Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thursday's Hot Plate: Divide and Conquer

It's New Years Eve! Its pretty damn cold out there and it has been grey and rainy all day. Not pleasant, but maybe it will keep the 20-somethings from Virginia out of the district tonight. . . . hmmm . . .

I just started a new book "The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela". Turns out I might be the last person on the planet to not have read this book. I first discovered it in Mae Sot, Thailand while I was helping to (badly) edit a document for one of the Burmese groups working on the border, Assistance Association of Political Prisoners Burma (AAPP). They help raise awareness about and get released Burmese political prisoners. I had brought a group of professors and college students to the Thai-Burma border to volunteer and learn more about the Burmese democracy struggle in order to raise awarenss on our own college campus'.

Bo Kyi, the man I was (badly) helping, was reading it. Volunteering in that office was a bit intense and a lot of times, more than anything else, they wanted us to stay out of the way until they finished their work, so we could all drink whiskey, play basketball, sing songs, and heatedly discuss democracy and freedom late into the night. Several times on the way to some house party one of the Burmese guys would get arrested and us volunteers, who felt pretty useless and in the way, would bribe the cops and get whoever it was released. At least we were productive in something.

Not too long ago I was speaking to a forest campaigner who worked in the Congo and she said that when they get stopped and asked for bribes it is pretty common to just refuse and stand there for hours until the cops calculate their cost benefit of the situation, cut their loses, and move on to someone that might be an easier target. Bribing customs throughout the world are pretty interesting.

Earlier this month there were a slew of articles popping up about the impacts of people, "crusaders" to quote one, demanding the elimination of chemicals in products such as toys. On December 4, The Good Guide, a non-profit consumer product rating organization, released chemical testing of the children's toy Zhu Zhu hamster, claiming that it contained unsafe levels of antimony. Antimony is a chemical being eliminated in many products and can lead to cancer and reproductive disorders.

The testing it turns out was not identical to the federal testing that said the toy's level of antimony was safe. Enter shit storm.

On December 7, The Good Guide posted "New Protocols to Enhance Product Testing" and published a press release to apologize and clarify their mission of testing and rating products. The blog post is simple, to the point, and acknowledges their mistakes and explains the steps they are taking to make sure it doesn't happen again. The comments and reaction are another story.

"when you claimed the ZHU ZHUs were unfae and toxic, why did tou have a link on where to buy the "toxic toys" COULD IT BE THAT IS YOUR REAL EXPERTISE, MAKING MONEY ON THE WEB?"

"DO THE RIGHT THING for once in your life and man up. Pay the company the millions of dollars you have cost them."

"are you going to test EVERY toy that is produced in the U.S.? Manufacturers do. How do you have any credibility when your criteria for selecting toys to test is obviously those, which if they fail the test, will give you the largest platform to promote yourself? This is probably one of the most shameful episodes in business in recent years. You have capitalized on fears and concerns to promote yourself."

These comments are an unfair reaction and . . . don't actually make any sense. Manufacturers test EVERY toy produced in the U.S? Have you watched the news over the past two years? Lead in toys, anyone? Do the right thing for once in your life and man up? Your real expertise, making money on the web?

What is going on here?

A couple months ago, I did an interview with a school board association journal about my efforts to help communities pass laws to prevent the building of schools on or near sources of pollution. The author wasn't sure where she was going to go with the article. Her editor had asked her to write something about crisis. H1N1, terrorism, whatever.

In her research, she saw a press release we put out about the EPA having found acrolein (very bad chemical found in exhaust, cigarettes and many other things) at a hundred times higher than levels deemed safe at 15 schools around the country. After a series of articles in USAToday testing air quality outside of over a 1,000 schools, EPA decided to test 63 schools in 22 states themselves over the past several months.

And this author thought . . . whoooaaa . . . crisis. We had a decent conversation where at one point she asked me if I thought people like me (enviros, non-profit, et al) were creating an atmosphere of fear in parents and communities. I hedged the question for a while and then said I don't know. What I do know is that I have information that can help communities, but it is up to communities to take that information and make the best possible decisions for their children. I believe that one thing communities can do to protect their children after hearing something like this is to make sure that schools are no longer built on or near sources of pollution.

I think the Good Guide serves an important purpose and I think the reaction to their mistake shows how valuable product testing is to the elimination of toxic chemicals, even if at some moments it looks like it's creating unnecessary fear. Because it scares the shit of industry, which is evident in that industry roams from town hall meeting to town hall meeting trying to beat back local and statewide ordinances that promote precaution.

On December 16, the Wall Street Journal released an article called "Chemical Crusaders Target Christmas". It talks about how the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) passed last year includes a temporary ban on phthalates. Phthalates are a group of chemicals that softens plastics such as PVC blood storage bags, rubber ducks, and medical tubing. It is an endocrine disruptor. The article then goes on to list studies and scientists and governmental agencies who say all this worry over the introduction of tens of thousands of chemicals that nobody knows anything about their long term impacts is "hogwash".

Tens of thousands of chemicals that nobody knows anything about their long term impacts being introduced into our waters, land, and bodies . . . isn't a concern?

Articles like this Wall Street Journal and the comments that say The Good Guide (a non-profit) is only interested in gaining money from its product testing and people from the chemical industry showing up at small town hall meetings to testify against communities taking control of what chemicals are ingested by the children are proof that the chemical industry knows that we are right. That having tens of thousands of chemicals that nobody knows anything about their long term impacts is a big fucking problem. And that we shouldn't and we aren't going to stand by and let industry control our water, our land, and our bodies anymore. We aren't going to let them divide us with fear mongering about fear mongering. These are tactics and they are designed to make you question what you believe.

And those of us using studies and reports to make our case will continue to be aware of what we are doing and how we are doing it in order to make sure our tactics are on the side of protection.

And as one of my favorite people on this planet said, "We must not allow ourselves to become like the system we oppose. We cannot afford to use methods of which we will be ashamed when we look back, when we say, '...we shouldn't have done that.' We must remember, my friends, that we have been given a wonderful cause. The cause of freedom! And you and I must be those who will walk with heads held high. We will say, 'We used methods that can stand the harsh scrutiny of history." (Desmond Tutu)

Ciao and Happy New Year,
Renee Claire

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Monday Gumbo: Consequences. And Grumpy

Back in the district. . .

I'm sitting at one of my favorite coffee shops sipping a coffee and bailey's and finishing up all those things you get to do when on holiday, like getting $400 of charges off my credit card from my storage unit who has absolutely no record of any of them at all. And not being in the mood for small talk about my new years eve plans while you can't find my money. Give me my money, bitches!

I'm almost done with 'Stones into Schools'. I've read over 300 pages in the past couple days. It's not a book for those with little time on their hands, that's for sure. As my cousin has less than a week before his next deployment, the chapters on the US military and their relationships with rural Afghani villages has been especially interesting to me.

'During these encounters, I was struck by the realization that some of the values held by cadets, officers, and enlisted personnel seemed to mirror my own. For example, many of these people displayed genuine humility, as well as a deep respect for other cultures. After spending time with them, it was also clear to me that their patriotism was rooted in, among other ideals, a reverence for tolerance and diversity. . . .

'Eventually, I came to understand that a group of people who wield enormous power happen, oddly enough, to espouse some of the very same ideals imparted to me by people in Africa and central Asia who have no power at all. The reason for this, in my view, is that members of the armed forces have worked on the ground - in many cases, during three or four tours of duty - on a level that very few diplomats, academicians, journalists, or policy makers can match. And month other things, this experience has imbued soldiers with the gift of empathy.'

I will not pretend for one second that this is true across the board. People are unique and come to situations with their own life experiences that make them react and understand the situation before them differently. These sections also seem to be more about softening the divide between those that fight in this war and those that are suffering the consequences. But I believe that he has met people that feel this way and probably more than I believe he has. I also think, from having read his books and interviews, that he is an exceptional man with a large, tolerant and patient heart. Things we all deserve to see in those we meet.

On December 22 2008, a Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Plant suffered a catestrophic coal ash spill of 5.4 million cubic yards (enough to flood 3,000 acres about a foot deep) that drowned nearby communities. It has been called the worst environmental disaster in the United States. Coal ash has been given away by some companies as a way to fertilize land even as coal ash regulation is being considered by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Administrator Jackson stated that regulation would be put into place by the end of 2009, though this has been pushed back due to the "complexity of the analysis'. During the past year, it was found that there exists 584 other coal ash waste sites, 49 of them are high hazard and have the potential to kill those that nearby. EPA, in its advice to those receiving coal ash waste for their land, states it is not hazardous to crops, surface water or humans. You're confusing me, Lisa Jackson!

