What have you done today to lower your impact?

We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.

Blog Archive

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Video - Almost Level, West Virginia

Thanks to Joe Romm for the heads up on this remake of the John Denver classic.

Video - Sandar Postel: Are Americans Facing Reality About Water?

"Post Carbon Institute Fellow Sandra Postel discusses what the American population needs to know, sooner rather than later, about looming water scarcities. She urges proactive organization by citizens and government. "

Friday, 26 March 2010

Jamie Oliver's Food revolution, a message from TED

Dear Global TED Community,

I need your help with something. This won't take long... but it's a big deal.

Today, Friday, TED Prize winner Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution comes to America. His show premieres on ABC tonight. The show is *awesome*. If people watch it, it's going to change their lives.

Here's what I need you to do:

  1. If you're in America, please watch or record the show. I promise you won't regret it. Here are the program times. Here's the trailer.
  2. Whether or not you're in the US, please encourage your American friends to watch. Forward this email to at least five people. They will thank you for it.
As a reminder, America, along with much of the rest of the world, is suffering an obesity epidemic. Millions of people are literally in danger of eating themselves to death. Jamie Oliver's food revolution tackles this head on... by helping families rediscover the thrill of delicious, healthy, freshly-cooked food. He is a magnetic spokesman for one of today's most important issues.

Please help make a TED Prize wish come true.

Very best,

Chris Anderson, TED Curator

P.S. While you're at it, please add your name to Jamie's petition. We'd love to get to a million signatures within the next six weeks.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

David Holmgren on the Endurance of Suburbia

"The End of Suburbia is a must see documentary about peak oil, arguing that it spells a hard crash for the suburban dream. David Holmgren here offers a counterview, a vision of a radically retrofitted, food producing suburbia. David Holmgren is the co-originator of Permaculture. http://www.holmgren.com.au"

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Stinging Nettle, my favorite spring green

This time of year I walk through the local parks and check on my favorite nettle patches. We had a long cold winter this year and the little sprouts are only about 2 inches high, not high enough to escape being wee'ed on by dogs. Though they are tastiest when they are young, particularly picked and eaten raw, due to the dogs I'll have to wait for em to grow a few feet. I pick the top cluster, roll it in my fingers to disarm the sting, and pop it in my mouth, chew it well and always have some water, apple cider, or beer at hand in case a wayward stinging hair sticks in my throat. If you want to avoid the possibility of the sting, wear some gloves and pick the top 6 inches or so and bring em home and cook em like any greens, steam, boil, or saute. MMmm...mmm good!

And they are very good for you.
"People have been using nettles for food, medicine, fiber, and dyes since the Bronze Age. Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) has a flavor similar to spinach, and is rich in vitamins A, C, D, K, and many minerals including iron, potassium, manganese, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, silica, iodine, silicon, sodium, and sulfur. Nettles also provide chlorophyll and tannin, and they’re a good source of B complex vitamins. Stinging nettle also has high levels of easily absorbed amino acids. They’re ten percent protein—more than any other vegetable. " - Dawn Gifford

Read more from Ms. Gifford over at Farm to Table "Stinging Nettles are good for you"

Monday, 22 March 2010

Retrofitting with Justice: Clean Energy Works Portland

Thanks to Retrofitting with Justice over at OpenAlex for the heads up.

Growth? We need it but not the kind you think.

I love this idea for growth that is of true benefit, rather than the destructive kind fostered by dinosaur thinking.

"Later, when there is continual growth - of ideas, of community, of fun, of friendship, of compassion and of understanding - we will wonder how we ever bought into the myth of perpetual material growth on a planet of finite material resources."

I found it in a post by Corrina Gordon-Barnes over at Ooffoo called "When all flights are grounded"

Here is another excerpt;

"Dear Prime Minister,

When all flights are grounded, we will not understand. We will feel that the world as we know it is tumbling down. We will protest about the restriction of freedom and demand our right to travel where we choose. ... we will not know how to contain our anger. You must be ready for this.

When the great giant chain stores clear out, we will holler for their return. ... You must expect our fear.

