Category Archives: Green Living

Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink

I moved to San Francisco six months ago and my umbrella hasn’t left its dusty sleeve yet. Scientists and politicians, everyone agrees. California is in deep trouble. We enter the fourth year of drought and the soil has never been drier. Some look at the sky with hope that El Niño will bring much needed rain. But most are starting to wonder if  this is just the beginning. Are we entering a mega-drought that could last for more than a decade?

Map of California Drought

California Drought Monitor

Agriculture, one of California’s strongest pillars has taken the biggest hit. The Drought will cost at least $2.2 billion in agricultural losses this year. Fields of dead almond trees and dried-out crops are a common sight in central California these days. Central Valley towns are also growing desperate. Many have been forced to install porta-potties in their backyards or even steal water from fire hydrants.

Dead Almond Trees

Dead Almond Trees near Ripon, CA

But even if everyone knows about how dangerous a drought can be, and despite the tremendous efforts for saving water, most Californians are still not aware of the magnitude of the problem.

Many believe that the drought can’t be that bad if water still comes out of everyone’s tap, right?

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park enjoys a vast sprinkler system necessary to keep it alive. But the park’s green grass is nothing more than a mirage.

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Sprinkler system in Golden Gate Park

We are borrowing most of this water; either from neighboring states or depleting ground water reservoirs. This will come back to get us. Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources, told the Time that our current ground water withdrawal levels are so dangerous that “We are essentially borrowing on tomorrow’s future. We’ll pay that price over time”.

A recent study headed by climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University linked the drought with human-made global warming and climate change. The paper concludes that “extreme atmospheric high pressure in this region-which is strongly linked to unusually low precipitation in California-is much more likely to occur today than prior to the emission of greenhouse gases that began during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s”.

Diffenbaugh and his colleagues used computer simulations and statistical analysis to show that “a persistent region of high atmospheric pressure over the Pacific Ocean–one that diverted storms away from California–was much more likely to form in the presence of modern greenhouse gas concentrations”.

Mega-droughts are what Cornell University scientist Toby Ault calls the “great white sharks of climate: powerful, dangerous and hard to detect before it’s too late. Ault call mega-droughts “a threat to civilization”.

University of Arizona climate scientist Gregg Garfin said that “If California suffered something like a multi-decade drought, the best-case scenario would be some combination of conservation, technological improvements (such as desalinization plants), multi-state cooperation on the drought, economic-based water transfers from agriculture to urban areas and other things like that to get humans through the drought”.

Ault said that “For the Southwestern U.S., I’m not optimistic about avoiding real mega-droughts. As we add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere -and we haven’t put the brakes on stopping this – we are weighting the dice for mega-drought conditions”.

Ault said that mega-droughts could possibly be the worst threat to a civilization, even worse than anything experienced by any humans who have lived in that part of the world for the last few thousand years.

If we continue on this path, California might be headed for a drought-induced collapse.

California Central Valley

California Central Valley

What can the state of California do to prepare?

First, we must reduce our carbon emissions and try to reverse climate change. And while water conservation is important, it won’t be enough. We must invest in new technologies like water desalinization plants. It’s the only way to prepare for what’s likely to come.

The county’s largest water desalination plant is being built in San Diego. It’s expected to provide clean water to its residents by 2016. Some argue that the plant’s $1 billion price tag is to high, and that its technology is not advanced enough to be cost efficient.

But there are many companies out there perfecting water desalination technologies, and one that stands out is WaterFX.

WaterFX states in their website that “Unlike conventional desalination, which uses a high-pressure reverse osmosis  that forces salt and other solids through a membrane, WaterFX cleans water with a special Concentrated Solar Still. Solar thermal energy is used to evaporate and distill water at 30 times the efficiency of natural evaporation”.

 WaterFX’s test facility is successfully producing up to 14,000 gallons of fresh water a day. Plans are now under way to expand the demonstration project, which will push up its capacity to 65,000 gallons a day over the same 6,500 sq ft area.

Mandell insists that the technology promises to become more price-competitive as production increases. “If 70% of your cost is fuel production for traditional desalination and you want to scale up, the cost goes up significantly, unlike solar desalination,” he says.

With no rain, depleted reservoirs and dried up ground water wells, the only place left for California to look for water is the ocean.

 

Sources:

http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=132709&WT.mc_id=USNSF_52&WT.mc_ev=click

http://online.wsj.com/articles/drought-will-cost-california-2-2-billion-in-losses-costs-this-year-1405452120

http://www.weather.com/news/drought/california-wells-dry-drought-20140922

http://www.usatoday.com/story/weather/2014/09/02/california-megadrought/14446195/

http://carlsbaddesal.com/

http://www.mercurynews.com/science/ci_25859513/nations-largest-ocean-desalination-plant-goes-up-near

http://www.sfgate.com/science/article/California-drought-Solar-desalination-plant-5326024.php

http://waterfx.co/

The Nastiest 10 Food Additives: How to find and avoid them.

