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Gah, our fancy "enterprise" DSL is only half as fast as it should be and seems to die at least twice a day. So, I'm taking advantage of a moments of connectivity before going back to reading papers ...

I've been starting to outfit our new place with sustainable stuff. The lightbulbs were the first to go; everywhere but the dining room (which has a weird light fixture with little bulbs) has compact fluorescents now. The garden already has a nice (but insanely complex) drip-sprinkler system that seems to come on every other night, so I'll just leave that alone since any tampering would be likely to mess up the many layers of filtering and timing mechanisms. (But I DO need to figure out what the white mossy fungus growing in the lawn is and do something about it. [ profile] tlaad? :~)) I'd like to build a passive solar water (pre-)heater, but haven't determined yet which part of the roof actually gets a decent amount of sun or how complicated it'll be to hook it up to the gas-powered water heater, so that'll be a while.

I fixed all the screens so we can open the house up at night and close it down during the day, and between that and the huge trees shading the property, it stays nice and cool in here as a result. (I grew up in a brick house surrounded by large trees and this worked like a charm, even on 100+F summer days.) I planted my poor little bougainvillea under the window that gets the most sun so eventually it may actually provide some shade. Hopefully I won't have to uproot it again, as I had to do when we moved. (It was either that or leave it to die, so I stuck it into a too-small pot and hoped for the best ... and it's still alive, despite dropping most of its flowers and turning pale green in protest of its mistreatment. It did that when I first repotted it and bounced back okay, so I think it'll pull through again.)

I ordered a retractable clothesline so I can give indoor hang-drying a try, since there's a nice utility room where I can mount it. (I've had bad luck with line drying relatively recently -- think uber-itchy clothes infused with pollens and other allergens -- but it's drier down here than in Berkeley so indoor drying might actually work and hopefully be less allergen-prone too. We'll see. I've also heard that five minutes of "fluffing" in a dryer after line-drying can help the allergen problem.)

I stocked up on environmentally-friendly cleaners since we used up most of our old cleaners in moving, and even found unbleached toilet paper. (I've seen it in other countries and always wondered why we insisted on wiping our bums with pristine white toilet paper. Well, now Seventh Generation sells the brown stuff at Whole Paycheck Foods, and you can even get the "double rolls.")

And finally, since we've been getting several pieces of junk mail every day, I'm sending "knock it off already" notices with my new address to every direct marketer I can. If you haven't done this, it works pretty well -- I got several of the big direct marketing firms to stop sending mailers to my last address, reducing our junk mail by a factor of ten. In case you're interested, here are the addresses I've compiled from various websites. Clicky here ... )

Anything else you think I should try?
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An Inconvenient Truth is a powerful movie. Bay Area friends, see it now if you haven't already. Utah friends, see it starting on June 16 at Broadway (downtown), Century 16 (33rd and state), Layton Hills 9, or the Redstone 8 in Park City. (Others, see when it's playing in your area.) While I've heard much of the information in it before, the presentation is incredibly well put together, engaging, and persuasive, and everyone should see it. (Shows were sold out in some Bay Area theaters last weekend, but I guess that's to be expected in this area ...)
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Over lunch I read a rant about deer in (sub)urban (sprawl) areas, and couldn't help but post this reply (and of course replicate it here!).

Human Birth Control
By Buck Schneider, 10-20-05

Attention wilderness commissioners and administrators, I have the solution to your human problem. Normally, you'd have to hire costly consultants, set up stakeholder committees, have public hearings, and wait years for such a plan. This time, it's fast, free and easy (three of my favorite four-letter words officials don't use enough).

Urban human herds have overrun almost every wilderness in the New West, making foraging a lost art and pumping up the benefits of animals that scale fences, invasive species, and human infrastructure. These aren't humans coming to our territory for a geranium treat now and then. These are permanent residents -- third- or fourth-generation humans born in our territory, growing up in our territory, and reproducing the next generation in our territory -- without ever seeing a four-legged, heavily-antlered western human control specialist. These ridiculously tame and overly bold humans ravage the earth with expensively landscaped yards, flatten wild spaces, knock down native trees, own dogs, lure mountain lions into our territory at night, drive their cars without signaling, and frequently scare the stuffing out of me during my pre-dawn trots to my grazing grounds.

Read on! )
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I didn't realize it at the time, but I was incredibly fortunate to grow up on home-grown fruit and vegetables, and to have a whole half-acre yard (plus the half-acre yards of our two next-door neighbors) for my own uses. Sometimes late at night when I can't sleep, I begin to wax nostalgic about the dry canyon breezes and Utah crickets chirping in unison coming through my window on hot summer nights, the rooster at the house behind us crowing at all hours, eating the "bowl" of the watermelon on the stone bench by the wood-fired hot tub one dew-soaked summer morning, or the long days I spent reading outside and eating fresh-picked peas, beans, and apricots.

