Sunday, May 18, 2008

What's next?

I started this blog in an effort to offer people ideas about creating a more sustainable life.  Not so many months ago, I could find only a few resources that helped people figure out how to incorporate sustainable ideas into their everyday lives.  Through my journey, I have found quite a few that have come about.  I even found one blog that aimed to do what I intended, except she tried one new idea everyday for an entire year.  Being one to not reinvent the wheel, I have posted links to some of the websites I have found.

Reducing, reusing and recycling will not solve the problem.  Small changes are a start, but truly sustainable change must be systemic.  To affect wide-scale change, one must focus one's efforts on a specific idea and work relentless to change that things.  What matters to you?  To me, education matters.  As part of my graduate work, I hope to understand how mobile technology (such as cell phones) can help people understand sustainability, avoid practices that contribute to climate change, and cope with the currently unavoidable affects.  Maybe public transportation is important to you.  Maybe it's environmentally- and people-friendly home furnishings.  What about nutrition?  Whatever it is, I would urge you to find a cause for which you can be an advocate.  Start a community action group.  Lobby for legislative changes.  Start a company or blog.  Protest.  Whatever it is, fighting relentless for something in which you believe, I feel, is the only way to change the world.

TreeHugger - Go green guides and much more.
Green As A Thistle - One new idea everyday for 365 days.
50 Simple Things - Free downloadable book to "save the earth."
No Impact Man - Lots of neat ideas.
Planet Green - Ideas from the Discovery Channel.
The Green Life - One new idea each day from the Sierra Club.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Bulk waste syndrome hypothesis

I love buying things in bulk, especially non-perishable items.  Ranging from shampoo to all-purpose cleaners, many companies offer over-sized options.  Not only do these items help you save money, they're better for the environment.  Bulk buying helps to reduce packaging, thus reducing the energy and materials required to make the packaging, and thus reducing the amount of waste once the product has been used.  If you decide to purchase biodegradable, non-animal tested products, you're doing even better.  But I would like to suggest my bulk waste syndrome hypothesis.

Take, for instance, two options: one 48 oz bottle of shampoo versus four 12 oz bottles.  The latter option results in greater packaging waste.  The prior option, however, may result in fewer lathers-and-rinses.  Even though the two options offer the same overall amount of shampoo (48 oz), I hypothesize that the bulk shampoo bottle unknowingly makes people to use more shampoo for each lather-and-rinse, which is caused by the 'bulk waste syndrome.'  When people use smaller containers, they are more likely to use smaller amounts of shampoo because they perceive that not very much is available.  In the bulk case, people perceive that much more shampoo is available, and they are more likely to use larger amounts because of a lessened fear of running out any time soon.

I've run this idea by a couple of people, and they were quite shocked I'd even suggest such a ludicrous idea.  But, I stand by my logic.  Think about how you behave when your liquid soap is about to run out.  You use smaller and smaller amounts to stretch it as far as it will go.

Assuming for a moment that this hypothesis is true, what can you do about it?  I constantly try to gage how much of something I use.  It's easy to squirt an overwhelming dollop of toothpaste on your brush.  But take a step back and think, is it really necessary?  Most of it will probably never touch your teeth.  How much hand soap is really necessary to clean your dirty paws?  One full squirt from my pump would bath a small army.  Just think about it, and get back to me.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Ceramic or paper or polystyrene?

UPDATE:  Through Neighbors for Neighbors, a group in Boston organized local coffee shops to support a bring-your-own-mug concept.  It's called The Mug Project and I think it's wonderful.  Thanks for the tip, Em!

Consuming less seems to be one of the primary mantras of the "green" movement. "Reduce, reuse, recycle." So, when it comes to your morning beverage of choice (be it coffee, tea, hot cocoa), surely a ceramic mug is more environmentally friendly than a paper or polystyrene (read: 'styrofoam') cup. Not necessarily, claims the
Institute for Lifecycle Environmental Assessment. Way back in 1994, this study suggested that ceramic mugs must be used numerous times before the environmental impact equals that of a similar number of paper or foam cups. Large amounts of energy are required to manufacture and clean a reusable mug, thus it must be used many times to spread out that impact over a large number of uses. According to their findings, a ceramic mug must be used 40 times to equal paper, and hundreds of times to equal foam. So, does this mean that foam-cup-wielding lunatics are greener than thou?

Don't fret. Think: "reduce." Surely, if you are a ceramic mug hoarder and go through them like water, you're relatively wasteful. But, if you're like me and hold onto a select few mugs for years and use them repeatedly, things might not be so bad after all. If you can't stomach the idea of pressing your lips to the same mug year after year, at least put your unwanted mugs back into the ebb and flow of the universe. Donate them to a second-hand store. At some point, your orphaned mugs will be considered vintage and be worth a lot of money, to someone else.

