Several years ago, when we made the decision to eliminate the use of bottled water at Mother Lode and use coolers and cups instead, we had our reasons. Those reasons, and a lot more, were included in this article on bottled water Emily wrote for The High Country News as an intern there. Although Emily has moved on and is now the Neuroscience Reporter for Science Magazine in Washington, DC (you can see her articles regularly in the print magazine ($10 per copy) or for free on the online version at ScienceNow), I thought this was an informative article that folks might be interested in. I am now reposting it as a MaLode blog favorite. Scott the RiverDoc
Tell Me Sweet Little Lies…
by Emily Underwood
Every bottled water company has a special spin: Evian has tried for years now to convince us that drinking its bottled water will make us thin and sophisticated, possibly even French. Dasani, by Coca Cola, goes for mystery with its shapely blue bottle and “mouthwatering” mineral formula. Nestle’s brand name, Pure Life, shares its name with a prominent Christian group whose mission is to deliver believers from sexual sin.
Something all the bottled water companies have in common these days, however, is aggressive greenwashing. It turns out Fiji runs one of the most surreal and manipulative of the campaigns.
“We are proud to offer a fine artesian water that is good for people and good for the environment,” they say. Nonsense. A recent study by the Pacific Institute, Energy Implications of Bottled Water has forever ruined Fiji water for me.
The study, published in the February 2009 peer-reviewed Environmental Research Letters, finds that bottled water takes *up to 2000 times more energy* to produce than drinking water from the tap. The two biggest energy sucks are production of the bottles (it takes the energetic equivalent of 50 million barrels of oil per year to produce the bottles) and transportation of the bottles to their final destination.
“Artesian” means that Fiji water is from an authentic spring– and the spring is indeed on the island of Fiji. The company has promised to reduce its emissions and packaging, use more renewable energy, and use carbon offsets, as well as protect their source’s watershed, the Sovi Basin Rainforest. They have even set the goal of becoming carbon negative…someday.
However, none of those intentions can diminish the fact that Fiji bottled water travels over 5000 miles by air or boat to get to San Francisco. Fiji can’t realistically claim to be any more environmentally responsible than companies who transport water a shorter distance. And they don’t come close to being as green as municipal water, which skips the carbon-heavy bottles altogether.
To say Fiji water is “good” for the environment is quite a stretch. There is also the question of resource allocation–the island of Fiji is historically vulnerable to catastrophic drought. In past decades Fijian farmers have starved because there wasn’t enough water for irrigation, which calls into question the wisdom of shipping Fijian water overseas to be sold as a luxury item. (For a thoughtful discussion of the impact of the bottled water industry on communities in the U.S., see Christina Ammons’ 2007 HCN story, “Watershed Moment” about the controversy surrounding Nestle’s bottling enterprise in McCloud, California.)
Finally, there is little evidence to support the idea that bottled water is any better for you than tap water. Food and Water Watch in their aggressive anti-bottled water and anti-water privatization campaign, point out that quality testing standards are far less stringent for bottled water than for municipal supplies. For example, whereas municipal water must be tested for fecal coliform bacteria 100 times per month, a little over 3 times a day, bottled water plants only have to check once a week. A study by the Natural Resources Defense Council found more than the allowed amount of bacteria in more than one fifth of 103 tested brands. And bottled water, unlike constantly moving municipal water, is stagnant, and therefore more conducive to bacterial replication.
Americans spent $11 billion on bottled water in 2006, and drank over 33 billion liters in 2007, which works out to about 30 gallons per person. The rising rate of consumption speaks to the success of bottled water company PR campaigns.
More seriously, however, it reflects Americans’ fundamental distrust of public water systems. Concerns about deteriorating public water infrastructure, and trace contaminants that the EPA doesn’t regulate are harder to dispel than misleading advertisements. $6 billion of the stimulus package was set aside for local clean and drinking water infrastructure improvements, which have been neglected for far too long. But it will take more than infrastructure improvements to regain America’s trust in the tap.
For one thing, we need better risk assessment. Reverse osmosis, which forces water through a selectively-permeable membrane, is theoretically the best technology for purification, and companies like Aquafina and Dasani use it in their plants. However, it is also the most energy-intensive form of purification, and is no real guarantee of quality since the membranes themselves are susceptible to bacterial colonization.
In the long run, we can’t afford the bottled water solution socially, environmentally, or economically. We need better information about how much purification is actually necessary for health, and then we need to find ways to make that technology efficient and affordable to use in our public systems. Otherwise, we will be increasingly forced to drink water that isn’t significantly safer, but still costs us more than gasoline. And those of us who can’t afford bottled water will be stuck with a broken system– a situation reminiscent of Marie Antoinette’s disastrous pronouncement, “Let them eat cake.” Except this time it will be, “Let them drink Perrier.”
Cheers from Colorado,
Our sedentary culture seems to nurse a love of thick-walled boxes that makes us leery of impermanent housing. Who hasn’t sneered at the man who lives in a van down by the river? But river guides will attest to the freedom and joy of transitioning from a stuffy winter box every spring into an airy, riverside bedroom. Ditching moldy roofs for translucent tarps stretched over wooden frames, and linoleum and carpet for leaf-strewn platforms, we set up house by stringing a few thrift store sheets up for privacy and hanging up a pair of board shorts. The more domestic of us arrange a few potted plants in front of the sheet-door and call it good.
This simplicity, self-sufficiency, and connection to the natural world embodies the spirit of the yurt, a lovely example of which has now arrived at Mother Lode. With no corners for the wind to catch, the earliest yurts were built to endure the wind-raw steppes of Central Asia, and yet their basic elements – circular lattice walls, cone shaped roof, and rafters that meet in a central ring – could be assembled in thirty minutes and taken down just as quickly. Two or three camels can comfortably carry a medium sized yurt and all of its household goods, just as one beat-up Subaru Legacy can carry a river guide’s wordly possessions with a kayak strapped to the top. (All this info on yurts, and more besides, can be found in the book Yurts: Living in the Round, by Becky Kemery)
Guides don’t get to live in yurts for the summer at Mother Lode –yet. But guests and guides alike can enjoy the spacious, 20-foot diameter yurt as a space to imagine a lighter, less cumbersome existence, and ponder the following quote: “If in our lifetime we suppress nomads, we shall have done by human harshness what natural harshness could not do. To abolish nomads because they have other skills, know other things, hold other aspirations, and live by other customs than ours – in short, because they are different – is as unwise as it is unworthy… There is a place for nomads in the world, often enough a place we cannot use without them. We must not steal it from them, for if we do, we reduce the richness of human life – we rob ourselves.”
