Eco-Conscious

Painless Ways to Help The Environment

Do you ever search the Net? I’d be surprised if you don’t. I do it many times a day. From now on though, I’ll be helping Earthwatch Institute every time I search. I’ve joined igive.com. That’s their search box in the left sidebar and there’s also a link so you can join. If you prefer another cause, just look for it in their long list of worthy organizations. There’s everything from animal shelters to women who make films.

I chose Earthwatch Institute because it’s the largest volunteer nonprofit environmental organization in the world. I support their philosophy of getting businesses, environmental organizations, individuals and scientists involved and working together on issues. I think that’s the only way we’ll stop global warming and find a consensus around climate change and alternative energy and so many other things I’m concerned about.

Please take a moment to click on their link or do a search from the search box or both. It would be really nice if you’d put their links on your blog or site and maybe email some friends about igive.com. We can’t save the world with a click, but we can help, especially if we get our friends to join us. It’s easy. It’s free. It’s green.

Eco-Conscious

Is the World Getting Noisier?

Well, restaurants are getting noisier, that’s for sure. My brother and I went out to eat at our local Ground Round yesterday and could barely hear each other over the heavy metal music coming out of a speaker over our heads. We asked the server to turn it down and she said she would. It got a couple of decibels lower, but it was still annoying and interfered with our enjoyment of our meal.

I fail to understand why restaurants have to have loud music playing, especially since many of them also have TV screens all over the place, with their noise. Add a few people on their cell phones, yelling details of their daily doings in excruciating detail, several toddlers screaming as they flail around in their high chairs and the rest of us just trying to have a normal conversation with our meals and you have pandemonium plus tips.

I won’t be going back to the Ground Round or Texas Roadhouse, which has the loudest music of any restaurant I’ve ever been in. I was there once when a family walked in with an infant who screamed all through the meal. I thought of calling DHS to report them for exposing that baby to an unsafe noise level, but I doubt that it would have done any good. When I asked the server if anyone ever complained about the loud music, she said they did, but there was nothing anyone could do about it. It’s part of the franchise or whatever deal the local restaurant has with the national chain to have the music at a certain level.

So, what’s behind this loud music policy? Is it designed to get us out of there sooner? To befuddle us so that we don’t think about how much we’re spending? Is it supposed to make us feel like we’re part of an exciting social event as we sip our raspberry iced teas and munch our chicken fingers? Or do the people who plan restaurants just think that people aren’t happy unless there’s constant loud stimulation from TV or music?

Well, whatever the reason is for it, they’re losing me because of it. When our family eats out, we choose first on the level of noise and then on the quality of the food. The only chain restaurants where the noise level works for us are Pizzeria Uno, The Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse.

There are some local restaurants, most notably a Greek restaurant and a Mexican restaurant, where the owners have soft music playing and the noise level is low enough so that you can hear your dinner companion, and those are the restaurants we eat at most often. That way, we not only protect our ears, we also support the local economy and diversity.  How do you feel about restaurant noise levels?

Eco-Conscious

Green Folks Are Flocking to This New Browser

I’m writing this post from my new browser. It’s called Flock, the Eco version and it’s the bee’s knees as far as I’m concerned.  I’m not the only one singing its praises. It’s on Alltop Green and several bloggers have posted about it since it appeared. Why do I like it so much?

First of all, it brings together so many things that I use and makes them even more accessible than my google homepage did. Secondly, it has pre-loaded green content, which is very handy for someone who blogs about environmental topics a few times a week. And third, but maybe most important from an eco viewpoint, at the end of the year, Flock’s owners will donate a tenth of the proceeds from Flock searches to an environmental cause to be determined by Flock users. That rocks!

I love that I can click on a little blue feather icon, write a blog post and then choose the blog to post it to, all from my browser. It even lets me blog to my self-hosted WordPress blogs, which isn’t something I’ve found in other “blog from your browser” programs. In my role of researcher – one of the other hats I wear as a freelancer – I can right-click on an article and then click on “blog this” and Flock will copy it to whichever blog I choose, so that I can quote parts of it or use it in research later. That is a real time saver compared to copying things to the clipboard, laboriously cutting the parts out that I don’t want and pasting the quoted parts to a blog.

When I’m on a site, Flock has an icon that glows orange when it detects an RSS feed. All I have to do is click on it and I can instantly add the feed to my feed sidebar, where I can organize feeds in folders, another time-saver for a researcher/writer. Now, when I look for green news items, I just open my feed window and find out what’s happening in the environmental news instead of schlepping all over the Net to find out what’s going on.

