“The End of Suburbia” Reaction

Apr 14 2014 • Posted by

The documentary, “The End of Suburbia”, described the impact of keeping the American Dream in the form of continuous building of suburban communities. I had always assumed that suburbs grew simply due to a growing population.  There were  flaws with the system, but there was not much we could have done to prevent this. However, this is not the case. After WWII, America had a lot of soldiers coming home, tired of war and tightly packed cities. To house these soldiers and the population that would soon swell, many neighborhoods were built surrounding cities with clusters of houses with their own yards. The automobile became the main transportation unit, making the distance from the cities and work not a problem due to new road construction.  Resources could now be brought into these areas without production in the same area.

Clearly, suburbs did not just “happen”. Through conscious effort of making these inefficient areas thrive, we have now been wasting space and energy for quite some time. Almost everyone owns or at least uses a car today. Cars use gasoline, polluting the air with each commute. Getting food from large organizations has become the norm as they can transport huge quantities of food into an area (which has even MORE problems that I have ranted about in past blogs).

What was great about the documentary was that it showed the issues about suburban life that people may not have thought about. Seeing the causes gets me more interested because it shows that sometimes we make mistakes and not everything that bad that happens, or will happen, is out of our control. This movie did not motivate me to change my everyday life, but it did change my outlook on the future.

The solution to suburban life is living in areas that promote “new urbanism”. Taking urban-like designs for multi-family living while promoting walking and public transportation is a more efficient approach to how we live in neighborhoods. Communities become closer and we might use less energy as these areas develop. Some parts of the U.S. are creating these environments, but in areas that are already established, it is difficult to make this change. Around long strips of road we can put in bushes and trees. As large corporations move out of an area, chunks of land fall into disuse, so that will be the perfect time to transform those areas into new urbanism living environments.

If you want to see more about new urbanism, this is an interesting site: http://www.newurbanism.org/

Though not too many new urbanism sites are near the Massachusetts south coast, perhaps in time we can make that happen.

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Facing suburban reality

Apr 14 2014 • Posted by

Are we blindly heading to disaster….distracted by the toys of modern-day living and charmed by politicians who tell us what we want to hear rather than what we need to hear?   After watching “The End of Suburbia” at our team meeting, I was disturbed because nothing much has changed since the documentary was released a decade ago.   Has “The American Dream” become a noose around our collective necks rather than a call for collective action representing the best qualities of American life…stubborn determination, inventiveness and a sense of “e pluribus unum (one of many one)”.  At times, I fear for the future of our country and our planet; at other times, I am hopeful that, despite our self-destructive ways, we will eventually do the right thing.   In some ways, I cannot blame ordinary Americans; they want a better life for themselves and future generations.   They looked to nature as a balm for the dirty, crowded cities where they felt like captives.  Unfortunately, the bucolic idyll that they envisioned when they moved to the suburban subdivisions that sprouted like invasive weeds after World War II was a false promise.   The only thing bucolic was the name of the suburban neighborhood — Peaceful Meadows, Fox Run, etc. — and the result was more dependence on cars and clogged highways..   This car-centric lifestyle is no longer sustainable; we have reached the tipping point for energy production and must consume less.   A world of less energy resources and severe climate change is scary — extreme weather, geopolitical unrest, food and water shortages, etc. — and it is very hard to tell the American public that they must change their way of life.   How do you tell them that there will be less money to go around and that they will need to pay more for food, energy and all of life’s essentials?  Life is tough enough; don’t tell me that is going to get worse.    What’s the point of trying if we are doomed.   Politicians, especially those who want to get elected and re-elected, know they need to tell the American public what it wants to hear — and deliver bad news in an upbeat manner.   Even though smart politicians — those who have read the environmental briefings –  know we are facing disaster unless we alter the American way of life, they have peddled the mythology of boundless abundance for so long that it is very hard to start singing a different tune.   Yes, we are facing environment and financial disaster unless we change and consume less – but change may be scary but it may lead the way to a more pleasing future.   Rather than sitting in endless traffic jams, imagine walkable communities where we work and live and are closer to our food sources.   We may have less money but we may be happier in the long run with neighbors helping neighbors in a more balanced and cooperative lifestyle.

