Thursday, December 17, 2009

Vote For Me!!

So, recently I had the honor of being nominated by Cath in her First Annual Reader's Choice Comment of The Year Award. That is right, I have been nominated for COMMENTING on a BLOG. If I win, this is totally going on my resume. Award Winning Blog COMMENTER.

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

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

Previously on Arduous Blog, I worried that without the gift buying and the card writing, etc, etc, I would be unable to get into the holiday spirit. That the season (courtesy of axial tilt) would somehow simply pass me by. That without consumerism, the holidays are meaningless for a secular person.

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

Carnival Time

I'm in LA, drinking in the sunshine, eating at my favorite restaurants, watching cheesy bad movies and helping Miss V with her search for a wedding dress.

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

Evaluation Time

So, because I know you all want a daily update on my various beauty experiments, here it is:

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


So once upon a time, two years ago, I entered the Crazy Chicken's Freeze Yer Buns competition. (Wait, it's not a competition you say? Oh, how little you know me.)

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


Le sigh.

So, um, I suck. But conversely, my buns are nice and toasty.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Holiday Cards: Honest Opinion

So, for the first time in about five zillion years, I'm not doing holiday cards.

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

What Not to Buy For The Holidays

Actually, this post is not really going to be about rampant consumerism. I'm not going to suggest you pare down your list, or avoid plastic toys. I am not going to wax poetic about the joys of thrift shopping, or suggest you buy people experiences instead of things. I'm not going to plug Etsy or encourage everyone to take up knitting. After all, I've written those posts, you've written those posts, and frankly, today I'm just not feeling it. Instead, I'm going to talk about bad eco gifts.

Bad eco gifts? Is there such a thing, you may ask? Yes, as much as it pains me to admit it, there are.

Such as?

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

This Post Is Not About Copenhagen

Although the talks began today, I don't much feel like rehashing right now. In any case, I think it's worth it to let a few days go by and see how things develop. I have moments of hope and moments of depression, but I think at this point, we just need to adopt a wait and see attitude.

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

Or Maybe Not

Okay, I take it back.

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

Dirty Hippie Deo

Yesterday, I officially became a dirty hippie.

I know what you're thinking.

The diva cup did not make you a dirty hippie? What about giving up toilet paper? What about washing your hair with soap? Those things didn't make you a dirty hippie?

To which I say no! But yesterday, oh man, yesterday.

I bought a jar of coconut oil and used it as a deodorant.

See, about a year ago The Thistle wrote a post about how much she loved her coconut oil deodorant. And I kept meaning to give it a try, but I already owned a Tom's of Maine deodorant. Which frankly was pretty useless, but I figured I needed to use it up.

Anyway, I finally lost? pretended to lose? my Tom's deodorant along my many, many travels, so I figured it was as good a time as any to give the coconut oil a shot.

After I got over the momentary "Oh my GOD! I'm such an eco-nut!" pangs, I found that ... I think it works!

I mean, truthfully, I'm not entirely sure. It seemed like throughout the day I seemed to smell mostly fine. But like, I had never really spent too much time sniffing my underarms when I was wearing antiperspirant. Mostly I just assumed it worked. So now I have no real basis for comparison. Plus, since coconut oil still allows you to perspire, which I think is probably a good thing, it's obviously not going to have the same effect.

So, it works. I think. But if you see me, and I ask you to smell me, don't get weirded out, okay?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thoughts on ClimateGate

I've been following the Climategate blow out with a fair amount of interest recently. For those of you who haven't heard, basically some one hacked the emails at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia and then published the emails on the internet.

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

Captain Scrooge

I'm not doing Christmas this year.

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


I've been a bad blogger lately. I think I seem to have more absences than I have periods of consistent posting. And I can't really explain why it is, except that lately I have felt pulled in several directions at once.

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

Yes, This Is Important

I've been thinking a lot about Melinda's recent posts about environmental social change. Read her thoughts here about how to get people to change their lifestyles, participating in your community, and how doing it alone is not enough. It's a great series of posts and it asks a lot of important questions. Why is social change important? How do we affect change? How do you build a social movement? These are questions I have been pondering myself for the past two years.

