Saturday, April 28, 2007

TIme for Change at the World Bank

I find this last video released by, as part of its Fire Wolfowitz Campaign, less slick than their past videos on climate change and the Israel Palestine conflict. Since I don't watch The Office television show, the jokes don't quite click. What I love about the video, though, is how it portrays how absurdity of the current situation at the World Bank.

Some of my friends think that the World Bank is an inherently evil organization, designed from the beginning to maintain a world of economic inequality. Only the wealthy benefit from World Bank loans, they say. Although the loans are supposedly given to spur economic development, poor nations are burdened with debt and the terms of the loans prevent governments from spending on healthcare, education, and other kinds of social provisioning. I believe, however, that the World Bank is an institution that often funds studies and programs that help lift entire populations out of terrible deprivation. If World Bank governance were improved so that the interests of marginalized groups were considered more substantively and loans were administered in a way that did not constrain nations from pursuing solutions right for their particular economic challenges, the World Bank could be a central part of a successful struggle for a more just and peaceful world.

Instead of working towards a reformed World Bank, we have a sex scandal. Paul Wolfowitz, who Bush appointed as its president, has embroiled the organization in controversy. Here is a man whose last job was to design a unilateral invasion of Iraq. At the World Bank, on the basis of his anti-corruption campaign, he bypassed the normal processes at the bank and cut off funds to poor countries. At the same time, he arranged for his own girlfriend at the bank to receive a huge raise. He really should be fired. Parents around the world should - in solidarity with the mothers, fathers, and children whose lives are profoundly affected by the World Bank but cannot make their own voices heard - demand that the World Bank board fire Wolfowitz. Then we should demand a real change in how the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are governed.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Baby Steps to Green Parenting

After dinner last night, BabyG walked for the first time. That is, in my opinion, she walked for the first time. It has been a longer process for her than for her toddler friends. She has taken steps before. She has pushed her stroller for blocks. She has traversed without assistance the distance between the couches, but that’s not “walking for the first time.” We always had to get her started and encourage her. This evening I took BabyG to the Rothko Chapel. There’s a large paved area between the Broken Obelisk and the chapel itself. At first, I held BabyG’s hand as we walked around this area together, but then she let go of her own accord. She walked towards the pool around the obelisk. When she fell and whined, I offered my hand and she said, “No!” Then she got up, brought her feet closer together, and began walking again. She fell and raised herself up. She walked for some twenty minutes occasionally asking to rest on a bench. A couple of time, I took off her shoes and let her dangle her feet in the pool.

I feel hugely relieved that she's walking. It's one of those montage moments in a syrupy movie, flashy through scenes from the beginning - MaGreen moaning in the delivery room, BabyG rolling over in her Grandpa's house, BabyG learning to toss her wrist from Uncle Chuck...Who was I two years before BabyG was born, back when we started this blog? I'm astonished by how much we've changed. Astonished, and a little self-congratulatory. Also, I recently read Christine Gardner's post called Baby Steps to Green Parenting on Gristmill, which got me thinking about making a list of steps. So here we go. In honor of BabyG's steps, I offer five baby steps to Green Parenting.

1) Seek Complementarity

Consider what ideals or principles you have besides environmentalism. For us, gender equality in our own household over the long term is a must. So is living joyful, creative, and expressive lives. That means for everyone – MaGreen, BabyG, and me. Amartya Sen’s capability approach and Martha Nussbaum’s working list of core capabilities helped me think more completely about just what our goals are. Then, when we considered our lifestyle and our choices as parents, we looked for things that matched up with all our hopes, i.e. complementarity. For example, buying our food at the local co-op and at nearby farmers’ markets means tastier and cheaper food, a stronger sense of community with our neighbors, and a lower impact on the environment. If you find yourself consistently using words like “trade-off” or “sacrifice,” you may not be on the right track. I think looking for complementarity is the best way to begin.

2) Baby Proof Grandma Style

Every handbook on parenting says that you should go through your house and lock up your poisonous cleaning supplies. Why just lock up your poisons? Why are there poisons in our houses at all? The more MaGreen read up on what our cleaning supplies were made of, the more horrified she was. Then she started to have fun making cleaning supplies from vinegar and baking soda like her Grandma used to. I’ve learned from MaGreen’s playful experimentation. I never thought cleaning supplies could take on so much meaning. Check out MaGreen’s guide to cleaning supplies. I think this is another good example of complementarity. Your wallet wins, the health of your whole family wins, the environment wins, and you don’t have to commit much more time than “non-Green Parents” do to baby-proofing.

3) Celebrate Often

Every day I hear about some innovative way to celebrate holidays, birthdays, achievements, recoveries, or whatever else in environmentally and socially responsible ways. The reason I think that celebrating is central to Green Parenting is that it can build communities of love and support around you, it can reaffirm your identities, and it can transform your lifestyle, all while you enjoy yourself. For example, check out our gift giving guide and MaGreen’s compilation of 1st-year birthday cake recipes.

4) Try Lazy Composting and Incompetent Gardening

One of my favorite schools of environmentalist thought is permaculture. I’ve never read a permaculture book, attended a permaculture class, or joined a permaculture society, but I think I understand its central tenet – tap into the ecological systems around you. What I like is that it sounds like an advanced form of laziness and stinginess to me. For example, when we wanted to compost, we didn’t buy an $80 bin from Home Depot. We just started to bury our peelings in the backyard. I found digging the little holes strangely satisfying. Then we became more confident, so we leaned some shipping pallets we found in a lot against each other and we piled all our yard waste, along with our peelings, in this make-shift bin. The compost didn’t get hot. No teaming masses of red worms. We didn’t even turn it regularly. But just about anywhere except the desert, if you leave out a pile of clippings and peelings, it turns to black gold in a few months.

Once you have compost, no reason not to start gardening. I didn’t have any experience gardening, so I really messed up most of my plantings. But the few plants that have defied my incompetence gave us wonderful food and an intense feeling of satisfaction. Between the decay of composting and the birth of gardening, there’s a good chance you might find what you need as an overburdened parent. I hope you can hear complementarity bells ringing. If you want to read more, check out our collection of writing on composting and gardening.

5) Join Collective Actions

Hate to say it, but your own actions and those of your family will not save us from environmental collapse or propel us into a utopic world of social justice. One of the main reasons to systematically green your lifestyle is that your choices connect you with other people. Half the friends we have, we met through activism. And networks of individuals can change social norms. We can, as groups, force governments and multi-national institutions to change the rules of production, trade, consumption, and waste. Sierra Club and online petitions count, but a meeting in the park with your neighbors who support light rail is better. Avoid caustic activists, but don’t give up on activism.

These five points are not exhaustive, of course. I’m just suggesting some initial steps. Start with what’s easiest and most obvious, then go step by step. I’m completely amazed by how much we have changed since MaGreen became pregnant. BabyG has motivated us – not to “sacrifice” or “give up luxuries” – but to actually pay attention to our well-being. We haven't arrived, but we're walking.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Care of Objects: Guest Post by Cake

It is tempting for me to view people who are overly concerned with keeping things clean and in good shape as being materialistic. I often see people who are meticulous about caring for their cars, or who fuss over stains on clothes as being too fussy. After all, objects are meant to be used, not preserved.

True enough, but as I was preparing some baby clothes to take to my favorite consignment shop, I started to think differently. When I keep clothes and other items that I only plan to use for a short length of time (most baby items fall into this category) clean and in good condition, I prolong their lifespan.

I can take them to a thrift store or consignment shop, and someone else can use them and maybe even pass them on one more time. Sure, I can take stained clothes to the thrift store, and they will accept them, but will they actually end up getting used by someone else if they are trashed? Most of us who purchase used items want them to be in pretty good shape. This also holds true when I pass things on to friends. I don’t want to give away stained or torn clothes. It’s insulting.

So I have started to view the act of caring for our possessions as an ecological gesture--a form of resistance to the throw-away consumer culture. As a result, I’ve been learning about stain removal and I might even get around to washing the car one of these days.

Hungry for more Cake? Check out her very toothsome blog Whistling Leaf Blower.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Dadaism isn't Dead

For two years our doors looked like this:

I tried to install new knobs, but the tubular latches that come with new knobs were too large for the little hole on the side of the door they were supposed to go through. Eventually, I bought a special file that fits in a drill, and enlarged the hole. I created a little pile of actual sawdust in the process: MA-CHO!

But unsuccessful: I soon discovered that the big hole the door knob goes through was too big to install modern handles in. I needed a giant backplate instead of the tiny round one. After a fruitless six months search, my dad said he'd had the same problem, I should go to Lowes.

When I went to Lowes for the 90th time in search of backplates -- oh, yes, I had gone and not found any many times before -- I found them immediately because I was channeling my father. He would think what I had failed to: I need a giant backplate, and if the the only big backplate the store carries is a crazy, giant sized rectangle meant for a door with an old fashioned key lock, that's what I'm looking for.

I tossed several backplates into my cart, browsed my way back towards the counter, and we have finally arrived at the story I intended to tell:

I found myself, at Lowes, in the large powertool section. I was searching for water pressure washers. Some seventy or eighty year old white man came up to me and said, "You finding it?"

