Archive for green

Hitting Your Stride

Going green or cutting off the power line completely are not easy tasks. We are accustomed to our routine conveniences and live in a world that is loathe to advertise the actual costs of the products we consume.  When viewed in its entirety, the global environmental crisis we are facing is so daunting that many people fail before even beginning by despairing at the enormity of it all and then lapsing into apathy.  Obviously this is the largest waste of creative capacity imaginable on our planet.  You get it, so you’re smart enough to do something about it, yet you don’t.  So don’t let yourself become one of those people.  Do something today. Maybe you already are.  The thing about “Do something today.” that is so great is that when you take that approach you tend to set realistic goals, more on the level of an hour or two’s commitment than the nebulous grand ideas that tend to live largely on paper and never in the real world.  And you set a pattern that defies apathy, even if you eventually change the depth of your commitment. And one day, you will find yourself hitting your stride and it will become natural part of your life instead of a scheduled task.

There are a million ways to break a habit, and only one to make one: practical application.  You can read every book in the library about art, for example, but until you create something, you cannot call yourself an artist.  Your friend’s kindergartener who brings home finger painted pictures daily is.  Which should make potential artists feel better about the quality which one considers art (Isn’t art, in the end, really largely an issue of attachment?), but it usually doesn’t.

What it all means?  You don’t have to be a maestro to get involved.  Just pick something and implement it in your life.  Chances are, no matter what strategy you pick, it will be an improvement over the standard.  Many people spend a lot of time wondering which choice will be best for them, and in the end, don’t get anything, because the spark of ingenuity has faded which led them to that point.  Do your research, but understand that the energy revolution is not a plan for tomorrow, but for today. You’ve heard me say it before.  In the spirit of kindness, I won’t leave you all pumped up with nowhere to go.

Here’s a little inspiration for you for things that won’t take more than a few moments:

Plant a tree. The EPA estimates that a mature tree provides the same amount of air conditioning as five AC units.  You can take cuttings of most plants and root them, or simply plant a sapling or seed that you find in your surroundings.  Of course, if you then take care of it, making sure it has enough water to survive the first crucial year or two, then you can count that as doing something in the future too.  But by then you’ll probably feel so good from doing that, you’ll have a whole colony of trees somewhere.  Estimated time: 10 minutes, and time spent finding a tree to plant (or cultivating stem cutting in moist plastic bag).

Buy recycled shopping bags. It’s no accident that reusable shopping bags are popping up in stores these days.  What used to be the exclusive realm of whole foods has become big business.  And when you think about what you’re saving in terms of landfill space, and add in the fact that most large retailers give reusable bag discounts, you really can’t argue against them.  Of course, you’ll need your shopping bags if you take the next step and start shopping at the local farmer’s market once a week instead of a comparable grocery store trip.  Local farmers supported, all for the price of a little gas. Estimated time: under a minute.

Hydroscape your yard.  Print a Google map of your house and yard and draw on it the places where water tends to collect when it rains.  These are the low points, and when planned right, you can save a lot of money on property maintenace just by regulating the flow of water across your land.  Create a conceptual path through your area, create a path for water flow, and raise beds surrounding this natural flow to minimize your need to water.  This also gives you the opportunity to have a larger variety of plants, because you create tiny climate zones specific to each bed.  Estimated Time: a few hours planning, 2 hours per bed.

Freecycle something. Find something in your house that you don’t use and offer it to the local population at large for free at http://www.freecycle.org .  If you’re feeling generous, offer to post the item through the mail to the lucky recipient.  It really IS a good way to keep things out of landfills and it fosters your non-retail community.  Estimated time: ten minutes, including finding something to post.

Buy at least one solar light. These days, you can buy a set of solar lights for $10 -15.  The nicest ones I’ve seen are floating pool lights which change color, but there are also lots of varieties of solar yard lights, and also solar Christmas lights.  I particularly like the Lampion, pictured above. Try leaving these lights outside during the day while you are out of the house, and then using them to replace a light you use at night.  Carbon free power and mood lighting might prove the perfect combination for your evening.  Estimated time: half an hour on eBay and a minute a day.

Use greywater to flush your toilet.  Unscrew the pipe below your sink and place a bucket under the now-open pipe.  Use this water to trigger the toilet’s automatic flush response.  Combine it with the old “milk jug in the tank” trick and you’ll use a lot less water.  This will save you however much water you use at the sink by recycling it at least once.  Estimated time: fifteen minutes, and a slightly altered routine.

Visit your local library instead of the bookstore. Similar selection, better price.  And since you share the book with your community, you save resources and encourage further government spending in future libraries.  How many books do you read more than once anyway?  Donate the ones you own (outside your core library) to the local library so others can learn too.  I hardly have to explain the benefits of that!  Estimated time: Twenty minutes to clean out your closet.

