Caring about the environment is patriotic.
January 28th, 2010
Of the 70 minutes that made up President Obama’s State of the Union address last night, he took about four — count ‘em, four — to focus on the environment and clean energy. I don’t want to hold it too much against him, though, since I thought the speech was quite moving, and accomplished its goal of reassuring an angry and disillusioned American public that the promise of hope the president campaigned on hasn’t been completely lost in the mire of Washington politics.
Still, with the focus on jobs, jobs, jobs, it’s a bit of wonder to me why there wasn’t a more extended look at the clean energy economy that’s going to create all those jobs, and green collar jobs in particular.
Here’s my play-by-play of the highlights (and lowlights) from those four minutes:
Obama is referring to the $16 billion allocated by the American Reinvestment Recovery Act for research — including $2 billion for the Department of Energy. No argument from me here: A country that leads the way in affordable solar technology is the country that’s going to create a lot of jobs at home and generate a lot of income from exports.
Eh. Don’t know how I feel about this one. Nuclear power is controversial and far from perfect, but I’m becoming slightly (and I mean slightly) more open to the possibility that if we want to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change, those of us with qualms about radioactive waste may have to reconsider.
Wait, what? How can this be Obama’s third point to make about clean energy, and before a mention of alternative fuels? Methinks I smell concessions for a climate bill…
Like the advanced biofuels part; not so thrilled about the perpetuation of the oxymoronic clean coal myth.
Will the Senate finally make good on the bill the House passed last year? If the president’s points above are any clue, I guess yes — with some concessions to the Republicans. Though seeing as how the Republicans actually cheered when Obama called out “those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change,” the senators may have their work cut out for them.
Do this now: Don’t let the Senate back down on passing climate legislation that really means something. Click here to find out how to contact your senator.
January 27th, 2010
Note: This was originally published on Nov. 30, 2009. I thought it’d be helpful to re-post, in light of my HuffPost Eco Etiquette column today on how to avoid sneaky sources of BPA.
Now that Meatless Monday has morphed into most-of-the-week meatless for me, soup has become my go-to lunch. It’s easy, it’s cheap, and, paired with a bit of cheese, some Ryvita crackers, and a piece of fruit, keeps me going until dinner. I try to make a big, hot pot of something veggie every Sunday (enough lentil soup for an entire week costs about $3 if you make it from dried beans), but inevitably, my to-do list gets overly ambitious and I find myself hustling by Whole Foods on my Monday morning walk to pick up a couple of canned soups at $1.99 a pop.
That’s still a relatively cheap lunch, but there are two problems with this: a) I’m supposed to be boycotting Whole Foods (I know, I know; I’m now doing the majority of my shopping at farmers markets and Trader Joe’s, but if I’m in a pinch and the choice is between buying organic at Whole Foods or conventional elsewhere, you can bet I’m doing the former); and b) it turns out that a lot of canned food is loaded with toxic chemical BPA.
So I was thrilled to discover Dr. McDougall’s, a fabulous line of vegan soups that come in BPA-free cartons manufactured from Forest Stewardship Council–certified paper. And the best part is, they’re are sold at dozens of conventional grocery stores (read: buh-bye, WF!). I’ve tried the lentil, black bean, and vegetable so far, and I’ve got to say, while they aren’t as soul-satisfying as the home-cooked version, they’re the best packaged soup I’ve ever tasted. The ingredients, too, are darn-near spartan: The lentil soup contains lentils, organic vegetables, organic brown rice, potato starch, and spices.
You can also order the soups by the case online, which will be great backup for me the next time my coconut mung bean soup plans get sidelined.
Do this now: Didn’t go meatless for all your meals this past Monday? Swap out two regular lunches this week for a vegetarian soup.
