The Benefits of Smog

Last week China made headlines when the country’s Media tried to put a positive spin on China’s smog problem (For those of you of haven’t read the story you can catch up at  Time or Reuters). It is only human nature to try and put a positive spin on an unnatural phenomenon that can put lives and the environmental at risk, remember all people trying to put a positive spin on global warming?

Personally, I was surprised that the Chinese State Media only included 5 reasons (See the First 5 Listed Below), so I decided to brainstorm some additional benefits to China’s Smog Problem.


1. It unifies the Chinese people.

2. It makes China more equal.

3. It raises citizen awareness of the cost of China’s economic development.

4. It makes people funnier.

5. It makes people more knowledgeable (of things like meteorology and the English word haze).

6. Smog provides an excuse for wearing fluorescent clothing.

7. Improves imagination by turning China into a fantasy smog land.

8. Introduces China to a new range of tastes and smells.

9. Smog provides added shelter for animals of prey (and predators).

10. Smog improves the beauty of sunrises and sunsets.

Pollution Sunset via Shutterstock



by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

Go Green with Fiber Optic Christmas Trees

By Guest Contributor: Ariel Nagel

There are few seasons in the course of the year that are so closely tied to feelings of both joy and dread. Each holiday season, we anticipate time spent with loved ones, great food, and perhaps a present or two. Any fears we experience are likely concerned with the balance of our checking accounts on December 26th, or perhaps with the expense associated with lighting that Christmas tree for several weeks or heating all that hot water for our in-laws’ baths.

We can’t help you with the in-laws, but there’s good news where your Christmas tree is concerned. Fiber optic Christmas trees have become a welcome alternative to traditional Christmas tree lights, and offer a solution that’s kind to your pocketbook as well as to the planet.

Why Fiber Optics?

When most people think of fiber optics, they likely associate the term with high-speed Internet, thanks to tech companies like Verizon and Google, who have brought fiber optic Internet mainstream attention. The truth is, there are a number of unexpected applications for fiber optic Internet, and one of them can make its way into your living room this holiday season.

The leading providers of fiber optic Christmas trees claim that the average household could save a great deal on their holiday energy bills: fiber optic trees can boast up to ten times the savings as traditional incandescent Christmas tree lights.

A Ready-Made Holiday Solution

Fiber optic Christmas trees offer a host of other benefits as compared to traditional trees: to begin with, they’re not as messy. Most fiber optic trees are artificial, and come with the lights already strung. What this means is that you won’t be picking pine needles out of your socks until next April. Artificial trees help to slow down our consumption of trees during the holiday season, and save you some of the headaches you’ve come to associate with post-Holiday cleanup.

Best of all, these trees offer just as much variety as traditional Christmas trees, with a multitude of colors and adjustable lighting levels available. In other words, personalizing your family’s tree will be easier than ever.

During a season where we’re already expecting to face a great many expenses, doesn’t it make sense to save where we can? If you’re looking for a way to keep a little extra cash in your wallet, while at the same time doing something good for our planet, then a fiber optic Christmas tree might be just what you’ve been looking for.

Christmas tree image via Shutterstock.

Arielle Nagel is a freelance writer with a focus on environmental sustainability. She can be found hugging trees while typing away on her laptop in Cleveland, OH. Arielle welcomes your feedback via email


by Editor

SCA: Young and In Love With Conservation

“Photo Courtesy of Student Conservation Association. All Rights Reserved.”

Are you or do you know a young adult who is interested in the environment and conservation, but doesn’t know how to get involved? If you do I would suggest you check out the Student Conservation Association, better known as “America’s Conservation Corps” or SCA. SCA has programs in all 50 states for high school students, college students, and recent graduates, interested in conservation and the environment.

I first heard of SCA a few years ago, when one of my close friends moved up to a National Park in New Hampshire, to work with High School Students on trail maintenance. When I would get the chance to talk to her while she was working there, I was always impressed (and jealous) of her experience. I finally visited her and I was blown away by all the work her and her crew mates had completed. Before, I had taken for granted the uptake required for keeping America’s National parks useable, now I know that it’s our country’s youth that keep are parks running smoothly.

