Friday, October 12, 2001

  Effective Environmental Choices Part 3 - Making Our Homes More Energy Effecient 
Posted By - Kara McCrimmon @ 9:37 am EDT
Running a household takes a lot of resources, from fossil fuels for heat and electricity to trees for toilet paper and construction materials. It's easier to grasp the environmental impact our households have if we break down household operations into five categories:

1) heating, hot water and air conditioning;
2) appliances and lighting;
3) water, sewage and waste disposal;
4) cleaning products and other household chemicals;
5) furnishings.

Of these categories, the first three account for the biggest impacts to the environment. The first two categories alone account for 31 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions and 24 percent of the common air pollution in the United States. To make the most noticeable change in our homes, it really comes down to efficiency - if we want to conserve resources and reduce pollution to our environment, we need to take steps to make our homes more energy efficient.

If you will be building your own home in the near future, you have many opportunities to incorporate energy efficiency strategies right into the construction of your new home. However, most of us are not building new homes right now, so we need to focus on making our existing homes more efficient. Not only will an increase in efficiency help protect the environment - it will result in extra money in your pocketbook. Here are some things you can do around the house to make your home more energy efficient.

First of all, go to the store and purchase new light bulbs. Don't buy the regular incandescent bulbs, but get the compact fluorescent instead. Yes, I know, they're more expensive. But they last much longer and use much less energy. For example, a 60-watt incandescent bulb lasts about 750 hours. A fluorescent bulb with 1/3 the wattage will generate the same amount of light and burn for 7,500 to 10,000 hours. Basically, one compact fluorescent bulb equals on average 10 incandescent bulbs. And, while the compact fluorescent bulb uses about $10 worth of energy over it's lifetime, the equivalent amount of incandescent bulbs use about $45 if electricity. In essence, you save at least $35 for every fluorescent bulb you purchase. Keep in mind that compact fluorescent may not fit in smaller fixtures, but you'll save substantial money and energy for each socket that you fit with a fluorescent bulb - I guarantee it!

�Insulate the ceiling, walls, and floor of your home.

�Plant a tree next to a window for shade to reduce the need for air conditioning.

�Recycle items such as newspaper, aluminum cans, and plastic bottles; recycling these items requires less energy than producing them from brand new, raw materials.

�Wash clothes in cold water and only in full loads.

�Use energy-saving settings on washing machines, dishwashers, and clothes dryers.

�Turn down the water heater thermostat to 120� F.

�Turn off lights when leaving a room.

�Close heating vents and close doors to unused rooms.

�Close drapes and windows during sunny summer days and after sunset in cooler weather.

�Stop air leaks around windows and doors with caulk or weather stripping. Air leaks can rob your house of heat in the winter or make it too humid in the summer. As much as 40 percent of your heating and cooling costs can be due to air leaks.

�Clean or change air filters on your air heating system in the winter and on air conditioning units in the summer so that they work more efficiently.

To get specific recommendations on improving energy efficiency for your home, check out the Environmental Protection Agency's EnergyStar website at www.energystar.gov. Not only does this site contain information on where to purchase energy efficient appliances and products, but it also includes an interactive program to help you identify steps to improve your home's energy efficiency. You can also download an energy savings calculator program free from the EPA at www.epa.gov/seahome/energy.html. And remember, these changes will save you money while protecting the environment.

Friday, October 05, 2001

  Effective Environmental Choices Part 2 - What We Eat 
Posted By - Kara McCrimmon @ 11:01 am EDT
As I stood in the dairy section of the grocery store, I noticed an older gentleman watching me as I picked out a carton of eggs. He approached me when he saw that I was picking out the most expensive eggs in the cooler. "Why would you pay that much for eggs," he wanted to know. "You must be stupid, or you have some rich old man looking after you." I don't consider myself to be stupid (usually), and I don't have a rich husband looking after me. But I was making a conscious decision about what food to eat. And I wasn't purchasing regular eggs. I was purchasing eggs from chickens that are not raised in cages, and from chickens whose feed is grown organically - without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Of course, through this method of production farmers aren't able to produce as many eggs and in order to make it profitable the eggs are sold at a higher price. But, I truly believe that this choice is better for my health and for the environment, and I'm willing to pay more for this product.

