Posted by: Lael Goodman | May 1, 2012

Oh the Injustice: Immigration and Global Warming

This blog post originally appeared on

It seems like everyone was jumping on the Earth Day bandwagon last week. We all know about corporate greenwashing, but last week another bastardization of the environmental message emerged and made national headlines, from the Colbert Report to Think Progress  to the Huffington PostCalifornians for Population Stabilization created the commercial which puts forth the claim that reducing immigration will reduce emissions:

Yes, it’s true that the United States has some of the highest per capita emissions. And it’s also true that some of these emissions come from factors that the average person living in the United States can control. But there are a lot of factors that aren’t decisions made by the average individual consumer, such as where their power comes from. When an American switches on a light, there is a good (but decreasing!) chance their electricity is being fueled by coal. When someone enters the United States they automatically enter an infrastructure that encourages the creation of carbon emissions. Someone taking a diesel-powered bus creates more emissions than someone traveling the same distance on a hybrid bus. And is that really the fault of the passenger?

While many of the critiques focused on misinterpretation of the data, I see this ad as even more problematic in terms of what it not so subtly insinuates about justice. This ad implies that not everyone deserves to have access to the kind of living conditions that most Americans take for granted. Should we really expect people to continue to live without access to electricity, basic health care, or clean water as part of a global strategy to achieve climate stabilization? Actually, that wasn’t a question. We cannot allow organizations such as Californians for Population Stabilization to promulgate that belief that because of first-world overconsumption we must deny basic consumption to anyone. Instead of thinking about how many people need to live in poverty in order to maintain our American way of life, let’s instead think about what kind of lifestyle is sustainable if all 7 billion people were treated equally.

Posted by: Lael Goodman | March 13, 2012

Healthy Earth Eating in Michigan

For the past couple of months, I’ve been serving on the leadership team for We Are Power Shift, a online community for the environmentally-minded youth. Together, the leadership team is trying to figure out how an online forum can best help to support and strengthen the youth climate movement.  Part of my team responsibilities include blogging, so check out my first blog post here or below!

As a kid, I was a picky eater. But my distaste for specific foods didn’t center around broccoli or even Brussels sprouts. Instead, the only meat I would eat was chicken. I turned my nose up at salmon until my parents “explained” that it was simply pink chicken. Beef was a variety of brown chicken and pork was, of course, the other white chicken. Lately I’ve begun to reframe the story: perhaps I simply had a discerning palate which knew before all the studies that chicken has the smallest environmental impact of all regularly consumed meats in the Western diet.

Unfortunately, my parents’ trickery turned me into a true meat and potatoes Midwesterner. This taste for flesh has been inconvenient ever since I became a vegetarian four years ago. Much like dieters lapse by indulging in ice cream, I occasionally cheat on my vegetarian lifestyle by eating meat. But I try to do so in thoughtful and intentional ways; if I’m going to eat meat, I want to support the industries that treat their animals with respect and sell their product locally. I’m not going to say I’m exactly like the customers in the Portlandia sketch, but it’s close.

However, moving from San Francisco (a city filled with sustainability-conscious restaurant choices) to Ann Arbor to attend the University of Michigan was tough on my dining-out options. Luckily, I discovered an amazing collaboration between community members, farmers, chefs, and food activists: Selma Cafe. On Friday mornings, two Ann Arbor residents open their private home to more than a hundred people, all hungry for breakfast. Using locally purchased, seasonal ingredients, guest chefs, and a small army of volunteers, they provide a downright delicious meal for anyone who wanders in.

There is a suggested donation, but even those who cannot afford it are welcomed. And the best part? The money goes to creating more local infrastructure for Michigan agriculture, including hoophouses which allow farmers to grow fresh produce even during the usually frigid Michigan winters. Some of these hoophouses have been built for urban farmers in Detroit, a city known for its food deserts and insecurity.

I applaud the efforts of food advocates who are continually finding new, creative, and delicious ways to spread the nutritious and local food word. And when I eat at Selma Cafe, I don’t have to be a picky eater.

Posted by: Lael Goodman | March 11, 2012

Rick Santorum Accidentally Promotes Belief in Climate Change

When visiting Michigan before the primaries, Rick Santorum made it pretty clear how he feels about higher education, “President Obama has said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob.”

