Green Food Choices

This Post is Prepared by Donnie Dann

Many different factors influence the foods and drinks that we buy and consume, including availability, cost, taste, freshness, and healthiness. One factor that is often overlooked is environmental impact. Consumer choices have a dramatic effect on our environment. Here are some examples of ways to increase your environmentally conscious eating habits:
Spare the rainforest
  • Did your hamburger come from a cow that munched on grasses that had once been a biodiverse, oxygen-producing Amazonian rainforest? According to the Global Forest Atlas, “Cattle ranching is the largest driver of deforestation in every Amazonian country, accounting for 80% of current deforestation rates.” Whenever possible, look for country of origin labels and buy local.
Limit pollutants from factory farms
  • Avoid purchasing pork, poultry, beef, and other livestock products sourced from animals raised in large “concentrated animal feeding operations.” These factory farms are known to release significant amounts of contaminants into the air and water.
Buy organic to reduce pesticide use in your food
  • As agricultural pests evolve and become immune to traditional pesticides, manufacturers seeking to stop the critters develop newer, more pernicious chemical combinations that lace our food with pesticide residues. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) acknowledges that pest-killing residues were found on 85% of tested foods. Though the USDA claims that the levels found were lower than would be harmful to people, Eco-Watch points out that no long-term studies have ever examined the cumulative effect of eating a pesticide-coated apple a day for 20 years.
  • Several large agribusiness companies, including Monsanto and DuPont, produce a type of soybean seed that is resistant to the herbicide dicamba. Dicamba is a pesticide that kills broadleaf plants like milkweed, which are considered weeds in a soybean field but are critically needed by Monarch butterflies to lay their eggs. When these companies sell a farmer dicamba-tolerant soybean seeds, the farmer knows he can spray his fields with dicamba and kill the weeds, but not the soybean plants. That’s a winning hand for that farmer, but not for neighboring farms or the greater ecosystem. One lawsuit filed against Monsanto and DuPont (among other defendants) alleges that “dicamba drift” resulting from vaporization and wind kills soybeans and other plants in adjoining farms that were not planted with dicamba-tolerant soybean seeds. Dicamba drift also threatens natural areas like nature preserves, destroying native habitat in the process.
  • Buying organic foods that were not treated with pesticides keeps you and your family from ingesting potentially harmful chemicals. It may also prevent your food purchases from contributing to mass degradation of natural habitats and the resulting loss of plant and animal species.
So what can you do? Read ingredients and ask questions. Find out where your grocer and your restaurant get their beef, chicken, fish, and produce. It will make you a more informed, environmentally conscious consumer and allow you to avoid patronizing harmful sources.
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Losing Our Coral Reefs is Trouble

This Post is Prepared by Donnie Dann

Dazzling.” “Spectacular.” “Other worldly.” “Incredible.” Anyone who has been fortunate enough to see a thriving coral reef knows that these are only a few of the superlatives used to describe the sight. The best way to experience the reef is with scuba gear or while snorkeling, but even through a glass bottomed boat a viewer will get a sense of the reef’s spectacle. Coral reefs are clearly among the most amazing natural wonders on earth.

And aside from being beautiful, coral reefs constitute special and irreplaceable ecosystems with almost incalculable benefits to humans, animals, fish and plant life. Consider:

  • 25% of the oceans’ plant and animal life, including 4,000 species of fishes, make coral reefs their home. This is true even though these reefs occupy just 0.2% of the ocean floor.
  • The Earth Institute at Columbia University tells us coral reefs generate annual global economic value of $375 billion, including food and other resources for over 500 million people in 94 countries and territories.
  • These “rainforests of the ocean” contain some 800 kinds of coral and are biologically unique and unlike any other habitat type in the world.

But our planet’s coral reefs are in serious jeopardy. According to Voice of America, 75% of the world’s coral reefs are threatened, facing perils from a variety of sources including:

  • Fishing via dynamiting the coral;
  • Overfishing;
  • Coastal development, which causes nutrient runoff via farming, raw sewage and sedimentation;
  • Pollutants resulting in destructive algae blooms that smother the reef; and
  • Climate change. A recent study said virtually all coral reefs would be potentially at the risk of bleaching if global temperatures rose from the atmospheric goal in the Paris Climate Agreement of 1.5 degrees Celsius to the predicted 2 degrees Celsius if no action is taken. 

