August 29, 2008

Sarah Palin's Abysmal Record

I don't usually write about politics. I tend not to even talk much about politics. But did you hear the news? John McCain has selected Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. I can't help but contrast her environmental record with hard work Joe Biden has put in over the years. Joe Biden has received a lifetime score of 83% from the League of Conservation Voters. In 2007 alone, Biden voted to strengthen CAFÉ standards and to repeal unjust subsidies to oil companies. In 1986, he introduced the first bill designed to limit global warming pollution. In his own words,

"I personally believe that the single most important step we can take to resume a leadership role in international climate-change efforts would be to make real progress toward a domestic emissions-reduction regime. For too long we have abdicated the responsibility to reduce our own emissions, the largest single source of the problem we face today. We have the world's largest economy, with the highest per-capita emissions. Rather than leading by example, we have retreated from international negotiations."
-- Jan. 30, 2007, in a statement given before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
It's hard for me to fathom that there are folks out there who honestly believe that McCain and Palin could possibly be the right choice to lead our country right now, when we are facing problems such as peak oil, global warming and a sliding economy.

If you don't already know who Sarah Palin is, here's the scoop I just received in an email from the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund.

August 29, 2008

Shocking Choice by John McCain

WASHINGTON-- Senator John McCain just announced his choice for running mate: Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska. To follow is a statement by Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund.

“Senator McCain’s choice for a running mate is beyond belief. By choosing Sarah Palin, McCain has clearly made a decision to continue the Bush legacy of destructive environmental policies."

“Sarah Palin, whose husband works for BP (formerly British Petroleum), has repeatedly put special interests first when it comes to the environment. In her scant two years as governor, she has lobbied aggressively to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, pushed for more drilling off of Alaska’s coasts, and put special interests above science. Ms. Palin has made it clear through her actions that she is unwilling to do even as much as the Bush administration to address the impacts of global warming. Her most recent effort has been to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the polar bear from the endangered species list, putting Big Oil before sound science. As unbelievable as this may sound, this actually puts her to the right of the Bush administration. [my emphasis]

“This is Senator McCain’s first significant choice in building his executive team and it’s a bad one. It has to raise serious doubts in the minds of voters about John McCain’s commitment to conservation, to addressing the impacts of global warming and to ensuring our country ends its dependency on oil.”

And here's what the League of Conservation Voters has to say about Ms. Palin.


Choice of Palin Promises Failed Energy Policies of the Past

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The League of Conservation Voters (LCV), which works to turn environmental values into national priorities, today expressed its deep disappointment with John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate.

“Unfortunately, with her support for drilling in the Arctic Refuge and off our coasts, Governor Palin will simply continue the failed policies of the Bush-Cheney Administration and their Big Oil friends – policies that could make us even more dependent on foreign oil," LCV President Gene Karpinski said.

Governor Palin characterizes McCain’s flip-flop on drilling offshore as a positive step in his transformation from maverick to Big Oil's best friend. She has implored McCain to change his position against drilling in the Arctic – something she will have plenty of opportunities to pursue as his running mate.

In addition to supporting backward-looking energy policies, Governor Palin has also opposed a crucial clean water initiative, sued the federal government for listing polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and opposed other important wildlife protection measures.

This ticket now stands in even starker contrast to the visionary energy plan laid out by Senator Obama last night, which will create millions of new jobs, improve our
national security, and reduce global warming pollution.

“Now more than ever, America is in need of real vision and leadership to bring us a new clean energy future, and the McCain-Palin ticket offers nothing of the sort.”

If there ever was a time to volunteer for a campaign, persuade friends and family to vote, and offer to drive neighbors to the polls, this is it. Please talk to everyone you know, help educate them on the issues, and get out the vote!

I checked it out - Obama gets an 86% lifetime score by the LCV, McCain 24% and Palin is not rated.

August 27, 2008

How to Eat Less Meat

I just stumbled upon a great article in the New York Times, called “Putting Meat Back in Its Place” by Mark Bittman (aka The Minimalist). I have to applaud Bittman for setting out the two main ground rules in his first few paragraphs: 1) It doesn’t matter why you’ve decided to eat less meat – the goal of this article is to help you actually do it; and 2) This isn’t an article about becoming a vegetarian – he is truly focused on combating the typical American style of eating that focuses the dinner plate on a large lump of meat at its center. As someone who’s been slowly trying to fight the focus on meat in her diet in order to become a more responsible omnivore, I had to read on.

