Fairfax Ninth Grader Places Second in Well-Timed Science Experiment

Washington (GGM) Analysis | February 20, 2021 by author and journalist Noreen Wise

Gallant Gold Media is very excited to report that Julia Victor, a ninth grader at W.T. Woodson High in Fairfax, Va, placed second in her unique and timely science experiment, which is part of the build up to the annual Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair. We’ve been following Julia’s progress since October 2020 as she’s made her way through this intricate labyrinth of competing in a science fair during a global pandemic with schools closed and students distance learning. Julia was determined to find out which NoVA natives store the most carbon, and whether shrubs can stores as much carbon as trees, so she decided to conduct her own science experiment to discover the answer. We were impressed with Julia’s original idea that ties so closely with the international greenup movement, that of planting lots of trees and nature to restore our habitat. Julia has taken it to a new level, though. She challenges us to be strategic about what we plant as we all strive to find more ways to store more carbon to reduce global warming.

Meanwhile, President Biden, on behalf of the United States of America, officially reentered the 2015 Paris Agreementyesterday, Friday February 19, 2021. The ultimate goal of the Paris Agreement is to become carbon neutral. Carbon neutrality will be accomplished through the global framework established within the Paris Agreement — an international treaty on climate change signed by more than 196 countries. The Paris Agreement outlines a combination of aggressively cutting carbon emissions on one side of the coin, while simultaneously boosting carbon sequestration on the other. Substantially increasing carbon sequestration will be accomplished most notably by a significant increase in soil health as well as the restoration of our habitat, particularly trees and shrubs… and as Julia has proven with her science experiment, the right native trees and shrubs make a difference. 

What’s the heart of the matter? The hard truth is that in order for us to hit the targets outlined for the US in the Paris Agreement, we each have to do our own little bit, by lowering our individual and household carbon footprint, as well as by storing more carbon in our yards (ie, planting more trees, shrubs, flowers and ground cover, and improving soil health through the diversification of the species we plant, as well as composting and biochar). To make this simple, the easiest way to process our individual contribution in reaching the US target, is by living a sustainable lifestyle and planting smart.

Gallant Gold Media is planting a forest in North Dakota to remember those we lost to covid, thanks to the generosity of ranch owner Byron Richard. Join us in GreeningUp to help US hit our Paris Agreement targets. CLICK to see details.

The Paris Agreement measures the contribution each country is making in its effort to curb global warming. It checks to see if countries are doing their “fair share.” The expectation is that large countries like the United States, one of the largest contributors to global warming, will reach the highest level of effort, that of “Role Model.” Currently, the United States is ranked at the very bottom, Critically Insufficient. The following are the Paris Agreement levels of contribution:

  • Role Model
  • 1.5° Paris Agreement Compatible
  • 2° Compatible
  • Insufficient
  • Highly Insufficient
  • Critically Insufficient

The term “role model” is what immediately comes to mind when I think of Julia and her science experiment. Julia’s findings highlight that quality matters, especially when available land to plant is constrained. Although, if possible, a high quantity of high quality plants, sure would help the US make up for lost time. (Click here to read the details of Julia’s experiment.)

I asked Julia if she would be so kind to walk us through the science fair process. In her own words:

“The virtual science fair included only students from my school as a preliminary level. It was all grades, so most of the participants were older than me. There were 7 categories ranging from micro-biology to computer science. I was in the environmental science category and placed second. Environmental science was the largest category with around 25 students in it. The top three projects in each category move on to the regional fair. The school-wide science fair was set up so each student could present their pre-recorded video to three judges and then answer questions. As it started, it became clear that coordinating around110 students and all the judges would be difficult. The links for the judging rooms were broken and it was too much for the coordinators to fix. Eventually, they gave up on the judging rooms, and the judges reviewed the projects and videos by themselves. Overall, the setbacks didn’t affect the quality of the science fair too greatly.” 

Ninth grader, Julia Victor’s 25 seedlings planted and tested to find out which NoVa native species stores the most carbon.

Now that you’ve placed second, Julia, what’s the next round all about

“The next round will be very similar to the school-wide science fair, except it will be better coordinated. It uses an online program made for science fairs and programs like this. It has the same process as my school’s fair. It has a video presentation stage and then a synchronous time for questions. The fair will include all of Fairfax County Public Schools so it will cover much of Northern Virginia. I’m not sure the exact number of students participating, but I know there will be hundreds of them. Due to the virtual setting, the fair is not hosted by a specific school, but by the school district. There are many different types of awards at the regional fair. Depending on the award, students may move to the state-wide science fair, or even straight to the international science fair (Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair).”

And the winners are…

We have our work cut up for us that’s for sure. Biden committed to being at net-zero no later than 2050. But many of our allies have been working at a brisk pace these last 4 years while we’ve been slumped on the sidelines. Our allies have submitted new pledges that will hopefully bring out the best in the US as we reach higher and rush faster. Julia’s experiment gives us a new lens to use. Let’s be smarter about what we put in the ground, so we can build that all important ladder to pull ourselves out of this hole we jumped into back in 2017 when we exited the Paris Agreement.

  • EU has now pledged to cut emissions from the 1990 level by 55 percent by 2030. Insufficient.
  • UK is striving for a 68 percent reduction from the 1990 level by 2030. Insufficient.
  • Canada has pledged to come in at 30 percent below 2005 level by 2030. Insufficient.
  • Costa Rica and Bhutan are both ranked highest on the main list. Compatible.

Congratulations, Julia! Best of luck in the next round.

