Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Get Motivated!: Join The Peaceful Revolution

October 5, 2011

On Monday, Providence public schools were delayed two hours in anticipation of the traffic caused by a Get Motivated! motivational seminar. When the horde failed to materialize, the cynic in me saw the overreaction to a bunch of pro-corporate speakers as simply an unsuccessful commercial made by politicians who have already shown their willingness to allow private interests to take control of public education. But, just two days later, the optimist in me now sees crowds all over the country with enough motivation to put an end to the plutocracy and restart our democracy.

For example, the majority of Americans:

Isn’t democracy a great idea? So, while the mainstream media too often covers the fake news, join a global movement called Occupy Together that is growing exponentially. Find the nearest occupation site (in my case, it’s Burnside Park in Providence’s Kennedy Plaza) and help change the world!

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Finding Fruit

July 19, 2010

Since January I have been on a quest to eat more seasonal, local, organic food. Winter might seem like an odd time of year to try to source local produce especially living in Rhode Island. I figured if I could successfully achieve this goal during a time that not a whole lot grows here, the rest of the year would be a piece of cake.

Fast forward to this past weekend, I was in search of fruit. My family and I love fruit (and veggies, too) and I like to have a lot on hand as it’s a delicious and healthy choice.  I can never get too upset if my daughter wants to eat another apple.  I’d much prefer that than her asking for weird processed food-like items.

I was debating heading to the Saturday Farmer’s Market in Middletown or going to Whole Foods.  The farmer’s market could be hit or miss. It was already close to the ending time (1 pm) so the fruit, if there was any to begin with, could already be gone. Additionally, if there is any, it might be very expensive. For example, I recently saw a pint of local blueberries for $4.99. I’m all for supporting my local farmer but that’s a lot of money for something we’ll end up eating in one afternoon.  (As a side note, I often have an interior debate about whether in actuality that is a lot of money for a pint of blueberries. In the past I might not have thought twice about paying that same amount for a bag of popcorn or a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.  It’s kind of funny what one chooses to spend money on!) Whereas, if I travel to Whole Foods I’m guaranteed organic fruit, though most definitely it will be from Californina (I try very hard to never buy food grown outside the USA, though there was that one time in December that I really wanted brussel sprouts and WF only had them grown in Mexico).  I figured I’d be able to get cherries and grapes.

As I was driving I remembered my quest to source local food and decided to forgo Whole Foods figuring if the farmer’s market was a bust I could always drive to Providence another day.  It turned out to be a great decision as I was able to buy plums, peaches and cilantro (for the salsa I was planning on making).  Sadly, none of these were organic but were farmed using IPM, integrated pest management.  I also had a great conversation with the farmer; something I could never do at Whole Foods.

After the market, I decided to head over to a small pick-your-own blueberry farm in Portsmouth.  I had been there earlier in the week and already needed to restock.  Since eating seasonally I realize how important it is to fill up on a particular fruit or vegetable while it is available. Soon enough its growing time will be over and I’ll have to wait until next year.  I love this little farm and the old man who owns it.  It is a beautiful, bucolic setting that makes me yearn for my own blueberry patch.  I also love it because it’s only $2.00 a pint.  One of the most fun things about going there is that the picking bucket is an old Newport Creamery half gallon container with a long rope tied on each side that enables you to wear it as a necklace keeping your hands free for picking.  It didn’t take very long to fill up the bucket and though I could’ve stayed all day, I knew that I had fulfilled my search for local fruit.

By the way, we’ve since indulged in these fruits and they are unbelievably delicious!  It really can’t get much better than buying direct from the farmer.

LNG vs NIMBY: An Incomplete Debate

April 21, 2010

Watching the recently televised debate between Hess and Save The Bay, I was reminded of last month’s public forum hosted by the Alliance For A Livable Newport at CCRI. During both talks, I asked myself the same nagging question: Why, when there are so many reasons that the company shouldn’t ship liquefied natural gas (LNG) through the Mt. Hope Bay, are the most compelling ones being left unsaid?

Perhaps it’s because, in attempt to garner the widest possible support from residents, Save The Bay is only considering the local impact of the proposed terminal. Such a strategy would allow them to list the dangers to the environment, economy, and way of life of Rhode Islanders, while avoiding the messy national and global politics tied to the issue… But would this be the wisest move?

Framing the problem exclusively in local terms will give opponents the chance to dismiss us as “Not In My Backyard” (NIMBY) obstructionists who oppose the project simply because Hess wants their terminal here. I’m afraid that, no matter how many excellent points are made (and, thus far, Save The Bay has made a ton of them), the anti-LNG movement won’t be able to shed the NIMBY label if its perspective isn’t broadened.

The truth is that the entire fossil fuel industry is a “dirty” business and shouldn’t be in anyone’s backyard:

1) Dirty extractions – A controversial new type of gas drilling known as fracking threatens to contaminate the drinking water of those living in or near the Marcellus Shale region stretching from Kentucky to New York. An empty promise of slightly cheaper energy prices in the short-term or potable water, which would you prefer? Hmm, tough call.

