The Green Adventure

Thursday, August 31, 2006

So, I'm not the only one...

I just read a wonderful article by Christine Gardner. Check it out... "How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Bus" A mom in middle America attempts to survive a month without a car. Did we mention she has two small children?

I saw her article yesterday, and just had a chance to read it. I’m soooo encouraged to see other mothers out there who are equally and more committed to this issue. A few lines that rung true to my experience…

“’It's the same as a wheelchair,’ she said. I suppose that's true. ‘Having kids is like being handicapped,’ she added. Hmm.”

“I can sit at the playground closest to my house, across a parking lot from a swimming club, and watch minivans come and go for hours. To my knowledge, I'm the only mom who walks there.”

“I wish the world didn't see a pedestrian and her sweaty baby as objects of pity.”

“Month after month, Parents magazine implores moms to see the dangers. Germs. Pacifiers. Bottle feeding. Cribs. Carseat installation. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. And that's just a sampling of the August issue.
But nothing is more unsafe than creating an inhospitable world for our children. While sacrifice might seem like the only option for an eco-friendly mom, it doesn't have to be. If women changed the way we think about modern motherhood, choosing pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods near local stores, life could get easier. Women would have company, possibly even next door, and softball could return to something the neighborhood kids organize among themselves.”

Though we will likely only be in Ann Arbor a short while longer, my experience has forced me to really consider where I live in terms of where I spend most of my time. I don’t expect that we will give up driving completely, but it would be nice to arrange life to be walkable (which is easier than “busable”) 90% of the time with driving (preferably in a hybrid or plug-in hybrid) reserved for travel or weekly or monthly big shopping trips. Then, public transportation could be used for commuting, and walking or biking could be used for daily activities. I do think that if our neighborhoods were organized more in this way then we would have less simmering loneliness and boredom as isolated mothers. The day-to-day struggles that we’ve been discussing in all of my mothers groups would be better supported by close-by neighborhood parents helping each other in the role of extended families.

I actually don’t see eco-friendly living as sacrifice. I see it as simpler, more delicious, closer knit friends and neighbors, more adventurous and more relaxing. Since I don’t see the suburbs “going away” any time soon, I hope that they will soon be more like close together small towns with the neighborhood school, park, lake, pool, running trail, grocery store, farmers market and eco-Target (something like that is in the works by a green business entrepreneur) with access to nearby cities for festivals, date nights and work by public transportation. Check out the podcasts at for more on that perspective of fun, joyful, eco-friendly living. Let’s start looking at what we will be gaining rather than what we will be giving up as mothers of young children growing up in sustainable communities. Of course what they will gain is immeasurable, but what we will gain may soothe some of the most raw pain that we feel as mothers with too much on our plates.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Challenge #3 and the Big Purple Bus Adventure!

Little A and I went on another exciting adventure yesterday in our quest to use less gasoline... we discovered the excitement of the local bus system!!! Well, this was a tough one. I promised a ride on a bus to visit her best friend so we got all geared up and ready to go. Then, arrgh, we headed out the door in a steady rain. Well, OK, I thought, "the weather has been perfect for the past couple of weeks, this is sure to lighten up soon." No such luck! But, at this point there was no turning back from the promise of this exciting adventure to my explorer of a daughter.

So, being new to the whole bus schedule thing, we waited outside for 15 minutes in the intermittently pouring rain in our rain gear, though Little A did lack a proper hat... sorry Grandma! By the time the bus arrived, we were pretty well soaked. Just as I was thinking of another way to talk Little A and myself out of this whole thing, over the hill appeared a giant PURPLE bus! Purple is my daughter's favorite color and you should have seen the pure excitement on her face. She hopped out of the umbrella stroller and strode beaming and dripping onto the bus. A very friendly bus driver welcomed us, and the bus was nearly empty except for a few elderly shoppers and student commuters. The 30 minute bus ride to downtown was thrilling for Little A; she asked questions and chatted with fellow riders the entire time. It was a wonderful trip. Unfortunately, our destination was just over a mile from the downtown bus stop. When we disembarked from the bus, I popped Little A into a small umbrella stroller and walked/ ran the distance in the now absolutely pouring rain. I was soaked with blisters on my feet (note to self: wear running shoes, not clogs on ALL future adventures!), but Little A had an absolute blast, singing The Wheels on the Bus and Rubber Ducky the whole time. She most enjoyed splashing through any and all large puddles. Fun.

We arrived in one piece (an hour and 15 minutes later for a trip that usually takes 10 minutes by car) to the caring home of friends who dried Little A's clothes and beloved Eeyore and gave us both hot tea. Thank you!