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A Sustainability Journey | Build Back Better

Washington (GGM) Analysis | February 18, 2021 by Pamela Scaiff; introduction and closing by author and journalist Noreen Wise

Spending the past nine months in Canada during Covid, all in on sustainability immersion, taught me a lot. In fact, I’ve completely reinvented myself in such a short period of time. The most startling aspect of my metamorphosis was understanding how easy it is to live sustainably when everyone in a given community is doing so. Stronger together. My bud, Canadian sustainability guru Pamela Scaiff, is the master of sustainability and has been my supreme guide for the past four months. I’m thrilled that she agreed to share her wisdom with all of us.

The heart of the matter. The Guardian reported back in 2015, that adopting to the circular economy lifestyle of refuse-reduce-reuse-upcycle-recycle-rot (a few more buzz words will be added soon, I’m sure) will reduce carbon emissions by 71 percent by the year 2030. This seems absolutely mind-blowing after a year of intense, sustained wildfires, horrific freeze-outs in warm weather states, and endless flooding up and down the East Coast. Seeing 71 percent cut in carbon emissions in black and white a few years ago, published on a highly regarded news site, stopped me in my tracks and inspired me to jump into this new world. 

How do we all transition to a sustainable life? Pamela Scaiff shares her notes so we can follow along the same simple and easy trail of transformation.

PAMELA SCAIFF: Somewhere along the way, I transitioned from Eco Warrior to just me getting on with life and loving it. I have spent the last 35 years transitioning to sustainable living… a fancy phrase that means that my family and I have been developing habits that have reduced our contribution to pollution.  

Cleaning windows with paper towels to using rags and newspapers.

Blowing my nose with paper tissues to using handkerchiefs.

Drying my clothes in the dryer to hanging them up to dry.

Cleaning with a variety of chemicals to cleaning with vinegar, baking soda, and murphy’s oil.

What climate change project are you involved with? We hope you’ll be part of ours! We’re growing a forest in North Dakota. CLICK to find out the awesome details and find out how to become a sponsor.

Buying food to growing some of it.

Not noticing packaging to reducing the packaging I buy.

Buying plastic bags to using reusable bags.

Buying plastic reusable bags to buying natural fibre reusable bags.

Pulling weeds to cultivating them.

Putting out a full bin of recycling garbage to celebrating when there was nothing to put out!

Using disposable menstrual products to discovering the joy of the Diva cup… and then hitting menopause!

Buying strawberries all year long to enjoying them seasonally. 

Housing a food morgue, otherwise known as my freezer, to managing the contents so they got used.

Combing through malls to abandoning them for the consignment and second hand shops so I could get better clothes!

Buying stuff to sharing stuff.

Buying stuff to trading stuff.

Buying food wrapped in plastic to making the bread, yogourt, and cottage cheese from scratch just to avoid the garbage. 

Wrapping gifts in gift paper to presenting them in pretty scarves. 

Buying gifts of stuff to giving experiences. 

Using my dollars for products that were designed for the dump to participating in the closed loop economy.

Drinking coffee in a disposable cup to bringing my own cup to the coffee shop.

Loving a huge mug of tea to savouring a small cup of a fine brew.

Buying Easter chocolate rabbits to making them — to reduce the impact on the environment. 

Thinking about buying disposable diapers to choosing cloth instead.

Tripping over too many plastic bottles in the shower to eliminating plastic in the shower.

Hating garbage day to celebrating it.

Dealing with kids who were anxious about the future to watching kids embrace transition to sustainable living.

Composting in my garden to vermicomposting in the house.

Buying all my plants at a garden centre to sourcing them from a variety of people… and seeds.

Looking at my black thumb to wondering how it became green. 

But the biggest transition was realizing that each little thing I changed along this journey of 35 years, eventually faded into the background and just became a habit that I no longer think about. Each little habit took effort and mindfulness and commitment at first.  Then, without me noticing, there was no excitement or discipline to continue.  I just do things differently because I have been doing them for years, now. Not every transition has been sustained or successful.  However, most have!  My most important take-away is that perfection is not the goal.  Everyone transitions differently. 

My family embraced transition, but one day I was told:  Mum, if you dare transition away from toilet paper, you will have gone too far.  (Secretly this is a plan for the future, but for now, don’t tell them.)

Remember learning to ride a bike?  Do you remember how much you wanted to do it but you fell off and got lots of bruises? And how about the adrenalin of pedalling like a maniac and not falling off for the first time?  Oh, and hopping on the bike to go to school or go see friends because it was easier than walking?  At some point, riding a bike just became something you did naturally.  

Transitioning to sustainable living is like learning to ride a bike — it takes work and boy is the adrenalin rush fun!  Eventually, each little habit will feel as natural as riding a bike. 

Thank you, Pamela! That was excellent. We look forward to learning more of your secrets so we can Build Back Better and reach the targeted 71 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2030. 

Next Steps

  • Pick one or two easy daily habits to begin with to build your confidence in how easy sustainable living is.
  • Refusing paper towels is one of the suer quick transitions. You can save a lot of money. One roll of bamboo lasts a year.
  • Saving kitchen scraps in compost bins is also a simple way to become an overachiever and feel great about sustainable life.
  • Gifts wrapped in scarfs is another basic that saves so much money, you feel incentivized to transition quickly.
  • Be sure to pass along Pamela’s tips to your neighborhood friends. When you’re surrounded by others doing the same thing, it creates positive, forceful energy that gets you from point A to B that much faster.

Be sure to check back each Thursday for more on how to Build Back Better with sustainable living.

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Bigger Than a Texas-sized Mess: Can the EPA Recover From Trump?

