Category Archives: environment, activism

It’s Too Late, Baby

Carole King’s Tapestry, the concert based on her album and performed last year in Hyde Park, London, has been turned into a film and opened in theaters across the U.S. yesterday for a one night stand. We bought our tickets in advance online, imagining the show would sell out. It didn’t. In fact, attendance at the Providence Mall Cinema was sparse. As her fans know, King’s album transformed her overnight from a songwriter best known for writing hits for others to a star in her own right. If you missed the show last night, keep your eyes open.

As she launched into her opening number, I Feel the Earth Move, well, I did. Feel the move, that is. It has been that kind of week — New York Magazine’s The Uninhabitable Earth, the Guardian coverage of the sixth extinction, and then this morning, the news of the collapse of the Larsen C shelf, an ‘iceberg the size of Delaware,’ forming a new island. A small piece of the earth. Moving, we don’t know where or what else could change as a result.

For me, these events tend to crowd out the news about the G20 meeting, mounting cries of Impeach!, and anxiety over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions given the current state of our own governance. I know my own diplomat father who spent several months a year as a delegate to the Geneva disarmament talks in the late 50’s, would be turning over in his grave, if he had one. I put my trust in the quiet, behind the scenes, work of special counsel, Robert Mueller, to help bring a shameful chapter of our history to a conclusion.

That said, I found myself weeping when Carole King launched into It’s Too Late and the cameras panned over the faces of the immense crowd (estimated 65,000) of Londoners, many of them young, many of them singing along.  For the same reason, I feel rocked by the sounds of little children in the playground right next to the AirBnB where I am currently living, and when I think about our teenage grandchildren — all children — whose lifespan may expose them to decades of life-threatening hypothermia, water and food insecurity, disease we had thought vanquished, and the breakdown of civil life.  Maybe, as my friend (father, poet and blogger, The Green Skeptic), Scott Edward Anderson says (and not for the first time), “We’re toast!”

I was in the process of pounding out a post more in keeping with Transition Tales (Tip, Tools and Ideas for a More Resilient Future), about how decentralized solar power is bring electricity and positive change to parts of Africa, when Scott’s social media comment attached to the said link popped into the screen.  Usually I ignore these, but I stopped writing and read the New York Magazine piece — “too scary,” “climate disaster porn, ” could spur cities into action or make people feel hopeless” — and that was that for the upbeat post I was working on. Even before the Guardian’s piece or today’s news from Antartica.

So, I put it to you readers: Do you agree it’s game over?  Are we toast?  Is it too late, baby? And if so (given that climate crisis denial is not an option here), what are you doing to keep your spirits up, to press on with your climate and political activism, to keep on keeping on. Seriously, I want to know because it has been that kind of week.  Whatever you care to share, my comment section awaits. I’ll be there, yes, I will.

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Reskilling: Why it Matters

If you’re unfamiliar with the term reskilling, perhaps it has a Small-is-Beautiful, DIY, hippie commune, neo-Luddite, back-to-the-land vibe. What you may not know is that reskilling is bedrock for the Transition Movement founded by Rob Hopkins which holds that: “… in a carbon constrained and localized world, communities will have to provide for many of their basic needs which means possessing the skills to do so.”

Of course, basic needs are open to wide interpretation. For some of us, it means fast, reliable Wi-Fi. Some of my most adored people would put shampoo, conditioner and a hot comb on their list of essentials, right up there with waterproof eyeliner (mine!). I kid, but seriously, we are so used to enjoying potable water, hot showers and plug in everything, we don’t think twice about what it takes to produce them, or what happens if they for any reason become unavailable.

I think of reskilling as a way of reclaiming the know-how that previous generations – parents, grandparents, trusted elders — passed down to us, along with values like thrift, making-do, cooperation. If even some of us embrace down-shifting, cutting back on our demands for generated power, it just might give the earth a chance to recover from decades of over-extraction.

