Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ghost Bikes

I was looking at Bicycle Austin's email forum and read about this chilling yet effective memorial as a way to get people to start thinking about how big an impact cars and their drivers make on cyclists: Ghost Bicycles. The concept here is that a bike is spray-painted white and locked up where the cyclist was killed. Here's a post about ghost bikes on Visual Resistance.

Took the photo from Visual Resistance

Monday, October 29, 2007

Gap Once Again Caught Using Sweatshop Labor

Making DJ's Halloween costume (he was Davey Crockett, by the way) made me get more in touch with sewing again, a hobby I love. But sewing for me is also a way to reconnect with other humans, by making and giving articles of clothing I've made by hand. It also somewhat lessens one of the largest environmental impacts facing us today, the mass production of cheap clothing. In The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices the authors talk about the Personal Items and Services category and clothing comes out ahead of the pack in terms of impact:
Under clothing, for example, apparel is the leading source of environmental damage. The production of these products is surprisingly energy intensive...One reason clothing contributes to toxic water pollution is that the production of synthetic fibers from petroleum products and the dyeing and bleaching of cloth result in substantial releases of toxic chemicals (74-76).
And there's more to this section that's both fascinating and horrifying with respect to how big an impact buying new clothing makes on the environment. Yes, we all thought that driving our world-destroying SUVs down to the 7-11 just for a Slurpy and a newspaper was the cause of it all.

Now for a little disclosure: I do not buy all of my family's clothes used, nor do I make most of my family's clothing, either. I avoid buying the clothing that have "Made in Death Holes of Calcutta" tags in them, but I still do buy articles made in largely third-world or developing countries.

This article on CNN/Asia (funny how we have to read about these things on the subset of CNN proper -- like the real shoker of a story being buried on 10D) talks about how Gap Clothing "suddenly" found out that one of their subcontractors was employing child labor, but "employing" seems an understatement. Not just using child labor to make Gap's clothing, they were using SLAVE child labor to make Gap's clothing. And this isn't the first time Gap has been caught using child labor -- here is a Guardian article from 2004 that shows that this is a bad habit with the Gap Corporation. Gap claims they have 90 people worldwide to monitor their subcontractors' practices, so how did this slip under the radar? I'll tell you how, they didn't care -- caring might have hurt their bottom line. So, all this so-called Gap (Product) RED clothing Gap has been making to help fight AIDS in Africa is destroying the lives and families of other people in other ways. Thanks, Gap. I think about these kids making the clothing that kids in the U.S. will wear and it makes me rather ill.

In dwelling on the issue of sweat shop labor I've thought, well, doesn't this save families from complete poverty if they have just this little bit of income? And the answer is of course not, it's pure exploitation. So, what would be a better solution? Max Oelschlaeger, in Caring for Creation: An ecumenical approach to the environmental crisis, uses ideas from E.F. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful to answer that question:
He [Schumacher] argues that what the economically impoverished people of the Third World require is appropriate technology, that is, technology consistent with their human and economic resources, cultural traditions, and geographical location. Rather than Western-style hydroelectric dams providing electricity for cities and water for agribusiness, the rural people of Africa need wells and filtration equipment that provide clean drinking water and supplies for irrigating local gardens. Rather than billions of dollars of financing for plants that make products for export with low-cost labor (jobs moved by international corporations from their own nations), the poor of the Third World need small loans to star locally owned businesses and craft industries (46-47).
I'm sorry that this post is becoming so long-winded but I am angry that I continue to buy clothing from Target when I know there is the possibility it was created in sweatshop conditions; even if the working conditions are acceptable, it is still adding to the ecological crisis.

Here is a BBC broadcast about "the real cost of cotton," as it makes its way up the chain to become cheap cotton t-shirts. Here is a Wikipedia article on Full Cost Accounting, or True Cost Accounting, which is way of viewing the economy in terms of what the items we purchase actually cost, without government subsidies, without sweatshop labor. It's really quite scary to think about, but something we need to face if we are to eradicate practices like sweatshop labor and the indifference by corporations to address those issues because it hurts the bottom line.

It took the Guardian Observer from the UK to reveal this latest truth about Gap's indifference to human suffering in the guise of humanitarian campaigns such as (Product) Red. I'm getting off my self-righteous high horse, now. Even though I know this is just scratching the surface of even beginning to do something about this problem, I vow to never visit another Gap store again.

More about Need-a-Bag? Project

The only thing about our experience that was frustrating (okay, well the only other thing and I'll get to the other thing in a bit) was that people couldn't quite wrap their brains around the concept. The bags were completely free and available to use instead of the plastic grocery bags but every time we would say, "hey, need a bag for your purchases?" they'd look at the proffered bag and sigh, "I have about 50 of those at home..." And then we'd see them later on with a ten plastic grocery bags filled with produce! It was really frustrating.

How do you get across the idea that it doesn't matter if you forgot your cloth shopping bags at home because we have some for you to use in the here and now? We also tried to get across the concept that people could drop off any extra cloth bags to be recycled through the project. That idea people seemed to understand and DG got a couple of people promising to bring some bags next weekend. I think the next time we go we're not going to get a table in the farmer's market proper, but just hand out bags to people waiting at the gate to get in and then have a box for people to drop off bags they want to give to the project. It will take less time and we'll have more success because when we did that this past weekend people were more receptive to taking the bags, especially when you practically shove them in their hands.

Also, we'll not swoop in and take over someone else's spot at the farmer's market, like we did this past weekend. This was completely unintentional, honest. When we got to the market and milled about in front of the gate looking expectant, Jared, the nice farmer's market superintendent, came up and said "hi, you must be the people who called yesterday." And this was true -- I had called yesterday and left a voicemail message to talk to someone about coming to the farmer's market. And so we said, "yeah, that's us," and Jared showed us in and set us up next to a nice lady from Nature Parks Operations.

Then, while DG was doing her actual Saturday farmer's market shopping, a woman stopped at the table and asked where she could find Jared. I looked around but didn't see him and said I'd keep an eye out for him. She explained that she was from Slow Food International and she was supposed to get a table at the farmer's market so she could recruit for a new Gainesville chapter. While she was talking it kind of became apparent to me that Jared thought me and DG were Slow Food International and gave us their spot. I saw the woman and her friend later on set up on the rickety old picnic table next to the gate -- probably where DG and I should have been. I didn't say anything for two reasons: one, I was not definitely sure that we had snaked this woman's spot and, two, we were here first, dammit! If Slow Food International had been a little faster, they would have gotten the primo spot, okay?

After DG got back and I told her my suspicions, we decided that we wouldn't take action immediately and would have our awkward conversation with Jared later. In the meantime, DG got some incredible croissants next door and I decided to go get some field peas from the lady up the aisle a piece. So, I'm standing there talking to the nice lady about how to prepare field peas and getting another recipe from a woman who was also standing there, and DG sidles up to me and whispers, "are you insane?" When I give her a "huh?" look she points at the plastic grocery bag I am now holding with the baggie of field peas inside. Duh! It was so automatic, we're chatting and before I know it she's bagged my purchase and handed it over. I sheepishly handed back the plastic grocery bag and went back with DG to our table.

All in all it was a lot of fun -- DG came up with the idea of putting a box just inside the gate for donations, and doing some literature to explain the concept a little more thoroughly. I'm going to add some factoids about plastic grocery bags. She just wants to get the thing started and then do some maintenance on it and then not have to do this every weekend. It was way fun but I agree that the commitment to coming to the farmer's market for an hour every week would be hard for me.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Need-a-Bag? Project Takes Flight

That was sooo fun! We just got back -- DG went home to sleep but I'm still revved up from the excitement and caffeine of it all. Here are some pictures to commemorate our first trip to the Alachua County Farmer's Market as part of the Need-a-Bag? Project. I have to start making DJ's Halloween costume so I'll update on this post later.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Biking all over creation

I was crazy biking all over town on Tuesday with DJ on the ride-along. I think this is probably the most we've ever ridden together on the ride-along/bicycle setup and it was all because I was being impulsive. I decided to take DJ to the pool at the Y for one last swim before it got too cold and he said that he wanted to take the ride-along. I said, "are you sure? It's a long way from the house." He was adamant that we take the bikes and I was all, like, "yay, I get to go on a bikeride."

Here's the route we took -- I'll go back in when I'm on a computer that can do screen shots and put the graphic in then. It was wild -- while we were biking to the Y I had the sudden remembrance that we were supposed to be at a teacher conference at 6pm at DJ's school later that day and there was no way we were going to get home and get the car in time to make it. So, while we were swimming in the pool I decided we would just change clothes and ride to the school. We happened to meet some friends of ours while there who offered to give us a ride, but wasn't sure about transporting our bikes. I decided at the time it would be too much of a hassle to have to go back to the Y and get the bikes later so I declined, but about halfway to DJ's school I was kind of wishing I had taken her up on the offer.

It wasn't heinous -- the hills were kind of exhausting but DJ really loved riding down the hills fast so it was worth the climb and it was basically downhill to DJ's school, anyway. The thing I was more nervous about was the traffic, which was in the beginnings of rush-hour. Cars were whizzing past us while we were in the bike lane and it was kind of nerve-wracking. I took the sidewalk whenever it wasn't going to add to the hill-climb.

In no time we were at the school and saw the old man's bike already parked. We found him in the office, calling the house to tell us that the conference was actually starting at 7pm instead of 6pm, like I had thought. D'oh! We did have enough time to bike home!

