More People Not Only Living Green – But Eating Green Too!

imagesAs you know, we are gearing up for our annual EcoChallenge, a two week event October 15-29th where we challenge you to change one habit that benefits both you and the planet. We often are asked for ideas on “what can I do?” and this week NWEI Board Member and Ziba Design Creative Director Eric Park shared the following article as inspiration for the EcoChallenge. Not sure what to try for two weeks? How about a vegan or vegetarian diet? As Eric says, this article “makes becoming a vegetarian late in life seem like normal behavior change.” For the full article, click here

Many Boomers and seniors grew up being told, “No dessert until you’ve finished your vegetables.” That parental pronouncement led to spinach hidden in napkins, broccoli smuggled to the dog, and, for some, a lifelong aversion to anything green. But, these days, more and more in this age group are learning that it’s never too late to start eating your veggies. Two and a half million Americans over the age of 55 have made the switch to vegetarianism, and the even-more-extreme version of a plant-based diet—veganism—is going mainstream.

The word “vegan” has steadily increased in Google searches—it is now up to 36 million hits. Chipotle offers vegan burritos. Even White Castle is testing veggie sliders in selected markets. And Kaiser Permanente, the country’s largest HMO, recommends that its members eat a plant-based diet. The vegan trend has also impacted the dairy industry. Cow milk consumption is down, while the sales of soy, almond, and other milk substitutes are up.

It also doesn’t hurt that many famous Boomers have gone vegan, from Bill Clinton and Al Gore to Ellen DeGeneres and Portia De Rossi. And it’s not only celebrities but regular folks that are eating green to stave off the chronic conditions that plague four out of five people over age 65. Fred Willms, 81, of Medford, Ore., has experienced the health benefits of a plant-based diet. Although he grew up on meat and potatoes, Fred became a vegan at 78 at the urging of a physician who gave him “The China Study,” a book that details the connection between nutrition and diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes…

To read the full article, click here. Ready to choose your own challenge and change a behavior? More ideas are found here.

Change Habits for Good: EcoChallenge Registration is Open!

CaptureWe know change can be tough, and sometimes it takes a kick-start to make it happen. And that is exactly what we are gearing up with the EcoChallenge here at the Northwest Earth Institute: giving you and your family, friends and colleagues a way to kick-start new habits that are good for you and good for Earth.

Registration is now underway for the 2014 EcoChallenge. The EcoChallenge is an annual event; each October we challenge people to choose one action to reduce their impact and stick with it for two weeks.

Individuals and teams pick a category—water, trash, energy, food, transportation or civic engagement—and set a goal that stretches their comfort zone. (Check out these inspiring stories from participants, and our EcoChallenge videos if you need an idea of what to take on for your challenge this year.) After taking on their challenge for two weeks, nearly everyone finds that there are aspects of their challenge that have become a habit — they’ve changed for good.

Who should join? You!

2014 Ecochallenge 4.25 x 6 postcard without crops

The EcoChallenge is open to anyone who would like to make a commitment to living a little lighter on Earth. Create a team at work or on campus, and invite your friends and family to participate with you. Camaraderie, friendly peer pressure and fun raffle prizes make change a little easier, and a lot more fun.

We look forward to hearing what your EcoChallenge will be!

Deborah McNamara is Director of Organizational Partnerships for the Northwest Earth Institute.

Guest Blog Post: A Film that Shows Us How to Reverse Climate Change Now

T20140417173626-cowspiracy_posteroday we are excited to share a guest blog post from Sabrina Louise, who works with NWEI partner organization Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth. Sabrina is an environmentalist, plant-based food consultant and vegan. Her reflections below are about a new documentary film, Cowspiracy, which shows us one way to reverse climate change. As the filmmakers say, “there is one single industry destroying the planet more than any other – and no one wants to talk about it.” We here at NWEI believe in the power of dialogue. Thanks to Sabrina for bringing this issue and this resource to our attention!

Two principles I learned early in life have helped shape me significantly: the belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person (which I joyfully extend to all beings), and the belief in the interdependent web of life, of which we are a part. Some days, it is a challenge to remain hopeful, attempting to live those values in my day-to-day life, while so much destruction is being done to Earth, to each other and to the species we share this planet with.

According to a recent poll, I’m not the only one concerned about the state of Earth. While 75% of all Americans consider themselves to be environmentalists, few of them are aware that the number 1 contributor to global climate change, deforestation, diminishing natural resources, ocean dead zones, and contaminated groundwater, rivers and streams, is animal agriculture.

A new film, Cowspiracy, is a real game changer, however. Recently released for its debut run on the west coast, Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn set out to create a documentary to confront these issues while discovering why the world’s leading environmental groups haven’t been addressing how animal agriculture contributes to climate change and how the promotion of a plant based diet is a solution. Cowspiracy is almost entirely crowd-funded, and is very successful at painting us a vivid image of how humankind is contributing to our own species’ eventual extinction.

Instead of emphasizing painful footage, the filmmakers focus on visual statistics, info-graphics and charts, comical animation, and interviews from related organizations, former cattle ranchers, the dairy industry, small “sustainable” farms, activists and doctors. Their stories are shocking, inspiring and exceptionally convincing. In its wake, Cowspiracy has prompted much interest from teachers across the country looking for educational material for their classrooms. It’s wonderful to hear that Kip and Keegan are working on a shorter film to meet that demand. Want to order your own copy and support the efforts of these new filmmakers? Learn more here. Earth thanks you.

Want to dive deeper into exploring your food choices? NWEI offers two food-focused discussion course books: Menu for the Future and Hungry for Change.

Shifting Gears: Why “Bike Train” Commuting Could be the Wave of the Future

A group of bikers forms a “bike train” in Los Angeles

Today NWEI Director of Membership and Engagement Liz Zavodsky offers the following inspiration on why “bike trains” may be the wave of the future – and why they are also a great way to support new bikers and those concerned about road safety. Liz rode her bike often while living in Arizona but hadn’t made the leap to becoming a bike commuter since moving to Portland a few years ago (concerns about city cycling being a primary factor). Liz says, “I have been getting the bug to ride my bike and join in the parade of folks traveling each day in the fresh air and beauty of Portland. My biggest urge came just last week as I was driving to work listening to a story on NPR about Bike Trains in Los Angeles.To read the story that inspired Liz to jump on her bike, and to learn more about bike train commuting, click here.

NPR’s Alex Schmidt tells the inspiring story of “bike trains,” communities of people who are meeting each morning and doing their commute by bike together. How brilliant! Someone at each starting location is the “lead” and reviews bike safety information as reminders and for those just beginning their cycling commute. After folks gather and complete their checklist for the day, the group commuting begins – winding through LA, dropping folks off at their offices and picking up others along the way. I realized this might be what I need to get me going with bike commuting. I saw my own reservations about commuting by bike in Portland: I wish there were more compassionate drivers, I wish the bike lanes felt safer, I wish I knew the rules of the road as it relates to biking. I found clarity in knowing these are barriers I can overcome by learning bike rules of the road and having folks to do it with.

I wonder if other cities have programs like the Bike Trains of LA? I wonder if more cities did have them, would more folks commute and fewer cars be on the road? What’s the tipping point for cycling to be more mainstream and how can we build infrastructure to support safe cycling? I’m not sure if there are Bike Trains in Portland but I know I can look into what we do have and try it out. I found free classes on cycling essentials I can take through the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation to refresh my skills in safe city cycling and get more involved in my own community to start. These LA Bike Trains are a great starting point for many and have inspired me. What about you?

Want more information on biking? The Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals is another great place to start. For more information on sustainable transportation, check out our Choices for Sustainable Living discussion course.

New Report Expounds Upon Lack of Diversity in Green Groups

CaptureLast week, Brentin Mock, Grist’s Justice Editor, offered the below reflections on a new report expounding on the lack of diversity in green groups. The report finds that despite increasing racial diversity in the US, the racial composition in environmental organizations has not broken the 12-16% “green ceiling.” 

President John F. Kennedy once told an audience of American University grads, “We can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air.”

That was 1963. We did not inhale the same oxygen then, and we certainly don’t now. In 2011, scientists found that American counties with the worst levels of ozone had significantly larger African-American populations than counties with less pollution. A recent study from the University of Minnesota found that black and brown Americans are more often trapped in neighborhoods laden with nitrogen dioxide than their white fellow Americans.

And despite civil rights laws, organizations whose mission is to clean the air don’t seem to have grown much more hospitable to people of color. A new report, released today, shows that the staffs of mainstream green groups have been overrepresented with white men despite the groups’ intentions to be more colorful. One of its most damning findings is that “the dominant culture of the organizations is alienating to ethnic minorities, the poor, the LGBTQ community, and others outside the mainstream.”

The report, called “The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations,” is billed as “the most comprehensive report on diversity in the environmental movement.” It was compiled by a working group of thought leaders on environment and race called Green 2.0, led by University of Michigan professor Dorceta Taylor. The report explores the history of tension between green activism and racial justice, and the many attempts at rapprochement…

To read Brentin’s full piece, click here. To learn more about how environmental issues interface with justice issues, check out our newest course on peace, justice and sustainability: Seeing Systems.

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