There are remaining questions as to whether TVA explained all the dangers to those living near the ash pond, after having comparing the dangers of coal ash waste to table salt, and stated in a report that throughout 2009 the company had learned the 'importance of listening'. Donald Smith, a local TVA neighbor, explained days after the spill, “It was nice that they came by to talk to us. They’re making an effort. But what upsets me is they didn’t have a plan in place. Why hadn’t anybody thought, ‘What happens if this thing bursts?’”

The TVA coal ash spill isn't just impacting those that live nearby however. There are consequences to those that live in Perry County, Alabama where the waste is being shipped. Most governmental officials welcomed the dumping because of the jobs it would bring by expanding the landfill, but many in the communities that live near the landfill are opposed to this new hazard. Given TVA's new found learning of the importance of listening, you would think that security around the Alabama landfill wouldn't be so tight and those in charge wouldn't be refusing to give interviews on the situation. Its true listening isn't the same as providing information, but then whats the fucking use of listening in the first place?

(First F-word of the day. See mom, I don't always use profanity! Though my friend's brother at Christmas dinner whose face was red for most of our conversation on health care reform might disagree. I was quite impressed with my colorful language I have to admit.)

Anyways, consequences. . . . The spill happened in Tennessee is being shipped to Alabama and 49 other cities have been warned about the fact this too could happened to their town and now you know about it. What are you going to do with this new information?

New consequences: The other night, my friend's cousin casually mentioned, completely unprovoked, during dinner that he hates gay people because they flaunt their sexuality and that he has never met a gay person that didn't. Something just clicked at that moment for me and I decided that I'm tired to being tolerant of people that hate people they have never met. I actually was so fucking tired of having to talk about why two people should be allowed to love one another and that being a christian means loving people unconditionally, that I stood up and walked out. I didn't return to say goodbye or say it was nice meeting you, because I no longer meant it. And I'm tired of having to say things I don't mean.

My friend said that she wanted to talk to him and make him understand that gay people aren't evil and bad and its ok to live your life and let them live their lives. Good on you, girl. Because I'm fucking done caring about bigotted, ignorant, selfish assholes that want to take basic human rights away from people because of who they love. Because they believe a person that beats the shit out of their family deserves more respect than someone that dedicates their entire life to loving one person who happens to be the same sex as them. Done.

Oh . . I'm grumpy today. I need to head outside and walk in the sunlight.

Renee Claire

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Stones Into Schools and The Importance of Healthy Educated Girls

I just started the book 'Stones into Schools'. I had it shipped to my friend's house so I could read it over the holidays. I've only read a few pages but it's so intensely inspiring, I could sit here all day long. My mom reads books like that. I'll buy her a book and by evening time she'll hand it back to me finished.

In the introduction Greg Mortenson writes about the importance of educating girls . . .

" Why do so many Americans seem to care so deeply about people who live in a place that is so far away? Despite everything that has happened, how can our anger and our fear be transcended so consistently by our decency? And what is it about the promise of educating children - especially girls - that so often, and with such fervor, seems to evoke what is best in all of us?"

"No other factor even comes close to matching the cascade of positive changes triggered by teaching a single girl how to read and write. . . .

Take the issue that many in the West would consider to be the most pressing of all. "Jihad" is an Arabic word referring to a 'struggle' that is undertaken as means of perfecting oneself, improving society, or defeating the perceived enemies of Islam. In Muslim societies, a person who has been manipulated into believing in a extremist violence or terrorism often seeks the permission of his mother before he may join a militant jihad - an educated women, as a rule, tend to withhold their blessing for such things. Following 9/11, for example, the Taliban's forces suffered from significantly increased desertions; as a countermeasure, they began targeting their recruitment efforts in regions where female literacy was especially low."

When discussing the importance of passing laws to prevent schools from being built on top of sources of pollution, one fact often is able to put the issue into its true perspective. Little girls are born with their entire life supply of eggs, all their potential children rest within their bodies at birth. If you send a little girl to a school that sits on top of a former landfill or 300 yards from a coal waste silo, her lifetime supply of eggs will be dosed with toxic chemicals. The impacts of this will be felt not only to her own body and psychological well-being but to the quality of life of her family and entire community for generations. In other words, the success of your community rests with how well you take care of your daughters.

As I have mentioned before, a common tactic from the chemical industry is to put polluting facilities in communities that do not have the resources to prevent them from doing so. A poor neighborhood, usually of color, whose inhabitants are too busy trying to pay bills to have time to organize to stop the permitting and construction process of chemical facility. This is no different than what Greg Mortenson states in 'Stones into Schools' when speaking of fundamentalists targeting communities where female literacy is low.

I'm currently in the process of thinking through a series of articles and photo essay's that I would like to create that compares contaminated communities in Europe with similar ones in the United States. I'm struggling with the exact perspective from which these articles could speak. Maybe the impact on chemical contamination on female populations could be interesting and have a wider impact. Need to think about it a little more.

Alright, I'm heading back to the book and another cup of coffee.

And fresh off the presses: Taliban Blows Up Girls School

Renee Claire

Friday, December 18, 2009

B.R.O.M.I.N.A.T.E.D. stuff

I'm heading back to the states on Monday and just when the sun has come out! I won't be gone long though, just three itty bitty tiny weeks. All of which reminds me of polybrominated diphenylethers. Not really. . . but there have been some interesting developments on these chemicals over the last couple weeks and how this impacts the future of our health and communities.

I first mentioned PBDE's to you in March of 2008 when Dr. Rice, an EPA scientist, was fired for her studies on brominated flame retardants. And then again with Representative Dingell opened a congressional investigation on the incident. Dr. Rice might have been fired for her outspoken (-ness?), but the negative impact on communities by brominated flame retardants hasn't gone away that easily . . . thanks to a bunch of really skilled and pissed off people who are bent on eliminating toxic chemicals from our bodies and environment, including Environmental Health Fund, International Association of Fire Fighters, and moms and dads who have asked companies from whom they purchase products to eliminate toxic chemicals.

Rice was fired in 2008 and yesterday, EPA announced along with Albemarle Corporation and Chemtura Corporation, and the largest U.S. importer, ICL Industrial Products, Inc, announced the phase out of decabrominated diphenylethers in the United States.

Ready for a quick science and vocabulary lesson before moving on? Alright, here we go . . .

polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDE) - members of a class of brominated chemicals used as flame retardants

brominated flame retardants (BFR) - chemicals used in products like cigarettes, mattresses, and curtains to prevent fire

decabrominated diphenylethers (decaBDE)- a type of polybrominated dipheylethers that are widely used in curtains and cushions

octabrominated diphenylethers (octaBDE)- a type of polybrominated dipheylethers that are widely used in computers and appliances

why am I wasting your blog reading time with this crap: These chemicals are poisonous to humans, animals, and the environment throughout its production, use and disposal. When thinking about why these chemicals should be phased out of products we should think about the true impact of them throughout their entire lifecycle. Since they are additives to products, they breakdown over time and throughout the use of a product. So as I type on my cute little MacBook my hands are touching plastic that is slowly breaking down the longer I use it and that's when additivies like octaBDE gets into my body. (However, all new Apple products are all BFR free!) I don't want octaBDE in my body because it has been known to cause thyroid toxicity, liver toxicity, and neurodevelopmental toxicity.

Got it? Good . . . let's keep moving.

Industry was scared enough about the loss of their power to continue poisoning communities that Dr. Rice was fired, people like Arlene Blum (best science teacher ever!) have been campaigning around the world, and companies have been announcing the phase out of brominated flame retardants in the products we use everyday like cell phones and laptops means that we are getting closer to overhauling our country's antiquated chemical policies.

Oh yeah, the United States has a really shitty chemical policy meaning that we currently have 80,000 chemicals most of which we know NOTHING about. Yep, companies can put chemicals in baby toys of which nobody understands their short or long term environmental health consequences. Kind of like how we medicate hyperactive children instead of buying them a pair of cleets and signing them up for a soccer team. This is what disgusts me the most about people like Cal Dooley. His job is to defend these dirty practices.

EPA's announcement is a great step. It's one more way to see that people all over the country are standing up and taking action against marginalizing and institutional poisoning by profit driven corporations. Profit over people is not an economic scheme that works.

To learn a little more about flame retardants check out Health Care Without Harm.

It's sooooo sunny outside! Yea Amsterdam!

Renee Claire

P.S. T.I. may be getting out jail early.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dudes that Believe in God

Nope this isn't a personal ad, but I do want to quickly provide a couple links to some dudes that believe in god talking about climate change.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Quite possibly the cutest dude to believe in god I've ever seen. I once missed a lecture by him at my university and I regret it everyday. I don't even know what I decided to do instead, but it wasn't important. It was probably to hang out with my boyfriend at the time, who was very religious and would make me go to church with him. Then ask me questions about the service to see if I had actually been paying attention. . . I hadn't. But did you know that Lutherns provide wine only every other service?

