a boots-on-the-ground view of the change that's a-foot

Archive for January, 2008

Population, Consumption, Population

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

As they say, numbers don’t lie. The population crisis is real and determined not simply by increasing numbers of people, but by consumption levels of those people. Science uses the number 32 to measure the difference in lifestyles between people in the first world and those in the developing world, who have a rate of around 1. Simply stated, people in N. America (and other developed nations) consume resources and create waste (like plastics and greenhouse gases) at 32 times the rate of those in other countries. Adding a person to the U.S. population is equivalent (in terms of consumption and waste) to adding 32 people to the developing world. If this still doesn’t resonate fully, consider that the average cost of raising a child in the U.S. is estimated at $13,430 – and that’s just until age two – much of it having to do with consumption.

Jared Diamond, professor of geography @ Univerity of CA, LA and author of “Collapse”, outlines this disparity in his recent NY Times Op Ed piece, “What’s Your Consumption Factor?” Although high birth rates are an issue in developing countries, they consume and waste less. With a consumption level higher than any other country, the U.S. and others must consider population growth as critical in regards to reaching preventing a collapse in resources and moving towards sustainability.

“[B]y avoiding a fraction of the projected population increase, the emissions savings could be significant and would be at a cost, based on UN experience of reproductive health programmes, that would be as little as one-thousandth of the technological fixes. The reality is that while the footprint of each individual cannot be reduced to zero, the absence of an individual does do so.” states Chris Rapley, well-known expert in climate change science and director of the historic Science Museum in South Kensington, London.

Fortunately, standard of living does not have to be directly related to our current rate of consumption in the U.S. since much of what we consume is wasted and/or does not contribute to our standard of life. New and improved energy technology can help us use resources more efficiently but it’s up to each of us to reconsider our excessive lifestyles and habits as something that can be sacrificed – without much actual sacrifice. We’ve unwittingly set a precedent for an unsustainable and wasteful standard of living, encouraging the rest of the world to “catch up” – with obvious and dire consequences if they do.

When it comes to population growth, we have to keep all the numbers in mind. Because when it comes to consumption, the fact is, our standard of living is possible only because the rest of the world lives with much less.


Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Jerry is one of the few people who can restore my faith and hope in the people and the planet when I get stuck in a moment that I can’t get out of. He does it simply by consistently and creatively, pointing to the Truth.

Here’s one that I refer to often:

“Salvation is not what you get, it’s what you do.” – Jerry Stifelman


Monday, January 28th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

If you’ve been chosen to Step It Up, Keep Winter Cool, Buy Less Stuff, Flick Off, take the Nature Challenge or, just get sane by consuming less in your own way, you will very soon notice something wonderful happening right in front of your eyes…

You will be creating less trash – a lot less. The good news for you is that you will spend less money, fill far less trash bags and spend less time carrying stuff to the curb, dumpster or recycling bins.

The bad news is that it will hit you – hard – just how much trash you created and sent to the landfill in the first place. Ouch. Yeah. As I’ve said before, the truth sometimes hurts.

Once you recover from this trash-truth, you’ll be able to enjoy the fact that you’ve taken an important step towards a less chaotic, materialistic lifestyle and moved towards more simplicity, happiness and sustainability. Share your revelation with friends and family. You could even flaunt your trash-less state in front of neighbors. You will smile because you are being the Change.

In the U.S. today, we (residents, businesses and municipal facilities) dispose of 251 million tons of trash per year or, 4.6 pounds per person per day. Even more shocking is that as much as 82% of what ends up in landfills in this country could easily be composted or recycled. Below are approximate percentages of landfill materials:

34% paper

14% yard trimmings

12% food

11.7% plastic

5% metals

5% glass.

Currently only 32.5% (of 82%) of this material is recovered for recycling or composting. The remaining 20-something percent of materials in the landfills is wood, rubber, textiles, some of which could be recycled as well.

