31 December 2008

On the eve of the new year... a Reality Check

Does the fact that you turn off your light for an extra ten minutes really make that much difference?

Overall, no. We’re not going to lie to you and say that the 10 kWh you saved are really going to prevent global warming. They are, however, going to get you and those who will see what you do and follow your example in the right mindset, and that is that we need to start taking responsibility for our actions. That’s right, I’m about to be perfectly honest with you:

If we aren’t going to have a huge collapse, whether economic or ecologically or otherwise, we (as humans) can not go on living the way we have been, as if there are no consequences to our lifestyle and complete disregard for the balance in which every other living creature manages to function. If you use more resources than are required to support your population, you die. Period. No way around this one, no easy technological fix that is going to let us replace petroleum with solar panels (which are, by the way, made from petroleum), we simply can’t go on the way we are now if we want the human species to survive. It’s a simple matter of biological feedback. It doesn’t take a scientist to see we’re not only shooting ourselves in the foot, but we’re steadily drawing the barrel up to our figurative head.

This does not mean we are all bad people. This is what all those “Green Thoughts” are about. We are in fact an “invasive” species. But here’s where we differ from phragmites: we can make the conscious choice to get back in balance. We have the ability to realize we are on a one way path down catastrophe street, and that the answer isn’t so much as to turn the car around but to get out of the car and walk away. Time to find a new mode of transportation. Time to find a new street.

And here’s where I’m hopeful. Humans are innovative. We are immensely creative, when we aren’t fettered by our fears and the blindness induced by our culture. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, after all. Humans actually lived for millions of years without upsetting the natural balance- and if any particular group of people happened to do so, they died out. Pretty simple arrangement. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, I’m referring to the people we frequently call aborigines, or tribal peoples. Where they are still to be found, and by that I mean still found living the way they’ve always lived without interference from our culture, they manage to do the same thing that elephants and birds and fish have done all along: live without upsetting the balance that not only allows other species to continue to survive, but assures their own continued existence.
But we can’t live like that! We can’t live like elephants and birds and “primitives”!
Ok, fine. See you in the afterlife.

Living like elephants and birds does not mean we have to go back to living in the woods. For one, this is completely impractical. There isn’t enough space on the planet for nearly 7 billion people to go back to living in the woods. What we do need to do, instead, is figure out how to live without using more resources than our landbase can support. That means no more fossil fuels, for one. But it also means that everything we do, and I mean everything, needs to be examined from the perspective of its long term consequences not only on us (humans), but on our landbase and on the other species that live there. If we want to ensure our continued survival, we need to consider our actions in terms of not their economic viability or their efficiency (short term consequences) but of their ability to help us sustain human life for as long as possible (presuming this is the goal). To preserve human life, you need a planet to live on. Simple as that.

So let’s return to turning off the lights. I’m not asking you to stop having lights. I’m typing on a computer, clearly I am not running around in the wilderness without any electricity, nor am I suggesting you do so. I am, however, asking that you think what having a light bulb means. For a light bulb to exist, there must be a source of electricity to power it. This can come from any number of places, but aside from nuclear, solar, hydroelectric and wind, they more or less come from burning things to make steam which then powers lots of little machine bits and makes electricity. These things are not necessarily bad, unless you’re burning things that you don’t have an infinite, renewable supply of, like petrol. They also have the nasty side effect of filling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, and we all know what that means. The effects of hydroelectric power- meaning damming rivers- we all should know is bad for the environment. The fate of salmon should be enough to remind us that dams kill rivers, and everything that relies on those rivers, including, eventually, humans. As for solar and wind- well, you have to build solar panels and wind turbines out of something, and usually those things are mined and manufactured using, you guessed it, petroleum. Not an elegant solution. And anyone who argues nuclear power is a solution to the problem isn’t thinking in the long term, or is ignoring the fact that we can’t live on a planet filled with leftover nuclear waste.

The light bulb itself isn’t much better. It had to be manufactured, with more stuff mined up from the ground, not to mention the energy required to convert raw materials into a light bulb, and then it had to be packaged, shipped, sent to a store (this is also not mentioning the resources required to build the manufacturing plant, and the equipment inside, and the equipment used to mine the materials in the first place, and the materials and energy that went into building the vehicles used for transporting raw materials and equipment and finished light bulbs), and finally, eventually, taken home to be put in your lamp (which went through a similar process). And this is STILL leaving an enormous number of steps out of the process. You have a house to put the light bulb in, presumably.

