Nature & Environment Archive


Living the Simple Life: William Coperthwaite

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Late last year architect, maker, visionary, homesteader, and Chelsea Green author William Coperthwaite died in a car accident just miles from his Machiasport home in Maine.

The entire Chelsea Green family was saddened by his death, and perhaps none moreso than Peter Forbes who had been inspired by Coperthwaite’s work and contributed the foreword and photographs to Coperthwaite’s award-winning book A Handmade Life.

Friends have set up a remembrance page honoring Coperthwaite’s life and inspiring work, which includes this moving passage from Forbes after he and his wife Helen Whybrow returned from burying Coperthwaite.

“My wife, Helen, and I got back from Dickinson’s Reach late last night after a very powerful and important three days. On Saturday, a group of us dug a six-foot-deep grave at the spot where Bill wanted to be buried. Another group made his casket and yet another group planned how to get his body from the mortuary back to his home. Bill wanted his body left however he died, untouched by doctors or undertakers. On Saturday morning, which was cold and stormy, six of us paddled out in two of Bill’s canoes across Little Kennebec Bay to Duck Cove where we were met by a hearse. We took his body out of the black plastic bag, wrapped him in his favorite blanket, and placed him gently into his pine box. We lashed the canoes together with four posts and tied the casket to the posts creating a catamaran to bring him home. The return was calm except for when we made the turn into his bay when a great wind picked up and blew us all the way into Mill Pond. We were met there by about 30 others who carried Bill in silence up from the beach past each one of his yurts. We paused at the most recent one as this was the place where Bill expected to die. We then brought him to his grave site, had an hour of reminiscences, and then buried him. And now we’re home trying to figure out what life means.”

Coperthwaite

Coperthwaite “embodied a philosophy that he called ‘democratic living’ which was about enabling every human being to have agency and control over their lives in order to create together a better community,” noted Forbes after Coperthwaite’s death. “The central question of Mr. Coperthwaite’s life and experiment has been ‘How can I live according to what I believe?’”

Over the years, thousands of people made the 1.5 mile walk to see his homestead, to be inspired and to learn from his approach to simple living by working alongside him [See the project below, "How to Make Your Own Democratic Chair"]. Intentionally avoiding electricity from the grid, plumbing and motors, he showed that it was possible to live a simple life that is good for themselves and the planet.

Born in Aroostook County Maine, Coperthwaite received a scholarship to attend Bowdoin College and after graduation he turned down another scholarship to Annapolis Naval Academy to claim conscientious objector status in the Korean War. Bill did alternative service with the American Friend Service Committee where he connected with the teachings of American pacifism. Bill would become close friends with Richard Gregg, a central figure in that movement. Though they had 50 years difference in age, Coperthwaite and Gregg found a strong bond and Gregg introduced Coperthwaite to the work of Mahatma Gandhi and to Helen and Scott Nearing, legendary social radicals who had pioneered their own experiment in self-reliant living in Vermont and later in Maine. The influence of pacifism, nonviolence and simple living would lead Coperthwaite far out in to the world to learn from other ways of living, particularly handcraft traditions.

As Forbes noted, “Bill will be remembered by his friends for his commitment to his principles, his deep love of life and people, and his great intellect, humility and humor. Our nation has lost one of the links in the chain of great people working quietly with all their unique powers to foster a better world.”

Peace.


 

Project: Make Your Own Democratic Chair

The following project is from A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity by Wm. S. Coperthwaite.

Is there such a thing as democratic furniture? If so, what would a democratic chair look like?

Most of the fine chairs we see today, if handmade, take nearly as much skill as boat building and, if made with power tools, require much investment in equipment and acquiring the skills needed. I would like to see what those who are reading this might come up with for ideas for a handmade chair that is light, comfortable, strong, beautiful, simple to make from easily found materials. (All we seek is perfection.)

Utopian? Or impossible, to create an egalitarian chair? Not at all. As a society we have simply not yet focused on this problem. When we do, there will be some elegant chairs as a result (or boats . . . or houses . . . or wheelbarrows . . . (not necessarily in combination—although, come to think of it, there have been some very comfortable wheelbarrows, some very fine houseboats, and several wheelbarrow boats. . . .)

