The following is an excerpt from an article found on www.culturechange.com.   (You can find the entire article here.)  Some of these may be controversial, but necessary to ponder.  Thoughts? What will you pledge? 

I pledge to begin taking as many of the following steps as I can to stave off the worst effects of global warming, and spread the word. In so doing I will cut fossil fuel use. I will do some or all of the following:

  1. Cut down on driving my vehicle, or carpool. I will walk or bike, and not buy a car if I do not have one (best of all). I will support and use mass transit. I may work closer to my home.
  2. Cut down on working just for money: I can thereby barter more, and cut down on commuting.
  3. Depave my driveway, or help others’ depave their driveways, or depave parking lots, and grow food in depaved land.
  4. Unplug or retire my television, and perhaps go off the electricity grid. I will reduce energy for heating, and share appliances such as my oven with neighbors, and not buy or use power tools or jet skis, etc.
  5. Publicly oppose new road construction and road widening in my community, to start undoing sprawl, prevent growth in traffic, and halt the spread of forest roads allowing clearcuts.
  6. Take vacations without jet air travel, and avoid career activity dependent on jet travel.
  7. Plant trees, collect rainwater, and avoid overusing municipal water as it is energy-consumptive (and thus may emit CO2, the main heat-trapping gas that fossil fuels release).
  8. Buy local products, buy as little plastic as possible, carry a travel mug. Minimize consumption. Support alternative plant materials to cut down on petrochemicals and trees for paper. Avoid eating animal products especially shipped-in beef.
  9. Not bring more children into the world, or limit my offspring to one, and possibly adopt. I recognize the threat of overpopulation.
  10. Inform my community and the greater national and global community on the need to take action such as the above for climate stability.”
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Dormancy

April 29, 2011

Our blog has been dormant for much of the winter. I could say that we were observing the cyclical nature of the seasons, but that’s not true. You might think we’d have more time to share our thoughts during the colder, darker months when we’re relegated to the indoor life. I would have thought the same, but our absence had little to do with the season, and it had only a little to do with the busy-ness of life. About once a month, my lovely wife would say something like: “we really need to post on the blog.” And we’d sigh.

She said it again last night, and this time I’m doing something about it. Without concern for order or cohesion, here are some things that have occupied our thoughts or time over the past few months:

  • It’s really difficult to keep tropical ferns happy through the winter–especially when our house is 50 degrees at night.
  • We met our newest niece, a chubby, dark-haired, happy lil’ thing.
  • It’s difficult to balance the desire to use as little electricity as possible with the need for some light, even if it is artificial.
  • Spring is a tease.
  • The first market of the season is my favorite day of the year. I get so excited for this day that I hardly sleep (and I purchase every green thing I see). Now I just need some morels.
  • We spent some warm, beautiful days in the mountains of Arkansas. We picked, we played, and we sipped moonshine (with some wonderful company).
  • I am sick of politics, and I find the political discourse in our country to be truly maddening. This is why David Bazan’s latest album, Strange Negotiations, is such a breath of fresh air.
  • We hosted a successful celebration of New Beer’s Day. Our guests brought far too much beer (which I am still enjoying), and I am further convinced that it needs to be a recognized national holiday.
  • The Farm Bill is up for renewal in 2012, and it is vital to our country’s future that we attempt to understand this bill’s importance.
  • We got rid of a cell phone in favor of an orange rotary phone.
  • Very soon we will open our windows wide, and we won’t close them for several months.
  • Spring is glorious.

Should I Buy That?

January 7, 2011

We all have questions we ask ourselves when considering purchases. Can I afford this? Will my butt look good in these? Should I get this color or that color? Will I feel bloated after I eat this? We also have impulsive moments where we don’t ask any questions, and, at least in my experience, those purchases usually end in regret.

So we should probably stick to asking questions, but what if we ask ourselves some different questions. Our purchases affect our communities, they affect the environment, they affect our families, they affect individuals on the other side of the globe. And knowing these things, purchasing anything at all can be very overwhelming. Check out this article from Mother Nature Network. It offers some questions you might ask before checking to see if your butt looks good in those jeans.

Waiting on Washington: Food

November 3, 2010

It’s come and gone. Election day didn’t bring the end of the world. For us regular ol’ Americans, life goes on about the same.
 
