Archives for category: See Green

“…I love French wine like I love the French language. I have sampled every language, French is my favorite—fantastic language, especially to curse with: Nom de Dieu de putain de bordel de merde de saloperies de connards d’enculés de ta mère. You see, it’s like wiping your arse with silk, I love it.”

(The Mérovingien in The Matrix 2. Watch Lambert Wilson and swoon…)

So this is about French and toilet paper.

Americans, evidently, do like to wipe their asses with silk. Or the next best thing. According to the ecogeek article Which Is Worse? Hummers Or Toilet Paper?, Americans use “three times more toilet paper than the average European.” (No, they’re not dirty, you’re just wasteful.) To add insult to injury, Americans prefer quilty, cushy TP for their tushies, which are obviously too good for recycled paper; more than 98% of the TP sold in America is from virgin wood. In Europe, on the other hand, nearly 40% of TP sold is made from recycled paper products. Sales of high-end brands are increasing in some US markets despite the deplorable state of the planet. And I won’t even start on how eco-unfriendly wipes must be…

Americans also evidently don’t want to learn French. In Minnesota, a state university has just decided to do away with the French degree program (German too, for that matter). A middle school in New York cites declining enrollment and budgetary constraints as the reasons why French classes are threatened…

(I’m from southern California and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say their kids are taking Spanish because it’s practical and at least they’ll be able to talk to their maids. I am not kidding.)

It could easily be argued that France contributed more to Western civilization than any single culture besides the ancient Greeks, but Americans are generally unaware of that. (Not that they would care if they knew. And they wouldn’t believe the French had invented the Monster Truck anyway…). They don’t realize the extent of France’s economic power, or its geopolitical importance. Americans have no idea that the French are practically the only people who still question everything. They’ve forgotten how important it is to do that.

I’ve always had the impression that Americans think of France as a place that was once an important country even though the men wore tights but that now it’s nothing more than a theme park for francophiles.

Back to toilet paper. Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council have published a handy comparative guide to TP brands (and paper towels, paper napkins and facial tissues) in the US, showing the environmental impact of each of them. You can even print it and fold it up so it’ll fit in your wallet. If you must. If you don’t think you can just remember the good brands to buy.

My advice: If you really want that silky sensation, learn French. And then buy TP made from recycled paper.


(Thanks to Marc Broussard for the tip on ecogeek.)

The fact that I declined a plastic bag for my purchases at the pharmacy yesterday led to a little exchange with my pharmacist on the subject of plastic bags.

She said it’s not uncommon for Americans to pass on the bag, but that the same is not true for the French. According to her, an American will as often as not walk out of her pharmacy with a box of tampons in hand, and she added that any French people who saw that would just wonder to themselves why she hadn’t given that lady a bag…

I told her that’s why I carry a big purse, and that I try not to take plastic bags for environmental reasons. She said she got the impression that Americans were more environmentally conscious than the French.

I suppressed the guffaw.

I’ve had an issue with the French thing for bags for some time now. Long ago, I thought it was charming that almost every little shop had its own fancy little bag, stylish and sturdy, often glossy, the kind of thing you only get from really expensive and snooty shops or Victoria’s Secret in the US. But the Frogs really need to get over their bag habit. Instead of class and charm, all I see now is dead trees.

So, the other day while I was out with friends, Vincent went to grab lunch at a new sushi take-out-only place down the street. He was so blown away by how environmentally incorrect his lunch packaging was that he saved it for me (what a guy!):


A paper cup with a plastic lid for his miso soup (wrapped in a plastic bag in case it leaked). A plastic spoon. A plastic container for the salad. A cardboard box with cellophane window and lining for the sushi. A plastic packet of wasabi and one of ginger. A little plastic dish for soy sauce. Three itsy bitsy plastic bottles of soy sauce (one low sodium) that I have to admit are really cute, and I’ll keep them in case we decide to have an Asian-food picnic one day (though the likelihood of that is next to nil). “Disposable” wooden chopsticks in a paper wrapper. A heavy-duty paper napkin. All contained in one of those fancy French paper bags.

