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Archive for November, 2010

Is Nuclear a Green Option?

Monday, November 15th, 2010
By Christa

In the wake of last week’s heavy protests and blockades in Germany against a train carrying nuclear waste from France, it seems only fitting to devote a little time to thinking about nuclear power. And it wasn’t just the transportation of nuclear waste to a German storage facility that was under fire. Against strong opposition, German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to extend the lifespan of Germany’s 17 nuclear reactors. In 2001, then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder moved to phase out nuclear energy in the country, but Germany’s aging nuclear reactors are now set to do another 12 years of duty. Hmmm.

I think some people see a protest like this and think, “Wait, what?” For better or for worse, nuclear power has been framed as green by a number of people, businesses, and organizations, with the end result of a lot of folks associating nuclear power with two things: Chernobyl and eco-consciousness.

Proponents of nuclear power talk about how it’s a carbon-free energy source, how the amount of waste produced is very small compared to burning fossil fuels to create energy, how it’s cost effective, and the new safety measures in reactors that make it as safe as any other energy source. Opponents talk about how it’s really not carbon-free (nuclear power has more than just a little greenhouse gas attached to it from mining, building, and running a plant), the waste storage solutions currently in place are reportedly less than perfect, safety measures won’t matter if terrorists get their hands on a reactor, it’s not a good solution to Global Warming, and it’s not as cost effective as first thought.

Oh good, another ‘paper versus plastic debate.’* Seriously, when I look into all of the statements above, I can find some supposed expert telling me why it’s 100% true. I think this is one of the perils people who’ve chosen to go green face. There’s always someone who can make a pretty compelling argument in favor of one thing or another, which makes it incredibly confusing for the layperson. So what are us laypeople to do? Discuss it amongst ourselves, of course. I’m really curious to know what you think about the relative eco-friendliness of nuclear power, both as compared to other forms of energy production and as its own animal. Is nuclear really a viable option in the short or even the long term?

*The answer? Re-usable grocery bags that last a long, long time!

A Living, Breathing Air Purifier

Friday, November 12th, 2010
By Christa

Who hasn’t browsed the air purifiers at Sharper Image or Brookstone and wondered if indoor air might actually be kind of gross. Whether the high-end air purifiers really do anything to help us breathe is up for debate, according to consumer advocates, but the good ones certainly do remove spores, dust particles, other particulates, and allergens from the air around us. That’s the good – the bad and the ugly is that some air purifiers create ozone in the process.

So why do Americans spend something like $250 million annually on air purifiers if people in the scientific community aren’t really sold on the benefits? Easy: Gas stoves, oil heaters, smoke, deteriorating insulation, off gassing from carpets and mattresses, pets shedding, pollen, mold growth, circulating dust, etc. In newer structures built to be airtight for heating and cooling efficiency, all that stuff stays put inside instead of potentially flowing out with drafts. And in older structures, you end up with more of the dust and particulates. Either way, your indoor air – especially in the wintertime – may not be all that great.

If you think it’s starting to sound like there’s not much any of us can do to improve indoor air quality, you might be right. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, as long as trying doesn’t mean spending gobs of money on air purifiers that are actually putting more pollutants into the air or air purifiers that have been shown in tests to do absolutely nothing to the air. One interesting (and green, in the literal sense) solution I’ve seen is Paris-based LaboGroup’s ANDREA air purifier.

A small fan constantly draws polluted indoor air through the ANDREA, across the plant leaves and through the soil, where active microbes live, effectively cleaning certain yucky things out of the air. According to LaboGroup, just about any plant can thrive inside the clear bubble, and the company’s tests show that the ANDREA is 44 times better at picking up a molecule of formaldehyde than a standard HEPA filter.

Me? I like spider plants, and not just inside of fancy plant-based air purifiers, either. They might not filter out particulates, but they’re apparently good at removing volatile organic chemicals from the air and there’s no need to spend money on more if you love them. I started with one free spider plant baby about the side of a deck of cards and now have three giant spider plants, all of which are producing more and more babies.

How Green Is Too Green?

Thursday, November 11th, 2010
By Christa

For those who don’t immediately know what they were looking at, those are Sckoon Organics washable menstrual pads. Yes, you read that right. Washable, reusable menstrual pads. Think cloth diapers for the grownup lady set, but sleeker and prettier (most of the time).

