Archive for November, 2008

Transition Towns: Strawberries and Cream in the People’s Paradise?

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

Often (I’m told), a new convert to the Transition Movement will embrace it with the fervor of a religious zealot. The skeptic warns that crafting a vision of the future and trying to steer society towards that vision is an endeavor that is not only presumptuous but fraught with peril. The truth, says Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Network and author of The Transition Handbook: From oil dependency to local resilience, is that the right attitude lies somewhere in the middle.

No one knows what the future will bring. Transition adherents are no different. Like most people who have been awake at some point in the last couple of decades, they can make educated guesses. Finite, carbon-based resources are dwindling. Climate change is real and threatens the survival of our species and the planet. What the Transition Movement does is bring people in a community together to try to bring their separate expertise and experience together to map out a blueprint to prepare for just about any calamity or upheaval. There is no one-size-fits-all Transition plan, and their website readily—cheerfully, actually—acknowledges this:

The Cheerful Disclaimer!

Just in case you were under the impression that Transition is a process defined by people who have all the answers, you need to be aware of a key fact. We truly don’t know if this will work. Transition is a social experiment on a massive scale. What we are convinced of is this:

  • if we wait for the governments, it’ll be too little, too late
  • if we act as individuals, it’ll be too little
  • but if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time.

Everything that you read on this site is the result of real work undertaken in the real world with community engagement at its heart. There’s not an ivory tower in sight, no professors in musty oak-panelled studies churning out erudite papers, no slavish adherence to a model carved in stone.

This site, just like the transition model, is brought to you by people who are actively engaged in transition in a community. People who are learning by doing – and learning all the time. People who understand that we can’t sit back and wait for someone else to do the work. People like you, perhaps…

If you live in New England, you’ll have a chance to find out for yourself what it’s all about:

Luckily, there’s a chance Monday for everyone in the central Vermont area to find out more about Transition Towns and judge for themselves. Naresh Giangrande, co-founder of the first Transition Town, Totnes in the UK, will speak on “Transition Towns: From Oil Dependency to Resilient Communities.” The talk is Monday, November 24, 7 pm. Unitarian Church, Main Street, Montpelier. We’re being contacted by people as far away as Maine and Massachusetts who want to hear the talk, so come early!

Read more here.

R. J. Ruppenthal: Back to the (Tiny Plot of) Land

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

The economic crisis has put the squeeze on a lot of working families and individuals, and economists agree that it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Happily, many are looking at this time of crisis as a time of opportunity. Rather than moaning and sticking their heads in the sand, people are getting creative: using the car less and biking more, cutting back on unnecessary expenditures, and looking for ways to reduce, reuse, recycle, and repair, as well as growing a portion of their own food. They are discovering that even without a plot of land in the country, they can grow a good portion of healthy, organic food for themselves and their families. All you need is the motivation and the know-how.

That’s where R. J. Ruppenthal comes in. His book, Fresh Food from Small Spaces: The Square Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting, shows you creative and exciting ways to use your small space to get the maximum yield of edibles. In this essay, R. J. explains why he felt the need to write this book at this pivotal moment.

In the coming years, our society will need to (re)turn to traditional methods of raising food, rediscovering techniques for sustainable food production that our ancestors practiced up until the last few generations. Family subsistence farming was the norm in Europe and the United States until the industrial revolution accelerated urbanization and mass agriculture. Not everyone was a farmer, but nearly every household had a vegetable patch and a dairy cow, chicken coop, or apple tree in the backyard. You can still see original fruit trees in many suburban areas around the country; most have been chopped down to make space for manicured lawns and concrete sidewalks, but a few of these old homestead trees remain. Some still bear fruit each year without anyone harvesting it, and I have even heard property owners complain about fruit trees because they drop so much “junk” on the ground. You could almost hide a fruit tree in plain sight these days because not many people recognize it as a food source. But not so long ago, our parents or grandparents depended on those trees for their fruit, using it for fresh eating and cooking, pressing it for juice and cider, and preserving it in the form of pies, sauce, and jam.

