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

Archive for September, 2008

Our Eyes are Bigger than…most things

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

When I was a little kid, it was hard to gauge my hunger appropriately. I always ended up with leftover food on my plate – or, worse, a stomach ache – especially when it came to things like dessert or Halloween candy. So, my mom often reminded me, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” She was usually right. And, eventually, I learned to see things more clearly.

Of course, the appearance of all things “super-sized” demonstrates that many of us haven’t outgrown our misperceptions and misconceptions when it comes to how big and how much. Just take a look at our cars, our houses, our closets, our beverage containers and our dinner plates. Unfortunately, this habit has not served our world or our bodies well and though we’re starting to catch on, old habits die hard, as they say.

Take cars. I’ve always said, if only the people who really needed SUVs drove them, they wouldn’t be an environmental issue. And if we really looked at function and not form, wouldn’t a mini-van or a station wagon serve large families better? I’ve had my Prius since 2004 and many people tell me how they would love to have one, but they need more “space”. I’m not sure what that means exactly, when I have driven around often with 2 dogs, 4 passengers and hoops in the back.

In fact, yesterday’s incident in my Prius is what got me started on all this. We went to do our quarterly CSA group pick up – normally about 5 coolers of milk and a box of eggs – no problem. Well, yesterday, the other group in my area did not have a driver, so we hoped to be able to bring both groups back with us. I was skeptical – 10 large coolers in my Prius? Well, we started loading, and low and behold, with the back seats turned down, we fit (two people), all the coolers and a large box of eggs in the back, still allowing room to see out the back window.

If I had my camera, I could prove it, but you’ll have to just take to heart what I happen to glance at as we pulled out – it was in my sideview mirror, which today, I read as: “Things may be closer larger than they appear.”

The Goat Patrol – nature’s sustainable landscape architects

Friday, September 26th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Got ivy, honeysuckle, poisen ivy, kudzu or other invasives taking over your yard? Call Goat Patrol – the fastest, most efficient and most sustainable landscaping team available. This discovery has made me smile all day – sustainable landscaping at it’s best! What I’ve learned so far from The Goat Patrol:

Nature’s landscape architects, goats can clear invasive growth from any area in record time and with skillfull precision. Born to munch, goats graze up to 8 – 12 hours per day, quietly moving around an area to find their favorite edibles. Goats are also non-toxic and won’t threaten the water supply.

Business school graduate, entrepreneur, land and animal lover, Alix Bowman, owns and operates Goat Patrol in NC, which includes a hungry team of superhero ruminants. Alix and her team get the job done without gasoline emissions, noise pollution from machinery or weedwackers, herbicides – or coffee breaks!

Alix and her team have an affordable and enjoyable working system which begins with a free estimate of your landscaping needs. Appropriate for large or small areas, the costs cover 3 simple steps – installation of portable fencing, grazing time and transportation of the herd. Fencing is set up to specification, the goats and supervising goatherd arrive the next day. The herd heads home each night, returning until the job is done.

I’m looking foward to bringing the Goat Patrol to our co-housing community to clean things up soon. Visit to meet the team – a herd of munchers with personality and charm!

Green Death – more to consider

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

At the risk of appearing death-obsessed, I am still thinking about the process and traditions surrounding my mom’s death and funeral. (I prefer to think of it as “exploring” the subject.) My family knew my mom wanted to be cremated, but not many other things were discussed before she was gone, which made planning the details of the funeral difficult. Although I’m versed on all subjects green, it turns out that the time to speak out with ideas is (much) before the dying process begins. (I admit I thought about this several times, but had trouble bringing up my thoughts in this case.)

I did come back understanding what funerals are for – celebrating someone’s life rather than mourning their death. (I have not attended any other funerals, so I didn’t know what to expect.) Surprisingly, it felt natural and uplifting to do this and I realized that it’s an important part of the process.

So, I’m no longer anti-funeral, but would suggest more consideration of both funeral homes and families in making a permanent shift towards a more sustainable event. If you feel strongly about this, discuss it with your family now in order to avoid the conflicts that arise after the fact, when it’s easier for grief-stricken families to submit to conventional traditions which could easily be addressed under less stressful circumstances.

Sami Grover, one of our “Changers” and a writer on, covered literally ALL the angles on his Green Funerals TreeHugger post recently. I’ve noted the first 2 of 10 tips on dying green below, but it’s worthwhile to read the entire article, which includes numerous resources to keep on hand.

1. Seek Good Advice

Not long ago, the idea of green burial was unheard of by most funeral directors, and today, for a variety of practical and emotional reasons, many people still resist te idea. However, there are signs that the industry is awakening to the concept, especially since many people with environmental sympathies wish to leave the world as they have tried to live in it. A growing number of products and services can help them do just that. Key points to think about include:

— Funeral Director: Ask your funeral director about more sustainable options, or seek out a funeral home that offer green practices (more on this below).

— Green Burial: Likewise, green burial specialists can help you explore greening your final resting options.

— Literature on Green Funerals: Read one of the books that can guide you through the process. (See our “Where to Get this Stuff” section below for suggestions.)

2. State Your Intentions

If you are reading this guide with an eye to what happens to your remains when you are gone, it would make sense to talk to your loved ones about it or make arrangements ahead of time. Death can be a difficult process and, unless prompted, those left behind may not think to consider the environment in making arrangements. Even if they do, they may not have a grasp on what are the best and greenest courses of action to take.

— Define Your Wishes: Add a clause in your will or create an advanced funeral wishes document that stipulates your green funeral concerns. Consider including a copy of this guide with your instructions.

