Category Archives: environment

Black Friday

Once upon a time, store closings for Thanksgiving wouldn’t have been remarked upon. It is not only a Federal and Stock Exchange holiday, but a sacred, Norman Rockwell moment in American life and we need more, not less, of them. This year, it has become a thing that some stores are closed, like Costco, Staples, and TJ Maxx. In fact, a far larger number are not, starting their Black Friday sales a day earlier. (You know who you are.) I empathize with the staff who have no choice but work on this holiday, and with those who count on these sales to do their holiday gift buying. But I won’t be in those checkout lines on principle and for my mental health. I suspect I’m not alone in a desire to skip the whole fracas that has become the holiday season, and this year I’m getting off to a good start thanks to an unexpected gift: a serendipitous catch on the internet.

So here’s what we’re planning for Black Friday: the Ground Floor Farm’s Really Really Free Market, 2-8 pm, November 27, 100 SE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., in Stuart, Fl.  This is a ‘pop-up marketplace of diverse goods and services where absolutely everything is free. No money, no barter. Just come and take what you want, and ideally give something too!’ To make giving possible, on Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, they’ll be accepting donations of goods. On the day of the event, you can show up with your own sign (table and chair) and offer a free service, e.g. haircut, massage, yoga class, musical serenade, financial planning – you get the idea. I don’t need any more stuff, but I could probably fill a bag or two of items for donation.  And who could say no to a free massage or serenade?  http://www.groundfloorfarm.com/freemarket

Ground Floor Farm is the brainchild of three young farmers, Jacki, Micah and Mike, whose vision is to be part of a ‘hometown renaissance’ by modeling and educating others about small space urban farming, and becoming a hub of cultural and social events. In addition to a regular booth at the Sunday Stuart Farmers Market, they offer classes in homesteading arts like medicinal herbs, and the making of cheese, bread, sauerkraut and candles, plus a free yoga class every Sunday. There is also a young adult program and a three-day camp for grades 2-8 this December.

free veggiesThe Really Really Free Market is a local example of the gift economy I’ve touched on in previous posts, and I’m really really excited to experience it and possibly borrow the idea. Other current examples include the little free libraries of Lake Worth organized by local residents (it’s a national movement), and accessory and/or clothing swaps for frugal fun and charitable fund-raising turning up in women’s circles. Seed and/or cuttings swaps, tool libraries, time banks, and guerrilla gardening are familiar to the Transition Town culture, and a reliable source of community resilience. For free and excellent online learning, see Coursera for adult learners and Khan Academy for school children. Recently, I participated in the Mindfulness Summit, an Australian-based project providing 31 days of interviews and instruction with renowned meditation teachers, each segment available for 24 hours for free (the package for future viewing was $79). Even large-scale projects like our national parks system, the lending libraries, community-supported projects like Wikipedia, in fact, the internet itself, all fall into the category of gift: something freely given.  This is my idea of a free market.

Gifts have an old and complex history linked with matriarchal societies, beginning with the fact that mothers bestow the gift of life on their children, with no expectation of return (though the occasional phone call wouldn’t hurt). Gifts are based on the philosophy of abundance and generosity as opposed to exchange which is tied to scarcity and susceptible to hoarding and greed. The gift economy predated capitalism, so it is especially fascinating to see it re-emerge in mainstream culture today.  Charles Eisensteins’ Sacred Economics, a history of money (recommended reading) offers four useful principles for a successful gift economy that you may find helpful in the often fraught experience of giving and receiving on a smaller scale.

  1. Over time, giving and receiving must be in balance.
  2. The source of a gift is to be acknowledged.
  3. Gifts circulate rather than accumulate.
  4. Gifts flow towards the greatest need.

All make sense to me, especially #4.  I’m re-gifting these to my readers, paying (and playing) them forward, you could say. ‘Tis the season to be mindful about how and why and for whom we buy holiday gifts, and whether there is something more precious we can give.

More on this topic:

Reconomy: http://www.reconomy.org/economic-enablers/alternative-means-of-exchange/the-gift-economy-and-community-exchanges/

The Moneyless Manifesto: http://www.moneylessmanifesto.org/book/the-moneyless-menu/the-gift-economy/

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Business As Usual — Not

When I used to rail against corporations ruling the world, my entrepreneur friend, the late Jim Kirsner, used to argue that the business community had to be part of the solution to the problem of climate change. I’m sure he’s right in the ‘we need everyone’ sense, but where I live, business as usual looks like complete folly.  After a punishing few years, real estate is said to be recovering in South Florida. On the high end new construction, this appears to be true. En route to my yoga classes, I cross a bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway where mansions arise on one side facing a dazzling new high-end community called Azure on the other. Phase I of its $900K-2.8M condos with marina and optional boat slips is almost sold out; building has commenced on Phase II. Aging, wealthy Boomers are still thinking of Florida as an ideal ‘luxury lifestyle’ destination, and climate change deniers in state government couldn’t be happier. It’s mini-Miami, and prefab-tiny-houseonly marginally less at risk for sea level rise.

