As the Earth's feedback loop of consumerism, waste and environmental disaster moans louder, it's easy to feel like giving up. The talking heads relate tales of melting ice caps and dying species while corporate greed overwhelms the spirit.
Despite what conservative pundits might say, the problems are real and there are real things we can do to manage their impact.
There are three major schools of environmentalist thought on how we can live in balance with nature: Light Greens, Bright Greens and Dark Greens.
Light Greens look for ways they can change their own lives and make their lifestyles greener. They seek salvation through their own personal ecosystems.
Bright Greens believe that evolving world economies and advanced technology will help us contend with the world's dwindling resources. They deal with environmentalism as an energy issue and look for ways to make energy production more efficient.
Dark Greens see environmental problems as endemic to an unchecked capitalist economy. Their preferred solution is political change.
Some Dark Greens lobby for tougher legislation against corporate pollution, and more radical Darks long for a revolution.
Most people who consider themselves to be environmentalists blend these ideologies into their actions. Whatever way you lean, going green can be summed up in four basic ways: Use less energy; reuse as much as you can; be intentional about spending less and spending money close to home; and be more active — get out into the world and get involved in civics, ride your bike or learn about how you can live in harmony with the planet.
It's all a lot simpler than it sounds, and it's a healthier, smarter way to live than the status quo.
You're bound to learn something new about the Green Movement when you visit Live Green Cincinnati (www.livegreencincinnati.com), a web site started just over a year ago by downtowners Brianne Fahey and Suzanne Hanners. Fahey manages the content, and Hanners codes the site. Both share a passion for environmentalism and for helping to foster growth in Cincinnati's urban neighborhoods.
"There are so many grassroots groups already doing things here," Fahey says. "I was hoping to translate these things already happening into something that anyone could look up."
The result is a daily blog on Green news, advice on sustainable living, a calendar of local events and links to like-minded environmentalist groups in the area.
Fahey says she focuses on new urbanism, which meets a sweet spot that she calls a "triple bottom line" of social, environmental and economic needs.
"The idea is tying these things together," she says. "It's not just the right thing to do, it's a way to make money."
Network and get involved
It's too bad that Dan Korman's Park + Vine green general store in Over-the-Rhine doesn't have its juice bar yet. That was part of his original plans.
It's already a swank hang out for sustainable living enthusiasts in the area. Stick around for a few minutes and you'll meet local people who are driving biodeisel cars, tending organic gardens or figuring out ways to turn junk into art.
"People come in here wanting us to be part of the stuff they're involved in," Korman says.
It makes sense. The same folks coming to the store to buy cloth diapers, furniture made from recycled bicycles and non-toxic paint are attending the store's free workshops on recycling, composting and reusable menstrual products. It's one of the few places members of Cincinnati's Green community know they'll meet each other face to face.
Go green by saving green
Who says environmentalism has to cost a lot of money? The problems of pollution, landfills and environmental destruction are often problems of excess.
Supersize suburban homes require an equally large amount of energy to heat, cool and power. Long commutes in pricey SUVs have huge fuel costs. The newest gadgets are blanketed in packaging that's not easily recycled.
The debt we accumulate encourages us to work longer hours, drive further and rely on fast food to maintain a lifestyle that most of us can't really afford. Who needs it?
You can break the cycle by downsizing your life and getting help from local debt counselors. Consumer Credit Counseling Service is one local nonprofit that works to help people stay on a budget and pay off their debt (800-355-2227, www.cccservices.com).
You can also start reading personal finance books and blogs. The Simple Dollar (www.thesimpledollar.com) is an engaging, funny and instructive personal finance blog that tells it like it is: You need to spend less than you earn and make the gap between what you earn and what you spend as large as possible.
Wasteful habits like eating out all the time, driving more than you need and buying the newest toys serve only to empty your wallet and degrade the planet. If you work at it, you can even get completely out of debt and build your savings. Building wealth is a slow process and can be a green one, too.
Ditch the car
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Ohioans spend an average of 22 minutes commuting to work — more than 90 hours every year. Lost time coupled with rising gas prices and increasing urban congestion make driving an expensive headache.
Being stuck in a traffic jam is bad for your health, too. According to the American Heart Association, commuters in major metro areas are exposed to high concentrations of diesel fumes that can lead to cardiovascular problems.
There are numerous ways you can free yourself from the rolling cage. Metro (www.sorta.com) handles public transit all over Hamilton County and offers limited service to surrounding counties north of the river. The Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (www.tankbus.org) offers rides in Kentucky.
All local busses have bike racks on the front, so you can extend your range as a cyclist, and many routes have lots where you can park for free and ride into the city.
There are numerous bicycle advocacy groups in the area. Check out our Alternative Transportation listings here for details.
If you must use your car, consider using a local rideshare program. Check out the online listings at ERideshare at www.erideshare.com/ carpool.php?city=Cincinnati.
Conserve energy at home
"The first thing you need to do is insulate your house," says Jim Schenk, coordinator of the Enright Ridge Eco-Village. "The primary thing is reducing the energy consumption. It's not very sexy, but it makes a difference."
Schenk's Eco-Village is comprised of about 90 homes in upper Price Hill. He says about a third of the residents there are very involved in the project, which is an ecological urban revitalization campaign.
Scheck says the idea is achieving environmental preservation through a healthy neighborhood. The Eco-Village teaches homeowners to properly insulate their homes and to share resources through a food co-op, a community truck and community meals.
Schenk says he'd like to see homes in the neighborhood eventually get off the grid by using alternative energy such as photovoltaic cells, but energy conservation is really the first step. Proper insulation and better windows can cut heating bills by two-thirds, and using more efficient lighting and developing better habits can significantly slash energy bills.
Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) is getting in on the green building movement, too. Pleasant Ridge Montessori School and Community Learning Center presently now under construction and includes under-floor air-delivery systems, and solar roof panels. Local architects will unveil their sustainable designs for other CPS buildings at a reception. $10 or free with CPS ID. 6-8 p.m. April 24. GBBN Architects, 332 East 8th St., Downtown, 513-541-4607. Reservations are requested by April 22.
Curbside recycling in the Cincinnati area uses a single-stream system. This means everything accepted at the curb gets thrown in the truck and is separated later at the recycling facility.
Cincinnatians can get a recycling bin by calling 513-591-6000. Residents of other local municipalities can contact their individual Solid Waste Management Districts.
Plastics with a No. 1 or 2 are accepted in local bins along with metal cans, glass bottles and most paper products, including junk mail. Butter tubs, egg cartons, plastic bags, pizza boxes and Styrofoam can't be recycled locally and must be thrown out or creatively reused.
Household hazardous waste such as technology waste, oil and paint don't belong in the garbage. They pollute groundwater and the earth. Instead, call Cincinnati's Household Hazardous Waste Hotline at 513-946-7700 or check out local recycling centers in our Recycling listings here.
Yard waste can be composted on site, or you can place it out with your trash in paper yard waste bags obtained at area grocery and hardware stores.
Eat local food
Valerie Taylor's Locavore Blog (cincinnatilocavore.blogspot.com) is all about eating local food and buying food from local vendors. Shortening the chain between consumer and producer means less fuel is used to transport your food and more accountability for farmers since their customers know them by name.
"Don't look at it as an all-or-nothing prospect," Taylor advises. "Just start by buying something local."
Taylor says she was a vegetarian for more than 20 years because she was troubled by unethical practices at factory farms. These days, she eats meat from local farmers who treat their animals well.
Taylor has a share of a cow and gets raw milk every week (it's illegal to buy it, so owning a share of an animal is a way around the law). She also gets her eggs, honey, maple syrup and vegetables from local growers.
"It's definitely more satisfying because it's more relational," she says. "I have such a strong relationship with my farmers that I feel bad if I'm unfaithful to them."
Food from local farms isn't exorbitantly expensive — some items are more than at the grocery and some are less — and is within the means of most people, Taylor says. Much of the food is organic, and all of it tastes fresher than frozen food that's been brought across the country to your local grocery store.
The experience is altogether different, too. Taylor says the eggs and the butter have deeper hues and richer tastes. And at the grocery, "you really can't know how it was raised."
Another entry point to the local food movement is the Central Ohio Valley River Local Foods Guide, which is slated for May 19 release at Findlay Market. You can get an copy of the book early at a panel discussion on becoming a locavore that includes area growers and producers. $10 (or sliding scale fee, including a vegetarian dinner). 6 p.m. May 2. Imago Earth Center, 700 Enright Ave., Price Hill, 513-921-8455.
There is a secondary market for every item you use. Buying used means getting the most out of the energy used to fabricate and transport an item to market. It also means less waste in local landfills from packaging or discarded still-useful goods.
You can find nearly new clothes and housewares at local thrift stores, second-hand building supplies at Building Value (2901 Gilbert Ave., Walnut Hills, 513-475-6783) and local online classifieds are full of barters and sales. The quality is much better than at the old-school flea market, too.
Be sure to check out CityBeat's Backpage Classifieds (cincinnati.backpage.com), Craigslist (cincinnati.craigslist.org) and Cincinnati Freecycle (groups.yahoo.com/group/ cincinnati_freecycle), where local people are giving things away.
Composting is one of the simplest ways to go green in your daily life. There's simply no reason to throw away materials that can be composted in your back yard.
Practically everything you use in your kitchen will readily break down and fertilize your soil. Meat and bones are usually not a good idea for compost as they attract scavengers, though they will compost, too. Grass clippings are best left to fertilize your newly cut lawn, though if you have an excess, clippings are rich in nitrogen and can be used in the garden.
Your home compost collection can be as simple as a plastic container in your kitchen (with a tight lid) that you empty once a week. You can place the items in an open compost pile in your back yard or spend the money on a commercial composting box.
A low-cost way to make a do-it-yourself compost box is to get a 5-gallon bucket, remove the handle and drill large holes all over the bucket with a keyhole drill. You'll want a lot of holes, but keep them at least six inches from the lid.
Bury the holey bucket and snap on the lid, and you have an in-ground compost container that keeps the critters away but lets worms in.
Join the Green Movement
Northside resident Braden Trauth is teaching a new class about Permaculture, which is as much about establishing a culture of permanence as it is permanent agriculture.
Trauth says the class is based on the idea that modern and historic farming methods destroy the ecosystem, limiting biodiversity and strip-mining the soil of its nutrients. By extension, modern culture works through the same process of planetary exploitation and environmental destruction.
Permaculture teaches ways to make environmentalism a sustainable lifestyle and treats the problem holistically rather than as an issue of energy or trash.
"We're looking at a low energy future," Trauth says. "It really makes sense that we're at war for oil."
But it's more than just what happens when the oil runs out, he says. Alternative political, technological and cultural structures are needed.
Trauth's 72-hour course has already begun, but he hopes to make it an annual event. Read more at www.permacultureactivist.net or get involved in with other local activists and educators through CityBeat's Green Listings here.
You can also get involved at the Cincinnati Earth Institute's Global Warming Course. Free. 7 p.m. April 16. Imago Earth Center, 700 Enright Ave., Price Hill, 513-921-8455.