view the virtual ribbon around the earth at

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.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bridging the gap between farm and table

Just finished this quick read about Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSAs) in the New York Times. The article, titled Cutting Out the Middlemen, Shoppers Buy a Slice of Farms, takes a look at the growing trend of people finding more direct relationships with their foods and farmers.

In early spring, I joined a CSA run by a farm based in Winters, California- about an hour and a half from where I live. Before joining, I'd "borrowed" my sisters farm box when she was away on vacation, just to try out the system.

I like it, but there is something overwhelming about being confronted with a large quantity of similar foods every week. For instance, at first, I was totally pumped about receiving a pound of zucchini and a pound of summer squash each week. I made summer vegetable latkes, grilled them, made my own veggie burgers, and more. But I'm running out of recipes. This is hardly an insurmountable obstacle, but it does require a slight rethinking about how to find recipes. I'm now more interested in the spate of farmers' market cookbooks that have come out in the last few years, those that offer many ideas for each produce type.

Really, I think this is going to take a concerted effort on my part to create my own personal seasonal cookbook. Which is an idea I really like. But liking and doing...well you know how that goes.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Our God-Given Right

OK, I know I am showing my elitist, blue-state bias even more than normal...but who ever said that we bloated, eco-centric, short-sighted Americans have a God-given right to drive our gas-guzzling monstrosities as much as we want...WITH THE CHEAPEST GAS POSSIBLE?? I was shocked by an internet chain letter thing I received recently with some boycott scheme to take the oil companies to task and force them to lower prices. My response was, lower gas prices are the last thing we need. Maybe through some sort of market perversion the true cost of gas is beginning to emerge. Markets don't price for externalities, but what if we did? How expensive would gas be per gallon if it took into account the beginnings of the partially climate-induced food shortages and resulting civil unrest that is already hitting parts of the emerging world? How many few cents extra would you put in to account for the disappearance of the polar bears? How about the many other species on the verge of extinction? Would that maybe dillute our desires to drive our SUVs hundreds of miles on a spur of the moment trip? Or how about the guy on NPR who was complaining that is was getting hard to fill up his Chevy Tahoe every day for his 80-mile round trip commute...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wow--Canada likely to ban bisphenol-a as a toxin

Don't miss this article in the New York Times:

Bisphenol-a, which has been shown to disrupt the hormonal systems of animals, is present in most hard baby bottles, Nalgene bottles, the inside lining of almost all canned goods, and many other hard plastics. Go Canada! I wonder how long it will take for the U.S. to catch up?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pending Nuptials

After working in the flower industry for many years I saw a lot of weddings, and after awhile they all started to look the same. After becoming engaged last year my finance and I decided that it was more important to have a wedding that reflected us and our values, and that we did not need to do what all the magazines were telling us. Part of not leaving our values in the wedding magazine was trying to have a low impact wedding. While we are not perfect we are doing several thing:

1. Organic and sustainable caterer.
2. Edible Favors: We made jam at the end of last summer from the fruit on the trees at Nathan's family's house.
3. No plastic bottles: Placerville has naturally clean and delicious water, so no need for bottle water.
4. No extra crap: We don't want to throw away a lot of stuff at the end of the night. We choose our location because it is meaningful to us and it is beautiful. We are not going to add very many embellishments to the decor. The embellishments we are adding can, for the most part, be resold or reused after the wedding.
5. I bought a sample dress: A brand new dress is not being manufactured for me.
6. Something old: I bought old bottles off of Ebay to use as vases. The table number frames also came from Ebay and were used in developing film.
7. Reuse: The bar and the road signs are being made out of wood that Nathan reclaimed from an old chicken coop.

The unexpected gift of trying to have less of an impact is that we are spending more time thinking about what is important to us and how should that come across at our wedding. Doing this has really made the wedding a process and not just a party.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Every act is a political act...

I was at the farmer's market on Tuesday and happened to read the sign that stated that buying directly from farmers increases their revenue by 40%. It really struck me how much impact we have collectively from so many decisions we make every day...whether we buy something in plastic or cardboard, whether the food is local or not, buying recycled toilet paper and office paper, whether something is made from the mega-corn business products, or not. These decisions go to the heart of not only our environment, but also to politics and big business. These small acts of defiance are a way to "just say no" to all the forces that are thinking of the world in the old terms--that resources and people are limitless, there for the taking, and that only the efficient exploitation of those resources count. It is kind of fun to think through the chain of events that we trigger when we open our wallets, and realize that there is power there. And if we know it, and can afford to, we must make those choices that make the most sense for our world because we aren't innocent bystanders in the give and take of the market. We are giving valuable input to the machine of business of where money is going, and what choices drive those spending decisions.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Now or later?

I just saw this Dallas Morning News article about the the dilemma American Airlines (and I'm sure other airlines as well) is currently working through about whether to replace its old planes with newer more efficient models or hold out a few more years for the next generation of efficiency.

