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.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Just when will enough be enough?

The day after Christmas is a good day to ponder the excesses of the season. As much as we enjoy the feasting, the exchange of gifts, and the close family time there is a sense of fragility to this years festivities, a doubt about the sustainability many of the practices of the holiday season. As the young ones open the countless plastic doodads, packaged in single use plastic and wrapped in specialty papers and the adults quaff imported beverages, as we all enjoy our new electronics made from rare earth metals mined by slave labor in war torn Africa, I think even the most consumerist amongst us wonders if this can or should be maintained. Just when is enough enough? Perhaps we can use the sneaking suspicions engendered by our consumerism of one holiday to shape the next holiday. I don't usually make new years resolutions but maybe this year is good year to come to grips with the shortcomings of the path we are on. It is increasingly clear that we are running up against the limits to growth in the finite world we live in. An economy based endless growth is not only a physical impossibility based on the laws of physics but is also clearly faltering in spite of all our efforts to create the fiction of plausibility. Enough is enough!
We can have a steady state economy. It is a better option now and for the future.
Read the report from the Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy.
Enough is Enough.

For today we can take comfort that at least we have the fundamental values to rely upon in the holiday season, generosity, filial love and support, and the spiritual teachings that underlie the
holiday season. None of these need rely on the fantasies of consumerism to be achieved.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas, celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace

Become a soldier for peace,
end to the imperial war machine.
For Jesus said "What you do to the least
of my people, that you do unto me."

If the billions spent on war
were to be repurposed for peace
we'd find the jobs long hoped for
suppressing our inner beast.

Rather than dominion and oil
let's build a new vision
of social justice and toil
for a clean sustainable position

in a world that doesn't fear us
that lives in the peace of the son
not ducking petro bullets,
powered by water and sun.

So Merry Christmas to you all
I wish for you the peace
Promised by Jesus to us all
if we can only work for the least.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Christmas Tree debate and the genesis of a new tradition?

After I posted the christmas tree post I had a most interesting exchange over on FB with my friend Jerry. It is interesting enough that I thought I should post it. Jerry agreed.

It certainly occurs to me to wonder whether growing spruce etc just to be cut down after a few years so that everyone can have their own family Christmas tree isn't actually a bit fucking stupid now there are so very many of us separate li...ving units and now we actually need uncountable numbers of trees - any trees - to be planted and left to grow and photosynthesise so as to get all that carbon out of the air again. I doubt I'll be persuaded to ever buy one again. We ought to be being carbon-rationed by our governments by now! And if it means less luxuries in our homes, we just need to devise and engage in lots more community celebrations and feasts to reward ourselves with conviviality and fun. Economies of scale I- bet a big collective blowout can be designed to use less resources per head for the same enjoyment pay-off per head. If fifty families are out dancing and singing and laughing together in a hall near where they live, LEAVING LIGHTS AND HEATING AND APPLIANCES OFF AT HOME UNTIL THEY GET BACK, there's a a significant carbon saving straight off.
Apart from the destitute and the truly impoverished, most of us in the industrialised countries have a level of material affluence - and profligacy - that would have been inconceivable to kings and emperors in the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries. It's about time we woke up. And use those fucking clever brains you've all got, people, to figure out what we need to drop and what we need to adopt so that we can find a way to live that works properly. Sorry for the language, but I'm terrified we'll go past the point of no return without a clue of what we're doing wrong, and that IF WE REALLY UNDERSTOOD we wouldn't dream of doing.

 I tend to agree, particularly about the needless and wasteful affluence. I think the real impact of the season is the excess and pointless consumerism. This is one of the reasons I wanted to make a tree this year out of trimmings rather tha...n use a real tree, just one less thing to buy. Also the tree I trimmed to make it needed trimming. I'm thinking of cutting it down as it is in the wrong place on the property, if the trimming does it I can avoid the big chop.

