Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Climate Change Real or Hoax? On Science & Ideology...

Just when it felt like everyone had finally jumped on the bandwagon, the climate change deniers are back. Yesterday morning I found a message from my good friend John Martinson. It said, simply, "what's this about:


The webpage John referred me to belongs to the Heartland Institute, a think tank that describes its mission this way: "...to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems." Meaning that Heartland prefers market-based solutions for social problems, and would tend to oppose regulatory solutions. Heartland believes that Global Warming is a red herring.

Heartland recently hosted a 3-day conference on the issue of global warming, and the linked website contains presentation data from the conference. Coincidentally, another very bright but non-scientist friend of mine, Avi Davis - open-minded, a bit of a neocon (I only spell that out because ideology is an unavoidable part of this discussion) - attended the conference and was persuaded. So is there anything to it?

Since Congress has before it an energy bill, I suspect that the timing on this is no coincidence. The Institute's ideological preference would be easier to manage if the global warming crisis were overblown, and onset of additional regulation unnecessary.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not accusing the Institute of skewing data to manipulate Congress or "we, the people." Maybe they're seeing what they want to see in a sea of confusing data. Did you know that cognitive scientists believe we fool ourselves when we go about the business of making rational decisions? Rather, they say we subconsciously pick and choose from among the available data whichever pieces support our emotional preferences, see, e.g. Sunstein, C. (2005). Moral heuristics. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28(04), 531-542. Maybe that's what Heartland does. Maybe, by the way, that's what we who believe global warming is real do, too. And for the record, since we're outing ideologies, mine is "pragmatist, left-leaning."

Even so, the fact that Heartland Institute is deeply ideological does not necessarily overcome their data. I need to feel able to tear down their data, not their ideology. While I do not begrudge them their ideology, it's the data that tells us whether or not to act. It's the old adage, "just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean someone's not out to get me" recrafted for the climate change issue, e.g. just because I'm ideologically opposed to climate change doesn't mean my data's wrong.

Even though there's been a scientific consensus about the warming aspects of CO2 for decades, Heartland has some pretty compelling charts that are easy to read and do seem to confound the issue. It's hard to know what to think when confronted by such contrarian information.

I asked some colleagues, some scientists I know from The Nature Conservancy and from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. I also asked a group of environmental ethicists who follow the debate pretty closely. One of the latter group, Dr. Nicholas Webster, University of Utah, put the debate into "rate of change" and anthropomorphic perspective: "The question is not so much whether the earth has been warmer or cooler (within geologic time it has been and always will be fluctuating) the question is the rate of change. Based upon this, the rate of change in climate is unprecedented and does not allow enough time, evolutionarily, for organisms to adapt. Secondly, although the world has been warmer in past geologic epochs, humans did not exist during those geologic epochs. In attempting to ameliorate climate change, we are merely attempting to maintain the climatic conditions conducive to human life."

Dr. Mark Meisner, from NYU-Syracuse, pointed me to an excellent website published by GRIST, a site that describes its mission as environmental journalism: www.grist.org/article/series/skeptics/. Grist has a page devoted to debunking the debunkers. It takes each of the claims frequently made by the deniers and answers them one-by-one.

Dr. Baylor Johnson at St. Lawrence University, using Grist as a resource, gave me as an example the denier claim that the earth stopped its warming trend in 1998. According to Grist, the claim is based on the fact that no year since has been as hot as 1998 (although there is some conflicting data about the temperatures of 2005). Dr. Johnson says, "It turns out that 1998 was especially hot because according to NASA the most powerful El Nino of the century was superimposed on the longterm warming trend. The claim that global warming stopped in 1998 is simply false. Possibly no year since has been as hot as 1998, but the trendline has continued upward once one compensates for the "noise" of a major El Nino."

I puttered around the Grist site myself, and know you'll find a lot of useful information there. But I want to end with the response from a scientist, my friend Ken Wiley, from The Nature Conservancy's Arizona Chapter. Ken, surprisingly makes a pitch for relying on ideology when science is less than certain. Although he doesn't say it, he is leaning in part on something called "the precautionary principle," the idea that when we cannot know for certain, we make a safer choice. I think his words are worth sharing:

"I'm always skeptical, and think we all should be, when the opposition to something like global warming is rooted in economic impacts and "loss of jobs". That point of view, that argument, has been used as a straw-man excuse for an enormous variety of ideological agendas for the last twenty generations...

I have no doubt that many of those who are champions of global warming also have their roots, to some degree, in ideology. All of us are hugely influenced by ideology. The opinions we each may have about such things as abortion, gay and other human rights, gun laws, sex education, taxes, the defense budget, etc. are little but ideological differences.

The discussion about global warming fits, I think, into a category that is different than those listed in the last sentence. It, ultimately, HAS TO be decided by science, and it certainly, absolutely, beyond a doubt will be.

The key question, essentially your question, is "What do we do now, when we perhaps do not have the definitive answer, or the clear undeniable data to give us the answer, to what is clearly an emerging and potentially extremely important question?" I think the answer, since we do not have the smoking gun evidence, and likely will not ever have it to a degree that will satisfy all of the anti-climate change ideologues until it is too late, is to be found in ideology.

...My ideological leanings are that fossil fuels pollute, cause social disruption, are increasingly expensive, politically dangerous and economically disruptive. We all know, ideology aside, that we need to start finding alternatives. I accept the basic arguments advanced by Thomas Friedman in "Hot, Flat and Crowded" that there are compelling reasons for the development of sustainable energy, sustainable economies, population "control" and, yes, taking an ideological view that defines an alternative future for society, an new approach that transcends arguments solely based on the fear and paranoia related to a doomsday climate change scenario.

"Ideology" is such a charged and polarizing word. During the Bush years, "their" ideology was a very bad thing, smacking of prejudice and ignorance and cruelty and hubris... [By contrast], we were sure that "our" ideology was based on caring and fairness and optimism and hope for the future[!]

As always, almost no matter the situation, "their" (whoever "they" might be) ideology sucks and "ours" (whoever "we" might be) is the right and true thing. We're humans; I don't think we can get away from it. And I don't think we should. Politics is nothing be a constant battle between ideologies. It is the blessing and the curse of the human condition. A blessing because it gives us a choice. And a curse because we seem, based on history, to be such sorry ass, selfish, rank amateurs in the application of "choice". Pathetically, but, beyond much doubt, taking the long view is not our strong point.

So, back to your question. Since we don't KNOW, why shouldn't we choose to envision a wider horizon and make our decisions about the future based on more than global warming with, perhaps, an eye partially focused on the potential seriousness of climate change, as well as applying the gift of consideration to other, related issues? Such an attitude, such an "ideology", may lead us to the same place, a global discussion of global issues of concern that may make life not only better for us all, but simply possible for us all. The issues are bigger than "climate change". The solutions that will help us address climate change, even if it turns out to exist only in the paranoid delusional minds of 100 Nobel Laureates, will contribute to a better and more sustainable world......and my guess is that there actually may be a universal ideology that would agree that a better and more sustainable world is something we should all strive for."

More resources from my colleagues:

Union of Concerned Scientists on "global warming" http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/
Skeptical Science "examining the science of global warming" http://www.skepticalscience.com/
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/index.htm
Climate science by climate scientists http://www.realclimate.org/

Elizabeth Kolbert, 'Fieldnotes from a Catastrophe'
Mark Lynas, 'Six Degrees'

Eco-Tweets: 75+ Environmentalists to Follow on Twitter#comment-11950944

Green Tweets: 75+ Environmentalists to Follow on Twitter#comment-11950944

Do you Tweet? If you're a Twitterer, you may enjoy this article by Mashable.com listing 75+ enviro-tweeters (twitterers?). And if you scroll through the comments, you'll see many, many more folks listing their personal favorites that had been left out. Including me!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Welcome EcoTube!

I recently received a tweet from a fellow named Chris, touting an enterprise called EcoTube. EcoTube boasts having over 100 green videos up, the eco alternative to YouTube. Hopefully that number will increase as the site catches on, and greenies everywhere upload their own creations. I'd like to see EcoTube take off, not just for it's videos, but because it has a section for green product reviews. If I were a webbie, that's exactly what I'd be doing. In fact, that was my first idea, pre-blog. I wanted a product review site where real people could talk about their experiences going green, using green products, etc - creating a guide for the novice in the process. Check out EcoTube, and spread the word if you like it. http://www.eco-tube.com/ There are already some great video clips at EcoTube. The one below certainly gave me pause...

Saturday, June 27, 2009


I miss Saturday morning cartoons. We were still little then. We woke up and rolled disheveled from beds to the den couch. Generally before Mom was even awake. Later, thrilled that the three wild animals she brought into the world were under the taming trance of the tube, Mom often gave us cereal and toast on a tv tray in hopes of prolonging her peace and quiet. There we stayed all morning, watching show after show, until cartoons finally melted into some boring adult program like "Gone Fishin." We'd snap out of it, climb down from the couch, and get on with being animals. Then we got old enough to be bussed to the synagogue for "Saturday school," and an era came to an end.

Which characters were your favorites? This is going to date me, but what the heck.

Mine included the political (Rocky & Bullwinkle), the occultish (Casper, Beetlejuice), the musical (The Monkeys), and period pieces (The Flinstones, The Jetsons). I'm not sure which genre can contain Popeye, although I liked some Popeye cartoons and was bored and aggrevated by others. My favorite - Bluto (or was it Brutus?) as a bedouin, living in what appeared from the outside to be a tiny desert tent, but upon entering was seen to be an enormous arabian palace full of rooms, people and camels.

For old time's sake, and also for the sake of our planet, I thought I'd offer up some cartoons for your Saturday morning viewing pleasure.

What follows is a series of five short but extremely entertaining cartoon videos written by Robert Krulwich. Entitled "Global warming: It's All About Carbon," they explain the science behind global warming. They are fun! They are informative. I learned a thing or three about the chemistry of carbon without even trying.
I found them on "Climate Connection," apparently a joint project of NPR and National Geographic, http://tinyurl.com/4abbko There's a lot more stuff on that website besides cartoons.
So, without further adieu, get back into your pajamas if you're already out of them, put your breakfast on a tv tray, and settle in for Cartoon Saturday!

By the way, if you're interested in why Popeye's nemesis was sometimes Brutus, sometimes Bluto, click here, http://blogs.chron.com/fantasyfootball/2008/12/post_70.html, and scroll down a little.

Friday, June 26, 2009


Balabusta: Yiddish for "good little home-maker."
Bubbe: Yiddish for "grandmother."

A birthday story: I have one of those thermostats supplied by the utility that automatically turns the air way down at the day's peak demand point. If I'm hanging out - which I often am, since I'm still officially a student - I have to physically override the mechanism.

Yesterday at 2 p.m. the air cut out abruptly. Thinking it was the automatic mechanism, I monkeyed with it. No result. The thermostat is new this season, and it's not particularly user friendly. It's also very different from the thermostat I had for the four years prior. So I assumed the failure was human error. I kept monkeying with it.

(Aside: How many monkeys does it take to change a lightbulb? I'm sure there's a punchline for this... let me google it.)

By 4 o'clock and about 94 degrees or so indoors, I admitted to myself that the air was officially broken. My dad, the expert in all things engineering, was half way across the state of Kansas on his way to a family reunion in Denver. I spent another hour scouting for the phone number of his favorite air guy. Out of order. Ugh.

Last night, Lucy and I may as well have gone camping for all the sleep we got. She ate a lot of ice cubes, I drank a lot of iced-tea. Despite the fans, and throwing doors and windows open to the breeze, it was still a muggy 82 degrees at 2 a.m. It hit 80 around 3. I made myself a tall Sangria over ice - a sleep cocktail for equatorial conditions. Around 3:30a.m. I finally slept. Up again at 7:20 a.m., and already 80 degrees again. Or maybe it never dropped.

Are you feeling sorry for me yet?

(Aside: I found two punchlines for my lightbulb gag. Both are too crass for my tastes. I better relate to this one:

How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a lightbulb? "Oh, don't trouble yourself. I'll just sit here in the dark.")

Believe it or not, I'm getting to the "eco" part of this blog. It's my birthday. I'll ramble if I want to.

Apparently, heat brings out the worst in air conditioners. I called about six service companies before I located Jim, a semi-retired oldster who works out of his house. His wife Nancy answered the phone, "hello?" instead of "Jim's Air Repair."

Jim wasn't up to much. He put on his special "Jim's Air Repair" shirt with the button down collar, and came right over. Before you know it, we were both outside in the heat, trimming hedges so he could get at my unit. I offered Jim some ice water, and went back inside. Pretty soon, Jim calls me out to show me his find.

ANTS are nesting in the electrical contactor box inside the unit. Little ant bodies have crowded into the metal box, body-blocking wires from making necessary electrical connections. I guess we hit the tipping point about 2 p.m. yesterday.

I wish I'd had the presence of mind to take a picture. Jim might have thought I was nuts, but on the other hand, he took the contactor box with him to show his buddies. He said he'd never seen anything like it. Aww. My job was special. $181.24 special! I hope Jim takes Nancy out for a nice supper.

So, I found a couple of substitute pictures on google images. You'll have to use your imaginations a little. The one on the left shows what the actual electrical box looked like. The other, maybe, is some sort of latch. But the way the ants are nesting in the latch is exactly how they nested in my electrical box.

Some critters can make themselves at home anywhere.

Now, we get to my personal moment of truth. Do I regress and douse those ants and the air conditioner unit with insecticide?

Or do I try to solve this naturally? $181 + 24 hours in a hot, hot house makes insecticide very tempting.

BUT NO. Sigh...

I googled around. I found a nice Jewish recipe. I plan to kill the ants with food, and lots of it. How else, dahling?

Jewish ant killer: one tbsp sugar, one tbsp. molasses, one tbsp. yeast. Mix well, serve on Sabbath china with the good silverware. The ants dine, and then graciously accept left-overs to take home to the nest for the other ants to eat. Later, the yeast gets moist inside their tummies and expands. Voila', exploding ants.

Such an eco-balabusta. My bubbe would be so proud.

My thanks to an anonymous contributor, screen-named only "Carolsis," from the http://www.ivillagegardenweb.com/, for the recipe!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

WEEDS - not the TV show

Ah summer. Full-on blooms, home-grown tomatoes, welcome thundershowers.

And weeds.

My friends, please don't use Roundup. The second most used garden weed killer - once thought to be safer than alternatives - Roundup turns out to be toxic to humans and animals. According to the Journal of Pesticide Reform's Winter 2004 Herbicide Fact Sheet, www.pesticide.org/glyphosate.pdf, we learn that the main ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, can cause immediate symptoms like eye irritation, burning eyes, blurred vision, skin rashes, burning or itchy skin, nausea, sore throat, asthma and difficulty breathing, headache, lethargy, nose bleeds, and dizziness. It has also been shown to have long-term effects, including genetic damage in laboratory tests with human cells.

Further, a Canadian study of farmers exposed to glyphosate herbicides demonstrated the enhanced toxicity of glyphosate when combined with other the chemicals present in the retail weed control formula. These products have been linked with increased risks of the cancer non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, miscarriages, and attention deficit disorder. There is also laboratory evidence that glyphosate herbicides can reduce production of sex hormones.

At the bottom of this blog are some links to more detailed information about the problems associated with Roundup and other herbicides formulated with glyphosate. But let us get to the important part of this story, the alternatives.

Among the following alternatives, I confess only to hand-weeding this season, a temporary satisfication for the need to spy my flowers amongst the weeds. Hand-weeding (sigh) too often leads to regrowth when the roots remain partially established. I've successfully hoed before, and I've used black plastic below the mulch. But at this late stage, I'd mess up my mulch to do either, and I've also become much more sensitive to the use of plastic. I'm now using biodegradeable plastic trash bags, and I'm thinking they would eventually betray me as they degraded and let new weeds through. I think boiling water is my next shot. It seems to carry the least long-term effects to the soil.

1. Boiling water. Pour boiling water directly on the weed in question. Take care not to spill the water onto plants you'd like to keep.

2. Vinegar (+ maybe salt + a little dish soap to make it stick). I've read that cider vinegar alone will kill a plant with several applications, while vinegar and salt are a better combo. However, too much salt in your soil will make your soil non-productive, so it depends where you plan to use the salt mixture. Also, remember, vinegar is diluted acetic acid. Acetic acid is corrosive, can be used as a solvent, etc. Over-use of acetic acid can harm your planting beds. If you choose this route, check these instructions by Toni Leland for making a spray guard to guard against wind drift, and ensure you hit only the plant you wish to destroy. http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/1244/.

3. Pulling. Yeah yeah. This solution depends on how much space needs weeding, how much patience you have, how many quarters or cookies you have for the neighbor kids, how hard the ground is. You have to carefully get the entire root out, or it will just grow back.

4. Weeding tools: Remember the hoe? I've also heard about some new-fangled weeding tools that might make the job easier. These usually slip down into the ground beneath the plant, hopefully bringing up root with the body. If you have any luck or experience with a particular tool, please report back.

5. Smother. If you're dealing with a patch of garden that nobody will see, you can place cardboard or other darkened material over the offending plants, and they will eventually smother and die.

6. Blow torch. A mini torch will burn the top of plants. This treatment may need to be repeated a few times until the plant suffers enough damage that its roots stop sending new shoots. Remember, though, this is fire, and dangerous. Beware of using it around flamable mulch, or old, dried woody growth. And of course, fire is non-selective and will kill anything accidentally torched.

Garden Prep: I returned to my house in KC well after planting season had commenced, so it's too late for these options. But next year consider these options:

Newspaper or black plastic under your mulch. Too late for this season. This will help with some weeds, but has to be done at the beginning of the planting season, before you get going. You have to pop holes into the plastic to put in plants you do want, and often weeds will find their way through these holes. For a really intense soil treatment, try "lasagna mulching," named because organic matter is layered with with paper or plastic and then another layer of mulch, and then allowed to sit for a few months for the organic matter to decay and improve the soil.

Add organics into the soil. Year after year of fortification with good organic soil amendments and mulch will make your soil all crumbly and much easier to pull weeds out by the roots. Not to mention the boon in harvest. This is where your kitchen composter comes in handy, see myApril 24th blogpost here, http://ecocuriosity.blogspot.com/2009/04/composting-doesnt-have-to-be-stinky.html.

Here are websites for more reading:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Find it Locally - Whatever it is!

I just received a great email from twitter. It said, "LocalMoPHX is following you." Local Who?

Well turns out, "LocalMo" is a twitter service that lets you do a search to find whatever products you need locally, in any one of 50 cities. This is a great tool to enable individuals to cut transportation-related pollution associated with consumerism.

Here are the cities: Albany, NY, Albuquerque, NM, Anchorage, AK, Atlanta, GA, Austin, TX, Baltimore, MD, Boise, ID, Boston, MA, Buffalo, NY, Chicago, IL, Cincinnati, OH, Cleveland, OH, Columbus, OH, Dallas, TX, Denver, CO, Detroit, MI, Honolulu, HI, Houston, TX, Kansas City, MO, Las Vegas, NV, Los Angeles, CA, Louisville, KY, Memphis, TN, Miami, FL, Minneapolis, MN, Nashville, TN, New Orleans, LA, New York, NY, Orange County, CA, Orlando, FL, Philadelphia, PA, Phoenix, AZ, Pittsburgh, PA, Portland, OR, Raleigh, NC, Richmond, VA, Rochester, NY, Sacramento, CA, Salt Lake City, UT, San Antonio, TX, San Diego, CA, San Francisco, CA, Seattle, WA, St. Louis, MO, Tampa, Fl, Tucson, AZ, Washington, DC.

Here's the website: http://www.localmo.com/change_loc.php . http://preview.tinyurl.com/krg3fl

Just Do It!

Signs, Signs Everywhere Are Signs

Reader Debra Baida sent me an article about a congressional hearing on greenwashing. The article cited testimony given by eco-consultant Scot Case before Congress's Committee on Energy and Commerce's subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection. Rather than cite you to the article, I thought you might like to read the transcripts or watch videos of the testimony here: http://tinyurl.com/l4uv9r. These are not the most entertaining videos, but they are interesting. I found the last one to be most informative, if you only have time for one.

Case is part of the group responsible for the Seven Sins of Greenwashing, which you may remember from my May 26th blog, http://tinyurl.com/om5ax7.

Case and others testified about the need to simplify or clarify the labeling rules. Right now, confusion reigns. So many green labels are showing up on all sorts of products.

What Congress might do is, as of yet, an unknown, but in the meantime, you can find information and charts about some of these labels here:


By the way, the labels in this blog are just a FEW of the green labels floating around. Please, please if you find a good, thorough list of all the environmental certification labels, let us all know.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Here Comes the Sun

If you've been wanting to install solar, on your home or your business, but can't afford the significant up-front cost, consider LEASING solar panels, and then using the immediate energy cost-savings to cover the monthly lease costs.

That's the bright idea of SolarCity. Check them out here at www.solarcity.com

Photo courtesy of University of Arizona, http://www.cs.arizona.edu/solar/solar.1024.1024.gif

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Zebra Mussels?

If you hadn't noticed, I'm into Scientific American lately. From their June 11, 2009 "special edition," here are eleven easy peasy ideas for being green:

1. Buy recycled toilet paper. The "soft" brands use virgin wood fiber and chlorine bleach. The recycled versions use recycled fiber.

2. Force your water to boil faster and save energy by lidding the pot.

3. Plant a garden. You know you've been wanting to! Start with something simple - carrots, a tomato plant or two. Next year do the same, add something. Keep it going!

4. Put your kids outside to play. Turning off the video games and TV saves a lot of energy. Not to mention what it does for your kids!

5. Consider buying used. Scientific American suggests used building materials for remodels, but why not used furniture too. There are some pretty cool pieces out there just waiting for new owners.

6. Use hand-powered kitchen tools like can openers, juicers, coffee grinders, etc.

7. Check your cosmetics and toiletries for bad chemical products and switch to less toxic varieties. Scientific American recommends Green Media Toolshed's Score card to help identify products, at www.scorecard.org/chemical-profiles/, and a couple others (see link below).

8. If you're a boater, check the Scientific American advice for keeping zebra mussels off your vessel. Zebra mussels???

9. Power down your PCs when not in use. Where ya heard that before?

10. Wash clothes in cooler water. Saves a LOT of energy.

11. Switch to electronic billing and reduce the footprint by the amount of the paper, transportation, etc.

The full article is here: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=being-green-11-enviro-habits&print=true

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

We Are Re-What?

We are regenerative beings. Our bodies regenerate. We all know that. We become aware of that early. Say we lose a fingernail, our body grows it back. Or, take human skin. We learn in school that our skin has "cell cycles," replacing our skin something like 200 times before we are 20, repairing skinned knees, split lips, the scratch your sister put down your arm.

We are regenerative beings. I am not going to give you a science lecture on how that happens. You can google it if you're interested. But I am going to say the obvious:

Regeneration requires new materials to replace the old, the decaying, the worn. We provide our bodies with the raw materials to rebuild themselves. What is it that we use as the building blocks of regeneration? FOOD. We are what we eat.

We are what we eat.

It baffles me how so many people can overlook this simple fact. Your body requires you to provide it with the stuff it needs for regeneration. Just as, if you were constructing a building or any other object, the quality of the finished product is related to the quality of the raw materials.
Food is your raw material. You are what you eat.

Watch the clip below. It's just a movie trailor. Then see the film when it's available.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Paul Hawkens

My friend Kaye Johnston, the sustainability officer at the University of Missouri - Kansas City campus, sent me a copy of the commencement address given May 3, 2009 by Paul Hawkens, author of a best seller entitled "Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming," to the 2009 Graduates of the University of Portland. This speech is magnificent, centers around Planet Earth, and is worth sharing.

"When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a simple short talk that was "direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate, lean, shivering, startling, and graceful." Boy, no pressure there. But let's begin with the startling part.

Hey, Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation - but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement. Basically, the earth needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades. This planet came with a set of operating instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don't poison the water, soil, or air, and don't let the earth get overcrowded, and don't touch the thermostat have been broken. mBuckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food - but all that is changing. There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn't bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: YOU ARE BRILLIANT, AND THE EARTH IS HIRING. The earth couldn't afford to send any recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint.

And here's the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don't be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done. When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren't pessimistic, you don't understand data.

But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren't optimistic, you haven't got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, "So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world." There could be no better description. Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refugee camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums. You join a multitude of caring people.

No one knows how many groups and organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen. Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy Corps, it works behind the scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force. It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople, rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisherfolk, engineers, students, incorrigible writers, weeping Muslims, concerned mothers, poets, doctors without borders, grieving Christians, street musicians, the President of the United States of America, and as the writer David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who loves us all in such a huge way.

There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true. Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it resides in humanity's willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, re-imagine, and reconsider. "One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice," is Mary Oliver's description of moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the living world. Millions of people are working on behalf of strangers, even if the evening news is usually about the death of strangers. This kindness of strangers has religious, even mythic origins, and very specific eighteenth-century roots. Abolitionists were the first people to create a national and global movement to defend the rights of those they did not know. Until that time, no group had filed a grievance except on behalf of itself. The founders of this movement were largely unknown - Granville Clark, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood - and their goal was ridiculous on the face of it: at that time three out of four people in the world were enslaved. Enslaving each other was what human beings had done for ages. And the abolitionist movement was greeted with incredulity. Conservative spokesmen ridiculed the abolitionists as liberals, progressives, do-gooders, meddlers, and activists. They were told they would ruin the economy and drive England into poverty. But for the first time in history a group of people organized themselves to help people they would never know, from whom they would never receive direct or indirect benefit.

And today tens of millions of people do this every day. It is called the world of non-profits, civil society, schools, social entrepreneurship, and non-governmental organizations, of companies who place social and environmental justice at the top of their strategic goals. The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history. The living world is not "out there" somewhere, but in your heart. What do we know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no better motto for a future economy.

We have tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people without homes. We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. Think about this: we are the only species on this planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time than to renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can't print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering.

Working for the earth is not a way to get rich; it is a way to be rich. The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago, and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses, Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells. In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe - exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a "little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven."

So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body? Stop for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore it, and wonder instead when this speech will end. Second question: who is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules? Hopefully not a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature. What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television.

This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to the most amazing, challenging, stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They didn't stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn't ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hopefulness only makes sense when it doesn't make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Relax - It's Digital!

I recently discovered digital magazines. I know, I know, they've been around a long time. But I've been one to ignore kindle, too. See, I think of reading as a reward for a day of work. I like to relax and read - hold a magazine or book in my hands, sit comfortably back on the couch or propped up on my pillows in bed. Often with a favorite beverage. If reading could be decadent...

But, as Tevya said in "Fiddler," there's always the other hand. My glossy paper magazines pile high in baskets all over my house waiting to be read. Sometimes I get around to it, but more often, well, it doesn't happen at all. And now that I can take my laptop to the couch or bedroom with me easily, I really have no excuse at all for wasting trees.

Here's my pick this month:

Scientific American. Their writers are not only very informative, they're often funny, easy reading, and never, ever "over my head." It cost me $4.95 (probably the same for a hard copy, but I'm saving the earth!) and is now safely downloaded into a new folder on my laptop called "DIGITAL MAGAZINES."

Here's the great content line-up this month:

Population and Sustainability: Can We Avoid Limiting the Number of People? Slowing the rise in human numbers is essential for the planet--but it doesn't require population control
By Robert Engelman

Cash for Clunkers: A Fair Trade for the Environment. Hey! Trade in your old, soot-spewing car for a newer one. Free. The latest scam? Not according to a former vice chair of the Federal Reserve
By Stephen D. Solomon

Bamboo Boom: Is This Material for You? It's not just for tiki torches anymore, but does this wood substitute really make for greener floors, clothing and other products?
By Michelle Nijhuis

The Arctic Thaw Could Make Global Warming Worse. The melting Arctic is releasing vast quantities of methane. How big is this greenhouse threat? What can be done?
By Sarah Simpson

Can Captured Carbon Save Coal-Fired Power? Extracting carbon dioxide from power plant exhaust and storing it underground may be the only hope to avoid a climate change catastrophe caused by burning fossil fuels
By David Biello

How Local Solutions Can Have Global Climate Impact. Scientists and policymakers should focus more on how local communities can adapt to climate change
By Anna Barnett

The Persistent Prophet--Lester Brown's New-Found Optimism, Lester Brown, at times ridiculed, has been warning the world for 40 years about coalescing energy, food and population crises. So why is he optimistic now?
By Barbara Crossette

Top 25 Green Energy Leaders. Forward-thinking companies, universities and municipalities are finding creative ways to run on renewable power
By Katherine Harmon

Get it here: http://www.sciamdigital.com/index.cfm?fa=Products.ViewBrowseCategoryList

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Green Investing - How to Make a Profit AND an Impact

Every time I turn around, I see another press notice stating that another securities house is entering the sustainability index market. Creating a fund made up of securities from firms that are environmentally sensitive, in one way or another. Sometimes the securities are all from alternative energy firms. Sometimes the securities are from firms that have a reduced carbon footprint. Sometimes the securities meet certain benchmarks of economic, social and environmental sustainability.

Either way, I feel nagged somewhere in the back of my brain.

Should I be investigating the environmental sensitivity of my own investments?

Should I be jettisoning stocks from firms with a big, bad footprint?

Should I be speaking with my portfolio?

Of course!

Except - - it's not that simple. Over the years, I've developed a fairly cautious approach to investing. I buy only value stocks. I have created a few rules for myself, and I check related benchmarks before I buy. I'm not an investment advisor, so I'm not going to share my methods here. The minute one of you decides to try them and lose, I'd be on your dirt list. Even so, my method, faulty though it may be, keeps me somewhat ahead of the Dow and the S&P indexes. What it looks like now - with the market so vulnerable: when everyone else is losing, I'm losing a little less! Can't fight that.

So, how can I abandon my strategy? The strategy that's keeping me a little less poor than I otherwise would be? How can it be responsible to give up my stock-picking methods and adopt someone else's picks, just because they are green?

I advise against blatant, all-out abandon of whatever decision-making processes you've successfully used in the market. But, I do have a compromise position. ADD the green criteria to the purchase-related benchmarks.

Here's how I do it. I create a table. Across the top of the table are my criteria for a stock purchase. Again, I'm not going to give you the entire method because I dont' want anyone following it. But I'll give you enough to show you how I do it, in case you want to devise a similar system using your own investing rules.

So, for example, I look "real news" about a company. I need to see contracts, partnerships, new technologies and patent approvals, etc. Preferably lots of contracts. I don't count "market-maker" news - anything about stock performance, dividends, etc. Other across-the-top criteria might be things like a low P/I ratio, a certain minimum level of capitalization, signs of under-valuation, etc. I also have a thumbs up or down space for reports I respect (e.g Reuters, Argus, Standard & Poors). By the way, all this information is available to me for free online at Schwab, where I keep my accounts. I assume it's available to you, too, at whatever online brokerage you use.

Along the verticle axis of the table are the names of companies whose stock I'm considering. For each stock, I determine how well each company meets each of my criteria, and make a notation in the square. When I'm done, the companies meeting my criteria are the ones I buy.

How do I make this whole process green? I simply added green behavior as a box across the top of my table! It's another criteria that MUST be met if I'm going to buy.

Where, you might ask, does one find out whether a company meets green behavior criteria? Well, at present there are a wealth of competitive brokerages offering sustainability index funds. You could buy into these funds. If you're a fund sort of person, just make sure you apply the same performance criteria you apply when selecting any fund. Don't get it just because it's green.

Or, if you prefer putting individual stocks in your portfolio, simply look at the list of individual securities these funds hold, and do your research to see which of them meet your purchase criteria. If you pick 'em that way, you'll be able to rest assured that the integrity of your pick system is being maintained and that you're investing green.

I think that's almost all you need to know to get started. The last piece: the granddaddy of all sustainability index companies is SAM, or Sustainable Asset Management, founded in 1995. Possibly the oldest group identifying companies meeting sustainability criteria, it is at the top of the credibility charts. Start there to find sustainability funds. Their website contains a wealth of educational information. http://www.sam-group.com/htmle/about/portrait.cfm.

You can also google "sustainability index funds." You'll no doubt come up with a LOT of funds. It's trendy right now. Just do your homework. Look at their criteria for inclusion, and why they consider these firms "green." Just because a firm sells an alternative energy product doesn't make the company green.

One last note: I know choosing stocks isn't a quick, lunch-hour activity for most of us. Why not bookmark this blogpost, and pull it back up the next time you sit down to review your portfolio, so you'll have the SAM link handy?

And if you find or know of any really great "green" securities, please come back here and post your pick in the "comments" section!

Go forth and invest wisely and green!
Now, time for me to get on the road to KC. Ciao!

If you find particularly healthy stocks, that are also environmentally friendly, I urge you to let us know here. All the best, and happy investing!


Monday, June 8, 2009

Enviro Scorecard for your Zip Code

Still on the road, but wanted to share a nifty link. At www.bajaweb.net/scorecard you can plug in your zip code and get an entire run-down on environmental issues in your area. Topics covered include Toxic Chemicals, Air, Water, Agriculture, Environmental Justice and Health Hazards. I know you can't see the pic very well, but if you click on it, it will take you directly to the web page.

For example, Phoenix (zip 85021), has five Superfund (groundwater pollution clean-up) sites, but does not have a high lead risk. Look at some of these screens to get the idea.

List of plants with highest emissions by type of pollutant:

Environmental equity report:

All this and much, much more at www.bajaweb.net/scorecard

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Road Trip

If you've noticed, I've slowed the posting a bit. Reason: Lucy (right) and I are road-tripping from Phoenix back to Kansas City, to spend a few weeks there while the entire ground floor of my Arizona abode gets ripped out. Two cracked, slightly sinking tiles in the bathroom turned out to be a rotted sub-floor under much of the ground floor, complete with mold! To treat it, the floor comes up (all kitchen cabinets have to be removed first), the mold gets treated (yuck!), and then the floor has to be rebuilt before the house can be put back together.

There is always a silver lining. Insurance is paying for it and we get a remodel!

The home's owner - my friend Jean - and I shopped together for new carpet, a beautiful new wooden floor, new tile. If she's lucky, maybe the formica counter tops she dislikes so much will be demolished when they pull the base cabinets out. She may end up with something brand new that she loves. Anyway, what was already a perfect place (mold excepted) will be even more delightful when I return.

Meanwhile, I'm on my way to my Kansas home, by way of Albuquerque (my friend Ava lives here) and then Manhattan, Kansas. I teach online for Kansas State University, two-plus hours from my Kansas home. I thought I'd drop by to meet the new department head, Jeff Pickering. I sure am dropping a lot of names today.

The map shows a proposed detour through Amarillo, Texas, where there is an art installation called "Cadillac Ranch." The other photo is - you guessed it - that. The idea for the detour was the brainchild of my friend Jim Armstrong, via facebook. My fb community is now planning my vacations for me! In the top photo, btw, Lucy has her nose in the air conditioner. I won't let her stick her nose out the window. This is an (unsafe) alternative, I suppose. The entire back seat is filled with belongings, so I'm really rather unable to prevent it. Yes, you are sensing guilt.

So, the blog has been a bit neglected.

Please, as a substitute, accept the link below to Allegheny Front, a Pennsylvania radio station that runs nothing but environmental news stories. While some of the links will be specific to Pennsylvania, many of them are of general interest. Like, for example, an interview with The Nature Conservancy's Bill Ginn, and lots of varied stories about things like President Obama's early efforts on climate change, information from organic gardeners, tips on reducing energy use, increasing the efficiency of your automobile, cycling, and more.

Allegheny Front Archives

Thursday, June 4, 2009


I stumbled across an organization called carbonfund.org, where both businesses and individuals can buy CO2 offset credits. Their slogan: "Reduce what you can. Offset what you can't."

For example, for a tiny $5, you can offset carbon created by air travel up to 2,500 miles.

For a one day event with up to 250 people - say a wedding - it's a little more: $75. That covers up to 7.5 tons of CO2, which I guess they figure covers the average number of guests, including those who fly, hotel rooms, meals and ground transport. Or, use the event calculator, and plug in actual numbers - people, cars, plane and train trips, hotel rooms and meals. The calculator will spit out a number. For a fictitous party of 50, where I assumed about 15 out-of-towners, three rental cars, etc, the offset bill would be $49.

You can also calculate your annual personal CO2 use and purchase offset credits. I used their calculator, plugging in the square footage of my home, the type of car I own and the number of miles I drive annually, and was able to offset the carbon footprint for that part of my life, anyway, for a mere $72.35. That represents 4.506 tons for my home, and 2.729 tons for my Acura. I feel really good about that!

Where does your money go? Well, your dollars are "supporting" three types of projects that reduce CO2 emissions: renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation. Renewable energy supports clean energy development, such as wind, solar, and biomass. Energy Efficiency reduces existing energy use, much of which comes from coal, oil, and natural gas. Reforestation absorbs existing CO2 emissions, which helps to reduce the excess greenhouse gases that humans have added to the atmosphere. When you donate money, carbonoffsets.org retires the offset equivilents produced by those projects, so that those offsets become unavailable to anyone in the future.

What I really, really, really (did I say "really"??) like about this is this: Not only does your donation zero out your personal carbon use, but it also purchases and RETIRES an offset so that it is off the market. What do I mean? Well, the carbon offset program works like this:
To cap carbon emissions, there is a set quantity of emissions allowed. Those who are emitting are given credits annually in the amount they are allowed to emit. If they emit less, they are free to sell the excess credits. Those who emit more than their determined share have to find additional credits to purchase. But if I'm understanding correctly, carbonoffset.org actually retires that credit forever. So that there is one less pollution credit available for polluters to buy. Forcing the amount of permissible pollution down every time someone purchases a credit through carbonoffset.org! WOO HOO!

Of course, this only makes sense if my one year's use results in a "forever" retiring of the credit. I'm trying to find out if that is what they mean...

One more thing: because you're not actually purchasing offset credits, but, rather, making a donation (to a nonprofit) carbonoffset.org that they use for reducing emissions through an assortment of projects, you can DEDUCT your entire contribution at tax time!
Anyway, by now you've probably figured out that you can find out more at http://www.carbonoffset.org/!

Just Do It! I did.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ever Wondered...

Have you ever wondered what people are talking about when they use terms like "deep ecology" or "eco-feminism" or "gaia"? Well, these are labels for differing perspectives within the environmental ethics debate.

I recently ran across a website, "the green fuse," illuminating these and other ethical viewpoints, researched and maintained by Dr. Adrian Harris, a Ph.D with a strong interest in the environment. If you have a curiosity about environmental philosophy, you can find the green fuse here: www.thegreenfuse.org.

The site's name is based on a poem by Dylan Thomas of the same name, which I reprint from Dr. Harris' site:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
by Dylan Thomas

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman's lime.

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather's wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover's tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.

Harris, Adrian. "The Green Fuse for environmental philosophy, deep ecology, social ecology, eco-feminism, earth-centered spirituality." Last revised: November 2002. http://www.thegreenfuse.org/ (accessed June 3, 2009).

Monday, June 1, 2009

Comedy Central!

Welcome back to Comedy Monday at the Movies!

Again, thanks for your tolerance while I am off at Duke, interviewing for a job. Please note that some of these comedians use the occasional foul language and make politically incorrect jokes. That's what comedians do though. You've been forwarned.

can global warming be funny? apparently so!

i love Ben Stiller.

a bad message about lawyers, but what's new in that?

Warning: T&A words used.

Not a Will Ferrel fan, but I won't deprive you!

Too darn hot!

George Carlin for the contrarian view (cuss words)