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

Transportation Smackdown

I've been traveling a lot and experiencing a number of different public transit systems. Each one has its pros and cons ... for example the New York subway is
  1. Open 24 hours
  2. 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.)
  3. Nice and roomy (especially compared to the London Tube)
On the other hand, it is also
  1. Kinda dirty
  2. Difficult to get across town
  3. Doesn't properly service the East Side
  4. 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!)
Anyway, I was thinking of doing a series of posts on transportation systems and then we could all vote for the best one. So I'm asking you all for your input. What are the transport systems you love? Which ones would you include in the Transport Smackdown?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday Non-Depressingness

So sorry for depressing all y'all with my post from Friday. I agree with many of the commenters that sometimes it is necessary to be positive in order to incite people to change. I agree that telling people The End Of The World Is Nigh is not overly helpful for a lot of people. I still remember seeing Inconvenient Truth, being COMPLETELY freaked and also feeling helpless in the process.

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

Sober Friday

Well, now that the Crazy Chicken has outed me as "that annoying Bill McKibben hanger-on," I figured I might as well produce photographic evidence of my hanging-on. And maybe my annoyingness, I don't know, a picture IS worth a thousand words, right?

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

Equity, Equity, Equity

Last week, I wrote about what I believe to be the biggest obstruction in getting a global deal at Copenhagen: equity.

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.

That's it.

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

How To Lie With Statistics

The other day, everyone's favorite Fake Plastic Fish wrote a blog post about Tapped, a new documentary about bottled water.

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

California, Here I Come

I'm in California for the weekend, but will be back in New York on Monday. Have a great weekend everyone, and to my Indian readers, Happy Diwali!!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Road to Copenhagen

What is the biggest issue that we face in crafting a global deal on climate change at Copenhagen?

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.


Shopping at the D'Ag is a Drag

I have to admit that for the past several years, I have been very spoiled by my supermarket options. When I lived in LA, I lived a few yards from a Trader Joes and a Gelsons. When I lived in London, I lived around the corner from a Waitrose (cue chorus of angels and shining lights. Waitrose is the bomb, dude.)

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

Congrats to Elinor Ostrom

Yesterday, Indiana University political science professor Elinor Ostrom became the first woman ever to win the Nobel prize in economics. I'm not going to comment on other Nobel prizes given out this year, but I am extremely happy that Ostrom won.

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

Your Questions Answered by Orangutan Outreach

Orangutan Outreach was nice enough to leave a lengthy comment answering some of your questions and comments from this blog post. I'm reproducing it here in its entirety so that everyone can see it. If anyone associated with RSPO would like to respond, I would welcome a continuation of this conversation.

The RSPO [Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil] is nothing but a greenwash. It is a great idea, but in reality it is doing absolutely nothing to affect real change on the ground. Its most powerful members are actually some of the worst offenders in terms of deforestation. They just smile and keep having meetings while the destruction continues. They make great fanfare about their desire to have a whopping 20% or so of palm oil be sustainable by 2015. This is a complete sham, because if the destruction continues unabated, the entire forest cover of Indonesia will be gone by then... with but a few token parks left over to gloss over the harsh reality.

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

A Moment of Hope

It seems like so much of the news these days is scary, bad, and depressing. Health care doesn't seem to be moving forward much. There are grave doubts about our ability to get a global deal at Copenhagen. Sometimes, I feel the whole weight of the world, and I want to throw up my hands in the air, and say, "What's the point?"

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 StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Daily Show
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Political HumorRon Paul Interview

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Palm Products Are Killing the Orangutans

So yesterday, I went to see a really moving documentary about the rainforests in Indonesia. Without words, the film was able to convey the damage being done both to the rainforest and to the orangutans who are apparently going extinct as we speak. It was quite a remarkable piece, and as soon as they get the film online, I will be sure to link to it. After the film ended, the director and another orangutan activist spoke a little bit about the film, their efforts, and what is causing the destruction of the rainforest in Indonesia. Basically, the problems are: the timber industry and the palm industry. The timber industry destroys the rainforest for lumber, and the palm oil industry cuts down the trees for their palm plantations. Which means that palm products are killing the organgutans. And this is a problem because according to the director of Orangutan Outreach, palm products are in EVERYTHING. So while it is very difficult to live a palm-free life, "It is possible," he assured us.

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
Non Fair-Trade
Non Local/Non-Organic

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

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Yes, that's right folks. I am the proud owner of the Kindle. For a birthday present/graduation gift, my sister and mom chipped in and bought me one.

