Monday, January 19, 2009

Winter idyl

Path behind Sunnybrook Village
Originally uploaded by bonbayel.
The day after the snow, we were awakened with sunshine and the most delightful dynamics outside as the snow falls off the branches. I've been thinking I should try the video function on my camera to catch it.

I had to go out to clear the snow from my car (until the grounds man here at Mom's retirement home helped me out!) But it was fun walking in the deep snow to get this picture, and even clearing snow off the car is great upper-body exercise.

I love the snow, particularly on a day like today, where it lies without a footprint in it. I remember clearing the snow from our driveway and sidewalk in Denmark, and going out on cross-country skis right from the front door. (But I was younger. I'm not sure my back would appreciate that work now.)


I had thought I'd be spending all day tomorrow watching the inaugaration, but my sister pointed out that my plane tickets are tomorrow, not Wednesday as I thought. (I had checked the flight, but it timed out before I ordered it, and didn't check the results well enough, I guess.) But I'll be seeing parts of it on all the screens at the airports. I wonder if they will be able to have it on the screens on the planes?

I don't ever recall so much build-up to an inaugaration before, but this one is very special. We all have placed so much hope and so many expectations on Obama's shoulders, but I think people are also willing to give him some space to get things done. Nevertheless, I expect his first 100 days will be spectacular.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

This isn't Southern California!

View from Mom's living room
Originally uploaded by bonbayel.
I am visiting Mom in Brunswick, ME, for the week, to celebrate her 94th birthday! She has a delightful view over a little pond with the same name, Moose Pond, as the one Mom and Dad lived next to for more than 30 years in Denmark, ME.

I today I got a real treat (for a southern Californian - who doesn't have to go out and shovel!) It's been snowing nicely all day, without being a nasty blizzard. But I am glad that the weather report the next few days means that the roads should be clear before I drive back to the airport in Portland!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Dirty coal keeps flowing

I always thought that coal was hard rock, like we got in the bottom of our stocking when I was a wee child before we moved to a new house with an oil-burning furnace (Dad and Grandpa both worked for Esso Refineries in NJ at the time.) There are also those who think that liquid coal is the future - part of the so-called "clean" coal myth.

Coal flows, but it isn't clean, as we saw in Tennessee at Christmas, and now in Alabama, where the retaining pond at another TVA plant at Widows Creek was reported overflowing at 10:15 am Central Time today, which you can read here: Second TVA spill reported in Alabama.

Scott Hughes, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management said, "The only thing we've got right now is that there was a release from a gypsum treatment operation." "We do understand that some of the material has reached Widows Creek."

The creek from which TVA's coal burning plant gets its name, crosses the plant property. Gypsum is one of the byproducts when special filters capture and treat ash. It can be sold for use in wallboard, but markets have been slow and it like more standard ash can build up in waste ponds."We're in the process of gathering more info and getting a full report."

The Widows Creek Fossil Plant is located on Guntersville Reservoir on the Tennessee River. It has eight coal-fired units and was completed in 1965. The plant consumes about 10,000 tons of coal a day. The ash from that coal was in the pond that broke there.

Yahoo news reports today that Toxic coal ash piling up in ponds in 32 states.

An Associated Press analysis of the most recent Energy Department data found that 156 coal-fired power plants store ash in surface ponds similar to the one that collapsed last month in Tennessee. Records indicate that states storing the most coal ash in ponds are Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia and Alabama.

The man-made lagoons hold a mixture of the noncombustible ingredients of coal and the ash trapped by equipment designed to reduce air pollution from the power plants. Over the years, the volume of waste has grown as demand for electricity increased and the federal government clamped down on emissions from power plants.

So lets help those people downriver from the lagoons in Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia and Alabama, and Just Say No to Coal!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Tell Obama to Just Say "No" to Pesticides!

spring weather & pesticides
Originally uploaded by gribley.
After all the sweetness of the strawberries, I have to remember that the growers most certainly used chemical fertilizers to grow them, which means the plants are most likely not strong enough to combat pests on their own. So they must have used pesticides, too, because I haven't seen them out in the field with a hoe to hack out weeds, or picking off insects and grubs with their fingers.

Which means we have to be very careful with what pesticides are permitted in this country. We don't want a lovely bowl of strawberries to cause cancer, or birth defects in the children of farm workers!

Therefore the Pesticide Action Network and Beyond Pesticides would really appreciate it if you would sign onto their letter to President-elect Obama: Transforming Government's Approach to Regulating Pesticides to Protect Public Health and the Environment. (You have to read/scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page to do so. )

Enclosed for your consideration are priorities for change within key areas of your Agenda for America – priorities that we imagine could be embraced within the first 100 days of your administration. We are pleased to note that many of our priorities overlap with yours, and offer this analysis in an effort to proactively assist in developing an agenda for change in America that prioritizes:

  • Public and environmental health;
  • A green and fair economy;
  • Environmental protection;
  • Scientific integrity;
  • Transparency and accountability.

Because of the widespread and unnecessary use of over 5 billion total pounds of pesticides a year, hazardous chemicals invade our lives through the contamination and poisoning of our bodies, air, land, water, food and the built environment.

Recommendations affecting the hazardous production, transportation, use and disposal of hazardous pesticides intersect with numerous federal agencies, including EPA, FDA, USDA and DOJ. It is our goal that the Obama administration embraces both improved chemical restrictions and policies for advancing practices that avoid reliance upon these toxic technologies altogether, thereby eliminating their hazards to public health, workplace conditions and the environment, and their contribution to global climate change.

So you have something positive to do, to encourage Obama in his positive efforts to make American (and the world) the better place we all are looking forward to!

Local Strawberries in January

Local Strawberries in January
Originally uploaded by bonbayel.
I promised you a positive post today after all the negative.
Driving home from a meeting yesterday I passed the only farm store in our neighborhood (since everything else, except for a few small citrus groves, has been covered with houses (or warehouses, or roads...) - except the Angeles National Forest about 6 miles to the north, of course!

I think the property for this farm is also offered for sale for development, but thanks to the housing market, we can buy strawberries here at least 1 more year!

These strawberries can't compare with the ones I've known in the North, i.e. Denmark and Maine, where they are much smaller, a darker red, red all the way through (these are white inside,) and have a heavenly perfume that you can smell at quite a distance. These smell good if you have your nose within about 6 inches! And for lack of other, they also taste good.

But they do not work in the marvelous Danish summer desert "Rødgrød med Fløde" or "Jordbærgrød!" which you make by cooking the berries in small amount of water until they are mostly juice, adding a little sugar and then thickening them with cornstarch (or potato flour to be authentic.) Served with cream (or milk,)

You can't help wondering why they are growing so well this early in the season, particularly since we've had some cold nights (down to 35 F.) I won't say it, since I'm trying to be positive! (And unfortunately these are not organic - but they are local!)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Just Say "No" to Pesticides!

Central Valley
Originally uploaded by NC3D.
The Clean Air Act hasn't always been heeded as intended. Usually my present state of California has done what it could because of our enormous pollution problems, which are partly caused by our large population, and industrial and agricultural base, partly caused by inconvenient geography, which boxes in smog with mountain ranges in places like the "Inland Empire" east of Los Angeles, where I live, and in our agricultural Central Valley, where you can see the low-lying smog in the picture.

But California's Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) evidently hasn't been talking with the Air Quality Management Districts (AQMD) because the draft regulations to address pesticides that form smog (giving the Central Valley California's worst air quality, so that you usually cannot see the High Sierra mountain range which borders it to the East.)

So Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) sent out an email asking us to voice our "opposition in writing by Jan 15th and in person at the public hearings January 12th in Bakersfield and January 14th in Sacramento."

