All posts by James Jordan

James is a student majoring in International Business at the University of Missouri. He is a fluent French speaker who enjoys running, yoga, bicycling, good design, and anything pertaining to European automobiles.

A Beginner’s Guide to Running in The Barefoot Style

Ultra-runner Micah True running in a pair of sandals.
Luis Escobar/Reflections Photography

Whether you are already a runner or want to become one, “barefoot” or minimalist running is a great and healthy way to run. Agree or disagree with that statement all you want, but if you want to know how to go about running in the “barefoot” style, this is a guide for you. (And don’t worry if you want to keep your feet covered. While it is called “barefoot running” you do not actually need to run shoeless to use this technique.)

Step One: A Rule to Remember

The most important thing anyone can ever tell you about running, regardless of your running style, is what the recently deceased eccentric ultra-runner, Caballo Blanco (a.k.a Micah True), told writer Christopher McDougall when he was writing his 2006 book, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.

“Think Easy, Light, Smooth, and Fast. You start with easy, because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless… When you’ve practiced that so long that you forget you’re practicing, you work on making it smooooooth. You won’t have to worry about the last one – you get those three, and you’ll be fast.”

In reality, you just need to remember “Easy, Light, Smooth, and Fast”, in that order, to be a successful runner.

Step Two: Take Your Shoes Off and Become Aware

Take your shoes off. (Calm down, you can put them back on in a minute!) Go to a track. An indoor track might be kinder on your newly shoeless feet. Put in some headphones and listen to an audio book or a podcast of the BBC News, you don’t need music getting you all wound up and ready to run at full speed.

Pay attention ONLY to what you are listening to, not to what your body is doing, and run a slow lap (or part of one) around the track. A good rule of thumb for running slowly is to run at such a pace that you can manage to breath using only your nose. If you are new to running you may have to breath through your mouth, but that is okay.

Now, without stopping, run another lap (or part of one) while paying attention to what your body is doing. Don’t try to change what your body is doing, just become aware of it.

You should also notice that instead of your feet landing out in front of you they are landing below you. Also, you are not on your heels, but either on the balls of your feet or on your midfoot, with your feet flat like a pancake, with the weight being distributed evenly between your heels and the balls of your feet.

Either of these is great. It is also what you should try to do when you have your shoes on. Avoid landing on your toes (in front of the balls of your feet) as this can stress the foot in a manner which it is not meant to be stressed.

Step Three: Finding Perfect Form

Go stand in front of a mirror. Stand up straight! Face the mirror, with your feet hips width apart, your arms at your sides. Imagine there is a string attached to the back of your neck and it is pulling you straight up. Bring your shoulders down, back, and slightly together, so that they are straight and not hunched over.

Now that you are standing up straight bend slightly at the knees. Your hips will naturally bend a little bit as well. Remain standing up straight from the waist up.

Now turn to the side and look in the mirror. Your hips and your feet should be lined up vertically. In other words, your feet are directly below your hips when you are standing with your knees and hips slightly bent.

To maintain proper form, this is how you should look when you land on your feet. Landing with your legs extended out in front of you with your knees locked torques your hips in a manner that can damage them and puts unnecessary force on your knees that can severely harm them as well. Landing with your knees bent and your feet and hips lined up, or “stacked” on top of each, other allows your muscles to do their job of absorbing the impact forces of running.

Step Four: Put It All Together

Now that you know the various components, try them out. Go for another lap around the track focusing on maintaining good form.

Go through a mental check list:

-Land on your midfoot or the balls of your feet

-Land with your knees bent and your hips stacked above your feet

-Keep your back straight

-Keep your shoulders pulled back, down, and relaxed

The key here is to be aware.

To move forward you don’t even really want to push forward. You just lift your feet, one at a time, back behind you and then let them fall. Running is not pushing forward, but leaning your entire body (not just the top half) ever so slightly forward and taking next step is what keeps you from falling over completely. The leaning should be as though you were walking up a hill. Be sure to take shorter strides to insure that you are keeping your feet and hips stacked.

Your arms should be at your sides, bent to roughly 90 degree angles at the elbows, with your hands in front of you. Swing them forward and backward. Do not twist from your hips to the right or left as you swing your arms, keep your torso pointed straight ahead at all times.

All of this should be done in a relaxed manner without any muscles being tensed up. As I said, it is as though you were falling forward and catching yourself with each step. And as Caballo Blanco said, it should be easy.

Step Five: Increase Your “Barefoot” Mileage 

If you are switching from “traditional” running shoes with fancy arch supports and thick heels you want to transition slowly to barefoot or minimalist shoes. Switching over too quickly could result in injury or just unnecessary pain.

You want to follow the same “10% rule” that you use when increasing your mileage. In other words, the fist week of running “barefoot”, the actual “barefoot” part should only account for 10% of your running. From then on out, increase the amount you run “barefoot” by 10% each week until you feel comfortable doing all of your running barefoot. You should also avoid running “barefoot” two days in a row during this transition phase.

