Monthly Archives: August 2013

protagonist parting words

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Chapter 3 is about to close and I have to admit, I am a little relieved. Andy and Kermit were right! It really isn’t easy being green. Being asked to chart my every move, every dollar and watching how my decisions impact both my immediate physical environment and the greater eco-system has been eye-opening and quite frankly upsetting. I had always considered myself someone who cared about the environment and thought my habits were not so harmful but I now realize, after monitoring my actions, just how hypocritical and inconsistent I can be. I purchase local meat, veggies and fruit but also buy wine from Spain and Italy, avocados from Peru and clothes made in Cambodia. I’ll save energy by choosing the lifestyle of living on a boat but don’t choose the lifestyle in which I don’t need a car to go to work. I’ll compost my food product waste but will waste gas driving to a place that I can dispose of my compost. Trying to make positive choices has not been a simple process.

But alas this month ends, and I am free of this personal eco-awareness experiment. I no longer have to count each mile I drive, how many minutes my showers run, and how many times I flush a toilet. I no longer will track all this information in a publicly viewed spreadsheet nor am I accountable to my Living Chapter writer Andy. Phew, I made it through! But really, am I free of the consequences of my choices because this part of my project is over? Aren’t we all accountable to each other when faced with these environmental issues? Is this not something we are all going to have to deal with together at some point? Unfortunately we cannot all be free from the outcomes of the choices we make at the end of this month. The real implications of our habits and decisions have a much greater impact than winning or losing Andy’s Cap and Trade game.

So even as the month ends, I am still struggling with a lot of difficult questions that were raised over the past four weeks. How do we convince our society to make changes as a whole? Can we separate our environmental issues from our social justice and economic class divide issues? How do we change our educational structure to include environmental practices…umm I could go on.

So I may not have answers to any of these bigger questions but the good news is this: I have learned some things about myself this month.

On the practical side: I can actually do a lot myself to make a difference. And in the simple altering of my daily habits I actually realized that these changes were really not that difficult and have been good for me personally along with being better for the environment. When I save energy/water I am saving money. When I am eating organic and local foods, I am eating healthier. There are a ton of easy and practical tools and ideas for everyday folks to learn how to make better choices for ourselves and more efficient choices with our resources.

On the philosophical side: I gained a lot of insights writing and enacting my “opinion pieces”. Reflecting on what I care about most and engaging strangers in dialogue about their concerns and ideas, brought me much closer to pin-pointing and understanding what my own role could be in helping to better our environment.

I realized that my greatest advocacy tool is my ability to listen. Through listening and community engagement I can make a much larger impact by bringing new voices and greater awareness to any issue than by just sharing my own voice alone. Any change starts with one person caring about something and making conscious choices to do something about it. My hope is that engaging people to examine themselves, their motives, and their environments more closely will make them want to advocate and protect the things they care about.  I think that if we don’t start spending time finding out what others care about and are motivated by we may never motivate enough people to join the collaborative efforts we need to move forward.  So I will continue to ask of others opinions!

In my public opinion piece, I asked a stranger on the street to share with me what he thought the best solution was for engaging people in environmental advocacy issues. He responded with this quote.

“An affordable solution to environmental problems is mindful awareness.”

This left a lasting impression on me. I agree entirely and feel that our own mindfulness really is the first place in which we can start working on this issue. I think we all could afford to become a bit more mindful in general (and especially concerning our environment). Let’s start as individuals and model our practices and habits as a community.

I want to thank Andy for pushing me to become more intentional and mindful in my own actions this month as well as asking me to reflect upon my own opinions and what I care about.

AC and BB

8/31/13

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can i ask your opinion?

