Category Archives: Nature

Find Out What is Keeping Our Parks in the Dark

Imagine a permanent haze smothering the panoramic view from the peak of your favorite hike at Big Bend in Texas, the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma, or the Caney Creek Wilderness Area in Arkansas. Read on to learn how to prevent your childhood memories from being clouded over by pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is finalizing a decision on whether dirty Texas coal plants will continue to release their haze air pollution without regulation. This haze pollution damages our beloved National Parks (NP) and wilderness areas in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.

Image 1.1  - Pictures taken from Big Bend and Guadalupe on Clear and Hazy Days to illustrate the immense differences in visibility.Photo Credit: NPCA

Image 1.1 – Pictures taken from Big Bend and Guadalupe on Clear and Hazy Days to illustrate the immense differences in visibility.Photo Credit: NPCA

Haze is a visible and quantifiable measure of the levels of specific pollutants such as Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) and Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) that cause haze in the atmosphere (See image 1.1). These specific haze pollutants are released in large quantities from the northern and eastern Texas coal plants. The pollution travels from these locations into federally protected national parks in four surrounding areas: Big Bend NP, Guadalupe Mountains NP, Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, and Caney Creek Wilderness Area.

EPA is finalizing its decision for whether Texas coal plants have to follow the same kinds of rules for SO2 and NOx pollution that other out-of-state plants have to strictly follow. Strong standards would ensure the protection of our national parks and federal lands. The decision will play a pivotal role in propelling Texas towards a breathable future.

The Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ),  the state environmental agency in Texas, proposed a do-nothing plan that would allow the biggest polluters to keep on pumping out visibility and health-harming pollution. With an obsolete plan that requires no changes, no progress towards clear skies, EPA should reject the TCEQ plan and take action to protect the our environment until the coal plants in Texas do their fair share like many other out-of-state power plants.

How do I get started? Call EPA and ask them to follow the law and protect the environment from old, dirty, unregulated Texas coal plants. Tell them that the law requires EPA to hold polluters accountable and that they need to implement a plan that protects our national parks and defends public health by reducing pollutant emissions. As other states like Oklahoma move forward by reducing their power plant emissions, Texas coal plants should not be the forgotten and left in the dark.

With just a few minutes of your day, you could have an impact that lasts through generations – Let’s work together to get EPA to make the right decision! Click Here! 

by Sarah Sharif

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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.

Renewable Energy Roundup and Green Living Fair

The 13th annual Renewable Energy Roundup and Green Living Fair is a great reason to plan a fall road trip!  It takes place the last weekend in September (9/27-9/29) in downtown Fredericksburg, TX and has something for the whole family to see and do.  You can taste, test and explore your way through this event.

See the Solar Car Races, taste organically grown food and learn how you can make a difference with your water usage.  Do you want to know how you can afford solar panels on your home?  How about growing your own food? Come out and learn!  You can get the whole schedule here.
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There are four distinct categories of events.

1)   Renewable Energy

2)   Organic/Sustainable Growing

3)   Green and Efficient Building and Sustainable Living

4)   Alternative Transportation

David Foster, the State Director for Clean Water will be a keynote speaker. Learn more about him through this site.  As you know, Texas is in a severe drought.  He said “Outdoor lawn watering is a huge driver of municipal demand.  We need to re-think our landscaping practices if we are going to manage our water crises.”  Come to learn how you can change your landscaping to become more drought tolerant.
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Don’t forget to bring your refillable water bottle.  We will see you there.

Via: http://www.cvent.com/events/-/custom-20-8a41ebbf42ec40969b667e1adb0cda08.aspx

Pictures from: http://digitaljournal.com/article/298133

Teaching Kids to Care

The Beyond Coal project is the top topic in the Lone Star Chapter, and rightfully so. With the Rally for Renewables last Thursday, I had planned on blogging specifically about the Fayette Coal Plant and the potential follow-up options after its future closing. Yeah, sure, why not? It seemed the obvious choice. Until some youngster indicated otherwise.

While filming the rally, I ran into a kid who, despite his fatigue from the heat, readily answered my questions on the state of the environment. I’m afraid that I cannot upload any video here yet, but to provide a quick summary, this little guy said he thought coal is bad for the environment and that people shouldn’t have to breathe the chemicals and ash it pumps into the air. He also said he would want wind and solar energy instead. And he has hardly entered the first grade.

