Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Vampire Energies

The other morning I awoke from my slumber like any other morning.  I had a big stretch, got out of bed, gave Bailey his "good morning" kiss and made my way through the barely lit living room trying not to trip on one of the many stuffed dog toys lying on the ground.

I found my way to the fridge, took a swig of water and then continued on, making my way to the bathroom.

But something stopped me.  Suddenly, I was startled awake.

Not by the alarm clock, but by the coffee pot being plugged in.

An energy vampire.

It had somehow been invited in.

In its sexy, caffeinated way, it was sucking up power.

I acted quickly.  There was no time to waste.  I reached for the stake, but it was still thawing (OK, I meant "steak").

I did the next best thing - I pulled the plug.

The vampire died, but will surely leave its bite marks on the US power grid.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the plugged-in appliances that we take for granted use up 5-10% of the residential energy supply.  The average American has 10-50 of these appliances plugged in, jacking up their electric bills.

When I first started going green, I ran around my apartment like a crazy woman unplugging everything in sight.  Hair dryers, clocks, phone chargers.  We are very careful to unplug when we're not using the appliance.

Unfortunately, there are some things that seem impossible to unplug every time.  Like the TV, cable box and our main computer.  Unplugging them is an effort because it takes time to reboot your cable box and it also prevents the DVR from taping those all important episodes of The Bachelor.  And simply turning them off is not enough.  They're still leeching power.

So what to do?

Don't worry!  You won't have to string garlic or douse your house with holy water.  There are other solutions.

One way is to look for energy efficient Energy Star* electronics when you're replacing your old ones. (And don't forget to take the old ones to an electronics recycling event in your area.)

Another way is to get smarter power strips.  I like the BITS Smart Strip Power Strip.  You can get it with either 7 or 10 outlets.  It has regular outlets for appliances that have to be on all the time, but other sensors that will turn off things when they haven't been in use.

So what are you waiting for?  Bill (coffee pot), Damian (cable box) and Edward (chargers) may glamour you into the ease of keeping them plugged in, but at the end of the day, their survival depends on your blood.  (I mean, energy.)

*As of January, 2011, the GOP wants the Energy Star program (among other "green" initiatives) cut as part of their "slash government spending" promise.  Let's hope this does not pass.  I will keep you posted. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Dancing in the Dark

Tomorrow night is Earth Hour 2011!  At 8:30 PM, people around the world will turn their lights off for one hour to take a stand against climate change.

While this started in 2007, this will only be my third official Earth Hour.

For my first one, John and I sat in our apartment, candles lit, and...I waited. The hour seemed to take forever.  We talked but I admit I kept checking my watch.  And I remember when it was time to turn the lights back on, it felt weird.  Was that it?  Was the purpose just to sit in the dark for an hour?  Had I really done my part?  Or was I just waiting for HGTV to come back on?

For my second one, John and I sat in our apartment, candles lit, and...I fell asleep.  That felt weird too.  I was pretty sure the idea was to stay awake and reflect, not repose.  And John had to listen to me snore.

For my third one, John and I sat...in a theater.  We had tickets to a play.  There we were...in a black box theater with lots of big, hot lights shining down.  A reminder of the global warming that at that moment we weren't doing anything about.

Somehow my Earth Hours weren't adding up...or coming together.

For my fourth...tomorrow night...I will go back to sitting in my apartment, candles lit, and...what?

How can I/we make the most of our hour in the dark?  (Minds out of the gutter, please...this is for the environment!)

Here are five ideas on How to Make the Most of Earth Hour...candles lit:

1) Invite friends over and have an Earth Hour party!  Grab some organic or local wine/beer, bake some kale chips and par-tay!

2) Get crafty with the kids!  Get out all that scrap paper, torn t-shirts, loose buttons and put them to work.  It's about time you had some new art on your walls!

3) Plan out your next eco-friendly vacation equipped with a Terrapass, eco-friendly hotel and a beach clean-up!

4) Do an early spring cleaning!  Get into your closet and purge.  Fill up your bags of unwanted items and take them over to your neighborhood Goodwill so others can use them.

5) Grab your bottle of local/organic wine and snuggle up with your loved one.  Revel in the silence, soak up the ambience and feel good that you are raising your own awareness to keep this incredible planet of ours going.  (Now you can put your mind back in the gutter!)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Mizu is Japanese for "water."

And today is World Water Day!

Unfortunately, the image I'm associating with water these days is that of the tsunami - and the cars, buildings and people it took with it.

My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan.

Ironically, this year's WWD theme is Water for Cities:  Responding to the Urban Challenge.

Challenge?  What challenge?  Getting your Klean Kanteen through airport security?

Not exactly.

Did you know that for the first time in history, most of the world's population now live in cities?

I found that staggering.  Well, maybe not. I t feels that way when I'm in Times Square or on Canal Street.

New York has definitely become more crowded over the years but they're not referring to the US or Europe.  93% of urbanization is in poor or developing countries...mostly in Africa and Asia.

My initial thoughts were that they must be facing a water shortage.  But that wasn't the case.  They're facing management problems.

