Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sustainable Christmas Trees

   You’ve done as much as you could: bought local gifts, avoided items requiring batteries, donated reusable toys, and wrapped everything in newspaper or old calendars and magazines. You made your holiday season as eco-friendly as you could. But there is one thing that still irks you: what about a sustainable Christmas tree?

    Reducing the environmental impacts of the mass cutting of trees may seem difficult. Some people believe that purchasing an artificial Christmas tree is the answer. However, most plastic trees are made in China from petroleum products (PVC) and involve manufacturing and shipping. If an artificial tree were reused for 20 years, its use would offset the impacts of cutting down one Christmas tree. But most often, plastic trees are reused 2-6 years before they are discarded because they are no longer attractive. Many artificial trees are tossed into landfills where their plastic will keep forever.

Image of  live potted Christmas tree
    Thus, a live tree is still the more sustainable option. To further its use, purchase potted trees, which can be reused for 2-3 years before they have to be repotted in larger containers for more use or planted outside. 

     Keep the tree indoors for ten days at most. Place a plastic saucer with wheels under the pot for easy transportation. The saucer is available at nurseries. Keep away from heat, and water it regularly. An efficient way to keep it watered is to place two trays of ice cubes on top of the soil, and as they melt, the water will continue to trickle through the soil down to the roots.

     Once it is time to move the tree outdoors, first move it to a cooler place like a garage or porch for a few days of transition. Then, find a safe spot outside where the rootball will not freeze. The tree will need watering when the first two inches of soil feel dry. Give it organic fertilizer in the spring, and then plant it in a garden or some place where its projected growth will not hinder buildings, power lines, or underground facilities.

     If you would also like to give the gift of a tree this year, American Forests plants a tree for every $1 donation to the GlobalReLeaf program (

    Now that your sustainable tree stresses have been lessened, enjoy your eco-friendly holidays!

Monday, December 9, 2013

DIY Holiday Gift Ideas

The holidays are coming up quickly! Gifts that are handmade are not only more thoughtful and full of love, but can be eco-friendly by up-cycling old, unused objects to create beautiful creations. Here are a couple gifts that will also help your loved one stay organized.

DIY Scarf Organizer: hanger, shower curtain rings, electrical tape, and yarn or pipe cleaners.

Tape the rings to the hanger in the way you want them to line up and hang. Then just tie yarn or pipe cleaners around everything to make it look nice while using up the unused pipe cleaners or yarn.

DIY Calendar: picture frame (with original picture it came with), 7 paint swatches (made up of 6 tints & shades), and an expo marker.

Do you have a pile of paint swatches lying around in some old drawer? Well all you need is seven of those strips that are each made up of 6 colors ranging from the tint to the shade. Take a picture frame that is large enough to lay them all out in, turn over the piece of paper that came inside the frame so that the white side is showing. Then glue each strip of paint swatch to the paper to create a grid of 6 by 7 (6 rows and 7 columns). Place this in the frame, and then use an expo marker to write the month, dates, and days of the week. And there you have, a homemade calendar that you can give as a gift.


Other gifts that you can make yourself are mason jar bottles, wall name/letter decor, ornaments, nail polish from old eye shadow, or even homemade soap! Have fun with gifts this holiday season. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ogoni: Endangered Indigenous People

       Plants and animals are not the only species that are endangered. People are too. Just as much as development and habitat degradation can negatively affect plants and animals, they can impact whole tribes as well.

      An agricultural, hunting, and fishing tribe, the Ogoni people have lived on the 404-square mile territory in the Niger Delta that they call Ogoniland for almost 500 years. Not until the British invaded in 1901 were the Ogoni introduced to “modernity” and “civilization.” Since then, the peaceful people have been bombarded by the “forces of modernity, colonialism, the money economy, indigenous colonialism and then the Nigerian Civil War,” radically altering Ogoni consciousness and lifestyle (Kavilu 2011). However, the Ogoni’s worst grievances remain with environmental pollution from oil production, which has adversely impacted their socio-economics, health, and culture.
Image from
    Deforestation, toxic waste dumping, soil degradation, and oil spills have rendered farmlands infertile and rivers undrinkable (Adeola 2009, p. 145, Hunting is futile since the wildlife has either died or fled because of habitat degradation. The oil companies have stripped the land of its wealth and destroyed the only forms of livelihood for the Ogoni. The Nigerian government refuses the Ogoni compensation, and instead, chooses to maintain friendly relations with the multinational corporations that embody the geopolitical and economic practices intrinsic of neocolonialism.

