Monday, October 26, 2009

Feelings About Bags

My wife took me out to dinner the other night and while we were walking back to the Metro in DC, we decided to do some grocery shopping. And then the panic hit us. We did not have our canvas grocery bags. So what should we do? Should we hop onto the Metro and risk getting back to the market after it closed? Should we just throw caution to the wind and use a couple of store bags? Should we not shop and not have cereal in the morning? In truth, it really did not matter what we decided. The more important fact was that we were thinking about the concequences of our actions. We were considering our potential impact and searching for the best ways to mitigate--not eliminate--our impact. (We eventually ended up shopping for little, getting a single bag and then making a commitment to fully use the bag once it became ours.)
To finish out the evening we decided to watch a DVD from Netflix, but thought that we would also--as our version of a featurette--watch a bit of one of the Bioneers presentations prior to the main feature. And we picked a piece of Annie Leonard's talk . We were gratified that she too talked about the feelings and internal debates associated with being a concious consumer. We felt commonality and urge others to: Think On!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Are You Brave Enough?

My wife and I woke early this AM, anxious about many, many things from the environment to the economy and back again. But we were also excited about today because October 24th will be a day for folks to demonstrate for a positive new beginning. They will be coming together at more than 5200 events in 181 countries to show their support for the concept of actually doing something about climate change. For some that means supporting the regulation of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, but for others it also means a commitment to change in their personal lives. For this latter group it means leading a less impactful life, perhaps not as radical as No Impact Man, but making significant cuts nonetheless.

I don’t know what others are doing, but for us this less impactful life means less driving. But it also means careful shopping. Last night for instance, we were making decisions on produce based not only on whether or not they were organic but where they came from and how they were packaged. We find it a little offensive, for instance, to buy organic spinach that has traveled 3000 miles and is housed in a plastic tub. Seems to defeat the whole intent of growing organically and purposely disconnects us from farmers.

Likewise, our new toothbrush choice was influenced by whether it was recyclable or not. Milk and apples went though the same decisional screens as well. As did our purchase of two cans of wild caught salmon where the debate centered on price per pound, can size and potential waste. Clearly, this type of conscious consumerism is a change from the Supermarket Sweep type of grab and throw cart-stuffing engaged in by most Americans. The end result being we did not buy much and did not have to carry much to the Metro and that is OK.

So go to the International Day of Climate Action event nearest you ( and brave the crowds, but that is only part of it. You also have to be brave enough to change the way you live and consume.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The One Eyed Video Monster

When I first came to DC in the early 1990's I had not done very many on-camera interviews. Being at the center of things changed all of that. But one thing that has not changed is how sobbering an experience it is to watch oneself on video. I am much more of a radio guy. Here is an interview that I did at this year's Greenfestival.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What Happens in the Valley..Is Heard Round the World

It is said in Las Vegas that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. The implication being that whatever poor behavior you exhibit in the city will stay secret so come and sin. But shouldn’t the opposite be true elsewhere? I think so. My wife and I recently moved to DC from a very special Valley in Vermont where the river is mad and the people do extraordinary things. And one of those things is coming together as a community and opening up a local food coop. It took them nearly two years to pull off this monumental feat but starting soon folks will once again be able to buy local organic vegetables in this historic school building which also houses the 100 watt non-profit radio station and is surrounded by a graveyard and community gardens. So if you ever find yourself in the Mad River Valley and are near the legendary Prickly Mountain in what is known as “Deep” Warren and have a hankering for a real country store experience, this would be the place to go. And if you happen to be there on a Tuesday at mid-day you’ll also have the pleasure of hearing Sprawl Talk hosted by world renowned architect Dave Sellers on WMRW. But what would you expect from a Valley with a chamber of commerce that actually acknowledges global warming and has a “buy local” kind of attitude and runs one of the most progressive 4th of July parades you will ever see. We miss you guys and congratulations!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

What is it Going to Take?

Aldo Leopold wrote his seminal work Sand County Almanac in the 1940s. After his death in 1949, his family kept up a lot of his work including keeping track of when migrating critters showed up to the family retreat in Wisconsin known as The Shack. Year after year the animals showed up earlier and left later--clear indications that change was in the wind. Now sixty years later, the fact of that change is looking us square in the eye and challenging us to do something before it is too late. Many of us are taking our hard earned wisdom and experience and applying it in every way possible to bring about needed change, but others are doing just the opposite. It seems remarkable today that I can read a news article this morning about the Cabinet of the Maldives meeting underwater with SCUBA tanks to drive home the real world consequences of climate change and in the afternoon be called a Marxist Socialist Communist Loony by someone upset that I argued for the use of low flow shower heads and energy conservation. Amazing. So where does that leave us? The simple answer is that we continue to do what we have been doing and more. We get our houses in order, literally, by watching our energy use and redesigning all aspects of lives so that we use less and lower our impact. And we reach out to others and share our stories and have fun doing it. So get your house ready for winter; think about giving more of yourself and fewer un-needed gifts this holiday;and invest in relationships rather than stuff.

Friday, October 16, 2009

It Started with a Sheet of Newspaper

It started about 40 years ago, I think. I had run out of wrapping paper and was low on money. So I went to the newspaper stack instead and used the comics to cover my present and keep the surprise factor. My family commented and tied this action in with the family legend that I still had the first five dollar bill I ever earned. Over the years I kept doing it and even switched to wrapping gifts with other--less colorful--sections of the newspaper. It became my signature and it really felt good to be saving money and sending a message with every gift I wrapped in this manner. The interesting thing about messages you send is that they often come back to you and instruct. In this case, the wrapping made we think about not only the wrapping of birthday and holiday offerings but of the gifts themselves. Was I giving good gift? And for me that meant quality rather than quantity and meaning rather than mass. Once you open the door to thinking about consumption, you really start to think about consumption. It can start with a simple thing like repurposing a read newspaper and can end up changing your life for the better of all living creatures. Think about all that you use and become someone who thinks about the consequences of consumption and does something about it.

Of Pipe Wrenches and Shorter Showers

When I was very young my father had an on-going battle with my older brother about the length of his showers. My dad was and is very much a product of the Great Depression and we were very much a “turn off the lights and close the doors to avoid using excess energy” sort of family. Dad was a terror on waste so he devised a system whereby he would scoot out to the garage when my brother hopped into the shower and after about five minutes or so he would take a wrench and slowly turn off the hot water feed from the water heater. I am not sure that my brother ever caught on, but it was a pretty effective deterrent to long showers. Dad had pretty much broken off the valve handle by the time that I started my voluntary bathing era and the general attitude at that time was shifting to one of looking after energy use. My point in all of this is that often times it takes something to get us to behave the way we should. For my brother it was a pipe wrench and for me it’s remembering the Santa Clara Valley before and after urban sprawl. Sometimes it is something small like reducing the size of your garbage pail in the kitchen to remind you to recycle more and throw less away. And sometimes it is something big like seeing a fish kill or sea bird wandering around with a plastic soda can ring encircling its neck, to make you be more conscious of your home chemical use or beverage container choice. Find the things and signals that help you improve your behavior and celebrate them.