, , ,

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
― Rachel Carson, Silent Spring


Rachel Carson will forever be an incredible inspiration both to writing and to environmentalism. If you haven’t read Silent Spring, bug me for my copy or check it out on your own. I read it in an environmental writing course in college, and it’s pretty horrifying what we’ve done to the earth in the past with DDT and other pesticides. Carson, and the awareness she raised, helped to begin the environmental movement in the sixties, which still persists today to a larger degree. She’s an amazing writer–her book was published in pieces by the New Yorker in 1962. Although those pieces require a subscription to read online at newyorker.com, Joshua Rothman wrote a great little piece about her last year for the NY book blog.

It’s a bit daunting to think about the issues we ignore today that will soon be brought to light. We’ll all be horrified that we ever succumbed to them.

Note of the day: Don’t forget about all these important people who teach us how to observe and how to formulate awareness that will move people to act.

Nature Writing


, , , ,

“Live free, child of the mist,
— and with respect to knowledge we are all
children of the mist.
” Thoreau

It’s been awhile since I’ve written, because of life’s obligations that are bound to arise, but I’ve still been thinking about new ways to “go green.” As a student of writing, I’ve also been thinking about nature, and the ways it influences my writing. I’ve written personal essays about nature before, but I want to write about it more often (and what better place than a green blog?) Inspiring me in this quest, no doubt, will be Thoreau’s Walden, Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, John Muir’s nature essays, among many others that I hope to spotlight here in the next couple of months. Writers such as these remind us why we need to find ways to protect our earth from ruin.

Because it is getting into the coldest of winter, I’m unable to be outdoors much. What a perfect time, then, to reflect on nature and its importance. For, don’t we begin to appreciate more the things we have in our lives when we are without them? I found more influence and, I’ll admit, some envy when stumbling across this article about a similar mission to mix poetry and nature. In his “Poem Forest,” Jon Cotner created an audiovisual tour on a nature walk, inserting recordings of poetry about nature at stops along the trail. He writes,

“The overwhelming message was that the poetic lines encouraged everyone to slow down, to see and sense more clearly, to inhabit the present more deeply, and to fill with enchantment.”

Nature is poetic in itself, and Cotner reminds us of that. As did Thoreau; as did Aldo Leopold; as did Bill McKibben. These writers give the reader more than just a delectable stringing of words–they remind us of the connection we have all felt, and need to feel more often, to the world around us that we sometimes forget existed before we altered it to our needs. Human life is fleeting, and nature, then, should be a rope that we all can hold on to–even if we only grab it when we are without inspiration or clarity.

I also read statistics today that children’s books are not focusing on nature and the environment as much as they used to. Although it is better for kids to be outside, experiencing nature, it’s also important to begin teaching environmental ideals to kids at a young age–and this can’t always be done with “How to” books or shoving recycling in their faces. It’s also necessary to include nature ideas in stories, like with The Giving Tree or The Lorax.  Just a thought…

In the next few weeks, I plan to give you more of my own nature writing and highlight other nature writers who have taught us the fundamentals. Any thoughts or comments are always welcomed and appreciated.

EPA Makes Significant Strides under Obama Administration


, , , , ,

To know:

I received the following email this afternoon from the Union of Concerned Scientists with important news from the EPA:

“Making History: First-ever Toxic Air Pollution Standards Will Save Thousands of Lives:

Great News! Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the first-ever national standards to limit the amount of mercury and other toxic pollutants that power plants can spew into the environment.

Toxic air pollutants from power plants—mercury, lead, arsenic, and others—are linked to health problems such as cancer, heart disease, neurological damage, birth defects, asthma attacks, and even premature death. Mercury, for example, is a potent neurotoxin that poses a threat to fetal and infant brain development. And coal plants are far and away the greatest source of mercury air emissions in the United States.

This historic standard will lower mercury emissions 90 percent, help avoid up to 11,000 premature deaths per year, and contribute to a much-needed transition to a cleaner electricity system.

The Obama administration played a major role in securing this historic standard, and they have the opportunity to score another similar victory for our health and environment this year: the EPA is currently drafting standards to limit global warming emissions from power plants. But the fossil fuel industries are pressuring the Obama administration to release weak standards that will do little or nothing to protect our health and environment from climate change.”

