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Berge's Corner: Environmental Stewardship Reflections by John Berge, Racine, WI


Plan a native garden for your yard (February 2013) by John Berge

As I write this column, it is in the middle of winter, the coldest temperatures of the year are expected in the next few days and gardening catalogues are arriving in the mail. We are more than fourteen inches behind “normal” in snowfall; southern Wisconsin is under drought conditions, more than a foot behind in total precipitation in the last year and a half, resulting in dry soils, lower lakes, rivers and streams and plants are under stress.

Those are conditions that should lead us to considering and fostering more sustainable gardens and yards for both now and the long term. The thirty-year temperature averages (referred to as “normal” in the paper and on TV), now calculated over a more recent time period (1981-2010) are 0.5 degrees higher than the previous tri-decade. Gardens and yards planted with native species, rather than the imported and hybrid species most of us are used to, have deeper roots and so require less water, fertilizer and pesticides. In fact, reduced use of pesticides mean that more insects and other organisms are in balance with the native plants and so are available to feed the birds that many of us enjoy watching in our yards, parks and neighborhoods.

Now is the time to start planning to put at least a portion of your property into a more native garden. A monoculture such as an Iowa corn field or a Kentucky bluegrass lawn is the antithesis of the biodiverse community of a well-planned native planting. There are a number of good books on native or natural gardening in libraries and book stores. Native plants and seeds are available from several natural garden suppliers and from groups like The Wild Ones and the University of Wisconsin Friends of the Arboretum plant sales in the spring. You do not need to suddenly redo the entire yard (although some will like the idea of a no-mow lawn), but you can start with a smaller area and see what works best for you, your soil and your location.
Litter (January, 2013) by John Berge

Litter is a problem around the world; Southeast Wisconsin is no exception. There are volunteers from various organizations that “Adopt-A-Highway” and pick up bags of trash three times a year. Yet in a couple of days or even less, someone will have littered that section of highway. I once sent the local paper two pictures, one of a waste basket and the other a car window. I asked the editor to print the two pictures side by side in the hopes that people might learn the difference. “Letters to the editor do not include pictures,” came back the reply. And yet, how simple it would be to eliminate the litter problem if each person would be more careful ... if they made sure that they did not litter in any way.
            Litter in our area is not a severe health problem nor does it seriously affect our food resources, but in the oceans it is much more serious. The coasts of Alaska, Hawaii, British Columbia and other areas on the Pacific Coast are now receiving the first debris (after a while it is no longer “litter”) from the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan. This trash definitely does affect people’s health and safety and that of other creatures in and around the sea, many of which are directly or indirectly part of our food chain. How well do the salmon grow with their stomachs full of polystyrene foam? How well can the Alaskan crabs forage for food with their claws entangled in fish lines or wire? How well can a young sea turtle swim with its head trapped in the plastic from a six pack?
            Scientists from the Ocean Conservancy and elsewhere are trying to determine whether the trash is from the tsunami or not, but first indications are that the vast majority is not from any tsunami but from careless loss or dumping of waste by people. Here in southeast Wisconsin, it may be just an eyesore, but when our trash gets blown or washed into the lakes, rivers and streams it becomes a health, safety, food issue ... an environmental stewardship issue. Remember, the water and the trash in virtually every river and stream in the world eventually ends up in big lakes and the oceans where it does real harm to God’s creatures and creation.

Insulate, Insulate, Insulate (December, 2012) by John Berge

Unless we have a sudden warm spell, which is not impossible in Wisconsin, it is probably too late to get out, check and replace any loose caulking around your windows and doors. Replacing old windows with new double- or triple-glazed insulating windows can be expensive and, at this time of year, temporarily drafty. They will pay for themselves in the long run. But there is something you can do to cut down the tremendous heat loss through most older windows that is immediate, inexpensive, effective and within the skills of most of us. That is the plastic shrink-wrap for windows and French doors not used in the winter that is available at most hardware and big box stores for a relatively low price. The plastic film is trimmed to size, attached all around each window with double-sided sticky tape and then shrunk in place with a hair dryer to remove all the wrinkles. The film can be placed on the inside of the windows or between the inner window and the storm to give almost the heat-saving ability of triple-glazed windows. When done well, they are almost invisible. In addition, one should pull the shades and/or the drapes when the sun goes down and don’t open them until the sun comes up in the morning. Such individual efforts may not have a major effect on global climate change, but it will save both energy and money for your household. If enough people make these individual efforts of good environmental stewardship, it canhave an effect on carbon dioxide emissions and thus on global climate change.

Food Waste (November 2012) by John Berge

A recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that up to 40% of America’s food is lost between the farm and the ultimate consumer -- us. That adds up to $165 billion -- that is with a B -- annually or $40 (33 pounds) per month per family. That does not sound like good environmental stewardship or, with much of the world going hungry, social justice.

            Some of that loss occurs on the farm when, for a variety of reasons, crops are not harvested and left in the fields. Some losses occur at restaurants because of their oversized servings. Other losses occur at the grocery store where, for example, one manager was going to throw out a whole shipment of strawberries because they were “too small”. We enjoyed their extra sweetness. Much loss in groceries is due to our demand for exquisite appearance. But much of the loss occurs in our homes. I spent the last month or so carefully watching the losses in our own home. Now I must admit that we have no small children in the home which I am told is a major problem of refused or wasted food; neither do we have famished teenagers that can eat up anything left in the refrigerator -- we have no dogs either.

            Almost all of our left-overs are packed up in the refrigerator and eaten at a later meal, but there are certain portions of many foods that are not eaten. With coffee, more than 90% is discarded; we put the grounds in our compost pile. With grapefruit, bananas and other fruits, the peel appears to be 40% of what we brought home; this too is composted. In our household, there is a difference of opinion on whether potatoes, carrots and other vegetables should be peeled or just scrubbed, but the little bucket that goes down to the compost pile frequently has lots of peelings that could be said to be “lost”. Some meats have become much leaner and so there is little fat that is left to be disposed of (NOT composted). But then there is the half a head of lettuce which stuck around too long and was thrown out, composted with the egg shells and other inedible portions of foods which may well have been accounted as loss. The stale bread is ground up for meatloaf and other left over items go into a soup, stew or casserole.

            The EPA estimated that the US wasted 33 million tons of food in 2010. According to the US Department of Agriculture, Americans throw out 40% of fresh fish, 23% of eggs and 20% of milk. Not in our household! How about yours? Are you cognizant of waste versus good environmental stewardship in your food shopping, preparation and clean-up?

Your Medicine Cabinet (October 2012) by John Berge
A while back, analysis of water samples from a large number of lakes, rivers and streams showed that virtually all surface waters in this country have small but measurable amounts of medicines, drugs, synthetic hormones and their metabolites. Some of these are present because they pass through the body and the waste water treatment plant, but others are there because all people do not discard unused medication in a proper way.
It is once again time to clean out that medicine cabinet -- yours or possibly a relative’s. It is good stewardship to do it in a way that is environmentally safe; DON’T flush those unused medications down the drain or throw them in the trash. Bring them to the Medicine Collection Day for Households. In Racine, that is on October 20, from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at 6200 21st Street (north of the former Sam’s Club). On the third Saturday of April and October, all prescription and over-the-counter medications will be accepted for proper disposal and destruction, including pills, capsules, ointments, sprays, inhalers, creams, vials and pet medications. Do NOT bring needles/sharps, illegal drugs, biohazardous materials or personal care products. Keep all medications in their original bottles. Cross out your name if you wish, but leave the name of the medication visible. Put all medication in a zipped up plastic bag. As a member of the Board of Health, I was able to advocate successfully for this program in Racine which is now county-wide, not just for city residents. For other areas, check with your local health department for their medical collection schedule and location. Cards with further information are available at the hospitality desk and at most drug stores.

Energy Star Appliances (September 2012) by John Berge

New energy efficiency standards issued for dishwashers and clothes washers last May by the U. S. Department of Energy will make significant savings in utility bills and the environment -- but they won’t go into effect until the 2015 model years. Clothes washers and dishwashers use only about 3% of the average households electricity, but 20% of indoor water usage. According to a brochure I read recently, “Watts Happening”, the new standards “are expected to save consumers $20 billion in energy and water costs through 2030”. Those savings include $350 in energy costs over the life of a new clothes washer compared to current models and 10,000 gallons of water per year per household, according to the DOE.


Dishwashers will be required to use 15% less energy and 20% less water than current standards which should result in savings of about $100 over the lifetime of the appliance. But these work-saving machines are run only a few times a week compared to your refrigerator which is on constantly. If you still have a fridge from the 1980s, replacing it with an ENERGY STAR qualified model can save over $100 each year on your utility bills. Replace a refrigerator from the 1970s and save more than $200 each year! And if you have a second refrigerator in the basement or garage keeping a few six packs of beer cold, unplugging it is a real energy and pollution saver, up to 500 kwh/year. Since up to 70% of our electricity is produced from dirty, coal-fired power plants, energy saving means a reduction in carbon dioxide, mercury, particulate matter and other pollutants going into the atmosphere. It may be good environmental stewardship to check whether you should replace the dishwasher, clothes washer or refrigerator, now or when the 2015 models come out.

Avoid Excessive Packaging (August 2012) by John Berge

            A while back, I came across (on the internet) a most egregious example of excessive packaging. Each individual banana was placed in a foamed plastic tray and shrink-wrapped with a plastic film! It was a British grocery store, and I haven’t heard or read of abuses quite that bad in this country. But there are numerous examples in our grocery, hardware and “big-box” stores of stiff plastics over boxes and extra bags made with non-renewable resources. Some of the “excess” packaging is rationalized by the customers’ need to see the product, increased space and visibility on the shelf and inhibition of the thieves that plague the retailer. But theft and visibility is certainly not a factor with e-mail purchases, but they still come with those clear plastic clamshells that defy entrance without knives, scissors or hacksaws and emergency medical technicians standing by.

            What can one do to avoid or at least reduce the excessive packaging? Shop locally where there is frequently less packaging and the shop owner or manager may be more responsive to complaints. Boycott products using excessive packaging and complain to the company or manufacturer. Buy recycled and recyclable packaging; be sure to reuse or recycle it and not add it to the landfill. Buy loose fruits, vegetables and hardware items whenever possible. Buy packages made from renewable resources.

            A fellow worshipper at MPLC brought to my attention a project of a company that sells under the Bear Naked® product label. First of all their granola and other products come with no excess packaging -- a single plastic bag with no outer box. But further, they offer to recycle those bags and pay the user for doing so. I have no idea how many of our fellow worshipers buy and eat Bear Naked® Granola and other such products. If there are enough of them, we could collect and mail in the bags for two cents apiece. Unfortunately, it would take one hundred of them to raise two dollars for the Green Committee. Buying just three similarly packaged bags of the store brand would save more than the two bucks. Let me know with a note in my mail box or a telephone call (633-8455) if you would contribute these bags to such a project.


Go Green! (July 2012)  byJohn Berge

Recently, I bought some sheets of stamps which contained suggestions on each stamp of how to “GO GREEN”. Since that is another and shorter way to say “environmental stewardship” and since I believe most people do not read the stamps that come on their mail, I reproduce their suggestions here with a few comments from the back of the sheets and elsewhere.


·         Buy local produce in season and use reusable bags for grocery and other purchases.

·         Fix water leaks. Clean, heated water takes lots of energy.

·         Share rides. A carpool raises energy efficiency by more than any other method -- even better than my hybrid.

·         Turn off lights when not in use. The old bromide that it takes more energy to turn back on is not true.

·         Choose to walk. Cars are least efficient in the first few miles, so leave the car in the garage if the walk is less than a mile or two each way.

·         Compost. It is good for the lawn and gardens while saving much energy over hauling away the leaves and garbage.

·         Let nature do the work. Solar drying of laundry can save much energy and yield great smelling sheets and pillow cases.

·         Recycle more. Recycling just one aluminum can saves enough energy to run your computer for three hours.

·         Ride a bike (as a means of transportation, not just recreation)

·         Plant trees. Trees around the house not only take up and store carbon dioxide, they reduce both heating and cooling costs in the home.

·         Insulate the home. Caulking and weatherstripping can pay for itself within a year.

·         Use public transportation. Local public transportation is the most efficient other than a very full carpool.

·         Use efficient light bulbs. Compact fluorescent bulbs can save up to 80% of your lighting costs; LEDs (light emitting diodes are even more efficient, but are still costly to buy.

·         Adjust the thermostat. Turn it up in summer to 78º and down in winter to 68º or less.

·         Maintain tire pressure. Proper tire pressure improves mileage as much as 3% and makes the tires last longer.

Just do it!


Nurturing Your Lawn (June 2012) by John Berge

It is that time of the year when we are bombarded with ads -- by mail, on TV, even door-to-door -- to buy lots of fertilizer for our lawn, whether it needs it or not. Asking the lawn service personnel for an analysis of the lawn is sort of like asking your barber whether you need a haircut or not. The answer is always going to be yes. A far better way is to get a soil test from an independent laboratory to see what additives your lawn needs, if anything. As reported on the Root/Pike WIN website, “Testing can give information on the soil’s ability to supply nutrients for best plant growth. Plants respond better to applications that are specific to their needs than they do to general applications.” Adding unnecessary nutrients increases the chances of extra run-off polluting our rivers, streams and lakes. The amount from one person’s lawn may not seem like much, but adding it up for all the lawns in the area shows that yard fertilizer is one of the major sources of nitrogen (and formerly phosphorus) in our surface waters. If it makes your grass grow, it will make the algae grow. If the nutrients are not needed on the lawn or in the garden, you save money and help the environment, a good definition of environmental stewardship.

            Leaving grass clippings on the lawn every time you mow is an excellent way to return nitrogen to the soil at little or no cost. A mulching blade makes this neater. Composting leaves along with garden and kitchen waste (vegetable, not meat products so that there are no odor problems) is another inexpensive way to improve the soil and regulate nutrient release at little or no cost to you or the environment. Combining these practices with rain barrels and rain gardens for water conservation is again good environmental stewardship. 


May 2012:    Environmental Stewardship  by John Berge

Some time ago, I read a (satirical or cynical) letter to the editor of a magazine in which it was suggested that, in order to save nature, we should build walls around all cities to keep the people in and everything else out. This of course would not be possible or feasible, if for no other reason than no city, at least since the early 1600’s in this country, can feed itself. Food is transported hundreds to thousands of miles to feed people in cities.

                Some changes are being made to make a dent in this transportation problem. Building roofs and greenhouses are being planted with fruits and vegetables. Even vertical gardens on the sides of tall buildings are being tried. Vacant land is being converted to community gardens. We each can do our part, small as it may be, in helping to feed the city dweller and reducing the energy spent in transportation. If you have enough room and sun, you are urged to plant and produce some of your own food, and maybe even raise some chickens. If you don’t have sufficient space or sunlight for a vegetable garden, you can rent a plot in the community gardens or there are those who would appreciate your volunteer help.

