Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Green New Years Goals

Happy New Year Everyone! 2009 is expected to be forward-moving for "green" and the environment. So many more people are aware of what needs to happen to better protect our planet, its resources and animals, and our safety. Now, all we need is a lot of action.

Going green really starts in the home. Your children's attitudes, viewpoints, and behaviors relating to the world begin at home -- this is where the current and next generation become who they are and then branch out from there ... to the community, to work, to schools, and beyond.

So what are the PRACTICAL going-green goals you can have for 2009? Here are my suggestions:
  • EAT LESS MEAT -- Eating a diet richer in plants than in meat benefits your health and the planet – especially when you cut down on beef. This is because livestock produce gases from their bodies and manure, which surprisingly makes up 1/5th of the world’s greenhouse gases. In fact, the United Nations considers livestock one of the world’s most serious environmental problems and has reported that cattle rearing across the world contributes more greenhouse gases than all vehicle driving together. An easy tip is to simply not eat meat one or two days of the week. Instead, you can substitute with foods like beans, eggplant, tofu, eggs, or cheese -- and add lots of veggies. Eating a more plant-based diet or a partial vegetarian diet lowers most people's risk of heart disease, hypertension, obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, and other dangerous conditions. More about the benefits are found at the American Dietetic Association's website.

  • START A COMPOST -- If you have a backyard or not, you can compost. Certainly a backyard makes it easier, because otherwise you would have to use an indoor composting machine or be a lucky resident with a municipal composting program. Even if your community has a curbside compost pickup (which is still rare these days), then if you have a backyard opt to do your own composting -- it's better for the environment and your pocketbook not to have your city pickup and find a place to process the compost garbage; plus, you get the added benefit of using composted material as a soil amendment and mulch on your own property (a money saver!) My upcoming book has a lot of composting resources, as well as this previous blog post.

  • CLEAN WITH BAKING SODA -- Simplify your cleaning this year and look to clean most of your home with cheap baking soda. It's easy, saves money, and is non-toxic.

  • ADD LOW FLOW TO YOUR SHOWER -- As a home improvement this year (even for renters!), change out your showerhead for a low-flow showerhead. You'll save a lot of water -- and therefore save money on your water bill. And if you rent, save the old fixture to put back on when you move -- take the low-flow fixture with you.

Monday, December 29, 2008

How does your supermarket score on sustainable seafood?

Greenpeace has just issued new rankings for its Retail Seafood Sustainability Scorecard. The first scorecard was released June 2008. Says Greenpeace,"Supermarkets feed the growing appetite for seafood and ring up approximately $16 billion each year in seafood sales. Consumers buy half their seafood at supermarkets, yet as our report reveals, few supermarkets meet this consumer demand with any regard for the marine environment."



Says "The Food Section", "The new scorecard gives a "passing" grade to four supermarket chains -- Whole Foods, Ahold USA [includes Giant and Martins], Target, and Harris Teeter -- for scoring more than 40% on Greenpeace's scale (all 20 chains were given a failing grade last June). Trader Joe's was ranked the lowest (#17) of all of the national supermarket chains surveyed."

Two EASY things you can do:
  1. Take 5 minutes and write your grocer. Tell your grocer you want the store to only stock seafood that conserves ocean species -- I recommend that you ask the store to only stock the recommended fish from Seafood Watch. The easiest way is probably online -- find the customer feedback form online. Otherwise, ask for a customer feedback card at checkout.
  2. Choose your fish more carefully. And stick to it! I use the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch card -- I find it to be the easiest program to follow; they also now have a sushi card for eating out. Greenpeace has a Red List of fish to not purchase -- these are fish "species most in peril due to destructive or illegal fishing."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Mercury and Fish Have Victims

With Actor Jeremy Piven (Entourage) now being treated for too much mercury in his system due to what is currently being reported as him eating too much sushi, this comes at the same time the FDA is reconsidering being more lax with seafood consumption rules. This FDA reconsideration is a safety concern for families. You need to under the risks.

