Friday, December 31, 2010

This Week I Will Make a Resolution

My plan for starting this blog was to be more environmentally aware, break issues down into small manageable bites and, hopefully, to lead by example. So far, the process has definitely made me change my behavior for the better. Before I get to resolutions, I’ll use this New Year’s post to tell you how I fared with some of the previous weeks’ commitments.

This Week I Will Start a Blog
Done, whew!

This Week I Will Read One Book on Sustainable Living
Still reading. Cradle to Cradle is really interesting, but way dense for bedtime reading. The two authors have some incredible ideas on how to save the world without giving up the stuff we love. I both wish everyone would read this book to help change our mindsets about manufacturing, building and energy and wish it was just a little bit lighter. I do find myself talking to people about the ideas in the book and that’s probably the most important thing.

This Week I Will Eat No Meat
This was a really easy week until we went out for Indian food. Yes, there are wonderful vegetarian Indian dishes, but I have a terrible weakness for tandori chicken. Anyway, I ate almost no meat and the kids were fine with lots of pasta. I wound up cooking more than usual and they were good with that, too.

This Week I Will Use Freecycle
This was probably my favorite change so far. I love Freecycle. It’s very friendly, easy to get rid of things I don’t need and easy to ask for things I do need. My kids have started asking me to “Freecycle” things for them. I have a big issue with tossing useful stuff in the landfill and buying new things that use up resources, so it’s really a perfect solution for me.

This Week I Will Make a Donation
Done. I sent $50 to the Union of Concerned Scientists. (I sent my donation by December 31st, so it would be matched and doubled.)

This Week I Will Stop My Junk Mail
I think it’s getting better, but it’s really hard to tell yet. I continue to stop new junk mail by calling companies as the junk comes in.

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Hmm, I guess I’m trying to avoid making a resolution. I’m thinking of two things; either reading more scientific literature on environmental issues (living with a physicist should make getting materials pretty straightforward) or getting more readers for my blog. Though, marketing for readers feels overwhelming to me. Can’t it just spontaneously go viral? Anyway, after sleeping on it, I decided go for the reading. So, my environmental New Year’s resolution is to read more scientific articles and papers on environmental issues.

Happy New Year!
Rhonda


“Tikkun Olam” means, in its most basic form, repairing the world. It is an ancient term from long before we worried about carbon emissions or mercury in our fish. It promotes the idea that we are the stewards of our planet and we that must be constant and vigilant in our responsibility. And not only must we take care of the Earth and seas and creatures, but we have to fix what is broken. And this is our job for as long as we are on this planet.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

This Week I Will Make a Donation

For the last week and a half, I haven’t left the house without an armload of gifts. Family, teachers, friends, parties: gifts for everyone. So, while I’m doling out the presents, how about a little something for our planet? I could give the earth some nice compost or a homemade “Please Recycle!” poster. I could promise to be a better steward this year and get my family and friends to improve with me. But I’d like to shop for something that can be used right away, so I will check out environmental organizations on the internet and make a donation. In the past I’ve made contributions through the kid’s schools and activities. I’ve purchased rainforest acres through The Nature Conservancy (I love this program) and trees to be planted in Israel through the JNF. I’ve contributed to other programs as well over the years, but always when a cause comes to me, or in some cases, is forced on me. I’ve never sat back and thought about giving a gift to the earth and where it should go. I will think about it some more, but I will probably end up buying a membership to the Union of Concerned Scientists. I’ve been getting updates from a number of environmental organizations since starting this blog and I really like what I’ve been seeing come in from the UCS. Their emails include concrete things you can do to improve environmental legislation and realistic advice on changing your own habits. They send information on what you can do along with templates for letters, stickers to print out and addresses to send things. And their information comes mostly from the scientific community. I’m a sucker for good research data.

If you decide to spend a little money on the earth this year,
here are a few good gift ideas:

Environmental Defense Fund



Jewish National Fund

National Wildlife Federation

Natural Resources Defense Council

The Nature Conservancy

Union of Concerned Scientists

These websites are worth checking out regardless of whether or not you want to donate. As I was getting the site addresses it took lots of restraint not to get lost in all the interesting information and projects.


