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How Mr. Condom made Thailand a better place

Mechai Viravaidya, TED Talks
At TEDxChange, Thailand’s “Mr. Condom,” Mechai Viravaidya, walks us through the country’s bold plan to raise its standard of living, starting in the 1970s. First step: population control. And that means a lot of frank, funny — and very effective — talk about condoms.

Mechai Viravaidya is the founder and chair of the Population and Community Development Association (PDA). He’s a widely acclaimed leader in the fields of public health, education and community development.

Since 1974, Mr. Mechai has initiated community-based family planning services, innovative poverty reduction and rural education programs, large-scale rural development and environmental program.
(September 2010)
Mr. Viravaidya concentrates on birth control and AIDS prevention, but the methods could also be applied to other problems which require widespread behavior change. Recommended by EB contibutor Amanda Kovattana who writes: “Just goes to show what you can do if you don’t have ideological barriers about the subject, i.e.: religion.” -BA

After two years of eco-living, what works and what doesn’t

Susan Carpenter, Los Angeles Times
After experimenting with solar panels, gray-water systems and chickens for two years, a budget-minded consumer takes stock of what worked and what didn’t.

It started with gray water, then escalated to chickens, composting toilets and rain barrels. I’m talking about the two years I’ve spent transforming my humble California bungalow into a test case for sustainable living — an experience that’s cost me hundreds of hours of my time and thousands of dollars, an endeavor that has tested the limits of not only my checkbook but also my sanity — and my DIY skills.

When I launched the Realist Idealist column, the idea was to look at environmentally promising home improvement projects through the eyes of a budget-minded consumer. I had seen so much media coverage that heaped praise on newly constructed eco-manses or expensive retrofit products, but the stories didn’t answer my biggest question: For the green-minded person writing the checks, are the improvements worth the time, effort and expense?


Gray water, 1st place …
Solar power, 2nd place …
Rain barrels, 3rd place …
Earth works, 4th place …


Waterwall …
Edible landscaping …
Composting toilet …
Chickens …

Laundry line: …
Diet: …
Composting: …
Recycling: …
(16 October 2010)
My less extensive experience confirms Susan’s findings. I look for things that are cheap (or save money), easy and improve the quality of life, for example, activities I can share with friends and family. Don’t overlook the “fun factor.” -BA

New book: “The Biochar Solution”

Albert K. Bates, New Society
Carbon Farming and Climate Change

Conventional agriculture destroys our soils, pollutes our water and is a major contributor to climate change. What if our agricultural practices could stabilize, or even reverse these trends?

The Biochar Solution explores the dual function of biochar as a carbon-negative energy source and a potent soil-builder. Created by burning biomass in the absence of oxygen, this material has the unique ability to hold carbon back from the atmosphere while simultaneously enhancing soil fertility. Author Albert Bates traces the evolution of this extraordinary substance from the ancient black soils of the Amazon to its reappearance as a modern carbon sequestration strategy.

Combining practical techniques for the production and use of biochar with an overview of the development and future of carbon farming, The Biochar Solution describes how a new agricultural revolution can reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to below zero while increasing world food reserves and creating energy from biomass wastes. Biochar and carbon farming can:

  • Reduce fossil fuels inputs into our food system
  • Bring new life to desert landscapes
  • Filter and purify drinking water
  • Help build carbon-negative homes, communities and nations.

Biochar is not without dangers if unregulated, and it is not a panacea, but if it fulfills its promise of taking us back from the brink of irreversible climate change, it may well be the most important discovery in human

Albert Bates has been Director of the Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology since 1984 and the Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm in Tennessee since 1994, where he has taught sustainable design, natural building, permaculture and restoration ecology to students from more than 50 nations.

(October 2010)

Author Carol Deppe on growing ‘lots of delicious food for the least possible work’

Makenna Goodman, Grist
As weather patterns change and fossil fuel supplies dwindle, communities have to start thinking about food resilience. How can farmers and gardeners grow and preserve food amid rapidly changing weather conditions, and without easy access to cheap industrial fertilizers? In her new book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times, longtime gardener and scientist Carol Deppe digs into just such questions.

I recently talked to Deppe about how her form of resilient gardening compares to “traditional” gardening, the importance of not seeking perfection, and how all of this ties into food security.

Q. What’s the first step toward achieving food resilience?

A. There are three ways to do that. The first is through local buying patterns and trade. A second is through knowing how to store or process food that is available locally, whether we grow it ourselves or not. The third is gardening. In The Resilient Gardener, I talk as much about storing and using food as growing it. I love gardening, but not everyone is in a position to garden every year of their lives. However, the person who has learned to make spectacular applesauce or cider or apple butter or pies can often trade some of the processed products for all the apples needed.
(18 October 2010)

Eco villages are your best investment

Stephen Hinton, A Very Beautiful Place
… Many commentators, among them the Transition Movement in the UK, The Post Carbon Institute in the US, and the Stockholm Resilience Center in Sweden are of the opinion that only through increased local and grass-roots action will communities develop the ability to withstand drastic changes.

There is, I believe, the need for a local, resilient solution and investment opportunity that will provide a good standard of living even if energy prices and supply chains fail. This opportunity can be for investors, suppliers and individuals seeking a secure place to invest in and/or live in. We also believe that individuals who are engaged in sustainability issues would like to be part of developing a solution that can be adapted to work around the world.

Several powerful investment approaches have been flying under the radar, little attention being given to them as they have been overshadowed by the recent developments in derivatives and the ensuing worldwide financial volatility. One is eco-system services based investment, the other is asset based investment.

The Value of Eco-System Services

Piloted by the United Nations Millennium Assessment, Eco-System Services describes the services man gets “free” from nature. These include water purification, soil provision, production of building materials and energy production. Some estimates rate the total value of eco-system services many times larger than world GNP.

To put it another way “why pay when you can get nature to do the job” or as one person with a large solar installation put it “the sun does not send electricity bills every month”. Due to its climate, Brazil offers a high supply of eco-system services that could provide the basis for village living:
(13 October 2010)
Recommended by Paul Heft of Transition Palo Alto who writes:

“Stephen Hinton might be good to include more often in Energy Bulletin; I notice that several of his articles are already included.

I “met” Steve in Second Life, but never in “real life”. He has been a business consultant, and tries to write about environmental concerns from a practical point of view (and often for a business audience) while still aiming high. He’s trying to walk his talk in an ecovillage he is helping to organize, and I think he’s active in Transition Sweden.

For me, Steve’s best writing has been his series of envisioning exercises, which he calls “imagestreaming.”