Thursday, March 31, 2011
Thanks to last year's Ecolympics, I cut my shower time down by about half, from somewhere in the ten-minute region to somewhere around the five minute region. According to our event page for Power Shower, every minute we cut in our shower time, saves about five gallons of water. So, given those numbers, over a year I saved about 1800 gallons of water.
However, recently my shower time has been floating upwards again.
So, today, on the eve of our 2nd annual Ecolympics (yes, you can still sign up), I'm here to tell you how to have a three minute shower.
Really, all you have to do is turn on the water, start counting to 180, jump in and do your stuff, and turn off the water while you're counting is just ticking from 179 to 180. It can be done!
This morning, it took my shower 40 seconds to warm up (d'oh, waste of 3.33 gallons!) but by the 120 count I was done soaping and washing. That left an ample count of 60 to wash my hair. The shampoo came out quickly (5 seconds), I got a good lather going (10 seconds), good scrubbing action (15 seconds), behind my ears (5 seconds), ouch, stay clear of the eyes (5 seconds)... hey, look at that, 20 seconds left over for rinsing... this is easy... At 160 the suds are dropping all around my feet. At 170, I'm massaging my scalp to get all the shampoo out. I'm going to easily have five seconds left over for that lovely zen shower feeling... 177, 178, 179...
Darn, there's a soap film on my legs that I didn't rinse properly. I'm overtime! 185, 186... And did I do the bottom of my feet? I'm sure I did but... 191, 192... That's gotta be it. Okay, all done.
Three seconds of standing there doing nothing... 198, 199, 200.
Twenty seconds over! Hardly an Ecolympics record, but better than my shower times all week.
I'm claiming victory.
You can too. Be a part of our efforts to get individual actions to change the world. Sign up for the Ecolympics today. Challenge yourself to take a shorter shower. You know you want to.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Q. What are the Ecolympics?
A. The Ecolympics are a fun, participatory series of events geared towards the themes of sustainability, reduction of the human footprint on the environment and education about biodiversity and the current crisis in biodiversity loss.
Q. What is biodiversity?
A. The term “biodiversity” refers to the diversity of plant and animal life in an ecosystem or in the world as a whole. At present, Earth’s biodiversity is a suffering losses at accelerating and historic rates due primarily to human activities.
Q. Who can participate in the Ecolympics?
A. Everyone! Students, staff, and faculty at Boston University, friends from near and far, long-lost relatives and anyone in between.
Q. What are the motivations behind the Ecolympics?
A. The United Nations declared 2010 The International Year of Biodiversity. The Olympic Games celebrate a spirit of sportsmanship and at the Ecolympics we want to celebrate a spirit of ecological sustainability and awareness. We are an integral part of nature and our fate is tightly linked with the entire diversity of life. We need to work together now to safeguard this irreplaceable natural wealth and reduce biodiversity loss. This year, 2011, is the International Year of Forests and our work continues...
Q. Is the loss of a few species really such a big deal?
A. Yes! Unfortunately we don’t even know how big of a deal it is. For example, most of our prescription drugs come from animals and plants, many of which are now endangered. The present loss of species is like losing an entire library before we’ve even catalogued or read the books. Further, it’s not just “a few species”; estimates of the present extinction rate are one hundred or more times greater than the normal extinction rate seen in the fossil record but on a time scale that is much shorter. So the present extinction event is beginning to compare to the mass extinction 65 million years ago, which wiped out 75% of species, including the dinosaurs. We need to take action now.
Q. How are the Ecolympics events connected to the biodiversity crisis?
A. It is human consumption of energy and natural resources that is polluting the environment and causing habitat loss, two factors that are driving the biodiversity crisis. By bringing our own cup around for coffee and water, we reduce the consumption of paper/Styrofoam cups and plastic water bottles, and start replacing our throw-away mentality with the idea of sustainability. By eating local we reduce the greenhouse gas emissions required to ship food from across the country or from around the world. By eating organic we reduce the need for herbicides and pesticides, which pollute ecosystems and watersheds.
