Tag Archives: environment

It’s Too Late, Baby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mad Max and Mega-Drought

With recent analyses of the record-breaking drought in the Western states in front of mind, I thought a big budget movie about what happens in an age of peak everything, would be just the ticket. So this Memorial Day Weekend, I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road.

For you fans of the Mad Max I, II, and III*, this stunning new 3D release picks up the post-apocalyptic narrative of resource depletion – fuel, water, women of child-bearing age – where a constant state of warfare on the move is the norm. In these, and in others of its ilk, humanity has done something profoundly stupid and profane to the environment and each other, and a price must be paid. The Mad Max franchise sets a high bar for fast-paced chases and thrilling stunts, and this one is no exception. Critically acclaimed, it will likely be around through this summer for your viewing pleasure, and may even make back its sizeable budget.

Our fascination with end of the world narratives is of ancient origin. Most share plot lines familiar enough to be plausible, and possibly serve as a morality tale, even a way forward. In the post-apocalyptic format, humans survive to face a world only movie makers can imagine. Sometimes, they end with more whimper than bang, e.g. The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy’s book of the same title. Critically well-regarded, The Road was only a modest success. For a big box-office hit, we want heroes; we prefer that someone (or something) intervenes and saves humanity in a splashy and surprising way. Enter Mad Max (Tom Hardy), but equally, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Cue the dusty, ragged, cheering extras in the final scene of Mad Max: Fury Road, when the chief villain has been dispatched, and precious water, stored in giant aquifers beneath The Citadel, is released. As in a classic Western to which it has been compared, Fury Road offers resolution, if not quite redemption, at the end. Max survives his inner and outer demons and melts into the tumult; Furiosa, revived by a transfusion of his blood, lives to fight another day. You are probably not surprised that the script for the sequel, Mad Max: Furiosa, is already written and the leads cast.

We walk away from this movie with enough adrenalin coursing through our systems to last all evening, and plenty of substance to talk about. The latter, for me, is what makes a film great. As I poked around the reviews, I was surprised and pleased to discover this note: “Eve Ensler, author of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ consulted with [Director, George] Miller on the script—which suggests that women, as the creators of new life, will, inherently, always be the gender that holds hardest onto hope for the future. Furiosa looks at the insanity of the male leadership around her and decides enough is enough.” Rogerebert.com. Go Vuvalinis!

drought-california-trailerBut we don’t know who to cheer for, who will roll the credits on the story of drought, or how this movie may end. For some educated guesses and possible plot twists ahead, I recommend you take in two fine reports on California’s drought from recent editions of The New Yorker. The most personally resonant is Dana Goodyear’s The Dying Sea: What Will California Sacrifice to Survive the Drought? Sacrifice? What an old-fashioned, Greatest Generation, idea that is. And yet, browner lawns and shorter showers don’t begin to match what will be required to address drought in the West, and not just by the locals.

The dying sea of the title is the Salton Sea, a shallow, increasingly saline, giant inland lake located on the San Andreas Fault (another summer blockbuster to be released) and in the farm-saturated Imperial and Coachella Valleys. When we owned a condo in the Palm Springs area in the 90s, we once took a detour to find a lunch spot at the Salton Sea on the way to Phoenix. It was already well past its heyday as a resort, dotted now with a full array of seedy motels and diners, and biker gangs. But the defunct towns and film noir aspects of the region are the less important story. The health emergency for local residents caught in a modern Dust Bowl is the real wake up call. Here’s the link.

The opening photo of the parched, cracked earth of Lake Mead tells the story before you read a word of Where the River Runs Dry: The Colorado and America’s Water Crisis, by David Owen (currently, The New Yorker’s most popular article). The article gives a dense and fascinating history of water battles of the past and yet to come for a region dependent on one, endangered water source, the Colorado River, “The legal right to use every gallon [of which] is owned or claimed by someone.” If you think it is easy to distinguish the heroes from the villains in this unfolding story of water rights that “originated in the California Gold Rush,” you’re better off turning once again to the Hollywood version, Chinatown, the 1974 Oscar favorite, “set in 1937 and portray[ing] the manipulations of a critical municipal resource [for the city of Los Angeles] – water – by a cadre of shadowy oligarchs.” (Wikipedia)  It’s an old story, and we need a new one with a better outcome.

See also my reposting from Zero-Waste Chef for more on what we in other parts of the country can do to mitigate California’s water crisis now. Stop buying bottled water, and for your fruits and vegetables, stay local, my friends.

