More Techno-Fixes for a Hot Planet?

What’s Good for the Navy * Louis CK, Truth-Teller * In My Own Backyard

OK, I admit it. I squandered the first hour of my Monday writing day on Facebook, and I have my daughter’s post to blame for it. Seems that the US Navy has developed technology to convert seawater into energy. The headline: The U.S. Navy Just Announced the End of Big Oil and No One Noticed.  Because the ‘no one noticed’ resonated, I decided to check out the source of Justin “Filthy Liberal Scum” Rosario’s article. But first, I read the comments. Whoa! If we could only tap the energy of all that misplaced rage.

You won’t be surprised that the Navy’s April 4 press release is anything but emotional, but it made my heart beat a little faster just the same. Here’s the lead:

WASHINGTON (NNS) — Navy researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Materials Science and Technology Division, demonstrated proof-of-concept of novel NRL technologies developed for the recovery of carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen (H2) from seawater and conversion to a liquid hydrocarbon fuel.

Wow, party on!

Louis CKSo let me put this in the context Louis CK’s recent Oh My God monologue (we’re huge fans of his in my humble abode).  Of course, the Navy’s NRL technology is an energy hog, but maybe no more so than tar sands technology or fracking, when you add back all the externalities like health impacts and clean up costs after accidents, to name just two. Of course, there’s a Plan B for Planet Earth, but maybe we would be better off not counting on business-as-usual. (Not everyone is, incidentally, see IKEA’s big investment in wind energy, snide comments aside.)

This past week, I screened the urban farming documentary, Growing Cities, at my UU congregation and at the successful urban intervention, C’est La Via: Rethinking the Alleyways, as part of my work to get traction for Transition Palm Beaches. (If you’re interested in having me bring it to your organization or school, give me a shout at yogimarika at gmail dot com.) The comment I always make by way of introduction isn’t original with me, but I keep repeating it because it just makes sense: even if climate change wasn’t already disrupting life as we’ve known it, switching to a slower, lower-carbon, localized, community-centered life will make us happier and healthier, and contribute to environmental justice for all. By the same token, even if a techno-fix is just around the corner and we could continue to live our high-powered, fast-paced, mindless, wasteful lives, transitioning offers an alternative that more and more people, by choice or circumstances, hunger for (see Blessed Unrest). That’s the Plan B I am putting my faith in.

Food-forest-garden-1500 × 1125In my own backyard, plans advanced this week for our composting experiment and planting of a mini food forest. Edible landscaping! Bring it!

Here’s what my minister, CJ McGregor, just posted on Facebook:

Imagine growing our own avocados, mangoes, guava, papaya and other tropical fruit…..right here in our congregation’s back yard. Imagine abundance and offering fresh and organic fruit to migrant workers and their families. Imagine children who are hungry when school is not in session being offered a place to help grow and enjoy the literal fruits of their labor. Imagine inspiring the next generation to understand and respond to the real and devastating effects of climate change such as food shortages. Imagine the connections. Imagine vacant spaces on our campus becoming a grove of plenty. Imagine healing a bit of our community.

IMAGINE.

What the Frack?

Climate Fixes and Plan B’s: The IPCC’s Guide

Cinderella Technologies

The Energy Collective

If You Build It…

First, it was avocados we’d have to learn to live without.  Now, it could be coffee.  I like both…a lot, but I have an inkling that when coffee starts getting as expensive as Dom Perignon, it just might spark a million person save-the-biosphere march in Washington.   Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

coffeeI’ve been around long enough to remember a few marches, and even marched myself.  Sometimes, it had the desired effect, e.g. the anti-Vietnam War that effectively ended it.  Civil Rights, although it didn’t wipe out racism.   The equality for women movement, although we still earn significantly less than men.  As a participant in the 2013 Walk for Our Grandchildren, I feel solidarity with student protests against the KXL pipeline, even though marching is nowhere near enough.  In fact, perhaps it draws time and energy from more practical things you can do to reduce your personal carbon budget.

For our local Bike to Work Day last week, a friend of mine rode her bike 10 miles to and from her office, over an hour each way.  She was sore and elated.  Who wouldnt be?  But like a march, this is a one-off, a gesture, more demanding than recycling our plastic waste but, in the long run, less effective than, e.g. giving up driving entirely; stop flying; shopping only at thrift stores; growing your food; creating a sharing network, time bank, or Transition Initiative.

As if the news (well, it was hardly that!) wasn’t dire enough, I am concerned that it might spawn an outbreak of fatalism.  One of the most chilling quotes came from Mark Bittman’s Op-Ed April 1: “I guess I can stop worrying about my grandchildren,” as in, it’s now time to worry about ourselves.

