Tag Archives: environmental sustainability


How much of our lives and culture is made out of nothing much? Of stuff, whether practices, beliefs, or physical objects, that in hard times would prove valueless and be soon abandoned? How much of our so-called social progress depends on the breakdown and replacement of these artificially menaingful cultural components and artifacts, and avoidance of permanence, depth, durability, true value?

Think of the contents of the average dollar store, say during some holiday season or other. Count necessities and what’s the total?

Think of what’s in your house, those carefully selected items large and small that someone in the household deemed necessary to make a home. Unplug the power for a week, and what’s left? Are you still using the soap, but no longer the clothes washer? Using the wood stove instead of the toaster, the wooden spoon instead of the mixer, the sun and the sound of birdsong rather than the wakeup alarm? Those hand tools and the fishing tackle are looking pretty useful, along with those buckets, that wagon, quality shoes. No radio, no news feed, so you get together with the neighbors to make hay and conversation while the sun shines, and plan the garden. Are you walking down to the farm market for exercise and carrying stuff instead of going to the gym? Thinking about which building will serve as the local community hangout, and who will play the next dance?

What about the books in your library? Copies of ones you read in your youth in which you now see the flaws, works of reference no longer relevant mixed in with some which will always be useful? Cherished life-changing volumes that helped you to see, really see, showed you life, broke through your pain, your egotism, your fear? Field guides? Now they won’t last the next few decades in this damp climate, so what will you keep? Do you have personal stories, family histories, songs and poems committed to memory? The screens are all off, the invasions into your living room by purveyors of vehicle love and the next entertainment series silenced. What will you want now? What’s worth working for?

And what do you have in your person, and here is where it might get a little uncomfortable. But it shouldn’t, no, not at all. Because eve if your place in the global economy has disappeared, you have the DNA for all you need for the local scene, and you’re in that wonderful gene pool of the community that still, even after all that domestication, can work it on this earth, at least enough.

Who are the folks that make up your neighborhood? As the electricity grid decays, the gas runs out, the refugees arrive, who are the pillars of the community now? Not the department store CEO or the hedge fund manager? Not the real estate broker or bank manager, or even the famous local actor or football hero. There’s the bicycle mechanic, the farmer, the philosopher, the minders of children, the story tellers. The builders, teachers, caregivers, preachers, prophets, and poets. The mail carrier, the horseman, the herbalist and the healer. The hunter, the brewer, the worker of stone, of textiles. Hewers of wood and drawers of water. Wise elders and energetic youth.

And how was your holiday?


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Jumping to conclusions on my new trampoline

Jumping to conclusions on my new trampoline

We splurged on a big one, hoping it would help us all center somewhere in the home landscape, be a spot of choice for our teens, fun for the younger ones, and an attraction for all their friends. They are all using it, for exercise, for fun, for a dry place to lie and chat while scanning the sky and fir tree silhouettes as the dark falls, and for sleepovers after that.

It took me about a week to get up on it myself. Just didn’t get around to it until then. I was surprised how good it felt, how uplifting. And a good workout. Keeps one accountable in the area of remembering to do one’s Kegel exercises, too, which one occasionally neglects, doesn’t one? It’s kind of modeled after a pelvic floor itself, in a way. I remember the feeling of my son trampolining on mine in utero.

The city children’s hospital has a vegetable patch in the picnic area by the cafeteria. We looked at growing chard, tomatoes, peas, strawberries, and ate fish and chips. My son expressed the hope that some of it would be served in the cafeteria. Been thinking a lot about food lately, since starting listening to the audiobook Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Carefully researched, clearly articulated, gently communicated, and illustrated with stories from their family’s year of eating food produced as locally as possible. I understand better now the true cost of the low prices I’ve been paying for food, the ways I’ve participated in the system that drives small farmers into bankruptcy.  Time to be more proactive in my food choices for the family. And to try to take the author’s gentle approach at attempting to coax themy into better purchasing and eating habits. We use our share of processed foods, feedlot meat, and vegetables from megafarms which destroy living ecosystems, impoverish soils and guzzle fossil fuels, all subsidized by us, the taxpayers. Time for me to research what to cut out and ways to replace those things, or not.

There’s the garden, of course, containing the most local food of all. We are blessed with a sunny, fenced back yard which is now graced with a large, organized, productive vegetable patch, complete with greenhouse (formerly a large, muddy, productive garden that needed a lot of upkeep). I’m recording the expenses and inputs (labor aside–that’s a pleasure and free exercise anyway), as well as outputs in the form of seedling and food production. So far, though we started late, we’ve had abundant salad greens, onions, beets, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, herbs, and a few berries. As soon as we use our store bought potatoes I’ll dig some of our own reds, yellows and bakers, which always mature before I expect them to. The tomatoes are just starting to produce little green balls, and in a month or so there will be cucumbers, squash, beans, cherries, aronia berries, and eventually peppers and apples. My goal is to have the family eat and preserve all we can use, as well as save seeds, and give away all the rest. I’m also planning to be more insistent that the children participate in this, so they can learn at least the basics of harvesting food. That’s the fun part, which I hope will help interest them in the planting and cultivation aspects later on. Not much time now to refine the seed-to-table techniques of my oldest, and to expand their healthy meals recipe repertoire.

