Whoever Said People Weren't Just Like Animals??
Saturday, March 28, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Maybe I should call it "Saturday Shocking Story" since "Friday Fun Fact" can never seem to come out of me on Friday!

But this one is a gem, reported in National Geographic News last week and it is 100% true, I swear.

Seems like songbird couples and human couples are, well, birds of a feather. Take, for example, the Peruvian warbling antbird (Really? They couldn't come up with a catchier name for it than that? Ah, ornithologists, I expected better!), seen on the right. Monogamy is very rare in the animal kingdom, but it appears these birds do try (Well, at least the girls do. Sound familiar, ladies?). When a male and female (Mr. and Mrs. Antbird if you please) pair is approached by another antbird couple, they sing a harmonic and coordinated territorial song, proclaiming their union and their stake on their choice piece of property.

However, if a single female (young Miss Antbird) approaches, the Mr. continues his melodious song to her, while the Mrs. changes her song to a loud, discordant signal that covers up her mate's attempts to flirt with the would-be homewrecker!

I think, translated into English, it would play out something like this:

Miss: "Hey there, fella, how YOU doin?"
Mr: "Hey baby, you are one fine..."

Some conversations are just universal...
Sometimes #1 Is Not A Good Thing
Thursday, March 26, 2009 | Author: eventer79
So who knows what the #1 pollutant in the US is?

I'll give you a hint:

Figured it out yet?

Yep, it's sediment. Dirt. Earth. Soil. Mud. Whatever you want to call it, it is carried by runoff and pulled from banks by erosion and our streams are FULL of it.

But, you say, dirt is part of nature, that's no pollutant! Well, you know the saying, "all things in moderation?" Well, that applies to ecology too.

Because of a variety of factors that have to do with channel shape, current speed, and stream path, a running body of water has a limit to the amount of sediment it can carry and move without becoming overloaded. Each stream, therefore, does have the ability to clear sediment out by carrying it and depositing it either along the bottom, on a bank or bar, or at its mouth. Likewise, the animals that live in the stream, mussels, fish, bugs, etc, each have their own tolerance to limited amounts of sediment for short periods of time.

It's when those tolerances are exceeded that this sediment becomes, in fact, a pollutant. When streams are frequently running muddy, when the bottom is nothing more than shifting mud or unconsolidated sand, when the banks are cut by erosion, dumping their clay into the water itself, problems abound.

Sediment smothers mussels so they cannot feed or breathe. Fish gills get clogged so the fish can no longer absorb oxygen. Many fish also rely on their excellent eyesight to find food; in muddy water, they are hungry and helpless. By blocking light, sediment also suffocates plant life beneath the surface that may be vital to fish and insect life. When all of this happens, it is an ecosystem in chaos and it also means the water supply is in trouble.

I mentioned that this sediment can come from bank erosion -- this erosion is often caused by a stream trying to channel more water than it is built for. This is usually due to our compulsion to pave and cover everything we can. Every square inch of ground we pave or harden with a rooftop is one less square inch that can absorb water. Thus, every drop of water that hits there will become runoff and we all have seen what a powerful force runoff can be.

In developed areas, most of the time, runoff is channeled into storm drains. Which usually then lead directly to a stream or other body of water, they ARE NOT filtered or cleaned in any way. This water also usually enters the stream at a single point -- it's like turning a fire hose on and blasting sediment right off of the banks, that's what kind of power this water has, especially during rain events. I remind you again, streams are your water supply, so anything you dump down that storm drain, you are effectively pouring into your glass of water. Sediment often enters the water supply here, running off from construction sites and yards. Most counties do have regulations about sediment control on construction sites, but the problem is that, even if these regulations are enforced (the enforcers are often far too few), the conventional technologies they require (silt fences, stormwater ponds) are very ineffective.

If you see a stream choked with sediment, especially if it is not raining, you can and should notify your county and notify your state water quality agency. A simple Google search can direct you right to them. Notice silt fences around a construction site are collapsed or leaking mud everywhere? Call and report it to your county, contractors and developers ARE required by law to maintain those. You have a right to clean water, wanderers, and it is up to each of us to stand up for that!
Great Minds Think Alike
Tuesday, March 24, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Well, I have discovered that one of my friends from high school has a fantastic blog that you should definitely check out, dear wanderers!

Green Design Collective

The graphic on the latest post is worth the look alone, LOL! And it looks like we have some of the same things on our minds, including water and energy conservation. Well-written and well-researched, her blog is sure to provide a steady stream (haha, "stream", get it! Ohhhhh, I crack myself up) of useful information to help you save money by reducing resource use and give yourself plenty of warm fuzzies by taking real steps to lower impact living.

