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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Silent saviour: The mangrove effect

The effect of the tsunami striking East Asia one year ago could have had much less impact - if only the mangrove forest that had been guarding the coast for years, had still been there to protect the coastlines.

photo permission: Todd Adams

Recent reports from India and Indonesia demonstrate that in coastal areas with a healthy mangrove forest, the force of the tsunami was relatively slight. On the other hand, where the trees had been cut to provide space for shrimp farms and the tourism industry, the effect was devastating. Research shows that a giant wave, such as the one from the Asian Tsunami, may lose as much as 20% of its energy for every 100 meters of mangrove through which it passes, and that an entire forest can absorb between 70 and 90% of these destructive wave’s energy. View an interactive satellite photo map of Tsunami affected areas in the Indian Ocean at Greener Maps.

Following the catastrophe on December 26, 2004, the World Conservation Union (ICUN) compared two similarly situated villages located in Sri Lanka, also struck by the wave. The result was shocking, in these villages where mangroves were uprooted 6000 people had died, compared to just two deaths where the mangrove forest still grew at the shoreline. To the 60,000 inhabitants in Indonesia’s Pulau Simeulue, the "mangrove effect” limited the deaths to just one hundred. In other nearby places with comparable population numbers, tens of thousands perished. Ngapattinam, situated in south India, which was one of the hardest hit areas also had the most mangrove areas cleared for *prawn farms production. In Thailand, there came reports that areas, where the forest had been removed in favour of tourist settlements, the tsunami damage was severe; one such place is Phi-Phi Island. (see Map)

At the Mangrove Action Plan (MAP) website, John Gray, a guide from Phuket, Indonesia who witnessed the tsunami says, “Phi-Phi Island is a National Park. By law, there are no permanent structures allowed in a National Park.” Now, one year later, Gray notes, “extensive reconstruction of hotels and restaurants is well underway at the very same shoreline sites.”

Today more than half of the world’s mangrove forest is lost to unfettered economic growth. In addition, the protecting coral reefs and sea grass beds are being increasingly threatened. These "coastal greenbelts of protection" play a vital role not just by protecting shorelines from catastrophic flooding whether from tsunamis or hurricane driven sea surge, but also by reducing sedimentation and shoreline erosion. Mangroves provide shelter for marine life which in turn stimulates a more productive fishing industry, In fact, these mangrove shelters provide a rich source of many other commodities including medicines, fruit, honey, lumber, fuel wood, tannins and they’re aesthetically beautiful.

Prior to the tsunami authorities had speculated about the risks involved in exploiting the mangrove forests by clear cutting to produce commercial shrimp farms, however these discussions were ultimately ignored in favour of development and profit. The lesson is unmistakable, if there had been less demand for tiger-shrimp and beach hotels likely the mangroves would have been left untouched and the scale of the tsunami disaster most certainly could have been lessened.

However, change may be on its way. In the south Indian state of Kerala, the government recently initiated a one million dollar project to plant new mangrove forests along the coasts; and there are similar plans proposed by other organisations, communities and NGOs (non-government organizations)intended to establish a sustainable system of flood mitigation throughout the coastal areas of the Indian Ocean. Some of these proposals prohibit building human settlements outright while others limit fixed enterprises for tourism or aquaculture in inter-tidal zones, including mangroves, mudflats, salt flats and marshes. In the end, perhaps the real tsunami-effect will be that the mangrove will again thrive and protect future generations from the death and destruction caused by these unpredictable, re-occurring tsunamis.

by Karin Didring
Greener Magazine

*Press release:Svenska Naturskyddsföreningen and CDNN

Tsunami photos - Reuters/MSNBC

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2:50 PM

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Green grow the diamonds, part 2

Diamonds may be a girl's best friend but may soon be the geek's best friend as well if a company called Gemesis and its founder, retired Brigadier General Carter Clarke have their way.

Gemesis is a three-year-old start up in Sarasota, FL, which finds itself in a very peculiar growth industry, diamonds, not real diamonds but synthetic and according to most gemologists undetectable from the real thing. From a seed, a tiny real diamond chip, the Gemesis process grows diamonds by adding a small amount of carbon powder in a chamber heated to 2200 degrees F under extreme pressure. The resulting pure diamond is faultless, diamond hard and ready for cutting like any other mined stone found in nature.

