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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Marin Clean Energy Interview with Jamie Tuckey

This past week, I had the opportunity to interview Jamie Tuckey, the Communications Director at Marin Clean Energy. Marin Clean Energy is a public, not-for-profit electricity provider, founded in 2010, that utilizes renewable energy resources for electricity. The green organization has partnered up with PG&E, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, to provide citizens of Marin County with “clean energy”. So far, Marin Clean Energy is unique in that it is the first and only operating program of its kind in California. Although many Marin residents do not realize it, they are already customers of Marin Clean Energy. Back in 2010, when MCE and PG&E partnered up, all Marin customers were automatically switched over to MCE’s “light green” program, which means that some of their electricity comes from renewable resources, such as wind or solar power. Customers received a notice about the switch and were able to, and are still able to, opt out of using MCE if they choose. However, if customers like the idea of utilizing renewable energy resources, they can take their “green-ness” a step further and switch to the “deep green” program. The “deep green” program allows for 100% of their electricity to come from renewable resources.
My first question for Ms. Tuckey was, “What are the benefits, both environmental and economic, of switching to Marin Clean Energy?” Tuckey, both knowledgeable and opinionated about the matter, provided a very informative answer about the advantages of using renewable resources rather than fossil fuels. In a day and age where society is rapidly exhausting energy resources and consuming massive amounts of electricity on a daily basis, there are “huge environmental benefits,” says Tuckey, to taking advantage of abundant and unending supplies, which in this case come from the wind and the sun. Another advantage for the environment, as a result of using clean energy, is that these resources are “nonpolluting,” says Tuckey, and will end up “reducing greenhouse gas emissions and our carbon footprint.” With the burning of fossil fuels, greenhouse gas emissions have been on the rise for a long time and it has led to an “increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.” By harnessing wind and solar energy, there is a great decrease in the gas emissions, therefore reducing the carbon footprint that we make in the world. Answering the economic facet of the question, Tuckey described how there are numerous benefits not only for the customer, but also for the community. By staying on the “light green” program, Tuckey explained that it is a “little bit cheaper than regular PG&E and you will save $1 a month.” However, even more financial advantages are available from switching to the “deep green” program where customers will save an average of “$7 to $14 a month.” All in all, Tuckey explains, “The rates at MCE are stable” and don’t fluctuate much.

            In the Marin community, MCE has actively provided people with jobs and will continue to do so with future projects. Tuckey recounts how in 2012, Marin Clean Energy partnered up with other local businesses to build “the largest solar project in Marin County at the San Rafael Airport.” Through the project, twenty new local jobs were created. MCE has plans for future similar projects, which will also provide jobs for people. The organization is very involved in aiding and giving back to the Marin community. Along with supporting other local environmental organizations through sponsorships and donations, MCE “reinvests a portion of ratepayer dollars to fund local projects and programs.” It is evident that Marin Clean Energy cares not only about their cause, but the causes of other organizations as well.

 I continued the interview by asking Tuckey whether or not, in the future, she envisions clean energy being the primary source of energy in America. Tuckey has a very optimistic outlook on the matter and said, “I do, I hope so… I can see we are already making the shift.” Already, in the last three years, MCE’s “light green” program has steadily grown to incorporate more renewable energy. In the beginning, customers on the “light green” program were provided with 27% clean energy and the rest from PG&E. The next year, the percentage of clean energy increased to over 30%, and now the percentage of clean energy is 50%. The numbers have steadily increased because of the demand; customers want to be environmentally aware. At this rate, Tuckey believes that there is a great possibility that the trend will continue and result in more and more people switching over to clean energy. Already, Marin Clean Energy is expanding its service over to the Richmond area and will gain thousands of more customers. So far, there are six states with programs similar to Marin Clean Energy, and for clean energy to be more accessible to more people these programs must spread. The key is community outreach and advertising to get the word out there. Tuckey recognizes that to obtain renewable energy resources is a bit more expensive than burning fossil fuels, mostly due to that fact, “it is a hurdle to get funding and financing.” However, the end result of reducing pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and our carbon footprint would be well worth the trouble of getting funding. Another reason the venture is worthwhile is because there is a diverse supply of renewable energy types that are easily harnessed with the correct equipment. Above all, these resources are plentiful and unending, unlike the fossil fuels that are primarily used.
Fortunately in Marin, we are automatically provided with this program and benefit from it greatly. The majority of people in the rest of the country aren’t provided with such a luxury because it is hard to find funding and some people find the issue controversial. Tuckey believes that an organization such as Marin Clean Energy works best on a local level because of all the local benefits it has, such as giving back to the community and reinvesting money in local businesses. However, she says that it can be designed to work on a larger scale, which is what would have to happen for clean energy to be the primary source of energy in the country. Ultimately, Tuckey strongly supports switching to clean energy because it will have both environmental and economic benefits for the customer and the community.  
-Olivia Poletti

Vegan Eating and Cooking by Najiba and Usama Azam

As part of the Teen Media Program, we interviewed Patti Brietman from Before learning about Patti and Marin Veg we didn’t know anything about being a vegetarian or vegan, but after the interview we learned that vegan diets are good for our environment and for animals.

