Freedom of Choice? Not for new car owners

Check Engine lightThink you can take your new car to your trusted mechanic for standard maintenance? Think again.

Unless Congress acts to pass the Right to Repair Act of 2009, drivers will be forced to take their cars to dealers for any and all repairs – at a hefty expense, of course.

Check out this video, then consider taking action. It could make a real difference the next time your car goes on the blink.

More GMO? Not from Egypt!

GMOAll agricultural imports to and exports from Egypt now must have a certificate that the product is not genetically modified.

Members of parliament have been calling for stricter rules and greater agricultural self sufficiency since some Russian wheat was rejected over quality concerns. Currently some Egyptian imports include genetically-modified products.

Agriculture Minister Amin Abaza reportedly said “no agricultural products especially wheat, corn and soy bean would enter except after examining samples from the cargo.”

Egypt is one of the world’s largest wheat importers and also imports other products such as corn, edible oils and sugar. It exports products such as vegetables and fruits particularly to Europe.

Wheat is GMO-free and buying GMO free corn would be possible, with supplies available from the Black Sea region, said one European trader.

As one of the world’s largest wheat importers, Egypt also import products such as corn, edible oils and sugar. It exports products such as vegetables and fruits, particularly to Europe.

So that’s one more nation that’s recognized that GMO foods just aren’t smart. When will the U.S. wake up to this?

GM renigs on partnership to collect mercury switches

GM drops out of industry partnership that collects toxic car switches

GM drops out of industry partnership that collects toxic car switches

GM has dropped out of in an auto industry partnership created to collect mercury switches and other toxic parts from recycled cars.

GM’s excuse? Their newly reformulated, post-bankruptcy company no longer makes automobiles with mercury switches and isn’t responsible for the older vehicles.

The other partners in the End of Life Vehicle Solutions (ELVS) partnership fear the pull-out will undermine their work, according to an Associated Press report. ELVS is scheduled to run through 2017, and, before its bankruptcy, GM was the program´s largest participant.

The AP reports about 36 million mercury switches were used in trunk lights and antilock brakes in cars built in the 1980s and ´90s. More than half of those switches are in GM vehicles built before 2000.

Just one more example of GM’s consistent disregard for doing what’s right. And we gave them how much money to help them survive? Can we do a recall?

New Global Standards to trace Tuna ‘From Capture to Plate’

TunaThe International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) announced passage of a new global standard to trace tuna from capture to consumers plates to help keep illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) tuna fish off of store shelves.

Processors now must keep detailed records documenting the name and flag of catcher and transshipping vessels, fish species, ocean of capture corresponding to tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO) area, fishing trip dates, fishing gear employed, date the company took ownership of the fish and each species by weight.

“Being able to trace a product back to its source benefits the environment, industry and consumers,” ISSF president Susan Jackson said. “Traceability is critical to conservation since poaching tuna creates a gap in information which negatively impacts meaningful, science-based management measures.”

The ISSF Product Traceability Resolution also mandates participating companies take product off store shelves if they discover it came from an illegal source.

So score another one for conservationists and for the fish. Charley Tuna must be smiling in fish heaven.


Pending extinctions – what direction are we going?

Saw this earlier today and though it’s been around for a while (since late 2008 I believe) and a bit long, it would be useful to consider the ramifications to our society of these 24 items .

Your thoughts on this?

By the way, couldn’t find the original author so if you know it, please let me know.


