Like Water For Avocados

After an announcement about a possible shortage of Hass Avocados caused near panic (and perhaps some welcome publicity), Mexican food chain, Chipolte, tried to soothe its fans with an announcement that there is no “guacapocalypse” in the offing.  Really?  Avocados are a thirsty crop, second only to another California favorite, the endangered almond.  According to Mother Jones, it takes 74.1 gallons of water to grow one pound of avocados as opposed to strawberries (9.8 gallons) or lettuce (5.4 gallons). For the time being, the California Hass is big business for the state: “… about 80 percent of all avocados eaten worldwide and … more than $1 billion a year in revenues in the United States alone.”  (California Avocado Commission).  

Headlines like this one from Newsweek 3/13/15: NASA: California Has One Year of Water Left, should be setting off alarm bells in the Congressional denialist camp on the basis of the economic impact alone, with the nation’s food security right up there next to it.  So it’s particularly bad news for all of us who love avocados — heck, like to eat regularly! — that Senator Ted Cruz now heads the Senate Science Committee, and that he has told NASA to stick to space and drop its climate investigations.  We need to pay close27_smap20150224-16 attention to what happens next.  After all, budget cuts that could threaten programs like NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Soil Moisture Mapper (SMAP)  — a satellite that can improve weather forecasts, monitor droughts and predict floods —  will hurt us all, now and in the immediate future. Maybe we should take a page from Senator Snowball’s playbook and start jamming the inboxes of legislators of his ilk with our favorite guacamole recipes.  This sounds like a job for Beautiful Trouble, fearless artist/activists.  Hi-jinks and hackery that exercise our creativity and even soothe our souls.   

It’s great to learn that Al Gore is newly optimistic that we can bring ourselves back from the brink, but yesterday on World Water Day, I couldn’t help thinking about what ordinary Californians are doing about a drought so severe, it has its own website?  Not nearly enough, according to figures from January this year which showed that conservation of water dropped from 22% to 9%, possibly spurred by an end of the year rainy period.  We are so addicted to short-term — or maybe it’s magical — thinking!  No wonder we are so easily distracted by shiny new things, blockbuster movies, and gossip about people we’ll never meet or particularly want to.

So I decided to ask a friend who lives in Huntington Beach about the water crisis, and she assured me that although some of her neighbors still have lawns (and presumably, have not as yet been prohibited from watering them), she has embraced a more desert scape, that is, rocks and succulents.  OK, it’s something, and granted, this is a minuscule sample.  But isn’t this typical of a common mismatch between the complexity of the issues we face — economic, health, safety, civil society — and the response of too many people like my well-meaning friend, as well as those in positions of power?  California officials, writes Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, are “staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.”

Although drought isn’t an issue for Florida at the moment, we have our own water challenges: a rising sea (flooding, coastal erosion, threat to infrastructure and property) and the migration of salt into the agricultural water supply.  So much for the idea that California’s agricultural losses might be somewhat mitigated by Florida’s food growing power.  For more on this including the Sea Level Rise Symposium 2014, see my blog posts from last July, Water: Next Capitalist Tool? and November, Raising Fields.  Not enough water or the wrong kind — none of this is good news for living things.  But compared to what many see as the threat of water wars in the not too distant future, these issues are a drop in the bucket.

What can we do?  First, recognize that climate change is with us here and now and that we humans have no history or experience with the kinds of change it will likely produce in our lives.  On a beautiful, cool morning in South Florida as I write this from my patio, it’s possible to imagine that we have a decade or two before we are forced to adjust, to take action, or possibly, flee for higher ground. Even if that were true, it’s cold comfort for our children and grandchildren. Second, cut your consumption: repair, reuse, repurpose, skip the upgrade, minimize air travel, and make do while these are choices we can still make freely. Third: ask yourself to imagine a world without your favorite food (yes, avocados), a beloved bird, flower, tree, pollinators in general, a particular beach, a cherished vacation spot, a life experience you now take for granted (hiking a pristine trail, growing vegetables, access to a wide variety of fresh food, taking a hot shower, feeling safe on my streets and in my home, are all on my list).  What would you do to preserve these ordinary treasures, for yourself and those you love?  Do it.

