Sunday, August 21, 2016

May You Live in Interesting Times

Having buckets of seed in the closet is like storing cordwood in the shed, food in the freezer, and rice in the pantry; it's a small insurance policy and a good way to keep food costs manageable. ~ Peter Burke, Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening, p. 55. (Chelsey Green Publishing, 2015)

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day. As conversations often do these days, it drifted onto the topic of the upcoming Presidential election.

While I'm not entirely convinced that we have the worst candidates ever, I've seen some very pessimistic prophesies that predict a very rocky next four years regardless of which of the two candidates gets elected.

In the early days of our country, two individuals would vie for the position of POTUS. There was a winner and a runner up. The runner up became the Vice President. It seems that the practice was discontinued during Thomas Jefferson's presidency. Imagine if that were still the practice today: Reagan/Carter; Bush/Gore; Obama/McCain; Clinton/Trump.

So, my friend and I were discussing the election, and I related the story of this very pessimistic prophecy, stating that it's going to be interesting (like the old Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times"), and he said, "So, I should start stocking up."

We chuckled, and I observed that he had some good storage areas - garage, basement.

Then, I told him that, maybe, he didn't want to store up canned foods, but rather seeds, and maybe he should consider planting some apple trees on his expansive (suburban) lawn.

When I got home, I saw the above quote, posted by my friend on Facebook.

Store seeds.

Today, we went to our garden plot and found overripe tomatoes and some beans that would be better left to dry on the stalk, as they'd reached that stage of too tough for steaming or eating "green." The seed saving has begun.

My friend didn't dislike the idea of saving seeds, but he also commented that he'd be storing rum. Between our two families, we'll probably be in good shape ;).

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Wanton Consumption ... A Birth Right?

Every now and then, I hear something or read something in which the entitlement attitude is so strong that my entire body has an intensely negative reaction, and I have to remove myself from the situation lest violence ensue.

Not really. I wouldn't get violent, but I do want to yell at the speaker until he/she recants the statement and begs forgiveness from the non-human, unrepresented masses who suffer immeasurably from those very privileged and entitled feelings and sentiments. Or from the humans who have and still do suffer across the globe so that we, pampered citizens of the United States, can continue to bask comfortably in our artificially sustained, climate controlled environments.

My oldest and his family were visiting recently. He has been waiting until his son was old enough to take his family to the Boston Museum of Science, which he very much enjoyed seeing as a youth. So, we all went.

The museum is dynamic with the exhibits changing frequently, and most of the exhibits are interactive, allowing visitors to actually work on problems and find solutions, or just to learn through doing rather than just seeing. Last time we went, there was an exhibit on Ancient Egypt. This time, there was a pretty amazing exhibit on spiders. I also loved the living wall - three stories high and planted with nine different plants - most of which are typical household potted plants, and several I recognized as being good for cleaning indoor air.

One of my favorite exhibits, not surprisingly, is the one on energy, which talks specifically about renewable and low impact choices. There's an interactive display in which one is given six magnetic pucks and five energy choices: fossil fuels, solar power, hydro power, nuclear, and wind. The object is to choose the best combination to light up the city of Boston with the least environmental impact. We played with it for a while, and I was finally able to light up Boston using a combination of hydro, wind and fossil fuels. I was disappointed that in order to power itself, Boston still required fossil fuels.

Which is probably why, after coming home at the end of a wonderful, very educational day, and seeing this very entitled comment, I reacted so negatively. I had just come from playing with an exhibit that shows, at our current level of usage, there's not much chance that we, as a population, will ever be able to release ourselves from our dependence on fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas), and the more we insist on our own, personal comfort, the more we destroy this place on which we are wholly dependent for our lives.

I grew up in the coal fields, and witnessed, first hand, the destruction of not just the beautiful land, but also of the communities. I saw how the coal industry kills, not just the environment, but also the people, who become bent and broken and old before they reach my age. They live in perennial poverty and constant deprivation. It's heart-breaking.

We all know the destruction drilling for oil wreaks on the environment, especially when it's deep water drilling, which is, really, the only untapped oil fields we have left to pump dry. How many coral reefs and sensitive coastal habitats do we need to destroy before we say, "Enough! I'll learn other ways to stay cool during the summer."?

The environmental nightmare caused by fracking for natural gas is all over the news. Fracking has resulted in the contamination of huge areas of ground water. Here in Maine, we are currently in a severe drought. Out West, they've been experiencing a severe drought for the past ten years. Can we REALLY afford to poison anymore of our water so that we don't sweat during the summer?

In short, we are killing our world so that we can live with a year-round, indoor temperature of 75°.

The comment that put my knickers in a twist was a person railing against her electricity provider's recommendation that she set her air conditioner to 78° to save money on her electric bill, and her assertion that she was not going to die of heat stroke in her apartment by having the AC set so high. I'm pretty sure if one is just sitting, watching television, that 78° is not hot enough to result in heat stroke (but to that, maybe if one turns off the television - and all other heat producing appliances in the apartment, 78° wouldn't feel so hot ... just a thought).

And I thought of that display, and all of the coal it takes to keep her apartment cool enough for her (below 78°, presumably).

And I thought of the fact that I've given up a lot of convenience to save money on my electric bill and have a lower impact on the environment. I don't have an air conditioner. I don't have a clothes dryer. I don't have a television or a VCR or a DVD player or a stereo with a CD player. There's no microwave in my kitchen, or kitchen-aid, or toaster oven, and my dishwasher is a counter-top model made for a single person who lives in a tiny home. I don't have a gas-powered lawn mower. In fact, I don't even have a lawn mower. What little lawn I do have is cut using a battery-powered weed-whacker. It takes a week to "mow" my lawn, because each of the two batteries only has about 15 minutes of charge, and I only have one charger, and it takes a whole day to recharge the battery. Fifteen minutes a day, for a week = lawn mowed. Wash, rinse, repeat. For the whole summer.

I don't say any of that to pat myself on the back, but rather to contrast attitudes. I don't think I'm a paragon of virtue, but when it comes to energy usage, I don't carry the attitude that I deserve to be cooler simply because I exist.

Recently, I stumbled across an article about an Eco-cooler. It is made from discarded plastic bottles (hooray for repurposing!), and it works to cool a very small, indoor space. It was developed in Bangledesh, where the average temperature during the summer hovers somewhere around the level required to smelt iron. It's hot. It's humid. And people live in tin huts. Even in the hottest places here in the US, we have dozens and dozens of opportunities and methods of getting cool that people who live in places like Bangledesh don't have. Talk about privilege. At very least, we have unlimited access to clean, drinkable water that's often cool as it comes out of the pipes that nearly every American apartment has as a necessity, not a luxury.

I posted the link to the cooler on my FB wall, because I thought it was very cool - you know, recycled materials, non-electric climate control device. A friend posted a rebuttal she had received from her friend about how it doesn't work. Well, excuse me, but for what it was designed to do ... and WHERE ... it does work.

For that little entitled Princess, who complained about 78° being too hot, it wouldn't work.

Which is why Boston will never be wholly powered by the hydro dam that runs across the Charles River, and on which the Museum of Science was built, or even by a combination of wind power and the dozens and dozens of solar powered homes I saw as we were leaving the city.

People don't want to give up their conveniences, because we live in a country in which we believe we work hard for what we have and we deserve to be happy and comfortable, and I wonder why a laborer in southeast Asia, who toils 60 hours a week under a baking sun in 110° temperatures with no reprieve from the heat ... often, not even a cool drink of water ... deserves less than I do.