Every year we yanks debate, real tree vs. plastic. Most seem to think that real trees are better now but I've always been leery of the monocrop nature of big tree farms with the attendant chemical usage. There are places that maintain a healthier forest where you can tramp through the snow and cut it down yourself, kind of a family tradition. I favour the live tree in a pot that you then plant out, though not as much as this years effort, that's my best so far. Though, I've recently heard from my ex in Seattle that one we planted almost 20 years ago is thriving and taller than the house. Somehow I find the idea of a real living tree being the center of a ritualized family gathering somewhat comforting in a pagan sort of way.

yeah... problem is the real dying ones that are what most people have. I just reckon perhaps the time has come where the idea of a tree in each home is ridiculously profligate, after all it's not as if most people use it as a tool to consci...ousness raising or anything, it's just a young tree that's been felled prematurely to die in a corner of your room so that "it makes you feel more christmassy" and "the kids would hate it if we didn't have one". Looked at that way, is it remotely justifiable as we enter deeper into a time of climate emergency?
 probably not, but what about the idea of live trees carefully planted afterwards? Of course making that widespread is probably as likely as getting a suburbanite to give up their SUV.
There are so many cultural paradigm shifts that have to h...appen in order to accomplish any kind of meaningful reduction of emissions, I personally will continue to try to make it happen but am not holding out much hope, or staking my daily happiness on the chance that it will.
But having somewhere to carefully plant out the live tree can be a real challenge, especially somewhere suitable for a stressed tree (stressed after weeks in a heated home) - I don't think there are for example many suitable locations for f...orest conifer species in urban environments.
The whole Christmas Tree thing just looks like a comfort attachment to me - people are almost AFRAID that they're asking for some sort of nameless trouble to visit them if they don't do Christmas "properly". Think about it, look at the strength of the associative feelings people have about Christmas... I reckon the fear is that if we don't hold fast to these emotional anchors (trees, presents, decorations, cards, lights, food in excess, familiar old favourite movies) at this time of year we'll be swamped with emotional feelings too powerful to handle, all connected with LOSS: loss of certainty, loss of childhood innocence, loss of belief in the power of simple Goodness, loss of our hopes and dreams (our idealism and optimism). So we're as superstitious in the winter dark as our ancestors (superstition uses ritual to hold fears at bay, as does compulsive obsessive behaviour pathology), but we don't any more (if we ever really did?) have particularly wise or appropriate rituals which effectively lead us into a raised (and shared) consciousness - yet we deeply long for it. This is only thought through on the hoof Robb, it's all come up in response to your comments. I don't know how much truth I've hit on, but I feel sure there's mileage in this idea that there's something we're afraid to face THAT WE COVER UP WITH UNEXAMINED CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS, at least unexamined for whether they might have something unresolved hidden away inside them as it were.
 I can't disagree with any of that Jerry but perhaps we could see it as an opportunity to teach a yearly tree planting tradition.
‎"see it as an opportunity to teach a yearly tree planting tradition" - that is a brilliant idea! I went to bed after my last post above, had been up late because I couldn't go straight to bed after going to see "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" followed by the rest of the evening belting out Sheffield carols in The Sportsman up at Lodge Moor.
 Maybe someone should hook up with a nursery to offer planting outings after Xmas. I suppose one would also have to have prearranged a site for planting. It would be cool if it could work. 
It's very possibly too late to rustle it up in a useful way this year, but with time to make some good arrangements and prepare some good publicity and written (print or online) resources it could be as big next year as one decided to try a...nd make it. Should work with the right planning and a good team. And could be a really good awareness-raising tool PLUS real-world benefit of trees into the ground and carbon into the trees. Got to think about after-care for planted trees though, watering in hot spells in first year, mulching etc. 
Yeah, I think this year might be rushing it. Better to have it all in hand when you kick it off. Might be a good initiative for Grow Sheffield, are you still working with them? Transition Sheffield might be into it as well.

Monday, 20 December 2010

The Sustainable Living Project Christmas tree

Most years I don't much get into the whole Christmas thing but I think I've caught the bug this year.

I had an unexplained need to listen to Christmas music a week or so ago. My theory is that since I don't listen to the radio, we don't have a TV and we don't go to malls I haven't been bombarded with the sonic landscape of Christmas which left me open to choosing when and where to enjoy it.

We've found a local church, Unitarian Universalist, and we thoroughly enjoyed the candle light service and Christmas party.