 24.  Yellow Pages – This  year will be pivotal for the global Yellow Pages  industry.  Much like newspapers, print Yellow Pages will  continue to bleed dollars to their various digital  counterparts, from Internet Yellow Pages (IYPs), to local  search engines and combination search/listing services like  Reach Local and Yodel Factors like an acceleration of the  print ‘fade rate,’ and the looming recession will contribute  to the onslaught.  One research firm predicts  the falloff in usage of newspapers and print Yellow Pages  could even reach 10% this year — much higher than the 2%-3%  fade rate seen in past years
 23.  Classified Ads  – The Internet has made so many things obsolete that  newspaper classified ads might sound like just another  trivial item on a long list.  But this is one of those  harbingers of the future that could signal the end of  civilization as we know it. The argument is that if newspaper  classifieds are replaced by free online listings at sites  like and Google Base, then newspapers are not  far behind them.
 22.  Movie Rental Stores  – While Netflix is looking up at the moment,  Blockbuster keeps closing store locations by the  hundreds.  It still has about 6,000 left across the  world, but those keep dwindling and the stock is down  considerably in 2008, especially since the company gave up  a quest of Circuit City.  Movie Gallery, which owned the  Hollywood Video brand, closed up shop earlier this  year.  Countless small video chains and mom-and-pop  stores have given up the ghost already.
 21.  Dial-up Internet Access  – Dial-up connections have fallen from 40% in 2001 to 10% in  2008.  The combination of an infrastructure to  accommodate affordable high speed Internet connections and  the disappearing home phone have all but pounded the final  nail in the coffin of dial-up Internet access.
 20.  Phone Land Lines  – According to a survey from the National Center for  Health Statistics, at the end of 2007, nearly one in six  homes was cell-only and, of those homes that had land lines,  one in eight only received calls on their cells.
 19.  Chesapeake Bay Blue  Crabs – Maryland’s icon, the blue crab, has been  fading away in Chesapeake Bay.  Last year Maryland saw  the lowest harvest (22 million pounds) since 1945.  Just  four decades ago the bay produced 96 million
>  pounds.  The population is down 70% since 1990, when they  first did a formal count.  There are only about 120  million crabs in the bay and they think they need 200 million  for a sustainable population.  Over-fishing, pollution,  invasive species and global warming get the blame.
 18.  VCRs – For the  better part of three decades, the VCR was a best-seller and  staple in every American household until being  completely decimated by the DVD, and now the Digital Video  Recorder (DVR).  In fact, the only remnants of the VHS  age at your local Wal-Mart or Radio Shack are blank VHS tapes  these days.  Prerecorded VHS tapes are largely gone and  VHS decks are practically nowhere to be found.  They  served us so well.
 17.  Ash Trees – In the  late 1990s, a pretty, iridescent green species of beetle, now  known as the emerald ash borer, hitched a ride to  North America with ash wood products imported from eastern  Asia.  In less than a decade, its larvae have killed  millions of trees in the Midwest, and continue to  spread.  They’ve killed more than 30 million ash trees  in southeastern Michigan alone, with tens of millions more  lost in Ohio and Indiana.  More than 7.5 billion  ash trees are currently at risk.
 16.  Ham Radio – Amateur  radio operators enjoy personal (and often worldwide) wireless  communications with each other and are able to support their  communities with emergency and disaster communications  if necessary, while increasing their personal knowledge  of electronics and radio theory.  However, proliferation  of the Internet and its popularity among youth has caused the  decline of amateur radio.  In the past five years alone,  the number of people holding active ham radio licenses has  dropped by 50,000, even though Morse Code is no longer a  requirement.
 15. The Swimming Hole  – Thanks to our litigious society, swimming holes are  becoming a thing of the past.  ’20/20′ reports that  swimming hole owners, like Robert Every in High Falls, NY,  are shutting them down out of worry that if someone gets  hurt, they’ll sue.  And that’s exactly what happened in  Seattle.  The city of Bellingham was sued by  Katie Hofstetter who was paralyzed in a fall at a popular  swimming hole in Whatcom Falls Park.  As injuries occur  and lawsuits follow, expect more swimming holes to post ‘Keep  out!’ signs.
 14.  Answering Machines  – The increasing disappearance of answering machines is  directly tied to No. 20 in our list — the decline of land  lines.  According to USA Today, the number of homes that  only use cell phones jumped 159% between 2004 and 2007.   It has been particularly bad in New York; since 2000, land  line usage has dropped 55%.  It’s logical that as cell  phones rise, many of them replacing traditional land lines,  that there will be fewer answering machines.
 13.  Cameras That Use Film  – It doesn’t require a statistician to prove the rapid  disappearance of the film camera in America.  Just look  to companies like Nikon, the professional’s choice for  quality camera equipment.  In 2006, it announced that it  would stop making film cameras, pointing to the shrinking  market — only 3% of its sales in 2005, compared to 75% of  sales from digital cameras and equipment.
