Celebrating greener holidays can mean reducing the number of gifts you give, choosing instead to focus on relationships and the spiritual meaning attached to the holiday season. Still, many find great joy in sharing gifts with the children in their lives. Fortunately, there are many wonderful gift ideas guaranteed to bring a smile to a child’s face while supporting the giver’s commitment to a just and sustainable future at the same time. The following gift ideas are all from companies that are green, family-owned, or fair trade—or even all three!
(Live links to each of these toys are available underneath the slideshow. Use the pause and arrow buttons at the bottom of the slideshow to view at your own pace.)
Find each of the toys in the slideshow at these links:
YOXO Dragonfly Construction Kit at Peapods Natural Toys and Baby Care
Tree Owl Shadowbox at Baby Eco-Trends
In a decidedly disappointing mid-term election for the Green American constituency, there were still a few victories to feel good about. In a traditionally energy-friendly Texas town, residents spoke up over their concerns about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a controversial gas and oil extraction technique that has exploded in popularity throughout the US over the past decade. Texas is currently the nation’s largest oil and gas producer, and the political climate surrounding the issue is beginning to change.
The town of Denton, TX has over 270 active gas wells within its city limits. The population is 121,123, but the majority of the mineral wealth in the city does not belong to Denton residents. With the population set to almost double in the next twenty years, concerns over air and water quality, increased seismicity, and exposure to harmful chemicals have had local legislators seriously considering the benefits of gas production.
Considering that only 1% of the city’s property tax revenues come from natural gas development, and the city budget can attribute a paltry 1% to natural gas royalties, the city started to account for the implicit costs of fossil fuel development; degraded ecosystems, increased public health costs, and continued contribution to the CO2 emissions that the world is desperately trying to control. For the citizens of Denton, protecting their land, water, atmosphere, and families from the ill effects of energy production was a no-brainer.
Tuesday saw 58.64% of Denton voters raise their voices in opposition of continued fracking in their city. The passage of the measure represents the first ban on fracking in the entire state of Texas, widely recognized as one of the technology’s main champions. The gas industry is fully expected to contest the moratorium, but proponents of the measure, the Denton Drilling Awareness Group, are confident that the language in the ban will stand up in court.
While gas companies operating on the Barnett Shale in Denton have reason to be upset, the citizens have other ideas for the energy future of their city. Denton’s energy portfolio is comprised of 40% wind-generated electricity, and the town is committed to conserving resources and using their land in a sustainable manner. Green America salutes the citizens of Denton for taking a stand against a toxic, damaging, and unjust industry operating in their backyards. To learn more about fracking in Denton, visit http://frackfreedenton.com/.
Recently, Dan Watch and Electronics Watch released Winds of Change, a report which details the harsh working conditions of the electronics manufacturing sector, particularly the problems caused by occupational exposure to dangerous chemicals.
The report compiles all known cases of occupational illness among people who have worked at Samsung since 2006/2007. The total number of illnesses is likely much greater due to the fact that unlike work-related accidents, the symptoms of the illness will present over a long time span, making it difficult to pinpoint the specific time and place where the cause of health deterioration was encountered.
Victims of occupational illness in South Korea
- 289 South Korean workers in the semiconductor industry who were diagnosed with various forms of leukemia, multiple sclerosis and aplastic anemia.
- 233 of the cancer patients were employed at South Korean Samsung subsidiaries, while the other 56 worked at other electronics manufacturers.
- 119 have died.
- 98 of the workers who died have been employed at Samsung subsidiaries.
(Data collected by SHARPS)
In addition to these illnesses, workers have encountered reproductive problems. One worker profiled, MiYeon Kim, had difficulty getting pregnant and later got cancer and had to have an involuntary abortion because of cancer complications. Kim worked at a Samsung semiconductor plant for 15 years and 2 months.
The report also included the unfortunate, but not uncommon, story of sick employee from Shenzhen, China who was handling toxins without adequate protective equipment. (His suit and mask only protected the product, not the person.) This 21 year old was hospitalized for ten months after being exposed to n-hexane on the job for six to seven months. Within his workshop of 16 people, who made iPhone screen replacements, 5 were poisoned and hospitalized.
