With all the debate about global warming over the past two years, the environment has once again become a hot topic among the general public these days.
Of course, here at UTW, environmental consciousness is a weekly concern and we keep readers' consciences piqued on a regular basis. But especially so at this time of year, as we approach Earth Day, April 22.
For a time it seemed Earth Day had lost its saliency beginning several years ago when gas got cheaper and cars began getting bigger. Computers, the internet, and new technology gave way to a consumerism that had become all consuming and devoured any attention we might paid the environment.
But the green of spring brings a new season of heightened awareness in 2007. Some examples? The continued exploration of "sustainability"; the advent of "green" living environments and building codes; and increased support from mainstream religious groups.
Some say the first Earth Day is when the modern environmental movement was born. Earth Day was so named in 1970 to a world that had been seen as using and abusing the environment increasingly since the Industrial Revolution.
That first Earth Day was even set aside to bring a revolution of sorts against environmental abuse. The heightened awareness of the then young Boomer Generation had seen early success in forcing social and cultural change during the '60s and was ready to tackle a new battlefront in corporate America.
This new year into a new decade continued to deal with some of the sixties culture and counterculture. Thirty-seven years ago recalls M*A*S*H; Patton; Woodstock; Hello, Dolly!; The Beatles' "Let it Be," not long after Paul McCartney announced that the Beatles have disbanded; Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water"; the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty goes into effect after ratification by 43 nations; U.S. invades Cambodia; 100,000 people demonstrate in Washington, D.C. against the Vietnam War; the Kent State Shootings; Apollo 13; death of Jimi Hendrix; a gallon of gas was .36; postage stamps were .06; Sports Illustrated was .15; the world's population reaches 3.63 billion (today it is 6.5 billion); the U.S. population reaches 205 million (today it is 301 million).
Environmentally, the American population was guzzling leaded gas in behemoth V8 sedans; industries emitted smoke and sludge without worry of legal ramifications or bad press from anyone; air pollution was thick, but this was almost lauded as a nation of industrial prosperity.
And so it was into this world that the first Earth Day was born. Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, has the designation of being the founder of Earth Day, (not internet inventor Al Gore), proposing this first nationwide environmental protest to "shake up the political establishment and force the issue into the national agenda."
This "shake up" saw more than 20 million Americans demonstrate in streets and parks for a healthy, more sustainable environment. It's not a bad thing to "shake up the political establishment," and in this case, the movement led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species acts--all under the administration of the most unlikely of environmentalists, President Richard Milhouse Nixon.
Celebrating the anniversary of Earth Day each year brings a greater awareness to environmental issues to all and has seen an increasing number of people joining the green team to save the environment in their own ways.
Getting a Buzz, Naturally
The word "sustainable" is now the buzz word 37 years later in environmental efforts. Sustainable Tulsa, a chapter of the Oklahoma Sustainability Network, defines "sustainable" in this way: "To meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
Their mission statement says that "Sustainable Tulsa is a grassroots, non-profit organization dedicated to responsible economic growth, environmental stewardship and quality of life for all."
According to Sean Griffin, in an article printed on sustainabletulsa.org, "As a world we are consuming more of the earth's resources than ever and polluting our world at an ever increasing level, an unsustainable level.
"Many seem to take a short view and make decisions based upon what impact they can create in the immediate future without regard for the long term consequences of these decisions."
He continues saying the challenge all of us-individually and as communities--is to look ahead to what long-term effects the decisions we make today will have on future generations.
Some people have extremist notions that to live a sustainable life means relinquishing their current comforts of living. Not so, he says. As Griffin further suggests, it can be as simple as purchasing foods that are locally grown; choosing clothing that is made from natural or recycled materials, or driving your car just a little less.
One of the first inquiries to make when seeking out what Tulsa is doing in this sustainable quest is The Metropolitan Environment Trust (The M.e.t.), whose mission is to coordinate and promote recycling and environmental events in the metropolitan Tulsa area including Broken Arrow, Jenks, Glenpool, Sand Springs, Claremore, Collinsville, Owasso, and Bixby.