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

Congressional Calls

I recently went to a panel discussing the Waxman-Markey Cap and Trade legislation that was approved by the House, and is waiting ratification in the Senate.

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

Oops, I Did It Again

Oops, I did it again.
I failed with my blog.
Got lost with real life.
Oh, reader, reader.
Oops I screwed up a tad
But please don't get mad.
I know I'm not that innocent.

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

Is this Still On?

Hello? Check one, check two. Anyone out there?


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

Checking In

Hello all. I'm checking in from India (briefly.)

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

I Know, I know

I said I was going on hiatus, but then I read some controversy-producing blog posts and articles and I can't help but comment on them. Also, I'm trying to stretch out the three hours of dissertation work I have left as long as possible for maximum crankiness.

Beth recently posted a link to an article by Derrick Jensen in Orion Magazine entitled "Forget Shorter Showers: Why personal change does not equal political change." The first couple sentences of his piece are pretty abysmal actually. I mean he invokes the NAZIS for crying out loud. And unfortunately those sentences do Jensen a great disservice because the rest of his article is actually quite thoughtful and insightful.

What Jensen is arguing is not that an individual's actions don't matter; rather, he's arguing a very specific point: that individualist environmentalism is not particularly helpful. By individualist environmentalism, I mean environmentalism that is not part of a broader linked-up action, but is done on a personal basis in the home.

Now, recently, one of my friends A got her landlord to put in a gray water tank into her bathroom. Which is pretty awesome, right? Anyway, she was telling us all this, and my friend J interjected and pointed out what a small difference one gray water tank is. Not that he didn't think it was worthwhile, but what's one gray water tank when there are wide swathes of residential lawn, golf courses, and water intense agriculture all over California? And the truth is, my friend J is right as is Jensen who also points out how small residential water usage is in comparison to agriculture and industry.

The point Jensen is making is ... well ... It's the Institutions, Stupid. (Seriously, I HAVE to get tee-shirts made saying that.) Given the crisis we're in, individual action isn't going to cut it. It's kind of like taking an Advil when your appendix is bursting. What is needed is institutional reform.

So, basically, ludicrous and easily refutable first few sentences aside, I completely agree with Jensen. But, in my mind, Jensen doesn't go far enough. Pointing out that individual action isn't enough ... that's the easy part. Look, we all KNOW individual action isn't enough. But as Jensen points out, we're in a double bind. One can give up, and go with the status quo, or one can participate in semi-meaningless individual action. There aren't really many other options for most people.

I think the point is, that individual action can result in two things. One: it can result in complacency. Oh, I recycle and bring my own bags to the grocery store, so I'm doing my bit and I can just sit back.

Or, two, it can propel people to action.

The thing is, if it weren't for individual environmentalism, I would probably not be here in London procrastinating my dissertation. I became individually involved and then became part of a political movement LATER. So I think the real question is, how do we motivate more people to take individual environmentalism one step further? How do we harness the energy from the individual environmentalist movement and use that to change institutions? Those are the real questions that need to be addressed, and it would be great if a few journalists put their thinking caps on and started working on that instead of trying to just shit on personal environmentalists.

Speaking of sh*tting on environmentalists, Elizabeth Kolbert goes after a few in her recent New Yorker article, specifically Colin Beavan and Vanessa Farquharson. Basically, she accuses them both of participating in one-year eco-stunts in order to gain publicity.

To which my response is, "Yeah ... so?"

Did Colin and Vanessa engage in eco-stunts? Sure. But what's wrong with engaging in stunts? Participating in stunts is valid political behavior to attract public attention. Again, speaking from personal experience, I was motivated to change my lifestyle because of people like Colin and Vanessa. And as someone who has arguably participated in her own stunt (though I never wrote a book about it), I can testify that you don't come out the other end an unchanged person. Although my year of strict non-consumerism is over, I shop much, much less than I used to and my entire life philosophy has changed greatly. And knowing Colin and Vanessa as I do, I know they have been transformed as well.

The most ridiculous part of the article is where Kolbert talks about how Colin needs to engage in more political behavior instead of personal environmentalism. I ... kind of don't understand how Kolbert completely missed that Colin is ALL political environmentalism ALL the time these days, what with his new organization, and his protesting, and his meetings with politicians. In fact, Colin has had his ass handed to him by his readers several times because they MISS the personal stories. So if his book, which I haven't read yet, is heavy on the personal anecdotes, that's probably just because Colin knows his audience.

