Thursday, December 17, 2009
I wasn't going to troll for votes, but then I saw that other people were totally doing it. Okay, technically speaking, Microbiologist XX didn't TELL you how to vote for, but come on! She totally wants you to vote for her.
Plus, I just looked at the stats and right now, I only have ONE vote. That's just wrong. Microbiologist XX and this Massimo dude are totally raking it in. And yeah, I GUESS Microbiologist has a kind of funny comment about falling out of a sailboat, but you know it's kind of like, dude, clumsy much?
And Massimo's comment is just about how people used to call him Moose. Well, people used to shorten Ruchira to Cher but you don't hear ME whining about it. I say quitcherbitchin MOOSE!
So dude. Help me take down those two geeky scientists types. Go to VWXYNot RIGHT NOW and register a vote for my snarktastic brilliance.
Because if the holidays are about anything, they are about winning.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
I am happy to concede that I was wrong. I have enjoyed spending time with friends and family, going to holiday parties, listening to Christmas music, and looking at lighting displays.
And in some ways I've enjoyed all these things even more because I haven't had to deal with the stresses of gift buying and card writing.
I wouldn't want to do this every year. I do love buying gifts for my friends and family. Finding the perfect present.
But it's a relief to know that one can still enjoy the winter season even without all the stuff.
Monday, December 14, 2009
But over at the Big Green Purse, Diane has an awesome carnival related to climate change. Read a little about what the amazing Green Moms have to say.
And for some irreverent dirt on Copenhagen, check out The Thistle's series on the climate talks.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Coconut oil as deodorant = bad
Coconut oil + baking soda as deodorant= good
Coconut oil as body moisturizer= awesome
Coconut oil as hair conditioner= no frizz!
All in all, I'm pretty happy. The baking soda and coconut oil combo are working pretty well for me although I have yet to find a good way to apply the baking soda.
And I'm very much enjoying the coconut oil moisturizer. My feet have become super soft in just a week. I was worried that I would smell overly of coconut, but I find that the smell dissipates fairly quickly.
I liked the conditioner as well, but a certain person who will remain nameless claims that it makes me smell like a FOB. Because it's okay to dress Indian, but God forbid one should smell Indian!
Thursday, December 10, 2009
My goals were lofty, and my determination was strong. I would go the entire winter without turning on the heater in my apartment.
And lo! I did succeed. I went a whole winter never turning on the central heating, and only turning on my space heater a handful of times for a couple of hours a piece. The Freeze Yer Buns champion trophy was mine. (There's no trophy? Then why do I have a sculpture of Crunchy's frozen butt on my mantle?)
And then I moved.
And it turned out?
Places that aren't LA are bloody cold!!
It turns out, that Freezing Yer Buns is SO MUCH HARDER when it is actually FREEZING. Or even when it is you know, 10-15 degrees above freezing like it generally is in Northern California these days.
I do not like it, not one bit.
So, I have become an epic failure at freezing my buns. I have the best of intentions, but, but ... heat is so warm and lovely! Without heat, I get lethargic. I can't do work, I can't play, I can't do anything but think
WHY IS IT SO FRICKIN FREEZING?!! I MISS SUMMER!!!!
So, um, I suck. But conversely, my buns are nice and toasty.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
I've been doing holiday cards probably since high school. There are about 100 people on my list, and I include personal messages in each card. It's my way of reaching out to my loved ones and saying, "Hey, I'm thinking about you, even if we haven't seen each other in a while."
However, this year, what with the wandering and the lack of money, they're just not happening.
But I've been thinking, maybe, perhaps, of doing a holiday e-card. They're free, they're easy, and they don't involve using paper or mail or any of that junk. On the other hand, an e-card just doesn't say "I'm thinking about you," in quite the same way a snail mail card does.
So I'm torn. What do you guys think? Are any of you doing e-cards? Do you see them as a good eco-option? Or do you think the holidays are the time to reach out with actual pen and paper?
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Bad eco gifts? Is there such a thing, you may ask? Yes, as much as it pains me to admit it, there are.
Diva cups. Don't buy your 15 year old niece one for Christmas. She won't appreciate it. Really. Please. Don't do it. And DON'T EVEN THINK about buying a used one!
CFL light bulbs. This is the gift that keeps on boring. Let's think a little more creative, shall we?
And also, no reusable grocery bags, please. Once upon a time, you could maybe get away with getting people a cool reusable bag. But at this point most people have reusable bags coming out of their ears. Stay away.
Carbon offsets. Buying offsets for yourself are a way to perhaps ease some guilt. Buying them for someone else is just reminding them of their eco-sinner ways. Stick to donating to an environmental non-profit in their name.
Baking soda. Yes, you can do a million things with it. But it also costs less than a dollar. And everyone has a box in the fridge.
Anyone else have some bad idea holiday gifts? Or alternatively, think I'm wrong about my bad idea gifts? Let me know!
Monday, December 7, 2009
So instead, let's talk more about beauty products!!
Because, let me tell you, after the whole coconut oil experiment, I am suddenly DYING to try new fun eco-nutty things. I go around trolling the internets wondering what to try next:
Apple-cider vinegar toner?
Do I dare try olive oil on my face?
Can I make my own chapstick?
Baking soda in my hair? Ew. No.
I would love to get to a place where my beauty products consisted of all natural products made from an incredibly small number of ingredients. I'm not sure how likely that is right now ... I still use Neutrogena face wash and Kiehl's toner and moisturizer. (There's no such thing as a natural SPF moisturizer, is there?) And because I had so many face issues last year, I'm not dying to futz with that. On the other hand, I do love using coconut oil as moisturizer....
