Going Solar in NY – My First Solar Panel

Going Solar in NY - My First Solar PanelA long-time goal of mine has been to live off the grid. I’m not there yet, but a few months ago, I took a big step toward realizing that dream. I bought my first solar panel and began the process of going solar. Continue reading

Keep the Vampires Out of Your House

Keep the Vampires Out of Your HouseI really had ya going with that title didn’t I? The vampires I’m actually referring to are the appliances in your house that use “standby” power. They’re often referred to as vampires because they suck energy from your home the way vampires suck blood. 

Many of our household items such as computers and televisions are always set on “standby” when they’re plugged in. They’re never actually completely turned off and therefore continue to suck up power (sometimes as much as 20 watts each) at all hours of the day. Over time that extra energy being sucked up by your appliance vampires adds up substantially.

The biggest energy vampires in your house are usually the TV (especially the newer LCD and plasma TV’s), Computers, Microwaves, Video gaming systems, and Cell phone/tablet/power tool chargers that are left plugged in even when they’re not charging a device.

The cure? Unplug your electrical devices when they’re not in use. This saves a ton of energy over time, therefore reducing pollution, as well as saving you money on your energy bill! It’s a win-win situation; go green, save green.

Sometimes it can be a struggle to unplug all your devices, however, as they may be hard to reach. An easy solution is getting a power strip. You can plug related devices such as TV, DVD player, and gaming console into the same strip, since you’ll generally be using those devices at the same time. Then once you’re finished, just flip the power strip to off, preventing those items from going to standby mode, and keeping the energy vampires out of your house.

Copyright © Amber Reifsteck ~ The Woodland Elf

Homemade Red Lily Beetles Deterrent

Homemade Red Lily Beetles Deterrent If you grow lilies, you’ve probably noticed red lily beetles chewing on them. Instead of using poisonous commercial sprays to deter them, make a homemade red lily beetles deterrent from something you probably already have in your kitchen. Continue reading

7 Commonly Genetically Modified Foods

Genetically modified foodsWhile almost any food can unfortunately be genetically modified these days, there are some foods that are more likely than others to be genetically modified. Here are 7 of the most commonly genetically modified foods: Continue reading

rbST – The Truth About Monsanto

rbst monsantoWith the controversy surrounding the labeling of GMOs, a name that’s getting a lot of attention is Monsanto (the same company responsible for rbST). Monsanto is currently running a large ad campaign trying to discourage the labeling GMOs, touting them as safe. I will be following up this post next week with a post about GMOs themselves, but for now let’s take a closer look at the Monsanto company itself.

GMO labeling is not the first time Monsanto has tried to put profits before people. The following is an essay I wrote 14 years ago about the approval of rbST, and it still has very pertinent information concerning the sleazy Monsanto company.

rbST – really bad STuff

Monsanto would have you believe that bovine hormone rbST or rBGH is safe. It is a hormone that was developed to force cows to provide more milk. The truth, however, is that Monsanto bribed people to ignore certain studies so the public would buy products with rbST, believing it was safe. This hormone is actually dangerous and disease causing and was only approved because big companies like Monsanto have connections.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved rbST in 1993. Supposedly rbST had gone through all the necessary testing to prove it was safe. However, rbST is not quite as safe as Monsanto and the FDA claim. The European Union Scientific Committee found some serious health risks connected with products containing rbST, such as increase in certain cancers and tumor growth in people. The Health Canada study found that cows treated with rbST are prone to leg ailments, shorter lives, reproductive problems and mastitis.

To ensure approval of rbST, Monsanto concealed information and bribed people to withhold their knowledge of rbST’s dangers. Case in point, Monsanto had to perform a study on rats before the drug could be approved. A regulation cancer test mandates a drug be tested for two years on hundreds of rats. Monsanto’s hormone was tested on only thirty rats for ninety days.

The results of Monsanto’s rat study, as reported to the public, were fabricated, saying that rbST was safe. In actuality, Monsanto found that even during the short ninety-day test period, male rats developed thyroid cysts and showed prostate disorders. Monsanto never conducted the full, two-year cancer tests, but the FDA approved rbST anyway.

Why would the FDA approve a drug that had not been properly tested? The answer is the old adage, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Monsanto was set to make a fortune from rbST, so they used their powerful connections to ensure its approval.

