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Archive for the ‘Living Local’ Category

Bicycling – Fashion Friend or Foe?

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Bicycle commuting is on the rise. Tough economic times may be a factor, though in anthropological terms, I have a feeling style and the times have a lot more to do with it.

And what about style and biking? Is it possible to combine the two? Not much hope if you’re an actual cyclist. They definitely deserve our awed admiration as they move along – 50 miles at a stretch – at speeds higher than my town’s speed limit. But in all their aerodynamic sleekness, I would not call them stylish (I know because I’ve been there and I felt a lot of things while breezing along those country roads, but stylish was not one of them.)

So what happens to those of us who happen not to be a “cyclists”, but a normal person who happens to ride a bike? As I’ve mentioned here, somewhere along the line – consciously or not – I made the shift from cycling to bicycling, finally pawning off my lycra shirts and shorts on Craig’s List. And it’s much more part of my identity than it was in my past life. As a result, I prefer not to look like a geek on my bike, but like, well, my Fashionable Self.

Take a look at this video of riders in Copenhagen, where “there is no bike culture – all culture includes the bike.” And it shows, not just by the fact that 36% of the population rides daily, but because they look damn normal to me – normal enough that I can see myself as one of them. If you think of this same scene in the U.S., it is most likely not as inviting to the average plumber (I mean, person).

Will gearing up for the ride become a thing of the past? Will enough of us ride through our fair cities that bike paths and shelters will pop up everywhere? Will we embrace a sort of slow bike movement that will allow us to be more safe as well as stylish? (Notice that the riders in Copenhagen don’t feel the need for helmets.) Writer, David Colman explores those possibilities in this article and finds out how we can solve the tricky questions faced by 2-wheeled city commuters who want to look like they still “mean business” in no-other than our own NYC. (Interesting article and photos introducing the latest NYC “It Object”, the Dutch bicycle.)

That helmet thing – ? I realize I’m playing with fire here, but it may be the clincher that shifts the mainstream consciousness into a whole new gear.

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.

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

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?

Conveniently Off-Grid – a Summer Adventure

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

It’s beginning to look like I just might make it happen – an off-grid Summer. Since last year, I’ve been planning and hoping and dreaming about a low-carbon adventure in Vermont for the Summer. I’ve found a spot near Brattleboro – it has a small 100-year-old building on it which used to be a blacksmith shop. No frills, that’s certain, but a hopefully non-leaky roof over my head. The rest? Minimize and create is my mantra. Here are some of my ideas so far:

I’m ready to use a composting toilet, and solar shower, filled in a nearby pond. Bonfire and a candle lantern at night will be enough to get me through the limited hours of darkness during these warm months. I’m used to eating mostly raw food during this time of year so I won’t worry much about cooking, though some kind of makeshift root cellar would be nice for vegetables – I’m still working on that one, so if you have ideas, pass them on. Although I’ll be next to 100 acres of preservation and near a State Park, I will also be within a 6mile bicycle ride to town, so I can feed myself healthily without refrigeration by making the trip every few days.

Everything but the kitchen sink, right? Well, actually, I found a couple versions of that, too! If you’ve been to music or other festivals, you’ve probably seen the “Use Yer Foot” washing station, made here in NC. One soapy jug and one fresh water container is perfect for washing up on demand. I can also collect the grey water in the tub below to wash dishes. For the more portable “sink”, you can also try the collapsable nylon and cable versions holding between 5 – 20 liters by Sea to Summit. Fill at your nearest water source, then carry back to camp.

This one I’ve been waiting for – grid or no-grid. The collapsible Solo Pack, by Fozzils – a bowl, plate, cup and spoon, made from bisphenol-A-free plastic that fold perfectly flat and weighs only a few ounces. The cup is what I’ve really been after – something more convenient than a water bottle that I can have with me everywhere.

What will I be doing up there in the North East, you ask? Getting back to the basics, doing some outdoor yoga on used plywood, hiking with the dogs, and writing and dreaming about a simply sustainable life for everyone. After that, I’ll let you know!

Bicycles are cars, too.

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

My leg is getting strong again and I am back on my bike, commuting around town, enjoying the new Spring weather. But, in my exuberance and glee, I found myself tempted to forget that there are rules to the road – and cars are not the only ones who need to follow them.

