02/03/10 2:45am
02/03/2010 2:45 AM |

Ah, Valentine’s Day. Apparently two thirds of us do something to acknowledge the holiday (complain though we may), so we might as well do something good with our time, energy and money. Of course, there are all the Valentine’s Day cliche—flowers, chocolates, cards—and their green equivalents, but we’ve been reading about that stuff for years, right? There must be more…

For starters, as with all gift-giving occasions, I prefer giving services rather than things. Who doesn’t like a massage, or a facial?

The best little spa in Brooklyn, Audrey Spa, on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, has a special offer for gift-givers, and gift-receivers. Owner Yola’s amazing facial is already a great deal at $75 (I swear it’s the best facial in New York), but for every one purchased this month, either for yourself or as a gift, she’ll donate $5 to BARC, Williamsburg’s wonderful animal rescue. So, beauty freak, animal person, or a bit of both, you or your giftee will be happy. Why not treat her, or yourself, to two? (Mention BARC when you buy.)

Swing by the monthly Greenpoint Food Market (129 Russell St.) on the 13th, and stock up on local, handmade gourmet food items, from chocolates to baked goods to vegan pate. Dozens of vendors will have everything you need to prepare a heck of a stay-at-home feast for your sweetie. Who wants roses when there’s homemade kimchee and chutney?

Dining out is also a great way to celebrate, as long as you steer clear of steakhouses (nothing says “I don’t care” like a meal that takes years off your life, the planet’s life and the life of another sentient being). Go veg! Uptown’s Candle 79 won’t disappoint even the most conventional of sweethearts: their elegant space, great service and excellent wine and sake list are a million miles from mung beans and brown rice. Downtown, Blossom and Counter are neck-and-neck in the race to elegant death-free dining. Both are also great places to have a drink or four: Counter mixes up amazing, sustainable cocktails (local gin!) and Blossom has a great selection of organic wines and beers.

Since Valentine’s falls on a Sunday this year it’s a good chance to spread your love around, unencumbered by the work day: find a way to care for someone outside your immediate family (however you define it). I’m gonna head up to the Greenpoint Reformed Church with a little bit of love for their amazing food programs: their wish list (coffee, paper plates, money…) is on their website,, and I figure I can pick up a couple of things they need and drop them off.

Interspecies love is just as valid as the person-on-person kind. If your heart’s been broken by a human, why not turn to the canines and felines? The Mayor’s Alliance is coordinating the month-long “I Love NYC Pets” adoption drive: check out their website for the (extensive) list of events ( Picking up a gorgeous guy or gal has never been so easy… And you won’t have to take any of these beauties out for a prix-fixe dinner. Ever.

And if even that’s too conventional for you, let me suggest you and that special someone attend Unmarriage Until Gay Marriage: take your honey up to the Bethesda Fountain at 1pm on V-Day, join me and Mr. Objector, and get yourselves unmarried, or un-committed, as a protest against unequal marriage laws. Couples will be riven (and riveted, I’ll wager) by the rousing oratory of the Reverend Billy, of the Church of Stop Shopping. A special musical guest will serenade, the church choir will croon, and we’ll all take a stand in favor of LOVE, in all its equally valid forms.

01/20/10 5:55am
01/20/2010 5:55 AM |

One of the most rewarding green practices is, in my humble opinion, eating home-cooked, local food, purchased from one of NYC’s awesome greenmarkets (hands down my favorite city institution: I get teary sometimes walking into Union Square…). But folks seem to be daunted by the prospect of cooking from scratch, taking a sack full of still-dirty vegetables and turning them into something fit for ordinary appetites, not just ascetic vegan health-food types. The problem intensifies in the winter, when produce choices dwindle, and strange aliens from underground proliferate on farm-stand tables: what the hell is a rutabaga, and how do you make a turnip taste like anything but the dirt that it came from?

Never fear, the Conscientious Cook is here. With 18 markets in Brooklyn and Manhattan open year-round (to find out which ones, visit, there are plenty of sources of great local, seasonal produce, and countless easy ways of preparing same. To get us through the slough of despond that is the next few months, I’ll be shopping, cooking, and explaining local, seasonal dishes in weekly installments online at Look for my shopping lists, photos from the markets, and, most importantly, recipes, to keep you on the path of culinary righteousness.

