Archive for October, 2014

Sometimes it IS easy Being Green


by Stephen Warne

The following article was written in June of 2012. Please be aware that some information may be outdated.

Saving money on a less expensive car and trying to help the planet by reducing one’s impact on the environment do not have to be mutually exclusive. There are many options now available to people who want to be responsible stewards of our planet and who are in the market for a new vehicle, and ‘green cars’ are the most common term for these fuel efficient,  low emission, and seemingly environmentally friendly cars.

Consumers are now finding themselves bombarded with marketing campaigns that are keen to cash in on the ‘greenwashing’ of America, and the conscious and caring consumers who buy green cars can easily be misled by words with no legal definition, industry standards, or consensus. Saying a product is green does not mean it is environmentally safe, causes less pollution, or is more efficient, it just means you think you are getting those things – to really know the impact your purchases have on the environment, you have to do your research.

Fuel efficiency standards have improved a lot over the years, and there are political movements who continue to pressure the auto industry and the lawmakers who regulate their industry to improve them further.  First enacted in 1975, after the Arab oil embargo in 1973 and subsequent rationing of fuel in 1974, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations were intended to reduce America’s dependence on foreign energy sources and oil, and improve the efficiency of American vehicles. The increased standards did succeed in improving efficiency, but with the rise in demand that followed in the 1980’s and 1990’s, America’s thirst for non-renewable energy like gasoline and oil largely outpaced the fuel efficiency standards and began polluting more.

As the government and industry leaders tried to improve efficiency, there were also leaders in technology who were working on creating a new infrastructure of renewable energy, like solar power and hydrogen fuel cells. Development in the 1990’s by companies like General Motors to create an all electric vehicle also garnered much attention at the time.  With the release of the GM EV-1 in 1997, the first mass-produced and purpose-designed electric vehicle of the modern era from a major automaker, many anticipated a future filled with battery driven vehicles that didn’t fill up at gas stations, but at charging stations or even at home. Renewable energy seemed to be a panacea that industry leaders heralded as the world’s destiny, and America’s immediate future. By 1999, GM had ended production of the EV-1, and in 2000 they started recalling all existing leased EV-1’s for ‘safety reasons’ – for more information and to learn about other theories for the recall, check out the movie ‘Who Killed The Electric Car?’.

With the recall of the EV-1’s, automakers had touched a nerve amongst auto buyers and American consumers. Consumers began demanding higher fuel efficiency and savings beyond government standards. Consumer choice started favoring cars that offered other savings on fuel, through ‘flex fuel’ systems, regenerative braking, and even improved materials in the chassis that reduce weight and drag. Green cars became fashionable in the early 2000’s, and the demand for them has only increased over the past decade or more.

As automakers have worked to create the technologies, many have turned to ‘flex fuel’ options for their fleets. ‘Flex fuel’ is the use and mixture of two or more types of energy to fuel your vehicle. According to (Kelly Blue Book), “Cars like the 2011 Chevy Volt run primarily on electric power supplied by a battery, but after the electric reserves are exhausted, the car’s gas engine extends the range for 379 additional miles.” Many consumers of electric vehicles voice concern over the range of their fuel supply, called range anxiety. These concerns are easily addressed by adding flexibility to the vehicles fuel supply, and allowing alternative forms of fuel. Countries like Brazil have pushed ‘flex fuel’ technologies since the oil embargo of the 1970’s, and have spent decades creating and improving infrastructure for renewable fuels like ethanol. Ethanol is created from sugars that are harvested from living plants and even micro-organisms like bacteria and fungi. America uses ethanol blends in most of its gasoline, but many vehicles require special technology to use blends higher than 15% ethanol.

In addition to ethanol, some ‘flex fuel’ systems can use natural gas, hydrogen, or other types of energy sources. Most of the industry leaders have experimented with hydrogen fuel cell technologies recently,  and this year Hyundai debuted their new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, the Blue2 (“Blue Square”) – Blue Square is expected to be available in 2014. In March 2010, General Motors said it had not abandoned hydrogen fuel-cell technology and is still targeted to introduce hydrogen vehicles to retail customers by 2015.

Current options for ‘flex fuel’ vehicles in the United States are typically marketed as ‘hybrid vehicles’. All ‘flex fuel’ vehicles are hybrids, but only hybrids that mix the fuels together are considered ‘flex fuel’. Popular types of hybrid vehicle are those that capture energy from braking – called regenerative braking. The Toyota Prius, Honda Insight, Tesla Roadster, Nissan Leaf, and Chevrolet Volt all use this type of energy maximization to improve their fuel efficiency, reduce their pollution, and improve the overall utility of their vehicles.

