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Energy Vacation – The Zen of a Reduced Ecological Footprint

Michael G. Richard, Treehugger
We have been considering the idea of taking an energy vacation for a while now, and while randomly browsing peak oil blogs (for those who still don’t know what peak oil is, here is a primer) we found someone who had a similar idea:

“This fall, plan a weekend, or two consecutive days and nights as an “energy vacation”. Start upon waking Saturday and go until waking on Monday morning. During your “vacation”, turn off your thermostat, refrain from using any lights and use electricity only sparingly – i.e. to keep food from spoiling. No driving. No TV. And, yes not even any blogging or 24 hour news updates.”

We suspect that such a vacation would be beneficial to most people on many levels. Relaxing and getting away from most stress sources, realizing just how dependent we are on energy in our everyday lives, talking and spending quality time with family members and friends, going outside and exercising more, and even conservation if enough people do it (it all adds up – everything counts in large amounts…).
(5 September 2005)

Study affirms effect of organics

Marla Cone, Los Angeles Times via Seattle Times
Switching to organic foods provides children “dramatic and immediate” protection from widely used pesticides that are applied on a variety of crops, according to a new study by a team of federally funded scientists.

Concentrations of two organophosphate pesticides — malathion and chlorpyrifos — declined substantially in the bodies of elementary-school age children during a five-day period when organic foods were substituted for conventional foods.

The two chemicals are the most commonly used insecticides in U.S. agriculture.
(3 September 2005)

XAccess cargo bicycles

Jamais Cascio, WorldChanging
A typical retort to those who advocate greater reliance on bicycles as a primary mode of transportation is that they’re not very useful when trying to go to the grocery store. Admittedly, most bikes that one can buy in the US are ill-suited to carrying much of a load. But there are many places throughout the world — primarily in developing nations — where bicycles are the main form of transportation; how do bicycle users in these places handle heavy loads?

…This April, XAccess started a 10 month trial of its “Bigga Boda” bike in Kenya, a vehicle able to carry hundreds of pounds of cargo or two additional passengers easily, and at a substantially lower cost than other forms of human-powered utility vehicles. XAccess intends the Bigga Boda to be available to end-users for around $30 — 5% of the cost of a bicycle rickshaw.
(3 September 2005)
Don’t be surprised if bicycles begin making a comeback in “advanced” countries. As the late Ivan Ilyich pointed out in 1973, the energy efficiency of bicycles is hard to beat. See the chapter “Degrees of Self-Powered Mobility” in his online book Energy and Equity -BA

Renewing Husbandry

Wendell Berry, Orion Magazine
The time of mechanization of agriculture is fast coming to an end. But can we recover what’s been lost?
I REMEMBER WELL a summer morning in about 1950 when my father sent a hired man with a McCormick High Gear No. 9 mowing machine and a team of mules to the field I was mowing with our nearly new Farmall A. That memory is a landmark in my mind and my history. I had been born into the way of farming represented by the mule team, and I loved it. I knew irresistibly that the mules were good ones. They were stepping along beautifully at a rate of speed in fact only a little slower than mine. But now I saw them suddenly from the vantage point of the tractor, and I remember how fiercely I resented their slowness. I saw them as “in my way.”

This is not an exceptional or a remarkably dramatic bit of history. I recite it to confirm that the industrialization of agriculture is a part of my familiar experience. I don’t have the privilege of looking at it as an outsider.

We were mowing that morning, the teamster with his mules and I with the tractor, in the field behind the barn on my father’s home place, where he and before him his father had been born, and where his father had died in February of 1946. The old way of farming was intact in my grandfather’s mind until the day he died at eighty-two. He had worked mules all his life, understood them thoroughly, and loved the good ones passionately. He knew tractors only from a distance, he had seen only a few of them, and he rejected them out of hand because he thought, correctly, that they compacted the soil.

Even so, four years after his death his grandson’s sudden resentment of the “slow” mule team foretold what history would bear out: the tractor would stay and the mules would go. Year after year, agriculture would be adapted more and more to the technology and the processes of industry and to the rule of industrial economics. This transformation occurred with astonishing speed because, by the measures it set for itself, it was wonderfully successful. It “saved labor,” it conferred the prestige of modernity, and it was highly productive.

…THE EFFECTS OF THIS PROCESS of industrialization have become so apparent, so numerous, so favorable to the agribusiness corporations, and so unfavorable to everything else, that by now the questions troubling me and a few others in the ’60s and ’70s are being asked everywhere. It has become increasingly clear that the way we farm affects the local community, and that the economy of the local community affects the way we farm; that the way we farm affects the health and integrity of the local ecosystem, and that the farm is intricately dependent, even economically, upon the health of the local ecosystem.
(Sept/Oct 2005 issue)
The publication of an essay by Wendell Berry, the Kentucky farmer, poet, novelist and essayist is always an event. This essay has been abridged for the web; the full version is in the printed copies of Orion. -BA