Looking For A House So I Can Be A TreeHouse Customer

I need to buy a house. I need to buy a house to outfit with all the environmentally-friendly products from the new TreeHouse store in Dallas at 8021 Walnut Hill Lane. Bring your truck, it’s worth a visit. TreeHouse in Dallas

No matter what you’re interior design style is, you’ll find products to fit your taste. Gone are the days where environmentally friendly meant boring colors and only straw hut homes. Your creativity and style can shine through using eco-friendly products: Soy-based concrete that comes in 24 colors, Romabio mineral paint in just the shade of purple I want in my bedroom, and too many styles of bamboo flooring for me to pick just one. Would it be too much to have a mish-mashed home of a variety of styles?

Beyond the stunning open and clean layout as you walk through the glass sliding doors, there’s something else just as noticeable in the TreeHouse building: the people. I was impressed with all of the TreeHouse employees I interacted with. They were local, knowledgeable and happy to do their jobs. We chatted about bidets, flooring, elegant quartz bathroom and kitchen counter tops, energy efficiency, employee training and the recent bee keeping class upstairs. What was this place?

TreeHouse In Dallas

I gallivanted through the store, checking out each section and thinking about how I never made it down to the original store in Austin. Immediately, I worried about the growth of TreeHouse. As they continue to grow and reach more markets across Texas and the country, will they lose the personal knowledge-based staff and local feel?

Enter the co-founder, Jason Ballard. The fact that I was able to ask an employee for someone I could get a quote from and within five minutes the co-founder was shaking my hand … I have no words. I realized quick, the TreeHouse employees are insightful and conscientious because their leader is. Ballard studied ecology and biology at Texas A&M University and used to be a conservation biologist. His passions led him to solve some of the big issues affecting our environment today — home energy and water use. They now filter employees looking for college-educated, experienced and caring individuals. And then they extensively train them.

All of the interior design services at TreeHouse are available at no extra cost to the consumer. You can plan your kitchen from top to bottom with the help of a specialized designer knowledgeable in environmentally friendly products. The products range from ultra high end, like the fancy Nebia shower head, to affordable and comparable pricing to traditional products.

Let’s talk about another product. TreeHouse is the first authorized retailer to sell Tesla Powerwall battery packs. The batteries aren’t on site quite yet, but they have a space outlined on their back wall ready for arrival. The powerwall battery packs are smaller than expected at about the size of a thick small desk, without the legs of course. With a few solar panels on your house, or solar tiles, and a set of battery packs you could run your Texas-sized home off of the sun’s energy. The store itself runs off of over 530 solar panels on the roof powering two huge powerpacks on display in the center of the store. Actually, more than enough energy is produced from the solar panels, so TreeHouse is feeding the grid solar energy. Energy positive.

“When we come to town, things get better” said Ballard. Treehouse is renovating the entire northeast intersection of Walnut Hill Lane and Interstate 75. Soon there will be a Houndstooth coffee shop next door, and a Tesla super charger station, the first one inside the city limits of Dallas. They’re organizing a farmers market in the fall and the community is utilizing their public space for various meetings.

TreeHouse is a store for people who care about the “home” they live in — the physical house and our larger Earth home. You don’t have to sacrifice style, taste or price to do good for your family and the environment.

If I can find a small, reasonably priced home in the area, you’ll find me at Treehouse every weekend.

David Trubridge

TreeHouse introduced me to the inspiring art and business ethics of David Trubridge. Click the photo to find out more about him. Amazing.

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iNaturalist Nature Challenge And Snakes

Update: Final iNaturalist numbers – Dallas was #1 for the most observations in the country with 23,957 observations!

A snake is such a silly thing to be petrified of. Snakes should be respected like every other living creature, but they should not cause overwhelming fear that leads to rocks smashing their heads. Here’s why:

Ask yourself, why am I afraid? Because you have a perception of snakes as slithery, slimy, creepy, deadly animals? Now ask yourself, what shaped that perception of snakes? Was it media highlights of rare occurrences people suffering a snake bite but no information on the species of snakes in our area, and why the person was affected by the bite? Or was it a movie or television show using snakes as villains and portraying them as something to be feared? Or maybe it is the people around you who know someone who knows someone that was bit by a snake and died? Have you stopped to question why you’re so scared? Most people simply can not answer this question — or they answer, “I don’t know, I just think they’re gross.”

