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

Archive for March, 2008

Hunting 101?

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto

I’m still thinking about death. And life. And death.

Where do I stand on hunting? That’s a tough one. I don’t like the image of it. But when I see large numbers of deer roaming through neighborhoods and lying dead on highways, I find myself grateful for the hunters that help in controlling a population that, without natural predators, can no longer control itself. When my sister, who lives in Nevada, walked out her door last year to find a bear in search of the food, I feel conflicted. Afterall, bears can break down doors as easily as we open them.

Yet, I was the kid who never recovered from the movie, “Bambi”, and still can’t watch “Babe” without sobbing. More recently, while on an Autumn hike in the mountains , I witnessed a newly killed black bear being dragged down a trail by hunters. My entire body reacted so strongly to the scene, that I took off running downhill, falling over my feet and in tears.

IS hunting the necessary balance? If so, is it simply an attempt at balancing a system which our overzealous land-hogging has messed up in the first place? Or, is it ultimately part of our story as humans? If we are carnivores, are we even obligated to be witness and participant in the process of killing the food we choose to eat? I’ve conveniently avoided these questions most of my life, being vegetarian for half of it and wistfully dreaming about birth control programs for over-populating wildlife, while hesitantly grateful for those that can pull the trigger when necessary.

Most hunters sincerely claim environmentalist status. From Sierra Magazine, “According to the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Alliance, most hunters and anglers have strong conservationist leanings. A study the organization completed in January 2000 found that 83 percent of hunters and 86 percent of anglers support keeping the remaining wild areas in national forests free of roads.” This sounds like a logical, even necessary part of today’s politics.

I do believe that we cannot have it both ways. Rather than kill the wolves that mildly threaten livestock, it may have to be a considered the compromise for displacing them from a natural habitat. We cannot kill simply to support a style of living before we determine if our desired lifestyles are necessary. We are responsible for creating and maintaining some kind of natural balance before we sublimely continue our world takeover.

I have a friend, David Knight, who was raised in a family of hunters. He also happens to work in environmental law for the Nature Conservancy. His gentle nature and sweet personality always made me curious about his love of the hunt. Then one day, he told me that after he kills a deer, he wears, for that day, a cross of its blood on his forehead. My first, and only, meal of venison was with him.

The Greek goddess, Artemis, is considered the goddess of the Hunt, yet she is also considered the goddess of Childbirth and protector of the young.

There’s a lot to think about.

(Artwork in photo by Michael May)

Death and D[en]ying

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

We are a death-denying society. We don’t like to talk about it or even think much about it. Yet, we all know that death is an important part of life. Indeed, nature has a plan that includes birth, death and rebirth in equal parts. It takes a great understanding and more than what our culture can offer for us to reach this kind of faith and acceptance in the process.

My cat, Jazz, died on Saturday. He was old in cat years – 14 – yet showed no current signs of sickness. He heart just gave out. Within my sadness was the relief that he did not have prolonged suffering. There are few ways that the death of a pet can compare to that of a human loved one, yet it confronted me, once again, with the strange ways that we handle – or mishandle – death in this society.

I recently watched, “Darjeeling Limited”, a covertly thought-provoking movie and I was moved by a scene where a father prepared his son’s body for a cremation ceremony. This struck me because modern societies have moved so far away from any nature-based rituals concerning death. Instead, we send bodies to be embalmed and dressed by strangers, covering them with make-up and put into fortress-like caskets before we bury them in the ground.

Associate Professor of religion and women’s studies at Skidmore College, Mary Zeiss Stange, speaks about death in Sierra Magazine, “Our culture has a kind of schizophrenic relationship with death and dying. On the one hand, we are obsessed with youth – fearful and shocked by any idea of aging. In old age, we choose a drug and technology-filled existence over quality of life. On the other hand, we are literally and figuratively numbed and indifferent to the images of violent death we watch daily in tv and movies.

I have hope that the wave of awareness of nature washing over the world will include new and/or old ways to help us acknowledge and handle aging and death. For I believe it holds more clues about life.

For more on aging and death, try this.

Population Truth

Monday, March 17th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Some truths are hard to accept, making it easier to simply avoid them. We are unwilling to give up the notion that we can throw or flush something “away”, so our landfills, rivers and oceans keep filling up with sewage and trash. We enjoy fast food and other inexpensive meat and dairy from factory farms by avoiding the image of the abuse to the environment and the animals it comes from. We drive our cars because the CO2 it produces is, for the most part, invisible. (If our cars spewed black exhaust, I think we would all drive less.)

