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Monthly Archives: April 2011

After learning about the complaints, history, and impact Wal-Mart has had on communities and small businesses, I am weary about the opening up of  four Wal-Mart stores in Washington DC. Does the profit outweigh the cost? Personally, I would say I do not think so. Yes, Wal-mart can bring jobs to communities with high unemployment rates; however it also decreases employment when competing companies go out of business. Not only will small businesses suffer, but it is also possible that the culture and history of a community could suffer as well. If a store that has historical history in a community is forced to close because of the competition of a Wal-Mart, not only do faithful customers to that store lose, but the community as a whole loses. So, I believe that the opening of a Wal-mart in Washington DC is problematic unless this issue as well as many others is addressed. 

"Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening."  – Coco Chanel
Platform stilettos and animal prints may dominate the latest trends, but eco-fashion is today's ethos.  Eco-fashion, is the idea that clothing be designed both with social and environmental responsibility.  The trend is quickly becoming a fashion must in the $450 billion dollar global industry. 
Eco-fashion uses natural fibers like organic cotton, hemp and bamboo are used instead of synthetic fibers such as spandex and nylon which have large carbon footprints because they are made from petroleum, a non renewable resouce.  Currently, about 40% of textiles produced world wide are polyesters.
Amal Bennett-Judge, a senior political science major at Howard University and Kendra Hill, a Howard alumna, produced and directed an eco-fashion show at this year's Power Shift 2011.  Power Shift is an environmental youth summit that is held every other year in Washington D.C.
Models from Howard, Spelman, Morehouse and Hampton strutted their eco-fashion ensembles down the runway to bring eco-fashion onto the campus scene. The theme of the show was SEX: Saving Energy Xtremely using second hand clothes from the Goodwill cutting out the energy intensive process of transporting garments sometimes well over 10,000 miles from foreign countries such as China.   
According to Earth Pledge, a non profit that partners with businesses, communities and governments to promotes eco-tech initiatives, at least 8,000 chemicals are used in the production process to turn raw textile materials (natural and man made fibers) into textiles.  The process of dyeing, spinning, weaving, finishing, cutting, sewing, packaging, transport, sales, consumption and disposal causes irreversible damage to both communities and the environment.
Even traditional cotton poses some environmental concerns.  The annual demand for cotton is at over 25 million tons per year.  Non-organic cotton uses a whopping 25% of the world's pesticide use and requires 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton for just an average pair of jeans and 400 gallons for a t-shirt.  Organic cotton requires 3,000 cubic meters less per acre of water to grow than conventional cotton. 
 Bennett-Judge's eco-show shines a light on the great potential black consumers have to play in pushing eco-fashion to the forefront of the industry.  According to Target Market, a company that tracks black consumer spending, estimates that black Americans control an annual spending budget of $1 trillion, $23 billion of which goes to clothes.  If even just a fraction of that was spent towards environmentally friendly & socially responsible clothes, it would have the power to significantly reduce use of pesticides, water and petroleum.

Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger worked to leave California a greener state than when he was elected. In 2006 he signed the nation's first bill creating a cap on greenhouse gas emissions. In his personal life he famously coverted his Hummer to run on biofuel.  Now the Governator is bolstering his environmental legacy in the editorial section of the Wall Street Journal.  In a time where the EPA's regulatory power has been hotly debated, Schwarzenegger breaks party ranks to voice his enduring support for the Clean Air Act.   His op-ed is below:

I love American success stories. Start-up companies that change the marketplace, inventors who create new technologies, and, of course, immigrants who make it big in Hollywood. That's why I love the Clean Air Act, one of the most successful laws in American history. Over the last 40 years, it has made our air dramatically cleaner, saved hundreds of thousands of lives, and substantially boosted our economy.

In 1968, I came to California and didn't know why my eyes were constantly filling with tears. I quickly learned about smog and bad-air days. These days, the air is much cleaner thanks to the Clean Air Act and technologies that resulted from it, such as catalytic converters on cars and particle traps on diesel exhaust. Those toxic smog days motivated everyone to act.

Today, I have tears in my eyes again, but for a very different reason. Some in Washington are threatening to pull the plug on this success. Since January, there have been more than a dozen proposals in Congress to limit enforcement of our clean-air rules, create special-interest loopholes, and attempt to reverse scientific findings. These attacks go by different names and target different aspects of the law, but they all amount to the same thing: dirtier air.

