Summer Season puts Galveston Tourism Back on Track

August 31, 2010 by  
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Tourism numbers come in above 2009
GALVESTON, Texas (August 30, 2010) – As the summer season comes to a close, the Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) reports a positive increase in tourism business to Galveston Island.
Hotel Occupancy Tax increased 20% in May, 34% in June and 32% in July over the same months in 2009. This puts summer hotel tax collections only 15% away from peak numbers in 2008, before Hurricane Ike and a downtown in the national economy caused a decline in tourism.
“Despite negative perception from the oil spill and a tough economy, we are grateful for a successful summer,” said Meg Winchester, Director of the Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Our partners have worked hard to create new activities and special events and provide guests with a quality experience to keep them coming back to the Island.”
Another boost for Galveston’s tourism economy is expected over Labor Day weekend, Sept 3-6. Hotel rooms are filling quickly and with special events like the Brewmaster’s International Festival, Galveston is anticipating numbers above 2009’s occupancy.
The CVB did increase summer advertising this year, placing ads on major travel websites including TripAdvisor, Expedia and regional newspapers in addition to print, radio & television. Public relations efforts were also enhanced by visiting media in Dallas, Austin and Houston to battle the oil spill perception and promote leisure travel to the Island.
Galveston Island plans to continue the rest of the year strong with new special events and good hotel rates to entice visitors. The inaugural Shrimp Festival will be held Sept. 25 and to encourage Island living, the Downtown Lofts Tour is Oct 2-3.
A full calendar of events and more information on Galveston Island can be found on www.galveston.com.

Should I fear radiation exposure associated with medical scans such as CT scans, mammograms and the like?

August 23, 2010 by  
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EarthTalk®
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Should I fear radiation exposure associated with medical scans such as CT scans, mammograms and the like? — Shelly Johansen, Fairbanks, AK

The short answer is…maybe. Critics of the health care industry postulate that our society’s quickness to test for disease may in fact be causing more of it, especially in the case of medical scans. To wit, the radiation dose from a typical CT scan (short for computed tomography and commonly known as a “cat scan”) is 600 times more powerful than the average chest x-ray.

A 2007 study by Dr. Amy Berrington de González of the National Cancer Institute projected that the 72 million CT scans conducted yearly in the U.S. (not including scans conducted after a cancer diagnosis or performed at the end of life) will likely cause some 29,000 cancers resulting in 15,000 deaths two to three decades later. Scans of the abdomen, pelvis, chest and head were deemed most likely to cause cancer, and patients aged 35 to 54 were more likely to develop cancer as a result of CT scans than other age group.

Another study found that, among Americans who received CT scans, upwards of 20 percent had a false positive after one scan and 33 percent after two, meaning that such patients were getting huge doses of radiation without cause. And about seven percent of those patients underwent unnecessary invasive medical procedures following their misleading scans. CT scans are much more common today than in earlier decades, exacerbating the potential damage from false positives and excessive radiation exposure.

“Physicians and their patients cannot be complacent about the hazards of radiation or we risk creating a public-health time bomb,” says Dr. Rita Redberg, a cardiologist at University of California-San Francisco. “To avoid unnecessarily increasing cancer incidence in future years, every clinician must carefully assess the expected benefits of each CT scan and fully inform his or her patients of the known risks of radiation.”

CT scans are not the only concern. Mammograms are now routine for women over 40 years old. But some studies suggest that these types of screenings may cause more cancers than they prevent. Because of this, the federally funded U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now recommends that women not otherwise considered high risk for breast cancer wait until age 50 to begin getting mammograms—and then to get them every two years instead of annually. However, the American Cancer Society argues that such restraint would result in women dying unnecessarily from delaying screenings.

Women with a family history of breast cancer may be at greatest risk. Researchers from the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands found that five or more x-rays—or any exposure to radiation—before the age of 20 for “high risk” women increased the likelihood of developing breast cancer later by a factor of two and a half.

Individuals should ask tough questions of their physicians to determine if and how much screening is absolutely necessary to look for suspected abnormalities. Our knowledge of the risks of radiation-based screenings will only help us to make more informed decisions about our health.

CONTACTS: National Cancer Institute, www.cancer.gov; American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org; University Medical Center Groningen, www.umcg.nl.

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. E is a nonprofit publication. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe; Request a Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

EarthTalk®
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: What is happening with various programs initiated over the years in the U.S. to return to the wild certain animal species that had been endangered or threatened? And do environmentalists tend to be for or against such efforts? — Susan Adams, Owl’s Head, ME

From the standpoint of species and ecosystem health, limited attempts at predator reintroduction in the United States have for the most part proven very successful. The gray wolf, extirpated by hunters in the Yellowstone region some 90 years ago, is now thriving there in the wake of a controversial reintroduction program initiated in 1995, when the National Park Service released 31 gray wolves into the park’s expansive backcountry. Today as many as 170 gray wolves roam the park and environs, while the elk population—which was denuding many iconic park landscapes in the absence of its chief predator—has fallen by half, in what many environmentalists see as a win-win scenario.

Other reintroduction efforts across the U.S. have also been successful. From the lynx in Colorado to the condor in California to the Black-footed ferret on the Plains, scientists are pleased with how well reintroduced species have taken to their new surroundings. As a result, many conservationists now view the reintroduction of iconic wildlife species as key to restoring otherwise degraded natural landscapes.

“When we kill off big cats, wolves and other wild hunters, we lose not only prominent species, but also the key ecological and evolutionary process of top-down regulation,” says the non-profit Rewilding Institute, adding that the recovery of large native carnivores should be the heart of any conservation strategy in areas where such predators have disappeared. “Wolves, cougars, lynx, wolverines, grizzly and black bears, jaguars, sea otters and other top carnivores need to be restored throughout North America in ecologically effective densities in their natural ranges where suitable habitat remains or can be restored.”

Not everyone is so bullish on wildlife reintroduction programs, despite their success. As for the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction, ranchers operating on private land outside park boundaries still complain about the threat of free-roaming wolves poaching their livestock. In response, the non-profit Defenders of Wildlife has implemented its Wolf Conservation Trust whereby donated funds are channeled toward paying ranchers fair market value for any stock lost to wolf predation. The group hopes the fund will “eliminate a major factor in political opposition to wolf recovery” by shifting the economic burden of wolf recovery from livestock producers to those who support wolf reintroduction.

Some environmental advocates also oppose wildlife reintroductions. One argument is that people have “played God” enough and should stop tinkering even more with wildlife and ecosystems, especially given that the overall long-term impact is always uncertain. And some animal advocates dislike such strategies from a humanitarian perspective: “Reintroduction programs subject wild animals to capturing and handling, which is always stressful for them, and may eventually put them in the line of fire of farmers who are already angry about predator-reintroduction programs,” claims People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), adding that, when predators are reintroduced to an area where they have long been absent, prey species tend to scatter and “their lives and behavior patterns are turned upside-down.”

CONTACTS: The Rewilding Institute, www.rewilding.org; Defenders of Wildlife, www.defenders.org; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), www.peta.org.

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. E is a nonprofit publication. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe; Request a Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

Friday, Dec. 17 – FREE Shopping Day

August 17, 2010 by  
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Created to extend the online holiday shopping season for merchants and give procrastinating consumers one final chance to surf the Internet for gifts, the event expects to attract more than 1,000 retailers this year

Fort Collins, CO – Black Friday and Cyber Monday once again have company in the holiday shopping season. The third annual Free Shipping Day is set for Friday, December 17, 2010.

Free Shipping Day is a one day shopping event when participating merchants offer free shipping with delivery by Christmas Eve. Luke Knowles – who created the popular shopping web site FreeShipping.org with his wife, Maisie, in 2007 – hatched the idea for Free Shipping Day just two weeks before the event in December 2008. In an abrupt brainstorm, he thought that retailers would relish the opportunity to extend the online holiday shopping season, which typically peaks in early December because consumers are concerned about their gift orders arriving to their intended destination in time for Christmas.

Knowles expected a favorable response from retailers and consumers that first year, but he didn’t anticipate the overwhelming interest that the event actually received. Free Shipping Day attracted more than 250 merchants and the FreeShippingDay.com web site saw 250,000 hits in a 10-day period, including 100,000 on the actual day itself. Word spread among national media outlets and blogs, and last year more than 750 merchants that participated, drawing 450,000 visitors to the website, including 232,000 on Free Shipping Day itself. Knowles estimates that about 35,000 sales were registered on the site among participating retailers on Free Shipping Day last December.

“We have reached a point where consumers are expecting free shipping when they shop online, but in many cases it is offered when you purchase a certain amount, such as $50 or $100,” Knowles said. “To make Free Shipping Day even more unique, we are encouraging retailers to offer free shipping on all orders.”

Knowles projects that more than 1,000 retailers will participate in this year’s Free Shipping Day. Merchants that participated in last years event include Macy’s, Kohl’s, Dell, Toys R Us, JCPenney, Sears, Ralph Lauren and Eddie Bauer.

“We consulted with merchants who participated last year to choose the most ideal date for this year’s Free Shipping Day,” Knowles said. “Since the 18th will be a busy offline shopping day since it is the last Saturday before Christmas, we believe that Friday the 17th will be convenient because people can shop from their homes and their offices.”

Free Shipping Day is becoming part of our nation’s holiday shopping vocabulary, serving as the final event in the holiday shopping trifecta.

###

Free Shipping Day is a one day shopping event when participating merchants offer free shipping with delivery by Christmas Eve. The third annual event will be held this year on Friday, December 17. For more information, visit www.freeshippingday.com.

Third annual Free Shipping Day slated for December 17

August 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Edit

Created to extend the online holiday shopping season for merchants and give procrastinating consumers one final chance to surf the Internet for gifts, the event expects to attract more than 1,000 retailers this year

Fort Collins, CO – Black Friday and Cyber Monday once again have company in the holiday shopping season. The third annual Free Shipping Day is set for Friday, December 17, 2010.

