Ebooks are becoming increasingly more ubiquitous as customers buy e-reading devices such as the iPad and Kindle. Advocates for environmentally friendly products may see this as good news, as it means fewer trees are being sacrificed for the production of paper books.
However, e-readers still have to run on electricity, which, unless it comes from a renewable source like solar or wind power, produces carbon dioxide, thus slowly contributing to climate change. Paper books are not without their own carbon footprint, so this all begs the question of which format ends up being more sustainable when you tally up all greenhouse gas emissions.
The answer is complicated. Essentially, the conclusion of most studies on the subject is that the more books you read, the more carbon you save with ebooks. One study detailed by Terrapass.com, however, found that readers would need to read an average of 23 books every year in order for digital books to be more environmentally friendly. That's a very high total for the average reader. Another study, as reported by the New York Times, stated that readers would offset the carbon footprint of switching to e-readers by reading three to four books every month for four years. Again, not an entirely realistic number, even for a bookworm.
As noted by environmental living site SCGH.com, probably the most environmentally responsible way to read would be to walk to the library, borrow a few books at a time, finish them and return them the next time you're in the area. In terms of reducing your carbon footprint, simply sharing already existing materials is a much more efficient method than buying new items, digital or not.
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Two recent stories about community gardens in New York City signal an alarming trend where commercial land development is prioritized over community and public health needs. In one case, a developer razed a community garden in Coney Island that had been around for over 30 years to begin construction on a new concert venue. The garden's participants weren't warned ahead of time about the closure and every plot was destroyed, according to The Gothamist.
In another case, a garden that was used as an educational facility to teach children about horticulture was fenced off, again without notice from the developer. The Children's Magical Garden, located in the Lower East Side, had been the subject of negotiations with city housing authorities, who were hoping to save it from the developer by offering a land swap.
It's unfortunate that urban policy makers haven't done a better job of protecting these community gardens from encroachment, given the benefits they present for public health and the environment. Community gardens provide a source of locally grown and harvested produce for areas that had previously been devoid of it. The plants themselves can help mitigate air pollution that is expelled by cars and trucks in these areas, and given that they are often used to provide educational and employment opportunities in previously derelict areas, they also serve economic purposes as well.
If you live in an urban area that lacks easy access to fresh produce and could use a community garden rather than a new concert hall, we hope you'll get together with other residents to advocate for the creation of more of these invaluable resources. Not only will your neighborhood have a place to buy organic, locally raised fruits and vegetables, you'll also give your community a central institution that brings neighbors together.
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Making New Year's resolutions is sometimes a futile task. We all plan to lose weight once the new year arrives, but then after a few months it becomes clear that working out is just as difficult in February as it was in November. But rather than giving up, try sticking with these green tips in 2014 that will lead to a healthier and environmentally friendly lifestyle:
- Don't drink bottled water: Tap water is cheaper, cleaner and doesn't come in disposable bottles that riddle landfills. Keep reusable drinking containers around and simply refill them rather than purchasing bottled water at a store.
- Eat less meat: The meat industry is an environmental catastrophe. Raising cattle, pigs and chickens requires massive amounts of energy and generates colossal amounts of waste. Antibiotics are overused, which leads to the creation of resistant bacteria strains that could cause an epidemic. If you're not up to the task of becoming a vegetarian, try limiting your meat consumption to once every two weeks and getting your protein needs from plant sources.
- Take the bus: There's simply no reason anyone should make trips of less than two miles with their own vehicle (unless a bus route isn't available). Take public transit for trips where it is feasible, and encourage your friends to do the same. You'll use less gas and your carbon footprint will be much lower.
In fact, all three of these resolutions will be easier to stick with if your friends adopt these changes too, so try making your going green ideas a social activity!
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Unfortunately, many people associate hemp with marijuana, given that the two plants are very similar and the former contains trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive element in the drug. However, hemp itself is not a drug, and it's applications are wide and varied. So it was good news when the California legislature decided to legalize it as an industrial crop in September.
Hemp has been cultivated and used in a variety of ways, including as a base for many food items and even construction materials. The plant has astounding nutritional properties and can serve as an excellent gluten-free, vegan source of protein. In addition, it can be grown sustainably, without the use of environmentally destructive pesticides, according to the San Francisco Bay Guardian.