There is a lot to learn about making your home, business or lifestyle “Green”. Here at the River Center we have discovered that if you want to learn how to save money and reduce fossil fuel consumption most cost effectively, it pays to stop listening and start thinking. Yes, more information is good, but so much of it consists of confusing “infomercials” for a new kind of “Green Consumerism”.
Take energy for instance. In 2007 when we drew up our Greenhouse Gas Action Plan (GAP) we were aware that most folks associated solar energy with photovoltaic (PV) panels. In fact, our neighbor had recently installed a fancy new set of PV panels that made us, quite frankly, envious. We heard there were tax credits and good deals to be had, and dreams of PV panels began dancing in our heads.
Then we did the math. Once we ranked the sources of our greenhouse gas emissions in the GAP, we discovered that not only was our use of electricity comparatively low, it largely came from pre-existing hydroelectric sources which produced very little new greenhouse gas to operate. In fact, most of our greenhouse gases were coming out of the tailpipes of our vehicles, not from our electric pole. This led to the EcoBus and our fleet of vehicles powered by waste vegetable oil (WVO), a fuel that produces 80% less carbon emissions than conventional fossil fuel.
Furthermore, we discovered that after vehicle fuel, our next largest producer of greenhouse gases was the heating of hot water with the fossil fuel, propane. Alan Carrozza, our solar expert, then suggested that after insulation, solar hot water heating was our next logical energy investment and that it would be much more cost efficient than PV electricity.
This motivated our first solar water heater, a simple “passive” system that cost approximately $1500 and which produced 28,750 BTUs of energy daily. To compare this system to PV we convert BTUs, a measure of thermal energy, into to kilowatt-hours by multiplying by the factor .0002931, resulting in 8.43 kilowatts. An 8.4 KW photovoltaic system would cost approximately $1000 per kilowatt or $84,000. Bottom line, the solar hot water heater produces the same energy 56 times more cost efficiently than the PV panels!
Just for a point of reference, we asked our neighbor if they had installed a solar hot water heater since, like the average American homeowner, over 33% of their energy is used to heat water. Predictably, the answer was no.
How could this be? These folks are not dumb; on the contrary, they are very smart, idealistic, and trying to do the right thing. What we realized, however, was that they were just like us, at risk of becoming victims of “Green Consumerism”. Like other forms of consumerism, the green variety claims that if it costs a lot, is fashionable, and or looks green, it must be green. Clearly, this isn’t true. BP and its “beyond petroleum” advertising campaign are a great example of “green consumerism” and it is no coincidence that they are the largest seller of PV panels in the US, yet they don’t sell solar hot water heaters at all. Why? Less profit!
We learned several things from this experience. One is that the mantra, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is actually very logically sequenced. Unless we Reduce what we consume first, the Reuse and Recycle have a hard time reducing the net impact on the planet. As the video “The Story of Stuff” points out, the stuff we already produce would require 5 planet Earths to be sustainable. Furthermore, when we produce stuff, it is always “Toxins in, Toxins out” and those toxins always end up somewhere. Since toxins concentrate in biological systems, it turns out that human breast milk has the highest concentration of toxins of any food we consume. Wait a minute, can that be right? Check it out at www.storyofstuff.com. Once you do, you will probably agree that we should all take the advice of Daniel Goleman who proposes in his book, Ecological Intelligence, that we do the math and determine the total ecological cost of everything we buy, and let these numbers guide our purchases.
So what does this all mean at MaLode? No doubt it won’t surprise you that we now heat all our hot water at MaLode with solar energy. This requires three separate solar heaters of two basic types: active and passive. Each system “pre-heats” the water from the well with solar energy before it goes into a propane water heater. This ensures that the hot water is at the desired temperature and neither too cold (it is warmed up with propane to the target temperature), or too hot (it is cooled down by being mixed with more cold water). The passive system is best suited for a lower volume use such as the kitchens. Both types of system reduce propane use by approximately 70%.
We are particularly proud of the “active” system that powers the showers and which was designed by Alan Carrozza (pictured on the left) and completed last winter by our tenant, Cornelius (on the right). In this case an electronic brain senses the temperature in the solar hot water heating panels. If the temperature is higher than the water stored in the solar hot water reservoir tank, an electric pump is activated to circulate the water from the panels to the solar reservoir. This system can produce more hot water than the passive system, which is why we chose it for the showers where we encounter our highest volume of hot water use.
So ends another happy chapter at MaLode. We are excited about moving forward, albeit deliberately, toward energy independence and ecological sustainability. This season one of our guests suggested that we use a super efficient steam engine he has invented, which derives its energy from solar thermal panels, to turn an electric generator that would produce our electricity. Hmmm, Stay tuned. In the meantime, we look forward to your next visit and, by the way, use all the hot water you want. That is, if you can wring it out of the low flow showerheads donated to us by PG&E!
See you on the River,
Scott and the MaLode Crew
Short on cash? Wouldn’t you like to find a way to reduce your utility bills, decrease America’s dependence on foreign oil, and do a favor to the environment by decreasing your use of fossil fuels? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you should be interested in what the Mother Lode River Center has been up to recently in nearby Cool, California.
The basic idea is simple. First, we construct a homemade “box” hot water heater from a sheet of plywood, an old retired propane water heater, a cast off shower door and some fittings from the hardware store. We plumb it all together with simple hand tools using plans available for free on the Internet. We then install it as a “pre-heater” to feed into the existing water heater at one of our favorite restaurants in nearby Cool, Ca. This reduces the restaurant’s use of propane to heat water by 70%. Since over 33% of the energy consumed by an average household is to heat water, this cost savings and major reduction in carbon footprint is available to you too. I hope you agree that we have closed a Cool deal. But hey, it gets better!
