Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I spotted an eggplant...

... in our garden today. It's not fully grown, but looks healthy. It won't be long before it's ready to pick.

This means that to date, we have had success with almost everything we've tried to grow: lettuce, herbs, cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers, sunflowers and eggplant. The only exceptions are the spinach plants that went to seed early on (I planted them too late, and the heat got to them), and the green bean plants, which are still struggling along with no beans in sight (maybe because hubby over-fertilized them).

Otherwise, we are quite pleased with the results. Not bad for a family of novice gardeners, huh?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Thoughts on hypocrisy and "No Impact Man"

The current issue of The New Yorker has an article by Elizabeth Kolbert titled, "Green Like Me," that's a critique of the recent crop of confessional memoirs by people who are striving to live in more environmentally conscious ways. The article makes some good points, but I found the overall tone distasteful and counterproductive.

OK, the good points Kolbert makes:

1) Individual action and changes aren't enough to save the environment. Collective change is what is needed.

2) Sometimes eco-conscious people miss the forest for the trees, or focus on small changes while rationalizing the really big changes they aren't making. Kolbert cites Vanessa Farquharson, author of Sleeping Naked Is Green, as one example: Farquharson resolves to use no more toothpicks and to use natural lubricant instead of K-Y, while purchasing a new house and flying around the country to pursue relationships with various men (the problem there is the air travel).

The primary examples in Kolbert's article, however, are Henry David Thoreau and his somewhat modern counterpart, Colin Beavan of No Impact Man, and here's where I think her arguments really become unfair. For example, she writes:

A more honest title for Beavan’s book would have been “Low Impact Man,” and a truly honest title would have been “Not Quite So High Impact Man.” Even during the year that Beavan spent drinking out of a Mason jar, more than two billion people were, quite inadvertently, living lives of lower impact than his. Most of them were struggling to get by in the slums of Delhi or Rio or scratching out a living in rural Africa or South America. A few were sleeping in cardboard boxes on the street not far from Beavan’s Fifth Avenue apartment.

If she had spent any time reading Beavan's blog or book, she would know that he knows he's not living with no impact; no impact living is impossible for any living thing. The name is just a clever way to call attention to what he's trying to do. His goal is also to try to balance out his and his family's impact, by reducing their negative environmental impact as much as possible, while increasing their positive impact through environmental activism.

Second, it's also nearly impossible for anyone in a western developed nation to live with as little impact as people in the most impoverished parts in the world. That doesn't mean we should do nothing in response, or denigrate the efforts of those attempting to live more sustainably.

Kolbert ends the article with this statement:

What makes Beavan’s experiment noteworthy is that it is just that—a voluntary exercise conducted for a limited time only by a middle-class family. Beavan justifies writing about it on the ground that it will inspire others to examine their wasteful ways. ... [However] the real work of “saving the world” goes way beyond the sorts of action that “No Impact Man” is all about.

What’s required is perhaps a sequel. In one chapter, Beavan could take the elevator to visit other families in his apartment building. He could talk to them about how they all need to work together to install a more efficient heating system. In another, he could ride the subway to Penn Station and then get on a train to Albany. Once there, he could lobby state lawmakers for better mass transit. In a third chapter, Beavan could devote his blog to pushing for a carbon tax. Here’s a possible title for the book: “Impact Man.”

Again, although she's quoting from his book, I wonder how much of it she's read, or if she has visited his blog at all. Throughout the two years I've been following No Impact Man, I have read countless posts about times in which he has:

-- written about environmental issues on a local, national and international level. I especially appreciate that he has addressed issues of poverty while doing so;

-- called his representatives (and encouraged others to do the same) about local and national environmental issues;

-- visited some of his reps in person to address such topics as making the streets safer for cyclists and preventing the air pollution that makes New York City one of the worst places in the country for childhood asthma;

-- swum in a benefit swim meet to raise funds to clean up polluted waters, and he will soon participate in a Climate Ride for Change;

-- spoken to groups of students about how they can work together to address their own personal impacts as well as that of their schools;

-- and organized the No Impact project "with the goal of engaging citizens in our cultural response to the crises in our environment and our way of life."

In other words, Beavan's story has been anything but simply the limited personal journey of a middle class family. The family stuff is in there, because that's what makes it personal and relatable to most people. But Beavan's goals and actions go far beyond that, so I find The New Yorker's belittling attitude shameful.

On air-drying clothing

When we moved into my in-laws home here in Tacoma, they had a working washing machine, but a dryer that no longer worked, which means that we have to go to the laundromat to dry out clothing.

