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Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

This is totally last minute, but I wanted to give an almost-Twitter-sized announcement about World Habitat Day, an event put on by Habitat for Humanity, one of the most profoundly committed and productive organizations I know. We utilized one of HfF’s local “recycling” stores for some of the parts to build our raised beds and clothesline. The stores receive various parts and supplies from contractors that they then sell at deeply discounted prices to budget-conscious DIYers like me. All proceeds go to local HfH projects. It’s a genius idea.

HfH has lots of other genius ideas, too, like World Habitat Day. Check out the announcement, get edumacated, and get involved!

This video kinda says it all…

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We’ve finally managed to get all the boxes (mostly) unpacked and I can tell you it feels VERY nice to be settled. The furnished apartment was pleasant, but it wasn’t home. Now those things that make a home what it is are in their proper places and I feel like I can breathe deeply…

…and get to work on transforming this place into sustainable central. First, the worm bin. We picked one up for free on Craigslist. And I found a red wriggler supplier in Marilyn, the owner of Zippy’s Java Lounge. (I’ve heard she has the best in Everett. It’s good stuff). I plan on stopping by this weekend and picking up a pound or two. Then we’ll start converting our table scraps into brown gold. The worms will love us, especially when we start giving them the leftovers from our gorgeous new stainless steel Juicelady that Denette picked up at Goodwill for $20. Have you ever had fresh carrot juice? It’s the nectar of the gods. Seriously. You have to try it.

Next, the garden…and beyond. I’m going to go a bit more Permaculture up here—create an edible environment throughout the yard. And speaking of yard, I talked with one of the landlords and he said we had creative free rein. He might not have said that if he was aware of my knack for yard transformation. We have a beautiful section of south-facing lawn that—once leveled—will make a perfect spot for some raised beds. No tomatoes, though. I’ve been told by a couple of old salts that it’s just not hot enough for them. Of course, that sounds like a challenge to me, so I’ll have to find a solution. I like my fresh tomatoes too much to give up without a fight!

Speaking of transformation: Denette transformed an empty house with little furniture into a fully-furnished home in three weeks. And virtually for free. We now have a couch, a guest bed, an entertainment center, two chairs, and an end table, all acquired through craigslist/freecycle. Now when I get home from work I can collapse on the nice comfy couch instead of the hard wood floor.

I can’t tell you how nice it is to be four blocks from my place of employ. I walk down in the chill of the morning and arrive with lungs full of fresh air and my heart pumping. People at work think I’m irritatingly chipper at 7:30 AM. I just smile and nod. Even better is the return home, when the kids come racing down the hill on their scooters to meet me. Then we go for a walk. Well, I walk, they ride their scooters or their bikes. I have to take my bike in for repairs (Kaia has grounded me because of my lack of brakes), but once I do I plan to use it as my primary means of transportation to both hospital campuses and around town on the weekends. The city center in Everett is perfect for biking.

Not only am I four blocks from work, the kids are four blocks from the home school facility. I know, it sounds a little oxymoronic, but the home school program up in WA is an extension of the public school system, though they have considerable autonomy. They offer structured classes for those who want them. It’s really kind of like college for primary-age kids. Logan is loving his classes in math, science, social studies, and tae kwon do. He spends an hour a week in class, the rest of the work he does independently. Kaia should be in the program as well, but she just missed the cutoff date for kindergarten, so the goal is to get her tested into 1st grade next year. When one of the teachers at the home school facility saw her reading, she thought Kaia was already in 1st grade.

Final topic for this post: when we moved up here I set a goal of creating a home gym for free. When we were still in Cali, we had canceled our gym membership and I had created a pretty nice setup with cinder blocks, a couple of iron bars, and some free weights. I wanted a bit more up here, but I was determined not to pay for it. I knew of there were lots of people who had bought a treadmill, used it for a week, and then were desperate to get rid of it to assuage their guilt for letting it gather dust. Well, I’m proud to say that we accomplished my goal within the first two weeks! We now have a Nordictrack, an elliptical, a multi-use home gym (pulldown, bench/flye, leg extension/curl, low row, and stair stepper), a flat/incline bench with a preacher curl connector, a barbell, and two dumbbells with about 190 lbs in plates. This incredible haul was due mostly to Denette’s amazing craigslisting/freecycling skills. She would find it, I would call on it, and we would go and pick it up. I’m totally inspired. In fact, I think I’m going to have to get a quick ski in right now.