SCA is a pioneer on all fronts. It was one of the first modern service corps, founded even before Peace Corps and Americorps.  SCA was also founded before the EPA and the enactment of the Wilderness Act.

SCA was founded in 1957 by Liz Putnam, while a student at Vassar College. Putnam modeled SCA after the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a public work relief program from the 1930’s and 1940’s, as part of the New Deal. Unlike the CCC, which recruited unemployed and unmarried men to service parks , SCA relies on  students.

Since its founding in 1957, more than 70,000 young adults have done work with SCA, providing over 28 million hours of service. In 1994 SCA became partners with Americorps and are their largest conservation partner. In 2010 Liz Putnam received a Presidential Citizens Medal from Barack Obama for her work with SCA on conservation.

SCA provides a range of programs to fit the schedules and interests of members including a Alternative Spring BreakHigh School Summer Program,  Saturday ConServevation programs  in New York City, and internships and national and community crews to name a few. Program length varies and some programs last up to 12 months. Depending on the location, service projects range from trail maintenance to wildlife management and nature interpretation. Many of the projects require crews to do work off-the beaten-path, requiring members to camp out.

SCA is a great option for anyone who loves the great outdoors. It provides a way for students and young adults to fight back against the daily degradation that happens to nature and the environment. By working in small teams, SCA volunteers learn leadership skills and get the opportunity to make long lasting friendships with a diverse group of people who share similar values toward the environment.


“Photo Courtesy of Student Conservation Association. All Rights Reserved.”



by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

Start Them Early: Seven Fun Ways to Teach Kids The Importance of Recycling

By Guest Contributor: Tim Brown

Recycling is extremely important. Not only does recycling help the planet, but it can even earn you some money in the process, as well. It is fairly well known that when kids learn a habit early on in life, they are more likely to continue that habit throughout their lives. Teaching your kids about recycling early on, then, can encourage environmental responsibility for life. But how do you go about teaching your child about which rubbish is which? Incorporating games and activities that teach them about recycling is a fun and easy way to teach your children how to protect the environment through recycling; a few ideas are below.

Read a Book 

It seems rather simple, but books can help teach your children the “why” behind recycling. When the characters in a book learn why recycling is a good idea, your child learns, as well. Finding books that include characters with whom your child will relate is key to encouraging them to learn from their behaviour.

Go to the Zoo or Museum 

Most kids love animals, and since recycling can actually help protect animals, taking your kids to the zoo or an animal or natural history museum can help them see these beautiful creatures. Explain that animals can get sick if rubbish isn’t disposed of correctly, and ask them to explain what they learned. Asking a child to repeat back what they’ve learned helps them cement it in their minds, and it also helps you ensure they’ve got the right message.

Rubbish Games 

Colour-coded trash cans, like the kind you can find at ImRubbish, can help you set up a game where certain items of rubbish must be sorted into the correct container. For instance, you can set a pile of different types of rubbish on the ground in front of three cans. Have one can colour be for paper recycling, one for cans and bottles, one for general rubbish, and so on. Have your child sort the rubbish properly against the clock, and reward them for what they accomplish correctly.

Word Search 

A word search is a relaxed but effective way of teaching children about recycling, as well. Several sites have such activities available to be printed straight off the computer, and you and your child can search for the words together. Casually ask your child to explain to you the different things he or she has learned about recycling as certain words come up. Alternatively, you can ask your child for definitions of the words that are to be found. This rhetoric helps to ingrain the principles and verbiage associated with recycling in your child’s mind so they learn it at a deeper level than if they just read it once in a book.

Field Trip 

Taking a field trip to the local recycling centre is another great way to involve your child in recycling, and teach them about recycling, as well. Most kids are really interested in how things work, and they’ll think it’s really great to have an opportunity to tour the recycling centre. However, they walk away with a hands-on learning experience and a deeper understanding of what can be recycled, why recycling is important, and what types of things can be made from recycled material.

