Monday, April 28, 2008

My Earth Day 2008 Project

The way I have the title, you might think that this is an annual event. Well, it isn't yet. This was my first Earth Day project, inspired by my own blog post (see previous). On Earth Day (April 22nd), I bought 10 reusable grocery bags (nice black ones from my local independent food store), took them to work the next day, and left them in a pile with this note:

Free bag*
*with a catch

Giving you a free reusable bag is my Earth Day 2008 project. The real answer to “paper or plastic” at the grocery store should be “neither” as both are bad for the environment and sustainability. Non-renewable petroleum (fossil fuel) is an ingredient in plastic bags and paper bags, aside from requiring trees to be felled for their production (because recycled paper cannot be made into a strong enough bag for groceries), require more fossil fuel to be transported than do plastic bags. Reusable bags, like the ones provided here, are stronger than either plastic or paper and can typically hold more groceries.

The catch:
• If you take a bag,
you must use it in place of a plastic or paper bag to bag you purchases at a grocery or other store. You cannot only use the bag to carry stuff (like beach towels/gym clothes/lunch) around in.
  • I suggest storing it in your car/truck/minivan so that you will have it when you go to the store. Remembering to take it in with you will probably take a bit of practice but you must endeavor if you accept one of these bags
  • You may get 5 cents off your purchase for each reusable bag you use!

Please take only one for now

Things went only okay the first day. One person took a bag and told me that she had been using paper bags because she thought they were better than plastic but now she knew better (score 1 for me and the Earth). At the end of the day, I took the bags and sign away in part because I didn't want the janitor to help himself overnight (he has a reputation for helping himself to things in our break room... sodas, candy etc.) and in part because I thought my project had failed miserably. Jesse's grandfather had died late the night before, and I mention this seemingly random bit of information because it might help you understand why I was feeling a bit despondent in general (remember too that I am generally agitated about the state of the world, as alluded to in my previous post, and I haven't even mentioned my career/family agitation but it's there too). But, I also understand the nature of my coworkers (of which I currently have 14 in addition to "the boss") a bit and knew that they were just being a bit hesitant about jumping in. The next day, one person asked me what happened to the bags and said she had wanted to take one but hadn't got around to it--I gave her two (she's just an undergraduate, so I considered it "early intervention"). Then, a couple of days later, I put four of the bags out again, and three were quickly snapped up. Today, put the remaining four bags out and one has been taken. No reports yet of people actually using them, but here's hoping.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Should I join them or beat them?

"Sometimes you have to act as if acting will make a difference, even when you can’t prove that it will" --Michael Pollan

I was seriously going to write a long blog entry today or in the near future about one of the major sources of the stress I've been feeling lately: the environment. I was even composing my blog entry in my head as I was running yesterday, and coming up with the title. See, the environment (or more, The Nature Conservancy, a group that works towards preserving the environment) is the cause that gets most of my charitable donations every year. But I don't just give money to good causes and hope they take care of everything on my behalf. Back in high school (i.e., ~1989-1993), I wrote an essay about how humans are destroying the earth (where's my Nobel prize?). When voting, I consider the environmental and science policies of the candidates first and foremost. I commuted by bike for 9 years (and now I carpool), I've used reusable shopping bags since way before they were cool (and endured dirty looks from supermarket baggers because of it), I pull my co-workers plastic bags out of the trash at work to bring home to dispose of dirty cat litter (questionably environmentally friendly, I know, but at least I'm reusing the plastic bag before it goes to the landfill), I've been vegetarian for 20 years (in case you don't know, mainstream meat production is a major source of environmental damage), I combine as many chores as I can into one outing in my car and plan the shortest route, etc. etc. But lately, I've been even more anal about things. I recycle every scrap of paper, I limit my purchases much more than I used to, I get mad at companies that send me catalogs I don't want (which is all of them) etc. The thing that stresses me out about all of this is that I feel that all my actions are so unlikely to help anything--I think of all the people who needlessly drive large SUV's, all the people who just buy buy buy stuff they don't need, then toss the packaging into the garbage rather than recycling it (I live in an apartment building--I've seen what gets tossed into the garbage (plenty of recyclables), and what gets tossed into the recycling bin next to it (not much, and some things that shouldn't be there)), all the people who toss their garbage out their cars (lately, I've been picking up after them at the lake I run at), all George W. Bush's anti-environment policies, and on and on. All those people are counteracting all my positive actions, and I feel so useless. And it's stressing me out. Well, then I was doing my usual Sunday morning perusal of the New York Times today and saw that Michael Pollan, one of my favorite people in the world right now (because of the things he writes about) had written part my essay for me:

Here's the relevant part for what I was talking about above:

"Let’s say I do bother [to do something about climate change], big time. I turn my life upside-down, start biking to work, plant a big garden, turn down the thermostat so low I need the Jimmy Carter signature cardigan, forsake the clothes dryer for a laundry line across the yard, trade in the station wagon for a hybrid, get off the beef, go completely local. I could theoretically do all that, but what would be the point when I know full well that halfway around the world there lives my evil twin, some carbon-footprint doppelgänger in Shanghai or Chongqing who has just bought his first car (Chinese car ownership is where ours was back in 1918), is eager to swallow every bite of meat I forswear and who’s positively itching to replace every last pound of CO2 I’m struggling no longer to emit. So what exactly would I have to show for all my trouble?"

What Michael said.

For the record, Mr. Pollan goes on to argue that we (I) should keep trying, using growing our own vegetables as a good example (I am a member of a CSA so get my vegetables locally... is that close enough? I also grow my own rosemary on my deck ;-)  ), and that WE need to act rather than waiting for the government to make rules to MAKE us change (when's that going to happen anyway?). And hopefully, going "green" will go "viral"--that if I set a green standard for those who know me, it might just catch on, become the cool thing to do. So I won't give up hope yet.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A tag--7 facts about me

To aid Kirsty's self confidence, I'm participating in my first and perhaps only blog tag. The rules, which I will break, are:

1) Link to your tagger and post these rules on your blog
2) Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird
3) Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs
4) Let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog

My response:

1) Done!

2) Facts. About me. Hmmn. 

- I was conceived in Irvine, California, but born in Johannesburg, South Africa. I went back to Irvine for the first time about a year ago, just for the day.

- My sister used to call me Panthernetic, Pantherfart, many other names with "fart" in them, and Woes Kumale (long story... it had to do with her thinking I was always in a bad mood). Also Foo-foo or Foof, which is what she still calls me.

- A word I remember learning about as a kid: "lethargic." I learned it because my horse riding teacher, Nathalie, referred to my horse, Wally, as "lethargic." I didn't know what it meant, so I went home and looked up in a dictionary. My sister told on me the next time we went to the stables (in that she told Nathalie that I had to look that word up). Nathalie was right--Wally was lethargic. Once, an American came to visit us (in South Africa, where I was living) and since she was a horse rider, I let her ride Wally. She made him look so good! He wasn't acting lethargic at all. Even though I rode horses for years after that, I never did learn to make a lazy horse move more energetically. 

- I don't ride horses any more. Riding horses takes a lot of time and a lot of money. But I don't think a day goes by when I don't imagine myself riding a horse (and riding the horse much better than I do in real life). When I'm in a car, I imagine I'm galloping down the road on a very big horse and jumping the road signs. When I'm in a "slow" seminar at work, I sometimes imagine an emergency when someone comes running into the room with a saddled horse and yells "who knows how to ride?" and they need me to go galloping off on the horse to help someone in trouble. Which I do, and then everyone I work with is all impressed, since they don't know I know how to ride horses. I kid you not--I really do have that daydream. Laugh all you want. I think it's funny too. I don't always imagine the horse I'm riding jumping or galloping, by the way... I imagine doing dressage (horse "ballet"... a discipline that requires horse and rider to be highly trained and that demonstrates control and communication between horse and rider) at times too. 

- I've been a vegetarian (ovo-lacto) for 20 years.  The reasons I don't think I will ever be a vegan (though in theory I'd like to be one): butter, sour cream and marscapone. And grilled cheese sandwiches. I do try to limit my dairy (other than items on the above list) and egg usage and one day maybe I'll write about how I manage to bake some things without eggs.

- I'm listening to Silversun Pickups while I write this. My colleague and friend Carl is letting me give the album a whirl, since he plays them at work sometimes and I always say "who's this again?" I'm enjoying it. I wasn't sure at first.

- My favorite musicians of all time are Neil Finn (as singer of Crowded House, or all on his own) and A-ha. For all of you (meaning the 2-3 people who read my blog) who remember A-ha only as the singers of the 1980's hit "Take on me," I'll have you know they still put out CD's and I like their new music as much as I like their old music. 

That was a lot less painful than I thought! I can even think of other things I could've written about.

3) and 4). I'm breaking these rules. There are only three people who I know read my blog: my sister, my mother and Kirsty. But hey, if there is someone else out there reading this, feel free to nominate yourself for this tag.