When the cash machines spit out our cards, we will look at each other in panic. We have forgotten, you see, that shelter and food and warmth are our birthright. We have imagined that we must buy such things.

When pineapples and coffee disappear from the shelves and when animal protein becomes rare, know that there will be outrage. When the private car is no more, we will hurl abuse and accuse you of dragging us back to the dark ages.

Oh yes, we will fight and hold on, we will kick and scream. When the whole fabrication comes crashing down around us, we will ask: Why did you not see this coming? ... We have so few models, you see, for anything other than our current reality and our safety lies with the known. So at first, we won’t like it, not one bit. Of all this you can be guaranteed.

Later, as we are forced to adapt and as we notice ourselves becoming stronger, more interesting, more skilled human beings, we will sorrow at how much we wasted - not just of our precious natural world that can never be refurbished, but how much we wasted of ourselves. How we contorted ourselves out of all proportion to fit a system which made no sense when actually it was our authentic selves and our passion that were needed.

Later, when we study health not medicine, when our holidays are full of peace, quiet and exploration, when the grind is replaced by time with our loved ones, when we enjoy fresh air and no traffic jams, when eye contact with strangers feels comforting and when our elders our honoured, we will marvel at how we used to believe ourselves to be islands.

Later, when we equitably share our skills, our products and our time, when our material needs are met and when that deep feeling of safety and sufficiency is our core, we will shake our heads and smile as we remember how we once thought plastic could buy our happiness.

Later, when the hedgerows are buzzing with life, when we are reminded of what carrots are meant to taste like and when our farmers are revered, we will catch ourselves needing so much less than we ever believed was necessary."

nks to Dave Hampton for the heads up on this.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Farmers Speak: Bust Up Big Ag

"There are 2 million farmers and 300 million consumers in the US. Standing in between are a handful of companies who control how food gets from one side to the other.

In 2010, the USDA and Dept of Justice are holding a series of hearings on this issue -- the matter of corporate concentration in food and agriculture. The first hearing was March 12, in Ankeny, Iowa. The night before, about 250 independent family farmers and community activists gathered for a town hall meeting to share their own experiences with big ag.

For more; www.bustthetrust.org "

Living off the land. It is a pretty sweet life.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Leveling Appalachia

Could this be the crime of the century? Please watch the video over at Environment 360

"During the last two decades, mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia has destroyed or severely damaged more than a million acres of forest and buried nearly 2,000 miles of streams. Leveling Appalachia: The Legacy of Mountaintop Removal Mining, a video report produced by Yale Environment 360 in collaboration with MediaStorm, focuses on the environmental and social impacts of this practice and examines the long-term effects on the region’s forests and waterways.

At a time when the Obama administration is reviewing mining permit applications throughout West Virginia and three other states, this video offers a first-hand look at mountaintop removal and what is at stake for Appalachia’s environment and its people."

Saturday, 13 March 2010

The next AKG podcast audio contribution.

You can download the latest episode at The Alternative Kitchen Garden website, listen to it in the audio player here or just read the transcript of our bit below, but it would be a shame to miss the AKG content.

"In the last episode we mentioned the shade structure we are planning for the south side of the house in Hickory North Carolina. Due to the intensity of the sun at that latitude we will eventually extend it to the SE and SW sides of the house as well. This structure forms a boundary between the house and the gardens.

Today’s permaculture tip is from “The Woodland Way - A Permaculture Approach to Sustainable Woodland Management” by Ben Law published by Permanent Publications in 2005.

“Wherever species, soils, elements, or natural or artificial boundaries meet, edges appear. Edges are highly productive environments. ... If we look at the edge between woodland and grassland, we find that the edge contains both species from the woodland and the grassland, as well as the species unique to the edge itself!”

This edge idea helps us to introduce the Permaculture concept of Zones.

In the book “Permaculture: A Practical Guide for a Sustainable Future”, Bill Mollison discusses 6 distinct zones. These are largely based around how much time is needed in each. For instance, a chicken coop might be visited more than 400 times in a year to gather eggs and manure, deliver water, cull, and perform maintenance whereas an oak tree may be visited only once or twice to collect acorns. Therefore it makes more sense to place the chicken coop close to the house and leave the oak tree in the woods.

