Category Archives: DC green

GMOs + CAFOs attemp a makeover

Photo by Graham Boyle

Check out the GMO corn-fish car built by members of Washington’s intrepid artist/activist collective DC51. These local talents supply the visuals for a wide variety of environmental and human rights marches here in the nation’s capital. Usually, they silkscreen posters, banners and the occasional limited edition T-shirt. This repurposed sedan takes art-for-the-revolution to a new level. But the car is not just cute; It’s meant call attention to concerns about farmed fish raised on GMO corn.  It’s also road worthy. The corn-fish navigated the interstate highway system last month to attend a New York City protest of genetically modified organisms such as lab-altered corn and soybeans used not just to feed the fishes but in so many of the foods we find in the supermarket.

My new blog post on the E Magazine site discusses current efforts to makeover GMOs and frankenfish, among other parts of our industrial food system. here’s an excerpt:

October is proving a busy month for the country’s old guard food industries. After a decade of books and documentaries exposing the more unsavory aspects of how our food is produced, Big Ag and consumer brand companies are striking back with campaigns aimed at quelling the country’s growing disaffection with CAFO-raised beef, fake “fruit” snacks and sugary cereals.

In Washington, D.C., in recent weeks, members of the food and advertising industries urged Congress to dump a planned update to federal nutritional guidelines on foods marketed to kids. The draft rules, announced last April
 by the Interagency Working Group, made up of representatives from the Food and drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are aimed at combating child obesity.

Read the rest of this post on the E site.


I Want this Bike Helmet!

From Tree Hugger's Bike Helmet Fashion Show

So it might not go with all outfits, it’s a much bolder fashion statement than the standard offerings. And so much padding would be comforting if one’s skull were on a crash course with the pavement. If this one’s not for you, the TreeHugger site has an array of cyclist headgear on parade today. Several swerve decidedly into the fashion lanes. Others tilt toward practicality. I also like the collapsible helmet; unattractive but easily stowed. As a Capital Bikeshare members, I get tired of carrying my bulky plastic helmet around with me.

New Study Shows the Potomac is Cleaner Now than Decades Ago

This wild celery (Vallisneria) by Nancy Rybicki, U.S. Geological Survey

The Washington Post has a front page story today trumpeting the news that the Potomac River is the cleanest it’s been in half a century. Whoopie! Such good news. Unfortunately, before you even get to the jump, the report warns that we’ve still got a boatload of environmental problems in the river that supplies our drinking water here in the District and much of the region.

Still, this partial success story inspires hope that we can also tackle the Potomac’s other woes — such as invasive species, pesticides and other  runoff from farms and lawns, and the mysterious chemical that causes male fish to grow eggs.

Read the WaPo story here. Or go directly to the study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Neighborhood Farming Cocktail Hour This Sunday

Photo came with the invite!

Has the massive salmonella egg recall piqued your interest in “food activism” and the growing urban farming movement? Well, here’s an invitation I received today that perhaps appropriately combines foodie activities — sampling locally made (or at least organic) snacks and libations — with learning more about something called the Neighborhood Farm Initiative.

Tastings:  Sample a variety of organic wines and samples of locally grown snacks
Topic:  Getting Your Hands Dirty: Food Acitvism in Metro DC, a discussion with the Neighborhood Farm Initiative (NFI)
Date/Time:  Sunday, August 29th  from 2:30-5:00 PM
Place:  Fountain Framing, 3311 Rhode Island Avenue, Mount Rainier, MD  20712
Cost:  No charge

What is the alternative food movement and what are people in our area doing to support food activism? Maureen Moodie and Bea Trickett of the Neighborhood Farm Initiative will discuss food access and food security in the metro DC area.  NFI recognizes our concern for food security, food access and healthy living and will also discuss ways to successfully grow organic gardens at home.   They will bring in produce grown from farms at Fort Totten and Fort Dupont for your sampling. Tax-deductible donations to the organization are greatly appreciated. For more information about NFI, please see their website at or contact

Climate v. Weather

As temperatures in the District of Columbia climb passed the 90-degree mark again today, it seems a fitting time to point out that the climate v. weather debate is heating up again too, fueled not only by this summer’s East Coast heatwave, but unprecedented flooding in Pakistan, forest fires in Russia stoked by usually hot, dry conditions there, and other extreme weather around the globe as this year shapes up to become the hottest on record.

