Solutions: 23 Ways to Ease Our Impact on the Earth

A solar-box cooker is a great way to feed a family. But if you want to feed the entire community, it takes a Villager Sun Oven [39 W 835 Midan Drive, Elburn, IL 60119, (630) 208-7273,]. This 980-pound solar-box bakery on wheels reaches temperatures above 500 F, sufficient to bake hundreds of loaves of bread a day, boil gallons of water and even to sterilize medical instruments. Villager Sun Ovens are providing micro-enterprise opportunities in poor communities around the world. A Micro-Sun Bakery kit includes 108 bread pans, 20 cake pans, six flat pans, two dough scrappers, two large mixing bowls, a wire whip, a large flour bin and six hot pads.

Beyond the Peace Corps

Despite its good work, some people see the Peace Corps as a “tool” of US foreign policy (we don’t have Peace Corps volunteers working in Cuba, do we?). For idealists who want to labor for the common good without the entanglements of state politics, there are options. To find out what they are, pick up a copy of Alternatives to the Peace Corps: A Directory of Third World and US Volunteer Opportunities, newly revised and updated by editor Joan Powell. Published by Food First Books [398-60th St., Oakland, CA 94618], the $9.95 directory is distributed by LPC Group. [1436 West Randolph St., Chicago, IL 60607, (800) 243-0138]

Choose to Re-Use

Because of its higher costs, recycled paper still comprises less than ten percent of the US paper market. The San Diego-based Recycled Products Purchasing Cooperative (RPPC) is slowly expanding the recycled paper market through group purchases that pass volume discounts on to RPPC members. By the end of 2000, RPPC members had purchased nearly 60,000 cases of recycled printing and writing paper – the equivalent of saving 10,000 full-grown trees. The RPPC intends to rev up its purchases by 400 percent over the next two years. For information on becoming a member of RPPC, contact Solana Recyclers. [(760) 436-7586,]

Greening the Ballpark

On June 19, 2000, the Chicago White Sox made baseball history when they begin selling vegetarian hot dogs at Comiskey Park. A group calling itself Soy Happy is mounting a campaign to bring veggie dogs to ballparks across the US. Soy Happy founder Johanna McCloy (aka Ensign Colloway on Star Trek: The Next Generation) notes that most ballparks offer health conscious fans little more than peanuts and popcorn. Farmer John and other big meat hotdog vendors include “no competition” clauses in their contracts, which effectively shuts out veggie dogs. But a growing number of teams – including the Seattle Mariners, the LA Dodgers, and the St. Louis Cardinals – are considering adding veggie dogs to the menu. Animal rights activist and Cardinal Manager Tony La Russa is all for the change: “I’m a big dog lover and I prefer Soy Happy dogs.” [PO Box 42152, Los Angeles, CA 90042, (323) 363-7226,]

Fuel Cells

Fuel cells are starting to show up in the darndest places. Manhattan Scientifics and Italy’s Aprilia have joined talents to produce the “hydrocycle,” a motorscooter powered by an onboard hydrogen fuel cell. Hydrocycles can zip about the city at 19 mph (30 kph). Closer to home, a more mundane Manhattan project involves the invention of a hydrogen fuel cell-powered vacuum cleaner. No more tripping over power cords: It’s cordless! How small are fuel cells likely to get? Researchers at the Case School of Engineering are designing a fuel cell “the size of a pencil eraser” to power flashlights and laptops. [Manhattan Scientifics, Inc., 641 Fifth Avenue, No. 36F, New York, NY 10022, (212) 752-0505,]

Take Me to Your LEDer

This summer, California replaced the bulbs in 140,000 traffic lights with energy efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs), cutting electricity consumption by 85 percent. Equipping every stoplight with LEDs could save the state 70 MW. A 12-inch LED costs $160 but LEDs last for seven years. A 94-cent incandescent bulb burns $49 worth of electricity a year and needs to be replaced frequently. A $160 LED costs $7.42 a year to run and lasts for seven years. The California Energy Commission figures that these cheaper-to-run, cheaper-to-maintain LEDs will return a 65-percent savings in costs over the old bulbs. If all 210,000 bulbs on the state’s 15,000 miles of roads were retrofitted with LEDs, California would save $5.5 million on power bills.

Who Needs Stoplights?

A report in the American Journal of Public Health suggests that cities could save money – and lives – by replacing intersection stoplights with European-style roundabouts. Researchers from the University of Maine and Ryerson Polytechnic studied police reports from scores of US cities and found that replacing stoplights with traffic circles reduced accidents by 38 percent and cut the number of serious injuries and deaths by 90 percent. There is another bonus: installing a traffic signal can cost more than $100,000 (not counting maintenance), while a roundabout can be constructed for much less.

Composting at Home

Most US cities have programs to recycle paper, glass and metal but only a few have programs to collect and compost organic refuse – the lawn cuttings, garden clippings and food wastes that comprise 20 percent of municipal solid waste. A bin with a 12-cubic-foot capacity can handle about 300-plus liters of food and yard waste – sufficient for a family of five.

