Kids these days.

June 24, 2009

Up to my elbows again in a brambly subject, via the Daily Score, the blogging arm of my hometown enviro-thinktank, the Sightline Institute. The topic? Population overdrive, and, more specifically, reproduction control.

Daily Score blogger Lisa Stiffler takes a look at Robert Engelman’s fascinating article in Scientific American, which pitches broad-based education as a means to slow population growth:

Worldwide, according to a calculation provided for this article by demographers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, women with no schooling have an average of 4.5 children, whereas those with a few years of primary school have just three. Women who complete one or two years of secondary school have an average of 1.9 children apiece — a figure that over time leads to a decreasing population. With one or two years of college, the average childbearing rate falls even further, to 1.7. And when women enter the workforce, start businesses, inherit assets and otherwise interact with men on an equal footing, their desire for more than a couple of children fades even more dramatically.

It makes simple sense that, if we reduce population, we’ll reduce greenhouse gas emissions (fewer people = less consumption), and thereby slow climate change. And, according to Engelman and his stats, “Women left to their own devices, contraceptive or otherwise, would collectively ‘control’ population while acting on their own intentions.”

High-five, Bob, for putting your faith in us girls. But is it reasonable? If we round up the ladies and send them through college, will baby booms be a thing of the past? Can education and family planning services trump religion, economics, ethnicity, tradition? How about instinct? What’s your take on this hot-potato topic?

Image via amy_b.


Not hope, at least according to researchers at Michigan Technological University. From TreeHugger:

Hope may actually be counter-productive, Vucetich and Nelson suggest. “I have little reason to live sustainably if the only reason to do so is to hope for a sustainable future, because every other message I receive suggests that disaster is guaranteed,” they explain.

Looks like the reason people should live Small is simply to do the right thing (Spike? You listening?). Not to ensure the future for their kiddies, not to save the world. Just to do good by their brothers and sisters — the farmers market vendor who grows their greens, the small business owner who’s just trying to make a living, the neighbor who’s not too keen on roosting wing-to-wing with a property-line hugging housemonster. We are the world, people.

So, what’s your reason for greening your lifestyle? Hope for a brighter future? Or a livable present?

Green Clean

February 13, 2009

This weekend, the Living Small house plays host to a pair of overnight guests, and deep clean is in the cards for this fine Friday the 13th. Of course, far from dousing the tiny house in harsh chemicals that fill our lungs and our water pipes, we’re cleaning green — think baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, etc.

So, for those in search of some green grime busters, here’s a primer from Inhabitots, who catalogued a few good recipes:

Window wash: “I am the viper and I’ve come to vipe your vindows!” Mix 3 tablespoons vinegar with 2 cups of water and spray on windows. Vinegar alternative: fresh lemon juice or club soda. If you’re going the soda route, you can use old newspaper to buff the glass; for lemon juicers, Inhabitots recommends a lint-free cloth.

All-purpose disinfectant: No more nasty Lysol! Mix 2 cups water, a few drops of natural soap (like Dr. Bronner’s), and 15 drops each of tea tree and lavender organic essential oil. Spray this on anything — counters, toilets, sinks, floors, walls, your sweetie. (Well, maybe not your sweetie.)

Toilet scrub: Spray the throne with vinegar, lemon juice, or your new all-purpose disinfectant. Then, sprinkle with baking soda. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Scrub with toilet brush. Ta-da!

Oven cleaner: Sprinkle table salt liberally on a hot spill (that is, one that’s new, not one that’s been around for three weeks). Once the oven is cool, sop up the spill with a damp cloth.

Mold fighter: Mold is the state flower of Washington. It is pervasive. To prevent it, mix 2 cups of water and 3 drops of pure organic tea tree essential oil (antiseptic! natural!). Spray walls once per week and wipe dry.

Faux Fir?

December 3, 2008

We’re hosting Christmas festivities at the Living Small house this year (a first!), and, naturally, we want to set up that most iconic of holiday decorations: the Christmas tree.

