Archive for January, 2008

John Edwards: More Grit Than Gloss

I’m sad that John Edwards has exited the presidential race. Why? I saw his as the most honest and courageous voice on the national stage, between his populist stand against poverty, naming corporate greed for what it is, and . . . imagine this . . . promoting that Americans should be willing to sacrifice as we address global warming.

I heard Mr. Edwards use those words when I was ten feet away from him at a Portland Business Alliance dinner in 2007 at the Oregon Convention Center. I have heard many speakers and been around many politicians. Yet I was deeply impressed. He was more gritty than glossy, almost in contrast to his good looks.

Mr. Edwards has called Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama with the news of his exit, specifically asking them to commit to addressing poverty more in their campaigns. I find it ironic that the populist candidate who stood most firmly for the common man ended up sacrificing his popularity in the process.

What almost nobody is talking about is the fact that poor people will suffer the most as global warming advances, and already are in the low-lying coastal areas of the world.

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Focus The Nation: Largest Teach-In In U.S. History

This Thursday evening my husband and I will participate in Focus The Nation, a nonpartisan teach-in and movement to address global warming that has been embraced by Barack Obama, Arnold Schwarznegger and more than 1,600 campuses nationwide.

This makes it the largest teach-in in our nation’s history, which I’d say is a right-sized strategy to deal with the largest problem we’ve ever faced.

Our friends Eban Goodstein, an economics professor, and his wife Chungin have worked (volunteered) their tails off for eighteen months to organize this national teach-in and dialogue with elected politicians about global warming solutions for the U.S.

Do you want effective action on climate change instead of just more and more descriptions of the problem? I suggest you get involved in Focus The Nation, too. If you’re in the Portland, Oregon area then get your free ticket to the January 31st evening event at University of Portland’s Chiles Center. Other locations, click here to see what’s happening near you.

Cooking For Climate Change, Part 2

My husband Thor and I love to have people over for dinner. At the same time I’m addicted to sociability, I ‘m also passionate about choosing food with the smallest possible carbon footprint (similar to ’embodied energy’). Our guests keep coming back, so I gather our cooking tastes pretty good.

Here are the major guidelines we use:

  • Buying local food lowers carbon footprint more than the ‘organic’ label
    Example: Australian wine doesn’t make the cut for Oregonians
  • Build meals around what’s in season where you live
    Examples: citrus & avocados in Sun Belt; salmon & pears in Northwest
  • Avoid frozen food (freezing uses a lot of energy)
  • Exception: unless frozen food clearly reduces your car-trips to the store
  • Meat holds huge embodied energy, i.e. fossil fuel inputs
  • So, use meat sparingly as an accent or not at all
  • Build meals around pasta, beans, lentils, and whole grains
  • Right-size our servings of food
  • I.e., a normal serving of pasta is the size of one’s fist

Sidebar: When it comes to a quick bite out, we find that Burgerville is very diligent about sourcing from local farmers. And I understand they treat their employees well, too.

Cooking For Climate Change, Part 1

Last night some friends and I had one of our periodic ‘Green Girls’ dinner parties at my friend Colleen’s house. We had a blast sharing news, laughter, viewpoints and encouragement around sustainability. Colleen’s meatless eggplant mousakka was a hit.

We all eat more than 1,000 meals a year, for a big percentage of our carbon footprint. If we want to lighten our carbon footprint, the principle to embrace is that heating anything is a surprisingly big deal. It burns the fossil fuels that releases global warming gases. So if we’re cooking to combat climate change, we want to conserve heat at every turn. Some tips: (please write in with your own, too)

 

  • Make and post on fridge a list of your favorite no-cook meals
  • Examples: tuna salad, tasty sandwiches, crackers & cheese w/ fruit
  • Defrost any frozen foods before cooking them
  • Cook double amounts to create meals you can quickly reheat later
  • Use a stovetop burner no larger than the pan (40% of heat can be wasted otherwise)
  • Cover anything cooking on stovetop with a lid to conserve heat
  • Copper, glass and ceramic all conserve energy better than metal pans
  • When food is close to done, turn off and let coast on existing heat
  • Cook and eat with others whenever possible! — to cultivate community as much as to conserve energy

Coming up next: conserving embodied energy in Cooking For Climate Change, Part 2.