        In the ambitious, neocolonial pursuit of valuable resources and profit, the plight of health problems in the marginalized society of Ogoni people has been relatively ignored. Environmental impacts on land, air, water, flora, and fauna have caused the malnutrition and starvation of the Ogoni people ( Short and long-term health impacts, such as “skin infections, gastrointestinal and respiratory ailments, increased risk of cancers, and neurological and reproductive problems” have been reported ( Noisy gas flares, or the burning of 76% of the gas released during oil extraction, occur close to residences at all hours of the day, leaving a thick layer of soot over the area (Adeola 2009, p. 145, Gas flares emit nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide, which cause asthma, lung disease, and cancer ( Oil production has deteriorated the health of an indigenous tribe that does not have the money or facilities to address such problems.

         But the Ogoni people still have a spirited voice, with which they are fighting back for their human rights. In the 1990s, the Ogoni organized the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, leading multiple protests, to which the Nigerian government responded with “wasting operations,” looting and burning the homes of MOSOP activists (Lobe 2002). The MOSOP president, Ken Saro-wiwa, became a world renowned human rights and environmental activist before his hasty execution in 1995 after a nonviolent political protest against Shell for 50 years of environmental degradation of Ogoniland (Kavilu 2011). Shortly after his death, a case was filed against the Nigerian government, and the African commission decided that the Nigerian government violated seven articles of the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, demanding that the Nigerian government compensate the Ogoni people for abuses to their land, environment, and health (Lobe 2002).

         The Ogoni refuse to be marginalized any longer, making their voice against the exploitation of human rights and the environment heard around the globe.

Reference List
Adeola, F., 2009. ‘From Colonialism to Internal Colonialism and Crude Socioenvironmental Injustice’, in F. Steady, Environmental Justice in the New Millenium. New York, Palgrave Macmillan.
Brief Historical Background of Ogoni [online]. Available: accessed 23 March 2013.
Factsheet of the Ogoni Struggle [online]. Available: accessed 23 March 2013.
Kavilu, S., 2011. Nigeria’s Ogoni Indigenous People Calls for Fresh Investigation on Murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa [online]. Available: accessed 23 March 2013.            
Lobe, J., 2002. People versus Big Oil: Rights of Nigerian Indigenous People Recognized [online]. Available: accessed 23 March 2013.
The Social and Economic Rights Action Center and the Center for Economic and Social Rights v. Nigeria, African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, Comm. No. 155/96 [online]. Available: accessed 23 March 2013. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Why Not Frack?

Fracking is drilling technology that allows for natural gas reserves to be reached. The fracking technology consists of high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing that uses sand, water, and chemicals to be injected at high pressures to blast open shale rock and release the trapped gas. This technology and undisclosed chemicals has been tied to harmful effects affecting air emissions, water contamination, problems with waste disposal, and health effects for people and livestock.  

Recently, there have been several environmental-political controversies going around. In some states, the results were a huge deal, with people waiting to hear back about whether or not certain bills would be passed or actions would take place.

In California, the week before a major fracking bill vote, oil lobbyists treated some Californian Lawmakers to a $13,000 dinner. This fracking bill that was voted on was a watered-down fracking regulatory bill that requires oil and gas companies to obtain a permit before they drill, but it does not require an environmental review process for each well. This significantly weakened version of the original bill was passed and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown. The original law would have forced oil and gas companies to list online the chemicals they use, to obtain a permit for fracking, and to notify neighbors before drilling and to monitor ground water and air quality. However, in the watered-down bill that was passed, all of this isn’t enforced or required.

Some land of entire neighborhoods is leased to natural gas companies with or without the residents’ consent. Some studies have found that home developers are keeping the rights to oil and gas reserves under the houses that they sell, in most cases, not even notifying the home buyers. When this is done, in most cases the homebuyers are never even notified. By doing this, the home developers can then lease the land to a natural gas company with or without the consent of the residents. Due to all of this action and deals made behind backs, some cities, like Pittsburgh, are banning this practice, and even ban fracking itself, in order to protect the people and the land.

There are very few federal regulations on this practice, and it is largely up to the states to create and implement their own regulations on fracking. Such regulations can range from demanding the oil and gas companies to provide a list of all of the chemicals used in the fracking process, to the monitoring of air and water quality around well sites, and allowing time for the states to determine potential environmental and health impacts due to this practice.

Thus, it is up to us to become informed and call for action from our politicians if we want our rights and health protected.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Solar Construction is Heating Up at Endicott

Photo by Sarah Creighton.
       The Beverly area grows greener everyday, and Change is Simple, Inc. would like to recognize Endicott College’s actions towards creating a more sustainable campus.

       The private college is currently erecting a solar parking lot canopy that is larger than a football field and will provide coverage and LED lighting for 255 cars.  “Once it is done, it will probably be the biggest solar parking lot canopy north of New Jersey,” said Sarah Creighton, Endicott’s Director of Sustainability.  “It will be a real leadership position for Endicott.”