Technology has long been able to produce small industrial diamonds used for saw blades, mining drill heads or as a super hard abrasive but gem quality stones, including stones of multiple carat size, have been impossible until now. Although the actual technology is held, a close company secret the process is surprisingly simple. Electricity and very strong pressure chambers like crock-pots on steroids cook the diamonds over a few hours or days and voila, diamonds a la carte. By adding different minerals yellow, blue and even rare pink diamonds can be produced to order.

These cultured diamonds, as the company likes to call them, pose a real headache for natural diamond suppliers like DeBeers, Rio Tinto and others because there is no practical method other than registration to tell the real thing from a cultured diamond. Registration of course is anathema to diamond sales as long as the supply line remains visible. If a stone is lost or stolen, its real source and therefore its origin and pedigree become obscure. It may be re-cut and shaped or simply reset and sold privately, a diamond can have many reincarnations and only an expert can, by intimate knowledge of gemology, trace a diamond back to its origin. Something similar happens with cultured diamonds in that they too can be traced, spotted, by there purity. Unlike real diamonds, cultured diamonds have no occlusions or slight foggy patches caused by the presence of tiny foreign materials imbedded in the carbon structure. Jewelers use a loupe or magnifying eyepiece to detect these imperfections and grade the stone by their relative effect on the overall appearance of the gem. The cultured stone has no occlusions and by that trait, a jeweler is able to detect them.

Greener Mag contacted Gemesis to learn more about their process and learned that it requires about four days to produce a single 3 carat Gemesis Diamond in a process that scientists believe is similar to that which occurs in nature. The energy required is about as much as that used by a hair dryer.

Color is the fashion in diamonds of late. Pink diamonds from Australia and yellow or blue fetch unusually high prices. According to Gemesis, their "Cultured Diamonds occur in a variety of colors as well, with the most popular colors being yellow and orange. Red, blue, green, pink and a variety of other colors are also feasible."

We asked Gemesis how a buyer might be confident that the stone they purchase is a Gemesis Cultured diamond. They told us, "Gemesis Cultured Diamonds are laser inscribed with a unique tracking number." They went on to say, "We are currently working on an internet based central registration system where consumers can go to verify the authenticity of their Gemesis diamonds."

At the end of the day however, for most of us, it is the final price that determines our decision to buy diamonds. The good news is that Gemesis Diamonds, depending on color and quality, "are priced from one tenth to one quarter of the price of earth-grown fancy color diamonds."

Gemesis is also working on developing diamonds grown for the electronics industry. Diamond is the hardest know naturally occurring material in nature and as such promises to revolutionize transistor technology. Current processor speeds are limited only by the inability of silicon to withstand the high temperatures generated by super fast computing. Diamond can withstand temperatures well into triple figures without being affected and consequently may increase computing power ten fold overnight. Imagine a computer rated in carats as well as megahertz, as geek's best friend after all.

However, what we really like about cultured diamonds is the positive impact of the technology on the environment. If you read the first installment in this series "Green grow the diamonds" about natural diamond mining it becomes evident very quickly that aside from the simple economic advantages of 'growing' diamonds with what amounts to a hair dryer's worth of electricity the environmental savings are spectacular. Scaring the landscape and generations of impoverished, disabled communities are no longer necessary.

With Valentines Day is just around the corner, perhaps a pink diamond can be a green choice after all.

by Harlan Weikle
Greener Magazine

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11:12 AM

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Personal care or personal hazard?

Could it be that the products we use to clean, soothe, and beautify ourselves to remain healthy as well as to feel good, have just the opposite effect?

Recent research has shown that many of the personal care products on the market contain toxic or unregulated ingredients, which could pose serious health risks to humans and the environment. A very small number of these potentially hazardous ingredients are actually assessed for safety by the cosmetic industry’s review panel. The review process allows the use of a large variety of ingredients without regard for the effect they may have on our health and on the environment.