  • Large amounts of mercury come from power plants that burn coal, waste incinerators, some factories, and some mines. This mercury goes into the air as pollution and eventually ends up being "rained out" of the atmosphere and dumped into the soil or into the water.
    It can also enter the water through surface run off. This mercury ends up being part of all fish' environment and their diet.

  • Mercury is in all the fish we eat. The bigger, predatory fish (like tuna) have more mercury because they have eaten lots of smaller fish with mercury. The amount of mercury in fish has been steadily increasing because mercury-contaminated water has also increased exponentially (163% increase in mercury advisories issued by the EPA between 1993 - 2003).

  • If too much mercury gets into our bodies, it can cause serious health problems -- primarily damage to the nervous system, brain, and kidneys. You can see the mercury levels in common fish and how often you can safely eat each kind of fish at this Environmental Defense link. Compare that list with your Seafood Watch card when choosing to eat fish or shellfish.

Friday, December 26, 2008

What To Do About Old TVs

If you got a new TV for Christmas, make sure you responsibly recycle your old TV. DON'T THROW IT IN YOUR GARBAGE THAT GOES TO THE LANDFILL.

Many of us are changing out our televisions for purposes of a "new thing" or because of the February 2009 switch to a digital signal versus analog. But did you know that to get a digital signal you don't have to trade out your old TV? You can just get a converter box -- a lot cheaper than a new TV -- and therefore avoid adding to unnecessary and toxic e-waste.

For those of us who need to get rid of an old TV make sure you recycle it. The Electronics Take Back Coalition has put together a horror flick, of sorts, to point out the dangers of old TVs with toxics. I've posted the weird-but-effective video below. You can find out more about how to recycle your TV here, or you can just call your municipal recycler for instructions.

Kudos to Sony for having a free takeback program!!! -- here's info here.

If you have more time to educate yourself, you can learn more about e-waste and how it affects your family, community, and populations outside of the U.S. through this booklet -- E-Waste: The Exploding Global Electronic Waste Crisis. Certainly, the best solution is that manufacturers make electronics that are completely recyclable without toxics -- write your favorite manufacturer and your government officials to ask for this.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Last Minute Holiday Gift Idea

It's the last minute of holiday shopping and you are still looking for gifts ... for that someone who has everything he or she needs. Here's an idea! Give a rainforest tree in your loved one or friend's name. The Natural Resources Defense Council has a Revive a Rainforest campaign.

Plant a Rainforest Tree: Save Wildlife & Fight the Climate Crisis All for $10

The Revive a Rainforest campaign in Costa Rica is part of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s BioGems initiative to save wildlife and wildlands across the Americas.

Says the NRDC's President Frances Beinecke, "It only takes $10 -- and a few seconds -- to give rainforest trees in honor of your friends and family as part of NRDC's new Revive a Rainforest campaign. Each of your gift recipients will receive a beautiful online Certificate of Rainforest Restoration that can be printed and framed. The tree sapling you plant in Costa Rica with each $10 gift will soon grow as high as 130 feet, bringing a bare field back to vibrant life as a lush rainforest. "

Click here for more info.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Is There Such A Thing As Eco-Friendly Junk Mail?

Ever wondered who might actually be eco-friendly with your junk mail? Maybe not. But ForestEthics, an environmental organization that takes action to protect endangered forests, does. The non-profit has released its 3rd Annual Catalog Environmental Scorecard. Among the winners for responsible use of paper in the printing of their catalogs --
  • Crate & Barrel -- put into place a new policy this year that the company would stay out of endangered forests; says the company “good business practices and good environmental practices need not be mutually exclusive."

  • Timberland -- phasing out paper catalog and going solely online; ForestEthics notes that junk mail's contribution to climate change equals emissions of nine million cars or the emissions generated by heating nearly 13 million homes for the winter

  • Bloomingdales -- also ending its paper catalog and will just be online

  • Patagonia -- has the highest post-consumer waste recycled content compared to all catalog mailers

  • Dell -- has taken significant action in using recycled content in its catalogs, including FSC certification; FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council. The FSC is a certifier of responsibly managed forests. It is not the only certifier, but it is the one that ForestEthics is focusing on.

