Zoe Weil: How to Be a Solutionary

Watch this inspiring video, then take action for a better world.

I am a huge fan of Zoe Weil, the visionary behind the Institute for Humane Education, the MOGO (Most Good, Least Harm) lifestyle, and the books featuring both. She works with both children and adults in helping them find not just ways they can help create a better world, but also how to find their calling in how to do so. Bettering our planet, Weil argues, isn’t a good enough goal alone; it must have the passion, the care, behind it. When you know what you love to do in the world, you know where you can start to improve it. Her latest TED talk, How to Be a Solutionary, is a must-see. It’s not long; check it out on YouTube.

If you feel inspired, start making your own plan to become a solutionary. If you need time, take action on these quick issues today and see if they trigger any issues or passions in your heart.

Save chimps from lab experiments: The National Institutes for Health just recommended that we stop using chimps in most governmental experiments. As awesome as this news is, they also decided that the government should hold onto several chimps “just in case.” Tell the NIH director that it’s time to stop experimenting on chimps.

Ask the president to make climate change a priority: After the dozens of extreme temperatures many of us faced last year, we are left calling more urgently for action on climate change than ever. Will President Obama come through? Call on him to move us forward in alternative energy and away from these disturbing climate trends.

Sign the Safe Harbor petition: The Polaris Project exists to help fight human trafficking and support survivors.  Many teen victims are caught soliciting sex during their captivity and instead of being rescued, they are charged with a crime. The latest campaign of the Polaris Project, the Safe Harbor petition, asks legislators to treat child survivors of sexual exploitation as victims rather than criminals. Be sure to add your signature if you’d like this legislation to pass.

You can easily take action on these issues right away, but maybe you will be inspired on your road toward becoming a solutionary. Will you make a poster or write a song about a cause that moves you? Maybe you’ll give a talk like Weil does, or host an interactive class with local teen activists. Share your solutionary ideas below or write your own post about your journey.

Hurricane Sandy: Recovery efforts in full swing

Clean up begins at the Jersey Shore

Even before Obama made his visit to Atlantic City to survey the damage from Hurricane Sandy, Jersey shore residents began organizing groups to start the recovery process. I have been very amazed and excited to see how the members of this community have bonded together in an effort to restore our islands.

Social media has really helped in getting the word out where the most needs are and how to help. Volunteer groups are going in and cleaning up debris. Other groups are having food and clothing drives. Some are offering places for those without power to charge their electronics. No amount of help is too small. Our youth are getting together tomorrow to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for those who are left without homes, while our church food pantry is concentrating on stocking up with extra food for those who are in need.

Not only are people suffering because of a property loss, but many are still without power. Others are out of work until their places of employment can get cleaned up. This puts a financial burden on the family. Fortunately, countless groups are willing to help as soon as they hear of a need. So if you are one of the victims of Hurricane Sandy, make your need known. One Facebook group was asking for those who needed a yard clean up to post their address and they'd head over and clean.

FEMA has also set up shop in our local library and is ready to offer help. I know that with everyone pulling together so early that we will have our islands fixed up in record time. This is, of course, unless the nor'easter that is suppose to hit on Wednesday does a lot of damage. We at the Jersey shore are certainly keeping an eye on it!




Hurricane Sandy: Part II

Unbelievable devastation

Devastation is the only word to describe what Hurricane Sandy has done to my community as well as many others. I'll stick to writing about the effects in my hometown, but my heart goes out to the rest of the East Coast that has also been directly hit by Sandy.

Today is day three of the schools in Cape May County being closed. There is still no entry to any of the barrier islands (Cape May, Wildwood, Ocean City, Avalon, Stone Harbor, and Sea Isle City). Fortunately, my family that remained on the island are all safe. No one can get to them, but they have plenty of food and water and some even have generators. I have other family members that headed the evacuation orders, but aren't allowed back home.

The 59th street pier in Ocean City is completely gone, as is a good portion of the Atlantic City Boardwalk. Many of the access roads to the islands, in addition to roads that connected the islands together have been torn apart and are no longer usable. Most of the homes in Reeds Beach, which is just down the street from me, are demolished and uninhabitable. The photos that are surfacing are heartbreaking. It will take months to fully recover from all of the damage done to our towns.
There are two million people in the state of New Jersey without power, and over 22,000 in my county. Most of these are individuals that live on the island. Those of us that live 15 minutes out on the mainland fared much better.