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In response to being asked to create “opinion pieces” on environmental advocacy issues this month, I started thinking critically about what my opinions are on advocacy in general and what my approach would be in advocating an issue.  In my last opinion piece posted, I mentioned that I consider asking other’s opinions and listening to others perspectives as my own form of advocating.  I believe engaging people in dialogue is the first and most important step in bringing attention to any issue so I thought I would give it a go. I have been out of practice talking to the public and have not engaged with my actual environment (downtown Annapolis) since I arrived here 5 months ago, so I thought I would do both of these things for the creation of my second opinion piece. The photos below are documentation of the opinion experiment I conducted in the Annapolis Harbor.

My focus topic: Advocacy

My first question: “Can I ask your opinion?”

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My second question: “If you had to convince someone to believe something or do something that you really cared about, what would you do first? Would you listen to their opinion on the topic, or would you share your opinion about why you believe what you believe?”

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My third question: If you were going to advocate for or against one environmental issue what issue do you care about most and want to bring awareness to?

The answers:

Out of the 42 people who I talked with, 29 people said they would LISTEN first than before sharing an opinion when trying to advocate a position and 13 people said they would SHARE first then listen. When I asked “why listen first?” Some people expressed the desire to have the last word in a conversation saying that the last thing heard is what would stick the most. However, the majority of the people I talked to said that finding out where the other person was coming from first would give them a better understanding of how to communicate their own opinion to them.  One person made the comment that first there MUST be even a common fundamental understanding and knowledge around the issue at hand before trying to convince them on any topic one way or the other.  How might someone be convinced to buy organic vegetables if they have spent their entire lives growing up in the inner city and have never set foot on a farm? Or if they have never shopped in a place where they organic vegetables are even offered?

About half of the people who stopped to give their opinions stayed to have a longer conversation with me and shared their own perspectives and concerns on environmental issues.  Below are some ideas and questions that they brought up in conversation and wanted to bring awareness to.

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Here are a few more opinions….

“An affordable solution to environmental problems is mindful awareness”

“How can we reduce our waste/impact on the environment?”

“As the population grows, how can we find a way to decrease air pollution?”

“How do we get everyone on board in supporting environmental policies? A forceful change? Are affordable ways really affordable?”

“How much gas are we really using?”

“Is overpopulation an environmental issue?”

“Take the politics out of decision-making concerning the environment”

“Convert chicken waste into fuel/energy (md specific)”

So you might be asking what did I find in doing this short-lived experiment? What was the result or outcome?  Well,  I am not sure there is a specific outcome, as I was not searching for one.  It definitely was not a scientific experiment of any sort devised to solve any problems.  My goals were to engage people in dialogue about their advocacy methods and to find out specifically what people care about concerning the environment.  And I think I did both just by asking for their opinions.

What about you… what is your opinion?  Would you share your ideas and knowledge first when advocating a position or would you listen to another persons perspective first? And what environmental issues do you feel passionately about to advocate for or against.  Please share your feedback here or on the Living Chapters Facebook page

Photos below are brought to you by my good friend Howard who came out to document my experiment – THANK YOU to everyone who stopped to talk to me for participating.

8/28/13

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IMHO

As a part of this month’s chapter challenges, I was asked to write opinion pieces on environmental advocacy issues. When I read this request, I have to admit I cringed.

I am not an op-ed writer, a scientist, or a researcher. I have never studied ecology issues, botany, climate change, sea –level rise, or any topics related to the environment. There are a lot  of people out there advocating about things that they just don’t know that much about and I vowed when starting this blog that I was not going to become one of them.  This blog was created for the purpose of sharing and questioning my personal beliefs rather than advocating or  convincing others to believe or adopt my beliefs.

With that said, it does not mean I do not have opinions to share and that I don’t care about environmental issues. I have very strong opinions about the environment, the work that I do and advocacy in general. I just prefer to share them in dialogues or in informal blog posts rather than in op-ed letters.  More importantly, I believe that anyone who advocates their opinions in public should have a solid knowledge of the topic they’re discussing or equal personal experience to base their ideas on. I admittedly do not possess the knowledge on either topic of “water quality in the Chesapeake Bay” or “natural gas extraction”. So, sorry to say, I will not be fulfilling this particular “Living Chapters” task in the way that it was suggested.

