Archive for June, 2008

Nothing like a two-feet wide shower to get you out quick! Prad and I are discovering the charms of Parisian living in our ‘rue du Bac‘ apartment. Likewise, our kitchen only allows for one person at a time comfortably. This is quite a change from our California sprawl, . . . And made me think of the power of small to restrain one’s behaviors. 

As much as we shape our environment, we are also very influenced by our environment. If we want to change, let us modify our living spaces. This way we won’t even have to think so hard about conserving. 

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On my way to the airport. Last time, was exactly a year ago, with three teenage girls. Same destination. We had a blast, and I will treasure forever all those moments spent discovering Paris with my daughter and her friends.

When we got there, I felt ‘Too Tired to be Green‘, and wanting to take a ‘Vacation’ from my nascent green-ness. My fellow Parisians impressed me with their ability to turn eco-correctness into ‘Green Fun‘. I became enamored with all French things, even the ‘Modern Appliances‘ in our apartment. Squeezing into my friends’ ‘Cars‘ became a riot. And last, I was reminded of the virtue of living life ‘In Moderation‘. 

Who knows what I will discover this time? 

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Starting tomorrow, I will be off to Europe for a two-week visit to my family, followed by a tour of the Tuscan countryside. If I was 100% pure, I would stay home, and use Skype to stay in touch with my loved ones. After all, air travel is one the most CO2 intensive mode of transportation:

This is where the power of emotional ties collide with my green conscience. The tragedy of my 86-year old mother slowly falling to Alzheimer’s, and the adorable pictures of my new six-month old nephew Amadeo, are stronger than all the carbon calculations. I have to go.

To ease up my footprint, I will, of course, buy carbon offsets from Terrapass. And dream of a not so distant future, when air travelling may not be such a curse on the environment.

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The Olduvai theory and catastrophic consequences‘, a paper by James Leigh in Energy Bulletin, paints a very scary picture of what awaits us if we do nothing to prepare for the times ahead.

Will be wise enough and follow James Leigh‘s recommendation?  

. . . to cooperatively take urgent steps to ameliorate this looming situation and prepare for how we will live in a post-energy world and its civilization. A whole new sustainable, localized and agricultural based civilization is needed; with a new mindset of cooperation and care, and harmonious social behavior, along with alternative fuels for a less fuel-hungry society.

Thanks to Gary Peters for tipping me on this paper.

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That show last night was pretty depressing!” Hubby Prad did not sleep well after watching ‘We Were Warned: Out of Gas‘, the latest in CNN’s Special Investigations Unit series. Neither did I. Listening to most of the comments in the show, you would never know we are at the brink of a planetary disaster. Hardly any mention of conservation. No, instead it is all about looking everywhere in search of yet more oil, no matter what the cost. Cost in dollars per barrel. And more importantly, cost to our future in terms of carbon emissions.

Never before has the addiction to oil metaphor been more apt. Big Oil is leaving no soil unturned, no ocean unprobed, to satisfy our need for our daily oil fix.

Now, here’s the part that really, really got to me, best conveyed in trailer for new movie, Pay Dirt:

Just when I thought  coal mountain top removal was as bad as it could get . . . 

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Unless, you live in California, as I do, you may have missed this latest development in the California Apple Moth spraying initiative:

California urban areas will not be sprayed aerially with pesticides to fight the light brown apple moth, state and federal agricultural officials announced Thursday. Instead, officials intend to fight the invading, leaf-munching pest by releasing sterile moths and using other methods, according to California Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura and Cindy Smith, a U.S. Department of Agriculture official in charge of insect control. The change of course comes after thousands of citizens questioned the safety and effectiveness of the spraying program that was promoted by Kawamura and federal officials. The officials had said the pesticides contain a synthetic pheromone – and other ingredients – that would confuse moths and interfere with reproduction.

Needless to say, I am pleased. No pheromone for me and my family. The name itself sounds like it could cause cancer!

More importantly, what happened is a testimony to the power of grassroots organizing. I thought it would be worthwhile to go over all the steps that led to the citizens’ victory:

  • City of Albany’s Integrated Pest Management Task Force, led by Nan Wishner, worked with concerned citizens and environmental groups.
  • To bolster citizens support, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, other members of California delegation and state legislators who introduced bills to restrict use of chemicals, city mayors, and UC Davis entomologists, all wrote letters to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Based on reports from local MDs, there was evidence from from earlier limited aerial sprayings, that chemicals were responsible for hundreds of respiratory and other health effects. 
  • Internationally known UC Davis entomologists James Carey, Frank Zalom and Bruce Hammock wrote U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer asking that the program be re-evaluated and warning that spraying a pheromone product wouldn’t eliminate the pest. They also said the moth would pose no more of an economic threat to California’s crops than similar pests.
  • A coalition of eight cities – San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville, Richmond, Piedmont, Alameda and Albany – as well as 185 nonprofit citizen groups – prepared to send letters to Kawamura, insisting that the department complete an environmental impact report before doing any aerial spraying.
  • Earthjustice attorney Deborah Reames argued that spraying major urban areas with potentially harmful chemicals to eradicate a species could have significant effects on public health and the environment.

