Saturday, February 24, 2007

Gone fishing...

I'm off to Mexico for a week. Into the internet access. Check back in a week!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Public flogging

After weeks of enduring lunch-time conversa- tions (lectures?) about the merits of reusable bags and evils of plastic bottles, my coworkers have called my BS. For a while now, I've been resolving to bring tupperware with me to lunch so that I can avoid whatever nasty disposable container I'm given. I even bought some nice, new containers this weekend for exactly this purpose. Yet I continue to forget to bring them, and yesterday was faced with the choice of wasting half of my delicious ramen, or accepting styrofoam. I went with the styrofoam and my friendly coworker Paul offered to capture the moment for the purpose of my blog. Maybe now that my shame has been exposed publicly, I will remember the freakin' tupperware!

Coal mining in Appalachia

A couple days ago I was pleasantly surprised to hear from one of my long-lost cousins, who is all grown up and in college now. It's always great to reconnect with family members, but I was saddened by the news she had to report. Out in her neck of the woods, (Arkansas), she's involved in organizing efforts to stop coal mining via mountaintop removal in the Appalachian Mountains. I was totally ignorant about this situation, but my cousing Hannah clued me in. Here's what she has to say:

"The facts about the dangers of using coal for electricity to the degree that we do in the U.S. are becoming more and more well known. What is still hidden from the public eye are the horrendous effects that the coal mining industry is having on the residents of the Appalachian Mountain area which is where the industry is almost completely contained. Hundreds of families who can trace their lineage back for generations in the mountain valleys are being bought out of their homes every day to make room for more construction sights. Children sit in schools covered in dust from coal which is boosting asthma and other respiratory diseases tremendously. To mine the coal, the workers literally remove the peaks of the mountains which put a huge amount of wildlife out of their homes and then they put the thousands of pounds of hazardous residue from the filtered coal into pockets of land in the valleys that used to be homes and communities. The way the world can help is to buy energy efficient light bulbs instead of incandescent light bulbs. Another way to help is just to let your voice be heard: write to Senators and Representatives about how you feel about coal mining in the U.S."

It's definitely important for me to remember that there is always a local face to the problems we're facing on a global scale. Countless communities across the world are being polluted very locally by our unsustainable energy practices. To learn more about what's going on in Appalachia, check out the End Mountaintop Removal Action and Resource Center. And buy more compact fluorescent light bulbs. Speaking of CFLs, did you hear that Australia is banning incandescent bulbs and replacing them with CFLs? Read about it on Treehugger.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Breaking plastic bag news

Ikea has made an incredibly forward-thinking move and has become the first major US retailer to start charging for plastic bags!! (Yes, I busted out with the double exclamation points--sadly, I can't remember the last time I've been so excited!) They just announced that beginning March 15th, you'll have to cough up 5 cents per bag to get those bulk tea candles and bargain wine glasses from storefront to car in plastic. Well, YOU won't have to, because bringing your own bags is soooo old news, right? Since debuting this program in Britain just last year, plastic bag reduction has been 95%, and they estimate that the 70 million bags used by U.S. customers will be cut in half in the first year. If you forget your bags, you'll be able to take home their "big blue bag" for a reduced rate of 59 cents. What a deal! The great thing is, it's only a matter of time before other retailers begin to follow suit. Visiting Ikea is never quite a pleasant experience, but I'm actually looking forward to my next trip to check out the operation. Read more about the announcement and what they're going to do with proceeds from the program on Treehugger.

And from the mega-multinational to the locally owned... a shop owner in England declared February "Plastic Bag Free Month", and stopped giving out disposable bags to her customers.

Here is a really hip reusable bag designed by fashion designer Anya Hindmarch that is debuting at London's Fashion Week. Looks like it's still only available in the UK, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time before Leo, Cameron, et al are donning them. Anybody know a fashion designer? I've got some ideas of my own...

