Remember this number. 350 is the amount of carbon dioxide, in parts per million, that is deemed the limit for our Earth. NASA scientist James Hansen, a long-time global warming researcher (he was testifying in Congress back in the late 80’s, before we even cared about what CFCs were). For those of you who speak science, you can check out all of the supporting information here.

So, 350 is the number. We’re at about 387 right now, which means we’re a little CO2 overweight. Environmentalist, educator and all around amazing dude Bill McKibben has created the website 350 to help us understand what needs to be done to get us down to 350 ppm and to stay there. How do we do this? Says 350:

We need an international agreement to reduce carbon emissions fast. The United Nations is working on a treaty, which is supposed to be completed in December of 2009 at a conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. But the current plans for the treaty are much too weak to get us back to safety. This treaty needs to put a high enough price on carbon that we stop using so much. It also needs needs to make sure that poor countries are ensured a fair chance to develop.

These days, it’s all about social media, and why shouldn’t it? With the time we spend on our computers, it makes lobbying, spreading the word, and being engaged in issues a lot easier and more user friendly. With the click of a button, you can let all of your nearest and dearest (and whoever else resides in your email address book) about the awesome video that explains this issue. You can email your congressperson and let them know that you, as their constituent, want to see this issue dealt with.

So, what are you waiting for? Go to 350 now, sign up, and do your part to make sure that we keep this Earth the nice, big, beautiful place that it is and can be.

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Seriously, people. It’s time to do your thing.

A recent NPR poll sites that 68% of Americans think this country is on the wrong track while only 23% say it’s headed in the right direction. Sixty-eight percent. That’s an awful lot of people unhappy with the way our country is headed. My question is this- if 68% of Americans are upset with the way things are going, why aren’t 68% of Americans doing something about it?

Yes, I know that we can all say, “Hey, I voted in 2006 for a change in Congress. Look what happened!” It is our country-given right to vote, and that is generally one of the best and easiest ways to make your voice heard. But, that takes about 10 minutes out of your day, once a year (if that). What happens the next day when you rip that “I Voted Today” sticker off of your coat?

If you’re upset with the way America is headed, do something about it. Write to those representatives that you helped get into office. Don’t forget- their sole responsibility is to represent the people who voted them in. If they’re not hearing from those people, they’re going to just assume that everything is ok. It takes about 3 minutes to write an email to your congressperson, and quite a few social change websites (HRC, Moveon.org, Amnesty International, etc.) even write the letter for you and just ask you to plug in your address so they know who to send it to. It’s that easy.

OR, make your voice heard in other ways- peaceful protests are always a good way to get public attention about an issue you hold near and dear. Get creative. Check out the Rainforest Action Network at the Chicago Board of Trade. Or these folks from Greenpeace. Now that’s creative, peaceful protest. These people are trying to make changes because they’re part of that huge 68% of Americans who are unhappy.

A poll isn’t going to scare anyone in Washington or (insert your state capital here). Look at how low Bush’s approval rating has been all year, yet he still continues to make decisions that anger the majority of Americans. If you’re part of that 68% of pissed of Americans, then do something about it. Please, stop complaining and saying how much you can’t wait until 2009, because that’s over a year away, and we all know how much things can change in a year. Stop complaining and get active. It’s your right and duty as a pissed off American to do so.

Two steps forward:

Jezebel, a new blog run by Gawker Media (from what I can tell, a media organization that runs 14 blogs that follow a formula of “frequent postings, vibrant design, snarky attitude“) is known for its “unvarnished excoriation of traditional female media, slicing through the superficiality to give you the straight scoop on trends in celebrity, fashion, and sex”. Even cooler, the editor actually pays some of the writers! I happened upon it through the Chicago Foundation for Women Tuesday Action Alert (which everyone should subscribe to!) and thought I’d take a look at the site.

It sure is snarky, that’s for sure, and they really don’t hold anything back. What I found particularly fantastic was a contest they ran a few weeks ago. They offered $10,000 to the person who could capture the worst example of Photoshopping/airbrushing/crazy editing of a celebrity on a magazine cover. One brave soul who actually works for Redbook sent in their July issue with Faith Hill on the cover. This post that shows the before and after shots says it all.