Washington is bound to be just about the same as it was last week, but that doesn’t have to slow us down. Let’s talk about food. I’ve blogged about food before. We’ve talked about voting with our food dollars, and that’s very important. I don’t want be redundant here, so if you want to read more, visit some of my older posts.
 
As far as legislation goes, The Farm Bill is set to expire in 2012, and Congress is currently discussing food safety legislation. The Farm Bill largely dictates what farmers grow–currently, the subsidies we dole out ($56 billion for corn over a decade) provide huge incentives to grow “corn and beans.” The current Farm Bill makes processed foods cheap, since they’re loaded with various forms of corn and soy beans, but shouldn’t such a bill make produce cheap? Our USDA food pyramid reads one way, towards produce, but our subsidies read another, towards sugary, fatty, processed foodish stuff. Food safety is a joke, because as we’ve seen recently, not all food is safe. Our eggs make us sick, our celery is tainted, and we get free frogs in our bags of frozen veggies, but the current regulations (or lack of enforcement) are almost begging for such issues. Like most other action in Washington, I don’t expect the end products of either of these to be ideal, but I still think it’s worth our time to call our representatives. We can also act on our own.
 
Luckily for us, there’s something afoot. It’s called the Food Movement. This movement is already responsible for many changes we’re seeing. Marion Nestle, renowned nutritionist, says the Food Movement that we see sweeping across the country is democracy. I love this! At a time when our democracy seems to represent anything but the voices of the people, our voices are being heard because of what we put in our mouths. I realize it’s a bit dramatic to talk of our democracy as if it’s crumbling–we’re still free, and I am still mostly proud to be American–but it sure is good to see democracy working.
 
We don’t need a bill to dictate what foods are important for our tables, and we don’t need safety regulations to tell us that foods not processed in massive facilities are probably safer for our families. Because of lobbying efforts from some large companies, our tax dollars are propping up some unsustainable choices, but our dollars are just that: our dollars. Unfortunately, for those without the time or resources to educate themselves about smart, sustainable food choices or without the financial means to do anything about it, they are subject to Washington’s decisions. Democracy may be guiding this Food Movement, but is it true democracy if it doesn’t afford healthy and safe options to all Americans?
 
40% of children’s calories come from junk food. Yeah, read that again. I trust that parents want bright futures for these children. They don’t dream of their children developing diabetes, or living with health issues exacerbated by obesity. I don’t know how you’d rank affordable access to healthy food with other justice issues: women’s rights, slavery, civil rights, gay rights. Those are big issues. But I think this is another great social justice issue. It’s a great social injustice that there are Americans who cannot make the best food decisions for their families. Even if these individuals knew which food choices were most beneficial to them and to the environment, do they have the financial resources to make those choices? Well, I don’t have an easy answer to that, but I think at least part of the answer involves changing our priorities.

In the 1930s the average American household spent 22% of its income on food.  Now it’s 10%. Food, as you might imagine, is pretty important. We kind of need food to survive. But it only makes up 10% of our budgets! What things have filled in the gaps? Cell phones, cable TV, car payments. There are many more, but the common denominator in these is that they’re unnecessary. I don’t mean to come down on those of us who spend money on these things. Fortunately for many, we can afford these things plus food that’s good for us and the environment. This is where our values come in.
 
Large companies recognize a desire among Americans for cheap food (especially cheap meat), and in order to make it cheap they’ve got to skimp on doing things the right way. If animals are butchered properly, the bacteria naturally present in their digestive systems should not find it’s way into our peanut butter. Do we understand that we get what we pay for? I recognize that money isn’t growing on trees, but if we value food that’s good for us and good for our environment, then we should expect extra costs.
 
While I would love to see sweeping changes overnight, I realize that neither Washington nor consumers have that kind of power. But I’m very encouraged by movements I’ve seen. Corporations such as Wal-Mart see that we want locally grown produce, so they’re responding. I’m not Wal-Mart’s biggest fan, but their commitment to green practices continues to grow. And another thing: Wal-Mart has a knack for makin’ stuff cheap. If larger corporations continue to see the movement toward a sustainable food future, we can only hope that this will make healthy decisions possible for more Americans. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that we’re a country of trend-followers. At least with the Food Movement, it’s a trend that benefits our land, our food producers, our animals, and our consumers.
 
