Category Archives: environment

I’ll bet he bakes bread from scratch, too

            I used to have his blog in my Reader.  Then, in one of my routine purges, I unsubscribed, on the logic that my limited blog-reading time should be spent on those reading mine.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

            No, I wasn’t jealous that his stories slide together without any of the awkward adhesive mine seem to need.  Of course, I was no at all envious of his wit that never advertises itself as funny.  It was not even remotely difficult for me to read writing so clearly superior to mine.  I’m just that big of a person.

            Then, he had to go and get himself on NPR.  I am not kidding you.  I was driving back from dropping off the boys, and an essay came on.  I missed the name at the start, but by the time I got to my driveway, I was so riveted that I let Lilah fuss in the backseat till it was over.

            Yes, people, it was he.  He had an essay on N-fucking-PR.

            The essay was about Recession Wear.  You can read all about it on his blog, where he describes it much more entertainingly than I do, but the gist of it is that he has been buying adult clothes as the Salvation Army and then using the fabric to sew dresses for his little girl.

            Yeah.  Just to clarify, he’s a stay-at-home-dad who in his spare time records essays on NPR and sews clothes for his kid.  And you wonder why I would stop reading his blog.

           Not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment.  I, too, have begun to switch over to buying used clothes whenever possible.  It started as an environmental move.  Around the corner from our house is a children’s used clothing store.  We walk there, select four pairs of pants for under $20, and walk home.  There is absolutely no cost to the planet, other than the price tags on the clothing, because I bring a canvas bag for my purchases.  I save money, I do not use any gas, no new crap gets produced for us, and, best of all, the clothes come already sewn.

           A few blocks in the other direction (thus confirming that pretty much anything one might need is a walk from my house) is a branch of the cleverly named Out of the Closet, a chain of L.A. thrift shops that raise money for AIDS charities.  I suppose I could start refurbishing adult clothes that I find there into kids’ frocks, but then I’d need both a sewing machine and the ability to sew.  No, I go there for my clothes.  Again, cheap, no environmental cost, and it raises money for charity.

          So, we’ve got our own version of Recession Wear around here, although I’ll admit it doesn’t look as good as the stuff on Mike’s daughter, nor is NPR likely to come calling anytime soon.            

          I just wish his blog weren’t so damned good.  I think I am going to have to add it back into my Reader.

Flat screen TVs

Please, please, think twice about buying a new flat screen TV.  We really only have one planet.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

            At first, I was sort of amused.  We all have been running about, talking about how Sarah Palin’s family should be left alone to deal with private matters.  Yet, there she was, pushing them front and center during her acceptance speech.

            My amusement, however, quickly changed to horror.  Yes, her speech was ugly in the same way Biden’s was.  I would love to see a campaign during which no one ever attacks the other candidate, but I am realistic enough to accept that this is the nature of contemporary American politics. 

            No, my horror came when the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate made a joke about Obama “Turning back the waters and healing the planet.”  Turning back the waters?  TURNING BACK THE WATERS?  Is a Republican candidate seriously joking about turning back the waters three years after Hurricane Katrina?  Maybe there’s a reference I missed in there that makes it a little more palatable, because everyone in the audience seemed highly amused.

            Healing the planet is not a joke.  It is not to be taken lightly, and a woman who professes to be religious ought to take her responsibility to the planet a little more seriously. 

            Healing the planet ought to be the first priority of any candidate who claims to want to serve the American people.  Because, without someplace to live, all the abstinence and victory and drilling will be pointless.  Who the hell cares if we can claim “victory” in a war about oil if our children face a future filled with wars over clean water and food supplies?

            So, her answer to everything may be to stick a drill into the ground and pump more gas into SUVs, but I have news for Sarah Palin.  You cannot claim to put your country first if you are putting the planet that it is a part of dead last.

Saving the planet for Starbucks customers of the future

            I don’t drink coffee, but that doesn’t seem to put me at a disadvantage when I go to Starbucks, especially with their new chocolate banana thingadingy.  I like Starbucks.  I like that they have comfortable chairs.  I like that they have low-fat options.  I like that their sheer ubiquity makes finding a bathroom when traveling the world feasible.

            What I don’t like is the apparent Starbucks addiction to disposable items.  They own ceramic mugs and they own real plates.  Yet, every time I go in, even if I specify that my beverage or Danish is “for here,” the whippersnapper behind the counter reaches for a plastic cup or a paper bag. 

            It’s for here, kiddo.  I promise I’ll leave the mug behind when I leave.

