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Pardes Yehuda: July 2008

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Saving the World one wrapper at a time...

There are a number of people who I have been blessed with meeting who have been a significant and concrete positive impact on my life. One of those people is Scot Quaranda.
"Every time we purchase something, we are
voting with our dollars and my vote is for a
healthy planet and for a world future generations
can love and enjoy."
Aside from being an all around great guy, and pretty damn smart, Scot has taught me an incredible amount about the role we play as a consumer in today's world. Our purchasing matters, and it has direct impact on our environment. One way that this is clear is in the amount of paper we use in our society. As we all know, paper comes from trees, and trees, well, let's simply say trees are pretty darn important.

Scot is dedicating his professional life to saving our forests. He works as a campaign director for the Dogwood Alliance, a non-profit based in Asheville, NC that focuses on saving US forests in the South by reducing non-sustainable forestry, lumbering and milling.

"recycling is the third R after reduce and reuse
which are better alternatives whenever possible"

The primary message of the group today is to use less paper, and when we do use, choose 100% post-consumer recycled (PCR) products. Dogwood Alliance celebrated a major victory in 1999 by urging a study to be conducted by the US Forest Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
the study showed that the Southern United States produces more timber than any other country in the world and paper is the number one wood commodity produced in the region. It also confirmed that Southern forests are some of the most biologically diverse and endangered in North America.
According to the Dogwood Alliance website, 90% of the forests in the Southern US are privately owned. This "private property" (as if such a thing could actually exist...) happens to be home to some of the most diverse forests in the country, and even the world, and, in addition to other aspects which you can read about when you go to their website), the highest concentration of wetlands in the US--which serve as an integral part of the eco-system for purification and water storage,

"the safest type of packaging for our
forests is 100% post-consumer recycled
packaging which ensures no new trees
were cut down in the production of that

and also are home to countless species of birds, aquatic life and mammals. In 2002, the Dogwood Alliance, in coordination with ForestEthics was able to get Staples (yes, the office store Staples) to commit to phase out paper sourced from endangered forests and invest in PCR products.

The campaigns that the Dogwood Alliance are focusing on today include continuing their work with the office supply industry and packaging reform. The amount of waste we produce because of unnecessary and wasteful packaging (think grocery bags, plastic bags, take-out packaging, online shopping) is unfathomable and "symbolizes the disposable society we have become," as the group's website so aptly puts it. The group, along with Campaign to Protect the Southern Forests, is targeting fast-food, and has a great website at
"If we work together to solve the packaging problem,
more of our forests will remain standing, meaning more
wildlife habitat, healthier communities and more valuable
land to sequester carbon thus helping to mitigate the climate crisis.
Be sure to check it out and play Packaging Man! I asked Scot some questions about packaging, and what we can do as individuals to make a positive impact.

Click below to read what he has to say. Before you do head over to the Dogwood Alliance (click here!) and say, Thank you!

Justin: what packaging is the safest for our forests?

Scot: The first question you should ask yourself is, “is this packaging really necessary?” If it is, the second question is, “have a utilized a design that produces the strongest packaging using the least amount of material?” After you have answered those questions, the safest type of packaging for our forests is 100% post-consumer recycled packaging which ensures no new trees were cut down in the production of that packaging.

are there any large companies that have made real and meaningful change, have any completely committed to sustainable packaging?
While no company is perfect, a number of companies have taken meaningful steps to reduce their packaging footprint. Companies like Patagonia, Keen Shoes and Timberland have reduced excessive packaging. Companies like Kellogs and Celestial Seasons have committed to 100% pcr packaging. And even corporate giants like Wal-Mart have worked with its suppliers to reduce the overall use of packaging in products they sell at their stores.

for people who try to "reduce their carbon footprint," what can they do to stop using paper goods?
I believe that all efforts small and large make a difference on this front. The first question you should ask yourself is do I really need to use this paper? If the answer is yes, then take steps to be more conscious about it. Always buy 100% recycled copy paper and toilet paper. Buy in bulk whenever possible. Bring Tupperware and reusable mugs with you whenever you go to restaurants or coffee shops. Print on the backside of your paper or double-side your printing whenever possible and increase the margins in order to print on less pages. For more great tips, visit:

can't we just recycle it anyways, why does it matter if it's already been recycled or not?
First thing to remember here is that recycling is the third R after reduce and reuse which are better alternatives whenever possible. Recycling is a great step, but by purchasing recycled products you are stimulating the market for the paper you recycle and helping to dramatically reduce the number of acres of forests destroyed, reduce the tons of pollution spewed into rivers and the air, and reducing your overall climate footprint.

Are we better off using recycled paper goods or more, durable goods--even if those goods are plastic or other petro-chemical based product?
Paper versus plastic is a false dichotomy. Each material brings with it destruction associated with resource extraction, industrial processing and environmental degradation associated with our rampant consumption habits in North America. When you need to consume, your best choice is to buy less and buy smart. Every time we purchase something, we are voting with our dollars and my vote is for a healthy planet and for a world future generations can love and enjoy.

Is there such a thing as sustainable forestry?
Though all forestry has an impact on soil, water quality, wildlife habitat, and local communities, some forestry is better than others. Our organization supports Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification of forests, which limits the size of clear-cuts, use of toxic chemicals in forest management, and creates no go zones for the world’s endangered forests. It is currently the only credible forest certification out there.

sustainable packaging?
Again here, the best option is the smallest amount of packaging with the highest amount of environmental attributes. Reduce and reuse first, and if necessary make sure the packaging used is high post-consumer content recycled or FSC-certified.

