Walking in Their Footsteps


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David Breashears documents Glacial Recession in the “Rivers of Ice” Exhibition at the MIT Museum

In the early 20th century, a few brave people like George Mallory, Major E.O. Wheeler, and Vittorio Sella donned hobnail boots and risked life and limb to see and photograph the incredible glaciers and vistas of the Himalayas.

Over the last few years, David Breashears, filmmaker, explorer, and mountaineer, has summited Everest five times, painstakingly tracing his predecessors’ steps in order to take virtually the same pictures. As founder of GlacierWorks, his mission is to foster dialogue to encourage better understanding of the mechanisms and consequences of climate change.

Breashears documented glacial recession with a wide-angle lens for Rivers of Ice: Vanishing Glaciers of the Himalaya. His wall size images—displayed for maximum impact—deliver. Awesome are the vast valleys bare of their immense ice blankets in seemingly life size portrayal. Lost are valleys of majestic ice pinnacles reaching 15 stories high. The people in some of the images—who appear to be about the size of gnats—reveal how small the exhibit’s photos are in comparison to reality. The loss of glacial ice, which appears as mere inches or feet on the museum’s walls, is actually hundreds of feet. This experience should stop those that normally dismiss glacial loss alarm as overzealous environmentalism midsentence.

“I’m hopeful that the exhibit challenges the viewers’ assumptions while evoking a deep curiosity and generating a thoughtful and intelligent dialogue and the desire to learn more about the condition of the little-known glaciers at the ‘Roof of the World,’” Breashears said.

Platform for Climate Change Discussion

At the opening on April 13, 2012, MIT Museum Director John Durant walked guests through a 360º display of the Wheeler and Breashears panoramas, discussing the loss of “blue earth.” Simple data plaques lying at the base of each photograph throughout the exhibition report the facts straight—who took the picture, where, when, and what is missing in between. According to Durant, the images show a loss of anywhere from 100 to 300-400 feet glacial recession in places like Rongbuk, West Rongbuk, the Lower Baltoro, and shown below, at Kyetrak.

The exhibit also features the hobnail boots of yesteryear, various cameras, and a specially designed viewer by New York City-based Thinc design that examines the rim of the Janna Glacier in 1899 and 2009. In neon light, the viewer traces the loss of 275 feet of glacial ice for the human eye.

According to the museum website, “The Himalayan glaciers are the subject of intense scientific study, with results that are sometimes in conflict…the exhibition gives us an ideal platform for opening discussions about climate change, about water resources and, fundamentally, about how science works.” The museum plans to hold discussions and post news as it comes during the exhibition, which runs through March 2013.

Breashears endured extreme challenge and hardship to record his images, Durant noted. While scientists and explorers do their work for knowledge, “they also go and do this because it’s fascinating. This area of research is a case in point,” he said.

Following opening night’s guided tours, a sobering and inspiring panel highlighted the reality of Himalayan glacial loss to the more than 1 million people dependent on these watersheds. According to Susan Murcott of the MIT Civil Engineering Department, who focuses on water and sanitation in developing countries and works closely with the Nepalese, adaptive technologies to reserve and water bank are in their early stages. With such intense glacial melt, those that live in the Himalayas must be cognizant that future water scarcity in a warmer world where the glaciers have mostly disappeared is entirely possible.

Kyetrak Glacier, 2009

David Breashears Courtesy of GlacierWorks, 2009

Photo Courtesy of GlacierWorks, 2009

Kyetrak Glacier, 1921

E.O.Wheeler Courtesy of Royal Geographical Society, 1921

Photo Courtesy of Royal Geographical Society, 1921


Why Each Ocean is Now Plastic Soup


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SSU “Friend of the Earth” Charlie Moore, Gyre Researcher, Speaks on 15 Years of Findings During Earth Month

Moore's Study Area

Since he began studying plastics in the Pacific Ocean in 1997, the amount of plastic in the ocean has doubled. Gyre researchers the world over are finding 1 piece per square meter, Moore told an audience at Salem State University on April 11, 2012 as he was honored as a “Friend of the Earth.”

Moore spends weeks at a time on a wind-powered research vessel slowly pulling a manta trawl. He collects and analyzes debris found in the top 20 cm of the Pacific Gyre and he has been to all the major garbage patches—the widespread debris fields of the North Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the concentrated gyres like the North Pacific.