Last weekend Desmond Tutu spoke at a rally in Copenhagen. He talked about god looking down on all the people standing up for climate change solutions and smiling. I saw another clip of him discussing the bible, where he said that people should not believe in everything the bible says, pointing to the acceptance of slavery as an example of how to approach this book. I kind of have a big giant crush him. Watch this fantastic clip.

The Pope. Yeah, I know. But for the World Day of Peace he sent a note with a theme about the importance of protecting the environment in order to promote peace. He stated, "Our present crises, be they economic, food-related, environmental or social, are ultimately also moral crises, and all of them are interrelated." And said that too often environmental problems are put aside for "myopic economic interests". Here is the full text.

I would like to discuss this a little more, but I am too tired. I was woken by children running and screaming through the streets at way too early an hour this morning because Amsterdam had its first snowfall of the season overnight. Off for more coffee!


Renee Claire

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"Bla Bla Bla. We Need Action."

Cal Dooley, President of American Chemistry Council, was just listed on ICIS's Top 40 Players in the chemical industry as 35, just below Lisa Jackson, US EPA Administrator.

Last week EPA announced that greenhouse gas emissions posed a hazard to human health, which puts the country in a good position to pass some real climate legislation. You know, if that was something that congress would ever want to do.

Today Cal Dooley did a little ditty about how this ruling was going to stall our economy and ruin the chemical industry. Oh Cal, you're so . . . out of touch.

I found it a little odd that he didn't mention the communities that have been ruined by toxic pollution or how bulching, dirty and out of date chemical facilities with poor infrastructure cause lowered IQ scores, escalated rates of attention deficit disorders, and reproductive disorders to name just a few other things that hurt local and national economies. But hey, this guy is known for missing the details. He stated not too long ago that the only thing he sees upsetting about the fact that one in four children are on food stamps is because it's a signal that families are no longer purchasing plastic products as often or in the same quantity as before.

"Wall Street may be paying out $bns in bonuses. But in the rest of the USA, rising unemployment and foreclosure are having a major impact.

In a new analysis, the New York Times reveals that the Federal food stamp programme "now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children".

Renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, it enables families and individuals to buy groceries, and averages $130 per recipient each month. Around 90% of those helped live below the poverty line ($22k for a family of 4). Blacks are worst hit, with 25% receiving aid. 15% of Latinos are being helped, and 8% of whites.

These are worrying statistics for chemical companies. Many products that we produce are discretionary rather than essential. And people who need help to buy food are focused on 'needs' rather than 'wants'. This will hold back the recent recovery in industry sales."

Don't guys like him ever need a little quiet time?

Renee Claire

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Koln.Kolhn.Cologne And a new chemical

This Saturday four of us (2 English girls, 1 Lebonese guy, and me) took an early morning train to Cologne, Germany. We arrived sleepy, a couple still a little tipsy from the night before, at Amsterdam Central Station and hopped on a 744am international train for some christmas market shopping.

At one point along the path, someone brought out some anti-bacterial hand wash. You know my position on this and of course when I was offered some for myself, I couldn't resist spewing a little info that I had learned for the book Good Germs, Bad Germs and all my work on the green cleaning campaign from my former job. Back in May I wrote a post about the Swine Flu hysteria and a little about how much I love this book. It's rather a long post, but about half way through I go into it all. Here is another post about the book.

I still love this poem by W.H. Auden that was reprinted:

A Very Happy New Year
to all for whom my ectoderm
is as Middle-Earth to me.

For creatures your size I offer
a free choice of habitat,
so settle yourselves in the zone
that suits you best, in the pools
of my pores or the tropical forests
of arm-pit and crotch,
in the deserts of my fore-arms,
or the cool woods of my scalp

Build colonies: I will supply
adequate warmth and moisture,
on condition you never
do me annoy with your presence,
but behave as good guests should,
not rioting into acne
or athlete's foot or a boil

We arrived in Cologne ready to visit some Christmas markets. We even took the christmas train around to four different markets! Ate the biggest leg of pork on the planet. Not all by myself . . . I shared. Drank some amazing Gluewein. Love me some mulled wine. And lit a candle at the Cathedral of Cologne for my cousins. I even did a little sign of cross with holy water when I walked in this amazing building. The cathedral is very similar to one in Vienna. It was hard to speak when I was outside looking up at the two towers. Just incredible. Of course my camera battery died on the train.

As I researching interesting things about Cologne, I came across some press releases about the closure of a Solutia rubber plant that makes tetramethylthiuramdisulfide (TMTD). Oh yeah. . . I haven't thrown out a 27 letter word in a while!

Tetramethylthiuramdisulfide (TMTD)is normally used as a fungicide, but is also used as a preservative in rubber products, such as gloves, mattresses, and condoms. Solutia is closing its Cologne plant because of tetramethylthiuramdisulfide (TMTD) is no longer economically viable for them to produce. It seems there are lower cost alternatives available. Haven't looked at that yet, though.

But let's talk tetramethylthiuramdisulfide (TMTD). It's chemical class is Dithiocarbamate and it is moderately to highly toxic to aquatic life. Health impacts include reproductive and developmental toxicity as well as being a neurotoxin. As a fungicide it is most often used on strawberries, peaches, and apples. It is highly toxic to both cold and warm water fish. I'm reading this Chemical Watch fact sheet on it and it's just two pages of toxicity to almost every organ, thyroid, overies, gastrointestinal tract . . .

Off to Bruges, Belgium this weekend and trying to get one more short trip in before I head back to the states for a couple weeks. Maybe Paris, though I'd prefer to go when it's snowing. Though if I want snow, I could stop by Houston, TX on my way to Vegas, I guess.

Renee Claire

P.S. oppps . . this was suppose to be a Sunday Gumbo. Next time.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A New War President

I haven't watched the speech yet and I've only read a couple articles. But I have gotten word that one (of the many that could be any day now) of my cousins is part of this escalation, in fact he is probably part of this first wave that hits during Christmas time. This will be his second tour, not including his tour in New Orleans post Katrina. And he is one of my most favorite family members. And though I really have no idea what the answer is, that is making me really fucking angry. The last eight years were demeaning and infuritating I can't even think what another 4 years of war will do to communities who are on both ends of all this hate and greed.

I watched Larry King Live yesterday and Jesse Ventura was part of the panel. He said that Americans need to feel the pain of war more in order to get angry enough. He proposes that we impose a war tax, Ben Stein lost it at that point of course.

Michael Moore wrote an open letter to President Obama on Monday. I'm not going to summarize it for you, but here are some highlights.

- "Choose carefully, Mr. President. Your corporate backers are going to abandon you as soon as it is clear you are a one-term president and that the nation will be safely back in the hands of the usual idiots who do their bidding. That could be Wednesday morning."

- "Don't be deceived into thinking that sending a few more troops into Afghanistan will make a difference, or earn you the respect of the haters. They will not stop until this country is torn asunder and every last dollar is extracted from the poor and soon-to-be poor. You could send a million troops over there and the crazy Right still wouldn't be happy."

- "President Obama, it's time to come home. Ask your neighbors in Chicago and the parents of the young men and women doing the fighting and dying if they want more billions and more troops sent to Afghanistan. Do you think they will say, "No, we don't need health care, we don't need jobs, we don't need homes. You go on ahead, Mr. President, and send our wealth and our sons and daughters overseas, 'cause we don't need them, either."

- "When we elected you we didn't expect miracles. We didn't even expect much change. But we expected some. We thought you would stop the madness. Stop the killing. Stop the insane idea that men with guns can reorganize a nation that doesn't even function as a nation and never, ever has."

Yesterday, Greg Mortenson's new book hit the stores. 'Stones into Schools' is the follow up to 'Three Cups of Tea'. It's a story about how Greg Mortenson has been helping rural Pakistani and Afghani communities build schools and teach both their kids to read, especially their girls. It's an incredible story and really gets to the heart of how we CAN get out of this. Buy his book, unless you are a Blanchard or a Fiore, because there is a good chance there may be one in your mailbox this week. (Merry Christmas!)

This is the email that Greg sent out yesterday morning:

"Today, my book, Stones Into Schools, will be releasing just as President Obama makes his historic decision on troop deployment to Afghanistan. This also coincides with you receiving our Journey of Hope III 2009 publication with updates on our 2009 work in Pakistan, Afghanistan and USA.

We feel it is essential that the voice of those, who were never considered in the decision-- the Afghan tribal shura (elders)-- be heard. It is not politics that will bring peace, ultimately, only people bring peace. The decision to deploy more than 30,000 troops to Afghanistan (bringing the total to 100,000) was made behind closed doors and in secrecy, with no public debate, no testimony on Capital Hill, or no discussion from the media. For a democracy to progress, secrecy is not productive.

Promote Peace Through Books

Over the last six months, Central Asia Institute has been instrumental in helping dozens of Afghan shura (elders) from many rural provinces meet with the U.S. military commanders, without compensation or any benefit to CAI, other than to promote peaceful dialogue. This gave a chance for the shura's vital voice be heard and recognized in making critical decisions that will determine the fate of their own country.

