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by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss

E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: How is it that climate change is negatively affecting the health of rivers and, by extension, the quality and availability of fresh water? -- Robert Elman, St. Louis, MO

Global warming is no doubt going to cause many kinds of problems (and, indeed, already is), and rivers may well be some of the hardest hit geographical features, given the likelihood of increased droughts, floods and the associated spread of waterborne diseases.

For one, rivers are already starting to lose the amount of water they channel. A 2009 study at the
National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) found that water volume in the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest declined by 14 percent since the 1950s. This trend is similar in major rivers all over the world.

Many communities will see their water supplies shrink as temperatures rise and precipitation patterns shift,” reports the nonprofit American Rivers, adding that a rise in severe storms will degrade water quality and increase the risk of catastrophic floods. “Changes in the timing and location of precipitation combined with rising levels of water pollution will strain ecosystems and threaten the survival of many fish and wildlife species.” These shifts will have dramatic impacts, threatening public health, weakening economies and decreasing the quality of life in many places. In the U.S., the number of storms with extreme precipitation has increased 24 percent since the late 1940s—and the trend is expected to continue.

Another certain impact on rivers is more pollution as more frequent and powerful storms increase runoff from urban and agricultural areas that contain fertilizers, pesticides, chemicals and motor oil. “In older communities where storm water and sewage are transported together in one pipe, heavy storms can overwhelm the system and send raw sewage and polluted storm water into nearby streams and rivers,” says American Rivers. “These combined sewer overflows will grow more frequent as extreme storms increase.”

Lower water flows and rising temperatures compound problems caused by more runoff. “More frequent droughts and shifting precipitation patterns lower water levels in rivers, lakes and streams, leaving less water to dilute pollutants,” says the group. “Higher temperatures cause more frequent algal blooms and reduce dissolved oxygen levels, both of which can cause fish kills and do significant harm to ecosystems.”

American Rivers reports that the health of our rivers in the face of increasing warming will depend largely on community preparedness. Municipalities that fail to address aging infrastructure “will experience greater increases in storm water runoff and sewer overflows.” And communities that have damaged their wetlands, forests, streams and rivers will have fewer natural defenses to protect against the effects of climate change.

There is much we can do to protect rivers besides reduce our carbon footprints. American Rivers is promoting green infrastructure—an approach to water management that protects, restores or mimics the natural water cycle—as the way to bolster the health of rivers. “It means planting trees and restoring wetlands rather than building a new water treatment plant. It means choosing water efficiency instead of building a new water supply dam. It means restoring floodplains instead of building taller levees.”

American Rivers, www.americanrivers.org.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.
E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: What is the
Living Building Challenge and how does it differ from the LEED certification program? -- Jason Marshall, Richmond, VA

Both Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and the Living Building Challenge (LBC) were created with the same goal in mind: to encourage more sustainability and resource conservation in architecture, design, construction and building operations.
LEED, a program of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), is well known in architecture, building and design circles as the standard for certifying the green attributes of new and retrofitted structures (and even entire neighborhoods).

Developers can reference LEED’s 110-point rating system to inform choices regarding design, technology, siting, landscaping and other elements of building or renovation processes. Structures using the greenest versions of each element would qualify for the highest LEED rating, Platinum (followed by Gold, Silver, and just plain Certified). In general, a project gets certified the day its ribbon is cut—as long as developers followed through on implementing what they committed to on the LEED checklist. Upwards of 7,000 projects spanning some 1.5 billion square feet of development area across the
and 30 other countries have qualified for some kind of LEED certification so far.

Meanwhile, LBC, created in 2006 by the Seattle-based non-profit International Living Building Institute (ILBI), is a performance-based standard where a building only qualifies if it achieves its energy, water and waste efficiency goals moving forward after the ribbon is cut. In fact, since LBC certification is based on actual, rather than modeled or anticipated performance, projects must be operational for at least 12 consecutive months prior to evaluation by the ILBI.

Given the focus on performance, LBC does not provide as much detailed guidance, let alone a checklist of green attributes, instead letting the developers of each individual project decide for themselves how to best achieve their efficiency and conservation goals via means appropriate to the project and to the region.

That said, each project vying for LBC status must follow 20 general imperatives arranged under a system of seven general performance areas (or in the lingo of LBC: “petals”): Site, Water, Energy,
Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty. Given that the imperatives are general, they can be applied to any conceivable project type, be it a building, infrastructure, landscape or community development. But whatever type of project, if it is to meet the exacting standards of LBC it must live up to each one.