In other daily deodorant news (I know, you've been watching this space breathlessly) I tried the coconut oil mixed with baking soda with good results. I'm going to keep at it for a while. If it doesn't work out, I'll move on to the crystal.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
The coconut oil did not hold up yesterday. I mean, it seemed to work just fine for about five hours or so. But it doesn't have staying power over the whole day. (I still think it works better than Tom's, which I don't think even worked for five hours.)
Although, I am sold on it as a body moisturizer. I put some on my legs yesterday morning, and this morning my legs still feel super soft.
So, now I may try mixing the coconut oil with baking soda. I am really hoping that this doesn't make a weird paste. I'm envisioning a situation much like Ross with the leather pants and the powder and cream.
I'll keep reporting back. But at least I can still use this whole jar as a moisturizer!
Friday, December 4, 2009
Thursday, December 3, 2009
And the emails released were incredibly damaging both for climate science and the climate scientists involved.
Now, I'm not a hard scientist. So when Real Climate explains this email by Phil Jones:
"I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline."by noting that:
"The ‘trick’ is just to plot the instrumental records along with reconstruction so that the context of the recent warming is clear. Scientists often use the term “trick” to refer to a “a good way to deal with a problem”, rather than something that is “secret”, and so there is nothing problematic in this at all."
I'm pretty much willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Although, scientists, if you actually use the term "trick" to mean "way to solve a problem," you ... really shouldn't. It's not jargon, it's just stupid. If it ain't a rabbit appearing from your top hat, it's not a trick.
So, I'm willing to cut the climate scientists some slack and acknowledge that "insider language" that may look damaging to an outsider could very well have been used in private emails destined for colleagues.
But there isn't really any good way to explain why Professor Jones tried to delete emails that were requested under the Freedom of Information Act. And while Real Climate tries to defend some of the less than polite emails by noting, "Gravity isn’t a useful theory because Newton was a nice person," I'm not sure that that's such a great excuse.
Indeed, a mere couple weeks before the ClimateGate blow out, another blow out took place over the internet, in which Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus of the Breakthrough Institute contested that Joe Romm of Climate Progress had repeatedly resorted to McCarthy tactics to smear anyone who disagreed with Romm at all about climate change or the policy implications thereof.
As a frequent reader of climate blogs, I have to say, it is a little shocking how much these blogs do descend into ad hominem attacks on fellow colleagues. The unprofessional impoliteness is not limited to private emails, and in any case, as everyone knows, in the digital age, nothing is private. I get that all scientists do not get along. I understand that science is competitive, and I do not expect the world's top scientists to be singing "Kumbaya" and holding hands with each other. But the lack of professional courtesy is out of control.
If there is something to be taken away from this PR disaster it's this:
Nothing sent over the internet is ever private.
Professional discourtesy will come back to bite you in the ass.
There is a need for transparency in science.
And the biggest take away:
Science is political.
It's useless to deny it. There is no such thing as completely objective science, at least not in a highly charged and uncertain science like climate science. And the sooner we start acknowledging this, the better.
For a brilliant analysis of ClimateGate, check out Mike Hulme's op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
No Christmas cards, no presents, probably no tree. Nothing.
I'd like to say it's because I'm being a good non-consumer, but it's really because I simply cannot afford it this year. Christmas usually costs me around $1000. I don't have $1000 to spare, hence no Christmas.
I'd like to say that having no money has woken me up to the true spirit of Christmas, but the truth is, not participating in the cards/presents orgy kind of means that actually, I'm just kind of ignoring the holiday season. Le sigh. Does that mean I have to consume in order to appreciate the holidays? That's a pretty freaking awful thought.
But what is a non-consumptive Christmas for a secular person? I guess one could say it's about friends and family, but I think every day of your life is about your friends and family.
It could be about Christmas music. I do love listening to carols.
Or about strolling the neighborhood looking at Christmas displays. Although given that the displays are an example of someone else's consumerism, I'm not sure it's fair to call them non-consumptive.
It could be about Christmas cookies ... except that eating cookies is literal consumption.
I guess the truth is, I'm not really SURE what Christmas is about without the consumption. But this month, I hope to find out.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Oh, also I've been a wandering nomad. After spending two months in New York, I spent a week in Chicago. And now I'm in the SF Bay Area for a couple weeks before I go to LA.
So let's see. I'm in California. I'm applying for full time jobs. Which is basically a full time feat. Meanwhile, I'm trying to do some writing privately on a couple things I have going. A novel that I've been mulling over for the best part of five years.
What else? I made the turkey for our Thanksgiving dinner for twenty. An impressive feat for the girl who two years ago couldn't cook a turkey burger on a Foreman, don'tchathink? I also made a vegetarian stuffing and cauliflower gratin. The stuffing was actually the biggest headache. I wanted to use store bought bread stuffing mix, because I just did not have time to sit there and toast and cut up loaves of bread. Big mistake. I had to go to four stores in search of stuffing which didn't contain high fructose corn syrup.
And this week I've been just eating left overs! How very No Waste of me. But really it's because I'm too lazy to go grocery shopping.
Anyway. Bay Area bloggers, let's meet up! The rest of you, I love you, and I'm sorry I'm such a bad blog buddy.
Monday, November 2, 2009
There are a lot of people critical of individual action in the name of the environment. It is easy to poke holes, to label people as hypocrites. It is easy to point out that the changes we all make are microscopic drops in oceanic buckets. But none of those critics ever have a better solution. Almost everytime I go to a lecture on climate change, without fail, someone in the audience will ask what they can do about the crisis we face. And almost always, the answer given is, "Well, the truth is there isn't much you can do aside from vote."
How is that helpful?
I remember many years ago when I saw "An Inconvenient Truth." I still remember the combination of fear and helplessness that washed over me. The world as I knew it was coming to an end, and there was nothing I could do about aside from changing a few lightbulbs or considering a Prius. After I saw that movie, I immediately went online and bought a Terrapass. Then I continued to do nothing. For about a year. Because well, there was nothing I could do anyway!
And then one day everything clicked. I realized there was something I *could* do. So, I attempted to do it all. I stopped shopping, I started air drying, I even made my own jam and butter and started taking public transit in Los Angeles of all places. And then I moved to London in order to attain a better grasp of environmental policy issues.
Almost every seasoned environmental social activist knows that none of the changes we make are enough or anywhere near enough. But we also believe that our work creates a ripple effect. It is hard to determine the exact results of social action, especially one as amorphous as the environmental social movement. But it seems to me increasingly clear that the world is growing more environmentally aware. And part of that is due in part to a growing band of environmentalists who are challenging conventional rules on air-drying laundry, increasingly patronizing farmers markets, as well as advocating for a global deal on climate change in Copenhagen. Individual action at home begets slightly more public action which begets large scale activism for international change.
Do we need a global deal on climate change? Yes. Do we need more government investment in renewable energy? Yes. Do we need higher efficiency standards? Yes.
But we need social change to get those things. We need social change to help us maneuver to a new era of renewable energy.
In the movie Who Killed the Electric Car, one of the culprits cited is the American people who were not ready for the electric car. As I drove around the city of LA, I would be haunted by this failure. I'd drop by the library where the only empty parking spot was that reserved for electric cars. I'd drive by my coffee shop and see another empty parking spot labelled "electric vehicle only." The infrastructure was there, but we had not been able to change people's behavior. Of course there were many other reasons for the failure of the electric car, but I believe that this example demonstrates the need for a social movement. We cannot transition to a new era of renewable energy without changing people's behavior.
And that's why this social movement is important. In the end it's not about the plastic bags saved or the reusable coffee mugs used though those are good things to do. It's about the large scale awareness that is gradually being generated. That's why I continue to fight and work to grow this movement.
Yes, this is important.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
- Open 24 hours
- Is super cheap (P.S. New Yorkers, stop complaining about subway fares. $2.25 is a ridiculously cheap price to go anywhere in the city.)
- Nice and roomy (especially compared to the London Tube)
- Kinda dirty
- Difficult to get across town
- Doesn't properly service the East Side
- Still hasn't moved on to smart cards (Though you could also say that is a 'pro' since you know, people argue that London's smart Oyster cards are yet another way of the police monitoring our actions. To which I say, yes, but they are just SO DARN CONVENIENT!)
Monday, October 26, 2009
So I'd like to reiterate that while I think we may have to entirely change our way of life in order to deal with climate change, I also believe strongly in the power of human beings to innovate and adapt. And I don't at all believe our situation is hopeless, nor do I think the great number of changes we may have to make in the future will be all bad. Change is scary, but change is often more scary in theory than practice.
And today it's Monday. A happy Monday!
So instead of depressing all y'all, I am offering some link love to a couple posts I have enjoyed recently. Leela Raina writes "Why I Shouldn't Date an Annex 1 Guy."
And a rebuttal (of sorts) from Fergus Auld on "Why Annex 1 Guys Can Be A Good Date After All," although Fergus doesn't particularly provide a good defense of his American Annex 1 brothers. Maybe *cough* because there isn't one.
Both posts come from the blog "What's With The Climate," a forum for the environmental youth movement on the Indian sub-continent. I interviewed several people from the youth movement for my MSc dissertation, and I have to say that the work youth activists are doing all over the world is truly inspiring. If you're interested in learning more about the youth movement, check out "It's Getting Hot In Here," which is THE website for the international environmental youth movement.
Friday, October 23, 2009
So yes, I met Bill McKibben at a seminar the other day. It was supposed to be a jam-packed event, but then it wasn't, which sucks for the no shows but was awesome for me because I got to ask him a few different questions and then have a short little conversation with him.
I've read "Deep Economy," before, and I have to admit, I've been a little hesitant about Bill McKibben in the past. But I have to tell you that when I met him in person, I was deeply impressed by him.
But I was most impressed with his honesty. I mean I was also depressed by his honesty, so it was sort of a cycle of impressed!/depressed/impressed!/depressed. When I asked him about the critics who say that achieving 350 ppm would be so difficult and result in such rampant unemployment that we simply should not aim for 350, I expected McKibben to offer some false assurances that getting down to 350 would not rock the foundations of the economy. Instead he said that it was a fair criticism. But that he believed the alternative was worse. And that anyone who tells you that responding to climate change is not going to be extremely hard? Is just plain wrong.
And that got me thinking. There is a lot, a lot, a lot of talk on the blogosphere about how we should live simply because it will make us happier. Or that it doesn't really matter whether we believe in climate change because we all can find reasons to "clean up the Earth." Or that any small change can make a difference.
I get where all these bloggers are coming from, I truly do. And to a certain extent, I agree. Yes, I believe that I became happier when I snapped out of my consumeristic mentality. Yes, we can all find reasons to pollute less, consume less, etc. And yes, every small change does make a (small) difference.
I also think it's becoming increasingly obvious that responding to climate change is going to take more than turning your thermostat down a notch, or carpooling.
In fact, I can't think of a single solution to climate change that won't result in the devastation of certain sectors of the economy.
Let me provide you with an example that I have mentioned before. Britain is one of the few countries that will meet its Kyoto Protocol target. Why? Well, because Maggie Thatcher pretty much killed the coal industry.