Dangerous food additives are increasingly sneaking into our favorite foods.

We must automatically look at the ingredient lists of our everyday products and understand what they all mean. In most countries food preservatives are still coded (E-number) and people have no clue of what they are eating.

If any of the following 10 nasty preservatives shows up in the ingredient list of a product you regularly consume, leave it on the supermarket shelf and look for a safer alternative.

These nasty 10 have been linked to cancer and other severe health problems:

 

1-Sodium Nitrate/Nitrite

E-250 to E-252

Used to stabilize food color and add  artificial flavor.

It is found in many products such as meats, ham, bacon, sausages, hamburgers, smoked fish, etc.

When grilled it’s even more dangerous -it transforms into a reactive compound that has been directly linked to cancer.

ham_01

2-Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

E-621

A very common flavor enhancer used in a wide range of foods. It adds a meaty salty flavor to many processed foods and is commonly used in meats, soups, sauces, dressings, potato chips, frozen foods, etc.

It has been linked to brain damage, asthma, headaches, stomach disorders, fatigue, depression, and obesity among others health problems.

 

3-Aspartame

E-951

Artificial sweetener found in “diet” products, low-calorie desserts, gelatin, drinks, etc.

Also known as Nutrasweet or Equal in the U.S.

Studies have shown that lifelong consumption may increase risk of cancer or other neurological problems.

 

4-Food Colorings: Blue 1, 2; Red 2, 3; Green 3; Yellow 6

These colorings are found in thousands of products, and they have all been linked to cancer.

Some examples of Blue 1 and 2 are found in beverages, baked goods, candy etc and it has been found to cause cancer in mice.

Red 2 and 3 are widely used, some examples are to dye cherries, fruit juice, candy, baked goods and have been linked to thyroid tumors.

And the widely used yellow 6 (eg.beverages, gelatin, breads, baked goods,sausage, candy, etc) has been linked to tumors of the adrenal grand and the kidney.

gummy_bears

 

5.Potassium Bromate

E-924

It’s very common in industrial breads, white flour, and rolls to add volume to baked goods. Most bromate breaks down into a harmless form, however, small amounts can create a risk for people. California now requires a cancer warning on products with this ingredient.

pandemolde

6.Propyl Gallate

E-310

It prevents fats and oils from going bad and it’s found in many products, such as meats, soups, gums, etc.

It has been linked to cancer and you should avoid it.

 

7.BHA and BHT

E-320 and E-321

Butylated Hydoxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydozyttoluene (BHT) are used to prevent foods from oxidizing and keeping fats and oils from going rancid. They are found in countless products such as dry cereals, potato chips, vegetable oils, etc.

They have been linked to cancer in numerous studies.

 

8.Olestra

Olestra is Procter & Gamble’s synthetic fat that is not absorbed as it passes through the digestive system, so it has no calories. It’s found in chips and diet foods/beverages.
Olestra can cause diarrhea, loose stools, abdominal cramps, flatulence, and other adverse effects. Those symptoms are sometimes severe. Even more importantly, olestra reduces the body’s ability to absorb fat-soluble carotenoids from fruits and vegetables.

 

9. Acesulfame-K

E-950

Found in baked goods, chewing gum, and gelatin desserts.
It’s a new additive and there aren’t  many studies to confirm its safety, if possible try to avoid it.

 

10. Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils

Found in margarine, crackers, fried restaurant foods, baked goods, icing, microwave popcorn, etc.

Vegetable oil (liquid), can be made into a semi-solid form by reacting it with hydrogen. Partial hydrogenation reduces the levels of polyunsaturated oils – and also creates trans fats, which promote heart disease.

Harvard School of Public Health has issued a warning regarding the consumption of margarine, snack foods and other foods containing hydrogenated oils.

If you don’t eat butter, there are some alternatives to hydrogenated margarine, my favorite is Earth Balance.

The Genetically Modified “Frankenfish” Salmon soon in a plate near you

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has partially approved the AquAdvantage Salmon, a genetically engineered salmon that grows twice as fast as normal. The FDA states that the GM salmon is “safe and unlikely to harm the health of the consumers or the environment.”

The AquaAdvantage salmon has been developed by AquaBounty a biotech company based in Waltham, Massachusetts. Their GM salmons have an added growth hormone from the Pacific Chinook salmon and a promoter gene from an ocean pout that allows the fish to produce growth hormone all year long instead of only during the Spring and Summer months. The fish grows to market size in 16 to 18 months rather than three years.

