Archive for October, 2007

The Marathon

Sharon October 31st, 2007

I’m back after a bit of time off, including 24 hours each way in transit. I’ve learned a whole bunch of new things, met some wonderful people, got some new ideas and gotten myself properly excited and energized. Besides being totally sleep deprived, behind on the latest news and desperately short on clean underwear, I’m delighted to be home. Six days apart from Eric and the boys was a long, long, long time - too long.

The most fascinating thing about the conference was the people, as always. Last year I called it “human google” and I think that’s a good way to describe it. If you bring 240 smart, engaged, active, passionate people together, you are bound to learn an enormous amount. I spent a week apart from the internet, which was lovely, and I didn’t even notice the absence of internet technologies, because I had only to ask a question, and if the person I was talking to didn’t know, they could find someone who did. I learned a great deal about public health, the economic value of humanure, agricultural educational policy, old soil research and a million other things.

My favorite presentation by far was Larry Halpern’s description of the low energy home he and his wife Gail have created. They’ve done this without spending very much money (at most a few thousand dollars), but have invested a lot of energy, thought and care into living a low, low, low energy lifestyle. Low as in *36* watts of electricity for the month of October this year. I was lucky enough to see the house, and it was fascinating - they live in one of the most economically depressed areas of the US, in a small city, and are making the most of what they have, practicing “Use What You Have” creative thinking to get the most out of the minimum.

I won’t post a full review here - I have no doubt others will, and I won’t duplicate their efforts. There were a number of wonderful presentations, workshops and discussion, and right now I’m still processing things in my head. I’ll post more about the conference as I go along over the next few weeks.

What did strike me was that when I had my little “enough” moment two weeks ago, I apparently wasn’t alone. That is, a number of the people dealing with these issues seem to be struggling a little with their own confrontation with reality. Richard Heinberg looked (and I hope he’ll forgive me for this) like death warmed over, which he attributed to far too much travel and bad news. Peter Bane spoke in a discussion panel about panicking at the thought of getting in a car and doing that much harm - even to do good. Several participants told me that they feel compelled to pick up the pace, to move faster, as events appear to be, while others spoke of feeling overwhelmed, or both simultaneously.

As I was talking to the wonderful Faith Morgan about this (Faith has the remarkable gift of always putting her finger right on the most essential point), I realized that to some degree, my own brief period of burn-out came from the simple fact that I’ve been treating this as a race to the finish, rather than an exercise in endurance.

That is, for so long there has been the hope that if we just worked fast enough and hard enough we could avoid the worst consequences of our inaction. And even though I know better, some small part of my mind had hoped that if I just worked hard enough now, I could fix what was broken, and come to a moment at which things are “ok” again. On every conscious level, I knew that was wrong, but denial is a happy space in your head, and nothing ever brought it home like looking at my fellow activists and seeing how hard the confrontation with the present was for them. I thought it was just me. In fact, this may actually be the first time I was ever in touch with the cultural zeitgeist ;-).

Back when I was caring for Eric’s elderly grandparents, I used to stop and remind myself that caretaking was a marathon, not a sprint - that there was no question that I had to do things quickly, but with attention to conserving my own resources. So I’m going to try and take that approach to peak oil and climate change myself, despite my normal “damn the torpedos” relationship to the world.

I quoted T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland” in my own talk, quoting the voice that overrides in the end all the others voice of the Game of Chess section of that poem, asserting “Hurry Up Please, Its Time.” And I spoke about how I keep hearing that voice in my own head. It is time to hurry up. There is no doubt whatsoever that we have very little time left to get our acts together. But it is also useful to remember what kind of race you are running before you lace up your shoes and set a pace.

Time to get back to work,


Guest Post by No Impact Man

Sharon October 22nd, 2007

Note: I’m still on Vacation, but I wanted to pass this important alert on to everyone from New York State. We need to act on this one. And let me add my thanks to Colin’s!!

