Thursday, February 26, 2009

Apologies in Advance

No new content here today. Sorry, sorry, sorry. I promise I won't keep doing this, but I really would like your comments and ideas here. So, give me your thoughts, please, and I promise, real new content next week.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Just got back from Copenhagen. Read about some of my thoughts here.

More tomorrow.

P.S. Lettuce in stir-fry rocks. Thanks guys.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

For The Love Of Learning (Or It All Works Out In The End)

I realized the other day when I got a Facebook message from someone saying that they were sorry that 2009 wasn't going that well for me that I have been doing a little too much whining lately.

The truth is that as much as I might bitch and moan, I also wake up every day so thankful to be studying exactly what I want to study at the perfect university for me.

It's weird. When I applied to grad schools, I expected to get into one place ... maybe. After all, what did I have to offer? I had a BA in drama, and seven years of entertainment industry experience. I had nothing relevant to offer.

Instead, I ended up with multiple options, including options that I had thought I'd never have in a million years. And so began a month of agonizing between my current university and an equally good university in DC.

And boy did I agonize. And when I finally made my decision, I was still unsure it was the right one. Even a week before I started school, I had a moment of "Oh my God, why didn't I just move to DC?! At least I wouldn't have to set up a new bank account!" The day before classes started, I was still worried that this program wasn't going to be the right fit for me. That the classes weren't going to be what I wanted.

Well, they were. In fact, they are exactly what I wanted and more. My brain has been stretched in ways I didn't even know it was possible for my brain to stretch. I have learned so much, and what's more, I have thoroughly enjoyed learning. As much as I do think that what I'm learning will be important in whatever career I choose, I feel like right now I'm learning simply for the sake of gaining knowledge.

And it's pretty cool.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Seriously? Automakers want 14 BILLION more dollars? So now the bail out will cost almost $40 billion? Seriously?

Now, look. I actually have immense sympathy for American car makers. They're under intense foreign competition, and frankly, other foreign car makers don't get stuck also having to finance their workers' health care. In my opinion, back in the 1990s when Hillary-care was on the table, GM and Chrysler should have gone to Washington and said, "Look. We don't know that this health-care plan is the best option. But we do know that the current system of health-care in the United States will bankrupt us. It is not fair to keep making us finance our workers' health care, when other companies with less unionized labor get to shirk their responsibilities. Let's come up with a system of health care of shared responsibility, and shared benefits."

But they didn't. Because, and this is where I stop having sympathy for American car makers, they have consistently been myopic. Why else would GM invest so much money and time into developing the EV1 and then throw it under the bus? Because they couldn't see a day when gas would hit $4.50 a gallon?

I know people are going to lose their jobs. I know that car companies provide good work for blue-collar labor.

But ... this isn't going to work. We can't keep throwing money at these failed companies.

Instead, we'd be much better off using that $40 billion to establish job re-training programs. Or let's spend $10 billion building the infrastructure so that we can get the country ready for a world of all plug-in hybrid vehicles.

But throwing money at the makers of gas-guzzling automobiles is kind of like throwing money at horse carriage makers at the advent of the Model T-era.

It's ain't gonna work.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Lettuce Overload

What do I do with all this lettuce, guys? I threw all the other vegetables into a delicious soup, but I have no idea what to do with all this lettuce.

Just sign me,

Not a big fan of salads

Rude Americans?

I never used to buy into the idea that American travelers were rude and obnoxious until I moved to another country for an extended period of time.

And then I realized something.

It's not that Americans are bad people, per se. But we are an "in your face" people. We are loud, we are obnoxious, and by global standards, we are rude.

It's just who we are as a people. We are louder and ruder than most. Sure, individual Americans can be quiet and/or polite (though not this individual American), but as a society, we are bred to be demanding and loud. Whereas the Brits are just ridiculously polite, as a people.

The great thing about living abroad, is that you are really able to learn about another culture in a way that you cannot begin to process in a couple of weeks.

And one of the things that I have learnt, living in Britain, is that life is pretty nice when everyone assumes a base level of politeness.

People actually SMILE at each other on the street here. In LONDON. (In the North, they carry your suitcase up a flight of stairs, and call you 'love.') And if you dawdle on the street, you're not going to get people angrily pushing past you the way you would in New York. If two people get to a seat at a crowded bar at the same time, they will both deferentially apologize and then you'll have two minutes of awkwardness as each insists the other take the chair.

