view the virtual ribbon around the earth at

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I just got contacted by these guys. what a great idea!

"I'm with a nonprofit organization called GreatNonprofits -- it's a (badly needed) Yelp for the nonprofit world, with the mission of adding transparency and accountability to a sector that desperately needs it. We all love the hard work nonprofits do, but we think there's a place for opinions and reviews by everyday people!

The was founded by a veteran of social innovation from the Stanford University Social Innovation group; our site launched last year and is going strong. For Earth Day we're holding our first ever Green Choice Awards -- a contest to identify the best environmental nonprofits out there, according to everyday, concerned reviewers. Nonprofits as big as the NRDC and Greenpeace will be reviewed alongside small, focused, local groups...think Alaska's Iditarod Trail Committee or the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. Everyone and everything is game -- hundreds of reviews specifically on environmental nonprofits. Good, bad, scathing, praising -- you name it!

It's easy to follow the contest on Twitter at @GreatNonprofits -- they're using the hashtag #greenchoice"."

This idea is great because you can help by sharing your knowledge of environmental and green-focused nonprofits with the world, making both the nonprofit sector more efficient, as well as giving people an idea of where to put their time and money to good use...especially in such a resource-strapped economy.

Please check them out, and give planetfesto a little boost if you are so inclined.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Great NYT article on health-conscious parenting

Thought this article just about said it all about the balancing act we play as parents as we obsess about plastics for our kids' lunches, and then find out that the air they breathe at school might be toxic. This is by an amazing writer, and fellow parent in Sebastian's preschool class, Peggy Orenstein. Well worth checking out here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

More news on High Fructose Corn Syrup

John and I were just talking the other day about whether HFCS is just bad for you because it is so high in sugar, or whether it is also bad because it is concentrating toxins from the (cheapest) growing and processing methods (read, most toxic...). I get to work today and see the following email from Kathryn from the Green Fork Blog...

FDA Has Known for Years of Mercury in High Fructose Corn Syrup (EatWellBlog)
by Nathan Shedroff - Tuesday, 27 January 2009, 09:45 PM

Our Melamine: There's Mercury in High Fructose Corn Syrup, and the FDA Has
Known for Years
by Leslie [links at url]

Maybe Jeremy Piven didn't get mercury poisoning from fish at all — according
to the results of this new study released by the Institute for Agriculture
and Trace Policy (IATP), the actor may well have been sickened by soda or
candy or anything that contains high fructose corn syrup, which, if you eat
processed food in this country means, well, just about anything.

Foodies and nutritionists alike have been griping about high fructose corn
syrup for years, and the industry has responded with an "astroturf" campaign
and a level of secrecy generally reserved for the military officials or
secret societies (see Corn Refiners' Association president Audrae Erickson's
stonewalling performance in King Corn).

Of course, I wouldn't want to show my hand either, if the making of my
product could be described as undertaking a small "Manhattan Project" (see
eye-glazing production info here). But as it turns out, the HFCS industry
has been hiding some major skeletons in its closet — according to the IATP
study (pdf), over 30% of products containing the substance tested positive
for mercury.

What makes this news truly shocking is not just that the manufacturers of
high fructose corn syrup would put consumers' health at risk, but that the
US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) knew about the mercury in the syrup
and has been sitting on this information since 2005.

Here's the connection, according to the IATP press release (pdf) announcing
the study: The IATP study comes on the heels of another study, conducted in
2005 but only recently published by the scientific journal, Environmental
Health, which revealed that nearly 50 percent of commercial HFCS samples
tested positive for the heavy metal. Renee Dufault, who was working for the
FDA at the time, was among the 2005 study's authors.

Here's how the mercury gets in there, according to Janet at the Ethicurean:

How did the heavy metal get in there? In making HFCS — that "natural"
sweetener, as the Corn Refiners Associaton likes to call it — caustic soda
is one ingredient used to separate corn starch from the corn kernel.
Apparently most caustic soda for years has been produced in industrial
chlorine (chlor-alkali) plants, where it can be contaminated with mercury
that it passes on to the HFCS, and then to consumers.

And here's more from the press release:

"While the FDA had evidence that commercial HFCS was contaminated with
mercury four years ago, the agency did not inform consumers, help change
industry practice or conduct additional testing."

And on why it matters:

"Mercury is toxic in all its forms," said IATP's David Wallinga, M.D., and a
co-author in both studies. "Given how much high fructose corn syrup is
consumed by children, it could be a significant additional source of mercury
never before considered. We are calling for immediate changes by industry
and the FDA to help stop this avoidable mercury contamination of the food

In China, heads might roll over a scandal like this one, at least if the
country received global attention for its allowing corrupt health officials'
greasy palms come before, um, public health.

