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Nina's Blog

Monday, March 31, 2008

green cleaning

Sunday, BJEN sponsored a 'green cleaning for your home' gathering with Loren Lavoy, owner of Green Clean (www.greencleanusa.org) to learn about safe ways to clean one's home.

Many to most home cleaning products contain dangerous chemicals that leave a residue of toxins in the home, on surfaces and in the air even long after their smell dissipates. Not good for adults and certainly not good for kids and pets.

What was even more surprising, although pleasantly so, was that products exist that can get our homes clean without making us sick.

First of all, remember that plain soap and water clean the best. No need, and no benefit, of antibacterial soaps most of the time. Indeed, we are all better off leaving antibacterial additives to hospitals and the truly vulnerable so we do not dilute the medicine's effectiveness and do not deprive our immune systems from ramping up to full speed.

Second of all, grandma knew best. Take all the products you have for cleaning the kitchen, floors, sinks, bathtubs, toilets, etc., use them up and then buy the following:

Borax, Bonami, a good scrubbing sponge, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and vinegar.

All of these can be found in your local grocery store. No need to shop at a specialty outlet.

With these bio-friendly, inexpensive, and safe products, you can clean just about everything in your homes, as good as and often better than the fancy, expensive and unhealthy products. And they take up a lot less space in your closet.

Check out, for example, www.grist.org and its review of green cleansers. A truthful and helpful real life sampling of possible products and their effectiveness.

Two helpful hints when you go green:

1) These cleaners take a little longer to work. The hint from Loren: apply them to one surface, then the next, then the next, and so on. THEN go back with your mildly wet, gentle scrubber and rub, and then take your clean rag and wipe things off. You will get a clean and shiny surface you can be proud of.

2) They don't smell, and some people feel if it doesn't smell clean it can't be clean. Solution: buy essential oils and place the wicking sticks in them to slowly release great scents into your room. And if you vacuum with a bag, instead of a bagless, cleaner, place a drop or two of lavender on the bag before you vacuum. It will leave a gentle fragrance everywhere you clean.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Jewish Environmental Manifesto

American Judaism is defined by its extraordinary activism. When Jewish learning and identity needed bolstering, we organized schools, youth groups, JCC’s and Hillels to respond. When “continuity” was a concern, we mobilized to fund funky efforts engaging Jews who hang close to the edge. Whenever Jewish rights and liberties were restricted, we created a network of defense organizations, which helped not only Jews but others who suffered prejudice and exclusion.


In the last decade alone, the leadership of the Jewish community launched such remarkable and successful efforts as Taglit/birthright, designed to confer upon every Jew between the ages of 18 and 26 the right and ability to visit Israel; PEJE – The Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education designed to increase enrollment in Jewish day schools; and the Foundation for Jewish Camping designed to increase the number of Jewish children “participating in transformative summers at Jewish camp”.

All of these efforts - powerful, valuable and successful - were launched because dynamic Jewish philanthropies and donors organized, studied, led, funded and inspired them. These Jewish leaders did not wait for the right combination of staff, ideas, capacity and programs to come to them. They saw a need, a vacuum in our capacity to respond to that need, and mobilized. They gathered the lay leaders, the professional staff, the thinkers and strategists and social scientists, and they put their money behind their commitment.

It is time we utilize that same formula, employ that same energy, engage that same wisdom and dynamics in the arena of Jewish environmentalism. The vibrancy of the environment and the well-being of the Jewish community need nothing less.

The facts are clear: the environment is being rapidly degraded by business-as-usual. We need to re-imagine and redesign the ways we mine, manufacture, build, power, use and dispose of the stuff of society. If we don’t, we will irrevocably deplete and so exhaust our available resources (both natural and monetary) that we will diminish the security, health, dreams and options we bequeath to our children. Thousands of young Jews see environmentalism as the defining issue of their lives. And they see organized Judaism making little to no significant contributions to the cause. Which means they see Judaism (or at least organized Judaism) as making little to no difference to them.

We can respond to both needs in one comprehensive response. Here is what we must do:


1) Reclaim tending to the earth a mitzvah. We must re-establish environmental ethics as a mitzvah, a sacred standard of Jewish practice, like tikkun olam, feeding the hungry, caring for the elderly, freeing the captive.