Now maybe on the inside, the Brits are angry, angry people, and are just waiting to explode ... but I don't really think so. Instead, I find that my blood pressure rarely rises as high from every day aggravations.

And it makes me realize, that simple things like smiling, can really make a difference. It seems silly, doesn't it, to think that we can change the world, one smile at a time, but ... it couldn't hurt, could it?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

What is Nature, Anyway?

I have a confession to make.

I am an environmentalist, but I don't care much about "nature."
I put "nature" in quotes, because I have to be honest, I'm not sure what "nature" is. According to this dictionary, nature is defined as the world "as it exists without human beings."

Which leads me to wonder ... where does this "nature" exist?

Obviously, none of us will have seen it, right? Because if someone had seen it, it wouldn't exist without human beings?

It's that old tree falls down in the forest thing. If no one has seen it, and no one can see it, do we know it exists?

The truth is, human beings constantly interact with the world around us, in ways that we don't even know about sometimes. We interact with the world when we use face wash with plastic in it, we interact with the world when we set aside area for conservation, we interact with the world when we cull one species to save another ... or when we don't.

"Nature," is thus, somewhat ironically, an artificial concept.

So today, instead of celebrating nature, I'd like to celebrate our world as a whole. Some of it green and filled with trees, some of it is made of tall concrete buildings. But it is all of it ... our world. And I love every bit of this world, and its delights and imperfections, dearly.

Check out the APLS Carnival on February 20th at Green Phone Booth!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow

All right, let's get that cranky post off the top of this blog, shall we? Sorry about that, folks, but I'm better today! Also, in order to rectify the balance of the universe after my extremely dismal post, Chile has volunteered to sing "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow" in a red Annie-style wig. 

'Volunteer,' 'knows nothing about it and was volunteered by me,' whatever. Same difference right? You'll do it, right Chile? Come on! It'll be fun!!

Anyway, so today, I want to talk some more about Jane Jacobs. Sorry, I can't get enough of her, I think, because it is somewhat amazing to me how relevant a book from 1961 is in the building of sustainable cities. A week ago, I read her chapter on reducing car flow in cities. Her brilliant, yet when you think about it, totally obvious answer?

Make driving a car more annoying.

As Jacobs explains, and any incisive observer of LA traffic patterns could intuit, adding lanes and roads doesn't make traffic flow much better, because more cars end up on the road. Adding lanes/roads etc only works if there is a finite number of cars at one time. Since there is not, adding lanes is unlikely to decrease traffic.

Thus, Jacobs suggests that if we want to reduce car flow, we need to widen sidewalks, instead of narrowing them. This will have the result that some people will find travel sufficiently annoying, and will use another mode of transport.

So in the vein of Jane Jacobs, I have a suggestion for LA.

Get rid of some of the parking lots.

Now I know that many Angelenos reading this blog are likely to think I'm insane. Why would we DECREASE the amount of available parking in LA?

Simply, because it's too easy to park in LA. And because it's too easy to park, people in LA don't walk. Even though LA is a city with weather conducive to walking.

Melinda and I actually had this conversation several months ago about walkability. She listed her walk score for her new neighborhood in Seattle, so I asked her what the walkability was for her neighborhood in LA, because mine was surprisingly high. And she was similarly surprised with the relatively high walkability for her old neighborhood in Los Angeles.

Ever since then, I've formed this theory that part of the reason that LA has such an ingrained car culture is because it's too easy to park. If you can easily pull into a parking spot, might as well drive even if you're only traveling a quarter of a mile.

So here's my wacky suggestion for LA this week that will both reduce parking and strengthen public transit.

On most of the large streets, cars are allowed to park in a way that blocks the right-most lane except during rush hour, when the right-most lane becomes an extra lane for traffic. But instead of letting cars park in the right-most lane most of the time, why not use that lane for dedicated rapid bus transit?  

By cutting parking options (and cutting a lane for cars during rush hour), driving will become more annoying. At the same time, public transit will become LESS annoying, which will push some people out of their cars and into buses.

Oh sure, the whole idea is political suicide, and all, but at the same time ... wouldn't it be awesome if you could take rapid transit bus from the Sunset Strip to Hollywood? Or say, if you could go to Sky Bar, not pay $20 to park, have as much to drink as you want, and then take rapid bus transit down La Cienega and across Wilshire to your apartment in Hancock Park? Not every major street would need a dedicated bus transit lane; you could get pretty far if there were dedicated bus lanes on say Sunset, Santa Monica, Wilshire, La Cienega and La Brea. And we wouldn't have to wait 20 billion years for the subway to expand. Hell, we could do this tomorrow if we wanted to.

