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

Archive for April, 2009

More List Love – from No Impact Man

Monday, April 20th, 2009

This one’s from one of my favorite green guys – NoImpactMan and his blog readers. I think you may find some NEW ideas… Tao

Here’s the good news: I think it actually feels good not to waste. That is to say, I’ve found that not making trash, actually makes me feel better about myself.

For these reasons, I’ve put together this list of 25 ways to avoid making trash suggest by readers of the No Impact Man blog:

Keep your own cutlery with you so you don’t have to use the plastic versions
Cut up your old clothes for use as rags and avoid paper towels
Use mason jars to carry everything from drinking water to a packed lunch
Use a handkerchief instead of tissue
Make notepaper from the blank side of junk mail
Give your old eyeglasses to the local Lions Club for distribution to those in need
Make cardboard egg cartons into biodegradable seed starters
Cut yogurt containers into strips and use them to label garden plants
Use cloth bags for the bulk bins at the grocery store
Empty out vacuum cleaner bags and reuse
Use cloth napkins instead of paper towel
Cook from scratch to avoid food packaging
Use shaving soap bars to avoid throwaway bottles
Make your own yogurt so there are no plastic tubs
Wash and reuse ziplock bags
Use the waxy liners of cereal boxes to wrap sandwiches
Use scrap office paper for kids coloring books
Carry a cloth for drying your hands and wrapping things in
Pack a lunch in a reusable container instead of buying lunch in plastic packaging
Use rechargeable batteries

Electric Bike Shop comes to town – Cycle9 enhances the commute

Friday, April 17th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I love change. I’ve always seemed to thrive on it – I’ve lived in 6 states, 16 different towns and in something close to 28 different residences since I turned 18yo. This meant I sometimes picked up and moved twice in one year, but most of the time, I manage to “be here now” – my curious habit of home hopping is just history to me. But sometimes I enjoy looking back and seeing my evolution.

Take cycling. While living in Seattle and Minneapolis, I rode a lot – but it was all recreational and/or “training”. I loved the zone of pedaling and scheduled it in as exercise and fun. These days, it would almost seem odd to me to simply ride around, going nowhere, when I can ride every day to get where I need to go. I went from a die-hard recreational/competitive cyclist to a bicycle commuter. I think I’m having more fun now, I’m just as fit, and I have more time left over for other things.

So, the idea of electric bikes is a big thrill for me because it will make bicycle commutes more accessible for everyone – including me when I need to face longer rides for work – like the one I’m planning back and forth across town on my Raleigh days. (I also faced a lot of big hills in Seattle!) With electric assist, I’ll cover the miles with less sweat and in less time – making this a reasonable proposition.

Cycle 9 moved into town, promoting Electric pre-made bicycles and add-on Hub Motor kits for any bike. This is super cool to me – a lightweight, low maintenance electric assist motor with a battery that recharges while you brake or coast. I can average about 20mph and get the equivalent of over 2000mpg. No more hill hell when I’m trying to get somewhere on time and, no more excuses!

Cycle9 is owned and operated by Elise and Morgan. They specialize in cargo, folding and electric bicycles and offer full repair service. Thanks Cycle 9, for coming to the rescue of those of us who don’t know enough about the options in bicycling commuting. Now we can all ride like the wind!

30 Tips and one more…

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I came across another list of tips for going green at home. I love lists since they help my brain keep things present. I know some people disagree, but the “list” actually helps free up space in my head, offering assurance that I won’t forget things. So, instead of thinking about my to-dos 100 times per day, I can think of them once or twice, when I look at my list.

Anyway, list person or not, you have to appreciate Green Lists – I always read them because they help me see what I may have missed – one more  thing I can do – or not do – to simplify my life, feel healthier and/or green my daily habits. I came across this list offered up by Millie Barnes at, who manages to have a really clean, green life at home as a working single mom.

Then I came to step # 7. “Used cloth diapers for all 5 kids.” Impressive, but hey, wait a minute. 5 kids? I think she missed a step on the socially responsible way to be green on our crowded planet. That’s still a lot of diapers, washed in a lot of water, using a lot of detergent and that’s just where the consuming begins when it comes to raising five children, who become five adults in five homes of their own, with five cars of their own, with kids of their own, and so on.

Let me be clear. I’m not anti-kids. I am anti-“have-as-many-as-you-want-despite-the-fact-that-we-are-outnumbering-our-capacity-and-that-there-are-many-children-who-need-foster-and-adoptive-parents”. Steven Kotler, author of West of Jesus: Surfing, Science and the Origins of Belief, says it a lot better than this on

Want a chip off the ol’ block experience? That’s inevitable and a beautiful plan of nature. So, do your biological thing – after all, those little green footprints are adorable – and then, if you want more, consider the alternatives.

Still, I read the rest of the list and learned something new about composting. It’s a good list by a motivational and inspirational person. Take a look.

The New Normal – Find Work You Love

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

“The big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should buy,” he said, amount to ” a poverty of ambition.”

-Barack Obama as commencement speaker at Wesleyan University.

No Bones About It – Eat Less Meat, Get Big Results

Monday, April 13th, 2009

It’s Spring – the perfect time to clean things up and out. If you are not ready to give up meat, consider cutting back and get huge results for your health and the environment. When you do choose meat, choose organic, local, free-range and naturally fed. Your body and the environment will reap the rewards. Read below from Kath Freston on Tao

The Breathtaking Effects of Cutting Back on Meat
By Kathy Freston
I’ve written extensively on the consequences of eating meat – on our health, our sense of “right living”, and on the environment. It is one of those daily practices that has such a broad and deep effect that I think it merits looking at over and over again, from all the different perspectives. Sometimes, solutions to the world’s biggest problems are right in front of us. The following statistics are eye-opening, to say the least.

If everyone went vegetarian just for one day, the U.S. would save:

● 100 billion gallons of water, enough to supply all the homes in New England for almost 4 months;
● 1.5 billion pounds of crops otherwise fed to livestock, enough to feed the state of New Mexico for more than a year;
● 70 million gallons of gas–enough to fuel all the cars of Canada and Mexico combined with plenty to spare;
● 3 million acres of land, an area more than twice the size of Delaware;
● 33 tons of antibiotics.
If everyone went vegetarian just for one day, the U.S. would prevent:

● Greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 1.2 million tons of CO2, as much as produced by all of France;
● 3 million tons of soil erosion and $70 million in resulting economic damages;
● 4.5 million tons of animal excrement;
● Almost 7 tons of ammonia emissions, a major air pollutant.
My favorite statistic is this: According to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads. See how easy it is to make an impact?

Other points:

Globally, we feed 756 million tons of grain to farmed animals. As Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer notes in his new book, if we fed that grain to the 1.4 billion people who are living in abject poverty, each of them would be provided more than half a ton of grain, or about 3 pounds of grain/day–that’s twice the grain they would need to survive. And that doesn’t even include the 225 million tons of soy that are produced every year, almost all of which is fed to farmed animals. He writes, “The world is not running out of food. The problem is that we–the relatively affluent–have found a way to consume four or five times as much food as would be possible, if we were to eat the crops we grow directly.”

A recent United Nations report titled Livestock’s Long Shadow concluded that the meat industry causes almost 40% more greenhouse gas emissions than all the world’s transportation systems–that’s all the cars, trucks, SUVs, planes and ships in the world combined. The report also concluded that factory farming is one of the biggest contributors to the most serious environmental problems at every level–local and global.

Researchers at the University of Chicago concluded that switching from standard American diet to a vegan diet is more effective in the fight against global warming than switching from a standard American car to a hybrid.

In its report, the U.N. found that the meat industry causes local and global environmental problems even beyond global warming. It said that the meat industry should be a main focus in every discussion of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortages and pollution, and loss of biodiversity.

Unattributed statistics were calculated from scientific reports by Noam Mohr, a physicist with the New York University Polytechnic Institute.

All The World’s a Commune

Friday, April 10th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Many students studying sustainability come for tours here in my co-housing community. Ashley visited and interviewed me for a school project yesterday and her biggest questions concerned why I’m here. The answer that sums it up for me is that this kind of modern commune living is truly and realistically, the best of both worlds. Her next question was, just how does this work? And my short answer on that is simply, by sharing.

This seems so logical to me that I got especially excited when I heard about, a project sharing these positive and simple concepts, applicable not just to planned “intentional” communities, but to existing neighborhoods of all kinds. Whatever you know or don’t know about communal living, if you’re taking a second look at your environmental or economic lifestyle, it sounds irresistible, doesn’t it?

Stephanie Smith is a Harvard-trained architect and social designer, who launched this project at the end of last year. Back in 2003, she started a green design lab in Joshua Tree, CA, calling it Ecoshack, a design firm focused on low-impact design, mass production and alternative forms of community.

Her project, WannaStartACommune is a plan that allows neighbors to commune as a way to share resources, grow food together, share transportation, even get off the grid, and, perhaps most importantly, manage the stressful economic time in a productive and communal way. “Every single neighborhood in America and around the world is a commune,” Ecoshack’s Smith says. “And every single apartment building is, and every office building is, and every single thing is built new using guidelines around sharing resources. Nothing less than that.”

VIsit the site for a look at the complete “Tools for Commune Starters” 24 page document, including:

Using a few simple tools you can start sharing with your neighbors, friends or co-workers today. You’ll save time and money, connect more deeply with those around you, and do right by the planet.

— ‘Getting Started’ Checklist
— ‘What’s in a Commune?’ Resource-sharing Guide
— Potluck & Workshop Planning Tools
— Simple Organizational Documents
— Technology Tips to help you manage and grow your commune

Me and My Shadow

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I’m still thinking about that “bright night” I spent wandering around in Wilmington over the weekend and what it says about our time and culture. While the reality of safety in urban street areas comes into play, I can’t help but wonder just what underlying forces are at work when we so emphatically light up the night.

Afterall, our dark – or shadow – side, in Jungian terms is defined by the repressed aspects of the self, linked to more primitive instinct and represents all that we don’t want to acknowledge consciously. And, according to Jung, “Since the self contains these aspects, they surface in one way or another”, usually in the form of denial or projection.

However, Jung continues to tell us that, “Bringing Shadow material into consciousness drains its dark power, and can even recover valuable resources from it. The greatest power, however, comes from having accepted your shadow parts and integrated them as components of your Self.” (John Elder)

I believe our culture also has a Shadow side that is just now beginning to be exercised (exorcised?). The mere willingness to see and accept the excessive habits that have led to our environmental, social and personal destruction, has brought about the flood of creative ideas and solutions that can eventually restore harmony and balance to our world.

Although considered a holding place for our dark side, the shadow is also considered the “seat of creativity”. If we continue to ‘see the light’ by staying in the dark, I have no doubt that we can continue to create the change we need.

Grist.ORG gets dirty

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

I’m back from my 36 hours of vacating “bliss” and back to a full day of teaching, so here’s my mini-post until tomorrow. VISIT THE NEW AND IMPROVED, FUN AND FRIENDLY GRIST.ORG SITE FOR ALL THE NEWS ON THE ENVIRONMENTAL FRONT…and find out why playing in the dirt will make you happy (as in “not-depressed).


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