The M.e.t. Executive Director Michael Patton is practically a household name in the recycling industry. He has been with the M.e.t. since its inception 13 years ago and environmental awareness has been an avocation since childhood, he says, admitting a passion for new ideas on the subject.
On his mind at this juncture is his investigation on the recent finding in Boulder Creek, CO that male tadpoles are becoming female frogs. He said a 2005 study showed 80 percent of the streams are impaired.
Integrative physiology professor and director of the Environmental and Comparative Endocrinology Laboratory at Colorado University, Dr. David O. Norris, is researching fish in Boulder Creek downstream from the Boulder Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Through his collecting samples of fish since 2000, he has found that many of Boulder Creek's fish below the treatment plant have both male and female genitalia. While he says this should not affect people unless they are drinking the water directly from the creek below the plant, his concern is how high levels of estrogen are getting into the creek water.
Patton contends this anomaly is being attributed to that fact that people are tossing their meds in the toilet, just "as we have been doing and told to do for so many years."
Julie Alexander, Public Relations Coordinator for The M.e.t., says "most people don't give much thought to the impact their hormone replacement prescriptions or anti-depressants have on the world around them. Old and unused medications flushed down the toilet are having a toxic affect on area waterways and harming wildlife."
She says, "according to a 2002 U.S. Geological Survey study of 139 rivers in 30 states, including Oklahoma, drugs like steroids, antibiotics, hormones and other prescription and over-the-counter medications were found in trace amounts in 80 percent of the samples taken."
"Clean out the medicine cabinet," says Patton, "but don't throw away those medications--bring them to our (Household Pollutants Recycling) events." Check The M.e.t.'s calendar of events for the next collection event, at metrecycle.com.
A second major concern recently, says Patton, is threat of mercury in homes. Mercury thermometers, fluorescent bulbs, thermostats, watch batteries and tilt switches may contain elemental mercury. Inhalation, skin contact and ingestion are three routes of exposure when something as simple as a common thermometer is broken.
While all three routes are extremely dangerous, inhalation is the most dangerous. From the lungs, mercury can then enter the blood and will eventually end up in the kidneys and brain. Tremors, loss of vision and hearing, insomnia, weakness, loss of memory and disorientation are low level symptoms; high level dangers include damage to the central nervous system and internal organs and possible death from respiratory failure. A 1999 survey of fish products in grocery stores in San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C., showed all contained mercury.
What to do? Replace mercury items with non-mercury alternatives. Dispose of mercury products to The M.e.t.'s next Household Pollutant Collection Event or call 584-0584 for more information. It is important to never throw mercury in the trash.
Another development in the environmental cause, Patton says, is the recent interest from churches. Besides the Catholic involvement, which has been consistently growing since the beginning of the movement, the Southern Baptists and the Evangelical Environmental Network are all paying attention these days.
"Mainstream religions see the environment as something to save, that we are stewards of it. There is really something going on here," said Patton. He suggests people get involved through their churches.
Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., noted American theologian, says that "[i]n the past fifty years or so, the (Catholic) Church, like many other agencies concerned with public policy, has expressed increasing concern for the preservation of the environment. It is true that, according to the Book of Genesis, human beings have been given a certain dominion over the rest of creation." Moreover, in his book, The New World of Faith, he adds that human beings have a right to "transform nature by their industry and make use of its resources according to their needs."
At the same time, he says this does not give them the "license" to pollute the earth, the air, the sea, to deface the beauty of creation or to waste its resources that are intended for the benefit of all. "We have the responsibility to make the world what the Second Vatican Council calls 'a dwelling worthy of the whole human family.'"
We are a whole human family across this planet, and it is each and every person's responsibility to do what he or she can to preserve this earth for future generations.
And, it all begins with one person at a time.
