Archive for January, 2009

Swaptree: Get cool stuff for cleaning out your closet

The idea behind Swaptree is simple. You have a stack of old books, CDs, and maybe video games that you never use. Of course, being a conscientious greenie, you don’t want to add to our already clogged landfills by throwing them away. You could donate them to the local library (so long as there’s no profanity, violence, not already too many copies there, etc) but there’s this book you’ve been dying to read… you’re the perfect candidate to sign up for Swaptree now! You list the items you have, then search the items that others have, arranging free trades with people. So you get The Botany of Desire (an awesome read!) for the price of shipping, and also manage to rid yourself of that dusty old copy of the joy of cooking that Aunt Mabel gave you even though your apartment doesn’t even have a kitchen. Saves landfill space, introduces you to media you may not even have known about, and helps to undermine the excessive capitalism that’s sweeping the planet all with one click. It only takes a second to sign up (well, their website claims it takes 8 seconds, so I’ll trust them on that), which you can do at the Swaptree Signup Page.

A brief tour around the site revealed some pretty interesting looking picks available for trade… the first Godfather movie, Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, Star Wars movies and complete seasons of many many TV shows, the Complete Planet Earth collection on DVD (an amazing series), lots of kids movies, music ranging from Bob Marley to Madonna and pretty much everything in between, and a wide assortment of video games, of which I won’t even pretend to know what’s hot and what’s not. I’d bet that no matter what your tastes there’s something here for you.

Part of going off-grid involves understanding that the capitalist system in which we’ve been raised is unsustainable and needs to change. Barter predates the exchange of money as a form of goods exchange by a long time, and is a more globally conscious way of doing business removing the money component of the trade. If you want some interesting fodder for thought on this topic, watch Zeitgeist: Addendum (or it’s predecessor Zeitgeist), available for free on Google video. After the two to four hours it takes to complete this mini rite of conscious passage, you’ll have a whole new understanding of the ways in which those in power control us through our present financial system. It will also make internet sites like Swaptree and Freecycle make that much more sense. But do you really need to be convinced that getting free stuff for the stuff you don’t want is a beautiful thing? Visit today!

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Wildcraft: learn while you play

Simply put, I love the idea behind this board game! Wildcraft is a Candyland (remember that?) style board game for ages 4 to adult which teaches kids how to identify wild herbs and about their medicinal and culinary uses. Sure wish this game had been around when I was a kid! En route to Grandma’s favorite huckleberry patch, players encounter wild herbs which are stored for use as remedies for various “troubles” such as hunger and injuries. Here are a few of the beautifully illustrated cards:

Echinacea Bee Sting

If you have young children and are trying to encourage them to look more closely at the world around them, this is a great way to get them thinking about plants without it coming off like a school lesson. Heck, even if your “kids” are 40, there’s plenty of opportunity for fun to be had. Additionally, the game emphasizes teamwork and comes with all sorts of excellent bonuses like an organic cookbook and wall chart of wild herbs and their medicinal uses. If all board games were this practically educational, kids would probably be better prepared for life by the time they hit our mainstream schooling system, where, to be honest, all bets are off as to whether they actually receive the knowledge to which they are entitled. Given that the game is completely made in the USA of recycled cardboard and vegetable inks, it makes a perfect gift for parents of youngsters that you know!

We all love to play, and cloaking excellent knowledge in a game makes it so much easier to digest. Know of any other great environmental education games for children or adults? Please share!

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The Future of Renewable Energy Employment

The results from the latest American Solar Energy Society Green Collar Jobs Report are in, and it’s good news all around for dedicated greenies and renewable energy workers. As the report title indicates, renewable energy is expected to employ more than 39 million people in the US alone by 2030, up from an approximate 9 million today. In fact, while the US economy overall took a brutal beating this past year, the renewable energy and energy efficiency sector expanded at three times the rate of the rest of the economy. And this is just the beginning. According to the study, 17% of all American jobs by 2030 may be in these sectors, a whopping one in five or six jobs!

View the full report here, or the executive summary here. The conclusions include a case study on renewable energy employment in Colorado, long considered a state with both a progressive mindset and great renewable energy potentials.

While many of us dream less of working for someone else than of living in a cabin somewhere with no employer at all, the truth remains that going off-grid requires careful planning and a bit of start-up cash. So while you gather your nest egg for your dream house in the woods, why not help support the very industries that will help you achieve those dreams once you are ready? The more bright minds we get into the research and development market and intelligent designers and engineers we place on the ground promoting alternative energy, the lower prices will be and the more efficient products will become. Energy effieiceny, in particular is an underdeveloped market that can really help put a dent in our planetary emissions. Ever heard the phrase the best energy is that which you don’t have to produce? How true!

Incidentally, which jobs are predicted to make you the most bank? Solar photovoltaics, solar thermal, fuel cells, and biofuels, especially in the areas of engineering, chemistry, mechanical workers, and business managers.