Genetically modified Salmon next to normal Atlantic salmon

Genetically modified Salmon next to normal Atlantic salmon

Aquabounty has reassured this salmon is safe for consumption and poses no threat to the environment as they intend to only develop sterile females.

Environmental and advocacy organizations such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth or Food and Water Watch oppose what they call the “Frankenfish”. They are concerned that it could cause human allergies and the eventual contamination or decimation of the natural salmon population if it escapes and breeds in the wild.

The Monterey Aquarium revealed that current methods used to produce sterile fish are less than 99% accurate. That would mean that one fish in every hundred would not be sterile and could be reproductively viable. Another concern is that production of GE salmon, even in its early stages, is likely to involve the production, shipping and growing of hundreds of thousands of eggs and fish which could also be accidentally released into the wild.

 According to its opponents, the escape of reproductively viable GE salmon into the wild is very likely to occur. If this were to happen, the consequences are very hard to predict.

 Another unsettling aspect of the commercialization of the modified salmon is that consumers would not necessarily know how to distinguish it from regular farm raised salmon. Labeling of GM foods is not required by federal law, so consumers would not know how to spot the modified salmon in their grocery stores or restaurant menu.

 If the AquaAdvantage salmon is finally approved, it would be the first genetically modified animal approved for food consumption anywhere in the world.

The FDA has opened its report for public comment and will review the situation before making a final decision. The consultation will finalize at the end of February 2013, so now its the time for the public to state any concerns here.

 

Is your skin clean? Toxic Cosmetic Ingredients you should avoid

Our skin is the largest organ in our bodies and everything we put on it gets absorbed within seconds, including toxins.

Sze Fei Wong/Istock

Sze Fei Wong/Istock

We are constantly bombarded to use the latest shampoo if we want to have voluminous and shiny hair, fragrant deodorant to attract the ladies or gents, or creams that will make our skin “healthy” and clear.

We buy all these products thinking they are “good” for us and apply them daily, trusting that the long and unpronounceable list of ingredients are not hiding anything that could potentially harm us.

But, do you really know what is your soap, shampoo, moisturizer, makeup, deodorant and lipstick? Do you know what you are applying to your body daily?

Let’s take a look at some of the most common and potentially dangerous ingredients that are hiding in our everyday personal care products:

1- Parabens (Methyl, Propyl, Butyl and Ethyl Paraben):

Parabens are one of the most common cosmetic preservatives, they are used to inhibit microbial growth and extend shelf life. Unfortunately it can cause skin rashes, and most importantly, it has been found in great concentrations in human breast tumors. There are no studies yet that confirm that parabens can cause cancer. But the fact that some cosmetic firms are stopping the use of this ingredient and labeling their products “pareben free” makes me want to get very far away from them.

2-Synthetic Fragrance:

Fragrances used in cosmetics are usually synthetic and can have as many as 200 ingredients even though we just see “fragrance” in the label. Synthetic fragrances can cause severe or chronic headaches, allergies, dizziness, rash, coughing, skin irritation and hyperpigmentation.

3-Phthalates

Phthalates are found in many soft and flexible plastics as well as in many care products such as shampoo or nail polish. They are usually a “hidden” ingredient in “fragrance” and can be identified as DBP (di-n-butyl Phthalate) or DEP (diethyl Phtalate) in a cosmetic ingredient list.

Phtalates have been found to be hormonal disruptors (specially in men). They cause infertility, low sperm count and structural abnormalities in animal’s reproductive organs. Some studies also link phthalates to liver cancer (the U.S. Center for Disease Control).

Image via Time, Inc.

4-Imidazolidinyl Urea And DMDM Hydantoin

Often used as preservatives. Both chemicals release formaldehyde, which can be toxic. They can be found in shampoos, conditioners, bubble baths, baby wipes and other skin care products. They may be listed as 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, Diazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl urea, Quaternium 15, etc.

Exposure to formaldehyde may cause allergic reactions, hormonal disruption, affect the reproductive health, nervous system damage and suppressed immune system among others.

5-Triclosan

Triclosan is a common antimicrobial agent that is found in antibacterial soaps, many deodorants, toothpaste and other cosmetics.

It has been linked to hormone disruption and the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Along with its negative health effects, triclosan also impacts the environment, ending up in lakes, rivers and other water sources, where it is toxic to aquatic life.

Triclosan has proved to be both dangerous and unnecessary. In 2005, the FDA found no evidence that antibacterial washes containing triclosan were superior to plain soap and water for protecting consumers from bacteria.

Triclosan also accumulates in fatty tissues. Studies have found concentrations of triclosan in three out of five human milk samples as a result of exposure through personal care products containing triclosan.