Happy Holidays!!
Rhonda



“Tikkun Olam” means, in its most basic form, repairing the world. It is an ancient term from long before we worried about carbon emissions or mercury in our fish. It promotes the idea that we are the stewards of our planet and we that must be constant and vigilant in our responsibility. And not only must we take care of the Earth and seas and creatures, but we have to fix what is broken. And this is our job for as long as we are on this planet.

Friday, December 17, 2010

This Week I Will Write an Environmental Christmas Song


Even though I don’t celebrate Christmas, I love the holiday spirit that fills every shop, classroom and home I go to. So, I figured what better in this season of giving than to make sure we give to each other without taking from the planet. Here, wishing you a very Happy Holiday, with no cost to the environment, Adam sings:
The Twelve Days of Environmentally
Conscious Christmas

video

The Twelve Days of Environmentally Conscious Christmas 
On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me
a Christmas tree that still has its roots
On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me 2 popcorn garlands
On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me 3 e-subscriptions
On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me 4 bicycles
On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me 5 Chevy Volts
On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me 6 low flow faucets
On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me 7 cleaning lemons
On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me 8 veggie dinners
On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me 9 gifts wrapped in comics
On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me 10 canvas bags
On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me 11 LED lights
On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me 12 rainforest acres

Day 1
You can buy a Christmas tree with roots which can be replanted into the ground so that you can reuse the tree next year. Friends of the Urban Forest of San Francisco (Fuf.net) rents nontraditional trees, such as Southern Magnolia and Strawberry, for $150, and replants them on city streets once Christmas is over.

Day 2
Try some old-fashioned, environmentally friendly garland like popcorn, cranberries and paper chains made from old magazines or junk mail.

Day 7
Lemons are one of the best natural cleaners around. They clean, disinfect, look pretty and smell fabulous.

Day 9
Try wrapping gifts in unusual choices like comics or magazine pages. Or scarves and dish cloths that become part of the gift.

Day 10
Take your own bags to do your shopping so you don’t wind up throwing away a pile of plastic.

Day 11
LED lights use 80-90% less energy compared to old light bulbs.

Day 12
Adopt an acre or more of rainforest through the Nature Conservancy. You can choose what region. http://adopt.nature.org/


Tikkun olam means, in its most basic form, repairing the world. It is an ancient term from long before we worried about carbon emissions or mercury in our fish. It promotes the idea that we are the stewards of our planet and we that must be constant and vigilant in our responsibility. And not only must we take care of the earth and seas and creatures, but we have to fix what is broken. And this is our job for as long as we are on this planet.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

This Week I Will Turn My Garden Over

 Every year that I plan on planting I need to add nutrients back into the soil. One of the oldest and best ways to do this is to turn over the soil and let the remains of last year’s crop decompose to nourish next season’s vegetables. This is free, fairly easy when the soil is moist, smells really good and is great exercise.

Well, this was my plan for this week, but, Dang! The gardener apparently didn’t know my plans to be more eco efficient and threw away all my rotting vegetation while I was out. Now I’ll have to call the city (again!) to see if the compost program is running yet. They’ve been collecting green waste for years now, and we’re supposed to be able to get the compost to use at home. That was the original plan, anyway. I called the first two years of the program to find out about obtaining some of that great garden compost, but they weren’t distributing it yet. That was quite a while ago, so I guess it’s time to check in on the program again.

Planting some of your own food is good on so many counts. There’s nothing like fresh picked vegetables for both taste and nutrition. And you can decide how many chemicals you want, or don’t want, to use. I’m constantly surprised at how beautifully everything grows with barely anything more than water. Flowering gardens of all kinds encourage visits from bees and provide them with food. As far as global warming goes, eating what I grow at home means I didn’t drive to get it, I didn’t put it in a plastic bag (or my favorite, the bag within a bag), no one else flew it, trucked it or shipped it anywhere. And plants suck up CO2 we want to get rid of. I’ve had a veggie garden since I was a kid and I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, growing food is all good.