The proof is in Moore’s petri dish. It’s “toxic synthetic drift,” he said; “It’s a compound nature can’t digest.” About 90 percent of the ocean plastics are dispersed throughout the water column. Plastic makes its way to the gyre because a ferocious amount of it is bursting from urban areas all over the globe, or it travels far down the Earth’s great rivers. Or, it’s dumped directly into the ocean as disposal. He has the pictures to prove it.

The problem, or challenge if you are looking from the vantage point of the “Plastic Makes it Possible” camp, is that plastic has no after life. The world’s currents simply carry it all to debris fields in every ocean. Plastic is free to spend an eternity lollygagging and creating mayhem.

Petri Dish from 5 Gyres

Petri Dish from 5 Gyres

Supply and Recycling

In the U.S., we make more plastic than steel—“it’s ubiquitous in our lives,” said Moore. Plastic is the solid state of petroleum, so it never biodegrades. However, plastics break down, releasing a cocktail of chemicals. Some mimic estrogen, others are carcinogens like DDT.

When it comes to recycling, we “downcycle” plastic, he said. The melting point of plastic is the challenge—it’s a lot lower than the temperature needed to kill bacteria. We can’t recycle plastic into food containers.

Moore said food safety law prohibits use of recycled plastic for food containers without a liner. Once materials are fused, packaging is no longer recyclable. Plastics that are recycled can only be used in “lesser” products, like plastic decking and park furniture. He showed how such products are inferior, cracking with pressure and warping with heat.

According to Moore’s recycling colleagues, we’re only recycling “diddly point squat” of plastics—55 percent of all plastic is single-use. We’re the “Throw Away Society,” he said, showing us a 1955 Stackpole image. The market is calling for it.

“Recycling is not taking care of the problem,” Moore said.

Plastic as Predator

Moore’s research shows an ocean covered in plastic. There are floaters, sinkers, and bits awash in the water column. His three main findings are: Continue reading

Non-Toxic Cleaning Tips!


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Since it’s unseasonably warm, maybe you are thinking about spring cleaning early this year. Here are some tips to keep your clean green.

Give Bleach the Boot

Switch from chlorine bleach to widely-available powdered oxygen bleach and white vinegar, which kills 99 percent of bacteria, 82 percent of mold, and 80 percent of viruses.

When chlorine bleach hits hot water, chlorine vapor is released into the air, irritating lungs. Children and animals are especially at risk, and for daily use chlorine bleach is far too dangerous. Production and use of chlorine bleach also creates dangerous toxins. Once loose in the environment, dioxin, furans, and other organochlorines accumulate in both people and animals. Studies have found direct links between dioxin exposure and cancer, birth defects, and developmental and reproductive disorders.

Daily Cleaning Alternatives

There are way too many chemicals in spray cleaners!

For daily clean-up, try a mix of 1 cup white vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon castille or liquid dish soap made from natural saponins, 1 cup water, and a few drops of essential oil in a spray bottle.

In the shower, try hydrogen peroxide. Put a spray nozzle right on a fresh bottle and spray direct. Use an old toothbrush to get in between the tile. For glass shower doors, microwave some undiluted white vinegar and spray on. Let sit for 10 minutes and then scrub with an abrasive sponge.

In the laundry, oxygen bleach does wonders! Also, try adding some lemon juice to whiten. Dry your whites in direct sun for natural bleaching.

Eco-Friendly Automatic Dishwasher Detergent

Phosphate-free detergents don’t contribute to oxygen-depleting algae blooms that choke aquatic life. Chlorine-free detergents eliminate heat-activated vapors from irritating eyes, noses, and snouts.

Natural Clothes Softener

Add 4 tbsp. of white vinegar in your washing machine’s rinse cycle as an alternative to chemical-heavy fabric softeners. No, your clothes will not smell like vinegar, just clean.

Natural Carpet Refresher

Mix 3 tbsp. crushed dried lavender with 1 cup baking soda, sprinkle lightly over carpet, allow to sit briefly, and vacuum.

Green Furniture Polish Alternative

Mix 1 tsp lemon juice and 1 pint vegetable oil and wipe furniture.

Safe Silver Polish

Try non-abrasive plain toothpaste for light cleaning. For a penetrating soak (NOTE: no knives!), line a small plastic bin with aluminum foil and boil enough water to cover 2-3″, then add 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp of baking soda.

Non-Toxic Disinfectant and Sanitizer

Tea Tree Oil diluted with water in a spray bottle is handy at home and at work. For hand sanitizer, look for products that contain all natural Peppermint Oil instead of toxic Triclosan.

More on the WATD Southshore Morning News “Green Quick Fixes 5” Podcast