Despite the fact that it is banned from industrial agriculture, many hemp products are imported from Mexico and Canada. Because it is typically mentioned in the same sentence as marijuana, it still has a way to go before becoming mainstream. Industrial hemp production is still banned at the federal level, so any farmers who choose to grow it in the Golden State could face prosecution by the U.S. Department of Justice.
But recent efforts to legalize pot in states like Massachusetts, Colorado and California have had ancillary benefits for the hemp industry, which is slowly coming out from under the shadow of its less sanctioned cousin. Hopefully, as more Americans are exposed to the benefits of this crop, and the myths surrounding its relationship to marijuana begin to dissipate, these citizens will put pressure on their elected officials to legalize its production.
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A new ban on pesticides in Europe is aimed at slowing the decline of honey bee populations there, and advocates for green ideas are hoping that it will eventually be extended and possibly spread to the United States as well. The ban, which was instituted by the European Commission and covers a class of pesticide known as neonicotinoids, began on December 1 and applies to three specific pesticides – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam – that are believed to cause colony collapse disorder (CCD), an alarming trend in which bee hives all over the world are disappearing.
Why is this trend so worrying? Because bees pollinate many of the world's most abundant crops, and if they disappear or their populations are reduced to a point where they can no longer reliably pollinate these plants, it will almost certainly result in food shortages and skyrocketing prices.
What's even more disconcerting is that, according to the New York Times, these pesticides may also have harmful effects on human health. The European Union is now warning that neonicotinoids, where are derived from nicotine, may have adverse effects on the nervous systems of children.
This begs the question of what can you do to encourage growers to move away from these products, which have disastrous consequences for the environment and public health? The answer is to buy local, organically-grown food items that clearly indicate they were not grown with the assistance of pesticides and other unnatural chemicals that are reshaping ecosystems. It's ultimately a small gesture, but it ensures that your family will have less exposure to these awful substances.
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Recently we discussed the effects of lead on public health, particularly as it relates to violent crime. Something that you may not realize is that although the threat of leaded gasoline has largely been mitigated since it was phased out years ago, there are still consumer goods that could contain the metal, and shoppers should be vigilant about the origin of the products that they purchase.
Two types of goods that you should be careful about buying are jewelry and toys that are made abroad. The reason for this is that the paint process used to give these products their bright colors – particularly orange, red, yellow and green – may involve the use of lead salts. The New York Times reports that use of this substance for creating brightly colored paints dates to the Middle Ages, but only recently has it become clear how disastrous even low levels of lead exposure can be for the nervous system, cardiovascular health and kidneys.
Products such as low-cost purses and apparel sold to teenagers have been found to contain higher levels of lead. Wet Seal, a retailer that caters to these demographic groups, was forced to pay a $10,000 fine by the Center for Environmental Health in Oakland, California, which is tasked with monitoring lead levels in consumer products. The concern with these items is that microscopic particles of paint could scrape off onto the hands of owners and end up in their food and drink.
When shopping for holiday gifts for your family and friends, it is essential that you make sure the items you purchase come from reputable companies who specialize in selling non-toxic products made from naturally-procured alternatives to plastic and other materials. Doing so not only protects the health of your loved ones, but you as well.
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When the City of New York hired William Bratton to be its next Police Commissioner, it wasn't a surprising decision. Bratton presided over a precipitous drop in violent crime when he was police commissioner in Los Angeles from 2002-2009. But is there another explanation for the drop in crime in Los Angeles during Bratton's tenure?
Kevin Drum, a blogger for Mother Jones who focuses on public policy and politics, has been a major proponent of an alternative theory for why the city has seen such a dramatic decrease in violent crime, particularly homicides. As Drum notes, communities all over the country have seen a similar drop in the same period, including New York, Boston and even cities with violent reputations such as Detroit. Obviously, Bratton can't be credited for those trends since he wasn't police commissioner in those areas too.
Drum and other writers have posited another cause: A steep decline in lead exposure among children. Childhood lead exposure peaked in the 60s and 70s, due to the fact that it was used in gasoline to prevent engine "knocking." Once it was determined that lead had disastrous effects on the mental development of children, leaded gasoline was phased out.
What does this have to do with the violent crime rate? Drum believes that the fact that the peak in crime rates (around the early 90s) came roughly 20 years after lead exposure reached its height in the early 70s isn't a coincidence. The theory, which is backed by pretty convincing evidence, is that violent crime rates hit their highs as the generation that was most affected by lead exposure came of age, and declined once those exposure amounts were mitigated.
