Flowers from a “Green” House

When our thoughts turn to love, we often turn to flowers. Long established as a romantic gesture, there is nothing like a bouquet of blooms to melt your loved one’s heart. Many people do not realize, however, that hothouse flowers are grown in greenhouses filled with pesticides, and the blossoms you bring into your home have been repeatedly treated with toxic chemicals.

There is a wonderful company that has changed the way we grow and buy flowers, however. Organic Bouquet is the largest online provider of organic floral arrangements and gifts. All of their flowers, from select farms in California, Colombia, and Ecuador, meet stringent standards for environmental safety, monitored by multiple certification agencies and associations.

Their eco-friendly flower arrangements include roses, calla lilies, tulips, gerbera daisies, hyacinths, sunflowers, alstromeria lilies and blue iris, and are shipped nationwide to all 50 states.

CEO Robert McLaughlin remembers the effect of synthetic chemicals on the environment and workers in the horticulture industry when he began his career in 1984. “I watched our head agronomist die at an early age from toxic chemical exposure,” he says. “He rarely wore protective gear and seemed to always return to the packing shed soaked in the chemicals that would eventually end his life. There had to be a better way.”

Today McLaughlin has created a company that positively effects the environment, the floral industry, and the people on the farms. They make choices every day to support responsible commerce, environmental stewardship, and the health of the people who work for them.

“All plants, flowers, vegetables, and livestock were grown or raised for thousands of years organically. Only in the last 100 years have we discovered synthetic chemicals and begun to overuse them,” he says. “This phasing out of synthetic chemicals and returning to natural methods proves that chemicals have been a brief but damaging fad, that hopefully will never be repeated.

Good things to know about Organic Bouquet:

  • Each time you make a purchase, the amount of carbon emissions from that shipment is offset by rolling funds into a project that reforests abandoned pasture land with native tree species.
  • Shipping boxes are made from recycled and recyclable materials.
  • Boxes are printed with water-based ink, naturally non-toxic.
  • Their glass vases are made from 100% recycled glass.

 

If that doesn’t convince you, consider this: the company is USDA Organic-Certified, follows America’s VeriFlora sustainability certification program, and is Fair Trade Certified, an international movement which ensures that producers in poor countries get a fair price for their goods.

For more information and to order your Valentine’s Day flowers, visit them at www.organicbouquet.com. 

 

 

More than Skin Deep

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There’s great news from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in their mission to help consumers make healthy choices! From mascara to shampoo to toothpaste, more than 400 products will now carry the EWG VERIFIED mark. When you see it on a product, you’ll know that that item meets the EWG’s strict standards for health. Any item with the EWG VERIFIED mark has submitted a list of ingredients which EWG has tested for health hazards.

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Unfortunately, too many personal care products contain harmful or dangerous chemicals. The skin is the body’s largest organ, and anything placed on the skin is absorbed into the bloodstream, sometimes within seconds. According to a study by the EWG, most people use nine different products daily. These include shampoo, hair conditioner, soap, deodorant, body lotion, sunscreen, lip balm, make up and shaving products. Many of us feel safe, believing that product safety has been verified by the government. In fact, no pre-testing or health studies are required.

Hands holdings liquid lipsticks for the production

Personal care items are manufactured with 10,500 chemical ingredients, some of which are known or suspected carcinogens, or are known to disrupt the endocrine system. A listing called Skin Deep has long been available on the EWG website, representing the EWG’s attempt to rate products for safety.

Lavender moisturizer on bamboo with purple lavender flowers in the background. Lavandula anugustifolia

The EWG VERIFIED mark takes this work one step farther, allowing consumers to see on any product whether it has been verified by the EWG as having gone above and beyond the green standards set by the industry. That’s good news for all of us.

 

Encore Post: Dangers of Household Mold

photo of house drawing on beach sands by mediterranean sea.There is a drawing of sun on house which is positioned on left side of frame.The sea waves are on the right side.Focus is on house.A full frame DSLR camera was used to shot photo.

I’m often asked about maintaining a healthy home, and about how to ensure pristine air quality. With summer’s high humidity, mold has been part of several discussions. It is a serious health concern, so much so that I’ve chosen to republish this post with information on how to detect mold, and how to safely eradicate it. People who live in flood-prone areas, most recently those in New Orleans and now, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, must be sure to remove everything that that is water-damaged, including soggy floors and drywall, to be sure mold doesn’t get a start.

An Encore Post by Popular Demand: 

There are a few basic requirements for sustaining life; among them are moisture, food, and warmth. Our homes are replete with these three things, and thus, they can be breeding grounds for dangerous and allergy-causing molds.  Water damage in walls and insulation, and sustained moisture in heating and central air conditioning systems, can create the perfect breeding ground for microbial mold growth.

If you have water damage or a buildup of moisture from humidity or leaks, you may have the beginnings of a mold problem.

Beautiful abstract photography of mold in a pan

Aspergillus Fumigatus

You may not see mold spores, but even when invisible to the eye, they can be present in the air you breathe.  Asthma, coughing, sneezing and rashes may be a clue that something unhealthy has permeated your living spaces.  Stachybotrys, a celluphyllic mold that is frequently found on the paper covering of sheet rock and ceiling tiles, can be toxic when inhaled, resulting in flu-like symptoms, including sore throats and fatigue.

