Archive for May, 2007

How to Save Cooking Energy and 90% Reduction Reminder

Sharon May 31st, 2007

Today, the last day of May, is your last chance to get in on the ground floor of the 90% reduction project!! There are nearly 100 people signed up, and more than 25 blogs going! We would be thrilled if you wanted to join as well. Remember, you can start anytime, and you don’t have to achieve 90%.

Here’s the link to Miranda’s blog where the rules, FAQ and Intro are posted if you want to learn more about the project:

If you want to discuss the project, we have a yahoogroup devoted to the subject - you can join by sending an email here: [email protected]

How many people do you think we can get this up to? Enough for a press release? A movement? A revolution? When Miranda and I cooked this up, we had no idea it would be so popular - we’re so excited.

In the spirit of our really riotous reduction, I’ve been thinking about how to cut my cooking energy down as much as possible. Here are 25 ways I’ve come up with to cut cooking energy.

1. Turn off the stove/oven before you are finished. This is fairly simple - when you soup is almost hot, turn off the stove - it will continue to heat for a while. When your bread is 15 minutes short of baked, turn off the oven and let it sit in the hot oven. You can do this for longer with things that are hotter for longer, or less sensitive, like casseroles. Be cautious with meat - you don’t want food poisoning. Experiment.

2. Eat more salads, sandwiches and raw foods that don’t require cooking.

3. Make a hay box cooker - insulated a box with a blanket, hay or other good insulator. Get your food nice and hot, and then put it in that insulated box and let the retained heat do the cooking.

4. Use a pressure cooker - they save a lot of time when cooking beans, grains, stews and such.

5. Capture heat whenever you can. Instead of heating up several pots of water for tea or soup each day, heat that water and put it in a thermos, and use it for tea when you need it.

6. Use a wood cookstove to heat your house and cook at the same time. Save heavy canning and long cooking projects for times when you would be heating the house anyhow.

7. Or, if you heat with wood but don’t have a cookstove, cook on your heating stove. Put your kettle on the stove. Keep soup on the back of the stove. Have someone build a sheet metal oven for you (just a metal box) that will enable you to bake on the stove.

8. Build an earth or masonry oven outside and use twigs and other scrap wood to bake and cook. A hot earth oven will stay hot enough for you to start by making pizza, then move down to bread, stew and finally dehydrating. Info in _Build Your Own Earth Oven_ by Kiko Denzer and _Capturing Heat Two_ by Still, Hatfield and Scott of the Aprovecho Research Center.

9. Build or buy a solar oven. Instructions for making your own are available on many sites, and in _Capturing Heat: Five Earth Friendly Cooking Technologies and How to Build Them_ by Still and Kness of the source above. The Maria Telkes Solar Cooker gets a bit hotter than some other models, as does the commercial ones.

10. Build a solar dehydrator for food preservation instead of using an electric one. Here’s a cool one:

11. Don’t preheat your oven - that is, put your food in while the oven is preheating to capture that heating energy. The only exceptions where this isn’t a good idea are a few really delicate baked goods, but generally this works fine, although you may have to slightly adjust your timing. Practice makes perfect.

12. If you have an electric oven, convert to natural gas or propane - they are much more efficient ways of making heat.

13. Build a rocket stove or rocket bread oven as seen in the first _Capturing Heat_ - a rocket stove uses biomass fuel much more efficiently than a woodstove or earth oven. A rocket bread oven can cook 20 loaves at a time.

14. Have a baking day, or two a week. Do all your oven work then and store your baked goods.

15. Use a crockpot if you have an electric stove - a crockpot generally will use less energy than an electric stove, although not a gas one.

16. Only bake in a full oven - plan ahead and while you are baking your bread, also consider roasting a pan of vegetables or baking that pie you’ll want later.

17. Don’t open your oven or remove pot lids more often than necessary. Keep the heat in.

18. Use a microwave instead of a stove (I personally hate microwaves, but they are more efficient).

19. Make large batches of things and reheat, cooking less often (although this might not make sense if you would give up fridge or freezer otherwise - think it through carefully).

20. Lactoferment pickles, kimchi, etc… and don’t can them. Just keep them in a cool place, and save the canning energy.

21. Switch from a coffee percolator to a press coffee maker.

22. Soak beans overnight in cold water to reduce cooking time.

23. Use cast iron or other heavy cookware that retains heat better than cheap aluminum. That way, you can turn things off even sooner.

24. Make your own low-heat charcoal, cook over the process, and then use agrichar to improve your garden soil.

25. Get your cat to sit on the butter warmer (covered of course) when you need it melted. Ok, this one isn’t a real suggestion, but I’m one short, and it probably would work, if you could persuade the cat not to eat the butter.

