Friday, March 30, 2007


Tomorrow kicks-off this year’s National Cherry Blossom Festival, commemorating Tokyo’s gift of cherry trees to Washington, DC 95 years ago. The opening ceremony at the National Building Museum will feature an exhibit on Earth-friendly design in Japan to compliment the museum’s existing exhibit, The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture and Design. (For speculation on the shape of Tokyo’s future, visit this post at the always-hip BLDG Blog)

The cherry blossoms, beautiful and simple, are a treasure that belongs to all Americans, one that we gladly share with our guests. As the signs of the shifting season emerge in your neighborhood, take a moment to notice our common wealth- the neighborhood park, your local library, a favorite old song, the air we share. These things are valuable and they are yours.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Suzuki on Suzuki

The 15th annual DC Environmental Film Festival has come and gone. Alas, I missed most of it, because I was home nursing a back injury. I did, however, have the privilege of hearing David Suzuki speak.
For my American readers, David Suzuki is a preeminent conservationist, scientist, environmental advocate, and next to maple syrup and hockey, may be Canada’s greatest contribution to the world. Last Saturday, he spoke at the National Museum of Natural History to promote his most recent book, an autobiography.
Suzuki recalled his early years, some of which were spent as a prisoner in a Canadian interment camp, along with so many other innocent people who looked or sounded like “the enemy”. He described his early influences: the Canadian wilderness, professors at Amherst and U of Chicago, and his first reading of Silent Spring. He spoke in a matter of fact manner about work with Al Gore (before he was Al Gore), with Chico Mendes (the murdered Brazilian conservationist and labor activist), with entertainers, and with Amazonian warriors and their near-deadly stand-off with the Brazilian army.
What struck me and much of the audience about his talk was the role of the US. It became yet again apparent that Americans are falling further behind our friends and neighbors in certain avenues of science and education, and in stewardship of the environment.
The David Suzuki Foundation is working hard to promote environmental awareness among Canadians. Initiatives like Sustainability within a Generation and the Nature Challenge, however, are equally applicable anywhere in the industrialized world. I encourage readers to consider some of the goals of the Nature Challenge and to recognize that many of these are not merely good for the environment, but will also save money and improve individual health:

1. Reduce home energy by 10%
2. Eat meat-free meals once a week
3. Buy a fuel efficient, low-polluting car
4. Choose an energy efficient home and appliances
5. Stop using pesticides
6. Walk, bike or take transit to regular destinations
7. Prepare your meals with locally produced food
8. Choose a home close to regular destinations
9. Support alternatives to the car
10. Get involved, stay informed

Friday, March 16, 2007


Between work, a midterm, a term paper, and activity with a volunteer group, I’ve had precious little time for writing prose or poetry, beyond a handful of haiku. I’ve been reading Peter Barnes’ latest book during stolen moments on my train ride. Yesterday, I was suddenly struck by the words of Emerson (from his essay on history) vis-à-vis this notion of common wealth:

I am owner of the sphere,
Of the seven stars and the solar year,
Of Caesar's hand, and Plato's brain,
Of Lord Christ's heart, and Shakespeare's strain.

This was one of those quiet epiphanies that, for me, braided a pile of semi-disparate pursuits into a single simple strand. I’ve been skimming some of the literature on natural resource economics as a potential source of guidance on assessing the value of archival information. The parallel I’m trying to understand is that of the net present value of ecosystem services versus the NPV of an archives. Both resources have indeterminate valuable lifespans and contain some elements with a clear “practical” value and other elements that are “useless”.
What I hadn’t fully considered until reading Barnes was that these two value streams, nature and culture, are more deeply linked as “common wealth”. Just as rivers, oceans, and the atmosphere are not owned by any individual, company, or consortium, neither are the tools of government and history. These commodities, on some level, belong to the public.
Now all I have to do is solve a value equation full of so many zeros and undefined variables.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Crocus mourns
Grey billows cast white shrouds
Marmot is no seer

Friday, March 02, 2007

Happy one-hundred-and-three, creator of the truffula tree

(For those readers who have navigated to this page in search of the Lorax image, I also invite you to read and share your opinion at Blue Island Almanack.

One hundred-three years ago today, Theodor Geisel (March 2, 1904 – September 24, 1991), known and beloved by so many children as Dr. Seuss, was born. Many of his books strove to teach something important, while translating the confusing world of adults into something infinitely identifiable to children. For many, Horton the elephant and Yertle the turtle might as well be real childhood friends, and “Sam-I-am” is repeated like so much half-remembered scripture.
One of Dr. Seuss’ most important works was not the same commercial success as his other books, and has the dubious distinction of having been banned by a number of school systems. (This in my view is ordinarily reason enough to read a book; school systems don’t go to the trouble of banning a book that is just plain bad.) Though, this work remains an evergreen favorite of environmentalists, and is once again relevant to raging public debate.
The Lorax, published some 35 years ago, is a children’s book about industry and the environment, introducing little ones (and many parents) to such arcane concepts as externalities, the legal standing of nonhuman species, and reclamation. What’s perhaps most compelling about the book is that these ideas, the subject of research and discussion by economists, ecologists, and industrialists, are reduced to an ethical problem understandable to children.
The questions raised by this book are again at the forefront of international debate. Does it make sense to use non-renewable resources until they are exhausted? If common resources are owned by all, why do only a few benefit from their commercialization? And, why do so many pay for the damage done?
If we do not answer these questions and respond, then who will? Today and this weekend, I urge my readers to address these questions in how they live their lives. This doesn’t mean I’m asking you to go out and chain yourself to a redwood, or to start a movement. Instead, think about ways you can improve your life and your world by using resources responsibly. Buy some compact fluorescent light bulbs. Eat local produce. Try walking or taking public transportation instead of driving. Read to your kids from The Lorax. You can help to solve the resource conundrum with simple choices any day.