When it comes to food, our grassroots democracy seems to be working, and we owe ourselves a pat on the back. So what can we do now? Celebrate with a home-cooked meal made from local products and some green beer. Let’s keep doing what we’re doing, and let’s each take a step or two more. Lend your informed voice to push for local school lunch reform, shop at your local farmer’s market, join a CSA or a community garden. It’s encouraging to see our progress, but we still have work to do.

Election season is heating up, yet my optimism has cooled to an all-time low. You may know the feeling. Regardless of where you fall, politically, you are probably disappointed. Politics is, to borrow an all-too-common phrase, “business as usual.” It doesn’t seem to matter which candidate wins in Missouri, or which candidate wins in Colorado, or which candidate wins in Delaware, because money is the ruling power. Public opinion says one thing, but D.C. does another, because it’s not the voice of Americans to which our Senators and Representatives are listening. No, they’re listening to the voice of Monsanto, the voice of the Koch brothers, and the voice of Valero.

When it comes to my role in this “democracy,” I’ve gone through various stages of anger, and one of those included thoughts of refusing to vote. I’ve calmed down (a little bit), and I do plan to vote in November, but I still doubt whether it will make a difference. I don’t think this is the final word, because we are a resilient country, but is there any hope for change?

I think there is, and this is why: we don’t have to wait on Washington.  Some action from our elected officials can certainly help the causes with which we are concerned, but we can also act. I can’t guarantee that Senator McCaskill is going to notice (I certainly can’t replace the $23k she’s received from Monsanto), but that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up. It’s easy to back down, because it’s easier to wait on Obama, but I’m tired of waiting. I know that my actions alone won’t do much, but our country is defined by the will of its people–all of it’s people. Think about our actions this way: when we make compromises to our values, we walk in step with the elected officials we criticize. We can’t scoff at the way Roy Blunt’s campaign is funded by corporations when we shirk our own values for convenience.

In the coming weeks, I’d like to share my thoughts on how our actions and personal responsibility can force changes in Washington. We control how we use energy, how we view food, and how we spend money, and we can act regardless of whether Washington acts. We’ve heard that each dollar makes a difference, and each action makes a difference. But it’s easy to doubt these statements, and it’s easy to allow that doubt to lull us into complacency. Let’s take our values, stitch them to our sleeves, and create lasting change. Our government is supposed to represent the people of America, so let’s make sure D.C. knows where our values lie. We can’t afford to wait on them.

Tune in next week for part I of the series: Energy.

Avoid phantom energy: unplug your appliances. Did you know that your TV, your microwave, and even your phone charger still use electricity even when not in use? It’s true. Phantom energy accounts for nearly 10% of your total electricity usage. Cut out that energy use (that you don’t even really use anyway), and the savings will get you, essentially, a month of free electricity.  Oh yeah, it also uses less electricity, which means that the power plant supplying electricity to your home is burning less fossil fuel (if your electricity is generated from a renewable source, I’m jealous).

For appliances located close to each other, plug them into a power strip, and just turn the power strip off. For others, you might just have to start a habit of unplugging them when you’re done. It’s just about the easiest thing you can do to save money and cut your electricity usage.

We Have a Meat Problem

March 17, 2010

I know I’m preaching to the choir.  Our nation has a meat problem.  Our world has a meat problem.  But most of our world’s meat problem is due to our nation’s meat problem.  This article highlights a report on global meat production and the social, economic, health, and environmental impacts of this industry.

Take this quote: “Livestock production accounts for approximately 40 percent of the global agricultural gross domestic product.”  There are starving people throughout the world, and as population continues to increase, the number of hungry people is only going to grow.  But we are using nearly half of our agricultural products (corn, soybeans) to feed cows.  No, not people but cows.

Or this: “The livestock sector, including feed production and transport, is responsible for about 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.”  And many claim this is a conservative estimate.  If you don’t believe humans are contributing to global over-heating, you may not find this as disturbing, but it’s worth noting.  This starts with the agricultural process (running tractors and fertilizing with natural gas), moves on to cow waste (methane–if you’ve ever seen a fart lit, you know what I mean, but cow waste is also stored in big ol’ pools and sprayed on fields), and finishes with distribution (shipping uses fuel).  And indirectly, this doesn’t take into account the portions of the Amazon (remember from science class that trees use CO2) that are being leveled to keep up with the demand for cheap beef.

