Friday, April 4, 2008
Summer vacation is our chance to do all those things we have put on hold during the routines of the rest of the year.
Have a Healthy, Sustainable Summer
Ah, summer. The chance to lie on the dock listening to the murmur of water, or on the grass watching the clouds float across the sky. Summer vacation is our chance to do all those things we have put on hold during the routines of the rest of the year. No matter what our age or life stage, summer is full of expectations. We might dream of doing nothing, of having a grand adventure – even some romance – or just communing with nature.
Unfortunately, those lazy, hazy days of summer can prove to be more complicated than we’d like…and even downright harmful. That dock may be off-limits as the beach is closed due to bacterial pollution. Smog often blocks out any glimpse of the clouds. Hiking may be abandoned because mosquito bites can bring much more than the odd itchy bump or due to fear of forest fires. Gardening is frustrating because drought conditions make you feel guilty if you water but the plants dry up if you don’t. You think twice about embarking on that family car trip because of the high cost of gasoline and the amount of air pollution it will generate. And the older you get, the hotter and stickier summer seems. Besides, once you have everybody slathered up with sun screen (and that’s after you tried to figure out which brand is most effective and still safe), outfitted with their bug suits, sunhats and sunglasses, you’re too tired to go anywhere anyway! Maybe you should just stay home and pick the dandelions that seem to be multiplying by the minute now that everybody in town has stopped using herbicides.
But wait! It doesn’t have to be like that. Summertime can be simple and fun without exploiting nature, damaging the environment, worrying about your family’s health and stressing you out. Whether you’re staying home this summer, hiking in the wild, visiting the lake or a big city, we’ve provided eight pages of ideas and inspiration for having a healthy, energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly summer. So pull up the hammock, pour yourself a glass of iced tea, settle back and explore the possibilities.
Part 1 - A Sustainable Summer
The U. S. Travel Data Center claims that 43 million American travelers are “ecologically concerned”. There are many ways to make your summer vacation reflect that concern. A quick internet search will turn up dozens of sustainable organizations and companies. Start your trip planning by defining your own goals and needs, as well as your definition of “green”. Then ask lots of questions because there is a fair bit of questionable marketing being done in the name of “eco travel”. In addition to traditional types of vacations, consider internships, working on an organic farm or volunteering in a developing country.
The Green Hotels Association encourages us all to green up our travel. Aside from using their website www.greenhotels.com or phoning them at (713) 789-8889 to locate hotels with environmental practices, they suggest voicing your concerns or approval directly to the service provider. “You can write a note to the general manager of the hotel, to the captain of the airplane and to the manager of a tour company or cruise line with compliments or comments regarding their green program. Thank them for their green program if they have one. Or, ask why they don’t have one. As a paying customer, it is important that you let them know that you want them to lower water and energy usage and reduce solid waste,” advises president Patricia Griffin.
In hotels, turn off lights and air conditioning when you leave the room. Take your own shampoo, leaving those wasteful little bottles unopened. The exception is soap; keep bar soap wrappers and take partially used bars of soap home. If the hotel has an electronic check- out program, use it and save trees.
No matter where you go, adhere to the ecotourism pledge to leave only footprints. Take everything out that you brought with you. If you don’t have a digital camera, buy rolls of film with 36 shots rather than 12. Packaging waste is reduced, and it’s cheaper.
Air travel contributes to the increase of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. Some green travel companies are finding ways to offset that effect, by purchasing green power certificates or planting trees. If you’re flying, book with airlines that recycle the waste created when serving food and beverages to passengers. British Airways, for instance, has a very strong environmental agenda. Southwest Airlines recycles all cabin waste, and was the first to offer electronic ticketing, which is now common.
When you reach your destination, take walking tours or public transportation rather than renting a car. In many cities you can rent bicycles as a healthy, fun and environmentally sound method of seeing the sites. Or consider making a bike tour the focus of your holiday. Some locales – such as parts of Quebec, PEI, the Adirondacks in New York State, and in Europe, the Netherlands and Denmark – are specializing in being bike-tour friendly.
