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Earth Day turns 40Earth Day is more than just a day for our kids to plant trees and learn about recycling at school.  In 1970, the first Earth Day was a day of grassroots political protest against rampant uncontrolled pollution of our air and water.  It was perfectly legal to dump hazardous waste into streams and spew dark plumes of toxic smoke into the air.  And this is exactly what companies were doing.

The environment was not yet part of the national political discourse.  US Senator Gaylord Nelson had been working in vain for years to change that.   Finally, his idea for a day of environmental teach-ins galvanized people all across the country who were concerned about the environmental degradation they were seeing locally.   As interest grew, Nelson resisted trying to organize the event from Washington, preferring to let people celebrate Earth Day any way they wanted.  He wanted Earth Day to be a celebration of grassroots action.

Twenty million people from all walks of life self-organized to protest on behalf of our planet on that day.  Amazingly, they did this without the benefit of cell phones, twitter, or facebook.  If you want to get a sense for the historical context and the truly revolutionary nature of the ideas, listen to Nelson’s Earth Day speech in Milwaukee on April 21, 1970.

It worked.  By the end of 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was established and the Clean Air Act was law.   The Clean Water Act followed in 1972.  The air and water in the United States began to recover.

How are you going to celebrate this milestone on April 22?  How about trying to go without disposable plastic for a day?  Pack Litter-less Lunches and  use your reusable bags and bottles.  If there’s an environmental issue that needs attention, find others who are also concerned and get together to do something about it.  In the spirit of Gaylord Nelson, go ahead and celebrate locally, any way you want.  Let us know how it goes!

It was amusing to watch two “good ole boys” bantering back and forth on national TV about a subject I know better than they do: bottled water.  Thankfully, O’Reilly and Stosser got most of it right – bottled water is a scam, and we should all be drinking tap water.   Unfortunately, Stosser couldn’t resist tossing in a few choice sound bites that over-simplified and polarized the bottled water issue.    

The interview concerned the new movie “Tapped: A call to Action” which is embarking on a 30 city tour starting on March 22, World Water Day, and concluding on April 22, Earth Day.  O’Reilly said he feels like he’s being scammed when he buys bottled water, and Stosser readily agreed that he is.  Stosser pointed out that the money could be spent for better purposes, especially since people prefer tap water in blind taste tests and since a large percentage of bottled water is tap water anyway.

Stossel disagreed with the movie’s claims about the hazards of the plastic bottles.  He’s right that the disposable bottles (#1 plastic or PET) that bottled water comes in isn’t likely to cause any health hazards.  But, bottled water can contain unhealthy levels of bacteria and other contaminants because it is not as well regulated as tap water; antimony can leach from the plastic if bottles are left in a hot car.  Experts believe that reusable aluminum bottles with BPA liners and bottles made out of polycarbonate may pose some of the health hazards mentioned in the movie.

Stossel claims bottled water is simply a waste of money, but not an environmental threat.  I would agree if there were only a few people were drinking it.  But when we are sending 140 million disposable plastic bottles to the dump every single day in the USA, it’s ridiculous to say that’s not a threat to the environment.  He claims we have enough landfill space.   Does that justify wasting our precious resources: 4 oz of oil and  51 oz of water for every 17 oz bottle of water and $12 billion in total each year?

In response to facts about plastic not decomposing in landfills, Stosser counters that paper doesn’t degrade well in landfills either.  Yes, and that is why you should get a BPA-free reusable container and fill it with tap water!   You’ll save money and reduce waste.

Stosser goes on to claim that drinking water supplies are not under threat and that more and more people will continue to get clean water as we prosper.  Actually, as we prosper, we put more pressure on our limited resources.   The prosperity in the 50s and 60s caused serious pollution of our surface waters – they had to be rescued by the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act of the 70s.   With population and industrial pollution increasing and enforcement of these laws becoming more lax, our drinking water quality is starting to go in the other direction.  This movie is not a rant by “silly lefties”, it is a call to arms for reasonable people.

Earth Day has an almost religious quality about it this year.  Never before have I been known to shout Happy Earth Day to everyone I greet, nor have I ever been known to sign my emails with this wish.  What is going on?

My having spent the better part of this past year co-founding a green business, Back2Tap, may explain some of this, but I think there is more to it.   At a sustainability conference I attended at Rowan University recently, one corporate sustainability manager called it the “green tsunami“.  He may be right – like a real tsumani, this “wave” of environmentalism has  indeed  covered the land with a new rich “soil” which will increase productivity during the next “growing season”.  

