Friday, February 29, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Turn Off the Taps

Friday in the 3rd week of Lent
“Turn the taps off. In one day a hot dripping tap could fill a bath.”

Taps are good here. But, wow, a bathtub in a day. That’s sobering.

Today’s mitzvah: Investigate a simple way to reduce water waste at home.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Composting Update

As a follow-up to Tuesday’s composting entry, I found a neat post on Small Space Living about an indoor composter. I followed the link over the web site for Nature’s Mill: I am very tempted to save my pennies and buy one of these!

The web site includes a video showing the composter in action and explains how it works. It’s designed to live in a kitchen and does the composting right there.

Carbon Fast for Lent: Save Some Paper

Thursday in the Third Week of Lent:
“Find one way to save paper today: re-use an old envelope or print double sided.”

In a bit of recycling myself: I really like Tamara Krinsky’s campaign to reduce the standard default margin in all our docs, as well as her campaign to get Microsoft to reduce the default 1.25" margin in Word, which I blogged about last month here.

Today’s mitzvah: Consider making a cool container to collect one-sided paper for re-use.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Washing Wait

Wednesday in the Third Week of Lent
“Only run your washing machine when you have a full load.”

Anther good reminder from the Tearfund Carbon Fast folks. Our building laundry room has coin-op machines, which does sometimes discourage me from doing small loads. But other times I think, “Hey, it’s only a few quarters, what the heck.”

Tearfund notes that in the UK (where they’re based) an average person produces 9.5 tons of carbon emissions per year. (I can only imagine how much larger that figure must be here in the U.S.) Yet in Ethiopia, the average person emits only 1/10 of one ton. This motivated their slogan for the Carbon Fast: “Your Home. Their Survival.” People in poorer countries, lacking resources, are hit harder by extreme weather and other climate change-induced problems, while those of us who are better-off create more of the problem. I’m trying to remember this during Lent when I feel like some of the more “minor” carbon reducing actions seem unimportant or not worth my time.

Today’s mitzvah:
Can you postpone a partial load of laundry? Use the extra time to visit Green Lent and Listen to the Wombat.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Composting, Anyone?

The Third Tuesday in Lent
“Compost. Put the nutrients from food waste back into the soil — not into a methane emitting landfill.”

Have I mentioned we’ve had 90 inches of snow this season? I’m not sure what composters do in winter. As a longtime apartment dweller I haven’t really given much thought to composting at all. But there’s a community garden nearby: my goal with the spring thaw is to check out if they have a compost heap (if that’s the right word) and if they allow neighbors to use it.

Today’s miztvah: What odd and unexpedted action could you take to reduce your carbon footprint?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Blogging a Day of Eating Locally: Dinner

Checking-in as we try to eat locally today as part of the Carbon Fast for Lent.

The afternoon started well enough. I've been trying to finish writing a chapter all day, which makes me hungry. I wanted a snack and remembered we had some popcorn from the farmer’s market — the old-fashioned kind you make in a pan. It was tasty, but the oil I used isn’t local. I figured Diet Pepsi and Coke One were out (does anyone use local bottlers anymore?), so I had some Klarbrunn’s sparkling water from Watertown, WI (hey, that's almost a pun), which was probably healthier anyway.

It was obvious there was really nothing local in the house for dinner. We have organic frozen food leftover from when I was recovering from a hospital stay, but it’s Amy's, Cedar Lane, and Kashi: good to eat but all from California. I thought about making beans and rice, but wasn’t really in the mood and I don’t think either item is local. Plus I like it with lime, salsa, and the cilantro that I discovered earlier is from Australia. We decided to call it a day and go out for Thai food instead. It’s fair to say almost nothing on my plate was local, some ingredients certainly arrived by plane — but it was quite yummy and we supported a local business.

What have I’ve learned from my mostly-failure of eating locally today? I want to pay more attention to labels and make sure if we’re buying far-flung food it’s actually because we like it an awful lot. We do not need cilantro paste all the way from Australia! I like my Rudi’s organic spelt English muffins (California), but we can rotate them with breads from Nature’s Bakery or Madison Sourdough here in town. And I think we can do better at finding tofu, yogurt, and cheese from local producers — easy to do, I just haven’t bothered to look. Spring is coming (allegedly) and with it a big farmer’s market within walkable distance. Till then, we’ll just have to be smarter winter shoppers!