My suggestion for the most democratic chair follows. This is not provided to represent an ideal but in hopes of stimulating even better designs from you, the readers.

To Make the Democratic Chair:

    1. Saw and whittle out the four pieces shown in diagram, using white pine 7/8-inch thick.


(Click for larger version.)

  1. Bevel the front edges of the two base pieces to meet at the angle shown, then nail together.
  2. Fit seat in place, and screw to the base with four screws.
  3. Place the back piece in the notches in the base, and screw to the base and the seat.

Gene Logsdon: Farmer, Philosopher, Curmudgeon

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Unlike most octogenarians, author Gene Logsdon is picking up steam as he rolls into his ninth decade. He has developed a prolific body of work as a writer, novelist, and journalist on topics ranging from a philosophical look at woodlands (A Sanctuary of Trees) to the higher calling of manure (Holy Shit). Who else could accomplish such a task, but the beloved Gene Logsdon.

In his latest book, Gene Everlasting: A Contrary Farmer’s Thoughts on Living Forever, we find Logsdon at the top of his game as he reflects on nature, death, and eternity, always with an eye toward the lessons that farming taught him about life and its mysteries—including those of parsnips. Yes, parsnips. In Gene Everlasting, Gene has an imaginary interview with a parsnip and seeks its advice on everlasting life. “Mr. Parsnip” responds:

Develop a distinctive personality like we parsnips do, with a taste only appreciated by the few rather than by the many. You want to appeal to the discerning minority, not the herd-like majority, which is always susceptible to the moneychangers. If you are too desirable as a plant, the gene manipulators will bioengineer you into oblivion. 

Publishers Weekly calls Gene Everlasting, “Great bedtime reading, these succinct, thought-provoking, life-affirming essays are a perfect gift for your favorite gardener, nature lover, philosopher, or curmudgeon.”

Gene Everlasting is praised by Kirkus Reviews as a “perceptive and understatedly well-written meditation.” Booklist adds, “While his legion of fans may pale at the thought that Logsdon has just written his swan song, his recent remission from cancer offers hope that his writing days are far from over.”

As any regular reader of his blog can attest, Gene is hardly letting cancer slow him down as a writer. “I think cancer drove me to write more rather than less for the same reason that a fruit tree will increase output if its bark is lacerated with cuts and slashes,” writes Logsdon in Gene Everlasting. “Threatened with danger, the writer as well as the apple tree is frightened into greater production.”

Here’s to a healthy future, Gene. We look forward to more musings and contrarian output. In the meantime, take advantage of this opportunity to download a FREE CHAPTER and read an excerpt from Gene Everlasting. We dare you not to be touched by this author’s humor, insight, and endearing, curmudgeonly spirit. 

Sign up here and we’ll email Chapter 7: Georgie the Cat right to your inbox along with a special 35% discount code good towards any book. But hurry – this offer only lasts until 03/05!

Updated: Our limited time, free download has ended. But don’t forget when you sign up for our enewsletter you get 25% off your next purchase in our online bookstore.

Zero Waste: A concrete step towards sustainability

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

By Dr. Paul Connett

I can’t remember exactly when I concluded that we were living on this planet “as if we had another one to go.”

We would need at least four planets if the whole world’s population consumed like the average American and two if everyone consumed like the average European. Meanwhile India and China are copying our massive consumption patterns. If we want to move in a sustainable direction then something has to change. In my view, the best place to start that change is with waste. Because every day every human being on this planet makes waste. All the time that we do that we are living in a non-sustainable fashion, but with good political leadership – especially at the local level – we could be part of a movement towards sustainability. A sustainable society has to be a zero waste society.

The zero waste approach is better for the local economy (more jobs), better for our health (less toxics), better for our planet (more sustainable), and better for our children (more hope for the future).

How do we get there?

Zero Waste a New DirectionIn The Zero Waste Solution I outline “Ten Steps to Zero Waste,” which are essentially common sense. Most people would have little trouble dealing with the first seven steps:

• source separation
• door-to-door collection
• composting
• recycling
• reuse and repair
• pay-as-you-throw systems for the residuals, and,
• waste reduction initiatives at both the community and corporate level.

