Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Asian Carp Video

Guess what, everybody? I finally figured out how to upload video content to my blog! Huzzah! This is a short clip showing just how gross and nasty these Asian carp can be, which I tried to include in a previous post but failed. So watch the video now, and remember to watch your head the next time you're out on the river-- yuck!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

So Sue Us!

Oh, wait. They already did... the rest of the Midwest, that is. Michigan started it, slapping the State of Illinois with a lawsuit to stop the migration of the Asian Carp toward Lake Michigan by closing the locks on the Illinois Sanitary and Ship Canal. If you recall, this waterway was the site of a massive fish kill last month, an attempt by the Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to keep the dreaded fish from swimming past the electrical barriers (a device that emits underwater shock waves, designed to keep these fish downstream) while they were shut off for some routine maintenance.

Michigan's governor, Jennifer Granholm (who I actually like-- she was governor during my time in Ann Arbor) launched the initial suit against Illinois, while Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota, and even New York were quick to jump on her legal bandwagon. Our attorney general, Lisa Madigan (who I also like-- she lives in my neighborhood!) argued that the case was misdirected, because the Army Corps of Engineers, and not the State of Illinois, operates the locks on the canal. If Michigan wanted to sue somebody, it should be them.

Bloggers and reporters have been all over this issue since news of the lawsuit broke about three weeks ago; some claim that Daniel Burnham (the guy who, among other things, had some say over reversing the flow of the Chicago River) is spinning in his grave, while others suggest that Michigan should sue the carp themselves for trespassing. I have no desire to get snarky about the matter; we need to do everything we can to protect the Great Lakes, but crippling the state's shipping industry is not the answer! And for the record, when it comes to lawsuits pitting the environment against industry, industry wins out the vast majority of the time. We need another approach.

That's why I was so happy to hear today that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, bumping it back down to the state courts. Something needs to be done, but we need scientists-- not lawyers-- calling the shots here. Hoever, this comes at the same time that biologists are saying that Asian Carp DNA (although not the fish themselves... yet) has in fact been found in Lake Michigan, which is a very scary prospect, indeed. Although Michigan was defeated in this round, they are not deterred; they plan on taking their case to Congress, and are lobbying President Obama to force Illinois to cut off an arterial waterway (although I can't be certain, I'm pretty sure that's not his job...) So we certainly haven't heard the last of this story, but the drama continues to unfold.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Brita Filter Recycling Now Available!

I learned something today... and on Facebook, of all places! This program started a year ago today, so I can't believe that this is the first I've heard about it... but it is now possible to recycle Brita filters in the U.S.! This has long been available in Europe, and now Brita has teamed up with Preserve, a company that manufactures household items out of 100% recycled materials, to separate the plastic from the carbon particles and find new uses for both. The program is called Gimme 5, in reference to the #5 (polypropylene) plastic that is used to make Brita filters. Although Chicago does accept polypropylene plastics in their single-stream recycling bins, many cities do not.

To recycle these filters, Preserve asks that we set the spent filters aside and let them dry for a minimum of three days, then wrap them in a plastic grocery bag (don't worry, they'll recycle that, too!). From there, consumers can either take the filters to a designated drop-off location (the link is down at the moment, but I know many Whole Food stores in the area will accept these filters), or-- if there isn't a drop-off location nearby-- save up a few filters, pack them in a (recyclable) box, and mail them into the company at:

Preserve Gimme 5
823 NYS Rte 13
Cortland, NY 13045

The only downfall is that the customer is responsible for the shipping costs. However, John Lively, director of environment and material science for Preserve, assures skeptics that, "we calculated that the benefits of keeping Brita filters out of landfills outweigh the impact of shipping them for recycling through this program." Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club applaud Brita's efforts to expand on their "Filter for Good" campaign, which launched in 2007, and encourages people to ditch bottled water and drink filtered tap water instead. So I'll give three cheers to Clorox (the parent company of Brita) for setting an example for other large corporations by putting a portion of their profits toward fighting the good fight. Hip, hip, HOORAY!

Monday, January 4, 2010

I Resolve to...

... save the planet, one drop of water at a time. My environmental resolution for 2010 is to conserve more water. I switched to a low-flow shower head over the summer (this was a second attempt, as I couldn't stand the first shower head I tried) but in my last apartment, I got into the bad habit of leaving the water running while I washed the dishes, as there was no room to wash, rinse, and dry. It's terrible, I know. With less than 3% of the world's water able to be used as drinking water, every wasted drop contributes to water woes of the future.

This may not seem like a big problem here in Chicago, as we have one of the largest freshwater lakes right at our doorsteps, (seen above in this skyline shot from Promontory Point in Hyde Park, on a day much nicer than today) but the lack of fresh water is already a reality in parts of Africa and Asia, and-- albeit to a lesser extent-- in parts of the American southwest and the plains states! Some city and state governments have already imposed water restrictions for activities such as watering the lawn or washing the car during the warm summer months, and experts predict that these restrictions will only grow in the coming years.

Warning signs are everywhere; the Colorado River no longer reaches the sea, and the Odwalla aquifer (main source of water for the western plains states) is nearly dry. Scientists fear that the wars of the future may be fought over water, instead of boundary lines or religious differences. That's quite a prediction, but given that water is one of the basic necessities of life, I can see how its scarcity may someday become a contentious issue. But if you don't believe me, then rent a documentary like Flow: For the Love of Water. It's a bit preachy, but raises a number of very real concerns in terms of water conservation. However, I wouldn't recommend watching it before bed; you just might have to sleep with the lights on.

This is why it makes me nuts to see my rich neighbors run their automatic sprinkler systems in the rain, or when the bartender at work leaves the water running even when he's not washing dishes at all, or when people have a leaky faucet that they're just too lazy to fix. And don't get me started on those hyper-sensitive automatic flushers that are triggered by even the slightest movement; I've had toilets flush on me as many as three or four times, while I'm sitting there! It's gross... and wasteful. However, until I get my dish washing habits under control, I don't feel like I have any real room to talk. So watch out, world, because this "Earth" girl is reaching out to embrace another element!