Stones into Schools

Please read our new book, Stones into Schools, for more information about the region today. Please contact your Senators and Congressional leaders to encourage them NOT to meet in secrecy behind closed doors about decisions that involve the American public and deployment of further troops. And please encourage our leaders strongly to invest in education and literacy, which is the greatest hope of all the communities we serve and work with, so that future generations of children have the right to attend schools."

We have to believe that there is another way to secure our nation than killing innocent people and ruining our communities by sending all our boys and girls away to kill even more innocent people. There has to be a way to love our nation and protect the Afghani people from fundamentalists that don't represent their way of life.

In three years, when President Obama achieves his goals in Afghanistan (which is highly doubtful), the country will be more of a mess, thousands more people will be dead, and he will be up for re-election. Kind of sounds like 2004 to me, except Democrats don't tow the line as well as Republicans, more Americans will be bankrupt, we will be even more torn apart by the climate change, health care, and financial system fights.. . . Unless a real miracle happens, that is.

Renee Claire

P.S. That was so depressing, here are some pictures of cute kittens.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Who, What

One of the reasons that I have worked in the environmental movement for the better part of the past ten years (though I would also count my efforts to start environmental organizations in elementary school as well - no, I didn't have many friends growing up, thanks for asking) is because protecting the environment is a human rights issues. I am here because people need trees and water and polar bears to live better lives.

I often find myself in conversations with other enviro activists about why we are drawn to this work and most of what I hear is people can fend for themselves but animals can't. These answers are bullshit, not thoughtful, and total fucking previldged. There is no difference between the environmental movement and any human rights movement. They are intimately connected in every situation.

The fact that this is lost on almost every public conversation about the environment is infuritating and encourages me to be more active in moving internal messaging within the movement. Those of us who campaign on trees and water and polar bears tend to ignore the human rights struggle involved and only speak about what our actions (buying too much shit, throwing away too much shit) do to the trees and water and polar bears. And so people reading the local newspapers only hear about what bad people they are for not caring more about the trees and water and polar bears. This is how we seemingly keep losing the public argument to economics. We, with consistent moral authority, ignore what people really care about, themselves.

We, selfishly view, being selfish in how we don't confront environmental issues as not understanding the importance of the issue at hand. If you don't care about polar bears, you must be too selfish to understand why polar bears are more important than your family. I know this is all sounds really harsh on a community that has taken me out of working in restaurants and provided me with a purpose in my life, but criticism isn't just for your enemies. In order to be better, you must pressure yourself and those around you to step it up. Or industry wins and people get polluted.

The New York Times published an article about Haiti on Monday. Having spent most of my life in Florida, specifically south Florida, I am particularly familiar with the social impacts on the mess that is Haiti. Creole was one of the major languages spoken at my high school along with Porteguese and Spanish.

The NYT article speaks about how the mixture of deforestation and constant rainstorms is causing real destruction, including killing families who get caught up in runoff and collapsed buildings. Part of the problem is that most of the energy needs are being solved by charcoal, a practice that persist in large part because of the lack of job opportunities. Then it goes into a possible solution for both deforestation and economic stability, jatropha seeds. Jatropha can be planted as a bio-fuel that can replace charcoal as a major energy source.

Another interesting project that I recently discovered is the Louisiana Green Corps. Actually I discovered a rap video some of the kids made about weatherizing your home. I think New Orleans is another prime example of where human rights meets environmentalism, what many call environmental justice. Though the internal controversy around who can and can not use the term environmental justice is another reason why many people hate environmentalists and human rights advocates and how we have not been able to accomplish as much as we could if we had all just agreed to work together. But people are dysfunctional in a room all by themselves, so of course they are going to be even more dysfunctional in a group.

The main point to take away is if we can't bridge the gap between environmental issues and human rights internally, how the fuck are we going to shut down polluting facilities when communities are being splintered by industry spokespeople saying enviros don't care about your jobs or family's financial security?

I actually think the climate change movement is getting better at this. I have seen many campaigns step up the human impact side of their discussion, which absolutely strengthens any discussions. I've also seen human rights campaigns ignore the obvious environmental impacts in their fights and that too bothers me. I was once told that hurricane season and climate change isn't significant to raising awareness about superfund cleanup, in fact I was told by someone that lives in upstate New York that I don't know when Hurricane season was (they said it started in late August sometime). Really, a girl born in southern Louisiana and raised in South Florida doesn't know when Hurricane season is or how socially and environmentally impactful hurricanes are to communities? Our movement is also extremely arrogant and myopic.

I'm extremely self critical and it extends to the world of my work as well including all those within that world. Given all the weakness in the environmental and social justice movement, I think that there are some brilliant things happening that are changing the way the world works. Such as the bans on plastic bags and BPA, which has infuriated the chemical industry. They aren't ignoring us any longer, they are just fucking pissed and nursing sore egos.

I'm always so impressed and moved by the people I get to work with. I just can't believe I get to share space with these people. Incredibly smart, talented, and brave. The only way to get better, smarter, and more talented is to keep a critical eye on yourself and your own actions. Often there is crisis after crisis that we find little time to truly reflect on where we are and what we have done. Good and great are separated by a very fine line.

I'm almost finished with Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea. Here is a good excerpt about the movement to end slavery:

"Brown carried out the raid in Harper's Ferry in October 1859 with a force of twenty-one men, of which only five were black. He took the arsenal and in fact the town but then failed to take further action, and detachment of marines led by Robert E. Lee arrived and overtook them the next morning. The first of Brown's men killed in the battle was Dangerfield Newby, a large and powerful ex-slave who had been freed by his white father. On Newby's body were found letters from his wife, still a slave some thirty miles from Harper's Ferry, who wrote that he had to free her soon because her owner was in financial difficulty and might sell her. . . .

Brown was convicted of treason and hanged. After the initial cry of alarm, a surprising number of Northerners supported his actions, including some nonviolent abolitionists Henry David Thoreau spoke of how Brown defended 'the dignity of human nature' and Emerson compared him to Jesus Christ. Lydia Maria Child wrote that the Harper's Ferry incident 'stirred me up to consecrate myself with renewed earnestness to the righteous cause for which he died so bravely.' Even Garrison was supportive, though he took exception to the violence. In a speech in Boston on the evening of Brown's execution, Garrison said that although he had 'labored unremittingly to effect the peaceful abolition of slavery . . . I cannot but wish success to all slave insurrections . . . Rather than see men wearing their chains cowardly and servile spirit, I would, as an advocate of peace, mush rather see them breaking the head of the tyrant with their chains."

I'm off to find a new bike. Mine was stolen yesterday. oh well . .. good thing there are double the amount of bikes than cars here, shouldn't be too difficult to get a new one.

Renee Claire

And in case you haven't read about an article about the Maldives meeting underwater . . .

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Gumbo: Artistic Suprises

Yesterday I traveled 3 hours outside of Amsterdam to Valkenburg to visit the Christmas Market. I found this great blog post about it that includes video.. . I'm not going to write about this because frankly it fucking sucked. I was so annoyed! Though I was happy to get out of Amsterdam on a day trip at least. So take this woman's opinion instead of mine. And I was suppose to meet a bunch of people at the train station but I couldn't find them, then I couldn't get in touch with them, then the station guy told me to get a bus instead of a train but then ran after to me to put me on the right train after he realized his mistake (very sweet!) and then I ended up wondering around alone, which is fine but not how I pictured the day.

I studied graphic design in high school and set out to study it in college as well, but got captured by a political science class and ended up graduating with a International Political Science degree instead. For me being creative is one of those things that strengthens the things I actually do well, it's not the focus but I wouldn't be good at anything else if I didn't nurture my art. And if I can't draw, photog, or write at this moment, I'm going to talk about artists. One of my favorite things about artists is how they interpret their own artistic talents. I don't have many talents so I'm always fascinated by people who can switch from one craft to another effortlessly. This is what today's Sunday Gumbo is about: famous artists who can switch into other mediums unexpectantly . . . to me. Because in the end it's all about me, honey.

Jared Leto: Jordon Catalano. I loved him in high school. I mean the hot boy in a band who couldn't read. I love me some young and dumb. It was too brilliant a storyline and one of the main reasons My So Called Life was so successful. Well, Jared Leto is no one trick pony. He has taken on some really interesting acting parts since his days as Jordon Catalano, (Girl, Interrupted, Fight Club, Chapter 27) but what I find incredibly fascinating is his music career. Because I've been sick all week, I've watched a lot of fucking television trying to go to sleep. Did you know that tv is NOT helpful when trying to go to sleep? Hmm. Anyways, MTV was showing one of his concerts and I was kind of mesmerized. Mostly because I can't separate him and Jordon Catalano. I just can't and I refuse to! 30 Seconds to Mars is pretty rock hipster not weepy hipster, it's actually not that horrible but its so fucking different than Jordon Catalano's 'Big Red' song that was about his car and totally not about Angela.