I command thee: Go! Read! Enjoy! And I shall sit here and ponder what is on my mind next.
Spring is Springing Springily!
Monday, March 23, 2009 | Author: eventer79
I love spring and it is here and my pores are sucking in all that Vitamin D as fast as they are able. Goodbye drear winter days and grey landscape! The daffodills and the crocuses are up. My forsythia died, but my phlox, wax myrtle, magnolia, and verbena are coming back to live and already blooming! My salvia is growing new leaves and even the boxwoods in front of the house, whom I swear grow slower than molasses in January, are shooting out new, fresh green. Go bury your nose in a blossom and breathe that sweet spring air (don't snort any bugs though, they don't like it)! It always seems a season of celebration to me -- flora and fauna alike seem full of energy and a passion and joy for existence that gets lost over the winter months. As the sun grows stronger every day, it reminds me that even though things may look dark and dead, they are only hiding their resources deep within, just waiting for the chance to flourish when the time is right.
An Early (and not so fun) Fact
Thursday, March 19, 2009 | Author: eventer79
In the vein of the "biofuels" theme, let's talk briefly about palm oil. This goop is one of the primary ingredients of "biodiesel." Well, a perfect place to grow palm plantations is Indonesia, especially Borneo (home of the much-loved orangutan) -- they've got 15 million acres of previously incredibly diverse rainforest that are now under cultivation as palm monocultures. And a monoculture has virtually no value as wildlife habitat, carbon sink, food source, and is very vulnerable to disease -- when these large areas consisting of a single species take over, you can kiss the rest of the system goodbye. In addition, massive fires set annually to clear land for palm oil plantations have release HUGE amounts of carbon stored in the area's deep (up to 60 feet) peat soils.

From 1985 to 2005, a third of Borneo's rainforests, which contain a staggering 15,000 plant species and could be considered the most biodiverse in the world, have been mowed down for oil extraction, palm plantations, and mining. Large timber and resource extraction companies rape and pillage the landscape, stealing resources from hungry people knowing that, even if they get caught, there will be no one to hold them accountable or mete out punishment.

You can, at the least, reduce the demand for this type of product with your own use choices. Don't choose "biodiesel" for your truck and tell this industry that you are not willing to accept their short-sighted greed. Want an alternative to regular diesel fuel? Opt for a retrofit that will allow your engine to burn used vegetable oil, a recycled product that has virtually no additional impact between the restaurant fryer and your truck.
Just Say No!
Sunday, March 15, 2009 | Author: eventer79

Ethanol -- one of the great marketing scams pulled on society. Supposedly the great savior to replace fossil fuels, corn-based ethanol was touted as the "green" alternative. Once again, good intentions pushing fast and hard into the market, unwilling to consider the big picture and the long term paved the road to hell for us. Just a few facts to consider:

(1) To produce a gallon of ethanol, it takes about 70% MORE energy than you actually get from burning the ethanol itself. So the overall process = net energy loss. This particular piece of genius *insert dripping sarcasm here* continues to baffle me daily.

(2) To grow and harvest an acre of corn to produce ethanol takes about 140 gallons of diesel.

(3) Corn itself is an incredibly water-hogging and destructive crop to grow. Producing it erodes soil about 12 times faster than the soil can regenerate and irrigating it drains groundwater about 25% faster than that water can refill and recharge.

Not to mention using a food source to power vehicles is just plain stupid. The acreage it takes to grow enough corn to power one average car for a year (11 acres) can feed seven people. I'll let you do the math. And I won't even mention what happens to people both domestically and abroad, when you drive up the price of corn, not only as a primary food source, but as feed for livestock.

Suffice it to say, any vehicle labeled "FlexFuel" or powered by ethanol is about the most environmentally UNfriendly choice you can make and you should run, run in the other direction. An agricultural expert from Cornell University put it well:

"Abusing our precious croplands to grow corn for an energy-inefficient process that yields low-grade automobile fuels amounts to unsustainable subsidized food burning."

Are there better options out there that CAN effectively replace fossil fuels? Maybe! More to come on this topic....
Charge It Up Without Plugging It In!
Friday, March 13, 2009 | Author: eventer79

Sounds impossible, eh? You know how it goes -- your cell phone dies mid-sentence, the camera conks right as you take that once-in-a-lifetime shot or your mp3 player quits in the middle of your favourite song (DAMMIT!!). Next step, plug it in, sucking power from the ever-present grid, which costs you money and burns up resources. Right?