 12.  Incandescent Bulbs  – Before a few years ago, the standard 60-watt (or, yikes,  100-watt) bulb was the mainstay of every U.S. home.   With the green movement and all-things-sustainable-energy  crowd, the Compact Fluorescent Lightbulb (CFL) is largely  replacing the older, Edison-era incandescent  bulb.  The EPA reports that 2007 sales for Energy  Star CFLs nearly doubled from 2006, and these sales accounted  for approximately 20 percent of the U.S. light bulb  market.  And according to USA Today, a new energy  bill plans to phase out incandescent bulbs in the next four  to 12 years.
 11.  Stand-Alone Bowling  Alleys – Bowling Balls US claims there are still  60 million Americans who bowl at least once a year, but many  are not bowling in stand-alone bowling alleys.  Today  most new bowling alleys are part of facilities for all types  or recreation including laser tag, go-karts, bumper cars,  video game arcades, climbing walls and glow miniature golf.  Bowling lanes also have been added to many nontraditional  venues such as adult communities, hotels and resorts, and  gambling casinos.
 10.  The Milkman  – According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 1950  over half of the milk delivered was to the home in quart  bottles, by 1963 it was about a third and by 2001 it  represented only 0.4 percent.  Nowadays most milk is  sold through supermarkets in gallon jugs.  The steady  decline in home-delivered milk is blamed, of course, on the  rise of the supermarket, better home refrigeration and  longer-lasting milk.  Although some milkmen still make  the rounds in pockets of the U.S., they are certainly a dying  breed.
 9.  Hand-Written Letters  – In 2006, the Radicati Group estimated that, worldwide, 183  billion e-mails were sent each day –two million each  second.  By November of 2007, an estimated 3.3 billion  Earthlings owned cell phones, and 80% of the world’s  population had access to cell phone coverage.  In 2004,  half-a-trillion text messages were sent, and the number has  no doubt increased exponentially since then.  So where  amongst this gorge of gabble is there room for the elegant,   polite hand-written letter?
 8.  Wild Horses  – It is estimated that 100 years ago, as many as two million  horses were roaming free within the United States.  In  2001, National Geographic News estimated that the wild horse  population had decreased to about 50,000 head. Currently, the  National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board states that  there are 32,000 free roaming horses in ten Western states,  with half of them residing in Nevada.  The Bureau of  Land Management is seeking to reduce the total number of free  range horses to 27,000, possibly by  selective euthanasia.
 7.  Personal Checks –  According to an American Bankers Association report, a  net 23% of consumers plan to decrease their use of checks  over the next two  years, while a net 14% plan to increase  their use of PIN debit.  Bill payment remains the last  stronghold of paper-based payments — for the time  being.  Checks continue to be the most commonly used  bill payment method, with 71% of consumers paying at least  one recurring bill per month by writing a check.  However,  on a bill-by-bill basis, checks account for only 49% of  consumers’ recurring bill payments (down from 72% in 2001 and  60% in 2003).
 6.  Drive-in Theaters –  During the peak in 1958, there were more than 4,000  drive-in theaters in this country, but in 2007 only 405  drive-ins were still operating.  Exactly zero new  drive-ins have been built since 2005.  Only one reopened  in 2005 and five reopened in 2006, so there isn’t much of a  movement toward reviving the closed ones.
 5.  Mumps and Measles –  Despite what’s been in the news lately, measles and mumps  actually, truly, are disappearing from the United  States.  In 1964, 212,000 cases of mumps were  reported in the U.S.  By 1983, this figure had dropped  to 3,000, thanks to a vigorous vaccination program.   Prior to the introduction of the measles  vaccine, approximately half a million cases of measles were  reported in the U.S. annually, resulting in 450 deaths. In  2005, only 66 cases were recorded.
 4.  Honey Bees –  Perhaps nothing on our list of disappearing America is so  dire, plummeting so enormously, and so necessary to the survival  of our food supply as the honey bee.  Very scary.   ‘Colony Collapse Disorder,’ or CCD, has spread  throughout the U.S. and Europe over the past few years,  wiping out 50% to 90% of the colonies of many beekeepers —  and along with it, their livelihood.
 3.  News Magazines and TV  News – While the TV evening newscasts haven’t gone  anywhere over the last several decades, their audiences  have.  In 1984, in a story about the diminishing returns  of the evening news, the New York Times reported that all  three network evening-news programs combined had only 40.9  million viewers.  Fast forward to 2008, and what  they have today is half that.
 2.  Analog TV –  According to the Consumer Electronics Association, 85% of  homes in the U.S. get their television programming through  cable or satellite providers.  For the remaining 15% —  or 13 million individuals — who are using rabbit ears or a  large outdoor antenna to get their local stations, change is  in the air.  If you  are one of these people,  you’ll need to get a new TV or a converter box in order to  get the new stations which will only be broadcast in  digital.
 1.  The Family Farm – Since  the 1930s, the number of family farms has been  declining rapidly.  According to the USDA, 5.3 million  farms dotted the nation in 1950, but this number had declined  to 2.1 million by the 2003 farm census (data from the 2007  census hasn’t yet been published).  Ninety-one percent  of the U.S. FARMS are small Family Farms.

