Climate Change Talks in Bangkok for COP15, inspired by green Copenhagen

COP15 Copenhagen (poster) in Bangkok, Thailand

COP15 Copenhagen (poster) in Bangkok, Thailand

While clicking around looking for inexpensive travel options for my husband to attend the COP15 Climate Change Treaty talks in Copenhagen this December I found an inspiring web video about the amazingly sustainable and healthful features of living in Copenhagen. See below.

“Amazingly” is not a bit of hyperbole compared to my own town and nearby ecological disaster area called Los Angeles. Nearly everyone seems to be riding bicycles in the main city of Copenhagen. Over 40% of Copenhageners ride to work and there are over 300 kilometers (186 miles) of bike lanes according to the video. The water ways running through the city are clean enough to swim in and water sports in it seem to be encouraged from the scenes of people frolicking in the water. Also, twenty-three percent of food consumed in Copenhagen is organic with a civic goal of 90% by 2015. Why can’t we do that here in Southern California? Heck, we got much better weather for year round biking, water sports and a much longer growing season for organic veggies…How cool would it be if we could safely swim or kayak in the LA river and bike to work breathing fresh air and riding safely in a designated bicycle lane? Check out Denmark’s green efforts in Copenhagen–it’s possible:

The COP15 and follow-up United Nations climate treaty negotiations are trying to make more Copenhagens possible through financial incentives to go green. My husband may attend the COP15 United Nations Climate Control Treaty meeting Dec. 7-18 in Copenhagen. He would be going as a volunteer mediator representative of Mediators Beyond Borders. Since he is volunteering and paying his own, as you can imagine, he is pretty committed to the environment and facilitating peace globally through encouraging mediation as a dispute resolution tool. Right now hubby is at the UNFCCC Climate Change Talks in Bangkok, Thailand as a volunteer with Mediators Beyond Borders. To read Mark Kirwin’s field reports from Bangkok go to the 11th Hour Mediation blog.

An organization of journalists have even created a web site to track the climate control treaty negotiators called Adoptanegotiator.org. Some of these UNFCCC observers feel that the United States isn’t taking enough responsibility for reducing carbon emissions and if the US keeps blaming China and India for polluting, that the US will end up stalling substantive progress on the talks in Bangkok. It’s good to remember that the US did not sign the last climate control treaty, the Kyoto Protocol. And, after eight years of the Bush Administration, our reputation abroad on environmental and “play-well-with-others” matters has been seriously tarnished.

It has been fascinating to hear, second hand, about the daily negotiations over the text of the different elements of the treaty’s specifications for reducing carbon emissions. The competing national, economic, humanitarian and environmental concerns and perspectives are interesting and, to me, sometimes, disheartening. The volunteer mediators at Mediators Beyond Borders certainly have their work cut out for them.

Read about Day 2 of the UNFCCC climate change treaty text negotiations in Bangkok >

Future graduate students take note:

The Danish gov’t is awarding about $700,000 in 2-year climate masters degree scholarships at Danish Universities–in honor of the COP15 summit’s green agenda and practices. Here’s the link: http://en.cop15.dk/news/view+news?newsid=641

PS: Now the trick is, how does one get paid to do this good work????

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Sports are social, plus you can get fitter faster with friends

Well, leave it to science to explain what most runners and triathletes already know: that you can get fitter faster if you train with your friends. “Exercising in a group can be more effective by making things easier” declared the subheading in in an article titled Fitter with friends in the September 19, 2009 issue of The Economist Magazine.

C-Street Swimmers (aka "Sea Lion Pups") before their open water swim in Ventura, CA

C-Street Swimmers (aka “Sea Lion Pups”) before their open water swim in Ventura, CA

That’s not news to me but it’s nice to feel that my experiences training with friends has been validated by science as the best method. What was interesting in the article to me was the physiological process that causes a person to get fitter by training with others. According to the research of anthropologists Emma Cohen of Oxford University, and Robin Ejsmond-Frey there is a heightened tolerance for pain in athletes working out in a synchronized group. In their studies of competitive rowers they found that the usual production of endorphins that are released during extreme physical exertion (and which serve to numb the pain from lactic acid buildup in muscles) are increased. From their studies, they found that endorphin levels of athletes working out in a group are significantly higher than when the same athletes are working out alone. Working out with others is less painful. Sign me up.

Swimming with others

When I’m not joining my friends for our group open water swims at “dawn-thirty” on the weekday mornings (see photo above), my swim speed declines down to my slow baseline “yawn” pace of about 50 meters at 50 seconds. Too slow! I usually get bored after several weeks of solitary pool swims (no matter how creative I try to get with intervals, etc.) and usually climb out of the pool after 30 minutes with a lame self-promise that I will make it up later. If you are new to swimming and are looking for swim pals the best bet would be to ask about a Masters Swim group at your local public, university or club pool. Another option, if you have a background in swimming, is to see if there is a local swim or triathlon club. You can also take a swim class at a local community pool or university through a continuing ed or extension program. I improved my swim technique last summer at a month long group swim Stroke Refinement class at our lcoa Ventura Aquatics Center. It was fun; and I got faster.