I found C-SPAN’s coverage of Santorum’s speech pretty funny.  At one point, the shot cut to audience applause and showed this man – who is quite obviously sporting a University of Michigan emblem (my alma mater) on his jacket:

The camera also lingered on this mustachioed man for no apparent reason, perhaps mesmerized by the jaunty shape of his facial hair:

Santorum went on to claim that colleges are hotbeds of liberal indoctrination.  This is, of course, a scary thought for the conservative candidate who says he has “never supported even the hoax of global warming.”

Soon after I heard Santorum’s remarks on higher education I ran across a report by the Brookings Institute which found that belief in global warming is again on the rise in the American public. Perhaps even more surprising for Santorum, 60% of people with a college degree believe there is solid evidence for climate change and an even higher 66% of people without a college degree believe the same thing.

So there we go. Santorum wants Americans to avoid college in order to avoid exposure to things like diversity of opinion, ideas, and knowledge.  But the joke is actually on him because everyone, no matter their level of education, can think for themselves.

Posted by: Lael Goodman | February 21, 2012

10 Reasons Why I Love Bikeshare

photo via Mr. T in DC via Flickr

Bicycles were made for sharing – I know that now. Many things in life should never be shared, for example, toothbrushes or the brownies just pulled from the oven.

However, I recently discovered the beauty and functionality of Capital Bikeshare, a DC-area program with over 1200 bikes at 140 (ish) different locations. At first, I was skeptical: my own bike has served me well for the past four years, traveling with me from California to Michigan and now resides in my DC backyard. But soon after I inherited a free membership (normally $75/year), I became a bikeshare convert.  A proselytizing sharer.  A two-wheeler and dealer.

1) You don’t have to climb hills (as often)
I’m lazy and so are you.  Bikeshare makes it possible to coast to your downhill destination and take another (easier) route home. Someone else takes care of the hard stuff.

2) No repairs necessary
Flat tire? Not your problem. Just press the repair button and be on your merry way. No more walking your bike to the nearest shop for supplies and no additional cost.

3) Locks are a thing of the past
Locks are heavy. Good locks are even heavier. While you might not be able to cruise to your exact final destination, you can often find a docking station within a couple blocks of your desired location. I often waste precious minutes finding the right pole and safely securing my frame and wheels – docking stations lock the bike in around 3 seconds.

photo by thisisbossi via Flickr

4) Fenders
I’ve never installed fenders on my own bike, and I had not realized the joy of riding a bike down a wet street, and NOT having the bike wheels spray everywhere.

5) Baskets
Everyone wants the convenience of a basket but no one wants to ruin their bike’s aesthetic. The front basket fits right in with the bikeshare aesethic – ugly, heavy, and convenient.

6) You’ll fit in with your non-cycling friends
We’ve all been there. Your friends decide to walk to a different bar or want to take the metro to meet other friends. “Hold on just a minute,” you interject, “I just have to grab my bike.” Face it, your bike can sometimes be an inconvenience to yourself and others.

7) Cuter outfits
The step-through frame allows greater flexibility for skirt, dress, and kilt wearers. No more modesty pants on dress-up days, just a cool breeze and a killer look.

photo by juleskills via Flickr

8) No more ankle straps
As any cyclist who owns non-skinny jeans knows, the grease from bike chains can do a number on pants. Many people protect their pants with ankle straps but the bikeshare bikes tuck all that messy stuff on the inside, away from your clothes.

9) You get to keep your helmet on your person
I usually lock my helmet to my bike, but this isn’t possible for a bikeshare bike. Instead you get to carry your helmet around with you all day. Not only do you signal to other cyclists that you’re one of the cool kids, but you as we all know from watching cartoon, anvils can drop from the sky at any time. You’ll be prepared.

10) It’s a sign of the times
This bikeshare program was created, in part, by the efforts of the District of Columbia. Investment in a bikeshare program signals recognition of the enormous benefits biking has for infrastruture, pollution, and community health. And I’d say that’s a really good reason to love bikeshare.

Posted by: Lael Goodman | December 13, 2011

Occupy DC Peace Tree

This “post-consumer 100% recycled tree” is currently lighting up the holidays at Occupy DC.  Beautiful, no? As the flyer below points out, the tree is meant to stand for a “local and sustainable economy” and against consumerism. Good message.

