Monday, February 4, 2008

new website and forum

we have a cool new website that provides you with a framework for starting your own green group, and a new forum for talking all about it. join us over at!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

power to the people

Yesterday I went to a lobbyist training and legislative workshop sponsored by Washington's environmental lobby, Priorities for a Healthy Washington. It was so inspiring. And such a relief to learn about the great plans and leadership Washington State has in place. Our government is actually responding to global warming! Here's what I learned:

The lobbyists are targeting these four 2008 priorities for the next legislative session:

> Climate Action and Green Jobs (master plan to reduce pollution and train workers for green jobs in place by 2012)

> Local Solutions to Global Warming (tools to help local communities apply the master plan)

> Evergreen Cities (protecting and planting trees in our cities)

> Local Farms/Healthy Kids (getting local organic food into our schools)

Governor Gregoire has identified these priorities as Governor Request Legislation, which means that she wants to make it happen.

At the training, we listened to green Democrat and Republican Representatives weigh in on the challenges we face in our state (I didn't realize that transportation makes up half the pollution in Washington), and heard from our fearless leader, Jay Manning, Director of Washington State Department of Ecology. This dude is on it! He's like Washington's own Al Gore. Manning is responsible for developing and implementing the master plan by January 1, 2012. If you want to know more about the specifics, you can check it out here.

Next we learned about how to talk to our legislators about environmental issues that we care about. I'm not quite ready to march into my legislator's office, but it's great to know how to do it.

Here's what I learned in case you're interested:

1. Find out who your legislator is and call up their legislative assistant (LA) to make an appointment. Be sure to be nice to the LA since they give you access to your legislator and it's also good to mention that you're a constituent. Do your homework on the issue and your legislator, looking for what their personal interest might be in your issue.

2. When you meet your legislator, introduce yourself and tell them what your connection is to their community, e.g. "I'm a member of the Sierra Club and a constituent in your district."

3. Start and end on a positive note to create a positive tone - thank them for voting on or doing something you liked.

4. Clearly and concisely state your message in a few sentences. Practicing ahead of time helps you focus your message. Give specifics, like bill numbers, and ask for specific action. Adding your personal story is really important too. For example,

"I'm a mom to a new baby and I'm worried I'm passing toxins to her through my breastmilk. Please vote no on Bill XXX to protect our families from toxic chemicals."

Be honest, straight forward, and don't worry if you don't know the answer to any specific or technical answers they might ask. You can just say, "I don't know the answer to that question, but I'll do the research and send it to you in the next few days." By following up, you'll be developing a relationship with your legislator, which sounds pretty cool!

5. End on a positive note and send them a thank you along with any additional information you wanted to give them.

And that's it! If writing a letter to the editor is more your style, here's some suggestions.

There's a Global Warming Activist Workshop on February 2nd at Bastyr that I'm going to check out, so let me know if you want to check it out too. I keep thinking about that Gandhi quote, "Be the change you want to see in the world." It's exciting to know that positive action is happening, that our government is actually responding to global warming, and that we can be a part of it. Our individual changes make a difference and our voices really do matter!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

water, water everywhere

happy new year, my green friends! i hope your first day of 2008 is treating you right and that you're enjoying the nice fresh start. i'd love to hear your going green goals for the new year. what are you thinking about?

this year, i'm looking forward to continued learning and experimenting with ways to help slow things down. to kick it off this week, i'm thinking about water.

for starters, i'm trying to find out what the environmental impact is per gallon of water that i use. i'm not finding a nice tidy breakdown on the impact of my water use, so if you have any research suggestions along these lines, please send them my way. i did find this interesting regional comparison of consumptive use vs. renewable water supply, but it's from 2000, so i suspect things have changed since then.

on the home front, i took a careful look at our water bill last month and started getting interested in how many gallons of water we use. it will be fun to make some changes over the next month and see if we can reduce the amount of water (and $$) we churn through. here's a list of the things i'm going to try:

> install energy-efficient shower and faucet heads or make sure the washers are tight
> find and repair water leaks. This cool link shows you how to determine if you have water leaks and tells you how to fix them.
> stop buying bottled water and use my fancy new SIGG bottle instead (apparently each plastic bottle of water takes about 6.7 bottles of water to produce. yikes. . .)
> turn off water while bushing or shaving
> run full loads in the dish and clothes washer
> fill a plastic bottle with water, recap it, and place it in the toilet tank. you’ll reduce the flow by 40 percent and still maintain enough water for a good flush.

we rent our house, so the following suggestions don't make sense for us, but i'd be interested to hear if any of you homeowners out there have tried them out:

> install low flow or composting toilets
> install low flow and washerless faucets
> rearrange plumbing so rainwater and gray water can be used to flush the toilet
> install an activated charcoal or ceramic filter for drinking water

any other water conservation ideas to add to this list?