                The garden at St. Andrew Lutheran Church on Four Mile Road can always use more volunteers. Call (262) 639-2072 for more information. If you are interested in volunteering at the Eco-Justice Center, call Sr. Janet Weyker at (262) 681-8527; at the Garden of Giving, call Maggie Larsen at (262) 681-3256; at the Racine County Teaching Garden, contact Tracy Bernhardt at (262) 391-5937. I am sure that this list is not complete, but a little digging (pun intended) can find other places to volunteer.

                On the subject of fruits and vegetables, here are three questions that may or may not stump you:

1.     Of all vegetables, only a very few can live to produce on their own for several growing seasons. All other vegetables must be replanted every year. Can you name three perennial vegetables?

2.     What fruit has its seeds on the outside?

3.     What is the only vegetable or fruit that is never sold frozen, canned, processed, cooked or in any other form except fresh?

[ Answers to the fruit and vegetable quiz: (1) Artichoke, Asparagus and Rhubarb. (2) Strawberry. (3) Lettuce.]



April 2012 by John Berge

Several years ago two little girls with newly gifted butterfly nets came up to me while I was working in the yard and plaintively asked where had all the butterflies gone. I showed them the little signs in a neighbor’s yard saying the lawn had been sprayed with herbicide and insecticide and then pointed to all the other little signs in the neighborhood. I then led them to our back yard and my wife’s “natural area” where we saw a couple of butterflies that were too quick to be caught. My little “teaching moment” was mostly on insecticides. Butterflies and their wild looking, hairy or horned larva (caterpillars) are insects and were being killed by those sprays.


If you were fortunate enough to attend Douglas Tallamy’s program at the Golden Rondelle a few weeks ago or to read his book “Bringing Nature Home”, then you know that herbicides, killing off most everything other than our alien ornamentals, alien grasses in our monoculture lawns and possibly our imported trees, are at least as much a danger to the natural ecosystem as insecticides.


Modern commercial agriculture and suburban developments have combined to destroy most of the natural ecosystems that used to be here. These ecosystems supported the great diversity that the European explorers and immigrants found here. Agriculture is not going to resurrect this diversity or we won’t be fed, so it is up to suburbanites and rural dwellers to do our best. A few simple reminders: All the energy for every animal (except a few species near the thermal vents on the bottom of the ocean) is captured from the sun by plants. All the oxygen we breathe is produced by plants. Thirty-five percent of all the energy going from plants to higher animals goes through insects. Many insects eat only one species or family of plants with which they co-evolved. That is why it is so important to have native plants in our yards and gardens. Without native plants those insects will die off and the birds and other animals depending upon them for food may also be extirpated (local) or become extinct (global and final). We are already losing too many species. We can resist this trend by greater use of native trees, shrubs, grasses, sedges and other herbaceous plants. It need not be a totally native garden, but give diversity a chance. Let’s not lose the butterflies!


March, 2012 by John Berge.

The earth’s surface is 70 percent water, so why are 80 countries “water stressed” and 40 percent of the world’s population has no access to safe, clean, drinkable water? Partly because 97% of the world’s water is salt water and only 3% is fresh. Of the latter, 2.1% is tied up in the ice caps and glaciers. Only 0.1% is in lakes (and we sit on the shores of about a third of that) and 0.0002% is in rivers and streams, most of which are polluted and the source of numerous diseases. A very important 0.001% is in the atmosphere which perpetuates the hydrological cycle giving us those lakes, rivers and streams. (Water evaporates from the ocean, surface waters and plants, is circulated by the atmosphere and falls as rain or snow.) Even though those percentages are small, total volumes are large ... 18,000 cubic kilometers of precipitation fall on North America each year. Over half of that evaporates and the rest runs off or soaks into the underground aquifers.

On average, Americans use 1,300 gallons of water/day/person, of which 164 gallons are for bathing, toilets, laundry and direct consumption, 580 gallons are for electric power generation, 485 gallons for agriculture to feed us and 70 gallons for industrial processes to provide all those things we want or need. By comparison, many in impoverished countries use only 5 gallons of water per person per day because they have to haul it up to several miles from a river, lake or other source. This water is generally neither clean or pathogen free. Compare that to our few steps to a faucet which delivers essentially unlimited amounts of clean, good tasting, healthful water.

We cannot ship our abundance of water to the needy people around the world, but we can ship some of our abundance of wealth. Lutheran World Relief and many other organizations provide wells, rain barrels or cisterns to many of these people. Lack of replacement parts mean that half of the wells are inoperative in five years and the rain water is generally polluted by the time it reaches a rain barrel. So another need and partial solution that has recently been brought to my attention is Point of Use Filtration Systems. It would take all of the space in this newsletter to adequately describe how these systems work to remove up to 99+%, or more, of the pathogens in the water for just a few, but scarce, dollars. LWR, CARE and other agencies are helping to provide these systems. Give generously!


