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Archive for the ‘Side Salads’ Category

For those of you who aren’t in DC these days, or weren’t this past week, I advise you: stay away. There are interns, and it is really, really unpleasantly hot outside.  Summer is officially here.

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And his interns. JUST KIDDING, guys. I love everyone!

OK, so in reality, I love DC summers.  DC summers mean biking to work every day, rooftop bars,  backyard barbecues and balcony barbecues, poolside brunches, Jazz in the Garden, outdoor movies, and, you get the idea. It’s summer, and we’re going outside, damnit!

Which is great, except if you’re like me and your family history includes every single form of skin cancer known to mankind, and probably a few that they just haven’t discovered yet.  Enter sunscreen, that wonderful stuff that you use to give yourself a sunburn in the shape of a smiley face while preventing wrinkles, cancer, and unhappy moments when your friend tries to give you a hug the day you get back from your beach vacation.

I will admit openly that I’m not always an eco-products-exclusive consumer when it comes to beauty & skin care.  This, according to some sources, is putting vanity before health.  Anything that you put on your skin can be absorbed into the bloodstream, and while it’s very low-dose, the long term risks of that low-dose exposure might be worth worrying about.  I don’t know for certain- I’m not a doctor or a public health professional. But, some product types are worse than others in terms of containing potentially harmful and unregulated chemicals, and unfortunately, there are people who think sunscreen belongs on the no-no list. Concerns have been raised about whether we’re doing ourselves more harm than good – not to mention the fact that sunscreen isn’t the best thing for mother Earth when it runs down the drain or when we throw the tube away.  Sunscreens have even been named as a cause of coal bleaching when snorkelers or divers use them underwater.  Yikes.

So what’s a sun-worshiping girl (or guy) to do? The Environmental Working Group (EWG) runs a site called Skin Deep that ranks beauty and skin care products based on chemicals they contain and potential health risks.  Their section on sunscreen has been updated for summer, and has some articles where you can learn about the risks and weigh them yourself. But, if you want to cut right to the chase, you can always invest in an eco-friendly brand.  Many cost more than conventional sunscreens (sorry), but have been tested and shown to be effective and friendly for your skin and for the Earth.

According to justlivegreener.com, an eco-blog, Badger brand came out on top, followed by California Baby, Loving Naturals, and Purple Prairie BotanicalsEcoSalon has a list as well, topped by Kimberly Sayer brand, Cucumber Face by Coola, Korres, and Aveda. The reviews for each contain some more detail about which ones are fully organic and which are not, what they smell like (important to some), and how they performed for testers.

For more information and/or reviews, some more resource are below:

– WiseGeek on what is green sunscreen

– A Grist rundown of environmentally friendly sunblock

TheChicEcologist on ecofriendly skin care

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If you’re wondering what the Russian government is capable of — as we are, all the time, around here — behold this image. This is the highest resolution photo of earth ever taken. It’s 121 megapixels, snapped 22,369 miles above planet. And it’s ONE PHOTO, unlike other images of earth, which are usually composites of many pictures.

There’s an interactive version here, where you can zoom in or out. We also noticed that if you stare directly at the center of the globe in this photo, it appears to move ever-so-slightly.

One point worth noting: The camera used special high resolution infrared technology, which shows a rust color over some of the land mass. That’s not an accident. The color is meant to show areas where there used to be lush vegetation. And now there isn’t.

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Recently, I read a news article that called the Chevy Volt one of “America’s top 12 damaged brands,” citing the January recall of nearly 8,000 vehicles as the cause of irrevocable damage to the brand- and to the idea of an electric car ever being a mainstream reality.  Between the demise of Solyndra and the Volt’s unfortunate issues, it hasn’t been a great PR year for energy innovation.

Most of the time, objections to new and more environmentally friendly technologies, they’re variations of the same tune: that’s a clever idea, but it won’t really work.  There’s always an “expert” saying a new technology has fatal flaws, that it’s not cost – effective, or that it simply won’t ever be ready for the real world and the “free” market.  The cost of production is too high, and the payoff is too small.