Bravo to Jezebel for shedding a light on the fact that not even beautiful goddesses like Faith Hill can look that good, and those women who are desperately trying so hard to look like that won’t be able to do it in real life. This should be a lesson to that little voice inside all of us that whispers insecurities about how we look.

Two steps back:

Really, Washington Post? You really find it necessary to publish an entire article on Hillary Clinton’s cleavage?!? This is the kind of crap that is going to keep this presidential race on all of the wrong issues and none of the right ones. They might have well just said, “We’re not too comfy with the idea of a woman running for president.” Yes, I know that may be a little bit of a jump, but seriously. First of all, she was barely showing any cleavage. If she were wearing some tight, short mini-skirt, that’d be one thing. But she was wearing what seemed to me to be a perfectly acceptable outfit for your typical work day. The article continued to talk about her choices of clothes as First Lady and Senator. Is this really news-worthy? When is the last time we saw an article about Barrack’s choice of ties or Bush’s controversial choice of sport coat?

“Showing cleavage is a request to be engaged in a particular way. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a woman is asking to be objectified, but it does suggest a certain confidence and physical ease. It means that a woman is content being perceived as a sexual person in addition to being seen as someone who is intelligent, authoritative, witty and whatever else might define her personality. It also means that she feels that all those other characteristics are so apparent and undeniable, that they will not be overshadowed.”

So, basically, what I’m getting out of this is that Clinton is showing off confidence and physical ease and feels that her intelligence and wit are far more apparent than the shirt she wears. Ummm….isn’t that the kind of person we want as a president? Confidence? Physical ease? Intelligence and wit?

Sometimes mainstream media makes me really angry. It’s a shame that they’re mainstream and considered the real source of information for the world. You’d think with that kind of responsibility, they’d spend a little more time on the important issues on this world and not something as trivial as what someone is wearing.

My favorite comment from NOW’s website:

News break! News break! The Post now attests
that Hillary Clinton has cleavage and breasts!
But take a deep breath and try not to alarm;
she also has lips, and a nose and two arms,
and–news of all news!–they also weren’t robed!
In fact, she hung jewelry in naked ear lobes!
And her chin–it was nude of all facial hair
and protruded in space so totally bare
it’s entirely a scandal! Politicians and stars
can never be publicly just who they are.
Though “cover ups” might be the nation’s disgrace,
it seems the “uncovered” get newspaper space.
So, Washington Post, I hope you will note:
Ms. Clinton has breasts, and has brains, and my vote.
sent in by Debbie W. Parvin

Compliments of Co-op America, one of the rock star organizers of the Green Festival:

1. Tea — One of the fastest-growing segements of the Fair Trade market, US imports of Fair Trade tea increased an impressive 187 percent in 2005. Since then, herbal tea products like chamomile, hibiscus, peppermint, and spearmint have gained Fair Trade status. Tea lovers can find teas bagged, loose, and bottled.Look for black tea, oolong, chai, and more in the National Green Pages™

2. Chocolate — The average American eats 12 pounds of chocolate a year, supporting an industry that saw retail sales of more than $16 billion in 2007. If you’re among the 46 percent of Amreicans who say they can’t live without chocolate, you can avoid the well-documented problem of child slave labor in the cocoa industry, and direct your share of that $16 billion toward chocolate that helps communities and the environment.Look for candy bars, baking cocoa, and more in the National Green Pages™ »

3. Fresh Fruit — In Europe, where Fair Trade fruit has been available since the mid-1990s, Fair Trade bananas have reached a market share as high as 24 percent. In the US, Fair Trade tropical fruits like bananas, mangoes, and pineapples became available in 2004, and their availaibility is growing, especially in natural foods stores and food co-operatives. Find a store near you selling Fair Trade fruit by using TransFair USA’s store locator.
Sign our letter to supermarkets asking them to stock Fair Trade bananas »

