Cicada Summer

June 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

During the summer, I run door-to-door political outreach offices, building public support before the legislative session kicks into high gear in the fall. I’ve done this for seven summers in SF, San Diego, Berkeley, and Palo Alto, working to make sure we have clean water, open spaces, affordable healthcare, and other nice things.

If you’re following along, all of those places are in California. This summer, I’m running my first office in the east coast, and I’ll tell ya, it’s a different ball game.

There are obvious differences in weather (light coats versus stripped down to skivvies whenever possible) and politics (“No I don’t want to volunteer, I’m writing you a check so you can do this for me!”), that seem trivial at face value. Notable, but hardly earthshattering.

Intellectually, you know that “water” and “trees” are real things in places that aren’t deserts, but practically, it changes everything about how I’ve perceived and felt about my environment. Evenings aren’t quiet light sweater weather – good for a glass of wine on a rooftop – anymore, they’re mosquito prime time, draped in a layer of heavy humidity – good for shitty beer and barbeque. Mid-day isn’t the time the sun peeks over the fog, sharp and piercing hot – the only good time to go to the beach, they’re an ocean in the very air you’re breathing or a flash thunderstorm, warm and refreshing.

And the bugs! Cicadas chipper in every moment, clinging to doormats and littering driveways. Tiger mosquitoes, black and white striped, hunt in all hours of the day. Lightening bugs flash one light, then many, harbinger to the nightime cousin of the tiger skeeter.

Waterways are warm – a rarity you get in few places outside of central valley California – but as often polluted as water in California is cold. It’s a false positive each time, but a good reason to keep knocking on doors, talking about toxics.



March 6, 2013 § 2 Comments

Three general categories for outside time as a modern animal:
None of these are mutually exclusive, obviously.

1. Adventures.  These are longer hikes and bikes, wanders and explorations. Day, weekend, or otherwise longer trips to see what you can see. Hikes with friends, go snowboarding, and other things mostly for fun.

Chickens on Kauai

If it ends in chickens, it’s usually an adventure.

2. Animal training.  Swimming, running, hiking, biking, etc for distance, speed, stamina, dexterity or strength (exactly like Dungeons and Dragons but with less pizza and Mountain Dew). Races, things with sets and reps, and things you time, mostly with the purpose of being a little less ‘modern’ and a little more ‘animal.’

3. Necessity.  Getting to work, getting groceries, getting home from the bar.

Depending on the time of year, where I’m living, and how terrible it is outside, I usually live in categories 1 and 3, and it weirds me out completely to think about how evolutionarily our bodies were built almost purely for #3, necessity. Nowadays, most modern humans in the United States barely do any of those things, category 3 least of all.

Twenty years ago, a large part of the 18-34 demographic would have balked at the idea of going outside as a necessity. Most of them still relied on cars and found driving more convenient than transit or walking/biking. More and more, this trend is being turned on it’s head. This generation is the first to reverse the literally seven decade trend of increasing vehicle miles traveled annually – from 2001 to 2009, the average annual number of vehicle miles traveled by 16-24 year olds actually dropped by a whopping 23%, from 10,300 to 7,9001.

It makes sense – young people flock to urban areas where it’s actually feasible to not own a car or not drive the one you have than the suburban or rural places that their parents have chosen to settle down and send them to school.

Other truths:

  • Gas is expensive and parking is a bitch – I may or may not have had my car impounded once for overdue parking tickets. When I lived in LA, it was faster to bike than drive often because traffic was so bad.
  • Young people get the whole climate change thing – Even if the NYT and Washington Post don’t.
  • Public transit is far more reliable as a day to day mode of transportation than it used to be now that you can get up to date info on arrival/departure times on your phone. When I was in college once, my friend and I forgot to look up the last train from SF to Davis and we ended up missing it and wandering around the city until the first train at 4AM. It was fine, but mostly crappy.
  • All of this has probably contributed to the rise in bike culture in the last decade. When I got to college in 2004, everyone was coming in with crappy mountain bikes from Target (myself included) or buying a brand new beach cruiser (we were 3 hours from the beach). Of course people didn’t like biking! They were pedaling around on bikes too small for them with twice as much weight/friction than they needed. By the time I graduated in 2008, the “in-thing” was to get an old 80’s road bike and cruise around town with a milk crate strapped to the back. Cheap road bikes didn’t exist in 2004, now you can get a $200 one from Wal-Mart.