On top of these, small farmers in Poland and China are losing their farms because they can’t stay competitive.  Industrial meat manufacturers can buy 10 farms in these countries and turn that into 2 or 3 jobs.  More, we have no idea the impacts of this consumption on our health.  We are beginning to see, but we are still human lab rats.  What kind of effects does genetically modified corn (which our factory farm cows eat, along with chicken feathers, chicken waste, and antibiotics–these are necessary because cows, as ruminants, cannot digest corn, so they develop infections) have on our health?  I know GMOs are hotly debated, and I don’t have an answer, but should we test them before consuming them, or should we just take a “wait and see” approach?  Because of the overuse of our strongest antibiotics, are we sitting ducks waiting for an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant MRSA?

Our overconsumption of meat is an issue, and there is only one solution: eat less meat.  I realize this can all be overwhelming, and most of us can only focus our attention on one or two important issues.  For some of us those issues are politics or the passing of health care reform or fighting crime in our communities or attending to family crises.  I get that; we all have a lot going on.  But you can mostly ignore this issue and be an active participant in a very simple way.  We don’t need to do anything–we just need to stop doing something.  Or do it less.  Most of our readers aren’t big meat fiends, but we all know people who are.  We don’t have to berate people for eating meat, but there are those close to us who might benefit from hearing about our meat problem.

This is a social justice issue.  This is an environmental issue.  This is a health issue.  This is an economic issue.  Our meat problem is relevant in many areas of our lives, and it’s one we can’t ignore.

Sing a Song for Spring

March 16, 2010

That’s what I want to do.  I’m sure we all share this feeling, but I love it more every year.  Ever since I have begun gardening, spring cannot come soon enough.  In January I begin planning the garden, and when I finish planning, I review and revise my plans several times just because the thinking and the dreaming get me through.  I ordered seeds, and I spent at least an hour with them when they arrived (Court can affirm this).  Potatoes are in route to KC via UPS.  Hurry up, Brown!

We bought native plants for our backyard (www.grownative.org is a great starting point, and I ordered our plants from www.mowildflowers.net and picked them up at Burr Oak Woods), and they have been sitting on our front porch sprouting because it’s been too wet and cold to plant.  I am so obsessed I check on them a couple times a day to see if any new sprouts have emerged.  And believe me, I notice when one does.  I am re-reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, and her words only increase my fascination with life and nature.  I feel myself sprouting anew with our Golden Currant bushes.  I feel taller and more alive with our Wild Sweet William.

I have onion sprouts growing in our home.  I decided to start the seeds of only one kind of plant inside, because I’ve never done it, and I only have one lamp we can use to give light (life).  Plus, the couple from whom we buy raw milk grow beautiful heirloom tomatoes and peppers and have agreed to grow a few extra plants for us.  I trust them more than I trust myself.  But I am becoming more confident.

Greta has also grown stir-crazy.  She meows at the door at all times of day.  She is not an outdoor cat, but she loves her little glimpses of the wild.  We are well aware that her desire to go outside means we must be prepared for fleas.  We choose not to use chemicals on her, and many of our friends recall our flea problems of 2009.  We are determined not to go through that again, so we must keep up the combing and keep up the vacuuming.

I already love the excitement that comes with spring.  Add to that the ongoing planning for a wedding, which I’m pretty excited about too, and this spring is unlike any other.  The birds are ready, the impatient daffodils are ready, Greta’s ready, and Courtney and I are excited about walking again, reading on the porch, and breathing life into our back yard.  Hooray for seasons!

Adventures in Buycotting

March 5, 2010

Buycott is a relatively new term to me.  And I like the idea.  A boycott, as you well know, is the refusal to buy products from or support a company or business.  This can be for many reasons; most famously, individuals during the Civil Rights movement boycotted establishments that refused to serve blacks.  A buycott, on the other hand, is the act of choosing to buy products from or support a company.  So, imagine that an ice cream parlor during segregation hung a sign that read “We will serve any individual who desires a cold, creamy treat, regardless of race.”  I would visit that business.  And that would be a buycott.
 