Perhaps the most eco-friendly vacation is the one you take by staying right at home! If you live in or near a major city, you might have access to a “green map” to help you explore earth-friendly destinations. The first green map was published in 1992 as a Green Apple Map for New York City. There are now about 200 green maps in 45 countries around the world. In Canada, green maps available online include Yarmouth and Halifax, Eco Montreal, the Calgary Green Map and the OTHER Map of Toronto. Contact your local tourist information bureau for details.
Golf is one of the most popular summer pursuits. However, golf courses use up precious farmland and/or natural areas, and require regular watering and pesticides to keep the greens green and weed-free. Fortunately, many golfing, environmental and conservation organizations are working to change the manicured, pesticide-laden image to one of responsible stewardship of nature.
Thousands of courses across North America are pursuing certification as wildlife sanctuaries under a program organized by the Audubon Society, with around 100 having completed the program, including 15 in Canada. The Environmental Institute for Golf is a project of the Golf Course Superintendents Association and has task forces working on water management; integrated plant management; wildlife and habitat management; golf course siting, design and construction; and energy conservation and waste management. They have also helped create and endorsed a widely used set of principles for making golf courses more green.
So before you head out to tee off this summer, check with course management to see what they are doing to protect the health of the environment and of players. Plus, consider how green your own golfing behavior is. For instance, walk the course instead of using a golf cart. If you do use a cart, keep to the pathways and urge your course to use electric-powered carts. Use biodegradable golf tees and replace all divots. Be willing to accept less than pristine conditions, such as brown grass during drought periods. Respect environmentally sensitive areas of the course and support maintenance practices that protect natural habitat.
Keeping Your Cool at Home
Air conditioning can be noisy and is a big energy user (and thus polluter). For those who are sensitive to molds or chemicals, the closed environment required by air conditioning can contribute to discomfort or illness.
Fortunately, there are many alternative strategies for keeping you and your home cool. Install window awnings or exterior shutters to block the heat before it moves inside. Keep windows and curtains closed when the sun is shining in their direction. The tighter the curtain is against the wall around the window, the better it will prevent heat gain. Bamboo shades are an inexpensive and environmentally-friendly window treatment, and can be used inside or out, and to screen porches, patio and balconies. Reflective sun-control window films are also available, but are not adjustable. Homeowners can also grow vines on trellises to shade vulnerable windows. Plantings not only block sun but can reduce the temperature by as much as nine degrees F in the surrounding area.
If you are building or renovating a home, there are a number of things you can do to keep your cool. These include proper site situation, a light-colored roof, coating an existing roof with reflective white latex, increasing attic ventilation, deciduous tree plantings on the sunny side, extra insulation or the use of highly insulative construction methods like straw-bale, and a ground- or water-source heat pump.
A simple and time-honored way to cool yourself down is with a fan. Fans run the gamut from a piece of folded up paper through tabletop electric models and more permanent ceiling installations. Fans don’t actually lower the temperature of a room, but can make a room feel eight degrees F cooler – and save up to 40 percent on air conditioning – by creating a “wind chill effect” that evaporates perspiration. Since your fan is not cooling the air but providing a breeze, remember to turn it off when you leave the room. Otherwise, you are wasting energy, not saving it. When using a ceiling fan, rotate the blades counterclockwise in the summer, so they push cold air down. For optimum air circulation, locate the fan blades eight to nine feet above the floor and no closer to the ceiling than 10 inches. Look for a high-efficiency Energy Star certified ceiling fan, which should move 15 percent more air for the same amount of energy.
Catch the Rain
“Rain” is a four-letter word to summer sun seekers. But it’s gold to gardeners. Channeled from your downspout, less than half an inch of rainfall can easily fill a 50-gallon barrel. To collect more water, you can connect several barrels with a pipe or hose, or you can put barrels under more than one gutter downspout. Once your rain barrel is full, you can hook a hose up to it to directly water your garden (rain barrels are perfect to use with soaker hoses), or you can simply dip a watering can into the barrel. As a bonus, rainwater is naturally soft and free of minerals, chlorine, fluoride and other chemicals.