We will need to relearn basic food production skills in a hurry if we are to survive and thrive in this new world. It is tough to garden when you have no land, but city residents CAN learn to produce more food with less space, and that is why I wrote this book. I believe that humankind’s survival depends upon our successful adaptation to a more sustainable economy and way of life; sustainability is not possible when we madly poison our farmland with pesticides and chemical fertilizers, scoop up natural resources at a voracious pace until they are gone, and finance every whim with a spiraling pool of debt. Some of us need to start relearning what is real. I believe this book will help you learn some food-raising skills on a small scale, and reap the personal rewards for yourself and your family.

The demand for organic food in the United States has more than doubled in the last few years, pushing retailers like Wal-Mart, Safeway, and Albertson’s to offer organic food to the masses. However, for better or for worse, around 80 percent of us live in cities while only about 2 percent of the U.S. population lives or works on farmland.8 9 Can city dwellers ever hope to become part of the sustainability equation? I believe that we can and must. My family and I live in an urban area, and for most of my adult life I have had no yard. Yet we have managed to raise a sizeable chunk of our own fresh food from balcony and windowsill vegetable gardens, a kitchen-based sprouting operation, yogurt and kefir fermentation, and a worm composter in the garage, which provides a rich source of fertility to feed our plants. Other urban farmers cultivate mushrooms in their garages and raise rabbits or chickens on rooftops and small lawns.

Aside from glossy coffee-table books with colorful pictures of herbs and flowers growing in pots, there are no practical guides out there for urban gardeners who are serious about growing some of their own fresh food. Consequently, many of my urban neighbors do not understand the possibilities. While numerous books cover rural homesteading and sustainable agriculture, there are no such books for city dwellers. Most rural or suburban gardeners see cities as overdeveloped wastelands with little available space or sunlight for sustainable farming. They assume that serious food production cannot take place in urban areas without energy-intensive systems like indoor lighting and hydroponics. Fresh Food from Small Spaces challenges this conventional wisdom and shows you how to produce a significant portion of your own food right at home. Free space for the city gardener may consist of no more than a cramped patio, balcony, rooftop, windowsill, hanging rafter, dark cabinet, garage, or storage area: no space is too small or too dark to raise food. You will learn how to transform your balcony and windowsill into productive vegetable gardens, your countertops and storage lockers into commercial-quality sprout and mushroom farms, and your outside nooks and crannies into whatever you can imagine, including homes for a small chicken coop, bee colony, or just enough space for a dwarf tree or berry bush that produces a month’s worth of fresh fruit for the whole family.

Read the whole article here.

LISTEN: Obama’s Challenge Author Robert Kuttner on the Crisis and the Cure

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Robert Kuttner, co-founder of The American Prospect and author of Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency, took a risk when he decided to write this book. He predicted the crash of the economy. He predicted the country was ready to elect an African American to the presidency. There were, of course, no guarantees, and if Kuttner’s bet hadn’t panned out, Obama’s Challenge would have been a historical curiosity rather than a New York Times best seller. And Chelsea Green would have had a very large, very somber bonfire.

Thankfully, that wasn’t necessary.

In this interview with Jon Elliott of the This Is America radio program, Kuttner and Elliott discuss the economic crisis and Obama’s cabinet appointments, paying special attention to the potential naming of his former rival for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, to the post of Secretary of State.

I’m a little nervous about Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. We would be in a situation unlike anything Lincoln faced, because none of the rivals that Lincoln appointed to his cabinet was married to Bill Clinton. We’ll see. I have a little humility here in the sense that every time during the campaign that I pulled my hair out and second-guessed Barack Obama, it turned out that he was smarter than I was. So if he does appoint Hillary Clinton, I have to assume he knows what he’s doing, but that could come off the rails.


Waxman Defeats Dingell: Score One for the Environment

Friday, November 21st, 2008

John Dingell’s defeat at the hands of Henry Waxman for chairmanship of the powerful Energy and Commerce panel points to a new willingness in the House of Representatives to tackle the issues of climate change and worker rights more aggressively, and signals a readiness on the part of lawmakers to work closely with the new president on issues he is passionate about.

Perhaps more importantly, I’m thinking the executives of the Exxon-Mobils of the world are quaking in their $500 Italian shoes right about now. How forcefully Waxman will pursue his agenda—for better automobile fuel economy standards , for a sweeping carbon cap, for universal health care—remains to be seen, as well as his ability to garner bipartisan support. But with a Congress more willing to actively fight for these causes, there will be less chance of another environmental disaster on the scale of the Exxon Valdez spill (see: Riki Ott’s Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill).

