Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bill Moyers interviews Michael Pollan

I just watched this video about the Food Industry Challenges That Obama Needs to Address in which Bill Moyers interviews Michael Pollan, author of several books about the food industry, including The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. I had linked to it yesterday in a post about Obama's Agricultural Secretary choice. When I finally had time to watch all 45 minutes, I found it so compelling that I thought I'd embed it here, so you'd be more likely to find it.

Please note that although there are many who would like to see Pollan as the next Agriculture Secretary, he figures he would not have the political skills to do the job. He recommends that Obama should make a new post of Food Czar to work holistically with food, agriculture, health, energy and global issues, separate from any particular Department, rather like his new Energy and Environment Czar.

B the way, the LA Times editorial today, Obama's well-stocked Cabinet indirectly includes Vilsack in its praise. I wrote a letter to the editor about the one rotten apple in the cabinet. You might want to, too.

Food and Water watch answers my question

As if in answer to my question in the previous post asking whether we have to become vegans (eating processed faux meat) I received yet another email today asking for the usual year-end tax-deductible support, this time from Food and Water Watch with a great message from Chef Rocky Barnette, their Chef/Restaurant Liaison, which I figured I might as well just quote here (with the link requesting support:)

My great-grandmother raised me in North Carolina. I grew up in her kitchen and I had the hospitality gene passed on to me. She had a produce stand and cooked from traditional ingredients. Looking to re-create those dishes and memories, I started working in restaurants when I was 15. I have been a professional chef for 10 years - my expertise is in Southern regional cuisine.

This season presents a special challenge for cooking. Without the bounty of the other seasons, I have to be especially creative. I have to think about what people want to eat and then reinvent and innovate recipes for delicious soups, hearty foods, lentils, cassoulets: flavorful, nourishing dishes.

Another challenge to good, nutritious cooking is finding healthy, safe ingredients. In my work reaching out to independent and chef-owned restaurants around the country for Food & Water Watch, I'm talking to people who have the capacity to determine trends in cooking and eating. My goal is education - education on sustainable seafood, on the benefit of using local organic foods over imported factory farm ingredients and on how to find local or regional food sources. The chefs learn they will benefit by serving fresher, better-tasting food that is less expensive because it doesn't have to be hauled from halfway around the world. The public also benefits because local businesses are supported and our food is healthier. Healthier food in restaurants supports the community and improves our quality of life.

In my work, I see the American palate changing. It's changing so fast - the public is leading the demand for better food. My job is to reach out to chefs and help them meet these consumer needs. This effort is gratifying because I advocate for the dining public, the chefs, and local businesses, and in so doing help renew the American relationship to good, nourishing food. . . .

P.S. Find out what's on my New Year's menu and make your donation now.

So the answer to my question is that I can still eat meat, and I will continue to eat my usual small portions interspersed with ovo/lacto but non-meat meals. But I will also continue to eat organically produced food, and look for local products as well.

Local Agriculture in the "Inland Empire"

The definition of "local" has to be stretched a little for us in Southern California. They have taken almost all agricultural land in the area and planted houses instead, many of which have not been sold, or are in foreclosure. I pity the people who live in the ones built on former dairy cattle lots, because when the weather is humid, going for rain, and the wind in our direction, it all smells definitely bucolic here, 10 miles away!

I expect the people living on former vineyards are doing better. They are also up the hill in places like Fontana, while the cattle yards are at the bottom of our hill, in Ontario and Chino.

That all reminds me of the international flavor agriculture brought to our area. The dairy farms were mostly owned by farmers from Holland, and there are still a large number of Dutch names in the area. What are left appear to be taken over by new Latinos, taking over where earlier Spanish immigrants had their large ranchos 200 years ago!

On the other hand, Fontana was settled by Italians, who came west from Pennsylvania to work in the Kaiser Steel Mill, which was only recently dismantled. (Now there are malls and office parks there.) But some of them figured they could grow grapes here, just like back in the old country, so this area became the largest wine district in the world, in particular at Guasti, mass-producing wines way before Gallo. But there are few vineyards left, like Joseph Filippi Winery and Galleano Winery in Cucamonga. I understand that the local wines became very sweet in our hot dry climate, which is no longer popular, and now there are other parts of California that have taken on the challenge of world-class wines, leaving us with empty houses! The closest new wine district is in the Temecula area, in the mountains on the way toward San Diego.