Now, it's great that Britain is meeting its targets, no question. But the North of England is still not recovered from that devastation that occurred 20 years ago.
Yes, new renewable energy will provide new green jobs. But a coal miner can't become a solar engineer over night. Which means that unless we invest heavily in job-retraining programs and the like, we will be looking at mass unemployment in various sectors. Even if we do invest heavily in job-retraining, we may still be looking at mass unemployment.
I realize that this post is turning into one very depressing post, but I think we probably all need to face up to the fact that combatting climate change may mean massive unemployment. It might mean a serious scale-back in people's creature comforts in the Global North. It will mean that Northern governments will have to funnel a lot of money to the South for adaptation and technology transfer. None of these things are going to be fun for us in the North. Combatting climate change may very well make us less happy. It might involve way more sacrifices than we wanted to make.
Now, I'm not saying any of these things are certain. Of course they are not. It's possible that in 50 years time, I will look at this post and laugh at how bleak I was.
But I think we need to start confronting the possibility that we will have to entirely change our lives to combat climate change.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
This week, further confirmation that the equity issue is going to derail any chance of an agreement comes from the New York Times:
Negotiators have accepted as all but inevitable that representatives of the 192 nations in the talks will not resolve the outstanding issues in the time remaining before the Copenhagen conference opens in December. The gulf between rich and poor nations, and even among the wealthiest nations, is just too wide.
Remember, the United States refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol because the protocol did not limit emissions in India and China.
Now, most of you have probably heard over and over and OVER again about how there is no point for Americans to lower their emissions if China does not because any drop in American emissions will be offset by an increase in Chinese emissions. We have all heard this meme so much, that perhaps it's not surprising to see this FT/Harris poll. According to the poll, 63% of Americans believe that China must lead the way in emissions cuts, and only 1/5 are in favor of offering aid assistance for adaptation from the developed world to the developing world.
I swear, this poll makes me want to cry.
So let me repeat a few points.
Number one, America outstrips China in terms of historical emissions.
Number two, America outstrips China in terms of per capita emissions.
Number three, America outstrips China in terms of luxury versus survival emissions.
Number four, if carbon emissions were calculated correctly* (where carbon emissions are consumed, not where they are produced), America would once again outstrip China in terms of annual emissions. China's emissions are high in part because they are responsible for manufacturing cheap crap Americans CONSUME. They are not high because the Chinese people are cruising the streets of Shanghai in their pink Hummer limos.
The country that absolutely MUST lead the way in cutting emissions is: America.
Until America starts getting serious about cutting emissions, we will have no real global deal.
*I understand that this is a normative statement, but it's my blog.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
And then yesterday, Tom Lauria of the International Bottled Water Association responded writing:
We at IBWA participated in the filming of “Tapped” and were disappointed in how our informative comments were discarded. Do you realize 90% of bottled water companies are small, family-run businesses? According to plastic industry studies of recycling, empty water bottles are the most recycled item in single-stream recycling programs. Blogs like yours should encourage morew recycling and not discourage consumption of water — in any form. Water is fundamentally good for all people. We live in a busy world and have bottled water there when you want, regardless of what you are doing, is always a plus. If people are going to a vending machine, what should they buy? What item in the vending machine is not made of plastic? Since it all must be recycled, why pick on the healthiest beverage available, namely bottled water?
Oh boy. There are SO MANY things wrong with that statement, that it's hard to even know where to begin. But perhaps my favorite is his statement, "90% of bottled water companies are small, family-run businesses."
Oooooh, Tom, you know, I'm a girl who is a sucker for stats, and you totally NAILED me with that sexy, sexy statistic.
Except, number one, we don't know where the stat comes from. Tom doesn't link to a source, so we don't know where his data comes from. A quick Google search reveals that this is a line that the IBWA uses A LOT. In front of Congress, on their website, on YouTube videos. But I could never find the statistic cited anywhere unrelated to the IBWA.
Number two, it's stupid. So what? Most marijuana sellers could call their business a small "family-run" affair, too.
Number three, it's deliberately misleading. 90% of bottled water companies might be small family-owned businesses, but they might only account for 1% of the market share. Meanwhile, the 10% big businesses may well account for 99% of the market share. That's like Minute Maid saying that the lemonade industry is mostly small and family-run because there are thousands of kids with lemonade stands.
So just to clear up the confusion, of the top 10 bottled water brands in 2007, one was owned by Coca Cola, one by Pepsi, and SEVEN by Nestle Waters (a division of Nestle.) Only one was privately owned: Crystal Geyser.
The point is while Tom would like us to believe that the bottled water industry is really just a bunch of mom and pop outfits, that is not the case. But even if it were the case, it's not a real justification for supporting the bottled water industry. However, it is a nice illustration of why we should always be wary when industries trot out statistics, because stats can be spun in deliberately misleading ways.
Protect your right to water. Drink tap.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
This was a question I was asked recently, and for me, the answer was a no-brainer.
In fact, in my opinion, the greatest challenge we face at COP-15 is the same challenge we have faced ever since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.
Back in '92, equity was written into the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (called the UNFCCC for short. The UN loves them some acronyms.) Article 3 of the UNFCCC states:
The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.
This section of the convention was included at the behest of developing nations, who wanted to ensure that some concept of equity was included in the text of the convention. Perhaps the delegates at Rio assumed that they were putting the issue of equity to bed. It's in the convention, we're all agreed, and now we can move on.
Except not so much.
Run a quick news search with the words "India + Equity + Climate Change." You'll find countless articles stressing the need for equity to be central to the debate at Copenhagen. It's clear the equity debate is far from over.
