pollution

Running and Remembering

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Fall is definitely shifting it’s way into the Green Mountains.  Most of this week was cool and drizzly, though the sun fought off the fog to give us some glorious sunsets.  Unfortunately, when I ran on Thursday the sun didn’t even poke its head out; it was damp, foggy and cool.  I think I’m really going to enjoy running in the Fall.  While I’ll miss the warm sun that drove me to jump in the river right after a run, the cool temperatures are much more enjoyable to run in and the grey haze caused me to turn off my iPod and wrap myself in the introspective sounds of the change of season.

I ran along the Stowe Quiet Path and found Fartleks are especially fun there because there are so many twist, turns and hills that sprinting feels like being on a roller coaster.  Toby had even more fun than I did thanks to us being there at an unusually dog-populated time of day.  There was a new doggie friend around every curve.  Despite having some issues getting motivated to go out in the blah weather, once I got moving I felt a million times better.  My tight shoulders loosened up, the stress knots in my stomach released and my body felt springy and playful.  It’s easy to come up with excuses to not run, but once I get going I always remember how much I enjoy it and why I want to keep it up.

Speaking of the introspective quality of Fall, I’m going to once again usurp my space here to talk about something unrelated to running, but greatly important to me.  For those in the US, today is the anniversary of the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center.  For the past few years, when this date rolls around I really don’t give it a ton of thought leading up to 9/11.  I’m much less emotional when listening to newscasts and I usually feel that the day can come and go without effecting me.  I’m wrong; it always finds a way to get me.  This morning, when I logged into Facebook for my morning internet voyeurism, I watched a remembrance video that a friend had posted and I totally teared up.  Between losing people I knew and losing hundreds of people I didn’t personally know along with losing a skyline that had marked my childhood, I can’t be unaffected by this day.

©NYC Police & REUTERS/Hans Deryk

They say everyone remembers where they were on 9/11.  I remember it with vivid clarity.  I heard about it early in the morning as I was driving to class.  By the time I got to the art building I found the classrooms were empty and people were surrounding televisions set up in common areas and crying.  I was in school down in Dallas and I couldn’t reach my parents or brother back in NY; I couldn’t reach anyone in NY.  Then I realized that I had left a house of about a dozen sleeping friends and our mutual friend was in NYC visiting his girlfriend.  I drove back and woke everyone up and we just watched the news, horrified.

I remember two other big details from that day.  I remember the lines at the gas station as we all tried to fill up our cars after the news warned us that some stations were gauging prices and sure enough we saw prices like $5/gal so we waited patiently at the station that hadn’t changed their signs yet.  Then, we all drove out to the lake to sit and watch the Dallas skyline without any planes flying overhead.  It was eerie and peaceful.

Now, almost a decade later, here we are still at war and while I do believe this war has more facets than just a fight about oil, that black gold continues to hold us hostage.  I’ve watched several documentaries on the oil and gas industries in the past few months and while I overall feel powerless to free myself from Big Oil, I made a move to greatly reduce my consumption by trading in my 2007 Subaru Outback (which I loved) for a 2010 Jetta Sportwagen TDI that will run B5 Biodiesel.  In many ways that’s a small step, but it’s a step I could afford.

Just about any diesel made in the past 10 years or so can run biodiesel without any modifications (as long as it has nylon gaskets instead of rubber, which all modern diesels do).  You can use the same tank and switch between biodiesel and regular diesel without issue (though if you live in a cool climate you’ll probably want to stick with B5-B20 as B100 will gel at a higher temp than regular diesel).  Now that biodiesel can be made from very fast-growing algae, that when farmed next to oil refineries actually helps clean up the C02 emissions, it’s very sustainable and practical.  It’s also completely street legal, though it’s recommended to only buy from commercial pumps that are ASTM-rated.  Keep in mind that biodiesel is not pure vegetable oil; it’s a mixture of plant-based oil, Methanol and Sodium Hydroxide which creates a substance that looks and feels like petrol-based diesel.

I first went on Craigslist and checked local places for used diesels, but the pickings were slim to none.  I ended up going with the Sportwagen based on its great reviews, but after quite a bit of research it’s clear that the 2009-2011 VW TDIs can’t take 100% biodiesel due to the new DPF filter.  The new filter does a phenomenal job of keeping emissions incredibly low on the new “clean diesels” and it also adds to the great fuel economy (I’m getting 44-51mpg!).  However, biodiesel has a higher flash point and it’s also a solvent so it can initially cause the filter to become saturated faster (this is not an issue once biodiesel is used regularly) and it could cause the filter to not burn off the buildup efficiently.  In the long-run this can theoretically decrease engine performance and lead to needing oil changes more often.

However, hope it not lost!  The 2009-2011 TDIs are still warranty approved for B5.  B5 is only a 5% biodiesel blend, but it turns out I can easily get B5 locally (thanks to Bourne’s Energy being awesome) and it’s still a positive start.  Between that and the vast improvements with the fuel efficiency of the diesel engine and incredibly low emissions, as someone who drives close to 30k miles/year, I’ve lowered my carbon footprint markedly.  While I’m not about to throw a big, “Eff You Big Oil!” party, it’s a start.

These small changes are things that we all have to individually do if we hope that big changes will arise.  I did something small that I could afford, what can you do?  Did you know that if your home is heated with oil you can probably switch to biofuel without modifications (barring potentially swapping rubber for nylon)?  My small local fuel provider in the middle of Vermont offers biofuel.  If you stick your head out to see what alternatives are out there you might be surprised.