But after seeing the flyer, I wasn’t sure that a tree made of trash was the right medium to convey their message.  Normally, I’m a huge naysayer of the “we can’t actually recycle these items so let’s turn them into an art piece and call it recycling” trend.  What happens when the art exhibition ends?  We can’t turn all of our trash into art; “trash-art” often just seems like a way to put off dealing with the very human problem of excessive consumption and waste.

And this “tree” is made of “2500 plastic bags and 2000 plastic bottles.”

But strangely enough – I didn’t care.  It was so enchanting in the misty twilight that the tree put me in a true holiday spirit for the first time this season. In fact,  I was in such a good mood that on the way home, I stopped in at international clothing coporation H&M to buy a sweater I didn’t need.


More photos:


Posted by: Lael Goodman | November 11, 2011

7 Billion Kids and Counting

Jim Bob, Michelle, and baby #19, Josie. Photo via TLC.

While the United Nations may have declared that the global population reached 7 billion on October 31, the exact date has a margin of error of about six months. That’s good news for the Duggar family of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting fame, who announced on Tuesday that their 20th child is due in April 2012.

Some see a healthy, American family. Others are worried about the strain population growth places on the Earth’s resources. But as Jim Bob, the Duggar family patriarch points out, “Every person uses up water, air, and resources. But our family, we may use up more in our family, but per person we probably use less resources.”

It’s almost like he’s invoking the famous IPAT equation: Human Environmental Impact (I) = Population (P) x Affluence (A) x Technology (T). Basically, as long as an increase in population is offset by decreases in affluence or more efficient technology, it’s a wash. The Duggars buy used shoes and cars and brew their own laundry soap. But I’m not sure making their own detergent is quite enough to offset the 180 or so loads of laundry they do each month.  And not allowing your children to watch modern television is hardly what Erlich, Commoner, and Holdren envisioned when referencing technology.

Even if the new little J. Duggar is the 7 billionth baby, we can’t really believe that one family of 20 kids is going to put us over the top of what the earth can sustain. Just consider if each of the 20 kids propagate their own 20 children, in no time at all that’s 400 grandkids and 8,000 great-grandkids for Jim Bob and Michelle. As Michelle stated on the Today Show, “Our motto around the house is, ‘there’s always room for one more.’” But is there, really?

Posted by: Lael Goodman | November 7, 2011

Trains, not Planes or Automobiles

“You heard about this new high-speed rail going between San Francisco and Los Angeles?  It’s set to cost $100 billion dollars, and I just can’t see any good reason to build it.” 

I waited for a full 2 seconds after overhearing this tidbit of conversation before spinning around and blurting out, “It’s good for the environment.”

I caught a glimpse of a surprised look on the man’s face before I whirled back around to check whether the white walk sign had replaced the orange hand. It had not.

The man responded, “Still, $100 billion dollars is a lot of the American taxpayer.”

I countered this with my own carefully crafted logic, “No, it’s not.”

The conversation persisted in this manner for another minute or so with my responses sounding petulant and uniformed, mostly because they were. He continued to treat me like an imbecile, up through the moment when he yelled after me as I ran across the street, chastising me for darting into the road when the light had not yet turned.  But I had to get out of there.

While my debating skills left much to be desired in that moment, throughout the rest of the day I would mutter the comebacks I wished I had made during that time. While the chances of ever finding that man again to give him the verbal trouncing he deserved are slim to none, I still needed to prepare some talking points.  Should a similar situation ever arise – I will stand at the ready.

from the California High Speed Rail Authority

“This system is going to cost $100 billion dollars.”

My comeback, “Where did you get that figure from? The California High-Speed Rail Association estimates that the system is currently set to cost around $45 billion. That’s less than half than your estimate. Actually, the current estimate is at $98.5 billion.  That may seem close to $100 billion, but think of how large of a difference $1.5 billion dollars actually is.”

“$100 billion dollars is a lot for the American taxpayer.”