Bittman goes on to point out that it’s impossible to cut back to a reasonable amount of meat in your diet without some consequences for the people around you. Boy, I can tell you that’s definitely true. When I started trying to eat less meat, I tried to find a way to do it that would have the smallest possible effect on those around me – lunch – and I had no problem there. But as I've slowly started to reduce my meat intake at dinner, it's begun to effect my friends and my husband, and that has definitely slowed me down in my efforts. Which means that I'm definitely interested in hearing suggestions for how to make this change stick.

Bittman's suggestions for easing the path to eating less meat are:

  1. Forget the protein thing. Here, Bittman points out that many plants (spinach and lentils are good examples) actually contain more protein than meat. He also notes that “You also don’t have to eat the national average of a half-pound of meat a day to get enough protein. On average, Americans eat about twice as much as the 56 grams of daily protein recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture (a guideline that some nutritionists think is too high). For anyone eating a well-balanced diet, protein is probably not an issue.”

  2. Buy less meat. This one is about portion size, which is widely recognized as a huge problem in the typical American diet, as well as the number of ounces of meat a serving should really contain. According to the USDA, four ounces per person should be sufficient for any one meal. Now think about that – when was the last time you saw a portion of meat (steak, chicken breast, pork or lamb chop) that was less than 6-8 ounces? How much ground beef did you buy last time you decided to make burgers? I know we tend to buy a full pound…for two of us…so I know that’s a huge deal for us. His suggestion here is to begin incorporate smaller amounts of meat into more balanced meals. Salt pork and bacon can be used to season beans and other dishes. Stir-fries, salads, bean, rice and noodle dishes can be made with small chunks of meat. The goal here is to ensure that “…meat is seen as a treasure, not as something to be gobbled up as if it were air.”

  3. Get it out of the center of the plate. By building your meal around vegetables, grains, salads, potatoes, and other items typically relegated to being “side dishes,” you can begin to diversify your plate and reduce the emphasis on meat. If you think about it, there are quite a few quite common American dishes that do this successfully. Think soups, pot pies, spaghetti or lasagna, and just about any casserole – meat doesn’t have to be at the center of all of these, and they allow you to make your own decisions as to how you balance the ingredients. In this section, Bittman notes that just changing the way we talk about meat in the meal can make a difference. Think about the shift in focus between “We’re grilling steaks with a few vegetables,” and “We’re grilling veggies and bread, and maybe throw on a few cubes of steak.” Suddenly, the meat starts to seem more like that treasure he mentioned earlier.

  4. Buy more vegetables, and learn new ways to cook them. This is a must. If you don’t know how to successfully combine veggies with grains (and sometimes small pieces of meat), you’ll struggle with reducing your meat consumption.

  5. Make non-meat items as convenient as meat. Wash and prep veggies when you get them, or consider cooking or par-cooking them before freezing those that take such treatment. Frozen green beans, corn, tomatoes, spinach, and many other vegetables are excellent pulled out of the freezer for inclusion in any recipe.

  6. Make some rules for yourself. For me, this means I try to steer clear of meat at lunch and work to have at least one fully vegetarian day per week. For you it may mean that you’ll choose to eat salads at least three times a week, have meatless Fridays, swear off bacon at breakfast, or any other combination of things.

  7. Look at restaurant menus differently. You may not eat out enough for this to be a big deal, but for now, I do. Try not to go to restaurants that focus on a lump of meat. Most Asian and Italian restaurants are good for this, but there are many other choices that fit this bill. If you do find yourself in a meat-focused restaurant (ah, the steakhouse), keep in mind that you don’t have to order from the entrée section – sometimes the appetizers, salads and soups fit the bill better, so feel free to go ahead and order that way. Also remember that many chefs are perfectly amenable to eliminating or reducing the meat component in a dish. Some restaurants that do this will also reduce your bill accordingly.

  8. Above all, remember that you can make the choice to forget the rules for a meal here and there. Don’t be too hard on yourself – the goal is to reduce meat, not cut it out of your diet, so you don’t have to feel guilty about every meal.

I love all this advice, and I’m looking forward to implementing some of it in real life. For those omnivores out there, have you decided to eat less meat? If so, what strategies or rules have you used? Is it working?

PS: If you want to know more about Mark Bittman you can check out his cookbook,
How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food.

August 19, 2008

Greening My Insides

Lately I've been thinking a lot about my next baby step toward sustainability, so when my sister issued another challenge over at One Green Generation, I decided that switching over to greener household and personal hygiene products would be just the ticket.