I know this may not be the most popular topic in an agricultural county, but according to many researchers, ecologists and environmentalists, our system of food production in the United States is taking a bigger and bigger toll on our health and the environment. Of course we have to eat. And I believe that farming is one of the most important and honorable professions in the country. I don't propose that we stop doing either. But, if we expect our system of agriculture to be sustainable over the long haul, ultimately some choices have to be made.

Scientists estimate that nearly 40% of water pollution in the U.S. is attributable to our food production system, and nearly half of this comes from livestock wastes. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, beef cattle pose the most serious problem nationwide. Livestock also account for the greatest land use. Approximately 60% of our country's land is devoted to agriculture. Of this, well over two-thirds is used for grazing livestock or growing grain to feed livestock. Additionally, close to 20% of our total consumptive water use is used for livestock.

Interestingly, dairy production accounts for only 4% of water pollution in the United States and only 7% of the water use. Plus, milk and milk products provide much more food energy and nutrition to the average diet. In 1995, the average American consumed 570 pounds of dairy products, nearly 10 times the consumption of beef. More nutrition with less pollution.

The production of fruits and vegetables has an impact on the environment as well. It accounts for 30% of the water use and a little less than a quarter of the land use. Water pollution from fruits and vegetables is mainly attributed to fertilizer and pesticide use and soil erosion.

So, as consumers what can we do? The choices aren't easy, but to have the biggest impact researchers Dr. Michael Brower and Dr. Warren Leon suggest that Americans eat less meat and purchase certified organic produce. According to their study, if the average household were to cut their meat consumption by half and replaced it with the nutritional equivalent of grain, land use and water pollution would be cut by 30% and 24% respectively. Additionally, they recommend that consumers shift from red meat to dairy, since production of milk by weight is 3.5 times greater than the production of beef, with considerably less pollution and land use.

Since organic production minimizes the amount of synthetic inputs, and generally follows a sustainable method of production, the environmental impacts are thought to be considerable less. One drawback, however, is that organically produced goods can be more expensive, making it unrealistic for some families. However, as the organic industry grows, prices may become more reasonable.

As voters, we can also encourage our legislators to provide assistance to farmers. Some incentives are already available through the Michigan Department of Agriculture and the USDA - Natural Resources Conservation Service, but the more we are able to support farmers to incorporate sustainable agriculture practices, the easier it will be for them to adopt these practices.

Resources for both farmers and consumers can be found online at Organic Growers of Michigan at www.michiganorganic.org or the Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance at www.moffa.org. The Michigan Department of Agriculture also has information available online at http://www.mda.state.mi.us/prodag/organics/. Stay tuned next week for the third in the series of effective environmental choices - how we run our homes.




Tuesday, August 14, 2001

  Effective Environmental Choices Part 1 - How We Get Around - August 15, 2001 
Posted By - Kara McCrimmon @ 12:54 pm EDT
I admit it - my car is leaking. A few months ago, it was leaking gasoline. A line had rusted out and I had to have it replaced. And now I'm pretty sure that it's leaking again - power steering fluid this time. I've had to add fluid twice in two weeks to keep my car from whining every time I turn a corner. Admittedly, I have an older car, but it has been a reliable car for the five years that I have owned it. But it's not just older cars that develop these little leaks. My mother, who has a newer car, was loosing motor oil. Quart after quart went into that car until the technicians at the dealership finally discovered the source of the leak and fixed it.

With my thoughts on my leaking car and how long I might be able to hold off before having it fixed, I began to feel guilty. Every day I drive from Muskegon to Newaygo, and the longer I hold off getting my car fixed, the more I'm polluting. Along my commute, I cross numerous branches of Brooks Creek. I cross the Muskegon River twice at different locations, and a number of branches of the Muskegon River. Finally, I park my car in my dirt driveway, not more than 100 feet from a small inland lake.

Concerned about the potential for my leaking car to contaminate everything that I drive through, I found the Material Safety Data Sheet for power steering fluid on the internet at www.msdsonline.com.