Upland, where I live, was an agricultural offshoot of Ontario, founded by the Canadian Chaffey brothers, who later went on to help found the town of Mildura in Australia, which is now our sister city. Upland and other neighboring towns up the hill from Ontario had vast citrus groves. Now there are just small remnants of these groves, mostly as small private plots.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Reject Obama's choice for Secretary of Agriculture

There is so much to do in the Department of Agriculture. President Obama needs the correct information about food as well as energy, economics and climate change. His currect choice for Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, cannot give him the correct information. Please go to Organic Consumers Association website to Oppose Tom Vilsack's Confirmation as Secretary of Agriculture. There you can read why:

While Vilsack has promoted respectable policies with respect to restraining livestock monopolies, his overall record is one of aiding and abetting Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) or factory farms and promoting genetically engineered crops and animal cloning. Equally troubling is Vilsack's support for unsustainable industrial ethanol production, which has already caused global corn and grain prices to skyrocket, literally taking food off the table for a billion people in the developing world.
And then you can go here to hear about the real Food Industry Challenges That Obama Needs to Address in this Bill Moyers interview of Michael Pollan, author of several books about the food industry, including The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto.

Do we all have become vegans?

Following a link in my blog entry about Natural Flavorings a couple of days ago, I came across the site Mercy for Animals, which offered to send me a Vegetarian (actually, vegan!) Starter Kit booklet, which came yesterday. It starts out graphically showing how poorly animals are treated on factory farms, using that as the reason for becoming vegan. The brochure offers some recipes to help you get started at being a vegan. After you've read my bit about Natural Flavorings, how do you fancy "Sweet and sour meatballs" made with "ground beef substitute (try Lightlife Gimme Lean)," or maybe Fried "chicken" using "mock chicken (try Worthington Foods Chic-Ketts or White Wave wheat meat)" - or the holiday favorite Tofurkey? (tofurky roast ingredients) I prefer eating a much unprocessed organically grown food as possible, including butter instead of margarine! (Looking for a link about margarine was interesting. Note the comments about the Wikipedia article or check out

However, I think humans were created omnivores, just like Michael Pollan, and the correct solution would be a complete make-over of the way animals are raised and slaughtered, as well as prepared for sale. In other words, the Department of Agriculture has a lot to do, not just figuring out how to use farmland to provide alternative energy, which I think is Mr. Vilsack's biggest agricultural interest.

Please, President Elect Obama, select a Secretary of Agriculture who is eager and knowledgeable to change agriculture, so I don't have to run all over the place to find acceptable food products, or feel guilty that the animal products I am eating come from animals whose short life was miserable!

The Black Christmas in Tennessee

A couple of days after the fact, my husband told me about the sludge spill in Tennessee, ruining Christmas for all the families in its wake. Somehow, it was not considered Breaking News by the LA Times, and I think not even Front Page news the next day.

That's why it took a while before it sank in that everything we've been saying about dirty coal isn't all that newsworthy at Christmas time, even though this blogger used the title I wanted to use here: Coal In The Stocking - And The Drinking Water already on the 23rd, the day it happened. As is quoted in his blog:

"Coal can never be clean."

There will always be sludge from the plants that has to be stored somewhere (using what used to be clean drinking water, or a lovely fishing stream.) Coal has to be mined (by very few - non-unionized - miners) leaving the lives of their neighbors dirtier and poorer.

United Mountain Defense: No Such Thing As Clean Coal: The un-natural disaster is keeping close tabs on the disaster and the people it has affected. If you'd like to contribute to help them, there is a opportunity at the bottom of the page.

TVA is advising families to boil water however they are not informing anyone about the reasons for needing to boil the water or sharing any chemicals that may be present in their water.
TVA has reported that preliminary water test show that the drinking water at the nearby water treatment facility meets standards, but lots of community members have well water or depend on water being pumped from a spring located in the flooded area. There is also still the potential for more sludge to enter the water supply thorough waste runoff.
TVA says the area is not toxic but you can see coal sludge in the water and dead fish on the banks. The members of this community are without clean water and many without electricity or gas heat. We met people who were given motel rooms by TVA and others on the same street that have been without heat for days in 27° weather and others who have been vomiting for more than 12 hours after drinking the water.

Here are a few more articles with pictures about the sludge spill:

Coal is dirty!

The Sierra Club magazine this month has an article called The Dirt on Coal: A messy business comes home to roost, showing graphically how much of the dirty stuff we consume personally to live our daily lives. The editorial "Rant" eggs on Obama, who evidently is still listening to those who think they can innovate methods to make coal clean.

