February 2010

When I think of nuclear power, two images come to mind: the scheming Mr Burns of the Simpsons and the tragedy of Chernobyl.  Both of these images were born from an era long ago (yes, 1989 is after-all, 20 years ago)! Often nuclear power is thought of a thing of the past, born out of the days of the Cold War. Then why is it that I am hearing so much about it these days? From the President’s State of the Union to mainstream media, it seems to be everywhere. People are turning back to nuclear power in the midst of the impending oil crisis and the knowledge that we need a new way to approach energy in this country and throughout the world.

The world’s first nuclear power plant used to supply electricity opened in 1956 in the UK.  Since then, power plants have been built throughout the entire world and were at their heights in the 1980’s.  However,  the accidents of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl have cast a shadow on the energy source, and nuclear power, once the darling of the country has been stunted. The idea of supplying the world’s electricity through nuclear power has been quietly put on a shelf, that is until recent years. Currently, 15% of the world’s electricity is supplied by nuclear power. However, we may see this trend change in upcoming years.

Many nuclear supporters, such as France, have begun touting it as a feasible answer to the oil crisis and some have gone as far as labeling it renewable energy. Supporters of nuclear being a renewable energy point to the fact it produces little or no greenhouse gases. And that current Uranium stocks (how nuclear power is created) are enough to last , at current rates, 2000-2500 years.

Calling Nuclear Power a renewable energy has sparked some huge protests among the environmental community. Most notably, nuclear power is created by Uranium, which must be extracted from the Earth through destructive mining techniques. Also, there is the problem of nuclear waste, which is incredibly dangerous. Although, nuclear power may not produce greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, it still produces waste that must be placed somewhere. Where are they going to put all this waste? For decades they have been burying it in containers, hoping thousands of years will reduce its radioactivity, however, if an earthquake or war breaks out containers could spill into the soil and water supply. This waste is terribly harmful to humans and the environment, one just has to look to Chernobyl for an example or that three eyed fish from the Simpsons.

Speaking of Chernobyl, it is clear nuclear power can be dangerous. Although meltdowns are very rare, if one were to occur, it could be horrific and harmful to the environment. The land and water surrounding Chernobyl is still feeling the effects of the meltdown in 1986.   As mentioned these incidents are a rarity, however the nuclear power industry must spend costly amounts on safety within the plants to be certain these will not occur.

It seems likely that many nuclear power supporters and industry are looking to promote it as a renewable source to benefit from the tax cuts and subsidiaries that are awarded to true renewable energy sources.  You can just see Mr Burns putting those bony fingers together and hissing “Excellent.”   So far, even with the President backing it, nuclear power has not been included in the definition of renewable energy.  For instance, the International Renewable Energy Agency has yet to include it. And nuclear power has seen an even greater backlash here in the States. Vermont’s Senate recently voted not to renew the state’s Nuclear Power Plant contract another 20 years. Without a contract, the plant is likely to close in 2012.

Labeling nuclear power as renewable seems like a far stretch to me and to most of the environmental community. Instead of focusing time and energy on labeling an incredibly expensive and waste emitting source, it would be in our best interest to focus on real renewable sources. This includes wind, solar, and even geo-thermal. We need to be funding and devoting new technologies to these renewable sources instead of wasting our time on a debatable source of energy. We must figure out a way to produce more energy at cheaper rates through sources such as sun and wind.  It is time we become focused and actually forge a sustainable energy plan to ween ourselves off this nasty oil addiction, and nuclear power just isn’t the answer. Ask the victims of Chernobyl or that three eyed fish, if you don’t believe me.

-Gina Williams

The act of having an especially good  or clever idea is often  represented  in visual media by a  glowing light bulb appearing above the thinker’s noggin. The “Aha” look on the person’s face coupled with their index finger pointing skyward serve as optional accents to the universally understood symbol for a stupendous notion in action.  Whatever the opposite of a light bulb spontaneously appearing above one’s head would be- perhaps a rotting egg or a pet rock would materialize out of thin air, – is how I felt when I recently read about the phase-out of  incandescent light bulbs occurring not only in the U.S, but in numerous other countries on multiple continents.