Because DJ's teacher has been on medical leave the past couple of weeks the secretary told us it was not necessary to be there for the conference since there was no one for us to conference with. The sun was starting to set and we realized we only had one set of lights between us so we decided to scrap the whole thing and bike home.

By this time I was really exhausted, and DJ was complaining that his butt hurt from the ride-along seat. I could sympathize. We were crawling by the time we got to our street but got home just before dark. I took a shower and immediately crawled into bed to read to DJ while the old man made dinner. I felt O.K. in the morning but a little discouraged at how exhausted I was by the end of the ride. Those hills take a lot out of you, though, I have to rationalize. I want to do it again with a trip to DJ's school in the morning.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Because their email "tips" are getting kind of useless to me and, no, I do not care about where I can buy eco-friendly lingerie. No matter how you slice it, green consumerism is still consumerism.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cyclists Unite!

Here is a letter from our local student newspaper by a fellow who has thrown down the gauntlet and is challenging the Gainesville cycling community to take action against the metal juggernauts barrelling through our hamlet each day. Here's a quote from the letter:

The answer to this dilemma: There is strength in numbers. It's daunting to point your handlebars into a stream of traffic and swim among the big fish when you are alone. But imagine if everyone perched on the saddle of a two-legged horse ventured into the streets. Why, it would be a revolution! It would be the cars that would have to adapt. After all, they can't hit everyone.

"After all, they can't hit everyone." Dang! In your face! I was so impressed I went to Facebook and added him as a friend (no small feat for me as I only have 5 friends on facebook, including the two politicians I support). I hope we can be friends so I can help him plot his 2-wheeled revolution.

I love a parade!

This is the second year I'm going to attempt getting like-minded cyclists together to be a part of the High Springs Twilight Parade. Maybe this year I'll actually capture the hearts and imaginations of potential participants. I have a group of friends who are interested, but their part would be as Bicycle Queen and her entourage and I have to get our friend Alex-with-the-pedicab to sign on for this. A little bit of planning, but if Alex will agree to ride the pedicab the rest should fall into place. C'mon, people, it's going to be a blast!

Drive like you mean it!

I was once again looking for info on the 2-mile rule for cycling. I had gotten a tip the other day that No Impact Man would have information on it, but so far have not come up with anything from his blog. And I should really be doing my reading for REL4936 -- just found out yesterday that the undergrads in the class have to do an in-class writing next week and I'm freaking out and wondering if I've read the material thoroughly enough.

Anyway, so while I've been procrastinating I came across this cool newsletter called Bike Traffic which is part of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, my new favorite cycling website (and, currently, my only cycling website). Sure, they're in Chi-town, but if they can build a strong cycling community in the Windy City where life is cheap then I can certainly benefit from their wisdom in my own attempts to promote cycling in Hogtowne.

Got the Driver's Pledge logo from CBF from a defunct page but you can sign the new pledge at the sister site Healthy Streets Campaign.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Update on Weaning from Deodorants

Well, it's official -- the crystal deodorant is causing a rash in my armpit area. Usually on the left side, hmm... I put cortisone on it and don't use the deodorant, and the rash goes away in a couple of days. I'm a little distraught by it all because I still have a stink when I don't use deodorant -- after over 6 months of diligent deodorant eschewing I'm still kind of smelly. Okay, maybe I could do more like change my diet but, please, I can only be so energetic about these things. I'm teetering on the brink of "going back out" and totally using the Old Spice. Gah!

Rattlesnake Crick

Finally went with DJ to visit Rattlesnake Creek to hunt for shark's teeth. Our guides for this trip were our sparky friends and following "B's" instructions brought baggie, colander, spoon, and extra clothes for DJ (and boy was he sandy afterwards). It was a neat trip, and while we were tromping through ankle-deep waters along the creek bed looking for fossils I tried to make a conscious effort to look around me and note the area I was in. I'm trying to be more biospherically aware of my surroundings, after reading Mitchell Thomashow's Bringing the Biosphere Home. Well, we saw damsel flies, got bit by multiple mosquitos, and found a fossilized beer can pull tab. No, actually we did find a lot of shark's teeth and other fossils thanks to B's oldest son. I found a fistful of sand in my eye from B's youngest son so spent a bunch of time wiping my left eye. I finally started rinsing it with the creek water and that seemed to help.

I swiped these photos of another visit to Rattlesnake Creek from Hogtown Sparky.

Monday, October 15, 2007

P.S. It's Blog Action Day

And I have blogged about the environment on October 15th. Hope it was a success!

Acorns revisited

So I've been reading Bringing the Biosphere Home by Mitchell Thomashow for class and thinking about the acorn crisis as described by Carl Schaad on his blog, Blog Hero! and wondered if this was a way for people to discuss the same phenomena from different places. A discussion about acorns in the comments section of a blog could be the jumping off point for a whole exchange of information about each person's area.