Solar photovoltaic and solar thermal will lead the renewable energy markets

Solar photovoltaic and solar thermal will lead the renewable energy markets

Another good bit of news, due to the slowdown of the world economy (yes, I said good news, keep reading), there is a glut of solar photovoltaic equipment that was produced in expectation of a stronger world market. Therefore, the equipment costs of a photovoltaic installation are expected to fall by up to half in the coming year! Together with the tax credits being expended to 30% of your total installation costs, that could mean a savings of more than 65%! Which, of course, you can reinvest into other green techs, helping promote the industry and virtually eliminating your power bills at the same time. Beautiful.

If you’re ready to make the jump into green employment now, check out this article about how to properly set yourself up to be hired into your dream job.

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Finally, the proof! Trees help save you green

From the folks over at the Forestry Sciences Lab of Oregon and the National Institute of Standards and Technology comes proof that planting trees around your home will save you money in the long run on your electric bills.  This is something that has long been suspected and anecdotally promoted, but this is the first study to take people’s actual electricity bills and compare them with the amount of growth of trees near the home.

Its official, trees save energy!

It's official, trees save energy!

If you’re headed for off-grid living, chances are that you’re implementing some sort of solar or wind technology in your power mix, so careful siting of the trees you plant and the panels or turbines you place will be necessary.  But if each tree you plant makes the job of those alternative technologies that much easier, it would be hard to go wrong!  Other studies have shown that a single mature tree can produce as much cooling effect as five, yes that’s FIVE AC units.  For each tree.  Now that’s a powerful plant!

Also, don’t forget that other studies have shown that planting trees in your yard actually raises the property value of your home to prospective home buyers, even without factoring in energy savings.  So in today’s lackluster home market, a few well placed trees could make the difference between a listing that sits or sells. And also, every tree you plant in your environment helps to filter the air that you breathe every day, making your lungs and body that much healthier and promoting biodiversity.  For an example of a nice tree distribution program, check out the Los Angeles organization Tree People, who partner with the city to give away free trees to city residents who agree to care for them.  This weekend, they’re giving away fruit trees like peaches, nectarines, and apples.  Yum!

Here’s the link to a Discovery News article outlining the methodology of this latest study.  Planting Trees Saves You Cash.

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Healing Yourself Naturally Part Two

Okay, time for the second installment of our healing naturally series.  Now that you know all about the different hazards conspiring to keep you from healthy happy living, let’s focus on what you can do to keep yourself in tip top shape when flu season or the cold n’ nasties hit your town.

First, eliminate as many sources of needless electromagnetic radiation as possible from your environment.  Turn off your cell phone when you’re not taking calls, unplug appliances when not in use, turn off your computer whenever possible, and generally try to avoid having more wireless gadgets than you really need.  I know, easier said than done, right?  This is as good a reason as any to try to spend some quality time at the park or other natural spaces where limited numbers of electronic devices dwell.  Not only that, but you’ll be supporting our faltering National Park system, which is crumbling under the weight of budget cuts.  But given that you do probably spend a lot of time at home, consider creating an EMF (electromagnetic frequency) free zone.  This can be done by picking a room and having it outfitted with a screen mesh designed to block such frequencies.  BlockEMF.com sells a “budget radio shield” curtain that only costs $6.  Hard to beat that!  They also sell Flectron copper fabric which can be used to coat an entire room using instructions available on their site.  You can also just protect your person by wearing EMF blocking clothing such as the garments available to LessEMF.com, which are a lightweight silver mesh that slips easily under other clothing.  Check out the page here to see their designs: www.lessemf.com.

EMF shielding clothing

EMF shielding clothing

Now that you’ve eliminated some of the errant frequencies in your daily environs, we can move on to diet, where we spent a great deal of yesterday’s article dissecting the dangers of eating food in the new millennium.  First, and foremost, you should eat locally whenever possible.  While locally produced food is no guarantee that it will be grown organically, by choosing small farmers who personally represent their wares at Farmer’s Markets, you not only get a better sense of where your food comes from and the work that goes into it, you are helping to support varieties of plants that are best suited to your climate, which helps to preserve biodiversity.  And trust me, the food at such markets TASTES so much better than what you get in the Ubermarket.  So if you can’t grow your own, go for this route or the increasingly popular CSA delivery programs instead.

Now that you’re committed to going local, what to buy when you visit the market?  There are a whole host of “superfoods” cropping up (sorry, couldn’t help myself) in markets today, all promising to make you look like Gisele with the skin of a twenty year old.  Hey, I’m all for beauty too, but let’s keep things in perspective.  Here are some foods that WILL help boost your immune system.

1. fresh garlic: garlic stimulates the production of white blood cells in your body, which increases your ability to fight off infections and diseases when they attack.  While eating a whole raw clove is supposedly the best for you, understandably, you may not be up to the taste or ensuing vampire (and loved one) repellent qualities.  So try stir frying a little fresh garlic into your next dinner without overcooking it and you can expect a similar immune boost.  Personally, I like baked garlic, which gets all nice and mushy and sweet as it cooks, paired with fresh tomatoes and some mozzarella cheese with balsamic vinegar.  Mmmmm!  And remember, garlic is an incredibly easy plant to grow, so if you’re willing to venture into gardening, this is a great candidate on many fronts.