There’s lots of folks out there who say we’ve been working on renewable energy for so long, that quite frankly,they’re an impossible fantasy. Here’s some food for thought on the subject of “what the experts have to say about your great new idea.”

Consider the following quotation, taken from the U.S. Congressional Record, 1875:

“The dangers are obvious. Stores of gasoline in the hands of people interested primarily in profit would constitute a fire and explosive hazard of the first rank. Horseless carriages propelled by gasoline might attain speeds of 14 or even 20 miles per hour. The menace to our people of vehicles of this type hurtling through our streets and along our roads and poisoning the atmosphere would call for prompt legislative action even if the military and economic implications were not so overwhelming… [T]he cost of producing [gasoline] is far beyond the financial capacity of private industry… In addition the development of this new power may displace the use of horses, which would wreck our agriculture.”

(As you can see, Congress has ALWAYS been super forward thinking.)

Or take this example, from an internal memo circulated at Western Union in 1878:

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a practical form of communication.  The device is inherently of no value to us. ”

And, if you’re still not convinced, here’s whatScientific Americanhad to say about the automobile on January 2, 1909:

“That the automobile has practically reached the limit of its development is suggested by the fact that during the past year no improvements of a radical nature have been introduced.”

Hasn't changed a bit!

Also to be found on the distinguished list of innovations that were called impossible by the experts? Personal computers, cellular telephones, anesthesia, heart transplant surgeries, high speed trains, steam-powered ships, nuclear power, airplanes, and electricity.

Just sayin’.

 

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We’re such a mixed bag here at SpinachHQ: one day, we’re talking about multimillion dollar corporations and energy subsidies.  The next, we’re talking about….toothbrushes? Yup.

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We love spinach, but it might be time to brush.....

After my post about all the plastics that we consume – and don’t recycle – I was chatting with an awesome friend (hi, Emily!!) who told me about this sweet toothbrush that she just got.  OK, so it’s not really the toothbrush itself that’s sweet, but the company.  I’m not actually doing a promotion here – seriously – but I think this business model (and overall philosophy) is really innovative and really nifty, so I thought I’d talk about it a bit.  Plus, after my anti-plastic rant, I can’t leave everyone without some suggestions, right?

Have you ever noticed that your plastics are numbered?  And certain numbers can be recycled, while certain ones can’t?  Well, one company did.  Preserve Products specializes in plastic products for your house that are made entirely of recycled #5 plastic – the kind that most municipalities won’t accept. From often-these rejected plastics, they make toothbrushes, razors, kitchen goods, plates, bowls, and other stuff for around your house.

They don’t just churn out products, either.  (This is the really cool part.)  When you buy a toothbrush (or razor) from preserve, you get a “mail back pack” so that you can send your old one back to them – and they’ll re-use the plastic.  There are also drop-off locations where they accept used Preserve products, #5 plastics, and….Brita filters.  Yup.  According to the website, the drop off locations are at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and probably a bunch of other hippie stores.  Best of all, even if you don’t live near one of those stores (or want to go into one – hey, to each their own) you can actually just box up your #5 plastics and mail them to Preserve, who will send you a thank-you card and turn them into household goods.  It’s easy, it’s simple, and unlike with municipal recycling, you know for sure that your used plastic is going to be taken care of in a responsible way.  Best of all, it’s really a two-way street here – the company depends on customer buy-in and isn’t just slapping the words “green and natural” on their label.  Think about how many toothbrushes – and how many OTHER household items – could be kept out of landfills if there were more companies like this out there.

So: I’m not saying you should all rush out and buy a Preserve toothbrush.  (Although, I certainly might next time I go to replace mine!) But it’s great to see new – and better – ways to do things really put into practice.  Let’s hope that more companies start to get on board with this kind of thinking.

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As we approach the two year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon BP Oil Spill and as the war on the Keystone XL pipeline wages on, we are reminded of the actual and potential damage of chemical spills.

Not something we'd really like to witness.

The question is: How frequent are chemical spills?  These two scenarios, Deepwater and Keystone XL, represent two extremes—the worst-case scenario and a hypothetical.  To provide some middle ground perspective, I’d like to share with you data from a study conducted in Southern Ontario.

