Thursday, March 31, 2011

Just Do It Already

From a procrastinating SustainaMom…

My kitchen counter was piled high with SustainaKid’s school art projects, papers from my work project, and books that needed to be returned the library. Butternut squash were toppling over one another on a platter, and the last sweet potato from last year’s garden was just starting to sprout in the sunny spot by the kitchen window.

Amidst the mess, two small containers taunted me for weeks. I moved them around and out of my way but refused to put them away.

You see, I first learned of a DIY deodorant in fall 2009, and I thought I’d make it the next time my deodorant ran out. Of course, I waited too long to buy ingredients and ended up buying deodorant at the grocery store. (More than once.) I’ve tried a few natural deodorants but was never satisfied with any of them, so I’d always go back to my conventional anti-perspirant.

Around Christmas, I told a friend about the DIY deodorant and I looked up an email where I’d told my sister about it when I first saw the recipe. I realized it had been more than a year since I’d first intended to make my own. I was determined to do it by the first of the year.

I ordered all the ingredients on December 29. Does that count for anything?! The shipment was lost and then delayed by snow. It is like it just wasn’t meant to be. Finally, it arrived on January 19 — just as I began a huge two-month work project. I barely had time to shower and I was under far too much stress to experiment with personal care products whose failure would require an extra shower.

And so the tubs of shea butter and cocoa butter lived on my kitchen counter with the butternut squash and library books — from January 19 until my conventional deodorant ran out in the middle of March. Finally, instead of buying more conventional deodorant, I purchased the last ingredient I needed to make my own.

It was so easy to make and I really like it! Now, I don’t know for certain that it will hold up to southern summers, but at least I finally made it so I can test it out. It only took 18 months.

That was a year and a half that my body absorbed yucky chemicals when I could’ve tried another option. And I know that after my first suspicious mammogram someday in the future, I’ll wonder if that lump is the result of genetics or if it has anything to do with that year and a half that I was too busy to make my own deodorant. Especially when it took less than two hours — including an hour and a half researching essential oils so I’d know which ones to order!

Every morning, when I apply my DIY deodorant, I am inordinately proud of myself. I should turn that into motivation to do a few other projects on my list!

I think the thing that stops me most often is that I don’t want to spend money on something I’m not sure I’ll like. (I probably spent $30 on ingredients, but I only used a fraction of what I purchased so I should be able to make at least two more batches before the ingredients go bad.)

How about you? What green project have you been putting off? Is it because you don’t have the money? You don’t have the time? You’re not sure how to do it?

Just do it already. At least take the first step: bookmark the website with instructions so you’ll be ready to do it, buy the ingredients so you’ll be ready, start saving $10 a week so you can afford to do it eventually.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Knowing Green

A "green hour" with the Conscious Shopper


Today, I took my boys to the park after school, and my two oldest sat on a park bench and played with their Pokemon cards.

Sometimes I wonder if I've shortchanged my boys by choosing to live in the city.


My oldest, the leader of the pack, is seven and lived in apartments for six of those years. I did my best to introduce him to nature, but until we moved to this house with a backyard, he didn't have many opportunities to explore on his own terms.

On the days when I have to coerce him outside, on the days when he spends a beautiful spring afternoon on a park bench playing with Pokemon cards, I wonder, "Did I miss the window?"


My youngest is three and has spent half of his life in this house with a backyard. He's the first out the door every day and the last back in. Today at the playground, he started with the slide, moved on to the digging spot, and then spent the rest of our green hour watching inchworms, climbing rocks, and rolling in the grass.

It's something I think about a lot. Is their reaction to the outdoors just a difference in their personalities? Or is it the result of their differing life experiences? There are definite green advantages to urban living, but does it come at a cost?


And yet even my oldest exclaimed on the walk back from the park, "Look at these beautiful flowers, Mom. These are my favorite. They smell like grape juice."

Perhaps there's hope for us city folk after all.

---

Unrelated sidenote: On my cherry-picking science post, a few people expressed interest in hearing more about my son's elimination diet, which we started based on a theory that eliminating certain foods can improve behavior problems. I wrote up a whole post about it, but then decided that it wasn't something I was comfortable sharing at the Booth (it felt a little too personal to share with such a broad audience). So for those of you who are interested - the short answer is that it didn't work for us. If you are interested in the longer answer, I'm happy to share it by email (consciousshopperblog [at] gmail [dot] com).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Making Composting Easy

Retro Housewife answers a reader's question about composting

Last week Lori aka groovygreenlivin.com asked- "I am an on-again off-again composter. I'm just having trouble finding a routine. Any suggestions?"


Before answering Lori's question I think it's important to talk about setting up a compost bin. There are several ways to do this. I personally have the tumbling kind. I find that it's nice to be able to just roll it around the yard if I want to move it and it's easy to mix. However, there are many options out there. You can find several styles at local garden stores, Amazon.com, or even learn to make your own bin.

Our own EnviRambo has talked about compost on this blog before. Here is some of what she had to say.
"Humans are super compost creators, we just do not put it to good use. We need to start thinking about our waste differently. Perhaps it is not really waste, but can be used in some other way - like compost. Something that could be used to replace our eroding topsoil, keep suburban lawns looking beautiful, grow the acres and acres of crops in America or the small plot in our own backyards."- read more

So now that we have some of the basics covered, on to Lori's question. One thing that will make composting easier is a compost pail you can keep under the sink. This means less trips outside to the compost bin. You can find these at some local stores, mine came from The Container Store. You can also find them on Amazon.com.


Then add taking out the compost to another outdoor job. Such as taking out the trash, walking the dog, or watering your flowers. Before you know it, it will be a habit and taking out the trash maybe something you can do a little less often.


Do you compost? What tips do you have for making it easier?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Spring Break--What will I do with the kids?

For the next five days, except for those few hours maybe twice when I'll have them at a sitter so I can get at least a little of my actual job done, my children will be with me. All day. Every day. Spring break.

I know for some moms this is an awesome time, and they are all happy at the opportunity to spend Quality Time with their dear offspring. And my offspring are very dear, don't get me wrong. But I have a limited ability to deal with the sensory overload that comes with two many hours with my short roommates. And I like having time to read, and check my blogs, and think, during at least some of the time I'm spending not at work...

