Home » Environment » Recent Articles:

Give up (bad) fish for Lent

February 19, 2010 Environment, Religion 1 Comment
ABOVE: Pike Place Market Seattle WA 2003
ABOVE: Pike Place Market Seattle WA 2003

Today many of you will begin an annual routine, the Friday fish fry during Lent.  Fish does have many beneficial qualities:

“Seafood plays an important role in a balanced diet. It’s often rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help boost immunity and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and other ailments. Omega-3s are especially important for pregnant and nursing women, and young children. Unfortunately, some fish carry toxins that can become harmful when eaten frequently.”

Toxins?  Yes, toxins:

“Seafood contaminants include metals (such as mercury, which affects brain function and development), industrial chemicals (PCBs and dioxins) and pesticides (DDT). These toxins usually originate on land and make their way into the smallest plants and animals at the base of the ocean food web. As smaller species are eaten by larger ones, contaminants are concentrated and accumulated. Large predatory fish-like swordfish and shark-end up with the most toxins. You can minimize risks by choosing seafood carefully.”

Some fish is safe for humans and harvesting doesn’t harm the oceans.  Others, however, are bad for people and oceans.

Local PBS affiliate KETC did a nice 10-minute segment showing the considerable work that goes into a weekly fish fry:


In ancient times meat was expensive and fish was cheap.  For the rich, giving up meat was indeed a sacrifice. Today good fish that is sustainably harvested is quite expensive.   My understanding is the fish commonly used is cod.  As with most fish, quality depends on where and how it was harvested:

AVOID: Cod: Atlantic, Iceland and Northeast Arctic (trawled), and Pacific (imported)

GOOD ALTERNATIVES: Cod: Atlantic (Northeast Arctic and Iceland), Cod: Pacific (U.S. trawl)

BEST CHOICE: Cobia (US farmed), Cod: Pacific (trap, hook-and-line, longline from AK+) (Source: Seafood Watch)

For most of us not on the coast our fish is frozen:

If you buy for your local fish fry, please ensure the fish used is not on the “avoid” list.

– Steve Patterson


Poll: readers mostly in unison on green living

February 3, 2010 Environment, Sunday Poll 3 Comments
Image: Disney Family Parenting

A majority of readers in the poll last week seem to be well matched with mates who feel as they do about living a green lifestyle. (Poll: Your household divided by a green line?)

Poll: Does a green line divide your household? Between those who choose to live green and those that don’t?

  1. No problem, we’re on the same page: 52 [57%]
  2. I live alone: 20 [22%]
  3. Mildly irritating: 11 [12%]
  4. Other answer… 8 [9%]
  5. Divisive with resentments and arguments: 1 [1%]
  6. I want an eco-divorce, our values aren’t the same anymore 0 [0%]

The first two “other” responses represented a couple of readers who are probably expressing  “green fatigue,” the U.K. term for the eco-backlash to a barrage of green moralism. While other comments divided evenly between support for a diversity of opinion and certain resentments:

  • I’m tired of being told to be green.
  • Get over it, never been green.
  • They are willing to go along as long as I do the work.
  • I’ve been green for years.
  • Live with lazy parents.
  • We respect each other’s opinion and live accordingly.
  • We have eco-tension.
  • Platonic homeowners here – with a divide. Non-divisive.

There are many things that may have affected the outcome of this poll. City dwellers are probably a little more eco-conscious to begin with since the decisions that lead to an urban lifestyle (walkable neighborhoods, commutes by mass transit, and multi-family housing) are in and of themselves environmental choices.

Age may also play a role as younger couples may have taken eco-values in consideration during their courtships, while older couples may have more conflicts since eco-values weren’t a part of the equation when they originally selected their partner.  At any age, eco-conversions can be painful when one partner adopts a green lifestyle while the other partner clings to the same-old ways of living.

Then there is the bias of geography. Eco-tensions would be dealbreakers in Seattle or Portland; a violation of strong, commonly held social norms. Here in St. Louis, not so much.

Given all the other things that can drive a wedge in a relationship—money, children, unemployment, ill health—eco-concerns pale in comparison. The bottom line is that most people don’t consider a difference of opinion about green living as a serious enough breach to jeopardize their partnerships. At least for now.

– Deborah Moulton


Your household divided by a green line?

