Forget Trump – What About Fukushima?


(Originally posted 7/27/17 on Read With The Gringa.)

While the world has been distracted with all things Trump, everyone seems to have forgotten that the world’s worst industrial disaster is still unfolding. Yeah, remember Fukushima? That nuclear reactor that had 3 cores melt down after a 9.0 earthquake triggered a 15-meter tsunami that devastated Japan? Would you, dear reader, like the gringa, like to know what the heck is still going on? Well, Ima gonna tell ya. First, the basics on the history:


March 11, 2011: After said earthquake and tsunami, 3 of the 4 cores of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors melted down over the course of three days. 


The World Nuclear Organization (WNO) rated the disaster a 7 on the INES scale. What the heck is that, the dear reader asks? And what the heck does it mean? 


The INES is an international standard used to measure the significance of a nuclear event primarily determined by the amount of radiation ionization exposure. There is no higher rating than a 7. That being said, the gringa would like to know is Fukushima a true 7 or is it listed as a 7 simply because there is no higher rating to assign? I mean, would an INES rating of 9 or 15 or 28 be a  more honest reflection of what happened? But I digress. Back to what a 7 actually means as we know it.


Fukushima was given a 7 because during days #4 through #6 a total of 940 PBq (1-131 eq) was released of radioactive material.  But what does that mean? 


PBq does not stand for “Please Be Quiet” with regard to Fukushima. It refers to the metric measurement of radioactivity. It is shorthand for Petabecquerel. It’s root word, becquerel, is defined as:

“… the activity of a quantity of radioactive material in which one nucleus decays per second.”


When the prefix “peta” is attached it becomes a measurement equal to 10 to the fifteenth power becquerels. In other words, one-thousand-billion. Crazy number, huh? So Fukushima released 940 thousand billion radioactive nuclei into the sea and atmosphere. Sounds pretty awful, right? So why is the world’s media and national leaders seemingly unconcerned? Are they correct in their “no big deal” assessment? Should we just move on and continue letting the Trump circus and side-show dominate our attention?


Fukushima’s atmospheric radioactive releases had 2 primary contaminants: volatile iodine-131 and caesium-137. The iodine has a half-life of 8 days. No big deal there. The caesium, on the other hand, is a really big deal. It is easily carried throughout the atmosphere, has a 30-year half-life, so wherever it finally lands it’s going to be there for a very long time, a silent and invisible invader. But is it deadly?


Caesium is soluble. That means the human body can absorb it. The good news is that it does not concentrate within internal organs. After about 70 days the body is rid of the substance. 


The most highly concentrated atmospheric releases were detected around the end of March 2011. The good news is that in mid-March Japan had already anticipated this problem and taken preventative measures. 


A dust-suppressing polymer resin had been applied around the nuclear plant to suppress fallout, preventing the iodine and caesium from becoming mobile through wind and rain. By 2012, effective permanent covers were in place to contain fallout from atmospheric releases. Nearby crops of rice have been tested and reveal that caesium levels are one-quarter of the allowable limit. That means there is Fukushima rice for sale. Yum.


The worst news from Fukushima is that run-off of contaminated water into the sea was profuse and well above allowable levels of radionuclides. Although storage tanks for contaminated water were eventually erected, they began leaking in 2013. In addition to this is the more than 10,000 cubic meters of “slightly” contaminated water purposely released into the sea by Japan. This was a deal with the devil. They had to release less-contaminated water in order to make room for storing highly-contaminated water.


All sorts of new technology has been quickly developed by innovators eager to help Japan clean-up radioactive water quicker and more effectively. The gringa finds it sad how catastrophe inspires innovation. But I won’t knock it. Better to be desperate and have options than to be desperate and hopeless.


Concrete panels were constructed to prevent further leakage of contaminated water into the harbor surrounding Fukushima. These were later reinforced with steel shielding that extends one kilometer through rock strata. Testing of harbor waters in 2013 indicate that contamination levels are below acceptable standards. But is this good news? Who decides what is safe when it comes to contamination?