Waxman is an avid environmentalist and booster of health care programs _ and a home-state ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He defeated Dingell on a 137-122 vote in the Democratic Party caucus, capping a bruising intraparty fight.

The Energy and Commerce panel is one of the most important House committees, with sweeping jurisdiction over energy, the environment, consumer protection, telecommunications and health care programs such as Medicaid and the popular State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Dingell has been the top Democrat on the panel for 28 years and is an old-school supporter of Detroit’s carmakers and other big industries such as electric utilities. His bitter battles with Waxman over clean air issues date to the Reagan administration and were recently revived as Waxman complained that the committee has been too slow to address global warming.

Dingell comes from an era of autocratic committee chairmen and has had to adapt to a House in which power is consolidated around Pelosi, who has clashed with him in the past. Last year, in a move that undercut Dingell’s power on the global warming issue, she created a special panel led by Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey to make the case for bigger reductions in greenhouse gases. Pelosi did not publicly take sides in the new vote, but her support of Waxman was well known and played a role in the strong tally.

Waxman was the candidate of change in a year dominated by that theme. He likened the first years of the Obama administration to a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get things done in Washington.

“The argument we made was that we needed a change for the committee to have the leadership that will work with this administration and members in both the House and the Senate in order to get important issues passed in health care, environmental protection, in energy policy,” Waxman said after the vote.

Read the whole article here.

Photo: Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

WATCH: Matthew Stein: The Grab-and-Run Bag and Divine Inspiration

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Matthew Stein joined Helen Raptis and Dave Anderson an AM Northwest to talk about his book, When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency

Stein revealed how he got the idea for the book: it came to him in a flash of inspiration from above.

Dave Anderson: Why did you write this?

Matthew Stein: Well, this is the bible for emergency preparedness and survival, combined with green and healthy living. And I wrote this because back in 1997—I’ve had a daily practice of prayer and meditation. Usually I don’t hear much, I just ask for guidance, and I got a bomb dropped in my lap. I got a storyboard pictorial outline for this book, a blast from above dropped on me in an instantaneous flash, fully organized. This is the bible for navigating the future in our world.

They also discussed what to pack in your grab-and-run bag and your first-aid kit, what kind of portable water filtration system will protect you from disease, and the benefits of a colloidal silver generator.

Watch the whole interview here.

Offshore Drilling in Alaska: Obama Must Slow the Rush

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

As Dr. Riki Ott, marine biologist and author of Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, knows from firsthand experience, when an oil company promises “not one drop” of oil will be spilled, the promise should be taken with a grain of salt. (See: The Exxon Valdez disaster.)

The 1989 spill devastated Alaska’s coastline, destroyed thousands of livelihoods and lives, and caused untold death and destruction to the animal life that depended on clean water, land, air, and vegetation. The legal battles with Exxon dragged on for more than two decades, while people died waiting for justice and closure. In the end, the punitive damages awarded to the residents of Cordova amounted to less than 10% of the original amount promised. The entire episode was an ugly national tragedy.

Considering the oil companies’ spotty record on environmental responsibility, it’s easy to see why chants of “Drill, Baby, Drill” send cold shivers down a lot of spines.

Now, as the Bush administration steps out the door, they are hastily selling off huge swaths of Alaskan seas for offshore drilling, with inadequate oversight or safety measures. As Margaret Williams writes on Yale Environment 360 and Alternet, Obama must reverse Bush’s policies to avoid irreparable harm to Arctic wildlife and to some of the most biologically productive waters on earth.

What’s the worry? Comforted by massive oil industry advertising campaigns paid for with record profits, the average American could not be blamed for believing that the oil companies can drill oil on land and sea and transport it without a drop being spilled. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The threat of a major oil spill off Alaska’s shores is growing rapidly as oil exploration and extraction expand into the Arctic.

Those of us who work regularly on these issues are alarmed for two principal reasons. First, state and federal environmental oversight of the oil industry in the Arctic has been abhorrent. And second, engineers and other experts widely agree that the technology to contain oil spills in sea ice environments simply doesn’t exist.