This restaurant uses vegetable oil to fry its food and normally pays to get it hauled off. We then barter the hot water heater for the restaurant’s waste vegetable oil (WVO). Barter is “the exchange of goods or services without money” and is definitely a good thing because it keeps trade close to home. Mother Lode is one of the few companies in California that runs its diesel vehicles on 100% WVO. This has several advantages. First, it produces 80% less carbon dioxide than conventional fossil fuel diesel and therefore vastly reduces our carbon footprint. Second, using WVO also reduces the particulates (the greatest disadvantage of diesel engines) by 45% and hydrocarbons by a comparable amount. Amazingly, it also reduces carcinogens by 90%. Bottom line, it is one of the cleanest and ecologically responsible fuels on planet Earth.
That’s it, “Solar for Oil”! We have created Green Collar employment for our staff, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and spared the planet’s ecosystems, helped reduce the concentration of chemicals in the air that cause asthma and cancer, and refused to ride with Osama Bin Laden. Do you support this idea? Write us a note and let us know what you think.
Many thanks to Alan Carrozza for his inspiration and great idea, Greg Hawkins for his construction skills, Ray and Lorrie for their patience and Emily for her photos.
Perhaps sensing America’s need for an inspiring national pick-me-up – maybe a nice long hike on a beautiful trail in a national park, or a whitewater rafting trip on a scenic river — President Obama unrolled his Great Outdoors Initiative last week. The initiative will build on existing, successful conservation efforts through out the country by local and state governments, tribes, and private groups, like the American River Conservancy and the Mother Lode River Center. Recognizing that Americans, and children especially, are “losing our connection to the parks, wild places, and open spaces we grew up with and cherish,” a main focus of the initiative is to help families and young people get outside more. President Obama launched the Administration’s effort to promote national land conservation with a tribute to the importance of land to America’s soul. In our land, the President said, we have reason to rejoice, to “understand what an incredible bounty we have been given.” Protecting and appreciating American land protects our essential values. During the Civil War, for instance, Abraham Lincoln set aside the land that is now Yosemite. During the Great Depression, FDR formed the CCC and built many of our nations hiking trails, parks and campgrounds. We at the Mother Lode River Center applaud President Obama’s mission to protect and increase access to America’s rivers, forests, wilderness areas, parks and many natural wonders. We agree that reconnecting to, and protecting America’s wild places is vitally important to creating jobs, saving our environment, and helping our children lead healthier, happier lives. If we protect them, wild places are antidotes to human troubles. They restore our spirits and give us the fresh air and perspective we need to thrive.
How it happened:
But we also realize that as our company continues to bring in more guests through our outdoor education programs, we’ll need to have staff accommodations available throughout the year. In fact, our first intern is moving in as I write this. That means we need to find fast, cost-efficient ways to green up our staff housing.
- Replace all incandescent light bulbs with compact florescent or LED bulbs (each saves an average of $10.50/year).
- Install season-appropriate curtains to all windows (black on one-side to absorb the sunlight in cold seasons, white on the other side to reflect sunlight in warm seasons).
- Turn down hot water heater until we can build our third solar batch heater, or purchase on-demand water heater. (heating water accounts for about 30% of an average energy bill).
- Use small, energy-star space heaters instead of costly and inefficient central propane systems.
- Encourage and educate renters/work-trade tenants to be conscientious about saving power and buying/using products with low ecological impacts.
Here is our list of improvements for 2009, as well as those in progress or planned for this year:
- Got rid of ancient refrigerator in the ‘guide ghetto’ and replaced it with one that actually had a seal to the door to hold in the cold (2009).
- Installed timers on bathroom lights (2009).
- Installed photovoltaic solar panels on boathouse (2010, in progress; panels are mounted but still be to be wired).
- Install photovoltaic solar panels on ‘Mother Dome’ (2010, panels acquired but not installed).
- Built in-line solar thermal hot water heater (using the old refrigerator as an insulation box!) for upstream kitchen (2009).
- Built active solar thermal hot water heater for guest shower/bathroom/changing room (2009).
- Other upgrades for caretaker building already discussed above (2010, not yet implemented).
- Used over 500 gallons less gas/diesel due to a combination of using waste-vegetable oil vehicles more often as kinks were worked out of the fledgling system.
- Used more fuel efficient conventional vehicles for errands (2009).
- Adjusted menu to group age demographic in order to waste less food. (2009)
- Used waste vegetable oil powered Volkswagon Passat for food shopping trips. (2009)
- Adjusted menu again to include more fruit and vegetable dishes in every meal. (2009)
- Served more food from the organic garden than in an
y previous year (2009; we are going to start quantifying the exact amount this year, but it was easy to assume we served more this year because the garden was nearly twice as large).
- Supplement garden crop with weekly community supported agriculture deliveries
- Educated guests about emissions reduction policy leading up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.
- Collected and sent hand-written letters from guests encouraging legislation that effectively deals with climate change.
Consider a pound of turkey. First we need to calculate the emissions of raising the turkey. How much carbon was used producing turkey feed? Well, that depends on what it was fed; a corn-based diet (which is the most likely) has a greater footprint than a free-range diet (how much, and with what feed, of that diet is supplemented). Also, where was the turkey raised? If in colder climates, it cost more carbon to heat the roosting houses. If far away from the point of purchase, it will cost more carbon to ship it to the store. Also, where did they ship it to be butchered, and what methods to were used to butcher it; there are many ways, all using different amounts of carbon. And this is just the tip of the iceberg that seems to fractal without pause. The process of calculating the actual footprint of just this one, let alone the hundreds of products we serve, would be nearly impossible for our small staff. Even large organizations funded by companies with massive budgets like Coca Cola have failed to produce scientifically sound results.
But we don’t plan to just ignore these facets because they are difficult to calculate. We plan to use a variety of the excellent environmental guides to products and services, such as GoodGuide, which uses a database of over 1100 different base criteria from a network of academic institutions, governmental and non-governmental data sources, and private research firms to make a categorized rating system that’s user friendly. This quickly evolving ‘radical transparency’ (read about it in depth in Daniel Goleman’s Ecological Intelligence) makes deciding which products are the most appropriate much easier than it was just a few years ago, even if we can’t exactly quantify it in terms of carbon footprint.
To get a quick, conservatively high, rough estimate for now, we’ll use the average U.S. impacts of food processing and consumption per person with eating habits fairly similar to what’s on our menu (3 tons CO2 per person ), divide it by meals per year (1095/avg. person) to get the average pounds of emissions per meal (5.48 lbs/person), and multiply that to our number of individual meals we served last year (7,746) to get a total of 42,448 lbs or 21.22 tons CO2. But again, this doesn’t actually represent our food consumption accurately because we serve lunches far more than any other meal (what%), grow some of our own vegetables, etc.
