Monthly Archives: August 2008

Smile high

She is quietly massaging my feet, re-balancing my energy points with her magic hands and organic lotion. I am reclining and looking, through orange color-therapy glasses, at the wooden angel hanging below the skylight, hanging in mid flight. Soft contemporary lounge music plays in the background. The woman to the left covers me with a soft fleece blanket and tucks me in.  Colorful, moving mandalas hypnotize me on the screen above as I lay relaxed with my neck cradled by a soft crescent pillow. Is this what first class feels like on Singapore airlines?

The man with the protruding sci-fi glasses to my right sticks a metal instrument in my mouth and painlessly yanks my temp bridge out.  Yep, I’m at the office of the dentist — the Transcendentist, the “first dental office to be certified as a green business.”

I am offered Bose noise canceling headphones.  The Dr. uses a high-pitched instrument to shape my new bridge.

My journey to the green dentist
I am the neo-vegetarian who ate jawbreakers and pop rocks as a child, who found out too late that brushing plus flossing everyday is recommended. I had many visits to various serious, unsmiling dentists. Scenes from the film Little Shop of Horrors took over my brain preceding every visit. I often avoided going for years, even for a yearly check up (not recommended).

Last month, my bridge broke while I was eating a sticky turnip cake at the Slanted Door. I tried to put it into a napkin with subtlety in front of my date. For the rest of the meal, I attempted to be graceful as I tried to eat only on one side of my mouth. I realized that after four years it was time to find a new dentist. I also needed to replace worn-down fillings. Friends sent me some very good recommendations and I interrogated all of them and some holistic dentists with a set of questions about their customer service, costs and green practices.

Since there was extensive dentistry work to be done, I hoped for the best professional, empathetic, and gentle care. The sound of a dentist’s drill alone made me tense. I dreamed of a dentist’s office with a nice environment and “good production value” (perhaps this is because I have worked on film sets). Through research, Berkeley Parents Network, and an article in Yoga Journal, I found my new dentist.

What is a green dentist?
The past couple of times I mentioned my new, green dentist to friends, they all gave me funny looks. Yes, laugh all you want, but I get perks like a massage and herbal tea when I go to the dentist.  I too was skeptical before I went for my first visit, but wanted to at least try it out.  They asked me, what makes a dentist “green?” The office received green business certification from the government’s Bay Area Green Business program, and like other participating businesses following criteria set by the program. In fact, the website lists all kinds of green businesses and practitioners such as attorneys, chiropractors, economists, landscapers, real estate agents, and mannequin vendors.

“General Practices
1. Monitor and record rates of water and energy usage and solid and hazardous waste generation.
2. Provide three on-going incentives or training opportunities to encourage management and employee participation.
3. Inform your customers about your business’ efforts to meet the Green Business Standards.
4. Assist at least one other business in learning about the Green Business Program and encourage them to enroll.”

The program’s website lists these general practices for participants, and also gives specific instructions for these practices.

The doc is a member of the ADA, is a DDS, and uses conventional anesthesia. What is not conventional is that his practice has a “commitment to environmentally sound business practices.” The website lists eco-dentistry practices, including “digital imaging (not traditional x-rays), which means 75 to 90% less radiation for our clients.”

Moreover, the doc’s short biography reads like a movie:

“Dr. Fred fulfilled a life-long dream of studying with a meditation master in India and moved to the Himalayas. While there, he created a Western-style dental clinic and until late 2000, served as personal dentist to a renowned Indian guru and provided dental care to clients from around the world…” [excerpt]

One day, I’ll ask Dr. Fred jokingly if enlightenment improves teeth. (I really am curious.) Better yet, if he doesn’t mind me asking, how were the teeth of the guru?

It is the end  of the appointment. I still feel the masseuse’s hands on the energy points of my feet (though they are no longer there). It’s like the way they feel after a good acupuncture session. The masseuse has covered my feet with a soft blanket. The doctor is checking his work and asking me how I am feeling since he installed my new bridge. I still feel the discomfort when work is done close to nerves — like visits to any other dentist. However, at this office, I definitely feel pampered and more relaxed during and after each procedure. I rinse at the sink where I am provided with an herbal mouth rinse, homeopathic arnica, and a soothing hot towel on a bamboo plate to freshen up.

On my way out, I drink an elixir in the reception area. The reception area feels more like that of a CMT than a DDS. There are herbal tea offerings, natural light, soothing music, and reading selections such as the book Meditative Spaces. I wave goodbye to the yoga pants-wearing staff, and the Iron Goddess of Mercy statue behind them.