Experts point to a yawning gap in “oil spill response” capacities between Arctic and temperate zones. If oil is spilled in the Arctic, we should expect it to stay there. We know all too well the impact of spilled oil on bird life and marine mammals, including polar bears: they die. MMS itself has said that the likelihood of a major oil spill in the Chukchi Sea is somewhere between 30 and 50 percent. Yet, most experts contend that it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to use booms and other conventional technology to soak up heavy crude oil in waters covered in icebergs and sea ice.

The Exxon Valdez disaster, the worst oil spill in US history, did catalyze improvements in the industry. But industry problems have persisted in the Arctic, including slipshod maintenance of key parts of the Trans Alaska Pipeline and North Slope oil facilities.

On Prudhoe Bay, a lack of maintenance has caused major oil spills, leading to previous court injunctions against offshore exploration. British Petroleum went years without maintaining one of its North Slope pipelines, resulting in a spill of 200,000 gallons of oil in 2006 and a 3-day shutdown of BP’s operations.

At sea, Shell Oil has aggressively pursued plans to develop offshore oil deposits. But Shell’s exploration activity in the Beaufort Sea was halted when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that seismic testing would harm noise-sensitive bowhead whales and the indigenous communities that harvest them. The village of Point Hope, Alaska, joined by numerous native and environmental groups, is now challenging offshore development on the 2.9 million acres in the Chukchi Sea, contending that MMS violated federal environmental laws when it conducted the lease sales.

A top priority of the Obama administration must be to put an end to a culture at MMS in which science has routinely been quashed and corruption has been rampant. MMS has repeatedly demonstrated its allegiance to the oil industry, and there is a revolving door between the MMS and the industry as they trade senior staff back and forth. A senior MMS official retired from his agency post, only to turn up on the Shell payroll. The Interior Department’s Alaska representative made a similar move to Shell Oil. But this cozy friendship is not unique to Alaska. This fall, the Interior Department’s Inspector General released details of an investigation demonstrating a history of oil companies bribing MMS employees with gifts and sexual favors.

Understandably, consumers throughout the United States are worried about the deepening economic crisis and the high cost of living. But the implication that drilling in the U.S.’s marine environments will do much to help the average American is wrong. In fact, experts of all political persuasions acknowledge that even if offshore drilling were to begin today, a decade would pass before the oil could flow to the gas pumps. And even then, we’d only be paying a few cents less for each gallon of gas.

President-elect Obama must quash the myth of drilling our way to energy independence and develop a comprehensive energy policy that recognizes the benefits of conservation and efficiency and the necessity of moving to a low-carbon economy. In addition to slowing the rush to drill in Alaska waters until comprehensive scientific studies are conducted, the new administration should consider buying back some or all of the $2.6 billion in leases sold last February on the Chukchi Sea. A precedent exists for such action: Following the Exxon Valdez spill, the federal government paid $90 million to re-purchase leases in Bristol Bay.

Read the whole article here.

Huffington’s Green Gift Givers’ Guide to Holiday Harmony

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

We’re putting together a spectacular list of great Chelsea Green gift goodies that will surely inspire your friends and family to join you in 2009 in launching a community garden, or transitioning your home off fossil fuels, or finally beginning to compost your kitchen scraps. But, while we’re putting the final bows and decorations on that lovely list, I thought I’d whet your appetite with this gem from our friends at the Huffington Post.

But if the library and used books aren’t doing it for you, or you’re just set on giving a new book, try a green book. Chelsea Green, a founding member of the Green Press Initiative, has been printing on recycled paper since 1985. They’ve got some intriguing new titles out including: The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience, by Rob Hopkins and Open Spaces Sacred Places: Stories of How Nature Heals and Unifies, by by Tom Stoner and Carolyn Rapp. I can also recommend Sandor Ellix Katz’s modern classic, Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods.

Read the original post here.

An excerpt from HuffPost’s Green Gift Guide: Eco-Friendly Ideas For the Holidays

Homemade Goods: Everyone know it’s the thought that counts, and what could be more thoughtful than a gift you made yourself. Nothing says “happy holidays” quite like a woolly hand-knitted scarf a tin of home-baked cookies. Here are a few other directions you might want to go:

1. DIY Recycled Paper Notebooks
Recycled paper notebooks make great gifts because not only are they good-looking – especially if you wind up using wrapping paper scraps and the like – but they are unquestionably useful. Consider making some that small enough for your friends and family members to carry with them – the better to jot down their ideas and New Year’s resolutions. Meghan Mcclain and Jill Thomas of Design Sponge explain their fairly simple procedure, which begins with collecting scraps.