Q. Why are there so many events?
A. In part to show that there are many ways an individual can make a difference and in part to show that we must change many of our habits and behaviors. Small incremental changes can add up to a big difference. The US has 4% of the world’s population but 22% of the world’s energy consumption – we just can’t go on like this.
Q. Can all these small “events” or actions really make a difference?
A. We think so. If these actions are done on their own, the difference will be small. But if they are done over and over, and if friends, colleagues and family are encouraged to do them together with us, then the difference can be significant. Plus, thinking about small changes on a daily basis will hopefully create a mindset that large-scale change is possible. It’s our Earth and we need to start practicing good stewardship that will protect our environment for generations to come.
Q. I’m a busy student with three papers due this week and two exams, you don’t expect me to participate do you?
A. We’re busy students (and faculty) too! The Ecolympics are about tuning into our behavior and our daily choices. Some of our events are so easy you can do them in the bathroom (take a shorter shower, turn off the water when you brush your teeth, cut your paper towel use in half), others you can do while you’re studying (turn off all the lights you’re not using, unplug unused power grabbers, put your computer into sleep mode when you’re taking a break) and still others you can do between classes or on your way home (take the stairs, bring a re-usable bag to the grocery store). Changing our consumptive behavior is easier than you think. Some of our events take a little planning and research (eating local, tell a friend about an endangered species), which is why we're allowing sign-ups beginning on March 22 so that you can plan ahead.
Q. I do many of these activities anyway, why should I join the Ecolympics?
A. By participating with us, you’ll help bring awareness to the need for us all to work together to reduce our impact on the environment. We need you to stand up and be counted! By talking about your actions with others, you could inspire them to get involved and we can build some much-needed momentum to make large, positive changes. Plus, you’ll have a chance to win some cool prizes!
Q. Prizes? What prizes?
A. Our emphasis is on participation, but we do have cool prizes like passes to the Museum of Science, eco-friendly yoga mats from Kulae.com, gift certificates from Greenward (an eco-friendly boutique in Cambridge), Taza Chocolate (an organic chocolate shop in Somerville) and Peace o' Pie (a cool vegan pizza joint in Allston), gift certificates to restaurants that serve local food and DVDs of the awesome Planet Earth series. (For our beyond-BU participants, unfortunately, prizes are limited to Boston University students, faculty and staff. But don't let that stop you for participating and even challenging your friends to participate.)
Q. How does the point system work?
A. Our Ecolympics are based on the honor system. When you register, you’ll be allotted a certain number of possible points according to the number of events you register for. Registering for more events will put you in the running for better prizes. At the end of the two weeks, you can log back in and claim your points according to what you accomplished. Prizes will be awarded via a lottery system. We value your participation and wish you good luck -- we hope you win!
(You can also gain points by attending our special events like our film on March 31, our Nature Work on April 3, our Fair Trade seminar on April 13 and/or our cooking class on April 15 -- see our Calendar for details.)
Q. What is Carbonrally?
A. Thanks to the efforts of the good people at Sustainability@BU, Boston University has joined Carbonrally, an organization that incorporates a social bent to reducing carbon emissions. Here’s what Sustainability@BU has to say about Carbonrally: “The folks at Carbonrally took their knowledge of consumers, software, and environmental studies and created new approaches to the global crisis by building a portal where people can discover, commit, and track small actions over time.” It’s free and fun!
Q. Why should I sign up for Carbonrally too? Isn’t joining the Ecolympics enough?
A. We recommend that when you sign up for the Ecolympics you also sign up for Carbonrally. Carbonrally has many of the same events as the Ecolympics and through them and their challenges you’ll be able to find out much more information about your actions than we at the Ecolympics could provide. By being part of Carbonrally you can accrue points for your school and try to win the monthly prize. Go for it!
Q. I’ve got an idea for an event. Want to hear it?
A. Yes! Post it on our Facebook page wall, or email us directly and we’ll keep it in mind when we plan next year's events.
