Monday, December 28, 2009

New Year's Resolutions for 2010

As we begin a new decade, we can all resolve to make our planet a healthier place. Below are a few small changes that can result in big dividends for the earth – as well as our checking accounts – in 2010 and beyond:

• Reduce phantom energy loss – Many of us don’t know that energy is wasted by electronics and power chargers that are plugged in but not in use. That cell phone charger and laptop suck energy from the outlet continuously, so try to use a power strip and flip the switch to off when the items are not in use.

• Use reusable shopping bags – Twelve million barrels of oil were used to make the 88.5 billion plastic bags consumed in the United States last year. These petroleum-based plastic bags never biodegrade and often end up in our oceans. Keep reusable shopping bags in your car and try to remember to use them.

• Buy local foods when possible – Support local agriculture and purchase foods from sources as close to home as possible. Consider how many miles your food has traveled, how many chemicals are used, and how much pollution and waste have been generated in the production of the food you buy and your family consumes.

• Drink tap water instead of bottled water – Instead of buying bottled H2o, pour tap water into reusable water bottles made from stainless steel or aluminum. Tap water is just as safe as bottled water, and no plastic is needed.

• Wash laundry in cold water –Ninety percent of the energy used to wash a load of clothing comes from heating the water, but most clothes will get just as clean in cooler temperatures. For heavily soiled clothing, use warm instead of hot water.

• Use the dryer more efficiently – This appliance is second only to the refrigerator in terms of energy usage. To help it do its job more efficiently, clean the lint filter after each load and dry only full loads, drying heavy fabrics separately. Of course, hanging clothes outside in the sun or inside on a drying rack whenever possible is always a good option.

• Check toilets for leaks – A leaky toilet can waste between 30 and 500 gallons of water every day, but often such leaks go unnoticed. To find a leak, put a few drops of food coloring in the toilet tank and wait about 15 minutes to see if the dye ends up in the bowl. Leaking is usually caused by an old or poorly fitting flapper valve, which can inexpensively and easily be replaced without a plumber.

• Use the dishwasher – Forego pre-rinsing and simply scrape off large pieces of food from plates before putting them in the dishwasher. Running a fully loaded dishwasher (without pre-rinsing) can use a third less water than washing the dishes by hand, saving up to 10 to 20 gallons of water a day. Save even more by using the air dry setting, which consumes half the amount of electricity than the heated dry.

• Adjust the thermostat – In the winter months set your thermostat to 68 degrees or less during the day, and lower it even more at bedtime or while out of the house. In the summer set thermostat to 78 degrees or higher. For a small investment, a programmable thermostat will change the settings automatically.

• Maintain the correct tire pressure – According the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than a quarter of all cars and nearly one-third of all SUVs, vans and pickups have underinflated tires, which leads to lower gas mileage. Keeping tires properly inflated can save 2.8 billion gallons of gasoline a year in the U. S alone.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Bird Count Dec. 28

The Christmas Bird Count is now underway. A yearly tradition in which groups of North American bird-lovers pick a day around the winter solstice and search their designated areas to count every bird they see is more popular than ever.

Sponsored by the National Audubon Society, this is held every year between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. This year the coastal bays watershed count is scheduled for Dec. 28. Volunteers armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists brave the cold weather on a mission to assess the health and record changes in resident populations and ranges, before spring migrants return.

The data collected is used to help guide conservation action, and when combined with other surveys, provides a vital look at how the continent's bird populations have been altered in the past hundred years. This long term perspective makes it possible to develop strategies to protect birds and their habitat and help identify environmental issues that can affect humans as well. Local trends can reveal habitat fragmentation or provide a warning of an immediate environmental threat, such as groundwater contamination.

As Audubon president John Flicker put it, birds are “the canary in the coal mine — a sign that something is going on” in terms of environmental issues. The Christmas Bird Count not only helps identify birds in need of conservation action but also reveals conservation success stories, documenting the resurgence of the once endangered Bald Eagle and Brown Pelican, as well as significant increases in waterfowl populations.

The Christmas Bird Count started in 1900 when the National Audubon Society proposed it as an alternative to the then popular holiday activity called the Side Hunt, a yuletide bird shooting competition. Conservation was a budding concept at the time, and many scientists and naturalists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations.

Ornithologist Frank Chapman, an early officer in the Audubon Society, proposed a new a Christmas Bird Census idea that would count birds in the holidays rather than hunt and kill them. The first count was held on Christmas day in 1900 with just 27 participants finding 90 species of birds.

Flicker calls the inception of the Christmas Bird Count a “visionary act” because no one could have predicted how important it would become as a resource and tool for conservation. Flicker says it allows birds to “send us a wake-up call about the importance of addressing the warming of our climate and the loss of vital habitat through action at every level.”

Today the count is the longest-running “citizen science” project in the world, with tens of thousands of Americans participating in the Christmas Bird Count, spotting more than 2,000 species last year. Volunteer birders participate for conservation efforts, but it’s also a good way to connect with nature, despite the cold temperatures, and has become an annual holiday tradition for many families.

