Friday, February 29, 2008

Earth Hour 2008

What if the overwhelming issue of climate change could be solved in an hour? What if cities across the world banded together to cooperatively cure our planet?

The World Wildlife Fund has such a hope -- for people to reduce their energy use and as a result, make our planet cleaner. The group is sponsoring Earth Hour 2008, a day in which for one hour they hope people around the world will do exactly nothing -- nothing involving any non-essential energy use, that is.

At 8 PM on March 29, WWF is asking people to turn off anything non-essential, like TVs, dishwashers, computers, lights, radios, etc. The hope is that by showing people how easy it is to drastically reduce energy usage for a short period of time, we will begin making such changes over longer periods. Since most cities use multiple carbon creating sources for electrical power, such as nuclear, coal and natural gas, a reduction in usage equals a reduction in carbon emissions, which means cleaner air for you and me and maybe lots of happy polar bears removed from the brink of extinction.

More than 20 cities around the world will be participating in the hour. "A lot of people feel global warming is too big of a problem for any one of us to make a difference," said Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon. "This shows we can do something."

"We are building awareness," Leslie Aun of the World Wildlife Fund said from her office in Washington, D.C. "Change can happen."

Don’t forget, though, that simply turning things off does not stop their energy usage. An appliance when turned off, but remaining plugged in, still consumes 40 percent of the energy it consumes when turned on. That means 40 percent of your toaster’s power is still running from the wall, through the plus, up the wire and into the toaster, even when you are not toasting anything. Unplug the toaster and save that energy. Do the same with every appliance you have -- except your fridge and freezer, of course! -- like your coffee maker, blender, that adorable red Kitchen Aid mixer, your cell phone battery charger, lamps in the guest room, your hair drier, fans, anything you can think of that plugs in!

Get more info and sign up at

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Throw a green wedding

Planning a green wedding is not as difficult as one would think -- actually, because it streamlines and simplifies certain aspects of the celebration, planning a green wedding is often easier than one non-green!

Your invitations are the first introduction guests have to the environmentally-friendly nature of your wedding. Earthly Affair offers environmentally friendly stationary, including save-the-dates, invitations, RSVPs and thank you cards. The company uses 100% recycled paper, earth friendly printing methods, an eco-equipped studio, and carbon free shipping to give you unique and stylish invitations.

One of the easiest and most significant choices you can make to ease your wedding’s blow to the environment is to choose an appropriate venue. Opt to have your ceremony and reception on the same site, eliminating the need to transport guests from one location to another and saving carbon emissions. Forget the local country club -- the grass might be green, but that’s about it. Golf courses are one of the most environmentally unfriendly places around, using tons of pesticides and water. A great option is a lodge within a state or national park. Many are quite grand, and all are held to strict conservation codes.

Rent everything you don’t wish to hold onto as keepsakes. Tables, dishes, linens, lighting, candle holders -- everything. An item’s ability to be reused is of immense value to the environment. Alternately, use the services of Recycle Your Wedding, Freecycle, eBay or Craiglist to get your hands on gorgeous wedding goodies that have been loved before -- even your dream dress!

Food and flowers will be most fresh and beautiful if they are in-season, local and organic. Chef Michel Nischan offers several amazing organic menu options in his book Taste Pure and Simple: Irresistible Recipes for Good Food and Good Health (Chronicle Books, 2003). Ask your caterer to source organic items locally and replicate a favorite recipe. Organic flowers can be ordered from Organic Bouquet; alternately, ask your florist of choice to use blooms from the local flower market instead of a regular shipment. Pair up with a wedding within a day window of your own and share flowers -- a great way to reduce your costs and your waste! has a general list of what flowers are in season when; keep in mind this may vary by region.

Green favors are a snap. Give guests a succulent plant to take home, a sapling to plant in their yards, or a seed packet to grow some of the flowers present at your celebration. Need a beautiful little favor box? These woven green boxes from Little Things are beautifully made and organic. Consider buying carbon offsets to compensate for fossil fuel usage of guests traveling from out of town or making a donation to a favorite green charity and leaving a note at each guest’s plate to let them know.

Then breathe easy, knowing that your special day did not come at the expense of Mother Earth!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Wardrobe refashion

There are not words for how much of a clotheshorse I am. It is a rare week that passes without the purchase of a little something lovely. Luckily for my budget I am a whiz at finding a great bargain. Once or twice a year I sort through everything and give away a large chunk, things I haven’t worn in a while and don’t foresee wearing again. I gave to Goodwill several times, but recently found a local no-kill animal shelter that gets the majority of its funding from sales through its on-site thrift shop.

While I feel good about helping to support homeless kitties and pups, I would also feel good about reducing my footprint when it comes to my clothing purchases. Most clothing is shipped around the world before it gets to us. Countless insecticides are used to grow the crops used in making the fabrics, chemicals used for dyes, fossil fuels used to power the factories and to ship the items to our stores, and workers are exploited in the name of profits.

A full wardrobe of completely organic and locally-made clothing is not in the cards for me right now due to cost and availability, but I realized that I have the tools and the skills needed to make good with much of what I’ve already got -- a sewing machine and my imagination.

Wardrobe refashioning is a great way to give new life to old clothes. You can do some pretty major things to make an old piece unrecognizable -- making a flowing skirt into a flirty top, for example -- but even small and simple changes can breathe new life into a garment.

I recently found a stack of tee shirts that I never wore because I hated the necklines. They were all really high, above my collarbone, and thick-banded. Regular tee-shirt necklines, I suppose, but not my style. With an overseas vacation looming, including lots of warm-weather outdoor activities, I needed tees but didn’t want to go out and buy more when I had this stack sitting there. So I just changed the necklines. I cut the offending collars off, reshaped them into boatnecks, and refinished the seams with my trusty Hello Kitty sewing machine. They came out exactly as I was hoping, and it was a very easy project -- perfect for me because I am a novice sewer.

