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, 28 April 2010

Old things

I like old, well used, lovingly cared for things. This may sound weird but it is almost as if these things take on some sort of spirit of the time and use in which they were. This is reminiscent of Shinto, where inanimate natural objects possess a sacred spirit. Certainly these very human, decidedly unnatural objects would not likely fit into the category of sacred but most have some connection with natural materials; steel, stone, wool, and wood. I don't delude myself that I have somehow gotten in touch with some innate natural lifeforce, rather I think my own consciousness has imbued them with significance related to my own interpretation of their history.

Some of my most cherished memories are of rummaging through my grandfathers old cigar boxes of stuff; screws, nuts, washers, pencils and pens with names of long gone local businesses on, cigarette lighters, and my favorite, knives. The ones I've kept through the years are those well built and maintained, and personally passed down. I have a jackknife that has been sharpened so many times that the blade is thin and worn away, a completely different shape from when it was made. It was given to me by my grandfather. I have tools my father owned, a wonderful set of maple handled nut drivers that sits in it's own custom stand, a simple pair of pliers he kept in his marine toolbox, the tool boxes themselves. I have a brace and bit my great uncle Charles owned, an old timber saw that hung, never used, in our garage during my entire growing up years. My wife has the gardening shears that belonged to her favorite brother, who died young in a fall from a tree. I’ve recently been given a set of hair cutting tools, all steel, hand powered, and dating from my mother in law’s grandparents day. Her grandparents lived in the oldest cottage in Formby,  cob built, thatched roof, and dating to the 1600’s. Anything that she owns that is “from
the cottage” has taken on almost mythical status with me and I am very pleased to own tools from that era. I also have her father’s work knife from his days on the docks of Liverpool.

Almost all of my old things are useful, but some have special significance in that they tie me to a particular time in my life. When I worked in the leather industry during my teens I bought a washita sharpening stone. It came in a cedar box which it sits in to this day. That was over 30 years ago and I still carry that stone from country to country, wherever I may live. It connects me to my past in a way that pictures and documents cannot, like the knife my grandfather carried in his pocket, something used and treasured over the years that helped me do the kinds of work I value most.

Just this past week I lost one of my treasured old things. Nothing fancy, just an old woolen flat cap, the kind worn by northern English yeoman farmers and labourers. I've had that cap for as long as I can remember, I seem to always have had it. Before I moved to England I lived in Bermuda and taught in a school populated by many Brits. One rare chilly day I wore my flat cap to school. Nothing strange about that except I also wore shorts, sandals and socks! I got no end of shtick for that. In fact, I've been reminded of that day many times. It seems to have stuck in folks minds for some reason.

The strange thing is that since I've lived in northern England that cap has taken on something of a totemic quality with me. A genuine piece of local, practical fashion, worn with pride. This past week it somehow ended up in a hot wash. Of course my fine woolen flat cap shrunk to unusable proportions. If find it odd that this happened just a few weeks before I will be leaving northern England, almost as if to break the connection I have with the northern countryside, the enjoyment of the northern accent my nephews are developing, and my life here in the north.

I gave my shrunken flat cap to a dear friend with a small head. She lives in Ackworth, West Yorkshire, a place where I truly came to appreciate the diversity of northern dialects. I am pleased it has found a home in the North.

Though it may no seem so from my waxing lyrical, there is a limit to my attachment to these old things. As with the flat cap, if at some point they become clearly useless, other than as a reminder of my past they eventually get cast aside due to my transient lifestyle. It simply becomes pointless to continue to drag them around. This happened recently with a shirt, a very ornate tapestry of a shirt, given to me by my best friend when I was 16 or so. He was about to go to a correctional training facility for the merchant marine as part of a deal to keep him out of jail. He and I, and another lad I didn't know all that well, were in his room very late one night as he prepared his things to go. He held up this shirt, one I had always associated with him, and said "who wants it?" I was the first to pipe up and I ended up with the shirt. For many years it fit me well and I fancy even looked good on me but then the 70's became the 80's and it was so far out of fashion I no longer wore it. By the end of the 80's everyone but myself who was in that room that night was dead. The shirt took on a sacred status as the only thing I owned that my friend had worn. I kept it. In the 90's I discovered it no longer fit very well, still I kept it.   Not long ago as I sorted clothing for yet another move I finally let it go. It was strangely difficult but I decided that this level of attachment was impractical.