Dead trees. Petroleum products.

Sushi Shop is a “Japanese fusion” restaurant chain launched by Cyril Lignac, a dashing, 30-year-old French chef and restaurateur, which explains the over-the-top presentation and packaging. Like many things French, the presentation of Sushi Shop food is attractive and seductive, no doubt about it.

But what most people still fail to realize is that the time for this kind of thing has passed. These are luxuries our planet can no longer afford.

On the plus side, the triangle recycling symbol appeared on both pieces of the salad container and the lid of the soup cup. The little plastic soy dish and soy sauce bottles had a recycling symbol on them, though not a triangle and with Asian characters, so I don’t know if they’d be recycled here. I don’t know if the soup cup is recyclable; I couldn’t tell if it was plastic coated. But I recycled it anyway. I also removed the cellophane and recycled the box.

So this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to send a note to Cyril Lignac with a link to this post and tell him what I think. According to the Sushi Shop website, our opinions matter to him. And I will never patronize that establishment. Sorry, Cyril.

This chain is a franchise, and it’s popping up all over France. If you live here and care, maybe you could drop Cyril a line too? And consider getting your sushi somewhere else till Sushi Shop gets greener…

Last year, a short time after my birthday, I decided I would go a year without buying any new personal items I didn’t absolutely need (I authorized second-hand things for myself). And since I blogged about it, I know you are all dying to know how I did. So I’ll tell you.

I failed.

Last year, I bought two new shirts (for investor meetings and other professional kinds of things). The shirts I figured were kind of a need because of the difference in the way professional women dress in Paris and the fact that I went down a size after I got here. I also bought a dress that served no practical purpose… And three pairs of underwear I didn’t really need. (TMI? Sorry.)

When I had to schedule my trip to California for before my birthday because of a commitment on the 20th, I knew it would mean that I would be further breaking my promise. And, in fact, I bought three pairs of Levis and a pair of shoes. Well, Mom bought me the shoes, but I would have bought them anyway if she hadn’t offered, so I’m counting them too. The same Levis I paid $36 for there (511’s and 510’s) cost over 100 Euros here. I simply refuse. Wouldn’t you?

I did a lot of guilt-free, thrift-store madness while in California. In Santa Monica (best Goodwill ever) and Burbank (It’s A Wrap, where you can get wardrobe items from Hollywood TV shows. Lots of kitschy daytime soap clothes and some really nice stuff at unbelievable prices). I got a red t-shirt there (not just any t-shirt; it’s long, fitted and low-necked) that was on Hannah Montana (which I’ve never seen, BTW). Hit the Goodwill Superstore with my son in Bakersfield. Did you know there was such a thing? I didn’t. But of course there is. We’re talking about America.

(I really think the Goodwill logo is well done.)

I dragged my son through thrift stores throughout his childhood. He can still handle them (unlike my brother, who was also subjected to thrift shopping as a child and is so scarred he won’t go near one now), although it’s not his favorite thing to do (can you tell?). But he’s a good boy and he indulged his mom.


Got tons of treasures in the various stores, including a long, red, designer wool sweater, that looks brand new and will be perfect for cool Paris days over jeans ($7). A cuddly, light green, cotton pea coat ($7). I’ve been needing a mid-weight jacket since I got here, and the weather was nice enough for me to wear it today! Two pairs of adorable high-heeled sandals ($5.50 total). A long cotton drawstring skirt with a happy Hawaiian flower print in pinks, greens and oranges ($3.50). A gorgeous, slinky sweater in a very unusual shade of green ($3.50). And LOTS more. All for less than a hundred bucks. That’s what I’m talking about. Besides, if shopping is not treasure hunting, it’s just boring.

I bought some used things last year in Paris too, although the thrift shopping here is pathetic compared to the States. (Maybe because French people have less of a tendency to throw away perfectly good clothes? Or to buy more than they need? Or to buy on impulse? Or to experience radical weight changes?) I got a sweater, which I made into a skirt, and lots of used books, which I turned around and sold back to Shakespeare and Company when I was done with them.

