Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Spring Beauty


Sure, we could talk about the article in the Washington Post on the Endangered Species Act, or about President Trump's misguided climate change policy.....and we will eventually.  But today, let's enjoy nature's spring beauty.






Friday, March 24, 2017

Italian Americans go green!

Well, last week may have been St. Patrick's Day, but did you know the Italian Americans were also celebrating?  Yup, it was St. Joseph's Day! Check out the festivities from NPR's article. (photo:

In order to properly celebrate St. Joseph's Day, we need to eat a meat-free dish featuring fava beans.  So I'm providing several recipes -- check out Martha Stewart's list of the best fava bean recipes and celebrate like a paisan!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

International Day of Forests

This week, the UN celebrates the International Day of Forests.  During this celebration, the UN encourages local communities to conserve forest resources.  The theme this year is "Forests and Energy" which was a little surprising to me.  2016 was "Forests and Water" and 2015 was "Forests and Climate Change".  2014 was "My Forest, Our Future," while the kick-off year was 2013.   The role of forests in sustainable energy is, I think, a unique idea that's going to be a challenge to sell -- that word "sustainable" is really critical to the theme.

I would have proposed "Forests and Biodiversity" as this year's theme.  Tropical forests cover 2% of the Earth's surface but house 50% of our terrestrial biodiversity.  Temperate deciduous forests are some of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet.  Forests can be used sustainably (there's lots to harvest in a sustainable way), but I don't think I would've focused on burning forests as a sustainable use.  I would have focused on other forest products such as cocoa, lumber, pharmaceuticals, coffee, syrup, even mushrooms and ginseng!  What do you think?

Friday, March 17, 2017

Meat free on St. Patty's Day!

Potato and Cabbage Soup
  • 1 small head of cabbage, coarsely chopped into 1 to 2 inch squares
  • 6 yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2 inch cubes
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2  tablespoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme (about 1 1/2 tablespoons if you’re using dried thyme)
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water (I used a little more)
  1. Melt the butter in a large soup pot and saute the onion, potatoes, salt, and pepper for about 5 minutes
  2. Add vegetable broth and water; boil until the potato is just soft enough to mash.
  3. Using a hand potato masher, mash the potatoes in the soup until half the potatoes are mashed and half are still in chunks.  If you really like a smooth soup, instead of hand-mashing, use a blender to puree about half the soup.
  4. Add cabbage and thyme; cook until cabbage is soft.
  5. Makes about 4 servings.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Cabbage on a stick

The perfect place to escape the last of the winter weather is the National Botanic Garden.  The building is filled with beautiful orchids and other tropical and desert plants.

They also have a nice display of endangered plants, so the endangered species of the week is (drumroll please.....)

Cabbage on a Stick! (Brighamia insignis)

This critically endangered plant is found on only one sea cliff on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.  Three factors threaten this species:
  • overgrazing
  • invasive plants that compete with the cabbage
  • the loss of its primary pollinator, the sphingid moth
Because of the loss of its pollinator, conservationists actually hand pollinate these plants and use the seeds to grow more plants in botanic gardens or conserve the seeds in seed banks. 

This plant demonstrates the importance of your local efforts to plant pollinator gardens and remove invasives. You might not be able to protect the Cabbage on a Stick, but you can protect your local ecosystems!  Think globally, act locally!

Friday, March 10, 2017

World's easiest meat-free Friday dish

OK -- no excuses.  This is the easiest meat-free Friday dish, and your family will leave NO leftovers.

Eggs and roasted veggies


  • any wintertime veggies you have -- I like to mix sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower, but you can use turnips, white potatoes, cabbage, etc.  
  • olive oil
  • red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper
  • eggs
  1. Chop the veggies into bite-sized pieces.  Mix with a generous amount of olive oil (the veggies should be a little shiny), and add red pepper, salt, and pepper to taste.
  2. Spread veggies on a baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees
  3. Meanwhile, fry up the eggs -- some folks like them over-easy, some folks like them sunny side up.  
  4. Top the veggies with the eggs and serve with bread and a salad.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Going Green for Lent

Checking out our carbon footprints
Reuseable bags!
Playing the recycling game
Making bird feeders
It's Lent!  In the past I've provided ideas for going green during Lent, and this year my entire church jumped in!  To kick things off, we hosted an event that included informative displays, games, crafts, and even a spot to remove your name from catalog lists.  And everyone received a calendar to guide them through a Lenten Carbon Fast.  Check it out -- it's full of great ideas.

Friday, March 3, 2017

In case you missed it -- EPA cuts

Image result for photo cuyahoga river burning

Did you know that, before we had robust environmental protections in this country, rivers caught on fire?  Google "Cuyahoga river fire" (photo:  Ohio History Central).  And check out Love Canal and Tom's River, too.  We've come a long way, but unfortunately we may be headed back to the bad old days.

The White House has proposed deep cuts to the EPA's budget for implementation of environmental protections.  Here's a summary of the cuts that have been proposed (from Washington Post, 3/2/17):

  • annual budget would drop from $8.2 billion to $6.1 billion, including grants to States for environmental protection
  • EPA staff would be cut from 15,000 to 12,000 employees nationwide
  • the Chesapeake Bay cleanup budget would be slashed from the current $73 million to $5 million in the next fiscal year
  • 38 programs will be eliminated including grants to clean up brownfields, environmental justice programs (yup, protections for our poorest citizens), climate change initiatives, and funding for native Alaskan villages
  • the Office of Research and Development could lose 42% of its funding
The Flint MI lead poisoning is an example of what happens when we don't enforce environmental protections; this disaster will have impacts for many decades to come.  The proposed EPA cuts will multiply the Flint MI disaster and affect folks around the country.   Time to let our representatives know that we don't support rolling back protections.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Cutting EPA

As President Trump proposes a 20% cut in EPA employees and funding (more on that this weekend), I am re-posting this piece for those asking "what harm will this really cause?"