Feels Like I’m Dying…From that Old Used-to-Be

Sharon May 29th, 2007

“I got the blues…Won’t you save me?
I got the blues…as far as I can see.
I got the blues…Won’t you save me?
Seems like I’m dying, from that old, used-to-be.”
-Lyle Lovett

I tend to be an optimist, at least by the standards of peak oil activists (which isn’t very hard). By that I mean that I believe in individual action and I believe that we could overturn the system that we live within and make better choices. But I also think this is less likely than that we’ll do the wrong thing, and part of it is that our brains are trying to kill us (or at least our kids). That is, we’ve gotten into habits of thought so destructive and so automatic that we don’t even recognize their basic failures. And if we don’t recognize the failures in our own heads and overturn them, we’re in big trouble. One of those problems is that we can’t stop looking for a quick fix.

I liked this essay by James Kunstler quite a bit, and I recommend it to you, because he has a useful grasp of essentials,

” It only made me more nervous, because this longing for “solutions,” strikes me as a free-floating wish for magical rescue remedies, for techno-fixes that will allow us to make a hassle-free switch from fossil hydrocarbon power to something less likely to destroy the Earth’s ecosystems (and human civilization with it). And I think such a wish is, in itself, at the root of our problem — certainly at the bottom of our incapacity to think clearly about these things.

I said so, of course, which seemed to piss off a substantial number of my fellow festival attendees.”

I, like Kunstler, think that the phrasing of the call for “solutions” as “ways to keep things mostly the way they are” is completely mistaken. Trying to keep the cars going and growth capitalism up and running is a. futile and b. destructive. Not only will we be doing the wrong thing, but we don’t seem to grasp that none of these represents a real solution in any meaningful sense.

Ethanol, biodiesel, solar panels - all of these are tremendously fossil fuel intensive. We can’t make a solar panel without using a whole lot of silicone and metals that are mined, smelted, crafted, assembled, sold and transported using…fossil fuels. The day that we can create a solar panel made from cradle to grave with renewable energies, I’ll buy the notion that we’re all going to be running around in electric cars fed by solar panels.

Now when I say that, people start arguing that it is hypothetically possible that someday we’ll use bioplastics and mine metals using electrically powered machinery. And again, I point out, show me a case of having done it, having made even 5 solar panels that way, and I’ll buy it. Heck, I’ll write a free ad.

Because most people don’t grasp that solar panels, or wind generators or ethanol aren’t a magic bullet unless they represent a self-perpetuating system. Oil was nicely self perpetuating, at least for a good long time - you used oil based equipment to get oil out of the ground in a nice ration of energy returned over energy invested (EROEI) of 100-1. But we don’t have the infrastructure, or the grid system, or the renewables, or the tools, or in some cases the technology to make things like solar panels or wind generators entirely out of renewables. They take fossil fuels at 20-50 different spots along the ride. When you add up all the fossil fuels involved, the EROEI of most renewables is somewhere between 1 to 1 and 20-1, probably on the low side for most of them. That means that even to match our current energy needs, we’d need 5 times as much power generated from wind as coal and 50 times as much generated from solar as natural gas. Do you begin to grasp the scale of the problem?

And these alternative energies aren’t a permanent solution - it is true that a solar panel might last 20-30 years. It is also true that they might not, and that the batteries certainly won’t. That grid intertie that keeps you from having batteries - that uses lots of fossil fuels quite regularly and needs quite a lot of regular maintenence and other energy inputs. And even if your windmill lasts you two decades, unless we can make them again with renewables, that means that we’re just sticking the problem on our kids.

That is, let’s say we do a massive build out of windmills and solar panels, enough to keep our whole society going (never mind that we could never fund it or engineer it). We use up a huge amount of our remaining fossil reserves to keep everyone comfy and in their cars, and we go into massive debt to do it. Well, five years from now, all the solar panels need new batteries. But we don’t have any manufacturing plants that make batteries from solar panels. So we need to do it again, with fossil fuels, plus fix the solar panels that got broken and replace a few parts on the windmill. And all the metal, and the chemicals and the little pieces need to be made, mined, manufactured…with fossil fuels. And then five years later we have to do it again, and then a decade after that we have to do it on an even bigger scale - to replace all the worn out windmills and solar panels. And as we go along, supply constraints are increasing, and prices of fossil energies are rising. Capital costs go up, investment costs go up, and remember, since energy costs are way up, there may not be as much money around to invest.

Where is the energy and the money for all these fossil inputs going to come from in our nice, “renewable” society? In order to keep things going on renewables, we’d have to vastly *expand* our existing infrastructure - not only would we have to make enough windmills to keep the grid going, but also to run the electric cars, to power the mining equipment, to make bioplastics, and smelt aluminum, to manufacture titanium parts - all things that were done comparatively efficiently with oil and gas (because they are heat intensive) now must be done much less efficiently by electricity. So we’d have to build enough windmills not just to power things as they are, but to produce 3 times as much electricity - and rebuild the grid. This would costs trillions of dollars, tons of oil and natural gas…and in a few years, we’d have to do again.