A lot of people have been energized by recent events and in my area, weekly demonstrations along the motorcade route to/from the so-called ‘winter White House’ were a thing, along with Town Hall Meetings, and steady pressure on one’s Members of Congress when s/he doesn’t speak for you. All good, all the time. But I believe quieter forms of resistance to consumerism and the damage it is doing, belong in the mix. Reskilling IS Resistance.

So, could you make fire if you had to? Milk a cow? Forage for wild food? Sharpen tools without electricity? How about capture wild yeast to make bread? Mend or repair clothing? Could you distinguish between edible or poisonous mushrooms, or navigate using a simple compass? If these sound like Boy Scout badges, bingo! The point is, there are as many ways to reskill as there are people willing to teach what they know. But don’t take my word for it.

Check out the Firefly Gathering (thank you, Dylan Ryal-Hamilton), in Asheville, NC which begins June 29 and goes for four days. Everything from Archery and Blacksmithing Basics to Zen and the Art of Wood Splitting, over 100 classes and still growing at this writing, are being offered. No one is saying this specifically in the FAQ’s but it seems obvious to me that people go there eager to teach, AND learn. I am excited about experiencing  this event first hand…maybe next year.

More reading on this topic here:

What Is Reskilling Anyway?

Green Hand Initiative. Blogger Clifford Dean Scholz has a stunning article on Navigation.

http://www.skills-for-life.org/

http://greenhandsreskilling.weebly.com/

Post-Consumer Waste: What to Do?

Until I assembled this random assortment of stuff from around our house, I thought we were doing pretty well as an environmentally-aware couple: rejecting plastic straws, carrying our own bags, going meatless, driving an EV, all things about which we’ve gotten diligent and even a touch self-congratulatory.  Now, I’m not so sure. How to dispose of these items without sending them to The Great Pacific Garbage IMG_1077Patch has become an obsession of mine.  So please forgive my attempt to infect you with the same.

Of course, our voluntary behavior modification falls into the category of First World problems and may be of little or no impact on global warming that is already locked in[1].  So, why bother? One answer is, if enough of us to whom so much is given do something, perhaps we can buy some time for solutions that will benefit all. Case in point, this week, Floridians overwhelmingly voted Yes on Amendment #4[2] that supports affordable solar power in the Sunshine State.  This is an excellent shift with legislative muscle, but there’s another side to this that gets short shrift: we are still not doing enough to train ourselves to live within planetary limits.  As the saying goes: to live more simply so that others — and not just our own species — might simply live.

No matter how you look at it, dealing with First World consumption and waste is a wicked problem that isn’t going away without a huge movement — individual, local, state, and national. If you need convincing about how this issue deepens the have/have not chasm, you must read Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity.  For the design perspective, try William McDonough’s Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of information about addressing the issue of post-consumer waste — it turns out there’s money to be made in reclamation of many materials  — and you’ll find some helpful links below.  But let’s state the obvious: the best place to tackle waste is to begin at the beginning: “Think before you buy or toss,” advises Bridget Johnson of Green Girl Recycling.  And that second thought should include not only the item purchased itself but how it is packaged.  This is a special interest of mine as I used to write for both the manufacturer of a popular clear bottling plastic and for a packaging trade publication.  So I should know better than to find myself in this dilemma: true, clear containers make salad greens look inviting and maybe keep them fresh longer.  But can the plastic be recycled back into pellets?  In most cases, the answer is No, though some come close to that ideal, and may wind up in other value-added products, e.g. PET bottles to construction materials.  That said, I’m better off choosing loose greens and vegetables as I do when the farmers markets are in full swing in my area, or those with minimal wrapping.

Hearing aid batteries.  They are small, but you may go through a lot of them in a year.  Best advice from the experts: look for those that specify Mercury-free. These can be safely disposed of with household waste. More info here: http://www.seniorcitizensguide.com/articles/pittsburgh/hearing-aid-battery-disposal.htm  green-recycling-iconPackaging (paper and blister plastic) should also carry some version of the familiar chasing arrows recycling symbol.