Q. I want to do more. What can I do?
A. Keep going with Carbonrally. Talk to your friends and family about your concerns. Rent a documentary that focuses on biodiversity or the human impact on the environment. Join one of the green groups on campus. Start reading a green blog. Create your own green blog. Post news about biodiversity on your Facebook or social networking page. Watch where every dollar you spend goes. Find out how your bank is investing your money and if you’re not satisfied, find a greener bank. Reduce, re-use, re-cycle. Think before print. Eat in rather than forcing the restaurant to generate waste via take-out. Trade and re- use clothes with friends. Request that your office use less air- conditioning. Take the train or bus instead of the plane for short trips. Find out what is going on at the civic, state and national level to safeguard biodiversity and fight for it. Lobby for green energy. Boycott corporations that pollute the environment. Start an Ecolympics at your neighborhood K-12 school. Stay positive. Support green companies...
Monday, March 28, 2011
Sunday, March 27, 2011
2. Find an environmental blog and write comments on several of its posts. Share its cool posts on your Facebook page.
3. Combat the disinformation promoted by the Koch brothers by supporting the work of Robert Greenwald.
4. Write to the Giving Pledge and thank the billionaires for giving their wealth to philanthropic causes (seriously). Ask them to support ways to improve the lives of the global poor (who live in resource-rich countries) and ways to reduce the consumption of the global rich (who live in comparatively resource-poor countries). While you’re at it, ask them to support programs that will educate women, because educated women have fewer children and we desperately need to halt our rapid population growth. (The site seems to be mostly for media inquiries, but hey if millions of people wrote in with their suggestions, maybe some of that would get communicated to those with the big wallets.)
5. Write to your congressperson and ask him/her to introduce legislation that will add one dollar to all US income taxes. Propose that the $130 million dollars raised be used to protect watersheds, protect national parks and the land around them, and to educate citizens on the importance of biodiversity.
6. Support Planned Parenthood.
7. Volunteer to be a distributor to the Endangered Species Condom Project
8. Write op-eds for religious newspapers and magazines and tell them to promote birth control. It’s going to be a lot easier to sustain seven billion people than nine billion, which is the projection for mid-century.
9. Change all your bills to e-bills.
10. Research some plant-a-tree for a dollar sites and plant ten trees. Or twenty. Summarize your research for some environmental blogs or Facebook pages.
11. Support the in-progress documentary, Growthbusters: Hooked on Growth. Let’s face it, the planet is finite and unlimited growth is unsustainable.
12. Calculate your ecological footprint and pledge to reduce it.
13. Find an eco-hero and publicize his/her work.
14. Join the Ecolympics. Get your friends to join. Like us on Facebook, comment on our blogs posts. Share them. Come on our nature walk, come to our cooking class, and come to our film nights. Check our calendar for events.
15. Write to us with other suggestions for our next installment of random ways to promote positive environmental change.
If you're been reading at all about biodiversity loss, you know that there are five main causes to the present crisis, all of which are human-induced: habitat fragmentation, pollution, over-exploitation, introduction of invasive species and climate change. You may know that the dodo didn't go extinct because it was poorly adapted to its environment on the island of Mauritius; it went extinct because it was over-hunted by sailors and because the introduced rats, pigs, dogs and cats ate its eggs, which were laid on the ground.
Here's a list of 10 other species introductions that have gone awry, a reminder that we really don't understand ecosystems very well.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Continued from the film jacket: "Winner of 19 International Awards, Crude takes you inside a riveting, high stakes drama steeped in global politics, the environmental movement, celebrity activism, human rights advocacy, multinational corporate power, and rapidly disappearing indigenous cultures."
We're showing this documentary tomorrow, March 24 at 7pm in CAS B-36.
Please come at 645 pm to enjoy some vegan pizza.
The trailer is below:
The pictured species is a species of wild goat that is found in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indian, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. They flock together in groups of nine females and their young while the males are solitary. They were formerly prized as an elusive and difficult game animal to hunt in British India, it is now hunted in several countries for the supposed medicinal qualities of its horns. There are now approximately 2500 mature individuals and the numbers have declined 20% in two generations.