We must enfold it in the practices and policies of all that we do, from the paints we use in our classrooms and Section 202 housing, to the food we serve at our simchas to the flooring we choose for our JCCs, to the curricula we develop in our day schools and synagogues, to the investment policies of our Federations to the vans we buy to carry our seniors to the legislative policies we endorse on local, state and federal levels.

In short, environmental concerns must become part of the formula the guides the actions and decisions of the Jewish community in the basic conduct of our lives.

2) Offices of Sustainability. Every significant Jewish community should create an Office of Sustainability to assist in the “greening” of the buildings under local Jewish ownership or management. The American Jewish community controls millions of square feet of public space, from federation buildings to JCCs to synagogues to schools to senior homes and more. Our collective behavior can significantly reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases nationwide, create healthier indoor space for all those who work and visit our buildings, save money that can ultimately be used to bolster salaries of our communal workers and support greater programming from pre-school to senior centers, and serve as a model for others, both for-profit and not-for-profit concerns, in our communities.

But synagogues and schools and others cannot do this themselves. The learning curve, the options, and the financing to pursue greening strategies are often daunting to organizations that want to do the right thing (never mind those who are skeptical). Going green often requires the investment of human resources that these individual organizations do not possess. This can be easily remedied, however, if each sizable Jewish community created one centralized office that can assist all local Jewish organizations, encouraging them and guiding them in their green building efforts. This office could be based in the Federation, or the JCC. This would not only assist in our environmental agenda but also serve to strengthen the ties among a community’s various Jewish organizations.

Many of our communities are already blessed with Jews involved in the green building trade, green waste management, green consumer knowledge, green energy experience. And many of these Jews are not yet engaged in the Jewish community. We can both benefit from their knowledge and experience and, perhaps for the first time, make meaningful and potentially enduring connections with them.

3) Green Fund. We need a handful of influential funders and philanthropists to come together to use their moral and financial suasion to move this issue toward the top of the American Jewish agenda, and as importantly, to embed it in our contemporary Jewish identity. Just as we think of American Jewry as committed to supporting Israel, working toward tikkun olam, and protecting human life and dignity around the world, so we now need to add: the protection, sustainable management, and attitude of awe toward this miraculous but fragile world of ours.

Through the leverage of a Green Fund, a group of philanthropists can inspire and enable the Jewish community to fully engage in this work. They can guide a national discussion on Jewish environmentalism so that every school, every federation and every synagogue embraces and explores this issue. They can entice and grow the field with a call for RFPs (requests for proposals) for new or expandable programs, seeking out the most creative and most successful, They can fund Jewish environmental classes and programs to create more informed lay leaders, train and support Jewish environmental professionals, and build an educated and committed populace. They can assist in the initial funding of local Jewish Offices of Sustainability. They can support the pioneering and ground-breaking work of national Jewish environmental organizations such as Teva, Isabella Friedman, Hazon Kayam Farm, the Jewish Farm School and others that work on both ends of the learning continuum, teaching the teachers and the learners.

A Green Fund created and guided by Jewish philanthropists can bring welcome and beneficial energies, wisdom and freshness to our community.

With these three initiatives: restoring a sacred engagement with the environmental to the status of a fundamental mitzvah that commands our attention and behavior; creating mechanisms to green our Jewish built-environment; and providing the social, moral and financial leadership to make this happen, we can pursue our sacred mission, substantively and spiritually re-connect with many Jews, and contribute to the healing of this wounded world.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

sleepless nights

If you have to have a sleepless night, try to make it when the sky is crisp and clear and the moon is round and bright. I know you can't order insomnia delivered to your door, like Netflix, to be saved and played at a convenient time, or have it stored in your night-table like a favorite book to reach for as you wish. But, I offer this as a heads-up anyway. During your next unbidden mid-night excursion, take a peak outside. If you are lucky, you will see a radiant full moon casting shadows on your lawn, or street, or windowsill. It is an eternal monthly re-run that never seems to grow old.

There are several good things about a full (or even near full, ie, gibbous) moon. It is luminous. Moonglow has its own charm. It is a soft, white light, without the intensity of glare or heat. You can gaze directly at the moon and be swept away by a close encounter with a celestial object no less stunning than those millions of light year away. Yet we tend to degrade our heavenly neighbor, and take it for granted, overlook its awesomeness because it is always there, like a piece of furniture we learn to step around, seeing but not always attending to it.

