Friday, June 26, 2009

No I Haven't Abandoned You Yet Again....

Okay, I kind of have. But only for a couple days while I go on a much needed post-exam vacation.

Back Wednesday.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Spotlight on Sustainable Cities: Amsterdam

A while back I was talking about how I thought a truly sustainable country was one in which both human welfare and environmental concerns were taken into account. Thus, it isn't enough to have one or the other, we need both. And EJ asked if there had ever been a welfare state that had been sustainable for several generations.

Well, the answer to EJ's question is no, mostly because the modern welfare state came into existence after World War II. So while there has been state welfare for a long, long time, our current concept of a welfare state is only about 60-odd years old.

However, if ever there was a contender for a sustainable welfare state it would be the Netherlands. Given the Netherlands' affluence, its greenhouse gas emissions are quite low and they have ambitious plans to further reduce reductions. It's also got the full complement of government programs: health care, public housing, etc.

So how do they do it? Well, a look at Amsterdam provides a clear indication of one important means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions:

Everyone bikes. Everywhere.

In fact, there are now, on average, more trips taken via bike in Amsterdam than via car. But a bike culture doesn't occur in a vacuum and the city is designed for bikers with bike lanes and bike parking in abundance, and car parking is seriously restricted. Moreover, speed limits are relatively low in order to increase safety.

And it works. Even though no one I saw biking around in Amsterdam was wearing a helmet, their bike fatality rate is extremely low ... lower than in the U.S. where everyone seems to wear a helmet, knee pads, and reflectors among other things. (Side note: do you think people would bike more if it weren't such a freaking production every time you needed to get on your bike? Why can't people bike in jeans anymore? Why must we wear lycra and spandex every time we hop on our bikes? Why am I saying we as if I've been anywhere NEAR a bike in the past ten years?)

But it's not just the bikes. Amsterdam's approach to the environment is integrated into all their policies. In housing, Amsterdam has been working with housing associations, who supply over half of the housing in Amsterdam, to make the housing more efficient. And one of their recent programs trained unemployed young people to become efficiency advisers to housing associations. People got jobs, other people got more efficient houses, and less carbon was emitted. Win, win, win.

The point here is that Amsterdam isn't just green because the people there are just better. Amsterdam is more sustainable because the city has been designed to make it easier to live sustainably. Because care has been put into making institutions sustainable. Because it is an incredibly dense city that has done an effective job of developing mixed-use neighborhoods. Because the environment is integrated into all types of policy. Because Amsterdam aims to link livelihoods with the environment.

The point is you can have a high population of relatively affluent people living fairly sustainably if you do it properly. Amsterdam seems to be doing a pretty job of getting things right, and they are also getting better.

We can learn a lot from their example.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Good News For Moms

Apparently, a couple weeks ago a bill was submitted in Congress that would allow all mothers the ability to take time off to pump breast milk while working, and would offer a tax credit for companies to set up proper facilities for nursing moms.

Now, I probably don't have to tell most of you about both the environmental and health benefits of breast feeding. I think those benefits have been fairly loudly publicized. Still, I was shocked by some of the stats in this New York Times article. The percentage of moms in the top income bracket who breast feed is about 25 points higher than the percentage of moms who breast feed in the bottom income bracket.

There is no reason that wealthier parents should breastfeed more than poorer moms. Breast milk is, among other things, free.

But in fact, wealthier moms do breastfeed more because poorer moms are 1) less likely to take time off for leave 2) more likely to work in jobs where they have no place nor time to pump.

We live in a culture of blame.

When a mom doesn't breast feed, she is blamed for not doing so. She is castigated as selfish and uncaring. When another person drives to work, they are refusing to sacrifice. They don't care about the Earth or they would take the bus. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

And we fail to take account of the socio-economic, legal, and political institutions that influence our behavior. You can't breast feed if you have to work and you aren't allowed time or facilities to pump. You can't take the bus if the bus triples your commute time and lessens your already precious little time with your family and friends.

Yes, we are back to my favorite topic. It's the institutions, stupid! I think I'm going to make tee-shirts.

Personally, I think this act seems like a good step forward, though clearly not enough. I'd love to see more comprehensive legislation for parents in the future including paid parental leave for both mothers AND fathers. But until then, time to pump is a start.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Are Used Pillows Weird?

Okay, so I don't know whether I told you all you this, but my dorm has this super cool idea where they allow people moving out to put the stuff they're getting rid of in big "Freecycle" bins and then the rest of us are allowed to pull whatever we want from the bins thus cutting down on garbage and cutting down on unnecessary buying. Awesome and easy, right?

So anyway, so far all I'd pulled out were some hangers.