            This seems a universal across Starbucks’s internationally, although the issue is more noticeable in the U.S.  Sitting in a Starbucks recently, having narrowly escaped a plastic cup, I looked around.  There were ten or eleven other people in the shop, but not one of them had a reusable cup.  Every single one of them was drinking from plastic.

            So, here’s what I am wondering.  Why, in these days of greening and earth-saving, can’t Starbucks try out two new policies?  First, perhaps they could make more of a commitment to recycling, providing separate bins for all those plastic cups in every single store.  And, second, they could train their cute little people in green aprons to ask with every order, “Would you prefer a mug with that, or do you prefer something that you will use once and then toss in a landfill?”

            Now, you know that no business is going to start changing policies just because I think it should do so.  I need a few more people behind me.  Like you and your friends.  You can do this one of two ways.  Either go to the Starbucks comment website and send an email about this issue (and include a link to this post, please, so they know it is a group effort), marking it as “corporate responsibility” issue. Or, please leave a comment for Starbucks today on this post.  Leave a nice little comment telling them that you really would prefer if that company did not have it’s own private landfill.  Even if you never comment, even if you don’t have a blog of your own, PLEASE COMMENT TODAY!   

            Also, please forward this post to your friends, family, and complete strangers.  Please link from your blog if you have one.  I want to collect as many comments as possible before I forward the link on to Starbucks, and I want them to get a tidy little group of emails.

            And, finally, when you next go into a Starbucks – and believe me, there is one near wherever you are – if you are planning on staying, tell the perky youngster behind the counter that you want that latte in a mug.  You may have to say it twice, but hopefully the message will get through.

Please, today restrict your comments to this particular Starbucks issue — I’d like to stay on point here and get the message across!  Thanks.

Single-handedly bringing down the economy

            We were only having two children, so we gave it all away.  The clothing.  The baby carriers.  The playmats.  Everything.  We were still using the crib, the changing table, and the glider, but we were set to hand those off to some friends before we left London.

            One day in January, I gave them a call.  “So, we won’t be able to give you our baby furniture, after all, because it looks like we are going to need it ourselves.”

            Pause.  Beat.  Light dawning.  “Oh, well, Mazel Tov!”

            Everything else was gone.  We had decluttered, only to find that we would need some of that clutter back again.  And, like a flock of really astute homing pigeons, it has found us, even though we have moved 1/3 of the way around the world.

            Mostly, it is not the same stuff we gave away.  People in our new neighborhood have given us a swing and a bouncy chair.  Other neighbors have provided a doorway bouncer and some toys.  My best friend has given us some of the clothes we gave her, but many others, too, not to mention a sling.

            A few things I have bought used.  There is a great parenting listserve here in LA, and through that I have found almost everything we want to have in used but excellent condition.  Housing prices are high in LA.  No one has extra space to store crap she isn’t using.

            We need so little that we are going ahead and registering the baby at Save the Children, so that people who feel the need to give us things can make a donation in her name instead.

            We do have to buy a few things new: a carseat, a manual breastpump, a few nursing bras, and a board book of Clifford, the Big Red Dog, since the boys consumed most of the one we already have.

            Everything else?  We have gotten it used.   Good for the planet.  Not so good for stimulating the economy.  

The weighing of the green

            As I have mentioned before, we only turn on the air conditioning when people are sleeping around here, as there are both security and a noise issues with having the windows open.  One of the perks of the west side of Los Angeles is that the weather is cool enough and certainly dry enough to make it feasible to take this step towards energy conservation.

            So, you can imagine my anxiety when I realized that the mother dropping her son off to play with Zachary would be arriving during Benjamin’s nap time.  When the air conditioning is on.  What would she think of me?  Would it be like the dirty looks people give to the other shoppers who fail to bring canvas bags to the grocery store?

            Don’t get me wrong.  I know plenty of people around here use their air conditioners.  But this particular mother is also the author of this book.  I kind of figured she probably was not cranking up the A/C on a regular basis.

            So, when she sat down on the couch and said, “Oh, that air conditioning feels nice,” I hung my head in shame.

            “I was so anxious about having you over,” I admitted.  “Really, we don’t usually use the air conditioner.”

            “But you’re pregnant,” she said, rather charitably.  “You need to be comfortable.”

            I rushed to explain about only using it when people are sleeping, sounding, I fear, a bit defensive.  She assured me she was just enjoying it because they don’t usually use theirs (huge shock), but I was mortified just the same.

            “We all do what we can,” she said, again being diplomatic in my 73 degree house.  Of course, that is untrue.  Some people do not do what they can.  There are people who drive giant vehicles they do not need; there are people who fly in private jets; there are people in certain large white houses on Pennsylvania Avenue who spit on the environment every day.

