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

Archive for January, 2008

Where is Winter? Not gone to the dogs…

Friday, January 18th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Winter has been hard to find lately. Skis, snowboards and ice skates stay stowed away for longer periods of time each year. The mountainous snowbanks that used to still be melting far into a MN spring, now rarely reach a foot or two all year. The shortcut I took across one of the city’s lakes on my x-cross country skis is no longer a safe bet. And now, Winter can’t even seem to find Alaska.

Citing a warming climate and urban sprawl (connection noted), Grist reports that Iditarod officials announced permanent logistical changes in the race course this year, shortening the length and moving the start location 30 miles north – in search of colder temps, less asphalt and more snow.

Other professional Winter sports athletes are having to adjust to warming issues as well. Skiers, skaters and snowboarders are heeding the call to save their careers – and their passion for Winter sport. According to EMagazine, Snowboarders, Gretchen Bleiler, Lindsey Jacobellis joined the cause after experiencing significant and disturbing changes in practice and event conditions all over the world. Five of the original 8 World Cup snowboarding events were canceled last year due to lack of snow and warm temps.

Boston Bruins hockey player, Andrew Ference, wants the entire NHL to go carbon Neutral. He worked with the David Suzuki Foundation, calculating an emissions output of 25 tons of carbon per player during the sports season for flights and accommodations. He and other players now purchase Gold Standard carbon offsets and have made significant changes in their own lives as well – like driving less and recycling more. Similar meetings are happening with 20 other NHL teams while Olympic alpine skier, Kjetil Andre Aamott of Norway, has founded an anti-globalwarming campaign for Olympic athletes.

Lack of snow also has motivated recreational ski resorts to take action and move towards greener – or whiter – mountains. They may have to run snow making machines more, but some are switching to biodiesel fuel while others are purchasing wind power. The Natural Ski Areas Association joined with NRDC’s Keep Winter Cool campaign, supported and promoted by snowboarder, Ross Powers and Alpine ski racer, Picabo Street. Read more about ski areas going green here.

“It’s a lifestyle change.” says Street in EMagazine, who is making changes in her lifestyle on and off the road. “You have to focus on it, and really commit to it.”

Spoken like a true athlete.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth (and planet) Is.

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

Money or, more accurately, saving money, influences everything we buy or even think about buying, often with no relation to income level. More often, with little to no consideration for the cost to our lives, the lives of others and the environment.

Price (dollars and cents) vs Cost (quality). There’s a lot to consider. And nothing demonstrates this as readily as the process of greening our lives. In my experience, “saving money” is the most common objection to buying organic food or clothing, fair trade products or local goods from independent stores.

I was raised with the same misplaced values – get it on sale, make sure it’s a bargain was the house rule. My mother spent hours every Sunday clipping coupons. Consequently, as I grew up and left home, I moved into green thinking far before my budget did. I knew better but still resisted buying smart (instead of cheap) initially – doing the calculations and then rationalizing my way back into some cheaper, conventional purchase. And I noticed two things. First, I did save money – but just a little. Second, in the end, it didn’t feel so great to save that money, whether it was on food, furniture, clothes or hardware.

As Jerry always reminds me, “the truth shall aulde” (be revealed) and that’s what happened to me, I suppose. What I saved in dollars, I lost in quality, integrity and  satisfaction. Instead, I was sometimes left with a haunting feeling of selling out, of being “part of the problem”. It wasn’t exactly guilt, more like a feeling of baffling disappointment.

So, I sucked it up. I made new commitments in my shopping habits. Sometimes it meant a creative balancing act with my checkbook, but one that was simpler than I expected. I bought in bulk, stayed away from packaged food and cut back on soy lattes at the coffee house as well as video rentals. I’ve since found many other ways to cut out unnecessary spending – for instance, I now make my own toothpaste and cleaning supplies. The end result? I eat healthier, drink less caffeine and read more books. It feels good to shop consciously and I haven’t subjected myself to a mall in almost 10 years.

One friend accepted my challenge to make the switch to organic food. After doing the math, she was surprised to find out that she actually spent the same or less overall, attributing it to the fact that she didn’t as readily give in to junk food impulses or extra quantities that often were wasted.