Some key lessons here:

  • It helps to work on an issue that moves citizens, in this case personal health.
  • Do your homework, collect enough evidence to support your case, and ask for experts to back up your points
  • Create a non profit organization to champion your cause
  • Co-opt other existing organizations that have a stake in the issue
  • Work up all the echelons along the power ladder, from neighborhood associations, to city council, all the way up to the House and your Governor
  • Get the judicial system involved
  • Befriend your local media; if the story is good it will get picked up in the blogs and the national news

I have written before about the evil role of special fossil fuel interests in blocking some key climate protection initiatives. What happened with the apple moth made me wonder, if the same kind of smart grass roots organizing could apply. The only problem is the impact of Big Oil lobbying is not as direct and personal as being sprayed with some pheromone. . . Still, there must be a way!

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Back from another one of my triumphant bike rides to downtown, this time to pick up pizzas at Il Fornaio, our favorite Italian. So glad I was. The three pizza boxes fit neatly into my side basket, not in the recommended horizontal position. The thought quickly brushed my mind, that maybe the toppings might slide, in protest. Oh, well, the risk was well worth taking. Off, I rushed back home. Again, sheer pleasure of being just me, with Pervenche, and the warm breeze. And plenty of times to savor the comings and goings inside my mind.  

Ah ah, just I was going over the bridge, it hit me. What had gotten me on my bike was not carbon calculators, not injunctions from Green Guru,  not my green conscience, not the sinister prospect of global warming. No, what had moved me to pick up Pervenche, was the memory of how fun the last ride had been, and the knowledge that it would take me about as much time to bike, as to drive. Physical satisfaction plus convenience, all at no cost. The personal benefit was obvious. 

Forget the “we” campaign. What’s going to get people from ‘business as usual’, to leaving their cars in the garage, and not shopping as much, is the realization that such moves are not only good for the whole world but for them personally, also, in a very direct, immediate way. The recent gas crisis is another validation

Hence the value of looking at personal motivators. Here is my list:

  • immediate gratification
  • convenience
  • cost savings
  • personal health

These are the big four on my list. Can you think of others?

PS – Do not transport pizza with the box on its edge in your side basket. The outcome ain’t pretty. Bare dough, with all the toppings squished against one side. We had a good laugh. 

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Richard Florida, professor of Business and Creativity at the University of Toronto, and the author of ‘Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life‘, was on NPR Talk of the Nation yesterday. Richard Florida had a lot to say about a wide range of fascinating topics. Most interesting to me were the results of his Gallup Survey on Place and Happiness.

What makes people happy?:

  • A job they love
  • Social connections and relationships
  • A good place to live 
Richard Florida added some observations:
  • Beyond a minimum threshold, income does not make a difference. 
  • People are suffering from fewer and fewer close social connections (with one the average)
  • Good places to live all share the following five factors: 1) safety and good schools, 2) economic and social opportunities, 3) good mayoral and business leadership, 4) good across the board for a variety of people, 5) physically good in term of aesthetics, pleasant to live in. 
What I find especially encouraging about this research, is that it supports visions for a more sustainable world as well. This includes the need for strengthened communities, and some ideas such as David Holmgren’s permaculture that could be adapted to living in the big cities. Note that accumulating more stuff, driving more, living in bigger houses, and more generally engaging in activities with a big footprint, are not part of this ‘make you happy’ list.

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Technorati just responded to my earlier plea for a better search tool for Green Blogs. Here is their response. I hope you find it helpful:

Hi Marguerite,

I saw your post a few days ago and looked into your request. Technorati does indeed have a “Green” sub-channel already where readers can find posts covering sustainability and other environmental issues at http://technorati.com/lifestyle/green/.

Turns out the reason this may have been missed is because the “Directory” page isn’t quite synched up yet with all the channels Technorati tracks, so I apologize that the “Green” section is harder to find than it ought to be! The engineering team assures me it’s on their agenda.

And in the meantime, in addition to checking out the sub-channel, another really good way to find like-minded blogs on “green” topics is simply to search for a “green” topic, and click on “blogs.” Here’s an example search I ran on the term “sustainability“: http://technorati.com/blogs/tag/sustainability. I think it gives some good results on well-ranked blogs focusing on “green” topics, including some I didn’t expect like http://triplepundit.com, which focuses on sustainable business, and http://hippyshopper.com, which covers environmentally-friendly consumerism.

Thanks so much for your feedback!

Doreen Bloch
Technorati marketing/PR intern

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For an edifying picture of China’s real status on the environmental front, I suggest you read Peter Navarro‘s latest article in Energy Bulletin. Peter is the author of the upcoming book, ‘The Coming China Wars‘. In summary:

  • Every single week, China adds one new large coal power plant to its energy base.
  • China is now adding 15,000 new cars a day to its roads, and it expects to have more cars than the United States — as many as 130 million — as early as 2040.
  • China is expected to construct fully half of all the buildings in the world over the next 25 years. Beyond sheer quantity, the nightmare here is that these buildings will be electricity sinkholes because Chinese buildings are notoriously energy inefficient. 
  • China plans to move almost a half a billion peasants off the farm into factories and cities over the next several decades. As a rule, urbanites introduced to the magic of refrigerators, TVs, and toasters use more than three times the amount of energy as their rural counterparts.
  • Chinese manufacturers are extremely energy inefficient. To produce an equivalent amount of goods, they use six times more resources than the United States, seven times more resources than Japan, and, most embarrassingly, three times more resources than India, to which China is most frequently compared.
Guess who is feeding China’s gigantic pollution factory? Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, touted by Adam Werbach as the new corporate environmental hero, represents 30 percent of foreign purchasing in China. 27 billion dollars total. No greening strategy can make up for the fact that we, the 89% of American people who shop at Wal-Mart, are contributing in no insignificant terms, to China’s lethal gases spewing frenzy.  

More than ever, let us make ours, the old ‘Reduce-Reuse-Recycle

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