That’s not a good enough answer to smash a snake’s head in like I saw this past weekend while out participating in the City Nature Challenge. The challenge was a fun collaboration between by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Master Naturalists, The Audubon Society and others to see which city across the U.S. can document the most species (plants and animals) during April 14-18. In Texas, we had a local challenge between Austin and Houston, and so far (Tuesday April 18) the numbers are close. It looks like Dallas has the most observations (15,149) but the fewest species (1,788) compared to Houston (11,038 observations, 1,928 species) and Austin (11,331 observations, 1,921 species). But the final counts won’t be in until after this week’s paper is out.

All you had to do to participate was upload photos of findings in nature onto the iNaturalist app or on their website at iNaturalist.org. Now that the challenge is over, the data gathering is not! Anyone at anytime can upload to the app and the best part is, you don’t have to know what the plant or animal is. Experts of all kinds use iNaturalist and identify your observations. iNaturalist is an easy way to answer the endless “what is this?” question.

iNaturalist began in 2008 as a Master’s project by three students at UC Berkeley. The website and associated app, “is a place where you can record what you see in nature, meet other nature lovers, and learn about the natural world.” But more than that it’s a data collection of our natural world over time and we can use it to answer questions we have about our environment. Let’s take the snakes for example. On the website we can filter through observations to see what species of snakes we have in Texas, what has been observed, and if they have recently been found in our area.

There are over 68 species of snakes in Texas, and in Dallas there have been five observed species of venomous snakes. Quick side note: Snakes are venomous and not poisonous. Poisonous is something that gets on your skin or has toxins on the outside of its body for protection (poison ivy, poison dart frogs) and venomous is something that must inject its venom (certain species of snakes, spiders). In Dallas, the venomous snakes that have been observed are copperhead, cottonmouth, western diamondback, timber rattlesnake and coral snake (western massasauga’s have been observed short distance to our west in Fort Worth). These snakes are vital parts of our ecosystem that utilize venom to stun their prey to eat. Mice, small birds, lizards, other snakes, amphibians and insects are the types of prey for these snakes. Not humans.

When snakes are threatened (ie: when aggravated with sticks or rocks by fearful humans), their last defense is to strike. Stay away and the snake will. In 2001 in Texas 3,922 people died from auto related accidents, 207 from drowning, 59 from firearms, four from lightning and one from a snake bite. Change your perspective on snakes. Respect snakes, don’t attempt killing them.

Green Snake in Dallas

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What are you up to for Earth Month?

April is Earth month! It’s time to welcome in spring and let the abundance of life serve as a reminder that without clean air and water we would not have spring flowers, green trees and birds singing. Beyond the obvious superficial benefits, we should celebrate the ecosystem services provided by our natural systems. Acknowledge those services provided by our ecosystem that rarely have a monetary value attached to them, yet have incredible importance in our everyday lives.

Dallas outdoors nature • Waste treatment – Decomposers remove excess nutrients and pollutants from air, water and soil. Imagine the waste build up that would occur without fungi, bacteria and other decomposers.

• Erosion control – Colonization of vegetation holds soil in place and prevents gradual or quick destruction of landscapes.

• Nutrient cycling – Carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous are cycled through ecological systems maintaining system health and providing nutrients for plant growth.

• Water regulation and supply – Vegetation in areas such as wetlands slows the flow of water allowing it to seep into the ground and create aquifers that can supply water for agriculture and residential use.

• Food and raw material – Ecosystems provide wild food items, and provide wood and minerals for building supplies.

• Climate services – Plants provide removal of carbon dioxide through photosynthesis to reduce climate change. During the process of photosynthesis, water is evaporates off leaves, causing a cooling effect in the microclimate.

• Pollination services – One third of our food supply relies on pollinators for reproduction.

• Medicinal – Fifty percent of common drugs come from plants and animals.

• Bioprospecting is the exploration of biodiversity for commercially valuable genetic and biochemical resources. What if biodiversity is lost before we can harness its valuable uses?

The list reminds us of the importance of our environment, while Earth month brings awareness to action items we can use to protect our ecosystems. Spring is also a time of surviving and preparing for a long hot summer. Here are some spring green survival tips:

• Bug spray – Insecticides are causing the decline of pollinators, including native bees, across the U.S. Use all-natural versions of bug sprays on your skin and yards. Make your own bug spray mixing together witch hazel, lavender oil, vanilla extract and water in a spray bottle.

