ONG Energy Efficiency Program

I wanted to give you guys a heads-up about ONG's Energy Efficiency Program.  If you are thinking of switching out or converting to any natural gas-powered appliance or climate control system, they are currently offering rebates. They are also offering rebates so you can get a check-up for your home heating units, so you can be safe, cozy and warm during the winter season.

If you don't have ONG, or don't have natural gas, check with your utility to see what options are available. Many utilities around the state offer rebates, financing, and other services to help you affordably increase your home's energy efficiency.


Durban Climate Discussions (30-second version)

As you may or may not be aware, this week begins the international climate discussions in Durban, South Africa. So here is the uber-short “Cliff’s Notes” version:

The original climate change discussions were in Kyoto in 1997, wherein the Kyoto Protocol was signed. Under the Kyoto Protocol, countries committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The US was not a signatory. The Kyoto Protocol agreement and its emissions reductions goals expire in 2012. Further conferences have been held in recent years to reach agreement on what should be done next. The last two were in Copenhagen and Cancun.  It has been argued that these are both without major developments, although progress was made at both. Under the Copenhagen Accord, countries set forth a series of non-legally-binding agreements.  The Cancun Agreements created emissions goals and action priorities (such as reducing deforestation and funding climate adaptation projects). Discussions in Durban are likewise expected to yield no major progress in policy, but will hopefully lay the groundwork for major agreements in upcoming conferences.

The major topics of the discussions in Durban are:

1.     The Future of the Kyoto Protocol – will it be extended? Amended? Are there enough willing players to continue this effort?
2.     Next Emissions Reductions Agreement – regardless of what happens with the Kyoto Protocol, an emissions reductions agreement must be met which includes all of the major players. This conference aims tol take preliminary steps towards developing such a policy.
3.     Details! -  Details remain to be hammered out regarding some of the Cancun Agreements. Primary among these are “MRV” (Monitoring, reporting, verification) of reductions and management of the specifics for climate adaptation funds.

That’s it in a nutshell, one of the smallest nutshells I could find. If you want to follow the talks, you can find info on them here http://conx.state.gov and here http://www.cop17-cmp7durban.com/ and here http://unfccc.int/meetings/durban_nov_2011/meeting/6245.php


Ethical Christmases and “That Weird Relative”

I waffle back and forth on my Christmas tactics from year to year. Not just for environmental reasons, but also for financial reasons, ‘what do people really want’ reasons, anti-corporatism, Okie patriotism, the list goes on.  And then, on top of that, I’m an American: I love buying my friends funny t-shirts and other kitchy gadgets and doo-dads as much as the next person.  Year to year my gift-giving themes are based on my mood and personal ethical goals as much as on my financial stability. I think I’ve started to settle into a routine, though. One year I will shop ethically – looking for all-local and all-eco friendly gifts with a sprinkling of handmade items, and then the next year I will shop like a normal person. I feel this will keep me from turning into “that weird relative” who always buys you what they think you should want instead of what you would actually like to have. Because as much as *I* am excited about re-usable sandwich bags or clever ornaments from local artists - does not mean someone else will be. And sometimes I like something so much I convince myself that everyone else likes it, too.

I also have a love/hate relationship with Christmas. Sometimes I will be very bah-humbug, convinced that people should actually be saying “Merry Fun Yet Useless Stuff!” rather than Merry Christmas, and “Do what you want,” sometimes means “If you don’t follow tradition I will cry”. I have found that as much as people say it is not about gifts, most of them have no qualms about remembering the Year You Did Not Give Me a Present. In fact, I have found that if my gift is not good enough, they will forget I gave them a gift at all – I should have just saved my money!  That was me last year. I hated buying crap for people who already had too much crap just so they would still know I cared about them, and I hated spending half my month at other people’s houses while the gobs of social interaction jangled my nerves, my dogs were neglected and my house chores piled up to the ceiling, just because getting together at another time of year was not acceptable because it was not Christmas time.

But this year, I’m right back to looking forward to laying around at my relatives’ and friends’ houses for long hours while we all laugh and eat cookies; I’m back to buying everyone every little thing I think they want just because I’m excited to see them smile when they open their gifts. I’m back to admiring my Christmas tree even while I ponder how energy inefficient Christmas lights are, and how I need to buy LED tree lights when they go on clearance in January. Back to planning cooking sprees to make candies and gingerbread cookies. This year is Christmas is Christmas again.

So here are my various efforts at making Christmas giving ethical, and their outcomes. If you find this to be TMI, I’m going to cut to the chase and tell you that in my experience, creative Christmas gift-giving works and is appreciated, but only if I change it up every year. :

      1.      I Made It
When I was in high school I tried making people gifts. I was crafty; I could make all sorts of things. I made bookmarks, jewelry, ornaments, clay figurines, painted rocks (really), mixed cassettes (remember those?), and decorated writing pens for people. After a few years I learned that, even if you make someone the best, coolest necklace you’ve ever made, it won’t be useful to them unless they would have wanted that same necklace if it were in the store. Just because it’s nice craftsmanship, and you made it, does not mean they will want to use it.  Most of these gifts wound up on a shelf, because “it’s so pretty! You made it!” but remained unused. I also learned that I’m not such a good judge at guessing people’s style preferences.