Now as we prepare to settle into an existence based in our own home, a first for me, and centered around the skills of self reliance and it's attendant tools, I am learning to re-evaluate my "things". I am looking at them afresh. Will they further my aims of self reliance either by being irreplaceable, which very few things are these days, or by being just so useful and well made that it doesn't make sense to let them go. Practicality is the order of the day, with just a hint of sentimentality. Somehow I still ended up with 9 boxes to ship to America.

Friday, 23 April 2010

An international court for the environment - Stephen Hocking QC

It's not just Evo Morales talking about an international court for the environment. You can hear an interview with Environmental lawyer and judge Stephen Hocking at the One Planet podcast. Check out this article from 2008 in the Guardian. Here is an excerpt;

"As far as the business community is concerned, an international court for the environment would offer a centralised system accessible to a range of actors, an enhanced body of law regarding environmental issues, and consistency in judicial resolution of environmental disputes. Such a court would also bring an increased focus on preventative measures, a set of global standards of care, and the facilitation and enforcement of environmental treaties. In addition, it could persuade the world business community to develop risk-management systems and improve present practices, thereby reducing the likelihood of environmental catastrophe.
Only an impartial adjudicating body is capable of providing the catalyst for a global consensus as to the fairest way to distribute the burdens that accompany solutions to the climate change problem. Whatever difficulties may lie in the path of such solutions, the benefits will be greater."

Video - Sustainability in four simple rules

"Finally someone has figured out how to explain The Natural Step in two minutes!! We're so excited to share with you this fantastic animation video on core concepts of The Natural Step Framework. It was written by our brilliant friends at RealEyes in Dublin, who help organizations benefit from sustainability. And it was developed by our new friend Trevor Courtney at Igloo Animations. Trevors animation work is fantastic. Check it out here. We hope you will enjoy this video and share it widely."

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Happy Earth Day!

May you all have a Happy Earth Day!
I celebrated by planting out a black currant shrub I raised from a hardwood cutting, split and repotted a peppermint plant I use to make tea with, I took a walk in the lovely northern English sunshine down through the botanical gardens, where the magnolias are in bloom in all their fragrant glory, on down to the Sheffield General Cemetery park where I grazed on some fresh young nettle tops, my fingers are numb now but I managed to keep from stinging my mouth this time.

While I walked, I caught up on the Democracy Now! newscast, my primary source for general news these days as BBC isn't covering the World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth taking place in Cochabamba Bolivia. I haven't followed the corporate propaganda that passes for news in the states for some time but I assume they are also not reporting on this peoples conference on climate change. Please let me know if I'm mistaken.

Evo Morales, the indigenous leader of Bolivia, one of the only countries in the world that has asserted it's rights to it's own resources by kicking out the pirates of golbalization, is calling for an International Tribunal for Climate Justice,  essentially an environmental court. I support this idea but being a realist I don't expect to see the US, one of only 2 developed countries (the other being Canada) that has refused to support the rights of indigenous peoples to self determination, ever to recognize it. The US doesn't even recognize the world court in Brussels. Someday I do hope to see my home country become a good global citizen.

Anyway, enough of the rant, today is a joyous day of celebration. Homage to the power of the earth, our mother. Get out and enjoy!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The AKG Sustainable Living Project podcast episode #4 transcript- Rain Water Harvesting

Here is the transcript for our latest episode for The Alternative Kitchen Garden podcast;

"Hello this is Jacqui and Robb from the sustainable living project. First we’d like to thank Emma for allowing us to contribute to her wonderful podcast and for sending us her book as winners in her birthday plant competition. We are thoroughly enjoying the book, “The Alternative Kitchen Garden- an A to Z”, and highly recommend it to all our readers and listeners. And now on to our contribution for this month.