For the M.e.t., March, April and May are some of the busiest months of the year, partly because of the "new life" mentality which comes with the season of spring, as well as with the climate changes during this time of the year.
"We have 28 events in 75 days, March 1 through May 16," Patton says. Some events of note include an April 21 Haikey Creek Clean Up.
Patton says to just come on by to help remove the litter in this area. In fact, he says, throughout April, there will be a number of litter clean-ups in the city.
Green Country will turn "green-minded" at Tulsa Zoo's Earth Fest on Saturday, April 21, from 9am to 5pm. In an effort to increase environmental awareness throughout the Tulsa community, the Zoo will host an Earth Day event in true festival-style, filled with fun and educational activities the whole family will enjoy. Various activities throughout the zoo include Outdoor Adventure area, Farmer's Market featuring organic produce and flowers, the sounds of ethnic music presented by various artists, a Technology Awareness area featuring hybrid vehicles and Docent-led educational activities.
In conjunction with the Earth Fest, Tulsa Zoo Friends will honor an outstanding Earth Day Hero in Green Country. This "green-minded" hero must be age 12 or older and exemplify conservation through an Earth-friendly lifestyle.
The chosen Earth Day Hero will be someone who strives to preserve the world, teaches others how to protect the environment through advocacy or action and is a role model for eco-awareness.
In addition, Tulsa Zoo will partner with Eco-Cell in an effort to collect unusable cell phones in a mass cell phone recycling effort. People are who bring their cell phones to be recycled will be admitted at half price for the day's admission. Adults' admission with a cell phone will be $6.04; children ages 3-11 will be $3.02; and children 2 years and under are admitted free.
Eco-Cell will issue the Zoo a check for its collection, and the money will be used for the Zoo's conservation projects. Cell phones are welcome after April 21 as well; Tulsa Zoo will add a cell phone recycling area in its already successful recycling center. Contact Brett Fidler, 669-6204 or email@example.com for more information.
The next day, April 22, is The M.e.t. Night at Drillers Stadium.
"The first 1,000 through the gates will receive a pop-up mesh bag. Instead of deciding paper or plastic when shopping, take your own bag," says Patton.
The M.e.t. will also be giving away free Loblolly Pine trees, a species in the southern United States which grows rapidly on a wide range of sites. In fact, Patton says this year more than 7,500 pines will be distributed, as well as some oak, redbud, pecan and black walnut trees.
An educational conference on sustainability will be held May 10 in Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma Sustainability Network Conference will cover everything from environmentally-safe construction techniques and agriculture methods to transportation and energy use.
Patton says this conference is open to anyone and is the largest of its kind in this region. For more information, go to oksustainability.org.
Environmentalism Begins at Home
Patton and Alexander agree that there many simple things that people can do that will help sustain the environment while not putting too much of a burden on the person. One simple idea from Patton is to put a filter on a home refrigerator and sink rather than buying bottled water.
He offers the example of FIJI water. A FIJI advert says "Far from pollution. Far from acid rain. Far from industrial waste. There's no question about it: Fiji is far away. But when it comes to drinking water, 'remote' happens to be very, very good. Look at it this way. FIJI Water is drawn from an artesian aquifer, located at the very edge of a primitive rainforest, hundreds of miles away from the nearest continent. That very distance is part of what makes us so much more pure and so much healthier than other bottled waters."
Patton's argument is that if the ad is true, the transportation expenses involved in getting this water from this remote region into our home are immense, not to mention the environmental effects of truck, train and car emissions.
There are many simple ways people can work toward preserving the environment without being a burden. Here are some basic household tips from Alexander.
She suggests find recipes for safe, non-toxic cleaners, such as using baking soda as an all-purpose cleaner for scrubbing tile in kitchens and bathrooms. Mix one tablespoon of vinegar with one quart of water for a streak-free window cleaner.