Whenever I bring this up from people looking for techno solutions, they all tell me that eventually we’ll be able to make things from renewables, of course. Hmmm…of course. That is, we’re betting our kids lives on the hope that at some point renewables will become self-perpetuating, even though we have no idea how that will happen, that would require major, multiple large scale technical breakthroughs in many cases that might or might not happen, AND, we’re not willing to do it now, when we have energy to burn, lots of money and no crisis - instead, we’re going to bet the farm (and lives) on the fact that we’ll be able to do this 20 or 30 years into a depletion crisis with much less money, much less oil, much less availability in a society that we simply don’t know the shape of. That is, we’re going to stick the next generation with the problem, and hope it isn’t too serious. But if we can’t do it now, when we have lots of energy and lots of money and all the time in the world, the chances are excellent we won’t be able to do it.

“Hey kids, when you are poorer, more indebted, and energy costs are up at 250 bucks a barrel, guess what? The techno people want to offer you the chance to keep the society going. And if you can’t afford it, or get the energy to do it, well…tough. You can adapt then, even though every infrastructure adaptation will cost you more and require more scarce resources. What, you wanted to use your precious legacy of remaining fossil fuels for cancer treatment drugs? Tough - we used it to build batteries so we could have windmills. Oh, but you can’t have windmills or cancer drugs. But feel free to scavenge in our debris.”

So what we’re offering our kids is for them to take on the real burden. We, we are told need “transitional” solutions - ones that would enable poor rich us to be able to get comfy with a more sustainable life. We need our electric cars because we can’t be expected to change hard - that will be much, much easier for our children. Does anyone else see a problem here? Like the wacko, immoral reversal of what parents and grandparents are supposed to do for children - we’re supposed to be willing to work our behinds off and make sacrifices for the wellbeing of future generations. And what we’re really saying is fuck them, I don’t want it to be too hard for me. How did we get here? How did we turn into this?

Well that’s been the strategy for the last 50 years, right? Let’s stick the next generation with the problem and not worry our pretty little heads about whether it is sustainable. In the 1970s, when we became widely aware that the oil was going to run out, the people who were able to vote (not me, I was 5) decided to elect Ronald Reagan and go for denial, instead of starting to build renewable energy systems. So now it is my problem. And their parents, after World War II, decided to destroy the nation’s agricultural system, which meant that the chemicals and the pesticides became my parent’s problem, and my problem, and my kids’ problems. Wow, so that’s what an inheritance is!

I would suggest that the “find a short term solution solution” even if it were feasible (probably not) is morally bankrupt, ugly, inelegant and in part responsible that each generation’s children seem to want less to do with their parents than the last one. The notion that there’s a techno solution out there is probably wrong, but even if we could find one, Kunstler’s right, would we want it? Would we want to be people who said, “Let’s just put it off a little longer so that someone else has to deal?” Would we want to be the opposite of the generations who made huge personal sacrifices so their kids wouldn’t have to?

The thing is, there is a solution, and like most good solutions is really, really simple, and equally elegant. Stop being rich. Seriously, that’s all there is to it. Stop living like rich people. Right now you probably have a servant to wash your dishes, another to do your laundry, another to transport you to your destination. These aren’t people servants (somehow we’re convinced that paying other people is wrong), they are electrical or oil based. But you live like a lord in a castle. Your castle is probably huge by world standards. You probably have a whole bunch of servants. You take a lot of wealth from poorer people (ie, you buy cheap things manufactured by virtual slaves that are cheap because of that), also like lords in castles.

The answer is really simple. Get off your ass, and dump the castle, or at least move a few more people into it. Get rid of most of the servants. Start doing for yourself without using power. Stop buying anything you want and eating like a king. Live like a peasant. Wear peasant clothes. Do peasant work. Eat peasant food. Get comfortable with it.

The thing is, peasantry isn’t really that bad. Peasant clothes are sturdy and comfortable - peasants don’t have to wear pantyhose, get botox shots or wear a necktie much. Peasant work isn’t that bad - the fact is that 11th century serfs managed to feed themselves working just over half the year - the rest of the time was spent drinking beer. Ladakhis work hard 4 months a year, and spend the rest partying. The !Kung people can meet their needs in 3 hours a day. Once you get good peasantry, it really isn’t that hard. Peasant food is great - fancy restaurants in cities serve peasant food and call it “Trattoria” or “Bistro” fare.

The craving for a solution that will mean things don’t *REALLY* have to change in any deep way is not just a sign that we’re missing the point. Because even when confronted by the obvious and simple truth, we choose denial or simply not to give a flying fuck. I’m not always sure which one it is. I suppose if I have to choose one, I’d rather we were stupid than evil, but, as my husband once said, “no dichotomy where dualism will do!”

