Sustainable Living Roadshow

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Some November Introspection -

Sun, 2011-11-06 22:22

Is it almost the end of tour?!

Holy moly … it is.

My, Julia, what big rays you have

Suddenly, it’s November, and the trees in the mountains of North Carolina are ablaze with fiery hues.  We’ve got 15 of our 17 events under our belts, and the buses are barreling down the highway towards Austin, Texas.  Paul Simon is playing softly over the speaker system, and I am reading Noam Chomsky articles in between editing and updating.

And it has been a wild and wonderful three-and-a-half months.

Perhaps I’m being preemptive in putting up a nostalgic, tour-wrap-up post, but there is at least some space for reflection right now, I’d say.  Not only is there only one event left for me (I’m hopping off in Austin to head home and be with the family for a bit), but it’s getting to that time of year where both our bodies and minds head inwards.  Naval-gazing just seems so appropriate next to a fire, with a warm beverage in hand.

We’ve watched the world shift in an incredible and dynamic way from the windows of our little bus(es).  One single occupation – a seemingly radical notion that the media refused to cover at first – sparked an electric reaction that has led to over a 1,000 occupations in over 80 countries.  In between events and discussions with members of the public about sustainability, we have stood in solidarity (and with bated breath) as this movement towards real change has taken hold, picked up steam, and started marching, resolutely, towards a more sustainable future for all members of this planet.

In Asheville, we visited the occupation there and connected with the people who are putting their bodies on display to show their disenchantment with this current system of politics and governance.  It was interesting; I had held a fairly romanticized notion of the occupy movement before we visited one.  Not to say it’s not an amazing thing — for it is.  But in action, it’s not all roses … at all.  Consensus and true democracy are arduous, time consuming, difficult processes, and everyone has a different opinion of how they should be approached.  Though the encampments are political statements, they also draw individuals who are not as much interested in the movement as they are in the free food and lodging.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing (everyone should be included, right?), but in Asheville at least, it has led to some issues.

Still, I’m absolutely amazed by the way this movement has grown, and so organically, in such a short period of time.  The fact that people are coming together across party and national lines to show their disenchantment with the way this world is run is phenomenal, and gives me hope in a way I hadn’t had before.  I hear people often ask for tangible requests or solutions to the problems we are presenting, and though I understand that request, I think that (other than getting the money out of politics) it’s not about that.  That is — it is about that, of course, as we should always be focused on solutionary discussions, but I find it almost unfair to expect a movement so young, so new, and so damn disgruntled to be coming up with solutions when the politicians we’ve supposedly elected and have been in the game for years can’t even do it in a timely manner.  What this is about, right now, right here, is forming together, showcasing our discontent, and making sense of the mess.  Then we can focus on solutions.

There’s so much more to say (isn’t there always?), but I think that’ll be enough for the day.  Now, I return to Mr. Chomsky and looking out the windows into the chilly evening, content to be cozy on this bus with my Roadshow family.

Cheers –

Nasi

Nothing is as Powerful

Fri, 2011-10-28 22:34

A great post from our tour chef, Michael Elinson, who has a wonderful blog about his journey with the Roadshow. (After the jump)

Nothing is as Powerful

Only those who risk going too far truly find how far they can go – T.S. Eliot

We must be doing something right – earlier this week nature graced the Roanoke Valley with four glorious days of balmy weather, with temperatures in the low seventies, above normal for this late in October, a meteorological phenomenon known as an Indian summer condition. An Indian summer can also refer, metaphorically, to a late blooming of something, often unexpectedly, or after it has lost relevance. In this latter use we should perhaps be referring to our American Autumn as the American Indian Summer, in the sense that the Occupy [everywhere] movement seems to have picked up where we left off 40 years ago. In a renewal of purpose, there is an urgent, articulated call to action with the gravity of destiny. As is oft quoted, there is nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come. And come, it has. It’s as if, after the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam, the counterculture went into hibernation and its ringleader, Rip Van Winkle, just got rudely awakened. Tea Party members, beware – you may want to keep your distance until after he’s had his morning constitutional.

Last night, under a waxing crescent moon, there was a reversal of fortune. Temperatures dropped 30 degrees. It was a frigid hand attempting to flick a Bic to light the burner to boil the water to heat the oats to feed the mouths to warm the bellies of Julia’s crew. By invitation, we were parked adjacent to what was once a golf driving range, now home to Cross Fit, a military-regimen informed, indoor/outdoor facility, and nothing like what most of us have learned to expect in a gymnasium. Our hosts, were its proprietors, Tim Falke and Andy Beetle. We met Andy, an itinerant philosophy professor and internet marketing entrepreneur, at the Roanoke Outdoor Circus, where Cross Fit also had a presence. One could not help but notice the minimalist equipment: a huge, over-sized tire and two thick ropes hooked to the back of a pickup truck. He liked what the Sustainable Living Roadshow was all about. Coming at sustainability from different tributaries, we are both flowing in the same direction toward the Sea of Change. Andy walked away from a multi-million dollar enterprise to help fund Cross Fit. Tim is an recently-retired member of the United States Armed Services, a former Special Forces Navy SEAL, with nine deployments to the Iraqi and Afghani war zones under his belt. His story is an object lesson of what happens when military meets intelligence, in this case not an oxymoron. When Tim returns to the same town seven years after first befriending an eight year Iraqi boy only to be fired upon by the now, rifle-toting fifteen year old, it dawns on him that nothing whatsoever is any different, not one iota. However, he has… and it gets him wondering – just what the hell are we doing there? The straw that breaks the camel’s back comes when he is unwittingly privy to a high-level conference call that reveals to him the true nature of American involvement in the region. His heart no longer in it, he pulls the plug and retires.