So when you turn out the light for ten minutes, does it make that much difference? Not compared to the process required for there to be a light for you to turn on in the first place. Does this mean you should just give up, and not care? No. It means every single one of us needs to rethink how we (as a species) are living, and whether this whole mess we call civilization is really working out for us in the long run. If, after looking around for a bit, you conclude, as I have, that its time to get out of the car and make a run for it, you will begin to think about things a little differently. It doesn’t mean you won’t turn out the lights when you leave the room- because no matter what, there’s no reason not to live responsibly- it just means you’ll see the bigger picture. You turning off your lights will not make so much of a difference as light bulb manufacturers coming up with a light bulb without so many unpleasant consequences for ourselves and the environment. And no, I’m not talking about CFLs.

On campus, this means turning out your light will not make so much difference as the college itself switching to a better source of power- and let’s pause to define better as one with fewer long term consequences for ourselves and our planet- and beginning to think about our practices in the long term. Individual actions DO make a difference, because all the so-called green power in the world will not make up for millions of people acting irresponsibly with their light switches- but we also have to see the bigger picture, and know that individual actions are not going to save the world unless we also make some changes to the heavy hitters. For example, residential water usage accounts for only about 13% of the total U.S. water use- the other 87% comes from agriculture and industry. Your shorter shower may save a few hundred gallons over the course of the year, but if we aren’t also working to reduce the amount of water used by industries, we’re missing the bigger picture.

It’s not impossible. We invented the light bulb, didn’t we? I have every faith possible that we are more than capable of uninventing it as well.


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30 December 2008

Deep Green Thoughts, Pt IV

So, we had last established that humans are just as much a part of biological diversity as any other species. What does that mean in terms of the way we live?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize we have been squashing diversity for several hundred years now, if not longer. Take a look around the Eastern Shore. Massive plantings of corn do not lend themselves to much diversity- especially when other species are ruthlessly eradicated by means of herbicides. If you travel the country, you will find more of the same. Corn, corn, and more corn. At least half the food in the grocery store is corn based, if not more. We rely on it for everything. Now imagine for a moment a disease sprung up that targeted corn, and it all died. Uh oh. We’d be in big trouble.

This is the benefit of people all living in different ways. If some people depended on corn for their major food source, and some other people depended on potatoes, and a corn disease came along, not all the people would die out. The potato people might be able to help them out, or a new group of people would spring up in their place.

Now we’re back around to the question of what we do about all this. And the answer, at least in my humble opinion, is that there’s no one single answer. This is what I always tell other vegetarians when they come up with the idea that everyone in the country should go vegetarian. Clearly that wouldn’t work out any better than everyone in the country thriving off corn-fed beef. It would certainly help with the massive environmental damage caused by industrial cattle operations, as well as the numerous other concerns attached to factory farmed beef (this is such a well covered subject that I don’t feel the need to elaborate here). But if everyone went vegetarian- well, problem number one would be the dependency of most vegetarians on soy, which isn’t all that much better a crop than corn when grown in mass quantities- especially when grown as a monoculture. Same goes for most of the vegetables: massive fields of nothing but spinach aren’t going to solve the problem of needing to maintain biological diversity in order to survive.

By the same measure, there’s no silver bullet to the energy crisis. If everyone in the country installs solar panels, then yes, we will use less petroleum (ignoring the fact that solar panels, of course, require petroleum in their manufacture). But first, if we all started using solar panels the demand for the resources involved in the manufacture of solar panels would increase astronomically- threatening, I have no doubt, another slew of limited natural resources already taxed by our current means of energy production. Second, not every location makes sense for solar panels. Some places receive less sunlight (obviously). The same logic applies to windmills and biofuels and all the other “alternatives” they’ve come up with for energy production.

But there’s no one, single answer. Native Americans on the Eastern Shore of Maryland ate deer (among numerous other things). Native Americans in say, Arizona, did not eat deer. Because there were none. This may seem blatantly obvious, but then fast forward to modern America. People on the Eastern Shore eat beef. People in Arizona eat beef. They in fact eat the exact same type of beef, possibly from the same location, most likely distributed by the same corporation. When approached from the angle of biological diversity- and by extension, our own survival- does this make the faintest amount of sense? Keep in mind the possibility of a corn disease- and what happens when an area inhabited entirely by phragmites is suddenly deprived of sufficient nitrogen.