In the end, Kolbert accuses Colin and Vanessa for missing the forest for the trees, but really it's Kolbert who misses the personal transformation because she's too busy criticizing Vanessa for flying places and getting laid.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

While I'm On Hiatus....

Read this.

Posting Hiatus

I guess you all are used to this by now, since it is basically the bajillionth time I've had to take a posting hiatus in the past year. Sorry folks!

But I have to finish my dissertation (due Tuesday), pack (moving out Wednesday), spend time with my family in India (flying there Wednesday), and then move to New York (going there in two and a half weeks.)

Needless to say, the next two and a half weeks are looking kind of hectic.

But there are posts that I have in my head that I want to write, so ... we'll see. But if you don't hear from me for a little bit, you know why.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Your Opinion

Seattle recently failed to enact a fee for plastic bags. What does it mean for the larger climate change debate? This is what I think. What about you?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Re-quitting soda

About a year and a half ago, I began the difficult process of quitting soda. I was fairly successful. Fewer chemicals in my body, fewer costs to the environment. Everyone is happy.

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

Clearing up some confusion

I leave London in two weeks. This sucks, dude. Even though I am really, and I mean REALLY excited to move to New York, I am really sad to leave London. And also to leave Britain's NHS which is, let me tell you, pretty damn awesome. I don't necessarily want to spark yet ANOTHER healthcare debate, because that's what my Facebook status is for, apparently. But I have to tell you, it is just a little bit odd that I have had wonderful health coverage for absolutely free here in Britain (I guess I do pay VAT, but it's only 5% more than the sales tax in LA) and now I have to buy stupidly expensive health insurance when I move back to my native land.

One of the worst parts of this whole debate has been the scare-mongering that has occurred wherein people who have never ever lived abroad invoke Canada or Britain's health care system and are like, "OMG IN BRITAIN EVERYONE DIES BEFORE THEY ARE 40 BECAUSE GORDON BROWN KILLS THEM ALL WITH HIS DEATH GAVEL TO SAVE ON HEALTH CARE COSTS!!!"

It's irritating to me as an American, and it's even more irritating to Brits, who ... okay. Here's the thing about Brits, and I don't claim to be an expert, but after living here for a year, I have learned a little about the people.

They aren't a very patriotic people. Not like Americans. Once when I told a group of Brits about the Pledge of Allegiance they kind of freaked out about how all Americans are obviously brainwashed. Brits don't natter on about how they're proud to be British. There isn't a Union Jack flying from every corner. They aren't obsessed with being number one. In fact, the Brits are charmingly self-deprecating about how they lost the empire.

Brits save their patriotism for football and tennis when Andy Murray is winning. (When he is losing, Murray mysteriously goes from being "British" to "that Scot.") Outside of sport, the Brits are pretty mild-mannered.

Until you attack the NHS.

Let me try and explain this in American terms. Britain doesn't have a constitution. But the NHS does. To attack the NHS, is in a sense, to attack Britain at its core. It's like attacking the Bill of Rights. And the NHS continues to be one of the most popular institutions in Britain. One of the studies I read for my exams rated its popularity at 80%.

I can't think of anything with an 80% popularity rate in the United States.

Institutions are not so beloved if they are crap. The NHS has its faults, no doubt, but many of the charges being levied against the NHS in America are beyond ludicrous. Which makes the Brits angry, which makes them attack us, and it becomes a vicious trans-Atlantic cycle that is REALLY, REALLY annoying for those of us Americans living in the UK who might want to do something that doesn't involve arguing about healthcare in the pub and whether or not the Pledge of Allegiance has turned Americans into zombies.

So, please. I implore everyone. Stop the madness. Nye Bevan did not kill Stephen Hawking. Stephen Hawking, is, by the way, BRITISH, not American. The Queen does not preside over a death panel. Even waiting times have been greatly reduced.

I don't think, ultimately, the NHS is the right system for America for various reasons. But just because it's not the right system for the United States doesn't mean we need to hurl unnecessarily invectives at a system that has done a damn good job in Britain for the past 50 years.