According to the Environmental Working Group - EWG, a non-profit research and advocacy organization, in a study called “Skin Deep” they reveal that many personal care products found in our own bathrooms, and cosmetic bags are in fact formulated with ingredients that may be linked to serious health concerns. For example, an ingredient called Triclosan may potentially contain impurities linked to cancer, and immune system damage. The ingredient in question was found in 196 personal care products based on the EWG website including the following five commonly used personal care products found in households:

1) Dial brand antibacterial hand soap with vitamin E moisture beads
2) Colgate Total 12 hour multi protection toothpaste fresh stripe
3) Vagisil Foaming Wash – Summer Breeze
4) Neutrogena Body Wash
5) L’Oreal Hydra Fresh Foaming Face Wash

A study conducted in 2005 by the World Wildlife Fund, testing the blood of 13 European families and 3 generations of women has found 73 man-made hazardous chemicals present in their blood. A number of these chemicals were found in personal care and household products that can be varied in their toxicity and perhaps cumulative. Women who apply sunscreen, a moisturizer or beauty products such as blush, eye shadow and lipstick, risk even greater levels of toxic exposure. In fact, even if you avoid products with known harmful ingredients you may still be at risk. By washing these products down the drain, users contaminate waste water systems posing risks to wildlife, degrading soil and air quality, creating new pathways for these chemicals to enter our bodies.

Personal care and hygiene products containing inorganic and non-biodegradable chemicals found in our homes, exposes our health and the environment to risk. It has become a vicious toxic cycle that can persist in our bodies and the environment for years, even decades. However, our choices, based on our knowledge and dedication to improving the quality of life, can help break this cycle; by rewarding the manufacturers who make the conscious decision to keep the chemicals out of their products and avoiding those that do not.

by Diane Cimetta
Greener Magazine

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1:50 PM

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Whole Foods Market goes for green energy

As if eating a healthy, earth friendly diet wasn't reason enough now there is even more cause to purchase from retailers like Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods with 181 stores in the U.S. and the U.K. and over 32,000 employees announced last week that they are going to convert the company's entire U.S. electrical energy usage to all green renewable power.

The corporation plans to purchase enough wind power credits to cover its operational power needs in the U.S. The total amount of green credit Whole foods plans to buy is 458-million kilowatt-hours. The purchase which is for wind power energy credits from Renewable Choice Energy Inc. makes Whole Foods Market the largest green-power buyer in the country.

This move will eliminate more than 700 million pounds of carbon dioxide pollution this year alone. To have the same environmental impact, more than 60,000 cars would have to be taken off the road or more than 90,000 acres of trees would have to be planted.

by Harlan Weikle
Greener Magazine

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9:52 AM

Monday, January 16, 2006

Smart Choices for a Healthy Body and a Healthy Planet

Veggie Revolution by Sally and Sara Kneidel, a new book that explores the dynamic relationship between human culture, food and the survival of the environment.

Vegetarians often will tell you that they have chosen a vegetarian diet for health reasons, or over concerns for animal welfare, that the decision was personal or influenced by a loved one, or they may tell you their vegetarian lifestyle is a by-product of their faith. People make decisions about their lives often unilaterally but never in a vacuum because what each of us chooses ultimately impacts society and the world as a whole.

Veggie Revolution, Fulcrum Publishing, by authors Sally Kneidel, Ph.D., and Sara Kate Kneidel, activist, vegetarian cook is a new book about a very old subject, one ignored by most other books on the subject: the connection between vegetarianism, social activism and the environment. Like Pierre-François Bouchard’s Rosetta Stone, which revealed to scholars the connection between two ancient languages, Veggie Revolution illustrates, in one volume, the two languages of vegetarianism and socio-economics revealing at once their interconnected meaning; that to preserve the natural environment man and animal have to return to the principles of good animal husbandry and sensible farming practices.

The authors visit factory farms and small family operated organic farms to witness for themselves the evolution of today’s giant corporate farming machines. The comparison is a stunning revelation about modern farming technology, corporate indifference to anything but profit and the revolution of organic farming.

Veggie Revolution is also a cookbook, or perhaps that should be 'book that cooks.' The lessons revealed about the nature of man and his food to the natural order of things are practical nourishment for the soul. There is more here to digest than just some wonderful vegetarian recipes interwoven with social commentary. The book can, and ought to be, read and reread as a manifesto for eco-environmental preservation. Whether you are a vegetarian, meat eater, organic or non this book in simple terms and with great honesty provides you with informed observation and lets you come away with your own personal solution to environmental stewardship and the Veggie Revolution.