Sure, I know, ain't gonna happen. But a girl can dream, right?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Warning: Extremely Cranky Post Ahead

Dude, I need to stop going to seminars on climate change, because once again, I am depressed. 

It's not just the starkness of the science, though, come on, most of us have seen the numbers and they are not pretty.

But what really depresses me? Is the politics.

Because you go to these seminars, and you look at the scientists neat little predictions about TEOTWAWKI, and then everyone gets depressed, and then there's some talk about renewable energy and how it's awesome, and how other scientists (the ones who aren't working on carbon emission bell curves) are working on these new! technologies! for green energy! and everyone feels a little better. But then you remember that so much green technology ALREADY EXISTS, and that we're just not using it, and you get all depressed all over again.

What I'm saying is, the thing that depresses me most about climate change is not that we don't know what to do or that we don't have many options. What depresses me is that we do know what to do, we have lots of options and yet we're not doing it. 

The Germans know how to build passive homes that provide plenty of heat, but don't require a furnace. 36% of Copenhagen residents bike to work every morning. In Bogota and even in Los Angeles, they know how to build rapid transit bus systems that people actually ride.

We know what to do, and we know how to do it, and we HAVE done it. But mostly we have done it in blips, in drips, in drabs, in small pockets of the world. 

We keep on relying on technology to save us, but if we're not even making full use of the technology we currently have available to us, what makes us think we'll use this future technology?

As far as I can tell, and as far as most people can tell, climate change of 2 degrees Celsius is completely unavoidable. And even 4 and 6 degrees might be wishful thinking. Meanwhile, politicians are busy propping up banks and throwing money at dysfunctional car companies.

And meanwhile, many of us are going against society, often going against our friends and family, and sometimes going against our own personal comfort just so we can feel like we're doing SOMETHING. ANYTHING. 

About a year ago, Sharon and I got into a discussion around this, and her point as I understood it was basically that sometimes, the most important thing is to live your life with integrity. So basically, the act of trying can be enough.

But the truth is? Today? I don't give a crap about integrity. This, to me, is not about the fact that at least when the Earth was going to hell, at least I gave a rat's ass. Trying is not enough. Because if in twenty years from now, if the worst predictions are coming true, do you think I'm going to be sitting there, thinking, "Oh well, I'm glad I froze my buns off and used a god damn rice-filled old sock to keep me warm in the winter?"

No. I'm not. 

I believe in the power of people. I believe in the power of the snowball effect, or the butterfly effect or whatever the hell you want to call it. I believe that even my small actions make a difference.

But it isn't enough. Not by a long shot. And we don't got time to let a butterfly's wing flapping cool the planet. Because, yes, society can produce change, but it usually does it over long periods of time. We need to produce a lot of change within five years. And the change that we need to produce is not necessarily conducive to individual action because it requires systemic change. We can't expect people to take the bus to work if it comes once an hour and takes a whole another hour, when the car ride is only 15 minutes. We may want people to use less heating oil, but if their home isn't properly weatherized, and they can't afford the fixes, what are they to do? We may think people should consume less stuff, but when people are bombarded with signals constantly that they should consume more, what do we think will happen?

I try very hard to maintain a sense of optimism for many reasons, but mostly because I believe in humanity. I believe in our goodness, and in our ingenuity. And that's the thing. We CAN reduce emissions. We can even do it and retain a relatively affluent lifestyle, in my opinion. 

But we're not. 

And it's hard to find much to be optimistic about that.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Where Should I Live?

Okay, I know September is a ways away, but eventually, I'm going to have to start looking for a job. And if I want to search for a job, I need to figure out where I'm going to live. So ... where should I live? I'm open to suggestion. Here are my top picks with the pros and cons, but if you want to make your case for another option, please feel free. My only qualifications are that it *has* to be a largish city (population 500,000+), I need to be able to get a job in the non-profit (preferably environmental non-profit) sector, and it needs to be reasonably diverse. 

1. London
This is the obvious choice, given that I'll already be here, which might make the job-hunt easier. Also, if I don't stay an extra year now, I might not ever get the chance again.

Pros: I love this city and want to get to know it better.
Cons: Far, far, away from my friends and family which will mean the inevitable cross-Atlantic travel.

2. New York
This has as of late become a top of the list contender. It's arguably the cultural capital of the United States, I've never lived there (and doesn't everyone HAVE to live in NYC at some point in their lives?) and I think my job prospects are pretty good.

