April 2009

Monthly Archive

Ecotopia #30 Global Greening

Posted by on 29 Apr 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

30 April 2009

Tonight our topic is “Global Greening.” We talk with Kevin Danaher of Global Exchange, who proposes to turn overseas military bases into centers of green technology and education.

Listen to Ecotopia #30 Online Now!
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Global News on Greening

From the April 27 issue of the Christian Science Monitor. Gregory Lamb asks, “Is a Bad Economy Good for the Environment?”

The phrase “It’s not easy being green” may never seem truer than during this economic slide. For the first time in 25 years of asking the question, the Gallup Poll recently found that a majority of Americans, 51 percent, say that economic growth should be given priority over environmental concerns. As recently as 2000, only 23 percent of Americans wanted the economy considered first, with 70 percent saying the environment should rank higher.

But a number of environmentalists and economists, while concerned about changing attitudes, say the picture is far from one of total gloom. For one thing, the downturn in worldwide industrial production has meant fewer greenhouse gases are being emitted, slowing their growth in the atmosphere and, in turn, the pace of global warming.

Read more at: http://features.csmonitor.com/environment/2009/04/27/is-a-bad-economy-good-for-the-environment/

From the Voice of America comes this encouraging story dated April 27 by Zulima Palacio describing the seven winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize for their dedication to the environment. For example:

  • In Indonesia, Yuyun Ismawati initiated a campaign of waste management, helping to solve problems of employment, health and environment. “While the world addresses the critical problem of climate change, we must remember that millions of people still lack of access to sanitation and the fundamental right to a healthy environment,” Ismawati stated.
  • In Suriname, in the northeastern coast of South America, Wanze Eduards and Hugo Jabini successfully organized their communities to win a landmark court ruling granting local people the right to control resource exploitation in their territories. “Our territory in Suriname is the only place that the Saramaka [tribe] can call home. We are obligated to protect it so that future generations of Saramaka can live there in freedom and in our own land,” Jabini said
  • In Bangladesh, attorney Rizwana Hasan led a legal battle to increase government regulations as well as public awareness that decommissioned ships from around the world are sent to Bangladesh, often with toxic contaminants, where they are dismantled by unskilled, low paid workers. “We want the global community to know that our territory is not to be treated as a dumping site,” Hasan said.
  • Toxic chemicals, from obsolete stockpiles in the old Soviet bloc, are still sometimes used by poor farmers.  Russian scientist Olga Speranskaya organized activists throughout Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus to tackle the problem. “We are all at risk and babies get their first dose of toxic chemicals in the womb and the second when they start breast feeding,” she stated.
  • In the African nation of Gabon, Marc Ona Essangui has been arrested several times for his defense of the National Park system and its rainforest and rich biodiversity. From his non-governmental organization called “Brainforest” and his wheelchair, Essangui led the efforts to expose and block government agreements to develop large projects for a mine, a dam and railroads as well as a deep-water port facility.
  • West VirginiaN Maria Gunnoe, a medical technician by training, was recognized for fighting a hard battle against the coal industry, to promote cleaner energy solutions. “This recognition proves that the intimidation tactics of the coal industry no longer works.” she said.

    Read more at: http://www.voanews.com/english/2009-04-27-voa46.c

From the Transnational Institute comes this story by Medea Benjamin of a conference in Ecuador: A New Network Forms to Close U.S. Overseas Military Bases

In a new surge of energy for the global struggle against militarism, some 400 activists from 40 countries came together in Ecuador from March 5-9 to form a network to fight against foreign military bases. The conference began in Quito, then participants traveled in an 8-bus caravan across the country, culminating in a spirited protest at the city of Manta, site of a U.S. base.

While a few other countries such as England, Russia, China, Italy and France have bases outside their territory, the United States is responsible for 95% of foreign bases. According to U.S. government figures, the U.S. military maintains some 737 bases in 130 countries, although many estimate the true number to be over 1,000.

A network of local groups fighting the huge U.S. military complex is indeed an “asymmetrical struggle,” but communities have been trying for decades to close U.S. military bases on their soil. Their concerns range from the destruction of the environment, the confiscation of farmlands, the abuse of women, the repression of local struggles, the control of resources and a broader concern about military and economic domination.

