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Advice on eco-friendly grilling

Dear Umbra, What sort of grill (charcoal or gas) is the fairest of them all -- speaking from an environmentalist's viewpoint, of course! R. Widiss Dearest R., Gas. I gather that lively debate exists in the barbecue set over which yields better flavor: the briquettes, with their flavorful smoke and irregular heat, or boring old gas, which cooks evenly and imparts fewer smoky (aka burnt) flavors to the object de grill. Not much debate over the environmental results, though: Burning charcoal gives off more nasty particulates and chemicals. And if you're carnivorous, you're doubly culpable: cooking beef can be worse …

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Quite a Pear

There have been wars fought over oil and opium, spices and sugarcane -- and now it seems there is a war brewing in Washington state over pears. The battle was touched off when the Seattle-based Washington Environmental Council sent a letter to an irrigation district in the eastern part of the state threatening legal actions if the district didn't stop diverting so much water to orchard owners from Peshastin Creek, home to endangered fish species. The letter infuriated family pear farmers in the area, who were just gearing up for their water-intensive harvest season. Siding with the farmers, the Peshastin …

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More Than Meats the Eye

In the last two decades, there's been a national growth spurt in super-sized animal feedlots and slaughterhouses. That spurt has outpaced the ability of regulators to keep such places operating safely and cleanly -- and that has led to polluted water bodies, food safety scares, and on-the-job injuries, according to a report released yesterday by the Sierra Club. The report found that during the 1980s and '90s, corporate slaughterhouses produced 134 million pounds of tainted or possibly tainted meat; that millions of gallons of animal feces and urine seeped from waste pits into some 35,000 miles of rivers; that more …

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Catch As Quechua Can

Until recently, there were only two roads out of poverty for Ecuador's Quechua people: cutting down the rainforest (thereby destroying habitat and soil fertility alike) or trading with warring factions in neighboring Colombia (thereby opening the door for that country's violence to spread into Ecuador). Now there is a third, far better option: the Callari project, a marketing cooperative for indigenous Ecuadorians. Since its founding two years ago by Judy Logback, an environmentalist from Kansas, the cooperative has helped 1,000 native people increase their incomes by 30 percent through improving the quality of the cocoa and coffee they grow, relearning …

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The Bush administration braces for eco-chaos

A series of internal White House memos obtained by Grist sheds light on the Bush administration's private response to increasing reports of looming environmental crises. Contrary to popular opinion, it appears President Bush is far from oblivious to the spate of dire ecological warnings that have emerged in recent months. In fact, his family's personal preparations for the approaching "zero hour" present a stark contrast to his public disregard for environmental crises. "Over-fishing will have emptied our seas of my favorite fishes in a matter of decades. I'm especially going to miss that one that puffs up like a bouncy …

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Umbra on lawn and garden pesticides

Dearest Umbra, Goddess of Green Knowledge, A few years ago, a farmer friend of mine argued that more pesticides and chemical fertilizers are applied to suburban lawns and gardens than are used in commercial agriculture. I can see how this might be the case, given the massive size of the lawn and garden chemical industry, but I haven't been able to verify this information. Can you help? Ed Hunt Dearest Ed, Supplicant, The lawn and garden industry is massive, indeed. In 1997, U.S. households used 76 million pounds of pesticides. Of course, some of these toxic chemicals may have been …

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Onion Jack

Times are so bad for organic farmers in the United Kingdom that the whole market for organic foods could collapse, according to research published today by the National Farmers Union. According to the data, one in three organic farms in Great Britain is losing money. If there is hope, it lies in the Organic Action Plan for England, a national effort to improve the market for organically grown goods that was also unveiled today. The 21-point plan includes substantial government financial assistance and a commitment from supermarkets to increase British farmers' share of the organic market. The latter is a …

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Jonna Higgins-Freese reviews Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver

Several friends of mine, all of them environmentalists, have told me they picked up Small Wonder, Barbara Kingsolver's most recent collection of essays, but speedily put it down because the book just didn't pull them in. At first, I had the same reaction. And then I realized: small wonder. This book wasn't written for environmentalists. Yet because of Kingsolver's fame and her ability to talk about complex issues in a compelling way, Small Wonder may be more successful at communicating an environmental message to a lay audience than any other book published in recent years. Small Wonder By Barbara Kingsolver …

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Umbra on recycling beer bottles with lime wedges

Most Honorable Umbra, Knower of All Green Things: Am I unwittingly hampering the recycling process by twisting that lime wedge into my bottle of beer? The dang things are tough to get back out! Humbly yours,Jill Brooks Dearest Jill, Please be assured that I thoroughly investigated your problem. I started with Personal Solutions. I have a pile of limes I keep down here to fend off scurvy, and I spent some time sticking them in beer bottles to determine the best removal option. Trying to create sufficient vacuum suction with my mouth did not work. Two other methods, however, met …

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Shouldering the burden of our environmental impact

Consider this: Friends of mine tell me that their daughter will only eat meat if she knows the name of the animal that died to produce it. She'll eat the pork roast from pigs grown on our farm -- but not the anonymous bacon offered up in the college dining hall. Adherence to this one simple guideline ensures that she has the kind of environmental and health information that isn't always easy to come by. She knows that the pigs lived outdoors, on a small farm. She knows that they ate kitchen scraps and dairy waste, but not hormones or …

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