God Bless the Queen, the NHS, and the inventor of Pimms. I'm gonna miss you all.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

On Being Neighborly

I've been pondering this post for over a week now. I almost decided not to write it, but in the end, the oh-so-arduous part of me won out. So here goes.

About a week ago, there was a really thought-provoking and incredibly interesting guest post at the Green Phone Booth. The writer's family owns a local restaurant, which happens to be a franchise. She argues that though their restaurant may be seen as a "chain," they still support the local economy by buying local food and supporting local vendors. She implores us all to open our minds and to not simply assume chain=bad.

I was happy to read this post, because I happen to agree with the woman. In fact, I've written about this issue before. While yes, there are some evil chains out there, there are also chains out there that are using their clout to improve environmental, health and labor conditions out there for many, many people. Just as there are small businesses out there that are exploitative. Hell, I've worked for a couple exploitative small businesses in the past!

My feeling is that it's silly to label small as good and big as bad. Most big chains started out small, and grew because they were successful. Why should we penalize success? Sometimes, buying a franchise instead of striking it out on your own is just more business savvy. Considering the rate at which new restaurants close, what new business owner wouldn't want some help with marketing?

So, like I said. I really appreciated the post and the perspective. And most of the comments were fairly sympathetic to this woman. But one comment, fairly cut me to the core.

This commenter argued, "I will also point out that, here in [redacted], most franchises are owned by foreign interests. I do not want to send my money overseas or support foreign business any more than I can help. I mean, would you want to support Indian businesses by choice, when US-owned businesses are doing it hard? Or Chinese? Most people would support their own first."

I can't really express the range of emotions I felt after reading this. Sadness, a lot of sadness. Frustration, anger, more sadness.

I've always been sort of reluctant about the locavore movement. On the one hand, I completely agree that local food usually tastes better and is often better for the environment. I love shopping at farmer's markets, I love supporting local farmers, I love finding the abundant variety of English apples.

But I've always been nagged by the idea of what happens when you take the local movement to its logical extreme ... protectionism, nativism, xenophobia.

It seems odd to me, that in this digital age, we still insist on placing such importance on geographical closeness. I mean, why? I recently went to a lecture given by Amartya Sen. And he was talking about this issue of neighborliness. He said that some people say that you should only help your neighbor. But what does that mean, really? Let's say you were in a car accident and some stranger from far away helped you? Well, he argued, that person would BECOME your neighbor.

For what are our neighbors but those willing to lend a helping hand when we are in need? In that case, I have neighbors in California, in New York, in Illinois, in Turkey, India, all across the world. I also have neighbors right next door to me. But just because some are geographically closer to me doesn't make them BETTER.

Yes, by all means, support local food. Buy from the farmers' market. Strike up conversations with the local farmer. Patronize restaurants that use local produce and local vendors. But if that restaurant is owned by someone in China, well, so much the better I say! Because then, you'll not only be supporting your local community, but your global community.

In this era of increased globalization, migration, and inter-ethnic, faith, and race marriage, it's meaningless to talk as if there are some people who are our own, and some people who are other. At the end of the day, we are all humans. And if we are to build a better world, well, we can't just focus on our local communities. We need to make the world better for all people, everywhere.

As some of you may know, my dissertation spends a lot of time examining the conflicts between Northern (i.e. industrialized) and Southern (i.e. third world) countries as it pertains to climate change negotiations. Anyone who has followed the coverage of the pre-Copenhagen summits knows that this is a thorny issue. The sad thing is, these issues have existed in much the same form for over 15 years.

I believe that we will never, ever solve our current climate crisis as long as we maintain an attitude that places greater importance on our geographically local community. We are right now caught in a cycle of selfishness and blaming others. The global North bemoans China and India for their large populations and their new coal plants. The global South demands reparations from the North for the North's past carbon emissions. Each side refuses to bend, insisting on protecting "their own."

Meanwhile carbon emissions continue to ratchet up.

Consequently, when applied to global warming, the slogan "Think Global, Act Local," has gone from stupid to downright dangerous. As we all try to deal with a global phenomenon by focusing on our own geographical back yard, we have produced stalemate after stalemate after stalemate.

What we need is more dialogue. More willingness to help others. Even those far away. Especially those far away. More empathy and less blame. We need to be just as furious about a starving child in Africa as we would be about a starving child in our back yard.