When it comes to interpreting contamination results for the harbor, Japan refers to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) standard for drinking water. The harbor surrounding Fukushima tests consistently lower for caesium contamination that the WHO requires for safe drinking water. Sounds pretty safe to me. But what about the fish and stuff? Can you eat what you catch?


The gringa thinks so. You see, prior to 2012 the Japanese national standard was for food sources not to exceed 500 Bq/kg of caesium contamination. After the disaster, this standard was dropped to 100 Bq/kg. What this means is that although they dropped the measurement standard they raised the standard for expectations. In order for fish caught off of Japan’s shores to be eligible for sale and dining pleasure, they have to test for less caesium now than before the disaster. And what do the fish say?


Within the months immediately after the disaster, more than 50% were too contaminated to eat. By the summer of 2014 things had changed dramatically. In about 3 years 99.4% of fish caught in the harbor surrounding Fukushima were safe to eat. Not bad, Japan, not bad.


But what about the doom and gloom reports about a wave of sea-borne Fukushima radiation that is finally reaching the shores of other nations? Well, first keep in mind that there are pre-existing levels of caesium radiation in the earth’s oceans. That would be the caesium-137 isotope contamination caused by nuclear weapons testing decades ago. Thanks, United States. 


But there is another caesium isotope, #134, floating around the Pacific. It can only have originated from Fukushima. The good news is that instead of having a half-life of 30 years, like #137, it only sticks around for about 2 years. But here it is 2017, 5 years after the disaster. Why is it still floating around in the Pacific? Well, to understand that you have to understand what half-life means. 


Having a 2-year half-life doesn’t mean that #134 will disappear or become non-radioactive in 2 years. It means that it takes 2 years for it to lose half of its radioactive value. So, let’s do the math:

  • 5 years ago # 134 is full strength
  • 3 years ago #134 is half strength
  • 1 year ago up to present #134 is one-quarter strength

But is the Pacific Ocean deadly? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regularly tested and monitored west coast waters, fully aware of the potential for deadly radioactivity due to Fukushima. The results of Fukushima radiation off the coast of California average to about 2 Becquerels per cubic meter. 

Since 7400 becquerels per cubic meter are the standard for safe drinking water, it seems California beach bums are safe. Even if a beach bum stays in the water non-stop for an entire year, their radiation exposure would be about the same as sitting for an x-ray at the dentist. So surf at your pleasure, beach bums.

So what does all of this mean? The worst man-made/natural combo disaster a human could imagine occurred 5 years ago. Amazingly enough, human ingenuity was up to the task. Fukushima is not going to kill the planet. And according to the latest findings recovered by robotic explorers, Fukushima will most likely be officially de-commissioned. Now who is inspired to become a scientist?

Sources: 

World Nuclear Organization


International Atomic Energy Agency


IFL Science


Image Credit: Suffolk University Blogs


Video Credit: New Scientist

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Forget Trump – What About Fukushima?


(Originally posted on Read With The Gringa 7/27/2017)

While the world has been distracted with all things Trump, everyone seems to have forgotten that the world’s worst industrial disaster is still unfolding. Yeah, remember Fukushima? That nuclear reactor that had 3 cores melt down after a 9.0 earthquake triggered a 15-meter tsunami that devastated Japan? Would you, dear reader, like the gringa, like to know what the heck is still going on? Well, Ima gonna tell ya. First, the basics on the history:


March 11, 2011: After said earthquake and tsunami, 3 of the 4 cores of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors melted down over the course of three days. 


The World Nuclear Organization (WNO) rated the disaster a 7 on the INES scale. What the heck is that, the dear reader asks? And what the heck does it mean? 


The INES is an international standard used to measure the significance of a nuclear event primarily determined by the amount of radiation ionization exposure. There is no higher rating than a 7. That being said, the gringa would like to know is Fukushima a true 7 or is it listed as a 7 simply because there is no higher rating to assign? I mean, would an INES rating of 9 or 15 or 28 be a  more honest reflection of what happened? But I digress. Back to what a 7 actually means as we know it.


Fukushima was given a 7 because during days #4 through #6 a total of 940 PBq (1-131 eq) was released of radioactive material.  But what does that mean? 


