Hope and hiatus

November 12th, 2012

Photo via Flickr: Hadleygrass is asparagus

Some of you may have noticed that it’s been quite some time since I last posted. Daily (or thrice weekly, or heck — once a month!) blogging, sadly, doesn’t seem to fit with my life and other projects I’m pursuing at the moment. Or not so sadly: I’m grateful for all that’s happened in the relatively short three-plus years since I started The Red, White, and Green; both in my personal and professional life, and in our country at large.

The seeds for this blog were sown, after all, in the wake of my work volunteering on the 2008 Obama campaign — in my hope for Americans to finally unite around protecting our country, our planet, after eight years of war and destruction in the pursuit of oil — and now here we are, four years later, having just reelected President Obama to a historic second term. A term, in which, if last Tuesday night’s acceptance speech is any indication, the president will finally feel empowered to confront the threat of climate change head on.

Do we have a long, long way to go? Absolutely. But four years ago, I never would have believed that the cover of conservative-leaning Bloomberg Businessweek would read “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.” Or that 70 percent of Americans would now accept the science of climate change (up from around 50 percent when I first started writing here). If the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy has revealed anything, it’s that the politicization of climate change may at last be behind us.

As may the marginalization of the environmental movement as a whole. Who would have thunk, back in 2008, that an initiative to label GMOs could have made it to the state election level here in California (though it was narrowly defeated)? Or that the FDA would actually take steps to ban BPA? Or that Walmart would start selling cloth diapers? Not I. I was still just trying to convince most people I knew why taking simple steps to go green (switching to CFLs, giving up bottled water) wasn’t a total buzzkill to begin with.

It’s easy to shake one’s head and say that things will never change, but all of the above is proof that they do. And to paraphrase our newly reelected president, this kind of change happens — the task of perfecting our union moves forward — because of you. So thank you for all your encouragement and enthusiasm here so far. You give me hope.

Speaking of change… more is coming to my family, with babe No. 2 due around the end of this year. So I thought this would be a good time to say that The Red, White, and Green will be on official hiatus for a bit. In the meantime, you can connect with me here.

Wishing you all the best for the months ahead!

–Jennifer Grayson

Until I return, some reading you might enjoy:

Buying ‘Made in America’ boosts the eco-nomy
Organic alone isn’t going to save us
WATCH: How to Green Your Move
Patriotic decorating: Vintage US maps
On Kleenex and our disposable society
A funny story. Or, why US food labeling needs an overhaul

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Can our cities save us? That was the topic of my most recent Huffington Post column, which discussed the rise of cities and the striving to make them sustainable, and which was largely influenced by our month-long stay in Bend, Oregon, this past spring. (I’ve been wanting to write about our trip for some time; sorry for the delay!)

Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and miles of wilderness, Bend certainly isn’t a city in the concrete jungle sense, nor does it have the population heft of a megacity like Los Angeles (or even a smaller city like Portland). But it is a city: self-contained, densely populated in many areas, and largely reliant on its local economy. Bend is also a true vision for America’s future; a model for how we can reshape the landscape away from suburban sprawl and toward small, sustainable cities. Take a look:

The super cool eco-modern home we rented from Lavabelles Vacation Rentals (adorable eco toddler not included)

Folks kayaking down the sparkling Deschutes River, which runs through the city (in the lazy days of summer — i.e., now! — a favorite pastime is floating down the river in tubes)

Looking down on the city from Pilot Butte State Park

Homemade organic yogurt, granola, and ocean rolls at The Sparrow Bakery

People cycle everywhere; even the bread is delivered by bike

Cute hubby hiking in Bend’s Shevlin Park (site of opening photo as well). Bend is a hiker’s dream — there are 56 miles of trails maintained by the city alone, many of which connect to USFS trails

Our hard-earned post-hike refreshment, taken to-go from 10 Barrel Brewing in a refillable growler (there are 10 local craft breweries)

Another in-city trail (this one leads to one of Bend’s ubiquitous playgrounds)

Our next-door chicken

The people-powered Cycle Pub

Our favorite sustainable food cart: Spork (Photo via Facebook)

Grass-finished rib eye from ultra-local sustainable butcher Primal Cuts (photo via Facebook; I only had their house-made chicken sausages, but they were the best I’ve ever had)

A local/organic produce stand within walking distance of our house

Purchased there: locally grown asparagus and chard

Can we move here, please?