Though progress is often measured by new technologies and inventions, perhaps we should consider what we lose when we “progress” so quickly.

Green Food Wall at British Zoo now Complete

The VertiCrop food wall is installed with its first crop

The VertiCrop food wall is installed with its first crop

About two weeks ago, i wrote about the VertiCrop™ High Density Vegetable Growing System that was being installed at the Paignton Zoological and Environmental Park in England (

This week Valcent Products (EU) Ltd announced that the amazing green food wall was operational and that they’d planted their first lettuce crop.

Built on a polytunnel in the center of the zoo’s Environmental Park, this system will eventually allow for sequential harvesting to provide the Zoo with fresh vegetables daily for its many animal species. Besides lettuce, the VertiCrop™ will produce red chard, mizuna, mixed leaves, and a variety of herbs, edible flowers and fodder crops such as wheat grass and barley. The Zoo will use the VertiCrop™ system to bring more variety to  its animals’ diets  while adding nutritional value from having fresh crops grown on site.

What a great idea – a food-growing wall. Wonder what it would take to have one at my house?

Portland airport sets high water mark for recycling

airport-securityWho hasn’t experienced that sprint through the airport to catch a plane? In a rush, hands full with carry-ons and a half-full water bottle you forgot to ditch.

In 2006, Homeland Security passed those pesky regulations that air travelers everywhere have found not only inconvenient but annoying. Not only do we have to go one step away from stripping – no belts, shoes, jewelry – but we then have to dump any leftover beverages we still have before being allowed to get through TSA’s security.

The  impact on the environment from all thos half-empty water bottles can be huge, and costly.

Stan Jones, the environmental compliance manager at the Port of Portland, oversees many programs that cut waste at the airport.  He found it was costing up to $100 a day  in extra dump fees. And on the staffing side, janitors struggled to manage overflowing water-filled trashcans.

Water bottle waste can cost airports $75,000 a year!

Water bottle waste can cost airports $75,000 a year!

Trying to cope, the airport decided to dump the cans more often – from every two hours to half an hour. But costs flew up to $100 a day. That’s $100 a day for extra dumping, and $100 a day for extra staffing, making Airport waste costs around $75,000 a year!

Last Fall, the airport tried something new, setting up stainless steel collection bins outside security checkpoints. Twice a day they’re wheeled off, measured, and drained into modified mop sinks by janitors. Liquids now flow into the sewer system, instead of being hauled to a landfill, and empty bottles are then recycled.

And one more thing. The Portland Airport has a personal reminder for travelers. Roger Nelson is one of them.

“We do have pouring stations,” he reminds people. “Yes, the big PS, either left or right, just pour it into there. Once you do pour it, empty out, take the empty bottle with you, fill it up on the other side. Our water is cold, filtered and free. Did I get you on the free part, right?”

It seems to be working. Dumping stations are diverting several thousand pounds of liquid from the trash every month.  The Port of Portland is now working with other airports looking to set up similar systems.

Who would have thought something so simple – more frequent trash pick-ups and gentle reminders – could make such a difference?