Durable Packaging.  The handsome heavy case you see in the photo did a fine job of protecting the mini-speaker that works with my Bluetooth-enabled smart phone, but what a bear to recycle!  A month after I purchased it, I haven’t figured out how to recycle the various heavy-duty plastics it came in, or even if I can at all. Maybe I can use it for storing cotton balls or pens.  My electric toothbrush, an appliance I have come to rely on for optimum cleaning, is another puzzle. What to do with the so-called disposable brush part which is made up of so many materials, molded plastic being just one?  Anybody?  Of course, nearly all plastics are petroleum-based, so we’re basically supporting an industry whose negative environmental impact is well documented.

Health and Beauty Aids.
  The lipstick, tooth picks and bug sprayer are similarly problematic because they are either made from or packaged in more than one type of plastic.  True for most HABA items whether bottles, tubes or jars.  The containers themselves may carry a recycle # designation, but the caps almost never.  Even if every part was designated recyclable, I honestly cannot imagine the municipal facility that would separate them appropriately, so chances are these will wind up in landfill forever.

“Doggie Bags.”  Time was, you got a little brown paper bag for leftovers. Today, not so much.  So here’s how it goes.  Styrofoam #6 is cheap to manufacture and has many uses, from life rafts to ubiquitous fast-food containers.  It cannot be recycled with other plastics.  Restaurants are not going to stop using those god-awful styrofoam clam shells until we 1. stop ordering more than we can eat (a whole other problem), and/or 2. start bringing our own packaging for leftovers, or 3. municipalities start banning the use of the material as San Francisco just did.

Where can you turn to?  Your local municipality’s solid waste authority usually has a website (mine: http://www.swa.org/) with a ton of information of what can be brought to the facility, often translated into short handy guides.  Most take CFL bulbs. Many take large appliances.  We may eventually see a roll out of  the Extended Producer Responsibility that makes the producer responsible for the entire life-cycle of a product. Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extended_producer_responsibility  This goes well beyond Product Stewardship, though that is also a hopeful sign: http://productstewardship.net/products/mercury/resources/programs/business

Incandescent bulbs cannot be recycled, but since they contain no toxic material, you can safely add to household waste.  Retailers will often take back fluorescent bulbs, printer refills and even a variety of electronics.  Best Buys has been a leader in this and has won awards for the service.  See Electronics Take Back: http://www.electronicstakeback.com/how-to-recycle-electronics/manufacturer-takeback-programs/

There is even a strong Business Case for Product Take-Back: http://www.triplepundit.com/special/circular-economy-and-green-electronics/is-there-a-business-case-for-product-take-back/

And finally, my favorite FAQ’s from Grist’s green expert, Ask Umbra: http://grist.org/article/umbra_faqs/  Many layers of information by simply clicking on internal links.

___________

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2016/aug/15/climate-urgency-weve-locked-in-more-global-warming-than-people-realize

[2] http://miami.cbslocal.com/2016/08/30/amendment-4-would-make-solar-cheaper-for-property-owners-2/

Women + Climate Activism, Clearly

It’s time to bring these two together in my life: my passion for women as spoken word artists and climate activism.  No surprise, Eve Ensler is out front on this: the woman who made it ok to say vagina out loud is doing the same for climate change.  Her new one-woman show, In the Body of the World based on her acclaimed 2013 memoir, is being performed in New York City right now, and I would give much to be there.  But I will have to be content — and I am — to host a meeting of Women Aloud at my home tomorrow, to begin preparing for The Vagina Monologues 2017 at The Brewhouse Gallery, Lake Park, Fl.  And a new opportunity could be on the horizon for me/us.

no-gender-justice1This morning, I wrote this proposal to artist/activist colleagues who are co-curating a show in my area:

Proposal for The Box Gallery, The NEW American Patriot: A Climate Action Exhibition, July 1, 2016 through July 10, 2016

Vision:

Some of our most beloved poets and spoken word artists have been and are taking the role of shaman on behalf of climate crisis and our endangered ecosystem. Their prophetic, urgent warnings were being issued before the scientific community reached consensus that human-caused climate change threatened all of life. Their testimony about the living world of which we are a part, are a necessary act of patriotism for our times. These men and women express rage, despair, grief, and surprisingly, what Buddhist sage and teacher, Joanna Macy, calls ‘active hope,’ — the very act of creating art that we take into ourselves and act from. We should be putting their words on billboards, creating community service announcements from them, slipping them under every door, and reciting them to all who have ears to hear.  Because, as poet Greg Delanty’s book puts it, we have So Little Time.