February, 2012 By John Berge

The Good Lord, Mother Nature and/or lots of plants and algae spent hundreds of millions (billions?) of years making fossil fuels -- coal, petroleum and natural gas -- which we are totally using up in less than half a dozen centuries.  After they are gone, or we and the environment can no longer afford to go after the last bits, there won’t be any more for many millennia. All these fossil fuels are based on carbon and its chemistry.  Better minds than mine have said that carbon-based fuels are the only fuels that can sustain our love of the automobile and the speed and convenience of air travel.  Where are we, the billions of people on this earth, going to find or make such fuels when the fossil fuels are gone, without endangering the world’s food supply?  Electricity is probably the easiest form of energy to produce, but the hardest to store.  We should be either conserving our fossil fuels as much and as long as we can, or we should be training our children and grandchildren to be the engineers and scientists who might solve these problems.  Or both.

January, 2012. By John Berge

When you light a blazing fire on a cold winter day it looks and feels wonderful, but it can be an expensive and inefficient endeavor. A fireplace sends most of the heat in your house straight up the chimney, emitting as much as 24,000 cubic feet of air per hour to the outside! But, there are ways you can limit the loss of heat when enjoying a quiet evening by the fire. These suggestions were taken from the EarthShare website.

1. Reduce heat loss by opening dampers in the bottom of the firebox (if provided) or open the nearest window slightly - only about an inch - and close doors leading into the room.

2. Install tempered glass doors and a heat-air exchange system that blows warmed air back into the room.

3. Check the seal on the flue damper and make it as snug as possible.

4. Use grates made of C-shaped metal tubes to draw cool room air into the fireplace and circulate warm air back into the room.

5. Keep your fireplace's damper closed when you aren't using it.

6. Consider a gas fireplace if you are planning to install a new one. These provide the enjoyment of looking at flames but can be 70% more efficient than regular fireplaces. This is what we did so we could keep the thermostat set lower. It has tempered glass doors, a heat exchanger that blows warm air into the room, brings in outside combustion air and automatically closes the damper after


by John Berge


At its August 15-19 Churchwide Assembly, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) overwhelmingly adopted a new and ground-breaking Social Statement, Genetics, Faith and Responsibility by 96.52% of the over one thousand delegates at the Assembly in Orlando, FL.  Initiated by a memorial from the Northeast Iowa Synod to the 2005 Churchwide Assembly, arising from the conflict in agriculture between farmers using genetically modified organism, organic farmers and those just not wishing to be beholden to any particular agribusiness, the study quickly expanded to the multitude of places where modern-day, cutting-edge genetics intersects with our lives, now and in the immediate future ... gene therapy, pre-implantation diagnosis, inherited mutations, molecular medicine, personal genomics, cloning of plants and animals, and “pharming” of drugs in plants or animals that never had such genes in their DNA before.

            It is difficult to condense a 15,000 word document down to the 300-600 words I usually write, but it is safe to say that I was pleasantly surprised to read the scriptural, philosophical, scientific and moral discussion that fills this social statement.  God is a creator god that continues to create; we are to be part of that continuing creation.  The statement does not endorse without qualification any of the numerous genetic technologies.  Nor does it come out in direct condemnation of anything in genetic research or practice, with the exception of the practice of eugenics, discrimination based on genetic profiling, human cloning and similar areas.  It does provide the basis of continued discussion and (hopefully) provides help to those who will be required to give counseling in areas that their training may never have prepared them.  At one point the statement reads, “Christians are called to discern how God’s gifts of genetic knowledge and technology may be wisely evaluated and responsibly used to serve the good of all”.  Discernment is an important aspect of this statement.  Personal decisions, and those of the Church, should be dependent upon respect, justice, sufficiency, sustainability, solidarity, participation, wisdom, knowledge, humility and the precautionary principle, each of which is discussed in some length in the statement.  Even to summarize each would take much more space than is available here.  The full social statement will be available from the ELCA this fall and I recommend it to all.


A theme of creation-centered (environmental) stewardship is developed in this statement, rejecting the anthropocentric view that the world was made for humans and that the rest of creation simply provides resources to serve human well-being.  Yet apparently “only human beings can value other beings and systems beyond their own kind for their own sake as created and sustained by God.”  As one speaker pointed out, “remember these documents are gospel, not law”. The statement reminds us that, “Genetic science represents gifts intended by God to contribute to the human vocation to order and shape, nurture and invent.”  