  • Victoria's Secret -- has been involved with ForestEthics for a long time and prints on FSC certified, recycled paper

  • REI -- same types of policies as Victoria's Secret

  • Williams-Sonoma -- also seeks FSC certification with its catalog paper, along with paper reduction and recycled paper

The scorecard also lists companies with catalogs that could be doing better. If you find a "naughty" company on that list, you can opt to shop online (if available) instead and cancel the catalog delivery.

As a final note, if you are getting catalogs that you never order from -- take a 15 minutes during your lunchbreak to call the customer service number and stop delivery.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

EASY ECO TIP: Save on heating costs with knitting

Okay. Really we're not talking about knitting -- but kind of. If you want to be able to push down your thermostat a few degrees to save yourself some money and energy this winter, put on a sweater.

It sounds like the easiest thing to do, but that's why I'm recommending it.

In fact, there's nothing wrong with wearing layers indoors. It keeps you warm, there are many fashionable ways to do it -- even for the office -- and it saves you money.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Should You Support Nuclear Power?

With President-Elect Obama's new team coming on board, there has been some talk about nuclear power being revived. I believe one of the best and easiest-to-read position papers on how you should view nuclear power is by the Natural Resources Defense Council -- found here.

Essentially, the NRDC's position is --

Until building nuclear power plants becomes economically viable without government subsidies, and the nuclear industry demonstrates it can further reduce the continuing security and environmental risks of nuclear power -- including the misuse of nuclear materials for weapons and radioactive contamination from nuclear waste -- expanding nuclear power is not a sound strategy for diversifying America's energy portfolio and reducing global warming pollution.

The report goes onto to prove that other renewable energies are more cost effective and do not carry with them the problems of security, waste, and other health and environmental risks.

(UPDATE: Environmental Defense also has a useful Q&A for you to read.)

Voice your opinion to your state and federal officials about your support of non-nuclear, non-coal, renewable energy -- including geothermal, solar, wind, and other developing alternatives. Go to http://www.congress.org/

TAKE ACTION: Tell Your Gov't Officials What You Want to Happen With The Environment

Oceana's leaders held a press conference this morning at the National Press Club to gain public attention for the ocean's dire circumstances and take advantage of the press interest in environmental issues relating to President-Elect Obama's environmental and energy appointments. Oceana then posted a press release on its site to outline ocean-related issues and solutions. I have reprinted the "solutions" portion here because this is a good list to refer to when you are writing your state and federal officials in what to ask for in helping the environment -- particularly the oceans.

"We've been borrowing against the future for far too long, and the oceans can't lend us any more. We must act responsibly and live within our means," said Dr. Michael Hirshfield, chief scientist and senior vice president, North America, Oceana.

"We need to limit rather than expand human activities such as fishing," added Dr. Jeremy Jackson, director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography. To underscore his point, a new peer-reviewed study of overfishing, published December 10, 2008 by scientific journal PLoS ONE, found that the "total catch per capita from large marine ecosystems is at least twice the value estimated to ensure fishing at moderate sustainable levels" into the future. (Marta Coll et al. Ecosystem Overfishing in the Ocean. PLoS ONE 3(12): e3881. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003881, found at www.plosone.org)

We have damaged our oceans so badly that scientists have concluded that many marine species will collapse and even become extinct within the next few decades. However, if the U.S., in cooperation with other nations, acts immediately, we can prevent further extinctions and ecological disruptions. New studies and reports continue to underscore that the well-known threats are worsening faster than we thought.The marine scientists identified the worst human threats to ocean life as destructive overfishing, climate change (including ocean acidification) and other forms of pollution.