6-DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (monoethanolamine), TEA (triethanolamine)

These are used as foaming and emulsifying agents in lotions, shampoos, facial cleaners, conditioners, gels, moisturizer and soaps. They are used for the consistency and texture they give to these products even though they can be highly toxic.

They can cause allergic reactions, eye irritation, dryness of the hair and skin. But most importantly, there are numerous studies that associate DEA and TEA with various types of cancer in lab animals.

Look out for Cocamide DEA, Cocamide Diethanolamine, DEA Lauryl Sulfate, Diethanolamine Lauryl Sulfate, Lauramide DEA, Lauramide Diethanolamine, Linoleamide DEA, Linoleamide Diethanolamine, Oleamide DEA, Oleamide Diethanolamine, TEA or Triethanolamine on product labels.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), “There is sufficient evidence of a carcinogenic effect of N-nitrosodiethanolamine — .” IARC recommends that NEA should be treated as if it were a carcinogen in humans. The National Toxicology Program similarly concluded: “There is sufficient evidence for the carcinogenicity of N-nitrosodiethanolamine in experimental animals.”

7-Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate

This is a cheap and harsh detergent used in many shampoos and soaps for its ability to foam. Often derived from petroleum, it causes eye irritation, dry scalp, skin rashes and other allergic reactions. It’s used in thousands of cosmetic products and while its level of toxicity is still debated, some claim that it contains endocrine disruptors and may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane (a potential carcinogen). And while it may not be toxic on its own, in combination with other ingredients, it can can form carcinogenic compounds. Also,recent studies done in Japan show that it can damage DNA in cells.
By Corbis
8-Lead and Other Heavy Metals

Lead may be a contaminant in over 600 different cosmetic products, and has been found in most lipsticks and nail polish.
In October 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested 33 popular brands of lipsticks. The results showed that 65% of lipsticks contained lead. Lead-contaminated brands included L’Oreal, Cover Girl and even a $24 tube of Christian Dior.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a study in 2009 that found lead in all samples of lipstick it tested, at levels four times higher than those previously found.
FDA found the highest lead levels in lipsticks made by three manufacturers: Procter & Gamble (Cover Girl brand), L’Oreal (L’Oreal, Body Shop and Maybelline brands) and Revlon. Yet FDA has thus far failed to take action to protect consumers.

Mercury is also present in many eye shadows and mascaras but no detailed studies have been conducted yet.

Also, many deodorants  and anti-prespirants still use aluminum which has been linked to breast cancer in numerous studies.  Please look up your deodorant’s ingredient list and if it has any aluminum based compounds replace it for an aluminum free alternative (there are many available everywhere and are just as effective).

These are just a few of the “hidden” toxic ingredients in our every day personal care products, and just like with everything that we eat and drink, we must read ingredient labels before putting anything in our bodies.

Applying some of these chemicals everyday for 5, 10, 20 or more years must have some negative consequence to our health. We should be less trusting of ingredients that we can’t recognize or  understand.

Sources:

Engulfed by Plastic

Plastics are part of most of our daily activities. From the moment we wake up and use our plastic toothbrush, soaps and cosmetics from plastic containers, drink and eat foods also kept or wrapped in plastic, and go to work in front of our plastic computers and sit on our plastic chairs. We then go shopping and use plastic bags to transport stuff contained in plastic, drink from plastic bottles, and use our plastic TV’s and phones.

Only in the U.S. we use 60,000 plastic bags every 5 seconds! (By Chris Jordan)

And when we are done we just throw the plastic “away” and buy some more the next day, and the next, for the rest of our lives.

2 million Plastic Bottles are used in the US every 5 minutes (By Chris Jordan)

But where does plastic come from?

The process of making plastic begins with carbon from petroleum, natural gas or coal. Elements can be combined in different ways to achieve a  different type of plastic. The final product can range from a hard and shatter proof plastic container to a soft and flexible plastic wrap.

Plastics are durable, cheap, light and can be made into almost anything.

And it’s these useful properties which make plastics so harmful when they end up in the environment. Plastics do not degrade and stay in the environment for ever. Plastics “photo-degrade”, a process in which it is broken down into smaller and smaller pieces, all of which are still plastic particles, eventually becoming individual molecules of plastic.

It makes no sense to make disposable items such as water bottles or plastic bags that we are going to use for only a few minutes out of a material that is going to last forever in the environment.

And where does all this plastic end up?

Most of the plastic we use ends up in one of the overflowing landfills around the globe, but a lot of it ends up in the oceans. Only a small fraction gets recycled.

Plastic trash is found in the most remote parts of our oceans

Our oceans are becoming plastic dumps and marine life is taking a big toll.

Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, sea birds, seals, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags or plastic pieces mistaken for food.