Kelly Blue Book, a very popular publication for valuation and comparison shopping for vehicles, rates the 2011 Nissan Leaf as it’s number one recommendation for green cars. “With a groundbreaking combination of range, room and price, the Nissan Leaf is the first all-electric car for the masses. The EPA says the Leaf will deliver 73 miles per charge and the equivalent of 99 miles per gallon. But that’s not the only thing green about the Leaf: recycled materials made from home appliances, old car parts and plastic bottles are used extensively throughout the vehicle. The limited range disqualifies the Leaf as an option for some drivers, but for those who can swing it, the Nissan Leaf is the real deal,”

When choosing a vehicle based on its green attributes, one must compare and contrast the many options available. There are so many choices to select from; it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Focus on the things that matter most to you, and your choices become easier. Do you want a vehicle that is cheap to use or inexpensive to purchase? Does your ‘carbon footprint’ (the amount of carbon you create each year through your normal activities) matter more to you than the type of fuel you use?  Find the legitimate questions that matter to you, and make your decision based on the facts and how you feel about them. There is no perfect match for everyone – each choice has its own value and its own tradeoffs. When in doubt, seek out a second and third opinion and/or wait till another model is released – there will always be newer models with ‘better’ technology released the following year. It’s up to you how long you want to wait, but the quicker the gas guzzling polluters of the 20th century are retired, the sooner we can all breathe easy!

Coastal Caretaking

Zoning Tropical Waters Like Land Resources

Tropical coast

In the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, 24 scientists from Canada, the U.S., the UK, China, Australia, New Caledonia, Sweden and Kenya affirm that one-fifth of humanity lives within 60 miles of a tropical coastline, primarily in developing countries. They warn that growing populations and the increasing impact of climate change ensure that pressures on these coastal waters will only grow.

Most locations are lacking in holistic, regional management approaches to balance the growing demands from fisheries, aquaculture, shipping, oil, gas and mineral extraction, energy production, residential development, tourism and conservation.

Lead author Peter Sale, of the United Nations University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health, states, “We zone land for development, farms, parks, industry and other human needs. We need a comparable degree of care and planning for coastal ocean waters. We subject [the sea], particularly along tropical shores, to levels of human activity as intense as those on land. The result is widespread over-fishing, pollution and habitat degradation.”

According to the paper, solutions must address a larger geographic scale over a longer period of time; focus on multiple issues (conservation, fisheries enhancement and land-based pollution); and originate from a local jurisdiction to gain traction with each community.

View the paper at

Tapping Acupressure Points Heals Trauma in Vets

American Flags

Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) may be an effective treatment for veterans that have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a study published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. EFT involves tapping on acupressure points while focusing on traumatic memories or painful emotions in order to release them.

As part of the Veteran’s Stress Project, an anonymous clinical study comprising more than 2,000 participants, 59 veterans with PTSD were randomly assigned to either receive strictly standard care or also experience six, hour-long, EFT session. The psychological distress and PTSD symptoms showed significant reductions among veterans receiving the EFT sessions, with 90 percent matriculating out of the criteria for clinical PTSD. At a six-month follow-up, 80 percent of those participants still had symptoms below the clinical level for PTSD.

According to Deb Tribbey, national coordinator for the Veterans’ Stress Project, PTSD symptoms that can be resolved with the combined therapy include insomnia, anger, grief, hyper-vigilance and pain.

For more information, visit or

A Terrifyingly Healthy Halloween

Here are two healthy, Halloween-friendly recipes for the kids to try out. For more recipes and more information on hosting a Halloween that’s Natural, Healthy and Cost-Conscious, be sure to check out our October issue!


French Bread Pizza Dough

2 Tbsp active dry yeast

2 cups very warm water

2 Tbsp natural granulated sugar

3 cups organic unbleached all-purpose or bread flour, divided 2-to-1

2 tsp salt

2 Tbsp olive oil

3 cups whole wheat flour, divided 2-to-1

Preheat oven to 400* F. Lightly grease baking pans.

Dissolve yeast and sugar in the warm water. Stir gently, let yeast rise until frothy foam covers surface. Mix dough by hand with a dough hook or using an electric mixer.

Add 2 cups all-purpose flour, salt and olive oil and mix well.

Add 2 cups whole wheat flour (grind just before using for maximum nutrition).

Gradually add the additional flour until a smooth dough forms. Depending on altitude and humidity, more or less may be needed. Mix until dough is smooth.

Remove to flour-dusted bread board. Shape and roll out to about 1/2 inch thick, top with marinara sauce, cheese and desired toppings.

Bake at 400* F for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden around the edges.

Aunt Judy’s Taco Stacks

Yields 6 generous servings

This one-dish treat contains all of the major food groups. Prepare favorite taco ingredients and stack them on organic blue-corn chips or a bed of torn lettuce. Homemade salsa adds more veggies and zing. Use a recipe like one at For a flavor twist, add diced avocado sprinkled with lemon juice to keep the bright green color; red, green, orange or yellow peppers; and fruit like mangos or peaches.

