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The latest news, food for thought, recipes you’ll love, great advice on everything from raising kids to nurturing bees, plus videos designed to entertain, educate and enlighten. If you’d like to find out what’s on our mind – or let us know what’s on yours -- this is place to be.

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Air Fresheners Leave Your Air Anything But

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Author: Seventh Generation

There’s always been something a little unsettling about the idea of revitalizing the air inside our homes by spraying things with names like “Meadow Mist” and “Mountain Breeze,” especially when these products hardly smell like either. Now, two studies have found that our suspicions were correct -- synthetic air fresheners coat our homes and fill our air with unsafe chemicals.

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This Moment On Earth

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Author: the Inkslinger

The day’s dawned bright and sharp here in the hinterlands of Vermont. In cloudless skies, winter’s own thin brand of blue telegraphs all we need to know. That the cold just beyond window etched in swirls of frost is deep and unmovable. And indeed the thermometer reads just 6° at morning’s first glance. It’s shiver-inducing fragment of briefest knowledge magnified by hard-edged north country sunlight rising frigid and unforgiving over the gleaming snowpack. A fine morning day to stoke the fire, uncork the informational bottle, and see what news of this moment on Earth pours out.

Let’s begin on the open seas where a coming U.N. report finds the world’s fast-growing shipping fleet is responsible for about 4.5% of global CO2 emissions, a figure that could rise 30% by 2030 because of zooming rates of international trade. It appears that when transportation-related environmental costs are factored in, goods from overseas aren’t so cheap after all. In fact, container ship ports have been identified as one of the biggest sources of pollution in the U.S. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s two largest, have recognized the problem and are taking steps like requiring all ships to shut-down their on-board power systems when docked and banning vessels built before 1989, the year pollution-controls became standard gear on freighters. This is the sort of stuff regular folk like us never think too much about, but it’s good to know someone is. For our part, the lesson here is that the farther away something was made, the more CO2 its shipping generated. As always, sourcing whatever we can as locally as possible is hugely important where the climate crisis is concerned. Buy local!

News like that is why I like this:

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Rotten Food

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Author: the Inkslinger

By now we’ve all heard about the record-setting recall of a 143 million pounds of beef from the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing company and seen the deeply disturbing Humane Society video that prompted it. "I don't have reason to believe this is widespread." said USDA assistant administrator Kenneth Petersen in USA Today, referring to the images of workers torturing so-called “downer” cows in an attempt to get them to stand up and move to the slaughter line. While that particular practice may or may not be common, others like it are and conditions in giant industrial meat plants are generally dismal. Over the weekend, for example, White Rhino sent me this account about one man’s tale of life on a meat “production” line. It’s extremely difficult to swallow in more ways than one. While this kind of story tends to languish in unfortunate obscurity for reasons probably related to people’s desires to keep the suspected truth about their food at arms length, the beef recall was too big to bury. Now, as we always do after events like this, we’re having a national conversation to answer the question, “how do we make sure this never happens again?” What we should really be asking is “how did this happen in the first place?”

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Is Too Clean Carcinogenic?

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Author: the Inkslinger

The more we learn, the more we learn we’ve really learned nothing at all, at least when compared to all the secrets that still lie hidden.

For example, there’s this absolutely fascinating article in today’s L.A. Times, which reports that some scientists think humanity’s ongoing obsession with hyper-cleanliness and its ever increasing microbiophobia (fear of germs), as evidenced by exploding sales of anti-bacterial products, may be contributing to the increases in some kinds of cancer we’ve been seeing lately.

Simply put, several studies have found that people regularly exposed to large amounts of bacteria, like farm workers who work amidst lots of manure, have much lower rates of certain cancers than people who aren’t exposed to large amounts of bacteria, like farm workers who spend most of their time outside the barn.