However, it is Step Eight where some people are going to have trouble and where, if we are not careful, the waste industry could easily co-opt all our good work.

The incineration industry has discovered that by introducing two words it can continue to insert its poisonous, polluting activities into the mix. The phrase “Zero Waste to Landfill” cynically takes the good intentions of the Zero Waste movement and moves it back in a non-sustainable direction.

Instead, step eight calls on communities to build a residual separation and research facility in front of the landfill. The point of this step is to make the residual fraction very visible as opposed to landfills and incinerators that attempt to make the residuals disappear.

It is at this facility that we have to introduce a new discipline on waste. The community has to say to industry “if we can’t reuse it, recycle it or compost it, you shouldn’t be making it.” In other words waste is a design problem, and that is Step Nine: We need better design of both products and packaging if we are going to rid ourselves of the wretched “throwaway ethic” which has dominated both manufacture and our daily lives since WW II. We need to turn off the tap on disposable objects.

The final step is to create interim landfills — and I use interim because the goal of zero waste initiatives is to eliminate the need for traditional landfills. These interim landfills should be seen as temporary holding facilities until we can better figure out how to recycle, reuse, or better dispose of these materials than just tossing them in the ground, and capping them.

Summing it up with the Four Rs

Zero Waste four RsThe simplest way to explain Zero Waste is that it involves four Rs. The three familiar R’s of community responsibility—Reduce, Reuse and Recycle (including composting)—are joined by the less familiar “R” of industrial responsibility: Re-design.

In fact, the first person that talked about zero waste was one of the greatest designers of all time: Leonardo da Vinci. Somewhere in his writing he said that there is no such thing as waste: one industry’s waste should be another industry’s starting material. No doubt he was copying nature’s approach to materials. Nature makes no waste; she recycles everything. Waste is a human invention. Now we need to spend some effort to “de-invent” it.

Dr. Paul Connett is the author of The Zero Waste Solution: Untrashing the Planet One Community at a Time.

Intelligence and Intuition: Ben Kilham’s Groundbreaking Work with Bears

Monday, November 18th, 2013

A man who holds hands with full-grown bears, crawls into their dens to photograph their cubs, and comes face-to-face with their sharp teeth? It sounds crazy, but it’s just another day in the life of Benjamin Kilham, author of Out on a Limb.

Kilham has been studying and researching wild black bear behavior for nearly two decades. See some of that groundbreaking (and, at times, yes, cute) work in this video footage, complete with images of cute bear cubs.

Kilham’s dyslexia—which initially barred him from traditional academic outlets for his research—has offered him the chance to provide us with unique observations that offer a fascinating glimpse at the inner world of bears. In observing how bears communicate to one another, Kilham has made some startling discoveries—ones that may provide insight into how early humans communicated and shared resources in order to thrive. It’s also helped Kilham gain additional insight into his own dyslexia.

“Different minds work in different ways, and we need to find ways to foster a variety of talents,” writes Temple Grandin in the Foreword. “Ben forged ahead and did what made sense to him, despite tough times in the academic world. As a result, he has unveiled their wild world for us, helped orphaned bears reenter it, and helped solve human-bear conflicts.”

Many of the bears Kilham works with view him as a surrogate mother, especially Squirty, a 17-year-old bear who is the matriarchal bear who grants him a unique perch into her territory. He feeds them, walks them, and helps them discover their natural habitat before reintroducing them into the wild.

“Like Jane Goodall’s studies of chimps, Ben Kilham’s work with black bears is more than just revealing: it’s revolutionary,” writes Sy Montgomery, author of Walking with the Great Apes and Search for the Golden Moon Bear. “This riveting book supports two astonishing conclusions: that bears are far more sophisticated than most scientists dared imagine, and that dyslexia, once considered a failing, may simply be another, and often valuable, way of thinking. Ben’s work will transform our understanding of how animals live—and how science should be done.”

Kilham’s discoveries and methods are now being recognized in China, where he is working with researchers who are emulating some of his tactics in order to improve their own program to reintroduce Pandas in the wild.