U.S. leaders should do the following:
  • Require responsible fishing, including an end to overfishing, a commitment to rebuilding depleted fish populations and an end to bycatch of protected and endangered species such as dolphins and sea turtles. The U.S. also needs to protect ocean habitats from destructive fishing gear such as bottom trawls. [Note: In Oceana's press conference, it was noted that Blue Fin Tuna are going the route of extinction. Only 1-2% of the original entire global population of Blue Fin currently exist, and that 1-2% is virtually not reproducing. This is all due to overfishing. This is just one example, OF MANY, in which we are forcing the extinction of whole ecosystems and fish populations due to overfishing.]
  • Clean up agricultural practices and require advanced pollution controls on sewage treatment plants.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately, with a target of a 25 to 40 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2020 and an 80 to 95 percent reduction by the year 2050. We can achieve these ambitious goals with energy conservation and a speedy transition to a new energy economy.

Excellent Start -- Obama's Environmental Appointments

All environmental organizations that I am aware of are praising yesterday's announcements of the Obama administration's environmental and energy appointments. The expectations are high. And they should be. The Bush administration, overall, was not good for the environment. In many instances, Bush administration policies were devastating for the environment, global warming, and climate change. Now, however, there appears to be real interest in change. Significant change for the better.

If the Obama administration can sustain this push toward change -- saving the environment including the ocean, focusing on conservation and sustainable energy, and making serious headway in major reductions of greenhouse gases -- then we have every reason to believe our future would be better.

Again, if this change is sustained, we should expect that we will enter a viable green economy -- including millions of new green-related jobs. Our food should be more healthy. Our soil, water, and wildlife should return to health. Our oceans and its wildlife should recover. Our energy should become secure and sustainable. The products we buy should be made in a zero waste and non-toxic way -- they can be 100% biodegraded or 100% recycled without toxics.

Here is an "Oceana PSA 2008" (BELOW) as just one example of where an environmental organization, Oceana, who has been tirelessly fighting for the ocean against nearly deaf ears may suddenly be able to be heard and see all its work realized for the earth's benefit -- and our benefit.

Ask yourself, do you not care enough to use this tide of change to your and your family's advantage? Write your government officials about your environmental and energy concerns, including saving the oceans, and ask that they support a MAJOR change for the better -- list the issues that are of concern for you. Go to http://www.congress.org/ -- it's easy.


Oceana 2008 PSA from Oceana on Vimeo.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Just Say NO To Farmed Salmon -- here's why ...

As you purchase food for your holiday and everyday meals this season, make it an opportunity to stop buying farmed salmon. Farmed salmon destroy wild salmon, contaminate oceans and waterways, and put whole ecosystems in jeopardy. Just say NO. Here's a simple 6 minute video from Watershed Watch that easily explains why farmed salmon should end.

VIDEO LINK

SIMPLE SHOPPING TIP: Check the milk

Here's a simple shopping tip for when you're out buying milk --
  • GO ORGANIC: If you can afford to buy organic milk for your family, or organic soy milk (if your kids will accept it), then organic is the healthiest and safest milk options for your family and the planet.

  • HORMONE FREE: While organic milk is growth hormone free, a good amount of conventional milk products are not. So, if it is a budget issue, then at least buy milk that is growth hormone free. The milk's label should say something like "This milk is from cows not treated with rbST" or "Our farmers pledge not to use artifical growth hormones." While this does not make your milk organic, it does eliminate one major health concern for you, your family, and the health of the cows who produce your milk. There is also less chemicals in a cow's urine, which cuts down on potential soil, plant, and/or water contamination.

EXTRA TIP: You can also take 5 minutes and send an e-mail to your child's school district food supervisor to ask if the school is providing milk that is hormone free. If you get the answer back "no," then write a second e-mail to the district's school board to ask that the milk supplier be changed to a growth-hormone-free milk supplier.

UPDATE 12/16/08: You can find out who produces the best organic milk at The Cornucopia Institute. This organization publishes an annual Dairy Report and Scorecard -- the results may surprise you. Find the 2008 report here.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What's the Right Choice for Eco-Oriented Christmas Trees?

We used to buy cut trees for Christmas. Then my sister gave me her artificial tree that she didn't want anymore -- we've used him for about 10 years. But now Mr. Artificial Tree is showing his age. I'm afraid I'm going to have to get rid of him -- and unfortunately I don't think my recycling center will take him, though I'll check.

