Sunday, March 30, 2008

Our Saturday Night "Earth Hour"

I didn’t learn about Earth Hour until Friday, when an email message arrived from M’Powering Madison. But it was still fun to participate — a Reuters article suggests we weren’t the only ones: 380 towns and cities in 35 countries, including 3500 businesses and up to 30 million people tuned off non-essential lights for an hour yesterday, to call attention to global warming. I also noticed Gooogle pitched in by “going dark” on their search page (with an all-black background and a link to an event description) to draw attention to the event.

A contrarian blogger noted candles emit more C02 than the average bulb. I wasn’t sure I believed this, but I decided we would forgo candles as well. For light during Earth Hour at my house, we just used a crank-powered flashlight propped up on a table. The nice part, though, was the opportunity to bring out a hand-cranked radio I received for Christmas a few years ago. It worked great — we even received Radio Havana’s English service on a very clear signal on one of the radio’s shortwave bands. After the international news from Cuba, we explored the dial and stumbled upon a CBS Studio One radio play from the 1940s: Marcel Pagnol’s “Topaz.” The local NPR station runs Old Time Radio Drama on Saturday nights — I have to say, we were immediately hooked and extended Earth Hour an extra half hour to hear the end of the program!

It was easy — and fun — to unplug everything and just chill out with the radio. I also loved that our light and radio were running on hand-cranked power. Now I’m curious to find out if I can locate some solar-powered or other non-electric lights, even small ones, so we can do this more often.

Today’s mitzvah: How might you make energy reduction fun today?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Turn Off Your Lights: March 29 at 8 pm

One evening in March 2007 Sydney, Australia went dark for one hour. This wasn’t a blackout: the city wanted to make a statement and ease the pressure on the earth, and 2.2 million people turned off their lights.

This year cities around the world are participating in Earth Hour 2008 including Atlanta, Bogota, Chicago, Copenhagen, Madison, WI, Ottawa, Phoenix, San Francisco, Tel Aviv, Vancouver, and more. You can too: on Saturday, March 29, at 8 pm (your local time), turn off your lights for one hour. Urge friends and neighbors to do the same.

Here’s a background video:

Today’s mitzvah: Spread the word about Earth Hour 2008 — and turn out those lights at 8 pm!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

No More Filmy Plastic Produce Bags

July 12, 2008: See my update on another nice alternative to grocery store produce bags.
I was feeling very virtuous at Whole Foods yesterday, where I’d traveled by bus with my happy Baggu reusable bags. And then I grabbed some radishes and pulled a produce bag off the roll — ugh, not only bad plastic, but plastic I wouldn’t even re-use. Just as I was feeling very unhappy about this choice, I noticed a stand of these reusable mesh produce bags. If I’d comaprison shopped online, I would have found cheaper ones, and probably some from recycled material. But I was so happy not to walk out of the store with nasty filmy plastic, I snapped these up. I think they’ll also fold up so I can put one in each of my Baggu pouches.

Today’s mitzvah: How can you take an extra step and become even more eco-friendly?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Vote for the Final Four

The Case Foundation’s “Make It Your Own” Awards has been soliciting grant proposals to encourage creative solutions to complex community-based problems. They’ve narrowed their finalists down to 20, and are now soliciting the public to vote for the final four grant proposals vying for a $25,000 grant. From SOS (Speak Out Sister)’s young women-based activism in Madison, WI, to a Bellingham, WA’s group’s proposal to create a community-based health care plan for their town, the grant proposals are creative examples of people joining together to tackle issues in their own cities and neighborhoods.

Voting is open until April 22. As an added bonus, for the first ten people whose votes match the ultimate Fnal Four, the Case Foundation will donate $2500 to their favorite charity.

Today’s mitzvah: Join in participatory philanthropy at the Make It Your Own Awards.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Some Reflections

I’m back from a quick trip to New York over spring break, and in a fog with a bad cold I think I picked up on the flight out. It was disorienting not to have a Carbon Fast post today, but I wanted to look back over the past 40-ish days to reflect. I learned about the Carbon Fast for Lent at about the same time I was feeling in a rut with the blog. I was running out of fresh ideas and I felt the posts were becoming too web oriented. So the timing was perfect — I also knew I would be more likely to do the daily Carbon Fast actions myself if I was also blogging about them.

What I hadn’t anticipated: how many new bloggers and readers I would meet in the process. For all the terrific environmental actions, the human aspects are what really made this the most meaningful for me. Thank you for reading, emailing, and especially posting comments!