Please consider volunteering or donating to one or more of the highly effective conservation organizations dedicated (at least in part) to saving coral reefs, including Coral Reef Alliance, the Nature Conservancy and Oceana.

To learn more about this issue, please see the following websites:

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Seal Your Driveway, Why Not?

This Post is Prepared by Donnie Dann

Your driveway has cracks, it’s old looking and unquestionably requires work. Someone leaves a pamphlet in your mailbox or phones you and offers to seal your driveway to make it beautiful and successfully repair it. Further, the price is right, jut a few hundred dollars. It’s an offer you can’t refuse.

My advice? Refuse it! Here’s the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) summary about the coal tar derived material typically used as a driveway sealer, but I commend the entire article to you here.

Coal-tar-based sealcoat—a product marketed to protect and beautify asphalt pavement—is a potent source of toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to air, soils, streams and lakes, and homes. Does its use present a risk to human health?” The is answer is a resounding YES!

Some of the brands of sealants contain as much as 35% coal tar, a known carcinogen according to the National Toxicology Program. It’s no surprise that the industry group, Pavement Coatings Technology Council strongly denies the carcinogenic properties found by the USGS and other researchers. A water quality scientist of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, has said “we have done rigorous, scientific surveys and analyses showing coal tar sealants are a major sources of PAHs in the environment”. Coal tar is banned in several places, including my home town, Highland Park, IL

An excellent analysis and comparison of industry claims with a side by side refutation is available here.

Far less toxic alternatives are available: This is from N. Y. State’s Department of Conservation:

Asphalt based sealers are available which contain 1,000 times less PAH than coal tar sealers. Choose an asphalt-based sealer, whether you are hiring someone, or doing the job yourself. If you are hiring a professional to seal your driveway: Ask the contractor what type of sealers they use. The contractor should be able to tell you whether their product is coal tar or asphalt-based. If your contractor is unable to tell you what is in their sealer, or you would like to verify their answer, request the safety data sheet on their product. If the safety data references chemical abstract service (CAS) numbers 65996-93-2, 65996-89-6, or 8007-45-2, the sealer contains coal tar. If any of the material references the words “coal tar,” “refined coal tar,” “coal tar pitch volatiles,” “RT-12,” “tar” or similar terms the sealer contains coal tar.”

The irony of using coal tar sealants is that they don’t really work. Sure, for some weeks your driveway looks new, but it won’t be long before that completely black appearance is gone and it appears much as it did before the application, including unhealed cracks. In other words its value is cosmetic. Meanwhile the carcinogens run from your driveway to surrounding habitat, including your home.

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Cats and Rats, an Urban Legend

This Post is Prepared by Donnie Dann

Rats, the very word sends shivers up the spines of many. And well it should as rats are major disease carriers responsive for a host of illnesses including plague and rat-bite fever. When city dwellers observe rats feeding on trash in back alleys the call is heard loud and determined, “bring in those feral cats and control these rats”.

A recent article appeared in a local Chicago publication, “dna info” entitled Rat-Packed Chicago Has 3-Month Waitlist For Feral Cats As Demand ‘Explodes’. At first glance one would think YES!, cats are the perfect predator to rid us of those detested rats. But do they? And if so is the solution worse than the problem?

The extensive scientific literature on the subject refutes the claim that cats are effective rat predators. One example from a peer-reviewed study in the scientific journal Plos/One, includes the following paragraph. Typical of many science based papers the entire article is lengthy and esoteric, so I’ve excerpted a short section:

Studies of house cat predatory behavior in Baltimore have supported numerous other reports [10], [26] that suggested cats only occasionally killed rats and rarely have a numerical impact on the prey population, (emphasis mine) though they can qualitatively affect its structure. Jackson [16] found that Norway rats were food items in only 6.7% of feral cat feces. He also reported that there was no demonstrable relationship between the frequency of cat predation and the abundance of either rats or cats in the alleys. Childs [20], [27] also observed that cat predation on Norway rats was rare — only witnessing five attacks in more than 900 hours of observation. (Please write me directly for the actual scientific articles referenced by the names or numbers shown above).

We’re left with anecdotal evidence and opinions like “Once we brought the cats in the rats disappeared”. Rats are cagey beasts, acclimate to the presence of cats and move to a safer location, an alley distant from the cat colony. The rats may scurry away, but as adults are rarely predated by cats. The safest and surest way to eliminate the rat problem is to eliminate their food. Use rat-proof garbage cans with effective self-closing lids.