Maintenance is simple: Alternate layers of dry straw, brown leaves and newspapers, green grass and food scraps. Mix at least once every two weeks. Sprinkle dirt over food scraps to kill smells and fly eggs. No meat, fish, dairy goods or oils. Set critter-resistant compost bin in a sunny spot with a sheet of 20-gauge wire screen underneath to keep out burrowing rodents.

For more tricks of the trade, check out BioCycle Magazine, the monthly journal of composting and recycling.

Composting: An Urban Treasure

California has set a goal of reducing solid waste by at least 50 percent. One strategy that is making a difference is composting. San Francisco’s 6,000 restaurants are being encouraged to donate their food scraps to the B&J Sanitary Landfill in Vacaville, which transforms the nitrogen-rich remains into top-quality fertilizer. After three months of baking and curing under the sun in 120-foot-long black plastic bags, the pleasant-smelling humus is sold to the public under the brand name “Urban Earth.” The main drawback to the San Francisco program is that it requires driving 20-ton trucks over two bridges and through three counties to a composting site 60 miles away. Urban composting needs to be incorporated into every city’s master plan – and within the city’s borders.

Composting with Worms

Feeding kitchen scraps and yard waste to worms beats composting because worms produce a plant-soluble finished product. A wormery handles more types of waste, breaks them down quicker, and requires less attention than a compost bin. A good mix of red, blue and tiger worms will also invite a host of other microorganisms as well as beetles and butcher-boy bugs.

Two popular wormeries are the Rein Worm Factory and Can-O-Worms. Doesn’t need heat, doesn’t need to be stirred. Vermicasts are drawn off the bottom for garden use and new scraps are added to the top. Worms require a pH-balanced soil and moderate soil temperatures. A wormery can even be kept inside the house, under the sink. Redworms reach maturity in about six weeks and reproduce as many as three times a week. But there’s no need to worry about a population explosion of worms – unlike humans, worm populations always stay in balance with the limited resources of their immediate environment.

Draw the “Green Line”

“It’s time to put meaning back into the words: wilderness and preservation,” says Native Forest Council (NFC) Executive Director Tim Hermach. “It’s time to seek real protection for 650 million acres of publicly owned lands.”

The NFC is promoting the National Wild Forest Sanctuary Act of 2001 (NWFSA) to challenge conditions that are leading societies toward “extinction-level events.” The NWFSA carries a simple message to anyone who is over-capitalizing on public lands: “Sustain it or lose it.” NFC charges that no existing national forest, wilderness, refuge, preserve, reservation, monument or park completely protects the land. Every one of these existing legal designations provides for the extraction of publicly owned timber, minerals and oil, permits recreational use and allows occupancy in the pursuit of “reasonable profit.”

“This legislation is reasonable, necessary and compelled by national security,” Hermach argues. “Let’s save what’s left and recover what’s been lost. Zero-cut, zero-extraction and forever wild!”

For more information on how to support this “milestone in legislative environmental history,” contact the Native Forest Council. [PO Box 2190, Eugene, OR 97402, (541) 688-2600, fax 689-9835,].

Save Power: Pull the Plug

Energy specialists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in California estimate that using the “sleep” mode on a PC can save $50 a year while turning your monitor and computer off can save $150 a year. Multiply that by the 150 million PCs in the US and that’s 140 billion kW (and $22.5 billion) saved. Turning a computer off is not a perfect solution since computers (like many other appliances) continue to draw power even in the “off” position. Best bet: When not in use, unplug. For more tips on saving electrons:

Put a Legume in Your Tank

The Ecology Center in Berkeley, California not only walks the talk, it “drives the jive.” The entire fleet of 10 recycling trucks is now being run on clean-burning, non-petroleum bio-diesel fuel – the first city fleet in the US to go 100 percent oil-free.

Instead of relying on distant oil fields, Berkeley’s trucks pump their “crude” from the grease vats of the local McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and KFC. While it’s part of the revolutionary ethic to “feast off the rich,” the Ecology Center will soon abandon the multinational waste stream in favor of local farmers. Thanks to a US Department of Agriculture program to subsidize soybeans as a bio-fuel crop, six of the countries’ seven biodiesel plants soon will be producing non-toxic, biodegradable fuel from soybeans.

Biodiesel costs Berkeley $3 a gallon but the price will come down as the city increases its orders to fuel all of its fire trucks, street sweepers and squad cars.

San Francisco International Airport is considering running its airport shuttlebuses on biodiesel and school and city buses in Arizona, Ohio and New Jersey already run on a mixture of biodiesel.

Demand a Peace Tax

George W. Bush’s faith-based conservative compassion should accelerate passage of the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill (HR 1186) which would “provide a legal mechanism for taxpayers who are conscientiously opposed to war to pay their full share of federal taxes for non-military purposes.”

