Weather, climate, safe household cleaners, enviro films and working in Angola

February 24, 2013

In studio: the man, the M.A., the meteorologist…Rick DiMaio!

You spoke and I listened.

What I mean is that I get emails and Facebook messages and Tweets about the show meteorologist Rick DiMaio. And most of those folks tell me that they can’t get enough of the Rickster. In fact, they often chide me that I don’t give him enough time on the show! Geez, kids, he already gets more air time than they give Tom Skilling at WGN-TV! I can’t turn over my whole program to him!

Well, I suppose I could, but then it would have to be called The Rick DiMaio Show and I’m certainly not going to let that happen.

But I did invite him to the WCPT studios, where he has yet to make an appearance, and…he said “yes!” Go figure.

So get your meteorological and climate change questions ready this morning, because the first hour of the show is devoted to those issues. Some of the things we might cover:

Of course, in addition to his radio and TV appearances, Rick teaches at a number of colleges and universities in the Chicago area. So I’ll ask him about what is in his current lesson plans and what his students think about the connection–and the difference–between weather and climate change.

I hope you can join us.

Forward on Climate Rally–a post mortem

As you might know, show contributor Lisa Albrecht and I were in Washington, D.C. last week for the Forward on Climate Rally and march to the White House. is crowing about the great media coverage of the event.

Of course, The Mike Nowak Show covered it live from the National Mall (the only live radio coverage, as far as I can tell), and you can hear the podcast of that show here.

Lisa and I will take a few minutes this morning to talk about our reactions to this important gathering of environmentally minded people. By the way, if you want to know what’s at stake, you might consider reading this article by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. about why he decided to get arrested at the White House a few days before the rally.

But the environmental community is not exactly one big happy family. I’m not exactly thrilled with the way the event was promoted, despite what organizers call great media coverage. Grist has a few choice words about how large a tent has actually been raised for this issue. Of course, President Barack Obama didn’t do himself any favors by choosing to play golf in Florida with Tiger Woods (no big deal) and two Big Oil executives (HUGE deal) on the same day that 35,000 people were marching to his Washington home to express their displeasure with the idea of pumping even more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by constructing the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

How to clean your house…without poisoning the environment

In the past few weeks, show contributor Rob Kartholl have been talking about the “Big Commie Garden Fabcon,” otherwise known and Connecting Chicago Community Gardeners, which was held yesterday at the Chicago Center for Green Technology.

In a word, Wow!

More than 200 community gardeners packed the facility for a day-long conversation about how Chicago community gardeners can create and sustain the projects in their neighborhoods. I was proud to be part of this ground-breaking event, which I hope will lead to a permanent community gardening organization in Chicago.

One of the attendees was Qae-Dah Muhammad, who is with the Ashe Park Community Garden on the City’s south side along the lake.

On Saturday, March 9 at the South Shore Library, Qae-Dah will conduct a workshop designed to inspire people to do their Spring cleaning with non-toxic household cleaners that they can mix themselves. She will explain why they should consider doing this, and present some of the health and economic benefits.

In her own words, “I’m aiming to take the initiative & inspire people who are willing to step outside of their comfort zone to try something different — not new — but different and safer. After learning about some of the toxic chemicals that can hide out in household cleaners, we’ll mix up our own cleaners from safe ingredients like vinegar and baking soda.”

Today, Qae-Dah is on my program, along with her mentor in this crusade–Cassidy Randall from Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE). They wiill discuss the organization’s role in lobbying our legislators for policies to protect us from toxic chemicals, and demanding that the manufacturers who produce hazardous consumer products become more environmentally friendly. They’ll also discuss the impact that toxic chemicals can have on the health of infants, women, the elderly, and our eco-systems.

The One Earth Film Festival is next weekend

Last year I interviewed Ana Garcia Doyle about the inaugural One Earth Film Festival, created by Green Community Connections, which took place April 27-29, 2012 in Oak Park & River Forest. More than 500 people attended 30+ screenings of compelling environmental films. This great event is back this year, along with its mission to create opportunities for understanding climate change, sustainability and the power of human involvement.

Among the films that will be shown this year are “Chasing Ice,” “Genetic Roulette,” “Soul Food Junkies,” and, a new feature, the “One Earth . . . Our Earth!” Young Filmmakers Contest for students from upper elementary school through college.

I’m pleased to have Ana back with me, along with Léa Kichler, winner of the High School category. Lea’s film is called “Let’s Talk About Water.” You can view it  here.

Our man in Angola, David J. Zaber

David J. Zaber is the kind of guy who makes me humble. If you go to his Facebook page, you will see that he is an

“environmental scientist with expertise in natural resource assessment, planning, and management, regulatory policy, and science education. Award-winning science educator with research experience in field ecology, environmental and ecotoxicology, and landscape ecology. Author and/or co-author of numerous scientific articles and other publications. Background working with diverse groups including private business, governmental agencies (including Native American tribes), non-governmental organizations, and individuals on a range of natural resource issues.”