So, what's next?

Well, it's really hard to find a completely non-toxic, PVC-free artificial tree. So I think we're done with artificial trees for the time being.

A live tree isn't a good option because I don't have a place on my property for the little guy -- I wish there were a city program that would take in live trees and plant them after the holidays. That would be a great idea!

The third option I have is a cut tree. My concern has been that the tree is harvested from a responsible forest. I also have had some concerns about bringing in bacteria and mold from a cut tree into my home, but artificial trees also bring in molds and bacteria from my garage -- having been stored there for nearly 12 months. So, I think it's an equal problem.

There is a great website from the National Christmas Tree Association (yes, there seems to be an association for everything these days!) with info at http://www.christmastree.org/. On their site you can find out how cut Christmas trees benefit the environment -- benefits include Christmas tree farms absorbing carbon dioxide, stabilizing soil, and providing refuge for wildlife; these trees are also a renewable resource, whereas unrecyclable artificial trees made from petroleum are not.

The Smithsonian Institute has also promoted cut or live trees, noting that you could look for additional bonuses -- like a cut-tree supplier that grew the trees organically or at least with Integrated Pest Management (IHP) practices (this translates into very little harmful pesticide use), such as using ladybugs to kill aphids.

So, this year I'm going to get a cut tree, buy myself a new string of LED lights, and not spray snow or use tinsel on the tree (fake snow or tinsel would make my cut tree unrecyclable). I'll also reuse Christmas ornaments I love. Happy Holidays!

UPDATE: What is it like to own a Christmas tree farm? Here's an interview from the Washington Post with the owner of the Middleburg Christmas Tree Farm.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Healthy Food = Healthy Planet and People

For many years I have tried to educate the public on many wellness-oriented issues. More exercise and healthier eating have always been top topics. As we move into the green economy, there is a unique opportunity for us to add another layer to healthier eating.

As a first priority, we want to eat food that is good for our bodies -- everything in moderation. Less meat, more veggies and fruits, more grains, and drink more water. This is a huge task for most. Unfortunately, the majority of Americans have a tough time just trying to eat a balanced diet, not eating too much, moderating the amount and kind of snacks, and getting regular exercise on top of that. This will, inevitably, always be an opportunity for education.

But, if you are doing a fair job at eating right, you are also probably doing more to read labels and personally educate yourself on food options. This has also likely translated into your understanding that eating more organics is also better for you. This is the opportunity for another layer to healthier eating -- more organic food produced and eaten translates into a healthier planet and healthier people. (Update: The Rodale Institute has issued a press release this week and accompanying report detailing how "Organic Farming May Be the Best Route to Global Food Security.")

There are also some packaging issues to pay attention to -- reducing your contact with BPA and other chemicals that may be in the packaging of certain foods -- which can also equal healthier planet and people.

Many companies that produce our food are interested in providing the masses with healthier and more organic options. Largely this is due to consumer interest. But also it has been a business interest because more sustainable and safer agricultural and manufacturing processes give these companies --
  • A future -- more organically grown food enhances the soil and insures that our planet can keep on producing food that people will want to buy, thereby insuring that a business can stay in business
  • Less liability -- as consumers become more aware of unsafe or unhealthy manufacturing processes, the companies who are in the process of changing (or already have changed) for the better can avoid these liabilities and increase their market share by leaps and bounds

It's important to note that there are currently virtually no companies out there who are perfect. As much as you or I would love to have a perfect world, it is not. And although I may push companies to do the right thing and blog about the ideal, the reality is that all of us are inching along. Doing what we can. And on good days with the right circumstances we are able to really make progress. The good news for consumers is that most of today's companies have smart and conscientious people at their helm who are trying to do the right thing.

The even better news is that these companies have a more heightened awareness than ever before about consumer wants and needs. If you would like to see a different or better kind of product or process, let a company know. Its leaders will probably listen like never before. And you will likely see a change for the better -- sooner than you might imagine.

