How What You Eat Affects the Environment

SaladFood is a part of everyone’s lives — and it affects many different things, including your individual health, the health of the environment, and the health of animals. If you want to see how your diet scores on these three factors, click here. The considerations that go into each score include:

Health: saturated fat, cholesterol, dietary fiber, calcium, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, correlations of foods with cancer, and heart disease

Environment: air and water pollution from manure, cattle belching, production and overuse of fertilizer, depletion of groundwater, unnecessary use of land to produce feed grains and soil erosion, and over-grazing

Animal welfare: castration, hot-iron branding, debeaking, detailing, cramped cages and feedlots, cattle feed high in grain, and inhumane shipping and slaughterhouse practices

Also on the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s site is the Eating Green Calculator, which is a more simplified look at what you eat each week. It gives you stats on what it takes to fuel your diet — like how many acres of grain and grass are needed for animal feed, the pounds of pesticides and fertilizer used, and the amount of manure created by animals you eat.


A Society of Overconsumption

Plastic toys are just one category from which we purchase in abundance in the U.S.

Plastic toys are just one category from which we purchase in abundance in the U.S.

When it comes to our ecological impact on the earth, there are three major factors involved: the population (which we talked about a couple of weeks ago), how much each person is consuming, and how efficiently each unit of consumption is produced.

Let’s focus on the second factor, how much each person is consuming, particularly in this nation. Although the U.S. has a lower birth rate than many other countries, we consume much, much more than most of the rest of the world. Compared with someone from China, an American consumes about 53 times more goods and services. Each of us uses as much energy as 370 Ethiopians. While collectively there are fewer Americans than people of other nationalities, each one of us has a huge impact on the world.

For example, Americans use:

— 2.5 gallons of oil a day
— 100 gallons of water a day
— 200 pounds of meat a year
— 500 plastic bags a year

We’re not alone — other industrialized countries use plenty of resources, too. Since 1950, the world’s people have consumed more goods and services than the combined total of all humans who ever walked the planet before us, according to The Sierra Club.

At our current rate of consumption, at some point, there won’t be enough left to consume. The earth’s resources are finite, and no matter how much technology advances, it can only find more creative ways to produce things, but it cannot recover resources once they’re destroyed.

Even with this knowledge, we continue to make poor environmental choices. Take the Tar Sands Keystone XL Pipeline (which Dolphin Blue is producing a documentary on). We’re piping oil mined in Canada and then transporting this oil in a major pipeline that will destroy huge areas of habitat for several thousand miles through Canada and the U.S., to a port near Houston. From there, the oil will be shipped to China and used in the manufacturing of cheap, throwaway goods that will come back stateside for sale — where they’ll quickly be disposed of. It’s inefficient, irresponsible, and environmentally destructive, not to mention unnecessary.

Borrow instead of buy whenever you can.

Borrow instead of buy whenever you can.

How can we change? We’re entrenched in a culture that values material goods, so it isn’t easy to adjust these patterns of consuming. They won’t go away overnight, but here are some small steps you can take as a start:

>> Fight against the urge to “keep up with the Joneses” and have all the latest gadgets and gizmos. Make splurging on something an occasional thing and not an everyday occurrence.

>> When you do need to buy something, look for the most eco-responsible options, including items that are made in the USA. Also, ask yourself if it’s something you could borrow instead.

>> If you’re working on a big project like sprucing up your home, don’t just rush out and buy new things. For example, in remodeling his house, Dolphin Blue founder Tom Kemper is reusing materials taken out of the existing structure; using recovered lumber and wooden floors from teardowns; installing a metal roof to facilitate rainwater collection; installing photovoltaic panels to produce and satisfy his household’s energy needs; buying old tubs, sinks, and doors; and refurbishing the old windows.

>> If there are public transportation options where you live, use them. Bikes and feet are great, too, for shorter distances.

>> Some people shop as a pick-me-up; the rush of buying something new can turn around a bad day. If this applies to you, replace that urge to buy with another behavior — going for a run in the park, giving yourself an hour to read, taking a nap, etc.


Green Blowback in Six Steps

Blowback is a concept that usually refers to a negative consequence that occurs because of implementing a particular national policy.

However, blowback can be positive; and we should set our sights on facilitating positive blowback that furthers a green agenda. Below are steps we could take to facilitate blowback that…

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Heroes of Sustainability: Occupy Wall Street Protesters

Occupy Wall Street burst on the scene in mid-September, making front-page news and becoming common water-cooler conversation across the country. The movement set up shop in New York City’s Zuccotti Park, in the heart of the Wall Street financial district, with the goal of making it known that issues like high unemployment, inequality, greed…

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Building it Green: The Richness of Ancestral Wood

1ceiling view to gable on bathroom-kitchen end

As we anticipate with glee, the receipt of our tiny house, it is exciting to see the progress being made day-by-day.

The richness of the ancestral wood has given new life in the birthing of our new tiny house is becoming so obvious, as the milk paint emphasizes the wood’s energy and character.

The bathroom and kitchen walls are being erected, and both gable ends are now at the point of completion, with
the beautiful wall boards, ceiling boards and wainscot being finished or nearly finished.

To bring forth the final finish of this deeply rich wood, the surface will be lightly sanded, then finished with
Tung Oil.

For more photos of the wainscot bead board inside our Tiny Texas House, please visit our facebook album.  Thanks for following our progress.


Building it Green: Wainscot Bead Board

interrior walls 2

Our tiny house is taking on its character, a character with the energy of its ancestors.