Flock is built on the Mozilla/Firefox browser chassis, which is my browser of choice, so it has privacy and security built in.  The only add-on I’ve installed so far is Key Scrambler, which is just what it says. It scrambles your keystrokes at the kernel level to deter keyloggers from stealing your passwords. It works seamlessly and doesn’t slow down Flock at all.

So far, I haven’t found anything I don’t like about Flock and I recommend it for anyone who is environmentally oriented. Even if you don’t use it all the time, it’s handy to have on board for when you want to delve more deeply into environmental sites. If you’re a social butterfly, there’s the original version of Flock that easily integrates photos sharing sites and many other social venues, including Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and many more.

My advice is that you give one of them a try and see if Flock works for you. If you do, drop me a comment and let me know how you like it.

activism, Eco-Conscious, Health Alert, In the News

Some Companies Will Do Anything to Keep BPA in Their Products

Coca-Cola, Alcoa, Crown,Del Monte, North American Metal Packaging Alliance, Inc., Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), American Chemistry Council… These are the companies that met recently to come up with strategies to keep BPA from being banned in CA. According to an article at the Environmental Working Group’s web site, they also put up $500,00 to implement their plans.

One of their ideas is having a young pregnant woman giving speeches around the country in support of BPA’s good points. I’m not exactly sure what good things she could say about something that’s a proven endocrine system disruptor, but I’m sure they’d come up with something. They’re good at marketing slogans. Maybe, “Without BPA, What Would You Have to Worry About?”

At any rate, prepare yourself for whatever  the BPA Joint Trade Association Meeting on Communications Strategy comes up with to keep making money from something that poisons baby formula, soda and canned fruits and vegetables. While you’re waiting, you might want to totter on over to the EWG site and sign up to do some campaigning of your own against Big Business and its slimy tactics. Oh yes, and an email to the companies who think BPA is just ducky wouldn’t go amiss either. Tell them Lill – the DES Daughter – sent you.

Eco-Conscious

Going… Going … Green

Are you overwhelmed by the thought of all the changes you’d have to make to your life to be as green-as-you-wannabe? Join the club and stop beating yourself up. Sure your neighbor, friend, sister in law, favorite Hollywood star is so green they’re growing algae in their pool to make biodiesel. Yes, I know that even Republicans are talking about maybe doing something – somewhere in the future – about climate change and the price of gas. And I’m also painfully aware of how you can be ostracized if you haven’t gone vegan, adopted a square mile of rainforest and saved a whale before breakfast.

But don’t get your 100% organic, no-sweat shop, fair trade knickers in a twist. Relax. You can do this. After all, remember how hard it was to remember zip codes when they first came out? You don’t? Hmm, well, I do. I’m that old. If I, at my advanced age, can change my lifestyle to protect the planet, improve my health and do the right thing, so can you.

The problem is that most people go for the instant makeover and try to adopt a completely eco-conscious, sustainable lifestyle, as if it’s a wardrobe that you can buy at the local big box store. The impossibility of doing this leads to feeling like a failure, discouragement, overspending and being overwhelmed to the point where you just want to give up. Don’t.

Sit down, pour yourself a cup of that green tea you bought because Oprah recommended it and get some perspective on the whole Eco Thing. The earth has been ticking over for a long time with very little help from the human race. It’ll manage to survive for a few minutes while you plan your change to a healthier, more eco-conscious lifestyle. Trust me.

Decide, first of all, where you want to put your effort. Do you want to go out and picket the big corporations who are raping the earth or would you rather start with something more manageable like changing the brand of coffee you drink? How about starting with something that can have a big impact on the earth and your family’s health? If you’re still using conventional cleaners and household chemicals, switch to green brands.

Figure out where you spend the most time, which foods you eat the most of, which products you apply the most to your skin and hair. Then, gradually, not all at once, replace them with healthier, more earth-friendly options. You don’t have to go crazy, throw out everything in your house and replace it all in one swell foop. There’s no law that says you can’t do it in more wallet-friendly stages.

But, you say, my friends are dissing me because I drive an SUV and my kids’ school friends are accusing them of trashing the planet because they haven’t gone totally vegan yet. Well, it sounds like you need new friends and now you know one reason I home school. (Kids can be so cruel, especially when they’re cooped up in little rooms and don’t get to go outside and play and socialize.)

If you can trade in your SUV, do it, that is, if you don’t need it because of your location or the weather where you live. (I can’t. And I can’t afford to move either, not until house prices go up again.) Don’t judge yourself so harshly. Just take one step at a time toward a healthier, greener lifestyle on your own terms, not anyone else’s.

Someday, you’ll look around and realize that there isn’t a piece of plastic in your house and composting is just second nature to you and you’ll know that you’ve done it. You’ve gone totally Green without spending a fortune or having a nervous breakdown. But first, finish your tea.