To jumpstart the process, here’s a quickie recipe for a wintertime staple: mashed potatoes. Comforting and filling, potatoes are available all winter long at every greenmarket: they’re cheap, usually cheaper than at the market (my potato guy sells ten-plus varieties for a dollar a pound), and they’re WAY more nutritious than you think. Five ounces of potato, with the skin on, contain as much potassium as a banana (without the pesky food miles), 45 percent of the RDA for vitamin C, and some fiber, folate, iron and magnesium to boot. Seriously, potatoes rule.

Mashed Potatoes

Make a big batch, and eat ’em all week…

– Wash and inspect a couple pounds of potatoes, peeling only the parts that are damaged, or have thick, leathery skin. Leave the rest of the peel—it’s yummy, and good for you.

– Cut into medium-sized pieces (usually one cut lengthwise, and three or four cuts widthwise).

– Put into a good-sized pot, fill with cold water to cover potatoes, bring to a boil, and add a little salt (sea salt’s good, and has trace minerals, too)—doing it in that order helps cook off excess starch.

– Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until you can smell a nice potatoey smell when you lean over the pot.

– In the meantime, sautee a couple cloves of garlic, finely chopped, with an onion, cut into smallish pieces, in local butter.

– When the potatoes are done, drain and return to the pot. Add onion/garlic mix, toss in some more butter, and a healthy dollop of soymilk, or regular milk. Mash potatoes with a fork, and taste once they start to seem close to the right consistency. Add salt, white pepper, more milk and/or butter as seems appropriate/tastes good.

Mashed potatoes keep nicely in the fridge for four-six days, and go well with simple vegetables, soups, chili, stews, veggie burgers and a million other things. Bon appetit!

01/06/10 5:30am
01/06/2010 5:30 AM |

While the hedonism and self-indulgence of the holidays are a lot of fun, I almost prefer the balancing period of self-discipline and asceticism that naturally follows. Whether it’s eating simply and cheaply after weeks of parties, restaurants, and a fridge filled with yule logs, or swapping endless entertainment for exercise, the dark, cold days of January and February lend themselves nicely to self-examination.

One habit I’ve gotten into post-New Year’s is a tune-up of my domestic situation. God knows I have little desire to leave the house, after weeks on the town.

It starts with the incorporation of any gifts I’ve gotten into the household: clothes into closets, books onto shelves etc. What a perfect time to cull old clothes and books, and take them to Housing Works, or sort out sheets and towels and take the frayed and tattered to the nearest animal shelter for bedding. Too many canned goods? Weird condiments from your Christmas stocking? Make a bag for your local food pantry (Greenpoint Reformed Church is a great place) Whatever you do, don’t throw perfectly good stuff away.

With a little space made, now’s the time for a midwinter clean. If you’re like me the holidays were a time of slapdash tidying and under-the-bed stashing as guests and relatives descended. Green cleaning products are multiplying like rabbits: on a recent trip to megastore Lowe’s I found the cleaning aisle chockablock with less toxic, biodegradeable, naturally scented options. Stock up! (Though I recommend hitting the 4th Street Co-op with your own bottles in hand, for bulk cleaning products, or shopping at Sustainable NYC on Ave. A, if you can.)

If you’re ready for fresh cleaning implements, swap your sponge and scrubber for eco versions: no need for a plastic scrubber when you can get loofah versions at the health food store, or an entire loofah at the nearest Middle-Eastern grocery. A company called Casabella has a beautiful mop/bucket system made out of 100 percent recycled soda bottles and an aluminum handle that works for other cleaning tools, too.

In the bathroom consider switching to products from one of my new favorite stores, Lush. The Canadian company makes great natural skincare products, packages them in recycled plastic tubs, and takes the tubs back themselves for recycling—take five tubs in and they give you another product. Their greatest eco innovations are an assortment of really great bar shampoos, and several bar deodorants, sold by the pound. Sounds crazy, but the stuff is amazing, and the total packaging for either is a whisper of recyclable paper. No more plastic bottles and boxes, hallelujah!