Mold beside and under new window, in the corner of the beige wall and along it.

Mold beside and under new window, in the corner of the beige wall and along it.

Toxic mold has become a growing problem in the U.S. in recent years.  Why?  As insulation improved and homes became more air-tight, exchange with fresh air from outside has slowed, creating perfect conditions for mold to flourish.  If you smell a musty odor, that may be a sign there is a mold problem.  You may see a slowly spreading stain across ceilings or walls, on shower curtain liners, or even books or clothing that have become damp from humidity or water leaks.

worker with helmet, gloves and mask spraying ceiling with spray bottle on wooden vintage ladder, bottom view

Remediation Options

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) divides mold clean-up into three sizes:  small, medium and large. Small mold remediation is where the total affected area is less than 10 square feet; medium is between 10 and 100 square feet; large is greater than 100 square feet, or when exposure to mold spores during remediation is a risk.

Mold spores are invisible when airborne, yet still pose a risk to your health, so if you’re going to tackle the clean up yourself, you should isolate the work area as much as possible.

  • Clear the room of any uncontaminated furniture.
  • Items that can’t be moved should be sealed in plastic.
  • Cover any open doorways with plastic sheeting.  You’ll need two sheets:  attach one to the left side of the doorway, covering two thirds of the opening.  Attach the other to the right side of the doorway, covering two thirds of the opening.  The overlap will provide a partial seal but will give you access into and out of the room.
  • If books, papers or other items have a musty smell but no visible mold, take them outside and vacuum them with a HEPA filter vacuum.  Anything that has visible mold should be discarded.
  • If items need to be carried through non-contaminated rooms on the way outside, place them in plastic bags first.
  • Small patches of mildew on walls and ceilings can be wiped with diluted bleach (one part bleach to ten parts water).
  • Even if you don’t think you are sensitive to mold, you should wear plastic safety goggles and a NIOSH N95 mask, along with latex gloves.  (Non-latex gloves if you have a latex allergy.)
  • For anything larger than 10 square feet, you should consult a professional.

Water stains on the roof of a house.

Seeking Professional Help:

Homeowners with water damage should call a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH), and have their homes thoroughly investigated for microbial volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  A CIH is qualified to enhance the health and safety of people at work and in their homes by identifying hazards, and taking corrective action where necessary.  They have met stringent requirements for education and experience, and through examination, have demonstrated expertise in areas such as air sampling, bio hazards, ventilation and engineering controls, health risk analysis, toxicology and methods to mitigate these issues.

For More Information:

An interview highlighting the dangers of toxic mold in New York City is available at the New York Times.

You can go to www.epa.gov and read A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture and Your Home.

I also recommend a book titled The Mold Survival Guide for your Home and Health, by Jeffrey C. May and Connie L. May, available through amazon.com

Don’t Underestimate This Serious Health Concern:

Like radon, lead paint and other chemicals we now know to be hazardous to our health, we are learning more about mold and its dangers all the time.  Mold can be found in multiple household locations that you might not expect, including the underside of furniture, interior window trim, bathroom walls and ceilings, underneath sinks and refrigerators, carpeting, and even around potted plants.

It’s much better to remove any possibility of mold spores along with moisture problems by being vigilant in your home. A Healthy Home is the Ultimate Luxury. (TM)

Ornamental moulding in the corner of a white room

 

 


 

 

 

 

A Healing Oasis Right in Our Midst

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The art of self-care and healing is something we should all learn from an early age, but unfortunately, too many of us don’t. That’s why places like the  Arogya Healing Holistic Center in Westport, Connecticut, can be an important part of our wellness plan. “It’s all nature,” Wei Bertram, Arogya’s founder, says, looking around her at the serene space she created. “Healing is about being in nature. It isn’t normal to sit in front of a computer all day, and drive through traffic to commute. Our brain is not made that way. Arogya is about living in harmony with nature, and bringing body, mind, and spirit into a new awareness.”

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“People get many things done in a day, and then there’s more to do,” she added. “I work on myself. I take care of myself. No one will take care of you other than yourself, but we have to be taught. More than what we say, people walk into Arogya and want this feeling in their lives.”

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Wei explains that she has always been fascinated by her traditional Chinese heritage, and the mystique of Chinese medicine. By founding Arogya in 2000, her intention was to bring the healing traditions of the east into our contemporary lifestyles, which she sees as being in desperate need for true balance and well-being.

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As a longtime believer in holistic lifestyle practices, I was delighted to find Arogya so close to home. It’s easy to forget self-care until our bodies are in a chronic state of dis-ease, but as I have learned and as Wei believes, the best time to support our health is before we lose it. Luckily for those of us in Connecticut or the greater New York area, Arogya is a healing resource right in our midst!

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Arogya means “whole health” in Sanskrit. In addition to integrative Chinese medicine, yoga and massage therapy, the center also offers a wide selection of organic teas, all natural skincare products and personalized herbal remedies. The beautiful store also offers natural candles, essential oils and artisan perfumes created by Wei.