But shift is happening, and though Elon Musk and the Tesla are have achieved rock star status, it is far more likely that if/when a tipping point toward sanity is reached, it may well be because, to paraphrase Margaret Mead, a small group of thoughtful, committed business people become vocal critics of the status quo and, more importantly, transform themselves.

One recent example: Robert Politzer, CEO of Greenstreet Inc., a New York City-based construction firm whose mission is to “prove the business advantage of triple bottom line: profit, people, planet,” writes about how frequent, intense rain is already affecting his business practices and increasing his costs. Who should pay, Politzer asks: his clients, the government, or those responsible for emissions accelerating climate change? He argues, as does New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, frequently, for a price on carbon. Carbon fees “potentially in the hundreds of billions of dollars” — could conceivably generate economic stimulus and “a major push toward a more sustainable sector and … economy.” Link to the original article here.  It’s hard to imagine entrenched power ceding any of it, given the current political climate. But there are those who are banking on it.

Scratch the surface and you’ll learn a lot about that triple bottom line and the idea of “tackling climate change through market-based solutions” from think tanks like The Rocky Mountain Institute, founded in 1982 “to create a clean, prosperous and secure low-carbon future” to the more recently formed B Team, a group of star power entrepreneurs (think Ariana Huffington) and civil servants, on the principle that “business needs a Plan B.” In December 2014, RMI formed a strategic alliance with Carbon War Room, an initiative of Sir Richard Branson, so that they could go ‘further, faster together.’

The B Team (Branson is also co-founder) has been busy, too. In July, it released Seizing the Global Opportunity: 2015 New Climate Economy Report which includes 10 points, e.g. invest at least US$1 trillion a year in clean energy, and implementing effective carbon pricing, and insists that “we don’t have to choose between economic growth and taking action on climate change.”

If you click on the links above and spend even a few minutes scrolling around these beautifully designed websites, you might think with all these smart entrepreneurial people involved, mission accomplished. A win-win. You might even be tempted to jump on their bandwagon. Just last week, I could have attended the Aruba Sustainable Week for $550 plus airfare and hotel. Paris in December sounds appealing.

Well, I don’t mean to rain on this parade (or maybe I do). It’s just that I am suspicious of the have-our-cake-and-eat-it-too ideology that is enriching the already well-heeled. The notion that growth could be a problem, even the problem, isn’t a popular view in our culture.  I won’t wait for Throwback Thursday to retrieve my copy of Small is Beautiful for alternate solutions that are neither ‘further’ nor ‘faster.’

An economy founded on the growth paradigm and the pursuit of wealth is not sustainable, by definition.
~E.F. Schumacher

Walking for Our Grandchildren, II

Miami Climate MarchIt has been two years since my spouse and I participated in the Walk for Our Grandchildren in Washington DC. This Wednesday, we are joining the People’s Climate March in Miami. If you live there and are paying attention, it won’t be news that rising seas combined with geology are already playing havoc with the city’s drainage system, regardless of storm activity. How Miami would come through a major hurricane no one seems willing to address, at least, not officially. It would hurt the booming economy, is the political mantra of the denial crowd.

Grandparents tend to have more at stake in the future than other people, so I find it strange that these marches are not bringing hundreds if not thousands of us into the streets in nonviolent demonstrations. The 2013 Washington Grandparent march drew about 300 people, a small number given the credentials of the speaker, longtime activist and author, Bill McKibben.  A handful of marchers were arrested. It made the news. OK, that action and others like it may have succeeded in killing the KXL Pipeline, but that is clearly more symbolic than a real shift in direction. The reality is, trains carrying oil roll through suburban towns like mine every single day. Organizers of the Miami march project between 500-8,000 people, a far cry from the 40,000 that assembled in New York last fall even at the high point.  Not close to the 250,000 Germans who protested the TPP this week.

Meanwhile, despite clear danger and plenty of implementable plans in the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Action Plan that could at least put some brakes on the inevitable, coastal cities are bristling with construction cranes. Realtors are talking recovery. New celebrity restaurants and name boutiques are opening in areas vulnerable to flooding. And Dr. Oz recently dropped a reported $18 million on a Palm Beach mansion. Go figure.

