Word to Your Mother E

helping family relations since 2008

Bailout Blues October 13, 2008

Filed under: Politics — Katie @ 7:25 pm
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It’s been a few weeks since Congress passed the $700 billion bailout plan, but it wasn’t until I heard author, journalist and filmmaker Naomi Klein voice her criticisms last night that the number really sank in. 

$700,000,000 is a lot of money – enough money in fact, says Klein, to fund basic healthcare to every child in America.  I think that’s important enough to reiterate.  Right now, in our current state of record-breaking, history-making debt accumulation, our government voted to spend $700 billion dollars to bail out Wall Street when that same amount of money could provide healthcare to every child in this nation.  Hmm.  That paints a pretty interesting picture of where our government’s priorities are. 

Klein also commented about how much money our government is willing to shell out with a little pressure.  The fact that our government promised this much dough means that the excuse of “this is too expensive” to not meet our country’s needs no longer holds firm.  Especially when it comes to issues as important as the health of the climate that we all need in order to survive.

The Obama campaign has already said, if elected, they might have to cut back on their already weak alternative energy plan to make due with less spending.  We need to exert pressure on his campaign to make sure he knows this is not the area to cut back in research spending.

On an entirely related note, executive director of the Sierra Club Carl Pope


This bailout plan has done a great job at explaining our government's priorities. (source: cartoonstock.com)

 mentioned that this proposed cost of the bailout is roughly the equivalent to our year’s supply of imported oil. 

“So if we really took ending our addiction to oil seriously,” writes Pope, “we could repay the Treasury for the bailout — and it’s hard to see any other pot of money lying around big enough.”

If our next president is going to cut back on spending for anything, here’s the answer.  Cut back on spending money on something inherently destructive to our future generations.  We will not take “lack of money” for an excuse any longer.


The dirty truth October 9, 2008

Filed under: Technology — Katie @ 6:05 pm
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Our oil dependency may be what fuels our cars, but it’s coal that provides half of U.S. electricity on a daily basis. Per unit of energy, coal blows oil away by emitting 29 percent more carbon emissions into the air. We know this. That’s why we’re starting to use clean coal, right?

Clean coal has been compared to healthy cigarettes.

Clean coal has been compared to healthy cigarettes.

For starters, each step involving coal is dirty and puts out emissions – mining, transporting, refining, etc. Clean Coal Technologies (CCT) only impacts the final stage once coal is used at power plants.

According to BusinessWeek earlier this summer, is that CCT is more of a buzzword than a reality. The concept of CCT is based on theoretical carbon capture and sequestration – separating carbon dioxide from the coal-burning process that would release it into the air, and instead, put it back into the ground where it came from as a liquid.

Hold on a sec.  According to Rainforest Action Network, U.S. power plants produce 1.9 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year.  We want to bottle these emissions and put them into the ground?  Large carbon concentrations are potentially fatal to humans – in 1986, a carbon dioxide leak killed almost instantly 1,800 people.  Whether putting this much CO2 into the ground will affect ground stability or increase the number of earthquakes is uncertain. 

Financial costs need to be taken into consideration as well.  Journalist Ben Elgin wrote that the conservative cost estimate to turn this idea into a practical reality would cost several trillion dollars, which definitely won’t help our utility bills any time soon.  How about we use that money to build transmission lines for wind turbines or solar panels for houses? 

What about energy costs?  In 2006, the EPA estimated that successfully capturing and sequestering 90 percent of coal emissions will increase the amount of energy we need to produce by 40 percent, which ultimately increases the number of pollutants in the air. 

Recent studies have been done to show the effects of what happens when carbon dioxide is pumped into the oceans as another means of disposal.  It increases the acidity of the water, and even mere absorption from the atmosphere caused sea urchin spines and mollusk shells to dissolve, giving the ocean what Discover Magazine calls a case of carbonized osteoporosis.  Obviously, if we value our sea life, dumping carbon into the ocean isn’t a solution. 

Granted, scrubbers and other technologies have made coal less dirty but clean coal will always be an oxymoron. Don’t buy into campaign promises of clean coal as a viable long-term energy plan.  BusinessWeek compared clean coal to a healthy cigarette – it doesn’t exist.


