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A New Shade of Green

By Sherry Listgarten

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About this blog: Climate change, despite its outsized impact on the planet, is still an abstract concept to many of us. That needs to change. My hope is that readers of this blog will develop a better understanding of how our climate is evolving a...  (More)

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Drivers Ed 101: Look Where You’re Going

Uploaded: Jan 30, 2019
Sometimes I give money to animal rights organizations. I like animals, and I believe they should be treated with decency. Fine. The problem is, the organizations reward my donations by sending me fliers with heart-wrenching pictures on them -- starving horses, abused dogs, bears pacing in tiny cages. Thank you? I toss them in the recycling bin as quickly as possible without looking, and hope to remember to give again next year.

The thing is, these days, you don’t even have to donate money to find traumatizing pictures sent your way. In the papers or online, they are everywhere, be it emaciated polar bears, vanishing pikas, or, just this week, piles (literally) of dead horses in Australia. And of course there are some pretty alarming pictures of forests, oceans, family homes, and more.

So it is no wonder that many of us prefer to close our eyes and just check out a little when it comes to climate. It is tough to look at, and it can feel overwhelming. For quite a while I did just that -- it was too sad, and too big to do anything about. But then I started feeling a twinge of guilt. The (unavoidable) headlines made it clear that our planet is changing, and that we need to get on top of it. Was my willful avoidance responsible, adult behavior? Hmm, maybe not. As they say in Driver’s Ed, if you don’t look where you’re going, you probably won’t like where you end up...

So I started to read. And read. (There is a lot to read on this topic.) And you know what, it’s not all bad news. There is a great deal of interesting climate science, innovation, and policy work going on, with plenty of opportunity for each of us to make a difference. Once we get comfortable with the idea that the planet is changing, and that we are all going to be a part of the solution, we can achieve some terrific outcomes by working together to shape the future for ourselves and our kids. There is abundant “low hanging fruit” for reducing our emissions and helping the environment. We are at an inflection point in our evolution, one that I believe has great promise.

So how do we start thinking about all this in a productive, collaborative way? I would like for this blog to be an informative, optimistic, and even entertaining space where we can start to think about the changing climate and our role in it. Sometimes big things, sometimes little things. If you are interested in understanding what our household emissions look like, adopting some cheap and/or easy ways to trim your own emissions, hearing from local climate scientists about the interesting questions they are working on, or learning more about climate projects at places like Jasper Ridge and the wetlands -- and participating in the discussion -- stay tuned!

The buck is going to stop with each of us. While 69% of Americans say they are worried about climate change, only 41% discuss it occasionally with friends or family, and only 26% hear people they know talking about it on a monthly basis (1). But to get our heads around it and make real progress, we need to talk about it. So I encourage commentary, from experts and novices alike, whether agreeing, disagreeing, or just asking a question. As a trial run of the comments on this blog, I’d love for people to share something you’ve done in the past few weeks with climate change in mind. Small or big things, it’s all good, just chime in.

I hope that your contributions will be an important part of this blog. To keep the discussion productive, please adhere to these guidelines, or your comment may be moderated:
- Avoid disrespectful, disparaging, snide, angry, or ad hominem comments.
- Stay fact-based, and provide references (esp links) as helpful.
- Stay on topic.
- In general, maintain this as a welcoming space for all readers.

Climate is complex, and talking about it can be tricky. So I’ll end with ten words that many climate scientists use to sum up where we are. “It’s real. It’s us. It’s bad. Scientists agree. There’s hope.” A changing climate is our future, and also our present. Let’s take a look at it, together, and see what we can figure out. As they say in Driver’s Ed, the first step in being a good driver is to look where you are going.

(1) You can find some interesting data on national perceptions of climate change here: Regional perceptions, such as from Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, based on somewhat older data (March 2018) can be found here:
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Reader X, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Jan 30, 2019 at 7:22 pm

Okay, I will bite and offer my tale of how I have recently helped combat climate change.

A couple of months ago, I was contacted by the City of Mountain View concerning a pilot composting program for multi-unit residential complexes. I signed up and a few weeks later received a composting pail and some instructions on proper usage.

Details of this pilot can be found on the City of Mountain View website:

Web Link

Green waste in garbage is one of the primary contributors to greenhouse gasses (primarily methane). Before the pilot composting program, I was dutifully tossing my green waste into the garbage bin.

Today, I am putting my green waste into a biodegradable bag to be composted. It does not much more effort and I am happy to know that I am doing something to help make the planet a better place.

I hope the City of Mountain View is able to expand this program and eventually make it available to all residents.

The United States is not at the forefront of responsible resource recycling so programs such as this point to a better future.

Posted by Gladwyn, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Jan 30, 2019 at 9:03 pm

I compost, teach compost, ride my bike, grow food, and work with community gardens. I would like to see the scavenger for a city provide a monitor to help residents work the bugs out of their compost operation. I would also like to see cities provide separated connected networks for the all the "free" two wheel electric shared mobility devices showing up in many places. And BTW species too need a place to call home, we can't keep building and wiping out grey foxes, checkerspot butterflies, and monarchs.

Posted by KarenP, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Jan 30, 2019 at 9:09 pm

Sherry, This is a brave and wonderful thing you are starting. I look forward to reading and posting helpful and interesting information. The topic is both wide and deep. It might make it a bit scary but at least there's plenty of room to explore.

Posted by Anna I, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Jan 31, 2019 at 7:00 am

Sherry, thank you so much for your blog post! I appreciate that you are inviting us to look for positive, inspiring steps we can take and am so glad you are doing this! I am starting with tiny baby steps. I make my daughter's lunch every day and have been trying to stick to unprocessed food and I try to avoid using any plastic or paper. We are also installing solar. I love clothes and I love to sew, and I am thinking more about what the impact of fabric production is on our environment and what can be done.
I look forward to learning more from you.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Jan 31, 2019 at 11:11 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@ReaderX and @Gladwyn, it's great that Mountain View is piloting a composting program. FWIW, I was a "composting failure" when Palo Alto piloted it in our neighborhood a few years ago. I just could not get it to work for our household, between leaks and fruit flies and whatnot. But after coming back to it a few times, I eventually found something that works for us. I will try to do a blog on this, so people can share ideas of how they made composting work, or not!

@Anna, wow, installing solar is not exactly a baby step :) But I love your approach to be aware and take things on a bit at a time, depending on what you can make work. I'm hoping to do a blog at some point on clothing, because it's an area that we can all relate to. Thanks for your comment!

Posted by A good conversation, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Jan 31, 2019 at 4:34 pm

A good conversation is a registered user.

Our family chooses alternatives to driving alone as often as possible--walking, biking carpooling or riding transit whenever we can. We compost, and we are switching to more energy saving windows, insulation, we can afford to do so. So much to do...and so little time. Really, so little time. This is an important conversation. Thank you for starting it, Sherry!

Posted by eileen , a resident of another community,
on Jan 31, 2019 at 9:00 pm

I don't think my area is particularly good for solar so I opted for a 100% renewable energy plan. Sure I know this is not actually wind power directly to my house, but it's a step. My electric/gas bill is higher, I'm more aware of turning off lights, turning down the heat including the hot water temperature. Besides I can wear those nice sweaters more often. We live for those smiley faces on the monthly bill :)

Posted by JLN, a resident of Charleston Meadows,
on Feb 1, 2019 at 4:53 pm

JLN is a registered user.

Re compost failures due to fruit-flies, we had the same problem and tried a number of things. What finally worked is placing compostable material into a small (quart-size) plastic jar w/ wide opening and a screw top (originally used to hold grated parmesan cheese from a local superstore). We store it in our refrigerator, bringing it out as needed, and when full we empty it into a compost bag which we tie and toss in the large compost container at the side of our house. The latter is kept some distance from our kitchen door, to avoid attracting fruit flies into the house when the door is opened.

Posted by PA blog, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Feb 1, 2019 at 5:58 pm

PA blog is a registered user.

Thank you,Sherry, for starting this conversation.

Posted by Composting without flies--How to..., a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Feb 2, 2019 at 11:04 am

Composting without flies--How to... is a registered user.

When we remodeled our kitchen years ago a friend suggested an easy solution to the fruit fly problem with composting.

We bought a stainless covered bin from an restaurant supply store. The bin is designed to drop into a salad bar and has a tight fitting lid. It cost $10. (Yes. You read that right. $10.)

When we have the counter tops installed, we asked the installer to cut a hole exactly the right size to drop in the new bin. It looks great--completely covered and flush with the counter top. It is right next to the sink where I prep veggies and fruit so I can drop waste directly there. when I finish filling it, I pop the lid on and Voila! No fruit flies.

The bin pulls easily out of the counter when it is full so that I can empty it into my outdoor compost.

We bought an Israeli compost bin shaped like a sphere. It is a completely closed and runs very hot--discouraging rodents and other pests. We turn the compost by rolling the sphere. (No shoveling.) Though it runs hot, the worms seem to like it.

I compost veggies and fruit at home and I send dairy and meat and eggshells to the city with my yard compost. Easy peasy.

Posted by Tom, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Feb 3, 2019 at 1:18 pm

I like your focus on looking forward and finding (plus sharing) our own ways to engage in the transition for a better future. While there is no one Silver Bullet, there is Silver Buckshot, and that means we can all find many ways to make progress. One example: We signed up with PCE to buy 100% renewable electricity for an extra penny/kWh and we bought a $389 Frigidaire plug-in window heat pump that took only 15 minutes for me to install. It uses 500 Watts of electricity and delivers 1,500 Watts of heat (taking 1,000 watts of heat out of the ambient air in an effort to "restore winter" :). We turned off our frack-gas furnace and are now saving tons of CO2e. Once we crossed over that threshold of starting to act as though the future matters, we've been finding great satisfaction in making additional progress. I look forward to your blog.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Feb 3, 2019 at 7:53 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@All -- I love the composting ideas. Sounds like some of you are much greener than I am (I can't imagine doing my own compost), so what's great is there are lots of options. Curb pickup is more my speed. Tom, it must feel great to decrease your reliance on fracking. If you've had the heat pump for a while, and are happy with it, do you want to share a link to it? Thanks all for sharing those ideas.

Posted by Neal, a resident of Community Center,
on Feb 4, 2019 at 6:52 am

Neal is a registered user.

The most important environmental decision one can make is limiting the number of offspring. Each new birth creates another polluter, therefore, I use effective birth control. The general public seems to be in extreme denial about the adverse effects of rampant population growth.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Feb 4, 2019 at 8:02 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Neal -- that is a great comment. Population is a significant contributor to emissions. So why don't we talk about it more? I would note a couple of things. One is that most of the population growth is in low-emission countries. So the impact is not as significant as it could be. Population in more developed countries is slowing down naturally. Another, perhaps more important, is that talking about population growth can be fraught, so it may be addressed in other ways, such as focusing on education for girls, and providing for family planning, as Drawdown does. You may be interested in this writeup:

Posted by Tom, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Feb 4, 2019 at 11:34 am

Here's a link to the Window Heat Pump from Frigidaire I got though Walmart in Mountain View, I got the 8,000 Btu/hour power level but they also have one the same dimensions that delivers 140% as much heating and cooling power.
Web Link
Here's that same physical size more powerful one:
Web Link
The've got a sound level around that of a hotel AC unit so it's not nearly as quiet as the mini-split heat pumps where the compressor is remote.
For the more ambitious DIY folks, here's a link to the Mr. Cool DIY Mini-Split heat pump. I helped a friend install one of these but it took us most of the day as it needs to hook into a 220V circuit and sit on a pad or platform of some sort.
Web Link

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Feb 4, 2019 at 7:41 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Tom, thanks. The heat pump links can give people a sense of what some of their options are. The 100% renewable electric you signed up for is a terrific option for residents Menlo Park. In Palo Alto and Mountain View, we are 100% by default, but still not the case for Menlo Park!

Posted by Elise, a resident of another community,
on Feb 5, 2019 at 8:41 am

Looking forward to reading more Sherry! I organize tree plantings with Canopy in midpeninsula cities, and contribute to other education and advocacy around trees. I had a really intriguing article shared with me a while ago that you might find interesting if you haven't read it already. It is LONG, so I have not finished, but I hope to finish it one day.

Losing Earth: The decade we almost stopped climate change
Web Link

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Feb 5, 2019 at 2:14 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Elise -- Thank you for your work to grow our canopy! Trees provide so many benefits, including helping our climate.

The article is very powerful. And long! If you don't have a chance to read it, it basically says that climate change is not a science problem, but rather a problem of human nature and politics. The science has been sufficiently settled since the 60's, if not earlier. But it is very difficult for people, and corporations, to fight the invisible, and to make changes now for some nebulous future benefit. "Economics ... prices the future at a discount." Especially for corporations with a lot to lose in the near-term. Scientists tried to think more politically. In the 80's, there was briefly some hope to tie climate change to the ozone hole, which was visible and tangible, though hardly related. And for a while there was strong, bi-partisan interest in an emissions cap. 20% reduction by 2000 was a rallying cry. But that too lost momentum, as efforts in the US grew to cast doubt on the science and/or hold out hope for a technical fix. It's a sociological problem, and human nature hasn't changed much since then. We all have a role to play if we want to see change. Which is part of the answer to the second blog, if you read it :)

Posted by Robin Colman, a resident of Cuesta Park,
on Feb 6, 2019 at 1:33 pm

Thanks for starting this conversation, Sherry!

Posted by Justine, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Feb 20, 2019 at 9:29 pm

Great article Sherry and on such an important topic!

Posted by Nancy Reyering, a resident of Woodside: other,
on Apr 30, 2019 at 12:32 pm

Wonderful conversation - thank you for starting it! The San Mateo County Harbor Commission is working hard to protect our fragile shorelines, ecosystems, and infrastructure at Pillar Point by reducing armoring and restoring marshes which blunt wave force. Here's how it works: Web Link

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Apr 30, 2019 at 5:35 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Nancy, thank you for the comment and the link. I agree that restoring our wetlands is important. I hope to visit some of the local restoration efforts and do a post on it at some point. I noticed this writeup on it as well.

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