All of this sharpens my concern for our five grandchildren, especially the two 17-year-old grandsons in their final year of high school, looking ahead to college next year. Graduates are finding work in the shadow economy or grabbing jobs well below their qualifications now. It’s hard to see how this will improve in 4-5 years. The larger question that troubles my sleep is, what kind of education can prepare our grandchildren for a world completely unlike the one they grew up on, sans cheap energy?  If the COP21 Summit in Paris this November falls short of its carbon reduction targets as it appears it will, their generation could be facing climate events of an unprecedented scale and velocity; resource wars; and massive population displacements. Our military is certainly preparing for these outcomes* even as our politicians continue to fiddle, tweak data, or flat out deny the evidence.

I’m told this march will be more like a festival, with music and dancing, plus colorful banners and puppets. We will walk about a mile between the Miami government center and the Torch of Friendship where there will be another rally. It’s made up of a coalition of the like-minded, from the League of Women Voters to the Sierra Club. We’re also voters who will choose our presidential candidate through the lens of climate change. Thomas Friedman’s recent Op-Ed: Stuff Happens to the Environment, Like Climate Change doesn’t mince words “… if you vote for a climate skeptic for president, you’d better talk to your kids first, because you will have to answer to them later.” We answering to them now, before they ask. With our hearts, and our feet.

* “Climate change will affect the DoD’s ability to defend the nation and poses immediate risks to U.S. national security.” 

Wanderlust and Other Addictions

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”  ~ Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes

When Robert Louis Stevenson wrote this, the prototype of the automobile was still 10 years away and the four-lane highway and modern jet travel unimaginable, even for the author of Treasure Island.  About as unthinkable as travel by donkey is for us today.  Stevenson’s quote is commonly paired with images of highways and jets because it encourages us to do more of something that we cannot do without.  We, of all the living creatures capable of independent movement, have the itchiest of feet.  While it is true that everything is in motion, that many species migrate, by wing, fin, and hoof in response to seasonal change, only homo sapiens is afflicted with incurable restlessness. Life as we know it was shaped by an age of exploration and discovery.  It is who we are. Early epic masterpieces like Gilgamesh and the Odyssey were essentially travel writing, tales of adventures far from home. Why did they go? Unlike the quaint roving of an English gentleman in love with the experience itself, the epics suggest their protagonists were called to more serious, exclusively manly pursuits: war (often as paid combatants), trade, and diplomacy.  Even Buddha, the icon of peaceful abiding, had to leave his home in order to seek enlightenment.

What we have today is wanderlust on steroids, an addiction to speed — jets, fast cars, motorcycles, even bullet trains — as overpowering as any other habit.  As long as we feel compelled to get somewhere fast, as business people or tourists, and are willing to pay any price, we are stuck in fast forward.  Summer travel is barely over when the lucrative holiday travel season kicks in.  Because we have been willing to uproot ourselves for jobs or ‘a better life’ elsewhere, flying or driving across state lines or even across the continent, is inevitable for most Americans, me included. To be with the ones we love in another place, we willingly tolerate crowded highways, long, boring waits at airports, and sometimes fatigue that abates about the time we’re ready to turn around and go home. And that’s when everything goes without a hitch. Who hasn’t spent an unintended extra night en route, in an airport hotel, or even camped out on the departure lounge floor?

Here’s another lifestyle choice that keeps us in motion: the idea that everyone, not just the wealthy, deserves a getaway.  According to the National Realtor Association, the vacation and second home market just enjoyed its best year in recent history.  Flush from a decade or so when our homes were appreciating above historical trends (AKA the ‘bubble’), my 65+ cohort is packed with people on the go: two-residence Snowbirds (been there, done that), cruise junkies, serial house-sitters, and life-long RVers.  Le Mans, the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona Speedway may soon become anachronisms, yet it is evident that, with few exceptions, most of us will keep right on driving and flying until we burn through the last drop of gasoline and/or jet fuel.  (See, The Seat is Going Anyway)

ZachBrown-PhotoThat’s why I’m encouraged by a growing counterculture move on the part of the Millennials to dump cars and suburbs in favor of Walkable cities where they can walk or bike to work, take public transportation to an arts or music venue, stroll to food shops and other essential services, and skateboard to hang out with friends. Perhaps instead of lamenting their inability to achieve the standard of living of their parents and grandparents, we could be studying them for clues on how to live more creatively — not to mention in better health and degree of fitness — in a future of resource constraints. “The markets where Millennials are most highly concentrated reflect their desire to live in more socially conscious, creative environments. Austin, Texas has the highest concentration of this group—almost 1.2 times the national average—and fits the Millennial ideal, combining urban convenience with an exciting art and music scene.” (Nielsen report)

We may not be able to cure our restlessness, but perhaps we can cut it down to size.  Possibly, these new denizens of small, vibrant cities are the pioneers in a new age of travel by rail, sail, pedal and/or foot.  Bye-bye McMansions and three-car garages, farewell overstuffed cruise ships.  Hello staycations, homesteading in urban plots, mixed-use neighborhoods, and booming farmers markets where local is cool.

