Rich Reis, of Silver Spring, Maryland, is a member of the Washington Ethical Society and of the group’s Earth Ethics Committee. An animal advocate, an avid cyclist and sailor, and a conservation engineer, Reis is also a pretty handy model of that famous piece of advice to all activists: Think globally, act locally.
While much of the debate on energy policy focuses on alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and waves, Reis insists that we should be reducing our needs for energy in the first place: “Negawatts—negative watts—are the most significant source of energy out there.”
Negawatts are wasted energy, Reis explains; and in the immediate sense, conservation has much more impact than conversion. Heading off waste saves money even as it reduces carbon emissions.
But can residential or commercial conservation efforts really make a difference in mitigating global warming? Many believe government regulations are the only way to slow climate change. Rich Reis doesn’t agree.
“Individuals can make a difference,” Reis says. “Think of littering. Not littering is doing a small part to make a better world. Emitting CO2 is like littering; it’s putting something in the environment that doesn’t belong there.”
So Reis, through his business, Conservation Engineering (www.conservationengineering.com), works to make residential and commercial buildings more energy-efficient. Both homes and businesses can save money this way, but Reis finds that most clients are genuinely concerned about the environmental impact.
Homeowners should begin with an energy audit, which, Reis says, will show patterns, so that residents know where and when they use the most energy. Many utility companies offer free home-energy audits or have energy-saving tips online.1
An audit may, for instance, recommend changing light bulbs to compact fluorescents. Compact fluorescent light bulbs can last up to 10,000 hours — ten times longer than incandescent bulbs— and they are four times as efficient. An up-and-coming technology, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) can last up to 100,000 hours and are more efficient than fluorescent bulbs, but it will be a few years before they are available for home use.2
Residents can also use motion sensors to turn lights on and off, install better insulation, and make their windows more efficient.3 While retrofitting one’s home to be more energy efficient is a good idea, Reis points out that it would be better to build more energy-efficient homes in the first place .
For it is not always efficient to throw out the old and bring in the new. Reis talks of “embedded” or “embodied” energy — that is, energy required to produce and deliver a product, before it’s ever used.4 “Because energy is required to produce any new thing,” Reis says, “keeping and driving an old car might be more efficient than getting a new Prius.”
In some ways, responding to climate change will mean returning to traditional knowledge.
“Before we had air conditioning,” says Reis, “we designed buildings to be comfortable, with a good overhang and good ventilation. But in the era of cheap energy, we thought we could overcome nature. We were less concerned about energy-efficient design.”
So we moved away from sensible architecture. “We want to over design things. Look at the simplicity of the pueblos, with their thick walls, which are cool in the summer and warm in the winter.”
Reis continues: “We need to design in a way to reduce the need for air conditioning and reduce the size of houses.”
The Environmental Design of Everyday Life
Rich Reis’s lifestyle reflects his environmental concerns. He easily combines his passions for environment-friendly modes of transportation such as biking and sailing small boats with vegetarianism.
Reis advises reducing energy use by avoiding driving and using mass transit, bicycling, walking and telecommuting instead. He also uses alternative energy, buying wind energy from his local utility and using solar to heat home hot water.
Reis’s vegetarianism stems from both ethical and environmental concerns about animal agribusiness. “I know that animals that are exploited for food and leather lead horrible
lives and die horrible deaths,” he says. “But there are also tremendous inefficiencies in feeding animals to ultimately harvest their meat.”
“Raising animals for food causes a lot of pollution, ” Rich adds.
An active member of the Washington Ethical Society (WES), he combines his knowledge and expertise in conservation with his commitment to WES by implementing several energy-efficiency strategies at the WES building. (According to the American Ethical Union, the umbrella organization of U.S. ethical societies, “Ethical Culture is a humanistic religious and educational movement inspired by the ideal that the supreme aim of human life is working to create a more humane society.”5)
The many energy-saving changes Reis has applied at WES included replacing the air conditioning with a system that doesn’t use refrigerants that could deplete ozone, which protects us from ultraviolet radiation; changing incandescent light bulbs in exit signs to more efficient LED lights; and upgrading to a vastly more efficient gas water heater.
