Monday, May 28, 2007

A small amusement-

Memorial day is not a day off here, though we do take some time to think about it all. You've gotten plenty of that elsewhere, I'm sure.

What we've spent most of the day doing is the critically needed re-building of our solar panel array (photovoltaic).

It was so old, it was falling apart. Yep, been doing this that long. In the next post, I'll get into that in more detail, with photos. Still busy at the moment, son is still on the roof doing final wiring.

Meanwhile- in the vacation mode. I had a friend tell me of a new way they just thought of- and acted on- to annoy the credit card companies.

Lots of us are in their grips; I am. And NO, by the great horn spoon, it was NOT our fault. They treat people like dirt- and like prey; and the "government" does nothing to stop them. In what universe is charging poor people 30% interest an intelligent thing to do?

So- my friend said he had a "minimum payment" of $643 due for his good friend Chase. They suckered him into carrying a lot of business debt on that card by claiming "Act now! Pay only 3.99% until fully paid off!" - except those debts are now at 29.99% - because the post office lost one of the payments for 2 days. Excellent business practice there.

As soon as I can get rid of my Chase cards; I will.

Meanwhile- my friend was writing the check; wanted to pay a little bit more than the minimum; usually does $20 over- got to $66 - when it dawned on him.

From now on, all his payments to Chase will be some version of $666.

I think mine will too. Owe $10? Send them $6.66. Owe them $5? Send them $6.66. It'll cost them $10 to track the tiny little credit.

He hopes it will freak them out. Some of their employees, anyway. His way of saying "a curse on you!"

I kinda like it.

The Washington Post has been following this stuff for a while; this article came today- Bad credits

And, a particular example of how hideously they behave- and lie about it.

Bad company

There's little enough any of us can do to fight back. Maybe if half their payments come in with the Sign of the Beast attached, it'll start to get through to them- we REALLY HATE WHAT THEY'RE DOING.

Hard to understand their thinking- "let's make our customers hate us!" sounds like such an obviously stupid idea.

Pass it on!

Whaddya think? Other ideas?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cutting The Gordian Crap; Possibility 2

Can't stand it, going to give in to a sideways rant today. This is what set me off: Bio Gas.

Basically, Big Oil is "explaining" that they "can't" afford to develop their industry to the point where it is reliable- because of the uncertainties connected with ethanol. Like what happens to the price when there's a bad corn crop?

Our whole society has gotten SO used to the "BIG LIE" tactic that we don't even note when it happens anymore. The "Journalists", and I use the word with great sarcasm, just report what the Big Liars say- and make a footnote about the contrary opinion, and let it loose in the headlines.

The result is an impenetrable tangle of Big Lies- and Big Half-Lies (like this one) - which are actually far more dangerous to our society. That little scrap of truth makes it possible for those with a good 5th grade education (the goal of all NeoCon education policy) to vehemently support, and vote for, falsehoods that are utterly not in their own interest.

It's the Gordian Knot of our time, or the Gordian Crap, as I call it; which can also be cut. Gordian Knot (Wikipedia haters- sorry, but it was just way more accesible and relevant than anything else.)

Big Oil is stealing money as fast as they can, before someone in Congress wakes up.

"Ooh, we're SO sorry our profits are creating ALL TIME records! It's really not our fault! It's the markets! That 40 Billion dollars we siphoned out of your pockets last year? We really couldn't help it! We also couldn't help that we did it again, and again, and again." All Time Record Profits

Liar liar, pants on fire.

(Incidentally, if I turn up dead tomorrow, you'll know why. You think $40 Billion/yr isn't adequate motivation for killing? Many times?)

So, Exxon (and everyone else in Big Oil) you're telling me that-

a) nobody in your company NOTICED you were making record high profits, repeatedly?

b) nobody in your company thought- "hm, if we take an extra $20 BILLION out of the economy, some of our customers, and their businesses, might be hurt."? (one lucid example: fishing license purchases, and boat license purchases, in Minnesota are down- substantially- which means a bunch of related businesses will have profits- down.)

c) nobody in your company has the AUTHORITY to say "let's cut our prices just a tad- take a little less profit this quarter."?

I really don't believe it; though I suppose it's possible you're all really that stupid. Your actions certainly suggest that.

Very basic biology- if you want to be a successful parasite (that would be you) The First Rule is; DON'T KILL OFF YOUR HOST BY STEALING TOO MUCH.