As we move into 2009, we will see the Obama presidency settle in. His cabinet and advisors will be fully hired. Hopefully his administration will make good on campaign promises that affect our food, our health, and our environment. If done right, this will be the kick in the pants that all of us need, including agriculture and energy, to make changes that will benefit everyone -- even the businesses that have to make those changes.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Organic Product Packaging Blues

I've ordered some of my holiday gifts online -- including hard-to-find organic products. One new company I tried with organic hair products sent me my order. I opened the box and found it was wrapped (beautifully, mind you) in metallic tissue paper with a gold-embossed sticker holding a lovely smelling, dried lavender cutting. Inside that was a load of styrofoam peanuts. Inside that was a ball of paper packing material that encased my hair products.

Now, the hair products were in glass containers, so that's how come I suspect there was so much care put into the packaging material.

But, this is just one of many examples that I've seen where you have companies who make more earth friendly products yet they miss the point on the packaging. At least this company understood that glass was better than plastic.

I wrote to the company via e-mail to point out that although the packaging was beautiful it needed improvement -- especially since the company claims it is earth friendly. I pointed out that it would be better to have 1) no metallic paper, 2) no styrofoam, and 3) less packaging overall.

Within minutes -- this is a small company -- I got a phone call (which I let run to voice mail) and an e-mail explaining how they use used styrofoam pellets and a longer explanation about how they try to keep the shipping costs down by using the flat rate priority mail box, which they then have to stuff (more or less, depending on how much product you buy) to keep the glass containers from breaking.

Again, I wrote back and explained my points -- since I wasn't really interested in all the excuses. And I said that although it was great they were reusing used styrofoam, on the consumer's end they are most likely going to the landfill. I suggested maybe 100% biodegradable packing peanuts or paper packing peanuts or just plain newspaper. Even plastic bubble wrap would be an option -- at least I can throw it in my recycling container.

I got a shorter return e-mail stating that suddenly 'yes' they did have biodegradable packing peanuts and that in the future, if I order from them again, I should request they use those peanuts instead of the reused styrofoam ones. Hmmm. This all sounds fishy to me. And no mention of the problem with the metallic tissue paper.

It's hard for companies to get well-founded comments like mine that call attention to practices that need changing. The best companies promptly honestly and promptly thank the customer for the recommendation and quickly make the change. If the company can't make a change on an excellent suggestion right away, they will at least make sure the tip gets into the development chain for ASAP.

But these packaging issues can be remedied rather quickly. To find such resistance, and what strikes me as a placating answer rather than a company-wide dedication to earth friendly practices, in a company that is small enough to make easy changes quickly prompts me to not order from them again. Too bad.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Understanding Hydrogen as Fuel

I talked a lot about the newest advances in eco-friendly and energy-saving automobiles in November after I visited the Los Angeles Auto Show. As I mentioned in my 5-Part Series resulting from that auto show, I am really big on hydrogen (fuel-cell) powered vehicles -- what I believe is the best technology going forward for transportation.

Here's an excellent web page from the U.S. Department of Energy that gives you well-organized and easy-to-read information on what is hydrogen, how it is made, and safety issues.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

NEW ECO WORD TO KNOW: Biomimicry

Being green means that you continually educate yourself about environmental issues and advances, as well as take action. A new eco word to learn about is "biomimicry."

Biomimicry is a relatively new science in which you study how nature solves problems and then you take those solutions or ideas from those solutions and apply them to human needs or problems but in a sustainable way. Sustainability means that you are meeting needs without compromising the ability of future generations being able to meet their needs -- in today's world, it also often means you leave the planet better than how you found it ... cleaner, less wasteful, more respected, and give the gift of making it easier for the planet to sustain life of all kinds.

AskNature.org is a new website dedicated to the biomimicry science. There is an interesting video on that site, which is also available here (below) that comes from Ted.com (if you ever want to learn something new, go to this site) and is a talk by Janine Benyus who is considered one of the main leaders in the biomimicry science field. Although this talk is meant for a business audience, it is enlightening for consumers and for business men and women from all walks of life. As a mom, you will appreciate how biomimicry can improve your and your children's future.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Black Friday -- Rubbish!

