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Thinking In Terms of Needs Versus Wants Can Green Your Life By Default

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011
By Christa

What do you think when you hear the word ‘downsize’? Or ‘simplicity’? It might not be the most popular way to go green, but it’s often the easiest: Buy less crap. Especially crap you don’t need and crap that’s not going to add any beauty or positivity to your life. I got to thinking about this topic after reading one woman’s account of returning to the U.S. – specifically, New York – after residing in Mexico and what she felt upon visiting a common Target store.

I walked through the automatic doors, took a deep breath of that familiar, Target-scented air, and accepted a cart from an overly-enthusiastic 50-something with really bad makeup. Above her was a huge sign that perfectly represents what I believe to be one of the biggest downfalls of our culture. It read, “Are you sure one cart is going to be enough?”

According to Sharon Beder, a professor of social sciences who researches the “power relationships” between corporations and consumers, “Advertisers spend 100s of billions of dollars a year worldwide encouraging, persuading and manipulating people into a consumer lifestyle that has devastating consequences for the environment through its extravagance and wastefulness.” Psychologists are paid big bucks to determine how to most cleverly convince the human brain to want what is being sold.

I don’t even live in Mexico *sniff* and that’s how I feel pretty much every time I set foot in a Target. I’m even fairly good at getting in and out without needing that second cart because having a budget or practicing simplicity can make a person’s life greener by default. For example, I don’t buy a lot of goods that recently came off a less-than-stellar from a human rights and environmental standpoint factory production line in Chine that had to be shipped to the U.S. – but that’s because I don’t buy a lot of goods in general.

Which isn’t to say I’m some holier-than-thou minimalist who never buys anything that wasn’t produced by a well-paid local artisan. There’s that budget, remember? I’m living squarely in the culture of stuff, just like everyone else.

Remember this?

If you’re not living on a budget – lucky lucky you! – then you can still go green by default by faking it. Just make an effort to analyze your consumption habits and make a habit of asking yourself if what you’re buying is a want or a need before grabbing that second cart. Buying less crap won’t make you mega green, of course, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction!

Good News: Green Jobs Growing!

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011
By Christa

Green jobs are growing – at a rate twice that of all jobs overall – even though the larger job market is nothing if not worrying at the moment. And that’s pretty sweet, because it means green technology is boomin’ and us U.S.ians are this much closer to staying ahead in the global economy. Sounds like good news all around! What and where are these green jobs, you may ask? Not surprising, most are in the field of green energy, but there are also plenty of jobs in agriculture and transportation and manufacturing can be green, too.

How do you get in on the ground floor if you’re not in one of the aforementioned industries? Be in Michigan, for one, where green jobs are growing the fastest. Try the Green Jobs Network. And then, as necessary, find some educational opportunities!

According to Stephen J. Lynch, Senior Project Manager at Jobs for the Future, the nation’s community colleges are ”the speed-boats of workforce training” because of the ways they can adapt curricula and training design more quickly than traditional four-year institutions.

“Today’s job-seekers, particularly laid off adults, seek training that is accessible, low-cost, and that offers the chance to obtain employment as quickly as possible,” he told us. He goes on to note that Jobs for the Future helps community colleges produce workers with the skills, degrees and certifications that are in-demand by today’s employers by helping them to present course content within a real-world context and modularize training with stackable credentials.

But watch out! Green jobs are still at risk, especially since there are still scores of people who’d like to see green energy and green building initiatives fail. What’s funny about that – in a sad way, mind – is that the growing green job market in the U.S. tends to be homegrown, but green energy opponents like to shout about how green energy is a U.S. job killer.

Meanwhile, it is well established that labor-intensive investments in solar, wind and increased building efficiency create far more jobs than similar investments in fossil fuels. These technologies will most likely go down in cost while fossil prices will only go up long-term. And with a renewable energy economy, there is no cost of fuel or fuel price volatility. Imagine that.

Imagine that, indeed.

Dead Bodies Warming Hard Bodies?

Monday, February 21st, 2011
By Christa

What good are the dead? Some might say none at all. But one English town, a burg of 80,000 known as Redditch, thinks they can be put to use as a nearly-free source of energy. It’s less gruesome than it sounds, really. No one is proposing that vagrants be rounded up as a free source of power or anything like that. The Redditch Council simply wants to warm the local Abbey Stadium Sports Centre, including the heated swimming pool, with reclaimed energy from its neighboring crematorium.