PBq does not stand for “Please Be Quiet” with regard to Fukushima. It refers to the metric measurement of radioactivity. It is shorthand for Petabecquerel. It’s root word, becquerel, is defined as:

“… the activity of a quantity of radioactive material in which one nucleus decays per second.”


When the prefix “peta” is attached it becomes a measurement equal to 10 to the fifteenth power becquerels. In other words, one-thousand-billion. Crazy number, huh? So Fukushima released 940 thousand billion radioactive nuclei into the sea and atmosphere. Sounds pretty awful, right? So why is the world’s media and national leaders seemingly unconcerned? Are they correct in their “no big deal” assessment? Should we just move on and continue letting the Trump circus and side-show dominate our attention?


Fukushima’s atmospheric radioactive releases had 2 primary contaminants: volatile iodine-131 and caesium-137. The iodine has a half-life of 8 days. No big deal there. The caesium, on the other hand, is a really big deal. It is easily carried throughout the atmosphere, has a 30-year half-life, so wherever it finally lands it’s going to be there for a very long time, a silent and invisible invader. But is it deadly?


Caesium is soluble. That means the human body can absorb it. The good news is that it does not concentrate within internal organs. After about 70 days the body is rid of the substance. 


The most highly concentrated atmospheric releases were detected around the end of March 2011. The good news is that in mid-March Japan had already anticipated this problem and taken preventative measures. 


A dust-suppressing polymer resin had been applied around the nuclear plant to suppress fallout, preventing the iodine and caesium from becoming mobile through wind and rain. By 2012, effective permanent covers were in place to contain fallout from atmospheric releases. Nearby crops of rice have been tested and reveal that caesium levels are one-quarter of the allowable limit. That means there is Fukushima rice for sale. Yum.


The worst news from Fukushima is that run-off of contaminated water into the sea was profuse and well above allowable levels of radionuclides. Although storage tanks for contaminated water were eventually erected, they began leaking in 2013. In addition to this is the more than 10,000 cubic meters of “slightly” contaminated water purposely released into the sea by Japan. This was a deal with the devil. They had to release less-contaminated water in order to make room for storing highly-contaminated water.


All sorts of new technology has been quickly developed by innovators eager to help Japan clean-up radioactive water quicker and more effectively. The gringa finds it sad how catastrophe inspires innovation. But I won’t knock it. Better to be desperate and have options than to be desperate and hopeless.


Concrete panels were constructed to prevent further leakage of contaminated water into the harbor surrounding Fukushima. These were later reinforced with steel shielding that extends one kilometer through rock strata. Testing of harbor waters in 2013 indicate that contamination levels are below acceptable standards. But is this good news? Who decides what is safe when it comes to contamination?


When it comes to interpreting contamination results for the harbor, Japan refers to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) standard for drinking water. The harbor surrounding Fukushima tests consistently lower for caesium contamination that the WHO requires for safe drinking water. Sounds pretty safe to me. But what about the fish and stuff? Can you eat what you catch?


The gringa thinks so. You see, prior to 2012 the Japanese national standard was for food sources not to exceed 500 Bq/kg of caesium contamination. After the disaster, this standard was dropped to 100 Bq/kg. What this means is that although they dropped the measurement standard they raised the standard for expectations. In order for fish caught off of Japan’s shores to be eligible for sale and dining pleasure, they have to test for less caesium now than before the disaster. And what do the fish say?


Within the months immediately after the disaster, more than 50% were too contaminated to eat. By the summer of 2014 things had changed dramatically. In about 3 years 99.4% of fish caught in the harbor surrounding Fukushima were safe to eat. Not bad, Japan, not bad.


But what about the doom and gloom reports about a wave of sea-borne Fukushima radiation that is finally reaching the shores of other nations? Well, first keep in mind that there are pre-existing levels of caesium radiation in the earth’s oceans. That would be the caesium-137 isotope contamination caused by nuclear weapons testing decades ago. Thanks, United States. 


But there is another caesium isotope, #134, floating around the Pacific. It can only have originated from Fukushima. The good news is that instead of having a half-life of 30 years, like #137, it only sticks around for about 2 years. But here it is 2017, 5 years after the disaster. Why is it still floating around in the Pacific? Well, to understand that you have to understand what half-life means. 