Oh, and lest you think Bend is some hippy dippy environmentalist mecca that could never exist in the real America, you couldn’t be more wrong: When I would ask locals we met about everyday life there, they almost always remarked on how conservative the town actually is. (“If you want liberal, go to Portland or Eugene,” went the refrain.) Conservative — as in, to conserve. Which, by the way, is something that 4 in 5 Americans believe is patriotic to do, according to a new poll.

–Jennifer Grayson

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I have some exciting news to share: My writing debut for USA TODAY hits the newsstands this week, in the American Life: Green Living special publication (how Red, White and Green is that?). The article is about vertical gardening, which has become something of a passion of mine since moving to an apartment with an abundantly sized patio (stay tuned for photos of my pole beans). There’s also a section about vertical farming, which sounds like science fiction, but could very well be the key to food security as our planet struggles to accommodate 9 billion people in the next half century.

The magazine is only available in print, so if you’d like to read the article other than zooming below, I highly recommend picking up your own copy (also on the newsstands through June), since it’s filled with some really cool ideas about how to take your green home/life just that one step further (included: DIY cleaning product recipes; a guide to renting goats; and an engrossing read on guerilla gardening, penned by my pal/brilliant writer Matt Villano).

A special thanks to my interviewees for the piece — organic gardening consultant and Gardenerd founder Christy Wilhelmi, Windowfarms founder Britta Riley, as well as Dickson Despommier, professor emeritus at Columbia University and author of The Vertical Farm.

Now get out there and start growing!

–Jennifer Grayson

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Photo via Flickr: NS Newsflash

Why is it that 97 percent of climate scientists believe that global warming is man-made, yet only 40 percent of Americans agree? It looks like we finally have someone to blame: me. Well, not me, specifically; I’m talking about the media.

According to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, just 1 percent of news coverage today is focused on environmental issues. (That’s down from a whopping 2 percent in 2010.) Compare that with sports and lifestyle coverage, which receives double that, and celebrity coverage, which Pew says is about on par with green coverage. (To me, celebrity coverage seems to eat up a bigger portion of the pie, but I think Pew is talking about reputable news outlets here, not US Weekly and WWTDD.)

Now, the good news: In a new national poll commissioned by the Project for Improved Environmental Coverage and conducted by Opinion Research Corporation this past weekend, nearly 80 percent of Americans said they think environmental coverage should be improved. What’s more, the results didn’t vary much by age, race, education level, or region of the country. They even seem to buck traditional tree-hugging stereotypes (for those who think that green-minded folks are usually white, college-educated Northeasterners; see my bold):

  • 79% of 18 to 24 year-olds and 79% of those over 65 felt coverage should be improved
  • 77% of those polled in the Northeast, Midwest, and West thought coverage should be improved; 83% of Southerners concurred
  • 83% of those who received a high school diploma or less and 76% of college graduates believed coverage should be improved
  • 88% of African-Americans thought coverage should be improved, along with 79% of Hispanics and 77% of whites

So we’re all in agreement here: Give us more green news! And not slanted coverage, either. The poll also revealed that Americans (70 percent) want the coverage to be inclusive and solutions-oriented. You hear that, Fox News?

–Jennifer Grayson

If you’re a member of the media who wants to know how we can effectively increase environmental coverage, check out the national Vision for Improved Environmental Coverage, which launched in February this past year. (Note: I was an adviser for the project, along with representatives from Time Magazine, Society of Environmental Journalists, Michigan Radio, San Francisco Chronicle, Solutions Journal, Grist Magazine and the Knight Center of Environmental Journalism.)

