Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Meet Florida's Version of the Cicada

The Green Girlfriend and I went to Sarasota, FL for the weekend and got a six-legged surprise as soon as we arrived at the airport. The windows at SRQ were crawling with love bugs, so named because they spend their entire adult lives joined at the rear end in a mating ritual.

Love bugs are Florida's answer to the cicada -- harmless bugs that arrive suddenly and in huge numbers, living only to mate and fly clumsily into your ear causing you to involuntarily smack yourself in the side of the head.

But while dogs and squirrels call a temporary truce in their eternal feud to share in the feast of the cicadas, the love bugs have few natural predators. I didn't see any animals eating them, and one website indicated love bugs simply don't taste very good because they're highly acidic.

That same acidity makes the little bugs a gigantic pain for drivers. Spattered love bugs are very hard to scrape off of cars, and left uncleaned, will quickly cause permanent damage to the car's paint job.

I heard the rumor that the love bugs were somehow brought to Florida as a scientific experiment gone horribly wrong, but according to the Urban Legends site, that's false. They more likely hitched rides on ships and stayed in Florida for the prime real estate and great early bird specials.

According to the Internet's unimpeachable source of information, Wikipedia, urban sprawl has helped spread the lovebug:

Commercial use of cut sod for "instant" green lawns transports great numbers of the larvae of this insect, once found only in agricultural areas, to all of the newly built developments sprouting up in the towns of the regions where its numbers are increasing so rapidly as a new phenomenon.
Since they're not a native species, ordinarily I might rip love bugs a new ... whatever love bugs have back there. But love bugs are beneficial because their larvae eat mostly dead vegetation, recycling organic material and improving the soil, so they get a pass.

Steroid Fruit: Advantages Only Skin Deep

No great scientific insight here today, just an experience with organic fruit to pass along.

Comparing an organic orange to a regular orange is like comparing pre-steroid Jason Giambi to post-steroid Jason Giambi.

Just look at them sitting on my window sill. The standard orange looks bigger, shinier, smoother, more perfectly spherical, and it's just plain bright orange. The organic orange looks smaller, dull with some brown patches, and it's not nearly as luminescent as the standard orange.

But peel the oranges, and all of the sudden the comparison is much different. It turns out the standard orange's size edge was all peel. It has a much thicker skin than the organic orange.

And that color difference? The standard orange's color and shine ends up all over your hands -- they're dyed and re-waxed to make them look better in the produce section.

What are you left with? It turns out the standard orange's advantages were all skin deep. They taste about the same, but the organic orange contains no pesticides.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sunday Comic Tackles the Environment

I opened the paper this Sunday to see an interesting "For Better or For Worse." The comic usually sticks to relationships and household life, but this week focused on the environment.

I'm not quite sure what the message is. The first eight panels seem to say, "We all need to do what we can." But I'm not sure if the final panel's message is, "Personal action can't be effective unless we regulate emissions," or a more despondent, "Why bother?"

Friday, May 25, 2007

10,000 Maniacs

Just 11 months after The Green Miles launched, the blog has reached 10,000 visits! Thanks for reading.

So what do you think the biggest environmental stories of the next year will be, globally, nationally, and here in Virgina?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Help GoGreenMan save the planet!

That's the message of a site that sprung from the imagination of Jonathan Lee, a 10-year-old from Mississippi. GoGreenMan is a superhero who, with the help of friends like Recycle Roger and Professor Fusionstein, fights evil-doers like Dr. Pollution and Oil Octopus.

The Green Girlfriend bumped into Jonathan and his dad on one of their recent trips to DC and said he seemed like a really cool kid. His site has lots of simple tips for helping kids go green. Check it out!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

My Birdseed Brings All the Birds to the Yard

Paying an extra buck for a bag of good birdseed goes a long way. The cheap stuff at Harris Teeter really only draws sparrows and squirrels -- not exactly rare sightings.

But if I put out sunflower seed consistently (every day for a week or two) in my backyard in Ballston, I start seeing cardinals, blue jays, finches, and today, even a red-bellied woodpecker. We weren't 100% positive on the ID since it only hung around for a minute, but it was an impressive sight.