So there you have it, something you can do today.  One last freebie: write a suggestion below, so that others can learn about your own great action idea.  =)

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Getting the Mail

Reducing your life footprint on the earth sometimes means making a few more… by walking instead of driving to local destinations.

Having sold the car a few months back as part of this solarious experiment, I’ve been hoofing it all over the city this summer. It’s been great for getting a tan, and also a refreshing way to view the neighborhoods in my area. A good walking street does not necessarily mean the same for driving, and since you have plenty of time to examine things as you go by, you’ll probably find yourself seeing details you never noticed right in your own stretch of town. I use the time to look for edible and native plants along the street… in Los Angeles, there is an old law that states any tree or plant that overhangs the sidewalk is fair game for harvesting by the general public (see FallenFruit.org, a great website complete with “Fruit maps” and a commendable mission statement for more on this). Yesterday, as I trekked to get my mail from the post office, a stretch of about 1 3/4 miles that I used to cover by car in about 5 minutes without more thought or notice than to curse the traffic gods, I recorded the following:

Walking down Santa Monica Blvd, sharing the sidewalk with transvestite hookers and average Joe and Jane shoppers peacefully co-mingling around large retail storefronts, I turn back onto a neighborhood street once known as an artists’ mecca, but which is now a darkly comical mix of homeless people camping near the lawns of middle income family homes. There are ample opportunities for herb stalking here, which occupies me for the remainder of the block (a funny thing about LA is that regardless of its immense size, the cultural landscape changes drastically every couple of blocks, kind of like a permanent Olympic Village).

I make my way to Melrose Ave, past a sea of tourists waiting in a never-ending line for Pinks Hotdogs, and past the local halfway house for adults with developmental disabilities which shares its corner with one of the most popular Cuban restaurants in town. As I walk by, the halfway house residents are watching the arrival of a Hollywood celebutante and her entourage at the restaurant, who, needless to say, are not watching those watching them. Melrose is awash with foreigners who haven’t yet heard about the street’s decline and think that they’ll find the next hot designer outfit there. These days, you’re more likely to find a ten dollar clubbing outfit or a glass bong, though a few brave designers have shops there still. Mixing with the exotic foreigners’ accents are the rough voices of immortal punk rockers, the giggles of wannabe high school hipsters, and the rolling grumbles of Persian and Asian store owners who still work the sidewalks attracting customers. Turning off Melrose, I walk down the alley through an open air art museum, courtesy of the talented taggers and spray can artists who’ve made the alleys their gallery for years, and hopefully for many more to come. This is one of my favorite spots in the city, and I linger for a few moments to appreciate the ever-changing canvas.

Beyond there is another neighborhood, this one the domain of the local Orthodox Jewish population, where men in Yarmulkas drive nice cars (except on Shabats) and women in long black skirts push double wide strollers down the sidewalks. This is another foraging mecca, lots of date palms and fruit trees, undoubtedly because the second-generation families who live there still appreciate the historic reality of food shortages and self-sufficiency. The houses themselves are historic craft services houses from the golden days of Hollywood, each with their own character and story.

Turning onto Beverly Blvd, I start to notice Ferraris and Porsches parked street-side, indicating I’m now in the realm of the hipster designers. Trendy cafes and coffeehouses are interspersed with interior design firms and Fashion Week designer boutiques. Writers peer intensely at passers by from behind their laptops and eavesdrop on actors who gather to share “I’m too cool” party tales with other actors with whom they are, no doubt, too cool to be hanging out. Finally, I pass the local public park, a haven for youth sports leagues, middle aged joggers, and boheme-chic refugees from CBS Studios’ resident neighborhood actor population and the renowned Farmer’s Market (which is now more like a shopping mall) just beyond. Inside the park’s entrance stands a largely ignored Holocaust monument to those who died in the great war and the remnants of an old amphitheater that, despite being in the heart of thespian territory, today only serves as a frisbee park for local dogs and the meeting spot for several Hollywood fitness boot camps.

In twenty minutes, I feel like an ambassador at the United Nations, having traveled half the globe without ever leaving town! As a bonus, I’ve gathered enough seeds from passing plants to start a respectable guerrilla garden somewhere, got a good workout, and it took no fossil fuels to get to my destination, save whatever was used in making the rubber soles of my shoes. Most importantly, I got to interact with my neighborhood on a personal level, rather than simply staring out the window at a traffic light.

