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Archive for the ‘Green Living’ Category

 1876711558_74d4c6bd29Photo by: random letters

It had been many years since I last went camping, but in the last few months I have been aching for more time in the mountains surrounded by trees. Living on the coast in Southern California makes it difficult to get my dose of green, so I’ve been pestering hubby for weeks to take me camping. Finally we made the time to go the other weekend. We packed up all our stuff, put the dog in the back and headed off to the mountains for a couple of days hiking. Even though I knew I wanted to love camping, I wasn’t really sure how I was going to like it. Thankfully I loved every minute of it and I think there were a couple of important lessons that could be integrated back into my everyday life:

  • Making do with what we we have. While camping, we only have limited amounts of food and water. Being happy eating from our limited stores is a good mental skill to have.
  • Enjoying the simple things. Building a fire, practicing on the slackline or making a coffee over the camp stove can all be lessons in living in the moment and enjoying the simple things.
  • Remaining flexible. On our first day of hiking, our dog was not well. After one and a half hour hours of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail she simply stopped and would not get up again. Hubby had to put her over his shoulders (all 62 pounds or 28kg) and carried her out. Thankfully we weren’t too far from a road, so I sat with her in the shade while hubby went back for the car. Our day of hiking was somewhat ruined, but conducting a medical evacuation for our dog was a good lesson in remaining flexible to changing conditions.

Since getting back to our everyday life, I’ve been dreaming of heading back to the mountains. Unfortunately we don’t have any weekends free at the moment, but later this month we plan to spend a week in Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming…camping all the way. I can’t wait.

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I’ve been very quiet in the blogging world this week. Instead I have been doing lots of reading and lots of planning. I’ve devoured countless documentaries, articles and a whole book this week as I was searching for more information on peak oil. The Crash Course I watched last weekend set something off in me. I had been downshifting to a simpler life, but somehow after all this reading it all seems all the more important that we prepare for a life with less fossil fuels. It suddenly became very clear that the next 20 years are going to be completely unlike the last 20 years, and I want to prepare myself for that. I’m sure I’ll expand more on what I’m thinking, but here’s a quick list of what I’ve been doing this week.

  • I made the very big decision to sell the remainder of my shares. I’ve sold them for quite a loss and I’ll leave the reasoning to a separate post.
  • I’ve prepared a shopping list for a stockpile of food and equipment in the case of disaster. After seeing those terrible fires rip through the southern parts of Australia while the north dealt with cyclones (hurricanes) and mass flooding I thought I really should get myself prepared to deal with a similar situation. I live in Southern California where huge fires or an earthquake are not impossibilities. I rather be self sufficient and perhaps have enough for friends if the power goes out or the shelves run bare.
  • We have our garden cleared and tilled ready for the heirloom vegetable seeds I ordered last week. I can’t wait to get started.
  • I shared my thoughts and plans with my best friend. I was expecting her to call me crazy, but she is completely on the same page. I’m so thankful I now have someone else in my real life to talk to about such things. I’ve also been planting the seeds for more in-depth conversations with both my parents. My sister is a lost cause for the moment.
  • We’ve been doing more by hand. I’m more vigilant about not using the dryer so I went without certain clothes during the recent rains. We’ve also been hand-washing the dishes for the last week. They are small steps, but I feel like I’m setting myself on the path of increased resilience if I had to do without certain luxuries like a dishwasher.
  • We’ve been making meals completely from scratch. No jars, no canned foods. Just dried staples such as flour, oats, sugar, legumes and fresh produce which comes from the farmers market as much as possible. We’ve actually enjoyed the challenge of preparing a meal with what we have at hand rather than rushing off to the grocery store for specific ingredients.
  • We’ve spent next to nothing in the last few weeks. I ride my bike to work and the car has not needed gas, our diet of making do has reduced the cost of groceries, and our entertainment has consisted of free activities like hikes in nature, book clubs, free matinee movies and a home-cooked dinner party with friends.
  • We are also starting to go to local events in our community regarding renewable energy, water conservation, gardening and composting. Just meeting like minded people has been such a boost.

Photo by: h.koppdelaney

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2085541144_b925053054_mThis weekend I have been completely engrossed in watching The Crash Course, which is Chris Martensen’s best attempt to explain exactly how we got into this economic crisis. 

While The Crash Course is divided into small video sections of 3-18 minutes each, the whole thing runs just over 3 hours. We had it on DVD and watched the whole thing from beginning to end. While I already knew many of the themes in this presentation (Economic slump, Peak Oil, Environmental Problems, Baby Boomer Retirement, World Overpopulation), I found The Crash Course  an excellent way of summarizing it all and showing how they all relate.  

