Earth Day 2014

April 16th, 2014 by

Earth Day is just around the corner. Next Tuesday (April 22), millions of people in 190 countries will celebrate Mother Earth by participating in eco-friendly events. From book recycling to biking, beach clean-ups to nature walks, animal conservation to learning more eco-friendly habits, people all over the world will act together to make the world a little greener.

The global theme this year is Green CitiesScreen shot 2014-04-16 at 10.14.50 AM

“With smart investments in sustainable technology, forward-thinking public policy, and an educated and active public, we can transform our cities and forge a sustainable future,” says EarthDay.org, the Earth Day Network’s (EDN) website. “Nothing is more powerful than the collective action of a billion people.”

The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970. While it started with only a few million people, it soon grew to be the largest civic observance in the world, according to EDN. It even led to the creation of the United Stated Environmental Protection Agency!

So how can you get involved? You can either search for an event in your country or state, or you can plan your own event. EDN has a host of resources, including online toolkits that can help you get started. If you want more personalized help planning a discussion in your community, you can send an email to greencities [at] earthday [dot] org.

In addition to physical activities that reconnect you to Mother Earth, you can get on the web to make a difference. EarthDay.org has a selection of online activism topics to help get you started. These range from banning new coal power plants to bringing bike shares to your city.

Here are 10 of our favorite Earth Day celebrations happening this year:

Austin, Texas, April 26, 12 pm—6 pm at the Historic Browning Hanger at Mueller

Cincinnati, Ohio, April 19, 12 pm—5 pm at Sawyer Point

Indianapolis, Indiana, April 26, 11 am—4 pm at White River State Park

Nashville, Tennessee, April 19, 11 am—6 pm at Centennial Park

New York, New York, April 22, 11 am—7 pm at Union Square

Reno, Nevada, April 27, 10 am—5 pm at Idlewild Park

Sacramento, California, April 19, 11 am—4 pm at Southside Park

Saint Louis, Missouri, April 27, 11 am—6 pm at the Muny grounds of Forest Park

San Francisco, California, April 19, 10 am—6 pm at the U.N. Plaza/Civic Center

South Tahoe, California, April 26, 10 am—4 pm at the Bijou Community Park

 

This guest post was written by Keen Communications intern Robyn Campbell.

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Meditation 101

April 8th, 2014 by

It’s no secret that meditation is good for the mind, but recent studies are beginning to show the positive biological effects of yoga and meditation as well. In addition to alleviating stress and helping to quell anxiety and depression, Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Denniger has found a physiological component to meditation. “The kinds of things that happen when you meditate do have effects throughout the body, not just the brain,” Denniger said of his study’s findings. With findings like Denniger’s proving time and time again that meditation provides myriad health benefits, the question has become not, ‘should I meditate?’ but, ‘what’s the best way to meditate?’

Spoiler Alert: there isn’t one right way to meditate. Some people like to meditate indoors, others prefer meditating outdoors. Some people find music relaxing, others distracting. While the picture of meditation might look like this:
meditation.png

The truth is there are tons of different ways to meditate. It is much more important to find what works best for you than to partake in the way you think you ‘should’ meditate. The most important aspect of meditation is that you are comfortable, whether that means sitting cross-legged on the floor, lying down, or moving around.

Focused Meditation. No surprise here, this kind of meditation requires you to focus your attention on an object, or “target” which stimulates one of your five senses, sound and smell being most common (incense, the sounds of nature or sound machines, metronomes, and fragrant candles are all excellent choices). The goal is to give yourself permission to let your mind be quiet; not to wander through your thoughts, but to simply be present in the sensations you are experiencing from your chosen object. Focus on your target and clear your mind for just a few minutes, allowing yourself to be present in your experience.

Mindfulness Meditation. Mindfulness meditation is probably the most well-known and popular form of meditation, and for good reason. Mindfulness asks the meditator to be aware and mindful of surroundings, asking us to be present regardless of our surroundings. Accept all the sensations around you, without critiquing or judging what you experience, simply experience who and where you are.

Movement Meditation. This form of meditation is ideal for someone who hates the idea of sitting still for more than a couple of minutes. Movement meditation ranges from yoga, to a serene walk through the woods, to gardening in your backyard, to painting in your living room. Again, the goal is to relax and be mindful of what you’re experiencing; whatever movement meditation you’ve chosen, focus on your breathing and the way your body is participating in the activity. This one more than any other technique is tailor-made to your personal tastes.

Guided Meditation. This is what I like to call an extrovert’s meditation. Guided meditation typically involves some other form of focused, mindfulness, or movement meditation, but is led by another person. This form of meditation often focuses on breathing techniques. Whether you’re meditating with another person or a recorded voice, allowing another person lead you through your meditation is often helpful for beginners.