The first product she writes about is everyday white vinegar. If you didn't already know, this stuff can be used for just about anything. I found a ton of uses on Melinda's first post for the challenge, supplementing with even more uses found on Bobbi's post here and The Vinegar Institute's website here. The ones I think I'll start using for this challenge are:

  • No-wax floors: To wash no-wax floors, add ½ cup of white distilled vinegar to a half-gallon of warm water.

  • Clean the refrigerator: Wash with a solution of equal parts water and white distilled vinegar.

  • Cleaner Dishes and Glasses: Pour 1 ½ cup to 2 cups white distilled vinegar in the bottom of dishwasher, along with regular dishwasher soap. Wash full cycle.

  • Bathtub film (a.k.a. soap scum): Bathtub film can be removed by wiping with white distilled vinegar and then with soda. Rinse clean with water.

  • Toilet bowl cleaner: Stubborn stains can be removed from the toilet by spraying them with white distilled vinegar and brushing vigorously. The bowl may be deodorized by adding 3 cups of white distilled vinegar. Allow it to remain for a half hour, then flush.

  • Kill weeds: Spray white distilled vinegar full strength on tops of weeds. Reapply on any new growth until plants have starved.

  • Clothes washing magic: Clothes will rinse better if 1 cup of white distilled vinegar is added to the last rinse water. The acid in vinegar is too mild to harm fabrics, but strong enough to dissolve the alkalies in soaps and detergents.

  • Deodorant stains: Deodorant and antiperspirant stains may be removed from clothing by lightly rubbing with white distilled vinegar and laundering as usual. I'll be trying alternatives to antiperspirants as a part of this challenge, but I'm waiting until my current container is empty...

  • Shower curtains: Add 1 cup of white distilled vinegar to the rinse water when you launder your shower curtain. Do not spin dry or wash out. Just hang immediately to dry.

  • Soothe a bee or jellyfish sting: Douse with vinegar. It will soothe irritation and relieve itching. I don't anticipate a run-in with a jellyfish in the Midwest, and I hope I won't have this kind of encounter with a bee, but I'll try this method if I do...

  • Stop Itching: Apply a paste made from vinegar and cornstarch. Keep on until itch disappears. This may help after a particularly bad run-in with the backyard mosquitos.

  • Soften and Condition Hair: Use a 1 to 4 ratio of vinegar to water, applying after shampooing. Consider adding essential oil or use warm water and steep a tea bag to impart a bit of fragrance.

  • Denture Cleaner: Soak them overnight in pure vinegar, and rinse in the morning. No, I don't have dentures yet! But I do have a night guard to help me from clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth. Should work the same way, I'd guess...

I have it on good authority from several bloggers I trust that, although the vinegar smell will be apparent for the first few minutes after cleaning, the scent will dissipate with just a little bit of time.

I know there are loads of other ways to use vinegar, but this should be a good start. I'll keep you posted on how well it seems to work...

Note: I've updated this post to give Bobbi at The Greene Onion a shout out for her great post, "All hail, the power of vinegar," which lists even more uses for this magic elixir.

August 14, 2008

Sometimes life brings you small surprises

Last night was not a typical night for me. I'm in the habit of walking straight to the back yard to check on the tomatoes as soon as I arrive home after work. Last night, I had taken about three steps along the path toward our back yard when I saw something that stopped me in my tracks. Right there, in the middle of the concrete walk, was a tiny baby squirrel so young that her eyes hadn't yet opened for the first time. Poor baby. I immediately starting thinking about what I could do to help the little one.

Looking up, it became clear that she had fallen from a nest located about ten feet above our roof. Well, there went option number one, which was to put her back in her home. After a bit of thinking, I decided that moving her off the path and toward the base of her home tree might make it easier for the squirrel-mom to find her, so I retrieved my trusty garden gloves from the garage and gently lifted her up. She grabbed onto my finger with all four feet - awwwww - and didn't really want to let go when we got to the tree. I left her there and went on to my evening routine for the next couple of hours.

When it was starting to get dark, I went back out to see how she was doing. Wow! There she was, clinging to the side of the tree almost three feet above the ground! I decided to let her try to get home on her own.

Another hour passed before I went back out. By this time, it was nearly 10 pm. I scanned the area with my headlamp and discovered that she had fallen from the tree and was just lying there, breathing hard. Hmm. I was skeptical that I could find anyone who would be interested in helping a squirrel, especially at this hour. I wasn't sure what to do, so I left her there and went straight to the computer. After searching "animal rescue squirrel st. louis missouri" I came up with a number for the wonderful folks at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic. After listening to my story they agreed that, for whatever reason, the mother would probably not come back in time to save her baby. They asked me to find a shoe box, line it with paper towels, and gently place the squirrel inside.

