Tag Archives: community resilience

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/

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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

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

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

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

Waking Up is Hard to Do…But Not Impossible

Charlie Brown Doing OKNo comment needed on this, the first slide of a Transition Towns — 8 Years On show we did at Friends Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth last night, our monthly Transition meetings that have been in progress since January. Putting it together was an education and reminder about how quickly this movement has grown, from the work of Rob Hopkins and his permaculture students in Ireland in early 2005 as they created an “energy descent action plan,” to a worldwide reach: some 1,000 Transition Initiatives in 42 countries.  If you were with us last night, this is a rerun.  If you weren’t, please read on:

A year after he completed his teaching gig and Ph.D. dissertation on the subject, Rob Hopkins started Transition Town Totnes (UK, 2006), and the movement took off like a shooting star.  Many people responded to the opportunity to tackle four key issues that Transition addresses: climate change; our addiction to oil; the myth of endless growth; a skewed economy.

If you’re a subscriber or regular reader of this blog, chances are you are already in the 61 % of Americans who accept the scientific basis for climate change and/or the 48% who recognize that it is “a major threat.”  But I’m going to bet that, even so, you may not have woken up to the fact of our addiction to fossil fuels and why we need to swiftly break it. The concept of Peak Oil shows that around 2008, cheap oil production, upon which our civilization relies  — at least here in the prosperous part of the world — ‘peaked,’ and thereafter, we have had to spend more money, resources (e.g. water), and energy, to extract a diminishing supply. Fracking, which has been touted as the next boom in energy, is actually one sign that we are scraping the bottom of the barrel, pun appropriate.  The case for scaling back on conventional energy use while developing renewables (solar and wind), has never been stronger.Why Transition 4 reasons

You may not be aware that the myth of endless growth was exploded in 1972 with the release of Limits to Growth, and the estimates about when we would reach planetary ‘overshoot,’ that is, when we have ‘used up’ more resources than can be replenished by Nature, are proving all too prescient. Yet, again in the wealthy part of the world, the notion that we can enjoy endless growth on a finite planet, remains a fixed ideology, espoused by government and business.  It is the reason the economy and concern for the environment are so often at odds.   In an economy skewed toward the already wealthy and powerful (and vote-buying) sector, one needs to be constantly reminded that small businesses, including organic farmers and local food producers (to look at one example) create more jobs, better health and well-being, social justice, and keep money circulating in the local community.

The slide show goes on to describe how and where Transition is taking root, and it’s an inspiring human story that I would be glad to bring to your club, faith group, or organization.  I could use the practice, and it’s free.

Most Transition Towns get going when a small group of engaged citizens begin to talk together about our predicament and how we can move beyond it, in and as communities, to a different way of thriving with less energy, more connection, and joy.  Sometimes, the group gels quickly and starts to adapt the low-carbon, relocalizing approach of Transition to the needs of the local community. Sometimes — as in Transition Palm Beaches — partnering with other groups on some common grounds, can be the catalyst.  To date, we have helped — in partnership with EcoArt South Florida and Gray Mockingbird Community Garden — to bring Symphony of the Soil, an important documentary by filmmaker, Deborah Koons Garcia, to the 400-seat Muvico in City Place (WPB) and raise money for a new composting site in the community.

Ken and kids seedingThis April, Transition Palm Beach members participated in C’est La Via, an ‘urban acupuncture‘ project to revitalize underutilized public spaces, in this instance, the bleak alleyway behind the bustling Clematis Street row of restaurants and shops in downtown West Palm Beach, transformed for one day with a scrubbing, paint, plants, music and people interaction into an urban oasis.  This weekend, we went to the historic Osborne School in Lake Worth to participate in planting several acres with a variety of soil-restoring seeds, under the guidance of Ken Horkavy, garden manager and permaculturist, and an enthusiastic bunch of kids. Come back a year from and you may see once vacant land becoming a food forest for the community.  Volunteers welcome.  Get your hands in the dirt.

For me, focusing on what can be done locally is enriched greatly by what is going on the wider world of Transition.  Most of this information is available on two big sites and two emerging ones:  Transition US, the clearing house for Transition information and education in this country.  It offers free online seminars and a wealth of good, inspiring material.  If you cannot be at a seminar, the audio and transcript versions are posted promptly.  In August, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Transition Hub (MATH) was formed, to enable Transition Towns to share information and best-practices. In our area, we have a smaller, promising version in Transition Southeast and Deep South.  In the UK, where all this began, there is The Transition Network, home of Rob Hopkins prolific blog, basic information about the movement, and a list of Transition Initiatives around the world.  As of this writing, the newest is Tiv’on, Israel.  Transition Palm Beaches is still officially registered as a ‘mullers’ group.

