Thursday, August 20, 2015

Voting is the Greenest Thing

The Climate Crusader is working to green her vote.

Here in Canada a federal election was recently called. Things work differently here than in the US. Rather than having fixed election dates, the Prime Minister typically decides when to call an election. A law was passed in 2007 stating that elections would be held on the third Monday in October every four years, but they can be called sooner, as our last election was in 2011. That's an aside, though. My main point is that I'll be voting soon. And my feelings on the environment in general and climate change in particular will impact the decision I make in the polling booth.

Unfortunately, making a decision about who to vote for isn't always as straightforward as I would like. Some parties have a lot to say about the environment. Others have a lot to say about the economy. Others have a lot to say about the green economy. There's a lot of greenwashing and double-speak out there, and sometimes politicians change their positions to increase their chances of winning as a campaign rolls on.

In spite of the confusion I think it's extremely important to vote. As citizens of any country voting is our big chance to make our voices heard. This is the time lawmakers are paying the closest attention to us and what we want, because they can literally lose their jobs if they don't. So I do my best to research and ask questions and make my voice heard while I have the ears of my elected representatives. And I make sure they know I will show up at the polls so if they lose my vote it means that their opponent is gaining it.

Sometimes it feels like in spite of the time and effort we take as citizens to inform ourselves and vote, nothing changes. Election promises and positions change once someone's elected. Some lawmakers spend more time courting big donors than listening to the people they represent. And here in Canada our representatives are more or less forced to vote the party line regardless of how they feel. But I still think it matters, and I still believe we can make a difference, especially if more people show up to vote.

In the last federal election in Canada in 2011 had an official voter turnout of 61.1%. The popular vote went 39.6% to the Conservative Party, 30.6% to the NDP and 18.9% to the Liberals. But those popular voting percentages are based on the people who voted. The actual voting percentages are 38.9% - No Party, 24.4% - Conservative, 18.7% - NDP, 11.5% - Liberal.

If we do the same math for the last US presidential election in 2012 we get 41.8% - No One, 29.7% - Obama, 27.5% - Romney.

Here's my point: if the people who didn't vote got involved, asked questions, made their voices heard and showed up at the polls the results could be totally different. Non-mainstream parties could win. Incumbents could be unseated. Change could be made. The power is in our hands.

I haven't decided yet how I will vote in this election, but I can promise two things. First, that I will make a thoughtful choice. And second, that I will show up at the polls and cast my vote. If you're Canadian too I urge you to do the same. And if you're not Canadian I urge you to take the opportunity to vote whenever you have it, too.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Upcycled Crafts with Jeans

Queen Composter shares an alternative to donating clothing.

I am an avid crafter, but as someone who cares about environmentalism, I am ashamed to admit how much I spend on buying new craft supplies.

I have kicked the dollar store habit because of the unknown toxins in the products, but with my list of crafting hobbies growing (knitting, bead making, DIY jewelry, card making, scrapbooking, sewing, embroidery, crochet, homemade personal care products) I often have to spend money to buy supplies to feed my habit.

There are so many reasons to be mindful when buying new supplies for crafting. First and foremost is that by purchasing at big box stores it feeds the never ending cycle of consumerism which is drowning the world in plastic waste, harmful production practices, human exploitation and carbon output. I am working on buying supplies from local artisans and craft stores, but this can be more expensive and does not eliminate all the issues.

When I am able, I try to upcycle supplies that I may have around the house or from other people, and Pinterest is perfect for generating ideas. Full disclosure: I am horribly addicted to Pinterest.

One recurring idea that I see on upcycling and crafting Pinterest boards  is how to upcycle blue jeans. In the past when I have cleaned out my drawers and closets I have donated my clothes, but recently I have begun saving them to upcycle into something else.

For most projects using old jeans it is important to cut off the hems and other seams so that the material is not too thick, especially if you are machine sewing them. Depending on the size of the projects, if I plan ahead how I will cut the jeans, I can get two to even three projects out of each pair of jeans. I also save all unused parts of the jeans for future projects. For example, the thick bottom hem of each leg makes a perfect drawstring or rope, the zippers can be cut off and reused again, and the pockets (both front and back) are perfect for instant pockets on bags.

Here are some ways I have given old jeans (or other clothing and bedsheets) a second life as material and fabric in crafting projects:

Jean Backpack

I saw this project on Pinterest with no accompanying tutorial. For a novice sewer it was a challenge to deconstruct the pictures into a workable project, but I am proud I did it. Now I wish I had taken step-by-step photos so I could do my own tutorial. I can no longer find the original source, but a quick search will bring up many tutorials for doing something similar.