Read more at http://www.tni.org/detail_page.phtml?act_id=16454&menu=11e

Our Questions for Kevin Danaher:

Kevin Danaher is co-founder of Global Exchange in San Francisco, founder and Executive Co-Producer of the Green Festivals held in San Francisco, Washington, and other cities, and Executive Director of the Global Citizen Center, a green project in San Francisco.

· As if you don’t already have enough projects to handle, you have recently come up with a new project: From Empire to Global Healing: Turning US Military Bases into Eco-Development Centers. Please tell us about this project.

  • How would these Centers work? What would happen there? What would they look like? [Could you describe a hypothetical or actual military base and how it might be transformed?]
  • Can the US really afford to give up its foreign military bases? What about perceived threats to national security?
  • Who would pay for this? How would it be paid for?
  • You have written that these places could “Provide large enough space for permaculture “universities” to train the trainers who will then go out and instruct communities on green economy issues” and that “We have already developed green curriculum that can be used to train people in the key skill sets of the next economy: the green economy.” What is that curriculum?
  • You have said that your Empire to Global Healing project might “Unify diverse global social movements that are now separated by tactical issues.” How do you see that happening?
  • What kind of action would be required to launch this program? Could the Commander-in-Chief do it by fiat? Would congressional action be required?
  • What are your next steps in launching the program?
  • How could listeners become involved?

Kevin can be reached at Global Exchange in San Francisco www.globalexchange.org/


Locally, a group known as the Chico Beyond War Coalition has formed to focus on demilitarizing the budget. Over 58% of every discretionary U.S. tax dollar goes to support the military, and the true cost of war to the U.S. is over one trillion dollars annually. For information on the Beyond War Coalition, send an e-mail to ChicoBeyondWar@yahoo.com

Playlist for Ecotopia #30

Teach Your Children, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young

Nature’s Way, Spirit

Mother Earth, Neil Young

Peace Train, Cat Stevens

What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace,Love and Understanding, Elvis Costello

I Remember California, R.E. M

Ecotopia #29 Endangered Species

Posted by on 20 Apr 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

April 21, 2009

Tonight our topic is Endangered Species, and we have three guests. First we talk with Dr. Mark Rockwell of the Endangered Species Coalition about the Endangered Species act and its implications.

Then we talk with Mary Muchowski, who is coordinator of the Endangered Species Faire sponsored by the Butte Environmental Council; that’s coming up on Saturday, May 2 at Bidwell Park, a wonderful Ecotopian event.

Finally, we chat with Rosamond Crowder, who will be bringing the One Heart Ceremony to the Faire; it’s a a fantastically choreographed and colorful ceremony of dancers, musicians and giant puppets representing Earth, Air, Fire and Water.

Listen to Ecotopia #29 Online Now!
To download the file, right-click (Mac users control-click) and select “Save Link As…”

Our Discussion with Mark Rockwell

Before we talk with Mark, we want to give you a few facts about endangered species from Endangeredspecie.com, the National Wildlife Federation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

  • According to scientists, more than one and one-half million species exist on the earth today. However, recent estimates state that at least 20 times that many species inhabit the planet.
  • In the United States, 735 species of plants and 496 species of animals are listed as threatened or endangered.
  • In California, 309 plants and animals are on the threatened or endangered species list, including Abalone, the Grizzly Bear, the Humpbacked Whale, numerous butterflies, several species of foxes, and the Northern Spotted Owl.
  • In the past several decades, a number of species have gone extinct despite being listed, including the Santa Barbara Song Sparrow and several species of Pupfish.
  • And some species have recovered sufficiently to make it off the list, including some Wolves, Falcons, and Eagles.

Our questions for Mark:.

  • Please tell us a little about the work of the Endangered Species Coalition. How does your work relate to that of the federal government?
  • How does the California office of ESC fit in with the national program?
  • The Endangered Species Act was first created under the Nixon administration (and modified over time). What have been its successes and failures so far?
  • How did the Bush administration weaken the enforcement of the Endangered Species Act?
  • Many people feel that under the Obama administration —Secretary Salazar of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and Director Lubchenco of NOAA—that some of the changes created by the Bush administration can be reversed. Do you share that optimism?
  • What are the most important endangered species in California (and more narrowly in the Northstate and Sacramento Valley)? What projects are under way—either from the coalition or from government and other NGOS—to save those species?
  • Over the years, we’ve seen logging trucks with signs telling us what we can do with the Spotted Owl and claiming that endangered species laws put jobs and the economy at risk. Please comment on the “balance” between species protection and the economic needs of the community?
  • If you were the Endangered Species Czar, what additional changes would you make in the laws and their implementation?
  • Our listeners are actively interested in environmental issues. What can they do as individuals or collectively to stop the loss of species diversity?