I will however share some of my opinions on advocacy with you. I believe in advocacy. I think it works when there is complete dedication, knowledge and passion behind it.  Advocating is very much like campaigning – using all your efforts and networks to help others understand why you believe what you believe. Often it comes off negative, saying that the person or groups that you are trying to reach, are in the wrong. Can you tell me how you feel when someone says that your heartfelt belief about something is wrong? In my opinion, it is not a good way to try to get anyone to come around to understanding your way of looking at things. (think about the political campaigns in the past 10 years, did any of those candidates reach you with any of their campaign strategies?)

In my opinion, the key to good advocacy work is engaging people with the topics in which you are advocating. Connect with your target audience and engage them with the advocacy issue(s) in a personal way. Find out what your audience cares about and why they care before telling them what they should believe.

Advocate by asking.

So if I had to advocate for anything? I would advocate listening.  I believe listening, followed with dialogue are the two crucial elements in moving toward collective change and problem solving of any kind.

Throughout my entire career, my work has often been confused with direct advocacy work because of the nature of the topics I have focused on and the populations that I have worked with. Topics have included: education and youth, social justice, homelessness, eminent domain, drug addiction, diversity, and the environment. The focus and goal of my work has been to encourage people within the communities I work in to use their own voices and engage with the issues that are important and relevant to them. The key has always been finding out what is important to them.

I find that I am actually pretty good at doing this. It may seem like a weakness to some people, but I believe that one of my biggest talents is my ability to “not advocate” or share my individual voice or strong opinion on issues. In other words… I am a good listener.

This trait alone has enabled me to be welcomed into a variety of organizations, groups, cultures and communities. Being open neutral and welcoming to any and all perspectives when encountering those with different ideas and opinions than my own, has provided me with numerous learning opportunities.

I cannot tell you how many times I have gained trust, built a relationship and gotten further into dialogue with someone by simply asking them to share their opinions before sharing my own. If you are genuinely interested in hearing and learning about someone else they will genuinely express themselves, open up to you and become more willing to listen and engage honestly.

My background in practicing this skill is what most likely landed me my current job at the Maryland Humanities Council. I was hired on to develop one, of their many, dialogue programs Practicing Democracy. This program uses the humanities (film, speakers, literature, and media) to bring Marylanders together for civic dialogue around polarizing community issues. The main challenge in developing this program is to create a place for ALL opinions and voices to be heard and shared in neutral and safe spaces. Another challenge is engaging those diverse voices in the dialogue who have not previously been involved. How do you get people with opposing opinions to really listen to one another?  And if they do come together can they find any common ground?

Well, the jury is still out on both of these questions as we are still experimenting in the ongoing evolution of the program. But in the three years doing these dialogue experiments, I have learned this: The desire for dialogue and thee need for a neutral convener is present. In each of our programs, we have been successful in bringing diverse voices to the table and we have been successful in highlighting and bringing new awareness to the chosen community dialogue topics. How did we do this? We asked for opinions and we asked for personal stories. To succeed in our goals of bringing diverse voices and perspectives together, we needed to leave advocating for or against issues out of the picture entirely. Instead we focused on community engagement, listening to what people cared about and inviting as many people as possible into the discussion no matter what their opinion was.

So yes, I have heard a lot of opinions in my work and have diligently kept my own mouth shut in order to do so. (Although sometimes not an easy task) Through this process I have learned to accept that everyone has their own truth. Some truths are backed by facts or numbers (science) some by personal life or work experience, some are based in faith and some are based in nothing I can understand or agree with. What I do understand though is that if you tell someone their truth is wrong and your truth is right before listening to them, a dialogue is not possible. Without dialogue a compromise is not possible, and without compromise collective change is less likely. And as far as the advocating for the environment – I believe we can all make individual choices and changes. This will help on a small-scale and at a slow pace. But if we want to see monumental progress we need to figure out how to work together and change collectively. And in my humble opinion, if we are going to start working together we have to start listening to one another first.