I’ll admit that I have no issues with cloth diapers (especially BumGenius one-size, which we use with our daughter) but I still get a little squicked out by washable menstrual pads. Isn’t that weird? I know that women use approximately 11,000-13,000 pads or tampons between the pre-teen and menopausal years, and all those feminine products are ending up somewhere. In landfills? Wherever sewage ends up? Logically, my anti-pad stance makes no sense, but I guess reusable menstrual pads are my eco threshold.

What’s yours?

Maybe it’s using your gray water to hydrate your plants? Slapping skull-and-crossbones bumper stickers on every car you pass as you make your way to work using pedal power? Bringing your own local and organic snacks to every birthday party your kids attend? Driving a grease car? Taking fewer showers? Using humanure? It could be anything – it’s just that place you do not want to go.

If you’re not sure where your eco threshold is, imagine how green you’d have to before your joie de vivre would all but disappear in the face of your ever-expanding environmental consciousness. Would taking your current already pretty green lifestyle to the next level make you profoundly unhappy? Or do you still have a ways to go before you reach your peak of green?

Manolo Goes Green? Oh, Yeah!

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010
By Christa

Green, green, green…

Who among us hasn’t experienced a little green fatigue? First it started with “paper or plastic” and “turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth.” Then it was programmable thermostats and composting. And now we have people telling us to eat organic… no, wait, local… or is that in season? All three? We’re supposed to figure out whether it’s better for the environment to upgrade to a new eco-friendly whatever or get a used one on Craigslist. And just how big is my carbon footprint, anyway?

The big problem with the green message? A lot of the time, it’s just no fun. And that’s why Manolo is going green! If there’s anything we all have a knack for around here, it’s making things fun! And why shouldn’t we all have a good time while we make friends with the eco-friendly and get environmentally conscious ourselves? There are so many gorgeous and green things out there to touch and taste and feel and smell and wear, and I want you to see it all.

Oh, I definitely plan to touch on the serious stuff, but I want Green Manolo to be the antidote to green fatigue, not just one more voice telling you how you’re making Mother Earth cry.

After all, we should all be doing what we can to keep the Earth healthy, but we still have to live here! Let’s live well!

P.S. – Have a green tip for me? Share!

Brands to Check Out: Beauty Without Cruelty

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010
By Christa

I wanted to tell you about one of my favorite brands, Beauty Without Cruelty, in case you’re in the market for something new for your shower or makeup bag! Well, not quite new. BWC was founded in 1963 in England by the trustees of BWC Charitable Trust, an animal welfare organization, because they wanted to create a line of natural beauty products that wasn’t tested on animals and didn’t contain any animal products whatsoever. Even if going cruelty free isn’t as important to you as going green, I still think you should check out BWC for its natural, organic, and safe ingredients

beauty without cruelty shampoocruelty free beauty productsnot tested on animals
animal rights and beautycruelty free moisturizervegan soap

My personal faves are the rosemary, mint, and tea tree shampoo and the super gentle facial cleansers, but I’ve tried some of the other soap-type products and everything has ranged from good to wonderful. (Full disclosure: I have eczema so I have to use natural, non-irritating product or else.) Because I’m scent sensitive, one thing I really like is that the organic aroma-therapeutic essential oil scents are so mild. And one thing I’m not crazy about? Well, the BWC shampoos don’t get sudsy in your hair, which is hard to get used to, but that’s what happens when you take away sodium lauryl sulfate.

I’ll admit that I haven’t tried any of BWC’s cosmetics, but the entire line the company produces is suitable for vegetarians and vegans, and fragrance free. Natural ingredients are the norm and organics are used whenever possible, just like in their lovely soaps, shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers, and facial scrubs. On top of that, all BWC nail polishes are toluene, formaldehyde, and pthalates free, so you don’t have to worry about what kinds of icky things they’re doing to your fingernails.

Do you have a favorite eco-friendly, cruelty-free, or organic brand for Green Manolo to check out? Tell us about it in the comments!

Georgia Shops for Fleet of Eco-Friendly Cars

Monday, November 8th, 2010
By Christa

No, not that Georgia. You may be surprised to hear it, but I’m talking about Georgia the country. Georgia has announced plans to replace its entire fleet of state-owned cars with electric or hybrid vehicles within four years. It seems the country is leaning toward an electric fleet – it has a rich supply of cheap hydroelectric power from dams in the Caucasus Mountains, which could make it a unique test case for widespread electric car usage.