Blogging a Day of Eating Locally: Lunch

Checking-in as we try to eat locally today as part of the Carbon Fast for Lent.

I was hungry pretty early after breakfast. I had a snack, since I decided the Blue Bunny yogurt from Iowa, was local enough. Or at least more local than the Dannon that’s also in the fridge and doesn’t even list a city! Since I’d already discovered this morning that our tofu isn’t local, the tofu salad sandwich idea for lunch was out. But I was surprised to learn that the whole grain Kangaroo Pockets I was going to use are from a bakery in Milwaukee. (Surprised since I’ve also seen these in Publix groceries in Florida.) Moving on: peek in the freezer landed lunch: I have one tofu-walnut burger left from Nature’s Bakery right here in town. (And it’s a workers’ cooperative to boot.) Finally, something upstanding and local!

The burgers do need a condiment, though, so back to the tricky part. The salsa I typically use: Texas. I checked mayo in the fridge: Englewood Cliffs, NJ. I almost didn’t even check the label on the Plochman’s mustard, which I assumed was from New York (snob that I am). But, hey, it’s from Manteno, Illinois, outside Chicago. Not super-duper local, but I’m getting hungry and lowering my standards: anything from an adjoining state is in-bounds.

I’d like this with a salad but there’s no chance the bagged greens in the fridge are local this time of year. An orange? Yeah, right. Some soup? I checked labels on a whim, but no go. This is another area where advance planning would have helped, since I there are plenty of root vegetables around that might be local-ish. I decided to just amuse myself with a veggie burger, mustard, heck slap it in a Milwaukee-produced Kangaroo pita.

While said veggie burger was heating up, I was label reading in the fridge: this has been an eye opener. The cilantro-in-a-tube I keep around because we never use the fresh herbs fast enough: Australia! Good grief I know that came by plane. My cilantro has been to Australia but I haven’t? What’s wrong with this picture? Oddly enough the Laughing Cow cheese wedges I assumed were imported are actually from Elk Grove, IL. Should have thought of that for breakfast. And keeping with the ironic theme of the most “local” items in my house also being the most processed and corporately affiliated: we have Jello pudding cups distributed by Northfield, Illinois-based Kraft Foods Global. Yeah, there’s local and then there’s we-happen-to-live-near-a-multinational. Not that this will stop me from having pudding for dessert.

Check back for the utter mystery of What’s for Dinner later today.

Blogging a Day of Eating Locally: Breakfast

Checking-in as we try to eat locally today as part of the Carbon Fast for Lent.

I thought the exception for fair-trade products was a bit dodgy, but thank goodness it's there. This means I can have some coffee — believe me, no one wants to see me without that!

Breakfast is off to a good start. We already buy Fair Trade coffee (I like Cafe Fair’s Cordilleran blend and their Chem-Free Decaf.) And the organic milk we buy looks local, too — or at least in-state: Organic Valley from La Farge, Wisconsin. The web site says it’s a family farmer-owned co-op; cool.

The rest of breakfast is going to be a challenge. The blueberries I love — it’s February, this can’t be good. Turns our they’re from Chile.
Next! But the yogurt I mix them with sounds OK: Blue Bunny from Le Mars, Iowa. Not super local but not super far either. So I can have yogurt.

I have spelt English muffins to die for, but they’re from Rudi’s Organic Bakery in California. Next! We have organic oatmeal that’s distributed by Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods; doesn’t sound local. The Amy’s Organic Breakfast Burritos and Tofu Scramble Pockets (LOVE these!) in the freezer? Amy’s makes great stuff, but it comes in from California. I thought I had a solution and would just make my own tofu scramble. But our tofu? It’s from Whole Foods too, with the vague “distributed by” language referencing Austin. This sounds like something I can easily fix on the next shopping trip: I’m almost certain I can find locally produced bean curd. And we really could be buying local bread from Madison Sourdough or Nature’s Bakery.

I think the closest I’m going to get for a local breakfast is the most un-organic food in the house. We have Product 19 from the folks in Battle Creek, Michigan. I like the cereal, but it’s beyond ironic that the most locally produced thing I have for breakfast is from a multinational corporation.