last but not least, cheers!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

holiday shakedown

whew. it's over. i must say i am happy to be on the other side of the gift getting/giving/ buying part of the holiday season. this year was really confusing for me. pre-environmental freakout, i bought a bunch of crazy stuff for the kids (like a make your own superball kit) and sean (a heated back massager for the car. ?#@$?). post-freakout, i made homemade gift cards out of construction paper because i didn't want to buy the plastic ones. a few days before christmas, we met my parents at the mall and i felt like an alien watching everyone scramble to buy their last minute stuff. when the girls opened their gifts, there was such a strange mixture of decadent plastic stuff they'll quickly abandon and carefully selected used books they'll be reading for years. it sure is hard and awkward to change sometimes.

for me, the big thing i learned is that i don't want to do it like that again next year. i want to make my gifts next year, giving myself tons of time to get them done. i think i'll make a list of the things i want to give to each person and make them throughout the year, creating a stockpile of knitted hats and jewelry and bath salts and artwork instead of racing out to the mall in a final hour frenzy. it will be fun to see how different the holidays look and feel around here next year.

my friend gave me a cool book called "The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook" which has 77 suggestions for ways to go green. Number one is to Commit and number 2 is Change Slowly. the author says, "Changing an established way of life can take three to six months or more. Don't give up . . . in time, it gets easier and eventually becomes innate." so that's inspiring to me.

how were your holidays? i hope you had a wonderful season and are
getting ready for a fresh new year!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

compensating for carbon

A quote from the recent UN Bali Conference on Climate Change:
"I would like to see incentives right down to the personal level at home, with carbon trading on eBay or eTrade."
--Odin Knudsen, managing director of environmental products for JP Morgan
This idea of buying units of carbon from your neighbor confuses me. How does it work? I don't get it. How can you cancel out your impact on the planet so much that you have carbon to spare? Here's what my smart (getting his PhD in renewable energy) friend Adrian has to say:
Even though we breathe out CO2, everything is balanced over our lifetimes with respect to CO2, because the energy to keep us going comes from photosynthesis, which takes up CO2 from the atmosphere. We are also stores of reduced carbon compounds, just like trees and plants. When living things die and decompose, a lot of the reduced carbon (carbohydrates) is oxidized back to CO2.

So if we don't burn fossil fuels (or whole forests), we probably have a lifetime neutral/zero carbon footprint. The cave people had it about right. If you provide power to the grid, I think (not certain) that you still can't be less than zero unless you are using the power to somehow remove CO2. For example, a wind turbine used by a single family just to provide power for lights, etc. is not removing CO2 from the atmosphere--it's carbon neutral but not carbon negative. Also, the turbine itself requires energy to build, as do all of the items that it powers. So I'm going to say that it would be quite difficult, over a lifetime, to do better than a Neanderthal's carbon footprint. Unless you are a plant.

Most people are net consumers of CO2, with the qualified exception of people with solar, wind, [and other renewable resources] at their homes. Carbon taxes, carbon trading schemes, carbon credits, all assume that we need to produce some CO2 to live in a modern society. As such, each person, household, family, or whatever gets a set amount. If you exceed that, you pay a tax or have to buy credits from someone who is under their allotment. So a person can still earn carbon credits, even though they are net producers of CO2; they've simply come in under their quota. It is a short-term (few decades) solution, after which time the globe will hopefully be much, much closer to carbon neutral by using sun, wind, geothermal, tides, etc.

That makes sense. So, who determines what each person's set amount will be? That sounds like a political debate.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Freecycle and The Compact

I'm looking for a bike to start riding around town when I'm kid free, and stumbled across Freecycle. Here's what they do:
The Freecycle Network is made up of 4,202 groups with 4,205,000 members across the globe. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer (them's good people).
You start out by offering something, and then you can ask for what you need. It's kind of like a free Craigslist.

Taking it one step further are people making the pledge not to buy anything new (with the exception of food and health necessities) for one year. The organizers are calling this movement The Compact. Instead of hitting Target, they go to thrift stores, Craigslist and Freecycle. What a great idea. I don't know if we're ready for that step yet, but it would be interesting to try. Striving to reduce our consumption that much would really slow me down, even if I can't do it all the time. Have any of you tried it out? Here's more info if you're interested.

Friday, December 14, 2007

I [heart] Al Gore

"Now comes the threat of climate crisis ­, a threat that is real, rising, imminent, and universal . . . The penalties for ignoring this challenge are immense and growing, and at some near point would be unsustainable and unrecoverable. For now we still have the power to choose our fate, and the remaining question is only this: Have we the will to act vigorously and in time, or will we remain imprisoned by a dangerous illusion?"
--Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech