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

Archive for March, 2009


Tuesday, March 31st, 2009


The SmartCommute Challenge is an annual six-week regional campaign (April 15 – May 30) coordinated by GoTriangle and SmartCommute@rtp. The goal of the campaign is to encourage Triangle commuters to try an alternative commute (not driving alone) to work or campus such as riding the bus, carpooling, vanpooling, teleworking, biking or walking.

The Challenge is about more than asking people to try a more environmentally friendly, cheaper, and less stressful commute for a day. During the 2008 SmartCommute Challenge over 77% of participants were willing to continue their smart commute at least once a week! Regional transit ridership records were broken during the campaign, 5 new vanpools were started, and over 1,000 Triangle commuters registered to find a carpool partner.

From April 15 through May 30, any employee or college student who commutes to work or campus in Durham, Orange or Wake counties can participate. To enter the Challenge, make your online pledge that you will carpool, vanpool, bike or walk, ride the bus, or telework (work from home) at least once before May 30.

Remember last year’s Smart Commute Challenge? I participated by putting a copy of the bus schedule in my pocket so I could stop using the car to travel downtown when it was raining and I was too wimpy to cover the 2.5 miles on my bike. I learned to like the bus ride and was part of the 2008 savings of 865 metric tons of CO2.

This year, I had a new idea – and this one is good. You know that one 32-mile drive/week that I make into Raleigh for work? Well, I can’t avoid that car travel since there is no public transport there during my hours, but I realized, happily, that once I’m there, I can at least avoid the driving back and forth across town to the 3 different locations where I teach.

And, in fact, a supportive friend is going to allow me to store a bicycle (my used spare collapsible bike which I knew would come in handy one day!) in his garage so that I can park there and ride through the city instead of driving. I’ll have to allow a little more time and bring a change of clothes when it starts getting really hot, but I think it will actually make my day more enjoyable and will certainly be an additional fitness fix. There is a lot to love about this idea and I’m surprised I didn’t think of it sooner.

Sometimes it takes a Challenge to make a challenging decision.

How SMART are you about your daily commute? Tao

Scrabble, Transitioning a Town, and a little whining

Monday, March 30th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I spent a beautiful, wet, green Spring weekend with a lot of ah-ha’s. First, I found out that candlelight at night is really fun, especially playing board games (how did YOU spend Earth Hour on Saturday night?)

Second. Last night was our 4th meeting for Transition Culture planning and I learned that even realtors can do a lot to help move us towards environmentally conscious living/owning of properties…

…and third, that there are all different ages and kinds of people that are willing and ready to work towards Change for a more positive future.

But, more on that later – my biggest ah-ha was when I was biking home – it had gotten dark, the temperature had dropped, and in my “it’s Spring” excitement, I had not packed an extra coat. So, I was pedaling along, getting a little bit whiny about the cold wind whipping through my shirt and my positive mood from the meeting was feeling threatened. But then, as I rode along, I asked myself an important question, “Would I rather be anywhere else, or in a car right now? I immediatedly answered, “no”, even as I shivered as an extra cold gust came up. When I got home, it occurred to me:

There’s a fine line between whining and LIVING.

Help me think more about this. In the meantime, below is what last night’s group put together as a more detailed description of Transition Town process. Take a look below – and consider the possibility of your own town in “Transition”.

Transition Towns – the process

Monday, March 30th, 2009

By the Transition Carrboro group, Carrboro, NC

What is a Transition Town?

“Transition Carrboro is a group of individuals and organizations crafting a positive local future that meets our needs within the context of the twin challenges of climate change and the end of cheap oil.

We mobilize the community to make positive changes that address the challenges of peak oil and climate change, increase local resilience, strengthen community, and contribute to our health and happiness.  We want to see processes, institutions, and infrastructure that are not dependent on a continuous supply of cheap oil.  We will get specific about these changes with a community-created Energy Descent Action Plan.  We recognize and honor the amazing work done and being done by community groups already existing, and hope to work together with these groups. We believe that rapid change is urgently needed and that we cannot wait for it to come from above.  We believe that such change will come when the community is aware, motivated, and empowered.