Why Millennials Are Ditching Cars …
ZachBrown photo

Does Florida Have A Poet Laureate?

Happily, surprisingly, yes!  As of June 15, after a gap of three years, Peter Meinke, 82, was appointed to the position.  As it happens, I am familiar with Meinke’s work via his second volume of poems, Trying to Surprise God, gifted to me by one of his students at Eckerd College, a sister writer and friend.  Who knew then I would come to live in the home state of this poet, whose Lines from Key West, inspired both curiosity and a sense of foreboding? I’ve been feeling as optimistic about the state of poetry in this country as I do about the State of Florida, which is to say not very. But this news is somewhat encouraging on both counts, if only because Meinke’s four year term also coincides with a critical window of opportunity for Florida to get its act together about sea level rise and the rising demand for solar energy. There is, as the title of one new collection of climate-related poetry puts it, So Little Time: Words and Images For a World in Climate Crisis.  

Poets were once the rock stars of their generation, able to speak truth to power through their art. They got it, and did not fear to take a stand. Here’s T.S. Eliot, writing in 1939:  “For a long enough time we have believed in nothing but the values arising in a mechanized, commercialized, urbanized way of life. It would be well for us to face the permanent conditions upon which God allows us to live upon this planet.”

The good news: poetry is persistent enough, even in our social media, texting-crazed, wired culture — perhaps even because of it —  for questions about its demise to crop up every so often.  The latest iteration comes in a CNN report on the appointment of Juan Felipe Herrera as the next poet laureate of the United States.  Notwithstanding The Writers Almanac, and popularity of poets like Billy Collins (a former U.S. laureate) and Mary Oliver, it is clear that the number of people who read poetry is shrinking to cult status. And yet, undeniably, as the surge of interest in poetry after 9/11 indicates:

In times of national crisis, when ordinary language fails us, we still turn to poetry to express the inexpressible.  Brandon Griggs, CNN

I believe poetry can — and must — show up whenever and wherever it can make the strongest impact, where it takes us by surprise, shakes us out of our lethargy, and makes us care about what truly matters. And for that, we need more than the printed page; we need spoken word poetry, delivered at open mics, popup events, or even through campaigns such as the voicemail poetry created by poet and professor, Major Jackson, for his students at the University of Vermont.  It goes like this: you call a friend and, without any explanation, recite a poem on their voicemail. If they answer, you tell them to hang up and let your next call go to voicemail.

spoken word micThe other reason I see a future for spoken word poetry is Eve Ensler. With her launch of The Vagina Monologues in a tiny theater on the Westside of New York City, Ensler demonstrated the power of spoken word to touch people deeply. She not only shook up gender politics, she also launched an ongoing international campaign to call attention to violence against women and girls. Performing her material and the formation of a troupe that grew from that experience (Women Aloud) has me asking some new questions. What if a campaign based on spoken word poetry (or monologues) could do for climate justice activism what Ensler did for the women’s movement? And if so, what better place than Florida, climate ground zero, to test it out? When you think about it, critiques of the status quo and prophetic warning are by no means a new role for poetry through the ages. Think Shelley’s Ozymandias. I especially love Wendell Berry’s savage wit and quiet anger in Questionnaire and Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front from which one of my favorite quotes: Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.

Beside So Little Time, this year, the UK’s Guardian launched a series of 20 original poems on climate curated by British poet laureate, Carol Duffy, because (as she wrote): If information was all we needed, we’d have solved climate change by now. The scientific position has been clear for decades. Researchers have been waving a big red flag that has been impossible for our politicians to miss.”  Her goal for the collection: “… to reach parts of the Guardian readers’ hearts and minds that the reporting, investigations, videos, podcasts and the rest had failed to reach.”  

Poets grieve, rage, and pull no punches.  An example:

Extinction

We closed the borders, folks, we nailed it.
No trees, no plants, no immigrants.
No foreign nurses, no Doctors; we smashed it.
We took control of our affairs. No fresh air.
No birds, no bees, no HIV, no Poles, no pollen
No pandas, no polar bears, no ice, no dice.
No rainforests, no foraging, no France.
No frogs, no golden toads, no Harlequins.
No Greens, no Brussels, no vegetarians, no lesbians.
No carbon curbed emissions, no Co2 questions.
No lions, no tigers, no bears. No BBC picked audience.
No loony lefties, please. No politically correct classes.
No classes. No Guardian readers. No readers.
No emus, no EUs, no Eco warriors, no Euros,
No rhinos, no zebras, no burnt bras, no elephants.
We shut it down! No immigrants, no immigrants.
No sniveling-recycling-global-warming nutters.
Little man, little woman, the world is a dangerous place.
Now, pour me a pint, dear. Get out of my fracking face.

