Staying warm on a cold indoor day

I am one of those people who is always cold.  Especially in the winter, and especially after I cuddle down on my sofa in the evening.  My husband and I argue over the thermostat, and I am trying my best to find ways to not to crank up the dial.

1) Hot cocoa or hot tea – don’t even drink it, just hold it in your hands and don’t put it down. This is one of the few methods that work for fingers.

2) Cats – this is the other method that works for cold fingers.  You can substitute dog or rat or bunny – whatever warmblooded fuzzy animal you have on hand.

3) Shawls – I cannot go as far as a snuggie, but I have a pile of shawls to keep  my shoulders warm.

Trey is modelling this years fine wrap.

4) Heating pad or hot water bottle – toss it under a shawl or blanket and it works wonders.

5) Double-curtain your window – or use an insulated / thermal curtain.  Even double paned windows can often use some extra help on a cold day.

6) Check for drafts – walk around the room with incense or a candle to trace and the caulk areas where drafts are getting in.

7) Humidifier – dry house air really adds to the feeling of cold.  Raising the humidity level and add a few degrees to your experienced temperature (same as humidity on a summer day).

8) Plants – they also hold humidity, keep them watered so they don’t dry out.

9) Lap blankets – the more the merrier.  I sometimes have so many on my legs on the sofa that I can barely move (just like as a child in bed with all those blankets.)

10) I hate to push a brand – but – Smart Wool Socks.  Yes,  I love them.

11) Comparisons – slip on your shoes and do a quick lap around the outside of the house.  I guarantee the inside will fill much warmer.

12) Red hots candies – they may not work, but then you still have red hots candies.  Sympathetic magic.


Needs and wants

In my next class, we are reading about the interaction between consumerism and energy use.   The first step is asking how do wants expand into needs?  In the developed world (and especially in America) we consume piles of stuff and explain most if it in terms of our needs.

Economist Manfred Max-Neef, a Chilean who teaches at U.C. Berkeley. developed a list of basic needs for humans where ever they may be.  These needs are more complex, and more complexly specified than the more familial Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. These needs are non-hierarchical and operate more as an interactive system.

Subsistence – Creation, health, food, shelter skills, work feedback

Protection – security, society

Affection – friendship, family, love

Understanding – curiosity, education

Participation – responsibilities, interaction, community

Leisure – play, fantasy, intimacy, privacy

Creation – skills, work, feedback

Identity – belonging, groups, recognition

Freedom – autonomy, rights, dissent

As humans, we are complex beings, and it only makes sense that our needs are complex.  However, these needs are not tied to consumption of goods.  And, no matter how much we wish it were so, we cannot purchase that many of them.

How are these achievable?  Through community, spirituality, family.  Through developing a rich inner life, and that is one of the hardest things to do.  These needed become a means as well as an end.  Through belonging to a group, I gain responsibilities and friendship.  Through developing skills, I gain autonomy and recognition.  Focus on any of the higher needs brings about the fulfillment of other needs.

After that, we need to do something even harder – translate these deeply personal needs into something that becomes valued by our greater society.  This chart below (from Wikipedia)  shows multiple way of achieving those needs.  Most do not involve things.  Those that do are not necessarily ownable things.  More importantly, many of the ways of achieving these needs involve more than one person.  And that is what we need – more than one person and that allows personal beliefs to jump forward and become societal values.

Things using less energy that are just plain better than the traditional alternative

Defining my terms:

Less energy – less conventional energy (electricity, fossil fuels) used at any part of the product life-cycle (embodied in production, transportation, use, disposal) – may use more human-energy

Just plain better – well – more efficient, more fulfilling, more enjoyable, happier, producing a greater quality of life, or less likely to annoy my cats

The list:

French press coffee plunger with organic fair-trade coffee

LLBean’s warranty – or any other company who will repair or replace without questions for the life of the product they sell you (I’ve used this one several times)

Other warranties – Hydro Flask, Droll Yankees bird feeders,  Jansport backpacks, and several other products from companies that take sustainability seriously

Home grown tomatoes

Blooming houseplants instead of cut flowers in winter: Christmas cactus, peace lily, kalanchoe,  African violets, orchids, and more

Mechanical (winding or self-winding) watches rather than those that use batteries

Small herb garden for basil, parsley, oregano, cilantro, catnip, and any other high-use herbs (much, much cheaper, too)

A growler of beer from your local brew-pub

Parks over large lawns, especially parks with swing sets and concrete animals

Deck of cards and a friend over computer solitaire

Hammocks – in general very low energy (and this link is a hint for my husband)

Dr. Bronner’s soaps (yes, it’s weird – but concentrated, high quality, and really can be used for the 18 uses listed on the package)

Windows and natural lighting

Home-made pizza

Buying small pieces by local artists

Denny’s doughnuts (of course)

Recycling conundrums

In my introductory environmental geography class, the information that most shocks my students is that just because you put an item in the recycling does not mean it gets recycled.

