Thursday, October 27, 2016

Halloween fun -- Vultures!


Vultures are critical to many ecosystems -- they help with "environmental cleanup".  As I've mentioned in previous posts, vultures in many parts of the world are critically endangered.  Today's BBC World Service included a fascinating piece on the causes of and (hopefully) solutions to the vultures' precarious position.  Take a quick coffee break and listen in!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

So you slept through science class -- What's an HFC?

Last week, I wrote about the big agreement in Rwanda, and I promised to explain HFCs.  So as my German relatives once told me, "versprochen ist versprochen!" (a promise is a promise!)

The part of the atmosphere that humans live in is called the troposphere.  This layer of the atmosphere is about 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, plus water vapor, and many other chemicals including carbon dioxide.  The troposphere plays a major role in weather and climate.  The next layer up is called the stratosphere.  The stratosphere is the part of the atmosphere where we find much less water vapor and we also find the ozone layer that protects us from the sun's UV rays (as opposed to the tropospheric ozone which we commonly call "smog").  We find this ozone layer about 11 to 16 miles above sea level.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the global community realized that the ozone layer was thinning, and that humans were a big part of the problem.  We focused in on chemicals called CFCs (chloroflourocarbons) which were commonly used in propellants and coolants.  Thanks to international agreements (Montreal in 1987 and Copenhagen in 1992), we've phased out or controlled the use of the ozone-depleting chemicals.  That's why the person who works on your car air conditioner or your home's heating and AC has to have a special certification for handling freon and other CFCs.

The good news is, we phased out CFCs and are starting to see some recovery of the ozone hole.  The bad news is, we replaced many CFCs with HFCs (hydroflourocarbons), which don't damage the ozone layer, but they do affect global warming -- in a BIG way!  You've probably heard of heat trapping gases such as methane and CO2.  Well, HFCs have over 1000 times the heat trapping potential of CO2!  Thus, the Rwanda agreement.

Here are some interesting facts about greenhouse gases that you might not have known:

  • Greenhouse gases are necessary to trap heat on the planet, and they're the reason we can live here.  The problem is not greenhouse gases alone, it's the amount of EXTRA greenhouse gases humans are adding to the atmosphere.
  • Water vapor is the most common greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.
  • 95% of CO2 in that atmosphere is naturally occurring.  It's that extra 5% that we're adding that's causing the problems.
  • Carbon dioxide can last in the atmosphere for 50 to 200 years.  Methane breaks down in about 12 years.  HFCs are similar to methane with a lifespan of about 14 years.  Nitrous oxide lasts over 100 years.
  • The atmosphere can store roughly 750 billion tons of carbon without significantly changing Earth's temperature.  When we burn fossil fuels, we add about 7 billion additional tons of carbon to the atmosphere each year.
Want to learn more?  Just search "climate change" for more posts on this topic!

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Friday, October 21, 2016

A new take on a seasonal favorite -- pumpkin!

Have you forgotten why Meat-Free Friday is a great idea for the environment?  Be sure to check greenmomster’s post on the topic.  Be sure to “Like” greenmomster on Facebook for meat-free Friday recipes and environmental news!

(photo from

I love plantains, so imagine my joy when I saw a recipe for tacos with grilled plantains!  Not only are plantains tasty, they’re CHEAP!!  I made enough tacos for my family of 5 with about $1.50 worth of plantains.  This recipe comes from the Washington Post.  The only changes I made to the recipe were:
  1. I fried the plantains in a frying pan, rather than on the grill
  2. I used red pepper flakes, rather than ancho chili powder
  3. I didn’t toast the pumpkin seeds
  4. I squirted the plantains with spray olive oil, rather than brushing them.
Other than those changes, the recipe stands as written by the “Weeknight Vegetarian” on April 13, 2015.

  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for coating the grill
  • 2 medium semi-ripe plantains, peeled (about 1 1/4 pounds; see headnote)
  • Finely grated zest and juice from 1 lime (1 tablespoon zest and 1 tablespoon juice)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon ground ancho chili powder
  • Eight 6-inch corn tortillas
  • 2 cups packed shredded red cabbage
  • 1 cup homemade or store-bought salsa verde (see related recipe)
  • 3/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds (see NOTE)
  1. “Prepare a grill for direct heat. If using a gas grill, preheat to medium (350 degrees). If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or wood briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them under the cooking area for direct heat. For a medium-hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for about 4 or 5 seconds. Have ready a spray water bottle for taming any flames. Lightly coat the grill rack with oil and place it on the grill.
  2. Brush the plantains with the oil. Grill them, turning as needed, until they are lightly charred on several sides, 5 to 10 minutes total. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into slices or bite-size pieces, then toss them in a large bowl with the lime zest and juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the chili powder. Taste, and add salt as needed.
  3. Warm the tortillas on the grill for 5 seconds per side (to make them pliable); divide among individual plates. Fill each tortilla with 1/4 cup cabbage, a few pieces of plantain and a few tablespoons of salsa. Evenly distribute all the pumpkin seeds. Serve warm.
  4. NOTE: To toast the pumpkin seeds, heat a large, heavy skillet over low-to-medium heat. Add the pumpkin seeds and cook, tossing them occasionally, until the seeds are fragrant and slightly puffed, 5 to 7 minutes. Cool completely before using.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Remember to vote locally for the environment!

