Sunday, December 28, 2008

Shadows of Consumption

In this economy and holiday season, we're all thinking about how our consumption is affecting our lives.

Peter Dauvergne, a professor at the University of British Columbia, has a new book linking consumer culture to the environment. Here's the description. Enjoy:

What are the environmental consequences of rising consumption? To answer this, Peter Dauvergne will present his just-published book The Shadows of Consumption (MIT Press), which explores five very different histories: automobiles; gasoline; refrigerators; beef; and harp seals. For centuries, the direct consequences of consuming have been degrading local ecosystems; but, as these histories show, this is just a fraction of the costs. With increasing intensity and range, he will argue, the globalization of “unbalanced” corporations, trade, and financing is casting shadows of consumption, displacing much of the costs of supplying consumers into distant places and times. Such a process of change obscures responsibility for resulting global patterns of harm, stimulates wasteful consumption among the wealthy, and exposes all consumers to health risks. Over time the environmental costs tend to drift into ecosystems and onto people without the power to resist, tipping into crisis, for example, the rainforests of Brazil, the Pacific Ocean, the Inuit in the Arctic, the poor of sub-Saharan Africa, and future generations.

This analysis, he will further argue, helps to explain why so many of the efforts to manage the global environment are failing even as environmentalism is slowly strengthening. Years of consultation are necessary to transform the consequences of consumption. As a way to begin, he will discuss the value of a guiding principle of “balanced consumption,” both for consumers and the global political economy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Still buying organic?

Appetite for organics sours in poor economy
December 19, 2008 - 9:58 PM

Market research firm NPD Group said the number of people who reported buying organic products fell 4 percent in August, compared with a year earlier. While more than one in five surveyed in the latest figures available from NPD purchased organic products, the August data represented the first customer losses for the sector since February 2006 - a decline that is expected to accelerate in the months ahead.

Many devotees of organic foods are not willing to cut back...loyalty to the organic foods movement helps explain why Hain Celestial Group Inc. of Melville, N.Y., which owns the Arrowhead Mills, Health Valley and dozens of other organic food and product labels, reported a $7 million profit in the quarter that ended Sept. 30 as sales grew 22 percent.

While I can understand why people want to save money on their grocery bill, my husband and I like to think of our spending on organic food as our "entertainment dollar." We are committed to continuing to buy organic for both personal and planetary health, as well as supporting local growers. We don't go out to eat as much as most families I know, and we put that "take out" budget toward our grocery bill. I also steer clear of packaged dinners and "prepared foods," where you can spend a lot of money very quickly. If you buy what's in season, shop the bulk bins, and cook from scratch, there is no reason to abandon organic foods in tight times.

Food for Thought and Action

From our friends at Grassroots International:

Dear Supporter,

As the holiday season approaches, many of us are looking forward to gathering around the dinner table with friends and family. Why not take this opportunity to share with your loved ones how they can join you in making a difference in the lives of millions around the world who are affected by the global food crisis?

Grassroots International and the National Family Farm Coalition recently published a free online resources called Food for Thought and Action: A Food Sovereignty Curriculum. This collection of education-for-action exercises and factsheets helps us understand how the food system works (and how it doesn't) and offers hopeful alternatives proposed by those most affected. Moreover, it provides a practical way to advocate for food sovereignty as we inform ourselves and those around us.

As we gather around the dinner table, let's not forget about the nearly one billion people around the world now facing hunger. Instead, take this opportunity to share the curriculum with your family, friends, school or faith organization.

During the season of hope and caring, join me in working to fix our broken food system. We can overcome the current food crisis and build a future where family farmers enjoy the right to feed their families, sell in local markets, and care for the environment -- and where consumers have access to healthy, reasonably-priced, local foods. Now that's something to be thankful for!

Monday, December 22, 2008

eCards from 1Sky

If you haven't gotten around to sending out holiday cards yet, or if you were waiting for the perfect time to send an e-card, check out these free e-cards from 1Sky.

Reality Campaign video

Check out this video from We Can Solve It. The Reality Campaign is a joint effort by the Alliance for Climate Protection, League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, and Sierra Club.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Commercialization of Childhood Index

If you think the kids in your life have a worse case of the "gimmies" than you had when you were little, here's why:
[these statistics are courtesy of The Center for Commercial Free Children. Incidentally, they (like all other non-profits out there) would love a donation this year.]

