Category Archives: society

Being green on a busy schedule

One of my friends asked me the other day for some tips on how to be a good environmentalist on a tight schedule. Here, I’ll divulge some tips on how to easily fit being green into the average American lifestyle.

Rule #1: Keep it Simple Stupid

I have set aside a specific location in my kitchen for my recyclables—a site that’s easy to access but is still out of the way. I actually keep my recyclables right next to my reusable shopping sacks—when I go to the grocery store I also take a trip to the recycling center. I am lucky enough to be within walking distance of both, but this can also be a good way to get the most out of a car trip if you are driving.  Since I use a reusable sack, I have gotten into a habit of bringing it with me every time I go to the store. As an extra measure (as we can all be forgetful), I would suggest you keep an extra sack in the trunk of your car if you drive to the supermarket. Otherwise, just put it on your mental lists of things to bring with you. I find if I plan to go to the supermarket every Saturday morning, I have already created a routine and it becomes easier to remember my reusable sack.

Rule #2: Think Ahead

One conundrum that I have run into is how to buy bulk foods. Being a user of reusable shopping bags, it irks me to waste a plastic sack on account of my bulk granola or almond purchase. Therefore, I reuse these sacks as well. When I have finished my granola or almonds, I dump the crumbs and put the bag into my reusable shopping sack (reverting back to rule #1, Keep it Simple Stupid).

Rule #3: Skip the extra bags in the produce aisle

I only bag veggies and fruits if I feel it absolutely has to be done. This goes for items such as green beans, which are impractical not to bag and fresh lettuce, which is often too wet to put in my sack. As for everything else (including but not limited to bananas, apples, onions, avocados and zucchini) I skip a sack and throw it in my reusable bag.

Rule #4: Beware the bag boy/restaurant employee

This is where going green really starts becoming proactive for me. Nothing annoys me more than going through my clean mean green routine, and then having a bag boy/girl at a grocery store sack an item such as bananas. You have to be very mindful in these situations and request “no extra bags please.” Same thing goes when I order a sandwich at Subway or a delicious burrito bowl from Chipotle (you have to speak up loudly, clearly and quickly in these situations because these employees are often uber excited to bag you up—that’s their job, after all).

Rule #5: Cut down on the meat

I don’t think it’s much of a secret that the growth and transport of the meat we eat is a huge producer of greenhouse gasses. That’s one of the reasons that I choose to eat meat but twice a week. What’s more, I almost always limit my meat purchases to chicken, which is less carbon intensive to grow and transport than beef, for example.  This is an easy decision for me, but for those of you who really love your meat, try to purchase a bit less during your next rendezvous in downtown meat town. You can complement your diet with other yummies such as fresh veggies and beans (There is nothing I love more than fresh veggie tacos—I’ll divulge my recipe in another post).

While I am no perfect environmentalist, I hope this post effectively shows you that there are some really simple ways to green up your life. For those readers who have extra tips to share, feel free to comment.

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A culture of locusts? Lessons from Independence Day

I was recently re-watching the movie Independence Day, which got me thinking about some deep issues. No, I’m not talking about aliens taking over the earth. Whilst in an alien autopsy gone very wrong, Bill Pullman, who plays the United States president, has a vision of what the unearthly visitors are up to.

I saw… its thoughts. I saw what they’re planning to do. They’re like locusts. They’re moving from planet to planet… their whole civilization. After they’ve consumed every natural resource they move on… and we’re next. Nuke ’em. Let’s nuke the bastards.

The aliens in this movie are the stereotypical “bad” guys. They have no regard for others and seek to serve only themselves. But if you read that quote carefully, you may have realized something–the same quote could be used to describe exactly what the “good”  guys, humans, are trying to do. Let’s face it. We are well on our way to destroying the planet. Despite the efforts that many people are trying to make to “save the planet” there are far more people who want to consume, consume, consume.

