Thursday, March 29, 2007

Water Rationing This Way Cometh

I talked to a friend at a party tonight who's in a position to know such things. It's not public yet, but if the drought doesn't break by the beginning of the summer the whole area is going to be put on water rationing. The groundwater table has gone down by 18 inches in the last year -and that's not counting the dams. Some of the tributaries may run dry later this year without enough rain to refill them. There are counties that are 40 inches below normal rain fall levels.

If they go to water-rationing, guess what will get banned? Car washes, and watering lawns and gardens. I couldn't give a hoot about the first two (I've never watered my lawn) but there's no way I could stop watering my garden. I eat out of that thing, for goodness sake!

It looks like I'd better move up the rain barrels and the grey water system* on my list of things to get. Like, all the way to the top.

*said grey water system, at least at first, will be buckets to catch shower water, dish water, and washer water.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Great Plastics Challenge

It’s long past time I wrote about this, so here goes. Hey, it’s only a month late! ;-)

As some regular readers will recall, my February challenge was to bring NO plastics into the house save for packaging –and to minimize that. (For those who are interested, my March challenge was simply surviving mid-terms and term paper season –I’ll start a new challenge next month.) So how did I do? Did I manage to go a whole month without bringing plastics into the house?

Almost. I did really slip up around the middle of the month when I had strep throat. For the first time since I was about twelve, I might add. I ended up bringing in some plastic grocery bags because I was too befuddled to remember my own when I left for the store, and some of those little plastic tubs of yogurt. (Yogurt, believe it or not, is a really good immune system booster, and also helps digestive track problems.)

Other than that, how did it go? Surprisingly well. The short list of plastics that came into the house last month includes: the top on a half gallon of organic milk, a box of trash bags (I haven’t yet figured out an alternative to those), a carton of eggs, some tea in plastic jugs that was leftover from my church potluck and which I wasn’t about to waste, some sealant rings on food, and a bit of shrink wrap. Oh yes, and a plastic juice bottle someone threw into the bushes at school. I picked it up and brought it home for recycling. That was about it. I’m not counting the bags of recyclables (mostly plastic) that I brought home from my grandmother’s a few times to put on the curb. She lives in a condo without recycling service, so she sends her stuff home with me.

I consider this to be quite an achievement. When you consider the assorted plastic tubs, jugs, and bottles that most people use every month –not to mention all the other plastics –I used 90% less than most Americans! Now, this doesn’t mean that I’ll be able to make this goal every month. Some of the food I buy will inevitably come in plastic containers –peanut butter for example, which is a staple around my house. But this is a goal to strive for, and I intend to keep it up. The second part of the plastics challenge will be to reduce the amount of plastic in the house. I want to replace all the plastic storage containers, utensils, etc. But this will be a much longer-term challenge. I’ll have to replace all of those things slowly, as money and time allows. I think my next task will be to reduce the amount of wood pulp products (paper, cardboard, etc) that comes into the house. I’ve all ready stopped using paper towels, but I need to see how much more I can cut back.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tennessee Valley Drought

I knew it was dry, but I didn't know it was this dry!

From The News Courier of Athens Alabama:
Drought Takes Toll On Valley

The report says:
"Limestone County and parts of North Alabama and South Central Tennessee are in the grips of the worst drought in more than 50 years, experts say. Local farmers fear it could get worse."

And if that's not bad enough:
"According to a study conducted by the University of Alabama at Huntsville, rainfall in this area since Jan. 1, 2005, is between 18- and 40 inches below normal, depending on location. Spring’s arrival follows the driest December, January and February span in 117 years of record keeping in the Tennessee Valley Authority’s seven-state region, a spokesman for the utility said."

And the area that I'm in is not supposed to suffer from global warming. Um, yeah....

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Choose Your Future

There must be some special significance to Al Gore testifying before Congress about climate change on the first full day of spring, in a time when the effects of said climate change are beginning to be felt worldwide. Now, I don’t agree with everything Gore has to say or all of his proposed solutions, but I have to admit that the man is a modern day prophet. He has single-handedly brought more attention to this topic –the greatest crisis in human history –than dozens of activists have in the past thirty years. He is our Cassandra, telling us that Troy will fall if we don’t stop what’s happening. The question is, will we listen? If not, is there any doubt we will follow the same fate as Troy? Not much, at this point.

