Critical preparation for climate change- water

In my very first post, I said I would help you protect yourself, your family, and friends. To do that, we need to figure out what climate change means for average people. What threats could we be facing in a warmer, more erratic and unpredictable world?

NOAA

Right off the top, we have to expect days of extreme heat. If that heat is coupled with humidity, the danger of hyperthermia (dangerous rise in body temperature), heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and death rise exponentially, because your sweat can’t evaporate, thereby cooling you. On hot days, people are going to have to be able to a) drink lots of clean water, to maintain hydration; b) cease outdoor activity that raises body temperature; and c) get in cool areas.

Drought goes with heat if that hot weather persists. Most cities get their water supply from local rivers, and cycle the supply through water treatment centers. If a shortage develops, city governments restrict water usage to meet basic needs. But what if a shortage is combined with some kind of contamination of the water supply? What if the shortage goes on and on, and eventually a family needs more water? For example, a garden you depend on to meet food needs may be getting thirsty.

Anshu Singh1 /wikimedia

I think it’s wise to store water. I know, I know. In our bustling world, it seems silly or inconvenient to worry about water. I suppose it is, until you need it! Apparently, a person can survive about 3 days without water, but of course, those are pretty awful days. We’re 2/3 water, so consequently many body systems suffer when we’re not adequately hydrated. I get a headache and grouchy (which is common) when thirsty. I don’t want to experience anything more severe!

Climate change has already been linked to both acute and chronic kidney damage due to heat waves causing heat stroke- a high body temperature ITSELF can damage your kidneys- and dehydration. Of course, the combination of the two is particularly destructive. Lack of water and heat make our kidneys particularly climate change-sensitive. It’s just better to be proactive here, and be sure you’ll have plenty of clean water on hand.

A guideline states that a person should drink 2 L (1/2 gallon) of water per day. During a heat wave, you’ll need more. So to be safe, a family of four should have about 16 L (4 L per person) stored for just one hot day. If that family wanted to store enough water for a week, that would equal 112 L (30 gallons). There are big storage containers available, and I’d consider one if I knew a heat wave was in the forecast, but they’re not very portable.

Some sites don’t recommend milk jugs, but they’re an affordable alternative. I store my water in them, with a teaspoon of bleach added to the first batch of water. I rotate them so that none is older than six months, although apparently “if a water storage source is in ideal conditions (it started out clean and was stored in a dark, cool area, not directly on concrete or near harsh fumes and chemicals), it technically can store indefinitely.”

In the summer, I catch rain in big plastic tubs for my garden. If I see mosquito larvae in it, I give the plants a big drink and start over. Have you noticed that plants “like” rain water much better than hose water? There are countless scientific reasons for this, including the fact that nitrogen, abundant in air and a critical plant nutrient, is captured in rain drops and deposited in soil when it rains. The energetic process of lightning creates a particularly useful form of nitrogen for plants.

Rain water is also more acid than hose water, and the CO2 in our atmosphere is partly responsible for this: “Carbon dioxide is also brought down to Earth to the benefit of plants when it rains. Carbon dioxide… imparts to rainwater an acidic pH. When this acidic rainwater reaches the soil, it helps to release micronutrients such as zinc, manganese, copper and iron that are essential to plant growth.”

And, amazingly, our skies are full of bacteria. Some of them are plant helpers. And some of them, it appears, are able to make it rain! These bacteria are able to coalesce ice crystals- the precursors to raindrops- around themselves. Now researchers are trying to determine if these “bioprecipitating” bacteria may be useful to human beings during droughts, via cloud seeding, but with bacteria instead of chemicals.

wikipedia

Back to household water. Thorough emergency preparedness sites always mention that clean water is critical not only for drinking, but also for food washing and cooking, staying clean (hygiene is essential to health), taking medicine, and even washing out wounds. And don’t forget pets! One prepper couple said, “We found it almost impossible to live off of one gallon [2 L] per day.” This is completely understandable when you learn that the average westerner’s indoor water usage is 197 L (52 gallons) per day. A full quarter of that is from flushing toilets, but that’s a whole different post! Point is, clean water is vital to you and your family’s health. It’s well worth securing a store of it in the age of climate change.