I’m not going to plan what to grow this year quite yet. I’m just assuring that when the spring comes, I’ll be ready and so will my soil. I also have some composting/soil questions I’ll look into this week. Like, why can’t I just toss my green waste straight into the garden area – or can I?



Here are some articles that give more detail about gardens and the environment:



The President's garden:




“Tikkun Olam” means, in its most basic form, repairing the world. It is an ancient term from long before we worried about carbon emissions or mercury in our fish. It promotes the idea that we are the stewards of our planet and we that must be constant and vigilant in our responsibility. And not only must we take care of the Earth and seas and creatures, but we have to fix what is broken. And this is our job for as long as we are on this planet.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

This Week I Will Not Eat Meat


Back in the day when people ate their own chickens and cattle ranchers drove cattle hundreds of miles on foot to where they could be sold, meat was an accompaniment to a meal. It wasn’t exactly a luxury, but it was harder to get – more work, more money. People ate livestock more sparingly, filling their plates mostly with seasonal vegetables and cooked grains. Of course we now know that this is not only the most economical way to eat, it’s the healthiest.

But something happened in between. Meat became a symbol for prosperity. Providing for your family meant “putting meat on the table”. By the time I was growing up, a dinner plate had a large portion of beef, poultry or pork, a starch and a sad little pile of watery cooked frozen vegetables.

What does this have to do with the environment?
A lot. As the demand for meat grows the livestock industry is wreaking havoc on our environment, being a major contributor to land degradation, climate change, water shortage/pollution and loss of biodiversity. The following points are based on excerpts from Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options, a 416 page report from The Livestock, Environment and Development (LEAD) Initiative.

  • Livestock grazing and feedcrop production accounts for 70 percent of all agricultural land use and 30 percent of the land surface of the planet.
  • Due to enteric fermentation, manure and deforestation for pastures, the livestock sector is responsible for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. This is more than transport.
  • The livestock sector emits 37 percent of the world’s anthropogenic methane, which has 23 times more global warming potential than CO2.
  • Livestock are responsible for 64 percent anthropogenic ammonia emissions, which contribute significantly to acid rain and ecosystem acidification.
  • The livestock sector is responsible for 8 percent of global human water use.
  • Pollution from animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, feedcrop chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and pasture sediments are a major ecological problem.
  • Livestock production is expected to double by 2050.

I should point out that the Livestock’s Long Shadow report isn’t all doom and gloom. It details ways in which livestock producers can manage their operations to mitigate the impact and damage of meat production. It also recommends sensible regulations to achieve this.  

So, that’s the industry’s problem, right?
In large part, yes. But we’re the ones stuck breathing cow farts. Which brings me to the wisdom of reducing the demand for meat. The less meat we eat, the fewer livestock animals are needed to support us. So, this week I will not buy or eat meat. I will have nice vegetarian meals with my family and see how it goes. (I have to admit upfront, that I’m not a big meat eater to start with and I’m expecting it to be pretty easy, except for listening to my kids whine.)

I planned to include more sources, but nearly everything I read was based on the same extensive report, Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options. You can download all 19 megabytes or just the executive summary.

Here are both links:

Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options
Full text:
Summary:



“Tikkun Olam” means, in its most basic form, repairing the world. It is an ancient term from long before we worried about carbon emissions or mercury in our fish. It promotes the idea that we are the stewards of our planet and we that must be constant and vigilant in our responsibility. And not only must we take care of the Earth and seas and creatures, but we have to fix what is broken. And this is our job for as long as we are on this planet.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Freecycle Update

Earlier this week I signed up for my local Freecycle group, through Yahoo Groups. I was happy to find there is one in Pleasanton with over 3000 members, so no worries about extra driving. The interface was very straight forward and listing was easy. I listed my display easels and waited. I waited to write my update until I got any responses, but nothing showed up. Then, just before writing, I checked my new Yahoo mail and realized I wasn’t forwarding to my main account. I had 186 messages in my inbox, 10 of them requesting the easels! And no spam. Pretty cool.

