Sunday, December 30, 2007

Green Drinks

Wanna grab a beer and talk with like minded folks about all things environmental? Check out Green Drinks. There are Green Drinks organizations all over the world (presently 3 right here in LA to my knowledge) where a group of committed folks get together every month to hoist a few and share ideas. It's a great community builder and can get you in touch with some really cool people. Best of all, it ebbs and flows so you never know who's going to show up. Check one out near you and if they don't have one, email them about starting your own!

Live Sustainably



What Green Shouldn't Be....and then some

It occurred to me that everyone must see this stuff everywhere. Ya know, those insane ads that are supposed to make you feel like you are being green by buying european elk hair mittens to fend off the highs and lows of global warming. If anyone comes across one such post, like this one, post em or email em and I'll start a label for them. It could be kind of funny.

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LA's Transpo Chief Drives A Hummer?

"Lead By Example"

I posted this article a while back elsewhere but I think it's worth revisiting. Los Angeles has a huge problem with smog and traffic congestion and yet Jaime de la Vega, LA's Transportation Chief drives a Hummer (or did, not surprisingly I have been able to find no follow up to this article). It's a great snippet of how far we need to go, and a good example of do as I say not as i do mentality. I think my favorite part is when the guys assistant tries to explain that it's not the largest Hummer they make. Classic. We need more journalists like this who will ask uncomfortable questions to illicit truthful responses.

Transit boss' SUV is too big to ignore

January 21, 2007
LA Times Corespondent Steve Lopez

Questions about the Hummer would be off-limits. That's what the mayor's press secretary told me as we headed to a City Hall meeting with transportation chief Jaime de la Vega, whose vehicle of choice seems odd for a man in his position.

No way, I told Matt Szabo. How can I not ask about it?

What de la Vega drives is a private matter, argued Szabo.

No it isn't, I told him. It's now a public matter, and I don't know how Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa can have any faith in a transit chief who drives a 2-ton monster in a city with notorious traffic and smog.

It's like having a surgeon general who smokes unfiltered Camels while snacking on Cheetos.
I felt a little sorry for Szabo, a decent enough chap who had arranged the meeting after I complained that de la Vega didn't answer my call.

But not sorry enough to pull punches. What's with the Hummer? I asked as soon as we were seated in de la Vega's office.

De la Vega gave me a cold stare, his lips sealed. Then he looked at Szabo, who said we were there to talk transportation.

I asked about de la Vega's background and he dropped the mummy act, telling me he'd gotten a master's in urban planning from UCLA. He was also Mayor Dick Riordan's traffic chief and a member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board.

So you'd think he'd know better.

I just can't get past it, I told de la Vega. A Hummer?

And then I noticed a quote on his wall from Rosa Parks.

"Every person must live their lives as a model for others."

I read the quote to de la Vega, who clammed up again.

"Should we all drive Hummers?" I asked.


Szabo, meanwhile, looked like he might have some kind of a breakdown. He argued that de la Vega's vehicle is not the largest in the Hummer line.

"It's smaller than a Yukon," he said.

Wonderful. So is the Queen Mary.

The polar caps are melting, we are at war in the oil fields and Mr. Transit is driving a hog that says who cares?

De la Vega said he's looking at everything from charging people to drive in congested areas to creating one-way thoroughfares to synchronizing every light in the city.

But the larger plan is to "maintain a first-class bus system" and get the Exposition light-rail line going, extend the Gold Line to the San Gabriel Valley and the Eastside, take the Green Line to the airport and the Red Line to the sea.

Sounds lovely, except that the city doesn't have $27 billion sitting around, and even if it did, the mayor hasn't sold me on whether rail would be the best use of that money in a city where people go in a million different directions to get here and there. Even at that, it would take years to get any of those lines in place, and we've got a crisis now.

De la Vega said the city is looking at twisting the governor's arm and turning up the heat on Washington as well as considering a sales tax or a bond.

"There is no magic wand," he said.

Yeah, no kidding. There's not even a formal transit plan for the city to begin debating.

It would help, I told de la Vega and Szabo, if the mayor and other public officials stopped taking huge campaign checks from developers and rubber-stamping their projects until we get some of the transit in place.

Villaraigosa, if you ask me, is now testing the limits of big ambition. How much more might he have accomplished by now if he hadn't devoted so much time to a school takeover bid that so far has been a disaster? We didn't elect him to run the school district, and he already has a full plate with homelessness, housing and public safety.

Before he takes on the schools, too, he should use his popularity and gift of gab to step up on traffic, which affects millions of people every day and is redefining our lives, wasting time, money and productivity. An uninspired City Council is asleep at the wheel on this issue, by the way, offering the mayor little or no help.

But it's Villaraigosa who should use his million-dollar smile to charm people out of their vehicles at least one day a week, encouraging them to use transit, bicycles, carpools and flexible work schedules. And given the depth of its problems, Los Angeles and the surrounding region ought to have the smartest and most enviro-friendly innovations in the world rather than having to read about what works in London or Bangkok, Argentina or Brazil.
I don't want to hear that it can't be done, and I can't think of a better way for City Hall to show it's serious than to have Villaraigosa take de la Vega's Hummer and ship it to the troops in Iraq, where it might come in handy.

Or he could trade it to the governor for a bigger chunk of state transit funding. I told him if they can't work a deal, I'll be happy to drive his tank back to the dealer and trade it in on a nice Honda or something.

De la Vega didn't respond, but I could tell he was beginning to see the wisdom of unloading this thing.

All right, I told him. We'll trade vehicles for a week. He can gradually warm to the idea of a car that's smaller than Half Dome, and I'll be high enough off the ground to get a better look at just how awful the traffic has become.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Ten New Years Resolutions That Will Help More Than They Hurt

"Life's most persistent and urgent question is 'What are you doing for others?' "- Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

  1. I will not drive my car for one day out of each month.
  2. I will not drive my car within a half mile radius of my house unless I am going to or from another area.
  3. I will not use another "disposable" coffee cup.
  4. I will not take another plastic bag from anyone.
  5. I will replace all my lightbulbs with compact floursecents.
  6. I will find and fix all water leaks in my house.
  7. I will call my power company and ask them about buying "green power".
  8. I will find local farmers markets in my area and buy direct rather than buying pre-packaged produce from the store.
  9. I will speak to my children and my friends children about the need to recycle, re-use, and repurpose.
  10. I will evaluate my impact, pledge to do better, and always remember that life is not all or nothing and that any change that I make for the better can make a difference.
And 11.

I will be happy and make others happy because sustainably speaking, it's the only choice that makes sense.

Happy New Year

Live Sustainably



365 Days of Trash

"I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious" - Albert Einstein

What does it mean when you say "throw something away'? Well, just that, it hasn't been dealt with, it's just not near you anymore, it's out of sight and therefore out of mind. So what would happen if there was no "away". Come January 1st, I may be able to start to answer that question as I attempt to further alienate myself from friends and family by not throwing anything "away" for a year.

Now I know what most of you are saying but I haven't completely lost my mind, not yet anyway, and yes, my wife is still with me. I was reading a few weeks ago about the Puente Hills Land Fill closing down and it pretty much secured the idea that this is something I want to attempt. Puente Hills is right here in Sunny Socal and is the largest landfill in the country. In 2012, it will be full and therefore close for good, and all my garbage will be trucked all the way to Arizona to a brand spanking new landfill. Insanity right? Landfills across the country are closing down, but since new ones are larger, the capacity has remained constant. That said, eventually, it stands to reason that the way we are headed, we're going to get into some serious trouble, not to mention poisoning air, groundwater, and who knows what else along the way.

It'll be interesting to see what problems arise, and the choices I need to make, packaging, etc, along the way. As a result of the NPR interview I did last month, they will be doing a series (potentially) on the whole process starting Jan 2 on Day to Day. I'll post the links as they come up and will be blogging about the whole thing at

And for those of you who are local, not to worry, I'm keeping the stuff in the basement, we are worm composting food, and I haven't given up on the toilet (yet).

Live Sustainably



What Green Shouldn't Be

Nuff said. Thanks for sending that along Wendy.

Live Sustainably


Type rest of the post here


Bring Back The Electric Car

A great Op-Ed piece from the LA Times I just finally got around to checking out.

Live Sustainably



Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pacific Plastic Soup - Coming to a shore near you

"Each person must live their lives as a model for others" - Rosa Parks

There's a ton of plastic garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean.

You may have heard of this before as it's been a story that's been floating around (heh heh) for a while now. Well, fairly soon, thanks to my super groovy friend Anna and her super groovy boyfriend Marcus, we're all going to get a firsthand account.

Anna and I go back a few years and she is actually the reason that I started teaching in the first place. She's a super committed enviro-activist, doesn't own a car, just an awesome Xtracycle and has a great site and great blog about lessening your impact on the planet. I had coffee with Marcus and her a week ago and they shared with me details of their upcoming voyage.

On Jan 15th, they are heading to Hawaii to spend a month sailing through the Pacific plastic "soup" with the the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in order to study it. You can check out info on their voyage here and I'll be sharing their blogs with everyone as they come in from the sea. Anyone else who wants to spread the word should definitely link to their posts as this is the kind of stuff people need to see.

For anyone who thinks that they aren't part of the problem, and we all are by the way, here's a few sobering pics for you.

This pic is a shot of Marcus holding up a line tied with little plastic tidbits. I took a look at it and thought "yikes that stuff shouldn't be floating in the ocean" and then he told me that all these little things were taken out of the rotting carcasses of seagulls they found on the shores of the Aleutian Islands (I believe that's where they were from, I was in a bit of shock). Incredible. On the right you can see a closer version. Bic lighters, toothbrushes, doll legs, and a whole host of other stuff that has no business being out there.

After they get back, Marcus and Anna are planning on riding their amphibious bikes that they built cross country to show school kids what they have seen. If you'd like them to come to your kids school, feel free to drop me a line and I'll pass it along to them.

Throwing out a hale and hearty huzzah to Marcus and Anna, wishing them both a safe and educational trip, and a thanks in advance for takiing us along for the ride.

Live Sustainably



Oil, it's not just for transpo anymore

"We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey. And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we’re hooked on." -Kurt Vonnegut

Most people think of their cars when they think of the world running out of oil. Well, it's time to think again. While transportation is the main use for imported oil in this country imagine what life would be like without all the things in this picture.

Taken from a National Geographic article entitled The End of Cheap Oil it shows a family of 7 from Stowe, Ohio sitting on their front lawn in front of all the things in their house that were made using petroleum based plastics. Now you may be able to adapt to riding your bike as opposed to driving your car, but seriously, no large yellow rubber balls? I'm sellin' my car.

Live Sustainably



Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays

The Whale

If you read the front page story of the SF Chronicle on December 14, 2005,
you would have read about a female humpback whale
who had become entangled in a spider web of crab traps
and lines
She was weighted down by hundreds of pounds of traps that caused
her to struggle to stay afloat. She also had hundreds of yards of
line rope wrapped around her body, her tail, her torso, a line
tugging in her mouth.
A fisherman spotted her just east of the Farralone Islands
(outside the Golden Gate) and radioed an environmental group for help.
Within a few hours, the rescue team arrived and determined that she was
so bad off, the only way to save her was to dive in and untangle her...

One slap of the tail could kill a rescuer.

They worked for hours with curved knives and eventually freed her.

When she was free, the divers say she swam in what seemed like joyous circles.
She then came back to each and every diver, one at a time, and nudged them,
pushed gently around-she thanked them. Some said it was the most incredibly beautiful experience of their lives.

The guy who cut the rope out of her mouth says her eye was
following him the whole time, and he will never be the same.

May you, and all those you love,
be so blessed and fortunate
to be surrounded by people
who will help you get untangled
from the things that are binding you.

And, may you always know the joy
of giving and receiving gratitude.