I learned that bus travel with a toddler is a challenge. But, it is absolutely do-able, and I expect will improve as our understanding of the system and its challenges becomes more familiar to us. From looking at the local bus map, we can get nearly everywhere that we usually go in town on the bus. Doing anything on the bus, however, will take longer (usually much longer) and dealing with difficult weather conditions is no fun at all. If I were going to live here for permanently, or even for several years, I would move closer to the places we go the most. I would also base my decisions on schools, work, shopping and recreation on where we live vs. the ease of getting to each place. The next time we move, I will look at what is walkable, where the bus goes, and where work and school are before I decide where to live. If we are really going to dramatically cut our transportation carbon emissions (which we must do for the sake of our kids if nothing else) then we need to reconsider the entire system of how we live and travel to make it possible to maintain our current lifestyle and meet the challenge of the new energy future. I also learned that if you depend on the local system to meet your transportation needs, you begin to care a lot more about how those systems run which may just be the first step in being a more involved local citizen.

Anyway, I can't wait to hear about your public transportation adventures! As always, email me or comment with your thoughts. On to Challenge #3...

Welcome to the Understanding Challenge. There are 2 very clear sources available to us right now regarding the specific science behind climate change. Your Challenge #3 is to read this month's issue of Scientific American (Sept 2006) and/or to watch the current movie, An Inconvenient Truth.

(I agree... an hour and 15 minutes on a bus and walking with a 2.5 year old in the rain for a playdate is sooo inconvenient!)

Both of these sources of information about climate change will give you an excellent understanding of the problem of global warming and most importantly how it can be solved if we use all of our available tools and we start right away. I will base the upcoming challenges on the 15+ wedges proposed by Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala in their Scientific American article.

Lastly, if you have or know a child in high school or college, please work together with them to understand this issue and the potential consequences. They will certainly be a part of the future solutions and may as well begin to understand this issue with your guidance as young as possible.

Enjoy the adventure!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Update on Patrick Michaels "Virginia state climatologist"

Very interesting...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Challenge #2: Safety and Dimmer update

For those of you who are jumping right into Challenge #2, I just want to provide you with a little update on safety and the use of CFLs with dimmers that were brought to my attention by some very well informed friends.

Safety First!
  • CFLs each contain a small amount of Mercury. So, don't throw them away in the trash. Recycle them with other household hazardous waste.,
  • Also, keep CFLs away from children. If the bulbs are broken, the Mercury can be released. Mercury is a neurotoxin that can be most dangerous to young children or childbearing (or breastfeeding) mothers and their offspring.


Saturday, August 19, 2006

Challenge #2! Start with Conservation

OK everyone, now that I have your attention regarding how important it is that we all start to understand the issue of global warming and look into renewable and sustainable solutions for our children and grandchildren, let's get started with some specific, do-able challenges. (Don't forget this is a "realilty blog!" Let's get back to the excitement of the challenges, players!)

Welcome to Challenge #2!

In order to make renewable power most cost effective, we must start with energy conservation. So, challenge #2 begins our quest for conservation!

I feel that it is also important to focus on the changes in our lives that will make the greatest impact, and will be possible for most of you to accomplish reasonably quickly and easily. Afterall, change can be difficult and we are all very busy people. So, the idea is to make our conversion to sustainable living simple and lasting. (No yo-yo sustainable living diets here. I'm looking for real change here everyone! I don't want that 1 piece of birthday cake, or 2 overseas flights in my case ;), to blow the whole transformation.) So, on with the show...

Challenge #2 is effective and easy. Plus, over time it can save you some big-time $$ green! (The other big goal of this adventure.) OK, OK what is it???!!!

Replace all of your light bulbs with compact flourescent lights (CFL.)
Accept this challenge and you will add 20 points to your score! (BTW, the winner of Challenge #1 gets 100 pts, 50 for 2nd place and 20 for 3rd, just FYI.) As an added bonus, if you can convince your employer to replace all of the lighting at your office with CFLs, you'll get 30 bonus points!

(Email me if you want to get in on the game spreadsheet to keep track of your points.)

Here are the other bonuses that you will get for meeting this challenge...

Each 18-watt CFL that you buy to replace a 75-watt incandescent bulb:
  • will give you an equivalent amount of illumination
  • saves over 1300 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere
  • will last 10x as long (in other words 1 18-watt CFL will replace 10 75-watt incandescents)
  • will pay for itself in 2-3 years depending upon usage
  • will save you $45 in electricity costs over its lifetime

So head out to your local store or log on to your local internet store (for those of you who are on bedrest, are breastfeeding all day, live in remote locales, or just hate shopping!) and change those light bulbs. Some available brands to look for are GE, Panasonic, Osram, Sylvania, Philips, Max Lite or Sun Park. Also, call your local utility, they may have rebate programs to save you a little more money for participating in this challenge!