4. Sugar — Phosphorus run-offs from the conventional sugar industry in Florida have devastaed the ecosystem of the Everglades, and the sugar lobby has worked aggressively to avoid responsibility. Sustainabile alternatives to sugar like locally grown, organic maple syrup or honey can help you avoid the problems in the sugar industry, as can Fair Trade Certified™ sugar, introduced to the US in 2005. Look for Turbinado, cane sugar, and more in the National Green Pages™ »

5. Rice — While most of the white and brown rice consumed in the US was grown on US farms, most aromatic long-grain rice comes to our tables from small-scale farms in Asia where it was harvested by hand. Workers on these farms often find themselves squeezed by middle merchants and sickened by pesticides; Fair Trade rice—most of which is also organic—protects both workers and the environment. Look for Jasimine, coral, Basmati, and more in the National Green Pages™ »

6. Vanilla — Working with a labor-intensive crop that yields a relatively low harvest, vanilla farmers are hard-hit when their market fluctuates, as it has since environmental disasters at key procuction centers in 000. TransFair USA began certifying vanilla in 2006, and new Fair Trade Certified™ vanilla ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s arrived in supermarkets in January 2007, joining their previous Fair Trade coffee and chocolate flavors. Look for whole beans and vanilla extracts in the National Green Pages™ »

7. Spices — The European Fair Trade certifying body (FLO) approved standards for Fair Trade spices in 2005. In Europe, products like ginger cookies and lemongrass soap have begun to appear with Fair Trade spices among their ingedients, as hopeful sign for the future of Fair Trade spices in the US. Look for ginger, nutmeg, pepper, and more in the National Green Pages™ »

8. Wine — Introduced to the US market in 2007, Fair Trade wine has been produced in South Africa since 2003, and in Chile and Argentina since 2004. The South African certification process requires vineyard workers to maintain a legally protected minimum 25 percent interest in the winery, in support of the South African government’s policies romoting equal land ownerships following Apartheid. Look for Merlot, Grenache, and more in the National Green Pages™ »

9. Olive oil — The Canaan Fair Trade Association uses the fair trade concept to empower marginalized Palestinian rural communities caught in conflict so they can sustain their livelihoods and culture. Farmers are guaranteed a minimum price, and receivea 10 percent Fair Trade premium above market price, plus a 10 percent organic premium above market price. Look for olive oil in the National Green Pages™ »

10. Sports balls — When the European Fair Trade certification body (FLO) created standards for soccer ball production in 2002, it was the first time a non-agricultural commodity had received certification. Since then, four Pakistani and one Thai producer have achieived certification, ensuring that no child lavor is involved, and that workers receive a living wage in a healthy work environment. Look for soccer balls, volley balls, and more, in the National Green Pages™ »

11. Arts and crafts — Producers of unique, handmade, artisanal Fair Trade products like jewelry, baskets, textiles, and other handicrafts belong to trade associations that screen for internationally recognized Fair Trade standards. For example, our ally the Fair Trade Federation links low-income producers with consumer marketers that pledge to: pay fair wages in the local context, support participatory workplaces, ensure environmental sustainability and public accountability, and suppply financial and technical support. Look for Fair Trade craft products in the National Green Pages™ »

12. Coffee — Available since the late 1990s, Fair Trade coffee is the most widespread and recognizable Fair Trade commodity. Currently, it is the fastest growing segment of the $11 billion US specialty coffee maket, and about 85 percent of Fair Trade coffee is also organic. Look for Fair Trade coffee in the National Green Pages™ »

And so soon! After announcing her intention to leave the activism scene in May, Cindy Sheehan has now announced that she intends to run against Nancy Pelosi for her House seat in the San Francisco district if Pelosi does not introduce articles of impeachment for Bush by July 23.

Does Sheehan actually stand a chance against Pelosi? Probably not. But what I really like about this whole thing is Sheehan’s point about the “peoples’ accountability movement.” How many of us complain about those who are serving us in Congress? Rather than just complaining, Sheehan is taking that a step further and trying to do something about it. These people serve us. We elect them. We should expect them to represent us fairly.