January 26th, 2010
I have to admit, I was underwhelmed by a lot of the green products at the Go Green Expo last Friday. It’s not Go Green Expo’s fault — the show was certainly jam-packed with all the latest and greatest eco-gadgets and whatnots — but seeing row upon row of bamboo tote bags and BPA-free water bottles made me wonder: Is green consumer an oxymoron? All this stuff is green, but it is just stuff, after all. Aren’t we going to have to move away from a consumption-based economy to achieve true sustainability? (I asked this very question at the Build Green, Grow Profits panel I attended.)
That being said, I don’t want to be a total buzzkill for those of you who didn’t get to go to the show and pass judgment on all that green gear: There was one really cool product that caught my eye, mostly for the Wow, will people really go this green? factor. Green people, I give you PeopleTowels!
Made of 100 percent organic cotton, the PeopleTowel is a personal hand towel to use in lieu of paper towels or those energy-sucking dryers in public restrooms. The eco stats are impressive, and could really add up if enough people made the switch: Use PeopleTowels for a year, and you’ll reduce landfill waste by 23 pounds and save 250 gallons of water.
Evidently, personal hand towels have been all the rage in germ-phobic Japan for decades, but I am curious to see how the American market reacts. While I’ll enjoy looping my PeopleTowel around my Kleen Kanteen to tote with me to my Kundalini yoga class (how annoying am I?), I can’t really imagine my husband shlepping one of these around in his jeans pocket every day. Then again, we don’t live in New York City anymore, where we had to deal with disgusting public restrooms day in and day out. PeopleTowels are green and clean — that’s twice the motivation.
Do this now: Spread the word — buy a PeopleTowel or two online and use it proudly the next time you hit a public restroom.
January 25th, 2010
I now eat vegetarian 75 percent of the time. My husband, while he’s embraced Meatless Monday and definitely reduced the amount of meat in his diet (thanks, in part, to my trick of buying smaller cuts of meat and filling the void with more veggies and complex carbs), isn’t quite ready to eat vegetarian dinners three nights a week. But since we cook almost every night, it’s been a real challenge finding a way to feed us both without having to preparing two separate meals.
My friend Andrea has the same dilemma, and she came up with this brilliant solution: To avoid cooking two meals, she makes dinners where the meat can easily be added, like a vegetarian pasta dish with a few meatballs on the side for him, or a grilled vegetable medley where he’ll throw on a steak and she’ll add a meaty portobello. No muss, no fuss, and either partner can easily cook this way for the other.
Since I mentioned this tip on HuffPost last week, several people have asked for more meal suggestions. (I guess I’m not the only one out there who’s half of a vegetarian/omnivore couple.) You asked for it, you got it! (Toyota?)
Individual pizzas. Buy ready-made personal-sized pizza crusts, and let family members add their own mix of toppings: sliced pepperoni for the meat-eaters, and mixed veggies for you.
Homemade soup. Whip up a big batch of lentil soup, and cook a few sausages on the side that can be sliced and added to individual servings. This works with almost any soup: Make a side of shredded chicken for vegetarian tortilla soup, chunks of pancetta for split pea, or chop up a little smoked kielbasa for a kale and white bean stew.
Chopped salad. Depending on what’s in season, toss together a hearty chopped salad to which you can later add chicken or grilled shrimp. My favorite is based on a recipe from one of my favorite lunch spots in LA, Toast Bakery Cafe (romaine, tomatoes, jicama, corn, garbanzo beans, avocado, and mozzarella). Don’t forget to serve with crusty bread and plenty of butter.
Do this now: For more recipe ideas, check out The Adaptable Feast: Satisfying Meals for the Vegetarians, Vegans, and Omnivores at Your Table (Sasquatch Books, 2009).
January 23rd, 2010
Tomorrow is supposed to be the first sunny day in Los Angeles after a brutal week of storms, so I know it might be a bit hard to persuade you to spend some time indoors; but the Go Green Expo only comes to LA once a year, and that once a year is this weekend. Everything has to dry out anyway, and it’s going to be sunny for months on end now — come on, you really don’t want to miss this.