~ Jackie Kay

More to think about:

The Dark Mountain project, a network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilisation tells itself. We produce and seek out writing, art and culture rooted in place, time and nature.

Poetry Outloud — an annual contest for the spoken word that offers school-age performers cash prizes include $20,000 toward a college scholarship.

Consider supporting the poetry/climate effort by your purchase of So Little Time: Words and Images for a World in Climate Crisis, by Greg Delanty and other poets and photographers.  (Green Writers Press, Brattleboro, Vermont).  I am not affiliated with the authors or publisher.

The Gift Economy*

The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

~ Sweet Darkness, David Whyte

For those who make their livelihood in the financial markets or follow their own investments closely, this week will require seat belts, low and tight across your laps.  If you believe things are going to return to ‘normal’ for the dominant energy sector any time soon, read this from the Post Carbon Institute. It certainly calls into question whether Shell’s proposed Arctic drilling is anything but pure political theater. Although we divested from fossil fuels a while back, I have vowed not to look at our portfolio until the end of the day, but maybe end of the week is even better. I am not a fan of volatility in money matters or in human behavior (perhaps that’s redundant).

So, I’m turning my attention to what I can do When Things Fall Apart, to cite a favorite book from a favorite author.  I’m reading more poetry and attempting to write it better because, well, if not now, when?  I’m also making plans to put up a crock of sauerkraut in the hour formerly known as Sunday service because at least it will leave me with something that nourishes me for a few days.  I’m beginning to explore life in the gift economy*, the realm that exists apart from getting and spending, (although I will have to acquire about 5 lbs. of cabbage and some Kosher salt for my project) and I invite you to join me there.

Let me begin with a riff on these lines lifted from David Whyte’s poem for a few bars, and feel free to hum along (here is the complete poem from Whyte’s collection, The House of Belonging, ©1996 Many Rivers Press, and long a favorite of mine). First, I’m more than a little tickled that Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat. Pray. Love) chose this quote for her poem of the day. While I would argue against a purpose for something as impractical as a poem, David Whyte is well-known for his work with corporations and organizations to help employees break old habits of mind and ‘come alive’ on the job. Having done time myself in some stagnant workplaces, I cannot help but wonder how many people rose up from one of Whyte’s workshops and kept right on walking.

This poem, and others of his most loved verse, are an invitation, an enticement, to be more alive, moment to moment, to simply be. I read these lines as a call to free ourselves from all the boxes we put ourselves into, often unwittingly: our roles, relationships, titles, possessions, self-delusions, anything that makes us dead to the world ‘to which we belong.’ For this kind of breakthrough, Whyte suggests, we need our own ‘sweet darkness’ of meditation or reflection, so we may learn who we are, where we belong, and with whom. Discovering whatever brings us alive is the great uncompensated work of a lifetime. My short list: my long, ever-surprising marriage; poetry, especially read aloud; music, especially making it, however inexpertly; real conversations with friends and strangers; walking with no particular destination; slow food; slower everything. What’s on yours?

Of course, poetry is part of the gift economy, in the sense that it is available and of benefit to all. With very few exceptions, no one lives on poetry alone, or the making of art of any kind, for that matter. The U.S. Poet Laureate gets a stipend of $35,000, plus $5,000 travel expenses, paid by a private grant. And yet, “It is difficult,” said William Carlos Williams, “to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there.”

The library system is another such enduring gift (thank you, Andrew Carnegie). It’s anyone’s guess how many lives have been changed, lifted-up, by the simple act of reading. Some libraries have added tools and equipment.  Speaking of free access, you should be able to download an e-book version of Pema Chodron’s best-seller by clicking on When Things Fall Apart. You might consider this giveaway a smart marketing move to sell more of her books generally,  But I consider it another example of the gift economy, made possible by the Internet. In fact, one could argue that the entire Internet fits the description of gift, albeit one needs tools and access.  In one of my favorite visions of a future worth having, small farmers in the developing world generate local energy via solar panels and use technology like affordable cell phones and/or rollup computers to download necessary information, while their children logon to (free) Khan Academy.

freecycle-300x141Other gifts: the National Parks System, including the incomparable Florida Everglades, when last I checked. Public beaches, mandated by law. Public spaces, as long as you’re not breaking a local ordinance on size of group or activity.  Let’s also include, Free-cycling. Blogs, from the mighty HuffPo to this one (although you must tolerate some ads — sorry.) My favorite: foraged foods — berries, mushrooms, wild greens.  Then, the obvious freebies: trees, wild pollinators, along with clean air, water, soil, and sun, rain, wind — anything we consider held in common, available to be used and enjoyed by all. In other words, all that brings — and keeps us alive. For these gifts, may we be sufficiently grateful to pass them forward.

