Monthly Archives: August 2013

Seeing is believing: GHGs

My husband will tell you I’m a verbal processor. I need to say things out loud, or keep rambling, until I figure out what I mean. But that’s not important today. Today what’s important is that I’m also a visual learner. I love to climb cooling towers to see what those giant fans look like, see the reverse osmosis water filtration system in action at a paper plant, and see for myself where the compost goes in San Francisco.

One thing that’s tough to see: Greenhouse Gases (GHGs). Quick science lesson to make sure we all actually know what those are (because I guarantee you’ve said GHG but might still be a bit fuzzy). We’re talking gas in the atmosphere that absorbs and emits radiation in the thermal infrared range. Basically these fuckers trap in the sun’s heat and greatly affect the temperature on Earth. They don’t however prevent the solar heat from coming IN.  Solar radiation comes towards the earth and: a small portion is reflected back to space by the clouds (~20%), a large portion portion is absorbed into the earth (~50%), and the remaining bit hits the earth and bounces back towards space. GHGs then capture this heat as it bounces back towards space. The good news is, without them, it’d be super cold so we need them.

GHGs

You may be saying I already knew that, BUT did you know that water vapor (yes good ol H2O) was the most abundant? I know right! The ones we typically focus on (because they’re the ones that we put into the atmosphere in droves) are carbon dioxide and methane (cow farts!). Which brings me to the bad news. Since the Industrial Revolution burning of our beloved fossil fuels has contributed to a 40% increase in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere from 280 to 397 parts-per-million (ppm) today- and it’s the concentration that screws us because it means more molecules out there to trap more heat in. Check out 350.org to learn more about why the Earth should only be at 350ppm/why we’re screwed.

Just so we’re all on the same page – global warming isn’t up for debate (scientific fact). GHGs contributing to global warming isn’t up for debate (scientific fact). What is still debated (scientist consensus is ‘very likely’ but not fact) is whether humans are causing climate change (anthropogenic climate change if you want to be fancy). Decide for yourself. Here’s a graph from NASA (you’ve heard of them right?) that shows global temp going way way back. My feelings align with the scientific community: we’re definitely causing it and need to cut the shit.

proxy-based_temperature_reconstruction

So back to visual learning (told you, verbal processor). I came across this great visual that shows us what GHGs would look like if we could see them on the street. In 2010 New York City added 54 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (equivalent) into the atmosphere. The team at Carbon Visuals made a two minute video of what this would look like (1 ton of CO2 would fill a sphere 33 feet across). Click on the first image to watch the 2 minute film or check out these pics:

What the amount of GHG emissions produced in NYC in ONE DAY looks like:

1 days of NYC emissions

What the amount of GHG emissions produced in NYC in ONE YEAR looks like:

1 year GHG NYC emissions1 year of NYC emissions - 54mil metric tons

Of course we can see the effects of the GHGs we’re releasing (like woah) into the air – increased number and severeness of forest fires, hurricanes, tornados, tropical storms, floods; breathing anywhere in China/India; and the Maldives disappearing just to name a few…

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Where have all the cowboys gone?

My last post about Naked Juice’s $9 mil settlement for false advertising (WTF #1) got me thinking about the brands truly pioneering sustainable products and how a lot of them are no more. These cowboys have mostly been purchased by larger (mostly terrible) companies that change the products, change the ingredients, and change the supply chains all under the guise of reaching the masses. I have no snobbery around my favorite eco-products being offered at Wal-Mart (I have snobbery around not stepping foot in a Wal-Mart but that’s for another day). I actually LOVE the idea of more people being able to buy the products I love and use. More people making conscious choices. Which in theory should add up to more trees saved, less GHGs put into the air, better labor conditions, right?! Unfortunately the reality isn’t quite that rosy.

Since I’m lactose-free soy is part of my diet. When Silk Soymilk was taken over by megatron Dean Foods, they began to use conventional soybeans instead of organic ones WITHOUT CHANGING THE PACKAGING. WTF #2. The same Dean Foods also bought Horizon (what was great organic milk) and now they are being sued by farmers and the Cornucopia Institute for selling fake organic milk, and investigated by the Justice Department. WTF #3.

Colgate-Palmolive bought my beloved Tom’s and surprise surprise they now have an antiperspirant for the first time that contains aluminum (the debated ingredient that may be linked to breast cancer or may just be a lot of chemical to roll up onto your delicate parts). Oh and their mouthwash contains a ‘natural’ ingredient derived from gas and oil, Poloxamer 335 & 407. WTF #4. But they are actually one of the companies doing it the best. While their recent switch to (non-recyclable) plastic toothpaste tubes sent hippies up in arms, they transparently listed customer feedback as the reason for the switch (the aluminum tubes cracked/split apparently) and put a band-aid on the recycling problem by letting you ship them to Maine, where they’ll ship them to Illinois to be made into other plastics. But will you do that? Will I? At least they ditched the cardboard tube box!

Other notable cowboy losses since 2000 include: Burt’s Bees now part of the Clorox manufacturing machine, L’Oreal owns my new favorite The Body Shop, Unilever owns Ben & Jerrys, Coke owns Odwalla and Honest Tea, Danone owns Stoneyfield Farm and Brown Cow, Kellogg owns Kashi, General Mills owns Cascadian Farm, Larabar, and Food Should Taste Good, and Schwepps owns Green & Black Organic Chocolate (this one I was surprised about!). Do you know of others?

Check out the infographic below to see Michigan State’s mapping of where our organic brands really come from and do you own research to see if the products have changed, as the packaging likely hasn’t.

Meanwhile, I’m keeping a desperate hold on to my few remaining favorites Amy’s, Arrowhead Mills, Nature’s Path, and Organic Valley.

Michigan State Organic Industry Structure

Michigan State Organic Industry Structure

Smoothies with a side of Toxin

naked juiceIf you haven’t yet heard (and you might not have since Pepsi is working very hard to keep this quiet), Naked Juice (which they own) was sued for falsely claiming to be “All Natural” and incorrectly marketing their juices and smoothies. This week Naked/Pepsi settled for $9 million and agreed to remove the “All Natural” labels from its products.

Let’s look at what actually is in these claimed-to-be “All Natural Products”:

  • Fibersol-2 – an engineered soluble corn fiber that acts as a low-calorie bulking agent
  • Fructooligosaccharides – an alternative sweetener which comes from fruits and veggies but then is processed to make a commercial mixture. It ‘seems to be safe when taken in less than 30 grams per day, can cause intestinal gas, intestinal noises, bloating, stomach cramps, and diarrhea’ but ‘these effects are usually mild if the dose is less than 10 grams per day’ Great.
  • Calcium pantothenate -a synthetically produced vitamin made by condensing isobutyraldehyde with formaldehyde. FORMALDEHYDE! Also found in skin/hair products..yum.
  • Genetically-modified soy – shocker that Pepsi contributed $2.5 million to defeat Cali’s GMO labeling Prop 37

There are more. These ingredients (obviously) do not exist in nature so Naked was called out for being the liar that they are. Way to go USA consumers – let’s hope this kicks off more thought, interest, and inquiry on accurate labeling.

‘Transparency is not a choice. It’s gonna happen, the only choice is does it happen to you or do you participate in it’..  Alex Bogusky

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