For those of you who are new to running go for a short run, no more than a mile, maybe two miles if you are already physically active and just haven’t done running as a standalone sport before. You could do this maybe two or three times the first week. From then on out you will want to increase your mileage each week by 10% of the previous week’s mileage. So if you run 10 miles one week, you would run 11 miles the next week. And in reality, you might find the 10% can be the 20% or 30% rule until you get up to 10 miles per week. The key to running safely is to listen to your body and do what you are physically comfortable with.

Step Six: Find Some Good Minimalist Footwear (If you don’t want to be barefoot.)

You will want to go to your local running store that specializes in “barefoot” footwear and try on a few pairs of minimalist shoes. If you live here, in Columbia, Missouri, Starting Block is a great place to go.

Before you go to a store read a few reviews on minimalist shoes so you know what you are talking about and what is available. You could easily walk into a store that does not have a wide variety of minimalist shoes and find yourself unnecessarily limited in choices. The website for the most comprehensive set of minimalist footwear reviews is birthdayshoes.com.

You will likely jump on the bandwagon and go with a pair of FiveFingers from the minimalist shoe market leader, Vibram, who also makes soles for many of the other minimalist shoe brands. But be sure to try on other minimalist shoes. They do not necessarily need to be thin soled, they can be cushioned if you want. The main idea is to get a pair of shoes that has a small “heel to toe drop”. Meaning that the difference in height between your heel and your toes is as small as possible in those shoes.

Once you have read up on the topic go try on a few pairs. If you go to a store, such as Starting Block, that specializes in “barefoot” running and even gives lessons on how to run in this style, it is a good idea to buy your first pair of minimalist shoes from that store and even take a class. Buying the shoes on the internet may be cheaper, but when starting out the advice of a good intentioned shoe store with well informed employees can be quite valuable and worth the extra money. It can also help you discover the local running community.

Step Seven: Go Running!

Now that you know how to run with proper “barefoot” form, get out there and do it!

If you are just starting running for general health reasons, or for weight loss, a good rule of thumb is to go for longer runs at a slower pace. Go for runs like these at a pace that allows you to breath easily through your nose, especially when starting out. Though as stated earlier, breath through your mouth if you need to.

Once running in this manner becomes easy and routine to the point that you can do it without concentrating, you can focus on making it light. That is to say be sure you do not to hammer into the ground, but land softly as though you were nearly weightless. As the quote from the Tao Te Ching says on the opening page of McDougall’s Born To Run, “The best runner leaves no tracks”.

Once you have achieved lightness aim to be smooth as though you are gliding along in a continuous motion like a train rolling down a railroad. For a good example look at some YouTube videos of Kenyan runners or an Olympic Champion like Haile Gebrselassie.

Once you have succeeded at these things and you are running a few times a week you can increase your speed. One of your runs each week can even be dedicated to running a few sprints of shorter distances at high speed.

If you just remember to maintain proper form, listen to your body, and enjoy yourself, you will do just fine!

Happy Running!

Those wanting to read more guides to barefoot running are highly encouraged to check out this one by Vibram.

Those wanting to know more about running in general should check out McDougall’s book, a review of which can be found here.

Exploring Why Used Cars Are a Better Buy for You and The Environment.

Over spring break my father and I took my 1994 BMW 325is to Rennsport, our favorite local mechanic in my home town of Tulsa, Oklahoma. We had Rennsport put on some new Bilstein shocks, and replace about half a dozen less significant parts on my car, which now has over 213,000 miles on it. Most people would have bought a new car long ago, the idea being that a new car would get significantly better mileage, that it would be better for the environment, and that the overall experience would be better. For the most part this idea is false.

When most people think of the impact that cars have on the environment they only look at the impact in the present tense, that is they only think of the emissions of the car. However, the greatest environmental impact related to a car is it’s production and disposal. Cars take a great deal of materials to be built and there are many byproducts of both the production of the vehicle and the materials it is made of. Think of Rolls Royce, for example (an EXTREME example), who uses 17 to 18 bull hides for the leather in a single vehicle. That’s 18 bulls that have been bred, fed, and processed. Cars also use a lot of complex synthetic materials whose components can be toxic when handled or disposed of improperly. Metals that make up our cars are also mined and go through many processes (many of which involve dangerous toxic substances) before ending up as a shiny new car on a dealership’s showroom floor.

Unfortunately many Americans have this idea in their head that a car is simply worthless after an arbitrary number of miles. Say 100,000 miles, for example. This is the main fallacy that needs to be confronted in terms of how we regard cars in our country. In Europe it is quite normal to meet someone who owns a Renault or Mercedes that has been driven half a million miles and is on its second engine or transmission and they never stop bragging about it. They simply love their car. It’s like an elderly couple telling you that they’ve been married for fifty years. The key is to find a car you love and stick with it.

You might argue that it’s cheaper to buy a new car, particularly because a new car is more economical with its fuel consumption (certainly not much more efficient than anything else made in the last 30 years) or that it’s too expense to maintain  used cars. While this is a lovely justification for purchasing a new car, it doesn’t hold much water. Say that you buy a new car that gets 30 miles per gallon over a used car that gets 20 miles per gallon, the payments (and the most likely higher insurance rates) on the new car will far exceed the savings of it being more fuel efficient than the used car. Furthermore, if you are the kind of person who just has to have a new car, you’ll probably move on to another car shortly after you finish paying off the new car.

