Wisdom Magazine's Monthly Webzine Skip Navigation Links
Wisdom Magazine is also one of the country's largest free holistic publications with 150,000 copies printed bi-monthly in three regional print editions. Wisdom is dedicated to opening people's hearts and minds to the philosophies, products and services of the new millennium.
Home  About  This Month's Articles  Calendar of Events  Classified Listings  Holistic Resource Directory
 Educational Programs  Sacred Journeys & Retreats  Yoga Teacher Training
 Article Archives  What's New in Books, CD's & DVD's  Wisdom Marketplace
 Where to Find Wisdom Near You  Subscriptions  Web Partner Links
 Advertising Information  Contact Us
Denali Institute of Northern Traditions
Miriam Smith
Margaret Ann Lembo
Maureen St Germain
Business Opportunity
Laura Norman Reflexology
Vibes Up
Light Healing
Sacred Journeys Retreats
Alternatives For Healing

EarthTalk®

by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss


EarthTalk®
E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: We must really be swimming in electronic waste, what with all the iPhones and other devices that are so common. How is this all being dealt with? -- Mary Shufelt, New Bern, NC

With electronic equipment and gadgets the fastest growing waste stream in many countries, how to deal with so-called “e-waste” may in fact be one of the most pressing environmental problems of the 21st century. According to BCC Research, consumers around the world purchased 238.5 million TVs, 444.4 million computers and tablets and a whopping 1.75 billion mobile phones in 2012 alone. Most of us discard such items within three years of purchase, and this is driving the global growth in e-waste by some eight percent a year. Meanwhile, a recent study conducted by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on behalf of the United Nations found that the growth in demand for and manufacturing of new electronics will result in a 33 percent increase in e-waste globally between 2012 and 2017.

But why is e-waste any more of a problem than old fashioned garbage? “Some of the materials in personal electronics, such as lead, mercury and cadmium, are hazardous and can release dangerous toxins into our air and water when burned or deposited in landfills improperly,” reports the non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “And throwing away metal components, like the copper, gold, silver and palladium in cell phones and other electronics, leads to needless mining for new metals.”

Today some 80 percent of unwanted electronics are disposed of improperly. “E-waste is either discarded or exported to emerging nations, where open-air burning and acid baths are used to reclaim precious metals and other elements,” reports Maureen O’Donnell in EHS Journal. The lack of proper controls in such countries, she says, has led to elevated lead levels in children and heavy metals pollution of soil and water. As a result, she adds, “we now stand at the forefront of a growing environmental catastrophe.”

The good news is that many nations have enacted new laws to hold manufacturers responsible for the future e-waste created by their products. The European Union has led the way with its Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, which calls on electronics makers to “take back” their products for recycling when consumers upgrade to something new, and restricts European countries from exporting or importing e-waste. Japan and China are among other countries that have passed similar laws.

The U.S. government has yet to follow suit, but the Electronics Takeback Coalition (ETC) reports that 21 U.S. states have implemented their own “take back” laws, and several other states are considering similar legislation. Meanwhile, environmentalists continue to pressure Congress to consider similar legislation at the national level, given especially that Americans’ are the world leaders in generating e-waste.

Additionally, many manufacturers are adopting voluntary e-waste recycling certification standards. One is the e-Stewards program, which helps those looking to dispose of obsolete electronics identify recycling options that adhere to high standards of environmental responsibility and worker protection. Another program, R2 Certification, run by the non-profit SERI, is supported by several large manufacturers, including DirecTV and Microsoft. Consumers can do their parts by choosing manufacturers that embrace so-called “producer pays” electronics recycling through participation in one of these programs.

CONTACTS:ETC, www.electronicstakeback.com; e-Stewards, www.e-stewards.org; SERI, www.sustainableelectronics.org; WEEE, http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/weee/legis_en.htm;

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com.

EarthTalk®
E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: How is it that migrating birds are being negatively affected by oil extraction in Canada’s Boreal forest? -- Jennifer Chase, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Each year tens of million of migratory birds “overwinter” in the Canadian Boreal forest, a vast tract of mostly uninhabited coniferous woodlands and wetlands stretching from Newfoundland to the Yukon. The area makes up some 60 percent of Canada’s total land mass, and serves as the winter home for more than half of America’s avian population. But environmentalists are worried about the impact of increasing “tar sands” oil development there and the impact it might have on wildlife populations continent-wide.