The Green Girlfriend picked this photo off the net as most resembling the woodpecker that flew off faster than I could find my camera.

Monday, May 21, 2007

How the Nats Struck Out My Beer Craving

To explain how much The Green Miles enjoys drinking, we need look no further than the events he's helped organized for Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment:

- Hike & Happy Hour
- Organic Wine Tasting
- Organic Beer Tasting
Seeing a pattern? So you can probably guess that an essential part of any trip to a Washington Nationals game (especially a mind-numbing 11 inning affair that saw only three extra base hits, all doubles) involves several cold beers.

But Saturday night the Nats managed to limit my intake to just one beer. How?

Strike One: Make Beer Drinking an Embarrassingly Wasteful Experience.

The Nats' vendors walked around with cases of cans of beer along with huge stacks of plastic cups, ripping the lids off the cans and pouring the contents into the plastic cups. Why the extra step, expending two containers for one beer? The beer man said there was concern about fans throwing the bottles onto the field. But plastic and even metal bottles are sold at the beer stands, so that explanation doesn't make sense.

A different rationale comes from the Nats 320 blog: "Apparently an order from Management concerned over the amount of plastic trash thrown on RFK Stadiums floor during each and every game." What's the difference between picking up a plastic cup and a plastic bottle? At least the bottles are recyclable.

But there's the rub -- there's no evidence recycling of any sort takes place at RFK Stadium. The huge "PLEASE RECYCLE" logo on the side of the Bud metal bottles (modeled here by The Green Girlfriend)? It's just for show -- there are no recycling bins at RFK.

While the team's new owners are taking great steps towards making the team's new ballpark environmentally-friendly, they've turned the simple act of ordering a beer into a green guilt trip.

Strike Two: Only Open Half the Beer Stands for One of the Year's Biggest Games.

For the Nats' best-attended game since opening day with an announced attendance of 30,661, cracking 30,000 for only the second time this year, half the beer stands in the upper deck were closed. I went for beer in the 6th inning only to find long lines (10-20 people) at the stands that were open.

Strike Three: Serve Warm Beer.

Once I finally found a stand with fewer than 10 people in line, I got to the front only to find that of the several beers advertised at the stand, only cold Budweiser was available. The Nats' upper deck beer stands have the worst system for keeping beer cold imaginable -- a guy with an ice chest. Once the beer that was in the chest at the start of the game is gone, he's selling warm beer for the rest of the game.

I tried to get the team's side of the story, but it's incredibly hard for an average fan to talk to an actual Nats employee. I called the main number on Sunday afternoon (while a game was being played at RFK), but got sent to a voicemail. Forget email -- I tried emailing them back in December saying, "I want to buy season tickets, please call me," and never heard back. And my Nats ticket rep recently quit for a job with the Redskins and I haven't been told who my new rep is.

Any additional explanation for the beer vendors and the plastic cups? Any idea why the Nats don't recycle? Comment away!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Ask The Green Miles: Are Microwaves Recyclable?

A reader recently submitted this question to Ask The Green Miles:

I've recently come across your blog and though you might have an answer to a question that I've not been able to find an answer to.

How does one properly dispose an old microwave oven? I thought I could take it to one of the recent hazardous household disposal days/e-cycling events, but they all said no small appliances and microwaves.

Calls to DC and Arlington County have gone unanswered. I know I shouldn't just toss it into the dumpster, but I feel like I've run out of options (and freecycle or free on craigslist is not an option -- it isn't really working anymore).

After a couple of quick emails to friends who work for Arlington County's Department of Environmental Services, I got this answer:

[O]ld microwave ovens are considered non-hazardous and are managed as a solid waste for disposal. There are, however, components that that are recyclable if demanufactured (e.g., metal, glass). Arlington County Solid Waste Bureau provides this service through their special-request collection in which a collection fee is charged.

For more information and/or to schedule a special collection for your microwave oven please call the Solid Waste Bureau Customer Service Center at (703) 228-6570.