Plastic bags look like jelly fish to most marine life

Sea turtles mistake plastics for food

Plastics are found even in the most remote parts of the ocean.

There are areas in the ocean where plastic accumulates more than in other places due to the ocean currents. One of the most studied is the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area of the Pacific Ocean created by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. It’s a plastic soup that has concentrations in some areas of plastic 40 times greater than that of plankton. That means there is 40 times more plastic than food for the marine animals to eat. Scientists estimate its size as twice the area Texas to the size of the continental United States.

These pictures show examples of marine life impacted by plastics (the photos have not been manipulated):

Albatros Stomach filled with Plastics

Plastic Seal

Turtle in Plastic Ring

What can we do!?

It’s almost impossible to avoid using plastics, but there are a few things that we can easily do to stop dumping plastics into the environment

– Stop buying plastic water bottles, bring your own water bottle around and use water filters at home. It’s even better for your health since plastic bottles can leach nasty chemicals into the water.

You can get some cool bottles at KleanKanteen or Sigg.

-Stop using Plastic bags. Use reusable bags instead! Whether you are shopping for groceries, clothes or  anything else always bring your own bag.

You can get really nice reusable bags at any grocery store, but any bag that you have around the house will do. This are also some alternatives: Ecobags, Chicobags, Reuseit, and SnackTaxi for your sandwiches and lunches!

-Buy Less Packaged Food: Buy in bulk or get food and goods that come in the least amount of package as possible.

-Use soap bars and be mindful of the plastic containers that you buy and if possible avoid them.

-Recycle: Get a recycling bin from your local recycling program or go to Earth 911 a website that allows you to put in your zip code and any material you want to recycle. It will give you the phone number of the nearest facility in charge of collecting that material.

Sources:

Bag it the Movie

Algalita Marine Research Foundation

Chris Jordan

OCEANA

GREENPEACE

NOAA

Aquaponics, the future of gardening?

Imagine having a self sustaining food source in your backyard (or community) where vegetables and protein can be grown in a fairly small space without the use of sythetic fertilizers,chemicals, or even soil!

This is what aquaponics, a system using fish and ciruclating water propose:

In this closed system fish waste accumulates in water which becomes high in nutrients and this water is then fed to plants growing hydroponically.

Plants take up all the nutrients from the water which is returned to the aquatic animal environment and the cycle continues. Aquaponic systems do not discharge or exchange water, the systems rely on the relationship between the aquatic animals and the plants to maintain the environment. Water is only added to replace water loss from absorption by the plants, evaporation into the air, or the removal of biomass from the system.

Aquaponic systems vary in size from small indoor units to large commercial units. They can use fresh or salt water depending on the type of aquatic animal and also can support different types of vegetation.

Some examples of Aquaponics, small and large scale:
Sources: NY Times

Self Sufficient Buildings and Vertical Farms for the Future

desertification_1

Desertification due to unsustainable agricultural practices

By 2050 more than 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. By then the population increase (minimum of 3 billion people more) paired with a massive loss of fertile soils due to erosion, desertification, salinization, etc. will surely lead to disastrous food shortages.

We won’t have enough fertile soils to grow crops for all, and we certainly won’t want to cut down the little forest left to grow more food, the consequences of doing so would be devastating.

But some of the most ground-braking architects and scientists have already come up with a solution: self sustainable buildings with vertical farms.

Depending on the crops being grown, a single vertical farm using  hydroponic growing methods could also allow thousands of farmland acres to be permanently reforested.

One of the first models of vertical farming was conceived by Dr. Dickson Despommier, a professor of environmental sciences at Columbia University, who believes that vertical farm skyscrapers could help fight global warming.

Imagine a cluster of 30-story towers  producing fruit, vegetables, and grains while also generating clean energy and purifying waste water.  Despommier estimates that one of these buildings could feed 50,000 people for a year. A vertical farm could be self-sustaining and even produce a net output of clean water and energy.

Sky Farming (New York Magazine)

Sky Farming (New York Magazine) designed by Rolf Mohr

1. The Solar Panel Most of the vertical farm’s energy is supplied by the pellet power system . This solar panel rotates to follow the sun and would drive the interior cooling system, which is used most when the sun’s heat is greatest.
2. The Wind Spire
An alternative (or a complement) to solar power, conceived by an engineering professor at Cleveland State University. The wind spire uses small blades to turn air upward, like a screw.

3. The Glass Panels
A clear coating of titanium oxide collects pollutants and prevents rain from beading. The rain slides down the glass, maximizing light and cleaning the pollutants and it’s then collected for filtration.

4. The Control Room
The vertical-farm environment is regulated from here, allowing for year-round, 24-hour crop cultivation.