To unclog a drain, pour half a cup of baking soda down the drain, followed with half a cup of vinegar. Let stand for 15 minutes then flush with boiling water; repeat if necessary. Mix one cup vinegar with a gallon of warm water to clean linoleum floors. To disinfect, mix half a cup of borax with a quart of warm water. Other recipes can be found at armandhammer.com.
Some tips for green living begin with The M.e.t. mantra: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Rethink. Alexander says, "to lessen the impact your daily life has on the environment by changing your habits."
For example, replace standard incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent when you can. Take your own reusable bag to the store when shopping. Buy durable products and avoid products that are packaged for single use, (i.e., drinks, school lunches, candy, ct and dog food, salad mixings, etc.) Instead, Alexander says, buy in bulk and transfer the products to your own reusable containers.
Plant a tree. Plant a drought tolerant landscape. Compost yard clippings and kitchen waste. Dispose of household chemicals, medications and mercury thermometers responsibly. Turn off the water while brushing your teeth. Install a low-flow toilet. Use rechargeable batteries.
Seal around doors and windows to reduce energy use. Buy locally-grown food. Install ceiling fans to evenly distribute heated or cooled air in your home. Wash clothes in cold water and always wash full loads.
Recycle old electronics rather than send them to the landfill. Alexander says "E-waste is a growing problem. There is a great company in town called Natural Evolutions (836-2995) that takes old computers and strips them down and resells parts for all types of purposes." Oklahoma Computer Recyclers (459-0836) is another company. Also, she adds to remember that ink cartridges can be recycled. Most come with prepaid envelopes in the package to return them free of charge.
Use low-phosphate or phosphate-free detergents. According to Alexander, while not widely available, these products can be purchased at Akin's, Whole Foods, and other similar stores.
"Detergents contain many harmful chemicals that can cause respiratory problems in some people and skin allergies," she said.
Dishwashing detergents are high in phosphates. "We recommend people cut back on the amount of detergent they use in the dishwasher to about two-thirds or half of what they normally use."
Recycle mail and office paper. Patton says that recycling is still of utmost importance in the sustainability world. He offers the example of paper, saying he can make $.05 on a pound of paper. He says only one in five Tulsans recycle.
Turn off appliances when not in use. Unplug cell phone chargers or other adapters when not charging. Replace your computer monitor with a flat screen--they use up to 70 percent less energy!
Hang dry clothes rather than use the dryer. The dryer is the most energy-draining appliance in the home. Carpool, walk or bike to work. Buy products made from recycled materials. Avoid using herbicides to kill weeds in the lawn. It's okay not to have a golf-course perfect lawn. Turn your thermostat down in the winter and up in the summer.
Living in the Green
Taking a bold step in the community toward sustainability is the new Tulsa Loft Project, called NINE: New Inspiration for a Natural Environment, soon to be at 1409 S. Rockford, consisting of two sustainable, healthy, urban living spaces.
Tulsa Loft Project is a collaborative effort of architect Shelby Navarro of One Architecture (1567 Riverside Drive) and Stephen Meltzer of CB Urban City Real Estate (1441-B S. Quaker Ave.).
Navarro is a young architect who chose to remain in Tulsa to pursue his career in a market that is serious about sustainability, while Meltzer, after fleeing Tulsa for New York 35 years ago, returned to find a pleasant surprise in Tulsa, with its shift in emphasis to the environmental cause.
The Tulsa Loft Project was purposely situated at 1409 S. Rockford--as Navarro and Meltzer say, it is located in an urban part of the city within walking distance to many Cherry Street amenities.
"This is a multi-use area," says Meltzer. "Here, people are close to walking areas on Cherry Street. If it were located in a residential area of the city, it would be farther away from businesses--people could not get to similar areas without driving." He says this Project is on the "other side" of Cherry Street.
Again, the word "sustainable" was being tossed about quite liberally. "Sustainable," says Navarro from an architect's eyes, "is a better way of doing things--polluting less and helping in the construction sequence of building with the idea of lower energy costs and using recycled materials."
Meltzer says their project has the residential Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.
