Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bottled waste

Most of us don’t think twice about grabbing a bottle of water for a walk or workout. But we ought to think about it a lot more than twice.

The statistics of waste and extravagance are staggering, says the Earth Policy Institute:

  • To package and ship the seven-billion gallons of bottled water we drink annually requires 1.5-million barrels of oil – enough to supply 100,000 cars for a year.
  • Nearly 90% of the bottles wind up in landfills, where they take a thousand years to biodegrade.
  • Bottled water costs 10,000 times what tap water does, and the difference in taste and content is usually barely detectable.
  • When billions of people around the world lack safe drinking water, we are buying bottled water at per-gallon prices that exceed what we are paying for gasoline!

Most of us drink bottled water in a quest for purity. But the cost of that assumed purity is both pollution and waste.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Hard times for squirrels

It’s been a tough week for squirrels. The tree-loving rodents can’t handle a foot and a half of snow, and had to pretty much hunker down till a melt – or a crust – makes terrestrial travel safe.

Gray squirrels often have it tough. Back in 2004, the acorn crop crashed, and the squirrels had a hard time surviving last winter. Those that did were often weak and more susceptible to predators – including the automobile tire. They produced smaller families, and their population declined markedly.

The 2005 acorn crop was reportedly a bit better, and until now, the winter of 2005-06 has been mild, so nature may be giving the Gray Squirrel a break.

That may not please folks who battle “tree rats” at the bird feeder or in their attics, but a healthy squirrel population helps keep forests healthy by planting oaks, hickories and other nut-bearing trees. Squirrels also provide food for hawks and owls, and, when they don’t cross at the green, for vultures and crows.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The miry mess

Most folks in town a century or two ago would have not been pleased with the warmer than usual winter of 2005-06. It’s not that they loved cold; it’s just that they liked to get their work done.

Warm winters were a muddy mess, and mud was the enemy of the farmer. When the ground was frozen, the narrow wheels of wagons could handle the dirt roads and farm paths with ease. Thawed, roads and paths were one miry mess after another.

When the ground was snow-covered, life was even better for the farmer, whose slays, sleds and sledges could get much more work done than could wheeled vehicles. A horse could drag four times more weight on a sled across snow than could a wheeled cart across dirt.

That meant that farmers could easily haul timber home from the woods to cut for firewood, to saw into lumber, or even to hew into railroad ties. It meant that stoneboats could remove large boulders from fields, and that other heavy-duty tasks could be accomplished.

Winters may have been colder back then, but the work was harder and kept people warmer.