For the typical American, that’s exactly what’s going on with their energy bill, especially when the weather is very warm or very cold. According to ENERGY STAR, the US government’s energy efficiency program for consumers and businesses, the average American spends $1,900 on energy, much of which is consumed for heating and cooling. With the prices of natural gas and heating oil on the rise, that figure will certainly go up.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a professional contractor to make your home more energy efficient. You can take simple steps over the next few days to reduce your energy use, lower your electric bill, and put a cap on your carbon emissions.
Your Action for Today: Learn about Saving Energy at Home
ENERGY STAR@Home is an interactive tool that will help you identify the places and devices using energy in your house or apartment, and give you tips on how to reduce the amount of energy needed to keep living well. Visit the site, spend some time looking at the facts and suggestions it presents, and then commit to making three changes around your house in the next two days. These changes don’t have to be large or expensive: changing several light bulbs, for instance, can have an impact on your costs and your environmental footprint.
Record your specific commitments and actions in your Green Journal. While you’re there, take a look at what other 30 Days participants are saying. Give them your feedback and support!
Tomorrow: Start looking at the impact of your transportation choices.
According to the Annenberg Foundation’s Garbage exhibit, the average American generates 4.6 pounds of trash per day - that’s 1460 pounds per year! Less than 25% of that waste is recycled, with the rest going to landfills (which are becoming harder and harder to create) or to incinerators. Decreasing the amount of garbage you put into the waste stream is an easy way to lighten your footprint.
Everyone Can Recycle
Recycling has become the green gold standard for most Americans – if they know nothing else about contributing to a healthy, more sustainable environment, they’re aware that the can recycle aluminum, paper, glass, and plastic. Many communities have curbside pick-up services available for recyclables, and a few cities have even mandated recycling to deal with shrinking landfill space. If you don’t have a pick-up service available, there are likely locations for dropping off recyclables. You may even be able to pitch those cans, newspapers and bottles at a location that benefits a non-profit organization you support.
Your Action for Today: Learn About Recycling in Your Community
Earth 911 is your one-stop location for details about recycling services in your community. Visit their recycling page, and find out how easy it is to dispose of recyclables without throwing them in the trash! While you're at it, also take a look at the Recycling section of the Green Life Guide.
Start your Green Journal! The Green Journal is your space on the Green Options web site to record your daily actions, to publicly commit to larger actions (as we’ll ask you to do in later lessons), and to discuss your efforts to live a greener life with other GO members. Starting a journal is easy:
You do have to be a member of Green Options to start a Green Journal. Creating a membership is easy and free, and we won’t fill your inbox with junk email.
Title your journal something like "Bob & Amy's Green Journal." Feel free to be creative (within the limits of the forum rules, of course!).
Every time you complete one of your daily actions, create a post in your journal for it. Write as much or as little as you like. Ask questions of other users - they can often be one of your best sources of information. By writing in your journal, you'll also be helping them with their own green journey.
In a stunning turnabout, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to let food producers drop the "irradiated" label and radiation symbol from foods that have been treated with radiation, except when the treatment changes a product's material characteristics like taste, texture, or smell. Some irradiated foods may not be labeled at all; others may be labeled "pasteurized," a term that refers to heating to a high temperature, a process completely different from exposure to radiation. The proposed change will mislead and confuse consumers, making it impossible for them to avoid irradiated food. Tell the FDA to continue to require the term "irradiated" on irradiated food! Visit Regulations.gov, enter docket ID FDA-2007-0189-0001, click on one of the two "Views" options to read more about the FDA's proposal, and click on the yellow balloon to add your comments.
The Soil Association conference, One Planet Agriculture, is the first Soil Association conference ever to sell out in advance! So it would appear that its theme of peak oil and the re-localisation of food production has really hit a chord.
The Soil Association just posted a podcast and interview with Soil Association director, Patrick Holden, where he talks about the potential impacts of peak oil, the role of organic food and farming, and the transition towns concept. In the podcast he also responds to recent comments by the secretary of state for environment, David Miliband, on organic food.
The B.C. Ministry of Education, it seems, has literally gone to the dogs. It wasn't enough that a new Grade 12 social justice course will probe discrimination against gays and lesbians; the ministry is now considering a Vancouver Humane Society proposal to add "speciesism" to the curriculum.
The society's Lesley Fox explained that speciesism -- the differential treatment of beings on the basis of their species -- is akin to racism and sexism and consequently deserves inclusion in a course concerned with oppression and discrimination.
This naturally led many people to conclude that the ministry is for the birds, that instead of emphasizing the three Rs, B.C. schools will soon be teaching their charges that we should treat cows the same as we treat dogs, even though it's damnably difficult to get a cow to roll over and play dead, except in an abattoir.
Despite the skepticism, though, a discussion of speciesism is among the most important discussions that could take place in school. And this is not primarily because it might lead future generations to treat animals better than we do, although that would be an unqualified good.