Check out the Endangered Species Coalition website: http://www.stopextinction.org/cgi-bin/giga.cgi?c=1704

Talking with Mary Muchowski about the Endangered Species Faire

Mary Muchowski of the Butte Environmental Council is coordinating efforts for the 30th annual Endangered Species Faire, to be held Saturday May 2, 2009, 10:00am to 5:00pm, Cedar Grove in Bidwell Park, Chico.

  • What’s the history of the event and how has it grown?
  • Please tell us what is planned for the day.
  • Who will be exhibiting?
  • What’s the program?
  • What’s there for kids?
  • How can people best participate?

For full details, check out the Butte Environmental Council site www.becnet.org


Our discussion with Rosamond Crowder about the One Heart Ceremony

A special feature of this year’s Faire is the One-Heart Ceremony, created by our guest, Rosamond Crowder.

  • Please tell us about the Ceremony—what it includes, and how it runs.
  • We hear of giant puppets, music, dance, all focused around the Greek partition of the elements into Air, Earth, Water, and Fire. How do you integrate all these into the ceremony?
  • When did you first start working on this project? How has it changed over the years?
  • How can people participate in the Ceremony as part of the Endangered Species Faire?



10 Easy things you can do at home to protect
endangered species from the Endangered Species Coalition

1) Learn about endangered species in your area
Teach your friends and family about the wonderful wildlife, fish and plants that live near you. The first step to protecting endangered species is learning about how interesting and important they are. Our natural world provides us with many indispensable services including food and medicinal sources, clean air and water, commercial, aesthetic and recreational benefits.
Check out our endangered species pages at www.stopextinction.org/endangeredspecies
For more information about endangered species, visit endangered.fws.gov

2) Visit a national wildlife refuge, park or other open space
These protected lands provide habitat to many native wildlife, fish and plants. Scientists tell us the best way to protect endangered species is to protect the places where they live.  Get involved by volunteering at your local nature center or wildlife refuge.
Go wildlife or bird watching in nearby parks. Wildlife related recreation creates millions of jobs and supports local businesses.
To find a wildlife refuge near you, visit www.fws.gov/refuges/
To find a park near you, visit www.nps.gov
To find a zoo near you, visit www.aza.org

3) Make your home wildlife friendly

Secure garbage in shelters or cans with locking lids, feed pets indoors and lock pet doors at night to avoid attracting wild animals into your home.
Reduce your use of water in your home and garden so that animals that live in or near water can have a better chance of survival.
Disinfect bird baths often to avoid disease transmission.
Place decals on windows to deter bird collisions. Millions of birds die every year because of collisions with windows. You can help reduce the number of collisions simply by placing decals on the windows in your home and office.
For more information on what you can do, check out these tips from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

4) Provide habitat for wildlife by planting native vegetation in your yard
Native plants provide food and shelter for native wildlife. Attracting native insects like bees and butterflies can help pollinate your plants. The spread of non-native species has greatly impacted native populations around the world. Invasive species compete with native species for resources and habitat. They can even prey on native species directly, forcing native species towards extinction.
For more information about native plants, visit http://www.plantsocieties.org

5) Minimize use of herbicides and pesticides
Herbicides and pesticides may keep yards looking nice but they are in fact hazardous pollutants that affect wildlife at many levels. Many herbicides and pesticides take a long time to degrade and build up in the soils or throughout the food chain. Predators such as hawks, owls and coyotes can be harmed if they eat poisoned animals.Some groups of animals such as amphibians are particularly vulnerable to these chemical pollutants and suffer greatly as a result of the high levels of herbicides and pesticides in their habitat.
For alternatives to pesticides, visit http://www.beyondpesticides.org

6) Slow down when driving
Many animals live in developed areas and this means they must navigate a landscape full of human hazards. One of the biggest obstacles to wildlife living in developed areas is that created by roads. Roads divide habitat and present a constant hazard to any animal attempting to cross from one side to the other. So when you’re out and about, slow down and keep an eye out for wildlife.