I’ve been dedicated to downshifting during the last few months, but somehow becoming aware of all this information has made the task more imperative and urgent for me. As I digest all of this more fully, I’m sure I’ll share my thoughts over the coming weeks and months.

If any of you have already seen this presentation, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Photo by: azrainman

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Valentines Day is just over one week away. Typically, Hubby and I don’t do gifts on Valentines Day but if you do, please consider what your gift really means. After Christmas, Valentine’s Day is the holiday that causes the most damage to the environment and exploitation of human health and well-being. 

Chocolates

Six chocolate manufacturers process half of the globe’s cocoa, giving them tremendous leverage to dictate prices and conditions experienced by farmers. As a result of this hyper-consolidation, conditions in the cocoa-growing world tend to be wretched. In the Ivory Coast, where 40% of the world’s cocoa beans are grown, cocoa farms often run on forced child labor

Fair trade chocolate organizations work to ensure the certified chocolate you buy does not involve slave labor, is pesticide-free, grown and manufactured without genetically modified ingredients, and farmers and cocoa workers receive fair wages. Global Exchange reports currently less than 1% of the $13 billion dollar chocolate market is fair trade certified. Go to GlobalExchangeStore to find organic and fair-trade gifts from small, sustainable farms.

Flowers

Flowers have an ugly side most consumers don’t know about. Approximately 40,000 flower workers in Ecuador and more than 100,000 in Colombia work to grow, harvest, and package flowers and carnations for North Americans. Flowers are one of the top pesticide-intensive agricultural crops. The Green Book estimates if all the roses purchased for Valentine’s Day in the USA were organically grown, it would prevent the use of 22,700 pounds of pesticides. One report also indicates that flower workers experience higher-than-average rates of premature births, congenital malformations and miscarriages.

A greener gift choice would be to consider a native potted plant from your local nursery or buy organic flowers from one of these local growers.

Gift cards

Each time you purchase a card made from non-recycled paper you are contributing to the erosion of forests. More than 370 million tons of paper products are used each year in the world. The paper trade is considered to be a non-sustainable industry because there are not enough wood resources to continue to supply global paper demand indefinitely. 93% of paper still comes directly from trees.

Cards made from sustainable materials like hemp, animal dung, cotton rags, hosiery cuttings, bananas, flowers and straw are just a few of the materials papermakers around the world recycle into tree-free cards and paper. Why not try Smockpaper for all your gift cards. All their cards are printed sustainably on pesticide-free bamboo paper and 1% of all sales go to environmental causes.

Photo by: lay d lay

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Since Hubby and I are home for the entire month and not traveling anywhere, I’ve decided to get involved with a monthly challenge over at Crunchy Chicken. The challenge this month is to reduce the amount of food waste in our household. 

We don’t deliberately waste food and we always make an effort to turn food which is on its way out into something edible. Inevitably though, we forget some feta cheese in the back of the fridge or find some old rubbery celery in the crisper weeks after it resembled anything edible. Thankfully we have a dog who eats almost anything so most of our waste isn’t going into landfill and once we have our compost system up and running, we’ll eliminate any food going to landfill at all. That’s not really the point though, wasted food is still a waste of money and a waste of energy. A lot of energy has gone into the growing and transporting of our food and throwing it out just means our environmental impact is higher than it needs to be.  

Ok, so what will we be doing this month? It’s pretty simple. Our goal is to try to reduce the amount of food we throw out, feed to the dog or put into the compost. We’ll keep track of the food that we have and make sure that it gets eaten or preserved before it goes bad and needs to be disposed. It will take a little planning, some organization and the willingness to be creative, but I’m sure we are up for it. 

Our first job yesterday was to go through the fridge and cupboards to see what’s getting close to its expiry date or is starting to go off. Here’s what I threw out:

  • Two bottles of salad dressing
  • A tube of sundried tomato paste
  • Two packets of Starbucks coffee (Didn’t even know I had them)
  • Half a bottle of very old Coca-Cola (from a party last June)
  • Quarter of a bottle of Powerade (from our trip back from Central America a month ago!)
  • Half a bunch of baby spinach 
  • Baby potatoes gone to seed
  • Dried apricots
  • A whole collection of interesting things given to us by friends as they left (pickled onions, jello, gravy mix, food collouring etc)

Here’s what’s close to expiring and which we’ll need to eat up soon:

  • Two boxes of cereal and oats
  • Gravox
  • Bread crumbs
  • Custard powder
  • Feta cheese
  • Tinned fruit
  • Long-life milk
  • Green Apples

I’m amazed at how much stuff I had to throw away. It was really quite painful, but I think it was a very necessary step to start the month with a clean slate. Now we just need to come up with some recipes to use up what’s soon to go off and then be more mindful of what we buy and eat for the rest of the month.