Worldwide, only “2% [of water] is fresh. Of that 2%, almost 70% is snow and ice, 30% is groundwater, less than 0.5% is surface water (lakes, rivers, etc) and less than 0.05% is in the atmosphere.” Climate change increases “the amount of water that the atmosphere can hold, which in turn can lead to more and heavier rainfall… Although more rainfall can add to fresh water resources, heavier rainfall leads to more rapid movement of water from the atmosphere back to the oceans, reducing our ability to store and use it. Warmer air also means that snowfall is replaced by rainfall and evaporation rates tend to increase. Yet another impact of higher temperatures is the melting of inland glaciers. This will increase water supply to rivers and lakes in the short to medium term, but this will cease once these glaciers have melted. In the sub-tropics, climate change is likely to lead to reduced rainfall in what are already dry regions. The overall effect is an intensification of the water cycle that causes more extreme floods and droughts globally.”

Gennabaron/wikimedia

I include all that info to say in conclusion that although we can predict general effects on the Earth’s water cycle, climate change will effect each region of the globe uniquely. The only thing we can all know with certainty is that there are challenges ahead. That’s why I recommend taking the issue of fresh water availability off the list of problems to be solved in an emergency if possible. I think, too, that knowing you have water available for your family adds to one’s peace-of-mind. It also goes a ways towards initiating a proactive attitude and a preparedness mentality in a time they are, in my opinion, sorely needed. I hope this post gets you thinking “independence” and “water is life.”

The secret life of stuff part 2

(For part 1, go here).

What if we knew the provenance- the “life history-” of every item for sale, prior to deciding whether or not to purchase it. Would it effect our buying decisions? Is it even possible?

Apparently it is, but it takes an enormous amount of time, effort, and money to track the back story of products for sale in western society. Daniel Goleman, a psychologist, “decided to turn his attention to… ‘ecological intelligence’ to see how easy it might be to make informed choices about products… He concluded that it is virtually impossible… [despite the fact that] if any product on the market has hidden environmental impacts, every time someone buys it they are in effect rewarding those impacts.”

And “green washing,” whereby companies exaggerate or even make up environmental “benefits” about their products, is a thing. So unfortunately, it’s the rare case when the public can have an authentic market signaling effect on companies. Without government intervention, this is not going to change. Thus we arrive at the crux of the matter, where the environment meets human needs, and demand meets design. In Hill’s words, “we have to think more creatively about how materials become products, and then become ‘waste.’ We have to think about the whole chain of production and consumption… where [products] come from, how we use them, and where they end up.”

So let’s think about that, from the consumers’ perspective. Even if a consumer has stopped buying “luxuries,” and is purchasing only what s/he needs to fill basic needs, grocery purchases are, as I’m sure you know, almost completely opaque as to provenance. The only info we are typically “allowed” is product name, ingredients, supplier/company, and MAYBE where that company is located. With fresh produce, even that limited info is kept from us.

One doesn’t stop to think how much trust we’re expected to invest in the companies that supply the food we eat! We are effectively dependent upon suppliers, and the grocery chains they sell to, for our food. Food that is critical to the health and well-being of ourselves, our families, and the other human beings who make up the networks we depend upon to survive and thrive.

I’m taking a moment here. I am pausing to breathe. I really don’t like being dependent on corporations for anything. I trust you will understand when I say that I’m inserting a cheerful bluebird of happiness picture here to facilitate my own calm… Ah.

Ok. To sum up the relative powerlessness of consumers as to whether or not companies consider the sustainability of their products, from “cradle to grave,” i.e. from conception as product, through design and sourcing of raw materials, to production, transportation to markets, sale, and disposal, the author of The Secret Life of Stuff (2005), Julie Hill, says: “Prices do not on the whole factor in environmental damage, so the prices people pay cannot… take care of that damage… designing products to address environmental concerns has not been part of businesses’ perceptions of what constitute our most important needs and desires.”

This translates into “the idea that the market will magically deliver sustainable products free of negative externalities, especially FAST, as consumers’ demand dictates, is a pipe dream. Forty-five years of neoliberal capitalism, and cheap oil, has entrenched global supply chains and labor, and constricted the mindset of the vast majority of companies, investors, and entrepreneurs.” Which is not to say that sustainable products are unavailable, not in development, or impossible. It IS to say that sustainable products should, if the market operated as neoliberals say it does, be available, on a widespread basis, NOW. That they aren’t, when demand for them unequivocally exists, is market failure, and a source of deep frustration for consumers. Obviously, we’re not in positions of power or efficacy as consumers in this neoliberal economy.

It’s also the inevitable result of neoliberal capitalism, and most- MOST- corporations aren’t stereotypical, forest-razing bad guys, rabid for profit, and oblivious to a concept that used to be bandied around a whole lot more… “corporate social responsibility.”

