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Stories and green tips related to nature, adventure, placemaking, and food systems, written by a beginning farmer/gardener and seasoned sustainability educator who loves to grow, cook, ferment, and eat local and ecologically happy food.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

For Small Trips, Make an Even Smaller Impact

When venturing out on short, quick trips to pick something up (from a nearby friend's house, from the market, the coffee shop, etc.), consider riding your bike, rather than driving.

This afternoon for instance, my sister needed her science book from my dad's house a few blocks away. My mom was all set to drive her there, but I insisted that I ride my bike over. I did, and had a quite refreshing time--and I saved some gasoline and clean air!


P.S. This week at my school is green week--yes, we're a week late. But today was spare the air day, and I rode my bike (free bagel!). Actually, I've ridden my bike 6 out of 7 of the past school days (last Friday looked cloudy and I didn't want to ride in the rain)--this year's record for me, I believe. I will be tallying my bike-riding days here on my blog. Though it's a bit chilly in the mornings, the refreshing ride brings energy and a feeling of accomplishment.

5 days (I rode to school and back)
x 3.48 miles (distance to school and back)
+ 2.31 miles (I rode a slightly different route today & was given a ride home)
= 19.71 total miles (for school purposes since April 20)

(I really should get one of those gizmos that records miles ridden...if you add my jaunt to my dad's this evening, .76 miles, the total since April 20 is 20.47 miles)

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"Get a bicycle. You will not regret it. If you live."
--Mark Twain

Saturday, April 25, 2009

"The Road to Climate Prosperity" eFair 2009

Imagine living in a completely sustainable society where the waste is reused, where energy and necessities come from within without exploitation of the land or natural resources. A 21st century society with the cars and airplanes and infrastructure we are used to, only greener. Gasoline becomes an antiquity, like candlestick holders are to us now, and clean fuel from plants, not fossil fuels, dominates. Imagine that in this society which could be taking place years from now, global warming is considered a scare we came through because of innovation, open-mindedness, and compassion for future generations. Don’t you want your children and grandchildren to live in this society? Or would you rather they live with catastrophic storms, a hotter climate that kills scores each time summer rolls around, world wars over the remaining natural resources used to fuel society, and a deep-set hatred for us, the generation of man that did nothing to stop global warming while we still had the chance? I don’t think so.

On Saturday, April 25, 2009, at my high school, the city’s second annual Environmental Fair took place. Booths with interesting facts, pledges to refuse water bottles (if you signed, you got a sunflower!), and environmental games for children lined a walkway. I didn't get a chance to see all of the booths, but one neat one had clothes and accessories made from old jeans and newspapers. Around 12 noon when I arrived, hotdogs, sodas, and popcorn were being sold, and General Jones, a band from San Francisco, was setting up. I signed the pledge (although I’d made that pledge to myself a year or so ago), and sat with my family at a lunch table, waiting for the keynote speaker, Dr. Marc Weiss, UN advisor and director of the Climate Prosperity project.

Bill Radulovich, principal at Walnut Grove Elementary School, came over to where we were sitting and said hello to my dad and step-mom. He asked what my name was and asked if he knew me. I told him yes, that I was in the STAND Club. Our club had hosted a screening of the film Fuel in March, the same film they were showing at the eFair at 1:00. Radulovich asked me if I’d introduce the film, and handed me a script. Sure, why not.

Radulovich then megaphoned everyone onto the grass to listen to the band, whose snare drum had just arrived. The attendees migrated toward the grassy knoll in the center of the campus, which is the demilitarized zone between the upper and lower classmen seating areas during a typical lunchtime on campus.

After the band played a song (they were pretty cool—interestingly, one of the members graduated from my high school in 2000), Radulovich spoke. This year’s eFair, he said, is under the title, “The Road to Climate Prosperity.” Last year’s “Flip That Switch” eFair had been in celebration of becoming the first ever solar school district. Each school site now has an eCoach, which Radulovich had instigated. The eCoaches help the schools save money by cutting back on energy consumption. Radulovich thanked Peak Energy Coalition for their green computing help within the district’s various school sites. The green computers have helped saved the district money and energy. This year’s eFair, Radulovich said, was in celebration of the first ever meeting of a council to discuss “climate prosperity,” which took place Friday the 24th in the Silicon Valley. Then Radulovich introduced Dr. Marc Weiss.

