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

Archive for March, 2008

Taps at Earth Hour

Monday, March 31st, 2008

by Tao Oliveto

What did you do with your lightbulb-free hour on Saturday night? After working on those all-important hug and cuddle skills, we took a walk around our magically dark and quiet neighborhood. Although at first I fidgeted with the idea of an imposed hour of darkness, I discovered it felt great to have an opportunity to slow down and be more still. Jerry and I made a pact to try our own candlelit earth hour every weekend and see what happens.

The event, called “Earth Hour,” started in Sydney, Australia, last year, when 2.2 million people and 2,100 businesses turned off their lights. Organizers say that this year it spread to about 380 cities and towns in 35 countries. This simple group action reduced the city’s energy consumption by more than 10 percent – the equivalent of taking 48,000 cars off the road for an hour.

More than that, it provided another way to get people thinking about how small acts in large numbers can affect the world.

WE can all make a difference.

The Razor’s Edge

Friday, March 28th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto

My voice is a bit shaky today, but I’m determined to still find a way to use it to write this post.

I’m feeling stuck and baffled by the line culture has drawn, somewhere in the proverbial sand, that says something like, green is good, but talking about it isn’t. I’m frustrated by a culture that says, atta boy, keep up the good work saving our water, our air, our health and our animals – we need you out there – just please don’t tell me about it – or ask for my help. And for God’s sake, don’t preach – it’s really annoying and gets in the way of everything.

On the other hand, I’ve patiently listened to people rant and judge each other over taxes, high gas prices, being cut off in traffic or the loud music from the neighbor’s house. I’ve also listened politely while they boast about their new car, house, computer or ipod.

Yet, somehow, reacting to the ways we are all wasting our limited supplies of water, polluting energy or abusing animals and land at factory farms – is simply not acceptable. And you’d better not get too excited – in public, anyway – about that rain barrel or your reusable grocery bag…

Just today, No Impact Man wrote, “To be enviro, these days, is to be cool, ethical, caring and driven by values. And as people become aware that enviro-concerns are really human concerns, that toxins in our environment mean toxins in our bodies, and that a happier planet makes for happier people, the importance of green…is only going to increase.”

I believe this on most days. That people will begin to understand that it’s about taking care of what will all need to survive and be healthy and be willing to listen and talk to each other about Change. Not so much today – today I don’t feel so “cool” in my enviro status. I feel confused about how to walk that line between saying too much and saying too little.

The good news, as I was also reminded this morning, is that I do feel “ethical, caring and driven by values”. And I really want people to be happy and healthy.

Maybe things will be alright after all.

You Can Lead a Horse to Water…

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

But they can’t make us drink the kool-aide.

I saw a poster on my friendly community news bulletin board that said, “eco-friendly carriage homes”. This excited me until I read on… “Four Bedroom, Three Bath, 3000 sq. ft. custom homes convenient to Hwy 4o and 15-501“…

Look out, that elephant is about to step on your foot. No matter how you cut it – big, new, stick-built homes with two-car garages and lawns do not qualify as “eco-friendly”, despite Energy Star appliances and Leed Neighborhood Standards included in the fine print. Exalting the CAR-friendly location’s close to the HIGHWAY status is like a twist of the knife.

And what’s up with the term, “Carriage House”? Is it supposed to conjure up a facade of old-world charm? Do you feel duped? You should. Keep in mind – just because they are building doesn’t mean we have to be buying – we consumers run the show, after all.

Compare this to the latest redo just a few miles away in my town of Carrboro. Retro, one-story apartments converted to cool-looking condos – all with not much more than a fresh coat of paint, adding decks and planting new trees and bushes. It looks completely inviting. Here’s the sign announcing the opening of The Flats:

The Emperor is wearing no clothes. Let’s get on with it. I’m thirsty.

Everything Must Change – 3 important voices

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

Brian D. McLaren is an author, activist, speaker and pastor. His life, work and experience has convinced him that everything must change, mostly the way we live as consumers.

“Consumerism is the notion that the more we consume the better off we will be. As I explain in Everything Must Change, it’s the supreme idolatry of our times. It places my temporal wants at the center of my own little universe. As the dominant way of deriving meaning, it is responsible for countless neuroses fed by corporations whose shareholders insist on ever-increasing profits, and it is responsible for near runaway exploitation of this earth’s natural resources.”

In my experience, living more sustainably has been a kind of relief – an opportunity to slow down, to quiet the runaway ego and gain perspective on what I really want from life. Living smaller, slower and with less “convenience” has left me feeling more whole, healthy and in tune with life than ever.