This is not an abstract political fight. If these proposals are passed, more mercury, dioxins, carbon pollution and acid gases will end up in the air our kids breathe. More Americans will get sick, end up in the hospital, and die from respiratory illness. We would be turning our backs on the sound science and medical advice that has reduced air pollution from large industrial sources by more than 70% since the late 1960s, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

schwarzenegger

The rules that are under attack put common-sense limits on dangerous chemicals in our air. Mercury, which after 20 years is finally being regulated from power plants, is a dangerous neurotoxin that damages brain development and lowers IQs in young children. Acid gases, like hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride, are associated with bronchitis and asthma, according to the American Lung Association. And dioxins and other pollutants cause cancer.

Hobbling the Clean Air Act will also hurt the economy. More air pollution causes more sick days, and thus hurts productivity. And, as I know from California's experience, clean-air rules have led to innovation and new technologies that have created hundreds of thousands of new jobs and billions in clean-energy investment.

Congress should not substitute political calculations for scientific and medical facts. According to a recent poll by the American Lung Association, 69% of Americans believe that EPA scientists should set health standards, rather than members of Congress. Yet one proposal under consideration would actually overturn a finding by EPA experts on the impact of carbon pollution on our atmosphere. Another would prevent government scientists from even gathering information on the amount of this pollution going into the air.

I began my public service by promoting fitness for kids, so I know how much parents worry about keeping their children healthy. We choose the right foods, encourage exercise, wear bike helmets, and keep them away from danger whenever we can. But there are some threats, like air pollution, that we can't protect them from on our own. We can't tell our kids not to breathe or control what toxins blow into our air from neighboring states.

For this, we rely on our nation's clean-air laws.

I'm proud that it was a fellow California Republican, President Richard Nixon, who signed the Clean Air Act into law in 1970. In 1990, the act was strengthened by huge bipartisan majorities in Congress. Let's keep that bipartisan tradition alive to make sure no more tears are shed over the clean air that the American people deserve.

Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, was governor of California from 2003 to 2011.

Once an oasis away from Wal-Mart, DC residents are resenting the mega retailer's plans for setting up four shops in the city.  Each of the four proposed stores are set to open in predominately black neighborhoods.  Neighborhoods like Georgia Avenue, known for it's annual Caribbean Carnival Festival, mom and pop carry out restaurants and Howard University, will soon be graced with a Wal-Mart. 
 But D.C. residents and small business owners are not giving in without a fight.  Signs that read “Wal-Mart Respect DC” pepper city windows.  Rev. Howard Finley, pastor of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church says “We’d welcome Wal-Mart into our community if we could trust the company would respect DC…What sense does it make to go to work and still have to rely on public assistance, as many low-wage Wal-Mart employees must do to survive?”
 Multiple rallies have been held including one where protestors took their rally to the doorstep of a real estate developer who expressed interest in opening stores for the giant.  Opposing groups such as Wal-Mart Free DC  are even hosting free screenings of the documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.  
  America’s number one retailer has sought to win over the hearts of opponents by focusing on green initiatives, saying they wanted to be a "good steward for the environment." According to the The Supply Chain Management Review, the company outlined three goals promising to eventually be supplied by 100% renewable energy, create zero waste and sell sustainable products.
In 2010, the company pledged to double its sales of local produce by 2015 which would mean about 9% of the food sold would be local.  In other countries such as Canada, even bigger plans are in the making.  Canadians would benefit from about 30% of local produce by 2013 and 100% if the sources are available.  Produce accounts for $405 billion of Wal-Mart’s total revenue.    
The mega retailer has also focused efforts on small and medium-sized farmers.  It pledged to train 1 million farmers in markets such as crop selections and sustainable farming to reduce use of pesticides, fertilizer and water.  The company participated in efforts with other large groceries such as Giant, Safeway and Kroger to work with black and other minority farmers to bring their produce into their stores.  But despite all efforts, many are asking whether using local farmers can translate into jobs for the community.
Wal-Mart insists that it can be an asset to the community, providing badly needed jobs and cheap products.  Cheap products it provides indeed, but as for jobs, studies show that the company’s presence can be dire to a local economy.
 A study conducted out of Loyola University and the University of Illinois Chicago found that Wal-Mart's presence absorbs sales from other stores close by and adds nothing in terms of employment opportunities or increasing retail activities.  Just one store in Chicago killed 300 full time jobs in the surrounding community which is about as many jobs initially added providing an increase of net zero.
The study also found that 27% of shops who had to compete with a Wal-Mart nearby closed.  Predatory pricing strategy is largely to blame.  It keeps prices down until surrounding competition is gone, then it raises its prices.
As for the jobs that the mega retailer does provide, wages leave much to be desired.  Full time employees make an average of $6 to $7.50 an hour for 30-40 hours a week, just a little over $200 a week.  The company is also currently mired in a law suit brought on by 1.5 million women for gender discrimination regarding wages and promotions.
Prices are able to be kept down so low by outsourcing manufacturing abroad to countries like China.  While Wal-Mart prides itself on using local farmers to source its produce, critics lambast the company for not having the same standards for its manufactured goods.  As America's largest retailer, Wal-Mart should already be held to higher standards.  Both environmentally and economically.  
 DC currently is suffering from an unemployment rate of 19% and in Ward 7, one of the wards Wal-Mart is planning to set up shop, unemployment is the highest in the city at 20.7% according to Brookings Institute of Research.  If local politicians demand that Wal-Mart stores reserve the majority of these jobs for DC residents, provide equal pay and promotion opportunities for women and minorities and allow community input in the planning, design and operating hours, then perhaps Wal-Mart can provide badly needed employment opportunities.