Dr. Marc Weiss, in a vibrant blue shirt with a gray blazer and sunglasses, a goatee covering his chin, began by talking about what is needed to save “human civilization and animal and plant life.” Appealing to the adults more than the children present, he said citizen activism. But then he turned to the children and younger people (a group of young girls were sitting front row and he looked toward them) and said we just need to think a little differently. Younger people have less set-in-stone ideas about the world and are better at doing this, he explained. Weiss gave an example of thinking differently: he’s been staying in one of the hotels downtown, and on this visit he, for the first time, asked himself where the leftover soap in hotels goes. When you go to a hotel on the first day, there’s a bar of soap and you unwrap it and use it. And then the next day there’s a new soap. What do they do with the first soap? They throw it away and it ends up in the landfill, one of the girls in the front answered. Yes, they do, he said. (I’ll take this opportunity to encourage you not to use the individually-wrapped soaps, shampoos, and shower caps they offer because they are a huge waste—bring your own!) And that shows that even though he’s an environmentally-conscious person, our society has so ingrained within us the acceptance of things the way they are that we often don’t think about where things go once they’re no longer within our possession. He called it the “mentality that’s killing us.” And that’s really true. We are so disconnected from nature, from the way our ancestors treated the Earth, that we waste things and throw things away without any twinge or question from our conscience. We no longer do things according to nature. We no longer have a balanced cycle with the Earth, and our waste and impact is increasing as the population of the world increases.

Weiss then talked about an innovative concept that Walmart’s thought up that has saved them 5% of their energy: they’ve started putting doors on the refrigerated sections, like they do in the frozen sections. How incredibly genius of them! Again, it shows that we just need to think differently and turn away from that idea that we can just waste and waste and that that makes us richer. By having a mindset like this, we continue to disregard the environment and pollute it, polluting ourselves and our atmosphere, and creating a worse climate problem than we have at the moment.

Weiss continued with the three phases of human civilization. First, he said, was “pre-industrial sustainability,” which didn’t come about because people were brilliant and enlightened to the idea of being sustainable, but because that is how nature works. Nature is sustainable. Our ancestors lived as one with the land and nature because they were still connected to their origin. But as man was able to find time for leisure and life beyond the basic necessities, he began to feel dominated by Mother Nature. And because we can be an ignorant, self-centered race, we looked for a way to make things easy for ourselves at the expense of nature. We started burning fossil fuels. And that brought us to the second phase, the one we’re in now: the industrial revolution and unsustainable world. The way he put it, it was as though mankind turned to Mother Nature and said “ha! I’ve conquered you!” We suddenly held the reins and we were free. No longer did we answer to Mother Nature. We had abundance through our exploits and we grew rich. And suddenly, being wasteful was a good thing because it reflected our abundance. That created the very mentality that environmentalists are trying to dissolve in themselves and in society. The year 1900 began the global rise in temperatures, and that’s actually quite fascinating; after thousands of years in phase one, phase two takes roughly a century to begin destroying our planet and atmosphere.


What’s worse, the United States leads the world in consumerism and waste. Though we make up only 4% of the world’s population, we consume 25% of the world’s resources. We’re imperialistic and we enjoy using things up and then discarding them after we’re finished. We find ways to get what we want; in our society, you can buy whatever you need. Whatever you need, whenever you need it, and you can guarantee it will come within a reasonable amount of time. That’s quite a modern concept, actually, and if you look at it from a historical perspective, it’s quite incredible—almost ridiculously so. But we rely on this, and this very thing fuels our crisis. For, each time we decide we need that designer jacket, or that new bike, or the newest Webkinz toy, we drive to the store and buy it. But how did it get to the store? Someone drove it there from a warehouse. Well, where was it before the warehouse? A factory somewhere. So someone drove the thing you want to buy from the warehouse to the store. But what if the item came from overseas? Then it was shipped across the ocean and then taken by train to trucks to the warehouse. That’s a lot of fuel being used up for someone to have a pair of shoes instantly, or to be able to go home right away and play with the bike or stuffed animal. And it seems to make the true cost of the item much greater. What if the items we bought cost the amount of fuel it took to import them? What if each time we purchased something we were told the amount of carbon emissions created from the transportation of that particular item? Do you think it would even make us stop and think?