Having a 2-year half-life doesn’t mean that #134 will disappear or become non-radioactive in 2 years. It means that it takes 2 years for it to lose half of its radioactive value. So, let’s do the math:

  • 5 years ago # 134 is full strength
  • 3 years ago #134 is half strength
  • 1 year ago up to present #134 is one-quarter strength

But is the Pacific Ocean deadly? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regularly tested and monitored west coast waters, fully aware of the potential for deadly radioactivity due to Fukushima. The results of Fukushima radiation off the coast of California average to about 2 Becquerels per cubic meter. 

Since 7400 becquerels per cubic meter are the standard for safe drinking water, it seems California beach bums are safe. Even if a beach bum stays in the water non-stop for an entire year, their radiation exposure would be about the same as sitting for an x-ray at the dentist. So surf at your pleasure, beach bums.

So what does all of this mean? The worst man-made/natural combo disaster a human could imagine occurred 5 years ago. Amazingly enough, human ingenuity was up to the task. Fukushima is not going to kill the planet. And according to the latest findings recovered by robotic explorers, Fukushima will most likely be officially de-commissioned. Now who is inspired to become a scientist?

Sources: 

World Nuclear Organization


International Atomic Energy Agency


IFL Science


Image Credit: Suffolk University Blogs


Video Credit: New Scientist

Life On The Fog Farm


Water is at the heart of climate change. As the world continues to transform, water, in one way or another, is significantly related to the resulting effects. For example, water levels of our oceans and seas are expected to rise. Water contained in massive rainfall in the major storm systems that rage, fed by the cyclical effects of climate change’s higher temperatures that increase evaporation of water resources. And then there are the regions that will become deserts, lacking water entirely. How will these areas feed their populations? Will they have to be abandoned altogether? Thanks to some Star Wars inspiration, nope.

Remember how the people who live on Tatooine used “vaporators” to irrigate their desert farms? Guess what? That technology, imagined in the 70’s, is real in the here-and-now of 2017. Yep, the technology has been developed to literally make water appear out of thin air. Like magic!

Even the most arid desert has some humidity within its immediate atmosphere. The trick is in trapping and condensing those tiny particles of humidity. Today’s “vaporators” work on the same principle that takes place when droplets of water start sliding down your glass of iced tea.

That cold drink is cooling down the immediate atmosphere around the glass. When that happens, humidity within that tiny area is no longer trapped within the warmer air. It is free to attach itself to the surface of your glass. That’s also how rain is formed. So, in a sense, the “vaporators” of Star Wars are actually air conditioners, cooling the hot, desert air so water droplets form.

But it would seem like it would take an awful lot to produce enough water to be helpful. Is this technology even practical? Well, let’s take a look at what Chilean & Peruvian farmers are doing, who farm in the dry, arid regions of the high Andes. They have a steel mesh contraption, kind of like a net. Covered in a special coating to attract the molecules of water within the air, they basically harvest fog.

6.22.2a

Is fog-catching making a difference? A single fog-catcher, about one-meter square, produces about 5 litres of water daily. An improved design hopes to up water collection to about a dozen litres daily. Either way, the technology being used has meant the difference between harvest success over crop failure for the artichokes, avocados and grapes commonly grown.

Even greater than creating water out of thin air, the technology is sustainable, portable and powered by nature. So don’t be surprised if the next big thing in agricultural areas are rows of tiny billboard looking thing-a-ma-jigs. But since you read with the Gringa, you’ll just shrug and say, “Hey, look. It’s a fog farm!”

Source:

New Scientist

Image Source:  Design We Need

Makeshift

Video Source:  Makeshift

Today’s Alternative News

Death By Ice Melt


When fretting over the future effects of climate change, one may be worrying about just how hot it will get, how many coastal cities and islands will be lost to rising oceans or the massive loss of life through drought and famine. But what about mystery diseases? Yep. Add one more thing to your climate change related anxiety list. Mystery diseases.

You see, frozen in the Arctic and Antarctic tundra and ice sheets are pathogens that have been imprisoned for more than a millennia. And climate change is going to bring about the big thaw that will set them free. Many of them have never before been encountered by modern man. Remember what happened when Europeans introduced strange pathogens to indigenous peoples in their invasive travels? Yeah, without natural resistance, those native populations were decimated with disease.