What kind of packaging should I look for?
When you do need to buy something that is packaged rather than in bulk, look for the packaging that uses the least amount of material possible, that is high post-consumer recycled fiber and where this is unavailable, that is FSC-certified.

If real change is made, what will the difference look like in our forests, in our landfills, in our lives?
If we work together to solve the packaging problem, more of our forests will remain standing, meaning more wildlife habitat, healthier communities and more valuable land to sequester carbon thus helping to mitigate the climate crisis. 40-50% of landfill space is taken up by paper and wood products, so by decreasing this load and increasing the amount that is reused and recycled we decrease the amount of land that must be used for landfills, we stop a large percentage of the methane gas released from the decomposition of paper which is a major greenhouse gas emitter and we keep our local communities, usually in the most marginalized regions of our country, healthy and vibrant. Our lives will become simpler and less cluttered and the air we breathe, water we drink and environment we enjoy will be much cleaner and enjoyable. Additionally, research shows that paper mill communities are the most toxic and economically depressed, when we move away from this destructive industry, we open the door for more sustainable economies based on local forest-based tourism and lower-impact factories and industries.

What are three things people can do to make a difference in this regard?
There are so many small steps an individual can take to make a difference. Three easy steps are to buy less over-packaged products, carry with you Tupperware, canvas bags, and refillable mugs, and when you have to buy packaged good, show your preference for high post-consumer recycled packaging or packaging that carries the FSC label. Of course, you should also support your local environmental initiatives and groups including Dogwood Alliance. And while you are at it, visit so you can play our environmentally-themed video game, Packaging Man and take a moment to send the CEOs at the big fast food companies an email ask them to support the work to solve the packaging problem.

Read more!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

House of Representative set to apologize for slavery, Jim Crow laws

In a stunning, and downright shocking, news item CNN reports that the House is set to pass a non-binding resolution officially apologizing the for governments role in slavery and legally based racial oppression.

While this does not change the current state of racial affairs in America, nor does it present any sort of compensation package, by reparations or any other way, it does, however, present the positive possibility for our government to repent for its wrongdoings.

The resolution was authored by Congressman Steve Cohen, who represents Memphis, TN, a predominantly black district. Mr. Cohen is the first Jewish representative of the state of Tennessee.

Earlier this year, in April, Representative Sam Brownback of Kansas, offered an apology to Indian Americans for "the many instances of violence, maltreatment and neglect." In 1993, the Senate passed a resolution offering an apology to the island chain of Hawaii for the "illegal overthrow" of its indigenous monarchy in 1893. Also, in 1988, the Congress passed a resolution apologizing to Japanese-Americans who were interned by the United States on our own soil during World War II; in that resolution, $20,000 was awarded to the survivors of the internment camps.

This is the first apology offered to the black community for their experience in the United States, and a positive development towards meaningful acknowledgment of the crimes of our past and present.
Read more!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

'Texas to Tel Aviv'

Thomas L. Friedman has a great Op-Ed in the New York Times, where he imagines:

What would happen if you cross-bred J. R. Ewing of “Dallas” and Carl Pope, the head of the Sierra Club? You’d get T. Boone Pickens. What would happen if you cross-bred Henry Ford and Yitzhak Rabin? You’d get Shai Agassi. And what would happen if you put together T. Boone Pickens, the green billionaire Texas oilman now obsessed with wind power, and Shai Agassi, the Jewish Henry Ford now obsessed with making Israel the world’s leader in electric cars?

You'd have the start of an energy revolution.
You can read about T. Boone Pickens here, Shai Agassi is the founder of Better Place Project which seeks to make Israel fully equipped with an electric car "system" in the not too distant future.

Agassi's concept, backed by the Israeli government, is this--the electric car system will work similar to pay-by-minute cell phone subscription. Subscribers to the program would get a car and a battery. The roadways will be scattered with charging stations and garages where batteries can be replaced. The first cars, built by Renault, will be on Israeli roads next year.

Israel, because of its small size but large percentage of undeveloped land is an ideal place to develop the infrastructure for a countrywide electric car makeover. It will also serve as a great model for other nations to follow suit.

And I believe Mr. Friedman to be correct, combining the efforts of Shai Agassi and T. Boone Pickens together would make for amazing possibilities.

In days of hardship and strife, it is always nice to see positive news coming out of Israel.

Thank you, Shai Agassi, for striving to bring electric cars to the Jewish State.
Read more!

Israel to dismantle and move part of the separation barrier

Five years ago the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal for the Jewish State to build its separation barrier on Palestinian land. Now, Ha'aretz reports that in at least the village of Qalqilyah (the village's portion of the wall can be seen, to left, being defaced by village residents), 2.4 kilometers of the barrier will be removed, and 2,600 dunams of agricultural land will be returned to their Palestinian owners.

The new route will follow the actual border between the West Bank and Israel, as opposed to encroaching onto large amounts of non-Israeli land.

Many had accused the army of using the barrier to meet the needs of the settler's movement and enact a land grab. In repeated rulings, the highest court in Israel demanded the barrier in this area be moved to reflect the border and the security needs, not the desire of a minority.

