Green Video Challenge

Video CameraStudent Doctor Green has challenged us to make a short video clip about green living and we’re scrambling a bit to think of something good. It reminds me of a story in The Tightwad Gazette. The author said that there were a few years in the early 90’s when she was plagued with journalists wanting to cover her family’s tightwad lifestyle. Almost every one asked that she hang laundry to dry in the attic so they could take pictures. It was the only tightwad technique that they found visually interesting.

She suggested them taking pictures of her family NOT buying expensive packaged foods at the grocery and NOT stopping to eat at the restaurant but the photographers just sighed and tried to explain that you can’t take pictures of people NOT doing things.

Anyway, I think we have a good idea for our first video entry but if you have suggestions I’d love to hear them. We’re thinking this could be a fun new addition to the site, although probably not more than once a month unless it takes a lot less time than I’m picturing.  There are also some green video challenges floating around the internet, like the one through Juntoventure with a bunch of prizes, although it kinda looks like you have to be from California to enter?  I find their site confusing and it’s a little worrisome that they had to extend their deadline an extra two months because they didn’t get enough submissions.

Will used to teach a class at IU about making documentaries so I’m hoping he can pull together something a little more impressive than the wholly incomprehensible home videos my brother and I used to make. Although I should try to find some of that old footage. I’m sure there are a few treasures in amongst the hours of videotaping out the car window on road trips.

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Fame, Green Living, and Oprah

Oprah Going GreenWe don’t have cable (or even rabbit ears) so I’m many years behind in my television viewing but my mom periodically updates me on the programs she watches, especially the Oprah Winfrey Show. As far as television shows go, I think Oprah’s is one of the more palatable ones. I like Oprah. I think she’s an intelligent, caring, motivated woman who is working hard to achieve great things in life. As celebrities go, I believe she uses her powers predominantly for good and that she tries to share her values and beliefs with her audience. However, she has also drifted into the high ranks of the rich and famous and seems pretty disconnected from masses that form her fan base. She went on a road trip last summer and it was revealed that she doesn’t even know how to pump gas. Come on!

Anyway, sometime I dream of a life of riches and celebrity and I figure my best shot for television glory is to be featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Perhaps I could replace the tiny stylish woman who currently pimps green living tips on the show. People could ooh and ah at my stories about driving a greasecar or feeding my table scraps to my worms. They would shudder at the idea of conserving water by flushing less frequently. Oprah would listen respectfully and applaud my efforts while reassuring her audience that pee certainly wouldn’t be allowed to linger in HER household. Washing and reusing ziplock bags? Yes. Cutting back on hot showers? No. Using cloth toilet paper? I can only imagine her look of horror.

However, I like to picture myself captivating the audience with my tales of green living and voluntary simplicity. In my moment of glory, I would like to turn to the audience and encourage them that the best thing they can do for the environment and their personal well-being would be to turn off their televisions. Yes, even the Oprah Winfrey Show. Instead, go out into the world and interact with your neighbors. Find out more about the millions of opportunities out there for making a difference. Start paying attention to the way you live your life – everything from where your food comes from to how you interact with strangers. It would be a powerful transformation.

Alas, I don’t think my message would be heard. Television is a great medium for entertainment and flash but it’s amazingly hard to get across substance and depth. Can I really condense my way of life into a ten-second sound bite? Will a few minutes of videotaped footage of my home reveal the choices I make? Is there any way to actually connect with people and have them feel what I feel?

Of course, the upside of television is that it reaches millions of people so even if I only convince 0.01% of the audience to reexamine their lives, that would still be tens of thousands of people. And that’s why I still love the idea of being on Oprah. Well, that and the free gifts she gives out.  And perhaps we could become part of her vast network of TV, radio, magazines, books, and websites along with lowimpactliving.com (which actually seems pretty cool).

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Climbing the mountain: sustainability one step at a time

Living Like EdNow that my big work push is over, I have a little more free time to catch up on my reading. I’ve started with a book Maggie got at the library last week, Living Like Ed: A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life. It’s by Ed Begley, Jr (yes, the Ed Begley, Jr. of Mighty Wind and Best in Show) and basically goes through all of the green things he’s learned to do in thirty years (!) of becoming more sustainable.