Washington (GGM) Analysis | February 18, 2021 by Attorney Michael WellsPodcast– Legal Fact and Fiction

Every American realizes, or should realize, Trump made every effort to destroy the environment during his infamous term as president. From Scott Pruitt, the first Administrator  of the EPA under Trump, who called withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord, “courageous,” to Andrew Wheeler, second Administrator  of the EPA and former coal lobbyist, both wrought so much damage to the environment that the majority of new Administrator Michael Regan’s job will be cleaning up the damage done by the previous administration. In short, the Biden Administration’s priorities will be addressing massive pollution issues, working on climate change, and handling environmental justice issues.

Heart of the Matter. We need look no further than Texas to see the damage caused by climate change where millions are without power in frigid temperatures that have killed people. But this is just the most recent and obvious example. Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, cut regulations for polluters, allowed a myriad of environmental injustices to be perpetrated, and, as a result, created so many problems that the majority of the Biden Administration’s time will be assessing what happened and how to fix it.

Gallant Gold Media is planting a forest in North Dakota to remember those we lost to covid, thanks to the generosity of ranch owner Byron Richard. Join us in GreeningUp to help US hit our Paris Agreement targets. CLICK to see details.

How does this impact you personally? If you breathe air, drink water, eat food, like heat and air conditioning, and do not want to die of being poisoned through pollution, you should care a great deal about the EPA’s agenda.

In reality, the EPA and what it does (or did not do under Trump) affects you, especially if you want to prevent another Flynt, Michigan, North Carolina coal ash, or Texas blizzard and blackout.

Biden’s climate change agenda is considered the most ambitious in U.S. history because he aims to make the country’s electricity carbon free by 2035. In other words, America will not be reliant on fossil fuels that damage the environment and contribute to climate change thereby driving absurd climate events such as Texas. Certainly, not renewing the Keystone Pipeline lease and dismantling the pipeline itself will help this.

Biden also created a White House climate advisory team that includes former Secretary of State, John Kerry, and former EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy.

The remedial work required under the new EPA is extensive. Under Trump, the EPA rolled back regulations such as the Obama-era Clean Water Act and Clean Water Rule as well as started dismantling portions of the Clean Power Plan, which aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by power plants.

 The EPA launched 30 percent fewer cases and levied 60 percent less in fines that under the Obama EPA, and it stayed quiet about polluters that failed to meet the agency’s standards. Pollution became worse; infrastructure crumbled; and climate change got a shot in the arm.

What can you do about this? People often wonder what one person can do when the problems feel so large, much bigger than one person. But these problems did not happen by themselves. Human behavior caused them. For example, Scott Pruitt, who was later asked to leave his position for rampant corruption, claimed the EPA was a “bastion of liberals.” This type of corrosive mindset infects many people, and it drives bad behavior and microaggressions such as littering that cumulatively have a massive impact on the environment.

People can modify their small, simple every day behavior, and it will make a difference, especially when the majority do it.

Embracing science makes a huge difference, too, because the science surrounding climate change is irrefutable and necessary.

Next Steps

  • Modify your behavior by recycling or using a bamboo toothbrush for example;
  • Learn about the science behind climate change; 
  • Speak up and educate others;
  • Call your elected officials because they listen.

President Biden cannot do it on his own. The sooner everyone buys into the agenda, the better off America and the world will be.

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From Raging Wildfires to Habitat Restoration | Soil Health

Washington (GGM) Analysis | February 14, 2021 by Catherine Zacuto M. Ed.

Wildfires are unpredictable, destructive, and, in recent times, more common. Among their many victims is the soil. Soil forms the foundation of our food chain, and so is of primary importance. Cristina Santin and Stefan H. Doerr conjure up a graphic image for us: Soil is the “living, breathing skin of the Earth.” It’s an image to keep in mind when considering how the land recovers from a fire.

What’s the heart of the matter? According to Santin and Doerr, fires affect soil in different ways, depending primarily on the temperature of the fire. At lower temperatures, fire reduces the microbial biomass that releases carbon dioxide and plant nutrients into the soil. It destroys seed banks and fine roots. At higher temperatures, the chemicals in the soil, like the pH, change. This impacts the stability of the soil and its ability to absorb water. All of these lead to the increased likelihood of soil erosion.

What climate change project are you involved with? We hope you’ll be part of ours! We’re growing a forest in North Dakota so we can improve the land, and rebuild the habitat that supports wildlife all while storing more carbon. CLICK to find out the awesome details.

As often happens, a storm comes on the heels of a fire, dramatically increasing the danger of mudslides and debris flows. Even months after the fire, burn-scarred areas are threatened. Big Sur, experienced this recently as a portion of scenic Highway 1 near a burn-scar was washed out after a torrential rainstorm. While there are some benefits to natural soil erosion (adding essential nutrients to streams and rivers) with the advent of climate change and its extreme weather events, soil erosion has become a problem. Crops suffer as the nutrient-rich topsoil gets washed away, leaving exposed bare mineral soil that water cannot penetrate. This means less carbon for plants and less carbon stored. Fires also create the opportunity for aggressive invasive species to take root, harming native plants and causing soil damage.

How does this impact you? This issue affects our farmers more than any other population, and thus our food supply. The fields that grow our food are essential to our survival. Additionally, millions of tons of stored soil carbon are released during a wildfire. We simultaneously lose billions of trees that store carbon, creating a devastating long term effect. The path to restoring both the soil and the trees begins with soil health recovery. We need to take immediate action to prevent excessive soil erosion resulting from raging wildfires and devastating storms. Many universities and governmental agencies have joined in the effort, conducting research, reestablishing habitats, and keeping the public informed. But restoring the soil takes time, maybe even years. Throughout history, maintaining our food supply has been paramount. In modern times, we must also work to protect our resources. Restoring natural habitats strengthens the soil, allowing it to absorb and store carbon, a critical step toward meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

What can you do to help? If you’ve been affected by fires and soil erosion, there are a multitude of resources available to help you recover and restore your environment, a few are listed below. Fortunately, revegetation may occur naturally after the fire. However, it is important to protect the soil as quickly as possible after a wildfire. The Forest Service has a few tips:

  • Mulch to establish ground cover to reduce the risk of soil erosion.
  • Build back the soil structure by reseeding native grasses to hold the soil in place and add nutrients and carbon back into the soil. 
  • Create barriers with straw wattles, sandbags, silt fences, or straw bale check dams to prevent further erosion.
  • Introduce red wigglers, our eco-system engineers, to help expedite the timeline for soil recovery.
  • Avoid introducing non-native species which damage the soil and harm native plants.