Free Shipping Day is a one day shopping event when participating merchants offer free shipping with delivery by Christmas Eve. Luke Knowles – who created the popular shopping web site FreeShipping.org with his wife, Maisie, in 2007 – hatched the idea for Free Shipping Day just two weeks before the event in December 2008. In an abrupt brainstorm, he thought that retailers would relish the opportunity to extend the online holiday shopping season, which typically peaks in early December because consumers are concerned about their gift orders arriving to their intended destination in time for Christmas.

Knowles expected a favorable response from retailers and consumers that first year, but he didn’t anticipate the overwhelming interest that the event actually received. Free Shipping Day attracted more than 250 merchants and the FreeShippingDay.com web site saw 250,000 hits in a 10-day period, including 100,000 on the actual day itself. Word spread among national media outlets and blogs, and last year more than 750 merchants that participated, drawing 450,000 visitors to the website, including 232,000 on Free Shipping Day itself. Knowles estimates that about 35,000 sales were registered on the site among participating retailers on Free Shipping Day last December.

“We have reached a point where consumers are expecting free shipping when they shop online, but in many cases it is offered when you purchase a certain amount, such as $50 or $100,” Knowles said. “To make Free Shipping Day even more unique, we are encouraging retailers to offer free shipping on all orders.”

Knowles projects that more than 1,000 retailers will participate in this year’s Free Shipping Day. Merchants that participated in last years event include Macy’s, Kohl’s, Dell, Toys R Us, Jcpenney, Sears, Ralph Lauren and Eddie Bauer.

“We consulted with merchants who participated last year to choose the most ideal date for this year’s Free Shipping Day,” Knowles said. “Since the 18th will be a busy offline shopping day since it is the last Saturday before Christmas, we believe that Friday the 17th will be convenient because people can shop from their homes and their offices.”

Free Shipping Day is becoming part of our nation’s holiday shopping vocabulary, serving as the final event in the holiday shopping trifecta.

###

Free Shipping Day is a one day shopping event when participating merchants offer free shipping with delivery by Christmas Eve. The third annual event will be held this year on Friday, December 17. For more information, visit www.freeshippingday.com.

Is Soy Milk Really Milk?

August 17, 2010 by  
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EarthTalk®
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Is the dairy industry really trying to stop soy milk makers from calling their products “milk?” They must feel very threatened by the preponderance of soy milks now available in supermarkets. — Gina Storzen, Weymouth, MA

Indeed, just this past April the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), a trade group representing dairy farms, petitioned the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to crack down on what it calls “the misappropriation of dairy terminology on imitation milk products.” NMPF has been asking for such a ruling for a decade, and argues that the soy industry’s “false and misleading” labeling is now more common than ever.

According to NMPF president and CEO, Jerry Kozak, the FDA has let the issue slide so that the meaning of ‘milk’ and even ‘cheese’ has been “watered down to the point where many products that use the term have never seen the inside of a barn.”

Furthermore, Kozak adds, the use of “dairy terminology” on non-dairy products can lead people to think they are eating healthier than they really are, especially because non-dairy products “can vary wildly in their composition and are inferior to the nutrient profile of those from dairy milk.”

The website FoodNavigator-USA.com reports that on the other side of the Atlantic, the European Dairy Association (EDA) has also called for the term ‘soy milk’ to be replaced with ‘soy drink’. EDA also suggests other options including ‘soy beverage’, ‘soy preparation’ and ‘soy-based liquid’. It’s no wonder the soy industry isn’t quick to give up the milk moniker, given how catchy the alternatives could be!

Jen Phillips of Mother Jones magazine takes issue with the dairy industry’s sense of ownership when it comes to terms like ‘milk’, ‘cheese’ and ‘dairy’. “The word ‘milk’ has lots of uses and has been used for non-dairy milks like coconut for a long time,” she reports, adding that consumers already know that soy milk isn’t dairy milk. “Instead,” she writes, “the move to ban ‘milk’ from non-dairy products is a transparent ploy by the NMPF to hurt the soybean industry that, thanks to increasingly health-conscious consumers and ethanol production quotas, is growing stronger every year.”

She also disagrees with Kozak’s claim that dairy milk is healthier than soy: “Actually, soy milk and dairy aren’t that different nutritionally, except for that milk is fattier,” she says, explaining that a cup of vanilla soy milk has 30 fewer calories than a cup of two percent cow’s milk. And while dairy does have twice the protein, soy milk has 10 percent more calcium. “It’s a bit of a toss-up nutritionally, but I’m lactose-intolerant so I’ll choose the ‘milk’ that doesn’t make me gassy and crampy.”

Phillips adds that, since 90-100 percent of Asians and 50 percent of Hispanics—two of the fastest growing immigrant populations in the U.S.—are lactose intolerant, “NMPF might want to think less about fighting soy and more about how they’re going to deal with people who can’t drink milk to begin with.”

CONTACTS: NMPF, www.nmpf.org; FDA, www.fda.gov; FoodNavigator-USA.com, www.foodnavigator-usa.com; EDA, www.euromilk.org; Mother Jones, www.motherjones.com.

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. E is a nonprofit publication. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe; Request a Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

EarthTalk®
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Many people oppose dams because they change the flow of rivers and affect the migrating patterns of fish and other species, but aren’t they also a great renewable energy source? — Ryan Clark, Milton, WA

Hydroelectric dams are among the greenest and most affordable electricity sources in the world—and by far the most widely used renewable energy sources—but they also take a heavy environmental toll in the form of compromised landscapes, ecosystems and fisheries. Hydroelectric dams have been an important component of America’s energy mix since the powerful flow of rivers was first harnessed for industrial use in the 1880s. Today hydroelectric power accounts for seven percent of U.S. electricity generation—and some two-thirds of the country’s renewable power—according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Globally, about 19 percent of electricity comes from hydroelectric sources. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that China is the world’s largest producer of hydroelectricity, followed by Canada, Brazil and the U.S. Some two-thirds of the economically feasible potential for hydro power remains to be developed around the world, with untapped resources most abundant in Latin America, India and China.

Of course, despite the inexpensive and emissions-free power, many environmentalists consider hydroelectric dams to be man-made abominations that prevent salmon and other fish from swimming upstream, divert otherwise natural riparian settings, and fundamentally change the character of surrounding ecosystems. Green groups including American Rivers, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, the Endangered Species Coalition, Friends of the Earth, National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club are pushing the federal government to mandate the removal of four dams along the Snake River in Washington State that help the region have the lowest power-related carbon footprint in the country. The dams have decimated once teeming salmon runs, and upstream forest ecosystems have suffered accordingly.

But the Bonneville Power Administration, the quasi-federal utility that runs the dams and distributes the electricity they produce, says that keeping them going is crucial even as wind plays an increasingly larger role in the region’s electricity mix. Since hydro power can be generated and released when most needed, it is an important resource for backup power when intermittent sources like wind (and solar) aren’t available.

The scheduled removal of two century-old dams on the Elwha River in Washington State’s Olympic National Park beginning in 2011 may well serve as test cases for larger dam removal projects in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Planners hope wild salmon numbers will rebound as a result, and that other wildlife—such as bald eagles and black bears—will follow suit.

President Obama has committed $32 million to modernize existing hydropower dams, increase efficiency and reduce environmental impacts. “There’s no one solution to the energy crisis, but hydropower is clearly part of the solution and represents a major opportunity to create more clean energy jobs,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu told reporters last year. “Investing in our existing hydropower infrastructure will strengthen our economy, reduce pollution and help us toward energy independence.”

CONTACTS: U.S. Geological Survey, www.usgs.gov; U.S. Energy Information Administration, www.eia.doe.gov; Bonneville Power Administration, www.bpa.gov.

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. E is a nonprofit publication. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe; Request a Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

Renewable Energy

July 18, 2010 by  
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EarthTalk®
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: I heard that some wind farms use fossil fuels to power their generators when the wind won’t. Doesn’t that defeat their whole renewable energy purpose? Why not let the wind power it or not? Also, I’ve heard that the low-frequency sounds generated by these turbines can harm people and animals. Is this true? — Ryan Lewis, Plainwell, MI

Indeed, one of the major drawbacks to wind power is the fact that, even in windy locations, the wind doesn’t always blow. So the ability of turbines to generate power is intermittent at best. Many turbines can generate power only about 30 percent of the time, thanks to the inconsistency of their feedstock.

In order to overcome this Achilles’ heel of intermittent production, some wind companies have developed back-up systems that can spin turbines even when the wind isn’t blowing, thus optimizing and keeping consistent the power output. For example, Colorado-based Hybrid Turbines Inc. is selling wind farms systems that marry a natural gas-based generator to a wind turbine. “Even if natural gas is used, the electricity produced…is twice as environmentally clean as burning coal,” reports the company. Better yet, if a user can power them with plant-derived biofuels, they can remain 100 percent renewable energy-based.

While some wind energy companies may want to invest in such technologies to wring the most production out of their big investments, utilities aren’t likely to suffer much from the intermittent output if they don’t. Even the utilities that are most bullish on wind power still generate most of their electricity from other more traditional sources at the present time. So, when wind energy output decreases, utilities simply draw more power from other sources—such as solar arrays, hydroelectric dams, nuclear reactors and coal-fired power plants—to maintain consistent electrical service. As such, reports the American Wind Energy Association, utilities act as “system operators” drawing power from where it’s available and dispatching it to where it is needed in tune with rising and falling power needs.

But just because generating wind power all day long isn’t imperative doesn’t mean that suppliers aren’t doing all they can to maximize output. To wit, turbine manufacturers are beginning to incorporate so-called Active Flow Control (AFC) technology, which delays the occurrence of partial or complete stalls when the wind dies down, and also enables start-up and power generation at lower wind speeds than conventional turbines. The non-profit Union of Concerned Scientists lauds AFC for these capabilities, which in turn can help system operators create a more reliable electric grid less dependent on fossil fuels.