“I’m doing it to encourage other people to run against Congress members who aren’t doing their jobs, who are beholden to special interests,” Sheehan said. “She (Pelosi) let the people down who worked hard to put Democrats back in power, who we thought were our hope for change.”

I commend Sheehan for being active rather than passive, for thinking of a creative way to state her dissatisfaction in Congress, and most certainly for finding the strength to throw herself back into the spotlight.

Back in October of last year, I learned of how the Ethiopian coffee farmers who provide Starbucks with a good majority of their quality, $3 a cup coffee had applied for trademarks for three different types of their coffee beans (Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe) in order to be able to earn more money for their product. After all, they are one of the top five poorest countries in the world with a GNP per capital of $110 and Starbucks made about $3.7 billion just last year. While Starbucks was selling some of these Ethiopian coffees for $26 a pound, the Ethiopian farmers weren’t getting anymore than $1.10 of that (doing the math, that’s about 4%). I think they could get a little more than that, don’t you? Also, they had already successfully registered trademarks in the EU, Canada and Japan. Why does it always have to be so difficult in the US?!

When Starbucks learned of Ethiopia’s application to the US Patent and Trademark Office for these coffees, they prompted the National Coffee Association of USA, Inc. to oppose the approval. And, as they say, money talks. The applications were denied, raising a huge red flag to Oxfam America, a non-profit and affiliate of Oxfam International that works to end global poverty through saving lives, strengthening communities and campaigning for change. They immediately alerted the public to this and implemented an international public awareness program that included a Day of Action where volunteers (including myself) went into their local Starbucks stores and politely informed the barista or manager there about what was happening and asked them to put pressure on headquarters to give the Ethiopians what is fairly theirs. They even made a short video of it and released it to YouTube (which, unfortunately, is private an not available for viewing anymore). These events also caused me and my nearest and dearest to boycott Starbucks and let everyone know just why we were doing it.

This prompted some response from Starbucks and the CEO met with the prime minister of Ethiopia to discuss some sort compromise, but Ethiopia stood strong in their stance for full trademarks. Thus, no agreement was reached. Oxfam continued with their campaign, and after months of pressure, progress was being made. It looked as if maybe Starbucks would agree to stop blocking the applications after all.

Finally, eight months after the campaign began, Starbucks announced that they have concluded an “agreement” with the Ethiopian farmers “regarding distribution, marketing and licensing that recognizes the importance and integrity of Ethiopia’s specialty coffee designations.” Oxfam celebrated this as a win-win situation for both Starbucks and Ethiopia. Now, what does this “agreement” exactly mean?

“It provides a framework for mutual cooperation to promote the recognition of the Harrar, Sidamo and Yirgacheffe designations and to strengthen the Ethiopian coffee sector, and includes the license of certain trademarks. The agreement allows Starbucks to use and promote these designations in markets both where trademarks exist for the coffee designations as well as where they may not, in accordance with agreed terms and conditions negotiated with Ethiopia.”

“Certain trademarks”? I don’t get it. I’m not economist, but to me, it seems like either Ethiopia gets the trademarks for their three coffees or they don’t. I don’t understand this “certain trademarks” thing. I really want to celebrate what seems to be a great victory for fair trade, but something just doesn’t smell right to me. I wonder what sort of deals were made under the table, what the press releases are leaving out, and why they just don’t say that the three trademark applications will no longer be blocked?

With Oxfam’s approval, I can’t see why this isn’t a good thing. I really, really want to believe that the underdog won this round. But, maybe that’s just it. Maybe this is just a round of a much larger match between corporate America and the countries they exploit. While I do celebrate what seems to be progressive steps forward, I can’t help but hold my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop…

Two steps forward:

Massachusetts made it clear that there is absolutely no way that their gay marriage laws are going to be messed with. In an astounding 151-45 vote, the Massachusetts Legislature proved once again, just like in 2004 , that gay marriage is a done deal. It was in November of 2003 when the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled (in a 4-3 ruling) that denying gay couples the right to marriage (read: marriage, not civil union) was unconstitutional. Much to the dismay of then-governor, now Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the date was set for May 17, 2004 to begin allowing gay marriages. People came in droves, and it is said that about 9,000 gay and lesbian couples have married since. While a few states offer civil unions or similar rights, Massachusetts remains the only state in the country that grants the right of marriage.