But I'm determined this week that we are not going to sit around and play Wii Lego Harry Potter all week. (Some, but not all week!) I want, every day, to do at least one thing that's new and fun and different. The internet, of course, is full of ideas for crafts and activities with kids (The Crafty Crow is a treasure trove all on its own). The thing is, I'm not all that artistic, and I'm a real slug about deliberately letting the house get all messy. It's messy enough without all that. And I know we live near a city with tons of good free or cheap activities and museums and stuff we could go to, but going to a museum in the middle of spring break is my idea of hell on earth--I can't deal with the crowds. I need my husband along, because he's the one least likely to go into sensory overload. It's still too cold for much in the way of outdoor stuff, so my preferential activity of outdoor gardening is kind of off the table. (Though the second it's warm enough, we'll be at the park having picnics.)

So I've decided I think we're going to have cooking and baking lessons this week. I'll gain ten pounds, but who cares, it'll be fun, and educational too! We started Sunday afternoon, and we made pretzels--I keep a container of Artisan bread dough in the fridge most of the time, and we made a batch out of some of that--I got the idea from Erin the Conscious Shopper, and it's awesome and easy . We'll probably do bagels at least once too. The kids are pretty good at the hands on stuff, and they have fun making things and then eating them, and if they are eaten, then I don't have a lot of extra paper and scrappy things around the house. (I know, I'm a total scrooge!). We'll do at least one bread-product per day, probably--from pretzels and bagels to muffins and stuff like that; that's easy. Then we can go shopping and pick out ingredients for other foods, whether it's out-of-season applesauce or cranberry-orange relish or homemade chocolate pudding or what-have-you.

I'm hoping we can even "make dinner together" one night, beginning to end--I bet my almost-six-year-old could scrape carrots and tear lettuce apart for salad, and my 8-and-a-half-year-old son could probably be trusted with a Real Knife (though not one of my killer Wusthofs) to make a fruit salad. We could even do homemade chicken tenders, something everyone will eat except me, and they can get all dredgy and messy while making them. And we can make some kind of bread to go on the side (what can I say, we're a carby bunch), and maybe homemade smoothies for dessert, or baked apples if we're feeling adventurous.. I think they'd enjoy it. My son will complain and ask if he can go play Wii, but he'll enjoy and be proud in spite of himself.

And I'd love to get them started on some of the chemistry of cooking--the way cornstarch thickens a sauce, the way measuring the right amounts of grain and mixing with water yields just the right amount of cooked product, the way just a little bit of arborio rice gives up its starch and turns milk into pudding. I might even get a thing of Knox gelatine and make our own Jell-o dessert out of real fruit juice. If we have time, I'd even love to make this delicious-looking Food In Jars orange jelly recipe, something to cool my ardor for the fresh bounty of spring until the plants actually start growing around here, and hopefully get the kids turned onto jelly. (We can't bring nut butter products to school, so anything I can put onto a sandwich is a good thing.) And TheMiddleBit's recipe for crunchy Cinnamon Garbanzo Beans has got to be tried. For me the magic of cooking has always been about how cooking or heating or mixing some ingredient with another suddenly turns them into something else entirely...and I'd love to give my kids some of that.

I found a site with age-appropriate cooking lessons for kids that looks like something I'd want to bookmark and hold onto. And here is another. I have a friend with two teenaged sons, and in her family at this point everyone is responsible for dinner one night a week--I totally want to be able to do that with my kids by the time they are in high school...anyone else tried this with your kids? Any helpful hints to offer?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Phone Booth Flashback

Welcome to the Phone Booth Flashback, where we take a trip down memory lane so you can catch up on posts from the Booth's past.

Last Year
Two Years Ago
  • Fill in the Blank: The Raven ponders more about what we should call "global warming."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

@earthhour tonight

Going Green Mama likes an excuse to go to bed early for a cause...

Making the conscious choice to change is not an easy task. It's one thing to turn off the light when you leave the room, it's another thing to unplug completely. Like turning off the heat when its supposed to be in the 20s tonight. But those changes, however uncomfortable for awhile, are those that make you think.

Tonight at 8:30 p.m. is Earth Hour, a worldwide movement to unplug for one hour on a Saturday night. I'll admit it was something I was skeptical about at first. After all, this is in the evening, a time when, frankly, many families are already settling down and getting their children down for bed, reducing usage anyway. And how many times do you get the emails to "stick it" to the gas companies by not filling up on the first Tuesday of the month? It felt like a similar idea on the outset. Unplug for an hour - what difference would it make in the world view?

Sure, some actions would be delayed - like you might get on the computer or watch your TV later. But you may also reduce your overall usage for the day, which aggregated reduces the stress on our already taxed infrastructure. And during that hour, you might actually unplug - and reconnect with your family. Read a book. Play a game. Go outside!

And then I read some more and realized this wasn't just about this hour. Earth Hour is really about getting you started. The site offers you ideas on what to do after that hour: raise funds for rainforest preservation, speak out for England's energy bill, make your home more energy-efficient. It's a simple statement, but with electrical systems being taxed from development and how Japan has brought to light the threats of nuclear energy, it's something worth considering.

Will you celebrate Earth Hour this year? Have you in the past? Share your experiences here.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Eagle has Landed: I've got a garden!

In the cold dregs of February (at least that's what we had in Colorado) Going Green Mama wrote about easy steps to Getting started: Heirloom and organic gardening on a budget. In the comments I started to whine about how tough it is to garden on the Colorado front range because of our clay soil, intense sun and the lack of water, but as I wrote, I realized that I can whine all I want, but if I want to have a garden, I just need to take action!
And then I promptly got stuck in a morass of excuses.

Our house was built in 1977. Our decrepit retaining wall was built in 1977. We are not financially prepared to replace our retaining wall this year, so why should I put time and energy into building raised beds that might be destroyed or moved when we do replace the wall? Furthermore, there were bushes, huge bushes growing in my prime gardening spot. And oh yeah, under less than an inch of topsoil, my yard was complete clay.

Thankfully, MaryJane and my mother-in-law came to the rescue. Prior to passing away last winter, my MIL signed me up for a subscription to a fabulous magazine titled MaryJane's Farm and I've read every issue cover to cover. The magazine is full of intensely practical ideas and instructions from doing everything under the sun that a modern rural or urban homesteader might wish to do. The most recent issue has articles on how best to keep chickens in an apartment and planting a garden right on top of your lawn!

The article on indoor chickens definitely caught my attention, but the article (with pictures) about making a garden bed right in the middle of my lawn, by layering cardboard, straw, compost and dirt, seemed so practical that I couldn't do anything but take action. Finally. And so, I collected the cardboard I'd been storing in my garage, the bail of straw from our fall decorations, leaves from the bushes, and dirt (2 dozen bags of compost, soil, sheep & peat from the store) and set to work.

