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

Archive for November, 2008

Life Goes On – Solar Panels, a Grave Matter

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

The greening of funerals and cemetaries has been another step towards sustainable practice and perspective. It’s happening not just out of logic and necessity, but has also moved us along a path where we can be willing to ask questions about even long-standing tradition to meet the needs of our time on this planet. It’s been a slow and somewhat steady journey – one which is happily gaining momentum, integrating old meaning with new traditions.

In fact, if we’re willing to open both our hearts and minds, we have endless possibility on our side in the fight against climate change. A town of 124,000 people in Spain has done just that. A plan 3 years in the making overcame initial resistance in Santa Coloma, a densly populated area near Barcelona.

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, 462 solar panels mounted atop masoleums in the town’s cemetary, are giving energy to the area in the amount of what would be yearly use by 60 homes. “The best tribute we can pay to our ancestors, whatever your religion may be, is to generate clean energy for new generations. That is our leitmotif,” said Esteve Serret, director Conste-Live Energy, a Spanish company that runs the cemetery in Santa Coloma and also works in renewable energy.

I can’t think of a better way to keep our past and present connected.

O Christmas Tree (or not)

Monday, November 24th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Snow fell the other morning – those big, fat, quiet flakes. There’s no denying Winter’s approach – or the onset of holiday cheer and conflict. Some of us process the holidays more than celebrate them, but love it or not, it’s part of our culture – part of our life.

Greening the holidays has not been so painful – in fact, I’m hearing more about the way people are remaking their experience into one that is more quiet and meaningful than they’ve previously known. Less eating, less stress, less buying yet more giving  – less being more has not been an elusive concept to grasp.

What is your biggest question this year when it comes to your holiday re-processing? Gifts? Food? Travel? Or is it to tree or not to tree? In my eco-infancy years, I opted for an organic farm-raised tree – it was beautiful but expensive and still something that I had to watch wither away in the end. The year of the ice storm brought the opportunity for a wealth of fallen boughs, put in pots in every corner of the house and yoga studio. The next year, I covered two old wooden rocking chairs with lights and homemade decorations. I chose an outdoor tree last year and covered it with edibles for wildlife.

The Cardboard Christmas Tree is here and it’s not only recycled, reusable and recyclable, but it’s bursting with creative potential for family and friends. The cut-out pieces are included, in a variety of holiday shapes – ready for your creative touch. And, you have to admit, it’s got that modern-chic look! The Cardboard Christmas Tree was designed and developed by Cloud Gate Design, a Chicago-based design house founded by two friends, Dan Green and Nick Ng.

The tree is shipped flat and profits from sales of The Cardboard Christmas Tree are donated to Trees for America, where for every dollar, a tree is planted in a damaged forest. Purchase here.

(Photo from Sustainable is Good)

IKEA – NO More Free Bags (REALLY!)

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

ONE YEAR in to IKEA’s program to reduce bag use at stores by 50%, the results are in – instead of cutting use in half, 92% of customers chose reusable bags over disposable plastic. Last year, IKEA motivated both reluctant and forgetful consumers by both offering a truly affordable reusable bag at checkout (.59) and charging 5 cents for use of traditional plastic bag. All proceeds went to American Forests, to help plant trees to restore forests and reduce CO2 emissions. As of October, 2008, IKEA has upped their call to action – only reusable bags will be available at their stores, eliminating all paper and plastic options.”No More Free Bags (REALLY!)”

Most people agree with the idea, though plastic bags are a long way from disappearing altogether. The disappointed among us are people use retail-produced bags at home for trash and cat litter. The problem? Those plastic bags take up to 1000 years to biodegrade – once again, we reach a crossroads of harsh reality of the conveniences we’ve become accustomed to. Biodegradable trash bags are available – we just have to get used to the higher cost. In my experience, what felt like sticker shock quickly subsided when I realized that with less consumption and more recycling, I’m sending only 1 trash bag to the curb per month. Really.

NY Times recently reported that, “Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced this month that he would push for a 6-cent fee on each plastic bag, both to raise as much as $16million/year for the city and to steer New Yorkers toward greener practices.” With effortful ease, times are changing. Be Here Now and we can reap the rewards to come.

Animal Medicine for the World

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Last year, I had a long run of animals showing up in my life – and the medicine and wisdom they shared gave me a lot to work with and from during a time of questioning, both personal and in the world. The other day, I came upon a large snake  – it layed directly in my path. Though not living, it’s head was whole, it’s mouth wide open, part of the skeleton showing. This is what I found about my snake message. Not only does it feel appropriate for me in my life right now, but it feels like it’s speaking to the entire world. Read on.


Wisdom, Healing, Initiation

The symbol of eternity

This a powerful totem — it is
the symbol of transformation and healing.
The Snake is wisdom expressed through healing.

It is a protector and guardian totem,
along with its sister totems, the Dragon and the Serpent.

If a snake totem has come into your life, your creative forces are awakening.
Your intuition will sharpen and be more accurate.

Snake energy is the energy of wholeness, cosmic consciousness, and
the ability to experience anything willingly and without resistance.
It is the knowledge that all things are equal in creation.

It also signals a transition in your life.
New opportunities and/or changes.

