Archive for July, 2006

Peak oil flyer for familes - draft one

Sharon July 15th, 2006

I’m hoping to transform this into a flyer than can be handed out to parents at parent-type events, and hopefully encourage more people to look more deeply into peak oil. There will be website addresses and book references at the end for further investigation. Comments please?

Gas Prices are rising, with no end in sight. New Oil discoveries fall further every year. The oil being extracted is of lower quality, and costs more to get at. Natural gas is getting more expensive every year and is in danger of running out. It is called peak oil - and it means that fossil fuel will be getting more expensive and less available every year.

What will your children’s lives be like in 20 years if we don’t prepare for fossil fuel shortage TODAY?

Your children will be unlikely to:

- Be able to attend college. One logical economic effect of fossil fuel shortages is economic crisis. You can expect to lose your job, and have difficulty saving for children’s education. We can expect cuts in student aid packages, and to find financial aid more difficult to get, as more and more families need it.

- Find good jobs. Everything we do right now depends on large quantities of energy - energy to commute to work, to heat and cool and run the workplace, to purchase materials, to market and sell them, to transport them. When the economy falters, and costs get higher, unemployment rises, dramatically. Your children and grandchildren will face a world where jobs are much scarcer than they are today.

- Have adequate medical care. As companies are more and more strapped by high fuel prices, even those who have jobs will likely lose their benefits. More and more people will be uninsured, and too poor to pay for medical care. Your children may have to choose between groceries and dental care, essential medications and paying their rent or mortgage.

- Have enough food to eat. With poverty comes hunger. Rising fossil fuel prices raise the cost of EVERYTHING, including food. Lack of fertilizer and fuel for growing and transporting food means that your children and grandchildren are likely to grow up in a world where supermarket shelves are empty and they know hunger.

- Be warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Heating oil and natural gas are both rising rapidly in price, and that rise reflects the fact that there is little new oil being found. Competition for resources from other nations will drive prices still higher, and may make oil and gas nearly unavailable for heating and cooling. At the same time, as the climate shifts, temperature extremes get more severe. Your children may grow up shivering in their beds, and in danger of heat stroke, asthma attacks and other medical consequences from extreme heat and poor summer air quality.

- Travel much - the cost of visiting you far away, or seeing the world is about to get prohibitive. You may not see much of your children and grandchildren if they live far away.

They will be likely to:

- Live in a much more polluted world than you do. Because we’ve squandered a lot of time to work on renewable energy, we’re most likely to shift to coal and nuclear energy to take up some of the slack. Coal puts mercury into the atmosphere causing autism and brain damage in children, poisons ground water and acidifies rain. Nuclear accidents and storage leaks can cause increased cancer rates and endanger thousands - including your kids.

- Go to war over oil and gas resources. Already, we’re fighting in part to ensure access to fossil fuel resources in the middle east. As we run shorter, we’re likely to see the draft reinstituted and our children sent around the world to fight, be disabled and die for oil and gas.

- Live as long as you do. With poorer nutrition, medical care, more wars and more pollution, your children are likely to die younger than you do. Watching our children die is the worst nightmare of most parents, and it may be our reality.

What can we do to stop it?

-CONSERVE - don’t just recycle, change your life so that you children can have a life. Bicycle or walk instead of driving. Turn off the a/c. Skip the vacation. Use less, use it up, make it do, do without.

- BUY - local food, produced with the fewest possible chemical and fossil fuel inputs. Don’t spend money you don’t have to. Purchase things from local merchants, rather than large corporations whenever possible.

- WRITE (or email) your congresspeople and vote for increased funding for conservation, renewable energy and public transportation. Tell the president and congress that you want to get out of Iraq, and turn our resources to preparing our nation for the coming crisis.

-VOTE for candidates who support the above, and for those who support anti-poverty programs like food pantries and WIC. Remember, your children may be the poor of tomorrow through no fault of their own.

-AGITATE - demonstrate, write and speak in support of programs that encourage conservation and sustainability in your community, your state and your nation.

- SPEAK - tell others about peak oil. Warn your friends, your neighbors, your family. Get together with neighbors, church, synagogue, mosque members, family members and friends, and make plans for a future with a lot less.

