Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Eco Fest Speech

Below is a transcript of a speech I gave at Eco Fest last weekend. I'm sorry for not providing more substance on this post. I've been preoccupied with having jaw surgery. At any rate, I hope you enjoy the speech and take the message to heart.

Ideas for Rethinking What We Do: Building the 3 R's

Harking back to Sesame Street, I'd like to propose to you that today's Eco Fest was brought to you by the letter R and the #8.

We're probably all familiar with the 3 R's: reduce, reuse, and recycle, so I'm not going to spend time talking about them. Instead, I'd like for you to consider 5 more R's as you walk around the booths and talk to other people who are dedicated to protecting the environment.

The first R is Refuse. Some things are easy to refuse, like plastic bags. Think about how long you use a plastic bag for - maybe 2 to 5 minutes to carry your groceries from your car into your house? Or less than a minute to carry your Subway sandwich to a table? But those bags can last hundreds, maybe even thousands of years. So if you don't need it, refuse it. The same is true for junk mail and unwanted catalogs. There are easy ways to refuse those items and avoid the waste altogether.

But some challenges are more demanding - we need to refuse to be complacent. Though tempting, we must refuse to believe that someone else will solve our problems for us. We are that someone else! Yes, it is a tough challenge at times. But seeing you here today gives me confidence that we're all refusing to ignore these current environmental issues. And that's awesome.

The second R is Reply. We need to reply to elected officials, community organizers, friends and family. Your experience is just as valid as anybody else's. So are you replying to the call of action? Just this week, I attended the Community Forum for Economic Development. It was an eye-opening experience because I realized how many things I take for granted in our city. There are many people who work hard to make South Bend a great place for us to live.

But you know what else? I heard residents voice their concerns at the meeting. There were folks who wanted to know what action was taking place on Portage Ave regarding sewage issues; folks who wanted to better understand why power lines are being placed on Western Ave. These people replied to a message and took the opportunity to have their voices heard when it mattered most.

There's another call for public action on July 12th - I hope you reply to this message by going to the public forum to help guide the future of LaSalle Square.

And please reply to the Sustainability Network so that you can be linked to other groups and people in the Michiana area who are actively working on sustainability and conservation initiatives. Introduce yourself to Jessica at the Taproot Circle booth to join the Sustainability Network today.

The third R is Reeducate. Coming to Eco Fest today gives us a chance to reeducate ourselves about the food choices and lifestyle decisions we make on a daily basis. If you ever wanted to gain a better understanding about fair trade coffee, then stop by the Chicory Cafe booth for that free lesson. And if you want to learn more about portion sizes and the importance of reducing our meat consumption, then you'll want to visit Judith at the Earth Friendly Eating booth. Take advantage of this free reeducation!

The fourth R is to Remember the Big Picture. When you come to festivals like this one, it's easy to get bombarded with information about the do's and don'ts, the pros and cons, of just about any environmental issue. How will you protect yourself from "green fatigue"? Part of the defense is to remember the big picture, why we're doing this to begin with. For others, it's about caring for plants and animals and the ecosystem we're dependent on as part of our survival. And other people integrate global equality as part of their mission to protect the environment. There's probably a host of other reasons why people get involved in environmental action. Whatever the reason, take a moment to remember your big picture, and how you're trying to make this world a better place for yourself, your loved ones, other people, plants, and animals.

This leads me to the fifth and final R and that's to be Responsible. By refusing to give up, by replying to the environmental call to take action now, by reeducating yourself and remembering the big picture, you are taking responsibility. Now, this responsibility should not just happen on an individual basis, although it does start with you making a decision to act. We also need communities, businesses, schools, local, national, and international governments to take responsibility, too. Today is a testament to taking that responsibility seriously and doing so across the board.

So as you mingle around the booths and make new friends and contacts, I hope you will see for yourself that today's Eco Fest was indeed brought to you by the letter R and the #8. Thank you.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Join the Fun at Eco Fest Tomorrow!