I went yesterday (B2B and press day only) so I could give you all a sneak-preview, and while I certainly had fun nibbling my share of fair-trade chocolate and checking out the new 2010 Honda Insight, I really think the speaker panels are where it’s at. The one I attended was moderated by Planet 100 host Sarah Backhouse and featured eco-futurist John Picard, and I was really inspired to hear Picard’s message of working to become a green “rock star” in whatever field of work you’re in. If you’re already doing what you love, whether it’s running a restaurant or walking dogs, then fabulous — use that as your platform to raise environmental awareness.
The speaker schedule for today and Sunday promises to be equally as stellar and even more eco-star-studded: Ed Begley Jr., Mariel Hemingway, Mayim Bialik, Paul Pelosi, and Anna Getty, to name a few. And while you’re waiting to see them, you can check out the 300-plus booths showcasing cool green products and companies, take a free yoga class, see films from the Blue Planet Film Festival, or grab some local fare and a tipple at the restaurant and wine tasting pavilion.
Tickets are available at the door for $10 (weekend pass); children under 12 are free. If you don’t live in LA, don’t fret — the Go Green Expo comes to New York City, Philadelphia, and Atlanta later this year.
January 22nd, 2010
Last night, Ben Stiller stopped by Conan O’Brien’s second-to-last Tonight Show to lend a little moral support, calling out NBC in the process for wasting $50 million worth of resources on a studio that will only have been used for seven months. Of course, the fake green PSA was hilarious as all get-out, but Stiller raises an important point — is NBC really going to trash this studio once the final curtain comes down?
[Watch video on Hulu]
This obviously wasn’t a night about eco-correctness, though, considering the mink Snuggie-wearing thoroughbred that Conan trotted out on the show earlier that evening.
Do this now: Ben Stiller isn’t all fun and games; he and his Stillerstrong charity are working hard to raise money for the victims in Haiti. You can donate by credit card or text via the website.
January 21st, 2010
By the end of this week, four severe storms will have pummeled Southern California, flooding the streets with rain as heavy as 3/4 inch per hour and even producing a tornado that touched down in Huntington Beach (how’s that for evidence of climate change?). The rain is pounding on my roof as I write this, and all I can think is, what a waste.
The city of Los Angeles spends $1 billion a year importing water from far-flung sources like the Colorado River, and half of that potable water is used to irrigate people’s lawns. Does anyone see the irony here? Millions of gallons of water are pouring from the sky right now — for free — in an area of the country that has been suffering a severe drought for the past three years. And we’re just letting it all wash out to sea. With all the motor oil, pesticides, trash, and animal waste it picked up along the way, I might add.
While the city has taken great pains to save water with its two-day-only lawn watering rule, and should be applauded for helping residents to cut water consumption by 17 percent last year, I’m amazed that rainwater collection hasn’t been seriously enlisted as part of the solution. The annual rainfall in LA averages 15.5 inches; if every home in the city could harvest this, it would equal 9,600 gallons per home a year — that’s nearly a quarter of the water a year used to irrigate a 1,000-square-foot lawn.
LA started a rainwater harvesting program in July of last year, but it’s in the pilot stage and only includes 600 property owners. We can only hope that the city hustles up and expands the program to harvest our precious rainwater. Climate scientists are predicting that America’s Southwest is only becoming drier, and we’re going to need to save every last drop.
Do this now: Click here to read how to capture rainwater yourself, courtesy of environmental nonprofit TreePeople.
January 18th, 2010
When your Meatless Monday meals start to get a bit predictable, there’s no better place to spark kitchen creativity than your local farmers market. Of course, with nearly 100 certified farmers markets in Los Angeles County every week, I’m never short on inspiration. Check out the Meatless Monday lunch I put together during a recent trip to the grandaddy of all farmers markets, the Hollywood Farmers Market (there’s nothing you can’t find there: heirloom green zebra tomatoes, organic quail eggs, raw milk butter from grass-fed cows, fresh-shucked oysters — yum!).
