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Solutions and Sustainability

The War Garden Victorious

Charles Lathrop Pack, J.B. Lippincott Company via
Chapter I: How the National War Garden Commission Came Into Being
The Need of Making Every Garden a Munition Plant
The war garden was a war-time necessity.

…The knowledge that the world faced a deficit in food, that there existed an emergency which could be met only by the raising of more food, was apparent to every well-informed and thinking man and woman during the early months of 1917.

The author, wishing, as every patriot wished, to do a war work which was actually necessary, which was essentially practical, and which would most certainly aid in making the war successful, conceived the idea in March, 1917, of inspiring the people of the United States to plant war gardens…

…Then came the year, 1916, which was, agriculturally, the most disastrous year the world has known, in recent times. Crops failed everywhere. European production decreased terribly. Our own fell off by hundreds of millions of bushels. What as left of accumulated surpluses was eaten up. The great drain on our food resources wiped out our surpluses also, for, in effect at least, we had pooled our food resources with our fellows in Europe. Thus both Europe and American found themselves living a hand-to-mouth existence.

…Since America was the only country from which it was possible for Europe to draw food, it became necessary that we should enlarge our yields. The children of Israel could not make bricks for Pharaoh without straw; and when we attempted to create food for famishing Europe we experienced similar difficulty, though our shortage was of man-power. For a decade or more there had been a tremendous exodus from our farms. Our farmers cried for help, but their cry went unheeded until we found ourselves facing hunger. Then it was too late. It would have been as easy to put Humpty Dumpty together again as to bring back to the farm the thousands of boys and men who had been lured away by high wages in town and factory.

… In the lexicon of the typical American there is no such word as “cannot.” Keen-eyed Americans who saw the situation as it really was, decided that if the mountain would not go to Mahomet, they would see that Mahomet went to the mountain. The mountain in this case was labor, and Mahomet the space necessary for the production of food. These men, with that vision without which the people perish, possessed imagination. They saw little fountains of foodstuffs springing up everywhere, and the products of these tiny fountains, like rain-drops on a watershed, uniting to form rushing streams which would fill the great reservoirs built for their compounding. The tiny fountains were innumerable back-yard and vacant-lot gardens. The problem was to create these fountains.
The past gives us encouraging examples of how patriotism can be mobilized to spark progress in food or energy self-sufficiency. It could be done again.

The complete books is online. An excerpt was published in the Sept/Oct issue of Hopedance -BA

Be a patriot — get your hands dirty
How we can curb our addiction to oil through the simple act of planting a garden

Allen Best, Tidepool
While foraging through my backyard garden the other day for cucumbers, peppers and hot-to-touch chilis, a slogan occurred to me: “Support Our Troops &endash; Plant a Garden.”

A garden would demonstrate patriotism because each backyard Eden lessens our dependence upon imported oil. Of course, by itself, imported oil isn’t bad, but an addiction so intense that it drives us to violence is bad. We’ve managed to keep our distance from other places of zealotry, terror and shocking abuses of human rights. Oil in the Middle East pushed us over the edge.

…Recall that during World War II, a battle of singular motive against fascism and totalitarianism, recycling and gas rationing were matters of patriotism. So was gardening. To ensure food for the far-flung troops, people were encouraged to plant “victory gardens.”

What’s true today is that our country’s agricultural bounty is underwritten by oil. Fertilizers manufactured from petrochemicals explain our spectacularly yielding crops. More magnificent yet is our sea-to-shining-sea transportation system. I know of one case where broccoli plants are started from seed in California in spring, replanted in Colorado during summer, then harvested and shipped to Massachusetts to be eaten. And the broccoli is organic.

The American harvest starts in Venezuela, Mexico and the Middle East — the sources of our oil. Without oil from abroad this stunning display of agricultural mobility would be impossible. Extraction of U.S. oil supplies peaked in 1970, and exploitation of the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge would reverse this for only a season or two. Moreover, many experts predict world oil production will peak, perhaps this year, but assuredly during the next decade. When it does, oil will become even more expensive, supplies less assured, our addiction more desperate. Meanwhile, we’ve delayed pushing alternative fuels and technologies so that they have a long way to go to diminish our reliance on oil and gas, but gardens &endash; they’re here and now.

Those of us who have been addicted to things in life (mine was nicotine) understand doing bizarre things to quench our cravings. As a nation, we crave oil and will do desperate things to satisfy it..

I propose something more bizarre. Support Our Troops — keep ’em home and become a gardener.
(7 September 2005)

We are scaring ourselves into crouching inactivity
To engage people in finding solutions, we need journalism that informs

Jackie Ashley, Guardian
…what really unites all these very different threats is the underlying media impression that nothing can be done about them. There is a new fatalism buried behind the headlines. We are in severe danger of scaring ourselves, if not to death, then at least to crouching inactivity. Global warming, the biggest world issue of all, requires major changes in the way we use fuel, and therefore in our economies and our priorities. But that is a merely political challenge. It needs leadership, working with the Chinese as well as the Americans, and it needs a great deal of democratic salesmanship at home. But compared with some of the threats of the past, from global nuclear war to the overrunning of Europe by fascism, it is not unprecedented in scale or complexity.

…In every case, we have to avoid hysteria and its by-product, which is fatalism or indifference. Tell people day after day that the world is doomed because of a combination of George Bush and the motor car; or that the west is overrun by murderous nutters, furious about an illegal war that cannot now be sorted out; or tell them that modern life makes pandemics inevitable – tell them, even, that their jobs are doomed because of China and the rising economies of the east, and there is nothing that can be done. What will the result be? Not, as some naturally hysterical journalists hope, a general uprising against global capitalism. No, faced with apparently insurmountable problems, most people will turn back to private life, taking solace in another drink, friends and gossip.