The new Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has called on the government to determine the route of the fence and any future border with an independent Palestine, and not the armed forces.

This decision, albeit five years too late, is one positive step towards reclaiming Israeli democracy.
Read more!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Turkey and Greece to Hold Cyprus Peace Talks

For those not in the know, the way this whole thing in Cyprus started, as I understand it, is that in 1974 there was a half-baked Greek coup to try and claim Cyprus as sovereign Greek land, so the Turkish army jumped in and claimed a chunk of the Mediterranean island. Since then, the international community has more or less shunned Turkish Cyprus, and the conflict has been the final sticking point in Turkey's acceptance into the EU--which in my opinion would be a positive development in world affairs (more on why, below). It also comes amidst a not-so-publicized, in the US, French diplomatic concept called the Union for the Mediterranean (they originally called it the Mediterranean Union, and later changed the name). The Union was supposed to incorporate North African, Middle Eastern and Northern and Western Mediterranean nations. Libya declined to participate. At some point the whole EU got thrown into the mix, and that I suppose is why they changed the name.

The New York Times reports on the Cyprus talks. My thoughts after the jump. (click below)
All in all, I find the Union concept in the Mediterranean rather distasteful when it is packaged as a means for World Bank (i.e., American) and EU funders to grease their wheels. Most of all, until EVERY nation that would participate recognize EVERY OTHER NATION that is participating, it means nothing.

Ultimately, if each Arab nation involved does not recognize the Jewish State of Israel, there is no actual Union. If the Jewish State does not recognize the right to self-determination and statehood of the Palestinian people on their historic land, there is no actual Union.

Yet, the prospect of Turkey in the EU helps make the Union for the Mediterranean more "real," in that it provides the opportunity for Turkey to be a more substantial mediator between the Western and Eastern Mediterranean nations. This is key in regard to finally getting a diplomatic solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Turkey has been playing a key role in getting Israel and Syria to the negotiating table. As of yet, Turkey has been the messenger pigeon for the two nations, because politics are stupid and the two grown men who "lead" each nation will not even shake hands or speak on the phone. Turkey, recently, said it would no longer play that role, and wanted to two to start contacting each other directly.

At the Paris conference in July to celebrate and inaugurate the Union for the Mediterranean, French President Nicolas Sarkozy attempted to posture himself as a potential peacemaker in the Middle East. Track records in peace negotiations show that the US is the only nation who has had substantial success in bringing Israelis and Palestinians together. Israel simply does not trust Europe. Perhaps it was the whole letting millions of people be killed, get deported and flee for their lives...

The Palestinians, it seems, do not trust anybody. And they shouldn't--the whole world has treated them terribly. (see, we Jews and Palestinians have so much in common!)

Yet, humor me here. Let's just say that come September, Cyprus does unify by a joint national referendum. This would begin the process, presumably, of Turkey entering the EU. Amidst the fanfare and excitement, Turkey would gain a larger international stature. Some point between now and September (probably sooner rather than later) there will be a new Prime Minister in Israel. Chances are, God forbid, it will be Bibi Netanyahu (who may have hired Carl Rove, eek!). Other people who have been spoken of in the media as possible candidates are Ehud Barak (makes me shiver just thinking about it) and Tzipi Livni.

For those who do not know of Tzipi Livni, she is worth knowing about. I do not have good feelings about any of these candidates (or any Israeli politician; they're as shady as they come, the lot of them, according to polls Israelis think so too). Yet, the prospects of having a woman in the peace process is a positive thing. Livni is a Likudnik through and through, meaning she is hardlined on security and a member of the only party to have made successful progress in peace negotiations, ironically enough.

With Turkey in the EU, and a female Prime Minister in Israel, a real Syrian peace treaty is possible. If Israel and Syria can sign a formal peace treaty and begin to normalize relations it will make it much easier to make peace in Lebanon. I have a firm belief, at this point, that Israel and Palestine will live side by side only after Israel and each of its neighbors make peace, only then will the Palestinians and Israelis be able to successfully sign an agreement, I believe. With a new US president taking office in 2009 a new aspect is thrown in the mix.

If Obama does succeed in becoming president, it provides a unique opportunity for an international approach to peacemaking. The European people are absolutely in love with him (and this is ONLY because he's not George Bush, not a Republican, and not drumming war). Now(ish) might be an opportune time to make an international drive for a few rounds of negotiations, mediated by Turkey, the United States and France. These three provide a unique chance that other nations do not have. Turkey, having begun its process in joining the EU means a few things to Israel. 1) It is a western friendly nation in its neighborhood, a rare thing. 2) Israelis go to Cyprus on a near-daily basis to avoid an oppressive religious monopoly of marriage rites; so seeing a unified Cyprus may have an effect on them and can serve as a model. 3) A stronger Turkey can provide more leverage on Syria, and this would be very reassuring to Israel.

Israelis need US presence in the negotiation as a 'security blanket,' like the kind that babies use. It makes them feel better to have a 'friend' around, and that makes sense. American and Israeli interests are not actually the same, but they at least pretend they are for better posturing. But the ties do run deep.