_______

*I am using ‘gift economy’ is a broader sense than this definition, and more akin to that suggested by Charles Eisenstein’s book: Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition.

What We Can Know

Like transplants from elsewhere, we go to Florida’s beautiful, relatively uncrowded beaches in summer to fill our lungs with salt air, press our bare feet into the sand, and look for turtle tracks. It turns out that 2015 has been a record year for turtle nesting in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.  Sure enough, there were plenty of fresh tracks in evidence on a recent Sunday morning, many new nests, and a researcher on dune buggy taking his morning tally.

Preserving life other than our own is for many people an instinctive response, one that affirms our interconnection with and interdependence on all living things, including the Earth itself.  Some years ago on this same stretch of beach, we rescued about 20 turtle hatchlings by keeping hungry seagulls in the air while the young made a dash for the waves. This race that relatively few actually win, apparently also hones the turtles’ survival skills and increases their chance of living into adulthood and reproducing. We were giddy with joy that morning, though none the wiser about the way of turtles, e.g. how do they know which way the water is? Or how is it that their mothers, and some day these newly hatched females grown to adulthood, catch a ride on the Gulf Stream and return to this very beach to lay their eggs? Loggerheads, Leatherbacks and green turtles are (unlike urban trees, alas) protected by law, so evidence that they are thriving is reason for celebration. But more than that, I’m curious about how significant this shift, if indeed it is a lasting one, could be in big picture terms. What might it suggest about the future health of our world if turtles, like bald eagles, any life form for that matter, do well enough to be removed from the endangered list? Or when damage can be reversed as we step back and let nature takes its course. We don’t always know what will work until we see what happens.

You have to be encouraged about the most recent news about bees, too, as well as for ‘a new breed of bee keepers‘ who are swelling the ranks, according to a recent story in the Palm Beach Post’s business section. The newcomers are entering the business as a sideline, drawn by the high demand for honey, but what if they could become part of a citizen movement to preserve and strengthen bee colonies? An associate professor of entomology is quoted as saying that CCD (colony collapse disorder) is “gone or pretty minimal,” which suggests that a turnaround via human intervention is possible. And bees are kind of important to our food security.

Whatever drives us to discovery, anyone of us can only know a small fraction about our world relative to what there is to know, and most of what we discover is through hands-on experience, experimentation and observation. But I believe we are obligated to engage with and learn whatever we can, and in that process come to love the world and want to save it. In that context, here’s a photo of one of our grandsons, an incoming high school senior who aspires to become an aeronautical engineer, Shaw harnesses the winddoing an experiment of his own with wind power on Mousam Lake, Maine. Earlier, he and his youngest brother successfully ‘sailed’ their canoe across this same lake using this same outsize umbrella. When you recall that before the discovery and rapid implementation of fossil fuels, humans explored the known — and unknown — world entirely under sail, perhaps this augers well for the great re-skilling, a back-to-the-future, intergenerational strategy I believe is inevitable for our survival as a species. I am glad to leave speculating on origins and causation to scientists, philosophers and those of religious persuasion. And when we need a little humility to prick our 21st century techno-arrogance bubble, we might channel rock star astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, who reminds us that something called Dark Matter is accelerating the expansion of our universe, but we don’t even know what it is. I highly recommend his terrific on-demand StarTalk Radio Show, a combination of Car Talk (a lot of joking and boisterous laughter) with great interviews and razor sharp observations. In the recent edition that included snippets of deGrasse Tyson’s interview with Ariana Huffington, she noted that far from being in opposition, scientists and people of faith are united by a sense of wonder. One cool woman. The show ended with a call for greater scientific literacy for everyone. May it be so, and may it begin in the home, in schools, and the House.

Unplug Yourself

Here’s a tip for a healthier, more resilient future: get outdoors more and leave your smart phone at home when you do. There’s plenty of evidence that suggests we need what nature gives us for free: refreshment, relaxation, and a sense that we are part of something larger than the manmade environment in which we spend most of our waking hours. In South Florida, indoors automatically means air-conditioning 24/7, breathing recirculated air. Like being on an endless plane ride. Children who spend time playing outdoors every day are not only less likely to become obese, they do better in school. Even elderly shut-ins benefit from being near some green plants, particularly if they care for them. High touch.