Speaking of no more plastic, now’s the time to get rid of all those takeout boxes you’ve been hoarding—if your freezer has a lot of room in it, fill it with takeout tubs filled with water: it will reduce the energy needed to keep your fridge running, and reduce your electric bill. Recycle what you can from the rest (the Park Slope Co-op has days when it takes yogurt tubs and many other kinds of plastic not recyclable in the city system) and invest in a couple of glass or stainless containers (or use spaghetti-sauce or jam jars) instead—no creepy leaching.

As long as you’re in the kitchen, one of the greenest (and healthiest) things you can do is cook (and eat) more at home, with a little less meat. Whip up a simple vegan soup, with lentils say, some onions, garlic, potatoes, olive oil and spices, and you’ll save money, reduce your carbon footprint, and give yourself a wildly healthy treat. Or resolve to go meat-free one day a week: there’s a cool group called Meatless Mondays, which will send you great recipes, and guide you if you’ll commit to one meat-free day a week (

Whatever you do, make a couple of changes, and have a happier, greener New Year.

12/23/09 4:30am
12/23/2009 4:30 AM |

New Year’s resolutions. Awesome fodder for end-of-the-year columns. Especially when you’re already a bossy, prescriptive-type columnist, addicted to telling people what to do, right? Well, yeah, you’re thinking, but who needs a whole separate set of green resolutions, when I never get around to keeping my regular resolutions?

There’s a pretty limited repertoire of resolutions, and some of us recycle the same ones year after year after year (that’s green, right?). With 12 percent giving up in the first week, and 43 percent bailing after six months, it’s no wonder we keep going back to the classics—you know, get organized, lose weight, exercise more, eat better, take better care of things financial, and volunteer. The good news is that all of these old standards dovetail perfectly with a lower-impact you. So you can improve youself, and the planet too!

Getting organized has topped my list for years, and just this year I realized what a difference it makes in greening my life. Start by getting rid of stuff you don’t want or need, and giving it to people/groups/animals that need it. (See for a list of things to give away, and places that take them).

Recycle old papers and magazines. Cull from your bookshelves. Once you’ve made some space, you’ll be able to track what you do need: think about having room for a recycling system (instead of just tossing stuff), or being able to keep reusable totebags where you’ll actually use them.

So, you want to lose weight? Well, to start with, eat less. Excess weight comes from excess food, and excess food actually means you’re consuming more than you need. Producing food takes energy (for tractors, harvesters, and trucks to bring it to you), and the less you eat, the less CO2 you generate. Another way is to eat different foods, like fewer animal products, and more vegetables. The UN has called out animal agriculture as the number-one generator of greenhouse gases, not to mention runoff from manure lagoons and the environmental impact of all those triple bypass surgeries!

To exercise more, you could join one of those oh-so-cool health clubs, and run on a treadmill in front of a giant window for all to see, just so you can hop in a cab home, and slump in front of the TV for the requisite four hours per day. Or you could get a bike, and bike home, and to work, to see your friends etc. It’s the same exercise, and won’t take much, if any, more travel time than your usual transport. If biking’s not your thing, why not adopt a dog, or volunteer walking dogs at a shelter? A recent study showed that people who walked with dogs stuck with their exercise regimens more closely than those who exercised with their fellow humans, and got stronger too.

Eating better is a great tie-in to greener living—or is it the other way around? The best ways to eat better are to eat less processed food, eat less meat and more vegetables, and to get more involved in local fresh food systems. All of these reduce the environmental impact of the food you eat. Processed food is bad for you, and bad for the environment—think about all those chemical additives, all that packaging, and all those corn and soy byproducts. Meat was mentioned above: it’s bad for you, bad for animals, and bad for the environment. Try going vegetarian one day a week, or one meal a day to start.