Monsanto’s influence with Tony Coehlo on the Democratic National Committee persuaded Mike Espy, the Agricultural Secretary at that time, to favor Monsanto. Also some Monsanto workers resigned from their jobs and commenced working for the FDA to help guarantee the approval of rbST. After rbST had been approved, those workers quit working for the FDA and resumed their jobs as Monsanto.

In effort to have rbST approved in Canada, Monsanto offered a bribe of two million dollars to Canadian government officials, but rbST was not approved. Furthermore, Monsanto even tried to “buy” veterinarians. Some veterinarians received “kickbacks” when they encouraged the used of rbST.

After all the dangers that had been found with rbST the FDA still approved the drug as safe. The FDA is a subsidiary of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Could it also be a coincidence that the same USDA (a tax-funded agency) receives a five-percent kickback on sales Monsanto’s sterile seeds?

With all the covert information that was twisted, and considering all the people that used their positions or were bought, is rbST really safe?
Copyright © Amber Reifsteck ~ The Woodland Elf

A Few Thoughts on Fracking

We recently had a discussion about fracking at work, and my coworker Calvin had this to say about his experiences with fracking in Pennsylvania:

I went to college in Mansfield PA, and have many friends still down in the area. The past few times I have gone back to what used to be a great, quiet, Pennsylvania town is now built up with hotels and has constant loud truck traffic. When sitting at the bar I used to frequent in college it was several trucks a minute going through town (oil trucks). Not to mention the devastation to the land. Continue reading

Fracking: Short-Term Benefits, Long-Term Catastrophe

With the current possibility of New York State being opened to fracking, the debate about whether the benefits outweigh the risks is a hot topic. There are extremes on both sides, with some people claiming that there are no benefits to fracking, and others claiming there are no adverse effects from fracking. The truth is, fracking has both benefits and detriments. The problem is that, while the benefits are certainly instant gratification, the long-term impacts are often catastrophic.

First and foremost, the greatest benefit of fracking is that it will immediately provide jobs. What is often overlooked, however, is how many jobs it will undoubtedly destroy in the long run. Fracking consumes huge amounts of drinking water and uses toxic chemicals. When spills occur (which is inevitable in any man-made operation), those toxic chemicals are released into the environment, right into the path of drinking water sources. Aside from the hazardous chemicals used in the process, fracking also releases naturally occurring deposits of dangerous substances, including radioactive materials, found in high levels in the Marcellus Shale where the NY fracking would take place. There will be many sites flunking their radon tests if fracking is allowed in New York.

Such chemicals have ended up in the water sources at hundreds of places in Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Colorado, which has suffered over three-hundred spills of chemically contaminated fracking waste water. In Pavilion, Wyoming, the EPA found high levels of cancer-causing substances that are often used in fracking, in the water supply of over forty homes. Residents in this city have also contracted a number of neurological ailments from exposure to these chemicals. The residents of this city had fresh clean water until the fracking began, at which point their water began to turn black as well as smelling and tasting like gas.

Perhaps the most alarming fact is that fracking is exempt from the Clean Water Act of 2005. Fracking companies are exempt from disclosing what toxic chemicals they use in the process. In short, they can pump what whatever toxins they want into the drinking water, reap the profits from the gas produced, and be long gone while the residents are left to deal with the aftereffects.

Due to these ecological impacts, people who will be adversely affected include, but are not limited to, farmers whose livelihood depends greatly upon water availability. Waiters, cooks, and others in the restaurant industry when tourism rates fall due to polluted water sources. Hotels workers for the same reason. People involved in real estate will be affected, as banks know the impacts of fracking and are reluctant to loan to those in the vicinity of fracking wells. Not to mention the fact that property values plummet in the wake of fracking fallout due to contamination.

Gas is not a gift that keeps on giving. With our current rate of consumption, it is something that will inevitably run out. Therefore it is ludicrous to destroy so many lives for a few extra years worth of what is ultimately a finite resource. The ones who profit are the ones who will be least affected by the aftermath of fracking; the gas companies. The rest of us pay for the gas companies’ greed.

