Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Eat From Home Challenge

A great way to go green and save green is to stay out of the drive through lane. Even sit down restaurants have a huge impact on your wallet and the environment! Upon examining our next step in this green journey, my husband and I quickly decided that eating out was the next eco-vice to tackle.

Although I take the plastic milk bottles home with me, and recycle the paper and cardboard, it's just not enough. The fact is that the food industry is a major contributor to many environmental concerns, including energy and water waste, deforestation, and huges amounts of wasted food. Not to mention that the majority of food purchased for our convenience are animals that have been treated inhumanely and treated with antibiotics, as well as other crops that have been fertilized and pesticide-ed to the hilt!

Here are some stats:

  • Restaurants consume more energy per square foot than any other US industry—over 2.5 times the average commercial building
  • Restaurants use large amounts of water. The Massachusetts Water Resource Authority’s studies have found that, depending on size and popularity, a single restaurant meal requires anywhere from 6 to 29 gallons of water, meaning most restaurants use anywhere from 1 million to 13 million gallons per year.
  • Restaurants produce an average of 50,000 pounds of trash a piece per year-EACH!
  • Americans go through 15 billion disposable hot beverage cups per year !
  • All of the paper packaging to wrap up every tiny bit of food comes from somewhere. According to the No Free Refills campaign, the Southern Forests are paying the highest price for our convenience. As if the southern biodiversity wasn't threatened enough!

As a mother with 4 small children, not eating out is definately going to be a sacrifice for me. The convenience is always beckoning me, and my kids sure do love the "treats" they otherwise wouldn't get at home! So I am issuing a challenge to help keep myself on track, and so we can share success stories and tips. I am thinking of doing a giveaway at the end of this challenge! So, comment below to enter the challenge, and I'll have a check in post every week or so during the 2 months. The challenge will start Oct 1, and run through Thanksgiving. Let me know if you are just going to cut your eating out down, or go cold turkey like me! Feel free to take the button to put on your blog, and start sharing your tips to end our convenience eating addictions!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Al Gore calls for Civil Disobedience

In all of the coverage of the magnitude of our economic crisis, Al Gore's comments at the Clinton Global Initiative may have fallen on deaf ears. He compared "clean coal" to "healthy smoking", and is convinced that we need to change our habits now. "I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration," Gore said. This type of civil disobedience just happened next door in Wise County, where eleven protesters put their arms into 55-gallon metal drums, fashioned with working solar powered panels. They were there to protest the new Dominion coal fired power plant being built right now, that will inevitably lead to more mountaintop removal. Al Gore stood up against this dirty energy:


Taken from CNN:
"What we should do is make a one off investment to switch our energy infrastructure from one that depends on fuel that is dirty, dangerous, destroying the habitability of this planet and rising in price, to a new global energy infrastructure that is based on fuel that is free forever -- the sun, the wind and geothermal. There is a myth that the technology is not available. It is available," he said.
He called on the United States and other countries to install unified national transmission grids and make renewable energy available to all.
"We have a responsibility to those who come after us and those who are suffering today, to knit together a global commitment to solve this climate crisis and use it as a way to stimulate the economy."


I know that there are many people who rely on coal for work. But I also know that there would be new jobs and economic renewal for these areas that only renewable energy could guarantee forever. Speak up so future generations can enjoy these beautiful mountains, and the biodiversity that can never be "reclaimed".

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Saving Our Kids Healing Our Planet

It was our plan to attend this conference this weekend, in Charlotte, NC:

But then I heard that Charlotte, NC has a serious gas shortage! They think there's more gas coming tomorrow, but who knows?! Not wanting long lines, and the possibility of being stranded, we've decided to stay home. If you are close to Charlotte and can make it, I encourage you to go, it looks like it has a ton of great speakers and exhibitors. They'll be composting their food waste, and have activities for kids. Gas is so lame! Just another reason to move towards energy independence!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Remembering Your Reusable Bags


If you have purchased reusable bags, or reuse ones you already had, accept an eco-pat on the back from me! But if you're anything like me, you have found yourself without them while on a major shopping trip. When this happens to me, I guiltily look around as I walk to my car, wondering if the equivalent of the scarlett letter in green is emblazoned on my back! I certainly reuse or recycle those unfortunate plastic bags that made it into my home, but I needed a better system. So now, whenever I bring in my groceries, they are always immediately put away, and put straight back into the car. That way, I always have a stash of at least 5 at all times. Whether I am at the grocery store, the farmer's market, Target or Goodwill, I bring my own bags. Works for me!