2.Organic Bath Salts
Martha Stewart proposes giving the gift of bath salts, which you can proffer in a recycled jar. A big glass pickle jar might work well. Apparently, Americans spends $300 million annually on conventional women’s bath gift sets. This gift is green of course because it will introduce your friends and family to the virtues of organic bath products with recycled packaging. No need to spook up the bath with additives and coloring when simply salt and a drop or two of essential oil will do the trick.

Start with about 4 cups of sea salt or kosher salt. Mix in several drops of an oil such as peppermint or tea tree, available at your local natural food’s store) or dried fragrant plants, such as lavender or eucalyptus. Voila: Bath salts.

3. House Plants
Kate Pruitti over at Design Sponge was frustrated with the “depressing lack of variety for hanging planters out there” and decided to make her own from old ceramic planters she found lying around her house. Click here for the full post and instructions.

I have opened up my collection of old knick-knacks to a world of possibilities with a wonderful gizmo: the multi-purpose drill bit for use on ceramic, porcelain, glass, tile, etc. I decided to make a custom hanging pot by drilling holes in a pretty pot.

This neat gift idea would enable your loved ones to bring a bit of green into their homes by suspending plants from their ceilings. You may want to include a plant. Not only do they look great but they can drastically improve a space’s air quality. Treehugger’s Bonnie Alter suggests a few particularly purifying – and handsome – specimen: the Rubber Plant, the Ficus Benjamina (weeping fig), english ivy, or boston ferns. When in doubt, consider the spider plant, which I like to think of as the carnation of houseplants: very cheap, and underrated. It grows remarkably quickly, too.

To get more ideas for low-impact gift giving, read the whole guide.

The First 100 Days: Recession-Proofing with a Green New Deal

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Jonathan L. Gelbard, Ph.D., reports on that, though we’re facing an unprecedented perfect storm of crises—the economy, climate change, and peak oil—it’s not yet time to despair.1 We’ve taken a good first step: putting the right guy in charge. But there’s still a lot of work to be done.

The good news is that funding a green energy revolution will help solve all three of these inter-related crises. More jobs in the “green collar” sector will help the economy; clean energy will help alleviate climate change; and less reliance on fossil fuels will make the peak oil argument moot.

From the (link-heavy) article:

It’s time to get to work making sure that the solutions President Obama proposes during his first 100 Days and beyond approach the path to solving the financial crisis right, in a way that addresses our three most pressing – and intertwined – crises:

1. The Economy: our broken economy and financial system;
2. Peak Oil: our dependence on increasingly unpredictably-priced, unreliable, and polluting oil supplies (and fossil fuels in general) and the inefficient vehicles and buildings that they power; and
3. The Climate Crisis: the quietly – almost radioactively so – spreading catastrophe that is global heating, or ‘Atmosphere Cancer’ as marketing guru, Seth Godin, calls it. (‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ have proven to be tragically inadequate terms for conveying the civilization collapse-inducing potential of humans’ destabilization of the earth’s climate system, but that’s a topic for another post…)

The good news: the same technologies and green infrastructure projects that will create millions of jobs in key emerging 21st century industries will also free us from dependence on oil and help us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by the recommended level of 80% by 2050.

Who would have thought just 10 years ago that our next period of economic growth would not only thrive on a clean energy and energy efficiency revolution, but would depend on it? For those of us who’ve spent our lives working to advance what we now call “sustainability”, it’s our time. The next few months, if not years, are likely to give us quite the economic roller coaster ride, but let’s not lose sight of how we have the answers right in front of us – and it’s just a matter of executing on the policy end, and on the task of strategic deployment and proliferation of clean energy and energy efficient technologies. Our time has finally come to support President Elect Obama and prove to the world – and to our children and grandchildren who we are passing it on to – that “Yes We Can”!