This morning, a massive bulldozer is off-loaded a semi-trailer and begins to grade an area the size of…well, the size of a rugby field. Tim, you see, was (and apparently still is) an avid player, something totally in character for a man who is now on a far different mission from that which Uncle Sam had in mind when he signed up 13 years ago. Cross Fit has plans to start raising chickens, cultivating an organic garden, ultimately teaching men, women and children how to live a sustainable existence and learn self-reliance, if not self-resilience.

We are now barreling down Interstate 77, about 60 miles east of Asheville, North Carolina, where we will spend the next week and three days. After a brief consensus process, we have decided that out time will best be served by digging in for an extended stay with Occupy Asheville. Across this roiling nation of ours, sands are shifting in all directions and the time is coming to draw lines. In some towns and cities, the law is cracking down on the tented encampments, in others the local authorities are supporting the 99%. Which side are you on?

A person who stands for nothing will fall for anything.

 

Localizing a global culture

Mon, 2011-10-10 16:32

I had an interesting talk with a fellow marcher the other night.

(Hello!  From Delaware, the first of the original 13 colonies.  We’re marching through Newark, then down to Darlington, Maryland, and onwards towards Baltimore.  Our feet are tired and our muscles are sore, but we carry on, carry on, carry on.)

During our skillshare in Philadelphia, one of our crew led a general assembly, modeled after that held on wall street daily to discuss – as open ended as this is – change.  A group of us gathered together and opened up about where we come from and why we are interested in changing this current system we’re living in.  We talked about sustainability, dominant culture, and a wide range of other topics.  I found the whole thing quite enlivening – and very inspiring.

But I noticed that the marcher, a lovely fellow from Palestine, had remained silent throughout most of the discussion.  Once we broke the group, I asked him for his perspective.  It was like I’d burst a bubble – he immediately began talking and sharing, seemingly unable to stop the volley of thoughts pouring out of him.

His main problem with our discussion was our focus on localization.  We spoke of that a lot in the circle; for many of us in America, the land of globalized everything, that seems a wonderful response to the current state of affairs.  Bring it back; shrink it.  Close the gap between production and distribution to reduce the amount of fuel used and re-instill a feeling of personalization – and thus, accountability.  It’s much easier to harm the earth when your trash is out-of-sight-out-of-mind than it is to throw your waste into your own community – or your neighbor’s yard.

To me, this sounds like an amazing start to solving the many issues that plague us today.  But to Adley, this sounded like it would only perpetuate the problems.

“There are companies that have an overstock of rice, so they dump it into the oceans to keep prices stable,” he said passionately, “while in other parts of the world, people starve.  That’s thinking local.  That’s not working as one unified entity.”

I had never thought of it like that.  I tried to express to him that when I talk about going local, I assume that the other part of the thought is there as well: to think global.  That’s the term we all know, right?  Think global, act local.  Part of the very reason for localization is because of a regard for global issues – reducing our impact so that everyone has a chance to enjoy this earth (and for generations to come!), not just those who are privileged.

Still, Adley had a point.  I mentioned using our resources that are nearby; he countered with the fact that often, we have to trade resources, simply because of our climate and geography.  Through it all, he was insistent upon the fact that thinking in local terms leads to not helping others and turning a blind eye to the problems outside our little bubble.

It’s especially poignant – if not downright heart-wrenching – when you consider where he comes from, a land that has been ravaged by war and violence for decades.  For him to hear talk of shifting our perspectives ever-smaller must be torturous, for it’s that sort of outlook that has, at least partially, led to the Israel-Palestine conflict being as tenuous as it is.  Had people looked into their neighbors’ communities and seen themselves reflected back, had they worked as one unified group instead of so many fractured ones – or if we could begin to do that now – it would have made, would make, will make all the difference.

This doesn’t discredit or debunk the fact of localization, in many forms, being a good one.  We need to start relying on nearby resources more, for getting so much of our supplies (food, anyone?) from so far away is having an enormously detrimental impact on this fragile planet.  Localizing our production and distribution of resources is a fantastic way to begin reducing our impact, overall, as a species.

…But.

We also absolutely must work together as one creature, one movement, one planet, just as Adley said, lest we lose sight of the fact that we are undeniably and inextricably linked.  The human race is an ecosystem, one that, like any other system, only works best when all its parts are functioning at their full capacity.  As we turn our focuses on our own communities, let us not forget that we are still part of the wider community.  We must still help our neighbors, even if they are neighbors half the world away.