As to whether or not noise from wind farms can harm people and wildlife, the jury is still out. New York-based pediatrician Nina Pierpont argues in her book, Wind Turbine Syndrome, that turbines may produce sounds that can affect the mood of people nearby or cause physiological problems like insomnia, vertigo, headaches and nausea. On the flip side, Renewable UK, a British wind energy trade group, says that the noise measured 1,000 feet away from a wind farm is less than that of normal road traffic. Here in the U.S., a Texas jury denied a 2006 noise pollution suit against FPL Energy after FPL showed that noise readings from its wind farm maxed out at 44 decibels, roughly the same generated by a 10 mile-per-hour wind.

CONTACTS: Hybrid Turbines, Inc., www.hybridturbines.com; American Wind Energy Association, www.awea.org; Union of Concerned Scientists, www.ucsusa.org; Nina Pierpont’s Wind Turbine Syndrome, www.windturbinesyndrome.com.

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. E is a nonprofit publication. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe; Request a Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

EarthTalk®
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: My neighbor told me to pour bleach down my drains every week to keep them clear. Is this safe to do? — Trish Osterling, via e-mail

Bleach is a useful cleaner and disinfectant, but pouring it down the drain will not do anything to help keep the drains clear. In addition, you could cause a dangerous chemical reaction if it comes into contact with other household products you might be using.

Common household bleach, also known as chlorine bleach, is a liquid compound of sodium hypochlorite, which is a combination of sodium chloride (a salt) with water and chlorine. It’s often used to whiten laundry or to disinfect kitchen surfaces. Bleach is also an ingredient in other household cleaners, like those used for bath and toilet cleaning. (A different sort of bleach, known as oxygen bleach, is used for laundry stain removal and does not have the same disinfecting/cleaning properties as chlorine bleach.)

According to the Household Products Database at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), chlorine bleach is corrosive to the eyes; injures skin and mucous membranes on contact; and is harmful if swallowed. Bleach is “a lung and eye irritant,” warns the Washington Toxics Coalition (WTC), a Seattle non-profit that advocates for green friendly household products. Even used alone, fumes from chlorine bleach can irritate the lungs, so it should not be used by people with asthma or lung or heart problems, says the group. It is also “reactive” with ammonia and acids, forming more harmful fumes.

“One of the most common home accidents is the mixing of products containing chlorine bleach with those containing ammonia,” says WTC. The combination creates chloramine gas, which is highly irritating to the lungs. Since many cleaning products contain ammonia, the inadvertent mixing must be avoided. Mixing bleach and acids results in the release of chlorine gas, according to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, exposure to which can cause coughing and breathing problems, burning eyes and, at high levels, vomiting, pneumonia and even death. Products containing acids include vinegar, some glass and window cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, drain cleaners and rust removers. An “incompatibility chart” listing many chemicals that will react with bleach is available at the Chlorine Institute’s cl2.com website.

Bleach alone is not necessarily hard on the environment. When use as directed, it will break down mostly into salt water in wastewater treatment or septic systems, says WTC. A dilution of bleach in water is effective as a disinfectant, and can be scrubbed onto non-porous food-contact surfaces like plastic cutting boards or refrigerator shelves and left to air dry. The Clorox Company recommends a solution of one tablespoon bleach per gallon of water for sanitizing.

So, what are the better ways to keep drains clear? Home drains in the kitchen and bath generally get clogged by grease, food waste and hair, none of which will be effectively dispersed by bleach. WTC recommends carefully pouring a kettleful of boiling water down the drain to free up a slow drain, or using mechanical methods such as a plumber’s snake, plunger or hose-end bladder to clean a clogged drain.

CONTACTS: DHHS Household Products Database, http://hpd.nlm.nih.gov ; Washington Toxics Coalition, www.washingtontoxics.org; New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, www.state.nj.us/health; Chlorine Institute, www.cl2.com.

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. E is a nonprofit publication. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe; Request a Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

Eat, Pray, Love

July 7, 2010 by  
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OAKLAND, Calif., July 7, 2010 — Based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling memoir, the film “Eat Pray Love ” tells the story of a modern woman who seemingly has everything, yet leaves it all to search for what she really wants in life. Her journey of self-discovery takes her around the world, where she regains the true pleasure of eating in Italy, unearths the power of prayer in India, and finally achieves unexpected inner peace and balance of true love in Bali. From the ambitious streets of New York City to her unique experiences in Rome, India and Bali, viewers will be immersed in a personal celebration of travel in a way that is sure to encourage many to embark on their own adventures.

Lonely Planet is excited to be involved as promotional partner for the film, helping build excitement around the destinations and motivating travelers to discover the world – and themselves – through travel.

With a special Lonely Planet page created for the film at www.lonelyplanet.com/eatpraylove, you’ll find inspiration, recommendations and products to take your own Eat Pray Love journey.

Italy – Eat
‘Tutti a tavola!’ (‘Everyone to the table!’) is one command every Italian heeds without question. Italian food is best when it’s made in Italy so get started with the country’s national obsession: eating.

India – Pray
For those seeking spiritual sustenance, India has oodles of sacrosanct sites and stirring philosophical epics. And if taking a vow of silence at an ashram isn’t your style – there are still experiences and places that will fill your soul.

Bali – Love
Ask travelers what Bali means to them and you’ll get as many answers as there are flowers on a frangipani tree. Rich in visual beauty and blanketed with exquisite little offerings left all over the island that materialize as if by magic, we promise you will leave with a sense of well-being and a happy heart.

In addition enter to win the journey of a lifetime in the STA Travel “Eat Pray Love” Sweepstakes! The grand prize 21-day trip for one (Just like in the book and film.) to Italy, India and Indonesia –including airfare, tours, accommodations, and a collection of Lonely Planet guides – is the perfect way to discover your own passions.

Eat Pray Love opens nationwide in US theaters on August 13. Go to www.letyourselfgo.com to watch the official trailer and find out more about the film.

ABOUT THE BOOKS:
Discover Italy
ISBN 9781741799989
$24.99

India
ISBN 9781741791518
$29.99

Bali Encounter
ISBN 9781741797176
$13.99

ABOUT LONELY PLANET
Established in 1973, Lonely Planet is one of the world’s leading travel media companies. With operations in Melbourne, London and Oakland, CA, the company employs over 400 staff worldwide. Lonely Planet travel information is available across all media platforms, including travel guides, TV programming, wireless products and an award-winning website. In October 2007, BBC Worldwide acquired a 75% share in Lonely Planet. BBC Worldwide is the primary commercial arm and a wholly owned subsidiary of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). For more information, visit www.lonelyplanet.com.

Media Relations Professional of the Year: Kim Padgett

June 24, 2010 by  
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Houston (June 23, 2010) – Kim Padgett, principal of The Padgett Group, a strategic marketing and public relations consulting firm based in the Houston area,  was recently awarded by Houston media the 2010 Public Relation Society of America’s Inaugural Excalibur Award for “Media Relations Professional of Year”.

The award was announced at the Excalibur Awards Galaon June 17, 2010 at the Junior League of Houston. Nominated and voted on by reporters, editors and writers from the Greater Houston area, this prestigious distinction recognizes excellence in the field of public relations specifically in media relations. The award was originally to be presented by Houston Community News Editor Charlotte Aguilar, but was presented by surprise guest and close friend, KTRK ABC Channel 13 News Anchor Miya Shay. Padgett has more than 20 years of experience in public relations, marketing and communications and has been a media relations main stay in the Houston area.


“I am thankful to have received such a prestigious award. The fact that this award comes from such a renowned organization as the PRSA and that I was nominated by my friends and colleagues in the media, makes it that much more special. I am honored to be part of an event that represents such powerful and successful public relations practitioners,” said Padgett. Prior to founding The Padgett Group, Kim served as the Vice President and General Manager of the Thompson Group for both the Houston and Dallas offices. In addition to the Thompson group, Padgett contributed to the strategic communication and marketing direction of numerous companies including Iconixx, Life Line Screening Corp, and Net Explorer, Inc.
Padgett servers on the boards of numerous area professional and community organizations including the Partnership for Baylor College of Medicine, Houston Achievement Place, Houston Technology Center, Houston Children’s Charity, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Houston Restaurant Week, Joyful Toyful, Goodwill Industries, Rice Alliance for Technology Entrepreneurs, Escape Family Resource Center  as well as an elected official for the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board for the City of Bellaire.

To learn more about PRSA and the Media Relations Professional of the Year Award, please visit www.prsahouston.org

Banana Plantations

June 20, 2010 by  
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EarthTalk®
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Is it true that bananas are taboo for anyone who is concerned about rainforest destruction? Even if I seek out “fair trade” or organic bananas, am I feeding the demand which is causing rainforest to be cleared? — Laura Barnard, Hillsboro, OH

Sadly, the short answers to these questions may be yes and yes for now, but that may change as the $5 billion banana industry slowly comes to terms with greener forms of production. Historically, growing the world’s most popular fruit has caused massive degradation of rainforest land across the tropics, spread noxious chemicals throughout formerly pristine watersheds, and poisoned and exploited farm workers.

“Banana plantations were infamous for their environmental and social abuses, which included the use of dangerous pesticides, poor working conditions, water pollution and deforestation,” reports the Rainforest Alliance, a New York-based non-profit that has been working to improve worker and environmental conditions in the industry since 1990. “Pesticide-impregnated plastic bags, which protect bananas as they grow, often littered riverbanks and beaches near banana farms, while agrochemical runoff and erosion killed fish, clogged rivers and choked coral reefs.” Also, the proximity of housing to banana fields, coupled with lax regulations for pesticide handling, led to frequent illness among workers and people living near the plantations.