See also: The Dark Mountain Project and Movement Generation

Solar is coming! Solar is Coming!

For my money, I would bet [Elon] Musk can upend a stodgy electricity business with little interest in innovation before it can beat out the behemoths who control the auto industry. – Daniel Sparks, The Motley Fool

Perhaps you’ve read about European utilities entering a ‘death spiral’ because they would rather go down fighting than switch to renewables like solar and wind? Expect something similar in the U.S. in the not too distant future. I’m with Daniel Sparks (quote above) that it’s billionaire entrepreneur, Elon Musk, along with partners like Google ($300 million in SolarCity) who will continue to give utility CEOs, and their legislative minions, agita in the years ahead and the rest of us, reason to hope and rejoice.

Could business-done-right leverage society into a new era of clean, affordable energy when government’s hands are tied? What if the innovative muscle and wealth of our most forward-thinking companies could reverse the damage of business as usual?

It’s energizing to think so, and there are plenty of signals that solar power will become inevitable when 1. Costs drop further and 2. The public demands it (that would be you and me).  So, I’m devoting this post to a series of annotated links in support of these possibilities. I urge you to learn all you can about solar power and how best to advocate for its adoption in your community. And if you have the wherewithal to do so, consider investing in solar, e.g. SCTY (Nasdaq).

Solar panel imageGenerating solar power isn’t difficult, especially where sunshine is abundant. Just remember, “Every hour the sun beams onto Earth more than enough energy to satisfy global energy needs for an entire year.” (Source: National Geographic)  If 89-year-old Québécois, Claude Morency, can keep his kidney-shaped pool at a cozy 80°F year round with solar panels on his North Palm Beach home, so can anyone with $1,500 to invest in installation. Payback is between 1.5 to 7 years, according to Florida Solar Energy Center, a great source of cost-comparisons and other information. In fact, Morency is no newcomer to solar. As a full-time sailor, he powered his live/work sailboat with solar batteries for at least a decade.

The tricky part has been power storage for use when the sun isn’t shining (or the wind blowing, for that matter). But that’s about to change. At the moment, our condo (powered by renewables, courtesy Arcardia) also powers up our leased Nissan Leaf with a nightly plug-in. Apparently, power can flow the other way in an emergency, which is reassuring here in the hurricane belt. But it gets better, according to Elon Musk, who has announced that his company is within six months of producing a battery-pack for the home. Do I have your attention yet?

What would a Tesla home battery look like? The Toyota Mirai, which uses a hydrogen fuel cell, gives owners the option to remove the battery and use it to supply electrical power to their homes. That battery can reportedly power the average home for a week when fully charged. Employees at many big Silicon Valley tech companies already enjoy free charging stations at their office parking lot. Now imagine if they could use that juice to eliminate their home electric bill. A more practical application for your car would be a backup generator during emergencies, which is how Nissan pitches the battery in its Leaf. – The Verge

You may have heard that this revolution will be local. Actually, they usually start there.  So while Congress and state legislatures fiddle, some forward-thinking municipalities are showing us why a clean energy is the only future, and why it makes economic sense right now. See: Burlington, Vermont Becomes First U.S. City to Run on 100% Renewable Energy.

Now admittedly, Burlington, population 42,000, is probably an ideal sized city for such a bold move. Most small towns simply don’t have the financial muscle to kiss their utility goodbye and negotiate their own power sourcing. Wrap your mouth around this possible solution: community choice aggregation (CCA), a system that enables “cities and counties to aggregate the buying power of individual customers within a defined jurisdiction in order to secure alternative energy supply contracts on a community-wide basis, but allowing consumers not wishing to participate to opt out.” (Wikipedia definition). Already happening in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, and Rhode Island. Don’t hold your breath for Florida which is, I kid you not, attempting to ban the use of the phrase, ‘climate change.’

Not So Strange Bedfellows. Despite some pockets of open-mindedness (Go Solar Florida’s workshops, this Wednesday, March 11, 2015), one has to look beyond the Sunshine State for signs of intelligent life on this subject. And there is growing evidence the solar revolution may be fueled by people who don’t generally occupy the same meeting rooms, beginning to work together on common goals. At this moment, it matters not whether our motivation is to secure a future for our grandchildren via renewable energy, or we’re more driven by the right to choose based on our free market system. Maybe it’s time to shake hands with Debbie Dooley of the Green Tea Coalition and offer a high five to Barry Goldwater, Jr. of TUSK (Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed).