But what does equity mean? What are "common but differentiated responsibilities?" What is the disagreement really about?
Well, it's about how we calculate and allocate greenhouse gas emissions. Southern countries want equity of per capita emissions. Why? Because, per capita, Southern countries emit much less than Northern countries. For example, according to 2006 data, China has surpassed the United States in carbon dioxide emissions. However, their per capita emissions are about a quarter of the US's per capita emissions. And when you take into account historical emissions, the United States is clearly responsible for a much greater proportion of historical emissions than China. (Remember carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for about a century or longer.)
Moreover, as The Centre for Science and Environment, an Indian environmental NGO has pointed out, not all emissions are alike, and that it is important to differentiate between survival emissions and luxury emissions. For example, an Indian farmer's cattle might produce the same amount of emissions as an American soccer mom's SUV. But the cattle are very likely necessary for the Indian farmer to feed his family whereas the SUV is clearly a luxury.
In addition (I told you this was complicated) many scholars are now arguing that calculating emissions produced is wrongheaded. The real question is: where are the emissions consumed? So China may produce more emissions than the United States in part because of China's large manufacturing industry. But if those manufactured goods are then consumed in the States, is it really fair to allocate those emissions to China? (Incidentally, this is why people are completely off base when they argue that they shouldn't change their consumption habits because Americans can reduce their emissions and it won't matter because of what China does. China's emissions are linked to American consumption. )
So now some of you may be reading this and thinking, "Gee, this sounds like a huge clusterf**k, but why should I care? Does it REALLY matter how emissions are allocated anyway?"
First of all, I would argue, that yes, it does matter. But really, you should care because, frankly, we will never achieve a global deal on climate change until we resolve the issue of equity. Until we agree on how to allocate emissions. Until we agree on North to South technology transfer. Until we agree on whether the North should have to fund adaptation efforts in the South. Until we realize that there is no them, only us. So yes, we should rally for a deal at Copenhagen. Participate in the International Day of Climate Action. But we need to rally mindful of what is necessary.
So I always had a good store very nearby to go to for all my staples: peanut butter, jam, pasta, etc. Sure, none of the stores had bulk bins, but they did sell less-processed food that often came in glass jars. I could find peanut butter that was made solely with peanuts. I could get jam with no high fructose corn syrup. Gelsons carried local milk in returnable glass bottles. Waitrose carried an extremely wide selection of fair trade products. While my ideal was always to do my shopping at the bulk bin store and farmers' market, a lot of time that just didn't happen. But these stores were not bad alternative options.
Now, living in New York I live further away from a grocery store than I have lived in years. And the closest store is a D'Agostino. Which means that that is where I end up shopping.
First of all, it's a little bit of a shock just how small grocery stores are in New York City. I kind of don't understand it. I mean I know it's a small island, but they seem to have plenty of room for you know, Chase bank branches on every corner of every street. They seem to have scarily large Duane Reades. So I'm not sure why all the grocery stores I've been into are so teensy tiny, but whatever.
And then, once you're in the teeny tiny D'ag, they only seem to sell processed brand name food. Peanut butter with thousands of ingredients. PICKLES with high fructose corn syrup. Produce flown in from all over the world (though I guess I should be thankful that my grocery even HAS a produce section.)
And that's when I realized that this is how Americans shop. I've been on planet hippy grocery stores for the past few years, and I'd sort of forgotten. I'd forgotten that everything is Kraft, Nestle, General Mills, Heinz, Oscar Mayer. I'd forgotten how HARD it is for the average person to avoid high fructose corn syrup. I'd forgotten what it was like to live in a world where you had two choices: Skippy or Jif.
Now, I know, I know. New York has lots of good farmers markets. And I can go there. And I should. And New York even has a Trader Joes. And I'm sure if I tell you all where I live, someone can point me in the direction of a natural food store or bulk bin store not far from me. I know there are other options and it is possible for me to find them.
But that's not going to change the fact that *most* people don't shop at natural food stores. Or bulk bin stores. Or Gelsons. Or Waitrose. Most people shop at Ralphs. Or D'Ags. Or Walmart. Or Tesco. Or Asda. Where it is almost impossible to find food without high fructose corn syrup or palm products or industrial soy and corn.
And that's the problem.
We can, as individuals, aim to make better decisions. We can try to be better consumers. But ultimately, it's not fair to blame the consumer because they shop at the grocery store next door and not the one that you have to take two subways to get to.
Now, I do believe things are slowly changing. D'Agostino carries quite a few organic products, and frankly, I know industrial organic has major issues but yes, I will take some Earthbound organic spinach and Horizon Organic Milk in a pinch. There are more whole wheat products out there, and there are some alternatives to high fructose corn syrup. But there is still a long way to go.
So, I think I'm going to keep shopping at D'Agostinos for a while. Not the least because I'm lazy and I will always take the option to buy my groceries on the walk home from work. But also because it is a good reminder for me that the rest of America does not live in my happy grocery bubble. So we have a lot of work to do.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Ostrom won for her work on common pool resource management wherein she challenged the "Tragedy of the Commons" theory. The "Tragedy of the Commons" essentially states that an open access resource, such as an open pasture, will inevitably degrade. This is because each individual using the pasture will act selfishly and use as much of the natural resource as possible. What's best for the individual will trump what's best for the society at large and eventually the pasture will be barren. Anyone who has had to deal with a nasty kitchen at the office can see the "Tragedy of the Commons" at work. Since the communal office kitchen belongs to everyone and no one, everyone leaves their dirty dishes in the sink, and no one bothers to clean them.
