Today’s news:

The Civic Scene: Boro green event full of info on the climate, composting

A young man lured me over to his table by asking me if I wanted to know if New York state owed me any money. It was the table from the state comptroller’s office. He checked my name in his computer, but the state did not owe me any money. He gave me a brochure entitled “Open Book New York,” which listed a Web site where one can check on how the state and local governments spend their money and who does business with these governments.

Some of the civic associations present were the Belle Harbor Property Owners, West Cunningham Park Civic Association, Kissena Park Civic Association, Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association, Bellerose Hillside Civic Association, Pullis Family Farm Historical Cemetery and Jackson Heights Beautification Group and scores of ecology-minded groups.

There was a display of actual worms which do the job of composting. People were encouraged to go solar, do an energy audit of their homes and buy Energy Star appliances.

The Sierra Club had literature that warned about the danger of global warming and listed several ways to help the environment, such as using compact florescent light bulbs, driving hybrid cars, doing several errands at once, turning down one’s thermostat, walking, checking one’s tire pressure every two months and writing to local officials and businesses about wanting them to fight global warming. Those compact bulbs have a small amount of mercury in them, so return them to the store you bought them from.

There were several showings of a movie called “Dirt.” It explained how dirt is created in nature with the wearing away of rocks and with the help of microscopic organisms. As the movie showed, the paving over of the land, the use of industrial chemicals and urban development destroy the ability of soil to produce food. The movie showed how cutting down forests and industrial farming’s use of insecticides and fertilizers can lead to all these problems.

The city Sanitation Department Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling has funded compost outreach and education programs since 1993. Due to budget cuts, it stopped collecting leaves, giving away compost and selling composting bins, but the Queens Botanical Garden sells bins.

One brochure was a thick city outdoor composting guide, another described indoor composting with a worm bin and a third told why one should leave grass clippings on a lawn. If one cuts grass when it is dry, it will not clump together and since it is 85 percent water and 5 percent nitrogen, the clippings can provide up to 30 percent of your fertilizer requirements. One can also reduce the amount of food garbage by about 1/3 by composting vegetable food waste.

GOOD NEWS OF THE WEEK: The city Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers have announced the city’s four-year graduation rate has climbed to a 10-year high of 59 percent for the class of 2009. Four years ago, the four-year graduation rate was 46.5 percent. This 2009 rate is 62.7 percent if you include those who received their diplomas in August 2009.

These are accomplishments to be praised, but one has to wonder if standards were not lowered to make this happen. We will really know if this is real when one looks at the graduation rates from colleges in four to six years.

BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: The soda industry has spent more than $3 million lobbying the state Legislature against a tax on sugary beverages, but had spent nothing in 2008. This is because Gov. David Patterson has proposed a 1 cent-per-ounce tax increase on sugar drinks. It is estimated that 60 percent of adults in New York state are obese. This has tripled since the 1960s.

Obesity is linked to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma and arthritis. A 1 percent tax increase per ounce on sweetened drinks is projected to decrease consumption by 10 percent to 15 percent. State and city authorities believe such a tax would prevent about 150,000 people in the state from becoming obese and developing diabetes.

Money raised would help cut the estimated $9 billion state deficit this year. Perhaps we should have a warning on the sides of bottles the way we have on packages of cigarettes.

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