            But there are others of us.  Those of us who realize that our ecological footprint is not going to disappear in its entirety but try our best to minimize our negative impact on the planet.  People who think about purchases not just in terms of dollars but in terms of landfills.  Legions of Prius drivers out to lower greenhouse gases, one mile at a time.

            We strive to be better, but we also need to recognize that there are limits on how much we can accomplish.  Many of those limits are geographical.  Here in L.A., I hang out my laundry instead of using a drier.  This is not much of a hardship (beyond the time it takes to hang all those tiny socks) because I live in a desert.  Once upon a time, however, I lived in a swamp.

            I am here to tell you that hanging out laundry to dry in Washington, D.C. is pretty much an exercise in futility.  In fact, hanging laundry outside during the summer is more likely to result in considerably wetter clothing than just throwing them in a sopping wet heap into your drawer.  The nation’s capital does, however, have an excellent public transportation system.

            Each locale has its own compromises.  Here in L.A., I drive more than I have anywhere else (except when I commuted between two states – long story).  Yet, I can count on ocean breezes to cool my house, a desert sun to dry my clothes, and fresh, local produce to feed my family. 

In Philadelphia, I could walk to buy my groceries and train into work, but we used a hell of a lot of gas to heat our house each winter.

            The best we can do is accept the limitations of our geography and then try to avail ourselves of environmental advantages when we can.  Sure, I can try to limit how much I drive, but in L.A., my energies are much better spent hanging little socks in the sun.

            And then there are those whack jobs who bike all winter long in Madison, WI.  Bless their hearts – someone’s gotta get frostbite for the environment.

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And, my question is this — what are the ecological pros and cons of where you live?  I’d like to invite all those who haven’t commented before to comment today (if you are so inclined).  I just don’t want anyone feeling unwelcome to comment here.

Just open the damned windows

            As far as I am concerned, air conditioning when the temperatures are under 90 and the humidity is under actually-seeing-drops-of-water-in-the-air is absurd.  With some open windows and a few well-placed fans, most houses are perfectly comfortable without blowing all that cold air around.  This is not just an environmental stance.  Long before I became environmentally concerned obsessed, I preferred a natural breeze to the throat-stiffening, headache-producing, odor-trapping refrigeration that comes with air conditioning.

            Nowadays, I care even more, due to my quest to hand my kids a living planet.  Why the hell would I turn on air conditioning when the ocean breezes seem to be doing the job just fine?

            Unfortunately, my husband is a bit more of a fan of air conditioning.  He would prefer to have it on all the time.  Zachary and I like fresh air.  So, we have made a compromise.  Open windows when awake, air conditioning when asleep.

            Except, it really isn’t much of a compromise.  The boys have allergies, and I think their parents do, too, and we probably should be keeping those allergens out at night.  More to the point, I am a little paranoid about leaving the kids’ windows open at night.  Especially now, as their room is right at the front of the house and we live on one story.  It would be way too easy for someone to slice a screen and lay hands on my little guys, who – frustrating though they are when awake – are very, very sweet while fast asleep.  I could actually imagine someone wanting to make off with one of them if the only view he or she got was a sleeping child.

            I have every faith in my ability to hear, should someone break a window.  Having babies has made me a much lighter sleeper, and every time one of them coughs down the hall, I wake up.  Sliced screens?  Not so much.

            So, we lock up tight at night and switch on the A/C.  We probably would anyway, since J cannot sleep well without it, but really, I haven’t given much here.  And, lately, what before seemed like caution now seems like the smallest of security measures.  (This is the point where my mother-in-law might want to stop reading.)

            You see, we have had a number of nighttime burglaries in the neighborhood.  Some guy in a ski mask breaks into houses with open windows and elderly female residents.  Nice.  Although I am not elderly, I am not willing to take my chances that he remains satisfied with the geriatric population.

            So, I have gotten my butt in gear and crossed the following items off my to-do list: appointment with security system, safety deposit box, sending the manuscript file to a friend in case the thief steals my computer and my backup, and air conditioning duct cleaning.  Looks like our A/C is here to stay.

A different world

            We are starting to get our footing.  We have found the playgrounds.  We are figuring out neighborhoods as we work on house-hunting.  We are learning the side roads and how best to cross the 405 during rush hour.  Life in L.A. is a different ball of wax than life on the East Coast or in London, and we are poking that ball to determine its texture.  It remains to be seen if it will suit us.