That global warming is real, and is occurring now, is no longer in dispute by anyone with half a brain. And no financial commitments to the fossil fuels industry. ;-) I can tell the changes just in my own area. In 1990, 17 years ago, when the last USDA map was created, I was in zone 7a. Okay, so I didn’t live here at that time –the town was, at any rate. When the new map was released last month, to my horror I discovered that I am now in zone 8. That’s the climatic equivalent of moving south by a four hour drive –on the interstate, no less. We had our first 80 degree day a month ago. Now they’re a regular occurrence. Try growing peas in this weather! Last summer we were at all time highs for several months. We’re expecting a repeat this year.

And the pattern is repeated, all over the world. It has been going on for years and is merely worsening with time. How much longer will it be before we react? When will we stop this before it’s too late? People speak of saving the polar bears. I’m sorry, but the bears are gone. Every one in the scientific community knows this. So are a good number of other species. And that number will keep rising, inexorably, unless we STOP THIS NIGHTMARE. Nor will people escape unscathed. Water supplies are disappearing, tropical diseases are spreading, and grain yields are going inexorably down (partly due to global warming) in a world with an expanding population. It will not be long before these two facts collide –and do so in a most horrific way. Rising sea levels are going to affect over a billion people by the middle of the century. New Orleans, Boston, part of Manhattan, Shanghai, Bangalore –all will be gone by century’s end, if not before. Chinese officials have started constructing dykes to try to hold back the sea from Shanghai. That’s how fast sea level is all ready rising. And that trend is expecting to accelerate.

This morning Gore told Congress: “The planet has a fever. If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor.” He added, “If the doctor says you need to intervene here, you don’t say ‘I read a science fiction novel that says it’s not a problem.’ You take action.” People are dying. Whole species are dying. The planet IS running a fever. And we delay taking action because of what? Denial? Some misguided perception that the economy is more important than the future of our children? Oh yes, that’s a real bright idea –let’s balance the health of some companies and the richest one-tenth of one percent of the world’s population against that of the ENTIRE PLANET.

Why can’t we take action to stop this? Why can’t we see that are actions are directly harming other people? We will have to pay a portion of the costs of our excess –but only a portion. Our children, and their children, and their children’s children’s children –if they live at all –will have to pay the highest costs.

I am throwing out a challenge, to each and every person who reads this: take action in your own life. If you care about the future of the planet, of your children, and of other people –and yes, even of the polar bears –take action now. Do something –anything –to reduce your contribution to the problem. Lower your emissions. Do it NOW. No more excuses. If you don’t, one day you’ll have to explain to your kids why you didn’t. The blood of all those who die due to this crisis –people, animals, species –will be on your hands. Your responsibility. And part of the legacy of all humanity. Is this what we want for our future?

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007


So I’ve been thinking a lot about electricity lately. We use it all the time, we’ve come to depend upon it for numerous things, and we think we couldn’t live without it. Of course that’s not true, but we think it is. The majority of electricity comes from non-renewable sources. All of these release copious amounts of pollution and may change the planet as we know it, even to the point where we cause our own extinction. So with that in mind, what do we really need electricity for? In our residences, that is. I’m not referring to schools or hospitals or anything.

Lighting? Well, um, no. We definitely need a source of lighting in the home, but we can get it any of a number of ways –from solar lights, to candles, to lamps powered by veggie oil.

Heating? Air conditioning? Well, if properly designed, a Masonic fireplace will heat an entire house –with sustainably harvested wood. Furthermore, proper design will keep the temperature in a house fairly constant all year round. If you live in a climate where oil heating is mandatory, I’d say you either need to adapt to the climate (the Inuit have lived in the Artic for tens of thousands of years) or move. Ditto that for the deserts.

Dishwashing? Dishes can be done by hand.
Cooking? There are other ways to cook food.

Water heating? Solar systems can do this renewably.