I actually don’t feel too bad about how I did. How many Americans can count a year’s new purchases on two hands, do you think?

Here’s a juicy tidbit for you: “In 2002 The New York Times reported that of the approximately 2.5 billion pounds of clothes donated to charity in America each year, as much as 80 percent is shipped globally.” (Source: The Afterlife of American Clothes. Great article.)

Wait!! I want to dig through that pile before you send it off!

Apparently, a lot of those clothes go to Haiti, where creative entrepreneurs refashion them into new, one-of-a-kind pieces. (As a teenager, I did a lot of that myself and I still do on occasion.) Would I totally love to be able to buy that stuff? Heck yeah. It would tickle my green streak and my inner francophile too. Hopefully some brilliant entrepreneur will one day help these unlikely couturières to sell their creations online…

I’m trying to figure out a way to see Secondhand (Pepe), the documentary about this Haitian industry and “the cultural-economic history of used clothing from the turn of the century to the current era of globalization.” The DVD is currently sold out !See Below! but I’ve contacted one of the authors to ask if they will be available again! If you’re interested, let her know.

[March 24: Vanessa (one of the authors) says the movie is now available on Etsy and you can also get t-shirts (they hand picked second-hand t-shirts and printed the movie logo on the back—limited number!)]

As you might guess, demand for second-hand clothes peaked in the US during the Great Depression. I bet there will be more people treasure hunting alongside me next time I’m in California… Sucks for me.

I got an e-mail from my sister-in-law, one of those that had been forwarded multiple times by people who haven’t yet figured out how to use the BCC field. I had to click down into it to get to the original message, which was in 72-point lime green Comic Sans, with hard returns in the oddest places, like so many of these things… But because it was from my sister-in-law, who always sends good stuff, and because the subject line was “Free food for homeless animals,” I bothered.

I was really glad I did. The very perky message promised it would only take me 20 seconds and one click of a purple button to help feed shelter animals. So I conjured up some kibble with a click:


I then decided to dig a little deeper and share what I found, since the e-mail also asked recipients to forward it to 10 friends. But I opted for this, a sans Comic Sans alternative.

It’s a fundraising site for six very worthy causes, but you don’t actually have to spend any money to help. Click once on the special button at the top of each organizations’ page, and their sponsors will increase their donations.


I went to the other sites (all in a row of tabs at the top of the page) and pushed their buttons too. I helped protect 11.4 square feet of rainforest, helped a needy woman get a free mammogram, helped a kid get medical care, got 1.1 cups of food for someone, and helped someone else learn to read. Magic!

There are other free ways to help: e-cards, signing up for their newsletters, linking to them from your blog, and more. Each site also has its own online store where you can get logo items and also buy free trade products. I fell in love with the Global Girlfriend brand “Pondichery jacquard embroidered tote” on the Animal Rescue Site, and the purple paw logo items were cute as can be. Needless to say, part of the profits go to support the organizations. So next time you need to find a gift, avoid the conventional corporate route and head over to this site. Also in the left column, where are all the products are listed, look for the “Gifts that give more” link (not on every site), which allows you to donate money directly for various things.

You’re allowed one click a day on each button, and they’ve kindly set up an e-mail reminder service if you need help remembering or getting motivated to stop by and click!

Please help spread the word! And thanks Cindy! :-*

I hear from various sources that retail companies are toppling like dominoes back in the US. The kinds of companies that you thought were solid: Mervyn’s, Linens ‘n’ Things, KayBee Toys. Macy’s had to close 11 stores after Christmas. These others are wannabes and parvenus compared to the institution that is Macy’s…

Does this mean that grotesque American consumption has slowed? Maybe a little. Does it mean Americans are changing their evil ways? Nope.

I get momentarily encouraged when I hear about SUV sales going down in the US when the gas prices go up. For a moment, I almost believe that Americans might finally be getting a clue. But then the SUV sales go right back up as soon as the gas prices go down again.

The truth is that only a Greater Depression or a Dustier Bowl, an Icier Age or a Blacker Plague will curb the gobbling behemoth’s gluttony.