• Cleaning spray – Home chemicals and use of phosphates in soaps (laundry detergents and dishwashing detergents) sends harmful liquids down the drain into our water supply. Green your spring cleaning by making your own cleaning liquid using white vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, and tea tree essential oil.

• Get an aesthetically pleasing and ecologically healthy yard with native grasses and wildflowers. Buffalo grass is the easiest-to-find native grass seed available. Or skip the green yard altogether and xeriscape creating an inviting living space with drought and heat-resistant plants.

Round out your April by participating in Earth Day on April 22. Many schools and organizations are hosting events to celebrate our connection to the Earth and increase climate literacy. Head to Fair Park on April 21-23 for Earth Day Texas for outdoor fun, informative talks, interactive exhibits and many ideas to take action to protect our Earth.

Speaking of, what will you change this Earth month to have less of an impact on our environment? What can you do to use less resources? This year for the first time ever, I’m committing to make monthly monetary donations to climate research organizations. It doesn’t have to be a donation. There are many ways to decrease your environmental impact. Plant a garden, go meatless one day per week, avoid using plastic bottles, change your printer settings, invest in solar or create your own act of green. One of the biggest impacts you can make is sharing this info and building more knowledge. Let’s continue to learn about our Earth together — connect with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @naimajeannette!

bee pollinator

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You need to know about CRISPR

CRISPR stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. It’s a genome editing technique that has turned the biomedical community on it’s head. Basically, CRISPR is a group of molecules that can edit DNA and unlike other gene-editing methods it’s cheap, quick and “easy” to use. In 2015, CRISPR was labeled the breakthrough of the year, and it could be the technology to cure many diseases, including cancer.

CRISPR-Cas9 can be programmed to seek and find a certain sequence of DNA, say a mutation you don’t want, and snip it out. By placing an alternate DNA code in the nearby vicinity, the new DNA will be repaired into the DNA code. For example many diseases, such as cystic fibrosis or muscular dystrophy, are the result of a faulty gene that could be replaced. Researchers have used CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the genome of mice with a severe form of muscular dystrophy. Their results show the mice were able to make an essential muscle protein allowing them to build strength during growth.

The Cas9 of CRISPR-Cas9 is a CRISPR associated protein 9. The Cas9 is the protein/enzyme derived from a bacteria used to unravel DNA and cut out the unwanted DNA. The enzyme (the scissors) is paired with an RNA strand that guides or programs the enzyme to the sequences at specific locations in the genome to cut. Together they can be programmed to cut DNA at precise points on the genome. This precision is extremely valuable.

Since the discovery of CRISPR-Cas9, hundreds of papers have been published discovering the wide applications of CRISPR-Cas9 technology. Discoveries beyond the straight forward use have often been called, “hacking CRISPR.” Scientists have used the CRISPR technology to hack a way to help remove cancer cells from infected individuals. Cancer attacks immune cells, the very same cells that should destroy cancer cells. CRISPR-Cas9 can disable the gene that puts a stop on a cell’s immune response, giving them the ability again to fight and destroy cancer cells. The first clinical trials using some of this CRISPR-Cas9 technology in humans in the US will be sometime this year.

Another hack of CRISPR is using the technology to not just cut out DNA but to alter the epigenome. Simply, your DNA codes for proteins which make up your body. Not all of your DNA codes are turned on and many are turned off. By altering what codes are turned on or off, effects what your body displays. Think of twins – they have the same genetic makeup (same DNA), yet their physical appearance is different – they look and act different. This has a lot to do with their epigenome and environmental factors that have turned off some genes and on others. Using the CRISPR technology scientists are sending proteins to precise spots on the DNA to turn on or off certain DNA codes. This is yet another way genes can be altered to select for certain traits or lessen others.

This technology comes with great responsibility. Changing the genome of one organism in the population will effect the entire population, and what change will that cause in the ecologic system? Let’s look at the zika virus for a second. It’s a deadly virus carried by only a few species of mosquitoes. Using CRISPR-Cas9 scientists could alter the genome of a mosquito to make it unable to carry the zika virus. When this mosquito reproduced it’s offspring would carry the same DNA and soon the entire species would not be able to carry the virus, essentially destroying the virus. But, what if when the mosquito was altered it made it distasteful to it’s predators? The mosquito population would explode. And what if it could now carry a different even more deadly virus? The point is, the ecologic systems are highly complex and connected. If these CRISPR-Cas9 genes enter the environment, the ramifications could be extreme.