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Breast buds and BPA ban fail

April 10th, 2012

Photo: Blingcheese.com

The news that girls as young as 4 are now developing breast buds and pubic hair should horrify anyone. But as the mother of a toddler girl, I felt my insides twisting when earlier this month, I read Elizabeth Weil’s feature about early-onset puberty in the The New York Times Magazine (Puberty Before Age 10 — A New ‘Normal’?). The medical term for this phenomenon is “precocious puberty,” which makes it sound like it’s something benign, even adorable. Clearly, it’s anything but:

That morning one of [pediatric endocrinologist Louise] Greenspan’s patients was a 6½-year-old girl with a bone age of 9. She was the tallest girl in her class at school. She started growing pubic hair at age 4. No one thought her growth curve was normal, not even her doctors. (Eight used to be the age cutoff for normal pubic-hair growth in girls; now it’s as early as 7.) For this girl, Greenspan prescribed a once-a-month shot of the hormone Leuprolide, to halt puberty’s progress. The girl hated the shot. Yet nobody second-guessed the treatment plan. The mismatch between her sexual maturation and her age — and the discomfort that created, for everybody — was just too great.

Now it seems it’s not only we parents of girls who need to be concerned. Early puberty is striking boys, too, and not only American ones: In Leipzig, Germany, the famous St. Thomas Boys Choir has noticed the voices of its boy sopranos cracking earlier than ever before; now at age 13, on average. (The choir, which dates back to 1212, has quite the historical record for comparison. In the 1700s, boys’ voices changed around age 17; even as late as 1993, the age was 14 or 15.)

So what the heck is going on? Well, obesity, for one. More than one-third of US children are now overweight or obese, and the ties between a high childhood body mass index (BMI) and early puberty are strong. Germany, too, has a growing problem with childhood obesity, which may be to blame for the squawking sopranos. But exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the environment are also of grave concern, as the NYT article points out (bold is my emphasis):

One concern, among parents and researchers, is the effect of simultaneous exposures to many estrogen-mimics, including the compound BPA, which is ubiquitous. Ninety-three percent of Americans have traces of BPA in their bodies. BPA was first made in 1891 and used as a synthetic estrogen in the 1930s. In the 1950s commercial manufacturers started putting BPA in hard plastics. Since then BPA has been found in many common products, including dental sealants and cash-register receipts. More than a million pounds of the substance are released into the environment each year.

In other news, the FDA has decided not to ban BPA from food and beverage packaging, stating “the most appropriate course of action at this time is to continue scientific study and review of all new evidence.”

Really? We are turning into science experiments faster than we can be studied and the response is a carefully measured “wait and see?” Nothing like choosing the chemical companies over our children.

–Jennifer Grayson

What you can do: Join Non Toxic Revolution (@kanbtr) today on Twitter and tell @US_FDA that not banning #BPA was a major #FAIL because #PlasticSucks. Find out more here.

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$6-a-gallon gas? Bring it on

March 19th, 2012

Photo via Flickr: Chris_Samuel

Long before I started writing this blog, a fresh-out-of-college environmentally minded young woman got into a heated political debate with her Republican uncle. It was 2003, the eve of the Iraq war, and gas prices had spiked dramatically. Their argument began when the young woman said she hoped that gas prices would continue to rise; it was the only way, she explained, that Americans would stop driving Hummers, start demanding more fuel-efficient cars, and begin to diminish our thirst for Mideast oil.

That’s insane, said her uncle. Regular people would be really hurt if the price of gas got too high. They wouldn’t be able to drive to work; the cost of food would skyrocket; people wouldn’t be able to feed their families.

Somewhere, there’s going to have to be a sacrifice, said the woman. Change doesn’t happen when people are comfortable.

You’re a crazy tree hugger, he said, and walked off in a huff.