Through my search I learned that there is only a mild risk to the environment from power steering fluid. But then I thought about all the other fluids required to make our cars work - gasoline, antifreeze, motor oil, transmission fluid, break fluid. Although some fluids present minimum risks to the environment, some fluids like gasoline, antifreeze and motor oil present greater risks. And it's pretty evident from the stained parking lots around town that it's not uncommon for these fluids to leak out of our cars.

These toxic fluids don't just disappear when they leak from our cars. Some evaporate and add to our air pollution problems (not to mention the emissions that also add to air pollution). Other chemicals are washed into drains, streams, rivers, wetlands, and lakes during storms. According to Dr. Michael Brower and Dr. Warren Leon from the Union of Concerned Scientists, personal cars and trucks rank at the top of the list of most polluting activities by American consumers. As stated in their 1999 book The Consumers Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, 51% of all toxic air pollution, 23% of all toxic water pollution and 32% of the production of greenhouse gasses (which contribute to global warming) are directly attributable to automobiles.

If we as consumers want to make real changes, we need to start with our cars. First of all, I'm going to get my leak fixed. But that won't solve the problem. Even if my car is in perfect working order, I will still emit air polluting gasses every time I drive. However, I'll soon be in the market for a new car, and a fuel efficient - low emission car is going to be a top priority. This still won't solve the problem, but if I continue to carpool, walk, and ride my bike when possible, I'll get closer. But, as a society we won't get closer to solving this problem until everyone gets involved. For more information on this issue, check out internet resources like Earthsmart Cars at http://www.nrdc.org/earthsmartcars or the Clean Car Campaign at www.cleancarcampaign.org.

Stay tuned for next week's installation in effective environmental choices - What We Eat.



  Free Well Water Testing Today and Tomorrow at Newaygo County Fair - August 8, 2001 
Posted By - Kara McCrimmon @ 12:54 pm EDT

I stopped by the Newaygo County Fair on Monday to visit my friend Andrea Helmer. Andrea is the new groundwater technician for the Newaygo Conservation District, and I met up with her at the conservation district booth near the fair entrance. As we chatted about the groundwater protection practices Andrea will promote and the cost-share money she has to offer to farmers, Andrea reminded me that she'll be offering free well water testing on Wednesday and Thursday of fair week.

If you are able to get over to the fairgrounds either today or tomorrow, plan to take advantage of the free well water testing available through the Michigan Groundwater Stewardship Program and the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) Groundwater Monitoring Program. The goal of the monitoring program is to determine if pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers have polluted groundwater in Michigan and to use the information gathered to improve communication about the risks to groundwater resources associated with different land-use activities. Since a majority of Newaygo County residents rely on groundwater for their daily water use, ensuring that this resource is safe is crucial.

To participate, all you need to do is bring your water sample to the fair in a clean plastic or glass container. To collect your sample, let your water run for at least ten minutes. This is to ensure that the water is from deep in the well and not water that has been sitting in the pipes overnight. To save water, you could collect your sample after taking a shower, watering the lawn or washing the dishes. Also, if you have a water softener or other water purification device, make sure to collect you sample before it goes through the device.

You'll only need to bring in eight ounces or so of the sample. If you are collecting the water sample the night before, make sure to store it in a cool, dark spot like your refridgerator. Sunlight can break down some of the components to be tested for in your sample.

So, exactly what will your water sample be tested for? MDA technicians will test your water for nitrates, nitrites and atrazines. Nitrates and nitrites have many different sources. Fertilizers, septic systems wastewater, animal waste, silage, and decomposing year wastes are all sources of nitrates and nitrites. Nitrates are particularly harmful for babies and those with failing health. The nitrogen in the water can take the place of oxygen in the bloodstream, resulting in a lack of oxygen getting to vital parts of the body. Known as "Blue Baby Syndrom", people who drink nitrogen-laden water can literally suffocate.

