Beautiful Images: 100 Days of Earth Shots slideshow

I prefer the nature photos but they are all interesting. Click on the link below and enjoy.

An updated Earth Shots slideshow showing the second set of 100 inspirational winning photographs. Turn your speakers up, sit back and enjoy! The music is "Hoppipolla" by Sigur Ros. View the photos in all their glory in our archive, go to YouTube to comment on this video.

Nature in the Back Yard: Snake Condo

We have discovered where our backyard black rat snake lives. This home is very functional.

The snake sleeps inside the hollow trunk above the entrance, protected from raccoons and other predators. The sun room is the old limb just above the entrance (here’s a link to the snake in its sunroom). The laundry room is on the south side of the tree, shown in the photo below. This is where it sheds its skin.

Look at how shiny and bright its skin is after shedding its old skin. New clothes!

This home also has a front porch.

What’s in our Food?

A recent article in InvestorsInsight : What We Now Know by Shannara Johnson focused on food imported from China. If the honeybees in our country continue dying, we may become more dependent on imported food. Warning: Don’t read the excerpts below if you have a weak stomach or don’t know where your food comes from.

Link: InvestorsInsight : What We Now Know

…due to insufficient pollination of certain crops and vegetables, the U.S. might become more dependent on food imports from foreign countries, among them China.

According to the USDA Economic Research Service, exports from China to the United States already more than doubled from $1 billion in 2002 to almost $2.3 billion in 2006. Within the last decade, China has become the third-largest exporter of food–by value–to the U.S., shipping nearly five times as much as it did in 1996. The food categories showing the biggest growth are beverages, fish, nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables.

To us, that seems reason for concern, given the abysmal track record in food safety of the Chinese. Case in point: the latest scandal involving pet food containing tainted wheat gluten from China.

The culprit was melamine, a chemical made from coal, that reportedly led to severe illness in thousands of American pets. After the melamine incident spurred frantic investigations, the New York Times now claims that the contamination with that substance was actually no accident, but "business as usual" in China.

The Chinese seem to like cutting corners when it comes to food production… which makes us wonder if this practice may, at least partially, be responsible for China’s "everyday low prices" no other country can compete with.

In the same year, there was a public outcry in Japan when it turned out that part of the 653 tons of soy sauce imported from China in 2003 had been made not from soybeans, but from human hair.

"Human hair makes an alternative to soybeans because it contains the amino acids that give the sauce its flavor," stated the Japanese Mainichi Daily News matter-of-factly. "Chinese soy sauce manufacturers say they want to continue making human hair sauce because it’s much cheaper than using soybeans. But outrage caused the Chinese government to ban the process, although many unscrupulous soy makers continue prowling barbershops for their economic alternative."

In 2005, the Shanghai Star reported that "a survey conducted in the Shanghai local food market […] found that cuttlefish were soaked in Chinese calligraphy ink to improve coloring, eels were fed contraceptive pills to make them grow long and slim and big fish were stuffed with small dead fish to make them heavier and bigger."

Well, that was in China and Japan, you may say, how does that concern us? After all, the U.S. does have strict regulations for food imports, doesn’t it?

While it is true that U.S. food regulations are in place, their reinforcement is another matter entirely. The FDA is woefully understaffed, with only about 1,750 food inspectors at ports and domestic food-production plants.

Which doesn’t bode well for foreign imports–and the risk is only getting greater. For example, after reading the following, you might want to scrape chicken and shrimp off your menu.

Currently, the U.S. government is working on a new proposal that would allow chickens raised, slaughtered and cooked in China to be sold in the United States.

In China, livestock are often fed antibiotics banned by other countries to maximize output, states a May 9 article in the Boston Globe, and for economic reasons, many farmers raise both chicken and shrimp.

While U.S. poultry farms are mostly huge, standardized businesses, in China, "there are hundreds of thousands of these little farms," Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, told the Globe. "They have small ponds. And over the ponds […] they’ll have chicken cages. It might be like 20,000 chickens in cages. The chicken feces is what feeds the shrimp."

The result: "The U.S. Department of Agriculture has found that up to 10 percent of shrimp imported from China contains salmonella […]. Even more worrisome are shrimp imported from China that contain antibiotics that no amount of cooking can neutralize."

By the way, unlike seafood, under current U.S. regulations store labels are not required to indicate the country of origin for poultry–so we’ll literally never know where our next meal comes from.

Do Real Estate Developers Dictate Environmental Policy?

Below is a letter to the editor from the 5/12/2007 edition of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Link: Saturday Talk | ajc.com

Balanced board crucial to our river

I would like to express my grave concern that the Georgia Board of Natural Resources is becoming a rubber stamp for development and destruction of our state’s rivers and streams.

I am a member of the Georgia Women Fly Fishers, a group dedicated to advancing the sport of fly fishing and promoting conservation. We fish regularly in the Chattahoochee and have first-hand knowledge that development runoff causes degradation of the river with every rain. This problem is only getting worse.

It is alarming that Gov. Sonny Perdue, despite his claimed goal of wanting to make Georgia a fishing paradise, has removed all voices from the board that oversees the Department of Natural Resources that advocate for clean water and public green space.

We must have balanced representation. Having a board dominated by big developer interests at a time when water is our most precious and declining natural resource is not only bad for tourism, it is contrary to the greater public welfare and common sense.

JOY …, Smyrna

The explosive growth of the Atlanta metropolitan area has created huge wealth for many real estate developers. Environmental regulations increase the cost and complexity of real estate development. Many elected officials from the governor down to the small town boards have been influenced by the developers and their representatives to ignore the impact of unfettered development on streams and natural areas.

