Archive for March, 2008

Green Girls Take On CRAG

I think many perceive green wonky people to be grim, austere Puritan types. But my experience is quite different from that. Here’s what my dining room sounded like (loosely translated) last night when my Green Girls social circle came over for dinner. I was proposing a CRAG to them as I had planned.

Micki: “So what’s this CRAG thing? A guy I can date?”

Me: “No, honey, it’s a Carbon Rationing Action Group. We would support each other on using less energy and driving alone less.”

Colleen: “I want to do it.”

Micki: “Easy for you to say; you’re already married. I need to meet Craigs and Toms and . . . ”

Vicki: “But I love hot water, I’m addicted to baths. I would need a whole new twelve-step group. How would that fit into my schedule?”

Noelle: “We do all these things to reduce our footprint at my house but we never measure it. And I want to measure it. So I’m in.”

Me: “Great! So Colleen and Noelle and I are in.”

Vicki: “I’m afraid if I joined I would get a bad grade, like a C minus.”

Me: “No, sweetie, it’s not judgmental. You’re having that PTSD thing from grade school again.”

Vicki: “But still! Why don’t you just copy me on the CRAG emails.”

Laurie: “Hey, weren’t you going to invite Jane from your carpool into Green Girls?”

Me: “Well! She said last week that she was in the carpool ONLY for the money it saved her. So I didn’t invite her.”

Colleen: “Only for the money, omigod!”

Me: “But I can still be friends with her.”

Vicki: “Wow, you’re so tolerant.”

Me: “Hey, I was ready to support you on that new twelve-step group for hot water addiction. So don’t put me down.”

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The Case For Hybrids and Sex

On March 2 I wrote about my household’s deliberations over which hybrid should be the replacement for our single car, a battered 15 year old Nissan. People have been asking me, “So what have you decided?” It’s almost like they’re wondering if a new baby will be a boy or a girl.

The answer: we don’t want this new baby (new car) until late summer. At the earliest, if then. I can name three reasons (and maybe you’d like to add some more).

1.) I don’t want to fertilize the market with a car purchase. Our nation already has way too many cars of any ilk (250 million, and that’s just the registered ones). Most of these run just fine and don’t need replacement. It takes 20 barrels of oil just to make a car, I’ve read. So, we’d have to drive a hybrid 20,000 miles to save that much oil if it got double the average car’s mileage. And why would I want a motivation to drive 20,000 miles?

2.) Babies (new cars) are very needy and therefore disruptive to sexiness. Thor is already trying to set rules about no eating or drinking in our hypothetical new car. I am already outraged: “Who’s driving things here, us or the car?” (You can tell I currently drink coffee every morning in our ratty Nissan with impunity.) This marital disagreement has not yet hampered our sex life, but you never know when a playful power struggle might escalate.

3.) Cars are not sexy, anyway. It was only when we were semi-homeless teenagers that there was a legitimate association between cars and sex. Has your sex life not improved since you were 18, moved out and got a better place to neck than a car? I rest my case.

Farmland, Not Subdivisions in Puyallup Valley

I am happy to learn this morning that Pierce County in Washington is protecting its rich farmland in the Puyallup Valley from developers.

Why? I’ll get really basic. The land has already been developed. It was logged many years ago and converted into farmland. Farmland is its highest, most brilliant and diamond-cut use. The Pacific Northwest soils are so fertile they support more biomass than any other soil on our continent. Why would we plant strip-malls and subdivisions on that kind of soil?

Is there anybody, aside from developers looking for a quick profit, who is looking objectively at our nation and saying, “Wow, we are so low on subdivisions and strip-malls. We need to build more of them. Way too much food growing here; got to pave that soil over.”   I ask you?

In 2006 I wrote and produced a short film for Oregon League of Conservation Voters in which I interviewed eight Oregonians. Two of them, a husband and wife, owned a small farm in Washington County. They stood in front of their barn with their three children and told me, “We’re worried. We can feel the urban growth boundary marching toward us. You know, once you put concrete over this soil, you don’t get it back again.”

Nudging Ourselves Into Sanity

My idea of today’s best read is not anything by me, but rather, John Tierney’s excellent article on carbon footprint and behavior change in the New York Times.

I entered his contest to invent the best name for a little device that will give people a steady feedback loop on their home’s energy consumption. Research shows that these visual cues nudge people into consuming more carefully and using less energy. I submitted the name TerraNudge.

But since I doubt I’ll win the first place prize — a copy of “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness,”  by Richard H. Thaler and Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago, I’ll probably need to go out and buy one. 