So what exactly is lurking in the permafrost and ice?

–   Example:   August, 2016, remote Siberian tundra region of the Yamal Peninsula, a 12-year-old boy dies and 20 other people hospitalized with anthrax infections.

Now, a conspiracy theorist would point the finger at the Russian government, accusing it of using these poor folk as guinea pigs in bio-terror weapons research. The reality is, as determined by medical researchers, that the anthrax was a 75-year-old reindeer strain.

A quarter of a century ago the dead reindeer were covered with permafrost where they died. The heatwave that occurred in the area in 2016 exposed the contaminated corpses. The soil was then contaminated, thus the grassland being currently grazed upon was contaminated as well. The pathogens also washed into natural water supplies during periods of rainfall.

Final result? About 2,000 head of local reindeer grazed on the infected grassland. They, in turn, infected their human herds-people. This is the future of mystery disease due to climate change. Especially since there are more than a million reindeer carcasses infected with anthrax in Arctic regions that are buried close to the surface because you can’t dig deep graves in frozen ground.

In addition to anthrax, scientists also suspect strange varieties of influenza will be released. In Alaska, there have been discovered intact viruses of Spanish flu dating back to 1918. What else might be buried in shallow graves in frozen ground around the world? Corpses infected with active strains of smallpox and bubonic plague.

One Siberian town has a mass grave containing about 40% of its population that died in a smallpox epidemic in the 1890s. Already the permafrost layer is melting and washing away. Not only will this lead to contamination in the old town’s immediate area but any part of civilization the waters of the nearby Kolyma River contact will also be in danger of infection.

And pathogens can live longer than a couple of hundred years. Back in 2005 NASA researchers were successful in resurrecting bacteria removed from a frozen Alaskan pond. The microbes were 32,000 years old.

In 2007 scientists brought back to life bacteria that was 8 million years old and another sample that was 100,000 years old. They retrieved them from a glacier in Antarctica.
But do they have the strength to be virulent after a period of dormancy that long? For the answer, just refer to the findings of French evolutionary biologist Jean-Michel Claverie of Aix Marseille University. In 2014 Claverie resurrected two viruses from Siberia’s permafrost that were 30,000 years old. Once alive again, they quickly took on infectious status. Claverie’s conclusion:

“… these ancient layers could be exposed… If viable virions are still there, this could spell disaster.”

The most dangerous virions are called  “giant viruses”. These are the ones that can survive being buried in ice, dormant for eons, and become active again. It’s because, unlike a regular virus, a giant virus has a tough genetic make-up that can survive outside a host cell. Think of it like the virus having a protective shield around its DNA that prevents biochemical degradation.

And it gets worse. It’s not just ice melt we modern day humans have to worry about. Crystals, as old as 50,000 years, dug out of a Mexican mine were found to harbor microbial bacteria, a bacteria that has not seen the surface of the earth for over 4 million years. Studies have determined that this particular bacteria is resistant to 70% of current commonly used antibiotics. Great. The gringa says, “Stop all that digging!”

How does a super-bacteria like that come about? Well, there’s not much for it to eat in a cave, isolated from water, light, etc. To survive, an organism has to be ruthless in competition with other organisms for whatever means are available for nutrition.

What the heck is being done about this? Well, the gringa would like to provide some measure of relief. This all means that the diseases that riddled Neanderthals, our ancestors, may all come back to haunt us. But thanks to scientists like Claverie the diseases our ancient ancestors suffered from are being discovered and vaccines are being created.

Sources:

BBC

PNAS

Image Credit: BBC

Video Credit: Seeker

Evolution & Climate Change


(Originally posted 3/9/17 on Read With The Gringa)

Climate change, now, more than ever, is quite a hot topic, pardon the pun, if you will. Some people think we shouldn’t be so grave and serious about the contributions mankind’s industrialization makes to the Earth’s carbon budget. Climate change naysayers say concerned scientists are simply trying to rally support to fund their research with fear-mongering tactics. They claim that well-meaning citizens are responding with emotions rather than really examining the facts. They claim that the Earth goes through climate change cycles on a regular basis. They say this is just the normal way of nature. They also claim that pollution is really not that big of a deal because the Earth, like any living organism, is capable of adaptation as a survival instinct. This would mean that the Earth would simply “clean herself up”. 