The Massive Stimulus Potential of Efficient, Clean Technologies

As numerous reports and articles have made clear, the returns for America (and the world) on investment in a sustainable clean energy and efficiency revolution will be to cut our energy costs considerably, thus freeing up hundreds of billions of dollars for Americans – and citizens of the world – to spend on everything else, generating cost savings that reverberate far and wide throughout lives and businesses. At the same time, these solutions will slash our greenhouse gas emissions and boost our public health, national security, and quality of life. Consider the following very brief set of examples:

Savings on Gas Costs – Switching from a car that gets 20 mpg to one that gets 50 mpg will save the average American nearly $1,100/year in gas costs at $3/gallon (given the average distance Americans drive per year – about 12,000 miles; savings rise considerably as gas prices and miles driven go up). That savings is nearly two times the cash provided to us by our 2008 stimulus checks! Multiply that by the 112 million households in the U.S. alone, and that’s $123.2 billion/year that American households are now spending on gas that with a mandate for more efficient vehicles, they would have to spend on…everything else – electronics, clothing, travel, education, you name it. Or of course just to SAVE for themselves or their children.

Not to mention that at 20 lbs of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted per gallon of gasoline , these financial savings translate to 3.6 tons of CO2 emissions saved. Multiplied by 112 million households, that’s an annual reduction of approximately 358.4 million tons of CO2 emissions – about 5% of America’s total.

Savings On Home & Business Energy Costs – Throw in home energy efficiency, including such typical tips as purchasing EnergyStar appliances, using energy efficient light bulbs, and operating your home more efficiently by sealing leaks and turning down the heat and AC a bit, and savings jump another $500 to more than $3,000 per household per year (the final amount depends on the size and energy use of the home; numbers derived from Conservation Value Institute’s ‘GreenTracker’ sustainability savings calculator). Again, multiply that by 112 million households, and find that another $56 billion to $336 billion of Americans’ hard earned dollars are freed up from energy bills for us to spend widely, to save for our children and theirs, and to contribute to charitable organizations working to make our world better.

This is the green vision of a broad economic and social stimulus for America – and one that doesn’t just come and go like our $600 2008 stimulus checks. This is a stimulus that feeds back positively upon itself, providing returns for decades as our transportation, energy, and building technologies and infrastructure become more energy and cost efficient. Green IS the recession solution!

Of course, as a critical bonus, at an average of about 1.34 lbs of CO2 emissions per kWh of electricity and 11.7 lbs of CO2 emissions per Therm of natural gas, these cost savings on home and business energy use translate to hundreds of millions of tons of additional reductions in greenhouse gas emissions per year – significantly further cutting humanity’s carbon footprint!

Savings on Health Care Costs & Related Pollution Impacts – A green economy will also generate direct and indirect savings on our skyrocketing health care costs, which have been increasingly weighing down consumer and business spending. Directly, Americans’ costs on pollution-induced health problems like asthma – estimated well into the $billions – will go down. Indirectly, companies that currently have to pay full wages to workers who are either home sick due to pollution-related illnesses, or who are not working at full capacity, will get more bang for their buck as clean technologies replace polluting ones.

How much of an impact will a cleaner, greener economy have on our public health? Consider the findings of a 2006 study that examined the health impacts of air pollution in California’s San Joaquin Valley alone. The researchers estimated that annually, air pollution causes some 23,000 asthma attacks, 3,000 lost work days, 188,400 days of reduced activity in adults, 260 hospital admissions, and 460 premature deaths among people age 30 and older; and for children: 3,230 cases of acute bronchitis, 17,000 days of respiratory problems, and 188,000 days of school absences! The study estimated the financial cost of these impacts to be $3 billion – a regional cost that grows to astronomical levels at national and global scales. Green technologies are clearly healthy for not only our environment and economy, but for ourselves!

Savings on Security Spending AND Greater Economic and National Security – Finally, our national security position will be greatly strengthened. Free from the pressure to make choices that defy American values just because we don’t want to risk angering our oil suppliers (many of which are governments that don’t like us very much), our ability to do what is right for America and the world will no longer be so tragically – and expensively – compromised as it is right now. Consider the security costs of our pursuit of oil in Iraq and Afghanistan, which for the Iraq War alone are estimated to have required enough of our precious tax dollars to shift the world to renewables! The financial and diplomatic benefits are truly exciting, and will almost certainly generate groundbreaking foreign policy breakthroughs in regions where diplomacy and human rights are currently compromised by petropolitics.

Better quality of life – Better quality of life, of course, is what this all translates to – by investing in a renewable energy and energy efficiency revolution that powers A New Green Economy.

Read the whole article here.