But help is on the way, largely thanks to the pioneering work of the Rainforest Alliance, which certifies as sustainable those banana farms and plantations that meet certain criteria for responsible farm management set by the Sustainable Agriculture Network, a coalition of non-profits striving to improve commodity production in the tropics. As a result of the program, some 15 percent of all bananas sold internationally now come from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms. The group is especially proud of its agreements with two of the largest growers, Favorita and Chiquita. All of Favorita’s farms in Ecuador and all of Chiquita’s farms in Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama are certified sustainable under the program.

While the Rainforest Alliance’s success is certainly a step in the right direction, other groups bemoan the fact that even certified plantations are on land that was once tropical rainforest. According to Rainforest Relief, Americans should still avoid purchasing bananas altogether and instead opt for fruit grown locally, such as apples, peaches, cherries or pears. The group is hopeful, though, that its work with farm cooperatives growing organic bananas under the shade of a diverse forest canopy in Costa Rica can eventually drive the larger international banana market toward better land use and worker safety standards.

“These growers are for the most part farming only small portions of the land they own or control, the rest being left as montaña—undisturbed forest—to keep their flowing water fresh and keep healthy the wildlife that ‘works’ their farms with them,” reports Rainforest Relief. The group has been working to develop secondary markets for bananas that may have been bruised during harvest or transport but which can still be used for baby food, vinegar and other applications that don’t require unblemished peels. Some of these products are marketed to tourists in Costa Rica while others are sold in the U.S.—look for the Rainforest Farms brand, among others—at Whole Foods and other natural foods retailers.

CONTACTS: The Rainforest Alliance, www.rainforest-alliance.org; Chiquita, www.chiquita.com; Favorita, www.favorita.com; Rainforest Relief, www.rainforestrelief.org.

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. E is a nonprofit publication. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe; Request a Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.


EarthTalk®
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Is there any link between increased volcanic activity—such as the recent eruptions in Iceland, Alaska and elsewhere—and global warming? — Ellen McAndrew, via e-mail

It’s impossible to pin isolated natural phenomena—like an individual volcanic eruption—on global warming, but some researchers insist that there is a correlation between the two in some instances.

“Global warming melts ice and this can influence magmatic systems,” reports Freysteinn Sigmundsson of the Nordic Volcanological Centre at the University of Iceland. Her research with Carolina Pagli of the University of Leeds in England suggests that rocks cannot expand to turn into magma—the primary “feedstock” for volcanic eruptions—when they are under the pressure of a big ice cap pushing down on them. As the theory goes, melting ice caps relieve that pressure and allow the rocks to become magma. This in turn increases the chances of larger and/or more frequent eruptions in affected regions, from Iceland to Alaska to Patagonia to Antarctica.

As for Iceland specifically, the eruption of Mt. Ejyafjallajökull that shut down some air travel for weeks this past spring cannot be blamed on changing climate: That volcano lies under a relatively small icecap which would not exert enough pressure to affect the creation of magma. But Sigmundsson and Pagli found that the melting of about a tenth of Iceland’s biggest icecap, Vatnajokull, over the last century caused the land to rise an inch or so per year and led to the growth of an underground mass of magma measuring a third of a cubic mile. Similar processes, they say, led to a surge in volcanic eruptions in Iceland at the end of the last ice age, and similarly increased volcanic activity is expected to occur there in the future.

On the flip side, volcanic eruptions can exacerbate the ongoing effects of climate change: Already retreating glaciers can lose all their ice when something below them blows. Of course, many volcanoes around the world are not subject to pressure from ice caps, and scientists stress that there is little if any evidence linking global warming to eruptions in such situations.

Some have theorized that large volcanic eruptions contribute to global warming by spewing large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the stratosphere. But the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by even a large and ongoing volcanic eruption is but a drop in the bucket in comparison to our annual output of industrial and automotive carbon emissions.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, greenhouse gas emissions from volcanoes make up less than one percent of those generated by human endeavors. Also, ash clouds and sulfur dioxide released from volcanoes shield some sunlight from reaching the Earth and as such can have a cooling effect on the planet. The 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines—a much larger eruption than what occurred recently in Iceland—caused an average cooling of half a degree centigrade worldwide during the following year. Regardless, single volcanic eruptions, even if they last for weeks or months, are unlikely to send enough gas or ash up into the skies to have any long term effect on the planet’s climate.

CONTACTS: Nordic Volcanological Centre at the University of Iceland, www2.norvol.hi.is; U.S. Geological Survey, www.usgs.gov.

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. E is a nonprofit publication. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe; Request a Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

ASTROS TO CALL UP CASTRO, JOHNSON & BOURGEOIS FROM TRIPLE A

June 20, 2010 by  
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ASTROS TO CALL UP CASTRO, JOHNSON & BOURGEOIS FROM TRIPLE A

Will Designate Cash, Daigle & Sullivan For Assignment

HOUSTON, TX–The Houston Astros have announced plans to purchase the contracts of catcher Jason Castro and outfielder Jason Bourgeois and to recall third baseman Chris Johnson, all from Triple A Round Rock. Astros General Manager Ed Wade made the announcement.

Wade also announced that the ballclub will designate catcher Kevin Cash, right-handed pitcher Casey Daigle and outfielder Cory Sullivan for assignment. The Astros have 10 days to either trade, release or assign outright the contracts of the designated players.

All of today’s announced moves are effective on Tuesday, June 22.

Castro, who turned 23 on Friday, entered today hitting .265 in 57 games at Round Rock with four home runs, 26 RBI and 32 walks in what is his first season in Triple A. After a slow start that saw him hit .226 in April, Castro has hit .278 since May 1 with four homers and 20 RBI. Last night, he hit a two-run home run vs. Omaha. Castro, who was the Astros first pick in the 2008 MLB First Year Player Draft, hit .313 in 16 games for the Astros in Spring Training this year. In 2009, in what was his first full professional season, Castro hit a combined .300 at Lancaster (A) and Corpus Chrisit (AA) with 10 HR and 73 RBI. Additionally, he played for the U.S. squad in the All-Star Futures game (hit 3-run HR), was a member of the Gold Medal winning Team U.S.A. squad in the IBAF World Cup in September and started for the West squad in the Arizona Fall League’s Rising Stars game in November.

Houston native Bourgeois, 28, entered today fifth in the Pacific Coast League in batting with a .345 clip in 65 games at Round Rock. He was also tied for fourth in the league in stolen bases (18) and tied for eighth in on-base-pct. (.405). Bourgeois, who was claimed off waivers by Houston from Milwaukee on October 26, 2009, hit .321 in 13 Spring Training games for the Astros with two triples and a .412 on-base-pct. Bourgeois has appeared in 30 Major League games in his career, six for the White Sox in 2008 and 24 for the Brewers last season.

This will be the second Major League stint for the 25-year-old Johnson in 2010. He opened the season with the Astros, appearing in eight games (.227, 5×22) before being placed on the 15-day Disabled List on April 20th with a strained right intercostal muscle. On May 8th, he was activated from the DL and optioned to Round Rock, where he is hitting .329 in 38 games with eight home runs, 33 RBI and a .570 slugging pct (entering today). In Spring Training, Johnson, who was the Astros fourth pick in the 2006 Draft, led the Grapefruit League in both HR (8) and RBI (22) in 25 games. Johnson has appeared in 19 Major League games the last two seasons combined for the Astros.

Cash, who entered today hitting .216 in 19 games, has been with the Astros big club since having his contract purchased from Round Rock on May 5. He was signed by Houston as a minor league free agent on January 22 of this year. Daigle has a 7.50 ERA (5ER/6.0IP) in eight appearances for the Astros with two walks and three strikeouts. He began the 2010 season at Round Rock before having his contract purchased on June 1. Sullivan, who was signed by Houston as a minor league free agent on January 20 of this year and made the club out of Spring Training,  entered today hitting .190 (12×63) in 56 games, with most of his at-bats coming in a pinch-hitting role.

-Astros-

You’ll Know When You’ve Arrived

June 10, 2010 by  
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THE UN-COMFORT ZONE with Robert Wilson

During the 1996 Summer Olympics, I saw a young athlete with his brand new silver medal around his neck and a massive smile on his face. He was so thrilled with his achievement that he was mixing and mingling with everyone he met on the sidewalk. Perfect strangers were shaking his hand, slapping him on the back, and having their picture taken with him. I did not know who he was, but it was clear that he was relishing the highest point of his life to date.

On March 29, 1982, amid thunderous applause, Katherine Hepburn stepped onto the stage at the Academy Awards to receive the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in On Golden Pond. Was she as thrilled as the Olympic athlete that I saw? Probably not. It was her fourth. Been there, done that, the mantle is getting crowded.

In my column titled Pack Mentality, I wrote that human beings are highly motivated by status and its symbols. A reader contacted me and said she had grown beyond that. She told me how, after 20 years of financial success, she put the corporate world and materialism behind her. She now works at a fraction of her previous earnings for a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of babies.

I agreed that she had put status and its symbols behind her, but only in one area of her life. I then asked her what level of comfort was she seeking to achieve in her new career?

Abraham Maslow, in his Theory of Human Motivation, identified five levels of need that people strive to satisfy (in order, they are: Survival, Safety, Social, Esteem, and Fulfillment). I have found that we work through those five levels separately in each area of our lives: work, relationships, parenting, hobbies, sports, volunteering, etc. With each new endeavor, we attempt to pass all the mileposts until we reach our comfort zone.

There is a joke about parenthood that illustrates this: When the first baby drops her pacifier on the ground, the parents sterilize it before giving it back; with the second baby, the pacifier gets wiped off; and with number three, it just gets popped back into his mouth. I used to think the humor referred to how harried the parent was from handling the needs of three kids, but now I realize it refers to the parent’s comfort level with raising children.