Is such a perspective true? To find out let’s take a look at one of the all-time worst environmental disasters, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster. It’s been 30 years since a Ukrainian nuclear plant melted down and contaminated a 1,000 square mile area in Eastern Europe with high levels of deadly radiation. Medical experts and scientists expect it will be close to 20,000 years before humans can safely inhabit the area. Journalists and researchers can only visit for very brief periods or else risk exposure to a lethal dose of radiation. Yet, still, hundreds of people, mostly old folks who are unable or unwilling to relocate, survive in nearby villages, although there are very high rates of deadly forms of cancer. 


But what about the local flora and fauna? How well has the Earth done at surviving and cleaning itself up? How is nature faring in that neck of the polluted woods? Is it a wasteland of scorched earth and fried animal remains? Are there glowing rabbits and three-headed wolverines? Have talking plants begun to grow?


Well, within the most immediate radius of the nuclear plant’s site, about 10-15 miles out, it is considered by scientists to be a “clean zone”. No, that doesn’t mean it’s clean of pollution or ill effects. It means clean of practically all life as we know it. But go a bit further and you find a radioactive region teeming with wildlife who is enjoying life unmolested in an area uninhabited by man. 


You may have always wondered if the joke about cockroaches being the only thing to survive a nuclear holocaust is true. It is. In fact, insects seem to have superpowers when it comes to radioactive disasters. And because the bugs survive and thrive, the birds do as well! And so on, and so on down the wildlife food chain. Mankind may one day disappear, leaving behind the bugs and birds and mammals to rule the world.


However, judging from the spider-webs, it seems that bugs may suffer cognitively. Webs of affected spiders show erratic patterns that deviate significantly from their uncontaminated counterparts. So, a post-climate change world bereft of man, may be overrun by insane insects, mutant birds and an abundance of fat mammals.


Wolves have always been synonymous with Eastern Europe. That is probably why they were selected to be studied by biologists to see what their radioactive survival story is. What has been discovered is that wolves are thriving. That can only mean there are plenty of other large and medium sized mammals for them to prey upon. Wild Przewalski’s horses are recovering even though they are considered a rare and endangered species. Beavers are happily gnawing away at the wild forest growth. Bears forage happily and wolves are always looking on for an opportunity at a good meal.


Researchers are recording things like high rates of cataracts, higher occurrences of albinism, and curious physical mutations. However, despite these ill effects, the overall report from scientists and researchers is that, considering the devastation of a nuclear disaster, the wildlife actually seems to be rebounding and doing well. So well, in fact, that around Chernobyl a greater concentration of wolves can be found as compared to Yellowstone National Park!


What does that mean? Should we stop fussing about climate change? The gringa supposes we could if we don’t mind the humans of tomorrow looking very different than the humans of today. Here are some of the theorized adaptations that might happen to humans who evolve in order to survive the rising temperatures of climate change and effects of more solar radiation trapped within our atmosphere:

  • We get shorter and skinnier. Decreasing mass while maximizing surface area makes us more efficient at venting heat.
  • Our eyes grow larger because we become nocturnal, active during the cooler period when the sun is down.
  • Babies have lower birth weight because we engage in less exercise thus require fewer calories.

If the world is over-radiated, humans will need to avoid contamination. They have to avoid more than just exposure to invisible radiation in the air. Radiation is also passed through the food chain. That means more than just avoiding eating vegetables that have grown in over-radiated soil. It also means not eating any meat from an animal that may have fed upon animals or plants that were contaminated somewhere along their own natural food chain. This limitation on the human diet would contract our dietary options which would also result in a “skinnification” of mankind.

Funny thing is the gringa is already pretty skinny and does have rather large eyes. Maybe it’s already happening and the gringa is well on her way to transforming into a new human species! Our generation could be what scientists call, thousands of years from now, the “missing link” or a “bridge species” between the humans of yesterday and the humans of tomorrow!