France is also unique because, although a conservative, Sarkozy has displayed a desire for international cooperation while France is at the temporary helm of the EU. France will hold that responsibility until December--through the Cyprus talks in September and the US election in November. The Israeli election process will likely begin before the end of the summer. This means that Sarkozy will be the European rep during some tumultuous times in global politics. Sarkozy provides a unique opportunity to be a mediator for peace, France is home to very large Arab and Jewish populations. Sarkozy is, himself, part Jewish (on his father's side); and for whatever reason that might even matter. France is a powerful and historic figure in the Middle East as former colonizer and current money-lender and nuclear plant builder. I would have high hopes in removing the Quartet (UN, EU, Russia and US) and creating the Trio (Turkey, France, US) and have the UN, EU, Egypt and Jordan play advisory roles.

Needless to say, things feel like they are reaching a boiling point again in Israel. Cyprus, were they to successfully create a unified nation, may serve as a positive model for the region to sit down and hammer out painful agreements.

Dreaming? Perhaps. Positivity takes optimism.

Read more!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Will LA City Council ban plastic bags?

Shoppers of Whole Foods Markets are already used to this trend, but now the city of Los Angeles is taking action--and good thing. When people refer to 'plastic bags,' we are talking about polyethylene bags, a petroleum product. These plastics are made from the same oil as our gasoline and add substantially to worldwide pollution and waste.

The LA Times reports that the City Council of Los Angeles voted today to ban plastic carryout bags in the city's supermarkets and stores by July 2010, if the State of California fails to impose legislation requiring a $.25 fee on each bag requested from a store or market. The city hopes to reduce the number of plastic bags in LA by 30% by 2010.

Estimates say that almost 400 billion plastic mags are manufactured for use in the United States each year, 100 billion are thrown away. The fact of the matter is that plastic bags, while a nuisance and a danger to birds and sea life, are incredibly useful and practical. They are lightweight, compact and reusable--in other words, shipping and producing them is relatively easy. However we all need to be more responsible with how we use our plastic bags.

The simplest way to more responsibly use plastic bags is to use them as sparingly as possible. The most successful and sustainable form of recycling is reusing. By reusing we reduce waste and keep harmful product out of landfills. Plastic bags are great to take to the market to bring home your local fruits, veggies and flowers; they are handy trash bags for small bins and can even be used to dump organic kitchen waste to your backyard compost bin or heap, and then wash the bag and use it again. I just used a number of plastic bags to bundle clothes to donate. There uses are endless, and with so many billions of them being made all the time, isn't it time to stop using and producing new ones? The other way to help get rid of some of these bags is to buy reusable bags that are more durable and made of recycled plastic and/or glass or use baskets.

The LA City Council is taking a positive step to create a serious reduction in the amount of plastic bags in just two years. Regulating citywide business, in this regard, is not a solution. However, the statement to actively reduce the use of plastic bags by a substantial amount in a relatively short amount of time is a good model and sends a positive message.

Thank you, people of Los Angeles, for beginning to reduce plastic bags in our city.
Read more!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Winona LaDuke talks about Thunder Beings

One of my favorite people, 1996 and 2000 Green Party vice-presidential candidate and activist Winona LaDuke, has an interview in Yes! Magazine. Ms. LaDuke has made her name with an amazingly impressive and positive resume as an activist for indigenous rights, and environmental and anti-nuclear movements as well. Born to a Jewish mother and Ojibwe father in LA, Ms. LaDuke now lives on the White Earth reservation in Minnesota, and is the executive director of Honor the Earth and White Earth Land Recovery Project (YOU REALLY NEED TO CLICK HERE!!!), in the interview Winona LaDuke spins a tale of traditional belief, traditional food and how to live and not destroy.
Ojibwe is a language of 8,000 verbs. The word for “work” is a strange construct for us. It doesn’t mean we aren’t a hard-working people, but in our language, the word is anokii, which means that whether you are fishing or weaving a basket, what you are doing is living—which is not the same thing as being paid a wage to do something.
After the harvest, we have a big feast, and we dance and tell stories. The anthropologists watched us, and they didn’t like that. They said we would never become civilized because we enjoyed our harvest too much. We did too much dancing, too much singing.
When you no longer enjoy your relationship to your food, to your plant relatives, to the harvest, to the dancing and singing—when you end up with a harvest that has no relationships or joy, I think that must be the mark of civilization and industrialized agriculture.
Ultimately, Winona LaDuke sets out a very positive look at possibilities. She tells it like it is, and unfortunately, "it" is a depressing tale of how governments, corporations, and pure consumer ignorance has led to the absolute depletion of indigenous food practices and indigenous food knowledge--worldwide. But LaDuke shows us this positive example from her own homestead,
We are growing more of our own food. About seven years ago, we got a handful of Bear Island flint corn from a seed bank and now we have about five acres of it. The corn is higher in amino acids, antioxidants, and fiber than anything we can buy in the store.
The traditional varieties of food that we grew as indigenous peoples—before they industrialized them and bred out much of the nutritional value—are the best answer to our diabetes. A third of our population is diabetic. We give elders and diabetic families traditional foods every month: buffalo meat, wild rice, hominy.
My 8-year-old, Gwekaanimad, and I started a pilot project with the school lunch program after I saw that they were eating pre-packaged food from
Sodexho, Sysco, and Food Services of America. We try to give our school kids a buffalo a month and also some deer meat, some local pork, and local turkeys. We started growing and raising our own. It’s just a start. We had to de-colonize our kids, too, because they got used to thinking that their food was that other stuff.
We plowed 150 gardens last year on our reservation. I’m a big proponent of gardens, not lawns. It turns out in most reservation housing projects you can’t grow food. That spot in front of your house is where you park your car, or your dogs will trample it, or your cousin will drive over it. So we’re putting two-foot-tall grow boxes up there, and you can grow a lot of vegetables in them.
Our goal is to produce enough food for a thousand families in five years. And these foods we are growing in anishinaabe akiing are not addicted to petroleum, and they don’t require irrigation or all those inputs. These strong plant relatives just require songs and care for the soil. And in a time of climate destabilization, that is what you want to be growing. You don’t want to be guessing with some hybrid.
Personally, I'm going to listen to Winona LaDuke about rice LONG before I listen to Uncle Ben.
Really, click above, read the interview, buy some rice and other goods (Minnesota's closer than Thailand or India, even if it isn't local!), but more importantly, you can trust it came from a positive source.