You don’t have to alter your state of consciousness or leave your body to meditate. The ultimate goal of meditation is to relax and clear your mind, to learn to be present, and to experience your surroundings. Different people achieve these goals in different ways. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new techniques; see which mode of meditation works best for you. Meditation is simple, but it isn’t easy, so don’t get discouraged if you sit down only to find yourself feeling fidgety a few minutes later. Like any other exercise, meditation takes practice and persistence, but the wide array of benefits meditation provides is worth it for your mind and body.

Follow the Frog to Stop Deforestation

March 18th, 2014 by

“You don’t have to go to the ends of the Earth to save the rainforest. Just Follow the Frog!” –Rainforest Alliance.

This past week, the Rainforest Alliance’s “Follow the Frog” campaign promo video went viral on YouTube. Although it was originally published on their YouTube channel in September 2012, it really gained ground this past week with over 3.5 million views.

So, why is this video getting this much traction? Four reasons: it’s brilliant, it’s hilarious, it spreads a positive message, and it calls us to action to stop rainforest destruction. Don’t believe me? TED shared the video on their website, and Nice & Serious, an “ethically driven creative agency”, examined the persuasive qualities of the video.

To backtrack a little bit, the Rainforest Alliance is a nonprofit conservation organization. They work to conserve biodiversity by protecting wildlife, curbing climate change, alleviating poverty, and transforming land-use practices, business practices, and consumer behavior.

“Products bearing the seal originate on—or contain ingredients sourced from—Rainforest Alliance Certified farms or forests,” according to their website. “These farms and forests are managed according to rigorous environmental, social and economic criteria designed to conserve wildlife; safeguard soils and waterways; protect workers, their families and local communities; and increase livelihoods in order to achieve true, long-term sustainability.”

Thus, products bearing the green frog seal are Rainforest Alliance Certified. Such products include coffee, tea, chocolate, fruit, flowers, paper, and even furniture. To find out what products are available near you, check out their product and brand locator.

 

So, how can you “Follow the Frog”?

  1. Watch the video (and share it!)
  2. Take the pledge
  3. Buy products with the frog seal
  4. Participate in Follow the Frog Week (September 15—21, 2014)
  5. Spread the word!

 

This is a guest post by Keen Communications intern Robyn Campbell.

Green Your Home This Spring

March 5th, 2014 by

Green: A Great Color for the Home

It’s hard to believe, but spring is just around the corner. For many of us this means it’s time to begin knocking tasks off of spring cleaning to-do lists and gearing up for those home improvement projects you began realizing were long overdue while cooped up inside all winter. Whether you’re looking to remodel your bathroom, upgrade your kitchen tile, or turn your backyard into an oasis, The Cincinnati Home and Garden Show, held at the Duke Energy Convention Center, is the place to be. The show is open to the public today, March 5th through Sunday, March 9th.

This year will also feature a Go Green Cincinnati Show, presenting dozens of retailers offering sustainable products and services, helping residents of the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky lead greener lives. While not everyone can afford to install solar panels on their roofs or invest in new, energy efficient appliances, there are plenty of ways to go green for little to no cost. Here are 10 easy tricks to add a little green to your life and your home.

Create your own low-cost compost bin  
Composting is a great way to make use of things that would normally end up in a landfill. You can throw all kinds of things into your compost bin which will, in turn, create natural and nutrient rich soil for flower beds, gardens, or even the grass in your yard.

Wash laundry in cold, rather than hot, water
Although using cold water can take a little longer to properly clean clothes, it will clean them just as well as hot water. According to Energy Star, almost 90% of the energy used by washing machines goes towards heating water.
Bonus Green Points: Line-dry clothes. Again, you’ll be saving money and energy, but the UV rays of the sun can help kill germs and bacteria too!

Shop at local Farmers Markets
One of the best and easiest ways to go green (in addition to helping your local economy) is to shop at local Farmers Markets. Your food is almost certainly guaranteed to be fresher, more nutritious, and more flavorful than items bought at a grocery store.

Unplug unused and rarely used appliances
Although it may not seem like it, many appliances that aren’t in use but are still plugged in continue sucking up energy. All kinds of appliances from toasters to televisions use “standby” power when they aren’t in use. If unplugging all those unused appliances seems like too much of an inconvenience, another option is to invest in a Smart Power Strip, which monitors electricity use and stops sending power to appliances that have been idle for a certain amount of time.

D.I.Y. cleaning supplies
Not only do most name brand cleaning supplies contain toxic chemicals, but they are expensive. With a handful of inexpensive and basic ingredients you can make a whole host of cleaners for the entire house.