Like other cyclists, I like to complain about drivers who don’t share the road respectfully or carefully. When I first started riding my bicycle to work in another busier city, I proudly (but also rebelliously) wore a black t-shirt which – in big white letters – said, “ONE LESS CAR”. I just wanted “a little respect” and maybe some admiration, but perhaps should not have been shocked when I instead received a couple drive-by epithets.

Still, it would be nice if there was more communion between cars and bicycles and I think it’s time for cyclists to bear some of the burden. If you ride like I used to, you don’t always stop at signs or lights. You only occasionally signal a turn or lane change. Maybe you hop on and off the sidewalk, or take a shortcut around a corner through a parking lot. All these things may make you feel like a real road warrior, but they also put you and others in danger. And they certainly don’t help the wobbly relationship that already exists between riders and drivers.

Granted, cars kill cyclists, not the other way around, but copping an attitude as a rider won’t move us towards a more bike-friendly world. If you want to brush up on bike safety and etiquette, this is the best source I’ve found. More here on urban cycling. Of course, always wear your helmet, lose the headphones and sacrifice speed for caution.

PS. If you like that t-shirt, it’s still available from the San Francisco Bicycle Coaltion at

Green Energy Lawn Care

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

It’s Spring. You know what that means. And I’m not talking about the birds and the bees. I’m talking about lawnmowers, weedwackers and leaf blowers. That insidious noise that drowns out the above mentioned, seems to be endless between March and October, and pollutes more than our ears. Did you know:

Gasoline-powered landscape equpment account for over 5% of our urban air pollution.

Running your lawnmower for 1 hour is equal to driving a new car between 200 and 300 miles from an air pollution standpoint.

And, each year, more than 17 million gallons of fuel are spilled during the refueling of power lawn and garden equipment. (See here for sources.)

Not surprisingly, Mik and Jodi Beetham found the noise and smell of their former NYC home “tame compared to the pollution of traditional lawn equipment used every day here” in the sub-urban areas of NC. So, they did what more and more eco-minded folks are doing – something about it. They started a business called, Green Energy Lawn Care.

I met these two at the Farmer’s Market last weekend, where they were enthusiastically talking about life with lawns. They believe that home/yard-owners should have the option of making a difference in their carbon footprint. Their inclusive yard servicing is powered by battery/electric equipment and small, fuel efficient trucks. They use solar generators for recharging and the carbon they do create is entirely offset by NCGreenPower.

Green Energy Lawn Care is a contributor to the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Learn more on their website, or call for a free estimate in the Triangle area at 919-338-2667.

Mik and Jodi should team up with Alix and The Goat Patrol – now there’s a holistic green landscaping idea!

The Creative Life can Save Our Souls – and some chickens

Friday, February 27th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Why do creative people create? Of course, we are all creative and eventually discover the ways we can express our gifts. But some people just can’t stop and it’s a beautiful thing to behold! My co-housing neighbor, Giles Blunden, is one of these people.

His comfortably compact, 800sqft home is a work of wabi-sabi art always in progress. He lives off-grid on solar power with an outdoor shower and has an underground cistern holding thousands of gallons of rainwater captured from the roof. He has no grass lawn, but instead, an artistic array of stones, branch sculptures and wildflowers surrounding the house. He rides a bicycle to work each day, some rainy/windy days with a DIY “windshield” attached, and sometimes accompanied by his wife on what I call the “Green Machine” – a double seater that he has rigged as a extra comfy bicycle built for two.

Recently, our community lost some of our chickens to predators, so we’ve been reluctant to restart a brood, wanting them to have both safety and room to roam. Giles came to the rescue, immediately putting his creative mind to work – you can usually see it on his quietly smiling face. The result is this “Chicken Chapel” – made from fallen branches and soon to be enclosed with a comfy indoor coop inside. It just makes you smile, doesn’t it? (His house is in background, in photo below, on right.)

I consider myself darn lucky to be next to such an inspired, purposeful creator and his work. It’s helping me understand that quote that says, “The opposite of war is not peace, it’s creativity.”

Giles Blunden is a sustainable architect. You can visit his web site at

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