The pieces, if my narrative skills are at all functional, should at least be starting to form some semblance of a picture at this point. But let’s keep forging ahead, and see if we can’t make some sense out of the puzzle.

…to be continued.


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26 December 2008

Disclaimers

Two clarifications in reference to the rather lengthy series of blogs under the title “Deep Green Thoughts.” One, when I say the planet can save itself, I mean the entire planet. Not life as we know it on the planet. If we fill the atmosphere with so much carbon that it kills off all life on the planet, the planet will still exist. If even some life remains, it will find a way to recuperate. An asteroid killed off all the dinosaurs and dramatically changed the climate, and life went on. The planet will be fine. We, however, require a certain climate to survive, and a certain set of conditions- temperatures that allow us to grow food, for example. Most of the other species on the planet share these needs for survival, so by saving the planet in a manner that allows us to survive, we are also saving it for the vast quantity of other species that depend on this particular type of climate to thrive.

Second, you will never, ever, hear me say humans are more important than the other species on the planet. I have never once in my life believed this. If this was in any way implied by my argument that it’s ok to save the planet so we can continue to live, it was unintentional. I believe all living creatures have a right to continue living. I also believe all living creatures will by nature compete, and some will live and some will die and that’s just how it is. The thrust of this argument, however, is not whether it’s right or wrong to deprive millions of other species the right to live, but whether it’s right or wrong for us to stay on a path that has us barreling headlong into our own destruction.

I don’t personally think it’s right to drive other species to extinction for our own gain. But more importantly, and this is where value loses meaning, I think it’s incredibly blind of us to drive other species to extinction. Take sharks, for example. Shark populations are plummeting, mostly due to over fishing. Considering most of them are slaughtered for their fins and thrown back in the water, this is a complete waste. But not only is it wrong because sharks have the right to live- but because if all the sharks die, we have taken out the top predator in the ocean. Which means all the fish that would have been eaten by sharks will breed out of proportion, and they in turn will devour their favorite foods, all the way down the chain to plankton, out of proportion. And do you know what happens if all the plankton in the ocean are devoured? They stop producing oxygen. And do you know where the vast majority of the oxygen we depend on to survive comes from? The ocean. So, from a human perspective, and we are human, it may be wrong to kill off all the sharks in the ocean- but more importantly, it’s incredibly stupid to do so.

We are all connected, and not just in the cosmic, spiritual sense, which is up for debate- but in very, very tangible and scientifically provable ways. Ignoring those questions just may cost us our survival.


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24 December 2008

Deep Green Thoughts, Pt III

At the conclusion of the last segment, we had just established that saving the earth so humans can still live on it is in fact ok. We have also, if you missed it, established that we (humans) are not the enemy (and neither are phragmites). So it’s no use taking the extreme approach of laying the blame on the species as a whole. We are subject to the same laws as every other species on the planet, and that leaves us with a choice: a) keep going the way we’re going, and allow the species to die out in some form of massive catastrophe as our resources run out, or b) change our ways. There’s no particular ethical value to one choice or another, unless, of course, you place value on the preservation of the human species (I do).

So where do we even start, if we want to save our species? Well, it would make sense to start with the root of our ability to survive. What do we need that we absolutely must have not to die out? I’ll give you a minute to think about it.

Ok, if you said food, you’re close. But there’s something we need in order to even procure food. Have you guessed it yet? Air and water. And not just air and water- but clean air and clean water. Without air- well, we’d be dead, and without water, we’d have no means of growing food or catching food or whatever method you choose. I leave it up to you to come up with anything more basic that isn’t elemental (or just plain silly, like gravity. Obviously we rely on gravity not to fall off the planet. This is a given).

So presuming we need these two things to survive, and in a usable state, ie clean (because air laden with cancer causing chemicals doesn’t do much for the survival aspect), we can finally get into the ethics. Presuming again that our cause is to keep the human species going, in some form (and really, who could blame us?), something that is essential to our survival would fall under the “good” category- while the opposite would apply to something destined to kill us off. I realize, really I do, that this is absurdly simplified. But I’m writing a blog, not a treatise, so please forgive.