By John Berge

More people are eating seafood so industrial fishermen are traveling farther and using more efficient means of catching fish at the same time that more by-catch is being discarded in the process.  Only recently are some fisheries practicing good stewardship of a natural resource that is fast disappearing.  Some fish stocks have been extirpated or decimated (reduced by around 90%) in many of the former fishing areas.  Therefore, it would be good environmental stewardship for all of us to obtain the lists of fish to avoid, fish that are the best choices and those that are good alternatives when the best are not available.  The lists I like best are from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch which come as a pocket guide or an app for your portable electronic device at www.montereybayaquarium.org. You might also check www.thefishlist.org, www.blueoceaninstitute, or www.edf.org. I don’t have the space to list all of any of the three lists, but here are a few from each list. Best choices: Arctic Char (farmed), Catfish (US farmed), Pacific Cod (US bottom longline), mussels or oysters (farmed), Alaska wild Salmon or Tilapia (US farmed).  Those to avoid include:  Chilean Seabass, King Crab (imported), Mahi Mahi (imported longline), Orange Roughy, Salmon (farmed, including Atlantic), Sharks and Red Snapper.  The good alternatives: Clalms and Oysters(wild), King Crabs (US), Summer Flounder (US Atlantic), Alaskan Pollock, Sea Scallops, Lake Trout (Lake Superior), Tilapia (Central & South American farmed) and Walleye. But it would be best if you got the whole list and kept it with you when you grocery shop or eat out.  Bon apatite!



July 2011


by John  Berge


In June both the City of Racine’s Board of Health and Board of Park, Recreation and Cultural Services sent recommendations to the City Council asking them to enact an ordinance which would prohibit smoking in the City’s parks, beaches, pathways and all recreational facilities with the debatable exclusion of the City-owned golf courses.  As President of the Board of Health, I am well aware that our recommendation was based on the effects of secondhand smoke, even out of doors, on public hygiene and safety (stepping on cigarette butts on the beach or having young children picking them up or even putting them in their mouths) and the bad example that permitting smoking in such areas presents to our youth.  Some of the known hazardous chemicals in secondhand smoke are: 1,3- butadiene, 2-naphthylamine, 4- nitrobiphenyl, benzene, nicotine, formaldehyde, benz[a]anthracene, chromium VI, benzo[a]pyrene, cadmium and more.  Isn’t it good environmental stewardship to protect others who are outdoors for recreation, sports, and exercise from secondhand smoke and to set a good example?  Isn’t it good environmental stewardship to let your alderperson know how you feel about this issue?  



June, 2011.


by John Berge.

        On our recent mission trip to Argentina, we witnessed a sub-culture of men eking out a living recycling trash from along the roads and in the fields.  Some had motorized carts, other carts were pulled by horses and even a few were man-powered.  They picked up and recycled cans, bottles, plastics, scrap metal and just about everything except the ubiquitous plastic grocery bags which unfortunately were everywhere.  Here in our area, volunteers do the cleanup along our highways, picking up after those who can’t seem to tell the difference between a car window and a trash receptacle .  The local group of the Sierra Club recently picked up eleven large bags of trash and almost as much recyclable material along a three-mile stretch of Highway 38.  (If you would like to help on our three times a year program, give me a call.) With the good recycle programs of our local municipalities, we should all be recycling everything possible and properly disposing of the rest.  The city does not accept plastic grocery bags in its recycling program, but most grocery stores do.  If you can’t find their recycle bins or they are overly full, talk to the employees or manager so that they know you want and appreciate this service.  As for those bags the newspaper is delivered in, many are reused to cleanup after pets.  If you don’t reuse all of yours, check with your delivery person to see whether he or she would like to reuse them.  They have to buy these bags, so they and the environment would appreciate their being used more than once.



May, 2011

by John Berge

        Some people are averse to using compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) because of fear concerning the small amount of mercury that they contain and the possibility of breakage.  There is much more mercury in the long fluorescent lamps one may have in the workshop or the circular lamps in many kitchens.  We have had up to three dozen fluorescent lamps in our house for years and never broken one.  If you do break a CFL, the EPA suggests the following cleanup procedure.

        Have other people and pets leave the room, closing the door to the rest of the house.  Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoors.  Shut off the central forced air heating or air conditioning and collect your cleanup materials (stiff paper or cardboard, sticky tape, damp paper towels or wet wipes and a sealable container).  Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder.  The sticky tape does an excellent job in picking up the small pieces that one can hardly see.  Place all bulb debris and cleanup materials in the sealable container (plastic bag or glass jar).  Promptly place this container outdoors or in a garage or storage shed until it can be taken to the Household Hazardous Waste site (open on the third Saturday of every month from April to October, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.).  The City of Racine trash collection allows burned out or broken fluorescent bulbs in the trash, but if you have seen the way the trucks crush the long fluorescent bulbs, you know that is not a good idea.  Continue to air out the room where the bulb broke and keep the forced air circulation system off for several hours to be on the safe side.  A broken bulb is rare and should not cause panic or reluctance to use CFLs.  Just use some common sense.  Most incandescent bulbs will soon be unavailable.  Then there are LEDs (light emitting diodes) which contain no mercury, are awfully difficult to break, but are still rather pricey.