Used or new? Big or small? Independent or Corporate? Name brand or generic? Sweatshop produced or Fair Trade? Organic or conventional? Choosing wisely makes what you save in dollars pale in comparison to what you save for:

1. Your/Our planet

2. Your/Our health

3. Your/Our happiness

3. Your/Our future

Cultural Shock and Awe in Hollywood

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Morgan Freeman says “Our situation, with global warming and air quality and all of that, has gotten to be catastrophic.” Yet, he also tells us he commutes 1,800 miles in his private 7-seater jet to work in movieland of CA. Nicholas Cage owns 13 homes, Tom Cruise uses and abuses a ton ‘o fuel for 4 jets, while John Travolta travels in his own 5 flying machines, including a Boeing 707 airliner.

None of this is too surprising considering the lifestyles of the in-comprehensively rich and disproportionately famous. But, the denial of reason by many celebrities rarely stops there. Attempt to fathom our own Material Girl, revealed to spend approximately $124,000/year on bottles of water for her family – Kabbalah blessed, of course. At $5/bottle That’s 24,000 bottles annually, or 65 bottles disposed of every day. Recycled or not, that’s a whole lotta plastic.

We can’t complain too much – we’ve fueled the celebrity fire. The good news is that even Hollywooders can grow up and many are joining the green ranks – in style, of course. For better or worse, they have the uncanny ability to influence large numbers of the star-struck masses in endless ways. Thank you, Adrian, Ed and Darryl (and others) who are modeling consciousness as only a movie star can.

Patriotic Duty – gone with the wind?

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Along with several others, I have this sticker on my bicycle…I picked it up at my local cycle shop – I liked it since I had recently decided to drive a lot less and start getting to work and around town by bicycle and yes, I thought of it as a responsible action.

Yet, It wasn’t until the other day that I realized the history behind this specific design. Look again at the drawing – a hand on the heart – this is a “pledge of allegiance” to a nation – a direct reference to a time in our country when citizens were asked to give and make changes – to sacrifice convenience and luxury for patriotism and a common good. These days, with the exception of some displaced flag waving, does the average citizen really feel a sense of duty to home and country, let alone the planet?

I learned a lot more about this time in history when reading an issue of Sierra Magazine and came upon an interesting and moving article by Mike Davis, Home-Front Ecology, siting historical evidence from the 1940’s WWII era, that citizens can and did work together and make sacrifices in the name of duty and an “economy of conservation”.Gasoline rationing didn’t bring rioting, but voluntary car-sharing and less driving and a return to commuting and recreating by bicycle, celebrations and advertisement of the patriotic advantages of traveling on two wheels. It truly was “My duty to ride.” The auto, by comparison, lost it’s luster with slogans like, “When you ride ALONE, you ride with Hitler!” Nothing like the naked truth to get people moving.

During this time, at the government’s urging, children participated in urban gardens while parents borrowed their bicycles to get to work. These Victory Gardens produced 30 – 40% of the nation’s vegetables, while the farmers fed soldiers. The Office of Civilian Defense, sponsored the “rational consumption” movement, encouraging a new mindset by any standard, “buy only for need”. There were size limits on new home construction and existing large homes and mansions were even used for communal living. The message sound familiar, but the response, very different at this point.

Although campaigns are today being waged at a grassroots level, governing bodies are strangely mute and participation is nothing to write home about. All of these efforts would go a long way in protecting our country, helping to end the war and save planet. What has changed so drastically 50 or so years later? After all, our country is, once again, at war. There are huge deficits accumulating of money, resources – and of hope. Even mainstream media no longer keeps secrets in regards to our dying environment.

Where now is the sacrifice, the willingness to do the work? Where are the leaders who can assist us in mobilizing for a common good, patriotic or otherwise? When will government learn to actually govern with conviction and reason instead of catering to industry and money-driven prospects?