Step two. If clean air is good, and polluted air is bad, does that mean the act of polluting the air is bad? A-ha. Now we’re getting somewhere. But here’s where the grayscale comes in. Technically, you could argue that breathing pollutes the air. Carbon dioxide, in mass quantity, clearly causes us some problems on the survival front. By the same reasoning, most means of food production, staying warm, and moving about also cause ‘pollution’ of some degree. It seems we need at least one more piece before we can go further.

Let’s look for a moment at how others have gotten around this problem. Eastern Shore Native Americans burned fields when they started to become forest. Fairly often, actually. If you’ve ever seen a burning field, it gives off an enormous amount of what could be called pollution- ash and carbon dioxide and so on. They did this to maintain open grasslands to attract big game, for hunting. Incidentally they also encouraged biodiversity and caused hundreds of species to flourish that would have died out otherwise, but that was not their goal. And, even more amazingly, they didn’t cause global warming with these huge burns. Hmmm.

Where’s the difference between this and say, slash and burn in South America? Scale. The Eastern Shore Native Americans were burning fields, but to my knowledge, the Western Shore were not. By the same measure, if one group of people built a small coal burning power plant to create electricity, the air would more or less still be ok. But when an entire planetful of people do the same thing- aha. We have found our problem.

Let’s return momentarily to our friends the phragmites. If, under normal circumstances, there was a sudden influx of nitrogren, the phragmites would flourish. If the nitrogen then disappears, they die back. But this is presuming there are only phragmites in the area. Say there are also other water based plants- and some of these absorb nutrients that might kill the phragmites, and some of the others in fact fix nitrogen in the ground for phragmites to absorb- well, that will increase the phragmites chances of survival, and maintain the integrity of the wetland as a whole (rather than leaving it as an empty waste if all the phragmites die).

Do you see where I’m going? If one group of humans decides to clear cut to grow crops, while the one across the way decides to encourage the growth of forest to provide a lot of game, then it balances out, and you don’t end up with massive, endless clear cuts. In addition, if the group who clear cuts suddenly runs out of food and dies out, the group across the way can fill in the area and the overall integrity of the ecosystem as a whole is maintained.

We have, if you’ve been paying attention, just established one of the main principles of ecosystems: biological diversity. The important feature is that it doesn’t apply just to wetlands. We (humans) are a part of it too.

…to be continued.


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22 December 2008

Waste Not, Want Not

An intriguing article: Click here.

Waste is a unique concept.

It really only came into use within the last century. Prior to that point, everything that wasn’t used more or less decomposed. Except, you know, pottery. And rocks and things.

But things are no longer so balanced. Even when we produce biodegradable materials, we produce them in such quantity that they can’t possibly be reabsorbed into the natural ecosystem. Take the so-called biodegradable plastics they’re producing now. Mostly they just break down into really tiny pieces, which is not actually biodegrading so much as- well, as getting really small. But all those tiny, tiny bits of plastic are still there- and what’s worse, they get eaten by tiny little creatures and then passed along up the food chain. Even to you.

Don’t believe me? Take mercury, for example. Mercury is a great example of why I get really irritated when people start the natural vs. artificial argument. “But mercury is natural!” they say. Yes, well, mercury is naturally occurring in the ground. It is not natural for it to be dragged up to the surface in massive quantity and pumped back out into the air. Yes, a stubborn person (and I know many) could even argue plastics are natural- they’re made out of petroleum, which is technically a natural substance. But plastics do not spontaneously occur in nature, we rearrange the molecules of petroleum to produce them. Therefore they are not natural, by dint of their rearranged chemical structure.

At any rate, mercury, in the small quantities that it exists in nature, is fine and dandy and does its thing. But when released in large quantities into the air- mostly from industrial sources- it falls back down to the earth in rain, where it flows into rivers and streams and eventually the ocean, and is absorbed by the plants in the water, which are in turn eaten by fish and other organisms, which are eaten by bigger fish, which are eaten by us. And on each step upward the quantity of mercury increases- because a big fish eats a lot of little fish, all of them contaminated. So when we eat a big fish- well, it's why you get those mercury warnings on seafood.