by John Berge

        The phrase “exponential growth” is used frequently to describe populations and other environmental factors -- used correctly sometimes, but often incorrectly.  Exponential growth means that the rate of growth at any time is proportional to the number of persons or other elements present at that time.  When there are not many present the growth is slow; when there are many, the growth rate is that much faster.  A good illustration of exponential growth would be a test tube full of nutrients to grow bacteria.  One bacterium is added to the test tube and it begins to grow, dividing once per minute.  The bacterium represents us and the test tube represents the planet.  At time zero there is one bacterium; at one minute there are two; at two minutes there are four; three minutes there are eight and so on.  That is exponential growth.  At sixty minutes the test tube is full of bacteria and there is no food left.  When is the tube 50 percent or half full?  At fifty-nine minutes, of course.  At fifty-eight minutes it is one-quarter full ... at fifty-five minutes it is only about 3 percent full.  If at that moment, one of the bacteria points out that they have a population problem, others would jeer, “Ninety seven percent of the test tube is empty and we’ve been around for fifty-five minutes!”  Yet they would be only five minutes from total collapse.  People must start with two rather than one as for the bacterium, but shortly thereafter the calculus, or arithmetic, is the same.  We have had wars, famines and plagues to delay the inevitable, but we also have less drastic means to control our population growth if we are willing to use them.  Population may well be the controlling factor in most, if not all, environmental problems.



April, 2011

by John Berge

        On February 12, ardent representatives of about ten congregations in and around Racine with Green Teams or Green Congregation committees met to review what their congregations have been doing and to adopt plans for the immediate future.  Mt. Pleasant Lutheran Church had four representatives there.  Among the future common projects adopted was to have each congregation urge its members to participate in Meatless (or vegetarian) Mondays during Lent this year.  By going meatless one day per week, you can reduce your carbon footprint, save money and precious resources such as fresh water and fossil fuels, lower your caloric intake by up to 450 calories, and may reduce your risk of chronic, preventable conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.  It has been said that reducing our meat intake by one-seventh saves as much energy as buying locally produced food for the whole week.  The energy required to produce eight ounces of soy or other types of beans is over 23,000 calories LESS than to produce the same weight of corn-fed beef.  The Meatless Mondays program was started in association with the John Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health and it asks us to do just what its name states – skip eating meat one day per week.

        If you don’t have enough meatless or vegetarian recipes, you can go to the MPLC website,
www.spaceshipchurch.org, or www.meatlessmonday.com, or www.racinegreencongregations.org, or run your own search of the web for meatless (organic?) recipes.  Each and every member of MPLC is hereby urged by the MPLC Green Team and Pastor David to go meatless on the six Mondays of Lent.



by John Berge

March, 2011. In this month’s article, I quote solely from David Suzuki’s little book “The Legacy: An Elder’s Vision for our Sustainable Future”.  Suzuki is a Canadian of Japanese ancestry and an internationally renowned geneticist and environmentalist.
        “The first thing every infant needs is a breath of air to inflate its lungs and then announce its arrival to the world.  From that moment on to his or her dying breath, every person need air fifteen to forty times a minute ... Our great boast is the possession of intelligence, but what intelligent creature, knowing the critical role of air for all life on Earth, would then proceed to deliberately pour toxic materials into it?  We are air, so whatever we do to air, we do to ourselves.”
        “Every person in the world is at least 60 percent water by weight ... The hydrologic cycle of evaporation, condensation and rain ensures that water cartwheels around the planet.  We are part of the hydrologic process ... Again, we say we are intelligent, but what intelligent creature, knowing that water is a sacred, life-giving element, would use water as a toxic dump?  We are water, and whatever we do to water, we do to ourselves.”
        “Soil is alive, created by life and supporting an astounding array of organisms ... every cubic centimeter of soil teems with billions of microorganisms ... Every bit of the food we eat for our nutrition was once alive, and most of it comes from the soil.  We take the carcasses of plants and animals, tear them apart and incorporate them into our very being.  We are Earth.  We say we are intelligent, but what intelligent creature, knowing the role earth plays in constructing our very bodies, would then use the earth as a dump for our waste and toxic material?  We are the earth, and whatever we do to the earth, we do to ourselves.”


February, 2011- It takes a lot of water to make use of energy and a lot of energy to make use of water.  So, saving water saves energy and saving energy saves water.  Fossil fuel (coal, oil and natural gas) and nuclear power plants use a minimum of 136 billion gallons of water every day to cool the steam after it goes through the turbines that generate 90 percent of all electricity in the United States.  That doesn’t include all the water used in extracting the fuel from the ground, washing the coal and transporting across the country.  Conversely, water- and wastewater utilities consume 13 percent of all the electricity generated each day to pump, purify, distribute and reclaim water.  That figure includes heating the water in our homes, factories and commercial establishments.  There are a couple of exceptions to the need for water to generate electricity.  Once built and installed, wind turbines require no water and solar panels use only a little bit more to occasionally wash off the dirt and grime that may collect on them.  Green energy is water-saving energy.  Some time back, I suggested to the head of the Racine wastewater utility that other communities have reduced the energy needs of their operations essentially to zero by installing cogeneration units to convert the methane from the sewage digestion process to electricity and heat.  He said Racine would do so as soon as they can obtain the land for such a unit.  Until then, we should all save water and save energy.