And how far are we willing to modify the human genetic genome? Would you like your child to express more of their DNA code for longer thicker hair? Would you like to ensure they don’t have the gene for early onset Alzheimers? Where is the line drawn?

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Environmentalists Must Bridge The Science Knowledge Gap

Amidst the recent strange political environment, the job of an environmentalist has become increasingly arduous.

In the first few weeks of the fall semester teaching Environmental Biology at Mountain View College, I’ve noticed an increase in political questions lending themselves to lengthy explanations. But, in 16-week courses, I have an opportunity to start from the bottom and work understanding in, all the way to the top. The class starts with comprehending the foundations of science, and how science published in journals makes it’s way into the news and the public view. What you read in the paper, on the internet, or listen to on the radio is a minuscule representation of scientific journal articles published daily.

Understanding how science works is the base for understanding how science changes. This foundation is important in today’s politics. Do you agree with President Trump that CO2 is not a main contributing factor to increasing climate change? Check the science. Don’t check any outlet, check the source: scientific journals. Keep your critical thinking glasses on when reading articles. There is no debate that climate change is happening and it’s increased by our human activities which release CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the environment.

Thousands of scientific studies were pooled to show that 97 percent of the scientific community is in agreement that climate change is happening and human activities are causing an increase in the change. How do our Dallas County residents measure up to this understanding? A study doClimate Opinion Map ne by Yale University (2014) found that 69 percent of adults in Dallas County believe global warming is happening and 52 percent think global warming is mostly caused by human activities. These nubers seem low until a comparison is made to our next door neighbor. In Tarrant County, 59 percent
believe global warming is happening and 45 percent think it’s caused by human activities.

The lag in understanding from the scientific community to the general public is disheartening, it’s a science knowledge gap.  As environmentalists we need to continue to bring awareness to political leaders and businesses who understand and utilize science to shape policy and economics. These leaders continue to push for a sustainable world, despite our current presidential falsehoods.

Locally, Mayor Mike Rawlings is part of the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda, a network of U.S. cities working together to develop innovative action on mitigating and adapting to climate change. President Trump may pull out support for the Paris Agreement which put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C. If he does, several Mayors around the country are preparing to continue the climate fight and enact climate regulations in line with the Paris Agreement. Mayor Rawlings better be one of them.

Businesses using sustainability to add to the economy are scattered throughout the DFW area. On a grand scale, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg just visited Dallas and his new data factory outside of Fort Worth, which is powered by 100 percent wind. The U.S. Green Building Council has a strong presence in North Texas and big construction projects continue to roll out with high LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certifications. Several large hotels (Omni and Fairmont Dallas) are striving for environmentally friendly options such as rooftop beehives, and renovations designed to increase energy efficiency. Small businesses are providing a green landscape in North Texas, from green car dealerships to green cleaners. There are more and more environmentally friendly options for consumers to choose from.

The current political climate is led by “alternate facts,” fake news and questionable sources. These news sources lack the checks and balances of the scientific community. Science shows we are negatively impacting our climate. Support the leaders and businesses who understand that this knowledge is vital to our future. We must move forward from this base knowledge and work to reduce our impact on the environment.

As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly. 

Visit the “Links to Love” tab for some good public science news sources.

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2017 Resolutions

I waited a few weeks for this resolution blog. This is about the time we all start thinking about dropping every resolution we made, even the ones we vowed to never give up. But, let me remind you, in the grand scheme of things, a year can fly by. There is a lush land on the other side of this urge to quit. Sticking with a few impactful changes in the first few months of a year often carry over through the remaining months. Refine your resolutions, create some new ones, and continue to develop yourself and your life into what you truly want it to be.

Here are the top five basic green resolutions to make a difference in your life and the world around you. They’re simple yet effective and accomplishable. Get started today and hold your head up high when you consider your efforts for making the world more in tune with our environment.

5. Change the margins on your documents. Right now. Go to your document settings and set your margins to 0.5” (half the size of the default 1”). According to a study done by Penn State Green Destiny Council, reducing margins to .75” on all sides results in a total reduction of paper by 4.75 percent. This correlates to saving 19 reams of paper and 1.14 trees on every ton of paper, using a .75” margin. American offices use about 4 million tons of copy paper alone every year. Use .5” and the tree, energy, and money savings grow. Think about printing on both sides of the paper as well, and forgo paper at all when you can!