Rob Hopkins is often quoted as saying the cavalry is not coming to save us.  But what if we’re the cavalry?  Let’s saddle up and ride.

A Four-Year Degree for Everyone?

The unresolved student loan crisis and the plight of debt-strapped graduates flipping burgers will keep this debate on the front burner for some time to come. But if you, too, have anecdotes about the taxi cab-driving Ph.D, or the electrician with a vacation home in the Bahamas, you know it’s not necessarily news, just more politicized –isn’t everything?

Google the question, or some version of it, and you’re likely to find plenty of opinions along the lines of former William Bennett’s (Reagan’s education secretary) “the broken promise of higher education,” the tagline of the book he’s currently promoting. Even Michael Bloomberg cautions students with so-so grades and large tuition bills to skip college and learn a trade like plumbing that can’t be outsourced or automated.

College is on the radar for two of our grandchildren who are entering their junior year in high school, and on the minds of their parents. One grandson took a workshop in entrepreneurship that enabled him to check out a school on his shortlist. The other took college level math at a local college to earn advance credits, earning an A and family accolades. Do they already feel the pressure of decisions they don’t have the maturity to make? I fear so. It seems to me that age 16 is a little young to be thinking about, let alone training to join, the workforce, especially when it is more than likely they will have several different jobs during their working life. (Young workers hold an average of nine jobs before age 32, according to the Department of Labor.)

I find it troubling that most forecasts about the ‘top jobs for the 21st century’ from U.S. Government sources are based on a paradigm of business as usual, that is, the growth model, plus the changing demographics — by 2050, the population of older Americans will double – that is expected to create demand in certain categories, e.g. the ‘top earner’ ranks of physicians, optometrists and podiatrists. Automation, that eliminated many of the well-paid manufacturing jobs of the past, is about to do the same for the service industry, see Humans Need Not Apply.  And barely factored in at the moment: the business- and life-disrupting impacts of climate change that will call upon some quite different, humanitarian skills sets: resilience, conflict-resolution, communications, and empathy.

Who would want this chillingly Orwellian description of a Department of Labor “real work day” in “future time?”

5:30 a.m. get up/get dressed/exercise

6:30 a.m. make: breakfast, school lunches, grocery list

7:30 a.m. get kids up, dressed, and fed

8:00 a.m. drop off kids and dry cleaning

9:00 a.m. on the job . . . 12 e-mail messages waiting for reply

1:30 p.m. meeting at daycare center (your child is biting!)

2:30 p.m. back on the job . . . 8 voice-mails waiting

5:00 p.m. forward office calls to cell phone

5:30 p.m. pick up child from school aftercare

6:05 p.m. pick up other child, pay late pickup fee at day care

7:00 p.m. make dinner

8:00 p.m. do: dishes, homework, laundry

8:30 p.m. bathe kids

9:00 p.m. read work memos to kids as bedtime story

9:30 p.m. fold laundry/fall asleep

station_road permacultureWe can do better than this for our children and ourselves, and my friend and colleague in Transition already is. This week she wrote that her 18-year-old daughter had completed an online course in permaculture, and had decided to forego the conventional college route of so many of her peers to launch a career in this practice. When she gets her certification, Brennah will be able to practice permaculture in a community that sounds ready to offer her many clients. This choice of career is a natural extension of the family’s long commitment to homeschooling the children, living simply, and growing as much of their own food as possible — a decision they made when they lived in my part of the world, and are carrying forward in their new environment. As part of their self-directed curriculum, the children have already raised and cared for backyard chickens, learned about and foraged for wild edibles, and more recently, added bee-keeping to their repertoire of resilience skills.

I don’t think the family realized when they began just how cutting edge many of these practices would become. Far from a redo of the back to the land movement, permaculture is a highly sophisticated system. The word itself is a combination of permanent and culture, created (and copyrighted) by founder, Bill Mollison, Australian ecologist and university professor. There are many practitioners and definitions, but this one is among the clearest: permaculture is the study of the design of those sustainable or enduring systems that support human society: agricultural and intellectual, traditional and scientific, architectural, financial and legal. It is the study of integrated systems, for the purpose of better design and application of such systems. Rob Hopkins was a permaculture teacher and the Transition movement got its start from a project with his university students.