In our last post we mentioned our plan to create a rainwater harvesting and management system on our site. Why would we do this? The public water system is a surprisingly inexpensive way to get your water when the supply is plentiful and local. One of my instructors on my masters course was adamant that investing money into rainwater harvesting was pointless from an economic perspective as it would never pay itself back, and perhaps in the mountains of west central Wales she is right, I’ve never seen a rainier place.  But this fails to address several issues with public water systems; they use large amounts of fossil fuel generated electricity to pump, purify and process water. They leak vast quantities of this energy rich water. The water they deliver has had a chemical cocktail of treatments added to it to make it “safe” for human consumption, more on that in a moment. In the US, the drinking water in many locations contains rocket fuel from the defense industry, pesticides from industrial agriculture, e coli from concentrated livestock feeding operations, heavy metals from sloppy mining practice, and in may cases is too acid to be safe for long term exposure. And of course there are the obvious inefficiencies of mixing sewage with treated drinking water and then having to clean the whole mess up again. In addition, depletion of ancient aquifers is a looming problem, threatening our future food and energy supplies.

As to chlorine, it is a chemical designed to be antithetical to life. It is used in water for one thing, whether in swimming pools or drinking water, to kill micro-organisms. Perhaps it is the best choice for large municipal water systems but there are many indications that consuming chlorine and its by products, notably trihalomethane, is not good for your immune system.  The basis of healthy soil and thus healthy plants is a thriving, diverse ecosystem of micro-organisms. Thus, chlorine is designed to eradicate the very foundations of healthy soil. Rainwater is better for your plants as it is naturally soft and contains no chlorine. Rainwater can be purified for human consumption without chlorine.

So we have decided to harvest rainwater. Rainfall in Hickory averages around 4 inches per month. However, prior to the current El Nino cycle there were extended drought conditions. Water levels in the reservoirs in the SE fell to historically low levels causing jurisdiction and ownership disputes, threatened hydropower production, and brought on water usage restrictions.

Our property collection area, including the structures, is approximately 14,520 square feet. Assuming normal rainfall patterns return, we can expect 250 to 400 thousand gallons falling on our property per year. A typical household in Hickory NC uses 68,400 gallons per year, not including lawn watering. I’ve seen estimates that 10,000 feet of lawn will require an additional 312,000 gallons per year.

The large amounts of food and biomass we plan to grow would normally be expected to need more than the average lawn for irrigation but we believe that by using sensible permaculture techniques to increase the moisture retaining properties of the soil we can use less. Our demand should easily fall within the supply.

The key is to keep the rainwater from running off the property too quickly. Storage is to be accomplished in three ways: tanks to store clean water for household and garden use fed by rooftop collection, small ponds and reed beds to treat grey water and collect the overflow from the roof, and in ground storage via swales and raised beds with deep, rich soil. A swale is a ditch dug on a contour designed to interrupt run-off and allow water to slowly sink into the soil.

Instead of a single permaculture tip today we’ve got 8 principles of rainwater harvesting from an interview on Sustainable World radio with Brad Lancaster author “Rainwater Harvesting for Dry Climates”. You can find this interview at sustainableworldradio.com in the podcast archive. You’ll probably recognize the permaculture influence in these principles, the book is recommended by many permaculture practitioners.

1. Long thoughtful observation of how water behaves on site.

2. Start at the top of watershed. Our property has a slope to it, so we will need to address water flow from the top of the roof to the bottom of the property.

3. Start small and simple. As the house currently has an asphalt tile roof, we will start by installing water butts on our carport which has a tin roof.

4. Slow it, spread it, sink it. We will be installing swales and terraces on the property to reduce run-off, and to increase absorption and storage.