The sun also rises in Africa. Good news for the family of Kenyan villager, David Lodio, whose single solar panel now generates enough power to enable his children to do their homework, and for the 585 million who currently have no access to electricity.  For rural Africa (which largely skipped the fossil-fueled industrial revolution), solar power will change everything for the better. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-31503424

Let me close this short chapter in an on-going solar success story with a news flash.  This morning, a solar-powered plane took off from Abu Dhabi for the first leg of what will be a round the world flight. The Wright Brothers II?  Up, up, and away!

Lots more information in the live links throughout and here:

36% of All New Electric Capacity in 2014 from Solar

Popular Mechanics on solar energy storage

Naturally Enough

If there’s one thing you can’t complain about in the State of Florida (although some would disagree), it’s the weather. Even our recent two-day winter was good for a laugh, and the cozy, unaccustomed feel of a wool sweater against the skin. And today, we’re back to the high 70s and sunny, the kind of day that puts a smile on the faces of winter-weary travelers and cash into the local economy.

It’s the sort of day that has me wondering why kids raised in the Sunshine State spend so much time indoors, eyes locked onto their screens and favorite video games (many of them violent).   It’s the always-on culture, you might say, addictive behavior modeled by parents and peer group alike. You could blame the irrational, media-fueled fear of just about everything, from hidden perverts or kidnappers in the neighborhood to vaccinations. By now you’ve read about scientists, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, in trouble with the law because they allowed their children, age 6 and 10, to play in a local park and walk home unescorted. Here’s a thoughtful piece from The Daily Beast: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/02/15/free-range-kids-are-healthier.html.  So were things ‘safer’ for kids back in the day when I sent my 14-year-old son to school in New York City by commuter bus and subway, and my 10-year-old daughter happily walked with friends a few blocks to her classroom? Statistically, no.

Whether it is due to benign neglect or parental control on steroids, living under a rock is bad for kids and bad for the rest of us, too. We can’t expect children to love the world and want to preserve it if their only experience of it is a mediated one. Test this out for yourself. What’s better? Adventure travel or a television show about it? So kudos to Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids, (How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children Without Going Nuts With Worry), the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts of America, and the new White House initiative to get kids reacquainted with nature in our National Park System. http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/02/19/let-s-get-every-kid-park.  Yes!

And, although I’m basing this on my own observations and instincts as a grandmother (a relatively tiny sample), small children are ready for the real thing. They dig dirt, given half a chance. They know BS when they encounter it. They are naturally wild and free. They like to hang out in trees. They want the freedom to skateboard home from school long before they get a license to drive a car. They want to fix their own snacks, as unusual as their tastes may seem to my palate. An entire pomegranate? Sure. Broccoli sandwiches, barbecue sauce on pizza? Why not?

Swiss chard tastingAnd I think they are hungry for adults who are giving them their full attention. So let me describe my class in pollination, organized for the elementary grade children and part of their religious education (you bet!) I came prepared with some visual aids from the fabulous Xeces Society, and I had brought some pollinator nests fashioned from bamboo sections, string, and a couple of ready-made birdhouses.  Apparently, insects like every other form of life, need rest and respite.

The first thing I noticed was how happy these kids were to be outside, sitting on the grass, looking around, breathing fresh air.  Maybe more classes should be held outdoors. Each wanted to be the first to answer my question: What did you have for breakfast? Eggs, fried cheese, cereal, fruit. And they were attentive when I explained how pollinators like bees and other insects, birds and bats interact with plants, and how that contributes to the food we eat. School age kids have been trained, like puppies, to stay even when clearly, they’d rather be moving their bodies. I was grateful that there were no hand-held devices in evidence (perhaps it’s a rule), except for a camera, and that for the most part, they made eye contact with me.