Tar sands are a mixture of sand, clay, water and a dense and viscous tar-like form of petroleum called bitumen. The bitumen is extracted from the tar sands mixture and eventually refined into transportation fuel like gasoline. The extraction process is especially “carbon-intensive” and generates some of the dirtiest fuel around, but its abundance makes it affordable as long as industry keeps turning up new sources.

A recently released report by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) concluded that almost half of the 292 different migratory bird species that overwinter in Canada’s Boreal forest—as many as 75 million birds—are threatened by future tar sands development. Further, they say, bird losses in the hundreds of thousands have already taken place as a result of overzealous and under-regulated oil development there to date.

“The direct and indirect impacts to birds from tar sands development are immense,” states the report. “Waterfowl and shorebirds land in tailings ponds that they mistake for natural water bodies and become oiled with waste bitumen and toxic elements.” The result can be birds drowning, dying from hypothermia or otherwise suffering from the ingestion of toxins. “Toxins from the tailings ponds and other pollutants from tar sands operations leak millions of gallons of toxic liquid waste into wetlands and forests each day, further contaminating habitat,” the groups add.

Tar sands development also contributes disproportionately to climate change. U.S. State Department analysis shows that tar sands oil is 20 percent more carbon pollution intensive than conventional oil on a “well-to-wheel” basis. The effects of global warming on Canada’s Boreal forest are likely to include shifting food supplies, increasing numbers of damaging wildfires in forests, more droughts in wetlands and potentially dramatic changes in vegetation and the relationships between predators and prey.

Environmentalists would like to see U.S. lawmakers deny permits for the transport of Canadian Boreal tar sands oil—most of which is extracted in land-locked regions—through the U.S. in hopes of making future tar sands projects there too expensive to be worthwhile.

“Saying no to tar sands is a critical pillar in an effective strategy to protect wildlife from carbon pollution,” says NWF. Furthermore, given Americans’ growing desire to get away from costly and polluting foreign oil, it makes sense to pass on adding dirty tar sands oil to the mix. But it remains to be seen if the Obama administration will allow construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to transport the oil from Canada through the U.S. The welfare of millions of birds—and, indeed, our energy future—is at stake.

CONTACTS: NWF, www.nwf.org; NRCM, www.nrcm.org.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com.

EarthTalk®
E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: I thought that putting ethanol in our gas tanks was going help fight climate change, but lately I’ve heard reports to the contrary. Can you enlighten? -- Bill B., Hershey, PA

Ethanol and similar “biofuels” made from corn and other crops seem like a good idea given their potential for reducing our carbon outputs as well as our reliance on fossil fuels. But recent research has shown that the federal government’s push to up production of corn-derived ethanol as a gasoline additive since 2007 has actually expanded our national carbon footprint and contributed to a range of other problems.

U.S. corn producers started ramping up ethanol production in 2007 as a result of President George W. Bush’s Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), which mandated an increase in the volume of renewable fuel to be blended into transportation fuel from nine billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion by 2022. Ethanol now makes up 10 percent of the gasoline available at filling stations.

But environmentalists now say that the promise of ethanol has turned out to be too good to be true. For one, there is the issue of net energy produced. According to Cornell University ecologist David Pimentel, growing and processing corn into a gallon of ethanol requires 131,000 BTUs of energy, but the resulting ethanol contains only 77,000 BTUs. And since fossil-fuel-powered equipment is used to plant, harvest, process and distribute ethanol, the numbers only get worse.

The non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) warns that continued production of corn ethanol is not only “worse for the climate than gasoline” but also bad for farmers, the land and consumers: “It is now clear that the federal corn ethanol mandate has driven up food prices, strained agricultural markets, increased competition for arable land and promoted conversion of uncultivated land to grow crops.”

Additionally, the group reports that previous estimates “dramatically underestimated corn ethanol’s greenhouse gas emissions by failing to account for changes in land use,” citing a 2012 study documenting the conversion of eight million acres of Midwestern grassland and wetlands to corn fields for ethanol between 2008 and 2011. “These land use changes resulted in annual emissions of 85 million to 236 million metric tons of greenhouse gases,” says EWG. “In light of these emissions, many scientists now question the environmental benefit of so-called biofuels produced by converting food crops.”