First I had to remove two bushes, an admittedly Herculean task and I wish I had pictures. Before removal they stood about 5 feet tall and 6 feet in diameter. I had to wet the ground around them (with a tree root watering tool) and use my shovel in creative ways to get out the root balls, but I did it. Twice. Next I turned the clay soil as best I could in the top third of the garden (where I plan to plant my tomatoes) and then I started to lay the next two thirds directly on the lawn.

Here are some pictures of my work in progress (I'll finish later today). Needless to say, about a days worth of work in all and I have a 10 by 20 foot garden bed, with excellent sun and easy access to my sprinkler system. 2 years of complaining and one day of work to get it done. Seems kind of silly in retrospect!


Pitiful tulips trying to grow and spread in rock hard clay soil and a severe lack of March snow.

Rootballs! I am woman hear me roar. Seriously. The tree guys would have charged $100 a pop to remove these!!!
 Wet clay. High in nutrients. Great at retaining water. Bad for growing plants!
The garden! Top third done, middle third and bottom third in progress. You can see my husband sitting on our rotting retaining wall to the left.




Thursday, March 24, 2011

An Embarrassment of Riches

From the bean of Green Bean.


Soil eeked under my fingernails, in between the crevices of my wedding and engagement ring.  A splash of rain dropped on the dry earth - immediately melting away like water dropped on a hot griddle.  I worked quicker, scooping dirt and compost back into the hole and patting them around the gnarled witch hand roots of a bare root pear tree.  I wanted to get this one in before the soft soil turned to mud.

When we moved to this half acre lot, I was giddy to find three neglected but mature fruit trees - a fig, summer apple and plum - lounging in the back forty.  Over the past month, I've added seven more fruit trees: a lemon, a mandarin orange, a lime, a pomegranate, an asian pear, a three-in-one pear and a four-in-one apple.  

I finished filling in the hole and stood back to examine the slim trunk of the newly planted pear.  When would its spidery limbs bear fruit?  A year?  Two?  Or three?  When might I get a decent harvest from my newly planted orchard?


Later, on a walk through the neighborhood, I envied the soaring citrus trees that graced several front yards.  California is citrus country and an orange, lemon or grapefruit were once almost obligatory in the front yard.  Today, many have been torn out - replaced with feathery Japanese maples that shimmer crimson or gold in the fall.  The few that remain often perch in the lawns of the elderly.  Sometimes, they are tucked along the side, behind a basketball hoop or the trash cans - pruned up and out of the way.  All too often, their fruit fall to the ground with a soft thud where they lie rotting and sickeningly sweet.  

I think about how this land was once farm land.  Many years ago, orchards and plows dotted the landscape instead of cars and sidewalks.  How under the blacktop and houses, the soil remains steadfast and strong.  Silent worms plumb its depths.  Chunks of dirt crumble in a fist.  

Food prices have steadily climbed the last few years.  Indeed, some tie the Egyptian revolution to the rise in wheat prices.  The world's "dollar menu" now costs $1.50 and, in February alone, the cost of food rose by 3.9%.  The increase seems to be due to higher fuel prices as well as environmental damage causing crop failure.  One can only imagine that this will continue as the world's population spirals upwards, as oil production decreases, and as climates shift.

Heading home, to my newly planted orchard, I wonder about these old and neglected fruit trees, still churning out their offerings year after year, even as the gardener hauls away rotten lemons and apples that no one bothered to pick.  I wonder about the fruit and nut trees that were chopped down to make way for an easy ornamental and I wonder about the trees to be planted.  I wonder how I once ignored fruit trees in my own backyard - finding it too much of a pain to pick the oranges, thinking their bite not sweet enough, and enjoying produce-stickered ones more.

I think of all these fruits trees and all this land and I wonder about our embarrassment of riches on a hungry planet.

.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Life After Phosphates

Dishwashing with the Conscious Shopper

Thanks again to those of you who have voted for my family's video to win a Nissan Leaf. If you haven't voted yet, there's still time! Click here to watch my family's goofiness in action.

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I am writing this post for a friend of mine who complained that she hasn't been able to get her dishes clean in the dishwasher without pre-rinsing ever since phosphates were removed from most major brands of dishwasher detergent last July. I hadn't heard of the change and instead of empathizing with her, I cheered, explaining that phosphates end up in our lakes and drinking-water reservoirs, causing major algae growth that chokes out fish and other plant life.

But despite my exultation, she complained, "But now I can't get my dishes clean without pre-rinsing them. And isn't that bad for the environment too?"

My friend is not alone in her complaints - the New York Times reported in September of last year that many consumers are unhappy with the change, citing the same complaint about pre-rinsing that my friend gave. One person said, “If I’m using more water and detergent, is that saving anything?”

I've been using a phosphate-free dishwasher detergent for about five years now, and my dishes almost always come out clean. I do not pre-rinse my dishes in the usual sense - forget the wasted water, I don't have time to wash all of my dishes before I wash my dishes. But I have figured out a few techniques for pre-rinsing that don't require extra time or water.
  • When my family finishes our morning smoothie , I fill one cup with water, wipe with a rag, pour that same dirty water into the next cup, wipe, pour into the next cup, wipe, etc.
  • Caked-on oatmeal is especially problematic for my dishwasher. If someone eats oatmeal, rather than filling up their bowl to soak, I leave it in the sink. As people use the faucet throughout the day, the bowl fills up with water, and by the time I'm ready to load the dishwasher, the oatmeal wipes right off.
  • Rather than filling up pots and pans with fresh water to soak, I save them for last in my pile of handwashed dishes and then let them soak overnight in the dirty dish water.
Besides these tips for "pre-rinsing," I have two other suggestions for dealing with the phosphate change:
  1. Use vinegar as your rinsing aid. I've noticed that if my dishes start coming out of the dishwasher with little bits of food still clinging, it's because I need to add more vinegar to the rinse aid spot. It really works.
  2. Consider switching to a different detergent. A brand that has always worked for you in the past may not work now simply because it's formula has changed. Consumer Reports tested 24 low-phosphate dishwasher detergents last September. Their winner was Finish Quantum, followed by Finish Powerball Tabs, Cascade Complete All In , Cascade with Dawn ActionPacs, Ecover tablets, and Method Smarty Dish tablet. If you're looking for an eco-friendly brand, check out Grist's review. I use Seventh Generation because it's the cheapest (ha!) eco brand I can find locally and it works for me.
What tips do you have for getting your dishes clean without phosphates?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Small Steps to a Zero Waste Life

Retro Housewife talks more about being zero waste.





