Greening Your Wardrobe

September 29, 2016

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Natural Life Magazine, Oct issue, 2016
San Diego Free Press, 04 Oct, 2016
EarthTalk, 05 Oct, 2016

apparel-clothingWhat typically comes to mind when contemplating our personal environmental footprint is the energy efficiency of the car we drive, how religiously we recycle, and maybe whether or not we have a water thirsty lawn. However, everything we do and own has impacts on the environment, and that includes the choices we make in dressing ourselves.

This point was driven home in a smart little book published in 1997 titled, “Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things,” which describes the planetary impacts of everyday material goods. One chapter details what goes into producing a wardrobe basic, the cotton/polyester blend T-shirt.

A few highlights include the overseas extraction of the crude oil from which polyester is synthesized, the energy and pesticide intensive process of growing and harvesting cotton, and transporting milled fabrics abroad and back again so they can be sewn into T-shirts by cheap foreign labor.

From this T-shirt saga emerges a simple truth: The T-shirts with the least environmental impact are the ones you already own, or maybe ones purchased at a secondhand shop.

Nonetheless, clothes do wear out and wardrobe adjustments become necessary when we take on new jobs or sports, change weight or treat ourselves to the latest fashion. So the question remains how to make apparel selections which better protect both the environment and the people involved in the production process. The good news is that there are already more sustainable clothing options on the market, plus there is game-changing movement within the apparel industry to provide consumers with a point of purchase “index” conveying the environmental footprint of items being offered. Read the rest of this entry »

Demand Sustainably Produced Cut Flowers

July 7, 2016

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

E-Magazine’s EarthTalk, 09 Jul, 2016, 15 Jul, 2016
San Diego Free Press, 21 Jul, 2016
Natural Life Magazine, 27 Jul, 2016, 27 Jul, 2016

Photo: Ian Muttoo, Wikimedia Commons

Ian Muttoo, Wikimedia Commons

Flowers add color and gaiety to any special occasion and are a time-honored way to say thank you or beautify living spaces. However, cut flowers have become a multi-billion dollar global trade industry with a not so pretty underbelly rooted in where and how they are grown.

Historically in the U.S., flowers were first grown in greenhouses in Eastern states and later in Western and Southern states when commercial air transportation made preserving freshness possible. In the 1970’s, the U.S. grew more cut flowers than it imported, only a small fraction originated in Colombia.

However, new market forces were unleashed in 1991 when the U.S. suspended import duties on flowers from Colombia to curb growing of coca for cocaine and to bolster the Colombian economy. By 2003, the U.S. was importing more flowers from Colombia than were produced domestically. The combination of cheap unskilled labor (largely female) and ideal, year-round growing conditions created an explosive market for Colombian floriculture.

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A Twofer: Carbon Tax Solves Both Climate Change and Plastic Ocean Pollution

May 3, 2016

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Algalita Marine Research Institute Blog, 03 May, 2016
San Diego Free Press, 09 May, 2016
EarthTalk, 09 May, 2016
Fullerton Observer, mid-May, 2016, p.8

Global mean surface temperature change from 1880 to 2014, relative to the 1951–1980 mean. Source: NASA GISS.

Global mean surface temperature change from 1880 to 2014, relative to the 1951–1980 mean. Source: NASA GISS.

For more than half a century, cheaply-priced fossil fuels have come to define the American dream. We travel freely in gasoline powered vehicles and rely on coal, oil and natural gas for heating, cooling and operating electrical devices.

In addition, everything possible is now fashioned from plastic polymers derived from petroleum or natural gas. We’ve abandoned the “reuse and repair it” mindset of the pre-WWII era and embraced instead a “throw away” plastic consumer culture.

The most urgent environmental crises today are undeniably global climate change and the buildup of plastic waste in the world’s oceans. Both are harmful externalities of the fossil fuel industry: impacts, like pollution, not reflected in the cost of the products but paid for instead by some third party.

In this case, the third party is the global public that suffers the health and monetary consequences of both climate change and ocean plastic pollution.

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Human Activity Ushers in New Geologic Epoch

February 14, 2016

(and it’s not very pretty)

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Fullerton Observer, Mid Mar, 2016, p. 18
EarthTalk, 26 Feb, 2016, 22 Feb, 2016
San Diego Free Press, 19 Feb, 2016
OB Rag, 19 Feb, 2016

Earth's history recorded in sedimentary stratifications

Earth’s history recorded in sedimentary stratifications

By mid-twentieth century, humans had altered the Earth to such an extent as to mark the start of a new geologic epoch named the Anthropocene, concluded an international consortium of researchers in a January issue of the preeminent journal Science.