Get Inspired:
Gasland (not about oil, but about natural gas)
Crude
A Crude Awakening (watch online free)
Oil, Smoke and Mirrors (watch online free)
Tedx OilSpill (I watched the event live but you can watch it online free at that link; it was an all-day conference so it’s 8+ hours of video regarding the Gulf Oil Spill)
Fuel, which sealed the deal on the car issue for me.

Barefoot and Covered In Glitter

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For anyone who hasn’t caught on yet, this is more than just a running blog.  It started as a place for me to explore the C25K program along with Vibram FiveFingers and, as I mentioned in my intro, it’s also a place to discuss other “barefoot” activities.  Running, hiking, swimming and playing in my Vibrams often leaves me wanting to discuss my physical experiences but also the spiritual/emotional/intellectual experiences that come from being outside on the trails.  Today’s entry is not about running, it’s about glitter.

I mentioned in my previous post that when I ran on Friday I was alarmed by the massive amount of silver glitter poured all along the trail.  Without exaggeration, many areas of the trail resembled sheets of glitter; I seriously don’t want to know how much money was spent on all this glitter.  I became more and more upset as I ran the trail and found that the glitter extended for close to a mile!

I initially believed the glitter was related to the Story Walk event, sponsored by the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, that many of the trails in Vermont are participating in.  Story Walk is an awesome program in which a children’s book is photocopied, each page is laminated, and the pages are staked alongside a trail so people can read while they walk.  I love the idea of promoting reading and exercise and think this is a phenomenal children’s event.  I couldn’t understand how polluting the trail with glitter was part of an educational event.  It turns out it wasn’t.

Waitsfield had terrible storms Sunday night into Monday; strong enough to down trees along the path.  When I ran on Monday I noticed that the bulk of the glitter had been washed away (most likely into the corn fields and Mad River) but the path was still saturated with sparkles.  When I got to the gazebo I picked up the guest book with the intention of writing a comment when, to my chagrin, I noticed the last comment was from someone praising Story Walk which began with, “I LOVED the glitter!!”  Really?!  REALLY?!  You double-underline-LOVED the glitter?!  Ignorance is not always so blissful.

I’ve lived in enough cities that I know I shouldn’t be surprised by people littering without thinking about it.  While it’s always bothered me, I find I get much angrier when it happens in areas that pride themselves in being eco-friendly and “green”.  I feel those of us living close to nature should somehow know better, really, everyone by now should know better, but I am obviously wrong.

So, I wrote a letter.  I wrote to the Mad River Path Association and to the Kellogg-Hubbard Library complimenting them on Story Walk and expressing my concern for our new glistening path and wondering what the clean-up plan is.  I explained that glitter is not only incredibly difficult to clean up, but it does not biodegrade and in the area it was spread it is likely to be washed into the Mad River which can cause death to small fish, tadpoles and other wildlife that is attracted to eating small shiny objects.  Even without making contact with the river, there are several species on land who could suffer ulcerations if they digest the glitter (including curious dogs).  Since I also like to have sources beyond myself, I quoted a nice summary of the environmental impacts of glitter from Wikipedia (there are several other in-depth articles on this if you Google it, but I really liked Wikipedia’s brief synapsis):

“Because of its small size and durable nature, glitter is a persistent environmental pollutant. Glitter is commonly made from[2] copolymer plastics, aluminum foil, titanium dioxide, iron oxides, bismuth oxychloride and other materials. These materials are not readily biodegradable. Being heavier than water, glitter sinks to the bottom of waterways and contributes to toxic sludges. Most glitter is used only briefly. At the end of each use it is showered off, entering waste water systems, or swept up for disposal in landfill. Glitter is not recovered or recycled in any way. Because of its small size, down to 15 micrometres, glitter is often lost or spread by humans throughout their environment. Insects and other small organisms are unable to deal with glitter, as it is inedible. Larger creatures can ingest it involuntarily, allowing it to enter the food chain. Because of its metallic nature, static electricity effects can cause it to stick to body parts or habitats. Some of the oxides glitter is made with can be reactive when combined with other waste streams, particularly in water. Glitter has very sharp, hard, edges which are uncommon in nature, are also a problem for very small life. When the same material as glitter occurs in industrial situations as swarf, it is considered a hazardous contaminant, for which extensive safety measures are required. Micro pollutants in animal bloodstreams can have significant health effects.”

I was pleased to receive an email back from the Mad River Path Association the very next morning.  They were as surprised as I was about the glitter and immediately began investigating.  As I mentioned earlier, it turns out this was not a part of Story Walk, so my apologies for assuming it was.  That leaves all involved wondering where the glitter came from and why.  Was it a prank?  Was it someone’s ignorant attempt to make the path more “magical”?  Who’s responsible for this random act of glittering and how the heck do we clean it up?

Many of those questions will never have answers, and the clean-up question is really the only one that can be realistically focused on.  Speaking of which, do you know any way to clean up glitter from grass and mud and rocks spread out for almost a mile?  I’d love to hear your ideas. 🙂

I’m not beyond seeing the humor in all of this.  I can see in some teenager’s mind that turning our path into a silver version of the Yellow Brick Road might seem like a brilliant idea, especially after smoking some Vermont Green.  That said, as a culture I believe we’re past the point of laughing off environmental blunders.  The Mad River Path brings joy, wonder and relaxation to hundreds if not thousands of people every year.  It, along with all of our natural resources, needs to be respected and cared for.

The world right now is outraged by the BP Oil Spill, but few people seem to care if someone drops a gun wrapper or a cigarette butt on the ground.  Where do we draw the line and when do we as a society stand up to educate ourselves on how the small environmental impacts we make every day accumulate in massive ways?  I’m standing up for glitter.  Hey, we all have to choose our battles, right?

Part of the glittery Mad River Path after several huge storms.