Continued vigilance is required to prevent aggressive invasive species from taking over after a fire. According to the National Forest Foundation, they will continue to be a threat until native plants, trees, and shrubs are established.


Next Steps

  • Take preventative steps to protect your soil from eroding.
  • Add groundcover to secure and improve the soil.
  • Plant diverse native species of plants, trees, and shrubs.
  • Work with local organizations to add native trees, plants and shrubs to public spaces.
  • Pay attention to changes being made in your area, and make your voice heard.
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Don’t Drink Poisonous Water | The Shocking Hack

Washington (GGM) Analysis | February 12, 2020 by Attorney Michael WellsPodcast– Legal Fact and Fiction

Drinking poisonous water leads to cancer and other things that will kill you. Everyone knows that, but what if you do not know you are drinking water contaminated with poison? Surely such a thing cannot happen. Laws and regulations exist, and the government protects people. Unless the government knew about the poisonous water and covered it up for decades. If you doubt this, then ask the possibly one-million people who drank the poisonous water surrounding the Camp LeJeune superfund site. Or at least you can ask the ones who were not killed.

Heart of the Matter. The Camp LeJeune superfund site is the worst water contamination site in United States history, and it has poisoned an estimated one million people. While water contamination cases become rather wonky with many jargony terms thrown around, from the 1950s through at least 1985, the water in and surrounding Camp LeJune tested between 240 and 3,400 times over what is permitted by safety standards. In fact, a 1980 handwritten report that showed the water was heavily contaminated was sent to Marine command at the base. They ignored it. 

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From that flowed a comedy of errors, lies, and conveniently omitted facts. For example, a 1984 report found the contamination rate to be 38 per billion, but it was really 380 parts per billion. Apparently, zeroes do not matter to the government when it suits them. While there were a dizzying number of chemicals involved, benzyne, one of the worst, which causes myeloid leukemia, was omitted altogether from a 1994 report. Quite frankly, the matter was not fully addressed legislatively until President Obama signed a 2012 law that allowed victims of the poisoning to recover their medical expenses. A federal court previously blocked many of the cases as barred by the statute of limitations, and it also halted the North Carolina General Assembly’s effort to extend the statute of limitations. 

How does this impact you personally? What if you live somewhere else far away from North Carolina? Why should you care? Ever read the book A Civil Action or seen the movie? That was a water contamination case that occurred in Massachusetts decades ago where people were poisoned and died. In other words, it can happen to anyone because we all need water, which is vulnerable to pollution. 

Just look at the so-called “water hack” that occurred in Florida earlier this week where a hacker broke into economical (cheap) remote software used to manage the local water supply. This is still being sorted out, but it shows how vulnerable the water system is and how cheap infrastructure endangers everyone in the name of “fiscal responsibility.”

What can you do about this? Camp LeJeune’s water contamination rate of 380 parts per billion happened, but that does not mean it has to happen again. But it will continue to happen if people ignore the problem and stay ignorant. Read about the environment. Join groups dedicated to protecting the environment. Refuse to purchase products and services from businesses that do not use environmentally safe procedures and practices. Most importantly, vote for candidates who will help pass legislation that protects drinking water and the environment in general.

Next Steps

  • Read a book about water contamination (A Civil Action is a good one to start);
  • Learn about companies and nonprofits (especially those who advocate for planting trees) that are environmentally friendly;
  • Pay attention to stories and news about the environment; 
  • Only vote for people who value laws and regulations that protect the environment;
  • If something doesn’t look or taste right with your own tap water, report it to your town or county water facility immediately.

Water should not be poisonous, but some of it is. That does not mean, however, all water must be toxic. People can make a difference, and they must before it is too late.

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Big Sur Slide Signals Need for Immediate Action on Climate | Soil

Washington (GGM) Analysis | February 11, 2021 by Catherine Zacuto M. Ed.

Big Sur just lost a section of its famous coast-hugging highway, and it’s not the first time. The super-scenic roadway boasts magnificent views of giant Redwoods to the east and bluest of blue Pacific Ocean to the west. Drivers struggle to keep eyes on the road as the jaw-dropping views captivate their passengers. Being perilously close to the edge of the continent, though, has its dangers. Two recent catastrophic breaks in the road resulted in sections of the highway plunging into the Pacific, hundreds of yards below. Scientists and residents are finding connections between climate change and the damage done to their beloved two-lane road.

What’s the heart of the matter? The beginning of this story is the summer of 2020, when the Dolan Fire burned over 125,000 acres just east of Big Sur. Burn scars near the area can still be seen. Stripping the area of  forests, shrubs and ground cover, the fire left the area vulnerable to soil erosion. Add into the mix a fierce rainstorm which dropped 16 inches of rain in the area. The catastrophic destruction of a 150-foot section of  Highway 1, near Big Sur on January 28, 2021 was anticipated by officials. Acting out of caution and no doubt previous experience, Cal-Trans spokesperson Jim Shivers noted that 40 miles of the highway had already been closed in anticipation of mudslides near the burn scar.

What climate change project are you involved with? We hope you’ll be part of ours! We’re growing a forest in North Dakota so we can store more carbon. CLICK to find out the awesome details.