An impressive stat to report on our progress though, is that even when adding this high estimate on our carbon footprint from food consumption, we still have less carbon emissions (53 tons) than the average U.S. family (60 tons).
The following article was recently published in “The Current”, the American River Conservancy’s quarterly newsletter. Enjoy!
In his book, “The Creation”, Dr. E.O. Wilson engages in a dialogue with an imaginary preacher in order to argue persuasively that both science and religion have compelling reasons to support the good stewardship and preservation of Nature. He defines Nature as “the original environment and its life forms before human impact”.
As one of the world’s foremost ecologists, Dr. Wilson shares the concern of many climatologists and other scientists, that the current activities of humankind threaten over half the world’s species with extinction by the end of the century. Not only do these organisms have practical value as natural ecosystems providing us with clean air, water, energy, food, etc., Dr. Wilson argues they are important to preserve for their own sake, as part of God’s Creation.
But what is the evidence that the experience of Nature benefits human health directly? Should we preserve it for that reason as well? Let us explore some recent science.
Medical science has established that stress plays an important role in 80% of all illness. As you de-stress and connect with the sights and sounds of Nature you boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure, reduce levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, increase release of pleasure mediators such as endorphins and promote your physical and mental health.
2. Exercise is Great for Health and Exercise in Nature is Even Better!
No doubt you knew that aerobic exercise is good for your health. What is surprising is that the setting in which exercise occurs is an important determinant of the health benefits of exercise. Subjects who exercised in a “green” environment surrounded by the sights and sounds of Nature have greater reductions in blood pressure, higher elevations in HDL (the good cholesterol), and greater improvements in mood and self esteem than those who exercise the same amount in urban, non-green environments. Mitchell and Popham, Lancet, 372: pg. 1655-60.
3. Nature is Good for Your Brain. The City Hurts Your Brain.
Ever felt like your brain was on overload? Chances are you were in a crowded city or caught in traffic. Activities in Nature allow your brain to unwind from urban life and actually improve mental functioning. So says Marc Berman, a psychologist at the University of Michigan and lead author of a new study that measured cognitive deficits caused by urban environments. Marc says that the brain is a limited machine and “we are beginning to understand the different ways a city can exceed those limitations.” By contrast, even fleeting glimpses of Nature improve brain performance.
4. Children Benefit Greatly from Experiences in Nature, the Longer the Better
Those of us who raft rivers know what a thrill it is to watch our children whoop and holler through a whitewater rapid. Often timid at first, by the time you reach takeout the kids are asking, “where are the really big ones”, and then beg for more. Children these days are often more stressed than adults. In part this is because they are highly empathic and mirror the emotions of their parents and other adults who are dealing with the stresses and strains of modern industrial society.
It is therefore good news that researchers have found children benefit from exposure to Nature with a dose related reduction in their stress levels. The longer the exposure to Nature, the lower the levels of stress in the child. Those of us who have experienced an extended raft trip on the Grand Canyon certainly know the feeling: What day is it anyway? Leaving home your TV, computer and cell phone helps too. (NM Wells and GW Evans, Environment and Behavior, 35(3): 311-330.)
5. Experiences in Nature are Great for ADD and ADHD
Attention disorders have become one of the challenges of the current age. The percentage of children on Ritalin and other drugs used to treat ADD and ADHD (which is generally ADD in males) is truly astounding. Theories abound on the causes and appropriate treatment of these children, but recent evidence has found that one treatment improves the symptoms in virtually all cases. That treatment is exposure to Nature. The data is so compelling that some have suggested that ADD and ADHD are actually “Nature Deficit Disorder” in disguise. If our children were to grow up in an environment more similar to the one in which their nervous system evolved, the problem might disappear. This may be hyperbole. Nevertheless, what is clear is that children diagnosed with attention issues have better functioning after activities in natural or “greener” settings. Furthermore, the greener the setting, the less severe the child’s attention disorder. ( AF Taylor, FE Kuo and WC Sullivan. Environment and Behavior, 33 (1):54-77) Also Taylor and Kuo, Journal of Attention Disorders, August 2008.
These are just a few of the studies that increasingly suggest that John Muir was right, not only is “in God’s wildness .. the hope of the world”; it is a primary condition for the preservation of human health. Both the scientist and the preacher agree. Keep it wild!
Scott Underwood M.D., ABIM, ABEM trained at U.C. Davis before his retirement from a career in Emergency Medicine. As the longest serving member of the ARC Board of Directors, he now volunteers at the Mother Lode River Center in Coloma where the vision is “to promote healthy people, living in equitable and sustainable societies, in balance with the natural world.” Visit www.malode.com or send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve seen 2012 three times now. I’m one of those people who cheers as L.A. tips skyward and slides into the sea, who upsets my neighbor’s popcorn with wild fist-pumping when Yellowstone blows. Of course, as a rafter, my favorite part is the tsunami — the sublime whitewater experience. Every time, I’ve left the theater wondering how I, and my community, would react to cataclysm. I’ve let my imagination run wild about the kinds of disaster global climate change might bring to Coloma. Floods? Fires? Anarchy? Am I the sort of person who could make a Winnebago soar across a yawning lava-filled abyss? Would our eco-friendly, solar and waste-veggie oil-run camp be an oasis for refugees, or would we have to beat back the mob with Ma Lode paddles and squirt guns?
Well, on Monday, December 7th, we got our very own disaster. A severe winter storm blanketed the Coloma valley in snow — practically unheard of at our elevation. Our foothill oaks are not built to shed snow like pines are, so, interrupting the eerie silence of new snowfall, we heard cracks as loud as gunshots ricocheting through the valley as weak branches and trunks split and fell. The woods were a tangle of broken limbs and downed power lines. The roads were blocked and, along with 36,000 other El Dorado County residents, we had no power.
Neighbors we hadn’t seen in ages came outside in their galoshes and polar fleece to admire the sparkly stuff and survey the damage. Jim Baldini was out pushing downed limbs off the road to make an emergency evacuation route before we even made coffee on our gas stove. Not for the first time, I was grateful to live in a place where people are comfortable using backhoes and chainsaws. For the first time, I really paid attention to my dad’s instructions on getting our generator going, and as never before, I appreciated the golden fossil fuel we poured into its belly. As much as I love renewables, liquid energy is awfully nice in an emergency.