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Talking the talk, walking the walk, chapter 7

Apr 07 2014 • Posted by

It’s been a challenging week … but I keep on trying even when I fall short on my energy-saving goals.   I want to save energy.   I want to live a more sustainable and healthy life … but time and energy fail me at times.   As I have talked to people while out looking for leads for home energy assessments and solar energy, I realize we are in the same boat.   We do care about saving energy… but time runs out and other problems take up our time.   The problem is that there are always going to be immediate concerns — the house, job, health, etc. — that demand immediate attention.   My challenge – and the challenge of everyone I have talked to – is to find a way to incorporate clean energy into our hectic lives.   I was disturbed by the recent UN report that shows that the degradation of our planet is accelerating and the tipping point where destructive climate changes will be irreversible is fast approaching — in just a few years not 20, 50 and 100 years from now.   We have all seen nature’s fury causing hardship around the world; I need to remember this when I am tired and don’t feel like taking the extra step to save

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Thoughts about King Corn

Apr 01 2014 • Posted by

This past week I watched a very interesting  independent documentary,  King Corn.

The movie unsurprisingly focused on the staple that feeds America, corn. The documentary wasn’t biased toward whether the industrialization of corn was good or bad; it just showed the facts. It depicted how corn is in nearly everything – from our hair to the beef in our hamburgers – nearly everything is make out of this “resource”.

From a sustainability perspective, it shows how industrialization has seeped into formerly sustainable agrarian areas. Everything now seems to focus on pesticides, mass production, and sales charts. Yet, farmers can’t even feed their families with the crop they grow.

In my opinion, in order to be sustainable, we need to support farmers with a local perspective. Having mass-production farms in foreign lands drain resources and creates greenhouse gases from transportation. Utilizing local farms stimulates the local economy, and also reduces transportation greenhouse gases in the process.

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Talking the talk, walking the walk, chapter 6I

Mar 31 2014 • Posted by

My internship at the SouthCoast Energy Challenge has opened my eyes and caused me to deal with my own energy-wasting habits.  It has also helped me to see how much I have in common with others who find it difficult to change their old ways.   I have been very successful in being less wasteful about food this week.  My plastic bag use has been greatly reduced and I am avoiding packaged foods for fresh ingredients or minimally packaged food products.   I am in the habit of checking the back of the box to check the portion size, calorie count, salt and sugar content.  Now I also consider the package itself.   Can I recycle it?  Is there a better and less wasteful choice?

I have been humbled as I have struggled to keep my word about reducing food waste.   There have been many times when I get very cranky and wonder if all this extra effort is worth it.   Hey, life hasn’t been easy recently.   I’m tired, stressed.   I don’t have the time and energy to be tackling energy savings.  I can see where that thinking is taking me — and I remind myself that it may be tough but being energy efficient is essential to my goal of living a happier and healthier life.   I have read how our wasteful energy use is destroying our planet.   Even though I don’t want to bother at times, I cannot ignore how my habits are contributing to our collective willful blindness about our energy use.   It helps me to keep on trying because we all need to do our part and how the aggregation of all our individual energy-savings habits will make us all healthier and happier.   It will also help to save the planet.

This has helped me to connect with people when I encourage them to sign up for the Energy Challenge, home energy assessments and solar evaluations.  Yes,  we all want to save money on our energy bills but, as I talk to people, we agree that we also want to protect our beautiful South Coast environment.   We want a better world and are ready to sacrifice to make it happen.   This gives me that hopeful boost that enables me to get past my resistance to fight on.


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Collecting the Water You Don’t Use (continued)

Mar 24 2014 • Posted by

I have been great at collecting the cold water I don’t use for plants. But even though the process is easy, some members of my family still neglect to do it. Maybe they don’t find it attractive to use an old, ugly milk bottle to store the water for better use. From my observations, my grandmother and I are the only ones using this water conservation method. I’ve been doing this simple task regularly, but my real goal was to get my family to do so as well. This feels like a failure because I use my family as a test for what society is willing to put up with. I just have to re-evaluate and think of something that would interest them in storing water. Maybe I could buy decorative matching watering pots.

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King Korn: My Response

Mar 24 2014 • Posted by

King Korn is a documentary that anyone who eats things other than what comes directly from the security of their own backyard should watch. With that said, I’m pretty sure that covers just about anyone. It’s really a shame that people seem to have less and less control over their food choices. The industrialization of large-scale food harvesting and preparation have lead Americans, along with other citizens of developed countries, to grow the economy and boost production. This is great, but there comes a point when people need to question how much is too much? How much are people willing to sacrifice (their health and nutrition) in exchange for cost of production?

This film made it very apparent to me that people and corporations are willing to completely lose sight over the things that make them and their valued customers healthy, if they can achieve growth or save money along the way.  Saving money will allow customers to spend their money on other things to make their life “great.”  I wonder how people are able to enjoy these things in life if they are medically and mentally unhealthy after consuming cheap, highly processed, and nutrition-deficient food?