Here are the zones according to Mr. Mollison, moving from the woods to the house;

Zone 5 is for the wild; unmanaged, lightly foraged and generally left alone, used for study, a place to learn the rules of the locale. This will be quite small on our 1/3 acre.

Zone 4 will be even smaller, it borders on the wildest areas and typically contains pasture and larger ponds, which we will not have room for, and minimally managed trees and shrubs for foraging and fuel.

Zone 3 is more for commercial use; livestock (only chickens for us) and crops for sale, natural or minimally pruned trees, storage and animal barns, water storage, vegetative windbreaks and habitat.

Zone 2 is less intensively managed with small ponds and hedges, home orchards and kitchen crop beds.

In Zone 1 are areas needing more frequent interaction; kitchen herb gardens, chicken laying coops, seedling propagation areas, rainwater tanks, small quiet livestock, and household waste recycling areas. To quote Mr. Mollison “In this zone, we arrange nature to serve our needs.”

Zone 0 is the dwelling and it’s attached structures, including potted and trellised plants and associated animals.

As our most urgent need is to get zone 0 prepared for occupancy, we must first consider how our structure interacts with the surrounding environment. The shade structure forms the interface with the surrounding environment.

In our design we’ve referred to The following principles from a Toby Hemenway slideshow at the Natural Building Convergence in May of 2002, it is available at the “I love cob” podcast archive at ilovecob.com/. The author of “Gaia’s Garden; A guide to home scale permaculture” Mr. Hemenway discussed the concept of “The Unified Landscape”.

#1 How can inhabiting the site be a net gain for the environment?
#2 How can we tie buildings into the site aesthetically and functionally?
#3 How can a building heal its own damage to the site, as well as past damage?

These principles take into account the effects of construction including materials production; be it mining, logging or petrochemical manufacturing, transporting those materials, as well as detrimental effects of construction; such as soil compaction, erosion, and habitat degradation.

Subsequent to construction there are the effects of inhabiting a site; energy and resource use, waste issues, and the long term effects of the structure such as impermeable surfaces and daylighting changes.

Hopefully while minimizing these negative effects we can compensate by capitalizing on opportunities created by the site; such as onsite resource collection, use and recycling, as well as creation of microclimates and increasing edges, thus achieving greater biodiversity. And lastly, by taking over the site we hope to increase human stewardship compared to its current use.

Our shade structure, with integrated conservatory and solar panels, and the added terrace it is built upon will be instrumental in accomplishing many of these goals as it will drastically improve the passive solar performance of the existing house and will generate electricity for various activities around the site. The conservatory will not only heat the house in the winter but will provide a platform for seedling propagation and growing of tropical plants like bananas. The timber frame shade structure will provide vertical growing space, as well as the beginnings of an integrated rainwater management system. We’ll discuss rainwater harvesting in the next episode.

And that’s it for this episode. Thanks for listening and until next time visit us at sustliving.blogspot.com. We’ll leave you with a quote from Gary Paul Nabhan “ One permaculture application does not necessarily make a long-term solution; it generates new challenges in an ever-evolving setting. Our role is to participate in ecological succession, not to freeze the landscape.”

Friday, 12 March 2010

From The Hill -Poverty and tyranny central to immoral practice of mountain destruction, water and air poisoning

It still astounds me that this continues. I can't help but continue to remind us of this shameful behaviour. It is incumbent upon on us all to reduce our demand for electricity, without demand for the electricity we don't need the coal, at drastically reduced demand, renewables are far more feasible. The low hanging fruit is solar hot water, this can be DIY'ed very easily, see these two posts about a very simple system built from recycled materials.
Batch Heater #1
Batch Heater #2

Here is an article from Robert Kennedy Jr. about MTR over at the The Hill. Thanks to Climate Progress for the heads up.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

From Transition Culture - Why GM Has No Place in a World in Transition

There is clear scientific evidence that the current epidemic of diabetes and obesity is related to consumption of high fructose corn syrup, a genetically modified frankenfood, that suppresses leptin levels which control satiety. This is millions of people. This is evidence that demands further independent research but for me it is a smoking gun.