The permaculture project submitted by Brennah as part of her certification takes a half-acre suburban plot with existing house and adds food-bearing trees and bushes, a kitchen garden, pollinator garden, and grape arbor, all positioned to take advantage of natural contours of the site and optimum growing conditions through the seasons. It will also include a grey water system, and the introduction of forage plant species into the woods behind the main house. Although zoning prohibited any livestock, the clients (who happen to be family members) had their requirements for low-maintenance and year-round yield met by the plan. If this is life’s work for the 21st century, count me in.

Will skilled trades enjoy a renaissance? Will we, as a society, begin to value and reward practical education, skilled manual labor, and crafts more highly in the future? A few pioneering Transitioners seem to think so.

More reads:

Let Your Children Be Farmers

Permaculture education

Geoff Lawton

http://www.permaculture.org/

Florida Permaculture Convergence

Permaculture Broward

Let’s Talk Dirty

I’ve wanted to write that headline ever since Dr. Mehmet Oz did his poop show on Oprah, giving us more on that subject than we ever wanted to know. But this is about sewers, another subject we just as soon not think about. It’s just flush and forget, until something goes wrong. And then, we call the plumber. The end? Not exactly.

van-goghs-toilet-claire-wentzelI first got curious about sewers when we had a block-long pavement collapse in front of our building in New York City in the late 1980’s. It was caused (we were told) by the breakdown of an old water main, and it took over a week to replace the section of pipe and repair the road. In the meantime, we residents of adjacent buildings and passersby got a good look at the size of pipes that move water – and sewage, too – through underground tunnels in a city of that size. I could have stood up in the pipe, assuming I wanted to, and stretch my arms straight overhead. Back then, I wasn’t all that worried about crumbling urban infrastructure, let alone what could happen in the kind of flooding Sandy brought to lower Manhattan and Hoboken (another place I’ve lived) across the Hudson River.

Then my husband came across an oddball story from Dubai about waste management that curled our hair. Terry Gross zoomed in on it, too, in an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air with Kate Asher on her book (The Heights) about skyscrapers, including Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, still the world’s tallest building. Of course, if you’re a fan of hers, you’ll know that Terry Gross cuts right to the question that everyone wanted to ask : “When you’re on the 100th floor of a building and you flush the toilet, what exactly happens after that?” (Quick answer: about the same as what happens in a two-story townhouse, with more pipes.)

Burj Khalifa has broken all kinds of construction records, but what the official page fails to mention is that its plumbing is not connected to the Dubai sewer system. In a building designed to hold 35,000 people, this means that about 15 tons of human waste must be hauled away each day, by truck to a sewage treatment facility. Sometimes so many trucks line up this process can take 24 hours to complete, whereupon it begins again. Seems a bit cart before horse s—t, to me, design-wise. (Google Poop Trucks of Dubai if your curiosity out-weighs the eeww factor.)

Feels like the subject keeps chasing me. Found this in my inbox today: We have a “scary sewage problem,” wrote Gar Alperovitz in Alternet, due to aging, overwhelmed treatment centers and the kind of infrastructure problems I got to witness first hand over 20 years ago, in all our older cities. If the more visible roads and bridges are allowed to fall apart, chances are what is out of sight is getting even less respect and maintenance. Mix flooding from heavy rain to the runoff from agriculture, and you’ve got a sanitation and water security problem, Houston, and Toledo, too, where toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie recently poisoned the drinking water.

In his groundbreaking book, What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution, historian/political economist/activist, Gar Alperovitz offers plenty of great ideas for addressing the huge problems with our economic system that too many people rant endlessly about on Facebook and other social media. Hint: he’s big on cooperatives. So I wasn’t at all surprised that, although he is straight talking about the challenges, he also sees plenty of opportunities, as in JOB opportunities, in fixing the monster urban sewage problem. Chief among these is prevention of storm-water runoff in the first place. He points to smart design approaches like urban forestry, green roofs, and artificial wetlands, among others. It reminds me of the ‘soft’ design approaches to an inrushing ocean – high dunes planted with dune grass vs. seawalls – that spared some Jersey Shore communities during Sandy.  It also made me think of On the Water: Palisades Bay, the architectural design project that captivated me during a visit to the Museum of Modern Art in 2010 (see link below).  These are the kinds of things we need to lobby for in our cities, whatever their size, as adaptive strategies to climate change that also positively impact the economy, immediately and later on.   Check out Alperovitz’s work at Democracy Collaborative about building a more sustainable, equitable economy, and what we as thoughtful citizen can and must do.  Sign up for his newsletter.

Click for pdf intro: On the Water: Palisades Bay (Soft infrastructure aims to synthesize solutions for storm defense and environmental enrichment along the coast.)

Photo: Van Gogh’s Toilet by Clare Wentzel