Last week we "met" the Johnson and saw how they live a zero waste lifestyle. Many of you seemed to think this was a great idea but it seems so far out of reach. While I don't live a zero waste life, I did want to share some steps I have taken to reduce my waste.
  • Ditch paper towels. Paper towels are a waste of money and resources. Old t-shirts are great for cleaning and real hand towels work just fine for drying your hands. Skoy Cloths can also be helpful when ditching this habit.
  • Ditch paper napkins. This is another wasteful product. Cloth napkins are easy to make and find. Try darker shades for everyday use as they won't stain as badly.
  • Use real dishes. I think we all have real dishes so we should use them.
  • No more bottled water. Filling your own stainless steel bottle at home is cheaper and just as good for you. Use a filter if worried about water quality.
  • Skip straws or go reusable. If you enjoy using straws buy a set of glass straws from Glass Dharma. They are even dishwasher safe.
  • Make a waste-free lunch. Using reusable containers, napkins, lunch box and such you can easily have a waste-free lunch away from home.
  • Store food in glass and stainless steel containers. Pyrex and Anchor are great brands for glass storage.
  • Start composting. A compost bin will help reduce your waste and give you great compost for your garden.
  • Recycle as much as you can. Click here for a list of places to recycle things your city won't take.
  • Buy less! This is a huge one. If you don't buy as much you can't make as much waste. 

These are just a few of the ways you can reduce your waste. What are some ways you are reducing waste around your house?




Photo credit: DaddyCaptRon

Monday, March 21, 2011

Living in a radioactive world (reducing radiation effects)

A Greenmom worries about her husband's loving but funky heart...

As the terrible events unfolding in Japan suddenly and daily remind us of the danger simply being a human being alive on this planet, as we watch the people of that devastated island desperately trying to get their nuclear plants under control and prevent any additional radiation from being released into the atmosphere, I feel a little ridiculous worrying about the minute amount of radioactivity my husband will take in during his heart stress test on Wednesday.

But I'm worrying anyway.

In theory, this is not a big deal. He has been diagnosed with “Left Bundle Branch Block,” a place on the left side of his heart where things are a little hinky. And he’s got a funky rhythm going in there, with extra beats and a little unexpected twitchiness. (I blame it on the Bossa Nova.) At the same time, all the standard tests are coming up saying that he has a good strong heart that’s absolutely doing its job. But there’s a spot they just can’t see with the standard tests, and the only way they can tell the difference between a guy with a strong heart and a funky rhythm and a guy with a potential blockage and a heart attack waiting to happen is by injecting him with this tiny amount of a radioactive isotope with something like a 4 hour half life, and then taking pictures of how well everything in there lights up.

I’m a little freaked by this.

So I’m doing research. One of the side effects of what’s happening in Japan is that suddenly information about how to protect oneself from the effects of radiation is all over the internet right about now, although I suspect it’s been there for a long time and people just haven’t been looking. Sites for cancer patients. Sites for women whose history demands frequent mammograms. Sites for people like me who are freaked out by walking into the dentist’s office and having 18 x-rays pointed at my head over the space of 5 minutes. (18. Do they really need to do 18?)

So here’s what I’m learning: the biggest issue seems to be radioactive iodine, which gets absorbed by the thyroid gland. The best way to avoid this seems to be to make sure your thyroid gets enough ordinary non-radioactive iodine on its own that it won’t be thirsty for the nasty glowy stuff. And the best way to get this to happen is, duh, to eat foods rich in natural iodine. (Apparently supplements are great if you know exactly when and how your exposure to radiation occurs, but over time they themselves can screw up the thyroid, so it’s not a good ongoing therapy.)

Top of this list: seaweed. Kelp, spirulina, and so forth. And miso, apparently, though I can’t find seaweed as part of its ingredients. Second on the list: chlorophyll, i.e., Green Stuff. This site also suggests melatonin, the stuff some of us take to avoid the ravages of jet lag while traveling. Another cites a study where ginkgo supplements helped prevent cell damage from radiation. (I also found one fairly ridiculous claim, on a Mythbusters forum, about vodka as a radiation preventative, based on the asker’s experience a video game. Sounds like a prime candidate for the Darwin awards, if you ask me…) (Okay, withdrawn, that’s not charitable.)

Probably the most informative site, and the one I trust most, is the post on the Wise Woman Weblog by Susun Weed. It’s comprehensive, well-studied, and its recommendations are less about supplements than about whole foods and plants and how we can work them into our diets and systems. And I don’t discount her positive imagery suggestions either. It’s also calming to remember that our sun gives off radiation, and we are designed to be able to withstand mild doses. It’s just when they get higher than we have evolved to deal with that we run into problems…

So we are ready, as ready as we can be. He’s taking spirulina in tablet form (technically a supplement, but the supplement is basically dried ground spirulina pressed into a tablet, thus minimally processed), we’re eating lots of green leafies, there will be a buttload of spinach in his miso soup tonight and tomorrow, and we’ll just pray and hope that whatever’s going on in his heart is just a question of funky rhythm.

Anyone have any other thoughts? What do you do when x-rays or other radiation exposures are on your horizon? Are there any readers, especially on the West Coast of the U.S. who are worrying about the radiation from Japan and taking any precautions?

--Jenn the Greenmom

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Going on a picnic

This morning I promised my daughter that I'd look on the computer for some fun spring craft ideas we could do if it kept raining. After all, we're as a family still getting used to those Saturdays with dad at work.

Little did I know she had other plans.

While I was searching, she and her brother crept downstairs and, somewhere amist the fighting, determined we're going on a picnic today. The lunchbox is packed with three fruit roll ups, three boxes of raisins, three granola bars and a small box of cereal. The kids are dressed in record times never before seen on a weekday. Yep, it's 8 a.m., and we are picnicking today.

Sometimes you can have the best of plans, but sometimes listening to the hearts of little ones is best.

So get out and enjoy nature today.

Wishing you a happy end to this winter,
Going Green Mama

Friday, March 18, 2011

Planning for Perennials



I'm designing a new perennial garden, which we've decided will be my 30th birthday present. We have an octagonal breakfast nook off the back of our house, and I've been dreaming of looking out the windows and seeing perennials for three years!
We're still in the early planning stages right now, and I'm imagining both the color scheme and some flowers that I know I want to include. The front of our house is lined with blue hydrangeas, but I want to go more colorful in the back. I'd love to have all shades of pink, purple, yellow and hints of blue.