While researching microwaves, I got to wondering whether they were energy efficient. Looks like cooking something in the microwave is vastly more energy efficient than cooking something in the oven. From Yes! Magazine:

According to Louis A. Bloomfield, professor of physics at the University of Virginia, cooking with microwave ovens is neither energy-hungry nor dangerous. In fact, compared to conventional ovens, microwave ovens are about five times more energy efficient, transferring 50 percent of their energy into food compared to the 10 percent energy transfer of conventional ovens.

You can read past editions of Ask The Green Miles here.

Got a question for Ask The Green Miles? Email me!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

June 2nd: 4th Annual ACE Hike & Happy Hour

Four years ago, the first-ever ACE Hike & Happy Hour took place at Potomac Overlook Regional Park. A total of four people went on the hike -- The Green Miles, my roommate, and our hike leaders. And I wouldn't have been there if my roommate hadn't dragged me out of bed (I had a wicked hangover and it was pouring rain).

Despite the rain, Arlington County Board Member Barbara Favola showed up to welcome the hikers. We told her she didn't have to hike through the mud with us psychos, an offer she graciously took us up on. The next year, we got sun and a slightly better turnout -- about 10 people.

But last year, we moved the location to Roosevelt Island, and suddenly it was hip to hike. I guest blogged about it over at What's Up Arlington (this was wayyyyy back in June 2006, before mild-mannered Miles became The Green Miles). Over 40 people came out for the birding tour of Roosevelt Island and the happy hour at Continental.

We spotted a hawk at Roosevelt Island, who was spontaneously dubbed Bernie the Hawk by The Green Girlfriend, prompting this exchange:
ME: Why Bernie?
HER: It's a nice name.
How can you argue with logic like that?

This year we're sticking with the Roosevelt Island/Contintenal combination, but we're shifting the focus of the hike from birding to invasive plants. Here are all the details:

4th Annual Hike & Happy Hour
Saturday, June 2, 5:00 to 6:30 p.m.

In honor of National Trails Day, join ACE to explore the invasive plants of Teddy Roosevelt Island with Arlington County's Invasive Program Manager, Jan Ferrigan. Learn how to identify some common invasive and native plants. Teddy Roosevelt Island is accessible from GW Parkway North, on the Mount Vernon bike path, and a three-quarters of a mile walk from Rosslyn Metro. Click here for directions. We'll meet in the parking lot by the footbridge.

After the hike, meet at 6:30 p.m. at
Continental in Rosslyn for happy hour. While the hike is for all ages, Continental is 21+. A $10 donation at the happy hour is suggested with proceeds to benefit local conservation efforts. For more information: 703-228-6406 or

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Kraft Organic Cheese: For Those Who Don't Want Pesticides, But Still Want Diarrhea

OK, so I don't want to demean any company that's trying to go organic. But I saw a coupon last weekend for new Kraft Organic Cheese, and my reaction was thus:


I couldn't find a picture of the new organic cheese, but here's a picture of regular Kraft cheese, which in my research I found is referred to within the company as a "process cheese loaf."


The bottom line? Becoming organic doesn't make a gross product any less gross.

Kraft regular cheese? Gross. Kraft organic cheese? Still, in fact, gross.

It all reminds me of Jim Gaffigan's line, "There is the vegetarian Hot Pocket ... for those of us who don't want to eat meat, but still want diarrhea."

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

This Weekend: Rock Creek Park BioBlitz

Here's another event worth checking out ... yes, I've been lame-o this week in just posting events without really adding much of anything, but I promise more insightful posts to come this week, including, "Ask The Green Miles: Can You Recycle a Microwave?" Stay tuned.

May 18 & 19, 2007, noon to noon

WHAT: Part scientific endeavor, part festival and part outdoor classroom, the Rock Creek Park BioBlitz will officially begin at noon on Friday, May 18, with teams dispersing throughout the 1,783-acre park to begin a nature inventory, observing and recording as many plant and animal species as possible in 24 hours.

Tasks will include wading in the creek to find fish, sweeping nets through fields to catch butterflies, searching the forest floor for hidden wildflowers and catching bats with nets at night.

Meanwhile, activities will continue at the Rock Creek Park Nature Center, base camp for the BioBlitz, where talks by experts, displays, entertainment and children's activities will take place throughout the day and night. The BioBlitz is the latest venture in a long history of partnerships between National Geographic and the National Park Service.