Take Action Now! Demand DPR comply fully with the Clean Air Act by reducing the use of smog-forming pesticides.
Pesticides are one of the largest contributors to smog in the San Joaquin Valley and Ventura County and a major contributor in the Southeast Desert, which includes the Coachella Valley. DPR should prioritize pesticide use reduction because pesticides are highly toxic, causing many mass farm worker and community poisonings, and volatile organic compounds (VOC) from pesticides contribute to smog and fine particulate matter formation. The only guaranteed way to reduce smog-forming, particulate matter-forming, and toxic emissions from pesticides is to reduce pesticide use.

So there you are - all three posts today say "NO!" Please read all three, sign the petitions and do whatever else you can to protect us and our environment. I will try to find something positive for my next post!

Just Say "No" to Coal!

I've been writing a lot about the Tennessee Coal Sludge disaster, and received another email about it today from Friends of the Earth, with the encouraging news that yesterday's New York Times had a front page report Hundreds of Coal Ash Dumps Lack Regulation about all the other dumps just waiting to become a disaster. The article includes a map of dumps (look for one near you!) a link to the E.P.A. Report: Coal Combustion Waste Damage Case Assessments, a slide show and a video, Coal Ash Spill Raises Broader Questions.

The email from Friends of the Earth asked for our help to make Congress aware:

Coal is dirtiest form of energy there is -- a fact that's underscored by the disaster in Tennessee. And there is only one solution. We must transition away from our use of coal. Will you help us send this message to Congress today?

Too many members of Congress still don't understand how serious this problem is. They need to hear from you, their constituents, that coal is public enemy number one. A ban on new coal-fired power plants is needed immediately, and we must rapidly phase out existing coal facilities and replace them with clean energy alternatives and energy efficiency.

So please read more about it, add your name to the petition to Congress, and even write a letter to the editor of your local paper to help your neighbors (and your politicians) learn more about why coal has always been dirty, and no modern technology can make it "clean" even if it can sequester small amounts of CO2 from burning coal.

Just Say "No" to Vilsack!

vilsackI really am sorry that this blog has become so negative recently. I am looking forward to the coming years when there will be wonderful positive things happening. But we aren't there yet!

First of all, Obama has nominated Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture. Here is part of a couple of emails I received from Organic Consumers Association about Mr. Vilsack and this job:

President-Elect Obama's choice for Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, will be responsible for directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its $90 billion annual budget, including the National Organic Program, food stamp and nutrition programs, and agriculture subsidies. But you can help stop his confirmation. . .

Far from representing the "Change" which Obama has promised, Vilsack has a disappointing record of promoting controversial genetically engineered foods, biopharm crops, and animal cloning, as well as cheerleading for unsustainable biofuels derived from corn and soybeans. In addition Vilsack has come under fire for aiding and abetting chemical and energy-intensive industrial agriculture, including Iowa's infamous Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). . .

Please join the Organic Consumers Association and help us stop Vilsack's Senate confirmation and lobby for a Secretary of Agriculture that reflects our organic and social justice values. Urge your friends and family to take action today:

I just found an AP article about Vilsack online which implies that there has been "little opposition." We must make sure that the opposition to him is heard!

Vilsack confirmation hearing set for next week
By MIKE GLOVER Associated Press Writer, 11:30 PM CST, January 5, 2009
DES MOINES, Iowa - U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin says the confirmation hearing for former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as the nation's next agriculture secretary will be on Jan. 14. President-elect Barack Obama chose Vilsack for the post. Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, predicts an easy confirmation for Vilsack.

Since leaving office, Vilsack has taught at Drake University's law school in Des Moines and has been a consultant with a variety of clients. ... Though Vilsack hasn't had a broad history with agricultural issues, his appointment has stirred little opposition and his confirmation is likely to be routine. If he wins confirmation, close attention will be paid to who he selects from Iowa to help him run the agency.