Now I shall jump to my conclusion, leaving you with the link to the site related to the book, with seasonal recipes for your garden or local farm produce:

Bon appetit!





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Everybody bike

Everybody bike

“Mom?” In my daughter’s sleep-husky voice. A word which, spoken ever so gently or from a distance blocked by intervening doors and hallways and the muffle of sleep, will always wake me. Six o’clock. “Will you drive me to school today? I just need to sleep some more.” The logic that there are always the same number of hours, lighted ones only expanding and contracting slightly with the seasons, and one must adjust, get to bed earlier and never have to sleep in and miss the bus or the quiet hour before breakfast or the sunrise, whatever may be the mark of one’s beginning, always escapes through the gap where the warm and ragged exhale of fatigue escapes.

“Okay, this time.” I let go of my logic that there should not be 24,000 lbs of petro-powered steel and vinyl to carry 2500 lbs of flesh that three miles when 20,000 could do it, with a savings of a few gallons that ought to be stashed away for her future. She’s tired and needs a little love and a half hour more of rest, after all.

Coward, says my conscience. The part of me I said I would not betray. But these are gray areas, aren’t they? If my intentions are good, won’t it be okay? As the engine runs, gas burns, more greenhouse gases and grit get pumped into the air, in the name of love–how is that loving? And why is it so difficult to convince the people we love that we can’t go on this way?

This all seems to have happened so fast–peak oil, steady climb in heat and storm power, realizing the folly of our headlong rush to lead the world in resource consumption, I haven’t had time to construct a new language of caring and love, a new understanding that would put driving one’s kid to school in the realm of the socially unacceptable. Maybe even worth a fine or, for repeated offenses, loss one’s license and mandated community service. It still seems so normal to jump in the car for this, for that–even–the irony–to take children somewhere to exercise! And not one of my kids really gets that it’s a problem. One doesn’t think that way as a young person, though I see beginnings of that kind of broader social conscience in my oldest. So I really must keep at it and set that example. Remembering my Dad’s persistence eventually paid off in his kids. If I can be more upbeat, humorous, instead of the heavy tone, the theme of which is NO. Can I try, “Sorry, honey–I can’t drive you; I’m rationing carbon output for your honeymoon cruise!”


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On preparing our high school grads for the real world

My fit into the official scheme of things not well lubricated and calibrated. Deadline to get oldest child register for the SAT, and I’m late. That’s okay; $29.50 late fee will cover the inconvenience and give me incentive to be on time next kid. (Being late on vaccinations was kindly overlooked, until the system got caught up with us.) And by the way, please give us information about your race, parents’ highest level of education, your family income, the classes you’ve taken, GPA, rankings in all subjects, your desired college criteria, sports and extracurricular participation, aspirations, motivations, consecrations. It will help in the research of our non-profit organization, oh, so much, and help us determine the educational products you are most likely to buy from our affiliated educational products corporation, with the least fuss and bother. Sorry, we “prefer not to answer” or are “undecided.” Except, yes, we are white, and I feel it our duty to check that privilege–maybe will do some good somewhere–you can let Ed know.

Meanwhile, I check out for rereading the book The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education (link here), Colleges that change Lives (the link), as well as the usual catalogs dense with data, so we can highlight by quality and programs, eliminate by price, make a visitation short list. And try not to be swayed too much by vicinity to beaches. Not to say going straight to college is a given, global competitiveness aside. I don’t buy the rhetoric put out by friends of large industry, which merely wants to max its own advantage by decreasing training costs and creating a ready-made work force. Which could be done without the delay and expense of university, but without a heavy load of student debt, where would be the incentive for students to give themselves over into the rat race instead of gallivanting around the globe finding out about the effects of our style of business on the poor and our biosphere? And those tuition costs and the fear of being shut out of the top tier can do so much to get students to focus, to stream into STEM and not dawdle away their time with literature and historical anthropology and justice studies. And by the way, let’s cut out all that fiction-reading that creates empathy.