Learn more about these EPA regulations from the USC website.

To Do:

Thank President Obama for protecting the public from toxic air pollution and let him know that you expect the EPA to release strong standards to reduce global warming emissions from power plants in 2012. <–Follow this link for an easy letter template to the Obama administration.

I hope you all join in encouraging and supporting the Obama administration to further improvements through the EPA!

Sorry GOP, Climate Change is Real


, , , , , ,

Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, the two current frontrunners for the 2012 Republican candidacy, can’t seem to wrap their heads around climate science, or whether or not they should push it in their campaigns. It’s true that many U.S. citizens do not claim to “believe” in global warming, but when does it become unacceptable to be dishonest in order to win votes? Obviously U.S. politics are not where we should look for the right answer to this question.

Whether or not people want to “believe” in global warming, it is real. It is a fact. Even though scientists agree that more information is needed to predict future outcomes and specifics about exact weather changes, experts are in agreement that the earth is heating and changing, and that humans are the major cause of that change.

If either Romney or Gingrich somehow wins the presidency in 2012, we are in big trouble. According to Gingrich’s website, he “does not believe there is a settled scientific conclusion about whether industrial development has dramatically contributed to a warming of the atmosphere.” He does not believe we should even begin to cap carbon emissions, even though human CO2 emissions are a major cause of the temperature shift.

Mitt Romney has been flip-flopping on the issue of climate change, but most recently claimed that “we don’t know what’s causing climate change.” Romney has no desire to limit carbon emissions in the United States. A statement on his website reads: “The United States is blessed with a cornucopia of carbon-based energy resources. Developing them has been a pathway to prosperity for the nation in the past and offers similar promise for the future.”

Who knows if these two actually believe what they’re saying, or if they’re just trying to appeal to their desired audience? I suppose it makes sense if votes are their main concern: around half of Americans do not support evidence of global warming.

And here is why: the GOP’s directed audience includes many religious fanatics that do not think their God would let the world be destroyed, and such a fate is many times too heavy to wrap their heads around. “What kind of life would it be if we were living in fear all the time?” they may say. “I deserve to be happy and comfortable with all this money I’m earning!”

Gingrich and Romney both claim that taxing carbon emissions and “cap and trade” programs will cut too many jobs and perhaps undermine the U.S. as the top energy-producing giant. I’m sure many Americans blindly follow and praise this type of thinking, so this becomes another reason people do not acknowledge scientific evidence for climate change.

Thankfully many businesses are beginning to acknowledge that they could operate more efficiently and eco-friendly, and the EPA and other environmental organizations are making significant changes. I would recommend, however, that we elect someone in 2012 who supports science, and understands the definitions of “evidence” and “fact.”

If you still find this post and global warming incredibly depressing, here are some cartoons:


Whole Earth Packaging


, ,

The following is a guest post from Ruth at Whole Earth Packaging (wholeearthpackaging.com)

At Whole Earth Packaging, we cannot stress enough how important it is to live a green lifestyle. We’re surrounded by pollution everyday, and if we don’t stop polluting our environment, we’re going to destroy it completely. If everyone takes on environmentally friendly practices, it would help our planet a great deal. There are many different things you can do to help, and every small step counts towards creating a green Earth. Here are some of the ways you can help save our precious planet.

  • Everything you buy has an effect on the environment. Paper products come from trees, which are a natural resource. Plastic products can take years to break down in a landfill, creating pollution. Buying biodegradable and recyclable plates, cups and other dinnerware products will cut back on pollution and save our natural resources.
  • When you buy a new or used vehicle, choose one that is fuel-efficient. The less fuel a vehicle burns, the fewer natural resources are used and less pollution is created.
  • If you’re unable to purchase a fuel-efficient vehicle, driving fewer miles and proper vehicle maintenance can also cut back on the amount of pollution being created.
  • In addition to using recyclable products, you can also use energy saving appliances in your home.