Personal finances seem to have the least to do with things eco, but spending less money on less stuff is the easiest way to lessen your impact. Stuff takes energy and materials to make. If your financial picture is clouded by debt, remember that all that interest and those finance charges go to huge multinationals—lessen the amount you pay, and you reduce the amount they can invest in everything from dams to oil drilling. With less money going to credit companies you can give more to charity, invest in greener ways of living, or just save so you can work less.

Have a happy, green New Year!

11/25/09 4:00am
11/25/2009 4:00 AM |

Pondering the return of the holiday season, and the attendant obligation of shopping for holiday gifts and writing about same for this magazine, I started to feel a little overwhelmed. There’s an awful lot of stuff out there: there’s even a lot of cool stuff, green stuff, eco stuff. How to choose? The answer, of course, was to narrow it down, way down.

As regular readers know, I’m pretty into animals, and as I started to peruse gift-giving options, those that were animal-related quickly emerged as my favorites. From great gifts for actual animals, to gifts that benefit animals, to representations of animals to wear or hang on the wall, it quickly became clear that I could narrow my focus, thereby simplifying my life (and yours, if you choose to follow my shopping directives) and still have plenty to choose from.

If you happen to have a pitbull fan on your shopping list, whether an owner or just an admirer, the Bay Area group Bad Rap ( has some of the coolest graphics around, and sells t-shirts, stickers and totes, all sporting a pro-pit message (“My best friend is a pitbull”). Their calendar, with a year’s worth of choice rescued pit pictures, is an easy and affordable gift for any animal lover, and proceeds go to support the group’s wonderful work rehabilitating dogs, and the breed’s image.

But if you have an ACTUAL pitbull to buy for, or any other breed of dog or cat (and as a pet parent, let me tell you that buying a gift, however small, for one of my dogs, or my turtle, will charm and please me in a way that almost nothing you could buy for me would) I suggest you head over to PS9, easily Brooklyn’s most elegant pet store. PS9’s owner, Joan Christian, is as conscientious as she is stylish, so you’ll find dog sweaters hand-knit by indigenous peoples in South America, gorgeous collars hand-beaded in Kenya, green coats and sweaters made from bamboo or recycled plastic bottles and loads of stuff made by local Brooklyn artists.

Of course, PS9 carries the best foods and treats, including the coolest dog gift ever: naturally shed deer antlers (they just fall off… no need to kill the deer, and no more gross animal parts on the bed/sofa/carpet) that are gathered by dogs trained to find them in the woods. That’s right, dog toys that employ actual dogs. Trimmed and cleaned, they make a chew toy that lasts forever, cleans the teeth, and is well worth the premium price ($12-32, depending on size).

For actual people, my favorite store these days, bar none, is a little boutique out on Graham Avenue in Williamsburg, the amazing Treehouse. Treehouse is a treasure trove of beautiful handmade, recycled, vintage, green things, and on closer inspection seemed ready to provide gifts for most of those on my list.

Hand-crocheted copper chain necklaces by house brand Sirius Lux (you might have seen them on The Uniform Project)? Check. Handmade silver jewelry depicting wolves, dogs, dinosaurs and sharks by local designer Species of Thousands? Check. Handmade jasmine cream and bath salts (for mom, or grandma, or your bff) and pregnant-lady essentials from Portland’s Angel Face? Check. Exquisite fingerless cashmere gloves with Swarovski sparkles by Elyse Allen (you have to see these to believe how pretty they are)? Check. Mammy wallets handsewn from vintage fabrics? Men’s organic bamboo denim jeans and jumpsuits from Brooklyn’s own SDN? Real NYC pigeon-feather art objects, encased in glass vials, with date and place found? Hand-silkscreened cards? Check, check, check.

Toss in (locally made, natch) silkscreened onesies for the tiny tots, and dresses made from vintage pillowcases for little girls, soy candles that smell like heaven, incredible handmade hoods with reflective stripes, perfect for keeping your favorite cyclist’s head warm AND visible, and an assortment of beautiful vintage wares, and I can’t think of a person on my list I can’t shop for here. The icing on the cake? Mention The L Magazine, and Treehouse will donate 10 percent of your purchase to Brooklyn animal rescue groups. One-stop shopping, with love for the four-foots! IF you can’t find everything you want at Treehouse, ask proprietress Siri to share her neighborhood knowledge: sister stores Sodafine, on the south side, Kill Devil Hill in Greenpoint, and Kaight in the Lower East Side all stock great vintage and/or amazing eco fashions, and Siri knows all the deets.