All the political talk this fall seems to be about the presidential food fight.  For those of us who care about environmental issues, voting in local and state elections is just as important as the presidential election.  Here's a great example of local environmental work in action:

The Town of Vienna Community Enhancement Commission today received the Environmental Excellence Award from Fairfax County VA.  I'm proud to be a part of these hardworking folks who have accomplished much good for the environment, including:

  • the Solarize program, which allows local residents to install solar panels on their homes at lower cost due to a group purchase
  • participation on the VA Green Restaurant program, including the recognition of the VA Green Restaurant of the Year right here in Vienna -- Cafe Amouri!
  • development of a program to conserve tree cover in Vienna
  • removal of invasive English ivy from trees throughout Vienna
  • sponsorship of an annual Green Expo in Vienna to educate residents on sustainability
Congratulations to Vienna's CEC!  (David Steiner, Tara Ruzkowski, Jack Ruzkowski, and Maureen Alonso not pictured)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Big news on greenhouse gases from Rwanda!

After 7 years of negotiation, an agreement that controls the use of HFCs was signed in Rwanda this week.  HFCs are a class of chemical used in refrigeration and cooling.  Although they're only a tiny fraction of the worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, they pack a big punch when it comes to climate change -- they can have over 1000 times the heat-trapping potential of CO2!  Next week, I'll post about the ozone layer, climate change, CFCs and HFCs.  For now, check out this article about this important agreement!

Friday, October 14, 2016

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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Monday, October 10, 2016

So you slept through science class -- What's a PCB?

 PCBs are a group of over 200 chlorine-containing organic compounds that were used between 1929 and 1977.  They're very stable (meaning they don't break down quickly into non-toxic forms), they bioaccumulate, and they're non-flammable.  They were very popular in the past, being used as 
  • lubricants,
  • hydraulic fluids, 
  • insulators, 
  • and ingredients in fire retardants, paints, adhesives, and pesticides.
In 1977, the U.S. Congress banned production of these chemicals after research demonstrated that they were carcinogenic (caused cancer) and could cause neurological damage to babies and children. Although these chemicals are no longer produced in the U.S., they remain in our environment.  

Birds of prey, such as ospreys and eagles, are often the species that we think of when we're thinking about chemical contamination of the environment by PCBs, but humans can also be affected.  The Washington Post recently reported on activists pushing for PCB testing in schools.  

Any greenmomsters live in school districts that have tested for PCBs?

Friday, October 7, 2016

Okra and Rice Casserole

Okra and Rice Casserole Recipe

(photo credit:   Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Caroline M. Cunningham)

Why eat low on the food chain?  Here's why.

Love okra?  But what do you do with it after you've fried it, stewed it, and gumbo'd it?  Here's a great recipe I found in the September 2016 issue of Southern Living Magazine.  Not too complicated and very tasty!  Check it out:  Okra and Rice Casserole.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

More questions I'd like to ask the candidates

Early in 2015, I wrote about 6 questions I'd like to ask the candidates:

  1. What is your plan to move the U.S. economy toward a sustainable energy supply that decreases our carbon footprint significantly?
  2. How do you plan to work with other nations, particularly India and China, to decrease the global use of non-renewable energy?
  3. How do you plan to support and encourage U.S. industry to innovate to become a world supplier of green energy technology?
  4. Now that we're in what many scientists consider to be the 6th global extinction event (the "Anthropocene"), what's your plan for protecting global biodiversity?
  5. What is your "national water strategy", including maintaining supplies of freshwater in the U.S. and abroad, and dealing with refugees from areas affected by sea level rise or drought conditions?
  6. Are you actually planning to support the crazy idea of drilling for oil off the southern U.S. Atlantic coast, particularly off the coast of Virginia?
Fortunately, the candidates' websites cover a few of these questions, particularly those dealing with climate change.  So today is another debate and World Animal Day, and I've got a few follow-up questions:
  1. Once you are elected Vice President, how would you recommend we handle the controversy over the Dakota Access pipeline?  
  2. Do you have a freshwater/drinking water plan that addresses acute problems such as Flint MI, while planning for future water management?  Do you plan to address the fracking loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act?
  3. As you deal with the current refugee crisis, what is your plan for identifying and assisting "environmental refugees"?
Any other questions you would add, greenmomsters?