And scarier than that, the world strives to be like us in that regard. Perhaps not Germany and other European countries, but the developing nations want to have the same economic prosperity we in America have. They want their own car and their own house and their own backyard, and why shouldn’t they? But they look to us as leaders and see our consumerism, our gas-guzzling Hummers, our instant access to the latest things—all of which include our dependency on oil—and they want that because it appears prosperous. And it is, until a point. There will come a time when the wars will only increase, the fighting will only become worse, and our fighting will all be over oil and water (not to mention the catastrophe global warming will wreak upon us). There are not enough resources to support an entire world population of people like United States citizens. And remember, we’re only 4% of the world. Imagine the damage even 50% would have on our Earth. Any hope of stopping global warming disappears when the entire world enters the picture as replicas of our current United States population. We can’t let our lifestyle influence the developing countries of today. But before we can tell these nations not to be like that, we have got to change our own mindset and lighten our consumerism and our dependency on oil. And we have to help them see the benefits of having a green society. Fortunately, there are people who are helping developing nations “green print” and use green technology. But we still have a problem.


There are many people who support the efforts to fight global warming, and many have changed their mindsets, as well as the mindsets of those around them, to be more sustainable. But what about the roughly 97% who don’t care? Most people just don’t care about the Earth, and, as Weiss said, scaring them into caring isn’t going to work. If we could convince everyone to care about the Earth, then we would all be “better off, healthier, have a higher quality of life, and have peace.” To fix this, we have to put ourselves back in balance with our living Earth. Her systems are off because of us, and we have to fix it. If we do nothing and leave the problem to the Earth to fix, we give our children and grandchildren a deadly Earth vastly different from the beautiful one we live on now. So we must fix it. But the problem is that because global warming cannot be seen, felt, or touched, people don’t see the need to change. By the time global warming can be felt and by the time they realize that they need to act, it will be too late and it will be in motion, unstoppable. So it brings us to the third phase, the one we have yet to live through, but hopefully get a chance to: industrial sustainability. There is one thing that everyone on the planet can agree on, Weiss said, and that is that “we all care about our own livelihood and well-being and the well-being of loved ones and of future generations.” That’s how we’ll get to the third phase, along with “innovation, efficiency, conservation, and use and reuse of all natural and human resources.” We remind people that we borrow this Earth from our children and that we have to respect it in order to give them the life we have, the life on Earth that is worth living.


Weiss ended his speech with the proposition that our town become a pilot for climate prosperity and sustainability. It brings economic development, jobs, and a better quality of life. He asked how many of us want to become a city with climate prosperity. All hands on the grassy knoll were raised.

After Dr. Weiss spoke, everyone headed toward the multipurpose room to watch a screening of the film Fuel, a documentary about America’s addiction to oil and the story of biodiesel, an alternative energy source that can run in a diesel engine without any modifications. Radulovich introduced me, and I gave the introduction to the film. Mr. Little, a math teacher at my school, high-fived me as I walked past after speaking. Then we all sat back, relaxed, and watched the two-hour film.


It was my second time seeing the film, and it was just as riveting and informational as the first time. The story is about Josh Tickell, author of Biodiesel America and the guy who drove his van around the country on biodiesel. The movie addresses everything from the Iraq war and 9/11'ss link to our oil dependency, to the 2008 news about the problems with biofuel, to the solution of how biofuel is good and how gasoline and oil dependency are really, really bad. The film was shown at the Sundance Film Festival and won the Audience Award and had 11 standing ovations, the most a film has ever had at Sundance. It is being shown in very few places, but hopefully will eventually make it to theaters or be available on DVD. It’s an important story with innovative, necessary solutions to our current problems. If you get a chance, I highly recommend seeing it.

And since my blog is beyond the point of quick reading, I will leave you with something I wrote in the barbershop after the eFair:

The first step in changing the direction our energy problem and dependency problem is heading toward is to change the public, social, and political mindset. The public must see the importance of stopping global warming. It isn’t just an environmental issue; it is a moral, humanitarian issue, an issue of compassion toward our children and grandchildren. Our social and political prejudices toward what we associate with environmentalism need to change. It isn’t only for long-haired, barefooted radicals. And it isn’t an issue of which political party supports it. It is an issue that we have created as a species, and it is one that will kill us if we don’t stop classifying it as something we just can’t or won’t do for whatever reason and pushing it aside as a conspiracy or as something that will only damage the oil companies and take jobs and economic opportunities away. It is humanity, and we, along with the rest of the Earth’s inhabitants are teetering on the edge of destruction. Our decision will either throw us a safety rope from which we can slowly be pulled to security, or it will shove us onto the rocks below where we will all face the consequences, along with those who come after us.

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For more information about Dr. Marc Weiss and the Climate Prosperity Project, check out the website at http://www.climateprosperity.com/.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Earth Day - April 22

With the 39th official Earth Day on tomorrow morning's horizon, it is a very special time for environmentalists and those who appreciate the Earth. It is a time to celebrate our planet and start anew for a better tomorrow and a more sustainable future.

