Lent is the period when most Christians make some form of sacrifice 40 days before Easter as a show of penance. Plastic has become a major environmental problem by polluting rivers and streams, fouling beaches while killing fish and over clogging landfills. The Church of England has proposed what it feels may be a more sustainable way to invoke this practice of abstinence. Instead of abstaining from alcohol, sweets, tobacco, transgressions and swearing, it is suggesting an abstinence from synthetic fabrics, wet wipes, dental floss boxes and plastic bags. The church feels it is their duty to safeguard the integrity of creation. There exists in Europe an anti plastic sentiment as well as legislation to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic. Britain has committed to a 25 year plan to eliminate plastic and is seeking help by asking cafes and restaurants to avoid using plastic whenever possible. The action taken by the church, if successful, will be a stepping stone for making this practice a part of daily life.
Jae Rhim Lee is an artist and entrepreneur who is trying to make human burial more in-tune with the environment. She has designed what she calls the Infinity Burial Suit. The suit costs $1500 and is lined with mushrooms meant to break down the human corpse. The goal of the suit is to break down toxins and distribute nutrients back into the soil. The artist feels that this can remove some of the fear of dying and have us move towards death acceptance as part of life by being returned to the earth. The process would remove the common practice of embalming bodies and entombing them in concrete liners. The possibilities of some form of green burial is being considered by more and more people since it would no longer release embalming fluids, formaldehyde and residue from cremations into the environment. According to a 2015 survey done by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council, 64% of respondents indicated an interest in green funerals up from 43% in 2010.
Gisenyi, Rwanda is making important strides in protecting the environment. Stiff fines are now being enforced not for smuggling arms or narcotics but for smuggling plastic bags.It is now illegal to import, produce or sell plastic bags except for hospital and pharmaceutical use. They have even issued short jail sentences and shut down businesses for those who refuse to cooperate. The government of Rwanda has stated the bags contribute to clogging sewers and cause flooding as well as prevent rainwater from reaching crops.The streets of major cities along with the hillsides of the country are spotless. As a result Rwanda has earned the name of the cleanest nation in Africa as well as one of the cleanest nations in the world. All bags must be approved by the government as being biodegradable.
Chicago has now built what is considered “the Greenest Street in America.It is a two mile stretch In an industrial neighborhood of Pilsen. Bike paths and parking lanes are paved with smog eating concrete, sidewalks are made of recycled material and streetlights are wind and sun powered. “Bioswales” drains remove silt and pollution from runoff water with the aid of dense, drought tolerant foliage. This combination of a vegetation and drainage system diverts storm water from over-powering city drains. The road in turn uses 42% less energy to operate.
In the last decade Americans have eaten 19% less beef then over past decades. Although they are more concerned with health, it has also had an unintended positive effect on the environment. According to research done by The National Resources Defense Council 37% of Americans cited health as well as the cost of beef as the main reasons for the increase in consumption of other proteins such as chicken and tofu. The effects of raising cattle creates greenhouse emissions. This reduction is equivalent to the emissions of about 39 million cars. Cattle feed is grown using petroleum based fertilizers. In turn the animal’s digestive system produces methane gas. Methane is 25% more damaging to the environment then carbon dioxide.
The Incas faced problems with having to take long journeys and having a food productthat would travel well and sustain them for a long time. Chuno is an Inca discovery which is still a part of the culture of the population that inhabit the area surrounding the Andes. It is essentially freeze-dried potatoes that can be stored for years. The process is simple. Potatoes are sun-dried and then frozen at night and then stomped on to remove the water and skin. Inhabitants of both Peru and Bolivia lean on Chuno, which can last for decades. When there is a long lasting drought and there is little in the way of vegetables and meat to survive this is what they lean on. Many who have tried it say it is bad-tasting and foul smelling. However, it is abundant in carbohydrates while being high in iron and calcium making it a necessity for energy, strength and strong bones when little else is available.
New technology incorporating electronics and functional inks is likely to be in our near future. Self-healing materials requiring a chemical reaction have been termed polymerization. Older experimental endeavors required an external factor such as heat and were limited to smaller tears which would take hours to complete the mending process. This new technique developed at a nano-engineering lab at the University of California in San Diego, involves a solution which includes ink made with magnetic particles. If a garment is torn the magnetic particles in the fabric are drawn to each other and close the gap in seconds.
Two electrical engineers J-C Chiao and Smith Rao of the University of Texas have developed a wind turbine that is half the size of a grain of rice. It is one of the attempts at making power outlets obsolete. It is made of a durable metal alloy and connected by tiny wires that would be integrated into an item such as a smart phone. This in turn would deliver a tiny burst of energy. Other such items in the development are solar powered fabrics and wind powered hats. The tiny turbines would make the solar backpacks a thing of the past.
There is a movement in Los Angeles to encourage beekeeping in small backyard gardens. The city council has passed an amendment to allow residents to pursue keeping their own hives in an attempt to counteract the dramatic die-off of the honeybee populations. A quarter of the bee population has been lost in the past year by U.S. beekeepers. City bees do better in backyard gardens due to the lack of pesticides and a great variety of plant species. Great news is that this movement is starting to spread nationwide.
Where do we get the rich red color that makes up some of the food we eat daily? Few people realize that it is derived from pulverized insects. Extract of the cochineal bug, a scaly insect, has been used for centuries as a colorant. It is what gives color to berry flavored yogurt, some juices, imitation crab meat and even lipstick. It was discarded in the 19th century when scientists started using synthetic substitutes. Its resurgence is the result of consumers demanding the use of “natural” ingredients. The FDA has given its seal of approval on the use of this colorant. In places like Ghana, Papua New Guinea, and Bali, termites, dragonflies and beetle larvae are a big part of their diet regiment. In the west, we have more of a psychological problem with the use of bugs in our food. But the up side is –no known side effects!