If you’d like to extend the gift-of-giving, and take a more ecological approach, don’t forget online animal adoptions: manatees at, Yellowstone’s wolves at NRDC’s (cheap enough for Secret Santa), or farm animals at Perennial favorite (Defenders of Wildlife), which has long offered wild animal adoptions accompanied by stuffed animal versions of your chosen adoptee (perfect for kids) this year has introduced a line of eco-plush stuffed adoptees: they’re made from a byproduct of soy food production, so are sustainable and renewable, and don’t use up actual food.

One of the most sophisticated gifts you can give is art, no? On the top of my list, for any and all occasions, are the prints of Sue Coe, one of the most important political artists of our time. Her work has dealt with all manner of injustice, social, political and animal-rights related: her most affecting work looks at creatures in zoos, slaughterhouses, and laboratories. In keeping with her politics (and following the tradition of earlier graphic artists like Kathe Kollwitz) much of her work is affordable prints, sold through her gallery, Gallerie St. Etienne, on 57th Street. Stroll in, peruse, and purchase: many pieces are under $100, some are under $50.

11/11/09 4:00am
11/11/2009 4:00 AM |

My favorite holiday is coming up: Thanksgiving. But when I tell people that, at least people who know I’m a vegetarian, they invariably ask, “But how can you enjoy Thanksgiving without turkey?” And I want to (and sometimes do) ask, “How can you enjoy Thanksgiving WITH turkey?”

Every year 250 to 300 MILLION turkeys are killed for food in this country, and about 45 million are killed just for Thanksgiving. If that number (and the image of them all piled up in one place—brrr!) isn’t chilling enough, consider this: raising animals for meat (and yes, turkey, chicken and duck count as meat) is our greatest single contribution to global warming.

Even Al Gore is getting with the program: after years of being the official spokesdog for global warming, just last week, in an interview with ABC, he admitted the unthinkable (for a heavyset Southern gentleman of jowly inclinations). “It’s absolutely correct that the growing meat intensity of diets around the world is one of the issues connected to this global crisis—not only because of the CO2 involved, but also because of the water consumed in the process. You could add in the health consequences as well.”

And then he confessed that his environmental concerns had, in fact, led him to seriously reduce the amount of meat he eats, though he stopped well short of embracing vegetarianism (or, gasp, veganism), or suggesting that others stop eating meat.

But as a first step, by a big white dude in a suit, I’ll take it. After years of needling from the more radical (i.e. non-corporate) side of the environmental movement, it’s about time Al spoke truth to power—the power being the massive meat industry and its big, beefy (ha!) lobbying arm.
On top of that, the Wall Street Journal published a fascinating article about a former fisherman who now spends his days flying around looking for piles of chicken manure from the air: runoff from poultry farms on the Delmarva Peninsula has destroyed the ecosystems of the Chesapeake Bay and points further south. Poultry farmers, who function in a kind of indentured servitude under crippling contracts with the big poultry concerns, operate with razor-thin margins that make environmental compliance next to impossible. So they block entrance to their farms, resist inspection and pile up chicken shit.

The only way to find the illegal crap stashes, which will, with their bacterial payloads, eventually wash to the Bay, or the nearest body of water and THEN the Bay, is to spot them from above. First the chicken shit killed the fisherman’s livelihood, then the fisherman cracked down on the chicken shit…

And that’s just one aspect of our glorious meat-production system. Jonathan Safran Foer’s most recent book, Eating Animals, has had him blanketing the internets and the NPR airwaves to bring us the news that Peter Singer brought us many years ago: eating animals is fucked up, intellectually inconsistent with the devotion we feel for our “pets” (dogs and cats) and, oh, it’s bad for the environment. Unless it isn’t, in which case you’re eating humanely-raised grass-fed, organic, free-range meat (which constitutes some 2-4% of the meat produced in this country, so guess what? You’re probably not).

