Browngirl Going Green

Black Man (Trying to) Go Green
June 16, 2010, 2:19 pm
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I don’t agree with all of President Obama’s clean energy recommendations, I did appreciate many aspects of his speech on the BP oil spill and the tragic aftermath in the Gulf of Mexico. As I watched and listened to his speech, I also couldn’t help but remark to myself, ‘This is a Black man who is the President of the United States, talking about environmentalism on national television.” Since the ‘face’ and image of environmentalism on a national level in this country has been largely White, the historical weight of that fact needs to be recognized.


June 13, 2010, 4:05 pm
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It’s been frickin’ hot lately here in the Bay Area—and while the Bay definitely has its fair share of hot spots, Oakland is generally not one of them. It’s warmer here, yes, than in San Francisco most of the time, but not as hot as, say, Concord, Pittsburg, Antioch or other points further east and farther away from the ocean.

So it’s a little weird that in early June—when at times the weather can be so mild in the Bay that you wonder whether you’ve got the dates right in your calendar—we’re having 80+ degree weather. Climate change? Natural fluke? I’m no weather expert, but I have lived here all my life, and I can say that the weather has become more erratic and extreme of late, shifting from cool and rainy (just a week ago) to swelteringly hot and back again. Weather in the Bay Area always has been a bit changeable and unpredictable, but generally we don’t get more than a 10-degree swing from month to month. And while I generally do like heat, and my tomatoes in the garden are loving it, it’s been a little strange.

Of course, all this heat is coming when all of us are thinking more and more about our dependence on oil as a fuel source, with the BP spill still leaking and tons of birds and other wildlife in the Gulf dying or suffering, and whole communities being devastated by this awful disaster. And in the local Oakland Tribune, there was an article today about how the waters of the Bay are rising, threatening to displace more than a quarter of a million residents from their homes in the next 50+ years.

On a positive note, however, there is a silver cloud to the BP oil spill tragedy—that hopefully it will get more people to open their eyes to the reality that we cannot keep exploiting the earth’s natural resources without some pretty terrible repercussions. And also, that we need to realize that everything is connected, and that the extreme weather many of us are witnessing is only one symptom of a larger problem.

In the meantime, I await my new oscillating fan/ionic filter for my home, and hunker down to do some reading and gearing up for some writing workshops, and continue to try to live as green as possible during what promises to be a hot, hot summer.

One Way to Help: A Fundraiser’s Request

I sent this email out to several of my colleagues and friends, because as a fundraiser and an activist I can’t just sit idly by while animals die, people’s livelihoods are destroyed, and an entire eco-system is plagued by man-made death and destruction. It’s bad out there. So please do what you can to help the people who really do care about the environment and communities of the Gulf Coast to hold BP accountable and aid in the cleanup efforts. This is just one way to help, but it is a way.

Hey there,

It makes me so mad to watch the news every night and see how badly the oil spill is affecting the Gulf of Mexico. The environment, the communities there, the whales . . . it’s crazy.

Luckily, there’s one easy thing we can do to help. The Gulf Restoration Network is keeping us up-to-date on their blog, and you can take action to make sure BP cleans up its mess by clicking the link below.

Also, please consider making a donation to their work. I found about GRN through my friend Judy Hatcher, a long-time environmental justice activist who knows what’s what in the movement, and so I trust her opinion. GRN was her first referral to me when I asked about ways that I could help with this awful crisis in the gulf.

Thanks and take care,
Towards a just and sustainable world-

We Need More!
May 27, 2010, 3:39 pm
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While President Obama is expected to announce an extension of a moratorium on deepwater oil drilling today, all I can think is, ‘We need more!’

Not more oil, but more of a lot of other things: more respect for the environment, more public education about and infrastructure-building for alternative energy sources, more protections against the potentially destructive and ultimately unnecessary offshore drilling that’s resulted in the hot mess that is the Gulf oil spill, which the LA Times environmental blog reports as being far worse than the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989.

The superstitious Roman Catholic in me can’t help but think, ‘Why have two disasters of epic proportions struck the Gulf coast in the past decade?’ First Katrina and now this. And while deep down inside I don’t believe in a punitive God who rains destruction down on sinners, I do believe in karma. And offshore drilling is just wrong, wrong, wrong on so many levels, and I’m not surprised if Mother Earth is just sick and tired of our endless plundering of her natural resources and in her own epic way is saying, ‘Enough!’ And now, a the spill has reached a powerful loop current that could move the oil to Florida and beyond. Hot mess indeed! And it was just a matter of time before people started getting sick. And while officials are saying that the leak has finally been contained, I don’t sense anyone out there doing any high fives or holding any celebratory parties.