2) Dirty uses – Hess likes to trumpet the claim that natural gas is the most environmentally friendly fossil fuel, ignoring the fact that an LNG terminal still emits several million tons of Co2 per year. With environmental friends like that, who needs enemies? Let alone clean, safe and renewable alternatives like solar and wind that are also cheaper in the long run!

3) Dirty deals – To protect their investments, which they often need to do since items 1 and 2 usually make their products so undesirable, multinational (i.e. mostly un-American) companies like Hess rely on governments for help. Here in the US, Hess is free to search for a new LNG site due to a loosening of federal regulations, which gives them nearly complete immunity from disasters caused by the project. Not to mention the military protection they’ll receive during transport of the potentially-terrorist-targeted cargo from Yemen (where al-Quaeda members are currently located). In other words, they make the profit while taxpayers and soldiers take on the risk. Sounds like a win-win, right?

Nothing about the above list is good (and this was just from the US perspective — if you think our country has it bad when it comes to dealing with the fossil fuel industry, you don’t know the half of it), which is why all the dirty laundry must be aired in public forums. If there is indeed a fear that these sorts of things should be omitted from any anti-LNG discussion for the sake of political correctness, it’s unwarranted. I may be naive, but I believe the concepts of peace and environmental and economic justice are non-partisan if not apolitical. They’re not about what’s right or left, but what’s right or wrong.

In my opinion, it’s much more naive to think we can solve big problems without looking at the big picture. Even if the NIMBY arguments prove successful and Hess is turned back this time around, it might not scare away another giant corporation from trying to force another terrible product upon us that we don’t need. However, despite what appears to be a grim outlook for the Ocean State (or maybe because of it), we now have an opportunity to come together and send a powerful message that can stop the oligarchs in their tracks… As long as we’re willing to speak up.

The Problem with Garbage

January 18, 2010

Last night I watched the new film, Garbage, the Revolution Starts at Home.  It was an interesting look at a “typical” family, who at the request of their close friend, the filmmaker, agree to save all of their garbage for three months. Filmmaker, Andrew Nisker, explores other topics related to garbage such as pollution, energy sources and usage, chemicals in household cleaners and our water sources.  His goal is to tie it all together for the viewers.

We have been very concerned with our level of garbage creation for quite some time. We compost our food scraps. We recycle everything we can including saving up strange and un-numbered plastics in a bin in our basement for the once-yearly plastic amnesty day at RI Resource Recovery in Johnston.  Additionally, we scrutinize the packaging of things we purchase.  It’s not easy to forego an item just because of its lousy packaging and sometimes I have no choice like when purchasing organic garlic at Whole Foods. I can buy conventional, AKA non-organic, garlic loose, by the bulb with no extra wrappings or I can choose organic that comes in lots of 4 bulbs in a mesh plastic bag.  It’s a horrible choice to have to make and just about always I choose the over-packaged organic.

Sadly we live in a country where lobbyists for big business rule. Until our government decides to take a strong stance and say no to the disposable plastic industry these problems will continue to plague me and our environment.  So what can I do about this in the meantime? I’m going to begin calling and sending emails to companies whose products I use (and don’t have a viable non-packaged alternative) and ask them to stop with the useless, wasteful extra packaging. Do bananas really need to come in a bag? Does my garlic need to be protected in mesh casing? I don’t think so and I truly hope the companies will agree.

Talking Trash

November 23, 2009

Below is a letter to the editor of the Bristol Phoenix that Lindsay Green, community activist extraordinaire and creator of the Preserve Bristol blog, asked me to write. Let’s hope it sparks some interesting debate!

As the Phoenix correctly noted in a recent editorial (“Mandatory Recycling”, Nov. 19), Bristol must improve its recycling program – and it should do so as soon as possible. Indeed, with the Johnston landfill nearing its capacity and a requirement that we nearly triple our recycling rate by 2012 (or face steep fines) there are precious little natural resources, money and time for us to waste. Keeping that in mind, the “no-bin-no-barrel” (NBNB) policy highlighted in the paper should be considered just one piece in a larger zero-waste plan to help boost recycling and get more value for our tax dollars. Vital to such a comprehensive long-term strategy is another incentive based program known as pay-as-you-throw (PAYT).

Unfortunately, unlike most public services such as our fire/police departments and educational system, which exist to provide direct benefits to the community, our current trash service often perpetuates environmentally and economically destructive behavior. The fixed costs (i.e. personnel, equipment, etc.) and the variable costs (i.e. hauling and tipping fees based on the amount of trash created) are both paid through taxes, masking the detrimental effect that disposing unlimited quantities of refuse has on the environment and the town’s bottom line.