If just 1 million people cut down their trash by 10%, we could reduce our yearly CO2 emissions by as much as 50,000 tons. PEOPLE WHO TRASH LESS HAVE MORE FUN

Cold Water – refreshingly good sense

Friday, January 25th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Eco-acting blogger, Green as a Thistle has so far taken 330 eco-steps and is still g[r]o[w]ing and moving towards a complete calendar year of increasing greenness. This recent post announced her willingness to give up hot tap water and use only the first cold water from the tap to wash up – including hands, face and dishes. She’ll be saving water and energy in the process. Namaste to that, Vanessa.

I shudder to remember the days of long ago when I would let the faucet run to warm before washing my hands and face. Being subjected to similar up-North weather, I’m sure I did so at least during those freezing months – I must be repressing the shocking memory. I do know that it’s now plenty comfortable to splash myself with cold for a few seconds before soaping up. In fact, it’s darn refreshing – any time of year.

As for the dishes, If I’m in the mood for warm, I’ll occasionally heat up a teakettle on the stove to add to my bowl or soapy dishwater instead of watching the precious stuff go down the drain until reaching a warm enough temperature.

Keep in mind that studies show it is the “friction” of rubbing the hands (or dishes) that gets rid or germs, not the temperature of the water – or even the type of soap being used. Water would have to be at boiling temps to kill more germs, so it’s past time to give up that fantasy. Washing or showering too often (especially taking hot baths) depletes the skin or natural oils – one of the body’s natural defenses against invading germs.

I admit that showering before the water reaches warm is not a goal I’ve reached – something I consider one of my eco-failures, despite the fact that I collect the excess in a bucket for flushing (anyone else managing it out there??). Fortunately, the water heater to my current shower was installed just behind the bathroom wall – allowing it to run warm in just a few seconds. Hmm, if this was not pre-planned during construction, it should have been!

Be free to choose a sustainable life. Keep perspective. We don’t have to cater to perceived expectations or luxuries. There’s nothing to lose and a lot to gain with every step.

Both Sides of Bio-Diesel

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

There’s a productively firey debate going on over bio-diesel – even among the local users who are questioning the inclusion of animal fats in the waste oil blends. Vegans and others are concerned over the possibility of financially supporting the conventional meat-producing industries (who, as we know, practice toxic and cruel methods of farming and slaughter) by purchasing bio-diesel fuel.

As a soon-to-be member in our local bio-diesel co-op at Piedmont Biofuels. and environmental and animal rights activist, I want to know the facts. Below are excerpts from letters recently published in our local Indy, in response to this brief article on Piedmont Biofuels. It is worth reading the entire letters if you can – they frame the debate well.

Letter: “The use of animal feedstocks financially aids the producers of them by providing one more revenue stream, allowing them to avoid disposal costs—whether it is the main item produced or incidental to the production of some other. If you purchase a product, you support its production. ” Read More

Portion of response: “Poultry farmers have been getting paid for their poultry fat for years, this is not a new revenue stream for them created by biodiesel demand. Poultry fat gets fed to cattle, swine, and poultry, and turned into cosmetics among other uses. Small scale biodiesel producers, who are offering an alternative to petroleum, are trying to stay commercially viable by utilizing the feedstocks that are most cost effective; these usually end up being ones that are found closest to home.” Read more

This shows, once again, that there are no uptopian answers to consumption issues and that we should all stay open and informed from all angles when making lifestyle choices.

My bottom line on Bio-diesel? Though it’s preferrable to recycle and reuse our waste products (of any kind), it’s more important to remember that this does not take away the need to REDUCE OVERALL CONSUMPTION. I’m not switching to bio-diesel so that I can wile away the miles in a car with a little less guilt. I’m still going to choose walking, bicycling and mass transit when possible and overall, drive less.