About the authors:

Sally Kneidel, Ph.D., is a biologist, journalist, photographer, and parent of two college-age young adults. She has taught biology and writing in colleges and public schools for more than 15 years, and with her husband teaches tropical ecology on student trips to the rainforests of Costa Rica. She is particularly interested in issues related to the impact of our growing population on wildlife and habitat. While her first nine books deal strictly with zoology and botany, Veggie Revolution is her first examination of how human behavior and social responsibility affect the natural environment.

Sara Kate Kneidel, an activist, feminist, and Quaker, earned a B.A. in Spanish and women’s studies from Guilford College in 2005, with a minor in field biology. She worked as a vegetarian cook for three years, then planned and pulled together a communal vegetarian household for herself and friends, centered around a “food ethics” theme. After a stint as coordinator for a community-development program in Mexico, she recently returned from traveling in Spain and West Africa. Writing, she believes, is an effective means of raising public awareness of political issues and social concerns. Veggie Revolution is her first book.

by Harlan Weikle
Greener Magazine

editor's note: Read an excerpt from the book Veggie Revolution.
Get a copy of one of the book's recipes, "Greek Tofu Salad."

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8:25 PM

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Green grow the diamonds

Part 1 of 2

At one time they may be … diamonds, then flint stones, then morning dew, then tears.
Lope de Vega

Diamond mines outside the jungle that surrounds
the northern town of Koidu in Sierra Leone
photo courtesy Dave Tacon Photography

Under the best of circumstances, it might require on average 250 tons of diamond bearing rock called Kimberlite to produce a gem quality 1 carat diamond, although some sites vary considerably. Still, the volume of rock and earth that must be transported and sifted for its diamond lode is enormous and can leave a significant mark on the landscape (view satellite photos of mine sites at Greener Earth Maps).

Born in the depths of the earth (diamonds typically form at a depth greater than 150 kilometers, 93 miles within the earth) under tremendous heat and pressure diamonds, often considered one of earth’s rarest treasures, may by some estimates prove in fact to be one of the most common mineral crystals known to man. This past year mining giant Rio Tinto announced a record number of new Kimberlite discoveries and as technology improves there are sure to be many more.

According to the Smithsonian’s American Museum of Natural History exhibit, “Diamonds,” until the early 1700s India was the world’s sole source of diamonds with an estimated maximum of 50,000 – 100,000 carats mined annually. By the mid 19th century diamonds had been discovered in S Africa and since deposits have been identified in 25 other nations and virtually on every continent. The total number of carats mined around the world today exceed 100 Million carats annually, the totals continue to rise as new technologies and more powerful tools are brought to the task, but at what price?

Increasingly diamond mining requires more resources and results in a substantially greater impact on the environment as mining concerns look father a field and deeper beneath the ground for new deposits. While S Africa remains for the near future the lead supplier of diamonds contributing overall a total of 45% of all production, so too do they bear the greatest wounds. Abandoned mines and impoverished communities continue to burden the economies of third world nations like South Africa long after the diamonds and the wealth they represent have been removed. Scarification and waste lay in the debris of these activities even as corporations strive to minimize the impact such mining has on local eco systems.

However, even that damage is minimal compared to the damage in human terms when mines are closed and jobs eliminated. Now left with no viable industry and a wrecked landscape the inevitable fate of entire communities of men and animals is to live in crushing, blighted poverty or become refugees in a harsh terrain.

Ultimately, diamond mining like so many other human enterprises is doomed to exhaust either its resources or its value. As demand for diamonds increases so too will technology’s efforts to find radically new resources for this precious, precise gem the tear of the earth.

Harlan Weikle,
Greener Magazine

If you are in the market for an engagement ring, be certain to read our next installment in Green grow the diamonds when we look at diamonds, the new alchemy.

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4:16 PM

Sunday, January 08, 2006

All that glitters…

The Goldstrike Mine in Elko, Nev. consumes almost 10 million gallons of water daily from “the driest state in the nation,” the New York Times notes. Thanks to Las Vegas, Nevada is also the fastest growing. Gold mining operates freer from the regulations imposed on coal and oil. Nevada’s gold mines produced 86% of the mercury waste in the U.S. in 2003. And Nevada is being “written off” by environmentalists, according to John D. Leshy, a former lawyer for the Department of Interior.