Of possible interest to Chelsea Green’s longtime readers: We published Ben’s father – Lawrence Kilham, too. Lawrence Kilham’s book On Watching Birds (1988) similarly approaches bird watching with the same kind of keen eye and mind that Ben Kilham uses in approaching bears. On Watching Birds was also awarded the prestigious John Burroughs Medal for environmental writing.

Out on a Limb: What Black Bears Have Taught Me about Intelligence and Intuition is available now and on sale for 35% off until November 22nd. Read the foreword (by Temple Grandin) and Introduction below.

Special Coverage: UN Climate Change Summit via Democracy Now!

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

If you wanted a front row seat to the United Nations climate summit in Warsaw, Poland, but couldn’t make the trek — you’re in luck.

Our fellow Media Consortium friends over at Democracy Now! are in Poland and will bring special coverage of the special United Nation climate summit throughout the week of November 18, and are providing us with a direct link to their live coverage.

Democracy Now!, an independent, global news hour, brings you live reports from the annual United Nations Climate Change Summit taking place this year in Warsaw, Poland. Tune in from Monday, Nov. 18 through Friday, Nov. 22 for on-the-ground coverage of the official U.N. negotiations, as well as interviews with journalists, scientists, policy makers, stakeholders and activists — who are working to sway opinion both inside the conference and with protests outside in the streets.

If you miss the live broadcast from 8-9 AM EDT, Democracy Now! will post a repeat show on their Livestream channel by 10:30 AM EDT, which you can access through the embedded player below.

This is the fifth year that Democracy Now! is providing a live television broadcast from the U.N. climate summit. Click here to see coverage from previous meetings in Doha, Durban, Copenhagen and Cancun

While you’re watching – see if you hear any of the solutions put forward by Chelsea Green authors like Amory Lovins in his book Reinventing Fire, which calls for reliance on renewable energy by 2050 and an end to the Age of Oil, or the calls by Dr. Paul Connett, in his new book The Zero Waste Solution, for an end to the wasteful consumption and packaging that is ravaging the planet. Hopefully, we won’t hear or anyone pushing the notion that nuclear is a legitimate option for energy sources of the future. Author Gar Smith dispelled the myth of the nuclear renaissance in his damning exposé Nuclear Roulette.

If you’re looking for additional insight into what the world will look like in the face of climate change in the coming 40 years, be sure to check out Jorgen Randers’ latest book, 2052. Randers was one of the original authors of Limits to Growth, which was published in 1972 and represented a major shift in many people looked at growth as it affected the climate, planetary resources, and the human condition. In 2012, on the 40th anniversary of the publication of Limits to Growth, Chelsea Green published 2052, which originated as a special report to the Club of Rome, that looked at what could happen in the coming 40 years — from population growth and inter-generational disputes to climate adaptation an perpetual, stagnant economic  growth. In this summary, Randers looked at eight ways the world will change, as well as how we can prepare ourselves for these changes.

So, sit back – get informed. Take action.

Watch live streaming video from democracynow at livestream.com

Zero Waste: How to Untrash the Planet

Monday, November 4th, 2013

Waste. We make it every single day. But how often do we think about it? It’s easy enough to throw your garbage in a trashcan and never think of it again. Out of sight, out of mind—right?

Not for long. “New research showed that the annual volume of that waste could double by 2025, thanks to growing prosperity and urbanization,” writes Paul Connett, author of The Zero Waste Solution and contributor to the documentary film Trashed. “Translation: Rather than producing 1.3 billion tons per year, as we do now, we could soon be producing 2.6 billion tons.” Soon, it will be impossible for us to avoid our own waste.

But there’s hope. Through research, case studies, and profiles, Paul Connett’s The Zero Waste Solution introduces problem-solving techniques to rid the planet of as much waste as possible by 2020. “If we lave the waste problem to itself, we are part of a nonsustainable way of living on this planet with huge consequences for human health and the global environment,” writes Connett in the Foreword. “However, with good leadership we can become part of the solution.”

Inspiring Zero Waste initiatives already exist worldwide, in places like:

  • San Francisco, CA: By 2012, they achieved 80 percent waste diverted and are continuing to move forward;
  • Austin, TX: Has plans to reduce the amount of trash sent to landfills 90 percent by 2030;
  • Sicily, Italy: This small island is playing a large role in the fight against incinerators—expensive, unsustainable, toxin-producing waste disposers; and many more.