WHEN: Opening ceremony: Friday, May 18, at 11:30 a.m.
BioBlitz: May 18-19 from noon-noon,
Closing ceremony: Saturday, May 19, at noon

WHERE: Rock Creek Park Nature Center
5200 Glover Road, N.W.
Washington, D.C.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Tuesday 5/15: Alternative Transportation Expo

Here's a quick heads up on a cool event coming up tomorrow night ...

Alternative Transportation Expo

Tuesday, May 15, 7:30 to 9:00 p.m.
Walter Reed Community Center
2909 16th Street S.
Arlington, Virginia 22204

Learn about getting around Arlington without a personal car at this free event with exhibitors on carsharing, walking, bicycling, and telecommuting! Participating organizations include:
- Flexcar
- Arlington Transportation Partners
- Bike Arlington
- WALKArlington
- The Commuter Store
- Arlington Transit
- Arlington County Fresh AIRE
- Zipcar
- Telework Exchange
The first 100 participants will receive a free ART token. The event will also include the chance to visit the Commuter Store, an Arlington Transit bus, a Flexcar and a Zipcar and will also offer refreshments and door prizes.

Organized by Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment (ACE) in partnership with the Mount Vernon Group of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. This event is sponsored by
Flexcar. For more information, visit the ACE website or call 703-228-6427.

Friday, May 11, 2007

One-Day Gas Boycotts: Not Affecting Oil Companies Whatsoever Since 1999

Once again, word is circulating through the tubes that we can bring oil companies to their knees by refusing to buy gas on May 15th.

Once again, oil companies are not scared, and are in fact laughing at you right now, high up in their towers constructed from the bones of polar bears.

Why? Because one-day gas boycotts don't actually involve buying less gas. They just shift the purchase from one day to another, without actually costing the gas station any sales over the course of a week. It's not like the gas is going to go bad on that one day you don't buy it.

As my friend Lowell from Raising Kaine has pointed out, a one-day event would work only if it was a driving boycott. But that would involve actually changing your behavior, as opposed to a one-day gas buying boycott, which allows you to feel revolutionary as you continue to zip around unimpeded in your gas-guzzling Lincoln Navigator.

The Urban Legend website has an in-depth analysis of why one-day gas boycotts are both wildly popular and completely ineffective. Go read it. A great summing-up:
[T]he only message being sent is: "We consumers are so desperate for gasoline that we can't even do without it for a few days to demonstrate our dissatisfaction with its cost." What supplier is going to respond to a message like that by lowering its prices?
Want to send a message about gas prices? Take public transportation for a day or a week or a month. Buy a hybrid. Walk. Bike. Carpool.

A one-day gas boycott? Don't make Dick Cheney laugh.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Air Pollution: No Outrage, Just Inaction

If the DC area's water quality were as poor as its air quality, there would be protests in the streets.

A few years back when elevated levels of lead were found in DC's drinking water, there was a massive public outcry, leading to hundreds of millions of dollars in renovations.

But report after report warns us of the unhealthy condition of our region's air, yet we do nothing about it. We already knew the DC area's carbon emissions are spiking, with Virginia leading the way. And according to a new American Lung Association report, the air in DC isn't quite as bad as the air in Los Angeles -- but it's close:

The lung association checked for three kinds of pollution: ozone and two kinds of soot -- short-term and year-round exposure -- and found that 136 million people lived in U.S. counties with unhealthy levels of at least one of the three.

Los Angeles was ranked as the most polluted U.S. city for all three categories, even though the report found pollution levels have dropped there. Houston, Dallas, New York, Washington and Philadelphia were among the worst cities for ozone pollution.

Washington and Philadelphia were also on the list of the cities with the most soot. Others were Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and Baltimore.

You can read the American Lung Association's full report here.

So why doesn't poor air quality get people riled up like poor water quality? Major water problems are certainly easier for us to detect -- bad water may look or taste funny, or we may be told we have to boil it. But major air problems show up in more insidious ways, like higher rates of childhood asthma, and DC has one of the highest rates in the entire country.

