Curbing Global Warming - Your Everyday Choices Make a Difference!

by Michele McKay

Burning fossil fuels (oil and petroleum) releases CO2 into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Here in Hawaii over 90% of the energy we use for electricity and transportation is produced by burning oil!

Reducing CO2 emissions can seem like an overwhelming challenge, but the choices we make in our everyday lives can help curb global warming. If you think you can’t make a difference, check out the results of taking these seven simple actions:

If all the readers* of this article would..

  • ...eliminate one pound of meat from their diet each week
    we would save 41,184,000 pounds of CO2 per year
  • ...unplug their electronics when not in use
    we would save at least 4,745,000 pounds of CO2 per year
  • ...reduce their driving by one mile every day
    we would save 1,752,000 pounds of CO2 per year
  • ...turn the air conditioner thermostat up by 2 degrees in summer
    we would save 4,745,000 pounds of CO2 per year
  • ...wash their clothes in cold water
    we would save 2,400,000 pounds of CO2 per year
  • ...line-dry one load of laundry once a week
    we would save 836,000 pounds of CO2 per year
  • ...replace one incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent bulb (CFL)
    we would save 730,000 pounds of CO2 per year

And if every reader took all seven actions we would save 56,392,000 pounds of CO2 per year!

Your actions do make a difference! Get started today… our planet will thank you.

For additional information from Hawaii on global warming visit


* Based on 4,800 monthly recipients/readers of Down to Earth’s e-newsletter and website. To sign up for our free e-newsletter, visit

The Great Diaper Debate

by Michele McKay

Cloth diapers vs. disposables... which is the more environmentally responsible choice? We all know that cloth diapers use water, while disposables use landfill space. But when you look a little closer, you will find other factors are involved.

Cloth Diaper Facts:

In the 2 ½ years from birth to toilet training, a baby will need a total of 3-6 dozen cloth diapers and around 25 diaper covers.


  • Cloth diapers use fewer raw materials than disposables
  • They generate much less solid waste
  • Fecal material goes into appropriate sewage systems, rather than into landfills
  • Handing down to other babies or recycling into rags provides many years of use

Negative impacts:

  • Laundering uses water, detergents and sanitizers

Disposable Diaper Facts:

Between birth and toilet training, a baby will use over 6,000 disposable diapers. 18 billion disposable diapers are used in the US each year, making up 30 percent of all our non-biodegradable landfill waste.


  • Disposables use less water than cloth diapers

Negative impacts:

  • Disposables require more raw materials than cloth diapers
  • They generate much more solid waste than cloth diapers
  • Each disposable diaper takes 500 years to decompose
  • Waste from disposable diapers could leach disease organisms into water supply
  • Dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals known, is produced by the chlorine gas used in the manufacture of most disposables


There are several factors to consider when trying to make an environmentally responsible choice between cloth and disposable diapers. For many parents, using a combination may be the best option. Here in Hawaii, the best choice can vary from island to island – some areas may have a solid waste and landfill crisis, while others may have water or sewer shortages. One choice is clear: if you purchase disposables, make sure they are not treated with dioxin-producing chlorine. Chlorine-free diapers are available at Down to Earth stores.

Protect Our Islands from Invasive Aliens!

by Michele McKay

Invasive aliens!! Sounds like something from a sci-fi plot! But in fact, invasive aliens – the imported plants, animals, and microorganisms that become destructive to their new home – are a serious ecological threat to our Islands. The Legislative Act that created the Hawaii Invasive Species Council states, "The legislature finds that the silent invasion of Hawaii by insects, disease-bearing organisms, snakes, weeds, and other pests is the single greatest threat to Hawaii's economy and natural environment and to the health and lifestyle of Hawaii's people. Invasive species already cause millions of dollars in crop losses, the extinction of native species, the destruction of native forests, and the spread of disease.”

Plants, animals, and marine life

Some plants that were intentionally imported to Hawaii for the purpose of landscape, agriculture, or forestry have escaped cultivation and have taken over the habitat of native species. Rats, mongoose, and feral cats jeopardize indigenous forests, and proliferating coqui frogs threaten residential areas and whole ecosystems. Invasive aquatic species, especially algae, are one of the greatest threats to the waters and coral reefs of Hawaii, endangering public health as well as the delicate balance of native marine life.

The Hawaii Invasive Species Council has identified coqui frogs, miconia, little fire ants, mongoose, brown tree snakes, alien algae, feral cats, and fountain grass as destructive species of the highest concern.

What you can do:

  • Don't pack a pest. Always declare all plants, seeds, soil, sand, and animals when entering the State of Hawaii.
  • Don't plant a pest. When buying plants, request ‘safe’ varieties or screen them yourself with the Hawaii Weed Risk Assessment at
  • Buy local. Fungi, insects, and agricultural diseases can be carried by imported produce. Buying local crops will protect our local agriculture and farmers.
  • Keep it clean. Clean your shoes, tires, and water-related gear after each outing.
  • Volunteer. To join efforts against invasive species call the Oahu Invasive Species Committee (286-4616), DLNR (587-0307), or Alien Algae Cleanup (779-2616).
  • Report sightings. Report any invasive or unknown animals, insects, plants and fish to the statewide pest hotline at 643-PEST (643-7378).
  • Learn more. Visit for information about the Hawaii Invasive Species Council and its efforts.

Our Living Reefs

by Michele McKay

Coral reefs, and the waters they shelter, are closely tied to our lifestyle and cultural traditions in Hawaii – and they are home to roughly 7,000 varieties of marine life, many that exist nowhere else on Earth. Coral reefs are huge, hard, and sharp… but, amazingly, they are created by delicate life forms: tiny algae and polyps working in partnership.

Dan Polhemus, Administrator for the State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Division of Aquatic Resources, says that coral reefs provide countless benefits, including the surf we ride and the beaches we enjoy. “They also serve as nature’s breakwaters, protecting us from the destructive power of the sea. In more ways than we might realize, our island lifestyle depends on our coral reefs.”

The Living Reef, a 24-page booklet recently published on the internet, illustrates the biological, economic, and cultural significance of Hawaii’s “rainforests of the sea” with beautiful color photos. A project of The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii and the DLNR, in cooperation with Malama Hawai'i and NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program, The Living Reef can be viewed and downloaded from

The booklet explains how our coral reefs are endangered by r un-off, sedimentation, debris, invasive species, destructive fishing practices, recreational overuse, and climate change. B ut it also describes constructive solutions to these threats:

  • Funding community-based marine management for near-shore areas
  • Funding and staffing marine resource enforcement
  • Investing in systems for sewage treatment and land-based pollution prevention
  • Adopting the recommendations of the 2003 State Aquatic Invasive Species Management Plan to protect against invasive aquatic plants and animals
  • Reforming fishing policies and practices
  • Creating nursery areas for fish to grow and reproduce without being harvested

What you can do:

Remember that our land and ocean are connected – in Hawaii everything eventually flows into the sea. Practice good environmental stewardship in your everyday life:

  • Dispose of all car fluids (motor oil, gasoline, everything!), detergents, chemicals, grass clippings, and dirt sweepings properly. If left on the ground, these contaminants will go down our storm drains with the next big rain.
  • Throw your trash where it belongs.
  • Control sediment flow from construction and agricultural areas.

Get involved with The Nature Conservancy by contacting Janice Staab at (808) 587-6232 or by email at or

Protecting the Islands from Environmental Disasters

by Michele McKay

We can not prevent hurricanes any more than we can fool Mother Nature, but we can anticipate their enormous force. And though environmental damage is inevitable from a large storm, we can minimize the man-made environmental disasters that often follow.

Natural Disasters

Tropical storms and hurricanes naturally sweep the Pacific Ocean, generating high winds, huge swells, and heavy rainfall. They also carry the potential for severe environmental damage when they encounter land. When Hurricane Iniki ripped across Kaua’i in 1992, the destruction included massive beach erosion and v egetation damage. Trees, shrubs, and ferns were broken and stripped of leaves, native forest enclaves were destroyed, and ridges were scoured to bare rock.

Beaches are particularly vulnerable. Waves and heavy rain can quickly erode the sand, and storm surges can cause coastal overwash or penetrate inland. Some beaches may be totally stripped of their sand, leaving rock outcrops exposed. The sand that disappears may move inland of offshore. Coral reefs, normally protecting beaches by acting as natural breakwaters, may be damaged, resulting in beach erosion for years after a hurricane.