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The Transcendentist can be found in Berkeley, CA near the Claremont hotel and spa.

To find a green business in the San Francisco bay area, visit the Bay Area Green Business program website
“Over 1,000 businesses and public agencies have been certified since 1997.”

If you have a green business program website and directory in your region, or green business shout-out, please share it in the comments section.  I have been unable to find a national or worldwide directory of green businesses on the web.

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Climate changes within my lifetime

Photos courtesy of NASA.gov

Side by side comparisons of sea ice from 1979 and 2003.

What major climate change shifts can I expect to see within my lifetime?

  • “Melting of Arctic sea-ice (about 10 years)
  • Collapse of the Indian summer monsoon (about 1 year)
  • Greening of the Sahara/Sahel and disruption of the West African monsoon (about 10 years)”

What if I live to the age of 90?

  • “Dieback of the Amazon rainforest (about 50 years)
  • Dieback of the Boreal Forest (about 50 years)”

These predicted climate change shifts and more were reported in the BBC news article Climate set for sudden shifts.  The article reports:

“Many of Earth’s climate systems will undergo a series of sudden shifts this century as a result of human-induced climate change, a study suggests… The work by an international team appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. “

Photo courtesy of the BBC News.

Photo courtesy of the BBC News.

I wonder what changes our future children will see.


Related articles:
What is global warming?
What could happen?
What’s being done about it?

In the mean time, Help solve global warming using this guide for individuals, by S. Genovese

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Why should we care about disappearing frogs?

A story about extinction

When I was working on my film on Siquijor island in the Philippines in 2004-2005, I met a fellow scholar in my fellowship program, herpetologist Cameron Siler who was studying for his PhD. Cameron was based on a neighboring island called Negros, in the city of Dumaguete.  He studied frogs and other amphibians throughout the archipelago. He collected and preserved hundreds of them for his university.  Cameron explained in a recent email that researchers have to follow “very strict collection permits that were given to us by the Philippine government.”

“The main purpose of our research is to document and understand the full diversity of an area.  So we attempt to conduct really detailed surveys and collect voucher specimens that can represent these unique and amazing species in a museum.  Usually this amounts to only 2 or 3 individuals for a species, and so we are confident that we minimize our impact on their populations.”

The biodiversity of frogs and lizards in the country is incredible.  I saw so many in daily life.  Inside the hut where I lived or whereever I stayed in the country, there were little insect-eating lizards hanging on the walls and ceilings, as well as geckos the size of my hand.  Each morning, while we ate breakfast outside, a giant monitor lizard we named Larry the lizard passed before us. He was probably on his way to snacking on the chickens or chicks, who were feeding on our compost pile in the yard.

During our occasional visits to Dumaguete, Cameron would tell us about his adventures to far-flung islands finding sometimes exotic large frogs or wrestling with monitor lizards which grew to the size of adult humans. He showed us his photos of them on his laptop and told us about how he preserved their bodies for scientific study, which were stored in his room.

As he told us about his research, I wondered why the study of frogs should be of any significance to my life. I started to answer this question for myself after being told a few more stories.  Cameron recalled a time when he was in the rice fields around the city of Dumaguete. He found frogs growing extra legs.  He guessed that this condition may have been due to the pesticides applied to the rice fields.  From then on, I vowed to try only to buy the locally grown organic brown rice, which was mainly grown locally for export to Japan.

In the Aug. 12, 2008 article published last week Dying frogs sign of a biodiversity crisis by Rachel Tompa in “UC Berkeley News,” David Wake, professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley mentions climate change as a cause of mass deaths and says,

“Amphibians have been around for about 250 million years. They made it through when the dinosaurs didn’t. The fact that they’re cutting out now should be a lesson for us.”

Tompa reports:

“In an article published online this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers argue that substantial die-offs of amphibians and other plant and animal species add up to a new mass extinction facing the planet.”

In the meantime, I’ll keep searching for ways to step lightly on the earth and reduce my own contribution to climate change — and extinction.

Articles on this topic:
Dying frogs sign of a biodiversity crisis
Link to Global Warming in Frogs’ Disappearance Is Challenged
‘Last wave’ for wild golden frog

Related articles (updated):
To save ourselves, we need to need to understand why primates face extinction
‘Only 50 years left’ for sea fish
UN issues ‘final wake-up call’ on population and environment

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Investing, bombs, booze, butts

Have you heard of the Vice Fund?