With that, I raise one well-muscled arm to you in farewell. Until next time!

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Okay, motivated by my mom’s articles and a recent deluge of GMO-related emails from organizations like Organic Consumers Association (OCA), I have taken action and thrown my considerable weight (insert laughter here) behind several petitions and campaigns to oppose the growing use of GMO products—despite the proven negative effects of previously approved products like maize and cotton—and the continued influence of former Monsanto executives on our agricultural philosophy and policy. So, as part of this weight throwing around stuff, I thought I’d lay out a very brief case against GMOs and the poster child of GMO infiltration, Monsanto.

I want to preface the rest of this polemic against Monsanto and its ilk by saying that I’m not against agricultural innovation, or even GMOs (sorry, mom), per se. What I am against is bad science, unethical (and illegal) business practices, and a blatant disregard for health and human rights. Study after study has proven the ineffectiveness of GMO products to date, the real and potential harm they cause to the environment and animals (including humans), and the real costs of additional pesticides, fuel, and labor required to use them—costs with no demonstrated returns.

It’s worth noting (and even emphasizing) that it’s not like there is lack of innovation in other modalities, specifically the field of organics. For instance, the Union of Concerned Scientists conducted a comparative study of crop yields and found that

Organic [my emphasis] and low-external-input methods (which use reduced amounts of fertilizer and pesticides compared to typical industrial crop production) generally produce yields comparable to those of conventional methods for growing corn or soybeans. For example, non-transgenic soybeans in recent low-external-input experiments produced yields 13 percent higher than for GE soybeans…. 1

This puts paid to the idea that we need GMOs to feed the world. What we need to do is utilize the most effective proven methods available. Those methods exclude GMOs. And Monsanto. And therein lies the rub. Monsanto needs to make money on its investment in GMO research, regardless of its efficacy.

It’s also worth noting that the coalition against GMOs cuts across political, cultural, and philosophical backgrounds. Some of the most vocal opponents of Monanto (and often the recipients of their lawsuits and mafioso tactics) are small farmers and seed companies. There are a multitude of examples. Here are a few from such varied sources as Democracy Underground, OCA, and the AP.

I could go on for many more paragraphs. But I’ll save you from the torture. Instead, I encourage you to follow the links below, sign the petitions, and get educated and involved. I can think of few other things as important as protecting one of the Big Three: food, water, shelter

Prevent a Monsanto lobbyist from getting appointed by Obama

Oppose the USDA’s approval of GMO alfalfa

Whew. All right, I’m climbing off my soapbox and walking away from Speaker’s Corner. For my next post I promise an optimistic and lighthearted topic!

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Austin

Two things made an immediate impression upon me on our first full day in Austin:

  1. It is VERY humid
  2. The city’s green roots run VERY deep

I should mention that our decision to move to Austin was based on three factors (this is quickly turning into a list post, isn’t it?):

  1. Denette’s sister, Shawna, very graciously offered to house us while I searched for a job
  2. Austin is one of the greenest cities in the US
  3. The job market was still strong even in the midst of the recession

However, a funny thing happened on the way to Austin. (That sounds like a song title, doesn’t it?) Actually, even before we left California, I had gotten a call from Sherry, my former business partner, about a potential job with Providence Health & Services in Washington. Ironically, this was the company I had been consulting with for more than a year, a company I had come to have a deep respect and appreciation for. I jumped at the chance. Throughout our trip to Austin, I was receiving periodic updates about the possibility that the “chance” would become something more. Once we got to Austin a position had crystallized and we started working on details. Since I wasn’t diving right in to a job search upon arrival, we had an opportunity to explore Austin very thoroughly.

The city was all it was cracked up to be. Right off the bat we found two incredible coffee houses:

Progress

and Ruta Maya.

Progress is more traditional coffeehouse; Ruta Maya is an exceptional agglomeration of coffeehouse, bar, music venue, and occasional yoga studio—with a cigar shop thrown in purely to add to the eccentricity. As they have done in the past when I visit cities, these coffee houses formed the anchor of our exploratory trips: we would often start the day with a coffee (and lessons for the kids) before heading out to discover another corner of interest in the city.