How to solve this problem:

1) Ask yourself, should I be using this item in the first place?

Buy for the long haul – glass drinking tumblers are much more durable than plastic ones.

Much of our recyclable material is in packaging – can you buy something with less packaging or substitute your own packaging?  Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed nearly all my students using refillable water bottles.

Several large entities (like McMaster Unviersity) are incentivizing their students or employees move to sturdier choices.

2) Ask yourself, should I be using this plastic in the first place?

Plastics #3 (vinyl perhaps containing pthalates, reproductive damage), #6 (styrofoam /polystyrene, nervous system damage). and #7 (everything else) all have problems with potential hazardous chemicals.  Additionally they can rarely, if ever, be recycled. Your best bet is to not uses these at all – and to express your preferences with restaurants and other businesses in your life that use them.

3) Ask yourself: is this likely to be recycled?

Clear glass, metal, paper and cardboard, and plastics #1 and #2 are very likely to be recycled.  The others depend on whether or not there is a local market for the items. All recyclables rely on the markets, and if there is no demand for them – they do not get recycled. 

It never hurts to reduce and buy less of even recyclable items.  Still, you could do worse than dump them in your recycle bin and let the recyclers sort them out, because they will be able to evaluate the current markets.  (The worst that can  happen is that they throw them away anyway).  Getting materials in the hands of people who can use them can help build markets, which do not spring fully born from some dead guy’s invisible hand.  Markets take government policy, subsidies, and the actions of private businesses and consumers to become healthy.

4) Are there other ways to get rid of it?

Can it be composted? (At your house or a friend’s)

Do other groups reuse it?

Can you sell it yourself?

Will a local glass-blower take it for projects?

Mack Glass makes Whomping Willows out of rebar, shopping carts, and – of course – glass.

Can someone else legitimately use what you no longer need?

5) Meet your local recycler.

Talk to them, learn what they do and how they do it.  Most of very open and transparent and welcome their customers and their questions.  Our local recycler is Midwest Fiber.  It offers more services than just recycling – such as paper shredding, community composting, and have shown a historic flexibility to tailor their services to the needs of the communities they serve.  (That’s one of the best parts of working with a local business.)

6) Most importantly, remember that any item that hits a recycle bin is a failure of the system.

It’s best to not use, followed by reduce, reuse, and finally recycle.  As a society, we are starting to get systems in place that allow for good recycling – we need to work on getting systems in place that allow us to take on the first three.

I raise my reused canning jar filled with iced tea in your direction – and wish you luck in navigating the complex world of coping with “old stuff”.

What’s better than good?

I remember “grosser than gross” jokes from when I was young (my mother always hated them).  You know:

What’s gross?

Finding a worm in your apple.

What’s grosser than gross?

Finding half a worm in your apple.

There are lots of things that are individually good: electric cars, recycling, composting.

But, what is better than good?

When we work together to create even bigger solutions.

Many of our sustainability solutions are aimed at individual action.  Individual actions can be great – but will only get us so far.  For example, if we rely on individual consumers solving transportation problems, we may end up with a million electric cars on the road.  We will never end up with a dismantling of our wasteful interstate system.  We’ll certainly never hit the even better ideas, such as turning the interstate infrastructure into a public transportation system.

Better than good?  Join together.

Good? Reusable shopping bags.  Better than good? Campaigning for an ordinance banning plastic bags.

Good?  Taking the bus.  Better than good? Working as groups to get our towns / cities to adopt better public transportation systems.

Good? Home compost.  Better than good?  Industrial composting that will actually break down those Sun Chips bags.  (And kudos to Sun Chips for thinking big, even if the first try failed.)

Good? Refilling your water bottles.  Better than good?  Public bottle refill stations that encourage more people to do so.

Each of these real solutions require people working together – better than good.  We can work as governments, neighborhoods, companies, citizen groups, and more.  What unites may of these better than good group solutions is that they are able to create bigger change faster than sitting around waiting for the market to respond.