Winds of Change is the latest revelation of the severe health and safety risks effecting workers in the electronics manufacturing sector. Beyond health problems, it also sheds light on the the weak or absent ability for workers to organization in this sector.
Halloween is one of those holidays that most kids can’t wait for and most parents loathe due to the high amount of unhealthy sugary candy. Many of the go-to candy brands are also loaded with GE ingredients. This year, make the switch to non-GMO and healthier Halloween treats. The Non-GMO Project and Green Halloween’s Guide to a Non-GMO Halloween is an excellent resource, which details the most common GE ingredients such as sugar, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, and soybean oil along with many others. This post from Veritey covers the ingredients of many of the most popular Halloween treats and provides kid-approved alternatives. Additionally, the Natural Candy Store has a whole selection Non-GMO Project Verified snacks and candy.
Along with concerns over GMOs in your children’s candy, it is also important to be conscious of food allergies of your children and other trick-or-treaters. As GMOs have become more prevalent in our food system, so have the pesticides used to grow them. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a report on the link between a rise in pesticide use and childhood allergies. Many popular Halloween treats also have some of the most common allergens such as peanuts, dairy, soy and wheat. The Food Allergy Research & Education organization has started the teal pumpkin project. The project encourages homeowners to leave a teal-painted pumpkin on their porches to alert kids and parents that they have food-free treats. If you still want to give out an edible treat, make sure to separate those containing allergens from those that are allergen-free. Parents should be extra vigilante in checking labels during the holiday season due to the fact that increased production often means different allergen precautions for the mass produced mini versions of candies.
Besides indulging in loads of store-bought candy, make your own yummy treat. Caramel apples are a childhood favorite; there is just something about fruit wrapped up in a gooey substance that is guaranteed to get all over your face. While caramel is tasty, many brands are filled with additives and artificial colors and flavors. Here is a delicious recipe for a healthier version of caramel that can be used to dip apples.
Healthy Caramel Recipe by Stephanie Wong
* Use organic, non-GMO ingredients whenever possible.
• 1 cup organic full-fat coconut milk
• 1/8 teaspoon salt
• ½ cup organic coconut sugar (we like Nutiva)
• 2 tablespoons water
• 1 teaspoon organic pure vanilla extract
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
In a small pot over medium heat, mix coconut sugar, water, and lemon juice and bring to a boil.
Immediately add the coconut milk (pour slowly), sea salt, and vanilla. Simmer for about 15 minutes until the liquid becomes thick and dark. Be sure to stir occasionally and scrape the edges of the pot with a rubber spatula to avoid burning.
Remove from heat once it’s thick and cool down to room temperature. Yields 2/3 cups.
For best results, store it in a sealed jar in the refrigerator overnight before using it.
Use it for: caramel apples, popcorn, drizzling over frozen yogurt/ice cream, or add it to other baked goods.
Don’t forget: The consistency of the caramel looks and tastes best when you refrigerate it overnight before using it. And boy does it taste soooo darn good (with less calories, sugar, and excess).
Wisconsin utility WE Energies recently proposed a hike in electricity rates on consumers, singling out residents who have opted to generate their own electricity through solar panels. The extra charge on residents who sell their excess power back to the grid has incited outrage at local and national levels. The utility claims the charges will cover the operating costs to the grid for customers with solar panels who aren’t paying the traditional rates, but all of the evidence surrounding the proposal suggests that this plan is little more than a reactionary measure from a company whose business model is in serious trouble.
The proposal would raise the fixed charge on all residents’ power bills from $9 to $16 per month, and impose an additional fee for those who sell their excess electricity back to the utility through a policy known as “net metering.” A Wisconsin solar installer stated, “The demand charge of $3.80 per kilowatt (kW) per month works out to about $220 per year for a 5 kW system, a deterrent for potential solar customers and an unfair penalty for those who have already chosen to go solar.”
A spokesperson for WE Energies said the company is seeking modest increases for the purpose of improving and modernizing their grid and complying with environmental standards. The company believes that it is unfair for those who generate their own electricity to use the grid without paying the same portion of the costs to maintain it as those without rooftop panels. In addition to this “demand charge,” the utility wanted to purchase excess power back from generators at a lower price than they currently pay. Punishing customers for installing rooftop panels and generating more power than they use is a big step in the opposite direction of a clean-energy future.