This isn't to suggest that Bratton isn't qualified for the job. But it does indicate that conventional theories explaining the drop in crime – tougher policing, aggressive community engagement – may bear less responsibility than attempts to improve public health and green living ideas.
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You may have noticed that fans of Sriracha, specifically the kind that is manufactured by Huy Fong Foods, have been pretty depressed lately. That's because makers of the famous "rooster sauce" have been ordered to cease part of their manufacturing operation in Irwindale, California, near Los Angeles. A judge ruled that the spicy smells coming from the plant, which were produced by the crushing and cooking of hot chillis, were posing a public health threat that needed to be stopped.
People in surrounding neighborhoods have been complaining ever since the new plant opened in 2010. Residents of Irwindale have reported experiencing sore throats, increased risk of asthma attacks and heartburn as a result of the fumes emanating from the factory. The massive 68,000 square foot facility produces hot sauce and chili pastes that are popular in Asian cuisine.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert O'Brien was not fully convinced that the symptoms residents were experiencing was directly related to the factory. But he did feel that they had made a strong case that living nearby was, "extremely annoying, irritating and offensive to the senses warranting consideration as a public nuisance," and the company should do more to mitigate the release of the fumes.
It's unclear what the consequences of the decision will be for Huy Fong Foods, which may either need to relocate to another state or retrofit their facility with better containment of the fumes. However, it's important that the court decided in favor of public health.
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Hygiene product manufacturers will now have to prove that products sold with anti-bacterial labeling will actually prevent the spread of bacteria and illness to customers. This was the decision of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who determined after many decades of study that products such as hand soap and body wash sold with these properties don't actually mitigate bacterial growth.
In fact, there is some concern that these products could exacerbate bacterial infections and contribute to the creation of stronger strains of the microbes that are more resistant.
The FDA decided to limit the marketing of anti-bacterial products in part after it found evidence that triclosan and triclocarban – two substances that are often used in these types of soaps – may have caused hormonal problems in lab animals that led to lower sperm counts and earlier puberty.
"Millions of Americans use antibacterial hand soap and body wash products," the FDA said in a statement on its website. "Although consumers generally view these products as effective tools to help prevent the spread of germs, there is currently no evidence that they are any more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water."
If companies are unable to prove that their soap products actually meet the requirements to be marketed as "anti-bacterial," they'll need to be reformulated, removed from store shelves or repackaged without such labeling.
The development of new bacterial strains that are more resistant to current antibiotic formulae is a major concern for advocates of eco friendly products. The fear is that overuse of these medications in both humans and livestock could lead to an epidemic of "super" bacteria that simply can't be stopped with normal medicine.
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The European Food Safety Authority (ESFA) issued a ruling on December 11 declaring aspartame, the artificial sweetener used to make Diet Coke and other zero-calorie products, is safe for consumption. After conducting a thorough study of over 200 different scientific papers examining the question of whether the substance can cause cancer and other health problems, the ESFA determined that it could find no conclusive evidence that aspartame posed a significant threat, according to WebMD.
They're not the only institution to rule the artificial sweetener safe. The American Cancer Society (ACS) also has found that there is no reason to believe that aspartame is less safe than any other food item, considering that it breaks down into three compounds – phenylalanine, methanol, and aspartic acid – that are found in other foods. The lone exceptions that the EFSA, ACS and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration list on their websites are patients with phenylketonuria, who cannot digest phenylalanine.
But these are arguments that we've all heard before. Various medical associations and researchers have all claimed that aspartame is in fact a safe product to consume, but at the same time there continue to be reports that this substance causes substantial neurological disorders and has carcinogenic properties. Whole websites are dedicated to proving that it can be a harmful toxin when consumed in mass quantities.
So who is right? It depends largely on where you tend to place scientific authority. There are legitimate concerns among environmentalists and public health advocates that governmental health institutions are corrupted by corporations who want their products to receive the blessing of doctors so that they can be sold as "healthy" items. If you're concerned about the impartiality of studies demonstrating the safety of aspartame, you may want to consider switching to an all-natural substitute like Stevia, which is now available at most grocery stores. Or you can avoid soda entirely and stick with naturally-sweetened foods and beverages.
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