Profits and Principles, a fascinating article published in the Guardian in 2008, and the 2006 Forbes article Roll of The Dice describe the fund. Daniel Ahrens is co-founder of the Vice Fund.

Proinsias O’Mahoney of the Guardian reports:

“Unashamedly unethical, its founder, Dan Ahrens, even wrote a book entitled Booze, Bets, Bombs and Butts based on its favoured sectors – alcohol, gambling, armaments and pornography – which traditionally have all been excluded from ethical funds. The fund has outperformed the S&P 500, an index of America’s 500 largest firms, in each of its five years of existence and is ranked in the top 2% of US funds.”

On the flip side, there is socially responsible investing.  While researching retirement funds, I came across the concept of socially responsible investment (SRI), which was very appealing to me. What is socially responsible investment?

In the Bloomberg article AHA Fund Beats Rivals With `Responsible’ Energy Picks, Sree Vidya Bhaktavatsalam and Christopher Condon write:

“Socially responsible funds seek to profit without investing in companies engaged in activities they deem ethically reprehensible or detrimental to the environment, with each fund setting its own criteria. “

The controversy over how “ethical” is interpreted in relation to funds is described in the article.  “More people are putting their money into ethical funds. But many might be shocked to learn how it’s being invested.”  Read the complete article Profits and Principles. Other articles on personal investing and SRIs are:

Five Great Green Funds from Kiplinger

Shareholder Shout-out from National Geographic’s The Green Guide

Mutual Interests: Finding Your Way To a Greener Retirement from National Geographic’s The Green Guide

A related article from the Wall Street Journal is Obama Sells Investment With Link to Sudan. It briefly talks about how the Senator transferred his retirement money in that fund to Vanguard’s FTSE Social Index Fund.

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“All in This Tea,” a documentary film

Last Monday, I met and chatted with filmmaker Les Blank. His office happens to be near the natural grocery store where I shop, so I decided to visit to buy a DVD called “All in This Tea” for John who is a fan of tea.  There is no sign for his office.  I rang a doorbell, near an entrance to an old record shop (like the one where Jack Black worked in the film “High Fidelity”). A person appeared asking me if he was expecting me. He didn’t wait for an answer as I mumbled something about buying a DVD.  I was ushered through the old shop, while a record store person yelled “ding dong” up a flight of stairs to signal my arrival.

I walked up and saw a man with a white beard, working alone at his computer in the corner of a cluttered attic above a record shop.  I could barely contain my excitement when I met him because I am such a fan. We projected his amazing film “Burden of Dreams” on our deck in Austin, along with a beautiful film called “Concerto for Two Harpsichords” by Mireille Fornengo.  Blank is one of the greatest US filmmakers in my mind.

We yelled over the din of a vacuum cleaner for a while. We talked about my Shamans film project a bit. The tall Mr. Blank showed and gave me picture postcards of his son and his son’s art cars, which were the subject of a film. He also gave me some free art car and motorcycle stickers. I can’t remember the last time someone gave me cool stickers. It was probably in primary school. One sticker was of a motorcycle contained in the body of a big fake burger. He asked me if I like durian (the fruit). He told me about a building that resembles a durian in Singapore. I told him about my friend artist Jenifer Wofford, who’s durian art to me looks like futuristic durian spaceships (or dangerous meteor-like objects hurtling through space). I believe the fruit is the subject of a future film.

John and I watched the documentary “All in This Tea” at home. It is a wonderful film that helped us learn about tea production in China. Through the main character the tenacious David, we journeyed to China to seek out the best quality organic teas grown on family farms. I found myself craving and wanting to head straight down to Teance in Berkeley to drink some high quality Oolong tea.  Some of his challenges were dealing with a time-consuming bureaucracy, convincing people that worm poop is a nutritious plant food, the language barrier, and finding teas that were not laden with pesticides. Often times the casually dressed, English-speaking David raised his voice at the suited Chinese business men when he was frustrated.  It’s a manner I have often observed in Asia used by some foreigners who seem to believe that this will somehow make the listener understand what he is saying. (I have regrettably caught myself doing this.) Usually, the listener looks flustered and embarrassed due to “losing face” in front of others.

The film gave a little historical information on tea in China, showed us how to appreciate tea, and explained why Lipton is such an ubiquitous brand. It was interesting to see old images of a colonial-era British trader and tea seeker being carried around China in a sedan, and the contrast of the intrepid voyager David in modern day China followed around by his Chinese entourage. I was happy to see footage of China’s peaceful and bucolic landscape in this film before being bombarded with coverage of the Olympics and Beijing on TV.

