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

Posts Tagged ‘people’

What Would Dad Do?

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

I posted this story for Father’s Day a couple years ago. It’s still one of my favorite memories.

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Here’s the set up. I was 17 and driving my Dad’s new car – I mean, really new car – he had driven it off the lot something like 3 days before. My mom had a showcase, ’69 Mustang and it had just been repaired and repainted. My twin sister was driving the Mustang that day and at some point, ended up ahead of me, both of us going about 35mph, just a few miles from home. (Yeah, I know. This was before the logic of carpooling had entered my teenage brain.)

Now, let me first tell you a little about my dad. He’s a 6’1″ Italian with a deep, booming voice, who’s not afraid to use it. He was and is old-school strict, with a “mafiosa” look that often gets him the best table at a restaurant, if you know what I mean.

Back to that Spring day. I next did one of those stupid driving tricks – and reached for something on the floorboard. By the time my head came up, my sister had stopped in front of me for someone making a left turn. You guessed it – wham! I hit my mom’s car with my dad’s car. Looking at me in the rear view mirror in disbelief, my sister slowly and dutifully pulled over. But for some reason, my panicked thoughts of “I am in so much trouble!!” caused me to step on the gas, race past my stunned sister in the Mustang and speed home. Hit and run, anyone?

Well, I half crawled up our front steps, sobbing and hiding my face. Dad came out, with that concerned but stern look he wore a lot, grabbed my arm and demanded, “What’s wrong? What is it?” In a voice broken with sobs, I confessed that I had just crashed his new car into Mom’s car (my sister had pulled up by now). He paused, looked at the cars, looked back at me and asked, “Did anyone get hurt?” I stammered back, “No, but……” He let go of my arm, demanding again, loudly, “What’s the problem then?” and walked into the house without looking back.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. You taught me a lot. I love you.

Music Matters

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

What came first – the music or the muse?

Since the sixties and perhaps earlier, music has been linked to revolution, counterculture, the dawning of a new age. Unlike Hollywood celebrities, musicians are also referred to as artists and you know what they say, Make Love Art. Not War. Todays musical artists are no less restless, enraged and willing to speak and sing out for Change.

Grist lists 15 Green Musicians of 2007 as: Pearl Jam, The Root, Sarah Harmer, Green Day, Jack Johnson, Thom Yorke, Willie Nelson, KT Turnstall, Guster, Perry Farrell, Sheryl Crow, Bare Naked Ladies, Cloud Cult, Bonnie Raitt, Moby. How and why? Go here. This list is only a short version of the many performers playing a new green tune. In fact, late in 2007, Peter Garrett, the former lead singer of rock group Midnight Oil, was named Australia’s environmental minister.

Live Earth spotlighted this voice for change and perhaps tipped other artists into a greener arena. When you live by using your voice, your gift and your passion, it’s only a matter of time before the [CFL] light bulb turns on.

Peace, Love and Rock ‘n Roll.

Epilogue: Above is a post i wrote in 2008. I had just tapped into the idea of how much “Music Matters”. Live Earth had just happened. More and more artists were arriving on the music scene all over the world. Older mainstream artists were resurfacing (some straight out of rehab) with the same passion and energy to share and show the world.

There are still more local music shows and festivals. There is more acceptance and integration of different styles and musical genres. What I think is different is that some of the rage has been transformed to a more authentic love and lightness. Kind of a surrender to the journey. Although the world needed and still needs practical measures to bring change and healing, the music seemed to become the place to go to refuel the sacred activist within. And, I know i needed refueling.

As I said back then, this is not new phenomenon. But it is interesting that what I thought was a peak in the musical world then has risen to higher and more meaningful depths 2 years later. We continue to seek what is transformational – looking for the creative energy in the midst of chaos.

All I can say is thank the Universe.

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.”

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.

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.

Little House in the City – the balance of living small

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

When I decided to head for NC, I lived in a small and borrowed motor home in the woods. I had recently left graduate school, embarking on one of those “to hell with it” journeys. Each day of those few months, I learned more about how freeing it was to want only what I needed and need only what I had. Even the confined space felt comforting. Ever since then, I have acknowledged and craved the kind of satisfaction of living simply and its welcome limits.

If small and simple living feels so good, where does our mega-sizing mentality come from? When considering the downscaling commitment of people like Jay Shafer of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, who lives in a 100sq.foot dwelling, I am forced to acknowledge my return to excess (I live in 1050sq.feet). I even store “stuff” in additional attic space and own 3 bicycles! Huh? Perhaps it’s a virus that has spread through our culture unchecked and unchallenged…is it then passed down through generations as a misguided process of evolution? Or, is it simply a disconnect between our needs, wants and/or desires within a culture lacking in perspective? When it comes to living space, how much is enough?

Undeniably, our consciousness as a culture is rising. And, like most trends that run their course, our BIG habits are being challenged and re-evaluated. Alternative housing is attracting the interest of many, with mixed use developments like Greenbridge becoming popular and Co-housing, a community-based, eco-efficient form of housing, making smaller living both practical and fashionable.

Could small living actually be the big life? Is the “super-size” mentality becoming old and ugly news? Carpenter author and educator, Shay Salomon, seems to think so. She co-founded The Small House Society, whose mission is “to support the research, development, and use of smaller living spaces that foster sustainable living for individuals, families, and communities worldwide.” In her book, Little House on a Small Planet, she shows how saner, cozier homes provide an antidote to stress, build community and reduce our impact on the planet. Committed to both efficient design and use of natural resources, these people are selling much more than small homes. They are offering the luxury and value of a more simple life.