Patti Brietman is a vegan who believes eliminating meat and dairy from your diet is a good way to lead a more healthy life. Patti says there is no time like the present to start eating less animal products and eating more vegetables. Patti told us there are 3 main reasons that she chooses to be vegan. First, it is cruel to animals, second it is bad for the environment, and third if you eat a proper diet it will be more healthy later in life. Patti says if you don’t want to eat a meat you should learn some vegan recipes and meals based on fresh vegetables and juices are a very good way to stay healthy.

Patti told us that the amount of animals raised meat, eggs, and milk is negatively impacting global climate change. The class learned a lot of things about trying a vegetarian diet and thatit may be a good way to stay healthy later in life.

Teen Media Program Wraps Up at Tamalpais High

The Team Media Program had the pleasure of working with students from Ms. Bruno's class at Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley this winter. The final two classes students were able to write and record their 2 minute radio stories, some of which will air on KALW (San Francisco) and KWMR (West Marin).

Students in the class were able to improve their critical thinking and communications skills by researching various topics, developing questions, learning new facts about environmental issues, discussing the importance of blogging and social media, and writing, voicing, and editing their radio stories.

The final class included a cupcake send off which is pictured above! Student stories will be airing soon and available through our website,

Monday, March 18, 2013

I and my two fellow intern reporters are interviewing Al at Good Earth in Fairfax, a market for organic, natural foods that aren’t GMOs. 

I ask Al how he would advise anyone who is going vegetarian for the first time what they should do. He says  that going vegetarian is the #1 best thing you could do for our planet. Cows cost the planet a lot of resources that are saved by eating vegetarian. Vegetarianism lessens your eco-footprint. Al says that at first a prospective vegetarian should gradually phase out all meat. Al found that when he was younger, he was a "meat and potatoes boy, then in my 20s I had a realization and stopped eating meat."
Then I ask whether he thinks Vegetarianism is a social or personal thing.  Al believes It could be both, but he thinks it is more of a societal thing because the American society is very meat based. I think that it is personal because unless you were raised with vegetarians, then you don’t grow up being a vegetarian.
To lighten the atmosphere, I ask what is his favorite food is in the store. I am interested because for many people, health food can be intimidating. Al says he really likes the wok prepared food because it has so many varieties of things to put in, from vegetables to meat. He also likes to eat the salads, big green ones, every day. In fact, he lost weight that he had gained on a vacation eating mainly those salads.

Vegetarianism and veganism are my favorite "causes" because I am one of them and also because it helps the environment.  Eating meat contributes to greenhouse gases and has been linked to cancer, heart disease, and many other diseases like gout. Vegetarians and vegans have been shown to live longer and have reduced risk of diseases by studies from Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. For those who can’t live without meat, there are fake meats available that taste like the real thing.
A study by Harvard showed that regular meat consumption raised colon cancer risk by 300 percent. In today’s world of high cancer, diabetes, and heart disease rates there may seem that there is nothing to do to prevent these. What many people don’t know is that there is a way to avoid these diseases. The journal Cancer, Epidemology, Biomarkers, and Prevention,  did a recent study where they looked at  69,000 people  for  more than four years, finding that vegans had a sixteen percent decreased risk of all cancers. Dr Caldwell Esselstyn published a book on how to defeat heart disease permanently, citing his twelve year study on critical heart disease patients who were in such poor physical condition that they could not walk the length of a city block without needing to sit down. All of the members of the study reversed their heart disease in less than a year on a vegan diet.    Other studies have shown that  non meat eaters are forty percent less likely to develop cancer than meat eaters.

On the environment, vegetarians and vegans have much less of an impact than meat eaters. Cows that are later rendered into beef and hamburgers are one of the greatest causes of methane levels in the atmosphere. Methane is a recognized contributor to global warming and climate change. Farmed animals including pigs are the top consumers of water in the US according to PETA- that is more water than the city of Los Angeles which is in a desert. Being Vegetarian or Vegan  means that you will not contribute to the crisis of global warming, be less at risk of cancer, and live longer.