No I said, asked where the power washers were, and noticed his hedging and confused body language. "Oh, I'm sorry!" I said, simulaneously realizing he had no Lowes uniform and noticing his wife was behind him, checking out the rotary saws, "You're just another customer. I thought you worked here but you were just being friendly!"

"Yes, I am friendly!" he nodded, looking relieved. But I was a bit flustered, I am terrible at chatting with nice people in stores, it makes me nervous. So I was trying to flee -- one of the 200 main reasons I didn't become a General.

"Are you a member of that group?" he said as I turned away. He motioned towards my Code Pink, Women For Peace T-Shirt.

In Texas, you never know where a question like that might take you. Friendly old men in mega-hardware stores could swing either directio on the political scale, but "that group" is particularly ominous phrasing. The only thing worse than making small talk with a friendly old man in a store would be watching the friendly old man transform into a raving lunatic. In the power tool section of the store.

So, again, he says: "Are you a member of that [Code Pink, Women for Peace] group?"

And so I say about the most nonsensical thing possible: "Guess we all are, bye."

I know, I know. We all are what? Women? For Peace? Members of Code Pink. I was five or six steps away from him, turned towards the lighting aisle, but still tuned into his voice when I heard him say in this voice that sounded totally baffled but convinced:

"We sure are!"

It was good to agree, but what were we agreeing on?

An Ode to the Two-Bedroom Apartment

We must cull
what our lives,
and your walls,
cannot fit.
Room one,
room two.
Where I had a desk,
the baby sleeps,
so I write on the bed.
I must cherish
the multifunctional.
Not even room
for self-hate,
you therapist.

You don’t know
about my drawer,
the bottom one,
where I keep
useless things,
expired IDs,
campaign buttons,
and cassette tapes,
in sweet defiance
of your parsimony.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Opposite Day

I had a long day and missed the bus home, the last bus for the night. MaGreen had to pick me up. We didn't get to the apartment until ten pm. No time to cook, so we bought veggie burgers, french fries, and a Coke from the Burger King drive through.

BabyG enjoyed the break from being an exemplar of green.

She insisted that the cat try out this strange and exciting lifestyle her parents have somehow neglected introducing to her.

Here she is totally blissed out on ketchup and french fries.

May the Green Goddess forgive us.

Monday, April 09, 2007

O Quandary, Thy Name Is Electricity

I have been a Green Mountain Energy (GME) subscriber since before meeting GreenDaddy. I love getting the monthly bill that tells me that by using 404 Kilowat hours of wind electricity, I have saved 593 pounds of C02 Emissions from being released into the atmosphere -- the equivalent of 659 automobile miles not driven.

But in the excavation of our energy costs, it turns out we're paying a lot of money for the 100% wind energy. The average amount we pay, per month, is 17.2¢ KWh. If we went for the cheapest power company in Houston, we'd be paying about 11.2¢ KWh -- a difference of upwards of $40 per month or $480 a year.

So it feels good not dumping coal into the atmosphere, and bad thinking about how GME claims to cost the same as Reliant, the region's major power source. The truth is, there is no energy in Houston that costs as much as 100% wind from Green Mountain. I went to GME's website to research what was going on, and realized the deal that costs the same as Reliant is not 100% wind energy derived: it is 90% water/dam energy and 10% wind. Both are renewable energy sources, unlike coal, and if you sign up for a year contract, this plan is 14.3¢ kWh.

I would prefer dams to coal, but still. I hail from Utah, the land of many incredible, historic, unusual canyons erased forever by dams -- usually created to create recreational lakes. I grew up reading Edward Abbey. Dam energy isn't the renewable source I prefer...though, it certainly helps the budget out.

As a last resort to using dammed water, I sought out other electric companies in the area using 100% wind, thinking I wouldn't find any. But it turns out there are a few 100% wind plan offers including:

Commerce Energy: 14.8¢ kWh
Reliant: 15.4¢ KWh
Spark: 13.7¢ KWh

So my quandary is this:

I think:

Aren't these companies able to offer a reduced 100% wind rate because the majority of their sales are from coal, and the coal energy people offset the price of my wind?
Isn't it because of companies like GME, who invest money in alternative energy technologies, that these traditional providers are entering the green market?

And at the same time...Isn't it the goal of green energy to induce the mainstream providers to include green options...and eventually, to offer soley the green? So shouldn't I let these 'dirty' companies know I value their green options?

And at the same time...Shouldn't I support GME, who invests in soley green technologies. If they go out of business, what incentives do the others have to keep providing green solutions?

And at the same time...Shouldn't GME figure out a way to be more competitive in this market?

I don't know what to do. I do know we need to spend less on electricity. Of course, we're going to work on making the house itself more efficient, but I also want an efficient energy company.