Indoor living, whether at work or home, or at a popular restaurant like Duffy’s, is screen time, all the time.  I love to cook but increasingly go to the Internet for a recipe rather than consult one of the many cookbooks I own. Lately, I find myself checking the weather on my smartphone instead of opening a window or going outside to sniff the air. I confess I am hopelessly addicted to The Skimm for my quick dose of news, about all I can take. Most bedtimes, the urge to check email or Facebook one last time is all but irresistible. In wakeful periods during the night, I’m on my tablet reading a novel or catching up on one of the blogs I follow. At least I notice how these habits are changing me in ways I don’t like, stoking impatience and compulsive behavior. You have no doubt realized that Big Brother Internet is watching your searches and online shopping.

Here’s something else I find worrying, for myself and even more for my grandchildren who already exhibit serious dependency on screens (don’t even get me started on video gaming!). We are learning to depend on our visual, and to some extent auditory, senses at the cost of other senses that make us complete human beings. Since touch and smell are more connected to the emotions, is it possible that our addiction to screens themselves — not to mention our compulsion to miss nothing — is changing our relationships with each other as well as with our life support system.

Screen Addiction is Taking a Toll on Children writes personal health columnist, Jane Brody, in a report that is sure to resonate with grandparents and add to our concerns for their future. Perhaps you, too, have witnessed your grandchildren gradually change from affectionate, engaging pre-schoolers who were delighted to see you, always ready to play a game or share a joke, into Tweens or Teens who are so captivated by their devices, they barely acknowledge your presence. To be sure, adolescence is hard on everyone including the ones going through it, but this feels different from familiar teen angst, much more invasive and scary and with ramifications we may not fully comprehend. “Many come to view the real world as fake,” writes Brody. For those of us concerned about the effect of violent video games on children, this is chilling news indeed. Brody’s not letting adults off the hook either.  Her advice is sound: How to Cut Children’s Screen Time: Say No to Yourself First. 

Screens also interfere with our experience with the actual.  Ever noticed how many parents at a recital or school play are making a video of the event as opposed to just experiencing it?  So can they be said to be truly present, or to put it another way, what exactly were they present for? Pixels on a tiny screen?  And what will they remember later: being there, or just what the video tells them they saw? Comic and social critic, Louis CK, does a riff on this subject that is typical of his style: you’re laughing and feeling a chill down your spine at the same time.

kids walkingHey, I love my smartphone. I love texting and sharing photos. I love the built-in GPS that gets me places, the restaurant reviews that save me time and money, being able to leave the heavier equipment at home when I’m on the go and still stay in touch. But we all need to give it a rest. Screen addiction is not healthy for children and other living things and it is not healthy for the Earth. The good news — and there has been more of this lately, from Pope Francis’ encyclical to the rise of solar power through unlikely alliances (see Green Tea Coalition) — is that we can do something about it.  We won’t save the world and our own skins by changing our lightbulbs and shopping greener, but a re-engagement — all senses open — with what we have and what we stand to lose: the only home we have, just might. Turn off, unplug, go hug a tree or a friend.

Bye-Bye Indie Movies

The closing of the Mos’Art Theater in Lake Park this past week is a small, personal tragedy for those of us who loved the great selection of independent and foreign films found there for the last five years. We’ve seen Oscar-nominated documentaries, animated films and features, and even got to vote on them. We’ve attended benefits at the Mos’Art like the showing of The Vessel, co-sponsored by the local National Organization for Women and Emergency Medical Assistance.  Most recently, the 2015 Oscar-nominee for Foreign Language Film, Wild Tales, drew an appreciative audience. To catch films of this caliber now, means driving at least 20 minutes on a hair-raising stretch of I-95 to the only other cinema of its kind in northern Palm Beach County. But even more than the inconvenience, it saddens me to see this promising venue, on the same block as our other favorite local hangout, The Brewhouse Gallery, go dark. A vibrant community needs more thriving small businesses, not fewer, more foot traffic, not less.

indie_logoLake Park has a more diverse population than our home town, and just like the other artsy, colorful, interesting town of Lake Worth, diversity also brings with it more security issues and various defensive strategies.  I notice, for example, that Saigon Market where we shop for a terrific array of Asian ingredients, and the Vietnamese pho/hot-pot restaurant its owners opened last year, pull down metal shutters over their display windows and door at night.  It’s common practice in fringe neighborhoods in any urban area, and one choice retailers can make to protect themselves. But a fortress does not a community make. More venues like The Brewhouse Gallery and its neighbor, Art on Park, both of which cater to emerging artists, are a better way to go. I say this even while recognizing that today’s artists’ haven is tomorrow’s high-rent district. Hello Miami’s Wynnwood.