Make sure your barrel is child- and animal-proof, with a grid at the top or tight fitting lid to prevent them from falling in. A lid also keeps leaves and other debris from accumulating, and more importantly, prevents mosquitoes from breeding in the barrel. A fine mesh screen where the downspout connects to the barrel will also keep out silt and leaves. Some cities have started programs to give residents easy access to affordable rain barrel systems. You may be able to find a limited selection of rain barrels at your local garden supply store. Or, if you have access to an empty barrel, it’s a simple process to make your own. Drill three or four holes, thread on a spigot (protect from leakage with washers and/or “plumbers’ goop”), place the barrel on a concrete pad or blocks, and fit the downspout to the lid.
Vacations, bug bites, poison ivy and sunburn: Summer just wouldn’t be summer without them all! Use these herbal remedies to combat summer ailments.
Simmering in the Sun
We’ve all been warned to minimize our exposure to the sun, and to wear sun-screen. However, human beings need at least a half hour of sunlight every day to produce Vitamin D and stay healthy. Try to get your exposure in off-peak hours. Some raw food experts believe that eating foods high in chlorophyll (green vegetables, sprouts, spirulina, etc.) reduces one’s propensity for sunburn. Apply neem oil (cooked or diluted in sesame oil) to the skin as a natural sun-block.
If you do stay out too long (or get burned by a campfire or barbeque) – and the burn isn’t too severe – cool the area as rapidly as possible with cool running water or cold compresses. Once the burn is completely cooled, apply aloe vera gel to alleviate pain and promote healing. To get instant relief from the aloe vera plant, simply break open a leaf and apply the mucilage to the affected area. Pure aloe is also available in stores in gel or liquid form and should be refrigerated or kept in your picnic cooler; as an ingredient in creams, it is much less potent.
An alternative method is to apply crushed lettuce pulp to the sunburn. Coconut oil may also be applied to soothe the skin while indoors. A distillation of the leaves, bark and twigs of witch hazel is an effective remedy for sun and wind burn, as well as a disinfectant for minor cuts and abrasions. Applied directly to the affected skin, witch hazel is available at drug stores. Creams containing St. John’s wort, calendula, comfrey, slippery elm, tea tree oil and chamomile will soothe pain and inflammation.
The analgesic properties of peppermint and lavender oils make them excellent pain relievers. They are also antiseptic and antibacterial. Mix one teaspoon of the oil with one tablespoon of vegetable oil, and apply to the affected area. The homeopathic remedy Urtica Urens is not only great for hives but also reduces the pain of first-degree burns and promotes healing.
Oh yes, and ignore that old wives’ tale about rubbing butter or oils on burned skin. Doctors now say that doing so keeps the heat within the skin tissue, causing even more pain and discomfort. And don’t forget to drink plenty of liquids to replace fluids lost through the burn.
For many people, one of the biggest dangers of the summer season is bugs. Bites and stings from common insects will cause swelling and stinging, but are usually not serious. On the other hand, mosquitoes used to be mere annoyances, but in many areas, they now carry the threat of West Nile Virus. Some spider bites, tick bites and snake bites require immediate medical attention. So do stings that cause allergic reactions and any bite or sting that induces wheezing or labored breathing.
If you spend a great deal of time outdoors, eat lots of garlic, either raw or in the less smelly form of capsules, to help keep insects at bay. And leave the perfume and scented creams at home, because they tend to attract biting insects. Extra B vitamins will help too. Neem is an excellent repellent. It is well known in India and becoming better available in the West. Its oil can be applied to the body and infused into the room.