Perhaps this all goes without speaking – I suppose I thought it did, considering how surprised I was by Adley’s response.  Nonetheless, even if it’s redundant, it’s a good thing to remind ourselves of again …. And again.  And again, and againagainagain, until it finally, finally becomes a reality.

I’ll be thinking about this all as we march through Amish country tomorrow.  Where do you stand?

See you on the road –

Nasi

Dispatches from the March

Wed, 2011-10-05 15:26

In the Northeast regions of North America, fall is beginning its yearly cascade of colors.  Trees are slowly segueing from verdant opulence to their more bright and bold outfits, their outstretched limbs gaining hues of yellow, orange, ochre, sienna.  Towns are beginning harvest time as they watch the days wane and the air turns crisper and chillier.  And through it all, a small band of travelers march, resolutely, with banners high and spirits to match.

Zoom in – close up.  At the front of the march, two individuals in bright green shirts (with an extra arm and the entirely-too-adorable slogan “GMO SHIRTS ARE EASY TO SPOT.  GMO FOODS AREN’T”) hold a banner that introduces the crew: RIGHT2KNOW MARCH.  They pass, and along come the rest – a group that waxes and wanes, with people hopping on and off at different point … but never stops.

The group represents a surprising number of countries.   There are Americans, of course, but also a handful of Germans, an Italian woman, and a fellow from Palestine.  This shows to us – to me, one of the marchers – the global importance of this issue, the entirely pressing problem that we are marching against.

Don’t you know?  You know.  We are marching, marching, to label GMOs.

GMOs.  Genetically modified organisms.  Bioengineered creations that, whether we like it or not, are in about 80% of the food on supermarket shelves.  That there are few laws regulating.  That almost all other industrialized nations have either mandated labeling on or outright banned.

Lens shift; perspective re-adjust.  Zoom in again, this time on a young female marcher, with a moose hat on and a microphone in her hand, leading the group in chants.   A call-and-response chant is the most utilized, reminiscent (or so she thinks) of team sports played in youth.  “WE ALL HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW!” (WE ALL HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW!) “…IF OUR FOOD IS GMO!” (IF OUR FOOD IS GMO!)

And so they march.  And so they march.  And so. They. March.

I’ll admit that when I first heard of this endeavor, I was a bit confused by it, or perhaps just not entirely clear on its purpose.  What would marching do, I wondered, for making a difference in labeling GMOs, in demanding what I consider a right but, apparently, the higher-ups consider inconsequential?  Would it really do… anything?

I’ve had a lot of time to think about this while we’ve been marching.  I knew that there were marches in Germany and Europe that were effective and led to labeling, but I wasn’t entirely sure where we fit in the equation.

It was somewhere between the giant Buddha statue we happened upon (what a sight when you’re marching!) and the Whole Earth Center co-op that I came to the realization about why we are in this, and why I keep feeling the pull to march, to chant, to push, even though I’m tired, and my feet hurt, and my muscles are tense and sore.

As activists, what do we have?  Some have money, but not many; some have political sway, but not enough.  Any and all of us, however, have our bodies.  We have voices.  We have spirit.  We have perseverance.  Those are the tools we have immediately at our disposal and anyone has at their disposal.  Those are the tools we can come together on and collectively utilize to push for and urge towards change.

And sometimes, the most powerful message you can give is through a metaphor.  Of course, it’s important to undertake the logistics – to get signatures and educate so that citizens can agree on this issue and pressure congress to make it a priority – but it’s equally as important to showcase your passion.  That’s what marches in towns and cities do, and that’s what this march does.  It shows that there are those of us so horrified by the state of our food system that we will walk 313 miles, in rain and sun, uphill and down, across hill and vale and whatever else, to make an impact.  To press for – no demand – change.

And so we march.  And so we march.  And so. We. March.

Camera pan; scene change.  Return to the marchers, plodding forward, a bit quieter this time – but their balloons are still bobbing, their signs still bouncing along.  A car passes by and honks joyously; cheers arise.  A breeze brushes through, lifting yellow leaves off the sidewalk and sending them skittering among the crew.  And somewhere in the middle of the band, I lift my face to the sky and smile.

-Nasi

Marching towards an organic future

Fri, 2011-09-30 12:48

Greetings from sunny Brooklyn!

 

It’s just like I sent you a postcard, isn’t it? Only without the cheesy scrawl on the back.

I’m here in a quirky cafe near Park Slope, where we’re gearing up to begin a major leg of our journey: the Right2Know March.

This 313 mile, two-week promenade is modeled after a similar march in Germany that succeeded in enforcing labels on genetically modified foods.  We – as well as the hundreds of marchers joining us, and the other companies and caravans partaking – are hoping this traipse goes in a similar direction and puts pressure on our politicians to finally label the foods that wind up on so many of our tables.