Invest in energy efficient light bulbs.
Energy Efficient bulbs may have more of an upfront cost, but you’ll be saving in the long run and helping the environment. Even changing a few bulbs throughout your house can save you hundreds of dollars annually.

Donate old newspapers to animal shelters, old plastic bags to participating grocery stores, or buy/make your own reusable bags.
Animal shelters are a great place to drop off plastic bags and old newspapers. Lots of grocery stores take bag plastic bags to reuse or recycle; talk to your local grocery store to see if they accept donations. Or better yet, you can buy or make your own reusable bags and avoid the plastic ones altogether! Most patterns are simple enough for beginners to use and only take a few minutes to make!

Lighten the load
How many of us avoid the cluttered, black hole that is our car’s trunk? If you’re like me, the trunk of your car has slowly accumulated knick-knacks over time. Cleaning out your trunk (or the entire car, for some of us) will lighten the overall weight of your car, helping improve fuel efficiency. Improved fuel efficiency decreases the amount of gas you’ll need, so lighten the load in your car and you can lighten your weekly gas bill, too.

Caulk windows
This is a project that sounds much more daunting than it actually is, and will greatly improve the energy efficiency in your home. Something as simple as re-caulking your windows will only take a couple of hours and will help keep the warm air in during the winter and the cool air in during the summer. It’s a quick an easy project that will prove beneficial for any season.

Repurpose!
A little creativity will go a long way with this one. With a little craftiness and a good google search the options are limitless. Sites like Pinterest, Apartment Therapy, and DIY Network are all great places for inspiration. From old t-shirts to baby food jars, just because it’s served its original purpose doesn’t mean those objects can’t be repurposed for another use. Repurpose! Reuse! Recycle! It’s fun, easy, and all these small acts can make a huge difference for the environment!

The contributor for this article was Katie Butts, an intern for Keen Communications.

Undersea Freshwater Reserves Could Provide Water for Decades

December 17th, 2013 by

Freshwater is becoming a scarce commodity on Earth. Only 2.5% of the water on Earth is freshwater, and only 0.0325% of that is accessible for drinking. As the population continues to grow, the amount of usable water is quickly disappearing. Some scientists predict a World War could be fought over who gets access to clean water, and water conflicts are already in process in Syria. Thankfully, newfound reserves could sustain the world’s water needs for a while longer.

Researchers announced this week that they’ve probed the extent of freshwater reserves under the sea off the coasts of South Africa, China, North America, and Australia. Scientists have known about the freshwater pockets for some time but only recently discovered how large they are. Researchers estimate the pockets contain about 120,000 cubic miles of water. Each cubic mile is equivalent to 1.1 trillion gallons, enough water to satisfy all of the United States’ present water usage for about 9 days.

Since it isn’t as salty as seawater, the reserves would be easier and cheaper to desalinate for consumption. The researchers say these freshwater reserves could sustain certain regions of the world for decades. However, these underground puddles aren’t perfect. The water is briny and will require a fair amount of filtering. Additionally, several problems exist.

The first issue, extracting water from the reserves would be a difficult task. Described in the Huffington Post, “drilling for the trapped water would be an expensive endeavor, and engineers have only two options to tap it. They can build a platform out at sea and drill into the seabed, or drill from the mainland or islands close to the aquifers.” Secondly, these reserves are non-renewable sources of water. Our existing aquifers eventually get replenished by rainwater, but these newfound reserves are completely cut off from the hydrologic cycle, according to a paper published in Nature. They won’t get refilled until the next Ice Age, when sea levels drop low enough to expose them at the surface.

Although the reserves will be a great source of water, it’s just as important to continue being conscientious of our water usage. The water reserves can only be used for so long until they are gone forever, which is why water needs to be used wisely. Conservation is key!

FDA Agrees to Set Rules for Controversial Antimicrobial Agent

December 10th, 2013 by

Under a new court agreement with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Food and Drug Administration has agreed to issue a new rule governing the use of triclosan, a controversial antimicrobial agent used widely in consumer products, by 2016. Action on the drug is a long time coming, given that the FDA first proposed action in 1978.

Triclosan has been found in three-quarters of people whose blood, urine or tissues have been analyzed as part of biomonitoring studies, and it is also found in the environment, after having passed untreated through sewage treatment plants. There’s evidence that tricolsan may be an endocrine-disrupting chemical, messing with our hormones, and that it breaks down into dioxin, a known carcinogen. It’s also implicated in the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a growing health concern.

“It’s outrageous that FDA has waited 35 years to protect the public from this harmful chemical. This final rule should prohibit triclosan from use in soaps,” said Mae Wu, an attorney in NRDC’s health program. “Washing your hands with soap containing triclosan doesn’t make them cleaner than using regular soap and water. In fact, not only do soaps containing triclosan fail to provide benefits consumers might expect, they carry potential health risks.”