My comeback, “$100 billion dollars is a lot of money, but first of all, we don’t know that the project is set to cost that much. But I agree, even $45 billion can seem daunting.  However, you do know that this money does not exist in a separate bubble all on its own. This train will replace air and car travel around California. It costs money to operate airports and maintain roads. In fact, an estimate from 2003 said that $82 billion would be needed ‘to expand our highways and airports to meet a similar demand expected to be carried by the high-speed train system.’  The most recent report puts these costs at more than $170 billion over just the next 20 years. Additionally, this system will bring jobs into the region, as many as 1 million permanent jobs, by some estimates.   Besides the temporary construction and engineering jobs, high speed rail (HSR) will bring jobs surrounding maintenance, ticketing, and on-board conductors.  There are also a lot of indirect benefits.  It’s true that HSR is better for the environment and public health than either planes or cars.  While these benefits are less tangible than a stack of bills, they represent cleaner air and water, reduced doctor’s visits, and these things in the end to save the state, and the American taxpayer, a great deal of money.

“Planes are faster than the train is set to be.”

My comeback, “Is it really? Not if you take into account the time it takes to get to an airport and get through security.  One of the great disadvantages to airline travel that you do not actually leave from or arrive in the city. Often airports are located far outside of the city center, and the time it takes to get public transportation into the city needs to be factored into your analysis. If it takes just 30 minutes to get to and from each of the airports in San Francisco and LA (an extremely conservative estimate in my experience), then you need to add an hour onto the flight time. Additionally, about 1 in 4 SF-LA flights is delayed about an hour. Add that to the time it takes to board, taxi, take-off, land, deplane, and wait for luggage, and I think you may find that the actual travel time may be more comparable than you may originally think.”

“Plane fares are cheaper than the train.”

My argument, “How do you know? As of yet, I have not been able to find any cost of any fares – so that seems a pretty bold statement to make. From the California High Speed Rail website:

Under this fare structure, HST fares were set to equal 50% of the average airfare (at the time of the analysis) for travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles. However, the HST system is expected to be priced based upon the distance traveled, as opposed to air transportation within California where shorter distance intercity trips are often charged substantially higher rates than the longer-distance trips between California’s major metropolitan regions. Higher high-speed train fares would actually increase system revenues, but would decrease total ridership and public benefits. Ultimately, it is very likely that fares will vary based on such factors as type of service (business, coach, express, skip-stop, etc.), time of day (peak, off-peak), advanced purchase, etc. – much like the airlines and high-speed trains in Europe and Asia operate.

Projeced fares range from $52 to $123 per one-way ticket, with the average ticket costing $81.  This is very competitive with the current plane fares.  Also, it’s all well and nice to talk about how cheap planes are right now, but their fares can increase pretty quickly when the cost of oil rises. But that would never happen, would it?”

* Many of my original arguments were based on old data. I have updated the post to reflect more current information.

Posted by: Lael Goodman | October 13, 2011

Testing Tube Meat

Sometimes, on a good day, I get to do some research. And sometimes, on very good days, I get to research topics that the general public finds interesting. Earlier this year there was a perfect storm when I was asked to research and write up a report on: TEST TUBE MEAT. Aka cloned meat. Aka in-vitro meat.

Photo by Mike Licht, via flickr

For those who were paying attention earlier this summer, a bunch of news outlets suddenly started reporting, “Lab Grown Meat Just 6 Months Away, Scientists Say,” and “Meat without slaughter: ‘6 months’ to bio-sausages.”  Exciting?  Yes.  True? I think not.

The basic idea behind in-vitro meat is that you can take cells from an animal, and clone them in the lab such that it is no longer necessary to breed and slaughter animals for food.  A lot of animal rights groups like the idea, and it’s easy to see why.  A lot of environmentalists are also enthused about the idea of making meat without wasting large portions of the animal, dealing with their waste, or devoting large swaths of land to animal agriculture.  Unfortunately, there are still some fairly substantial obstacles to this technology.

  • Most of this research has been done for medical purposes, and the cell lines that have been isolated are generally from humans, monkeys, or mice.  Very few studies have dealt with animals like cows, pigs, or chickens.  Rat meat anyone?
  • While theoretically a single cell could produce millions of pounds of meat, thus far many of the cells have either stopped dividing or have undergone spontaneous transformation.  Neither of these phenomenon are very promising for producing large amounts of healthy meat.
  • There has been no large scale production of meat.  In order to produce the amount of meat that would be necessary for a commercial level, one scientist predicts that there would need to be an industrial scale bioreactor that was at least 3 to 5 stories in height.  As of today, I was unable to find any evidence of meat bioreactors even one story in height.
  • These cells need to grow in a culture medium.  Currently, most culturing occurs in animal sera, which is both costly and requires the use of live animals.  The recently touted pig meat was grown in fetal horse serum.  While I’m not sure how much fetal horse serum is needed to grow a sausage, it stands to reason that continuing to raise animals so we can culture cells kind of eliminates most of the benefits of in-vitro meat.