Samual L Jackson: I'm still obsessed with T.I. and in the song On Top of the World he has this great stanza (?) about people's perspective of rap music and black artists. "Order Singapore and lobster. Celebrating coming from nothin to winning Grammy's and rappers winning Oscar's. And they say rapper's shouldn't act, nah suckers, We see Samuel Jackson like what's up mutherfucker!" Seems that Samuel L Jackson hates cross over artists. He stated in 2002 that it is not his job to give credibility to rappers that are trying to be actors. Snakes on a plane!

Yoko Ono: I don't really understand the whole Yoko thing. I get it, The Beattles ended not too long after Yoko entered the picture. You call people that get in between artists and their successful art groups Yoko. I wasn't there, I don't really care about why The Beattles broke up or even that they did break up. Not my battle.

But Yoko is amazing! I just think her life is so incredible and I'm completely fascinated by it and her. In 1964, Yoko, a celebrated performance artists and musician on her own right, created a piece where she sat on a stage with a pair of scissors next to her and invited audience members to cut off all her clothing. She repeated the piece 6 or 7 times in the years that followed. The latest was in 2003 in an effort to help mobilize the peace movement in the volatile years after 9/11.

I'm not a big performance art person, but this is really interesting to me. I recently saw an interview with her. The interviewer asked her what she thinks of about all the outrage and interest in her life and her art and how the public reacts to her. She said people's views of an artist's work has nothing to do with the art itself. She doesn't confuse the two about her own work. I love this comment. Not too long ago I adopted the mantra, People's opinions of me is none of my business. In art though, the purpose is to get attention and reaction, but I love the understanding that people's reactions isn't really in direct consequence to the work itself. It's like the public's reaction to Yoko is its own art that she has inspired.

Steve Martin: Who doesn't love The Jerk and this SNL original born in Waco, TX (not too from Klein, Texas . .. LL birthplace!) Steve Martin is an amazing comedian, but he's also a great writer (Shop Girl) and I'm kind of in love with his new album.

I think one of the reasons why creativity is so interesting to me is its fluidity. I often hear from people that they are not creative or artistic, but creativity is a trait of being alive. It just manifests itself differently in everyone and culturally we only celebrate it in certain ways (music, movies, painting etc), but building climb systems, successfully executed logistics, negotiating with a corporation are nothing more than a string of creative moves and ideas. For me studying a Chicano drawing helps me to build a system that allows a campaign to flow more freely and efficiently. That's what I meant when I said, "I wouldn't be good at anything else if I didn't nurture my art".

Renee Claire

P.S: Brilliant

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Large Latte, Writers Block, and Non-violence

I'm still sick. This morning I woke up unable to speak at all and completely exhausted. My new apartment has television and I totally stayed up until 130am watching Mona Lisa Smile and The Simpsons. It was terrible!

I didn't cry at Mona Lisa Smile so I know that I am getting better. I'm a very weepy person. I cry at everything. Contrary to popular campaigner beliefs I think it makes me a good campaigner . . . or at least one day I will be a good campaigner and I think that I cry easily adds to it. I'm very sensitive to others situations. And I'll stand by those words you machismo forest dudes! I recently read an article that said tears from emotion has a 24% higher concentration of protein in them. I probably get it from my dad, he's the weepy artist lots of red wine type.

I've been thinking about the title of my last post and I would really like to explore that theme a little more. I'm not going to do it here though. I need to run off to the office in a moment. I like the idea of exploring the creative tactics of the chemical industry and how they have transformed and adapted to their opposition. The chemical industry has been on a rampage, creatively speaking, for the past year or so. I totally picture them having brainstorms while playing video games in order to channel Google or twitter staff meetings. Though I don't think those thugs could relax long enough to play video games, they probably check their bank accounts while they come up with new ways to divide communities and convince moms that a little BPA is good for the soul. I'm really interested in how the same tools are used by two completely different groups of people. Its like your brain has a moment "do I use twitter for good or for evil today"?

I wonder if I write a little about that it will help my own creativity block.

I recently picked up this new book called Non-violence: The History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Kurlansky. It's a really interesting book about the history of the term and action of non-violence. Here is a little:

"The first clue, lesson number one from human history on the subject of nonviolence, is that there is no word for it. The concept has been praised by every major religion. Throughout history there have been practitioners of nonviolence. Yet, while every major language has a word for violence, there is no word to express the idea of nonviolence except that it is not another idea, it is not violence. In Sanskrit, the word for violence is himsa, harm, and the negation of himsa, just as nonviolence is the negation of violence is ahimsa - not doing harm. But if ahimsa is "not doing harm", what is it doing?"


"Active practitioners of nonviolence are always seen as a threat, a direct menace, to the state. The state maintains the right to kill as its exclusive and jealously guarded privilege. Nothing makes this more clear than capital punishment, which argues that killing is wrong and so the state must kill killers. Mozi understood that the state's desire to kill had to do with power. He wrote: "Like unto these, too, are state officers and princes who make war on other countries - because they love their own country but not the other countries, and so seek to profit their own country at the expense of others."


"The early Christians are the earliest known group that renounced warfare in all its forms and rejected all its institutions. This small and original group was devoted to antimilitarism, another concept, like nonviolence, that has no positive word. This antimilitarism was never expressed by Jesus, who in fact, did not much address the issue of warfare, though he did denounce the violent overthrow of the Romans. Warmongering Christian fundamentalists have always clung to the absence of a specific stand on warfare, ignoring the obvious, which is that the wholesale instutionalized slaughter of fellow human beings is clearly a violation of the precise and literal teachings of Jesus. In the days of the great Western debate on slavery, slave owners used a similar argument - that Jesus had not said anything about slavery. But obviously the buying and selling of human beings would not constitute treating others as you would have them treat you."

I'm really interested in reading a paper or book on nonviolence and the history of Christianity. If you know of anything, please send it along. One thing that I do not particularly agree with of my fellow activists (not all) is the need to get rid of religion all together. I'm not headed to church every Sunday, but I did go to Catholic school and come from a religious Southern family and I do find comfort in attending Mass or reading parts of the bible every now and again. Religion is important, I don't necessarily believe in a god, but I do believe that faith is extremely powerful for people and has real consequences on world events that you just can't say, its all bad, all the time. I think that is just as narrow minded as Christian fundamentalism. I think some of the most powerful activists are nuns. Those idiot privilege white kids at the G20 and IMF meetings would learn a thing if they just shut the fuck up and listened to some nuns once in a while.

Well . . . I'm almost finished with my morning latte. I should be off. This whole working with people on the West Coast and a 9 hour time difference is getting interesting. At least it allows me to have flexible hours. Not going to be in the office at 9am if I have to work until 11pm. When your childhood hero (Lois Gibbs) tells you to create some sense of balance in your life, because the movement needs you, you fucking listen. So I enjoy my lattes and reading in the morning before I rush in to save the world for toxic chemical exposure . . . at least by organizing one event around greener electronics.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Creatively Bankrupt Or In Need of Chemical Reform

I noticed just a couple days ago that I haven't been writing or drawing or taking photos of colors or lights or flowers that I find interesting. Have I become creatively bankrupt? I move to new place and I've got no inspiration? WTF?

I've been having the hardest time at work finding creative solutions to the challenges I'm facing. And when I see amazing new things here I just stare at them. . . in wonder and amazement of course, but mostly just staring, not being inspired to act on anything. This has never happened before to me.

I'm a little old to have adult onset ADHD (I think) I love the ways to cope with adult ADHD: (1) Get Evaluated (2) Get Medication (3) Get Educated (4) Get Organized (5) Get Counseling (6) Get Moving. Thanks! That was really helpful.

Maybe I was exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals as a child and it is only now settling in.

Maybe I don't go outside enough. I KNOW I'm not getting enough sunlight. I was so sick today, I worked with the laptop on my stomach as I layed on the couch and watched the sun come out for most of the day. It was very sad not to be outside for that. I need to get my new bike tire fixed and then I can ride around all day. And enjoy the 5 minutes of rain, then 5 minutes of wind, then 5 minutes of grey, then 5 minutes of sunshine, then 5 minutes of rain again . . .

A couple years ago I read this book called Lost Child in the Woods. Its talks about Nature Deficit Disorder. Do you love how I'm finding only childhood diseases to figure out why I've lost my creativity recently? Listen, I'm not 30 yet!

Anyways, the author Richard Louv, explains how because of a drastic change in lifestyle over the past couple decades children are not exploring nature like they use to and since we are, you know, animals and all, children need to experience nature to mature effectively. It's really a great book. I wish I had it with me, I could quote some of the pages I've highlighted (yes, I highlight my books). His blog looks somewhat interesting, though I don't like how it yells at me "Bad Request" when I try to click on past blog entries.