The upcoming Boeing 787 (and the Airbus competitor, the A350XWB) is "a smaller wide-body aircraft that uses improved engines and lighter-weight composite material to save fuel." However, there's not yet a production timetable, which means that airlines such as American are just kind of dragging their feet, but with the second-oldest fleet among the big U.S. domestic carriers, decisions will have to be made soon.

The get-it-now-or-wait-for-higher-efficiency-models question isn't limited to large companies. I've been struggling with the same question whenever I think about bigger-ticket items such as solar panels. I've heard that the technology will improve by leaps and bounds in the next half decade.

If I started using solar panels now, I would be supporting the industry and I would be able to turn some of that sunshine that I can see out my window right now into energy. But then in a few years I'd be stuck with a relatively inefficient system and if I upgraded, would be creating more waste, and complicated waste at that. What to do, what to do?

Monday, February 25, 2008

More true cost thinking

In an earlier post, I lamented the difficulty of accurately assessing the true environmental cost of most things, and how tricky that made choosing between options when faced with decisions such as paper or plastic, real or fake Christmas tree, new hybrid car or existing relatively-good mileage vehicle, organic or conventional mattress, and so on.

This week's New Yorker has a very interesting article taking on the challenges of that broad view. Big Foot (a reference to the carbon footprint), by Michael Specter, is available online, and worth a read.

He starts out looking at various companies' efforts to green up, dives into the heart of food miles, points out how carbon shouldn't be the only part of an environmental calculation, offers some surprising examples in which products imported from far away are lower impact than those produced closer by (for instance, wine from California versus from Bordeaux and roses from Holland versus Kenya), and explores the world of carbon emissions exchange markets. I haven't yet finished the article, but right now he's writing about how one of the most effective things we could possibly to is to slow or stop deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia.

It's a good read, and one that, three-quarters of the way through the article, I recommend highly. Now I'm off to finish reading.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

EWC Eco Panel Exhibition

A former student of mine who is currently a lecturer and researcher in one of the local university in Malaysia had informed me regarding on this Earth Watching Club Eco Panel Exhibition that will be held in Japan early March. My school is thrilled to participate in the exhibition and I thought it's good to spread the news to all. We have two more weeks in sending materials to be part of it. And to those who interested, there's time! It can be anything that you had contributed towards conserving mother nature.

These are some of the photos of the exhibition that was held last year. May these photos and the details below be a great help.


Earth Watching Club Eco Panel Exhibition

Earth Watching Club (EWC) is a community-based environmental learning project funded by the city of Nishinomiya, Japan. There are 29,000 Japanese schoolchildren who are participating. We carry out many kinds of "Eco-Actions" on a daily basis to make our community a better place to live not just for ourselves, but for all the people and creatures on Earth - and especially for the generations to come. We know our planet is filled with like-minded young people who care about our environment, cultures, peace and future.

This is an annual exhibition providing young people with the opportunity, both from Japan and abroad, to present their opinions, research, projects and activities on local and global environmental issues. We receive so many exciting works every year from Japan and abroad, ranging from tiny, little craftworks to wall-size presentations on various environmental projects. We treat each and every works equally and display all of them at the gallery. So, let's share our visions, and make our voices heard!

Please introduce your thoughts, ideas, and activities related to your local environmental/ sustainable issues in this year. What happened concerning the environment in your community this year? What kinds of activities did you enjoy doing? Air Pollution, Climate Change, Human Rights, Water, Biodiversity, Nature Conservation, Food, Peace, Waste and Recycling and so on... Please send in any project, research, artwork, activity or study report YOU THINK is related to local and global environmental/sustainability issues that interested you most this year.

WHO can apply? --- All Earth Lovers!
Any group or individual who is involved in studies or activities related to ecological and environmental issues is invited to take part in this exhibition. NO AGE LIMIT, either. As long as you consider yourself to be a youth member of your community, you are all welcome!

WHAT is the project size and medium? --- Be Creative!
Participants are free to choose any medium they wish to use for their presentations. Some ideas you might try are... wall-size newspaper, photography, video, drama, handicraft, drawing, newsletter, poster, written composition...Create your presentation in any medium that suits your ideas and imagination! There is only one limitation, though; language... All works will kindly be presented in English or Japanese. If you are submitting your works in any other language, please provide us with easy English (or Japanese) translation.

WHEN to submit? --- No later than February, 2008!
Your work will be translated into Japanese by our citizen volunteer translators for presentation. In order to give us enough time for the translation job, please send in your works as early as possible. Mark the date on your calendar so you won't miss it!

WHERE to submit?
Please send your works by post, fax, or e-mail to the address below:

EWC (Earth Watching Club)
c/o LEAF office
1-8-1 Kofuen, Nishinomiya Shi, Hyogo Prefecture
662-0832 JAPAN
Telephone and fax: +81-798-69-1185

The Eco-Panel Exhibition is interactive!
You will receive comments and messages from the visitors at the Exhibition! All the visitors at the Exhibition will have a chance to let you know what they thought and felt about your works. They will make comments and write messages to you at the message corner. We will translate all the messages into English and send them to you.