Thank you, Winona LaDuke, for a lifetime of positive action, creation and living.
Read more!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"The Real Dirt on Farmer John"

If this website was a source for things not positive, I would include a lengthy write-up on how the American government and the American consumer destroyed the American farm. Research it yourselves, it's a sad story. Until last night, I knew of very few positive things to come out of the challenge and struggle of the American farmer in post-war America, an era notably marked by a growing disconnect with our land and the source of our food, replaced by packaged and processed foods provided by government subsidized corporations with more attention and resources given to advertising and profit than nutrition or sustainability.

John Peterson, however, has a different story. He sprouted on a farm near Beloit, Wisconsin out of the very essence of the "American farm." The son of a farmer, who seems to have been the son of a farmer (and so on and so forth, he's done many things, but one constant in his life from birth to now has been farming. I encountered "Farmer John" in his movie (2006), last night, "The Real Dirt on Farmer John," which is a biographical documentary on
"a maverick Midwestern farmer. Castigated as a pariah in his community, Farmer John bravely transforms his farm amidst a failing economy, vicious rumors, and arson. He succeeds in creating a bastion of free expression and a revolutionary form of agriculture in rural America."
John's story is ultimately a great success. He is so much more than a farmer (which is no small thing!!!); he is a visionary, a revolutionary, an artist, a teacher and a creator. He is the true positive image of an American, in all honesty. Out of his lifelong pursuit and struggle as a farmer, grew a vibrant, organic, bio-dynamic farm that supplies fresh, delicious, nutritious food to local consumers.

If you live in the Chicago area (click here for a map!) you can buy a share in his Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA). Also make sure to check out the CSA Learning Center, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary.

There is an easy solution to the growing food crisis--your local farmer. Check out John's movie, it's available on netflix; join me in writing John to say, Thank you, Mr. Peterson, for sticking it out and being a positive model and a positive source for local produce, and so much more. Or if you're in the Midwest stop by (another map!) and say 'thank you,' in person.
Read more!

Friday, July 18, 2008

A whole new take on the 'electric slide'

Dance, Dance Revolution, in a whole new light. A new nightclub has opened in London's Kings' Cross neighborhood called Club Surya, which means sun in Hindi, and is the name of their chief Hindu sun deity.

Reuters reports:
"If Princes Harry and William and their aristocratic friends, who are frequently spotted at Boujis or Mahiki, want to attend Surya they will have to sign a pledge to work towards curbing climate change like all patrons attending the club in north London."
The club features free admittance for walkers and cyclists, a solar energy system and wind turbine which produce surplus energy--kindly donated to neighbors--they even have waterless, air flush toilets. But the real gem of the club has got to be its dance floor.

Former Parliamentary candidate, barrister, and millionaire Andrew Charalambous, or as he calls himself, Dr. Earth, is the founder of Club Surya and has promised to donate all profits from the club to charity. He is getting his money into the recycling game, largely to stock his club with recycled glass, metal and paper. But this dance floor is simply ingenious.

According to Reuters,
The dancefloor uses the concept of piezoelectricity, where crystals and ceramics create a charge to generate electricity.

"We estimate that if you had loads of clubbers dancing vigorously it would provide 60 percent of the club's energy needs," said Charalambous.
This is not exactly new technology. I remember reader a little while back in Ode Magazine some people interested in urban sustainability who had been developing a sidewalk that would produce energy.

Needless to say, the example that Mr. Charalambous is setting is an admirable one. Charity driven business, sustainabile uses of energy and educating his customer base on the need for positive progress and change. Thank you, Andrew Charalambous, for being a positive model!
Read more!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Emperor on Trial

The New York Times (my ever growing source for positive news!) reports a bombshell!

If you thought that congress was on a permanent vacation, you might well be right, but... Congressman John Conyers of Michigan, at least, is hard at work.

"Over the last seven plus years, there have been numerous credible allegations of serious misconduct by officials in the Bush administration," said Conyers, a Michigan Democrat.

According to the NYT, Conyers "scheduled a July 25 hearing on 'the Imperial Presidency of George W. Bush and possible legal responses.'"

Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, had previously ruled out impeachment, when former presidential candidate, and vegan, Congressman Dennis Kucinich brought impeachment charges against Mr. Bush.

The resolution is sponsored by Congressman Kucinich, who has long been a voice of progress and dissent in his congressional career. Here is a description of the resolution from his website.

Some of my thoughts, click below.