The fact that the kid didn’t have to stop and think about his answers (and that his dad wasn’t prompting him) impressed me most with this interview. His readiness made me recall the importance of raising awareness of the environment in students in primary education. As part of UT Austin’s Club for Environmental Outreach, I have focused on this issue for some time. So, I think the time has come for me to shed some light on this issue.

We at the Sierra Club understand the significance of educating the public on the environment, and we pursue that end tirelessly – just as global conditions tirelessly worsen. The millennials will have the greatest challenge yet in confronting this mounting terror. Should we not focus on involving them in the future of the environment, for their own safety if not for anything else? Many have leapt up in an effort to do this, but not before many sprung up to prevent America’s failing education system from crashing altogether.

I came across a recent NPR article about the popular new “Common Core” standards that have been adopted in 45 states. They might not address scientific educational standards that would include environmental curricula, but these changes at least show some desire to redirect the US education system. It would seem that some hope lay in sight for the nation’s posterity.

But for the generations of future Texans, such hope is about as visible as Rick Perry is credible. Just look to this map of the 45 continental states that have given the green light to Common Core (credit goes to corestandards.org); it probably won’t surprise:

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Yes, Texas stands alone in the South as one of the 5 stubborn states opposing Common Core. Now, I’m not naive enough to believe that a step forward for Texas education will come soon in science, of all things; I still fear that my nephew will ask me for help with drawing a venn diagram comparing Evolution and Creationism (all eyes still on the Texas State BoE).

On the subject of young students, however, I return to the importance of educating future generations about their environment and how to be eco-friendly. Clearly, the public education system at large cannot commit to this, especially in Texas. So, it is the duty of environmentalists – as members of our local and state communities, as teachers, as big brothers and sisters, as parents, aunts, and uncles – to inform future generations of the looming (and melting) obstacles ahead. If we do not, they might run into calamities of titanic proportions.

Still, the full force of environmentalism cannot inform these students if their core educational principles do not change. So let us take a step back: if public schools cannot educate students on such important issues as the environment, what can it do? Well, for a start, it might better learn how to teach future voters how to form a caring opinion. The voter turn out in the US is increasingly deplorable, and that is no secret. Perhaps this stems from the education system’s paranoia of politics and appearing to take a particular stance. Sorry, Everytown ISD – time to grow a backbone.

No need to herald some political leaning or endorse a candidate here. Just teach kids the importance of forming their own opinions – it’s part of teaching citizenship. More importantly, teach students to inform themselves of their own free will. I do realize that environmentalism ideally would not be considered a “political” issue, since it concerns forces that affect all humans and that no government can control or alter. However, with that in mind, the ideal result of teaching students the value of seeking information in earnest would generate general support for environmentalism. Even more ideally, the US Government would run far more smoothly and voter turn-out would improve as citizens rushed to provide their involved, informed consent at the polls.

I salute the aims of Common Core, but the true goal may be missed here: the time has come for the public education system  to start teaching students how to choose and how to inform themselves with care. Once such values are in place, then we environmentalists can truly turn these millennials into little green men and women by involving and informing them. Perhaps then the government that all too often slows the will of the people, would drive us to a more agreeable – and hopefully, greener – future.

– Harry Watson, Conservation Intern

Call to Young Artists: Design the 2013 Renewable Energy Roundup Poster!

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Seeking young Texans ages 9 to 18 to submit renewable energy poster designs

Deadine July 1, 2013

The Renewable Energy Roundup and Green Living Fair Art Contest was created to draw upon young people’s artistic expression to convey the importance of renewable energy and living sustainably in Texas. Pieces will be judged on creativity and inclusion of renewable energy (solar and wind), Texas, farming and green living practices.

The purpose is to enhance public awareness of the importance of renewable energy and sustainability in the artists’ and viewers’ lives and to convey how personal actions affect the world.

  •   Rules: The contest is open to all students in Texas ages 9 thru 18.
  •   Entry Requirements: Poster design must be original, and may be computer or electronically generated, hand- drawn or photographed. It must not violate any copyrights, intellectual property rights or contain other infringements. Electronic submissions must be 300 DPI (JPEG or PDF preferred).
  •  Size: Any size between 8.5 x 11 inches and up to 28 x 22 inches.
  •   Deadline: All entries must be postmarked or delivered no later than: July 1, 2013.