Our process is based on the framework of Transition Town Initiatives, set out in The Transition Handbook, by Rob Hopkins.    Some things that are uniquely useful about this approach to making change:

•    It is a positive, collective vision for something rather than a negative struggle against something.  There should be lots to celebrate!
•    It is comprehensive in nature; it can identify aspects of our community that need more energy/activism, and there’s room for everyone’s interests & skills
•    It is a unification of many people/groups towards an end goal (manifested in part by an Energy Descent Action Plan and its implementation)
•    It doesn’t forget to address people’s psychological needs as they awake to the reality of the environmental crisis & peak oil

Here’s how the process looks, approximately:

1. The steering committee does the legwork for consciousness-raising events such as film screenings and discussions on peak oil, climate change, and other pertinent issues.  We will also try to get to know as many groups in town as possible and ally or partner with those that are interested in our efforts.
2.  We will hold a Great Unleashing, the official launch of the Transition Initiative, and generate energy among community members for participation in the process via open space (group brainstorming) days and action groups around various topics like energy, food, transportation, housing, health, etc.
3.  Action groups will meet to discuss and execute projects, as well as get detailed about how their area fits into the community’s Energy Descent Action Plan.
4. We will hold (or collaborate with existing groups for) re-skilling workshops to re-equip ourselves for a more locally resilient future.
5. We will work with local government.  We will honor our elders by hearing what they have to say about a more locally resilient past.  We will let Transition Carrboro go where it wants to go.
6. We will create and implement an Energy Descent Action Plan.
7. We’ll remember to celebrate the progress we are making!

Earth Hour – Saturday, March 28th

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

People and families are tuning in by turning out for Earth Hour, tonight at 8:30 local time. Do it in the Dark for planet Earth~~~

On March 28, 2009 at 8:30 p.m. local time, World Wildlife Fund is asking individuals, businesses, governments and organizations around the world to turn off their lights for one hour — *Earth Hour* — to make a global statement of concern about climate change, to demonstrate their commitment to finding solutions and to save precious energy.

A total of 950 cities around the world in 74 countries have pledged to participate, including Paris, London, Hong Kong, Rome, Beijing, Nairobi, and Moscow.   Paris and 27 other French cities announced they’ll takepart in Earth Hour, with the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame going dark. <>

Idle Worship – Cars R Us

Friday, March 27th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Remember my big Eco-Peeve – Idling Cars? You can see my former post below. Well, not too much has changed this year – we like our temperature controlled metal hide-outs as much as ever.

Even in the cool, comfortable weather, I see cars – and their drivers – at schools, outside stores and  in parking lots, windows up, idling to their hearts content. Summer heat will bring more of it – a lot more – and it looks like I’m not the only one who is asking us to shut down and get out. Here’s is a letter from a 4th grader, published in her school newsletter:

“Since global warming is getting so bad, North Carolina should be on of the states to help. It should be illegal in NC to idle your car for more than one minute. Here’s why:

Even 10 seconds of idling can use more gas than turning off the engine and restarting it.
For every two minutes of idling, a car uses about the same amount of fuel it takes to go about one mile.
Idling your car creates toxic fumes and gasses that are bad for our health and for the planet.

So please turn off your car when picking up children, or anywhere, even if you’re sitting for more than sixty seconds!”
Emma Hulbert, 4th grade.

Have to wait in your car? Consider shutting off and opening the windows. Have to stop to make a phone call or eat a snack? Get out of your car, find some shade, feel the breeze, sweat a little if you have to – it’s all part of a days work.

If nothing else, do it for Emma.

The Idle Reach – idling autos, a story of intervention

Friday, March 27th, 2009

asleep at the wheelby Tao Oliveto, Raleigh, NC

Spring has arrived – watch the idling begin. Idling cars are heavy on my mind again – yesterday I spent an agonizing 10+ minutes at a bank drive-through (I was on my bike) – surrounded by exhaust fumes, thinking there must be a better way! By popular demand, I’m re-posting the facts and figures regarding the environmental impact of idling cars. If you didn’t get to these links previously, make sure to take a read.

I have eco-peeves (like most people these days). My ongoing biggie? Idling cars. I often see cars idling in parking lots or street side while drivers talk on cell phones or eat lunch. I’ve even seen people napping in cars with the engine running – in a closed garage, you’d be dead, so do the math. Is this about some ill-perceived comfort, a bad habit, or just another way to isolate ourselves from each other? (Sorry, defrosting the windshield this way is just as bad – I grew up in MN and scraping is a way of life).