After passing through the thick bureaucracy and groups of suits, David took us to the misty landscape where the tea leaves are grown, and met the people who cared for them.  I learned that the taste of the tea tells you so much about how the leaves lived their short time on earth.

Photo courtesy of Flower Films via allinthistea.com

Photo courtesy of Flower Films via allinthistea.com

The reward was discovering the small organic tea family farms in the vast countryside, the craftsmanship of the artisans, and their fine teas. Was David able to successfully get the prized teas out of China and into the US? See what happens in “All in This Tea” on DVD or in theatres.

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Who is Thimmakka?

We ate at Ajanta Indian restaurant in Berkeley last night with our friends Dan and Allyson. Ajanta serves dishes made with organic and sustainable ingredients. I ordered my favorite dish, Methi Machi (with mahi mahi instead of catfish) along with brown basmati rice. The light red sauce is cooked with dill, spices, onion, garlic and ginger. Yummy. The menu had a sticker on it saying Thimmakka certified green. According to the website:

“When you see Thimmakka’s seal posted proudly in any restaurant, be sure to make a note of it; these restaurants have been certified as green businesses through their efforts to produce less air pollution, reduce the costs of health care and landfill fees, consume and create less waste, and avoid the use of toxic chemicals.”

That was the first time I heard of Thimmakka. I wondered what the difference is between this organization and The Bay Area Green Business Program.  The Thimakka web page History tells the story of an Indian woman by that name who planted lots of Banyan trees, and more:

“…Thimmakka designed its green restaurants program (then known as GER – Greening Ethnic Restaurants) to meet the constraints of the limited resources and the diverse language and cultural barriers of restaurant owners and workers.”

Both sites have lists of businesses they certified.  Ajanta is listed as a Green restaurant on the Green Business Program site too, along with Zatar, our friend Dani recommends as the best middle eastern restaurant in the area.  Zatar offers organic fruits and veggies in their meals, according to its site. We will definitely try that resto next!

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“The time for small changes is over”

Small and big changes are necessary to meet the challenges facing our earth. As I begin this blog, I ask myself how: we can meet the challenges of climate change and the depletion of our earth’s resources? How can humans live sustainably?

I recently read two articles that addressed these questions.  In “Begging for Small Change,” Dr. Tom Crompton in an article for the BBC says,

“Of course, it’s helpful for people to switch to energy-efficient light bulbs, or turn their central heating down; cumulatively, such changes will have a beneficial impact.

…In fact, some research shows that, for a significant number of people, the opposite is true. Having embraced one simple change, some people then tend to rest on their laurels and be less likely to engage in other more significant changes.”

He explains how a green consumer can paradoxically create more waste. Dr. Crompton also proposes positive solutions for change, among them:

“We need a different approach to motivating people to change; one which stems from a re-examination of the values upon which this change is built.

Studies find that people who engage in behaviour in pursuit of “intrinsic” goals – such as personal growth, community involvement, or a sense of connection with nature – tend to be more highly motivated and more likely to engage in environmentally friendly behaviour than individuals who are motivated by “extrinsic” goals – that is, financial success, image and the acquisition of material goods.”

Read the complete article: Begging for more than small change

The subject of overconsumption is discussed in Crompton’s article and also in Too Many People, Too Much Consumption by Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich of Stanford University. They discuss how humans have been depleting the earth’s resources “as if there were no tomorrow.”

“Four decades after his controversial book, The Population Bomb, scientist Paul Ehrlich still believes that overpopulation — now along with overconsumption — is the central environmental crisis facing the world. And, he insists, technological fixes will not save the day.”

Their pointed remarks about consumption resonate with me as an American and hit home:

“Consumption is still viewed as an unalloyed good by many economists, along with business leaders and politicians, who tend to see jacking up consumption as a cure-all for economic ills. Too much unemployment? Encourage people to buy an SUV or a new refrigerator. Perpetual growth is the creed of the cancer cell, but third-rate economists can’t think of anything else. Some leading economists are starting to tackle the issue of overconsumption, but the problem and its cures are tough to analyze. Scientists have yet to develop consumption condoms or morning-after-shopping-spree pills.”

The Ehlrichs provide inspiring remarks for positive change:

“We’ll continue to hope and work for a cultural transformation in how we treat each other and the natural systems we depend upon. We can create a peaceful and sustainable global civilization, but it will require realistic thinking about the problems we face and a new mobilization of political will.”

Read the complete compelling article Too Many People, Too Much Consumption.

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