Maintaining a used car is also significantly cheaper than buying a new car. Firstly because even new cars end up needing maintenance and even break down at times. My mother’s Jeep Grand Cherokee, which she purchased new, had a major transmission repair before it even reached 50,000 miles, not to mention the fact that the brakes have had to be replaced about every 20,000 miles. While those particular problems may be specific to that model, every car has its issues.

Since buying my BMW for a mere $2,000 my father and I have probably spent another $4,000 replacing a slew of important parts that should allow the car to make it another 100,000 miles or so. Owning this car has also been a much better experience than I would have gotten if I had bought a new car. My father and I have done a lot of the work on the car ourselves and it was a great opportunity to spend time together.

As for the work we’ve had Rennsport do, I’ve heard of very few people receiving the same level of service that we’ve gotten by taking their car to a dealership. Many dealers are becoming less oriented towards servicing cars and more oriented towards selling news ones. Mechanics, on the other hand, almost exclusively service cars and therefore must give you a high level of service if they want to stay in business. When we took my car to Rennsport for the work I mentioned earlier they did the work in less than a day. They also gave us a list of other things that they suggested we fix next and discussed what they thought we could do ourselves, what we should probably have them do, and when we should have those tasks completed. They even offered to sell us a discounted copy of the same repair manual they use when working on my car. I remember the first time we took my car there and discovered that four of the car’s five previous owners had taken it there, and one of them was even a mechanic at the shop. They even printed out service records, for me, of everything they had ever done to my car.

Service like this is great for sustaining your car, your local economy, and for giving you a good experience with your car. For me, personally, it goes a long way toward boosting my faith in the humanity of the car industry, particularly after some repeated horrible experiences with the two car dealerships where my parents got their current cars.

So the next time you are in the market for a new car, stop and think about it. Ask yourself some questions. Do you really need a new car? Can you get a used one instead? Is there a cute little convertible, a big SUV, or a sporty hatchback that you’ve always wanted? Do a little research on the major things that go wrong with that particular car and what they cost to fix. Who knows? Maybe buying that sports car you’ve always wanted used can make it affordable and you’ll enjoy it just as much.

If you absolutely must buy a new car, you need to buy it with the understanding that to own a new car should be a long term relationship. And while you should factor things like good fuel economy, utility, and practicality into your decision, the most important factor should be how much you love your car. If you love the car that you buy, then you will take good care of it and it will last longer and you will have less impact not the environment in your lifetime . You wouldn’t get married to someone who you didn’t really like or get a pet that you don’t want so why would you buy a car that doesn’t make you happy? If you are one of those people who must have a new car, you could consider leasing (if that’s financially viable for you) or ,at the very least, make sure that the person you sell your car to when you’re done with it is someone who will love it.

A Review of Christopher McDougall’s “Born to Run”

Reporter Christopher McDougall’s 2009 book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen chronicles the delicately interwoven tales of a variety of runners. The book has given way to a new philosophy on running that is emerging as the healthier way to run and live. In his book, McDougall explores how people get into ultra-running, the nutritional benefits of veganism, possible reasons why humans are thought to be designed for running, and most importantly; why barefoot or “minimalist” running form is a superior form.

McDougall starts off the book discussing his own issues with running and how doctors kept prescribing orthotics and telling him that at six foot four inches and 238 pounds, he should just accept that he wasn’t meant for running. As a contributing editor for Men’s Health who’s participated in a variety of extreme sports over the years he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He set out to find “Caballo Blanco” a former boxer who McDougall had a read about who now lived in Mexico and ran with the Tarahumara, an elite tribe of ultra-runners in Mexico’s Copper Canyons.

McDougall finds Caballo and gives us the full story on how the Tarahumara can run races hundreds of miles long while most of us can only run a few short miles at a time and manage to frequently injure ourselves. Together, McDougall and Caballo plan a race in the Copper Canyons that brings some of the world’s best ultra-runners together with the Tarahumara to celebrate a mutual love of running.

The book jumps around a lot from runner to runner as we get each character’s background stories. Intermixed with those stories are some informative chapters over several interesting elements of running and its history. McDougall focuses primarily on the running man theory as the cornerstone for the book. It hypothesizes that humans evolved as a species that chased animals as a large group until the animals became exhausted and the humans could catch and eat them. This tied into the topic of veganism, which the book says is the type of diet the running man followed since humans evolved as hunter-gatherers, gathering plant sources of food and hunting the very occasional animal for growing children and pregnant women in their group to eat. McDougall’s book supports the modern application of this theory by detailing the accomplishments of the record breaking vegan ultra-runner, Scott Jurek, whose own book, Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey To Ultramarathon Greatness, on vegan ultra running should be on shelves this June.

