Sunday, December 31, 2006

QUICK GREEN: Change Your City!

It turns out, maybe the easiest way to be green is to change your city's culture so that the city government helps you do it.

At the city level, it is shockingly easy to have a voice, and an impact. It may not seem that way to someone not currently involved in local city politics or policies, but that is usually a misimpression.

One of the easiest methods is to find a city web page and discover who is in charge of issues that are important to you, and email away. In addition to department heads, Mayors, City Council members, and City Managers should all be on your one-person email campaign list.

Some things to consider emailing about:

1. Walkable, livable cities (requires special attention at the Planning and Transportation departments for creating a human scale environment);

2. Green building requirements, such as LEED certification or mandatory solar, for new construction;

3. Municipal Utility policies: Renewables mix, solar incentives, more.

4. City operational concerns, ranging from efficient use of natural resources to reducing emissions from city equipment like buses or skiploaders.

In the City of Pasadena, there are also a number of commissions -- staffed by citizen volunteers, not politicians -- to which you can take your ideas and concerns.

These quasi-insiders can often translate your issue into terms that the local government can work with effectively. They can also become a champion of your issue, and came at the issue from the inside, at the same time you work on the outside.

Some recent examples: The City of Pasadena recently became signatory to a UN document setting goals for combating global warming; and after citizen input the City dropped efforts to extend coal generation contracts for the local electric utility. ("No new coal" is now the official city policy(!).)

Bring your city around on key issues, and help yourself -- and thousands of your neighbors -- to an easy, Green future!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Coming to Your City: A Fix for Global Warming

I am sitting, right now as I type and post this, in the September 18 meeting of the City of Pasadena City Council. Currently an expert from Caltech is describing why cities need to be mindful of greenhouse gases, followed by an expert from Caltech's JPL. Why?

The city is about to adopt a simple global warming checklist, and create its own Environmental Commission to spearhead efforts to reduce citywide environmental impact.

Go to the City Web Page and view the video and check the agenda items. More detail soon.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

GREEN IDEA: It's Time!

ATTENTION All Greenies! If you live in Southern California, its time!

For the next month you can dump your old gas lawnmower, and get yourself a $400 cordless electric mower for just $100.

Details in a moment.

Meanwhile you may remember that mowing your lawn once puts out more pollution than driving your car for a week. (See, Easy Green: Kill Your Lawnmower, 10/27/05) While electric lawnmowers are good -- for lots of reasons electricity pollutes less than gasoline -- the cord is a hassle.

Starting May 13 the AQMD is once again selling cordless electric mowers for $100, plus the trade in of your old gas mower.

The event is schedule is as follows, and there are residency requirements, so check the AQMD website at or call 1-888-425-6247 to make a reservation. (Yes, reservations are required! They sell out every year!)

(To verify the retail price, click the mower picture to the left for the company website, then go back to the AQMD.)

program Schedule:

May 13, 2006 Riverside
May 20, 2006 Van Nuys
June 3, 2006 S. Pasadena
June 10, 2006 Santa Ana
June 17, 2006 Inglewood

If you still haven't replanted your lawn in xeriscape or something edible (we haven't, but we have Big Plans) at least don't dirty the air while mowing that pretend-prairie we are all so fond of, hmmmm. Thanks. See, it is easy being green. . .

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

IDEA: Greening Your Schools

One way to effect the environment is to help green your local schools. This can take the form of urging greener policies with respect to the physical plant and operations, or can affect the curriculum both directly and indirectly. There are many ways to do this, but there are three over arching themes to keep in mind. For Part I, then, an overview of key considerations:

All Politics Are Local

Trying to get a district-wide policy change in any district is about the toughest way to make a change in schools. The larger the district or the more "under attack" district administrators feel no matter the size, the harder it is to get changes made.

In the end, however, each classroom teacher has pretty high level of professional discretion about classroom procedures and how to teach the curriculum. They also work together and share ideas more than people realize. So an easy place to start greening your school might be your own child's classroom.

If you help your child's classroom with a recycling project, for example, with the procedes used for an Earth Day Celebration in April, the next year all the other classrooms in that grade are likely to want to play too. As your child moves along, you have a new chance each year to help a fresh set of teachers with some green idea. A recycling program in a classroom can tie into any number of other activities, and is likely to have a lasting effect on these future leaders and voters.

Meanwhile, principals can affect policies and practices at their schools -- and successful programs often get copied and carried to other schools much the way as with classroom teachers.

If you get a principal excited about an idea for greening your school, very often it can be implemented at that level. The same sort of "we want that too" effect happens among principals the way it does with classroom teachers, so one school's new green policy will often spread. Occasionally a really good idea can jump from one school to an entire district, but the process is usually slower.

Tie it to the Budget

Many Green practices have unintended or unnoticed benefits for school budgets, and school budgets are always tight. So an administrative change that can reduce costs while being green is more likely to be noticed and implemented.

One example: recycling may be seen as creating extra work for custodians who have two kinds of trash to empty in hundreds of rooms and as being hard to "enforce." But recycling can save money by reducing the costs for ordinary trash. Moreover, many firms will provide a recycle "roll off" bin that they will pick up and process for the school for free.

