donation advice?

I’m doing annual donations, and could use some advice in the eco-sphere. In particular, i’m looking for an organization which is specifically focused on reducing the environmental impact of American energy consumption. This could include any combination of research into alternate technologies (or offering grants for others to do such research), government advocacy, and corporate advocacy.

Some names i’ve come across:

* Enviromental and Energy Study Institute
* Pew Center for Global Climate Change
* Rocky Mountain Institute

But i don’t know anything about any of those groups. Alternately, if anyone knows an organization which provides outside information about environmentalist nonprofits, i imagine i could find the kind of information i want from something like that.

Thoughts, anyone? Thanks in advance.

multitasking baking soda

One of the tiny ways in which I’ve been greening up my lifestyle recently is by weaning myself from toxic cleaners like Formula 409 and Fantastik, and making my own eco-friendly cleaning fluids instead.  Baking soda and white vinegar have become my good friends in this venture.  I’ve been scouring the kitchen and bathroom surfaces with baking soda and hot water, rinsing the sink and bathtub drains with baking soda, vinegar, and a kettle of boiling water, and dumping a half cup of baking soda in with most of my laundry.  A solution of vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice is also good for mopping the floor — though I’ve found that in general, hot water is also pretty good at wiping away most of the grime, even in the kitchen.

I have yet to replace my dish soap with a less toxic version, however, so if anyone has suggestions,  please share.  I know there are plenty of environmentally-friendly commercial products available (in fact, my local grocery store seems to have an entire shelf devoted to them), but I’d rather try something homemade, since it’s not only cheaper but also won’t generate as much plastic waste.

Also, I’m going to start using rubbing alcohol or a hydrogen peroxide solution instead of Ajax to scrub the litterbox (one of the few places in my home that definitely does need an antibacterial treatment from time to time).

As some of you already know, I’ve also been using baking soda in lieu of shampoo and deodorant (it works, really!), but that’s a subject for another post, I think.

-by laurawolfram

junk mail

I’m not terribly ambitious about environmental action yet — i do a lot of ranting about how we’re all doomed, but i’ve so far made relatively few changes, and my current lifestyle puts me in the running for “world’s most hypocritical environmentalist”. I’d like to change that at least somewhat.

My current step is to try to reduce the amount of junk mail i receive. This takes some time in the short run, but has the advantage that getting less junk would make my life less annoying, in addition to generating less waste. I started with the set of advice at this page at, about which i have a couple of comments so far. My overall strategy has been (1) sign up with the global marketing removal services, and (2) contact individually the companies/organizations with whom i do business, as i receive new junk mail from them, and ask them to tone down what they send me. I’m keeping a database of who i’ve contacted when and how long they told me removal would take, and i plan to follow up on a daily basis as long as i’m still getting junk mail on a daily basis.

First off, the DMA’s Mail Preference Service is not free (it costs a dollar, which is not a lot, but which makes me roll my eyes). I signed up for it anyway because, when i asked around, someone i know said it had been effective for them. In addition, when i called one of the charities from whose lists i wanted to be removed (a group to which i haven’t contributed in the past), they told me that the six-digit code in the lower right of the reply card they’d sent meant that they had gotten my address from the DMA, sent me mail, and then discarded the address. So the only way to avoid future mailings from them was registering with the DMA — good to know.

I have not had very good experience with so far. I signed up with them around a year ago, and, as far as i can tell, the credit card and insurance offers continue unabated. It may be worth trying to opt out via phone rather than via e-mail. (I called their number, but it explicitly says that it is unattended by a human, so i can’t think of any way to check whether i’m on their list.) So i’m treating credit card offers as organizations, and phoning them individually. They’re not nearly as nice about it as charities, and i’ve had to sit through a couple of sales pitches and a certain amount of indirectness about what exactly i’m being removed from, but they do eventually agree to claim they’re doing something.

Catalog removals are easy, but they’re easier if you have the catalog handy, because there’s a customer code on the back which lets them look you up quickly in the database.

I want to finish by noting that almost everyone i’ve spoken to, particularly at the nonprofits, has been extremely polite and agreeable. A few of them are more comfortable if you give them explicit permission to contact you via e-mail, but most just look you up in the database and change some fields. So even the phone-phobic have little to worry about in doing this.

by cgolubi1

How to do your laundry in the bathtub.

Motivated more by penury than environmentalism, I recently decided to start washing all my clothes by hand. Towels, sheets, and blankets still go to the laundromat, since they’re too unwieldy to rinse and dry in the confined space of my little NYC apartment. Otherwise, I’ve kicked the washer and dryer habit, which is good, since both machines eat electricity like candy.

Feel like giving handwashing a try?

You will need:

  • a large plastic or — better yet — metal bucket
  • a bathtub
  • laundry detergent (I like Seventh Generation)
  • a laundry line, either in the bathtub itself, or anywhere else that’s convenient for you

1) Fill the bucket about halfway with your dirty clothes, packed loosely. Dump in the appropriate amount of detergent, fill the bucket with warm water. Allow the clothes to soak for at least ten minutes.

2) Take a shower. Wash, scrub, exfoliate, condition — do whatever you normally do in the shower. While you’re doing all this, stomp on your laundry to agitate it and force the soap through the fabric. You can also use a washboard during this stage, though I don’t think it’s really necessary.

3) When you’ve finished your shower, empty the laundry bucket and wring out the clothes. Fill the bucket about halfway with cold water, and then pound the hell out your clothes so as to remove as much soap as possible. Rinse, refill, repeat. Unless you’ve used way too much detergent, the rinsing process shouldn’t take more than a bucket or two of cold water.

4) Wring out your laundry, hang it up to dry. My laundry line suction-cups itself to the tiles of my bathroom wall, so that I can let my clothes drip-dry right over the tub.

Addendum: To shrink denim back to its proper size, soak it for five to ten minutes in very hot water. No tumble-drying necessary!

by laurawolfram

a bright idea

One easy way to cut down on your home energy use: replace your incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs. CFLs need far less electricity to produce the same amount of light as their incandescent counterparts, and as an added bonus, they last much longer, too. You can read more about them here and here.

I held out against CFL bulbs for a long time, erroneously associating them with the unpleasantly harsh light cast by standard-size fluorescent bulbs. Yet when I finally installed 23-watt (equivalent to 100-watt incandescent) n:vision CFL bulbs in my bathroom and bedroom last week, I was pleasantly surprised. The bulbs give off a warm, buttery light — just as good, if not better, than their energy-sucking predecessors.

Major retailers like Home Depot and Wal-Mart now carry compact fluorescent bulbs, as do many neighborhood drugstores and grocery stores. Alternately, you can search for a store near you using Energy Star’s store locator feature.

by laurawolfram

Be afraid.

Global warming isn’t a conjecture. It isn’t a possibility, a theory, or a distant prospect. It’s a fact. It’s happening right now, and it’s happening fast.

Sea levels are rising. Glaciers and ice caps are melting. Around the world, temperatures are creeping noticeably upwards. If this trend continues, Earth’s inhabitants can look forward to stronger and more frequent hurricanes, some catastrophic flooding, a spike in insect-borne diseases like malaria and encephalitis, and a whole host of other nasty side-effects by the end of the current century, if not earlier.

Worried? You should be.

It’s not too late, though! Though small changes in our own lifestyles, as well as some thoughtful political action, we can halt this impending disaster. The contributors to this blog will narrate their recent efforts — both big and small — to save the planet.