As far as varieties go, I know I want to include some of my classic favorites: black eyed Susans, peonies, delphinium, bleeding hearts, lilacs, yellow knock-out roses, and of course a hydrangea. The back of our house gets morning sun and afternoon shade, so I need to do some research to see how each of my favorites will do there. I know the bleeding hearts will love it!


I know that perennials will take a few years to grow and fill the garden, so I plan to fill in with some annuals, too. Cosmos, impatiens, petunias, snapdragons, and some pansies will round out the garden.

What are some of your favorite perennials?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

We ARE The Media

From the social media brain of Green Bean.



Three years ago, I ventured into a BlogHer conference in San Francisco where I hooked up with several green bloggers.  Seated next to now retired JessTrev, we listened to a team of bloggers discuss the importance of other avenues.  This was the first time I heard Twitter mentioned.  One of the speakers tried to describe it to a blank-eyed group of women.  "It's really cool!" she offered enthusiastically.  "You follow other people and they follow you and you can jump in on other people's conversations."  Mmmmm.

At lunch, though, the gathered green bloggers - Beth from Plasticfree Life (formerly Fake Plastic Fish), JessTrev, Jennifer Taggert of Smart Mama, Jenn from Tiny Choices and myself, agreed that we should all try Twitter.  We'd been told that social media was the wave of the future and, well, we all wanted people to pay more attention to climate change.  Here was an opportunity.

So I did.  Kind of.  I followed some people.  They followed me.  I found some new-to-me blogs that were interesting, met a few folks who kept chickens and one who was interested in reconnecting kids with nature.  I figured it was a good way to build up my readership and pimp my blog.  Whenever I got busy, though, Twitter was the first thing to go.  I'd not check it for months.  I'd forget my login.  I'd delete the app from my phone.

After several months of this, another eco blogger friend threw in the towel.  "I just don't get it," a friend confessed.  Well, neither did I!

Then the revolutions across the Middle East came.  Country after country toppled dictators and many thanked social media. One man went so far as to name his first born child Facebook.  But why?


I went back on to Twitter one day, during this period. I wanted news but there were no news outlets reporting on the news I was interested.  And then, finally, I got it!

I got why Twitter is the citizen's media.

Straight to my smart phone, I could receive information from folks on the ground in Libya faster than CNN could tell me.  I learned about the earthquake in Japan before it was reported by the media.  When all major news outlets ignored the massive protests in Wisconsin, I received up to the minute updates, photos and videos.  One tweep (that's what you call fellow Twitter users) posited "if the revolution won't be televised, it will be twitterized."

Indeed, on March 3rd, even United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton proclaimed that Al Jazeera was gaining more viewers here in the US because it is "real news."  You know, real news, where facts that we want to learn about are shared.  As opposed to the biased talking heads who have taken over much of the 24 hour news cycle.  As opposed to Charlie Sheen and Lindsey Loahn.  Coverage of events that people care about.  American news no longer covers what matters and no longer covers it in an unbiased fashion.

Why does this matter to environmentalists? We live in a time when only one third of Americans think Climate Change is a serious problem (as opposed to 87% of Europeans and 80% of Canadians).  Global warming has become incredibly polarizing - seen as socialism, Marxism and a tool for derailing the limping US economy.  Mainstream media is covering climate change less and less even while our climates are changing more and more.

If the media won't cover it, though, we will.  If they won't share what is happening, we will.  If we cannot trust the media, we can locate citizen tweeps who we can trust.  The truth is just a retweet away.

So don your newsman hat, log on to Twitter and use those 140 characters can save the planet - because we ARE the media.

* Title from favorite green and progressive tweep, Ray Beckerham.

* Don't forget to check out Green Phone Booth superheroes on Twitter.  See sidebar on the left.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cherry-Picking Science

Random ramblings from The Conscious Shopper

First off, thanks to everyone who has voted for my family's video to win a Nissan Leaf. If you haven't voted yet, here's your chance. I promise you, that video is worth clicking over to see.

---

Arduous had an interesting post about "science denialists" the other day that reminded me about something I was thinking about many months ago when I wrote a post about cloth diapers. I noted in the post that life cycle analyses indicate that cloth and disposable diapers are equally bad for the planet. Someone commented to the effect of "How can you possibly think cloth and disposables are equal? Cloth is obviously much better than disposables and those studies are biased."

When I read that comment, I thought to myself, "I just linked to a reputable source showing you the life cycle analyses, and still you don't believe it? Don't you trust science?"

But truthfully, I myself don't always trust science, and I easily fall prey to non-scientific theories:
  • I am currently doing an elimination diet with my oldest to find out what he might be allergic to mainly because I read that allergies might be the cause of extreme behavior issues. His doctor supports this idea.
  • About the time I had my youngest, I read some things that in combination with my autistic brother-in-law made me decide to slow my son's vaccination schedule way way down. (Not the now debunked theory about mercury and vaccinations, but a theory that children with a genetic immunodeficiency disorder might be more susceptible to extreme reactions to vaccinations - high fevers and such - which in turn might cause autism.) His doctor did not support this idea.
  • I've called my husband a dozen annoying times from the grocery store to ask, "Should we buy whole milk or skim? Is wheat good for us or bad? Who do I believe - the whole foods advocates or the FDA?" I've settled on whole milk for yogurt, whole milk cheese, and skim for drinking. Wheat is still up in the air.
I'm not a science denier, but more of a science skeptic. In my experience, science has been wrong about a lot of things, so why should I automatically believe or disbelieve something just because a scientist says it's so? And I don't think I'm alone with this attitude in the green world - especially in the green blogging world where you can find hundreds of posts about natural remedies, healthy eating theories, and possibly (though not proven) harmful chemicals.

And yet...I've seen time and time again where a green blogger will post on one day about the health benefits of drinking whole milk even though the FDA says we should drink skim, or wax poetic about the environmental benefits of using cloth diapers even though scientific studies have shown that cloth and disposables are equally bad for the planet, or insist that pesticides are bad for our health even though scientists claim that the trace amounts of pesticides left on fruits and vegetables are not harmful. And then on the next day, they'll write something like, "How can someone not believe in climate change? Don't they trust the climate scientists?"

Are we hypocrites? Can we have it both ways? Can we say on the one hand that people shouldn't trust the nutritionists or the doctors or the government and on the other hand criticize people who are skeptical of climate science? Can we lean heavily on science to support one theory while outright denying other commonly accepted scientific conclusions? Are we cherry-picking science?