I can see this is going to be a challenging day. Check back for updates after lunch!

Carbon Fast for Lent: Reduce "Fly-In" Food

The Third Monday in Lent
“Cut the air miles. Don’t consume any food that you know has been imported by plane (apart from Fairtrade products).”

I thought it would be fun — or at least enlightening — to figure out where my food comes from. I don’t actually know how to tell if something was shipped in by air versus boat, truck, or rail. But the general idea from the folks at The Carbon Fast seems to be to eat locally. I’m game: I’m going to try to go all day eating only locally produced food. I’ll “live blog” the results at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Today’s mitzvah: Do you know where your food comes from? Consider investigating and trying a day of eating locally.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

"Austic Teen's Hoop Dreams"

As per the Lenten custom, I’m taking a one-day Sunday break from the Carbon Fast (since happily Sundays are always a feast and never a fast). This also gave me an excuse to share a video Val MG posted on her blog earlier this week.

Jason McElwain is the manager for his high school’s basketball team. He’s also autistic, which hasn’t hampered his love of the game or his hard work for the team. For the last game of the season the team coach decided to let Jason suit up with the other players. It was a sweet and unexpected gesture. But not as unexpected as what happened next . . .

Today’s mitzvah: Share something inspiring with a friend.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Suited to a T(ea)

Third Saturday in Lent
“Only fill your kettle with as much water as you need.”

Our friends at the Carbon Fast for Lent live in the land of tea. I use the kettle less frequently than they do, but this is definitely a good tip. No reason to overfill it if I’m only making tea for two (or one).

Friday, February 22, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Lights Out

The Third Friday in Lent
“Switch off lights as you leave the room.”

One of the reasons I like Tearfund’s Carbon Fast for Lent: the easy stuff counts, too.

Today’s mitzvah: Turn off the lights when you leave a room. Do the same for any unnecessary lights you notice at school or work.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Bag the Plastic Bags

The Third Thursday in Lent
“Snub plastic bags. Get into the habit of taking your rucksack to the supermarket or go retro with a trolley. Ask your supermarket to remove unnecessary packaging.”

Of course, I’m using the British version of the Carbon Fast for Lent just so I can type words like rucksack and trolley . . .

When I learned the local Whole Foods will no longer provide bags when one buys groceries, I had mixed feelings. I actually do re-use all our grocery bags: plastic bags as our trashcan liners, and paper bags for the recycling. But I’m warming to the no-plastic bag concept from an environmental perspective. No idea what I’ll do for free trashbags, but I’m on the lookout for cool reusable bags that will fold down very small so I can keep ’em with me (like the Baggu bags pictured here, which fold up into their own neat little pouch. They’re also available on Amazon — if you buy them through Amazon’s link on Nonprofit Shopping Mall, your favorite charity will get a little rebate to boot, in a happy double mitzvah). Any ideas for cool reusable bags? Drop me a line or a link!

Today’s mitzvah: All things in moderation. Swap out one or two plastic bags with something reusable (or even better, reusable and recycled) at the next grocery trip.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Shorter Showers

The Third Wednesday of Lent
“Take a shower instead of a bath: you’ll heat less water.”

I’m using the UK version of the Carbon Fast — the Brits love their baths! I suppose the Americanized version would be to ensure one is using a low-flow shower head, and to try to take shorter showers. This is a carbon area where I do not excel. I like the long showers, especially on cold mornings. My plan: I’m going to start timing how long I’m actually in there, and strive to move toward a five-minute shower.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Update: I did it! Our power is 100% green

Related to the earlier post I was investigating the MG&E web site. I couldn’t figure out how this “Green Power” scheme worked. Would I just be making a contribution to offset the carbon produced by our apartment’s electric use? Or would I actually be switching us to alternative power?

A very patient phone rep explained it to me. It’s better than just buying a carbon offset: for the amount I contribute the power company does indeed increase the renewable energy in their electricity mix. (The New Yorker in me is skeptical of this, but I’m rolling with it.) Does this change the source of electricity coming into the house? Not directly: it’s not like we’re hooked up to a separate green utility pole with cleaner electricity just for us. (Hey, I can dream.) But it does mean I’m paying for clean energy in my portion of the overall pool. Instead of fossil fuels, my portion comes from the wind and solar sources included in the above graphic.

