Author Archives: sierraintern

Social and Environmental Change for the Holidays

It’s that time of year when people start shopping for holiday gifts…

A great way to support environmental movements is through consumerism. If consumers demand more environmentally, sustainable goods and socially conscious products, that’s what will be provided. Also, what better way to support  socially conscious causes than to purchase gifts that assist them. This way they benefit and even more people learn about the cause through your gift.

We are going to showcase a few online stores whose mission is to improve social justice and/or promote environmental conservation and stewardship.

Definitely don’t stop here, but be encouraged to search and find all the many organizations and companies that are making an impact on being environmentally and socially conscious in producing their goods.

This is just a start.

SOCO Hammocks

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This Texas-based brand’s mission is to, “empower underprivileged populations through partnerships with nonprofit organizations who provide humanitarian aid”. They  pay fair wages to the artisans at Indocrafts in the small village of Ubud, Indonesia who make the cozy hammocks. Ten percent of the profit goes to a new nonprofit each month.

These  pack down to the size of a softball, making them great for camping. They also are a good hint for that person who just needs to take time, post up a hammock, and relax. Check out their website here and their blog here.                Kick Back Give Back in a SOCO Hammock!

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Greenheart Shop

Greenheart Shop is an online store based out of Chicago that offers an array of products that are both fair trade and environmentally friendly. These products range from kids clothing, to food, to Oil Drum art. Their products are made using sustainable materials and methods and they pay the artisans fair wages. As well as being fair trade and eco friendly, this initiative supports the non-proft, Center for Cultural Interchange, to help international students in the US and Americans traveling abroad to partake in different environmental and social volunteer opportunities.

                  

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Olive Barn

Do you love gardening and want to share your love with others? Or do you know someone else who does? Olive Barn, who’s tagline is “Rooted in Sustainable Living”, has organic seed kits, wind chimes,and  sun catchers. Their seed kits would be really great for someone who wants to start learning about gardening or an avid gardener. All their seeds are organic! The business also happens to be owned and operated by a former Texas A&M Aggie and ranked in the top 100 fastest growing Aggie-owned companies.

These are just a few examples of companies working towards more sustainable, earth friendly, socially conscious consumerism. When you start shopping for your holiday gifts, search for stores that offer the items you want to buy, with an environmental mindset attached to their production.

Comment below with other great, conscious companies you have found.

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Invasive Species: Zebra Mussels Now In Texas

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Zebra mussels are an invasive species in the US. They first arrived in 1988 on European ships ballast. Lack of predators against the zebra mussels gave them the ability to infest eastern US waterways from the start. When they arrived here they increased competition for native aquatic species. They attach to our boats and are hard to see because they are only about an inch long. Zebra mussels spread faster than bunny rabbits- they multiply by producing about one million larvae per one single zebra mussel. Texas should be worried about their lakes because as you can see in the graph, they’ve now spread down here. According to texasinvasives.org, “Zebra mussels can cause tremendous environmental and economic damage – hurting aquatic life, damaging your boat, hindering water recreation and even threatening your water supply.” Find out about if zebra mussel are in our area here.

So what can you do? Firstly, you can spread awareness. Many people don’t know what invasive species are. Spreading awareness brings attention to people like Dan Molloy, a researcher who is trying to find a “natural killer” to eradicate the pests. You can find more information about his research here in this short article. You can also go on outings to help get rid of the zebra mussels.

Zebra mussels attach to many parts of your boat and clean thrive for days. To make sure they aren’t attached to your boat, clean all parts of, drain it completely, and dry the boat for at least a week before entering into a new body of water.

October storms kicking drought to the curb?