Or maybe there's a divide among environmentalists? Those who want to protect the environment because of science versus those who love the natural world despite science?

I hope it doesn't sound like I'm trying to point fingers or criticize anyone here. I'm certainly guilty of all of these accusations, and these are just some random thoughts that I've been thinking about for awhile now. I'm just wondering if others have ever noticed this before.

Do you have any thoughts on the subject?

*image by whologwhy

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Zero Waste, Could You Do It?

Retro Housewife gets dirty this week and talks about waste.

I saw this video and thought it was really neat and inspirational. Go ahead and watch.



What amazes me about the video is how little stuff they have in the home. I saw in another video of this family they all have very limited amounts of clothing as well. I can't help but think how much easier it must be to keep the house clean with almost no clutter. I have been trying to de-clutter and such but I don't know if I could do as much as they have.

As far as waste I try and buy things with less packaging, I bring my own bags, I buy in bulk when I can, I make my own cleaners, we compost and recycle. But I still am no where near zero waste. I think I get a bit closer each year though.

So what do you think about this kind of lifestyle, does it appeal to you? What do you do to limit your families waste?

Monday, March 14, 2011

One quick late post--my new love affair with Filmjolk!

My apologies to all--this post just barely makes it into "Monday"--it's been an insane weekend and day, and things got away from me...

But I did want to report back about the Filmjolk I made and posted about last week--a Swedish kind of yogurt that will culture right on your countertop without needing to go through lots of worrying about different temperatures. (but, thanks all, for the yogurt making tips! I will try the thermos method soon...)

I've now made two batches of Filmjolk, it went very well, and I love the stuff! As promised, it's a little less sour than the yogurt we're used to, with a very mild flavor, and I actually like the texture very much, though one commenter found it a little "slimy."

Once the initial culture is activated, which takes 24-48 hours, further batches can be made in 12-18 hours. My first batch took all of that time, just sitting on the counter, since our house is a little cooler at this time of year. The second batch I started at the same time as I did some baking and sat it near the stove, so it got a good kick-start and was ready in about 14 hours.

Filmjolk as it comes out of the jar after culturing is pretty thin, and I like a thicker yogurt, so I drained it in some muslin to thicken it--I only let it go maybe half an hour, and a quart of the yogurt gave up almost a cup and a half of liquid whey during that time. (I diluted it in water and used it to water my plants.) I could have let it drain longer to get a "yogurt cheese" kind of result, but this was just right for plain old eating.

I had a jar of plum jam that didn't set quite right when I made it last summer; it's perfect for this, and I've been eating the most delicious yogurt ever all week. I haven't tried it on the kids yet, but we'll see how that goes...but if you want to try something fun, give it a shot, and order some of the culture for yourself! (If you live in the Chicago area, I could give you some of mine, but that could be a hassle, you know? :-) (Hey, do people ever trade cultures on Freecycle?)

So thanks for your patience, and sorry this post took till almost Tuesday to go up...
--Jenn the Greenmom

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Phone Booth Flashback

Welcome to the Phone Booth Flashback, where we take a trip down memory lane so you can catch up on posts from the Booth's past.

Last Year
  • Making Your Match: Going Green Mama cites an article categorizing green moms and asks where you fit on the spectrum.
  • Do you e-read?: Jenn the Greenmom thinks about getting a Kindle or other e-reader.
Two Years Ago

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Non-consumerist Clutter

SustainaMom wonders what it takes to create order in the midst of sustainable living…

In my mind, I equate “simplicity” and “minimalist.”

In reality, my sustainable life is full of clutter:
  • The recyclables are spilling out of their bin because we haven’t taken the time to haul them off.
  • A catch-all table in the basement holds an assortment of old shampoo bottles, vinegar bottles and medicine bottles — because I might need them someday.
  • The spare room closet is full of boxes of kids’ clothes, ranging from newborn to boys’ size 5. The larger sizes are hand-me-downs waiting to be used by SustainaKid. The smaller sizes are the ones I haven’t loaned out to friends or that have been returned already.
  • Then there’s the baby swing and stroller that I hope to use someday if we can afford SustainaKid#2.
  • The garage is full of kids’ toys for all ages — including three hand-me-down kids’ bicycles of different sizes.
  • My closet is full of hand-me-down clothes, for which I am grateful but many of which I rarely wear. I keep the work clothes because I may decide to go back to work full-time when SustainaKid#1 goes to kindergarten. But I really need to let go of the patterned T-shirts that just aren’t my style.
  • My kitchen has a few too many gadgets, gifts from my family.
  • My bathroom has become a holding ground for gifts of lotions with suspect ingredients from well-meaning grandmothers. I don’t want to give potential carcinogens to someone but it seems wrong to throw away something that someone else would pay for.
  • The backyard holds a CraigsListed playset that my son has outgrown but the hoped-for SustainaKid#2 would love. In the meantime, we move it to cut the grass while some other kid would love to be playing on it now.
  • And I am tripping over toys, 50 percent hand-me-downs, 40 percent birthday and Christmas gifts, and 10 percent SustainaFamily-purchased. In fact, when SustainaKid wouldn’t help pick up toys two months ago, I threatened to put them all in the basement. I followed through and he hasn’t missed them. I think that is a sign.

I sound like a clinical hoarder, don’t I?

Maybe I’m an eco-hoarder. Before I really thought about where all the trash was going, I threw things out much more easily. Before I became aware of the environmental impact of consumerism, I donated things much more easily. For example, I’d just plan to buy more baby items should we need them in the future. (Of course, the tanked economy and the SustainaFamily job situation have radically affected that mentality as well.)

I do some things right. I have a fantastic kids’ hand-me-down chain going. Five little boys ranging from 12 month to 6 years benefit from clothing swaps. And my on-the-way little niece or nephew will benefit from stored baby items and toys. When I need egg cartons to start seeds, I know there are a few in the basement that weren’t given to my friend with chickens. When I finally make homemade deodorant this week, I know I have a perfect container in the basement and I don’t have to buy something.

But the “what if I need it?” items are taking over my house. I have to let go of the guilt of moving gifts that I do not need out of my house, and I need to really zero in on what I might need and what is worth storing.

I’m committing to a two-month process to go through at least one room every weekend. I think Amy Dacyczyn and Tsh Oxenreider may go to war in the SustainaFamily household.