Since then I have looked at my wardrobe in a new light. I will still give items away if I can’t think of a new purpose for them, but now I can think of so many new purposes! Skirts from old pairs of jeans, tops from scarves and scarves from tops, making a dress into separates. It doesn’t stop with clothes, though -- make curtains out of bed sheets, pillow shams out of curtains, napkins out of pillow shams, and modern quilts out of anything. Check out Wardrobe Refashion for inspiration.

The only limit is your imagination!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Plant a Row for the Hungry

Believe it or not, gardening season is right around the corner. Those mounds currently insulated under piles of snow will soon be bare and ready to plant. When it comes time to reap your summer bounty, how often do you have so much left over that you give away dozens of tomatoes and zucchini to neighbors and coworkers?

This year, consider planting a row for those less fortunate than you instead. Jeff Lowenfels, a gardening writer from Anchorage, Alaska has started Plant a Row for the Hungry several years ago when he asked his readers to contribute their garden extras to a local soup kitchen. It has since grown tremendously, and millions of pounds of veggies have been donated to churches, shelters and food banks across the country.

According to their press info:

“The purpose of PAR is to create and sustain a grassroots program whereby garden writers utilize their media position with local newspapers, magazines and radio/TV programs to encourage their readers/listeners to donate their surplus garden produce to local food banks, soup kitchens and service organizations to help feed America’s hungry.

PAR’s success hinges on its people-helping-people approach. The concept is simple. There are over 70 million gardeners in the U.S. alone, many of which plant vegetables and harvest more than they can consume. If every gardener plants one extra row of vegetables and donates their surplus to local food banks and soup kitchens, a significant impact can be made on reducing hunger. Food agencies will have access to fresh produce, funds earmarked for produce can be redirected to other needed items and the hungry of America will have more and better food than is presently available.”

By planning for extra and donating your organic, home-grown produce to local organizations, you will be making an immediate and concrete positive impact on your community, and you won’t be wasting food.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Why corn ethanol is a really bad idea

Corn ethanol fuel has been touted as a miracle cure for our dependence on fossil fuels, but in reality, it hurts more than it helps. Here’s why.

As more corn is routed to ethanol production and out of food production, costs rise. Corn is an oft-used ingredient in animal feed. The cost of corn, due to ethanol demand, has more than doubled in the last two years. Meanwhile, a farmer’s cost of feeding a hog has gone up 85 percent this year alone. Prices for meat and dairy from corn-fed animals rose 10-25 percent in 2007. Corn tortilla prices jumped 70 percent in Mexico.

Filling up the tank of an SUV with ethanol uses enough corn to feed a person for a year. One study predicts that world hunger will increase by 600 million people by the year 2025. All this because corn is being diverted to fuel stations instead of dinner plates.

There are negative environmental aspects, as well. As more land is being used for corn crops, more fossil fuels are used to sow and reap these crops. To fertilize, harvest and transport a single acre of corn takes 110 gallons of gas or its equivalent. Fuel corn is not organic, so chemical insecticides and fertilizers are released into the soil and air.

Doesn’t sound like such a great deal anymore, does it?

Of course, fossil fuels aren’t a great idea either. In the near future I’ll explore other alternatives -- hydrogen looks promising. Until then, ride your bike, carpool, and at the very least buy a hybrid if you’re in the market.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Catalog Choice

My mailbox was regularly overflowing with catalogs and fliers I never even glanced at, let alone ordered from. They would go straight into the recycling bin, but so many resources are wasted in creating this marketing noise that rarely gets paid attention to: trees and power to make the paper, fossil fuels to deliver the paper ingredients to the paper factories and the finished products to mailboxes, dyes to print the catalogs, and jacked-up prices on the products inside to cover all of these costs.

What a waste!

Luckily, lots of merchants are starting to feel the same way and are partnering with Catalog Choice. The free service allows consumers to opt out of receiving catalogs and advertisements from specific vendors. When you sign up, you tell them what you no longer wish to receive -- you can still get the ones you want!

So far, Catalog Choice members have opted out of nearly seven million pieces and saved untold pounds of carbon, tree pulp, water and fossil fuels. An easy way to stay green!

Norway builds Noah's Ark seed vault

With Doomsday prophesies attacking our ears and our airwaves, it isn’t difficult to understand how Norway came to the conclusion that we need to insure our survival in case of agricultural catastrophe. The kingdom has built an Arctic repository to preserve the seeds of our food stores in case most of our civilization dies out.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a repository in the Arctic Circle built to store safety copies of vital agricultural info in case of disaster. The first specimens, including 7,000 seeds from 36 different African nations, have shipped to the storehouse, which is due to open February 26.

The Nigerian-based International Institute of Tropical Agriculture sent thousands of duplicates of unique varieties of domesticated and wild cowpea (black-eyed pea), maize, soybean and Bambara groundnut. Shipments from Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, Syria and Benin are expected later this month.

The seed bank will eventually hoard refrigerated samples of nearly all of the world’s food crops in an effort to preserve our agricultural heritage. If this sounds fatalistic, think again: these crops are vital to nourishing human populations.

“So called ‘orphan’ crops like cowpea and groundnut are not minor or insignificant crops,” said Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust. “They are of great importance to regional food security. In addition, they are often adapted to harsh environments and are diverse in terms of their genetic, agroclimatic and economic niches.”

What this means to you: if a man-made or natural disaster threatens our agricultural systems, the seed bank will bolster our food security. Cowpea cupcakes for everyone!