It’s an intriguing idea and one that deserves a lot of scrutiny. If you’ve read the Non-Toxic Times or Naturally Clean, you know about the Hygiene Hypothesis, which essentially says that it’s most likely not such a great idea to live in a sterile environment because it could make your immune system fat and lazy. If there are no germs around to fight, our immune systems become sedentary, deactivated in a sense. When they finally do encounter something to fight they’ve become so soft and out-of-shape that they can’t respond effectively. Because they evolved in a dirty world, our immune systems need a certain amount of that world preserved in order to remain fit and trim.

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Coal Gets Burned

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Author: the Inkslinger

In Tuesday’s post about Staples terminating a relationship with an environmentally suspect paper supplier, Jeffrey noted that “the potential cost (to business) of failing to be responsible or transparent… can be high indeed.”

Apparently some of the biggest financial firms agree. A couple of days ago, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley announced that they’ve developed a new set of standards by which investors can assess the regulatory and financial risks of coal-related projects. The firms hope that these so-called Carbon Principles will become a framework that the entire investment community can use to encourage “responsible” coal development, which is probably one of the larger oxymorons you’ll encounter today. As GreenBiz notes, the new standards don’t forbid investment in coal-burning schemes, but they do place them under additional scrutiny. They’re also voluntary, which means any bank is quite free to ignore them as Bank of America, perhaps the largest financer of coal plants, seems so to be doing judging by its conspicuous absence from the proceedings so far.

So while this is not exactly another nail in coal’s coffin, it’s certainly another hammer blow or two on those nails already there. It sends the clearest message yet to the investment community that there’s a growing risk in projects that generate carbon dioxide and that, as Jeffrey says, the potential costs of failing to be responsible can be high. Clearly the landscape is changing and clearly climate crisis concerns are (finally) penetrating the halls of financial power.

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Sometimes a Picture Says It All…

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Author: Inspired Protagonist

More here if you want it…

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Of Cabbages and Kings…

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Author: the Inkslinger

Continuing to wade through the accumulated digital clippings here at my perch in the Vermont clouds, where a foot and a half of snow over the last two days has made the task a bit easier by slowing life down considerably. So let’s continue with some more recent dispatches that have caught my eyes and ears of late…

You probably don’t know it (I sure didn’t) but our entire lifetimes and those of all other human beings throughout human history have been spent in the geological era called the Holocene, that period of time that followed the retreat of the ice age glaciers 12,000 years ago. Now, however, some geologists are suggesting that the Holocene Era is over and the Anthropocene Era has begun, a new geological age in which human activities not natural processes are the force responsible for shaping the surface of our world. It’s a semantic change, really, but it’s a very, very interesting notion, a bit of perhaps necessary symbolism if you will, that I think deserves some consideration if only for the attention it would bring to the tremendous impact people are having on the state of the Earth. We’ve now surpassed all of nature itself as the dominant force in the world. It’s the first time in billions of years of geological history that a single species has achieved such utter and overwhelming dominance. Truly we are as gods and surely that’s worth some discussion. Declaring the dawn of the Anthropocene Era would certainly be one way to start it.

Okay. This is just funny. And perfect. And brilliant. And you should watch it right now.

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Bye-Bye Biofuels?

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Author: the Inkslinger

Biofuels took a big hit yesterday with the release of two studies that clearly show they release more CO2 than conventional fuels once their entire life-cycle is taken into account.

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‘Round and ‘Round We Spin

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Author: the Inkslinger

If news falls in the forest and no one is there to report it on the Inspired Protagonist, does it make a sound? Oh my, yes, my green philosopher children. It’s been roaring for weeks while I’ve been elsewhere. In fact, so much worth mentioning has been piling up in my digital in-box that I briefly considered tossing the whole thing into my virtual trashcan and starting over. Seemed easy than trying to wade through it all. But that’s a bit of a cheat and the losers would be you, dear reader. So I’m biting the informational bullet, sifting through it, and aiming to play catch-up over the next few days. Here goes…

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