As a result, ours is the only demographic of people that would rather give up their cars than their cell phones or computers. All of this is well and good, but even as this trend continues, the shift away from cars will plateau at some point without a shift in policy. In order to make a society-wide shift in how we move about, we need to make some pretty significant infrastructure changes across the board. Policy makers and entrepreneurs are, albeit slowly, taking note. City General Plans are actually including alternate modes of transportation into account and, even in giant suburbs like San Diego, are creating Citywide Bicycle Master Plans.

This is all very heartening, because the easiest way to be a modern animal is to do it because you have to.

I’m working 6 out of 7 upcoming weekends and blow through a 70 hour work week like it’s my job (cause, you know, it is) – I mostly think this is both necessary and pretty awesome, but it does mean I have to practice being a human animal in the in between. So, more biking to and from work, more running with my pack on for groceries (this is my favorite – schlepping to get food? how much more humanimal can you get?), and more pacing on conference calls.


Single use society

February 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

I ran into this video on Facebook this weekend and it reminded me of just how mad plastic grocery bags make me. Three years ago, I started working on a statewide campaign to bag plastic bags in California – there were 12 municipalities with city or county bans. Since then, we lost two statewide bag ban votes, the chemical industry lobby almost successfully got language into high school textbooks saying that plastic bags were good for the environment, and we banned bags in 62 cities and counties in the state.  That’s 25% of the entire state of California, or 9.5 million people who will soon be living plastic bag free.

MIDWAY – Plastic Beach from Midway on Vimeo.

One of the strangest things about being a modern animal is the rise of our single-use society. A society where somehow, spending 1,100 to 2,000 times more in energy to bottle, label, and transport a plastic bottle of water compared to tap water1 can cost a consumer just one dollar. Where making and disposing of thousands of single use plastic spoons is more cost efficient for a business than washing metal ones. Where putting a Snickers bar in a single-use plastic bag for free is standard practice for a grocery store.

This failed economy where neither the producer or the consumer pays for the long-term impact of a product on society has resulted in everything from the Great Pacific Garbage patch, to the half a million tons of toxic ash that the little state of Connecticut generates every year through trash incineration2.

Obviously banning single use plastic bags isn’t enough. Even when I was working on this campaign, the scale of the impact of our single use society would often escape me. It wasn’t until I went to Kauai and found myself on an empty beach, beautiful other than that it was covered in plastic, that I internalized just how vast the problem we’d created was.

plastic beach kauai

Are those tiny granules sand or plastic?

plastic beach kauai 2

pack your trash kauai

Based on the painted on signs like the one above, or messages to “pack your trash” etched into logs on the beach all over the island, it was clear that the local impact of the North Pacific Gyre was being felt. Not surprisingly, every Hawaiian island has already banned single-use plastic grocery bags.

Scenes like that are especially hard to stomach now that I’m living in New Brunswick – my first impression of the city last April when I visited was “this is the dirtiest city that isn’t in the third world that I’ve ever seen.” Case in point, this is a photo I took walking to work this morning:

2013-02-18 09.00.50

The good, and maybe the annoying, news,is we have the solutions. New Brunswick’s problem is that the city is lazy – it doesn’t provide standard waste bins or regular enough recycling pick up. The simplicity of the solution is directly correlated with how frustrated I am that it’s not being applied. Aren’t the wind tunnels and dilapidated buildings enough? Do we have to add trash to the daily flaura and fauna?

From producer pays programs like the bottle bill to pay as you throw curbside trash pick-up and city wide compost programs, some cities have already achieved 80-90% waste diversion. San Francisco is at a 78% diversion rate. The problem of single-use society is not rocket science, it’s not even high school calculus, but if we want to continue to enjoy the great outdoors (as amateurs or otherwise), it’s a problem we need to tackle with simple and smart policy.

1. Energy Implications of Bottled Water, Gleik and Cooley.


Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Politics category at An Amateur Outside.