What about pumping water? There I have to admit a necessity –if you need treated water and/or don’t live near a well, stream, etc, electricity is necessary to pump your water from the local reservoir.
What about washing clothes? Okay, there I have to admit that while you can wash your clothes with a hand crank washer or something, it makes it so much easier. But line drying is definitely a way to avoid the dryer.

And of course, for electronics you have to have power.

I just think that there has to be alternatives that won’t kill the world. How about community centers, powered renewably, that have laundry facilities, internet and computer capability, and even televisions. Cuba has such centers and they work out well.
Thoughts anyone?

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Farm Girl Goes to Town

I had an interesting day. I spent all morning and most of the afternoon working in the garden. Then I had to run to Home Depot and the bank before going to a meeting for class. For some reason, I decided not to get cleaned up before going in. After all, I reasoned, I was going to be going back out as soon as I returned, so what was the point of cleaning up just to get dirty again? Besides, I am ridiculously proud of all the dirt on my clothes and boots, of the mud under my fingernails, and the sunburn on my arms. They show that I am a working girl –I am doing the work of the Earth Goddess (sorry for the religious reference, but I am a pagan after all). Besides, I was kind of interested in how my fellow classmates might react to me showing up looking like a redneck farmer.

So, call it laziness, call it practicality, call it pride, call it a psychological experiment. Farm girl went to town today. And, it was interesting. I actually got some respect at Home Depot! I don’t go to those stores often, but I had to pick up some wood for my trellis and they were the nearest one that had it. Normally, when I go into that store looking for supplies for building or repairing I get this Look. And if I’m dressed nice, they try to send me to the decorating department. Um, no thanks, show me the power tools please. But not today. I told this young upstart clerk what I was looking for, he gave me the once over, and told me exactly where it was. The lady at the bank drive-thru didn’t seem to notice. School however, was a different matter. People looked me up and down like I had no business being on a college campus. A few people gave me a look of outright contempt. I was on the receiving end of the disrespect that farmers are treated to in this country. And it wasn’t nice. Why should a person be dressed nicely and look like they have money in order to get any respect? Let me tell you, you can own all the fancy things in the world, but you’re still dependant on a farmer to grow your food. If you don’t have that farmer, guess what? You’ll soon be out in the fields yourself with a pitchfork and shovel trying to survive!

(Okay, maybe it’s a bit pretentious to call what I do farming, but its essentially small-scale subsistence agriculture, so I’m proud of the label!)

Saturday, March 10, 2007


I intend to post some updates in a few days now that I finally have time to write, but right now I wanted to talk about something that happened last night. This details to me all the things that are currently wrong with American culture.

Last night I went to a meeting that was held at the house of a woman who is a member of this group. It was a potluck dinner meeting. This woman is a visiting professor by trade. She spends ten months out of the year living in various college town around the country teaching. The remaining two months she spends at her home here in town. She was home for spring break, which is why the meeting was held there. The reason she works is to afford her house and the constant renovations and new decorating jobs she takes on in it.

This house is a colossus. It is 2600 square feet, not counting the three car garage and full basement. It sits on a quarter acre in a prestigious part of town. It is full brick. She is constantly redoing the house. She recently visited specialty cabinet stores in seven states to find the perfect cabinet pulls for her new kitchen cabinets. (No, I am not kidding.) She installed recessed lighting in every room to better display her artwork. Her kitchen is state of the art, with a fridge that’s bigger than my stove and fridge combined. She used five pots to make spaghetti for the dinner. I almost laughed at this, because I made spaghetti for a similar sized group just last week and used one –ONE –pot. She has every kitchen gadget imaginable, including a gourmet garlic peeler and a three hundred dollar tomato knife that looks like a Klingon honor knife from Star Trek. She is constantly flying.

And get this –she is environmentally aware, or fairly so. She recycles. She put native plants in her yard. She is worried about climate change. But she sees no connection between her personal lifestyle and the state of the earth. She is the reason for the saying –if everyone lived like the average American, we’d need 6 Earths to sustain ourselves. I was just dumbfounded by the massive amount of overconsumption in this woman’s life.

And this is supposed to be the lifestyle to which we all aspire?