Speaking of making reusable bags stylish, another UK designer, Sarah Mower, complains that plastic bags should be banned, if nothing else, for their fashion violations. "To be perfectly shallow about it, on aesthetics alone, plastic carriers are unconscionable, and fashion ought to be pointing that out." This is a great read, on the Telegraph. Seriously, why bother fussing over finding the perfect outfit if you're going to ruin it with a gaggle of plastic bags as you shlepp around town? Answer: Keep the outfit, bag the plastic bag.

Hmmm....This sure is a lot of anti-plastic bag momentum for one week. I smell a revolution, how about you?

Where's the beef?

Don't let the anthropo- morphic cow picture scare you. I'm haven't forgotten my promise that I won't guilt you into going vegan. But I have been thinking a lot about meat lately. About this time last year, I visited the Texas ranch of a certain rock legend who’s better known these days for his advocacy of hunting and outspoken conservative politics. And although I probably disagree with him politically across the board, I did leave the experience convinced that he’s got one part of the equation right—that it’s a heck of a lot healthier, more humane, and more ecologically sustainable to hunt your own food than to buy it packaged at the supermarket. Unfortunately, most of us don’t own land with deer and other game roaming through it (btw, how can I get some of that?) and must rely on an agricultural system that is deeply flawed and unsustainable. There are many problems with the way our food is grown/raised that have huge implications not only for our personal health, but also for the planet. I will focus in coming weeks on the impact of eating locally (perhaps most important of all!) and organic. But in honor of Fat Tuesday and my own cultural heritage which starts observing the season of Lent tomorrow(traditionally marked by a meat-free Friday), I thought it appropriate to propose a meat-free day or meal per week. You don’t even have to be Episcopalian or Catholic to join the fun!

Why? Here are just a few reasons.

* Over a third of all raw materials and fossil fuels consumed in this country are used in animal production. That means you get way more than your beef’s worth of global warming-causing greenhouse gases for your buck.

* Producing one hamburger patty uses the same amount of fuel as driving 20 miles does. Yikes!

* 40% of land in the U.S.—800 million acres—is used to graze livestock. This staggering percentage means that the habitat alteration, water and air pollution, greenhouse gases associated with animal production are on an enormous scale.

* 4.8 pounds of grain are required to produce one pound of beef. Is this an efficient use of energy and resources?

* 2 billion tons of wet manure are generated every year. This is ten times the amount of solid waste generation in our country (which is already an enormous amount!) and has catastrophic implications on our water safety. According to the EPA, animal wastes pollute American water supplies more than all other industrial sources combined! Where do you think e. coli outbreaks originate, folks?

* Poultry is less polluting than red meat, but still contributes its fair share. Poultry waste comprises 34% of animal waste, while red meat claims 45%. Pigs account for 12%, leaving the remaining 9% to turkeys, goats, and other livestock.

* A pound of beef requires around 2500 gallons of water to produce, compared to 60 gallons for a pound of potatoes. According to John Robbins in his seminal book, "The Food Revolution", you’d save more water passing on one pound of beef than not showering for a whole year! And you'll likely keep more friends along the way, too.

Reducing my own beef consumption is definitely a challenge. After almost 5 years of vegetarianism, I started (literally) dreaming about hamburgers about 3 years ago and have since enjoyed my fair share of them. I don't even really like other kinds of lower-impact meat--beef is where it's at for me. But with all the above figures weighing on my mind, I'm going to cut out at least a serving of meat every week. So enjoy your Fat Tuesday, and tomorrow, go Catholic!

photo by pikaluk

Things learned after 2 hours in the Apple store

After a close call with a hard-drive breakdown, and an evening spent at the "Genius Bar", I'm feeling the Mac love at the moment and am going to ramble a bit off-topic. The fact that they provide free, in-store technical support to rescue my failing hard drive is truly refreshing in this world of dwindling, lackluster customer service. They're not worried about the few who might take advantage (there are some folks who do show up every day-mostly for social interaction, I learned), but hey, no big deal. And, most importantly, did you guys know that you can send your computer off to Mac for a week and they'll fix basically everything for a flat rate of $300? This is astonishing! The "genius" who was assisting me assured me that they melt down the used parts to reuse in some way. He also clued me in to a little secret: If you're getting a new ipod, bring your old one back to the store for recycling and they'll give you 10% of the new one! Apparently, they realized how ridiculously wasteful it is to encourage people to constantly upgrade to the newest model and throw away the old one. I have no idea if they advertise this program, so spread the word...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Important: TP update!