In his latest book, Connett imagines a world in which cities, regions, and countries with zero waste initiatives were not mere case studies and hopeful examples, but the worldwide norm.

The Zero Waste Solution is for all those concerned about humanity’s health and environment, writes Academy Award-winning actor Jeremy Irons in the Foreword. “Essential reading for anyone fighting landfills, incineration, overpackaging, and the other by-products of our unthinking and irresponsible throwaway society.”

The Zero Waste Solution: Untrashing the Planet One Community at a Time is available now and on sale for 35% off until November 11th.

Read Chapter 2: Ten Steps Toward a Zero Waste Community:

Flying Blind: Buckthorn, Bureaucracy & Bats

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Flying Blind is more than just a story about one man’s battles with bats, buckthorn, authority and byzantine government regulations.

Celebrated author Howard Frank Mosher says Don Mitchell’s forthcoming memoir “does for rural New England what Wendell Berry’s essays do for Kentucky and Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It does for the American West.”

As the title suggests, the book is also about…bats. Not just any bats. Endangered bats. Or, as Mitchell first thinks of them — “flying rats.”

“On the few occasions when I’d actually seen a bat skitter through the night sky—flying with the crazy, unpredictable movements that call to mind the way a fox can dance across the land—my response was apprehensive,” writes Don Mitchell in the opening of his new book, Flying Blind. “Flying rats, they seemed to me.”

How could a man with such an aversion to these nightly creatures dedicate much of his post-retirement to their conservation, literally crawling on hands and knees to create a safe, nesting habitat?

It wasn’t easy. Flying Blind tells the story of Mitchell’s coming to terms with authority figures, whether in the form of his father or the federal government, as he navigates—mentally and physically—regulations, pesky invasives and ends up connecting deeply with a species that once gave him “the willies.”

Flying Blind is now available. Take 35% off through August 19, 2013.

Click below to view photos of Mitchell’s work at Treleven Farm:

Flying Blind Slide Show by Chelsea Green Publishing

Mosher, the author of Where the Rivers Flow North, and Walking to Gatlinburg, among other novels, notes that Flying Blind is “the story of how place, the past, family, and meaningful work can still form character at a time when much of America is increasingly alienated from nature, history, and community. Beautifully written, relentlessly honest, and unfailingly entertaining, Flying Blind is the book Don Mitchell was born to write.”

Join Don Mitchell for a Bat Walk
Interested in experiencing the book’s setting firsthand? Don is offering tours of the forest at Treleven Farm in Vermont to take readers through the bat zones, share his experiences and discuss Flying Blind. If you’re visiting the green mountains during leaf peeping season, stop by Don’s on a Saturday morning at 10am to take the 90-minute tour (last tour will be Saturday, November 2, 2013).

Read an excerpt from Flying Blind below.

Authority by Chelsea Green Publishing

Five Cities that Could be the Next Chernobyl

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Twenty-seven years ago today, a power surge caused an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Pripyat, Ukraine. A plume of radioactive smoke spread fallout across Europe, making this the most devastating nuclear accident since we first smashed atoms to make electricity.

Could your town be the next Chernobyl? If you live near one of these five nuclear plants you might want to invest in a family-pack of haz-mat suits.

No power plant is completely problem-free, but five are the worst because they’ve suffered from the most dangerous accidents, or have had an abnormal number of near-misses, or are located near massive numbers of people who would suffer in a catastrophe. Despite a dodgy record of ignoring safety abuses and refusing to reprimand violators, even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission agrees that these plants are accidents waiting to happen.

From New York City to San Diego, the danger of nuclear catastrophe hits far too close to home. Literally in the case of Vermont Yankee, which is, unfortunately, on this list. We’ve put together a slideshow of images of the five plants, as well as an excerpt from Nuclear Roulette that details the inexcusable mistakes and alarming history of mismanagement that makes them all so scary.

What has Four Legs, Says “Moo,” and Could Save the Planet?

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Many of us have been taught that overgrazing, methane-emitting livestock turn green pastures into arid deserts and are responsible for the widespread desertification that threatens precious biodiversity, soil quality, and more.