The inner closure is a drawstring made from old shoelaces,
and the flap closure is from the waistband button and buttonhole.
The outer pockets are the back pockets of the jeans. 

Jean Baggies and Project Bags

These can be used for storing crafting supplies, knitting projects, snacks on the go, pencils, or whatever you need to stash somewhere out of sight. Blue jean material is great for these because they are sturdy and do not require lining or using interlining (fusible material). In each of these projects I used the wrong side of the jeans for a lighter colour so I could stamp images onto them.

These baggies have zippers (upcycled from other clothing).
They are great to make for reusable snack baggies.

This project bag has a drawstring closure (the drawstring
was made from a skinny cloth belt from an old skirt)and is big
enough to hold one of my larger knitting work in progress.

Jean Gardener Apron (No Sew)

It is difficult to use the top waistband on jeans because it is so thick (I've broken a few sewing needles  using them), so I love this new sew idea to make an apron for gardening, or for whenever you need accessible pockets. Just cut down the side seams on both sides, cut up to the waistband on the front (trim off the pockets and zipper), and leave the waistband and button intact. To use simply button up the jeans and wear the back pockets in the front. Ingenious!

Garden Bunting Flags (minimal sewing required)

I cut up jeans (and up cycled bedsheets) into rectangles and decorated them with my daughters using fabric felts and paint (yes, I bought them new at the store). Then I sewed them together and decorated my garden.

This was one of my daughters' favourite projects to do with
me, and they proudly tell people they helped to make them.

Here are some good links for upcycled jean projects to get you started:

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Power to Change

From the bean of Green Bean.

Have you read the latest report on climate change? Environmental degradation? Mass extinction? It does not matter which one. They are all bad. All depressing.

It is enough to make one bury her head in the sand. And, while there are days that I definitely feel like doing that, yesterday was not one of them.

Yesterday, I donned my superhero cape and rocked the environmental world. That is how I felt, at least, when I visited my local legislator with a small group of concerned constituents.

It is so easy to say no but when I got the phone call asking me to attend this meeting ("Why did I give them my phone number?!" was my first thought. My second was "Why did I answer the phone?!"), I somehow said yes.

The night before, my stomach in knots, I wondered if I could back out, feign illness or just not show. It would be easy.

I have already done easy though. So instead, I pulled on my big girl boots and met my fellow activists outside of my legislator's office. We talked briefly about what we would say and then headed up.

Frankly, it was an easy sell. The two staffers we spoke with were fully on board and we were assured of our legislator's support of the bill (SB185 to divest California's pension funds from coal). They shared advice on what more we could do to ensure the bill's passage. After high fiving my cohorts, I strolled out the door feeling a little less depressed and a lot more empowered.

We all have the power to create the change we want to see in the world. We just need to get out from behind our keyboards and do it!

If you are considering taking action (and I hope you are!), check out Activism for Introverts. Now go change the world.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Why You Should Share Green Good News with Your Kids

person, girl, garden, young

Recently I've been reading and writing about How to Raise a Wild Child by Scott P. Sampson. The chapter on "The Rewilding Revolution" included a passage that grabbed my attention:
"One of the greatest gifts we can give to children is an optimistic outlook on the future. Particularly for kids in early childhood, avoid negative stories about the natural world and the declining environment. This can lead to emotional detachment rather than caring. Recognize, however, that kids in middle childhood will likely be getting a doom-and-gloom message about the state of the world, even if it doesn't come from you. It's important to listen to kids' fears for the future, to respond honestly, and even to share your own fears. Equally important, however, is balancing any fears with positive, hopeful stories of change, stories that demonstrate how people are working to solve the problems, and how youths can be part of this critical work." (emphasis mine)

This immediately rang true for me. Not long ago my husband had shared with my kids that California has one year of water left. You know, in an effort to inspire conservation. My poor six-year-old took this so literally that she kept asking me if we were going to move to a different state soon. She also ran around the house turning off the water while people were washing their hands (which I encourage people to do, but she was getting a bit fanatical). She would also hound me any time I was using water (doing the dishes, etc.), insisting that I was "wasting it." When friends moved away, she told me it was because California was almost out of water. I had to reassure her many, many times that we would only run out of water if we continued using water the way we had but that everyone was going to make changes to make sure that didn't happen. I told her it was important to do our part to conserve, but that it was still OK to use water and she didn't need to worry that it would run out.