Genetic modification is a tricky, sticky topic.  Yes, farmers and gardeners have been practicing various, less direct forms of genetic modification for centuries – cross breeding is, after all, a form of GM.  But there are concerns about the form that recent “advances” in the field have taken.  To quote the National Geographic website:

“…concerns exist over the potentially negative environmental impact of GMOs. Because they introduce genes not native to a particular species, the impact these genes will have if they enter wild plant populations is yet unknown. GMO crops are often engineered to produce pesticides or resist herbicides, so the potential for GMO crops to induce pesticide resistance in pest and weed populations could result in high pest populations that cause agricultural and environmental damage. The potential of these pesticides to harm nontarget organisms also raises concern.”

The second – and to many, the most pressing – issue that these crops raise is that of corporate control.  When a new strain is introduced, companies have the ability to patent that specific seed – and then sue farmers if that seed is found in their fields.  Often, the seed spreads without their consent or knowledge, and small farmers end up losing everything because of it.  Many people know about the now famous Percy Shmeiser, who decided not to back down and stand up to Monsanto when they sued him over saving seed.  Countless other farmers have not achieved the same fame as him, but have shared his fate.

And of course, it begs the question: can you place a patent on life?

Whatever your, or anyone’s, view on GMOs in general, it’s hard to deny that they should be labeled.  I mean, if they’re as safe as the biotech companies claim, then there should be no issue with labeling them – that in itself is suspect.  An MSNBC poll indicated that 96% of Americans support labeling GMOs, so what’s the holdup?

That’s exactly our question, and that’s exactly why we’re marching.

Tomorrow is the kickoff party in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, where we’ll be adding an element of whimsy to the marchers’ and attendees’ day.  We’ve spent the past few days getting things in order for the march – making banners and signs, figuring out last-minute logistics, and generally doing all the various tiny things it takes to put together an activist event.  Because, it turns out, it takes a lot.

Keep your ear tuned to our facebook and blog for updates, photos and videos from the march.  I have no idea what this march is going to be like, but we’re being joined by a bevy of amazing speakers and awesome organizations (Dr. Bronner’s foam tub, anyone?  I’m stoked), so it’s looking to be an amazing, enlivening, activating time.

Time for lunch!  As always – see you on the road.

-Nasi

PS — Want to join in on any part of the march?  It’s still not too late!  Check out the Right2Know website for more details.

The TRUE Change-Makers

Thu, 2011-09-29 14:22

For 350.org’sMoving Planet” Day, we decided to let the TRUE change-makers lead us on a parade through the 2011 Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs Mountain Ski Resort in Pennsylvania!


For the Change-Makers –

Wed, 2011-09-28 16:25

Here’s a blog I wrote for our friends over at 350.org’s Moving Planet. In case you don’t know, Moving Planet day was a global action that occurred this past Saturday. I had some reflections on how we took part – for more inspiring photos and stories, check out the Moving Planet website or their Facebook.

The full blog (and more photos!) after the jump.

It was sometime during our parade, as the excited crowd of children was shouting their mantra – “WE ARE THE CHANGE MAKERS!” – as we marched, pranced, hula-hooped and danced through the festivals, as onlookers cheered and took pictures, that I was really struck by the power we possessed.  By our movement.  By our motion.

But it was only later, as I perused through the plethora of photos from events around the globe – from the tiny island nations that are the first affected by climate change to Copehnagen, to Vietnam, to D.C. – that it truly hit me, that I truly realized the magnitude of this.  Our movement.  Our motion.

On September 24th, the Roadshow was at a festival called Mother Earth News Fair – so named after the publication that puts it on.  Though only in its second year, the festival is fantastically well attended, perhaps because Mother Earth News is the oldest environmental magazine still in circulation.  15,000 people paraded through the grounds over the course of the weekend and attended workshops and seminars on a diverse range of topics such as alternative energy, natural building, and herbs.

A large percentage of the people who visited the festival visited our area, as well, and a small portion of them took part in our parade on Saturday.

At first, I was a bit disheartened by the turnout for our parade.  We were at least 30 strong – perhaps 40 or more – and it was undeniably a powerful sight.  But compared to the crowds we marched through, ours was a very low number.  It saddened me that despite our efforts, despite our coaxing and encouragement, so many people chose not to participate in this global occurrence, this (in my humble opinion) amazing opportunity.  Were they really so apathetic?  Did this metaphor of feet-stomping and earth-shaking mean nothing to them?

Then I looked through the photos.  I saw the persistence of activists across the world – the small group of mostly older citizens in Moscow, marching resolutely with their Russian signs; the grandfather who walked with his grandchildren in Yemen, wanting to protect their future; the children in South Africa with their mouths agape and their signs demanding, “ARE YOU A FOSSIL FOOL?”; and the youngsters in my own notoriously conservative home state of Florida hoping for “renewable energy, sustainable peace” – and I realized.

I realized that this movement was so much bigger than us.  I realized that that moment I had, during our parade, was the same feeling, at least on some level, that was shared by citizens of the world, across the world, on that very same day.  I realized that the fact that we had done a parade at all was a beautiful thing.  I realized that we were standing with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people in our commitment to, our desperation for, change.

I realized that we were that change.