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If you aren’t close enough to experience the beauty of a treatment at Arogya spa, be sure to check out their blog, which has dozens of articles on self-care and holistic healing. Here are five ideas from Wei and Arogya to help you be the best caretaker for yourself:

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1.The first step is to make a choice: Either you stay on the path of conventional, emergency-based medicine, waiting for serious symptoms to arise, or you make every day about your health and well-being, knowing every moment is an opportunity for wellness and wholeness.

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2. Making your life a wellness journey not only means feeding yourself nourishing foods, and taking care of your body, it means transforming every aspect of your life so you can truly be your most radiant, present, loving, and grounded self.

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3. Chinese medicine says, “It takes more than one night to freeze a pond.” Likewise, the accumulation of decades of poor nutrition, stress, negative feelings, etc. can result in poor health. If you want to thaw the pond, it will take more than one day or one treatment to magically transform what ails you. Though the road may be long, every step you take towards healing yourself ripples out into your life and relationships.

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4. In Taoist philosophy there is a saying: “It’s best to eat healthy food. And if you already do that, you still need to exercise too. And if you already do both of those, best of all is to meditate to nourish your heart, the core of your being.” With meditation, we can see the conditioning that keeps us falling into the same traps again and again. From a place of awareness, it’s easier to make better choices.

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5. Though stress is a real and valid experience, it need not run your life. Read Arogya’s blog post, Combating Modern Day Stress. From first recognizing where your stress is coming from to to getting rid of all kinds of clutter, including toxic relationships, to finding time for your own creative pursuits, Wei’s gentle guidance can help you transform your life.

nature

One of Wei’s final de-stressing tips is “find time to be in nature.” Understanding the limits of our own nature, and how we are part of the amazing world around us, is a wonderful way to live a deeper, richer life. As Ghandi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

One tree in field

And you must also be the change you wish to see in yourself.

Watch Wei discuss the importance of tea here.

 

 

 

Our Planet’s Blue Heart

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“Why is it that scuba divers and surfers are some of the strongest advocates of ocean conservation?  Because they’ve spent time in and around the ocean, and they’ve personally seen the beauty, the fragility, and even the degradation of our planet’s blue heart.” –Sylvia Earle, American Marine Biologist

As spring turns to summer, many of us will travel to our island homes, or vacation destinations on the ocean, in diverse locations all over the world. The brilliant blue sea and its whispering waves speaks to something elemental in all of us, whether it is our playground for boating, fishing, scuba diving and surfing, or if we simply don a sunhat and relax under an umbrella with a tropical drink and a book.

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Although our oceans are our world’s largest natural resource, the human impact has been undeniable. From overfishing to manmade pollution, from coastal development to chemical runoff, scientists have identified many areas of decline. We must all be stewards of the water, just as we are of the land, to protect.our wild and healthy oceans. Here are some current concerns about ocean health, along with ideas about what we can do to help.

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1. Problem: A massive volume of plastic garbage now litters every ocean on the planet, according to the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC):. Hundreds of species of marine life, including seabirds, whales, and sea turtles ingest or get entangled in plastic, as well as netting, fishing lines, and other debris. Fishing trawlers with huge drift nets can trap species other than the target fish, and lose the nets or cut them lose (ghost nets) where they spell death for any marine animals caught in them and unable to free themselves.

Solution: Public support for waste management measures, creating incentives for industry to use less plastic packaging, reduce single-use plastics, and encourage more recycling. On trips to the beach, carry out what you carry in. Retrieve all fishing line, lures, and gear. Because it will never biodegrade, nylon lines and nets will continue catching and killing turtles, dolphins, manatees, pelicans, and even human divers and swimmers forever. The European Union bans drift nets, as do the waters from Monterey, California to the Oregon Coast for part of the year, along with some other locations.

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2. Problem: The ocean is downstream of everything: Chemical runoff from land, including pesticides and fertilizers from farms, lawns, streets. and construction sites is a major cause of ocean pollution. Silt, nitrogen, and phosphorous can create “dead zones” in the sea where nothing can live, robbing waters of light and oxygen.

Solution: Use fewer chemicals and fertilizers. If you live on the water, plant a buffer zone of trees, shrubs, and grasses to filter runoff and provide shelter for shorebirds and other mammals. Decrease your water use at home, so you can decrease the amount of water that must be treated with chemicals before entering the ocean. Sweep your walks and driveway rather than hosing them off, as water transports chemicals to the nearest storm drain or waterway.

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3. Problem: Noise pollution threatens marine life: Loud noises created by sonar testing by the Navy have been linked to deaths of dolphins due to massive internal hemorrhaging. Noises from boats can interfere with whales trying to hunt for food or communicate with each other, blocking their hauntingly beautiful songs.  A particular problem is the noise created by large tankers cruising the oceans, and underwater exploration for oil. To the fish and other marine life, it can sound like the loudest day in New York City with sirens, horns, and traffic.