As it was so eloquently stated in the New York Times this weekend, Black Friday (as the media likes to call it) isn't about doing good for others. Says the article "Some people think of Black Friday as an abundance of holiday generosity, but in a survey conducted by the International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs, 81 percent of the respondents said that they planned to shop for themselves, an army of self-seeking Santas."

"Buying stuff in the teeth of recession represents a vulgar but far too common impulse. Consumption is a core American value, so much so that President Bush suggested people head to the mall after the attacks of Sept. 11 as an expression of solidarity."

This was the same weekend a Wal-mart employee was trampled to death by Black Friday shoppers.

My family and I didn't do the shopping thing. I've never gotten into that. It seems ridiculous to me that one would shop like a sport. We already have everything we need, and most people have it all in the U.S. I have a limit on what I spend for Christmas -- paltry compared to many families. I buy a mix of well-thought-out fun and things people might need -- a new sweater for example. Then we spend money on an experience -- we go somewhere, usually local. And, I also try to donate some money to organizations I believe in -- who do good for the planet or for the arts.

This Thanksgiving (see earlier post) we did just that. No shopping. Just a trek to a botanical garden, ate out, walked the Christmas lights at a local park, and went to the movies. This is still consumerism, but we at least didn't spend money on junk.

The Center for the New American Dream has a terrific, free booklet available to help you enjoy the holidays more joyfully and with less stuff -- download electronically Simplify the Holidays Booklet.

You can also look for additional ideas on donating to charities for the holidays at BuyLessCrap.com.

Would you care if coral reefs disappeared forever?

You just might care after the fact. But that doesn't count. What matters is right now and seeing what can be done right now to save coral reefs before they are gone forever. The Miami Herald printed an article yesterday that outlines, in depth, what is happening to the reefs along Southern Florida. This is the same situation for all the world's reefs.

Climate change and pollution are wrecking havoc on a part of our environment, coral reefs, that require a delicate balance of nature. The greenhouse gases (from cars, power plants, livestock, and other sources) that raise our earth's temperature also raise the ocean's temperature -- not good for coral. And the world's oceans also absorb much of the excess carbon dioxide -- again, destroys coral. With weakened coral, when hurricanes come the reefs are bashed into bits that never recover. It's like brittle bone disease that breaks easily.

Environmental Defense Fund and two University of Miami scientists have released a report detailing more about this crisis -- ''Corals and Climate Change: Florida's Natural Treasures at Risk."

WHAT YOU CAN DO: For this type of issue, there are 3 main things you can do that will have impact in saving what we can of the coral reefs --

1) Write your federal representatives (current president, president elect, senators, and congressman) and tell them that you are concerned. Express to them BRIEFLY a) why you care and b) that you want MUCH stricter emission requirements for cars and power plants that would be at levels the scientists say would roll back global warming. Additionally, ask your representatives to add further protections to coral reef regions -- currently, as the Miami Herald article points out, the surrounding ocean areas that are part of the reefs' larger ecosystem are not protected.

2) Reduce your car's emissions. The best way to do that is to buy a new vehicle that is either ZEV, PZEV, or AT-PZEV. ZEV means zero emissions vehicle, which is expected to come with fuel cell and electric vehicles in the near future. PZEV means partial zero emissions vehicle, which means the vehicle has very low emissions. AT-PZEV means Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle, which means that the vehicle is not only going to give you really low emissions but also higher fuel efficiency.

3) Buy into renewable and clean power options with your utility company. Although clean-burning coal has been talked about as an option, the Natural Resources Defense Council states that there is no such thing and that coal mining and burning has devastating effects on our environment. Most utility companies now have an option that, for a very small fee (usually a couple of dollars), you can buy into co-op's that purchase solar or wind power. Solar or wind power produces no emissions. This is good for the planet.

4) Eat less meat. Livestock are a major contributor to greenhouse gas production. Eat less meat and you will be making a significant contribution to less greenhouse gases.