Apparently my ignorance of this incandescent lighting phase-out, which in the United States was put into motion  with the passing of the Energy Independence and Security Act in  December of 2007, is not uncommon. The second annual “Socket Survey” conducted by Osram Sylvania revealed that while 74% of people surveyed said they have switched to energy-saving light bulbs in the past year, that only 26% were aware of this mandated phase-out which will begin with the phasing out of 100 watt bulbs in January 2012. Subsequent years will have higher watt bulbs meeting a similar end in the United States, with 75 watt bulbs going bye-bye in 2013 and 60 and 40 bulbs meeting  same dim fate in 2014.

The bright idea (light bulb puns, they are addictive) behind this phase-out is to cut Green House emissions and save on energy costs, which seem to be sound enough reasons to eradicate the production of an item. This phase-out though, like most governmental legislation, is not without its critics. The most likely immediate replacement for incandescent bulbs during this phase-out for consumers will be Compact Fluorescent Light, or CFL’s for brevity’s sake . These types of bulbs have been the recipient of harsh scrutiny as regions across the globe enact their own phase-outs of incandescent bulbs. Issues  ranging from the type of light they give off (unflattering or headache inducing) to concerns about the dangers of the mercury contained within these bulbs have caused some people in areas such as the UK to hoard the more familiar incandescent bulbs before there are no longer any left to buy.

While I can surely agree with a move towards a more energy- efficient type of lighting, I also can relate to an uneasiness to give up  what is  familiar for a newer technology- especially when that technology is the light bulb; an invention that truly revolutionized the world  (perhaps even more so than the  George Foreman Grill- come on, you know you have one, and  you LOVE it!) .  I can especially relate to this apprehension after looking over the seemingly intensive  rules for safely cleaning up and disposing of one of the mercury-containing CFL light bulbs if it becomes broken. This apprehension could also be born of  ignorance and a laziness when it comes to chores that have more than three steps, such as the Foreman Grill’s simple formula of chop, grill and eat.

Either way, as the GI Joe public service announcements used to say,  “knowing is the half the battle”,  your guess is as good as mine as to what the other half of the battle may be, but perhaps now that you are aware of this ban you can begin to adjust for your future without incandescent lighting.

-Meghan Hurley

Earlier this month, the Groundhog predicted 6 more weeks of Winter! Now that we are near the end of February, I guess that leaves us about 4 more weeks of cold weather, snow, and pouring rain. The up side of all the terrible weather is keeping dry and warm with some delicious comfort food.  One of my favorite winter treats is lasagna. It is warm and tasty and makes the ice melt outside! This recipe can be made with or without soy meat or cheese.  So curl up in your favorite blanket and grub down on some vegan comfort food!

Vegan Lasagna

Prep Time: 30 Minutes    Bake Time: 40 Minutes    Serves: 8

1 Box of Organic Lasagna Noodles
2 Jars of Organic Pasta Sauce (or homemade sauce)
1 Cup Organic Mushrooms
1 Cup Organic Zucchini
1 Cup Spinach
1/2 Cup of Onions
3 Gloves Garlic
2 Cups Crumbled Organic Tofu
3 Tbls of Nutritional Yeast
3 Tbls of Veggie Broth
6-8 Ounces of Vegan Mozzarella Cheese (Vegan Gourmet or Daiya)
2 Tbls Olive Oil
1 tsp Oregano
1 tsp Basil
1 tsp Pepper
1/2 tsp Salt
10 Ounces Vegan Soy Crumbles (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 F. In a large pot, boil water with a splash of Olive Oil and salt. Once the water is boiling add in the lasagna noodles and boil until firm but not overcooked. Meanwhile cut up all veggies and in a skillet warm up the olive oil, garlic, and onions. Add in the mushrooms and zucchini. In a large bowl mix together the crumbled tofu, oregano, basil, pepper, salt, Nutritional Yeast. Once this is mixed add in the soy crumble, if choosing to use them. Add this mixture and the spinach to the skillet. Cook for ten minutes or until the veggies are a little soft.
In a casserole dish cover the bottom in pasta sauce and sprinkle vegan cheese. Lay down a layer of lasagna noodles and a thick layer of the skillet mix, followed by a layer of noodles, sauce, and cheese. Make several layers until all ingredients are included. Finish with a layer of pasta sauce, cheese, and a dash of nutritional yeast, oregano, basil, and pepper. Place in oven for 40 minutes. Let it stand for at least 10 minutes before serving.