Meanwhile our nation’s cats, an estimated 100 million feral and 50 million owned but free-roaming, are seriously assailing human health. Cats are the only source of toxoplasmosis, a devastating parasite to pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems. They are also the primary domestic vector for rabies, and highly allergenic to many. As to the nation’s wildlife, outdoor cats are responsible for killing approximately 2.4 billion birds and 12.5 billion small mammals annually.

For a highly informative dialogue on the problem of our nations abundant cat population, I strongly commend this link to your reading.

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Take Action to Oppose Illinois SB641 – Public Financing of Trap, Neuter & Release of Feral Cats

Statement Prepared by Donnie Dann

I am asking you to contact your Illinois State Senator to oppose Senate Bill 641 (SB641). This should be done before the end of April, 2017.

SB641 authorizes taxpayer funding for a method of feral cat management called Trap, Neuter & Return (TNR). There are many flaws with this proposed law. An incomplete list includes:

  1. TNR does not work. TNR is a scientifically discredited effort to reduce the ever-expanding outdoor cat populations estimated at 60 million to 100 million and counting. You can read the scientific evidence debunking this method here.
  2. SB641 does not provide the kind of comprehensive approach to adequately address the issue in Illinois. A piecemeal approach is unlikely to solve the problem.
  3. The bill subsidizes “caretakers” of feral cat colonies. These caretakers are not required to pay licensing fees, assume ownership responsibilities or be accountable to the law’s requirements such as re-catching for re-vaccination, etc.
  4. The bill draws its funds from existing licensing fees which were originally intended specifically to help low income pet owners and seniors defray the cost of vaccinating and spaying/neutering their indoor house pets.

More information:

Illinois convened a feral cat task force. After 2 productive meetings and a request for additional time to formulate a useful policy, the task force was abandoned and the Senate committee moved forward with its bill.

Witness slips (public testimony) submitted to the Senate committee ran 3:2 against the bill, but the committee elected to move this forward to a full Senate vote.

The Illinois Audubon Society, Illinois Ornithological Society, Illinois Environmental Council, The Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club of Illinois, Openlands, Bird Conservation Network, Wildlife Society and Wildlife Veterinarians all oppose this bill.

This is an Illinois Senate Bill. Please contact your state senator immediately.  Please call, give your name, address and that you’re a constituent asking the senator to vote NO on SB 641, a bad bill.  It would be fine to leave a voice mail message.

Northern Illinois State Senators include:

  • Dan McConchie, District 26 (224) 662-4544
  • Terry Link District 30 (847) 821-1811
  • Julie Morrison 29th district (847) 945-5200
  • Melinda Bush 31st district (847) 548-5631
  • Tom Rooney 27th district (847) 776-1490
  • Laura Murphy 28th District (847) 718-1110

More information: Please contact Donnie Dann (847) 266-2222

Our Environmental Future?

By Donnie R. Dann

This Alert speaks for itself and contains little editorial comment.

Congressman Mark Meadows, Republican from western North Carolina, a member of the House Freedom Caucus (commonly known as the Tea Party), has released a list of over 200 “harmful regulations” (his description) that can be eliminated by the incoming administration in the first 100 days. See this link for all of them, but I list a sampling of the environmentally related ones below. Other areas targeted for revoking include civil rights, food safety, financial regulations, consumer protection, etc., but they are beyond the scope of this Newsletter.

  • #15 proposes that “Country of Origin” labeling on beef and pork be revoked.

  • #146 revokes the Bureau of Land Management’s Environmental Impact Statement for coal.

  • #161 cancels the U.S. commitments to the Paris Agreements on Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

  • #162 eliminates the Office of Global Climate Change at the State Department.

  • #164 rescinds the Framework for Climate Change and National Security.

  • #170 eliminates the Special Envoy for Climate Change.

  • #172 eliminates the Bureau of Oceans & International Environmental & Scientific Affairs.

  • #190 rescinds the National Environmental Policy Act’s (NEPA) guidance on global warming compliance.

  • Other regulations to be removed include emission standards for vehicles, regional haze regulations, carbon pollution guidelines for electric utilities, the Clean Air Interstate Rule, and the Renewable Fuel Standard Program.

  • Executive Orders to revoke – Chesapeake restoration and protection; Oceans, Coasts, Great Lakes protection, Investment in Industrial Energy Efficiency, and Sustainability Goals for Federal Agencies.

  • Energy conservation regulations on air conditioners, refrigerators, etc. are described as “too burdensome to comply with”.