Virtual crossover October 7, 2008

Second Life signifies a virtual world where avatars can fly and anything can be created with the click of a mouse. It represents a platform, a virtual space, where like-minded people can gather to share ideas. Dr. Leslie Jarmon of UT’s Division of Instructional Innovation Assessment says that the co-presence of an avatar psychologically creates better connections than mere email or internet postings. The three-dimensional element adds another level of connectivity that stretches beyond a web cam or a teleconference, she says.

Companies are starting to take advantage of this co-presence and have recognized this platform as a way to save themselves money. IBM, for example, holds most of their administrative meetings and has their business center located  virtually on Second Life. This saves them the transportation cost of having to fly management to a central location for conferences and other meetings.

Second Life offers companies a way to host meetings virtually, saving on transportation costs and airline emissions.

Second Life offers companies a way to host meetings virtually, saving on transportation costs and airline emissions.

What does this have to do with the environment? Airplanes are huge emitters of the toxic wastes that pollute our atmosphere. Second Life is offering companies, and people, a way to cut their transportation costs by allowing people to meet virtually, which both saves them money and reduces carbon emissions!

US Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts illustrated this point at the 2007 UN Conference on Climate Change in Bali. Markey is the head of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, and instead of flying to Bali, he chose a more virtual representation as a Second Life avatar, proving to the conference that actions can speak louder than words.

According to the Carbon Footprint Calculator, Markey’s flight from Boston to Bali would have released 7,448 lbs of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This number helps to legitimize the use of virtual representation as part of future solutions to solving our current climate crisis.


Blowin’ in the wind October 6, 2008


Texas is leading the United States in renewable wind energy.

Texas is leading the United States in renewable wind energy.

For centuries people have been using the power of wind to help with daily tasks, but now as alternative energies are more important than ever, it’s time to take wind to the next level. 


The United States has had the fastest growing wind power market in the world for the past three years, and Texas leads the country in terms of wind energy potential – the State Energy Conservation Office says our state accounts for close to one-third of the nation’s total installed wind capacity. 

While intermittent windiness may be an issue, wind energy is renewable, easily accessible, clean and reduces toxic emissions by replacing other fossil-fueled forms of generating electricity.

Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center, near Taylor, TX, holds the world record for the world’s largest wind farm at just over 47,000 acres.  A wind farm is just a bunch of turbines in one location used to generate electricity, and Horse Hollow actually produces at 735.5 megawatt capacity. 

Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratory estimates that wind energy could produce about 20% of the nation’s electricity needs, especially considering the wide range of U.S. states that have wind potential, and the U.S. Department of Energy predicts that world cooperation could fuel enough wind energy to surpass our demand 15 times!  

The American Wind Energy Association gives a few examples of factors that are needed for wind to reach its full potential in the U.S. – consistent policy support, nondiscriminatory access to transmission lines (between electric companies and turbines) and new transmission lines.  

Wind energy already produces 25% of the electricity in the state of Schleswig Holstein in Germany, and almost 100% of the energy in Denmark over the winter.  It’s time to stop talking about our wind potential and actually start producing.  Help spread the wind word to others, and please keep wind as an alternative energy source in mind when you vote in November.


Drill, baby October 3, 2008

Filed under: Politics — Katie @ 10:27 pm
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Last night’s vice presidential debate covered environmental issues for all of five minutes, but that was long enough to identify crucial differences in the two positions.  

Sarah Palin contributes the cause of global warming to both human activity AND a natural cycle in temperatures.. hmm.  She blared about energy independence, decreasing reliance on foreign sources of oil.  She’s from Alaska.  Obviously this means drilling, “environmentally safe drilling,” according to Palin. Not only that, but as she mentioned, in order to get oil from Alaska to the mainland, a $40 billion pipeline is under construction, one of the most expensive infrastructure projects ever.   

This sounds really great for Alaska, but in the end, more drilling will only require more energy to recover from the disastrous carbon side effects of continued gasoline dependency than if we put that $40 billion to funding alternative energy research. 

Joe Biden says it’s obvious global warming is manmade, and made one of the only mentions of the night to alternative fuels – wind, solar, biofuels, etc.  He wants to invest in clean coal and safe nuclear energy before exporting this technology to other countries in order to reduce their emissions.  

I can’t say I think the words “clean” and “coal” ever belong together, but we do have the technology to burn currently burn cleanER coal, which we need to implement as soon as possible until we figure out a better way to run things. 