Now, said tree hugger felt the sting of her uncle’s abrupt dismissal. She didn’t think her argument was crazy at all; if anything, it was extremely logical: The price of gas goes up, the market responds with more fuel efficient cars. The price of gas remains artificially subsidized, we never push toward a more sustainable future. What was so radical about that premise?

Nothing, as the passage of nearly a decade has shown. With gas inching toward $6 a gallon in some places, electric/hybrid car sales could triple in the next six years. President Obama is calling for an end to fossil fuel subsidies. Even said uncle is considering a hybrid for his next car.

But it was only this past weekend that the woman felt a moment of true validation. Now shopping for a hybrid car herself, she asked the car salesman how hybrid sales were faring at his dealership. The salesman didn’t hesitate.

Lots and lots of sales right now, he said. When the price of gas goes up, everyone comes in wanting hybrids. When the price of gas goes down, they look at regular cars again. If gas ever gets below $3 a gallon again, you can forget about the hybrids.

Yeah, well, I’m guessing that’s not the direction we’re really headed, said the woman lightheartedly. No, it’s not, said the salesman, chuckling in agreement. It most certainly is not.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Photo via Flickr: benketaro

Yesterday, I wrote a Huffington Post column about the high environmental cost of Valentine’s Day flowers. Not surprisingly, some people were less than thrilled with what I wrote — namely, people who love fresh cut flowers (which is most of us, sorry!), and people who make a living growing and/or selling flowers.

One commenter, kaseycronquist, had this to say:

…While it is certainly true that most of the roses purchased this valentine’s day will have originated from Colombia or Ecuador, Ms. Grayson fails to identify the origin of those “magnificent” calla lilies which may have in fact been grown locally. California is home to a handful of flower farms that grow calla’s for market, even the mass market. Your roses to callas example is the ol’ produce analogy, “apple to oranges.”

I also understand and appreciate the effort to grab the attention of consumers during a major floral holiday like Valentine’s Day, but stories like these need to better consider the facts and avoid such faulty generalizations as the examples you’ve provided.

There is a flower farming community in California that is working hard to compete against the imports you describe, they employ good people, sustainably grow beautiful flowers (like Calla lilies) and currently bring $10.3 billion dollars to California’s economic table.

I don’t think your a Vday Grinch, just misinformed and not providing your readers with the reality of their options. Ask for California Grown Flowers, look for the label when you shop, make sure you are getting America’s best source for high quality flowers for your special someone this Valentine’s Day.

…so enjoy those Callas, they could have been grown from the heart…in California!

Unfortunately, kaseycronquist failed to mention two things:

First, buying something that was made or grown in California doesn’t necessarily mean that it was done so sustainably; to wit, this ABC News report that touches on the California flower industry:

Most U.S. flower production occurs in California, where flowers and other ornamentals ranked sixth among all crops causing pesticide illnesses, according to data compiled by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. In San Mateo County, 23 percent of all pesticide poisonings occurred in the flower industry.

Among those poisonous pesticides? Methyl bromide, which the Environmental Protection Agency classifies as “highly toxic.” Even lower level chronic exposure can damage the nervous system, kidneys, lungs, and potentially cause cancer. Want to know what other chemicals are being used? Here’s the complete list from the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Pesticide Database.

The second essential piece of information kaseycronquist failed to highlight in the comments section: He is the CEO of the California Cut Flower Commission.

Now, Mr. Cronquist, I’m all for buying American-made, especially California-made. Heck, I live in Los Angeles! But until you find a way to move the industry away from the use of dangerous chemicals like methyl bromide and toward sustainable alternatives, instructing people to simply buy “America’s flowers” won’t be enough to cut it.

I welcome your response here.