      2.      Food
In college I learned to bake. EVERYONE got plates cookies of various flavors for Christmas! And really, they loved it. The first year. The second year they thought it was nice. And then after that, I kind of felt as though I was giving them cookies as a cop-out because I didn’t want to go buy presents. So then people got presents AND cookies. And then everyone started going on diets. And I finally quit making cookies because they would eat the cookies in front of me while complaining about how it is so hard to keep your weight down and eat healthy during the holidays and how they are too heavy or pre-diabetic or watching their cholesterol. (Awkward!)  I haven’t made cookies the past 2-3 years, but I will again this year. My uncle specifically requested them.

Also… the year I boxed a whole pineapple for Dirty Santa? Well, I still think it was a good idea, but my family will NOT let me live it down! Apparently I am the only one who is excited about getting fruit for Christmas.

3.      Recycled Gift Wrap
One year I refused to buy gift wrap, or to use traditional gift wrap. I used paper bags, printer paper, newspaper, and cloth bundles with ribbon or twine holding them together. Some people thought it was tacky. Mostly they seemed to think it was lazy or cheap. Some people really didn’t care – wouldn’t have minded if I’d left the wrapping off altogether. If I decorated the wrapping by drawing pictures on it and writing messages, they carefully unwrapped the gift and kept the wrapping awkwardly on a shelf, not sure what to do with this strange new form of artwork I’d given them.  And here I have to add that my family has always been amused by my wrapping style, because I have never liked scotch tape. I use little bits of packing tape instead. So the packing tape with paper bags was seen as extra odd.

4.      Let’s Spend Time Together
One year, when people seemed extra focused on trying to get rid of their Extra Stuff, I made coupons. Mostly, I offered to take them out to lunch or dinner, a picnic, the lake, a yoga class together, or some such. I thought they would rather spend time with me than get more junk they already have (and I would certainly rather spend time with them!), so I made up little vouchers and put them in cards. The first time around people seemed to like it, and they also seemed to like having a freebie fun date waiting for them whenever they wanted to use it. It was financially convenient because Christmas giving was spread out through the year. But if I kept giving the same person vouchers for dinner / lunch dates, they quit cashing them in. Even if I reminded them that I owed them dinner, they became too busy for the entire year. And so I quit giving these out, too.

5.      Go Have Fun / Gift Certificates
We all know this one… and it is a good option. But it just seems unpersonal to me. It’s just more fun to give something specific, that let’s the person know you really considered them and hand-picked a special gift. There are exceptions, though. For example, I have a newly married relative, and I like to give him and his wife free dates as gifts. Movie tickets for two, or enough money for two to eat at a nice restaurant or see a play, etc.  They seem to really enjoy it, and I enjoy giving it to them. I feel like I’m helping them strengthen their relationship and giving them something that’s truly fun and meaningful. These types of gifts are probably also good for new parents, stressed caretakers, workaholics, college students, or anyone who seems they may need some fun time to relax but might not have the funds or gumption to do it on their own.

6.      Sneaky Eco-Presents
Last year I vowed to buy 100% ethical gifts. Every gift was locally made, or had an environmental slant to it. Because I was still determined to buy people gifts that they would appreciate, I had to be extra careful with my shopping. It took a lot of time to comb through art shows and craft fairs and boutiques, but I had a lot of fun doing it. I had a hard time remembering that I was not shopping for myself. When someone proved too hard to shop for locally, I turned to Etsy and buying artisan things online. Some of these gifts were huge wins; one of my biggest hits was the Yes and Yes calendar I got for a coworker. So was the sweater mouse I bought.  On the other hand, some of them fell flat. No matter how much I loved the gift and was sure that the person I gave it to would love it, some of them were a bit too quirky to go over well.  I was excited to give one person a glass ornament which had a patch of moss and a miniature gnome habitat inside, complete with instructions on how to attract gnomes… but I don’t think the ornament ever made it onto her tree. Some of the people who got re-usable cloth sandwich bags filled with chocolates were likewise un-thrilled.

After all this, I learned that for the most part, people go straight to box stores because they like the gifts that come from the box stores. And like it or not, if I want them to be the happiest, that’s what I have to do. But at the same time, I feel that something is lost if I do that – that if I shop the same old way, I’m not going to find them something that is truly unique and perfect just for them, replacing that thing (whatever it may be) with loads of nifty yet soulless plastic kitch. I also feel that if I shop at those stores each year, people won’t learn that they like Christmas any other way, and on my own part, I feel that I’m cheapening the holiday by going the mass-market route. Because honestly… can’t they go buy those things from Target without me? I want to give them that cool thing they didn’t even know they wanted, and I want that cool thing to be in harmony with my personal ethics.

So for now, I’m compromising. One year I shop my way. The next year I shop their way. That way, I eliminate the possibility that I’ll buy them two unwanted Christmas gifts in a row and they won’t start dreading my presents, but I still have the possibility once in a while of striking gold on that really awesome, one-of-a-kind, meaningful gift.

I also learned that no matter how creative I get or how old my uncle gets as the years march by… he really does just want me to bake him a plate of cookies!