Paul Hawken says living sustainably should be easy and natural – like “falling off a log.” No Impact Man says it’s harder if you have less money or live in a community that does not support a sustainable way of life. I think they are both right. Simplifying your life by driving, buying and wasting less is available to everyone. Everyday in my town, I see people who are willing to share space, share cars, ride bikes and have less. And they seem to do it while working less, nurturing relationships, pursuing goals and having fun. But it’s true that sustainable alternatives to necessary goods and services need to be made available to everyone in order for real change to happen quickly.

We can have a life that’s more authentic, happy, healthy and sustainable by forgetting about what we have and focusing on what we do. It’s not about the money or the sacrifice. But it is about changing our own habits and then supporting each other in doing what it takes to push our culture into a place where it is easy and natural to change.

“After ending one year or living without electricity and creating no trash, NIM says And so, I’ve decided that for myself, in choosing my path forward in my continued experience as No Impact Man, that my individual attempts at environmental living are not sufficient. As much as I’ve come to believe in the incredible power of a life lived in integrity with one’s values, and as much as I’ve seen evidence of the differences each of us can make with our life choices, I’d also like to think we have the power to make those same choices and benefits available to everyone. “

He’s talking activism, of course, making yourself heard. We’re getting greener and cleaner. We’re starting to talk to each other. Let’s take on the next step and get together about schools, communities and cities and groups being a force for change. Use your talents, use your passion and use your voice.

It’s Not About The Car – the truth about car-free living

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto

As you know from this blog, my commuting habits are a work in progress. I’ve been journeying from Prius to biodiesel, with a lot of bicycle and a little mass transit in between. I mostly live, play and work at home or within a radius of 5 miles, making it not much of a sacrifice to get around by bicycle and bus. The most regular driving I do is to get my dogs to the trail head. My biggest mileage involves a 45-mile roundtrip one day/week to work in another town. Ouch. I don’t enjoy this trip and it’s not just the eco-guilt – being in traffic is a tense and disconnected experience – something I didn’t notice so much when I was driving regularly.

If I’ve been this happy with my car-lite lifestyle, I often wonder what it would be like to go totally car-free? Chris Balish, journalist and nationally-known lecturer on the environment, sustainable development and green living, reveals all – including the true costs of owning a car, in his best-selling book,

“How To Live Well Without Owning A Car: Save Money, Breathe Easier, and Get more Mileage out of Life.”

This book covers every topic, question and driving alternative in detail and includes resources and testimonials from others living car-free in the U.S.. The new ideas on car-pooling, car-sharing and car-rental were especially interesting. For instance, bringing home heavy garden supplies like potting soil in the Spring, runs to the Farmers Market on Saturdays or weekend hiking are the obvious times to get your friends together in one vehicle. Renting a car on a weekend for projects or trips is not a crazy idea – especially if you are sharing the cost with others. Did you know that most taxis allow pets if they are in carriers?

What expanded my view beyond car-ownership more than anything was cost. I was shown that my car that I’m so proud to let sit idle (not idling) much of the time, is costing me an average of $700/month. What? Then I did the math – it’s true.

This book covers the driving habits for everyone in cities or suburbs, of every age and income level. I found it especially fun and interesting reading the lengthy chapter on dating without a car. Chris’s list of ideas for car-free dates alone is enough to nominate him most eligible bachelor, though, a visit to his website made my head spin. This guy lives it up and gives it up for the environment.

Facing and Trusting Death

Monday, March 24th, 2008

After burying one of my cats last weekend, just as the birth of Spring was arriving, I’ve been exploring attitudes and myths surrounding the nature of death and dying. My good friend, Greg, devoted himself to his mother’s care before losing her to brain cancer last year. I have learned a lot from his experience. Read on.

by Greg Gillette, Asheville, NC

“You will recognize that the riddle of life is to be understood through knowing the nature of death.” This quote by Rudolf Steiner is a very profound and important message, especially in today’s society, where the physical body and materialism are glorified and death is usually seen as the ultimate loss.

Regardless if you believe in more than one life or not, the simple truth is that everyone will lose their physical body and leave the earth, so why do we still fear death and rarely talk about it. Look at society and the somber dark expressions about death, the unhealthy pursuit of mass materialism and the strong push to keep people alive, artificially, when they should be free to die and move on.

Granted, experiencing the death of someone close to you is tough, but how much of what you feel is based on images and messages from society? Without death there is no life. Look to Mother Nature and who will see a constant flow of life and death, a beautiful flow of everlasting energy. The same can be said for the constant flow of life and death for us. Everyday, millions of people experience life and millions experience death.