People often tout fracking as a way of gaining energy independence. This is a misleading claim, however. Fracking produces natural gas, a liquid that is used largely for home heating. America’s larger energy consumption, however, is petroleum. This oil is used in everything from cosmetics to plastics to medications and of course is the gasoline that fuels American automobiles. In fact America consumes more oil than any other country in the world. The oil for this country’s guzzling appetite is fueled largely by other countries such as the Middle East which hold the largest deposits of oil. No amount of fracking will change that, and therefore will never lead to energy independence.

The natural gas produced by fracking is claimed by supporters to be a “cleaner” energy source, and while it is cleaner than oil (most of which doesn’t come from this country anyway), it actually leaks more emissions than coal. Robert Howarth, a professor at Cornell University conducted a study on the emissions produced by natural gas and found that “Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20 percent greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years.”

Additionally, hydrofracking has been found to cause earthquakes, just one more way fracking will harm people and their properties. Cuadrilla Resources, a British hydrofracking company actually admitted that their fracking well did cause multiple, minor earthquakes. Unlike seismic events on the west coast, where the damage is generally more localized, quakes on the east coast are often felt throughout an area ten times larger than the west coast, due to the fact that the east coast ground is colder and more intact. East coast quakes are often felt throughout several states, making the damage area more widespread. Also the locations of many fault lines on the east coast are unknown, making it all the more difficult for fracking companies to avoid. Just one more reason to keep fracking out of New York.

In the end, I think there’s one phrase that sums up the situation. Don’t frack with my water supply! Don’t frack with New York!




National Geographic Magazine

Cornell University

60 minutes


The American Petroleum Institute

The US Energy Information Administration

The Daily Messenger Newspaper

Pennsylvania Newspapers

Copyright © Amber Reifsteck ~ The Woodland Elf

No More Plastic Bags

When it comes to things like food packaging, plant fiber bags are a biodgradable alternative to traditional plastic.

Plastic is one of the least environmentally friendly things around. It takes oil to produce which means possibly destroying pristine environment in order to obtain the oil. It runs the risk of possible oil spills once the oil is obtained and needs to be transported. The process to turn the oil into the plastic often pollutes the air. And finally, once the plastic is made, it eventually ends up in landfills where it sits for thousands of years due to being non-biodegradable.

Of course there are some things with which plastic is a necessity, but there are also many things where plastic does NOT need to be used. Plastic bags are probably the biggest waste of all when it comes to the things plastic is used in, due to the fact that it is so unnecessary. Aside from all the negatives listed above regarding plastic, plastic bags are also an eyesore when they blow all over the neighborhood. To help reduce this, more and more people are fortunately turning to the fabric shopping bags, which as an added benefit, are stronger than traditional plastic bags anyway.

So getting rid of plastic shopping bags are an easy fix, but do we even need plastic bags at all? In some very rare cases (like hospitals) yes, but in most cases, absolutely not. We don’t even need plastic bags to keep food fresh. There are several companies now producing eco-friendly “plastic” bags, which are actually not plastic at all. They look and act like plastic bags to keep things fresh, but are in fact made of plant fiber and are therefore 100% biodegradable.

I recently discovered a company that uses such plant fiber (instead of plastic) to make affordable, strong, flexible, fully biodegradable bags. You honestly wouldn’t know they weren’t plastic without being told. I’d been searching for something along those lines for several years. Being committed to the environment, it always bothered me that I had to package the soaps I sell in little plastic bags to keep them fresh. So when I finally found these, I thought, yippie!! I can sell my eco-friendly soaps in eco-friendly packaging; so when someone throws the bag away, it won’t just sit in a landfill for the next several thousand years. No more plastic bags! And it’s so easy, just changing bags from plastic to plant fiber is a small action that makes a big impact on the environment.

Considering how many items in the average person’s cupboard are packaged in plastic, if more companies began changing their bags from plastic to plant fiber, it would have a HUGE impact. The Sunchips company began offering their snacks in such bags not to long ago. Unfortunately, consumers began lodging the complaint that the biodegradable bags were too noisy. Maybe it’s just me, but a little bit of extra crinkle noise seems a small price to pay for a fully biodegradable “plastic” bag. It would be tons less trash in the landfills and less oil wasted in the production of unnecessary plastic bags. When the plant fiber bags are thrown away, they just disintegrate into nothingness. Environmentally excellent!
Copyright © Amber Reifsteck ~ The Woodland Elf