And if Obama clings to the belief that there might be such a thing as "clean coal," Sierra's crackerjack art staff could step in to show him the pictures at right. If they need dust masks for a photo shoot (see "The Dirt on Coal"), Mr. President, coal can't be all that clean.

They're thinking of sequestering the CO2, which is very unlikely to be possible in the continued scale needed. They're not thinking of towns buried under sludge, lovely Appalachian mountain tops removed and pushed into streams.

Is This How Americans Change?

La Cucaracha December 27, 2008. Link to Cucaracha websiteThis cartoon in the LA Times today caught my attention, because a lot of what I've been writing about is change, and having lofty ideas, and then running into a lot of resistance in the end.

The cartoon is rather ironic, because during my many years in Denmark I would praise America's dynamic capability for change, which I attributed to the fact that we are an immigrant / pioneer / pilgrim nation. Our ancestors and our neighbors came here to change their lives, since they couldn't live the lives they wanted "back home." So they came here and many put up with great hardships to get what they wanted. Some of course hoped that their hard work would at least enable the next generation would attain "IT" even if they never quite got IT themselves. For many this meant rethinking the way they "always did things" to achieve this one thing they couldn't get or do in their old life or location.

These new Americans were go-getters, changers, activists. But maybe we've done so well that the newest Americans just want things like "we" created, and have no further desires.

The cartoon isn't really about reluctance in changing how much we eat and exercise, although that's part of it. It's also about changing what we eat, how it's produced. It's not just about how much energy we use, but how it's produced, or about how much we travel, but how we travel, and how the vehicals we travel in use energy. (Read all the other messages in my blog to find out what I'm getting at.)

The new Obama America has to become the old, innovative, explorative, tolerant America. (I know, some of that is history book myths, but we believed in them when we were schoolchildren!) Lets get out of our armchair and clean up the mess we've produced (by innovators, to be sure,) getting the whole picture about what our food, energy, travel, etc. mean, not just to us personally, or to America, but to the whole globe.

Happy New Year of Change!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

"Natural Flavor" for your holiday meal?

Have you ever wondered what "Natural Flavor" means when you see it on packaged meats from reputable firms at your favorite grocery store? Brands like Safeway, Foster Farms, Krogers... I kept looking at them and wondered why they have to add any flavoring to meat! The 29 years I lived in Denmark I got spoiled with meat, since my first husband's family were mostly farmers. We had meat right from the farm usually. In the last 10 years I lived there, we could also get organically grown, free range poultry, pork and beef.

Twice when a supermarket staff member was near, I asked what those words "Natural Flavor" meant. They hadn't a clue. One thought it might be salt.

That means I have mostly been buying meat at a local store called Wolfe's in Claremont, although it is too far away to walk, so I only get meat there if I'm there for some other purpose as well. That means a lot of meat-less meals when it's my turn to cook!

So finally I decided it was time to investigate the situation. I found what looked like a very helpful flyer called Natural Flavorings on Meat and Poultry Labels from the United States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Food Safety Information. Here I could read this interesting information:

What substances or ingredients can be listed as “natural flavor,” “flavor,” or “flavorings” rather than by a specific common or usual name?

Ingredients such as ginger, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, celery powder, and garlic oil may be listed as one of the three categories mentioned above. They may be designated as “natural flavors” because they are substances used chiefly for flavor. They do not make a nutritional contribution, are not derived from an animal species, and there are no health concerns linked to them.

Note that bit in red, and read on!

The next thing I found was an article from the Michigan Daily, Mystery meat: Preparation processes upset those wanting meat-free meals dated September 29th, 2003. It starts out:

Last spring, University alum Supriya Kelkar noticed something peculiar about her vegetarian Lipton pasta sauce. It tasted distinctly "meaty," she said. She examined the back of her label and none of the ingredients contained meat, but the words "natural flavors" gave her pause.

Concerned, Kelkar, a vegetarian, got in contact with various manufacturers including Campbell's soup division and Unilever Best Food Services, Lipton's parent company. In a series of e-mails, both Lipton and Campbell's acknowledged that some products, even those believed to be vegetarian, could contain dairy, egg or meat products.

Then I discovered a very interesting blog called A Lucid Spoonful, Thoughts on the culture, history and policy that informs how we eat, where the blogger had finally decided to investigate the situation.

Natural flavoring, under the Federal Code of Regulation is: “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”

Sure these are all natural items to begin with, but then why is the flavor industrial complex (which also includes makers of HFCS [High Fructose Corn Syrup]) shrouded in secrecy? Often it is in the mix, which can contain chemical solvents which "disappear" after being used, or rotting fruits or vegetables, boiled down and distilled for the last bits of flavor they have left.