As irritating as Foer’s tone is, it’s hard to be against his attempt to illuminate the issue. As he puts it, “We have the burden and opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness.” We should know better, we do know better.

So don’t turn away: if you have a shred of concern about the environment, if you’ve ever seen a glimmer of intelligence in the eyes of an animal, ANY animal (just look—it’s there) consider forgoing the big bird this year. Spend the money you would have given to Perdue by going to to sponsor a turkey. I did—her name is Olive.

10/28/09 4:00am
10/28/2009 4:00 AM |

Just last week I got an email that tore me up. It was from a dog rescuer in Jersey City: he has been fostering an 80-pound mastiff mix for over two years, and is despairing of ever finding him what we animal activists like to call a “forever” home.

Levi, the dog in question, is sweet, good with other dogs, cats, and kids; he loves people and needs and deserves a home where he’ll get a lot of attention. Dumped at a Jersey shelter, covered in cuts and injuries, he required thousands of dollars of vet care, and still bears the scars of his brief career as a fighting “bait” dog. Because part of his mix is Shar-Pei, he has delicate skin which tears easily, and it shows (and as a result he can’t live with any very aggressive/overly boisterous dogs).

Poor Levi. Two years is a long time to wait for a home. And there are Levis all over the NYC area, waiting in shelters and foster homes for their people to come and adopt them.

As the economic crisis staggers along, some pet people are continuing to have a hard time making ends meet: dogs and cats are still being given up by their caregivers, who sometimes have to choose between feeding themselves and feeding their animals. Seriously, I’ve been helping to get food and supplies to these folks for a few years now, to try and keep them and their pets together and get the pets out of the shelter.

At the same time, awareness of the plight of animals in shelters is increasing dramatically. More and more folks are adopting as they become aware of the evils of puppy mills, and the amazing potential of rescued animals: virtually all homeless dogs and cats are homeless because their people failed in one way or another, not because of anything wrong with the animals in question, or anything they did.

A lot of people are working very hard to save and re-home NYC dogs—scores of rescuers “pull” dogs everyday from the city kill shelter, putting their own money and time into getting them vet care, training when needed, and buying them the time to find families.

Well, it’s time to find these guys, and girls, real homes: if you’re tempted to adopt, please do, the sooner the better. If your landlord says no, try to reason with him or her—often the offer of $100-$200 pet security will show your good intentions, and change their mind. And if you don’t have room in your life for a full-time pet, consider volunteering or fostering: fostering means you “host” an animal for anywhere from a day to a year, while actively participating in finding it a home. Fostering saves lives!

Here at The L, I’m going to be doing my part by writing a daily “Dog O’ the Day” piece for our website: check in at, and you’ll find in-depth descriptions of NYC shelter and rescue dogs needing homes, pictures, details on where you can see them, who to contact, and how else to help. My website, is even going to sponsor adoption fees for select dogs who are especially deserving.

Please tune in: with a little more networking, a few more enlightened individuals, and a lot more compassion, we can find homes for them all. Seriously.

And of course, my first Dog o’ the Day is going to be beautiful Levi: come see what a great guy he is—and I have a special present for whomever adopts him. Woof!

10/14/09 4:00am
10/14/2009 4:00 AM |

I was toodling around my Brooklyn neighborhood on trash night recently, marveling at the many, varied approaches to trash and recycling on display: our garbage (as is the case in most of the city) goes out three times a week, and recycling is picked up once a week. In my mixed-residential ‘hood, that means bigger buildings with piles of garbage, small one-to-three unit town houses that put out little trash, sometimes no trash, and the odd tower with mini trash towers out front. Recycling ranges from the meticulous (neighbors who wash and de-label every can they put out) to the apathetic- mid-sized buildings with all kinds of recyclables mixed into the garbage willy-nilly.

A recent report revealed that New Yorkers are recycling less than half of what could be recycled. We’re still a city without any kind of municipal composting, despite the fact that compostables make up as much as a third of our waste stream. Judging from the miserable habits of a few buildings on my block, which have remained unchanged for years and years, there is little to no enforcement of “mandatory” recycling. (Bloomberg’s two-year suspension of glass and plastic recycling in 2003 didn’t help much, either.)