More Reading:

Peak Everything, Richard Heinberg, New Society Publishers

Chinatown, Roger Ebert review

*1979 cult classic film Mad Max, directed by George Miller, presents a world in which oil resources have been nearly exhausted. This has resulted in constant energy shortages and a breakdown of law and order. The police do battle with criminal motorcycle gangs, with the end result being the complete breakdown of modern society as depicted in Mad Max 2 and after nuclear war as depicted in the third sequel film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The opening narration of Mad Max 2 implies that the fuel shortage was caused not just by peak oil, but also by oil reserves being destroyed during a large-scale conflict in the Middle East. The remnants of society survive either through scavenging, or in one notable case, by using methane derived from pig feces. (Wikipedia)

The Road Taken

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

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

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

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

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

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

More about their journey:

Edible magazine’s article, and much more detail.

https://www.facebook.com/culturalevolution

Telling the Good Stories of 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greenier Than Thou?

OK, I’ll admit that our switch from Florida Power and Light to Pear Energy, a renewable energy broker over a year ago, right after we began our lease of a Nissan Leaf, made me feel a tad smug. Competitions about one’s carbon footprint don’t seem out of line, given the state of the Planet.  Not to mention that I managed to convince a small number of friends to make the switch.

Pear Energy imageWe stuck with Pear despite accusations in social media that the company was engaged in ‘green-washing,’ because here in South Florida, there seemed to be no better choice.  The company’s move from Miami to Amherst, MA, gave me pause but it was business as usual. Here’s a link to the discussion between that convinced us we’d rather fight than switch back: http://www.greenwashingindex.com/pear-energy-how-green/ I’ve written some damage-control PR in my life, so I appreciated how Pear answered its critics:

… it is important to keep in mind that we are an independent REC seller, which is a different model than that of a local utility’s green energy program. Local utilities are established, profitable businesses that simply add REC sales into their mix of services, as one very small share of their overall operations. These established utilities do not need to generate additional revenue through REC sales because they use their profits from selling electricity generated by coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy to provide a tiny subsidy to their purchases of clean energy RECs. By contrast, because REC sales are one of Pear Energy’s main activities, a portion of our charges must go to supporting our staff and our business operations. So, to summarize: 100 percent of all of our business activity supports the development of green energy in the U.S.

So imagine my surprise yesterday, when I received this email.

Dear Marika Stone,

Your Pear Energy account is officially closed as of November 10, 2014. As previously mentioned, Pear Energy is no longer offering our residential renewable energy service for homes and small businesses.

  • You will receive utility bills again. Please make payments directly to FPL normally. In addition, you may be receiving a verification email from your utility due to the recent changes made on your account.

Thank you again for supporting renewable energy and helping to build the green economy.

Sincerely,

The Billing Department
Pear Energy
(877) 969-7327
www.pear-energy.com

Apparently, I wasn’t the only customer who was upset at the news because today, another email arrived from Pear Energy offering us renewable energy via one of its partners, Acadia Power.  We’ll look before we leap, of course.  I won’t be surprised if there is a whole lot more of this kind of shaking out as we move toward renewables, and neither should you be.  In fact, I welcome it. Stay tuned

REC – Renewable Energy Certificates

https://www.facebook.com/PEARenergy

Gloves Off Arts Activism

“If you attack the establishment long enough and hard enough, they will make you a member of it.” ~ Art Buchwald.

That’s one of the things that has long concerned me about many of the environmental organizations we have supported for years. Example: the beautiful Nature Conservancy magazines that arrive every month with their gorgeous covers, great writing and photography.  You can’t help but get an impression of a polite, established organization dedicated to conserving pristine swathes of nature for those who have the time and money to enjoy them. This is far from the whole truth, of course, but by its own definition, TNC prefers “non-confrontational, pragmatic solutions” over, say, dressing up in a gorilla suits and scaling a wall to protest rain forest destruction in Indonesia, a Green Peace stunt that caused giant Nestlé to reconsider where it accesses palm oil for its popular KitKat brand.

