the snow and swimming in ice-cold water.  This helps a person not be sensitive to cold winters and remain in good health throughout the year.  So People, get out there, train yourself to do something that you thought was impossible.  It is possible.  Everything is.


I was going to write about one idea, but ended up with a whole necklace!  Speaking of necklaces, during my “letting it go” time, I finally completed a forgotten project of mine.  I made this wonderful crocheted necklace  from two very thin strands of cotton thread and, of course, a little bit of love.

-Tree People Love

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The wonderful and the glorious Keystone XL pipeline

The Keystone XL pipeline has been the topic in many conversations at my place of work, especially at our Greener Club, where people discuss their environmental anxieties and offer therapy-like support to one another to help cope with distress caused by coworkers that don’t recycle, office policy against double-sided printing, and constant use of Styrofoam cups at employee arrival and departure events.   Like most of the controversial issues here in US, there are proponents eagerly arguing for prosperity of corporations and independence from oil and there are opponents, who desperately defend the environment and the future of green energy.  So, what have you heard about the Keystone XL pipeline?  Maybe that it is one of the ways we can reduce our dependency on foreign oil, maybe that it will provide jobs and boost our economy, maybe that it is not environmentally harmful as some say…  But before an individual can decide whether (s)he supports the Keystone XL pipeline, it is important to look at both sides of the equation.  For those of you who are not familiar with the history of this expansion project, here is a little sketch of how it all began.

TransCanada Keystone Pipeline filed an application in 2008 to build and operate the Keystone XL Project (expanding the previously approved Keystone pipeline) which would consist of a 1,700-mile crude oil pipeline and related facilities to transport crude oil from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin in Alberta, Canada to Oklahoma and Texas.  It was estimated to cost $7 billion and could potentially transport up to 830,000 barrels per day till at least 2030.[1]  To fully fathom how much oil this is, here is a little break down.  A barrel of crude oil converts to about 41.8 US gallons.  Refineries in the USA are yielding about 49% gasoline from a barrel (about 20.5 gallons) from the mix of crudes they process (2004 data).  An average non-hybrid sedan gets around 35.7 miles per gallon (mpg) city and highway combined.[2]  Therefore, on average, a car would be able to drive 606,902,142 miles per day or 505,752 sedans driving all day at 50 miles per hour![3]  This should convince us to have our pen ready to sign, right?  Let’s look further…

Proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline argue that it will create 20,000 jobs in the US, strengthen US energy independence from sources in unstable and unfriendly regions of the world, and will not have a drastic effect on the environment.[4]  Yet, just thinking logically, after the pipeline is finally built those workers will no longer be needed, so those 20,000 jobs are temporary (the state department now estimates that the pipeline will only create 5,000 to 6,000 jobs in actual construction).[5]  Also, when TransCanada’s president was asked whether he would support a legislation that required this Canadian oil and products refined from it to only be sold in United States, he responded by a blunt “No”.[6]  To me this shows a definite plan for the company to sell the oil where profitable, not only in US; and although this is a totally plausible strategy for a corporation, it invalidates the argument that US energy independence will strengthen since there is no guarantee that we will be the buyers of that oil.  Now, to the effects on the environment.

The Keystone XL pipeline project proposes to transport extracted tar sands oil from Canada all the way down to Texas.  Tar sands extraction in Canada destroys Boreal forests and wetlands, causes high levels of greenhouse gas pollution, and leaves behind immense lakes of toxic waste.[7]   Although the Keystone XL pipeline is not proposing to extract, only to transport, it is by definition supporting this type of dirty energy and it does have the potential to pollute its route to Texas.  This is the reason the original route in Nebraska was rerouted – it crossed Nebraskan Sandhills, a large ecosystem, and one of the largest water reserves in the world.  If there is a small leak of any kind in a pipeline, it can affect the ecosystem around its route.  And the leaks can happen from outside forces like excavators and earthquakes, which are common in that area; they can happen from faulty valves; and even human errors and corrosion.  And because the pipeline carries diluted bitumen, there is a risk of a highly corrosive, acidic, and potentially unstable blend of thick raw bitumen and volatile natural gas liquid condensate spilling in communities and ecosystems.[8]  Only in May 2011, 21,000 gallons of oil leaked in North Dakota…[9]  Some researchers even argue that this pipeline will increase costs of fuel!  Let us now go into every opposing argument to understand whether any of them hold water.