So let’s return to Hill, as we come to the most critical part of her book. Here she addresses: HOW can we be sure that products that companies make are truly “green?” How can we as consumers feel easy in our purchases, knowing that we are rewarding companies that minimize their negative externalities as they meet our basic needs, and also our demands for sustainable “luxury” items?

It’s all, says Hill, in the design of products: “Design really means ‘intent.’ If our intent changes, then the practical manifestation of that intent in the shape of well-designed solutions will follow… Imagine a world in which the [specifications that govern intent] always features the environment.” Then she lays out six principles that, if established, would ensure that consumers’ product choices are consistently and reliably sustainable:

1- “Everything sustainably sourced: all materials are sourced according to strict conditions on managing their human and environmental impact- this includes timber, minerals, textile fibers, and even water;

2- Everything designed for recovery: all products are designed for their materials to be recovered and recycled;

Uhuru design- reclaimed materials/wikimedia

3- Nutrients cycled: valuable nutrients from food, animal, and human wastes are returned to the land to minimize the use of artificial fertilizers; as are biodegradable materials such as timber, paper, textiles, and plant-based plastics when they can no longer be recycled;

4- All energy renewable: but demand for energy may also need to be kept within limits;

5- Stemming the flow of stuff: there are strategies to reduce the flow of resources through the economy, including keeping products in use longer;

6- Care with new promises: new technologies are very carefully scrutinized- developments such as genetic modification, and nanotechnology have to subscribe to the principles above, and not add any new problems.”

Admittedly, if all six principles were all at once codified into law, along with strong and effective enforcement options, the new specifications regulating design would be a tall order for companies to adhere to, especially quickly. BUT, Hill is unquestionably laying out what will have to govern product development, from conception to disposal, in the future. These six principles do nothing more, nor less, than ensure that consumers can buy products that don’t cause environmental damage, that companies then seek to hide. All that does is bite consumers in the butt later on, as their tax dollars are used to ameliorate those hidden negative externalities.

Getting to the point of being able to implement these principles will involve a process. It’ll be part of the process of transitioning to the green economy. Indeed, these principles, in one form or another, will comprise a key part of the green economy, because without them, products for sale will not be sustainable.

U Michigan sustainability

I am eagerly looking forward to the day I can buy food, and other products, that I can trust were produced, and transported, sustainably. This will often mean that the things I purchase were grown or manufactured locally. Maybe I’ll even be able to purchase them with a local currency! But that is another post.

Hill discusses all six design principles in detail, and states that, “Reconfiguring the economy along these lines… is the biggest challenge the human race has yet faced.” I’m not so sure. I think that localizing, a process that sees people satisfying needs and wants within their own communities, is a promising and attractive idea. The nurturing and support of one’s neighbours and “city-mates” in creative endeavours, whether it be growing organic food, or making pottery, or decorative items, or wonderful, fresh daily bread, or one-of-a-kind furniture… well, these are the kinds of efforts and entrepreneurs one used to be able to find everywhere. And they are part of what makes a city vibrant, prosperous, and pleasing to live in. Here’s hoping we make it happen.

The beautiful place

How are you doing? This is a check-in. A taking-stock of where and how we are at this moment.

I’m days from launch, cramming for my real-world internet debut. I’m installing caching plug-in’s (two days ago, I didn’t even know what “caching” was!) I’m running speed tests. I’m deciding about social media links. And weighing the pro’s and con’s of chat enabling software. I’ve got a lump in my belly, a sore back, and a warm heart 🙂

I owned my domain for 8 months before I took the plunge into fiddling with blogging tech. Writing the posts, finding images, and creating turned out to be way more fun than I’d anticipated. But the learning curve isn’t bending down! It seems like every victory uncovers more things I should learn, to be thorough and conscientious and on my game.

I’ve been watching MMA fights, trying to absorb some Conor McGregor-style resilience and bravado! If he can train, fight, win, and come back from injury and defeat as he does, then I can learn some internet stuff! I can work through my anxiety. I can help fight climate change.

With your help, I can do this. I want you to know that I know my site isn’t “perfect.” But I’m a blogging newbie. I’ll get better. Can I ask for your feedback? Please. Help me improve. That’s an invitation for constructive criticism, not cruelty!

A word on comments: by all means, express your feelings, but ad hominem attacks and other trolling B.S. isn’t productive. We’re all grown up’s here.

I have great plans and ideas for this site. I want a podcast here. I want this to be a hub for climate change discussion, thoughts about community building, and creating a prosperous and healthy future. I want people to feel welcome, informed, supported, inspired, and empowered here. This is an interesting and stressful time to be alive, if you’re plugged in to the wider picture. Homo sapiens is looking right at its own evolution. And saying, “ya, I don’t think I like the idea of evolving much, thank you!”

No, I’m kidding, but what is true is that humanity’s choices now either get us closer to that improved place, or farther from anything resembling progress. I can taste that better world; I call the future, with green economy and vibrant communities, “the beautiful place.”

I’m trying to create my own little beautiful place. And I also want to help you catch glimpses of yours. This blog is one of my tools, a central one. Thanks for visiting. Thanks for being!

Please tell me what you’d like to see written about here. Everything we are and do is effected by climate change. Let me know what will help you cope, function, feel, dream, relate, and act better and more effectively. Thank-you!

Step by step, community by community, with every project, big and small, we evolve towards the beautiful place. Onward.

Some important terminology

1- Mitigation: “the act of reducing how harmful, unpleasant, or bad something is” (Cambridge Dictionary). “Mitigation” of climate change has become a shorthand way of summing up any and all actions taken to decrease the negative impacts of global warming and its effects.

Interestingly, FEMA, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, has information about mitigation, without once mentioning climate change. I guess this is apropos, considering the U.S. administration is presently “lead” by a climate change denier. However, what the agency states is perfectly applicable to climate change:

U.S. Government Accountability Office/wikimedia

Mitigation is the effort to reduce loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters. In order for mitigation to be effective we need to take action now—before the next disaster—to reduce human and financial consequences later (analyzing risk, reducing risk, and insuring against risk). It is important to know that disasters can happen at any time and any place and if we are not prepared, consequences can be fatal.

Effective mitigation requires that we all understand local risks, address the hard choices, and invest in long-term community well-being. Without mitigation actions, we jeopardize our safety, financial security and self-reliance.”

2- Adaptation: “the act or process of acclimatizing or adjusting to new environmental conditions and/or events.” Thus, adapting to climate change could include establishing new building code in order to reduce energy consumption, and therefore emissions caused by fossil fuel burning. New code could also include an expectation that new homes be built with the ability to obtain electricity via renewables, and/or with a certain percentage of materials from local or sustainable sources.

Preserving forest Asia

Adaptation also includes the reclamation and regeneration of industrial and/or agricultural lands, and the establishment of gardens according to permaculture principles. Municipal composting programs, an effort to prevent methane production in landfills, is another example of adaptation to climate change. Because there are so many ways to reduce GHG emissions, create carbon sinks, and prepare for the adverse possibilities of climate change, there are literally thousands of ways to adapt.

Here’s a nice little discussion: “Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimize the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives later.

Adapting farmers in Vietnam

Examples of adaptation measures include: using scarce water resources more efficiently; adapting building codes to future climate conditions and extreme weather events; building flood defenses and raising the levels of dykes; developing drought-tolerant crops; choosing tree species and forestry practices less vulnerable to storms and fires; and setting aside land corridors to help species migrate.”

3- The green economy: “low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive. In a green economy, growth in employment and income are driven by public and private investment into such economic activities, infrastructure and assets that allow reduced carbon emissions and pollution, enhanced energy and resource efficiency, and prevention of the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.”

For a bit of contrast, a Canadian report defines the green economy as “The aggregate of all activity operating with the primary intention of reducing conventional levels of resource consumption, harmful emissions, and minimizing all forms of environmental impact. The green economy includes the inputs, activities, outputs and outcomes as they relate to the production of green products and services…

The green economy is a subset of the entire Canadian economy. It does not exist in parallel to the traditional economy, but it includes similar activities and processes. It produces similar goods and services as the broader economy, but also includes new products and services and green processes supporting the production of green products and services.”

Aquaponics/IPCC

This report includes some awesome news on employment: “There is no doubt that greening of the Canadian economy will involve large scale investments in new technologies, equipment, buildings and infrastructure and therefore will be a major stimulus to employment. Based on the definition and supporting framework, the green economy has an impact on employment through (a) the adaption and reallocation of existing jobs; and (b) the creation of new jobs.”

4- A green job– “one that works directly with information, technologies, or materials that minimize environmental impact, and also requires specialized skills, knowledge, training, or experience related to these areas”

“The secret life of stuff” part one

This is a post based upon the fantastic book by Julie Hill. Every single item we buy is the product of energy invested, resources consumed, and a belief system that discounts the environmental costs of our unsustainable way of life. The economist Kenneth Boulding calls that belief system “the linear economy,” and its credo is “make stuff, buy stuff, throw stuff away.”