In general, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are a safer alternative, and they need only be used when hot water and regular soap are unavailable. Most studies suggest thorough hand washing is the most effective and environmentally benign way to prevent the spread of germs.

Under pressure from consumer advocates, many companies have removed triclosan from their products, or pledged not to use it.

 

Green Gifts for the Holidays

December 4th, 2013 by

It’s that time of year again. With Thanksgiving officially over, the search for The Perfect Christmas Gift has begun. Big name retailers are restocking their shelves for the Christmas rush with items everyone wants. But what about giving something uncommon this year? It’s time to think outside the box and get the special people in your life something unique. At Uncommon Goods, there are tons of unique products that aren’t only cool but are eco-consciously made!

The majority of products at Uncommon Goods are recycled or environmentally friendly. Thinking outside the box is something done well with the products at Uncommon Goods. Fire extinguishers are turned into color vases, recycled wine bottles turned into unique platters, and even kits on how to grow your own marinara sauce, and more.

The gift ideas are brilliant for any occasion and perfect for that special someone this holiday season. If you don’t believe it, check out the site for yourself.

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What’s the Most Important Thing Food Labels Should Tell Us?

November 26th, 2013 by

The importance of food labels is a discussion that has been gaining importance over the past couple years. Voters agree that people have a right to know what they’re eating–if food is organic or if it contains genetically modified ingredients. While GMO labeling is at the center of the debates, there are other suggestions that many believe are worthy of noting on food labels.

Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota has three things he would like to see labeled.

“First, deforestation, yes or no?” he says. In other words, were trees cut down to grow this food? This has been happening in Indonesia and Malaysia to make room for palm oil plantations. According to Foley, he can’t think of a “bigger hammer to the environment” than deforestation.

Second, Foley continues, “How much water did it take, and from where?” Farmers around the world have been draining rivers and underground aquifers to water their crops at the expense of the land. “And No. 3, how much fertilizer did it take, and did you manage to keep it from running off?” Fertilizer runoff from farms has choked lakes and estuaries from China to the Chesapeake Bay. It contaminates our water supplies and damages the ecosystems with its excessive nutrient levels.

Another opinion from Tracie McMillan,author of The American Way of Eating, only wants to know if the people working the farms were paid a fair living wage. McMillan went undercover and worked in the vegetable fields of California to investigate fair wages for her book.

It would be great to see food labels on a grade basis of how farmers and the land are treated, but it is also important to keep labels simple and easy to read. There are several issues that probably should be labeled on food that would greatly influence what food we buy and how production of food is treated. But for now, the food label debate is still ongoing.

What are some things you would like to see on food labels?

New Technology Developed to Predict Wildfires

November 20th, 2013 by

Over 9 million acres in the US were burned by wildfires this past year. Wildfires are caused by mankind and natural causes, but regardless of their cause, once a fire starts, it tends to become uncontrollable and unpredictable. Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, hope to create an advantage.

Teaming up with the University of Maryland, scientists have developed a technique that combines cutting-edge simulations of the interaction of weather and fire with newly available satellite observations of active wildfires. The simulations predict the path of wildfires based on weather patterns and landscape and can prepare communities to evacuate safely while natural disaster teams are ready for action before a fire reaches the area. The computer simulations are updated every 12 hours to provide current patterns of wildfires. “With this technique, we believe it’s possible to continually issue good forecasts throughout a fire’s lifetime, even if it burns for weeks or months,” said NCAR scientist Janice Coen, the lead paper author and model developer.

The researchers said that forecasts using the new technique could be particularly useful in anticipating sudden blowups and shifts in the direction of the flames. In addition, they could enable decision makers to look at several newly ignited fires and determine which pose the greatest threat. With this new technology, the potential to prepare for wildfires becomes an option, increasing the safety of communities in the area.

Take Back the Tap

November 13th, 2013 by

Take Back the Tap is a project aimed at eliminating plastic water bottles and increasing the use of tap water. Bottled water wastes lots of money on its production and reduces our natural resources as well, not to mention the impact of those plastic bottles increasing the size of landfills. One myth in defense of bottled water is that bottled water is healthier than tap water. Bottled water and tap water undergo similar regulations and water treatments, so the difference in safety really isn’t an issue. Take Back the Tap stresses that tap water and bottled water are one in the same, which only supports the need to eliminate bottled water production.

Take Back the Tap wants cities and college campuses to install refill stations in parks and around public areas for people to refill their own, reusable water bottles. The project also encourages the uses of tap water filters for those unsure of the local water’s safety. As stated before, there isn’t a difference between tap water and bottled water.

For more information on the Take Back the Tap project, follow the link for more information on bottled water facts and how your community or campus can get involved.