Have you checked out the Million Baby Crawl? Its a website by Seventh Generation to raise awareness on the impacts of the US chemical policies. . . I mean that there are no policies and we are injecting thousands of unsafe chemicals into our babies and uterus' . . . sorry that was a really gross image.

Anyways, this website is pretty interactive, you can make videos and shit. Check it out. This is a video on its launch. Its a little slow but it's a good outline on why chemical reform is really important especially to protect our children from intellectual and behavioral impacts. Did you know that we have 80,000 chemicals being used in everything from food coloring to shampoos to canned vegetable lining that has never been tested for its impacts? These chemicals are messing with our bodies, our animals (alligators with small penis' in Apopka are being studied by UF), and our children's behavior.

Please talk to your congress person about reforming TSCA, a bill signed in 1976 that isn't doing anything to protect us today.

. . . Maybe I should visit the library, that's always inspiring for me. And a friend of mine said the main library here is wonderful. Oh man, my favorite thing to do is sit on the floor of a public library combing through science, history, and art books! That should help get the creative juices flowing.

Maybe I'm just missing this guy.

And this mashup is kind of amazing!


ps. As I was writing this gem was released by Washington Toxic Coalition on babies being exposed to chemicals in the womb and it's impacts. Us Toxics campaigners sure do need to find some positive news and take actions soon. This whole thing is getting depressing!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Baked Knickers

I really want a fucking Newport Light right now. Seriously, since I started my new cigarette smoking habit I picked up while on holiday, I really love me some Newport Lights, just like when I was 16. You can't get Newport Lights in Amsterdam. They only have Marlboro Menthol - not a fan. But now I'm sick and I can't smoke anything at all.

I've been talking like a New York grandmother for three days now. Didn't hold me back from meeting a trumpet playing sustainable architect professor from Germany at the Jazz club on Saturday night. I love this town. So far I've met a Dr. Hans (like a fucking children's book character), a Brasilian Marine Biologist, a Dutchman that called me spoiled, a German trumpet playing sustainable architect professor, and a bunch of English, Dutch, Lebanese and African futbal/football/soccer players who beat the crap out of me last Thursday when I joined a pick up game.

So did you hear that Obama said told the head Burmese dude that Aung San Suu Kyi should be freed? Nicely done. Of course in the next speech he said that he wasn't going to make a deal at Copenhagen. But then he told a bunch of Chinese students that there are 'universal rights' such as uncensored internet access. Though he refused to meet with the Dali Lama when he was in DC. My head hurts from all your sideways talk, Obama. Did you see how Palin is accusing AP of opposition research for fact checking her book? Love it.

And the new Greenpeace International Executive Director is a South African and the New Greenpeace Africa Executive Director is a woman! She's pretty awesome.

Alright, my brain isn't working and I just had a conference call that has left my throat in a whole bunch of pain. Going to watch Dutch game shows . . . actually all the tv is mostly American, but no Glee!! When I'm home for Christmas I'm going to watch every episode and drink coffee and Baileys.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Real Green in Greenwashing

As I am currently working on a project where some of our messaging is around greenwashing, I stumbled upon this article called "Green or Green Washed? 7 Lesson in Green Supply Chain in China". Supply chain, as you may know, is the path that your [name favorite product] follows to end up on the shelf in [name favorite store]. The companies you know by name outsource almost every piece of the product of [name favorite product] to other smaller companies so that they can sell you a product with the smallest institutional costs to their own company.

The supply chain is the excuse that every corporation gives when asked why their company practices isn't as non-toxic as possible. It's the supply chain people, we need to re-negotiate our contract, it takes a while for the machines to change over to create more environmentally friendly products. All valid reasons for coming up with a realistic schedule in eliminating toxic chemicals from products, though what this article lays out is how corrupt this chain really is and how much power [name favorite brand] has and must yield to make real changes in their company practices.

Read the article, its wonky but its good, but here are the 7 lessons:

Lesson 1: In the financial downturn, more than ever it’s all about the bottom line.
"Why the sudden interest? Most companies commitment to greening their supply chain is no more than a commitment to efficiency and cost-cutting, with green being an added bonus. It’s not that companies suddenly have the urge to go hug a tree; it’s because financially these changes made sense. 2008’s booming commodities market had a huge impact on companies interest in reorganizing their supply chains. Rising oil costs impacted the price of other commodities and made recycling materials and reevaluating sourcing locations smart financial moves."

Lesson 2: Risk-prevention is a motivator
"Greening is also motivated by risk prevention. Speaking from experience working with multinationals, the industrial goods manufacturing director says, “Only until you get caught doing something or are worried about getting caught doing something do you worry about green.”

Lesson 3: Greenwashing is prevalent
"Even companies that are known sustainability leaders can be perpetrators of greenwashing. Timberland is an excellent example. The major American footwear brand is known for its green initiatives, even creating a Green Index rating to measure the environmentalimpact of their products and disclosing the names of their suppliers.

Ma Jun says the truth isn’t so pretty. “That is a company that talks a lot about CSR. [But if they did the research], they could easily find that one of their suppliers has six years of records on our air pollution database consecutively, one year after another. And another has 3 years of records on our water site.”"

Lesson 4: Transparency is key
"But while the pollution maps can help a company sustainably manage their supply chain, it’s not always so clear-cut. An underlying problem is that suppliers often contract out to other factories, making the supply chain links a bit fuzzy. The industrial manufacturing director believes that compliance is much harder in China than in factories in smaller Southeast Asian countries. “There are so many factories here, there’s no way they can regulate every one,” he says."

Lesson 5: The system of accountability doesn’t work
"Speaking from years of experience dealing with suppliers and client companies, the director maintains that most companies pressure their suppliers for the cheapest price and then expect compliance on environmental standards. Suppliers are struggling to survive and don’t want to lose money either, so they satisfy their client companies with fake documents. When scandal breaks, companies blame their suppliers for lying to them. As it did in 2007 with a rash of tainted product scares and more recently with reports of tainted drywall, the blame goes to Made in China, and not Poorly Managed Supply Chain."

Lesson 6: Green is a smart long-term solution
"“The worst thing that can happen to a procurement department is disruption to supply,” she points out. She warns companies that there are aspects of climate change that will affect their ability to source raw materials. Flooding, storms, and extreme weather all will influence a company’s long term sustainability. She suggests companies that research their options earlier rather than later."

Lesson 7: But in the end it has to pay to go green
"Until the cheapest price is no longer the goal, greening efforts may not go much further than those that double as cost-cutters. For a company to go green, Ma Jun believes that environmental groups need to work to ensure that there is enough financial incentive for supply chains to be better managed. “If we keep allowing those who cut corners to gain the competitive edge in China than we will not be successful in our efforts to protect the environment.”

Monday, November 9, 2009

Wig in a Box - The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Today is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I visited Berlin and the still standing guardstand in 2004 while I was traveling through Eastern Europe not waiting tables. While traveling Poland and Hungary all the way south to Istanbul, I spoke with many people about their own observations of the volatile presidential election the US had a few years prior and the upcoming election the month after I landed in Krakow. But sometimes people just wanted to talk about democracy and what it meant to them to an American. It was a really intense time (Oct 04 - Jan 05) for me to be traveling as I was always in some conversation about the fate of my country. People I met wanted to take me out for beers so we could talk about what the actions of MY president were having on their own country, even with my statements that Bush as not MY president.

Some of the most profound conversations I had were with young Polish people who were benefiting from the fall of communism while their parents and grandparents were not or at least were in a cultural struggle to understand what democracy meant or could mean. The Christian Science Monitor published this article todayabout the mental freedom of east Germans when the wall fell.

In 1989, I was old enough to understand that something was happening, but not old enough to understand what was happening. I don't remember hearing about the 1988 Burmese student and monk massacres but I do remember some story telling about the Tiananmen Square massacres. I've always been extremely interested in history and politics and government, maybe these events during a time when I was just beginning to understand that a world existed around me was the foundation of this interest.

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this conversation, where does climate change fit in the long list of great human rights struggles and what lessons does our movement need to learn from the fall of the Berlin wall?

I read an article that discusses the ending of jihad to the falling of the Berlin wall. The article talks about east Germans being able to see their western counterparts have success and material items that they couldn't with a mix of the societal impacts of the Helsinki Accords of the agreement with the Soviet Union on the freedom of thought, conscience and religion. I think this is a much too simplistic view of terrorism, social impacts of mass illiteracy, and the now bursting anger in young and poor Muslim boys and men that is threatening the balance of our world. (Balance might not be a good word in this case as there can never really be a balance when it comes to peace and war)

Just like the fall of communism was a shift in reality for my parents generation, I think that global leadership on climate change solutions is my generations moment of shifting reality. What the climate change movement is missing is a thing like the Berlin Wall. The solutions and the problems of climate change are scattered and so connected that it is hard to wrap your head around it in many ways. I say scattered in the context of there being so many places that it impacts and so many ways in which to make a difference from ending mountaintop removal to new technology for cars and electronics, that it is hard to see how you fit into it. It is still an academics issue of sorts.