That the congressman uses the language "Imperial Presidency," is a positive thing. We have been living in a fear-factory, and there was a time in this man's administration that one in Mr. Conyers' position would not dare use such language. There was a time in this man's administration where people on the street did not feel comfortable using such language. That is not positive.

That it has taken eight years to even begin to consider bringing this man to justice, that is not positive. That it is happening now, is positive. This is a positive step towards the possibility of retrieving the integrity of our Constitution and the integrity of our reputation. Congressman Kucinich has worked tirelessly to bring a message of peace and progress to the American people. Most of the time he was not given fair and equal media coverage, and his message was smeared and lost in the spin.

In an era when nearly 80% of Americans do not believe our country is on "the right track," it is a positive thing when the legislative institution, established to serve as a protection AGAINST the very manipulations and abuses of power that this administration has exhibited with hubris, begins the legal process of investigation. It is a positive thing when the House Judiciary Committee Chairman can issue just legal and political decisions and yet be slandered by the current administration as "putting the final stamp on a chairmanship that will be most remembered as a political vaudeville act." We all know, in contrast, who the showmen have been.

Positive hope is, perhaps, possible for our nation, yet. While it is a little late, let us all write Congressman Conyers and say, Thank you!

Read more!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

One MORE reason to move to Hawaii

The Honolulu Star Bulletin editorializes:
"The 50th state is the first in the nation to require solar water heaters to be installed on new single-family homes,"
and a good thing! Hawaii is setting themselves up as a model of positive development, following countries like Israel--who has had mandatory solar heating on all residences except for towers with inadequate roof-space since the 1970s. This means that 90% of family homes in Israel have solar water heaters.

Why every city in America doesn't do this, is beyond me. But here's one example of someone who took the matter into their own hands--literally.
Or if you're not feeling up to that challenge, they're actually pretty reasonably priced.

I'm writing Mayor Villaraigosa of Los Angeles today. Why not write your mayor, too? Even if you're in Israel or Hawaii! Just to say, Thank you!
Read more!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Vertical Farming--are 'living buildings' the future of the urban landscape?

What if our skylines were vibrant, lush living eco-systems? What if local produce meant a few blocks, rather than dozens of miles? What if our farms were protected from element, wind contamination and infestation, thereby securing absolutely chemical-free food? What if the urban landscape was transformed from twisted and riveted metals and steel into a green paradise?

If Dickson Despommier of Columbia University can get his Vertical Farm Project off the ground(literally) this vision might become reality. Click below to find out more about vertical farming and some tips on what you can do to make a difference.

According to a write-up recently published in the New York Times, the idea for vertical farming was created in 1999 and was born in discussion with his graduate students studying medical ecology. The facts from the Vertical Farm Project website are staggering:

By the year 2050, nearly 80% of the earth's population will reside in urban centers. Applying the most conservative estimates to current demographic trends, the human population will increase by about 3 billion people during the interim. An estimated 109 hectares of new land (about 20% more land than is represented by the country of Brazil) will be needed to grow enough food to feed them, if traditional farming practices continue as they are practiced today. At present, throughout the world, over 80% of the land that is suitable for raising crops is in use (sources: FAO and NASA). Historically, some 15% of that has been laid waste by poor management practices. What can be done to avoid this impending disaster?

For this concept to work, it would take a rethinking of the entire concept of the urban arena. It seems that Mr. Despommier's work has been noticed by important folks in important places, most notably Scott M. Stringer, the president of the borough of Manhattan. He likes the Vertical Farm Project so much, he has embraced it and wants to put it into action. According to the New York Times report,
"Mr. Stringer’s office is “sketching out what it would take to pilot a vertical farm,” and plans to pitch a feasibility study to the mayor’s office within the next couple of months, he said."

The article also references Jerry Kaufman, an urban planner at the University of Wisconsin, who queries, "Why does it have to be 30 stories? Why can't it be six stories?" And this question serves a great point. We need not wait for the city planners of Manhattan to build a multi-million dollar 'living building;' we can bring our own buildings to life by some simple home gardening. Climate change can be combated at home without buying a hybrid car or purchasing wind power. Start by taking some simple steps at home, like these listed below, toward a carbon-neutral climate.
  • Use window boxes to grow small herbs and leaves instead of decorative flowers; hearty greens and lettuces can be gorgeous in addition to delicious!
  • Lawns do not have to be grass; flowers and vegetables can make beautiful and useful additions that help the ecosystem, reduce toxins, purify the air and provide something useful and beautiful
  • Flat roofs and patio/decks can be used to grow food in large pots
  • Sandboxes, barrels and wagons make great vegetable, herb and flower beds; just fill with dirt and plant!
  • Backyard and kitchen composting are helpful for the environment, useful for planting and gardening and even fun and educational for kids!

Keep posted here for more information about urban gardening, including an exclusive interview with a professional urban gardener with plenty of tips for your own gardening. In the mean time, it is important to acknowledge the important work that the Vertical Farm Project is doing. Thank you, Dickson Despommier, for making our cities more sustainable and more livable.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

"It takes a school, not missiles"

When I attended the presidential inauguration in 2004, I (and a number of others) managed to get into seats that had been set aside for Republican attendees (how that is American or legal, I don't know). One gentleman had on a leather jacket with duct tape writing on the back "build gardens, not bombs". A security guard told him he could leave or take off the jacket... in January in D.C. He took off the jacket, or turned it inside out, either way, he stayed. But the idea seemed offensive to people, and that is mind boggling.