8/26/13

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lost in the supermarket? go fishing!

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It’s only been a few days since I have been tracking my spending habits and I am convinced that almost every decision and purchase that I make has some kind of negative impact on the environment. My mind is spinning with all sorts of questions. Where was the item made? How did it travel here? What is it made of and who made it? What are the different ingredients in it? I thought I was going to have a panic attack standing in the aisles of the local Giant food store peering at all the endless items lining the shelves that I couldn’t buy without racking up the anti-environment points (and guilt for making poor choices). There were very few things for sale that didn’t have wasteful packaging, foreign chemicals, or wasn’t imported from across the world. The only reason I made it out of the store point free is because I gave up and didn’t buy anything.

Who knew shopping would become as complicated a process as hunting down your own food. I started thinking about what I would do if I had to hunt down food sources in this area of the world. What could sustain me? Well besides being surrounded by a ton of fine restaurants, I am surrounded by water after all. Fishing seemed like a much better idea than dumpster diving for fancy food leftovers.

A few weekends ago my friend and fellow liveaboard Suzanne invited me out on her boat for the afternoon. We dropped anchor and made an effort at catching our lunch. I was curious about what kind of fish were living in the waters I have been floating on. I did not fare so well with the fishing but the friends with me caught quite a few – unfortunately not big enough to keep and eat. All of them were croakers (not dead fish – that is their actual name! they make a unique croaking sound when out of water – I guess I would too, if I was hanging from a hook by my mouth)

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Anyway, the outing inspired me to eat more fish for dinner. Even though I didn’t catch any fish, I did hunt these croakers down at the local Annapolis Seafood Market. The salesmen there are very knowledgeable, friendly, and gave me great cooking and recipe advice as well. I have become an instant fan of this place and have been back a few times, trying a few different kinds of local fish. AND the local fish were less expensive! It was the first frugal find in this eating local adventure.

So besides the Annapolis seafood market, my other favorite green shopping experience has to be my local farmer’s market that is a short walk from the marina I live in. This time of year is amazing for it! Good weather, good food and good people. I found yogurt made with raw milk, fresh fruit, free-range local eggs beautiful veggies and local grass-fed beef burgers. Finally, a place where all of my choices were good choices!

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I came home very happy with my purchases but couldn’t help realizing that I spent double than I would have at the grocery store. Yes I do believe that better food and healthier food is worth the extra money but I also am realistic in saying that if I did make this a habit I would have to sacrifice my spending elsewhere or will just have to start making more $$ weekly. Both doable goals but will take more planning and intention.

So how can I continue to eat well without breaking bank?

Well a few other ideas surfaced when visiting Easton MD, my former neighborhood on the Eastern Shore of MD (where a lot of the local produce comes from in Annapolis). Making this drive across the Bay Bridge racked up my “cap and trade” points for the day, but it was well worth the trip. I was able to visit my favorite fair-trade local coffee shop Rise Up coffee and also catch up with some great friends. I stopped in to see future Living Chapters wild card Doug Sadler and his wife Linda before heading back to Annapolis. Doug and I worked on a story telling/dialogue project (Let’s Be Shore) on land use, agriculture and water quality issues last year when I was living in Easton. He and his wife were interested in hearing how my “environment” chapter was going. While there I got to meet Linda’s sister Jena who works for the organic farm Cottingham Farm in Easton MD. She dropped by bringing bags and bags of beautiful organic vegetables. I was lucky enough to be invited to stay for dinner and got to taste test some of them! YUM. It was really great to talk with Jena about her job at Cottingham Farm. It made me realize that if I felt organic veggies were too expensive to purchase all the time maybe I could get a job or trade my time and volunteer at a farm. Or I could sign up for a CSA (a community supported agriculture share) or share a CSA with some friends. These were all options that could give me better access to this great food and the good practice of growing food organically. Not only did I go home with a full belly of delicious food that night but Doug and Linda sent me home with bags of excess vegetables from their CSA.