Save Rubbish to Save Money 

There’s nothing like some monetary incentive to encourage your child to participate in the family recycling efforts. Since most recycling centres will pay you for your recyclable rubbish, pick up a few coloured bins that are just for your children and tell them to sort the rubbish they create into the appropriate bins. Whatever they collect they get to keep the money from, but only if they come with you to deposit the recyclables. Not only do they learn about recycling, but they’ll learn about hard work and earning money, as well.

Recycling Drive 

Another great way to involve your family, and even your entire community, in recycling is to join or create a recycling drive. Gather your family and get the community involved, and see how much recyclable rubbish your community can gather. You can add some fun elements to this activity, as well, like using the funds to pay for an auction item that can be raffled, or simply spreading the wealth among the members.

Letting your kids experience recycling is the best way for them to learn about why things should be recycled, how they’re recycled, and how it helps the environment. Show them the types of things that can be recycled, and how it can turn into a brand new item. Reward them with positive reinforcement when they demonstrate that they have learned what you have taught them. And remember, you have to set a good example for your children to follow, so be sure to keep up with your own recyclable rubbish, as well.


Tim Brown is a primary school teacher with a passion for the environment. He enjoys blogging about ways to engage children in caring for the earth in a responsible way.


Children recycling image and children reading image via Shutterstock.

by Editor

It’s Time to Talk Turkey

Gobble gobble goo

and Gobble gobble gickel

I wish turkey

Only cost a nickel

– Adam Sandler (Thanksgiving Song)

Most people know that Benjamin Franklin had wanted the Turkey to the Official Bird of the United States. We are instead represented by the Bald Eagle, a bird that is less intelligent and lacks the “moral character” held by the turkey. Wild turkeys hold themselves with an awkward dignity that most people only get a chance to admire during Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately, domesticated turkeys don’t get to live with such dignity

In order to create the “best” food product domesticated turkeys have been “engineered” in ways that diminish the quality of their lives. Domesticated turkeys weigh an average of 10 pounds more than a wild turkey (Check out this graphic at the Huffington Post).  Because of this excess weight, domesticated turkeys cannot fly like their wild counterparts, which can fly short distances at speeds up to 55 miles per hour. Domesticated turkeys also develop swollen joints and crippled feet.

Domesticated turkeys are breed to have white feathers instead of brown feathers which wild turkeys have. White feathers have finer shafts making the shafts less visible once the feathers are plucked. Though these white feathers make a more appetizing plucked turkey (no nasty ingrowns), they do not have the beautiful rainbow sheen that the brown feathers of a wild turkey have.

99% of turkeys raised for Thanksgiving will be “broad breasted whites” and most will be produced in industrialized farming. Industrialized farming is bad for the birds (besides being debilitated from being overweight their beaks are also clipped beaks so they can not hurt each other). It is also risky to the industry and humans.  Most Industrially raised turkeys are raised using high levels of antibiotics which can lead to antibiotic resistance in humans.

Instead of picking out an industrially farmed turkey from your local supermarket try a Heritage Breed Turkey from a independent poultry farmer.

Heritage Breeds are usually raised on small farms and have longer “growing periods” than their commercially raised brethren. Longer growth periods result in a bird with more flavor. Unfortunately this longer growing period also means that Heritage Breeds are also more expensive, costing upwards of $5 per pound.

To find your nearest Heritage Turkey Breeds visit Local Harvest or Slow Foods USA, websites dedicated to helping people find local sustainable food.

For more Thanksgiving tips from the ENN Blog Click Here

*Fun fact: Only male turkeys (aka toms) gobble, female hens make a clicking noise.

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

Energy Department Makes Big Investment in Carbon Reduction Projects

By Guest Contributor: Brittany Williams

As part of Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the U.S. Department of Energy announced Nov. 7 that it would invest $84 million in projects that help innovate carbon capture technologies and drive down the cost of these procedures for coal-fired power plants. The funds will be divvied up among 18 different projects across the United States.