One of the imperatives under the Energy petal, for instance, is “net zero energy” meaning the structure must harvest or generate as much power as it needs via alternative renewable sources. Within the Materials petal, another imperative is avoiding any of hundreds of building materials on ILBI’s “Red List” of banned materials and substances. Yes another imperative, under the Site petal, is “car-free living.”

Fifteen different projects, from New York State to Hawaii, have so far been certified by ILBI as “Living Buildings.” The likely 16th is Seattle’s Bullitt Center, a six-story solar-powered net zero building designed to make extensive reuse of rainwater and day lighting and which features many other green amenities.

CONTACTS: LEED, http://new.usgbc.org/leed; Living Building Challenge, http://living-future.org/lbc.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: I've heard that simply painting your roof white can reduce household electricity bills by 40 percent. Is this something any of us can do? -- Susan Pierson, Sumter, SC

Yes anyone can do it—and the benefits can be significant, especially for those in warmer climates who expend a lot of energy keeping cool. But most of the world’s roofs, including on some 90 percent of buildings in the U.S., are dark-colored.

Dark colored roofs absorb more heat from the sun’s rays than light colored ones, and as such get much hotter. A black roof exposed to full sun can increase in temperature by as much as 90 °F (50 °C), meaning the air conditioning inside has to work that much harder to compensate for the added heat load.

But a white or reflective roof typically increases temperatures only 10-25 °F (5–14 °C) above ambient air temperatures during the day. This translates into a savings of up to 15 percent on air conditioning energy use over a year for a typical one-story residence, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The upshot of this energy savings is not only cost savings for the consumer—annual energy bill savings of 20-40 percent aren’t uncommon for single story homes in America’s Sun Belt—but also reduced air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions generated in the production of electricity.

A white roof also helps keep buildings and houses without air conditioning cooler in the summer than they would otherwise be. And it also helps mitigate the “urban heat island effect” whereby a city can be 6-8 °F warmer than its surrounding areas on warm summer days.

The non-profit White Roof Project promotes the concept across the U.S. and last year painted some 30 buildings, helping hundreds of families lower their energy bills in the process.

“A white roof project is low cost, easy to implement, relieves stress on the power grid, cuts down on smog, and creates tangible change for individuals, our communities, and even globally,” reports the group, which is looking to expand its work across the country significantly in 2013 and expand internationally in 2014.

The White Roof Projects gives away instructions (via a free downloadable “DIY Packet”) to help do-it-yourselfers paint their own roofs white without hiring a painter or roofer. All it takes is a few painting supplies, a couple of cans of highly reflective elastomeric white paint, and a plan for how to cover all relevant surfaces properly and safely. Those who would rather hire someone to do the ladder climbing and paint application can hire any local painter or roofer.

While green roofs may be preferable from a strictly environmental perspective in that they contain plants that filter pollutants and reduce run-off, white roofs may indeed provide more overall environmental benefit for the cost of a couple of cans of special white paint. Indeed, painting the roof white might be the best energy efficiency improvement you can make to your building or house.

CONTACTS: White Roof Project, www.whiteroofproject.org; DOE Cool Roof Fact Sheet, www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/pdfs/cool_roof_fact_sheet.pdf.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: What exactly are “citizen scientists” and how can I become one?

-- Eric Wilson, Barre, MA

“Citizen scientists” are members of the public who help scientists and researchers by making observations and/or collecting and recording data. The term was first popularized by the National Audubon Society as part of its annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC), during which volunteers from across the country fan out to count local birds. The aggregated data has been helping Audubon assess the health of U.S. bird populations and plan its conservation initiatives accordingly since the tradition began in 1900.

Thousands of Audubon members still participate in the CBC, though modern-day citizen scientists are more likely to be members of Project Noah, an app-based tool that allows everyday people to share wildlife sightings via their Internet-connected mobile devices. Through the power of so-called “crowdsourcing” (outsourcing a task to a distributed but undefined group of people), it has become one of the most popular online communities for nature exploration and documentation. User-created local missions allow members to observe specific wildlife species based on their own interests, accessing the efforts and enthusiasm of other Project Noah members in the process. And of course, individuals or small groups or classes can search for other missions to help via Project Noah’s website or mobile app.

