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

Archive for May, 2008

“Please Don’t Mow” – Lawn Alternatives

Friday, May 30th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I was on my bike the other day, enjoying the long-awaited green grass and flowers of Spring. Many people in Carrboro resist the urge to chop  and manicure, leaving wild grasses, clover and wildflowers to adorn their yards and provide nourishment for all things that creep, fly and buzz. Yesterday, I saw this sign along one of the public easements, which was in full Spring bloom, asking, “Please do not mow”. I realized they were asking the town to consider the value of the wabi sabi of nature along roadsides instead of mowing it down. I stood looking at the tall grass waving in the breeze and hoped it would work – at least for awhile.

I lived in Phoenix for a short time and admired the ingenuity of the of the homeowners who covered their woud-be lawns with green gravel – a logical solution to living in arid climate never meant to grow green grass. (Unfortunately, much of the Southwest hasn’t figured this out, yet, still using mega-doses of water and fertilizers.) It made me realize that we can quench our desire for order and beauty in many creative ways without messing with nature’s master plan AND without spending endless days applying chemicals, pulling weeds, watering or mowing.

Here’s are some photos from my neighborhood. The first is my backyard, covered with mulch, gravel and a little ground cover. I pull thistle weeds twice/year but otherwise it is maintenance-free. Our only expense was pouring some white gravel in a circle – we think of it as a labryinth. The others belong to neighbors, one who enjoys making rock and wood sculptures and another who lets the wildflowers rule. The possibilities are endlessly artistic, better for the planet, less work and more fun.

my yard

No Easy Way Down – but we can enjoy the ride

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I had a dream several years ago which I have never forgotten. It came during one of those times that comes around to all of us – when life seems full of questions and doubts. The dream went like this:

I was riding up a chair lift at a ski resort. I meant to get on a lift to a beginner slope but as I continued to ascend, the mountains got bigger and bigger. I saw a sign with the dreaded symbol of double black diamonds (the universal symbol for difficult slopes. Below the symbol were the words, “For Experts Only. No easy way down.”

Barack Obama, standing in for Senator, Edward M. Kennedy, delivered the commencement speech at Wesleyan University in Connecticut last Sunday. He echoed a theme Kennedy planned to focus on, a call to students to change the country and the world through service.

He also told them to not take the ‘easy way out’. “I hope you’ll remember,” he said, “during those times of doubt and frustration, that there is nothing naive about your impulse to change the world.”

“It’s because you have an obligation to yourself, because our individual salvation depends on our collective slavation. Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realized your true potential and discover the role you’ll play in writing the next great chapter in America’s story.” (For more on this story, visit this link at

There IS no easy way down or out. But there is a challenging and fullfilling prophecy we can choose to shape our future. And, as I recall it, I awoke from that dream not filled with fear, but of excitement and determination.

1SKY.ORG – A MOVEMENT UNITED – take action today

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Like many of you, I support and contribute to many environmental organizations. Some are led by scientists, some lawyers who use our justice system to fight the degradation of the planet, some protect rivers, some oceans, others farm land, the rain forest, and still others, our perishing wildlife. I’m sure you have wondered, like me, just what could happen if they all combined forces? These dedicated groups have all made strides towards change and awareness, but what if we could bring it all together? Would the proverbial iceberg that we are pushing start to move (before it melts)?

In 2006, a small group of diverse leaders came together with the same question. The time was right and you probably felt it, too. Awareness was growing rapidly, change was a’foot and people were looking for less talk and more action. Approximately one year later, 1SKY – A Movement United, was up and running. With great efficiency, this group engaged a network of leading scientist and economists towards collaborative efforts towards creating a unified platform for transformative change. With a philosophy of, “launch by doing, and grow from the existing movement,” their non-partisan campaign is focused on raising the climate issue in the context of the 2008 elections and with the next Administration and Congress.

On May 30, Colin Beavan aka No Impact Man will visit Representative Jerrold Nadler to express to him support for a number of climate change mitigation policies that are much stronger than those currently passing through Congress. He intends to ask Representative Nadler to support the policy platform and “an effective global warming mitigation policy that is based not on what is politically possible but on what is scientifically necessary.”

This is change in action. Please read more about 1SKY Solutions today, and support No Impact Man in his efforts to get the political ball rolling this Friday. Visit this link to copy and send your letter to Representative Nadler and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, today.

