Thursday, February 28, 2013

green thurs #1: best green book for normal people, EarthTalk

For the first green Thursday on emiliewho, I've decided to tout one of my favorite environmentally-related books, EarthTalk: Expert Answers to Everyday Questions About the Environment.

I first came across this little volume at my local library and was so smitten that I bought a used copy for myself and sent one to a mutual interest friend. I've found it to be one of the most easily informative books on everyday eco matters, with an easy grab-and-go Q&A format spanning ten different sections.

The book was created by the editors of E-The Environmental Magazine, with the content compiled from their magazine column where readers (normal citizens like us! ;) received practical answers to their everyday questions.

What's more important, buying organic or local food? Which should I replace first, my energy-hogging refrigerator or my gas-guzzling car? Does it really make a difference to bag my groceries in paper instead of plastic? How bad are disposable diapers, really? Should I wash my dishes by hand or in the dishwasher? 

Meaning this little green paperback is chock-full of information on things you've always wondered and that actually pertain to your daily life.

So you can actually get a taste of how useful this book is, I'm going to give an excerpt from each section in EarthTalk. Excerpts from the first five sections are below, with the remaining five to come next Thursday:

  1. Eat, Drink, and Be Wary

    From Local Foods to Lunchables

    I've heard that some foods are now being irradiated. Why is this, and what are the implications for our health and safety? --Emily Worden, Monroe, CT (p. 23)

          Food irradiation--used to kill bacteria, parasites, and insects in food and to retard spoilage--is actually not new. Research began early in the twentieth century and picked up in the 1950s as part of the U.S. government's "Atoms for Peace" effort to find non-wartime uses for nuclear technology. The FDA began approving food irradiation in 1963 to rid wheat and flour of insects and to control the sprouting of potatoes. It later approved the irradiation of spices and seasonings to fight insect infestations, and then pork (to prevent trichinosis), poultry (to prevent salmonella and other foodborned bacterial pathogens), and more recently beef, lamb, and pork (to kill E. Coli).
          [...] Contacts: American Dietetic Association, (800) 877-1600, www.; Center for Science in the Public Interest, (202) 332-9110,; Organic Consumers Association, (218) 226-4164,; Public Citizen, (202) 588-1000,
  2. The Enlightened Shopaholic

    From Wal-Marts to Small Marts

    What is the deal with plastic recycling these days? Can you explain what the different numbers molded onto the bottom of plastic containers stand for? --Tom Croarkin, Cleveland, OH (p. 43)

          Those little recycling triangles should be as easy as one, two, three, but the reality is much more complicated. Plastics, in their infinite variety, are especially troublesome, requiring different processing in order to be reforulated and reused as raw material. Some municipalities accept all types of plastic for recycling, while others only accept jugs, containers, and bottles with the right numbers stamped on their bottoms.
         The symbol code we're familiar with --a signle digit ranging from 1 to 7 surrounded by a triangle of arrows--was designed by the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) in 1988 to allow consumers and recyclers to differentiate types of plastics while providing a uniform coding system for manufacturers.
          [...] The easiest and most common plastics to recycle are made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and are assigned a 1. Examples include soda and water bottles, medicine containesr, and many other common consumer product containers. Once it has been processed by a recycling facility, PET can become fiberfill for winter coats, sleeping bags, and life jackets. It can also be used to make bean bags, rope, car bumpers, tennis ball felt, combs, cassette tapes, sails for boats, furniture - and of course, other bottles.
          [...] Contacts: American Plastics Council,; Society of thePlastics Industry (SPI),
  3. Say "AAAAH!"

    Healthier Living from the Refrigerator to the Medicine Cabinet

    How serious is the threat of antibiotic-reisistant bacteria in chicken and other poultry? --Dana Wilke, Chicago, IL (p. 80)

         You should indeed take the threat seriously. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, 70 percent of all antibiotics in the United States are fed to pigs, cattle, and poultry  so they'll grow quickly and stay healthy. Meanwhile, humans rely on many of these same antibiotics as medicines to control various bacterial infections. Bacteria in poultry and other livestock exposed over and over to these antibiotics develop increased resistance. The result can be that when people become infected by these same bacteria--such as campylobacter or salmonella, the two most common causes of food poisoning the United States--the antibiotics they normally rely on can be useless.
          [...] Contacts: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, (612) 870-0453,; Keep Antibiotics Working, (773)525-4952,; Union of Concerned Scientists, (617) 547-5552,
  4. Living (and Working) Spaces

    Digging In, Turning Off, and Waxing On

    How is it that African Americans are said to suffer the most in the United States from pollution and other environmental ills? --Jon Stein, Novato, CA (p. 103)

          In 1979, while conducting postdoctoral sociology research in Hosuton, Dr. Robert Bullard noticed that all the city's garbage dumps were located in and around African American neighborhoods, even though blacks only accoutned for a quarter of the city's population. Bullard hypothesized that such discriminatory siting was no coincidence, especially since Houston had no zoning laws to regulate land use. At the time, his findings helped a middle-class African American community in the city prevent the building of a new dump facility in their neighborhood.
          Bullard cast his net wider to find more examples of what he called "environmental racism." He found not only dumps but also pollutin factories and other industrial blemishes throughout the American Southeast--from West Virginia to Alabama and Texas and Louisiana and Florida--located where poor and sometimes middle-class African Americans lived. [...]
          Contacts: Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University,; People of Color Environmental Groups Directory,
  5. Phantom Loads and Energy Suckers

    Curing a Nation of Oil Addicts, One Turbine at a Time

    I've been hearing that wind power is going to play a significant role in our energy future. But doesn't it kill a lot of birds? --Dorothy Raffman, Norwalk, CT (p. 143)

    Wind energy is zero-emissions energy, a renewable resource that many environmentalists and alternative energy proponents feel is one of our last, best hopes for staving off devastating climate change. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the average wind turbine can prevent the emission of fiteen hundred tons of carbon dioxide each year.
          [...] But in truth, wind turbines get a bad rap for killing wildlife. High-profile examples such as at California's Altamont Pass--where outdated, oversized wind turbines kill some one thousand birds of prey each year--plague the growing wind power industry; even though more modern, better-sited wind farms kill far fewer birds.
          [...] According to researcher Wallace Erickson, birds face daily threats far more lethal than wind trubines. For instance, he reported that between five hundred millions and one billion birds are killed annualy in the United States alone from collisions with man-made structure [...].
          But even a few bird deaths are too many if they can be avoided. The American Bird Conservancy advises that lighting on turbines should be minimized, tension wires and lattice supports should be avoided, and wind turbine power lines should be placed underground whenever possible. Modern wind towers are being designed to prevent birds from perching on them. Also, the turbine blades rotate much more slowly than they did on earlier designs.
          Contacts: American Bird Conservancy,; American Wind Energy Association,; Cape Wind project, (617) 904-3100,; European Wind Energy Association, (011) 32-2-546-1940,; National Audubon Society,

I think the book does a great job of not only choosing relevant issues but giving a well-rounded, grounded view in its answers. I didn't include the complete answer portion in the excerpts above, but you can tell that they start with background information to give the facts, then they enter to answer the question but give both sides of the issue whenever possible. Then, each Q&A ends with a "Contacts" section that cites organizations and their contact information that you can turn to for further information.

And for the insatiable, you can turn to the note they include in one of their opening pages:
Got an environmental question that you don't see answered in this book? Send it to: "EarthTalk," c/o E - The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881. You can also submit your questions at or email us at

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