Obviously the running man couldn’t pop into the store for a fresh pair of Nikes, nor do the Tarahumara. This leads us to the part of the book that has really altered running culture since it’s publication, the idea that we are designed to run barefoot. McDougall accuses Nike of creating a shoe industry where thick padded shoes cause people to land on their heels with their knees locked and legs stretched out in front of them, forcing their joints and backs to bear the brunt of running. The barefoot running style, on the other hand, includes bending at the hips, knees, and ankles with your back straight, allowing your muscles to absorb all of the forces of running.

There are parts of the book that feel slightly drawn out but it does include a lot of interesting stories and information. In the end, it’s a book full of useful information that you are welcome to embrace or regard with skepticism. Either way, McDougall has helped bring about a change in running culture that includes the development of many new minimalistic running shoes. It has also helped provided more evidence of the nutritional value of a vegan diet, something that more people are embracing today. It will be interesting to see this change develop as more research is conducted, and more books are written, on the topics McDougall covers.

True/False Film ‘Queen of Versailles’ Tells Tale of Consumption Queen

Jackie and her children, Orlando, Florida ©Lauren Greenfield 2011

The Queen of Versailles was one of the most talked about films at this year’s True/False Film Festival, here in Columbia, MO. The documentary film centers around the Siegel family who exemplifies how a rags to riches life can lead to insanely conspicuous over consumption. The film primarily follows time share resort mogul David Siegel’s third wife, 43-year-old-Jacqueline “Jackie” Siegel as she runs her family of 8 children and live in staff of 23 in the family’s 26,000 square foot home while their 90,000 square foot home is under construction. At the same time, 76-year-old-David struggles to save his company from the economic downturn.

At the start of the film it’s quite obvious that this is a documentary about an obscenely wealthy family building America’s largest home, but it quickly becomes a documentary about the effect the economic down turn had on people whose lives were completely centered around consumption. Even David Siegel’s business is centered around selling consumption to other people. Siegel owns Westgate Resorts, which he claims in the film is the largest time share resort company in the world with a whopping 20 resorts under it’s umbrella. It sells the time shares to people who Siegel admits can’t afford them and who are allowed to put as little as 10% down and take out a loan for the other 90% of the cost of a time share. This is led Westgate into trouble when the economy tanked, the ability to get loans disappeared, and the company still owed $240 million on their newly constructed resort in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Meanwhile we learn Jackie’s backstory; a woman with a lower middle class upbringing who worked her way through college to become an engineer at IBM before divorcing her abusive husband and entering into the modeling industry to become Miss Florida where she meets David Siegel, becoming his third wife. It quickly becomes clear not only that Jackie and David were building their 90,000 square foot because they could but that every aspect of Jackie’s life revolved around acquiring things just because she can.

At point in the film Jackie notes that growing up, she never thought she would ever have more than one child, but once she found out she could have a nanny, she didn’t see any reason to stop having children, leading to the 7 that she had with David. When she’s not toting her children around in her massive SUV, Jackie is driven about in limousines or her husband’s Rolls Royce, and makes frequent trips to McDonald’s and the hair and nail salon. There are also numerous shopping trips for everything from toys for her children (despite their home being filled with hundreds of toys that the children clearly don’t play with), pets (which the Siegels have dozens of), clothing, and antique and furniture items to fill the family homes with.

The Siegel’s are not bad people, though. Far from it, their 8th child is actually Jackie’s niece who they adopted when her parents could no longer provide her with a stable home. David is also quite proud of his charitable endeavors, the number of friends and family who he helps, and the number of jobs his company provides to people. David, and one of his sons who helps run part of Westgate even say that they are selling people vacations that make the people happier.

Unfortunately for the Siegels it all falls apart when the economy takes a dive. The family takes out a mortgage on the 90,000 square foot home (they had initially been paying cash for the project) before putting it on the market for $100 million, then lays off 19 of the 23 people working in their smaller home, not to mention the 7,000 people laid off from Wesgate. From there we see the home life of the family quickly unravel.

Some of the children’s pets die of neglect, the house is a mess, and Jackie jokes that the children may now have to attend college in case David doesn’t have money for them (David later makes the comment that they may not be able to afford college as he hadn’t set aside any money for them). We also see a deeper side to David as he becomes visibly frustrated with the excess that Jackie and the children take for granted. It becomes clear even to the children that David views Jackie as a “trophy wife” and doesn’t respect her as an equal partner in their marriage. When director Lauren Greenfield asks David if he get’s strength from his marriage he says he doesn’t and that being married to Jackie is like having another child.

In the end, Westgate sells a controlling interest in it’s Las Vegas resort and the company, as well as the Siegel family is saved, so to speak. David expresses remorse admitting that he was greedy and that he would have had 15 resorts instead of 20 if he could do it all over again.

Overall, Greenfield’s documentary is a new kind of reality TV show. It’s not one in which the viewer observes superficial “real house wives” in constant alcohol induced cat fights, but one where the viewer gets a hard look at an actual family with actual self-inflicted problems that they must deal with. No one could quite place their finger on why, but many of the people I spoke with after seeing the film noted, not only that they felt sympathy for the Siegels, but that they even identified with them on some level, that’s something you would never hear regarding reality television. The film’s merit comes from it’s compelling insight into the fragility of the American family unit, the effects of an ailing economy on the wealthy, and the markedly visible representation of the problems over consumption can cause in general. The real question the film raises, in my opinion, is how sustainable is the lifestyle that more than embraces a consumption based economy?