And it’s not far-reaching to assume that we would like to inhabit other planets.  You can constantly find articles about how a new planet or moon similar to earth may have been discovered, and NASA is currently doing research to promote human survival for a colonization of the moon.

Why are humans so intent on conquering new territory? What makes us think it is our right or obligation to inhabit any other planet besides the one that we are already have such a hard time taking care of? So it would seem we were on our way to becoming locusts. We fear evil aliens and come to realize that we have actually become what we so fear.

Taking care of the earth can be, well, expensive: How do you get around the costs of going green?

I work for an educational institution that would love to “go green.” We have a great sustainability center and many ideas for what we could do to reduce our impact on the earth. We have many ideas, but we also have one problem–doing the right thing gets difficult really quickly.

Example: This year, some colleagues and I tried to introduce single-stream recycling into our campus’ residence halls. We were very excited about this, as we felt it would make things simple for students (no separating materials!) and ease many new students into recycling for the first time. We did not foresee how hard it really is to change people’s behavior. The single stream program was anything but a success, even as we tried harder and pushed stronger with marketing. We even had a year opening barbecue dedicated to sustainability in the residence halls, but recycling participation rates have  gotten more and more dismal.

What’s more, some staff members started turning against recycling. After all, it cost us three times as much to recycle as it would have cost us to ship the same items to the landfill. Those are startling numbers indeed. We were suddenly faced with a poor economy and the question “Do we abandon what’s right? Can we afford what’s right?”

It is a very sad situation when it becomes so costly to do what’s right. Not only does the program physically cost more, but it costs employee time to sort the contaminates out of the mix, and as they say, time is money.

However, we were not willing to give up this fight. Some leaders of this project have done some research and found ways to reduce cost while still making the program simple to students. Instead of trying to do single stream, which was actually more complicated for many students and costly to us, we will be offering recycling on a hall-by-hall basis for papers and plastics. This means halls have to opt in and have a recycling chair. Our own staff members will collect and separate the recyclables, which will erase the cost that the city would charge. Hopefully this new solution will work, but the situation just goes to show how complicated so many issues are. I am glad I have a team of people by my side that is committed to doing the right thing, however.

In a similar sticky situation? Here are some tips that I would suggest before abandoning your project all together:

1. Search for alternatives to the way that you are currently trying to do things. A really great tool would be to visit other organizations and see how they are battling the same issue. You can often find great ideas if not practices to duplicate.

2. Look for grants to help you get started. Not all businesses or organizations can afford to go green on their own. If you come up with a great idea and an action plan however, there is a chance that you can get someone else to help fun your project.

3. If all else fails, perhaps you should explore other ways your business or organization can go green that make more sense for your budget and goals.

Where did all the sane people go?

Disclaimer: I consider myself moderate and sane. I am in no way promoting any political party in this blog.

Watching politics for the past year I have several times been inclined to ask, “Where did all the sane people go?” Although I do not identify with either major political party in the United States completely, the side that bothers me time and again are the Republicans.

First it was the radio and television personalities such as Newt Gingrich and Michael Savage, host of the Savage Nation. I recently moved to a somewhat rural area of the Inland Northwest and I was suddenly catapulted into a world where the Savage Nation plays on the radio like clockwork at 5 p.m. everyday and congressmen fight against having young men and women live in the same residence halls.

Then comes the new breed of Republican politicians. People who disrupt the President when he is speaking during a national address much as a third grader would interrupt a teacher. People like Sarah Palin, who insist on distorting facts and using scare tactics to lure people to her side (think death panels). People who paint faces on the President’s portrait and liken him to Adolf Hitler. Then there are the everyday citizens who seem intelligent enough until they accuse the president of not being born in the United States. You’ve seen the town hall videos–some of these people are crazy.

What I am confused about is what all of the commotion is about. Why did all the crazies come out of the woodwork all of a sudden?