[Watch video on Vimeo]
Farmers Market Frisée Salad
One small head frisée lettuce, washed and torn into large pieces
Place frisée in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper until dressing is emulsified. Toss lettuce gently with dressing and divide between two plates. Sprinkle equal amounts of goat cheese and candied walnuts onto each salad.
In the meantime, heat butter in skillet over medium-high heat. When pan is hot, crack both eggs in pan and fry until yolk is just firm but not hard. Place one egg on the center of each salad and serve immediately.
Do this now: For more recipe ideas, check out this Monday’s menu on the Meatless Monday website.
January 15th, 2010
Warning: If you’re a man who didn’t grow up with sisters, you may be a bit squeamish when it comes to the following topic; but stay with me — this is important stuff.
When trolling the feminine care aisle, most of us give little thought to the matter at hand beyond how to get rid of those cramps and preferred absorbency. Judging by the plethora of plastic out there, the environment isn’t much of a consideration, either, despite the fact that 12 billion pads and tampons are sent to US and Canadian landfills every year. But in developing nations like Rwanda, menstruation is a matter of survival: Millions of girls and women miss up to 50 days of school or work a year because they can’t afford to buy sanitary pads.
One woman, Harvard Business School grad Elizabeth Scharpf, has come up with a way to change all this, and to do it in a way that actually helps the environment: sanitary pads made from trash-bound banana-tree fibers. As if this weren’t amazing enough, Scharpf and her Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) organization are working to help Rwandan women set up their own businesses manufacturing these pads. (Farmers benefit, too — they now get paid for those banana-tree fibers that were once thrown out.)
This is world-changing stuff: Scharpf shared the stage with Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus and President Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative last September.
I came across Scharpf’s story in the February issue of Marie Claire, but that article is not online, unfortunately. Read more about the incredible work Scharpf and her team are doing by visiting the SHE blog.
Do this now: The average woman throws away between 10,000 and 15,000 tampons, pads, and applicators over her lifetime. Believe it or not, there are eco-friendly options out there that don’t suck. Keep an open mind, and check out some cool alternatives here.
January 14th, 2010
Of the five wacky going-green tips I offered up on HuffPost last week, none has evoked as much of an “ick” response as #2: Stop using shampoo.
As it turns out, the friend who originally offered up that tip wrote me to say that she has since abandoned her efforts. Evidently, it’s a three-month adjustment period, and she just couldn’t stand looking like a greasy rat anymore. Her compromise, since she didn’t want to have to start buying plastic bottles of shampoo again? The shampoo bar.
I’m intrigued. The thing that’s always bothered me about “eco-friendly” shampoos is that although the formulations themselves are kinder to our bodies and our waterways, there’s no getting around that plastic bottle. Even if the bottle is made from recycled materials and is itself recyclable, there’s still an energy cost associated with both of those processes, and the fact remains that a whopping 73 percent of HDPE bottles are not recycled. (HDPE, also known as #2 plastic, is what’s most commonly used for shampoo bottles.)
It’s one of the reasons I use bar soap instead of body wash, which I think is just plain wasteful (my husband, who adores the scrubbing action of the body wash/mesh puff combo, strongly disagrees). So why not shampoo in bar form? I’m excited to test it out. Here are a few that look tempting:
Burts Bees Rosemary Mint Shampoo Bar
Lush Hard Water Shampoo Bar
J.R. Liggetts Old-Fashioned Bar Shampoo
Stay tuned to hear how my foray into bar shampoo turns out. And if you already have a bar shampoo you use and love, please post about it in the comments below!
Do this now: You may not be ready to give up your Pantene Sleek and Shine, but consider switching from bottles of body wash to bar soap. It’s pretty painless, and you’ll help reduce the more than 2 billion tons of HDPE bottles sent to the landfills each year.