My parents made the garden a family affair. The took care of tilling the soil before planting and added manure every few years, but we all planted, weeded, watered, and harvested together. The layout generally changed from year to year, but somehow many of my memories refer to a particular layout. Walking down the flagstones that bisect the garden length-wise, you first see kale and swiss chard in the first row on your right, parsley on your left. I don't remember ever planting these - they might have come up by themselves, year after year. Beyond them are several rows of potatoes and tomatoes. Almost a whole quadrant of corn, though corn was discontinued later because it took up so much space and didn't yield much. Over in the back right were the vines and other things I didn't pay much attention to: summer and winter squashes, some melons (though they never did well either), peppers, etc. To the lower right were the green and wax beans, and in the upper left were the shell and sugar snap peas.

The crops I liked the best were the peas (I defined my summer by their picking times), beans, corn (especially picked fresh and grilled immediately), and zucchini. (My sister and I would hurl the ones that escaped our timely picking and became giant into the fence or feed them to the horses that kept the weeds down next door. My favorite way of eating them was sliced lengthwise and steamed with cheese.) We also grew red potatoes and carrots that came up looking like bulbous gnarled hands but tasted super-sweet, but we didn't eat these until the next winter when my parents would go out back and dig through the snow and the leaves they piled on for insulation (and next year's mulch) to the veggies below. We also grew a couple of rows of tomatoes, but I never liked them much as a kid (and now I may be allergic, in fact).

Flanking the garden on either side was a green strip of grass, then grapes on the right (which I didn't like at all: they had small seeds, were pretty runny inside, and had thicker skins and less sweetness than store-bought grapes, a combination of factors that made them unpalatable to me) and asparagus and sometimes strawberries on the left. I also had my own garden for a couple of years near the asparagus, below the snowball tree. Our next door neighbor had raspberries that we'd snack on all summer, and now my mom and stepdad have raspberries too. Our yard used to be an orchard, so we also had six full-grown apple trees (though they didn't produce much of anything), two apricot trees, a pear tree, a plum tree, and an English prune tree scattered throughout the yard.

Our neighborhood has a communal irrigation ditch, an important part of our garden's success. We usually bought rights to divert the water into the carefully-cleared rows of our garden once or twice a week. It would often pool in the grass at the base of the garden, where my sister and I would cavort and splash. We also played in the irrigation ditch itself, a small muddy stream that went through the back corner of our yard. The Holladay township has talked several times about killing the irrigation water supply to quench the rising demand for drinking water, but so far it's still flowing.

Every summer and fall we'd all pick the fruit and vegetables together, and then my mom would puree and dry fruit leather and freeze and can much of the rest. We also used to pick cherries at an orchard up north of Salt Lake, and these canned cherries were one of my favorite childhood foods. (I used to call them "bobbies" and remember fishing out new cans from the cellar all the time. They were canned with the pits intact, and had the most wonderful sweet juice around them.)

My parents kept goats in a red shed and a fenced-off enclosure when I was very small (before I was born they tended a farm with goats and chickens in Draper), but as long back as I can remember, the enclosure was used for grandpa's fancy irises. (Now the fence is gone and fruit trees are growing instead of irises.) My sister and I knew every inch of our yard: the sandbox, the mysterious and exciting woodpile around the hot tub, the huge fir trees in our yard and the neighbor's, the boulders we'd climb up and slide down. One summer when I was in junior high, I built a treehouse in the apple tree at the top of the garden that's still there, though now it's becoming overrun with grape vines.

I'm just now realizing how unique my experience was, and that even in my neighborhood, it's going extinct. Developers have been buying up blocs of the mostly 40's-era homes and replacing them with twice as many blunderbus houses on tiny lots - no space for a garden, no more irrigation ditch, no orchard trees. (I predict that when energy prices start rising, the owners won't be able to give away these these ugly, homogeneous houses.) Meanwhile, I long for that garden that I don't have space to grow, for the pets I'm now allergic to, for a childhood that's becoming impossible to have.

MSN maps has decent aerial photos of my mom's neighborhood.
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I learned today that my Healthy Cities poster got into UbiComp, and got great reviews besides! *cheers*

Yesterday my car did not pass smog. What kind of environmentalist am I? (Answer: a broke one. I'd buy a Civic hybrid if I could ... or use public transit if it were more reliable! Speaking of which, the bus was 18 minutes late yesterday, and the driver was a prick. Good thing I'm finally close enough to campus to rollerblade - and maybe my neck is better enough to bike again.)