“In the past four years we’ve more than doubled renewable energy generation from wind and solar power. However, coal and other fossil fuels still provide 80 percent of our energy, 70 percent of our electricity, and will be a major part of our energy future for decades,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in a DOE press release. “That’s why any serious effort to protect future generations from the worst effects of climate change must also include developing, demonstrating and deploying the technologies to use our abundant fossil fuel resources as cleanly as possible.”

This announcement came less than two months after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a new set of rules limiting the amount of carbon emissions allowed from new coal-fired power plants. The agency also announced that it would be proposing rules for existing power plants in 2014. Many experts believe that these new standards are so stringent it will cause the closure of power plants, hinder the development of new facilities and have a negative impact on the supply and demand of energy in the United States.

Under these regulations power plants larger than 850 megawatts have to limit emissions to 1,100 pounds of carbon per megawatt hour. But most existing power plants average around 1,600 pounds of carbon per megawatt hour. The solution to the problem is to use carbon capture storage (CCS), which allows power plants to capture carbon emissions and store it, typically in containers underground. But this process is expensive and largely unproven at a large scale.

Hopefully, the DOE funding can help make this technology readily available and cheaper for power plants. To date, the Obama administration has invested more than $6 billion in clean coal technologies. And the projects funded by the DOE’s $84 million investment as well as cost-sharing from industry, research institutions and universities, will focus on researching and testing cleaner technologies for two types of power plants.

Research for combustion-based power plants, which burn coal or oil to generate energy, will center on carbon capture technology. Ideally, these projects will find more cost effective ways to capture carbon emission after the combustion process.

The second type of power plant, though less common, is a gasification-based electric plant. These plants use an energy generation process that eliminates the combustion step. Instead, gasification breaks coal into its basic chemical components. Three DOE-backed projects will focus on creating cheaper and more efficient pre-combustion carbon capture technologies. According to the DOE, gasification plants could reach 70 to 80 percent fuel use efficiency with the development of new processes, which would produce fewer carbon emissions and slash the cost of electricity for consumers.

Power plant image via Shutterstock.

Brittany Williams is a Copywriter for SaveOnEnergy.com. In her role, she covers controversial topics, explores renewable energy options and shares her knowledge to help others minimize their electricity bills, and in turn their carbon footprints.

by Editor

Ready, Set, Grow

Sandwiched between ghoulish October, and festive December, the month of November is traditionally known for the holiday Thanksgiving. A typical November usually includes turkey, mashed potatoes, family, and mustaches.

That’s right; you’ve read correctly. I wrote Mustaches. The month of November has been endearingly renamed Movember for mustaches and men’s health. During Movember, men are encouraged to go the full month without shaving, in order to raise funds and awareness of men’s health issues, such as prostate and testicular cancer, and mental health.


The first “Mustache Awareness” event took place in 1999 in Adelaide, Australia, when 80 men grew mustaches for charity. In 2004, a separate group in Australia, the Movember Foundation was formed and the month of “Movember” officially began. Since then, Movember has grown globally with 1,127,152 “Mo Bros” and “Mo Sistas” (that’s what participants are called). Making only $40,000 in 2004, Movember is steadily raising more and more money, raising $147 million dollars last year alone. Right now 21 countries participate, with funds being implemented on a country- by-country basis.

An Important Cause

Funds raised at Movember parties and fundraising events go towards Awareness and Prevention programs relating to Men’s Health. On average men die significantly earlier then women, though there is no clear biological reason why. Men are less likely to be open discussing their mental and physical health, making awareness especially important. For the Facts Click Here.

How to Participate

Though the initial ‘last shave’ event took place November 1, potential “Mo Bros” and “Mo Sistas” can attend a local event, or can host their own event and donate the funds to the Movember Foundation. It is not too late to sign up at Movember.com or to take a strike from shaving for the rest of the month.

Whether you’re a hipster looking for an excuse to grow out your mutton chops, or you just want to reflect your awareness of testicular and prostate cancers, Movember is a great time to work on your Fu Man Chu.