I see it as a chance to make goals to reduce our environmental footprints, and to increase our literal footprints upon the natural areas we cherish. It makes me want to venture out on more hikes and go backpacking and actually be with the natural world that I care for.


(Image credit: http://www.dnrec.delaware.gov/)

So I say that Earth Day be treated like New Years, with resolutions and chances to start fresh on our impacts and lifestyles. Choose something, anything, that you can change to lessen your carbon or environmental footprint on this Earth that we are celebrating tomorrow. Write it down and start living what you want to see.

And check your local park listings to see if any Earth Day celebrations or clean-ups are happening nearby this weekend. Or host your own!

I'll be out celebrating my own birthday tomorrow by watching Disney's Earth--but I will also be celebrating the Earth by riding my bike to and from school, bringing my reusable lunchbox and water bottle, and by reminding everyone of the special importance of the day!

Have a Happy Earth Day!

P.S. Happy Birthday, John Muir!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Getting Involved in Local Government

One of the best ways to see your ideas come to life in your hometown is to join a committee or commission on which you can give feedback and be a voice for the environment. I'm the youth representative for the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee for my city, and I try to represent the concerns and ideas of my peers in the community. It's fascinating to see how government works and how ideas can take form in documents and then become realities.

We're working on a Bicycle Pedestrian Master Plan which will set the policies and standards we want as a city for current and future projects that relate to pedestrians and bicyclists in the community. The master plan also hopes to implement education, encouragement, enforcement, and of course, actual facilities, to encourage the use of alternative transportation. There is also a component of linking the city's roads together with uniform bicycle lanes and paths to create an easier way to get around the city. I joined the committee because I enjoy cycling and walking around town. I also ride my bike to school when I can. There's always room for improvement in the paths and connections between sidewalks, bike paths, etc. and I enjoy being a part of that environment that can decide which errors should be prioritized to be fixed for better accessibility and safety. I'm also able to raise concerns regarding accessibility to the schools, since I'm a student who uses the facilities and roads to reach them.

I also wanted to bring my environmental stewardship to the table and be able to help make decisions that are best for the future of sustainability. Of course, cycling and walking as modes of transportation and commuting are in themselves environmentally-friendly and so the committee itself is heading for a greener community that encourages this, but I also am constantly wearing the lens of what's best for the natural environment. For example, at tonight's meeting we looked at whether or not we should recommend a change to a plan that would involve removing oak trees in order to widen a road. I wasn't the only member who was opposed to removing trees, among other things we didn't like about the change, and so we voted against supporting it. There was also a point made at a previous meeting, one which I was unable to attend, about the pavement type for a creekside trail. One of the options was an eco-friendly option. I circled it on the printout (that was on reused paper, of course!) as one that I would consider my number one, having not heard the insights on the other pavement types yet. Unfortunately, I could not bring my ideas to that meeting. But you get the picture.

So what can be taught from this anecdote is that getting involved in local government is a good way to get your opinion voiced, even as a student or young person. Many committees want youth representatives who can bring the information back and forth between students and the city. Look online at your city's website or contact someone who works there to see if there are any open positions on committees related to the environment. It also looks really good on college aps to have had experience with local government :)

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"The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders."
--Edward Abbey

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Buying Used

The word "used" tends to have a connotation of bad, old, broken, or gross. But it doesn't have to be. Consignment boutiques sell used clothing, and oftentimes the boutiques are upscale and sell only lightly used, in-style clothing. In my hometown, there's one called Savvy Seconds. According to their website, they "accept only the highest quality, brand name merchandise for consignment." Not all used clothing has to be old or out of style.

However, there is an upside to shopping at those funky, old-style thrift shops. You can find unique clothes that no one else will have. My favorite thrift store is on Haight Street in San Francisco, which was made famously funky by hippies in the 1960s. The store is called Held Over, and it has clothes from all over, but most prominently from the 1950s, '60s, '70s, and '80s. It's a very random place. Most of the stores in the Haight sell interesting, fun, and sometimes over-the-top clothes. I can always find something interesting.

Buying used is a part of the "R" cycle--reduce, reuse, recycle--by buying used, you reduce the demand for production of new clothing, which takes up energy, and when you're finished with clothes, you can always recycle them into the consignment shops or Good Will stores.

Find the cute--or crazy--boutiques nearest you and give them a try. You'll be surprised at how fun they can be, all while reducing your environmental footprint. If it's close to your house, ride your bike there or take public transportation and reduce your footprint even more!

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"The goal is not to be better than the other man, but to be better than your previous self."
--Hindu proverb

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