And we read the headlines- say "tsk, tsk" - and move on. Very encouraging.

Well, enough crap cutting. How about something we could DO? This comes under the category of "we have not yet BEGUN to think."

One of the biggest problems we face as a society right now is the unstated, unrecognized assumption in our thinking that our problems are the result of LOGICAL developments.

We're in this difficult place for a reason; we assume.

No, we're not; much human development is often more a matter of pure chance than logic. (Another barrier to realizing that is organized religions- they don't like that idea at all.)

That's basically good news, though; because it means there could be LOGICAL ways OUT of our difficulties. Like this:

Problem: We consume way too much gasoline and diesel fuel- more than we can continue to produce, and too much for our atmosphere to handle.

Answer: Consume less.

Aha. Easier said than done! you reply.

No, VERY easy to do; it just takes some collective will power, and a bit of growing up.

TRUTH, now- do you NEED a car with 250 Horsepower?

No, of course not. It's huge fun- but it's not necessary to get from here to there. Everybody knows that. But the Spoiled Brats of the world prevail, throwing tantrums and kicking their heels, when anyone suggests taking away their dangerous toys.

Their toys are DANGEROUS. They kill people in crashes, and suffocate us with pointless carbon dioxide, and cause hurricanes, for crying out loud.

We have to take the toys away. Are you a grownup, or not?

Why do we currently have highways populated with SUV's with 500 horses, and "sports cars" with 900 horses? Because this whole phenomenon just grew up- unregulated by any adults- from the horse and buggy. There was no one to say NO when some mechanic decided that if 10 horsepower was amazing, 50 horsepower would REALLY sell.

All those extra horses are totally pointless, apart from the adrenalin- and just burn gas for nothing. My TRACTOR has only 40 horses- and it has power to spare.

I contend- a nation of grownups would rule that :

No cars shall be built with more than 35 horsepower.

Gasp!!! You can't DO that! It's my RIGHT to ....

No, it really ISN'T your right. At all.

How about safety? The road would be much safer; everybody owns a car that will cheerfully cruise at 70 mph- but takes 2 minutes to get there. You'll have to think ahead. That's good.

We could talk about pleasure boats- ATVs- snowmobiles- also.

Obviously- emergency vehicles, cop cars, trucks- should have the horsepower they actually need. Which will still be much less than at present. I'd be totally happy for cop cars to have 200 horses, and ambulances.

Reasonable? I have to say yes. Logical? Certainly. Would it cut our fuel use? HUGELY.

Being discussed anywhere? Certainly not.

Better that poor Mexicans starve- and die- so we can have more ethanol, and not change our habits. (This IS already happening, in case you are not aware - price quadruples?)

Ok; a very reasonable response from YOU at this point would be- "sure, this is logical; but it's totally unrealistic- it's just not going to happen, the barriers and inertia are way too much."

Which I will grant is absolutely true. Lots of powerful people really don't want to give up their toys, and profits, and they'll scream "FREEDOM" really loud- and all the NeoCon Fifth Graders will vote along.

So, how about this, instead- a HorsePower Tax. Every year; part of the license plate fees.

Up to 35 horses, free (I think there are NO cars made with engines this small at the moment- because, um, we're trained to lust after "Zero to Sixty in 4.3 Seconds!" - but we could require all makers to offer such vehicles- next year...) For bigger engines- bigger annual tax, by the horse, with the annual tax rate rising as the engines get bigger. Older cars.... we could work something out.

Take that tax money and put it into mass transit, maybe.

It would help, and it would be a move in the right direction- which might make the next move in that direction possible, in the future.

Logical. I'd even say "obvious" as a possibility - if anyone were REALLY THINKING about answers for our problems. But mostly we don't- we're trained by our entire educational process to READ- and comment. Not actually think.

So. Whaddya think?

(Hey, Vanessa- this would make a good letter to somebody... :-) AND- I think it's abundantly clear that Canadians in general are more grown up than USAers. It would be fabulous for Canada to lead the way here.........................)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Potty House Design

RC made a request for drawings/diagrams. I hope you'll forgive me, but I'm going to pass on that. For one thing, I don't have any already made up- and making them would be quite a lot of work. For another- I'm a little bit opposed to the idea of "recipes" for this kind of thing. I think they can stop people from thinking for themselves, and a Potty House is exactly the kind of project where you MUST do a lot of thinking- about your specific site, specific climates, and specific needs. (RC, it's not you I'm worried about- but other folks who will read this blog and get ideas. If you need evidence, you can take a look at some of the advice Colin is getting on "refrigeration" - cold milk?. Wow.)