Aside from our lust garden boxes and rinsing off pollen from our cars the storms in mid-October added roughly 50,000 acre-feet to lakes Travis and Buchanan, pushing the lakes’ combined storage to more than 700,000 acre-feet for the first time since August 2011. 2011 was the driest year ever for Texas, with an average of only 14.8 inches of rain. The only comparable drought occurred during the 1950s, but no single year during that drought was as dry as 2011. It rained really hard here in Austin, but we can’t capture or store that water. We have no way to stop it from flowing downstream.stevie ray vahn at auditorium shores

The weekend storms are a good illustration of why the lower Colorado River basin needs not just rain, but rain in the right spot, to significantly increase the region’s water supply.

Parts of Austin were hit with as much as 12 inches of rain over the Oct. 12 weekend, turning Barton Creek into a raging river and flooding areas of South Austin. The heaviest rain fell in Austin near Barton Creek, which empties into Lady Bird Lake downstream of Lake Travis. That water cannot be captured downstream of Mansfield Dam in the Highland Lakes reservoirs and is flowing down the Colorado River toward Matagorda Bay, this influx of fresh water will help the health of Matagorda Bay.

It’s critical for rain to fall upstream of Austin in the lakes’ watershed. This is an 11,700 square-mile area upstream of Austin and stretching to the north and west out past Fredericksburg, Junction, Brady and San Saba. Lakes upstream of Austin, Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan, only gained about 20,000 acre-feet of water from the storm, most of that was in to Lake Travis.  The measurement there was acre-feet, by definition one acre-foot is 43,560 U.S. survey cubic feet. To us that’s less than 2 percent of the water needed to refill the lakes. But the lakes’ combined storage is 35 percent of capacity, still there is no end to the drought in sight.

 LCRA’s idea is to build a reservoir in Wharton County near the Gulf Coast with the intention to take advantage of rain events like these in the future, so that the flows that enter the Colorado River downstream of Lake Travis can be held for later use. The new reservoir is expected to be complete by 2017.

Nobody is singing rain rain go away come back another day. We have all experienced the drought as it’s has helped drain reservoirs , fuel wildfires, ruin crops and put a real strain on the state’s electric grid. bastrop fire

In February 2013, the state climatologist told the Texas Legislature that high temperatures related to climate change have exacerbated the drought. He said that the state temperature has increased by an average of about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s.

This is what we looked like as of April 2011

This U.S. Drought Monitor map is released each week.

Meanwhile, I’m going to  learn a step or two from the indigenous as they managed to make it through the sizzling summers without our technology, but as always we’ll take any and all rain.

Speak out at the EPA Hearing in Dallas!

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Tired of not having a say about the carbon emissions companies are putting into the air that’s affecting our climate? Frustrated because you never have opportunities to tell the government how you feel about current environmental policy?

 

Texas is the country’s leading coal consumer and has some of the dirtiest coal-powered plants in the nation. Emissions that are released by coal power plants have a significant impact on changes in climate. Even a 1 or 2 degree change could reduce current crops by 5-15% through droughts, increase flooding by up to 10%, decrease stream flows by 5-10% in river basins, and increase wildfires by up to 4 times! 

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With climate change influencing our daily lives, it’s time to speak up!

 

The Environmental Protection Agency will be holding a public hearing on November 7th, 2013 in Dallas to discuss carbon pollution regulation standards for power plants. This hearing will take place on the first floor of the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library at 1515 Young Street from 10 am to 3 pm.

 

A total of 11 public hearings like the one in Dallas place were scheduled all over the country to gain public feedback, but 2 in Boston and Philadelphia were cancelled due to the government shut down. This public feedback from the hearings will be taken into consideration as the EPA prepares its proposal that is scheduled to be ready by June 2014.

 

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Registration for this event can be found at:

http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/public-listening-session-registration

 

This is your chance to tell the government and others your opinion on climate change disruption, and how we should be addressing carbon pollution standards. The Listening Session at the EPA hearing will allow you to tell the EPA how you want to take action on carbon pollution. Take a stand, speak up, sign up, and then head on over to Dallas!

Comment in support of EPA Carbon Regs

How to Comment on the 2013 Proposed Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants

EPA will accept written comments for 60 days after publication of the proposal in the Federal Register.