2. citrus fruit: yep, good ol’ vitamin C in a convenient to carry biodegradable case.  Citrus is nature’s doctor in a ball.  If the idea of lots of orange juice has you blahed out or feeling heartburn, consider Acai, strawberries, kiwi, cantaloupe, cherries, and other fruits which pack the vitamin C punch without some of the acids.  And when you do feel something coming on, a big dose of vitamin C such as that found in Emergen-C packets will help your body to gain enough strength to cut it off at the pass.

3. zinc-rich foods: shellfish are very high in zinc, but you can also get a respectable amount from legumes such as beans.  You can supplement zinc, but beware overloading on it.  Zinc helps your body produce t cells, the agents that fight off disease in the blood.

Above all else, eating fresh foods as compared to those in cans or frozen will go a long way to making sure that the nutrients that are naturally present in the foods will still be available to you when you eat them.  Don’t overcook, eat raw when possible, and as I just said, avoid canned foods which often leach metals from their containers into the food you you eat.

So now that you’re avoiding EMF and eating right, the next step is exercise.  If you’re an off-grid enthusiast like I know you are, you’re probably already above the average when it comes to the amount of daily exercise you get.  After all, those solar panels aren’t going to clean themselves, and you realize that short trips are a great reason to walk instead of taking that pollution spitting car.  By exercising daily in some form or another, you’re not only keeping your muscles healthy and staying in cardiovascular shape, you’re probably also getting a nice healthy dose of vitamin D from the sun.  Studies have shown that vitamin D plays a large role in determining how well our bodies can fight off disease.  And unless you live somewhere in the arctic circles or a constantly rainy clime, the sun is the most consistent way to get this super nutrient.  In winter months, the sun doesn’t shine for as many hours a day, so its extra important to grab rays where and when possible.  This goes for those of you in recovery too.  Florence Nightengale found that the single best indicator of how well a patient will recover is the amount of direct sunlight to which they were exposed.

So there you have it, three easy ways to make sure that this year you won’t be the one sniffling at the board meeting, all without resorting to prescription drugs.  This is especially important as studies roll in indicating that our world’s water supplies are becoming tainted with a cocktail of drugs, many of which are harmful to those who don’t need to be on them.  And you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you don’t support the multinational conglomerates who charge so much for their wares that people in developing countries can’t afford to even take advantage of the lifesaving properties of the drugs that COULD help them.  And that’s a very healthy way to approach your consumerism, indeed!  Here’s to your health!

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Green Trading Cards – Saving the World From Your Computer

And now for something completely different…  If you use social media sites, then you know that there are more apps out there than hours in your day to keep track of them all.  While “hot or not” type applications provide little more than a way to waste inordinate amounts of time better spent doing other things, there is a new class of applications that help you make a difference while you happily go about having fun.

Facebook in particular has been a fertile development ground for such projects, but it can be difficult to know which applications are promising to save the world and which are actually putting their money where their mouths are.  My favorite pick of the socially conscious litter?  Green Trading Cards, an application which lets you collect sets of cards representing the best of what nature has to offer while the application developers contribute to wildlife funds as you use it.  Unlike most of these programs, the makers of Green Trading cards proudly display the donations they make on your behalf to green causes, and donate they do… they claim to donate 10 times more than any other application on Facebook.  While I can neither back up nor dispute this claim, I can say that the application is fun to use, and addictive in a way that L’il green patch, African Safari, and others of the sort just aren’t.  And believe me, I’ve spent too much time on all of ’em!  I think the reason for this is that you are going for a goal (finishing a particular set of cards and therefore saving between 10 and 100 square feet of rain forest) instead of just collecting, collecting, collecting for the sake of, well… collecting?

Green Trading Cards’ creators are committed to making their app better with each passing day too, and the recent additions of card sets are particularly interesting.  I love the extinct animals set, which is a stark reminder that although we socially conscious netizens do try to make a difference, amazing animals are slipping through the cracks every day.  Now that’s a game with a conscience!

My choice for first runner up would have to be the Lunch Money Network, on which you play games, including their signature game Owned! to rack up virtual lunch money that you can then donate to real philanthropic causes.

While playing games on the net isn’t expressly an off-grid activity, you and I both know that we spend lots of time on the web, and most likely, you’ve tried to kill a few hours here and there with less than intellectual pursuits.  So next time you’re thinking of firing up Solitaire, consider one of these apps instead, and help save the wild world into which you’re hoping to move.

Visit Green Trading Cards here: Green Trading Cards on Facebook

Visit Save the Planet from the Lunch Money Network here: Owned! from the LMN on Facebook

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Community Gardens in Los Angeles

For those of you in the Los Angeles area, I have created a Google map of all the community gardens in the county.  Simply click on this link:

MyMaps at MapBuilder.net

This list was compiled using data from the UC Cooperative Extension Office maintained by wunder gardener Yvonne Savio. I will be keeping this list updated and eventually expanding it far and wide so if you have word on another garden or would like me to cover your town, comment below! Happy gardening~

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