Yes.  I am aware Ontario is in Canada (though I have never visited our neighbor to the north).  So yes, it’s not perfectly applicable to the U.S.; however, it is still a notable longitudinal study that paints a realistic (and by that I mean not driven by the media) picture about chemical spills, particularly in energy-intensive regions.  Really, it’s not like Canada is the Galapagos Islands.

Of course, I wouldn't mind being in the Galapagos...

Researchers in Ontario collected data on spills covering the period 1988 to 2007.  What they found might shock you a bit.  Over this time period:

  • A total of 14,174 chemical spills occurred.  This averages out to 709 spills a year or 2 spills each day.
  • Spills most frequently resulted from: (1) Pipe/hose leaks; (2) Fuel tank/barrel leaks; (3) Process set up; and (4) Discharge/bypass to water course.
  • The sector most responsible for spills was the industrial sector (44.9%).  Within the industrial sector, the biggest contributors were (in order): metallurgy, chemical, and general manufacturing.
  • These spills have a wide range of environmental impacts, including surface water contamination, soil contamination, air pollution, and multi-media contamination.

These stats paint a good picture about the nature of spills, especially those that aren’t making headlines in the news (like Deepwater).  What is most frightening is to learn that of these spills, only 10 percent were cleaned up entirely.  Perhaps this is because most large cities in Canada do not have a spill management plan.  So whether it’s no plan or an outdated plan, seems like there needs to be some plan action going on in the world of chemicals spills—unless of course we want to enjoy ourselves a good dose of cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene.

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Yesterday, I attend Vanderbilt Law School and the Environmental Law Institute’s Annual Environmental Law and Policy Review Conference (ELPAR).  The conference focused on three topic areas and while all were interesting in their own right, one raised a very valid question that I now would like to raise to you in the hope that you will supply your own thoughts.

Professor Jonathan Adler of Case Western University’s School of Law (not Jonathan Alter for you political junkies and not that Jonathan Adler for you fasionistas) in a forthcoming paper will argue that one of the best ways for the federal government to find solutions to our energy needs and climate change is not through the traditional federal grant process, but rather by creating prize competitions.  He makes a fascinating case for this line of reasoning.

Oooh. Ahhh. I want shiny.

The overarching argument is that prize competitions produce proven winners.  This may sound like a strong bashing of grants, but it’s not meant that way.  The grant process has produced plenty of innovative ideas—Google being just one of those many ideas (no, I’m not lying.  Larry Page was awarded an NSF Graduate Student Research Fellowship that brought forth the birth of Google.)  This said, the grant process begins with a call for proposals to ideas to the table for consideration.  The most promising submissions, after undergoing some intense scrutiny, receive grant money to carry out research that may or may not produce the intend result.  That is the point, friends.  We provide money in the hope that the proposal yields the desired outcome.  Yet, at the end of the day, the idea is untested.  Boiled down: the wonderful, glorious idea may fail.

It pains me to bring this point up, and while it’s not entirely relevant as it was a loan, a point was raised about Solyndra, the infamous solar company that went bust after receiving a DOE loan guarantee.  Had Solyndra instead competed as part of a larger pool for a prize, perhaps this prickly pear could have been pinned on our bad economy and not the government.  Again, not a perfect parallel because loans are subject to a different set of scrutiny, but it’s still food for thought.

 

Even Dan's been known to be a prickly pear from time to time.

On this note, for those of you skeptical that government has your best intentions in mind/suspect that grants are a form of cronyism, prize structures can assuage some of your concerns by, again, awarding money to the idea that works the best in reality and not on paper.  This bypasses favoritism and friendship between grant seeker and grant awarder.

Prizes can also induce involvement from the private sector.  This example is readily apparent in looking somewhat outside the climate box to our nation’s space agency, NASA.  In this time of fiscal restraint, NASA has increasingly involved commercial companies in their projects and design competitions.  Evidence abounds in just the press release section of their website.  As for the world of energy and climate, since carbon does currently have a price sticker associated with it, privates have no real reason—other than good moral ethics and common sense, so perhaps economical is a better word than real—to fund solutions to carbon emissions.