Looking back over all the Carbon Fast activities: we accomplished a lot! For me, I’m most excited about kicking the plastic bag habit at the grocery — something that was long overdue but now feels like second nature. I am also very pleased about switching our house to the local utility’s “green energy plan,” something else I’d been meaning to do, and without the Carbon Fast would probably still have on my procrastination list. Still on my To Do list: work on eating more local food and less that’s flown in from far away. I also still have my eye on that indoor composting device. Overall, I do feel I’m more aware of the environmental impact of my daily life decisions — something I hope to take with me through the year.

Thank you to everyone who joined us on this adventure!

Today’s mitzvah: How will you take the spirit of the Carbon Fast into the post-Lent world?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Grand Finale

Sunday, March 23: Easter Day
“Replace your missing bulb with an energy-saving lightbulb. Over its lifetime, you will save 60kg of carbon dioxide per year and up to £60. Make a personal pledge to serve others by pursuing a more sustainable way of life.”

Today we conclude the Carbon Fast for Lent by returning to the very first activity. We began the fast by removing a lightbulb from a conspicuous location and living without it for the duration of Lent. Today we replace that bulb to acknowledge Lent is over — but replace it with a sustainable bulb to symbolize that our commitment continues into the new season. How fitting this falls so closely to spring as well: a new beginning for all of us.

I’m excited to replace my bulb (its absence has been bugging me all Lent) but I’ll have to wait until late tonight to do so since I’m writing this from a hotel room in NYC and I’ll spend most of Sunday traveling. I hope all of you are spending Easter someplace other than airports! I’ll post some post–Carbon Fast thoughts on the blog Monday. In the meantime: a very hppy Easter and (belated) happy spring to all.

Today’s mitzvah:
Replace that bulb!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: A Greener Church

Holy Saturday and Easter Eve
“Could your church be greener? Talk to your church leaders. Tearfund can help — visit”

Today’s Carbon Fast question is a great activity for those who attend church. For those who don’t: what about work or school? What can we do to make our offices or campuses greener?

On a related note: I stayed at a Hyatt hotel a couple days this week and noticed they’ve implemented a greener policy about towels and bed linens. The hotel no longer changes these automatically every day. Instead, a card in the room asks guests to alert housekeeping or the front desk when they’re ready for new sheets and towels. This was a very large hotel — that’s a lot of energy and water savings by avoiding pro forma washing that isn’t really necessary.

Today’s mitzvah: How can you help your school, office, or church become greener?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: It's Curtains for Carbon

Good Friday
“Draw the curtains to keep the heat in.”

I’d like to say it’s too getting warm for this Carbon Fast action, but I heard we got another snow walloping at home. I may have to stay in NYC indefinitely — I’m really enjoying the snow-free streets!

Today’s mitzvah: Don’t be drafty — close the curtains on cold (or hot) days.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Put a Lid on It

Maundy Thursday
“Put a lid on it. That’s pans when cooking and use a kettle to boil water.”

Sometimes my response to the Carbon Fast is just “okey-dokey.” Today’s action seems pretty straightforward. It did, though, also immediately make me think of Lidsville, the slightly psychedelic kids show from the 70s featuring Charles Nelson Riley, the kid from The Munsters, and a lot of talking hats.

Today’s mitzvah: Pop on a lid when the water is boiling.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Re-Usable Uses

Wednesday in Holy Week
“Re-use an item you would have thrown away — whether that’s jam jars, envelopes or ice-cream containers.”

Hello from Gotham! And what a good idea from our friends at the Carbon Fast. To learn how to make the pretty glass jar lanterns at right, check out this post on Gardeners’ World (and thanks to them for the photo). I also found a neat blog post featuring refrigerator magnets made from various food containers. I couldn’t reach that blogger in time to get photo permission, but you really should check out Making Crafty Fridge Magnets at the “Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories” blog to experience the plethora of possibilities (Good-n-Plenty boxes, Laughing Cow Cheese containers, Altoids tins, raisin boxes, Yoo-Hoo milk pouches — the options amaze).

Today’s mitzvah: Get in touch with your Inner Arts & Crafts Self. What can you re-use in a cool way today?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Dress Your Appliances

Tuesday in Holy Week
“Put an insulation jacket on your hot water tank. If everyone does, we’ll cut enough carbon dioxide to fill 148,000 hot air balloons.”

I confess: I am not a homeowner and probably would not recognize a hot water tank if it walked up and shook my hand. But I’m confident that folks with water tanks know what they are and are willing to dress them in a spiffy jacket.