From my perspective, we need it all, the whole shebang of responses to avoid a continued mismatch between the urgency of the planetary crisis and what can be done to arrest the worst impacts on species, including us. Which is why kudos to the Sierra Club Loxahatchee Group for inviting two local arts activists to show and tell about Artful Activism for Pro-Environment Community Engagement. The event at the Jupiter Library last Saturday morning deserved a larger audience. But what it lacked in size it made up for in age-diversity and enthusiasm, and I left with a sense that we might all access our inner artist, and/or support the professionals in their efforts, to reach people emotionally. And while we’re at it, let’s broaden the definition of art to include poetry, spoken word, improv, street theater, and more, to arrest the slide to ecocide we are currently headed for.  Here’s a model: Eve Ensler’s one-woman show, The Vagina Monologues, has morphed into an international V-Day movement to end violence against women.  Clearly, it has a long way to go. The epidemic of domestic abuse currently in the news is a sign that facts alone are not going to get us where we live.

My friend and colleague, Mary Jo Aagerstoun of EcoArt South Florida, led off with a slide of the Stone Crab Alliance which, that very afternoon (October 18) marched on Gov. Rick Scott mansion in Tampa, brandishing banners that read: It’s All About Our Water.  Founded seven years ago, EcoArt SF aims to integrate and infuse art into sustainability strategies: “Art and science, as twin knowledge forms, must be tapped in tandem to create the wisdom, and activate hope, that underpins sustainability.” See an example of ‘social sculpture’ by Jackie Brookner at Elders Cove, West Palm Beach, and click the link to find drip-mist-2 (1)out more about the organization’s goals and projects.

Dr. Aagerstoun then showed slides of other groups that are using art activism in their communities, many of them examples of exactly the kind of prankish, gloves-off approach that Green Peace favors in its campaigns. Two resonated especially strongly with me (see the list at the end of this post for more).
The Illuminator’s mission is to “smash the myths of the information industry and shine a light on the urgent issues of our time.” During the recent People’s Climate March weekend in New York City, it projected this glowing message #FloodWallStreet Stop Capitalism! End the Climate Crisis! on the side of a building.  I also love the BackBone Campaign and supported their work for the People’s Climate March with a donation. Their mission is “to train progressive activists and organizations nationwide who are working toward human dignity, environmental sustainability and peace.”

Next up, visual artist and research biologist Diane Arrieta, with examples of her work which “illustrates the links between biodiversity (including endangered species), healthy ecosystems and human health.” Like street artist and activist, Banksy, Diane uses available exterior walls as a canvas for her stunning murals. If you can get this image out of your mind, you’re more organized (or is it Little Panda 2distracted?) than I. While Miami is a public space art-friendly city, Arrieta has found that getting permission is no easy task in some municipalities. I cannot imagine my hometown allowing public buildings to be used for art activism of this cutting-edge kind.  But maybe no one has put it to the test.  If people we elect to serve our needs fail to grasp the connection between a healthy ecosystem and the wellbeing of our cities and citizens, what is the point of clean, tree-lined streets, top-notch schools, and excellent sports facilities?   Join the Scouts’ beach cleanup by all means,  but first do everything possible to ensure that there will be a beach for us and our children.

The Sierra Club audience was more eager to share ideas than talk about their response to the art, per se, but you could read that as a sign that we intuitively ‘got’ how powerful and edgy arts activism could be, and were already thinking about ways around roadblocks and new forms of expression. Why not more artists-in-residence so they are paid for their work? Why not students teaching their peers? Why stop at buildings and overpasses?  Why not project messages on clouds? How about a more mobile form of message delivery where by the time someone complains, the show has moved on? How about peel-off art activism decals with potent images and messages for our homes and/or cars? Why not? Michael Moore, move over.

More resources from the presentation:

Beautiful Trouble — A Toolbox for Revolution

The Yes Men

Raging Grannies

Living Planet Report — “…not for the faint-hearted.”

Overpass Light Brigade

Rude Mechanical Orchestra

Stay Local, My Friends!

My tribe was on the march yesterday, some 400,000 of them in New York City, the biggest climate march in history. I have never been more proud of fellow UUs – 1,500 of them – for being in the forefront of a movement for climate justice. Saturday night, All Souls Unitarian in New York hosted an SRO panel of climate activists; click here for a video of the entire event.

Stay local 3So, I wasn’t physically in New York with Bill and Naomi and Vandana. Somehow burning fossil fuels to attend a climate march seemed, well, unseemly. In Florida, there were a number of marches in solidarity with the Big One. Transition Palm Beaches, and the emerging Transition Town Lake Worth, were well represented at the one in Delray Beach, joining Lake Worth Commissioner, Chris McVoy, the Raging Grannies, and The Sierra Club, among 50 others. We occupied the four corners at Swinton and Atlantic Avenues, held aloft a collection of hand-lettered signs (I wore mine on my back), and waved as supporters walked (mostly drove, sigh) by, horns honking, many showing thumbs up.   We chatted and compared notes on what we were doing, personally. Who came in an EV (we did)? Who is growing food (lots of us)? How to get best mileage from your hybrid? What will it take to get the Sunshine state to capitalize on its greatest energy asset (votes)? You get the picture.