Biden continually mentioned that McCain voted 20 times against funding alternative energy research.  I have yet to hear any pundits correct this fact, so as for now, it stands with me.  

32 days and counting until Voting Day.


Compost 101 October 1, 2008

Filed under: recycling — Katie @ 11:01 am
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Trash Trivia: in 1979, there were 18,500 landfills in the U.S., just waiting to be filled.  By 1995, it’s estimated that only 3,000 were available.  The average American throws away 4.5 lbs of trash a day. Every year we fill enough garbage trucks to form a line that would stretch from the earth, halfway to the moon!  (according to the Cass County Solid Waste Management District in Indiana)

How can you reduce your landfill impact?  Simple. Compost

Composting involves the process of turning your useless, organic leftovers (shrubbery, leaves, food) into a fertilizing mixture, just ready to improve the quality of your garden.  When plant waste decays, it releases the same chemicals found in fertilizer.. which is what your compost should look like when it’s ready to use.  


Here’s how you do it: 

1. Start keeping a separate bowl in your kitchen for food items you would otherwise throw away (leftovers, banana peels, egg shells, coffee grounds, etc.)  Also start saving dead plant waste from your yard.  

2. Pick out a bin big enough for your compost, and layer these two products in a 2:1 ratio … 2 parts green waste (like food products, green leaves, grass clippings), 3 parts brown waste (dead leaves, sawdust, cardboard, etc.)

3.  Moisture is essential.. put enough water in your bin so that when you pick up a green waste item, you should be able to wring it out like a sponge.  Often, water will make up 40 – 60 % of your bin. (Keep this in mind as you start layering.)  If you feel like you’ve overmoisturized, you can always add more brown waste to balance out the mixture. 

4.  Mix this pile once or twice a week to help aerate it.  This can involve dumping it out and putting the mixture back in or simply stirring it up (which can take a lot of muscle).  The more you turn your  mixture, the less it will smell like decomposing compost. 

5.  When your compost is ready for fertilization, it will literally look just like dirt – you shouldn’t be able to identify the contents of your compost.  Pour over your plants or vegetable gardens, and reap the benefits! 


Composting is a great way to reduce your impact on landfills.

Composting is a great way to reduce your impact on landfills.

Suggestions: Aeration is an important part to the decomposition stage, so leave this bin outside in your backyard where it can get lots of oxygen.  On a similar note, the more surface area that has contact with oxygen, the faster it will decompose, which may impact your storage bin.

There are a few questions you should ask yourself if you are unsure whether to throw something in your compost bin: is it biodegradable?  Did it come from a chemical-free lawn?  Does it have any contaminants, diseases or toxins that could make me sick?  If your answers lead you to think the substance might in any way be harmful, do NOT put it in your compost bin … dispose of it in with your household trash. 

 Some microorganisms can cause your compost to steam in colder temperatures.  Don’t worry about this!  Colder temperatures slow down decomposition, but it still happens. 

Grain-based items, like bread and pasta, and newspapers don’t decompose as quickly as other items, so they get really slimy and may potentially slow down your rate of compost.  Jump on curbside recycling to toss out your newspapers instead. 

Another composting method involves adding worms to your bin (along with slightly different steps) to speed up the process. 


For anyone with rose gardens, break open your used tea bags and sprinkle the grounds around the roots.. trust me, your mother will appreciate the results.  Enjoy!


Sounds of nature September 28, 2008

Filed under: Technology — Katie @ 6:57 pm
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When podcasts first premiered back in late 2004, they didn’t take off quite as well as some may have hoped, but recent technology trends may be about to change all that.  The iPhone is like that kid in high school – all she had to do was nod at someone and they’d automatically be cool by association.  Well, the iPhone’s given her nod, and now podcast subscriptions have taken off.

Nature lovers, don’t be left out!  By subscribing to the weekly Nature Stories podcast, you’ll have access to hundreds of personal stories about people’s interactions with nature.  Topics range from worms to urban farming to photography, and subject matter comes from all over the world – there’s definitely something for everyone. 

You can download the free podcasts directly to iTunes or an MP3 player which makes these great tidbits to listen to during daily commutes, while you’re stuck indoors or as background noise to help keep you connected with the wilds of nature.  

Take a listen to this week’s podcast Frogs on the Road.