This has been a tough winter for me and my lungs.  It all started slowly back in October; I thought I’d keep things under control thanks to the recommendations of friends for various herbal and homeopathic treatments, with a little albuterol on the side.  Then things took off like wildfire.  snow stripesFor months now, I’ve been struggling to keep the asthma under control.  Despite being otherwise very healthy (training for a half-marathon with doctor’s approval), I still cough until I throw up and daily take a concoction of medicine that leaves my stomach burning and my head spinning.

So why mention this asthma issue on an environmental blog?  Asthma definitely has genetic links – some of us are just more prone to this condition, thanks to our DNA.  But asthma also has a very heavy environmental component.  A while back, I posted about asthma, its environmental sources, and what we can all do to help.  I thought I’d repost this information, since I’m guessing I’m not the only one coughing and wheezing my way through winter.  I hope you find this info helpful!

We are the 10%
It was about 2 am and there I sat, waiting, listening, and hoping that my son’s asthma medication would take effect quickly.  Our family has three of the approximately 34 million Americans with asthma.  That’s roughly 10% of the U.S. population, according to the American Lung Association.  Asthma is an inflammation of the airways, making it difficult to breathe.  Asthma has significant health and economic effects:  
  • the CDC National Center for Health Statistics estimates that asthma is the reason for approximately half a million hospitalizations per year
  • the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that medical expenses associated with asthma increased from $48.6 billion in 2002 to $50.1 billion in 2007.  About 2 in 5 (40%) uninsured people with asthma could not afford their prescription medicines and about 1 in 9 (11%) insured people with asthma could not afford their prescription medicines.
  • the CDC National Center for Health Statistics states that asthma accounts for about 10.1 missed work days per year
  • Females have a 23% higher occurrence of asthma than males (American Lung Association)
  • Between 2001 to 2003, the occurrence of asthma in the U.S. was highest in the Northeast region (CDC)
  • According to the American Lung Association, in 2006, asthma prevalence was 20.1% higher in African Americans than in whites
  • According to the CDC, from 2001-2003, asthma prevalence was higher in individuals living below the federal poverty level (10.3%) compared with those at or above the federal poverty level (6.4% to 7.9%)
And moms, take note:
  • The greatest rise in asthma rates was among black children(almost a 50% increase) from 2001 through 2009 (CDC Vital Signs, 5/11)
  • 185 children died of asthma attacks in 2007 (CDC Vital Signs, 5/11) and nearly 4 million children had asthma attacks last year (Akinbami LJ. The State of childhood asthma, United States, 1980–2005. Advance data from vital and health statistics; no 381, Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2006)
  • For children under 15, asthma is the 3rd leading cause of hospital stays (DeFrances CJ Cullen KA, Kozak LJ. National Hospital Discharge Survey: 2005 Annual Summary with Detailed Diagnosis and Procedure Data. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Statistics 12 (165); 2007)
  • From 2001 to 2003, the CDC reports that the occurrence of asthma in children (8.5%) was higher than in adults (6.7%)
So what triggers asthma and asthma attacks?  First off, asthma is a family affair.  Children with parents who have asthma are more likely to have asthma themselves.  A predisposition for having asthma has been found to be passed down genetically.  Now, just because a person has a predisposition, that doesn’t mean they’ll actually get the disease.  But if they do, what might set off an asthma attack?  Allergies often lead to asthma (dust mites, molds, pollen, etc).  Virus and bacterial infections can lead to asthma symptoms (often, a person with asthma will begin to wheeze or cough if they get a cold).  Some people have exercise-induced asthma.  Others get asthma attacks due to certain foods or drugs.  But asthma can be triggered by something else.  Asthma can be triggered by pollution.  Pollutants such as particulate matter, sulfur dioxide (SO2), and ozone (ground-level ozone, that is) have been shown to increase the occurrence of asthma attacks, particularly in children. 

What types of activities produce these pollutants?  The small particles that might affect the lungs are produced from the chemical reaction of pollutants from power plants, industries, and automobiles.  Sulfur dioxide is most commonly produced from the burning of fossil fuels (coal and oil), as well as cement production.  Ozone isn’t usually emitted directly as a pollutant; it’s formed by the action of sunlight on NOwhich comes from car exhausts, fuel combustion, and industrial processes. 

Beginning to see a trend?  The pollutants that cause the most problems for asthmatics come from our cars and our power plants.   Limiting discharge of pollutants will protect children and other people affected by asthma.  Will it raise our fuel costs?  Possibly.  There’s some conflicting information as discussed by the Edison Electric Institute and the Congressional Research Service.  Full disclosure, my husband works for an energy company, so I’ve heard both sides of the argument.  But let’s look at it this way – someone has to pay.  Should we, the users of cars and power from fossil fuels, each pay a little more for a cleaner environment, or should we ask the payment to be made by the most vulnerable – our children, individuals living below the poverty level, the elderly?  My son’s asthma is controlled with medicine and attacks are infrequent, but others are not so lucky.

What can one person do?  Get educated about efforts to limit discharge of these pollutants to the environment.  Contact your legislators/local industries/power producers regarding this issue – let your opinion be known.