4. Make your coffee at home. This simple task uses less water, less energy and less waste than your morning coffee shop run. Still want a strong cup? Buy a French press. Pour hot water over your coffee grinds into the inexpensive glassware and in a few minutes you’ll have a powerful cup of joe. Want the frothy “latte?” Use the French press to froth the milk or order a small nonelectric milk frother from Amazon.

3. Stock your car with reusable bags or any bag. If you don’t have enough reusable bags, grab a stack of paper and plastic bags and shove them under your seat for your next grocery store visit. If you forget the bags in the car, park your cart for three minutes and run back to your car. Is it really a big deal to have to burn some extra calories walking back out to your car?

2. Eat less red meat. Notice, I didn’t write become vegan, I wrote eat less. Make choices. Cattle take up more resources than smaller animals, so choosing chicken over red meat often will reduce your ecological footprint. Reducing your meat intake altogether is impactful. Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivores Dilemma” stated that if Americans went meatless one night a week, it would be equivalent to taking 30-40 million cars off the road for a year.

1. Educate yourself and share what you learn with others. One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is, “Where can I find good information.” A good one-stop-shop for science information covering a wide variety of topics is climatecentral.org. Climate Central is an independent organization of leading scientists and journalists researching and reporting the facts about our changing climate and its impact on the public. They post on social media making it easy to find articles you’re interested in, share them and engage in a conversation with your friends.

One of my resolutions lands hethe blue zones avily on the number one listed here. Join me in my education beyond the internet, newspapers, radio, podcasts and magazines. I’ve made a goal to read five books this year. A small goal compared to Zuckerberg’s 2015 Book Club in which he read a new book every two weeks! First up is The Blue Zones — Lessons for Living Longer From The People Who’ve Lived The Longest by Dan Buettner. I’ve seen Buettner speak, read his ar
ticles in National Geographic and now it’s time to get the full story from the book. What books are you reading this year?

As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly. 

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Dallas Bike Culture Is Slowly Moving Forward

Have you tried running errands on your bike in Dallas? I’ve recently made it a point to get back on the bike for short trips around town, and to exercise my energetic puppy. Using my bike for transportation gets me out in the fresh open air and uses zero gasoline or electricity. The downfall: it’s still a mad house out there on the roads. But that is changing, slowly.

Since the adoption of the 2011 City of Dallas Bike Plan, there have been small movements forward. Operating under their $500,000 per year budget, the bike department (made up of one) can only create painted lanes and flex posts. A far cry from what a biker dreams of: a protected bike-only lane. The current tally of on-street bike lanes is 48.6 miles and if mountain bike and off-road lanes are included, it’s 188.6 miles (35.5. miles shared lanes, 10.4 miles bike lanes, 2.7 miles protected bike lanes, and 140 miles multi-use pathways). The shared lanes intrude into vehicle space and bike lanes reside on the edge of the street. Some of these painted lines have already heavily faded in just a few short years.

There may only be a few miles of protected bike lanes but Jared White, City of Dallas Bicycle Transportation Manager, is working to find other projects with larger budgets to build more bike infrastructure. The most exciting upcoming project is in West Dallas. A small section of Fort Worth Avenue will be brought down from six lanes to four and two protected bike travel lanes will be installed. Construction due date for that project is summer 2018. That’s not too far off!

With these protected bike lanes come issues. This past week while getting my bike tuned at a local bike shop, I noticed a petition on the counter addressed to the City of Dallas. The petition is asking the city to purchase street sweeping vehicles that fit in the narrow bike lanes. If a protected bike lane is on a street marked for sweeping, the current street sweeper is too wide to fit in the lane. This leads to a buildup of broken glass and other trash in the bike lane. Because of unsafe conditions, bikers are forced to ride back in traffic, making the bike lane useless without being maintained.

White understood the importance of cleaning the bike lanes and the current issue with their maintenance plan. Currently, the bike lanes must be cleaned by hand taking up staff time and money. The bike community has also lent a helping hand, many riders mentioning they stop and pick up debris as they go. As more protected lanes are built, maintenance needs to be top priority.