But I still want to believe that we can count without our fingers, figure out when things don’t make sense, take our heads out of collective asses, and stop killing our children with our old-used-to-be. It might even be true.


Digging Dollars: Make-Work, Agriculture, and Empire

Sharon May 28th, 2007

Most work is busywork.

This is an ugly realization for most of us, especially those of us who have “careers” rather than jobs, for which we trained many years. But if, all of a sudden your work was to disappear from the planet - no one was doing it - how much would anyone really suffer? For some jobs, the absence of anyone doing them would hardly be noticed - we could do entirely without literary critics, theoretical astrophysicists (please note these two are the careers my husband and I trained for), psychics, pet psychologists, virtually everyone involved with television or advertising, make up artists, many beaurocrats, etc…

Oh, certain things about our society might change, and we’d have to find other jobs for those people, but no harm would come. In some cases, a bit of good might even occur - a few fewer trees would be slain on the form of the romantic sublime or the precise shape of a black hole, or people might wear a little less wallpaper paste on their faces. It is conceivable that some dogs might be a bit more angsty without their therapists, but couldn’t we all live with that?

In many other cases, maybe even most, at least half of the people who do your job could disappear, and while it would change the nature of our society some, it wouldn’t do any serious harm. We could get along with half as many (or vastly fewer) lawyers, novelists, retail salespeople, IRS employees, soldiers, plastic surgeons, drug dealers, housing developers, engineers, architects, fryolator tenders, etc… In fact, having less of all these things would probably be necessary in a sustainable society.

Even people who do useful things could be done without in many cases. Yes, we will always need doctors and nurses. But we could dramatically cut our nursing home employees, for example, by keeping our parents and grandparents at home with us whenever possible. Quite a few nations have similar lifespans to ours, but use 25-50% less medical care - think about it - they take 1/4 to 1/2 as many drugs, see the doctor that much less often, and they still live just as long as we do, and often report higher quality of life. Yes, doctors and nurses are valuable, but we could make significant cuts in their numbers, or keep the same numbers, and give the doctors and nurses much higher quality of life by simply reducing their working hours. The same is true with teachers - who are extremely valuable, but if more parents taught their children, particularly in the early years, we wouldn’t need so many. Why do so few parents do so? In part because they go out to jobs, and don’t have the time. Hmmm…

The simple fact is that we are mostly not needed to do any *particular* job - the fact is, we need work, but our careers are mostly optional. Somewhere between 1/5 and 1/3 of the American populace does truly essential work, and the rest of us mostly spread little pieces of paper around, shooting them back and forth. John Maynard Keynes, the famed economist, made the case that having enough work to do was so important to morale (and morale to the economy) that he argued that one potential way that government could stabilize the economy was to bury money in the ground and pay people to dig it up - that is, Keynes said that what was important was that we have some work, not that it be useful or valuable. Productivity and utility had their places, but mostly, we need some busy work to keep the economy and our lives running.

And a lot of our jobs actually operate funded by nasty, awful things we say we deplore. We may oppose global warming, but we make our money directly or indirectly by selling cars with low mileage standards or by driving long distances to our jobs. Perhaps we, like many people, are trickle down beneficiaries of things like the oil industry, the chemical agriculture industry or the military. Often, the military, with its endless wars.

Because Keynes didn’t claim that the government could put us to work forever, of course. His argument was that in times of economic trouble, the government should borrow money to put people to work, ideally on things with social utility, but if necessary, doing make work. And when prosperity returns, Keynes argued that the government must cut back its spending and its make work and let the larger economy take over again, while paying off our indebtedness. Keynesianism was largely the model for the New Deal. But the New Deal was never popular with most serious capitalists, and good or bad, we’ve replaced classical Keynesianism with military Keynesianism.

Military Keynesianism was first described by the term used by a Polish Economist to describe Nazi Germany, but it describes much of our economy quite well. That is, our current economy, to a large degree, owes its success to military expansionism and imperialism. People are put to work not at rebuilding the domestic infrastructure, but at war. The military industry and its offshoots (of which the web is one), account for an enormous portion of our economy and our GDP, and millions of jobs, particularly among lower income people. The war in Iraq alone is estimated by economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes to cost about 2 *TRILLION* dollars - dollars that get paid out to soldiers and Halliburton consultants, folks in the aerospace industry and janitors in the Pentagon, to government beauracrats and construction companies that build military facilities. And in turn, those dollars get paid out to Wal-Mart and fast food restaurants, bookstores and movie theaters, and trickle down to the rest of us.

