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

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

X-Games on a Vision Quest

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

(Seeing the BMX ramp yesterday reminded me of my friend, Michael May, who I posted about (below) in 2007. Though he’s since weathered a broken wrist, elbow, and nose, he’s still following his riding bliss.)

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I have a love/hate relationship with sports – you could call me a reformed sports addict. Although strictly amateur, I pushed and pulled myself through many athletic endeavors since puberty. In fact, discovering sports as a teenager is definitely why I survived puberty! I ran, played softball, basketball, tennis, did high jump, some gymnastics, skied and ran some more. Later, I discovered the more extreme sports like windsurfing, water skiing, mountain biking and triathlons. I found and committed to yoga just in time to save my body from injury and overuse and my mind from imploding into a ego-centric mess. We all have our journey, eh?

I’m relieved and satisfied that I moved on, staying active and outdoors-loving but finding a balance I missed earlier. I still have an ongoing admiration for the ambitious passion of most athletes (though I question the purity of professional sports) and I’m especially enamored with the people who play and/or compete with an unadulterated mind/body/nature connection. Windsurfing still mesmerizes me, as does surfing and snowboarding. Not too long ago, I connected with an especially impressive skateboard and BMX enthusiast. A quiet and focussed intensity surrounds him and he continually expresses an inspiring blend of road warrior, artist and buddha. That’s him above.

It’s not a surprise to me that the leaders in the Green movement in sports comes from the professional skateboarding and BMX community. Pierre Andre Senizergues segued from pro-skateboarder to owner of Sole Tech, an athletic shoe company with buildings powered by solar panels, including an extensive recycling progam and waterless urinals that save at least 250,000 gallons of water per year (or 2 1/2 million bottles of beer). Sole Tech is currently launching a line of sustainable footwear and apparel. This guy practices what he preaches, living in an eco-house and becoming a primary backer for Leonardo DiCaprio’s environmental film, The 11th Hour.

Skateboard Professional turned guru, Frank Scura, once immersed in the traditional mainstream culture of the action sports, journeyed out (you gotta check out his wolf story!) and back in with a different perspective on himself and the world. Returning to the sport scene with a new set of ideals, he founded AESC (Action Sports Environmental Coalition) in 2001, an organization set on educating its young athletes about how they can contribute to environmental efforts and sustainability through conscious consumption. Read more about Scura’s corporate marketing strategies – “a three-prong attack on business as usual” at Grist.

He’s into “seed-planting”, not preaching, but found young people really want to hear from their heroes – people who embrace their lifestyles yet show them a way to contribute outside themselves. Scura confirms my observation that the yogic nature of what X-athletes do – the ability to be fully present – is a formula for commitment on many levels. He says, “The beauty of it is – it’s exactly what action sports needs. The ultimate punk rock rebellious act to fuck the Man and fuck the system is to be environmentally and socially conscious. That’s exactly what they don’t want you to do.”

Happier Halloween – ghoulishly green

Friday, October 30th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC


Although as a kid, what I best remember about Halloween is an ongoing stomach ache and mood swings (we all hid our hoards of sweets under the bed and gorged for days, right?), but as an adult, I’ve come to enjoy a day where we are encouraged to put on a costume and take the darkness of life lightly. I’m not just referring to ghosts and goblins, but the idea that accepting and honoring what is no longer living. You know, all that pagan stuff – birth, life, death, rebirth – all celebrated and honored.

As we many of the commonly recognized holidays today, we adopted many of the pagan rituals of “All Hallow’s Eve”  or Samhain – jack o’ lanterns, cauldrons and apples. Yet, somehow, the mainstream culture seems to gravitate towards one overriding aspect of each (Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny come to mind…) With Halloween, the candy companies have cashed in, But between unfair labor practices on sugar and cocoa farms, and chemicals used in candy and costumes, it means the environment and farm workers have to cash out. What’s a green goblin to do?

Buy Fair Trade, organic candy or at least those sweetened naturally, here’s a list of some greener goodies.

Make your own or rent your costume. Consider the safety of face paints or hair sprays and go with natural ingredients for die – I mean, dye.

Get your pesticide-free pumpkin from a local farm and be sure to compost or feed to wildlife afterwards.

And all that stuff about honoring the dead? The pagans used to set a place at the table for the dear deceased, inviting them to visit. Now, THAT’s spooky.

As The Man Burns

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

By Tao Oliveto

Burning Man is on again. Below is a re-post from 2007 after I had watched a documentary about Burning Man and came close to attending the festivities myself. It’s 2009, I haven’t yet gone – yet – and still have lots of questions to ponder about the whole thing.