But here's the bottom line -- water problems can be solved by the government without the need for changes in personal habits, while it takes individual change to address air problems. Sure, the government can ban coal-fired power plants or mandate tougher emissions standards. But paying more for a hybrid, taking public transportation more frequently, or running the air conditioner less are sacrifices most of us haven't yet been willing to make.

There is some good news. Another new report says once adopted, we won't have to wait decades to see the benefits of clean air policies. According to the World Health Organization, they yield immediate health benefits.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Why It's Much Easier to Get Organic Ketchup Than Organic Wine

With the Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment Organic Wine Tasting coming up this Friday, here's a little background on organic wine and why it's so rare.

At my local Harris Teeter, I can get an organic version of just about anything. I can get organic ketchup, organic peanut butter, even organic dog treats. But while the store carries hundreds of varieties of wine, not a single one is listed as organic.

Why? As the San Francisco Chronicle recently detailed, it's really hard to make a good bottle of organic wine. And it's near-impossible to make an organic white wine durable enough to last on a grocery store shelf:

The biggest stumbling block, many winemakers agree, is the USDA's prohibition against added sulfites. If you want to call a wine organic, you can't add any sulfur dioxide in processing. Zero, zip, none. And the vast majority of winemakers -- in this country and elsewhere -- will tell you that you can't make a decent bottle of wine without it.

"Sulfites are an antioxidant, and we have not found a replacement for that," says Robert de Leuze, winemaster at ZD Wines in Napa.

For centuries, winemakers have relied on sulfur dioxide to keep white wines from turning brown prematurely and losing their youthful fruit flavors. Red wines contain tannin, a natural preservative, so they need less sulfite protection than whites, but they still need some sulfites to guarantee a reasonable life span.


"It's very technically challenging to make a wine without sulfites," says Katrina Frey, director of sales for Frey Vineyards in Redwood Valley (Mendocino County). "We early on made a commitment that we were going to do it that way. But one can understand why many wineries choose not to."

The winery recommends that customers drink its white wines within a year of their bottling -- a date consumers must call the winery to learn -- and finish any open bottle of white wine within a day. Its red wines last five to eight years, says Frey.
For a list of organic winemakers, check out this article, or visit the Organic Wine Journal.

And to reserve your tickets to Friday's Organic Wine Tasting at the Arlington Arts Center, visit the ACE website!

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Guerrilla Green

I got a packet in the mail last week from a website called, a tongue-in-cheek tree education/promotion site. It's a fun way to kill a few minutes. Especially worth watching are the "What are trees doing right now?" videos at the bottom right (my favorite - tennis).

Even more interesting than the packet was the envelope that it came in, which loudly proclaimed, "THIS IS NOT A TREE." It's made out of a synthetic material produced by a company called

And even more interesting than THAT is a blog linked off the site -- the
These Come From Trees Blog, which bills itself as the world's first guerrilla public service announcement. Here are a few interesting details:

Quick Facts about "These Come From Trees"
- Testing shows a "These Come From Trees" sticker on a paper towel dispenser reduces paper towel consumption by ~15%
- A typical fast food restaurant with two bathrooms can use up to 2000 pounds of paper towels a year
- The average coffee shop uses 1000 pounds of paper towels a year
- A single tree produces around 100 pounds of paper
- A single "These Come From Trees" sticker can save around a tree's worth of paper, every year
I'm a sucker for stuff like this, so I'll probably buy some.

I'm also going to have to get to work on giving away some of the green Lance Armstrong-style wristbands I'm now piling up. sent me two wristbands, which are now neatly stacked on my coffee table under my "PROJECT 37" wristband. That was an ill-fated, short-lived Arlington County government effort to boost the Arlington's recycling rate a couple of years back. However, some of the wristbands made their way to the Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment booth at last year's Arlington County Fair, and I thought it would be a good excuse for The Green Miles to sport his green like Lance sports his yellow, so I snagged one.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Virginia's Fightin' 11th

Here's Rep. Tom Davis' appearance on the Colbert Report's "Know Your District," as Stephen profiles Virginia's 11th Congressional district, better known as the Fightin' 11th!