It gets even harder when it comes to the truth of our exploding population. Producing children is a biological response to nature. This makes it a perplexing problem – to have upset the planetary balance to the point where reproduction is unsustainable. Personally, I’ve felt little conflict over the issue, always knowing that I would not bear biological children due to overpopulation, the need for adoptive parents and the willingness to consider my life – both internally and externally – full and complete without it. (I did not adopt, but ended up, perhaps fatefully, with a stepson.)

Treehugger has previously posted on population issues, and is currently hosting an interesting debate regarding the issues, including why eco-activists still have children. The recent post that started the debate, by our own Changer, Sami Grover, is here. The comments started rolling in fast – they were up to 74 last time I checked.

So why do most aware eco-activists resist adoption alternatives and have their own children, despite the facts and a perilous future? It’s a question that has yet to be be answered as much as rationalized. I read with interest the cited article by eco-activist and mother – entitled most candidly, “I Threw My Fears To The Wind.” Even within this knowledgeable and sincerely motivated green group, it seems that there are some things better left unsaid.

(As previously cited, Chris Rapley, professor and head of Science Museum in England writes on population. Excerpt below. More from Rapley here.

“[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.“)

David Suzuki Foundation

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

By Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

There’s smart people…and then there’s the knock-down, drag-out brilliant sort that come along once in a lifetime – and fortunately for the rest of us, David Suzuki’s timing is perfect. A full professor for 32 years and author of 43 books, he is still an internationally respected geneticist and professor emeritus with UBC’s Sustainable Development Research Institute. Among other numerous awards, he has received 20 honorary doctorates from Canada, The United States and Australia. First Nations people have honoured him with six names, formal adoption by two tribes, and made him an honorary member of the Dehcho First Nations.

Dr. Suzuki co-founded the The David Suzuki Foundation in 1990, a science-based Canadian environmental organization, focused on four program areas – oceans and sustainable fishing, climate change and clean energy, sustainability, and the Nature Challenge. Visit the website and sign up for the weekly newsletters. My favorite is Science Matters, where Dr. Suzuki examines how changes in science and technology can affect our lives and the world. Suzuki writes on the topics of the moment, including carbon offsets and biofuels. He also offers an educated, honest but hopeful perspective. Here’s an excerpt from a recent post:

“It means it’s time to dig deeper…We already have the public’s attention, but now we need to get serious about solutions. Large-scale changes [also] require corporate and government leadership. But here, too, individual action can have great power. Politicians and business leaders know the public is concerned, but they are slow to respond unless really pushed. If you really want to make a big difference in 2008 – push them. Push them hard. Change is underway. Real change is happening. Let our leaders know there’s nothing that can stop it.”

Starbucks “Got” it wrong

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Have you seen the recent Starbucks/Got Milk advertisement? Not only a old and tired play, but as misleading as the original version.

It shows an aproned and smiling employee, holding up a latte with the “Got Milk?” tag underneath, including the misleading health claims about the getting “half the dairy you need” from the milk in your Latte Grande. Not a regular, reasonable latte, but a super-sized high-$ version.

Because of hormones, pesticides and antibiotics, non-organic milk is not healthy in the first place. And although I enjoy lattes occasionally (the soy version), I’m not going to be convinced that it’s part of a healthy diet. We don’t need the daily “goodness” of super-sized caffeinated drinks, nor does the planet need the paper cups and plastic lids that comes with them. From

According to, we used and disposed approximately 14.4 billion paper cups in 2005 — or a mind-boggling 410,000 paper cups every 15 minutes. That number is expected to grow to 23 billion by 2010 unless we change our current coffee-drinking ways.

I had heard whisperings about Starbucks moving to organic milk last year, and maybe a few stores carried it briefly, but it’s been confirmed that the initiative has been dropped. Looks and feels a lot like their same half-hearted efforts to support Fair Trade. And just what about all those paper cups?

Like many mega-businesses, Starbucks had an opportunity to make a positive impact on consumer habits as well as the organic coffee and milk industries. They missed the mark and then some.