Heavy, right? But we HAVE to talk about our consumption. When we’re eating, breathing, and birthing plastics (they’re in our fetuses), 1000 new chemicals are synthesized every hour, and our garbage dumps are bursting at the seams, despite recycling efforts, then it’s time for a little awareness, a little discomfort, and a LOT of re-thinking of manufacture and consumerism.

Hill’s book is as fascinating as it is frustrating. She starts out, “We humans… have surrounded ourselves with things that are ingenious and delightful… But I’m dismayed at how little we understand the complexity of the material world that sustains us… we rarely know where [our stuff] comes from and where it goes… We rarely appreciate the effort that turns materials into the stuff around us… we are oblivious to the secret life of stuff.”

me & Walmart CEO

Before I dove into activism, my life was work, take care of family, sleep, and SHOP. Buying stuff was entertainment, it was recreation, it was exploration, and socializing, habit, and, yes, therapy. It was just… what we DID. And the buying was ALWAYS, for me, about, “oh yea, this says such-and-such a thing about me (impressive), and that says such-and-such a thing about us (successful), and people will think this is tasteful, and that’s funny or cute, and… NO ONE EVER CAME OVER!! Partly because we were out shopping, and mostly because I was at work making money to blow on stuff!

Yes, I propped up the economy well. I took George Bush’s advice after 9/11 to heart, and kept western civilization humming by throwing my dollars straight from paycheck into the economy. Wow. When I look back, I recognize that I was trying to fill a lonely heart with goods. I’m grateful I came to a healthier emotional place. But I don’t think any westerner would deny that our culture strongly encourages us to buy things. In fact, corporations have become expert in manipulating us so they can take custody of our money. It makes me angry and disgusted to know how transactionally they look at us. It’s a dehumanization that’s been allowed to go too far, and for too long. But I digress! Rant over. But just know, you are not a THING to me… not ever!

So what to do with stuff after we’ve decided we’re done with it: “If the waste is not biodegradable, nature cannot deal with it at all. Humans have brought non-degradable wastes into the system in a variety of ways: we pull materials out of the earth’s crust, we transform them by applying heat, we combine them and we create wholly novel materials such as plastic polymers. What can be done with this kind of waste?”

One option is to try to pretend it never existed: dump it in a hole or valley, compact it, and cover it with dirt. But this method has drawbacks, such as “leachate,” a toxic liquid formed at the bottom of landfills from a combination of the garbage and precipitation filtering through it. And lots of stuff that could be recycled gets buried. One day, workers may have to dig it up. I recall my biology teacher mentioning this, 30 years ago, and I thought, “that won’t happen in my lifetime.” And yet… here we are. On the cusp of actually having to deal with buried trash. From no waste at all (most people, 100 years ago), to massive garbage production (50 years ago to now), to today, when the “zero waste,” no-landfill movement signals the dawning of new wisdom in waste management.

Another option is incinerating wastes. But ‘incomplete combustion’ produces dangerous chemicals. And “up to a third of what is consigned to the furnace comes out as ash. Some can be recycled into building materials, but [the rest]… has to be taken to landfill.” Some incinerators produce electricity and/or heat, but sometimes “the amount of energy recovered may not justify the destruction of potentially valuable materials.” Still, Hill says, burning “might be a good option for certain wastes.”

Hill next embarks on a fascinating discussion about the materials used to make stuff. It’s a surprisingly short list: minerals- including glass, metals, pottery, and concrete (energy-expensive); wood (includes paper); plastics; textiles; and “composites-” plastics with metals, ceramics with fibers, etc. Hill talks about the pro’s and con’s of each material, and explains that the use of multiple materials to make one product complicates recycling. Items that can’t be recycled because of this include wax paper, coffee cups (lined with plastic), chip bags (lined with foil), and hardcover books. As Bob Vila says, “the sturdy covers of hardcover books contain non-paper components and must therefore be removed” before recycling the pages.

We know the environment takes a hit when we “harvest” materials to make stuff. But we’re typically completely unaware of how much is taken from the earth IN ADDITION to those raw materials. Textiles, for example, need crazy amounts of water, and the soil is damaged by intensive agricultural practices. You’d think we recycle so much paper by now that we wouldn’t need to cut down trees for it. But our paper hunger is so vast, even irreplaceable old growth forests are logged. Then there’s pollution, including fertilizer run-off that wreaks havoc on river and wetland ecosystems. Ultimately, we encounter hard limits in the quest for ever more raw materials, including finite supplies of land, water, and healthy soil. The necessity to preserve invaluable species and ecosystems is another hard limit to endless economic expansion.