Eco-Conscious

Getting Around In a Green Way

I’ve admitted before that I drive an SUV. Odd choice for a person who advocates going green. However, where I live dictates that I have to drive a 4WD vehicle. What I paid for my 2001 Dodge Durango dictates that I have to pay it off before I can buy something more efficient and eco-friendly. Until then, I try to keep my trips to a minimum and do what I can in other areas to help the environment.

When I can afford it, I intend to buy a small, fuel-efficient car, maybe even an alternative energy powered vehicle. At any rate, my next vehicle will be much smaller than the one I have now, and if I can sell my house, I’ll be living somewhere close enough to town so that I don’t have to drive most of the time. Since my house and acreage isn’t exactly the residence of choice for Mr. and Mrs. Homebuyer right now, moving might be far in the future.

So, if I stay here, I’ll be driving my little car into the city on narrow roads which also host huge log trucks, SUVs and pickups the size of mobile homes, oil delivery trucks, UPS vans, dump trucks and snow plows. Maine roads are a scary place to drive a small car. As are highways almost anywhere in the US, because we share them with trailer trucks, buses and delivery trucks.

In other parts of the world, there are truck lanes which are separated from car lanes by a real barrier. I doubt very much that there’s a chance of the US adopting that approach, but I think it’s a great idea. So are bike lanes. Almost every time I drive down the main route that leads to the city, I have to almost stop because someone is riding a bike in the travel lane, because there’s no other place to ride it.

I’m totally in agreement that bikes are a great mode of transportation, but I wouldn’t ride one in this part of Maine if you paid me to. True, by law, they have just as much right to be on the road as cars do. Unfortunately, the reality is that this isn’t going to protect you as you ride in the inside lane that isn’t wide enough for your bike and a car. When both lanes have cars in them, there’s no way they can pass you without hitting your bike. This leads to many near-accidents and sometimes a bicyclist’s injury or even death.

My point in all this, is that we don’t just need more fuel-efficient cars and alternative modes of transportation. We need the infrastructure to support them and encourage more people to adopt them. If there were bike lanes, more people would choose to ride their bikes to work, school and for errands. If trucks and buses were separated from cars on the highway, small cars would be a safer option for new vehicle buyers. If every road had sidewalks – something that very few rural roads have around here – more people would walk, which is the best way to get from one place to the other.

Eco-Conscious

Let’s Say Good-bye to Buying

The automakers want Congress to loan them taxpayer money so that they can use it to get consumers buying cars again. Congress has already loaned money to banks and mortgage lenders, so that they can get “relieve the credit crunch” and get consumers borrowing money again. Am I missing something here?

Consumers borrowing money for house after house and car after car is what caused the current financial meltdown. What Congress, companies, lenders and consumers need to support is less consumerism, not more. Further, in my not so humble opinion, society needs to re-shift its focus in a big way away from consumerism towards a more sustainable model of living.

I grew up in the fifties and sixties when things took up a lot less space in everyone’s lives. We had one TV, one car and many people lived in the same house all through their childhood. Belongings and furnishings weren’t discarded for new ones like they are now.

I blame it on the invention and adoption of plastic, this rampant consumerism. Plastic things were cheap. It was actually cheaper to throw them away than fix them, if they could even BE fixed.

Somehow, this attitude expanded to include non-plastic items until we were throwing away almost everything as soon as the “new” wore off, as my father used to say. Now, we realize that plastic with all its toxins and dependence on oil isn’t the wonder that we thought it was way back then.

Isn’t it about time that we admit that neither is consumerism the wonderful thing we thought it was? Especially in light of the unavoidable facts of global warming and what consumerism is doing to our planet, it’s time to call it a day for recreational shopping.

Instead, I feel strongly that we should turn our minds and energy toward creating a world that appreciates the environment and engenders a culture of nurturing people, instead of creating things that we don’t really need and can’t sustain.

Eco-Conscious, In the News

Colony Collapse: This Could “Bee” Good News

According to an article in Science Daily, scientists have developed a weapon to fight Colony Collapse. The really neat part of this is that the weapon is bees. That’s right. The mite-fighting bees have been specially bred to search out Varroa mites and remove them from the nest.

Varroa mites, aka  “vampire mites” are thought to be a significant contributing factor in Colony Collapse, which threatens bee populations around the world – and thus the human food supply also. The tiny mite establishes itself in the cells that nourish bee pupa, then reproduces inside the sealed cell, so it’s hard for the bees to find it and remove it.

