A Greener Thanksgiving

By Christine Harris

Thanksgiving is a day of overindulgence. Americans eat and drink too much. We travel long distances by car or plane. From an environmental perspective, Thanksgiving is not typically a green holiday. However there are many easy ways that you can decrease your emissions and use of resources and still have a meaningful holiday. Here are a few tips to make your Thanksgiving a bit greener:

Grow your own: In most parts of the country fruits and vegetables can be grown well into the fall. With a little planning many of your Thanksgiving favorites can come right from your own backyard or a plot in a community garden. If it’s too cold to keep the garden going into November, harvest earlier and freeze or can.

Check out your local farmer’s market: If you can’t grow it yourself, buy it from someone else who has grown it locally. You may even be able to find a locally raised free-range turkey at a farmer’s market or local farm.

Public market, Seattle. Photo by Christine Harris.
Seattle Pike Place Market. Photograph by Christine Harris.

Limit travel: Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel days of the year. Millions of us get on the road or in the air to celebrate the holiday with friends and relatives. Consider keeping your Thanksgiving celebration close to home. Technology has given us wonderful ways to connect with loved ones without having to burn tons of fossil fuels. Use face time or Skype to say hi to Grandma instead of making the 300-mile drive. If you are obliged to get on the road, make sure that your tires are well inflated to improve gas mileage. If your family has more than one vehicle take the more fuel-efficient option and carpool with friends and family if possible. Air travel uses far more fossil fuel than driving so if you are flying consider researching options for carbon offsets.

Plan the meal: If you are hosting, have a plan for what you will prepare and what your guests will bring. This will eliminate the possibility of having several of same dish and being left with too many leftovers.

Use what you have: Disposable plates and silverware are convenient, but using dishes you already have saves you money and lessens that amount of waste you produce.

Courtesy of Wiki Commons.
Image courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Use natural decorations: If you like to decorate opt for natural decorations you can make on your own instead of elaborate store-bought centerpieces. Collect brightly colored leaves or cut some of that bothersome bittersweet in the backyard to use for homemade decorations.

Rethink Black Friday: One day of indulgence is often followed by another for those who partake in the retail “holiday” Black Friday on the day after Thanksgiving. If you plan to shop on Black Friday go into it with a plan. Figure out what you need and where you need to go to get it and stick to only those purchases and places. Don’t buy things you don’t need just because they are a good deal. If you can resist the urge to shop on Black Friday you can celebrate the counter-culture holiday of Buy Nothing Day instead. Avoid the crowds and spend a relaxing day with family and friends.

Featured image: American turkeys. Photograph by Christine Harris.

The Wonderful Wonderbag

The Wonderbag comes vacuumed packed, with complete instructions for use and some recipes using Knorr products.  Photo by Maymie Higgins
The Wonderbag comes vacuumed packed, with complete instructions for use and some recipes using Knorr products. Photo by Maymie Higgins

What can you buy for $50?  A tank of gas?  If you are a co-ed or single, groceries for a week perhaps?  Pay your monthly cell phone bill?  What if I told you $50 could buy you a slow cooker, known as The Wonderbag, that does not require electricity and, for your purchase, a Wonderbag would also be provided to a woman in Africa?

Why is that a big deal?

Consider these facts:

  • Women in developing countries spend 4-6 hours cooking each day.
  • The Wonderbag saves energy, water and time, all very important in developing countries where there is little access to either.  Also, staple diets require long cooking times.
  • Lack of clean fuel means using charcoal or tree-wood for cooking.  In parts of Africa, there can be little income to afford charcoal, so someone must cut down trees for all the wood necessary for long cooking times.
  • Cutting down trees results in deforestation as communities quickly use the tree wood around them, digging up the roots when desperate.  When local resources become limited, foraging for wood occurs further away from home.  Girls are taken out of school for this chore.
  • Females are at greater risk of violence, including rape, the further they are from home.
  • Poverty will not end if girls don’t have time for school.