Another point is that prizes resemble an incentive process that has produce many of our best ideas through the protection it provides.  This process is none other than our patent system.  The first to file structure (a new change from the first to invent structure thanks to the America Invents Act passed by Congress and signed into law last year) rewards those who provide a good idea and also prove that it works.

Timothy Brennan, a professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and frequent contributor to Resources for the Future (RFF), in his comments on Adler’s paper provided additional strength to Adler’s argument. A prize structure, he argued, allows for a more flexible contest design where not just the winners are rewarded, but perhaps the second and third place designs also win a prize.  Whatever the winning project may be, it has to meet a specified set of criteria.  And then of course, unlike the patent system, the prize idea can become property of the U.S. government where it can be sold at a marginal cost instead of the maximum cost (as would likely be the case if it remained in a private individual or company’s hands, unless they weren’t seeking to maximize profits).

While not necessarily countering his assertions, Brennan did point out the fact that those looking to prizes as a way to avoid centralized bureaucracy would be sorely mistaken to do so.  The desired criteria and winners are decided still decided by the government.  He also affirmed that the peer-review process is strong, and so his commentary wasn’t necessarily a knock on that process.  Furthermore, none of this is to say prizes are the solution to finding solutions.  There is also the thorn in every project’s design, regardless of how it’s brought about: bringing the project to commercial scale.  But, perhaps that could be made a criteria point for determining a winner.

As someone who recognizes the fiscal predicament enrapturing our country and many other governments the world over, I feel the need to conclude this list of arguments by noting the benefits of a prize structure in times of fiscal restraint.  As I’ve said already, the winners are the ones that get funded.  Sp we reduce payouts to projects that can’t quite make it across the finish line.  If you’re feeling sorry for the losers, Tom Petty has some lyrics for ya.

So how does this apply to the fine world of nutritious and delicious greens?  The whole point was that in the world of energy and climate change, we have a very specific goal in mind with certain criteria that need to be met (keeping temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, minimizing seal level rise, reaching 100 miles per gallon of gas, you list name it).  Instead of awarding grants, why not try to harness America’s competitive nature and create a prize competition?  Of course, the competition has to be reasonable; sadly, no one is going to make greenhouse gases disappear tomorrow.  But, we could try to create (or revive) competitions to create solar-powered car designs, longer lasting batteries, or even more ambitious things like effective nuclear waste storage cases and better waste pool liners.  Think of the possibilities….

You'd certainly be one of a kind in this ride.

On that note, be sure to share in the comment section.

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First, a warm and hearty congratulations to all who participated in today’s Cherry Blossom runs!  While there were few cherry blossoms to be seen (fault the lack of winter for that one) and the race really should have been a week earlier, the race organizers did something worthy of a shout out.

While I have never participated in this race until this year, I have participated in a good number across the country.   Normally when I trek on over to the race expo to pick up my bib number, I am pelted with coupons for this and flyers for that.  My bag of goodies is just nasty.

Seriously, what am I going to do with all this crap?

This is the first race to put forth an ecofriendly organization effort.  What do I mean by ecofriendly?  In addition to setting up proper recycling bins (believe it or not, this is not always the case), I was sent a “virtual” goodie bag.  So instead of getting those eight thousand handouts, I received this lovely item in my inbox:

Your Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run
and 5K Run-Walk Virtual Goodie Bag

Dear Credit Union Cherry Blossom Entrant:As the excitement and anticipation build for the race, now just one week away, we are pleased to provide you with our new “Virtual Goodie Bag.” This is our second year of providing our runners and volunteers the link to our Igift Bag. Initially we knew that the Virtual Goodie Bag would help in our race greening initiative by eliminating over 100,000 sheets of paper that had been stuffed into our conventional Goodie Bags. However we soon discovered that the Virtual Goodie Bag provides a much richer interactive environment for special offers from our vendors. Enjoy!

Sincerely,

The Credit Union Cherry Blossom Organizing Committee

Serious props—to both the runners and to the Credit Union.  I’d recommend other race organizers take a cue, cut printing costs, and be friendly to our environment with a similar virtual goodie bag.

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