Monday, September 22, 2008

DO!

As I was dumping my recycling this weekend, I couldn't help thinking..."Is this really making an impact?" Do my actions really count in the scheme of things?" The melancholy voice inside me came out and said, "You might as well be alone in your efforts, so many others are out there negating your very actions right now!" My very way of life, and all that I am striving to become and accomplish is threatened at times like these, when the enormity of the problem stares me in the face. And then I am reminded of articles like these by Michael Pollan. And then while strolling the global community that is the internet, I found encouragement at Girl At Play:

"Do. I can’t stress that one enough. Take action on your life. Make the change. No more sulking, waiting, thinking, reading, talking about. It’s time."

When we see problems all around us, and we recognize the need for change, we HAVE to change. As Wendell Berry said: “Once our personal connection to what is wrong becomes clear, then we have to choose: we can go on as before, recognizing our dishonesty and living with it the best we can, or we can begin the effort to change the way we think and live.” To deny this transformation would be to deny our very souls. Others may not see the importance of our causes. However, there will be those that will be changed to the core by seeing the passion of our hearts, and the action of our lives. I may not be able to change the world today, but I can change my own actions, and be a catalyst for others to do the same.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Effective Eco-Actions- Water Usage


Back to the issue of effective eco-actions, the next water usage topic takes us straight to the bathroom. I've ranted about my hubby's eco-vice before, so... which is it...Tubs vs showers. Is there a big difference? Well, according to the green routine, there most definately is. A short, 5 minute shower with a low flow head will dramatically reduce your household usage. However, if you can't get shower time down to 5 minutes, a 15 minute shower is roughly equivalent to a bath. So, I say, hurry up and shower, and give yourself a once a week soak! And if you are ever fortunate enough to have the opportunity to install a greywater system, use your water after your cleansing for the garden or the toilet. Speaking of which...


I've written a post before on our dramatic water savings by switching to a new toilet. This is great for all you penny pinchers out there, as well as eco-friends. 70 % of our household water usage is flushed or bathed down the drain, so these 2 places are great places to start to make your first eco-actions effective ones. Using less water is friendly on our pockets, and our earth. Conserving water puts less strain on our municipal water systems which makes for less water pollution, and protects our watershed, a vital part of sustainability for any community. Checking for leaks, and replacing high flush toilet models with low flow versions, are 2 things that most of us can do ourselves, with little effort and budget. For more water savings tips, see eartheasy.com's list of tips.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

There is hope: COAL RIVER WIND

After the doom and gloom I put before you last week, I did want to offer a glimmer of hope. Coal River Valley, WV has had over 50,000 acres of its mountains destroyed by strip mining/mountaintop removal. A group of citizens have created a plan to bring sustainable jobs, and energy to this region, that could be the model for the rest of the country. On the last 6,000 acres left in this area, there is a plan to erect a wind farm. There are investors lined up, and the community is in full support of this.
King Coal...as they call it 'round here....is not very happy about this. Massey Corporation has decided to blow up the last mountains this region has left. And Governor Manchin of West Virginia is happy to let them. Thankfully they are a sloppy company, and did not get all of the required permits, so there has been a temporary halt to their plan. BUT IT IS TEMPORARY! This is a real shot at making a difference, and voicing our opinions. This wind farm could potentially provide energy for 150,000 homes INDEFINATELY! Unlike coal, this is an energy source that can be sustained. Please sign the petition, and make your voice count.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Affluence

Affluent describes me. I am affluent. My family is affluent. My children live in an affluent household. We will make less than $30,000 this year. To most people, this would not be considered affluent. We are frugal, we live simply, and this is more than enough for us. I consider us affluent because we have so many luxuries, and opportunites, that many others do not have. I sit at one of 2 computers. I drive one of 2 cars. My children all have their own beds to sleep in. We can turn on the water and electricity whenever we want. So many, many people do not live like this.


