Category Archives: Domestic

Things that directly affect what we do

Wind Power Continues To Break Records In 2009!

The AWEA Year End 2009 Market Report is out and it is looking great!

The U.S. wind industry broke all previous records by installing close to 10,000 megawatts of new generating capacity in 2009 thanks to Recovery Act incentives. The total installed capacity in the U.S. is now over 35,000 MW. In 2009, 38 manufacturing facilities were brought online, announced or expanded.

You can read the whole thing here. (pdf)

Depletion and Abundance, Life on the New Home Front by Sharon Astyk

depletion

First off, I must apologise: this is probably one of the latest reviews of a ‘new’ book that you will ever read — although in the world of publishing, all reviews are probably welcome. In my defence, I was going to read Sharon Astyk’s latest, Independence Days first, but then realised that Depletion and Abundance : Life on the New Home Front had to come first, being Sharon’s first solo published venture and, as I would later come to realise, a book which neatly outlines her entire philosophy on sustainable living. As much a personal tale of change and achievement as a manual for sustainable living for the average civilized person, the author’s humble, often self-effacing nature washes over the pages of the book. Many authors would shun such an approach, possibly to avoid accusations of mawkishness; but not Sharon Astyk, who manages to take us into her world, introduce us to her family, invite us to feed her goats and show us her cupboards, all in the name of sheer practicality. There is not a hint of smugness in sight.

On the other hand, such homely tales of family life misrepresent the intensity of Depletion and Abundance: it is not a book to take lightly, nor is it possible to take it lightly, such is the density of Sharon’s writing style and the flood of ideas that pours from every chapter. No surprise then, that it took me far longer to read than almost every other book of a similar ilk I have read. In the early chapters, which talk at great depth of the situation we are in and how the domestic structures we ignore at our peril are being broken down by a system that only values profit and power, there really is no let-up: so while it is an educational, fulfilling and inspiring read, it is also pretty hard work, which might discourage some from reading on.

I implore you to keep reading.

Like all the best scripts — as I say, this is more story than polemic — Depletion and Abundance is eminently quotable, and lends itself perfectly to précis; such as this passage, essentially summing up the reason for the book’s existence:

The simple truth is that I want people who read this book to think seriously about whether they have a viable backup plan for a crisis in the near future. Why? Not because I think the whole world is likely to collapse at once, but because I think any crisis will come in stages and segments.

For me it might be tomorrow; my husband could lose his job because of rising energy costs, for example. For you, it might wait a while — or it might not. We don’t know; we’re playing the odds. And if, like me, you have loved ones you don’t want to risk by playing the odds, the choice becomes clear. Begin now. Begin thinking and preparing for a difficult future today.

From the beginning through to the end, Depletion and Abundance makes the assumption that the reader is ready to make a change of no little significance to their lives. On its own, the passage above may be enough to convince a nascent ‘simplifier’ to move away from the trappings of Industrial Civilization and towards a more survivable way of life; but it must always be borne in mind that the vast majority of people are too brainwashed by the consumer culture to think of any other way. I suspect, even, that Sharon herself doesn’t quite see Industrial Civilization as something to get angry with and wish the end of, more as something that can potentially be manipulated for good:

A good education, up to and including college doesn’t have to cost 30K a year. Basic public medical care including vaccinations, preventative medicine, midwifery, simple palliative care for the dying, many basic medications, birth control and some hospital care doesn’t have to cost us what it does. Neither do libraries, public services and support programs for the poor.

Which is all very desirable but not, I think, feasible without most of the other — more destructive — aspects of civilized society; particularly currency: we are hardly likely to be able to pay for hospital treatment with a bushel of carrots or an offer to repair the roof. Something has to give in a collapsing society, and it will ultimately be the public infrastructures that most people depend upon. It’s a very fine balance, and even writers like Richard Heinberg, whom Sharon quotes from in the book, haven’t really got to grips with this difficult conundrum (I am still reeling from his suggestion that the “Beauty of the built environment” is something to savour!)

One other minor criticism: for most people in the civilized world, reading Sharon’s heartfelt tales of home life may be counter-productive — a first step too far perhaps, especially when she ‘guilt trips’ over her kids eating the odd ice lolly. I just can’t compete with this level of self-flagellation, and perhaps she needs to give herself a break from time to time. No one is perfect, and it is our imperfections that make us individual.