Minneapolis – fountains of sustainability

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

It’s good to be back. It spent time with my family and explored what’s new in my big city – one of those making significant strides towards a sustainable future. I’ve heard that the Twin Cities have held a high green ranking for decades and the city lakes, free of motorized boats, are some of the cleanest in the country. A stroll around a few busy spots will show you some of the most litter-free places on the planet. I saw street sweepers in the neighborhoods, doing the seasonal clean-up of curbside debris to keep it from entering the sewer system and waterways, my former local co-op is now solar-powered and stocks a wide selection of local farm products and I saw a few urban vegetable gardens where lawns used to be. A newish downtown Farmer’s Market is thriving. The city lakes and parks, populated by an abundance of cyclists and pedestrians, have been made more friendly for wildlife with natual rain gardens and flowering trees and plants. Out in the ‘burbs, a new light rail system is in place.

Last week’s NY Times column, by Elizabeth Royte, (author of Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It) also informed me that Minneapolis recently committed to spending $500,000 on drinking fountains that will be placed in areas of high foot and bicycle traffic. This is part of an effort (joined by San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newsom), to reduce bottle use – and the huge carbon footprint that goes along with it.

Now there’s another (like electric cars and electric hand-dryers) retro-solution to both plastic and water waste issues! Remember when most places had drinking fountains? They used to be in markets and department stores and in all parks. No cups, bottles or trash cans required. And it stands to reason that they conserve water, too. I’ve long wondered what happened to what used to be available to all – a cool, clean drink without the cost, waste and inconvenience of carrying a bottle. Germ-phobics can’t claim this one – fountains are designed so that the treated water coming from a spigot is safe. I shudder to think the bottled water industry had anything to do with the demise of the fountain, but then, what gives? More importantly, how can we reclaim a sane way to keep all of us quenched? I’ll be looking into this one – stay tuned.

BTW, thanks for the comments and thoughts about my mom. She is enjoying the Spring weather just arriving in MN. On the day I was leaving, we found a bird’s nest with 3 small eggs, hidden in a potted plant outside her front door. It made all of us smile. Nature has a nice way of speaking.

To Be Happy – and make CHANGE HAPPEN

Monday, May 26th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Several years ago, I received one of many phone call inquiries regarding my yoga class schedule. After a short, informational conversation, this person, whom I had never met, said he felt compelled to pass something on to me that had been shared with him at an important time in his life. Being forever curious and interested in spontaneous and mysterious opportunities, I accepted the invitation to listen. This is what he told me…

There are 8 things you need to be happy –



A loving connection to others

To contribute beyond yourself

A feeling of uniqueness

A feeling of importance

A compelling future

A personal relationship with Nature

I was, at this particular time, in the midst of making decisions about my life and future and what he told me later became a guiding force in all of it.

Although I never spoke with him again, I’ve always remembered what I learned in that call and, on occasion, have shared it with others. I now see that happiness is a large undertaking, requiring us to be wholly engaged and involved in the big picture of life – the joys and the sorrows – and to find the meaning in everything. I believe that these things will not only make us happy, but in doing so, can help us change the world.

Anti-Bacterial is Anti-Life – get fermented

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

We’ve long known, but as long forgotten, that raw and/or fermented foods are important factors in the holistic picture of diet and health. Fermentation was first used as a way to preserve perishables before refrigeration existed and the ancient philosophy of Macrobiotics includes fermented foods for their enhanced and abundant nutrients. I’ve included fermented/cultured foods like miso, tempe, apple cider vinegar and kefir in my diet for years. Why are these foods so important? Bacteria, baby!

Our culture has become exceedingly germ-phobic and obsessed with cleanliness. And in the midst of trying to eliminate disease-causing bacterias, we’ve created a overzealous fear of all things microbial. Industry enthusiastically fed this fear and soon the marketplace was swarming with anti-bacterial soaps and other cleaners. Are we less sick due to our efforts? Actually, no and then some.

There’s no sign that fewer people are succumbing to viruses and other illness, but there’s plenty of evidence that our immune systems are continually becoming weaker and that new and antibiotic-resistant bacterias are gaining ground in our environment and bodies. Microorganisms cover our bodies and the surfaces of our home in the form of friendly bacterias that protect us and help develop the immune system. “The cleaner we live…the more likely we’ll get asthma and allergies” states Dr. David Rosenstreich, director of Allergy and Immunology at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine. In other words, Mr. Clean was wrong.