And still we’re sending out garbage trucks three times a week.
In many European cities, trash is managed very differently, as Elisabeth Rosenthal pointed out in a recent editorial at In Zurich, trash is picked up once a week, recyclables once a month: as a result, less packaging is a must, and “televisions leave naked from the store” so that the purchaser needn’t host the empty cardboard box until recycling day rolls around again.

I’ve long thought that a lot of energy, noise, and money could be saved if we could scale back to once or twice a week pick-up. In our house, where garbage management borders on the OCD, we generate about one small grocery bag of true trash a week. Even factoring our neighbors, our three-unit building puts out less than a full can a week, plus recyclables: we have no need of thrice-weekly pickups, so we only drag cans to the curb once, on recycling night.

If trash pickup were cut back to once a week, it could nearly halve the cost to the city (there would have to be a few more trucks out, because there’d be more trash): the money left over could go into setting up an official composting system, thereby further shrinking the waste stream, ultimately bringing the total cost down again, once the compost was running (eww).
Compost could even be a revenue generator for the city: sold to area farmers to fertilize their fields, or to homeowners for their gardens, a good system could help pay for itself. Or urban farms could take responsibility for some composting on their land in exchange for the final product.

The less-is-more concept could also free up money for better enforcement: instead of paying to collect trash, the city could send out more trash inspectors: a couple of $200 “you ain’t recycling” tickets might motivate the landlords and property owners who can’t be bothered to do the right thing. Tickets would mean more money too, to invest in more recycling/composting/enforcement. And of course, as recycling rates rise, so will the amount of money from selling materials back into the system.

While we’re at it, why not take less-is-more to the street cleaners too? Clean each side of each street once a week: it would save millions of gallons of gas a year, countless tons of CO2 emissions, and thousands upon thousands of man hours wasted by everyone who currently has to move their car a minimum of three times a week. Add in gas/hours/wear and tear on the street-sweeping machines, not to mention the unholy racket they make, and you’ve got some pretty huge savings, financial and environmental. All from doing a little bit less. Less really could be more.

09/30/09 4:00am
09/30/2009 4:00 AM |

What if there were a product that everyone in this city, nay, this country, could use and benefit from? What if said product would not only reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and improve the state of the environment now, but would also slow the progress of global warming, and save its users money? And what if developing said product would also create jobs and businesses, and could potentially retool whole swathes of the economy? Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Of course, such a product exists. It is the solar panel, and as noted mustache Thomas Friedman pointed out recently in the Times, its time has come… everywhere but in the United States, where the technology has largely been invented and honed, but where its implementation has been poorly 

Friedman talks about an American builder of solar-panel factories: they’ve created a $1.3 billion-dollar business, but none of their 14 factories has ended up in the United States. “Five are in Germany, four are in China,� he tells us�two countries that, from different ends of the political spectrum, have managed to create environments hospitable to solar power. The U.S., on the other hand, with a mishmash of laws that vary from state to state, has made solar-panel installation harder to justify, pay for, and count on paying back over time.

What’s going on here? Why can’t we get a basic, national policy on tax credits, mandatory utility buyback (that’s when you get paid for the power you generate and feed back into the grid), and support of solar-production and installation industries? The benefits would far outweigh the costs (hello, tax revenue from employed factory workers making panels; goodbye, subsidies and environmental costs of coal-fired or other “dirty� power plants).

A lot of our looming environmental crises are similar in nature: a recent Worldwatch report suggests that one of the most viable ways of dealing with climate change is by sequestering carbon by changing our agricultural practices. They claim that 25 percent of global emissions could be offset through agriculture: long ago, I mentioned in these pages that if every farmer east of the Mississippi farmed like Joel Salatin, the farmer made famous in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, it would offset ALL the CO2 produced by transportation in this country. Salatin’s kept such good records of his soil that it’s a cold, hard, fact. Using our farms to capture carbon is one of the most direct, and fastest, ways to deal with this huge problem�but in a country where the very nature of farming is determined by billions in farm subsidies and a big-ag stranglehold on the business, change can only come from the national government.