Here are few online resources for group pool and open water swimming:

Running with others

Running with others has always made me faster. It has also brought me countless hours of communal fun, has given me new friends and has strengthened friendships. (“Friends who play together, stay together…”). There are military studies that show that coordinated physical exercise can strengthen social bonds.

The best way to find running friends via word-of-mouth. If work for a large organization, generally there is another runner to partner up with. Another way to find running friends is at a local running club. Most clubs are based around either a geographic location or non-profit fund raising organization such as the Leukemia Society’s Team In Training (TNT). Another group running source would be enrolling in a running class at a local university of college or finding a coach (which is sort of the same as joining a running club).

Finally, you can sign up for a race. I recommend this especially when traveling as it’s a fun way to get the know the local geography and culture. As a race participant at races far away from home, I’ve been happily surprised how inclusive the local runners were to myself, a stranger to the area. For example, I’ll never forget the friendly invitation I got from a few local runners when I did the Boston Marathon. Unfortunately, I was too exhausted after the race to accept the party invitation. But it was really nice to be invited. If you are visiting for a while check online for a local running group. One of my favorite places away from home to run is Washington, DC. It’s a really wonderful experience to cruise through the The Mall at dawn on foot and see so many historical places and enjoy the serene vistas along the Potomac.

Here are a few online resources of group running opportunities:

Bicycling

Well, since I’m still nursing a running injury (the dreaded plantar faciitis) I’ve been riding my road bike a lot. And, frankly it gets boring. By accident (serendipity really) I hooked up with the some local riders of the Channel Island Bicycle Club the other day on a group ride. By far, these are the friendly folks on two wheels that I have ever meant. No “Freds” or “Big Head Todds”. They were inclusive, fun and they had some inspiring hill climbers in their group, too. Another way to find people to ride with is to check out a local bike shop. If they don’t have shop rides they will certainly know about club rides, popular riding routes (road and/or trail) and should be a good resource for all things bike-related. I bolded “local bike shop” because the local bike shops can be a terrific resource. (Full disclosure: I used to be a sales representative for Diamondback Bicycles. There will always be a place in my heart for the local bike shop..:))

Here are a few online resources of group bicycling opportunities:

Well, that is it for now. There are so many great group workout resources that I haven’t mentioned and I apologize. I haven’t worked out yet today and I’ve been itching for a hilly road ride since before work. And, that was nine hours ago! Ugh….must get outside and workout now…

‘Bye!

Diet, Health and Teeth from an Anthropological Perspective

And, now for something completely different: the interaction between one’s diet and one’s teeth from an anthropological perspective.

I became intCompendium dental journalerested in the paleoarcheology of dental remains when my open water swim pal and dentist, who in addition to being an excellent open water swimmer, has an insatiable curiosity about almost anything and a particular talent for making just about anything seem interesting. In this case the topic on one pre-dawn swim morning at the beach was about why 3,000 year old Egyptian dental remains found in a commoners grave in Amarna, Egypt had such beautiful teeth. (He also teaches dentistry at UCLA and when fully awake I’m sure his lectures and funny stories must be even more engaging.) A few days later my open-water-swim-and-dental surgeon friend gave me a back issue of a dental magazine called Compendium with very anthropologically interesting headline on it’s June 2009 cover: “Anthropology: Origins of Dental Crowding and Malocclusions

According to the article dental anthropologists believe that there is a correlation between a modern or industrial diet of highly processed foods and malocclusions. (Malocclusion means “dental crowding with teeth out of alignment.”) Consumption of a diet of processed high-calorie and low-fiber foods occurs with the transition from indigenous or non-industrial culture to an industrialized culture and diet. What is not so clear is why this is so: is it genetics or is it diet or is it a combination of both? Nearly two-thirds of American’s have some degree of dental crowding while indigenous peoples subsisting on their native diets seem to have nearly perfectly aligned teeth with almost no crowding (Rose 2009:292). The trend seems to hold for the majority of societies that consume an industrialized diet of mostly soft processed foods.

Traditional orthodontic textbooks attributed dental crowding to teratogens (agents causing birth defects), malnutrition, genetic disturbances or a genetic admixture of inherited genes and behaviors such as thumb sucking (Rose 2009: 294). But the hereditary cause of malocclusion proponed by the National Institute of Health doesn’t seem to be true (NIH 2009) according to the latest studies. The photos above are from IslandBraces.com via Google Images.