  • Comments on the proposed Carbon Pollution Standards for New Power Plants must reference Docket ID:   EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0495

Comments may be submitted by one of the following methods:

  • www.regulations.gov: Follow the on-line instructions for submitting comments.
  • E-mail: Comments may be sent by electronic mail (e-mail) to a-and-r-Docket@epa.gov.
  • Fax: Fax your comments to: 202-566-9744.
  • Mail: Send your comments to: Air and Radiation Docket and Information Center, Environmental Protection Agency, Mail Code: 2822T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC, 20460.
  • Hand Delivery or Courier: Deliver your comments to: EPA Docket Center, Room 3334, 1301 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC, 20460.  Such deliveries are only accepted during the Docket’s normal hours of operation, and special arrangements should be made for deliveries of boxed information.

Comments submitted in response to the April 2012 proposed rule will not be associated with this new proposal. Commenters who submitted public comments concerning any aspect of the previous proposal will need to consider the applicability of those comments to this current proposal and submit them again, even if the comments are exactly or substantively the same as those previously submitted.

EPA will hold a public hearing on this proposal. The date, time, and location of the public hearing will be available soon.  This information will be published in the Federal Register and also posted on theCarbon Pollution Standards website.

Cosmetics: More than You Bargained For?

      

When it comes to taking care of ourselves, we can often neglect to realize what actually goes into products we use for and on our bodies. We might go to the store and look for cosmetic brands that say things like  “all natural”, “pure”, “no animal testing”, and so on but are we actually getting what we want?

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) defines cosmetics  as “articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body…for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance.” Some examples are shaving cream, shampoo, face wash, lotion, lipstick, aftershave, deodorant, and toothpaste.

What do they actually consist of?

  • Coloring Agents such as coal tar, chromium oxide, aluminum powder, manganese, iron oxide, and mica flakes
  • Bulking Agents such as talc, nylon and silk fibers, silk powder
  • Additives such as fragrance, preservatives, and parabens

Read your labels and see what you come up with. Triethsnolamine, tocopheral acetate, tetrasodium EDTA, dimethicone, methylparaben, phthalates, and ethylene  oxide may be some of the terms you see along with many others.

So why should you care?

The cosmetics industry uses numerable synthetic chemicals in its products to give them their color, smell, shelf-life, and texture. Many of these have been linked as carcinogens or causing severe allergies.  Often these chemicals are untested for side-efects. Depending on the number of products we use each day, we could be exposing ourselves to numerous different chemicals and their reaction when used simultaneously is also unknown. The Breast Cancer Fund is a strong proponent for making cosmetics safe.

What can you do?

Check your labels. Know what ingredients are not desirable. A great way to do this is using one of these resources:

  •  – a database that scores products based on  hazard
  • The Think Dirty App – an iPhone app that allows you to use your phone to scan products barcodes and receive a toxicity ratings. You can do this at home to check your current products and when you are shopping

Also, you can take action –  The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics  “is a coalition effort launched in 2004 to protect the health of consumers and workers by securing the corporate, regulatory and legislative reforms necessary to eliminate dangerous chemicals from cosmetics and personal care products.”

Get informed. Get involved. Do some research.

Not all chemicals are harmful, but it’s good to know which ones are and to avoid them.

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Future of Water in Texas

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Unless you have been living under a rock for the last several years, you probably have heard that Texas has been facing a severe water crisis. You don’t need to be an expert hydrologist to understand this; after all this is Texas, where sizzling temperatures and dry conditions have always been a part of living in the desert southwest.

Most of you will remember that 2011 was the driest year in Texas history; the state reportedly only averaged 14.88 inches of rainfall that year. However, this is not the first time the state has faced water crises of that magnitude. In 1917, Texas averaged only .11 inches higher than in 2011, making average rainfall for that year only 14.99 inches. These numbers indicate a continuous struggle that Texas has had with water preservation for several decades, so it’s time for Texans to take action on a better water plan for the state.