About Bicycling And Auctions

This past Saturday night we went to the Bicycle Transportation Alliance’s (BTA’s) annual awards dinner and auction, attended by about 800 people. It’s called Alice B. Toeclips and it was invented about a decade ago by my awesome friend and mentor Karen Frost, the founding director of the BTA.

I had good conversations with great people at Toeclips, and just one reservation I’ll get to in a minute. I believe deeply in bicycling, and I specifically believe in it as the ideal form of transportation, rather than just recreation. I liked executive director Scott Bricker’s gutsiness when he stated his vision of bicycling as something that can help save the world. Given global warming and most people’s addiction to fossil fuels (not to mention obesity in the U.S.) I think he is right.

So, my reservation? It’s not that Alice B. Toeclips was a fundraiser, because I believe in raising money for good causes, and I enjoy giving. I’ve done successful fundraising myself. But I’m developing a problem, a values-conflict with auctions, with hundreds of feet of tables loaded with goods and services that are luxuries. I know that auctions are a good way for businesses to affordably donate to nonprofits. I get it.

But then it stops being grassroots. It becomes high-on-the-hog. When the live auction starts and the auctioneer is doing the high-powered, hypnotic, show-biz patter to get us to bid higher and higher on luxury items, it feels slick, like I’m in Las Vegas, like I’m being hustled.

I know that grant funding can only take a nonprofit so far, whether from federal, state, or Metro sources, and that fundraising has to then supply the rest of the organization’s budget. But auctions are very expensive to coordinate and produce. I know because I’ve done one. The profit margin doesn’t necessarily put you ahead of where you’d have been if you’d just asked sincerely for straight donations, rather than promoting more consumption of things that well-off people really don’t need.

How do you grow a great movement that can help save the world without buying into the materialism of that same world? I’m open to input.

Happy Hybrid Easter!

Hybrid: a result of cross-breeding. Easter: a Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Christ — celebrated the Sunday following the first full moon of the vernal equinox.

Wait a minute. Easter is famously Christian, but its timing is completely earth-centered, ruled by nature, which is to say it is pagan. Easter is a hybrid holiday. Christianity has been shown by scholars to have deep roots in the earlier earth-centered religions, described well by Viola and Barna in their book Pagan Christianity.

I find Easter joyful. I also find working the earth joyful. The hybrid thing is in me, body and soul. I have a both/and life of going to church and also being earth-centered. The first art-show I ever did, back in 1993, was actually called Pagan Christianity (long before the above book was written).

Every year in church I sing the centuries-old hymns like “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” and feel a deep, swimming flood of connection to all things and all people. I don’t worry about details of dogma or theology. There is so much we share in common. We all have our struggles, our dark nights, our joys and little victories. We all eat food that comes from the earth; we’re all dead without that. We all seek hope.

Jesus being resurrected after his crucifixion, his conquering of death, carries the same archetypal principle as the life-giving spring (the vernal equinox) emerging victorious from the bitter, death-dealing winter. This is not just a Christian principle, but a life principle.

Hybrid cars, very popular these days, are powered by a cross between electric batteries and a combustion engine. Like many agricultural cross-breedings, a hybrid car uses scarce resources more efficiently, more wisely than either of its parents. Maybe Easter, hybrid that it is of pagan and Christian truths, has equally good things to offer us.

Portland Needs CRAGs, not Craigslist

Don’t get me wrong; I think Craigslist is cool. But I’ve recently learned from the Business of Green blog about CRAGs, which I think are even cooler.

CRAGs are Carbon Rationing Action Groups, active mostly in the United Kingdom, so far. People join to become mutually supportive and accountable about lightening their carbon footprint.

Why do I find this so relevant? All my experience tells me that it’s only when you watch and measure a thing that you reduce it. (A household’s financial spending is one good example.) And the average carbon footprint in the U.S. , roughly 18,000 tons, is about twice that in the U.K., and four times that which CRAG folks generally set as their goal.

Thor’s and my electricity bill shows us our electricity consumption is 53% of the norm in our area. But we don’t have any measuring stick for our transportation emissions, nor any idea of what our green friends’ overall carbon footprints are in relation to ours. Friendly competition can be a fun and healthy thing.

Here are my next steps: I’m going to talk about starting a CRAG with folks at the Alice B. Toeclips bicycling awards event tonight, and my Green Girls dinner group next weekend, and with my new ski-trip friends when we next get together. And I’ll report back within early April about how the CRAG idea is coming along.