Monday, April 23, 2007

It’s easy being green

Pick one, pick five, or try them all.

Read Walden
Eat local produce
Plant a local breed of tree
Go meat-free at least one day per week
Use compact fluorescent light bulbs
Read Silent Spring
Take chemistry
Walk in a local park
Ride the train instead of driving
Go fishing
Insulate your hot-water pipes
Eat fair-trade chocolate
Plant a vegetable garden
Combine trips
Use your local library
Swim in the ocean
Vacation in your region instead of flying
Drive a hybrid car
Take geology
Use local heirloom seed
Install a rain barrel on your gutter/downspout
Smell the flowers
Take agronomy
Read Cradle-to-Cradle
Go running

Friday, April 20, 2007


One hundred-five years ago today, Marie and Pierre Curie isolated the element radium. Their Nobel Prize-winning research and that of many others would pave the way for all manner of applications of nuclear science, from weapons, to medicine, to energy.
As we grapple with the accelerating human demand for energy, we must do so with an open mind. Burning things long-buried carries a host of problems. So too do wind, solar, nuclear, biomass, and any other method of generating energy. Each has advantages and disadvantages that may suit it to one application, but make it unacceptable for another. For this reason, environmentalists and industrialists cannot afford to indulge in mindless dogmatism.
Conservation remains a curiously under-used strategy. The consumer can, through simple choices, choose to use less energy without detracting from his or her quality of life. Using compact fluorescent light bulbs, reducing the amount of meat consumed each week, and combining local trips are painless.
The mass-localization of power generation also holds great potential. In many parts of the world, natural conditions support residential electric power generation. In some places this means photovoltaic shingles on the roof, in others this means a few windmills in the back pasture. This puts an important source of capital in the hands of the property-owner, and obviates the need for many long distance power lines, in which large amounts of energy are wasted in transmission.
We must also recognize that there are demands for power that cannot presently be met with the combination of efficient use and mass-localization. Many industrial and transportation power users legitimately need very large amounts of power on an uninterrupted basis. Given increasing concerns over atmospheric carbon and climate, fossil fuels seem a poor solution.
Nuclear energy offers a strong alternative for many applications. Like fossil fuels, like solar power, like wind, like biomass, it is an imperfect solution. For every complex problem, there exists a huge spectrum of solutions, many entirely bad, few (if any) entirely good. The expansion of nuclear energy is, however, worth serious consideration.
Nuclear energy offers a number of compelling advantages. It does not directly produce carbon pollution. Estimates of usable nuclear material suggest that nuclear fuel could last for thousands, if not millions of years. Moreover, the distribution of usable fuels offers the promise of energy independence for many countries.
While efficient use and mass localization remain critically important, we must recognize that there is no magic bullet. Each need for energy is a discrete problem that may require a discrete solution. We must remain creative, open-minded, and we must keep talking.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

I'm bringing stupid back

My regular readers know that I am not given to flogging the current administration. Partisan Politics will be riding the jackass and the elephant, alongside Pestilence and Famine, at the apocalypse. However, the EPA's recent statement on greenhouse gases borders on farce. The EPA press release accompanying their Greenhouse Gas Inventory Reports reads in part:

"The Bush Administration's unparalleled financial, international and domestic commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is delivering real results," said EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson.

The release glosses-over the fact that carbon emissions increased during the period in question. "It's a sad state of affairs when global warming emissions go up, yet the Bush administration tries to spin it as a victory," responded Frank O'Donnell of the Clean Air Watch.
This administration refused to put into practice the Kyoto Protocol, because it "would have wrecked our economy". Bush claimed that ratifying the agreement would cost America jobs. I must ask the question again: How many American jobs has purchasing foreign oil produced? In truth, the answer is many: Haliburton, Bechtel, and Kellogg, Brown, & Root have all boasted growth, fighting a war for oil. Has pouring money into war been good for the US economy?
Perhaps my reader believes humans are warming the climate, and perhaps the reader does not. Regardless of your feelings on this point or your personal politics, the Bush administration’s spin is simply insulting.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Monday, April 16, 2007