Is there somewhere local that you generally drive that would be a good candidate for a walk? If time is a luxury, then treat yourself to a little jaunt through your local world. Picking a regularly scheduled destination you already frequent will help encourage you to ditch the car and get out more often than simply saying “I will go for more walks”, at least if the shattered remains of many new years resolutions are any indication. When you do decide to hoof it, keep a mental trip journal and post your best tales here! See you on the street~

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BOOK REVIEW: the Self Sufficiency Handbook

The Self-Sufficiency Handbook: A Complete Guide to Greener Living by Alan and Gill Bridgewater

the Self-Sufficiency Handbook

The title of this book is perfect. There are no crazy survival tips here, although I wouldn’t mind having this book along in a pinch. It’s a guide for getting your existing house off the grid, and also for evaluating properties in terms of their sustainability potential. The writers live in the UK, after years stateside, so the companies and tips are both oriented toward those countries. But there is a nice discussion of navigating local laws no matter where you decide to drop your hoe and start gardening.

After a nice discussion of housing, which includes talks about insulation, orientation, ambient heating/cooling, alternative energy sources, and materials, they move on to daily living practicalities. First, getting light. That done, next you need food. This is where the book really shines. There is an in-depth lesson on growing an organic garden, including successful composting and which crops should be planted where and when, what needs rotation (and a sample rotation schedule that will leave you with fresh foods year-round) and what can stay put, and the care profiles for a large variety of different garden plants. They are careful to share wisdom on how much land you need to make your off-grid dreams happen, and also on how to choose property that will lead you to success.

Animal husbandry is covered in detail species by species, along with construction considerations, possible worries and probable successes of owning each type. The sections are not overly in-depth – I thought they were perfect for the off-grid enthusiast with lots of commitment but no experience with husbandry. Of course, one can never emphasize enough the time it will take to properly care for animal on your own property. They cover it nicely, if briefly, by saying this: if you own animals, you will have to feed them EVERY DAY, holiday or not. Yes, that’s EVERY day. Having kept horses growing up, I can relate to the urgency with which they repeat this statement throughout the book. Take heart.

The last section of the book can best be described as a tutorial section of recipes for survival. Not pemmican or Gorp-style recipes, but rather old-fashioned recipes for things like candles, making soap, making chutneys and jams, and brewing beer and making wine. Their recipes are pretty short and look easy to handle. In fact, the whole book was particularly well planned to fit each concept on two facing pages, so you’re never left looking for information in a thick chapter of words. I’m sure this limits the amount of information that can be presented a little, but I didn’t notice.

If you’re even considering moving off-grid, or even just converting a section of your yard to an edible garden, you should pick up this book. It’s fairly new, but with its special emphasis on looking at your actions in terms of an overall lifestyle, I think it will one day be considered a standard text in self-sufficiency. Which, as gas rises toward the $5 mark, is something we could all afford to learn more about.

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ILoveMiceElf.com – Treat your senses

Part of falling away from the grid involves rethinking your purchasing power. Instead of supporting Walmart, which imports a staggering 30% of all goods that enter through US ports, aim to create local relationships and to buy products that eliminate or minimize the “distance to table” effect which governs not only food but all your purchases. With the amazing power of the internet, “local” can be anywhere in the world: support an individual or team of craftsmen rather than mega corporations.

ILoveMiceElf.com

Ever since I ran into the founder of ILoveMiceElf.com, heard her speak about her organic hands-on approach to crafting bath products, and then ordered some of her creamy soaps, I’ve been in soap heaven. Most bath products are so heavily perfumed and are filled with glycerins and alcohols and ingredients I can’t pronounce. The natural products at this website, however, are hand-crafted using only natural materials that are so good you could almost eat them. Which you shouldn’t do: I have to tell you this because you may actually be tempted by some of their flavors. The cinnamon oatmeal soap is the best I’ve ever tried, anywhere. Very creamy, great scent, and exfoliating oatmeal throughout.

According to Ms. Green, the master craftswoman, she sought to create products using only natural ingredients that won’t cause allergic reactions and would appeal to even the most hard-core natural products users. And this devotion shows in each batch. Try it to believe.

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America’s First Wind Powered City

It’s official: at least one city in the United States has finally ponied up for a wind powered station that will meet the entire city’s needs.  Meet Rock Port, Missouri, poised to take that trophy home for America.  Fortunately situated near a bluff and with a windy enough climate to sustain a projected 16 gigawatt hours of electricity per year, Missourans are about to get a healthy does of green in their power mix.  Annual consumption has historically only been around 13 gigwatt hours, so that power company will also be able to sell power across the grid to other places, as well as to supply electrical power when winds are down.  With this year’s tornado season as evidence, I don’t think that will be happening too often! 

For more information, look up Loess Hill Wind Farm, the company pairing with the government to provide this service.

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COMMITMENT: Community Service

So I just finished doing a few days of community service around Los Angeles. Out here, you can end up doing community service for almost anything. Jaywalk? Community service. Broken headlight? Community service. Forget your seatbelt…? You guessed it. Specifically, I was in Macarthur Park, made nationally famous by Donna Summer in 1979, but integral to the history of LA much longer than that. Back in the early days, it was owned by the governor’s family, and became a garbage heap, then a huge park at the turn of the twentieth century. In the eighties and early nineties, it was famous more as a place to find drugs (and bodies floating in the lake), but these days, it’s settled back into a respectable place, albeit one where the shop keepers don’t speak English as often as they do.