International Flavors & Fragrances, Givaudan, Haarmann & Reimer, and Takasago are four of the world's top flavor companies, all located conveniently in New Jersey. They keep their boiling witch's brew a 'trade' secret, and don't want the public to know exactly who their clients are so that we only associate the taste of what we eat with the product. They make artificial flavoring too, with which we could be getting any chemical combination under the sun, tricking us into thinking grape Kool-aid is actually made from grapes. Or what makes a Jelly Belly pop with flavor all from a little bean.

That explains what Supriya Kelkar had discovered, that those "natural flavoring" can legally contain even extracts from "edible" meat, despite the assurances against this in the Department of Agriculture flyer!

It presents a new term here: The Proprietary Mix Committee (PMC)Letter, which the above-mentioned flavor companies get to keep their concoctions a secret.

QUESTION: If the processor has a PMC letter, must specific flavor ingredients be identified on the label submittal form?

ANSWER: No, the processor need only identify the ingredients of the flavor mix as specified by the PMC letter. The label approval can be handled more efficiently if a copy of the PMC letter is enclosed with the label application, but this is not required.

A friend just gave me another related government link, the regulations for the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) food category. (She told me she heard about it from Michael_F._Jacobson, a fascinating guy, who coined the terms "junk food" and "empty calories." He is a vegetarian and sits on the national board of the "Great American Meatout." After doing this bit of research, I understand why.)

What are the criteria for GRAS status?
Under sections 201(s) and 409 of the Act, and FDA's implementing regulations in 21 CFR 170.3 and 21 CFR 170.30, the use of a food substance may be GRAS either through scientific procedures or, for a substance used in food before 1958, through experience based on common use in food.

  • Under 21 CFR 170.30(b), general recognition of safety through scientific procedures requires the same quantity and quality of scientific evidence as is required to obtain approval of the substance as a food additive and ordinarily is based upon published studies, which may be corroborated by unpublished studies and other data and information.
  • Under 21 CFR 170.30(c) and 170.3(f), general recognition of safety through experience based on common use in foods requires a substantial history of consumption for food use by a significant number of consumers.

When you think that Rachel Carlson published Silent Spring in 1962 and that all the pesticides and fertilizers came into use during the 50's, I'm not sure that 1958 is a good cut-off year. Some time before WWI might be more appropriate! (Mustard gas was first used in WWI, the beginning of chemical warfare, and the rise of the chemical industry.) Or how about margarine, which goes even further back?

I went by Wolfe's today to order a locally grown roasting chicken for Christmas, but they weren't sure the farm would deliver. (Guess it's not a factory farm, then, thank goodness.) And then he suggested a Foster Farm chicken, which they also carry. But I told him about the "Natural Flavors" in them, which really surprised him. I promised to bring him some of the information I included here next time I come.

When even the butchers in the little local shop you trust don't know, and when the Department of Agriculture deliberately lies in its flyer on the subject, it looks like it's every wo/man for her/himself. Check those labels and be sure to inform your butcher about what those "Natural Flavors" are. Maybe some day we'll be able to get pure unadulterated organic, grass-fed, locally grown meats whenever we want them. If course there are good environmental reasons to avoid meats entirely, but I haven't gotten there yet.

I hope that you can find a nice locally grown turkey right off the farm for your holidays! And if you are a vegetarian, you might be getting meat in your tofu-turkey, so you'd better "check [the label] twice to see if it's naughty or nice!"

Friday, December 19, 2008

Evaluating the alternatives

I found this interesting article in Renewable Energy World, a great newsletter about the great variety of renewables. Wind, Water and Sun Beat Biofuels, Nuclear and Coal for Energy Generation, Study Says. The author reviews an research report by Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, for which a large number of alternative energy sources were evaluated to find the best way to get the most energy from these sources, based on a number of variables.
The best ways to improve energy security, mitigate global warming and reduce the number of deaths caused by air pollution [, he says,] are blowing in the wind and rippling in the water, not growing on prairies or glowing inside nuclear power plants...[while] "clean coal," which involves capturing carbon emissions and sequestering them in the earth, is not clean at all.

"The energy alternatives that are good are not the ones that people have been talking about the most. And some options that have been proposed are just downright awful," Jacobson said. "Ethanol-based biofuels will actually cause more harm to human health, wildlife, water supply and land use than current fossil fuels." He added that ethanol may also emit more global-warming pollutants than fossil fuels, according to the latest scientific studies....