The "Tragedy of the Commons" theory led policy makers to conclude that the only way to manage common property would be to a) privatize it or b) put the property under national control. Forests all over the world were nationalized in a misguided attempt to prevent inevitable environmental degradation. But a strange thing happened when forests were placed under national control. A lot of them experienced worse environmental degradation than ever.
See, what Ostrom realized is that many common pool resources are not just open access but are unofficially managed by communities in various ways. To go back to the office kitchen, the kitchen could degrade. HR could step in and officiate over the kitchen. The company could "privatize" the kitchen and decide that actually the communal kitchen is now Sue in Accounting's kitchen. OR, the workplace as a whole might come up with informal means of managing the mess in the kitchen. For example, you might give Bob a dirty look when he leaves his dish in the sink without washing it, thus prompting Bob to wash his dish. Or you and your co-workers might decide that everyone is responsible for maintaining the kitchen once a week.
Ostrom's work demonstrates that common pool resources are managed in a number of different ways by communities, communities can often best manage these resources themselves, and that the "Tragedy of the Commons" is far from inevitable. Her contributions to the field of natural resource management are invaluable, especially now as we attempt to deal with the numerous environmental crises facing us. So congratulations, Dr. Ostrom on your well-deserved honor.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Many well-meaning companies use the RSPO as an excuse so as to not have to deal with the ugly truth that they are knowingly choosing to use ingredients that are actually contributing to the devastation of the planet. The greenwash has been going on for a while as this Greenpeace article from nearly a year ago demonstrates. Another good report by Friends of the Earth can be read here. Only New Zealand is effectively fighting back against the palm oil industry because of its horrific ecological destruction. The problem is so acute now that even the World Bank has agreed to put a moratorium on loaning to palm oil companies. Companies such as Lush are paving the way for a palm oil-free product line.
The most ridiculous counter argument of all is that the fight against palm oil is some sort of 'Western' or 'neo-colonial' plot to hold back the 'developing world'. This is a complete farce. First of all, the poor farmers are not improving their lot in life because of palm oil. At best, they become slave laborers on mega plantations-- earning so little money that they are still living well below the poverty line. Nearly all the profits from palm oil go to wealthy investors who are as often as not Westerners themselves-- or Malays and Indonesians who are anything but 'local'. They are fat cats living far away-- often in Europe and North America. Indigenous Dayak people are duped out of their land and then forcibly removed by the corporations. Then even poorer people are brought in from outside areas to work the plantations.
No one is trying to 'deny the poor the right to develop'. In fact, the same people who are trying to stop palm oil development are always in favor of some other type of compensation for keeping the forests standing-- either through REDD, carbon trading or local investment in agricultural practices that maintain the integrity of standing forests-- such as sugar palms instead of oil palms. This investment is meant to go to local people-- not politicians and businessmen in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur.
This is not a conspiracy to keep down any one group of people. It is a global problem that needs to be dealt with NOW. Saying "You destroyed your forests so we can destroy ours!" will simply result in a planet in which we all suffer.
Indonesia is the 3rd largest carbon emitter on earth-- after China and the US-- and it is not even an industrialized nation. All the carbon comes from deforestation and the burning of peat. This goes hand in hand with palm oil development. It is often the same companies working both sides of the deal. The cash from the timber is used to pay for the oil palm seedlings.
So even if you don't give a damn about orangutans, maybe you care about your own future? Or your children's future? If those forests go, we're all going with them... human and ape!
Visit the Orangutan Outreach website to learn more!
Friday, October 9, 2009
And then, I see a little something that reaffirms my faith in humanity. That makes me realize the capacity of people to do good in the world. That prods me to work harder and reach for more. Because if a boy with no resources and barely any education can build a fricking WINDMILL in his village? Then surely we all can achieve so much more.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
Thursday, October 8, 2009
So now, my sadness seeing the film was compounded with the growing horror that palm oil, sodium palmate and other palm products are now on my growing list of Things to Avoid. You know, along with:
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Industrial Corn Products
Industrial Soy Products
Factory Farm Meat
Food in Plastic
Is this even POSSIBLE? Actually, yes. If you bought most of your food from a farmers market and found a natural food store (preferably bulk bin), you could avoid all these items in one fell swoop. (The palm products are probably in your soap and make-up though, so watch out there.) However, if you shop at a regular old grocery store, like the D'Agostino I patronize around the corner, then I would say, no. It's just not possible. Which is again why it is important for us as individuals to change our practices, but that's not enough.
The ever controversial Crunchy Chicken posted today about whether you can eat meat and still call yourself an environmentalist. Most of the commenters simply argued that it was silly to set an extraordinarily high threshold for the label "environmentalist." Moreover, many argued that as long as you ate sustainably raised meat, that was okay.
Now, I totally agree with both these points. However, I also think it's important to point out how difficult it is for many people to find sustainably raised meat. Again, if you just shop at the major local grocery store, which most people do, a lot of times, you won't find that option. And that's a problem that we urgently need to fix.
In the mean time, avoid the palm products, fellow eco-nuts. And for more information about the orangutans, visit RedApes.org.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
And after a month of owning it, I have to say, I heart my Kindle. I am the person who always carries around 10 books on any trip I take ... even if it's for only a day. The Kindle allows me to do just that. Everywhere I go, I have a choice of reading. Plus, it's small and light and fits into my bag. As for reading on the Kindle? Well, it feels a little weird to curl up on the couch with a small white screen, I do admit. But honestly, after a couple of pages, I get lost in my book and none of that matters anymore.
Okay, so the Kindle is great for portability. But how good is the Kindle for the environment? Well, the answer to that is of course ... it depends.