How does this impact you? We have cause for concern. A “slip-out,” the Los Angeles Times noted, happens when the soil surrounding the road is so full of water that the force of gravity wins and the road falls down the cliff. The “atmospheric river” that triggered this most recent slip-out was basically a moving column of water vapor that brought extraordinary amounts of rain to the coast. According to the Guardian, the amount of rain that dumped on the central coast last week was double the amount the area had, on average, all month. 

Place the massive rain event in a burn scarred area, as this one was, and the road had no chance. In burn areas, heavy rainfall causes debris flows that rip up vegetation, choke pipes, and chase people from their homes. There are long-term consequences, as well. Post-fire landslides are a danger for years after the fire. And according to the U.S. Geological Survey, debris flows that happen over a longer period of time result in root decay and loss of soil strength. The soil has little chance of recovery between weather emergencies. 

This recent Big Sur slip-out demonstrates the tragic but logical chain of events that resulted in the highway crashing into the sea:

  • massive wildfire 
  • dry landscape
  • ferocious rainstorm

In recent years Californians have seen more evidence of climate change. As high winds and dry vegetation become more common, firefighters can expect to be called into action in any season of the year. Aggravating the situation, some sources, such as Jay Lund writing in the “California WaterBlog,” predict a multi-year drought for the state in the near future. Any one of these events, by itself, poses serious threats. Taken together, they point to the need to act now.

What can you do to help? Climate change affects all of us. You’ve no doubt experienced surprisingly destructive wind, rain, tornadoes, or hurricanes. Snow storms in May. Rising water levels. We know the signs. With science back in fashion, one thing you can do is advocate for change. Stay informed about legislation you can support at the local, state and national levels. Communicate your support for climate change policies. And, as always, remain committed to making a difference by living and modeling a sustainable lifestyle.


Next Steps

  • If you live in a fire-prone area, remove dry brush that fuels fire 
  • Foster lush native trees, plants, and undercover to anchor the soil 
  • Connect with neighbors and friends about ways to slow climate change
  • Volunteer with a local organization working for change
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No-Till Farming Will Help Save the Planet

Washington (GGM) Analysis | February 10, 2021 by Catherine Zacuto M. Ed.

What can be done about climate change? A lot! Many of us are busy making significant changes in our everyday habits to become more sustainable and lower our carbon footprints. However, there are a few tricks that have yet to be applied on a grand scale, and now’s the time. If you compost, you are part of a growing wave of people concerned about soil health. Because soil stores a significant amount of carbon, keeping it there is vital in the fight against climate change. This is especially significant in agriculture, with its vast acreage. Soil, not to be confused with dirt, is an ecosystem in itself, with millions of microbes and insects which are responsible for plant growth. Maintaining a natural, undisturbed  balance in the soil’s ecosystem leads to a higher level of carbon storage as well as strong, healthy crops. “No-till” farms help make this happen. They are an arrow in our quiver of weapons to fight climate change.

What’s the heart of the matter? Tilling the soil began thousands of years ago, with the invention of the plow. While many iterations of the basic plow emerged over the centuries, the technique’s harmful consequences have only recently become common knowledge. Tilling the soil disrupts its natural covering, leaving it more susceptible to erosion by wind and water. It releases carbon into the air and kills the really important microbes and insects in the soil’s ecosystem. The good news is that no-till farming avoids these damaging outcomes. It’s a technique being used by conservationist farmers doing their part to cultivate healthy, carbon-rich soil.

What climate change project are you involved with? We hope you’ll be part of ours! We’re growing a forest in North Dakota so we can be part of the solution for storing that much more carbon to help meet the US Paris Agreement targets. CLICK to find out the awesome details.

Great civilizations such as Greece and China suffered the consequences of soil erosion due to poor soil cultivation. In ancient Greece, it has been found that soil erosion increased dangerously only after the introduction of the plow. In ancient China, it was deforestation that led to the flooding of vast swaths of land and tragic consequences for towns and villages. Time and again, despite attempts to curb soil erosion by terracing and contour plowing, societies’ destructive practices slowed or stopped crop production. Societies were weakened and left vulnerable to invasions. Growing populations were forced to migrate to new lands. Civilizations collapsed, directly or indirectly, from poor soil management

The human impact on soil has a long, destructive history, and not much has changed. In recent history, an entire industry developed around artificially improving depleted soil. Using a variety of chemicals on soil across the agricultural fields of the U.S. and beyond “led to an unprecedented increase in food production, but also contributed to global warming and the pollution of aquifers, rivers, lakes, and coastal ecosystems.” And so, the rise of the no-till movement.

How does no-till farming help you? It’s clear that not plowing the soil has impressive advantages for the health of our planet. In addition, no-till farming practices benefit the farmer as well. No-till farms:

  • leave stored carbon in place, where it can do its job in the soil ecosystem.
  • take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere naturally, without harming land and water resources.
  • preserve the soil cover, allowing water to permeate the soil and reducing erosion. 
  • diminish the amount of pollution streaming into nearby rivers and lakes because of improved absorption.
  • create a healthy soil ecosystem that grows stronger over time to produce healthy crops and prevent disease.
  • decrease the need to irrigate because water evaporates more slowly from an untilled field.

What can you do to help keep carbon in the soil? In the past 300 years, we’ve degraded our soil by 50%. Something must be done to reverse the trend. While no-till farming practices will not solve all of our climate issues, they can make a difference. For farmers with lots of acres or just one, consider making the change to no-till farming. Check out the resources to learn more. (Some are listed below.)  You might not be a farmer, so what can you do? Educate yourself further about no-till farming practices. Be an expert who influences others; engaging in conversations is the beginning of change! Locate and support local farmers who practice no-till farming, and share the contact information with your neighbors. In the meantime, continue your day-to-day sustainability practices like composting, recycling, and upcycling. We are all in this together, and it will take all of us to make a positive change.