Chalmers Johnson, in _Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic_ documents that 60% of GDP growth in just 2003 was attributable to defense spending, and that defense spending represents 50% of the government’s discretionary spending - that is, 50% of the things the government chooses to spend money on are about our ability to blow things up. The American defense budget annually exceeds the combined defense budget of every other nation in the world. And, we should note, we are still losing the war in Iraq and precious human lives to people who build 300 dollar roadside bombs. Perhaps this should tell us something about the utility of all this spending.

This was how the Nazis got their economy moving during World War II - they turned their nation into a war machine. And we have done the same intermittently since World War II, most recently since September 11. Instead of burying cash in the ground and digging it up, we’ve built up a need for war and an imperial culture, and then made up reasons to use them - we can‘t justify all that money without someone to kill. We now make ourselves more vulnerable to terrorist attacks by invading Muslim countries and letting them kill our family members, only to use those deaths as a justification for further imperialism and violence. And all of it, in part, as Johnson deftly documents, because we don’t have anything else to feed our economy.

But right now, war is not a money making venture - we’re doing it on debt, and sooner or later, we’ll pay the price for that. As Johnson points out, that might actually be the only way we can come out of this a truly democratic nation - after all, the price of our imperialism has been the loss of the things we say we value in democracy - if you look at the Bill of Rights, for example, and go down the list, you’ll find that the only rights that haven’t been undermined, infringed upon or stripped from us are the rights to bear arms and not to have Hessian troops quartered in your bedroom. And I wouldn’t hold my breath forever on that last one if it seems convenient to the Bush administration. Johnson argues that only economic collapse could break off our imperial project, and he might be right. On the other hand, it might be possible to do it another way.

It isn’t enough to deplore military Keynesianism. It might be useful to do more than deplore it (Americans are told in their own founding documents that if their government becomes tyrannical they have an obligation to overthrow it. Now I’m a non-violent sort, but I do sometimes wonder what level of tyranny we are waiting for before we get serious about choosing something else? Our government supports “disappearing” people without trial, a la Guatemala, torture a la China, spying on its own citizens a la the former Soviet Union…what do we have to do before we start calling it a tyranny and arranging the proper response? This is something I mull over now and again.), but if we’re ever to have an alternative economy, one that doesn’t depend on finding people to make war against, that doesn’t depend on exploitation and murder, we’re going to have to do more than get rid of military Keynesianism, we’re going to have to get rid of the make work and do useful things. And pay people more for doing useful things than for doing pointless ones.

That sounds obvious, but it isn’t at all under the auspices of modern capitalism. Many economists and politicians have been dedicated for a long time to the notion that it is best to pack poor young men and women off to be soldiers, to invest tens of thousands of dollars in their equipment, their training and their bodies, pack them off around the world, and let them discover that a million dollar helicopter is often no match for a 1000 dollar rocket launcher and that a 600,000 dollar tank can be blown up by a 120 dollar IED, because people fighting to get invaders out of their countries almost always trump expensively trained people just doing their jobs - all so that the young man can buy food and pay a mortgage. We believe it is better to do this, than to invest 10,000 dollars once in a young man, to give him training, a few acres of land, and a little equipment so he could grow food for himself and enough to pay his mortgage (or, gasp, build a house without one).

Now the reason for this is that it is deemed to create jobs to do it this way - the military base commander, the drill sergeant, the people who build military housing, body armor and tanks, the fast food place where the soldier eats, the government administrator that helps his family get food stamps because the military pays so poorly, the VA doctors that help him rehabilitate, the Halliburton employees that supply food and transport, the people who manufacture the body bags - all of them get a little piece of this, multiplied by hundreds of thousands of times.

On the other hand, if we had spent that same money setting the same man up as a small scale subsistence farmer, how many people would have gotten jobs out of that? Certainly the manufacturer of hoes, nails and boots, maybe even small horse drawn or efficient tractor equipment. The sawmill guy who cut the boards to build his barn, the logger who cut the trees for house and barn, some seed growers and a feed store. Maybe the local diner once in a while. But you can’t run a global economy on that, can you? Where’s the R and D money for high technology so we can shoot people out of space with lasers? Where’s the money for the people who will treat the soldier’s drug problem and find him an apartment when he ends up homeless because of PTSD? You can’t pay for global spy satellites off of the income of a small scale subsistence farmer - he barely pays any taxes, and he doesn’t need McDonalds to feed him, because he grows his own food or a drug company to treat his obesity induced hypertension, because he doesn’t sit on his ass all day, or anything much more technical than a few good tools and a way of getting his crops to market. Heck, if he could have land outside a city, he could do it with a bicycle cart.