And this is just the first 100 days! Will the new administration implement some or all of these actions?

Guess!

If you oppose this upheaval of our environmental protections, these are some actions you can take. Write, or better call, or better yet visit your legislator(s) and tell them. Volunteer for, but most importantly contribute to the extent you can to environmental organizations that will fight them.

This Newsletter may be excerpted, reproduced or circulated without limitation.

Green Travel

By Donnie R. Dann

Free Picture: Ready To TravelID: 5906762 © Geoffrey Poulad | Dreamstime Stock Photos
We’re all on the go, but for the conscientious traveler, traveling can be gentler to Mother Earth and no less a great travel experience.

Wanderlust. I’ve had the “affliction” all my life. But I’ve come to realize that travel can significantly contribute to ourever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions and the resultant warming of our atmosphere. And I’m not alone in my love of going places. The total U. S. domestic and foreign travel expenses in 2015 were close to one trillion dollars, an increase of over $200 billion since 2010.

So how can we see our loved ones who live elsewhere, conduct business, or enjoy a destination vacation, and simultaneously minimize our impact on the environment?

In many cases practicalities will dictate where and how you travel, but here are some suggestions (wherever possible) for lowering your carbon footprint when leaving home:

  • When you’re in a new location, your best mode of transportation is often your feet. Walking is better than driving for touring and for the environment. If walking is impracticable, consider biking, taking the bus, riding the train, or using a shared ride service or cab, rather than renting a car.
  • For those inevitable flights, some airline websites have a calculator that enable you to estimate the carbon footprint for your journey. With this information, you can purchase “carbon offsets” to negate the CO2 you will generate in flight. In addition, one bit of good news that will lessen the impact of pollution from jet travel is the recent 190-nation accord that will result in far less jet plane emissions by 2021.

We’re all on the go, but for the conscientious traveler, traveling can be gentler to Mother Earth and no less a great travel experience.

This Newsletter may be excerpted, reproduced or circulated without limitation.

 

Birds and Glass: a Fatal Mix

canada warbler bird collision
This canada warbler collided with a retail store window in Highland Park, Illinois. Although collisions like this are common in Highland Park, the city manager has rejected any recommendations that require compliance with bird friendly building codes.

By Donnie R. Dann

In late April, the American Redstart, a small songbird marked with the striking orange and black colors of Halloween candy, leaves his wintering grounds in Venezuela’s rainforest and begins a 4000-mile journey to the Lake County Forest Preserve where he was born the previous summer.  His purpose is to build a nest, attract a mate, and raise a brood of young, as his kind has done for countless generations.  But first he must survive the countless threats he faces during this perilous journey, including storms, predators, a 20-hour 600-mile non-stop flight across the Gulf of Mexico, communication towers, feral and free-roaming house cats, and more.  He is almost home, and after flying over the corn and soybean deserts of central Illinois, he arrives in the Chicago metropolitan area. But there he becomes confused by a modern building with extensive glass, where he sees reflections of more sky and some shrubbery, and he flies full speed into a window that he doesn’t recognize as a barrier. He is instantly killed.

This is the “thunk” you hear upon awakening early on an otherwise beautiful spring morning. The American Bird Conservancy estimates that every home in the United States kills about two birds a year, and that up to one billion birds a year are killed by collisions with glass.

Does it really matter? There are still plenty of birds out there, right? Wrong. According to the most recent State of the Birds report by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, “one-third of all North American bird species are in urgent need of conservation action.” The same report estimates that some species have lost 70% of their continental populations since 1970. And aside from habitat loss, collisions with windows are the second greatest source of human-caused bird mortality.

Birds provide crucial benefits to mankind, including seed dispersal, pollination and insect control, as well as the cheeriness of their morning song.. Further, bird-watching is a $40 billion economic activity. And all of these benefits are in addition to their remarkable beauty which—along with tropical fish—is nature’s showpiece. But the benefit of birds to people should not be the measure of their worth any more than the value of the rainforest is tallied by what’s on the pharmacy shelf. Birds have their own right to exist!

You can take steps to minimize bird collisions with your windows. Here are some products suitable for homes and recognized to be effective:

In addition, communities across North America, including San Francisco, Cook County, Toronto and others, have enacted bird-friendly construction ordinances applicable to new commercial, industrial and multi-families buildings. Encourage your elected officials to pass similar legislation, and make your own homes bird-safe as well.

