Cleaner Indoor Air Quality Can Help You Sleep Better

Cleaner Indoor Air Quality Can Help You Sleep Better 01

The key to a healthy indoor environment is clean air, but many of the finishes and furniture in a typical home or office off-gas pollutants that can compromise air quality. While opening a window might help, it also could make matters worse by introducing auto exhaust and other noxious emissions in. So, what’s a clean air lover to do about keeping the indoor environment safe?

Change Your Filters

For starters, it can’t hurt to change the filters on your furnace and air conditioner(s) on a regular, scheduled basis. Manufacturers recommend changing out furnace filters every three months, but mileage may vary depending on square footage and other factors. (When you install a new filter, write the date on it when it should be changed to keep yourself honest.) Also, getting your HVAC air ducts cleaned once every few years—or more frequently if you have pets or lots of people using the space in question.

Scrub The Air With Houseplants

Another way to help filter your indoor air is the all-natural way: with house plants. While humans have always had a special relationship with the plants around them, it wasn’t until NASA published research in the 1980s that we knew just what an important role house plants could play in ridding indoor environments of noxious chemical pollutants. Plants scrub particulates from the air while taking in carbon dioxide and processing it into oxygen, thereby creating more clean air for us to breathe. Garden mums, spider plants, dracaenas, ficus, peace lilies, Boston ferns, snake plants and bamboo palms are great choices given their especially powerful air purifying abilities.

Get An Air Filter

Yet another relatively easy indoor air quality fix would be to purchase an air purifier that plugs into the wall and uses carbon filtration or other methods for filtering contaminants out of the indoor environment. The Coway Mighty and Winix 5500-2 share top rankings from leading consumer review service, Wirecutter, while the Dyson Pure Hot+Cool Link gets kudos for great air cleaning with style.

Re-Paint In Low-VOC Style

If you really want to go all out, think about repainting interior walls with paint formulations that use little or no volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) that have been linked to respiratory problems, headaches, nausea, dizziness and fatigue, among other health worries. AFM Safecoat is the industry leader in low- and no-VOC paints and finishes, but the big players like Sherwin-Williams and Benjamin Moore now also have healthier formulations for a quickly increasing number of eco-conscious home improvement customers.

Refurnish

Another easy albeit more costly way to improve indoor air quality would be to get rid of those old couches, mattresses and other furniture which were required by law to contain flame retardant chemicals before we knew how harmful they could be to our indoor environment and health. Now that California has mandated that new furniture products cannot contain these noxious chemicals, more and more manufacturers (including Ikea and Pottery Barn) are starting to phase them out, so it’s a great time to replace that old mattress with a new one that won’t off-gas carcinogens every time you plop down onto it.

Written by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss for EarthTalk.

Featured image provided by Mark Solarski

Environmental Heroes LaDuke, McKibben and Fox Inspire Millions To Take Action

Environmental Heroes LaDuke McKibben and Fox Inspire Millions To Take Action 01

Thoreau, best known for his book Walden taught us how to live a simple life and take pleasure in nature’s splendor all around us. Leopold’s 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, encouraged us to respect the land and its inhabitants and manage it with future generations in mind. And Carson, whose book Silent Spring is credited with advancing the global environmental movement, taught us that the world would be sick, let alone way too quiet, without the soundtrack of wildlife. While these voices from the past still guide our conservation ethic, a new generation of visionaries is reimagining what it means to be an environmentalist in response to the new existential challenges facing our species and our planet.

One of them is Winona LaDuke, who cut her activist teeth in the 1980s when she helped launch the Indigenous Women’s Network and campaigned for tribal land claims in Minnesota. In 1993 she partnered with the folk-rock duo Indigo Girls to launch Honor the Earth, which raises awareness and support for Native environmental issues and develops resources for the survival of sustainable Native communities. Honor the Earth uses music, the arts and the media to spread awareness about our dependency on a clean, healthy planet. Most recently, LaDuke set up her tipi at one of the Dakota Access Pipeline protest camps; she has been outspoken about the need to reject such projects and the oil slated to run through them.