Mission:

To create and perform a script of poetry/monologues/rants, both original and from derived sources (as permission is granted), for a series of live, 15-minute performances during The New American Patriot: A Climate Action Exhibition, at time(s) and location(s) to be determined and mutually agreed upon, for a maximum of three performances. Material will be organized thus:

  1. How we came to this
  2. What we risk losing
  3. What do our hearts say
  4. What we must now do

Logistics:

Performer(s) will need a designated performance space, high stool(s) and audio support for each 15-minute show. Recorded incidental music may be used to introduce and close each segment.

Respectfully submitted: Marika Stone, producer The Vagina Monologues and You Can’t Say That!, 2015, founder, Women Aloud, “a troupe of spoken word performers interested in exploring ideas and issues relevant to women of all ages. We are nonprofit. Proceeds from our shows will go to registered women’s charities.”

This is new territory. I’m both excited and terrified at the thought that my proposal could be accepted, which is a great place to be. Stay tuned.

The Box Gallery

Women Aloud

Wendell Berry on Climate

Green Writers Press

Living Large with Less

Last week was the kind that provides comics like John Oliver and his merry band of satirists plenty of fodder. First, the Senate passed the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016, which looks like an unusual example of bipartisan agreement until you notice that S.2012 is an odd, something for everyone kind of bill that manages to avoid mention of climate change while including language about energy efficiencies and support for more pipelines and LNG exports. “All the above” revisited, in other words.

I also plan to keep the champagne on ice for now, despite the grand theater of 171 nations coming together at the UN to sign to sign the Paris accord. As you probably realized, the agreement is nonbinding on signees, a kind of letter of intent. In how many ways does Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon have to remind us: We are in a race against time?

Cue the sun. A lot of people are putting all or most of their eggs in the technology basket, and it is a tempting sell. Last week also saw the first airing of a stunning presentation on nuclear fusion, the ‘holy grail’ of energy, by VICE, HBO’s investigative series. Click on either link and catch Shane Smith chatting with alternative energy rock stars, Elon Musk and Taylor Wilson, who at age 14, achieved nuclear fusion. In his garage. (VICE, season 4, edition 9). Proponents believe nuclear fusion can supply all the clean energy we need virtually forever.

vice-on-hbo-future-of-energy-trailer-1460395092Not to be a party-pooper, but solving for energy doesn’t address how we will feed a population heading to 10 billion when my teenage grandchildren hit middle age. And then there’s the less sexy subject of waste. Although fusion does not produce waste (and may actually convert it to energy), just about all other human activity does. Fortunately, you don’t need to be a nuclear scientist to cut your own contribution to the North Atlantic garbage patch.  And plenty of people are addressing just this. Here’s a cool list of tips, tools and ideas (my personal skim) to consider:

Gadget upgrade fever is how the Fruit and its Silicon Valley peers stay in business. Your iPhone is meant to be replaced in three years, your Mac in four. Surprise!  But you don’t have to play along.  What if maintenance could be the next, next thing?  What if you could learn to love the ones you’re with.  Keeping your discarded electronic gear out of the waste stream is a biggie for obvious reasons.

How to make waste-free living chic and creative? Advice abounds, well-produced blogs on how to eliminate plastic packaging from your life (cloth bags); where and how to shop, prepare and store food with minimal impact (farmers markets, the bin section of your organic HQ, toting your own containers); how to go vintage and practice upcycling.  Zen and the art of maintaining everything. Have fun checking these out. I did!