So; I'd rather stick with design principles here. There are still a couple we haven't touched on, though most design stuff is outlined in the two previous posts basics and the one with pics, more, and Pics.

Looking at the pics, I can quickly see a couple aspects of our potty house you might well want to NOT copy- not because they don't work, but because they're pretty specific for our situation.

One is- all the glass on the south of the building. It's "frosted" glass, so you can't see through it (privacy being important to some people). It's certainly more work to install, and more expensive, than just putting in a wall. We need it here, for winter sun/heat. We're far enough north that the sun's angle changes hugely from winter to summer; RC, who lives in PR, has got very different sunlight parameters to deal with. Our Potty House is also IN the woods; under a couple big oak trees. Lots of shade in the summer- which is good for not frying anyone who needs to use it in the middle of the day- but you do need SOME solar heat gain in order to dry the pits. Finding the balance can be tricky.

For this particular building, probably 90% of our solar heat in the winter comes in through the south wall windows. Partly because of the low angle of the sun- but also because of the snow. Most of the time in winter there will be snow on the roof- plenty enough to prevent much light getting through that way. Luckily- when there is snow on the ground- we get a LOT more heat in through the south wall- from sun bouncing off the snow field. It's quite significant, and yes, I did figure on that before building.

2nd design aspect you may not want- you can see the roof is made of 2 different materials- part of it is asphalt shingle; part of it is corrugated translucent fiberglas. The junction is a pain in the neck; and prone to leaking, particularly during snow melt. We mostly wound up with it this way because I wanted the "turbine" "powered" air vent to go straight up, and out- and fitting an 18" pipe through the fiberglas would have been beyond my construction skills at the time. I find myself calling this air-duct/pipe the "stack", as in smokestack.

Other considerations about that roof- I wanted a substantial overhang over the entry door, because people have to use it in the rain; nicer to have a little cover while you negotiate the wet, slippery stones walkway, etc. So I opted for a frame roof there.

Why did I want a straight stack? Because bends in very low air-pressure ducts REALLY cut down on the air flow. And- the stack, you recall, is connected down into the pits, to pull wet stinky air out of the building. Using ambient wind- which is known to be uncertain. I really wanted to do everything I could to make the air flow easier- for example, the stack outside of the house is painted flat black- to absorb more solar heat, and heat the air in the stack further, making it "draw" better. (The paint is 20 years old; still looks black when it's wet, anyway.)

I'll toss out a general "sustainable -green" design principle here, which I have not seen formulated anywhere, but which I have come to completely believe in. If you are incorporating some feature which relies on a "passive" process- i.e.. it relies on physics or meteorology to work, not an electric motor- get the best advice you can on "how big" that passive feature should be- then build it twice that big. Three times bigger, if you can afford it.

"Passive" is great- and free. IF it works. And it's just in the nature of passive phenomena; like warm but not hot air rising up a chimney; that a LOT of the time, they WON'T work, if the least little thing goes wrong. Like a stray wind gust blowing down the stack, and stopping a slight air flow. Making passive features bigger gives the physics that's supposed to drive them much better odds of actually grabbing hold.

Ok, I expect to see that cited as "Greenpa's Aggressive Passive Design Principle" from now on.

Anyway- rather than build that complex roof, it might be easier/cheaper to just lead the stack out through a wall, and put a bend in it. It might also be smart to go with "active" design in a warm climate; like investing in a little solar powered fan, to really pull the air through and out. A little pricey, but nice; and the turbine, incidentally, does NOT pull air nearly as well as they like you to think; testing shows it works about as well as a ... hole in the roof. But it does keep the rain out.


Here is a major design concern we haven't touched on yet- bugs- and spiders- WILL get into the building, and into the stack. You need to design the stack so it's easy to clean out, once a year anyway- otherwise spider webs (and other webs) will build up in it to the point where you have no air flow; and everything will quit working.

It's not that you can't clean a stack with bends in it; but it sure is more difficult, and the bends invite webs.