But which is Smaller: alive or undead? Should we hand over the cash for a one-use Spruce, or should we invest in an evergreen (n)evergreen? Well, kids, after making my list and checking it twice (thanks to a sleighful of topical pieces, particularly these at TreeHugger, Grist, and the San Francisco Chronicle), I’ve come up with the naughty and nice for both options:


Naughty: The live tree, which was helping absorb CO2 while it was in the ground, stops scrubbing the air upon felling. It likely is coated with pesticides, which can eke out into your house. (Fresh pine scent laced with chemicals? Delish.) The tree is often trucked into the heart of a city or township (carbon emissions!) and trucked back to your living room (more carbon emissions!); alternatively, you and your tree-hunting friends are trucked to the tree farm, pick, chop, and bale your fave, and then truck it back to the living room. This living tree requires water both in the growing stages and at home. It lasts for two, three weeks, maybe, and then has to be pitched. And, if composting isn’t an option, whether on your own property or through a municipal waste program, you may have to send your tree straight to that cruel cement vault — the dump.

Nice: Support your local farmer! Buying a tree from a local farm not only lowers your conifer’s carbon footprint, it also keeps your dollars local and bolsters agriculture in your community. Organic tree farms don’t treat their trees to chemical cocktails, so buying an unsprayed tree is fine for your indoor air quality, assuming no one has allergies. On a touchy-feely level, a real tree, with its attendant scent and tactility, is sentimental for many, and can boost happiness in this increasingly harried season.


Naughty: Three letters: PVC. (Done shrieking yet?) Turns out that fake trees are made of polyvinyl chloride, the kryptonite of, well, the Earth. PVC releases dioxins into the environment during manufacture, and it off-gasses, too, meaning that your Xmas tree could be secretly degrading your health. Plus, barrels of petroleum go into making and shipping these trees, most of which come from overseas. Fake trees are scentless, of course, so many come with or recommend the purchase of piney aerosol sprays, which contain nasty compounds. You might as well line your nose with Pine-Sol. And remember: fake trees aren’t real, even though they pretend to be. For as many “convincingly real!” trees as there are on the market, there is an equal (if not greater) number of convincingly unconvincing counterfeits.

Nice: No cutting required! The fake tree eliminates the annual trip to the tree farm, which cuts down on emissions, and it cuts down on water usage at home — and it’s (almost) infinitely reusable, which is one of the prime tenets of the Green movement. Plus, it doesn’t aggravate the allergic.

Granted, there are other roads: a live, potted tree; a vintage kitsch tree made of, say, pink aluminum; a handcrafted tree made of felt or balsa wood or found objects. Of course, going tree-free is the greenest option. Given what I know now, I think I’ll concede the green for a season and go trad: we’ll likely pick up a tree from the tree farm outpost stationed seven blocks away (assuming the farm is local and sustainably run) and carry it home on foot. Famous last words, right?

Do you celebrate Christmas? How do you decorate? Tree or no?

Photo: My mother-in-law’s adorable tree, Christmas 2007.

Want a chance to vacation in Vancouver, B.C. — for free? Now through October 29, Seattle-based Sightline Institute is sponsoring a Great Escapes sweepstakes, which will send one lucky winner (and guest) to Vancouver for a two-night, car-free getaway. All you have to do is sign up for Sightline’s daily email and/or weekly blog and news roundup. That’s it.

The package: Two Amtrak tix (Seattle to Vancouver), two nights at the artsy Listel Hotel, and dinner at both Chambar and Wild Rice (Green Table restaurants, of course). Plus, Sightline has “lined up some of our favorite car-free activities for you, such as biking in Stanley Park, visiting the Museum of Anthropology, and a city tour led by urban planning expert (and Sightline board member) Gordon Price.” Hoo-ee!

The logic: You want to read environmental news anyhow, right? And, if you’re in Seattle or the surrounding area, you definitely want to keep up on local enviro issues, correct? Then this is a no brainer. Here’s the post. Here’s the sign-up form.

Good luck!