Many Americans first learned about the potential perils of climate change from Bill McKibben’s 1989 book The End of Nature. McKibben has subsequently penned more than a dozen books on related topics, and in 2006 crossed over into activism, helping lead a five-day walk across Vermont calling for action on global warming. He went on to launch 350.org, a global climate organizing effort named after climate scientist James Hansen’s contention that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide above 350 parts per million would be unsafe for humanity and the planet. Pioneering the use of social media to grow its ranks, the group coordinated 5,200 demonstrations in 181 countries as part of its “International Day of Climate Action” in October 2009 and rallied hundreds of thousands more people at subsequent events. 350.org is currently gearing up for the People’s Climate Mobilization on April 29, 2017 and is hoping for a record turnout in Washington DC and at other simultaneous rallies around the world. McKibben remains an outspoken critic of both the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline projects.

While McKibben worked his way into our hearts through his writing, Josh Fox did it with video. The filmmaker’s 2010 documentary _Gasland_ focused on the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of shale formations to recover natural gas deposits. The Oscar-nominated film became a key lever in the anti-fracking movement and Fox went onto become a vocal opponent of fracking. In 2016, Fox traveled the country on behalf of Bernie Sanders’s campaign for President and helped pen a historic climate amendment to the Democratic Platform calling for the institution of a national carbon pricing system, the phase out of gas-fired power plants and higher efficiency standards for federal energy projects. Fox currently works as Creative Director for Our Revolution, a non-profit Sanders launched following the 2016 Democratic primaries to get more Americans involved in the political process and organize and elect progressive candidates.

Of course, the work of LaDuke, McKibben and Fox is nothing if not inspiration for others to become part of the solution to our environmental problems. Cut down on your own emissions, tell your neighbor, and show up at the next big rally to fight global warming. We will all be glad you did!

Written by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss for EarthTalk.

Featured image provided by Rodion Kutsaev

Saving Our Soils and Climate with Biochar

Saving Our Soils and Climate with Biochar 01

Biochar is a naturally occurring, fine-grained, highly porous form of charcoal derived from the process of baking biomass and it’s been associated with fertile soils for some two thousand years. “Biochar is found in soils around the world as a result of vegetation fires and historic soil management practices,”� reports the International Biochar Initiative (IBI), a trade group representing the world’s burgeoning biochar industry. “Intensive study of biochar-rich dark earths in the Amazon has led to a wider appreciation of biochar’s unique properties as a soil enhancer.”

Indeed, researchers have been hard at work perfecting their own methods for manufacturing biochar by baking biomass in giant oxygen-free kilns. The resulting biochar can then be used as a soil amendment to help restore tired, compromised farmland, not to mention contaminated industrial sites, all the while taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. A liquid by-product of the biochar production process can also be converted into a carbon-neutral “biofuel” that can displace other carbon intensive fuels.

Farmers can layer biochar into their fields where it becomes part of the soil matrix and helps retain water and essential agricultural nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. “You can basically think of it as a soil reef upon which abiotic and biotic phenomena happen,” says David Shearer, CEO of Full Circle Biochar, one of a handful of U.S. based biochar start-ups working to commercialize the age-old “technology.” Farmers like the fact that using biochar can lower their water and fertilizer bills as well as yield more and better quality agricultural products — leading to better market performance overall. “This is really a hedge for farmers,”� reports Shearer. “It really helps them manage their financial risk and it helps them manage risk into the future around production.”

Beyond agriculture, biochar can also be used to clean up polluted land. “For example, if you have a mine that has contaminated soil adjacent to it, biochar … will allow you to remediate soils,”� says Shearer. He adds that biochar also makes for an excellent filtration medium: “We know that activated charcoal has been used for millennia as a filter mechanism, and so there is discussion in the biochar community that maybe the first step is we’ll use it as a filtration media, and then we’ll move to agriculture as the cost of production of biochar comes down.”

As far as environmentalists are concerned, the greater the demand for biochar the better, given the fact that it is a potent storage mechanism for carbon dioxide that would otherwise head into the atmosphere and contribute to climate change. “The carbon in biochar resists degradation and can hold carbon in soils for hundreds to thousands of years,” reports IBI. “We can use this simple, yet powerful, technology to store 2.2 gigatons of carbon annually by 2050. It’s one of the few technologies that is relatively inexpensive, widely applicable and quickly scalable. We really can’t afford not to pursue it.”

Written by EMagazine for EarthTalk.

Featured image provided by Manuel Sardo

Small Ways to Save Big

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The recession may be officially over, but it doesn’t feel that way for anyone still out of work or working for less. With retirement savings still looking shaky, banks still reluctant to give loans and employers continuing to tighten belts and lay off workers, it’s essential that we all start saving.