The time is ripe. Despite evidence to the contrary – I believe most Americans are ready and even waiting for a way to fill a void of meaning and purpose in our lives as well as a way to face our fears of the future head on – to answer a call to duty. While we can keep pushing the iceberg towards change with our individual efforts and commitments, it will take leadership to motivate the masses and conscious governing to turn back the wheels of industrial nihilism and unsustainable consumerism. Bring it on.

Toilet Talk – fixated on flushing

Monday, January 14th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

“More than 40% of the water available for domestic purposes is used for transporting shit.” This from Madhu Suri Prakash (Yes magazine), author and professor at Pennsylvania State University. Ouch. That’s a lot. There has been and still is a better way, but are “civilized” nations ready to embrace it? Instinctively being uncomfortable with the sound and sight of any amount of water rushing down a drain, I’ve readily accepted my one flush/day rule at home and composting alternatives. We will all have to make radical changes in this area sooner or later, so we may as well get started.

As part of her extensive grassroots initiatives, Madu heralds the ecological toilet (composting) as a celebration of science, simplicity and sensibility – one way to return the power of autonomy to the people. She has authored two books celebrating cultural activism, Grassroots Postmodernism and Escaping Education.

Not only water-wasteful, flush toilets take 3 “marvelous” substances – water, urine and shit, make a toxic mess, then use countless chemicals in an attempt to clean it up – placing our water and our health at the mercy of the industrialized technology of treatment plants. Consider instead, a town in Sweden who, a few years ago, made flush toilets illegal allowing them to quit making waste and reclaim traditional practices of waste composting, nourishing the soil and food supply – the nurture of nature.

Like many large and looming ecological issues facing societies today, ending our addiction to flush toilets gets little press and is continually pushed to the periphery, even as the water wars have begun. Procrastinating on tough problems only negates our other sincere efforts towards change. It’s time to face the the shit that has hit the fan, so to speak.

As the Japanese say, “Shi Do Fu Ji” – The soil and body are one. Maybe it’s time start acting that way.


Friday, January 11th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I’ve been raving about the eggs I’ve been getting from my CSA, my co-housing community and the Farmer’s Market. I know they are better because they look different – beautifully and variable colored shells, the yolks are a rich, dark gold – and they taste better. That part is somewhat indescribable. Words like – real, rich, smooth, fresh and more, come to mind. The dogs, who would not eat any conventional egg shells I tried to add to their food, enthusiastically gobble up the local version. I happily pay around $3.00/carton for these beauties. I’m getting more than my money’s worth.

The results are in. Mother Earth News Egg Testing Project announced that eggs from organically and naturally fed, free-range hens are nutritionally superior to industrialized chicken farms which deprive chickens of natural food, light or living conditions and administer hormones, antibiotics, and use pesticides. I’ll bet you didn’t know there have been at least 8 studies done of this nature since 1978, showing similar results. The FDA may have had something to do with that.

According to the study of 2007, “real free-range eggs contain as much as:

1/3 less cholesterol, 1/4 less saturated fat, 2/3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega 3 essential fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E and 7 times more beta carotene.

USDA labeling regarding the definition of “free-range” is yet unclear, allowing large, conventional producers to mislead consumers about the actual farming practices being used. And, if you think turkeys have it bad, it’s equal or worse for the masses of chickens raised and slaughtered in horrific conditions.

If you don’t have access to a Farmer’s Market, research your community’s CSA groups. Even metropolitan cities like Minneapolis have them. Talk to your grocer and ask about his egg suppliers.

Is the value of our food and planet in our hands as consumers? Eggs-actly.

Happiness 101

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

Happiness, like most things, must have a kind of front and back door. A yin and a yang. An ease and an effort. For instance, I’m more worried about the state of the world than I’ve ever been and spend more time trying to change it. Yet, in many ways, I’m happier. I still don’t know exactly what that means, but I do know One Thing – that happiness has little to do with having a lot of stuff. Yet, we tend to focus most of our efforts in life toward just that.

In fact, No Impact Man has found more happiness by using and having less (but not nothing). Many others find happiness in other unexpected places – through sacrifice, productive challenges and meaningful work. It could be that the current planetary crisis can provide the opportunities we need to lead happier lives, an idea I’m slowly coming to terms with.