At each Summer’s end, when Burning Man energy begins to build towards this momentous event, I find myself drawn to the experience, yet wrestling with some lingering questions…
As a long-time student of yoga, I’m not a stranger to the possibility and power of the transformational process and I wholeheartedly support this tribal gathering and ritual. Having been subjected to the twists and turns of the spiritual path, I understand that change within (and therefore without) depends on our ability to go beyond our earthly day-to-day responsibilities and find ways to come together and take a deeper look within.

There’s no denying that the survival (and celebration) of 40,000 people for 6 days in the desert has its environmental impact, but a thorough perusal of the BM web site shows that “leave no trace” is taken sincerely and seriously. As portrayed, most “Burners” pack out what they take in, including trash, compost and ashes. Even used water (forbidden to be dumped) is collected in evaporation pools. Water bottled in plastic is discouraged – most people bring large stainless steel tanks. Although generators are allowed, more are now powered with biodiesel and many use solar powered lighting. Designated “green camps” are growing in number, for those who want to pool together their renewable resources and make a stronger environmental statement.

There’s still the problem of finding your way (from all over the country and possibly the world) to Black Rock City. Booking an airline flight, then renting a car or RV is the modus operandi. Tent campers arrive with carports (or have them sent ahead) for more shaded personal space. This is a consumption issue at best and a pollution issue at worst.

Offsets to the rescue. Burning Man uses, encourages and advocates retail Offsets for all energy use and carbon emissions. And, though not entirely clean, burning the Big Guy is a worthy and life-changing spectacle in my opinion. Fire is more than a metaphor. It is primally linked to all cultures and to our very existence. Destruction before creation, death before rebirth, the mythical Phoenix rises from the ashes transformed. Burn on, Burning Man. My spirit goes with you.

Cyber-Shopping Decreases Energy Use

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I’m finally coming into holiday spirit this year and thinking about the consumables and thrift finds for friends and family – it’s more fun than ever to holiday shop when the giving is local and light on the planet.

I don’t buy much new stuff, but when I do, I’ve always liked online shopping. It’s fast and easy. However, I’ve been nagged by the thought that my new stuff has to travel many miles to find me and I can’t say, “I don’t need a bag” when checking out, like I would at a local store. I need to know, by the bottom line, is online shopping more eco-responsible than shopping at retail stores?

Much to my relief and surprise, I’ve heard some good news through Ideal Bite and Cool-Companies. A report by the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions, a non-profit organization that helps companies and public institutions reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, show that internet shopping has significantly decreased energy demand since 1998 and could have an even larger impact on energy and resource savings into the future.

Despite their size, e-commerce warehouses use 1/16th of the energy used to operate retail stores. More e-commerce equals less need for retail space and the resources used to build and maintain it. This, of course, means saving open space and trees through both less construction and the decrease in paper use – a savings of as much as 2.7 million tons of paper per year. What about the environmental costs of shipping? More good news: ground shipping uses 1/10 the energy of driving yourself to the mall and even shipping 10 pounds of packages by air, uses 40% less fuel than the same purchase made by car.
Of course, all these energy savings means less power plants and less greenhouse gas pollution. And less driving and shopping means more free time for us. It’s becoming obvious that the balance of our future depends on our willingness to change our habits and perspective. It can be a win-win for our lives, our environment and the economy. Now that’s something to celebrate.

Ho Ho Hold the Holiday Haul – they’ll understand

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

It’s December and, as you already know, I’m a die-hard lover of anything to do with sleigh rides, silver bells and snowmen. Although I no longer celebrate the Christmas season in a religious way, the magic of the season is not lost on me. In fact, since leaving behind many of the mainstream traditions – such as hours of mall shopping and too many parties – I look forward to this month of goodwill more than ever.

As I create and recreate my “alternative” traditions each year, it’s been more than joyful. Each year, I look forward to coming up with new and natural ways to decorate, give/wrap and spend quality time with the people in my life. My greening of the holidays did not go over so well at the family dinner table at first, but things are improving.

When it comes to holidays and gift and card giving, I don’t find anything merry about the extravagant waste involved in most of what is now more habit than heartfelt. And judging by yesterday’s NY Times article, “Jolly and Green, With An Agenda”, I’m not the only person stuffing CFLs in stockings. Right here, on the front page of the Sunday Styles section, more than one person speaks out, who wants to give gifts, but “also wanted to communicate my own deeply-felt environmental conviction.” What? I’m allowed to do that?

It might initially be easier said than done, but I”ll bet you didn’t let that stop you from approaching touchy subjects with parents or siblings in earlier years. Including fact-filled information can go a long way and, if you don’t know how to start a dialogue, you can go to Sierra Club‘s Web Site and look at a kind of working “script”.