The technicians will also check your water for a group of chemicals known as atrazines. These chemicals are used as pesticides and are completely man-made. Any detection of these pesticides in your water will indicate a human source for the pollution. Atrazine can cause skin and eye irritation, as well as skin allergies. Drinking water that contains atrazine for long periods may damage the heart and liver. However, short-term exposure to low levels of this herbicide are unlikely to cause health problems.

For more information on the well water testing, contact the Newaygo Conservation District
at 924-2060.



  Global Warming, Kyoto, and Taking Action at Home - August 1, 2001 
Posted By - Kara McCrimmon @ 12:53 pm EDT

There's been a lot in the news recently about global warming, the Kyoto Treaty, and the decision of the Bush Administration not to participate in the treaty despite the urging of other developed nations. Regardless of whether the Bush Administration is right or wrong in its decision, global warming is a very real threat. Although the United States is not participating formally in this treaty, there are many things we all can do at home to reduce sources of emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change.

To understand what role we can play, we need to understand what causes global warming. Like a greenhouse, gasses in the atmosphere like carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's), methane, nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide trap heat near the earth's surface, keeping us warm and allowing life to flourish despite the 92 million miles that separate us from the Sun. However, as concentrations of these gasses increase, more heat is trapped and the planet warms. There is no controversy that greenhouse gasses have increased in the atmosphere over the last 100 years. Indeed, scientific data clearly show that the earth has gotten warmer during this time. However, for many years there was controversy as to whether this warming was a naturally occurring phenomena or a direct result of human activity.

The work of hundreds of scientists over the past ten years has put this controversy to rest. In 1997 the majority of living Nobel Prize winners in the sciences proclaimed that global warming is "one of the most serious threats to the planet and to future generations." In their 1999 book The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, Dr. Michael Brower and Dr. Warren Leon of the Union of Concerned Scientists state that our "climate has very probably begun to change because of human activities."

According to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, if we take no action we can expect some definite changes in the next 100 years. Average surface temperatures could increase by 2.5F to 10.4F and mean sea level would rise by 3.5 to 35 inches by 2100. Precipitation patterns will change, including more extreme events like floods and droughts. According to their Policy Maker's Guide, "The exact level of change is uncertain, in part because of uncertainties about future emissions of greenhouse gasses and how the climate system will respond. Despite these uncertainties, changes to the climate will affect natural and human systems in a variety of ways. Water supply and demand are likely to change, which is of great concern for areas already experiencing limited water supplies. Sea-level rise will add to stresses that coastal communities already face, including erosion and storm damage. In general, the United States should have sufficient resources to limit climate change impacts on human health, although it is difficult to predict these impacts exactly. Natural ecosystems, already facing human-caused stresses such as habitat destruction and fragmentation, may not be able to migrate fast enough to keep up with a rapidly changing climate."

In order to slow and effectively manage these changes, participation by individuals is key, especially here in the United States. Even though we make up only five percent of the global population, we produce twenty percent of the greenhouse gasses. Some of the things you can do at home include reducing energy use by purchasing energy-efficient home appliances and weatherizing your home. Plant trees to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Walk, bike, carpool or take public transportation instead of driving whenever possible. Purchase environmentally sound products and energy-efficient vehicles. Encourage elected officials at all levels of government to support measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And something we can all do - minimize waste by reducing, reusing, and recycling. For additional ideas on reducing emissions that cause global warming, check out www.edf.org/Want2Help/b_gw20steps.html. You can find out how many tons of emissions you can save by taking easy steps around your home.





  Beautify Your Backyard with a Butterfly Garden - July 25, 2001 
Posted By - Kara McCrimmon @ 12:52 pm EDT
Looking for your next summer project? What about planting a native butterfly garden? Butterfly gardens have become very popular in recent years, and not just for their beauty and ability to attract butterflies. Butterfly gardens are typically composed of native plants, which are adapted to local soil, climate, pest and disease conditions. Not only do these plants provide food and habitat necessary for many of our native animals, but they also require little or no special inputs like fertilizers, pesticides, water and soil amendments. This saves homeowners time and money and protects our environment at the same time.