In response to the latest IPCC report, Rob Hopkins did an amazing roundup of Transition activities around the world, what seems to be working, what isn’t quite there yet, and what could be more effective.  I urge you to click on the link and read it in its entirety, especially if your spirits, like mine, are in the basement.  For one thing, there are now over 1,000 Transition Initiatives, and 75% of them consider themselves successful.  An independent study noted that:

“… these initiatives have been shown to be effective in bringing about behavioural change and in helping to establish new norms in society.  The wider application of these approaches must, therefore, be seen as an essential element of any broader strategy on climate change.”

And this is being accomplished with “a markedly non-adversarial approach.”  It’s Gandhi-like, modeling what is possible and letting people see that it works, and how it works.

“The most radical thing sometimes that you can do is actually vote with your feet and vote with your dollars,” says Andy Lipkis, founder and president of Los Angeles-based TreePeople, quoted in an interview with Hopkins.  “We’re hacking the system and making it so much better.”  This would be worth doing even if climate change wasn’t on our doorstep.  If you build it …

 

 

 

Dog Days for Deniers

It has been a rough week for professional climate change deniers, and it couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch of people!  By professional, I mean those business interests whose deep pockets fund the status quo in all its forms, at the expense of the rest of us.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science—the world’s largest general science society—released a public information campaign called What We Know, to “present key messages for every American about climate change.”  Then, The New York Times, which is increasing its coverage of the issue, weighed in, stark visuals of disappearing deltas and threatened islands included: Borrowed Time on Disappearing Land,  Rising Seas and Worst is Yet to Come. If you donate to the Environmental Defense Fund or other environmental group, you’ve seen plenty of photos of endangered species.  But how do you respond when it is our own kind in the cross-hairs?  Example (albeit extreme): a Bangladeshi mother who loses her land and livelihood to rising seas, sells her son into indentured servitude.

“Climate change will soon be everyone’s problem,” is one comment to the Times reports.  “It already is,” says a friend and Transition colleague who heads up an ecological arts nonprofit organization.  She spends her time, much as I do, focused on ways to inspire and motivate community resilience in our vulnerable and deeply-in-denial adopted state of Florida.  We are both grandmothers, informally members of the local chapter of Grandmothers Against BS.

Yet who, on a tennis-perfect day in Miami, watching Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal for the championship, can be blamed for indulging in a little amnesia?Drive down to the recently opened Perez Museum and its neighbor, the under-construction science museum, check out a luxury, 154-unit condominium twin-tower with prices that start at more than a $1 million, all located on high-end Biscayne Bay.  What data points are developers using that underpin such hubris?

1541284_FI_1007_southbayteardown_001_RL

Real estate is big business here, so I am riveted by some of the strangest examples of  business-as-usual in full view, inspired by a real-estate craze on the California coast.  You could be fooled into thinking this photo depicts the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy or an earthquake.  In fact, it is a teardown,  a way to keep a high-value location — waterfront property, this being Florida — to destroy in order to create.  Is this any way to prepare for High Tide on Main Street?  Is any attention being paid to information readily available at the touch of a keyboard, e.g. a report to Congress by David W. Titley, Read Admiral USN (Ret.), Ph.D.?  “Today in Miami Beach at high tide,” Dr. Titley told the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Subcommittee on the Environment, “storm sewers routinely back up and flood seawater onto the streets they are supposed to be draining.”  Whatever you are building, doesn’t this sound like a good time to adapt to the risk of flooding, consider raising your structures on stilts, not to mention installing solar panels to capture all that free sunshine? Inside the business-as-usual bubble, no one is aware of risky behavior or motivated to consider a different set of possibilities for the future.  I used to live in a similar bubble myself, albeit on a smaller scale.

Full disclosure: Once upon a time, we had a vacation home on the San Andreas Fault.  Our kids thought we were nuts.  But we got used to frequent tremors, made it through the Northridge Quake, and after things returned to ‘normal,’ went back to casual speculation about The Big One.  It was a California thing.

Call it maturity or becoming an elder.  I don’t feel quite so light-hearted about my current home in coastal Florida, or the prospects for my family, friends and neighbors here, or anywhere, for that matter.   That’s why I do what I do, knowing that Transition is a social experiment with no guarantee of success. That’s why I keep Rob Hopkins’ Cheerful Disclaimer in my mind.

• if we wait for the governments, it’ll be too little, too late
• if we act as individuals, it’ll be too little
• but if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time.