It is pock-marked with a faded, jagged pattern of dark, not quite always discernible, not quite identifiable, and therefore endlessly entertaining. Is it an old man, as we westerners imagine? Or a rabbit, as easterners imagine? A dragon, moose, woman as other traditions suggest?

It stays up in the sky all night, rising close to sunset and setting close to sun rise. So no matter what time you take your mid-night perambulations, the moon is there to keep you company.

It is amazing to see how fast it travels across the sky. It reminds us of the constant movement of the earth, and our otherwise invisible, unfelt, hurtling and twirling through space that we are mostly oblivious to; the majesty of the Milky Way and the awesomeness of creation far beyond our precious planet.

It coaxes contemplation, pulls us beyond the woes and worries and drama of our lives and reconnects us to the grand drama of Life itself. For we are forever a part of that. It is humbling, and to my mind warming, to remember that this same cool light of the moon is the one our ancestors saw, wrote about, sang about, took comfort in, thousands of years ago. In the dim, reflected light of the moon, we can often see much further than in the blazing light of the sun.


For more information on the phases of the moon, check out:

http://home.hiwaay.net/~krcool/Astro/moon/moonphase/

http://www.calculatorcat.com/moon_phases/moon_phases.phtml

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

My apple trees

I have always wanted to live by an apple orchard. There, spring, summer and especially fall offer up luscious smells of flowers and fruit. The October orchard air is thick as cider and the ground treacherous for walking, what with all the rounded, rotting fruit on the ground. But it is intoxicating, irresistible and a bit spooky at night amid the gnarled, crooked branches.

So last summer, after realizing I was never in fact going to buy an apple orchard, I decided to grow my own. I found an on-line seller of fruit trees and ordered 8 trees - lodi, winesap and one other whose name I cannot now recall - because they all supposedly work to fertilize the other.

Tree-planting season had long past by last summer so I was told the trees would be shipped late fall, after three frosts had assured that the trees (the tiniest of twigs really) were hibernating. By the time the trees came in late November, the ground here was too hard to plant them, so they stayed all winter in a box in my entryway, waiting. Their roots were wrapped in dampened paper and they seemed perfectly happy (and mostly forgotten) perched against the wall until such time as sun and warmth and lack of other commitments enabled me to free them from their constraints and place them in the ground.

Today was that magical day. A sunny, crisp 40+ degrees, with the ground soft and giving beneath the shovel. I dug holes deep enough to accommodate the tiny roots, cleared three feet of grass around the sprig, mulched all around and watered well. The mulch came from the wood chips of a tree on our property that fell down during a storm two years ago. When the tree men came to take it away we asked if they could chip it for us instead. They obliged - it saved them a trip - and a fee - to some nursery dump. After sitting so many months, stewing on the ground, the mulch was rich and moist and perfect for the job.

The "trees" (less than an inch in circumference and most less than three feet in height) swathed in their blanket of bark and soil, will stay dormant for another few weeks, needing time to awaken to the soil and sun and water. I imagine they will take another five years or so to be big enough to sprout fruit. I hope to be here for their first harvest. Meanwhile, I will watch them grow. And maybe practice making preserves and apple pies.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

World Water Day

Today is Purim, a day of celebratory abandonment, when we read a raucous and bawdy book about the Jewish people's triumph over hatred and external threats, eat and drink a bit too much, and otherwise act as if we hadn't a care in the world. We all deserve one day a year to slough off the burdens and worries life places upon us.

But Purim ends tonight, as Shabbat blessedly begins, and reality returns. Coinciding with Shabbat this year is World Water Day. At the urging of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, the UN designated March 22 as the annual day "to draw international attention to the critical lack of clean, safe drinking water worldwide." Over a billion people worldwide lack adequate, safe drinking water. And the numbers are likely to grow as climate change threatens annual rainfall patterns and the rapid melting of glaciers robs many areas of a slower, steady seasonal water supply.

This week, click on www.worldwaterday.net to learn more about the problem, what is being done and what you can do. And check out www.thinkoutsidethebottle.org. This group is spearheading a return to drinking local instead of relying on bottled water (40% of which is tap water anyway!). Bottled water is not the solution for several reasons: the manufacturing, packaging, transportation and disposal of these bottles harms the environment, and wastes valuable resources, including good money that could be spent elsewhere.