I am so stoked about tomorrow's Eco Fest! There's a huge line-up of exhibits, activities, speakers, and live music. Folks can also bring their plastic bags and used computers for recycling (please bring $15 to recycle your old computers!).

I'm also happy to report that my speech is ready! I finished it yesterday so that I wouldn't have to worry about it today. Sean arrived from Philadelphia this morning, so I'd rather spend the day with him than fretting over an incomplete speech. I'm speaking at 12pm, so if you're in the neighborhood, please stop by and enjoy the festivities! I have a feeling this is going to be a big event, much bigger than the festivals we've hosted at IUSB, and I'm excited to see the community embracing the environmental movement.

I've posted the line-up of events for Eco Fest so that you can see the entire roster of events by clicking on the huge Eco Fest logo. Hope to see you there!! :0)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Wong Commercial in Peru

I was talking with my friend Hugo on Skype tonight and he was telling me about a commercial that's promoting biodegradable bags. This store, called Wong, is very popular in Peru - Hugo says it's like a 'regular' grocery store that most of us go to (e.g., Martins, Kroger's). It's not like going to say, Whole Foods, although seeing this commercial, you would probably think that it would come from a place like Whole Foods.

Before watching this video, take note this is their only ad campaign that's currently running on TV. Notice how there's no mention of any products...

Hugo says that Wong's ad campaign reflects their trust with public concern about the environment. And from a marketing perspective, this ad gives them an edge over other stores. And if you don't understand Spanish, here's a translation of what's said at the end of the commercial: "We can all contribute to save the planet. You can begin by coming to Wong."

Alright, enough gabbing about the video - I hope you enjoy watching the ad!

Building a Connected Network

It's a blessing to have easy access to online groups and actions. But it can be a dizzying experience to keep up with the buzz! So I want to plug two groups that are rallying people to join their network and take part in environmental action:

First, there's my friend Beth in Oakland (ok, she does a very fine job getting the word out, so she doesn't need me to do a plug for her, but I want to!!). She has launched the Take Back the Filter Brita Campaign, which is worth checking out, especially if you happen own one of those filters.

And for my friends in South Bend, I hope you will consider joining the Sustainability Network. My friend Jessica is organizing this effort to link groups and individuals in the Michiana area that are actively working on sustainability and conservation initiatives.

If there's other groups or networks you know of, please let me know. It's important for us to built a strong, interconnected network so that we can make a difference at local, national, and international levels.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

South Bend's Efforts to Protect the Environment

Last night I attended the Community Forum for Economic Development. I heard Gary Gilot, SB's Director of Public Works, discuss how his department addresses global warming by dealing with transportation, infrastructure, urban design, and environmental management. I also heard Christine Fiordalis, Chair of the Michiana Group of the Sierra Club, discuss the Cool Cities Initiative, which our mayor signed on Earth Day.

It was a 2-hour meeting, so there was alot of information to process. To provide a few highlights, I heard plans for creating 50-miles of bike paths to form a network of bike trails in five years; using LED traffic lights to save energy cost in the next decade; discussion of using more hybrids and fewer trucks; planting more native plants and flowers to reduce mowing; grid heating to take heat off computers to use as heat sinks (this is already being done at the Conservatory Greenhouse - this technology may also be used for heating the pool at Potowatomi Park, the Wastewater Anaerobic Digester, and Memorial Hospital).

There were a couple of things that didn't quite sit right with me, though. At the beginning of the presentation, Gary showed a picture of the St. Joseph River running through the city. He pointed out the many trees along the river, and how the trees and surrounding ground cover play an important role to reduce soil erosion. And then he said that they were involved in taking down some trees to provide people with a better view of the river. Huh? Did I hear that right? Yes I did.