Exactly. You can’t rule the world with a nation of farmers (ok, the Romans and Bulgarians did, but their empire was proportionally vastly cheaper to run). You can’t support a global network of military bases on a simple economy, based on things people really need - food, houses, clothing, tools. If we encouraged young people to do things that were actually useful, and paid them fairly for it, we couldn’t have this empire - we couldn’t afford it. If we made less money, if we earned less money to buy things we don’t need, we couldn’t afford to make up excuses to go to war, because China and Japan wouldn’t fund us to do so. If we mostly did for ourselves and met most of our own needs in self-sufficient communities and regions, we couldn’t afford to do anything other than defend ourselves from real threat.

Wow, doesn’t that sound terrible. The answer to the military industrial complex is pretty simple. It runs on money. It runs on our money. It runs on the money we pay in taxes for things we buy, and the money we pay on taxes from money we earn. Stop earning so much money, stop buying so much stuff, and the economy slows and the taxes stop pouring in. If enough of us cut our expenses, and our earnings to the bone, if enough of us stop being willing to fund this war and the next one, stop being willing to buy the oil that the war is about and the garbage about the way of life that the war is about - it will stop. Congress has tried (not very courageously) and failed miserably to cut off funds. But guess what - their funds come from …me. You. Us. We can cut them off anytime we’re willing to make the sacrifice. We just have decide it is worth it to us to make some economic sacrifices (if we can - I know everyone cannot, but many of us could), rather than sacrifice the lives of young men and women.

Your job is probably make work. Most of our work is. Or perhaps it is a little necessary - but perhaps not full-time, suck you dry necessary. I know you need a job to eat, to pay your taxes, to pay your mortgage. I understand that, and I’m not blaming anyone for taking the work they can. We do that too. But every dollar you earn above the absolute necessities, and every dollar you spend in the larger economy helps feed the war machine, and the economy that supports it. And it lends credence to the basic presumption that the largest purpose of our economy is to give us make work. I know you want economic security, a nice nest egg for retirement, a comfortable home, a pretty house. But all those things make globalization, and the wars that enable it possible. Is it worth it?

Now maybe it would be morally acceptable to do make work, regardless of its collateral damage, if there was nothing else important to do. But we know that isn‘t true. Our make work is causing us to take shortcuts - our pointless jobs are causing us to break down and buy fast food because we don’t have time to cook. They encourage us to dump chemicals on our gardens and lawns, rather than build soil - we don’t have time for that. Our make work is cutting into the time we could spend playing with our kids, or educating them, taking care of elderly people we love or volunteering with others. It cuts into our time for community building, chopping wood, growing gardens, cleaning up messes, avoiding pollutants, being frugal, cooking dinner, making love, stopping the war.

We’re doing things that don’t matter that actually make things worse. So we’ve got to stop. I’m not saying instantly. I’m not saying tomorrow, and I‘m not saying everyone. This is hard. But maybe, just maybe, we could stop this war and improve our lives if we started to ask “what needs doing” not “what can I do to make money.” Everything we do to stop needing money, to meet our needs at home and in our local community - by growing food, fiber, fertility, or making things, or helping one another and caring for one another, is something that means we need to pour less cash into the war coffers and less cash into the make-work economy.

How do we do this? We start rethinking our relationship to our work. If you can, one spouse quits their job, or gets a new one doing something that is useful and important. If you haven’t got a spouse, and can, cut back on overtime, or offer to take less money in exchange for one day off per week. Or both of you drop your hours back and work less. Maybe you are just getting by where you are, but living in a less expensive place, or taking in your sister as a roommate, or caring for your parents would make it easier. Or maybe you can’t do anything at all - you can’t get along any other way, or your job is so desperately important you can‘t stop. Ok, but those of us who can, need to. Even if we’ve trained for a make-work career, maybe we need to switch to something that really matters, like caring for the sick and disabled, or making things we import from other nations, or fighting for justice. Each year, perhaps we can grow a little more food or buy a little less, live more within our means and make our means a little smaller. And some
people can slip out of the public economy altogether and become war tax protestors. Most of us can’t. But we could make less, spend less, give more to the causes we care about directly, and less to the war effort and the public economy.

The bad news is that if enough of us did this, it would crash the public economy. The reality, however is that a crash in the public economy is probably inevitable, and more importantly, sometimes you have to break some eggs. Economists are fine with this when, for example, we are trashing our manufacturing sector and throwing people out of work - then it is called creative destruction. I suspect they’ll be less happy about trashing the capitalist economy so that we can get rid of the war machine. But in the end, sometimes, you do what’s right. That was one of the great arguments about slavery, about the end of the British Empire - the nay sayers said “It will hurt us financially to do this.” And yes, that was true. Not stealing money from other people, not enslaving them makes the people who had been stealing and slaving less rich. But some things you do because they are right, not because they are expedient. Ceasing to fund evil, ceasing to support imperialism you do because it is right.