Bugs. You need to build your potty house with bugs in mind- every step of the way. (And mice; etc.)

Big piles of poop attract lots of bugs/critters, and you really would rather not have them in the potty house with you.


A) Build the building TIGHT. Remember that a mouse can squeeze through a 1/8" crack; and little bugs through cracks smaller than that. Don't leave cracks- allow for shrinkage and movement- and caulk whatever you can't close.

B) Build everything so it can be CLEANED. No matter how tight you make it; bugs/critters WILL get in (just not so freely). They'll come in the door, with you; even mice, who will sneak in past your feet at night. (Really.) So just keep muttering "I didn't want to be the only species on the planet, anyway.", and put things together so they can also be taken apart and cleaned out from time to time.

For example- the stack not only needs to be opened and "swept" once a year- I also put in an insect screen, to keep flies from just zooming down into the pits. The screen gets dirty/webby much faster than the stack as a whole; so make life easier on yourself and design it for easy access.

Now. Here we get into a difficult area for me. I have to confess something.

I didn't INTEND to tell you all a fib- but I did. I just forgot. My "green practices" list brags "no pesticides; EVER..." My confession- I do use some "fly spray" in the outhouse; probably about 5 times a year. Flies love poop. They will get in. You have to do something about them, or you'll got completely crazy. Ick. And while I'm confessing- we do use some of the same fly spray in the greenhouse, to control fungus gnats, which are lethal for us. The spray we use we buy at the farm store- it's designed and sold to control flies in "the milk room" and around dairy cows; pyrethrin based stuff.

I'd rather not use it- but so far it's the only realistic solution. If you're going to have a composting toilet, you've got to control flies. A couple of sprays of pyrethrin down into the pit when they appear inside usually stops them for a good month. It's not easy for them to get in; due to construction- but it will happen if people insist on opening doors.

Which gets us to the last point for today- the windows do NOT open- any of them. You DO need some ventilation options, however. No matter how well you balance things, you'll find yourself with days when it's just darn hot inside, and you wish it weren't. I made our windows unopenable mostly to simplify construction- and it also makes it easier to make the building fly-tight. And it's better for SEEING , and easier to clean- you don't have big insect screen areas constantly in front of your glass, and getting dirty. What we have instead are two screened "portholes" right up in the peak of the building, under the eaves. A much better place for ventilation, since that's where the hot air goes, and glass would be pointless, since nobody is tall enough to see out right there. The portholes have hinged wooden shutters that work from the inside; so if it's too hot, or two chilly, you can just reach up and change the amount of heat that's escaping or being retained in the main room.

We'll have a summing up post next; then on to the next subject. What have I left out?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Planet Picnic- Or-

As far as I can tell, what we have wound up with in the "community oriented green personal action" arena, are three essentially complimentary alternatives. Looming in the immediate future. That would be COGPA for short, and silly. I like the pa part, though.

I also like diversity- it's one of the best things out there to help "sustainable" along. Choices.

A) is a week long event for everyone, particularly those new to "green" living.
B) is a week long event for those who are already green, and would like to be greener
C) is a.... YEAR long endeavor- for the most serious greenies.

And kind of in the middle is the Planet Picnic/Party; to which everybody should come, of course. Undisirregardless of the Crunchy Commandowannabe's poll, which showed only a minority of party-goers. That's just crazy talk. We NEED the party folks, or we'll be painted as sourpuss party poopers. SP3's. Can't have that. :-)

You can pick your level of involvement, which is a good idea, and also match levels for those you are trying to bring with you. Not all spouzes are going to be ready for #C, for sure.

A) (The best alternative, by far... ) Starts June 21st, with a picnic for friends and neighbors, on the Summer Solstice; and continues for a week, during which everyone is supposed to pick one new (for them) "green" action, and try it out. Picnic Plan. This is supposed to be modeled after Mardi Gras- and Lent. Just borrowing a good idea here. Party first, pay later- it's the modern way, yes? :-)

The warm fuzzy vision for the party is here, In the Moonlight; and the over-all rough philosophy is here; Why, etc..

B) Is Crunchy Moa's "Low Impact Week", starting June 1; and you've got compleat instructions available there.

C) Is the 90% Off year long project from Casaubon's Book. Not for rookies, but an outstanding project, and great one to watch while we all learn.