There are many facets to a whole and healthy life and discovering ways to work with the body’s diverse system, rather than against it, can be a worthwhile and fascinating journey. How to begin?

Step One: Don’t believe everything you’re told on television or radio – research, read and talk to others.

Step Two: Ditch the antibacterial soap and consider washing your hands, and other stuff at home less often. (Continue to wash hands when using public restrooms.)

Step Three: Play in the dirt.

Step Four: Eat fermented/raw/cultured foods. The process of fermentation makes food more digestible and nutritious, while live, unpasteurized fermented foods provide good bacteria in the gut. Fermentation creates new nutrients, removes toxins from foods and have been shown to function as antioxidants in the body. Think sauerkraut, cheese, miso, tempeh, kefir and yogurt. Home “brewing” isn’t as hard as you may think – Learn more from this book by Sandor Ellix Katz, Wild Fermentation, The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods.

Love is in the Air – the Gift of Offsetting

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

One of my friends gave me an awesome gift the other day. I was coming to visit him and mentioned that I was riding my bicycle. He grumbled, since I’m continuously speaking in eco-tongues in his presence. “This road is damn dangerous and I’d rather not have to peel you off the pavement,” he said and promised to make it up to me. The next morning I called, expecting to find him, as usual, at his favorite coffee shop, but he was at home. “What’s wrong – you sick?” “Nope,” said this reluctant enviro, “we had a deal – I skipped the drive this morning.”

Whoa. Not only was I kinda moved, but I realized that he was on to something! Maybe we could offset for the ones we love!? Are your friends flying to Paris on a honeymoon this June? Carpool to work that month in their honor. Driving to visit grandma? Bring her a set of CFLs!

Traveling to visit loved ones is a fact of our current culture and I say “sustaining” relationships is important. First, make sure those trips are about quality, not quantity and rethink those that fall under the “obligation” category only. We could also consider other meaningful ways to “be there” – arrange a strategically timed phone call during special events or send a letter that can be read aloud. Some years, my family has sent a video of a celebration that I missed.

Beyond this, there’s only one thing left to do – OFFSET!

Already trading out those love miles with a carbon offset company? Then you and your loved ones could challenge yourselves to accumulate offsets in other ways. Wanna visit the new friend you made at Green Fest? Change a bulb, ride a bike, car share, jog outdoors instead of on the treadmill, use only the cold setting on your washing machine, turn off the ice maker in your freezer – the list is endless! Once you start creating new green habits, you’ll get hooked – and then you’ll be sharing all of the LOVE and the eco-ball will be rolling!

The Changers offset mileage and other every day energy use at Terra Pass. It’s fast, easy and affordable. Go there now and share the love!

Do You Want a Better World? Join the Club!

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Tree-hugging roadside assistance? Who knew? Now you do, so it’s time to wake up and smell the petroleum – AAA is not only old news, it’s bad news, with a long history of lobbying against any and all auto alternatives like mass transit, bicycle paths and even the Clean Air Act.

Better World Club, roadside assistance and travel service jumped out of the auto-industry supporting box, bringing travelers an intelligent way to improve their “car-ma”. Two boyhood friends from Ohio survived the ’60’s, worked their way through law school, did some other worldly stuff and eventually created a company that is un-paving a way to better travel. Better World not only offers all the traditional roadside services with generally lower rates, but members receive discounts on hybrid and bio-diesel rentals as well as other types of eco-travel. They also offer Roadside Bicycle Assistance, Auto Insurance and family membership prices for domestic partners.

Ok, so BW won’t bail you out of jail, but you get the benefit of knowing that they are actively promoting “low impact, responsible travel through partnerships with companies who share their philosophy and commitment to protecting the planet” and donate 1% of revenues to environmental clean up and advocacy. They are supporters of the Pay As You Drive (PAYD) insurance initiative, even showing up to testify in it’s favor before the Oregon House Transportation Committee. PAYD programs will encourage less miles on the road (studies project as much as a 20%decrease) but could result in fewer new roads and fewer accidents.

It gets even, uh, Better. Members booking flights or becoming BW-insured, receive free carbon offsetting and are encouraged to make donations towards additional offsetting of personal energy use.

If you’re already a member of another roadside service, you can still join now and become an active member of Better World Club the day your old (smelly) service expires. Call now or visit them at

THE TAO OF CHANGE [the way of a better world]

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