7) Recycle and buy sustainable products
Buy recycled paper, sustainable products like bamboo and Forest Stewardship Council wood products to protect forest species. Never buy furniture made from wood from rainforests.
Recycle your cell phones, because a mineral used in cell phones and other electronics is mined in gorilla habitat.
Minimize your use of palm oil because forests where tigers live are being cut down to plant palm plantations.

8) Never purchase products made from threatened or endangered species
Overseas trips can be exciting and fun, and everyone wants a souvenir. But sometimes the souvenirs are made from species nearing extinction. Avoid supporting the market in illegal wildlife including: tortoise-shell, ivory, coral. Also, be careful of products including fur from tigers, polar bears, sea otters and other endangered wildlife, crocodile skin, live monkeys or apes, most live birds including parrots, macaws, cockatoos and finches, some live snakes, turtles and lizards, some orchids, cacti and cycads, medicinal products made from rhinos, tiger or Asiatic black bear.

9) Report any harassment or shooting of threatened and endangered species
Harassing wildlife is cruel and illegal. Shooting, trapping, or forcing a threatened or endangered animal into captivity is also illegal and can lead to their extinction. Don’t participate in this activity, and report it as soon as you see it to your local state or federal wildlife enforcement office.
You can find a list of state wildlife departments at http://www.fws.gov/offices/statelinks.html

10) Protect wildlife habitat

Perhaps the greatest threat that faces many species is the widespread destruction of habitat. Scientists tell us the best way to protect endangered species is to protect the special places where they live. Wildlife must have places to find food, shelter and raise their young. Logging, oil and gas drilling, over-grazing and development all result habitat destruction. Endangered species habitat should be protected and these impacts minimized.

By protecting habitat, entire communities of animals and plants can be protected together. Parks, wildlife refuges, and other open space should be protected near your community. Open space also provides us with great places to visit and enjoy. Support wildlife habitat and open space protection in your community. When you are buying a house, consider your impact on wildlife habitat.


Playlist for Ecotopia #29
1. Feathers Fur or Fins        2:25        Helen Goodwin        
        24 Kiddies Favourites        
2. Supernova        4:42        Liquid Blue        
        Supernova        I
3. Trophic Cascade        4:12        Ronn Fryer        
        Endangered Animals (Environmental Jenga)        
4. Break Up The Concrete        2:39        The Pretenders        
        Break Up The Concrete        
5. Weave Me the Sunshine        4:28        Peter, Paul And Mary        
        The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary        
6. Pigs, Sheep, And Wolves        3:58        Paul Simon        
        You're The One   

Ecotopia #28 Green Buddhism

Posted by on 14 Apr 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

April 14, 2009

Tonight our topic is “Green Buddhism,” and our guest is Rosemary Roberts, author of a new book, “What would the Buddha recycle?”

Listen to Ecotopia #28 Online Now!
To download the file, right-click (Mac users control-click) and select “Save Link As…”

Global News on Green Buddhism

Writing for Treehugger.com A Tokyo writer named “greenz.jp,” asks: Could a Virtual Buddhist Temple Help Save the Environment?

A bunch of young Japanese monks have created a virtual temple online to talk about issues close to their hearts. They are based in Tokyo, where there are surprisingly many Buddhist temples, many as old as the city itself, dating back to the Edo Period (1603-1868) before the city started to modernize. They note that no matter how artificial our environment becomes, monks continue to pass on age-old wisdom from master to disciple, inheriting the modes of living, using the temple as its vehicle […] Perennial assumptions about nature’s power to harm human beings have been augmented by a fresh appreciation of humans’ power to harm nature. In an early text the Buddha gives his monks a prayer which reads in part:

“My love to the footless, my love to the twofooted, my love to the fourfooted, my love to the manyfooted. Let not the footless harm me, let not the twofooted harm me, let not the fourfooted harm me, let not the manyfooted harm me. All sentient beings, all breathing things, creatures without exception, let them all see good things, may no evil befall them.”