Wikipedia

“Negative externalities” are the costs of environmental damage, including the price on human health, that companies cause but don’t have to pay. These costs are, instead, paid by you and I, through our taxes, or in the cost of stuff, or in lost work due to illness. We may believe that, “one should be responsible for one’s own mess,” but corporations don’t live up to the same standard. Being able to pass on the costs of production is a massive part of what makes corporations’ goods affordable. But the environment can no longer afford to pay the price. Nor can we.

And here is where I have to say, “well lookee here, just one more way our governments have screwed things up, and in failing to bite the bullet a long time ago, have made life much harder for the people they were supposed to be protecting and empowering.”

Chapter 8 marks the place where Hill begins to tie consumption to global environmental damage. Because the linear economy involves global supply chains, massive use of resources, and out-sourcing of waste manage- ment, including recycling, a lot of ecological degradation isn’t visible to the world’s consumers. We hear about the damage, but goods keep getting made, and our leaders say and do nothing, so we keep buying. Because the items are cute, or impressive, or… seem like a necessity. Consequently, the “free” market never gets signaled that many goods would not be bought if we knew the truth about their negative externalities. This is an example of “market failure,” but corporations are loathe for consumers to learn that there is a lot of information we aren’t getting about the products we buy.

And of course, some goods are necessities. But the linear economy presides over our basic needs just as militantly as over items that’re arguably luxuries. Our food comes from far away, because somehow food grown halfway across the world and transported on trucks is cheaper. Chinese workers make clothing and toys for peanuts, so corporations take advantage. But what all of it means is that slowly but surely, we’re eating away at the “natural capital” that comprises the raw materials for stuff. And as the most accessible and/or fastest renewing raw materials get used up, more energy, labor, and other capital is required to obtain more. Corporations pass those costs on to us, but demand even more help from governments as their profit margins decrease.

The time of reckoning is here. Governments are choosing to help big, profitable companies pass their costs on to the people. Companies that ensure the politicians’ reelection. Our governments have presided over the transformation of large corporations into gargantuan unethical beasts that can never be satisfied. And now they tell us that unless we keep feeding those beasts, no one will have a job. Well, SMALL businesses employ far more people than large, multi-national companies. Climate change action is arrested because of the corrupt government-big corporation alliance that has captured our governments. That’s why I realized recently that without confronting corruption, I was not really educating about climate change. But that’s a discussion for another post.

An economist called Herman Daly came up with three criteria to help people avoid eating away at the natural capital all humanity depends on for survival. They are: “1) We should not use renewable resources (things that grow) any faster than they can grow back; 2) We should not use non-renewable resources (fossil fuels, minerals) any faster than we can develop alternative ways of doing the same job; and 3) We shouldn’t put pollution into the environment any faster than the environment can deal with it.”

Global Footprint Network

Lester Brown, an American environmentalist, compares today’s economy to a Ponzi scheme, “meeting current demands out of the earth’s basic assets, rather than investing wisely and living from the interest. He writes, ‘As recently as 1950 or so, the world economy was living more or less within its means, consuming only the sustainable yield… But then as the economy doubled, and doubled again, and yet again, multiplying eighthold, it began to outrun sustainable yields… humanity’s collective demands first surpassed the earth’s regenerative capacity around 1980…’ we are eroding our vital capital assets, the natural capital that underpins everything we do.” This erosion is reflected in the term “overshoot.” “Earth Overshoot Day marks the date we… have used more from nature than our planet can renew in the entire year.”

The effects of massive consumption are not only environmental, they’re also relational and spiritual. Vance Packard wrote about this in 1960! To preserve the economic beast created for World War 2, manufacturers had to “sell people things they didn’t need. The effects of this, he argues, were to impoverish important aspects of people’s lives, including their relationships and their spirituality. For this degradation of the lives of [western] citizens, he blames the government and the advertising industry.”

In the book’s next section, Hill describes her fantasy educational dinner with seven of the leading minds on why we consume what we do. This is an amazing immersive lesson in human history and psychology. Hill confronts the questions underlying every lament about consumerism and capitalism: why are we no happier than people in less materialistic ages and cultures? Why don’t we change our consumption level even as experts warn us about environmental degradation? How can we learn from cultures who literally committed suicide by destroying their natural capital? And how do we decide what is excessive consumption, and regulate companies bent on profit despite their negative externalities?

Hill has insights into these fascinating questions in the second half of her book, which inspires part two of this post. Find it here.

Rich guy does a fabulous thing

Here is a very uplifting post I found on the Mother Nature Network site. It’s about an extraordinary project being undertaken by a man who has enjoyed the blessings of hard work and good fortune. Now he’s passing on some of those blessings to our planet, and to us. Good on ’em!