Solution: Now that we’ve recognized the problem, we must take all necessary steps to mitigate the noise we create. Marine mammal protection laws must be enacted in coastal nations around the world. Major shipping routes should be moved away from important marine mammal habitats. Ships can be designed so that the engine is isolated from the hull in order to reduce noise. Regular ship maintenance can reduce noise considerably.

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4. Problem: Additional issues impacting our oceans include oil spills, habitat destruction, and human sewage spilling into waterways. Marine scientists measure yearly changes in marine animal populations related to all of the problems outlined here, plus others.

Solution: Technology has given us the ability to monitor even small changes, and share information rapidly. Reading information from a variety of experts is important, as nature is highly complex and issues change with new developments. There are a number of wonderful organizations doing very important work to heal our oceans and protect them for the next generations.

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A Connecticut-based organization that’s doing a wonderful job is SoundWaters. It was founded in 1989 to protect Long Island Sound, a delicate estuary within 50 miles of 25 million people. Humans–and their activities which pose a threat to the health of the Sound–prompted Len Miller to found an organization to educate people both about the Sound’s wonders and the dangers it faces.

soundwaters schooner

SoundWaters began with a schooner that is a teaching vessel, a floating classroom where students –both children and adults–learn from a hands-on curriculum. Lectures and workshops are presented by ecologists, musicians, artists, and historians, in addition to land-based programs, a summer camp, community gardens and nature programs for older adults.

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“Try to consider having a healthy, viable community with unhealthy air and polluted waters. We cannot, and the connection of a healthy environment to a healthy community, and, in fact, to healthy people, will be one of the many premises we will try to teach at the SoundWaters Community Center,” said Mr. Miller, when the center opened. Today, their schooner, SoundWaters, conducts 250 experiential sails each season for school and community groups throughout the region.

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You can donate to SoundWaters here, or find out how to take an afternoon schooner cruise with your family and friends.

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Here are some other organizations working to protect our oceans that you might consider supporting:

Natural Resource Defense Council: The NRDC works to safeguard the air, the water, and the wild, and the natural systems on which all life depends.

National Geographic Society’s Pristine Seas Project: The Pristine Seas Project’s goal is to convince governments to protect more than 2 million square kilometers of ocean, and has financed ten scientific expeditions to remote areas of ocean around the world.

Oceanic Society: The Oceanic Society works to improve ocean health by addressing the root cause of its decline: human behavior.

See Turtles: A project of the Oceanic Society, See Turtles protects sea turtles through education, travel, conservation efforts, and Billion Baby Turtles, working to get turtle hatchlings safely to the sea.

Ocean Conservancy: Science-based solutions to tackle the biggest threats to our oceans.

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With all of our concerns about the health of the ocean, it’s good to remember that there are so many people doing so much good work to protect our beautiful blue waters. One of the best ways to encourage conservation is to gently love our waterways with your family and friends, so boat, swim, fish, or dive to heart’s content, and have a wonderful summer!

Home ~ Health ~ Humanity

dawn-nature-sunset-woman

 

A recent column by Nicholas Kristof entitled Are You a Toxic Waste Disposal Site? raised some disturbing issues. None of it, sadly, was news to me. The United States has delayed appropriate testing of industrial chemicals over and over again, largely due to the influence of lobbying groups. Mr. Kristof’s column said that “Scientists have identified more than 200 industrial chemicals–from pesticides, flame retardants, jet fuel–as well as neurotoxins like lead in the blood or breast milk of Americans, indeed, in people all over our planet.”

 

Tractor spraying soybean field at spring

Tractor spraying soybean field

 

As the pioneer of the sustainable design movement, I have spoken out for years in favor of non-toxic, chemical-free built environments to support our health, and the well-being of our families. I believe that your home, your health, and the future of humanity depends upon it. My clients know that whenever I can use a “green” alternative in fabric, upholstery, paints and floor finishes, wood furniture and cabinetry, that’s what I choose. I created the phrase “eco-elegant (TM)” to demonstrate to people that homes can be beautiful, sophisticated, and serene, and still maintain their health through clean air and furnishings that do not off-gas potentially dangerous fumes.

 

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My philosophy is simple: to live in a way that shows respect for all life on earth, we must be open to questioning the impact of our choices. One of my environmental heroes, Chief Oren Lyons of the Iroquois Confederacy, described to me the tradition of tribal leaders in making decisions: Not only do they consider the impact on the next generation, they also examine the consequences all the way to the seventh generation.

 

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I wrote my book, Comfort Zone: Creating the Eco-Elegant Interior, to show a healthier way of living. I urge anyone who cares about their health and a holistic approach to lifestyle and the earth to read it. On pages 232-233, you’ll find an easy-to-reference listing of green products that is the culmination of my lifetime of work selecting the most eco-friendly products. It includes everything from bedding and carpeting, to duct work and adhesives, to vacuum cleaners and products for your pets.

 

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I promise you, there’s a healthier way to live, and the changes are not difficult to make. Ready to protect yourself and your family, friends, and companion animals from a poorly regulated industry? I want to help. Click here to take the first step toward the Eco-Elegant Life.