I Have A Dream — 2008 Update

Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream: that America could rise above the selfish institution of segregation. The dream seemed hopelessly idealistic. Too many people in power benefited from segregation, and were willing to violently defend it.

What if Dr. King were alive today? I am convinced his dream would embrace sustainability, i.e. living in a way that ensures future generations can also live. Everything he stood for supports such a vision. Yet this ‘2008 dream’ seems hopelessly idealistic. Americans — 4% of the world’s population — are too busily consuming 25% of the earth’s resources, while global warming marches forward, essentially unaddressed by our government.

Dr. King’s original dream turned out to be surprisingly realistic. As we all know, segregation ended. Less well known is the cost of realizing Dr. King’s dream, which was sacrifices all around. King’s followers had to sacrifice their safety as they used his disciplined tactics of nonviolence even as they were attacked. Those who benefited from segregation had to sacrifice the privileges they enjoyed at the expense of others, and ought never have had in the first place.

The reality of dreams: no sacrifices, no dream fulfillment.

Willingness to sacrifice is a holy fire, and Dr. King carried that fire. While I don’t know exactly what our nation’s sacrifices for sustainability will look like, I know in my heart that we are capable of tapping into the holy fire that consumes our selfishness in service to the greater good.

Dr. King said he had a dream that one day America’s children could be judged not by the color of their skins but by the content of their characters. I say the updated 2008 dream is that people, and also companies, can be judged — and motivated — not by their wealth but by the well-being they create for future generations.

That the idea of sacrificing any of our material wealth for such a dream currently feels so foreign and unattractive to us is an indication of how far we have to go. But look at the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream of integration to see the joy and justice that sacrifice can yield.


The Happy Land Of Both/And

Today’s post is a brief one as I sit here at Stumptown Coffee in southeast Portland, Oregon. I’m sipping from a real mug instead of a disposable cup. Have you ever noticed how much more sensual the porcelain feels against your lips than a flimsy paper cup? How pleasing its warm weight is in the palm of your chilly hand on a winter morning?

It turns me on, to be honest.

Which brings me to the land of both/and. The mug is both the more sustainable choice for the earth AND the more pleasing one for the individual. The idea of having to choose EITHER the green path OR the fun path is often a false dichotomy. Don’t buy into it. Think both/and.

Which brings me to my recommendation of the day: the blogsite of a very cool guy in New York City practicing a low-carbon lifestyle. He believes in both individual action and larger political action to effect the changes we need to keep this whole civilization experiment on its feet. He’s also quirky and funny. Visit him at No Impact Man.

Get The Candidates On Topic, Please!

As I’m following the primaries, two things keep coming to mind: why isn’t global warming central to the problems the candidates are addressing? And why aren’t we and the media expecting more courage and leadership from them on such an obvious problem?

Newspapers nattering about likability reminds me of the guys rearranging the deck chairs as the Titanic was sinking. The largest scientific consensus that the world has ever seen (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is clear that polar icecaps are melting and inundated coastlines will create millions of refugees. On the solution side, there is huge opportunity in the economic transformation needed to move out of fossil fuel dependency. But the candidates give this the tiniest lip service, if that.

Whichever candidates we like or dislike, we citizens and the media should be pressing all the candidates on aggressive responses to climate change. Scratch that: we should be pressing everyone currently in office to make it a top priority.

The last time I was in a public forum with one of my senators from Oregon, I locked eyes with him and said, “Senator Smith, what is your plan for dealing with global warming?”

His answer came down to a dissembling minimization of the problem and a fear that if other countries in effect don’t go first, the U.S. will lose economically. It wasn’t a debate forum so I didn’t argue, but my hard eyes may have indicated I wasn’t buying it.

Later, a governmental affairs officer from a major Oregon company told me I had kicked Senator Smith’s butt. That such a mild confrontation would be seen as a strong one speaks worlds to what minimal courage we are mustering thus far from both our politicians and ourselves on dealing with the hardest problem in our world.