January 24, 2010 Environment, Sunday Poll 7 Comments

Do you diligently recycle every item in your house? Have you given up buying bottled water and even bring home bottles and food containers from places where recycling isn’t available? Have you opted for more vegetarian meals and created a plan to recycle gray water to your garden? Then you are someone who believes the planet is in trouble and are willing to make lifestyle choices to support your eco-concerns.

Then there’s your significant other: well-mannered, smart, a perfect fit, and totally opposed to giving up meat even one day a week. He/she recycles when it’s convenient, refuses to give up long showers, and doesn’t believe small personal choices have any impact whatsoever on global warming.

You are at odds. It’s a source of constant friction: he scowls at the vegetarian chili; she resents the single-ply toilet paper and the constant washing of his reusable water bottle. And worst of all is the sense of moral superiority that the significant other exudes while performing small acts of green living.

According to an article this week in the New York Times, therapists are counseling more and more couples who are having a hard time reconciling their green practices. It is their observation that:

“While no study has documented how frequent these clashes have become, therapists agree that the green issue can quickly become poisonous because it is so morally charged. Friends or family members who are not devoted to the environmental cause can become irritated by life choices they view as ostentatiously self-denying or politically correct.”

As climate change becomes an ever more divisive issue, not based on the science which is irrefutable, but on different personal values, it can lead to a parting of the ways. Some couples now look deep into their future and see different journeys and destinations as their partner adopts more green values. At stake now are differing ideas on how to live, how to invest money, what to eat, and what values to pass on to the children. There may soon be a need for a new kind of therapist: a sort of eco-therapist who can help couples and families to work out differences regarding green practices.

So here’s our question:  Does a green line divide your household? Between those who choose to live green and those that don’t?  The weekly poll is in the right sidebar.

– Deborah Moulton


Poll results: readers set thermostat for energy efficiency

January 20, 2010 Environment 6 Comments

Two hundred two people responded to the poll last week:

Q: What temperature is your thermostat normally set to during the Winter months while you are home & awake?

  1. 67º F or less: 70 [35%]
  2. 68º F: 55 [27%]
  3. 69º-71º F: 49 [24%]
  4. 72º F or higher: 24 [12%]
  5. N/A – radiators, no heat, etc: 4 [2%]

Each week I’m surprised by the poll results – they are hardly ever what I expected.  In this case the results are better (lower) than I thought I’d see.    I’m still not sure why most readers are able to keep their thermostat at a reasonable level.  Do they have well insulated homes? Do they like the cold? Do they fear huge winter heating bills?

Local utility Laclede Gas has a list of 30 Hot Tips for Using Energy Wisely that are worth reviewing.  Here are a couple from the list I do regularly:

  • Plan to bake several dishes at the same temperature when possible.
  • Consider line-drying clothing inside during the wintertime. You will add humidity to your home, which can make you more comfortable, and use less energy

I have now spent about half my life living in multi-family housing, I can attest to the efficiencies gained through shared walls & roofs.  My thermostat has been set on 60º for over a week and my loft stays a comfortable 67º day & night.  Those living in single-family detached houses should have a vegetable garden to offset the extra energy used.

– Steve Patterson


Poll: where is your thermostat set during the Winter?

January 10, 2010 Environment 11 Comments

Cold weather has hit St. Louis which means people are cranking up their furnaces, using more energy.  You can possibly save energy (and money) by adjusting the setting:

You can easily save energy in the winter by setting the thermostat to 68°F while you’re awake and setting it lower while you’re asleep or away from home. By turning your thermostat back 10°-15° for 8 hours, you can save about 5%-15% a year on your heating bill-a savings of as much as 1% for each degree if the setback period is eight hours long. The percentage of savings from setback is greater for buildings in milder climates than for those in more severe climates.

A common misconception associated with thermostats is that a furnace works harder than normal to warm the space back to a comfortable temperature after the thermostat has been set back, resulting in little or no savings. This misconception has been dispelled by years of research and numerous studies. The fuel required to reheat a building to a comfortable temperature is roughly equal to the fuel saved as the building drops to the lower temperature. You save fuel between the time that the temperature stabilizes at the lower level and the next time heat is needed. So, the longer your house remains at the lower temperature, the more energy you save.  (EnergySavers.gov: General Thermostat Operation)

I’m fortunate in that my condo stays about 68º just based on heat from surrounding units and only a single exterior wall.  The past week my furnace has only kicked on during the night because I went to bed with the thermostat still set at 68º.

The poll this week asks where you keep your thermostat set when you are home and awake.  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

– Steve Patterson