Today I started yoga, databases, and compilers, and talked again with A.J., my research advisor at U. Washington. Today was also the first class of Political and Economic Development in the Third World. The professor is an incisive, expressive fellow from Guyana, full of stories and anecdotes and seditious comments. Each student has to lead a panel discussion this semester, and I asked him if he could add a panel on information technology in developing countries. I also volunteered to make a website for the class, of course. Here are a few anecdotes from class:

The US economy depends on continuous expansion of demand. If the mean income in the US drops, the very basis of our economy - spending as much as possible, the sale of luxury goods, etc. - starts to erode, investments drop, people spend even less, fees go up, and we spiral into depression. Your interests are vested in the system, even though the system is unsustainable; in this way, we are all exploiters, just by living in this country.

What about Cuba? The income range in Cuba is $15-$25/month, but they don't have to worry about education, health care, or housing (10% of your income covers housing). They have trouble imagining a system where you have to worry about having a high income to cover housing, transportation, and health care - just as we have trouble imagining a system where there is no clean water, sewage, or access to food and other goods.

How do you get out of an unsustainable system, like the US? How much would nationalized health-care make a difference? How would nationalized health-care be paid for, and how would it affect the current economic situation?

Overseas work is cheap - more in the range of $1/day, rather than the US $20/hour (for comparable work with benefits etc.) - and transportation is cheap also, so it's no wonder companies export labor.

What convinces people that they have to pay $120 for Nike shoes? The shoe is produced for $9 - labor is cheap since conditions are poor, there are no benefits, and factories employ women - and the rest is marketing, plus maybe pumps, lights, etc., changing every three months. The differences go to the shareholders; it accumulates wealth, generates taxes, and creates the conditions for infrastructures and public education.

How does the system justify exploitation? There are concepts of "deserving", along income, racial, gender, etc. lines. Presumption of innocence goes to the wealthy, and excuses emerge. Why does A. Shwartzenegger deserve to run California? He's from Europe, white, wealthy, and male. Say a qualified woman originally from Rwanda was to run - people would presume that because she's from Africa, black, female, she couldn't possibly be in a position of power. A.S. claims the Horatio Algiers story - his family in Austria was poor, and he came to California with little - and since he made it when others didn't, he's obviously more deserving. We all believe we deserve what we have, or more ... and all it takes is more effort, morality, or to get more.
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I'm listening to newscasters blather about a huge power outage across the east caused by overloads of the system, and while they fuss over the effects on hospitals and airports and subways, my first reaction is to shrug and turn it off. Let New England get a taste of the rolling blackouts California has been experiencing for years; let them learn the lesson of conservation the hard way. This is my response to many of these catastrophes or impending disaster due to overuse of gas, or water, or electricity ... ideally we could reduce our demands before these problems happen, but I'm not holding my breath. And though I turn off lights and try to conserve water and all, I'm part of the problem, just by living in this country, by living in the developed world.

I had a conversation with David earlier today about globalization, and why a laissez-faire economy doesn't work. It's all just amateurish opinions, of course, since neither of us know much about economics, but it's still interesting to discuss. My argument is that because their bottom line is solely economic, companies will tend towards collusion and exploitation to undercut competition and establish a monopoly.

We also discussed other aspects of bottom-line economics, such as overseas exploitation to reduce prices and environmental degradation. In our (surely simplistic) view, companies move manufacturing overseas because even though shipping costs are higher, manufacturing costs are SO much lower because of pittance wages and lack of taxation, so it's overall cheaper to produce overseas. If there was a global minimum wage - say, $4 a day, double the global poverty level - then perhaps shipping costs would push expenses over what they would be locally. Perhaps production would move closer to consumption - more sustainable because of the lack of environmentally-harmful shipping and the increase in accountability. And even if production didn't move, at least workers worldwide would have a higher standard of living, even if it was at the expense of our overly-high standard.

Suppose, for a moment, that there was a reliable quantification of environmental and community damage - never mind the impossibility of such a feat. If companies were taxed or fined for this damage and the money was put back into the harmed community, would this provide incentive to be more environmentally and socially responsible? If companies just payed the fines, would the money really help offset damage in any way?

David and I also talked a bit about cities and suburban sprawl. In my annual reading of the last year's National Geographics here in Michigan, I even found an article on this, discussing mixed-use and compact communities and "new urbanism" and other strategies we discussed in my sustainable cities class. It's nice to see all this explained to a wide audience, if an affluent one. I wonder if these ideas really are becoming mainstream, or if it's just select urban planners a few weirdos like me that espouse them. The feeling I have about anti-war ads, anti-SUV commercials, and the like is that while many react violently and unthinkingly to them, at least it's known that there is a movement, and the movement has the power to be heard. But ... how valuable is awareness, anyway?


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