This is where my sustainability goal comes in to play. I want to find out what it means for my body physically as I begin to avoid foods that are not only deficient in nutrients, but come with a high carbon output. Pretty much anything processed means it takes more energy to produce it, ultimately resulting in higher carbon emissions. Everything, from the tractors that harvest genetically-modified corn, the factories that produce products like high fructose corn syrup, and the slaughterhouses that warehouse cattle, add to a packaged item’s carbon footprint. Pretty much anything you consume out of an individualized package has a story behind it of how it got to that point.

By avoiding consumption of these things, I’m not only creating a lot less waste but lessening the demand for processed foodstuffs. My body is benefiting and so is the environment. I just hope more people are able to hop on the bandwagon. It hasn’t exactly been easy to start eating healthier, but I’m noticing some changes, mainly changes with the amount of money being spent on junk food.  I don’t think my consumption of junk food is dramatic enough for my body to feel healthier, but I’m hoping that that is coming next.

I’ve been pretty bad about getting Frosty’s at my school’s Wendy’s every so often, but now whenever I eat beef or dairy products I imagine the plight of those cornfed cattle. I imagine the amount of disgusting, sawdust-like corn they eat, and imagine it going into my body. That’s enough to discourage me from eating it.  Yick. Thank you, Diana, for encouraging me to sit through that documentary! It was really difficult to stomach at times, but I feel that it will assist me in achieving my goals of a healthier environment and a healthier lifestyle. My body thanks you.

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South Carolina = A Whole New World

Mar 24 2014 • Posted by

During my recent visit to Hartsville, South Carolina, I experienced a whole new atmosphere. Not only were the people friendlier, their clean way of living was unique as well. I saw a lot more recycling in that small town than I have seen in mine back home.

There was a waste system set up in the school so that each dorm had one trash basket for regular trash and one for recyclable items. The cool thing was that if the trash bin was full and the recycle bin was empty the students would get a warning. My friend – who I was visiting – told it me it was the school’s way of keeping students on their toes to remind them to recycle.

To me, this is a great idea. Everyone keeps saying that college students and high school students are this country’s future, so why not start with us when it comes to saving this country from pollution?

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Two Easy Ways to Conserve Water

Mar 24 2014 • Posted by

My family likes to take advantage of any opportunity to save resources. Here are easy and simple ideas to try:

Take a pitcher, old milk gallon or even watering pot that you don’t normally use and place it by any sink or shower. While you are running the faucet and waiting for it to warm up to a certain temperature, use the container you’ve placed by the sink or shower to collect the water that is too cold and would end up running down the drain. Use that water to water plants or use it for something else.

Another way to conserve water may seem odd, but has been surprisingly successful for me. I take a Gatorade bottle (any similar plastic bottle will work) and fill it up with water.  I then take the back lid off of my toilet so that I can place the bottle in the corner or in a secure tight space so it doesn’t move. When the toilet is used it will fill the back compartment with water until an apparatus signals the water level is high enough. The Gatorade bottle will displace 20 oz. of water, saving that much with every flush. This water savings will add up; plus, you’re not throwing away a plastic bottle but putting it to good use.

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Talking the talk, walking the walk, chapter 5

Mar 24 2014 • Posted by

Changing old habits always seems like two steps forward, one step back for me … and I think it’s a universal challenge.  I’m feeling good when I remember to take my shopping tote into the supermarket and purchase groceries without a lot of packaging.  I cook a healthy meal at home and generate little waste.   I’m on my way to a more sustainable future.   Not so fast because the next day I’m stressed, tired and in a bad mood and undo all the good from the day before.   I am frustrated but realize that kicking myself is not helpful.     Changing behavior is never easy and there will be many setbacks before new healthy behaviors take hold.   In fact, changing unhealthy behavior is a lifelong challenge.   In the face of high recidivism rates, why bother if old habits continually call to you like a siren’s song?   When I feel like giving up, I have to remind myself that pursuing my goal of a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle is worth pushing through all the obstacles.   Yeah, it’s tough…yeah, it’s frustrating but it is worth it.   I’ve handled tough obstacles before.   I look past the fatigue and stress that sabotage my good intentions and remember how great it is to be healthy and physically active.   I closely observe the world around me and remind myself how great is to to breathe clean air, drink clean water and savor nature’s many delights.  It helps me to keep trying when I’m feeling grumpy not grateful.   It also helps me to be more empathetic toward my neighbors who struggle with the same problems.       We need to support each other to keep trying and not to give in to cynicism and despair.

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