I also requested a kiln, but so far no offers.

I listed with Exchango as well, which has a slightly different format, but there was nothing local and there weren’t many listings. Exchango seems like it will be good when it catches on. Or maybe it’s better on the East coast, that’s where most of the listings were.

Anyway, big thumbs up on Freecycle. At least for my little sampling of it. It’s a great way to send your stuff off to neighbors who want it. There were even a couple of people I knew in my inbox, which felt really nice.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

This Week I Will Use Freecycle

I’m still reading
Cradle to Cradle which is about rethinking how we manufacture, accumulate and toss away stuff. I’m on the problems and looking forward to the solutions, but so far it’s very interesting. And this reading has encouraged me to make learning about and using Freecycle my next endeavor.

Not only does Freecycle have a cool name, it sounds like a great idea. It’s basically a swapping-stuff-for-free network. You sign up online and trade stuff in person. Like Craig’s List, but without money. I’ve briefly checked out the website and put some things aside that I will give away. (I have display easels leftover from the Bat Mitzvah) My plan is to figure out how to sign up, list my items and see what happens next. I will also look for something I need, to avoid buying it new. Maybe books, maybe a small kiln.

There should be a Freecycle in your area. I’m going to try to trade as close as possible to where I live. It seems counterproductive to drive much to save a book from the landfill.


Why Bother?
Why not just buy new and throw the old stuff out?
because there is an environmental cost of manufacturing any new item,
because there is a monetary and social advantage to trading with neighbors,
because holding on to things longer encourages the manufacture of lasting products
and because whatever we reuse doesn’t go to landfills.


Here’s the Freecycle Link:



“Tikkun Olam” means, in its most basic form, repairing the world. It is an ancient term from long before we worried about carbon emissions or mercury in our fish. It promotes the idea that we are the stewards of our planet and we that must be constant and vigilant in our responsibility. And not only must we take care of the Earth and seas and creatures, but we have to fix what is broken. And this is our job for as long as we are on this planet.

Friday, November 19, 2010

This Week I Will Pick Out One Book to Read on Sustainable Living

Many of us will be traveling or entertaining this week, so it’s probably a bad time to try changing major habits. However, with most everyone off for Thanksgiving, it’s a great time to read a book. I’m going to use this opportunity to get some more in depth information on environmental issues, seek out a new viewpoint and get some fresh inspiration. For this week, I’ve chosen to read Cradle to Cradle – Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. I picked this book because it keeps coming up in other contexts focusing on sustainability. Cradle to Cradle seems like it will offer a new, practical mindset that runs contrary to the current “throw it away” one. Written by an architect and a chemist, I’m looking forward to reading about their alternatives to built in obsolescence and toxic manufacturing processes. Interestingly, even the physical book itself is made of a new material that is “waterproof, extremely durable…(and) can be broken down and circulated infinitely in industrial cyclesmade or remade as ‘paper’ or other products.”


A couple of months ago, I read No Impact Man by Colin Beavan which was informative, extremely entertaining and well written. It’s the autobiographical account of how Colin, his wife and toddler lived with almost no environmental impact for a year. In Manhattan. I definitely recommend this for light reading on serious subjects.
If you’re not up to reading this week, just pick something out that seems interesting to you. Order it, download it or purchase it and save it for a better time.

If you’re not up to reading at all, try a video. There are some really great environmental documentaries on all kinds of subjects. There is a No Impact Man video that compliments the book, and it’s also very entertaining. I’m going to try to make time for An Inconvenient Truth. Yup, it’s supposed to be boring, but it’s supposed to be really good, too.

And if a documentary feels like too much, try one of The Story of Stuff Project’s You Tube videos. Or all of them. They’re cartoon-style shorts, loaded with information.