Hmm.  It seems that we New Yorkers aren't the only ones being ripped off.

Because these city infrastructures have not kept up with the increasing rate of urbanization, their systems are declining and poor people are getting the shaft.  And because they can't afford to extend sewers to less fortunate areas, the volume of sewage is increasing and is causing a threat to their health and the environment.

And this is only going to get worse.

As global warming continues, and floods, droughts and "extreme events" (their words, not mine) occur, disrupting services, rising costs will drive more people to urban areas, increasing demands on these urban systems.

So far this is turning into a pretty grim piece.  But it does have an upside.

By bringing attention to issues like this one, cities have the opportunity to adopt more efficient water treatment technologies and capture water and waste to prevent it from causing environmental and downstream pollution.

Cities are resilient.  There are opportunities here - opportunities to recycle and reuse water and waste.

For me...I'll throw that glass of water that has been sitting on my nightstand into the plant. Wash that hair a little quicker.  Turn the water off while I brush my teeth.

Little things add up.

What will you do on this World Water Day?

Each day seems to bring us more unpleasant news from Japan. We can help. Text "REDCROSS" to 90999 and give a gift.  Any amount will help.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Erin Go Green

Top of the greenin' to ya!

This year, take steps to green your St. Paddy's Day...and I don't just mean your beer color!

1) Forgo all those plastic decorations including shiny shamrock garlands and green plastic bowler hats. You'll save money and keep stuff out of the landfill.

2) Go to an Irish pub that serves local beers. Not only will you be supporting your local businesses, they'll probably taste better too!

3) If you're hosting your own party, mark everyone's cup with their initials. Less waste means extra money in your pocket!

4) Visit your local farmers market this weekend and look for organic and locally grown and raised corned beef and cabbage.

5) Don't just wear green...choose green! Go for that organic cotton t-shirt that you can wear time and time again!

6) And finally...recycle, recycle, recycle! Leprechauns aren't the only ones who can work magic with common household items.

Have fun, travel safe and may the luck of the Irish be with you all!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Ask Not What Your Airport Can Do For You

I entered Lynden Pindling International Airport in Nassau, Bahamas.  I was returning from my relaxing, much-too-short visit.

My sister and I waited in the long line at the JetBlue counter to check in for our flight to Orlando.

People-watching had been a favorite pastime for the two of us in Nassau and the airport was no different.  A guy dressed like a cross between Prince and Michael Jackson.  A couple arguing over their passports.  And a little boy carrying a Waterkeeper Alliance suitcase.

That caught my attention, since I'm a big fan of the Waterkeeper and Riverkeeper Alliances. They're amazing organizations doing incredible work to protect our waterways.

We finally reached the counter, while the "Waterkeeper" family pulled up to the window next to ours.

My sister and I went through the security check and moved onto carry-on bag X-rays. As we waited to unload our bags and shoes into the bins, the "Waterkeeper" family arrived behind us and unloaded their bags.  Then the dad pulled the Waterkeeper suitcase off the belt because his son had forgotten to put an ID badge on it.

That wasn't unusual - but the man holding the Waterkeeper suitcase was the founder of the Waterkeeper Alliance - Bobby Kennedy, Jr.!

The last time I had seen him he was giving a talk on mountaintop removal at Town Hall in New York.  I couldn't contain my excitement, but I couldn't lose it in front of him.  So I whispered to my sister, "That's Bobby Kennedy, Jr.!"

She looked at me blankly.

"The environmentalist?  Bobby Kennedy's son?  JFK's nephew???  He's a KENNEDY!"

Finally, she agreed with me that he did have the Kennedy charm.

It was then that I realized I had a plastic water bottle in my hand.

Crap!  I almost never drink out of plastic water bottles but in New York I had been stopped at the airport (the one named for Bobby Kennedy Jr.'s uncle) with my Klean Kanteen so I packed it away for this leg of the trip.

Now I was carrying the very symbol of everything I'm opposed to in front of one of the environment's biggest leaders.  This was like flashing an upside down cross in front of the Pope...

I tried to conceal the environmental weapon but I was too late.

"Ma'am...would you like me to throw that away for you?"  said the TSA agent who was speaking really, really loud.

My mouth became so dry I almost wished I had another plastic bottle of water. 

Was he really asking me to throw it away?  In the trash?  I could only wonder where their goes?  In the landfill?  Or in the giant plastic island in the middle of the Pacific?  Either way, I coudn't do it in front of Bobby.

In slow motion, Mr. Kennedy placed his belongings next to mine...

"Do you recycle?" came out of my mouth in scary, slowed-down speech.

The agent stared at me as my passport and plane ticket separated from my hand and flew in opposite directions.

The TSA agent didn't reply to my recycle question as he searched for my ticket under the X-ray machine.  Even if my sister hadn't been screaming at me, I'd have been dying of embarassment though it seemed that Bobby was paying more attention to his children than to my environmental faux pas.

The lesson wasn't lost on me, however.  To the hundreds of reasons why it's important not to use plastic bottles I can add another:

You never know who you might meet.

Stay tuned for an environmental update on the Bahamian culture!