Here's a quote from the book:
To interpret the biosphere, I propose a barefoot global change science. Cadres of citizens, schoolchildren, elders -- people from all walks of life -- meet in schools, libraries, parks, and on the Internet, to share stories and data. They pool their observations and expertise so they can track environmental change in their neighborhood. Via electronic communications, they compare data with folks from other places. Professional environmental scientists work regularly with citizen groups and schoolchildren to provide training and guidance. They jointly establish local research projects. Artists draw biospheric murals on the sides of buildings. A special television channel shows global change satellite maps twenty-four hours a day. Every computer is sold with built-in geographic information system software (135).

Thomashow says in the next paragraph, "Perhaps this is a naive dream." It's a groovy dream, I say, and one that can happen, we just have to figure out a way to communicate this idea to people that goes beyond exchanging our folk wisdom about bumper crops of acorns spelling a cold winter, and really, really start observing the changes going on in our little part of the biosphere. That's the gist of Thomashow's message, I think.

Borrowed the photo from MIT Press.

Friday, October 12, 2007


I was reading one of my favorite blogs, Blog Hero!, the other day and the author, Carl Schaad, told this humorous story about how he couldn't find his car the other day because it had been buried in acorns -- here's the link. Anyway, the thing that I found intriguing about the post (other than the fact that he mentioned "The A-Team"-- no one talks about The A-Team anymore...sigh) was the comments section. People around the country and the world were giving their reports on the signs of a long ol' winter -- one guy in Costa Rica said that the migratory birds were returning to his part of the world early as an indication of a cold winter up north. The last comment was a woman who wondered, "Hey, if it's a REALLY cold winter, what does that do to the whole global warming issue?" I read into that statement a kind of hopefulness that maybe the whole global warming thing was just bunk, anyway.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

White Cliffs of Clover

We had a lot of rain the past week, and the clover seed sprouted. I had to seed twice, but with all the rain by Friday it was obvious that the clover addition to our lawn was a done deal. This photo was taken in the neighborhood litterbox area. In your face, anonymous cats!

Monday, October 01, 2007


A couple of times recently I've come into contact with this phenomena of "eco-fatigue." It seems inevitable that people get so worked up into a frenzy about living "green" that they start to get a little frazzled by it all. As I have been reading in The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, it's important to look at the big picture. One thing the authors want readers to keep in mind is weight. The weight of what you consume is more environmentally damaging than what is consumed. That's why, they contend, it is important to make the sound eco-choices when buying that new fridge or stove.

One example of this was listening to Talk of The Nation one day on my way home from campus. They had on Michael Valkys, a reporter for The Poughkeepsie Journal who was discussing a city ordinance that prohibits homeowners from placing clotheslines or drying clothing in the front of the house, critics claiming it takes away from the aesthetic appeal of the neighborhood. So, essentially, if you put clothes on a drying rack on your porch or in your driveway you are a law-breaker.

My feeling is that if you want aesthetic appeal when you're outside, go to a national park. As the discussion went on they turned to the phones to get people's input about this, and it was a litany of complaints about not only this topic, but people complaining about other things about being environmental that get on their nerves. Maybe this was a good outlet for the frustrations people feel in dealing with these green decisions every day, but I felt like it was a little bit of a bash-fest to environmental living.

The No Impact Man Toast Debacle
DG keeps me up to date on No Impact Man, being a frequent watcher of his daily travails to leave less of a footprint. Awhile back she told me about a No Impact Man post about toast that, in retrospect, completely typifies this eco-fatigue. After making all this effort to make no-impact toast for his little daughter, Mrs. No Impact Man swoops in and gobbles down said toast and, understandably, he was grumpy. His fatigue, of course, may be more acute having to run a toaster off a solar-charged battery or camp toaster, or whatever, but when you are No Impact Man, things like making toast take on a lot more import. Daily chores that take 5-seconds for the rest of us world-destroyers are Herculean endeavors for him that require actual intention and then planning, and finally manifestation. Whew. I'm getting tired just thinking about making toast from a solar-powered toaster.

Took the beautiful toast pic from No Impact Man.

Two-Mile Rule for Cycling

Well, couldn't find anything on the 2-mile rule -- I know I'm not making it up, I saw it on some website, somewhere. But I'm going to post on it, anyway, to get it out there since I'm already using it in my posts.

The 2-mile rule for cycling is, simply put, using your bicycle for trips that fall within a 2-mile radius from your house. On this now-mythical website the person (forever unknown) gave a simple way to calculate this using a map and a compass. Using your bike computer (if you don't have one they can run really cheap to really expensive) would be a definitive way to figure out distances. Mapquest and would also work well for figuring out distances to some of your more frequent destinations.