 

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Small Shifts Cause Large Waves: Paris 2015

Gulls on the side of the Seine [url=http://www.istockphoto.com/file_search.php?action=file&lightboxID=4328606][img]http://www.erichood.net/paris.jpg[/img][/url]

The 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference, also known as COP21 (Conference of the Parties 21) is the twenty first meeting of what is now a near-universal membership of 195 countries. Begun in response to climate change at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the “Rio Convention” included the adoption of the UN Framework on Climate Change. That was the first framework for action aimed at stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. 

The COP meetings exist to review the Convention’s implementation. The first COP took place in Berlin in 1995. COP3 was where the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, COP11 produced the Montreal Action Plan, COP17 was in Durban where the Green Climate Fund was created.

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Ed Mazria is the founder of Architecture 2030, an organization committed to protecting our global environment by using innovation to develop bold solutions to global warming. He has called COP21 in Paris “an end to the fossil fuel era.” The historic agreement signed there is a long term goal committing almost 200 countries, including the U.S., China, India and the EU nations, to keep the global average temperature increase to “well below 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees centigrade.”

According to Ed, “the Paris Agreement introduces a new world, one that envisions an end to fossil fuel emissions and secures a strong mechanism to address climate change.”

paris

photo courtesy of Architecture2030.org

COP21 attracted nearly 50,000 participants, including 25,000 official delegates. Multiple forums were held on a variety of related topics. In addition, thousands of demonstrators were permitted to gather on December 12, in spite of France’s tightened security after the recent terrorist attacks. 

The following is a guest post by architect Veronica Schreibeis Smith, of Vera Iconica Architecture in Jackson, Wyoming. Veronica attended the Sustainable Energy for All Conference at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, held from November 30 to December 12, 2015. I asked her to share her thoughts here.         –Trudy

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photo courtesy of Architecture2030.org

We’ll begin with a few questions:

Q: Veronica, what part of the Paris Climate Conference did you attend?

A: I attended Sustainable Energy for All.

(Referred to as SE4all, “Sustainable Energy for All is a call for both revolution and reform; a radical vision where everyone can access and afford the reliable energy they need to live a productive, healthy, secure life, while respecting the planetary constraints that we all face as a result of climate change.” –Rachel Kyte, SE4All CEO/Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General)

Q: Why did you attend the Conference?

A: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Many times, our good intentions have unintended consequences. As the SE4All initiative focuses on powering the world, we need to simultaneously be working on initiatives that empower (people) to make the right decisions on how to use the energy once they receive it.

Buildings consume almost half the world’s power production. If we deliver power to exponentially more people, while only focusing on doubling the efficiency of the infrastructure and doubling the amount of of sustainable energy, we likely have not made a positive impact, but rather have continued on a track of more consumption.

My focus is how can we implement grass roots movements in Third World countries that educate people on how to have healthy and sustainable homes, and make healthy decisions for their families regarding consumption and preservation of culture, once they receive the energy.

To date, my role has been as a participant in think tank type of discussions to brainstorm what initiatives and actionable steps could be viable for making this come true.

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photo courtesy of SE4All.org

Q: What was your takeaway on the most actionable steps?

A: To get involved. Not just wait and see what others are going to do, but to donate your time or money; if you have an idea, to reach out to the United Nations Foundations and share (what) you want to put into practice and just need financing for; to promote and encourage yourself and others to get involved as a public + private relationship to make meaningful change.

What do you think were the key accomplishments?

A: For the Paris talks in general, the level of unprecedented participation from around the globe. There was a social media survey from the UN that was mostly electronic, but in some areas they had paper ballots hand-delivered to UN outposts, and tallied by staff there. For every one thousand humans on this planet, one person responded to the survey. That is 7 million people from around the world uniting to create change and a better life for a healthier planet. That alone is huge. Good will follow–in exponential increments!

From that survey, the UN defined the 17 top priorities for the 21st century. The top five are:

  1. Poverty
  2. No Hunger
  3. Good Health
  4. Quality Education
  5. Gender Equality

The movement asks all of us to become a global citizen. This video explains more:

Veronica continues:

  • Nature is integral to human wellbeing, and a shift in the realization of our interconnectedness to the environment is continually growing. We can see this vast change in only six short years since the unsuccessful climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009. Last month, an unmistakeable belief in a successful outcome for the Paris Climate Talks was clear after the first week.

 

  • There is no doubt that alterations in timing and logistics played a part. Most notable was the change from the world leaders’ involvement as the negotiators in 2009 to their limited role as speakers and advocates early in the first week, followed by relinquishing final negotiations to environmental and policy professionals. The greatest contributing factor came from outside the closed doors, and even outside Paris.

 

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photo courtesy of United Nations Conference on Climate Change

  • The Earth to Paris movement reached an unprecedented number of people across the planet. The Internet allowed access for all, which diminished the chasm that has distanced us in the past, such as residing in a developed versus developing countries, age gaps, social and economic backgrounds, and more.

 

  • Thousands of videos hosted by celebrities grabbed our attention on social media, surveys invited us to express our opinions, and finally, the call for Love Letters to Paris invited our thoughts to be hand delivered to leaders behind those closed doors. And it worked.