So we marched, we danced, we pranced, we hula-hooped, we devil-sticked, we drummed and laughed and giggled and wailed, all through the grounds.  Because if they weren’t going to join us, then we were going to join them, and regardless, we were going to rally.  We were going to get behind this movement and push it forward, inch by inch, towards becoming a reality.  It takes a village (or a transition town?), and this global grassroots movement is nothing but that – hundreds of thousands of villages, all laying aside differences and convening on one common issue: the ground which we share.

Remember that, change-makers.  The fight is not over, nor is it anywhere near won.  But it is being fought, every day, and in many ways, by people the world over.  If you ever begin to doubt that, just look through the photos from September 24th, 2011 – you’ll be reminded very quickly.

Carry on, my global friends.  You’re inspiring us all.

How Low Can You Go? Part 1: On Letting Go

Tue, 2011-09-27 22:22

How Low CanYou Go? Part 1: On Letting Go

“The courtyard is well kept
but the fields are full of weeds,
and the granaries stand empty.
Still, there are those of us
who wear elegant clothes, carry sharp swords,
pamper ourselves with food and drink
and have more possessions than we can use.
These are the actions of robbers.

This is certainly far from the Tao.”

Tao Te Ching, Verse 53

Salutations, solutionaries!

Derek again. I wanted to get the ball rolling on a topic that Nasi will run with in an upcoming installment:

How low can you go?

The “low” we’re referring to is your environmental impact upon the world. Almost everything we do takes up natural resources (especially in industrialized nations). Food, water, shelter, clothing, transportation, recreation. As hard as we try, it seems like the cards are always stacked against us as we’re part of a system that’s destructive to the very ecology that nourishes us. Even I am typing this for you on a laptop composed of petroleum-based plastic and precious metals mined from the earth. The electricity that’s charging my battery comes from a power plant fueled by blowing up mountains to extract the coal that’s burned to generate it. Ditto the broadband wifi that I’ve used to upload it to our blog. And don’t even get me started on the level of waste at the coffee shop that’s doubling as my office right now…

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s easier to look out a window and find faults than it is to look in a mirror and do the same. However, nobody’s perfect, so no need to flog yourself in punishment for your transgressions against earth the next time you slip and do something unsustainable. You’ve been freed from The Matrix and your eyes are still adjusting to the light and your body is getting used to carrying its own weight. Maybe enlightenment isn’t a ladder, with some people higher and some people lower on the rungs. Maybe it’s a giant circle, and we’re all staring in at the same huge question mark?

I’ve always thought that sustainability is a lot like driving your car on the highway at night: you can never see to your final destination, but as long as you’re facing in the right direction all you have to do is keep moving forward. Being conscious of what you’re doing and being mindful of your impact on the world is (in my opinion) the first and most important step that all else flows from. I’ve noticed a tendency for people to think of sustainability as some kind of end goal to be reached, as if they could stop once they hit a certain level of recycling/composting/buying organically and locally/etc.

On the flip side, I think the secret of it all is actually this – sustainability is really a mindset, a way of life, a method of looking at and interacting with the world around us and all living things that cohabit it. It’s about constantly questioning if you can do a little more to help, if you can try a little harder and dig a little deeper in order for you to let go of the unnecessary in your life.

Too often I hear people say that they’ve GIVEN UP smoking cigarettes or buying individually-packaged products or supporting companies that pollute. I’d much rather hear their language reflect the truth – that they have actually LET GO of material goods/personal practices that were weighing them down all along and hurting the planet in the process. It’s much easier, from a psychological standpoint, to understand the value in LETTING GO of something you don’t need than it is to think/say that you are GIVING UP on something you have been dependent upon.

The words we use have power. They define our reality and dictate not just how we think, but IF we think. There’s a reason plantation owners wouldn’t let their slaves learn how to read. How can you question a system if you don’t even understand it? It’s all in the language, as George Orwell so eloquently expressed in the Appendix of his seminal masterpiece, “1984”. And I thoroughly believe we need to choose our words carefully if we really want to see a ripple effect of positive change spread across the globe.

We’re all on our own paths at different points along a much greater path to whatever our collective destiny as a planet will be. Asking questions about the issues raised above can be real mind benders and try the soul. And we may not be able to save the world…but don’t we at least want to be the kind of people who TRIED?

Knowing others is to be clever.
Knowing yourself is to be enlightened.
Overcoming others requires force.
Overcoming yourself requires strength.

Tao Te Ching, Verse 33

Sustainability in Action: Reducing Packaging

Fri, 2011-09-23 17:01

Howdy, friends.  How do you do today?

We’re parked up here at Seven Springs Resort in Western Pennsylvania for the Mother Earth News Fair.  It’s a lovely spot – if not a bit rainy.  We can’t seem to escape the rain, no matter where we go … Tom, a crewmember, half-jokingly called this the “bring the rain tour.”  (Cue rimshot)

So – anyhoo – we had a long (soggy) talk this morning amongst ourselves about steps we can take to be more sustainable.  We may be the Sustainable Living Roadshow, but we’re by no means perfect, and we struggle with pushing ourselves towards sustainable practices just like anyone else.  The issue on the docket today was packaging.