- GROW - a garden, no matter how small. Every bit of your food that you can produce is one less calorie of oil we have to burn.

- TEACH - your children about the future, and prepare them for the skills they may need in the future. Teach them to grow a garden, to have healthy bodies that can walk and bike for miles, to live simply, to make do, to appreciate what they have.

- PREPARE - build a three month supply of stored foods for a balanced diet. Store water. Consider collecting rainwater from your roof. Take advantage of medical benefits now to get healthier.

- GIVE - your children a chance at a life as good as the one you’ve had, by using less and taking less.

Did World War III start yesterday morning?

Sharon July 13th, 2006

The great thing about predicting human events is that you are so often wrong. In this case, nothing would make me happier than to be in error. But, G-d help us all, I think the odds aren’t that bad that I’ m right. It is possible that yesterday morning, we started World War III.

The beginnings of wars are often hard to identify. Which act lit the spark on the tinderbox? Which straw was the final one? Like peak oil itself, the beginnings of war are often visible only in retrospect. Why today? Why, when we might make the case a world war war began when the US invaded Iraq? Why when this particular cause might turn out to be just another brush fire?

We don’t know. We can only guess. Yesterday morning, Israel invaded Lebanon in retaliation for the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, and began shelling civilian targets. Hezbollah is demanding the release of 9000 Palestinian prisoners. Israel is threatening to destroy Lebanon and potentially Syria as well. Iran and Syria are both making noises in support ofHezbollah, and our president and Germany are making noises in support of Israel. Iran has already threatened to close the gulf to oil transport in retaliation for any US or Israeli strike into Syria. Our government has been looking for an excuse to invade Iran, and here is one ready-made - Iran’s long standing economic support and military support of Hezbollah. Moreover, American strategy in the middle east is deeply tied into Israel, and there is no questionthat we will provide support of some sort or another if Israel fully commits to war with Lebanon and perhaps Syria.

Another American beachhead, run through Israel, is likely to spark more conflict with Iran and other nations in the middle east, and encourage them to retaliate by cutting off oil supplies. And full-scale, multi-national war in the middle east is something no energy dependent nation inthe world (that is, basically all of us) can afford to ignore. As Iraq fragments and the US is increasingly over committed, China and Russia are caught between their economic and energy ties to Syria and Iran, and their desire not to antagonize the US. But if the middle east fully ignites, neither China nor Russia will be free not to choose sides. They will have to protect their own interests. And I believe nothing good could possibly come from so many people with big guns and nuclear bombs trying to decide which side they are on.

I could be wrong. This could all just peter out, or end in a peaceful solution. I pray it be so. But the crisis pattern we’re seeing resembles things I’ve seen before in history books. I won’t be surprised if someday, today is named the beginning of the next world conflict, the one that we’ve all known was coming. As I said before, G-d help us all, and may I just end up looking silly, making predictions that don’t come true.

If not, though, the only thing that will stop this from becoming a greater disaster is the will and strength of people all over the world to say, “stop.” Because this is madness. In Israel, I would pray you will say “Stop!” no matter how desperately your hearts are aching for those children/soldiers who were stolen from you. In Gaza and Iran and Beirut, I pray you will say “Stop!” and find a way that leads to peace. In the US, we must say “Stop!” and prepare to consume less and use less and absorb any oil shocks coming to us, rather than strike military blows to get our way. And those who could be drawn in so disastrously must stand up as the voices of wisdom, and also say “Stop!” and talk peace at those who are so hurt and angry they can only see war. Please G-d, we all have such wisdom.


In Praise of Weeds

Sharon July 13th, 2006

Last year I decided not to mulch a good chunk of our garden, in the interest of seeing how hard it was to maintain if mulch materials wereever scarce. I love permanent mulch - I love the way the soil improves under it, I love the way that the soil stays moist when it is dry and also handles heavy rainfall much better, and I love sitting on the warm mulch while I pick tomatoes or cucumbers. But I don’t wantto be too dependent upon any particular gardening method, so I left a patch in front of the house (on the theory that sheer embarassment might encourage me to weed) unmulched and went about my business.

