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Going, Going, Gone Green
(video and transcript)
Jim Fleming, Best of Our Knowledge, PRI
Colin Beaven and his family try “no impact living” in New York City. Jeff Ferrell advocates recyling in a big way, including dumpster diving. Edward Abbey became the patron saint of young environmental activists. Bryandt Urstadt researched the Peak Oil scene. Ken Eklund designed a Peak Oil simulation game. The Randall Elementary School kids build a “Green-topia.”

A self-described “guilty liberal,” Colin Beaven began blogging about his And his wife’s experiment in “no impact living.” He got a lot of national media attention (and we hear a clip of some of it) then Anne Strainchamps talks with him about how no impact living has changed his life.

Jeff Ferrell quit his job as a tenured professor and moved back to Fort Worth for a year long experiment in living off the street. He chronicles his year as a dumpster diver in the book “Empire of the Scrounge.” Ferrell talks with Steve Paulson about America’s illicit economy of street scavenging and extreme re-cycling.

Steve Paulson prepared this report on the life of Edward Abbey. Abbey’s book “Desert Solitaire,” changed the way people thought about the earth and made him the patron saint of young environmental activists. Abbey died in 1989 but his legacy lives on.

Bryandt Urstadt is a freelance writer from Connecticut. He wrote “Imagine There’s No Oil: Scenes from the Liberal Apocalypse” for Harper’s Magazine. He researched his piece at the 2nd Conference on Peak Oil, and tells Steve Paulson what the peak oil people believe the future will be like.

Ken Eklund created an alternate reality game called “World Without Oil.” He tells Jim Fleming about his game and what happened when people began to play it.
(28 November 2008)
An interesting set of interviews. Bryandt Urstadt’s interview is the most maddening, since it is based on his article covering a Community Solutions peak oil conference several years ago. While he gets some things right, he makes faulty generalizations on the basis of a small sample. For example, he believes peak oil to be a “liberal” movement. As most peak oilers know, PO has adherents from across the political spectrum. In addition, Urstadt, insists on shoehorning the evidence to emphasize the apocalyptic nature of peak oil. Aggh. -BA

Multiplication Saves the Day

Bill McKibben, Orion Magazine
… It is true that if you clean the coils beneath your refrigerator it will run more efficiently, and it is also true that it won’t do anything to “preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted.”

I am exaggerating here to make a point. Of course I believe in energy conservation. I’ve got a plaque that says I built the most energy-efficient house in Vermont, I drove the first hybrid Honda Civic in the state, I subsist mostly on food from my Champlain Valley. I’m typing this article with electrons currently assembling themselves on my roof. All these things are good. I highly support them. Please do them too.

But in a world where we need massive change at lightning speed, the usual equations are turned upside down. We’re used to thinking that being practical is what really counts-that you can only reduce carbon by, in fact, reducing carbon. Hence the light bulb, or the farmers’ market, or the hybrid car. If we think globally, to use the hoariest of green clichés, we should act locally. In the fight against global warming, though, the practical acts are for the most part symbolic, while the symbolic acts might just save the day. Say you have a certain amount of time and money with which to make change-call it x, since that is what we mathematicians call things. The trick is to increase that x by multiplication, not addition. The trick is to take that 5 percent of people who really care and make them count for far more than 5 percent. And the trick to that is democracy.

We naïvely believe that it takes 51 percent of the people to make change in a democracy, but it clearly doesn’t-5 percent is plenty, if those 5 percent are engaged in symbolic action that can force the kind of legislative change that resets the course for everyone.
(27 November 2008)
Also at Common Dreams.

A suburb for our times

John Huxley, Sydney Morning Herald
Hard times, happy days. The former state MP John Hatton still talks fondly of his childhood growing up during the 1930s Depression in the new village of Hammondville.

“That place made me,” he says, recalling how his father, Harry, lost his job as a rivet catcher on the completion of the Harbour Bridge; how his mother, Florence, who sold home-made pies to put food on the family table, almost died of malnutrition; how his parents, six brothers and two sisters were thrown from their Greenwich home.

It was while fighting the eviction order in court that Harry Hatton, an illegal English immigrant who had jumped ship in Sydney, heard from a friendly policeman about a unique social welfare experiment in south-west Sydney, near Liverpool.

The Hammondville project was devised by the far-sighted Canon R.B.S. Hammond, the long-time rector of St Barnabas Church, in Broadway, to move the poor into low-cost, self-help homes where they could make a fresh start and recover a sense of self-esteem.

To qualify for a home, built on huge one-acre blocks acquired by Hammond with the proceeds of his life-insurance policy, a couple had to be unemployed, homeless, destitute and have at least three children. They also had to be “of good moral character”.

Though they weren’t “God-botherers”, the Hattons were among the pioneer settlers, arriving shortly after Hammondville’s official opening in 1932, when inner-city unemployment in suburbs such as Redfern was almost 50 per cent.

Only many years later did John Hatton, two at the time, realise just how poor his family was, how primitive were the conditions. There was no police, no doctor, no electricity nor sewerage. Human waste had to be buried.

The homes were wooden boxes. “Simple, weatherboard huts, 30 feet by 10 feet built by unemployed tradesmen.” But settlers could rent-buy their homes – paying weekly instalments from a work-for-the-dole income – and could improve them.

“New arrivals went to the village office and picked up hand tools, wood, wire netting and fibro to clear their blocks, put up fences and grow vegetables, or run … poultry. It was all about self-sufficiency, getting back to basics,” says Hatton.

In recent months, as Australia braces for a period of unprecedented hardship – possibly even recession or depression – Hatton has found himself reflecting increasingly on Hammondville days.
(29 November 2008)
Contributor Michael Lardelli writes:
A “World Made By Hand” in the previous Great Depression (See the original URL for an audio slideshow, “The south-western Sydney suburb of Hammondville was established in the 1930s as a settlement for destitute families in the Depression. The Herald talks to long-term residents about life in Hammondville and how they found community in the lean years.”).

According to some commentators, Australia suffered greater deprivations in the Great Depression than the USA. Australian unemployment went as high as 29% (or 32% depending on which Wikipedia page one reads) ( or ).

A Spirit Moves on the Land: Locally Grown Produce

Peter Applebome, New York Times
… To be honest, the effort, which began with a local couple interested in growing crops on their six-acre property, which used to be an apple orchard, still seems more like a wispy node of the grow-local, natural-foods ethos than anything certain to go anywhere. Still, when 230 people showed up on a frigid night last week for the group’s first open meeting, you definitely had the sense that the couple, John McDowell and Alexandra Spadea, might be on to something.

So on this day that’s all about giving thanks and consuming vast quantities of food, there’s a small glimpse of something in the air in the effort to figure out a benign way to turn the clock back in one suburban county only 25 miles from Manhattan.

… They soon sensed an interest far beyond their little undertaking — part environmental and energy-conscious, part health-oriented, part gustatory — based on the reawakening of interest in locally grown foods. Soon the Rockland Farm Alliance was born.

Yes, Rockland is thoroughly suburban, but about a third of the county remains open land, much of it parkland, and about 20 percent is prime farmland not under cultivation. And clearly, there are young people intensely interested in a new model of urban and periurban, small-scale agriculture that will never replace the wheat fields of Kansas but perhaps has a future nonetheless.

So, Virginia Kasinki of the Glynwood Center in Putnam County, which promotes local agriculture, said that at first, she scoffed at the notion of agriculture in Rockland County. But the more she learned about local resources, particularly the open parkland, the more interested she became.

“You can grow a lot on smaller parcels,” she said. “This isn’t cute. It’s a form of agriculture.”
(26 November 2008)