"Why yes I would, sir, but only if you take off that labcoat"

It’s a silly little comic, but there’s a lot of truth in it.  Surely you’ve noticed just how packaged our products are – from our food to our clothing to our medicine (and on, and on, and on).  The EPA estimated in 2008 that 30% of the average American’s waste stream was made up of packaging – and almost half of that doesn’t get recycled.  That, by the way, is about 71,000,000 tons of packaging — only packaging!  Add to that the energy (and raw materials) needed to create packaging, then the extra fuel used for shipping it … and you’ve got quite a bundle of oil and waste on your hands.

Not to frighten you (or maybe to frighten you a little..?), but here are some more facts about landfills that might make you think twice before purchasing that product that comes cocooned in plastic:

  • The barriers of all landfills will eventually break down and leak leachate into ground and surface water. Plastics are not inert, and many landfill liners and plastic pipes allow chemicals and gases to pass through while still intact.
  • In 2008, a survey of landfills found that 82 percent of surveyed landfill cells had leaks, while 41 percent had a leak larger than 1 square foot.
  • Incinerators are a major source of 210 different dioxin compounds, plus mercury, cadmium, nitrous oxide, hydrogen chloride, sulfuric acid, fluorides, and particulate matter small enough to lodge permanently in the lungs
  • Waste incinerators create more CO2 emissions than coal, oil, or natural gas-fueled power plants.

(taken from cleanair.org)

I’m not trying to belittle you – you undoubtedly knew that landfills were not exactly the cat’s pajamas before I spouted any of those facts.  Still, it can help to hear facts like that, if only to remind ourselves of just how much of an impact our personal decisions have.

Back on point, what of the eco-friendly, biodegradable, and compostable packaging that is becoming increasingly popular in stores – especially grocery stores?  That’s not so bad, right?  Hey, it doesn’t sit in a landfill for lawd-kn0ws-how-long – it breaks down!

Yes, true.  And admittedly, that’s a better option than plastics and other non-biodegradable materials – but still not your best bet.  Plant-based plastics and other such “eco” options don’t grow from the garden in their current state; they still take raw materials and energy to make, and use up space (thus more fuel) to transport.  They’re a step in the right direction, but ultimately, these new materials only divert our attention from the real issue at hand.

– Which is to reduce. The biggest change we can make in our personal lives to be kinder to this lovely earth is to reduce our consumption.  Though this applies across the board, a low-hanging fruit on the tree of sustainability (to borrow a metaphor from our dear crewmember Dan) is simply reducing your own waste stream by cutting out packaging.

What does this look like in practice?  Well, it means:

  • Buying in bulk – and bringing your own containers!
  • Opting for non-packaged produce (farmer’s market, anyone?)
  • Choosing fresh snacks instead of prepackaged bars, chips and sodas
  • Really thinking before you buy something!  The cost of a product should not be the only consideration – remember that it has a cost far beyond the price put on it.  It has a cost in its impact on the environment and in upholding and supporting the system that made it.
  • Buying secondhand is a great way to reduce packaging – and waste in general!

We don’t live in a world that promotes non-packaged items, and it can sometimes be hard to either resist the temptation of a packaged good or, in some cases, find another option.  But if there is an option, choose it – remember that if everyone just made that one small decision, companies would be forced to listen and reduce their packaging.  We vote with our dollar every time we buy something, so vote for what you truly believe in!

What do you think?  What steps have you taken in the realm of waste and packaging?

Cheerio, friends!

-Nasi

Sustainability in Action: Bottle Brick Buildings

Wed, 2011-09-21 17:46

Okay, so this is just awesome.

The lovely folks over at Good have an article about something that we (in our love and use of bottle bricks) can fully appreciate: a school made of the stuff.

 

Lookit all dem kiddies, just lookit 'em!

Guatemalan Schools Built from Bottles, Not Bricks

(Or Bottle Bricks, if you will)

Can we just get a quick hip-hip-hooray for how beautiful this is?  As it says in the article, the benefits of this are twofold – not only does it mean schools being built for way less than they would cost otherwise, but it also teaches the children (who help build it) about the environment.  As a lovely bonus, this “building material” rids the countryside of some of its less-than-attractive plastic litter.

Yeesh.  Mega cool.

Yeah, yeah.  We know.  We hope – and aim! – to get to a place in our society where we don’t even have plastic bottles … but until then, this is pretty nifty, no?

Oh, totally.  So – what are you going to build out of bottles in YOUR community?

-Nasi

Community-Building 102

Tue, 2011-09-20 17:51

Howdy, sustain-areenos! Derek here!


I wanted to build upon an important topic that Nasi broached in our last installment…

Community-building!

I think it’s safe to say that those of you who read this blog are on the same page as us – at least as far as the importance of building happy, healthy and fulfilled local communities goes. For me, as a social networker on tour with the Sustainable Living Roadshow, it’s less about converting the unwilling or preaching to the choir and more about getting that sustainable choir to work together to put solar panels on the church (to extend the metaphor).