But they really wanted to run around, chase each other, and climb trees and even the AC equipment (until called down).  I corralled them into the raised vegetable bed area by saying they could pick anything they promised to eat. That’s when the religious education class really came alive. Even the camera-toting boy who said he hates tomatoes and didn’t want to know they are the main ingredient for ketchup, was in.   Cherry tomatoes, beans, Swiss chard, all enthusiastically sampled and pronounced good. Maybe they’ll remember what just-picked vegetables warmed by the sun taste like.  Perhaps it will inform their own choices when they grow up.  I know I will remember their bright faces in that moment.

It’s experiences like these that reinforce my conviction that we must stop forcing our kids into our narrow views of what success in life looks like.  We could be wrong, especially in the future many scientists foresee. We need to nourish their imaginations and sense of wonder about the Earth and all life. We need to get kids back into the woods and swimming holes, into tents under starry skies, cooking over campfires, on hiking trails and whitewater rafts, where they can discover what they are capable of. We need to let them learn, to paraphrase poet, Theodore Roethke, by going where they have to go.

Possibly, this is a lesson we could all use.  See Guardian columnist and author of Feral, George Monbiot’s Civilization is Boring.  And my future blog posts on re-wilding.

7 Tips for a Zero-Waste Kitchen

yogimarika:

Love what you’re doing!

Originally posted on The Zero-Waste Chef:

my refrigerator

I love my (nearly) zero-waste kitchen routine. I eat a delicious, healthy diet and have simplified my shopping habits. But it did take me a couple of years to (nearly) perfect this routine and I may never achieve complete zero-waste. (Remember calculus class? You merely approach zero.)

When I shop at the bulk store, for example, I still indirectly generate a small amount of waste. The food arrives at the store in paper or (gulp) plastic packaging after all. Also, I refuse to give up butter and the paper does go in the trash. So, until I buy a farm and produce all my food myself, I will create some waste somewhere. Then again, if I live on a farm outside the city, I’ll have to drive everywhere and burn more fossil fuels…So, I suppose as a precursor to these tips, I should add—above all—don’t strive for perfection. That and cook everything…

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Throwback 70s: My Decade of Change

Naomi Klein [This Changes Everything] writes: “… if we want to live within ecological limits, we would need to return to a lifestyle similar to the one we had in the 1970s, before consumption levels went crazy in the 1980s.” Who else remembers that place/time? Seemed like a very good life to me.

I posted this on Facebook recently and it resonated with a number of FB friends. That started me thinking more about the 70s and I realized that the “Me” decade, the oil crisis decade, the decade that saw the flowering of feminism, the first Earth Day (April 22) and Jimmy Carter’s solar panels, cardigans, the creation of the Department of Energy and a national energy policy, as well as Kent State, Three Mile Island, and the completion of the world’s tallest buildings, was also a decade when everything did change for me. It began with Father Knows Best and ended with The Brady Bunch.

The SeventiesI sorta missed the 60s by getting married and starting a family, so it wasn’t until the 70s that the Summer of Love and all that it meant caught up with me. Or maybe I’m just a late adopter. A traveling show of the musical, “Hair,” came to my town (Philadelphia), and overnight, it seemed, I wanted the Age of Aquarius and San Francisco with flowers in my Afro more than I wanted cocktails at 6 sharp and membership in The Junior League. In the 1970s, I stopped shaving my legs, went back to school to earn two degrees, and changed life partners. Some standout memories:

1. Flashback, New York City, 1965: I am reading Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique while recovering in the hospital from the birth of my first child (three days was normal then). In walks my OB/GYN. “Hmmm,” he says, “Isn’t it a little late for that?” (I didn’t much like him, even before that, and No, it wasn’t.)

2. Montclair, NJ, 1973. We’ve returned here after a career misstep that temporarily uprooted us to Pennsylvania, and are now ensconced in a wonderful classic Dutch colonial on a tree-lined street: 5 bedrooms, 3.5 baths, big basement and backyard, separate garage (with mismatched doors), to the tune of $60K. Back in the day, a young couple could afford the $40K mortgage payments, taxes and upkeep, on one modest salary. We have one utilitarian pre-owned car.  We do not suffer from auto-envy or any other kind.