In April the MD-DC Audubon designated the Coastal Bays as an Important Bird Area – a global effort to identify and conserve areas that are vital to birds and other biodiversity. The Coastal Bays geographical area has the highest species total of any Maryland Christmas Bird Count and is also typically the highest species total for any Christmas Bird Count at this latitude in the United States, averaging 150 each year.

For more information about the Christmas Bird Count, go to

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Lorax

This holiday season when shopping for the little ones in your life consider a classic book with creative illustrations, unique characters and clever rhymes that also includes a strong message about the importance of being good environmental stewards.

The book is the Lorax written by classic children’s author Dr. Seuss. Although it was released in 1971, the point of the tale is even more valid today.

The story is narrated is classic Seuss fashion by a character called the Once-ler, a businessman whose quest for profits literally kept him from seeing the forest for the trees. It begins with the Once-ler telling a young boy how many years ago he came upon a beautiful forest of Truffula Trees at a time when “the grass was still green and the pond was still wet and the clouds were still clean”.

The Once-ler is awed by the colorful and beautiful Truffula Trees, which have tufts softer than silk, and decides to chop down a tree to make a “Thneed”, a frivolous item that he believes “everyone needs.”

Emerging from within the stump of the first chopped down tree is a mossy creature called the Lorax. “I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues,” the Lorax tells the Once-ler. But with profits growing, the Once-ler is unmoved by the Lorax’s repeated warnings.

“I meant no harm. I most truly did not,” the Once-ler says.” But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got. I went right on biggering, selling more Thneeds. And I biggered my money, which everyone needs.”

As the trees disappeared, the creatures that depended on the forest for food, shelter, and fresh air were forced to leave in order to survive. After the last tree is chopped down the Lorax himself also abandons the now desolate landscape, leaving behind a rock engraved with one word – ”UNLESS.”

With all the trees gone, the Once-ler goes out of business. For years afterwards he sat atop his abandoned factory and pondered what he had done. “That was long, long ago. But each day since that day I’ve sat here and worried and worried away. Through they years, while my buildings have fallen apart, I’ve worried about it with all of my heart.”

He tells the boy that he finally understands the meaning the word that the Lorax left behind on the rocks, and gives the boy the very last Truffula Tree seed. “You are in charge of the last Truffula seeds. And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs. Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care. Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air. Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack. Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back.”

The Lorax was reportedly Dr. Seuss’s personal favorite. Nearly 40 years later the book has become a timeless cautionary tale of excess and neglect. Without sounding too didactic, it warns children – and adults – that we must all be concerned about unchecked growth on our natural resources or suffer the consequences.

As the remorseful Once-ler tells the boy, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Monday, December 14, 2009

Green Gift Ideas

Finding holiday gift ideas that please the recipient and are also consistent with being kind to our environment can be a challenge, but there are options that will satisfy both criteria that are also economical and original.

All manufactured items require material and energy to be produced, and production and transportation of merchandise translates to some level of pollution, so this year consider shopping for presents at thrift and resale shops. Buying secondhand items is also easy on your bank account, and you can often find new items with the tags still on them at a fraction of the original cost.

There are several thrift shops nearby where you can find great bargains. Check out the Church Mouse in Berlin, the Sheppard’s Nook in Ocean Pines and Used to be Mine in West Ocean City. All three are run by non-profit organizations and profits often go back into the community.

Although this next practice has been frowned upon in the past, don’t be afraid to shop in your own home for things that you no longer need but that are still useful and can be passed along to someone else. That great book you read last summer or that decorative bowl that doesn’t fit in with your new d├ęcor might make great presents for friends. And don’t be ashamed to re-gift. That two sizes too small sweater that your old boyfriend’s aunt gave you that has been sitting in your drawer since Christmas 2007 might still be in style and fit your niece perfectly.

Food makes for a great gift any time of year, but delicious treats are particularly festive during the holidays. Although not inexpensive, filling a basket with organic coffees and chocolates is a great idea for someone who might not typically buy organic items. It’s also a great way to reuse that basket you’ve had in your closet since last Easter. For a more personal touch, add some homemade goodies such as cookies, quick breads and cookies, or buy some at a local bakery.

Consider giving services instead of merchandise this year. Pay to get your mom’s house cleaned, or your sister’s haircut, or purchase tickets to movies, plays or concerts for your friends. Buy some local artwork or give gift cards for dance, cooking, martial arts or yoga classes, or pay for a meal at a local restaurant.

Donating to a non-profit charity or organization, such as the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, can be a great gift idea for the person who already has everything. A donation to the MCBP will benefit many and the recipient will know that they are making a difference, helping to ensure that our wonderful natural resources will continue to provide joy for future generations.

Donations are gifts that endure and continue giving long after the holiday season is over. To give a monetary gift from yourself or in someone else’s name, go to the Coastal Bays Program website at and click on the donate button.

In-keeping with the donations theme, this is a good opportunity to thank Ocean City’s Vera McCullough – our Queen of the Bays – who recently gave a generous monetary gift to the Coastal Bays Program. Thanks to Vera and others like her we will be able to continue working toward preserving and protecting our watershed.