Wednesday, September 10, 2008

the answer for hot, flat, and crowded? green.

yesterday i was at barnes & noble, enthusiastically picking up a copy of thomas friedman's new book, hot, flat, and crowded. i talked to the cashier about it briefly after he said a lot of people had come in to buy the book. that made me really happy. friedman is an extremely prescient man, and his columns in the new york times are always enlightening and forward-thinking. his 2005 book the world is flat is an amazing look at the current state of globalization, how we got there, and where it's going.
as he finished my transaction, the cashier began to put my book into a bag. 
"oh, i don't need a bag," i told him.
"following in line with the theme of the book!" he said, and bid me goodbye.
it reminded me of something i wrote in one of my ucla classes, and prompted me to post it here. while it is by no means an earth-shattering solution, it's a way to approach daily life and try to contribute less to the problems that will shape the future.

How to Decrease Waste Without Losing Much at All

I like to think of myself as conscientious. I care about my impact on the environment, but I’m by no means Captain Planet. I feel guilty drinking bottled water, but will reach for one if I’m thirsty. I bought a carbon offset for my car, but sometimes drive a quarter-mile to McDonald’s.
Even so, whenever I see the 65-gallon trash can my roommates and I fill to the brim every week (and the equally large recycle bin we only fill every couple), I marvel at how much we consume, and especially how much we throw away.
I challenged myself to do better. Finding miniscule changes that started to add up, I made reducing waste a game. And if we all started playing, it’s our landfills that would win.
The rules are simple. Give yourself points anytime you stop something from going in the garbage—either by diverting it, or never using it at all. Ready to play?


Use dryer balls. These nubby do-dads tumble around in your dryer, eliminating static cling and the need for dryer sheets. 2 pts per load
Clean green. Use reusable sponges and cloths rather than disposable wipes or paper towels. Instead of buying a new spray bottle every time, look for concentrates and refills. Cleaning solutions like Oxiclean and Simple Green are biodegradable, too. 1 pt per wipe, 2 per bottle
Give your postal worker a break. Opt out of junk mail, pay bills online, and request e-statements whenever possible. Reuse envelopes for shopping and to-do lists. 1 pt per bill


• Coffee like you care. If you can’t go a workday without coffee, you toss about 250 paper cups a year. Use a mug instead. And for a little extra brown-nosing, use one with your company’s logo on it. Purchase a mesh coffee filter to avoid using paper ones. Going out? Starbucks and Barnes & Noble give discounts to patrons who bring their own mug. 1 pt per filter or cup
• Print sparingly. Send directions to your phone. Use PowerPoint instead of handouts. Print double-sided when you can. Save copies for notepaper when you can’t. 1 pt per page


Eliminate receipts. Most ATMs and gas pumps have a no-receipt option. The Apple Store even offers to email your receipt. ½ pt per receipt
• Canvas the neighborhood. Most grocery stores and major chains offer incentives for using canvas bags. Even better, you’ll save huge amounts of closet clutter. Throw loose items like apples or tomatos in the tote, and save another bag in the produce section. And tell the clerk, “I don’t need a bag,” whenever you don’t. 2 pts per bag
Pretend trash cans say, “No, thanks,” and not “Thank you.” Fast food creates a lot of waste with its wrappers, cups, and boxes. So when eating out, cut where you can. Do you need a lid on your cup? Can you use a tray rather than taking it to go? Do you really need 50 napkins? ½ pt per item

Make these tiny changes into habits, and you’ll never look at trash the same way again.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

sex ed for kindergarteners

John McCain and Sarah Palin are pro-choice—at least when it comes to schools. They say that “parents should be able to decide the learning environment that is best for their child.”

But a recently released McCain ad lambasts Barack Obama’s achievements in comprehensive sex education, scoffing at the idea of “learning about sex before learning to read” and concluding that Obama is “wrong on education… wrong for your family.”

Excuse me, but shouldn’t parents be able to decide?

After all, every parent is a sexual being. But more than likely, their sexual activity didn’t begin with a marriage vow. Government data show that not only do 9 out of 10 people engage in premarital sex, but that the rate of premarital sex has been consistent for over 50 years. Even Sarah Palin can’t claim she saved herself for marriage; she gave birth to her eldest son only 8 months after eloping.

Parents understand that just as babies discover their fingers and toes, they also discover their genitals. They know that on every playground, toddlers are aware of the biological differences between boys and girls.

Age-appropriate sex ed helps shape healthy attitudes about gender roles, teach communication, and heighten capacity to build relationships. And as children progress into adolescence, they need complete, medically accurate information on the values of abstinence, the use of contraception, and the risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STI).

But even though only 10% of the nation’s school districts teach comprehensive sex ed, McCain wants to rob parents of that choice completely. Since the 1980s, McCain and his cronies have forced abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) programs on parents, students, and public schools, spending $1.5 billion in the process. Palin has echoed these sentiments, writing “The explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support.”

Of course, we all know how well that turned out. Bristol Palin’s pregnancy is national news, and her boyfriend Levi Johnston had to shut down his Myspace page because it stated “I don’t want kids.” No matter how the McCain camp spins it, if Alaska’s school system had encouraged safer sex practices, Bristol and Levi might not be expecting one.

But if Bristol Palin isn’t evidence enough that abstinence-only doesn’t work, try a 2007 Health and Human Services study that says just that. Of the more than 700 federally funded AOUM programs, the evaluation looked at only four. These four programs were handpicked to show positive results—and still failed.

If McCain hopes to overturn Roe v. Wade, and remove a patient’s choice to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, then he needs to do more to ensure young people never have to face that choice. He needs to advocate real efforts to curb teen pregnancy and reduce the number of teens who have an STI (currently 1 in 4).

Instead, when a reporter asked McCain whether he thought contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV, he replied, after a long pause, “You’ve stumped me.”

And if McCain is stumped, then the choice for parents who want real sex education for their kids should be crystal clear.