Check out Cottingham Farm to learn more about the benefits of organic farming.

Special thank goes out to Suzanne Wheeler who got me out fishing this month! She also writes a great blog about living aboard.  Many thanks also go out to good friends Doug and Linda Sadler for feeding me and generously sending me home with delicious Cottingham Farm vegetables.

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My latest shopping soundtrack:

8/24/13

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put your money where your mouth is

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So Dave – You hit on the real point system that we all tally daily $$$ ! What DO we spend our money on? And how does the way in which we spend our dollar really affect our environment (far more than any of my showering habits ever could?)

Maybe we all have been a bit too cerebral when examining the environmental challenge this month. Yes, I do believe that making personal changes in our daily lives and habits can make a huge positive impact on our immediate environment – but how are we going to get the majority of people to follow suit, when even I, as a middle class single person, have a hard time keeping up with all the right choices.  Let’s get real for a moment… what is the one thing that the large majority of people pay the most attention to when faced with making a purchasing or personal life decision?

I think it often comes down to two things:

1. Is this something that I really want or care about?

And of course

2. Can I afford it?

I believe that this is the reality that most people, (including myself) consider first. We look into our wallets, before examining our personal belief systems about how we might be impacting positively or negatively on the environment when using our dollar. I am not judging anyone for doing this – I do it myself and understand fully why I choose to be frugal first.

I do wish however that this could be different. Are there ways of getting around financial constraints when making our purchasing decisions? Are there ways of making the enviro-friendly choice, not only more appealing and desirable to the general public, but also more affordable and accessible?  These are challenges we will all need to face when trying to advocate or adopt major societal shifts in approaching better environmental practices. Or they simply will not work.

Yes! Doing the small things that you can do does help! Keep doing it! But can we think bigger and figure out a way that more of us can also participate in this effort? Wouldn’t it be great if we could collectively get past the overlying question of “Can we afford it?” and instead start examining the questions of “How can we make healthy and positive choices affordable?” and “How will these choices better my life as an individual?”

How we get there I am not sure. But it is possible.

Sorry Dave, am I getting too cerebral again? I digress. In Dave’s wildcard challenge – he specifically asks me to think about how I am spending my dollar. The task is to really think about what I am purchasing and its impact on the environment positive or negative. Well believe me – I am thinking about it! It’s like a labyrinth that I’ve wandered into and I am afraid of never finding my way out. However, instead of getting lost in the constant confusion of the Cap and Trade point system, adding and subtracting everything I purchase as well as every mile I drive. I will simply make a focused effort to record and reflect upon what I am purchasing. Am I capable of putting my money where my mouth is?

If you have ideas or examples of food, products or services that you feel are both good for the environment and affordable please do share them with me! I will need all the help I can get with this task!

8/20/13

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August: Wild Card

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For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Roles and the Rules for this project, the Wild Card adds one new element to the finished written chapter by playing their one and only card for the month. This “card” is really a suggestion or a new task that will shift or re-energize the chapter.  It may add an element of risk or an element of reflection and reverence. The wild card action must be played at the mid way mark of the month and will be taken on by the protagonist.  This new element may elevate an activity already written or diversify the challenge by changing the frequency or specifying a detail.  The Wild Card cannot eliminate pieces of the written chapter or negate any part of the written chapter. The Wild Card also should also take into consideration the chapter theme and the writers’ already composed directives when making their suggestion.

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Man, the first thing I’m thinking as I read through all of the chapters is, what a cerebral ensemble  Beth has inserted me into…grand ideas!  Awesome start!! Then I thought well … It’s Beth!  …If  I’m digging the content…Does that make me cerebral too…oh snap!! Anyway, I don’t think it does… But gee wiz…it was difficult to think of a challenge that would be on par with the “Superfriends”.  I like Andy’s chapter… Especially Part II…”The Cap and Trade game” I’d like to add a category please  …..MONEY!