A study by the CleanTech group factored in the environmental costs of producing a Kindle, the environmental costs of producing and shipping paper books, and the environmental savings from buying e-books. The study concluded that if you replace over 22.5 new books with e-books over the lifetime of a Kindle, then the Kindle comes out on top.
This means that the Kindle is great for people who buy a lot of new books. However, I've spent the past couple years buying used books most of the time. So for me, the Kindle probably isn't the most sustainable option. While I probably will purchase over 22.5 books during my Kindle's lifecycle, I will mostly be replacing used books, not new.
But, it's still not a bad option, I am using the heck out of it, and considering my current nomadic existence, the Kindle is really the perfect gadget for me. Plus it was a gift!!
And hey, now that I have my Kindle to play with, I no longer have a burning desire to buy an iPhone.
Friday, October 2, 2009
It was a very interesting discussion, though there were parts of it that were slightly depressing. Like when ALL THREE panelists agreed that we simply could not bring the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million.
One of the panelist's comments really stuck with me. She basically was arguing that we need a stronger bill than Waxman-Markey, but the problem is, we environmentalists are getting clobbered. The other side, she said, is mobilizing, they are calling their Senators and Representatives. But for whatever reason, environmentally minded people are not doing a good enough job in mobilizing.
This kind of surprised me a little, but maybe it shouldn't have. After all, I haven't called my Senators about Waxman-Markey. I haven't called them, because, well, I have my reservations and disagreements with the bill. But what I realized, from this woman's comments, is that, even if I have reservations with the bill, I need to be calling my congresspeople to simply affirm my support for SOME climate change bill.
Here's the thing. The next two months leading up to Copenhagen are crucial. We cannot afford to let them pass without making our voices heard to our elected leaders. It is crucial that our leaders understand that there is a sizable portion of the electorate who wants a global deal for climate change at Copenhagen. That we care. That this matters.
So, I'm going to start by writing my Senators. I'm going to write about Waxman-Markey. I'm going to write about my reservations, and I'm going to write about the things that I feel are important.
And then I'm going to call my Senators to follow up.
And then I'm going to write the White House.
Because yeah, I have my misgivings about Waxman-Markey, but I've realized that the point isn't Waxman-Markey and the text of that specific bill. The point is that I need to register my support for environmental legislation.
What about you? Have you called your elected reprentatives about climate change?
Thursday, October 1, 2009
More regular posting schedule coming your way this month. I swear ... by the moon and the stars in the sky. Okay, I'll shut up now.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Well, my frequent absences from blogging probably mean that only one person is now reading this, but I have semi-successfully moved continents. I say semi-successfully, because really, all I've done since moving is 1) worked 2) slept 3) caught up on awesome American television 4) got a new mobile phone number.
I am sort of existing in a permanent state of exhaustion. I still have a hacking cough that I picked up in Bombay (pollution is my friend!). I am still jet-lagged. I still don't know where a good portion of my stuff is.
I'm also suffering from a little bit of culture shock. I know ... culture shock between London and New York City? But, yes. And sadly, New York is way less green than I would have imagined. The fair trade products that are all over London still haven't made their way across the pond. Where are the compost bins? Hell, where are the recycle bins?!
On the other hand, the subway is open 24 hours and the bars are open until 4am, and you can get any food you want delivered to you at 11pm. Plus, American chocolate chip cookies are so much more satisfying than digestive biscuits. But I do miss my jacket potatoes with beans and cheese.
Anyhow, more to follow as I recover from moving exhaustion and adjust to this new city.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
I've had a very nice trip, relaxed, ate good food, chatted with my relatives, saw some monkeys in a tree and a peacock on the street, etc.
I've also tried not to think about environmental matters too much. After all, I'm on VACATION. And after the stress of finishing off my dissertation, I need a little break.
But I can't help it.
See when I got to Bombay, I found that the city has introduced stringent water cuts. Which means that between 11pm and about 5 am almost all water is shut off. And if the city doesn't get more rain in the next couple months, the water cuts could get worse.
Meanwhile in Delhi, there are now more cars on the roads than in Bombay and Chennai combined! Thankfully, work is underway to expand the Delhi metro, but I'm not sure even the metro will do much to stymie the rise of automobiles.
India continues to change. A bus in Delhi proudly claims to be a bus from the largest CNG fleet in the world ... I actually think the buses in LA claim the same thing. There is more awareness about pollution, of environmental matters, of organics.
But at the same time people continue to buy cars. Traffic worsens. Old traditional ways of life are disappearing in favor of "modern" less sustainable methods.
India is a country on a precipice. They can choose: sustainable development or unsustainable. They can choose to make their vast population a problem, or they can choose to make it the most incredible asset by investing in said population.
They can choose to become an epicenter of technology by innovating and designing new clean technologies or they can continue with the same old carbon emitting technologies.
I don't know which way India will choose.
But I know what I hope for.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Friday, August 21, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Then I went back to university, and all hell broke loose. I now have a bad, bad soda habit.
So today when my friend B said that she was quitting soda September 1st, and I should too, I readily agreed.
Me: Yeah, I'll quit all soda. Oh wait, except for mixers. I'm not quitting soda in mixers.
B: Okay that's fine. Wait. We might need to define this further. You can't be like, drinking a rum and Coke just for the Diet Coke.
Me: I wouldn't do that!
B: Yeah, I know you. No drinking a mixed drink at 3pm just for the soda.
So anyway, re-quitting soda September 1st. Let's see how I do.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Thursday, August 6, 2009
So imagine my surprise when I realized, that contrary to my expectations, Green Collar Economy is not about how you can cash in on the green bubble. Instead, Green Collar Economy is fundamentally about environmental justice and equity. This is a book about how we link concern for the environment with concern for human welfare. It is in fact a book that is right up my alley.
