Monday, November 30, 2015

COP21 Begins!

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The 21st U.N. Conference of Parties (COP 21), or the big climate change conference, begins today!  President Obama and other world leaders are meeting to chart a course for a cleaner-energy future.  Many experts say that this is really the last chance we have to avoid major and irreversible climate impacts.  (photo:

Work toward this conference has been going on for over a year.  The Washington Post reported on Sunday that:
  • more than 160 countries have put forward climate action plans,
  • eight of the largest world economies have pledged to double their renewable energy supply by 2030,
  • Brazil will be the first LDC to reduce its absolute greenhouse gas emissions,
  • and China is introducing a nation-wide cap-and-trade system to encourage green energy.
Be sure to follow the events in Paris, and don’t forget to write your elected representatives to say that you want to see action on climate change!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thankful for clean streams!

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This past weekend, it was time for some Thanksgiving week stream monitoring!  But this time we had LOTS of company.

CameraAwesomePhoto (80) A A group of nearly 20  students and future stream monitors, plus our intrepid leader Dan Schwartz, from the Fairfax County Soil and Water Conservation District, joined us to monitor for invertebrates. The news was relatively good! After shuffling

CameraAwesomePhoto (81)

and investigating what was in our nets,

CameraAwesomePhoto (82)

the stream scored an “8” which means not great, but also not awful.  We’ll take that as a win!

Becoming a stream monitor is fun and simple.  If you’d like to adopt your own stream, check out the VA Save Our Streams website!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Apple and root vegetable hash

Have you forgotten why Meat-Free Friday is a great idea for the environment?  Be sure to check greenmomster’s post on the topic.

This week’s recipe is adapted from the November 2012 issue of Martha Stewart Living.  I made it for my family this week and it was a big hit!  Serve it with some soup and a salad, and you’ve got an easy Friday night meal.  Note:  I played fast and loose with theDSC_0085ingredient amounts for this recipe and it still turned out very tasty!

salt and pepper to taste
5 or 6 celery stalks, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
2 cups Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (I used much more)
2 cup sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 onion, chopped
3 apples, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 cup fresh sage leaves, chopped

1)  Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, and generously season with salt.  Add celery and simmer for 3 minutes.  Add potatoes and sweet potatoes and simmer for an additional 2 or 3 minutes.  Take veggies out of the water and cool for about 15 minutes.
2)  Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a skillet and cook onions until almost clear.  Add remaining oil, apples and veggies.  Season with salt and pepper.
3)  Stir the mixture and then press into a single layer with a spatula.  Cook for about 2 minutes.  Mix and repeat until the vegetables are soft.
4)  Remove from heat, stir in sage, and enjoy!

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

We’re not getting any younger…

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If you’re like me, hope springs eternal!  I’d like to believe that with a little more maintenance, this


could look like this

Who doesn’t want to look younger, more shiny and beautiful, or at least as good as you can look?  You may have heard of magic “microbeads” that are guaranteed to make us look younger and brighter.  These tiny scrubbers promise to brighten our skin and teeth gently!  What’s a microbead? According to Plastic Free Seas, “Microbeads are tiny particles of plastic less than 1mm in size that can be spherical or irregular in shape and produced in a multitude of colours.  Microbeads  are manufactured for use in consumer products such as body and face scrubs to produce a “feel good factor”.  The types of plastic most commonly used as microbeads are: polyethylene (PE), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), nylon polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polypropylene (PP).”  What could be better than gentle scrubbing? (photo credit:  Steven Davy)

Well, there’s an environmental downside to these plastic microbeads.  Check out this video to understand why you might want to remove a few of these products from your beauty regimen.  According to PRI, New York State dumps 19 tons of microbeads down the drain every year!  We all want to look good, but maybe the price for this beauty tool is a little too high.

Canada is moving toward banning microbeads and several U.S. states are planning to ban their sale by 2018.  Want to try to avoid microbeads?  Here’s a helpful list of products containing microbeads.  And oh yeah, there’s an app for that!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Chickpea Chili

This tasty chili has lots of ingredients, but it’s not difficult to make.  Perfect for a November evening! (photo:


  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 stalks chopped celery
  • 1 small chopped carrot
  • 1 tsp jar garlic
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/4 pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground red pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tblsp tomato paste
  • 2 (15 oz) cans of chickpeas
  • 1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 tblsp cilantro
  • 1 tblsp lemon juice


  1. Heat the oil in a large pot.  Add onion, celery, carrot, and garlic and saute for about 5 minutes. 
  2. Stir in cumin and next 7 ingredients.  Stir and cook for about 1 minute.
  3. Add in water, tomato paste, chickpeas, and tomatoes.  Bring to a boil.
  4. Lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Add in cilantro and lemon juice.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

More Island Getaways

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In keeping with last week’s post on island getaways, this week let’s take a look at trash islands! 

In both the Atlantic and Pacific we see HUGE islands or patches of garbage made up of small pieces of plastic and other waste.  The patches in the Pacific can be as big as the state of Texas!  Where does all this garbage come from?  The vast majority (80%) comes from land – it’s blown off beaches, washes through storm drains, or washes into rivers and streams.  The rest comes from cruise ships and cargo ships.  Be sure to watch this Discovery video to see what a garbage patch/island looks like.

How can you help?  There’s not a practical way to clean up these islands, yet.  Our best action is prevention:

  1. Never litter or throw trash into a storm drain
  2. Recycle whenever possible.  Yes, there is some dispute about the effectiveness of some methods of collecting and recycling plastic, but one thing’s for sure – recycled plastic doesn’t create trash islands
  3. Reduce and reuse!  The more trash you can keep out of the waste stream, the less chance of it ending up in the ocean!

What you do on the land affects our oceans!


Source:  Miller, G.T. and S.E. Spoolman. 2015.  Living in the Environment, Eighteenth Edition.  Stamford CT, Cengage Learning.  pg. 560.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Planning a winter getaway? 4 islands to visit before they disappear, thanks to climate change.

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It’s solid science that climate change is happening and that this is largely a man-made phenomenon.  The biggest sources of climate change gases are the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and agriculture (think N in fertilizers). 

We also know that one side-effect of climate change is sea level rise.  Many coastal cities, such as Miami FL and Norfolk VA, have begun planning for higher water levels and the subsequent flooding.  But did you know that entire islands will also disappear in the next 100 years?  Here are four islands that you might want to visit, while they’re still above water:

1.Tangier Island – an island in the Chesapeake Bay with about 500 residents.  (photo: Christian Storm:  Business Insider)

Tangier Island

2.Smith Island – another small island in the Chesapeake Bay.  Home of the famous 12-layer Smith Island cake!  (photo:

3.Maldives – a 1,000 km long archipelago in the Indian Ocean; home to over 300,000 people.

4.Kiribati – an island in the central Pacific which is home to over 100,000 people.  Plans are already being made to move these citizens in a program called “migration with dignity”  (photo:  Justin McManus, The Age)

Albert Ientau rebuilds his sea wall to protect his home in the village of Abarao on the island of Tarawa. Photo by Justin McManus, The Age