Because, as Van Jones pointed out, climate change is going to affect those already vulnerable countries most. Land locked African countries, small island nations, those are the ones that will feel the greatest suffering. We need to be charging to their aid, not dragging our heels.

I still remember after Hurricane Katrina, how countries around the world big and small offered to help the United States. Even Sri Lanka, which was still recovering from the great tsunami, offered aid. Sure, the US didn't really need Sri Lanka's aid, but the point is, they were happy to give it to us. They were willing to come to America's side when disaster befell us.

In other words, they were our neighbors.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Green Collar Economy

I'm not exactly sure what I thought the Green Collar Economy by Van Jones was going to be about, but I had a feeling I was not going to be that impressed. Because, you know, I'm now, Arduous, the eco-cynical grad student and all. Plus, we've been hearing about this Green Collar Economy for what seems like ages, and sometimes it's hard for me not to feel like the whole green economy thang is just a ploy to get people to consume more.

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

Be Careful What You Ask For...

I'm finishing up the second draft of my dissertation today, so here's a guest post from Megan, formerly of Fix fame and fortune. Megan spent a year doing essentially what I did, which was to not buy any new stuff for a year, only I'm pretty sure she one-upped me and nixed going to restaurants as well. Here are some reflections from her, over a year after her challenge ended.

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, 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.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Swag Here?

Last week, I got an email from a marketing representative from a company saying that he loved my blog and wanted to know if I was interested in reviewing a product for him, or hosting a giveaway, or having him guest post. I get these emails neither regularly nor frequently, but I have gotten emails like this in the past. Most of the time I simply delete the emails without thought. Frankly, I always sort of assumed the emails were scams, because why on Earth would someone want me, the girl who is constantly blathering on about non-consumerism, to review their product?

But I have to tell you, all the recent discussion about SwagHer BlogHer had me intrigued. What if I responded? It could be a teaching moment!

So I sent the nice marketing representative back an email saying that while I appreciated his email, I'm an eco-blogger who aims to avoid wasteful consumption. And having looked over the website of his company, I couldn't really see much of an environmental angle, and anyway current levels of consumption in the developed world are unsustainable. Then I told him to let me know if his company moves in a more environmentally friendly direction.

Well, the next day I got an email from the nice marketing representative wherein he thanked me for getting back to him, and pointed to a few products that his company sells that are made with sustainable materials. And then, and this is the kicker, he said if I wanted to review one of his products, he could send me anything worth up to a hundred dollars. For free.

Okay, some of you probably think this is funny, but I was completely shocked by this. Like ... for reals? A $100 product?! And all I'd have to do is write one lousy review? That's incredible! Who needs ethics when you can get free stuff!!

Okay, fine. I like my ethics. But, all the same, the offer was pretty enticing and I can completely see how others get sucked in to this product sponsorship vortex. Because blogging is hard work, there is little recognition, and it's cool to feel like you are on the cutting edge, reviewing the latest products on the market.

But ... at the end of the day, as a blogger, I am responsible to you, my readers. And frankly, I am not comfortable accepting a $100 product for free because I believe that that would compromise my ability to review said product impartially. Hell, I worried a little about accepting a free copy of Vanessa's book, but then decided that, frankly, my blog crush on Vanessa and her hair was more actually more problematic in terms of my impartiality.

Like I said before, I get it. I understand why some bloggers accept free products. I understand why some bloggers put advertising on their blogs. I too have considered advertising, and frankly, if a company that fit within my ethical standards asked to advertise here, I would probably think about it. It isn't entirely fair to castigate greedy bloggers; the issue is that media, as an institution, is typically funded through advertising. Which puts us non-consumeristic types in a bind. We can have principles or be paid for our work, but we probably cannot have both. And until anyone comes up with another means of earning money for web content, we'll continue to have bloggers promote companies for free stuff.

So, I have never before found it necessary to formally articulate ... any policy really, here at this blog. But things change, and I want to be as straight forward with all of you as possible. I will never accept money to review a product on this blog. Ever. While I reserve the possibility that I may occasionally accept a free product for review (such as Vanessa's book), I will henceforth make that crystal clear in my post. And I will never accept a free product for review that goes against my relatively non-consumeristic principles.

I haven't written the nice marketing representative back yet, but I plan to. While it would be nice to get some free stuff, the reality is that I blog to build a community. And as it turns out, this community? Is worth a whole lot more than a hundred bucks.