Extracting oil from tar sands is a long and gruesome process.  Just to make things a little clearer, I found this great visual diagram:

Canada’s oil sands are developed using open-pit mines and processing plants that spew carbon, which lay waste to millions of acres of the Boreal forest.[10]  If Keystone XL pipeline is approved, tar sand oil extraction by open-pit mining will expand because this will be their route to export the oil from Alberta, Canada, and their incentive to extract more.  Pipeline construction itself is also vicious – cutting through indigenous communities of Canada, trenching the Bakken Shale in parts of Montana and western North Dakota, ripping through private lands in Texas.[11]  And the company is proposing to use thinner steel and pump at higher pressures than normal, which means there is even more risks of leaks![12]

Now you’re probably asking, how is it possible that this pipeline will raise the cost of fuel?  The line would create a new way to carry Canadian imports outside the Midwest and reduce an oil surplus that’s depressing prices in the central US  Canadian producers will also be able to charge more for their oil after Keystone XL is built.  So completing the entire pipeline would raise prices at the pump in the Midwest and Rocky Mountains 10 to 20 cents a gallon.[13]

Now as I step away from this heart wrenching topic, I realize something…  Wouldn’t it be better to invest in greener infrastructure and greener transportation locally and nationally?  Wouldn’t it make more sense for people to invest more in green energy?  Rather than building a pipeline, build wind farms or solar farms on those routes instead, invest in green research…  This is where our money is needed most and this is what will make US become the leader in innovation and an example for developing nations.  And if the Keystone XL pipeline is built, we will be paying for it one way or another, either in taxes or higher prices, so why not invest in something that will keep paying off into our country’s future and not until we destroy the Canadian forests and suck out all the oil possible.  Our job as US citizens is to speak out against detrimental and irreversible damage that this dirty fuel represents and speak for what makes sense.

Here is where you can speak your voice against tar sands oil extraction and the Keystone XL pipeline:

You can also call the White House and urge Pres. Obama to reject the pipeline. It’s best to call during regular business hours (M – F, 9 am – 5 pm EST). Click below for a number and a script to call:

And if you are in Washington, D.C. for a few days between August 20th – September 3rd, consider joining the historic sit-in outside the White House, and risking arrest in peaceful protest, to make sure we have President Obama’s attention. Learn more and sign up to become a part of the sit-in here:

[3] 830,000bbl * 41.8gal * 49% * 35.7mpg = 606,902,142mi

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Grass roots of conservation

When people think of environmental issues, they typically imagine something an individual cannot control, like an oil spill in the gulf, or smogs in LA, or global warming hovering over our planet like a spaceship – things that are very ambiguous to an individual.  But there are some issues which are more connected to our individual choices, which are typically disregarded as trivial.  Recycling is one of them.  It is all around us:  at our jobs, in our neighborhood, maybe even in parks, yet it is not everywhere like it is supposed to be…  It exists in signs, in Earth Day events, in those crazy environmentalists, but unfortunately it does not live in our American mindset.  Just look in the recycling bins at your job – how many items in there are properly recycled?  What about the trash?  To really understand the anatomy of trash, we have to look at the causes, consequences, and solutions.

 Have you heard of the “trash island” that lives in the Pacific Ocean?  Well, it is made up of mostly plastic that has been trapped in the currents of the oceans and is estimated to be between 270,000 to more than 5,800,000 square miles.    Back in the 1950’s, when present day plastic was just discovered, it was supposed to be our environmental savior, replacing ivory and wood.  But the low-cost and availability created a monster, rather than a savior.  Nurdles, from which all plastics are made of and which make up most of the trash island, are tiny pre-plastic pellets that kill large numbers of fish and birds that mistake them for food. These nurdles are everywhere, moving up the food chain until they reach us.

The sources of that trash, which make up the island, are considered diverse.  Yet according to the EPA, US is the biggest waste producer in the world, followed by other leading industrial nations, accumulating at least 236 million tons per year of municipal solid waste alone.2  So what does this mean for us and our country?  Waste production is a sign of prosperity and waste generation decreases considerably during economic downturns.3  In India, for example, waste pickers in slums collect trash for recycling use, reducing the average waste generation to 1.3 pounds per person per day, compared to 4.6 pounds in US.4  Looking at prosperity through trash, makes recessions look a lot nicer.