 

 

 

Transition Free Press: Slow News

TFP img_20130130_190624

The words ‘free press’ are always going to get my attention, and not only because I once worked at – and adored — a daily independent newspaper whose editor was known for straight-talking opinion pieces.   By the time it was shuttered by the military dictatorship that took over my country, I was – unlike said editor — safely out of harm’s way, and yet I felt the loss.  Freedom of speech is a given in Western democracies, and we’ve made heroes of comedians like Jon Stewart for their sharp, fearless pursuit of what’s real.   And yet…

We live with media 24/7, steadily exposed to sophisticated and nuanced blurring of facts, opinion and motivational message.  Anyone can learn to Tweet effectively.  On Facebook, you can be Someone.  Where are the fact-checkers?  Facts are ‘marketed’ so they can be easily digested by the targeted demographic (see my last post).  Most of us get our news from television and the Internet, attention grabbing clips repeated, sound bites (like political slogans) designed to lodge in brains made lazy by a steady barrage of infotainment.  Wag the Dog, all over again.  Or TMI?

So why relaunch Transition Free Press (May 2014), a print newspaper you can hold in your hands, copy, highlight, and pass around?  It seems so throwback, retro, so slow.  Exactly!

…many of us want to explore and voice another sound, another story. One of those stories is about the Transition movement, in essence how we, as a people and as a network, respond to the triple drivers of climate change, resource depletion and economic breakdown.

 [Transition Free Press] is a publication in its own right: it is not part of a corporate strategy, or a mainstream business. It is pure editorial run by seasoned Transitioners, and in a time where the media is controlled every which way by government propaganda that is an extraordinary thing.  ~ Charlotte Du Cann, editor

Here’s my gift to you:  a sample edition of Transition Free Press. http://issuu.com/transitionfreepress/docs/tfp_1final_online to page through on your screen (for now).  If you’ve wondered how people all over the world are responding to crisis…You can in the space of a few minutes flick through 24 pages and see what Transition means as a culture, a whole new way of living on the planet. It’s a multi-voiced operation. It’s a We thing. During the pilot over 100 contributors wrote stories, telling us about their projects, writing them from the field, from experience. Here I am! Here we are!

Embrace it.  Become a subscriber (I did).  Share Transition Free Press with your Transition group or wanna be’s.  Talk about it.  Learn from it.  Slow news we can trust and put to use.

Charlotte Du Cann also writes a stunningly erudite blog at  Charlotteducann.blogspot.co.uk,

What’s Your Position As The Ship Goes Down?

This Low Carbon Life Archive

Want everyone else to buy into environmentalism? Never say “Earth”

yogimarika:

Wrote about the communications issue here: https://transitiontales.wordpress.com/2013/08/ Think I need a new tag line for this blog!

Originally posted on Grist:

For over three decades, David Fenton has played an unusual role in the environmental movement: marketing it. The company he founded, Fenton Communications, has worked with everyone from Nelson Mandela to MoveOn.org . It recently managed an anti-fracking campaign for Yoko Ono (fracking, it promised, would ruin New York’s groundwater, and therefore its bagels and pizza ).
David Fenton

David Fenton.

To many environmentalists, what Fenton does — with all the celebrity chefs and celebrities, period — is … a little bit simplistic. To his opponents, he’s the Great Satan. If you find an article about him online, it’s probably a hit piece.

“People working in the nonprofit world sometimes have trouble adopting a marketing mindset,” Fenton Communications wrote in a 2009 report.  “But in the end, the goal is for people to ‘buy’ our ideas — ideas for a better world.”

Fenton recently talked with me over the…

View original 1,367 more words

Downtown Alleys

“Let’s start the day with a revolution – one that happens inside your mind!  It is not about thinking outside the box, but rather realizing there is NO box to begin with!  ~ Sherryl Muriente

Back alleys don’t usually get much respect, and the alleys of West Palm Beach are no exception.  FAU School of Urban and Regional Planning instructor, Sherryl Muriente, aims to change that, with the help of her students and a diverse group of area residents and organizations.  We came together at C’est La Via – Rethinking the Alleyways, a visioning workshop held at 312 Clematis, a gallery on one of the busiest downtown streets.

Downtown Alley2I got invited because Sherryl had read a Transition Tales blog post and saw synergy between Transition and her passion for this work.  Indeed there is! After she messaged me, we spoke at length on the phone and I got very excited about the concept of urban acupuncture: small-scale interventions to transform the larger urban context.

Yoga, which I practice and teach, offers something similar: small, incremental changes in the body/mind that add up to better health and relationships over time.  Transition works like that, too: small groups of committed people who just do stuff with what they have, right where they are.  The core group was FAU graduate students, eager to interact with the community to make things happen.  I chatted with Jesse Bailey of  West Palm Beach Downtown Association who blogs at WalkableWPB (read his post about how Asheville redesigned itself into one of the most livable cities in the country), and with Aaron Wormus, creator of the lively blog, A Guy On Clematis.  My Transition colleagues, Mary Jo Aagerstoun of EcoArt South Florida , Ashley Moore of Permadigm Initiative, and my ever-supportive spouse, were in the group.   My tribe!

downtown alleys3“Think from your gut,” Sherryl instructed us, as we trooped out into the alleyway parallel to and south of Clematis to see what we had to work with.  It was a cool evening; the light was lovely, and the excitement infectious.   The block-long alley is perfect for pedestrians and has, as they say, good bones.  Better lighting and lots of paint would do wonders, of course, but through the lens of Transition, it wasn’t difficult to envision edible landscaping planted in a lovely courtyard; an instant community garden take shape in an open lot; murals on the walls of the narrow alleys; food carts, a mini-farmers market, sidewalk cafes, musicians, puppeteers and other street performers.  It could become a mini-festival; a win-win for building owners, merchants, residents and visitors.