Some other examples of environmentally oriented citizen science include BugGuide.net, an online community of amateur and professional naturalists who share observations of insects and collaborate on related research, and Citclops, a European Union-funded project where everyday people help scientists gather data to assess the environmental status of water bodies across that continent.

Budding citizen scientists looking for different types of projects can browse the offerings on Zooniverse, a citizen science web portal that grew out of the online crowdsourced Galaxy Zoo project, whereby amateur astronomers help classify the morphology of galaxies. Over 700,000 volunteers have so far contributed time to various Zooniverse projects. Many Zooniverse projects pertain to space and astronomy, but green-leaning citizen scientists will find plenty to pitch in on there. For example, analyzing wartime ship logs to better model Earth’s climate, categorizing underwater calls from endangered killer whales to help identify and track family groups, or identifying African animals “caught” on millions of camera trap pictures.

According to Zooniverse, conducting research by using citizen science has several advantages. One is the ability to cope with extremely large data sets so that researchers can access many person-years’ worth of classifications within days, weeks or months. Another is the fact that so many multiple independent interactions with the data sets help highlight quantitative errors and also serve as great training regimens for how to incorporate machine learning approaches to classification problems.

“While the primary goal of our projects is to produce academic research, by their very nature they are also outreach projects,” reports Zooniverse. “As it involves our volunteers directly in the process of research, citizen science is a powerful tool for both formal and informal education.”

CONTACTS: Audubon CBC, http://
birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count; Project Noah, www.projectnoah.org; BugGuide.net, wwwbugguide.net; Zooniverse, www.zooniverse.org.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Why is it that airplane exhaust is so much worse for the environment than engine emissions on the ground? -- Winona Sharpe, New York, NY

While air travel today accounts for just three percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, the carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants that come out of jet exhaust contribute disproportionately to increasing surface temperatures below because the warming effect is amplified in the upper atmosphere.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific intergovernmental body set up by the United Nations (UN) to provide comprehensive scientific assessments of the risk of human-induced climate change, reports that CO2 emitted by jets can survive in the atmosphere for upwards of 100 years, and that its combination with other gas and particulate emissions could have double or four times the warming effect as CO2 emissions alone.

Modern jet engines are not that different from automobile engines—both involve internal combustion and burn fossil fuels. But instead of gasoline or diesel, jet fuel is primarily kerosene, a common home heating fuel used around the world. Just like car engines, jets emit CO2, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and soot.

Beyond their contributions to global warming, airplane emissions can also lead to the formation of acid rain and smog, as well as visibility impairment and crop damage down on the ground. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that aircraft engines contribute about one percent of total U.S. mobile source nitrogen oxide emissions and up to four percent around airports in some areas.

What worries environmentalists is the fact that the number of airline flights is on the rise and is expected to skyrocket by mid-century, meaning that if we don’t get a handle on airplane emissions, our other carbon footprint reduction efforts could be for naught. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports that commercial flights grew nine percent from 2002 to 2010 and will rise another 34 percent by 2020.

Jet emissions standards are based on guidelines established under the U.S. Clean Air Act and are set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
. Current standards were created in 1996 and updated in 2006, but environmental leaders want even stricter limits on greenhouse gas and other emissions.

The IPCC recommends funding more research into aviation's effects on climate to guide the development of aircraft and engine technology, promoting more efficient air traffic operations and expanding the use of regulatory and economic measures to encourage emissions reductions.

In regard to economic measures, the European Union (EU) is leading the way with new rules that assess fees on foreign airlines based on their CO2 emissions. The new system, which would require airlines using an airport in Europe to trade for or purchase permits corresponding to the amount of greenhouse gases they emit, was supposed to go into effect in 2013 but has been postponed due to intense opposition from foreign governments which consider it a barrier to trade. EU officials have threatened to put the plan into effect nonetheless if airlines or their governments can’t agree on new stricter emissions limitations.

CONTACTS: IPCC, www.ipcc.ch; FAA, www.faa.gov; ICAO, www.icao.int.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: What are some tips for keeping my dogs and cats healthy?
-- Kim Newfield, via e-mail

Believe it or not, our pets may be exposed to more harsh chemicals through the course of their day than we are. Researchers at the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that pet dogs and cats were contaminated with 48 of 70 industrial chemicals tested, including 43 chemicals at levels higher than those typically found in people.