Some people say it is because there are many whites who are afraid that a black man is in power. That may be true in some cases, but I feel a large majority of people lack the facts. Many people have core values, which I will not deride. These values include anti-abortion and Christian values. I do not think this is wrong. What I think is wrong is that the leaders of a party that tries to portray itself as “Christian” commit acts daily that are un-Christian. How is fear mongering, accusing someone of not being a citizen and plain lying “Christian?” The problem here is these leaders are very good at persuading certain groups of people that they are right and they are taking care of them when they are simply taking care of themselves.

Another problem I have with this “Christian” cover by this party is the lack of support they have for other people. Case in point is the outcry against socialized programs.  Would not Christ himself favor “socialism” over letting people fend for themselves? If someone is truly Christian, I would think they  would be supportive of systems that help those less fortunate than themselves.

So I will suggest a call to action to all the sane Republicans left out there. Please speak out against the crazies in your group and put them in check. Right now they are representing you all poorly and making people like myself second guess the intelligence of anyone who would choose to be associated with a party such as this.

Pit bulls: Hate the humans, not the dog

I would like to take a moment to talk about something that boils my blood–the misinformed hysteria regarding a certain breed of dog.

The pit bull.

What comes to your mind when you think about a pit bull? For many people across the world feelings of fear immediately pop up. But where does this fear really come from? How many of these people have actually spent enough time with a pit bull to judge its behavior?

I own a pit bull mix. I used to introduce her as a lab mix for fear of judgment from the people I talked to. I knew that if she got into one scuffle at the dog park she would automatically be labeled as “that pit bull” by people who know nothing of this dog’s true nature. In fact, once a dog started attempting to mount my dog, she snapped at him as if to say “get off of me” and immediately the owner said, “Oh you hate to see that happen. Is that a pit bull?”  I thought, “Yes, I do hate to see stupid dogs trying to molest my dog.”

My dog is as sweet as can be. She has absolutely no dog aggression and she behaves as many pit bulls I have met over the years-extremely fond of people and tolerant, if not downright playful, with other dogs. Anyone who truly has met several pit bulls will soon learn how sweet they are and what poor guard dogs they can be since they are so fond of humans and crave affection. Yet, when I introduced her to a man from Europe he ran away from her terrified even though he’d never met a pit bull and my dog had what I could only describe as a “love me please” face on and expressed absolutely no interest in him.

The sad truth, however, is that some evil people have trained some of these dogs for violence and that is what people focus on.  Moreover, some people buy pit bulls thinking that they will protect their property or look “cool.” This makes the good dogs and the good owners suffer. The pit bull is not for the weak of heart. Having a dog with such a negative social stigma is not to be taken lightly. There is no doubt it is a strong dog and its capabilities should not be brushed aside. As with any dog, you must take caution when it is in a new environment, with new dogs or new people. You must watch your dog. You must train your dog. YOU must take responsibility for your dog.

I have heard people say we should not keep pit bulls because they are dangerous just like a wolf or lion–it is their opinion that all pit bulls should be euthanized or banned from cities. I wonder if someone of this opinion would then like to ban all domesticated dogs. After all, they are all descendants of wolves and their nature could turn at any moment. In fact, when I am at the dog park I find other breeds of dogs more likely to attack than the well-trained pits.

It constantly amazes me how people are scared of something that they have no first-hand knowledge of and that is statistically never going to affect them. Far more people die from smoking then getting bitten by a dog of any kind. Yet what are we trying to ban?

I say blame the humans, don’t blame the dog. I had a friend that was bitten by a dog (which happened to be a pit)  about a year ago and this is what set me on a quest to right the wrongs against this breed. This dog was euthanized because it was abused by its owners, not properly trained, and then it snapped. This dog could have had the potential to be a great dog but it never had a chance with these horrible owners.

My final message would be this: Know your dog’s breed and train it appropriately. To those against pit bulls, learn more about this breed above and beyond the slanted media stories and you will see a completely different side to the story.