Happy Holidays


Sunday, December 23, 2007

One more on the coffee shops

For those of you out there who are into gardening, you can stop into pretty much any Starbucks and ask them for some used coffee grounds and they'll give you about a pound or two's worth. As I understand it, this stuff is great in flower gardens, especially roses, and it's free. I don't know about the other chains, but I suspect that if you go in nicely and ask, and then tell them that Starbucks does, they'd probably help you out. After all, they have no use for the stuff anyway, so you're kind of helping them out on top of everything.

Live Sustainably



Friday, December 21, 2007

Sustainable Christmas?

"Once again we find ourselves enmeshed in the Holiday Season, that very special time of year when we join with our loved ones in sharing centuries-old traditions such as trying to find a parking space at the mall." - Dave Berry

I've pretty much stayed away from the whole Christmas thing because from a "stuff" point of view it seems like it's just too big. Unfortunately, a large part of the holiday has become synonymous with commerce and waste which is fairly unfortunate. Having said that, here are a few quick thoughts where we can each make a difference.

Trees - You're probably well past this point, but if not, why not go with a living tree in the ground as opposed to one that has been cut? Many folks get a potted tree, use it indoors, and then plant it afterwards, the gift that keeps giving! Fake trees are also a way to go and while they do take energy and materials to create, you can use them year after year, so you're good to go for a while. If you do use a real tree, at least get it to a compost facility when you are done. As far as decorations, try to go with natural compostable (think popcorn) rather than plastic or electric.

Wrapping - Here's a place where you can make a huge difference. Doesn't it seem sort of odd to purchase paper, wrap something in it, and have someone rip open that wrapping and toss it? Seems like a lot of energy expended for something that is headed towards the heap. If you want to wrap, why not use newspaper, or the comics, at least something that is re-purposed anyway. Gift bags are a cool way to go too because they can be re-used over and over. Or, if you want to add to the gift, why not wrap it in a gift like a scarf, shirt, or sweater? Another thought is to give people gifts in cotton bags that they can then take to the store, so you're gift keeps on working towards a better world.

Cards - Cards are really nice additions, but in all honesty, again, a fair amount of energy and materials for something which is of extremely limited use. With the internet being what it is, an e-card is simple, and a web site greeting can be more than a card could ever be. If you do want to go the card route, why not make one (or better yet have the kids do it) out of recycled paper - you won't find a Hallmark with dried macaroni, trust me, I've tried.

Gifts - Not going to dwell too much here, but suffice it to say that something old is going to be much more sustainable than something new. I like the idea of giving a book that you've already read, it shows the person that you've put thought into it, and is much more personal than buying a new one. Food is always a good idea, as are gift certificates towards services -movies, theater, massage, anything...maybe you'll walk there dog for a's only limited by your imagination. Bottom line, think about the energy and materials that went into your gift, its lifecycle, and where it will eventually end up.

Finally, if you want to go a fully new gift giving route, check out what my friend Bob and his family do. Hilarious and very sustainable version of gift giving.

So there's a few ideas for you. I'm sure you've all got many more so please feel free to share them in the comments section.

Enjoy your holidays.

Live Sustainably



Re-Usable Mug Expresso Lines

One other thought I had was contacting Starbucks and asking them if they can have express lines for people with mugs wherever that is possible. Seems to me that if people aren't going to do it for the enviro aspect, or for the money savings, they'd definitely go for it if they shaved ten minutes off their wait, no?

You can contact Strabucks at,

Peets at,

and CBTL at

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Can Human Fat Be Considered A Sustainable Fuel?

I guess that depends on where you live. File this under the "don't try this at home" but here's an odd story about a guy in Australia who is running his boat on human fat and is going to try to break the world speed record for circumnavigation. He actually donated some of his own (through liposuction). Perhaps there is a cross marketing opportunity between Hollywood vanity cases and the biofuels racing community? I think I need to call my agent.

Thanks to Michael and Grant for sending me the link.

Live Sustainably (but eat lots of donuts)



Thursday, December 20, 2007

Seriously, enough with the disposable cups already.

"Conscience keeps more people awake than coffee." - Anonymous

Ok, here's a relatively simple one in my view.

Let's say you work in an office building and on the way to work everyday you stop in at your local Coffeepeetbucks for a nice cup of Java. Generally speaking they'll give you a single cup, with one of those sleeve thingies and a nice plastic lid. With any luck you'll at least recycle all these products, but the vast majority of them, Starbucks annual cup use alone is 1.5 Billion (that's right, it's a B, not an M), end up in a landfill somewhere. So not only are you filling landfills, but think of all the energy and raw materials that went into that cup, thingy, and lid so that it could be used once and chucked. It makes no sense.

So if you grab some Joe everyday, and you work 50 weeks a year, you're talking about 250 cups. Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, and Peets, just to name a few, offer .10 back per purchase when you don't use one of their cups. So if you opt out as it were, you'd save over $25 in the first year alone. And if you invest that in a nice bond or cd, you could parlay that into a small fortune. Everybody wins right? Sure, except you can't spend any of that money because your hands are burnt from having the concerned barrista behind the bar pour scalding hot coffee into them morning after morning, and pretty soon, you've probably lost your job - and getting your pants zipped in the morning is a whole other thing.

Lucky for you there's an alternative. Re-usable coffee mugs! You can get these just about anywhere but you really want to get a quality one that is going to last, after all, they're basically buying the mug for you anyway, so why not live a little. For my money, you can't beat the mugs that Contigo makes which are available at Target amongst other places. They're really well made, durable, spill proof, and most importantly have an awesome rubber seal that is so tight that you have to open the little spout before unscrewing it due to the vacuum that can be created. They come with and without handles (that can clip on) and in all sorts of sporty colors. The one I have, which I beat on quite a bit, is going on two years and still running strong. I think it cost me 19.95, so it's more than paid for itself by now. I'm also convinced I look buffer holding it, but then again, maybe not.

And just in case you were wondering if bringing your own mug will actually make a difference, Starbucks estimates that in 2004, the first year they offered the discount, 15.1 million cups were kept from the landfills by customers using re-usable mugs saving 655,000 pounds of paper waste. Pretty cool huh.