Friday, May 4, 2007

Why All Environmentalists Need to Help Rebuild DC's Eastern Market

If you want to be green, it's important to buy local. The closer a product is made, the less fuel is burned in delivering it to you. When it comes to the products you eat, the concept known as food miles. That's why in the Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment Green Living Challenge, you get 5 points if you, "Eat a locally grown, organic, and/or meatless ingredient meal twice a week."

That's why the fire that destroyed most of DC's Eastern Market is such a loss not just for the business owners and customers impacted, but for all Washington area environmentalists. Eastern Market is one of the last of the neighborhood markets, places where local products could find local buyers. In Arlington, all we have is the Courthouse Farmers Market just one morning a week.

Fortunately, some of DC's most dedicated citizens are making it easy to help rebuild Eastern Market. Eastern Market Rescue is organizing a citywide fundraiser on Tuesday, May 8th, with the proceeds going to the Capitol Hill Community Foundation.

So far, 14 bars and restaurants have signed up, with more to come, agreeing to donate a percentage of their proceeds towards rebuilding Eastern Market. Go to the Eastern Market Rescue website to learn more, and be sure to visit at a participating establishment next Tuesday!

Tuesday: Meet One of the DC Area's Climate Action Leaders

After my rant on Glenn Beck this week, I thought I'd direct you to a more positive voice on climate change!
Arlington Reads Green Book Talk. Tuesday, May 8, 7 p.m. Arlington Central Library Auditorium, 1015 N. Quincy Street, near the Ballston and Virginia Square Metro stops. Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network will discuss his book, The Ravaging Tide: Strange Weather, Future Katrinas, and the Coming Death of America's Coastal Cities. Copies of the book will be available. More information: 703-228-5585.

I really encourage you to come out to this event. Mike's a fascinating guy and he walks the walk, having converted his entire house to renewable energy sources, even installing a heater that runs on corn kernels (the house has a barely detectable smell of fresh popcorn). Read more about him in this Mother Jones article.

The Green Miles will be there, so if you see him, be sure to say hello. And if you haven't figured it out by now, much like Rickey Henderson, The Green Miles enjoys referring to himself in the third person.

You can get more details on this and other events sponsored by Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment at the ACE website.

And if you haven't reserved your ACE Organic Wine Tasting tickets yet, what are you waiting for? You can buy them online now.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

CNN Runs Hour-Long Informercial for Conservative Nut's Anti-Climate Action Book

I was starting a new post about the series of recent reports on the DC area's air quality ... but then I saw it.

Glenn Beck on CNN promoting his special, "
Exposed: A Climate of Fear."

Apparently Beck has embraced the post-denial, re-framed conservative talking points, which go like this:

Climate change may be happening, but (choose one):
A) It's not our fault
B) There's nothing we can do about it
C) Even if there was something we could do about it, it wouldn't be worth the economic cost
D) Is climate change really so bad? New Orleans wasn't so great outside of the French Quarter, anyway.
For those of you not familiar with Glenn Beck, here's John from AMERICAblog:

Of course, this is the same CNN host who called Mrs. Clinton a "bitch" two weeks ago, so why stop there? This is the same CNN host who suggested that all Muslim-Americans are working with the terrorists, that the word "faggot" isn't really much of a slur, that women should be referred to by their weight, that he "hates" the families of the victims of September 11, that Hurricane Katrina victims are "scumbags," and that Senator Obama is so "colorless... he might as well be white."

But hey, CNN wants ratings. And they've apparently learned that racism, sexism and homophobia work for FOX, so why not CNN? Very sad.
A great analysis of Beck comes from mcjoan at DailyKos:

My question is not for serial moron Glenn Beck. My question is for CNN. How can you continue to have this man on your network? And Keith Olbermann, I love you man, but Beck shouldn't be today's worst person in the world. It's the person who gave him that air time.
And CNN is not just employing this man at their network -- they're giving him an hour-long infomercial to promote his next book, which -- you guessed it! -- will argue we should do nothing about climate change. It's due out in November 2007, titled An Inconvenient Book.

So how can you send a message? Vote with your remote -- tell CNN you'll change the channel if you see Glenn Beck's face on a program or promo.