Saturday, December 31, 2005

Green New Year

I wish everyone a wonderful and peaceful 2006. I'm not a big believer in New Year's resolutions but I always like to take the opportunity to reflect and reassess ... and I will get back to my blog after the holidays. I am babysitting my two nieces (two and four years old) ... from Jan. 10 to 16, so I'm not sure if I'll have the energy or brain power for blogging during that time. Wish me luck! They are the sweetest girls in the universe but lots of work.

Thanks to everyone who has commented, contributed, and inspired me this last year. I was happy to see that Ardent Eden listed the things she'd accomplished this year ... I was thinking of doing the same thing myself. The last blog entry I started was entitled "Things I Hate About Being an Environmentalist" ... but I decided it wasn't really productive to share that or dive too deeply into the topic. It came on the heels of a couple very cold and cranky days and a tough bike ride with a big load of laundry on my back. Anyone who's decided to shift to a more conscientious lifestyle knows that it's not all peaches and cream. Or as a friend of mine likes to say, "It's not all Guns 'n Roses."

This has been a challenging holiday for me, trying to keep my head straight amidst the wanton consumerism and (unnecessarily) frantic pace of the season. It's supposed to be about peace, isn't it?

When you're toasting tonight, remember to drink one to our gorgeous, beloved planet, and the generations ahead who are counting on us to turn things around. Salud!

Love & Best Wishes in the New Year,
Maria (SustainableGirl)

Friday, December 16, 2005

A Holiday Poem


This day we give thanks
For our daily bread
baked of the fruits
of the soil we've bled
Be thankful now for
The turkey you're carving
Cause not too long ago
Our country was starving
While the food in the fields
Lay, rotten, forgotten
Homesteaders evicted
For a few seasons' cotton
You can see what happens
when market forces override
The health of the land
On which we subside
The dollars won't tell you
What's happened to our soil
That it will run out of nitrogen
When we run out of oil
We engineer the corn on which
the turkeys are fed
turkeys from cages
in factories stained red.
Red yams sweetened
with third world cane
The slaves who now feed us
Aren't kept in our name
Our blacks are now free
but not to own land
Unless they still cultivate
with the work of their hands
Because The Department of Agriculture
Does not subsidize fuel
To the people still waiting
On forty acres and a mule
Those in our country
with African blood
are now kept in the cities
most likely to flood
I'm not saying white farmers
have an easy row to hoe
if you're not a corporation
You can't gain from what you grow
Did you buy yourself
a supermarket turkey this year
Was the bread on your table
Genetically engineered?
Even at our tables
we don't give it a thought
Except maybe to give thanks
For who we are not
The burdened small farmer
Now going out of business
Or our grandchildren after us
for the starvation they may witness
We turn on the television
We gorge ourselves gaseous
But the effects of our culture
are sure to outlast us.

--Joji Kohjima

Joji is a student at Tacoma Community College, planning to continue his studies in anthropology and sociology.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A Bad Idea Named Chlorine

Here is some information on the use of chlorine in bleaching paper. As Paul suggested in his comment on 12/11, it's the manufacture of chlorine that is the real problem, not the disposal of it on the other end.

In 1993, the American Public Health Association passed a unanimous resolution urging American industry to phase out the manufacture of chlorine because of the danger to public health and safety. I wonder if this had any effect. I'm assuming since the public still regularly purchases bleached and chlorinated products, there was no enforcement on behalf of the APHA's resolution. Why? Because the dollar takes a backseat to nothing and no one, and politicians are primarily interested in "growing the economy" and keeping corporations fat and happy. Corporations enjoy the privileges and rights of personhood without the accountability.

I quote below from an informative page on MakingIndiaGreen.Org, and in the interests of full disclosure, I should note that this was reprinted with permission from Seventh Generation, which is a company that sells eco-friendly cleaning products:

"Chlorine is used by the paper industry for two purposes. The first has to do with a substance called lignin. Lignin is the natural material a tree uses to hold its cellulose fibers together. Cellulose fibers are the raw material for paper. Because chlorine dissolves lignin, paper mills use it to rinse the lignin out of the wood pulp they need to make paper.

Once the lignin is washed away, and the pulp is ready to be made into paper, chlorine is used again to make the paper white. If this were all there was to it, we wouldn't have much to worry about. Unfortunately, there's more. When wood pulp or recycled paper is bleached, the reactions that take place between the chlorine, the lignin, and the cellulose fibers produce the most toxic substances ever created. The most dangerous of these includes a family of 75 different chemicals known as dioxins and a host of other chemicals called organochlorines.

The wastes that paper mills discharge into the environment after paper is bleached contain dioxins. And dioxins don't readily break down, which means that over the years they've been accumulating in our air, water, and soil. Once they're out there, they enter the food chain and we're exposed to them through the food we eat. Dioxins are now so widespread in the environment that virtually every man, woman, and child in America has them in their bodies. In fact, each day we ingest 300-600 times more than the EPA's so-called "safe" dose. As they accumulate inside us to critical levels, the effects begin to show.