The raw energy sources that Jacobson found to be the most promising are, in order, wind, concentrated solar (the use of mirrors to heat a fluid), geothermal, tidal, solar photovoltaics (rooftop solar panels), wave and hydroelectric. He recommends against nuclear, coal with carbon capture and sequestration, corn ethanol and cellulosic ethanol, which is made of prairie grass. In fact, he found cellulosic ethanol was worse than corn ethanol because it results in more air pollution, requires more land to produce and causes more damage to wildlife.
My son sent me the link to a video with Bjørn Lomborg (see below) where he agrees entirely with Jakobsen that it is ridiculous to put food in gas tanks, when there are other, better, ways to spend our environmental dollars.

I love to read the comments to any article, because they sometimes provide extra insight, and sometimes show how people seem to read with tunnel vision. At the end, I added my own comment:
As [one of the commentors] Jay Rosenberg says, you have to take "scale, location and logistics" into consideration when considering alternate fuels.
I expect that Mark Jakobsen did include them in connection with "not only their potential for delivering energy for electricity and vehicles, but also their impacts on global warming, human health, energy security, water supply, space requirements, wildlife, water pollution, reliability and sustainability."
Obviously, where there are great thermal resources, such as in Northern California, they would rank higher than some other resources. Wave energy isn't much use as a local resource in the midwest. Wind has to be supplemented with something else when the wind doesn't blow - but the newest 3 MW turbines allow much greater generation of energy per acre than small 50 kw models, of course!
As we can read here (and elsewhere) the logistics and output of solar power will vary from area to area. I assume that these have all been part of Jakobsen's equations. We don't need just one type of energy, but many, so that it can be sourced as locally as possible.
I, too, am much distressed at Obama's selection of energy and agriculture people enamored of ethanol. I think Vilsack's job as Agricultural Secretary must be to remove subsidies from factory farms and support organics more. Ethanol is the baby of factory farms and their lobbies. I don't think Vilsack is the person for the job. Strange that agriculture and energy are being discussed in the same sentence!

And then there's Bjørn Lomborg

Bjørn Lomborg has made a career about being the "Sceptical Environmentalist" using statistics to prove his point. In that way, what he has been working on is very similar to Mark Jakobsen's - trying to find out how to spend best to provide the greatest benefit for the buck.

In this video, taken at a conference sponsored by the Libertarian Reason Magazine, Lomborg (who previously was the darling of global warming sceptics) repeats again and again that global warming (or, as I prefer to call it, Climate Change) is occuring and will cause casualties. But he believes that we should be spending more money on research at this point to find the best ways to alleviate it, while, as the same time, using resources now being spent on inefficient alternatives on things like improving nutrition for poor people, painting streets and roofs with reflective material and providing more green areas in cities to reduce heat build-up in urban areas, which are demonstrably hotter than the surrounding countryside, all of which are laudable to should be implemented. (He even suggests that it would be cheaper to provide little old ladies with air-conditioners, so they don't die of the inevitable heat, and that we stop the hunting of polar bears, which kills more than climate change right now.)

Lomborg compares the cost of each of his individual recommendations with the total costs of installing renewable energy. The equation would be different if he added up all the costs of his alternatives, and subtracted the benefits of developing renewable energy, like providing jobs, making the energy network more secure, replacing what will soon become very expensive petro-fuel (because of dwindling resources,) etc. This is all, admittedly an enormous equation. But Lomborg loves to make economic models, so that could be his next big project - not picking one thing over another, but figuring out what the proper mix of all of it is. Just like Jakobsen is not suggesting that we should only invest in wind-power, but in the proper mix, based on price, geography and other factors.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Support Fair Pay for Women

Women and men increasily perform the same jobs in the workplace, but that does not mean that they receive the same pay for their work. Sometimes the same jobs are categorized differently, or women don't get beyond middle management. We all know examples of this, which is why is starting a campaign to improve the situation. The organization that is "in the way" is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Watch the video, and try out the little app below, and then contact your local Chamber of Commerce to tell them what you think about equal pay for equal jobs.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008

Clean Slate Energy Agenda

The Sierra Club is asking you to sign a new petition to President-elect Obama asking that he adopt their Clean Slate Agenda. As they say:

Obama can jumpstart a clean energy economy and start reducing global warming pollution immediately by doing the following:

  1. He can end the rush to build new coal plants by directing his EPA to require all new power plants to limit their global warming emissions.
  2. He can direct his EPA to approve plans by 18 states to require clean cars.
  3. He can direct his EPA to end mountaintop removal mining by stopping coal companies from dumping rock and waste into valleys and streams.
  4. He can restore America’s international leadership in the fight to end global warming by publicly committing the US to cut its CO2 emissions at least 35% by 2020.