The LEED green building rating system was originally developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to provide a recognized standard for the construction industry to assess the environmental sustainability of building designs.
The LEED's 69 points cover six topic areas: Site Development; Water Efficiency; Energy Efficiency; Material Selection; Indoor Environmental Quality; and Innovation in Design.
Navarro says "the highest level of LEED certification is our goal with the project." The following elements will be found in the home and will help them achieve a level of sustainability unprecedented for Oklahoma:
* Geo-thermal heating/cooling system (far more efficient means of conditioning the air of the home, which utilizes the renewable resource in the earth's constant temperature to heat and cool the home and uses significantly less electricity and no gas to operate);
* SIP framing (sustainably manufactured with less waste in labor and materials, significantly reduced air leakage, increased insulative value and strengthened structure);
* Green Roof (a thin layer of topsoil and grass is planted on the flat roof to provide an additional protective and insulative layer. The grass also helps absorb storm water runoff--plus it just looks incredibly cool from the roof deck);
* Recycled content abound (from the flooring to the gypsum board, many materials throughout the interior of the home will be made from recycled materials).
* Low-E windows;
* Energy Star rated appliances (using far less energy to operate);
* Low maintenance exterior finishes and drought tolerant, low maintenance landscaping for a greatly reduced need for weekend destroying maintenance;
* Rain water catchment system (what water does fall from the roof will fall into a barrel that will store the water to be utilized for future use in the garden).
One not-so-tangible factor that increases the project's sustainability is the density of the property being at least doubled. The increased density consequently benefits the surrounding neighborhood in that it adds to the critical mass and energy necessary to support viable neighborhood services nearby.
The density and the orientation also enhance an already walkable neighborhood. It injects additional human presence into the neighborhood benefiting security and interaction without taxing the area's capacity to accommodate the population gain.
The additional density also utilizes Tulsa's infrastructure more efficiently by concentrating population in an existing area thereby reducing the demand for continual diffusion of infrastructure and drainage of the tax base.
Additionally, the house that previously occupied the property was not demolished and transported to a regional landfill. The home was given away and moved to a location in Sperry, OK for reuse as a dwelling for a family, says Navarro.
"I've always been interested in this area," says Shelby. "My grandfather recycled. In the '70s, we had solar panels in our house; we caught our own fish in the ponds to eat." All this left a permanent impression on him.
Each townhome has 2,203 sq. ft. of livable space with 1,735 sq. ft. in the principal dwelling containing two bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms. A two-bay detached garage is located near the rear of the property gaining access from an active alleyway. A 468 sq. ft. third bedroom/studio/guestroom/flex space is located above the garage.
Each home will have an intimate Zen-like courtyard connecting exterior with the interior through transparent folding doors that virtually eliminate the back wall when fully open. The master bedroom overlooks the courtyard from a covered balcony utilizing similar folding doors that when open seamlessly connect space.
Both homes will be capped with a private roof deck with access to the green roof and views of the surrounding neighborhood as well as downtown Tulsa's spectacular skyline.
The homes are anticipated to be complete by September of 2007. Each unit is competitively priced for new construction at $389,000.
"This will be a showcase in town, in the forefront of design," says Navarro.
The dwellings are being marketed by and the model is on display at CB URBAN REAL ESTATE located at 1441 S. Quaker Av. just off of Cherry St. A materials board accompanies the model to showcase some of the sustainable elements. More information is available at HYPERLINK "mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" email@example.com.
Finally, and possibly one of the most important areas of sustainability, is the idea of eating foods produced locally. A perfect example is the Cherry Street Farmer's Market which is open from spring to fall.
Local farmers set up shop here to sell their wares. This year the market has moved to Brookside, at 41st and Peoria, and two additional markets are setting up shop downtown--one in the Brady District outside of Lola's and another at the new Central Park, near 4th and Peoria.
Naturalfarms is anther option year-round. With two locations in Tulsa (420 S. Utica, 6560 E. 91st St.), Naturalfarms has the distinction of raising, producing, processing or marketing most all of the products all the products are either all-natural or organic.