On my recent outings, it’s obvious many vehicles are still not comfortable with the presence of bicycles on the roads. But with more small projects and additional protected bike lanes, comes a chance to familiarize people with bike transportation. More people will use the alternate transportation, and motorists will become accustomed to seeing bicyclists moving about the city. “In some cases, people aren’t familiar with bike lanes, or not supportive of them, so it’s trying to get people on board with this type of change and trying to build in a new network related to walking and biking,” White said.

The transformation of Dallas into a bike friendly city is certainly moving slow, but progress is still shifting forward. There are several thriving bike shops and signs of bike culture in Dallas. However, in my research for this article, I noticed a lag in the use of social media to rally the bike troupes. Many Dallas bike pages have been stagnant for years. If you’re out there, let’s revive the bike chatter! Use #BikeDallas to connect!

You can connect with me at Facebook.com/naimajeannette, Twitter.com/naimajeannette and Instagram.com/naimaJ! See you on the streets or online. 🙂

Bike Dallas

Kemosabe is taking a break from running along side the bike, on the Katy Trail.

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Happy New Year 2017

Hey readers! Things got a bit out of control the last few months and of course the first thing to go, is your own work. Well, I keep making a promise to myself that I won’t do that in the future but then I keep being “forced” into it. But, we always have a choice and it’s a new year and I’m making more promises to myself! It’s always about priorities.

2016 I made it a point to make my health and well being a major priority. I started daily (5 days a week) yoga in April and never turned back. No matter how busy my day was I stopped and went to yoga class. And you know what happened, it was fine. I still forged ahead in my career and took the much needed hour a day for myself. For a gal with an insanely overactive brain, it was astonishing to me that sometimes I would exit class and think, wow, I only thought about yoga for an entire hour. That was a miracle. A straight up miracle.

In 2016 I also made it a priority to be the healthiest version of myself. I found a functional medicine doctor and embarked on the hardest three months of my life on an insanely strict diet. Jan -March 2016 was full of tears and daily emotional struggles. I was super strict on the diet for 10 months, and the last two months of the year went a little haywire. I’m regrouping and using the knowledge I learned to shape my physical gut health this year.

So, where do I go from here for 2017. Well, I’m continuing the leaps I’ve made in my health and well being, and setting some new goals. Like, back on the drawing board is reading books. Don’t give me recommendations because I have a stack, most I’ve started. It’s just really hard for me to pick up a book and lock the world out. I feel like I could be finding an article for a client, for my class, or… you get the point. It’s not that I don’t know the tremendous value reading a book is for your brain, I do. And it’s what I seek. I just haven’t gotten that priority bumped up to the actual do it stage. I tried leaving my phone out of my bedroom at night and I found myself standing by the charger in the other room. It’s a mental decision to make change happen, and something hasn’t clicked yet.

I’m also going to make sure my blog gets weekly attention and up my own social media presence. I do so much for clients on social media and consulting, I usually am never thinking about using the same info for myself. Well, that needs to end. I’m growing myself online too. Follow me on instagram.com/naimaJ, twitter.com/naimajeannette, and Facebook.com/naimajeannette, snapchat @NaimaJ, and Linked In.

I have been keeping up with my weekly column’s but you just haven’t seen them posted here. Only in the print newspaper and on their website. That’s ok, we’ll skip those and fast forward to my first of the year… about my tortured decision to upgrade my phone again. (Read below)

Cheers to an even better 2017 where we organize our priorities to create the lives we want for ourselves. Live the little things.

Love you all.

Naïma

2017 Happy New Year

The little one is mad at the big one. Our current lives.


I’m frustrated with Apple. Sounds familiar, I bet. But, maybe it’s not Apple we should be frustrated with. Or maybe it is.

I’ve had an iPhone 6+ for 25.5 months now and at 24 months my phone started having issues. The usual battery going from 70 percent to off in seconds, apps closing unexpectedly and overall just not being responsive to my incessant button tapping! I bought AppleCare, which covers a replacement phone within 24 months to protect my phone from my adventurous life. Well, at just over 24 months my phone shows “no sign of malfunction” and the battery tests great on their diagnostics. Commence an argument with their staff pleading that I’m not lying, and their move to push me into the iPhone 7+.