Zero Waste Chef — Anne-Marie Bonneau. Start collecting your glass jars! Best sour dough instructions.

Going Zero Waste — Kathryn Kellogg. Making your own natural cosmetics, worm bin composting (once you get past the ew factor).

Trash Is For Tossers – Lauren Singer, also sells green alternatives on her site, also inspired by Zero Waste Home – ‘Guru’ Bea Johnson.

A Small and Delicious Life – homesteading tips by a sustainability and behavior change guru, Ruben Anderson.

No Impact Man Project – what Colin Beavan is up to now that he’s a single dad.

Mr. Money Mustache – Peter Adeney’s wildly successful blog on thrift. Also his piece on a road trip by Tesla.

Ecological wearable art: Trash Fashions, created by Aidana Baldassarre (local) and Zero Waste Fashion (New York Times).  Mostly for the young and skinny, but love those upcycled totes.

Repurposed clothing on Esty. Much more than artfully slashing your old jeans for a new look.

Thrift Shops in Palm Beach County – Google thrift in your area for a similar list.

The Renegade Seamstress – DIY fashions

LifeEdited – DIY Murphy bed is just the beginning. Sign up for the newsletter. One of the few that doesn’t immediately pepper you with unwanted advertising.

Craig’s List How To Nice of them to give us a hand.

Facebook ‘Virtual Garages Sales’ for your area. As long as we keep moving on and up, there will be lightly used furniture and household stuff available.

Finally, here’s a calculator that shows you where you are now and where/how/how much you could lessen your carbon impact. Wish they had considered the EV in their calculations. http://coolclimate.berkeley.edu/calculator

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

So Happy Together

Co-housing, a form of communal living launched in Denmark, sans the back-to-the-land 60’s hippie vibe, has interested me for close to 20 years, and it coming up on my radar once again, a combination of my age and my realization of how closely the principles of cohousing – community, shared resources, resilience, environmental values – align with those of the Transition movement. And also because, via Transition, I’m learning about urban planning and even participating in some ‘interventions.’

Suburban sprawl, even as pretty as the lushly-planted, pool-and-tennis-court sprinkled complexes such as the one I live in, doesn’t support a healthy, well-functioning community, let alone enlightened society. A shopping mall is not the village green, although Teens and Tweens do their best to make it so. We became successful as a species because we are social animals, and that may be how we will figure a way out of the mess we’re in now. So I find it puzzling that we have accepted design that expresses a preference for privacy, even anonymity, over community; that values speed and efficiency – cars and service vehicles at the expense of pedestrians or bicycles; that submits to conformity and obedience. (Checked your HOA rules lately?)

Being in my early 70s with an older spouse and many friends in the same age cohort, has sharpened the focus on issues of isolation and loneliness, and what it looks like when the care (cleaning, repairs, financial management, etc.) of a home you once shared becomes your sole responsibility. In cultures (including the one I was born into) where elders are valued, these issues don’t exist.

I never want to wind up in an assisted-living facility or senior residence. These artificial environments are like permanently moored cruise ships, with every need attended to, except the need to feel needed, to contribute to something bigger than yourself, to feel connected.

We have to design for the way people really want to live. And, in many instances we are beginning to.  Senior cohousing, ‘granny’ flats, i.e. moving in with the kids, and NORCs – naturally occurring retirement communities — like the Beacon Hill Village in Boston, to name a few, where people remain not only in their homes, but as contributing members of the larger community. Whenever we can share space and not duplicate infrequently-used possessions, we all benefit, and so does the Planet. For this aging yogi, for all those reasons, an ashram looks good.

On the other end of the age spectrum, it is no accident that the Millennial generation is flocking to walkable cities, inventing ways to live and share space, equipment, work, that seem more inspired by Seinfeld than The Brady Bunch. Think also of AirBnB, and even Couchsurfing (for the truly adventurous traveler), two more recent variations on the sharing theme. For Angelo, a young Italian I was chatting with last night at the Transition meeting, enjoying a year of study in the U.S., courtesy of his host family, is just how things are done back home.   Humans are endlessly creative in response to change, and the evidence of this lifts me whenever the news about climate change, peak resources, and corrupt regimes gets too dire.