Given the potential negative impacts of so-much corn-based ethanol, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is reportedly weighing a proposal to cut the amount currently required by law to be blended into gasoline by 1.39 billion gallons. If the federal government decides to do this, it could lower U.S. carbon emissions by some three million tons—equivalent to taking 580,000 cars off the roads for a year.

Meanwhile, researchers are trying to develop greener forms of ethanol, but none are ready for market yet. “The lifecycle emissions of ethanol ‘from seed to tailpipe’ depend on how the ethanol is made and what it is made from,” reports the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The best ethanol, they say, can produce as much as 90 percent fewer lifecycle emissions than gasoline, but the worst can produce much more. So there still may be room for ethanol in our energy future, but not if we keep doing it the way we are now.

CONTACTS: Renewable Fuel Standard, www.epa.gov/otaq/fuels/renewablefuels; David Pimentel, vivo.cornell.edu/display/individual5774; EWG, www.ewg.org; UCS, www.ucsusa.org.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com.

EarthTalk®
E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: What are some of the more dangerous threats to our air quality and what can be done to eliminate them so we can all breathe more easily? -- Melanie Smith, Pomfret, CT

The main threats to local air quality across the United States (as well as most everywhere else) remain smog and particulate pollution, which combined or acting alone trigger millions of hospital visits and health complications for citizens every year. The American Lung Association (ALA) reports that almost half of all Americans live in counties where air pollution routinely reaches unhealthy levels and can therefore make people sick or exacerbate pre-existing health conditions.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) points to mobile sources (trains, planes and automobiles) as the greatest contributor to American air pollution, but industrial sources such as power plants and factories are not far behind. Regardless of which kind of pipe pollution comes out of, the end result is consistently bad air quality in the nation’s 22 largest metropolitan areas and beyond.

“Ozone develops in the atmosphere from gases that come out of tailpipes, smokestacks and many other sources,” reports ALA. “When these gases come in contact with sunlight, they react and form ozone smog.” Breathing in smog, while inevitable in certain urban and industrial areas, can irritate the cardiovascular system and cause other health problems.

As for particulate pollution, it too comes from a wide range of both mobile and stationary sources. “Burning fossil fuels in factories, power plants, steel mills, smelters, diesel- and gasoline-powered motor vehicles (cars and trucks) and equipment generates a large part of the raw material for fine particles,” explains ALA. “So does burning wood in residential fireplaces and wood stoves or burning agricultural fields or forests.” Chronic exposure to particulate pollution has been linked not only to cardiovascular issues but also to cancers and reproductive problems—and has been shown to contribute to premature death.

Fortunately, the Clean Air Act has gone a long way toward cleaning up the air we breathe across the U.S., reducing key air pollutants overall by a whopping 68 percent since it first became law in 1970. A recent study by EPA researchers showed that, in 2010 alone, the Clean Air Act prevented more than 160,000 premature deaths, 130,000 cases of heart disease and 1.7 million asthma attacks, not to mention 86,000 hospital admissions and millions of respiratory illnesses.

But even though four decades of Clean Air Act programs have already done a lot to improve our health, environment leaders and public health advocates alike would like to see lawmakers put in place even more stringent rules to reduce pollution of all kinds and put our economy on a cleaner, greener path overall.

As for what you can do, ALA recommends protecting yourself and your family by checking air quality forecasts in your community and avoiding exercising or working outdoors when bad air quality is expected. Also, steps you can take to improve local air quality—driving less, using less electricity, turning the thermostat down, etc.—will have the positive side effect of helping mitigate global warming. Who knew that reducing your carbon footprint could actually also help you breathe more easily too?

CONTACTS: ALA, www.lung.org; EPA, www.epa.gov.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com.


Add Comment

Article Archives  This Month's Articles  Click Here for more articles by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss
Business Opportunity
Business Opportunity
Light Healing
Miriam Smith
Kiros Book
Alternatives For Healing
Business Opportunity
Laura Norman Reflexology
Denali Institute
Margaret Ann Lembo

Call Us Toll Free: 888-577-8091 or  |  Email Us  | About Us  | Privacy Policy  | Site Map  | © 2016 Wisdom Magazine