Plastic, at least for me, is even more horrifying. The numbers of how much plastic is currently in the environment are unbelievable. In the last fifty years humans have produced something on par with 1 billion tons. And it will never, ever, go away. At least not in any amount of time we can comprehend. And all of that will slowly move up the food chain, into our bodies, and remain there after we die. Pleasant thought.

So now we have all this waste, and nothing to do with it except wait for it to overcome us. But we (humans) are perpetrators of this mess we’re in (literally). We could stop producing plastic at any time. Oh, I realize this thought sounds horrifying to most people, and the typical response I get is a very mature, “Not-uh!” But we started making it, didn’t we? What’s keeping us from stopping?

Or we could keep going, and wait for the day when our own mountain of waste comes crushing down on top of us.


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19 December 2008

Pick Ups and Palm Fronds

I spent three years living in Georgia (hence the name) and I must say, it changed me. Going in, I was young, na├»ve, fresh out of high school, and convinced that better emissions standards and universal recycling were the solution to the world’s environmental problems.

Boy was I wrong.

Savannah, where I lived, is occasionally called the “Little Easy”, the smaller, quainter version of New Orleans. Take everything you know about New Orleans and distill it (and take away most of the jazz and the Girls Gone Wild and insert Paula Dean) and you’ll end up with Savannah. There are still arguable differences (not much French spoken in Savannah) but the underlying concept remains. Centralized, historic downtown, built on a filled in swamp that doesn’t like to stay down. Sprawling, more or less modern suburbs that back up against an often disturbing industrial presence- in this case, dominated by the paper mills. And widespread, in your face poverty, typically divided on racial lines.

If you drive into Savannah the back way- not on 95- you will witness a startling introduction to what is otherwise a charming, slow, beautifully restored historic town. Row after row of government built housing, most of it in shambles, crumbling schools, abandoned vehicles, empty storefronts and lots everywhere you look- it still maintains a certain beauty, as does all of Georgia, but there’s no denying something is deeply wrong.

A few facts: “In the 2000 census, the rate [of poverty] was 22 percent for the city overall and significantly higher in five census tracts… Nearly 35 percent of the city’s households earn less than $20,000 per year.” (http://www.stepupsavannah.org/) The current federal poverty line, in other words the amount the federal government deems sufficient for a family to survive, “out of poverty,” is $21,200 per year for a family of four.

Imagine, for a moment, a place where over a third of the population lives in poverty. Possibly you have had this experience in your life, and possibly it changed you the way it changed me. It took a little while to sink in, and my constant volunteering exposed me to it more directly than the majority of the students who lived ensconced in the historic district.

There was one moment, early on, that set the wheels turning. I was with some friends, and was complaining that Georgia does not have emissions testing. In Maryland, where I am from, you must have your car tested every few years to determine if your emissions exceed the quantity set by the state government. If you fail to comply, you must have your car repaired to meet the standards, or you can’t drive. None of this exists in Georgia. After watching a particularly run down pick up drive down the road, spewing fumes, I asked how this could be- especially with so many trucks on the road clearly in need of repair. One of my friends, herself from Georgia, replied: “They can’t afford it.”

This didn’t make immediate sense. But then I thought about it- of course, if you fail an emissions test in Maryland, you are required to take your vehicle to be repaired. But the majority of people in Georgia who were likely to fail an emissions test wouldn’t be able to afford repairs. The poverty level is astronomical. The state, obviously, wasn’t willing to mandate a law that would take at least a quarter of their drivers off the road.

It was then I realized there are more immediate issues in the world than better emissions standards.


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18 December 2008

The Anti-Gift List

I think this person and I would really get along. Here it is, the Anti-Gift list. The one thing I disagree on, is that he mentions gift cards, and how they are made of plastic that ends up in the landfill. This is mostly true. Especially when they are for useless, overpriced places I would never set foot in otherwise. Unless you get one for amazon.com or something, which is virtual! And sends wonderful books to your doorstep. I also look forward to two of my favorite gift cards every year: one to my massage therapist and one to my favorite restaurant- two things I would do anyway, but love even better when someone else pays.

The Anti-Gift List: 15 Things Everyone Gets and No One Needs

Also, I'd personally like to receive any of the items on this page for Christmas.


