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    A Vision Through Rose-Colored Glasses

    'Til now man has been up against Nature; from now on he will be up against his own nature. 

    ~Dennis Gabor, Inventing the Future, 1963

    It's easy to get into the mindset that things will only get worse with our earth. We're bombarded with bad news: population is growing an alarming rate, diseases are resistant to antibiotics, there's not enough food, too much waste, forests are being cut down, species are becoming extinct, water is polluted, the polar ice caps are melting. Surely, with more time, and more people, things only can get worse… The earth has a finite amount of resources; something has to give… It's in the news, the movies, social media: do something. Or else.

    I'm guilty of it myself, here on this blog, in my head, in my words. I look at my Goodreads bookshelf - some of my favorite literature is dystopian. I've felt before - why even try? The fate of our earth can't be good; not with the amount of damage we've done, the slow pace we've taken to action, the tremendous pace of population increase.  I remember before having children, truly contemplating NOT, because why would we want to bring children into an if-not-now-then-soon wasted earth? I know of childfree couples whose choice has been, at least in part, dictated by the gray murkiness of this seeming eventuality.


    But, what if we stopped looking at our future through grease-colored glasses? What if our vision of our future earth was not of destruction, disaster, disease, but rather of innovation, harmony, renewal? Isn't there reason to believe with time we can make of our world a place more like The Celestine Prophecy and less like The Road?

    If we can change our outlook from disaster to promise, we can encourage our children to see a future of possibility. I believe an earth respected, will return our consideration. I'm teaching my children a love of the earth, of all she provides us, and of what we can give her - care, compassion, kindness - both for the earth itself, and all her inhabitants: human, plant, animal. I trust what I believe, they'll carry on. And that their carrying on will reverberate, unmuted by the greyness of "doomsday".  I'd like to think that if our vision as a human race is one that can be crafted, shaped, and directed towards our oneness, our mutual need for earthly redemption, then we have hope for our future.

    What better can we leave to our children, if not an earth full of hope? 

    Posted: Apr 24 2012, 22:25 by kelly | Comments (1) RSS comment feed |
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    Earth Hour and Beyond

     We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. 

    ~Native American Proverb

    Earth Hour is tonight - 8:30pm - 9:30, in whatever time zone you are living. 

    What is Earth Hour? It's one hour in one day out of 365, where, around the world, as many people as possible will turn off their lights as a symbolic commitment to make changes in their lives which positively effect our environment in the year to come. 

    Globally, our population is increasing, our electricity and fossil fuel consumption is increasing, and so too is our amount of trash and waste and pollution. This one hour is a time to focus on what you can do as an individual to make a positive change, then take that change beyond the hour .

    Two images showing lights at night in Europe - in 1992, and then again in 2010.

    Maybe you can… stop buying bottled water? Take shorter showers? Plant an organic garden? Pack your lunch in resuable containers instead of plastic? Decide to walk somewhere instead of drive? Go vegetarian? Lower your heat in the Winter and use less air conditioning in the Summer? Unplug appliances & electronics when not in use? It's up to you.

    How will you go beyond the hour?

    Posted: Mar 31 2012, 10:55 by kelly | Comments (1) RSS comment feed |
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    World Water Day 2012

    Today is World Water Day.

    Here in the suburbs of New Jersey in the United States, water isn’t something I think about much. It runs clean from my sink, my shower, and my hose. It rains often here. Our general area is criss-crossed by myriad lakes, streams, creeks. New Jersey is known for its wetlands. Water, here, is never an issue. How fortunate am I? 


    Some stats:


    - One out of every eight people lack safe drinking water. 884 million people total. That’s nearly three times the population of the United States. (source: UNICEF/WHO. 2008.)

    - Approximately 1.2 billion people don’t have adequate sanitation; two in five. It’s the world’s biggest cause of infection.

    - 3.575 million people die each year from a water related disease (every twenty seconds, one of these dead is a child). (source: WHO. 2008. Safer Water, Better Health: Costs, benefits, and sustainability of interventions to protect and promote health)

    - 200 million collective hours are spent in one day by women collecting water for their families; and they walk an average of 3.7 miles to do it. For water; so basic and necessary. Hours that could be spent caring for family, working an income-generating job, or going to school.


    For more staggering facts… http://water.org/news/resources/

    It breaks my heart to believe so many people are suffering and dying in this world for something I barely give a thought to in my own life.

    So what can we do?