Please see Rob Hopkins post over at Transition Culture;

Why GM Has No Place in a World in Transition

Coffee Party anyone?

"For more information go to: www.CoffeePartyUSA.com

Coffee Party USA gives voice to Americans who want to see cooperation in government. We recognize that the federal government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges that we face as Americans. As voters and grassroots volunteers, we will support leaders who work toward positive solutions, and hold accountable those who obstruct them."

The power predictor

Are you considering installing solar PV or a wind generator at your home. Take a look at this, I am not in any way associated with selling this unit but I do find it interesting as previously one would need much more kit to achieve the same end.

Check it out at Better Generation

"Overview of the Power Predcictor anemometer. The Power Predictor measures wind speed, wind direction and solar energy at your site. The online software analysis your data for you producing an easy to understand Power Report which tells you payback times, energy bill savings, and CO2 savings acheivable for the main wind turbines and solar panels on the market."

The many problems with industrial agriculture

I recently received a request from an ex student of mine, now in college, needing a suggestion for a paper on sustainable agriculture. We ruled out genetic modification as others were covering that disaster, also water conservation was ruled out. What's left?
I quickly came up with many topics relating to the problems associated with Industrial Agriculture and only afterwards did I realize that I had neglected any suggestions relating to Sustainable Agriculture. I added those at the end. Looks like I need to focus on the positive a little more. Here is the text of the response to her request.

There are so many issues with industrial agriculture. Here's some off the top of my head;

If you want to deal with the nitrogen cycle and overfertilization you can look at it's contribution to climate change as nitrous oxide is 300X more potent as a greenhouse gas. Or you could look at the dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and other river mouth oceanic areas around the world largely attributed to excess nitrogen runoff, again from overfertilization. There is also the issue that the nitrogen in chemical fertilizers break down and dissipate into the water table, atmosphere, rivers, far faster than organic fertilizers such as manure and compost.

A related issue is factory farming of livestock and it's link to the development of superbugs and the decreased effectiveness of antibiotics, not to mention the issues of cruelty.

Of course there is the well trodden issue of food miles with it's related issues of chemical use to keep food from ripening, thus drastically reducing nutritive content and exposing the populace to the excess pesticides used. Clearly Food miles also has implications to climate change and peak oil as it so heavily reliant on fossil fuels.

Another heavily debated issue is the energy balance in corn ethanol and the the effect this industry is having on food prices as it furthers the damaging effects of the commodification of food (an issue in and of itself).

There are social justice issues having to do with the treatment of migrant labor, the destruction of the family farm, and of course the effects of climate change which impacts the poor disproportionately. A little known fact is that Industrial agriculture is one of the largest contributors to climate change on the planet when you factor in the deforestation involved with palm oil plantations and cattle ranches. Even without that it is one of the highest emitters in North America.

You could look at the estrogenic effects of the plastics used in food packaging, both on humans; girls reaching puberty much earlier, and on the feminization of various aquatic species. Other issues include;

Pesticides in the water table, specifically atrazine.
Corporate control of government regarding agriculture
(the subsidization of agribusiness via the farm bill)
Damage done to biodiversity via habitat loss and chemical usage.
The epidemic of obesity and diabetes since the widescale promotion of High Fructose corn syrup and it's leptin suppressing qualities.
The reduction in depth and quality of soils worldwide.
Farmer suicides worldwide, worst in India.

I can recommend you check out Rodale and the Organic Consumers Association for research and links to take you the other direction in investigation of positive alternatives, of which there are many.

Advantages of Organic Agriculture include;
carbon sequestration, superior nutrition, enhanced biodiversity, reduced food miles (if done that way), increased local resiliency (again if kept local), less reliance on fossil fuels, reduced reliance on medical infrastructure due to better nutrition and reduced farm related poisoning, protection of the water table, builds soil rather than destroys it, ....

You could also explore alternative agricultural technologies; foot powered water pumps, keyline design, permaculture, biogas production, composting, rainwater harvesting and storage, bio dynamics, biointensive, ....