Well, my dear wanderers, we are FREE AT LAST! Ok, at least in those particular situations. We now have charger options whose power source is free!! and impact-less (aside from production of the actual unit of course).

Want really cheap and basic? Go for hand-produced crank power for your cellphone with the Sidewinder.

Want a little (or a lot!) more power and control? Go for a portable
solar powered charger.

And my personal favourite, use your booty-shakin' powers to fire up your electronics with the Dance Charge. Brings a whole new meaning to the "electric slide." Yes, do try to control your hilarity at my sheer pun brilliance...
Five Easy Steps to Feel-Good
Thursday, March 12, 2009 | Author: eventer79
We hear a million times in a million places to "just do X to live greener!" But we can't afford to, don't have time to, don't have the know-how to do ALL those things and how on earth do we figure out which ones have a meaningful impact and which ones are window dressing???

Well, here are five suggestions, some even free, that WILL make a real difference and are completely doable for just about any homeowner.

(1) Stop "vampire" appliances! Any device with a "ready" light, standby mode (i.e. clocks on microwaves and radios), or screensavers, are sucking up power 24/7. This can account for up to 25% of your power bill!!! You can either pull the plug, or you can get a "smart" power strip that will shut things off for you when not in use (more here).

(2) Have an older toilet? These greedy buggers can suck down up to seven gallons with one flush. Now I am not a fan of new super low-flow toilets (some things you just NEED water to get rid of!!!) but more than two gallons is excessive -- just fill a two-liter bottle with water, put it in your toilet tank and you'll cut water use by 1/2 gallon with every flush.

(3) Programmable thermostats -- buy one and use one if you can! A nice one might set you back about $20 and can save you hundreds of dollars a year. By reducing energy demand when you are sleeping or not at home, you also pocket plenty of extra cash.

(4) Showerheads -- go low-flow. This doesn't have to mean low pressure, new models do a great job of using air to still give you a lovely water pressure during your bathing.

(5) Reuse greywater. Greywater is just any water that has already been used once -- most sink water can easily be reused, primarily for flushing toilets. SinkPositive is a great product I've just discovered if you are looking to replace a sink in your bathroom. Drain water goes straight into your toilet tank and is reused for flushing -- no one needs drinking quality water in their toilet, what a waste!! Another (easier and cheaper, but slightly illegal according to most building codes so keep it to yourself) way to do this is simply replumb your sink drain with a flexible pipe that connects to your toilet tank. Very easy to do if the two are located close to each other.

There's lots of "low-hanging fruit" out there, wanderers, so get creative with ways to reuse resources and know that it doesn't have to cost you a bunch of money -- just adjusting an old habit or two and often even saving you money, which is something we all need these days!
The Fun Fact That Wasn't
Friday, March 06, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Sorry, my dear wanderers, I am just too worn out to write up an entertaining and insightful Fun Fact for you today. But do enjoy this most beautiful Friday and take a moment to stand under a tree. Look around around and listen for a few minutes without moving and see if you notice something you might have missed before. Maybe that nuthatch climbing down the trunk or the cardinal calling his distinctive "chip" from the branches. Maybe new daffodill heads peaking out of the ground below. Give it a try and you never know what you might discover...
The Road To Hell
Wednesday, March 04, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Yup, we all know what it is paved with. And marketers know we are only too eager to run full-bore down it, brimming to overflowing with the VERY BEST of intentions, wearing a T-shirt that says how awesome we are (cause what good is doing good if you can't brag about it to all your friends??).

One huge paving stone on this road is "organic". Damn, but so many of these products piss me off -- companies have done a phenomenal job of convincing people that if they only buy "organic," not only will they be saving the world, but they will be healthier, stronger, faster, smarter, or somesuch crap.

Don't take their word for it.

Conditions which must be met to obtain the "organic" label vary widely by interpretation and seeing that label on a product actually guarantees very little. "Organic" dry cleaners in New York were recently called out -- folks dropping off their clothes at these businesses thought they were being good environmental stewards. Turns out that the dry cleaners were still using the same toxic chemicals to dry clean (which by they way, is never actually a DRY process, your clothes still get wet, they just use less water), but were using the label because the chemicals were technically "organic" compounds, i.e. had carbon in them. Nice.

An article today in the New York Times very accurately states, "Some shoppers want food that was grown locally, harvested from animals that were treated humanely or produced by workers who were paid a fair wage. The organic label doesn’t mean any of that." And that is 100% true.