Blog by Sarah Denis, EarthScope Reporter
                Good Earth: A Model of Responsible Business Practices

Last Thursday, March 7th, we were able to interview one of the Marin pioneers of the health food movement. Al Baylacq, Partner at Good Earth Natural Foods, INC. plays a major role at Fairfax’s acclaimed Good Earth market. Their mission statement is “to help the people of planet Earth by providing the finest natural and organic foods.” They are not only satisfying this goal within the community of Fairfax, but have involved themselves in a larger movement affecting the entire food industry.

One of the primary means in which Good Earth achieves this goal is through their active participation in advocating the government mandated labeling of GMOs. A GMO is a genetically modified organism and is a relatively new and controversial innovation in the food industry. The major concern that Good Earth and it’s associates in the cause have found is that they still don’t know what effect GMO’s may hold on human health. . What is particularly concerning is that even within the limited studies that have been conducted regarding the effects of GMOs, approximately 90% of the research comes from the industry itself. The only substantial evidentiary proof they have is that since the surgence of GMOS in 2000, gluten intolerance has grown.

However, due to the biased nature of the research, one can only speculate as to it’s effects and as the practice is new, the long term effects are inherently unknown as well. Furthermore, two of the largest claims of the industry- that GMO’s produce higher yields and less pesticides have proven to be blatant lies. The team fighting GMO’s feel opposed to selling altered food with unknown to clients and, more importantly, feel as though at minimum, they should inform their customers. Enabling informed decisions is one of the largest goals of Good Earth.
Unfortunately, this decision to inform and help consumers isn’t one that comes quickly to many large corporations. Working at Good Earth, Al is able to interact with the people who his food is either helping or harming every day. Meanwhile in many large corporations, consumers are distant from decision makers and mere figures in the profit equation to be manipulated. Due to this distance and the abstract role that customers hold, there is often an insensitivity to the result the products. In many cases, the profit motive overrides morals. One of the largest beliefs that dictates the action of Al and his associates is the notion of “doing the right thing first”. He compares the unfortunate profit motive present in most of the food industry to the one in health care and believes that the well being of the individual one serves must be the foremost priority.
One of the major deterrents to people adopting healthier diets is a matter of resource. Health food is generally only prevalent in relatively affluent, educated areas and even within those regions, is generally expensive. Al also explained that he doesn’t see organic food getting any cheaper due to current energy costs and government subsidies. However, the increased price in production and correlating increased sale price (and the consequential risk of less consumption that entails) is a risk that health food stores are willing to take if it means securing the health of its customers.

We Only Need 5%
Despite the monopolizing power that these corporations may hold, Al reassured us that the situation is far from hopeless. He explained that a mere 5% rejection of a product by customers has proven to substantiate action and adaption on the part of the manufacturer.

The store has employed various methods of labeling their foods. One example that Al gave was on the health status of different fish they sold; they ranked each manufacturer from green to red. Al explained that while the ‘red’ items may have been less expensive, they would remain on the shelf. This corroborates their belief that informing the public would help decrease demand of unhealthy foods and would consequently pressure food corporations to adapt their products to make them more healthy for the human body and environment. He feels that one of the most efficient means of spreading this awareness has been through the social media. Goodearth and fellow GMO-fighters are confident that, because the convention food industry has been flat in sales, it wouldn’t require a large movement for them to rid their products of GMOs.

Vegetarianism: A Powerful Green Choice
Another way Al suggested we can help in the movement towards becoming ‘green’ is to become a vegetarian. He explained that in purchasing food we must consider that ratio of input to output. For example, the water required in the entire process of growing a cow for slaughter in one year (including cultivation of it’s food) is more than some entire small village use in a year. Another example of a, more sustainable, yet still troubling ratio, is the salmon. The approximate input to output ratio for salmon production is 3:1.

However, Al understands that the prospect of eliminating meat entirely is not a reasonable one for many. Because of this, he suggested eating more chicken- whose maintenance and production requires less energy than other animals. He also recommended to only eat grassfed cow and wild fish to reduce our environmental impact with meat consumption.

Al reiterated the power that we consumers have be stating that “consumers vote with pocketbooks.” While Al and his partners in the food industry fight behind the scenes to enable our informed decisions, all we have to do is pay closer attention and sacrifice those extra dollars to support companies taking initiatives to ensure that only healthy products enter our bodies.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Good Earth Interview

             Last week, my fellow interns and I had the pleasure of interviewing Al Baylacq, one of the partners of Good Earth Natural Foods. Good Earth is an all natural food store located in Fairfax, California whose motto is “ORGANIC TO THE CORE SINCE 1969”. For most of his life, Baylacq has been a passionate advocate for organic and natural foods and has continued to actively spread his message to promote a healthy lifestyle. In the Marin community, Baylacq has been a strong proponent and part of the movement to provide healthy, organic lunches for children in school. One of the fundamentals of the healthy school lunch campaign is “Anti-GMOs” in food. Baylacq is a staunch advocate of the campaign against GMOs being used in any foods.