A wide beach is the best protection against hurricane-generated waves and storm surges. Measures that help to protect beach or dune areas, such as erecting new buildings back from the wave impact zone, conserving natural beach and dune vegetation, and preventing the mining of beach sand, will help to preserve the beach as a natural storm barrier. After a hurricane, beaches should be given time to recover naturally. Walls or other hard structures should not be constructed, as they may actually impede beach recovery. Sand that has washed onto beachfront property should not be sold or removed, but should be returned to the beach to aid its process of regeneration.

Man-made Disasters “Waiting to Happen”

The natural force of a hurricane has the potential to trigger an enormous man-made crisis in urban and industrial areas. Enforcing strong environmental regulations and planning/development codes before a disaster strikes is our best defense against the contamination of water, the release of oil, gas, sewage, and toxic chemicals, and the spread of disease. While stopping a hurricane in its tracks is impossible, we can protect our Islands from becoming, like the Gulf Coast, a man-made disaster waiting to happen.

A Recyclers’ Guide to Oahu and Maui

by Michele McKay

Approximately 800 million beverage containers are sold in Hawaii each year – that’s a lot of plastic, aluminum, and glass! The HI-5 program is helping to keep these materials out of landfills through a 5-cent deposit redemption, and the City & County of Honolulu is evaluating options for curbside recycling following a voter-approved charter amendment.

Recycling saves energy and water, lowers pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, improves air and water quality, reduces waste, and protects the land and its resources. To encourage recycling, Down to Earth offers this how-to guide for Oahu and Maui:

Where to recycle

On Oahu

  • HI-5 beverage containers can be recycled for 5 cents each at the RRR Recycling Services mobile “reverse vending machine” trucks, and at the Reynolds Recycling redemption centers.
  • Recyclables can be dropped-off in the bins located at 76 schools and shopping centers around the island. These take glass, aluminum cans, plastic, newspaper, cardboard, and white or colored office paper. Some neighborhoods have curbside recycling (we may see more in the future), and many have green waste pickup.
  • For redemption center and drop-off bin locations or other recycling information, visit, or contact or 692-5410.

On Maui

How to recycle

  • Glass, aluminum cans, plastic beverage bottles: Rinse, remove lids. Labels are OK.
  • NO plastic bags, food tubs, hard plastic, styrofoam, shrink wrap, foam rubber, ceramics, light bulbs, window glass, steel/tin cans, scrap metals, lawn furniture, building materials.
  • Newspaper, cardboard, office paper: Includes newspapers, corrugated cardboard, boxboard (cereal boxes), brown paper bags, office paper (boxed or paper-bagged).
  • NO magazines, telephone books, milk/juice cartons, wax-coated cardboard, food residue, plastic bags, rubber bands, string. Do not tie in bundles. Boxes must be flattened.
  • Tin cans, scrap metal: Oahu H-Power reclaims metals such as tin cans from trash. Steel, aluminum, copper, brass, and other metals can be recycled through scrap dealers on both Oahu and Maui. They can be found in the yellow pages under “Scrap Metals.”

Watching Wildlife Responsibly

by Michele McKay

Watching wildlife is a great way for people of all ages to experience nature and learn about the flora, fauna and environment of our Hawaiian Islands. However, wildlife enthusiasts who disturb land and marine animals or who overuse sensitive areas can pose a threat to the long-term health of wildlife, native plants, and habitats.

The Hawaii Watchable Wildlife Project includes a network of 31 viewing sites statewide, a guidebook called The Hawaii Wildlife Viewing Guide, and an informative website. The project encourages ecologically responsible and sustainable wildlife watching conduct, as well as the use of appropriate viewing locations. They offer these guidelines:

  • Look in the right place at the right time. The specific habitat, time of day, and season are important factors to consider when looking for wildlife.
  • Learn before you go. Read about the wildlife, viewing sites, and local regulations in the area you’ll be visiting.
  • Keep your distance. Wild animals are sensitive to human disturbance; resist the temptation to go near them, their nests, or their resting areas. Use binoculars!
  • Look, but don’t touch. If a wild animal comes near you, back away calmly.
  • Do not feed or attract wildlife. Feeding or attracting animals can disrupt normal feeding cycles, make them vulnerable to injury, and cause sickness or death.
  • Help others. Speak up if you notice other people behaving in a way that impacts sensitive habitats or disturbs wildlife and other viewers. Remember to be friendly, respectful, and discrete. Do report violations of the law to local authorities.
  • Respect the rights of other people. Ask permission to enter private lands and abide by all “no trespassing” signs. Be considerate in urban neighborhoods.
  • Lend a hand with trash removal. Human garbage is one of the greatest threats to wildlife. Carry a trash bag and pick up litter wherever you see it.