We live less than 5 miles from Lake Park, in a family oriented town we landed in more than a decade ago, following one set of grandchildren to the sunshine of South Florida. It has its virtues — low crime rate, good schools, two excellent community centers with pools and other sports facilities, more large shade trees, a Whole Foods Market, the Gardens Mall, and of course, a multiplex theater featuring the usual fare of blockbusters. Developers of Downtown, and the newer Midtown, have tried to infuse a sense of community around the collection of shops and restaurants, with comfortable public seating, periodic art shows and free music on the weekends in the season (that is, not the hotter summer months).  Downtown features a carousel and a train for tots that also goes round and round each evening, clanging bell and all. But the design approach doesn’t seem to be moving us in the direction of a real town center as a community gathering place. The farmers market is somewhat better, but without some effort, it’s too easy to be ships that pass in the night. Even the kids don’t seem to be having much fun, except occasionally when they cut loose from their parents and play with other kids. They set a fine example.

I’ve made the point here before that as shoppers, diners or spectators, we’re more likely to stick to our companions. Mingling or chatting with people we don’t know would be an exception rather than the rule, and that’s a seriously bad trend for community life, let alone the kind of resilience the future may demand of us. I don’t think our little corner of Palm Beach County is an isolated example (but I’d be delighted to have that view challenged).  If we aren’t comfortable with the people we meet in the commons, how can we become better at talking with each other in community meetings where an issue of mutual interest is being discussed, let alone in a more politically charged gathering?  Shouldn’t we all be concerned about the silo lifestyles and bland conformity so many of us have adopted, and adapted to, without understanding what and whom we are sacrificing?  I think so, and the indie-minded among you might agree. I’ll leave you with some links worth checking out:

Transition Streets  — just launched website

Strong Towns

Walkable WPB

Where’s the Beef?

The answer is: not in my diet, for reasons ethical, environmental, and health-related.  If you share this preference, you already know it can make you a problematic dinner guest, not quite of the gluten-free or raw food variety (no offense to either), but close.  But recently I made an exception for my meat-loving family, a special birthday celebration — my first born’s 50th! — in a recipe for buffalo chili from an Andrew Weil cookbook.  I am fortunate to have a local source for verified grass-fed meat thanks to Farriss Farm, a small farmers-market-based enterprise run by Robert and Paula Farriss who have seen their business turn around by a burgeoning demand.

ChiliBut the Where’s the Beef line that everyone over a certain age remembers from a Burger King commercial, is a good question for all of us Americans.  Our habits of consumption,  including but not limited to a diet high in meat, means each of us needs approximately 5 times the resources — food, water, energy — the Earth can provide for each human now alive. Our allowable ‘personal planetoid’ is about 4.5 acres. You don’t need to be a math whiz to figure that someone somewhere is getting the short end of the stick now, and with the population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, something is going to give.  From Pope Francis’ encyclical published today: “… a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.” You and I know this, and even so, it’s difficult to accept personal responsibility for a problem so complex it took Pope Francis 184 pages to cover.

If you are a fan of small, specific tasks, you may also be cheered by an elevator speech (love them!), How to Fix America’s Beef Problem in Under 2 Minutes, by co-author, Denis Hayes, of  Cowed: The Hidden Impact of 93 Million Cows on America’s Health, Economy, Politics, Culture, and EnvironmentUnlike the daunting title, this video (thank you, Grist!) is upbeat and accessible like The Story of Stuff series and others of its ilk, and inspiring on multiple levels. Hayes, whose bona fides as an environmentalist are impeccable, isn’t trying to do the impossible: turn 317 million burger-chomping Americans into vegans overnight. Like Michael Pollan (“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”), he offers a reasonable goal of 50% reduction in meat usage, still way beyond what the average citizen in the developing parts of the world consumes.

You may also enjoy the case made by Small Footprint Family for returning to pastured livestock because, among other things, it helps improve soil depleted by agribusiness mono-cropping and sequesters carbon. The article references Alan Savory’s sensational TED Talk  How to Fight Desertification and Reverse Climate Change (over 3 million views).  Savory’s experiment has since drawn fire for being unscalable and for promoting more rather than less meat in the diet. If you can get your hands on a copy of the DVD, Symphony of the Soil, a film it was my pleasure to help introduce in my area, offers a balanced view.

More mindful food choices seem like one of the easier things we can all do to trim our ecological footprint as well as preserve our well-being (which considering the cost of healthcare, is itself a public good). Transition’s 10% local food challenge is a great place to start, whether you are an omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, or raw food enthusiast. Switch 10% of your food purchases to what is produced nearby and keep your small farmer in business.

We aren’t looking to increase the intake of meat in our household, but I must admit that the buffalo chili, flavored with Ancho chili, cumin and dark chocolate, was worth the wait. Glad to share the recipe. Just ask in the comment section.

Small FootPrint Family

What Would Happen If The Entire World Lived Like Americans

http://www.radicalsimplicity.org/footprint.html

Where’s the Beef? Everywhere

Local Food Shift