Now if you work in an office, don't even get me started on why you shouldn't be using styrofoam. Grab yourself a nice ceramic cup, wash it out occasionally, and call it a day. On the off chance however that you work in some bizarro industry where metal is forbidden and ceramic feared, at least point your office manager to a responsible alternative such as compostable coffee cups, but if that is the case, please email as to where you work as I'd be fascinated to hear tales of such a place.

Finally, a lot of people point out that it takes energy to make that ceramic mug or metal coffee cup, and darned if they aren't right. If you feel like reading the nitty gritty, check out the specs at Ask Pablo. Compared to styrofoam use, a ceramic mug needs to be used at least 46 times to make a difference and the metal mug needs to be used at least 369 times to break even. Big numbers sure, but unless you're quittin cold turkey sometime soon, one you'll eventually hit.

Now tell me that doesn't make sense to you.

Live Sustainably



Strenghten your noggin and feed the poor!

"When I feed the poor, they call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist." - Dom Helder Camara

My friend Doug (who by the way has a rockin blog called Free-Expression) sent me a link to a cool site where you can increase your vocab and feed the poor at the same time. It's actually quite a bit of fun and much tougher than i thought it would be. Every time you get an answer right, they donate 20 grains of rice to the United Nations Food Program. In the 5 minutes before I typed this post, I was able to donate close to 5000 grains of rice, and I learned that a scullion is a kitchen servant (I know, it's ironic, but it's true).

The site was created by the same guy who created The Hunger Site amongst others (you can link to them from the hunger site) which are a few other ways to help out by just clicking. And if you think 20 grains of rice can't really help much, consider that to date, they've donated over 10,000,000 grains of rice. I don't know how many grains are in a bag, but that's a lot of paella!

Live Sustainably



Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sign the Nuke Free Petition

-This Bill has been signed already, but I think the point is still an important one to make.

Nuclear energy, as most people already know, has a ton of problems associated with it, not the least of which is the need to deal with the spent fuel rods which will continue to be radioactive for centuries to come. I recall reading that Yucca Mountain in Nevada was considering using solar panels to power the underground fans in their nuclear storage sites. There's some irony for ya.

The Nuke Free Petition concerns the energy bill that is now before Congress that authorizes "virtually unlimited loan guarantees for backers of new nuclear reactors." I personally think this is a huge problem, signed the petition, and urge you to do the same.

Here's my big problem with this petition and the bill before congress. Neither seem to deal with the real underlying problem which is our need for cheap energy. I don't want a nuclear plant in my back yard any more than anyone else does, but I also don't want coal powered plants there either. Neither is a sustainable option. What bums me out is that nowhere on the site (or in the video) does anyone mention conservation. It seems to me that if we as a nation didn't need more energy, we could make a pretty good case for not building more power plants. Having said that, why not have an addendum on to the site that says that you are signing the petition to send congress a message, and furthermore, that you will work towards cutting your energy use by 20% next year, so that in the future, we need less power in the first place.

Having said all of that, it's an important petition and I urge you to sign it, but send them a note explaining that you're going to do your part by cutting down as well.

Live Sustainably



UCS' Bali Wrap Up

Check out the Union Of Concerned Scientists coverage of what went well and what went wrong at the Bali Climate Conference last week. My personal favorite quote was this one.

"One of the most unconscionable actions of the U.S. delegation here has been continuing to question the clarity and urgency of climate change science.”


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Monday, December 17, 2007

Check out your ecological footprint

"The trouble is that once you see it, you can't unsee it. And once you've seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There's no innocence. Either way, you're accountable." - Arundhati Roy
In an effort to better understand our impact on the world, I invite you to checkout the Ecofootprint Calculator. It's pretty simple and will only take about 3-4 minutes but it sets up quite nicely where you stand as to how much you use. While the questions are somewhat vague, I think it's a good tool because it causes you to think about what choices you have to make. Once you've done the test, note down the results and change a few key answers to see where you can improve and what difference it'll make. If you are comfortable, I'd love to hear what your numbers were. If you'd rather remain anonymous, feel free to email me and I can throw the numbers up in the comments section without a name.

To start it off, our lifestyle footprint was an 8 which means that if everyone in the world lived the way that we do, we would need two planets worth of raw materials. I was able to get this down to a 7 by cutting out air travel back east but that's about as far a dent I could make in it.

Oh yeah, if you can't get the map to work on the first page, hit the "low bandwidth" link in the bottom right hand corner. Sometimes the site gets bogged down but that usually works.

Live Sustainably



Thursday, December 13, 2007

US Impeding Bali Climate Talks

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it." - Upton Sinclair

Yes, I get the irony of the post following a post on how I don't talk about Global Warming is about Global Warming but that's on a personal level. On a national governmental level it is of the utmost importance and agreement on this fact is what is going to make all the difference. So how sad am I as an American that my government is one of the biggest problems and at the same time is refusing to be a part of the solution.

Check out this article in the NY Times which illustrates how much of the problem we in the US are

or the one in The International Herald Tribune

or in The Australian

and then sign the petition here to tell them that you won't stand for this

And then pass this on to everyone you know who has a child or grandchild and ask them to do the same.


Live Sustainably



Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Why I Don't Really Talk About Global Warming

"When one argues with a fool, there are two." -anonymous

Global Warming is in my opinion the single greatest threat we as a species have ever encountered and we are presently at a tipping point of no return. Having said that, I rarely discuss it with anyone, and here's why.

It's not necessary.

There are two ways to look at this. The first is that you believe what the Nobel Prize winning IPCC says, what science tells us, and what experts warn, that we are causing global warming and that the only way to reverse it is to radically and quickly rethink our priorities and the way we live. If you fall into this camp, than you're already on the right road and I'm preaching to the choir. The second option is that for some reason you buy into the spin, don't believe the science, and don't think you have anything to do with the whole global warming issue. Here's what I usually tell these folks, something which the 9 minute video above explains quite well and in much more detail.

Let's look at the four scenarios of global warming, assuming that you actually believe in thermometers and agree that the world is getting warmer as we speak.