 

 

  • What keeps me going back to the United Nations Foundation discussions is the focus on how public and private sectors can unite to transform ideas into reality, to move from talk to walk. We heard success stories from Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, examples of how companies like Phillips Petroleum are leaping toward carbon-free operations and incorporating holistic, circular economy strategies, and how start-ups are innovating solutions, such as Mobilsol, which delivers off-the-grid solar energy via drones in Africa.

 

  • A subtle shift in perspective and an increase in awareness, followed by one actionable step after another is the catalyst needed to inspire individuals, companies, and economies of scale to make meaningful change, toward better husbandry of the earth.

 

  • Small shifts in perspective can cause massive ripples. After all, thoughts are things, and the unification of humanity’s thoughts will certainly cause waves. A connected world is powerful. A united world is power. Join in the efforts. Do your part. You make a difference as a collective part of the whole.

 

Veronica

Veronica Schreibeis Smith is the CEO and Founding Principal of Vera Iconica Architecture. Veronica’s entrepreneurial half is driven by the vision of creating company structures that support and empower individuals to reach their highest potential, while the architect in her is driven to raise awareness of the profound effects our surroundings have on our wellbeing. She has practiced architecture on four continents, and continues working internationally. She chairs the Wellness Architecture Initiative for the Global Wellness Institute, and recently founded Designed Developments, a B Corporation that invests in a new model of building to inspire and perpetuate the celebration of the richness of culture, pay homage to the natural landscape,and create environments that nourish our wellbeing and feed our souls. 

 

Making Chemical Exposure Visible

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One of my favorite organizations, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), just published a list of their victories in 2015, and how they translate to their goals in 2016. One of the most fascinating items was a pilot project they funded with My Exposome, using silicone wristbands that measure the chemicals we encounter every day in the air, and in the products we use.

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For one week, research volunteers strapped on their wristband, which absorbed chemicals–from pesticides to flame retardants–making the invisible world of chemicals visible.

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The EDF plans to recruit more volunteers in 2016 to improve their understanding of environmental exposures. And then they plan to use that information to spur policy changes to reduce key sources of harmful exposures.

Want to sign up as a research volunteer? Help advance chemical science here!

Photo of My Exposome Courtesy of The Environmental Defense Fund. 

Dominique Browning and Moms Clean Air Force

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There are many activists today who I refer to as my “environmental heroes,” individuals who are stepping out and speaking up about the important issues facing our planet.  I’ve long been a fan of Dominique Browning’s Mom’s Clean Air Force, founded in 2011 with the Environmental Defense Fund. Today, it’s a community 340,000 strong of moms, dads and others fighting for clean air and our kids’ health. The mission of MCAF is to show that air pollution isn’t just dirty, it is toxic. and that there is a connection between pollution and disease.

clean air george washington bridge in heavy smog 1973

photo courtesy of MCAF: George Washington Bridge in heavy smog before Clean Air Act; 1973

Now MCAF has a new free  E book , called Extreme Weather & Our Changing Climate. They’re requesting all of us to help promote the book and share it with each other. Here’s what they say about it:

“Everyone across the country is talking about how the weather is changing. And the weather is changing because the climate is changing. Our weather is unfolding in the context of a warmer earth, caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Climate scientists have shown that extreme rainfall, more likely as the weather warms, is already becoming more common across the country.”

global warming 2

The book covers The Big Three, the main issues related to climate change: heat and mega-heat waves, heavy rainfall, and drought. We are breaking temperature records, worldwide, at unprecedented rates.

storm clouds

A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture: there’s more vapor up there. So we get heavier rainfalls. And during a drought, the air bakes the soil, and the earth warms up even more.

corn killed by drought

The heavy rain that eventually falls doesn’t help the soil at all: it just runs off, causing flash flooding.

flash flooding

Dominique Browning also has another blog, the very lovely Slow Love Life, described as a place to share ways to practice daily mindfulness in the midst of our busy, productive days. That approach provides the perfect balance to concern for our planet. We all need to be restored and refreshed to do our best work in the world.

young woman enjoy the nature on the mountain lake

Dominique kindly agreed to answer some questions about her motivations and passion for the earth. Her interview with Holistic House follows:

Trudy: What was the inspiration behind Moms Clean Air Force? You’re a mom of two grown sons, so there’s that, of course. it’s grown and developed so much since its inception. What were you hoping for when you began?

Dominique: The inspiration is my two sons–and a love of home, quite honestly. As I’ve gotten older, I have expanded my idea of what is “home” beyond the walls of my house. First into the garden and then into the natural world in which we all really live. I have so many moments during the day that I think, what a blessing, a gift, an honor it is to be here, to watch that hummingbird, or to stand in awe of what humankind has accomplished…and I think: I want my children to enjoy this. I’m really thinking a great deal about what we are leaving behind for our loved ones, whether they are our own children or nieces and nephews, or simply, other small beings who count on us to protect them.

Trudy: To borrow from your interview with Michael Oppenheimer: optimist or pessimist? Knowing how enormous the problems are that we face, how do you get out of bed in the morning?

Dominique: I have chosen to be an optimist, because the alternative leads to depression and paralysis. And I’ve learned: I have a choice. I have a choice in the actions I take, what I do–so whether or not in my heart of hearts I think, we’re cooked, I act in the belief that we can make things better.