Reis clearly sees his individual personal passions as part of a whole. “I am part of several movements — vegetarian, environmental, bicycling, sailing, ethical culture— that should be related,” he said. “Yet there is little or no overlap; often there is conflict and disagreement. I recall a Vegetarian Society of DC restaurant visit where people at my table were discussing which SUV to buy.” Reis would like to see WES take strong positions on vegetarianism and animal rights.
Despite the challenges of global warming and energy conservation, Reis remains optimistic about slowing or reversing climate disruption to preserve the biocommunity.
“It's empowering to work toward that end,” he said. “I believe that pessimists are nearly always correct in a self-fulfilling way, whereas optimists are much more successful.”
- 1. To learn how to conduct your own home energy audit, visit http://www.energyguide.com. To find a conservation engineer in your area, see http://www.natresnet.org/directory/rater_directory.asp#Search.
- 2. Alex Steffen, editor, Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21 st Century (2006), at 165-166.
- 3. Ibid, at 160.
- 4. “Embodied Energy,” Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embodied_energy).
- 5. American Ethical Union Web site ( http://www.aeu.org).
The woods of summer draw us in with hues of green – the fully leafed trees glorying in the sunshine and offering cool shade to a hiker. In the fall, one gazes at the streaks and splashes of yellow and crimson. In winter, when the deciduous trees have shed their leaves, the evergreen conifers, hollies, and hemlocks bring the landscape to life. And in spring, in looking for nature’s rebirth, it’s often the green of wild onions or fiddlesticks that we notice first.
But while verdant woods delight the eye, one sometimes overlooks the dead trees that signal a healthy forest as well. Often burgeoning with life, dead trees, either fallen or still standing, are crucial to a rich ecology. It’s as if nature were following the motto of Mary, Queen of Scots: “In my end is my beginning.”
Standing dead trees, commonly called snags, provide important habitat to a wide variety of beings: bacteria, fungi, and lichens; insects and other invertebrates, birds and mammals. Snags can last up to 40 years. After they fall, becoming coarse woody debris, they often become nurseries for seedlings.1
The life cycle of dead trees begins with their colonization by mosses and fungi, which break organic matter into vital nutrients for the soil. They are soon followed by insects. Explains ecologist Clive G. Jones: “Wood-boring insects are much more prevalent in dead trees.”2 The insects, in turn, attract birds such as woodpeckers. No wonder Kevin Krajick, writing for Science magazine, says some trees support more biodiversity dead than alive.3
Woodpeckers are the primary excavators of nesting holes. Ecologists call these birds primary cavity nesters. Their hollows are later used by many others: bluebirds, wrens, chickadees, barred owls, and kestrels. These birds are known, naturally enough, as secondary cavity nesters.
Snags provide shelter, nesting, and foraging sites for many other animals as well, including mice, squirrels, flying squirrels, bats, raccoons, and tree frogs. This ecological cycle also supports raptors, who perch atop snags for a clear view when searching for prey.
If a log falls across a stream, it’s a bridge for animals. And “dead logs are like runways for small animals as they move around the forest,” says Jones. “They act as visual shelter from predators such as owls.”4
Some researchers say removing dead material from a woody area can mean a loss of habitat for up to a fifth of the animals.5 A healthy habitat for woodland animals means leaving two to four snags per acre.6
But snag and den trees are disappearing as forests are being intensively managed through cordword cutting, timber management, and land clearing.7 Dead wood is taken away from the forest floor in an attempt to control unwanted animals, to remove fungi, or for aesthetic reasons. The suppression of wildfires and the use of pesticides have also disrupted the natural lives and deaths of trees.
Those of us who are blessed with large yards or woodlots can leave snags to provide wildlife habitat. “Snags may not appear very attractive,” said Laurel Barnhill, wildlife biologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, “but their value to wildlife is clear.” We should, Barnhill urges, “take a second look at dead or dying trees” and include snags in our landscaping plans.8
Once one understands their importance to forest health, snags begin to have a certain kind of beauty. It’s the beauty of nature’s ability to reduce, reuse, recycle – which it knew long before humans began to learn the lessons of conservation.