  1. Global Warming IS caused by human activity and we continue living unsustainably - Lose/Lose situation. We could have turned things around and we didn't, and we are still addicted to fossil fuels, creating political instability, and destroying the environment.
  2. Global Warming IS NOT caused by human activity and we continue living unsustainably - Lose/Lose situation. On the Global Warming front we will have to ride it out, and we've missed the opportunity to clean up our acts.
  3. Global Warming IS NOT caused by human activity and we start living sustainably - Lose/Win situation. On the Global Warming front we'll just have to wait and see, but we pollute less, wean ourselves from cheap oil, take better care of the earth and help in a whole host of other ways.
  4. Global Warming IS caused by human activity and we start living sustainably - Win/Win situation. If we have acted in time and do enough, we could avert a major climate disaster, and at the same time, we get all the benefits of working towards a cleaner way of living.
So in my opinion, whether you believe in GW or not makes very little difference. The only chance we have of making things better is living more sustainably. And on that note, while I think it's important to stay informed, if you take this seriously to begin with, stay away from all of the articles about the ice shelf melting and how bad things are getting. You don't need more proof, and they will only depress you into feeling like your actions mean nothing.

For some more info and a good overview on what's going on and what can be done, check out the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Live Sustainably



Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Story of Channukah - A Modern Day Parable

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

I recognize that the story of Channukah is not the average fodder for a sustainability blog, but sometimes, what's old is new again.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the story, here it is in a nutshell. Around 2200 years ago Antiochus IV, fresh from an unfinished war with Egypt and fairly peeved about a rebellion in Jerusalem, ordered his army to ransack the Jewish Temple and force the jews to partake in idol worship. A small group of rebels led by Judah Maccabee and his brothers fled to the hills and basically engaged in guerrilla warfare eventually turning back and defeating the 40,000 plus army and retaking the city. Sort of "300" with a menorah if you will. When they finally got back into the temple, they found that the menorah, which was a ceremonial lamp, had only enough pure oil for one day. They lit it, and the oil lasted for eight days, just long enough for them to make more.

It's interesting to me that after all these years, we're sort of right back where we started from. Back in the day the problem was that Antiochus had sacked the city and ruined the temple. Well today, the problem is that we have sacked the planet and ruined our environment. By burning fossil fuels with reckless abandon, we have not only altered the atmosphere, but we have created political instability and caused peoples all over the world to suffer so that we may have cheap power.

They found one nights worth of oil and miraculously it lasted for eight nights. We're presently at or nearing peak oil. And for those who don't agree, ask yourself this. If it takes 100,000,000 years for oil to form, and we are pulling it out of the ground at an ever increasing rate, isn't the question when we are going to run out, not if. And if that is the question, perhaps we should not hope for an "8 day" miracle, but demand that our government work towards switching us to renewable energy now before it does run out.

So all that seems a little dark, I hear ya, dark, but true. But the greatest part of the story to me is that a small group of plucky brothers led an untrained militia and defeated one of the greatest armies on the planet. Why? Because they were fighting for something that they believed in, something they were passionate about, something important. That to me is what makes the Channukah story relevant today. There are huge seemingly insurmountable obstacles ahead of us, but if we band together and show others the way, our voices will be heard. It's going to take action, and I believe that we have not only the will but the power to see this through.

Who knows, in 2000 years, maybe they'll add on a postscript to the story and talk about how close we came.

Thanks to my Dad for sending me "A Green Menora" by Arthur Waskow that got me thinking along this track.

Live Sustainably



Monday, December 10, 2007

Make It An L.E.D. Christmas This Year

"Weather forecast for tonight: dark. Continued dark overnight, with widely scattered light by morning." - George Carlin

Let's face it, living sustainably is one thing but giving up your christmas lights is something entirely different. Of course the best thing to do is simply not use christmas lights in the first place, but for many, it's just not the same without them. Luckily, LEDs have come a long way and are here to save the day. (You can read a neat explanation here).

Forever Bright, a really cool (pun intended) LED company now sells L.E.D. christmas lights everywhere from Costco to your local hardware store and they are great. They last for 200,000 hours, contain no glass (no broken bulbs anymore), use only 2-4 watts (compared with 43 or so for similar incandescent), and give off almost no heat (compared with the 94% of the energy in the old kind that were given off as heat - christmas morning fire anyone?).

So let's do a quick break down here. Assuming that you are one of those folks who needs to be able to see your house from the moon around this time of year (I kid, some of them are actually quite nice) and you use 20 - 100 bulb strings, let's look at some numbers.

  • Cost per string - Relatively the same if you shop around, less if you buy online.
  • The incandescents use 850 watts of power while the L.E.D.s use 60 watts of power.
  • If burning all bulbs for 6 hours a day the old ones will use 5.1 kWh/day and the L.E.D.s will use .36 kWh a day.
  • If you put your strings up right after turkey day and run them every night, that's 153 kWh a month for the old school bulbs and 10.8 kWh a month for the L.E.D.s.
  • Finally, using a base of .15 cents/kWh your same ole same ole bulbs are going to cost you $22 in electricity while the cool new ones are going to run you $1.62
Bottom line, they are cheaper, cooler (there's that pun again) and will actually pay for themselves in the long run. And if you don't think it'll make a difference, there are over 100 million homes in the U.S alone so the potential for energy savings is huge.

Thanks to Pablo at for his writeup.

Live Sustainably



Al Gore Receives Nobel Peace Prize

""We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive." -Albert Einstein

Today in Oslo, Norway, Vice President Al Gore, was given the Nobel Peace Prize along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."

As Gore noted in his speech (which I highly recommend checking out) "today, we dumped another 70 million tons of global-warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet, as if it were an open sewer. And tomorrow, we will dump a slightly larger amount, with the cumulative concentrations now trapping more and more heat from the sun.

As a result, the earth has a fever. And the fever is rising. The experts have told us it is not a passing affliction that will heal by itself. We asked for a second opinion. And a third. And a fourth. And the consistent conclusion, restated with increasing alarm, is that something basic is wrong.

We are what is wrong, and we must make it right."

Now there are a lot of people who will put Gore down for his carbon credit buying, his jetplane travel, and the mansion that he lives in, all points that I think are fair but possibly not balanced. Having said that, he's put climate change on the map and done more for the sustainability movement by doing so than just about anyone out there. And the first step is to acknowledge the problem, which he now has most of us doing.