Although I don’t really think that, and certainly don’t like the projections about declining snowpack in the Sierras due to warming temperatures, there is still something thrilling about living on this earth, with its immense, chaotic fluctuations. When things are predictable, it’s easy to go to sleep, forgetting about the forces that can destroy our power lines and houses and cars and all the other structures we rely on in the course of an ordinary Monday morning. I think that’s part of what I find so exciting and addictive about boating and all the other things I love to do outside — and why I love disaster movies. They give us the physical jolt we need to remember how tiny we are, and what a big fast world we’re riding.
– Emily Underwood
Those of us who have enjoyed the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park (MGDSHP) know that there are lots of good reasons to keep the Park open. To name just a few reasons, consider that:
Sutter’s Mill is where gold was discovered in California in 1848, triggering one of the largest migrations in human history. This fact continues to draw visitors from all over California and the world. On any given day foreign visitors speaking dozens of languages are heard in the Park. It is a point of local, state, national and international significance.
As the California State Park System’s most heavily visited “historic” park with over 250,000 visitors per year, Marshall Gold hosts over 70,000 school children per year who enjoy its exhibits and unique living history programs.
The Park serves as a reminder of both the importance and result of proper environmental stewardship. As a direct result of the Gold Rush, by the 1860s the Coloma Valley’s forests were logged out, the riverbed destroyed, and over 20,000 tons of the mercury used to recover gold was left littered in the hills, rivers and streams of the Mother Lode. Yet today, the valley is beautiful and scenic, and the river clean and unpolluted. Due to stewardship by the Park and such organizations as the American River Conservancy, great strides have been taken to protect and restore the watershed of the South Fork of the American River for fish, wildlife, recreation and the supply of clean water.
The Park’s exhibits emphasizing the traditional culture of the Nisenan, one of the over 300 indigenous tribes that once occupied California, are another vital reason to keep the Park open. The Nisenan occupied the Coloma Valley in a low impact, sustainable manner for thousands of years prior to the arrival of the gold miners. Tragically, by the end of the Gold Rush, the Nisenan were essentially extinct. Few Californians know that our State’s treatment of its indigenous peoples was among the worst of any state in the Union. The Park helps us understand all aspects of our history, both good and bad, and hopefully learn from it.
So, with so much to teach us, why was the MGDSHP placed high on the list as a target for closure to help solve the State’s budget woes? One reason was that when the Park was chartered as a “historic” park, it was felt to be so important educationally it was mandated to be visited free of charge. Therefore, it did not have the revenue stream that other “recreational” parks do. Ironically, the boat ramp at Folsom Lake would remain open, yet the MGDSHP would be closed!
It was into this political maelstrom that the MaLode participants ventured at the end of the 2009 season. Once they became aware of the proposed closure of the MGDSHP they were outraged and wrote letters by the hundreds. These were sent to Gov. Schwarzenegger, our local State Senator and Assemblyman, the Speaker of the Assembly, the President Pro Tem of the Senate, the State Park Director and our local District IV Supervisor, Ron Briggs. The local community held meetings and demonstrations of support for the Park.
The bottom line, Marshall Gold is to remain open for now. There will be staffing and other cutbacks. Nevertheless, this was a great victory for a just cause and it is our hope that once the interest in the closure issue wanes, the Park will still remain open. If you are interested in the issue you can get updated information from the Gold Rush Discovery State Park Association’s website or from Penny, Mother Lode’s Reservations Manager.
A huge Thank You to all the hundreds of MaLode participants who wrote letters. If you get a reply, let us know, we are always interested.
Happy Holidays to the Marshall Gold Discovery State Park and its employees, docents, volunteers and fellow supporters.
Scott the RiverDoc and the MaLode Crew
In the Spring of 2009 Mother Lode began its “Countdown to Copenhagen” with letter writing in response to President Barack Obama’s call to the U.S. Congress to provide him a bill to sign that addressed the issue of climate change. This was in preparation for the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen that starts December 7th, 2009. The President’s hope was that the United States would go to Copenhagen as a “leader not a laggard” in the effort to address the carbon emissions issue.
As our educational and rafting programs began in April, our letters began to flow to California’s Congressional Representative, Henry Waxman, urging him to carry the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) forward in the House. We were very surprised and pleased that Representative Waxman not only reported out the bill, the Democratic leadership managed to pass it, and the ball was handed off to Senator Boxer to carry forward a similar bill in the admittedly tougher sledding of the Senate.
Then Congressional gridlock set in, and not only did ACES go in the political hole, it essentially disappeared off the radar screen. As recently as three weeks ago President Obama was rumored to have decided not to appear personally at Copenhagen at all, but rather concentrate on the Peace Prize ceremony in Oslow instead. Meanwhile, Congress focused its attention on “reforming” the profitcare system that expends 50% of the world’s healthcare dollars, on 4% of the world’s population, while achieving the worst health indices in the industrialized world.
Admittedly, this is discouraging, since the greatest challenge facing the human species should not only be on the radar screen, it should dominate it! The United States is the world’s largest per capita carbon polluter (337.1 btus/capita). China presently produces 1/5 the carbon per capita (58.9 btus/capita) that each U.S. citizen does, while Japan (176.4 btus/capita) and the United Kingdom ((155.7 btus/capita) maintain affluent lifestyles with a fraction of our per capita carbon footprint. Clearly the U.S. has a practical and moral responsibility to be “a leader rather than a laggard” in the battle against climate change going forward. We are, after all, the single largest source of the greenhouse gases placed in the atmosphere by mankind from 1900 to date (318,432 metric tons), and outstrip by a factor of over 3 times the second most prolific cumulative polluter, China (92,950 metric tons).
Our response to Congressional inaction was to act ourselves. We fired off some of the many letters urging action on climate change which were written this Summer by our participants. These were sent to President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Senator Boxer. The President then left for Japan and China. Upon his return, there have been interesting developments and reason for new hope.