The species is:
Answer to come next week.
Last week’s species was the margay, which barely beat out the Mexican bobcat for top place in the poll. It is remarkably similar in appearance and closely related to the ocelot. The other animals in the list were all also endangered. The vaquita is a porpoise. Thanks for playing!
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Imagine Africa without lions. Unthinkable. It's like imagining the ocean without whales, the arctic without polar bears, or the Antarctic without penguins. Sadly, this could become a reality. Though the lion is not listed as endangered yet, its numbers are plummeting rapidly enough to cause alarm. In the past century, the lion population has decreased from about 100,000 to around 23,000. (Some estimates have the lion population as high as 400,000 a century ago, and up to 40,000 today.) They have already become extinct in 26 countries and have a population of greater than 1000 in only 7 countries.
This month, several wildlife conservation groups, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Born Free USA petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service to have the lion listed under the Endangered Species Act. But wait. Lions don't live in the US, they live in Africa -- how could they be listed in the USA?
Answer: the groups leading the petition point out that between 1999 and 2008, Americans imported 4,021 lion trophies. In fact, this country is the largest importer of lion trophies and lion parts in the world. Placing lions on the endangered species list would prohibit the import of lion trophies. Though lions are also suffering from the typical problems threatening species today -- habitat destruction due to human encroachment and clearing land for agriculture -- halting the lion hunt would clearly help their situation. The US could then become a leader in protecting lions, though here are no wild lions in this country.
If you want to see lions in action, catch the National Geographic feature film, The Last Lions, now in theatres. It aint The Lion King, that's for sure. In the film, Ma Di Tao, the mother of three cubs, loses her mate and must protect and raise her cubs herself. The cineamatographers got some riveting footage of Africa at its wildest as we watch a compelling and suspenseful narrative unfold. Between asking myself how on Earth they captured these amazing scenes, I was always wondering what was going to happen next. As another reviewer said, this is definitely nature red tooth and claw. Though there's some anthropomorphizing in the narration (Jeremy Irons), and I could have done without the flashbacks and the slo-mo, the drama overcomes these minor quibbles.
There's a note in the credits about how you can cause an uproar to protect lions and I have to say, the items are rather minimal. Donate a few bucks here, share the story, etc. I hope they update the items to say that we should pressure the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list lions on the Endangered Species Act. Now that would be causing an upoar.
Monday, March 21, 2011
How can we spread awareness about the present mass extinction in a way that doesn't stun us into depression but instead energizes us into action? One bold and impressive
attempt has recently been completed by Maya Lin, the artist who was responsible for the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. She has created an interactive memorial for many species and aspects of our natural world and combined it with some moving short films for the project, What is Missing. The project was created initially as a Times Square Billboard for Earth Day 2010 and
now here it is on the Internet.
What is missing from our world? Species are going missing. Peace and quiet in the wilderness is going missing. The natural sound of the ocean is going missing. Topsoil is going missing. Huge swaths of forest are going missing. Really, our entire natural world is going missing.
I particularly recommend the short video Unchopping a Tree.
This is a site to explore and ponder. And it's a wake-up call to all of us that we need to start acting now. Maybe in ten years we can memorialize what we've saved or restored...
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Here's a brief eco-film festival to get you through the weekend.
First up are some flash animations created by Jimmy Egeland
with a terrific series called Eco-bunnies. So far, there are just
three episodes: Eco-bunnies1, The Eco-bunnies in Earth Day
Escapade and The Eco-bunnies in Hare Do's and Don'ts. I love
the idea of a visible carbon footprint -- I wonder how that would
change our actions. Watch and share, this guy definitely needs
Second up is this nice little short by Andrea Dorfman: Thoughts
on my Bike. As an urban cyclist, I share the sentiment
of trying to figure out what's wrong with our cities and our
lifestyles as I'm riding about.