Tree Hugger also tells the story of a Buddhist Temple Built from Beer Bottles. Lloyd Alter writes from Toronto:

Fifty years ago the Heineken Beer company looked at reshaping its beer bottle to be useful as a building block. It never happened, so Buddhist monks from Thailand’s Sisaket province took matters into their own hands and collected a million bottles to build the Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew temple. It puts every other bottle building we have shown to shame. Even the washrooms and the crematorium are built of bottles, a mix of green Heineken and brown local Chang beer.”
You can see pictures of the temple by clicking on the following: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/10/temple-built-from-beer-bottles.php

In Cambodia, there is an organization of Buddhist monks who wish to protect the environment. Posted on their website are the history, goals, and projects undertaken by The Association of Buddhists for the Environmen involving monks from all 23 provinces in Cambodia working to strengthen the Sangha (the community of Buddhist monks and nuns) in its efforts to protect the environment.[…] ABE has implemented [two] projects: 1) Production of a documentary film on community forestry and monks […]  2) Environmental Education to include tree planting and home gardening in pagodas and in surrounding communities [as well as outreach to save] national parks it is threatened by illegal activities, such as wildlife hunting and poaching, encroachment, and illegal logging for charcoal production and firewood (for domestic consumption and for selling). […] http://www.sanghanetwork.org

On he Dalai Lama’s website is an article outlining the Dalai Lama’s concern for the environment a story out of Sarnath, Varanasi, India, dated 14 January 2009 :

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama exhorted people to protect and conserve the environment for healthy life. He also suggested people to follow the spiritual ways for healthy living. Addressing the gathering of devotees and Buddhist monks at the central institute of higher Tibetan studies […] the Dalai Lama expressed his concern over environment degeneration and said that the uncontrolled material development and exploitation of nature was causing tremendous harm to the environment, particularly the Himalayan environment. “If things remain the same, the ancients rivers will go dry in near future,” he said and made an appeal not to use plastic. Highlighting the importance of healthy living, the Dalai Lama said that people should give attention to their health. Despite the advances in medical sciences diseases like AIDS were posing threat to human life, he said adding that the self-awareness was essential for the protection of health and environment. Lord Buddha in Vinay Pittak had given special emphasis on protection of trees for environment conservation, he said. www.dalailama.com

from The Earth Sangha a nonprofit charity based in the Washington, DC, area and devoted to practical environmental action. They work in the spirit of Buddhist practice, but their members and volunteers come from a wide variety of religious and secular backgrounds. On their website they describe what they see as “Green Buddhism”

In our view, environmentally engaged Buddhism—and socially engaged Buddhism in general—is just a way of living well. Although it receives some academic attention […] green Buddhism is not primarily a scholarly enterprise. We see it, instead, as a natural expression of the Dharma (the formal Buddhist teachings), given the conditions in which humanity now finds itself. If you are uncertain what to make of Green Buddhism, this [webpage] should help with the invocation of two principles:

1. Buddhism is intended to be active, and it is more than meditation […]

2. At some point in the course of […] development, the serious student of Buddhism is liable to discover that it no longer makes sense to think of one’s practice as purely a personal quest. One ceases to practice just for oneself—and that is when practice really begins. One can begin to practice for—and with—all beings. All beings become the wisdom that practice seeks and expresses. All beings are inexhaustibly marvelous just as they are, without the perceptual confusion that our own appetites and fears project upon them.

We have arrived at Green Buddhism. Green Buddhism is merely an effort to act on this process, in a practical and systematic way, for the benefit of all the other species with whom we share this world.

One final proposition:

Green Buddhism should not confuse gestures or symbols with practical action. www.earthsangha.org

Our Questions for Rosemary Roberts:

Rosemary is a social justice activist who has interests in health care, patients’ rights, domestic violence, and spiritual philosophies. Her new book is called “What Would the Buddha Recycle? The Zen of Green Living.”