Check out Appropedia and Agroinnovations sites.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Video - TED - Dan Barber's foie gras parable

"At the Taste3 conference, chef Dan Barber tells the story of a small farm in Spain that has found a humane way to produce foie gras. Raising his geese in a natural environment, farmer Eduardo Sousa embodies the kind of food production Barber believes in."

Video - Contraction and Convergence

Age of Stupid: Clips: Contract and Converge Animation W. Spanish Subtitles from Age of Stupid on Vimeo.

The Open Book of Social Innovation

If you are interested or involved in constructive change in your lifestyle and/or your community then you might want to check out this publication from the Young Foundation, you can download it for free.

The Open Book of Social Innovation

Thanks to OpenAlex for the heads up.

Rabbits, not just a garden menace, they are food.

We've been considering rabbits as livestock for some time, check out this post over at the Good.is blog. Thanks to Re-Nest for the heads up.
Also, keep a look out for Dolly Freed's Possum Living. She inspired me over twenty years ago to pursue simplicity in all forms, she and her dad kept and ate rabbits and she goes into detail about how they did it. It's good to see this practical suggestion here. I will likely give this a try when we get settled in America, though I'm not sure I'll be able to kill them, rabbits are also excellent lawnmowers and they fertilize as they go.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Video - Van Jones: 'Will All Americans Have A Fair Shot At America's Fair Share?'

Thanks to Climate Progress for the heads up;

"Speaking at a conference on the future of America's economic competitiveness, green jobs leader Van Jones called for a "robust policy discussion" on equity, inclusion, and fairness in the emerging green economy. In one of his first appearances since returning to the Center for American Progress, senior fellow Van Jones told attendees of the CAP-Apollo Alliance conference, "Picking a Winner: How to Make the U.S. a Leader in the Clean Energy Economy," that we now know that the clean energy economy is coming. There are "three key questions that need to be addressed" about the emerging clean energy economy, Jones said, that need to be addressed, but only two already have a "robust policy discussion."

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Monbiot, solar panels, and consumerism

This was posted in over on facebook on Dave Hampton's profile in reference to the post from George Monbiot regarding feed in tariffs on monbiot.com.

I've seen others get bogged down in a single leg of the bottom line triad when they should know better, Economy (which seems to be the quicksand they all get stuck in) is no more important than Environment and Equity. Indeed, pursuing it at the expense of the other two is a false economy. 41p per kWH might seem alot but when you add up the fact that solar panels pay back the energy to make them within 2 to 5 years, are then completely carbon neutral, don't require huge inputs of water (unlike any thermal energy production including CSP), don't require continuing extraction of resources to provide energy (usually at the expense of local people), and if taken in the context of other electronic investments (when was the last time you heard of a TV with a payback period?) are a particularly good investment. I generally agree with Mr. Monbiot but I have to differ with him here.

At which point there was a post referring to solar PV systems as a a green version of timeshare and that scam merchants across the UK are taking advantage of well meaning greenies and trhat these systems will never payback the expense of their purchase to which I replied;

A lot of scam merchants are going around the UK selling television entertainment systems for thousands of pounds, this cost will never be paid back in the lifetime of the owner, nevermind the life of the electronic consumerist propaganda machine. When was the last time you got a savings on any bill from using your television more? When was the last time you heard of a television that was guaranteed to provide the service you bought it for, for the next 25 years? Quality solar PV panels will do both and in most cases will continue to produce power beyond the warranty period.

However, I would partially agree with your statement, Michael, about solar systems that are grid tied. These systems reinforce business as usual in many cases as they are designed as add ons to poorly designed inefficient houses and lifestyles. Research has shown that conservation only improves 10% or less after installing such systems. That is not to say that it can't be better and that grid tied systems can't play a role in reducing demand if properly designed and accompanied by rigorous conservation behaviour.

We must drastically reduce demand! YESTERDAY! We need systems that help us to do that....