    Be more conscious of our own water usage: 

    - Take shorter showers. In the US, a 5-minute shower (and really, who takes just a 5-minute shower) uses more water than a typical person in a developing country slum uses in a whole day. (source: 2006 United Nations Human Development Report)

    - Don’t let the water run when you brush your teeth.

    - Stop eating meat. It takes TEN TIMES as much water to make one pound of beef as it does to grow one pound of wheat (Really. Check it out.).

    - Stop buying bottled water (Why not? Watch this film.).

    - Don’t wash your clothes after every use, unless you really need to (think jeans, sweaters, towels – usually they just aren’t that dirty after one wear).

    - Use cloth diapers instead of disposables. I wish I had.


    AND you can…

    - Write a blog post, tweet, update your Facebook status, or just tell someone about World Water Day.

    - Read about water.org and what they are doing to help the global water crisis, and donate to their cause to help bring clean water to more people.  It can change, or save, a life.

    Posted: Mar 22 2012, 11:18 by kelly | Comments (4) RSS comment feed |
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    The Problem with Palm Oil

    The other day after school, my 7-year old daughter went immediately to the kitchen and began reading the labels (like mama, like daughter) of all of the things on our shelves. She told me that someone from the Philadelphia Zoo had come to speak to their class about palm oil - where it comes from, which items contain it, what’s happening in our world because of human’s increased demand for palm oil, and what we can do about it. Her class is working to help spread the word about palm oil and how it is affecting our planet: from its human and animal inhabitants, to the land where it is grown, and how we can change the negative course production of this oil has taken. Now, I’m used to learning from my children - but often the things I learn are of the more abstract nature: patience, multitasking, how to have fun. This, however, was something quite different, far more concrete, and sobering. In sharing her knowledge, she has inspired me to become more informed about palm oil, and in doing so, I’ve learned more about rainforests and orangutans - the primary species negatively, and drastically, affected by palm oil - than I’ve ever known before.

    I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned, in hopes you too can become a bit more aware, and perhaps, might care to spread the word, and potentially take steps to help reverse the damage that’s been done to our primate sisters and brothers and the land where they live.


    What is palm oil?

    Palm oil is currently the most widely produced edible oil - derived from the African oil palm plant. It is grown in rainforest areas; primarily Borneo & Sumatra. According to the UN Food & Agriculture Organization, nearly 150 million tons was produced in 2009(up from 40 million in 2007). It’s in food, baby formula, cleaning products, and cosmetics. If you check your pantry, shower, make-up bag, I’m betting you’ll see it hiding out in the ingredients’ lists, under several different aliases: palm oil, palm kernel oil, palmitate, palmate, palmitic acid, glyceryl stearate, or stearic acid. It’s ubiquitous. I know I was surprised.


    What’s the problem with palm oil?

    Since palm oil is often used to replace trans fats in foods, and is also used in bio-fuel development, the demand for it has exploded in recent years; particularly since many food companies have felt increasing pressure to remove hydrogenated oils from their foods. The problem with this rate of growth, however, is several-fold: the sudden and sustained increase in demand has led to outright destruction of rainforest in order to plant palm tree plantations. Millions of acres of pristine forest are being clear-cut, with no care being given to the inhabitants. Loss of rainforest means loss of biodiversity, as well as the reduction of filtering of vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, which can lead to further climate change. Not only are animals and land being exploited, but so are workers in these areas… because when you need to harvest a lot of land, quickly, you have to get a lot of people to work, quickly, without much care given to their well-being. Profits over compassion.


    On the biodiversity side of things: most affected by our seemingly insatiable desire for palm oil are organutans. Indonesia, where most of the world’s palm oil is derived, is home to 90% of the world’s orangutan population (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-16336582). Our primate cousins, and their habitat, are in very real and immediate danger due to the demand for palm oil. Some staggering facts:


    - In 1900 there were approximately 315,000 orangutans in the wild. Today, there are fewer than 50,000 - and those are split into groups with grim long-term survival prospects. (source: http://www.greenpalm.org/en/about-palm-oil/environmental-impact) The organgutan population in Sumatra was cut nearly in half in a space of 7 years: from ~12,000 in 1993 to ~6,500 in 2000. (source: http://www.orangutan.com/threats-to-orangutans/)


    - In 1997 and 1998 it is estimated that nearly 8,000 (Eight THOUSAND!) orangutans were killed through uncontrolled burning (much of it due to clearing the land for palm oil plantations).