We moved to Montclair for the schools,  family (pillar of the community in-laws), and commuter service to New York City extraordinaire. With one school-age boy and a 4-year-old girl in part-time nursery, I had more energy and time than I knew what to do with. Who knew skipping the beauty salon and shaving razor would free up so much?

One day, The Montclair Times delivered my salvation: news of a generous ‘re-entry’ program for older adults at Montclair State College, formerly a teachers’ college, currently a Ph.D-granting university. I went for an interview the same week and was accepted into the program. I also made a life-long friend while there.

3. MSU was 10 minutes drive from my home. My professors would have been stars anywhere, but the job market for Ph.D’s being what it was, there we all were: on a hilly campus in suburban New Jersey, with a clear night view of the lights of New York City on the horizon.

My earlier education had been undistinguished, so I surprised myself by graduating with honors in 1976. Yet it was without a clear path to future employment while my children still needed a mom around the house. So when the Department of English offered me a teaching fellowship that enabled me to earn an MA gratis, and also provided a small stipend for teaching in the writing lab, I grabbed it. In 18 months, I was able to save enough to purchase a used Volkswagen bug that I drove up to the Bread Loaf School of English in Vermont for the summer session in my final year.

4. Community life on Buckingham Road. In the summer months, some of us grew food, mostly New Jersey tomatoes like Rutgers’ Early Girls and Better Boys (an instant nostalgia point for me), and this also nurtured a culture of sharing: in addition to an exceptional tomato harvest, tools, labor (moving heavy furniture, hedge trimming, small repairs), child care, backyard barbecues, car pools and rides, recipes and advice. I didn’t know the political leanings of my neighbors, or care to, and the idea that one only socialized along those lines would have been laughable.  Hello Transition Street before its time?

Both my adult children – the eldest turns 50 this year — are nostalgic for the walkable, bikeable, friendly, green, safe community they grew up in: badminton in the backyard, Frisbee in the parks, neighborhood friends, and best of all, the freedom from constant parental supervision. Maybe it really does take a village.

And I feel nostalgic for the 1970s in a small town on their behalf, and not only because eggs were cheaper and life simpler (and you got to go to sleep-away camp) but because between then and now, the decades of ‘shop until you drop,’ ‘greed is good,’ ‘Made in China,’ and ‘upgrade everything,’ brought us to where we are today.  Is there a way back to the future? Perhaps.

Naomi Klein again: “…if there has ever been a moment to advance a plan to heal the planet that also heals our broken economies and our shattered communities, this is it.”

The Road Taken

Like many classic American adventures, this one was propelled by a vehicle: a school bus, fitted out to become a home, transportation, and learning center for Nando Jaramillo and Blair Butterfield, and their two children, Luciano, 4, and Imogen, 2 1/2. In three years, the family covered 8,000 miles to visit sustainable cities across the country, and bring the ideas back to their home base in Miami.  Concrete ideas like a bicycle-propelled compost collection service (wow!).  And intangible lessons about generosity, experimentation, a willingness to ask ‘why’ and ‘why not,’ old-fashioned skills blended with leading edge technology.   They came home to work on their dream: to help make Miami the ‘greenest city’ in America.

Last evening, some 30 people came to the Transition Palm Beaches monthly meeting at the Friends Meeting House in Lake Worth, to hear about what happened next and pepper the couple with questions.  It was perhaps the most diverse group and liveliest meeting to date.

Although the presentation began with some standard environmental disaster imagery, this is a good story, a model for what is possible when motivated people marry their deeply held values – in this case to live and raise their children in as green and sustainable a way as possible — to committed action.

Blair and Nando began by forming a nonprofit organization – Art of Cultural Evolution (ACE) — and establishing a pilot on a vacant lot on 34th Street in Miami. There they worked to restore the soil, plant an organic garden, compost, harvest rainwater, and experiment with solar energy. The neighbors noticed, and soon began to plant their own yards with vegetables. Volunteers showed up. Fifteen families were fed from a single growing season.