The other discordant point he made had to do with the Eddy Commons that's currently under construction. For those of you who don't know, Eddy Commons is an area close to the Notre Dame campus. It's 25-acres of forest land that's going to be cleared to build a shopping center, hotels, and condominiums. Gary touted the construction of Eddy Commons as a method to decrease urban sprawl and increase walkable urban communities. But what he didn't mention was the decimation of all the animals that once lived in the forest. Where do they go? Why do we have to clear this land when there's a perfectly good downtown center that desperately needs revitalization? What are the implications for replacing the woods with a shopping center?

All in all, it was useful for me to attend this meeting. I learned how critically important it is to know what's happening in the community, who's in charge of making these decisions, and how I can voice my concerns to hopefully make a positive impact. It's so important to be engaged and not disengaged with local issues.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Focus, Focus, Focus

This morning I stopped by Chicory Cafe for a treat and to see my friend Heather who owns the place. We were having a pleasant conversation over coffee and a bagel. And then she asked me about my speech for this Saturday. *Gulp* I only have a few notes written thus far. But it will get done because it has to and hopefully, it'll be alright.

The truth of the matter is that I've been preoccupied. I'm having major oral surgery next week. I've not really talked about it on this blog because how do I integrate jaw surgery with environmentalism??? So this morning I created another blog to post my thoughts about this dental experience. I'm hoping it will provide me with an appropriate venue to write about another project that's consuming my time and energy.

But in the meantime, I've got to get focused on writing my speech for Eco Fest!!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sustainable Living Expo

I'm just now getting my act together by posting a couple of pictures taken at this weekend's Sustainable Living Expo.

I really didn't know what to expect at this event, which was hosted by 88.1 WVPE Public Radio, Notre Dame, and IU South Bend. And sometimes I think it's a blessing not to create any expectations, but to have an open mind and see what happens. Ok, I'll admit it - I've been experiencing some 'green fatigue' lately. It's just that I wonder if hosting and going to these festivals makes a positive difference in people's lives - I also wonder if it's just the same people going to these events. My larger concern is how to reach out to a broader group of citizens - who's being overlooked? What are the barriers that prevent more people from adopting a sustainable lifestyle?

With that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged by the turnout. According to Anthony Hunt, Station Manager of WVPE, there were 1,000 people that attended the Expo. Wow! Of course, this picture doesn't do any justice because I took it pretty early on, but you can see that it was a pretty day on Saturday, which helped bring the masses to the festival.

And it was great talking to people who wanted to know more about how IU South Bend is adopting the principles of sustainability on campus. I spoke with a high-school teacher from California who was interested in BagFest. He really liked the picture of the bag pile. I told him that we filmed a documentary, which hopefully will be finished soon so that I can send him a copy. That way, he'll have a better idea on how the project began and what we did to raise awareness on the consumption of plastic bags. It also got me thinking how cool (i.e., educational, fun, and very important!) it would be to work with high-school students to engage in environmental action. That's a long-term goal I have - finally, maybe I can put my Master's in developmental psychology to use! :0)

In the meantime, however, I've been reaffirmed on the importance of sharing what's happening at IU South Bend. I'm very proud and humbled to join my colleagues in our quest to integrate sustainability with education.

So onward to this Saturday's Eco Fest in downtown South Bend!
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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Flock, The Social Web Browser!

As I was reading the news in Treehugger, I saw a little badge on the sidebar for Flock, which is a browser especially designed for eco-minded individuals. So of course, I had to download and see what the fuss is all about - I already love it! Flock imported all my bookmarks, and it caters to bloggers, media junkies, news hounds, shutterbugs, and social animals. It's really cool - I'm so glad I made the switch from Internet Explorer to Firefox and now to Flock!

Flock, The Social Web Browser!
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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Forces of Nature Affect Implicit Connections with Nature

Well, that's the title of our latest paper, which Sean and I submitted to the Journal of Environmental Psychology yesterday. We did a 10-month long project investigating the extent to which people associate themselves to the natural or built environment across seasonal and meteorological changes.