My goal for the week is to broaden my knowledge of environmental issues and/or deepen my understanding of specific issues. This week I’m going to read a book. If you join me, please let me know what you’ve chosen.

Have a very happy Thanksgiving!

~Rhonda


Sources for Environmental Books and Reading


“Tikkun Olam” means, in its most basic form, repairing the world. It is an ancient term from long before we worried about carbon emissions or mercury in our fish. It promotes the idea that we are the stewards of our planet and we that must be constant and vigilant in our responsibility. And not only must we take care of the Earth and seas and creatures, but we have to fix what is broken. And this is our job for as long as we are on this planet.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

No Junk Mail Update

This is a lot easier than I expected. I was able to do most of what I needed online. Websites like http://www.stopjunkmail.org/ have forms to print out and send. I have a small pile of outgoing mail waiting to be sent and I’ll continue to contact businesses to stop catalogs individually. Then I just have to wait 3-6 months and see if my junk mail goes away.

Also, I’m still driving less. My son and my dog are so excited about biking I actually drove way less this week.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

This Week I Will Stop My Junk Mail

Last week's junk mail.
I’ve stopped my junk mail once or twice before, but it always seems to creep back. Lately it’s been shocking how much there is. I feel like every time I order something online, that company sends me a snail mail catalog. Whenever I sign the kids up for a class or get an estimate for a house repair I’m soon inundated with related junk mail. In any one week (see photo) I get huge catalogs I never ordered, dozens of applications and subscription notices and a small mountain of flyers, ads and coupons. We do most of our bills online. Almost no one writes anymore. So most of our full mailbox goes straight into the blue waste bin. Except that first we have to sort through the pile to make sure there’s nothing important and shred all those credit card applications. Junk mail is a waste of resources – and a big waste of time.

This week I will follow the links below and take steps to reduce my junk mail. I’ll let you know how it goes and I’ll update future blogs when I can tell how well the steps have worked. The junk mail photo shown is my actual junk for a week. I hope it gets better!


Why Bother?
Junk Mail Hurts the Environment
·       It takes more than 100 million trees to produce the total volume of America’s yearly junk mail.
  • Creating and shipping junk mail produces more greenhouse gas emissions than 9 million cars.
  • About 28 billion gallons of water are wasted to produce and recycle junk mail each year.
  • The pulp and paper industry is the third-largest industrial greenhouse gas emitter (after the chemical and steel industries).
  • Junk mail inks have high concentrations of heavy metals.
Junk Mail Really Is a Waste
·         Every year American households receive a total of 104.7 billion pieces of junk mail, which requires 6.5 million tons of paper.
·         Junk mail in the U.S. accounts for about 30% of all the mail delivered in the world.
·         Approximately 44% of junk mail goes to landfills unopened.

Junk Mail Costs Us Money
  • $320 million of local taxes are used to dispose of junk mail each year.
  • Transporting junk mail costs $550 million a year.



Helpful Links
More information on the problems with junk mail

Download a PDF with instructions for stopping junk mail

Instructions for stopping junk mail

More information on stopping junk mail and identity theft

Service that does it for you

Opt out of credit card offers

Helpful mailing labels


Tikkun olam means, in its most basic form, repairing the world. It is an ancient term from long before we worried about carbon emissions or mercury in our fish. It promotes the idea that we are the stewards of our planet and we that must be constant and vigilant in our responsibility. And not only must we take care of the earth and seas and creatures, but we have to fix what is broken. And this is our job for as long as we are on this planet.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

This Week I Will Drive Less -- Wednesday Update

Day 5

Okay, I’m finally on track. I got my sneakers on and my bike out yesterday and moved under my own power until 2:45. Then I had to take Adam to class in Livermore and rather than do the round trip twice, I stayed close by and did a tight loop of errands. Much better.