Next Steps

  • Learn more about no-till farming practices.
  • Support your local no-till farm.
  • Use no-till practices in your yard.
  • Reduce your carbon emissions by walking or biking.

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IKEA | A Leader in Sustainability

Washington (GGM) Analysis | February 5, 2021 by Catherine Zacuto M. Ed.

Saving a forest is big news these days, and just what we need to energize us. Each day, we practice sustainable living – reusing, reducing, recycling, upcycling. Every bit helps ward off climate change. So when IKEA buys a gigantic forest, saving it from development, and promises to manage it sustainably, we have reason to celebrate. We have a partner that values the science behind climate change and is willing to invest in the future. IKEA’s recent purchase of 10,680 acres of Georgia forest, and its commitment to maintain it responsibly, lend hope to all the eco-warriors out there fighting the good fight.

What it’s all about?

The Altahama River Basin, home to IKEA’s new forest, holds the largest free-flowing river on the East Coast, according to the Georgia River Network. IKEA’s purchase secures the future of a native longleaf pine forest and the threatened gopher tortoise. Once covering 90 million acres, the longleaf pine forest has been diminished to a mere 4% of its original size, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Development and agriculture are two of the reasons for the decline. The Ingka Group, IKEA’s parent company, bought the 10,680 acre forest from the Conservation Fund, which is famous for buying and protecting large swaths of working forests. (So far, the non-profit has saved more than eight million acres of land in the U.S.) The land purchased by IKEA is subject to the Conservation Fund guidelines that preserve and protect the land. According to the agreement, IKEA promised to 

  • keep the land intact (no selling off parcels for development).
  • restore and preserve native species (like the longleaf pine and the gopher tortoise).
  • grant public access to the land for hiking.
What climate change project are you involved with? We hope you’ll be part of ours! We’re growing a forest in North Dakota so we can be part of the solution for storing that much more carbon to help meet the US Paris Agreement targets. CLICK to find out the awesome details.

Why is this significant?

Buying forests isn’t new for IKEA. It’s built into their Swedish DNA: more than half of Sweden is covered in forests. Ingka Group owns roughly 613,000 acres of forest in Europe and the U.S., including Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma, and Georgia. It makes sense – right? . . . a furniture company investing in a resource vital to its economic success. What makes this different is that while IKEA plans to use sustainably-sourced wood from the forest, it has vowed to do so responsibly. The company is legally bound to manage the land according to strict, eco-friendly guidelines, but it’s also part of their long term business plan. Striving to be a sustainability leader in the world, IKEA set a goal to be “climate positive” by 2030. They are actively pursuing this goal by switching to electric delivery vehicles and building a circular economy in which used furniture is returned for repair and reuse. The values espoused by the Ingka Group (found on its website) support their mission:

  • Togetherness
  • Caring for people and planet
  • Cost consciousness
  • Simplicity
  • Renew and improve
  • Different with a meaning
  • Give and take responsibility
  • Lead by example

IKEA’s commitment to environmental leadership sets a standard for corporations worldwide. Its care for the forest and surrounding habitat, together with its savvy business plan, make IKEA a model for other companies. Working together with organizations such as the Conservancy Fund, companies large and small can follow the path IKEA has ventured out on.

The planet is the ultimate beneficiary. The forest will continue to thrive as a natural habitat for the longleaf pine, the gopher tortoise, and the more than 350 plant and wildlife species that live there. Hikers and naturalists will breathe in the fresh scent of the pine trees and try to spot a gopher tortoise. In the long run, all of us benefit as the forest works its magic to mitigate climate change. 

What else can we do?

Having a big, impressive leader doesn’t let us off the hook. Every person can contribute to the fight against climate change. Knowing there are companies like IKEA working for change, we might be motivated to add our voices to the mix. Being knowledgeable about climate issues and active in the local community, each of us can make a difference. 

Next Steps

  • Support companies working toward sustainability
  • Up your game on reducing, reusing, recycling and upcycling
  • Stay informed about positive changes being made in your area
  • Join one of the many organizations that are planting trees and promoting sustainability
  • Share the news with friends and neighbors!

Resources:

DiFurio, Dom, “Why is IKEA buying up thousands of acres of forestland in East Texas?” The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com/business/retail/2019/11/22/why-is-ikea-buying-up-thousands-of-acres-of-forestland-in-east-texas/, 11/22/19.

Elassar, Alaa, “Ikea bought 11,000 acres of forest in Georgia to protect it from development.” CNN,

https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/31/us/ikea-forest-georgia-protect-trnd-scn/index.html

01/31/21

Ingka Group, https://www.ingka.com/

Georgia River Network, https://garivers.org/altamaha-river/, 2018.

Hirsch, Sophie, “IKEA Just Bought – and Will Protect – an 11,000 Acre Georgia Forest.” Greenmatters. https://www.greenmatters.com/p/ikea-georgia-forest. 1/27/21.

Peters, Adele, “Why IKEA just bought an 11,000 acre forest in Georgia.” Fast Company, https://www.fastcompany.com/90594218/why-ikea-just-bought-an-11000-acre-forest-in-georgia?partner=rss&utm_source=rss&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=rss+fastcompany&utm_content=rss?cid=search. 01/14/21.

Rosane, Olivia, “IKEA Parent Company Buys Georgia Forest With Pledges to Manage It Sustainably.” EcoWatch, https://www.ecowatch.com/ikea-georgia-forest-2650169769.html, 1/28/21.