Part I

  • You begin the introduction of your book, with this question: “Do I need to be ‘green’ and learn to incorporate a life of Zen to become a good human steward of the world?” Just to give us a little grounding for the philosophical stance of this book, can you tell us a little bit about what a “life of Zen” consists of?
  • You entitle the introduction “The Buddha Has Always Been Green!” What do you mean by that?
  • How did you decide to connect the worlds of “green” living and Buddhism for a book?
  • You describe three main components of Earth that have long been a part of Zen practices. Can you talk a little bit about these elements?
  • You introduce “the pathway of eight” from Zen Buddhism to talk about green practice. Can you tell us what “the pathway of eight” is and how it relates to “green” living?
  • How does “karma” become an element of becoming “green”?
  • For each chapter you have included a little side bar called “gift from the universe.” Can you describe what you were up to with these little gems and how do they contribute to the book’s message?

Part II

  • Your book covers every aspect of living, it seems, from cleaning products to eating to decorating and entertaining to building to child care to pet care. Can you tell us how you conducted your research on all of these aspects of green living? What sorts of sources did you know you could count on for valid information? Are there some sources you could recommend to our readers? What advice and information do you provide that you think will be most helpful to people? What are some of the more crucial steps you think people should take?
  • What advice do you provide that you think might meet the most resistance among even committed readers?
  • You talk about rearing mindful children. What advice would you pass on to others about helping children attend to the earth.
  • What did you learn in the process of writing this book that you found most worrisome or unsettling?
  • If you could provide one piece of advice to your readers and our listeners that you think is the single most important thing they could do, what would that be?
  • We’re wondering how you engage in these green practices in your own life. Do you find some aspects of going green more difficult than others? Did you make any changes as a result of writing and researching this book?

A Meditation for Green Buddhism
Annie B. Bond adapted a healing visualization from The Healing Power of Mind, by Tulku Thondup (Shambhala, 1996).

  • Water: Imagine water as a nectar-like medicinal stream. From your source of power it descends through your head and flows through your body, soothing and cleansing every part of it, and in particular restoring the flow and harmony among the cells affected by sickness. Feel and believe that it is washing away dirt and detoxifying poisons. Your body becomes pure like a clean, clear bottle.
  • Fire: Imagine that waves of fire come to you, enveloping every cell of your body. The flame radiates warmth health, and happiness. It burns and consumes all physical ailments related to coldness, lifelessness, or lack of energy.
  • Air: Pure air sweeps away such ailments as circulatory and respiratory weakness, or congestions and toxins in the cells of your body. The blessed air purifies and amplifies the healthy qualities of your breathing and circulation, bringing health to every cell of your body. You could imagine that this wind is like beautiful music within you. If you have a CD or tape player by your sickbed, you could hear the actual sound of music as if it were within your body, granting relaxation and health.
  • Earth: When sickness brings doubts, fears, or panic, we can remind ourselves not only of the intrinsic strength of our mind but also how resilient our body is. Feel your body as solid and strong, and take some time to rejoice in its fundamentally earth-like qualities. Visualize your whole body as being like the earth, unshakeable and self-renewing, despite the passing weaknesses or tremors of sickness. Bring as much detail to the exercise as you like. See your body’s bones, muscles, nerves, skin, and chemicals as strong. Imagine the earth within you, that your body or cells are as solid as mountains, healthy and regenerative as trees, beautiful as all of nature. http://www.care2.com/

Playlist for Ecotoipia #28

1. The Diamond Cutter Chant, Mercedes Bahleda
2.  Forgiveness, Krishna Das
3.  Gone Gone, Geshe Michael Roach and Lama  Christie McNally
4.  Gayatri, Girish
5. Kandroma, Mercedes Bahleda
6.  Reweave the Sunshine, Peter, Paul and Mary

Ecotopia #27 Groundwater

Posted by on 06 Apr 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Date:  3/7/09


Tonight’s topic is groundwater. March 8-14 was National Groundwater Awareness Week and we looking at what groundwater is, how it is being threatened all over the world, and what we can do about it. Our guest is Professor Dudley Burton, chair of the Environmental Studies Department at Cal State Sacramento.