Your participation will be recognized with a Letter of Appreciation from the Mayor of Nishinomiya City (declared as the Environmental Learning City of Japan), together with a Small Token from EWC, as well as Messages from Visitors at the Eco-Panel Exhibition!! Please note that your works will not be returned and will remain in the organizer archive.

[For Your Information]
A brief introduction of ourselves, LEAF..Through the initiative of Nishinomiya City, Learning and Ecological Activities Foundation for Children (LEAF) was established in 1998 as an organization based on partnership among citizens, businesses and the municipal government. Earth Watching Club (EWC) is managed under this foundation. Our aim is to contribute to the development of a sustainable society by initiating community-based environmental learning activities at schools and in local communities, in liaison with various civic groups, corporations and government agencies. We hope our activities will target a wide range of citizens with a focus on youths and children, to raise the global citizens who act responsibly towards the global environment.

1-8-1 Kofuen, Nishinomiya City, Hyogo
662-0832 JAPAN
TEL: +81-798-69-1185
FAX: +81-798-69-1186

Monday, January 28, 2008

Less meat, big impact

I just read this New York Times article, which offers a global view of the impact of meat eating. Now I've known for a long time that meat has a much larger impact on the environment than plants, but this article offers some compelling statistics and offers a general sense about the actual effects of cutting back on meat consumption.

In the last year or so, I've been aiming towards eating a meatless dinner at least twice a week, though since I'm not a huge soy fan, I've found it challenging to not just substitute a meat dish for a cheese-intensive one, and I find that my skin is much nicer when I'm not eating tons of cheese.

I've been looking into getting some vegetarian cookbooks beyond the Moosewood and some old hippie cookbooks my mom had for years. My friend Erica suggested cookbooks by Debra Madison.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Makeup discoveries

Yesterday I went into Elephant Pharmacy to freshen the supplies, and to try to get rid of the things I am still using that have yucky things in them like parabens.

I stumbled upon the Jane Iredale line of makeup and I loved it. It's mineral based, but seems to work much better for me than the stuff from Essentials, which STILL contains parabens and has always been pretty gloppy and obvious when it's on. I got a pressed powder of Jane's, some wonderful eye shadow, and a great lipstick. They look and feel terrific.

I also picked up a great moisturizer with mineral-based SPF and a slight tint that I really like called by Marie-Veronique. Great, great, great discovery.

Pollan strikes again

Last night I finished Michael Pollan's latest: In Defense of Food. This book is exciting, brilliant, readable, and for us, life changing. His premise is: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." What sounds so simple and basic becomes a foundation for a fascinating look at how "nutricionism" has educated us that we simply can't understand how complex food is, that we should leave it to experts, and that they food that they engineer and manipulate is somehow superior. The result has been the overwhelming shift in the world's diets away from simple, readily recognizable foods to "food-like" substances created by the large food companies and marketed as healthy. All the while we are getting fatter and sicker.

This book has been so freeing and inspiring. Continues to propel me along the farmer's market path, and feeling better and better about it. It also gives me this wonderful sense that I never have to read another article on the "scientific" this or that about food. This is my pledge: to eat a wide variety of simple, unprocessed foods grown locally and sustainably when ever possible. And not to worry about anything else!

Whirley Pop

So, no word from our friends at Cuisinart about the nonstick coating on the popcorn maker, so back it went to gracious and accommodating Williams-Sonoma. Clerk: "I wouldn't have anything with a nonstick coating in my kitchen either."

Ended up buying a contraption that looks like it is right out of the 1950's...and it is! Called a Whirley Pop, it's an aluminum pan with a cover and crank handle that powers an arm that circles the bottom of the pan and keeps the kernals moving. Works beautifully. Only problem is the aluminum. John pointed it out and I said that HE could return the popcorn maker this round. I think we might try to find a stainless steel pot the same size and just use the clever top with crank and rotator.

Monday, January 14, 2008

teflon troubled

Caught up in the throes of after-Christmas shopping I bought a great popcorn maker for the family. By Cuisinart, cool design, easy, works wonderfully. We pulled it out of the box, all excited, and realized it had a nonstick surface. We've been hearing bits and pieces of bad news about teflon--that we all have it in our blood, that at high temperatures it can cause the "teflon flu," a passing sickness with fever and coughing that is our lungs recovering from teflon exposure, that birds in or around kitchens where Teflon reaches high heat die. Yikes! It said no where on the box that the surface was in fact Teflon, nor did it say non-stick surface. I have emailed Cuisinart and asked them three questions:
1) If it's not Teflon, what is it?
2) Does it contain the chemical PFOA?
3) What testing have they done about whether it reacts with food either chemically, or at high heats?

No answer as of one week. I think I'll be returning my new toy.
More info at: