Tuesday, August 7, 2007

...or live in a yurt!

Not ready to build yet? Or are you looking for a place to live while your energy-efficient home is being constructed? Or maybe you simply want to really connect with living on the Earth. Why not live in a yurt?

Nomadic peoples of Central Asia live in yurts, round houses made of a wood latticework frame and a canvas tarpaulin cover. Heavy felt is used for insulation, and heat is provided by a centrally-located stove, while the entire structure ventilates through a space in the center of the roof. These round structures are constructed in various sizes, and form the basic building design of the nomads of the mountainous plains in Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. They are easily adaptable to extremes of weather almost anywhere in the world.

I'm going to leave it to my readers to get more information from Wikipedia (lazy readers click here). Also, Y&Co. (groovyyurts.com) is a neat company that imports traditional yurts, as well as Mongolian fixtures and furniture, at what seem to be reasonable prices. They also buy their goods from village craftspeople, in order to preserve a rural economy in the region.

Photo is from Wikimedia Commons, and shows a Kazakh yurt, which are not as decorative as Mongolian yurts. More photos are available at both of the links provided.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Building a new home? Try "energy-free"!

This post may be aimed at a smaller-than-usual segment of my readership, but whenever I come across something that I find interesting I like to share it with you. This is for all those who may be considering building a new house, and it comes from the redoubtable Treehugger: why not consider a home that's practically energy-free? These homes, from Enertia, use minimal, and in many cases no, energy for heat, cooling, electric power or hot water. They are complete units that take into account the siteing and orientation of the structure, the lighting on your homesite, the climate you live in, etc., and are available for all types of homeowners -- those who wish to build part or all of the homes themselves, or as completely constructed units. Many styles, sizes and configurations are available, and the homes' visual appeal is as good as the usefulness of the technology.

Take a look at their website. There's a lot to be gleaned about energy saving in home design. If you are building, consider that the savings over time can help defray a substantial portion of your construction costs. Enertia has done a lot of work in creating homes that are as ecologically sound as they are handsome.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Simply put...

Okay, you asked for the secret of life? Here it is -- well, not the secret of life, exactly, but the secret of living meaningfully.

I have heard it said,

Man and the world are not separate. Every action we take affects the world in some way. We do not live in a vacuum; everything in life is interrelated.

Man has the distinction of being able to make choices in his actions. We can choose to act positively or negatively, in order to affect the other aspects of the world for better or for worse. The wise person will make choices based on respect of this law, and of the other beings (and so-called non-beings) in the world. If we simply act with respect, and a concern for making choices that benefit the world as a whole, happiness will increase. That is guaranteed.

I have tried not to make this preachy, or sutra-like, but the truth of it is obvious. Act with carelessness and the world becomes sloppy. Act with anger and the world becomes hostile. Act with kindness, and the world becomes gentle and friendly. It can be seen in everything we do. Sometimes it takes time for an action to generate a reaction, but eventually it will, and the world (and you) will reap the benefit, or suffer the consequences.

See the world as your friend and ally, and don't disrespect it. It will be good to you in return.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Getting back on track

I'm getting a little off the track here. My idea for this blog was to describe a way of looking at life which emphasized a personal relationship between man and the earth, to show that living a good life meant becoming connected to the land (not so much the planet as the ground under your feet), and to one's fellow human, and other, beings. This is the way the Indians live, as do many aboriginal cultures around the world, and it's where Western civilization seems to have gone a bit askew. The people in Western culture, and those of other so-called developed parts of the world, who understand this the best are the family farmers, and the people who live in and support the agricultural community. These people know best what the earth physically consists of, what it provides, and what its needs are. They know how to nuture and care for the earth, and therefore they know how to sustain it, to love it in the deepest sense.

Unfortunately our civilization has evolved with a highly developed sense of greed and acquisitiveness, and an addict's need for power and dominion over each other, and over the earth. Simply living in harmony with the earth has become inadequate; now a man must own a piece of it, along with the animals, minerals, and vegetation contained within it. Rather than simply celebrating his existence, he becomes protective of it, and instead of being able to share the earth's bounty with his brothers and sisters, now he must trade for it. In order to trade effectively he must be in a position of advantage; to increase his stock of tradeable goods, corners are cut, eventually leading to the degradation of the earth itself. This is how we have found ourselves with the problems of global warming, disappearing topsoils (large factory farms don't rotate crops, a practice which allows topsoil to replenish itself), depleted populations of fish and marine life, and massive pollution of the earth and its waters and skies. A whole new economy has developed around the remediation of these problems.

These are great concerns, and one can see how easy it is to gravitate toward discussion of them. However, this is not why I originally started this blog. I will, of course, continue to discuss important issues as they arise, but henceforth I want to get back to the blog's original purpose of examining the small, personal economy, and leave the bulk of the discussion of global problems to the experts in such matters. In the meantime, please look over some of my linked websites, especially the collection of Wendell Berry's writings. The life of this Kentucky farmer/naturalist/economist can serve as a great example for developing a relationship to the earth that is grounded and meaningful. He reminds us not to bother so much about the larger world, but to tend carefully the part that we live on. Rather than "think globally, act locally", Berry tells us to "think locally and act locally". To live in such a way is so much more fulfilling for all concerned -- the earth as well as ourselves.

Another Sneak Attack on Organic Standards

Followed a link from the intrepid Treehugger to the website of the Organic Consumers Association to this story:

WASHINGTON, DC- The USDA has announced a controversial proposal, with absolutely no input from consumers, to allow 38 new non-organic ingredients in products bearing the "USDA Organic" seal. Most of the ingredients are food colorings derived from plants that are supposedly not "commercially available" in organic form. But at least three of the proposed ingredients, apparently backed by beer companies, including Anheuser-Busch, and pork and food processors, represent a serious threat to organic standards, and have raised the concerns of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), as well as a number of smaller organic companies and organic certifiers. (Full story)

There is a petition and a form for public comment on the organicconsumers.org site. Unfortunately, time has virtually run out for public comment (only open for seven days) although there is a request by the association for an extension of the comment period, so we may get a chance to put our two cents in.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Waste-to-energy is here! Write your Senators

The idea of waste-to-energy has been around for a long time -- at least since the time I was a budding young failure of an ethical investor, many years ago. Now, it seems its time has come; actually, its time came a long time ago, when the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere started growing at an exponential rate, but the technology was still very much in the experimental stage. Now, however, there are 89 plants online nationwide, and more in development. The time that has now come is the time for us to write our governmental officials and make sure they are on the bandwagon, for waste-to-energy is destined to become an important part of our renewable energy picture.

Today's waste-to-energy plants provide efficient trash disposal of about 90,000 tons of solid waste nationwide every day, while converting the compounds contained therein into enough methane-free electricity to power 2.3 million homes across the country. In this regard, waste-to-energy plants actually provide a reduction in greenhouse gases over ordinary landfill disposal methods. Ferrous and non-ferrous metals are also recovered in a more energy efficient method than mining virgin ore, providing a further reduction in greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide emission is also avoided by eliminating the need for the combustion of coal or oil in the energy generation process.

The Integrated Waste Services Association has just opened their Legislative Action Center, where you can contact your Senators and urge them to consider waste-to-energy as part of your state's overall energy profile. The IWSA website has far more information than I can possibly include here. Interesed people are encouraged to visit there to find out more about current trends and technologies.

Friday, May 18, 2007

New books

Al Gore -- The Assault on Reason

Al Gore moves beyond pure environmentalism and explores how the human environment has been assaulted by an aggressive, conservative agenda, resulting in a breakdown of reason.

Paul Hawken -- Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being, and How No One Saw it Coming

The noted envioronmentalist, social activist and green entrepreneur examines the worldwide movement for social change.

Click on book title for more info or to order from Amazon.com.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007


The following are the corporate members of USCAP:

(new members in bold)

American International Group
Boston Scientific
Deere & Co.
Dow Chemical Co.
General Motors Corp.
Johnson & Johnson
Marsh Inc.
Shell and Siemens Corp.

BP America
Duke Energy
Florida Power & Light
General Electric
Lehman Brothers
Pacific Gas & Electric
PNM Resources

These companies are worthy of your letters of praise and encourgement.

Joint call from business for aggressive pollution cuts

From Environmental Defense:

Business Coalition for Climate Action Doubles

The unprecedented coalition calling for a cap and trade system to combat climate change, the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), has more than doubled its membership.

In a move that transforms the political landscape, General Motors is the first automobile manufacturer to join the coalition of high-level corporate and environmental leaders. The group's mission is to urge the federal government to:

* cut greenhouse gas emissions 60-80 percent,
* create business incentives and,
* act swiftly and thoughtfully.

USCAP member companies represent industries critical to slowing climate change, including car manufacturing, utilities, chemical production and manufacturing. Twelve new companies join the original members, bringing the number of corporate partners to 22.

Read more at www.environmentaldefense.org

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Reason for bees' disappearance found?

America's bee disappearances may be due, at least in part, to a toxic fungus similar to one that decimated the bee populations of Europe and Asia. This is a preliminary finding, but if true, it represents some hope for the restoration of the hives of bees neccesary for the nation's agriculture.

My brother sent me the Truthout article, and here is the original, from the LA Times.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

What's happening to our bees?

Billions and billions of bees across America are dying, for poorly understood reasons.

Here's a detailed analysis from the Christian Science Monitor, April 4, 2007.

Or read a distillation by Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower's home page, www.jimhightower.com

Ornithology 301: Hybrid Warblers

It has long been known that birds occasionally, though rarely, interbreed -- a male of one species will mate with a female of another, yielding often interesting results. Nowhere are the results more colorful and fascinating than in warblers, the tiny songbirds that are already seemingly infinite in variety. An informative article at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology website gives us a "mystery bird": while educating the reader about hybridization, the article offers a challenge for sharp-eyed birders to identify a recently discovered hybrid's parentage. Caveat -- this is for serious birders who want a) a tough challenge for the eye, and b) an introduction to a fairly advanced topic in ornithology, although it's written for the average reader and no knowledge of difficult science is assumed. I found it fascinating, and, for the record, I didn't identify either of the bird's parents correctly!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Eat locally

Considering a new diet? Want to help change the world at the same time?

Try the "100 Mile diet"

Monday, April 23, 2007

Karl Rove shows his true colors on the global warming issue

From Sheryl Crow and Laurie David, via HuffPo:

Last night Thelma and Louise drove the bus off the cliff or at least into the White House Correspondents Dinner. The "highlight" of the evening had to be when we were introduced to Karl Rove. How excited were we to have our first opportunity ever to talk directly to the Bush Administration about global warming.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Happy Earth Day!

Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Who Killed the Electric Car?

Buy or rent Sony Pictures' Who Killed the Electric Car? and see one possible solution to our dependence on foreign oil, and what we're up against in trying to achieve it.

In the meantime, visit the website. Or have a look at what Malcolm Bricklin is up to.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

We need to talk about gun ownership

For as long as I can remember, the NRA has been vocal and aggressive in pushing its misinterpretation of the Second Amendment in order that they might arm themselves to their hearts' content. The time has come, nay, is long past, when Congress must face up to them and bring some sense to the nation's gun laws.

The Second Amendment is not a blanket permission for universal gun ownership; it applies only to a "well-regulated militia", or organized citizen army, in a time of war, and protects its right to store guns in the home, rather than in an armory, for such a purpose. Gun ownership beyond that is NOT protected by Constitutional law; and sophisticated automatic weaponry could not possibly have been addressed in 1776. Ideally, gun ownership should be a states' rights issue, since every community has its own concerns.

In any event, it is time that the issue is opened for debate. This is not a call for a ban on guns, simply a call for discussion in order to break the hold the NRA exerts on Congress and on Americans' opinions. We have no reason to be surprised when events such as the tragedy at Virginia Tech occur. Our gun laws are too permissive: there are too many guns in circulation, and we are too anxious to use them. We must begin a discussion about what guns mean to us and our society before such a tragedy happens again.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Wild Turkeys

Leaving the house the other afternoon, I saw a group of wild turkeys in the field next door to my house. I noticed several females and a few males with tails fanned out and looking splendid! They were ambling towards a thicket that borders my driveway, so I slowed down to look at them more closely, and so as not to scare them. They were truly beautiful birds -- and huge! I've been allowing a bow hunter to take one or two turkeys a year from the land around here, but it always bothers my conscience to think he might be splitting up such a beautiful family. I'll check with him this year to let him know my feelings in the matter. In the meantime, the turkeys are flourishing!

Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Saturday, April 14, 2007

They're back!

The phoebes have returned to nest above my porchlight again this year. This is my sign of spring. There is only room there for a single nest, sitting right on top of the lampshade, and I just leave it for them to come sweep out and move back in every year. It has rendered my porch light useless, of course, but I would just as soon have the pleasure of the phoebes' company as the illumination of my porch. They've come back every year, with the one exception of the year of the rabies epidemic that decimated the wildlife in my wooded area. That year there was nothing around -- no deer, wild turkeys, coyotes, even very few songbirds. That was several years ago, and since then the wildlife has struggled back pretty much to normal. We had chickadees, robins and cardinals all year, of course, but the phoebes' presence signals to me a healthy new season. Welcome back, guys!


New film takes aim at "An Inconvenient Truth", Al Gore, and liberals

Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute, a Republican "think tank", was in San Francisco yesterday introducing his new film, "An Inconvenient Truth...or Convenient Fiction?" The movie goes after Gore as being an environmental extremist, but beyond that is meant to attack liberals more directly, and with a vicious slant. In doing so, Mr. Hayward displayed some of the Republican antipathy toward liberals that keeps the two parties at odds with each other.

Of those in attendance, he said:

“I don’t know how much of the enemy we have here tonight,” said a smiling Mr. Hayward, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, based in Washington. “San Francisco is usually a target-rich environment.”

"Enemy?" "Target(s)?" Are we the terrorists the country is at war with? Mr. Hayward, you agree there is a problem, and that human activity is at the heart of it. The only thing you disagree on is the matter of degree. Why not approach global climate change with a spirit of positive action, and not let the politics turn it into a federal case?


What this blog is to be about

This blog will explore the relationship between human beings and our environment. It will cover issues as they become relevant through events both local and global, political and spiritual, specific and general. I will quote important news items related to climate change, and write of the birds I see in my backyard. As things which I believe belong here occur to me, I will share them with you. My perspective is that of a politically liberal, regulated capitalist, formerly a Buddhist practitioner and currently a secular humanist. See my profile for more details.

My Buddhist experience has essentially taught me that there is no separation between ourselves and our environment, and I hope that through reading this blog you will come to that understanding as well. My goal is, naturally, a peaceful world, and the reconciliation of man with nature is the most important step in the realization of that goal.

May all sentient beings attain enlightenment.