But I think affluence comes with responsibility. We as Americans have bought into the notion of self sufficiency to the point that we have neglected community. Many of us don't even know our neighbor's names. We have traded our front porches for backyard pools, and lawns that require riding lawn mowers! This anonymity among people of our own communities gives us an artificial distance, and helped insulate us from worrying about anybody's sufferings other than our own.
I just wrote about the plight in Appalachia, and I think it serves to illustrate my point in this case as well. The central Appalachian counties are amont the poorest in the nation, despite being promised fortune and good jobs from the coal companies. We affluent people use the coal to power our homes that has been raped from their land. Homes near mountaintop removal sites often decrease by as much as 90%. These homes and land are often the only assets these folks have, and have been part of their heritage for generations. Our actions as affluent consumers effect the poorest communities the most. We have a duty to stand up for the poorest of our citizens whose voices are not making out of the mountains. We are implicated in their plight when we flip on our lights. We must demand action, demand alternatives, and rally to the cause of those who cannot.




One of the biggest reasons I decided to go green was not for myself, but for the implications my actions had on those with less power than I. Fisherman who lose their livelihoods because of dead zones in our oceans. Children who suffer from allergies and asthma at unprecedented rates due to toxic chemicals in our homes. People starving in third world countries because of the increasing food prices. Families affected by the dirty practices of coal companies. I don't know about you, but I can't make a decision without thinking about these things first. I am not alone in this world, and my decisions are the only thing I can control. It's a powerful thing to be able to make a choice that collectively can force change.

End Mountaintop Removal-NOW

I have been trying to collect my thoughts and deep emotions about coal in this region for weeks. It is sometimes so difficult to put down in print, what you feel deep in your gut, but here goes. Over at Crunchy Chicken, the topic has been politics, and apparently the obvious choice for President if you care for the environment, is Obama. Yesterday Mr. Obama made a stop here in our small town. He stopped and chatted, drank a vanilla milk shake, shook some hands and then moved on to his scheduled stop in the next county over. The topic in the media today is his "lipstick" comment, and the sexist implications of it against Sarah Palin. Totally lost in the mix, was his obvious effort to win the votes of those in this community that are deeply tied to the coal industry. He spoke of "clean coal" technology, and how he believed in the good it would do for our economy and energy independence crisis. What I don't understand is why NOBODY is taking him to task on this issue. Coal is not clean, it can never be clean, and we need to run FAR from it. In fact, strip mining of coal, aka BLOWING UP THE MOUNTAIN, is the single most important environmental issue of our generation. Forget the polar bears, forget global warming. People are dying, children are wheezing, air quality is declining, and we are losing our mountains in Appalachia. The water, the forests, and the rich land are lost in and around the over 470 mountains that have been erased from the southeast mountain range in the last 2 decades. (imagine an area the size of Delaware!) If you think that this is only an extreme way to mine coal, and rarely used, you are dead wrong. In fact more than 70 percent of coal mined in the US comes from strip mining. It's cheaper, faster, and takes less man power. McCain is no different on this issue. The environment will suffer under either of these men as our President. Once these mountains are blown up to get to the coal seams, the extra rock and debris has to be disposed of. As a result, nearly 10,000 "valley fills" have completely buried over 700 miles of healthy streams have been and thousands more have been damaged. These headwaters are an intricate system, that lead to the ocean and provide the drinking water for millions of Americans, and yet so many of us have no idea what atrocities are happening.


The story that isn't being told is that these communitites that have been promised millions of dollars in taxes to enrich their schools, and 100s-1000s of jobs for their families, have been instead poisoned, watched their home values decline dramatically, and their schools and towns become the worst ones in the country. Coal Powered Plants are the single largest sources of the big four pollutants: 35% CO2 carbon dioxide, 37% Hg mercury, 23% of NOx Nitrogen Oxides, and 67% of SO2 sulfur Dioxides. The fact is that these rural peoples are under attack, but it affects ALL Americans. We almost ALL use this coal when we flip on our lights, heat our water, and read our emails. The link on my sidebar will show you how linked you are to mountaintop removal. Distance does not negate responsibility. To top it all off, this "clean coal" technology is untested, and is the "clean coal" plants are receiving air permits to pump out dozens of pounds of mercury into the air. Apparently our children are safe with a little mercury in their lungs and water.
Furthermore, the testing and regulation is often overlooked in our rural areas. I can attest to how under regulated this area actually is! My husband used to monitor ground water for gas stations and other petroleum sites to make sure they were up to federal code. When we decided to move our family to this area for the opportunity it gave us for sustainability and simplicity of life, he had an interview for a similar job, and we assumed that he would be able to find another job in this specialized area. After all, these are FEDERAL regulations. Unfortunately, the truth is that no one regulates this area, so no one complies. No regulation means no one is paying for monitoring, because they don't need to be accountable. This is notoriously true as well for these coal companies.