Dioxins are deadly. In fact, dioxins are believed to be the most carcinogenic chemicals known to science, and the U.S. EPA's Dioxin Reassessment has found dioxins 300,000 times more potent as a carcinogen than DDT (the use of which was banned in the U.S. in 1972). There's no way to sugar-coat the effects dioxins have on people and the environment. Recent research has conclusively linked dioxins to cancer, reproductive disorders among adults, deformities and developmental problems in children, and immune system breakdowns. And dioxins can cause these effects at exposure levels hundreds of thousands of times lower than most hazardous chemicals.

Like dioxins, organochlorines are extremely long-lived, highly efficient travelers that have spread throughout the global environment. Every human being on the planet now carries organochlorines in his or her body. Scientists are concerned about these chemicals because they believe that when organochlorine molecules enter the body, they mimic hormones, the natural substances we produce in minute quantities to regulate our bodies' many functions. Because organochlorine molecules are shaped like hormone molecules, they can slip into cells in place of our hormones and cause terrible effects. These may include lower IQ, reduced fertility, genital deformities, breast cancer, prostate cancer, testicular cancer, dramatic reductions in human sperm counts, and abnormalities within the immune system through a process called endocrine disruption."

There is equally frightening information on this page regarding the use of chlorine in household cleaners. In the spirit of all questions we must ask in terms of our relationship to the environment, at what cost should we make our paper or clothing sparkly white, or our tubs or toilets "germ-free"?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Coffee Filter Update

Many thanks to Lauren, who suggested I search for reusable coffee filters. I didn't realize there would be so many choices! Here are a few links I found, for the green coffeeheads. Several of these companies offer all sorts of other eco-friendly products as well ... but these links will take you to directly to the filters:


It also sounds like bleached paper (which is any white paper) is not something you want in your compost, since the bleach is toxic ... which makes me wonder, do you want to drink bleach with your coffee?

**Note - please read comments attached to this post, I may be wrong about the bleach and will correct the info in a later post.**

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Running Out

My "environmental awakening," as I like to call it, took place about midway through this year, so there are vestiges of my former life lingering around my home. Specifically, products remain that I would not now purchase, but which I feel compelled to use because, well, here they are. As my partner said about our plethora of paper towels, they're garbage either way. Unless we can find some way to use them for ... food? Fuel? Home insulation? Right now we're using them for coffee filters, as the two packs of filters we had have run out and we don't want to buy more. The paper towels work just as well, as I'm sure many coffee drinkers know. One half of a towel, folded in half again, does the trick. After coffee brewing we put them in the compost with the grounds. The only thing I'm not sure about is whether the decorative flowers on the towels are made of toxic inks that actually shouldn't be put into the compost. Now that I just put that down in writing, I'm more worried and I should contact the company and find out what those dyes are made of. I'm not sure what we'll do for coffee filters when the paper towels run out. Can I re-use a piece of cloth?

The other day I had a painful case of running out. For the last few years I've been using a specific facial cleanser, which I had been feeling guilt-free about because it's "all-natural." I've developed quite an attachment to this product and its positive effect on my skin. I thought I had one more container of it on hand (it comes from Canada so I tended to buy several at a time) ... but the other day when I went looking for it, I learned that I have indeed used the last beloved drop. I can't justify ordering a product to be shipped all the way from Canada, and I certainly can't at this point stomach a purchase based purely on vanity. Can I get my face clean without this stuff? Yes. Do I miss the stuff? Yes. I still have some cheap cocoa butter facial scrub, which I'm now using in tiny amounts so I feel like I'm at least doing something for my face. I don't know what I will do when I run out of moisturizer ... that's a whole other issue. My partner is baffled by all of this as he doesn't use soap or lotion on his skin ... and of course it's lovely and soft. Enough said.

I'm also well-stocked on feminine hygiene products but preparing for post-Tampax life. I don't want any more bleached rayon inside my body, or any more of these products flushed into our sewer system or rotting in the landfills. Umbra of had some good suggestions, and is a personal fan of The Keeper, which I'm researching as a possible solution for myself. I was also intrigued by Lunapads, and I did encounter some sea-sponge tampons at the natural foods store recently ... but I couldn't quite take that leap yet. Dr. Joseph Mercola (a holistic doc with some popular opinions on healthier living) had some good information on feminine hygiene products here.