I’m off to the airport bright and early. I’m taking public transit to Nearby Big City, then two environmentally unfriendly flights. I decided to use to purchase an offset. It was less than 5 bucks, and I picked energy efficiency as the area I wanted to fund. (My other choices were reforestation and renewable energy. I decided reduction is the area to which I’m not contributing elsewhere.)

Today’s mitzvah:
Put some clothes on that tank!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Junk the Junk Mail

Monday in Holy Week
In the UK: “Tell the Mailing Preference Service that you want to stop junk mail. Call 0845 7034599 or visit Sign up to Tearfund’s e-newsletter Twelve at”

As is often the case, the Brits have a lead in Carbon Fast activities. For those of us in the U.S., the North Carolina Dept. of Environmental Protection provides a handy web page entitled “Junk Mail Opt-Out” that includes links to get your name removed from various mailing lists.

If you support the idea of a No Junk Mail Registry similar to the National Do Not Call Registry, Care2 has a petition for you to sign.

Today’s mitzvah: Save some trees: consider steps to reduce the junk mail that makes its way to your mailbox.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Silent Sunday

The Fifth Sunday of Lent
“Have an embrace-the-silence Sunday. Turn off everything. No TV, no radio, no ring tones, no cars. It’ll be good for the soul.”

As we begin the last week of Lent and enter Holy Week, I’m rejoining Tearfund’s Carbon Fast (finally back in sequence after a few DIY days).

The Proper of the Day linked to very good NYT article about a writer taking a Sunday “technology sabbatical,” which also captured my own (high) level of tech addiction pretty well. I teach a couple online classes and my students have an assignment due, so I actually won’t be able to go no-tech today. And I think it would make me jumpy and odd any day — which is ample reason to try.

Today’s mitzvah: Can you embrace the silence and turn off technology for a day? A true Simple Sunday? If you succeed (or not!) let us know what it was like.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Airplanes and Offsets

The Fifth Saturday in Lent
Flying, or taking a long driving trip? Consider a carbon offset to balance the carbon impact

Despite all my carbon savings from not owning a car, I do fly a lot. I’ll even be flying on Easter Day, which is an unhappily ironic way to observe the end of the Carbon Fast for Lent.

At the very least I want to purchase a carbon offset to counteract the negative effects of my flights (even though the jury is out on whether this truly helps or just makes one feel better). I did some quick research and narrowed it down to two vendors. TerraPass is larger and better known, a for-profit that partners with Expedia and also powers Care 2’s Race to Stop Global Warming click-to-give page. positions itself as a nonprofit alternative to TerraPass and allows consumers to choose from three types of offsets: reforestation, renewable energy development, or energy reduction projects. (TerraPass’s projects include clean energy, farm power a.k.a. repurposing methane from animal waste, and landfill gas capture, in a predetermined ratio).

For my upcoming trip, calculated my 1,630-mile round-trip flight trip as producing .29 tons (580 lbs.) of CO2 with an offset cost of $1.61. But if I check a box marked “include radiative forcing” — the contrails one sees leaving traces from planes and other high-altitude effects — my impact increases to .79 tons (1,580 lbs.) of CO2 and an offset cost of $4.36. gave me the option of buying an offset in that amount, or choosing a pre-set “Plane Climate Tag,” beginning at 6,000 miles/ 2500 lbs. C02 for $6.25. At check-out they offered a choice of allocations: reforestation, renewable energy, or energy efficiency.

TerraPass’s calculator returned 1,618 miles and 729 lbs. of CO2 for the same trip. They recommended a 2,000-lb. offset intended to balance 6,000 miles for $9.90, which is their lowest-priced option.

I have a few more days to decide, but I’m leaning toward I like being able to choose which type of offset to fund, they seem to be taking more environmental factors into consideration, they charge less, and it’s a nonprofit. Any thoughts? Chime in!

Today’s mitzvah: Consider a carbon offset for the next flight or long car trip. (TerraPass and even offer wedding offsets!)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Easy Offset

The Fifth Friday in Lent
While experts debate the value of carbon offsets: visit Care2 to offset 1 lb. of carbon for free each day. At least it plants a tree funds a wind farm!

I’ve blogged before about the mildly controversial practice of carbon offsets — the act of planting a tree or otherwise undertaking a carbon-reducing activity to reduce one’s carbon footprint. (Controversial because folks don’t agree on offsets’ effectiveness.) They’re especially popular to compensate for the carbon produced by air travel, which I’ll be writing about tomorrow. Since we’re in the DIY portion of the carbon fast and I have to run to school to teach our last class before spring break: here’s a quick and easy (and free!) small carbon offset for busy people like us. Visit Care2’s Race to Stop Global Warming, click the green button, and site sponsors make a contribution to TerraPass to reduce one lb. of carbon. This is advertiser-driven so there’s no cost to you. The amount of carbon offset is small, but it will cover your carbon footprint from this morning’s shower or an hour of computer use. It’s quick, easy, and can’t hurt!