Additionally, butterfly gardens bring back habitat that has been lost by human activities. The development of new residential subdivisions, shopping centers, bigger highways and related activities has done much to destroy butterfly habitat. This loss of habitat can be seen in the dwindling populations of some butterflies in Michigan. There are a recorded 159 different species of butterflies in Michigan, and the Michigan Endangered Species Law, Act 451, Public Acts of 1994 lists 11 species of butterflies as endangered and threatened and another 14 species as special concern.

So, planting a butterfly garden helps butterflies (and other animals like birds that use the same plants), is good for the environment and is a beautiful addition to your backyard all at the same time. To get started you'll first need to identify an appropriate site. Butterflies need plenty of sunshine, so find a location that gets at least 6-8 hours of sun a day. You'll also want to make sure there is some protection from the wind. Bushes or the side of some structure like your house or garage would be appropriate.

Next, you'll need to plant your butterfly plants. If you want to attract variety of species you'll want a diversity of plants in your butterfly garden. You'll also want plants for the butterfly larvae, as well as plants that serve as a nectar source for the adult butterfly. Adult butterflies need flowers that are nectar rich. They especially seek out the colors purple, white, yellow, orange, and lavender.
Caterpillars, on the other hand, are very fussy eaters. For example, wild lupine is the only plant that the Karner Blue Butterfly caterpillar will eat. Although a number of books are available to help you choose appropriate plants, the following list will help you get started.

Adult Nectar Plants: butterflyweed, blazing star, black-eyed Susan, coreopsis, asters, purple coneflower, goldenrods, Joe Pye weed, boneset and milkweeds

Caterpillar Plants: milkweeds (Monarch); parsley, dill, carrots (Black Swallowtail); violets (Fritillaries); grasses, sedges (Skippers); thistles, pearly everlasting (Painted Lady); cabbage (Cabbage White)

NOTE: Don't use pesticides in your butterfly garden. You want to let the baby caterpillars stay on your plants. Plants will be chewed a bit but not ruined.

Try to plant flowers in groups rather than individually. A mass planting of the same species of plants/flowers is the most effective way to attract butterflies to your garden. Lots of beautiful color and very fragrant plants also attracts more butterflies. Make sure to plant a variety to get the most out of your butterfly garden.

For more information on butterfly gardening, check out Butterfly Gardening - Creating Summer Magic in Your Garden by the Xerces Society, The Butterfly Book by Stokes or any of the other butterfly gardening books available. You can find good information on the internet at http://www.dnr.state.mi.us/wildlife/Landowners_Guide/Habitat_Mgmt/Backyard/. Click on "Special Features Gardens" for information on creating your own butterfly garden.


  Watch Out for Ozone Action Days! - June 27, 2001 
Posted By - Kara McCrimmon @ 12:50 pm EDT

Watch Out for Ozone Action Days!

Ozone is good, right? Well, it's definitely good when it's high up in the atmosphere to protect us from the harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun. However, when ozone forms near the ground where we can breathe it, it becomes an environmental and human health hazard. Ozone is formed when volatile organic compounds (VOC's) and nitrogen oxides (NO) react with sunlight. In order to protect ourselves from excess ozone, Ozone Action Days are announced when weather conditions are right for the formation of ground-level ozone.

More ozone is produced on calm, sunny days. Since we can't reduce the amount of sunlight on any particular day, we need to reduce the other ingredients necessary in the formation of ozone - VOC's and nitrogen oxides. VOC's come from fossil fuel emissions released by industrial plants, gasoline engines, manufacturing processes and other smaller sources. Nitrogen oxides primarily come from power plants, industrial boilers and motor vehicles. On Ozone Action Days, people are asked to take steps to reduce emissions of VOC's and nitrogen oxides to reduce the formation of ozone.

According to the West Michigan Clean Air Coalition, if we don't take steps to reduce ground-level ozone we can expect some serious environmental and human health effects. People may suffer from eye irritation, decreased vision, increased asthma and lung irritation, coughing, dizziness, nausea, and reduced heart and lung capacity. Ground-level ozone can also impair the body's immune system defenses, making people more susceptible to respiratory illnesses like bronchitis and pneumonia. Children are even more prone to the effects of ground level ozone because they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults do.