Of course, these things taken individually don’t necessarily say much about climate change. Experts on both sides of the argument warn, “Don’t  confuse ‘weather’ with ‘climate,'” though I notice that this advice is seldom heeded here in the District.

Only last winter, after our first blizzard in decades, Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe’s family built an igloo and dedicated it to climate crusader Al Gore, declaring the record snowfall a sign that global warming really is a hoax. Now, different folks are speculating that our current heat wave means climate change is for real, a view only bolstered last week when an iceberg more than four times the size of Manhattan broke off a Greenland glacier and floated away.

With all this fighting over the weather, it seems noteworthy that the calving of the iceberg is seen by experts as a surer indication of rising global temperatures. But that view may be changing (or perhaps it’s not the view that’s changing so much as scientists’ willingness to publicly wade into the debate.)  Here are a few news stories quoting scientists about the possible links between individual weather events and global warming.

ClimateCentral says: “Scientist Explores Links Between Extreme Weather and Climate Change”

The New York Times reports “In Weather Chaos, a Case for Global Warming”

The Guardian reports: “Climate Scientists in Race To Predict Where Natural Disaster Will Strike Next”

D.C. Gets its First Bike Traffic Light

DDOT Photo

This news just in: The District Department of Transportation has installed the District’s first bicycle traffic singles at the intersection of 16th Street, U Street and New Hampshire Avenue N.W.  Pretty cool. When I was in Berlin in the spring, these quirky little lights were directing traffic all over the downtown though not all bikers respected them. I saw tons of people riding the lights on their bikes without so much as tapping the brakes. And they were Germans! What can we expect of D.C. residents, who may not share that Germanic love of order?

WeatherizeDC Meetup in Takoma Tomorrow Night

Photo via WeatherizeDC website

Sick of the hot humid air leaking into your house this time of year and the winter cold seeping in the rest of the time? The non-profit WeatherizeDC is holding an information session to talk about energy efficiency and environmental issues tomorrow night.

According to the invite sent out via several neighborhood listservs, attendees may sign up for “the FREE volunteer energy assessment service.” No word on exactly what that entails. But, what the heck! The drinks and snacks will be FREE too!

Thur., Aug. 5, at 7:30 p.m.
Takoma Park Neighborhood Library
416 Cedar St. N.W. Washington, DC 20012

Please RSVP to

Energy Audit video brochure from WeatherizeDC

We’re No. 3! — In Renewable Energy Usage

Photos via Washington Gas Energy Services

The D.C. government has zoomed to the number 3 spot in the U.S. EPA‘s Top 20 Local Government list of “green” power purchases.

The city’s government gets half of its total energy consumption, or about 244. 3 million kWh a year, in the form of wind power, according to the federal agency. Only Houston and Dallas beat D.C.’s overall kilowatt-hours, coming in one and two, respectively, in the ranking. But D.C. gets a higher percentage of its energy from renewables than either of those larger cities. So, how big is the impact? Here’s what the EPA has to say:

“The District’s green power purchase of more than 244 million kWh is equivalent to avoiding the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of nearly 34,000 passenger vehicles per year or the CO2 emissions from the electricity use of more than 21,000 average American homes annually, according to the EPA press release. You can read more here.

While lawmakers on The Hill have failed to pass legislation to rein in greenhouse gases that cause global warming, municipal and state governments, businesses and universities have moved on their own to switch to wind and other renewable power sources in the last few years. And more and more city residents are going solar too.

City programs to reward energy efficiency measures and renewable energy usage can be found here.

Greenlines: If the chemicals don’t get us, global warming will?

The Washington Post uses this summer’s 28 million box recall of Kellogg‘s cereals to point out that U.S. regulators have no information on the health risks of most chemicals found in the produces we eat, wear, used to clean our house, and so on. The story also discusses new legislative initiatives to update the 1970s law governing how much information companies must disclose. Here’s the story.

The Post is chock full of other lifestyle news today. Besides a flurry of babies possibly conceived during last winter’s blizzard, the District’s newspaper of record gives the lowdown on Metro fare hikes and interviews the folks running the free health clinic at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center this week.  On its editorial page, meanwhile, the Post mentions some of the latest “depressing” news about global warming and makes a rather forlorn call for the country’s leaders to stop waffling and start acting to turn things around.

DC.Streets blog reports on developments in the U.S. House of Representatives to approve new spending on highways and public transit but only after stripping out $200 million in “livability initiatives — money that would have been used to help states coordinate transportation, land use, and conservation policy.”