And the main feature, as it were, is this fine episode of Extinction
Sucks, featuring the dynamic duo of Ashley and Aleisha. Here they
venture off to Nepal and Chitwan National Park to do their part
to protect the Indian Rhino from poachers. Not only do we first
worlders have to reduce our consumption, the show makes the point
reducing global poverty is a key to protecting biodiversity.
I've only watched the one episode so far, but based on that,
I think Extinction Sucks is radical and imaginative. Let's hope
they can inspire some radical and imaginative conservation ideas
among the rest of us.
As always, comments welcome.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Five of Australia’s top environmentalists, plus Canadian eco-scientist, David Suzuki, spoke for about ten minutes each. I’m including the entire 85 minute clip below, courtesy of Australia’s ABC network. Further below, I also include some notes. Bear in mind that these are notes and it’s worth your while to watch the entire debate as they are better speakers than I am a summarizer.
First up was Ian Lowe (about 4.5 minutes into the clip), President of the Australian Conservation Foundation who began by reminding the audience that societies only survive if they live within their natural systems, and this is what environmentalism was all about. He argued that though there have been environmental achievements (for example, catalytic converters), the science is clear that we’ve been degrading the environment for the past thirty years and that we’re not living sustainably. He said the two main causes of this degradation are the appalling poverty in the developing world and unsustainable consumption in the richer part of the world. We in the rich parts have to ask ourselves what we’re prepared to give up – we have to live more simply so that others may live.
He acknowledged that the challenge to remove economic growth as a focus of our society was daunting but history tells us that other daunting challenges were overcome when enough people wanted the change badly enough, such as bringing down apartheid in South Africa, bringing down the Berlin Wall, and bringing down dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt. If our own politicians won’t listen then we have to replace them. He finished by saying that shaping a sustainable future is our duty and nothing less than our responsibility.
Next up was fiery Anna Rose (17:45 min into the clip), co-founder of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition who lamented that the environmental movement did not understand power and argued for ways to build power. Environmentalism was positioning itself as a charity that wanted your money not as a movement that needs your voice and power. She said that donations that began with us being harassed in the street are not empowering. Even online tools were being poorly used because the online organization was not translating into offline power. The notion of “click here” shows it’s simply a politics of gesture.
Climate change is not an environmental issue, she said, it’s about our health, survival and our future. Whether environmentalism fails is ultimately up to all of us.
Author Clive Hamilton (31:00) reminded the audience that Big Carbon is ruthless. He summarized some work done in Australia and noted that we urgently need a new environmental radicalism that understands the need to defeat Big Carbon and resists the pressure to conform to the prevailing political structure. This radicalism must be made up of people willing to put bodies on the line because, he concluded, no one ever achieved radical social change by being respectable.
Senator Christine Milne (43:00), Deputy Leader of the Australian Green Party, said that the concept of environmentalism has been spectacularly successful but the movement itself has failed to capitalize on the numbers of people who have a predisposition toward protecting the environment. She said many people support the idea but don’t have the courage to get involved.
But, she said, though we’ve had a revolution in communication, the democratic process hasn’t changed. Politicians are people who want to keep their seats and we need to make them believe they will lose their seat if they don’t act on our behalf. We need massive public campaigning and people have to say that they will change their vote. Thoreau said that most men lived lives of quiet desperation and go to their graves with the song still in them – now is the time for us to get out and get active again on the streets so that our song is heard.
Philip Sutton (56:00), author and co-founder of Safe Climate Australia summarized some of the political actions that led up to the Kyoto Protocal and beyond. He complained that glaciers were moving faster than our political systems but that the frequency of extreme weather events was causing people to sit up and take notice of the changing climate. He argued for 100 percent cuts in greenhouse gases, growing more plants and burying them to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (reverse mining) and deflecting some solar energy to cool the Earth while we create a safe climate.
He said that during World War II, countries rebuilt their economies at maximum speed and added that we’ll all feel invigorated when we can see that a safe, cooler planet is possible in the near term.