True/False Highlights Climate Change Issue with Film on the Maldives

Credit: Chiara Goia

The Island President is a documentary film that follows the life of a former-political-refugee-turned-president during the lead-up to the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference as he attempts to save his small country from the global political forces that resist the growing need to reign in the issue of climate change. I was fortunate enough to catch the film and the post-film Q&A with editor Pedro Kos and director Jon Shenk between my volunteer shifts at this year’s True/False Film Festival here, in Columbia, Mo.

Now, before you roll your eyes at the idea of yet another climate film after you (hopefully) sat through Al Gore’s 2006 Oscar winning documentary film An Inconvenient Truth, you should know that The Island President is not a slew of facts, figures, and digital renderings of the projected recession of the ice caps. No, The Island President humanizes the topic more than we’ve ever seen on a screen before now and it is quite possibly one of the most important films you could ever see.

The film starts off by getting us acquainted with the issue at hand. The film’s protagonist is the 44-year-old Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed, a dark-skinned man with the wide charismatic smile of a child at the zoo and an intense air of optimism and urgency regarding his goal. We quickly learn why it’s urgent as he steps off of the boat he’s taken to one of the islands he is visiting that day. He greets the inhabitants the way he greets everyone, with a hardy handshake and a genuine “How are you?”. The inhabitants show him part of their Island where the beach front has recently eroded by a staggering 300 feet and 57 trees have fallen into the ocean. The Maldives (pronounced mall-deeeeves, NOT Mall-Dives!) is a chain of 2,000 islands in the Indian Ocean and they sit (or sat, at the time the documentary was filmed) at a mere 1.5 meters above sea level.

We learn that the country was previously controlled by the dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who was elected president in 1978. During the 30 year reign of Gayoom, Nasheed was educated in the U.K. only to return to his beloved Maldives to be arrested 12 times for political articles he had written about several elections that took place between 1989 and 1994. As part of his sentences he was tortured and, at one point, spent 18 months of solitary confinement in a 3 foot by 5 foot metal shed. He said he survived by taking walks inside the shed and imagining he was walking elsewhere. In 2003 he left the Maldives and started the Maldivian Democratic Party, returned in 2005, got the party recognized by the government, then won the presidential election in 2008. One of his political partners says in the film that to campaign Nasheed visited more than 52,000 homes to meet voters personally and win them over to his cause. At one point Nasheed laughed recalling that Gayoom had pleaded to voters to give him another ten years to complete his reforms.

Nasheed and his advisors meet with a variety of climatologists, marine biologist, and other scientists throughout the film. We quickly realize that the Maldives’ troubles are a result of global warming that has drastically shifted ocean tides and climate patterns. We discover that the monsoons have been coming 5 months earlier than usual, causing up to 5 meters of beach front erosion in the North Western area of the island cluster. Nasheed notes that there are two barriers to erosion, the first being the bedrock layer and the second being the green line.

This, coupled with a 2004 tsunami that Nasheed says did financial damage equivalent to more than half of the country’s GDP and a 1998 El Nino whose warm waters bleached and killed 2/3 of the coral reefs surrounding the Maldives indicates the urgent nature of the issue. Some fisherman even noted in the film that all of these issues have brought fishing down to about 1/7 of what is was earlier in their fishing careers.

The film follows Nasheed as he campaigns to diplomats around the world to set a global standard for CO2 atmospheric levels at 350ppm, a number that scientists believe could lower the temperature of the earth enough to save countries like the Maldives. Nasheed makes a strong argument that this is even a fundamental human rights issue, comparing what would happen if larger countries didn’t do anything to if no one had stepped in to save Poland from the Nazis. At the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference, world leaders ended up agreeing to a document that Nasheed helped to construct, though it did not require countries to meet the 350ppm limit, it did call for the limit.

During the Q&A, the film makers said that Nasheed was more than happy to give them full access to everything he did. The result is that you really get a sense that Nasheed is just an average guy who happens to be highly optimistic and who will stop at nothing to save his country. You can genuinely identify with his frustration when dealing with leaders of countries such as India, China, and Brazil, who he says are the major contributors to the issue.

Nasheed’s wife, on the other hand, is not so optimistic. Near the end of the film she says she wishes she had not had children, as this world is not a good one to raise them in. And at one point in the film I had to agree with her when an interviewer asked Nasheed “What’s the plan if the Maldives can’t be saved?” and Nasheed answers “None; we will die.” I couldn’t help but think that he was not only right, but that his statement applied to humanity as we know it. The film ends with Nasheed feeling exhilarated and hopeful, thinking of the document’s passage at Copenhagen as a good start to his path to saving his country and his optimism revitalized my own.

During the Q&A, Kos and Shenk said that, unfortunately, Nasheed had been pushed out of office early last month, and that while there were rumors that there was a warrant out for his arrest, they are untrue and he is surrounded by supporters. One audience member pointed out a key oddity in the film that Nasheed put little focus on pressuring the US to do something, to which Kos and Shenk noted that the U.S. is known around the world for moving extremely slowly on issues and being quite stubborn due to the nature of our congress, not to mention the fact that Nasheed was well aware that Asia, not North America, was the center of his sphere of influence.