Status is an esteem need, and the symbols that accompany it are recognition for our achievements. However, as long as those status symbols remain important to us, then we haven’t mastered that area of our lives. It is when we are in our comfort zone that the achievement is secure. At that point, the symbols are no longer important and we are ready to move on to the highest level: fulfillment. You will know you have reached the peak when you freely share your expertise with people who are levels below you.

Many years ago, I heard an interview with a professional football quarterback. The reporter asked him if he ever taught his secrets of success to younger up and coming players. He replied, “What, and lose my job to one of them? Hell no! Let them learn it on their own the way I did.” Clearly, he was not yet in his comfort zone.

All of us have reached a comfort zone in one or more areas of our lives. I spent six years as a member of the public speaking organization, Toastmasters International. For the first four years, I was fully focused on learning and achieving. In that time, I completed two educational levels and won 13 speaking contests. During my last two years in Toastmasters, I became a professional speaker and was no longer interested in entering the contests. The shine of those “amateur” trophies had worn off a bit, and I found my joy was in sharing what I already knew with those who were just beginning.

You will know you have reached the highest level, when sharing your expertise is as satisfying as achievement.

Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. is a motivational speaker and humorist.  He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators.  For more information on Robert’s programs please visit www.jumpstartyourmeeting.com.

Call for Houston Sports Photos

June 7, 2010 by  
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Old Houston Area Sports and Outdoor Photos Sought

Houston, TX – June 5, 2010 – Local author and historian, Mike Vance, is seeking privately owned photographs for his new book Houston’s Sporting Life:1900-1950. The book will be published by Arcadia Publishing in early 2011. There will be a scanning session held at Becker’s Books, 7405 Westview, on Sunday, June 13 from 1 to 3pm. People may come by with their photos and have them scanned on the spot plus complete all necessary paperwork.

Vance elaborates on the type of photographs desired: “We are looking for good and interesting photographs of any sports or outdoor activity in Houston and the immediate area between 1900 and 1950. These need to be photos to which you own the rights. We’re interested in organized team sports, school sports, and individual activities such as golf, hunting, fishing, swimming, racing, bowling, boating or anything else that constitutes a sports or outdoor activity. We will arrange to scan the photos with you present so they will never leave your possession. We are seeking a release only to use the photos in this project. The rights to the photographs will remain yours.”

A substantial portion of the proceeds from the book will go to Houston Arts and Media, a local 501c3 non-profit organization which produces media to teach local history.

About Houston Arts and Media:
Houston Arts and Media’s purpose is to produce educational and historical film, video and books. The work will be done by members of Houston’s creative, educational, research and production communities. Houston Arts and Media is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable organization.

For information: http://www.houstonartsandmedia.org or
Contact: mike@houstonartsandmedia.org
Phone: 713-686-9244

BP oil leak

June 7, 2010 by  
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EarthTalk®
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Is it true that the BP oil leak is much more of an environmental threat than previous spills from tankers, and if so why? — Nathan Gore, Pawtucket, RI

No one knows for sure how the ongoing oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico will affect the deep sea ecosystem, but scientists are not optimistic. Oil from what is now considered the nation’s second largest spill, 1989’s Exxon Valdez mishap, slicked 11,000 square miles of ocean surface and 1,300 miles of pristine Alaskan coastline while killing hundreds of thousands of birds and marine mammals and untold numbers of fish and fish eggs. But the impacts of the ongoing Deepwater Horizon leak in the Gulf may be far worse given that much of the loose oil is actually in the water column, not on the surface. In fact, researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently detected huge deepwater plumes of dispersed oil up to 30 miles long, seven miles wide and hundreds of feet thick.

Why would an undersea spill be worse? One outcome could be the expansion in size and extension in time of a seasonal “dead zone” that already plagues the Gulf of Mexico as a result of industrial pollutants and agricultural run-off from the Mississippi River. While huge Gulf of Mexico algae blooms help to naturally clean up the Midwest’s factory emissions and wasted fertilizer, such a process doesn’t come without a cost to the ecosystem. Every spring, in a condition known as hypoxia, this fast growing algae depletes large sections of the Gulf’s water column of the oxygen crucial for other life forms to survive there. The BP oil spill is likely to exacerbate this problem, as natural oil-eating microbes swarming over undersea oil plumes could cause or add to hypoxic conditions in otherwise teeming swaths of the Gulf.

According to NOAA researcher Samantha Joye, the undersea oil poses a direct threat to large marine wildlife, such as fish, sharks and cetaceans, and also to the tiny stuff, including zooplankton, shrimp, corals, crabs and worms. By endangering these latter populations, the foundation of the marine food chain, the oil could have chronic long-term effects on the wider Gulf ecosystem, including the industries—more shrimp and oysters come from the Gulf than anywhere else in the world—that rely on them.

Another worry is how the chemical dispersants being used to break up the undersea oil will impact the Gulf’s ecosystems and inhabitants. The dispersant’s ingredients are a trade secret closely held by the company that makes it, and therefore have not been vetted by marine biologists to determine their safety for use in such a large application. It also remains to be seen what impact the tiny oil droplets left in the dispersant’s wake will have. It could actually be worse for the undersea environment to break the oil up into tiny droplets (which is done to try to make it easier for microbes to digest them).

Beyond all these undersea environmental effects, the oil is also starting to wash up into coastal wetlands already besieged by overdevelopment, pollution and the lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina. If there can be any silver lining to this catastrophe, it may be that it is the wake-up call we’ve needed to start moving more rapidly away from fossil fuels to a clean, renewable energy future. For starters, we can all begin to reduce our own oil consumption and opt for clean and green energy sources whenever possible.

CONTACTS: Deepwater Horizon Response, www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com; NOAA, www.noaa.gov.

EarthTalk®
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Where does ethanol as an automobile fuel fit into the alternative energy mix? Is it better for the environment than gasoline? — Donna Allgaier-Lamberti, Pullman, MI

Ethanol—a biofuel derived from corn and other feedstocks—is already playing a major role in helping to reduce emissions from many of the traditional gasoline-powered cars on the road today. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, nearly half of all the gasoline sold in the U.S. contains up to 10 percent ethanol, which not only boosts octane but also helps meet federally mandated air quality requirements. By promoting more complete fuel combustion, this small amount of ethanol mixed into gasoline reduces exhaust emissions of carbon monoxide—a regulated pollutant linked to smog, acid rain, global warming and other environmental problems—by as much as 30 percent compared with pure gasoline.

Also, a growing number of so-called “flex-fuel” vehicles now available can run on either straight unleaded gasoline or so-called E85, a mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Ethanol proponents underscore emissions savings, cost stability (ethanol is distilled from domestically grown corn) and reduced reliance on (foreign) oil as benefits of more drivers filling up their tanks with E85 instead of gas.

But even though some eight million flex-fuel vehicles are now on U.S. roads, most of them are not near convenient ethanol refilling stations and are therefore mostly running on regular gasoline. (The U.S. Department of Energy website has a map-based listing of E85 refueling stations across the country—most are in the Midwest’s “corn belt.”) So while the capacity and perhaps demand for a cleaner burning fuel is there, supplies have not kept pace—some say because the federal government has subsidized ethanol producers only and not the distributors and retailers who get the product to customers.

But this may change. In May 2009 President Obama signed a Presidential Directive to advance research into biofuels like ethanol and expand their use. The resulting Biofuels Interagency Working Group is developing a plan to increase flex fuel vehicle use by making E85 and other biofuels more available.

While many environmental advocates view increasing ethanol use as a promising development (if drivers would actually fill up with it), others are not so sure. Cornell agriculture professor David Pimentel argues that producing ethanol actually creates a net energy loss. His research shows that a gallon of ethanol contains 77,000 BTUs of energy for engines to burn but requires 131,000 BTUs to process into usable fuel, not including additional BTUs burned from fossil fuel sources to power the farm equipment to grow the corn, and the barges, trains and trucks used to transport it to refineries and ultimately fueling stations.

Pimentel also says that powering a car for a single year on ethanol would require 11 acres of corn, which could alternatively feed at least seven people. If we step up our use of ethanol and begin putting our farmers’ yields into gas tanks instead of on dinner tables, we could see a shortage of domestically grown food and higher prices at the grocery store. To address this problem, biofuels producers are researching alternative non-food feedstocks such as algae, corn stalks, wood chips and switchgrass, though they would still make use of arable land that could grow food for human consumption.

Dinner Club – Beachy Keen

June 1, 2010 by  
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Menu
DRINK: Champagne pallet cleanser, red and white wine
HORS D’OEUVRES: Louisiana Crab Cakes
DINNER: Cedar Plank Roasted Salmon, Herb Encrusted Filet of Beef & Mashed Potatoes

Inspiration
A recent jaunt to Destin introduced us to Chef Tim Creehan’s Florida cuisine at the Henderson Park Inn. You can buy his cookbook in the lobby, so you can re-create the dining experience at home.  With his book “Simple Cuisine” as inspiration, we hosted our own beach-themed evening.

Starters
LOUISIANA BLUE
CRAB CAKES
Ingredients – Serves 12
¾ cup Béchamel Sauce
½ finely chopped yellow onion
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups homemade fine breadcrumbs
1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat
¼ cup melted butter
1 recipe Grilled Vegetable Salsa
Method
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Combine the first 6 ingredients in a bowl; mix well.  Add the crabmeat and gently mix; do not break up the lumps of crabmeat.  Add one cup of the breadcrumbs.
Divide into portions by spooning into a 3-ounce ladle and leveling the top.  Roll each portion in the remaining one-cup breadcrumbs; shape each into a cake.
Place on a baking sheet brushed with melted butter.  Bake for 10 minutes, turning once.  Serve with Grilled Vegetable Salsa.