How has the hurricane directly affected me? My special needs daughter hasn't been able to go to school for three days, my roof lost more shingles, which means a new roof that I can't really afford, because our trash day was Tuesday, we are getting skipped this week altogether and I have family members that I can't visit because no one is allowed on the islands.

See the damage for yourself with these videos:

Cape May Wakes Up to Wind and Sand

Hurricane Sandy: Andy Fox reports on Avalon Fishing Pier damage

Sandy hits my hometown

Cape May County gets slammed

As the weekend approached everyone in my hometown of Cape May County began to realize that Hurricane Sandy was sure to hit us. Voluntary and then mandatory evacuations were issued for the barrier islands (Wildwood, Cape May, Avalon, Stone Harbor, Sea Isle and Ocean City) as well as the bay areas that tend to flood.

Although I am considered to live on the mainland and could have remained in my home, I choose to relocate to my father's house for the duration of the storm. This is because I have a special needs child who cannot go without heat should the electric go out. My father has a wood stove so we'd still have heat if the power went out.
I tried to keep the packing light. We brought one bag filled with clothing, two bags of food, paper plates and bowls in case we didn't have water to do dishes, my daughter's medications, her diapers and wipes (she can't be potty trained), my older daughter's homeschooling curriculum, and our electronics with charges.

Before the storm even reached our area, the flooding began. It has been quite devastating. I am thankful for social media so that I can view what is happening on all of the islands that I love. It is heartbreaking, however. It wasn't long before my sister and her family had to come and join us at my father's (now filled with six adults, five children, one dog and one hermit crab). The picture that goes along with this article is of my sister's house. It began to flood. She lives along the bay side of town.

We have not lost electricity at my father's house. The winds and rain have been intense at times and we are currently getting the eye of the hurricane any minute. I believe the biggest issue will be all the damage from the floods. I won't be able to check on my home until tomorrow. I must admit that I am worried about my roof. Supporting two daughters by myself doesn't leave much money left over to get a new roof, and it isn't in the best shape right now.

So far I have seen pictures of my favorite restaurants with water half way up the buildings, a piece of the Atlantic City boardwalk collapsed and destroyed, and part of the White Horse Pike all buckled up. What I am most grateful for is that my friends and family members are all accounted for as of now. I can't wait for the hurricane to move on out by tomorrow so we can begin to assess the full damage and start to heal our hometown.

Take action today

Take a few moments this weekend to help save the world.

Every week I try to round up a few important actions to take to help improve our world. Will your clicks, your signatures, your donations really save the Earth itself? Well, no, probably not. But our collective action, which carries our voices and intent, can certainly help create shifts. And if we do nothing, we will definitely get zero results in return—so why not try and take action just in case? It only takes seconds.

Here are a few issues you might be interested in this week.

Protect National Wildlife Refuges

A new bill would stop the growth of the National Wildlife Refuges that we have, jeopardizing many animals and wildlife who need our protection now as well as any who might need it in the future. If you’d like to keep these refuges open to future growth, click here and say so.

Stop mountaintop removal

Send in a photo of yourself in solidarity with others who protest the mountaintop removal of the Appalachians. This action might take a minute or two, but a visual may have more impact.

Occupy Monsanto

Monsanto isn’t very far from where I live, so you can bet that my activist friends locally take action and spread the word about this company’s GMOs quite often. On September 16 and 17, an Occupy Monsanto protest will be occurring in St. Louis, which is where the company’s headquarters are. You can click here for more information. (This action may not be as quick and easy as the others I’ll be posting, but educating yourself about GMOs is.)

Help pass laws for equality

Click here to send a message to the governor of California and ask that six pieces of legislation that help further the rights and protect GLBT youth and families be fully supported and passed. There are three actions that you can take here. These actions are not only important for people living in California, but in setting a precedent across the nation for all other states to follow.

Speak out against hunger

Friday September 13 will be World Hunger Action Day, a perfect time to contact your member of Congress about any concerns you have about hunger and poverty in America. In fact, Feeding America is hosting a Postcard Action Day so you can send a message right from their website. Click here to find out more or to send a postcard in seconds.

Hand wash your clothes

Save energy: hand wash and line dry!