Monday, November 8, 2010

This Week I Will Drive Less -- Monday Update

Day 3

Well, this really is harder than I thought. Saturday I planned to get up nice and early and walk to Peet’s with whoever was up. But no one wanted to walk with me. And Scott was taking the car anyway, because he had errands to run after coffee. Okay, well that’s sort of carpooling, right? At least I would take my reusable coffee cup and not make trash. At Peet’s they passed my cute insulated cup along for my latte and made my latte in a paper cup. Then they offered to pour it in my cup for me. Hmmm. Okay, there were still things I could do. I would go home and get my bike ready for next week. I keep it in pretty good shape, so I just needed to dig it out, find my basket for carrying stuff and pump the tires. I finally got to my bike this morning, couldn’t find the basket and my pump wasn’t working. I put the bike back in the garage and got to work.

What I did do was walk to school today, which I usually do, and passed on all errands until I was going out for school pick up. Not much, but  boy am I aware of every mile I drive! I’ll try again tomorrow and aim to get out on my bike.

Friday, November 5, 2010

This Week I Will Drive Less

One Change. For One Week.
Week 2 

What to start with?
The idea is to try a small change for a week and see how it goes. I’d like to start with something important. I’d like to start with something big. But that’s not the idea. I need to start with something manageable. Small and manageable. So, how about global warming? This is actually a good beginning because while the problems are huge, this week’s change is very simple. Drive less. This week I will use my car less. I will get out and enjoy the crisp fall weather more.

Why drive less?
“Motor vehicles are responsible for almost a quarter of annual US emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary global-warming gas. The US transportation sector emits more CO2 than all but three other countries' emissions from all sources combined.” 
-Union of Concerned Scientists

 
How will I make a difference?
When I was younger there was a summer I decided not to use my car within about a 30 mile radius. At the time, I lived in San Francisco, at the top of Twin Peaks so this was pretty ambitious. I was also in pretty good shape back then – and great shape by the end of that summer. Now as a middle-aged mom I’m trying to figure out how to use my car less and it seems so much harder than that summer years ago. I already walk my son to school and my daughter walks with friends. Well, mostly – there’s definitely room for improvement. Like, we probably won’t melt if we walk in the rain. And maybe we could leave the car home for after-school pick ups when we’re going straight home. So, my plan for this week is to be more conscious of when I really need my car, to walk or bike when I can and to follow the other suggestions listed below.


Excerpts from:

"How to Maximize Your Vehicle’s Fuel Economy"

How you drive and take care of your vehicle affects its fuel economy and emissions levels. Here are simple tips to reduce the environmental impact of your vehicle today.

Drive less
Driving as little as possible is the best way to reduce the environmental impact of your transportation needs. Link errands, carpool, walk, bike, or use mass transit whenever possible.

Drive moderately.
High-speed driving and jack-rabbit starts increase both fuel use and emissions.
Check your tires.
Properly inflated and aligned tires saves fuel by reducing drag. Also, for your next set of tires, consider getting low rolling resistance (LRR) tires. LRR tires reduce rolling resistance by 10 percent and can improve gas mileage by one to two percent.
Be weight-conscious.
Don’t carry around items you don’t need. For every 100 pounds of weight in your vehicle, fuel economy decreases by one to two percent. Also, put items in your trunk instead of on a roof rack to reduce drag.
Don't let your vehicle idle for more than a minute.
Letting your engine idle for more than a minute burns more fuel than turning off the engine and restarting it.
Limit air conditioning, which consumes fuel.
At lower speeds, open the windows. At higher speeds, use your fan as open windows create drag.


For the full article, go to:
http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_vehicles/what_you_can_do/how-to-maximize-your.html
Other Useful Links:
General information on global warming:

Union of Concerned Scientists

NRDC

National Center for Bicycling & Walking

EPA green vehicle guide
http://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/

Tikkun olam means, in its most basic form, repairing the world. It is an ancient term from long before we worried about carbon emissions or mercury in our fish. It promotes the idea that we are the stewards of our planet and we that must be constant and vigilant in our responsibility. And not only must we take care of the earth and seas and creatures, but we have to fix what is broken. And this is our job for as long as we are on this planet.