Main Enjoyment
CEDAR PLANK ROASTED SALMON
Ingredients – Serves 4
1 (14-inch) cedar plank
1 (3-pound) side of fresh salmon
3 cups Chicken broth
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ stick butter, chopped
¼ cup Original Chef’s Grill Plus
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 cup brown sugar
4 fresh rosemary sprigs
Method
Soak the plank in water for 30 minutes or longer.  Preheat an outdoor grill to high.
Remove the skin and pin bones from the salmon.
Combine the Chicken Stock and lemon juice in a saucepan; cook till thickened and reduced to ½ to ¾ cup. Remove from heat and whisk in butter gradually.
Drain the plank and place salmon skin side down on it.  Brush with the olive oil; sprinkle with garlic and brown sugar.  Place on grill and cover.  Grill until fish flakes easily.
Leave salmon on plank and brush with lemon/broth sauce.  Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

GRILLED VEGETABLE SALSA
Ingredients – Serves 4
2 ears corn
1 bunch green onions
1 red bell pepper
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Juice of ½ lime
1 cup chopped tomato
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Method
Preheat grill.  Brush corn, onions and bell pepper lightly with Chef’s Grill Plus.  Grill till charred, turning constantly.  Remove from the grill.  Cut corn kernels from cobs and chop onions and bell pepper finely.  Place in bowl.
Add cilantro, lime juice and tomato; mix well.  Season with salt and pepper.

HERB ENCRUSTED FILET OF BEEF
Purchase high-quality angus filet mignon, about 3-inches thick.  (One filet for each person.)
4 bulbs of garlic
3 large white onions
2-3 clusters of fresh basil
2-3 clusters of fresh sage
Truffle oil
Olive oil
Break garlic into cloves and cut into thin slices.  Chop onions.  Remove stems, and chop herbs.  Slice filets into three 1-inch thick medallions.  Heat olive oil and a splash of truffle oil to a moderately high level (in a 7/8 ratio of olive oil to truffle oil).  Once at desired temperature, add a liberal amount of onion, basil, sage and garlic.  Sauté for about 30 seconds.  Place filet medallions directly on top of herbs, and sear them for 40 seconds on each side.  Deliver directly to plate.

photo by Anthony Rathbun

Houston Celebrity Watch

June 1, 2010 by  
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Everything is bigger in Texas! From movie stars to famous singers, many celebrities have ties toour great city of Houston. Whether they are native born or representatives of Houston, they surely shine bright in the hearts of Houstonians.

Inspirational leaders, Radio Hosts, and Houston Humanitarians are just a few of the people who have Houston in common. Some stars are still making a name for themselves in the entertainment industry; others are international sensations who need no introduction at all.

H Texas presents our Houston celebrity breakdown.

Beyonce Knowles

This Houston native broke into the entertainment world at the age of seventeen in the dynamic girl group Destiny’s Child. In 2001, Beyonce broke free from Destiny’s Child and entered into her solo career with her first album “Dangerously in Love.” Since going solo, she has won five Grammy Awards, and starred in several movies which include, the Oscar nominated movie “DreamGirls.” She has recently added the title of wife to her resume after marrying Hip-Hop mogul Jay-Z in April 2008.

Renee Zellweger

A Katy native, Academy Award winning actress Renee Zellweger started her acting career in Houston with her first lead role opposite Matthew McConaughey in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” She has gone on to plump up for roles in movies such as “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and display her dance moves in the movie “Chicago.”

Jennifer Garner

Born in Houston, the “Alias” actress turned movie star started her career off in New York City auditioning for television shows and small films. Garner’s love for the stage sprouted from studying ballet for nine years. Garner is best known for her roles in “13 Going on 30,” “Elektra,” and most recently, “Juno.”

Dan Rather

Veteran Anchorman Dan Rather was born in Wharton, TX, and graduated with a degree in Journalism from Sam Houston State University. Rather first caught the eyes of Americans after leading the nation during the coverage of the Kennedy assassination in 1963.

Hilary Duff

After bursting onto the celebrity scene as Disney’s “Lizzy McGuire,” the Houstonian’s star power rose with platinum-selling albums and lead roles in “A Cinderella Story” and other feature films.

Chandra Wilson

Famous for playing tough-as-nails surgeon Dr. Miranda Bailey on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” the Houston native sharpened her acting skills at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston.

Isaiah Washington

Born in Houston, TX, Washington is best known for his former role as Dr. Preston Burke on “Grey’s Anatomy.”

George Foreman

Residing in the Houston-area, the former Heavyweight Champion gives back through The George Foreman Youth & Community Center. Known for his famous George Foreman grills, few kitchens throughout the country are without his grills. Foreman also spreads the word of the gospel at The Church of Lord Jesus Christ in Houston.

Nolan Ryan

Lynn Nolan Ryan is a retired Major League Pitcher of the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers. The all-time leader in no-hitters in baseball history, Ryan is the current president of the Texas Rangers. Texans showed their pride for the athlete by naming Nolan Ryan Junior High School after him in 2008.

Phylicia Rashad

Texas born Phylicia Ayers-Allen is best known for her role as Claire Huxtable on the 80’s hit show “The Cosby Show.” Phylicia won a Tony for her role in “A Raisin in the Sun.”

Dennis Quaid

Acclaimed for his portrayals of Jerry Lee Lewis in “Great Balls of Fire” and Doc Holiday in “Wyatt Earp,” this Houstonian first gained the attention from his role in “Breaking Away” in 1979, and earned strong reviews from his role in “The Right Stuff” in 1983.

Randy Quaid

Starring as the lovable but dimwitted cousin Eddie in the National Lampoon “Vacation” movies, he fine-tuned his acting skills alongside famous younger brother Dennis at the University of Houston’s School of Theatre.

Carl Lewis

After attending the University of Houston as a track star, Lewis went on to attend the Olympics where he won ten medals and set a World Record for the indoor long jump. His impressive finish earned him the honor of being named the “Olympian of the Century.”

Yao Ming

Standing at seven feet six inches, Yao Ming is the tallest NBA player. Drafted from overseas, Ming has brought the Houston Rockets to new heights.

Clyde Drexler

After leading the Rocket’s to their second NBA title in 1995, the River Oaks-Memorial resident retired in 1998 to coach basketball for his alma mater, the University of Houston. He recently showed off his dance moves as a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2007.

Lyle Lovett

Well-known for his brief marriage to actress Julia Roberts, the Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter grew up in Klein, Texas. Lovett studied German and journalism at Texas A&M.

Hakeem Olajuwon

Olajuwon joined the Houston Rockets in 1984, and was affectionately known as “Hakeem The Dream” for his grace on and off the court. After 20 consecutive basketball seasons, first with the Cougars and then to the Houston Rockets, the retired, two-time NBA champ still calls Houston home.

Kelly Rowland

Alongside lifelong friend Beyonce Knowles, she achieved chart-topping success as a member of Destiny’s Child.

Tara Lipinski

Living in Sugar Land wasn’t exactly ideal for a girl who loved to figure skate, but she made it work. The Olympic gold-medallist now resides in Los Angeles where she’s established a successful acting career.

Melora Hardin

Melora Hardin started her career in TV hit “Back to the Future” in 1985.Generating laughs from NBC’s hit comedy “The Office,” Hardin is also known for her role on TV Show “Monk” and for her vocal skills on her album “All the way to Mars.”

Solange Knowles

The singer, actress, and younger sibling of Beyonce, is following in the footsteps of her sister. Her album, Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams, has reached the top of Billboard’s Hot Dance Singles Charts.

Mark Ballas

At the age of 10, Ballas became a dancing champion, and began to explore the professional dancing world. Famous for his sexy moves on
“Dancing with The Stars,” the
Houston native is also lead singer of group Ballas Hough Band. Ballas’ band released their debut album BHB in 2009.

Clint Black

Raised in Katy, he started his country music career playing in his brother’s band while touring the Houston club circuit. Black has won more than six CMA awards, and has had multiple songs reach the top of the country music singles charts. He is also known for marrying Lisa Hartman Black of
“Knot’s Landing” fame.

Billy Gibbons

A Houston native and “Sharp Dressed Man” is one of the beloved guitarists and lead vocalist of ZZ Top. Gibbons was considered by Jimmy Hendrix to be one of the top guitarists around. In 2002, The Cancer League honored Billy Gibbons for his fundraising efforts for sufferers here in Houston. He currently resides in both Houston and Hollywood, California.

Jaclyn Smith

Originally from Houston, the “Charlie’s Angels” star started her career as a Breck shampoo model back in 1973. Smith is also known as the “Queen of Television Movies and Mini-Series.” She has appeared on mini-series such as: Windmills of the Gods, The Bourne Identity and Christine Cromwell.

Shannon Elizabeth

Noted for her on-screen sex appeal in “American Pie” and “Scary Movie,” the actress and poker queen was born in Houston and attended high school in Waco. She has recently been making a name for herself in the World Series of Poker where she has defeated many celebrities and poker professionals.

Matt Stone

Recognized for wearing an imitation of Gwyneth Paltrow’s pink gown to the 72nd Academy awards, Stone is an animation genius. The Emmy Award-winning animator and co-creator of “South Park” was born in Houston. He’s the voice behind several of his characters.

Lisa Hartman Black

Remembered as rocker singer Ciji Dunne in “Knot’s Landing,” this native Houstonian struck country gold when she married Clint Black. Her single “When I said I Do” recorded with husband Clint Black, received notable success on the country-hit charts. It hit number one on Billboard Country Singles & Tracks in 1999.

Shelley Duvall

An actress and producer born in Houston, she was discovered by production scouts while working at a Foley’s cosmetics counter in Houston. She started her career off portraying a free spirited love interest in the movie “Brewster McCloud” in 1970. She is also well known for her role in “The Shining” and as Olive Oyl in “Popeye.”

Sean Patrick Flanery

The “Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” star was raised in Houston and attended University of St. Thomas. Flanery became interested in acting after college, and moved to Los Angeles to fulfill his dreams. He has also appeared in the movies, “The Boondocks Saints” and “Simply Irresistible.”