So many people have grown so accustomed to using a washing machine to get their clothes clean that they have no idea how to wash their clothes without one.  Yet people all over the world have washed their clothes by hand for the longest amount of time prior to the invention of the washer.  Therefore, you can bet on the fact that it is possible for you to get your clothes smelling and looking fresh without the usage of the washing machine.

The washer makes it a breeze for you to do your laundry.  Unfortunately, it can be a big energy hog.  So if your goal is to use less energy, then you can try washing your clothes the old fashion way.

To get started, grab a clean bucket, and add laundry detergent to it.  I suggest that you go with the liquid instead of the powder detergent for this purpose.  Add water to the bucket—use the coldest temperature setting that can be used on the fabric that you are washing.  Once your soapy water is all ready to go, add in your dirty clothes. 

Use your hands to agitate the clothes using a kneading motion.  Then drain away all of the soapy liquid before using new water to rinse your clothes clean.  Once your clothes are all clear of soap, try your best to squeeze out as much water from your garments as possible.  Finally, hang all of your clean clothes to dry.  It is best if you can find a sunny spot to hang the clothes.

Paper towels vs. cleaning rags

Whenever there is a messy spill, you basically have two different materials you can reach for to clean up the mess up.  You can grab a paper towel, and throw it away once cleaning is done and over with.  The other option is for you to use a rag, and wash it for reuse afterwards.  Obviously, the more convenient option is for you to reach for the paper towel.  However, if you want to be greener in the way that you clean, then I suggest that you use the reusable rag on your next messy spill.

Washing a dirty rag does require you to use up some resources.  At the very least, you will need water and some sort of cleaning agent to get the rag sanitary enough for its next usage.  However, if you ask me, it still beats using a paper towel just once, and then throwing it away just like that.

What really makes paper towels the lesser choice is the whole production process.  Trees need to be cut down to make the paper towels.  Then there are the resources that go into the packaging.  Also, don’t forget about all the gas consumption that is required to get the paper towels to the stores for you to buy. 

Reusable rags can be used in all types of sticky situations.  You can use them to wipe down spills in the kitchen, or you can use them to help you clean out your bathtub.  Then afterwards you can wash them, and have them on standby for your next messy spill.

Don't Buy Into Greenwashing

Companies may label their products as green or natural, but it doesn't mean much

Environmentally conscious consumers who opt for the natural versions of their favorite products might want to check their labels once more before making a purchase. While brands like Tom's of Maine and Burt's Bees may make you feel nice on the inside with their earth-toned packages and handwritten fonts, they're often no better for the earth or for you than their more corporate-looking counterparts. They're not even independently manufactured anymore; Burt's has been bought by Clorox and fans of Tom's are simply funneling their money over to Colgate-Palmolive. These Fortune 500 companies simply mark up the prices on the supposedly natural stuff, then pocket the money of people who have been tricked into thinking they're making the more sustainable consumer choice.

The truth is, there aren't any real criteria for buzz words like 'natural', 'green', or 'organic' on products like toothpaste or makeup. Organic food obviously must be grown without pesticides to bear the label, but there's no such requirement for organic deodorant. And there's certainly no minimum standard of environmentally friendly manufacturing for a product to be marketed as a green variant on an old classic.

Giant companies are simply surfing the green tide up to high profits by tricking consumers into feeling good about themselves. Your natural cosmetics in those sand colored bottles are as likely to be as full of chemicals and toxic additives as the regular stuff next to them on the shelf. Anything can be branded as natural. If consumers don't do their homework and read the fine print, they'll have no way of knowing the difference.

So how do you actually go about using green products in your home? Step one is just to buy less of everything. No matter how green or natural a product claims to be, it's still a product--likely packaged up in non-recycled plastic, then fitted inside a single-use cardboard box, then shipped hundreds of miles across the country on a huge truck. Instead of relying on big brands for your home supplies and personal care needs, try making your own. A little baking soda and vinegar or lemon juice will clean just about anything. Be sure to buy in huge containers to minimize plastic and paper waste, then use only what you need when you're getting down to cleaning your house or yourself. Tons of beauty products can be made with standard kitchen supplies, too. Save money and skip out on the 'natural' scam by taking your environmentalism into your own hands. 

Update of 1970's MIT Study Still Shows Global Economy Crashing In 2030

An update of a speculative study on the sustainability of our global economy and natural resources shows it's still accurate.