Snake is fire medicine, the medicine of transmutation.
On a material level, it is vitality; on an emotional level, it is ambition and dreams;
on a mental level, it is intellect and power; on a spiritual level (the highest level),
it is wisdom, understanding and wholeness.

Snake magic is heavy magic.
Become the Magician and transmute the energy and accept the power of the fire.

The Snake is one of the symbols of Thoth.


Election-Connection – ?!

Monday, November 17th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Are you feeling it? I’m calling it the Election-Connection – an inexplicable desire to reach out and connect with people – people you know, people you don’t know, people you used to know and on and on. For me, it started on Nov. 5th – I was slowly making my way uphill on a busy road. I heard someone call out to me, “Hello Beautiful!” – I looked back to see Veterinary Clinic employees, taking an outdoor break. I waved and the other said, That’s a beautiful dress!” This sounded so cheerful and sincere, I waved back and noticed the hill suddenly felt a bit less steep.

The next day, I was inching my way into a tight parking spot when a man in a truck, waiting a the adjacent light, rolled down his window, motioning me forward with a big smile, “You got it!” he yelled out encouragingly, waiting until I made the space, even as the light turned green.

I checked messages shortly afterwards, to hear the effusive voice of a friend I hadn’t heard from for 6 months….”OOOOOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOO! We did it, Tao!!!!! Change is happening!” he yelled into my voicemail.

The next day, my neighbor, normally rather recluse, stopped me, smiling, to ask about yoga lessons, saying he suddenly felt “ready” to try it…

Even John Stewart brought up the anomoulos events, saying something was “different” – people in New York City were actually looking at each other…!!

The magic has endured in the days that have followed – more friends and acqaintenances showing up unexpectedly, and strangers looking up from computers and newspapers more frequently, sometimes with a nod and a smile.

We connected, we elected, we connected some more. I can’t wait for what’s next!

Love Smile

Friday, November 14th, 2008

Speaking of smiling…

Downsize – and Hit The Road?

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Maybe it’s the election-connection, or perhaps the position of the planets, but I’m feeling hopefully restless. And, despite my loud heralding of the merits of traveling less and vacationing where you live as the foolproof way to help the environment (tone-down and tune-in) …I admit it… I have travel-itis. My musings reach far and wide – from a familiar yearning for the Northeast, Northwest to across the continents all the way to Europe and Morocco. My heart is open and my eyes feel wide. An offset flight up North won’t do it this time. I’m feeling the pull of the open road and the of mystery that leads. With some trepidation, I’ve started making plans…

So, it seems, have many independent-minded, free spirits who have made the trade – from homes to RV’s – a downsize and an upgrade to a smaller life in a bigger world. (I lived for a time in an RV, which I mostly left parked in a campsite because it quickly became obvious that at 8 – 12 mpg, there was no room for eco-comfort in moving around too much. But, a few environmentally-committed RVers are changing all that by retooling motor homes in “green” to live the adventure and to promote eco-awareness as they travel.

Solar panels, water catchment, veggie-oil fuel and recycled materials make up much of what could be considered an almost carbon-neutral way of travel, if not life. The website of one family on a “Living Lightly Tour”, not only documents their innovative systems of living off the grid, but a lifestyle that reaches farther into communities and ideas we are all beginning to acknowledge and share:

Ideas for Living Lightly:

  • Smile
  • Buy Used
  • Live Smaller
  • Eat Less Meat
  • Share Your Stuff
  • Use Natural Cleaners
  • Line Dry Your Clothes
  • Avoid Disposable Items
  • Eat Locally Grown Food
  • Use Cloth Shopping Bags
  • Reduce Your Consumption
  • Use a Reusable Water Bottle
  • Conserve Water and Electricity
  • Walk / Ride Your Bike / Carpool

Go back to the top of the list – maybe it’s that planet thing again, but I felt something click. It’s about sharing, moving, seeing and growing. And sometimes, Going.

If Wal-Mart can do it…

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

What’s a PSP? It’s a Personal Sustainability Project  – a step to benefit their health, their local community, or the earth – and it’s an employee initiative making up part of Wal-Mart’s larger campaign towards a more green corporate and retail model. Walmart has a lot of employees and customers, 1.9 million and 10% of all retail spending, to be exact. Although I don’t have any plans to buy from Wal-mart for many long-standing reasons, it makes sense when Charles Fishman, author of “The Wal-Mart Effect” says, “If Wal-Mart is serious about sustainability, it can have an incredible impact on how the economy operates.”

45% of Wal-mart employees in the U.S. have taken on PSP, involving work or home life or both, although there is no financial incentive to do so. The recent article in Mother Jones suggests the seminars which push the pledges are a mix of innovation and greenwashing. I have to agree, although hearing the earnest voices of some employees is both heartening and inspiring. Many are improving their lives as well as fullfilling a sense of purpose. Some are even saving money by following suggestions to shop/spend less on uneccesary things. One employee is growing her own produce, while another feels good about taking bottles and cans out of trash cans to be recycled.

We’ve got a long way to go towards a new kind of more sustainable consumerism and lives, but the road is less rocky and narrow – in fact, when places like Wal-Mart join in, it can turn into a super-highway. However, don’t jump on the Wal-Mart bandwagon too soon – low low prices are a big part of what doomed us in the first place. Look at your own life and needs in an honest way. Make conscious choices and most of all, keep changing.

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