The take-away message?  It doesn’t look like the technology will be ready any time soon.  But I’m sure that won’t stop the news stories from declaring, time and time again, to look for test tube turkey at next year’s Thanksgiving.

Posted by: Lael Goodman | September 12, 2011

Why I Broke the Rules and Got Arrested

I’m a rule follower, not a rule breaker. So I’m not exactly sure what possessed me to participate in the largest act of civil disobedience yet this century. I think I wanted to be a part of the moment in the environmental movement when it was decided that when obeying the rules doesn’t work, sometimes they must be broken. Maybe I wanted to experience history. I’m not really an activist – or at least, I wasn’t. I don’t know if I’ve ever even signed an online petition. But something about the plan to get arrested over the Keystone XL pipeline intrigued me.

It wasn’t this particular issue, although destroying the Canadian wilderness, polluting untold acreage, building a pipeline prone to leakage, endangering fresh water supplies including the Ogallala Aquifer, increasing air pollution, and trading a few dollars now for possibly insurmountable problems later seems like a pretty bad idea. No, I protested because I’m sick of being ignored.  I feel as though I have no voice in this democracy.

I thought getting arrested might help. At least someone would have to pay attention to me. Although I was arrested in front of the White House for “refusing to obey a lawful order,” I don’t think Barack Obama was listening. His request to the EPA to halt the tightening of ozone standards showed that.

The arrests began after we sat peacefully on the wet sidewalk in front of the White House for a half hour. First to go were the older women. Then the younger women.  I was one of the first of this group to be arrested. I faced my fellow protestors as the park police cuffed me.  The other protestors clapped, and as I waited in line for my mug shot with the others, the gathering crowd cheered us on. One man pointed to me, and gave a thumbs up.

After being loaded onto a metro bus brought to the grounds especially for this occasion, through the glass I saw a woman mouth, “thank you.” It was only these two people who made me feel as though my sacrifice was worth something real. And I did feel as though I lost something. I lost my record as a good citizen. I lost $100 when I had to pay for my release. And I’m losing my faith that I can make a difference.

I didn’t feel empowered.  I felt like I had paid for my right to speak. That I paid $100 for someone to listen. But in the end, I’m not sure anyone did. After all, the bus stood idling for an hour while protestors were arrested and loaded inside. That’s irony.

Posted by: Lael Goodman | August 28, 2011

Kenilworth a Visit

I’ve lived in DC for a total of over 3 years, and yet I only heard of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens about a month ago after an intensive online search of little known activities in DC. While there were expansive wetlands with majestic birds dotting the landscape, what enthralled me was the carefully managed ponds closer to the entrance.

A vast field of lotus flowers rises from the water. Why lotus flowers are in DC is not 100% clear, but they don’t seem to be taking over the natural landscape and their beauty is undeniable.

A lotus blossom that has not yet opened:

A blossom in its full glory looks so fake:

Even seeing the seed pod after the flower is gone is magnificent:

Nearby, ponds with waterlilies (with colors ranging from pale pink to deep purple) and giant lily pads display their brilliance:

While I didn’t see any stereotypical frogs on the lily pads, I saw tens of tiny turtles swimming underwater and poking their heads up from time to time.  The whole park was filled with flora and fauna that I don’t often get to see, even in botanic gardens. I would highly recommend a trip to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. But for those in the area, make the trek soon,

Lotus at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are blooming early and the season for lotus only may end by August.  Tropical waterlilies should go out into the ponds in July and bloom through August and September.

Overall, it’s a surprisingly beautiful place, given the disdain one often hears of the Anacostia River. The week following my first visit, I made a return trip to do some conservation work. After shoring up some of the ponds, I spent an hour picking up bits of styrofoam, Doritos bags, and plastic children’s toys scattered amongst dead fish in the putrid mud. While the it’s a well-known fact that the Anacostia water quality has improved in recent years, thanks in large part to the Anacostia Watershed Society, there is still a lot more to be done. After visiting the Kenilworth Aquatic Park just once, I feel invested enough in the community to take action. And now that I’ve done some work, I just might reward myself with a free paddling night in the Anacostia. Who’s with me?

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