- 1. “In Ecology, There Is No Dead Wood” – Institute of Ecosystem Studies Newsletter (Sep.-Oct. 2003).
- 2. Ibid, quoting ecologist Clive C. Jones.
- 3. Kevin Krajick, “Defending Deadwood” – Science (31 Aug. 2001).
- 4. “In Ecology, There Is No Dead Wood” (see note 1).
- 5. National Wildlife Federation, “Create a Certified Wildlife Habitat.” Available: http://www.nwf.org/backyard/snags.cfm (visited 2 Oct. 2008).
- 6. Ohio State University Extension fact sheet, “Dead Trees as Resources for Forest Wildlife.”
- 7. Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection fact sheet, “Snags for Wildlife.”
- 8. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources news release, “Leave Some Dead Trees Standing to Help Wildlife” (21 Dec. 2007).
Snug along Connecticut’s southwestern shoreline, only minutes from the New York state line, is the grand old city of Stamford. The fourth largest city in Connecticut and a fixture of the state’s southwestern “Gold Coast,” Stamford is rightly proud of its extensive urban renewal program that produced a magnificent skyline and its ultimate ranking as one of North America’s safest cities. Stamford is equally proud of its many city parks and playgrounds that serve its citizens and visitors, including Cummings Park, near the shoreline of Long Island Sound.
Cummings Park stands near the end of Elm Street, bordered to the south by the waters of Long Island Sound and to the east by a greenbelt of open woodland, and includes scattered shade trees, mostly pine and maple. One of its biggest draws is the softball field that is used by kids of all ages, but it also boasts a lesser known attraction that delights both bird-watchers and casual visitors alike: the colony of Monk Parakeets who have taken up residence in the park for several years now.
Native to Northern Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay, the colorful and charismatic Monk Parakeets are about a foot in length, bright green, with heads and chests grayish white and deep green wings with bright blue streaks. They are the only parakeets to build nests, consisting of hundreds and sometimes thousands of intricately woven sticks. They spend enormous amounts of time building and repairing these nests, which serve as their refuge throughout the year, providing a breeding platform in summer and a safe home during winter cold and snow.
The chatter and industry of these busy birds keeps everyone enthralled with their daily antics and activity. The parakeets harm no one, compete with no other species and, in fact, provide nesting and roosting sites for other birds. Surveys reveal that the general public overwhelmingly enjoys the parakeets and consistently favor their protection. Monk Parakeets even become food for urban Cooper’s Hawks, while their eggs are eaten by Fish Crows and Common Crows.
Unfortunately, some of the Monk Parakeet pairs of the Cummings Park colony have chosen to build their stick nests in the light fixtures around the softball field. Most of the tall structures have masses of sticks interwoven into their service platforms, forming large and bulky nests which the birds peer over to watch the baseball players below. Eventually, the time came to service the light platforms, which meant removing the nests once and for all.
Prior to destroying the nests, city planning officials — including Joe “Pepie” Barbarotta of the Parks and Recreation Department and Kevin Murray — contacted The Wildlife Orphanage of Fairfield County for advice. Staffers Cathie Kovacs and Heather Bernatchez recommended an enlightened program that included four components: (1) a timetable in which the nests will be dismantled after the breeding season but still early enough in the fall to give the birds time to build new nests before winter onset; (2) a safe dismantling of the nests to minimize disturbance to the birds; (3) placing barriers on the new platforms to prevent re-nesting on the light fixtures; and, most importantly, (4) erecting a series of artificial nest platforms within the park.
The site chosen for the placement of the nesting platforms is a nearby lightly wooded hillside, just far enough away from the ball fields to discourage the parakeets from using the light fixtures as roosting sites. The artificial nesting platforms are being constructed using plans supplied by Marc Johnson, who has provided plans and advice to town and city planners across the country, from West Haven and Lordship in Connecticut to the little town of Yacolt in the state of Washington. These platforms have already been adopted by parakeet pairs in West Haven and Lordship. The birds have successfully raised families during each breeding season for the past two years.