We now understand the President will attend the more crucial policy making portion of the Conference at Copenhagen and has reaffirmed that action on climate change remains a major priority of his administration. Ironically, this week China, whose inaction is often cited as a major reason that U.S. politicians refuse to move on climate change, indicated it is taking to Copenhagen a commitment to reduce the carbon intensity of its economy and therefore each citizen by 40%! This will be achieved by not only maintaining its present world dominance in the production of carbon efficient technologies, but also by implementing them in its own economy, while expanding its role in research, development, design and installation of such technologies worldwide. This will establish them as a world leader in “walking the talk” on climate change. Doing the math, if the U.S. political gridlock continues, by 2020 the average Chinese citizen will produce approximately 1/8 the the carbon of a U.S. citizen while living in the world’s most rapidly growing economy. It would appear China is not only planning on taking the U.S. to school on climate change, it plans to get rich doing it. Perhaps the “laggard” will get the message when China calls in our debt!
So how much influence did Mother Lode’s letter writers have in all this? Probably not much. However, keep in mind that every little bit helps and it isn’t always how big you are, it’s how just your cause is that counts (remember those 13 California Rivers we helped save). Keep the faith, and vote with your actions as well as at the ballot box!
Scott the River Doc and the MaLode EcoWarrior Clan
P.S. For those who wrote letters and provided return addresses, watch your mailbox. You may receive a reply from your elected officials. If so, let us know.
The MaLode crew helped the American River Conservancy celebrate its 20th Anniversary at the Starthistle Ball on October 10th, 2009. After purchasing two tables to support the cause, we showed up in force. This delightful event featured music, feasting, tasting of local wines, a presentation by the Conservancy’s Executive Director, Alan Ehrgott, and the first screening of ARC’s new historical video. As one of the most successful organizations of its kind, the ARC had lots to celebrate. Here is a list of just a few of its accomplishments to date : the preservation of 10,000 riparian acres and growing; this coming Spring, the opening of 21 miles of the American River Trail stretching from Coloma to Folsom Lake; and finally, still in process, the preservation of the first Japanese settlement in America, the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm Colony in Coloma.
One “belle” of the Ball was the ARC’s new video, produced by local Emmy Award winning videographer Janice Stanley of Todd Stanley Productions. Her exceptional skills were in evidence as she helped portray the remarkable story of how the ARC was formed and how so much was accomplished against such great odds.
The story begins in the early 1970s when the South Fork of the American River first achieved its status as one of the premier and most popular whitewater rivers in North America. In those days the very existence of the river was threatened by two dams (the SOFAR Project) that would have destroyed both the Chili Bar and Gorge whitewater runs on the South Fork. Fortunately an intrepid “band of boaters” represented by Friends of the River, The American River Recreation Association, the outfitters, and such familiar figures as Bill Center and Scott Underwood who appear in the video to tell the tale, worked together to defeat that project only to discover that saving the river was only part of the story. In those days only 30% of the river’s riparian zone was protected from development, and by the late 1980s not only were over 150,000 whitewater boaters visiting the Coloma Valley, so were the bulldozers!
Local whitewater photographer, Mark Leder-Adams, hiking over the hills above the South Fork, was only too aware of these threats to the river and documented them in his stunning photographs. It was Mark who first proposed the formation of the American River Conservancy and in a truly inspired moment, the founders chose Alan Ehrgott to be its Executive Director. Aided by the vision and dedication of the Bureau of Land Management’s local Director, Deane Swickard, Alan has guided to successful conclusion one land deal after another involving County, State and Federal Agencies, NGOs, private donors and has invested himself a lot of blood, sweat and tears to bring us to where we are today. That is, just the reverse of where we were 20 years ago, with over 70% of the South Fork’s riparian zone now protected for future generations to enjoy as recreational space, wildlife habitat and the source of clean, fresh, drinkable water.
Other than Alan himself, I am now the Conservancy’s longest serving Board Member and one of my functions is to serve as the Board’s institutional memory. Given that, believe me when I say that limitations of space and time resulted in only a small number of the people who most deserve credit for the success of the Conservancy over the years being mentioned in the film. I remember Sue Britting’s expertise, untiring dedication and sound judgment. Past President Carla Soracco was a tireless advocate of the education programs and the Conservancy’s largest private donor. Manny and Martha DeAquino gave us soul and typified the hundreds of intrepid and selfless volunteers. The list is very long indeed. Suffice it to say there is plenty of credit to go around for a tremendous team effort by a community dedicated to the preservation of its essential heritage for future generations. Best wishes, thanks for all the good work, and a huge Happy Birthday and Merry 20th Anniversary to the American River Conservancy!
Scott Underwood the RiverDoc
In keeping with the Mother Lode River Center’s commitment to environmental stewardship, we are proud to announce the most recent addition to our Outdoor Education curriculum: Sustainable Practices; Experiential Education for a Changing Planet.
Beginning in 2007 the Mother Lode River Center enacted a Greenhouse Gas Action Plan (GAP) as a means of reducing our carbon footprint. Since then we have “walked the talk” and reduced our overall carbon emissions by 30%. This puts us ahead of our 2012 goal of a 20% reduction, and well on our way to achieving our 2020 goal of a 40% reduction.
In the process folks have been noticing our rapidly multiplying fleet of 100% waste vegetable oil powered vehicles which began with Eco-Bus, but this year will add Eco-MiniBus, Eco-Truck and Eco-Passat. Solar hot water heaters of various design types, and photovoltaic panels applied in a variety of ways, have been installed to illustrate the full spectrum of solar power technology. This year our on-site organic garden adds a new solar powered root zone heating system and a high-tech greenhouse augmented by thermal mass. Our current goal is to achieve a 50% overall reduction of our carbon footprint by the end of the 2009 season and to ultimately create an “Eco-Village”. (Check out the ECOS blog for details.)
When many of our guests expressed interest in these different projects, the decision was made to share our experiences with you. Guided by our solar guru, Allen Carrozza, who is a true solar expert with over thirty years of experience in the field, we comparative rookies are acquiring lots of practical knowledge. We are enthusiastic about passing it on to others. The more we learn though, the more we realize that most of these ideas aren’t new. The ancient Greeks used solar hot water heating, organic gardening is how the ancients used to do it, and the first diesel engine was designed by Rudolf Diesel in 1897 to run on peanut oil.
The real challenge is to learn to live in ways that adapt to the needs of a changing planet. Our Manager, Greg Hawkins, put it well: “A revolution does not begin with the formation of a new idea, but with its implementation.”
