New EWG Healthy Home Tips for Parents a Great Tool; But It Could (and Should) Be Even Greater

latinofamilyoutsideThe Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an organization that has been at the forefront of helping protect public health and the environment. Part of their focus is to help parents protect their kids from environmental toxins, contaminants and other nasties, and to provide information and resources so that parents can make healthier choices for their little ones. Their pages for parents include tips, resources, research reports, calculators and other useful tools, and EWG also works to promote legislation (such as the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act) and to encourage citizen activism (such as insisting that the EPA reduce Americans’ exposure to rocket fuel in their water). I find them to be a valuable resource, and I often refer people to their cosmetics safety database.

Recently they’ve come out with a 1-sheet “Healthy Home Tips for Parents,” (PDF) a downloadable guide to “the most important steps you can take at home to promote your family’s environmental health.”

The list includes suggestions such as:

  • Choose better body care products.
  • Go organic & eat fresh foods.
  • Pick plastics carefully.
  • Use greener cleaners & avoid pesticides.

And you can sign up for their e-newsletter to receive more detailed tips about each item on the list.

I’m glad that EWG is promoting the positive steps for parents that they are, and they have some great suggestions, but I’m saddened and disappointed that they’re not going further. I know that change can be scary and inconvenient and confusing for some people, but when we’re talking about our children’s health and the health of our planet, I would think that EWG would offer larger measures, too. For example, in their tips, they suggest that parents “choose milk and meat without added growth hormones.” How about suggesting to parents that they not feed animals and their products to kids at all? Awareness about the environmental and health impacts of eating animals only continues to grow and evidence of the benefits of choosing a plant-based diet rather than eating animal foods only continues to strengthen.

One of their tips is to “Eat good fats.” Instead of recommending plant-based sources for omega-3 fatty acids, such as walnuts, flax seeds or flax seed oil, or certain types of seaweeds, (although they do mention that you can get omega-3s from “nuts, oils and produce”), they recommend choosing “low-mercury fish.” Low-mercury still has mercury in it.

They recommend using a HEPA-filter vacuum, but don’t suggest preventative strategies such as getting rid of carpets, which can be full of toxins and hold in all kinds of pollutants and allergens. They suggest that parents choose “snug-fitting cotton pajamas” for their kids, but don’t mention the enormous environmental impact of cotton production (such as the pesticide and water use). How about suggesting an alternative for parents such as shopping at thrift stores, so that they can find used pajamas for less cost and less environmental impact?

I realize that they’ll be providing more in-depth suggestions regarding each tip in their e-newsletters, but since many parents may only look at the single sheet tips, it’s important to include such essential information there.

EWG does some very valuable and credible work, and I’m glad they’re providing such important information to parents. I just wish that they – and many of the other non-profit groups working to make the world a better place – wouldn’t stop shy of suggesting broader and deeper actions that parents and citizens can take. Let’s offer parents and citizens a range of suggestions that shows them the ideal choices, as well as some easier stepping stones, so that they can make the best and most informed choices based on their current circumstances and willingness to enact change.

~ Marsha

Animal Visuals Offers Glimpse into Lives and Deaths of Farmed Animals

The principal at Whitwell Middle School in rural Tennessee knew that it was difficult for students to envision just how many 6 million is when they were studying the Holocaust (the number of people who were exterminated by the Nazis), so they decided to collect paperclips (one clip to represent one person) to help create a visual representation (see the documentary about the project it became).

Likewise, when we ask people to think about the number of land animals killed for food in the U.S. each year – more than 10 billion – the number alone can be a poor representative of the depth and breadth of suffering and death involved. Recently I found a powerful little visual representation of the number of chickens (9 billion), pigs (116 million) and cows (35 million) killed in the U.S. for food in 2008.

Created by Mark Middleton, founder of Animal Visuals, the brief video shows little animated cow, pig and chicken carcasses sliding along a slaughterhouse line at the average rate of slaughter (such as 287 per second for chickens). The data for the animation comes directly from the USDA.

When you sit and watch all those bodies swinging (and sometimes kicking) along the lines across your screen, and note the counter tallying up the number of cows, pigs and chickens who are being killed during those brief seconds that you’re watching, it’s a visceral image, without being too graphic, so it’s a great little too to share with others. (There’s also a link to “stop” the killing lines and find out about vegan resources.)

Middleton’s goal with Animal Visuals is to “provide compelling visuals and interactive media to empower animal advocates, educate the public, and expose the injustices of animal exploitation.”

He has also created a Virtual Battery Cage, which offers a glimpse into what a battery hen endures while in her cage. The “virtualization” also includes sound and factoids. Although I’m glad this tool exists, I don’t think it’s as strong as the slaughter animation; but, it’s still a new and different perspective.

Look for Middleton to create more such tools in the future.