I feel that because most of us rarely talk about death, except when someone we know dies, death is greatly feared and misunderstood. I am not advocating speaking about death all the time because you will most likely turn people away, but to bring it up from time to time and explore the mysteries of it and know that much knowledge can be gained from facing death before you actually die.

If we begin to explore death and see it as a necessary part of life, when someone close to you dies, it will have more meaning and the transition period will be easier and perhaps, mystical and magical.

A Green Death Becomes Us

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Now that I have this death and dying thing on my mind, it brings me back, of course, to the earth and the environment. There’s something frightening about embalming bodies with chemicals and placing them in elaborate caskets, made of non-biodegradable and even toxic materials, to be buried underground. Although there is an important place and purpose behind rituals and ceremony for honoring life and death, we’re polluting the earth and contaminating large amounts of land in this outdated process.

I had already told my entire family that I insist on being cremated when I go – no wasted casket, gravestone, plot or polluting hearse for me. If it fits into your personal and/or spiritual story, cremation seems to make eco-sense. Right?

That was then. This is what I know now. Although technology has improved, the cremation process turns our bodies into air pollutants. In fact, incinerating bodies emits at least 7 toxins and contributes .2% of global emissions of dioxins and furans. It is also a large source of airborne mercury.

So what if you are dying to be green?

“The Green Burial Council (GBC) is an independent, nonprofit organization founded to encourage ethical and environmentally sustainable deathcare practices, and to use the burial process as a means of facilitating the acquisition, restoration and stewardship of natural areas. In a natural burial, the body is prepared for burial without chemical preservatives and is buried in a simple shroud or biodegradable casket that might be made from locally harvested wood, wicker or even recycled paper, perhaps even decorated with good-bye messages from friends.”

Land sites used for natural burials are maintained naturally, without irrigation or pesticides. The grave markers are made from natural parts of the landscape, creating a natural and native landscape that invites wildlife and people alike.

The council is creating a certification system for deathcare providers, education opportunities for consumers and an endowment fund to help create approved “Conservation Burial Grounds”. For more on traditional funeral services, cremation and natural burial, visit here.


After my mom’s funeral a couple weeks ago, Jerry and I continued a standing discussion of how we were going to “go” in pure green style. As mentioned above, cremation saves land space as well as the resources and chemicals that go along with a burial. Just what to do about the air pollution involved in incineration? Jerry said, “I’d like to simply float out to sea.”

Well, it ends up he wasn’t so far off. Air pollution not withstanding, it turns out your ashes can be made into an artificial coral reef which can help restore coastal fishing habitat. Hmm, nice thought. And if you go to the website of Eternal Reefs, there’s a description of a sweet ceremony that goes along with it.

I’m still not satisfied – I’m determined to find a carbon-neutral death if it kills me.

Next Up, green guru, Umbra, from, gives me some hopeful news about a woman in Sweden is perfecting a process that uses liquid nitrogen to reduce the body to dust, avoiding incinerator pollution. Now we’re getting somewhere!

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Think about it. Then rest in peace.

Full Moon Equinox – what’s going on up there

Friday, March 21st, 2008

By Phil Reckard, Chapel Hill, NC

A global meditation is being called by many different people and groups during the equinox of March 20 and the Full Moon of March 21. This two-day event is roughly the midpoint of two super-dynamic global energetics “caused” by Saturn in his oppositions to Neptune over the past few years, and Prometheus (Uranus) over the next few years.

The main feature at this upcoming equinox and Full Moon is a Grand Cross on Good Friday March 21, involving the Sun and Moon (opposed each other) at right angles to the separating Mars/Pluto opposition. Usually, a Grand Cross is a challenging configuration with at least four planets “at odds” with each other – a cross-current of competing energies loaded with potential conflicts. This Grand Cross even seems to conflict with the equinox of the day before, traditionally a time to celebrate new beginnings for those of us in the northern hemisphere, signaling the start of a new growing season.

The Full Moon is exact on Friday, March 21 at 2:40 PM (EDT), but any time Thursday or Friday would be when someone somewhere in the world will be joining in this meditation, either alone or in groups.

As with any ritualized meditation, clarity of intention is essential whether we want to send or receive love, send blessings for world peace, removing barriers, getting unstuck, working for self improvement, seeking an epiphany, wanting guidance for becoming an agent for positive change, all of the above, or whatever else is on our minds. A suspension of our belief systems might also be needed as you’ll see.

Peace, joy, and love to everyone. Let’s make something very wonderful happen!!!

(Artwork in photo by Michael May)

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