I was happy to find a positive op-ed piece in the New York Times about a very special man who lives by a similar sentiment to the message on that jacket named Greg Mortenson. I had never heard of Mr. Mortenson, but I am surely inspired by the story I read. Simply put, he builds schools in Afghanistan, rather than blow them up.

Read the op-ed piece and his website for a good idea of what he does. For a concise understanding of what he has done, enjoy this quote from the op-ed piece:
"So a lone Montanan staying at the cheapest guest houses has done more to advance U.S. interests in the region than the entire military and foreign policy apparatus of the Bush administration."

Author and activist, Greg Mortenson is making real and substantial difference in a small and fractured part of the world. According to his wikipedia site, "Greg Mortenson (born 27 December 1957) is a mountain climber, former United States Army medic, and humanitarian from Bozeman, Montana." Mr. Mortenson also has a blog which seems to not have been updated recently but is a wealth of great and inspiring information.

Here is a transcripted segment of a recent CNN International report, from March '08, on Greg Mortenson and his work:

Greg Mortenson brushed his tears away. His body sagged when he saw it happen. The prize he had sought for 78 agonizing days was slipping from his view. from the top, blocking his path to the summit.

Now more than his vow was at risk. His life was in danger, too. His climbing party had started out with 12 men. Five would die. He was lost and alone at 25,000 feet with an empty water bottle and one protein bar.

"I felt as if there was an angel holding my hand, trying to take me to the top," he said. "When I lost that hand, I decided I better go down. "

What Mortenson found on his descent would test his will as much as K2. He would stagger into a remote Pakistani village, have his heart "torn out" by an unexpected encounter, and meet a girl who altered his life with one question: "Can you help me build a school?"

He didn't know it at the time, but he was about to take another dangerous journey.

Mortenson shared the details of that journey in "Three Cups of Tea," a best-selling book he wrote with journalist David Oliver Relin.

Since 1996, Mortenson has helped build 63 schools for children in Pakistan and Afghanistan through the nonprofit group, the Central Asia Institute. The group's premise: books, not bombs, are the best weapons against extremist groups like the Taliban.

"The real enemy is ignorance and ignorance breeds hatred," he said.

The schools encourage girls to enroll. The ultimate goal: produce educated girls who, when they become mothers, will teach tolerance to their sons.

"You can drop bombs, you can build roads, but if you don't educate girls, the society is not going to change."

That message has made Mortenson popular man. He lives in Montana with his wife, Tara, and their two children, Amira and Khyber. But he's constantly on the road, giving speeches and traveling to Asia.

That message has also made him a marked man. Mullahs have issued death threats against him. In the book, he described being kidnapped and held hostage by the Taliban. He's also received hate mail from Americans who don't think he should educate Muslim children.

Yet he shrugs off any notion of being a hero.

"I see girls walking three hours to school," he said. "I see girls who are being threatened at home by the Taliban still trying to go to school."

This man is one of many people who came out of the military who clearly recognize that violence provides no paths to freedom. Since his vision and those whom Mr. Mortenson has inspired and touched make the world a safer place, I feel strongly that we all should together be saying-Thank you, Mr. Mortenson, for making real difference in the lives of people in a scarred nation.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Alaska Airlines says, "Say no to High Fructose Corn Syrup"

No doubt, the airline industry is the source of much environmental devastation, and I rarely enjoy my experiences flying these days. But a friend of mine (who is one of these righteous future lawyers) just came to LA for a visit and had some very positive things to say about her flight. She flew Alaska Airlines and came with some interesting reports. First off, they asked people to save their cups for re-use during the second beverage service to reduce waste; second and more importantly, the beverage options did not include Coca Cola or Pepsi, but rather Root Beer and Pure Cane Cola--provided by Jones Soda. Keep reading...

According to this late-winter Reuters report, Alaska Airlines began serving the soda April 1, 2008 on 1000 flights daily. What makes Jones Soda different? Aside from their bizarre flavors like Blue Bubble Gum and Fufu Berry, the soda company only uses natural cane sugar, as opposed to the High Fructose Corn Syrup found in most soft drinks.

According to the press release, the partnership is not so much based on environmental or health ideals, but rather on the philosophy that both companies, Alaska Air and Jones, are based in Seattle. I like to believe, however, that Alaska Air is sticking it to the big soda giants who poison our bodies, air and seas. However, this is the second time that the company has ousted Coca Cola; after the home field of the Seattle Seahawks serviced the corporate super-giant responsible for worldwide devastation (here and here) for three decades, the team stadium went with Jones.

In an industry where little is done to combat climate change or environmental and health crises, it is refreshing to see Alaska Airlines take the lead in changing these patterns. Alaska Air has taken two concrete steps in making a difference--serving a natural beverage that does not contain the toxic and corrosive ingredient, High Fructose Corn Syrup, that has inundated our food supply, and having customers reuse (the most effective form of recycling).

Thank you, Alaska Airlines, for trying to make a difference.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Some healthy competition

The Huffington Post is reporting a totally new take on "beating the jones'." Neighborly competition may be a highlight of human nature. We've all seen those people who build a bigger extension, put up more Christmas lights, buy a nicer car, anything to out-do the neighbors. But now, Bill Nye (the Science Guy, of former child-TV fame) and Ed Begley, Jr. (with a TV and film resume too long to list) have entered into a friendly, neighborly competition that should serve as a model for that competitive bug that resides in every human. Find out what it is...

