Category Archives: Green Living

Suburbs are a Ponzi scheme

This article on Grist has an amazing photo that you have to see.

Sprawl

That photo is just disgusting.  It’s an interesting article too.

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What up Times?

The NY Times recently went out of NY city to do an interview with my friend Sharon.  (They stuck it behind their paywall now even though it was available earlier today) Unfortunately, they left their journalistic integrity and honor (what they had) in the city. The article they are writing is about people being extreme greens. They are right in one regard, Sharon and her family out outside the normal distribution for what they do. But, the information in the article is blatantly wrong, and it’s disgusting.

In the article they mention that Sharon’s kids sleep in the same bed to stay warm at night. They seem to imply that they need to sleep together or they’ll freeze to death. What a crock of shit. If you read Sharon’s blog, or her new book Depletion and Abundance, she mentions that her kids sleep in bed together because they want to. Maybe they are cold. Maybe they like to sleep together. Maybe they’re like my friend’s kids who share a bed, even though they use to have separate beds and asked their parents for a bed they can share. My kids share a bed too sometimes. There could be a lot of reasons. I sleep in the same bed with my wife. I guess so we can “huddle to stay warm”?

They also mention that Sharon heats and cooks with wood. Well duh, she has a woodlot on her farm. Should she pay for natural gas or heating oil when she has free materials (and materials with a smaller carbon footprint) on her own land? Where is the sense in that? Perhaps this is even mentioned because the NY Times is trying to make her out to be some country bumpkin, even if her choice actually shows a great amount of thought and consideration in it’s choice? (You can make the argument that wood is not carbon neutral, but either way it’s a better choice than natural gas or oil, IMO) Heck, just from a financial standpoint doesn’t it make sense to use a free heat and cooking source over one that you have to pay for?

Most disgustingly, the article mentions that she doesn’t allow her son to play in a baseball league because it’s too far away from her home. Maybe Sharon told them that, but in a followup post on her blog she mentions it’s because the games are played on the Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.

I will admit, some ideas are a little strange. Keeping your trash for a year is pretty far out there, but what better way to really understand your lifestyle’s consumption than to do something like that? I went back to Sharon’s site and read her comments, which really cooled me off. When I first read this article I was hot to trot.

Stupid mainstream press. I use to hold a special place for the Times but now I can see they are just as bad as all the rest. I reuse Ziploc bags and even wash them out so they can be reused . Why not? They last a long time. Guess I’m an eco freak too.

I’ve Got Worms!

I combed through the worm castings tonight. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to do it, but I did. Last year I chickened out and just dumped the whole bucket on the compost pile. Today I actually dug through it and pulled out as many worms as I could.

This bucket is full about 2 inches deep across the whole thing. And worm castings are way stronger than compost. I’m anxious to get them on the tomatoes and the corn.

The burden of receiving a gift

Recently my work place gave me a gift card to Target for some extra effort work I did.
(This is neither here not there, but the extra effort wasn’t that much.  I think they set the bar too low, but I still appreciate it.) 
Anyway, it’s for $200, and I’m going crazy trying to figure out what to do with it.  I’m obviously watching my consumption, like always, but this is “free” money.  It was given to me.  And what should I get with it?  That’s the first idea that pops into my head.  
I could buy a CD, but I’m not much of a music person.  In fact, the last time I bought a CD was probably 2 years ago after I watched Walk the Line.  I thought about a handheld stick blender, but my wife raised a valid point of how much I use our current blender.  A food processor then.  I’ll surely use that, and a lot.  But, I’m not so sure.  My friend doesn’t seem to have a problem letting me borrower hers (probably because of the items that come back with it as a thanks), and borrowing is better than buying something, even if the money is free.  My wife put in a claim for some weights for when she works out, but I think we can find those used somewhere else, not new from a store.
So what then?  What’s left?  Should it just be used for boring everyday items that I need to buy from the store anyway?  Should a gift like this cause me so much stress?  My co-worker gone one also, and her opinion is that a little should be used for a splurge that you wouldn’t normally allow yourself, but the rest should be for every day items.  Maybe that’s the route to go.  Either way, the company will get their money.  If it’s not used in a reasonable amount of time Target will take it and that will be all there is. 
Who would think that a gift would drive me so crazy?