So a hail and hearty Huzzah to Mr. Gore for his past, present, and future accomplishments and for helping make this global problem one that everyone is (finally) talking about.

Live Sustainably



Friday, December 7, 2007

Tell Congress You Want An Energy Independent Future!!

This is the moment of truth. The time for action is right now.

Are you interested in raising national fuel economy standards to 35 mpg? Assuring that 15% of all energy in this country is from renewable sources? Bolstering national security and forcing your government to help us clean up our act?

Well then read on!

Thanks to solar energy supporters like you, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Energy Independence Act of 2007 yesterday by a vote of 235 to 181.

This is one of the most important pieces of energy legislation ever - extending solar tax incentives, increasing fuel efficiency standards, and creating a 15% federal renewable energy portfolio standard by 2020. Now it heads to the Senate for a vote expected later today or tomorrow.

Time is short. Your help is urgently needed to get this bill passed in the Senate.

1) Contact your U.S. Senators today and urge them to pass the Energy Bill to help promote energy independence. Also, ask them to rally their colleagues to support this vital piece of legislation -- especially these key colleagues below.

Simply click the Senator's name to find the phone number. Other numbers are at

If you don't know your nine digit zip, just enter the five digit zip followed by four zeroes and the info will come up. Then:

1) Forward this email to friends and family, especially to those who live in the states listed above, to encourage them to also contact their Senator today.

2) If you're a blogger, please also spread the word online.

Together, we can extend powerful solar incentives, improve fuel efficiency, and ensure 15% of U.S. electricity comes from renewable sources of energy like solar and wind by 2020.

Remember, the Senate vote is expected to take place today or tomorrow so please take action right now. Your phone call, your support could make all the difference.

We thank you for your continued support.

With sincere thanks,

Brad Collins
Executive Director,
American Solar Energy Society
Boulder, Colorado


Thursday, December 6, 2007

Renewable LA's First Solar Open House This Saturday

The First Annual Solar Open House & Green Holiday Gift Fest

Saturday, Dec. 8, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
American Hi Definition/Sweetwater Digital
7635 Airport Business Park Way (at Saticoy)
Van Nuys, Ca 91406
Lots of free parking in lots across the street

Cool Stuff To Do There:

Roof-top tours of one of the San Fernando Valley's largest solar panel installations--a super-sized array large enough to power 30 single-family homes.

"Consumption-lite" holiday shopping: Donate to one of some 18 nonprofit organizations in a loved-one's name. The groups include Sierra Club, TreePeople, Global Green, Rainforest Action Network, American Lung Assn. of CA, Oceana, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Plug In America, Much Love Animal Rescue, Parrots First, Planned Parenthood.

Ride & drives of fully electric or hybrid electric vehicles--Toyota RAV4 EVs, ZENNs, a Plug-In Hybrid Conversion, an electric motorscooter, a Ford Ranger EV, an eBox by AC Propulsion and a motorized electric skateboard. We'll have a VW Jetta running on 100 percent biodiesel and the last-minute addition of a suped-up Insight.

Important speakers, including Assemblymember Lloyd Levine and former Assemblymember Fran Pavley--running head to head in next year's senate race. SPEAKER SCHEDULE ATTACHED.

Continuous screenings of "Who Killed the Electric Car?" and a talk by its director, Chris Paine, and main figure, former GM employee Chelsea Sexton.

Live Sustainably,



The Story Of Stuff

"I own one share of the corporate Earth, and I'm uneasy about the management." - E. B. White

My friend Paul sent me this link and I wanted to share it with you all. The Story of Stuff is a 20 minute animated video that explains in very simple terms the relationship between our unsustainable lifestyles and the world in which we live. It's a really good demonstration of how we are part of the system that is harming the planet.

For instance, did you know that the average lifespan of a product purchased in the US is less than 6 months? Or that in the last 30 years we have consumed 1/3 of the planets resources? Just by these two facts alone, you can see it's an unsustainable model and in order for our children to have a future, we need to change our paths now.

So sit down with your honey, grab a cup of fair trade shade grown french pressed coffee, and check it out. It's a bit heavy, but that's because it's honest. It's an education, but one that's needed and in my opinion, a longtime coming. For those of you who lean to the right of the political spectrum, I'll ask you to take the few political moments with a grain of salt (if need be) and recognize the importance of the overall piece.

Oh and if the flash is running slow, you can download it to your computer here. And when you're done, don't forget to check out the list of 10 things to do right now.

Live Sustainably



Wednesday, December 5, 2007

How much does 1 can of Coke cost (environmentally speaking that is)?

"Only after the last tree has been cut down, only after the last river has been poisoned, only after the last fish has been caught, only then will you find that money can not be eaten." - Cree Prophecy

Take a look at this excerpt from the book Lean Thinking on how much goes into the making of an aluminum can. It's a great example of how removed we are from everything. I apologize to those who have trouble drinking soda after reading this, but whether you read it or not, we all have the responsibility to understand our place in the cycle.

Live Sustainably



Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Awesome Well To Wheels Calculator

"Considering the many productive uses of petroleum, burning it for fuel is like burning a Picasso for heat" - Anonymous

One of the best things from yesterdays show was at the Daimler/Chrysler exhibit and thankfully it is available on the web as well. It's a really awesome graphically simple well to wheels study, a graph that shows the energy used and CO2 created by a certain vehicle from creating the fuel to using it to power the vehicle. The great thing about this is you can mix and match and compare so if you want to see the difference between a regular car and a hybrid for instance, you can compare them to each other.

After you access the main page here, look down on the right side and you'll see a little blue wave thingy under the heading "Interactive". It's a little slow but click on it, let it load and off you go. Choose your energy source, energy process, fuel, and type of engine, and you're good to go.  I'd suggest starting with sun, photovoltaic, electricity, and electric engine for starters. You'll notice on the graphs that they show that to the right there are some white lines. These represent what a similar gas model car would create so you always have a point of reference. It's way cool if you ask me. Enjoy.

Live Sustainably!