Because the cleanup on this is going to take a frickin’ long, LONG time, and the impact on wildlife, the ecosystem and human beings will persist long after most of the oil is gone.

The one upshot to all of this could be that this crisis is forcing a lot more people to have deeper and more sustained conversations about our energy usage and the dangers of offshore drilling. Even mainstream nature media stalwart National Geographic is airing a special tonight about the spill.

And that’s what we need more of—more conversation about things that really matter, like how we’re going to sustain ourselves on this planet, and not just distracting, mindless talk about TV shows or celebrities or fashion. Not that I don’t do those things myself, but there comes a point when you have to get clear on your priorities. And now more than ever that’s what we ALL need to do.

If This Doesn’t Change Our Actions, What Will?
May 8, 2010, 6:30 am
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I’ve been appalled, as many people have, by the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico over the past week. It’s insane to me that this has not yet been contained. I literally have no words to express how outraged I am about this, and how inane it is that we are even in this predicament. I recently started reading Van Jones’ book, The Green Collar Economy, which starts off with an excellent preface by Robert Kennedy, Jr., who articulates how a nationwide shift to clean(er) energy such as solar, wind, etc. could be both a boon to our struggling economy as well as better for the environment.

Well, all I have to say is, for anyone that believes after this gigantic oil spill—the largest in the history of the US, if not the world—that a fossil-fuel based economy is still a good way to go, they may be certifiably insane.

Earth Day, Everyday
April 23, 2010, 4:15 am
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Today is Earth Day, a ‘holiday’ to celebrate the Earth and do ‘green’ things to help the planet thrive and become a more sustainable place for human beings and other beings to live. Earth Day is a good thing, for sure—Habitat for Humanity, for example, does a build-a-thon around Earth Day, and I’m sure hundreds of other nonprofits, businesses (including Google) and millions of individuals did things today to heighten public awareness of the dangers facing the environment and what we can all do to be more eco-conscious.

Maybe it’s because I live in the Bay Area, where there have got to be more Priuses and electric cars per square mile than anywhere else in the country, and where two of the biggest counties (Alameda and San Francisco) run extensive public recycling and composting programs for residents and even businesses, but Earth Day is not really that big of a deal to me. Not because I don’t think it’s good to celebrate the Earth on a special day once a year, but because I pretty much celebrate the Earth everyday.

Of course, there are days when my behavior is less eco-friendly than others (like when I give in to cravings and go get McDonald’s french fries or when I drive the two miles from my house to downtown Oakland for a meeting when I could easily take the bus), but most days, I strive to do as many things as I can in a way that’s less harmful to the environment and the living beings that dwell in it.

Some of the things I do everyday to honor the Earth:
– Thank the Earth for all that She gives us: food, water, ground to walk on, flowers, trees, soil.
– Recycle and compost (both through the public compost bin as well as two worm bins)
– Use a steel water bottle instead of buying plastic (90% of the time anyway ;))
– Garden pretty much ‘organically’, no pesticides
– Buy and eat locally grown, organic produce, from farmer’s markets and sometimes Whole Foods in a pinch
– Eat as much sustainably raised meat and seafood products as I can, given the limitations of the knowledge we have about our meat products
– Use cloth bags/sacks when shopping or just put things I buy in my (fairly large) purse
– Try to practice compassion and metta (loving kindness) as much as possible
– Donate money to environmental organizations
– Sign petitions in support of environmental causes and issues, such as this one that is pushing for more low-fat food, fresh vegetables, fruits, etc. be included in federally-funded school nutrition programs, which are largely aimed at serving low-income children
– Serve on the board of an environmental justice organization, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network

There are more things that I do, I’m sure, and there are also plenty of other things that I could do to be even more ‘green’. And Earth Day, I’m sure, helps a lot of people who don’t live in such highly eco-conscious environments learn more about what they can do to walk more lightly on the Earth.

But if we are going to make the big, long-term changes in the way we harness and use energy, in how we eat, in how we share resources and how we treat each other, we are going to have to practice being ‘green’ everyday, not just one day out of the year.

Turning Garbage Into (Black) Gold
April 12, 2010, 12:05 am
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For the past several months I’ve really been enjoying spending time with my so-called ‘garbage’. It all started when my worms got killed. My red wriggler composting worms, that is—and yes, I said ‘killed’. Well, I don’t know if they died right away, but I’m sure they didn’t live for very long.