I’m not done yet, but overall the book is pretty good. It covers very simple things (recycle) as well as more labor or capital intensive things (buy a wind turbine), interspersed with comments by Begley’s wide with an “everyday joe” perspective. However, an analogy Begley makes at the beginning has really stuck with me because it resonates with some things I’ve been thinking recently.

Living sustainably,Begley writes, isn’t a sudden change. Instead, it’s like climbing Everest. You go up a little, then stop and get acclimatized before you head up some more. When you change your lifestyle, make some achievable changes then live with them for a while. You’ll usually find that it’s not a big deal. Once you’re there, you can make some other achievable changes. Eventually, you’ll be much higher on Everest that you ever could have imagined.

That doesn’t mean you should avoid pushing yourself, just that you shouldn’t look at the distance to go and give up. Even if you just change a little, it’s still making a difference. I’ve found that it’s easiest to combine different types of changes. Do something easy (putting in CFLs), habit-changing (cook more lunches), handy (making a worm box), and something long-term (save towards small solar panels). That way, you can really feel like you’re achieving something while you’re working towards the harder goals. It’s a lot like the concept of a debt snowball and I think it can work really well.

Even though I haven’t finished the book, the parts I’ve read are really good. Begley has a whimsical tone that compliments the more serious subject matter. Maggie also liked it, although I think she found most of the advice old hat.

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Snot rags… I mean, handkerchiefs

Maggie’s noseI have been a long-time fan of the handkerchief as opposed to Kleenex but I realize there are lots of folks like Student Doctor Green who are a little grossed out by the concept of blowing your nose into a piece of cloth and sticking said piece of cloth back into your pocket. Yes, I admit, it’s a little gross but it’s not *that* gross. (Oh, and by the way, when I say “Kleenex” what I really mean is “Seventh Generation Recycled Facial Tissues.”)

I have never been a dainty nose-blower. I am much more of the honking type. I also learned early on that my nose will inevitably run when I am as far as possible from a Kleenex box. This led originally to the habit of stuffing my pockets with Kleenex in the morning and then holding onto them (fresh or used) during the day so I would always have at least some corner of dry tissue to use. Well, I also held onto my used Kleenex because there never seemed to be a good place to throw them away. It got to be a bit of a problem when I would invariably wash a pair of pants with three tissues in the pockets and discover that my clothes had been coated in a fine layer of white Kleenex dust.  This was well-covered in the recent Ode to the Humble Handkerchief.

I’m not sure when I actually switched over to handkerchiefs. I have a collection of about twenty now and have developed strong opinions about what kind are most effective. I really like the men’s thin white handkerchiefs that are still available in some department stores. They’re small enough to fit comfortably even in the pocket of my jeans but they have enough surface area to hold up well. Bandanas are bigger and sturdier but also bulkier and I also have some hesitation about blowing my nose on a piece of cloth I might also use to tie back my hair. It’s best not to mix the two. I also have a few dainty handkerchiefs I inherited from my grandmother. They remind me of her, which is nice, but they’re really designed for gentle nose dabbing, which never seems to accomplish much. In the end, whatever kind they may be, handkerchiefs are cheaper than Kleenex (in the long run) and easy to use.

So here’s my routine. It’s early in the day and my nose is just starting to run. I pull the fresh handkerchief out of my pocket and unfold it until there are about two layers. I find a good corner, blow my nose, and then fold the handkerchief to keep the moist part in the very middle, and stick it back in my pocket. Later, I can unfold it and find a different clean spot for the next nose blow. Usually I can find a clean spot and refold carefully to keep my hands and my pocket unsullied. If I have a cold and am producing a lot of snot, it’s time to switch to Kleenex although I often keep a handerchief as backup in case I run through my Kleenex supply. At the end of the day (or maybe a couple of days, I confess) I throw the used hankie in the laundry. Easy as pie!

Will thinks the whole process is kinda gross (especially if I try to take one to bed) but he mostly just looks the other way. And he’s good at reminding me that it’s probably best to wash my hands frequently, hankie or not.

