Church and Waste


On June 18th, Pope Francis gave an unprecedented encyclical.

In the modern Catholic Church, the Pope can send a letter concerning Catholic doctrine to his bishops, patriarchs, primates, and archbishops to influence the faithful on decisions determining matters of faith or discipline.

For years many faith-based religious communities have opposed the idea that humans are responsible for environmental damage causing climate change and that even the idea of climate change is not real.  Pope Francis stated that it is real.  It is caused by humans.  And he stresses that everyone has a moral duty to work towards correcting the effects of climate change in order to avert a worldwide disaster.

He labels us a “Culture of Waste” and places emphasis on our throw away consumerist economies.  He states the need for an economic model which is not a function of capital and production, but which works for the common good.  Our future must be “faced with solidarity and broad vision” and a “social and generational pact” that pools our resources in a collective effort for positive outcome.

Pope Francis threw the full weight of Catholic teaching, and his considerable moral standing, behind the fight for our environment, making the Catholic Church a major player in one of the most important and contentious debates of our times.

The following excerpts are from a variety of religious and non religious news sources:

  • “The Earth, our home, increasingly seems to be transforming itself into an immense garbage dump.” (Reuters)
  • “Never have we mistreated and offended our common home as we have in the last two centuries.” (ThinkProgress)
  • “Unfortunately, if we scan the regions of our planet, we immediately see that humanity has disappointed God’s expectations.” (ThinkProgress)
  • “If the current trend continues, this century could see unheard-of climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with grave consequences for all of us.” (Reuters)
  • “Humanity is called to consciousness of the need for changes in styles of life, of production and consumption, to combat this warming, or, at least, the human causes that produce and exacerbate it.” (Crux)
  • “We grew up thinking we were the earth’s owners and dominators, authorized to pillage it.  Violence in the human heart wounded by sin shows itself also in the symptoms of disease that we see in the soil, the water, the air, and living creatures.” (Crux)
  • The reduction of greenhouse gases requires honesty, courage and responsibility, especially by the most powerful and the most polluting countries.” (The New York Times)
  • “There is in fact a true ‘ecological debt,’ overall between the North and the South, connected to commercial imbalances with consequences in the ecological sphere, surely like the disproportionate use of natural resources historically done by some countries.” (National Catholic Reporter)
  • “We know that it is impossible to sustain the current level of consumption in the more developed countries and the wealthiest parts of society, where the habit of waste and of throwing things away is reaching unprecedented levels.” (ThinkProgress)
  • “An economic and technological development that does not leave the world a better place and with an integral superior quality of life cannot be considered progress.” (The New York Times)
  • “Because of us, thousands of species can no longer give glory to God with their existence, nor can they communicate to us their message.” (National Catholic Reporter)
  • People strongly refute the idea of a Creator on political or intellectual grounds, however, science and religion, which offer different approaches to reality, can enter into an intense and productive dialogue with each other.” (ThinkProgress)

Ah!  Science And Religion in a conversation with each other!

Science And Religion both entail the relationship between man and creation of the world around us.  They also concern humans relating to each other.  Dominion over the earth became a human misstep that developed into a fast moving world economy deeply rooted in more is better and lacking in ethics.   If God gave us the task of protecting the earth, then we misunderstood this task!

Our cultural divisions make us insensitive to waste.  One example: throwing out excess foodstuffs is especially condemnable when people suffer from hunger and malnutrition in every part of the world.  There was a time when our grandparents were very careful not to throw away leftover food.  Consumerism has accustomed us to excess.  Our daily waste of food goes far beyond financial parameters making us unable to judge its value correctly.

In a “Culture of Waste”, Pope Francis argues that natural ecosystems manage to create closed loops of nutrients and energy, while human systems have not yet succeeded in adopting a circular pattern of production which ensures resources for current and future generations.