Just as children ingest pollutants in tap water, play on lawns with pesticide residues or breathe in an array of indoor air contaminants, so do their pets,” reports EWG. Since they develop and age seven or more times faster than children, pets also develop health problems from exposures much faster, EWG adds.

“Average levels of many chemicals were substantially higher in pets than is typical for people, with 2.4 times higher levels of stain- and grease-proof coatings (perfluorochemicals) in dogs, 23 times more fire retardants (PBDEs) in cats, and more than five times the amounts of mercury, compared to average levels in people,” reports the group. Their 2008 study looked at plastics and food packaging chemicals, heavy metals, fire retardants and stain-proofing chemicals in pooled samples of blood and urine from 20 dogs and 37 cats tested at a Virginia veterinary clinic.

“For dogs, blood and urine samples were contaminated with 35 chemicals altogether, including 11 carcinogens, 31 chemicals toxic to the reproductive system, and 24 neurotoxins,” adds EWG. This is particularly alarming given that man’s best friend is known to have much higher cancer rates than humans. A 2008 Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Center study found that dogs have 35 times more skin cancer, four times more breast tumors, eight times more bone cancer, and two times more leukemia per capita as humans. And according to researchers from Purdue University, cancer is the second leading cause of death for dogs, with about one in four canines succumbing to some form of the disease. Meanwhile, hyperthyroidism—a condition which many think is on the rise in felines due to chemical exposures—is already a leading cause of illness for older cats.

In its Pets for the Environment website, EWG lists dozens of ways for pet owners to ensure that dogs and cats are as safe as possible in this dangerous world we inhabit. Among other tips, EWG recommends choosing pet food without chemical preservatives such as BHA, BHT or ethoxyquin, and looking for organic or free-range ingredients rather than by-products. As for drinking water, EWG suggests running tap water through a reverse osmosis filter—either faucet-mounted or pitcher-based—before it goes into a pet’s bowl to remove common contaminants. Also, replacing old bedding or furniture, especially if it has exposed foam, can prevent pets from ingesting fire retardants. From avoiding non-stick pans and garden pesticides to choosing greener kitty litter and decking material, the list of tips goes on.

Taking steps to ensure a safer environment for pets—some 63 percent of U.S. homes have at least one—will mean a safer world for humans, too. EWG concludes that our pets “well may be serving as sentinels for our own health, as they breathe in, ingest or absorb the same chemicals that are in our environments.”

CONTACT: EWG Pets for the Environment,

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: What is the purpose of National Wildlife Week, which I understand will take place in March 2013? -- Melissa P., Burlington, NJ

National Wildlife Week is a program of the non-profit National Wildlife Federation (NWF) that is designed around teaching and connecting kids to the wonders of wildlife. Each year, the group picks a theme and provides fun and informative educational materials, curriculum and activities for educators and caregivers to use with their kids.

This coming March 18-24 (2013), the theme of National Wildlife Week is “Branching Out for Wildlife” with a focus on trees. Participating kids will learn about the parts of a tree, the role of trees and how wildlife depend on trees for survival. They can also participate in environmental service projects addressing climate change, healthy habitats, reforestation and connecting with the environment.

Teachers, instructors, coaches and parents can sign up with NWF and get a wide range of free resources—lesson plans, posters, trading cards, etc.—to help spread the educational messages of National Wildlife Week into school curricula, after-school and even at-home activities.

2013 marks the 75th year NWF has run National Wildlife Week, making it the group’s longest running educational program. To mark the milestone anniversary, NWF has adopted the goal of planting 75,000 trees across the country. School and youth groups can apply to host a tree planting event with NWF, which will provide native trees adapted to the local climate, as well as tree guards, shovels, mulch, watering supplies and gloves.

Beyond National Wildlife Week, all year long NWF will feature detailed information on their website about different types of wildlife that live in or are dependent upon trees across the country. Young people are encouraged to stay on the lookout for wildlife near them throughout National Wildlife Week and log their sightings accordingly—and can share them online via NWF’s interactive Wildlife Watch Map.

The Branching Out for Wildlife Mega-Poster is comprised of smaller sections that each graphically display the different parts of a tree—roots and soil, forest floor, trunk, branches and leaves/fruit/flowers—and the wildlife that frequent them. At five and a half feet tall, the complete mega-poster is a real attention grabber in any room. Anyone can print out the sections for free as they are all available via the NWF website as PDF downloads.