My son, entering the third grade, gets plenty of doom-and-gloom without us, just as Sampson suggests, just from his voracious reading of non-fiction literature about animals, natural disasters, and so on. While my husband often points out that people can be selfish and short-sighted, I like to emphasize how many good people are trying to change things for the better. Sort of like Mr. Rogers' mother's advice to "look for the helpers" after tragic events. I also often point out that sometimes we are dealing with habits and situations that began before anyone knew better. I'm not interested in my kids having a black view of humanity either.

It is my opinion that no child should have to grow up believing that the world is going to be a wasteland or even merely a worse place to live when they grow up, however realistic such information might be. Some days after browsing the environmental headlines (as I do most mornings) I feel so depressed and hopeless that I avoid reading the news for several days. We all need hope. We need inspiration. We need examples. And so I continue to highlight the positive. Read these stories, and share them with your kids. And when your kids come to you with a fear about the future, tell them a story of hope. If you don't have a relevant one at the ready, look one up here or here.

A delightful read:

When You Give a Tree an Email Address (The Atlantic)
The city of Melbourne assigned trees email addresses so citizens could report problems. Instead, people wrote thousands of love letters to their favorite trees.

Clever teens making a difference 

Girls’ decoy grouse lure birds from drilling-rig noise (WyoFile)
Two 8th-grade students advanced greater sage grouse science this spring by making dummy strutting males to lure birds from a nearby drilling rig so they could better hear mating calls.

Proof that big change in a short time is possible

From open sewage to high-tech hydrohub, Singapore leads water revolution (Reuters)
Fifty years ago Singapore had to ration water, and its smelly rivers were devoid of fish and choked with waste from shipbuilding, pig farms and toilets that emptied directly into streams. But it's a very different story today.

If they can do it, so can we!

Achieving "zero waste" might seem impossible, but these cities have implemented plans that are getting them very close. Now it's time for the rest of the world to follow along.

Be the change you want to see

Dutch Man Cleans Up Entire River Bank On His Daily Commute to Work (Good News Network)
Tired of having the beautiful river view along his route to work spoiled by mounting trash on the bank, a Dutch man decided to start picking up litter during his daily commute. This story reminds me of a FB page I recently came across called Trash Walking Moms.

Do you have a tidbit of environmental good news to share? Please do!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Plants That Always Thrive

The Climate Crusader is looking at weeds through different eyes.

It has been a hot, dry summer here in the Pacific Northwest. We are usually known more for our liquid sunshine (read: rain) than actual sunshine, but so far 2015 has been an exception. My lawn long ago gave up the ghost and turned brown. If I forget to water my garden for a couple of days some of the plants look more than a bit parched. But amid all of this, there are some plants that continue to do well.

They are green. They are flowering. Lush, even. What are they? Weeds.

Only, not really.

Let's get down to basics and consider the question of what a weed is. Wikipedia has this to say about weeds:
Traditionally this classification was applied to plants regarded as undesirable... Today the designation is less often used as a classification of plant life... Many native plants previously considered weeds have been shown to be beneficial or even necessary to various ecosystems.
The plants that are thriving on my lawn and garden this summer are mostly plants that I didn't put there. Rather, they're plants that took root themselves. These are plants that clearly handle summer weather better than my tomato or basil plants. And many of them are native species. That is, they evolved here in the Pacific Northwest.

It's no surprise that native plants need less tending than non-native species. After all, native plants evolved here. They do well in local soil, and tolerate local weather conditions well. They grow whether humans plant and water them or not.

Not all of them are pretty or tasty. But native plants have many benefits. For instance, native plants provide habitat and food for other native species, such as birds and insects. Native pollinators? They have co-existed with native plants for millenia. I already mentioned that native plants require less care, which also means that their environmental footprint is lower.  And native plants contribute to biodiversity, just by being their own fabulous selves and sending their pollen out into the world.

Antelope brush ecosystem

Last summer I visited the South Okanagan, a beautiful region in my home province of British Columbia. This area was originally covered by antelope brush, a humble looking plant that nevertheless sustains many other species. More than two-thirds of the antelope brush habitat has been destroyed, though, and with a thriving agricultural industry in the region the rest is under threat. If the antelope brush disappears, the consequences will echo through the rest of the species in the region.

So what is my point? My point is that we should re-consider the way we look at weeds. While some truly are invasive species that force out other plants, others are helpful native species. By nurturing these native species, and giving them space in our gardens, we're making our lives easier (since they'll grow with our without us), we're helping to protect the ecosystems we call home by providing plants that nurture local wildlife.

Here's to plants that always thrive!


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