You know, it's been way too long since we talked about a super-riveting topic, like, say, toilet paper. Well, I have breaking news, folks! How I missed this, I do not know (guess I've had my head up my arse--har har). As one commenter from the original TP post pointed out, Trader Joes' toilet paper is 100% recycled! And 80% post-consumer product, for that matter. The best part is that a 12-pack costs $3.49, compared to that approximate price for a 4-pack at Whole Foods and other favorite over-priced natural food stores. My sincere apologies for leading you astray and making you cough up the big bucks for over-priced arse-wipe. I know I looked at it in the store and thought it was only partially recycled. Or did they recently increase their recycled content? Either way, it's a relief to know that we can count on TJ's for non-forest-killing, bum-wiping tissue.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

E-waste recycling at Amoeba

In the last couple weeks, a few of my favorite blogs have announced that Amoeba Music is now accepting e-waste for recycling. This is the latest green effort from Amoeba--if you've been there lately, you've probably noticed the large signs giving tips on how to fight global warming, and their compact fluourescent lightbulbs for sale.
I wanted to check out the e-waste recycling scene before I posted about it, so I grabbed whatever seemed like e-waste around my house, which turned out to be just a few old software CDs, and stopped by to check it out. I have to admit, I was expecting something really big. Like, maybe at the door there would be a huge flashing sign alerting everyone of their new, forward-thinking addition to the store. When I saw no such sign, I inquired at the bag check desk and the guy looked at me like I was crazy. He eventually realized what I was talking about and said he thought it was "over in the back, by the stairs". So, I found my way to the box atop a glass cabinet that you see above (indeed, by the stairs). So, it turns out you can recycle just what it says on the box: batteries and small electronics, like cell phones, walkmens, and MP3 players. One of the friendly Amoeba employees told me that people can also bring larger electronics, like VCRs and stereos, that wouldn't fit in the box. Just give it to a cashier and he/she will take care of it. My software cds were a no-go, so it looks like I'll be returning with batteries and a broken mini-DV rewinder. If you don't live in L.A., look into your local options for e-waste recycling, probably through the city. More on L.A. e-waste recycling soon...Just found out that for a year now, it's been illegal in California to throw alkaline batteries in the trash! In the meantime, kudos to Amoeba for yet another step in the right direction. Now if I can just get them to stop giving out so many of those yellow bags...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Air (dry) that dirty laundry WEEK

It's no surprise that the laundering of clothes is extremely energy-intensive. All that water and hot air doesn't exactly scream "eco-friendly". According to life-cycle analysts, 75% of the energy consumption in the life of a piece of clothing is in its washing/drying. Since we know manufacturing is an extremely energy-intensive experience, the fact that it only accounts for 25% of all energy used indicates that our laundry habits are a little, er, dirtier than we would like to think. Here are some tips for cleaning up the mess.

If you have a house or access to a yard, there's nothing stopping you from air drying your laundry the majority of the time. Hang a line and buy some clothes pins! You'll get the real sun-kissed smell that all the detergent brands are trying to market. I long for the day when I get to hang my very own laundry line in my own yard! Unfortunatly, for the moment I'm stuck in an apartment so I had to get creative. I asked my landlord if I could hang a line in the back of the building and that was a no-go (He thought it would look tacky, even though it wouldn't be visible from the street--unlike his cooler, bbq, and chairs that ARE. Sigh...). But, I've found a decent alternate solution. I got the rack you see above from Target. It's good for socks, undies (not pictured), shirts, and workout clothes. I put jeans and other bulky items on hangers that I distribute around my place. I've had it for a couple months and the only loads I've had to machine dry are towels and sheets. Even with the cold and damp weather we've been having, I've been pleasantly surprised that most pieces dry within a few hours. And supposedly, even if you only air dried during spring and summer, you would save 700 lbs. of carbon dioxide and $75 a year. So give it a try. In addition to the model I have that folds up tidily, there are lots others out there--just Google "laundry rack". Avoiding machine drying will also make your clothes last longer. And remember, until just a few years ago, air drying was what everyone did-so we can make it work too!

