Archive for October, 2006

“middle brow” – Insulting?

Monday, October 30th, 2006

I recently used the term “middle brow” and was chided by a coworker who suggested it’s an elitist term. I’m not entirely convinced, but I’d like to be on the side of right and good, not the side of stick-in-the-mud and will change my attitude if someone wants to offer some reasons to do so. Any opinions out there? I think of it as pretty neutral, along the following spectrum (as far as books go):

High brow – focused on theory pretty much for the sake of theory; notable writings in this category might be entertaining, but the focus is on ideas, not on supplying any gratification to the reader; aims to be relevant for many years; pretty much synonymous with “academic”

Middle brow – mixes theory with practical information; intended to be both useful and entertaining; aims to be relevant for a while, but not necessarily “for the ages”; pretty much synonymous with “for a general readership”

Low brow – intended to be primarily entertaining, immediately gratifying; if it involves theory, it’s not the kind of theory you’d want to rely on as you go into surgery or blast off on a Mars mission; aims to be relevant in the immediate time period only.
Am I way off base? My head too high up in the elitist clouds? Lack of oxygen blinding me to my obvious superiority complex?

Sleeth signs on

Monday, October 30th, 2006

The good Doctor is now a signatory to the Evangelical Climate Initiative. This is pretty serious stuff–you’ve got to be invited to sign on to the document. That means that the bigwigs in the evangelical creation care movement are recognizing Matthew as a prominent member of their community whose imprimatur carries weight. Congratulations, Matthew. Let’s all hope this bodes well for your efforts to spread the good word. And you should know, my friend, that I’ve been keeping in mind your comment from your Bioneers by the Bay workshop that secular folks like myself could often use to show a little more common respect for our brethren in the faith, with things like avoiding casual slinging about of Jesus’s name and declarations of damnation and such.

Race, Poverty, and the Environment

Friday, October 27th, 2006

In case you’re looking for something to read, and you’ve already read all the Chelsea Green books, RPE might be worth a bit of time. I just stumbled across it myself. Looks interesting.

It’s time we learned to live in peace with our planet

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

One of the absolute high points of the Bioneers by the Bay conference this past weekend–for me–was getting to meet Stephan Harding in person. I’d corresponded with him a bit while working on preparing his book for publication in the US. (It originated in the UK and we bought the rights to do it in the US, and we used the opportunity to make some corrections to minor errors that had slipped through the cracks in the UK edition.) He’s an utterly sweet, charming guy by email and telephone; in person, he’s the sweetest and charmingest. Maybe I should move to Devon. It’d be like dying and going to heaven to have Stephan as a neighbor. Anyway, here’s an op/ed he had in The Guardian recently.

It’s time we learned to live in peace with our planet

Stephan Harding
Wednesday September 27, 2006
The Guardian

I believe it is now blindingly obvious that our lust for endless economic growth is seriously destabilising the climate of the Earth and wiping out the astounding biodiversity that enfolds us. As the ice caps collapse and the great forests burn, we are at last waking up to the fact that we are at war with nature – a war that only she can win.

So why is our civilisation so destructive of the natural world on which we utterly depend? Some say that it’s merely a matter of technology, that any culture with access to chainsaws and bulldozers would have done the same. But I disagree. I am convinced that we see the world in an utterly mistaken way, that something malicious is eating away at the core of our view of the world. For us, the Earth is nothing more than a vast, dead machine to be exploited without hindrance by focusing only on what can be measured and quantified.

All of us go about with this idea deliberately planted in our heads by our educators, by the media, by politicians and by scientists. It was Descartes, Bacon and the other pioneering scientific geniuses of the 16th and 17th centuries who sold us this line, and for the past 400 years this understanding has contaminated every aspect of our lives.

Our efforts to solve the massive ecological and social crises we now face will come to naught unless we remedy this unbalanced perspective. So if “world as machine” only alienates, disconnects and makes us destructive, then what is the alternative? Here it is: that our Earth is palpably and deliciously alive; that our turning world is a vast living creature of planetary proportions within which we are immersed and which supports and nourishes our psyches every bit as much as our physical bodies.