Listen to Ecotopia #27 Online Now!
To download the file, right-click (Mac users command-click) and select “Save File As…”

Background News and Information on Groundwater

From The Groundwater Foundation comes this explanation of groundwater:

Groundwater is water that is found underground in the cracks and spaces in soil, sand and rock. Groundwater is stored in–and moves slowly through–layers of soil, sand and rocks called aquifers. Aquifers typically consist of gravel, sand, sandstone, or fractured  rock, like limestone. These materials are permeable because they have large connected spaces that allow water to flow through. The speed at  which groundwater flows depends on the size of the spaces in the soil or rock and how well the spaces are connected.[….]. In areas where material above the aquifer is permeable, pollutants can readily sink into groundwater supplies. Groundwater can be polluted by landfills, septic tanks, leaky underground gas tanks, and from overuse  of fertilizers and pesticides. If groundwater becomes polluted, it  will no longer be safe to drink.  Groundwater is used for drinking water by more than 50 percent of the people in the United States, including almost everyone who lives in rural areas. The largest use for groundwater is to irrigate crops.   http://www.groundwater.org

A United Nations Resolution in 1992 created World Water Day, celebrated this year on March 22nd in Istanbul. The purpose of World Water Day is to call attention to the lack of availability of safe water around the world. The UN reports:

The world water crisis is one of the largest public health issues of our time. Nearly 1.1 billion people (roughly 20% of the world’s population) lack access to safe drinking water. The lack of clean,safe drinking water is estimated to kill almost 4,500 children per day. In fact, out of the 2.2 million unsafe drinking water deaths in 2004, 90% were children under the age of five. Water is essential to the treatment of diseases, something especially critical for children. [. . . .] The lack of clean water, coupled with the lack of basic sanitation and a dearth of hygiene education, is one of the largest obstacles to progress and development in these regions and across the world. The UN has prioritized water access among its Millennium Development Goals because it contributes to such widespread suffering, including increased poverty, high child mortality rates, depressed education levels, and political instability. Without question, the world water crisis condemns billions of people to a perpetual struggle  to survive at the subsistence level, thus inspiring millions to engage and alleviate this problem. http://www.worldwaterday.net

From Western Water comes the report that while World Water Day was purported to address water issues throughout water-stressed areas, it was not universally celebrated by everyone:

 “activists from the Peoples Water Forum, an alternative formation representing the rural poor, the environment and organized labor, protested the official  event as a non-inclusive, corporate-driven fraud pushing for water privatization,” shouting “Water is for life, not for profit.” http://www.western-water.com/

From the Third World Network comes a  2000 story by Someshwar Singh demonstrating how widespread the threats to groundwater are:

High levels of chemical-use and waste generation in recent decades are slowly poisoning supplies of groundwater – the  major source of our freshwater needs. It is a silent disaster spreading through many parts of the world. Singh quotes an article by Payal Sampat, staff researcher at the WorldWatch who […] notes that worldwide, 97% of the planet’s liquified freshwater is storied in aquifers.[. . . . which] are beginning to mirror the increasing density and  diversity of the human activity above them. Whereas the pollutants  emanating from hog farms or copper mines may be quite predictable, the  waste streams flowing into the water under the cities contain a  witch’s brew of contaminants. […] In California’s Silicon  Valley, where electronics industries store assorted waste solvents in underground tanks, local groundwater authorities found that 85% of the  tanks they inspected had leaks.Silicon Valley has more Superfund sites – most of them affecting  groundwater – than any other area its size in the country. http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/covert.htm

From The Hindu, the online edtion of India’s national newspaper, dated  March 22, 2009, comes this this report by T. Ramakrishnan:

CHENNAI: The magnitude of groundwater pollution due to indiscriminate  discharge of solid and liquid waste by the industry and fertilizers/ pesticides used excessively by farmers have reached an “alarming  stage” in the State, according to a paper presented at a recent  workshop organised by the Central Groundwater Board. [. . . .] [S]pecial studies carried out by the Board in and around tannery  belts between 2002 and 2008 revealed that an undesirable change in  physical and chemical characteristics of soil and groundwater had been  noticed, rendering thousands of hectares of fertile land sterile. http://www.thehindu.com/2009/03/22/stories

Our Questions for Dudley Burton, Chair of the Environmental Studies Department, Sacramento State University:

1. Tell us a little bit about the Environmental Studies Program at Sac State. What does your program train students to do? What sorts of careers are they pursuing after finishing your program?
2. Tonight the focus of our show is challenges to groundwater. What are the most pressing issues related to groundwater around the country and the world?
3. In researching your background, we noted that you taught at Baylor before coming to Sac State. How are the groundwater issues different in Texas from the ones in California? Where is our groundwater in the Sacramento Valley? What condition is it in?
4. Are there particular challenges to groundwater that we have in Northern California that are different from other places you’ve studied or worked?
5. In an article in the Chico News and Review a couple of months ago, you were quoted talking about the new claims for green products in the market place. What is the difference to the environment in products made from petrochemicals and products made of “natural” products? What are “natural” products?
6. What impact do domestic cleaning supplies have on our groundwater? What concerns should we have about the products we use in our spring cleaning?
7. What impact do you think the individual can have on maintaining a healthy groundwater system? What can one citizen do?

Do-It-Yourself Groundwater Preservation

From Groundwater.org : Top 10 Ways to Protect and Conserve Groundwater

1. Dispose of chemicals properly.
2. Take used motor oil to a recycling center.
3. Limit the amount of fertilizer used on plants.
4. Take short showers.
5. Shut water off while brushing teeth.
6. Run full loads of dishes and laundry.
 7. Check for leaky faucets and have them fixed.
8. Water plants only when necessary.
 9. Keep a pitcher of drinking water in the refrigerator.
10. Get involved in water education.

From the Portland, Oregon, Water Board:Portland, Oregon, Water Bureau

  • Learn more about where your water supply comes from, potential sources of contamination, and local and state water protection efforts.
  • Organize a groundwater forum, community water festival, water testing or other educational event.
  • Support groundwater education in local schools.
  • Consider safe alternatives to hazardous products. Follow instructions carefully when using, storing and disposing of household hazardous wastes. Take toxic chemicals like weed killers, pesticides, paint, thinners, strippers, wood preservatives, furniture polish, cleaners, and bleach to a hazardous waste collection center – don’t dump them down the drain or on the ground.
  • Find out if you have underground storage tanks on your property. Residential tanks typically are used to store heating oil. Active tanks should be checked for leakage, which can increase with age.
  • Check for leaking fluids from vehicles. Clean up drips with an absorbent like kitty litter or sawdust and properly dispose of contaminated absorbent. Do not use water to wash spills since water percolates into the ground or discharges to storm drains in the street (which typically lead to streams and rivers).
  • Inventory your hazardous household products like thinners, solvents, oil based paints, stains and finishes, paint and finish preparation products, photographic chemicals, and art supplies. Store only what you’ll use; properly dispose of waste materials; and give extras to a neighbor for their use. Use less toxic alternatives whenever possible.  http://www.portlandonline.com/WATER/index

From Lori Bongiorno’s  GreenGreenerGreenest: A Practical Guide for Making Eco-Smart Choices a Part of Your Life (Penguin Group).

Bongiorno points out that “Cleaning is supposed to make our homes healthy, but in our frenzy to banish dirt, dust,mold, and germs we may be doin more harm than good. The sheer number of producsts is completely unnecessary, and we know very little about the effects of combining all these chemicals” and “Many conventional cleaning products [as we’ve heard] are made from petroleum.” She recommends a couple of websites for learning more about recipes and products for green cleaning: Care 2 www.care2.com and The Green Guide www.thegreenguide.com

Bongiorno also provides a lesson in “Decoding Cleaning Products Labels” She notes that “Manufacturers of cleaning producsts are not required to list their ingredients on labels of they are considered trade secres. This makes it difficult to determine what harmful chemicals some of them contain. However, if you look closely enough at a label you will find some clues about toxicity because the government requires toxic products to be labeled as such.” So, a product that contains the word “Danger” or “Poison,”  is typically the most hazardous. “Caution” or “Warning” means that there is a medium hazard. More information about the anger will be next to the signal word. She goes on to say that “Unfortunately, there aren’t any meaningful labels for cleaning products right now.” She suggests www.greenerchoices.org for getting ratings of some green cleaning products.

Playlist for Ecotopia #27:
1.  G. F. Handel, Water Music–Horn Suite in F 
2. Cool Water, Sons of the Pioneers
3.  Wade in the Water, the Packway Handle Band
4.  Poison in the Well, 10000 Maniacs
5.  Cool, Cool River, Paul Simon
6.  We Will Reweave the Sunshine, Peter, Paul & Mary