I've read countless times about how hanging clothes to dry is a much more environmentally sound choice than using a dryer. I have always hung handwashed items on drying racks inside, but when it came to hanging a whole load outdoors, the city kid in me had countless objections: What about pollution? Pollen (I have hayfever)? Bird poop? I posed these questions several times on web sites or blogs that advocated line-drying, and was frustrated that no one ever answered them.

As the mother of a four-year-old, I find myself needing to do "emergency washes" between laundry days more frequently than I would like. With one car and no more bus service, getting to the laundromat can now be a challenge on occasion, so recently I started laying some of the laundry outside, draping it or hanging it on chairs on our deck. One pleasant surprise has been that in the warm summer sun, most items dry within an hour (towels are the exception).

This doesn't fully address my questions and concerns above: August, fortunately, isn't pollen month, and it's the only month between May and October when something or other isn't pollinating. Our deck faces the Puget Sound rather than roads and traffic, so pollution isn't an issue. Also, I believe that our deck is only visible to our two most immediate neighbors, so eyesore concerns aren't much of an issue. (I have read stories of folks who line-dry getting complaints from neighbors). And by placing items on the deck, birds are much less likely to drop on them just by flying by. Not everyone is as fortunate to have a place like our deck to hang things.

One tip: I've seen some complaints in discussions about the rough, crinkly feeling of some items post-air dry, especially towels and jeans. I have found that adding some vinegar to the rinse cycle helps, and then hand-fluffing the item after it's completely dry will rid the item of its roughness.

Another blogger, Elisa's Green Scene, wrote a post on incrementalism, in other words, taking baby steps to be green. She's all for it, because if we had to reach 100% of the goal the first time out, then none of us would ever accomplish anything. This, then, is another baby step for me.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

All the pretty flowers... and a beautiful girl, too!

Gloria, who blogs at Black and Into Green, asked me to post photos of the sunflowers, so I'm attempting to upload photos for the first time. That's one plant, by the way. The other two also have four or five flowers on them.

While I'm at it, I also wanted to share a beautiful photo of my daughter, who is taking swimming lessons this summer!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cucumber smoothie

I found a recipe online and it's delicious! I didn't have all the ingredients (the original called for whole apples and fresh mint leaves), but even with my modifications it was refreshing and good. Here's what I made:

1 cucumber, sliced
1/4 cup apple sauce
The leaves of one herbal mint tea bag
1-2 cups of water, depending on how thick or thin you want it
A few cubes of ice

Put one cup of water and the rest of the ingredients in a blender and blend til smooth. Add additional water if you want the smoothie to be thinner.

Powerful video

Please watch The New Sound, by the organization Green for All. It's a short clip about the difference a "green collar" economy can make for poor communities, affecting everything from health to employment.

Speaking of health, I am closely watching the health care debate and very much praying that it ends with us implementing some sort of universal health care policies. No Impact Man had an interesting post about the connections between health care and the environment. It's rather obvious, actually: our access (or lack thereof) to such things as healthy, affordable food and a clean environment to live in greatly affect our health, which affects the costs that we as a society have to pay for health care. Colin adds that much of our consumerist society is due to the fact that we often have to have corporate jobs in order to afford health care. How many people would be entrepreneurs, perhaps inventing things that are more sustainable, or would pursue more artistic or humanitarian endeavors, were it not for the need to have a job that provides medical benefits?


... watching our plants grow.

My basil was the last herb to sprout, and then it shot past the parsley and chives in the container. Then, after a sweltering July, August began with overcast, 60 degree days, and the basil for some reason started to die.* Dying off seems to have been incentive for the parsley and chives to grow. Now they're taking over the container!

After planting the four sunflowers in the yard, the one that had already bloomed continued to die (the other three were taller, and in the container had blocked its light). But the other three bloomed almost immediately. Instead of growing taller, however, they have grown wider in the yard; that is, they've all branched out and now have about four or five sunflowers growing on each plant. I imagine there's a way to cultivate sunflowers so that they grow up rather than out, but it's fun and interesting to watch this happen.

Even though I was the one who wanted to start gardening, hubby has joined in with a flourish. He not only planted tomatoes and green beans, he later added squash, cucumbers, green peppers and eggplant. The cherry tomatoes ripen every day, and they're so sweet I've taken to eating them like candy. We have tons of cucumbers right now, and I need to look for a cucumber smoothie recipe in order to use them all! Everything else seems to be doing well, except the green beans.


* We're back to real Tacoma summer weather now. The last few days have been in the 70s to 80s, and sunny.