Florida is home to some of the oldest roads in America.  Planet Harmony's Spencer Henderson takes us on a trip back in time, down an old canopy road.  Below you can listen to his essay.  Check back soon for the accompanying video of Spencer Henderson touring Tallahasse's famous canopy roads.

Spencer Henderson: Canopy roads are an iconic feature of rural Florida. These shady paths lined by tall, overlapping trees cut a path through our landscape and our history. An example of a canopy road can be found in Southeast Tallahassee, on Old St. Augustine Road.

Huge moss-draped live oaks, hickory trees and stately pines arch over the two lane road. An enclosed fence extends on each side of the road. Behind it lies active farmland.

This road is essential to the everyday life of farm animals such as cows and horses and wildlife such as raccoons and deer. These animals flock to cool places where they can feed on the vegetation that grows densely here.

And it has been that way for hundreds of years. Old St. Augustine Road dates all the way back to the 1600s. Back then Spanish settlers used this path as a way to go westward from St. Augustine, Fla., through Gainesville, to Tallahassee, ending in Pensacola. St. Augustine Road could be considered the first highway built in Florida. It even predates America!  Even before the Europeans traveled here- Indian tribes passed under these ancient trees for centuries.

Since the road was completed in 1820s it has remained relatively unchanged. But with the charm of this historic canopy comes a modern burden. When rain dampens the old branches, the extra weight causes them to break off and block parts of the road. These trees becomes especially hazardous during hurricane season. But the risk of fallen limbs is a small price to pay for the joy of traveling this storied canopy road. It brings a sense of peace to rural life, and gives us a glimpse into the past.

HENDERSON CANOPY ROADS.mp3 1.6 MB

Japan's nuclear crisis has dominated recent environmental news, bumping coverage of  the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Marking the one year anniversary of the disaster, BP has awarded their executives safety bonuses and are petitioning to continue drilling in the Gulf.
Transocean, the world's largest offshore drilling company, owned the oil rig that exploded killing 11 workers and gushing millions of crude oil for three months into the Gulf.  They filed a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission patting themselves on the back for their safety record…"notwithstanding" the worst oil spill in U.S. history of course. The filing reads:
"Notwithstanding the tragic loss of life in the Gulf of Mexico, we achieved an exemplary statistical safety record as measured by our total recordable incident rate (TRIR) and total potential severity rate (TPSR)…As measured by these standards, we recorded the best year in safety performance in our Company's history, which is a reflection on our commitment to achieving an incident free environment, all the time, everywhere."
To add insult to injury, BP has asked for permission to continue drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.  They promise to follow stricter regulations in exchange for drilling.  Companies including Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron have also been granted permission to drill in the Gulf of Mexico.
BP has barely kept their promise of cleaning up the mess they made in the Gulf of Mexico thus far.  They reneged on their promise to negotiate early payments to Louisiana to rebuild oyster beds, repair damaged wetlands and build a fish hatchery.  Louisiana now must find millions of dollars to repair the damage and then bill BP for it later.  This leaves Louisiana vulnerable to a litigation battle if BP decides to fight over whether they are responsible for the damage.  BP has already said they do not see how their oil spill damaged oyster beds.
BP promised the Wildlife & Fisheries, which is funded by license fees, to pay $2.5 million in losses.  They have yet to see a dime.  BP has also scaled back clean up workers from 48,000 last summer to 6,000 now.  Oil continues to stain Louisiana's coastline including Red Fish Bay and Pass a Loutre.  With significantly less workers, clean up efforts have slowed just as tourist season is encroaching upon the cash strapped state. 
Tourism is not Louisiana's only industry being severely impacted however.  Accuweather.com Hurricane Center meteorologists are predicting an active hurricane season.  A total of 15 storms are predicted for this year, eight of which becoming hurricanes and three of which to become major.  When storms brew in the Gulf and reach the oil-gunked marshes that serve as a buffer, oil will be pushed inland.