            There is, however, one aspect of life here that is rocking my world.  Here, I am not the weirdo with the canvas bag in the grocery store.  Here, in fact, I never need to say “I don’t need a bag.”  And people look at you a little funny if you need one.  We seem to have entered a world where people recognize that they are visitors here on the planet, and they had better behave themselves.

            At the Santa Monica Aquarium, which, by the way, is stretching the definition of “aquarium,” they have dual-flush toilets.  You push one button for urine, another for more solid contributions.  This is brilliant, as one form of waste requires a good deal less water. 

            At the farmer’s market, there are no trash cans.  It is one of those markets with food stalls and tantalizing breakfast options served up on paper plates, but there are no rubbish bins.  Everything used there is either recyclable or compostable, so there are only those two types of bins.  Volunteers stand by to help people sort out which item is which.

            It got a little complicated when I had to change a poopy diaper.           

If a crowded farmer’s market can go zero-waste, why can’t more food courts?  Why can’t we all have dual-flush toilets?  Why can’t other cities create the type of peer pressure I am finding around here to carry one’s own bags? 

I feel like I have entered some sort of environmental nirvana, despite all the driving.  The jury is out on the people and the cost of housing (holy shit) and the sprawling city, but I think it is safe to say that LA has won a very important portion of my heart.

While you’re busy making other plans

            I was ambivalent about fertility treatment.  On the one hand, I wanted very much to be a mother.  On the other hand, it seemed to me that if my body was not cooperating, it would be irresponsible to deplete scarce medical resources for the sake of bullying it into compliance when there were certainly already enough children overpopulating the planet, one or two of whom might find us to be suitable parents. 

            Sometimes a social conscience can be a bitch.

            But not always.  In this particular situation, when it became apparent that – for reasons entirely too long and excruciatingly dull to go into here – adoption was not the best of options for us, I was able to gag my social conscience and lash it to a chair in the corner.  I sort of fell into fertility treatment, going in one day to find out what was wrong and a month later walking around with track marks on my arms from all the blood tests.  It was not long before I found myself jabbing myself in the thigh each day with a needle, reasoning, “Well, it is only a small needle.”  Perhaps I was comparing it to the three-inch monstrosity the nurse used to give me my HCG shot.

            I did, however, draw a line in the sand.  There was a point – never mind where – at which I told J we would have to stop treatment and start adoption proceedings.  I just could only justify so much medical intervention when I knew full-well I would love an adopted child just as much as a biological one, when each child produced over-populates the planet a little more, and when I felt like medical resources should probably be going towards children with cancer, not my pathetic excuse for a uterus.  We never did reach that point.  We were on the cusp of it when I got pregnant with Zachary.

            None of this is meant to judge or wag fingers at those who choose to do whatever it takes to get pregnant.  I have been there, I have done that, and I have the increased risk of ovarian cancer to prove it.  I get it.  But I was ambivalent about my own participation in the process.

            The second time around, we needed much less help.  After trying for six months on our own, I went in to my reproductive endocrinologist.  “We’ll start the Gonal-F next month,” he told me, “since you are about to ovulate.  Let’s give you some extra progesterone this month and see if we can steal a pass.”  Three days later, I ovulated; for the next two weeks, I spotted every day.  Two weeks later, we found out I was pregnant. 

            And that was it.  I have two lovely boys.  To have one child is to fill a strong, primitive need to reproduce.  To have two children is to give them one another, a precious gift if ever there was one.  To have three?  Well, to have three is to more than replicate ourselves, to increase the number of people on the plant rather than maintaining the status quo once we kick the bucket.  Given the gigantic ecological footprint of American children, I knew there was no way I would go ahead and have more.

            Our hearts have enough room for several more children.  I am just not so sure about the planet.  And J?  He’s not so sure about the budget.  And so it was that, every time Benjamin outgrew a toy or a t-shirt, we gave it away, and fast.  No sense storing those things, gathering dust.

            Here are two things we have learned lately. 

1)      Getting rid of something is the fastest way to ensure you will need it again. 

2)      A past history of infertility is not the most effective method of birth control.

We’re going to need to be careful from now on, or next time it will be triplets, given the curve on which my fertility seems to improve.

            There is not enough room on the planet, which puts the burden on us to make sure we are even more responsible in our use of resources.  There is enough room in the budget because, really, the kids don’t need as much as we think they do.  There will be enough room in the car, because we found out a week before J bought our new car, making an abrupt switch from a Prius to a minivan (oh, shut up, social conscience).  And there sure is enough room in all of our hearts, although Benjamin may take some convincing that there is enough room on our laps.