As much as I quake at the idea of another move, I find myself thinking more deeply about what would support us better in the next phase of our life. Where to next? And when?

cohousing photoWe discovered cohousing around 1997 while living in Hoboken, NJ, a small town that, in those days, was best known for being the birthplace of baseball and Frank Sinatra. The town hadn’t completely outgrown its somewhat seedy past and wasn’t without issues. But we loved our 100-year-old redbrick townhouse and the town itself for its walkability – a word yet to be invented – the friendly neighborhoods, the mom and pop stores, and easy access to New York where I had a strong client base. But change was happening fast as long-promised waterfront development began, bringing rising home values and a soaring real estate tax that would soon become unsustainable, even for a two-income couple. Gentrification has its price. A lot of people like us cashed in and moved out, making room for a younger professional crowd.

So that Spring, we attended a cohousing conference at the Liberty Village Cohousing in Libertytown, MD, to learn more about this new way of housing ourselves. A few months later, we had organized visits to four other cohousing communities, including two in Canada. Three of the four were in early stage development; one, a couple of years old. In retrospect, we might have taken the plunge then had we come across an established community. Most take years not months to go from idea to reality, and many enthusiasts claim that it is the process of dealing with whatever comes up – difficult local ordinances or neighbors, a failure of the group to gel, integrating new people – gives a community its particular character. But most important, the consensus-based approach to planning, designing, managing and maintaining your cohousing community requires a lot of patience. Perhaps this time around, we might be ready.

I was able to check up on the four we actually visited, a prerequisite for membership. Cantine’s Island in Saugerties, NY, is a village within a village on the Esopus River. Trillium Hollow, which won a spot in the cue because our married children lived nearby in Portland, Or.  Windsong, in Langley, about 45 minutes outside Vancouver, an architecturally designed cohousing community where we were invited to share a meal and spend the night. The entire community was under glass, a reminder of those cold Canadian winters. Finally, Quayside, a brilliant joining of existing buildings on a corner of a block in North Vancouver. Of all, the best fit: urban, no two spaces alike, a great intergenerational vibe. Glad to say, all are thriving!

Read more:

History of Cohousing

Senior Cohousing

On Being Prepared

We are having a family conference this week on climate change and including grandchildren, three boys, 15, 13 and 11, and as it happens, all Boy Scouts.  The subject, while not exactly the elephant in the room, has been off-limits to date, even among the adults — as uncomfortable as money, politics, or the fact of death.  Environmental education exists in Florida, see Pine Jog Environmental Educational Center, despite deniers in high places.  But I wanted to know how global warming/climate change was being presented to young people by various groups, including the Boy Scouts of America.  So this morning I did some research (see links at the end of the post).  Laurie David,  a global warming activist and the producer of the Academy Award-winning film An Inconvenient Truth and the HBO documentary Too Hot Not to Handle, has collaborated with Scholastic publishing to produce an excellent guide to the science of global warming and what families can do to mitigate its impacts.  The graphics are delightful and on target.

be-prepared2There is a measured tone to this guide (and others) that reminded me of President Obama’s response to NBC 6 Chief Meteorologist John Morales’ ‘what now’ questions (upon the release of the National Climate Assessment): more fuel efficient cars and Energy Star appliances and letting one’s elected officials know ‘this is important.’    It all seems so sensible and doable, like doubling up on recycling and changing out lightbulbs, and in some ways easier to swallow than adaptation*, which is where most climate experts and savvy political leaders are beginning to put their attention.  For their part — and I commend them for it — the Boy Scouts of America have added a new Sustainability Merit Badge  to the existing one covering the Environment.  Eagle Scout candidates need at least one of the two to qualify.  Not so surprising given the 100 year old organization has been devoted to nature and conservation throughout its history.  There are 100 million scouts worldwide, making it the largest youth organization on the planet, so this is big news.

