I Hope.

Another year, another time for reflection. Did I accomplish the things I set out to do? In many ways, it was a changing year in my life, where I modified my habits and my thinking and my way of living. I saw the world in a different light. I saw the challenge before us, and stepped forward to make a change. I held on to a desperate hopefulness, that the changes I was making would make a difference, somewhere, somehow, beyond my little life, outside my little house.

So did they? I poured so much effort into these changes. I built a garden, not knowing how, but learning along the way. I started making bread and most other things from scratch. I preserved mountains of food, built a cold room… So many projects, so many brand new experiences, all with one goal, all with one end – to reduce the environmental footprint my household has on this fragile world, with the hope and the dream that I could inspire others to do the same.

Over the last couple days, as my hands were busy with these household tasks – kneading bread, hanging laundry on the line – my mind was free to wander and contemplate it all. Were my efforts effective? Has it been worth it?

Sometimes, I waver. I wonder if it is worth fighting for, if the story has already been written. Are the forces against us are just too strong, too well-funded, too entrenched? Will it all not matter in the end anyway? After all, the changes require a such a cultural shift. We will need to define ourselves as citizens instead of consumers, as neighbours instead of individuals, and as part of nature instead of against nature.

Are we up to the task? Can we rise to the challenge? Can we transcend our fate?

I hope.

So for this brand new year, I march on.  How can I use my life to make this world a better place?  I have drawn up a list of 10 resolutions, as I did last year:

  1. Learn to make soap with a friend
  2. Crochet clothes for my family – slippers, hats, mittens, scarves, sweaters
  3. Expand the garden – grow more food
  4. Expand food preservation – canning, dehydrating and possibly get a pressure canner
  5. Hatch a plan for making/sourcing gifts throughout the year
  6. Increase insulation of the house and add weather-stripping
  7. Join an environmental organization
  8. Write 26 letters to leaders
  9. Get a bike and ride it
  10. Live for today.

What do you resolve to do this new year? Does it bring positive change to your life or to our world?

I leave you with an inspiring song by the Dixie Chicks – I Hope.

Our children are watching us,
They put their trust in us,
They’re gonna be like us.
So let’s learn from our history
And do it differently.

Happy New Year everyone. J

Going Green 1: Coffee

Generally, coffee is not the most environmentally friendly beverage. This is something we don’t really want to admit, because we love our coffee. We drink it first thing in the morning, we use it as an excuse to go out with friends, we love the smell of it when is brewing and how it can perfectly finish off a fancy meal.

But alas, it is grown in the rainforest, or where rainforests used to be.

It is also grown really far away.

It also has some of the worst abuses for child labour, similar to chocolate.

Booo.

But that being said, there are things you can definitely do to make your cup of coffee more green. Are you ready for the sliding green scale?

Dabbler

Don’t use a stir stick. That is it. Just don’t use one. Let the cream and sugar just mellow with the coffee. There is no need to take a piece of wood or plastic and then throw it away 3 seconds later. Let it mellow.

Beginner

Swear off paper cups and invest in a few reusable travel mugs. I like mine so much I use them around the house. They keep my coffee hotter longer, plus they hold more. Not only that, most coffee shops give you a 20 cent discount for using a travel mug. Seriously. As an added bonus, if you don’t use a stir stick as per the above, it is pretty easy to just snap the lid shut and give it a little swirl. So drink your coffee, garbage free. Here are some tips:

  • You will forget your mug. After you make this commitment you will be standing in line at a coffee shop and you will realize that you have forgotten already. This happened to me. Try to resist the urge to buy yet another travel mug on the spot. I walked away folks, I walked away.
  • If you forget your mug and you don’t have the strength to walk away, consider ordering a shot of espresso in a little ceramic cup. This is what they do in Italy, I saw it with my own eyes. Some coffee shops there have no seating at all, just a bar where people stand as they shoot back their espresso and then continue on their way. At the time I thought this was weird. Now I realize how efficient it is. A shot of espresso seems to satisfy my coffee fix, and actually tastes pretty good if you add a little sugar (no stir stick). Plus I feel all cool and European. Usually the girl I am ordering it from doesn’t know what I am talking about. Esspresso? Only? In what kind of cup? Ceramic? Persevere and you will get what you want. It is fun to try something different!
  • Now if you forget your mug and have a bit of time, order it in a ceramic mug to stay. Then sit and read the paper or look out the window for a while. You deserve it.
  • Keep a travel mug at the office, or in your car, or in your bag. If you forget, no problem.
  • Set an example for all your co-workers. Use your travel mug or a ceramic mug. Let them feel the shame of using paper, day after day, week after week.

Intermediate

Choose rainforest alliance, fair trade, organic and shade grown coffee. It is hard to get all 4 of these things in the same coffee, and there is some overlap between them. I try and get as many as I can, and choose coffee with certifications that mean the most to me:

  • Rainforest Alliance – This certification is most comprehensive, as it addresses environmental protection, social equity and economic viability all at once. To be certified, farms must meet standards set by the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN). Child labour and slave labour are prohibited. The use of pesticides is discouraged and there are limits on the types of agrichemicals that can be used. Soil conservation and water conservation methods are employed. Wildlife is considered and protected. It really is a comprehensive standard, but the resulting product is not completely organic.
  • Fair Trade – fair price to farmers and most importantly, child labour was not used in the production of the coffee. As with chocolate, if it is not fair trade, then most likely child labour was used to produce it.
  • Organic – free of pesticides, so less chemicals for you and less chemicals in the lives of the farmers that picked the beans for you. Also – less chemicals for the soil and the insects and the birds and the wildlife and the ecosystem…. you get the picture.
  • Shade grown – grown within the rainforest, under the canopy, so that the rainforest can still flourish and farmers can still farm their beans. This has the permaculture, edible forest idea that I love, it feels natural, holistic. Plus those rainforests need all the help we can give them.

So for me, I will always choose fair trade, since I worry about the children. It trumps my climate change concern, which is a pretty big deal for me. If it is fair trade and something else, I will buy it. I can normally find fair trade organic pretty easily, or rainforest alliance (which has a fair trade component).

These coffees seem to be only available as beans. So if you don’t have one, you will have to get a coffee bean grinder. This is a bonus, since freshly ground coffee is the best. For extra points, get a hand grinder. My sister has one, and I give her props.

Hardcore

Write letters to your local coffee shops (or multi-national chains, you know the ones) asking that they only use fair trade, organic, rainforest alliance, shade grown coffee, clearly marked. Tell them that coffee farmers deserve a decent living and that they should not be associated with coffee that uses child labour. Tell them that the other coffee shops are doing it, and you would hope that they would do it too, so as to maintain your business. Write one letter and send it many places, over and over. Email is easiest. It doesn’t have to be a perfect letter either. Just whip it off and send it. You would be surprised at the impact, especially if you send it locally. It may stimulate discussion among management. You will be placing additional straw on the camel’s back. It will feel good. I promise.

Ultimate

Stop drinking coffee. Crazy I know. I don’t think I could do it. Maybe you can. No Impact Man did it, as did the 100-Mile Dieters. But they did it as a year-long challenge, and got to talk about it in their books. This did inspire me but I still don’t think I could do it. Local mint tea anyone?

Bonus

Use a hand powered coffee grinder like my sister. She works for her coffee, and it tastes better somehow.

Use a reusable coffee filter.

Compost your coffee grounds. They are great for the garden!

So what do you think? Where do you fall on the sliding green scale – dabbler, beginner, intermediate, hardcore or ultimate? Any change for the green is a good change, no matter how small. So take the poll!