Trudy: You spent much of your life immersed in the design world, you wrote beautifully about the house where you raised your children, your garden there, and how you felt when you sold that home. You’ve moved again recently. I know you said you could write a book on creating a new home at this stage of life! What creates a sense of home for you? How do you define home today, versus earlier in your life?

Dominique: For one thing, I haul fewer things on the moving barge. But, there are still WAY too many things that I’m attached to, or rather, there are very many things, not too many. The things I love tell the story of who I am, what I care about, and they hold memories of love affairs and friendships. This wasn’t true when I was younger. So my sense of home comes from the things I love all around me, and from having spaces that I can read and rest in, and cook simple dinners for friends and family; home is where I feel I can express myself. 

Trudy: You wrote once that you feared you were becoming a curmudgeon because you saw balloons and all you could think of is that they would end up gagging a goose. What small (or large) thing do you see that you would like for the world to change today. I am a fierce opponent of of pesticides and lawn and garden chemicals, among other things! What is your current pet peeve, or pet project?

Dominique: I agree with you, Trudy: We’ve gotten way too dependent on chemicals to do the jobs that nature used to do with various plants and bugs. We wipe out the creatures who would eat pests for us, for instance. But worse: I’m increasingly agitated about all the natural habitat we are wiping out. People buy houses in the country because they fall in love with the beauty of the place–and then they proceed to neaten everything up, cut down hedgerows, mow away meadows and lose Joe Pye and Milkweed, and manicure the lawns, and leave lights on all night. Pretty soon, we aren’t in the country anymore. And we’re losing, all over the East Coast, all those ground nesters: killdeer, meadowlarks, bobolinks, pheasants.

Let’s start seeing the beauty in a tangle of branches, and the vivid play of color in a stand of what we should not think of as weeds, but rather as native stands of plants! Let’s enjoy watching the grasses ripple in a meadow.

Trudy: You’ve given so much time, energy and talent to making this world a better place for all of us. Where do you find sustenance, and the desire to keep working for what you believe in?

Dominique: Love is my sustenance. I know that sounds impossibly cornball. It is. Every moment of love that floods me–in what I see around me, or in the voice of a child, or a friend, or when I gaze at a painting I especially admire, whatever it is, every breath of love makes me stronger. It does for all of us–if we stop long enough, those few seconds or minutes of being open, to let it happen…

Trudy: Thank you, Dominique! We’re so delighted to showcase you, Moms Clean Air Force, and the new e-book, Extreme Weather.

Dominique: I wrote the Extreme Weather book because, as a gardener, I started noticing how strange things were getting. All of us talk about the weather, and how it is changing because of the warming of our globe. I wanted to understand that, because it is a good example of how something as abstract as “climate change” touches our lives in a very real way.

Trudy: I want to help share the e-book and your message, because it’s so important. This interview has such deep meaning for me. I hope that all my readers take the opportunity to download the free book, and then share it, too.

Let’s all act in the belief that we can make things better!

dominque browning bio

 

Pets and Pesticides

Dog Scratching Flea

Spring brings warmer weather, and with it, the re-emergence of our pets’ worst tormentors: fleas and ticks. Pet owners can spend more than $200 per year per pet on flea shampoos, flea collars, and topical flea and tick controls. The hidden cost isn’t in the damage to your bank account, however, but the potential damage to your pet’s health.

The Humane Society of the United States has added its voice to the The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in warning that some flea and tick products contain chemicals, specifically permethrins, that not only can cause the death of your dog or cat, but are likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

At least 1,600 pet deaths related to spot on treatments with pyrethroids were reported to the EPA over the last five years. They account for more than half of major pesticide pet reactions, including brain damage, heart attacks and violent seizures.

Little sad dog

The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) has a report entitled Poisons on Pets that details the risks to both pets and children. Because children’s bodies are still developing, they are more sensitive to the effects of toxic chemicals than adults. Toddlers’ hand to mouth behavior makes it easy for toxins to be ingested, for example, and children spend time where toxins from pet products tend to accumulate: crawling on rugs, playing with pet toys and holding their much loved pet dog or cat.

As bad as the products are for people, they’re worse for pets. The NRDC says that based on the available data, hundreds and probably thousands of pets have been injured or killed through exposure to pesticides. Just like small children, pets can’t tell us when they’re being poisoned at low doses.

Sleepy kitten

Flea control products on the market include seven specific organophosphate insecticides (OPs). OPs work by blocking the breakdown of the body’s messenger chemical, acetylcholine, and interfering with the transmission of nerve signals in the brains and nervous systems of insects, pets and humans. In the presence of OPs, acetylcholine builds up in the body. The resulting interference with nerve transmissions is of such a magnitude that it actually kills insects. But even at normal doses, it can also harm pets and children (from the NRDC’s Poisons on Pets.)