So, I made an eco-pledge a couple years back to stop the idling madness – at least that in my immediate vicinity. I decided to politely and pointedly ask/suggest/plead/beg drivers to stop idling. Although I always try to judge situations according to my inner conflict meter, most of my experiences have been surprisingly pleasant. In fact, yesterday, I waved at the driver of an idling SUV (yes, he was talking on his cell phone). He rolled down his window and after saying hello, I pointed out that if he turned off his car, he would pollute less. He thanked me and cut the engine. I even happened to run into him later and we had a friendly conversation about creating new green habits.

Turning off an idling car may seem like a small way to cut down on pollution, compared to, say, shutting down a coal plant. Even the latest IPCC Report states that the changes we need to make to keep CO2 out of the atmosphere must be “deep and quick” and that climate change has a huge “procrastination penalty”. Yet, small changes made by many people can make a big impact and spread awareness (change a light bulb lately, anyone? ). Maybe we need to form support groups to help us change our wasteful habits – “Hello, my name is Sally and I’m an idler…” Whatever it takes, we can help each other shift perceptions and make big change happen if we’re willing to speak out.

I certainly didn’t say it first, but – “If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”

Got an eco-peeve? Take a chance, make a change, create a future.

Bird Seed Contamination – check for peanuts!

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

I received this really important information recently regarding contaminated peanuts in commercial bird food, which is killing birds in NC and in other parts of the country. I don’t have bird feeders, but if you do, please read the below and pass it on to anyone you know who puts out bird food. It’s extra sad that this is happening in Spring, when chicks are being born. Tao

“Recently, I’ve noticed sick and dying birds in my yard. Yesterday there was a report of hundreds of dead birds in Southern Pines. The state investigated  this matter today and found that a brand of bird food contained peanuts contaminated peanuts from the plant in Georgia. Only one brand has been identified, but given there are so many sick and dying birds in my yard and I don’t use this kind of food, I suspect there are other brands involved. Below is the text of the story from WRAL.

If you have birds seed that contains peanuts, take it out of your feeders or take down those feeders and call the companies where you bought them and ask them to call the bird food company to assure that the seed is not contaminated. This is nationwide, so, make sure your bird food is safe even if you don’t live in NC.

“RALEIGH, N.C. — State inspectors determined Tuesday that samples of Wild Birds Unlimited bird food tested positive for salmonella, prompting the Kentucky-based manufacturer to issue a recall. Burkmann Feeds is recalling 20-pound packages of Wild Birds Unlimited Wildlife Blend bird food with the manufacturing date code of 81132200 2916 08124. The food is sold exclusively at Wild Birds Unlimited Stores.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services began investigating reports of dead wild birds across the state, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said. State inspectors are working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to identify the source of the contamination at Burkmann Feeds.
Consumers were urged to discard the contaminated bird food and avoid touching it with their hands. Anyone who handles the bird food should wash their hands thoroughly, officials said.

In January, the FDA ordered a nationwide recall of peanut products linked to a Georgia plant after a salmonella outbreak killed eight people and sickened hundreds more.”

NetFlix rules, but I Love my Local Video Store

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Is using NetFlix more eco-friendly than renting videos at a store?

I’ve been wanting to take on this question for awhile, but since I love my local video store, maybe I’ve been putting it off because I don’t really want to know the answer – ? Fortunately, or not, The Good Human tells it like it is – even shopping local for your weekly (or more) habit of video viewing is less green than the Netflix mail membership program.

But, wait a media minute, what if I ride my bicycle to my locally-owned video store rather than drive my car?

Well, that helps, but not enough. Video stores have lots of lights, a/c and heating units, and usually a television that is on 12+ hours/day. Like most businesses, many lights are kept on even after hours to deter break-ins, making this high energy use a 24-hour affair.

I”m not giving up yet. I know the employees at my my beloved VisArt store. I’ll just ask them to switch to compact flourescents and recycle those thousands of paper receipts generated each day. I enjoy stopping by and browsing the “employee picks” section on Friday evenings and I’d like to see these people keep their jobs.

So, there it is. NetFlix is more green, but local is my choice in this case – for now. What’s yours?

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