In Southern California there is even an organization that will provide the recycle bins, empty them, haul the products and then write the school a check for the value of the recyclables.

Tie It To the Curriculum

Teachers are forever looking for ways to provide hands on, concrete experiences that reinforce classroom lessons. That same simple recycling program easily has ties into the science standards at the k-8 level, often directly related to resource use. Or it could be part of an extended math lesson on statistics and graphing. Or it could be part of an English unit on persuasive writing as students advocate for -- or against -- applying the program to the whole school. And when you can provide a program that happens to integrate several disciplines, you have found educational nirvana.

Coming Soon: Specific Programs to Ask for and Implement

Saturday, February 25, 2006

QUICK GREEN: Finding Green Stuff

Many in the greenie and Green blogospheres already know this, but for my not-so-green-yet friends and visitors, let me point out that there are more than a few cool sites that help you find green alternatives to every day purchases and lifestyle choices.

Alternatives to turn your scorched-earth "brown" lifestyle a little more green.

Lisa, of the LA Greens,the Green Party local for that city, introduced me to the New American Dream site: Although a bit earnest in its exhortations, the site serves up equal parts of consumer help finding green goods and services with non-preachyreminders to "buy wisely locally," and easy-to-use tools to help you help others see the (green) light.

The subtitle of the site, "Conscious Consumer," says it all: In the end living green(er) is about being aware of the products you buy and the choices you make, and trying to make the good choices where possible.

Also helpful, and a darn fun read too, is the Treehugger website. All products green and greener show up here, both currently available and those as yet a futuristic concept. Reminds me of the old "Popular Science" magizine, only for greenies.

There are probably -- no certainly -- other great sites out there. Many are quite product specific, or really local, or both. For local (Greater LA) area farmer's markets (a fun way to buy green) try Farmer Net.

Or check out the M.O.O. site (Mothers Of Organic) which actually has some very good essays on that topic in general. It is underwritten by Organic Valley, a large organic farming co-operative, but does not seem to suffer for its origin as a promotional site. (Organic milk and milk products, and organic meat, being Organic Valley's chief products.)

The QUICK GREEN take-away idea then is that in the age of technology there are more than a few resources to help you quickly locate a green or greener option anytime you want or need to acquire something! And if what you need is absolutely nothing, then, of course there is always

Monday, February 20, 2006

IDEA: Less Poison for Breakfast

If you want to eat green, I will suggest chocolate chip cookies and Pop Tarts.

It may be hard to believe, but at our local Trader Joe's they stock organic chocolate chip cookies and Pop-tart-like toaster pastries. Really. And at least 20 different types of organic breakfast cereal, some of which are quite familiar -- like raisin bran -- and even what in another brand and era were called "Super Sugar Crisps."

We are all pretty clear that none of this food is particularly good for you. But it's organic!

This is actually an important moment, when even junk food is at least organic. It means that organic has transcended the rarefied bins of the health-food store. It means that organic food (and especially fruits and vegetables) are available at any major Supermarket (at least in California).

That Trader Joe's now stocks a staggering array of organic food, including the aforementioned cookies, toaster pastries and dry cereal.

(Actually Trader Joe's is itself a green practice. Not only do all the TJ brands not contain artificial preservatives, they are all non-GMO even if the product is *not* organic. It's hard to go "brown" at a TJ store these days.)

But remember, organic means, generally, that all the ingredients were grown without chemical and petroleum-based artificial pesticides or fertilizers. Which means no poison residue for you to eat, and no spoliation of the earth to produce your food. Good for you, good for the environment.
Organic foods used to be shockingly healthy too. If a loaf of bread was organic, it was also probably a 32-grain, sprouted-health wonder, made by hand by chanting monks in a Zen monastery. But the one-time association between organic and a spartan healthy-ness is no more.

So if it is junk food, how can it help if it is organic junk food?

1. No Poison on the Food.

Many folks prefer not to have to scrub toxic chemical residues off of their food. If they really do all come off.

Given the choice of carefully washing then eating an apple that was repeatedly bathed in a petroleum-based, carcinogenic, mutagenic nuerotoxin while being grown on the one hand or eating one that was not so bathed , I think I'll take the clean apple, thank you. It may be all in my head, but if its all the same to you, I've noticed that the famous last words "It's perfectly harmless" often are just that. Last words.

2. No Poison on the People

Although not strictly a green (small g) issues, workers that pick the food you eat, and nearby residents, get a good dose of the herbicides and pesticides intended for the plants. This is not good. Organic avoids this part of the farm problem.

3. No Poison on the Earth.

Organics use sustainably, biologically sound farming principals. No poison residue in the field, or poison run off in waterways, or leaching into other water supplies. No accidental over-kill of beneficial insects. No soil killing residues from chemical fertilizers. Not only do you not have to eat the poison residue, neither does the rest of the environment.

4. Low on Oil

We've mention this: Organics do not use petroleum based chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. The key words here are "petroleum based." Agriculture competes for one heck of a lot of its "modern" tools with your automobile and the plastics industry. The fewer petrochemicals used in agriculture, the less demand for oil and price competition.