The Wonderbag was developed in 2008 by Sarah Collins to ease the social, economic and environmental impacts of these circumstances. The Wonderbag is a non-electric, heat-retention cooker that allows food that has been brought to a boil on a stove/fire, to continue cooking for hours after it has been removed from the fuel source.

My Wonderbag as it is being "fluffed out", which is the process of letting air back into the foam pieces inside the lining and topper.  Photo by Maymie Higgins
My Wonderbag as it is being “fluffed out”, which is the process of letting air back into the foam pieces inside the lining and topper. Photo by Maymie Higgins

One simple item provides positive environmental and social impacts including water conservation, reduction in carbon footprints, reduction in deforestation, reduction in smoke inhalation diseases and deaths, reduction and prevention of violence and rape, and increased opportunities for further education for girls.

When I read this story, which I stumbled upon on the home page for Amazon.com, there was no hesitation on my part.  I immediately ordered two Wonderbags, one for myself and one for my mother-in-law.  It will be a particularly handy item on camping trips during those times when it is chilly enough in the morning to cook breakfast over a fire but you wouldn’t want a fire later in the day.  I will make a one pot supper while also cooking breakfast, slip the pot into the Wonderbag, and have a tasty meal ready for munching after a day of full of fun but exhausting adventures.

This weekend, my Wonderbag will get its inaugural run with a tasty recipe for Brunswick stew.  Perhaps there will also be equally tasty meals cooking in Wonderbags I provided for two women in Africa.  Better yet, perhaps there will be a few young ladies using the time no longer spent gathering wood towards their studies.

For more information, please watch this brief video.


Planting for Global Cooling


By Neva Knott

It’s Autumn. It’s a time of change for trees. The growing season is coming to a close, though in walking around one can see some species are just now coming to fruit or seed. Leaves are beginning to turn and fall.  As I watch colors move from green to gold and orange, I’m reminded of what trees do, how they function as part of the system of nature. Humans breathe out, and trees breathe in. It is the most basic symbiotic relationship. Trees breathe carbon dioxide and store—or sequester—it, keeping it out of the atmosphere. Just today, I read a New York Times report on the severity of global warming. As I reflect on this changing season, I see a solution to climate change—reforestation, planting trees.

The relationship between trees and global warming is much like shade and open areas on a hot day. When the sun is blazing, people and animals become too hot, and seek shade under a tree to cool. Same thing for the planet. The sun is beating down, and trees help with cool-down. The grass under the tree’s canopy remains green; the sidewalks of tree-lined streets are cool, and the homes there stay comfortable even in mid-afternoon. Stream-side trees keep water cool enough for fish to live. City trees invert the heat island effect—that sensation of bricks and concrete giving of warmth at the end of a hot day. While trees are working to cool things, they are also taking up carbon dioxide emitted by all the driving and industry of humans going about the day.

As trees grow, they accumulate carbon; yet, as they are logged, burn, or die and decompose, they release carbon back into the atmosphere. This process is called the carbon cycle. Carbon sequestration occurs when the carbon taken in is stored in the wood, leaves, roots, and soil of the tree. It is this capacity for storage of carbon that has become the important focus of carbon reduction forestry programs.  Carbon sequestration also helps forests themselves. Global warming creates drier summers that lower the soil moisture available to trees, makes forests more habitable to pests, and increase susceptibility to wildfires.

As it stands now, the earth’s overall ecosystem is taxed by the amount of carbon emitted from driving and industry, using wood for fire fuel, and clearing land for development and agriculture. Without the amount of human-created carbon emitted into the atmosphere, the cycle maintains balance in the amount of carbon released, used, and stored.  Climate change is attributed in part to an imbalance in the carbon cycle. Oregon’s emissions measure about 68 million metric tons per year. This averages to about 17 metric tons per capita, in contrast with the world average of about four metric tons. Changes in forestry management can help create carbon sequestration necessary to counteract climate change caused by excessive carbon emissions. For example, mature trees in forested areas of the United States sequester about 56 per cent of all US carbon emissions.

In the fall of 2011, Oregon State University scientist David Turner and his team published a study of carbon sequestration in Oregon’s forests. The study covers the area affected by the 1993 Northwest Forest Plan, legislation that requires a decrease in timber harvest to protect habitat, mainly for the Spotted Owl. The NWFP applies to western Washington, Oregon, and California, and includes both public and private lands. Turner’s team remarked, “An unintended consequence of the NWFP has been a change in the regional forest carbon balance [which is] so important in the context of climate change.” The team found that private forests are now close to carbon-neutral, storing about as much carbon as they release into the atmosphere.  The big bonus is that public forests in the study area have become a carbon sink, or storage area, keeping more carbon than they output. Given that 84 per cent of Oregon’s greenhouse gases are CO2, the ability to store carbon quickly and efficiently is an important function of the state’s forests.

Here in Oregon, we pride ourselves on clean rivers, big trees, and healthy salmon runs, all of which come from healthy forests. Even so, Oregon forests are suffering the effects of over-logging, wildfires, and are generally degraded, just like anywhere else. Several governmental agency programs exist, each with a payment structure for planting trees and restoration work. These alliances are creating a system of ecological and economic renewal in areas of the state hard-hit by the limits on logging through the NWFP. The science of carbon sequestration is now being put to economic use.

The Bureau of Land Management Stewardship Program issues 10-year contracts, paying for forest restoration work such as thinning and blowdown removal. Many of these contracts work to decrease fire fuels. The Oregon Forest Resource Trust works to establish forests where there are none through afforestation and reforestation.  Oregon’s Tree Farm Plan is a cost-share program that helps private owners develop and fund long-range sustainability plans for their forests. The Conservation Reserves Program pays agricultural landowners to improve stream riparian areas by planting trees.

Oregon forestry leaders are continuously looking for ways to blend forest health, timber harvest, and the economic growth of the state.

These programs all operate under the scientific findings that chopping down forests contributes greatly to climate change, by emitting stored carbon, and by destroying the carbon sequestration process. All efforts to leave existing trees standing and to grow more trees—afforestation, reforestation, sustainable harvesting—significantly decrease carbon release into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. All of these actions can create economic benefits to the communities in and surrounding the forests, thus alleviating rural poverty and serving as a vehicle for social and economic development.

As Dr. Turner’s study suggests, the potential for carbon sequestration is a money-making one. Carbon trading, also known as carbon-offsets marketing, is a system in which carbon producers—polluters—pay forest growers for the service of carbon sequestration. The basic idea is that the sequestration provided creates balance with the pollution. This system is increasingly becoming a revenue stream.

In Oregon, The Climate Trust is the only offsets trading firm. It operates as a non-profit to managing partnerships and projects set up to create carbon offset trades. Forest projects must sequester 50, 000 tons or more over the lifetime of the project—this equates to about 150 acres of forested land.

To date, the Deschutes River Riparian project is the only Oregon project with The Climate Trust. Encouragingly, the Trust has $6 million available for funding projects in the state.

Publically owned forests, such as those studied by Dr. Turner and his team, currently cannot participate in the carbon market. Policy-makers are debating an offsets program for federal forestlands, and hopefully it will change soon. I asked Peter Weisberg of The Climate Trust about barriers to and the future of carbon offsets. He stated that prices are still low—about $10 per credit is being paid, and one credit represents one ton of carbon stored. Weisberg looks to increase in price as a way to get more projects going.

People and forests are symbiotic in nature. This symbiosis unites us—all of us—around the world, and creates universal hope for global cooling.

As I look out my window, I see foliage that I know will be gone in a month, leaving my view barren and cold. Autumn, and then it’s tree-planting season—November through spring.