The ceiling boards are reclaimed from a home built in the 1860’s, the wainscot bead board from another home constructed in the 1880’s, the door from a home welcoming those who entered through during the 1850’s to 1860’s.

The “bubble gum” bead board in our tiny house is covered with old milk paint, in very light hues of blue, lavender, pink, yellow and green, kind of like old-fashioned Easter egg colors, or, the colors of bubble gum. Once paneled along the base of the walls in wainscot fashion, the bead boards will be lightly sanded and treated with Tung Oil, natural oil derived from the Chinese Tung Tree.

The striping look of the bead board comes from letting the natural unpainted board show up, providing contrast and showing the beautiful rich Long Leaf Pine with 140 years or more of natural patina. Both the bead board and the ship-lap boards (oriented horizontally above the wainscot) are at least 100-years old, and originate from materials salvaged from once stately homes, deconstructed to make room for new development. There is a fair number of cheesecloth tacks still present in the ship-lap boards, which once held the wallpaper in place for a century. Wallpaper was used in part to be fashionable, but mostly to stop the wind from penetrating the walls into the living areas of the former home.

We’re ecstatic as we joyously anticipate receiving delivery of the Kemper Tiny House in mid-January. The most wonderful things about the creation of our tiny house are the history, living memory, and embodied spirit of those who have resided among the beautiful wood and glass that now make this little house the sanctuary it will be. Perhaps what is most meaningful is that our Tiny House embodies the resurrection of the former homes that otherwise may have ended their lives in a landfill or incinerator.

For more photos of the wainscot bead board inside our Tiny Texas House, please visit our facebook album.


Building it Green: Energy-Efficient Insulation

IMG_0056Since my last posting, an important stage in the progress of our Texas Tiny House is now complete. The interior walls have just been coated with expanding Isonene Foam, which adds a layer of highly energy-efficient insulation to the interior of our tiny home. This will reduce the necessity for continuous and fossil fuel dependent heating and cooling throughout the year.

The ceiling and floors of our Tiny House have also been insulated between the roof rafters and floor support beams and joists. To further improve our tiny house’s efficiency, we’re also having screens built for the windows to take better advantage of Mother Nature’s generosity in providing fresh air during the spring and early summer.

When our energy-miser tiny house is complete, we anticipate our monthly utility bills (gas and electric) will be around $15-$20. The final touches should be complete any day now. More updates to come.

For more pictures of the energy-efficient stage of our Tiny House, please visit our facebook album.


Building it Green: Our Tiny Texas House

1tconcept drawing Kemper kitchen end 2tKitchen end framing of Kemper

Recently, Margaret (my wife) and I bought a 1940’s “Austin stone” house in an eastern Dallas neighborhood. Upon buying our home, we immediately decided to remodel, and were faced with the decision to temporarily rent elsewhere, or live in a home filled with dust. Reluctant to disrupt our lives completely, we opted to build a backyard studio where we could temporarily live while our house was being remodeled. Since we had previously discussed building a space where visiting friends, musicians (, and family could stay, the decision was easy.

After researching several options, we soon came across a magazine article featuring builders who were committed to building green, sustainable, small footprint homes. As we read through the article, we were immediately attracted to a company called Tiny Texas Houses in Luling, Texas, owned by builder and artist extraordinaire, Brad Kittel.

My wife and I quickly fell in love with Brad’s exceptional works of art, craftsmanship, and keen sense of design and we made a trip out to Luling. Upon arriving, we knew that we would soon own one of Brad’s amazing creations.

Unlike a typical home, a Tiny Texas House is built from salvaged materials, collected from deconstructed old homes, usually found in the path of economic development and highway projects. These wonderful old homes are typically 100 years or older, and yield thousands of feet in timber, boards, windows, fixtures, hardware, stained glass, and many other one-of-a-kind resources.

3cKemper tiny house ancestor 4stained glass kitchen window

In addition to Brad’s use of reclaimed materials, every Tiny Texas House is energy-efficient, insulated with Isonene Foam, so that heating or cooling is unnecessary, except during extreme temperature conditions. Every salvaged door and window is rebuilt, re-hung, re-weighted, and resealed with silicon stripping, ensuring that the entries are weather tight. The houses are then plumbed and wired to exceed municipal and state codes, as well as federal standards in the U.S.

Brad’s eco-friendly homes average 336 square feet, and house two people comfortably…perhaps more if you’re OK with sharing a small space. Once complete, our tiny home will be 252 square feet, and will house three cats, our cowdog Hank, as well as Margaret and I. We anticipate that we will live in our Texas Tiny House for a total of nine months while our house is being remodeled.  To see the beginning stages of our Texas Tiny House, visit the Dolphin Blue facebook page.

front from kitchen endfront from living end 2

Although it may be small in size, we are excited to live in a unique structure that will allow us to dramatically reduce our carbon footprint. I’ll keep you informed over the next several months.


Straight Talk with Tom: The Soul of Money

The Soul of Money

I just finished reading Lynn Twist’s book, The Soul of Money, and it is one of the most inspirational messages I’ve ever read.  In this book, Lynn talks extensively about our perception of money — individually, in our families, and…

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Air Pollution: Killing People, Killing Life-Supporting Earth

When any given person dies because of respiratory problems, it is probably not possible to trace the cause of death specifically to smog-producing ozone in the air. Even so, statistical studies show increases in mortality and morbidity are correlated with increases in ozone in the air. There is no doubt that high levels of ozone kill some people and make many others sick.

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