Your chance to get diesel fumes out of kids lungs (but you have to act NOW!)

By dialing two phone numbers, we can help save a bunch of kids from getting asthma. Not hopefully. Not maybe. But definitely. I’ll tell you what to do in a minute, but first some background from an OpEd by Errol Louis of the Daily News:

“The latest chapter in New York City’s saga of garbage politics - and political garbage - is being written on the West Side of Manhattan, where a group of allegedly liberal pols are, once again, bargaining away the health and very lives of children in Harlem, the South Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens.

I wonder how these politicians sleep at night.

Right now, Manhattan generates 40% of the city’s garbage. Nearly every last scrap of it - all the rotting food, dirty diapers, restaurant waste and nonrecyclable office trash - gets trucked outside the borough to other neighborhoods for sorting, packing and shipping to landfills.
This results in heavy concentrations of diesel-truck traffic, rodent infestations and smog in a handful of neighborhoods like the South Bronx - which, not surprisingly, have sky-high levels of asthma.”

The good news is that we can help the asthma kids. In 2006, New York City passed a new Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP) that depends on new, state-of-the-art, environmentally-safe transfer stations based in the boroughs where the trash is generated, transportation of trash by barge and rail instead of trucks, and the elimination of truck-dependent clusters of transfer stations in the outer boroughs.

These features taken together will eliminate 5.5 million truck miles traveled in New York City each year, improving air quality and quality of life for City residents. Think of the diesel fumes the kids won’t have to breathe! The of the eliminated greenhouse gases! The plan is supported by New York’s major environmental organizations and by the New York Times.

But the entire plan faces catastrophe this week thanks to not-in-my-backyard politics in the New York State Assembly. Members Deborah Glick, Richard Gottfried and Linda Rosenthal, representing constituents on the west side of Manhattan, don’t want the plan’s associated recycling facility on the Gansevoort Penninsula just south of 14th Street or the transfer station at 59th Street (you can read more about the issues here and here). The assembly members are trying to ensure that the requisite legislation never gets to the Assembly floor.

Needless to say, I’m upset. I’m pissed. I live very near the Gansevoort Peninsula, and inside the relevant Assembly district, but all the same, my representative is choosing to try to screw up the plan. Well, I don’t want little kids in the South Bronx and elsewhere paying the price for trash produced by me and my neighbors, especially when the price is not being able to breathe.

But we can fix the problem. I am hoping that those of you who are New York State residents will join me in making a couple of phone calls to let the State Assembly know that we want NYC’s solid waste plan enacted as it stands. The calls that need to be made are, first, to our own Assembly members (you can search for yours by zip-code here) and, second, to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (his numbers are 212 312 1420 and 518 455 3791).

Please ask your assembly member to let Speaker Silver know that they support the “forthcoming amendment to the Hudson River Park Act (HRPA) that will allow for the construction of a Manhattan recyclables acceptance facility off of the Gansevoort peninsula” and that they want it brought to a vote. Then call Speaker Silver and say the same thing.

I’m told that 20 phone calls to an Assembly member’s office is a virtual landslide. But they need to be made today (Monday) or tomorrow. This is a case where we can really make a difference. So please help, and let me know you did by leaving a comment on the blog or emailing me privately. Thanks for your help!!!

PS This time I really would appreciate it if you could email this post, link it on your blog, Digg it, StumbleIt or otherwise promote it using the buttons below. Thanks.

Ok, No More Posts, But…

Sharon October 18th, 2007

I really am not going to post again for two weeks - until November 1. But I can’t leave the blog on the previous two posts - too freakin’ depressing to come home to, if nothing else.

So, in the interest in departing in a better mood, I leave you with 10 things to be happy about.

1. Raindrops on roses and whiskers on…fuck that. I am happy that I live in a Sound of Music free zone.

2. We have to have achieved “peak stupid” right now, so it is all downhill from here. Right?

3. Pie. Banana Cream. Peach. Apple-Cranberry. Pear-Ginger. Strawberry. Pumpkin…

4. Chippy the Wonder Chipmunk and My lord Vader only have a year left to go until the mercy of term limits ends their Evil Reign of Terror.

5. We are no where near peak sheep. In fact, we need to make maximum use of marginal land for grazing. Which means lots and lots of sock yarn, beyond my dreams of wooly avarice.

6. The food is better when you live sustainably. The sex is better when you live sustainably. The two can be integrated in fascinating ways.

7. My faux-artsy photo series “1000 Decaying Hummers with Nudes” becomes easier to photograph as the price of oil rises.

8. My property contains enough burdock root and burdock burrs to feed approximately half the human population while continually reseeding. This used to be a design flaw. Now it is a feature.

9. If society collapses rapidly enough, I may never have to break out my “why you may not have a playstation” speech.

10. My life is better, richer, happier, more loving, more joyous, healthier since I took up this way of life. If I can just convince 2 billion more people of this basic truth, we’re all set. I’m on it ;-).

Ok, off for real now.


The Big Melt

Sharon October 18th, 2007

A few years a go, a friend of mine in late pregnancy went to her routine midwife appointment three weeks before her due date. The midwife checked her cervix and discovered, to everyone’s shock, that my friend was seven centimeters dilated (which, if you aren’t familiar with childbirth, means you are in quite a late stage of labor). My friend, who hadn’t felt a thing (yes, I hated her for this ;-)), on being told that she was to be sent to the birthing center to deliver said, “No, I can’t, we aren’t ready to have the baby. I’ll come back on Monday.” The midwife laughed, and set to explaining that this wasn’t optional, that the baby was coming - and soon. But my friend, who couldn’t quite get over the unreality she felt after believing she had plenty of time, and her panic that things weren’t ready for the baby, said, “Well, how about I come back tomorrow morning - we have to go shopping.” The midwife gently bundled my protesting friend into her car, rode with her and her husband to the birthing center, and 29 minutes later, delivered my friend, who claims she still didn’t quite believe it, of a beautiful little girl.

I was reminded of my friend’s birth story while I was reading Carbon Equity’s report
The Big Melt yesterday. If you are a sensitive sort, I strongly recommend reading it while clutching a teddy bear and having your back massaged. I wish I had - frankly, I just want to hang on to my kids as hard as I can right now. I can’t include a direct link because my computer doesn’t get along with Adobe Acrobat, but Rob Hopkins over at Transition Culture has a direct link). As you may intuit from his subtly negative thread title, it is not happy news. Among other important points, it observes that the famed “2 degree” threshold is a political, rather than scientific construct, and that climate sensitivity may well be double what we expected.

I know, I know, I’m supposed to be off vacationing. But this is important news, and I think we need to read and talk about this, even if we’d rather not. And I know I’d rather not - but that’s not really an excuse. The fact is, we’d all rather that we had more time, less reason, less urgency. But some biological realities simply are - there is no place to negotiate. We’re having the baby, everything’s changing, and the only choices left are “car or birthing center.” We may want more time and better options, but those aren’t the choices anymore.

But within the limited choices we have real and meaningful options. That is, we can transition to a lower energy society quite rapidly, helping people obtain the tools and skills to live in one, or we can go to a lower energy society by necessity. We can cut our emissions dramatically and perhaps live with a 2 meter sea level rise, rather than 5 meter rise. We can cut our emissions and still have hope of growing food in the Southeast, even if it is too late for much of the Southwest. These are not small choices, if only we can look closely enough to see beyond what we wish our choices were, to what they really are.


Have We Hit the Critical Climate Tipping Point?