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Preparing for the Gardening Season

Working in the GardenWill believes that some folks just aren’t gardeners and he may be right but I’m pretty sure I’m a gardener. I’m a little behind; January is the peak season for snuggling up with some great seed catalogs and sketching out the awesomest garden layout ever. But I have a HUGE stockpile of seeds already and it looks like I’ll be playing the supporting role in three gardens this year rather than running a garden of my own so it’s probably just as well that I’m not looking at the catalogs. (My favorites are Seeds of Change and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. For those who are not gardeners, there’s always the Murray McMurray poultry catalog or the ever-popular Heifer International catalog of gift animals for families in third world countries.)

I just find gardening really fulfilling. It is a pleasant form of exercise, it’s an excuse (and motivation) to get outdoors, I feel like I’m contributing to something worthwhile, and in the end I get to eat something yummy! Usually, anyway. There have been a few unpleasant surprises like the melons that smelled deliciously sweet and tasted like dirt and a few times that my lovingly tended crop was eaten by voracious wild animals but usually there’s something good to eat.

Alas, it is snowing here so I will not be headed outdoors soon. This week I am practicing my sprouting skills. I just got a sprouting jar and some alfalfa seeds and I also recently learned that it’s possible to sprout most beans so I have a batch of adzuki beans going. I am also going to coordinate with a friend who is starting seeds indoors for the Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard garden that I’ll be helping with this spring. And I’ll probably break down and check out a few seed catalogs so I can advise my mom on what to include in her garden, which I helped install a couple years ago.

Some green tips for seed selection:

1. Heirloom varieties are awesome and help preserve biodiversity, as well as frequently providing superior flavor and nutrition. Baker Creek is a great source and here in Bloomington I love to get seeds from Wiley House, a museum with a historical garden.

2. Even if they’re not heirlooms, it’s great to get open-pollinated vegetable seeds so you can save your own seeds for the next year. If you save your own seeds you can develop a variety that is perfectly suited to your neighborhood. Pretty cool!

3. Buy organic seeds when you can. Besides being free of the fungicides and other chemicals sometimes applied to conventional seeds, organic seeds were grown by farms that are using environmentally sustainable methods. I think it’s important to support them.

4. Share seeds with friends and neighbors. One seed packet generally contains a lot more seeds than you will actually need (you don’t need fifty tomato plants, I promise) so share the wealth. I hear there are stores where you can buy seeds in bulk by the teaspoon but I haven’t found those stores yet.

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How Do You Sell Environmentalism?

EnvironmentalismI’ve started to study marketing in my old age. Part of me feels like a sell-out. (This is the part of me that hears the word “marketing” and immediately pictures a sleazy salesman with gleaming white teeth and perfectly gelled hair.) Part of me is excited to be learning something new. And the other part appreciates that on some basic level, nearly every form of communication we do is marketing. Marketing is attempting to transmit a message, to sell your view (if not your product).

Standard product advertisements have pretty straightforward messages.  Drink this beer and you’ll be sexy.  Buy this car and keep your family safe.  There are even subtle (or not-so-subtle) messages about what happens if you don’t buy the product: You’ll never find true love, your children will die horrible deaths, and the Jones will find out what a pathetic loser you are.

But how do you effectively market something as abstract as environmentalism? You can try the same techniques but it’s a little harder to convince people that changing compact fluorescent light bulbs is sexy or that recycling will give your house the sparkly clean shine that bleach does. You certainly can play up the idea of keeping your family safe and preserving your personal health, but it’s still hard to make it concrete. There’s also the problem of overstimulating people and getting them so worked up they choose to stop listening like the boy who cried wolf. Even if everything you say is true, it’s easy to overwhelm people and then they’ll tune you out.

There’s been some discussion of the topic over at No Impact Man’s blog and he advocates knowing your audience and tailoring your message to them. Tell the people interested in their health about ways to preserve their health. Talk to the people with kids about protecting their future. I totally agree with the philosophy but instead of helping, it only seems to make it harder! How do you get to know your audience so you can design a message to reach them?

Luckily, there are lots of people promoting green living, environmentalism, sustainability, social equity, locally grown food, peace, and all kinds of other great ideas in all kinds of different ways. I don’t have to figure out how to sell the idea of green living to the world, which is a tremendous relief. I think I’d probably have better luck selling cars; at least they’re tangible.

What sells you on environmentalism?

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