Went to hear Bill McKibben yesterday. When I got the postcard announcing he was speaking, shared it with my oldest son, and he practically jumped out of his chair. I had the gratification of seeing there was a new shared awareness and interest (thanks to the depth and breadth of the reading required by his community college English instructor). So we went together. It was an honor to hear Mr. McKibben in person, and be reminded of the principles presented in his book Eaarth.  He also showed moving images of our “brothers and sisters” in the movement, who, he pointed out, “do not look like typical western environmentalists.”

Speaking of how to win the “race,” (to save our opportunity to continue as reasonably stable civilizations), Bill said, “education is not enough. At a certain point it became clear to me that reason was going to triumph here. Because these things don’t, as it turns out, hinge on reason–they hinge on power.”

One of the questions asked at the end was about the need to radically change our personal lifestyles to diminish our CO2 contribution. Bill said sure, and I do, but it’s not enough, won’t do enough fast enough and our focus has to be weakening the power of the industries which are doing the most to exacerbate the problem, and their links to the political power structure. The fossil fuel industry has money, and “Unfortunately, money gives you more influence than you deserve,” so we need to use our currency, which is “movement, passion, creativity, hard work, sometimes spending one’s body, and going to jail.” He highlighted both the passion and commitment of young people, who have a lot to lose if they, for example, get an arrest on their record, and also older folks, out there “acting the way elders are supposed to act in a working society.”

I am struck again and again by the two visions of the world our college grads will be entering in a few years, one vision presented by the top leaders in government, business, and education, and the other by environmental scientists, those who are literate in their findings, and those around the world who already experiencing the painful effects of climate change. On the one side is the rhetoric about global competitiveness, economic growth, and a skilled workforce to achieve these goals. On the other is the idea that if we continue to pursue growth, accept and equip the young for the “real world” status quo workplace with its values and pursuits, we’re kissing their hopes of any career besides, as Bill McKibben put it the other day, “some form of disaster response” work.



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Present kindness, future shock

A short run in the wild wind and spitting rain, partly to prove to my daughter that she didn’t really need a drive to school less than a mile away. It was wild and beautiful, a sea of tossing branches and flying twigs. But then I could change out of wet clothes and enjoy a warm gas fire afterward, while she’d have to endure damp clothes and hair dripping down her neck in class. So I drove her, along with so many other parents. Still, seems a matter of commitment to principle, which in this case would involve purchasing some excellent rain gear for her, and maybe adding a to-go hot chocolate as extra incentive. And a cash bonus (a deposit on her dreamed-of horse, or maybe a hydrogen fuel cell car). I’d offer to walk with her–I think she likes to be asked, though has not accepted so far, even if her dog goes too. And does the school make it easy to hang dry dripping, low emissions transportation gear? Should I offer to get a tandem bike and taxi her that way? Ah–I know a sure-fire method: riding by horse! Alas, the community stables are gone and have not yet returned.


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Aren’t we all just basically like me?

While a student delegate to a leadership conference, I heard a talk by one of the senior staff, also senior pastor at a large church, who in the course of his talk, said something like, “We have to admit that we all want to be in control. Let’s face it–that’s why we’re here, why we are in the positions we are.” It didn’t sit right with me, and I thought, even if it’s true for some in the room (all top level national student ministry leaders, almost all men in their forties through sixties), it seemed disrespectful, invasive somehow to make such assumptions about everyone based on the speaker’s own personality or inclination. Was I supposed to recognize that at the base of my interest in being a leader was necessarily a controlling personality? So I, we, could confess it, choose to “let go and let God” and so on. But that shoe just didn’t fit. I don’t really want to be a leader. I don’t like being in charge, and the more influence I may have over people, the more trepidation and sense of burdensome responsibility I feel. Sure I want to influence, but because of principle, and in the way I would want to be influenced–through education, reason, relationship, example, for my own good and willing usefulness to others. Not through any kind of control, however subtle.

Now I have a mental antenna for such statements, in speeches, books, sermons, advertisements, and conversation. When I read on a book overleaf that “Every educated person must read this” or “no one can fail to conclude…” or some such, I shake my head. It’s just another form of “Do this, and you’ll fit in with the group.” Again, it overlooks individuality, appeals to the herd instinct, that desire to be moving along with the crowd. I suppose some people want to be influenced that way–in a sense they don’t feel comfortable believing or doing things that aren’t already accepted by a critical mass of others, or seem to be.

We have all succumbed to the temptation to make choices based on majority choices. Which MP3 player to buy? You ask the guy working on the floor. He shows you the “best seller.” As if that’s necessarily the best choice. No intelligent person would think so. See, now I’m doing it to you–did you notice? “We have all…”, “No intelligent person would think…” making assumptions about you and inviting you to believe them in order to move you on to accept my next idea. Watch out.