GMOS, which is a term short for genetically modified organisms, are produced from a biotechnology process that combines the DNA of different species to create variations of genes found in plants, animals, bacteria and viruses. Essentially, the process is used to attain and create desired traits and characteristics in organisms. In the agricultural industry, GMOs are primarily used to create and sustain transgenic plants that will supposedly produce a larger yield, are more nutritious, and are more resistant to natural disasters, such as a drought. The crops GMOs are found most widespread in include corn and soybeans. 

When asked what has shaped his views against the use of GMOs in food, Baylacq was very knowledgeable about the topic and confident in his answer. Essentially the answer to the question boils down to a matter of science. “The justified use of GMOs,” says Baylacq, “is unproven in terms of safety.” He continued to explain how a protein manufactured in a laboratory, and not naturally occurring in nature, is not a wholesome product to put into your body. GMOs were first introduced in foods in 1994 and were popularized in food in the consumer market in the early 2000s. Since then, the amount of GMOs found in foods has skyrocketed and the lab-created genes can be found in most processed food. Unfortunately for the customer, most companies do not label their products as “containing GMOs” and these customers have unknowingly been consuming them for years. The biotechnology industries that produce these foods try to combat the criticism and fears that their products are not safe by releasing scientific studies proving that they are in fact safe. However, Baylacq explains, what the majority of people do not realize is that the biotechnology industries are the ones conducting the studies themselves and skewing the data in their favor. The studies that are supposedly conducted to make the consumers feel safe buying GMO ridden products are in fact manipulating them with biased and false information. This is one of the reasons that Good Earth maintains an all-natural and organic mantra, so that their customers know exactly what they are buying and putting into their bodies.

            In further questioning, I asked Baylacq what effects GMOs have on the human body. His answer corresponded directly to the previous question, saying, “We need more long term research, and not just from the biotech industries.” Since genetically modified food has been on the market for just over a decade, not enough research has been conducted to discover its long-term effects. So far, studies have only been carried out on mice and not humans. Baylacq insists that if a long-term study was conducted, even if only on mice, a great deal of information could be learned about the effects the GMOs have on humans. Already, research has tied allergic reactions to GMOs in food. Likewise, in the years since GMOs were introduced to the food market, research has indicated a rise in gluten free intolerance, autism, and decreases in brain activity; which Baylacq believes is quite possibly linked to GMOs. In Baylacq’s opinion, these effects are not surprising when people are consuming proteins that are genetically manufactured instead of naturally occurring. Since GMOs are a manufactured product, research and time has shown that they can stay in your stomach, as your stomach cannot break down a synthetic protein. He says that the key to protecting yourself is educating yourself; being able to identify the ingredients that are indicators of GMOs. The primary ingredients that indicate GMOs in the product include corn or any kind of modified corn (i.e. corn starch), soy lecithin, canola oil, and cottonseed oil.

Despite the supposedly harmful effects of genetically modified food in the body, Baylacq believes that food is also a healing power. There is an old saying, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” from Hippocrates, the Greek Father of Medicine. When asked his stance on the saying and its relevance to his life, Baylacq shared how firmly he believes in its validity. He explained, “What you eat directly influences the way you feel and your health.” Through his job, Baylacq has encountered many people whose health was transformed by a shift in diet. In many instances, Baylacq explains, focusing on the food you are putting into your body and avoiding the bad stuff, mainly GMOs, can directly help improve poor health symptoms. Baylacq suggests trying a raw food diet as he has witnessed its positive effects. In his own personal experience, Baylacq recounts how on a recent trip to Hawaii he gained about fifteen pounds because a lot of the food he ate contained high amounts of sugar and fats. Upon returning to Marin, he made a shift in his diet and ate greens and vegetables for lunch everyday, exercising the same amount as usual; and the pounds shed away quickly. He noted what a simple transformation in his diet he made and the positive effects it had on his health, highlighting the importance of a healthy lifestyle. He also emphasized the benefits of  “avoiding a high sugar, processed food diet.” The key, in Baylacq’s opinion, to a healthy lifestyle is eating fresh foods that are dense in good nutrients like fiber and vitamins. Ultimately, Baylacq’s mission, along with his partners at Good Earth Natural Foods, is to inform customers of what they are putting in their bodies, to warn against the purchase of foods containing GMOs, and to preach having a healthy diet that will result in a healthier lifestyle. 

-Olivia Poletti