Ed Begley, Jr. has long been an activist for clean green living. He is a former owner of the GM EV1 (watch "Who Killed the Electric Car?"), has a line of green cleaning supplies and is one of the more outspoken voices in Hollywood against climate change and has been so for at least two decades, long before the green-fad was upon us. Ed Begley and Bill Nye reside in Studio City, CA and when Bill Nye moved in two years ago the two began a "greener than him" competition. The article at The Huffington Post lists all the specs of each actor's green abode, and it is impressive.

Clearly one needs lots of cash to create such a home in today's world, but they can be a model for us all on rethinking competition. Furthermore, some of their improvements, like collecting rainwater for cleaning and watering plants or growing simple garden foods like herbs and greens, are things we can ALL do to reduce our "carbon footprints."

So, while we may not all have the financial ability to challenge our neighbor to a "greener than thou" spat of competition we can each challenge ourselves to make small changes. Bring your own reusable bags to the store to carry off your locally grown produce, re-use your plastic goods instead of sending them to the recycling plant and assume it's all ok (for a good, but out-dated read on the problems with traditional recycling, look here), use green businesses when you can and there's more.

I, for one, encourage the competition between Mr. Nye and Mr. Begley and encourage us all to reduce our own carbon footprint.

Thank you, Bill Nye and Ed Begley, for being a model of healthy competition.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

"The United States is the Saudi Arabia of Wind Power"

I have been convinced there is a solution to our energy crisis and his name is T. Boone Pickens. If you're thinking to yourself, "now that name just screams oilman!" you're right! T. Boone Pickens is the CEO of Mesa Power, the largest producer of domestic oil and gas, and a Texas billionaire with questionable business ethics. But anyone can change...

That being said, he has seen the light, so to speak, and has decided to invest $2 billion in wind power. He also has a really nifty website and a facebook group.

His plan is a two-tier system involving wind power and natural gas. According to his website, the California Energy commission says that natural gas vehicles (NGV) are 23% cleaner than diesel and 30% cleaner than gasoline, yet out of 7 million NGVs worldwide, just 150,000 of those are in the US. Now, when you take into consideration that many urban centers use natural gas for their buses, that's not too many NGVs on our roads. Plus, the United States has a rich and somewhat renewable supply of natural gas, twice that of petroleum already in our reserves.

I am adding to the Pickens Plan (which seems like a great plan). I am starting my own facebook group. I plan to send Mr. Pickens a little note on facebook telling him to invest more of his money in renewable power so his plan can actually happen. Join me.

But also, we must realize the importance of the change that T. Boone Pickens represents. Thank you, T. Boone Pickens, for trying to make change in our nation's energy consumption.

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It ain't easy bein' green

The "leaders" of the world have exhibited a typically leadership-less commitment to lowering the world's carbon output by the year... 2050! 2050!?

At the G-8 conference in Japan, where some members of Oxfam International were arrested during their peaceful protests, these people elected to rule their countries made an embarrassing promise universally criticized by environmentalist organizations as not even coming close to coming close to solving a serious worldwide problem.

While the world's leaders sit in their fancy homes and fancy clothes, eating their fancy food, those in developing nations are suffering from the effects of climate change. Meanwhile, one American city's mayor is trying to make a difference now.

Mayor Bill White of Houston wants to make his city the greenest in America. I first heard of Bill White in an NPR interview, and he has some great ideas for the future of Houston and America. The fact that Texas has no zoning regulations makes it easy for him to make Houston a center of mixed-use development, pairing residential and commercial zones in the same district so people can have all their services and amenities within walking distance, making it easier for Houston to have no carbon footprint.

The man has some great ideas, many of which have already been implemented. Houston has hybrid buses for public transport, he has established Houston's own Clean Air Act dedicated to lowering cancer rates in communities where mainly minorities reside. He also has a Green Building Advisory Committee and he has made it so Houston, TX runs 25% of its energy from wind power and he also intends to expand the use of solar power. All this and more can be read about at the city's website.

This mayor even makes me want to move to Texas.

As the world's "leaders" flounder in the face of this global crisis, it is nice to know that Bill White, the Mayor of Houston, Texas is doing what he can to make a difference, not in 2050, but right now.

Thank you, Mayor Bill White, for making a difference.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Seeing sustainable seas

For better or worse, I am embarking on a cruise Thursday--Key West, Cozumel and a day at sea. The problems (here is just a small example on a website from Hawaii) with the cruise industry are so plentiful that I do not want to get into them here, in the name of positivity. Let us just say I am joining my family and honoring my parents and grandparents (that's positive, right? a 'positive commandment, at least... ok, that's not funny)

In name of my shameful voyage, I offer you this positive report on at least one nation doing work to make cruising more sustainable--my vote would be to make it extinct, but if it's going to be around, best to work together to make it work for all people and the earth.

Labor and social issues aside (which are horrific), the environmental impact is shocking and hard to ignore when you're actually on one of these gigantic ships. Although, for whatever reason the people on the ship don't ever seem to notice... must be the booze. There are efforts from many organizations, most notably Conservation International, are working with (and around or above) the cruise industry to make our waters safer for marine life and more sustainable for our future generations.

Look here for a full report on what the government of Belize is getting involved in...

More positive news when I return next week.
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