Think Outside the Bottle website tells us that: Each year more than 4 billion pounds of PET plastic bottles end up in landfills or as roadside litter. Making bottles to meet Americans’ demand for bottled water required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil last year – enough fuel for more than 1 million U.S. cars for a year - and generated more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide. Never mind the billions of dollars spent unnecessarily which could better go to purchase or support things and services of real value.

And read about the increasing privatization of erstwhile public water supplies to meet the water demands of private water bottling companies.

Learn more about what you can do to do limit the use of the bottle, and to make it healthier. Many companies, businesses, buildings, organizations and schools are going bottle-free. Increasingly, conferences and hotels are going bottle-free. Thinkoutsidethebottle has a pledge you can take. Check it out.

You can still carry water around in your own reusable containers - just make sure it is the right kind of plastic (not the kind that leach unhealthy chemicals) or better, metal. More and more manufacturers are making attractive metal liquid containers that we can refill, wash and use again instead of disposable, one-use, throw-away containers. (And even if they can be recycled, reuse is higher on the sustainability scale than recycling, which still requires lots of additional resources to collect, transport, re-make and send back out into the consumer stream.) It can make a great gift to that someone who has everything.

But, meanwhile, today is still Purim. So while the sun shines, celebrate hilariously.

Shabbat shalom

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Our New Prius

We bought a Prius today. Proud to say that both of our family cars are hybrids. It works for us now that our children are grown or growing. This is a good time to buy a hybrid, if a smaller car works for you. Car sales are down and dealers' eagerness to deal is up. As always, don't accept the first offers you get. Give them time to call you back with their next offer. And most likely you can do even better than folks like us who are a bit of a soft touch.

Still, it will take us years of high fuel prices to pay for the car. But we didn't choose the car for the savings. We chose it for the world's children; for the health of the environment; and to make it easier for us to get in to the car each day and turn the motor on.

I usually find it hard to say goodbye to a family car. I usually concoct some sort of private decommissioning or honorable discharge or farewell ceremony for me and my machine, thanking the car for tending well to my family; keeping us safe on all the roads we traveled; enriching our lives by the places it allowed us to go. I have less need to say a sentimental goodbye to this car. Perhaps it is because it only got 20 miles to the gallon. Perhaps it was because it never carried a Reisner baby. Perhaps because I really imagined it to be my husband's car all along. But this time, it is not just a car we are letting go. It is a whole innocent way of life. We now know that all the things we buy, from cars to cleaning supplies to clothes and toys, have an impact on the environment. So we must be careful, thoughtful, about what we buy.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Greening our Home

Two bits of green news on the home front:

First the hard news:

We had our home energy audit today. A wonderful company called TerraLogos came by and for a few hundred dollars, checked us out. With cool gadgets such as hand-held laser remote temperature seekers with a cute little screen that shows where the house is leaking out, pouring out, costly warmth, to a door-sized blower that measures the pressure differential in your house to locate exactly where you need to stanch the air flowing out of (or in the summertime, into) your home, to an assessment of my appliances, they are going to help me understand where all my energy inefficiencies are skulking about, and what I can do about it.

The full report comes in two weeks - I will be certain to share the news with all of you. (What do you think: a new reality show?!? Who thought watching people buy houses would be a winner?) In the meantime, as a sneak peak, Atticus, my gentle but thorough inspector (how can you not like a guy named Atticus? It conjures up images of Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird, with all the righteousness and courage he portrayed.) showed me that my leaky house was operating at twice the air transfer or pull or some such (I will be able to report more precisely in two weeks) than we should be.

Now, on the one hand, we can be looking at thousands of dollars to fix all these problems. On the other, as Atticus kindly pointed out, there are lots of places for us to save, both in money and CO2 emissions. So the question is really not can we do anything, but what do we do when?

The better news is this:

In reviewing our energy bills with Atticus, we noticed that over the past two years, which coincide with our coming-of-age as more aware energy consumers, we cut our summer electrical bill in half, and our winter electrical bill by 20%. So even though we pay for 100% green energy, still and all, we know that the less energy we use, the better it is for everyone. (Yes, it does cost a little more. But the difference between last year and this year for our entire annual electrical bill was under $200. That is, for the price of two theater tickets and a great dinner, not including baby sitter, we can power our home totally on green electrical energy. Where else can righteousness be bought so cheaply!)