Homes with rooftop solar panels compose only a fraction of a percent (<1%) of WE Energies’ customer base, yet all of its customers would bear the burden of the rate increases. This raises serious questions about the legitimacy of the utility’s claims that energy generated from solar is eating away at their operating budget. Currently, WE Energies’ customers pay the second highest rates in the state of Wisconsin. Prices have increased 51% since 2005, and the utility’s parent company is currently in the process of a multi-billion dollar acquisition of another Chicago-based company. The evidence presented suggests that the proposal is an attempt to squash the solar industry’s growth rather than a legitimate concern over the utility’s operating costs. A recent testimony by an analyst from the WI Public Service Commission asserted that the short-term sales risk to the utility as a result of rooftop solar power generation was low, and that the company should open a more general investigation into the effects of solar on prices before proceeding.
Though this proposal is not likely to pass, the effects of successful policies that shove out solar could be dramatic. A future where traditional utilities and fossil-fuel-generated electricity dominate the market will certainly lead to negative environmental outcomes, including increased air pollution and a higher risk of climate-change-related events. On a level that resonates with people from both political parties, the move represents an attempt to take away the freedom to choose how the electricity you use is produced. Utilities are quickly realizing that their monopoly on household electricity is in jeopardy. Solar power is gaining momentum at an amazing rate in the US, and even anti-renewable policies such as the one proposed in Wisconsin, as well as similar proposals in Utah and actual policies in Oklahoma will do little to reverse the tide. To learn more about solar power and how you can become involved in shaping the world’s electricity future, please visit http://www.greenamerica.org/programs/climate/cleanenergy/solar.cfm.
The global fossil fuel divestment movement has been gaining a lot of steam over the past year, enough to elicit a response from one of the largest oil companies in the world – ExxonMobil. In a blog posted to their website, the oil giant attempted to explain why the continued use of oil, gas, and coal to power our economies is the only viable way forward, while dismissing both the potential of renewable sources of energy and the costs imposed by a changing climate. The reality is that fossil fuels still provide the lion’s share of the global energy supply, but the assertion that it has to be this way couldn’t be farther from the truth.
In the blog post, Exxon outlines their case for fossil fuels, stating “divestment represents a diversion from the real search for technological solutions to managing climate risks.” Exxon’s idea of a technological solution to managing a climate risk, of course, is the natural gas boom currently underway in the United States. In addition to creating plenty of jobs along the supply chain and accounting for a sizeable chunk of the nation’s GDP, natural gas is supposedly responsible for the return to 1990’s emissions levels that the US has experienced over the past few years. Even ignoring the obvious environmental risks to soil, air, and groundwater associated with natural gas production, fugitive methane emissions from drilling sites are often understated and likely have a greater impact on climate change than fossil fuel advocates would like to believe. And, now that the US economy has started to gain ground, tracked greenhouse gas emissions are rising rapidly.
Exxon’s other main argument is that “A moral imperative exists – for policymakers as well as large energy companies – and it is to seek economic ways to expand the use of modern energy sources to the billions of people around the world currently living without them.” Certainly, access to electricity for cooking, heating, and pumping clean water is one of the key factors in reducing widespread poverty. The post cites an IEA study that projects renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and geothermal will account for only 15% of energy production by 2035, leaving the fossil fuel industry to pick up the slack for the other 85%. What the post fails to mention, however, is that the study did not consider policy changes in support of renewables over this time period. Other studies indicate that renewables in developing nations are poised to grow much faster than in countries with established fossil fuel energy infrastructure. With the correct policies in place, it will be cheaper and faster for developing countries to implement renewable technologies that provide the electricity they need while minimizing environmental damage.
The main problem with Exxon’s argument is that while they claim to be helping and protecting the least advantaged in impoverished nations, the very nature of their business is causing harm. The developing world is often environmentally ravaged by fossil fuel production, which generates massive economic and political corruption. Developing countries will also have to increasingly devote resources to damages from climate-change related issues, like coastal flooding or droughts. In the absence of severe climate-related damages, developing countries could focus on education, healthcare, or building new infrastructure. In a future where the climate implications of continued fossil fuel use are ignored, these countries will bear the highest costs.