And, in the spirit of not being able to determine anything with certainty, consider the hidden features of polystyrene.
  • “Acute exposure to styrene in humans results in respiratory effects, such as mucous membrane irritation, eye irritation, and gastrointestinal effects” -Environmental Protection Agency

  • Styrofoam is “possibly carcinogenic to humans” -World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer

  • Styrofoam cup takes 500 years to decompose. -University of Washington

  • “In the categories of energy consumption, greenhouse gas effect, and total environmental effect, [expanded polystyrene's] environmental impacts were second highest, behind aluminum” -California Integrated Waste Management Board


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour: TONIGHT! 8PM!

Nearly one year ago, 2.2 million people and 2100 business in Sydney Australia turned off their lights for one hour.  Why, you ask?  To raise awareness about and inspire people to fight against global warming.  They called it Earth Hour.  Tonight is your chance to join this cause.  At 8:00 p.m., turn off your lights and unplug any non-essential electrical devices for one hour.  How will this matter, you ask?  Granted, it will only save a small fraction of energy as compared to what we use throughout the year.  But, by spreading awareness and helping to inform people, we can make a different throughout the year.  You can also check out some reasons here.

It easy for me to think of all the things I won't be able to do.  Check my email, watch a movie, play music.  But I intend to break out some candles and do some reading.  Not sure what you can do for an hour without electricity?  Check out WWF's suggestions or just ask Google.

Oh, and for those of you who missed Earth Hour 2008, the website provides a handy countdown to next year.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Herbivorous teeth for eating "meat"

Over the months, I have talked about the link between meat consumption and environmental concerns.  Some groups even insist that eating meat adds to global warming.  When I speak with people regarding this, they vehemently assert that humans are designed to hunt prey and consume it.  Which biological factors would point to carnivorous humans?  Is it...
  • our relatively poor eye-sight?
  • our lack of claws or talons?
  • our inefficient locomotion (as compared to mammals that move on 4 legs)?
  • our long digestive tracks (shorter is better to help avoid putrefaction of flesh in the digestive tract)?
The ultimate key to this problem, may have insisted, are our canines.  You know, those "pointy" teeth designed for tearing flesh.  BBC offers a look into herbivore versus carnivore teeth.  If you've ever looked into a cat's mouth, you'll undoubtedly agree that their teeth are very different from ours.  Theirs are designed for eating meat from the body of their victim.  Cats are primarily carnivores.  Our teeth look like those of herbivore's.  Just another nail in the meat-eating coffin, I'd say.

But I urge you to educate yourself, and then decide.  My transition to a meatless lifestyle has been gradual.  I took it step-by-step, and always sought out what worked for me.  Try meat substitutes.  They can be found in many grocery stores and come in many types.  Keep in mind, though, that each brand is different.  You may like some while disliking others.  Try a few before you make up your mind.  Found a favorite brand?  Post about it in the comments section.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Don't buy it

Vacationing is essentially an exercise in buying crap you'll forget about two months after you return home.  Impulse buys are everywhere.  Commemorative shot glasses with the your first initial on the side.  T-shirts with witty saying you would never have come up with.  Coconuts with monkey faces carved into the side.  People can't get enough of it.  So, don't be a people.  Be a free-thinker.  Mile after mile, I pass one shop after another.  I fight that urge to smack down 20 bucks for a bucket of pastel-colored sea shells and just smile.  My place won't look like a beach town threw up in it.  And for that, I (and the environment) am glad.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Google for public transportation

Those who know me know that I like public transportation.  The American Public Transportation Association describes numerous benefits for individuals, companies, communities and the environment.  Public transportation allows me to:
  • read more than I would ever have a chance to.
  • avoid the frustration of dealing with rush hour traffic.
  • save money on gas and car repairs.
One of the greatest challenges people talk to me about is understanding their local public trans system.  Where do the busses go?  How long will it take?  How do I know which train to get on?  Fear no more.  Google has developed a system to take the anxiety out of riding.  Based on the idea of Google maps, Google transit shows you exactly how to use transit to get from place to place.  It includes walking times (if necessary), and bus and rail schedules.  Check out this example in San Francisco.

Only a few months ago, Google had included a handful of cities.  There are now more than 30 cities in the US and around the globe.  As a full disclaimer, I haven't actually tried this yet since Atlanta is not yet included.  I do, however, use public transportation regularly, and I utilize Google maps and train/bus schedules to manually do what Google transit does automatically.  Have any of you used it yet?

And for you die-hard drivers: there's no need to sell your car... yet.  Try transit and see how you like it.  In fact, I still own a car because I tutor in various places throughout the city, and some students would be impossible to reach without a car.  Regardless, try riding to the store or a local restaurant.  One step at a time...

UPDATE:  For those of you in Atlanta, check out A-Train.  Entering the addresses gave me a bit of trouble, but it found a few nice options.  Thanks for the tip, Joe!