1. I’ll let you know.

Terra Madre 2008: A Voice from the Youth Delegation

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Described by some as the “United Nations of food,” the third biennial Terra Madre gathering, held by the international Slow Food convivium, brought together thousands of small farmers, fishers, artisan food producers, cooks, academic researchers, and other participants to a small village in Italy in celebration of food.

Student Whitney Brown was part of the 700-member international youth delegation. She shared her experience on the Slow Food Triangle blog. It sounds amazing!

I have never seen such a spectacle in all my life. It was like the UN meets the Olympic opening ceremonies meets a populist farmer rally, and it was beautiful. I found myself alternately laughing with delight, scrambling for photos, wiping away tears evoked by moving speeches, and excitedly scribbling notes about Slow Food International’s politically-charged, inspirational rhetoric.

Before I left for Italy, I’d been seriously contemplating the class and race issues embedded in food–and Slow Food–so I was pleased to see them tackled head-on in Italy by both the US delegation and the international leaders. As much as I love to grow things and cook and eat, I am most interested in the socio-economic and cultural politics of food. Under the expert direction of Dr. Rayna Green, I am taking a class right now at UNC called “The Life, Death, and Rebirth of Native Foodways,” so Native American issues in particular have been on my mind lately. (I’m especially interested in Native foods recognized by the Ark of Taste and Presidia and also the many others in the Ark of Taste that are described as having Native origins/ties. Who’s growing this stuff, and why? What, if anything, does this mean for Native peoples?) Over the years, I’ve done a lot of work on African-American history and culture, including a stint as the one [relatively] radical white girl in a history class at the University of Alabama on the Black Power movement. I myself am descended from people who were tenant farmers in the foothills of South Carolina only two generations ago, relying completely on the land and the seasons for sustenance. My grandmother remembers always having plenty of good food to eat, but the family never got ahead until they got off the farm and into wage labor in the textile mills and the military. All of these things have helped to shape my interest in food and farmers and land and marginalization, which are on my mind more and more these days.


I was pleased that the rhetoric and the literature at Terra Madre were outwardly political, relying heavily on concepts of “rights” to good, clean, fair food, as well as handing out “manifestos” on the future of seeds and food policy. I definitely felt momentum building for social justice at home and abroad. Many leaders referred hopefully to the upcoming US presidential election and the role our next president must play in crafting better US agricultural and food policy and in addressing the world food crisis. I admit I went to Terra Madre feeling a bit embarrassed to be an American, and I hate that. Actually, each of the three times I have gone abroad in the last eight years I have felt the same way: embarrassed at our wealth and our waste and our war… And our president. In truth, I don’t know anyone who loves this place more than I do, problems and all, but I guess that’s why I’m so disappointed in us at the moment. It was clear from day one at Terra Madre that America–and America’s food policy–has a disproportionate amount of influence on the rest of the world, and our influence has been an increasingly negative one in recent years. Still, Carlo Petrini’s even-handed speech made me feel hopeful and proud. It was refreshing to me to hear that although people around the world are angry at America (and rightfully so), they still believe in our potential for greatness and our ability to impact positive change across the globe. And speaking of change, it was quite clear who the world wants us to elect. I can’t tell you the number of folks who wanted to talk to me about Obama, which made me even prouder to live in a state that might just swing his way.

Anyhow, as these big ideas began to sink in, it struck me how lucky the Slow Food movement is to be guided by such great thinkers and powerful speakers. Call me a neophyte, but Vandana Shiva, whom I had somehow never heard of before Terra Madre, absolutely floored me during her opening ceremony speech on GMOs and big agriculture, during which she explicitly railed against American agribusiness giants like Monsanto. In the US regional meeting, Winona LaDuke gave us a powerful glimpse of the Native American perspective on Slow Food and GMOs and sacredness of certain crops. “We are not fighting to eat at Whole Foods,” she said, as she explained that we must care for our crops as if they are our family members, and they will care for us in return. Stressing the importance of cultural diversity alongside biodiversity, as did many others, she declared, “This movement cannot be a monocrop.” Though rushed for time due to earlier speakers running over their allotments, Will Allen and his daughter Erika Allen nevertheless gave a moving talk that echoed LaDuke’s sentiments about the need to diversify the movement, and they called for us to reach out to folks like the poor, urban African-Americans with whom they work. They explained yet another perspective on food and agriculture that I think is important for us to understand, which is that agriculture is a politically loaded endeavor that is often viewed unfavorably by the descendants of slaves and sharecroppers who fled Southern plantations for Northern cities in the twentieth century. Agriculture is often seen by those folks as a regression, and others are wary of Slow Food as an elitist white thing, to be frank. It’s just something most of us–and by “us” I generally mean middle to upper class white people–driving the movement here in the States don’t think about. For a lot of us, it just hasn’t been part our world.