This is an ancient understanding with a profound pedigree. Plato called it the “anima mundi” – the soul of the world. For the ancient Greeks, and indeed for most indigenous people to this day, mountains, forests, the great oceans and the wide-open sky are full of an ineffable communicative power that we are capable of perceiving spontaneously with our intuition and our senses and to which we respond with a profound sense of awe and innate respect.

These are the qualities so cruelly banished by science for so many centuries. They teach us that the whole of nature has value because it exists, irrespective of its usefulness to us.

The good news is that this alternative, more holistic perspective is at last moistening and dissolving the desiccated scientific heart of our culture, at first through the astonishing discoveries of quantum physics, and more recently through James Lovelock’s Gaia theory. Both imply that nature is far more creative, far more animate than we ever dared suppose.

How would things be if we achieved this? Limits to material growth would be rationally determined through our best science and then accepted as we took up our rightful space within the community of life. Only things of real value would grow – love of place, simplicity, self-sufficient local communities and economies, ecological restoration, renewable technologies, sustainable artifacts – and time for contemplating and celebrating the qualities of this astonishing Earth.

· Stephan Harding is coordinator of the MSc course in holistic science at Schumacher College, Devon, England. His book, Animate Earth: Science, Intuition and Gaia, is published by Green Books in the UK and Chelsea Green in the US.


Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

A bunch of us were at the Bioneers conferences in California and Massachusetts this past weekend. So was a reporter from the NYTimes. So if you missed it all, here’s a taste. Also, go to the Bioneers and Marion Institute websites for samples of the talks. By all accounts, it was all good.

The New York Times
October 24, 2006
San Rafael Journal

At This Gathering, the Only Alternative Is to Be Alternative

SAN RAFAEL, Calif., Oct. 21 — Along with Santa Ana winds and ripe persimmons, fall here brings with it a migratory phenomenon known as the Bioneers, a three-day pep rally for environmentalists, lefty political activists and young people with “Renewable Energy Is Homeland Security” bumper stickers that transforms the Marin Civic Center into something of a megachurch for the Prius set.For some 3,200 true believers, and about 10,000 others who were beamed in by satellite from simultaneous conferences in Logan, Utah; Honolulu; and other far-flung places, the Bioneers is part tribal gathering and part support group, encouraging adherents to connect with their inner Al Gore. (The name is a play on biodiversity and pioneers.)

Students, organic farmers, architects, advocates for Pacific dolphins and a growing number of entrepreneurs looking to invest in green technology come to hear the latest thinking on global warming (code word: Katrina) and how to keep the food supply safe (buzzword: spinach). Alternative energy, Bioremediation and environmental justice, once-fringy issues, have over the course of the conference’s 17-year history become part of the national dialogue.

“It’s biology as a metaphor for social change,” said Paul Hawken, an author and a founder of Smith & Hawken, the outdoor supply company. Mr. Hawken double-dipped, speaking at a satellite conference in Marion, Mass., then flying back to Marin. “It’s a parallel universe,” he said.


Ten apples up on top

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

Chelsea Green editor Ben Watson is Mr. Apple (among other things). We’ve known that for years, and now NPR listeners know it, too.

Talking about a post-carbon revolution

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

Richard Heinberg, and others, will be speaking as part of the E.F. Schumacher Society lecture series on Saturday, Oct. 28. If you’re in western Mass, take note.

The possibility exists that our society already holds the skills necessary for averting the predicted disasters of decreased energy supply. Communities held together by a social and economic network are in position to absorb a significant loss of energy inputs. They have the resources, a short supply chain, small scale and cottage industry, and human scaled farms, necessary for decreasing dependence on imported energy. These strategies, intuitive to a self-sustaining community, present answers to our current carbon dependence.