Take Calculated Steps to Reduce Your Eco/Carbon/Water Footprints

Most of us pursuing a MOGO life pay attention to the impact of our choices on people, animals and the planet. We have some vague idea of our ecological footprint  — the amount of land, water and other resources it takes to support us, and the amount of waste that we generate. But, have you ever calculated your footprint? There are a slew of “eco” calculators, and of course, they can only give you a general idea of how your choices affect the environment and its inhabitants, but they’re still a helpful and fun tool that you can use yourself and share with others. Here are 4 popular ones that I’ve found:

~ Marsha

WebSpotlight: We’ve Got Time to Help

People are dealing with the economic downturn in a lot of ways. Some people who’ve been laid off are sitting at home playing video games on the computer much of every day, and others are making use of their free time and skills to help others. I recently found out about a group here in Portland (but I’ll bet there are others out there) called We’ve Got Time to Help. The group (as they say, “not affiliated with any group other than humanity”) is made up of doctors, roofers and others who are (mostly) unemployed and have extra time on their hands — which they’re using to identify and help people in need in the Portland metro community. Their blog serves as a waystation for posting about projects that need volunteers and tracking progress.  Some of their projects have included helping a family with plumbing and electrical repairs, moving furniture for a non-profit, building a fence, helping with a community garden, and helping a closing business clear out of their building.

If you’re looking for a way to help your community while making your heart sing, check them out.

There are plenty of people and organizations that need volunteer help. You can also look for opportunities at websites such as Volunteer Match, the HandsOn Network, and Idealist.

~ Marsha

WebSpotlight: Understanding Prejudice

As much as we want to believe otherwise, prejudice is still a significant element of society. And many of us who would claim to be completely unprejudiced have biases that we may not even be aware of.

The website UnderstandingPrejudice.org offers a wealth of information and resources for students, educators and others interested in exploring issues of prejudice and bias.

The website offers activities, links to websites, articles and other readings, as well as to relevant organizations and experts. I also like that they include an exploration of speciesism as an element of prejudice.

One of the most compelling and useful aspects of the website are the interactive surveys, quizzes and tours on topics such as “Test Yourself for Hidden Bias,” “What’s Your Native IQ?” and “Where Do You Draw the Line?” (Note that most of the interactive elements require you to first register, but doing so allows you to track your responses over time.)

It’s amazing what you can discover about yourself from these quizzes and surveys. Check out the site and improve your knowledge while decreasing (hopefully) your hidden biases.

~ Marsha

43 Ways to Stop Child Trafficking Globally and Locally

smilinggirlRecently I did a (late) post for Human Trafficking Awareness Day about resources (mainly videos) to help educate and empower us to help stop human trafficking.  Activist Diana Scimone, who has a blog and an organization focused on stopping child trafficking, left a comment, sharing about her work.

I visited her site and wanted to share with you that she has a great list: 43 Ways to Stop Child Trafficking on the left side of her blog. In addition to lots of suggestions (read, view, learn, organize, act), the list offers helpful and relevant resources.

The list includes:

I did the suggestion to use a web search engine to look for my city and phrases like “human trafficking” or “child trafficking” and discovered stories such as this recent one about Portland being a “hot market in the modern slave trade.” And, as I mentioned before, the City Club of Portland is sponsoring a series on Human Trafficking. Here are the next several topics/dates planned:

Thursday, February 26 – Dr. Kathryn Farr speaks about how wars promote human trafficking.
Thursday, March 26 – Local nonprofits share their experiences.
Wednesday, April 22 – Human Trafficking Task Force.
Thursday, May 28 – Dr. Bill Hillar speaks about global perspectives and how that effects local problems, and what we can do to help.

With 27 million slaves worldwide and tens of thousands being trafficked in the U.S., it can seem like an overwhelming and despairing task to stop the trafficking of humans, but there are at least 43 ways that you can start to make a positive difference.

~ Marsha

WebSpotlight: Oil Imports Map

Energy consumption and policy are on many minds, and while President Obama’s recent decision to allow states to determine auto emissions and fuel efficiency standards may eventually help decrease U.S. dependence in “foreign oil,” we still have an insatiable appetite for that fossil fuel.

Knowing about the history and patterns of our oil imports can help us shape our future choices. The Rocky Mountain Institute has created an Oil Imports Map, which shows “how much oil the U.S. has imported, from where, and how much we have spent every month since 1973.”

The map allows us to see from whom we’ve gotten our oil and how much we’ve spent, and it connects our imports to major events such as Hurricane Katrina and the oil crises of the 1970s. It also makes it possible to pay attention to the history of our foreign relationships and how that has affected oil imports.

It’s an interesting and useful tool that can help expand our knowledge and perspective of energy policy and of the impact of our own choices.

~ Marsha

h/t to Worldchanging.