Since two of these are directly related to many entries I have posted on this blog about coal, one includes California's (and 17 other states') efforts to do what the Federal government wouldn't - and should be adopted at the Federal level) and the last just makes sense, I urge you to go to yourself and sign the petition.

Yes, we can make America a leader again!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama and former Vice President Al Gore discuss

President-elect Obama, by calling to Repower America, is removing (almost) all my fears of American's energy future.

I say "almost" because he (and Gore) have never specifically said "no more coal"! That's why Wendell Berry and Bill McKibben are calling for a demonstration in March to call attention to coal-fired power plants.

Maybe there soon will be

Joy to the World
and Peace on Earth to All People!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

No more coal fired power plants - demonstration in DC

Letter from Wendell Berry and Bill McKibbon

Dear Friends,

There are moments in a nation's and a planet's history when it may be necessary for some to break the law in order to bear witness to an evil, bring it to wider attention, and push for its correction. We think such a time has arrived, and we are writing to say that we hope some of you will join us in Washington D.C. on Monday March 2 in order to take part in a civil act of civil disobedience outside a coal-fired power plant near Capitol Hill.

We will be there to make several points:

  • Coal-fired power is driving climate change. Our foremost climatologist, NASA's James Hansen, has demonstrated that our only hope of getting our atmosphere back to a safe level˜below 350 parts per million co2 lies in stopping the use of coal to generate electricity.
  • Even if climate change were not the urgent crisis that it is, we would still be burning our fossil fuels too fast, wasting too much energy and releasing too much poison into the air and water. We would still need to slow down, and to restore thrift to its old place as an economic virtue.
  • Coal is filthy at its source. Much of the coal used in this country comes from West Virginia and Kentucky, where companies engage in "mountaintop removal" to get at the stuff; they leave behind a leveled wasteland, and impoverished human communities. No technology better exemplifies the out-of-control relationship between humans and the rest of creation.
  • Coal smoke makes children sick. Asthma rates in urban areas near coal-fired power plants are high. Air pollution from burning coal is harmful to the health of grown-ups too, and to the health of everything that breathes, including forests.

The industry claim that there is something called "clean coal" is, put simply, a lie. But it's a lie told with tens of millions of dollars, which we do not have. We have our bodies, and we are willing to use them to make our point. We don't come to such a step lightly. We have written and testified and organized politically to make this point for many years, and while in recent months there has been real progress against new coal-fired power plants, the daily business of providing half our electricity from coal continues unabated.

It's time to make clear that we can't safely run this planet on coal at all. So we feel the time has come to do more--we hear President Barack Obama's call for a movement for change that continues past election day, and we hear Nobel Laureate Al Gore's call for creative non-violence outside coal plants.

As part of the international negotiations now underway on global warming, our nation will be asking China, India, and others to limit their use of coal in the future to help save the planet's atmosphere. This is a hard thing to ask, because it's their cheapest fuel. Part of our witness in March will be to say that we're willing to make some sacrifices ourselves, even if it's only a trip to the jail.

With any luck, this will be the largest such protest yet, large enough that it may provide a real spark. If you want to participate with us, you need to go through a short course of non-violence training. This will be, to the extent it depends on us, an entirely peaceful demonstration, carried out in a spirit of hope and not rancor. We will be there in our dress clothes, and ask the same of you. There will be young people, people from faith communities, people from the coal fields of Appalachia, and from the neighborhoods in Washington that get to breathe the smoke from the plant.

We will cross the legal boundary of the power plant, and we expect to be arrested. After that we have no certainty what will happen, but lawyers and such will be on hand. Our goal is not to shut the plant down for the day: it is but one of many, and anyway its operation for a day is not the point. The worldwide daily reliance on coal is the danger; this is one small step to raise awareness of that ruinous habit and hence help to break it.

Needless to say, we're not handling the logistics of this day. All the credit goes to a variety of groups, especially EnergyAction (which is bringing thousands of young people to Washington that weekend), Greenpeace, the Ruckus Society, and the Rainforest Action Network. A website at that latter organization is serving as a temporary organizing hub:
If you go there, you will find a place to leave your name so that we'll know you want to join us.

Thank you,

Wendell Berry, Bill McKibben

This is one of 4 blog entries I've written today on environmental issues. Please read all of them!

Sustainability or Saving the World from Greenhouse Gases?

