Archive for October 14th, 2009

No Sustainable Per Capita Carbon Emissions Level

Sharon October 14th, 2009

You really need to read this:

“In a four-degree warmer world, adaptation means “put your feet up and die” for many people in the world, Oxford’s Chris West said bluntly. “In accepting the many alarming impacts, we see that it (a four-degree C increase) is not acceptable.”

The climate negotiators heading to Copenhagen in December must accept the fact that the world’s carbon emissions must eventually stop - and stop completely. There is no sustainable per capita carbon emission level because it is the total amount of carbon emitted that counts, explains Myles Allen of the Climate Dynamics group at University of Oxford’s Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics Department.

Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for many centuries, which makes it the most important greenhouse gas to reduce and eliminate. The current focus on CO2 concentrations like 450 ppm or 350 ppm is the not the right approach since it is the total cumulative emissions that determine how warm the planet will get, Allen told the conference.

If climate negotiators only look at slowing rates of carbon emissions, then natural gas will be substituted for coal because it has half of the carbon - but the total amount of carbon in the atmosphere will continue to increase.

“We didn’t save the ozone layer by rationing deodorants,” said Allen. “

I’m married to an astrophysicist, so I know how scientists talk.  I’ve spent a lot of my life as the only non-scientist in a room full of science geeks, and have gotten used to translating them into english.  It drives me nuts, actually, sometimes, my husband’s absolute reluctance to say that anything is so.  Scientific reticence means that you always express *uncertainty* so my husband will calmly observe to you that, yes, in fact, there are a few scientist out there who still believe, say, in the ether, rather than say “there’s no freakin’ ether.”  But, of course, there’s no freakin’ ether.   So I pay attention when they overcome their reticence and say “there is no sustainable per capita carbon emission level.” 

The truth is that if you’ve been watching the emerging evidence, that’s the logical conclusion - in some ways it doesn’t matter what’s in the ground - we simply can’t burn it. 


You Had Plenty Money 1922…

Sharon October 14th, 2009

You had plenty money, 1922
You let other women make a fool of you
Why don’t you do right, like some other men do?
Get out of here and get me some money too

You’re sittin’ down and wonderin’ what it’s all about
You ain’t got no money, they will put you out
Why don’t you do right, like some other men do?
Get out of here and get me some money too

If you had prepared twenty years ago
You wouldn’t be a-wanderin’ from door to door
Why don’t you do right, like some other men do?
Get out of here and get me some money too. - Peggy Lee

 The Dow broke 10,000 again today, and my favorite source of humor news, CNBC, has a range of headlines to make sure that somehow, at some level, they will be right sometime about something.  “October Crash Still on the Way: CEO” and “Dow at 11,000 to 11,500 by Christmas: Market Expert.”  The front story “Stock Market Rally Likely to Continue, but Hedge Your Portfolio:Pros.”  Hmmm… are these the same pros that think an October Crash is on the way or the ones that think that the Dow will be at 11,500?   Must be different pros - the good news is we’ve got a lot of them, and since they all completely missed the mark on the present situation, all of their guesses are equally good!  Yay!

Now my guesses couldn’t possibly be worse than the vast majority of financial advisors, but I make no claim they are better. I  don’t have the slightest idea where the Dow will be by Christmas.

What I do know is this - we still won’t have gotten anything meaningful to most Americans out of 14 Trillion plus in bailouts.  Stock market rallies look good - but they don’t actually help most of us all that much.  Unless they are sustained, those who rely on investments for income don’t get much out of it - and the fundamentals of our economy are deeply unstable - there’s nothing there to sustain a rally when we inevitably stop pouring in funds.  With the exception of a few people who can sell out now in the next few months, this rally isn’t likely to mean much for your long term economic well-being.  Most of us don’t profit from a rally in any deep or immediate way.

This rally, however, is what you bought.  That and a good bunch of road work.  And money for people who happened to have bought giant low mileage cars and wanted to change over.  To me it looks a lot like some rich fool  saying to me “I bought this awesome RV, and a jet ski…I didn’t pay the mortgage or the health insurance, and hey, there’s no food, but lookee at my jet ski.”  Sigh.

Back in December, when I made my annual predictions, I bet that things would go back to normal for a while, and so they have.  It is certainly possible that normal will extend out longer than I’d expected.  The problem, of course, is that “longer than I expected” is not the same as “for a really long time.”  At some point there won’t be enough money to pour into the system anymore - we’re getting awfully close to that point.  At some point we have to pay for the Jet Ski, or start watching out the window for the repo man.  At some point we start singing like Peggy Lee, lamenting what once was, “You had plenty money 1922, you let other women make a fool of you…”  Our turn as the world’s momentarily rich fool may not be over yet, but sooner or later, you got to do right.  And then we’re in trouble.


Last Chance for Farm and Garden Design!

Sharon October 14th, 2009

Do you dream of turning your little yard into a mini-farm?  Want a better garden year than last year? Have ambitions for orchards or small livestock or food forests that you aren’t sure how to implement?  Want to make the best use of what you have, or come up with new ways to expand within or even beyond the obvious limits?  Aaron and I still have spots in our Farm and Garden Design class.   The class lasts six weeks, is asynchronous and online, a whole lot of fun, and great for people who don’t have a lot of time, but need to learn a lot. 