Pros: My sister lives there, one of my best friends is moving there, and another of my best friends lives nearby in the Jerz.
Cons: I have to be honest. I'm not sure I'm a New Yorker really at heart. I think London's slightly slower pace is more my style.

3. San Francisco
I feel like I've been running away from San Francisco all my life, which is weird, because it's the city everyone else seems to be running TOWARDS. But, maybe I should stop running? My mom lives nearby, I have tons of friends in the city, and we all know how crunchy the Bay Area is.

Pros: Rainbow Grocery! Plus, I could probably con my way into dinner at Green Bean's or JennConspiracy's.  Also, my mom! My friends! The Golden Gate Bridge!!
Cons: I'm still not sure I'm ready to run towards San Francisco. Also, it's a little small for my taste. Also, I would have to get a car. I know, I know, some of you live in the Bay Area without cars. But, given that my mom is in the South Bay, I would probably need to have a car. 

4. Los Angeles
We all know about my love for LA, but can I get a job in LA? That's the question.
Pros: My heart! My love! My friends! Excellent sushi! 
Cons: Not only would I have to have a car, I'd probably have to drive it on a fairly regular basis. Plus, there's the whole job thing problem.

5. Washington D.C.
By all rights this one should be first. My job prospects will probably be brightest here, and apparently it's the only place where the job market is expanding (that is, if you are a Democrat.)
Pros: I could get a job!
Cons: I don't really have friends there, and for no good reason, I'm not super stoked about the idea of moving to DC. Now, bear in mind, I haven't been to DC in ... probably ten years. So I have no real objection to the city. In fact, that's probably why I'm not stoked to move to DC. I just don't know the city that well.

6. Chicago
Ah, Chicago, I do love you.
Pros: It's Chicago, the best city in the United States. Hands down.
Cons: It's f**king freezing. Plus, all my friends abandoned it/are planning to abandon it. Probably because it's f**king freezing.

All right, people, what do you think? Where should I move?

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Can you tell I'm excited? My organic fruit and veg delivery arrived today and I am verrrry happy.

Yup, after weeks of missing the farmers market for various reasons, I finally decided that I needed to come to terms with my student lifestyle and just get a damn delivery already. My good friend M recommended a small organic delivery service. So I sat down on Sunday, and ordered my groceries online.

And today I got apples! And carrots! And potatoes! And ... some mysterious things that I don't know what they are.

Uh oh.  

I guess if I'm going to have a veg delivery, I'll have to start learning how to identify my vegetables.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Unpacking "Affluence"

Those of you who followed the whole debate about the word affluence for our APLS carnival know that I came down heavily in support of keeping the A-word. I believed that it was important for those of us in the developed world to acknowledge our affluence. At the core, I wanted to keep the word "affluence," because I want to work for a world where everyone is an affluent person living sustainably. Where everyone gets the advantages I was lucky to have.

Lately, I've been hearing a lot about 'limits to growth' and how we cannot sustain a world where everyone is affluent. But this begs the question: what is affluence?

In my field of study, we tend to talk a lot about poverty, and how one defines it. Do we define it as income, or do we also include other factors like life-expectancy, health, and happiness?

And most people in my field agree that one needs to approach poverty in a more holistic way.

Thus, it's ironic that very little conversation is had around what it means to be affluent.

What is affluence? How do we define it?

Are another ten thousand cars on the streets of Bombay a sign of affluence?

I'd argue emphatically not.

You are not affluent just because you have a car if your commute takes three hours out of your day.

You are not necessarily affluent if you have the latest tech gadgets and you also lack health care. Or if the purchase of said gadgets lead to enormous credit card debt.

If you are stuck in a job you hate in order to pay the expensive mortgate and car payments, are you affluent?

The truth is that affluence is only unsustainable if we measure it in terms of cars and plasma TVs.

But cars and plasma televisions don't necessarily make people happier or healthier.

Instead, what if we view an affluent society as a society with high quality universal health care, education, and social security? As a society with adequate soup kitchens and shelters for those who are going through tough times? As a society with excellent public transportation, so that a car is not a necessity. As a society where kids can bike up and down the street without fear of getting run over? As a society with walkable neighborhoods filled with small coffee shops, restaurants, book stores, movie theatres, parks and museums?

Is the life of the average cookie-cutter suburban McMansion living, SUV-driving, American sustainable for everyone on the planet?