In the end I found this to be a quite informative and inspiring film that I honestly believe everyone should see at some point. Who knows? Perhaps, it could drastically change your mind on how you should live your life.

For those wanting to know more about the movement to lower CO2 levels in the atmosphere to 350ppm you can visit the movement’s website here: http://www.350.org

You can also visit the documentary’s website here: http://theislandpresident.com/ 

Mizzou’s 2012 Dashboard Competition Kicks Off

Monday night marks the kickoff of this year’s Mizzou Dashboard Competition. To celebrate, Mizzou’s Residence Halls Association is hosting a s’mores roasting party in the courtyard of the Dogwood, Hawthorn, and Galena Residence Halls. There will be s’mores, some energy saving trivia games, and even hot cocoa, for those that bring their own mug or thermos (RHA is ditching styrofoam for this event in an effort to encourage people to utilize reusable containers).

The 2012 Mizzou Dashboard Competition will be between Jones, Lathrop Laws, Hawthorn, Dogwood, Galena, College Avenue, Hatch, and Schurz Residence Halls located here, on the Mizzou campus. The competition lasts from February 27th to March 19th. The goal is to see which residence hall can reduce their energy consumption the most during the three week time span.

Energy usage is monitored using the Dashboard system which can be viewed here. For the three weeks prior to the competition, the system has recorded the average energy usage in each of the competing residence halls to set a baseline from which the energy usage reduction is measured.

The residence hall that manages to reduce their energy usage the most will win a pizza party, hosted by Mizzou’s Residence Halls Association. For more information and updates throughout the competition check out Mizzou Dashboard’s facebook page. Feel free to direct any questions you might have about the competition to the facebook page or to RHA Sustainability Coordinator, James Jordan at jpj4kd (at) mail.missouri.edu

Car-less Part II: Why Mizzou Students Don’t Need Cars to Go Between Home and School

As you can tell by the title this is part two of Footprint’s Car-less series. In the last post I talked about why you don’t need to own a car for running weekly errands or taking a short day-trip by using the WeCar program offered, here, on the Mizzou campus. This week I will be discussing why you (ideally) don’t need a car to go between college and home using the student rideBoard ride share program.

When I looked into rideBoard I couldn’t actually find anyone who had used the program. So I started by setting up an account for myself. It appears that the program has about 375 members at the University of Missouri and there were only 7 posts for the entirety of the past week. Furthermore, this was the week before the start of the spring semester, leading me to believe that the program isn’t used much. Which is unfortunate considering that ride sharing is a great opportunity.

A screenshot from a sample posting in Rideboard.

Now I’ll tell you how the program works. You register to be a user by using your University of Missouri email address. This is how they know you are really a student, because the program is meant to be a safe way for fellow students to find ways to carpool. Once you are registered you can search for a ride or for a passenger looking for a ride.

You can also post that you are looking for a ride or a passenger. To post a ride you give information including where you are going, where you are leaving from, when you would like to leave, and whether the trip is one way or round trip. You can also list if you prefer that the person you travel with is of a certain age or gender and leave any additional comments you would like (such as that you’re traveling with a cat in case someone else might be allergic). Ride board is a free program and there is no limit to the number of posts you can place.

RideBoard also gives links to the student directory to confirm someone you find is actually a student. And you should obviously be cautious with any program that helps you to meet strangers to go road tripping with. Though it could turn out to be an amazing opportunity to make new connections; singer Michael Blunt once sold his sister on ebay as “‘Damsel in distress seeks knight in shining armour! Desperate to get to a funeral in Southern Ireland, please help!'”. Long story short: three years later she ended up marrying the guy who flew her to the funeral in his helicopter.

So whether you need a ride, are wanting to help the environment, or are looking for love, try out RideBoard and do some carpooling! If RideBoard doesn’t seem right for you, you can literally google ‘ride sharing’ and find tons of other programs that are similar. Another way to find ways to carpool is by using the CoMo Rideshare group on Facebook (which seems to be used quite a lot).

Last-minute gift that will last the whole year: a Coffee Thermos

Each year my mother spends the weeks after Thanksgiving repeatedly asking me what I want for Christmas, and I never know what to ask for! I usually don’t tell her and I end up getting socks, some books that aren’t on my desired reading list, and other things I don’t particularly want. So when my mother asked me this year I set about thinking of practical items I could ask for that I would want to use in my everyday life. One such item was a Starbucks coffee thermos.

Judge if you will, but I can honestly say that I am a huge fan of Starbucks. I love that almost anywhere I go, I can get the same product at roughly the same price and have a familiar experience. I find that consistency rather relaxing, in fact.

I usually go to Starbucks every Monday morning, to kick start my week, as well as Friday afternoon, as a sort of reward to myself for making it through the week. I also go a few more times each month to have coffee with friends that I may not see on a regular basis. If you think about it, that’s around 100 to 150 cups of coffee each year. Or, if you’re being specific, 100 to 150 cups, lids, and straws or cup sleeves each year.