Soderpalm, Helena. “IKEA Stores Owner Ingka Buys 10,840 Acres of U.S. Forest Land.” Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ikea-georgia-forest/ikea-stores-owner-ingka-buys-10840-acres-of-u-s-forest-land-idUSKBN29J1NR, 01/14/2021.

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Bruce, My Pet Worm | Build Back Better

Washington (GGM) Analysis | February 3, 2021 by Catherine Zacuto, M. Ed.; source expert contributions from Pamela Scaiff 

Some people fall easily into the “dog people” category, some into the “cat people” one. If you are not either of those, you may be a “worm person.” Even if you love dogs and cats, you might be surprised to discover the advantages of worms for your lifestyle and your garden. Though not cuddly, worms make great pets. They don’t smell, they are clean, and they don’t have to be fed every day (or even every week). Worms don’t disturb the neighbours. They have a symbiotic relationship with insects. Worms don’t need pet sitters when you go away for a month. Even if you don’t need a new pet, the advantages of worms are worth investigating.

Friend or Slimy Bug? 

According to Pamela Scaiff, a Canadian sustainability expert, worms are both the perfect pets and partners in growing an eco-friendly garden. Pamela, who’s been living a sustainable life since 2010, recognizes the value and fun of raising worms. (She calls her worms Bruce, after the “Monty Python” philosophers sketch where all the professors are called Bruce.) Worms are a natural way to fertilize plants and aerate the soil without harming the ecosystem. Because living sustainably, in harmony with nature, is our goal, worms are the way to go. 

What climate change project are you involved with? We hope you’ll be part of ours! We’re growing a forest in North Dakota. CLICK to find out the awesome details.

What are the benefits of worms?

The principle advantage of worms is the natural fertilizer created by worm castings. Pamela calls this “the uppity word for worm poop.” This “black gold” yields nutrients that create strong and healthy plants and provides a viable alternative to harmful chemicals. At the same time, worms aerate the soil, allowing the roots of your plants to easily absorb the nutrients necessary for healthy growth. A secondary advantage, according to Pamela, is that worms are fascinating. From starting the bin, to adding the worms, to harvesting the casings, the journey is engaging and fruitful. 

Check out worms’ other benefits:

  • Increased soil nutrition from worm castings rich in nitrogen and adding four times the phosphorous that’s normally found in soil
  • Improved drainage and water storage, helping  alleviate drought and extreme heat conditions
  • Water infiltrates the soil more easily
  • Plant roots often descend lower and reach more water and nutrients
  • Improved soil structure
  • Improved productivity

How can I get started? Following simple guidelines will help you create and maintain healthy worm bins. Pamela began with a very small collection of Red Wiggler worms and worm cocoons and has had great success. She created an expert list of steps to get you started:

Location. First, decide where you are going to keep the bin – indoors or out. If you live in a cold environment, indoors is best. (Be selective about what you add to it, though, to avoid odors.)

The Container. Get a ratty old Rubbermaid tote — not the big kind, but the smaller one. Red Wigglers are surface dwellers, which means they are happiest just below the surface, not down deep. Drill air and drainage holes all over the tote, including the lid. (Pamela’s worms don’t escape because they don’t like light and also her bin is not toxic – so far). 

The Habitat Ingredients. Pamela recommends the following generally agreed upon ingredients for your bin:  

Browns: To keep your bin balanced, absorb liquid, and cool, you need bedding (carbon). Pamela uses shredded newspaper, egg cartons, coconut coir, manure, and more.

Greens: Add food scraps (they don’t have to be green). But be mindful about what you use. Brassicas like broccoli and kale cause odors. Acidic food such as onions and citrus upset the worms. 

Grit: Grit helps worms digest. Some (but not all) possibilities include sand, used coffee grounds (no longer acidic), and ground eggshells (they can’t use the shells otherwise.)

Water: Pamela advises, “Goldilocks style: too much and the bin goes anaerobic, starts to smell, and all kinds of bugs flourish. Not enough and your worm castings dry out and become useless.”

Compost: Add a handful of compost to inject helpful bacteria into your bin and get it working.

Worms: Many different varieties of worms will work. Pamela prefers red wigglers. Earthworms are an option, but they are not as productive as the red wigglers. They also escape more often.

Feeding your Worms

Pamela feeds her worms 2 – 4 times a month, and only when there is no food or almost no food left. You may need to adjust the time period as your worms grow. Be careful not to overfeed them, or it will be too much to process before it gets smelly or hot.

Here is Pamela’s formula, in her own words: 

Bedding: I rip up newspaper and egg cartons.

Greens:  Apparently, the worms love avocados and bananas. So, I chop up banana peels, gleefully much the brown bits of avocados… and freeze them. The freezing helps speed up the decomposition by breaking membranes. Only at this stage will the worms be able to eat them. I have added science experiments from the fridge.. mouldy berries, for example, but nothing cooked and no meat. 

Grit:  I mix into the food a handful of used coffee grounds and ground egg shells. I got an old coffee grinder off my local buy nothing group, so I grind shells as I collect them. 

Water:  This took me some time to figure out – how to feel the right amount of water. But the next day, I lift the lid.  If I suddenly see lots of white bugs or worms climbing the sides, I keep the lid off and let it air out. I often have a large piece of paper over the castings. 

More Worm Wisdom 

To fluff or not to fluff – there is some debate. Pamela fluffs her bin about once a month. Not only because it is fun, but also because it allows her to see if the bin is too wet or too dry and to check for uneaten food and changes in the population. 

Don’t worry about the worms overpopulating. According to Pamela, worms self-regulate. They stop reproducing if there are too many of them, if it’s too dry or too wet, or if there is not enough food. If the conditions are right, they can double their population in 60 days. 