According to Energy Star, between 80 and 85% of energy used for washing clothes is in the heating of the water. So steer clear of using the hot water option. Just switching from hot to warm cuts your energy usage in half, per load, and warm or cold should be ok for most of your laundering needs. If you own your own machine and have choices about where to put it, try to get it as close as possible to the hot water tank so that heat isn't lost in long pipes, and then insulate those pipes. And obviously, if your machine has the option, use the least amount of water needed for each load.

The mainstream detergent brands are yet another petroleum-based product full of chemicals you probably don't want anywhere near your skin. Buy non-toxic, phosphate-free, non-petroleum based detergents, found at any natural foods store, or Trader Joe's. Treehugger also has this to say about laundry soap: "Buy powered detergents. Don’t pay for someone to ship the added water, in liquid detergent, around the country. Why use a greenhouse-gas-emitting 18 wheeler, when you’ve already got water plumbed into the washing machine!...On the same premise use roll-on pre-wash stain removers, rather than squirt bottles or aerosol options. End up with the solution on the stain, not half in the air."

I'll be following these suggestions when I dry my linens, or on the occasion when I need jeans dry ASAP...until I get that laundry line (or a tree, like my dad's).

* Try to avoid keeping your drier in a cold or damp location, because it will make the machine have to work harder.
* Use the high spin option on your washer to get as much moisture out before you start drying.
* Dry similiar fabrics together--this will maximize drying time. Especially avoid drying towels and heavy cottons with normal, light-weight clothes.
* Use the permanent press option. I always wondered knew what this function was! You probably already knew this: it blows cool air at the end of the drying process to cut down on hot air usage. Genius!
* Check to see if your machine has a moisture sensor that will automatically shut off when the machine when the clothes are dry. If it does--use it!
* Dry loads back to back to maximize the residual heat that is still in the machine.

There it is, people. Go forth and launder gently!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Path to Freedom

Ever had fantasies about packing up, moving to the country, and trying to live off the land? Very '70s, people. Today, you can do it without ever leaving the city! At least, one family in Pasadena can. The Dervaes family lives on normal lot in Pasadena (1/5 acre) but has transformed that area into a model of attempted self-sustainability and fossil fuel independence. On the 1/10 of an acre that is not the house, they grow 350 varieties of edible plants, which yields 6,000 pounds of produce a year, and are steadily marching towards going off the grid, right in the middle of the city. They produce 80% of their own food in the summer, and 50% in winter! And they have all kinds of cool features like a wood stove and home-brewed biodiesel for heating...and a bike that powers the blender (I'm sure they had theirs before Ed Begley, Jr.) Anyway, I've been following the Dervaes family for a bit now via their website, (hey, it's always helpful to know how to incubate eggs!) and they've been getting a lot of press lately (NPR, LA Times), so I figured it's a good time for us all to remember that there ARE sustainable alternatives, even in the middle of urban sprawl.

Path to Freedom

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Worth the trip?

A couple weeks ago we learned that, not only is there no guarantee that bottled water is any safer than tap water, but also that its production (and disposal, of course) are extremely problematic. Well, a guy who knows what he's talking about, Pablo Päster, a Sustainability Engineer and MBA, has calculated just how problematic the whole enterprise is, specifically by estimating what it takes to produce one liter of Fiji water and get it to the U.S. Taking into account production of the plastic bottle and transportation "just" from China to Fiji to San Francisco (not including additional transportation to Anywhere, USA), the results are mind-blowing. I'm a little rusty on my metric to standard conversions, but luckily Treehugger did that work. Producing that one liter bottle uses up 26 times the amount of water it provides you with--7.1 gallons to be precise, and .26 gallons of oil, and 1.2 pounds of greenhouse gases. Read about it on triplepundit (via Treehugger). Another reason to refill your own bottle.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Green pig-skin?