Sustainable living requires a revisiting of values, and a willingness to make personal sacrifices. Luckily it doesn't all happen at once. I'm thankful that for most of my adult life I've rejected (in theory, at least) the idea that beauty necessitated a bunch of products and upkeep ... but I'm still a woman in this appearance-based culture and my earthy inner self sometimes feels challenged by the standards. In the long run, the Earth and her inhabitants are more important than how I feel, and certainly more important than how I look.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Let's Face It

I have been reinspired by a blog I stumbled upon ... another blogspot gem: carfreefamily. This guy is a stay-at-home dad and ordinary environmentalist like myself. I sense in his writing the same feeling of helplessness tempered by hope and love for this place. He's honest about the frustrations and difficulties (and joys and rewards) of living without a car, tending a garden, and watching most of America continue down a destructive, consumptive path while ordinary folks are trying to make a difference. I like the way this guy writes and I think I will send him an email to that effect. He should know his thoughts and efforts are impacting people.

I also recently viewed The End of Suburbia, a documentary on the impending crisis of Peak Oil. I hear this term so often these days I feel compelled to capitalize it. We borrowed the DVD from someone at a recent community meeting on environmental issues (about 30 people in attendance). We were forewarned about the film by the person who loaned it to us, and indeed, this movie scared the shit out of me. The gist of it is this: our entire economy, and particularly the very American phenomenon of suburbia, is entirely reliant upon cheap energy.

Think about it: the suburbanite gets in her car, drops the kids off at school, gets on the freeway and sits in traffic for an hour or more, finally arriving at her job in the city, many miles away. There, she sits at a computer terminal and does any number of things which depend on the import/export of foreign goods. After work, she heads home, burning the same amount of gas again. (In all likelihood, her husband is doing the same thing in his own vehicle.) In the evening, the kids are driven to their various activities. Once a week or so, the family packs into the van and drives ten or more miles (at least) to the Big Box store to pick up enormous supplies of food and goods, none of which are produced locally or sustainably. On the way home, it's so-and-so's birthday party next week, so stop at the Strip Mall Department Store to pick up a gift ... plastic toy manufactured in China or Taiwan or Mexico. Stop and fill the tank, head back, feel too tired to make dinner, get drive-thru fare, go home, eat, go to bed, get up and repeat the process. Meanwhile, home is an oversized several-thousand-square-foot box requiring tons of fuel to heat or cool and run the alarm system protecting the entertainment centers and and appliances and clothes and gadgets needed to fill up all this space.

This may sound overly negative. But does it happen? Yes, it is happening all the time, to varying degrees. And every tiny detail of this lifestyle requires cheap and abundant fuel. What The End of Suburbia asserts is the reality that the age of oil is coming to an end. Not that we will run out of oil, but that what is left requires more and more energy (read: oil) to retrieve it. The oil that is available now is extremely deep, requiring natural gas or water to force it out of the ground, and it is "dirty," meaning more energy is required yet again to refine it for use. This can't last. THIS WON'T LAST.

So ... what will become of our lifestyles? Well, they will necessarily change ... for the better, I think. Economies must be localized, and goods and services must be obtained using the least possible amount of fuel. People will need to work and shop within walking or biking distance of their homes. Everything will have to be downsized ... most importantly, our overwhelming and insatiable desire to consume. The upside of all this, if we can manage not to destroy ourselves in the oil and food wars that will inevitably arise while this shift is occurring, is that we will begin to restore and preserve the environment and prevent some of the suffering to which we're currently condemning future generations.

When I was talking to a friend recently about these issues, I had an interesting vision of a moment when everyone in a community would all step out of their homes on to the main street of the town. Looking around, we would see doctors, carpenters, gardeners, police officers, mechanics, teachers, etc. etc. We would have everything we need in skill and intelligence to keep our community going. We just don't see it right now, because so many Americans go from home to car to job and back again. Obviously there are many, many exceptions to this. But ask yourself ... who are your neighbors? If there were a catastrophe how would we pull together? As has been demonstrated clearly by the disaster of Hurricane Katrina, it is folly to think the government will come to our rescue. In the years to come, I think we will see vividly the worst and best of our natures.

James Howard Kunstler was my favorite of the speakers who appeared in the film. He is extremely blunt about the destructive nature of American consumerism and about the strife and violence that is to come. This view appeals to me because, to quote a friend, it leaves no room for apathy. If it "might" happen, then there's some validity in the "wait and see" philosophy ... but the fact is, it is happening. The world is being destroyed by our greed and the oil won't last much longer.

My partner and I are on the same page, fortunately. At some point we'll leave this very dry valley and head back over to the West side of the mountains. The climate is milder there, so winter and summer won't be so difficult to endure without electricity, if necessary. Rainfall is plentiful, and rain barrels will irrigate our garden for free. We are blessed to be musicians with a number of acoustic instruments at hand, and we can light a candle and play music for our own pleasure. It really doesn't sound all that bad, but it will certainly take some doing to acclimate to a lifestyle of creation rather than consumption.

This crisis will not arrive overnight. Gas prices won't suddenly shoot to twenty dollars a gallon. But it is certain that someday, people will look back on these days with nostalgia ... or disgust. I'm looking forward with my eyes and heart open.