PS. Check out these hilarious music videos made for Movembers past!

girl with mustache via shutterstock

Movember Man via Movember

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

Eco-Artist Turns Cigarette Butts into Hollywood Fashion

Eccentric performing artist who goes by the name “Trashy-B” displays a striking outfit consisting of over one thousand cigarette butts that were once littered across Hollywood Boulevard’s famous stars.

It’s a fashion statement unlike any other. While many tourists were searching for famous names along the star-studded sidewalks of Hollywood, eco-artist Trashy-B couldn’t help but notice something else littered across those stars–cigarette butts. “I’ve always been aware of the health & environmental risks of cigarettes” said Trashy-B, “but after seeing countless numbers of them scattered along one of the world’s most photographed boulevards, I knew I had to create something out of them–and send a message at the same time.”  With that motive in mind, he came up with the idea of collecting all the cigarette butts along the famed Blvd. and turning them into a garment that would get people’s attention. After gathering every nasty cigarette butt he could find, Trashy-B had amassed an impressive, if disturbing collection of over one thousand of them.  He then cleaned & glued them together until they were transformed into a fitted and rather stylish vest. The outfit was topped off with two cigarette boxes cleverly formed into a bow tie. With hundreds of cigarette butts pieced together to form an iconic Hollywood star, the controversial vest clearly delivered a unique message raising awareness of the impact cigarette butts have on our landscape and in our waters.

Contrary to popular belief, cigarette butts are not biodegradable. They are made of a plastic based material that can take over a year to decompose. Trashy-B’s inspiration came from his gradual realization that cigarette butts are one of the most littered items found along the coast.  “What’s even more alarming” he says, “A huge proportion of the cigarette butts we see on the street end up in storm drains, and eventually wind up in our waterways & oceans.  I’ve witnessed it first hand at coastal cleanups. The greatest amount of ocean debris collected at these cleanups always seems to be cigarette butts.”

One of Trashy-B’s artistic goals is to make more people aware of the fatal health risks to marine animals & seabirds that too often mistake the discarded butts for food. “The filters are loaded with toxic chemicals.” Many of these chemicals, such as Acenapthene, have been proven by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to be used as pesticides. “These lethal chemicals get trapped in the filter when inhaled by the smoker, but leach into the water once they’ve washed up in our waterways.” quoted Trashy-B. His unique fashion statement started the kind of conversations he believes are essential in combating an environmental hazard people don’t fully comprehend.

Trashy-B is convinced his message came across loud and clear. Spectators along Hollywood Boulevard clamored for a photo with the eccentric eco-artist.  One witness who had just tossed his cigarette on the ground commented “you know, at first I didn’t realize what he was wearing, and then I could see it was all cigarette butts–I’ve never seen anything like it. I am definitely going to think twice about where I toss my cigarette butts.”

Trashy-B has a definite fixation on bringing urgency to the more thoughtful and efficient disposal of trash–in this case cigarette butts. Regarding his current obsession with cigarette butts he says “I personally don’t have the solution to this environmental problem but if have changed people’s perception about what really happens to these toxic discards, then my crazy fashion statement will have been worth it.”

About Trashy-B

Trashy-B is a performer & visual artist who is working to change society’s perceptions about how wastefully we live. With his artistic talent for converting trash into art, Trashy-B expresses environmental messages in the most uncommon, yet engaging ways. His art is a striking metaphor for the ever growing, unhealthy relationship between the industrialized & the natural world.  His thought-provoking creations are a compelling & positive force for environmental awareness. You can learn more about Trashy-B at his website, http://bwastefuless.com/ or follow him on twitter: https://twitter.com/Bwastefuless

Fact Sheet of Chemical Acenapthene from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Image credits: Jason Rafael.

by Editor

Following the Recycled Paper Trail

On ENN we talk a lot about the importance of recycling and sustainability.  Over the last year and a half  we have had articles addressing the recycling of a range of items, including food, batteries, and clothing, to name a few.  I am a religious recycler, but honestly I am not well educated on what happens after the municipal truck comes to my home to pick my recyclables. How does a used sheet a paper turn into a product made from like paper towels or a news paper?