This was partly fueled by a discussion I had a few years ago with afriend of mine who is an herbalist and gardener at Sturbridge Village(an 1830s living history museum), who pointed out that most garden descriptions of the time are very unconcerned with weeding, and many permitted large quantities of weeds to grow up as mulch underneath plantings, just pulling them as they began to shade other plants. I’ve done that a few times by accident, but this, (besides proving that embarassment will not drive me to weeding if there is anything more fun to do ;-)), was my first formal experiment. I have to say, I think the weeds have done me more good than bad. Now obviously, ymmv, and those of you with moisture shortages or very tight spaces probably won’t have this luxury, but my observation so far has been that as long as the weeds aren’t allowed to take over completely, or to shade out food plants, that the competition isn’t a bad one, necessarily.

My weedy tomatoes have actually grown faster than the mulched ones, and set fruit earlier than mulched varieties ofthe same species. I’ve been managing the weeds, rather than completely getting rid of them. Some, we eat or use for medicinal purposes, and that takes care of that. I pull out the lambsquarters and wild salsify as I eat them, but don’t worry too much about them when they are small. I’m lettingsome of the wild oats that aren’t too much in the way mature, and will feed them to the chickens. I even transplanted a few over to a better spot ;-). The mulleins I left because I think they are pretty, and if there’s ever a shortage, the leaves make terrific toilet paper. Some of the greens (extra plantain that we don’t want, pigweeds, chickweed) go straight to the chickens and geese as harvested feed. Then, there are some weeds I’m actually delighted to see - I’ve never had them before, and I want them. I’m encouraging the wild yarrow to grow, since I find it better for medicinal purposes than the stuff I cultivate, and it is lovely - one of my favorite wildflowers. This is the first year I’ve had either purslane or stinging nettle anywhere on the property - I’ve always had to forage elswhere, and I’m more than a little pleased to see them. Both are fairly well-behaved (in that they don’t really take over), and very good to eat (use gloves with the nettles, and cook them first). I’m also excited to seecteasel here - people in upstate NY used to grow fields of them for thewool processing industry, and I’m planning on harvesting mine for thesame reason. Plantain I like to let go to the green seed stage, and then harvest and dry the seed heads - they make marvellous free birdfood in the winter. Pigweeds and other wild amaranths are great for the same purpose. Bedstraw and Burdock are allowed to mature until just before they set seeds, and used for dyeing and eating respectively (ok, I don’t always get to them before they set seed, which is a problem).

I also always allow some weeds to go to flower on the fringes of the garden. Along with the dill and cilantro I plant to attract pollinators, I notice that queen anne’s lace and mullein are good insect attractants. Canada and Bull thistle get taken right out, as do a few others, like ground ivy, which are real pests. I reserve the right to kick out any weed that takes more than its fair share, or sticks me with prickers when I step on it. But for the most part, weeding is a desultory chore for me, done at a fairly low key. As long as the plants aren’t too crowded or shaded, and the weeds are useful ones to me, leaving them be doesn’t seem to do a lot of harm to *most* crops, and the weeds will generally get pulled for whatever purpose eventually.

There are exceptions -peppers here are easily shaded out by faster growing weeds, and carrots can’t handle any weed pressure at all. But for every crop that needs hand weeding, there are those, like bush beans, zinnias,tomatoes and corn that on fertile soil, with adequate moisture, seem entirely untroubled by competition, and that will eventually shade out the weeds on their own. My math so far suggests that I actually take more useful plants off of my land when I plant a little further apart and allow some weed competetion than when I plant my own food plants more tightly together.

One of the biggest pests in my garden is the tomato. No matter how diligently I harvest, every year I spend more time pulling out fast growing tomato volunteers than I do burdock or thistles. They tend to shade everything out, because they grow so fast. I leave some, of course, but it does point out that even in my cold climate, I could probably rely for much of my tomato crop on volunteers, provided I didn’t mind waiting until September to harvest (I do). I’ll probably go back to mulching next year - after I transplant in my plantain and wild yarrows. But the other advantage of leaving the weeds, assuming you can afford the loss in moisture and fertility, is that pulled weeds make an excellent mulch. If I ever run out of straw and undercropping material, I probably will do just that and allow theweeds to grow up, pull them, and use them to smother the rest.