I had the option of purchasing a 300 kWh block each month, paying per/kWh for 50% of our power usage, or paying per kWh for 100% of our power. I may regret this in the summer when the A/C sends our bills way up, but I opted for 100%.

Color me green!

Carbon Fast for Lent: Does Your Utility Offer "Green" Power?

The Second Tuesday in Lent
“Put the heat on your electricity or gas suppliers and ask them if they have a green plan. Make the switch and feel cosy.” —The Carbon Fast for Lent

Our local power company does indeed offer a “green plan,” which I blogged about last month. It’s a complicated scheme: one pays extra each month basically to help underwrite the utility’s acquisition of energy produced on several regional wind farms, as well as a smaller amount of solar. Energy from renewable resources like these is more expensive than fossil-fuel based power, hence the surcharge. MG&E promotes the surcharge as a way for consumers to offset 100% of the carbon produced by their own household power use.

I wish it was possible simply to switch the apartment over to solar or wind power, instead of using this circuitous offset route which, no doubt, provides financial benefits for the utility. But the cost is only $6 for an average household using 600 kWh/month — I just looked at a recent bill and we use substantially less than this — and these contributions supposedly help increase the percentage of renewable energy in the utility’s energy mix. So I am almost convinced and will check this out again. Watch this space for updates.

Today’s mitzvah:
Does your utility offer a "green plan"? Check out their web site — and let me know what you decide!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Urge Politicans to Take A Stand

The Second Monday in Lent
“Tell politicians to take action on climate change today. Check out Tearfund’s campaign work at”

Yes, if I broke down and used the U.S. version of the Carbon Fast I would avoid the cross-cultural anachronisms. But I'm enjoying the original. The link above includes items like “Contact your M.P . . . ” If you’d like to contact U.S. politicians instead — especially appropriate on Presidents Day — here are some links.

The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) is sponsoring a petition to ask all presidential candidates to take a action against global warming (to-date they’ve gathered 62,000 signatures and counting!). Curious on where the candidates currently stand? LCV has also posted a Presidential Primaries Voting Guide with links to climate change statements from each of the presidential candidates. The Council on Foreign Relations offers The Candidates on Climate Change, with short statements from each candidate, as well as notes about the Senate committee assignments (Clinton, McCain, Obama) related to global warming and other environmental issues.

Today’s mitzvah: Check out your candidate’s position on environmental issues, and considering dropping them a line.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sunday: Feast Not Fast (Relax!)

As my new favorite blog The Proper of the Day reminds us, “Because all Sundays, including the Lenten ones, are Feasts of Our Lord, Lenten abstinence . . . is dispensed during these Sundays.” I’m going to take a break from Carbon Fast for Lent posts on Sundays and just relax — but tame the urge to turn on all the lights and turn up the heat!

Over the past week and half posting on the carbon fast I received my first reporter contact regarding the blog (it didn’t end up resulting in a story, but still flattering!), and I’ve discovered neat blogs that are also posting on the topic, including the aforementioned Proper of the Day; another liturgically minded blog, Green Lent; and a collective blog EcoSpace. I’ve also received nice comments from bloggers who are following the carbon fast offline, including Ms. M. from Simple Sundays and RJ from A Year of Living Greener. A pleasure, everyone!

Today’s mitzvah: Take a break from whatever you’ve been doing all week to rest and rejuvenate!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Dishwasher Day Off

The Second Saturday in Lent “Give your dishwasher a day off or promote it to a Grade A [EnergyStar] energy efficient appliance.”

Our household dishwasher is not Maytag or G.E., it’s M.E. And I’m not sure that giving me the day off is going to cut the carbon footprint — although who am I to argue? It’s easy to be virtuous when one doesn’t own many appliances, it’s true. But I do need to focus on not letting the hot water run so much, and using a drain stopper or a dishpan instead.

Today’s mitzvah: The Carbon Fast speaks: give the dishwasher a rest today.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Cell No

The Second Friday in Lent
“Unplug your mobile phone charger: it uses electricity even when it's not charging.”

Whoops, I jumped the gun and included this in yesterday’s post. How’s that for short and sweet?