Brewing kombuchaNext, working with local groups, the 34th Street Sustainable Land Lab (as it was then called) began to offer public workshops, classes, and movies about organic gardening, CSAs, and other related subjects. They were creating, you might say, a buzz. A fortuitous meeting with a City of Miami commissioner – Nando, an art director for film and television, grew up in Miami – helped clear the way to a 50 year lease of land for what is now known as Colony 1, an environmental arts and science education center, at 550 NW 22nd Street in the Wynwood arts district of Miami. When it is built out, it will be a 2,500 sq. ft. space, constructed entirely of 11 shipping containers, chosen for their availability and durability. (I, for one, will never look at a container quite the same way.) Think Tiny House x 11.

It is going to take funding to make this $200,000 dream come true, and the drive is on. Take a look at the site: http://www.artofculturalevolution.org/ and see where you might want to plug in as volunteer, partner, donor, or all three. Brewing your own kombucha, mending your own garments, or growing medicinal herbs, are all worthy endeavors. It’s when you teach others how, and they teach others, that it starts to become something greater: a learning community, a movement toward sustainability.

More about their journey:

Edible magazine’s article, and much more detail.

https://www.facebook.com/culturalevolution

Telling the Good Stories of 2014

Crisis and opportunityWhen climate activists in South Florida meet, the mood is often serious bordering on grim, and I usually head out the door with a to-do list and a heavy heart. We know what we’re up against in our state legislature, so one doable strategy is to attempt to convince our local municipalities, one mayor and/or commissioner at a time, that we are holding them accountable for the preservation of our towns and cities, and our safety. For this we need local citizen volunteers to join in the effort. My team mates have developed a terrific script suitable for phone or email.

This is good, worthy work, yet I fear we may not attract many takers without the leavening agent of uplifting stories, and the truth is, 2014 was a pretty good year for the environmental movement. Last December, I tapped into Mongabay for positive stories, and this year, some that appeared on its current Top Ten list are also on mine:

  1. The ban on fracking in New York State shows what can happen when the people don’t give up, and keep the heat on indecisive elected officials. It worked in Denton, Texas, the state where fracking was born. Another small victory: would be frackers got fined in Florida. We have only begun to fight. Stay tuned, and keep an eye on other fracking news.
  2. Pope Francis, whose agenda for 2015 includes a rare papal encyclical to 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, an address to the United Nations, and a summit of the world’s religious leaders. His Holiness has connected the dots that many miss:

    “An economic system centered on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.”

  1. The Climate Pledge between the U.S. and China, a savvy move by President Obama to sidestep an obstructionist Congress. What he will do on the KXL when it is (most likely) reintroduced, remains to be seen.
  2. Breakthrough in palm oil plantations as Kellogg, L’Oréal and Nestlé, signed a declaration pledging to help cut tropical deforestation in half by 2020 and stop it entirely by 2030.  You don’t mess with Harrison Ford.
  3. EPA ruling on power plant emissions comes under the Clean Air Act. Unless the Supreme Court changes its mind, this should stand. Thanks again to crafty POTUS.
  4. September Success: Over 400,000 people from diverse groups join in the climate march in New York City, and in smaller demonstrations elsewhere: Transition Palm Beaches, EcoArt South Florida, The Sierra Club and Raging Grannies (among others) in Delray Beach.
  5. The business connection.  Earlier this year, I found my way to the B Team whose stated mission is to ‘catalyse a better way of doing business for the wellbeing of people and the planet.’   http://bteam.org/about/ I figure any group that includes Muhammed Yunus (founder, the Grameen Bank of micro-loan fame), Arianna Huffington and Mary Robinson (former president of Ireland and member of The Elders) is a vote for humanity.
  6. The Transition movement continues to grow in the U.S. You can avail yourself of great, free seminars with some of the smartest, forward thinkers around, e.g. Cecile Andrews, author of Living Room Revolution: A Handbook for Conversation, Community and the Common Good.In partnership with the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, Transition US announced the People’s State of the Union, the first in a series of new, participatory civil rituals. From January 23-30, 2015, people across the country are invited to convene “story circles” with neighbors, friend, and community members to respond to three prompts:
  • Tell a story about a moment you felt true belonging – or the opposite – in this country or your community
  • Describe an experience that showed you something new or important about the state of our union
  • Share about a time you stood together with people in your community.

May 2015 bring about an awakening to both our perils and possibilities, and action as our conscience dictates.