Here’s all the information - please consider joining us!


Garden Salvage

Sharon October 14th, 2009

In her superb book _This Organic Life_ writer Joan Dye Gussow talks about making do with flood damaged produce - and why she doesn’t just go out and buy fresh, perfect stuff. 

“We harvested 37 pounds of onions, but despite my best efforts, some of them cured with soft spots where mold had gotten underneath the outer layers and would work its sway through the whole onion if we didn’t stop it.  So we had to cut up many onions and freeze teh good parts - or cook them.  All of which accounts for the fact that a year and a half after we arrived in Piermont, I found myself one morning cutting up a half-rotten onion to salvage, and realized that a year earlier ?I would have thrown the whole thing away.” Gussow, 103


“The lesson I take away from the realization that our crops will sometimes be drowned is not that those of us who live in the colder states can’t be relatively self-reliant; we can.  And although Alan and I would have been wise to choose higher ground, I’ve seen no sensible agricultural scenario that suggests that anything can be done to insulate food production from the vagaries of nature.  If we wish to feed ourselves from our own regions, and allow others to do the same, we will need to try and adjust our choices and our appetites to what Nature will provide in a given year.  We need accept the fact that in some years we won’t have al the potatoes and onions we want.  On the other hand, we will sometimes have more raspberries than we can eat, and the crops that succeed will be both safe and tasty.” Gussow, 107-108

Yesterday, I was reminded of this passage as I set myself to salvaging food from my garden.  In my case, it was my sunflowers and dry corn.  I’d noticed that blue jays after my sunflowers, but hadn’t seen that they’d gotten to the corn, too.  The sunflower damage seemed minimal when I checked a few days, so I optimistically elected to leave the sunflowers up a few more days, until our expected first hard frost down in the insulated lower garden.  This was a mistake, big time - yesterday, after our frost, I went out to gather the heads, only to find that most of them were very nearly empty.

Now this was non-trivial because those sunflowers are one of the ways I’m trying to minimize my dependence on the feed store and purchased grains - my chickens and turkeys will happily empty a head in a few minutes flat, and each seed reduces my grain costs.  The corn is an even bigger issue - this was food for us, a sweet grinding corn I love - there is no comparison with the bland cornmeal corns available most places.  Fortunately, the jays didn’t get the majority of the corn - but I was still out there, pulling any ear that had even a short row of kernels around it.

Ours was a tough garden year - we had over 20 inches of rain alone in June - you can tell the history of the year by my garden - I have two long areas that were planted in the lower garden after the beginning of July - these areas are flourishing. Everything else…well… there was a lot of salvage this year.  It doesn’t matter - we still cut the bird pecks out of the tomatoes, break off the slug damaged bush beans, eat the stunted vegetables, dehydrate potatoes or sweet potatoes too wet to store well.  It is food, and you don’t just waste it.

And this, I think, is a mindset that is worth getting into early on.  It would be easy to say “oh, it was a terrible crop, why bother.”  Or perhaps to say that the birds can have the last of the sunflower heads - after all, they are, we are told in the Torah, entitled to a share of the grain as well.  Fair enough, but now they’ve had their share, and I’m taking mine.  Even if it is imperfect.  Even if it wasn’t what I dreamed of.

The ability to make something of vegetables caught by frost, flooded, stunted by drought, partially eaten by some creature is one of our gifts - food preservation methods can mean that something that would otherwise have been lost can be saved - onions that won’t store well can be dehydrated or frozen, as Gussow points out.  Or new recipes arise for green tomato pickles, the outer leaves of cabbage and green pumpkin pie.  It is food, and you don’t waste it.

Today, in front of the woodstove, my children and I will draw back the husks of our corn, and hang it up to dry further in the house.  Most of the ears are full, some are not, but we will save what we can - because it is our food.  When we committed to growing it, we committed to this - that we will regard our food as primary.  I’ve no sorrow in buying to replace a lost crop, or to expand upon our gardens - that is normal and natural.  But if I grow it, and I possibly can, I will eat what I grow before I rely on other sources. 

It is hard to believe how differently people who live through food scarcity regard food - in some cultures, to tread on a piece of dropped bread is a sin, and a deep one.  In Elizabeth Erlich’s superb memoir of Jewish food, and of learning from her Holocaust survivor mother in law, she observes her mother using her thumb to ensure that every drop of egg white was removed from a shell, and when she enquires, her mother in law observes that her own father died of starvation - how could she ever waste food.

We are told that the only good and safe and healthy food is perfect - we are lied to and told that perfect looking is better for us, even if it has been doused with chemicals.  Up to 20% of all produce in the US is discarded and wasted simply because of cosmetic imperfections.  We thus lose the old habits of thrift and care, and the value that says “this is food, we do not let it go to waste.”

I don’t want to lose that. Asher came out with me to pick the corn, in a cold drizzle.  We picked the little ears and put them in bushel baskets.  We picked the big ones. He helped me spot the last few, and when he said “are we all done?” we didn’t stop until we were sure.  Not because I don’t want to feed the jays - but because it is food, and if I choose to feed the birds, it will be consciously, with intention, not because I let food, good food, go to waste.