The Hawaii Watchable Wildlife Project reminds wildlife viewers and nature lovers to:

  • Clean shoes after a hike. Seeds from invasive species can be transported in the tread of muddy shoes.
  • Remain at least 50 yards from dolphins and monk seals. Refrain from swimming with these mammals, or approaching while they are at rest.
  • Do not touch, ride, or feed sea turtles. Maintain your distance, whether they are in the water or basking on the beach.
  • Do not feed or touch reef fish. Feeding peas or other food to fish can cause illness or death.
  • Do not touch coral. Enter water in a sandy area, and float above the coral heads.

Check it out:

The Hawaii Wildlife Viewing Guide is available at local bookstores and online from the Hawaii Watchable Wildlife Project – it makes a perfect gift. Visit or call Annette Kaohelaulii at 531-4611 for more information.

Hawaiian Forests: An Endangered Life-support System

by Michele McKay

Hawaii’s native forests are a true biological and cultural treasure. They shelter more than 10,000 plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth; they protect watersheds, beaches and reefs from devastating run-off and sediment; they foster the survival of traditional Hawaiian cultural practices. But perhaps most importantly, Hawaiian forests serve as a life-support system for our islands, replenishing and delivering the fresh, clean water that is so vital to plants, animals, and humans.

Native forests protect our water supply by defending our islands from flood and drought. Their tall, dense canopies provide a shield from rain, wind, and sun. Thick under-stories act as giant sponges, soaking up water and releasing it slowly back into streams and aquifers. Roots grip the steep mountainsides, anchoring the soil and preventing erosion from sending destructive sediment into streams and onto coral reefs. Lofty branches draw moisture from passing clouds, providing water even in the absence of rain.

The Hawaiian forest includes 48 different woodland types, and it once flourished from the mountains to the sea. More than half is gone now – lost to agriculture, grazing, logging, wildfire and development. Only remnants survive, and these are ravaged by degraded watersheds and by invasive non-native plants and animals. Forest damage has led to habitat loss and an alarmingly high rate of extinction. Nearly 60% of Hawaii's native flora and fauna is considered endangered.

Today, the greatest threat to the Hawaiian forest is destruction from invasive, alien species such as miconia, pigs, and feral animals. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is working with local communities and conservation partners throughout the islands to protect the last of our vanishing Hawaiian forest. Their Forest Recovery Project aims to manage forest preserves, coordinate watershed partners, and strengthen forest protection.

What you can do:

  • Never release non-native plants, animals or fish into forests or streams.
  • Clean your shoes and gear before entering the forest to avoid spreading invasive seeds, weeds, and insects.
  • Never dump liquids or debris into streams. Dispose of trash properly; never litter.
  • Reduce strain on streams and aquifers by conserving water.
  • Prevent fires. Native forests are not adapted to fire, and cannot recover from it.
  • Teach others, especially children, to care for our forests.
  • Volunteer for forest conservation projects by emailing The Nature Conservancy at or by calling Janice Staab at (808) 587-6232.
  • Learn more by reading about TNC’s Forest Recovery Project at:

A Thanksgiving for the Earth

by Michele McKay

Go vegetarian – Eating vegetarian is the single most important thing you can do for the planet. In fact, in its 2006 report, the United Nations said raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. The negative effects of the meat industry are far reaching. Forests are being bulldozed to make more room for factory farms and feed crops to feed farmed animals, and this destruction causes soil erosion and contributes to species extinction and habitat loss. Raising animals for food also requires massive amounts of food and raw materials: Farmed animals consume 70 percent of the corn, wheat, and other grains that we grow, and one-third of all the raw materials and fossil fuels used in the U.S. go to raising animals for food.

Whether it's unchecked air or water pollution, soil erosion, or the overuse of resources, raising animals for food is wreaking havoc on the Earth.

For a wealth of festive vegetarian recipes, visit

Eat local and in season – Foods grown locally have a low ‘food mile’ count. That is, they create fewer transportation-related carbon emissions than products shipped from great distances. Plus, buying local food supports our local farmers!