The grid still needs to supply a full load of energy - and on the whole, energy demand is still growing. So if we can reduce our share to offset new houses, new offices, more buildings, etc, we are helping everyone, including ourselves. That is the ticket, grow the economy without growing the energy usage. It can be done.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

breathing easier about solar panels

Good news for solar panel fans (not the spinning kind but the users or would-be users): today's solar panels save as much energy in 2-3 years as they expend in being manufactured. Which means that by year four at the very latest (and by year two at the most efficient), they are already reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions. Given that they have 20 year life expectancy, this is very good. To quote from the March 1, 2008 issue of Science News: "the net emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants due to the cells' manufacture were between 2 and 11 percent of what power plants in the US and the EU would emit to make the same amount of energy." So, don't let the manufacturing emissions' costs hold you back, if the price tag doesn't.

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Hitting close to home

The climate change crisis just came home to roost. There I was, buying my regular dozen bagels from Goldberg's on Monday when boom, the cashier says $9.xx. I can't even remember the exact price because the first number was so astonishing. The price of a dozen bagels (12 plus 1) at Goldberg's had been $8 for years. A small jump would be reasonable, even expected. But 15%! And then I remembered the sign on the refrigerator at the Giant the previous week, apologizing for the uncontrollable rise in prices for eggs and milk. (Paraphrased, the sign said: it's not our fault.) The reasons for these disparate price increases seem to be one and the same: what's happening to our land.

Droughts and floods, not just in one place, but around the world, have reduced wheat production over the past two years and raised wheat prices (futures at least) 100%. Add to these lower yielding harvests the additional impact of fewer fields growing wheat, replaced instead with acreage devoted to growing subsidized corn to meet ethanol marketplace demands, and you get an even smaller wheat, and food, harvest. Add a minus to a minus and you have to get more minus.

Yet if we would raise miles-per-gallon standards quickly enough, conserve meaningfully enough, and invest in alternative fuels (cellulosic biofuels) energetically enough, we could have our corn and eat it too. Meanwhile, we are instead tragically making it more expensive for people around the world to feed themselves and their families on these basic food crops. With wheat and corn getting more expensive, so do the foods that rely on them: eggs, milk and meat.

Even worse, studies coming out show that burning corn ethanol may be even more damaging to the environment than burning traditional oil, and if not worse, than no better either. So we may be creating world-wide food shortages without any environmental gain.

This is a complex issue that is coming home to roost. And we must be diligent consumers and continue to read and learn and advise our politicians. But if we thought climate change wouldn't hit us for decades, we must think again. The future has already begun.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

blessing of constancy

I am in West Virginia, on a sudden but modest hill surrounded by two mountain ranges. To get to this cabin you drive west on Route 70, meander a ways, turn off the paved road by the large house forever in the process of construction, rising from the growing graveyard of contrivances that once carried people but now rely on people to carry them, drive a while on dirt and stones until you arrive at the “driveway.” If any regulatory agency set standards for driveways here, this would not be a driveway. But in the wilds of WV, almost anything goes. Still, as citified folk approach, our first thoughts are: Please Gd, let that not be the “driveway.” Then we think: Shouldn’t this thing have a chain-belt to pull me up, kind of like a roller-coaster? The trick is to get a running start so you have enough momentum when the traction gets a little light.

To the east of the house is mountain; to the west of the house is mountain. Sunlight comes here later and leaves earlier than it does for our neighbors on the heights. The view is not much. The house is surrounded by trees, a bit thin in the winter but just the right density in the summer. Still and all, if you want a view, this is not the place to go. It reminds me of the Midwestern quip: An easterner was visiting a stark prairie town, with not a tree in sight. Engaged in conversation with a native plainsman, the easterner, clearly unsettled by the unbroken vastness of the prairie, finally asked: “Don’t you miss trees?” The plainsman snorted: “Trees? Who wants trees? They block the view.”

You either like this cabin or you don’t, depending on whether you think the trees are the view or are blocking the view.