Today’s mitzvah: Visit Care2 and click to offset 1 lb. of carbon, at no cost to you.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Ban the Bottle

The Fifth Thursday in Lent
Ban the bottle: consider buying a reusable water bottle. Or pick one up as a thoughtful gift for a disposable water bottle-toting friend.

Since I skipped some of the more prayer-based Carbon Fast activities in favor of more action-oriented items: I now have a few extra days to fill. For the next couple days we’ll be DIY carbon fasting as I create a few new activities on my own.

Last fall Carbon Conscious Consumer blogged about San Francisco’s efforts to ban single-serving plastic water bottles. It takes energy to make them, energy to recycle them — and their recycling rates are lower than one might think, since so much of this water is consumed away from home. There are so many choices in reusable water bottles, yet this was an area where I was very slow to change my ways. Even in a university community where everyone carries a backpack, most with water bottles attached — I was too lazy and unmotivated to get with the program. Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised to learn it took a consumer item to make me a convert. Is this SIGG aluminum bottle cute or what? The only drag is they do dent when you drop them. But overall I love this and I tote it everywhere.

Today’s mitzvah: Where do you use the most disposable plastic each day? Is there a fix that would shift this from a recyclable container to a reusable one?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Appliance Inventory

The Fifth Tuesday in Lent
“Any old iron? If it’s on its last legs replace old electrical appliances for energy-efficient models, they could save a third of the energy.”

I typically use appliances until they die. I don’t like throwing away things that still work or buying new stuff before I need it. But today’s Carbon Fast for Lent activity gave me an excuse to post a Degas image I like, so all is not lost!

Today’s mitzvah: Is it time to replace any small appliances with something more efficient?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Radiator Magic

The Fifth Monday in Lent
“Fit aluminium foil behind your radiator – allowing you to turn the radiator down and save £10 a year per radiator.”

I no longer live in an apartment with a radiator, a fact for which I’m actually grateful. My NYC radiator also didn’t really have settings (just “on” and “not on” as I remember). But this sounds like a nifty tip. The Green Guy has DIY instructions and more info.

Since this is such a super short post: I’m also curious if anyone is using carbon offsets when they travel by plane. I’ll be on a research trip the last week in Lent, which involves four planes in five days. (How’s that for undoing a lot of the Lenten good; aargh.) The last time I flew I did something offsetty with Travelocity — I think they partner with TerraPass The Conservation Fund — basically just responding to a pop-up box when I bought the tickets. This time I’m flying on FF miles so there wasn’t a check-out option to add an offset. If anyone does buy carbon offsets and has an opinion or preference for a vendor, I’d love to hear.

Today’s mitzvah: Fun with foil (c’mon, you get to say al-you-MIN-ee-um) — or tell me about carbon offsets.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Happy "Day of Light": March 9, 2008

No Carbon Fast for Lent post today since it’s Sunday. Instead, we go to Brazil courtesy of Good News Network. A Brazilian group has proclaimed March 9th “The Day of Light.” They urge people to buy only magazines and newspapers that promote optimism and hope today. They’re also having a parade on the beach at Copacabana (which sounds pretty darn appealing today) and encourage others to parade wherever they are. Other suggestions: “Communicate. Exchange ideas. Spread your desire for a better world.”

Here’s their video (if you speak Portuguese, choose that option on YouTube, since it has more nuance in the original, but the ideas come through in the English version, too):

Today’s mitzvah: Celebrate with Brazil and find a way to celebrate the Day of Light’s theme: ”Good news can light up a new attitude.”

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Amaze Your Friends

The Fourth Saturday in Lent
“Find out a new fact about the impact of climate change today. Amaze your friends.”

The Carbon Fast has a sense of humor! Or at least great patience. I’m not sure I have an amazing fact at my fingertips, but I’m going to web surf for one later today Here’s an Amazing Tree Fact, which I found wandering around on the web (a welcome break from grading papers): according to Canada’s Northwest Territories Forest Management Division: “One acre of trees annually consumes the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent to that produced by driving an average car for 26,000 miles. That same acre of trees also produces enough oxygen for 18 people to breathe for a year.” Trees: good!

Today’s mitzvah: Amaze us all with a new fact — the odder the better!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Cold Water Wash

The Fourth Friday in Lent
“Run your washing machine at 30 degrees. This uses 40 per cent less electricity than running at 40 degrees.”