Losing the ability to walk, talk, or even move a finger no longer precludes your ability to make music.  Planet Harmony's Amanda Legros explains the Brain Computer Music Interface or BCMI, a tool that translates pure thought into pure sound.

Amanda Legros: [PIANO MUSIC] You are listening to a patient who is bound to a wheelchair and paralyzed from the neck down produce sound… through pure thought.

This unlikely musician can’t move his fingers across a keyboard but he can think those notes. His thoughts are then processed through a skullcap spiked with sensors that gauge mental activity.

A new technology developed by Brazilian composer and computer-music specialist Eduardo Miranda allows patients with neuromuscular disabilities the chance to play and compose music with thought alone.

Miranda and computer scientists at the University of Essex have collaborated to develop a brain-computer musical interface or BCMI. They used a cheap and inexpensive form of brain scan called electroencephalography, also known as EEG. The EEG cap picks up faint neural signals from the brain. It then translates these neural impulses into musical notes.

But just like people who use electrically implanted prosthetic limbs, this technology takes practice.

This is a virtuoso of BCMI. A man sits motionless- a skull cap on his head with wires flowing out, that go through a set of computers, which are finally connected to an old wooden piano.

Miranda directs the man to change the tempo: “If he wants change it, he can change it.” And without moving a finger.  [PIANO MUSIC]

Miranda and his team hope to continue improving the ability for people with disabilities to make their mind play melodies. He has been trying to develop a way to create music using brain waves for a decade. His research to hone BCMI is motivated by the limitations of patients suffering from paralysis. The challenges of neuromuscular disabilities go far beyond not being able to move. There is a loss of control and independence. And trials with patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's have shown that music therapy can actually delay the progression of those illnesses.

This technology gives form to the old saying having a song stuck in your head.

Amanda Legros BCMI.mp3 1.9 MB

Need to replace your shower curtain?  Take the opportunity to invest in one that won't  potentially harm your health.  Traditional shower curtains are made out of PVC or vinyl.  When you open up your new shower curtain, that "new" smell is actually toxic gasses being released into your home. 
Gasses such as toulene, ethybenzene and pthalates are just three out of 108 volatile organic compounds that have been listed on California's Proposition 65.  This list proposes to ban a range of toxic chemicals known to cause cancer and harm reproductive health such as damaging sperm.  Your shower curtain can release these chemicals for up to a month.  So, while you may think that hanging it outside to air out may help, it is not a reliable method.
To make matters more complicated, not all vinyl is toxic.  Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is the culprit and is what some have called "The Plastic Poison." If you are not 100% sure your shower curtain is not made out of PVC, don't buy it.
Instead opt for a shower curtain made out of polyethylene vinyl acetate (PEVA).  Ikea phased out PVC in 1991 and is a great place to start.  You can also opt for a shower curtain made out of natural fibers such as hemp or organic cotton.  The upside to these is that plastic shower curtains are not easily recyclable and end up in land fills or are burned (just further releasing toxins into the air).
An organic cotton shower curtain will eliminate your exposure to toxic gasses and pesticides.  They absorb water but will not leak through and are machine washable to kill mildew.  Even better, hemp is naturally mildew resistant, machine washable, absorbs water and dries quicker.  Hemp is also a sustainable fiber that requires little water to manufacture, has a short growing cycle, and yields more per acre than cotton.
To help keep your new curtain from getting wet, you may want to invest in a rain shower head that has a downward flow of water that not only reduces splash but also adds a luxurious touch to your bathroom.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities have the potential to preserve their historic buildings while sustaining the environment and its resources.  Planet Harmony's Tara Mosby reports on efforts to retrofit landmark buildings on HBCUs.

Tara Mosby: Think about what it would be like to step into a building where Alex Haley spent hours writing fiction. Imagine what it would be like to sort through your thoughts in the same place Martin Luther King Jr. had his dream of equality. How would it feel to touch the antique walls of the room where Rosa Parks began her college education?