The New York Times has put together a four-part series -— along with multimedia features and tie-ins with PBS’ Frontline— examining “The Cost of Gold” on both the environment and local communities ranging from Nevada and Montana to Peru and Indonesia.

The Times writes: “The price of gold is higher than it has been in 17 years - pushing $500 an ounce. But much of the gold left to be mined is microscopic and is being wrung from the earth at enormous environmental cost, often in some of the poorest corners of the world.” (The price of gold has since surged to $540.)

One ounce of gold, the amount in a simple ring, leaves behind 30-ton piles of earth usually tainted with cyanide and heavy metal waste. The industry watchdog group Earthworks offers a wealth of information about mining issues as well as a program to help you recycle your old cell phone.

Gregory Yanick - New York
Greener Magazine Staff Writer

view interactive satellite mapping of Goldstrike Mine at Greener Earth Maps

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1:40 PM

Friday, January 06, 2006

Green hour

"Go outside and play" was a common refrain heard around the neighborhood in years past, but not anymore. This marked departure from behavior patterns of earlier generations means that for the first time in our country's history, an entire generation is growing up disconnected from nature.

A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the average American child spends 44 hours per week (6 hours a day!) staring at some sort of electronic screen-TV, video games, computer, etc. Respected author Richard Louv refers to this "nature deficit disorder" as a most disturbing but preventable trend.

Too much television has been scientifically linked to obesity,violence and even lower intelligence in kids. Now the signs are that these indoor kids are less healthy than their outdoor counterparts.

Children benefit greatly from spending unstructured time outside. In addition to creative play, they learn practical skills and how to experiment in the physical world. Their stress levels go down and their imaginations soar. They become fitter and leaner and their immune systems grow stronger. Time spent surrounded by nature helps young people begin to see where they fit in the world, the value of wildlife and wild places and the true importance of conservation.

To counter this nature deficit disorder trend, the National Wildlife Federation recommends that parents give their kids a "Green Hour" every day; time for unstructured play and interaction with the natural world. This can occur in a garden, the backyard, the park down the street, or any place that provides safe and accessible green spaces in which to discover, learn and play. Here are some ideas to get you started:
  • Take you child on a nature walk, or better yet let your child take you.
  • Put up a birdfeeder.
  • Go camping in the backyard.
  • Create a backyard wildlife habitat.
  • Go fish and release
  • Go on a bug safari.
  • Get to know your local nature center
  • Send your child on a nature scavenger hunt.
  • More ideas can be found at The National Wildlife Federation site.

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2:13 PM

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

When the worm turns

Yet another corner was turned this week by the little company that could, TerraCycle the upstart organic fertilizer company that didn't want to be. TerraCycle which produces and markets a fertilizer familiar to most organic gardeners, worm feces or "vericomposting" as it is known in Napa Valley; it's what those little guys do - the worms, not the company.

Anyway, I digress. They - the company not the worms - announced that they have put on their "Greed Hat" and are commencing operation by stocking their worm fertilizer at national giants Home Depot and Wal-Mart. The move is born of necessity as well as expediency according to entrepreneur and CEO 23-year-old Tom Szaky. who said, "We don't want to be just an organic plant food sold in little organic stores. We want to compete on their big playing field." Or to paraphrase, TerraCycle no longer wants to be a big worm in a little pond but rather a little fish in a big can of worms or no, a big fish in a small pond or, wait for it, a little worm in a big fish - no that’s not it but you get the idea.

TearraCycle started in 2003 almost as an accident when Szaky spied worms in a friend's compost and had an epiphany, that’s Greek or Latin or something for light bulb.They immediately set up shop in Trenton and started a community penny trade economy in collected recycled plastic bottles. They packaged the worm fertilizer, kept the neighborhood clean and fed the worms lots o garbage and voila, a brand is born. At something like $7 a bottle business has been good; sales for 2005 were expected to reach $500,000.

Now for the good news the fertilizer is organic, yes but more to the point it looks as though it has caught the attention of big business and that could be a genuine plus for the environment all around, just don't start packaging six packs with those nasty plastic ring connectors that wind up in everybody’s waterways.

by Harlan Weikle
Greener Magazine

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4:15 PM