Tips to be an even "greener" user of lighting:

  • Turn off lights when you leave the room (and bug your family to death to get them to do the same.)
  • Put timers or motion sensors on your indoor and outdoor lights.
  • Use dimmers.
  • Let the sun shine in through your windows (be aware of temperature effects.)
  • Consider adding or cleaning your skylights (consider paring with a splayed lightwell for less heat.)
  • Use light pipes and/ or clerestories in any new or remodeled room.

Now that you know all of the benefits of CFLs. Ready, set, go!

PS I have not forgotten about posting ideas re: solar installation and advocacy for renewable energy, I'm just trying to be complete in my research. So, I wanted to get you started with Challenge #2 in the meantime... as always, Enjoy the Green Adventure!


Brower, M and Leon, W. 1999. The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices: Practical Advice from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Three Rivers Press: New York. (

Callard, S and Millis, D. 2001. Green Living: A Practical Guide to Eating, Gardening, Energy Saving and Housekeeping for a Healthy Planet. Carlton Books Ltd: London.

Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine 2005. Green Living: The E Magazine Handbook for Living Lightly on the Earth Plume:New York. (

Herman, C. Designing with daylight in Home Power: The Hands on Journal of Home-Made Power. v. 109, Oct/ Nov 2005 (

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Should We Just Give Up Now?

Yesterday I flew home from a visit with my parents. On my connecting flight from Newark, sitting next to my sleeping child (what a dream!) and getting a beautiful view of the Statue of Liberty out of the window, I allowed myself to consider the fact that it may be too late to try to halt the effects of climate change. Truly, is it impossible to turn this ship around so quickly?

For the past 18 months or so, Mark and I have been working very hard. We've been focused on saving for our retirement and are strongly considering having another child. But, now we are asking ourselves, "why?" Climate change is already occurring. The only hope that we now have is that we can slow the destruction enough for the Earth to be able to heal itself and maintain enough suitable habitat for us, our children, and possibly future children and their food sources to be able to survive. But, is it possible to change our global energy system so quickly (within 10 years or so) to renewable sources in order to halt our overwhelming output of carbon emissions?
Right now our entire economy is based on fossil fuels that are literally destroying our land, air and water. We can't survive without these ecosystems. In a nutshell, there will be nowhere for humans to LIVE! But, currently fossil fuels build, heat, cool and run our homes, fuel all of our transportation systems and are necessary for growing a majority of our nations' food supplies. Additionally, fossil fuels power essentially all of the manufacturing of our clothing, household appliances, children's toys and other goods. Fossil fuels build, heat, cool and run all of our schools, hospitals, office buildings, grocery stores and malls. Without daily, massive burning of fossil fuels, civilization as we know it can not exist. Or, can it?

Should we just give up now and party for the next 10 years until we know for certain that we are doomed, and then kill ourselves off to leave the Earth for the species of plants and animals that are taking much better care of it? Should I just forget about having another child and spend Little A's college savings and my own retirement savings on a trip around the world or cocktails in the Caribbean?

As equally depressing and tempting as that sounds, I have another solution. As we flew from Newark to Detroit yesterday, I noticed something else outside of the airplane window. What if the millions of rooftops that I could see from the sky were covered with solar panels and then connected to our existing utility grid? Then, quickly and without the need for government intervention or real leadership from anyone in the business community, every American (and potentially global) homeowner, small business owner and big business executive can contribute to radically changing how the global society uses solar energy. In addition, we can each individually or regionally purchase small and micro wind turbines for our homes, neighborhoods and cities. Using capitalism at its best, each of us can do our part to buy ourselves a new energy future for our kids. Using our buying power we can actually buy our children's survival!

In short, to quote Harold Kung, a Northwestern University chemical and biological engineering professor in today's New York Times Letters Section, "Unlike the technology-focused Manhattan Project or the invention of machinery to replace labor, the solution lies within the people-with the aid of technology. Everyone must understand his or her responsibility and contribute to the solution of the energy problem."

The good news is that all of the technology that we need to solve this problem already exists. And, is improving dramatically each year. With the assistance of current state and federal tax credit programs that are available this year, the technology is currently within the financial reach of many citizens and business owners and is widely available. Plus, any power that you produce above your own home or business energy needs must be bought by your utility company at their rates.