Ground-level ozone can also interfere with a plant's ability to produce and store food, harming the overall health of plants (including crops). By weakening vegetation, ozone makes plants more susceptible to disease, pests and other stresses. Studies have even shown that ground-level ozone reduces agricultural yields for economically important crops such as soybeans, kidney beans, wheat and cotton.

Here are some things that you can do to reduce emissions on Ozone Action Days.

*If possible, limit your driving. Carpool, walk or bike if at all possible.

*Try not to refuel vehicles on Ozone Action Days. If you must refuel, do so in the cooler evening hours and avoid the heat of the day. Additionally, avoid spilling gasoline, and don't top off your tank since this can cause spills and release vapors.

*Don't allow your car to idle for more than 30 seconds. This produces more emissions than turning off your engine and restarting it.

*Avoid using gasoline-powered lawn equipment, or at least wait until the evening before mowing.

*If possible, set your air conditioner at a higher temperature to reduce the need for electricity from coal-burning power plants.

*Most emissions from your vehicle are produced when your catalytic converter is cold and inefficient. Combine errands so your converter remains warm and "cold starts" are eliminated.

*Keep your car tuned up and your tires properly inflated.

*Park in the shade when possible.

For more information ground-level ozone or to find out if today is an Ozone Action Day, check out the West Michigan Clean Air Coalition's website at www.wmcac.org.




Wednesday, June 13, 2001

  June 13, 2001 - Staying Safe in the Sun 
Posted By - Kara McCrimmon @ 9:43 am EDT
Wow - this week has definitely started out hot and sunny. Those who love hot, sunny weather must be cheering right now. However, due to changing environmental conditions over the last century, it's not as safe for us to be outside in the direct sun as it was in the past. Now, too much exposure to sunlight can be dangerous. As most of us know, overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation in sunlight can result in a painful sunburn. But, it can also lead to more serious health effects, including skin cancer (which is not the most common form of cancer in the United States), premature aging of the skin, and other skin disorders; cataracts and other eye damage; and immune system suppression. Children are particularly at risk of overexposure, since most of the average person's lifetime exposure occurs before the age of 18.

By following a number of simple steps, you can still enjoy your time in the sun while protecting yourself from overexposure. The following tips have been put together by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Other than staying indoors, no single step can fully protect from overexposure to UV radiation, so use as many of the following actions as possible.

***Limit Time in the Midday Sun***

sun's rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Whenever possible, limit exposure to the sun during these hours.

***Seek Shade***

Staying under cover is one of the best ways to protect your-self from the sun. Remember the shadow rule: Watch Your Shadow. No Shadow, Seek Shade!

***Always Use Sunscreen***

Apply a broad spectrum sunscreen of an Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 or higher liberally on exposed skin and reapply every 2 hours when working or playing outdoors. Even waterproof sunscreen can come off when you towel off, sweat, or spend extended periods of time in the water.

***Wear a Hat***

A hat with a wide brim offers good sun protection to your eyes, ears, face, and the back of your neck - areas particularly prone to overexposure to the sun.

***Cover Up***

Wearing tightly woven, loose-fitting, and full-length clothing is a good way to protect your skin from the sun's UV rays.

***Wear Sunglasses that Block 99-100% of UV Radiation**

Sunglasses that provide 99-100% UVA and UVB protection will greatly reduce sun exposure that can lead to cataracts and other eye damage. Check the label when buying sunglasses.

**Avoid Sunlamps and Tanning Parlors***

The light source from sunbeds and sunlamps damages the skin and unprotected eyes. It's a good idea to avoid artificial sources of UV light.

***Watch for the UV Index***

The UV Index provides important information to help you plan your outdoor activities in ways that prevent overexposure to the sun. Developed by the National Weather Service (NWS) and EPA, the UV Index is issued daily in selected cities across the United States.

For additional information on protecting yourself from overexposure to the sun, check out the EPA's website at www.epa.gov You can also request that SunWise information be sent to you by calling the National Service Center for Environmental Publications at (800) 490-9198.




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