Sharon October 17th, 2007

Remember I was going to not blog for two and a half weeks - wow, that time passed quickly. It seemed more like 2 1/2 days. I did say it was a compulsion. But I’m still on vacation, I swear

I do, however, feel obligated to discuss the question of whether or not irrevocable climate change is upon us, because of the debunking RealClimate gave of Tim Flannery’s analysis here:

Now I should say that I take Flannery’s analysis far less seriously than the article I posted a few days ago, that includes the climate model by Weaver and U Victoria here: But it is also worth observing that Flannery is not the first person to come to the conclusion that we have already passed the tipping point or will do so in the next few years. While RealClimate is right to point out the relevant excluded distinctions, I’m inclined to believe that Flannery and Weaver are both right.

Why? Because Flannery’s analysis relies on data that the IPCC did not have at the time that its report was compiled. It is not the case that Flannery’s analysis simply excludes negative factors and includes positive ones - his analysis derives in part from the fact that emissions rates are rising far faster than the IPCC ever predicted - than anyone ever predicted. And that factor is enormously significant, and one of the reasons I think RealClimate’s analysis is insufficient. It may turn out that Flannery is wrong, when all the reports are made available, but their flat statement that this is wrong is, I think, far too quick - we are dealing with subjective data analyses, and I don’t think anyone knows that for certain. As one of the commentators on the RealClimate site observes, the negative factors tend to dissipate quickly, while the positive factors tend to linger in the atmosphere, continuing to warm the planet longer than the negatives cool it.

Moreover, when you reduce the positive (heating) emissions, you also reduce the compensatory (negative) emissions, and get more total warming. This is the factor (essentially left out of the IPCC analysis) of Global Dimming, which potentially doubles or triples the heat factor of our emissions. It is Global Dimming that has, most likely, prevented us from reaching 2 degrees already. Flannery’s analysis follows the analysis of other major studies, including ones at the Hadley Center and the British Panel on climate change - it is by no means as clear to me as it seems to be to the RealClimate folks that we have an absolute consensus that we should include all the negative factors - or rather, that we fully understand what an absolute total of 450 ppm greenhouse gases, *with* the negative factors will do.

Remember, the 450-550 number is not something for which there is a uniform scientific consensus. At best, the lower number give us a 2 out of 3 shot of not hitting the critical 2 degree scenario. There is no scientific consensus that 550 ppm is acceptable - that is a political number, not a scientific one.

But I personally don’t take Flannery’s or Weaver’s analysis as the final word, but as tools in the aggregate data that is coming out that demonstrate that climate change is occurring far faster and harder than anyone ever thought. Their analysis seems, in general, to better follow all the other bits of data that are flowing in so rapidly. The reality is that if you follow the IPCC’s lines of analysis, the arctic ice shouldn’t be melting at the present rate. If you follow their analysis, the seas shouldn’t have started releasing methane. If you follow their analysis the Greenland ice sheet shouldn’t be showing signs of early destabilization. All of these things shouldn’t happen for between 40 and 100 years - but, in fact, they are happening now.

Whatever your analysis of the data as a whole, it seems clear that the IPCC figures are simply inadequate to the reality of climate change. This is not a slur on the IPCC scientists - the world as a whole, scientist and layperson alike, are struggling to catch up with our own impact. Whether Flannery is correct or not, the reality is that we have to deal with some really inconvenient truths of our own. They are:

1. Climate Change is striking us more immediately than we ever expected. We are probably closer to a tipping point, if we are not there, than anyone knows.

2. We are flying by the seat of our pants here, and no one analyst really knows what’s going on - the most exact tools we have right now are not scientific, but ethical - that is, we cannot risk killing billions of people simply to serve our own convenience.

3. In a sense it doesn’t really matter - we’re not right now doing much of anything. The odds are good that the rich world will continue its practices for some time.

4. But, of course it does matter enormously. It isn’t just the case that at 2 degrees, we’re committed and there’s nothing we can do. The effects of 450 ppm are very different than 600 or 700ppm. We have to stop making personal and industrial emissions. And that means changing - fast and hard.

Sharon, going back on vacation for real this time…probably

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