There are many more ways you can chip in, and do your part to save our environment. You can learn more about conserving energy, recycling and other ways to go green at WholeEarthPackaging.com. At Whole Earth Packaging, you’ll find an assortment of eco friendly brands such as Chinet products, Eco products and products from Natureworks.

Green City Market


, , , , ,

I recently took a Saturday stroll to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. The museum is currently hosting Green City Market every Wednesday and Saturday from 8am-1pm. Green City provides local, sustainably-grown food while offering education about high-quality food and how important its source can really be. Dozens of local farmers bring in homemade dairy products, organic fruits and vegatables, baked goods, and more. I bought a few apples and pears, which are delicious but also pesticide-free.

I’ve researched in the past about pesticides and why its so hard for farmers to stop using them. (Check out The War on Bugs by Will Allen for some great info on farming and pesticides.) Of course bugs and other crop-eating critters slow mass production, but how do organic farmers make up for it?

The truth is, we need to start taking into account “natural systems and processes rather than ignoring or fighting against them,” says the Union of Concerned Scientists. Humans need to find ways to produce food that make them a part of ecosystems, not dominating or destroying them. More natural and integrated farming practices can still be extremely productive, yet do not rely on the use of pesticides.

This is why local farmers should be supported. Find organizations in your community through which you can get involved. CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) can be found through Local Harvest, a website dedicated to finding and buying from local organic farmers. Search using your zipcode or city, and the map will show you the farmer’s markets in your area.

If you live around Chicago, visiting the Green City Market at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is a great way to start buying sustainable products and to connect with other people who share your interests. The museum offers many programs for kids and adults to begin involvement in the natural community.

Here’s a video I made of some photos I took at the market. (The music is particularly spectacular, I know.) Enjoy!

Reduce Phantom Energy: Unplug


, , , , ,

Something I never think to do is unplug my appliances when they’re not in use.”Why does it matter if they aren’t turned on?” you may ask. Referred to as “phantom energy,”  or “standby power,” you’re still using an idle current of energy even when your TV is turned off, or your phone is not on the charger.

After using your microwave, charging your computer battery, watching TV, drying your hair, etc., unplug these things right away. It may seem like a hassle, but you could save around $10 a month on your electricity bill just from unplugging a couple of appliances.

For living rooms or places with a lot of electronics, using a surge protector can a) save energy while in use and protect your possessions from blowouts, and b) make it easier to switch everything off at once. “What great reasons to go buy quality power strips!” you are probably saying to yourself. Try using a power strip that saves the standby energy for you. These eco-friendly power strips are a bit more pricey, but in a year you could save $100+ on electricity bills.

Simply start unplugging. It burns absolutely no calories to pull a plug out of the wall, so stop being lazy. (Here are some other non-lazy things you can do with your time if you’re feeling extra motivated after reading my blog.)

It’s estimated that ten percent of a home’s energy is from phantom energy. Why waste it? This is just one of the ways you can begin to reduce your energy consumption and start making a difference- and what an easy way to start!

If you like reading my green-inspired and totally awesome posts, follow me! Just click the link on the left! What a great idea!

Use Public Transit


, , , , , ,

To bounce off the driving topic in my last post, I want to figure out how much I’ve been saving while using public transit in the past two months since I moved to Chicago. I’m usually either taking the train or walking, so my car is inactive and lonely for days/weeks at a time. (Don’t worry, I visit it and give it pats). Here are some great, though somewhat obvious, benefits I’ve found from this lifestyle change.


Benefit #1: Saving Money

I’ve only filled up my tank once so far, which cost me around $40. When I lived in Oklahoma and drove a lot every day, I’d fill up every couple weeks, more or less, which would mean I’ve already saved between $150-$200 in gas money. Taking public transit only costs me about $20 a month right now thanks to my being a grad student.

Benefit #2: My Car Stays Awesome Longer

I don’t have to take my car in for service very often if I’m not driving it very often. My mileage is already getting up there because I’ve taken my little lady on a lot of long car trips, so keeping that number as low as possible is a huge plus for me.

Benefit #3: Helping the Environment

If I’m not driving every day, I’m clearly not personally contributing to harmful air emissions. According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), just from one person switching from driving to riding public transit (say, me), CO2 emissions are reduced by 20 pounds per day, almost 5,000 per year. Woah! APTA also has found that public transportation saves approximately 37 million metric tons annually.