What lit a fire under my seat about getting the family together now was the release of the National Climate Assessment with its segments on regional impacts.  For Floridians, as I’ve noted here before, preparing for hurricane season is an annual ritual, albeit some people have been reassured by a succession of relatively quiet years. Preparedness is a mindset one can work with when it comes to serious talk about climate, simple as the Boy Scout motto.  Because as the Southeast regional report makes clear, Florida is exceptionally vulnerable to all the impacts of global warming, among which flooding due to sea level rise and salt water contamination of our drinking water and soil, are perhaps the most immediate and most worrying.  First, we have to be willing to get it all out on the table: confusion, denial (whatever form that takes), fear, distrust.  What will be important is to recognize that every day we waste politicizing the facts of climate science is a day we don’t take action.  We need to leave the ‘debate’ to those whose interests it serves, and get on the same page in terms of risk assessment.  You can bet the insurance industry IS paying attention.

“You won’t find many climate change doubters these days within the property insurance business.”  ~ David Kodama, senior director of research and policy analysis for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, or PCI. (Bankrate)

Our strategy so far has been to show more than tell (although we’ve done some of that, too), and it is by now quite clear to everyone in our immediate and extended family and circle of friends, that we are tree-hugging climate activists.  None of the things we have done so far — KXL protest march, EV, renewable energy for our utilities, tree-planting, vegetables from a local farm, no CAFO’s, organizing for Transition, feels like a big deal sacrifice.  It’s child’s play compared to what we — and that means every capable person — may yet be called to do.

*Mitigation and adaptation

Down to Earth (Scholastic), Laurie David’s guide

The National Science Foundation’s Exploratorium, great for older kids

The EPA’s Climate Change and Kids site, multi-age groups

Turn, turn, turn

The activist’s activist, Pete Seeger, left behind a legacy of standing up for social justice and the environment, and a collection of protest songs that still pack an emotional punch. Yesterday, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Lauderdale, at a sold-out celebration performance of Pete Seeger’s music by local musicians, it was déjà vu all over again for me, and I suspect many of the mostly gray-haired Seeger fans.   As heart-felt and enjoyable as the event was, the fact that the issues that Pete Seeger spent a lifetime addressing are still with us — only more so — is not good news for the weary.

pete seegerBut that’s exactly why we need to celebrate our ‘preaching to the converted’ moment, in solidarity with street theater peace activists, Raging Grannies, Matt Schwartz of South Florida Wildland Association (raising the alarm about fracking), Occupy Ft. Lauderdale, Broward Move to Amend, Pax Christi (economic and social justice and respect for creation), the National Lawyers Guild, (lawyers, law students and legal workers for change in the political/economic system), and SOA Watch, (ending oppressive U.S. foreign policy in Latin America), among others.

I draw a lot of energy from a love-in like this one; we all do, whatever our political leanings.  The inconvenient truth is, we prefer to be with like-minded people and the more the merrier. It’s another form of confirmation bias, that is, our tendency to surround ourselves with people and information that confirms what we already believe. Uh-oh. It may be hard-wired into our species in service of the survival instinct, but it’s not working anymore..

I wasn’t thinking about this particularly when I landed hard last evening with a particularly unnerving episode of Years of Living Dangerously, but it’s coming up for me now as a major element of our difficulty as activists, and the challenges we will face.

If you’ve been paying attention to climate change, the Leslie Stahl segment in Living Dangerously carried few surprises, with the possible exception of actually hearing what ice sounds like as it begins to break apart. Terrifying. But it was the other report, about the stubborn (or I could say steadfast) denial of basic climate science by one large, well-funded religious sect, was especially disturbing for me, because 1. I am surrounded by and constantly reminded of this kind of thinking here in mega-church-land, 2. Florida is exceptionally vulnerable and denial now will be very costly later, and 3. I fear for my grandchildren, indeed, all grandchildren. So I have the deepest respect for climate scientist/evangelical Christian, Katherine Hayhoe, the star of an earlier Living Dangerously episode, for modeling a way of reaching out to those whose views differ from her own.   The world we have created in ignorance will demand nothing less.