Monday, December 3, 2007

Toyota's Plug-In Prius: Not There Yet.

"My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I drive a Mercedes, my son drives a Land Rover, his son will drive a Land Rover, but his son will ride a camel." - Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum of Dubai, before his death in 1990, on the coming Middle East oil crisis

I had the opportunity to attend EVS 23 today and see what the world of EVs (and now hybrids, diesels, and fuel cell vehicles as well) has to offer now and in the coming years. I was fairly excited as for some reason Toyota thinks I am VIP enough to have called and offered me a test drive in one of the two prototype plug in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) that they are presently testing (my wife called and assured them that I am not). So without further ado, my thoughts on the show, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sorry to say that you will have to scroll down to The Bad to see the Prius review.

The Good

This is what Toyota SHOULD be doing. This car comes from Danbury Ct where they have made an entirely new NiMH battery system from the ground up and replaced the Prius standard battery with it. It basically drives like a Prius does except for the fact that if you drive up to 34 mph and don't jam on the gas you'll be in all electric mode the whole time. Basically this means you can do all your around town driving on most given days and never engage the gas engine at all. At night, you plug it into 110 and it'll charge up full in under 8 hours. The downside is that right now they have no plans to sell them to individuals, but if they did, on a mass scale, the cost would be about $7000 per vehicle (the upgrade that is, not the vehicle itself). Take that Toyota!

Phoenix Motorcars SUT - SUT stands for Sport Utility Truck, PMs electric vehicle that they have been working on for some time. It seats four and has a payload area in the back, is all electric with a top speed of 95 mph and drives like an electric car should - fast and quiet. Range is about 120 miles or so and charge times are 5-8 hours. In addition, these cars are not privately available. That said, I have been watching these guys for a few years and I think they will be front runners in the coming EV market. They are planning to offer a full SUV version and two others (one most likely a sedan) in or around 2009 and will have an option to double the range by adding more batteries. They have also developed a charger that will charge the batts in 10 minutes. It cost $100K so you and I aren't getting one any time soon, but it means that service stations would be able to buy these making fast charges on the road achievable. As for the cars, Phoenix is tightlipped on price, but the word on the street is low 30's.

OEMTEK's Prius Add On BREEZ (Battery Range Extender EZ) - OK, they need to work on the name. Nonetheless, this was kind of cool. It's an add on battery pack that a certified Prius mechanic can install in a day. This allows you the capability of running on full electric for about 45 miles, more than the average person commutes per day. It'll stay all electric until the battery gets too low or until you hit about 60 mph, but more than enough for around town driving. It plugs into a standard 110v outlet, can charge overnight, and costs $12,500 installed. I asked them if this voided the Toyota warranty and they said that Toyota has not said that it would or that it wouldn't. They pointed out that they have had warranty work done on the cars since the add on but I think I'd need a bit more info than that before I plunk my cash down.

Envisionsolar's Solar Lifeport - This was one of the cooler things at the show even though it's really just a garage. It's a prefab, module oriented, solar car cover that is built to universal code and can pretty much be put anywhere. It has a 4.8 KW solar system which is enough for an average sized house and electric car. The whole thing costs a little under $50K which is a bit steep, but as a concept it's great. One stop shopping and you add on equity to your home and take yourself off the grid (although you can grid tie as well) at the same time. I actually mentioned to them that these would be amazing for orgs like the Red Cross. They could be shipped in, set up in hours, and voila, instant medical center with power. Very cool.

Other cool stuff was the Vectrix all electric motorcycle (zipppeeeee), the Chevy Volt, which was on display only so I didn't spend much time checking it out, and Miles Automotive who claim to be coming out with a $30,000 all electric sedan called the XS500 in 2009 but have been saying that for over a year now. I also had a really cool conversation with the VP of Con Edison about the grid (I know I'm a geek) that I'll save for another time.

The Bad

Toyota Plug In Hybrid (PHEV) Prius - Sad to say but I was fairly disappointed with the PHEV Prius. Toyota afterall started this whole Hybrid ball rolling and committed to it early so you'd expect that the next incarnation, which should be plug in, would be a hum dinger. Not to be. The PHEV Prius is just like the regular one except that it has an EV button near your left knee. Push that in and you can go a whopping 7 miles on pure electric before the gas kicks back in. 7 Miles? You've got to be kidding me. That's the best they could come up with? Sorry Toyota, when the guy from Danbury, Ct 80 feet away has made a better mod on your car than you can, there's a problem somewhere.

Daimler Chrysler's Fuel Cell Prototype - I kind of drove this because I sort of figured I had to so I could say that I had driven a Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle. I basically think the whole hydrogen thing is a bunch of hype (more on this down the road I promise). These are basically electric cars that are powered by Hydrogen. The guy from Daimler kept on saying "and it's completely emission free" and when I would point out that the vehicle may be but the fuel source (energy used to compress the hydrogen to begin with) probably wasn't, he got very defensive and told me that they were not in the fuel business. The car itself was fine, but they've got to work on their logic a bit if you ask me.

There were some other honorable mentions specifically the many NEV's (Neighborhood Electric Vehicles) that were on show. I guess there are markets for these things but it seems that the average person, unless they live in a retirement community, is not going to feel safe in these things. Mind you, we all need to rethink our transportation priorities, but in all honesty, I can't say I'd feel comfortable putting my daughter in a car that has no reinforced steel, no air bags, and few other safety features when the guy up the block is driving his hummer and texting on his cell phone(more on this another time).

....And The Shockingly Ugly
This really had more to do with aspects of the show than with the vehicles and exhibits. For starters, the show is called "EVS 23-Sustainability: the Future of Transportation" and when I checked in, they handed me a computer bag filled with notepads, dvds, stickers, and brochures. I asked whether anyone else had pointed out the irony that they were handing out a bag made of oil (plastic fabric) at a sustainability conference and they told me that I was the first, but to their credit, agreed with me.

As I checked in they also told me that GM was sponsoring a journalist lunch which was being set up and showed me where I could find it. What I found was about 50 tables like this
each with 10 full place settings, bread, water dessert, etc. Now I didn't eat anything, and I was outside during lunch, but I don't even think there were 500 journalists there, and the amount of food that was being cleared that hadn't been touched at the end of the afternoon was staggering. Sustainability?