From the low-fat Italian Piedmontese beef Jeff and Chris Emerson raise themselves, to the sausages that they process in their own inspected processing plant in Tulsa, their meats are chemical free, hormone free, antibiotic free, toxic or toxin free.
The Emersons are the founders and owners of Naturalfarms, coming into this business in 2000 after 13 years of being ranchers in the cattle business. "It all starts with us at the farm," says Jeff. "We use no commercial fertilizers, no growth implants, hormones or antibiotics in our meats, and we use certified organic gains for feed."
Jeff says the cattle business is something he wanted to do when he turned 40, and he admits it is hard work, especially when relying of the weather so heavily. For example, this year he was only able to gather 58 bails of hay rather than the usually 250 bails because of the drought.
Italian Piedmontese cattle originally came from Italy.
"The bull embryo was shipped to Canada, then bread in Canada, and then the breed made its way to Oklahoma," Emerson explains. "The taste and tenderness of this beef is great if they are raised right and naturally."
He has struck up a partnership of sorts with Benedictine Brother Joseph at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek, Hulbert, OK. The monks know a thing or two about farming naturally.
"They give us goats, which we use for weed control, and I will give them 60 to 80 pounds of beef" he says with a little chuckle, adding that goats can be somewhat mean at times.
The Emersons have a big garden for natural produce, but also rely on Bixby farms for their produce supply.
"We support the local growers," Chris Emerson says. And as she says, buying local products eliminates the "middle man" and the expense of buying from out of state producers--it saves money which is passed on to the customer, and it saves the environment with requiring less driving of semi-trucks getting the product to Oklahoma.
Locally-grown produce has no chemical fertilizers and no pesticides--natural, whole foods as they are intended to be.
"Commercial fertilizers have petroleum in them which kills the worms out of the ground and it takes years to restore the soil," Emerson says. "We use the worms to fertilize the plants and they actually enrich the soil."
Emerson says 150 billion tons of commercial fertilizers are used in the U.S. annually, and it is killing out the soil. "It's not really the farmers' fault," he adds, "they are trying to feed the world."
The Emersons primarily use two organic growers to supply their produce, Three Springs Farms, an Oklahoma Cooperative, in Oaks, OK, and Deep Fork Organic Farm, both only 20 miles away rather than transporting across the country from California.
Three Springs' mission is to create a farm that is economically viable, environmentally responsible and socially engaged. They produce beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, greens, green beans, herbs, lettuce, melons, okra, onions, peas and peppers.
The Emersons say they carry most all produce that are found in commercial stores, such as lettuce, green onions, spinach, tomatoes, radishes, carrots, watermelon, squash, peppers and herbs.
"Our top selling item has to be the beef, which we raise here locally. It's the tenderness of it," Jeff says. "We have found that once they try it, they will be hooked."
"People also like our deli," Chris says. The Natualfarms on 91st has a little café which serves lunch throughout the week and candlelight dinners on Friday and Saturday nights by reservation only. And, as you can imagine, all is natural and organic.
Naturalfarms also has a full-time nutritionist on staff, Monica Dewart, who is an immense asset to the Emersons and for customers who come in with nutritional questions.
"I assist people who come into the store, and I also teach classes on natural health topics," Dewart says. "I teach people that eating naturally produced foods can help their overall wellness because they are eating the pure foods, not the toxins.
"With us, it starts at the farm," says Emerson. "We do as much as we can here locally." Although the prices of buying at a store such as Naturalfarms means about a 10 to 15 percent increase in cost for most items than what would ordinarily be bought at Reasor's, still as Emerson says, people are buying meat that was raised only 10 miles away, and produce that was grown naturally and organically literally just down the road in Bixby.
In this way, everyone is a winner in eating healthy, supporting the local growers and ranchers and saving the environment as well.
Happy 37th anniversary, Earth Day.
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