Earlier this year, the Texas State Legislature passed a resolution that will allow the state to use its Rainy Day Fund to finance $2 billion dollars’ worth of water projects across Texas (referred to as the State Water Implementations Fund or “SWIFT”). That measure will be put up to Texas voters as constitutional amendment (Proposition 6) for the November 5th election. This ballot measure will be Texas’ first attempt to finance a statewide, long-term plan for water supply and water conservation.

So if voters were to approve this effort, what would that mean for Texans? Here is some language, as taken from the Prop 6 official website:

“The constitutional amendment providing for the creations of the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas and the State Water Implementation Revenue Fund for Texas to assist in the financing of priority projects in the state water plan to ensure the availability of adequate water resources.”

Enabling legislation that becomes law if Prop 6 passes provides that:

  • Not less than 20% of the funds shall go to water conservation or reuse projects;
  • Not less than 10% of the funds shall go to water projects in rural areas, which may include agricultural water conservation projects;
  • Only projects called for in the regional and state water plans will be eligible for this funding, and those projects must be prioritized at the regional and state levels based on factors such as cost-effectiveness and the effect of the project on water conservation and prevention of water losses.

So on November 5, voters have the opportunity approve billions of dollars to craft a borrowing-and-lending system for water projects here in Texas. There does not appear to be a specific list of projects that will be given the green light assuming this plan passes, this amendment would simply allow voters to put state money into a fund for water supplies and water conservation.

How the money will be apportioned is still unknown,” said Ronald Kaiser to the Houston Chronicle, “people are putting all their faith in the water board.” Kaiser is Professor of Water Law and Policy at Texas A&M University.

The 2012 version of the State Water Plan highlights 562 water projects; which include reservoirs, water treatment, and watershed protection roughly costing $53 billion dollars, of which the state would be expected to provide loans for half of that amount (the loans would have to be paid back to the state by local and regional water suppliers). This high cost, which could be pared by more aggressive water conservation efforts, indicates that the state needs to be smart about allocating the necessary funds to complete proposed projects and needs to evaluate projects more closely.

Last week, Governor Perry took the stand in North Texas, urging voters to pass Prop 6. With the state population expected to double in the next five decades, Governor Perry has rounded up a bi-partisan group of supporters to rally for the passage of Proposition 6 in Texas.

Through this process we’re going to be able to turn two billion dollars in seed money that’s in the Rainy Day Fund into 30-billion dollars’ worth of water projects across our state,” he said.  “We can’t make it rain, but we can take measure to extend our existing water supply and work to develop new supplies.”

Rifling through the endorsements of proposition 6, one can find quite the laundry list of corporations, businesses, non-profits, and environmental advocates all throwing their name in the hat in support of this amendment.

Some of the organizations that have endorsed Prop 6 include: the League of Women Voters, The Nature Conservancy, Texas AFL-CIO, Ducks Unlimited, numerous businesses and trade associations, the Texas Farm Bureau, as well as the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. The diversity of support for this measure reflects the critical need to plan for our future water resources wisely in an increasingly drought-plagued state.

The Sierra Club supports passage of Prop 6 because of the commitment that state legislators have made to water conservation and to prioritization of water projects in the administration of the new state water funds,” said Ken Kramer, State Water Resources Chair of the Sierra Club, “It is important that the commitments to conservation are honored in the implementation of Prop 6, but voter approval of Prop 6 will be an important first step toward meeting the state’s water needs, and we urge Texas voters to cast their ballots for Prop 6.”

The answer is clear: Texas definitely needs to act on its water crisis problem. We all can agree that with a growing population and increasingly drier weather conditions, water needs to be at the forefront of our priorities here in the state.

Click HERE to view the official press release from the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Early voting: October 21 – November 1

Election Day: November 5.