5. Always plan for overflow as a resource.

6. Maximise living and organic groundcover, no bare earth, no standing water (mosquitoes need 3 days of standing water to breed)

7. Maximise efficiency by stacking functions, for instance: use tanks as thermal mass and use berms on the down side of sales as high and dry paths; also, raise lots of moisture rich plants to cool the property in the summer.

8. Long thoughtful observation. Get the feedback; what works and what doesn’t.

And that’s it for this episode. Thanks for listening and remember you can visit us at sustliving.blogspot.com. We’ll leave you with another take on water, slightly edited for brevity, from Sandra Postel, Post Carbon Institute Fellow,

'I think with water there is certainly not a facing of reality yet. It is a major issue that we have to deal with. There is so much we could do with the water that we have to meet our needs in a more efficient and productive way. It is very easy to see how we could save 25% of our water use in most situations if we put our mind to it and planned for that. Each of us has a water footprint, water is in everything we use everyday, embedded water. To the extent we use less paper or buy fewer clothes, and recycle those things when we are through with them, to the extent we move our diets down the food chain, consume less red meat, we shrink our water footprint. Which means we are leaving more water for other people and other species. But only if we get real about the issue and proactive about the solutions.' ”

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

A Corporate person commits homicide, what punishment for that person?

This idea of holding corporations accountable for their actions, see the Jim Hightower commentary below, just as we would any other person is appealing. After all the Supreme Court has decided these corporate persons have the same rights of free speech as you or I. We have the death penalty in America. How does one put a corporation to death for mass murder?

Here is some of  Jim Hightower's commentary on the idea.

" A mass murder has taken place in another American workplace, taking 29 lives. The authorities know who did it, so shouldn't that person be made to pay for this heinous crime?

Yes! But the killer is one of America's largest coal corporations, Massey Energy Company, and you can't give the death penalty to a corporation. Can you? Well, the Supreme Court has ruled that a corporation is a "person" – so why not?

Massey – headed by its right-wing multimillionaire CEO, Don Blankenship – has spent millions of dollars on lobbyists and lawmakers to fend off any effective regulations to protect mine workers. By using its political clout to muzzle the federal watchdog, Massey has been able to flaunt the law. Last year, it had nearly 500 safety violations in just one of its mines, including life-threatening violations. It's punishment? Fines totaling a mere $168,000 – chump change to an outfit with $56 million in profits last year.

Blankenship blithely says, "We don't pay much attention to the violation count." On April 5, federal inspectors added two more violations to the tally of dangerous indifference at the corporation's Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. The honchos just shrugged. That afternoon, Upper Big Branch exploded, killing 29 miners.

Blankenship expressed his compassion by saying, "Violations are unfortunately a normal part of the mining process."

Normal? Nonsense! Other major mining nations provide effective regulatory protections to assure that such deaths are abnormal. By putting its profits over human life, America's coal industry is killing people, passing it off as a "cost of doing business." Shouldn't these profiteers pay more than a fine?

One watchdog group is calling for the immediate arrest of Blankenship for homicide. For information go to StopTheChamber.com."

Video - Securing Human Well Being in a Resource-Constrained World

"Mathis Wackernagel, Founder and Executive Director of the Global Footprint Network, challenged attendees of a November 24 lecture to consider the ecological consequences of current consumption and development patterns."

Sunday, 18 April 2010

As We Sow - Part 1

We all have to eat but does our hunger have to support this?
Buy your food from local, sustainable farmers and/or grow it yourself.

" As farmers leave the land in record numbers, agribusiness and the associated industrialization of agriculture continue to expand. The consequences—intended and unintended—of this rapid restructuring of our food system reach well beyond the boundaries of what we think of as "the family farm." The award-winning documentary short, AS WE SOW, documents the stories of survival and failure in the real heartland, a struggle pitting family against family, neighbor against neighbor, citizens against their government, and small, independent farmers against the giants of global agribusiness. At the center is the land itself: who will control it and how, and at what cost to people and communities, to our health and our environment, and, ultimately, to our democracy."