“If you follow global conservation and don’t already know the name Hansjörg Wyss, there’s a good chance you soon will.

Born in Bern, Switzerland, the 83-year-old entrepreneur and businessman first made his fortune in the Belgian steel industry before establishing the U.S. division of Synthes, a multinational medical device manufacturer…

Now, Wyss — an avid outdoorsman and… resident of the quaint mountain town of Wilson, Wyoming — is set to help mend the planet’s most fractured natural areas with the establishment of the Wyss Campaign for Nature, a special project of the Wyss Foundation that aims to conserve and protect 30% of the planet’s lands and oceans by 2030. This is double the amount of the planet’s surface that’s currently protected.

Bolstered by a $1 billion investment, the campaign plans to reach this ambitious benchmark by ‘creating and expanding protected areas, establishing more ambitious international conservation targets, investing in science, and inspiring conservation action around the world.’

This will all be achieved with help from major conservation players including the National Geographic Society, which will assist on the public awareness and outreach front, as well as The Nature Conservancy and a host of local project partners.

This is huge — and hugely encouraging — news, particularly in an era when headlines on the topic trend towards dire and potentially catastrophic. Yet this act of environmental stewardship shouldn’t come as a surprise to those familiar with Wyss, a multibillionaire whose impactful but low-key largesse has predominately benefitted social and environmental causes, including a handful of high-profile maneuvers to stop fossil fuel industries from degrading protected lands.

Wyss’ foundation has also, among other things, supported anti-poaching efforts, river restoration projects, African national park improvements and rails-to-trails initiatives. Most of the foundation’s work, however, has focused on land conservation in his beloved adopted home, the American West.

The foreign-born Wyomingite who, as a young student from abroad living in Colorado, ‘developed a lifelong love for America’s national parks and public lands’ according to his foundation biography, is also the money — and the name — behind Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biological Inspired Engineering, which was created in 2008…

Already, the campaign has identified nine locally led conservation projects spread across 13 countries — 10 million acres of land and 17,000 square kilometers of ocean in total — that will receive $48 million in assistance. As time goes on, additional funds will be granted to additional projects… the grants are being awarded to projects that already enjoy widespread local support as they’re more likely to remain protected over the long term than less established projects that lack it…

Aconquija/Wyss site

The first nine conservation projects to receive grants are Aconquija National Park [completed 2019!] and the National Reserve Project in Argentina; the Ansenuza National Park Project, also in Argentina; Costa Rica’s proposed Corcovado Marine Reserve; the multi-country Caribbean Marine Protected Areas initiative; the Andes Amazon Fund, which impacts Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil and Guyana; Romania’s Fundatia Conservation Carpathia, which spearheads conservation efforts in the Carpathian Mountains; the EdĂ©hzhĂ­e Dehcho Protected Area and National Wildlife Area in Canada’s Northwest Territories; Australia’s Nimmie-Caira Project; and the Gonarezhou National Park Project in Zimbabwe.”

Yosemite by Tuxyso/Wikimedia

In an inspiring op-ed, Wyss said: ‘I believe this ambitious goal is achievable because I’ve seen what can be accomplished,’ he writes, stressing the importance of support from fellow philanthropists and local governments. ‘We need to embrace the radical, time-tested and profoundly democratic idea of public-land protection that was invented in the United States, tested in Yellowstone and Yosemite, and now proven the world over…

This clear, bold and achievable goal would encourage policymakers around the world to do far more to support communities working to conserve these places… For the sake of all living things, let’s see to it that far more of our planet is protected by the people, for the people and for all time.’ “

Now THAT is the can-do attitude we all should adopt in our lives. God really does work miracles through us people sometimes! Cheers, Mr. Wyss!

Grow your own worms!

Hey! What could be more fun than breeding worms in that fantastic soil you’re regenerating? Apparently, nothing is better for all of those hard-working soil organisms that I posted about in Regeneration 101, than magical, mystical worm poop!

“Vermiculture” is the hoity-toity name for helping worms thrive and reproduce. Vermiculture is great for our planet because worms are fantastic for soil. And remember, healthy soil is a carbon sink- the organisms in soil are made up of carbon (C), meaning less C available to combine with oxygen to form greenhouse gas CO2.

castings (wikipedia)

So why are worms fantastic for soil? Chiefly because they eat bits of organic material, and break it down, and then excrete it as “castings.” Worm castings are one of the best organic fertilizers. As The SoilGuy says, “microbes QUICKLY turn [castings] into plant food, and the process already started in the earthworm’s gut via the digestive bacteria in it.” In other words, worm poop is microorganism food, and flourishing microorganisms is exactly what we want for soil regeneration.