Back to the really good stuff, and I can’t help but notice the number of times I had written “good” or “excellent” in the margins of my review copy. Her treatments of home economy and raising children in a consumer society are second-to-none. Here is a passage from the chapter ‘Making Ends Meet’, which I had commented as being “Great advice to give people in the [debt] trap”:

Are you starting to feel the pinch already? Well cut back some more. Sell the computer, and give up the Internet — go to the library instead. Find a carpool and give up your car, or get on a bike. Dump the tae kwon do lessons for the kids, and teach them to cook from scratch and play pick up soccer with the neighbor kids instead. Go vegetarian, and eat more whole foods. Give up luxuries like coffee and beer. Make your fun at home — play games instead of going out.

For a typical suburban, American parent, this would sound like torture — how could anyone suggest I change my lifestyle! And, of course, it does run counter to the way of life we have been repeatedly told we deserve, like a L’Oreal advert running on constant loop. And, of course, it’s only by thinking the way Sharon suggests, that people will ever be able to ease themselves away from the society that destroys everything it touches.

Where Sharon really excels in, though, is lists: lists of things we should do every day; lists of handy tips for survival (many of which I must admit to not seeing in the sidebars, due to the gravitas of much of the surrounding text); lists of things she does in a typical day — that was my favourite bit, because it really brought home the fact that an ordinary family, albeit one with the guts and determination to survive for the long-term, can change in extraordinary ways, and come out of it with a richer, far more fulfilling life than they could ever have experienced in the dumbed-down world most Westerners take for granted.

Depletion and Abundance is not a book to solve the energy crisis, the climate crisis or the economic crisis (long may it continue): it is a book of ideas and inspiration for those of us who already care enough to change. If you are one of those people, then I throughly recommend it.


Depletion and Abundance : Life on the New Home Front by Sharon Astyk, is published by New Society.

Keith Farnish is author of “Time’s Up! An Uncivilized Solution To A Global Crisis“. He also writes The Earth Blog and The Unsuitablog.

The Battle For Pork Chop Hill (Healthcare)

obama-listening– A friend of mine is an M.D. and recently he responded to President Obama’s request for grass-roots input from the U.S. public on health care reform by writing a letter to the president detailing his thoughts.   He sent me a copy of his letter to see if I had any thoughts and/or comments.

– I found it a well-written, thoughtful letter full of excellent suggestions but when I responded to him, I found it impossible to get into the spirit of it.   To me, here in the U.S., the battle for serious health care reform, is a meaningless battle – a lot like those battles when our troops fought for mastery of particular hilltop in WWII and the Korean War.   The hills won one day at a terrible cost would be abandoned just a few days later as the conditions of the larger enclosing battles changed.

– Frankly, I don’t think there’s any chance that the U.S. will ever enact serious health care reform and in my response to my friend, below, you’ll see why.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Dr. H.,

Thank you for responding to the president’s request for input on our health care system.   What you’ve written here is an excellent public service.

I too have thoughts about all of this but I’m afraid I am less optimistic that calls for ideas will lead to any changes of significance.   My fear, as I’ve told you before, is that the medical and pharmaceutical industries in the U.S. have been thoroughly captured by large and powerful profit-centric corporate interests and that nothing will wrest control back from them short of a revolution.

Corporations vs. People

I don’t mean an armed revolution.   I mean a revolution in how we, as human beings, think about what the purposes of our national governments should be.   I’m fond of saying that, “One cannot have two number-one priorities.“  When it comes to deciding what governments are for, we certainly cannot.   We either have to place the welfare and happiness of the nation’s people first or the freedom of the nation’s corporations  to do whatever they want to do in their pursuit of profits.  We cannot have it both ways.

Once this choice is explained clearly and brought into our collective consciousness, I have little doubt that most people would feel that government’s number-one priority should be to maximize the quality of life for its citizens.   But, absent such explanations and awarenesses, our country, and most others as well, have been primarily molded by those who seek profit and power for themselves with little regard for the circumstances of others.

(As an aside, let me say that I am not against Capitalism.   Indeed, it is the engine that creates wealth and innovation in our societies.   I am only saying that at the very top of the decision pyramid, when corporate interests clash with the best interests of the people, the decision makers should opt for the good of the people.   Done even handedly, this might limit the range of actions of corporations but it would still be a level playing field for them and none would be disadvantaged verses the others.   More over, those decisions makers at the very top would be strongly instructed to stay out of the way of corporations to the maximum extent possible – save when the people’s best interests are at stake).