As you can no doubt imagine, there has been plenty of opposition to the plan for the obvious reasons. As one funeral director put it:

I don’t know how comfortable people would feel about the swimming pool being heated due to the death of a loved one, I think it’s a bit strange and eerie.

Huh. Considering that the measure could save the town about $30,000 per year aaaand the fact that the dead who are cremated at the Redditch crematorium will be returning to ashes whether or not the municipal pool benefits, what’s the big deal? It seems like a case of people being squeamish just because the dead are involved. No one is burning the dead *specifically* to supply heat to the sports center. The will be no contact between the dead bodies and the crematorium and the hard bodies at the gym. And reclaimed heat is apparently a good source of heat, too – here in MA, for example, waste heat from a Cambridge power plant will be used to heat buildings in Boston instead of being discharged into the Charles River.

Am I being too blasé about this? Because in my mind, a scheme like this makes perfect sense and seems like a great way to make use of energy that would otherwise just get blown away by the wind.

Congress Spends Big On Bottled Water

Friday, February 18th, 2011
By Christa

By now most of us know that bottled water isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Hello, greenwashing! But I guess Congress didn’t get the message – even after a 2009 hearing of a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee received a report indicating that the EPA rules for tap water are more rigorous than the FDA rules that govern bottled water. In case you missed it, a report from the nonprofit Corporate Accountability International found last month that between April 2009 and March 2010, House lawmakers spent an average of $2,000 per member on Deer Park bottled water.

I’d laugh at the whole thing if I hadn’t paid for some tiny portion of that water with my tax dollars.

Why No Garbage Power In the US?

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
By Christa

Averaged out across the US, we’re all producing four pounds of garbage per day. That’s 250 million tons of trash each year. Maybe we’re not making it directly, but we’re indirectly responsible for those numbers. And most of that municipal solid waste, as it’s known, gets collected and shuttled into landfills where it sits. And sits. And sits. And siiiits, doing a whole lot of nothing. But at the Commerce Refuse to Energy Facility in California, trash is being used to create enough power about 15,000 homes at any given time.

That’s waste-to-energy. Or energy-from-waste. Whatever you want to call it. It’s when garbage is used to create heat or electricity or even combustible fuel. At Commerce, garbage becomes energy via fire – there’s a huge furnace where everything from clothing to waste packaging to paper is incinerated in a giant fire that burns all day and all night. The heat powers turbines that make electricity, and that electricity is sold to providers. Supposedly, it burns pretty cleanly, but there are still concerns about poisonous emissions so instead of building waste-to-energy plants, we dig more landfills. (According to the New York Times, modern incineration plants are so clean that “many times more dioxin is now released from home fireplaces and backyard barbecues than from incineration.”)


Earth’s 10 Commandments

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011
By Christa

Ernest Callenbach, author of Ecotopia and Humphrey: The Wayward Whale as well as plenty of other books with a green focus, wrote a wonderful list of 10 green commandments that I wanted to share here in case you’ve never seen it:

Thou shalt love and honor the Earth for it blesses thy life and governs thy survival.

Thou shalt keep each day sacred to the Earth and celebrate the turning of its seasons.

Thou shalt not hold thyself above other living things nor drive them to extinction.

Thou shalt give thanks for thy food to the creatures and plants that nourish thee.

Thou shalt limit thy offspring for multitudes of people are a burden unto the Earth.

Thou shalt not kill nor waste Earth’s riches upon weapons of war.

Thou shalt not pursue profit at the Earth’s expense but strive to restore its damaged majesty.

Thou shalt not hide from thyself or others the consequences of thy actions upon the Earth.

Thou shalt not steal from future generations by impoverishing or poisoning the Earth.

Thou shalt consume material goods in moderation so all may share Earth’s bounty

I thought Callenbach’s commandments would make a nice follow-up to my post asking whether going green is humanity’s moral duty. Whether or not you think each of us is responsible for keeping the planet healthy, you have to admit that we’d all be doing pretty well if we all made more of an effort to live by them.

Fiji Water: Another Reason You Can’t Believe Every Piece of Green Press

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011
By Christa

Have you heard that Fiji Water is the latest company to find itself on the wrong end of a lawsuit for greenwashing? The water co. is apparently going to court for deceptively marketing itself as “carbon-negative.” As it turns out, Fiji Water’s self-proclaimed carbon-negativity is wishful thinking since, according to a US District Court class-action suit filed by a Newport, California firm, the company is giving itself credits for carbon reductions that haven’t actually been secured. Sounds interesting, right? But is it true? According to Mother Jones, Fiji Water has said in a press release that the offsets necessary to make it carbon-negative will not be realized until 2037.