This is such an important topic, and our political system is stifling this extremely important issue, so we can sling mud about candidates, their misspeaks, and their personal lives. I challenge you all to take the pledge to end mountaintop removal. Blog about it, spread the word, and make it an issue you care about. I don't like either of our choices. I do believe I am voting for a third party this year.....

Below are some websites, and well written essays on the environmental plight connected to coal. Read them, and be outraged.
http://www.grist.org/news/maindish/2006/02/16/reece/
http://www.coalriverwind.org/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/29/AR2008022903390.html
http://www.samsva.org/?p=80#more-80
http://www.ilovemountains.org/
http://www.appvoices.org/

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Effective Eco Actions-Laundry

Our next most frequent chore is Laundry. Some of you nuts out there enjoy laundry as some sort of therapuetic excercise...I do not! However, I will say that after we purchased my ultra energy and water effecient front loaders, it is somewhat more tolerable:) The rule of thumb here is that if your washing machine is less than 10 years old, do everything you can to make it eco friendly until you're ready to purchase a new one. For example, if you have a top loader that is in working condition, keep leaks in check, wash with cold water, and use only the amount of water you need per load. If, however, that washing machine is older than 10 yrs, you will save a significant amount of money, water and energy by upgrading to a front loader. Recycle your old one, and move to the green side! Use an eco-friendly detergent, wash in cold water, and line dry when possible.




Appliances that get recycled at a scrap metal place, are going to be fed to a giant shredder large enough to shred a car into small pieces . The pieces are then run through a magnet to pull out iron-containing metals, while the non-ferrous metal, such as aluminum, is separated out by an eddy current (the wonders of science at work). If there is plastic insulation, it is not recyclable, but you don't need to worry about removing those parts; they will become the shredded "fluff" left over after the metals are separated. Refrigerators, or appliances with coolant in them, need to be handled by a liscensed handler, check Earth 911 for someone in your area.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A new place to shop


A worldofgood.com was just launched yesterday by eBay. Go take a look, you're really in for a treat! It features handmade and fair trade items from all over the globe, with bios of the actual designers and craftspeople. Think etsy, with an eco-friendly and person friendly slant.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Effective Eco Actions-Water Usage


As a mama going green, we often wonder which choices to make that will be the most effective and friendly to the earth. Cloth vs disposable, hand wash vs dishwasher, clothesline vs dryer, and on and on! It can be a bit overwhelming, so I thought I'd start a series this week tackling some of the most common decisions we face day to day, and examining which choices will make the biggest impact on the environment. I wanted to start out with our household water usages.


Photo taken by Hypergurl


First lets start with the most frequent chore in my household, Dishes! Over at Mom Goes Green, Doreen examined the long held notion that washing dishes by hand would use less water than an automatic dishwasher. But we find out that this is simply NOT true! Especially with the ultra efficient dishwashers out there, the amount of water usage is actually only a sixth, and the energy only 1/2! Now, it's possible if you are just 2 people in a household, that the responsible handwasher would be more efficient than running the dishwasher. However, with a 6 person family like mine, we fill the dishwasher to the brim at least once a day, and handwashing is just simply not efficient. Glad I don't have to have eco-guilt about this one!

We not only use water and energy when we wash our dishes though. We also use DETERGENT. If you have not switched to a non-toxic and non-polluting kind yet, SWITCH! The automatic dish detergents are the only products still allowed to contain phosphates. These are proven to kill fish, and produce dead zones in water ways by spurring algae to overgrow and depleting oxygen. Also, many conventional cleaning products have surfactants that are petroleum based, do not biodegrade for a very long time, and pollute our water supply. Safe choices we have used with success, listed in order of preference:

Shaklee's Get Clean Automatic Dish Detergent
Ecover Tablets
BioKleen Dish Powder

Join us tomorrow as we tackle more household water uses, and how to be the most effective with your eco-concience.