Unfortunately, there is no lack of the continued development of large homes for the affluent, but shift happens. Ask Gregory Paul Johnson, Founder and Director of Resources for Life (and another co-founder of The Small House Society). I love this guy – he may live small, but his life, career and interests are huge – check out his web site. He is a testimonial to just what can happen when you de-clutter, de-stress and detoxify your mind to make “space” for what matters.

42 and Then Some

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

If you’re here, you know the many ways that you can save resources, create less trash and use less energy. You will also know that I am a fan of No Impact Man – and last week he offered a list of changes he made over the last year to green his life and the planet. Although he went back to using a refrigerator and washing machine, he found at least 42 green habits that are just too simple to ever give up. I can say I’ve joined him in all of them and yep, they are darn easy. And, as NIM has been reminding us, the best news is that all of it has made me happier and healthier in the process.

Below are a few more resource-saving ideas that I’ve discovered along the way. The best part is that it’s been a kind of thrill to figure out these things and realized how much of it is common- sense-simple. See what you think below

** You can now recycle your cds, dvds, jewel cases, cell phones, electronics, printer cartridges, and videos through I just sent in a whole box of dvds and videos for only the cost of a mailing label. They also provide recycling services to businesses with high volume.

** If you use a vacuum cleaner, try reusing the full bag by simply emptying the dust bunnies out the top (put your fingers in and pull). It works fine, is not as icky as it sounds, saves money and resources. Those bags are thick and durable and will go through many uses if you are willing to take this extra step.

** If you use cotton balls, remember to save the stuff that sometimes comes in the top of the vitamin supplement jars.

** When the ink runs out, don’t throw the entire pen away – save the cartridges. You can take them to most office supply stores and purchase or order refills. I collected about 25 in one year and was able to get replacements for most. Same thing for scotch tape! If your local store doesn’t carry refills – encourage them to do so.

** If you have a hole in your sock, try your hand at darning – I’ve rescued a few of my wool pairs. If that doesn’t work, cut off the foot part, make a few stitches to create a thumb space and you have half-gloves.

** Athletic shoes too worn to donate? Recycle them through Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program or check in with your local powers that be for shoe collection events. Oh, and be sure to take out the laces – they are most likely still usable. There may be Check here for recycling programs for sports shoes.

** Save water by rinsing lightly, but NOT washing recylables until squeaky-clean. It’s on the record – the process handles a percentage of excess “contaminants” just fine.

** Use yogurt-style plastic tubs as planters for spring seedlings or house plants – just poke holes in the bottom.

** Rainy day? Put on rain gear – or a bikini – and wash your car – use a little bio-degradable soap and a rag and let the rain give it a good rinse.

** Clothing that is too worn for donation make great rags, gift wrap, reusable napkins and dishtowels – just get out the scissors.

** A plastic bag dryer is on of the few “gadgets” that is worth its weight in green – I’ve rinsed and reused plastic bags, that hold my vegetables, dozens and dozens of times because this simple design allows them to dry completely and quickly. It works for used plastic wrap or foil as well. Order one here.

I’m sure I’ve missed some things. Please send me your ideas! Thanks and happy greening.

Everything Must Change – 3 important voices

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

Brian D. McLaren is an author, activist, speaker and pastor. His life, work and experience has convinced him that everything must change, mostly the way we live as consumers.

“Consumerism is the notion that the more we consume the better off we will be. As I explain in Everything Must Change, it’s the supreme idolatry of our times. It places my temporal wants at the center of my own little universe. As the dominant way of deriving meaning, it is responsible for countless neuroses fed by corporations whose shareholders insist on ever-increasing profits, and it is responsible for near runaway exploitation of this earth’s natural resources.”

In my experience, living more sustainably has been a kind of relief – an opportunity to slow down, to quiet the runaway ego and gain perspective on what I really want from life. Living smaller, slower and with less “convenience” has left me feeling more whole, healthy and in tune with life than ever.

Paul Hawken says living sustainably should be easy and natural – like “falling off a log.” No Impact Man says it’s harder if you have less money or live in a community that does not support a sustainable way of life. I think they are both right. Simplifying your life by driving, buying and wasting less is available to everyone. Everyday in my town, I see people who are willing to share space, share cars, ride bikes and have less. And they seem to do it while working less, nurturing relationships, pursuing goals and having fun. But it’s true that sustainable alternatives to necessary goods and services need to be made available to everyone in order for real change to happen quickly.

We can have a life that’s more authentic, happy, healthy and sustainable by forgetting about what we have and focusing on what we do. It’s not about the money or the sacrifice. But it is about changing our own habits and then supporting each other in doing what it takes to push our culture into a place where it is easy and natural to change.

“After ending one year or living without electricity and creating no trash, NIM says And so, I’ve decided that for myself, in choosing my path forward in my continued experience as No Impact Man, that my individual attempts at environmental living are not sufficient. As much as I’ve come to believe in the incredible power of a life lived in integrity with one’s values, and as much as I’ve seen evidence of the differences each of us can make with our life choices, I’d also like to think we have the power to make those same choices and benefits available to everyone. “

He’s talking activism, of course, making yourself heard. We’re getting greener and cleaner. We’re starting to talk to each other. Let’s take on the next step and get together about schools, communities and cities and groups being a force for change. Use your talents, use your passion and use your voice.

THE TAO OF CHANGE [the way of a better world]

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