After another loss, can the conservative right finally give up this obviously pointless battle? Let’s hope so.

Two GIANT leaps back:

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, a member of the Sunshine Project (a Biodefense Research organization) uncovered a 1994 proposal from the Ohio Air Force lab to create a “gay bomb” that contained a chemical that would cause someone to “become gay”.

(Now, before I go further, I use the term “become gay” in quotes because it is my staunch belief that we are who we are and we love who we love and that this is all naturally in us; there is no “becoming”, only discovering.)

Back to the story: The Air Force lab proposed that by creating a gay bomb, they could cause enemy army units to break down because all of the soldiers would become irresistibly attractive to one another. They proposed that this would cost a mere $7.5 million. Not only was this idea brought up in 1994, but the US military thought it was such a great idea that they also included it in a CD ROM in 2000 and submitted it to the National Academy of Sciences in 2002. I can only imagine the look on the faces of those at the National Academy of Sciences when they opened this letter up.

Let’s just go down the list of incredible implications that this idea brings on:

– Are they admitting that there is something biological to being gay? If so, then that would really hurt the conservatives and all of the ex-gay camps in the world.
– The idea that being gay makes you unable to perform your duties as a member of the military. Tell that to the 65,000 gays and lesbians serving in the National Guard and Reserves today.
– The idea that gay men are attracted to every single man that walks this earth. A common misnomer amongst the more close-minded folk. Logic would dictate that just as straight men are not attracted to every single woman they see, gay men are not attracted to every single man that walks the earth. Wouldn’t it be funny if they actually used this bomb on an army, and it didn’t work because nobody was attracted to anyone else in their units?

This is just one of the reasons that everyone else in the world thinks we’re crazy (well, except Albania).

This just in: Columbia has passed a bill that grants same-sex couples rights similar to straight couples. It’s not marriage, it’s not even civil unions, the rights are some-what limited, and you have to live together for 2 years before you get them, but it’s still better than what The Land of the Free is offering up. Columbia, for goodness sake!!!

As many of you have probably heard, Cindy Sheehan, a well-known anti-war activist, has decided to step out of the game. This is truly a sad day in peace activism.

For those of you who don’t know her or her story, her son was a soldier in Bagdhad and died in a rocket grenade attack. Devastated, Cindy decided to go to Crawford, Texas and have a little chat with Bush about the war and why her son, and so many other sons and daughters had to die. Bush refused to speak with her, so she decided to camp outside of Bush’s ranch in Crawford until he would speak with her. She caused quite an uproar but also started an entirely new chapter of the anti-war movement. Soon enough, Camp Casey was a well-established institution, with a large support network. When threatened with trespassing charges, Bush’s neighbor donated 5 acres of his land to Camp Casey so that they could have a permanent place without any threat of being forced to leave. Last I heard, they were developing plans to build a rehabilitation center for those who served in Iraq.

Lots of people painted her as a crazy women, driven mad by grief. The conservative right loved to paint her in the worst of pictures, calling her terrible names and belittling her cause. Other organizations heralded her as a true peace activist. I was actually able to see her speak about 2 months ago in a small church in downtown Chicago. I was shocked by the lack of attendance. In activist circles, she’s a well-known name, yet there were maybe 30 people in attendance. I wasn’t sure what to expect from her, as I’d only heard stories and read articles. When she entered the room to our singing an anti-war song, I expected big smiles, energetic movement, and an infectious energy that you oftentimes see and feel in well-known activists.

But what I saw was a grieving mother who wasn’t made to be an activist but felt compelled to do it anyway. Forced into the activist’s life because of the injustice she felt, yet lacking the natural endless energy that you see in other activists. In some ways, though, that made her even more admirable. She was just like everyone else’s mother, sister, neighbor, friend. She had just experienced probably the most horrible experience a parent could ever have and felt compelled to do something about it.