Van Jones, an African-American who is both an environmentalist activist and human rights activist, is a powerful and incredibly important addition to the environmental movement. Which lets face it, is a bit too white and a bit too male. Consequently, his perception of the environmental crisis is different. While others ignore the inequitous consequences of climate change, Van Jones confronts them head on. He notes that Katrina was most disasterous for the poor, the black, the vulnerable. Jones argues:
The guiltless will bear the brunt and suffer the wrath of an enraged Mother
Nature. People in wealthy countries can cushion the blows. That's why, as the
1999 edition of the World Disasters Report concludes, about 96 percent of all
deaths from natural disasters happen in developing countries. Our actions- and
refusals to act- in the wealthier nations are funneling more disasters and death
toward the poorest people on Earth.
Van Jones also discusses the class conflicts and racism that has been part of the environmentalist movement for the past 100 odd years. While many environmentalists would rather sweep these conflicts under the rug, Van Jones argues that we cannot hide from these injustices. However, even here, Van Jones is amazingly diplomatic. He acknowledges the successes of environmentalist conservationists, while also noting their failure to address the needs of Native Americans. He understands the importance of the zero population growth campaign while also uncovering its racist implications. In other words, Van Jones doesn't throw the baby out of the bathwater, but he doesn't feel the need to cover up the past either.
I didn't necessarily agree with all of Van Jones' policy proposals, though I do share his vision for a new Green New Deal or Apollo Project. In particular, Van Jones' proposal "Hoopties for hybrids" provides a very tangible reminder of how a good idea in theory can result in bad policy in practice. But overall, this is a smart and important book with a refreshing perspective on the crises we face.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
In response to the question, does Megan ever shop recreationally?, I’ll reply with a little anecdote. Recently, pondering some big decisions and an overwhelming to-do list, I found myself with a couple of hours to kill in the heart of SoHo, the land of crushing crowds and soul-crushing stores. I brought a book of required reading but instead of finding a coffee shop to sit in, like a distractible kid I drifted into an international chain with CHEAP CHEAP clothes. Now, I’ve said goodbye to H&M (except I keep getting gift certificates from work that I can’t politely turn down!), I felt sad for one second, knowing this was exactly the same thing – and said hello to the retail smell and freezing air conditioning. Almost immediately, I convinced myself that if I just had a little dress my summer in NYC would be sooooo much better. And it’s on special for 10 dollars!
What I really needed was to make some decisions and prioritize my to-do list, but it was so much easier just to buy something. Control over retail actually produces some sense of control over life, at least for a second. And it feels good. There’s nothing wrong with that in theory – I know I need to generally cut myself more slack, not less. Still, advertising – which includes commercial movies, television, magazines, and music, in addition to the actual commercials and advertisements appearing in each of these media – tells us that buying produces real control. And neglects to tell us about the costs (social, environmental, personal) of this postmodern happiness. Blah blah, we know all of this. But I’m always surprised by how primal it feels, how specific the feeling of clarity in the moment of decision to buy. I haven’t owned a tv or listened to commercial radio in over a decade, yet when I’m sick or depressed or overwhelmed, this beast comes out and overrides all of the critical thinking I’ve done in recent years about consumption and its costs.
What can we do to give ourselves the instant gratification we crave and perhaps need in these moments? Do a dance, sing a song, have sex, eat a chocolate? I guess if I stay in major cities I can eat a chocolate basically anywhere – but I’d rather it be local, organic, fair-trade, etc. and that is not yet basically anywhere. When I’m sick I don’t necessarily want to put on my favorite music and dance around. Clearly building up friends and connections who can provide me with a special smile or a funny joke or words of encouragement are part of the answer, but sometimes I’m alone and Anthropologie seems like a better friend than the one who hasn’t called back in days. So I’m open to suggestions – any ideas on better ways to fill these momentary holes, or eliminate them in the first place? Is it possible to eliminate them altogether?
If the world was filled with ethical local enviro stuff, we wouldn’t have to. But for now, I have to buy new things here and there, and while I try to use Etsy and local fairs, and the greenmarket, I can’t always. Plus, I am ashamed to say that occasionally I absolutely love eyeing someone’s bag, asking where she got it and if she thinks it comes in pink, and going straight to the store to get it. My other purchases from that restless day included shoes replacing a pair I’ve had since 2004, and a t-shirt and shorts from a local designer. When I moved a couple of months ago, I got rid of about two-thirds of my worn-out and stained clothes obtained from swaps, the thrift store, and H&M. It turns out, I actually need to wear clothes when I leave the house, and I wanted a couple of new summer uniforms. I can’t get too upset with myself when I view it this way, but I still wish I had the patience to wait and go thrift store shopping, or the skills to immediately repurpose the things I’m tired of.
I’m also transitioning to a fixed income for the next few (SEVEN?!) years, so in the face of no.money.at.all, I bought two of my favorite bras and two of my favorite flip-flops – both a little on the pricey side. They aren’t produced by companies with any “green” credentials, but they are comfortable and they fit, so there’s no risk of them going unworn; I will throw them away in tatters. In anticipating what I might need in the next year or two, I have purchased another pair of shoes, a backpack, and some books. I know that one’s “needs” expand to the money available, so I am justifying the shopping by expecting not to buy much of anything in the coming years. By the end of Fix, I determined that not buying anything is also not sustainable, displacing the need to buy by a certain period depending on how much stuff you already have. I try to keep my loves, my life, and my interests very active, so I’m busy doing and learning and creating – and don’t feel the need to buy. But, as you know, it happens.