Articles from November 2011



Climate Change — Still A Problem

The U.N.s World Meteorological Organization reported today that the past decade is tied for the hottest on record, and reiterates that science proves unequivocally that the world is warming, and that the warming is the result of human activities. The International Energy Agency (IAE) warns that the world has five years to avoid serious climate change and extreme weather events. In short, we’re almost “locked in” for a 2 degree Celsius (3.6 degree Fahrenheit) increase, and after that it’s going to get ugly. “One wonders how many more worrying figures the world needs,” commented Connie Hedegaard, the European Union’s climate commissioner. Indeed.

There are a few hopeful signs that some people are taking this seriously. Here in California, our governor recently signed a law requiring that 33% of our energy be from renewable sources by 2020, which U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu called a model for the nation. Unfortunately, we are still driving our fossil-fueled cars around like idiots, but in L.A., at least, public transportation is not a viable option for everyone. As a westsider, I keep hoping for the Subway by the Sea to kick in, but I can’t even find an inaccurate figure on when it’s going to be completed.

If any of the presidential candidates who claim that global warming isn’t really happening, doesn’t really matter, or requires more investigation before action is taken actually gets elected, it’s going to be really bad news for us all.

Plastic Bag Ban

I was at Whole Foods the other day (buying a few sweet potatoes when I apparently really wanted yams, all very off topic but nonetheless frustrating) when I heard the guy in front of me complain to the cashier that charging ten cents for a carryout bag for his purchase was “highway robbery.” He was probably unaware that the city of Santa Monica, California now has a single-use carryout ban on plastic bags, and requires merchants to charge $0.10 apiece for paper bags.

When it was my turn I told that same cashier that I fully supported the bag ban and he informed me that it’s definitely changing people’s behavior (and not just by making them ruder, presumably). I was not surprised, since of course, this is the entire point of the ban. British retailer Marks & Spencer started charging for their plastic bags in 2008, and within ten weeks they were handing out 80% fewer bags. Similarly dramatic drops have been seen under the same conditions in China and San Francisco.

Why are plastic bags a problem? Producing them on this global scale is a massive waste of energy. An Australian study concluded in 2002 that “a year’s worth of weekly grocery trips, at 10 bags a trip, would result in embedded energy consumption of 210 megajoules—the equivalent of 1.75 gallons (6.6 liters) of gasoline, and emissions of 13 pounds (6.06 kilograms) of CO2.” [from National Geographic]

Plastic bags are also a big threat to marine wildlife. Animals get entangled in them; sea turtles eat them, mistaking them for jellyfish. Since they can’t digest them, there’s less room in their stomachs for actual food and they can starve to death.

I have been bringing my own bags to retailers for years, and, honestly, I just don’t think it’s that big of a deal to get everyone to do it. It’s not like the world hasn’t spent over a decade giving you those free reusable bags which are no doubt stuffed in the trunk of your car or somewhere in the back of your kitchen cabinets. Either way, please don’t take it out on the cashiers!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Shower Head Update

I know I left you hanging for a few days about the whole shower head situation. Oh, the agony I’ve put you through! Obviously, it’s incredibly inconsiderate.

But the good news is: it kind of worked. Lots of sediment came off the shower head when I soaked it in vinegar overnight, and it did seem to operate more efficiently the next day. So give it a try if you’re having trouble in this area!

Also, just wanted to mention that I ran across these cornstarch packing peanuts in Staples a few days ago. They are water soluble! Just a little reminder that polystyrene foam peanuts are totally played out. Don’t get left behind, and I don’t mean just rapture-wise.

 

Cleaning My Shower Head

I know what you’re thinking: what is Nancy doing this Friday night? If you guessed cleaning my shower head and watching DVR’ed episodes of Millionaire Matchmaker, good guess and please stop stalking me. But, yes, I’d noticed that I wasn’t getting great water pressure from my shower, and rather than toss my old shower head into the trash I decided to follow these instructions and soak it in vinegar overnight to remove the built-up mineral deposits that are probably clogging it up.

The nice thing about this solution is that it doesn’t require any actual skill, and there’s little downside, since pouring vinegar down your drain is a good way to keep it clean. (I also recommend a plumbing snake which should be used regularly to keep things flowing. Anything to avoid noxious Drano-type products or an expensive call to a plumber.)

I’ll let you know how it works out.

Recycling Candy Wrappers

When I was a kid, by a week after Halloween my candy haul would be down to some Smarties, a couple of Tootsie rolls, and a pack of Necco wafers that I would eat only begrudgingly and not even enjoy. But you know what I’d have plenty of? Candy wrappers.

To avoid this waste, you can collect all your candy wrappers and those of your neighbors and friends and send them to Terracycle. They take wrappers and packaging and make them into bags and picture frames.  This part of their program is sponsored by Mars/Wrigley and Cadbury, and their FAQ is a dead link, so I can’t suss out if they’ll take wrappers from their competitors as well. I’m going to guess not.

I have to admit to some skepticism about the whole enterprise, since I can’t tell without examining these items how many wrappers actually go into them, and how much of it is just new plastic. But giving them the benefit of the doubt it seems like a decent collection project for a school or scout group, especially since they do pay .02 cents. If anyone uses them, let me know how it goes!

P.S. Don’t feel bad about your candy-eating ways. A new study shows that people who like sweets may be sweeter than those who don’t.  And FYI, it’s easier on your teeth to eat a bunch of candy at once and then lay off for a while then to parcel it out piece by piece at regular intervals. That’s because streptococcus bacteria likes to feed on it and they excrete acids that eat away at your tooth enamel; the fewer times they have to come out and play, the better.