Read an interesting story about pit bulls from Newsweek.

Conservation: When should we compromise?

A very close friend of mine is involved in developing a book about a particular animal. This animal is being considered as and Endangered Species, and my friend’s job is to create a book aimed at land owners that will inform them about this species and how they can help protect it. If they protect the species, there is a possibility that it will never get placed on the endangered species list and thus, these landowners will not have to incur any restrictions on their land, where this species resides. In essence, protecting the species is a win-win for everyone.

The problem is, there are certain truths supported by research that are not supported by the land owners. Livestock grazing, if not done properly, has been found to degrade habitat for this species. However, this group of land owners relies on livestock grazing for their livelihood, and so representatives from this group are speaking out so that nothing about grazing is included in this book. While my friend knows what the research says, he asks himself two questions: a) What will happen if I alienate this group of land owners?  and b) These land owners have been working on the land first-hand for years. What if they know more than isolated research?

I freelance for an organization that helps land owners receive benefits in exchange for protecting and conserving critically endangered wildlife, flora and their habitat. I have seen that working together is often one of the most beneficial solutions to environmental problems and that land owners are the best stewards of their own land. This is one solution to solving a big and complex problem and it benefits everyone involved.

How do we draw the line between compromising for the sake of not offending a group of people versus doing what we believe is right? How do we balance the different interest groups that are involved in any type of decision making on anything in society that is worth debating? How do we really know what’s right? Is it appropriate to take an occasional loss in what we think is right to gain a strategic alliance with a group that may help us in the future?

I suppose the correct answer to these questions will vary from person to person, but from watching my friend’s struggle with this issue I suppose it is sometimes OK to create an alliance with a group of people, taking a small loss, but in the end possibly attaining a milestone in success. The hard thing is choosing your battles. In some cases, it would be wrong to compromise–it may go against your morals. In this case, you should not compromise. You must fight. But I think the most important thing that I have picked up from my friend’s situation, is you must respect others and you must always remember, if you are planning to burn a bridge you better not plan on crossing that bridge again later.

How far must we take our moral obligations to the earth?

I am an avid protector of the environment, but I find myself facing daily struggles about how to live my life. I think every environmentalist inevitably faces certain hard decisions every day. On one hand, we want to care for the environment and the world’s wildlife and human populations. On the other hand, this makes life very difficult.

Should I bike to work for 30 minutes in the snow and 8-degree temperature? Should I stop eating the french fries I love so much from McDonald’s? Should I buy only local even though I can barely afford it?

Today I read an article about the effects of birth control hormones when they are flushed down the toilet. According to a University of Idaho press release, “James Nagler, professor of biological sciences, recently discovered that 17α-ethynylestradiol – an active chemical in birth control pills – causes cells in rainbow trout to have an abnormal number of chromosomes.”

There have been studies on the effects of birth control hormones on human populations as well. One study stated that the estrogen that entered drinking water as a result of flushing the toilet could affect the gender of an unborn child, thus causing a positive spike in the birth of female babies.

It would seem ethical then, to cease the use of birth control pills. This, however, fails to address the world’s problem with overpopulation. It also fails to recognize the many health benefits that are offered by birth control pills such as controlling the severity of endometriosis and interstitial cystitis.  Many women even use birth control to lessen the pain of their menstrual cycles.

How do we find a balance then, between protecting the environment and protecting ourselves? I personally suffer from a condition known as interstitial cystitis and have been successfully using birth control as a method of controlling the pain and discomfort associated with the condition for more than a year.

I feel horrible knowing that by treating my condition, I may be negatively affecting human and animal populations. So what are we to do?  Should we all just try to do what we can to help save the environment and worry a little less about the not-so-good things we do to contribute to the problem? Is it enough that I use reusable shopping bags, buy organic, recycle, start a carpool club at work, and write this blog? Or should we all sacrifice just a little more?