…What we need is a sense of proportion and calmness. In earlier times, when democracies faced serious problems, there was generally an ideology or philosophy that provided a way of thinking about answers. Poverty, industrial obsolescence, stagflation, imperial overreach, nuclear arsenals, a limited franchise_ whatever the great issue of the day, there was a politically educated mass of voters and leaders ready to discuss the solutions. Earnest articles, detailed speeches, kitchen conversations.

Well, ideology, they say, has died, and few mourn it. But returning to drench myself in the papers, it seems more than ever that we are left instead with a mere shriek about huge, scary problems we are also told are too big, too complicated, to resolve. At every turn, there is a new threat to worry about, something else to fear and nothing that can be done.

All of which makes people simply shrug and turn away after the initial rush of worry. To engage people at all in finding solutions we need more from journalism than the foot-stamping hysteria that has spread across the national press. The real challenge is to champion a more traditional journalism that informs and discusses, rather than merely shouts. Politics needs it. It is time to stop scaring ourselves.
(8 September 2005)

John Jeavons discusses sustainable agriculture with Julian Darley
Global Public Media
John Jeavons, developer of “Grow Biointensive” culture, sits down with Julian Darley in Willits, California to discuss peak oil’s impact on traditional agriculture and the multitude of benefits offered by sustainable growing methods.
(7 September 2005)

More Profit With Less Carbon
(512-KB PDF)
Amory Lovins, Scientific American
A basic misunderstanding skews the entire climate debate. Experts on both sides claim that protecting Earth’s climate will force a trade-off between the environment and the economy. Ac­cording to these experts, burning less fossil fuel to slow or prevent global warming will increase the cost of meet­ing society’s needs for energy services, which include everything from speedy transportation to hot showers. Environ­mentalists say the cost would be mod­estly higher but worth it; skeptics, in­cluding top U.S. government officials, warn that the extra expense would be prohibitive. Yet both sides are wrong. If properly done, climate protection would actually reduce costs, not raise them. Using energy more efficiently offers an economic bonanza-not because of the benefits of stopping global warming but because saving fossil fuel is a lot cheaper than buying it.

The world abounds with proven ways to use energy more productively, and smart businesses are leaping to ex­ploit them.
(September 2005 issue)
Long (9-page) article by the indefatigable Lovins. Other articles in the September 2005 issue of Scientific American look interesting. The theme of the issue is “Crossroads for Planet Earth.” I wonder if they’d consider putting the articles online after a few months have passed? If this really is a crossroads, we need to disseminate information as widely as possible. -BA

Interview With Graham Hill Of Treehugger

Treehugger is one of the leading environmental consumer publications on the web. With a mix of product review and eco-matter analysis, it’s one of the most accessible blogs on the web – green or not. We asked him a few questions about his blog and his other ongoing concerns.

Q: What do you do?

A: My goal is to push sustainability mainstream. Two ways to help us get there that I find personally interesting are media and product design. So I count myself lucky that I am able to focus my life’s work around these two things.

…TreeHugger has been something that has been germinating in my mind for many, many years. I see the environmental degradation of our planet as a serious problem and I believe that it will take all sorts of approaches for us to get things back on track. Here’s mine:

We believe there are a ton of people like ourselves: shallow and lazy but with hearts in the right place. There are two main factors that we believe prevent sustainability from crossing over into the mainstream.

The Granola Factor. We love the hippies. They have been the backbone of the environmental movement for 40 years. But that market has been served and unfortunately the term “environmental products” brings up images of tie-died clothing, dirty dreadlocks and old birkenstocks. For sustainability to go prime-time, it has to be modern. It has to be sexy. It has to be hip, not hippy.

The Convenience Factor. Only the most die-hard enviros will spend the hours of research required to find an aesthetically workable yet environmentally friendly chair, shirt, renovation material etc… Most of us have good intentions but most of us don’t have a lot of time nor patience. Sexy, environmental solutions need to be convenient for us to locate and purchase.

So…TreeHugger was created to aggregate sexy environmental solutions into a large, daily updated, well categorized, easily searchable archive.
(31 August 2005)

New Federal hybrid incentives under the microscope

Don MacKenzie, Union of Concerned Scientists via WorkingForChange
Two significant hybrid vehicle incentives recently passed into law in the energy and transportation bills: a federal tax credit for hybrids (and diesels and other “advanced-technology” vehicles) and an exemption to allow higher fuel economy vehicles (which would include hybrids) in HOV lanes.

Everyone seems really excited about the hybrid tax credits, and with good reason, since they’re one of a very few bright spots in the otherwise dirty and dangerous energy bill that was signed into law this month. Unfortunately, Congress neglected the fastest, most effective and affordable solution to cut both our oil dependence and heat-trapping gas emissions from the country’s passenger vehicle fleet: a marked increase in federal fuel economy standards.

But I digress. Despite the energy bill’s shortcomings, the tax credits for hybrid vehicles are pretty good, with a few important exceptions.
(9 September 2005)

Backpack harnesses hiker’s energy

Randolph E. Schmid, Associated Press via Seattle Times
WASHINGTON – As soldiers, hikers and students can testify, it takes energy to haul around a heavy backpack. Now, researchers have developed a backpack that turns that energy into electricity.

It doesn’t crank out a lot of juice – a bit more than 7 watts – but that’s enough to run things such as an MP3 player, a personal-data assistant, night-vision goggles, a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) or a cellphone. The development eventually could allow field scientists, hikers, explorers, soldiers and disaster workers to produce their own electricity.

…Arthur Kuo of the University of Michigan’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering said the backpack is novel “because it generates useful amounts of electrical power, while costing less metabolic power than would be expected.
(9 September 2005)