    - Because orangutans are seen as “pests” on palm oil plantations, some palm oil companies offer poachers ~$100 per dead orangutan. Between 2008 - 2009 at least 750 orangutans are thought to have been killed on palm plantations. (source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-16336582)


    - A study by Forest Watch Indonesia indicates 15 million hectares of forests were lost to deforestation for palm plantations between 2000 and 2009 (source: http://www.orangutans.com.au/Orangutans-Survival-Information/15-million-hectares-of-forest-destroyed-from-2000-to-2009-FWI.aspx)


    - If nothing changes, experts estimate that orangutans could be extinct in the wild anywhere from 10-25 years from now - making them the first species of great ape to be extinct. (source: http://www.orangutan.com/threats-to-orangutans/)


    What is an orangutan?

    If you’re not familiar with them, orangutans are our brownish-red primate cousins (the name orangutan comes from two Malay words: orang meaning people and hutan meaning forest) who share 98% of human’s genetic makeup. They are considered extremely intelligent: they have a wide “vocabulary” of sounds for communicating with each other and they create & use tools: leaf umbrellas to keep rain off, leaf cups for drinking water, sticks for obtaining honey from beehives... just to name a few. Studies have shown orangutans are able to grasp abstract concepts - like exchanging “money” for food (source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7797776.stm). Female orangutans typically have their first offspring around 15 or 16 years old, and only have one baby at a time. Baby orangutans stay with their mother for many years (average of 10), nursing for an average of 4 years. They live almost solely in the trees - sleeping, eating, and playing among the branches. It is their low rate of reproduction, and their sole reliance on the rainforests of Indonesia which is making the destruction of said rain forests for palm oil so devastating to these creatures.


    How are these two related?

    In addition to rain forest destruction that is happening in order to create palm plantations, there are other factors, such as ongoing kidnapping of infant orangutans for the illegal pet trade (whose mothers are often killed while defending their babies), orangutan poaching by palm plantation owners, and clear cutting/burning for logging purposes. Orangutans rely on the rain forests to support their life - food, shelter, safety from predators. Without the rain forests, orangutans can’t exist in the wild. They are currently considered critically endangered - estimates suggest if things remain unchanged, they will be the first great ape species to become EXTINCT (some estimates suggest this could happen in less than twenty years).


    Typing this makes me shudder. These loving, feeling, thinking animals - who carry, nurse, and care for their babies for years, are considered one of the most intelligent of the great apes... will no longer live in the wild because of what humans have done, and are continuing to do.


    What can we do about this?

    One school of thought is to boycott all companies that use palm oil, or refusing to buy or use palm oil-containing products is the answer to this crisis. This may certainly lessen the pressure over time on the orangutans by reducing demand, but it may be too simplistic an answer, particularly when palm oil is so ubiquitous.


    Another factor to consider is that many humans lives in the rainforest areas where palm is grown and harvested, have been impacted (positively and negatively) by the increased demand for palm oil. Much of the palm oil produced is grown by smallholders for whom palm production is their ONLY source of income (in Indonesia alone [orangutan’s primary habitat], 4.5 million people earn a living from palm oil). Palm oil produces far more edible oil than any other oil-producing plant and doesn’t require the type of pesticides or herbicides that other vegetable oil crops require (like soy). Reducing demand doesn’t necessarily mean helping people, land, or animals.


    Another line of thinking is that if palm oil can be produced sustainably - by ensuring respectful and responsible treatment of the land and its inhabitants - the destruction of rainforest and speed of climate change can be slowed, while still protecting the livelihood of people. Sustainability efforts also address issues of safe and fair worker treatment (ensuring a living wage, restricting child labor, and exposure to pesticides by pregnant or breastfeeding women).


    The WWF, Oxfam, and Conservation International support a move towards sustainable palm oil production, though some environmental groups, like Greenpeace, say the process of implementing sustainability measures is too slow, and amount to nothing more than greenwashing. The Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO http://www.rspo.org/) has been created to help palm oil producers become certified “sustainable” (this includes adhering to standards for issues such as: fair and safe worker treatment, fertilizer & pesticide use, soil and groundwater condition, waste management, and endangered species conservation) - which can in turn help consumers feel more confident that the palm oil they are purchasing isn’t contributing in as big a way to climate change, habitat destruction, and loss of life.