Today’s mitzvah: Already unplugged the phone charger? If you have old phones languishing around the house, Recycling for Charities (a 501c3 charity) collects used cell phones, sells them to vendors, and then rebates the proceeds to a charity of your choice.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Cut Phantom Power Waste

The Second Thursday in Lent
“Say au revoir to standby. Check that all electrical equipment is switched off when not in use. The TV alone will save a hefty 20kg of carbon dioxide per year.”

Hmmm . . . does your TV have a standby option? Mine doesn't, just simple On and Off. But extrapolating out from Tearfund’s Carbon Fast wording here: I think we could also include electronics we think are off but actually continue to suck power since they remain plugged into an outlet and drawing current. (I read somewhere that cell phone chargers use gobs of power when they’re plugged into the wall, whether or not a phone is attached and charging.) Does the printer need to be plugged in 24/7 when I only use it every few days? Ditto for the DVD player, the aforementioned cell phone charger, and some rarely used lamps? One solution: plug these items into power strip, so you can easily turn the outlet itself on and off. Or just unplug infrequently used items.

Today’s mitzvah: Check out Grinning Planets handy post on “vampire power waste,” and check appliances today to make sure off means off.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent: Lose One Degree

The Second Wednesday in Lent
“Turn your central heating thermostat down by one degree.”

One of things I like about the Carbon Fast for Lent: the daily actions are very do-able — more of a diet than a full-on fast. It’s been crazy cold here, with many days in the negative digits. But I can certainly turn the thermostat down one degree. And so I did.

Today’s mitzvah:
One if by land, two if by sea? Turn the thermo down one degree in cold climates; up one degree if you are lucky enough to enjoy sun and A/C.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent, Day 3: Recycling

The First Tuesday in Lent
“Are you recycling everything possible? Really — everything? Look into it today.”

When I lived in Brooklyn in the 90s (before curbside recycling), a neighborhood group organized a collection center at a nearby school and accepted recyclables on the 3rd Saturday of each month. Since “Today is the third Saturday” is very easy to forget, our apartment had months’ worth of plastic containers stacked like petrochemical found-art in every corner. When I moved into Manhattan the closest monthly recycling project was in Greenwich Village (60 blocks downtown), which meant a schlep on the subway with bags of rinsed-out plastic containers. By the time NYC finally began curbside recycling, I was already a convert.

My apartment building here in the land of snow contracts with a commercial recycling service that takes everything glass, metal, all forms of paper, plastics labeled 1 to 7 — and I think actually accepts more types of items than our city’s curbside program. The giant recycling bin is picked up regularly and never runs out of room. Its pretty painless, and I am a very happy recycler.

I’ve been trying to figure out if there
s anything we’re not recycling. Most of the trash is food scraps and coffee grinds; I need to figure out if the local community garden lets neighbors compost. (Assuming this winter ever, ever ends.) But I also realized we do throw away disposable batteries, which is supposed to be a Very Bad Thing. For today’s Carbon Fast for Lent activity, I’m going to figure out what we’re really supposed to do with the AAs. I’ll let you know!

Todays mitzvah: Join us on the Carbon Fast for Lent!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent, Day 2: "Tread Lightly"

The First Monday in Lent:
“Tread lightly — whether that’s by foot, by bike, on to a bus, or on the gas as you drive. Find a way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions when you travel today.”

In August I will celebrate 20 years of non-car ownership. After adjusting to the shock that more than two decades had passed since I sold the beloved Jane Honda for a move to NYC, I was pleased to realize all these years without a car have been, well, pretty painless. When I moved to the Midwest a few years ago for grad school, I was greeted by an excellent local public transit system, and not long afterward a terrific member-based car sharing service. Grad school living has been more affordable without car payments, insurance, gas, and repairs — plus I actually enjoy taking the bus (less stress, more reading time). Sometimes it’s inconvenient in bad weather when I don’t want to wait outside. And I do love to drive! (It takes very little incentive to convince me to rent a car on vacation.) But overall it’s been an easy and happy choice.

My challenge for today’s Carbon Fast for Lent action will be to reduce further. I have a doctors appointment for which I had planned to use the Community Car (it’s cold today!). But to keep with the Carbon Fast, I’m going to take the bus instead.

Today’s mitzvah: Be kind to the earth. Check out all 40 activities in Tearfunds Carbon Fast for Lent PDF.