Not so, as Allan Savory explains in his TED Talk, “We were once just as certain that the world was flat. We were wrong then, and we are wrong again.” You can see in the photograph below the difference between properly managed land on the right, and overgrazed, eroded and degraded land on the left:

In the aptly-titled Cows Save the Planet, journalist Judith D. Schwartz debunks the myth that cows and livestock pose threats to our land. You may think it unlikely that these pastured grazers are the soil saviors we need, but it’s true. Through holistic management and planned grazing, cows can help rebuild soil and restore land to its rightful state—improving carbon sequestration, natural water cycles, and soil fertility and nutrient density.

The solution to climate change, and a host of other environmental ills, is right under our feet, Schwartz explains. And what better time than the week of Earth Day to join Schwartz and the many scientists, ecologists, farmers, and experts (including Savory) featured in Cows Save the Planet and uncover all the reasons why we should be celebrating cattle as a way to improve our soils.

When managed properly, soils can help reverse the effects of:

  • climate change
  • desertification
  • biodiversity loss
  • droughts, floods
  • wildfires
  • rural poverty
  • malnutrition
  • and obesity

In the foreword, Gretel Ehrlich puts it best: “Judith Schwartz’s book gives us not just hope but also a sense that we humans—serial destroyers that we are—can actually turn the climate crisis around. This amazing book, wide-reaching in its research, offers nothing less than solutions for healing the planet.”

Cows Save the Planet is available now and on sale for 35% off. Read the introduction below.

Cows Save the Planet: Introduction

A Chilling List of Nuclear Meltdown Near Misses

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

Three Mile Island, the nuclear plant in Pennsylvania that melted down on this day in 1979, is synonymous with nuclear disaster. The meltdown was stopped before any serious damage occurred, but 34 years after this near miss at Three Mile Island, how safe are we from this kind of catastrophe?

Ask the residents of San Clemente, California, who live in the shadow of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. The plant has been offline for months since an “unusual” leak was found to be releasing radioactive steam into the environment. Or ask the folks of Burlington, Kansas where the Wolf Creek Generating Station suddenly lost power last winter after faulty wiring tripped a breaker and blew a transformer.  These are just two of the dozen nuclear plants that had close calls last year. From equipment failures to bumbling workers, and vulnerabilities to extreme weather and earthquakes, nuclear plants are ticking time bombs.

In the excerpt below, Gar Smith, author of Nuclear Roulette, reminds us that while we imagine nuclear technology to be as advanced as what we see on Star Trek, in reality the first reactors began construction in the US actually predate NASA — and the control rooms that manage these relics aren’t even as advanced as Homer Simpson’s — they still use out-dated analog dials and alarms. Not exactly the kind of thing you’d want to be all done up in retro style, right?

But that’s okay, because surely the industry watchdog tasked with keeping us safe from the hazards of nuclear radiation is doing its best to monitor safety violations and respond to lackadaisical plant managers with harsh fines and penalties. Well no. In fact the Nuclear Regulatory Commission more often than not fails to enforce its own regulations, seriously undermining the safety net between us and the inherent dangers posed by nuclear power.

A recent report from the Union of Concerned Scientists takes the NRC to task for these failures, pointing out how the even culture within the Commission itself encourages a lack of oversight. For example, NRC managers don’t listen to their employees, and actually chastise them for pointing out safety violations at inspected plants! The UCS report goes on to outline the year’s most serious malfunctions at nuclear reactors across the country: 14 worrisome mishaps at 12 reactors.

Do you live near one of the faulty reactors? Read the full report, and all the scary mishaps that occurred last year on the UCS website. And then stock up on potassium iodide and haz-mat suits.

If you still feel good about nuclear energy, the excerpt below from Chapter 19 of Nuclear Roulette, should fix that. It covers a morbidly fascinating list of worker errors, stories of the NRC ignoring serious violations, and even more plants that have come awfully close to blowing their radioactive tops. And last but not least, check out Mat Stein’s article about the risks posed by that other nuclear energy source we love so much, the sun. With a big enough solar flare we could be facing “400 Chernobyls.”

Near Misses and Unbelievable Mishaps: From Nuclear Roulette by Chelsea Green Publishing


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