I've found some inspiration, if you're interested?
  • Tsh Oxenreider's Organized Simplicity - I don't think the book says anything revolutionary, but it is motivational, especially if you need to hear in many ways, "If you don't need it, then it is okay to get it out of your house." And she does a great job breaking things into small bites that seem less overwhelming.
  • Have you heard of the Quietude home? This article is what actually made me realize how idyllic simplicity is — and to think about the discipline it takes to simplify and live consciously today.
Any advice or more inspiration for someone who is soon to become very active on Freecycle?!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Our most precious resource is...

In which Truffula channels the Conscious Shopper...

The speaker closed his remarks to the elected officials before him, asking them to vote in favor of "our most precious resource,... [dramatic pause] our children."  Who could find fault with that?

Except that the matter at hand wasn't directly the welfare of children: it centered around a proposal to turn "vacant" land into sports fields.  Soccer is big in these parts, and so is the competition for playing fields.  Only, the land isn't exactly vacant -- it's been leased to an organic farmer for the past few decades.

Other speakers spoke about the land in question, about its renown among soil scientists, about the care it has received, and about the farmer's unique products.  They noted its irreplaceable location, in the midst of suburbia, isolated from cross-pollination by GMO crops.

TruffulaBoy#1 and I had heard the farmer describing his plight following a lecture two days before.  Even before the farmer finished, TB#1's gaze met mine.  With the simultaneous innocence and maturity of his almost 11 years, he solemnly nodded "yes" to my unspoken question of "shall we go".  And so we went, with TB#2 in tow.  To his credit, our tow-ee went willingly.  His volunteer vegetable farm experience, and his knowledge of our household's composting practices, have given him an appreciation of agriculture and of good soil.

The vote's outcome aside, we're richer for our activist moment.  It's given me -- and us -- much to think about: land use, pollinators, GMO crops, the value of agriculture, the years needed to nurture rich soil vs. the time frames of leases, and the remarkable way in which the farmer seems to be taking his situation in stride.  Hearing the Boyz recount their day's adventures to Mr. Truffula as we ate dinner, accurately and passionately describing the arguments they'd heard being made at the session... why, that was enough to make any mother's heart swell with pride.

So, what is our greatest resource?  Soil? Children Soccer?  Discuss amongst yourselves...!

p.s. to The Conscious Shopper:   I left the toys at home, and the only incident we had with one of my young activists was popping of chewing gum bubbles.  However, I can report that those springy bits on the hearing room seats are not silent when bottoms whose owners are starting to reach their attention span limits begin to shift from one position to the next.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Look Before You ... Dig

A gardening tip from a somewhat embarrassed SustainaMom.

Suburban gardening can be tough. Sometimes there are ridiculous neighborhood covenants to work around. Sometimes there isn’t enough land for the apple orchard or a row of corn. Sometimes there isn’t enough sun to grow anything anywhere on the property.

And other times, technology runs right down the middle of the sunny patch where you want to plant your blueberries.

Luckily, the technological impediment that I discovered two years ago was a buried television cable and not something that turned dangerous when I ran over it with a tiller!

If you plan to dig up a new portion of the yard to plant something this year, you might want to check with the Common Ground Alliance (in the U.S.) to request that the utility companies mark your water, power, phone, cable, and gas lines before you start digging. (Anyone know of similar services in other countries?)

It’s free, but it takes a few days so plan ahead. Call them at 811 or visit www.call811.com.

What have you dug up unexpectedly in your yard?

Any other safety tips for new gardeners?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Innovative for the planet; kind of on the small side

The Conscious Shopper test drives the Nissan Leaf

When I heard that Nissan was coming to Raleigh as part of the Drive Electric Tour, you better believe this greenie jumped at the chance to test drive the new all-electric Leaf. Here are a few choice iPhone photos from the event:

The battery pack, located underneath the car.

This is not a combustion engine; it's just made to look like one. To be honest, I can't remember exactly what they said was under the hood. My husband says he thinks it's the drive train.

The Leaf's roomy trunk

What did I think?

Pros:

Of course, the number one pro is the cost to drive the Leaf. Driving 100 miles is only $2.50 at current electricity rates. The cost to drive my minivan 100 miles is about $20 at current gas rates. Driving the Leaf a whole month would only cost us $20 in electricity - we spend $150+ a month on gas. Other things I liked:
  • super cute car
  • sporty to drive
  • amazingly quiet
Cons:
  • so small - My husband and I had to split up for our test drive because we couldn't fit our whole family (including three car seats) in one car. In a year when my oldest graduates out of his booster seat, we'll fit just fine, but this is definitely not the car for a large family.
  • can only travel 100 miles on a charge - This is not an issue for us since we never drive that far in a single day except when on vacation, but it could be an issue for some.
  • $32,780 price tag (with the $7,500 federal tax incentive, the price drops to $25,280)

At the end of the tour, my family made a really awesome 30 second video explaining why we should win a Nissan Leaf of our very own. It has my cute kids banging on drums, and me looking like a complete dweeb. You know you want to check it out! You can vote for us here.

The Drive Electric Tour still has a few more stops. If you have a chance, I recommend going. Did any of you readers get a chance to drive a Leaf on the tour? What did you think?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Natural Gas Green or Greenwashed?

Another slightly late post from Retro Housewife.

As many of you know I live in Oklahoma. You may also know Oklahoma is the second largest producer of natural gas and sixth largest producer of oil in the United States. Our state capital building is the only one with an active oil rig. You have likely heard of one famous Oklahoman, T. Boone Pickens and his plan to help stop climate change. This plan includes a lot of natural gas.

So is natural gas a good option for our green energy future? It's clean burning and we have a lot of it. While these things are true there are big problems with natural gas and that comes from the drilling. You may have heard of natural gas drilling, called Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. It's been in the news lately because it's thought to be a possible cause of the earthquake swarm in Arkansas. In January a six-month moratorium was placed on new injection wells in central Arkansas and just this month natural gas companies in the area -including two Oklahoma based companies- agreed to temporarily suspend the use of injection wells in central Arkansas.

Earthquakes are just one problem with fracking. There are also many reports of contaminated drinking water. Just go to Youtube and you will find videos of people setting their tap water on fire. There is a documentary called Gasland that looks into many of these issues. It does not shine a pretty light on this "green" fuel. While more studies still need to be done on fracking it does not seem to be the green fuel of the future. It is still a fossil fuel and may come with great risks to our water.

Is there fracking around you? If so has your area had increased earthquakes or water contamination?