It’s easy to understand why Exxon is pushing back against the growing divestment movement. To date, over 181 institutions and local governments, and 656 individuals have pledged to divest over $50 billion from fossil fuels. This number is not nearly enough to halt production of fossil fuels in the years to come. That is not the intention of the divestment movement. Divestment is not about suddenly severing the world from the availability of fossil fuels; it’s about putting pressure on oil and gas companies to adopt better practices, treat developing nations and their natural environments with more respect, and devising and executing a plan to move the world and the way it consumes energy forward while confronting the reality that Exxon and its competitors’ products put the global climate at serious risk.
Clearly, the fossil fuel divestment movement has caught Exxon’s attention. We need to build pressure – both from individuals and institutions. To learn more about fossil Fuel divestment and how you can invest your money towards a greener world, visit http://www.greenamerica.org/fossilfree/.
You may have taken our “carbon food-print” quiz and wondered how well it reflects your personal level of “green-ness.” The truth is, not very. In the quiz we focused down on the biggest indicators of your carbon food-print – mainly the type and quantity of the animal products you eat.
Yet there are so many other choices we make that influence our impact on global warming, our local economy, the well being of animals, our own health, and the health of other people. You wrote to us to tell us stories about your ways of greening your food supply. And your sustainability tips go far above and beyond what’s captured in the quiz. We like to share some of these solutions:
1. Growing and Raising Your Own Food
Some survey takers reported growing a significant amount of food they eat – even raising their own animals including backyard chickens. In addition to removing the transportation cost of food, home gardening has a number of other benefits such as creating a market for heirloom seed stock, serving as a great source of organic food, reducing your dependence on industrial agriculture, connecting with neighbors, exercise, and even increasing your intake of healthful bacteria via the soil!
2. Purchase Locally Grown Food:
According to the Environmental Working Group’s Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change, “buying locally can significantly reduce the climate impact of vegetable production (10-30 percent).”
In addition, eating locally and sustainably grown foods supports your local economy, protects the health of your community by reducing the amount of pesticide sprayed and creates an alternative to the incredibly destructive industrial agricultural practices. For more resources, take a look at some of the articles in our issue on local food.
3. Eating Sustainable Meat and Dairy
According to the Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change, buying locally raised meat has only a 1-3% impact on the amount of CO2 produced. Yet buying locally produced meat is important for number of reasons.
As author, Denis Hays told us in an interview, “raising cows correctly, whether for beef or milk, is incredibly hard work. Doing it on a small scale eliminates economies of mass production. Organic, grass-fed and -finished beef operates on deep commitment and small margins. If no one is willing to pay a premium for a healthy product from a local rancher who treats his cows as sentient beings, sustainably raised cows and their keepers will disappear.”
One of our member related walking down her own driveway and across the street in order to buy beef – about as local as you can get. “These animals are treated very, very well,” she told us. “I know because I see them whenever I want.” Another member noted that she eats “grass-fed, free-range, hormone free, locally grown beef, pork, lamb and turkey.” Check out this article to get tips on lowering the environmental impact of the dairy you consume.
Do you go above and beyond what is captured in our food-print survey? We want to hear about it! Leave your ideas in the comments section below!
The global chocolate industry commands more than $83 billion annually, but how much of this gets back to the farmers? Since most chocolate on US store shelves comes from West Africa, Green America has been persistently pressuring US cocoa companies to step up and take care of the workers—and child laborers—in their supply chains. This infographic traces the conventional cocoa supply chain in an effort to show where the majority of the money consumers spends ends up when they buy a chocolate product.
Purchasing fair trade chocolate from companies that have more direct relationships with farmers is important, as is ongoing pressure on manufacturers, processors, and traders, to improve the situation for farmers and their families.
Want to take this with you to share with others when you trick-or-treat? Download our 1-page version.
Last year, Americans collectively spent more than $2 billion on Halloween candy. This year, the National Retail Federation estimates that the average person will spend nearly $80 on Halloween items, including candy, costume, and decorations! What if all this money went to support businesses committed to people and planet, rather than conventional businesses, with little regard for workers’ rights or environmental protection? This year, consider shifting your own candy spending from conventional products to ones that align with your values. For chocolate, this means choosing brands that have made long-term commitments to the farmers they work with and have taken steps to prevent child labor on cocoa farms. More than 60% of cocoa, the key ingredient in chocolate, comes from countries in West Africa. Working on a cocoa farms is hard work, and not very profitable. In fact, most cocoa farmers and their families live in absolute poverty. Some must result to using inexpensive migrant or child labor to harvest their cocoa. Tulane University has estimated that 1.8 million children are involved in the production of cocoa. Not all chocolate is made this way though. A few smaller chocolate companies pride themselves on their commitment to the small-holder farmers who provide their cocoa year after year. Divine Chocolate With offices in London and Washington, DC, Divine is the only chocolate company that is both fair trade and farmer-owned. The Kuapa Kokoo farmer cooperative in Ghana, owns shares in Divine, holds 2 seats on the company board, and plays a key role in business decision making. Divine Chocolate offers both milk chocolate and dark chocolate minis for your trick-or-treaters, at 10% off until October 20. Equal Exchange Equal Exchange is a worker-owned business based in Massachusetts. The company’s mission is to build long-term trade partnerships that are economically just and environmentally sound, to foster mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and consumers. For Halloween, Equal Exchange has put together a number of fair trade-themed resources including e-cards, jack-o-lantern stencils, recipes, and an educational infographic. And, importantly, fair trade chocolate minis for your trick-or-treaters, on sale this month at the discounted, wholesale price. Every time you spend money you are voting with your dollars. Take our “Chocolate Scorecard” with you this year when grocery shopping to help you chose the best and most responsible Halloween treats. Photo credits: Divine Chocolate USA and Equal Exchange.
In Lusby, Maryland, Eastern Shore residents are worried about the future of their homes on the delicate Chesapeake Bay, following a recent action from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). FERC approved the retrofitting of a liquid natural gas (LNG) processing plant so that it will be fit to export the product to markets in Asia via Cove Point, MD. The decision raises a myriad of concerns for residents of the Cove Point area, as well as for fracking opponents across the nation.
After a long campaign, with rallies in Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Calvert County, opponents of the facility were dealt a serious blow with the final approval of the LNG export terminal, which sits in some cases less than a hundred yards from residents’ homes. Dominion Resources, the company behind the plant, will begin construction of Offsite Area B in Solomons, Maryland, which will consist of a pier to receive ships of equipment to build the liquefaction train and the related facilities. Karl Neddenien, Dominion spokesman, said construction was to begin Tuesday, just over a week after FERC’s final order on the project.
A massive network of refrigerators and pipelines will chill natural gas fracked from the Marcellus Shale to -161.5o C (258.7o F) before it is then piped to ships waiting at the end of a long dock jutting out into the Chesapeake. There is much outcry surrounding the planned activities of the facility, rooted in environmental, economic, and safety concerns.
An export facility this close to the Marcellus Shale region would surely increase the pace of natural gas extraction in the area, and could very well entice Maryland state leaders to open the state’s western regions up to fracking and natural-gas related activities. This could have devastating consequences on the ecology of the Chesapeake, one of the largest watershed regions on the East Coast. Despite the promise of 3000 construction jobs and 75 permanent positions, many Marylanders are becoming increasingly vocal in support of alternative, clean energy sources.
Exporting natural gas to foreign markets will also increase the demand for the product, likely raising prices at home. For a fuel touted as a cheap, clean bridge to an energy independent future, increased prices make some of the negative environmental impacts of its extraction, like water and air pollution, increased seismicity, and increased strain on natural resources like sand and fresh water that much harder to overlook.
Personal safety for the residents situated near the facility’s site is perhaps the most immediate concern. LNG facilities have an alarming track record of explosions, with one happening as recently as this past April in Washington State. Large tankers traveling up into the shallow waters of the Chesapeake pose a threat to recreational boaters as well as the small-scale commercial fishermen that rely on the bay for their livelihood.
While the Cove Point facility is now officially approved, there will be a petition for a rehearing on the decision within the next thirty days, says Jocelyn D’Ambrosio, associate attorney for Earthjustice. Environmental groups are poised to file a lawsuit against FERC should a rehearing not be granted. While the future of Cove Point remains unclear, there are still many battles looming in the war against dirty energy. Take a look at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network’s website to learn all about the Cove Point terminal and stay tuned for updates on the project.