Of course, in this country, Dufault's neck is safe. But what about the
health of American consumers? Let's see the Corn Refiner's Association try
to spin this one.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Earth Hour

In 2007, 2.2 million people took part in the world's first Earth Hour in Sydney Australia. Just one year later, 50 million people in 370 cities and towns, in more than 35 countries worldwide switched off their lights for Earth Hour.

Earth Hour 2009 aims to reach more than one billion people in 1000 cities around the world, inviting communities, business and governments to switch off lights for one hour at 8:30pm on Saturday March 28 and sending a powerful global message that we care enough about climate change to take action.

For more information, click here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

No to Coal Power Plant

Source : and please give us your support by signing the petition.

An open letter from Sandakan.

From KL to Sandakan on Air-Asia is a fast 2 plus hours and one is ready to enjoy friendly hospitality, fresh-seafood and the embrace of mother nature. On our MAS, Malaysia's National Carrier it takes a bit longer - 2 hops and almost a day. Besides seafood, Sandakan is also well known to Westerners as the sanctuary for Oran Utan, Proboscis monkeys and endangered Turtles (on Turtle Island). To Australians, Sandakan is known for her War Memorial dedicated to our Aussie heroes marched to their death in WW2. To be fair, Sandakan was also captured in a less known Japanese "B" movie of the same name. She is also home to the famous American writer Agnes Keith who once lived here with her family and was inspired to write of her experiences about the Land under the wind. Her house now stands as a tourist attraction show-casing how the whites lived in paradise as it was then (after the Government spend millions fixing the old home at the hill top). Even books were written about the non-white inhabitants - The Towkays of Sabah - better known for clan rivalry to exploiting timber trade. Setting aside its historical moments, Sandakan always stood as a refuge for us who have made it our home since grandpa's time, all stood proud when she was crowned with the Title - Nature City, a first in Malaysia.

In early 2008, Sandakan woke up to the prospect of hosting a 300 MW Coal powered plant at her door-steps, courtesy of the Government and the Sabah Electricity S/B (subsidiary of Tenaga Bhd).This Coal powered plant was earlier rejected by Lahad Datu (a nearby town) because it might endanger or damage Meliau Basin and its prehistoric flora/fauna. If the Government have their way with Sabah Electricity, they will put a 300 MW Coal powered plant in Sandakan and more specifically (though unconfirmed) in the Palm Oil Industrial Cluster (POIC) which is situated a stone throw from two housing estates (towards north) and to the forest reserves for Oran Utan (towards west). Sandakan town sits a close 14 km to the east.

A group of businessmen (from Chinese Chambers of Commerce) have been tirelessly opposing this and have gathered over 30,000 signatures from the locals. To be fair, they have even toured other Coal powered plants in Malaysia and they are firm on rejecting the Coal powered plant which speaks volume considering their street smart dealings in spotting opportunities and characters. However more importantly, the health reason is well known due to its inherent danger of micro-particles which are trappable in the lungs of the vulnerable young and old.

Interestingly this throws up TWO questions which are why COAL and WHY in Sandakan? What did Sandakan do or did not do to deserve this ? No responses from the relevant authorities to date to answer the call for Coal or Sandakan or both. In fact the only response from them (Sabah Electricity S/B) is a rhetorical reply asking the public to present other viable alternatives to their liking if this Coal powered plant is to be questioned. Great, this already tells volume of the EIA report which by the way is not even ready. For the uninitiated, Coal powered plants are well studied and well known to be the least favorable option of all the alternatives even with the soaring costs of other alternatives. For example SierrraClub provides a link to show how bad it is and that is only the surface. With information at our finger tips, our leaders must think we are slow or unassuming and we so easily cowed by their irresponsiveness, as a sign of their strength or ignorance ?

Be that as it may, Sabah (the State) in fact has voluminous off shore gas (if they had not already pre-sold to the Japanese by Petronas- since no one is saying) and this should be considered the better alternative requires little mental effort. In fact, a combination of gas, biodiesel, solar (being in the tropics) and biomass should be considered given Sandakan is the uncrown palm oil capital of Malaysia. Anyone with some common sense could see Coal is not the answer to problematic electricity problem. In fact, this was the first excuse the Sabah Electricity S/B gave to pacify the population. It is no secret that the main issue with blackouts in Sandakan has to do with maintenance and the lack of it, as stated by a former Minister who was also a former employee. It is often that after a heavy downpour the electricity goes out because some trees fell and tripped the lines. There are unconfirmed rumors that equipment used in the current power plant are reconditioned from other states which may partially explain its dire state. After all, Sandakan is still the record holder with the most blackouts in Malaysia but we don't really mind given the alternative. Dinner by candle lights ? Blackouts give more quality time with family watching fireflies instead of TV or playing computer games. Some tourists that I know were delighted because they had not experienced a blackout before. Fancy that.