However, I’m also a HUGE fan of working smarter, not harder – something that the wonders of the interwebs can help us with as a leverage point. So today I want to share with you a successful technique I’ve honed over years of research, outreach, personal experience and attending countless seminars/workshops/tutorials.

Surely at some point in your illustrious eco-career you’ve wondered how to gather kindred spirits together in your own neck of the woods? After all, many hands makes for light work and we all want to connect with other candles in the dark during these troubling (yet opportunity-filled) times. Especially if you live in an area where it seems like you’re alone in a crowd and rampant consumerism has your neighbors trapped in a mindset that rejects anything you have to say on the subject of sustainability. As a matter of fact, those are almost verbatim the words we heard recently when we attended a “Transition Town” meeting in Horsham, Pennsylvania. My response to these crestfallen eco-heroes?

Put together a free documentary screening at a local college and invite relevant clubs on campus!

Does the thought of entering the bureaucratic red tape nightmare of higher learning terrify you? Well it shouldn’t! Colleges, and the student organizations they have on campus, are hubs of information and social innovation just WAITING to be tapped into! That’s why they exist – so no need for you to re-invent the wheel all by yourself when you can just use college clubs as leverage points to hit a critical mass of ignited greenies wherever you live (no matter where that may be on this wonderful planet we all share)! Plus, everyone loves to watch a positive, uplifting movie! Especially if it’s freee!

Okay, so what documentary should you show? I highly suggest “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil”. Why? Because the subjects contained within it cover a broad spectrum that are applicable to many clubs on campus. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, the impact on the Cuban economy was devastating. Cuba lost 80% of its import and export markets, oil imports dropped by more than half, buses stopped running, factories closed, electricity blackouts were common and food was scarce. People almost starved.

Over the next decade, Cuba took drastic steps to find solutions. Organic urban gardens sprung up throughout the capital of Havana and other urban centers on roof-tops, patios, and unused parking lots in raised beds as well as “squatting” on empty lots. These efforts were furthered by Australian agriculturalists that came to the island in 1993 to teach permaculture and to “train the trainers”. The Cuban government then sent these teams throughout the country to train others. Every available vehicle was converted into farming equipment or public transportation. The shift from despair to hope is all beautifully captured in this documentary.

As far as a free screening on a college campus near you is concerned, the Environmental club is an obvious first choice to contact. But after viewing the film (which you can order through the website link above or BY CLICKING HERE), you’ll be able to see how you could also extend an invite to the Autotech club, the Agricultural club, the Spanish club, the Multicultural club, the Economics club, etc.

Not only can these clubs help you promote on campus through their colleges’ websites and mailing lists, but the students who belong to the clubs can put up posters and fliers on campus for you (so you don’t have to shell out your own money in this already wintery economic climate). Most clubs have an annual budget set aside just for such events, actually! I know, because I used to work in Student Activities and New Student Orientation at my own alma mater back in the day!

So how do you contact these clubs you’re no doubt asking? By phone and/or by e-mail, of course! Every club has a President and/or Staff Adviser (for example, the head of the Spanish department usually advises for the Spanish club). A good hook is to hit up that Staff Adviser and ask if they’d be interested in offering the students extra credit for coming to the screening and writing a paper about it. If that’s not your style, you can always just approach the Presidents of the clubs via phone or e-mail and run the idea by them of the free documentary screening and I can guarantee you that most will be overjoyed to be involved. I know I was back when I ran a few clubs on campus and people contacted us about hosting events!

Here’s an example from the website of the University of California, Los Angeles that we’ll use. The steps will vary from college to college depending upon the layout of their websites, but you’ll get the gist and catch the hang of it the more you do it. I’ve provided the links for each step of the process, just in case navigating the world wide web isn’t your forte (yet! Emphasis on yet!)…

Here’s the main website for U.C.L.A.:

http://www.ucla.edu

Near the top/middle of the screen there’s a link that says “Current Students” (sometimes it will say “Student Life” or “Student Activities” or something along those lines):

http://www.ucla.edu/audience/students.html

If you scroll down, you’ll see a section called “Get Involved”. Just under it is a link that says “Student Groups”:

http://www.studentgroups.ucla.edu/webhome

After you click on it, there is a huge, blue hyperlink you can click labeled “CLICK HERE FOR A LIST OF CURRENT UCLA STUDENT GROUPS”. So let’s do what they say and click away, green friends!

http://ucla.orgsync.com/search

Now that we’ve found their list of clubs on campus, let’s click on the most obvious choice – “Environmental/Sustainability”. When we do, we get four clubs (“Bruins’ SEEDS”, “Cognizant Mouthfuls”, “Green Campus Program UCLA” and “The Greenworkshop”). Let’s click on the Green Campus Program link. When we do, it gives us a pop-up menu that has a link to the club’s personal website (many clubs on campus have their own sites separate from the college, FYI) and there is a phone number we could call (310.989.8719) as well as a contact name (Elizabeth Odendahl) and an e-mail address to reach her ([email protected]).