Wildlife Week is not the only way NWF educates kids and inspires a lifelong love of nature. The group has worked with teachers for decades to get kids learning outdoors. Recently NWF launched a campaign to get 10 million more American children out of their indoor habitats and into the great outdoors over the next three years. And its Eco-Schools USA and Schoolyard Habitats programs harness the power of teachers and students to green thousands of K-12 schools across the country. And the group’s Earth Tomorrow campaign is a multi-cultural youth environmental program that creates opportunities for underserved youth to learn about their world and contribute to the ecological health of their communities.

CONTACT: NWF National Wildlife Week, www.nwf.org/national-wildlife-week.aspx.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: My family has bad allergies and I’d like to improve our indoor air quality. What are some steps I should take? -- Marcia Lane, Scranton, PA

Even for those of us without allergies, poor indoor air quality is an often overlooked health issue. Recent research has shown that the air inside some buildings can be more polluted than the outdoor air in the most industrialized of cities. And since many of us spend some 90 percent of our time indoors, cleaning the air where we live and work might be one of the most important things we can do for our health.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists three basic strategies for improving indoor air: source control, improved ventilation and air cleaners. Source control, whereby emissions from individual sources of pollution are eliminated or reduced—for instance finding somewhere outside the home to store old paint and construction supplies—is typically the most effective strategy.

If the sources of pollution are beyond your control, bringing in more air from outside through better ventilation is the best bet. “Most home heating and cooling systems, including forced air heating systems, do not mechanically bring fresh air into the house,” the EPA warns. “Opening windows and doors, operating window or attic fans when the weather permits, or running a window air conditioner with the vent control open, increases the outdoor ventilation rate.” The agency adds that local bathroom or kitchen fans that exhaust outdoors also remove contaminants while increasing the outdoor air ventilation rate.

Air cleaners (either mechanical filters or electronic cleaners) can also help reduce or remove some forms of indoor air pollution. “Some air cleaners are highly effective at particle removal, while others, including most table-top models, are much less so,” reports the EPA. “People with sensitivity to particular sources may find that air cleaners are helpful only in conjunction with concerted efforts to remove the source.” The agency’s free online “Guide to Air Cleaners in the Home” compares the general types of residential air cleaners and their effectiveness in reducing pollutants including particles and gaseous contaminants.

Some of us swear by our houseplants for keeping our indoor air free of pollutants. Mother Nature Network reports that certain plants are known to filter out specific contaminants: Aloe removes airborne formaldehyde and benzene; spider plants scrub carbon monoxide and xylene; and gerbera daisies take the trichloroethylene left over from dry cleaned items out of your air. The EPA, however, does not consider houseplants to be especially effective at air filtration, and even warns that overwatered indoor houseplants can in and of themselves present a health hazard because damp soil may promote the growth of allergens.

Good housekeeping also can go a long way toward improving indoor air. WebMD reports that regular mopping and vacuuming (with a HEPA-filter-equipped vacuum cleaner), keeping interior moisture levels low, maintaining a smoke-free environment, and ditching chemical air fresheners are all key to maintaining good breathing space inside. WebMD also suggests testing your home for radon, a radioactive gas found in soils that can penetrate cracks in a building’s foundation and has been linked to lung cancer.

CONTACTS: EPA Indoor Air Quality,
www.epa.gov/iaq/; WebMD’s “Breathe Easy: 5 Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality,” www.webmd.com/lung/features/12-ways-to-improve-indoor-air-quality.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Is it true that asthma cases in children often correlate to living close to roads and all the associated pollution-spewing traffic? -- Jake Locklear, San Diego, CA

Living near a roadway certainly does exacerbate asthma, especially for kids. To wit, a recent study by the University of Southern California (USC)—the most comprehensive by far to date on this topic—found that at least eight percent of the more than 300,000 cases of childhood asthma in Los Angeles County can be attributed to traffic-related pollution at homes within 250 feet of a busy roadway. The findings, released in the September 2012 online edition of the peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, indicate that previous research underestimated the effects of roadway traffic on asthma.

“Our findings suggest that there are large and previously unappreciated public health consequences of air pollution in Los Angeles County and probably other metropolitan areas with large numbers of children living near major traffic corridors,” says Rob McConnell, one of the lead researchers on the study and a professor of preventive medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine.