Why Sandakan ? Most cities in Sabah are connected by a national power grid which means one can have the Coal powered plant plugged anywhere on the grid. Logically, this could be at a site of most opportune (read cheap) and logistically convenient. I assume the Coal powered plant will be located at the POIC but to be fair no official announcement on this has been made to date. The POIC is a 1000 acs development to enhance the Palm Oil Industry. The proponent has a website here and is offering RM 12 (US 3.64) per square feet. A typical Coal powered plant will take up at least 300 acs of land with a further 100 acs for its waste (ash). But who are the real proponents of the POIC ? In fact, the entire POIC was acquired through the infamous Land Acquisitions Ordinance of Sabah and some of the former owners are already complaining in Court. So who else have so much power in this State besides the Chief Minister ? Well, that will be the Yang Di-Pertua Negeri or Governor but the Constitution of Sabahonly allows him to act on advice (but whose advice?). With a stroke of a pen he declared over 100 landowners' land to be acquired for POIC under "public purposes". Those with financial backing will contest else will have to accept whatever compensation by the State (however distasteful) which may come only at the State's convenience (read - years from now).

Finally, the Local Council (in Malaysia local councilors are unelected and positioned by their political masters) is trying to rezone the entire area designated for POIC from preservation of hilltop to special industrial (an unknown term), a process which actually requires public participation-feedback from the displaced landowners under the Town and Country Planning Ordinance. So far no notice was published in the newspaper or gazetted for this rezoning. I was informed that this was not required as its rezoning is by an 'amendment' to a previous Sandakan Draft Plan 2003. Sounds a bit controversial to me. For some understanding of Sabah law goto

So at the end of the day or night wherever you may be, I hope you will put in a word or two for us in opposing this monstrosity and be disgusted in the manner how this was forced upon us, not forgetting how this will definitely and positively add more carbon dioxide to the environment, affecting our climate (yes yours too) and probably causing us to be homeless due to rising sea-levels. Yes, we will miss our seafood or blackouts but we do not have any choices as mere citizenry. But you have choices, please write to the Prime Minister of Malaysia (if he is willing to listen), and complaint about the Chief Minister of Sabah and the proponent ( or vote on this

Do give a thought for our environment. It is yours too (when you come visit).

From Chris Kwan
Hope,Faith & Charity
3 Oct 2008

Friday, September 26, 2008

Trader Joe's cardboard boxes BPA-free

Following up on the last post, in which I said I'd post the response from Trader Joe's when they got back to me about whether the cardboard containers for things like chicken broth and tomatoes contained BPA.

I'm pretty sure I've attained "crazy health scare lady" status in the customer service office over there, but it's worth it because I've discovered a BPA-free, reasonably priced, and domestically grown and produced alternative to canned tomatoes. Bring on the big Italian meals!

Here's the response from Nicki at Trader Joe's (response from September 26, 2008):

The Trader Joe's products that are in carton like boxes (soy
milks,broths,etc..,) do not contain BPA. These are manufactured in foil lined cardboard material containers. I hope this helps you with your concerns and we are here if you have any other questions.

BPA liners in cans at Trader Joe's

I use canned beans and tomatoes regularly in cooking, but have become increasingly concerned with the BPA liners. So I was researching which, if any, brands don't have the liners, and kept coming across claims that Trader Joe's didn't use BPA liners in their cans.

I really like Trader Joe's, have been shopping there for more than a decade, and buy almost all my canned pinto beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, canned tomatoes, and white beans there. For a while I relied on the second-hand reports, drifting along on the hope that the company didn't sell BPA-lined canned products.

The other day, I finally got around to asking them first-hand. I'll paste the important parts of the response below, but summarize by saying that, though some canned products (most notably the canned meats), don't have BPA liners, products like tomatoes and beans do.

What does that mean for my habits? Well, I now feel compelled to start using more dried beans. In his book How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, Mark Bittman offers handy tips for speeding up the soaking/cooking dried beans process, so I'll probably check that out. He also recently wrote a NYT article singing the praises of reanimating your own garbanzos, which gives me more reason to make the switch.

As far as the canned tomatoes go, I've been slowly switching over to those in glass jars or those waxed cardboard packs (I've written to TJ's to see if they have any BPA in them-I'll post that response too). Right now it's a moot point because it's tomato season, but as summer fades, I'll be turning to preserved options again.

So here's the Trader Joe's response, received on September 25, 2008:

To be clear, we do have canned items with linings that contain BPA and in this way we are in the same position as all other retail grocers.
Canned items in our stores WITH BPA lining in the cans: beans, tomatoes, tomato sauce & paste, soups, chili, and stew. Canned items in our stores that DO NOT have BPA lining in the cans: seafood (tuna, salmon, herring, sardines, etc.), chicken, turkey & beef.