As far as saving oil, public transit use saves 11 million gallons of gasoline per day. It’s estimated that U.S. dependence on foreign oil would decrease by 40% if just one in ten Americans used public transit every day. Hooray!

Benefit #4: Being Safe and Healthy

Finding time to work out is always difficult for me, so keeping my car home allows me to walk 2-4 miles almost every day going to work, class, and everywhere else. It’s also much safer to take the bus or train than to drive- 79% safer, in fact.

So, green friends, even if you have a car, and have access to a public transportation system, you can save a ton by limiting your driving. Plus it’s fun! And you get to be around other people– super!

Thanks, CTA!

Defend Going Green


, , ,

I recently wrote a school paper about how individuals can make a difference in their efforts to go green, despite skeptics who think it’s pointless to try (no doubt supporting the project I have just begun with my little blog, here). But there’s something to this, and I got the idea from a guy (we’ll call him Todd) in my writing class.

In a short play of Todd’s that I read, one of his characters pointed out how dumb people are because they have bumper stickers that read “Go Green,” the problem being that driving a car is one of the worst things you can do for the environment, thus the wrong place for an environmental advertisement.

This is true, and an important observation to make. However, is this to stop someone from changing their lifestyle in other ways? Are we to say to ourselves, “Welp, I was going to go green but I have a car, so screw it”?

Definitely not. Come on, people.

I’ve already shown you how many plastic bags I can save a year just by switching to reusable grocery bags, and how satisfying it is to save plastic water bottle waste every day. Now, if EVERYONE started doing these things, along with recycling, and buying organic food, and encouraging government officials to act, the environment would already be improving.

So, I’m afraid Todd’s point was somewhat lacking. I imagine the person he saw with the “Go Green” bumper sticker was trying to make changes in other ways, which I’m sure is more than can be said for Todd. Carmakers are already making electric cars, which will be the future trend, and there are tons of things drivers can do now to save resources.

When cultural ideas/attitudes change, companies change their products. Fortunately, the current culture has turned to going green and being healthy, so most companies are changing toward these trends, including monsters like oil companies and carmakers, which is good news for the environment.

Don’t be discouraged if everything in your life cannot be changed right away. It’s difficult, overwhelming, and takes a long time. So keep at it. Doing something as easy as recycling is where everyone can start. Keep up faith and support in the government, because they are the ones that really have power to enforce relevant environmental laws. But most importantly, when you feel like your efforts are too small to matter, do not lose sight of why going green as an individual can contribute to extraordinary change.

Nobody puts green in the corner.

Union of Concerned Scientists


, , , , , ,

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.                   Margaret Mead

The Union of Concerned Scientists, formed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1969, is a non-profit, science-based organization, combining the work of scientists with citizen action to promote solutions for environmental issues and climate change.

My project this week is based around this wonderful organization. An avid supporter of science myself, I became a member for a small annual fee, with which I get their quarterly newsletter, Earthwise, and their Magazine Catalyst. Gaining membership also allows you to receive updates and information about ways you can personally make a difference!

The UCS website has a Take Action page, where you can find opportunities to urge government officials to make changes in the right direction for environmental improvement. Today I submitted a letter to Congress urging them to make sustainable practices a necessity in the upcoming Farm Bill of 2012. There are so many ways the USDA can turn around the unethical practices of pasture-based meat production that exist in the U.S. today. The scientists of USC recently wrote a report on what they think should be top priority for this bill.

I recommend everyone join similar organizations, or groups in your communities where you can let your voice be heard for environmental change in the United States. It feels good to be part of a legitimate group of people with the same interests and concerns about the environment, and especially a group with such high esteem who will actually be able to get things done where it matters.

Quick note: Why do politicians rarely seem to say anything worthwhile these days? Especially regarding the environment and climate change. Take this quick quiz on government official quotes to see which ones are true and which are completely ridiculous. You’ll get a free “Got Science?” sticker after taking the quiz, which you can use to represent your pride in supporting the brilliance of contemporary science.