Chris Cooper

Chris Cooper spent his younger years raised on a cattle ranch in Houston. The Academy Award winning-actor shone on the big screen in “American Beauty” and “The Bourne Supremacy.”

Kenny Rogers
A native Houstonian known for his award-winning country hits continues to make albums that rank atop Billboard charts. Rogers’ second solo album “Kenny Rogers,” charted the pop and country charts with the single “Lucille.” To date Rogers has recorded 65 albums and sold over 120 million records.

Robert Earl Keen

A famous Texas singer-songwriter, he went to Texas A&M with fellow musician Lyle Lovett. Keen is known for his national released album A Bigger Piece of the Sky in 1993. He currently resides in Kerrville and has a ranch in Medina.

Joel Osteen

Born and raised in Houston, Osteen is an Inspirational leader in most American households. Lead Pastor of Lakewood Church, Osteen spearheads one of the biggest mega churches in the U.S. Osteen emphasizes the power of love and positive attitudes through the goodness of God’s power.

Debbie Allen

A choreographer, dancer, director, and actress, Debbie Allen has entertained audiences for years. She attended Jack Yates High school with sister Phylicia Rashad. Allen is known for her fabulous choreography and famous role in the television series “Fame.”

David Cook

Look out Ladies! A bartender turned winner of “American Idol” and teen heartthrob may have grown up in Blue Springs, Mo., but he was born in Houston. This “Idol” singer had eleven songs debut on the Hot 100 in 2006, which gave him the title of having the most songs held by an artist.

Letoya Luckett

Known for being a former member of Destiny’s Child, Letoya Luckett has made a way for herself with her R&B solo career. Born and raised in Houston, Luckett has topped the Billboard charts with her #1 albums, Letoya Luckett and Lady Love.

Ed Young

Homer Edwin Young, also known as Ed Young, is the pastor of the Second Baptist Church here in Houston. Second Baptist Church has over 5 locations in the Houston area, and more than 48,000 members. Young’s preaching encourages the well being of nourishing the heart spiritually and physically.

Gone but Never Forgotten

Farrah Fawcett

An iconic symbol of beauty and 1970’s pop culture figure, Fawcett is one of the most recognizable “Charlie’s Angels.” Born in Corpus Christi, Fawcett spent part of her childhood in Houston. A multiple Golden Globe and Emmy Award nominee, Fawcett earned praise for her roles in movies “The Burning Bed” and “Extremities.” In 2006, Fawcett was diagnosed with cancer, and survived it for 3 years. Fawcett later died on June 25, 2009.

Patrick Swayze

Idolized for his sultry moves in “Dirty Dancing,” and breathtaking performance in “Ghost,” Swayze grew up in the Oak Forest neighborhood. Swayze contributed to many Houston charities. Swayze died on September 14, 2009, at age 57.

photo by Peter Lindbergh

Bridal Extravaganza Fever – One Stop Shop Wedding-Planning

June 1, 2010 by  
Filed under Edit

Bridal showers and bachelorette parties aren’t the only things exciting Houston brides before their walk down the aisle. The Bridal Extravaganza is a one stop shop wedding-planning tradition for brides, grooms, families, and their go-to girls. North America’s largest bridal show is held at the George R. Brown Convention Center. This summer’s show features a Kissing Contest, the Billboard Bride competition, Passport to major prizes, Formal fashion shows, a Wedding Wonderland, the Couture Collection, and the Taste of the Bridal Extravaganza food sampling event.

Kissing Contest
Couples vie for prizes by seeing who can lock lips the longest. Last year, couples kissed the day, (and night) away. After a 22-hour lip-lock-a-thon, the last two couples standing agreed to split the prize package and left with a bevy of freebies for their upcoming big day.

Be the Billboard Bride
The show kicks off the search for the next Billboard Bride. One lucky bride will be featured on billboards, magazines and promotional spots representing the Bridal Extravaganza. Thousands sign up to win the title; only one groom will see his future mate along Houston highways. Past billboard brides include: Deborah Duncan, Rosanne Rogers, Shaun Bagwell, Laurette Veres and former Miss Universe, Chelsi Smith.

Passport to Major Prizes
Major prizes include honeymoons to the Riviera Maya and Cypress Bend Resort, golf packages for the guys, $1,000 shopping sprees to Arne’s, and Kohl’s, a free wedding announcement in the Houston Chronicle, and much more. All brides in attendance are eligible.

Formal Fashion Shows
Four fashion shows each day attract Fashionistas to the main stage to view the latest and greatest in gowns and men’s wear. Sponsors include David’s Bridal, Ventura’s Bridal, WARDROBE, the boutique and Men’s Wearhouse.

Wedding Wonderland
Houston’s top event designers transform the GRB Convention Center into a wonderland of ideas. Linen displays, floral arrangements, table settings and chair covers take ideas from look-book to reality.

Couture Collection
The Couture Collection Catwalk draws those searching for the perfect custom gown. Models hit the runway donning gowns from bridal salons like Winnie Couture and Princess Bridal. From drop-waist gowns to sexy sheaths, the latest trends wow the crowd. Limited VIP seating is available.

Taste of the Bridal Extravaganza
Chefs from around the city provide samples of bridal delicacies. And, there is no need to drive all over town for cake samplings – have your fill at this two-day event.
With princess gowns and place settings galore, the Bridal Extravaganza delivers the best in all things bridal. Join Houston brides-to-be at the George R. Brown for this much loved, much-anticipated, can’t-miss event.

www.BridalExtravaganzaShow.com

photos by Laurie Perez

The Right Shot

June 1, 2010 by  
Filed under Edit

Where will you celebrate Thanksgiving? To most, the answer is simple: With my family. To 5854 Houston children awaiting foster homes, the question is not so simple.

Recently, the Oscar-nominated movie “The Blind Side” brought national attention to foster care families. From an impoverished upbringing to adoption into a middle class family and subsequent NFL career, Michael Oher discovers his potential as a student and a football player with the help of his newfound family, tutors and coaches.

A capacity crowd joined supporters of the Arrow Child and Family Ministries as they hosted the family who inspired this blockbuster movie. Emcee Deborah Duncan introduced adoptive parent Leigh Anne Tuohy and her daughter Collins, and the movie’s true inspiration, Michael Oher. Leigh Anne’s southern accent made everyone feel at home. Her message was simple: There is value in those deemed valueless. “He had a much greater impact on our lives than we did on his life,” she says.

Arrow Child and Family Ministries was founded to bring out the value in foster kids and strengthen foster families. Founder Mark Tennant believes the crisis involving local children is just as devastating as the Haitian earthquake crisis, without the media attention. “There are more than 27,000 foster children in Texas and over 463,000 in the U.S. foster care system, with 123,000 of them waiting for adoption.”

Thousands of children are rescued from abuse and placed in the foster care system every year. Without quality role models, their cycle of abuse is likely to continue. The Tuohy’s became Michael Oher’s support system and broke his cycle of neglect.

You can impact a child’s life. Currently, the Arrow is reaching out to churches, individuals and corporations in response to the foster care crisis from its national headquarters in Spring, Texas. They provide individual homes for children across Texas and beyond.

Find out how you can help at www.arrow.org.

photo courtesy Arrow Ministries/Terry Halsey

Walmart’s Footprint

May 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Edit

EarthTalk®
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: I heard that Walmart is having a bigger positive impact on the environment than any other U.S. institution. What are they doing along these lines?  –– R. Schlansker, Beaverton, OR

Walmart has indeed been working to clean up its image in recent years, and many environmentalists are pleased with the company’s commitment to reduce its massive carbon footprint. Many, however, view the company’s initiatives with skepticism, especially considering its overall impact on communities.

What’s noteworthy on the environmental front is not so much the significant energy and emissions the company is reducing at its stores and distribution centers and in its vehicles, but the ripple effect that its new carbon-cutting policies are having on the entire supply chain. This March, Walmart CEO Mike Duke announced a new goal of eliminating 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from its global supply chain—the equivalent of taking more than 3.8 million cars off the road for a year—by the end of 2015.

“To find these reductions, Walmart will be asking its estimated 100,000 suppliers to cut the amount of carbon they emit when they produce, package and ship their products,” reports Dominique Browning of Environmental Defense Fund, which has been a key advisor to Walmart on green issues. Browning cites Walmart’s elimination of large laundry detergent bottles—since so much of them are water and energy-intensive to ship—in favor of concentrates sold in smaller bottles. As a result, concentrated laundry detergent is now the top seller at not only Walmart but at other stores, too. Walmart also convinced CD, DVD and video game makers to make their cases lighter to reduce transport carbon emissions, and they helped energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulb sales by spurring makers to refine their designs.

Many environmental and community advocates, however, consider Walmart’s pro-green efforts as too little too late or insignificant in relation to the company’s larger impact. Walmart Watch, a nonprofit group run by the Center for Community and Corporate Ethics, says the company has paid numerous fines over the last decade for violating air and water pollution rules, and that’s its green initiatives will easily be erased by its sheer growth which will mean more energy usage, more delivery truck trips and even more miles driven by consumers to get to Walmart stores that displaced smaller, more local ones.

Wake-Up Walmart, a project of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, says the company—which employs two million people in its 7,000+ stores—is also no friend to employees. Its average wage, says the group, is six percent below the Federal poverty level for a family of four and its move into urban areas, aside from destroying small businesses, often depresses other nearby wages where similar jobs otherwise pay as much as 18 percent more than Walmart. Further, says Wake-Up Walmart, the company pays $5,000 less yearly to full-time female employees than male ones, and its health plan is so poor that it forces many employees to rely on publicly assisted healthcare, at taxpayer expense.