But not all is in dire straits… Some landfills, including Puente Hills near Los Angeles, manufacture energy from the methane gas that is produced during trash’s decomposition process.  Puente Hills landfill is 500 feet tall and is a high point in the south end of Los Angeles.  (This reminds me of the movie “Idiocracy” which is not so far-fetched as it once seemed.)  “There is so much trash in this landfill that it generates enough electricity to power 70,000 homes,” says Edward Humes, the author of “Garbology:  Our dirty love affair with trash”.  Humes says capturing the methane gas to make energy is better than allowing it to escape into the atmosphere, but that doesn’t mean it is the most efficient way to make energy.5  Manufacturing those landfill products uses more energy, than the landfill generates.

China is taking advantage of the US production of paper waste.  They buy the paper waste, shipping it immense distances with enormous environmental impact, manufacture new products, and ship it back into US.6  It might be more economical in monetary terms, but environmentally, it is rather disappointing.

The story of Harrisburg, PA is also worth noting.  If you haven’t heard,Harrisburg claimed bankruptcy this year and it all has to do with waste management.  In the 1970’s, an incinerator was built in Harrisburg as the region’s answer to its waste.  It was supposed to convert trash to steam and electricity, which the city would sell, generating revenue.  But since the beginning, it never worked quite right.  The city kept taking out loans to repair the incinerator, hoping that it will finally work properly and create wealth for the city.  After 40 years, Harrisburg is sitting on $300 million of debt and its residents pay $200 a ton to dispose of their own waste at a facility within city limits, one of the highest trash rates in the country.  At that rate, it would be more prudent to start composting and recycling.

So where do we go from here and what does the future hold for us?  The answer lies in a person’s view of the future and their comprehension of how significant the environmental issues are in forming that future.  Any form of conservation is considerable and it can begin with recycling.

Tree People ❤


Links to great ideas of recycling, reusing, and upcycling:

Where to recycle anything!


Necklaces out of an old t-shirt

Cat bed from a monitor

Make a water jug

Planter from lamp

And more…

[1] Moore, Charles. “What’s a Nurdle?”  Greenpeace.  7 November 2006.  Web.  27 April 2012.  <;

[2] Malone, Robert.  “World’s Worst Waste.”  24 May 2006.  Web. 27 April 2012.  <;

[3] “Municipal Solid Waste in The United States.”  Environmental Protection Agency.  November 2008.  Web.  April 2012. <;

[4] Look, Marie.  “Trash Planet:  India.” 3 August 2009.  Web.  27 April 2012.  <;

[5] “Following Garbage’s Long Journey Around The Earth.”  National Public Radio.  26 April 2012.  Web.  27 April 2012.  <;

[6] “Waste Paper Destined for China.” July 2009.  Web.  27 April 2012.  <;

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Invisible machines

Just like ivy grows on the outside walls of a house, technology similarly wraps the human body becoming its new skin. Sometimes we even merge what we see in monitors with real life. Technology that would have been considered futuristic in the past, does not surprise our eyes anymore. And now in the reality we inhabit, machines, devices, and networks exist side by side in a shaky parallel.

The exponential growth of technology is practically invisible, and we no longer notice that the cleaning lady in the cafeteria was replaced by a tireless robot vacuum cleaner. Technology became the equivalent of plants – we spend our precious time watering them with upgrades, cutting the branches of useless extremities, and watching them grow into more advanced creatures. The machines even immigrate into us, and vice versa, by ways of robotic body parts and remote controlled drones.

But this technological evolution promises to raise a few theoretical questions: being aware of the presence of machinery, looking through the eyes of the machine, cohabiting with a machine – what does it make us feel? How many devices and codes “run” around us on our train ride home? Do we feel a constant presence?

Looking at the “drawing machine” created by Kanno and Takahiro Yamaguchi, I can just imagine a world where analog graffiti artist creeps in the shadows of doorways to turn dead walls into living canvases. It is repulsive, yet enchanting.