Now we all know that Beth is incredibly frugal.. So I’m not sure
how much this category will yield.  But since Living Chapters has evoked a new level of transparency in Beth.. I’m challenging her.. to be more thoughtful and apply a bit more investigation into the who,what and where surrounding her expenditures… If possible!!

+5 points every time you make a purchase that adversely impacts the environment

-3 points if you make an expenditure that has a positive impact on the environment

… And yes, you can be deliberate.  Heal the world man, heal the world!

That’s it in a nut shell!  Start spending your millions wisely Barbush!

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CAP and TRADE UPDATE!

By the end of the first week playing the Cap and Trade game, Writer Andy Cook came in over the CAP and our protagonist came in under.  Beth traded some of her points with Andy in exchange for Andy planting a tree and reading up on some environmental issues. Here is the evidence of Andy’s “Trade Tasks” being accomplished:

AC instrumentsAC - watering AC planting AC - book

8/19/13

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you left the water running…

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I loved reading Andy’s feedback on his own “Cap and Trade” adventures – we have had some serious and long conversations about this game thus far but I had no idea he was showering with a bucket!! Good on ya Andy! The only time I did that I was in a small village in Tanzania where there was no running water in any homes for miles. Everyone in the village shared one water tank/cistern. You had to use a bucket to bathe, do laundry and dishes. It took some getting use to but I got pretty good at it by the end of my time there. When I knew I was taking from the same water supply that everyone else was taking from, it really made me think about how much water I really needed compared to how much I actually normally use in my American home.

With this in mind, I also have tried to really become aware of my water current usage. I have not been quite as resourceful as Andy (carrying a bucket down the dock with me to the shower did not enter my mind), but I have been experimenting with a few other techniques in saving water outside of adopting the “if its yellow let it mellow” motto. I have been trying to collect rainwater when I can with my own bucket on the deck of the boat. When I am successful at collecting it – I use it for doing dishes. I have also been reusing the water used to hard boil my eggs in the morning or make pasta with for washing my dishes.

Like Andy, I realized that showering was a huge waste of water, so I started to zero in on this one aspect to see if I could change my habits. I have not been collecting my excess shower water but I have been making more of an effort to conserve the water that I currently am using in the shower. As I mentioned before, I live in a marina that has shared bathroom facilities. One of the things I really like about this set up is that the bathrooms are equipped with both energy and water conserving mechanisms. The lights are on a timer dial and the shower has an on/off valve to set the water pressure.

To start off attempting to cut my water use, I started showering every other day instead of daily and sometimes (gasp!) I go 2 days without showering. I also have tried shortening the length of my shower, using the timer that controls the lights in the bathroom. I set the timer for 10 minutes and if I am in the shower for over that 10 minutes the lights will go out leaving me in complete darkness. (there are no windows in the bathroom) This is a great incentive to shower efficiently! Each day I have been trying to beat my record for the shortest shower. My best as of now is 5 minutes. I also realized that when showering there is no reason the water needs to be on the entire time. Like Andy noted, so much water runs wastefully down the drain. I think the best way to save it is to lower the water pressure or turn it off entirely. I started just turning the water off or down to a drip when lathering up or washing my hair. And then turn it back on when I need to rinse.

Out of everything that I am doing to avoid points or subtract them, I think this particular effort is the one practice that has easily become a habit and will most likely stick. I never thought I would be sharing my personal showering habits with an online public (super weird!) but I think it’s actually an effort that anyone could adopt easily that could potentially save a lot on our water usage and bills. My marinas shower has a nozzle similar to this one. It is under $10. Order one now! There is NO reason not to try it out!  Please share some more ideas for water conservation if you have them.  Every drop in the bucket counts.

8/16/13

This has been my theme song for the past few weeks… and yes you might find me singing this one in the shower.

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