The Super Bowl was the most recent major sports event to go "carbon neutral", following in the footsteps of last summer's Olympics and World Cup, and the Indy 500. In case you haven't heard, going carbon neutral is pretty much the new black. Everyone's doing it--the Dixie Chicks, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews, "Syriana", agencies CAA and UTA. It's the ultimate extension of carbon offsetting--which allows anyone and everyone (you, too!) to pay to offset the amount of CO2 their activities pump into the air. Numerous companies will help you calculate how much CO2 was emitted on your flight to Prague, or on your tour around the country in a rockstar bus, as the case may be. The offsetting is achieved by a combination of "energy credits"--basically investment in renewable forms of energy, and tree-planting. Yes, tree-planting. You know, because trees absorb CO2. And while much has been made of this new kind of environmentalism, I remain skeptical. Can we really just continue along our merry little way, driving, flying and emitting as many greenhouse gases as we want with the assurance that we can pay for our sins? On the one hand is the "it's better than nothing" argument, which I can totally get into. And, hopefully with such high-profile events, bands and movies publicizing their efforts, normal people will start to take heed of the need for action. Perhaps the Super Bowl's "carbon neutrality" will help legitimize the need to do something about global warming to the general public. Hey, no doubt the event probably is a more credible source to many Americans than scientific consensus. (BTW, was there even acknowledgement of their neutrality during the game? I was not in attendance...) But, on the other hand, I fear that ultimately carbon offsetting will serve as a distraction from the primary issue--that we need to stop consuming so much oil and other natural resources. It's quite American to hope for some easy answer that doesn't effect our lifestyle in any serious way, isn't it? And while it's great that investment is being made in renewable energy, that should be done on a large scale, preferably by our government. (Also, the science behind the benefits of tree-planting is questionable, which you can read about on Grist's discussion of the Super Bowl issue, here.) So I guess my hope is that "carbon neutral" bands, movies, and events will use their offsetting as a stepping stone to urge people, first and foremost, to cut down on their consumption. Unfortunately, we can't buy our way out of this problem, folks.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Please Mr. Postman, stop sending me junk WEEK

I'll admit it: I get slightly excited about checking my mail every day. There's always the possibility of something unexpected and fun, right? A postcard from a friend, a magazine, some article clippings from mom. But most days, instead of anything remotely personal, our mail simply reminds us of our position in the world, financially: How much money we owe, that there are unlimited opportunties (pre-approved!) to spend money we don't have, and that there are numerous worthy organizations we could donate to, if only we had more money. Worst of all, of course, is the bulk mail. It really boggles my mind that advertisers actually pay for that--what a waste of money! And of course, of paper and other resources. Think about all the unwanted mail you get and multiply that times the 300 million people in this country...Bottom line, we all get way too much unneccessary mail and it has a monumental effect on our environment. Here are some ways to cut down on the annoyance factor AND save some trees, energy and pollution along the way.

Isn't it ironic that the more debt you're in, the more credit card offers you get? Suffice it to say there was a time when I was a prime candidate for those sharks, and I was getting at least 2 offers for new cards every day. Fortunately, those days are behind me, and so are the credit card offers, because I took my name off some creepy master list several months ago. There is a number on every credit card offer that you can call, and it's worked so well that I actually can't find one so I can provide you with the number! But look for that number at the bottom of the offer, or try this opt-out site, which should also do the trick.

More than 100 million trees' worth of paper is sent every year as bulk mail in the U.S., according to New American Dream, an organization that is fighting this huge waste. They also estimate that "The production and disposal of junk mail consumes more energy than 2.8 million cars." That ain't peanuts, people! Here are some tips, which I stole from GreenLAgirl's list. (Notes are hers). I just did the online steps and will make the calls tomorrow, so I'll be watching to see how fast each one goes into effect.

Valpak coupons: Go here.

Pennysaver: Call (800) 422-4116. They have odd service hours, but you can leave a message with your address info for removal.

ShopWise (big weekly tabloid-size clump of flyers, and the “Have you seen us?” postcards): Go here, and fill out the online form to be removed in 6-8 weeks.