There has been a kind of “conflict of interest” between economic health and environmental health; a battle between two very essential human needs that has been growing since the Industrial revolution (even before). Our economies allow us to interact, to cooperate or compete, and our present system of civilization is built upon them. The environment, for reasons that need not be articulated, is even more necessary to survival. In the 1970s a ground-breaking report called The Limits to Growth was published to show how the relationship between economic growth and environmental sustainability is an unsustainable one. It went even further, estimating a total global economic collapse in 2030.

The Limits to Growth has been controversial since its publication, and many analysts and economists disagree with some of the parameters and computer models that the MIT group, called the Club of Rome, utilized in coming up with their dire predictions. Of course, the report was created forty years ago, and it was speculating well into the future. However, an Australian physicist named Graham Turner has recently revisited The Limits to Growth, and his analysis shows that its original predictions remain highly likely.

One of the major criticisms of the study was that it advocated for increased government regulation and policies that might inhibit economic growth. If today’s political narrative, with conservative ideologues crusading for limited government and Democratic leadership fighting those ideas, is any clue, economic growth has long been a fulcrum on which the political pendulum is swung.

At the root of the problem is humanity’s tendency to consume more than they can produce, but it also has major implications for government policy as well. On one hand, environmental sustainability (and its twin issue: public health) have often come at the cost of greater economic growth. Energy is cheaper, transportation easier, materials easier to come by, and production costs are generally lower allowing consumerism to increase. The flip side of that coin is that public health risks increase, inflating healthcare prices, and certain environmental areas become less desirable, dropping real estate and other geographically relevant pricing. In addition, there are public scares when a portion of food supply becomes contaminated or there is an oil spill and other economically depressing events.

Most nations have run along one side of this line, generally favoring further economic growth over increased environmental health. This is the “business as usual” approach, and it is the very approach that the forty-year old report claims will lead to, “global economic collapse and precipitous population decline [which] could occur by 2030.” Turner, upon reevaluation in 2009, agrees. He compared the trajectories of several study components (illustrated in the graph) to the real-world data of those same years, and found that the study’s predictions were remarkably close to the reality. “There is a very clear warning bell being rung here,” he told Smithsonian Magazine, “We are not on a sustainable trajectory.”

Reusable Produce Bags Help Reduce Plastic Waste

Kick the disposable bag habit with these colorful Kootsacs


There's no doubt that buying food in bulk greatly reduces both the cost and waste that accompanies traditionally-packaged goods. I buy all of my produce loose these days; it's cheaper, and the sight of a saran-wrapped crown of broccoli always frightened me to begin with. Lately, I've been purchasing more seeds, grains and beans in bulk, too.

But then I end up with piles of those awful filmy plastic bags that I mean to recycle for weeks while they sit rustling in my bakeware cupboard. They infect my kitchen like beached jellyfish. They're the worst. Sometimes, like if they've been holding mushrooms, they get too dirty to recycle and I have to throw them away, inevitably launching them into the sea where they'll ultimately ensnare and drown some baby sea turtles. I do not like to think of myself as a murderer of baby sea turtles. Therefore, I looked for a way to kick the bulk bag habit that supermarkets impose upon their customers.

Reusable jars or other solid containers might work in theory, but most stores aren't set up to subtract the weight of something heavier than a bag from your purchase. They need your food to be enclosed in something nearly weightless so they can charge you precisely. So what's an environmentally-conscious bulk grocery shopper to do? Pick up a few reusable food bags, of course. 

The minds behind Kootsac, an online store operated through Etsy, also saw the problem with disposable plastic bags. If you're going to be making sustainable grocery choices, you probably shouldn't punctuate them by throwing away wads of plastic every week. You're already bringing your cloth totes to cut down on plastic shopping bag use, so why not carry the same concept to the finish?

Kootsac sells reusable bulk food and produce bags. They're made of extra-thin fabric (nylon or silk, your choice), so they won't register on checkout scales. They're sturdier than those tearable plastic membranes, they come in bright colors and they're even machine-washable. There's pretty much nothing I don't like about this idea. If you're on the same boat, you can hop over to Kootsac's online storefront and take a gander at their wide array of products. Pick up a single bag or stock up on a batch of three. You won't have to worry about annoying swarms of plastic in your kitchen anymore and you'll also get the perk of standing out at your local grocery, you trend-setter, you.