Bah, it’s crap like this that made me say no to bottled water – especially bottled water that has to be shipped around the world to get to my mouth – in favor of the classic Brita Pitcher and a still-trendy stainless steel water bottle. Municipal tap is where it’s at.

Question: Is Going Green Humanity’s Moral Duty?

Monday, January 3rd, 2011
By Christa

Obligation. It’s a tough word to think about when the subject at hand is keeping the Earth healthy. How much responsibility does each of us have to protect our own environments and, with so much these days being interconnected, the environments of others? For example, a lot of people find it easy to compost their own food waste and use natural fertilizers in their own gardens, but difficult to take the health and welfare of workers and the soil halfway around the globe into consideration when buying something like coffee or bananas. And of course it’s easier – the results of composting are visible right in the trash bin, while the results of choosing responsibly grown and manufactured products isn’t. Not to mention the fact that sussing out the greenest options can be a lot of work!

So the question I want you to ponder today is whether we have a moral obligation to go green.

My view? It would be great if everyone everywhere lived super green lives, but I’m happy just to see people taking baby steps toward a more environmentally conscious existence. I have a difficult time saying outright that it’s our moral duty to save the Earth, if only because my moral code isn’t your moral code isn’t his or her moral code. That said, our world does have a fixed amount of natural resources that we all have to share, and I don’t like the notion of my choices and actions making other people’s lives worse. My guess is that you don’t like it much, either. But does that mean we’re morally obligated to go green? It’s pretty hard to say…

Should Bottle Water Be Banned?

Thursday, December 30th, 2010
By Christa

This past summer, the town of Concord, MA voted to ban the sale of bottled drinking water beginning in 2011. It sounds unusual, but apparently Concord is in good company. Areas of New York, Illinois, and Virginia, along with 100 other cities in the U.S. and elsewhere have taken similar steps to cut down on the sale of bottled water sold within city limits and encourage locals to give tap a try. Some are banning it, while some are taxing bottled water heavily.

Why? First, the production of plastic water bottles uses about 17 million barrels of oil each year. Second, not everyone tosses those plastic water bottles into the recycling bin – I see them on the street and on the beach around my corner of Mass. all the time. And third, it takes almost 7 kilos of water to make one bottle of imported water, according to Sustainability Engineer Pablo Päster.

But is it ban-worthy? You tell me:

If you’re interested in instituting your own ban on bottled water, there are a couple of steps you can take. I know we don’t all live in municipalities with clean, tasty tap water – mine, for example, smells too chemically right out of the tap – but getting a Brita Pitcher can turn so-so tap water into yummy tap water. And when you’re on the go, a stylish stainless steel water bottle makes it easy to stay hydrated without resorting to yet another bottle of Aquafina… which, like 25% or more bottled waters is actually just municipal tap water run through an extra filter or two.

RI Wind Farms Set to Do More Than Expected

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010
By Christa

Deepwater Wind, the company behind Rhode Island’s first offshore wind farm, has apparently increased the size of its project and it is now projected that the wind farm will generate 1000 MW of green electrical power. How do you generate that much power? How about 200 wind turbines that will be placed at least 18 miles off the Rhode Island coast, where according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, things can get pretty windy. Increasing the size of the project means that Deepwater Wind can sell the wind energy produced for somewhere between 15-18 cents/kWh, which is high for the U.S. but fairly close to the New England average. Sounds good to me!

Background: Those in favor of wind farms will tell you that a single utility-scale wind farm (350 mw) can generate enough clean energy to power 125,000 homes every year without users ever seeing a fuel adjustment charge. As for the offshore wind farms that had everyone in such a tizzy around my locale – hello, Cape Wind -they’re apparently set in deep waters, where they are virtually invisible from shore. The anti-wind farm crowd counters that wind power is intermittent and thus cannot generate enough energy to ensure a steady output, which means back-up coal or gas power plants will always be a necessity. I’m not going to bother with the argument that they ruin views of the natural landscape – I personally think big ugly factories and electric wires do the same, but I understand the necessity of both.

What do you think about wind farms and wind power in general? Are they a viable green energy option? Or just a stepping stone on the way to something more reliable?

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