But a couple days ago I saw some pillows in the bins. Now, I have horrible pillows. Really awful super thin ones.

And these were really nice pillows.

So I pulled them out, figuring I could wash the pillows and then use them.

But then I had some misgivings.

I don't have too big an ick factor, but I started if used pillows was taking my hippie train a little too far. (Yeah, I had no concerns about the diva cup or the giving up of TP or the paper towels, but used PILLOWS, that's where it starts to hit me.)

What do you think? Used pillows? Fine or weird?

Monday, June 22, 2009

For Those of You Who Are Curious

I still haven't figured out where the hell to live next year.

It's actually beginning to freak me out a little because well ... I'm a planner. So to not have a plan for what I'm doing with you know, the REST OF MY LIFE is starting to get a little weird.

I think I've narrowed it down except not really at all. The problem is that I had been operating under the assumption that I could apply to jobs in a bunch of places and then figure out where I was moving based on where I got a job. I soon realized that um we're in a recession... it's going to take me for freaking ever to find a job. So I might need to decide where to live and, you know, work at a Starbucks until I can get a real job.

At this point I think there is a

45% chance I will move to New York which has the advantage of being a good city job-wise, as well as family and friends. And it's a cool city.

35% change I will stay in London which I would dearly love to do. But in this economy I'm just not sure that there are enough work opportunities for a non-EU citizen.

10% chance I will move back to California. I actually have been missing California quite a bit lately, and would be much more likely to move back if I thought I could find a job there, but I've looked and there really ain't nothing there.

5% chance I will move to India. Lately, I've been thinking about this option more and more. Given the field I am going to be working in, this seems to make a lot of sense, and it would certainly be nice to spend more time with my family there.

5% chance I will be elsewhere. Which could basically be anywhere at this point.

So, if anyone wants to weigh in, again, feel free. And if you have a job to offer me, your suggestion will be looked upon even more favorably.

Really, what I'm tempted to do given the double digit unemployment rate is to just cash out what is left of my 401(k) and bum around Europe for a while.

So you know, hire me. I'm awesome! Really!!

Friday, June 19, 2009

My Eco-Sins

So some of you may know this or not but I'm secretly part of the Green Moms Carnival ... even though I'm not a mom. Shhh! Don't tell them. I may have made up an imaginary child named Juanita to get into the club.

Anyway ... point being, this month's carnival topic asks what we do that is not eco-friendly. I feel like I've covered this ground a few times since I love self-flagellation, but what the hell. If you want to read the full carnival, check it out on June 24th at The Green Parent.

Okay ... so first off, I have sinned REMARKABLY during these past few months with exams. I think I've come to the conclusion that we all have the things we're quite good at. For me, it's not shopping. I can not shop until I don't drop. But cooking ...?

Yeah that crap went out the window long ago. In the past couple months, I have *gasp* used several styrofoam cups as I forgot my portable tea mug and then the portable tea mug became so scuzzy and gross I couldn't use it anymore.

I have given up on farmer's markets for the time being, instead buying my (still organic and British grown) strawberries at the nearby supermarket. Of course, they come wrapped in buckets of plastic.

Then there was my exam obsession with Subway. I chose Subway, because, yes, it is fast food, but it is reasonably healthy, I get a lot of veg on my sandwich, and I always take the sandwich without a plastic bag. So getting Subway once in a while, okay. But I lived on Subway. To the point where, I would go in, and they would know me, and know what I wanted. "Why do you always get the Veggie Delight?" they would ask. 'The Veggie Patty is really good you know.' After that time, I stopped going to Subway so much.

What else? Oh yeah. I switched back to normal deodorant after trying the Tom's of Maine kind. (It doesn't work.)

And lastly, when I was in Belgium, I bought a ton of delicious goumet chocolates. They were amazing. And also, seriously not fair-trade.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What Motivates You?

I've been contemplating this a lot recently. What motivates us? Me, you, your friends, your spouse? Are we motivated by posters? By ads? By pop-stars? By sticks? By carrots?

And how do we motivate others? Is the answer to our problems taxes and tazers? Do we motivate people to lessen their environmental impact by force?

Or do we motivate people to lessen their environmental impact by appealing to their altruism?

Can we use force to get people to care, or does force turn people off? Will cap and trade or a carbon tax or another top-down approach make people care more about the environment, or will it make them care less?

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

To Buy or Not to Buy?

Well it seems like everyone's talking about cell phones this week and it's made me think a little about mine.

For years I always went with the no-frills free phones. They would conveniently fall apart right about when my contract would expire, so I would dutifully re-sign with my cellphone overlord, get my new crappy free phone and continue on with life. I never questioned this until my phone fell apart a mere six months after I had purchased it. Given the option of paying full price for the crappy no-frills phone, I instead opted for the magical land of eBay where I found a used phone that, yes, had some scratches, but worked perfectly. And lo! Me and my cell phone were happy for a year and a half until it basically went kaput.