There's plenty of research in the environmental literature that suggests people have a "primitive belief" about nature that's dispositional (meaning, it's like an inherited trait we all have in our DNA). If that's the case, then it suggests we're always connected with nature, so much so that we prefer nature over built environments. It also suggests that our connections with nature aren't influenced by contextual factors (e.g., sitting in a courtyard or laboratory), although there's evidence that with repeated exposure (e.g., going to a zoo), our connectedness with nature strengthens.

So that led us to ask this question - What happens if you consider forces of nature with respect to people's connections with nature? If the dispositional view is correct, we should always be connected with nature no matter what changes occur in the physical environment. But if context matters, then people's connectedness with nature may change as the seasons, temperatures, and precipitation levels change.

Well, what do you think we found? Perhaps the title gives us away, but I'm curious to know your thoughts on the subject (without evoking too much hindsight bias!).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bike Thieves in South Bend

Grr...I'm so annoyed. Some jerk stole my bike helmet tonight, along with my friend's rear light and sack. And they also tried to steal this other guy's wheel from his bike. The nerve! Prior to this discovery, my friend Jackie and I attended a jazz concert near my house. It was a fun, certainly a nice diversion from writing academic papers. But really! Why are there people out there willing to take what clearly does not belong to them?? (This is rhetorical questions, folks!)

It just peeves me. So now, I'm going to have to *drive* to the local bike shop to purchase a new helmet. While I'm there, I'll pick up some other items that I'm sure these thieves would want to add to their collection.

Now when I'm riding my bike, I'll be keeping an eye for someone who's sporting a pink helmet!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Dark Side of Gardening

Gardening is a popular pastime for many people. For some, gardening is a way to observe beauty and feel relaxation; for others, gardening is a way to showcase their green thumbs. Whatever the reason, gardening is certainly one approach to fostering a direct experience with nature.

But does gardening pose a negative impact on the environment? I read a shocking article in the NY Times a few days ago. Dubbed the "Garden Vigilantes," the reporter interviewed gardeners who kill pests in order to save their vegetables and flowers.

There's Jessica in Connecticut, who shoots garter snakes with a shotgun; Joanna in Brooklyn, who drowns squirrels with her bare hands; Susanne in Alaska who clubs porcupines; and Mr. Anonymous in Pennsylvania who shoots woodchucks. They kill pests because they're annoying. Those animals ruin their gardens or decimate their tranquil experiences with gardening.

Are these people somehow deranged? Probably not, despite their extreme and violent actions toward those animals. (Having said that, I'm appalled and disgusted to know these folks are killing helpless critters.) Although many people garden to appreciate nature, they don't generally think of their yards and gardens as part of the natural environment. This may be why gardeners are likely to plant invasive non-native species, use too much water, and apply pesticides to ward off bugs.

I naively thought gardening was a positive way of feeling connected to nature. But now I'm not so sure. It does make me wonder how people in general view themselves in relation to the natural world. What is valued most when people garden? And how do their values reconcile with preserving (or harming) the environment?

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Rallying Behind Crunchy Chicken

I first heard about Crunchy Chicken by reading the comments on No Impact Man's blog. I was pleasantly surprised when I went to her blog - she was hosting a poll (the exact question eludes me now). But instantly, I knew I could relate to this woman - for crying out loud, we both love statistics and asking people questions! It's a pretty dynamic site, in case you haven't visited. Crunchy hosts online book discussions and challenges that really gets people excited to do act in an environmentally responsible manner. For goodness sake, I've frozen my buns over the winter with her Freeze Your Buns Challenge. And I recall having several interesting conversations when I participated in the Diva Cup Challenge.

Crunchy's been going through some tough times, which I won't get into that here. She nearly retired from the blogosphere last week. But lucky for us, she just can't stop blogging! In fact, a group of bloggers created a Tribute to Crunchy blog, which partly honors her for being so darn cool. In addition, this tribute is also raising money for one of her causes called Good4Girls - it's a charity that provides sanitary products to school-age girls in Africa.

