Sunday, May 23, 2010

Green Festival 2010

I made my way down to Navy Pier this morning to attend this year's Green Festival, free pass in hand (thanks in part to the shelter where I volunteer). I went a few years back when it was at McCormick Place, and left with an entire bag full of free samples, including laundry detergent, energy bars, beauty products, and paper products. This year's Festival didn't disappoint, and in addition to restaurateurs, trade schools, and natural-products vendors, I noticed quite a few activists and non-profit organizations.

I spent some time chatting with the Environmental Law and Policy group based right here in Chicago, and filled out post cards to my senators and alderman to vote to close the coal plants operating near Pilsen and Little Village. I also picked the brain of a woman working to collect signatures for the Food and Water Watch, a group that was petitioning to have BP's Deep Water Atlantis rig shut down as well, because this well was missing even more safety records than the Horizon, which as we all know, blew up last month.

If I were a home owner, I would have enjoyed learning about geo-thermal energy, solar panels, eco-friendly windows and energy-efficient appliances, but for the time being I just scooted right past. There's a little something for everybody at this festival: fair-trade edibles (from chocolate to coffee) for the foodies; hemp purses and clothing for the tree-hugging hippies; one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry for the classy folk; organic t-shirts with clever quips or creative graphics for the hipsters; and volunteer/non-profit organizations passionately supporting some noble cause for the do-gooders, like me!

If you can't make it to Navy Pier this weekend, keep the 2011 festival on your radar; for anyone who's even remotely interested in all things environmental, it's worth the price of admission. And if you ride your bike or take public transit, that admission price will be reduced!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

If I Were President...

I really don't envy President Obama right now. Hundreds, thousands, or possibly millions (no one seems to know) of gallons of crude oil a day are gushing into the Gulf of Mexico right now, weeks after the Deep Water Horizon platform exploded and killed 11 workers, and there's no end in sight. People are scared and angry, myself included. We feel helpless because we don't know what to do, and many people want someone to blame.

While these feeling are completely justified, I'm afraid our anger is a little misdirected. Every time I see the live footage of that thick, nasty sludge spewing into the sea, I feel a bit nauseated myself. Many people are mad at the president for working with BP and for not making more of a presence in the coastal regions that have been most affected. And others want to channel their anger into a boycott of BP. Neither approach is going to bring about the solution we crave.

Yes, Obama has been relying heavily on BP for the solution to this problem, and all their hair-brained schemes to date have focused more on recovering their precious commodity rather than stopping the actual flow of oil into the Gulf. That makes me mad, too, but I realize the president has to work with them; their people are some of the only ones on the planet who have the knowledge and expertise to shut off this well. The president certainly can't don scuba gear and swim a mile down to the ocean floor with a wrench in one hand and a giant lid in the other and fix the pipe himself!

President Obama has spent a great deal of time meeting with experts and organizing aid and response; he has already deployed more than 17,000 National Guard to the Gulf, and has provided additional military vessels and equipment to aid in clean-up efforts. He is also pushing his clean energy agenda harder than ever, and although it isn't providing the instant gratification people crave, it is the best long-term solution to ensuring that a tragedy like this doesn't happen again. Much more aid is on the way to Gulf residents, but the seemingly slow response isn't apathy on the part of the president, it's because of our tri-cameral government. If you want to be mad at a president, direct your anger toward our forefathers, who designed this system of checks and balances and bureaucratic red tape that is holding up the Federal aid package.

Equally ludicrous is the small but boisterous movement to boycott BP gas stations. This is ineffective for a number of reasons. In the short term, the only people a BP boycott will hurt will be the local gas station owners and workers, most of whom are not even directly affiliated with BP. Also, BP gasoline is sold under many names, not just British Petroleum. Who knows where Huck's or Meijer's or Sam's Club gets their gasoline? And ultimately, if a boycott of BP were to succeed, the company could potentially go bankrupt. This would be the worst outcome of all, because they would no longer have to pay to clean up the enormous mess they've made. We're the ones who have created such a high demand for gasoline; we the people of the U.S. of A, making up only 2% of the world's population, use more than 20% of the world's oil. We're the ones who want the oil, and it has to come from somewhere. Our best revenge would be to reduce our individual consumption, thus making the need for deep sea drilling unnecessary.

That said... If I were president, I would acknowledge peoples' feelings of heartbreak, helplessness, and outrage, and channel those emotions into clean-up efforts and other solutions. I would highlight environmental non-profits that are already in the marshes and on the beaches that don't have to sift through the same bureaucratic bull sh*t that the government does, and encourage people to donate or volunteer. I would demand that BP hire any out-of-work fisherman, shrimper, or oyster trawler with a boat who wants to pull a skimmer or lay out booms or shovel tar balls off the beach, because I guarantee you there is no one on this planet with a more vested interest in getting this spill cleaned up than those whose livelihoods depend on the waters of the Gulf. I would insist that all the aid and relief workers-- military and civilian alike-- stay in the hotels and eat at the restaurants that have been hardest hit to keep the local economy afloat.

In short, I would try to turn this nation's anger into action. We can sit around and be as angry as we want, but if all we do is sit around and kvetch nothing will ever get done. Unfortunately, I won't be eligible for the presidency until 2016 (so save your votes!), but I can encourage everyone I know to be part of the solution, which will empower us all to deal with the problem.

BP logo image: © BP p.l.c.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Hair Soaks up Oil Spills!

I stumbled on this video a day too late to badger my own hairdresser to participate in this project, but there's still time for all of you to pester your stylists and barbers (and even pet groomers!) This awesome and innovative non-profit, Matter of Trust, takes hair and fur trimmings (and even fleece and feathers!) that salons, farms, and groomers package up and mail in from around the country and turn them into hair mats and booms, which are in turn used to soak up oil.

In light of the devastating spill in the Gulf caused by the explosion of BP's Deep Water Horizon well, donations are needed now more than ever! Oil continues to gush from this broken well and is making its way toward the shores of our southern states. I feel powerless to help all the way up here in Chicago, but sending money and supplies to agencies and non-profits that do have the ability to help makes me feel like I'm being part of the solution. The group also accepts donated nylons as well as monetary donations to cover operating costs.

For a demonstration of how these hair mats and nylon booms work in the battle against spilled oil, check out the video posted above, and consider asking your hair person to support this creative, timely, and very worthwhile cause.