Money Mailer: Send an email to, requesting to be removed from the mailing list and specifying your snailmail address.

Bed Bath & Beyond: Call 800.462.3966 and hold still till you get an operator. Tell her/him your name & address — you should be off the list in a couple weeks.

Also, (this is me again) demand legislation that would create a junk mail opt-out list, just like the one for telemarketers, through New American Dream's campaign.

You might already pay your bills online anyway, but still receive paper statements. Next time you're logged into your various accounts, find the "stop paper bills" function and liberate yourself from paper bill bondage.

Do you receive newspapers, magazines or newsletters that you never get around to reading? Stop subscribing and read them online when you get the urge, or buy one occasionally from a newstand. After college, when I was living alone for the first time, I got suckered into receiving the New York Times every day! (Those salespeople sure are convincing..). I'm pretty sure I liked the idea of appearing intelligent and informed much more than the reality, because I just ended up feeling guilty about the waste and my tiny apartment was always covered in newspaper that I never had time to read. If you don't read it, be smart and stop the madness.

There are so many great organizations out there doing important work in the world. And I'm pretty sure I get a really compelling letter from each of them every month asking me for help. I'm flattered that they think I'm the kind of person who wants to support them (I am!), and when I hit it big, I will! But for now, I wish they would spend their limited resources in other ways, and save some paper along the way. I think the only way to stop this kind of solicitation is to contact each organization and ask to be taken off their list. I'll be saving this one for a really rainy day...

Friday, February 2, 2007

Say goodbye to sweaters?

A little comic relief for your Friday. Sarah Silverman looks to the future and likes what she sees in this clip from the Jimmy Kimmel show. I think this is pretty funny. But the one person who had posted a comment (when I viewed it) unfortunately doesn't seem to see the brilliance of satire. Personally, I think we need more humorous takes on the issue that point out how ridiculous it is NOT to be on board...What do you guys think? Do you think this piece helps or hurts the cause?

The Official Word

The Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the UN has released its long-anticipated report in Paris today. It is the most definitive scientific consensus yet (and probably the most we'll ever get from those cautious scientist types) telling us what we already knew: that unfettered usage of oil, coal and other fossil fuels is causing global climate change. Wow, this is a shocking revelation!

For people who've been waiting for some sort of "official" announce- ment warning us that we must act now, this is it. In this century, global temperatures are going to rise at least 3.5-8 degrees, if not significantly more. (Remember that a warming of even a couple degrees can effect catastrophic changes on life as we know it.) And certain parts of the report are even being considered conservative by many experts, such as estimates regarding rising sea levels. The report estimates 5-23 inches, but there has been much coverage this week about 2 major factors that were not included in the report: The surprisingly rapid rate of melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. Apparently, scientists haven't yet figured out a way to include this melting in their computer models because it's such a new development. So many scientists are saying sea levels are likely to rise more like 20-55 inches, effecting coastal populations much sooner than was previously expected. Read more about this issue in this Washington Post article.

As depressing as all this is, the panel did throw us a bone: Action can still be taken to curb the warming if we act NOW. I'll leave you with a pertinent quote from the NYT article on the report:

"Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, which oversees the I.P.C.C. along with the meteorological group, said SOCIETY NOW HAD PLENTY OF INFORMATION ON WHICH TO ACT (my emphasis)...The implications of global warming over the coming decades for our industrial economy, water supplies, agriculture, biological diversity and even geopolitics are massive,” he said. “This new report should spur policymakers to get off the fence and put strong and effective policies in place to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.” And remember, "policymakers" are only going to take action if we demand it, by calling for mandatory emisisons cutbacks, like the 80% reduction by 2050 that many organizers are calling for. One such group is Step it Up which is focusing on a nationwide day of action to get Congress' attention on April 14. Check it out.

One more quote from Mr. Steiner (via Grist):
"Anyone who would continue to risk inaction on the basis of the evidence presented here will one day in the history books be considered irresponsible." Ewww, I don't want to be called irresponsible, how 'bout you?