You remember that childhood rhyme: “I scream, you scream, we all scream for Fair Trade ice cream! ” Ok so maybe the childhood rhyme didn’t include Fair Trade, but it does now! This week was a triumphant one for the Fair Trade world, as ever popular ice cream giant, Ben & Jerry’s announced all their ice cream will be fully Fair Trade certified by 2013! That means all ingredients used in over a hundred delectable flavors will be Fair Trade certified!!! The Fair Trade world is buzzing about this recent development as well as mainstream media outlets including the BBC.  In fact, Ben Cohen & Jerry Greenfield were interviewed on the BBC about these changes (click to watch the video).

It may come to no surprise that a hippie-esque, responsible company from Vermont would make such a commitment, however it has been a long time coming. In 2005, Ben & Jerry’s became the first ice cream company to source some of their ingredients through Fair Trade means and currently provide Fair Trade flavors such as Chocolate, Vanilla and Coffee Heath Bar Crunch.  Ben & Jerry state themselves that if it weren’t for their corporate partners, Unilever, the transition to Fair Trade would have happened long ago. It looks like they have finally convinced the higher-ups going Fair Trade is the natural evolution for a company like Ben & Jerry’s. It is encouraging to see major companies like this hop on board and we certainly hope it becomes a trend.

Such a commitment by a company as large as Ben & Jerry’s will make a huge impact. Not only will it bring Fair Trade directly into the American mainstream marketplace (bringing awareness right to our doorsteps), but it will also provide a partnership with several Fair Trade cooperatives, totaling close to 27,000 farmers! Wow! This is really going to affect several people in this world and the achievement should be celebrated. FLO’s Chief Executive, Rob Cameron put it best when he stated, ” Tackling poverty and sustainable agriculture through trade may not be easy but it is always worth it, and Ben & Jerry’s has demonstrated real leadership in laying out this long-term ambition to engage with smallholders, who grow nuts, bananas, vanilla, cocoa and other Fair Trade-certified ingredients.”

We, at Autonomie Project, also want to extend our Thanks and Congratulations to the Ben & Jerry’s team for their Fair Trade pledge!  We have had the pleasure of working with some of their staff on the Fair Trade Boston committee. Here in Boston, we have a deep dedication to Fair Trade and are currently working together on a Fair Trade Towns Initiative to help Boston become a Fair Trade City! We are getting closer and closer to making our wonderful city a Fair Trade certified city and we are glad we have Ben & Jerry’s walking with us. Now if they would just make a vegan flavor or two, we could celebrate this Fair Trade by none other than eating some ice cream!

Every 4 years, the world stops and watches in awe as one city in the world hosts the Olympic Games. The top athletes convene in one city to prove to the world their abilities and the world engages in friendly war, for once.  In 2008 the Summer Olympics were hosted by China, who made several efforts to be sure their display would be considered “green.” This February the Winter Olympics are being hosted in Vancouver, Canada.