A “post-carbon world” does not have to be a dreary place. The age we are entering will be an opportunity to celebrate our return to an acceptable level of complexity. Once again we will be able to embrace our neighbors as resources for a better community. The existing skills of the community have been ignored due to abundant energy in the form of coal and oil. Decreased energy supplies would encourage us to create local systems for fulfilling our needs. Waning fossil fuel supply would bring about the harnessing of human energy. Our labor saving devices, powered by the assumption of cheap oil, would be replaced by the skill, craftsmanship and the ingenuity of our neighbors.

Changing our lifestyle first requires a thorough understanding of the problem we face. Fritz Schumacher believed that this understanding leads to “seeing the possibility of evolving a new life-style, with new methods of production and new patterns of consumption: a life-style designed for permanence.” The work of Richard Heinberg responds directly to this understanding and vision.

Heinberg’s work as a core faculty member of the New College of California and with the Post Carbon Institute seeks to reveal the growing dangers of fossil fuel dependence and proposes options for a world beyond that dependence.

As a Research Fellow with the Post Carbon Institute (PCI) he has been involved with projects designed to minimize dependence on fossil fuel by focusing on the generating capacity of the community. Through their local energy farm model, the PCI is working to demonstrate the possibility of producing, processing and storing energy at the community level, minimizing carbon inputs, and ensuring the healthy production of food with out depleting the environment. The PCI also works to bring communities the tools necessary for developing local economies.

In addition to his work with the Post Carbon Institute, Richard Heinberg is a core faculty member at New College of California. He and his colleagues have created the student driven Powerdown Plan. Over the course of a semester students develop community strategies for decreasing fossil fuel energy dependence at the municipal level. At the end of each semester students gather their findings and present them to local decision makers. The goal of Powerdown is to make information on alternative energy resources available to municipalities.

Richard Heinberg is also the author of seven books, most recently “The Oil Depletion Protocol: A Plan to Avert Oil Wars, Terrorism and Economic Collapse.” His writings and teaching have brought to light disturbing facts about our energy dependence, but have also given us hope. He has demonstrated that humans can thrive in a “post-carbon world” by relying on the productive energies of communities.

The E. F. Schumacher Society will be hosting Mr. Heinberg along with Stacy Mitchell and Will Raap as a part of the 26th Annual E. F. Schumacher Society Lecture Series. This event will be held on October 28, 2006, at the First Congregational Church in Stockbridge, MA. Tickets are $20 for non-members and $15 for members/students/seniors. Register online at or by calling 413.528.1737.

Radio Sheep

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

Linda on the Good Food radio show…

Bioshelter for sale

Monday, October 16th, 2006

This is one very cool house, up in Alaska. And it’s for sale.


This house is just so unusual in so many ways.

The composting toilet that “flushes” with a toss of sphagnum moss. The super-efficient Finnish masonry fireplace that radiates heat all day. The house is so well insulated and has so much capacity for storing heat, it would take at least a week to freeze up at an average outside temperature of 10 degrees.

But it’s the water system more than any other component that goes where few, if any, have gone before.

The house has no well or septic system; it doesn’t need them.

The Crosbys’ water supply comes from rainwater collected off the roof. It’s filtered through soil, filtering fabric and a thick layer of sand and gravel, then zapped with an ultraviolet sterilizer and stored in a 5,000-gallon cistern beneath the house. That’s the well.

From there, it goes through in-line cartridge filters, then on to the faucets, one of which is designated for drinking and cooking, rigged in the kitchen with a special under-the-counter, triple-filtering system.

As for lacking a septic system, the water that normally disappears down the drain — from showering, dishwashing, clothes laundering, teeth brushing, all but toilet waste — gets recycled.


Thanks to my brother for the tip.

Compared to William Least Heat-Moon? Not bad!

Monday, October 16th, 2006

Sippewissett is racking up the kudos, from Booklist and Library Journal to History Wire. Nice job, Tim!

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