The issue is environmental. Cobalt is a mineral essential to making the lithium-ion battery that powers your phone, and coltan is a metallic ore that is vital in creating capacitors, the electronic elements that control electric flow inside the circuit board. Both are harvested in the Congo under harsh conditions by people who are not equipped with proper safety protection. According to UNICEF, in 2014 about 40,000 children worked in mines across southern Congo, many of them mining cobalt, making about $1-$2 per day. Coltan is a conflict mineral under U.S. law and cobalt should be on its way.

Harvesting these minerals, especially coltan, is destroying valuable wildlife habitat. The forest is cleared to make mining coltan easier destroying vital habitat for endangered mountain gorillas. In Kahuzi Biega National Park the gorilla population has been cut nearly in half, from 258 to 130 individuals. The U.N. Environment Program reported that the number of eastern lowland gorillas in eight Congo national parks has declined by 90 percent over the past five years.

But, in order to move toward a sustainable future, batteries must improve for phones, vehicles and home solar storage. Will this put more pressure on the environment? Maybe not.

New technology may reduce the weight of the battery and increase the amount of energy stored by 10 times. Lithium-air batteries have the potential to allow an electric car to drive 400 miles on a single charge and maintain a charge in a mobile phone for a week without a recharge. But, there have been issues in stability. Scientific teams from all over the world are pushing this technology to make it available to the public in five-10 years, and one of these teams is in our own backyard.

Kyeongjae Cho, professor of materials science and engineering in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science at UT Dallas, recently published his findings in the journal Nature. His team has discovered new electrolyte catalyst materials that can help expand the capacity of lithium-air batteries. This big step should lead to additional advances in battery technology, putting them one step closer to market.

OK, so back to my original conundrum. The battery technology is not there yet, so what do I do? The 7+ battery is estimated to last an hour longer than the 6+ but both are still using a lithium-ion battery. Apple’s current research focuses on elongating battery life by creating less power-hungry screens, lower power consumption chips and wireless charging technologies, but I didn’t see much research in lithion-air or other forward thinking battery technologies.

The best thing we can do, beyond not using a phone at all, is when we are ready to part with a sub par, (essentially not working) phone, recycle it. Phones are either refurbished (can’t they do that to mine and give it right back to me) or broken down to harvest parts. There are issues with electronic recycling as well, and that system is not what it needs to be either, but it’s better than nothing. And as much as I’m frustrated with Apple, they’re doing more than many other companies. In 2015, 93 percent of their energy came from renewable sources, and 99 percent of their packaging paper is recycled or sustainable.

So, next time you see me with a new 7+ (after I’ve won the lottery), ask me about the tortured decision.

As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly.

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Watch “Before The Flood” Free Online Until Sunday November 6

Although there are current political leaders denouncing the existence of climate change and the impact our human activities have on the changing climate, science and public awareness moves forward. The best data to showcase the effect humans are having on our planet is to look at the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere in the past 400,000 years. Scientists drill deep into ice, removing ice cores to evaluate pockets of air trapped inside from thousands of years ago. Using these small pockets of air, scientists determine the amount of CO2 present in the atmosphere during past periods of time when the ice was formed.

The NASA graph utilizing this ice core data shows during ice ages, CO2 levels were around 200 parts per million (ppm), and during the warmer interglacial periods they hovered around 280 ppm. In the last 400,000 plus years, atmospheric CO2 has never been above 310 ppm, until the 1950s. Since the 1950s we have continued to increase the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere to a record today of 401 ppm. Human activities have caused this unprecedented increase in CO2.

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A new documentary provides a stunning visual of the many ways we are increasing CO2 in our atmosphere and adding to climate change. “Before the Flood” is presented by National Geographic, directed by Fisher Stevens and produced by and features Leonardo DiCaprio. The movie is FREE to watch on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes and Amazon Prime Video through November 6, 2016 and then it will be available on National Geographic. If you have a device of some sort and internet, you can watch it. The film follows DiCaprio from his moments of knowing nothing of climate change to a journey across five continents to gain a deep understanding of climate change and what the hope is for our future.

The documentary showcases a variety of monumental impacts we are having on the environment from immense mining operations, overfishing, poor agriculture processes and habitat destruction. “Last year in 2015, when the forest fire happens in Indonesia, it emits more carbon daily than the entire U.S. economy,” says Farwiza Farhan during a scene in “Before the Flood,” when immense rainforests are up in flames, smogging out the view across the landscape. Farhan is the chairperson of Yayasan Haka, an NGO dedicated to the protection, conservation and restoration of the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia. The burning of the forest, releasing stored carbon and impacting biodiversity, is to make space for more palm oil plantations to feed the need of cheap processed food and grocery items.