You might notice other bugs in your bin. Don’t overthink this! A healthy bin is an entire ecosystem. Pamela explains, “The worms need other bugs that are also decomposers to start the process. Basically, the other bugs and bacteria are food processors for worms.” Pamela was vigilant in identifying the bugs, so as to avoid a bug problem in the house, but, in the end, they were all so happy that they got to stay!

You may wonder how to harvest the castings without losing the worms. Pamela has two suggestions: Feed only one side of the bin for a month; the worms will all migrate to that side. Alternatively, put a basket in the middle and only place the food there; the worms will hang out with the food while you gather the castings. Be careful! Castings and cocoons look remarkably alike.

Next Steps

  • Have fun setting up your bin.
  • Buy, find, or trade for worms.
  • Dump the worms on top of the habitat and watch them immediately start burrowing.  
  • Watch your worms grow.
  • Harvest the “black gold” add to your plants – indoors or outside.
  • Share extra worms with like minded gardeners.
  • Read up on how to shrink your carbon footprint

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Build Back Better | Elevated Beds for Higher Productivity and Nutrient Dense Food!

Washington (GGM) Analysis | February 2, 2021 by Catherine Zacuto, M. Ed.; source expert contributions from Stephen Santangelo

Sustainable farming methods form one of many paths toward reversing climate change. Through informed decision-making and perseverance, every person can increase their sustainability factor and make a positive change for the planet. Shrinking our collective carbon footprint begins with each individual making conscious choices to achieve balance and harmony with the planet. Elevated beds for growing fruits and vegetables is one step in this direction.

Why Elevated Beds?

According to sustainability expert Stephen Santangelo, there are vast benefits to this type of farming. Stephen relies on science-based resources to inform his decisions as he creates rich, healthy soil that increases the nutrients in his crops and adds beneficial carbon to nature. These advantages might spur you on to switch to elevated bed farming, especially if you are growing food for family sustainability rather than monoculture development.

According to Stephen, advantages include:

  • pH balancing
  • Promoting beneficial bacteria & fungi for rapid microbiotic growth
  • Balancing minerals
  • Developing plant hormones & enzymes
  • Cover crop specificity
  • Mulching for nitrogen/carbon ratio
What climate change project are you involved with? We hope you’ll be part of ours! We’re growing a forest in North Dakota. CLICK to find out the awesome details.

Wondering where to start?

The research Stephen has conducted and his experience are valuable to those who want to follow his lead into the world of raised bed farming. When Stephen and his wife, Lori, began farming as a lifestyle choice, like most of us, they planted straight into the ground. They soon discovered that the clay earth and slate in the soil was not favorable for producing a wide variety of crops or providing high nutritional values. Stephen explains that clay locks up many of the needed minerals essential for productive crops. This interferes with beneficial bacteria and fungi from doing their jobs. 

In raised bed gardens, you can solve this problem by using healthy soil. Stephen explains, “In just one gram of the best garden soil are millions of living and vibrant organisms all creating a balanced micro-cosmos.” The microbes metabolize nutrients which are then carried to the roots and fed to the fruit. If the soil contains clay and slate, water can’t be absorbed, which causes root foods to rot. Having lots of healthy microbes helps aerate the soil, fight disease, and gets rid of the need to till the soil.

Mineral balance is critical to the success of your raised bed garden. Stephen and Lori found that the soil in their geographical location lacks selenium and magnesium, both of which are needed for proper growth of plants. This creates problems for other minerals. The minerals work together to grow healthy crops. Elevated beds make it easier to achieve just the right balance of minerals. There are a range of mineral tests available for purchase. Decide if you need to know all of the minerals or just the most common ones. 

pH balancing is another consideration. One of the benefits of elevated beds is that you can control the pH balance of each crop. Balancing the pH is critical to plant growth and it is also good for the soil. Stephen says it beautifully. “Soil is a living world of many intricate life forms to sustain numerous living organisms.” You can buy inexpensive pH tests to do yourself or find local resources such as agricultural extension offices or colleges. 

Disease and weed control are also important factors to consider with elevated beds. Stephen warns that factors such as high humidity, rain, and extreme temperature changes increase the chances of disease. One important weapon to fight disease is having the right balance of minerals and pH. Secondly, Stephen recommends placing elevated beds far enough apart to prevent harmful bacteria and fungi from hopping from one bed to another. As organic farmers, Stephen and Lori, do not use chemicals to thwart harmful agents. Not only do chemicals kill the harmful agents, they destroy the helpful ones, as well. Organic farming practices preserve the soil and contribute to the overall health of the crops and the planet.

What difference will you make?

Your choice to engage in sustainable farming practices is a gigantic step towards shrinking your carbon footprint. Stephen and Lori have become 97-98% food sustainable through developing an awareness of soil fertility. They have set the example for us! Stephen’s insight on soil health is the foundation of sound, productive agriculture that we can all practice. A healthy global ecosystem in which thoughtful agriculture and land-use practices cool the planet, are all part of what even a single family can achieve. Using science-based research and time tested practices, we can move toward a more earth-friendly and productive approach to farming. In Stephen’s words, “Dedication and a sincere approach to farming are factors which encourage biological diversity, creating a living ecosystem for our flora and fauna to flourish in harmony.” 

Next Steps

Balance and harmony are themes that resonate throughout the sustainable farming process. With this in mind, consider how you can add balance to your life by living even more sustainably:

  • Create a raised bed garden to begin producing your own food
  • Reduce waste by creating compost from your kitchen scraps and add it to your raised bed garden
  • Access scientific research (via text resources or podcasts) to increase your understanding and awareness of our carbon footprint
  • Share your sustainable farming practices with friends

Be sure to check back for the next Sustainable Living Build Back Better Guide with Stephen Santangelo and other sustainability experts.

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