In the end, what I took away were series of important questions: what are our goals? Whom are we serving? What can we do to be more effective? The most current rhetoric calls for inclusiveness regardless of race or income and declares the “right” to good, clean, and fair food at a price that works for both producers and consumers. The biggest question for me is, what can I do to help? There certainly were many inspiring models around me; I’ve just got to figure out how to apply some of what I learned there now that I’m back here.

I don’t know what it was like for the producer delegates, but the youth all agreed that we could feel the hope and enthusiasm pulsing through our segment of the delegation. Indeed, I came home inspired to do more and to do better in every part of my life, whether in my academic work, my political activism, my gardening, or my cooking, but also to find ways to make my work affect people’s lives for the better.

Read the whole post here.

Recipe: A Thanksgiving Sleeper Hit: Lost Nation Cider Pie

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Recently, the Washington Post published a simple recipe for a tasty traditional cider pie in the “Food & Dining” section—a recipe excerpted from Michael Phillips’ The Apple Grower: A Guide for the Organic Orchardist. How about that?

We have so many great books that we tend to forget or take for granted some of these pearls of information, until someone else plucks them from the shelves and thrusts them into the spotlight. Having this recipe pop up in the Washington Post is kind of like when you invite some friends over for dinner, and then you all decide spontaneously to put a movie on to sort of pass the time, and your friends end up picking something you haven’t even thought about watching in years—since you found that old VHS copy in the 50 cent bin at the thrift store across the street back in ’05—and as you watch you think to yourself, “Oh yeah, Gremlins is a good movie.”

It’s kind of like that.

From today’s Post:

This might be the sleeper among your holiday desserts. Lost Nation is a rural enclave in northernmost New Hampshire, near the Canadian border. Resident farmers Michael and Nancy Phillips hold an annual party at which cider from their apple orchards, and this pie, are served.

You’ll need enough pie dough, either homemade or store-bought, for a double-crust pie. Serve topped with a slice of sharp cheddar cheese or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.

MAKE AHEAD: The recipe calls for making cider jelly, which is done by boiling fresh apple cider to the jellying stage. The jelly may be made up to 5 days in advance, then covered and refrigerated. Alternatively, prepared cider jelly may be used.

If you’d like to make more than you need for this recipe, a gallon of fresh apple cider will yield about 2 cups of cider jelly. Store in sterilized canning jars.

Makes one 9-inch pie (8 servings)


For the cider jelly

  • 1/2 gallon fresh apple cider (see headnote; may substitute 1 cup store-bought cider jelly)

For the pie

  • homemade or store-bought pastry for a two-crust 9-inch pie
  • 2 medium apples, such as Honeycrisp or Granny Smith, peeled, cored, cut in half, then cut into very thin slices
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly


For the cider jelly: Pour the cider into a medium heavy, nonreactive pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Use a candy thermometer to measure the temperature, which should come up to 220 degrees (the jellying stage). Boil until the cider has reduced to almost 1 cup, adjusting the heat and stirring as needed to avoid scorching. This can take from 75 to 90 minutes.

When the cider has reduced and thickened, remove it from the heat. Transfer to a heatproof container and cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the pie: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Use the homemade or store-bought crust to line a 9-inch pie plate, folding under and pinching the edges to form a tidy rim. Arrange the apple slices on the surface of the bottom pie crust dough in flat layers. Have the top round of pie dough ready.

Combine the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Add the cider jelly and just-boiled water; mix well.

Whisk together the egg and melted butter in a liquid measuring cup, then add the mixture to the sugar-cider jelly mixture, stirring to combine. Pour the mixture carefully over the apples in the pie plate. Place the top crust on the pie; crimp the edges around the rim and use a knife to make several small cuts in the top (to allow steam to escape). Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet (to catch any drips); bake for 40 minutes or until the top crust is golden.

Transfer the pie to a wire rack to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Read the article in the original context here.

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