M, MJ and Dean at Climate MarchSo, while it has been uplifting to see the crowd numbers come in today and look at all the photos of marchers (thank you, New York Times for covering the event), these conversations and the day-to-day work of learning how to thrive in community while powering down, continues apace. We meet, we plan. Today, I facilitated a loan of a seed ball-making machine from Northwood Greenlife community in West Palm Beach to the historic Osborne School in Lake Worth, where new-minted Garden Manager, Ken Horkavy, is going to plant four fallow acres starting Saturday, with a gala kickoff.   A year ago, I didn’t know a seed ball from a ball of wax, let alone that a machine could make them.

It must be in the water, but everywhere you turn, people are making moves to liberate ourselves from our long addiction to fossil fuels because we know we must. There are MeetUps about walkability forming. Urban alleys will be rehabbed as people-friendly spaces. Next weekend, at the Transition Monthly meeting, we’ll be showcasing how far the movement has come in the eight years since a mild-mannered permaculture teacher named Rob Hopkins decided to apply what he learned from the discipline to the challenges of climate change and resource overshoot.   Also in the works, an alternative gift salon, in time for a saner holiday season. Coming soon, to your neighborhood.

The Story of (Old) Stuff

Five years ago, Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff launched a movement to “build a more healthy and just planet” by calling attention in an accessible, charming way to how thoughtlessly we acquire, dispose of, and waste stuff, and what this means in the Big Picture. Today, it has 750,000 loyal followers, including me, and three other animated videos of equal power and ingenuity.

I have my own story about stuff and it is largely about appreciating what I already own, a riff on the great UU Minister, the late Forrest Church’s admonition: Learn to want what you have.

Maybe because I am something of an antique myself, I really love my old stuff. I’m not referring to furniture and bric-a-brac I inherited, although I can get emotional about my parents’ circa 1965 Danish Modern chairs with the marks of wear and original covers that now grace my living room. By ‘old stuff,’ I mean things like the t-shirt and straw hat (pictured below), both in my life for about a quarter of a century, each with a little history of its own that makes it precious to me. Old friends, you might say.

tshirt mendocinoThe pink t-shirt I bought for about $5 on a down-market shopping expedition with a fashion- and bargain-conscious younger friend in California. Her idea of a great find was something like my t-shirt that she could pair up with her designer jeans and other pricey London fashions. In the 1990’s, it was still possible to find t-shirts made in the U.S.A., as was this one. Colors were basic, too. Pink, as opposed to Shell or Blossom, so familiar to clothing catalogues stuffed with stuff made in China today.  And, although it was a modest outlay even for the decade (equivalent to about $9 today), my t-shirt was made to last, holding its classic shape while becoming softer and more comfortable through the years. Nowadays, I wear it for exercise or as a pajama top, paired with another much-loved relic from my closet you can probably imagine without a photo. I doubt the label Mendocino on a clothing line is around anymore. But it always makes me nostalgic for California wine country and a more upbeat future for the world’s eighth largest economy.  (Today, Made in America clothing is a short list.)

Greek Straw HatFor an outing to MacArthur State Park Beach this past weekend, I wore the straw hat that lives in my vehicle waiting for just such an occasion. Circa 1990, it was purchased for a trip to Greece, to keep the Aegean sun off my face while we sailed around the islands for a week with a group of friends. My favorite island was car-free Hydra, and I wonder what our lives would have been like had we decided to jump ship. A favorite memory was the expression of disbelief on the face of Nico, our Greek captain, when we tried to explain to him what a home mortgage was. My best buddy, Susan, threaded a length of pink grosgrain through a couple of holes punched in the brim so the hat would stay on my head (same ribbon, still works). The hat is in many photos of my trip, with my then dark hair poking out around the brim. I keep my beloved straw hat going by mending little tears or holes with a fabric glue, and if the day arrives that there is more glue than hat left, I shall mount it on the wall.