2 things not connected at all

Mother Earth news has published an article detailing how free range eggs are nutritionally superior to eggs from caged chickens. I figured that already, but it was nice to see it actually proven and tested. Follow the link for the article. I wish it would be taken more seriously, but I’m sure the egg “industry” will down play it.
Also, I wanted to post this information about how to make a fridge out of a chest freezer. Sounds like a great way to lower your electric bill quite dramatically. Still working on Mrs. Fat Guy on this one …

Insulation party

If you remember from last week I talked about how this weekend we were going to insulate our house, more specifically the crawl space. That plan fell by the way side.

We ended up getting a big to have someone blow insulation into our walls, which was very reasonable and while they were at it they quoted me a good price on the crawlspace. So, we’re going to hire them to do the work and I was able to keep my chunky ass out of the crawlspace. My wife and I did insulate the rim joist area of our house, as well as a few windows this weekend.

11-10-07-009.jpg 11-10-07-011.jpg

We’re having a mid November heat wave right now (in the 50s and 60s) so I can’t test it, but it only took a few hours and it was less than 50 bucks. I think it was worth it.

I also built two window covers from some rigid insulation to cover two of the basement windows. Pending the crawlspace work I might be using the leftover on those two windows. The covers are temporary and made to just fit over the outside of the windows down in the wells and to mostly just keep the cold air from blowing through them when the cold really starts up.

My wife cut the rigid panel up to add some insulation to an attic access space and you can notice a large difference there.

The best thing of all this insulation work is that our heat provider (gas utility) will give us a 70% rebate on insulation. So we’re going to be putting $1800 worth of insulation into our house over the next 2-3 months but it will only cost us about $600 of our cash.

Ka-Ching!

That makes the payback even more rapid. You should check the utility in your area to see if they offer any programs. And don’t forget about the energy tax credits on your federal income tax returns.

Enjoy!

The seriousness of food

My illustrious friend and colleague Aaron has recently published a story on his blog about how the collapse of the Soviet Union was brought on by the government’s inability to feed the population.  While I agree with Aaron in this regard, I think his statements about the situation are slightly off base when compared to America.  I’ll take this moment to good naturedly disagree with him and state my case.

 

The his post Aaron attributes the end of the Soviet Union to an inability of the government to feed the people appropriately.  Now, there are a ton of other political and economic reasons that the government collapsed, but he is right that the root of the problem was the Soviet Union’s need to borrow money to buy grain on the open market to feed its citizens.  Aaron draws a parallel between the Soviet Union and their grain production and American farming because of the miniscule level of participation in the agriculture world by the citizens.  Aaron is right again in this regard.  The Soviet Union witnessed massive droves of people moving to their cities from the farms during the 70s and 80s and this led to a smaller number of people farming.  America has witnessed the same thing.  (At this point you are probably wondering when I will disagree with him.)

 

However, Aaron attributes the shortage in grain to feed the citizens from this lack of people farming on their own and living in rural areas, but I don’t see that this is the case.  In the Soviet Union, as in America, huge industrial farming practices are used which provide most of the grain available for consumption.  The difference between the two is that in the Soviet Union they had a population that outstripped the availability of the food supply.  Here in America we have no such problem.  The Soviet Union made up for this shortfall by buying grain on the open market, which worked well while they had the money, but when they had to borrow to do it they ran into trouble.  America currently has such an overabundance of grain that we export it to the world, feed it to animals and turn it into utterly worthless food products.  In the event of a crisis we could stop exporting grain, stop feeding it to animals and stop using it for worthless food products and still have enough grain to feed our population, even if there was a large drop in yields of grain.  By my estimation, given current consumption of grain for real food products, we could survive a drop in grain production of 60% before we would start to have less grain available as actual food.