I have noticed that some environmental organizations have acquired tunnel vision. They are so concerned about solving the global issue of climate change that they forget the local issues of pollution, toxicity, destruction of homelands and invaluable natural settings, or even the pesticides people use on their lawns.

Sustainability with its emphasis on
Think globally, act locally!
is lost in the struggle to save our planet. But if in the meantime we ruin the planet we are trying to save, poisoned its inhabitants with toxic chemicals, and destroyed homelands and habitats, we will have nothing left to save.

Mountaintop Removal

Ignoring Mountaintop Removal while praising "clean" coal (Mr Obama, I'm talking to you!) is one egregious example of forgetting the people on this planet. I have written about this often on the blog, including one of the other 2 entries today. Please read more about this issue if you aren't aware of it yet.


Another issue came up recently when an environmental group connected with a college I support did not have the time of day for reports on toxic pesticide use on campus, brought by a cancer-survivor alumna who happens to live in the college town. They were all caught up in supporting laudable capital projects like LEEDS buildings, and energy saving dorms. I'm pleased to report that responsible people on campus, whose staff are affected by these toxics, have been very interested in the information and contacts she has provided them. Pesticides Activist Network is working on it. Click the link to read their priorities for an Obama Agenda.

This is one of 4 blog entries I've written today on environmental issues. Please read all of them!

Dirty Coal

All this talk of "clean coal" also has to stop. Politicians (and that includes Mr. Obama!) seem to have completely ignored the dirt and destruction of the coal mines in Appalachia and other places when they praise the concept. Even if someone did figure out the technology for clean coal (which is next to impossible on the scale needed) the mines will still be destroying one of our most beautiful landscapes, the mountains of Appalachia, and the homes and homelands of (poor!) people who have lived there for generations! I understand that the mountains they are removing are never the ones in full view of the Interstates and the homes of the comfortable middle classes of West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, who tend to ignore the destruction going on in their own states, and vote what the Big Coal owned media tell them to do.

NPR ran a "conversation" about this as well: Gore Group, Industry Butt Heads Over 'Clean Coal' but Gore also ignores the major issue. As Teri Blanton wrote me:
I just don’t like it when the argument gets stuck here. Sequestering the carbon still does not make coal clean....unfortunately the focus is just on what comes out of the stacks as long as they keep this debate going the true cost of coal does not get to surface like the destruction of the oldest mountains on earth, the desert and the upper mid west farmland. and the destruction of fresh water resources.
Please go to the [NPR] site and blog about it or write about. Someone tell Al Gore to look at the entire death march of coal....
That is what I am trying to do here on my blog, as well as is in comments I leave on other blogs.

You can watch the ad Al Gore is sponsoring on "Clean" Coal, or read a lot of facts about "Clean Coal" on a site sponsored by the We Can Solve It campaign from the Reality Coalition (a project of the Alliance for Climate Protection, with support from our friends at the The League of Conservation Voters (LCV), the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and the Sierra Club.)

But, as Teri points out, this organization unfortunately does not include mountaintop removal in its case against "Clean Coal." See also The Dirty Side of Coal from Scientific American.

Please check out my other entries on this topic through my labels list.
This is one of 4 blog entries I've written today on environmental issues. Please read all of them!

Mr. Obama, We Need Change in the Energy Market!

The quoted message below was written before I hear about President-Elect Obama's choice for Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who, according to the Reuters article Obama starts filling energy and environmental team " was an early advocate for finding scientific solutions to climate change and had guided the laboratory on a new mission to become the world leader in alternative and renewable energy research, particularly the development of carbon-neutral sources of energy." I found a PowerPoint presentation by Chu on Alternative Energy Sources from 2005. I am very hopeful now that we will be able to go forward to become a leader in working with Climate Change.
Furthermore, he has selected Nancy Sutley, Deputy Mayor for Energy and Environment of Los Angeles, to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Former Environmental Protection Agency chief Carol Browner will take on a new position coordinating White House policy on energy, climate and environmental issues.
Neither of these is the head of the EPA, so that position is still to be filled. These are exciting times! But thank you, President-Elect Obama, for allaying our misgivings and selecting these competent people with their hearts and minds (apparently) in the right place!

I have been receiving a continuous flow of emails from environmental organizations with their recommendations to President-Elect Obama for our future energy sources, and for the environment. These include such admirable concepts as "cap & trade," using the Big 3 Buyout (from the Sierra Club) to get them to build more environmentally friendly vehicles, supporting solar, wind and geothermal in a big way as part of the economic incentives package.