Without a one problem one location one solution campaign, it is difficult for people to feel accountable for their own actions and the actions of their neighbors. Just like in the Civil Rights movement in the US, shifts in societal norms come when a son can shame a father into action and then into a belief of why those actions are necessary. Climate change does not have a wall or footage of children walking out of school into the streets of fire hoses. It interesting to see footage of melting icecaps but I can’t touch that and I can’t understand what that means to my life. I can’t see the impacts of that walking to the grocery store and I've never dreamt of seeing an icecap in the first place.

We have been taught by organizations that are willing to make big compromises and not wanting to make moms and dads feel bad about their actions that exchanging your disposable plastic grocery bag for a canvass one that you bring with you is enough. Conserving water is enough. That turning out the lights is enough. That owning a reuseable water bottle is enough. But it isn't. The problem with climate change is that it is so easy to move the blame around and not be held accountable. Why can we get a tea-bagger protest in DC but not a climate change impacts protest? We have yet to build a movement that makes sense to people, but more importantly people are not angry enough.

I feel that having concerted efforts in the first impacted places would make a real difference for the rest of the population. The Maldives held a government climate meeting underwater not too long ago as a symbol of where their country is headed. As activists these are the types of events we should be doing in addition to the 350 day of action type events (not too mention the shutting down of sources of pollution like coal fired power plants and mountaintop removal facilities). And I'm tired of championing bullshit politicians that aren't really doing anything to help our country. Those of us in the movement are frustrated that we aren't able to make the case clear enough, but we too are scattered and too self-important to have honest and heated conversations that lead to a unified voice. Our calls for action is not how climate change solutions will be won, it will be won in the streets by pregnant moms alongside their angry family members.

We are beginning to see more civil disobedience demanding for climate change solutions. There have been several banner hangs throughout the US this year and in Barcelona last week African nations walked out of the debate because of the (in)action of developed countries who are not taking the impacts to developing nations seriously. Though we saw those types of walk outs many times during the Doha trade negotiations, which has still not been settled.

I do believe that these international talks are important but we must learn that they will not solve our problems. I believe that until we can make climate change real through creating urgency by shaming or applauding our neighbors (yes, the ones that live in the apartment next door) we will not see governments take action because there are no substantial consequences for their inaction.

No better way to celebrate the 20 year anniversary of the fall of the berlin wall than a viewing of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

From a rainy, cold, and grey Amsterdam,
Renee Claire

Friday, November 6, 2009

You Don't Meet Nice Girls in Coffee Shops

Bored and lonely. These are two things that people spend their entire lives running from. People create all kinds of things, like Risk, to avoid being bored and lonely. Growing up I was often told that there is never a reason to be bored and if you are it just meant that you were boring. I often thought of these talks as child abuse, but as I have travel several parts of the world extensively on my own, I've come to realize that those moments are for processing what you have seen and experienced. You aren't ever really bored or lonely. I think that's what my mom was really trying to tell me when I whined how bored I was.

I've been traveling for two weeks, though its not really traveling since I have a job and an apartment. I've had a couple bored and lonely moments. Earlier this week I had a solo dance party, discovered some great new music and thought through some things for work. I've realized over the past ten years or so that I need these moments. I really need them and cherish them when they arrive suddenly. They have helped me to make very important decisions, such as the one that got me here, to Amsterdam. The many months leading up to making that decision were difficult, complex, and extremely frustrating but the decision wasn't.

Enough about my boring life, let's talk New Orleans and Barcelona.

The New Orleans office of ACORN was raided yesterday by Louisiana Attorney Generals office who seized computers and hard drives in a tax fraud and embezzlement investigation. In other New Orleans news, Campbell Brown did a follow up story to a young man, a 13 year old kid actually, she met in the days following Katrina. Brown met Charles Evans when he was 9 years old as he led her and her camera crew through the super dome asking anyone that would listen to please help his family and community. The story is of our own humanity but the comments at the bottom of the CNN page that discribe Evans' story tells something else. It etches out the story of why we didn't help New Orleanians in the those first few days. It whispers deep seated institutional racism that makes one wonder whether Americans will ever break free.

Here are a couple comments:

"this is so yesterday's news. Why not do "Unemployment victims of the current Obama's recession? or "Why can't Obama get anything done including fixing the economy?"

"Gee back to square one. I guess he never has figured out that working to support himself might be something to try. The Katrina "victims" have victimized this country for far too long."

"This is ridiculous, it has been four years since Katrina. These people are wallowing in their own filth because they are too lazy to actually improve their situation. It is time to actually take initiative, and get on your feet New Orleans."

"Why should we feel sorry for this kid? His grandmother made the choice to move back to now the rest of the country should go rescue him and save him from the horrors of the 9th ward? Crap. Get a JOB!!!!"

:He is a teenager. Grab a shovel, a hammer, a pick ax, or go stock groceries at the local store. There are plenty of people worse off than this guy. If he really wants to make the best of his situation he will, or he will keep looking for handouts."

"Not more Katrina victems....

Get over it, get a job, go to a shelter and deal with the bad situation you have. But DON'T blame it on a year old hurricane. I'm in Houston, we had Ike and we are over it. Matter of fact I've been in six different hurricanes and no time did I label my self a "Hurricane surivior and not get myself back on my feet. Heck I fought in two war OAF, OIF , and your a surivior from a rain storm? A rain storm?!

Why is New Orleans with billions pumped into it take ten times longer than Houston who got almost no aid after Ike taking so long? Or is it they just want more free aid....

Take control and rebuild and do it now...Just like Houston did."

Granted the comments bashing these above outnumber the negative ones posted. Give a read to them if you have a couple minutes. It's real overview of what our country is struggling with right now and how 4 years after Katrina we haven't been able to wrap our minds around what happened and why we let it happen and why we still can't mitigate the consequences. Not only are the kids and families that survived Katrina in turmoil, but so are the families of the boys that were flown back from Iraq the next morning to patrol the streets and keep any sort of peace. We brought kids back home to Louisiana (these kids joined the national guard and then found themselves in Iraq) from a violent experience to bring peace to a city with a history of hundreds of years of violence and poverty along racial lines. We just dump problems onto problems and then get confused when it doesn't sort itself upright. Then we see one kid make it and think, 'see he made it, everyone else deserves their sorrow'.

I love my country and I think that I respect people's opinions (or that people have the right to have opinions), but I get nervous that I just don't have what it takes to make a real difference sometimes. This story and the comments below are just a simple sketch of what our country really resembles. I have to say that many of the comments are from people who also survived Katrina or who went to New Orleans to help in some way and many are offering support to Charles, from providing a place to live, to help getting into a better school, to 'I don't know what to do but I'll give it a go anyway'. And I think that it shows we have a base of good people here, we just get lost in the details because we keep thinking that someone else out there with more authority is going to help correct these things. We keep looking to our politicians but they are barely worth anything. They are so stymied in their own search for power that they can't recognize their place to make real change happen.

Time for action for climate justice? Fuck yeah it is. See what happened in Barcelona this week.

Well . . its grey, cold and raining outside. Must be a Fall weekend afternoon in Amsterdam. I think I'll take a nap. Need to rest up for later.

Museum Night is tonight. All the museums throw parties until 6am! How will we pace ourselves?


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday Gumbo: All Things Savage

Savage: Mossville, LA is located a few hours north of where I was born and hosts so many polluting facilities that it has become known as Cancer Alley. Not too long ago a long time community activist, David Price, had an expected but rather routine kitchen fire, which eventually took his life this past August. The fire company could not appropriately extinguish this very routine kitchen fire in the same amount of time that another company in a more urban area would be able to because there is insufficient water hookups and low water pressure in the hydrants they do have. This area is a hub of polluting chemical facilities (14 in all) and there is not enough infrastructure to put out a routine kitchen fire in an appropriate amount of time and energy. Parish officials are refusing to hold community conversations with residents who are desperate need of better emergency response.

Not only are the chemical companies that are poisoning this community overlooking basic human rights but they are lobbying against chemical security reform. The American Chemistry Council is now on a full fledged attack against safer technology and upgrading chemical infrastructure. This has nothing to do with supporting the economy and ensuring jobs. This is a play for power and money. These companies do not care about jobs because they do not care about people. They don't care about Mossville and they do not care what your child in ingesting in his apple juice in the morning.