On the other hand, maybe there’s a lesson here. It’s true, apparently, that influencing people, whole bunches of people, is about convincing a few, a laborious and seemingly fruitless process at times, but who then make the masses believe it’s the new normal, by a kind of cultural diffusion. It’s the scientifically tested ten percent rule. Essentially, once ideas are accepted by a critical mass of ten percent of folks, the majority will accept the same ideas. Read more here:

Gives me hope that maybe soon we’ll reach the tipping point for ideas about peak oil, global climate change, the need to power down and transition to a low energy lifestyle and resilient local economies. A little late, because of the tipping point of the changes themselves, but still, maybe we can survive them better, lighten the blow on the most vulnerable, share the burdens, and eventually thrive in some new way.

That ten percent will be a hard-won accomplishment, a labor of generations, even. A constant telling and retelling. Talked to my dad on the phone the other night about that, how he had to tell us over and over to turn off the lights when we left rooms, close the door and keep the heat in, put on a sweater instead of asking to turn up the heat. We just want our kids to get it, understand the whys, and be motivated to do what’s right on their own, but instead there’s a need to remind over and over and at least help them form the necessary habits. I thanked him for not giving up, for telling and retelling us. He knew way back that our over consumption would come back to bite us, and in his writings, lifestyle and conversations chipped away at the erroneous majority opinion.

So press on, prophets, preachers, workers, writers, artists, parents, leaders, all. As the apostle Paul said, ‘let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)


Posted by on December 27, 2013 in Culture & Society, Parenting & Family


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Urine, You’re on!

So cynical, perfectionist, always looking for what’s wrong with the way I and most other middle class folks live. The things we use, technologies on which we depend, kilometers we drive (or miles, for that minority backwards folk called the USA and UK–oops, I did it again), the expectations of the good life, ignoring for the most part people who can’t reach it no matter how hard they work.Except we have compassion if they live very, very far away. Such as in Africa. We give money to them thanks to Bono. Not to group all of “Africa” as if it’s homogeneous, full of Africans and mysterious hot diseases. There is also South Africa, which has white people (and took a long time to recover, too!). And Egypt–no way, is that a part of Africa?

Always I harp on problems. Isn’t it time to offer solutions? Yes, I like solutions, don’t you? Except you’re not going to like this, and neither do I. From what I can tell, we’ll be able to make huge strides toward solving the energy and water crises (to start somewhere) by all becoming anal. For example, every morning I get up, rinse my mouth guard, and take a pee. How can I make that a better process, I ask myself? Maybe I rinse the guard with rainwater and dump that in my watering can, and maybe instead of using a flush toilet I pee into sawdust (from the local wood shop, delivered for a tip by children pulling wagons), flip the handle and it drops down into the compost pile below, like one of those hatches in an airplane toilet except without the sucking sound. It’s nitrogen-rich, you see. But I mustn’t be taking antibiotics or eating anything with heavy metals in it. Someone once told me that was the reason we can’t use human waste as fertilizer, so we’d better make sure.

That’s the first five minutes. You see, there are so many little events in life where we can make a difference. But there are certain barriers to each one. The composting and reuse of urine as fertilizer, for example, has a psychological barrier in that most people think it’s gross, I mean grosser than it is necessary (the other gross things we do, we see as necessary, so they don’t bother us as long as they don’t show up in movies or books). But I’m sure we’ll change our minds eventually, when natural gas-derived and mined fertilizers become too expensive, so why not just switch over now based on practical logic, matter over mind? Do we really need to jet activists and government officials around to conferences, debate environmental bills, create educational campaigns, wait for the big plumbing corporations to retool so they can get in on the updates (“Wal-Mart sells pee pots for less”), before we do the right thing?

I for one don’t care if it’s gross–not any more, since I’ve been living with this idea and have got used to it. It’s way less gross than all the diapers I’ve had to deal with and than picking up dog poop, anyway. I’d be proud to work on setting up a waterless pee pot in my bathroom (though I’d want it outside in the summer). But I’m intimidated by my children and husband’s probable reaction, to tell you the truth. Shall I do it anyway, put my sawdust where my fertilizer is, and just update you on how it goes down at my house? I feel bold. I’ll do it. Back in a week. If you want to join me, here’s my plan (any refinements you can offer are welcome):


  1. Nail together or adapt a simple bench with hole, strongly constructed and nicely refinished with marine shellac (I have my tools out already from another project). Covered in front, open in back. Room for extra stores of sawdust. Stir stick?
  2. Install toilet seat on top. I’ll use the one from the not-yet hauled toilet in the back storage area. WIth a prop for seat-lifters.
  3. Put sawdust in bucket or tray below.

I’ll have to experiment with the right amount of sawdust and the dimensions of the apparatus to minimize splashing, of course, and for now I’ll do all the dumping and refilling.

Wish me luck!

Week 1 update


Posted by on December 11, 2013 in How to


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