I think it worth praising the weeds, at least once in a while,before I squish them ;-).

When I started this blog…

Sharon July 12th, 2006

…not quite two years ago, I announced that oil was at $50 per barrel. Early last week, it passed $75, and oil futures, I’m told, are being traded at above $80. The only good thing about this is that I stand to win my bet with my economist buddy, Steve (that oil will pass $100 per barrel within 3 years- a bet I made about 2 years ago) with plenty of time to say, “nyah, nyah.” Small satisfaction that.

This is just the beginning, folks. We’re looking from just before, or just after the peak, but things start going downhill pretty fast from here. I’m sure some readers believe that I’m just that wacky doomsday chick on the blog, but you cannot lose by preparing yourself now. By storing some food, and water, by adapting your home to low or no fossil fuel use. If worse comes to worse, you’ll still be better off having that food, that water, that money you save. We’re in an inflationary economic cycle - at a minimum, the food, woodstove and insulation you buy today will be cheaper than buying it tomorrow.

Please. If you read this, take me seriously for one moment. You can make fun of me later. You can call me a fool. But do a few things to keep yourselves safe in hard times. It can only help.


We lost one today.

Sharon July 6th, 2006

In wedding magazine rhetoric, and victorian prose, a wedding day is the happiest day of one’s life. Now I had fun at both my weddings, the one that took and the one that didn’t, but neither one ranked up there in the happiest days of my life. But there’s a wedding that *did* rank up there - not my own, but my mother and step-mother’s. The day they were able to legalize their relationship (at that point 25 years and still going strong) may have been the happiest day of my life, other than when my children were born. I remember telling my sons that someday, they would be able to tell their own grandchildren that Nana and Nunu (don’t ask about the Nunu thing) got married on that day in May. That they were the first gay people in their town to marry, and that their children were so very proud of them and happy for them.

It wasn’t just their children, either. My phone rang off the hook all that day with friends and family members calling to wish joy to my Mom and Sue. Members of my synagogue called. My neighbors in our rural farming community called. Friends I hadn’t seen in years called. My ex-husband (and good friend) called, with wishes from himself, his wife and his parents. On an internet list I’ve belonged to for years, where a lot of the population is conservative Christian, people wished my mothers joy, no matter what they thought of the issue in general. I don’t think I’ve ever wept with happiness before, but I did that day, not just because my mother and Sue were able to enter into legal protections they’ve never had before, but because this was an act of justice and delight, and everyone who knew me, and knew my family was shared our happiness. My friend and honorary brother Jesse was there in Cambridge when, at midnight, city hall began to issue marriage licenses. He hollered and yelled and laughed and danced at one of the biggest parties he’d ever been to, and called me to share the joy.

New York missed its chance to be the second state in the Union to adopt gay marriage. It missed its chance to lead the nation today, when the state supreme court argued that there were compelling reasons, mostly about parenting, for the state to limit marriage to heterosexuals. Besides rehashing a whole lot of unproven speculation (no one has ever successfully demonstrated that children of gay families are any worse off than the children of any other families), New York missed its own chance to be right, and just and *JOYFUL* - because in a sense, that’s what it this is about. Yes, it is about civil rights and politics, justice and mercy. But a wedding (at least a state sanctioned one - we can leave sacredness and holiness to those who concern themselves with faith, not legality) is a party, and a good one, when it is done right. People laugh and dance, they drink wine and sing, and celebrate love and trust and happiness. And the people getting married in New York, who have been denied and reviled and left out for decades would throw the best party anyone has ever seen. Love is a many splendored thing, and its greatest splendor is joy, delight (in the true sublime sense), happiness.
Four bitter judges cost a hell of a lot of joy today.

On a personal note, I’ve long hoped to convince my mother and Sue to move here for their retirement someday. That won’t happen unless the New York State Legislature fixes the errors of the court. I hope it does. But what New York lost can’t fully be replaced - a chance to spot the error, fix it fast, and turn to the party and a celebration of human love. I know I’ll be there dancing on the day it does, and my children too.