So, what are we waiting for? Why isn't it just as common to see solar panels on every suburban rooftop as it is to see an SUV in every suburban driveway (the panels in most cases are cheaper)? I believe that the only reason that we are not more rapidly transitioning to renewable solar and wind energy systems is that people who can afford this technology don't know about it, and don't know about the financial incentives for buying it right now. And, the big energy companies are actively hiding this from us because they are rapidly advancing the financing and building of dirty coal plants and dangerous nuclear plants that are currently cheaper for them. They know that within just a couple of years these types of energy systems are likely to become much more expensive as carbon emissions are likely to be taxed in either a direct taxation or market based system. So, they want to reap their big profits now and try to grandfather into the new regulations the plants that they are building right now (over 100 nationally, many of which will be in Texas polluting that state the most.)

Now that you understand the solution. Will you join me? I will tell you exactly how to be the first family on your block to have your own home-based renewable energy system safely installed, and how to find out your federal and state tax benefits for doing so by the end of the week. I will also tell you exactly how to fight the new coal and nuclear plants in your state that are being built right now.

As always, send me your thoughts and ideas, and send this to everyone that you know (especially those with money and /or kids.) We're all in this together. For me, it's all for Little A (and maybe baby #2?). Will we do what we need to do to give them someplace to live when they grow up. After all, what good is their college savings if there is nowhere for them to LIVE?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Have Baby Jogger... Will Travel

Summary of today's carless adventure:
Where: southern burbs of Ann Arbor, MI
Passengers/ Vehicle: Me and Little A (2 year old daughter)/ Red baby jogger
Distance: about 5 miles round trip (35 mins out, 50 mins back with 2 stops)
Fuel: (reusable) bottle of water, 1 Lara bar for mom and a bag of cheddar rice cakes for Little A
Time: 2.5 hours total
Carbon Emissions: None, well except for my heavy breathing!

Inspired by a friend of a friend who's family is going to *completely* give up their car keys for the months of August (both parents work and they have 3 kids!.) I have decided to figure out how easy it is to travel around Ann Arbor without a car with one toddler and very few time deadlines.
Today we went to the public library, a common source of amusement for Little A on a day too hot to go to the park. In 90+ degree temperatures, we left the house around 10am and walked the 2ish miles to the local library (35minutes). The trip out was uneventful except that I took out about 20 lbs of books last trip not knowing that I'd be hauling them back in my hiking day pack! And, about 3/4 of the way there we ran out of sidewalk so we had to do a little off roading. Thank goodness for a strong baby jogger and a kid with lots of hash runs under her belt! On the upside, we discovered that between our house and the library are 3 parks (one part of a Joe's crab shack... "no, not today Little A."), 1 gas station, 2 Starbucks, 1 grocery store, 1 Target, 1 assisted living home, 1 daycare center, and at least 4 restaurants. In other words, even if we can only travel 2.5 miles from home there is a lot that we can do!

When we arrived, I was only given a few dirty looks for my appearance (dripping with sweat and smelling like a combination of BO and sunscreen... "get over it people, just pretend we're at the beach!") It was blissfully cool in the air conditioned library, and Little A had a blast playing with a 5 year old girl that thankfully shared her computer and proceeded to teach Little A to build a *fancy* block tower, a house out of giant plastic interlocking squares, and chased her all over the play area. Finally, a kid who's a faster runner than my daughter. When will they make power generating exercise equipment for kids? You could've air conditioned the whole library from the harnessed child-energy in the room!

An hour and a half later, with my child sufficiently worn out, we geared up for the journey home. Little A was starving, and I was not adequately prepared. Rookie mistake! So, I gave her the water bottle and a tube of lip gloss and walked/ ran to the grocery store that's on the way home. (Thankfully, I'm in pretty good shape, so we made it in 10 mins.) We stopped off for some "cheesy rice cakes" which occupied Little A the rest of the way back. Plus, we found the added bonus of a running sprinkler system on the neighboring apartment complex grounds. I unbuckled Little A and we both ran through the sprinklers until our clothes were soaked! She happily stripped when we arrived home and ate her lunch. I read her the 3 ("only 3 today... we're going to have to schlepp these books back in a few weeks!") library books, and she crashed! A successful naptime= a successful day in this mom's book.

How are your carless adventures coming? Today is day 2 of the fuel challenge! How will you be able to get around your city or town when gas is $10, $20, or $50 a gallon? Can you walk to your local parks, libraries, grocery stores, etc.? Can you bring your kids with you?
Let me hear about your carless adventures!

Coming soon... Can Little A and I get across 94 without a car? How user-friendly is the Ann Arbor bus system?