But it shouldn’t be long now.


I occasionally read Question Everything, the blog of George Mobus, a polymath professor I discovered through my friend David Horton, also a polymath, and author of The Watermelon Blog. (Reading these brainy guys’ blogs makes me feel good about myself because it’s time well spent. They make me think. They sometimes make me feel smart, and sometimes stupid. I highly recommend them both.)

In The biophysical economy – the only model of reality, which I read today, George draws parallels between the systems of the economy and the human body, and argues that if we stay on our current course (trying to restore the status quo rather than changing the paradigm), the economy is headed for certain, literal starvation. The systems will crash, the organs will fail.

Of course, the food that nourishes the economy is fossil fuels (which you may have heard we’re running out of). And George says we’re all on drugs if we think that investing in green technology is going to be some kind of panacea for the ills of the economy and planet (only he says it fancier and with a lot more words). His arguments are compelling and downright terrifying:

Now lest you maintain that hope for technology to come to the rescue, bear a couple of things in mind. First, the amount of energy coming from renewable sources today is exactly zero. That’s right, zero. Secondly, alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar, account for little more than 1% of the total energy consumed by American society. That means a massive build up of these sources would have to happen almost over night. And the reason I claim we get no energy from renewables is that the equipment used to capture sunlight and wind is built using oil, coal and natural gas (with a minor input from hydroelectric). And unless those capital goods can be built using strictly their own energy capture then they are not truly renewable, or sustainable for the long term. That is the problem. We use way too much energy, both collectively and per capita, compared with what we could get in a truly sustainable way, in a time frame necessary to prevent a real crash. There is no way to get there from here.

In other words, if we keep using energy the way we do, we won’t have enough fossil fuels left to build the giant pinwheels and whatever else we need to get us to a point where we’re using only renewable energy. It may already be too late. (So buy your solar panels while there are still enough fossil fuels to manufacture them…) He goes on to describe our only option:

I know that this is hard to swallow because of the implications — that the American/Western way of life is coming to an end. But it is time to face reality and start planning for the most likely scenarios. Rather than trying to jump-start the old consumer, wasteful economy, Obama should be leading the charge to get Americans off the energy splurge we have been on and start dieting ASAP. We have to shed the fat and conserve the raw energy as much as possible. This is the only way we will be able to have enough fossil fuels to bootstrap a new economy based on true renewable resources. It will mean abandonment of current lifestyles and beliefs about human destiny to be rich. It will require humans to recognize the ways of nature and forego hubris. It will require sapience!

(Ahh, sapience. If other creatures evolve or arrive and take over the planet millions of years from now and dig up our old stuff and learn that we called ourselves homo sapiens, they will laugh their asses off. If they have asses.)

Unfortunately, you know as well as I do that it ain’t gonna happen that way. Americans will keep consuming everything in sight, sucking the life out of the planet till it becomes physically and financially—and permanently—impossible for them to do so.

Because most don’t care. Most are utterly unaware of just how extravagant the American lifestyle is. Most don’t even realize they’re in jeopardy. (Shouldn’t somebody tell them?)

The only way Americans would ever radically reduce consumption right now would be if the government suddenly started rationing everything, punishing waste, ordering blackouts, limiting travel, outlawing big cars, making recycling mandatory, forcing them to buy local food…

All of which will happen. Just not in time.

So enjoy it while it lasts. Or, better yet, try cutting your consumption of anything and everything in half for a while. Just for practice.


There was about a two-year period in my life when I was essentially a bored housewife. (Man, did that suck.) That was about the only time I actually occasionally looked at the circulars that came in the mail or were jammed into the Sunday paper. It was entertaining to marvel at the cheesy photos and usually horrific layouts, draw conclusions about the target demographics, speculate on whether or not these things really worked… (I did say bored housewife.)

I always felt pain and guilt and anger about the trees that had to die to make all that crap, and then there was the environmentally unfriendly act of transporting them, the poor mailman/lady…

I always recycled them, but I never got around to getting one of those stickers I heard about that you put on your mailbox to tell the mailman/lady thanks but no thanks. (I never actually saw one. Are they real?)