The corporate world is working hard to green up all aspects of its operations, Obama is turning out to be a truly green president, and people are flocking to green events and joining green social networking sites on-line.  There is plenty to celebrate this year: Earth Day is becoming mainstream and it’s not just on April 22 anymore!

Mariel Hemingway and Ann Whitman, a co-founder of Back2Tap

Mariel Hemingway and Ann Whitman, a co-founder of Back2Tap

I just spent a perfectly spectacular spring Saturday inside the Hilton Hotel in New York City at the GoGreen Expo.  Not surprisingly, the turnout was low.  Most rational green folks were probably out enjoying nature and soaking in the abundant solar energy, or at the very least, planting trees or picking up litter in honor of Earth Day.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the worthwhile events at the Expo today.

 

 

Fashion photographer Nigel Barker showed his new documentary film “A Sealed Fate?” which is about the the annual massacre of baby seals in Canada.  When it comes to baby seals, there is something that inspires sadistic humor in all but tried and true humanitarians.  Upon entering the lecture hall, I remembered more jokes about clubbing baby seals than actual facts about the issue.  It was an informative film that managed to convey the gravity of the atrocities without exposing viewers to anything terribly gruesome.  The coverage of  the actual seal hunt was shot from helicopters at a distance. 

 

All in all, Nigel made a compelling argument for boycotting Canadian seafood in order to pressure the Canadian government to stop licensing these hunts. It seems there is reason to believe the Canadian government may be swayed to ban this barbarism someday soon.   

 

The problem with the hunt is the inhumane tactics, not the overall reduction in the seal population.  There are about 5 million of these seals so they are not an endangered species.   During the first 12 days of their lives, baby seals are unable to swim and simply hang out on the ice nursing.  Sadly, 200,000 baby seals drowned this spring due the earlier thawing of the ice sheets, likely caused by global warming.  

 

Nigel was unsure which channels would be airing the documentary due to the expected reluctance of viewers to watch such material.  I did wonder why people would be OK seeing people getting shot on TV, but couldn’t watch seals being clubbed?  I had to work hard to restrain myself from suggesting that he ask the Military Channel to air the show, if not Discovery.  There I go again! 

 

When I got home from the expo this evening, my 11 year old son was thrilled to receive an adorable white baby seal stuffed animal.  When I asked him what he planned to name it – he responded “clubber”.  I’m afraid that name is going to stick because he saw me crack a smile before I was able to summon the thoughtful response and decry his choice.  All joking aside, if you’d like to support this worthy cause, visit protectseals.org

 

I didn’t have the opportunity to hear Mariel Hemingway‘s inspiring talk, but she signed a copy of her new book for us – Healthy Living from the Inside Out. At first glance, it looks like a great book, full of practical suggestions for slowing down and enriching your life through diet, exercise and relaxation.”

 

One more day at the Expo.  I’m praying for rain!

I’m not sure how this happened, but twice this week I found myself sitting around a table with fellow “green teamers” discussing solar trees as a way to reduce our carbon footprint.    First, I heard from Bob Ferguson about Envision Solar’s ground-breaking Solar Tree for parking lots.  How brilliant is that?  Parking lots are generally pretty hot, desolate places to begin with – putting up towers with photovoltaic cells couldn’t really “spoil” the ambiance there.  In fact, the solar trees look pretty cool, and they provide some shade to cars and reduce the heat island effect caused by development.  They even have outlets for charging electric cars.    And of course, when they put a whole bunch of these trees together, they call them Solar Groves.   Each tree in the grove produces 17,000 kWh per year, enough to power three typical San Diego homes for a year.  Also fascinating, is their LifeVillage – an entire modular solar-powered village that can be constructed in developing nations to provide self-powered community infrastructure for people in need.

My second solar tree encounter this week was at a WeAreBOOST Contest to Camp CURE kickoff dinner in Trenton.  WeAreBoost is running a Back2Tap reusable bottle fundraiser to raise money for the contest prizes.  One of my fellow speakers was Rein Triefeldt, a solar kinetic sculptor from Trenton.  He told us about his collaboration with an elementary school environmental club in Hillsborough, California.   Together via iChat technology, he and the students designed a  25-foot grid-connected, energy-producing solar tree for the school yard.   Then during the week of Earth Day 2008, they built a maquette (model) of their beautiful California Oak solar tree.  They calculate that their solar tree will generate 7,300  kWh – enough power to re-charge 2.500 iPhones and iPod’s every day for a year.  That’s something students were especially thrilled to learn!  I think the students summed it up best: “Solar trees saving real trees – that’s just too cool!”

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