Snow Daze on 2 Wheels

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

It snowed a few inches over the weekend. Temps stayed below freezing for 3 days, giving us a short window of Winter play. My cross-country skis still live with family in MN, so I spent much of the weekend hiking with the dogs and, more noteworthy, on my bicycle.

Yep. I did what I thought I wouldn’t/couldn’t do and rode my bike in 20-something temps – with even a bit of windchill. I dressed well in layers and covered my face. Mittens are always much warmer than gloves but I was able to navigate gears and brakes surprisingly well. I did it – I rode on paved and dirt roads as well as on snowy fields at the farm near me. My Border Collie, Ayla, ran along with me and we stopped to scratch the heads of the cows and mules – well, I scratched, she stared. The sheep are more wary of BC ways, and stayed out of reach.

Why is this worth writing about? Because I have proven to myself that choosing bicycle over car is possible even in colder weather. This is a big deal to me since I’ve been trying to do a green commute more often. If you’ve been feeling wimpy about your green commute in the cold, please be encouraged by my experience. Although I love Winter, I’m always worried about staying warm and was really reluctant to try below freezing bicycle ride. But it worked –

I found there are two useful strategies (besides dressing right):

1. Ride fast to increase body heat.

2. Ride more slowly to decrease the windchill effects on extremities.

#1 works best if you are stopping only when you reach your destination and can go indoors before cooling down and riding slowly works best for pleasure rides where you’ll be taking breaks..

I also discovered that riding on top of snow with knobby tires is a blast.

Bon Iver!

The Faces of Bio-diesel

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

Bio-fuels are an encouraging concept for all countries, but reverting back to a mass-production mentality could land us back in utopia-minded pergatory. By producing bio-fuel from industrialized GMO corn soy or sugar cane, you have taken one step forward and another back. Mass-produced fuels from any source, come with their own set of problems, including the overuse of resources, fertilizers/pesticides, deforestation, soil degradation, soot, or displacement of native plants or wildlife.

When you’re talking bio-diesel fuels as a sustainable and low pollution solution to energy consumption, local – once again – leads the way. Although experimental cellulose ethanol, made from native switchgrass, slash and agricultural bi-products, can produce a bonus in clean energy – they can store excess CO2 in their roots and the surrounding soil, reducing global-warming gases by as much as 90.9% – mass production could cause logging slashes and destruction of wildlife habitats. In truth, it will take a combination of conservation and sustainable fuel production to derail what could be nature’s – or at least, our own, demise.

In my area, we have bio-diesel plants making fuel from local waste oils, the majority of it from plant-sources. Any fuel production takes equipment and resources, but locally-produced bio-fuels can provide us with the most sustainable source of fuel yet available. Its production recycles a material that would otherwise be discarded and a DIY version is affordable and accessible to those willing to do the work. Widespread use of local used cooking grease bio-fuel would require little land use and could reduce global-warming gases as much as 75.6%.

Do you hear the quiet but persistent voice underneath all the debate? “Think globally, act/produce/buy locally…” There’s environmental and economical promise in the right blend of local and sustainable production of fuel, food and all other consumables. For a thorough and concise comparison on the available sources of bio-diesel, go to Sierra Magazine.

Community + Diversity = Sustainability. Are you bio-ready?

MLK and Liberation

Monday, January 21st, 2008

One of Jerry’s favorite inspirational quotes from The Reverend, Martin Luther King, Jr.

If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as
Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare
wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and
earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.

–The Reverend, Martin Luther King Jr.

Last night, we attended an event, Hoop Liberation Jam, falling on the eve of this day of remembrance of a great man who changed the course of history for all of us. His words illuminated so many aspects of our lives and values that they will serve us well into all eternity. If only we take time to listen.

We gathered in a circle to set and share intentions. We honored the symbol of the circle (hoop) as a symbol of our interconnectedness and Oneness. We wished for the liberation of all people to be free – to be free to be awake, alive and whole.

Then we danced inside of our hoops. The energy of it has lingered into today. I’m listening. Tao

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