Finally, David Suzuki (1:09:00) spoke and he was clearly reeling from the information and impassioned speeches of the previous speakers. He argued that present environmental efforts were dealing with the symptoms of our destructiveness not the root causes. Our economic system, which disregards the services nature performs for our health and wellbeing and focuses only on financial gains is at the heart of the crisis. We have failed to address the fundamental truth that endless on a finite world is impossible.
He said we need to revise our human-centered position to a biocentric position in order to see how we are interconnected with all other species. He was aghast that we humans are one of 10-30 million species and think nothing about taking over 88% of the globe and leaving only 12% for all other species.
He also cautioned about the enormous power of corporations who we’ve allowed to infiltrate government processes yet who exist only to make money and threaten to remove jobs whenever they see fit. He applauded the book, Merchants of Doubt for exposing the hundreds of millions of dollars that has been spent claiming that climate science is junk science, something that he rightly called criminal activity.
Being green shouldn’t be a political football, he said, nor should environmentalism be a specialty: it’s a way of seeing ourselves in the world. He concluded that our task now is to motivate the motivators to motivate.
So there you have it. Again, the speakers themselves say it much better than my crude paraphrasings so do have a look at the video. Though many of the speakers addressed climate change specifically, many of their arguments also apply to the present crisis in species loss. Is the situation in North America any different from Australia? Is environmentalism failing? Your comments are welcome.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
How well do you know your species, endangered or otherwise? Let's find out.
The pictured species is found in the rainforests of Mexico and Central and South America. It’s the only cat that can climb down a tree head first like a squirrel. They are also known to hang from a branch with only one hind foot. Its diet consists of rodents, monkeys, lizards, birds, tree frogs and fruit and the majority of its prey is caught leaping through the trees. The main threats to the species are hunting for its fur and the pet trade and habitat loss due to deforestation.
This species is:
Answer coming soon!
Monday, March 14, 2011
Here he delivers a lecture at MIT about a plan to save Earth’s biodiversity. The lecture is over an hour – but it’s spring break so you have time -- and you can scroll down the text on the right hand side and see the highlights. The punchline? I’ll give you a hint. His plan costs a fraction of the recent bank bailout of $700 billion. One wonders what we’re waiting for…
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Saturday, March 5, 2011
Watch this ad for Brazil's Save Water campaign once...
then watch it again with the translation below:
To sum it up: If you pee, you're invited.
(when you flush you waste up to 12 liters of drinkable water / 4380 liters in one year)
Pee in the bath! Help the Atlantic Forest.
Pee in the shower! We want everyone to do it!
Men! Women! Children! Brazilians! Or not! Nobles! Commoners! Musicians! Sports stars! People half-human, half-monster. Twilight creatures! Brazilian legends! Greek legends! Good people! Not so good people! Art geniuses! Science geniuses! Circus performers! Lovers! People from other planets! Movie stars!
In case you're wondering, urine is 75% water and sterile, so go ahead, and call it
conservation by urination.
Friday, March 4, 2011
To mark the upcoming World Water Day, the ESO (that's the Environmental Student Organization, not the European Southern Observatory, who, by the way, have a fine repository of images from around the universe) is showing the documentary film One Water. The screening will be in CAS B12.
Given the lack of standards in the bottled water industry, and the environmental harm caused by both its excavation and the pollution from the water bottles, it doesn't take an Einstein to know we should be drinking tap water.
See the trailer for the film below.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
The environmental law firm Earth Justice has a campaign going on now called Roadless Now. According to their website, "There are nearly sixty million acres of wild national forest lands that were protected under the 2001 Roadless Rule. Now many of these areas stand unprotected and could be vulnerable to logging and road building." New development in these intact forests would harm water supplies for nearby cities and towns, fragment the habitat of local species (one of the causes of species extinctions) and ruin some pristine forests. As a senator, President Obama co-sponsored the National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Act. We should get him to fulfill his promise and protect these forests for good.
The above photo is a stunning roadless region called Ice Lake Basin, in Colorado. See this and many more roadless places in a slideshow on the Earth Justice site.