But who said that that's affluence anyway?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Informal Space

I'm reading The Death and Life of Great American Cities right now by Jane Jacobs, which is a really, really fantastic book. I'll do a review when I finish it, but after 84 pages, I can already recommend it to you all.

It's about building cities, you know, for people. Jacobs wrote the book in 1961, when things like sustainability and climate change and what not were not on anyone's radar. So it's alternatively amazing and alternately life-affirming that what makes cities good for people is exactly what makes cities good for the environment.

The things Jacobs mentions? Lively sidewalks. People out on the streets. Informal gathering places. Small shops.

It's interesting, in retrospect, because the discussion takes me back several years to ... 2003. I had been living in LA for two years, and I really, really hated it. The city seemed to me to be a maze of concrete and palm trees. It was an awful, artificial city, and I leaped at any chance to leave for a weekend or two.

And then, and I honestly, don't remember the details of how this happened, but through a friend, I ended up spending all my time in a neighborhood in LA with lively street life. Where people would hang out at the coffee shop until 2:00 am playing chess. Or drink cheap wine at the Italian restaurant down the street. Or have a cosmo at the hipster Indian restaurant up the street. Where everyone knew the name of the guys who worked at the 7-11, and they, in turn, knew our names.

Gradually, as I started spending more and more time in the neighborhood, I became more and more woven into the fabric of its streets. And as the city started to mean more to me than an assortment of freeways, I became more and more of an Angeleno.

As I got busier with my job, I spent less in the neighborhood. I no longer had time to hang out at the coffee shop, or eat at the Indian restaurant. And yet, my walk from the metro to my apartment continued to take me through the neighborhood. And even though I no longer participated in the 'street culture' per se, I was still a part of the fabric of the neighborhood. I still ran into acquaintances right and left. And the street was still littered with my many memories of Los Angeles.

Now some might think that the point of this story is that love for a city is about forming long lasting solid friendships with your fellow city denizens. But this is emphatically not the point. Instead, the point, as Jacobs explains, is about forming a strong web of connections with strangers, acquaintances, and friendly acquaintances.

Indeed, I have only stayed in touch with a couple of the people who I met on this street. Most of my strong friendships were formed elsewhere. And yet, when I think of LA, when I think of where I left my heart in Los Angeles, I think of this street. And all the assorted people who wandered through it, who wandered through my life from time to time. I think of the sense of belonging I felt as I walked down the street.

And that's what is so interesting about LA, and I think, might have something to do with my LA experience versus ... everyone else's.

My love of LA stems from a neighborhood in LA where everyone walks to the neighboring restaurants, the coffee shops, the bars, the grocery, the bank. A bunch of my acquaintances from the neighborhood didn't even have cars! Sidewalks were wide to allow outside seating at the many restaurants on the street, and pedestrians remained until the wee hours of the morning.

When you find these pockets of LA, there isn't really much that can beat it. Because, frankly, the weather is fabulous, you get local strawberries in January, the restaurants are amazing, and the city is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world.

Unfortunately, too many people in LA get caught in the concrete, unsustainable jungle. They spend too much time in their cars, sequestered away from everyone else. But if people in Los Angeles would just get out of their cars a little, they would find out that they live in a city filled with vibrant, eclectic, creative people. That off the freeways, you smell jasmine, and not smog. And that walking in LA is the only way to you are ever going to hear the heartbeat of the City of Angels, a city, truly deserving of its name, if ever you take the time to get to know it.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Being Vegetarian Isn't Arduous

Well, it can be ... apparently, if you live in a small town in Texas, but I'm happy to report that a week in, and I feel pretty okay.

I don't think I'm eating healthier than I was ... I still seem to eat too much chocolate, and the other day my friends and I split five bags of chips (crisps) for dinner. Ah, the life of a university student.

In general, being a vegetarian hasn't been a hardship as such. The only time I bemoaned my vegetarian state was when I wanted a bagel with lox and cream cheese.

But we all know that that bagel wasn't going to be anywhere near the quality of a New York bagel, so it's just as well.

On the other hand, I still can't envision living the rest of my life as a strict vegetarian. I can't imagine never eating sushi again. Or Korean barbecue. Or turkey pastrami. Or a proper New York bagel with lox and cream cheese. Or bison sloppy joes.

Okay, I'll stop now because I'm salivating.

I guess the thing is, as happy as I am to continue with this six week experiment in re-vegetarianism, I don't know that it's sustainable for me for a lifetime.

But let's see how I feel in five weeks.