The Friends Committee for National Legislation (FCNL) estimates that 41.2 percent of 2000 income taxes has been siphoned off to pay for current, past, and future wars []. That means that for the first 21 weeks of last year, taxpayers were actually working for the Pentagon. FCNL calls this “an intolerable burden on the consciences of many who are committed to building peace.

“For over 50 years,” FCNL notes, “the US has recognized the rights of conscientious [war] objectorsÂ… to perform alternative civilian service in lieu of induction into the military. Wars are fought with money as much as with personnelÂ…. Is it not time to recognize the rights of conscience of those called to pay for war?” [National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund,, (888) peacetax.] To find out your elected representatives’ positions on this and other issues, check

The Green Yellow Pages

Want to know where to buy non-leather shoes, hemp skirts and organic produce? Check out the 2001 edition of Co-op America’s National Green Pages. Co-op America is a Washington, DC-based nonprofit consumer education organization with more than 52,000 members.

The Green Pages offer the most comprehensive listing of green businesses and products in the US. When you use the Green Pages, says Executive Director Lisa Gravitz, “You’ll save more money, meet great people and discover wonderful businesses.” And, when it comes to investing that money you’ve saved, the Green Pages offers a section on socially responsible investing. The National Green Pages comes with your membership in Co-op America or can be purchased separately for $7.95 from Co-op America. [1612 K St., NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20006, (800) 58-GREEN,]

Feats of Clay

Across rural Africa, poor women spend an average of 125 hours a week collecting water and gathering scraps of wood to heat their homes and cook their family meals. Women spend more hours cooking over smoky fires that damage their lungs and eyes and those of their children. The Schumacher Centre for Technology and Development (ITDG) has fashioned a practical solution to this problem.

The simple and efficient Upesi stove (“Upesi” is Swahili for “fast”) needs 40 percent less fuel and generates half as much smoke as the traditional three-stone fire. Made from local clay packed into a mold, the stoves cost £2 ($3.10) – about the cost of a chicken. With less time spent on wood-gathering, village women in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have been able to train themselves to manufacture and sell these simple stoves, simultaneously easing the burdens of other women while gaining economic independence.

To learn how you can promote the use of appropriate technology solutions, contact ITDG. [Freepost CV1753, Bourton-on-Dunsmore, Rugby CV23 9BR]

Look George! A Solar House!

One of the most spectacular demonstrations during Earth Week activities in Washington, DC, was the construction of a fully operational solar-powered home. A “Solar Patriot” home was erected on the grounds of the US Capitol during the five-day solar energy fair. Designed by Design Homes and assembled by Solar Strategies Development Corp., the Solar Patriot featured solar-heated water and sun-generated electricity powering a host of energy efficient appliances.

“America has an historic opportunity to lead the world into the solar era,” says Earth Day Network Chair Denis Hayes. Fuel cells, geothermal solar, wind, and wave power can immediately save businesses and consumers “30, 40, 50 percent or more on their energy bills,” adds Sustainable Buildings Industry Council head Helen English.

“Most of the world’s environmental problems are tied to our use of polluting energy sources,” notes Earth Day Network Program Director Jan Thomas, “from urban air pollution to global warming, from destruction of pristine lands to nuclear waste, from endangered species to endangered humans.” [American Solar Energy Society, 2400 Central Avenue, Suite G-1, Boulder, CO 80301, (303) 443-3130,]

The Globalized Coffee Bean

Coffee is the world’s second most important trade commodity, right behind oil. The US buys 25 percent of the world’s coffee beans. More than 90 percent of the coffee trade is controlled by three US multinationals. Some analysts predict that depressed coffee prices and the relentless global expansion of these coffee giants could overwhelm the world’s small, family-owned and organic coffee growers in as little as two years.

One solution is for consumers to insist on buying Equal Exchange “Fair Trade-certified” coffee. While some so-called “free trade” importers only pay growers 30 cents a pound for coffee that retails for $10 in the US, Equal Exchange pays $1.26 a pound (plus an additional 15 cents a pound if the coffee is organically grown).

Last year, Equal Exchange [251 Revere St., Canton, MA 02021, (781) 830-0303,] purchased 32 million pounds of beans from 500,000 farmers in 17 Latin American and African countries. EE buys directly from small-scale coops to insure that “the benefits of fair trade [will] actually reach the farmers and their communities.” EE believes each cup of coffee you buy “can be a powerful tool to bring about positive change.”

Shade Grown Coffee.

Until the 1970s, most coffee was grown in the shade but the dictates of the global marketplace introduced more “productive” sun-grown beans. Removing trees removed the habitat for native plants, animals and songbirds. Alarmed by the decline in birds returning from Mexico and Central America, the Seattle Audubon Society launched the Shade Coffee Campaign to “encourage coffee companies to make a commitment to carry shade-grown coffee.” [8050 35th Ave. NE, Seattle, WA 98115, (206)523-4483,]

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