But even before the new government works on cap & trade and other energy issues, Obama has to select an Energy Secretary. This person must believe whole-heartedly in this kind of change. He must not just be green-washing a life of dirty coal, destruction of homelands and habitats, as the coal industry and the power companies that use coal currently are doing. He must not be professing that "clean-coal" is just around the corner (because it's not!) or believe that our real low CO2 future lies with nuclear.

We have to do everything we can to make sure Mr. Obama picks the right person. So far he is not on the right track. Unfortunately, according to Al Kamen in the Washington Post, Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers is on his short list, Next on Obama's Dance Card, Mother Nature. Kamen says that a decision could be announced this week, so we have to be fast.

According to an email I received this week from a Teri Blanton, who lives in Kentucky, but has managed to escape her Harlan County childhood home (who told me she "shuddered" when she read this):

Rogers would not be "change we can believe in". As head of one of the largest U.S. power companies, Rogers' idea of change is finding creative ways to "green-wash" while building coal and nuclear plants and limiting energy efficiency and renewables. Environmental and consumer groups in states where Duke operates have been challenging Rogers' actions, which grossly contradict his PR-crafted image as a visionary concerned about climate change.
Please contact all the environmental organizations you can think of, asking them to work together to create a short-list of visionary and acceptable people for this job. The new Secretary must not have any connections to the currect power, nuclear, oil or coal industries! We've been there, done that, and it's been a catastrophe!

Here are some more links about Rogers:

The email I received recommended emailing comments through the Obama website: which I have already done. Please do so as well!

This is one of 4 blog entries I've written today on environmental issues. Please read all of them!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Let's say thanks to the troops abroad and bring them home to their families!

I feel for all those young people (and older ones, too) who are fighting for something (and I think it is different things) in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for their families who never know when or if they will be seeing their soldiers again. I expect many are fighting to provide a livelihood for their families, and they would very much like to be home with them as well. And many joined to get an education, which is evidently not as easy to come by as after WW II.

Since our government has been letting them down, I think we can help them a little with cards designed by school children all over the country. This is not to be political (and I didn't think we should have ever gone near there, and hope we can get out honorably - where victory means we leave the Iraqis with the freedon to rule their own country as they see fit.)

And I wish all of my readers

Peace in 2009!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

EPA permits Mining Companies to Ruin Appalachian Streams

The Bush administration is doing its darnedest to make a final impression on this country, and since it's so bad already, he's decided to go whole hog to go down in history as the

Worst President EVER!

For example, I just received this news from the Sierra Club:

Breaking News: Mining through Streams, Permission Granted

The U.S. EPA signed off today on the Bush administration’s last minute repeal of the stream buffer zone rule, which prohibits mining within 100 feet of streams. The repeal clears the way for an increase in devastating mountaintop removal mining, where coal companies blast the tops off mountains to reach thin seams of coal below and then simply dump the waste into nearby valleys and streams. Today's decision will finalize the repeal, despite the objections of EPA scientists, top decision makers in Kentucky and Tennessee, and 2 out of 3 American people. (italics mine.)

Here is another article about this: Can it really get worse? Yes. from a blog called Stop Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining. I have also written several entries here on Mountaintop Removal and so-called "Clean Coal".

An article recently in the New York Times: Bush Aides Rush to Enact a Rule Obama Opposes tells how

The Labor Department is racing to complete a new rule, strenuously opposed by President-elect Barack Obama, that would make it much harder for the government to regulate toxic substances and hazardous chemicals to which workers are exposed on the job.

It also mentions a few more issues they're working on:

Another, issued last week by the Health and Human Services Department, gives states sweeping authority to charge higher co-payments for doctor’s visits, hospital care and prescription drugs provided to low-income people under Medicaid.

The department is working on another rule to protect health care workers who refuse to perform abortions or other procedures on religious or moral grounds. (Apparently they've already gotten this one through as well.)

According to the article, they are making these changes to rules in a way that will require Congressional permission to change them back, taking valuable time from other very important issues. Hopefully Obama's staff is already working with Congressional leaders to prepare the legislation needed to repeal these cases of sabotage by the Bush Administration. I assume that grassroots organizations will be preparing law suits and lobbying to save the country from these attrocities, all of which takes time and money away from pressing needs.

My husband has a little tool on his desktop telling how many days are left of this devastating administration. Today they have still have

49 more days to wreak havoc.

Let us hope that the spirit of the season will remind our "Christian" President of what he seems to have forgotten, that this is a time for "Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All!"