5. The Architecture Circular design uses space most efficiently and allows maximum light into the center. Modular floors stack like poker chips for flexibility.

6. The Crops

The vertical farm could grow fruits, vegetables, grains, and even fish, poultry.

The vertical farm doesn’t just grow crops indoors, it also generates its own power from waste and cleans up sewage water.

skyfarming2

New York Magazine

1. The Evapotranspiration Recovery System
Nestled inside the ceiling of each floor, its pipes collect moisture, which can be used as drinking water.

2. The Pipes
Work much like a cold bottle of Coke that “sweats” on a hot day: Super-cool fluid attracts plant water vapors, which are then collected as they drip off .  Despommier estimates that one vertical farm could capture 60 million gallons of water a year.

3. Black-Water Treatment System
Wastewater taken from the city’s sewage system is treated through a series of filters, then sterilized, yielding gray water—which is not drinkable but can be used for irrigation. (Currently, New York city throws 1.4 billion gallons of treated waste water into the rivers each day.)

New York Magazine

New York Magazine

4. The Crop Picker
Monitors fruits and vegetables with an electronic eye. Current technology, called a Reflectometer, uses color detection to test ripeness.

5. The Field
Maximization of space is critical, so in this rendering there are two layers of crops (and some hanging tomatoes). If small crops are planted, there might be up to ten layers per floor.

6. The Pool
Runoff from irrigation is collected here and piped to a filtration system.

7. The Feeder
Like an ink-jet printer, this dual-purpose mechanism directs programmed amounts of water and light to individual crops.

New York Magazine

New York Magazine

8. The Pellet Power System
Another source of power for the vertical farm, it turns nonedible plant matter (like corn husks, for example) into fuel. Could also process waste from New York’s 18,000 restaurants.

9 to 11. The Pellets
Plant waste is processed into powder (9), then condensed into clean-burning fuel pellets (10), which become steam power (11). At least 60 pellet mills in North America already produce more than 600,000 tons of fuel annually, and a 3,400-square-foot house in Idaho uses pellets to generate its own electricity.

Sumarazing some benefits of vertical Agriculture:

1-Uses less space and resources than traditional agriculture.

2-Agriculture land can be converted back to forest.

3-Dramatically reduces fossil fuel use (no tractors, shipping, etc).

4-No massive crop failures as a result of weather-related disasters.

5-Less likelihood of genetically modified strains entering the “natural” plant world.

6– All food could be grown organically, without herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers, eliminating agricultural runoff.

7– It recycles and purifies water.

8-Generation of energy via methane  from composting non-edible parts of plants and animals, supplying not just food but energy, creating a truly self-sustaining environment.

9-Can have applications for arid environments or refugee camps as a food production source.

10-Great impact in reducing green house emissions.

Some other models of vertical agriculture:

Oliver Foster Vertical Farm

Oliver Foster Vertical Farm

The Living Skyscraper by Blake Kurasek

The Living Skyscraper by Blake Kurasek

The Living Tower by SOA Architects

The Living Tower by SOA Architects

To learn more about vertical farming designs:

http://www.verticalfarm.com/

Avoiding Fishy Mercury

Mercury Bioaccumulation in Fish

Mercury Bioaccumulation in Fish

Fish consumption is generally very healthy. They contain high quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids, a type of essential fatty acid that promotes healthy cardiovascular systems.

In a recent article I discussed different fish based on their environmental impact and fishing practices and suggested Eco-friendly fish for your consumption. Today I want to consider mercury levels in fish and its health effects, especially in kids and pregnant women.

Mercury is a naturally occurring element, which is found in soil, rocks, lakes, streams and oceans. In addition to natural sources, mercury is released into the atmosphere and water from man made sources, such as coal generated power plants, mining operations and paper processing plants.

It is first released into the air and then enters the water with precipitation. Once in the water, methane-generating bacteria turn the mercury into methyl mercury, a highly toxic form of mercury. Fish consume methyl mercury through their diet and absorb it from the water. Predatory fish (fish that eat other fish) and older fish generally contain higher levels of methyl mercury than vegetarian or smaller fish.

Mercury bio-accumulates in fatty tissues. This means is that when a larger fish eats a smaller fish, it accumulates the level of methyl-mercury that the smaller fish contained. When it eats another smaller fish, it accumulates some more methyl mercury. The more fish it consumes, the more methyl-mercury it accumulates, and the level does not drop. Then along comes an even bigger fish and eats the fish that ate the smaller fish. This large predatory fish accumulates all the mercury of the fish it just ate and so the vicious circle continues.

And then when we humans eat a juicy fillet of that large fish, we consume all that accumulated mercury.

That’s why predatory long lived fish have the highest concentrations of mercury in their tissues, and those are the ones that we should avoid.