I'm no Rockefeller, but I donated $50 to this charity. It's a drop in the bucket, but I hope Crunchy will accept this as a token of my appreciation for what she does best: Finger lickin' good and always crunchy. But, mostly just clucking around!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Toxic: Garbage Island - Part 1

I've read a lot of factual information about the amount of plastic in the Pacific Ocean. But seeing the story unfold on video is quite a different experience.

There's a 12-part series of these videos that you can watch online: http://www.vbs.tv/video.php?id=1485308505

I plan on watching these videos after I complete my writing tasks for the day.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Tagged by Fake Plastic Fish's Meme!

Well, as Radiohead's Thom Yorke once said, "You did it to yourself and that's why it really hurts." Only this time it doesn't hurt so bad. I'm particularly excited about writing this post because I'm second in line to a new meme started by Fake Plastic Fish. These questions are all about blogging, whether it's writing posts on blogs or reading other people's blogs.

Now usually memes have a bunch of rules you're supposed to follow, but I'm going to keep it simple by just answering FPF's questions. And then whomever I tag will hopefully keep this meme alive in the blogosphere.

1) Do you feel pressured to write a minimum number of posts per week?

Sometimes, although this perceived pressure is self-imposed. I actually feel greater pressure to conduct research and write articles for publication, so blogging is usually a nice diversion from my regular work routine.

I do wish I could write more thoughtful posts, but the fact of the matter is that I've got other duties that demand more of my time and energy. I'm currently writing five research articles for publication. Yikes!

2) If so, where does the pressure come from? If not, why the heck not? What's your secret?

I don't have any hidden insights regarding my self-imposed pressure to blog. I do think the key is balance, and a dash of perspective thrown in for good measure. Fake Plastic Fish knows that I have blog-envy. (If only I could make my blog as cool as hers! If only I could write more thought-provoking articles like she does!) But I think if I spent more time on my blog, it would be at the expense of my research agenda, and I'm not willing to make that sacrifice. I guess that's my perspective on this issue. At any rate, it's how I deal with my blog envy.

3) How do you manage your computer time in general? Is it easy for you to get on, do what you have to do, and get off? Or do you get sucked in for hours and lose track of time?

My computer is constantly on, especially my email. My students have told me that I'm super-quick in replying to their emails. I view it like tennis - you volley to me, and I quickly want to volley back. Anything to get it off my desk, so to speak.

4) Do you have significant others who resent the time you spend online? How do you negotiate computer time vs. personal real-life time?

My partner also blogs, so I don't think he feels any resentment towards me blogging. Actually, if he's going to resent anything, it's the fact that I live in South Bend (he lives in Philadelphia).

5) Do you ever find yourself walking down the street in the real world and realize that your head is still totally stuck in the Blogosphere?

Not usually, although there have been times I've seen or heard something in the real world and said to myself, "Now that's blogworthy!"

6) Has your body suffered in any way from spending too much time sitting and staring at a computer screen rather than exercising? Has your diet suffered?

Not really, although sometimes I need to stretch my legs and buns from sitting at my desk all day. It does help that I regularly bike to work and walk my pups at least twice daily.

7) Have you resorted to alcohol or other chemicals to wind down and take your mind off cyberland? If so, is that a problem for you?

No. I drink alcohol to take my mind off of academia. It's not a problem. All academics do it.*

8) How do you manage your e-mail? Seriously. I need to know. Because remember when I wrote about having over 500 messages in my inbox? I still have over 500 messages in my inbox!

Easy: If there's an especially annoying or frivolous email, I'll delete it. Out of sight out of mind! Ok, so I've only done this twice my whole life (and boy, did it feel good!). My general practice is to keep my email replies short and sweet.

9) Does blogging ever make you feel lonely? It is, after all, a solitary act while you're composing your posts. I suppose it's no different from being any other kind of writer in that regard.