They’re real in France, supposedly, although I’ve never seen one here either, and Vincent doesn’t know where you get them. But no matter. I found out about an innovative, 21st-century alternative that might actually give advertisers an incentive to change their evil ways.

At (short for publicité écologique), you can mail in a request for a no-junk-mail sticker or download a PDF and print one. They’re also available in some stores (though I haven’t seen them…).

The sticker says “NO ADS! I’m protecting my planet! I’m reading them on the Net!”


The deal is that certain advertisers have agreed to pay to put their circulars online instead of on paper. If you really are the bargain-hunting/coupon-clipping type, you can subscribe to an RSS feed that delivers the ads that apply to your area through your newsreader. (If you still don’t know what that means, shame on you. Ask me. It’ll change your life.)

It’s a commendable move on the part of advertisers, and I’m going to support it. I might even do some guerrilla environmentalism and print out enough of these babies to slip into the mailboxes of everybody in my building… (It’ll be a sociological experiment. I’ll be able to see what percentage of people give a shit.)

If you’re in the US,and stopping the junk-mail deluge has been on your to-do list forever, here are some alternatives for stopping not only the circulars, but also all those unwanted catalogs. (I mean how many As Seen On TV! catalogs do you need to get before you finally either stop the madness or break down and buy the George Foreman countertop hamburger griller thingy?)

There’s GreenDimes which, as we speak, is offering to pay you a dollar to sign up and have yourself removed from mailing lists. ProQuo is another one. Both of these services are free.

Of course, the dream scenario would be a no-bulk-mail list like the no-call list for telemarketers. (That program worked like a dream. One quick phone call and no more phone spam.) Maybe if the US ever gets a government that favors the environment over the corporations, we’ll see such changes.



My brother and his family live in the desert northeast of Los Angeles. A few years ago, when my marriage crashed and burned, I stayed with them to recover for a few months in the comfort of their love and their large, luxurious home.

But being who I am, I always felt guilty about enjoying the large spaces, the cooled air, the plenty, the opulence…


Now those days are gone. My brother and his wife have decided to radically shrink their carbon footprint by putting solar panels on their energy-hungry house.

I’m so proud of them!

If you’re a homeowner, read on. The panels they’re putting on their roof should cover about 98% of their (considerable) energy needs, and the monthly payments on the system will be less than their current average electric bill.

They’ll get a rebate from the state of California that will help defray the cost, as well as a $2000 tax credit from the federal government.

The months that their solar panels produce more electricity than they use, their electricity meter will actually spin backwards and they’ll be issued a credit for use when the system produces less power, like during a particularly cloudy month. Their projected average electric bill will be around $5 a month!

Needless to say, the solar panels will increase the value of their home. My sister-in-law, who does very thorough research before any project, calculated that with the increased value of their home, the break-even point was almost immediate.

Here’s what she has to say about the project.

We are so sad that more people aren’t doing this. It requires a loan up front, but the payments on the loan would be less than what a person pays in electrical costs each month. The value added to the home offsets this debt on paper (net worth). With oil prices rising steadily, (gas is almost $4/gal) and the cost of producing traditional electricity rising proportionately, you would think that more people would want to do this. We are talking to all of the people we can about this program. I think I have convinced two of my friends to at least check into it. Now, if everyone we influence could influence two more and so on and so on, we could really make a difference!

Because she does her homework when it comes to things like this, I always listen to her advice. She recommends that people not go through big-box companies like Home Depot or Lowe’s for solar products because the installation is not very professional. She and my brother ended up working directly with a manufacturer (SunPower) and the contractor that company recommended.

My sister-in-law happened to mention that George Bush’s ranch in Texas is extremely green, even to the point that it has underground cisterns to collect rain and runoff. Of course, I question his motives.

Why do you think G Dubb’s ranch is green?

a) He’s a closet environmentalist.
b) Somebody convinced him it would be good for his image if his ranch were environmentally correct.
c) He wants to have a self-sufficient hideaway/stronghold to retreat to when America goes all Soylent Green.