Fix his earth-bound root

Saturday morning, we put two hundred-fifty trees in the ground. Waterford Park in Frederick, MD now boasts the beginnings of new native forest cover. Little more than green twigs, these red oaks, black walnuts, white pines, and sycamores will grow to ultimately regulate storm-water and provide habitat for wildlife.
This forest-to-be is the product of an ersatz tribe of retirees, teachers, students, greens, and local nonprofit-folk. Some of them see the park from their bedroom windows, others drove the better part of an hour to help out. What is significant is that so many otherwise strangers worked together in stewardship of a shared place.
The collective benefits of this park and others like it are manifest in perhaps as many ways as there were people at the planting. Some enjoy watching a Cooper’s hawk patrolling the park. Some want a better place for members of the community to gather. Others see the maxim of Yu the Great, “To protect your rivers, protect your mountains”, played out in the hills around Carroll Creek, wending its way toward the Chesapeake Bay.
For those of my readers who are in earshot of DC, Baltimore, or Frederick, the Potomac Conservancy has more events related to urban forestry and their Growing Native program. For more far-flung readers, I encourage you to find and invest in the common wealth in your own back yard. Like cash in the bank, parks, rivers, streams, and beaches are wealth that can be increased through investment.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bright blessed days, dark sacred nights

Busy with work and school, I appropriate some words of Emerson that have been on my mind for the past few days. These, from one of his essays on nature, speak further on the immediacy of nature in the mind.
“There are days which occur in this climate, at almost any season of the year, wherein the world reaches its perfection, when the air, the heavenly bodies, and the earth, make a harmony, as if nature would indulge her offspring; when, in these bleak upper sides of the planet, nothing is to desire that we have heard of the happiest latitudes, and we bask in the shining hours of Florida and Cuba; when everything that has life gives sign of satisfaction, and the cattle that lie on the ground seem to have great and tranquil thoughts. These halcyons may be looked for with a little more assurance in that pure October weather, which we distinguish by the name of Indian Summer. The day, immeasurably long, sleeps over the broad hills and warm wide fields. To have lived through all its sunny hours, seems longevity enough. The solitary places do not seem quite lonely. At the gates of the forest, the surprised man of the world is forced to leave his city estimates of great and small, wise and foolish. The knapsack of custom falls off his back with the first step he makes into these precincts. Here is sanctity which shames our religions, and reality which discredits our heroes. Here we find nature to be the circumstance which dwarfs every other circumstance, and judges like a god all men that come to her. We have crept out of our close and crowded houses into the night and morning, and we see what majestic beauties daily wrap us in their bosom. How willingly we would escape the barriers which render them comparatively impotent, escape the sophistication and second thought, and suffer nature to entrance us. The tempered light of the woods is like a perpetual morning, and is stimulating and heroic. The anciently reported spells of these places creep on us. The stems of pines, hemlocks, and oaks, almost gleam like iron on the excited eye. The incommunicable trees begin to persuade us to live with them, and quit our life of solemn trifles. Here no history, or church, or state, is interpolated on the divine sky and the immortal year. How easily we might walk onward into opening landscape, absorbed by new pictures, and by thoughts fast succeeding each other, until by degrees the recollection of home was crowded out of the mind, all memory obliterated by the tyranny of the present, and we were led in triumph by nature.”

Friday, April 06, 2007

Alas, the storm is come again

It’s in us. When people have absolutely nothing else to talk about, they talk about the weather. The subject is not merely a placeholder- rather it is a subject that walks along in the back of every person’s head, a pace and a half behind the immediate present. The stumbling, “What do you think of this weather we’re having?” may be the small talk of last resort, but it is relevant.
Before we domesticated the wilderness of time with an armload of calendars- solar and sidereal, Gregorian and Julian, even the temptingly primitive lunar, and leashed it with the autistic clock, wild time was weather. This relationship transcends the familiar running-late time and emotes the past-life when-do-I-plant and the-herd-is-moving time.
Weather as time is the stuff of tribes, a communion from before we all half-connected from a thousand miles away. Weather-chatter asserts the sanctity of place, the worth of local community in the face of ever more globalization.
We have all but forgotten the visceral awareness that is so tangled with weather and tribe. We don’t know where the water comes from or where it goes. Do you have a well? How long has that water traveled? Does your tap pour from a reservoir? What grows on the slopes around it? We have convinced ourselves that grapes come from a perforated plastic bag that never zips exactly shut. If you knew the names of all of the chemicals sprayed on those grapes, would you know what they do?
In the coming days, resurrect weather as time, learn the secrets of your place. Stand outside your home and see in your mind’s eye where the sun rises in June and where in December. Divine where the first spring shoots rise, ultimately to process toward their next winter sleep.
Whether this place is your home since childhood or some brief limbo before you find yourself so soon stationed somewhere else, learn it.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.
-Henry David Thoreau