No, on the contrary, I feel more connected. I have a few friends that read my blog regularly. And I've also made some friends, too (like FPF, Merry Meghan). Maybe the underlying question to ask is who's a 'friend' given today's techno-savvy world.

10) What kind of support can we, as bloggers and blog readers, give to each other besides nice comments on the blogs? Is there a way that we can work together and give each other a break? Sure, we could create a Forum to vent our frustrations and give each other feedback. But would that just add another task to our online "to do" lists?

No new ideas here, but perhaps a reflection - I find carnivals (Carnival of the Green) and other blog challenges (Crunchy Chicken's Freeze Your Buns Challenge) to be incredibly supportive and fun. I think this also dovetails with me not feeling lonely while writing my posts - writing keeps me connected with you guys. I love it!

11) Bonus question: How do you read blogs? Do you subscribe in a reader and if so, how many blogs are you subscribed to? How many feeds do you read each day? Do you feel pressured to keep up with your blog reading in addition to your blog writing?

I use Google Reader to keep up with ~25 blogs. Again, there's no pressure on my part. Reading other people's blogs reaffirms my belief that together, we are taking big and small steps to making this world a better place for everyone (ourselves, kids, plants, and animals).

Ok, the questions have been answered, so I'm tagging
Merry Meghan and Bring Your Own to help keep FPF's meme going!

Whoa! Thanks for posing these great questions, Fake Plastic Fish!!
* For those of you really wondering if I was being serious or facetious, I assure you - it's only a joke! ;0)

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

My Prediction for Tomorrow's Weather

I didn't ride my bike today because the weather forecast predicted an 80% chance of thunderstorms and showers. Ok, I'll admit - I'm a chicken when it comes to biking in stormy weather. I was debating this issue this morning, though. Should I ride or not? I wanted to ride so that I could add more miles to Team IUSB for the Michiana Bike to Work Week challenge. But I didn't want to get stuck in a storm. So I drove to work today.

What a mistake.

It rained for about 10 minutes. And that was it. I looked outside my office window in frustration. I was expecting something way more severe, just like the weatherman promised. But no, that didn't happen. As I drove home from work today, I saw several people biking. I should be on my bike, not in my car, I thought to myself.

So here's my prediction for tomorrow: It will rain like cats and dogs. And I will be in the middle of it, on my bike. Forget the weatherman's report. I'm biking tomorrow. Now watch me get struck by lightning.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Pooch Pick-Ups a Let Down

It's been almost a year since I started composting Jack and Willy's waste. It's really easy - all I did was dig a hole in the backyard and occasionally put dirt to cover it up. I've gone through 5 compost pockets by now, and the good news is that my pets' waste have really composted into the soil.

I'm glad that I've diverted their waste from entering landfills. But there is a glitch in the system and it all has to do with these biodegradable bags. These pooch pick-up bags are made from cornstarch, and according to the label, these bags biodegrade much faster than ordinary poo bags. When I first heard about this product, I was excited because I thought that meant I could also toss these bags into the compost pocket. But 10-months later, those bags have not biodegraded one bit! My first hunch was that I was doing something wrong, but when I checked the packaging for some instructions, I found none.

I guess my compost pocket doesn't get hot enough to biodegrade these doggie bags. Consequently, my compost pocket now looks like this:

Here's a close-up of what I now consider to be a big, bag mess in my backyard:

Because the bags simply aren't biodegrading fast enough, I've been throwing them away in the garbage. I still toss Jack and Willy's waste into the compost pocket, though. But I'm not happy with these bags. What should I do?

I don't compost my pets' waste into my regular composting bin because I don't want bacteria to contaminate that humus. Because pets lack a pathogenic system, bacteria are released in their stool. And because my composting bin doesn't reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit, it's not hot enough to kill those bacteria.

This is the only hang-up I've had since I started composting last year. Otherwise, composting has been a cinch. And these guys don't mind being eco-friendly pups!

Jack & Willy