Coal Burning Power Plant (UWEC)

Coal Burning Power Plant (UWEC)

Mercury can cause damage to the nervous system if consumed in sufficient amounts over a period of time. When you eat fish that contains methyl mercury, it is absorbed through the intestine and spread throughout the body. It affects the nervous system because it easily enters the brain. In pregnant women, methyl mercury can cross the placenta affecting the growing fetus. Methyl mercury is also passed through breast milk, increasing the risk of delays in brain development. The child may experience delayed motor skills and learning problems.

Most governmental, health and environmental organization recommends pregnant women, women of childbearing age and children to limit or stop the consumption of predatory fish such as tuna, shark, grouper and swordfish. For the remainder of the population, the standard recommendation is to consume these fish no more than once every two weeks to a month (depending on body weight).

Following you’ll find a list of fish with high, medium and low levels of MERCURY:

HIGH: Swordfish(*), Marlin, Tuna(*), Shark(*), Grouper (*), King Mackerel.

MEDIUM: Bass, Cod (*), Halibut, Lobster, Mahi Mahi(*), Snapper.

LOW: Sardines, Oysters, Salmon, Crab, Tilapia, Shrimp (*), Trout, Herring, Mackerel (not king), Clams.

(*) Highly Environmentally Destructive Practices

SOURCES

EPA

NRDC

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

Algae, the Fuel of the Future

Earth2tech

Earth2tech

Biofuels that come from corn, palm, sugar cane or soy are responsible for deforestation and an increase in food prices.

This is not the case of a  biofuel that was first considered in the seventies, and is now getting much deserved attention: algae.

Algae transform carbon dioxide and sunlight into energy so efficiently that they can double their weight several times a day, and can generate 30 times more oil per hectare than other plant based biofuels. Algae can grow in salt water, freshwater or even contaminated water, at sea or in ponds, and on land not suitable for food production.

Its production doesn’t require massive amounts of land like other plant based fuels.

On top of those advantages, algae grows better when fed extra carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas),  and on contaminated water bodies. By collecting algae we could produce biofuel while cleaning up other problems at the same time.

Various algae contain different levels of oil, and they can also be genetically modified to produce more oil. Most scientists argue that the algae found in pond scum is best suited for biodiesel.

Also, pressing algae creates a few more useful byproducts such as fertilizer and feedstock without depleting other food sources.

Once the oil’s extracted, it’s refined, mixed with an alcohol (such as methanol), and a few more steps will bring algae biodiesel fuel.

Polluted lake-Algal bloom

Polluted lake-Algal bloom

But the most exciting part of algae biodiesel is the great productivity at low cost (economic and environmental). Biodiesel makers claim they’ll be able to produce more than 800 gallons of algae oil per ha per year.

Algae production has the potential to outperform other potential biodiesel products such as palm or corn. For example, a 50 ha algae biodiesel plant could potentially produce 10 million gallons of biodiesel in a single year. Experts estimate it will take 140 billion gallons of algae biodiesel to replace petroleum-based products each year. To reach this goal, algae biodiesel companies will only need about 40 million ha of land to build biodiesel plants, compared to billions of hectares for other biodiesel products. Since algae can be grown anywhere indoors, it’s a promising element in the race to produce a new fuel.

For now algae based biofuel is still in the R&D stage, but we’ll hopefully  run our cars on this uber green fuel in our lifetime.

Some interesting Algae Biodiesel Start-ups:

GreenFuel

Aurora

BFS

Saphire

Less than 50 years to say goodbye to Sushi

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, 75 % of the world’s fisheries are now either over-exploited, fully exploited or significantly depleted. A study published in Nature concluded that 90 % of the “big” fish (tuna, swordfish, and marlin) are already gone.

Scientists agree that if we continue to fish at our current rates, all commercial fish species will disappear in the next 50 years.

Government subsidies to the fishing sector, totaling approximately $20 billion annually, represent one of the principal forces behind the overfishing crisis. But the biggest force behind this crisis are the world’s industrial fishing fleets which are destroying the ocean at an alarming rate.

If all the fish we ate was caught old school using a simple fishing rod the oceans would be in much better shape. Small fishermen are trying to shift to sustainable practices, because they are realizing that overfishing is not only destroying the ocean, but also destroying their livelihood, leaving them with no fish left  to catch.

But unfortunately most of the fish that we consume doesn’t come from sustainable sources, it comes from large industrial boats that use highly destructive fishing methods and harvest massive amounts of fish at an unsustainable rate.