She never played the politics. She held both parties equally responsible for the decisions that were made. She found peaceful ways to make her point, such as camping out in front of Bush’s ranch (and being arrested for blocking the road once), wearing an anti-war shirt in the House gallery (and again being arrested for unlawful conduct because of it), and many others. She really was an inspiration.

She sacrificed everything to try and convince Americans to help her end this war, including her health, finances and her marriage. All she wanted to do was help save other sons and daughters from suffering the same fate as her own son while also trying to make his sacrifice meaningful. I gotta believe that the past week’s happenings in Congress probably had a little to do with her stepping down. She gave everything she had and then some to try and make a difference. I think it’s only fair to allow her the ability to say “enough is enough” and claim defeat. Because, really, how different is the Iraq war now than it was 2 years ago? Last time I checked, thousands were still dying and every month is becoming the bloodiest month of the war. We’re still funneling billions into it, and there’s still no end in sight.

I can’t blame Cindy Sheehan at all for making the decision that she did. I only hope that it serves as some sort of catalyst to move others forward, carrying the torch even further and ensuring that all of her sacrificing was not made in vain.

As she said in her final goodbye, “It’s up to you now.”

…to make Illinois the safest state for women and girls?

That’s the question that the Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW) is going to be asking all year long with their What Will It Take? campaign. Thanks to a hefty grant from good ol‘ G-Rod, CFW has $2 million to spend to help ask that question. They kicked off their initiative on March 8th (International Women’s Day in every country but the US) and have been going strong ever since, already having hosted seven town hall meetings around the state (including places like Champaign, Macomb, and the south side of Chicago) and doling out $1 million in grants to organizations helping ask and answer the question, “What will it take?”

There are many amazing things about this campaign, and I’d like to go through just a few of them. First of all, the idea of having an initiative that asks a question instead of giving an answer is amazing. They’re stimulating dialogue throughout the state and really trying to get as much input as possible to answer that question. They hope to reach 4 million people by the end of the campaign, and with such a rigorous schedule, I’m confident they will. They launched an intense ad campaign, putting posters on public transportation, producing PSAs for both the radio and television, and taking out full-page ads in many of Chicago’s print media. They’re getting in our faces about it because it seems like such a silent question- everybody’s complaining about it, but nobody’s facing up to the fact that the answer to that question is us. We are what it will take to make Illinois the safest state for women and girls, and we are what will make this world safer for women and girls. We just need to own up to it.

Another amazing aspect of this initiative is that they have an entire Men’s Initative included in it. CFW feels that men have not really been considered allies in the fight against gender-based violence, and they’re right. We are such a victim-blaming society (What was she wearing? Was she drunk? Was she leading him on? Did she deserve it?), that the perpetrators, who are mostly men, are never considered. So, CFW wants to change that by taking the question to men and boys as well. They’re asking men what will it take, and they’re reaching out to boys to show them early on that gender-based violence is unacceptable. By reaching them earlier, it helps instill the message before they are bombarded by mainstream media and other forms of influence in this society.

I attended one of their town hall meetings the other night and was so impressed with the program. There were multiple performance artists there to speak about different issues in women’s lives, such as body image, sexual assault, prostitution, and even men’s views of women’s issues. They then opened the floor up to everyone in the audience to voice their own concerns and comments about the issues in their lives regarding women’s rights. It was great to hear so many men and women talk about what they see the biggest concern is in the fight for women’s rights and to hear the different challenges and hopes that exist.

As Hannah Rosenthal, the fabulous executive director for Chicago Foundation for Women said, “Asking a question begs an answer.” So, please check out the website for What Will It Take? . Attend a town hall, attend their events, give them your ideas and comments, get involved. Let’s all start asking the question; to ourselves, to our friends, our family, our coworkers, strangers on the street, everyone around us. Let’s start shouting the questions, screaming the question, until we start coming up with answers and actions that will help make Illinois the safest state in the country for women and girls. Because once we do that, the next step is the country, then the world.

What Is This Girl Talking About??