But the real reason I am writing this is to share a quote I read here. I recently bumped into the nature writings of Susan Fenimore Cooper, the daughter of novelist James Fenimore Cooper. She was gentle, easy writer with a love of the out of doors. Her book, Rural Hours, is an accessible naturalist’s diary of the seasons of the year in Cooperstown, NY. She occasionally culls lessons from physical nature to human nature, and sometimes the other way around. The following is an observation that works well in both worlds:

“How pleasant it is to meet the same flowers year after year! If the blossoms were liable to change – if they were to become capricious and irregular – they might excite more surprise, more curiosity, but we should love them less… Whatever your roving fancies may say, there is a virtue in constancy which has a reward above all that fickle change can bestow…” (p. 29)

We love the extraordinary in nature. We travel to see the majesty of Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon, the stunning beauty of the orchid. But it is the irises that bloom in our garden every spring; the snowfall that cheers us in the midst of winter; the luscious smell of warm summer rains; the knowledge that the seasons will once again come around so that we can plant vegetables and harvest them in due time; watch the flowers bloom and be greeted by the bees and butterflies lured by their fragrance, that calm our restless spirits.

And it is with people as it is with nature. We love the exotic, the glamorous, the new, the extraordinary. But we thrive on the constancy of a mother’s hug, the familiar repertoire of family recipes, the recognition of who sits where, and the anticipation of family traditions. Even as we need change, we need reliability, both in the seasons of nature and the seasons of our lives. But what was once a given is now in jeopardy. There is displacement and disruption in both these realms. The hope is that our work and awareness and skills in one arena will spill over to our work and awareness and skills in the other. Not too far-fetched a hope. And not beyond our the tasks of our daily lives.

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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Daylight Saving Time

Here it is. The first calendrical harbinger of spring: Daylight Saving Time. A bit early this year. Though we have to plod through a few more weeks of darkened mornings just when we were getting used to rising to the gentle rays of dawn, we will now come home at the end of the day and still have time to play and garden and run outside. (Okay, it may just be me, but in the wintertime, come 7:30 pm, with dinner behind me, three hours into night’s darkness and the dishes out of sight, I am beginning to wonder just how early can I go to bed without feeling odd, old, boring and useless.)

So, if all DST did was to trick my body into thinking there are more hours in the productive day, dayyenu!. That would be good enough. How wonderful to come home and imagine that there are hours yet to bedtime and the end of day.

Which is good, because that may be all DST is good for. I went on line to see exactly what we were saving with this magical shift of the clock. How much energy; how much money; how many lives; etc.Truth be told, it looks like the answer is not much. Best estimates are that we save perhaps 1% of our electrical consumption - which is something, but much smaller than I imagined. And the price may be high. One study I read said that the number of pedestrian deaths (people hit by cars) the week after DST is 2-3 times as high as the week before. Seems like drivers are not making this transition easily.

Surely we should look again at this leap of time that most of America undergoes twice a year. But if we can prepare ourselves to avoid accidental tragedies, and if we can at least not use more energy making this transition that we would without it, then we can truly celebrate the spiritual and practical benefits of feeling like we have two days in the time span of one. That must be why summer always feels as long as all the rest of year combined.

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Friday, March 7, 2008

The Global Warming Solutions Act

The Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA; Senate Bill 309/House Bill 712), championed by Governor O’Malley, is now before our state legislature. This legislation would put Maryland in the forefront of our national efforts to reduce global warming pollution by adopting state-wide, science-based greenhouse gas reduction targets of 25% by 2020 and 90% by 2050 below 2006 levels.

While many of our delegates and state senators are supporting this bill, it is also attracting much opposition. The truth is, we have no choice but to reduce our emissions and to change our production and consumption habits. The only choice is how, when and with what positive or negative impacts. We either will be able to develop controlled, affordable and just ways to change over our technologies and grow a green economy and marketplace, or we will slam into shortages, rising prices, increased health problems, and an environment seriously ill. Wisdom tells us we should get on top of this problem. That is what this bill does.

Yet, as mentioned, there is opposition. Your support of this bill is essential. Write to the Governor, your delegates and senators, mayors and county executives. The more support, the more we can offset the opposition. Much of the opposition is coming from the Sparrows Point steel plant . We understand that. This bill seeks to protect those who will be affected by its regulations and requirements. Here are some points that explain how, with the changes this bill recommends, it nonetheless seeks to undertake them with justice and care for everyone affected.

1. A great deal of flexibility is included in the GWSA. It contains a provision to revisit the goals every four years and to modify them as circumstances require. For example, if we do not achieve the new technology that would enable us to get to 90% pollution reduction, then the goals will be adjusted.