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16 December 2008

Deep Green Thoughts, Pt II

Months ago I wrote a blog about environmental ethics… and I’m finally picking up where I left off. We ended by noting that we are not in fact saving the planet, but saving the planet in a state where we can still live on it. It’s important to have your goals defined when you start in on questions like, how should we live?

I should probably state my assumption that our current state of living is a mess. I don’t just mean the energy crisis, I mean anything and everything which contributes to the destruction of the environment, and I include in that the destruction of communities, families, and personal well-being. I will save how those tie in for another blog. But let’s take a moment and see how we got here. Long, long ago, everyone lived differently. People lived in tribal societies, and each one had their own way of living. Some were nomadic and relied completely on hunting and gathering. Some farmed. Some did both. All of them had to live in a relative state of equilibrium with their environment (by which I mean their surroundings). Otherwise, they would have died back, the same way any animal species will die back if it uses up all the resources in a particular area.

And then some groups of humans figured out that if you put in hours upon hours of extra effort, you could grow more food from the ground than you actually needed to feed your tribe. This, in effect, meant members of your tribe could travel at will, without having to stop and hunt, because they could take food with them. This was a revolutionary concept, because it led to, you guessed it, the ability to form armies. Which led to the necessity to build fortifications, which led to the creation of cities, which led- well, you get the point. We called this the agricultural revolution.

Fast forward several thousands years. We have expanded our population to such quantities, and concentrated them in such small areas, that there is in fact no alternative except intensive, industrial (or, to be PC, conventional) agriculture. We could not survive with this many people without mass production. Only, we have a problem in that there are more people on the planet than there are resources, especially since in our system of mass production we forgot to include the key concepts of any functioning ecosystem: not using resources faster than they can be replenished, giving back as much as you take, and not killing off all the other species competing with you (because an area filled with one species alone is far more susceptible to disease and pests).

Now, does this make us bad people? No, I don’t think so. We’re doing the same thing any species would do given the ability to adapt as quickly as we do. And we are subject to the same laws of nature that govern every other species, ie we can use as many resources as we can get, but eventually we will run out and suffer massive die back.

But there’s a key difference between us and say, phragmites. We can make choices. We can look around and think, uh-oh, we are heading for disaster, maybe we should do something about it. And we can. But we need to realize we are not saving the planet, at large. We are saving the planet so that we can continue to survive on it.

Why does this make a difference? In many ways, it doesn’t. When you come down to it, we’re still trying to keep whales alive. But there’s a difference between trying to save the whales, and realizing that the same things that threaten whales (pollution, overfishing, global warming) are also killing us, but more slowly. It’s also a difference between some abstract, noble quest- “saving the environment”- and trying to save our own asses from certain destruction. And that makes a big, big difference when it comes to helping others to see just why we’re fighting pollution and global warming.

Does that make us selfish? No. We’re doing what any species would do- try to survive. Only somewhere, somehow, we seem to have forgotten the key piece of the puzzle that allows us to do that: living in balance with our surroundings, not just because it’s “right”, but because it would be stupid to do otherwise.

… to be continued, again.


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15 December 2008

Ecofont

Well, isn't this intriguing. Apparently, if you use this font it saves 20% of the ink you'd normally use in printing. That's because the letters actually have tiny holes cut in them, which your eye, in one of the magic tricks of optics, fills in because they're so small.

Mostly, I think its a beautiful website.

Ecofont


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12 December 2008

Survival Crafters

No, we’re completely serious.

You take survival skills- and by survival skills I mean actual, if civilization collapsed tomorrow I’d be able to get by survival skills, not how to get a job survival skills, because if civilization collapsed tomorrow that would get you nowhere- and you combine them with the quilting bee or knitting circle concept. Throw in some snacks, and you’ve got our group.

We (students and staff at the college) have started an informal group of people who are interested in learning more about primitive techniques for making stuff- from tools to rope to nets to dishes to food to clothes- whatever catches our interest. Relying on the knowledge of our members and whatever we can scrounge together- we are embarking on an adventure in learning how to survive the way others have for centuries (and more environmentally friendly, to boot). We'll probably spend half the time on campus and half out in the field, learning to collect and test out the things we make. A group for people who like the outdoors, extreme camping, and crafting.