–Jennifer Grayson

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The Keystone XL setup

January 19th, 2012

By now, you’ve likely heard the news that Pres. Obama has rejected the Keystone XL pipeline; though rejected may be too strong a word. Punted is more like it, since the pipeline’s builder, TransCanada, will be allowed to reapply for a new permit. But for now, it’s a victory, and everyone who protested and marched and called their Congressperson certainly deserves a thank you.

The Republicans deserved this, of course. They were the ones who placed a rider in the payroll tax cut extension forcing Obama to either reject or approve the pipeline by Feb. 21. What a ridiculously short and arbitrary deadline. Did they think Obama (and the State Department) would approve such a far-reaching project without having adequate time to study its potential risks?

The rub is: Of course not. It was a setup.

The Republicans put that provision in the legislation because they knew that Obama — or any sensible person, for that matter — would be forced to reject it, and then they could call him out for being a job-killer and make him look bad in his bid for reelection.

Nevermind that Cornell University says the pipeline could actually cost us jobs. Look for Republicans to stick to those ridiculously inflated TransCanada numbers in the months ahead.

Is anyone else insulted that the Republicans think we’re that stupid?

–Jennifer Grayson

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Photo via Flickr: MillionsAgainstMonsanto

Happy New Year! Or not: I had every intention of starting off 2012 with a bucket of rainbows, but first, some important — though lamentable — news that can’t be ignored (although most everyone else seem to have done just that; this news came out last week). Props to The San Francisco Chronicle for not letting what had seemed like a much-anticipated decision about whether to allow the planting of genetically modified alfalfa slip under the radar:

A federal judge has upheld the government’s decision to let the nation’s alfalfa growers plant the genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant strain manufactured by Monsanto Co., saying the alleged risk of contaminating other crops does not require regulators to impose buffer zones.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the use of Roundup Ready alfalfa — so named because it is designed to withstand Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide — in January 2011, ending a nationwide ban that another judge had imposed in March 2007.

The action was challenged by a group of alfalfa farmers who said they feared that the Monsanto product, spread by winds and bees, would pollinate their crops and take over their fields. Thursday, however, U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti of San Francisco said the USDA had acted within its authority.

Federal law does not require the department to “account for the effects of cross-pollination on other commercial crops” in assessing the risks posed by a new crop, Conti said.

Translation? GM alfalfa is free to blow around and contaminate (“cross-pollinate”) the fields of organic alfalfa (“other commercial crops”) that feed our nation’s organic dairy cows. USDA doesn’t have to worry about it. But you do: As Gaius Publius has reported over at Americablog, this could mean the end of organic, at least as we know it.

As of now, there are plans to appeal. I’ll keep you posted.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Time out + happy early holidays

November 18th, 2011

Photo via Flickr: 666isMONEY

A lot of environmentalists are the crystals-and-incense type. I’m not; you’re probably just as likely to hear me inquire after someone’s sign or use the expression raising consciousness as I am to eat a factory-farmed cheeseburger. (Which is to say, not very.)

So that’s why I’m kind of semi-cringing as I write this, but lately I feel like the universe is trying to tell me something.

Three different apartments in the space of six months. Four discrete insect infestations. A loss I’m not ready to write about yet. And a kitchen ceiling that two days ago started leaking water all over me at the very moment I took out my laptop to start working again after our move this past weekend.

This is not to say woe unto me; the world at large is a far crazier place right now, to be sure. An apartment full of moving boxes and bouncing crickets is still a more restful abode than a tent in Zuccotti Park (now a backpack on the Brooklyn Bridge?).

Still, I hope you’ll understand if I stop fighting the tide for a few weeks and take an early holiday break. I will still be working on a few exciting projects in the interim (though most important: enjoying time with my little one and getting our home in order), so I’ll have lots to share when I return after the New Year. Happy and healthy to you all–

–Jennifer Grayson

Some holiday posts you might enjoy from the archives:

Real or fake? Rent your tree instead
Holiday travel: Stay at an Energy Star hotel
Sustainably sweet potato pancakes
How to give gifts without giving ‘stuff’

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