Pete Seeger would approve.

Food Fight and Seed Bombs*

“Seed is not just the source of life. It is the very foundation of our being.”  – Vandana Shiva

 If the name Vandana Shiva doesn’t ring a bell, you probably don’t know jack about why saving and sharing seeds from your organic produce is the ultimate act of rebellion against the corporatocracy.  No matter.  Just know that this food fight is anything but a frivolous venting of teenage high spirits.  In fact, with California’s drought worsening and threatening crops, and Monsanto scoring big in legal battles to continue privatizing nature, the timing couldn’t be better.  If you eat, this fight is your fight. Consider yourself enlisted.

Vandana Shiva 2Dressed in her beautiful saris and signature bindi, physicist, author, ecofeminist and seed activist, Dr. Shiva hardly looks the revolutionary. But spend a few minutes in her company – there are plenty of videos to choose from – and she will make a powerful case for why you absolutely must 1. Support your local organic farmer and grow what food you can sustainably and 2. Save your seeds – see links below on how to do that – and/or start a small seed-sharing circle. The goal is nothing less that long-term food security and reclaiming your rights as a world citizen.   It is food democracy that benefits everyone in the food chain.

“We need to build the direct relationship between those who grow the food and those who eat it. Care for people has to be the guiding force for how we produce, process, and distribute our food…We need to shift the paradigm of economics to measure the well being of people not the profits of the oligarchs.”

Shiva’s organization, Navdanya, is a network of seed keepers and organic producers across 16 states in India. It has helped set up 54 community seed banks across the country, and has trained half a million farmers in sustainable agriculture. According to Dr. Shiva, these actions were also aimed at stemming an epidemic of farmer suicides as farms and livelihoods were lost to Big Ag’s invasion of India.

Maybe farming isn’t in your blood or your future. Perhaps converting a patch of your lawn into a vegetable garden isn’t your thing. Don’t expect an automatic deferral. You can still be a part of the support corps, carefully conserving seeds from your produce — easy in the case of squash, pumpkins, melon and peppers – and a little more challenging with tomatoes. Tip: just cut a small section from the next great organic tomato you eat and put it in a pot to sprout. More specifics from Organic Gardening. Organic potatoes and sweet potatoes give you a clue about what to do next by sprouting conveniently in your vegetable bin. Plant one in a pot and follow these directions from Container Gardening.

All of this seems pretty mild mannered as revolutionary action goes, although you may encounter some strong resistance from HOA’s that love pouring your money down the drain (into the water system) to maintain large expanses of grass, or communities hell-bent on upkeeping standards of conformity.   (Backyard chickens, hold the fort.)

seed bombYou could waste a lot of time fighting city hall.  So here’s one of my favorite weapons of grass destruction: the seed bomb. These come in many forms – balls of clay embedded with seeds and organic fertilizer, eggs filled with the same, and seed pills, all the above in miniature.  These little projectiles are perfect for challenging locations, “spontaneous floral attacks,” and vegetable gardening below the radar. You can carry a seed bomb (or pill) in your pocket and launch an attack of edible landscaping in the least expected public places. Think of this as a time-bomb that does some good in the world. Sneak back for the harvest, if you dare.

*Seed bombing is a technique of introducing vegetation to land by throwing or dropping compressed bundles of soil containing live vegetation (seed balls).

More good reads:

http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/vandana-shiva-cultivating-diversity-freedom-hope

http://www.guerrillagardening.org/ggseedbombs.html

http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/saving-seeds-for-next-season?page=0,1

http://seedlibraries.weebly.com

https://www.facebook.com/seedtheuntoldstory

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/corporatocracy

‪http://youtu.be/Z2PaLEmSFi8