Compendium cites dental anthropological and archeological studies in its June 2009 issue that supports a connection between an industrial diet and dental crowding or malocclusion. The most common reason why people in the United States need orthodontic treatment seems to be a insufficient alveolar bone mass of the upper and lower jaw bones in order to hold thirty-two teeth in alignment. The latest research seems to indicate that this is due to insufficient chewing stress during childhood rather than to genetic causes as originally believed. The Masticatory Function Hypothesis promoted by Carlson and Van Gernven maintained that dietary changes initiated by the adoption of agriculture and food processing technology in the Nile Valley over the past 10,000 years have resulted in changes in the skull such as reduced jaw sizes (Rose 2009:296). “Carlson and Van Gerven argued most of the facial changes were not the result of genetic changes but caused by reduced chewing stress during development (Rose 2009: 296).”

The implications for orthodontic treatment is to treat dental crowding not with tooth extraction and orthodontics but rather with dentofacial orthopedics and orthodontics in order to increase alveolar bone growth during growth and development (Rose 2009: 297).

A prescription for straighter teeth may also be a diet of more tough and fibrous foods for young children while their jaws are still developing. The reason is that foods that require more mastication seem to stimulate more alveolar bone growth in the maxilliary and mandibular dental bridges in both cross-cultural cross-generation studies and in animal studies, too (Rose 2009:296).

Dental anthropologist Robert Corruccini gathered 20 years of research on the cross-cultural and generational differences in occlusial (alignment) anomalies and concluded that reduced chewing stress in childhood produced jaws that were too small for the teeth despite the ubiquitous trend in dental size and reduction since the advent of agriculture (Rose 2009:296). Corrucini reviewed several previously unpublished cross-cultural studies that showed a significant increase in malocclusion in younger generations who consumed a more refined commercial diet than that of their grandparents who consumed a traditional diet of coarser and more fibrous foods (Rose 2009: 296).

Diet has long been associated with dental health. Weston Price’s 1939 cross-cultural study of 11 human diets titled Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects were one of several early cross-cultural studies that pointed to traditional indigenous diets rather than inherited characteristics to be a greater contributing factor to general and dental health.

Robert Corrucini, a dental anthropologist, labeled malocclusion as a “disease of civilization (Rose 2009:299).” Once again, it seems that a Western or industrialized diet characterized by processed, low fiber, high fat, and high sugar foods may be to blame for another modern health malady besides diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity and so on: crooked teeth.

….

Resources

National Institute of Health
2009, “Malocclusion of Teeth”, United States National Institute of Health, retrieved on September 7, 2009, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001058.htm#Causes,%20incidence,%20and%20risk%20factors

Price, Weston A.
1939 Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects, La Mesa, CA: Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, Pp. 524.

Rose, Jerome C. and Richard D. Roblee
2009 “Origins of Dental Crowding and Malocclusions: An Anthropological Perspective,” Compendium of Continuing Education in Dentistry, June 2009, vol. 30., No.5., Pp. 292-300.

Wellsphere
2009, “Nutrition and physical Degeneration,” WellSphere, retrieved on September 7, 2009, from http://www.wellsphere.com/general-medicine-article/nutrition-and-physical-degeneration/22844

Heritage seeds as a sustainable solution to water scarcity, food scarcity & global warming

TanzaniaAs a sustainability response to climate change and increased desertification, one strategy that you don’t hear about a lot is farming using heritage seeds. Heritage food plants are plants native to an area that propagate naturally (as apposed to sterile hybrids or patented genetically modified seeds). Heritage seeds are culturally and biologically native to many arid and drought-afflicted regions such as the American Southwest, northern India and East Africa. As such, they are more likely to be adopted (or re-adopted) and grown successfully by these rural communities as a food source. And, as a native food they can be considered a validation of a local native cultural heritage and identity as well as a practical and drought-resistant agricultural product. The photo above is of Angela Kirwin, KIRF Co-Founder, at a soil remediation project in Arusha, Tanzania. Local farmers are trying to re-claim farm land ruined by soil erosion by planting indigenous trees and food plant varieties.

The effects of global warming have caused widespread droughts, malnutrition and starvation. An estimated 25,000 people (adults and children) die every day from hunger and related causes according to the United Nations Food Programme (2009).

As radio journalist Sam Eaton reported in his segment titled “Sowing seeds that will take the heat” from the “Sustainability Desk” for Marketplace on National Public Radio, “…as a warming climate threatens mainstream agriculture, these unique genes in these little known seeds could turn out to be crucial for feeding the planet. (Eaton 2009).”