Annie Leonard has returned to Green Peace International as executive director and I expect we’ll be seeing more of what she is sensational at: breaking down important facts into compelling animated stories anyone can understand. If you haven’t seen her explain the difference between “More” – that is, the endless growth paradigm some economists are stuck in, despite the finite limits of the planet – and “Better” – an economy that works for everyone and stops destroying the environment – don’t wait another minute (I’m almost done here for now, anyway).

Although Green Peace is best known for pulling stunts to embarrass corporations into changing course, Annie remains optimistic about what can be accomplished with a little bit of honey: “Corporations can apply their ingenuity to environmental progress, not destruction, and we will keep working with a broad network of supporters and allied movements to push them to do the right thing.”

We could all let them know what we think of their stuff and what it took to get us to buy it in the first place, and what it really costs and who it hurts to bring it to our shopping outlet, by not buying it.  “Shopping” in your own closet means learning to reuse, repurpose, repair, re-love what you already posses. It is one small, potent step anyone can take immediately. Besides, you’ll never know what treasures could be waiting there for you unless you look.

Business Plan for a Planet

60 Minutes re-ran a show from November about The Pledge, an initiative created by Bill and Melinda Gates with Warren Buffet, to encourage people in the billionaire club – about 1,600 people in the world according to 2014 figures – to pledge to ‘give back’ 50% of their fortune to the charity of their choice.  Gates and Buffet are #1 and #4 in the world as of the Forbes List for 2014.

Max Plank imageSara Blakely, who turned $5,000 into billions with her butt-shaper, Spanx, is interested in ‘helping women.’  Steve and Jean Case (AOL) want to empower others in civic engagement.   Billionaire passions in the group interviewed included unemployment in South Africa; brain cancer; tax reform in California and the national debt.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation aims to eradicate infectious diseases.

Honestly, I was struck by how few of these great business minds seem to think climate change worthy of their attention and money.  Only former Ebay president, Jeffrey Skoll, included climate change in his top five ‘global threats,’ although #2 water security and #3 pandemics are closely related.  Skoll is also founder of Participant Media that was a key underwriter for An Inconvenient Truth and Years of Living Dangerously, among others.

Could the reluctance of self-made billionaires to engage with the politically-charged issue of climate change have something to do with biting the hand that feeds you?  After all, American corporations in particular enjoy tax advantages and a cozy relationship with the government few ordinary citizens can aspire to.
(We can Amend this, and right-size corporate power.)

A business background is not preventing former hedge fund manager, Tom Steyer, from climate advocacy that is raising eyebrows on both sides of the political divide.  Steyer is pledging $50M of his own money — and seeking matching funds — to eliminate climate change deniers in key races (for governor of Florida, being one), fighting fire with fire, as it were.   And it hasn’t stopped former NYC mayor, Michael Bloomberg (Forbes List #15), from co-chairing a stunning report entitled Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the U.S.   It should be mandatory reading for everyone in the business community.  And if you live/work/invest in/own property along the East Coast, this quote from the executive summary should get your attention:

Within the next 15 years, higher sea levels combined with storm surge will likely increase the average annual cost of coastal storms along the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf Mexico by $2 billion to $3.5 billion.  Adding in potential changes in hurricane activity, the likely increase in average annual losses grows to up to $7.3 billion, bringing the total annual price tag for hurricanes and other coastal storms to $35 billion.

Where will the money come from to cover these losses?  Will ‘ongoing emergency response’ (Bill McKibben) become part of business as usual, accounted for in GDP in the years affected by big climate events?   What will happen to civil society in such a world?

It may be cold comfort (better than none) to realize that a large shift is occurring, not just among the people who hold most of the world’s wealth, but in the business community that, for better or worse, shapes and controls so much of who and what we are – and with our consent.   Whenever you feel powerless, remember what author/activist, Arundhati Roy, says so memorably about corporations: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. 

Boycotts are effective.  Remember Gandhi’s walk to the sea to gather salt.  But equally, it makes sense to identify the businesses that are part of the shift and support them: Starbucks, Stoneyfield Farms, Eileen Fisher, Ben and Jerry’s – about 170 at last count, and growing.  Here’s their letter in support of President Obama’s climate initiative.  Find the business leaders who speak your language, and don’t waste your time fretting about their personal lifestyles.  Plan B Team’s Mission:

We, the undersigned, believe that the world is at a critical crossroads.  Global business leaders need to come together to advance the wellbeing of people and planet.  In fact, we think business has to think this way in order to thrive.

More links:

Plan B

Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy

McKibben on Extreme Weather

So Happy Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more:

History of Cohousing

Senior Cohousing