No, the reason schools, and society in general, ought to grapple with the concept of speciesism, rather than dismissing it out of hand, is because it tells us a lot more about ourselves than about non-human animals. Indeed, a discussion of speciesism is ultimately a discussion about what it means to be human.
Humans have always thought of ourselves as exceptional, but in recent centuries we've been knocked from our pedestal. In the early 16th century, Polish astronomer Nicolas Copernicus made short work of our belief that the physical universe revolved us, but we nevertheless continued to believe that we're at the centre of the moral universe.
In more religious times, this was easy enough to accept, since all and only human beings possessed an immortal soul, thereby establishing a qualitative difference between humans and non-human animals.
Even philosophers who didn't rely on explicitly theological premises were able to separate man from other animals because man is the "rational animal." So Immanuel Kant, in explaining his famous "categorical imperative," argued that thanks to self-consciousness, we must treat humans as ends in themselves. Animals, on the other hand, lack self-consciousness and so can be treated as means to an end.
But as science, and particularly biology progressed, it became more and more difficult to hold to the notion of human exceptionalism. Other animals were discovered capable of engaging in what were previously thought to be uniquely human, rational behaviours, such as tool-using and even rudimentary language.
The difference between humans and other animals therefore seemed quantitative rather than qualitative, a difference in degree rather than a difference in kind. Indeed, the theory of evolution told us that all living things share a common ancestor, and that humans are apes -- great apes to be sure, but apes nonetheless. And more recent evidence further shatters our notion of human exceptionalism, as it confirms that we share more than 98 per cent of our DNA with chimpanzees.
Against this backdrop it's unsurprising that the spectre of speciesism has gained currency in our culture. Coined by British psychologist and former animal researcher Richard Ryder in 1970, speciesism received its most extensive formulation in Australian philosopher Peter Singer's seminal work, Animal Liberation, in 1975.
Before considering Singer's philosophy, it's worth looking at the work of 18th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham. Bentham, one of the founders of utilitarianism, which holds that morally right actions are those that produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number, argued that when considering the treatment of animals we should ask not whether they can reason or talk, but whether they can suffer.
This fits in neatly with Bentham's utilitarian philosophy, since causing animals to suffer would reduce the sum total of happiness among all living creatures and would therefore be an immoral act. Interestingly, though, Bentham sanctioned killing animals for food because, he argued, animals will probably suffer less by being slaughtered in an abattoir than by dying in the wild as a result of diseases or attacks by other animals. Nature, after all, is a cruel mistress.
In any case, Singer builds on Bentham's philosophy by advancing "preference" utilitarianism. Singer admits humans and animals have different intellectual abilities, but he argues that these differences in no way permit us to give less consideration to animals' interests or preferences, particularly their interest in avoiding pain.
In support of this view, Singer notes that when we speak of equality among individuals or races, we aren't making a descriptive claim -- we aren't suggesting that all people have exactly the same abilities. Rather, equality is a normative concept -- it refers to the moral stance we take toward people, to the idea that we ought to treat their interests with equal consideration even though they may have unequal abilities.
To do otherwise -- to give less consideration to members of other races based on their putative differences -- is to engage in racism. And Singer concludes that to give unequal consideration to animals' interest in avoiding pain is to engage in the equally morally repugnant practice of speciesism.
This is not an altogether easy argument to answer, since it requires us to find some human characteristics that make us more morally valuable than other animals to justify giving our interests greater weight than the interests of animals. And as we have seen, science has gradually eliminated many of the characteristics that separated us from the animal world.
Nevertheless, most philosophers who dispute Singer's conclusions argue that humans are more than the sum of their genes, and maintain that humans' "superior" cognitive capacities do make us qualitatively different from animals. And they return to the Kantian notion that humans are uniquely rational, self-conscious beings, members of a moral community, whose enormous accomplishments have made life better, not only for themselves, but for animals as well.
Humans have also made life worse for many animals, of course, and this argument doesn't excuse that or suggest that humans can treat animals any way they like. It only suggests that we might be justified in giving more weight to human interests than animal interests in certain circumstances.
In any case, whatever the strengths or weaknesses of this argument, there is one counter example that must be addressed. Singer notes that not all humans are rational -- the mental functioning of infants and people with profound intellectual disabilities may be no higher than that of some animals.
If we wish to distinguish humans from animals on the basis of our superior cognitive abilities, Singer continues, we must recognize that certain humans would not be included. To do otherwise would be to judge beings not on their intellectual capacities, but on their membership in a certain species. And that, of course, is the very definition of speciesism.
This leads us to a further question: Is speciesism necessarily a bad thing, the equivalent of racism or sexism, or can it perhaps be justified? I don't pretend to have the answer to this question -- or to any of the questions raised here -- and I don't know anyone who does.
But that's precisely why we need to have a discussion of speciesism in schools and in the community, for the welfare of all animals, including humans, depends on the answers we supply.