Walmart Watch says the company has also been fiercely anti-union: “Labor law violations range from illegally firing workers who attempt to organize…to unlawful surveillance, threats and intimidation of associates who dare to speak out.” Meanwhile, Walmart made a $14.3 billion profit in 2009, and its CEO earned $12.2 million in 2008, 587 times the annual income of an average full-time Walmart associate.

 

EarthTalk®
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: At a meeting of a local art association, an artist who paints in acrylics said that doing so is more eco-friendly than painting in oils.  I somehow doubt it. Aren’t acrylics petroleum based? And aren’t some oil paints made from natural materials? — Linda Reddington, via e-mail

Of course, there are no easy answers. There are environmental and health issues with both oil and acrylic art paints. The big downside of oil paints is the paint thinner required to clean them up. While some of the pigments in oil paint might be toxic or poisonous depending on color—reds, yellows, some blues and many whites are produced using potentially toxic heavy metals—the paint itself is typically made of food-grade linseed oil, which could hardly be more harmless to the environment (where it came from, after all). But oil paint is notoriously hard to clean up; getting those brushes, palettes and work areas clean requires the use of paint thinners, such as turpentine or mineral spirits, that are not only potentially toxic if used improperly but give off noxious odors and are highly flammable.

As for acrylic paints, they are water-based so clean-up is a breeze: Just wash it down the drain with some warm water, no paint thinner required. But acrylic paint is a petroleum-derived polymer, i.e. plastic. While cleaning it up might be easier than cleaning up oil paints, do we really want to be rinsing plastic down our drains? How good could this be for surrounding ecosystems? The other negative, of course, is that just buying them contributes to our reliance on petroleum.

So what’s a green painter to do? One option is to go for so-called water mixable oil paints that, according to manufacturers like Grumbacher, appear and behave in the same manner as traditional oil paints in every aspect except when it comes to clean-up—like acrylics, they thin and clean up with water instead of noxious chemicals. Water mixable oils are ideal for those sensitive to chemical fumes. Art supply chain Utrecht sells a wide variety of water mixable oil paints online and at its retail locations across the U.S.

If you must use traditional oil paints—many professional artists just prefer them for their thickness, color brilliance and other qualities—you can go with a brand that pays attention to the environmental impact of its products and operations. Oregon-based Gamblin Artists Colors Company uses only high-quality raw materials in its paints, avoiding preservatives that degrade the quality and release chemicals. Gamsol, the company’s paint thinner, uses mineral spirits that evaporate much more slowly than turpentine, which has a reputation for irritating breathing passages and inducing nausea. Every spring the company cleans its machinery, and instead of throwing the filter dust out, it recycles it and gives away tubes of the resulting gray paint free to artists through retail locations, and hosts a contest for art created with the unique color.

Another way to go would be truly all-natural. Berkeley, California-based GLOB crafts its paints from food-grade botanical extracts, so it’s even safe for kids aged three and older. Colored by real fruits, vegetables, flowers and spices, GLOB paints are all-natural, non-toxic, and free of chemicals, parabens, petroleum and synthetic preservatives. The palette is limited to just six colors, but creative artists should be able to mix to their heart’s content. The paints can be mail ordered, and they come in a dry powdered format, which saves weight, money and energy when shipped—users add water and start painting.

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

May 1, 2010 by  
Filed under Edit

Dear EarthTalk: Given the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last month, isn‘t it high time the government put a stop to offshore oil drilling once and for all? Short of banning it altogether, what can be done to prevent explosions, leaks and spills moving forward?

— P. Greanville, Brewster, NY

The explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon drill rig on April 20 and the resultant oil spill now consuming coastal regions of the Gulf of Mexico could not have come at a worse time for President Obama, who only recently renewed a push to expand drilling off the coast of Virginia and other regions of the U.S.

The debate over whether or not to tap offshore oil reserves with dangerous drilling equipment has been raging since extraction methods became feasible in the 1950s. It heated up in 2008 when George W. Bush convinced Congress to lift a 27-year-old moratorium on offshore drilling outside of the already developed western Gulf of Mexico and some areas off Alaska. Despite public protests, cash-strapped governments of several coastal states wanted the moratorium lifted given the potential for earning windfall revenues.

Barack Obama had historically toed the Democratic party line on offshore drilling—don‘t allow it—but changed his tune during his 2008 campaign to compromise with pro-drilling Republicans if they would play ball with him on his carbon emissions reduction and energy efficiency initiatives. Then on March 31, three weeks prior to the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which killed 11 workers and has caused untold environmental damage, Obama called for new offshore drilling in the Atlantic from Delaware to central Florida and in Alaska’s untapped northern waters. He also asked Congress to lift the ban on offshore drilling in the oil-rich eastern Gulf of Mexico, just 125 miles from Florida’s beaches.

The BP oil disaster is casting a long shadow over the public comment process now going on in Virginia and other coastal states that are considering putting exploratory oil wells in their offshore waters
© Sky Truth, courtesy Flickr
A key aspect of Obama‘s new plan is to assess the potential risks and benefits of each specific offshore site before drilling there can commence. While Obama’‘s plan wouldn‘t grant any new leases until 2012, the Deepwater Horizon problem is casting a long shadow over the public comment process now going on in Virginia and other coastal states otherwise ready to sign on the dotted line for exploratory wells to go into their offshore waters. Whether or not Congress and the American people are willing to let their government expand on what appears already to be some risky business is anybody‘s guess at this point.

Oil industry representatives maintain their equipment and processes are safer than ever. The U.S. Minerals and Management Service (MMS) blames the vast majority of the 1,400 offshore drilling accidents in U.S. waters between 2001 and 2007 on “human error,” not malfunctioning equipment, though some might argue that the distinction is irrelevant because there will always be human error. A small fire on the Deepwater Horizon in 2005 was found to be caused by human error, and most analysts agree some kind of bad judgment call also likely caused the rig‘s ultimate demise. The MMS says it was already in the process of drafting new regulations that would require rig operators to develop programs focused on preventing human error, including operations audits once every three years for each rig.

Some Congress members don‘t think the new regulations are enough, especially in the wake of the BP tragedy. U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who has led opposition to offshore drilling, has now called for a congressional investigation of safety practices at offshore oil rigs, and has asked the U.S. Interior Department to undertake a full review of all U.S. drilling accidents over at least the last decade.

CONTACTS: BP; U.S. Minerals and Management Service.

Houston’s Mexican Riviera: PUNTA MITA

Imagine taking a short two-hour flight from Houston and finding yourself in one of the most enchanting resort developments of Mexico’s Pacific Coast.  With activities ranging from high-end golf, tennis, hiking, horseback riding, sailing, surfing, fishing, yacht charters, rare bird and whale watching, Punta Mita is the new “It Destination” for Texans seeking a relaxing vacation home with all the amenities and none of the hassle.

Known primarily for its Four Seasons resort and private villas– the first Four Seasons unveiled in Mexico-Punta Mita is becoming much more than a vacation getaway.  The area, encompassing ten miles of Pacific Coast, is now a significant resort community, offering a range of homes to suit nearly every budget.

Prices in certain communities start around $400,000 and go up to $25 million for the most exclusive oceanfront homes.  Non-qualified financing on a range of products with 30% down means that the resort development is appealing to a broad range of potential buyers, and is selling out fast.

According to Gary Pepin, Vice President of Sales for Punta Mita Properties, private single-family villas that would cost over five million dollars in Los Cabos, Hawaii and the Bahamas can be purchased for significantly less than half in Punta Mita.

“The value for dollar is significant for American homebuyers seeking a 2nd, 3rd or 4th vacation home.  And since Punta Mita is so convenient to Texas, the opportunities make sense.”

Residential options at Punta Mita range from Mexican-designed luxury condominiums and villas to exclusive private homes and estates.

For Texans looking for an ease-free vacation getaway, the Four Seasons resort, private residence club, and private villas offers several restaurants, top notch service from experienced hotel personnel, a sexy stretch of white sand beach, and some of the best cuisine in the area.  For weddings or honeymoons, ask the concierge to arrange a sunset cocktail on top of “The Rock.”

The Four Seasons has a great fitness center, a large freeform pool, as well as an adult pool complex.  Don’t miss the bento box sushi at the adult pool bar.

A beach sports center offers kayaks for guests, snorkeling equipment, and anything else you need, including complimentary bottled water, sunscreen, books, newspapers and magazines for all your beach reading.

Punta Mita’s newest resort is the St. Regis, styled around the concept of “barefoot elegance.”  The guest rooms feel like a luxury private oasis, as each one boasts its own terrace, Remede bath amenities, and both indoor and outdoor showers.  The bathrooms are opulent, as is the décor. The setting is both serene and dynamic.  Wireless Internet is actually strong enough throughout the entire property so that you can Google to your heart’s desire while sitting in a beachside lounge chair with a laptop – making it effortless for guests who need to combine both work and play.

The St. Regis offers the newest spa in the area, and romantic guest rooms that you won’t want to leave.  Don’t miss the chef’s five course tasting menu at Carolina, or the fresh catch of the day at Sea breeze.  Special Mexican wines to try include small vintners that cannot be found in Texas, such as the red wine named Jala.

Puerto Vallarta is a short hop away, as is the neighboring arts community of Sayulita.

Punta Mita is fast becoming one of the world’s most famous golf destinations, and was recently voted the #1 Golf Resort in North America by readers of “Conde Nast.”  The newly opened Bahia course, compliments the famed Pacifico course-both Jack Nicklaus Signature Courses, including Punta Mita’s most original landmark, the “Tail of the Whale,” the world’s only natural island green.

essentials:

For vacation ownership options in Punta Mita:

U.S. toll free:  (888) 647-0979

Email:  info@puntamitaproperties.net.

www.puntamita.com

For the Four Seasons:

(800) 819-5053

www.fourseasons.com/puntamita

For the St. Regis:

(877) 250-8871

www.starwoodhotels.com

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