Worms are also great for soil because they create tunnels as they stretch and strain their way through it. This de-compacts the soil, allowing oxygen exchange which is critical for healthy soil organisms, and plant growth. In fact, the critical nature of earthworms has been recognized for a long time: in “1881 Charles Darwin wrote: ‘It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organized creatures.’ ”

Vermiculture is pretty easy. But in cold climates, it’s a seasonal activity. Many people take their worm bin inside in the winter, but I’m going to make my worm care a spring-summer-fall activity. The best vermiculture worms for southwestern Canada are imported African Nightcrawlers (Eudrilus Eugeniae), which are the same worms sold for fishing bait.

You can also nurture red wigglers (Eisenia Fetida), ideal for composting, but here’s some info about how they do in gardens: “Red worms are excellent at breaking down decaying organic materials… [but] These aren’t the type of worm typically found in a yard or garden. Placed directly into a garden with nothing for them to eat, red worms will likely die or move to other areas where they can find food and an environment more suitable for their needs. Dirt alone isn’t enough to keep red worms happy… With the addition of plant scraps or composting trenches… the red worms will not only thrive but will turn the garden soil into a healthy environment.”

Here is a step-by-step guide to the care and breeding of earthworms:

1- Get or build a bin. Most vermiculture practitioners like wood for bins because it isn’t water-tight, like plastic. You don’t want standing water in your worm bin. Wood also keeps the worms at a more stable temperature. Ideally, worms like 60 to 80 degrees F, but can tolerate 40 – 90. There should be drain holes in the bottom of the bin. Incidentally, the liquid that drains from a worm bin is valuable- a rich fertilizer called “vermiculture leachate.”

Dimensions of your bin depend on how many worms you start with. You need about 1 square foot for every pound of Nightcrawlers. It’s better to have too much space than too little. A bin 3 foot square, or 2 foot by 3 foot is enough to start with. It should be a foot deep, and it will need a lid. Worms do not like light! At the same time, make sure there are some spaces for air exchange.

2- Prepare worm bedding. All you need is shredded newspaper (not with colored inks), cardboard, or printer paper, but it must be fluffy- worms breathe through their skin, so don’t pack the bedding down. Next, says Aggie Horticulture, “Add a gallon [8 cups] of garden soil- the worms need the grit to aid their digestion… bedding material should be moist but not soggy. Prepare moistened bedding at least 2 days prior to adding worms, as it may heat initially and harm the worms.” If the bedding is too wet, add some dry strips to absorb the excess.

3- Add some table scraps- tucked into the bedding- for your worms to eat. EarthlyMatters advises “veggie and fruit peel and leftovers. Things you want to avoid or use in moderation are grains, pastas, meats, cheeses, and citrus. Some things your worms will really love are coffee grounds, [and] watermelons.” A pound of worms CAN eat a pound of table scraps a day when flourishing. But they’ll need time to adjust to their new surroundings. Feed as needed by checking for worm leftovers. Softer, less fibrous foods will go quickly, while root vegetables will persist awhile.

4- It’s finally time to introduce your worms to their home. Just spread them around on the moist bedding. Worms are hermaphroditic- of both sexes- but they do need to mate to reproduce. Give them time, space, and quiet, checking that their bedding is moist and fluffy. It will gradually change into a rich black soil. You can add bedding, then after a couple weeks, pull it up- most of the worms will be in it since the food is there- and empty the soil outside, preferably where you’ll be growing a garden, because this soil is full of worm castings! People pay a pretty penny for that exact same “black gold” at the plant nursery. Then put your worms back in the bin.

If you are going to add some of the worms to a garden, The SoilGuy advises that “a food supply of stable or finished compost [like the soil they make] should be placed in the ground first, then the earthworms into the new bedding, covered and watered-in. Then most of the earthworms will ‘stay put’ and breed.” Apparently, selling the worms you breed, as well as the rich compost they make, is a do-able small enterprise: “Before long, a worm composting system can create enough naturally reproducing product to make a tidy profit if the time and care is taken. Whether it is a smaller one for personal use in fishing and gardening, a larger farm for mass production, or starting a business for profit, a worm farm can continually keep itself running for many years to come.”

I can’t wait to try just a little worm farm at first. It’s February, so I have plenty of time to build my bin. I’m going to put out a call for free untreated lumber scraps, and involve my grandkids in this project. I’ll post a picture or two. Let me know how this project works for you.