At that point I was getting ready to move to the UK so I took a friend's old phone that was UK compatible with me. And it's served me quite well for the past year, but I've had it for almost a year now, and I believe my friend had it for over a year before me, and there are signs that this cell phone may well be on its last legs.

Now back when I bought my first phone off of eBay I swore I would never buy a new phone again. Why sign a contract to get a crap phone when I can get a perfectly good phone at a decent price off of eBay. I only ever got the stupid no-frills phones anyway, so what does it matter.

Except that phones have changed since I made that edict and phones are increasingly no longer just phones. More and more of my friends have iPhones and Blackberries and their phones can do cool stuff like tell you how to say giraffe in Portuguese. So I fear that I am succumbing to the Shiny! Technology! Greedy! Gremlin.

I mean I'm not. Not yet, anyway, because A#1, my phone still works and A#2, I'm an unemployed student with no cash to spare.

So for now, my principles are intact.

But I do kinda want an iPhone. And I kinda hate myself for kinda wanting an iPhone.

But WHAT DO I DO IF I NEED TO SAY GIRAFFE IN PORTUGUESE? What then?!! Think of the children!!

I know, I know ... new cell phones are incredibly damaging to the environment. And I have principles.

So I'm not buying a new cell phone.

I guess I'll have to wait until I get home to my laptop computer in order to translate giraffe into Portuguese. Or else start learning Pourtuguese.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I'm back?

So exam five out of six ended today, and I think I should probably get back into some form or routine. Including blogging, jogging, and losing the ten pounds of exam weight I apparently put on.

As I transition back to a normal schedule of blogging for the first time in what, ten months, is there anything you would like me to blog about? Because I am likely to be slim on ideas for awhile, so if you don't want blog posts about what I had for breakfast, you know, tell me what you want me to chatter on endlessly about.

So Beany asked me the other day about how I felt about the tube strike (hence the photo of the tube.) As she correctly recalled, the tube strike did not affect me directly since I live in walking distance from campus. It did affect my friends who do not live so close to campus and who also received a rather nasty email from the university saying that the tube strike did not constitute a valid excuse for being late to an exam.

Anyway, I wasn't particularly bothered and politically I support the right of unions to strike in general, but the two days of the strike I have never seen so much car traffic, foot traffic, and bikers. The car traffic especially was a disaster and a good reminder of why public transit is our friend. I heard some of the bikers tried to campaign to get people to bike more even on days when there is no tube strike. But I don't think they really succeeded as now that the tube is back up and running, it doesn't seem like there are more bikers on the streets. Perhaps if they had tried a massive naked bike ride during the tube strike ....

Photo from flickr user gnackgnackgnack

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Um, awesome.

Apparently, the Queen is becoming a locavore and growing a garden at Buckingham Palace for the first time since World War II!! Check it out.

Monday, June 8, 2009


And I still haven't saved the world yet. What the hell, man?! ;) I guess that's going to have to go on my list of things to accomplish by 40.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Isn't it ironic that a fracking BLOGGER's biggest problem in exam preparation is ... that writing thing?


I'm good with the knowledge.

I'm good with the argument.

But the structure?

Oh, the structure is my nemesis.

Apparently my examiner's are not so thrilled with my waxy prosey style of writing wherein one point flows to another without an intro paragraph saying, "First I will talk about this. Then I will talk about that. Lastly I will discuss this."

Yeah, I threw out that crap in the 9th grade.

But it's back in my essays now! And I suck at it, but am hoping that somehow, somewhere, I'll pull structure out by Wednesday.

So... that's where I am. But meanwhile, there's a cover meme going around wherein people share their favorite cover songs. So, here's mine. I heart U2.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Sorry about that guys. I totally left you hanging in the midst of my three part series that none one of you cared about. Sorry!

But in my defense I have been totally totally busy having a melt down over exams.

Today I almost cried in a professor's office. It was that bad. And let me tell you, you do not cry in your very British male professor's office. Because they do not know what to do with that kind of emotion.

Although to be fair to my professor he was beyond nice, and so comforting, and talked me through my panic mode, and then I left his office, and studied in the park and all was well.

But anyway, once again I have to ask you all to just sit back, relax and check your Google readers as we've hit a bumpy spot and I may not be posting much at all for the next ... twenty days. Thank you all for your patience during this ridiculous year.

Wish me luck!

P.S. Am eating a lot of ethically produced chocolate over at just means. You can catch my reviews this week.