Finally, at the ride and drive, Daimler Chrysler had been nice enough to set up boxes upon boxes of plastic water bottles with their names on them for people to drink. The whole purpose of the show is to show an alternative future and here people are drinking water out of single use plastic (oil based) bottles and throwing them away. Of course the show did have a lot of good stuff, and little steps can go a long way, but would you serve meat at a vegan conference? I think not.

Live Sustainably



Friday, November 30, 2007

Google's Going Solar (again)!!!!

"Each person must live their lives as a model for others" - Rosa Parks

I'm not generally a big fan of HUGE corporations, but at the same time I think you need to give credit where credit is due. Last week, Google announced that they are going to take responsibility for their impact and pour "hundreds of millions" of dollars into renewable energy research specifically in the fields of solar and wind power. Their long term goal is to produce 1 gigawatt of power from renewable energy that will sell at prices below coal generated power. It's an astonishing goal and if successful, would be enough power to power all of San Francisco. Google apparently keeps their energy use private (and much is already solar generated) but rumours put it right around "a buttload of power".

So why is this so important? For starters, we all know how big Google is, so for an industry leader like this to head in this direction shows the rest of the sheep out there where they should be heading as well (politicians take note!). Also, if successful, which I suspect they will be, the end run of this is that solar prices will drop significantly making it much more affordable to the average joe. It's really, in my opinion, a space shot kind of moment when you consider that the largest solar array presently in existence is 20 Megawatts (a gigawatt is 1000 megawatts so you can see how ambitious this really is).

Seeing as our elected "leaders" seem to be unable to come up with a comprehensive energy plan that calls for renewable energy and an end to fossil fuel addiction, I'm glad corporations like Google are there to show them that it needs to be done, can be done, and will be done.

It's about time.

You can send Google a hail and hearty Huzzahhh at Let em know you care and you appreciate the fact that they are in the game.

Thanks to my buddy Grant for the tip off.

Live Sustainably



Thursday, November 29, 2007

Greendimes - Give the gift of less

"First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win"

-Mahatma Ghandi

If you're anything like me you hate junk mail. Not only is it a huge pain in the butt, but it wastes a ton of resources, not the least of which are trees and water. Well fear not fellow recycler, Greendimes is here. For the small price of just $15 they will not only stop 90% of your junk mail for a year, but they will plant 10 trees to boot. How cool is that? We gave this a shot a year ago and other than stuff from charities we give to, we get no catalogs or junk mail anymore. It rocks!

Sure there are a bunch of other ways to stop your junk mail, but they require a fair amount of time and work, trust me, I've tried them. The way I figure it, I'd pay $15 just to plant the trees so getting out of junk mail is just the bonus. And right now, you can give it as a holiday gift, or for $42 a Greendimes package which will get your friend the junk mail opt out, tree planting, a tote bag, a t-shirt, and two compact flourescent bulbs. Try to beat that with a stick...ya can't!

So this holiday season, why not give less, and save more.

Thanks for reading.

Live Sustainably,



Monday, November 26, 2007

It's about being disconnected

"It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality." - Martin Luther King Jr.

I've been pondering starting a blog for quite some time, but I couldn't figure out what to say in my first post. It always seemed like that was the tough one, and that the rest would just sort of follow finding their own voice and way. It seems that I've put it off long enough, so here goes.

I think a lot about sustainability.

Perhaps too much sometimes.

Remember that scene in the Matrix where Neo finally sees all the code and "gets it"? Well, that's sort of the way I am with things except I "see" energy and waste. When I look at a cup, I don't just see the cup, I see (well guess anyway) the energy and resources that went into making it, the energy and resources that went into getting it to me, the energy and resources that will go into ferrying it off to some dump or recycling center, and the energy and resources that will eventually go into it's destruction/recycling. And then I realize that I'm not even using it, and that my wife is wondering why I'm not listening to her. It can be quite frustrating at times and I honestly wish I could turn it off, but unfortunately some things are just like that.

As I think about this stuff, I've come to the realization that one of the biggest hurdles we have in front of us is our general disconnectedness. Thousands of years ago, people had no choice but to be connected to their world. People lived much simpler lives than we do and knew how things became and where they went. If you needed food, you grew/hunted for it, or bartered for it from someone who grew/hunted it. If you had refuse, you burned it, buried it, or disposed of it outside yourself. People were connected to their lives and therefore, whether cognizant of it or not, had an understanding of their impact.

We are different. Look at the clothes you are wearing right now. Can you honestly say that you have any idea the amount of energy, materials, time, or money that actually went into any item of clothing that you are wearing? I know I can't. When you throw your trash out tomorrow morning, where does it go? I have a general idea, but I honestly can't tell you. When you turn the water in your tap on (a miracle when you really think of it) do you know where it came from, how it got to you, or where it goes? I can't.

As a society we are living unsustainable lives. Americans in particular use far more than our share, and it is my opinion, perhaps a naive one, that the first step to changing this behavior is to connect the dots. We turn on lights, use water, throw things "away", drive our cars, and rampantly purchase and discard without a care because it is easy not to care.

We are disconnected from everything.

But let me ask you this. What if you realized that those miners that died in Utah last summer were mining cheap coal that was specifically being used to power your house? What if every time you left your faucet running you could see the water table drop? What would happen if you had to take your garbage to the dump yourself? How would you feel if the pollution from your car stayed right over your house and built up until you couldn't breathe? What if you had to buy your purchases from the people who actually made them, the ones who work 16 hours a day 6 days a week and live in tin huts? I'm not trying to bum you out, but I think you'd think differently about your actions. You'd realize that simply because we don't think of the consequences to our actions all of the time, it doesn't mean that they don't exist. And before you know it, you'd be staring at that coffee cup, recognizing the consequences of its existence, and wondering why your wife is looking at you like that.

So what am I getting at? Mainly that we've got a long way to go and the first step in all of this is learning to think differently. Hopefully, with your help, we can all work together to make the difference.

Who's in?

Live Sustainably