Cattle Call – cows good for the planet

Monday, March 10th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Stay with me here. I know what you’re thinking. After all, I became a vegetarian and then vegan at the age of 16 and I did it for the animals and for the planet. Following a lot of personal research, I returned to eating dairy and eggs after moving to Carrboro, where I was introduced first-hand to the natural and humane practices at local farms. I saw chickens completely free to roam (and in fact, hanging out on the farm-house porch), as well as contented cows and goats grazing in spacious pastures.

But could I eat meat again? I wasn’t completely sure. What about the land and the resources used to raise grazing animals? I’ve read about the carbon footprint created in this industry and the release of methane – a potent green-house gas. I needed to know more.

It turns out I didn’t have to look farther than my local Independent news source. Reporter, Suzanne Nelson does her homework and then goes directly to the source – the farmers – to give us the whole story. In fact, there is so much enlightening information, I encourage you to read the entire article here.

The bottom line turns out to be that animals grazing on small farms in fact keeps soils rich in nutrients and allows for the aerobic decomposition of manure, preventing the release of much methane into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the vast majority of cattle are raised in feedlots or CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), which, besides being inhumane, is proven to be an environmental disaster in every way.

Here’s a couple of excerpts and only a few of the fascinating facts of raising our animals in humane and environmentally sane ways. Read more!

Rich, fertile soil contains large quantities of carbon. Poor soils contain very little. So grazing cows on depleted soils not only makes the land more fertile, in the porcess it traps carbon. Happily for climate stability, the process of making soils rich in organic matter, and thus carbon, can be accomplished relatively quickly. And the catalyst is the presence of ruminants.

Yet by far the most abundant contributor to nitrous oxide emissions [300 times as potent as methane in terms of greenhouse gas] is “agricultural soil management,” according to the EPA. And here again, feedlot animal operations – and the chemical fertilizers used to grow crops when cows are taken off small farms – are directly connected.

The Clean Plate Club

Friday, March 7th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Food leftovers are the single largest component of the waste stream by weight in the United States. Households throw away more 25% of our food – about 96 billion pounds of food a year. Meanwhile, the average restaurant generates 50,000 pounds of waste a year – 50% of it is food. Overall, about half of the food produced in the U.S. is wasted.

The rest of the developing world is catching up. Food waste in Hong Kong has doubled over the past 5 years – restaurants are now fining patrons for uneaten food, by the ounce or by the sushi. Although restaurants are ultimately responsible for controlling their end-of-day waste, it’s up to the consumer to change habits. Order only what you can eat and take home what you can’t (come prepared with your own to-go container or ask for your food to be wrapped in foil rather than put into a box). If leftovers are not your doggie bag, at least you can feed your home compost.

When did we start throwing food away – before or after we started installing disposals in kitchen sinks? Food and water make the world go ’round, yet we take both for granted. Shifting this perspective is especially important for children – some of the biggest wasters at home and in school lunchrooms. It’s up to parents to make an early impression. I remember my mom often saying, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” It was really unusual to throw any food away. (Parents, give your kids what they need, not only what they want, establishing better eating habits – and less wastefulness in the future.)

Landfills are the largest human-related source of methane in the United States, a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than CO2. Most of the methane produced is from anerobic kitchen waste, which, when oxygen depleted, ferments rather than composts. As it turns out, food in landfills causes more problems that non-biodegradables. Food for thought.





Greener Pot Heads

Thursday, March 6th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I have great respect for anyone who can plant and grow things, professionally or otherwise. As much as I live (quite literally) to hike, bike and hang outdoors, I’m not so great with a shovel and hoe (they still use hoes, don’t they?). However, when we industrialized the garden biz, we got a little carried away. There are as many gadgets and gizmos for garden-lovers as there are plants.

Take those plastic pots that your new plantings come in – about 300 million pounds of them end up in landfills. It seems reuse or a compostable version would be in order. Volunteers in St. Louis, MO took charge of the pot problem in their area with the Botanical Garden recycling program. Over the last decade, they have collected more then 300 tons of plastics from nurseries and landscapers which have then been made into a wood-like product that has many uses.

Plans for new collection centers and drop-off sites are in progress, a stimulus for similar programs around the country. For more information, visit

While you’re thinking greener gardening, remember to think Permaculture – go native, go natural, lawn-free and eliminate the need for wasteful irrigation.

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