Everyone was abuzz with ideas.  Soon, we would have a chance to share them back in the gallery, as helpers scribbled words and pictures on flip charts – Open Source in practice!  It made me think of Rob Hopkins’ description of Transition as more “party than protest” and exactly the model I aspire to for Transition Palm Beaches.

C’est La Via will be meeting against this week to talk about where we go from here, and April 12 has been tentatively set for our work day.   Let the revolution begin!

WalkableWPB

AGuyOnClematis

Why Compost?

Because it is a zero waste strategy ~ Because it restores and remediates the soil  ~ Because it is quiet activism you can do without leaving home or carrying protest signs

Today, thousands of young people like Rachel Walsh of Transition Tallahassee are in Washington to protest against the KXL Pipeline, much as my spouse and I did last summer in the Walk for Our Grandchildren.  Standing up, speaking out, boycotts, even subjecting one self to arrest, are effective ways to oppose injustice in all its forms.   If enough people participate, e.g. Gandhi’s march to the sea, the March on Selma, even the original Boston Tea Party, these actions can rock the known world.

Jean's compostWhat if take-to-the-streets activism of this nature isn’t in your nature?  Food activism, in which composting is a key element, is the perfect local DIY project that contributes to a healthier, more sustainable community right away.  As the documentary, Symphony of the Soil (now available in DVD) showed us, reclaiming our soil even on a small-scale can be effective because everything is connected.   Doesn’t it make sense to convert yard trimmings and organic food scraps – yes, even conventionally-grown vegetables – into next growing season’s soil instead of paying to have them removed?  Not that I’m advocating any more lawns for South Florida however much carbon they might sequester, but this is Green Gold just waiting to happen.  Take a look at Composting 101 from the US Composting Council, a national, non-profit and trade association, and see how this all works.

Composting is very much on my mind these days because, thanks to Margaret and Norm Robson, two revered elders and pillars of my UU faith community, we are going to soon have a place where we can put these ideas about composting into practice – a mini-revolution in the making.   We do a fair amount of food service already, some of it prepared in our commercial-sized kitchen, and every Sunday there is an ample deposit of coffee grounds.   Habits are sticky, so I don’t have any illusions that it will be easy to get everyone on the composting bandwagon right away.  Even if we convince half of our congregation to participate, this will be – like our vegetable patch and butterfly garden – another small model to practice and experiment with.  Nonetheless, I am optimistic because activism is a core principle; we already support Fair Trade coffee and chocolate with our purchases; we recycle clothing and household items through our thrift shop.   Small, committed effort works; it is “the only thing that ever has.”

If you are among the shrinking number of people who grew up on a small family farm, the value of composting will not be news to you.  I didn’t, yet managed to glean a little bit of knowledge from my generous next-door neighbor who grew the most flavorful, succulent New Jersey tomatoes in a small bed in the middle of his back lawn, using coffee grounds and egg shells as fertilizer, and picking off the bugs by hand.  Another source was a family elder who would enrich the soil around his citrus trees with ground up fish bones.  I experienced my first Victory Garden in the UK, carefully tended  by my aunt and uncle, who would bring what they couldn’t consume to the weekly farmers market in the main square.   It was a small supplement to their modest income, and a social time for them.  It’s no surprise that the Transition Movement is flourishing in the centuries-old small town cultures of Europe.

Most of us of a certain age have memories of food coming directly from local producers, unmediated by supermarkets, which is one reason I believe our compost benefactors are so enthusiastic about this project.  Possibly they share many of my environmental passions although it’s hard to imagine them hugging a tree or chaining themselves to a fence.

It will become increasingly important that we share our memories of where food comes from with our grandchildren, especially if they are urban- or suburban-raised and can’t tell a carrot from a cabbage when it’s in the ground.  Accompany them to the farmers market – better yet a real farm! — and let them see, smell and taste for themselves.

Let’s all remind ourselves that, as Wendell Berry wrote: “Eating is an agricultural act.”  It is also an act of social activism.  Composting completes the cycle, transforming our so-called waste into next year’s crop.  So it has been, and could be again, but only if we understand and act accordingly.