Okay, let me back up a bit. So I’d been keeping a a small worm composting bin on the tiny covered back porch of my second-story apartment for almost two years. And then, I got it into my head to try to start gardening in the backyard, which was kind of a mess. There were tons of weeds growing in a semi-jungle environment back there, but there was also an abandoned black plastic worm bin tucked amongst the foliage. I think it’d been left by an old neighbor who’d moved away, and since my one worm bin wasn’t really big enough to ‘keep up’ with all my kitchen scraps, I decided to start a second worm composting ‘farm’ in this recovered bin.

I was very excited—I bought more worms from a local East Bay woman who sells them online and set up this second bin in the yard, since I didn’t have much more space on my back porch. After getting the worms settled in their new home, I stepped back, brushed my hands off, and grinned at the idea of fistfuls of lovely, fertilizing vermicompost, or ‘worm compost’ (basically, their poop/waste) to use in my garden someday.

I would check on the worms every few days, feed them and make sure they weren’t getting dried out—it was summer and pretty warm, and even though I had the bin in tree-shade, the worms need a moist environment or else they can shrivel up into little grayish worm carcasses. Not cute, nor very conducive to producing vermicompost!

Then one day my apartment manager (who lives off-site) called to tell me that some people would be pruning the trees in our backyard in preparation for some construction work for the building next door. ‘No problem,’ I thought. The next day, the landscapers that my landlord pays to cut down our jungle of weeds came by for their yearly clearing, which made me happy because that meant I wouldn’t have to figure out how to clear the ground for my garden, and since I was going to have all this worm compost eventually I got really excited by the possibilities.

From my apartment window, which looks out onto our terraced yard, I could see and hear the landscapers—two White guys in their late 20’s or early 30’s—buzzing away all the weeds and pruning back the trees. When it sounded like they were done, I went back there to feed and check on my worms, hoping that all the noise hadn’t sent them into shock.

But, to my surprise, my salvaged round black worm bin was nowhere to be found. I asked the landscapers, who were pretty laid-back and friendly, if they’d seen it, and they shook their heads no, but said that the maintenance guy had been around the day before, clearing stuff away and that I should call him. So I called the maintenance guy, who doesn’t speak English very well but managed to communicate to me that I should call the manager.

I was getting a little frantic by now about what might’ve happened to my worms, so I called the manager, who calmly and matter-of-factly told me, “Oh, we thought they were garbage, so we threw them away.”

I wanted to cuss her out right then and there. But instead, I patiently explained to her how worms can create compost, and how one of the reasons I was cultivating them is because she wouldn’t allow us to have the county-operated compost bins at our building. She sounded like she couldn’t believe what I was saying, but I guess I was indignant enough about it that she gave in when I asked her to reimburse me $20 for the worms that were ‘thrown away’—“killed”, I couldn’t help thinking.

Mortified and sad, I went back to the yard to report to the landscapers—whom I could tell would understand—what awful fate had befallen my worms. One of the guys’ mouths fell open in horror and he said, “They [meaning the worms] create their own eco-system in there—that’s like killing a little family!” I nodded gravely, and wondered where my worms were now. Stuck in some landfill miles away? Drying up under the hot summer sun? The thought made me shudder, but it felt better that someone else understood my pain.

A few weeks later, I also got a lot of sympathy for my murdered worms from my friend Wally, a 30-something African-American man living in East Oakland who’s an avid gardener as well as a certified master composter. Wally clutched at his chest when i told him what happened, as if he’d just heard about an incident of highly negligent parenting.

Needless to say, the landscapers’ and my friend’s reactions made me feel better, although they didn’t bring my worms back to life. I like to think that maybe they are happily living near the surface of my backyard, in some out-of-the-way spot under a tree, where they were unceremoniously dumped by the maintenance guy. But more than likely, they were thrown into the garbage, and died a not-very-pleasant death.

I did buy more worms eventually, and now have two worm bins going strong. The other silver lining to this story is that my apartment manager finally reneged and allowed our building to have the green county-provided compost bins, which means that ALL of our organic matter can be composted now (worms tend to not like or are unable to break down a lot of starchy things, citrus and meat/bones).

And lastly, I will be harvesting some crumbly, rich black vermicompost very soon, and using it on my vegetable beds. And that’s my story of how I helped turn some garbage into ‘black gold’.