I decided to step out of my shell of ignorance to investigate what really happens.  Below you will see a quick summary of the journey a piece of paper or cardboard must go through to be recycled.



Collection of recyclables varies depending on the community/municipality. The main 4 types of collection are: curbside, drop-off centers, buy-back centers, and deposit/refund programs.

Initial Sorting

If your town recyclable program uses single stream recycling (all types of recyclables are comingled) the recyclables need to be sorted before going to a materials recovery facility.


Paper is chopped up and water is added.


The paper pulp is pushed through a screen that removes unwanted materials (like staples).


A centrifuge is used to separate fibers that are more solid than the rest.


The pulp is mixed with a surfactant to collect and discard ink particles from the pulp.


Water is passed through the pulp to further clean it. If the desired end product is white paper product, bleach is sometimes added.

Dissolved Air Flotation

Dissolved air floatation is used to clean the water used in the recycling process so that it can be reused again.

Re-Use of Processed Paper

The material is now ready to be re-used/manufactured. The materials recovery facility can sell the cleaned paper byproduct to other companies that can turn it into a finished product.


Recycle Paper via Shutterstock

Shredded Paper via Shutterstock

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

A Green Globe: 4 Surprisingly Sustainable Countries

By: Guest Contributor, Christopher Beck

Going green is trendy these days. Everyone has reusable water bottles, canvas grocery bags and recycling bins. Hybrid vehicles are on the rise, and companies from Verizon to Ikea are working to make their products more environmentally friendly.

But sustainability isn’t just a trend. It’s a global issue – literally. Countries around the world are trying to become more environmentally sustainable, and some have been more successful than others. Here are 4 surprising countries that are going green –and doing it right.

1. Tokelau

You probably haven’t heard of Tokelau – it’s an independent territory of New Zealand made up of three tiny islands. But it’s making waves in global sustainability.

Tokelau, like many other communities in the South Pacific, previously relied heavily on diesel fuel for energy. But now, Tokelau is the first nation to become entirely dependent on solar power. The country uses solar panels that produce 150% of its energy needs. At nighttime and on cloudy days? Tokelau uses coconut oil as a power source.

2. Latvia

According to Yale’s Environmental Performance Index, Latvia is the world’s second-greenest country. The Baltic nation has had environmental legislation in place since the 16th century.

Latvia reduces greenhouse gas emissions through a process called CO2 sequestration – the country’s 35,000 square kilometers of forest and peat bogs naturally convert CO2 into biomass. Riga, the nation’s capital, is one of the cleanest cities in Europe. And Latvia’s sustainability initiatives have allowed many wildlife species that are disappearing throughout the rest of Europe to thrive.

3. Singapore

Asia isn’t particularly known for sustainability – China and Japan rank third and fifth, respectively, among countries with the worst environmental impact. But Singapore is an exception to that rule.

The 682-square kilometer nation makes environmental laws a high priority, and they strictly control city development. The country’s “master plan” includes initiatives to improve air quality, water management and energy efficiency. Singapore provides citizens with electric vehicle charging stations and alternate fuel public transportation. The country also recycles and conserves almost all rainfall and waste water.

4. Sweden

Sweden earned the top spot on Robecosam’s 2013 sustainability report for its exceptional commitment to the environment.

Robecosam judged countries on various factors, including environmental policy, emissions, energy use, energy sources, and exposure to environmental risks. Sweden boasts heavily regulated carbon emissions and fossil fuel output. And many Swedish cities have been pioneers of alternative energy sources – Malmo, a city of nearly 300,000, runs entirely on biofuels and uses solar, wind and water power.

Earth image via Shutterstock.

Christopher Beck is a sustainability consultant. Originally from Asheville, NC, he graduated with a degree from the University of South Carolina and is now pursuing a career trying to make the world a better, cleaner place.

by Editor