Worry more about the wrath of Grandpa than the kids. Kids are like sponges – they soak up anything new given with love and meaning. And when it comes to saving the planet, they get it and can roll with changes if done in steps and communication. After all, the memories I most cherish from childhood are more about building snowmen, making popcorn over a roaring fire, caroling in the neighborhood, decorating sugar cookies and listening to holiday music than collecting my haul. I remember some truly usuable gifts – like the long-awaited snow skis, but overall, I remember laughter and fun. Note to parents: There’s a fine line between what they want and what they need. Let Santa be the fall guy.

If all else fails, practice rather than preach. You may light up something more than an efficient bulb.

Don’t Be A Turkey This Season

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Maybe you only purchase turkey once/year. If you live in the U.S., it’s usually in November and/or December. So, if I only buy turkey this one time, how important is it that I buy organic and local? From a turkey’s point of view? Plenty!

Factory-style turkey farms do a huge business this time of year and to meet the “consumer” demand, they have been allowed and encouraged to raise and slaughter these animals in outrageous conditions. Turkeys have long been genetically modified with hormones for better eating (not theirs), causing them to grow flesh twice as big, twice as fast. Most unfortunately, their skeletons are unable to support the excessive weight, leaving them unable to walk and in pain. More messing with their genetics for the preferred breast meat leaves them with absurdly-sized chests, further limiting their mobility. This diabolical science also causes many painful respiratory, heart and skeletal diseases, despite heavy doses of antibiotics.

Turkeys raised in factory farms live in crowded warehouses – government standards require only 2.5 feet square of space for each hen and 3.5 feet square of space for each tom turkey – as many as 17,000 turkeys crowded together. For months, they are left to stand in the bacteria and amonia from their own waste. These unnatural conditions force them to literally fight for their lives, so they are debeaked and detoed without anesthesia. (FYI – You can apply these facts in various forms to all factory-raised animals. For more information (and happy rescue stories), visit Farm Sanctuary.)

I know I probably ruined your appetite, but before you stop reading, understand two things. One – we, as consumers, have allowed these practices to continue (we keep buying) and two, we, as consumers, can put an end to the horror, both for the animals and the environment that is also being abused in factory farming.

I used to believe the entire world could be vegetarians. Then I woke up. I understand now that it is important to change the hows and the whys of our food sources rather than perpetuate a “them and us” standoff. We used to know how to do this right and we can once again bring compassion and common sense back to all farming practices. But to do this, we need to make it impossible for factory farms to sell their products and- make it economically feasible for small (and sane) farming to survive. I support veganism and vegetarianism, but I’ve come to believe that my being vegan was less an “activist” model of change than my now unfailing support of local farms. And I’m not alone.

Humane Farm Animal Care is a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the lives and welfare of farm animals by providing viable, credible, duly-monitored standards for humane food production and ensuring consumers that certified products meet these standards.

The impressive and extensive staff brings in knowledge and experience, including animal science, philosophy, systematic ecology, and government and international relations. Executive Director, Adele Douglass, launched the Free Farmed Program and was awarded the ASPCA’s Lifetime Achievement award in 2006. Their site can tell you more about this process and give you information about where to buy “Certified Humane Raised and Handled” animal products.

Keep in mind that very small family farms, possibly not yet certified, have almost always practiced compassionate treatment of animals and environmental stewardship – it’s tradition. Get to know your local farmers or read about them online at Local Harvest.

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.

Fireworks – an Independent Point of View

Friday, July 4th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC (Re-post from last year’s July 4th entry)

I dread the 4th of July. It’s not the idea of patriotism I mind, it’s the fireworks. First, they are bad for the environment. says, “From gunpowder fall out to smoke and dust that contain various heavy metals, sulfur-coal compounds and other noxious chemicals, fireworks are decidedly un-green.” However, it doesn’t stop there. Fireworks used at home injure many people every year and can start fires.

City organized fireworks may injure less people, but most animals suffer when subjected to this noise, even from a distance. Pets who stay indoors are still at risk. Most of my dogs have shown signs of distress and one former dog would shake, drool and pant with terror as soon as the first rocket fires (sometimes as early as Noon!). I know of another dog who jumped through a plate glass window in his panic, was lost for days and badly injured. I can only imagine how the noise, pollution and sight of fireworks may affect surrounding wildlife.

I’ve boycotted fireworks displays since I was in college when I realized that the rocket’s “red glare” symbolizes war, which means I have no reason to enjoy watching or hearing it. I read on that there are more ec0-friendly fireworks available by Sekon biodegradable fireworks – a gunpowder-free “air launch” technology. If cities could make this switch, it could at least solve one part of the problem. Perhaps you can talk to your town’s officials about this option.

I prefer to think we can evolve past fireworks for good and choose a meaningful alternative. How about a light show or raising flags or playing music? Let’s make July 4th something to celebrate – like an Indepence from Oil Day – or at least for now, a creative, safe and eco-friendly holiday, something all beings can enjoy.

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