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Monthly Archives: September 2010

Bottled water has been on attack from environmentalists for as long as it has existed. And for good cause, bottled water produces up to 1.5 million tons of plastic waste per year. However, capping the bottled water quandary is a little trickier.
The average French person consumes 40 gallons of bottled water per year. How can we curb that usage and reduce the amount of plastic waste, especially when some prefer sparkling water? 
Eau de Paris, a public water supply company in France, thinks it may have the answer: Installing a sparkling water drinking fountain in a park in eastern Paris! (Sounds like something from a fairy tale, doesn’t it?) The water is chilled and injected with carbon dioxide before it reaches  parched patrons' lips. If the fountain receives good reactions from the public, Eau de Paris plans to install more fountains. No need to carry around those bottles, when you can satisfy your thirst with a few drinks from the fountain!

Do you think sparkling water fountains will help the problem of bottled water in France? Could it work in the United Sates?
Read the full report here:

While the National Bureau of Economic Research declares the recession officially over, 45 million Americans were living in poverty in 2009. This makes the U.S. poverty rate the third worst amongst developed nations according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Household participation on the food stamps program has risen by over 20% to 41 million people relying on them. One out of six Americans are now dependent upon at least one government anti-poverty program such as Medicaid, Welfare, and unemployment benefits. This trend has had drastic effects on children with one out of every five currently living in poverty.
A minimum level of consumption or income that is deemed necessary to cover basic needs is used by governments to establish a “poverty line”. These guidelines vary over time and place and is dependent upon the size of the family and ages of it’s members. A family of three would have to make $18,310 or less to be considered living in poverty. For a family of four, the level of income rises to $22,050.
While poverty rates rose for all races and ethnicities except Asian, statistics for black communities are staggering. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the national unemployment rate is at 9%, black unemployment is at 16%. Median household incomes for blacks also dropped 4.4%. Now, 26% of black people live below the federal poverty line.
Many critics have blamed Washington for spending too much on anti-poverty programs rather than trying to create jobs and growth. What do you think has contributed to the rising U.S. poverty statistics?

To learn more about the poverty guidelines in your state click here.

The MacArthur Genius Fellows were announced yesterday, rewarding "exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work."  The prize for recipients is a grant for $500,000, "no strings attached," as an investment in the continued growth of good ideas. As Professor John O. Dabiri puts it, "it gives me the room the fail."

Professor Dabiri is one of one of the 23 newly-christened geniuses by the MacArthurers. At 30 years old he's the youngest winner but is already at the vanguard of some of the most interesting engineering problems facing our society today.  He studies the biodynamics of cnidarians AKA how jellyfish move, which has wide ranging engineering applications from pacemakers that regulate heart blood-flow to harnessing wind in super efficient wind turbines. 

Watch a profile of Professor Dabiri and the rest of his 2010 genius cohort at the MacArthur site.



planetharmony: your opinion?

Graduate students at Arizona State University will be holding a mock trial on the Mossville human rights case.  WIlliam Paul Simmons is the professor. 

To learn more about the case see

CHECK THIS OUT: the Root website has a nice wrap of an ABC television experiment about racism. Using hidden cameras, the ABC crew recorded the responses of passersby to a young white man and a young black man who were each appearing to steal a bicycle.  The reactions were profoundly different . Only one or two people out of a hundred challenged the white kid, but the black kid was called out almost immediately and a couple of times an antagonist crowd started to form. You can see the tape here:

My thoughts:
Just yesterday I was driving through a small town in Southern Maine when I passed a police patrol car in a parking lot. The cop abruptly pulled out and followed me until I left town…I didn't get stopped as I knew that  road had a 25 mph limit and I offered him no excuse. That's because I have learned to be careful in these places– Indeed when I first started coming to this region a few years ago virtually every town–about 8 or 9 in the area –pulled me over, though I never got a ticket…..I finally figured out the offense was 'driving while black.'

In the arena of  the environment, things are not usually as obvious. So imagine what it is like in a case of disproportionate toxic exposure where the options for the authorities are more complex. 

Pretty much all the folks on the bicycle thief tape  were unaware of their racist prejudices. They believed that they were acting on facts, not attitudes.

So when it comes to a black neighborhood that is choked with pollution and poor transit patterns, does society tolerate that because it what people expect to see? Do they think it is a natural fact that black people live under such conditions, or do they understand that environmental injustice is a function of attitudes? 

My guess is that it's most often the former, rather than the latter, but what do you think? And what do you think could be done?

Two chain grocery stores in the Northwest have been accused of holding pseudo farmers' market. During the summer, Safeway and Supervalu Inc. stores hosted outdoor markets that they advertised as "Farmers' Markets," a labeling that local-eating advocates took exception to.  Michael Pollan, sustainable food guru, told the Wall Street Journal, "these very large corporations are recognizing the power of these words—the power of local and the power of farmer—and are trying to co-opt them." 

Independent farmers criticized the big stores for diluting their brand- by abandoning the locally-grown ethos and selling mangoes in Oregon; they also complained that the mega-grocers were uprooting their clientele.

The number of farmers markets and their influence on urban-eaters is no small potatoes. There are more than 6,132 farmers' markets nationwide, a number that has more than doubled since in the past decade, according the US Department of Agriculture.

For more on the struggles of Farmers Market, checkout Anyi's piece on a lonely market in LA's Crenshaw: The Freshest Food in the Hood.

FlickrCC/By Bjørn Giesenbauer

There are a lot of criticisms of the way we get meat; it's a drain on our natural resources, factory farms sully the environment and the animals are treated inhumanely  We know that, but if you come between a man and his rib-eye, you're looking for trouble.

A chef in Brooklyn is showing customers a new, ecologically friendly way to get protein… it just takes some guts:

"You really want to go green? Try this. “I have my month’s meat growing in my office,” Mr. Ross said. “It’s taking up almost no space, it’s organically raised, it’s as fresh as I want it to be and the waste from it is garden compost.”"

In North America, lobster (a proud member of the arthropod family), was reviled as prison food until the 50's when it became a delicacy.  How long will it be until the locavores embrace the gourmet mealworm?

Bioneers Conference
October 15-17
If you find yourself in San Rafael, California on October 15-17, be sure to check out the Bioneers Conference, a forum and workshop event about the future of our planet and its future. But, even if you aren’t in California, chances are there is a satellite Bioneers Conference in a town near you! Check out for locations. Take classes and attend lectures to find inspiration in the solutions that are taking place right now for a better planet.