Photo credit: danielfoster437

Monday, March 7, 2011

Countertop Yogurt? (Swedish Filmjölk)

--a Greenmom gets cultured

Okay, this is so cool...I wish I could remember whose blog I found it on, but I'm very excited at the possibilities. (If it's a Booth reader who posted recently about Filmjolk, please shout out in the comments and I'll update to give you credit!)

It's called Filmjölk. Swedish yogurt, or "thick milk" (Fil Mjölk) Unlike the yogurt we're mostly accustomed to, Filmjölk will culture on your countertop, anywhere from 70-78 degrees, a "mesophilic" rather than "thermophilic" culture. And it tastes, we're told, less sour and maybe a little "cheesier" than traditional yogurt. That sounds good to me; yogurt's sourness is not at the top of my awesome list, but I love cheese of all kinds...

I have made yogurt several times in the past, in my crockpot, with mixed results--unfortunately, I can't TELL what causes the results to be mixed, so it's been an inexact science. It's enough work that I only bother to do it when I make a good gallon or so at a time, because it requires babysitting with a thermometer, which is a pain. And a gallon of yogurt is a lot for us to eat at a time, since my kids went on a yogurt strike. So that's become a rarer thing for me.

But if Filmjölk is as easy as it sounds, I can make a quart or two a week, with a perpetually-self-renewing culture (you pull out half a cup or so of each batch after you make it, and save that for next week's culture), by basically putting a jar on the countertop in the morning and putting it in the fridge at night, and then it's just done.

I just bought a Filmjölk starter culture from Cultures for Health (they also have various other cheesemaking stuff and yogurt starters, plus kombucha scobies, which I haven't dared try yet...anyone make kombucha?). It comes in a little package of dried powdery stuff, which you activate in milk and which takes about 24-48 hours. (Mine is currently about 20 hours in; our house is on the cooler side, so they say it will probably take us the full 48.) There's enough powder to activate two batches, in case one self-perpetuating culture gets damaged or contaminated or anything, so you don't have to order a whole new culture.

On my next week's post I'll let you know how this went, and if we're eating Filmjölk nonstop at my house, and how it's all doing! In the meantime--has anyone ever tried this, and how has it worked for you? Any suggestions and hints?

--Jenn the Greenmom

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Phone Booth Flashback

Welcome to the Phone Booth Flashback, where we take a trip down memory lane so you can catch up on posts from the Booth's past.

Last Year
  • Out of the Office: The Greenhabilitator takes a trip to the Natural Products Expo West and asks what you would say to representatives of the natural products industry.

Two Years Ago
  • New Habits Die Hard: Green Bean says that even though she doesn't focus as much on living green as she used to, she made new habits and they've stuck.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Is the compostable plastic bottle half full or half empty?

Musings of a conflicted Greenmom...


Corporations and greenness. It’s sort of a dilemma. I’m not talking about greenwashing, exactly, but a new and emerging kind of behavior we’re seeing more and more of: corporations and big brands making green gestures, but still being corporations and big brands.

It’s happening on a lot of levels: there’s the sheer silliness of the Del Monte bananas in the plastic package…while the company trumpets that the plastic wrapper actually is more green because it controls the ripening process. Erm…I don’t buy it. And then there are the “Cuties” mandarin oranges, with a new blitz of commercials talking about how they are great for kids to snack on because they are “made for kids.” On the one hand, hurrah that fresh fruit is getting press; on the other, it’s giving them this whole processed commercialized feel. I’m a little conflicted.

Another source of my conflictedness is Clorox. They have stepped forward and promised to disclose all their ingredients. Great news. Until you see the list, and how full of crazed toxic unpronounceable ingredients its products are.

Then there’s Wal-Mart. I’m the kind of person who watches movies like Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price and does Google searches for “Wal-Mart Sucks” just to see how many hits I’d get. (Answer: about a quarter million.) Then I hear news like this: Walmart Becomes The New EPA, Bans PBDE Fire Retardant. On the one hand, hurrah—good for them. On the other, there’s this part of me that goes, “okay, if the big corporations do all this good stuff on their own, how are we going to convince government to regulate anything? Which is dopey, I know. Less dopey is my question about whether Wal-Mart is also, in its efforts to Lead The Green Pack, working on equality in the workplace, cutting out the union-busting crap, and providing adequate health care and benefits for its employees.

I guess, for me, it in the end isn’t that complicated. I’m glad Wal-Mart is being more responsible about the fire-retardants used in products they sell. But I still won’t shop there. I’m glad Clorox is divulging all its ingredients. But I didn’t buy their products before, and I shall continue to do just fine with vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils for my cleaning products. And I will continue to eat bananas.

But no way am I buying them in plastic.

--Jenn the Greenmom

Friday, March 4, 2011

7 Billion Elephants in the Room



Have you seen this very educational clip from National Geographic? I love how it so clearly identifies what I've often heard referred to as the environmental elephant in the room. We all know that the population is an environmental concern, but it seems that many people don't want to talk about it. Why?

I think that many Americans view reproduction as one of our inalienable rights. Take one look at China's "One Child" policy and we can see that government limits on family size can lead to unintended consequences. But when I think about slowing population growth, I don't think about telling people that they can't have children. Instead, let's give people who don't want more children the education and the contraceptives required to prevent pregnancy. Let's work towards improving quality of life for people living in poverty, empowering women to make decisions about family planning, decreasing childhood mortality, and reducing the negative impacts on the environment.

There isn't a quick fix for the problems caused by overpopulation, but there are some actions that we can take in our everyday lives. Here are the three important ways:

  1. Reduce your consumption... of everything. About 20% of the world's population uses 80% of the resources and has the most impact on environmental degradation. With 7 billion people on the planet, we can't afford to be so selfish. Most of us in the developed world need to reduce our energy consumption and waste, as well as conserve and protect our water and land. Much of this can be done without reducing our quality of life. In fact, many people will say their quality of life improves in unexpected ways when they reduce their consumption.
  2. When you need to buy something, buy fair trade. This will ensure that the people involved in the production of the goods were paid a fair wage, which leads to improved quality of life for their families. The fair trade designation enables you to know that you're not supporting sweat shops or child labor.
  3. Support programs and organizations, politically and/or financially, that promote women's rights, education, and family planning in the developing world. Statistics show that women who are educated and have job skills will have fewer children in their lifetimes, and their children will have better quality of life. (Check out the charts at the Population Reference Bureau.) Women who do not want to have more children should be able to access family planning services.
But most importantly, let's talk about the population issues. As environmentalists, let's stop ignoring the environmental elephant in the room.

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