The encyclical also pays particular attention to the role of toxins and their risk for human health, the environment and climate change.  In both cases, the Pope highlights how our most vulnerable communities tend to be affected the worst by environmental problems so he stresses that we also have a social justice problem.

His letter states that the pollution produced by residue of dangerous waste must be accounted for.  Each year hundreds of millions of tons of waste are generated, much of it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive, from homes and businesses, from construction and demolition sites, from clinical, electronic and industrial sources.  The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.   Industrial waste and chemical products utilized in cities and agricultural areas can lead to bioaccumulation in the organisms of the local population, even when levels of toxins in those places are low like when pollutants concentrate from water into fish or plastics end up in the digestive system of birds.  Frequently no measures are taken until after the contamination has irreversibly affected the system.

These problems are closely linked to our throwaway culture.  Natural ecosystems serve as a desirable model: plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants.  But our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products.  We do not adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations.  Pope Francis calls our attention to the fact that non-renewable resources need limits on their use, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficiency, repurposing and recycling them.   A serious consideration of this issue would be one way of counteracting the throwaway culture which affects our entire planet.

“The time to find global solutions is running out”.  “There is a clear, definitive and urgent ethical imperative to act”.

This Papal encyclical teaches us the importance of collectively nourishing the planet and ourselves.  Science teaches us to use our intelligence and analytical observations to understand the planet and ourselves.  Both can teach us to reach into our higher selves and succeed in the task we were given.

Until next week,    1590709_orig[1]

Garbage Girl


The Wasted Remains


This past weekend, Martin and I set out to locate a Ship Graveyard under the Outerbridge Crossing, between Staten Island and New Jersey on a waterway called the Arthur Kill.  It’s possible to get to the rivers edge by foot and view the rot from shore, but the real treat is getting up close.  Our put-in-point, the Conference House on the South Shore of Staten Island was a bit of a schlep opening to a picturesque  view of Perth Amboy across the river. Its boardwalk and sailing ships moored in front of historic buildings and glistening steeples could rival any New England town for most beautiful port.

The Staten Island side was strewn with litter, old tires, and a no longer working pier.  The water was far from clear.  We paddled up river with the tugs, the barges, the oiler tankers, the sightseeing cruises, the jet skis and the pleasure crafters.  Paddling under structures as large as the Outerbridge is a uniquely urban experience in unknowable scale.

Over the last century, Witte Marine slowly dismantled hundreds of ships from a once crowded bustling New York coastline.  Even with the steady stream of salvage work and deconstruction, the ships started to accumulate on the shores of Arthur Kill leaving us with works of art carved away by nature and turning into wildlife refuges.  In many cases, so little remains that the ships are no longer obviously ships.

A 1990 New York Times story reported that 200 ships were sharing space in Witte’s Yard, now owned by Donjon Marine.  Today, there are fewer than 25.  The wooden sides and steel frames of these ships, now mired in muck, delight adventurers with their wondering silence.

Paddling up close to the artful decay, you see minnows, crabs, mussels and when we were there, two very large and scraggly osprey nests haphazardly perched on the highest remaining steel uprights, with chicks present and two loud aggressive mothers.

The Arthur Kill ship graveyard was never meant to become such a decrepit spectacle.  After World War II, the adjacent scrapyard began to purchase scores of outdated vessels, with the intention of harvesting them for anything of value.  Unable to keep pace with the influx of boats, they were allowed to fall further into disrepair and no longer worth the effort.  Full of toxic substances, they were left to rot.

Like so many relics of our industrial past, the graveyard has attracted artists and vandals over the years. The small ships closest to shore are splattered with graffiti, while those farther out are subjects for oil painters, water colorists and photographers.   South Korean artist, Miru Kim, produced a visually striking  32-minute documentary, Graves of Arthur Kill, that features rare footage of the graveyard’s most gorgeous wrecks.

So, where do ships go to die these days?

National Geographic did their usual amazing storytelling about ship breaking and it was not pretty.  Oceangoing vessels are not built to be taken apart.  They’re designed to withstand extreme forces in some of the planet’s most difficult environments, and they’re often constructed with asbestos and lead.  Yet the life span of most ships is only 25 to 30 years because the cost to insure and maintain aging vessels makes them unprofitable to operate.  Their value is contained mostly in their steel bodies.  When ships are scrapped in the developed world, the process is more strictly regulated and expensive, so the bulk of the world’s shipbreaking is done in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, where labor is cheap and oversight is minimal.–huge-tankers-cruise-liners-scrapped-shorefront-workers-toil-2-day.html   for great photos.

A massive Gadani ship-breaking yard stretches for miles along the coast near Karachi, Pakistan.  Workers are low paid and work in filthy and dangerous conditions.  A shortage of recruits is not an issue.  The facility reduces around 100 ships a year into sheets of metal, pipes and working machines.  It produces about a million tons of steel fulfilling most of Pakistan’s demand for construction metal.  More than 90 percent of each ship is recycled .

The process begins after a ship-breaker acquires a vessel from an international broker dealing in outdated ships.  A captain who specializes in beaching large craft is hired to deliver it to the breaker’s yard, generally a sliver of beach barely a hundred yards wide.     This is fun to watch!

Once the ship is mired in the mud, its liquids are siphoned out, including remaining diesel fuel, engine oil, and firefighting chemicals, which are resold.  Then the machinery and fittings are stripped.  Everything is removed and sold to salvage dealers—from enormous engines, batteries, generators, and miles of copper wiring to the crew bunks, portholes, lifeboats, hidden contraband and electronic dials from the bridge.

The cost of dealing with abandoned commercial vessels can easily reach into the hundreds of thousands.  To remove and dispose of Northern Retriever, a 186-foot steel Navy tug built in 1943, it cost $873,000 .  The cost of having a 40-foot boat taken to a landfill and demolished could range from $5,000 to $10,000.

In Shilshole Bay Marina, Seattle, Washington sits what was once somebody’s pleasure boat.  By the time it was hauled out of the water, the 60-foot rumrunner had a hole in its side big enough to climb through.  Thieves had been poaching items off this abandoned boat for years.

Maritime officials say abandoned boats are typically a casualty of misguided dreams.  Someone buys a used boat with the intention of fixing it up, without any idea about the cost of maintenance and mooring.   Reality sets in, the boat is sold again and the process is repeated.   Eventually it becomes a rundown liability and the owner leaves it in a marina or ties it to a buoy and walks away.

The situation isn’t unusual.   Derelict boats can pose serious environmental hazards, navigational hazards and costly nightmares for the marinas and government agencies left to deal with them.  Most boats contain a toxic stew of chemicals—fuel, oil, cleaning materials, batteries, solvents—that can leak out and harm marine life.

While pleasure crafts comprise the vast majority of derelict vessels, industry-specific abandonments are not uncommon.  In the Northwest, increased numbers of abandoned fishing boats followed the decline of the salmon fishery over the past few decades.  Similarly, the Gulf Coast becomes a dumping ground for barges when the oil industry experiences a downturn.

How You Can Help:

  • Proper vessel disposal is a vital part of clean and responsible boating.  It is important that all vessel owners properly dispose of their vessels at the appropriate time.
  • Never abandon or sink a vessel to dispose of it.
  • There are several options for proper vessel disposal: No-cost Vessel Turn-In Programs, donating to charities or causes, recycling, or dismantling for reuse.
  • The Division of Boating and Waterways has a useful website with lots of information.
  • Hurricane Sandy clean up can no longer be removed because the heaps are filled with living creatures!  Cool!

Until next week,   Sandy Heap

Garbage Girl



Developmental Brains Wasted


Excessive use of computer games among young people in China appears to be taking an alarming turn.  Check out the video documentary “Web Junkie.”   It is a real eye opener.  Yikes!   This video highlights the effects on teenagers who become hooked on video games, playing for dozens of hours at a time often without breaks to eat, sleep or even use the bathroom.

Chinese doctors consider this phenomenon a clinical disorder. Treatment includes military discipline, complete isolation from all media, (the effectiveness of which remains to be demonstrated) and the parents are encouraged to attend the multi-month long therapy.

People around the world are plugged in and tuned out for many more hours of the day than experts consider healthy and  normal.  It starts as early as preverbal toddlers being handed their parents’ cellphones and tablets to stay quiet and engaged.

The American Academy of Pediatrics cites many studies in their policy statement on “Children, Adolescents, and the Media,”   concerning screen time and health.  “Many parents seem to have few rules about use of media by their children and adolescents,” the academy stated, and two-thirds of those questioned in the Kaiser Family Foundation study said their parents had no rules about how much time they spent with media.

Catherine Steiner-Adair is a Harvard-affiliated clinical psychologist and author of the best-selling book “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age.”  Her book review by fellow researcher, Madeline Levine, Ph.D. says it well,  “Technology is changing our world and the world of our children at a blistering pace.  Every parent struggles with the benefits and limitations of a perpetually plugged in lifestyle.  Something doesn’t feel quite right and Catherine Steiner-Adair with great wisdom, and compassion for our confusion, helps lead us out of this technological thicket.  She is a worthy guide, not simply pointing out stumbling blocks, but helping us find our way around them.  A mandatory read for our own sake as well as the sake of our children.

The Huffington Post posted a video worth watching on this topic.

When 90-95% of our brain develops in the first five years of our life, it is really important to use language, relationships, and emotions to connect us with our fellow human beings and the world around us.  We are born with all the nerve cells we’ll ever need, they are small and mostly unconnected to the different parts of the brain.  Over time, and dramatically so in the first five years, these connections are shaped by our interactions with the world.  Before age 2, children should not be exposed to any electronic media.

Kids learn the electronic devise is a “co parent” teaching them to be engaged at all times, never be annoying or provocative, always be quiet and satisfied.   When the studies disclose how similar our wiring is to screen technology, its not so hard to believe in a world that isn’t actually real.

A child can recognize the disconnect when competing with an electronic devise for parental attention.  Loneliness, being secondary and less important, and having thoughts and feelings of being ignored are common disclosures made by kids in these studies.

Older children and teens should spend no more than one or two hours a day with entertainment media, preferably with high-quality content, and spend more free time playing outdoors, reading, doing hobbies and “using their imaginations in free play,” the academy recommends.  This seems almost humorous how far off this recommendation is by the experts compared to real use.  And yet, Steve Jobs didn’t expose his kids to computers until they turned 6.

Heavy use of electronic media can have significant negative effects on children’s behavior, health and school performance.  Those who watch a lot of simulated violence can become immune to it, more inclined to act violently themselves and less likely to behave empathetically, said Dimitri A. Christakis of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute.


In preparing an honors thesis at the University of Rhode Island, Kristina E. Hatch asked children about their favorite video games. A fourth-grader (9-10yr old) cited “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” because “there’s zombies in it, and you get to kill them with guns and there’s violence … I like blood and violence.”


Out in public, Dr. Steiner-Adair added, “children have to know that life is fine off the screen.  It’s interesting and good to be curious about other people and learn how to listen.  It teaches them social and emotional intelligence, which is critical for success in life.  They need time to daydream, deal with anxieties, process their thoughts and share them with other people, who can provide reassurance.”  This teaches negotiating more complex, real time relationships.

In the city, we experience pedestrians and drivers exhibiting slowed or erratic behavior due to their attention being hijacked by electronics use.  They show stunted awareness of others around them while they engage with their personal devices.

Technology is a poor substitute for personal interaction.  And yet, it is our future and will become more so.  Will we adapt?