Governor Perdue provides another disappointing example of a politician committing to a position to get elected and then making appointments that contradict that position. Perhaps when enough attention is focused on these elected officials, they will not sell out defenseless streams and natural areas so thoughtlessly.

When do we stop sacrificing natural resources, like clean water, that are essential to the health of future generations?

Nature in the Backyard: Black Rat Snake (again)

I walked down a path in the woods behind our home when I felt an urge to look at the old pine tree to my right. On the rotten stump of a broken off limb, the black rat snake we saw a week ago in the backyard was quietly watching the world go by. It doesn’t seem to fear us and it is fascinating to be eye-to-eye with such a large reptile. I hope it realizes it is safe on our property and stays around.

Newt Gingrich promotes Green Conservatism

Gingrich writes that Green Conservatives want the private sector to lead the change to energy independence and a healthier environment. I hope this is a tipping point for the green movement, where the Democrats and Republicans offer competing visions of a green America, instead of the denial and rejection that characterizes the pro-oil Bush administration.

The private sector can move more quickly and efficiently than government in developing and implementing functional solutions for significant problems. If Gingrich is sincere here, not just trying to win votes and sell books, then perhaps his influence will help conserve clean air and water and preserve what is left of wilderness.

Link: Atlanta Journal Constitution, 5/6/2007

The time has come to define a fundamentally different approach to a healthy environment and a healthy economy. The time has come for the development of "Green Conservatism" as an alternative to big bureaucracy and big litigation liberal environmentalism.

So what is Green Conservatism?

Green Conservatives favor clean air and clean water.

Green Conservatives understand biodiversity as a positive good.

Green Conservatives believe that economic growth and environmental health are compatible in both the developed and developing worlds.

Green Conservatives favor minimizing carbon loading in the atmosphere as a positive public value. And while we don’t buy into the doomsday scenarios currently being peddled by the left, we believe there is sufficient scientific evidence to tell us that carbon loading is occurring. But as to what we can and should do about it, there is still a lot to learn.

And lastly, Green Conservatives believe in energy independence. A new generation of clean energy will enable us to achieve three simultaneous conservative goals: To be liberated from dependence on dangerous dictatorships; to be effective in worldwide economic competition; and to provide for a much cleaner and healthier future.

Of course it’s easy to talk about achieving lofty environmental goals without damaging either our liberty or our economy. But how do we actually make Green Conservatism a reality? We do so by taking advantage of markets and incentives to achieve our environmental goals far more effectively than is possible through higher taxes. We emphatically reject as ineffective the liberal environmentalists’ focus on bureaucratic command-and-control regulations to preserve our natural world. Instead, Green Conservatism believes that we can realize more positive environmental outcomes faster by shifting tax code incentives and shifting market behavior than is possible from litigation and regulation.

The United States is ideally suited to achieving tremendous environmental progress precisely because we have such a dynamic and economically efficient free enterprise system. In this way, Green Conservatism builds on our inherent strengths as a nation, whereas liberal environmentalism actually undermines the very economic growth and efficiencies that so decisively contribute to environmental progress.

One of the reasons I am optimistic about the future of America is that we will experience between four and seven times as much new scientific knowledge and innovation in the next 25 years as we have had in the past 100. This means that America will excel at precisely those capabilities that will be required to renew and protect our environment —- unless, of course, we saddle ourselves with higher levels of regulation and taxation.

Green Conservatism aims to take advantage of this coming explosion in scientific knowledge and innovation by offering incentives that will direct this scientific progress toward our shared environment goals. One way to do this is to significantly invest in prizes as a competitive alternative to the current peer-reviewed process of scientific research. We should, for example, offer prizes for the development of high-gas- mileage cars and other carbon reduction challenges. Finding common- sense, pro-market ways to reduce our carbon emissions is the right thing to do.

Americans excel at using the power of the free market to make our lives better. Green Conservatism uses this strength by seeking the least economically destructive and least governmentally empowering ways to protect the environment.

Our generation faces the extraordinary challenge of bringing to bear science and technology, entrepreneurship and the principles of effective markets in order to enable people to have both a good life economically and a good life environmentally.

Conservatism shouldn’t ignore this challenge, we should embrace it. After all, we can stand toe to toe with liberals anywhere in America when it comes to wanting to build a better future for ourselves and our families. America’s 400-year experience of sound science, entrepreneurship and free markets to create better solutions for a better future has far outstripped what the lawyers and bureaucrats have ever done. It’s no different when it comes to the environment. Green Conservatism is an idea whose time has come.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and co-author with Terry L. Maple of "A Contract with the Earth," to be released this fall by Johns Hopkins University Press.

You know you’re a Green-Neck when…

You get excited when you see a hybrid car.

You like the way solar panels look on the roof of a house.

You download music to your music player instead of buying the CD — because it reduces pollution and waste.

You think people who drive Hummers are stupid.

You don’t use bug spray in your home.

You’d rather plant a bush than elect one.

You feel sorry for trees when they get cut down.

You know intuitively than global warming is real and caused by pollution.

You wonder how the people who run Exxon sleep at night.

You’d rather visit a mountain waterfall than a shopping mall.

You know that trout are the "canaries in the coal mine" for water quality.

You’d like to see the OPEC countries run out of money before they run out of oil.

Your mouth doesn’t salivate when you see a deer.

You hunt bears with a camcorder.

You know Cradle To Cradle does NOT involve babies.

You tinker with the power-saving features of your computer.

You invest in green companies even when their track record doesn’t look good.

You are suspicious about Wal-Mart selling organic food.

You don’t scare a snake in your backyard even when you have a shovel in your hands.

You can’t get all the stuff to be recycled into your car when its time to haul it off.

Green-Necks Unite!!!

Copyright © 2007 The Better Information Group, Inc.