And it’s really that easy! Sometimes a lot easier depending on how ergonomic and user-friendly the college has made their website. After all, clubs on campuses WANT to be found easily so as to increase the number of students who join, so all you have to do is follow the hyperlink bread crumb trail that they leave on their colleges’ websites.

Or, if this is too daunting, you can always cut right to the chase, do a Google search for colleges near where you live and call them up on the phone, then ask to be connected with the head of Student Activities. This person will have an office on campus and work with you via phone and/or e-mail to put you in touch with anyone you need to speak to. Regardless of which route you go, it will still behoove you to make a trip to the campus in person before the event happens in order to shake some hands and see some smiling faces (that kind of stuff goes a looong way to helping grease the social wheels – especially if you’re not enrolled as a student on campus). If you have a friend or relative who is down for the cause and attends college, you can always ask them to act as your student liaison as well.

BTW, if you’re of the Facebook persuasion, most college clubs these days have their own pages on this social networking site also, so don’t hesitate to reach out to them via that medium as well!

Once you’ve coordinated with the Presidents of these clubs on campus and/or their Staff Advisers, be sure to contact the official “Power of Community” website to let them know about the upcoming screening so they can post it on their awesome events page.

Well, there ya go! All the tools you need to help get you started with your first free documentary screening where you can network with other ignited minds and get a critical mass going to make real, positive, sustainable change wherever you live. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask – and let us know when you have a screening so we can help promote!

Peace and health,

Derek Wallace

[email protected]

Sustainability in Practice: Building Healthy Communities

Mon, 2011-09-19 19:12

Monday, here you are, yet again!

This Monday, I’m going to start a new tradition on our blog: writing posts about sustainability in practice.  If you’re here, at our blog, you obviously care about sustainability in some form or fashion.  It can be hard, however, to know how to take that caring and transform it into real action that makes an impact.

Let’s start with our first one about an aspect of sustainability that sometimes gets overlooked:  Healthy Communities.

True sustainability means three things.  Healthy people, healthy communities, and healthy planet.  It’s only through the combination of all of these that a fully sustainable lifestyle can be achieved.  It takes a village, remember – a healthy, happy village.

And in our village, this past week, we celebrated a birthday!

Emma is a big girl now!

…Which is what got me thinking about communities.  On the road, we have between 20-30 people eating, sleeping, living, laughing, crying, and all around existing in our three vehicles at all times.  As wonderful as it is and can be, it can also be a bit trying – and take a good deal of work to keep balanced and in order.

So what makes for a healthy community?  Well, let’s look it up.

The World Health Organization defines a healthy community as “… one that is continually creating and improving those physical and social environments and expanding those community resources that enable people to mutually support each other in performing all the functions of life and in developing to their maximum potential.”

That’s all well and good, but that’s a bit wordy for my taste (and I even like words!).  I think we can break it down to as simple as this: a healthy community is one in which its residents are all, regardless of age, gender identity, race, or any other factor, happy, healthy, and fulfilled.  Can we agree on that?

Sure, in theory, we can, but in practice, is it so easy?  In America, perhaps not so much; in a society that is capitalistic, the idea of success depends on there being failure.  There can be no rich without a poor, and American culture (not to mention our government) likes its rich.  Without a major systemic overhaul, our country is going to continue its toxic downward spiral of harm and degradation.

–But perhaps that’s too big of a picture to start with.  Let’s zoom in a bit and begin with what we can do in our microcosms to create and maintain at least small healthy communities.  Once again, I quote the World Health Organization on the 10 factors they cite as necessary for healthy communities:

  1. A clean, safe, high-quality physical environment (including housing quality)
  2. An ecosystem that is currently stable and is sustainable in the long term
  3. A strong, mutually supportive and nonexploitative community
  4. A high degree of public participation in and control over the decisions affecting one’s life, health, and well-being
  5. The meeting of basic needs (food, water, shelter, income, safety, work) for all the city’s people
  6. Access to a wide variety of experiences and resources with the possibility of multiple contacts, interaction, and communication
  7. A diverse, vital, and innovative city economy
  8. Encouragement of connectedness with the past, with the cultural and biological heritage, and with other groups and individuals
  9. A city form that is compatible with and enhances the above parameters and behaviors 10. An optimum level of appropriate public health and sick care services accessible to all
  10. High health status (both high positive health status and low disease status)

When applying that to your own community, that’s not too overwhelming, right?

Sure – great – but let’s get to it – what can you do?

It’s simple, really: Get involved. Join community organizations.  If there aren’t any, create one.  It can be as small as your local neighborhood meeting or as large as a city-wide one – whatever it is will tie you in to your area and make you feel more connected with your neighbors.  At least once in a while (or maybe more?), ditch the alienating electronics for local events – game nights, open mics, poetry readings, live music, whatever.  Get to know your village and its inhabitants … then work with them to affect change.  Don’t forget the ever-famous quote by miss Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Get out there.  Start small.  Despite what many say, sustainability really is something that you can do overnight … or at least, it’s a journey you can begin on.

Here’s to your health!

-Nasi