The good news is that worldwide, only about 1/4 of all the work we do takes place in the public economy, the world of GDPs and tax accounts. The rest of the things that the world go round, most of the work that most people in the world do, is subsistence labor, or under the table labor, barter or other things that don’t get counted in the GDP. That is, most people in the world get their eating money and the things they need not from their company who is traded on a stock market, but from Raoul down the road who repairs shoes and takes chickens, and from Mama who loaned us enough money to buy the house without interest, and from cousin Lao who trades work with you at harvest time. The peasant economy, as Teodor Shanin, the sociologist who named it observes, is robust, vital and alive, and based on networks of family and community. And we could live far more in the peasant economy than we do now. Many of us could live fairly comfortably deriving most of our income from the communal and peasant economy, with just enough participation in the larger economy to pay taxes, buy a few luxuries and visit people now and again. Getting out of the public economy does not mean living in poverty - it simply means living differently.

The people in the world who most need to quit their jobs, or cut back their earnings, to work less or live on one income, or a collection of half incomes are the richest people in the world. That’s us. We pay taxes that fund the war. We buy the crap that funds our trade deficit. We burn the oil that warms the planet, and get people to make stuff for us by burning oil and then shipping that stuff to us. Money correlates with a whole lot of things, including emissions, environmental impact and your implication in the political system we’ve acquired. It is, I fear, simply not possible to be rich and not be complicit with doing a great deal of harm. So one of the projects we all have to address is how to be less rich. How to live on less. How to earn less. How to have security with less. How to take only a fair share of the world’s wealth, as well as its resources.

Most of us don’t want to put our jobs on the table. We don’t want to admit that the software we design or the products we sell or the message we give out is not only unnecessary, but destructive, contributing to the things we deplore. Unfortunately, it is true. And true is better than the lies we want to tell ourselves. And if it is true, we have to change - period. On the other hand, wouldn’t it feel better to be doing something other than burying things and digging them
up endlessly?


52 Weeks Down - Week 5 - Eat Seasonally

Sharon May 28th, 2007

For a lot of us, now is a good time to start seasonal eating - there is a lot of food being produced right now. So commit, this week, to making a couple of seasonal meals, where most or all of the ingredients are things that are locally available.

The thing about eating this way is that it is so much better tasting than regular food, and it makes everything special. When asparagus is in season, we eat it as often as we can, and then we talk about it dreamily occasionally for months…but to have it at another time would diminish the pleasure. The same is true of everything we anticipate - right now there are huge strawberries with very little taste in the stores, but we’re holding out for the first flush of ripe berries from our own patch. The children visit the little white berries every day, and we dream of them at night. But none of us wants to rush it with something old and false and not as flavorful.

There’s a food to every season for us - from the first dandilions of spring, through rhubarb and asparagus, to the new potatoes, earthy morels and peas, green beans, apricots and sweet cherries of early summer, on to peaches, watermelon, sweet corn, peppers, eggplants and tomatoes. Then come the grapes and apples, the first cravings for hearty roots, dried beans, stews and squash. We await the late apples, and the first frosts that sweeten the brussels sprouts and kale, and even in the winter there are new flavors - the taste of sugary parsnips dug out of the ground in December and February, the first bok choy flush on the sun porch in January, the old hen in the pot for chicken and dumplings, the apples and squash that taste best after a few months in storage somehow transformed into something transcendent. And then…the dandilions, spinach and chives again and they’ve never tasted so good because they’ve been so long absent. We wouldn’t eat any other way.

What’s locally available right now? It depends on where you are, of course. In some places not too much. In others, all of summer bounty is already out. Where I am, we have lots of greens - lettuces, spinach, kale, arugula, fresh herbs, dandilions galore (it doesn’t have to come from a farm!), asparagus, rhubarb, eggs, scallions, fiddleheads and radishes. What can you make with that?

Well, I made a salad nicoise the other day. I mixed all the greens with chives and sorrel, hardboiled some eggs, steamed some asparagus and added a can of tuna and some steamed potatoes from last year. We made a dijon vinagrette, and it was absolutely delicious with some home baked bread and white bean spread (cooked white beans, fresh sage and chives, garlic, lemon).

What else could you do with it? A lot of us don’t eat a lot of greens, but our family can’t get enough of them. Eli, my oldest, will gladly eat an entire plate of spinach sauteed with garlic, and Simon begs me to make asparagus sauteed with (vegetarian - comes from mushrooms) “oyster” sauce. We look forward to fresh spring greens. Instead of putting cucumber and tomato in our salads (since they aren’t here yet), we might put chopped apple and dried cranberries (apple stored from last season). If we wanted it to be dinner, some blue cheese or cheddar crumbled in is good, or it could be a side dish to something else.