All of these are intended to be joint efforts- a bunch of folks doing the same thing, at the same time. No question but that new adventures are easier, and less scary, when they are shared. A and B are intended to become annual events- not sure about C.

From this point on, I'll mostly be talking about A, which after all originated here. But that doesn't mean I don't like B and C- I do. I just think we need more than one size here; and my own primary interest is in getting the currently non-involved to dip a toe in the pool. Just a toe, is fine. For a lot of the barely green, even Crunchzilla's lists are going to look pretty scary. But you can catch them with toasted marshmallows, I'll bet ya.

"Earth Day", alas, is kind of a red rag to a bull, for some of the anti's - it started out as more protest than celebration, and it still comes across that way. Earth Day is fine- but we need a wider audience. Right quick.

Basic diplomacy. The kind our recent "leaders" didn't bother to look up in a text book. "Never back your opponent into a corner." And, "Never leave the table; keep talking, no matter what." If you ignore those basics, you tend to wind up - in a war. We can't afford a war over environmental stewardship. If you think it's not possible, you're not paying attention.

So- basic formats set. Now what?

1) Send this link to every newspaper you have access to. Email it to your friends. Get the story out- get folks involved. (We're assuming YOU are already hosting a Planet Picnic, of course!)

It doesn't need a huge group to be a great success- just you and a few friends, a neighbor or two, is a good start. Then there's next year. If we're ever going to get to "sustainable" - next year, and next decade, have to be where our heads are. They really will get here. Count on it. Act like you know it.

Of course if you can talk your local group into doing a Planet Picnic, great. Who? Audubon, Sierra Club, Knights of Columbus, VFW, Chamber of Commerce - anybody MIGHT. :-)

Ask- if you're a member, your opinion should matter. Whether you get a picnic or not, the subject will come up; and will get talked around; plus the fact that it's something you care about. That's important. Basically all you're saying is "Hey, guys- this stuff is important. Let's get together as a community, and just start talking about it a little. And let the kids run. And eat some watermelon." Fairly hard to object to that. (if you holler at me about "local" watermelons, I'll swat ya.)

2) Let me know you're involved, in the comments here. It'll help. Tell us what you're doing, and sort of where. I'm a little reluctant to suggest you give out invitations on the blog- the world does contain some nasty folks, as we all know. But I'd really like to generate a broader sense of community among those throwing Planet Picnics.

Maybe someone (with a bit more web skill and time) could set up a Planet Picnic Web site- where we could safely share photos, stories, and ideas for next time. I'd like that.

Other ideas? Questions? Answers?

I'll stick up some photos of ours here. Summer Solstice is June 21 this year- it's a Thursday; and NO, we can't move it to the weekend. (I tried- doesn't work.) It does happen on weekends sometimes, of course. Sometimes is often enough.

As you may have noticed- we're still kind of searching for the right names for all this. Maybe they'll just show up, after the Picnics.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Home again

People have no idea what I sacrifice for the work I do. Grump grump grump. This time- it was apple blossom time. I was gone for a week. The apple orchard I planted and grafted decades ago was just bursting into full flower as I drove out. Coming back- the blossoms are all, all gone. Sigh.

Partly the weird weather- 3 days ago we had high winds and 95°F. Really. Took the flowers fast, I'm sure, though I wasn't here. Now- last night- we had frost. Gosh, I wonder what's going on?

Vanessa - I'm delighted!! You've made up for the missed apple blossoms.

Hopefully Fridgeless

For those of you who missed the original conversation on unplugging your refrigerator (which we haven't actually finished) it basically started here, and went on for a couple posts: Unplugging. I do think you'll find it easier than everyone expects- particularly once you're a bit used to it.

One more quick bit, then I gotta go do chores. The NYT has a business section story today- basically an INSTITUTE has announced that "energy standards" for, well, everything, are inadequate, and need to be fixed. Golly, must be serious. Then they go on to say how taxing this, and that, could help- but gosh, it's a big mess. Energy Standards

Very seriously - this is a perfect example of the quagmire we always tend to descend into when something is "out of whack", and we try to fix it with governmental tweaks. The tweaks always cause new problems- so the tweaks get tweaked..

Very, very seriously - HERE IS A BETTER ANSWER: A Possibility. If energy cost more- the MORE you used- for everyone- then EVERYONE would find ways to use less. Universal motivation. Vastly easier, faster, cheaper, permanent, and more effective than taxing.