I found it a bit disturbing that I was creating that much waste with my habit of going to Starbucks. Meghan Eldridge, who also writes for Footprint, pointed out to me that all of these items are recyclable, but that didn’t make me feel much better. Hence my asking my mother for a Starbucks thermos.

The one I chose was a 16oz. model so that I can get a tall or grande beverage (depending on how much caffein I’m in the mood for). I will now also have a thermos that I can use for my favorite tea that I make at home. Furthermore, Starbucks gives me a ten cent discount each time I use my thermos, meaning the $20 thermos pays for itself after 200 uses or in my case one and a half to two years. I’ve now had my Sigg water bottle for about five years, so I’m sure I’ll have no trouble using my Starbucks thermos for double or triple the time it will take it to pay for itself.

For those of you who enjoy an occasional cup of Starbucks coffee but don’t generally go enough to justify buying a reusable thermos, there’s no need to fear! Starbucks does lots of cool things to help the environment. One of the major projects Starbucks is working on is making their coffee cups more sustainable. In fact, they have held several “cup summits” over the years to bring innovators together to find ways to make their cups more environmentally friendly. They also recycle most of the packaging behind the counter that the customers never even see. However, one of their initiatives that I found most interesting is that, upon request, Starbucks will give you a free 5lb. bag of used coffee grounds for your compost. Some of the locations even take their used coffee grounds to commercial composting companies nearby.

Obviously Starbucks isn’t perfect. There are still many things they could work on, but then so could all of us. It’s just nice to know a business that I frequent is making an effort to improve it’s sustainability and that I can take part in that.

To find out more about Starbucks’ sustainability efforts visit the following link: http://www.starbucks.com/responsibility/learn-more/goals-and-progress

Car-less Part I: Why Mizzou Students Don’t Need Cars at School

Everyone needs a car right? You’re important and you have places to be and your car is necessary to get you there. You need a car to drive home for the holidays or to Walmart to get groceries once a week. With a couple of programs Mizzou has on campus, it’s not actually true that you need your own car to do these things.

In this series I’ll have the answers to all your going Carless questions. Are you making your weekly run to the store or taking a short weekend trip within Missouri? WeCar has your back. Looking for a way home for the Holidays? Try car pooling your way home. Student Ride Board provides you with a way to connect with others traveling in the same direction as you. What’s it really like to live Carless? I’ll talk to someone who has done it for over two years.

Today I’ll start by giving you all the answers you need to use the WeCar program!

You’re in college, you don’t have much money, so your first question is obviously going to be what’s the cost?

WeCar is actually fairly inexpensive, especially considering that AAA says the average person spends well over $9,000 per year on expenses for their car. For Mizzou students a WeCar membership costs $35 per year, plus $8 an hour or $7 per day (add a dollar  if you would rather your car be a hybrid). Keeping the car over night will only set you back $30 ($35 for hybrids). There is also a $0.35 per mile cost added if you drive more than 200 miles.

“But gas is soo expensive!” you might say, “won’t I need to pay to fill the car up too??”

Nope! WeCar pays for the gas with a nice little gas card kept in the glove box. Just use the card to fill up if the car gets bellow 1/4 of a tank.

Who actually uses WeCar? Lots of people and it’s growing!

I spoke with Libby Pugliese, a Mizzou student, who uses the WeCar program regularly.

Libby said she typically uses WeCar to travel for field work observation hours she must complete as a student majoring in education. She also uses WeCar for occasional errands.

I asked Pugliese how easy it is to use WeCar:

“The WeCar program is a very easy program to use. All you do is go on the website, pick the time you need to rent out the car and push reserve. When that time arrives, all you do is swipe your [membership] card over the sensor [located by the windshield] and the doors unlock, so yes it is very easy.”

She did, however, say there was one draw back to WeCar:

“If you are over 15 minutes late to your scheduled pick up time, your card will not work and you will still be charged for the rental plus 5 additional dollars for late cancellation which is an inconvenience and an annoyance. This would be the one thing I would improve about the program.”

Pugliese said she would recommend the program to anyone with short term transportation needs not filled by bicycles or busses. She was also supportive of the idea of there being more programs like WeCar:

“This program should be more common!! It’s so easy to use and it helps cut down pollutants in the air. Also, it relieves traffic because the carpool kind of style that WeCar promotes.”

I also spoke with Pat Fowler, the Coordinator for Mizzou’s FIGs and TRIGs programs. Pat says she was one of the first staff members to get a WeCar membership in the summer of 2010. This was a year after she moved to downtown Columbia and sold her car in an effort to have a smaller carbon footprint and a healthier lifestyle that includes bicycling and walking to work.

“WeCars are not problem free, but the customer support people are kind and thoughtful.” Pat said.

“In the winter months I rent a car once or twice a month to go shopping, to the doctor or any place I can’t get to on Columbia Transit.  I’ve been stuck once or twice in the winter when the batteries were dead.  I once called ahead to the local Enterprise office to let them know that I was planning on reserving a car, and since it was semester break, would he come by and charge the battery?  They did it the first time, after that I’d have to call for a credit to my account,  move my appointment, and come back another time.”