At Cummings Park, the Parks and Recreation Department will oversee the construction of at least three of the artificial nesting platforms on poles. Another will be placed in a mature deciduous tree — chosen because the tree had previously held a Monk Parakeet nest. The simultaneous establishment of these nearby artificial nesting sites is expected to provide a visual stimulus to parakeets in search of a suitable nesting platform in the days following dismantling of the nests in the towers. Such adoption will solve the town’s management and maintenance problem while permitting the parakeets to remain safely within the confines of the park — to the delight of all concerned.
The success of this venture, at least through its planning and implementation stages, owes everything to the positive attitude of Stamford city planners and Pepie and his enthusiastic folks at Parks and Recreation. Their solutions to the monk parakeet situation can serve as an example throughout their native and introduced range, and it is hoped that other communities across the nation and around the world can learn from this respectful and promising civic experiment.
Dwight G. Smith is professor and chair of the biology department at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, Connecticut. Dr. Ramirez is the botanist and urban ecologist in the same department and an avid and enthusiastic investigator of Monk Parakeet biology here and in South America.
I love to eat out. I love the hustle and bustle, and I love someone else preparing my food. (Doesn’t it always taste better that way?) I especially love the process of finding a restaurant, being charmed by the wait-staff, chefs and owners—the people who make a restaurant irreplaceable. I love getting to know a restaurant owner on a first-name basis. In a special place, it’s like finding family you didn’t know you had. A great restaurant is a home away from home, a refuge.
That’s what I felt recently in Texas, with my Friends of Animals co-workers, Priscilla Feral and Edita Birnkrant. We were there to visit Primarily Primates, but we were introduced to an equally charming treasure, San Antonio’s first vegetarian restaurant, Green Vegetarian Cuisine and Coffee.
Priscilla has worked in San Antonio part of each month for more than a year now. During this time, she has almost always eaten at the restaurant that, in its own words, seeks “to serve delicious and affordable vegetarian comfort food to our diverse customers.”
Chef Mike Behrend owns the restaurant along with his mother, Luann Singleton. Although it just opened in January 2006, Green has already been named Best New Restaurant in the San Antonio Express-News Critics Choice Awards.
The refreshing iced hibiscus tea was expertly monitored by our friendly and generous server as we sampled sweet potato fries, a popcorn tofu po boy, buffalo tofu fingers, and chicken-fried wheat meat. Gorgeous salads too, and we had plenty of time to try the lighter fare, such as portobello steak and zucchini enchiladas. Both were exceptional. The raw hummus — a spectacular combination of red peppers, cashews and Brazil nuts — comes as an appetizer or a main course, so there’s no excuse for missing it. There’s a nifty “neatloaf” and mashed potatoes, and a tempting taco salad with greens, beans and salsa. Of course. This is Texas. And to cool off, Green offers house vegan soft-serve ice cream, a swirl of chocolate and vanilla.
With its commitment to using wind-power and bio-degradable containers, its stylish interior and delicious food, Green is a place to watch. Although Green is not a vegan restaurant, nearly all dishes can be made vegan; tofu scramble can be substituted for the eggs at breakfast.
Most remarkable are its people. They’re what makes Green a home away from home.
Hot off the press: Mike Behrend’s recipes for Sweet Potato Gnocchi and Sweet Potato Pancakes appear in Friends of Animals’ forthcoming cookbook, The Best of Vegan Cooking…coming this Spring!
1017 North Flores
San Antonio, TX 78212
Hours of Operation:
Sunday through Thursday: 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Friday: 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
When someone in the music business came up with the term “alternative” to describe the really cool rock that originated in the ‘90s, they probably had no idea how flexible that term could be. It’s not just the music; it’s the way post-punk people think and speak — particularly when it comes to how they feel about the sin of wearing fur. Distinct from earlier generations of musicians, these rockers are not much for putting inhumane treatment of animals into protest songs. And they don’t rave about the topic from the stage. But when they put their guitars down, they have plenty to say about the absurd business of wearing fur to keep warm, show off, or both.