How Sustainable Practices Works:
As with all our programs, Sustainable Practices is designed to be hands-on and can be tailored to meet the needs of youth and/or adults. You can combine it with one or more of our other programs to create fun and informative multi-day adventures. Or, spend the day at our camp on the American River and learn how a little creativity and initiative can result in dramatic changes in your use of energy, and the various ways we can all reduce our impact on the ecosystems that support us all.
Come Join Us at Mother Lode and Help Build Tomorrow, Today!
Sustainable Practices home page
Promoting Healthy People:
So is a tomato or ear of corn grown in a small scale organic garden like ours more healthy than their store-bought counterparts? To put it bluntly, yes. Big time. There are several reasons for this, one of them being the harvesting and shipping factors involved in large scale operations. Store bought produce, even certified organic varieties, must be shipped to stores an average of 1,500 miles, which can mean weeks in a box. Time is the biggest thief of nutrients, with some vegetable varieties losing up to 50% within three days of being picked. Another factor is ripeness; farmers can’t harvest at the peak of a crop’s ripeness, leading to comparatively tasteless, less nutritious produce. According to Robert Shewfelt, professor of food science at the University of Georgia, “When you pick something at peak flavor, it is about the same as picking it at peak nutritional value.” Studies have also shown that produce loses significant nutrition from bruising during mechanized harvesting and shipping processes that damage cell walls, allowing nutrients to escape and oxidation to occur.
Another reason for nutritional disparity is the difference in soil quality and quantity. For over 70 years, soil scientists from the USDA have been warning farmers about the rapid depletion of soil and soil nutrients due to unsustainable farming practices. And the fact is that today, the average depth of topsoil on North American cropland has diminished from around 21 inches down to 6 inches. At the Earth Summit Statistics Meeting in 1992, research showed that farmland in the US is 85% micro-nutrient depleted. By continually building up our own soil with compost generated by our guests and rotating crops properly we can keep growing nutritionally superior crops here at camp.
The produce grown in the US contains as little as 62% of the nutritional value of that produced in 1950. This is partly because on large farms, modern crops that grow larger and faster are not necessarily able to acquire nutrients from the soil at the same, faster rate. A good analogy is a body builder all pumped up on steroids; while it may look impressive and fit, many of the muscles have absolutely no utility and the bodybuilder isn’t necessarily healthy. It’s the same for mass produced crops. They’ve been selected for their yield, size, and speed of ripening traits, not for healthy root systems, which absorb more nutrients. Information about this “dilution effect” has been available for almost 30 years, but there have been no reforms in government to encourage farmers to grow healthier crops, only incentives for them to grow more and more crops. Factor that in with less, nutrient depleted soil, and you have a crop containing as little as 62% of the nutritional value as that produced in 1950.
A more hidden aspect of the nutritional deficiency in standard crops is lack of diversity. Different varieties (cultivars) of the same vegetable vary widely in the amount of nutrients they contain. A researcher named Eitenmiller studied the nutrient composition of different types of apples, peaches and other fruit, for example, they found variation in Vitamin A levels as high as 20 times. Another food scientist, Robert Shewfeld reports that carotene levels in any given vegetable often vary by a factor of 10. It is easier to grow a larger variety of crops in a small scale operation because you can monitor each type and adjust watering and feeding for their specific needs. Last year at Mother Lode for instance we grew 8 different types of tomatoes and plan to grow even more varieties this year.
Living in Equitable Communities:
Our garden curricullum focuses on methods that anyone can use, whether they live in urban or rural environments, even in areas with poor or depleted soils. One example is our simple raised planter boxes that anyone can build. in which we will be replicating a method of gardening developed by gardening guru Jacob Mittleider. Previously unusable soil is built without chemicals by adding nutients and organic materials. Mittleider’s method’s have utilized vast amounts of what was once considered unusable land, especially in 3rd world countries. Another example we teach about is hay bale gardening, possibly the easiest way to start a growing crops on your own.
Living in Balance with the Natural World
One strategy we use to accomplish this is by designing a permaculture garden. Permaculture, in short, is the harmonious integration of design with ecology. The use of long-living food crops like fruit and nut trees is an important part, as well as fostering the ecosystem in which you live. Sometimes this is counter-intuitive. Hornworms are a common problem for most people who grow tomatoes, including here at Mother Lode, but what we learned is that they aren’t just a pest designed to spoil crops, they actually were here long before we decided to plant crops. Hornworms are the pupa form of the Sphinx moth, which pollinates the evening primrose flowers growing in the riparian habitat. So instead of killing them as I was taught to do as a kid to protect our tomatoes, it makes more sense ecologically to transport them to the stands of primroses near the river, where they can continue playing their role in the ecosystem.
Another similarly related view that we’ve gleaned from is biodynamic agriculture, a creation of Rudolph Steiner which looks upon the soil and the farm as living organisms. Biodynamics puts heavy emphasis on composting and soil preparation and maintenance that supports abundant microbial life. These microorganisms are responsible for a wide variety of beneficial processes, from breaking down complex compounds into simpler ones that plants can use, to fixing nitrogen from the air in a form available to plants, to devouring harmful nematodes. This living, pulsation in the soil preserves its vitality for the plants in
another way too; they tie up essential nutients in their bodies and then release them slowly as they die and decompose. Using the methods of biodynamics will help us revitalize our soil instead of continuing to exhaust it.
Back to Shoveling:
The shovel feels a bit lighter after considering all the reasons why we’ve undertaken this project. Growing our own, healthier crops for us and our guests to enjoy, and growing them in a way that preserves and even benefits the surrounding ecosystems is definitely worth all the work and research. We hope to see you here on the river (or in the garden on the river) soon.
Toward an Ecological Approach to Health
Scott Underwood, M.D.
In the United States human health has traditionally been viewed in isolation from its ecological context. During my medical training and subsequent career in Emergency Medicine, issues such as climate change, habitat destruction, species extinction, pollution and the depletion of fresh water supplies were treated as primarily environmental issues lying outside the realm of the medical industry. Equity has been seen as a primarily political, economic and social issue. Sustainability was rarely considered.
I believe this view must be changed and that not only physicians, but all Americans, have a responsibility to effect this change. Achieving health requires that we address all these elements in an integrated, ecological approach. Our goal should to be “healthy people, living in equitable and sustainable societies, in balance with the natural world”. Ignoring any of these elements has profound and unacceptable consequences.