Maybe a spicy omlet? Most people know how to make an omelt, so just fill it with sauteed mushrooms, fresh greens lightly sauteed, perhaps dried tomatoes and hot pepper relish from last year (if you like that sort of thing), and some garlic, of course. Or you could go simpler - just the greens, some onions, fresh herbs.

Or you could make an asparagus sandwich. I used the last of the white bean spread on the bread, but I’ve also done this with cheese. I sprinkle some garlic vinegar on some toasted bread, add steamed asparagus and scallions, and melt cheese over the top (I like goat cheese, but you can use anything - lots of milk around this time of year).

Want dessert? We make rhubarb compote a lot in the spring - nothing too it, just chop up the rhubarb in the pot, add water (a little makes it thick, a lot makes it thin), sugar (or honey, or maple syrup), and we like a drop or two of almond extract.

Or how about bread pudding? Sooner or later, we all end up with stale bread, and there’s milk and eggs galore now. Take your stale bread (if you don’t have enough, you can stick it in the freezer until it accumulates), lay it in a pan, mix up a bunch of eggs and milk (an 8 inch pan might take 3 eggs and 2 cups of milk to soak it all - skim milk is fine, or whatever you have, cream will make it scarily rich, but really good), some sweetener (depending on how much you want), some vanilla or almond extract, cinnamon and any fruit you have lying around - overripe bananas aren’t seasonal, but sometimes they are cheap and the store throws them out, so we take them. Or whatever berries are ripe (nothing here yet), some leftover rhubarb compote, applesauce, or perhaps you’ve got something else you’d like to put in - fresh mint, or lemon verbena or a rose geranium leaf or two. Just shove the bread in to the pan, pour the milk mixture over it, add fruit or flavorings and bake for 45 minutes. I shouldn’t tell you how good this is with whipped cream, but it really is.

Happy Eating!!!


The Riot for Austerity Meets the Emperor of Ice Cream

Sharon May 25th, 2007

“Let be be finale of seem
The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.”
-Wallace Stevens

Miranda has graciously put together a yahoogroup for us to discuss our rioting for austerity project - she and I are having trouble keeping up with all the comments on all the different posts, so we’re trying to bring the discussion together. You can subscribe by sending an email to this address [email protected] (I’m supposed to be able to set up a link, but so far no luck - but if you go over to Miranda’s blog at, you can do it there in a 1 click - have you noticed that Miranda is much cooler than I am? I have.)

You can still post comments on the blogs, or link in through the webring Miranda has put together, but the nice thing about a yahoogroups is that it allows us to have threaded discussions. I really hope you’ll join. And don’t forget, if you have a blog or website where you are discussing this, link it through Miranda!

I thought it might be worth pointing out why it is we’re doing all this one more time. I think it is easy to get caught up in the logistics, and the worries - the “I can’ts” or “it is too hard.” And what we are doing is, in one sense, very difficult. As someone says in some now-forgotten baseball movie I once saw, “Of course its hard. That’s what makes it great. If it was easy, everyone would do it.” I don’t know if this being hard makes it great, but I think it is truly possible that by making it clear that this can be done, we might actually get to everyone doing it. And that would probably make us better than we are.

So here are 5 reasons to participate in the 90% reduction challenge.

1. Because we need to make be be the finale of seem. Instead of seeming to act, instead of talking about things like raising mileage standards on new cars, we need to deal with the reality that most of the cars have to come off the road. Instead of talking about biofuels as though they are meaningful substitute for oil, we need to start talking about feeding people in an increasingly hungry world. Much of what is happening now seems to be action, but isn’t. The lie that we can keep things basically the same, only with windmills needs to be killed and buried, and the truth brought forth, with all its horny feet.

2. Because what we are doing is simply rational preparation for what is to come. Dave Pollard’s analysis of the economic impact of further rises in gas prices is really important the fact that we’ve absorbed 3.50 gallon gas is no indication that we can continue to absorb price rises. I think Pollard’s conclusion is an important one, and should remind all of us that we *will* be making massive cuts in our energy usage sooner or later. But sooner is better for the earth and better for us - voluntary cuts are a lot less painful than mandated ones.

3. Because with great power comes great responsibility. We’re rich. If you use a computer and can read this blog, the odds are excellent you are among the richest 10-15% of the people on the whole earth. Yes, I know you don’t always feel rich, but you are. So making major, voluntary cuts is not impoverishing yourself - it is balancing the scales a little, making things a little more just.

4. Because in order to keep up our lifestyle, we’re doing things like this:,1518,484661,00.html, and that’s just plain wrong. Does anyone think that the damned war wasn’t about the oil anymore? The less of it you buy, the less incentive you give the bastards who orchestrated this to keep killing them.

5. Oh, and it helps stop global warming too ;-).

Remember folks, the emperors are posturing scum who don’t believe that other people matter as much as money and oil. I’m pinning my hopes on be, and the Emperor of Ice Cream!


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