This Newsletter may be excerpted, reproduced or circulated without limitation.

Small Actions for Conservation

In its essence conservation is about people and we will care more deeply about it when we realize its critical role in our lives. Sir David Attenborough put it well, “We depend on nature for the very air we breathe, for every mouthful of food we consume, for every drop of clean water that we drink.”

The little steps may not seem like they matter much but if all of us act on some of these ideas our collective efforts will conserve and sustain nature’s bounty for everyone’s long term health.

Here are a few small actions, some of which we can all take:

  • Pre-heating the oven is an old wives tale and is simply unnecessary. Bread and pastries aside, it just wastes energy. While cooking, opening the oven door to check on your food results in a significant loss of energy. Just check the oven window.

  • Along the same lines limit the number of times you need to open the refrigerator or freezer door. Give thought to what you need for a meal, and just as you should cluster your errands do no less for removal and return of food items. Most importantly don’t leave these doors open for any extended period.

  • Clothes dryers employ large quantities of energy. Clean the lint filter after each load (improves air circulation). Use the cool-down cycle (allows clothes to finish drying from the residual heat inside). For those especially conscientious, forget about your dryer and use a clothesline or buy drying racks. Clothes usually dry overnight.
  • Although a backyard with native plants is far more environmentally friendly, most of us still maintain turf grass lawns and they require regular sprinkling. In doing so be sure to direct the water only on your grass, and water in the morning as the air is usually still and cooler (less evaporation).

  • To the extent we can let’s keep fossil fuels in the ground. Oil and coal extraction and burning are the major contributors to climate change.

  • A large number of household products are made from these petrochemicals, one of which is paint. Oil based paint contains volatile organic chemicals (VOC’s). One of their advantages1 is that they dry quickly. This is more than overcome by the release of these chemicals that contribute to or can cause a variety of illnesses and generally threatens public health. Furthermore, in their manufacturing they create 10 times their own weight in toxic waste. Use low or non-VOC paint whenever possible.

  • The production of charcoal continues to be a major contributor to rainforest destruction, now at the rate of 200,000 acres per day. Converting to a gas fired bar-b-cue not only saves the rainforest but avoids those VOC emissions from your grill.
  • According to Consumer Reports the pre-rinsing dishwasher cycle is unnecessary and wastes 20 gallons of water with every use.

A little can mean a lot if we all do our part.

Our Critical Pollinators

Bugs—the creepy crawly stuff of our nightmares. We don’t want them where we live, we don’t want them in our food and we certainly don’t want them scampering on our bodies. Yet bugs are essential to our lives and our food sources, as they serve as “pollinators” to nurture our farms, forests, prairies and gardens.

A variety of animals, including birds, bats, monkeys, lizards and others can serve as pollinators, but insects are far and away the most common of all the world’s pollinators. An especially valuable pollinator species—the honey bee—has been in the news of late as honey bee hive populations have declined precipitously.

Economic importance of pollinators

  •  The honey bee accounts for more than 2/3 of the $24 billion contributed to the U. S. economy by all pollinators and enables the production of at least 90% of the commercially grown crops in the United States.
  • Worldwide, 35% of global food production depends on animal pollinators, and collectively these pollinator species are responsible for 87 of the 115 leading food crops.

Why our pollinators are in trouble

  • Habitat loss is a primary cause of concern for pollinators, as the development and extractive industries and intensive row crop agriculture have diminished the biodiverse natural areas that pollinators require to forage and reproduce.
  • Pesticides, including insecticides, fungicides and herbicides, not only kill the intended pest but often destroy beneficial ones as well, including important pollinators. Pesticide residues can remain in the environment for multiple generations.
  • Alien species, i.e. non-native animals (e.g. Emerald Ash Borer, European Starling, Norway Rat, to name a few) often have fewer predators and out-compete native species.
  • Climate change directly affects our pollinators, as critters adapted to one climate zone may be less able to adapt when that zone shifts.

What you can do to help pollinators

  • National Pollinator Week takes place from June 20 to June 26. Celebrate by planting a mix of plants in your garden that provide pollen and nectar for all growing seasons.
  • Grow plants and flowers in groups, rather than growing a plant in isolation.
  • Seek planting advice from native plant landscaper specialists or your local botanic garden.
  • Most importantly, convert your turf grass lawn or part of it to flowering plants.
  • For an excellent reference to help guide your choices, please see the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign’s regional guides for your ecoregion.