There are a number of effective insect repellents that you can grow in your garden. Citronella and lavender contain volatile oils that make them great natural pest repellents. Pennyroyal should also be in your garden. Rub the leaves of this plant on your skin to repel insects. Even though it has a pleasant, mint-like fragrance, it’s effective at keeping flies, mosquitoes, gnats, ticks and chiggers away. If you or any of your children have ever had an allergic reaction to a bite or sting, you probably carry a prescription epinephrine kit; if you’re going to spend time in the wild, you might also want to invest in a snakebite kit with a venom extractor.
If stung by a bee, wasp or hornet, look for the stinger and carefully scrape it out with a clean, sterilized knife or other sharp-edged sterilized instrument. Try to avoid pulling out the stinger, because you may squeeze it and release even more toxin into your body. If you find a tick on yourself or a child, act quickly. By removing the tick as soon as possible, you diminish the likelihood of contracting any disease it might be carrying, such as Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Never yank the tick out with your fingers; that may cause you to pull out the body only, leaving the head lodged in your skin. Using tweezers, grasp the head first. Try to get the tweezers as close as possible to where the tick embedded itself, and pull back slowly, but firmly, until you’ve removed it. As for chiggers, which are a type of mite, try applying cooling peppermint oil. Dried chickweed or pennyroyal leaves crushed and rubbed onto the skin will also help, as will a poultice of cooked and cooled oatmeal or odorless castor oil rubbed on affected areas.
Always wash any bite or sting with soap and water and then apply rubbing alcohol or vinegar to disinfect the wound. Ice or a cold compress will numb the area and reduce pain. To soothe irritation and relieve itching, apply witch hazel, aloe vera gel or calendula cream. Neem oil also has antiseptic and antihistamine properties and can effectively be applied to bites or stings. Dilute the neem oil in a sesame oil base, or mix neem powder with water and apply it to the problem area. Cilantro leaf is another natural antihistamine that may be applied to swellings resulting from bites or stings. Crush a handful of cilantro leaves into pulp and apply to the swollen area.
Calcium and magnesium soothe the nervous system. Supplement with 250 mg of calcium and 125 mg of magnesium three times a day for two to three days after a bite or sting. Vitamin C has anti-inflammatory properties, so take 1,000 mg three times a day for two to three days after a bite. You can also use vitamin C topically to reduce inflammation. Crush a tablet into a powder and mix with just enough water to form a paste, then apply to the sting or bite area.
Many homeopathic remedies can also relieve the pain and swelling associated with insect bites and stings. Select the remedy that most closely matches the symptoms. Stick to lower potency doses and follow the instructions on the label. Many homeopaths suggest taking one dose and waiting for a response. If you have nothing else at hand, grab a handful of tea leaves from the kitchen cupboard. The tannin released by wet tea leaves neutralizes the discomfort produced by many types of insect venom. (If you don’t have loose tea leaves on hand, an ordinary tea bag works almost as well.)
Stop That Itch
The best treatment for poison ivy or oak is prevention. But if you do come in contact with it, there is a common plant called Jewelweed, which is a natural remedy for poison ivy, oak and many other skin disorders. Jewelweed grows wild in abundance in the eastern United States and parts of Canada. Results of a clinical study showed dramatic results in 95 percent of people who used a jewelweed extract for poison ivy rash. Tea tree oil is another natural remedy that can ease the itching of a rash. There is also a homeopathic remedy called Rhus-Tox that is promoted specifically for poison ivy rash. Regardless of whether or not you plan to seek further treatment for poison ivy, try to wash the exposed area with running water right away to dilute the toxin. If possible, apply rubbing alcohol to the infected area within 15 minutes of contact. Then rinse with water.
Settle Your Tummy
Did you spend too long on the rollercoaster and end up with a tummy ache? Is your child prone to motion sickness after riding in the back seat of the car all day? Well, send raspberry to the rescue. The freshly dried leaves of the raspberry plant can be brewed into a tea (which is delicious cold), and are available crushed in capsules or made into a tincture. Both adults and children can drink up to six cups a day, or ingest two capsules two to three times daily at mealtimes. However, experts disagree on the safety of use during pregnancy, so it’s best to avoid raspberry if you’re pregnant.