The seven OPs are chlorpyrifos, dichlorvos, phosmet, naled, tetrachlorvinphos, diazinon and malathion. Another commonly used pesticide in a popular topically applied product is fipronil. According to Virginia Dobozy, a veterinarian at the EPA, fipronil products are classified as carcinogens, producing malignant as well as benign tumors in laboratory tests. Exposure to these insecticides can more than double the risk of Parkinson’s later in life. For pregnant women exposed to pesticides, their children were 250% more likely to be diagnosed with brain cancer before their fifth birthday.

children and pets

We want to believe that all of the products available for sale have been tested and proven safe. But that’s just not so. According to the CPI, “The EPA cannot make its own assessment because unlike the regulations directing the FDA’s approval of human products, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act does not require pet products to undergo field trials prior to approval.”

What should you do instead? There is no question that ticks carry dangerous diseases that are transmitted to humans, including Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, and Tickborne relapsing fever (TBRF), among others.Some of these are transmitted by ticks in their nymph stage, or even at full grown size, but are no larger than a poppy seed. Here are some of the non-toxic alternatives available:

  • Earth Animal, a holistic pet care retail store and website begun by a veterinarian and his wife, offers a natural flea and tick prevention program that is based on adding powder and drops to your animal’s daily diet. A combination of vitamins, minerals and herbs helps to change the odor of the pet’s blood chemistry, so fleas, ticks, mosquitos and black flies do not like either the odor or taste of the blood. The odor is undetectable by humans. During the flea and tick season, you can mist your dog’s belly, paws and coat daily with an organic bug spray to help repel insects.
  • Another safe, environmentally friendly product I use is Damminix Tick Tubes.  Since Lyme Disease begins with mice, not deer, Tick Tubes rely on the natural nesting instincts of mice to fight the battle. Placed on your property in areas where mice frolic, the biodegradable, cardboard tubes are filled with permethrin treated cotton balls. Mice collect the cotton to build nests in their burrows. Young ticks feeding on the mice are killed by the mild insecticide before they can spread Lyme Disease to you and your family. It is important to use this only on the perimeter of your property, in safe places that are not accessible to pets or children. Even mild insecticides are poisons, and must be used carefully and responsibly.
  • I use organic cedar mulch as another layer of protection in my garden beds. It’s a natural pest repellent, but does not harm beneficial insects such as butterflies and bees. You can even place a small amount in an open container in your pantry or closets for a pleasant cedar aroma that will deter indoor pests.
  • Buck Mountain Parasite Dust, available only through veterinarians and pet stores, can be used to rid animals, gardens and buildings of flies, fleas, ticks, mites, ants and more. Its active insecticide is a chemical derived from the Neem tree, which is both a repellant and provides disinfectant and healing properties. You can sprinkle the dust on your pet’s back from head to tail, and brush against the hair to bring the dust into contact with the skin. A teaspoon of the dust can also be placed on a window sill to eliminate fleas, flies and other bugs in your home. It is safe for use in your garden as well.
  • Essentria IC3 Insecticide Concentrate (formerly labeled as Eco Exempt) is USDA National Organic Program (NOP) compliant, so it can be used in restaurants , schools, animal clinics and healthcare facilities without danger. Recommended by Chris Baliko, Accredited Organic Land Care Professional (AOLCP) of Growing Solutions LLC, Its active botanical ingredients include rosemary oil, peppermint oil and geraniol (found in many essential oils). These act as octopamine blockers, disrupting insects’ central nervous systems. Because mammals, birds and fish do not have receptors for octopamine, botanical oils are very safe to use.

I’ve written extensively about non toxic flea and tick control:  read more here. 

In addition, follow these steps:

  • Wash your pet with a pesticide-free shampoo, and brush or comb frequently.
  • Vacuum carpets and upholstered furniture on a regular basis. Dispose of the bags immediately after use.
  • Keep your lawn mowed.
  • Cats should be kept indoors at all times.
  • The NRDC has reviewed the ingredients of more than 100 products and published a guide called Greenpaws Flea and Tick Products Directory.  Make informed choices, and keep your pets, your family and the earth safe from harm.

dogs and the sea

 

Eco-Friendly Pet Toys

If you’re a regular reader of Holistic House, you know I’m an animal lover.  I have three beautiful bichon frises:  G.G., Ellie and Tuffy, and my husband Frank and I consider them a part of the family.  That’s why when I talk about the importance of a healthy home, I want our homes to be healthy for all of us who live there:  human and animal.

My last blog post gave some ideas about creating a home that fits our dogs and cats as well as our human loved ones.  This month, let’s take a look at what our pets put in their mouths.  Their chew toys and favorite stuffed playthings need to be as carefully chosen as their food.

A toxic toy was recently removed from the shelves of a national pet store chain, after it was found to contain Trimethyl Benzene, Arsenic, Cadmium and Lead, along with Naphthalene, the main ingredient in mothballs.  The toy, “Snuggling Furry Friend,” was sold under the store’s private label.

There are safer choices.  One of my favorite places to shop is Simply Fido. They believe in the same things I do:  the value of an eco-conscious home, environmental responsibility, and protecting the health of our pets.  You can purchase their products online, or in Westport, Connecticut, at one of my favorite stores, Earth Animal.

For more information on natural animal care and nutrition offered at Earth Animal, see this post.