One of these corners of interest was the Nature and Science Center, a place akin to Ruta Maya in its agglomeration of mostly related elements. There were exhibits on all the topics above, plus a natural artifact trade center and an entire section devoted to Green technology and living sustainably. We happened to go on Free Museum day, when there was not only free access but lots of additional displays and activities, including a carboard and tinfoil solar oven in which the kids made s’mores.

The heat and humidity of Austin would have taken some getting used to; the friendliness of the people, the eclectic quality of the town, the progressiveness of the city’s policies, and the overall focus on sustainability made us feel welcome and right at home.

Everett

But fate had something else in store for us. Instead of a southeasterly trending line, our move ended up taking on the shape of a very squiggly isosceles triangle. I accepted the position of Recruiting Manager with PH&S; I would be working at their Everett location, for Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, to be precise. On a plane I went.

This might seem like quite a change from our initial trajectory, and superficially it is—there aren’t many days in Austin that require an ice scraper—but in many ways there are strong similarities between Austin and many cities in Washington. It’s also a serendipitous one. While I loved many things about Austin, the natural environment didn’t speak to me in anything more than a conversational tone. And given the preponderance of poison oak, ivy, and even sumac, it would probably have always kept me at arms length.

Western Washington, on the other hand, sings to me. And we dance, oh, how we dance. The green, the cold, the rain, the ocean’s pungent tang, the Cascade’s dramatic skyline, and, above all, the trees, sing a beautiful rhythm that I can feel the moment I step off the pavement. This is the climate that creates in me an almost overwhelming sense of an earlier life. I feel connected, whole, energized, and preternaturally aware.

From what I’ve seen so far the city of Everett itself reminds me in many ways of the city of SLO: it’s smaller, with a recognizable downtown core of older homes and businesses; it’s surrounded by some ugly spots of sprawl; it has a small cadre of engaged and aware citizens; and it has a polity that is sometimes progressive, sometimes utterly backward. A wonderfully eclectic local coffeehouse, Zippy’s Java Lounge, will form the anchor (no surprise, right?) for our continuously deeper investigation of Everett and it’s conscientious movement towards sustainability and a green sensibility.

Good news! We found a house to rent and will be moving in February. One of the first things we plan on doing, of course, is finding a suitable place to place a couple of raised beds. The worms won’t be far behind. Followed, I suspect, by audio and video of events, people, and general goings-on. I can’t stand on the sidelines for too long…it’s not in my nature. But you already knew that. 🙂

Buckle up for more fun.

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Bernie Sanders inspires me. He’s one of the few people who authentically represents the interests of his constituents and his country. In the video below, one in a series produced by Brave New Films, Bernie speaks eloquently about the connection between green policies and economic growth and the strides that the government has made in the past year towards a viable green future.

We could certainly use a few more Bernie Sanders on Capitol Hill.

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Hey all!

Well, I’ve FINALLY finished this episode. The past few months have been…epic. Lots of things going on in the Blackwell household, the biggest thing being the move to Austin.

But enough about me. This episode has it all: intrigue, humor, excitement, fun, children, and Tom Ogren. Take a look. Leave a comment if you would like to encourage our behavior.

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ROOSTER
A carbon footprint is a way of measuring how much energy, Carbon Dioxide, CO2, we use to sustain ourselves. Average American household uses 53 tons of carbon each year. Average World use, 11 tons per household. I took the carbon test and our (2 people) carbon count was 15 tons. 15 tons of gas seems like a lot for 2 people. However, carbon is a naturally occurring substance. As a matter of fact it is a necessary element for life. Without it we would die for sure. So the trick here is balance. That is what Nature is all about. Balance. That is Mother Nature’s sole purpose in Life is to maintain balance and there is no stopping Her.

Things get out of whack and she reacts almost instantly to set things right. Less fruit on the trees in dry years, more fruit in wet years, more baby animals are born when things are good and food is abundant, less when things are lean and mean you know the drill. She does whatever she has to do to keep things balanced.