Pat was also quite knowledgeable about the insurance cost of driving a WeCar (because you do need insurance to drive any car):

“If you are still on your parent’s policy, there is a $1000 deductible for collision.  For me, I have a non owner policy with USAA for which I pay $15.00 month.  This provides me with the same liability coverage I carried when I owned an automobile.  My collision deductible is still $1000, but my liability is covered by me, where as the average student would rely on their parent’s policy for liability.”

This is significantly cheaper than owning and insuring your own car. Non-owner insurance policies also ensure that you are covered if you’re driving a friend’s car.

Pat loves WeCars pointing out that they “are easier than having to keep a car clean, or pay for gas, or pay for repairs.” She said one thing she misses about not having a car is listening to the radio, so she likes to crank it up whenever she rents a WeCar. Her favourite WeCar memory was when Missouri experienced Snowmageddon, this March:

“Feb 3rd, the first day we were permitted out on the roads, I rented a WeCar for 5 hours, I had to leave it in the middle of the street to unload it, and then carry my stuff over the snow bank to get to my house.”

So there you have it! WeCar is a great way to save money, save the environment, and have a good time! Stay tuned for the next segment in my Carless series where I’ll tell you about programs that help you get home for the breaks without owning your own car.

For further information about WeCar go to their website. Their FAQ page is particularly helpful about answering any question you might have.

Mizzou Students can click here for a WeCar membership application if you’re sold on the program.

What happens with your old phone once you’ve moved on to a snazzy new one?

A couple Thursdays ago I stayed up until 3:30 in the morning to pre-order the new iPhone 4S. It was a purchase I had been waiting nearly six months to make since my two year contract with AT&T had lapsed, and I could get a new phone. My parents and I had already discussed that we would give my old iPhone to mother, who has used a Motorola SLVR for the past 7 years and is ready to move into the age of the smartphone. But as I was sitting at my desk clicking “refresh” over and over on Apple’s online store page I couldn’t help but wonder what other people do with their old cell phones.

I found the thought rather distressing. Cell phones are chock-full of toxic substances that you can’t just toss into a landfill. They contain substances like lead, mercury, brominated flame retardants, and PVC just to name a few and that’s not even including the batteries. You might think that throwing out your phone, it being such a minuscule item and whatnot, wouldn’t be a big deal but think of the millions of cell phones that people throw out every year. Soon rain leaches these toxic substances into the ground and your water supply is undrinkable (unless of course you like heavy metal poisoning).

Needless to say, donating if your old phone is useable and recycling if it’s not is a no brainer. But how do I do this you may wonder? Well look no further! Here are some links to help you on your quest to save the world one phone at a time.

I decided to set about discovering what most people do with their old cell phones. Personally, I’m a bit of a technophile and a fan of nostalgia so I generally keep my old technology. In fact I still have my first iPod in its original box, an Apple IIc from 1980s, my lime green 1976 BMW despite having upgraded to one from the ’90s,  and when I bought my first iPhone I kept my motorola SLVR for when I go running and bicycling.

Sarah Kranau, a George Washington University student, said that, much like myself, she gave her old iPhone to her mother.

Emma Faist, a Mizzou student, said “I always keep my old cellphones and put them in my memory box. I think it’s cool to see the technology advances as I get new ones. Sometimes I look at them and just laugh because some of them are really silly looking. I would recycle them but that’s no fun because then they are just gone!”

When I asked Seth Amos, a student at UPenn, I got quite an interesting response. He said: “I kept it and I carry it with me when I run in case I need to throw it.”

“Wait,” I said, “so to be clear, you carry around your old cell phone on runs to throw at someone if they seem to have an intent to harm you?”

“Yes, exactly” he said.

Taylor Dukes, a Junior at Mizzou, said that she kept her old phone in case she ever had a problem with her iPhone.

So perhaps my worrying was unwarranted. If most people simply keep their old phones and put them to good use or save them for emergencies or to look at, then they aren’t really contributing to the growing issue of eWaste. Let’s just hope they recycle their phones when the time comes to get rid of them. I did, however, get a few other responses. One of which wasn’t particularly reassuring, but others certainly make the case that some people are conscious of the issue and trying to make a difference now.

Mizzou Sophomore Tracy Qin, said that she usually gets new phones because she loses them. While Mizzou Junior Laura Ebone said she placed her old phone in the electronics recycling box by the front desk of her residence hall. Which is what Matt Mazick, a Mizzou Sophomore, does unless “it’s still functional” he says “then I store it away as a backup or give it to one of my family members as an upgrade.”

Anna Valiavska had this to say on the topic: “A few years back I realized that there were a lot of cellphones that I acquired and I wanted to do something with them. There were a few programs that were available at the time. Two programs I have used for cell phones that were usable were cell phones for soldiers and cell phones for domestic violence survivors. Best Buy takes old cellphones in stores and recycles them.” She went on to say that her main motivation is “to not be wasteful. We have a lot of resources and it would be useful to reuse as many of them as we can.”