As Wal-Mart begins bolster their selection, advocates worry about quality
The Associated Press
Updated: 6:09 p.m. ET May 30, 2006
SAN JUAN BAUTISTA, Calif. - Earthbound Farm’s fields of organic baby spinach and romaine lettuce are a living symbol of the organic food movement’s explosive growth in recent years.
What started two decades ago as a three-acre roadside farm in this valley 90 miles south of San Francisco has grown into the country’s largest grower of organic produce, with more than 100 types of fruits and vegetables on 28,000 acres in the U.S. and abroad.
Earthbound’s extraordinary growth is only the most visible example of how organic farming is changing. Small family farms created as an alternative to conventional agriculture are increasingly giving way to large-scale operations that harvest thousands of acres and market their produce nationwide.
And with Wal-Mart, Safeway, Albertson’s and other big supermarket chains expanding their organic offerings, the transformation may only be in its early stages.
“I don’t think (consumers) have any idea just how industrialized it’s becoming,” said Michael Pollan, a journalism professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” “There are some real downsides to organic farming scaling up to this extent.”
Pollan and others worry that the expansion of “Big Organic” will lower food quality, weaken standards and hurt small family farms. As organic goes mainstream, critics say, the movement loses touch with its roots as an eco-friendly system that offers a direct connection between consumers and the land where their food is grown.
Byron Albano, who handles marketing for Cuyama Orchards, his parents’ 210-acre organic apple orchard in Santa Barbara County, worries the entry of Wal-Mart and other supermarket chains will “lead to organic produce becoming a commodity with prices being dictated by those buyers.”
Other experts say the trend simply gives more consumers access to high-quality food and keeps prices down. It’s also good for the environment because fewer pesticides and fertilizers will pollute the air and water.
Despite its size, Earthbound Farm follows the same practices as smaller organic farms. It rotates crops to enrich the soil and avoid disease, doesn’t use chemical fertilizers or herbicides, and brings in syrphid flies and other beneficial insects to control pests.
Earthbound’s bagged salads and other organic products are now sold in more than 80 percent of U.S. supermarkets.
“Earthbound Farm’s mission is to bring the benefits of organic to as many people as possible,” said Myra Goodman, who founded the company with her husband Drew.
Organic food only makes up 2.5 percent of U.S. food sales, but it’s the fastest growing segment of the market. Sales reached nearly $14 billion last year, up from $6 billion five years earlier, according to the Organic Trade Association in Greenfield, Mass.
“Consumers see organic products as fitting in with a healthful life,” OTA spokeswoman Holly Givens said.
To meet growing demand from increasingly health conscious consumers and supermarket chains, farmers and ranchers are scaling up production and converting land to meet organic standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
According to the USDA’s rules, organic produce must be grown without synthetic fertilizers or bioengineering and animals raised without antibiotics or growth hormones. A separate industry of government-approved organic certifiers has emerged to inspect farms and food handlers to ensure they conform. Some advocates don’t think the rules go far enough and are asking for a requirement that dairy cows be pasture-fed, not raised on feedlots.
The latest USDA survey in 2003 found that 2.2 million acres of farmland and ranchland had been certified organic, but that number is believed to have risen substantially since then, said Jake Lewin, director of marketing at California Certified Organic Farmers, one of the country’s largest certifiers.
Concerns about the increasing commercialism of organic farming reached a new level this spring when Wal-Mart announced it was joining other major grocery chains in ramping up organic sales.
Some small farmers worried that the world’s biggest retailer, notorious for squeezing suppliers to get the lowest price, would push them out of business.
Other advocates welcome the news, saying growers would benefit from rising demand and consumers would see prices drop. In the past, organic food has been associated with high-end retailers like the Whole Foods Market supermarket chain.
“It will bring organic to a whole new economic stratum that our farmers’ markets and natural food stores have been unable to reach,” said Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, Calif.
But others worry that as more farmers shift to organic production to meet the needs of big supermarket chains, they will drive down food quality and weaken standards.
For example, some suppliers have been marketing organic soybeans and other products grown overseas, where it’s harder to determine whether farms meet U.S. standards, said Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, in Finland, Minn.
“We’re heading for a consumer crisis over standards and the outsourcing of organic products from overseas,” Cummins said. “There will be continuing conflict between consumers, the USDA and companies not playing by the rules.”
UC Berkeley’s Pollan encourages environmentally minded consumers to shop at their local farmers’ market. When they buy organic products in supermarkets, those items must be refrigerated and often transported long distances, consuming as much fossil fuel as the conventional food system, he said.
“If organic means anything, it should mean that this food has a lighter environmental footprint,” Pollan said. “It’s really the supermarket and the supermarket shopper that drive the industrialization of organic.”
But Earthbound’s Myra Goodman said organic farmers can’t be expected to solve the problems of the U.S. food distribution system. Her company has a good relationship with Wal-Mart, whose organic expansion plans represent “the democratization of organics.”
“The vast majority of food is bought in supermarkets,” Goodman said. “Those people should have an organic choice.”
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