He is also a fan of my show, and for that, I’m grateful. He was recently sent to the country of Angola to do some social and environmental work. Here’s a report he sent to me:

There is so much to talk about but what continues to amaze me is the wonderful and happy and friendly people who persist in the face of the worst grinding poverty I have ever seen. The Agronomy station is 2000 acres of land with a large section of old growth Miombo woodland ecosystem. Low tree diversity but amazing bird and insect diversity and plants too. The soils are super acidic so there is problems with nutrient uptake etc. I’ve been teaching water quality and advising on lower risk pesticides and IPM. For example, they are doing research on potatoes but have problems with mildews and white flies. When I went to the potato section, I immediately saw the problem: plastic containers for individual plants that do not drain readily. Since potatoes need to drain each day, this is what is causing the mildew problems. I suggested they experiment with soil amendments that facilitate drainage to alleviate the problem and to allow birds into the facility for predation.

My main task, however, is to set up the station’s water quality monitoring program for human health and environmental protection. Huambo province is in the middle of the country on a plateau referred to as the “alta plana” and this is where the major rivers of the nation begin. The spring is the headwaters of the Cunene River, one of the most pristine rivers in the nation. We have now established permanent site markings for their long-term monitoring program and I’m teaching several technicians basic water quality sampling techniques and habitat assessment (benthic invertebrates). I am also providing guidance on protection of the spring orifice where people get their water but trample the shit out of the place. We’ve discussed placing a small access “bridge” (one flattened log) in a location that would provide safe access while protecting the spring pool and riparian zone for downstream users. I have now seen my first shade grown coffee tree, the biggest avocado tree I’ve ever seen, and several other fruit trees. I’ve also met the man who single-handedly saved the station from total destruction during the war but there is serious damage remaining.

Malaria is rampant here for several reasons -which DO NOT include the banning of DDT as the detestable right-wingers claim. First, I have not seen one screen (opps the electricity just went out in the city so I had to go start the diesel generator using leaded fuels….argh) on any window anywhere yet. Second, pooling polluted water during the rainy season (now) provides perfect habitat for Aedes egypti, the mosquito that carries the malaria disease) and these pools are everywhere since the entire infrastructure was destroyed and the sidewalks are torn up, sewers don’t work, etc. Third, they plant corn directly next to their homes and the mosquito eats corn pollen so they thrive in the degraded habitat that has no natural predators. I’ve explained to the station how Zygopterans (dragonflies) are critical for predation in small pools and we’ve seen several species at the spring albeit depleted in numbers. They quickly understood. Moreover, very few people have bed nets. Finally, the pesticides they are using in the urban areas are often ones banned in the USA. The one I quickly noticed was spray cans containing DDVP or Vapona. This is a Shell product (go figure) that used to be in the Shell No-Pest strips. It was banned because DDVP vaporizes and settles on cold surfaces with residues remaining for years and is metabolized to vinyl chloride if it doesn’t kill you first. It is a strong human carcinogen (one of the few organophosphate that do cause cancer) and toxic to the fetus. I have warned people about it and suggested alternatives. So, next time some a__hole blames Rachel Carson for millions of malaria deaths, I’m gonna……

Huambo province, despite extremely acidic soils, was once the breadbasket for Angola but now the production is much lower. That’s the main goal of the station: to help production in the face of these challenges and to provides services to help determine the safety of water supplies for human consumption and agriculture use (I’m addiing in environmental protection too). Entire families work at the station yet 8 people have been killed over the past few years from cobras (snakes). Im not sure what type but the research team immediately understood why I take a long stick with me and beat the brush before I tread.

Women appear to do much of the very hard physical work everywhere I’ve been and they are treated as second class citizens. Thus, I’ve made a point to ensure that women are not doing all the lugging of our “equipment” which the men appear willing to allow. They’ve laughed at me but get it when I insist they share the loads. I love these people.

There is so much more to say but I’ll leave it at that. I’m going to the country tomorrow to see a national park and hopefully see the national symbol: Hippotragus niger variani – the Giant Black Sable Antelope. As with virtually all the big animals (Angola used to be one of the best places to see them) have been poached out of existence during the war, there is a desperate attempt to save them that appears to be working. (ok, I did write more!)

We can discuss anything you think the listeners would be interested in. I promise I won’t speak in my terrible broken Portuguese (which is getting better now that I’m immersed in it).

I’m speechless. And I don’t even speak Portuguese. David joins me on the show today to talk about his experiences in Angola.