So I'm trying to decide between 100% wind energy, my preferred energy source, from Spark and 100% renewable energy, mostly dammed water based, from my preferred provider GME.

Anybody have any information that might tip the scales of my indecision one way or the other?

Sunday, April 08, 2007


Robin, the illustrious author of The Other Mother, and her partner, Marcia, had us over for Passover Seder last week. I’d never been to a Passover Seder before and didn’t have any expectations ahead of time. At first, BabyG was happily dazed by the company of the other children – Pearl, Carrie, and Miles – and after about fifteen minutes she started playing. Robin and Marcia told us that they would keep the Passover ceremony short and child-friendly. Their tone was reassuring, as if I was thinking, “G-d, I hope it’s not going to be one of those long ones,” which I wasn’t thinking since I’d never been to one.

We all sat in a circle on the floor around a platter, in which several kinds of food were arranged. I can’t recall the ceremony exactly, but I remember eggs, parsley, horseradish, a sweet mix of apples and nuts, unleavened bread, a chicken bone, and wine. (I hope I didn’t miss anything.) Robin explained that each food had a symbolic significance connected to the Jews fleeing slavery in Egypt. Actually, she started off by explaining that Passover is for all people, not just Jews. All groups of people, she said, have experienced different high and lows in their histories. Then as we ate each kind of food, she explained how we might understand its significance. All this discourse took place in English. Later, when we sat down at the dinner table, Robin led the recitation of a few Hebrew prayers.

Though we apparently experienced an abbreviated Seder ritual, I found it very meaningful. Hindu rituals are almost never performed in English. Our wedding sacrament, for example, was in Sanskrit. I hope one day American Hindus can emulate the way American Jews have woven Hebrew and English together in their ceremonies. And I’m so impressed by the way Robin drew us into her tradition and expressed that tradition in an inclusive way. MaGreen and I have the ambition of doing the same with Holi next year.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Every Day is Kids' Day at the Bayou City Farmers' Market

Two of our friends wrote a great article about a farmer's market in Houston. They go by "keefski" on the internet. We got to know them when we were all organizing peace/anti-war events. They published their farmer's market article on the Houston Indymedia site. I think the article gets right to the core of what Green Parenting can be so I am republishing here. Enjoy!
It’s getting harder to see the food for the forest of non-food items at the big box food chains. Shoppers must weave their baskets around lawn furniture, seasonal displays, greeting cards, toys, and DVDs.

Grocery store shelves are lined with rows and rows of boxes and boxes of bleached out, dead, dyed, depleted substances, that have been “fortified” with "nutrients" defined by The Food and Drug Administration. The same entity that approved Vioxx® and Sacharin®. Packaging and branding are the food industries equivalent to spin and propaganda. The last thing the Agriculture Industrial Complex wants is a consumer who asks questions. What’s really in that colorful box? Where did it come from? How was it grown and should my children be putting it in their mouths?

So where does food come from? For starters, food comes from soil. Healthy soil is very complex. There are fungi that interact with minerals that interact with bacteria that interact with enzymes that interact with birds, beasts and bugs in a way that cannot be duplicated by the FDA’s selective fortification and Big Ag’s chemical fertilizers. The best food comes with the least amount of time between it being in the ground and it landing on your table. Take the quickest trip away from Monsanto’s mutants, Chiquita’s death squad hirelings, Wal-mart’s version of “organic,” and gigantic Dean’s Foods buying up every once-independent dairy farmer. Visit your local farmers’ market. You can put food on your family and have fun doing it. Vendors will gladly give you the dirt on their produce while the overhead PA plays live music. There is fresh coffee, cake and cookies as well as the freshest produce in town. There may even be a baby goat or two frolicking among the bokchoy.

A rainy March 31st was Kids Day at the Houston’s Bayou City Farmer’s Market. Below are pictures from the event.

Little shopper

This little cutie beat the drops in her best rain duds. The woman in orange is holding flowers grown without pesticides or herbicides. The commerical flower industry is a heavy user of both.

Babes at the market

A tuckered out chick gets a gentle tot tickle.


There were ducks, chickens and a rabbit for the kids to visit at the Bayou City Farmers Market annual Kids Day on March 31. But every day is Kids Day where you don’t have Monsanto lurking about.

Cooperative Neighbor Kids

Just a small sample of local produce you can put on your family, includes grapefruit from Pearland, tomatoes, fresh basil and eggs from Weimar, mushrooms from the Sealy area, a bar of handmade soap from Spring and oregano grown by students at Houston’s Kolter Elementary.

This Houston market is located at 3000 Richmond Ave. between Eastside and Kirby, in the back parking lot. Hours are, Saturday from 8:00 am - 12:00 pm, and Wednesdays from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Find a farmer's market near you (United States directory).