And why, you say? Well, the reasons I’m sure vary- some people are just really interested in recreating Native American techniques (that would be the anthropologists of the bunch). Some people are hardcore campers and want to know how to get by if they’re stranded in the wilderness. Some people have watched too many episodes of Survivor Man.

And still others of us have taken a look around at our society and figured, hm, something’s not quite working here. You can spend a lot of time arguing the what and the why, but we’re choosing to spend our time studying how societies have worked in the past- and worked so well they’ve lasted for thousands of years, without completely destroying the environment on which they depend. They had to be doing something right. And we intend to recreate it, to the best of our modern, unskilled abilities.

If that’s not enough incentive, hanging out with a bunch of cool people, relaxing, keeping your hands busy, and eating cookies should do it for you.

We hope to see you in the new year. If you’re at the college and would like to be kept apprised of our activities, join our facebook group, Survival Crafters.


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10 December 2008

Go Grinch Green This Holiday

I have to admit that I used to dread the holiday season with the same amount of trepidation I typically reserve for getting fillings, or visiting the MVA. I worked retail through high school and most of college, and the holiday season from behind the counter was one never-ending nightmare. The amount of things purchased- the quantity of paper used to wrap purchases, and the bags to cart them home, and the wrapping paper and the bows and ribbons and all the multitude of trappings that seemed to accompany the holiday turned my eco-sensitive stomach on an annual basis.

Now I flat out refuse to set foot in a store from November onward- and I’ve found this to be a much better approach to the holidays. What shopping I do I manage during the year- either from local vendors, where I find unique hand crafted items for the people on my list, or, for the more difficult giftees (my dad), I use the internet to find ecofriendly stores who ship with a minimum of packaging and donate proceeds to minimizing their carbon footprint.

But really, by and large, I don’t buy gifts at all.

I’ll let that sink in for a minute. No, I’m not a Grinch- I just know that most of my friends share my sentiment for gifts that have no particular purpose- bottles of lotion and the umpteenth scarf and who knows what else. I have more than enough STUFF, thanks. When I give gifts, I aim for things I know will be appreciated. This is why most of my friends receive cupcakes, often accompanied by a bottle of wine.

We prefer to take a more traditional approach to the Christmas season, making it more about visiting and spending time together, celebrating the season over a good bottle of wine and delicious baked goods, preferring to exchange cookies and clementines rather than objects we know none of us will use. If you think about it, this is how Christmas used to be- a celebration of the season, where people exchanged special treats of cakes and candied fruits and spirits, and all the children got a new toy to last them until the next year. Possibly immediate family members would make something special for one another, or include a small gift carefully selected for the recipient. But gift giving was not an obligation in the sense that you had to go out and buy something for every person you crossed paths with on a regular basis (and especially not for people you saw maybe once a year).

This method is not only less stressful (and in my opinion, far more enjoyable than endless hours spent stressing over what to buy the people in my life), but is much more ecofriendly. Most websites will offer holiday green tips such as reusing wrapping paper and packaging materials, but I find I don’t use them at all. There’s nothing to throw away (we recycle the wine bottles) and nothing leftover to clutter our lives except the warm memories of evenings spent laughing and eating.

It may take some doing to convince your family to go more traditional, but I find most of the people I talk to are more than willing to adopt a less materialistic attitude toward the holiday- only they are afraid their own families won’t go along with the plan. I suspect we are all wishing for a way out of the hectic, stressful, topped with a bow holiday lifestyle we seem to be stuck in- and if this holiday, we turned and reached out to one another with our hands instead of our wallets, we’d find others just as willing to accept our gifts of good cheer. There’s a lesson to be learned from How the Grinch Stole Christmas: “He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming- it came! It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags! Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before- maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store- maybe Christmas perhaps, means a little bit more.”

Remember the Grinch, after all, is green.


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04 December 2008

How to Have a Green Holiday.

It is getting close to the holidays, and that time of year that is filled with good cheer, giving and snow, but it also the time where people have additional opportunities to recycle and may not be aware of them. Check out Earth 911's website that has lots of tips on how to make your holiday as green as possible.

Also, those of you that are still confused about whether to get a real or artificial Christmas tree, will want to read the National Christmas Tree Association's annual report on the pros and cons of both types of trees. So, although getting the snow needed to have a white holiday is no guarantee, we can all do our part to have a green one. However, I must admit that some snow would still be nice.


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