5. No Food production degradation.

Organics use the natural process that work well together to produce optimal food product -- the most that can responsibly be taken from the land without causing large scale damage, and without producing crops that are largely tasteless. Organic processed foods also avoid the heaviest processing and artificial ingredients. This is at least three sub-points on its own, but we're trying to keep things easy.

In that respect, although there are a half-dozen additional reasons to eat as much organic as possible, trying to keep it all straight is a job for a dedicated tree-hugger. Around the Easy Green household we have simply started referring to organic food as "clean food" and the rest as "poison food" or, in polite company, "unclean food." Simplistic, but it makes the choice easy.

Oh, and it does not mean that one must be a Vegetarian; there are organic meats, poultry, eggs, milk, cheese and more for the carnivore (or at least omnivore) who prefers not to eat poison food. (See how appealing that makes organic feel? Grin.)

More to the Story

There are other elements that make your food more green, and better for you. Worry about those next week. As ever, an *easy* first step is intended to lead to more. Some of the other considerations:

Fresh, locally grown, in season food. Some folks believe that the petrochemicals burned transporting an organic apple from far away offsets the organic elements. That is perhaps true, but starting with organic is an easy way to become aware of your eating habits. If you can find good organic local food, eat it! Frankly, given the choice between eating a chemically-bathed but local apple or an organic one from far away, I'll go with the organic one. The always thoughtful Ardent Eden concludes other wise. You might too. (She has a great take on GMO food too, which you really ought to read here.)

For me, organic is the big growth area in food right now, and while I love my local farmers, I do not like their local use of poisons and poisonous fertilizer. We do go to the Farmer's market, but go out of our way to go to the one that has organic local products over the more convenient one.

Minimally Processed. Pop-tarts and Ragu are not health food. You knew that. Whole grans and fresh fruit and vegetables are health food. You knew that too. Organic doesn't change the disadvantages of over-processed over refined foods. On the other hand, I'll rather have clean junk food than junk food with poison too. In the end, organic is as much about encouraging sustainable farming practices and not poisoning yourself outright.

AGAIN, The Easy Green Part:

Look for and choose the organic label. We'll all be better off for it!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

IDEA: Less Imported Oil? Eat Organic (Pt. I)

You heard the President: "America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world," he said it, really he did, in the State of the Union.

Bu-Oh-My-Goodness; Texas Oilman Bush says we use too much oil? oh dear oh dear . . . how much worse must it be than we thought? Well here's a thought about how to use less oil: Eat Organic.

That's right, buy all that weird "organic" and "certified organic" food that has been showing up in the regular markets, not just the specialty stores. Why? Ordinary food uses tons upon tons of petroleum products for bug poisons, weed poisons and fertilizer. Organic does not. Cutting out the use of petroleum based farm products would go a long way to weening us from foreign oil.

Organic food is good in many other ways, but this is an easy one. Turns out all us treehuggers were actually just being patriotic all along! (More about the other benefits next post.)

Click for More

Monday, January 09, 2006

IDEA: Green? My Choices Don't Matter, I'm Just One Person, Right?

What's the point of all this fussing over green living? Does it really matter which coffee filter I use or where I get my electricity?

Yes it does. And there are at least three major reasons why this is true.

But note first, these are not reasons to be a greenie in the first instance; you already know some of those, from global warming to poisoning yourself with non-organic food. Rather, here are three basic reasons why making small personal changes yourself really does make a difference:

1. Many Small Changes Add Up

Small changes get easier, and easier, and build up within your life; one day you wake up and realize you have made a lot of changes in your life, and have reduced your personal threat to the survival of your family and others by a great deal.

This "slippery green slope" was the basic premise for this blog, as one little green thing after another lead to a significantly healthier, more sustainable lifestyle -- painlessly.

2. Many Small Changes Add Up, II

Many individuals making the same small change can add up to a larger cultural change. Folks that pushed for organic foods in the 70s probably never foresaw the day of FDA Organic Certification or that Organic Pop-Tarts (ok, generic "Toaster Pastries") would actually exist.

There is a large enough vocal demand for organic -- and what I call casual demand, where people will buy it if it is available and not much more expensive than the other options but won't go out of their way for it -- that stores like Ralph's have whole Organic sections and Trader Joe's has an organic choice (or several) in almost every category.

Organic baby food, which used to be twice or three times the cost of old-style baby food (when it finally became available) is now 2 cents per jar more at Target than the old style from poison-covered food.

3. Cultural Change Can Effect Political Change

Which can, in-turn, effect more cultural change. By caring enough to use reusable shopping bags, or giving your car the weekend off, and telling people about it, we begin to create a cultural phenom. This, in turn, creates political pressure to be more green in how let the government regulate our society, which in turn can create broader understanding and appeal of how to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Not everyone will "get" it; not all of us will make every change we could, but as the social and political culture shift it will get easier and easier to be green.

In the final analysis, then, every easy green thing you do does make a significant difference. You may only see it in your own life at first, but individual choices do affect the rest of the world.