IMHO, If you are serious about the "green thing", your best bet is to go off grid with as many circuits in your house as possible, build the PV battery system yourself, and carefully design it to enforce deep conservation of electricity to the point of being able to rely on the off grid circuits as close to 100% as possible. This strategy precludes consumerism of entertainment oriented electronics, electrically heated devices (which may require a complete green renovation of your house which you should do anyway), stand up fridge freezers, hair dryers, electric cooking, and generally wasteful behaviour. Having done this myself in the past and being in the midst of planning a project to do it on a much larger scale, I can assert that I am not naive, and that the savings (which includes the savings from not buying all the electrical devices you can't power as well as the savings from going DIY) will indeed pay for the system both in terms of finances and regarding the other 2 E's mentioned above. Admittedly, it will require the right site and enough panels to do the job and won't work for everybody but even if you take 1 circuit off grid it will be worth it as it reinforces a powerful ethic of conservation. It also gets you started with a small system that can be scaled up as finances allow. If you do this you will soon see that putting your money into self reliance is always a good investment.

There are scam merchants everywhere and folks need to look seriously at the suitability of their site and budget before embarking on such a plan.

Here another post queried the quality of solar PV particularly in comparison with nuclear power.
Here is my response.

A good tool is as good as how well you use it. For me, an economy based on consumerism and endless growth is the problem. Any tool that helps us move away from that paradigm is worth using, tools that reinforce business as usual are not. A solar panel, or a wind generator for that matter, is a tool that gives a reliable amount of power and when coupled with a reliable storage system (based around 96% recyclable or better batteries) will do so for may years with near zero maintenance, power that is consumed within feet of where it is produced with minimal extraction of further resources (periodic battery replacement requires some due to the 4%). I don't know of another technology that is nearly so elegant. Intermittent, yes, requiring of mindful attention to our behaviour, yes. All it requires is that we use it properly, this means change. IMHO, It is the change that people are resisting.

My problems with nuclear are many; it requires massive inputs of carbon rich materials at the front end and the back end. It requires continuous use of minerals extracted from the earth in a very damaging way that requires massive quantities of energy rich water supply, and huge quantities of water are also required in the operation of the plant. Waste is clearly a continuing problem, as is security. Having said that if we are going to continue to strive for endless growth and consumerism it will require a massive base load supply, I favor nuclear over coal which has all the same problems but on a scale that is much worse (excepting perhaps security), I favor CSP (concentrated solar power) over both as it is based on the sun directly but has similar issues with water. I favor large scale deployment of wind farms over all of them.

I suspect that some combination of the two paradigms will be required; for me it is drastic reduction in demand through the deployment of off grid microgeneration to help people restrict their consumerism while at the same time replacing coal and nuclear with wind farms as we scale back grid supply, if this requires rolling black outs until we get our demand under control, so be it.

My personal philosophy is that if it doesn't further sustainability it is not worth doing.

"Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all." -- Peter Drucker

Friday, 5 March 2010


Methane, methane everywhere, warms the earth but do we care,
Methane, from the land and sea, but all from you and me.

Methane SCIENCE at:

Climate Progress and
World Changing

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

No huge surprise, synthetic nitrogen is bad for the soil

Recent research at the university of Illinois indicates that fertilizers derived from fossil fuel lead to the breakdown of organic matter and soil carbon thus blocking the soil's ability to sequester CO2, hold moisture, and support a healthy level of soil biodiversity. This leads to compaction, increased erosion, and increased need for irrigation. This of course leads to the erosion of the long term viability of the soil.

But this is nothing new, in 1947 in a seminal text for modern agriculture the British agronomist Sir Albert Howard warned that the application of synthetic fertilizers would do "untold harm" to the soil. As the Dutch used to say "Fertilizer is good for the father and bad for the sons."

Contrast this with the methods of organic agriculture which are built around preserving and enhancing the soil both for today and tomorrow. You can explore the latest research on organic methods over a Rodale Institute.

To read more about the UI research go to the article by Tom Philpott over at Grist.com

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Video - What We Know about Climate Change

"In the many responses I get to these videos, it appears that a number of people want to deny, or are not even aware, that there is a scientific foundation to the overwhelming consensus on climate change.

In fact, the science is built on thousands of publications and many decades of observation.

In this video we'll go over some of the fundamental discoveries, the
basic facts that we know beyond a doubt, about global warming.
Of course, many people will never believe science, because they believe that
anything that challenges their world view, is all part of a secret,
global conspiracy."