We are all very good at voicing our displeasure to companies that let us down–I don’t think we’ve ever had a problem with that.  Have you ever seen the kitten poster (yes, my sister and I had kitten posters, because kittens are cute) that contains a picture of a, wait for it, kitten that has destroyed a ball of yarn and is all tangled up?  The bubble extending from the kitten’s little head reads “When I do something right, nobody remembers, but when I do something wrong, nobody ever forgets.”  Even if you’ve never seen the poster, you’ve probably heard similar ideas.  Well, this is what we often do with companies.  I avoid Wal-Mart, I avoid Smithfield, I avoid Monsanto.  And say that I send those companies messages detailing my complaints.  Or say I just avoid purchasing their products.  Either way, that’s the essence of a boycott.  Now, think about how positive a change it could have if I buycott companies that share my values.
 
An easy way to buycott a company like Patagonia is to purchase their products.  This supports their bottom line, and it sends a subtle message saying, “I support you as a company.”  But there is another way: what if I actually send a company a message?  Ultimately, they want our money, so I’m sure Patagonia would prefer that you buy their products, but while they do feel your support, they don’t know whether you’re buying that fleece because you like it or because you support them as a company and you like it.  So what if you send them a message with your purchase detailing why you chose to support them?
 
I’ve had the opportunity to buycott recently, and I’m going to share, because I want to show how easy it is.  First, I sent an e-mail to Wal-Mart.  No, I didn’t purchase their products, because while their ridiculously low prices are tempting, I choose to visit Walmart seldomly.  Walmart has made some strides toward sustainability, though, and I think, maybe because of countless discrimination suits, they are beginning to see the value in treating their workers fairly.  In Kansas City, there aren’t a whole lot of places where we can recycle plastic shopping bags, but Wal-Mart is one of those places.  I e-mailed them a thank you for that service.  There response was generic and not specifically related to the topic of plastic bag recycling, but I suppose they heard my message.
 
Another recent buycott: Court and I shop at the Wild Foods/Whole Oats on Main (see what I did there), and when we want mushrooms we choose between shiitakes and baby bellas, which are a cross between portabella and white button mushrooms.  We usually use shiitake for their superior flavor and nutrition, but occasionally the others work better for a recipe.  But, and this is a pretty big but, they are packaged in styrofoam.  So we never buy them.  Well, recently, Monterey Mushrooms switched to compostable containers.  I wish that I could say that their change was due to a message I sent them, but that’s not the case.  After the fact, though, I did purchase the mushrooms, and I sent them a message praising their switch.  They get my money, and they get my message.
 
Finally, I noticed that J. Crew uses paper from sustainably-grown forests for their magazines–look for the FSC logo.  I like J. Crew’s clothes, but I try to avoid buying new as often as possible, especially with clothes.  I still enjoy looking through their magazine and occasionally stopping in the store.  But, say I do purchase something from them; I appreciate that they have taken at least this step, and maybe my message will encourage them to take additional steps.  And if they take additional steps (say, show a commitment to fair working conditions for overseas laborers or use organic materials) maybe I will be tempted to buy new.  Until then, I will give them some positive press on this here blog.  “Hey J. Crew, about 8 people just found out that you use paper from sustainable forests for your magazine!”
 
These are my experiences so far.  I am a new convert, but I hope to encourage more companies to make changes toward sustainability through my words and my dollars.
 
P.S. The author’s of the Better World Handbook have given me a new perspective on spending–every dollar I spend is a vote.  We may get frustrated with our political system, because it often feels like our votes mean very little, but with our money, we vote nearly every day.  Let’s make sure our financial decisions represent our values.

A Conversation About Food

January 8, 2010

Russ Parsons of the LA Times writes an article about the lack of conversation going on in America regarding food and farming.  Similar to politics, there are two sides, and those two sides are opinionated, passionate, and eager to disregard what the other has to say.  I’m on one of those sides, and those adjectives fit me perfectly.  Well, check out his article.

Here is a thought to get you started:

“What’s political is also personal. If you believe in something, you should be willing to make sacrifices to support it, even if it’s expensive or inconvenient. Wailing about farmers who use pesticides and then balking at paying extra for organic produce is hypocritical because the yields in organic farming are almost always lower. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with doing the best you can whenever you can — as long as you’re willing to accept compromises from the other guy too.”