Georgia is in talks with several companies, including General Motors, about the purchase of about 4,000 vehicles. Trucks and larger cars, including those in the presidential motorcade, will be exempted, since the electric vehicles available today are inadequately powered or armored, Ms. Kobalia said. As part of the sale, manufacturers will be asked to build service and recharging stations, easing the way for ordinary Georgians to switch to electric cars.

Will it happen? Who knows… but if Georgia manages to replace its fleet of vehicles with eco-friendly electric or hybrid alternatives, it’ll be in good company. While Georgia is the first country in the world to make this commitment, the town of Banff boasts Canada’s first all-hybrid bio-diesel/electric bus fleet, Phoenix, AZ has the nation’s second all carbon neutral taxicab service, and cities all over the world have pledged to switch over to all hybrid fleets for their service cars and trucks within the next five years.

Is going electric or hybrid the best choice for every city or country? Not necessarily, but those are the best alternatives we have at the moment, and it seems a lot smarter than chugging out emissions until a better alternative comes along, no?

12 Foods That You Should Buy Organic

Monday, November 8th, 2010
By Christa

No pesticides? Healthier land management? Small farmers thriving? Biodiversity? Organic eating sounds great, until you get to the market and see just how much organic food can cost over its conventionally grown cousins. And while the gap between the price of organically grown foods and conventionally grown foods is narrowing, sometimes organics just aren’t available.

So why making eating organically a priority? Easy! You can reduce your exposure to pesticides by as much as 80% by avoiding just the most contaminated foods at the market. Even if you can’t find your favorite fruits and veggies in organic form or simply can’t afford the extra cost, it pays to opt for pesticide-free choices when you’re talking about produce with thin skins, produce that is prone to insect damage so blasted with multiple pesticides, and even produce that can absorb pesticides through the soil (ewwww).

The compromise:* Go organic when it matters most. Here’s a list of 12 foods that you should buy organic whenever possible to promote your health and the health of the world around you:

1. Celery
2. Peaches
3. Strawberries
4. Apples
5. Imported Grapes
6. Potatoes
7. Cherries
8. Kale
9. Spinach
10. Bell Peppers
11. Blueberries
12. Nectarines

Want to know more? One of my favorite books on the subject is To Buy or Not to Buy Organic: What You Need to Know to Choose the Healthiest, Safest, Most Earth-Friendly Food by food journalist and former chef Cindy Burke. It’s a short book – nothing heavy – that still packs a punch in the information department. Burke doesn’t just tell you what to buy; she gives you the dirt on what the organic label means these days, explains why pesticides and fungisides are the yuck, and tells you just why we should all be buying this instead of that.

*Remember, going green should always be about compromise. If you’re a committed eco warrior wearing a hemp shirt you grew and wove yourself on your off-the-grid farm, sweet. The rest of us will be over here, taking it slow, balancing the need to, for example, get to work or afford food with our desire to make the world a better place.

New England’s Extended Autumn? Lovely to Look At, But Maybe a Little Scary

Saturday, November 6th, 2010
By Christa

Ah, autumn. Here in New England when the weather starts to change signaling the imminent arrival of an unending skin biting winter, there are two things that make the chill bearable. First, new boots and coats! For chilly weather sans snow, I like toasty warm organic and partially recycled cable knit ankle boots from Simple paired with an organic cotton trench from Vicarious by Nature.

And second, the beautiful New England foliage. While I’m not exactly a tree hugger when it comes time to rake… again… I do love the look of the fall foliage. Around here, it tends to blow up in an explosion of deep reds and purples, bright oranges, sharp yellows, and the growing hint of brown that reminds you to grab a good look while you still can.

Except this year? The colors are apparently sticking around a little longer than usual, and one suspected culprit is climate change.

Foliage is affected by soil moisture and declining temperatures, said Richard Primack, a biology professor at Boston University. Because the summer didn’t see much rainfall, colors started changing earlier. And with a killing frost yet to hit Boston the colorful leaves are lasting longer, he said. While one year’s events cannot be definitively linked to climate change, some scientists’ project first frosts will take place later in the fall season over time because of the release of heat-trapping gases from cars, power plants and factories.

Eek! Don’t you just hate that? The fall foliage is supposed to be pretty, not scary, but the notion of lovely leaves caused by climate change is just as worrisome as striking sunsets caused by air pollution. Personally, I’d much rather the colors be fleeting and the sunsets a tiny bit less beautiful in return for an atmosphere that’s a little healthier.

Disclaimer: Manolo the Shoeblogger is not Manolo Blahnik
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