OK, in non-metric English: 40 degrees Celsius is 104 Farenheit; 30 C is 86 F. This means I was wrong in my original assumption that the Carbon Fast was asking for cold-water washing — it looks like they’re just suggesting a switch from hot to warm. But if we go that extra mile to actual cold: TerraPass posted an article claiming that for an average household that spends $72/year on electricity for clothes washing, switching to cold water will save 85% or $61. That’s certainly significant. For the environment: a 1,281 lbs. reduction in one’s carbon footprint — wow, that’s a lot.

I’ve been skeptical about cold water washing. Does it really get clothes clean? (And could I sound any more like June Cleaver?) Has anyone tried washing normal stuff (jeans, towels, sheets) in cold water? Let us know.

Today’s mitzvah: Turn down the washer temps!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Home Energy Audit

The Fourth Thursday in Lent
“Do a home energy check at or call 0800 512 012 for a paper copy.You could save up to £250 a year on bills.”

Now we enter a stretch in the Carbon Fast when the activities are so British, I may be in a quandary. I did, though, check my power company’s web site to see what services they offer consumers. I found more than I expected. MG&E provides a tool to access, chart, and graph one’s actual energy use; as well as separate tip sections for home owners and renters (in addition to the Green Power option I blogged about last month).

Today’s mitzvah:
Visit your power company’s web site to see what tips and value-added services they may have for you.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Under Pressure?

The Fourth Wednesday in Lent
“Pressure a car-owner to check their tyre [tire] pressures. Low tyre pressure means high fuel consumption.”

The Carbon Fast realizes I do not own a car. The Carbon Fast is psychic!

While I figure out who to annoy about their tires . . . how much will this save? Ideal Bite says proper inflation can keep up to 383 lbs. of CO2 out of the air each year. Most sources I checked also agree with Ideal Bite’s financial calculations: one can save about 3% annually on fuel costs by keeping the tires properly inflated.

Today’s mitzvah
: Already checked your tire pressure? Teach someone else how to do the same.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Day of Reflection

The Fourth Tuesday in Lent
“‘Love does no harm to its neighbour.’ Romans 13:10. But while our lifestyles consume more and more energy, our poorer neighbours are suffering. Reflect on ways to love our neighbours in our increasingly connected world.”

Thinking of everyone being connected, I keep coming back to Tearfund’s note that people in the UK (where they’re based) produce an average 9.5 tons of carbon per person each year, roughly 25 times the per capita CO2 production of poorer countries. The practical effects? NPR offered an example last week. Before 1991 no one in Peru could remember the last cholera epidemic, but rising ocean temperatures — and an outbreak that killed thousands in a single day — have convinced doctors that the disease’s return is only a matter of time. NPR’s “Watching Peru’s Oceans for Cholera Clues,” offers more details. How many more scourges once thought eradicated are going to make a return as temperatures rise and weather becomes more unstable?

Today’s mitzvah: Take some time to think about why we’re undertaking this carbon fast. I keep coming back to Tearfund’s slogan for this year’s fast, Your Home. Their Survival. What can we do at home to help more?

Monday, March 3, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Fridge De-Icing

The Fourth Monday in Lent
“Who works hardest in the house? Mum? Dad? No, the fridge. It’s churning away 24/7. Treat it to a good de-icing to make sure it’s running efficiently.”

Some days, the Carbon Fast’s main purpose in my life is to make me thankful — in this case, thankful that I no longer have a fridge that needs to be manually defrosted. When I lived in NYC, this was one of my least favorite tasks, even though I knew that by letting the ice build up I was making the motor run much harder and sucking up a lot of electricity. Since I am blessedly spared this now, today I’m going to try to cut down on how often I stand in front of the fridge with the door open.

Today’s mitzvah: Does you freezer require a manual defrost? If you defrost today and let me know, I will send you an eCard thank-you!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Update: Reusable Bags from Recycled Soda Bottles

Although I like my new Baggus (not pictured) because they’re small enough to keep in my bag and use for shopping trips on the way home from school on the bus — for car trips I’m kinda crazy about the reusable stand-up bags I bought from our local discount grocery (pictured above; click for larger image). They’re too bulky to carry around in a backpack or purse, but for planned trips they work great — square and flat-bottomed, they stand-up perfectly in the back of the Community Car and nothing rolls out. They’re made from recycled 2-liter soda bottles, so that’s cool. And I noticed at least 10 other people using them at the store this afternoon, so they’re definitely catching on. If I were an actual car owner I think I would use these for all the grocery trips.