Before man started burning oil, coal, and gas roughly around the time of the Industrial Revolution in the 1700’s, everything was pretty much in sync. Oh, there was the occasional Krakatoa, ice age, melting of the ice caps, meteors crashing into the earth, forest fires from lighting strikes, but nothing as devastating as the sustained and constant abuse from the newest addition to the food chain, human beings. Naturally billions of tons of atmospheric CO2 are removed from the atmosphere by oceans and growing plants, and are emitted back into the atmosphere annually through this natural processes. When in balance the total carbon emissions and removals from the entire carbon cycle are roughly balanced. Before the Mechanical/Electrical/Transportation Age the demand on nonrenewable resources, the coal, oil and gases from the dead plants and dinosaurs buried in the earth, was pretty sustainable for everyone and everything.

One day Krakatoa erupted.

kraktoa

www.washingtonpost.com/…/index_krakatoa.html

It put tons of extra stuff into the atmosphere. And then it stopped. For the next 5 or 10 years Nature worked it’s little hoofies to the quick getting everything cleaned up and back in sync. Humans on the other hand are an on-going-never-ending Krakatoa. We do not stop erupting. We do not allow for down time to regroup and replenish our resources. We are like the energizer bunny. We just keep using that nonrenewable energy like there was no tomorrow.

Unlike Mother Nature, who only uses what she needs and recycles everything, we humans just gobble up the resources without thinking about where our next meal is coming from. This is not going over real big with Mother Dearest. We use way more energy than we produce and that causes the balance of things to get all screwed up.  Things have to be balanced in order for them to work properly. And the worst part is that upsetting the balance just pisses Mom off. A pissed off Mom is never a good thing. She WILL get even and that is not always a pleasant thing.

In the past She pretty much looked to the 4 and 2 legged inhabitants as the source of her frustration with the imbalance. Remember that dinosaur thing? Then on the other hand plants, trees, vegetation in general seem to get it. They know what it means to be fair and equal. It is what they do. So She doesn’t pick on them so much and perhaps for good reason. They don’t piss her off nearly as much as humans who are always taking more than they need and giving back less than is required to maintain a balanced cycle. She does have a way of weeding out the gross polluters and currently all indicators of a malfunction in Her perfect world is pointing to us.

So, if I want to stay on Mother Nature’s good side my carbon footprint better start looking like  broccoli

broccoli

or a sweet pea or, oh yes, a chicken. Chickens are great little eco factories. Food in food out. Pretty ‘eco’ nomical.  My 15 is going to come up on Her radar screen sooner or later. I could do a couple of things to get the number down. One thing, and not my first choice, is die. That pretty much forces me to stop using carbon and to start giving it back (decomposing is a great equalizer). Another way, and my favorite, is plant some plants. This would help offset at least some of the nonrenewable energy resources with some renewables. Planting a tree, preferably a female one, or anything green kicks the recycling thing into gear. This would explain why deforestation is such a big problem. The Rain forest is disappearing at the rate of 3,000 acres an hour. Without trees the ocean is working overtime processing the excess carbon we are burning and is just not able to keep up. The ocean can recycle but honestly it can’t do it alone. It takes both the photosynthesis of live plants and water to make things work right.    No wonder Nature gets pissed off.  She gives us all these great gifts air,water, sunshine, trees, plants, animals, (mosquitos and roaches not so great ) for free, and we destroy them without even thinking about it.

If you would like to see what your footprint looks like and what your true color is take the test.   http://www.nature.org/initiatives/climatechange/calculator/. If you come up smelling like a rose, then good for you. Now convince one other person to do the same. However, if you come up smelling like c—p, a stinky, gassy emitter, you may want to make some changes. This is really what being green means. We have to act more like a  tree or bush that creates renewable energy and less like a dead dinosaur that is stinking the place up with a lot of bad gas. Pee you.

I am pretty sure if we don’t do something about this carbon thing Mother Nature will do it for us. She has been very patient with us up until now. But that patience may be wearing thin. We have seen some pretty bizarre weather patterns of late. Could this be a warning of things to come? Whatever is happening all I know for sure is that Mom is at Her best when everything is Balanced. It is all about Balance.

Bill McKibben is on this Carbon thing and is doing his level best to get us back on track. He has an event scheduled in October. It is going to be a biggie. Read all about it. www.350.org

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