I've even set up a Christmas tree, of sorts, as you can see in the picture. It's that strange shrub shaped green bit with the odd  ornament or two just visible. But in the spirit of sustainability we managed to construct our tree from materials sourced onsite. I needed to trim the leyland cyprus nearest the house on the southeast corner in order to let more sun into the porch and house as well as to reduce shading on the garden. So I dragged out my ladders and loppers and went at it. From a well rounded full christmas tree shape it has gone to a rather needle shaped style for the winter. I chose some of the larger trimmings and arranged them into a shape that would fit into the corner of the sitting room. I shoved the butt end of the stems into a recycled pickle jar, added water and propped it up with some urbanite, strung a few lights left over from my parents things, an ornament or three and voila! A homemade Christmas.....shrub was born.

By the way, in true permaculture style of stacking functions, all the rest of the trimmings are going to pathways. Leyland cyprus needles are allelopathic and do quite a good job of suppressing grass. So with one job, I got more solar energy into the house and garden, a festive bit of Christmas deco, and some pathway mulch.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

A third world country on steroids

Bernie Sanders said we risk becoming a banana republic. So just what is a Banana Republic?
This is a term that developed along with the exploitation of small central american countries by large multinational fruit companies and came to mean the countries that were willing to sellout their own long term health and sustainability for the many in favor of short term minimal profit for the few. It is the kind of country with a regime in place that consistently subjugates and oppresses the poor while systematically strip mining the common resources, the real wealth of the nation, and selling it to the highest bidder while seeing to it that the profits go not to the citizens of the country but to the corporations that do the exploiting, with a few local cronies thrown included to see to it the wheels of plunder stay greased.

So what are  the qualities found in such a society? Do we find them here in the good ole US of A?

1. Massive income inequity, the US has some of the worst in the world and it's getting worse.
2. Limits to free speech, the recent attacks on and prosecution of whistleblowers and free speech websites like WIKILeaks points out our unwillingness to allow free speech to undermine the activities of the ruling elite.
3. An erosion of independent Journalism and an acceptance of propaganda, all the major media outlets are now owned by for profit multinational corporations. What they call news is at it's most benign heavily censored, and at it's worse out and out corporate propaganda. Few citizens seem to realize that they have to search for journalism that is even close to objective. It is underfunded and marginalized by the corporations that own the space.
4. Substandard educational system, we have long since stopped producing the brightest and the best. Our schools are overcrowded, terribly underfunded, under constant attack from religious fundamentalists to censor content, and now under pressure to serve the needs of corporations rather than to produce well rounded citizens capable of critical thought and fully in command of the basics of the scientific method, a understanding of history, and the variety of philosophical tradition. Few of our citizens don't even understand the value of civil, polite, and intelligent debate much less the methods for engaging in such.
5. Lack of access of to health care, we may have the ability to deliver decent world class healthcare but we are certainly not allowing it to be delivered to our citizens in any sort of rational or efficient manner. We are allowing multinational corporations to profit mightily and immorally off the misery of our citizens and much of the very illness they profit from they have caused via the promotion of unhealthy lifestyle choices through corporate owned media.
6. Multinational control of government,  with the enshrinement of corporate personhood and recent untrammelled permission to  buy elections we have surrendered our democracy to the top few percent of income earners becoming a plutocracy and are dangerously close to fascism.
7. Multinational control of resources, for years we have been exploiting the resources of the rest of the world by propping up dictators, toppling democracies, and undermining human rights in the name of corporate profits. Now we are doing the same within our own borders.

We are indeed like a third world country on steroids, eagerly consuming our future in favor of today's excessive convenience and comfort. Our democracy is dying on the altar of consumerism right along with biosphere that supports it. It is simply unsustainable.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

What's next for our beleaguered climate?

Now that Cancun has followed on the heels of Copenhagen as possibly the most futile if not downright destructive gathering of governments the world has ever seen, I'm left to ponder the state of the climate and wonder just why we in North America are actually going backwards. Canada is ramping up development of the Tar Sands and actively working to prevent research into and public knowledge about the warming Arctic. Here in the US we've elected many folks who in most other countries would be considered insane, denying that we even have a problem. All around me the populace continues to hold on to the fantasy that we can and should go back to some idealized America of the 1950's with all of it's attendant ism's, optimism and racism included.

Meanwhile the peer reviewed and hard headed science moves on. The IPCC process while rigorous and useful on some level is 4 years out of date at the time publishing it's report, which makes it almost 8 years out of date now, and unfortunately this is what most governments are relying on in considering our future response to the very grave threats we face.

