Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Make New Year's a little greener...

We've all made New Year's resolutions. Drink less, get skinnier, get out of debt. Half of America practically follows a checklist of obligatory self-improvement goals, which, usually by mid-year, are all for naught.

This year, I'm changing it up a bit. I'm ditching the usual stand-bys and instead I've chosen two things that I'd like to do this year to make my life a little greener. No matter how lofty our eco goals, we all probably overlook some little things we could do better. After a lot of thought, I've chosen to set two goals for myself for 2008:

1. Reduce the number of plastic grocery bags in my life. Yes, I always mean to use canvas totes at the grocery and to tell the cashier to please not double-bag my gallon of milk. (It has it's own handle, why do I need a bag?) but I'm not always forceful enough on that front. I see lovely canvas totes all around, but I manage somehow to talk myself out of getting them because I don't want to spend the money. I'm giving myself a cheapache and as a result I'm up to my eyeballs in plastic bags.

2. Start composting. Indecision got me on this one. I've spent months agonizing over what kind of compost bin I should get : The fancy $200 plus one with the handy crank, a worm bin for vermincomposting, or should I build my own cheap bin and spend the rest of my life turning it with a shovel twice a week? Well, I need to decide quickly, because it's a waste to throw out broccoli stems and banana peels that, with a little love, could become FREE mulch for my vegetable gardens. American households throw away 26 million tons of food a year. Think of all the wasted landfill space. And all the free mulch.

So those are my "little change" goals for 2008. Maybe you can think of one or two little changes you'd like to make?

Exercise for your brain

I just finished compiling a list of some of compelling books that eco-geeks like me might find useful and insightful. I posted them here,and will leave a permanent link on the right under the "What I'm reading" column.

I found Supercapitalism particularly compelling. It's an economics book, but explains in plain language why it's so hard to get things done on the environmental front, even though it's good for almost everyone. And, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was a life changing read. I've bought several of these as gifts and they don't disappoint.

Check it out. Maybe you can add these titles to your post-holiday to-do list!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Baby steps into earth-friendly paints

The watchword for paint in recent years is VOC. It stands for volatile organic compounds, things like benzene and formaldehyde that are used to make interior and exterior paints. Not only are they rough on the areas around the paint factory, they tend to leach gases into your home for months after the walls are freshly painted. Luckily, a lot of companies are now producing paints without so many of those chemicals, such as low-VOC and zero-VOC paints.

Since we have a little one on the way, I thought it'd be a good idea to test one of these paints in the future nursery. I chose Sherwin Williams' low-odor zero-VOC Harmony paint.

Frankly, I was unimpressed. I'm not sure what other brands of similar paint are like. But Harmony smelled worse and stronger than regular acrylic latex paint (even though it claimed to be low odor) and the coverage was not that good. It took three coats of white to get a nice, even finish, even with primed white walls. I've had much better luck with American Tradition and Behr brands.

Harmony also only comes in gallons, so if you only need a quart, for an accent or a project, you are out of luck. Oh well. Back to the drawing board. Next time around I am going to try Benjamin Moore's brand of low-VOC paint.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Babies and climate change

It's time to come clean. We're having our first baby here at the eco ranch. We're almost 6 months along. We've made it through the tests, the scans, and all that stuff, and it looks like it's really going to happen.

I'm not a huge fan of being pregnant, which has put my hubby's campaign for a second child on shaky footing. He's an only child, he says. Only when he was an adult, and saw how much fun everyone else had with their siblings did he realize he was missing out. That, and there is increasing pressure to take care of his parents emotionally because they have only him.

But the child debate also has another side, one only mentioned in whispers because it's such an unpopular opinion. It's that parents should limit their offspring to two or less because the world is overpopulated. Bringing too many more resource-using carbon-producing first-world humans into the world isn't helping the environment.

A lawmaker in Australia recently proposed taxing parents with more than two children, to offset the carbon emissions of those extra children. Here is the news story about this

At the risk of sounding harsh, I completely agree. Sustainability is factoring heavily into my family planning.

The need to have large families just isn't there any more. 100 years ago, when you'd lose some of your children to disease before adulthood or needed them to help on the family farm? Yes, have as many as you'd like.

But now? In the modern world? We simply do not have the resources or the economic need. With ever more of the environment being poisoned to meet the current population's needs, how can we rationalize putting more people on the earth?

It's led me to feel that if you must have children, have one or two then quit. Or, don't have any at all.

We are an American middle-class family. As such, even though we're making changes to be more environmentally friendly, just by our very nature and existence as Americans, we use more energy, food, resources, etc. than citizens of any other nation. Isn't it wise to reduce the number of Americans in the next generation?

I just finished Jared Dimaond's book "Collapse" as well, which is an historical review of ancient and modern civilizations that have collapsed economically, culturally, and environmentally. Overpopulation was a factor in most of them, and is used as an explanation for atrocities such as genocide in Rwanda. It's food for thought.