  •  Mailed entrees:
    The Roundup Art Contest P O Box 2735; Fredericksburg TX 78624
    Emailed entrees: info@theroundup.org
  •  Hand-delivered entrees:
    Laura Rice; 604 N Bowie; Fredericksburg, TX 78624
    Call 830-456-1341 to arrange
  •   Required: Submitted artwork must have clearly printed on the back: Artist’s name and contact information, parents name, school or facilitator name, including mailing address, phone, email.

The winner will be determined by a vote of the Roundup Planning Committee. All decisions are within the discretion of the committee and those decisions are final.

The winner will be announced and their artwork will be displayed in the art exhibit area during the fair weekend, in addition to being the official t-shirt art for 2013. First Prize $200 Cash + event tickets, 2nd – 5th place gift cards + event tickets.

All entries become the sole property of The Roundup. The Roundup will own all personal, intellectual and other property rights and interests in each submission, including all copyrights, moral rights and publicity rights. The submissions will not be returned to the artist. The artist will not create derivative works of their submissions, nor use their submissions in any other way outside of this contest. A submission may be used to promote any Renewable Energy Roundup & Green Living Fair, and/or for any other Renewable Energy Roundup & Green Living Fair commercial or promotional purposes, regardless of media. The Roundup reserves the right to make modifications to size, and content display. By sending in a poster design, you agree that the Renewable Energy Roundup & Green Living Fair may use, without compensation, artwork and the winner’s name, age, town and likeness for promotional purposes in Renewable Energy Roundup & Green Living Fair’s 2013 campaign.

Limited to one entry per person.

Renewable Energy Roundup & Green Living Fair
P.O. Box 2735 | Fredericksburg, Texas 78624 | 830-997-2350

The Renewable Energy Roundup & Green Living Fair is organized by: The Center for Policy Studies and Texas Renewable Energy Industries Assoc.

The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands, situated about 600 miles west of Ecuador, are a small archipelago consisting of 19 islands of various sizes. These islands were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978. The islands of the Galapagos are where Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, and, consequently, “Darwin’s Finches” stemmed from. I have had the amazing opportunity to spend 10 days on this archipelago, and consider it the most life-changing experience I have had to this day.

Sea lions sunbathing on a boat off a little island in the Galapagos - taken by me

Sea lions sunbathing on a boat off a little island in the Galapagos – taken by me

In order to protect the islands from the overflowing of visitors, the Ecuadorian government limits the amount of people that can visit the area each year. Furthermore, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is dedicated to conserve the Islands. WWF has been educating locals on things such as efficient and sustainable fishing, as well as creating new environmentally-safe landfills that are in the process of being built on one of the main islands.

The amount of diversity of animals and plants that is spread across the archipelago is remarkable. One of the reasons these islands are so unique is because different species of animals can be found in different parts of the archipelago. Red Footed Boobies, for example, can be found primarily in the northern islands.

[A National Geographic review of The Galapagos Islands]

There are three main islands in the archipelago. The mode of transportation is usually a ferry which takes around an hour and a half to get to each island. Some of the islands are only accessible by cruise ships, which are very common there. I have personally decided to stay on each of the main islands for a few days, and explore them on my own, rather than get on a cruise ship where the itinerary is preplanned and somewhat boring to me. I ended up enjoying every second I had on these islands as I snorkeled and discovered penguins, rays, sea lions and sea turtles, to name a few of the amazing wildlife found on the Galapagos.

The entrance gate to the Charles Darwin Research Center - taken by me

The entrance gate to the Charles Darwin Research Center – taken by me

A sea turtle off the "Leon Dormido" rock - taken by me

A sea turtle off the “Sleeping Lion” rock – taken by me

Words and pictures alone can not describe the serenity and beauty that the Islands have to offer, and I will not be exaggerating when I refer to the Galapagos Islands as a Mecca for nature lovers. I highly recommend taking the time to do some research on these incredible islands, followed by a visit of your own.

For more information, please visit the following websites: UNESCO – Galapagos Islands, The Galapagos Conservancy, About Galapagos, Charles Darwin Foundation

-Written by Yuval Edrey