1 to 2 Tbsp olive oil (if needed)

1 and 1/4 lb naturally raised lean ground meat or meat substitute

1 small onion, 2-in or less in diameter, chopped

1 (8-oz) can organic tomato sauce

1 tsp chili powder

3/4 tsp ground cumin

Natural salt and pepper to taste

2 (15.5-oz) cans black beans, rinsed and drained

3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped in 1/4-in pieces

1 bunch cilantro leaves, stems removed

1.5 cups organic shredded cheddar, Mexican blend or vegan cheese

1 (15.5-oz) can black olives, drained and sliced

1 (8-oz) container of regular or vegan sour cream

1 small head of Romaine lettuce, roughly chopped

1 (1-lb) bag organic blue corn, whole grain, artisan, white or yellow corn or gluten-free baked tortilla chips

Add 1 Tbsp oil to an 8-to-10-inch skillet and heat over medium-high heat until the oil just begins to simmer. Add chopped onion and stir. Sweat for 3-4 minutes.

Add the ground meat or meat substitute. If needed, add oil. Stir to break up large clumps and cook until browned.

Remove from skillet and drain the meat. Return to skillet, and then add tomato sauce, chili powder and cumin. Stir to blend and simmer over medium heat until the sauce begins to thicken. Add salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm.

Place beans, tomatoes, cilantro, cheese, olives and sour cream in separate bowls. On a serving place, put Romaine lettuce, taco chips or a combination of the two. Add toppings and salsa as desired.

Optional substitution: Use one 8-oz can of tomatoes with green chilies instead of the tomato sauce, chili powder and cumin.

Source: Recipes courtesy of Pamela Layton McMurtry

Ice Chaser


James Balog’s Dramatic Images Document Climate Change

by Christine MacDonald

National Geographic photographer James Balog says he was skeptical about climate change until he saw it happening firsthand. Watching once-towering glaciers falling into the sea inspired his most challenging assignment in a storied 30-year career–finding a way to photograph climate change.

In exploring Balog’s Extreme Ice Survey, a breathtaking photographic record of vanishing glaciers, and his aware-winning documentary, Chasing Ice, Natural Awakenings asked about the challenges he faced to bring this dramatic evidence of climate change to a world audience.

How did seeing glaciers shrink “before your eyes” move you to endure sometimes life-threatening conditions to get these images on record?

I fell in love with ice decades ago as a young mountaineer and scientist. I loved to get up before dawn and hike out on a glacier in Mount Rainier or one in the Alps, watch the light come up and hear the crunch of the frozen ice underfoot.

On a trip to Iceland early in the project, I was looking at these little diamonds of ice that were left behind on the beach after the glaciers broke up. The surf had polished them into incredible shapes and textures. Walking the beach, you’d realize each one was a unique natural sculpture that existed only for that moment before the return of high tide stole it away. Nobody would ever see it again. That was an amazing aesthetic and metaphysical experience.

I realized that I wanted people to share this experience, to see the glaciers disappearing. This visual manifestation and evidence of climate change is here, happening right before our eyes. It is undeniable.

Why do these photos and videos help us grasp the scale of Planet Earth’s climate changes already underway?

When people encounter Extreme Ice Survey images, their response is typically immediate and dramatic. It is the first step toward caring about a distand landscape most will never experience in person, enabling them to connect the dots between what happens far away and the rising sea levels, extreme weather events and other climate-related issues closer to home.

What can an everyday person do to help underscore the global scientific consensus and urgency of addressing global warming?

Lobbyists and pundits seek confusion and controversy, because ignorance seeks to hide within a noise cloud of false information. As long as the public thinks climate change isn’t real or that science is still debating it, fossil fuel industries protect their profits. Without social clarity, the political leaders financially beholden to fossil fuel industries have no motivation to act. Market signals don’t help us make correct decisions when the military, health and environmental costs of fossil fuels that spread throughout the economic system don’t show up in today’s gasoline prices and electricity bills.

Science and art seek clarity and vision. Clear perception is the key to changing the impact we’re having on our home planet. With social clarity, the policy, economic and technological solutions to wise energy use and countering climate change can be widely implemented. The path forward is being traveled by individuals committed to improving their own lives and communities; by school children who can’t stand the inaction of their elders; by innovative entrepreneurs and corporations eager to make or save money; by military generals seeking to protect their country and their soldiers; and by political leaders of courage and vision. We are all complicit with action or skeptical inaction; we can all participate in solutions to climate change.

What’s next on the horizon for you?

We will continue to keep the Extreme Ice Survey cameras alive. This project doesn’t end just because the film came out. We plan to keep observing the world indefinitely. We’ll install more cameras in Antarctica; funding permitting, we also hope to expand into South America.

I intend to continue looking at human-caused changes in the natural world, which is what I’ve been photographing for 30 years. I’m developing a couple of other big ideas for conveying innovative, artistic and compelling interpretations of the world as it’s changing around us. I will continue doing self-directed educational projects through our new nonprofit, Earth Vision Trust. Overall, I feel a great obligation to preserve a pictorial memory of vanishing landscapes for the people of the future.

Christine MacDonald is a freelance journalist in Washington, D.C., whose specialties include health and science. Visit