What You Can Do To Help:

  • Keep the TV set and Internet-connected electronic devices out of the child’s bedroom.
  • Monitor the media children are using, including any Web sites they are visiting and social media sites they may be accessing.
  • Coview TV, movies, and videos with children and teenagers, and use this as a way of discussing important relationship values.
  • Establish a family home use plan for all media.  Set reasonable but firm rules about cell phones, texting, Internet, and social media use especially at meal time and bedtime.
  • Discourage screen media exposure for children <2 years of age.
  • Support laws that fine drivers for phone use and texting.
  • Have a dinner party!!
  • Send the kids on a  Nature Scavenger Hunt.

Until Next Week, images

Garbage Girl

Wonderful Waste

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 4.35.01 PM

Oh!  You are all going to hate me for this one!

Fireworks!  That wonder of wonders that has entertained us as spellbound kids every Fourth of July and every New Year requires a little more attention than oohing and ahhing over the beautiful patterns and colors.  This chart shows us what creates that magic.

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 4.47.46 PM

The “stars” encase various metal coated pellets floating in an arranged pattern in black powder.  Each star is strategically placed in a shell with more black powder, a bursting charge, and an ignitor.  The shell is placed in a semi-buried mortar with more black powder, a fuse and an ignitor.

When lit, off it goes!  Exploding black powder, chemicals and metal everywhere!  And now they are micro sized.

All fireworks contain small packets filled with metal salts and metal oxides, which react to produce an array of colors.  Those wonder producing colors are created by varying amounts of copper chloride to make blue, barium chlorate to make green,  and strontium and lithium salts to make red.  Secondary colors are made by mixing the ingredients of their primary-color relatives.

When heated, the atoms of each element in the mix absorb energy, causing its electrons to rearrange from their lowest energy state to a higher “excited” state.  The most common elements are carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2).  After exploding, it all becomes (PM10), which are particles less than or equal to 10 micrometers in diameter.   Ten micrometers is less than the width of a single human hair, small enough to get into our lungs.

The beautiful image introducing this week’s blog is a Green Bee Formation.  Its toxic green sheen comes from randomly packed  barium chlorate filled stars in small tubes within a spherical shell.   As the heat increases, the pressure in the tubes sends the stars zipping out haphazardly in different directions for different amounts of time and distances.

Jim Souza of Pyro Spectaculars has a really fun site that describes how many of the different formations are designed.  Check out his photo gallery!  Its not quite like being under the stars but its really cool!

Hmmm… what should we do?  Awareness or wonder?

The EPA has never made an issue out of fireworks pollution because we are only exposed to it once or twice a year.  They consider it of little harm.  However, air quality standards after a fireworks display show extremely elevated levels of  PM10, CO, NOx, SO2,  which are banned and routinely monitored by The Clean Air Act.

Some environmental groups have caused the cancellation of fireworks shows held over water because the fallout remains on the surface and travels downriver.  Now, The Clean Water Act comes into play.

How You Can Help:

  • Contact your local officials if you are concerned.
  • The Clean Air Act permits state and local governments to enact laws relating to the prevention and control of outdoor air pollution so your concerns will be heard.
  • The Clean Water Act regulates pollutants discharged by fireworks.
  • Your local police department can enforce any laws pertaining to fireworks.
  • Educate others by sharing the pollution dangers of fireworks especially to elders and young children.
  • Fireworks can be air-launched utilizing compressed air instead of gunpowder.  They can also be made with low-gunpowder formulations.
  • Low-smoke pyrotechnics produce practically none of the smoke or ash that traditional black powder fireworks do.
  • Avoid fireworks made in China.  There is a pattern of using banned or toxic chemicals without regard for safety.
  • Firework drones are capturing the sparks upclose!
  • Position your viewing upwind.  Or, view them from your kayaks in the middle of a salt pond in Rhode Island!
  • Happy Fourth of July!  The commemoration of July 4, 1776, when the Continental Congress adopted our Declaration of Independence.

Until next week,   Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 4.32.46 PM

Garbage Girl