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Earlier this week, Hubby and I attended a local presentation on Electric Vehicles by an affiliate of the Electric Auto Association (EAA). Hubby is quite keen to learn how to convert an ordinary motor vehicle into an electric car, and I went along as an interested observer. While we don’t need a second car while we are living here in the USA, we both think it will make a great project for when we return to Australia. As luck would have it, we found out that there is a course running later this year which will provide hubby with two weeks of hands on experience in conducting the conversion. I think he’s just a little bit excited about getting his hands dirty again.

who-killed-the-electric-carSome time last year we watched the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car. Much of what we learned in that movie was discussed at this weeks presentation, so I thought I’d provide a quick overview.

The movie deals with the history of the electric car, mostly focusing on the General Motors EV1 which was made available for lease in Southern California after the California Air Resources Board passed the Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) mandate in 1990. The movie also looks at the implications for air pollution, environmentalism, Middle East politics and global warming.

The film details the California Air Resources Board’s reversal of the mandate after lawsuits from automobile manufacturers, the oil industry and the George W. Bush administration.

The film discusses some of the reasons that the auto and oil industries worked to kill off the electric car and explores the future of automobile technologies including a deeply critical look at hydrogen vehicles and an upbeat discussion of plug-in hybrid electric vehicle technologies. ~Wiki

California is now planning to re-introduce a regulation mandating more highly fuel-efficient vehicles. This could come into force as soon as the federal government grants the state a waiver from less-stringent national standards. The rule would require automakers to produce vehicles that cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2016, resulting in an average vehicle fuel-efficiency of 35.7 miles per gallon – far higher than the current federal standard of 27.5 mpg for cars and 22.3 mpg for SUVs and light trucks.

The rule had been delayed by the Bush administration since 2005 but on Monday, President Obama ordered his environmental officials to immediately review California’s regulation, strongly hinting that he would like to allow the state and 13 others to move forward with stricter emissions standards.

It’s quite exciting to be living in California at this time. I truly hope we see the comeback of the electric car in the near future. It would be nice to live without the constant smog.

 

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In yesterday’s post I listed Sustainability Changes That Save Money which we have managed to successfully include in our life. Today I need to admit that there are many, mnay things that we need to improve upon.

  • Barter and trade with neighbors and friends.

[D] I’ve thought about it…does that count? Yesterday, Hubby and I were actually brainstorming some ways we could do some of this inthe near future.

  • Utilize Freecycle, Craigs List, and other local free exchanges.

[C] We use these where possible. It’s only been a recent pledge to buy pre-loved instead of new, so the habits are not yet ingrained.

  • Shop at thrift stores and garage sales, and arrange clothing swaps with friends and family.

[C] I swap clothes with family and have shopped at thrifts stores in the past, but it isn’t a big part of my life now. I think I’m 90% ready to say no to new clothes for the remainder of this year. I’ll get there soon, I’m sure.

  • Buy in bulk: buy from bulk bins at your local market, buy large quantities of staples via special order from your local market or online, buy a whole case which generally comes with a case discount, and buy large packages of food you use regularly. If buying in bulk leaves you with too much food, go in on the purchase with a friend or set up a community buying club.

[C] We buy bulk sugar, flour, beans and oats from Costco as well as canned goods. Honesly I think there is more that we could be doing in this area, and we plan to explore it further this year.

  • Buy fruit and vegetable seconds and day old bakery items.  

[D] We don’t go out of our way to do this.

  • Pick your own produce at a local farm.

[C] Where possible we buy at the local Farmer’s Market, however we need to embrace this more

  • Grow your own food.

[D] We have straw bales to start our own Straw Bale vegetable garden, but at the moment they are just growing grass.

  • Learn to preserve food by canning, drying, root cellaring, freezing, and pickling.  

[C] So far I’ve tried tomato relish and orange marmalade. I intend to experiment more when we have extra food in our own garden.

  • Make your own cleaning and body products from simple and cheap ingredients like vinegar, baking soda/bicarb, hydrogen peroxide, corn starch, cooking oil, lemon juice, and water.  

[D] We’ve used vinegar for cleaning, but haven’t tried any of these other remedies yet.

  • Unplug or turn off power switches to appliances when not in use, to save electricity.

[C]We turn off lights and appliances if they aren’t in use, but we really need to get power boards so that our appliances aren’t inadvertently sucking electricity.

  • Reduce shower times, bathe less often, and use bath water to water outdoor plants and flush toilets.

[C] We are concious of reducing the water we use, but haven’t yet started to monitor our actual usage.

  • Use coupons.  I recently bought a book of coupons for local shopping.  

[D] Not something we’ve even looked at yet.

I guess this is now a good opportunity to start working on bringing more of these elements into our lives.

Photo by: bitzcelt

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