So, from my POV, the battle here is not how we can ‘fix’ health care.  It goes far far deeper than that.   Until we, as a people, decide that the happiness and well being of the nation’s people IS the highest priority of the national government, we will always have these battles.   And, given the drive and tenacity of those whose primary aims are for power and profit, we will usually lose these battles.

Beyond all of this, there are bigger problems for our country and the world yet looming.

Globalization

A healthy vibrant country can organize its finances to support free medical care for all of its citizens.  Several countries around the world have proven this decisively.   But, I’m not sure that a country whose finances are faltering badly can do this.   And our country is faltering badly at this point in its history.   Globalization was touted as our “friend”.   Indeed, as the “world’s friend”; better and cheaper products for everyone and improved standards of living for all.

life-and-debtBut, it hasn’t turned out that way for some of us.  Small countries, like Jamaica (see the Movie “Life and Debt“), have had food stuffs injected  into their markets at far lower prices than their local farmers could sell for.  The result is that the local farmers have all lost their farms and moved to the cities and now entire countries are completely dependent on the food stuffs supplied by the multinational corporate proponents of Globalization.  Sure, these folks can buy their food cheaper.  But now they’ve lost their independence, their jobs, their communities and they are utterly dependent on outside forces for their survival.   Globalization has made them into captive consumers.

And the rich nations have not escaped unscathed.   Multinational corporations seeking ever larger profits have convinced us in the U.S. to send our manufacturing and high-tech industries overseas.    They promised us lower costs on all the cheap goods  love to buy at Wal-Mart.  And for a while, that was fun.   But now we see the deep truth that a nation can only continue being rich if it produces and sells things of value.  And we’ve been turned into a nation of consumers and borrowers by Globalization and are getting poorer by the day.

The multinationals saw great opportunity some years back when they gazed at, for example, the U.S. and China.   They thought, “China is poor and has really cheap labor and the U.S. is rich and its labor is expensive.   If we connect these two situations, goods will flow from China to the U.S. and money will flow from the U.S. to China and we’ll set ourselves up as the folks in the middle coordinating the exchange and getting hugely rich.“  And, for the multinationals and China, it’s been a good deal.  But, for the U.S., the promises of Globalism have only impoverished us.

So, back to socialized health care.   I don’t believe that even if the U.S. wanted to implement serious socialized healthcare, that we could.   What would we pay for it with?   We are no longer a wealth generating nation.

So, that’s one of the big looming problems I was referring to.

Economies and Growth

The other has to do with the idea that most of our societies are built upon the principle that healthy economies are growth economies.  That’s worked well for us as a species up until now but it isn’t going to work much longer.   We’re coming to the limits of what the planet can supply for food and water and we’ve clearly exceeded what it can supply for renewable resources. We’ve built the very foundations of our societies on a non-renewable resource, oil, that will be running out soon.   And we’ve messed with the atmosphere’s Carbon Dioxide so badly that we’re well on our way towards a major climate shift.

And, in the midst of all of these dire warnings written so clearly on the wall of our future, the very best folks can come up with, as they consider and fret about the problems of the currently global economic downturn, is that with luck and perseverance, soon we’ll have our economies all back up and running just as before – with ever increasing growth, consumption and pollution as the cornerstones of our brave new world – same as the old unworkable, unsustainable world.

So, that would be the second problem – and it’s a big one.

Perspectives

pork-chop-hillIf you are down inside the workings of a specific nation and deeply involved and  invested in the concerns and problems of the local health care system, then it might seem reasonable to you to fight the good fight  for a better way of doing things.

But I would suggest that if one gets out of the trenches and ascends above the entire field of battle to a great height, one might see that in the bigger picture it isn’t going to matter if your brave and idealistic unit captures that small hill called “Healthcare”.   Bigger forces are afoot and visible from a greater height.

Those are my thoughts, Dr. H.   As always, I know I sound like a great pessimist.   But I don’t feel that way.   I think I am simply seeing the bigger picture.   I too am idealistic and I talk and rail and write about all of this almost daily.   But, in truth, I don’t do these things because I think I can really change them.   I act more because speaking the truth is right in and of itself and needs no other justification.

At the end of your letter, you listed the following points:

1. There is no place in medical care for “For Profit”.

2. Insurance companies’ priority is profit for shareholders.

3. Direct to patient advertising should be banned.

4. Medical Schools need to be induced to greatly increase graduation of primary care physicians, including loan forgiveness for those who go into primary care practice.