The little blood-suckers then feed on the bees’ lymph fluid and blood and, once established, are very hard to get rid of. The sealed chambers, which are designed to protect the baby bees, also protect the baby mites until they’re large enough to do a lot of damage. One-fifth of Britain’s bee population was wiped out by this little invader last year. Around the world, bees died by the millions and science seemed unable to do anything about it.

Now, though, with the discovery that bees have a gene for hygiene which is more strongly expressed in some bees than others – a clean gene, if you will – they can be bred to be more aggressive about mite-removal. The new breed of bee actually chews through the wax seal and removes the mite-infested pupa, thus killing the baby mites before they can reproduce. And when Mama Mite makes more mini-mites, the cleaner bees come back and wipe them out also.

This can cut down on the mites enough to let the colony survive. While the mites aren’t the only factor in Colony Collapse – pesticides, fungicides and other pathogens may be be factors also – reducing their damage should go a long way toward helping bee populations survive while researchers work to find an answer to the problem.

Source: Science Daily-Bees Fight Back Against Colony Collapse Disorder: Some Honey Bees Toss Out Varroa Mites

Eco-Conscious, Plants and Gardening

Digging Up Dirt At the White House

I was really chuffed recently to read that there will be a vegetable garden at the White House this spring. The Obamas want to grow food for their kitchen and provide a good example, especially to kids. As a matter of fact, a nearby class will be participating in the project. Students from Bancroft Elementary School will be on hand today as the First Lady breaks ground for the garden on the south lawn of the White House grounds.

One person who is really excited about the garden is Alice Waters of Chez Panisse Restaurant in California, where she’s been serving and lobbying for local food for decades. As a matter of fact, she’s also been lobbying in Washington since 1992 for a White House garden with a series of fund raisers where local, organic and natural food was on the menu to showcase its benefits.

Ms. Waters also supports something that could change the educational system in this country: sustainable, edible schoolyards. Instead of the blacktop that surrounds so many schools, how about gardens where children – and teachers – can raise their own food instead of the current bland, processed institutional food cafeterias serve? It would also get kids out of the classroom and into the fresh air and sunshine, which would boost their moods and probably their test scores.

One other piece of news I read this week, although it’s old news, reinforces this idea of gardening in schoolyards and backyards. I came across something I had read a long time ago but forgotten. Soil contains beneficial bacteria that actually make you feel good when you get it on your skin. Yup. Far from being a bad thing, getting down and dirty in the garden raises your serotonin levels and gives you that “feel-good” feeling. Who knew?

Well, to tell you the truth, I knew. Until I read about the bacteria, I didn’t know why gardening without gloves made me feel relaxed and happy, but I knew that I felt better, slept better and smiled more starting on the day I began to prepare my garden for spring planting.

So, let’s hope the Obamas and their children actually grub around in the dirt, rather than leaving the gardening to the White House groundkeepers. Along with eating the first tomato or radish, gardening’s bacterial benefits could go a long way toward counteracting the stress of the next four years for them.

Eco-Conscious

Cool Green Sites for Kids and One for Parents

Kids and nature go together. Even in this day of video games and high-tech toys, you can still find kids outside watching clouds, climbing trees and making believe they’re tigers in the grass. But when a summer shower or the hot sun brings them inside, here’s a neat website they can visit.

Big Green Help is Nickelodeon’s contribution to green sites for kids. Here, kids can help basketball star LeBron James spread green tips around the world in a bike-a-thon game or play another game called Polar Bear Bounce with the Barenaked Brothers Band. (It’s G-rated, honest.)

Like its main site, this Nick site is kid-friendly and kid-safe. The folks at Nick know how to engage kids’ interest and teach without tedium. So, when Spongebob and his friends in Bikini Bottom show kids why recycling is a good idea, it’s fun. (Unlike when Mom tells them to pick up their soda bottle and throw it in the recycling bin.)

Privacy is protected as it is on the other Nick sites, which is reassuring. Yes, there are ads, like there are on almost all kid sites, but they’re for other Nick “products” and not too obtrusive. I tend to think that the kids will be more intrigued by the games, quizzes and stars who do a very good job of getting the environmental message across to the generation that’s going to be in charge of the earth in a few short years.

And here’s a site for parents where they can read one of the best environmental newsletters on the Net, Rachel’s News. Not only is it concerned with sustainable living and other environmental issues, Rachel’s News and the Environmental Research Foundation ties that in with peace and justice issues. To quote them, “We at Rachel’s News envision a day when society first asks, “How can we achieve prosperity while minimizing harm to people and the environment?” It’s that simple, but it’s a profound shift.”

Indeed, it is, but it’s one that I believe we HAVE to make if we’re going to survive and thrive.