As we’ve seen with the healthcare freakout, err, debate, achieving consensus on a national level is well nigh impossible in these United States. Otherwise-problematic single-party systems like China’s have the advantage, as they can make, and implement, decisions about environmental policy. Our indecisiveness may be the very thing that robs us of our chance to fix our environmental woes, and benefit from the products of that fixing too: as Friedman concludes, “[China] no longer believes it can pollute its way to prosperity because it would choke to death. That is the most important shift in the world in the last 18 months. [It] has decided that clean-tech is going to be the next great global industry and is now creating a massive domestic market for solar and wind, which will give it a great export platform.� Which all sounds pretty nice for China, but leaves a gaping hole closer to home.

09/16/09 4:00am
09/16/2009 4:00 AM |

Fashionista, turn the page. My editor proposed that I take a good look at “green” clothing for this year’s fashion issue—you know, all that bamboo-fiber underwear, and those organic cotton t-shirts popping up at places from the Gap to Wal-Mart to the independent eco-boutique around the corner. Always skeptical, I started reading, and talking, and sure enough, bamboo is a great plant to make clothes from—it grows like a weed, never needs to be reseeded or plowed (no soil loss and erosion) and needs no fertilizers or pesticides, and relatively little water. Organic cotton is also a great improvement on conventionally grown, which is one of the most heavily treated crops we grow, taking some 25 percent of all pesticides used in the United States. And since we’re the world’s largest exporter of cotton, that’s a fuck-ton of pesticides.

But the real problems with clothing come as much (or more) in the middle of the chain of production, and at the end, in the habits of millions of consumers. Cotton, organic or not, is shipped around the world, most often to China, where it is cleaned, spun and dyed. So are wool, linen and hemp. All these processes take huge amounts of energy; dying often involves terribly toxic chemicals, eventually released as wastewater into rivers and streams. The production of polyester and other synthetics is even more energy-intensive and polluting, releasing volatile organic compounds and toxic gases. The EPA classifies many textile manufacturers as hazardous waste generators.

Once the fabric has been made, it has to be turned into clothing. Again, energy is needed to run machinery, and armies of women and children are employed to cut, sew and embellish. In some places, the prevailing wages for workers are as low as 10 to 18 cents an hour, and the working conditions are dangerous and detrimental to workers’ health. And once the clothes are made, they have to be shipped back to us, to be sold.

And sell they do, with a vengeance. The American consumer has been conditioned to buy buy buy, past the point of anything resembling necessity. On average we each buy a new piece of clothing every five days, and we toss out a whopping 67 pounds of textiles each and every year: about four percent of our total waste stream is textiles, and that percentage is rising rapidly. The quantities of clothing in our homes are rising too, necessitating more space, more furniture and bigger closets. How can this be? Well, thanks to the glories of late-stage capitalism, and the advent of $10 jeans and $3.45 tank tops from the likes of Forever 21, Old Navy, Target and their ilk, we mostly buy what we want when we want it. Repairing, mending and recycling (when was the last time you turned a shirt into a quilt, or a dress into a skirt?) have fallen by the wayside as prices have dropped.

Finally, the vast majority of energy consumed in clothing us is used not in producing said clothing, but in keeping it clean. To really green your wardrobe, wash your clothes less frequently: you don’t need to toss everything in the hamper after a couple of hours of wear (and washing wears your clothes out faster too). Jeans and skirts, and lots of shirts, can be worn two or three or four times before they are truly dirty. When needed, use biodegradeable, plant-based detergent, and wash your clothes in cold water when they get dirty.

Eco fashion, unfortunately, isn’t about a new fabric or a new anything: to green your wardrobe you need to buy less and reuse more. Frequent thrift shops and resale joints, and take your discards there when you’re done with them. Use really trashed tees and socks to clean, instead of paper towels. Avoid synthetics like the plague they are, and when you really need some new underpants look to bamboo, organic cotton and hemp. Or check out the beautiful recycled cotton socks at Muji. Because even I won’t get my socks secondhand.