Sources & Video Credit: 


National Geographic


New York Times


The Atlantic


Mental Floss

Documentary/Documentaries HD


Image Credit: NBC News

Soil, Water & Pure Air


(Originally posted 3/7/17 on Read With The Gringa)


The gringa proudly considers herself a treehugger. As a female treehugger, I can count myself among legendary treehugging heroes. Have you ever heard about the the Chipko movement? It is a group of women from India who have been protecting the forests of their native country from deforestation since the 1970s. They link their efforts to an ancient Indian legend about a courageous young girl named Amrita Devi. First, the gringa will tell the dear readers the legend and then you’ll find out about the Chipkos.


Long, long ago, before there was Internet, a Maharajah sent his tree cutters to chop down the trees surrounding a small village. He must have needed lots of furniture, houdahs (saddles for elephants), and firewood. Amrita knew that her family, including her old, beloved grandmother, would die from hunger and cold if they had no firewood. She rushed out and wrapped her arms around a tree, refusing to let the woodcutters chop it down. 


Now, here is where the story really gets interesting. If you have a person like the gringa telling the story, you hear a fantastic ending where Amrita prevails, saves the forest and is rewarded by the Maharaja for her bravery, wisdom and loyalty to family. However, if the caveman gets to butt in and tell the ending, he will say that Amrita got her head chopped off by the woodcutters axe when they went ahead and felled the tree. But, she became a martyr and her village revolted and refused to let any more trees get cut down, setting aside a lovely little grove in her honor where her body and head were buried. The dear reader can pick their own ending.


As for the Chipko, regardless of the ending of the story, they are still inspired by Amrita’s story. In the 1970s these rural village gals made their own brave stand and took their place in history and created a lasting legacy. You see, in the 1960s India was blazing a trail of economic development that meant massive deforestation that the government called progress. Although burgeoning city and industrial growth may have been welcomed by many, for those whose lives were wrapped up in the harmony of life in the forests, subsisting on the crops they planted and the natural resources that surrounded them, such progress was devastating.


For rural communities progress meant crops were ruined, homes torn down, erosion destroyed farmland and flooding ensued. Basically, as centuries-old Himalayan forests were cut down, the culture and and environment supported by these forests disentegrated. Many of these villagers pushed further up mountainsides looking for fuel, water, clearings to plant crops, and materials to construct new homes. 


Finally, like most strong women, many of these matriarchs had had enough. They began engaging in “Chipko”. This is a Hindi word which means “to cling to”. The Chipkos would literally hug trees, refusing to let go so they could be chopped down. The official origins of this method of protest is recorded in a 1973 incident. A contractor had been dispatched to bring down 3,000 trees that were allotted for construction of a sporting goods store. Much of the surrounding area was already barren from prior deforestation efforts. 


When the woodcutters arrived, women began sounding the alarm throughout the village. The gal who was considered their leader was a widow in her 50s. She mustered 27 other women to her side and they rushed out to face off with the woodcutters. At first their brave leader tried to plead with the contractor. Then she attempted to reason with him and educate him on the consequences of deforestation. The response was insult and abuse from the contractor and his crew. 


The women channeled their inner Amritas and flung their arms around the trees and vowed to die before letting go. The men were so taken aback by their actions they surrendered their efforts and returned to the sporting goods jobsite empty-handed. So much for sneakers for everyone!


As the movement proved effective, it grew. New ideas were also integrated into the Chipko’s practices. A cultural practice that symbolized brother-sister relationships was put to good use, tying sacred threads around trees marked with the wood-choppers symbol for its future fate. Crewmen would understand those threads as meaning Chipkos were willing to die on behalf of that tree.


In 1987 the Chipko movement was honored with what might be considered by many a recognition as meaningful as a Nobel Peace Prize. For being a small women’s movement with the purpose of saving trees, the women were given the “Right to Livelihood Award” honoring the many moratoriums and battles won to save a precious natural resource. 

The gringa will close with a Chipko folk song:

The contractor says, “You foolish women, do you know what these forest bear?Resin, timber, and therefore foreign exchange!”

The women answer, “Yes, we know. What do these forests bear?Soil, water, and pure air. Soil, water, and pure air.”