However, with PAYT, residents are charged for each bag of trash they generate but receive a tax break by only paying up front for the program’s fixed costs. Thus, there would be a built-in incentive to reduce waste as each of us would be personally responsible for lowering the variable costs to make the savings from the tax break stick. People who throw out less trash will no longer subsidize those who toss larger amounts of trash, making PAYT a very equitable and effective approach. In fact, according to RI’s own DEM website, PAYT programs increase recycling rates dramatically — resulting in an average of 15-28% reduction in the amount of trash disposed, sometimes reaching double or triple what they had been previously.

In addition to NBNB and PAYT, Bristol should make recycling available to businesses and condominiums and expand its composting facility beyond only yard waste. An educational campaign is also essential to inform residents of any plan the town eventually implements, but the longer we delay the worse off we will be when the state’s mountainous landfill inevitably closes and we are left to stew in our own mess. So, if we start the process now towards a zero-waste plan, we will have a much smaller hill to climb when that fateful day arrives.

Green Poop

May 3, 2009

Green For All

Before Quinn arrived we had this wonderful idea that we would use cloth diapers.  This sounded perfect for our environmentally concious lifestyle.  I researched all of the options and decided only 100% organic cotton was worthy of touching our baby’s bum.  I bought about 30 diapers from www.ecobaby.com and thought I’d be all set until she was potty trained. These top of the line diapers were the requisite 100% organic cotton and came in three colors: yellow, blue and natural. Each has a snap-in liner and adjustable snaps that would keep Quinn comfortable throughout her diaper years. I soon learned that I would also need some sort of outer covering as these diapers had no waterproof layer. Trying to be all natural we decided on 100% wool diaper covers.

In reality the diapering didn’t go as smoothly as we had hoped.  The diapers with wool covering were so thick they kept poor little Quinn from moving around.  When other 4 month olds were rolling around she was stuck laying on her back (or stomach if it was “tummy time”).  I quickly decided we were doing her a disservice and investigated other diapering options.  We really didn’t want to succumb to disposables and add pounds of trash to the land fill.  So search and search we did.

Soon we discovered gdiapers.  These diapers are flushable, compostable and absolutely wonderful.  They are comprised of an outer cloth layer, a snap-in plastic-y layer and then an insertable flushable/compostable pad.  We faithfully flushed the poop pads and composted the pee pads.  The only downside of these diapers was the cost of having to continually purchase the inserts.  But for what it made up for in Quinn’s comfort (and her ability to move) and ease of use  it was well worth it.  On the odd day that all of the covers were in the laundry we would often improvise and use one of the Ecobaby cotton diapers with the the gdiaper plastic-y layer and insert. We used these until she was about 2 years old and showing signs of potty interest.

Along the way we tried out a few other kinds of diapers too.  I was really curious about the all-in-one  (aio) style. www.nickisdiapers had a great selection. After using the the snap style from ecobaby I decided to try the velcro options (great choice as it can be closed at any increment).  I bought 4 different kinds: Imse Vimse organic cotton, Bum Genius 3.0, Bumkins (in super cute Dr. Suess One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish fabric) and Monkey Doodlez.

The Bum Genius 3.0 were by far my favorite. The ease of use was amazing and she stayed dry with no leaks or poopy blowouts.  They were a nice trim size so clothes fit over them very well.  Plus, they cleaned up beautifully with little to no staining.  If I were to do it all again I would buy these diapers or the gdiapers regardless of the fact that they’re not organic.  I really loved that they weren’t bulky. Poor Quinn, in addition to being immobilized by the cotton diaper and wool covering she looked like a huge sausage because they were so incredibly bulky!

Here’s the lowdown on the other three all-in-one diapers. The Imse Vimse were terrific in that she never leaked and that it was organic cotton. The downside was that they were quite bulky. The Bumkins were similar in bulkiness but not quite 100% leakproof. I have little good to say about Monkey Doodlez other than the very trim size.  But I think the size was part of the problem…they were so small that on occasion she would leak immediately.  Needless to say I tried to use this last kind as a last resort when all others were in the wash.

You might wonder what we used for wipes if we were this wacky over diapers.  Choosing wipes was actually quite easy.  I bought about 24 white wash clothes and a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s organic liquid castile soap.  I mixed the soap with water and put it in a small spray bottle.   Since Quinn was born we’ve been using these items as wipes.  They have worked really well and I plan on making the cloths in to rags once Quinn is completely potty trained.

No, my house doesn’t smell like poo and I don’t soak diapers or wipes.  Quinn’s diaper pail is a large stainless steel trash can with a flip up lid lined with an old pillowcase.  When the case gets full I just take it out, empty it all in to the washing machine, wash once in cold water and then once in hot water.  After that it all goes in the drier (other than the plastic-y gdiaper liner).

For us it was an easy decision…5000 disposable diapers added to the landfill or use cloth diapers.  We’ve been very happy with our choice even on those mornings when we’re scraping poop off the cloth and in to the toilet.