Juliana Hatfield is one of this new breed of musicians. Strongly melodic, this songwriter is perhaps best-known for “Spin the Bottle,” the tune that launched her into indie-rock stardom in the 90s. Her new CD, “How to Walk Away,” and incisively-written memoir, “When I Grow Up,” show that maturity suits her. Hatfield may not write overtly political songs, but this Boston resident is not shy about expressing her feelings, and Hatfield thinks fur stinks. She’s smart, realistic. And in her cool, wry way, she’s willing to say there’s no excuse for the suffering of animals killed for their fur.
“I didn’t so much have an epiphany about how awful fur is, so much as a gradual feeling as I was growing up about needless suffering,” says Hatfield. “Also, I don’t like garish displays of wealth. That’s all that fur means to me.”
Hatfield, who volunteers at an animal hospital in Boston, does think future generations can have their consciousness raised.
“It’s all about getting information to kids, early, about where fur and meat come from,” she says.
Jason Stollsteimer’s band, The Von Bondies, offer one of the last great hopes of pure, street-level rock and roll. You might know their hit “C’Mon, C’Mon” as the title song of Denis Leary’s show “ Rescue Me.”
When Stollsteimer is not finishing up the band’s next record (“Love, Hate and Then There’s You” is due in February), he thinks a good deal about the absurdity of fur.
“Nobody needs to do it anymore, especially to keep warm,” says Stollsteimer, who lives in Detroit. “Centuries ago, when we had no alternatives it might have made sense to wear fur for warmth. Nobody needs to do it now. Fur reminds me of the SUV. Nobody actually needs one; they just want to prove they’re rich. There are probably better ways to do that.”
Upon hearing of Juliana Hatfield’s concerns that fur has made a comeback lately, Stollsteimer reports: “One thing that makes me feel good is I’ve never seen a single fan at a Von Bondies show wearing fur. And we’ve been together for ten years. Maybe it’s just me, but I think someday wearing this stuff is going to be obsolete. Whether people understand the cruelty factor, or they just think it’s uncool. But I think we’re going to see the end of fur in our lifetime.”
Maybe you’ve heard power pop king Matthew Sweet’s song, “Girlfriend,” or caught his country-rock supergroup, The Thorns, a few years back. His most recent CD, “Sunshine Lies,” is full of Sweet’s instantly hummable, sixties-influenced rock.
“Fur seems to me to be especially creepy,” says this lynchpin of the SoCal music scene. “It seems to me that if you have a basic respect for nature and a sense of live and let live, that not hurting animals makes perfect sense.”
“We’ve evolved,” says Sweet, echoing Stollsteimer’s ideas about how truly unnecessary animal pelts are to wear. “At least most of us have. If your consciousness has evolved too, it seems that this basic respect for animal life should follow suit. Anyway, I think fur is really on the way out. If it was ever cool, it isn’t anymore.”
“What Juliana said makes a lot of sense,” Sweet adds. “The more kids get information about where fur comes from and how it’s made, the less willing they’ll be to buy it or wear it.”
Dana Detrick, a raw rocker based in Kansas City, is probably the least well-known of this alternative group of rockers. But one listen to her upcoming CD “Retribution Girl” and it’s impossible not think she belongs in that august company. In addition to running the label that put out the disc (www.seriousvanity.com), this rocker and entrepreneur has plenty to say about fur.
“I’m a big proponent of being pro-something as opposed to being negative about a situation,” says this one-woman band, whose best tunes echo Debby Harry and scads of revved-up New Wave bands. “If there’s ever a way to teach people how to be more compassionate, I think that will in turn make them more self-realized. But compassion is really the key. Once a person learns that quality, it will extend to many areas of their life.
As one result of that self-actualization, Detrick affirms, “they’ll realize that will mean they should never, ever wear fur.”