Few people have anticipated these consequences better than my biology professor at Stanford University, Dr. Paul Ehrlich, considered by many to be the father of American ecology. Winner of the Crafoord Prize, the equivalent to the Nobel Prize for his pioneering work in the field of ecology, Dr. Ehrlich delivered an extraordinary speech that was, in effect, an urgent call for an ecological approach to health. I encourage you to click here to listen to this speech delivered in 1970. I think you will be amazed at how contemporary and compelling it is today, nearly forty years later.
I would argue, however, that one of the best examples of the implementation of some of the elements of an ecological approach to health actually anticipated Dr. Ehrlich’s speech by several decades. As a U.S. Army dependent, I traveled to Japan in 1946 with my family to spend three years as my father participated in the effort led by General Douglass MacArthur to implement the Marshall Plan in Japan after World War II. Although most Americans have understood the Marshall Plan as a program of financial assistance, it is less well known that its approach was systems based, comprehensive and consisted of three distinct components: Democratization, Decentralization and Demilitarization. In order to implement the “three Ds”, MacArthur took sweeping actions that affected every aspect of Japanese society. For example, his approach to Decentralization reflected an understanding that the concentration of wealth and power in the giant family run industrial monopolies, the Zaibatsu, had played a crucial role in the genesis of Japanese fascism. These monopolies controlled the Japanese economy and had, among other things, eliminated labor unions. MacArthur dissolved these monopolies and addressed their extreme concentration of wealth by imposing a minimum wage, a maximum wage and by redistributing the Zaibatsu’s wealth. He also brought about universal access to health care. The eventual result of these measures was the transformation of Japan from a nation with one of the largest gaps between rich and poor and the worst health indices (longevity, infant mortality, etc.) in the world, into the Japan of today. Japan is now the nation with the best health indices, and the smallest gap between rich and poor in the industrialized world.
Given the present challenges we face as Americans, let us consider what has happened in the United States during this same period. While our nation was 5th in the world in 1950 in terms of health indices, and had a relatively small gap between rich and poor and a growing middle class, these trends have since been reversed. Today our comparative health indices are no better than 21st, below all other developed nations, Costa Rica and Cuba. The gap between rich and poor in our country is now the largest in any industrialized nation. During the same period our expenditures on health care have exploded. The United States now spends over half of all the money spent on health care in the world, the highest per capita of any nation, while representing only 4% of the world’s population. By contrast, Japan spends the lowest amount per capita on health care among the industrialized nations of the world, while achieving the best health indices.
Another very different society that employs important aspects of an ecologically sound approach to health is the nation of Bhutan, located in the Himalayan Mountains near Nepal. Although Bhutan admits very few visitors in an effort to preserve its cultural traditions, over the past two winters Mary and Phil of DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking were granted permission to lead groups of kayakers to explore the rivers of Bhutan. I encourage you to visit their website for details of their travels.
The importance of their experience from the perspective of an ecological approach to health is that the Bhutanese people, who are materially poor by American standards, are comparatively physically and spiritually healthy. To paraphrase Mary and Phil, “the definition of happiness in Bhutan is not ‘having and getting,’ rather in their culture wealth has little to do with being happy. On the contrary, they believe that desiring and wanting often cause suffering. This principle is an underlying motivator of behavior with the result that their culture is open, loving, curious and accepting. Their government pursues the ‘gross national happiness’ and to promote happiness the government engages in implementing model educational, social and environmental programs that take into account the desire to protect the country’s environment and cultural traditions.”
The far off Kingdom of Bhutan and the concept of the “Gross National Happiness” may seem esoteric to many Americans. Nevertheless, over 400 respected U.S. economists including Nobel Laureate Professor Herbert Simon contend that it would actually be more realistic and useful to substitute for our use of the Gross Domestic Product (the total of all goods and services produced) the measurement of the Genuine Progress Index, which attempts to measure the quality of our lives. Comparing these measures during the period since the 1970s is revealing. While the conventional GDProduct more than doubled, the Genuine Progress Index declined 45% during this period. Measuring the GPI would have warned us that, contrary to the many assurances to the contrary, the U.S. economy was actually undermining our health during this period. Not only was our prosperity unevenly distributed and unsustainable, it was not performing its most important function. That function is to support improvements in the health of our population.
Clearly, an ecological, scientific approach to health demands that we define what health is, how best to measure it, and then promote the conditions that achieve it. If we do not do these things, it stands to reason we will be unsuccessful in attaining health. We must recognize that health is more than just the absence of disease. On the contrary, it requires doing things that actively promote it. It is not enough to attempt to correct the effects of doing things that destroy it.
At Mother Lode it is our continuing commitment to contribute toward this effort, one river based experience, one letter, one environmentally and socially responsible act at a time. We hope you will bring your ideas and suggestions, and help explore the possibilities. Remember, recreation is just that: “re-creation”, a process by which meaningful, constructive change occurs and a vital part of an integrated and ecological approach to health.
See you on the river!
Scott the RiverDoc, Charlie the RiverDog and the MaLode Ecowarrior Clan
One of several new projects you’ll see when you come whitewater rafting at Malode this year is our solar heated planting bed. By heating the root zones of the plants we hope to significantly enhance our production and, with the help of our greenhouse, lengthen our growing season.
The mechanics of it are pretty simple: the sun heats water passively in our black reservoir storage tank. The hot water is circulated by a small solar powered pumped through the grid of pvc pipe that is buried below the growing bed and sandwiched between 6 inches of loose granite and pea gravel. The rock bed radiates the heat into the soil above, heating the roots of the plants.
Using the rock is important because it distributes the heat evenly from the pvc; without it the soil is such a heat sink that we’d have cold spots. Also, it’s important to use rocks that conduct heat well. Dense rock like the quartz in the pea gravel, along with the granite stones we used from digging out the area for the storage tank, are both good conductors.
Greatly of interest to us is the quantifiable increase of production that this project will attain. The non-heated beds in the garden will serve as a control for our experiment. One thing is for sure though: our planting place is nearly doubled with the addition of this 200 square foot bed, which means we’ll have lots more vegetable to savor in our meals this season on our rafting trips, ropes courses and outdoor education programs.