As We Sow - Part 2

As We Sow - Part 3

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Sarah Palin's Alaska

Something to Live Without? A Microwave

I've found myself using these infernal devices more and more recently and look forward to not owning one. We are planning on using a solar cooker, a rocket stove, a wood burner and every now and again our gas stove.

So- To Microwave or not to Microwave

Cons - Emits radiation of the type we are already excessively exposed too from cell phones and wifi, encourages fast cooking instead of slow cooking, require tons of embodied energy to build then ends up in a landfill, supplements other appliances which do the job just fine, encourages cooking in plastic packaging which produces toxins, encourages purchasing and consumption of Microwave packaged processed food and who wants to eat irradiated food?

Pros - use less energy to cook and reheat, saves time

Here is a link to another take on the topic over at Re-Nest

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Food Love: Growing Power (Part 1 of 3)

"outpostnaturalfoods April 16, 2008 — www.outpostnaturalfoods.coop
Join Outpost for a virtual tour of Milwaukee's only urban farm - Growing Power!
PART 1 of 3: Greenhouse Growing
music by Juniper Tar www.myspace.com/junipertar
filmed by Diana Sieger"

Food Love: Growing Power (Part 2 of 3)

"outpostnaturalfoods April 16, 2008 — www.outpostnaturalfoods.coop
Join Outpost for a virtual tour of Milwaukee's only urban farm - Growing Power.
PART 2 of 3: Vermicompost
music by Juniper Tar www.myspace.com/junipertar
filmed by Diana Sieger"

Food Love: Growing Power (Part 3 of 3)

"outpostnaturalfoods April 16, 2008 — www.outpostnaturalfoods.coop
Join Outpost on a virtual tour of Milwaukee's only urban farm - Growing Power
PART 3 of 3: Aquaculture/Secret to Success
music by Juniper Tar www.myspace.com/junipertar
filmed by Diana Sieger"

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Going Local - The Small Mart Revolution

" Peak Moment 44: Michael Shuman advocates "Going Local," showing how local businesses are beating global competition and helping to create self-reliant communities. One innovative idea: invest locally by moving a portion of pension funds into regional stock exchanges."

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Howard Zinn Quote

Thanks to Organic Consumers Association for this.

Quote of the Week

"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places (and there are so many) where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."

-Howard Zinn, patriot, historian, and author

Friday, 2 April 2010

Responsible Adults

I was listening to an interview with Annie Leonard this morning over on TreeHugger Radio. You might remember her as the "The Story of Stuff" lady, one of my all time favorite web videos. She is embarking on a series of follow on video's relating to issues raised in that first film, "The Story of Cap and Trade", and a recent one on the lunacy of bottled water, see below.

Anyway, Ms.Leonard said something I really liked. I think it goes to the heart of what I've been advocating for some time, that we should transition from being consumers to being citizens and that being good citizens. For me, being a good citizen requires that we reduce our personal consumerism. Ms. Leonards laments the trend to assuming that by just changing our patterns of consumerism we are doing the good work, greening up so to speak. And perhaps that is true but her point, that by buying a water filter to purify our tap water and thus avoiding use of bottled water, is that what we are doing is no more than what we do when we brush our teeth, take our vitamins, or buy organic food. We are merely being responsible adults, taking care of ourselves. This is not the end all and be all of being a good citizen. Yes, it is a small step forward but what about our community, our country, our planet? Being a good citizen is about lobbying for the change you want to see, whether it is about getting flouride and atrazine out of the drinking water in the first place (so you don't need to buy a filter), stopping a big box store from destroying your local economy, or working to start a Transition Initiative to get your community to become more resilient in the face of oil shocks, climate change and bankster fraud. Perhaps, for you it is about working to insure that school lunches are healthy and supportive of local economy, or reducing hate crime in your area, or increasing the walkability of your community. The point is, solutions that rely on consumerism alone, green or not, are not solutions.

I think being a responsible adult requires more than just taking care of our self. We need to accept that being a responsible adult requires us to be a good citizen.