$500,000,000,000: The amount of money in purchases that children under twelve influence every year.

$17,000,000,000:  The amount of money spent to market to children, a staggering increase from $100 million in 1983. 

$3,400,000,000:  Revenue generated by the Disney Princess brand in 2006.  There are 40,000 Disney Princess items on the market today.

1,200,000,000:  Toys sold with kids' meals at fast food restaurants in 2006.

20,000,000:  Baby Einstein videos sold by Disney through 2006.  The American Academy of Pediatrics reccomends no screen time for children under two.

200,000:  The acts of violence, including 40,000 murders, that the average child will see on television by the time they are eighteen.

25,000:  Ads on television the average 2-11-year-old sees on television every year, a figure that does not include product placement.

4,151:  The number of product placements on the first thirty-eight episodes of American Idol

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Power of a Happy, Healthy Attitude

I got this email from my old gym today, and thought it was so great that I would pass it along. Remember, it's not stuff that makes you happy, it's the happy people around you!

Happiness Is Contagious
Do you ever wonder whether happy people have something that keeps them cheerful, chipper and able to see the good in everything? It turns out they do, they have happy friends.

New research from Harvard Medical School and the University of California suggests that happiness is influenced not only by the people you know, but by the people they know. The study shows that happiness spreads through social networks, sort of like a virus, meaning that your happiness could influence the happiness of someone you've never even met.

"We have known for a long time that there is a direct relationship between one person's happiness and another's," says study co-author James H. Fowler, PhD, University of California. "But this study shows that indirect relationships also affect happiness. We found a statistical relationship not just between your happiness and your friends' happiness, but between your happiness and your friends' friends' happiness."

They concluded that the happiness of an immediate social contact increases an individual's chances of becoming happy by 15 percent. The happiness of a second-degree contact, such as the spouse of a friend, increases the likeliness of becoming happy by 10 percent, and the happiness of a third-degree contact, or the friend of a friend of a friend, increases the likelihood of becoming happy by 6 percent.

Surround yourself with happy people, because happy friends can make you happy.

The Green Guide Holiday Eco Tips

National Geographic Green Guide tackles the issue of greening your holidays and has done your research for you - taking the guess work and stress out of the equation and letting you enjoy your holiday season!
Here are a few tips from Green Guide:
Low-energy LED lights are everywhere now and come in a variety of shapes, colors, sizes and price ranges. Look for them at any store where you are shopping for holiday decorations.
Get creative! Pull the family together, and make your own decorations from gingerbread cookies, cards, origami patterns, ribbons or the old favorite, the popcorn-and-cranberry garland.

SHOPPING: Make sure to buy safe toys - with this February 10, 2009, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act will ban the use of hormone-disrupting phthalates (used to soften plastics) and will enact tougher-than-ever lead standards.
The good news: Toys "R" Us and other retailers have already started complying with some of the new rules in advance.
The bad news: Since the new law will come after this holiday shopping season, expect deep discounts on toys that don't meet the new safety standards so stores can get rid of the inventory they won't be able to sell after February.
See for a comprehensive buying guide.

WRAPPING: There are quite a few recycled and tree-free wrapping paper options on the market. However, if you can't find any in your area, consider these options:
Cover a shoe box in this year's recycled gift wrap and use it over and over again every year.
Consider DIY wrap-use newspaper sections chosen to fit the personality of recipient (Travel, Arts, Style, etc.)  Or try using concert posters, t-shirts, or subway maps!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Food Democracy Now

Michael Pollan sent the following email to his subscriber list:
More than 40,000 people have signed the petition calling for a "sustainable" Secretary of Agriculture, and it's gotten the attention
of President-Elect Obama's transition team. 100,000 would REALLY turn their heads, so if you haven't already signed, or passed it on to other people interested in reforming the food system, please click here:

Be sure to check out and sign the Food Declaration too. There's a political opening RIGHT NOW and we need to seize it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Story of Stuff goes international

It's already been a year since the launch of The Story of Stuff - a tour through the materials economy that became an internet viral sensation. Now we've got something new to celebrate: The Story of Stuff has gone international and multi-lingual:

According to The Story of Stuff website:
Four and a half million English speakers have seen The Story of Stuff, but until now, the rest of the world has been left in the dark. There's no better time than the holidays to remind ourselves that happiness does not come from stuff, but from the riches of community connection and empathy for our planet and its living creatures. We hope you will get a little more happiness from sharing this message with your friends around the world:

Happy Holidays from Story of Stuff. If you don't find your language, and would like to help translate, please email us at:
"Subject line: Offer to translate: your language"
Or for general enquiries:
The 25 countries with the highest numbers of online viewers are listed below, with the number of views recorded in each.
1.    United States     2,627,202
2.    Canada     600,312                 
3.    United Kingdom     135,477                 
4.    Australia     100,454                 
5.    Mexico     98,384                 
6.    Germany     95,794                 
7.    Israel     84,897                 
8.    Brazil     83,037                 
9.    India     66,330                 
10.    Spain     60,624                 
11.    Portugal     46,427                 
12.    France     45,422                 
13.    Netherlands     43,971                 
14.    Romania     43,891                 
15.    Argentina     33,352                 
16.    Sweden     32,500                 
17.    Italy     31,648                 
18.    Singapore     27,105                 
19.    Turkey     24,746                 
20.    New Zealand     23,045                 
21.    Colombia     22,147                 
22.    Switzerland     21,673                 
23.    Belgium     19,927                 
24.    Austria     19,147                 
25.    Greece     17,08

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Faces of Renewable Energy

The Union of Concerned Scientists has a new great website dedicated to showing the Faces of Renewable Energy.

Too often we talk about these highly technical and detailed issues of climate change and energy, and we forget that real people are actually behind these amazing feats of innovation.

Learn more about the people behind renewable energy.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Top 10 Alternative Gifts for the Holidays

We put our heads together and created this list of alternative gifts for the holidays:

1) Charitable donation in a loved one's name. Visit Alternative Gifts International or your favorite non-profit's website to buy a gift on-line, or visit The Center for a New American Dream's website to see if there is an alternative gift fair in your area. You might talk with your family about pooling your money (everyone makes the same contribution) and donating it to a charity you all feel strongly about.

2) Give the gift of your time. The Buy Nothing Christmas website has cute coupons your can download for "2 Desserts made especially for you", "3 back massages especially for you," and "One free evening of child care." Or of course you can make your own for whatever you might be able to give.

3) Give experience gifts. Offer to take a child in your life for a day of sledding and hot chocolate, ice skating, swimming, or a drive/bus ride to someplace special.

4) Hold a literary Christmas. One of our readers submitted this idea: her family has agreed to each bring one of their favorite books that they've already read and have a book swap instead of exchanging high priced gifts.

5) Give something you already own. One of our members has a yearly ritual with his family where each person wraps up something that has meant a lot to them over the past year and passes it on to someone else in the family.

6) Make something special with your own two hands. Whether you are a knitter, a baker, a painter, or a music maker, your loved ones will appreciate your talents and the way you have shared them with others.

The following gifts are not exactly alternative in that you do have to buy some stuff, but they beat "Big Box" gifts:

7) Frame a photograph of an experience you've had with loved ones over the past year.

8) Give a museum or an aquarium membership to someone (this is the gift that keeps on giving).

9) Give a share in a CSA. Most of these memberships are way too expensive for one person to buy, but some farms will let you spend $30, $50, or $100 toward the CSA share.

10) Give other ecological gifts: rechargeable batteries, a solar powered flashlight, and/or LED lights are all examples of planet-friendly gifts.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Announcement: Gift It Up!

Gift it Up!
We are sorry to report that we are unable to hold our alternative gift fair, Gift it Up!, this year. Although our website is still up, it is disabled at this point. We are hoping to get back on track next year, so that we can continue to raise thousands of dollars for small non-profits, and spread the idea of alternative gifting, conscious consumerism, and sustainability.

Alternative Gifting
Even though we are not offering Gift it Up!, you can still give alternative gifts. Check out our blog on Alternative Gifts for the Holidays at for a great list, and please email us or post a comment about other ideas you may like to add. You can also visit Alternative Gifts International at to make a web donation to a non-profit in a loved one's name. If you'd like to attend a physical event, visit The Center for a New American Dream's registry of alternative gift fairs at