There is hope. The end of the film is dedicated to scientific models that show if we stop using fossil fuels, yes, the Earth will continue to warm for a residual bit. But, over time, the Earth would cool and ice sheets that have lost detrimental amounts of ice would begin to grow. But, this is only if we take action now. The longer we wait, the more damage is done. Take action individually by making informed consumer decisions, put pressure on companies to take improved actions to combat climate change and on this November 8th or earlier, vote. Vote for leaders in your community and for our country that treat climate change as the threat and opportunity for our future that it is.

“Climate change is the single greatest threat to a sustainable future, but at the same time, addressing the climate challenge presents a golden opportunity to promote prosperity, security and a brighter future for all,” said Ban Ki-Moon, former Secretary General, United Nations. We have an opportunity to create a world in which we protect our resources, build sustainable energy sources and build the foundation for a new visualized future.

“It’s up to all of us,” just as the last line in the movie says.

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October 2016 – Palm Oil Crisis Update

I’ve avoided giving the update on this issue for a while now, mainly because the news isn’t good. I’d love to give a positive update on an environmental issue that reaches our daily lives, but it’s just getting worse. The palm oil crisis rages on. As Halloween candy ingestion increases, our awareness of the palm oil crisis should grow as well.

In case you have missed what palm oil is, palm oil is found in more than 50 percent of products in the grocery store including cookies, crackers, milk, lotions, soaps and yes, candy. The semi solid oil is ideal for a variety of commercial uses such as providing products their “chewy” texture, and due to moderate amount of linoleic acid and antioxidants, palm oil keeps products stable for longer periods. With more than 30 different common names for palm oil, it can be very difficult to identify which products contain the oil.

Pic from naturallysavvy.com

Pic from naturallysavvy.com

The cheap filler, palm oil, has not always been in our products. In the last 30 years palm oil production has increased to today about a third of all vegetable oil used worldwide is derived from oil palm trees. Eighty-five percent of all palm oil produced is exported from Indonesia and Malaysia. Palm oil plantations are created by slash and burning tropical rainforests, which destroys wildlife habitat and releases large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere contributing to climate change. The destruction of tropical rainforests also reduces the amount of plants taking in carbon dioxide, which their presence would offset climate change. Habitat destruction in favor of palm oil plantations has led to vast declines in orangutans, tigers and other endangered species.

OK, so what’s the update? Malaysia had a rough year with unconventional hot dry weather related to the El Niño phenomenon. Palm oil yield in Malaysia is estimated to decline by 5.3 percent for 2016. But, forecasts for 2017 are showing a 5.6 percent increase for 2017. Just last week palm oil future prices surged to the highest in more than two years. The palm oil business in Malaysia rages on. Now, companies are expanding to other parts of the world, such as Africa.

Liberia has become a new target location for palm oil plantations. The Guardian recently published their investigation into the palm oil debate focusing on Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL). GVL is a palm oil company emphasizing their work in Liberia as bringing jobs and increasing the economy through oil palm plantations. Just as the land was destroyed in Indonesia, the same is being done in Liberia, without the entire community’s consent.

Poverty is a driving issue that allows companies to exploit third world land. Still writhing from a civil war, Liberia is falling victim to this exploitation. We need to support nonprofits and companies that boost local economic communities through sustainable development and not land destruction.

And where are we with sustainable palm oil? The same, it’s not really sustainable. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is the only recognized certification for sustainable palm oil but is run by many of the palm oil companies. The RSPO sustainable certification process doesn’t cover some of the most critical environmental issues around destroying forests and peatlands. We need an independent third party certification process to accurately assess sustainability and until that exists, don’t believe the sustainable palm oil hype.

Let’s make some movement on combating the palm oil industry. Industries follow consumers and if you don’t buy palm oil, companies will begin to feel the economic decline. Use #PalmOilFree to identify products that don’t have palm oil in them and help spread the word on social media about what palm oil is, why it’s important and what you can do every day to make a difference. A strong community presence will give more power to politicians to create regulations on our U.S. consumer companies to reduce their palm oil use or push for real sustainable action. This will pass change back to palm oil companies around the world. Individually we can come together to make a positive impact on the palm oil crisis. Choose your Halloween candy wisely.

As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly.

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