It seems like a no brainer that Vancouver, who often makes the list of Greenest Cities (in fact 90% of the city is run on renewable energy), would have no issues making sure this year’s Winter Olympics is nothing short of Green. And sure enough, they started off with a bang! Making big steps to prove to the world they are Greening the Winter Olympics with LEED certified buildings and expanding the public transportation system, to name a few. In fact Vancouver is trying their hardest to be recognized as the “Greenest Olympics Games Ever.”

Obviously, these are terrific achievements and set a great example to the rest of the world. However, there are some serious things to consider. Because of an unseasonably warm winter this year (Gasp! Could Climate Change be to blame?!), British Colombia has seen less snow and required the committee to truck in loads of snow.  We don’t need to explain twice how this impacts the environment, with all the carbon emissions it has created. Although, the committee has reported it will be purchasing offsets for these emissions, they only plan on offsetting less than half. This begs to question, do the Vancouver Olympics really deserve Gold for their Green?

David Suzuki has put together a “Green Scorecard” for the Winter Olympics. And although they may score high for their LEED certified buildings and a Green Olympic Village, the imitation snow has left many wondering if they deserve such high regards. This scorecard gives them a Bronze medal, even though the UN and the Vancouver Olympics themselves are rewarding a Gold medal. However, even winter athletes are demanding that more attention be paid to the climate. With Climate Change directly affecting their sports, they want the Olympic committees and the host cities to commit to higher standards in the future.

So what could be done to be sure Olympic Games are as environmentally aware as they should be? Grist writer,  Jonathan Hiskes, makes an excellent suggestion.  In order to really and truly change the impact of the Olympic Games, why not make it stationary? And we kind of have to agree. Centralizing the Olympics close to where most athletes are based would cut down on building and travel costs, which are the biggest environmental offenders. Even though worldwide cities would lose tourist cash and a chance to show off to the world, the environmental impact would be enormous. If the Olympics are setting examples, as they claim, this would be one hefty example to make. Lollapalooza did it and survived, so why can’t the Olympics?

There is no sweeter way to end a lovely romantic evening than with chocolate and alcohol.  That’s right with Valentine’s Day right around the corner both men and women around the country are scrambling to create a night where their partners swoon. Whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day with pomp and circumstance or whether you prefer a quiet night in, we have some perfect suggestions for your honey, especially if they are ethically minded. Below is a Fair Trade and Organic Drink Recipe for a Chocolate Martini and a delicious Fair Trade and Vegan Recipe for Red Velvet Cake. Making either of these, the matinini or the cake or even both combined will make sure your big date will end, well big. Happy Kisses!

Organic & Fair Trade Chocolate Martini Recipe:

2 oz Eco-Friendly Double Chocolate Vodka
1 oz Homemade Fair Trade and Organic Creme de Cocoa
Fair Trade/Organic Chocolate Shavings

Homemade Fair Trade and Organic Creme de Cocoa Recipe:
Makes enough for 4 drinks

2 oz Organic Vodka
1 tsp Organic/Fair Trade Cocoa
1/4 Cup Organic Corn Syrup

Before mixing the martinis, in a shaker combine the ingredients for Homemade Creme de Cocoa. We couldn’t find organic Creme de Cocoa already made so we concocted our own, it is pretty simple, however if you want to cheat you can purchase conventional Creme de Cocoa. Once you have all ingredients shake them up for a few minutes and set aside.

Pour 2 oz of Double Chocolate Vodka and 1 oz of the Creme de Cocoa you just made, over a handful of ice in a cocktail shaker.  Shake until very cold, then strain into a chilled martini glass.  Garnish with chocolate shavings. Serve with Red Velvet Cake listed below.

Double Chocolate Vodka: For a great Double Chocolate Vodka check out 360’s Double Chocolate Eco-friendly Vodka, the first on the market!

Organic Vodka: There are a few brands out there for plain organic vodka such as Square One Vodka, Rain Organic Vodka, and Tru Organic Vodka to name a few. You can also use the plain 360 Eco-friendly Vodka.