Fortunately, money-saving tips are frequently planet-saving tips, as smart conservation, wise stewardship of resources and future planning work together. Some of these tips may at first seem like putting the proverbial band-aid on the gaping wound—but remember that California’s serious blackout crisis of 2000 and 2001 was largely solved (and in short time) by individuals and businesses ramping up energy conservation, not by bailout packages or government maneuvering.

Also, if you talk to folks who weathered the Great Depression, they"ll tell you that they got through it primarily by saving pennies, growing their own food and stretching what they already had.

It can seem overwhelming, but we’re here to help you get started.

1. Spend Less on Gas

Yes, it’s true that gas prices have fallen somewhat with the rest of the economy, but they remain much higher than in years past. One of the most immediate ways to reduce your bills is to drive less. Sound too easy? Consider starting a local carpool with your friends, neighbors or coworkers. Combine errands and walk around town.

Take extra junk out of your trunk and unused racks off your roof. Drive the speed limit, use cruise control, keep tires inflated and forget jackrabbit starts. Don’t idle your savings away. Take public transit when possible, and maybe you can eliminate a whole set of wheels in your family—leading to big-time savings.

2. Reduce Those Utility Bills

Next on the list come the things you love to hate: bills. You have to pay your service providers, but why pay more to the folks at the other end of the wires?

Turn off lights when you leave a room, or better, install motion sensors and timers. Use low-flow showerheads and toilets (the former will also save you money on water heating). Speaking of that, turn your water heater down (experiment with how far you can go before your family members mind). Get an energy audit to asses air leaks and trouble spots—either by hiring a pro (call your utility) or going DIY and doing a walk-through yourself.

Make sure your HVAC equipment is properly maintained, with clean filters, and boost insulation anywhere you can. Put draft snakes under leaky doors and windows, and install (practically invisible) plastic film over windows. Make sure you use storm doors/windows and shutters if you have them. Fix any water leaks and winterize your castle.

3. Make Your Own Cleaning Products

Every little bit helps, so avoid plunking down hard-earned cash on fancy store-bought cleaning products when you can easily make your own. Did you know that most messes can be cleaned up with a combo of baking soda, borax, salt, vinegar, lime juice and elbow grease? It’s true! For glass and mirrors, put a mixture of distilled white vinegar and water in a spray bottle and spray away (it’s a bonus if you love the smell of vinegar). Plus, you can sleep easier knowing you aren’t leaving toxic chemical residues over your sacred abode (or leaving nasty things under sinks for kids or pets to find).

4. Relearn Your Grandparents" Wisdom

Chances are your grandmother did not have an electric dryer in her basement. Instead, she likely strung up the laundry on something called a clothesline, maybe between leafy trees in the backyard or across an alley in a city. You can do the same, and save a nice chunk of change (your linens may even ultimately smell fresher, depending on where you live).

You can also take up canning, start a little root cellar (you only need a dark, dry place, like under some stairs), compost your waste, sow some vegetables, rediscover hand-me-downs, use rags for cleaning, and much more. Give your grandma a call for more ideas—she’s probably hoping to hear from you anyway.

BRIAN CLARK HOWARD is the author of Green Lighting (McGraw Hill Professional) and the Home and Eco-Tips Editor of The Daily Green (www.thedailygreen.com).

Written by Editors of E Magazine for EarthTalk.

Featured image provided by Daiga Ellaby

How Blue Are You?

How Blue Are You 01

June 8 is World Oceans Day—a day meant to celebrate the oceans of the world and to recognize our connection to them. Originally proposed by the Canadian government at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the day was unofficially celebrated every year since. In 2008, World Oceans Day was officially recognized by the U.N.

With the help of the Ocean Project and the World Ocean Network, events happen all over the world to commemorate the day, in schools, businesses, organizations, aquariums, and other places. Events include beach parties, sand castle competitions, parades, book signing, cleanups and pledge drives.

This year’s theme is "Oceans of Life," where people are encouraged to build a connection with their favorite ocean species. Whether you’re dressing up as a marine creature to clean up beaches in Hermanus, South Africa or attending a screening of the Coral Sea Dreaming documentary in Queensland, Australia, find an event near you to celebrate.

SOURCE: World Oceans Day.

Written by Rebecca Webster for EarthTalk.

Featured image provided by Silas Hao