Next time you find yourself in traffic, try this nifty thought exercise. Ignore the cars within your field of vision and imagine instead the contents of their fuel tanks. Visualize gasoline flowing up and down the highway.
Let’s assume the typical American car carries seven gallons of refined petroleum product in its tank at any given moment (a 15-gallon tank half-full). That’s a lot of liquid to be carting around. In fact, gasoline is the second-most-consumed fluid in the U.S. after water. Each American household consumes an average of 350 gallons of water per day and 2.5 gallons of gasoline; milk, coffee and beer clock in at .15 gallons, .12 gallons, and .1 gallons respectively.
If you do this visualization exercise, you might find yourself seeing rivulets, streams, and—in the case of big freeways—rivers of gasoline coursing across the land. For the U.S. as a whole, 400 million gallons of gasoline enter the flow every day. But, since we routinely carry more gasoline with us than we intend to use immediately, the total amount in car gas tanks at any given moment is roughly seven times larger, so that America’s gasoline rivers slosh with 2.8 billion gallons on any given day.
A real river or stream is the spine of a watershed and the heart of a riparian ecosystem. Trees, shrubs, insects and their larvae, fish, birds, amphibians and mammals all derive their livelihoods from flowing water.
A river of gasoline is sterile by comparison, even though petroleum itself is composed of some of the same main elements as living things—carbon and hydrogen. Oil is a fossil fuel, after all, made of heaps and heaps of dead algae compressed and heated over millions of years so that carbohydrates became hydrocarbons. Gasoline rivers are no place for non-human life forms: only the most daring of weeds and foolhardy of animals venture there, with the latter often ending up as road kill. Indeed, highways could be thought of as rivers of death.
Water makes itself seen and felt as it falls from the sky and collects in puddles, ponds, lakes and oceans. The tiny fraction of Earth’s water that enters municipal delivery systems temporarily disappears into a maze of pipes but soon re-emerges at the ends of faucets and showerheads.
Gasoline is covert and furtive by comparison. Oil emerges from wells and, via pipelines, enters refineries; from these, gasoline gushes through more pipes that carry it to regional distribution centers, whence it is delivered by tanker truck to filling stations. We travel to those stations to dispense gas by hose into the tanks of our cars; from those tanks it is delivered to its final moment of combustion within the engine. At no point along its path is oil or gasoline customarily exposed to public view.
What we see instead, for the most part, is the automobile—a painstakingly crafted exoskeleton that carries gasoline and humans from place to place—and a landscape substantially altered to suit automobiles. We obsess over our cars: they are our symbols of freedom and status. We judge them by the elegance of their design, their top speed and their acceleration. We revere their brand names—Mercedes, Ferrari, Jaguar, Bentley, Cadillac, Lexus. We take for granted the gasoline that makes them go, until a gauge or warning light on the dashboard forces us to pull over and buy more. Yet without gas there would be no point to the automobile; even the brawniest Porsche could do no more than ornament a driveway.
We complain about the price of gasoline, yet at four dollars per gallon it is cheaper than coffee, beer, or milk—cheaper even than most bottled water.
Unlike those other liquids, gasoline is explosive. It literally gives us a bang—and a fairly big bang, at that. Visualize slowly pushing your car miles at a time, your leg and arm muscles straining to move a ton or two of metal, and you may gain some appreciation for how much power is being released by each drop of the gasoline that speeds our cars down the road with virtually no effort required on our part.
Visualize gasoline-powered civilization arising as if by some maniacally accelerated evolutionary process. It all began so recently, in the mid-nineteenth century, and spread across the globe in mere decades. Automobiles mutated and competed for dominance on vast networks of roads built to accommodate them. Shopping malls and parking garages sprang up to attract and hold them. And powering it all was an ever-widening but mostly invisible river of gasoline—the poisonous blood of 700 million dinosaur-like machines that now dot landscapes around the world.
Visualize gasoline’s combustion by-products spewing out of millions of tailpipes and into the air breathed by children. As we pump oil out of the ground we transfer ancient carbon from the Earth’s crust into the atmosphere at a rate of 5.2 metric tons per car per year. A car that gets 25 miles per gallon of gasoline spews 47 gallons of CO2 per mile (at standard temperature and pressure). Like gasoline, carbon dioxide is invisible most of the time; you have to use your powers of visualization to see the thickening blanket of CO2 that traps more and more of Earth’s heat.
Visualize ancient subterranean oil reservoirs rapidly depleting, with half of Earth’s entire inheritance of conventional crude converted to CO2 and water during the lifetime of an average baby boomer (1950-2025). Already, nations are straining to adjust to declining oil abundance, searching for alternatives, and fighting over what’s left. No, we’re not running out of oil. We’ve only begun tapping tar sands, tight oil, and polar oil. But what’s left, though impressive in quantity, will be expensive, risky and slow to extract.
Visualize a time, years or decades from now, when machines designed to burn gasoline sit idle, rusting, and abandoned. No, we won’t quickly and easily switch to electric cars. In order for that to happen, the economy would have to keep growing, so that more and more people could afford to buy new (and more expensive) automobiles. A more likely scenario: as fuel gets increasingly expensive the economy will falter, rendering the transition to electric cars too little, too late.
Visualize life without gasoline. You might as well start doing so now, at least in imagination; soon enough, this will no longer be an exercise. Already prices are high and volatile. Next we’ll see international conflicts that shut down big portions of the global oil trade for weeks or months at a time. Strategic reserves will be tapped. The government will commandeer supplies for the military and police. One way or another, you’ll be using much less gasoline than you do today. How will your food be grown and transported? How will you get around? Will your job still exist? How will your community function?
Visualizing gasoline won’t make more of it magically appear. But understanding the extent of our dependence on it helps us address our vulnerability to the inevitable process of depletion. Imagining a world without gasoline could be a useful first step in preparing for a future that’s coming at us whether we’re ready or not.
OlgaMiltsova / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
JasonOndreicka / iStock / Getty Images
Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
- Climate Crisis: What We Can Learn From Indigenous Traditions ... ›
- 10 Organizations Honoring Native People on Thanksgiving ... ›
- Biden Vows to Ax Keystone XL if Elected - EcoWatch ›
Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.