California creates the first marine protected parks

northern-ca-coast-1California’s Fish & Game Commission has approved the nation’s first state marine protected areas (MPA’s). Ocean habitats between Santa Cruz and Mendocino County in northern California will now be considered underwater state parks.

This new plan, which goes into effect in February 2010:

  • Creates twenty four MPAs

  • Protects about 86 square miles of north central coast ocean waters

  • Leaves almost 90 percent of the coast open to fishing

  • Leaves all the ocean open to diving, surfing, kayaking and other recreational uses

“We all worked really hard to create this plan,” said Fred Smith of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, a member of the stakeholder advisory group. “People may look back at this time, and think we were crazy for thinking protecting 10 percent of our ocean was too much.”

Point Reyes National Seashore - now part of California's new Marine Protected Areas

Point Reyes National Seashore - now part of California's new Marine Protected Areas

The new North Central Coast marine protected areas will protect the waters around the Farallon Islands, Point Reyes Headlands and Stewarts Point, some of northern California’s most beautiful natural treasures.

“California is a leader in creating the nation’s first statewide network of marine protected areas,” said Karen Garrison of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and a member of the stakeholder advisory group. “Like national parks on land, these areas are the Yosemites of the sea, places where wildlife can thrive.”

Tuna Companies pledge Conservation of Sea Turtles

sea-turtlesThree of the top U.S. tuna companies have pledged more than $100,000 annually to help protect sea turtles in longline tuna fisheries. These funds will be run through the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF).

ISSF founding members Chicken of the Sea, StarKist and Bumble Bee are studying a variety of projects from protecting turtle nesting habitats to providing circle hooks to funding research into turtle bycatch mitigation.

“Industry must take a lead role in the stewardship of our oceans,” said Chris Lischewski, President and CEO of Bumble Bee Foods LLC who also serves as chair of ISSF.

All seven species of sea turtles are endangered or threatened throughout U.S. waters. Pollution is shrinking natural habitats while sea turtles are often accidentally ensnared in fishing nets.

“There is a science-based need to protect sea turtles,” Lischewski said. “We respect the delicate balance in marine ecosystems and part of industry’s role must be to support conservation initiatives that can help maintain that balance or rebuild where it’s been weakened.”

The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation is a global partnership among scientists, the tuna industry and WWF, the global conservation organization.

New Film exposes Japan's dolphin kills


The new film, The Cove, shows Japanese fishermen luring thousands of wild dolphins into a hidden secret cove in Japan where they’re then captured for amusement parks or killed for their meat.

Director Louie Psihoyos and Assistant Director Charles Hambleton painted their faces and used a camouflaged thermal camera to film the annual dolphin slaughter in a remote Japanese cove. (photo from the Oceanic Preservation Society)

Director Louie Psihoyos and Assistant Director Charles Hambleton painted their faces and used a camouflaged thermal camera to film the annual dolphin slaughter in a remote Japanese cove. (photo from the Oceanic Preservation Society)

A team of activists – including former dolphin trainer from the “Flipper” television series Ric O’Barry – battled Japanese police and fisherman to gain access to thecove in Taiji, Japan, where barbed wire blocks people from filming dolphin killings that begin there annually in September.

A very small percentage of Japanese people actually eat dolphin meat.

“The Cove” examines large environmental issues, including Japan’s efforts to persuade the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to lift a ban on commercial whaling introduced in 1986. The ban does not apply to smaller cetaceans including dolphins.

A spokeswoman for the Japanese embassy in Washington, Izumi Yamanaka, said in an e-mail the area surrounding Taiji had traditional dietary habits of eating dolphin meat and that Japan adhered to IWC rules.

According to O’Barry, dolphin hunts are largely driven by a multibillion dollar marine amusement park industry in the United States and around the world, who pay up to $150,000 per dolphin.

“People who see this movie are going to think twice before they buy a ticket to a dolphin show,” he said.

“The Cove” opens opens in the United States on Friday but has yet to receive distribution in Japan, where O’Barry says 23,000 dolphins and porpoises are legally killed each year.

For more on efforts to stop Japanese whaling, see