A Green Death Becomes Us

Tuesday, September 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.

Obama – larger than life

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC






It’s interesting how quickly images become recognizable to us. I realized this when I was riding my bike past one of my favorite Carrboro yards owned by Mike Roig, metal sculpter. We Carborroites have had the privilege of  watching this talented artist create an eye-catching art garden on Main Street, filled with larger than life works of solid and moving metal – all a unique combination of abstraction, everyday images and symbolism. I’ve strolled through before, enjoying the view.

Yesterday, I turned my bicycle after seeing another looming piece set in the landscape. Here it is in all its hope and glory.

A (No Impact) Man, a Bicycle and a Mercedes

Friday, September 19th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto

Sometimes, life gives you an opportunity to react or act. Sometimes, it requires some of both.

One of my favorite enviro-heroes, No Impact Man, made the most of a scary situation, kept his cool, and then acted with his head and voice. In the end, he is making a difference in his city and, most likely, the world will follow in some way or other.

The other half of the encounter, in the form of a NY State senator, chose a different path. Read the last two days posts for the whole story here and then here.

More thoughts on this story coming soon – check back. Tao

X-Stream Cleanup – Update on Chad Pregracke and Living Land & Waters

Friday, September 19th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

It’s a time of Heroes – courageous, creative and determined And, man, do we need them. Fortunately, they are stepping up come all walks of life artists, musicians, designers, writers, photographers, athletes, small farmers, business owners, students, you’ll even find them in Hollywood. Every one of them moves and inspires me. Some of them bring tears to my eyes.

That was the case when reading the story of Chad Pregracke, one dedicated river keeper dude. About 10 years back, as a skateboarding college student broken-hearted about the state of his beloved Mississippi River, he dropped out of school to spend his days in a flat-bottomed boat dragging out trash. He didn’t have a master plan or hoards of people to join him. “It was just something I knew should be done and needed to be done and nobody was doing it.” (That gave me the first gulp). It can be that simple, yes?

After being discovered by roving reporters and curious eyes, Pregracke himself discovered a wealth of enthusiasm from friends and strangers, some longing for a chance to get involved. “You gotta create an opportunity for people to do something.” he said.

True to his word, he soon founded Living Lands and Waters, a non-profit with 12 employees. With a fleet of barges, he and his crew travel down 6 rivers, including the Missippi, Missouri, Ohio, Anacostia, Potamac and the Illinois as part of the annual event, X-Stream Cleanup. The latest and 4th annual expedition covered 31 sites, involving over 1,500 volunteers. To date, they have hauled in over 4 million tons of garbage, recycled much of it and stirred up interest in concerned communities along the way. Rivers get a shot at restoration as they remove numbers of tires, metal scraps and barrels still partially filled with toxic chemicals.

Corporate sponsorship has helped grow the group’s budget, allowing them to extend their efforts and influence into educational workshops and other local programs. Yet, when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Chad dropped everything to be part of the relief efforts. Planning to stay 4 weeks, Chad and his crew stayed 10. To learn more and get involved, go to


IN 2006, Chad and his crews executed 64 cleans ups and hosted the first Big River Workshop, on the Mississippi River.

In 2007, Chad and LL&W founded the Million Trees Project. With the help of communities collecting acorns, a nursery was established with the goal of planting a million trees within the following 5 – 10 years. Chad and National Geographic release, FROM THE BOTTOM UP, the story of the creation and evolution of his river passion and his non-profit organization.

Chad continues to write a weekly column in the Quad City Times in Iowa and has delivered over 300 presentations to corporate, public and student audiences worldwide.

The workshops expand to the Missouri and Illinois Rivers and the LL&W crew plants over 20,000 trees in a five-state area.

LL&W keeps on doing what it does best until Hurricane Katrina strikes the Gulf Coast.  Within days, LL&W cancels aall projects, doubles the crew size, unloads the barges of garbage and fills them up with building supplies.  The fleet and crew head to New Orleans to assist with the relief efforts.  Planning to stay for 4 weeks, the crew stays for nearly 10.

LL&W continues to make an impact, hosting 64 community-based cleanups along seven of the nation’s largest rivers.  Working with over 30,000 volunteers to date, LL&W estimates total refuse collected to be over 3 million pounds!

LL&W’s Big River Workshops host their first excursions–taking 60 teachers on a 3 or 4-day voyage up the Mississippi River.

LL&W expands Adopt-A-River Mile program to include the Illinois River.

Chad releases From the Bottom Up, with National Geographic–the story of the creation and evolution of LL&W, its successes and challenges.

LL&W launches its newest endeavor—The MillionTrees Project.  By starting its own nursery and soliciting the assistance from the community to collect acorns, this project aims to plant a million trees within the next 5 to 10 years.

Politics at the Pumps

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

“We can’t drill our way out of this mess.” – From Robert Redford, actor, director, environmentalist and a trustee of NRDC (National Resources Defense Council):

Excerpt: “We know how to solve our energy problems and to fight global warming — all we lack is honest, bold leadership. We had better find that leadership quickly, and not just for the sake of bringing down energy prices, but because it’s essential to keep our whole economy competitive in a world rapidly moving beyond the dirty fuels of the past. The first step is making a real investment in energy efficiency. We can choose a better future, but we’ve got to do it quickly, and each of us must play a part.”

No, we can’t drill our way out, but we can Change our way out of a lifestyle and luxuries that got us here in the first place. We can open our minds, eyes and hearts into a more meaningful and more simple life. But, we’ve got to jump off the cliff – even if you can’t swim. Tao

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