 

The primary reason that I think grain isn’t an issue in the American food supply is because it is so portable and can last for a very long period of time.  In a world without rapid transportation networks this grain could be shipped by boat, horse, wagon, train etc and still be a valuable food product.  (I do have some concerns over how all this grain might be milled in the future with a shortage of electricity, but that’s a different essay.  Right now we are just talking farming.)  The food items that I do think will be an issue in the future is the perishable items, namely milk, meat and fruits and veggies.

 

Milk and meat are items that are over consumed in America today.  Most Americans eat about 200% more meat products than their body really demands (if not more).  With a few chickens in the backyard and the use of whole grains, and some legumes and such, most Americans can get enough protein that even in a crisis they will have adequate protein levels (and this is coming from a meat eater).  But, there is no real substitute for fruits and vegetables.  And it’s this product that I think should be the most concerning to Americans.  Without massive energy input to grow these products on a huge scale and to pump irrigation water these products couldn’t be grown on the scale they are today.  Add to that the massive energy used to transport them to the grocery stores either in fresh format, or even processed into cans or frozen, and you can clearly see that it’s not a sustainable activity in an energy starved world.  We can’t expect most people to grow a sustaining amount of grain products in their suburban backyard, but it is possible to dig up the lawn and grow a sustaining amount of produce in a standard suburban back yard.  Using some of the methods available with our current knowledge of gardening you can grow a massive amount of produce in your back yard.

 

Imagine you went to the local Piggy Wiggly and they didn’t have any produce?  What would you do if all the cans and frozen foods were cleared out?  If you are growing your own produce you don’t have to worry about this.  Think this can’t happen?  Maybe not, but how vulnerable are you if it does happen?  Do you even have 2 weeks worth of meal supplies at your house?  Maybe a month?  What if there was a hiccup?  What if Iran decided next month to stop all export?  Or Venezuela?  How much will oil prices climb as Mexico’s export to us continue to decline in the coming years?  One thing they teach us in business school is to always analyze your risks and make contingency plans for disasters.  What’s your contingency plan?

 

So, what should you do to prepare?

 

Grow a victory garden.  These worked fantastically during the wars to supply Americans with fresh produce (and produce to put up for the winter) and they will work now.  In fact.  They are less work than all the time people spend in their yards anyway.  And it’s easy to use organic methods in a small area and exceed the yields that real farmers get on their fields.  Start small and you won’t be overwhelmed.  It’s actually fun and incredibly rewarding to grow your own food.  Not to mention, it’s nice to have plants that are decorative and also make food.  Why just support plants that just sit there looking pretty?  That only works for babies in my book.

 

Use a farmer’s market now for produce.  Farmer’s markets are great tools to prepare for a potential food crisis.  Their holdback is that they are sized to the given market now.  If the market expanded by 100% overnight they wouldn’t be able to keep up.  So start using them now so they can grow at a pace that is reasonable.

 

Demand that your local grocery store buy locally.  Stop using the mega marts to buy all your food and shop at the smaller stores.  You’ll probably enjoy the experience more anyway, but local places will buy from local farmer’s more readily than the huge mega mart next to the Interstate where a can of corn is $.05 less per can.

 

Search out a CSA to join.  It’s late in the season now to join, but you can start socking away a little each month to pay for it next spring.  From what I’ve read, CSA memberships can save you 40% or more over the same produce at a grocery store.  And the food is local and fresh, and it’s great to know the farmer personally and it’s even better to get new foods to try out throughout the summer.  The more diverse your food supply the more varied your nutrient profile is.

 

Even better, check out the Bull’s-eye Diet.  Or you can check out Sharon’s information about eating a truly local diet based on what will grow in your area naturally.  There are a lot of things you can do to Be the Change!