Shop organic – Organic agriculture is good for the land and good for people. Organic products are grown without the synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and other toxic chemicals that seep into soil, run off into rivers and lakes, pollute the air, destroy wildlife, and end up in our food supply.

Decorate naturally – Use the beauty of nature instead of man-made plastic. Decorate with squashes and gourds, or step outside to gather leaves, branches, or flowers for beautiful, natural centerpieces.

Recycle and compost – Help reduce the amount of refuse going into landfills by recycling and composting your Thanksgiving waste. Here are your island contacts for more information:
Oahu: (808) 768-3200
Maui: (808) 244-0443
Big Island: (808) 329-2886 or (808) 961-2676

Reduce the carbon emission impact of your holiday travel – Web sites such as,, and The Nature Conservancy's carbon calculator at will help you calculate your travel-related carbon emissions and offer ways of offsetting the impact. If you are driving, check that your air filter is clean and your tires are fully inflated in order to reduce your carbon emissions… and to get better gas mileage!

Inspire and educate – Use your Thanksgiving holiday as an opportunity to educate others, inspiring them to adopt greener habits. You don’t need to preach – your example will be enough to plant the seeds of new, green Thanksgiving traditions among your family, friends, or community.

How Prepared Are You?

by Becky Johnson

Nobody likes to think a calamity could hit them. Though every so often we get a reminder that a disaster could be just around the corner – such as the recent brush we had with several hurricanes. And after witnessing the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico, it pays to be prepared.

Sometimes we put off preparation for a disaster because we do not like to think about the possibility of something bad happening. However, if we do not take preventative steps, we may wind up regretting it later.

There is the possibility that in Hawaii it may take longer for help to arrive in case of emergency, so extra food and water storage should be a priority – preferably a 7 to 10 day supply. And be sure to store food that is nourishing, tastes good and is easy to digest.

Here are some suggestions for healthy foods to pack in your emergency kit:

  • First and foremost: at least one gallon of water per day per person. Even though no one wants to fast during an emergency, if need be you can survive for weeks without food but only a few days without water.
  • Shop for healthy canned goods such as Amy’s organic soups and Healthy Valley vegetarian chili.
  • Ak mak crackers, Lundberg rice cakes and Ryvita crackers are wholesome and tasty.
  • Peanut butter and almond butter are high energy foods that can round out a meal or snack.
  • If you have a camping stove and a pot or two, you can also make things like rice and pasta. Instant soups are also warm and soothing, as long as you have hot water.
  • Cereals are good for breakfast and snacks and you can buy boxed soymilk or rice milk to go along with it.
  • Sports drinks and fruit juice are good for helping you to stay fully hydrated.
  • Don’t forget some bowls, napkins and eating utensils.
  • A good multivitamin and extra vitamin C will help your body get through a hard time.

Other important things to pack are:

  • Warm blankets or sleeping bags
  • At least one change of clothes, underwear, etc.
  • A first aid kit. (See article on “Natural First Aid” for tips on which natural remedies to include in your first aid kit.)
  • A nonelectric can opener
  • A battery-powered radio, flashlights and extra batteries
  • Diapers, baby food and formula if necessary
  • Personal hygiene things like a toothbrush, toilet paper, sanitary napkins, etc.
  • Prescription medications or other special medical needs
  • An extra pair of glasses or contact lenses
  • Extra cash
  • Photocopies of important documents such as credit cards, birth certificates, etc.
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Iodine tablets, chlorine tablets or household bleach for disinfecting water
  • Plastic garbage bags
  • Shovel and other useful tools
  • Compass
  • Map of the area
  • Pen, paper
  • Whistle.

Try to pack everything in an easy-to-transport waterproof container. If you don’t have a waterproof container, seal everything in zip lock bags. If gathering these supplies seems overwhelming, first focus on the water, then food and first aid, and then gradually try to add one or two items at a time until your emergency kit is complete. Remember, one well-stocked kit can be kept for several years, as long as you periodically re-stock expired food, water and medications, etc.

It is also a good idea to designate an out-of-state family member or friend as your emergency contact, so that if you get separated from family members, everyone knows who to contact.

Making the right preparations will help you remain in a calm, collected frame of mind in the event of an emergency. This way you can be of more help to yourself and others and ready to work on getting everything back to normal as soon as possible.