August 2010 -- ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP > by John Berge > > The word “refuse” has two related meanings depending on the pronunciation. As a verb with the accent on the second syllable, it means to turn down or decline to do something. As a noun with the accent on the first syllable it means the junk or trash of which we produce too much and recycle too little. How are they related to environmental stewardship? We can reduce some of that refuse (noun) if we refuse (verb) to accept all the single use items that are pushed on us every day -- the plastic bags to carry something already packaged, the foamed plastic cup or plate instead of a washable, reusable one, disposable flatware, most water bottles, even soft drink and beer contaners if they aren’t recycled. You can probably add much more to that list if each day you look to find what you can refuse to reduce the refuse. Let us add “refuse” to the usual “reduce, reuse, recycle”. > ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ >

October 2010 -- ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP > by John Berge > > One source I read said that the average adult receives 41 pounds of catalogs and other junk mail per year. For a two adult household that is 82 pounds of paper. I assume that you are recycling all those catalogs and offers of things you may not want. But there is a better, more environmentally sound way to handle all this waste than shredding and recycling ... don’t receive it in the first place. Save all those trees or recycled paper, water, and energy, both in manufacture and in transportation. There are several ways to reduce the amount of junk mail you receive. One is to contact a web site specifically set up for that purpose such as CatalogChoice.org. According to their web site, 1,219,171 people use Catalog Choice to communicate with 3,076 companies. You select the company (after all, there are some catalogs you do want to see) and they deliver your opt-out request and keep track of the company’s confirmation, and it is free. Or, the Privacy Council can have your name removed from ten major mailing lists and keep them off. For more information on this service go to info@privacycouncil.com. 41pounds.org claims their service stops 80-95% of unwanted catalogs and junk mail, keeping 100+ million trees in forest, protecting 28 billion gallons of water and not producing more CO2 than from 9 million cars. They charge a fee, but one-third of it is donated to the environmental or community organization of your choice. > > Or you can stop much of the junk mail yourself. Write in large letters on all forms “Please do not sell my name or address” whenever you donate money, order a product of service or fill out a warranty card. These cards probably should not be sent in. On the telephone, ask “Please mark my account so that my name is not traded or sold to other companies”. Many contests and raffles are also fishing for names and addresses. For sexually oriented advertising, fill out USPS forms 1500 (and you can define what is explicit for you). To stop credit card offers call 1-888-5 OPT OUT (or 1-888-567-8688). Or send a postcard or letter to Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, PO Box 643, Carmel, NY 15012-0643, with your name, address and zip code and a request to ”activate the preference service. This should stop mail for five years from all member organizations from which you have not specifically ordered products. > > If you want more means of reducing your junk mail, you can do as I did; run a Google search for “stopping catalogs. It is good environmental stewardship. > ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ >

November 2010 -- ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP > by John Berge > > A friend of a relative of a friend ... somehow overheard this conversation: > > GOD: Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet Earth? What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles. > > St. FRANCIS: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers 'weeds' and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.* > > GOD: Grass? But, it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It's sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there? > > ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn. > > GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy. > > ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it -- sometimes twice a week. > > GOD: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay? > > ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly, Lord. Many of them rake it up and put it in bags.

> > GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it? > > ST. FRANCIS: No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away. > > GOD: Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow, and when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away? > > ST. FRANCIS: Yes, Sir. > > GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work. > > ST. FRANCIS: You aren't going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it. > > GOD: What nonsense! At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It's a natural cycle of life. > > ST. FRANCIS: You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away. > > GOD: No! What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose? > > ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves. > > GOD: And where do they get this mulch? > > ST. FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch. > > GOD: Enough! I don't want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight? > > ST. CATHERINE: 'Dumb and Dumber', Lord. It's a story about....

> > GOD: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

January 2011: Environmental Stewardship by John Berge

       In areas without natural gas most of the electricity used goes to the furnace, the water heater, air conditioning unit, and lighting.  To those of us who use gas for those first two uses, lighting, appliances and electronic items such as TVs, computers, DVDs, Blu-ray players and the like are the big users of electricity.  We can reduce our use of electricity, and thus our carbon footprint, not only by using compact fluorescent lamps, but by how we use our appliances and electronics.  It was thought that increased efficiency would reduce our ever increasing need of electrical energy.  Our insatiable desire for the latest technical gadget has overcome the efficiencies.

        Many electronic devices are not truly off when you switch them off.  The TV, microwave, DVD with its clock (blinking 12:00 all the time?) and computers that are not switched off at the surge protector are using electricity all the time.  The switch on a surge protector can be a significant saver of electricity as well as protection in a storm.  If something is not going to be used for a significant length of time, unplug it or otherwise cut off these energy drains.  While such “vampire” loads may be small, from 0.5 to 10 watts, it is estimated that a typical household will have 20 appliances pulling standby at any given time.

        Other savings can be attained by looking for Energy Star-rated items.  This program, launched in 1992 by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency and U. S. Department of Energy, now covers more than 60 items.  For example, replacing a clothes washer made before 2000 with a 2010 Energy Star one could save $135 per year in electricity and also may save water, which requires energy to bring to your tap.  Replacing a refrigerator made before 1993 could save $65 annually.  The savings would be even greater if the old model is not in good working condition.  It can pay to invest in environmental stewardship.