While I was getting her settled in, they checked to make sure they could admit the baby. They called back a few short minutes later to let me know that a volunteer would be coming to my house in about ten minutes. To say I was surprised by how fast they were willing to work would be an understatement. Fifteen minutes later, the squirrel had been inspected (she was covered in fly eggs, cold, hungry and somewhat dehydrated), moved into a warm and fuzzy pouch that had obviously been used for just this purpose many times, paperwork had been filled out, and the volunteer was on her way home to care for the squirrel. Apparently, her prognosis is good now that she's been brought to the right people. Thank you, Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic!

Here she is, just before Stefanie the volunteer came to pick her up. She was so tired from the ordeal that she didn't even flinch when the flash went off.

You may be able to see some white stuff that looks like sawdust on her fur. Those are fly eggs (ick!) - apparently the flies didn't expect her to make it through the night. I'm very glad that she got to spend the night in a place where people can take good care of her.

Good luck, little one.

Note: For those in the St. Louis area, this organization accepts just about all wild animals except deer, birds and reptiles. If you find a lost or injured rabbit, squirrel, raccoon or any other little critter, please just give them a call.

August 12, 2008

My very first blog carnival!

Some of you may have heard about a new group that's taking the world by storm. Some of you won't have, so I thought I'd tell you a bit about the APLS movement. As you can see in the image, APLS stands for Affluent Persons Living Sustainably. Before you react to that name, please hear me out. Just about every active member of this group has their own definition for APLS. I happen to like Green Bean's definition (the short version), which is "someone who cares about the state of the planet and folks living on it, who lives beneath their means, gives to charity and enjoys a lighter lifestyle." I have to say I'm still a bit uncomfortable with the word affluence, but the overall meaning works well for me, so I'm learning to live with the whole term.

So, all that being said, the APLS group is putting together a blog carnival. This concept is new to me, but it essentially invites all APLS members to post on the same topic to clarify our positions, look at various aspects of the same idea, and/or generally get the word out an issue at hand. The topics are set out by an APLS volunteer. Thanks to Melissa at Better Living, our very first topic is.....drumroll please...

What does sustainability mean to you?

Boy, what a question. When I started pondering how to respond to this question, I decided to look up the definition of "sustainable." Yep, I'm a word person, and I like to hunt down other people's definitions before I come up with my own. The
first set of definitions that came up included:

  1. To keep in existence; maintain.
  2. To supply with necessities or nourishment; provide for.
  3. To support from below; keep from falling or sinking; prop.
  4. To support the spirits, vitality, or resolution of; encourage.
  5. To bear up under; withstand: can't sustain the blistering heat.
  6. To experience or suffer: sustained a fatal injury.
  7. To affirm the validity of: The judge has sustained the prosecutor's objection.
  8. To prove or corroborate; confirm.
  9. To keep up (a joke or assumed role, for example) competently.
Hmm. I'm intrigued by the peculiar combination of definitions, especially since I can see how each of describes the whole purpose of the APLS group. We are all trying to (1) maintain in many ways - maintaining our environment, maintaining our relationships, and maintaining our sanity in a complex and constantly changing world. We are working toward (2) supplying necessities and nourishment for ourselves, our families, and our planet. The whole purpose of the APLS group is to (3, 4) support each other's spirits and resolutions as we work toward living better lives. Many APLS members have discussed how helpless they feel and how much they (5, 6) suffer as they watch others work in direct opposition to their own beliefs about the amount of responsibility we should each take for the full impact of our lives. I have to say that finding a group like APLS has helped to (7, 8) affirm the validity of and corroborate my own feelings about the way. Clearly, we all hope to (9) keep up our efforts and encourage others to make small steps toward living a beautiful life while inflicting less damage impact on our planet.

I think that all of us APLS believe we have a lot of room for improvement on the sustainability front. I'd be the first to admit that I'm not all the way there yet. But if I wake up every morning and start making most of my daily decisions based on whether my actions will compromise the ability of future generations to live happy and healthy lives, then I feel like I'm definitely headed down the right path.

So you'll be seeing more posts about APLS over the coming months and years. I'd encourage you to jump over to the APLS blog to peruse the various members and visit blogs written by other folks in the "bushel basket." Hopefully you'll enjoy this community as much as I do...