What most folks don't seem to understand is that the much touted 2ºC limit is not some "acceptable" level of warming, it means significant changes on our planet and to human civilization. It is, as David Wasdell says, a border between dangerous and extremely dangerous. And worse, there is no chance that we can hold ourselves to even that limit. The Royal Society of Britain has published peer reviewed papers recently, containing data from much more recent science (though still a year old due to the process of peer review to insure accuracy), that indicates that with the current sets of promises, even if we live up them, we are headed for a 4ºC rise at the very least! This signals catastrophic change in our environment.

How have we let the situation get to such an extreme? To draw once again from David Wasdell, think of it this way. If our population was addicted to heroin and it was running our civilization and the planet into the ground we would not let those most involved in profitting from that addiction set policy. That is the situation we are in, the energy companies, the transportation industry, the industrial agriculture companies, and the media industry that popularizes their products are in control and are doing everything in their power to stop change that is absolutely vital to our future on this earth. We have have handed them this power up to a point with our consumerist ways but they don't need our input anymore, they choose who gets elected, and then dictate policy as they have just done in Cancun.

Welcome to Planet Eaarth

You can hear an insightful and educational interview with Joe Romm of Climate Progress and Mr. Wasdell over on Radio Ecoshock and here in our Sustainable Living Audio player for a while as well. All the links following are taken from the Radio Ecoshock blog site.

You can hear Wasdell's lecture "Beyond the Tipping Point" here.

"Check out the Downloads and video, for talks at the "4 Degrees & Beyond" International Climate Conference 28-30 September 2009, Oxford UK."

"Pay special attention to this talk by Richard Betts, which includes (at 16 minute mark) the very points David Wasdell raises - that serious positive feedback loops are still left out of climate models (which leads to underestimates of the real possibilities). "


Joe Romm's introduction to these papers (and why they matter)."

"The Royal Society web page for the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society "4 Degrees and Beyond" theme issue:

Some of the papers are now subscription only, having been offered to the public for a few days. Given the seriousness of crashing the Earth's climate system, and in the spirit of Wikileaks, I've posted all the papers here, as pdf files.

Editorial by David Garner




Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows
Beyond ‘dangerous’ climate change: emission scenarios for a new world

Niel H. A. Bowerman, David J. Frame, Chris Huntingford, Jason A. Lowe, and Myles R. Allen
Cumulative carbon emissions, emissions floors and short-term rates of warming: implications for policy

Richard A. Betts, Matthew Collins, Deborah L. Hemming, Chris D. Jones, Jason A. Lowe, and Michael G. Sanderson
When could global warming reach 4°C?

M. G. Sanderson, D. L. Hemming, and R. A. Betts
Regional temperature and precipitation changes under high-end (≥4°C) global warming

Fai Fung, Ana Lopez, and Mark New
Water availability in +2°C and +4°C worlds

Philip K. Thornton, Peter G. Jones, Polly J. Ericksen, and Andrew J. Challinor
Agriculture and food systems in sub-Saharan Africa in a 4°C+ world

Przemyslaw Zelazowski, Yadvinder Malhi, Chris Huntingford, Stephen Sitch, and Joshua B. Fisher
Changes in the potential distribution of humid tropical forests on a warmer planet

Robert J. Nicholls, Natasha Marinova, Jason A. Lowe, Sally Brown, Pier Vellinga, Diogo de Gusmão, Jochen Hinkel, and Richard S. J. Tol
Sea-level rise and its possible impacts given a ‘beyond 4°C world’ in the twenty-first century

Mark Stafford Smith, Lisa Horrocks, Alex Harvey, and Clive Hamilton
Rethinking adaptation for a 4°C world

Francoix Gemenne
Climate-induced population displacements in a 4 degree C + world

Rachel Warren
The role of interactions in a world implementing adaptation and mitigation solutions to climate change.


David Wasdell Bio

David Wasdell video presentation, Tallberg Sweden 2008

David Wasdell videos

The Apollo-Gaia web site

Another important Wasdell paper, with the graphs and charts helpful for both his video at Talberg, and his Radio Ecoshock interview. "Runaway Climate Change, Boundary Conditions & Implications for Policy"." - Thanks to Alex Smith at Radio Ecoshock