Source & Image Credit: Women In World History

Video Credit: DD News

Superhero Footwear


Most superheroes wear cool boots; Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman. Well, maybe Spiderman doesn’t because he has to have that sticky, spidey, foot-action to climb buildings. But, still, Superheroes have to have super footwear to help them out in a pinch when they need to fight the bad guys. In today’s world, what kind of shoes might Superheroes wear? After all, the kind of Superhero we really need is one who can save the entire planet. Would they wear renewable bamboo boots? Sustainably sourced soy slippers?

How far are you willing to go to help the planet? The gringa is willing to do lots of stuff. Innovative companies are making it easier than ever for climate conscious individuals to make better lifestyle choices. It’s all well and good to manage your thermostat better and reduce your water waste. For urban dwellers hopping a bus or a bike is a viable option. It’s easy to stock a pantry, cupboard and frig with ethically sourced proteins, veggie and fruit. But there are some lifestyle areas where it is hard to find eco-friendly options. Or, at least eco-friendly options you are actually willing to live with.

Take clothes. The gringa simply hates organic fabrics. I must admit that I prefer the carefree nature of rayons and nylons and all those other “on” fabrics that are wash and wear. I know that the process for manufacturing these fabrics is not exactly environmentally friendly. But can’t I skate on the fact that I don’t use the dryer or iron? At least I’m saving loads of electricity in maintaining my man-made wardrobe. So, the gringa is stuck with the stalemate of a reasonable compromise here. And then there’s my shoes.

Living in the gulf coast region of Texas means the gringa’s closet is filled with snazzy sandals and lightweight slip-on shoes. Wonder Woman boots, not so much. It’s very hard for the gringa to find any sort of realistic option when it comes to Superhero ethical footwear. I don’t just have the environment to consider. In high school I had reconstructive surgery on my left foot. My right foot had some issues that could have used correction but after the torturous recovery of my first surgery I would have to be wheelchair bound before I opt for another, that’s for sure.

So, I have very strange, mis-matched feet. Both are very, very wide. You could just say oddball duck feet and the gringa would whole-heartedly agree. My left foot is also extremely sensitive to the touch, my incision scars being perpetually tingly. That means all of my shoes have to be incredibly soft and flexible. Preferably flip-flops. But flip-flops don’t meet the dress code of every occasion. And it’s hard to find shoes that match my needs, are cute, AND environmentally ethical. It just seemed impossible to be a well-shod planetary Superhero. Until now.

Rothy’s is a San Francisco start-up that is introducing the world to cute little shoes made from recycled water bottles. The gringa just LOVES this idea. Right now they only have ladies flats but they expect to introduce more designs. And, rather than contribute to the problem of too much waste, as these designs develop, they will not be stocking shelves in retail centers and warehouses. Instead, they will be made on-demand. This also eliminates that pesky fashion problem of unwanted leftovers when fashion season cycles render a certain style obsolete.

It takes about two weeks to convert three plastic water bottles into a petite ballet slipper. The plastic is ground-up then “combed” into soft filament fibers. These fibers are then processed through a 3D-knitting process to create a seamless, waste-free shoe in about 6 minutes. The only other thing used in the process is recycled foam for the insole. And it truly is waste-free because when a gal is through with it, the shoe can be completely recycled! I mean, just look at that cuteness!

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This is such wonderful news! Although environmentally conscious individuals can reduce their use of water bottles, the reality is that they are still a big seller. In the gringa’s home we use a water-filter pitcher. However, when we travel or stop for a bite to eat, we still depend widely on water bottle consumption. Whether we like it or not, water bottles are here to stay.

The U.S. only recycles about 23% of its plastic waste. That means about 38 billion water bottles are destined for landfills every year. Despite the best efforts by environmental groups at awareness of the problem of waste caused by bottled water, it is still one of the most consumed beverages in the country.  So, if it’s unlikely to change consumer behavior, then a different approach to the waste must be the solution. And Rothy’s has nailed it! The worst environmental problem about bottled water has been solved!

Sources:

Rothy’s

Ban The Bottle

Tree Hugger

Image Credit: Deviant Art