Savage Public Relations: The American Chemistry Council recently announced that it will be donating plastic water bottles to LA students as a way to teach the importance of recycling and drinking more water. Drinking water instead of sugary soda is good. Having a reusable water bottle instead of buying plastic bottles all the time is good. Having an organization that lobbies against the reduction of toxic chemicals in plastic and throws millions of dollars to attack organizations and communities that are trying to eliminate toxic chemicals in our bodies, products we purchase, and planet hand out plastic reusable bottles is shady public relations. It's hard to be positive about this one action when so much of what ACC does everyday is against healthy and safe communities.

When I speak about the importance of eliminating toxic chemicals in products, I speak specifically about the life cyle of each product. Where and how is it made? What happens when people come in contact with the finished product? Where and how is it disposed of? We must judge corporations the same way. If one day out of the year they hand out plastic bottles (which may or may not have leaching toxic chemicals) to poor kids, then on the 364 other days they strip communities of their rights to self perservation, clean water, clean air, and chemical security, what are they really doing? How important are those water bottles in the bigger picture? I say stop with the bullshit public relations, stop embarassing your families, and start doing real work that will actually make our communities safer and healthier.

Savage Love: I love Dan Savage. I first discovered him while I was working the graveyard shift at an all night diner. His column appears in the Washington City Paper and I began reading it during the time when Rick Santorum was spewing hate from all his orifices. If you don't know the column Savage Love, I'm not going to go into great detail here, but it's a sex column for today's sexuality, not some relationship column from the 50s. He is very graphic, non-judgemental, and very honest.

He's also a political commentator. And often weaves political themes into his sex advice. As we all know sex and politics is closely, very closely related in the United States. Especially if you are being told not to use condoms in your public school sex education class, if you get sex education classes at all, and then taught to condemn young parents (girls mostly) for being poor and of color and having babies.

Anyways, Dan Savage is awesome and I listen to his podcast all the time. Great commuting materials, though its very strange to be listening about the complexities of double penetration during rush hour on the DC metro. A good friend and I often quote things from his podcasts because he gives such great personal advice. How to feel confident in your personal decisions, how to show compassion to yourself and to the people around you, and how to get someone off in almost any situation and circumstance. All good things to know. Check his column out.

Monday, October 26, 2009

From "Hi, I'm the white girl in 312" to Zeeburgerpad

The last two months have been a whirlwind of decisions, packing, airplane tickets, and the promise of a new adventure. Somewhere between waiting tables, staff retreats, and campaigning on safe school siting, I forgot that my first love has always been exploring the world around me. That is what wakes me up and the reason I want to be exhausted at night.

The past three years has been an accelerated course in how change happens at both a local and international levels. And I'm a better person because of all the people I've met and all the things I've accomplished and helped other people accomplish. But 12 hours a day at the same desk, 3 hour commutes, and an office in suburbs, doesn't make me a more fulfilled or useful person, it makes me tired and annoyed. And not exploring the world around me.

So in early September I decided to take a jump and see where I land. I wrote this post while sitting in the Dublin airport. Surrounded by tag parties to Prague, families on holiday, and newly graduated kids off to travel for a while. My goal right now and for the next year or so is to see new places, meet new people, and have many new adventures. Is this selfish? Do I feel like I'm letting down people in contaiminated communities that I could be helping? Of course it is and of course I do. But as leave my 20's (thank fucking god!) I'm realizing that I'm useless to the people I care about if I'm not taking care of my own life first.

Somewhere along the way I realized that I might one of the luckiest people on the planet. A friend offered her couch for as long as I need it, another friend helped me get a job for a couple months, and my former employer said that my job is still open if I decide to return next year. I'm pretty much waiting for everything to fall apart any moment, but as a friend explained, "Renee, sometimes things just work out." I'm don't necessarily believe that, but I do think that opportunities present themselves at the right time because of all the decisions you made just before. Opportunities are always right in front of you and all those poor and good decisions just allow you see them more clearly.

Happy Trails

Renee Claire

p.s. I'm in Amsterdam. And there are a lot of white people. A little strange I think.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


As most liberals who woke up listening to The Morning Edition on NPR this past week, what is happening in Pakistan . . . scares. the. fucking. shit. out. of. me. I should have paid more attention to this region of the world long before 2001, but I've always been more interested in South East Asia. Selfishly because I've had the opportunity to travel and work there some 7 times over the past 10 years.

In 2005, while I was restlessly exploring and living in New York City, I worked as a production assistance in a couple film festivals and worked for Rubina, a Pakistani woman who was raised in the US. At that point I had traveled to the Thai-Burma border three times, spending something like six total months doing crap work for the people who were doing real work in trying to bring democracy and end violence against the more than 30 ethnic groups in the country.

Just after Pakistan suffered a devastating earthquake that shut off communication and supplies to some of its already poorest and most isolated areas, Rubina told me about her desire to bring supplies into those areas and asked my advice on how to get around as an American woman without knowing anyone or where to go or how to do it. My advice to her was to get as close to where you want to go and then hang out in the tea shops that seems to have other foreigners who could also be relief workers. Be personable and start asking questions. Ask them for contacts and don't take the language barrier to getting what you need as a stumbling block. There is always a path around these types of problems, you just have to be dedicated to finding them.

Over the next couple months she gathered donations, bought a ticket to Pakistan, rented a helicopter, bought supplies with the money she raised, and then flew it all in. I'm a very lucky person and I've been able to meet some really amazing activists, Rubina is definitely included, even if she did make it me cry at the Hamptons International Film Festival one afternoon. Even besides the only 3 or 4 hours of sleep that we were able to get and the batshit crazy directors we had to deal with, I loved working that festival, Walk the Line premiered and I deescalated a potentially violent situation with 300 retired New Yorkers who lived south Florida who almost beat the shit of me because we over sold some shitty movie about retired New Yorkers who live in South Florida. But working for Rubina has been one of my biggest highlights. As a shy and not always strong woman, I love being able to work alongside really dedicated and extremely strong women.

The news coming out of Pakistan is usually shocking and full of violence. I have to say I never really hear anything good, unless its in a book that is specifically about something good. But this week really shook me. Each morning my radio turned on at 645am and I layed in bed listening to hostage taking, bombings, and audacious attacks on boys training to be police officers. I met so many brave and committed Burmese people who have taken up arms in a way to save their families and maybe one day their country and I think of them when I hear about attacks on the Iraqi, Afgahni, and Pakistani boyas who have choose to take up arms.

I believe that non-violence is a tactic not a lifestyle, a tactic that 99% of the time is the only tactic. I support the men and women in Burma who carry weapons with them and who fire on the Burmese military when they enter their villages. And I support the men (and women?) who are choosing to join the police, military or otherwise in South Asia to fight against the Taliban.

I understand that it is much more complicated issue than this. As in most conflict areas where government sponsored armed resistance are in the process of building up, it is not cut and dry that the boys being trained are there on their own accord. There is poverty, corruption and ignorance in play in building an army during wartime. I believe attending school would solve more problems, but somebody has to make sure students aren't murdered in their classrooms or schools shut down completely like in Zimbabwe. Or in the case of the over 25,000 Wahhabi madrasahs in Pakistan, taking it further, and make sure that students aren't being indoctrinated into an extremist and violent ideology. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this is the military's role, but the deescalation of violence would help close these madrasahs in the long run.

I have marched in anti-war rallies, worked for anti-violence organizations, and told a friend of my aunt's inside a catholic church in the deep south in 2007 when she congratulated my aunt for her sons serving in the military during wartime that I didn't see anything to be happy about and we'd much rather my 18 year old cousins stay home and go to college. I believe that she mumbled something about me going to hell, which I'll give her, but I was too angry to hear anything she had to say after that. Given all that I do in my life in the name of peace and education, I'm not sure that at this time we should pull completely out of Afghanistan or end our help to the Pakistani army.

Before 2001 the Taliban could barely get boys to join them and could be found in only 20% of Afghanistan, today the Taliban rules over 70% and are organized enough to pull off several brazen attacks that killed 150 people in a matter of just a couple days this week. I understand that there are reasons the Taliban has been so successful in the past few years and the US actions are the biggest ones. But what do we do now?

One thing is to put real resources into education and economic and social development of women and in children in the area. Because as we all know from conflicts the world over, when women are healthy, all of society is healthy. But I'm not convinced that is the only answer. It's a huge piece of the answer for long term stability, but what about for today? What's the answer for protecting the students and teachers against violence so they can go to school today and tomorrow and the next day and not get caught in some fanatics backpack bomb or specifically targeted because she is a little girl going to school?

There is no reason to take me seriously in this conversation. I barely know what I'm talking about the majority of my waking life after all. I just believe that as activists we shouldn't be so quick to say that no violence ever is the answer. In 2001, those of us that protested against the occupation in Iraq were right. Today is a different situation. I don't know what the answer is, but I do think we, as people who believe in peace, should be more thoughtful in our call to action right now. I also believe that having people who say 'no violence ever' is an extremely important part of making sure that us in the middle don't swing too far out of our league.

Happy rainy and freezing Saturday,