            Two pink lines.  Unplanned but very welcome.  And John Lennon had it right.

Energy crisis (part two)

Second part of a two-part post.

What would I miss most in a world with rationed energy supplies?

            It is easy to forget how much we rely upon cheap fuel.  I am not just talking about filling the gas tank or heating one’s home.  Everything we buy must travel.  Ideally, it does not travel 1/3 of the way around the globe, but it travels.  I may get my milk from a local dairy, but since there are no cows in SW London, it stands to reason that someone did have to do some transporting.  The books I read, the clothes I wear, the food I eat, the medicines we take, and the water we drink all need to travel.  Not only that, but it takes energy to produce all of these things.

            I fear a world in which I could not get what I think of as basic necessities because there is not enough oil to transport them.  A world in which heat waves kill hundreds and cold snaps kill thousands because there is not enough energy to go around.  A world in which I cannot feed my children fruits and vegetables unless I have a back yard and can grow them myself.

            I would not miss driving.  Honestly, I really dislike driving.  I am happy to walk everywhere possible, but not everywhere is possible, so I suppose I would miss the ease with which I can now see people on the other side of the city or the other side of the country.  Mostly, however, I would miss feeling like my children have a chance to grow up in a world where they have everything they need.

 What can I do to help?

            “This environmental obsession of yours is sure saving us money,” J told me last week.  That is not really true.  Yes, I buy much less than I used to.  If I no longer like something but it is functional, I keep using it.  We no longer buy paper towels since we switched to rags, we buy fewer tissues since I transitioned to handkerchiefs, and I will not buy new Tupperwares just because the old ones are discolored and grey (although I think I will be looking for a non-plastic option).

            We buy less partly because the landfills are overflowing, partly because manufacturing goods spews crap out into our air and our water, and partly because of the energy required to produce new goods and then get them to our house.  Theoretically, we ought to be saving a bundle.  If only I weren’t pouring the savings into the things we still do buy – when we need new clothing because the kids keep eating or mine is in tatters, I try to buy ethical clothing.  This is only so feasible.  Why is it I can find loads of fair trade, organic shirts but no trousers?  I feel like a hypocrite as Zachary wears his “Little Green Radical” shirt (pink, of course) with whatever jeans we can find that actually fit his little behind.  And, please, if someone has found an ethical bra, let me know.  This is off the topic, however, as the question is about energy, not pesticides or child labor, and one of the best ways to reduce energy usage is to buy used items locally. 

              I would buy used if used-clothing stores didn’t stress me out so much because I hate shopping and they require patience to sift through things.  Seriously, I would rather buy nothing, which is what I usually do, than have to spend hours in a store trying to find a pair of jeans.  I think I am going to have to start shopping used for environmental reasons, but I am going to need to bring my inhaler with me.  Used is about the only way our shopping habits have become less expensive.  On the whole, we are buying fewer things and paying more for them.

We pay more for a milkman and our produce is organic and locally grown but more expensive.  We are using disposable diapers with Ben (a subject for another post), but we are using the pricey, environmentally friendly, not-made-with-a-tub-of oil kind that I have to walk a mile to buy.  We are pretty much spending exactly what we used to, in purely financial terms.  But, we are also spending much less energy, getting a few things we need rather than unnecessary things we want.

            I struggle in a few areas.  We still buy toys now and then, but I try to insist upon quality toys that will last through the children.  And then there are the books.  It is an addiction.  When we move, I need to start using the library more (the one here is awful) because too much energy is going into bringing books to my door.  Yet, I cannot imagine breaking the book-buying habit.  Who would support all those authors?

            We walk a lot.  Part of that is personal preference, but part is an understanding that we do not need to drive everywhere.  I suspect moving to LA will be very, very hard.  Did I mention that I like to walk, not drive?  All we can do is try to cluster all our services in one area and then try to live in that area.  J will still need to travel for work, and there is not much we can do about that.  But the rest of the family can limit our fuel intake.

            “This house is so cold,” my husband complains.  So, wear a sweater.  ‘Nuf said.

            There is no doubt in my mind that we will continue to use energy.  It is almost impossible not to.  But, now, when I think about cost, I do not just think in terms of money.  How much does something cost means how much pollution did it create, how many children worked in a sweatshop to make it, how much packaging does it come with, and how much energy did it take to bring it to my door.  Chances are, if it is a 99¢ tchotchke from Target that will end up in the landfill, it costs way too much. 

Although we did buy Zachary a big pink ring.  Story for another day.

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I am not tagging anyone, because that would be absurd, given how many memes I have not responded to.  However, please feel free to take this and run with it.