Scientists divide Earth’s 4.5 billion year history into so-called epochs or time units based on major shifts in the composition and state of the planet as recorded in distinct stratifications in rocks, sediments and glacier ice. Previous transitions from one geologic epoch to the next were triggered by either cyclical drivers of climate change, like variations in the Earth’s orbit or solar radiation, or irregular events like volcanic eruptions.  The most recent epoch for example, the Holocene, spanned ~12,000 years and was ushered in by a period of interglacial global warming.

Transition to the Anthropocene, in contrast, is driven by an unprecedented rate of change to the global environment caused by a convergence of three human factors: rapid rises in population growth, technological development and resources consumption, starting about 1950. So although Homo sapiens first emerged as a species about 200,000 years ago, it wasn’t until last century that their numbers and impact were sufficient to drive the permanent changes we now see to the Earth’s system.

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Climate Change Fixers’ Bag of Tricks

September 24, 2015

Will Congress Act in Time?

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

San Diego Free Press, 25-Sep, 2015
E-Magazine’s EarthTalk, 25-Sep, 2015
Val-E-Vents (Sierra Club, San Fernando Valley), Nov, 2015

Bag of tricksHalting global warming is the chief environmental challenge of our time.

While heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) is not the only greenhouse gas (GHG), it’s the most abundant and longest-lived in the atmosphere and contributes the most to global warming.  In March, atmospheric CO2 content reached a new high of 400 parts per million, already past the 350 limit many scientists believe is a safe level above which we risk triggering irreversible consequences out of human control.

Second only to China as the largest CO2 emitter, it’s incumbent on the United States to lead the world in addressing global warming.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that the window of time to avoid the worst effects is just a few decades.  Yet the United States has not adopted even a nationwide strategy.

Neither producers nor consumers of energy from fossil fuels pay for the environmental and social damages wrought.  These so-called externalized costs are shouldered by the public through illness, droughts, violent storms, coastal community destruction, international conflicts, etc.  Externalizing the costs of fossil fuels keeps their market price low, de-incentivizing society to move to renewable energy sources.

Current strategies to wean off fossil fuels fall into four categories.*  Each attempts to internalize the actual costs of burning fossil fuels through incentives to convert to cleaner energy.
Read the rest of this entry »

Death by a Thousand Cuts

August 13, 2015

Losing species to climate change
By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Southern Sierran, 01-Sept, 2015
E-Magazine’s EarthTalk, 19-Aug, 2015, 17-Aug, 2015
San Diego Free Press14-Aug, 2015

Bumblebee is latest species threatened by climate change. Photo: Hummel 2006

Bumblebee is latest species threatened by climate change. Photo: Hummel 2006

It’s common knowledge that polar bears, and their primary prey the ringed seal, might go extinct this century as the Arctic sea ice melts because rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHG) are warming the planet.

Hearing this news, many Americans likely felt something akin to, “Gee, that’s a shame,” but the country did little more than shrug its collective shoulders before getting back to business as usual.

But news keeps coming about species threatened by climate change via habitats becoming unlivable or collapsing of food webs.  The latest sting came from Canadian researchers at the University of Ottawa who concluded that dozens of bumblebee species in North America and Europe could be headed for extinction because the southern reach of their habitat is becoming too hot.  The study appeared in the July 10 issue of Science magazine.

Although no one knows how many different lifeforms could be wiped out if climate change continues unchecked, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) points to studies predicting that 35 percent of species could be “committed to extinction by 2050” if GHG from burning fossil fuels are not reigned in.

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Why Suburbanites Contribute More to Climate Change

July 9, 2015

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Photo: Ursula Alter

Appeared in:
Southern Sierran, 21-July, 2015
E-Magazine’s EarthTalk, 09-July, 2015
San Diego Free Press, 14-July, 2015
OB Rag, 15-July, 2015

More and more Americans are taking responsibility for their personal contribution to global climate change by driving fuel efficient cars, insulating their homes and switching to energy efficient lighting and household appliances.

However, even someone that’s gone to the extremes of traveling only on foot or bicycle and forsaking home heating, cooling, lighting, food refrigeration and cooking will likely shrink their carbon footprint by only about a third.  That’s because roughly two-thirds of Americans’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are embedded instead in consumption of other goods and services, according to a recent analysis by the Center for Global Development (CGD), a non-profit policy research organization.

Most of us attribute our GHG footprint to the easily discerned energy we consume for personal transportation and home utilities.  Yet these so-called “direct” emissions account for just 36% of the average American’s annual GHG emissions which are equivalent to 21.8 tons of CO2.

The remaining 64% of GHG emissions are “indirect” and produced during the manufacture and production of literally everything else we consume, such as food, shelter, clothing, furniture, cars, bicycles, appliances, electronics, pets, toys, tools, cleaning supplies, medications, toiletries, entertainment and air travel.  The fact that indirect emissions typically take place somewhere distant and out of our sight, like in a factory overseas and during transport of products to the point of sale, underlies our lack of connection to them.

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