5. Providers should be incentivized for keeping patients healthy and minimizing expensive tests and medications.

6. We should have a single payer system that links patients and families with primary care providers that have support from social services, nutrition and exercise referrals and other support groups.

7. Hopefully we can move toward a society with less income inequality and social injustice where we prioritize education and opportunity and improve the quality of life for all.

I agree and applaud everyone of them.  And I say this not withstanding the fact that I think this battle over health care will be swept away by the larger trends that are afoot.

Again, thanks for writing your letter to the President.  I deeply admire your motives and your idealism.   Please do not take anything I’ve said here as a criticism – it is not intended to be.

Your friend,

Dennis

Seedlings

seedlings

It’s a beautiful day, not too hot, but sunny and still. Through the window are the sounds of wood pigeons, bluetits and blackbirds, along with a high-pitched cheeping I can’t identify but is delightful, nonetheless. There are a few noises that suggest something has landed on the fence…it’s a collared dove which flies off, its wings whistling in that airy way, as it sees my face. I think it might have seen the tomato seedlings just below, quietly taking in the early afternoon sun.

I had a tray of seedlings ready for transplanting yesterday: having manhandled about 40 pounds of spent mushroom compost over a mile by foot to my house, and purloined a few small pots, no longer needed by some friends, I was able to transfer 11 of the best ones for hardening up in the cold frame (made from scrap wood and an old back door). This year is the first time I have gone beyond the purely experimental stage, and attempted to grow food as a going concern. This year, if everything goes well, I should have small crops of potatoes (planted in a new raised bed, to improve the clay soil), spring onions (not yet planted), leeks (planted ages ago, but only just fattening up), radishes, spinach, beetroot (can’t stand it, but my wife and eldest child like it), French beans, rhubarb (picked and eaten), broad beans (in flower!) and the aforementioned tomatoes.

This isn’t really self-sufficiency — I need a lot more space for that — but it’s a serious learning process which, if my mind remains sound, will help me to understand the cycles of nature and the ecosystems that govern the growing of food far better. It’s all very well buying local food, but there is nothing quite like knowing what you eat came from your own efforts and knowledge: every time you grow something, you learn something.

And yesterday we had Spanish omelette, with a big helping of fried nettles, straight from the patch at the end of the garden — I must remember to always wear gloves!

A Tale Of An Apartment Dwelling Eco-Enthusiast

This is a guest article by Cali Duncan

So, I don’t own my own home. I can’t build a roof of solar panels, install bamboo and cork flooring or purchase all new EnergyStar appliances. Good excuse not to go green, right? WRONG! According to the Green Consumer Index, over 52% of households with a high GCI score are apartment renters (free map download at www.ruf.com/green). That means millions of common folk like myself are in the same residential boat and still keep their mind and habits on the environment.

green_apartment_mockup_on_blue_2063059

After learning that my rent will be going up—again—in June, I decided to make a checklist to aid me in finding the perfect green apartment:

(1) Is the building green?—Many great apartments are being built ground-up in sustainable ways. Check the LEED certification on buildings of interest. Those such as the Kalahari in Harlem offer:
• Fiber optic internet service
• Green roofs
• Filtered air systems
• Low VOC materials
• Bamboo flooring
• Solar and wind power
• Bosch low energy washer and dryers
• Hall windows for natural light

(2) Good energy score?—Many local power companies offer apartment complexes a metered rating program that shuts off air conditioners after so much usage. While I can’t say this is the most fun way to live, it does help on the bills and energy usage during hot months. Also, make sure the heating and cooling appliances are up-to-date and the most energy friendly available.

(3) Travel-friendly?—Choosing a location close to grocery stores, shopping centers, entertainment and even work can reduce your transportation needs. Plus, think of how cute you will look walking home from the grocery store with your multi-use grocery bags (I prefer those at ecosumo.com). If shopping centers aren’t an option, consider your location to a public transportation stop.

(4) On-site recycling?—This is a tough find. Most apartments don’t offer an on-site recycling program, but they can always help in small ways. Check to see if there are recycling bins around public areas such as the pool and fitness centers. Any help they offer their surroundings shows they value the cause.

Remember, the habits of the apartment dweller are just as important as those of the complex. Replace burnt bulbs with EnergyStar bulbs, keep your lights and faucets turned off and use energy efficient curtains.

Happy renting!