You could stuff a cow in a crate, never clean its stall, beat it with a stick, employ unpaid slaves to keep it alive, beat THEM with a stick, and still get an "organic" meat label after slaughter as long as you didn't use antibiotics on the cow.

"Organic" does not mean safe either. 100% of the "organic" chicken supply is infected with salmonella. HELLO! ANTIBIOTICS WERE INVENTED FOR A REASON! Just look at the latest peanut recall -- this stuff was certified "organic" peanut butter. But it was full of salmonella bacteria, has killed 7 people and sickened at least 700 more. The plant making it did not even HAVE a health certificate. But hey, it was "organic," so you can still get people to pay a 300% markup on the stuff.

Use your heads, wanderers, and don't waste your money on an inflated sense of self-righteousness. Are all "organic" products bad? Of course not -- but neither are they all created equal. Stop and think what that label REALLY means before you purchase something and don't take it as a carte blanche that it MUST be better.

If you want to make food choices that WILL make a difference, grow your own garden. Don't eat seafood. Buy produce from a farmer you know -- local co-ops are becoming more common and allow you to get to know the farm your food comes from and the practices used there. As always, keep your eyes and ears open and don't trust anyone who works in advertising to tell you what is better for you and what is better for the world we live in!
Don't Flush That!
Monday, March 02, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Drugs. Good for you (and by this, I do NOT mean "recreational medication"). But bad for you.


They are good for you when prescribed by your doctor and taken to address medical problems. Bad for you when you ingest someone ELSE'S drugs via your faucet.

You heard me right.

There are two ways for drugs to get into water. (1) The human body is obviously not 100% efficient at processing stuff. So some of whatever medication you might be taking comes out when you pee (I could say this more delicately, but what the hell for, everybody pees, right?) and goes into the wastewater system. (2) A common disposal method for leftover drugs is to flush them. And they then go into the wastewater system.

Problem: wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove the pharmaceuticals from the water, so most of the time, they go straight through and end up back in the stream, which is your drinking water source. And just in case you are thinking, "Oh well, too bad for the person downstream" -- that is exactly what the person upstream from YOU is thinking!

So, now we've got drinking water full of hormones (from birth control), anti-depressants, steroids, whatever else people take. This is already causing real changes in the aquatic community. A recent study at NC State University placed native freshwater mussels in the stream below the wastewater outfall of a very ritzy Raleigh suburb. Turns out that water was chock-a-block full of fluoxetine (the active ingredient in Prozac -- I guess money can't buy happiness after all) and this caused the mussels to prematurely abort young and the young to suffer stunted growth rates and death.

"So what?" you say -- "I'm not a fish or a mussel." Well, what is going on here is that these substances are causing changes in reproductive and nervous systems and developmental problems. And you can bet that that can occur in people too. It's just that we are bigger and so will require bigger doses. But if we are constantly exposed, we may be able to build up those doses over time.

"Crap," you think, "this blog always scares me, I'm not reading this anymore." BUT, the point is that you can DO something about it. Ok, I'm not saying never pee, because obviously that would be a whole lot worse a lot faster than any drugs will be! But, you can dispose of your leftover prescriptions in a better way. Remove them from their bottle and mix them up with food scraps or put them in your grease jar so they cannot be stolen and reused from the trash. NEVER flush or pour down the sink.

Also, (and here's that annoying "BE HEARD" part again) contact your local wastewater authority and TELL THEM that they need to be finding out how to remove these substances from our drinking water because you do not like being dosed without your knowledge! You DO have power over your elected officials because YOU can get them voted out of office. They are supposed to be protecting your interests and making sure you have a clean, safe place to live and that includes having clean, safe water to drink and cook with!
March Madness...
Sunday, March 01, 2009 | Author: eventer79
...cause I don't even KNOW what to call this weather. Snow in NC should be illegal! I wave my magic wand and...nothing happens. So happy March, I hope it is sunnier wherever you may be wandering. I have no deeply insightful resources to offer today, but I do have a heads-up for all you gardeners who also like your dogs in the living state:

Many landscape stores sell cocoa mulch -- however, this mulch contains high concentrations of a toxic cocoa compound that, if ingested, can harm or kill your dog. It's sweet smelling stuff with its distinct chocolaty aroma, so Fido will most certainly be tempted. As with all garden products, be sure to check your labels and avoid putting an inadvertent poison within reach of greedy doggy maws!