This history is preserved in the many historical landmarks that adorn the campuses of America’s historically black colleges and universities. Each of the famous African Americans mentioned not only walked the campus of an HBCU, but achieved something that improved the lives for the next generation.

HBCUs and their students can create a better environment for the next generation who walk these halls. One way to follow in the footsteps of our historic alumni is by reducing the carbon footprint of our historic buildings.

Since many HBCUs are home to historic buildings that won’t be demolished, why not make them sustainable? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 160 million tons of debris is generated per year because of new construction and demolitions- that’s over a quarter of our annual non-industrial waste.

The EPA also reported that nearly 40 percent of the total U.S energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions come from buildings. Upgrading a historic building with sustainable features such as solar panels, rainwater collection systems and weatherization uses much less new building materials than building from scratch.

LEED is an acronym meaning Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. This system rates the sustainability of buildings.
George M. Sampson Hall (left) at FAMU received a $700,000 grant for historic preservation. Both Sampson and Young Hall (right) are being remodeled.
George M. Sampson Hall (left) at FAMU received a $700,000 grant for historic preservation. Both Sampson and Young Hall (right) are being remodeled. (Photo: Tara Mosby)

The United States Green Building Council awards buildings with LEED certification for being energy efficient, conserving water and other resources, and reducing carbon emissions. This program awards energy efficient buildings at one of three levels: silver, gold, or platinum.

Administrations at HBCUs are already considering LEED retrofitting as a practical way to preserve their historic buildings. In the stimulus bill, twenty HBCUs received a total of 15 million in federal dollars to repair sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The United Negro College Fund is supporting energy evaluations at HBCUs through their Building Green Initiative. And currently, Home Depot is accepting votes to divvy up $150,000 for sustainable building projects at HBCUs.

The historic buildings at HBCU’s are already standing; retrofitting them has the potential to save energy and continue the use of present materials.

So imagine that you are touching the same antique walls of the room Rosa Parks started her college education! Those walls have been weatherized! Step into to the building where Alex Hayley spent hours writing fiction- now look up! Those are compact fluorescents. And remember where Martin Luther King Jr. had his dream of equality- I’ve you been to the rooftop… and its covered with solar panels. Not only are Earth’s resources being preserved, but so is history.

TARA MOSBY LEED HBCU.mp3 2.6 MB

Last summer in Gulfport, MS the 4th of July preparation was different than any year before. The smells of barbeque, fireworks and ocean water that filled the air were mixed with the smell of oil. Planet Harmony's Tuskee Barnes brings tells of her family's experience.

Tuskee Barnes: The Gulf Coast Oil Spill changed lives forever. My city was still recovering from the damages left by Hurricane Katrina, when a new wave of concerns over the area’s health and jobs washed on our shores. It took the form of approximately 3.3 million barrels of oil erupting from the BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

At the time, I was in Florida at school. Hearing the news worried me, but the phone calls from family and friends about the setback were the real dagger to the back. I traveled to Gulfport, MS on July 3, 2010. Most of my family lives close to the beach. The smell was the fist thing I noticed. As I approached the beach, I was overwhelmed by the smell of oil. My throat grew tighter the closer I got, and I started to feel faint. Even worse was the thought of my family inhaling this everyday.


Clean-up efforts in Gulfport, MS nearly 1 year ago. (Photo by Goesfast.com)

It wasn’t long before my worries were being seen in sick people along the Coast. Residents reported symptoms such as coughing, vomiting, chest pains and other respiratory issues due to the exposure to the toxins. One of my aunts complained about headaches she started to experience a few weeks after the spill. She mentioned they weren't severe, but happened often for a few months. My aunt wasn't alone, according to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, more than 300 people had to seek medical attention for their headaches, chest pains, and dizziness.

My family also faced financial stress. My brother qualified for a job as one of the cleanup crew members. The salary offered 12-18 dollars an hour. Many locals jumped at the opportunity, some even left their jobs to work for BP. My brother decided to keep his. After about two months, the locals were replaced by out of town service workers.

A year ago I was shocked to find oil washing upon the shores. memory of last year.  I saw cleanup crews line up bags filled with oily sand for miles down the beaches.I saw a young girl kick up the black, oily sand. Her mother just laughed and told her not to do that.

Today, dark oil still lingers in the beach at Gulfport.  But the smell of oil has subsided.

Tuskee 3.mp3 1.9 MB