    In the US, these major brands (http://www.virginiazoo.org/documents/palmOilShoppingGuide-Sept2010.pdf) are RSPO members (though, for other reasons, you may wish not to purchase from these companies… For example, Body Shop still uses parabens in their products, ConAgra uses foods that contain GMOs, Nestle promotes formula use in under-developed countries, and L’Oreal has a spotty record on animal testing):


    Body Shop









    Johnson & Johnson

    Sun Products



    Since starting research, I am left with mixed feelings about palm oil and sustainability. On one hand, I would like to just stop buying it. We don’t need it, there are products out there without it, and there are certainly other oils that can be used in lieu of palm, and if I’m not using it, I’m not contributing to hurting animals, land, and people.


    On the other hand, there are gains to be had by purchasing products that speak to their sustainable production. When you buy something from a company that cares enough to talk about what they are doing and why - when it comes to sustainability and environmentalism - you’re sending a message that you want MORE of that type of behavior, from more companies. I think about where vegetarian/natural/organic options stood over 20 years ago, when I first stopped eating meat, to where they stand now. In the 90’s, I was lucky to find one brand of soy burger in an out-of-the-way health food store. Now, there are several brands, on the shelves in every major grocery store. Even discount grocery stores have some organic offerings. This has happened because people have let companies know they are interested in buying products that are natural, organic, vegetarian. Companies listen when their customers talk.


    For us, since learning about palm oil, we have become much more aware of checking ingredient labels. I do try to avoid palm oil when possible, but when not, I choose only those companies which list their certification or talk about the issue of palm oil prominently on the label. I have written to several companies, asking about the source of their palm oil. Through interest and effort, I believe people can change what’s happening in the world because of palm oil.


    Some organic & natural companies who use sustainably sourced palm oil (as I’ve evidenced clearly on their site, or packaging):


    Dr. Bronner’s

    Earth Mama Angel Baby


    Newman’s Own Organics

    Seventh Generation


    Whole Foods Market (on their website, they pledge to be using only sustainable palm oil in all of their store-brand foods by this year)


    I’m really interested to hear what you think about this issue. Have you previously heard about the concerns surrounding palm oil? Now that you know, will you change the way you buy products? Do you know of any companies I’ve missed in my lists? Thanks for reading & sharing.

    Is it Enough?

    I just watched a doomsday scenario documentary with Adam called Collapse. It compared our current society, and the path we’re on, with other mega cultures that had collapsed in our not-too-distant world history - like the Mayans & the Romans. The documentary touched on nearly every problem the world has currently; from our energy crisis to our financial collapse to our widespread overuse of chemical pesticides & fertilizers and genetically modified seeds to our global water shortage to our involvement in war and escalating violence to our general discounting and disregarding of global warming. The film certainly didn’t paint a pretty picture (nor was it particularly riveting, but, this isn’t a movie review, so I’ll leave it at un-pretty picture). The film left me uneasy, worried, and yet... just a little smug. After all, we recycle our bottles and junk mail. We eat organic foods. We teach our kids to care for the animals and plants of the earth. We practice peaceful parenting. We’re doing okay, I thought. Sure, living a bit further inland and away from the big city centers might be safer. Living on our own land, with a self-sustaining farm could be prudent (not to mention lovely). Driving an electric car, that we could plug into our off-the-grid house, powered by our own solar panels – it’s a nice dream.

    (photo source: icicp.org)

    Feeling slightly less anxious, I trundled up to bed, nose in my iPhone, only to discover that there was major rioting on the streets of London. LONDON for goodness’ sake. Not Baghdad or Mogadishu. London. In Jolly old England. The fact that Morrissey’s old refrain, “Panic on the streets of London. I wonder to myself: Could ever life ever be sane again?” was playing out in real life - just across the ocean - was maybe more unsettling even than the documentary I’d just watched predicting the nearly inevitable collapse of the entire world within the near future. If London was out of control, what was next? Are we headed for collapse, like our distant ancestors? I didn’t sleep soundly last night.


    (photo source: thetelegraph.co.uk)


    This morning, while driving to work (in my gas-powered minivan), I listened to NPR report on the stock market’s continued decline, further UK rioting, and their unfortunately-not-awkward segue increasing problem of flash mob violence in Philadelphia – just a few short miles from my home. I spent the day on my computer, undoubtedly powered, at least in part, by non-renewable resources, and I wondered to myself: is recycling our plastic bottles really enough? Is teaching my children to love the earth, and strive for peace enough? I can’t close my eyes enough to block out everything – not when London is burning in my Tweetstream.


    What can we do? What do you do?