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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 Earth911.com 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.

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

Sources:

http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/reducewaste/Home/

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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.

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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


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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:

Meat

naturalremedyreports.net

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.

mypapercrane.com

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.

Dairy

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.

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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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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:

http://www.nrdc.org/energy/keystone-pipeline/tar-sands-stories/

http://www.credoaction.com/campaign/keystone_obama/index2.html

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:

http://act.credoaction.com/call/report/?cp_id=136&tg=743

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:

http://www.tarsandsaction.org/credo/


[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!

Freecycle

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.  <http://weblog.greenpeace.org/&gt;

[2] Malone, Robert.  “World’s Worst Waste.”  Forbes.com.  24 May 2006.  Web. 27 April 2012.  <http://www.forbes.com/&gt;

[3] “Municipal Solid Waste in The United States.”  Environmental Protection Agency.  November 2008.  Web.  April 2012. <http://www.epa.gov/&gt;

[4] Look, Marie.  “Trash Planet:  India.”  Earth911.com. 3 August 2009.  Web.  27 April 2012.  <http://earth911.com/&gt;

[5] “Following Garbage’s Long Journey Around The Earth.”  National Public Radio.  26 April 2012.  Web.  27 April 2012.  <http://www.npr.org/&gt;

[6] “Waste Paper Destined for China.”  Paper.com.cn24 July 2009.  Web.  27 April 2012.  <http://www.paper.com.cn/&gt;


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love for inner space

Ares 1-X, a flight test rocket, is scheduled to launch today from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The goal of this prototype is to collect information on re-entry dynamics for recovery, vehicle control, and improve specifications based on new information received. Mainly, this launch will test the first stage of the rocket separation and the flight environment during this separation. Ares 1-X is equipped with never-been-used technology, which includes a reusable rocket booster, a flight control system, and a few other components that are beyond my knowledge. I hope you enjoyed the “little bit of a background” about this mission. But this is not an essay on astronomy, technology, or black holes (although it sounds enticing); what came to my mind is the ethics. Considering that a diverse sack of industrial gases gets released during lift-off causing not only air pollution, but ozone depletion; when does the need to preserve our planet begin to outweigh endeavor for knowledge of space?

Recent prognoses have shown that solid rocket motor emissions reduce the total amount of stratospheric ozone by only about 0.04 percent. Significance seems measly, I know; but think about the global warming prediction being 1°C increase every century and the effects this has on our environment. One of the many examples is the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf. This is the largest block of ice in the Arctic region that has been around for 3,000 years. In the year 2000 it began cracking and within two years it has split and is now breaking into pieces. And this is with only .01°C increase in temperature per year, which was also considered insignificant a few decades ago. Now NASA asserts that the temperatures have been increasing by an average of 0.2 °C every decade for the past 30 years.

Ok… You might argue that carbon dioxide emissions may have a different impact in terms of magnitude and the speed of escalation, but remember that space transportation, which used to be dominated by government, has become an important part of our commerce world. The industry of launching freight into orbit is expected to nearly double in the next decade.

At last, the main ozone-destroying radicals, such as the chlorine atom (Cl), nitric oxide (NO), and the hydroxyl radical (OH), are able to regenerate after destroying an ozone molecule. Scientific term for this event is a catalytic cycle; where these “toxic” molecules affect the ozone even at the smallest quantities. This means that small excretions of ozone-destroying radicals into the stratosphere caused by industrial activity, including rocket exhaust, might cause relatively large changes to the ozone layer.

Here is an example of the ozone hole found near the North Pole:

NASA – Arctic Ozone Depletion

 

Images courtesy Eric Nash and Paul Newman, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

My question remains: did we come to love the outer space more than our planet Earth?

P.S. Just to leave on a positive note: solar radiation produces ozone in the stratosphere, so total ozone levels increase during the solar flares. Sunspot 1029 has been releasing 6 solar flares in the last few days. Here is a peak 🙂

Paul Haese photographed the maelstrom from his backyard observatory in Blackwood, South Australia