At you can read about their suggestions for Under Secretary of Agriculture, who will have to be very strong to stand up to Vilsack's friends in companies like Monsanto.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Dirty, Dirty Coal continues

One of the editorials in the The LA Times today is Coal ash -- a Tennessee wake-up call. They write

Of all the environmental and health problems caused by coal -- mining it destroys rivers and blackens miners' lungs, and burning it emits climate-changing gases, toxic pollutants and heavy metals -- perhaps the least recognized until recently was the solid waste it generates. The Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman, Tenn., had a pile of ash covering more than 100 acres and rising 65 feet, the product of more than 50 years of operations. More than a billion gallons of it poured out Dec. 22, marking the nation's worst coal plant spill.

and compare coal burning with cigarette smoking - the one ruins our bodies, the other our environment. They also compare the spill with the oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969, which effectively put a stopper to more oilwells off the California coast. They hope that this spill will finally be the eye-opener to get us off "cheap" coal power, by finally requiring environmental regulation that will make coal more expensive than the renewables that are trying to replace it.

However an email I received today from Laurie David of calling Coal Plant Spill Worse Than Exxon Valdez: "It was the largest coal slurry spill in U.S. history, and the amount released was more than 50 times larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill," is less confident when she writes: "Yet the story has not received the level of press coverage it deserves," which others have also noted. Nevertheless, she, too, concludes on a hopeful note: "Hopefully the spill will ignite the debate over the environmental safety of coal power plants," although I could find no mention of the spill on their site.

Don't let climate change divert us from combating other environmental dangers.

My worry is that, although the dangers of climate change are invigorating environmental activists, the entire goal of activism is now is to combat climate change, forgetting entirely all the other issues that have driven environmental activists, since 1990 under the umbrella of "sustainability:" our wilderness, since Thoreau and Teddy Roosevelt, and toxics since Rachel Carlson wrote Silent Spring, with its outing of DDT (and then other agricultural chemicals) as more detrimental than beneficial. More recently Ralph Nader started the interest in consumer security, which also involves the use of chemicals in food, clothing and other products.

Let's fight coal for all these reasons:

  • CO2
  • habitat destruction
  • toxic substances
  • water quality
  • quality of life
  • "thinking globally while acting locally,"
  • all the personal reasons the people in coal country, or downwind from a coal fired plant may have.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Dirty, Dirty Coal

The Tennesse Valley Authority tried to calm residents near the Kingston Fossil Plant ash spill, saying that the water wasn't dangerous. Reminds you of the EPA saying that the area around Ground 0 wasn't toxic!

Some members of Appalachian Voices and Waterkeeper Alliance's Upper Watauga Riverkeeper Program decided that this was not something they wanted to trust TVA with, so they took their own samples and had them tested at the Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry labs at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, by Dr. Shea Tuberty, Associate Professor of Biology, and Dr. Carol Babyak, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, who you can see in the video.

Concentrations of eight toxic chemicals range from twice to 300 times higher than drinking water limits, according to scientists with Appalachian State University who conducted the tests.

"Although these results are preliminary, we want to release them because of the public health concern and because we believe the TVA and EPA aren't being candid," said Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., chair of the Waterkeeper Alliance.

You can read more at, and access the preliminary report on the same page.

No matter how you treat the CO2 that comes from burning coal, there are so many other aspects of coal that some people are just ignoring, like mountaintop removal, poor working conditions, polluted streams, and the dangers of retention pools, both for the ground water, and for accidents like this one in Tennessee and earlier ones in Kentucky and elsewhere, where entire villages have been wiped out by spills.

There is NO WAY to make coal energy clean. Our goal now is to ensure that no new coal-fired plants are built, and to make sure that existing ones can be phased out ASAP. This is possible by coordinating two different methods:

  • hastening the use of renewables, like solar, wind, geothermal, some biofuels (algae) and new minimally invasive hydro-power systems.
  • learning how to conserve energy - and that means me and you! Turn off lights, insulate, install a programmable thermostat, purchase Energy Star appliances, including light-bulbs, TVs and refrigerators for starters. (No plasma TV, please! LCD is much more energy efficient!) The current Time Magazine has a cover article Wasting Our Watts with everything you need to know about efficiency. The good thing is that you will save a lot of money on energy costs, and some states have rebates for energy conserving products.