       The college was also the first institution to undertake a power purchase agreement through Power Options, an energy buying consortium from whom the College negotiates electricity and natural gas supply contracts. SunEdison, a company specializing in solar energy, owns and operates the solar parking lot canopy and is responsible for all construction costs.

       The solar canopy will produce about 1,000 megawatt hours of electricity per year. It will provide energy for about 7% of total campus.

       “What it effectively does is create some diversity in our energy portfolio,” said Creighton, explaining that Endicott depends mostly on natural gas for both heating and electricity. “We are very vulnerable to natural gas, both in a positive way if the prices go down, and in a negative way if the prices go up.”

       “The way the power purchase agreement works is that it will reduce how much we buy from the grid.”

       This arrangement will relieve the college’s vulnerability to market changes, especially since the transmission costs are forecasted to increase. Endicott’s solar energy will be secured at a fixed rate for 20 years.

Photo by Sarah Creighton
       Although construction was predicted to conclude October 1, it has been slowed due to unforeseen site conditions. The completion of the solar parking lot canopy is expected before the snow.

      Before selecting the parking lot option, Endicott also considered a number of rooftop sites including the Post Center, the Library, and the Academic Center.  In addition to solar energy, Endicott has also looked into other alternative resources. Three years ago, a wind feasibility study found that the college has a lot of wind. However, the wind is located on a remote part of campus and it would require the construction of a large road.

      “Additionally, the study showed potential problems with noise that would need to be investigated further,” said Creighton. “A number of turbines in the region are facing noise complaints and a few are even are being shut down.  It seems prudent to wait and see how the technology will respond to those challenges.

       While “the wind isn’t going away,” said Creighton, “the solar panels are expected to start generating by the first of the year.”

       Change is Simple appreciates Endicott College’s actions to making Beverly, and the world, a greener place, and encourages the institution to continue to set an example.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Tips for a Warm, Sustainable Home During Winter Months

With the season changing from fall to winter, it’s time to start bundling up even more. The cold winter months always seem to empty wallets rather quickly. So in order to save some money and stay warm during these next few months, here are some tips to help you out!

-Use heavy curtains over windows to help stop heat from escaping
-Make sure home is well insulated and cracks/gaps are sealed up
-Watch the temperature on thermostat to make sure it’s working correctly
-Let sunlight in during the day
-Maintain your heater
-Wear layers, layers, and more layers (fuzzy socks, slippers, and blankets!)
-Exercise indoors to warm up
-Drink warm liquids (coffee, tea, hot chocolate, hot cider, soup)
-Cook to warm up yourself and the kitchen (leave the oven open when you’re done with it)

Just by following these few tips, you’ll sure find that your payments will be lower and you’re being sustainable. Have a warm, fun winter!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Eco-Thriller

Photo from

            With movies like The Day After Tomorrow, The Happening, and 2012, it is no wonder that the public does not take environmentalists seriously.  No one is going to believe that climate change is an imminent problem that will slowly, (but yes, indeed surely,) dramatically affect our planet when Hollywood produces movies where the sky is literally falling.

            So why does it do it? If Hollywood makes these movies filled with eco-warnings, clearly it advocates for environmental issues enough to want to spread the word and change people’s behaviors. But why does it create such exaggerated accounts about the abrupt end of the world that seem highly irrational and, quite frankly, ridiculous?

            Because no one listens to the truth.

            Americans operate on a to-do list because they like to see results, and fast. Since climate change generates gradual, long-term effects that are not immediate, many people postpone acting upon possible solutions or mitigations. That’s why Hollywood has begun to trend “eco-thrillers” that present exaggerated, immediate disasters with large-scale outcomes that human activities have caused[1].

            Feeling powerless against an unwilling society, environmentalists use the apocalypse to startle viewers from their state of ignorance or denial. It presents viewers with an ultimatum: change your ways now or reap the consequences. 

            Although eco-thrillers have good intentions, they may hurt their own cause rather than help it. With such dramatic flair, the sudden apocalypses can appear imaginary, and overall, illogical. Eco-thrillers may confuse viewers about the truth of the real eco-crisis, reinforcing any internal refusals to believe in climate change.

            So if you want to convince your friends to start recycling and composting, walking to work, or shopping local, don’t try to scare them into it with a movie about abrupt ice ages, plants that make you commit suicide, or Mayan prophecies that come true with a second Noah’s Ark as our only form of salvation.

            Stick to Avatar or maybe even Wall-E.

[1] Richard Kerridge, “Ecothrillers: Environmental Cliffhangers,” in Rethinking Popular Culture: Contemporary Perspectives in Cultural Studies, ed. Chandra Mukerji and Michael Schudson (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991), 242-249.