Following are some of the most destructive and also most common fishing practices. This is how the fish we consume gets harvested from our oceans and ends in our kitchen and restaurant tables:

Bottom Trawling:

Bottom trawling involves dragging huge, heavy nets along the sea floor. Large metal plates and rubber wheels attached to these nets move along the bottom and crush nearly everything in their path, coral, sponges, plants, and all kids of sea life. It literally scraps the ocean floor clean of life.

It is used to fish cod, haddock, squid, shrimp and crustaceans among other commercial fish.

If allowed to continue, the bottom trawlers will destroy deep sea species before we have even discovered much of what is out there. What we are doing to our deep oceans by allowing trawling is like driving a huge bulldozer through an unexplored, lush and richly populated forest leaving a flat and lifeless desert.

This practice is so widespread and damaging that it can even be seen from space:

bottom-trawling-from-space

Bottom Trawling from Space

Botom Trawling

Bottom Trawling

Bottom Trawler

Bottom Trawler (Greenpeace)

spanish_trawler

Ocean Floor Before and After Trawling

Ocean Floor Before and After Trawling

Long lines:

Long-lining is one of the most widespread methods of fishing. The lines are up to 130 km long (80 miles) and have hundreds of thousands of baited hooks at a time. The hooks are dragged behind the boat at varying depths or are kept afloat by buoys and left overnight.

This method is used to catch mainly tuna and swordfish, but it also kills millions of sea birds, dolphins turtles, and other marine life every year.

pelagic_longline

Oceana

turtle__fishing_line

Turtle killed by a long line

Gillnets:

Gill nets hang like massive curtains in the oceans, drifting with the currents. Ranging from 3.5 to 10 km in length, gill nets are weighted at the bottom and held upright by floats at the top, creating what some have deemed “walls of death.”

Fish are unable to see the netting, and unless the mesh size is larger than the fish, they get stuck. When they try to back out, the netting catches them by their gills or fins and they get stuck.

In many occasions they are left to drift for days an many of them get lost (become ghost nets) killing thousands of untargeted marine life- specially dolphins, turtles and seals.

Gilnet (By Oceana)

Gilnet (By Oceana)

ww1994-gillnet

Sea Lion killed by Gillnet

Purse Seines:

This is the primary fishing method for tuna fish. Tuna swim at the same level as dolphins, and fishermen usually track dolphin pods in order to locate tuna.

The dolphin schools are then chased by small high-speed boats or even helicopters that accompany the fishing boats. When the dolphins begin to tire, the fishermen encircle the school with huge nylon nets that are up to 5 km long and 100 m deep. When both the dolphins and the tuna have been completely surrounded, the bottom of the net is pulled closed, much like a drawstring purse, hence the name purse-seining. Purse-seining has proven to be an extremely effective method of catching fish. Entire schools of tuna are able to be scooped up without a single fish escaping. Unfortunately, many dolphins are also killed in the process, as they become entangled in the nets and drown, or are crushed as the nets are pursed and hauled in.

pursesiene

Dolphins and Tuna trapped in a Purse Seine Net

Dolphins and Tuna trapped in a Purse Seine Net

Solutions:

  • Only 0.8% of the ocean is protected, we need to make more ocean sanctuaries where fishing is prohibited.
  • We need to ban these destructive fishing practices which are not only damaging the oceans, but also endangering the only protein source of millions of people and endangering the livelihood of many small fishermen.
  • Shifting to sustainable  fishing practices,  having stricter quotas and regulations could aid the recovery of most commercial fisheries.
  • Demand and support safer fishing alternatives, it is possible and it must be done soon!
  • Aquaculture can be an alternative, but it also has many negative consequences if not properly managed. There are sustainable aquaculture farms, but it depends on the fish you want to grow (some species are more suitable than others) and the methods used.

Guide to sustainable Sea Food :

Most Sustainable Fish : Anchovies, Sardines, Salmon (Wild), Mussels, Mackerel (Atlantic), Oysters (Farmed), Trout, Clams (Farmed), Lobster, Halibut, Crab.

Least Sustainable: Chilean Sea Bass, Tuna, Grouper, Cod, Swordfish, Shrimp, Salmon (Farmed), Octopus, Monk fish, Mahimahi (Imported), Snapper (Imported).

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(Spanish)

Guia para comer pescado/marisco:

Mejores opciones: Anchoas/Boquerones, Sardinas, Salmon (Salvaje), Mejillones, Cavalla, Ostras (Cultivadas), Trucha, Almejas (Cultivadas), Langosta, Cangrejo.

Marisco menos sostenible:  Atun, Bacalao, Pez Espada/Emperador, Gambas (importadas), Salmon (piscifactoria), Lubina (Importada de Chile/Asia), Pulpo, Rape, Dorada (Asia o Sur America)

SOURCES:

Oceana

Greenpeace

WWF

Environmental Defense Fund