Unfortunately, heritage or non-hybrid seeds are becoming rare: in 1981 there were anestimated 5,000 non-hybrid or heritage seed varieties, by 1998 the number has gone down to about 600 according to environmental activist Barbara Kingsolver, co-author of the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Kingsolver 2007:52).This is compared to an estimated 80,000 plant species that have been eaten in human history according to Indian crop ecologist and heritage food conservationist Vandana Shiva (Kingsolver 2007:49).

Today, due to industrial monoculture farming, three-quarters of all human food comes from just eight species. And, of those eight species, most come from only three plants: “genetically modified corn, soy, and canola” according to Kingsolver (Kingsolver 2007:49). Furthermore, 98 percent of seed sales worldwide are handled by only six very huge and very politically influential companies: Monsanto, Syngenta, Mitsubishi and Dow (Kingsolver 2007:50).These food plants are produced for traits more suitable for large scale agricultural production and distribution: increased yield, longer shelf life, and uniformity of size. Unfortunately many are not produced with survival traits that can adapt to climate change such as drought resistance. What is even more troubling is that many of these hybrid plants are sterile so (1) they can’t adapt to changes in climate and evolve more successful strains and (2) these plants increase the costs of farming for economically disadvantaged communities who depend on these seeds for food and income.

Ethnobiologist Gary Paul Nabhan is one of many scientists, botanists, and backyard gardeners who are committed to saving indigenous plant food varieties by collecting and sharing their heritage seeds. They do this for many reasons: in response to global climate change, to preserve native traditions and foods, for more nutritious plant food varieties, and for potential pharmaceutical discoveries. From a business point of view, heritage seeds seem to answer the market’s current demand for organic, flavorful and exotic and heritage (also known as “heirloom”) varieties of plant foods. And, consumers are increasingly willing to pay more for them, too.

Gary Nabhan has been writing about the correlation between chronic diseases such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes and the consumption of non-traditional processed and fast foods by Native Americans in the Southwest for over thirty years (Nahban 2004: backcover). He published some of his findings about the correlations between health, adaptation and diet in the book Some Like It Hot: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity. As Nabhan explains, “…each ethnic cuisine reflects the evolutionary history of a particular human population as it responded to the availability of edible plants and animals through local foraging and through trade, and to the prevailing frequencies of diseases, droughts, and plagues within each population’s homeland (Nabhan 2004:1)”

Nabhan is the co-founder of the Renewing American’s Food Traditions (RAFT) Alliance, a program of Slow Food USA, and is the Director of Center of Sustainable Environment at the Southwest Center of the University of Arizona (SlowFoodUSA). He is working with other scientists such as the Suzanne Nelson for Native Seeds/SEARCH to distribute seeds of native Southwest crops such as maize and beans to local Native American farmers in the hot Southwest deserts (Eaton 2009).

Another scientist who studies the correlation between diet and indigenous diets is medical doctor Daphne Miller. She writes extensively about the Tarahuma Native Americans (“Running Indians”) who live in the Copper Canyon network of Northern Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains in her book The Jungle Effect: The Healthiest Diets from Around the World…. They subsist on native foods they have cultivated for centuries. Among the Tarahuma communities who abide by their traditional culture, subsistence and eat their traditional foods, there are virtually no instances of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. These same chronic diseases plague neighboring Native American communities in northern Mexico, Arizona, and New Mexico who have adopted a Western diet of processed and fast food. For the details, recipes and sources of heritage foods check out Miller’s book.

So as long as the costs and yields of heritage seeds are similar as those of hybrid and GMO seeds, they seem like a good option for local small farmers and for increasing our food supply’s resilience to the changing climate.  According to journalist Sam Eaton, these heritage seeds are thriving in the desert heat while the conventional hybrid varieties are not. Sometimes progress is looking backward and re-claiming traditional ways in order to adapt and survive change. Native seeds are once again producing good food in their native land.

Resources

Easton, Sam
2009“Sowing seeds that will take the heat”, Marketplace
, National Public Radio. http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/08/25/pm-seed-savers/, accessed August 27, 2009.

Kingsolver, Barbara with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver
2007 Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life,
New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, pp. 370.

Miller, Daphne
2008 The Jungle Effect: the healthiest diets from around the world–why they work and how to make them work for you,
New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, pp. 370.

Nabhan, Gary Paul
2004 Some Like It Hot: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity,
Washington, DC: Island Press, pp. 232.

Native Seeds/SEARCH
2009
Southwestern Endangered Aridland Resource Clearing House. http://www.nativeseeds.org/ accessed September 2, 2009.

Seed Savers Exchange
2009 A
non-profit organization of gardeners dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds. http://www.seedsavers.org/ accessed September 2, 2009.

Slow Food USA
2009
Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT) Alliance. http://www.slowfoodusa.org/index.php/programs/details/raft/ accessed August 27, 2009.

United Nations World Food Programme
2009Hunger Stats. http://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats accessed September 1, 2009.