Holiday suggestions and environmental warnings

December 11, 2011

Want to give “green” this year?

Each year, I am more than a little disturbed by the obscene display of materialism that is “Black Friday” in America. Not to mention the following and equally obnoxious “Cyber Monday.” Yeah, I know I’m swimming against the tide but, geez, is this our defining characteristic as a society? Buying more stuff than we know what to do with? Really?

However, I do understand that you want to be a generous friend or relative during the holidays. In which case, I suggest that you buy “green.” Thanks to my beautiful and talented webmaster Kathleen, we’ve posted a web page that will help you find some items that fill the bill as far as sustainable and/or socially aware items go.

Of course, you can give the gift of food–and by this I mean seeds–to the ones you love…especially those who like to garden. Many of you have been following the campaign of the historic D. Landreth Seed Company , which is attempting to sell one million catalogs to keep the 227 year-old company alive. Owner Barbara Melera stops by again this morning for another update on how the mission is doing. By the way, as I mentioned last week, she donated about one hundred packets, featuring cilantro, chervil, basil and chives seeds, to the WCPT Holiday Harvest Food Drive. She’s the best.

The 2011 Chicago Gardener of the Year: Enrique Gonzalez

Last week I mentioned that the community garden on my block in the Logan Square neighborhood, Green on McLean, had won a third place prize in the Mayor’s 2011 Landscape Awards competition. I’m proud of all of the people–adults, teens and kids–who helped to transform the double lot on a drug-dealing corner from a litter-strewn eyesore to a place for families to grow vegetables and have potluck dinners.

And I’m happy to continue a tradition I’ve had on my radio show for what must be a decade or more now, of interviewing the Chicago Gardener of the Year. For 2011 it’s Enrique Gonzalez of Hoxie Prairie Garden at E. 106th Street and S. Hoxie Avenue in the Pullman neighborhood. When I read this story, which appeared in the Chicago Tribune two years ago, I realized that Enrique and his neighbors have experienced a lot of the same things that I’ve seen in my own neighborhood. My hat is off to him and to all people who take control of their lives, garden by garden, throughout Chicago and every city in America.

Our national environment under attack (mainly by Republicans); NRDC’s Josh Mogerman reports on Keystone XL Pipeline and more

For years I have worried about painting with a broad brush when it comes to politics and the environment. That is to say, it seemed unfair to say that Democrats are generally for environmental issues and all Republicans are generally against them. After further review, however, there’s no way to get around it. That statement is absolutely true. Yes, there are some Democrats (far too many, actually), who are toadies and stooges for corporate polluters. Shame on them.

But there’s really no way to say that Republicans, to any significant degree, give a rat’s you-know-what about our environment. It disgusting and terrifying, really. And if you care about our planet at all, you should run screaming from the Republican party and how, if they were given the chance, they would drain the Great Lakes and set up a big industrial park if they could. For instance, take a look at this article on the website of the Natural Resources Defense Council called Anti-Environmental Budget Riders: A significant assault on health and environmental protection is underway in Congress.

In this story, the NRDC looks at the12 spending bills for fiscal 2012 that Congress must pass to fund the government and the anti-environmental policies that some House Republicans want to push through at the same time. It’s not that those policies have anything to do with funding the government. It’s just opportunism rearing its ugly and environment-destroying head.

It is disturbing that House Speaker John Boehner has announced that he plans to hold payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits hostage to a bill that would rubber stamp approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. If you’re not familiar with Canadian tar sands oil, you probably need to tune into my show today (or the podcast, once the show is over), to hear NRDC’s Josh Mogerman wax poetic on how environmentally destructive extracting oil from tar sands really is. Or how we have been sold a bill of goods about how many jobs would be created by running a 1700 mile pipeline through the middle of the United States.

In fact, just a short month ago, when Keystone XL protestors marched around the White House and many were arrested, and then the Obama Administration decided that it would delay a decision until 2013, it seemed as if it was a clear cut victory for environmentalists. Perhaps not so much now, even though we’re pumping more CO2 into the air than ever.

I wish I could say that’s the only issue that should be on everybody’s radar. Alas, our Great Lakes continue to be in peril, thanks to zebra mussels, quagga mussels and other invasive species, including Asian carp. Unfortunately, if big business continues to get its way, there will be little in the lakes except invasive species. We’ll get to as many of these issues as possible…but we probably need more than two hours.

Don’t burn your Christmas trees in your house…for more reasons

Last week, I talked briefly about why you shouldn’t burn Christmas trees in your fireplace. The answer is the creosote build up and the danger of starting a fire. After the show, I received an email from a Dave Zaber, a listener and environmental consultant who wrote:

Just a quick caution: unless the purchaser has explicit information regarding the use of pesticides on Christmas tree farms, any number of very toxic insecticides could be used directly on the trees.  Some are even allowed to be applied up to the end of October. 

In most cases, very little is known about the chemicals that result when these pesticides (and/or other ingredients) are burnt.  In many cases, particularly when they are sprayed earlier in the year, natural processes will break down some of these chemicals before harvest.  In other cases (e.g. dinotefuran), the systemic absorption of the chemical by the tree means that  it will be spread throughout the living tissues and therefore unsusceptible to wind, rain, and sunlight. 

So, other than organic or no-spray trees, don’t burn them indoors. 

A list of neurotoxic insecticides that the State of Pennsylvania extension recommends for application on Christmas trees includes the following:

Organophosphate/carbamate anti-cholinesterase insecticides: highly toxic to mammals, birds, fish, bees.  Exposures can result in long-term central nervous system effects.

Neonicotinoids: Super toxic to bees, systemic, persistent in water. Thiamethoxam
Imidicloprid -systemic

Synthetic pyrethroids: highly toxic to fish, carcinogenicity. Bifenthrin

Here’s even more information about pesticides and Christmas trees that you might find useful. Dave joins me today to talk more about this issue. And the NRDC has information about real v. fake trees and Christmas tree care in this article: The Tree Choice: Care and Decorating Tips for the Holidays.

GreenPrints, “The Weeder’s Digest,” for the holidays

Pat Stone, editor of GreenPrints, is back on the program to talk about winning the Garden Writers Association award in 2011 for over Best Product for Magazines with under 200,000 circulation. Pat has been putting together funny, inspirational, moving and weird stories about gardening for more than twenty years into this easy to handle, easy to read publication.

This just might be a perfect holiday gift for one of those hard to please people on your shopping list. Check out the link above, where you can get a sample of what they have to offer.