“These findings confirm our understanding that air pollution not only makes things worse for people with asthma but can actually cause asthma to develop in healthy children,” reports Diane Bailey of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a leading environmental non-profit. “It is even more sobering when you consider that 45 million Americans live within 300 feet of a highway and many of them are children.”

USC researchers note that new laws in California designed to reduce carbon output—improving fuel efficiency and reducing vehicle miles by increasing public transit options—will also help reduce asthma triggers. Some of the policies designed to reduce traffic congestion and car usage include offering housing developers incentives to locate projects closer to transit stops, thus encouraging use of public transit.

“Plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change offer an opportunity to develop ‘win-win’ strategies that will maximize the health benefits from reduction both of greenhouse gases and of air pollutants that directly harm children,” McConnell says.

“There is also emerging evidence that other diseases may be caused or exacerbated by urban air pollution, including atherosclerosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and neurological disorders,” McConnell adds. “Thus, policies to combat climate change may have near-term health benefits beyond reducing the burden of disease due to asthma.”

According to NRDC’s Bailey, prioritizing the land directly next to freeways and other busy roads for commercial rather than residential use is one way to keep people at a safer distance from asthma-triggering pollution. Those who already live near busy roadways can help mitigate pollution effects by planting trees—foliage of all kinds is good at absorbing pollutants—and by filtering their indoor air to minimize overall exposure. But given that traffic pollution increases asthma by some eight percent, says Bailey, “
we better do everything we can do reduce that pollution and minimize exposure to it.”

CONTACTS: Environmental Health Perspectives, ehp.niehs.nih.gov; NRDC, www.nrdc.org.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.
E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: I’ve heard of Eco-Tourism, but what on Earth is “Geo-Tourism?

-- Sally Kardaman, Sumter, SC

“Geotourism” describes tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a given place, including its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of local residents. The idea is that tourism can be a positive force that benefits both travelers and local environments and economies.

National Geographic Senior Editor Jonathan Tourtellot coined the term in 1997 to distinguish it from “ecotourism” or “sustainable tourism,” both which more narrowly focus on travel’s ecological impacts. In addition to a “do-no-harm” ethic, geotourism seeks to enhance prospects for sustainable development based on the specific character of a given place rather than on standardized international branding, generic architecture and food, etc. In other words, a geotourism tour won’t involve sending you to an exotic locale only to put you up at a Hilton or Marriot and give you discount coupons to Taco Bell and McDonald’s.

“Today the world’s great destinations are under assault as visitor numbers rise exponentially every year,” reports the non-profit National Geographic Society, publisher of National Geographic. “The result is damage to the sites, overcrowding and erosion of the local culture and environment.” The Society hopes to reverse these trends with geotourism. Its Center for Sustainable Destinations (CSD) helps local communities, governments, tourism bureaus and private businesses enhance and sustain their distinct character while harnessing the power of tourism for positive impact: “Residents discover their own heritage by learning that things they take for granted may be interesting to outsiders,” reports CSD. “As local people develop pride and skill in showing off their locale, tourists get more out of their visit.”

The Society’s “Geotourism Charter” lists 13 principles that qualifying sites must adhere to in order to earn a geotourism distinction. The main current running through the Charter is appreciation for the distinctive aspects of a given place and culture, and an eagerness to showcase them to curious and supportive visitors.

The term geotourism is fairly new, but several places have offered “geotourism”-worthy travel for years. Costa Rica’s Rio Tropicales Lodge takes visitors white water rafting, horseback riding, hiking and on other rainforest excursions. It hires and trains locals to manage operations and teach guests about local cultures first-hand—and has launched several reforestation efforts and an education program that teaches elementary students across Costa Rica about the importance of protecting the rainforest in their backyards.

Another organization is 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking in Nepal, which trains local women to be tourism professionals and trekking guides. In just a few short years the group, which promotes low-impact treks in the Himalaya region, has trained 600 women as ambassadors to the outdoors across Nepal and beyond.

Apiring geotourism professionals can learn about their future profession by focusing on it as part of a new concentration within the geography department of Missouri State University.

http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/sustainable; Rio Tropicales, www.riostropicales.com; 3 Sisters, www.3sistersadventure.com; Missouri State University Geotourism Concentration, www.missouristate.edu/academics/details.aspx?id=81642.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

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Denali Institute
Margaret Ann Lembo

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