Organic/Fair Trade Cocoa: While there are plenty of Organic Cocoa Powders out on the market, there are a couple of companies that provide both Organic and Fair Trade Cocoa Powder such as Equal Exchange and Green & Black’s.

Organic/Fair Trade Corn Syrup: The only organic corn syrup currently on the market is made by Wholesome Sweeteners, it also happens to be Fair Trade certified. If you can not find this, you can substitute with another liquid sweetener such as organic agave.

Fair Trade/Organic Chocolate: You are in luck with this one! There are plenty of Fair Trade and Organic Chocolates out there including Equal Exchange, Theo,  and Green & Black’s to name a few.

Vegan & Fair Trade Red Velvet Cake:

2.5 Cups Organic Flour
2 Cups Evaporated Cane Juice or other sweetener
1/4 Cup Fair Trade Cocoa Powder
1 tsp Organic Baking Powder
1 tsp Organic Baking Soda
1 tsp salt
1.5 Cups Organic Vanilla Soymilk
2 tsps White Vinegar
1/2 Cup Organic Canola Oil
2.5 Tbls Soy Yogurt
2oz Vegan All Natural Red Food Coloring
3 tsps Organic Fair Trade Vanilla

Vegan Chocolate Creme Cheese Frosting:
1 Cup Organic Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
1 Cup Follow Your Heart Creme Cheese or other vegan creme cheese
1/8-1/4 Cup Fair Trade Cocoa Powder (see above)
2 Tsp Organic Fair Trade Vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use 2 9″ pans and grease lightly with Earth Balance or use non stick pans. In a mixing bowl combine the soy milk and vinegar and let it stand for 5 minutes. This should curdle a little. While this is settling, in an other bowl sift together the Flour, Cane Juice, Baking Powder, Baking Soda, and Salt. After the soy milk and vinegar curdles, add in the Canola Oil, Soy Yogurt, Food Coloring, and Vanilla stir until combined. While mixing constantly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until no lumps occur. Pour the batter into the two 9″ pans and bake for 30-35 minutes.

While the cake is baking, mix in a large bowl softened Earth Balance, Creme Cheese, Cocoa Powder, and Vanilla. Stir until fully mixed and refrigerate until cake is cooled off. Frost the first layer, add the next layer, and frost the top. Garnish with shavings from a Fair Trade Chocolate bar or berries (think red: strawberries or raspberries). Serve with Organic Wine, Organic Champagne with Stawberries, or the Chocolate Martinis listed above.

As Fair Trade and environmentally friendly consumers, we try our best to put our ethics before anything, including our wallets. Ethically made products can be a bit more expensive than conventional items, however, using your money as your voice is incredibly important in this modern economy. Purchasing ethically makes sense to many of us, but it is also essential to set an example for our younger generations. Ethical products are growing day by day and so many amazing items are available. This includes products for all the children out there!

From Fair Trade sports balls to recycled toys and even eco friendly diapers, there is a plethora of ethical children’s items on the market. During the holidays the web was bustling with great socially conscious and earth friendly suggestions for children’s gifts. And even we at Autonomie Project have taken on the Children’s market with our Fair Trade and Organic Children’s Clothing line Little Green Radicals and Ethletic Sneakers. And we aren’t the only ones, many companies provide parents with eco friendly ways to dress their little tykes. 

As ethical consumers we know that these items aren’t cheap but setting an example to the children in our lives is priceless. Whether they be our own, our nephews or nieces, or even our friend’s children, starting them young on smart and conscious choices is incredibly important. It may seem like buying one organic t-shirt or one recycled toy is a minor thing, but setting these examples early in life makes a huge impact. We need to pass these ideas and choices on to our youth so that the next generation can create better products and make even better decisions than our own.

So without sounding too preachy, just please keep this in mind the next time a birthday or Christmas rolls around or even the next time you need to purchase an everyday item for a child. After all living by example is one of the most influential ways for a child to learn and with the risk of sounding cliche, the youth are our future.  So please pass the ethical torch. 

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