Researchers in Australia publish a new study linking attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder to junk food.

How gauche: DC Metrocentric is having a “floorgasm” over the McMansion-sized houses on Garfield Street in Wesley Heights. 6,000-square-feet, a library and a “tandem garage” for $2.25 million. Can you imagine what this house would cost to heat and cool — not to mention the global warming-inducing greenhouse gas emissions?

Berlin by Bike

Bikers at Brandonburg Gate

It’s day-four of my unexpected extended stay in Berlin. I’m one of reportedly millions of stranded travelers waiting for the skies to clear of volcanic ash. While the upper atmosphere may be a mess of sand, glass and whatever else an Icelandic volcano can spew, the weather down here is perfectly lovely. Last week, when I was officially working as part of a journalism tour of green building and architecture in Germany, every day seemed to be colder, rainier and more dreary than the next. As if timed to coincide with our forced vacation, the skies have lighted and spring is in the air – perfect for biking. And I’ve been doing a lot of it. While the subway system – or U Ban – is excellent here, I’ve opted to the peddling life of millions of Berliners.

My new friends, Lauren Browne and Charles Redell, rented bikes at the city’s central train station, the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Sunday and rode all the way to the airport to rebook our flights. It’s about a 5 mile ride, nearly entirely on bike paths. If it weren’t for my unwieldly suitcase, I would would be tempted ride my rent-a-bike to catch my flight on Thursday (hopefully…) It might sound like one of those harrowing experiences in which you take your life in your hands, dodging and weaving through traffic. But nothing of the sort. I didn’t feel my life threatened once during the trip out there through Berlin’s stately cityscape, peddling along bike paths that aren’t the kind of here now, gone next block afterthought you find in Washington.

The DB “Call a Bike” service we used, is sort of like Zip Car for bikes or a higher-tech, touristy version of the District’s new bike share program. Each bike comes with a electronic locking system. We simply left our bikes outside the hotel overnight. I was almost surprised to find them still there in the morning. Now, on the third day of the rental, I found myself checking again to make sure the big red and white tank of bicycle is still there. It is! Another great feature is that once your done renting the bike,  you just drop it off outside a subway station and call a telephone number to report where you left it. It’s 9 Euro a day or 36 Euro a week, which is on par with the cost of sightseeing by subway and a whole lot cheaper than bus tours or taxis. Besides it’s a wonderful way to see the city, soak up a little local color and get some exercise.

The romance of biking

Everyone seems to bike here. While you do see a few people in those tight little numbers that so many Washington bikers don even for the most mundane commute to the office, I’ve also seen the old and the very young. One portly old gentleman in a tweedy suit and cap crossing a throughoutfare. An younger guy with his dog on a leash – talk about multitasking! Biking and walking the dog – Cool. Another lady had a sort of a tricycle with a wagonback. Inside her two dashhounds. Every now and then, she’d reach back and give one of them a pat on the head. (Charlie has a photo of this lady in one of his blog posts.)

According to the German government: “About 80 per cent of people in Germany own a bicycle which makes a total of around 73 million bikes which are being used more and more frequently.” That compares to about 27 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 16  – about 57 million people – according to a 2002 survey , cited by subway trains have separate cars reserved for people with bikes. The bike paths are beautifully integrated into the cityscape. Sometimes you ride in a specifically designated bike lane on the street, sometimes the lane moves up onto the spacious sidewalks. I haven’t seen any mishaps with pedestrians. Everyone seems to have enough room. Though there is so much bicycle traffic that it is important to ride like you drive, remembering others are behind you or may be turning from side streets. There are even special traffic lights for bikes! It’s not a perfect system. You still have scofflaws, for instance. I did seen a few daredevils running the lights.

Berlin’s neighborhoods are full of little cafes and shops of all types. Perhaps another byproduct of a culture – unlike ours – that doesn’t revolve around the car. If you are on your feet or on your bike, you are probably more likely to do your shopping on your street or one nearby, anyway, rather than trekking out to Costco or a Wal-Mart superstore. I wonder if there are any studies or statistics on that? Anybody know?

(By the way, the green building tour that brought me to Germany was quite interesting; We visited, among other things, loads of “passive homes” – houses, coop-style buildings and schools that take extraordinarily little energy to heat, cool and light.  I’m getting around to telling you about that, but the drama – and fun – of being a volcano refugee has distracted me. I’ll get back to that soon, though, promise.)