My long-time friend, Greg, has moved on a somewhat rocky path through life but demonstrates a reliable and comfortable happiness. Below, he shares his ideas about the practice of being happy. Tao

by Greg Gillette, Asheville, NC

Have you ever looked at yourself and asked, “How happy am I?” If so, what did you discover? How many of your friends and family members seem truly happy? Why are some people much happier than others? Can happiness be learned? Should we make the practice of being happy a part of our daily lives? How do we get there?

Happiness, to me, is that deep down soulful feeling of joy and contentment, where you are striving to see the positive in everyone and everything and to enjoy every moment. I stress the word, striving, because you do not need to be naïve and unaware of the sufferings of the world to be happy. When a person is truly happy, life becomes like a lovely gentle flowing river. The river may at times, flood or dry up. but overall, it flows in harmony, making it’s way around the many rocky obstacles in it’s path.

Everyone experiences pain and sadness and challenges in life, but, once again, how many people truly maintain a soulful radiance of happiness? For my personal perspective, I know very few people that are truly happy, including myself. Yes, I am happy much of the time, but I still feel like I get too easily frustrated and overwhelmed with life and all the craziness of the world.

Therefore, I am on a mission to practice the art of being happy, on a daily basis. Here are six actions to help you on your journey with happiness:

1) Practice healthy eating and exercise.

2) Practice smiling to everyone you see and meet.

3) Practice laughing. This may sound crazy, but laughter is so healing and there is not enough of it on our lives. I believe, in India or Japan, there are laughing clubs, where people gather together and laugh. The next big rave could be laughing parties.

4) Be objective and focus on the positive in what you hear and what you say. You will usually hear more of what people are against, not what they are for (anti-War, Anti-Discrimination, Anti-Poverty, the War against Terrorism). All this fear-based negativity brings more of the same. Like attracts like so focus on what you want (Pro-Peace, Pro-Rights, Pro-Prosperity, the Parade for Peace).

5) Practice heart connections with your friends, family and people you meet. Become genuinely interested in all that surrounds you.

6) Know the difference between pleasure and happiness. Pleasure is never lasting, but it can help set bring you into a flow state that can open the door to happiness.

The necessary virtues for happiness are courage, modesty, spirituality and leadership, thought and action that can be pursued in many ways. All in all, happiness is like so many other aspects of life; it is a state of mind. A state, which, for most of us, must be practiced and practiced until it becomes a part of us.

No Impact Man – still a hero

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

In 2008, No Impact Man became the self-professed, “lower impact man”. After admirably, and in my book, heroically, spending a year striving – without exception – to make no negative environmental impact on the planet (forget recycling – this guy created zero waste, washed his clothes by hand and ate healthily without resorting to refrigeration.) His return to a middle path of environmentalism this year is indeed still much lower impact than most of the population. He has and still will inspire many people. He is still a hero.

Today, as I read through his updated list of his new and forever eco-habits, I was relieved and impressed. Although he is returning to refrigeration (still no freezer), a clothes washing machine and electricity for lighting at night, the remainder of changes are staying put. As he has continually expressed, they have detracted little from – and even added to – his happiness quotient.

As I kept reading, it hit me – I’ve been “low impact girl” all along and didn’t even know it! Although I never matched the No Impact Man lifestyle this past year, I realized that I have been doing almost every thing on his current list for years. I’m still far from perfect. I do have a freezer, but I saved up for the most efficient model available and, since I live in NC, I use my a/c when August hits. Since I don’t live with convenient mass transit, I have a hybrid car, but, like NIM, love my bike more. Hey, I even wear Blackspot shoes!

More importantly, all of this has become simple and easy. I don’t feel like a “freak” – even when I take out my own cloth napkin at a restaurant. In fact, all these things now feel completely “NORMAL” to me – I’m not suffering or feeling deprived. In fact, NOT doing the things on this list seems rather freakish to me, considering the stakes.

Am I a hero? Hmm, I don’t think so. Unless you want to go with the definition sited in an English proverb: “A hero is one who is afraid to run away.”

Then you have me pegged.

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