So as I picked up trash off the grounds and skimmed the lake with a long skimmer, clearing more trash and several varieties of dead animals, I started thinking about trash. What else, it’s all I’d been looking at all week! Even as a kid, my family and I used to go a few times a year and volunteer at the local park cleaning trash, mostly stuff that had floated downriver in a flood and somehow ended up on the banks. It’s not that people didn’t use the park. Sometimes it was downright crowded in the picnic areas. But I don’t remember people leaving a lot of litter behind. And I’m not that old yet, so this isn’t a “I remember when…” story!

Now Macarthur Park is a different story. It’s almost all human trash, and people just have a picnic on the lawn and leave everything there when they leave, like the lawn is some plastic dinner tray that can just be picked up taken to the dishwasher at the end of the day. If I’d melted down the plastic bottle caps I swept up those few days, I’d easily have gotten a chunk the size of myself. And as all you greenies know a plastic cap on the ground isn’t going anywhere anytime soon from biodegradation. At several points, the park director said not to worry about little trash, just newspapers and boxes, and plastic cups… big things you can see from across the park.

This illustrated to me the national situation we find ourselves in with our waste systems. We produce SO much trash that we end up only trying to clean up “the big things”, because we think we don’t have time to concentrate on all the little things. Well, I disagree. You see, if you’re going to do a job, do it right. That’s the motto of 90% of successful people, rich or otherwise. After a day of doing what was asked (and watching people throw things right back onto the half-cleaned areas), when skimming the lake I thought, why do this halfway? A lake that looks sort of trashy will quickly invite people to think of it as a place for more trash. A pristine lake is a scene for enjoyment. So I started skimming, and then when I finished, I went and did it again, checking my work. In the end, the whole lake was clear, and I was feeling pretty good watching the ducks feed their ducklings in an area free of plastic bags and soda bottles. And to prove my theory, I saw a man take out his camera and take a few lovely pictures of the now clean park, and several patrons even stopped and thanked me for cleaning up their lake, asking questions about the wildlife and the lake itself.  All that positivity for a few hours work!

Another thing that I see so often in our current societal system is that we work at odds with ourselves. After three days of cleaning the park, the park managers received word that, in response to anticipated large turnouts at the immigration rallies planned for this year’s May Day celebration, all trash cans must be removed from the park, so they couldn’t be used as weapons against the police (never mind that every barrel was chained down). No plastic bags or paper receptacles either, as they could be torched. What about the trash of the ten thousand or so people supposed to show up? The police’s answer… throw it on the ground. Having just been that person picking up trash for three days, I felt the frustration of someone who watches their sandcastle washed away by the tide. True, picking up trash once won’t cure everything, but couldn’t we as a society learn to coordinate everything a little better so that we don’t expend our resources repeatedly attacking the same problems when we know that by not changing the underlying patterns of consumption we won’t stem the problems themselves?

So community service wasn’t so bad after all. I’m glad not to be getting up at 5 am, but I kind of enjoyed being in the park all day. And when I walked away from the last day’s work, I felt good seeing the green expanses trash-free because of me. It looked like I imagined it in the old days. So here goes, I’m going to make another COMMITMENT. I will find a place, somewhere in LA, and adopt it as my own. It will stay trash free and maybe even sprout a few more plants. People may or may not notice, but hopefully the birds will. Will you do the same? If everyone just adopted a tiny little spot, we could create communities and scenes for enjoyment rather than half-cleaned vistas, waiting to accept another gift of trash.

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PowerCube Energy: Solar in a Box

PowerCube 600 Energy system

If the intricacies of setting up a home solar solution have you flummoxed, you may be looking for an out-of-the-box solution for your energy needs.  It’s not exactly portable (unless you own a forklift!), but the PowerCube 600 Energy system is just that… a box that you simply open and start harvesting light energyVisit the PowerCube site for pictures of the cube being set up to appreciate how easy it really is. The site and technology appear to be young, but the promise of a standalone power system in a box can hardly be overstated.

From what I can see, the box has a variety of power outs so that you can hook up various devices to the unit. And the site claims that you can increase your energy output by daisy chaining multiple units together, providing enough for off-grid applications and primary power-source situations. I like the box design, it looks sturdy and easy to ship, given its size, and it seems like a good fit for programs that offer solar power to remote communities across the globe. I haven’t been able to access the spec sheet yet, but the maker’s site, a yacht building company, shows the product in more operative detail.  All from Reluminati, an eco-concious design lab that sports several lines of solar powered products.  Be the first on your block to sever your ties to the grid when the PowerCube rolls off the assembly line this summer.

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