2. In no way does the bill require each individual entity to reduce emissions by a specified amount. Rather, the goal is an overall reduction, with flexibility for individual entities depending on what is determined to be practical and feasible. Policies that affect particular economic sectors will continue to be shaped by stakeholders in an open, public process.

3. A study funded by Maryland’s Department of Business and Economic Development and carried out by the Baltimore-based International Center for Sustainable Development found that clean energy industries could generate between 144,000 and 326,000 jobs over the next 20 years, contributing $5.7 billion in wages and salaries to Maryland citizens and boosting state and local tax revenues by $973 million. A policy that encourages innovation is an opportunity for the creation of large numbers of well-paying new jobs in the green economy of the future. This point has been emphasized by both Democratic presidential candidates. Maryland businesses can become leaders in developing these new technologies.

4. In a recent interview published in Mckinsey Quarterly, national leaders in the steel industry said that “innovation will be important to make our steel making processes more energy efficient and environmentally sound and to improve our product capabilities: lighter, stronger steels can meet the evolving needs of our customers, for example.”

We are in a green revolution. Things will change. We cannot stop that. The question remains: do we try to hold the reins of change so that it can be done in an equitable manner, before additional, potentially irreversible, environmental degradation occurs, while assisting in the development of new technologies and helping those who need to be retrained in the new green economy? Or do we resist this for a misguided short-term non-action that in the long run will hurt everyone, even those purportedly helped by doing nothing?

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

spring peepers

The thermometer hit 70 degrees yesterday; a gentle wind from somewhere far away carried aloft the first hints of a fragrant spring. In the early evening hours, just after sunset, with a soft rain falling and the air filled with the promise of renewal, the northeast’s guardians of early spring began their serenade: the peepers were back. Tiny tree frogs (about 1 inch long) which seem to cluster near my neighbor’s generous pond, they come out at night and sing their lusty mating songs for hours. Neither desperate nor timid, they sing - just a clear statement of presence: here I am, waiting for you. These nightly serenades continue through early summer, meet up with the season of the lightning bugs (if we are lucky - we had almost none last year), and give way to the late summer cricket crescendo. I am not sure I have ever seen a spring peeper. But I hear them, every year, through the open windows of my home. They soothe and comfort, and seem to remind us that if we don’t muck things up, the world will continue on with its seasonal miracles. It is cold tonight, compared to last night. Appropriate weather for March. Forty degrees. I didn’t hear them tonight. Did the odd warm spell confuse them? I hope they are okay.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

the constant environmentalist

Once upon a time, I was an occasional environmentalist. I sent my children to school with cloth lunchbags, packed their food in re-usable containers or placed it in zip-lock bags that I dutifully washed, hung on my knife rack to dry, and re-used. I wondered about all the resources that went into creating the bulging plastic bag I shlepped from store to home in all of seven minutes. I recycled bottles and cans and more kinds of paper than the Dept of Waste Management wanted. We used ceiling fans more than air conditioning and did not buy things with lots of packaging.

But caring about the environment was more a personal aversion to waste than a green creed; a behavior more than an identity.

And then somehow, somewhere, in the last two years, what had earlier happened to so many others happened to me: I became green. Preserving resources, consuming less, awakening more to the awes and ahs of life, seeing the gifts and burdens borne by the physical the world and increasingly responsive to my ecological footprint were not things I did but who I had become. I bought a hybrid, did not replace all my burned out bulbs (do I really need 4 over my sink?), slowly accumulated an assortment of canvas bags that live in my car-trunk, turned down the temperature on my hot water heater, wash clothes in warm or even cold water, and even began my version of composting.

Step by step, act by act, awareness by awareness, environmentalism became not a behavior, but an identity. What was remarkable is that it mimicked exactly the way I became an observant Jew. Mitzvah by mitzvah, deed by deed I changed my behavior. And then, boom. What had been an accretion of distinct acts coalesced into a new way of being. What started as somewhat awkward, self-conscious behaviors morphed into familiar habit, and a sense of pride.

Starting by doing it all is overwhelming, disorienting, very expensive and a bit much for most psyches. But act by act, sooner or later, bit by bit, we are transformed by our actions. And when that magical moment happens, we feel blessed. Given the enormity of the task before us, that is a very good thing.

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