Pass it on- there ARE folks already trying to get movement in this direction into legislation; but it'll take a lot of people doing a lot of talking, and pushing, to get there.

Tomorrow- last post for a while on the Planet Picnic - and other options. Next post- summary on the Potty House. Then- on to a new topic. Whew.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Out, 2

Haven't abandoned anything here; just on the road and away from home; meetings etc. First one was kind of unexpected, so I didn't have time to notify anyone. Should be back Wednesday.

Meanwhile, you might take a look at this: Craggers.

There are serious greenies in a lot of places, but these are the first I've heard of that fine themselves-

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Entire Planet Picnic-Week Plan.

Judging from the underwhelming response here, there are quite a few folks with doubts about the name, at least, for an "Earth-Lent". Here is the original conversation Crunchikini and I had-

Crunchy- "Eco or Earth Lent - Personally, I would really want to leave out any religious reference. First, Lent is heavily tied to the Christian religion(s)  and to those who know even the slightest about it (and let me tell you I've have had multiple conversations recently with people asking, "what is Lent about again" and we all went to Catholic school for 10 years) it generally means some sort of deprivation and/or penance. Which doesn't scream fun to me."

Greenpa- "I thought about that. I'm a non-catholic school person- and actually, the primary meaning of Lent to me is Mardi Gras, and sales on seafood. Really. Us outsiders never notice any deprivation going on- just the occasional whine, which really seems recreational mostly "oh, god, I've given up chocolate for Lent" - quite amusing, from the outside.

You do have a point, however. I wonder if the Pope might sue- "hey we own Lent, you can't have it." which would be great publicity. I'm SURE some people would be quite put off/out- but I'll guarantee you that will be the case regardless.

One of my thoughts was - religions are historically one of the great agents of change- it might be smart to adopt some of their features."

Something to remember- no matter what we choose, some cranks will be offended. So that should not be a huge factor, though we don't want to SET OUT to turn people off.

We might worry about names later; I'm not going to insist on Lent, that's for sure. Kinda like Planet Picnic, at the moment; not much baggage there, and has the connotation of an open event.

Here, as lucidly as I can, is how this could work. A lot of the "why" is in the previous two posts.

We need many many more people to be making individual choices that help the planet. It's difficult for them to get started, as we know. A one week community type event would really help- no long term commitment implied; and lots of company suffering at the same time.

I like the idea of folks setting up/hosting a community "Planet Picnic" - on the Summer Solstice. It's a day when Earth is really DOING something; and nobody else owns it at the moment. (Yes, I know the Druids still observe it, but they're not opposed to others noticing, too.)

1) Pick a park that folks can get to without driving too far- would be lovely if folks could bike or walk; BUT-

To the extent there are any "rules" here, I really think #1 should be - "No Preaching"; and #2 should be "No Excluding Anybody". If somebody really wants to come; and they have to drive 10 miles to get to one, they sure as heck shouldn't have to worry about some fanatic chewing them out for using a car.

2) YOU could host one- all by yourself. But this is intended to help the community along too- you might want to share the hosting. Is there a local group you could convince? Audubon? Sierra Club? Or, just call a friend. "Hey, let's do this! It's a picnic!"

3) Once you know where it's going to be- get the word out. A little, anyway. You might call the papers- or not, depending on where you want to aim. You can make this very laid back- just you and a couple of friends- or you could shoot for a couple hundred folks- your call. My own solstice event grew over the years; now folks look forward to it (though they always have to be reminded...) and come back year after year. As Alison clearly understands, this can be a good long term approach.

4) When you have a core group- PLEASE stretch out. Ask a neighbor- specifically one who does not normally take part in this kind of thing. It's a picnic for neighbors- they'll feel a little bad if they turn you down (and that's good). Just don't make a big deal about the greeny stuff. "Hey, we're having a picnic! Yeah, it's part of that Planet Picnic thing- but that's not a big deal- I'd just like you to come; we don't see you enough." Nothing works as well as a personal touch- catch them somewhere; or a phone call - answering machines are not as good.

5) Make sure folks are clear on where; and when. When can be pretty open, but telling folks "oh, anytime" is likely to make them forget. "Folks start to show up around 6- most a bit later; lots of folks stay past midnight..."

6) Make some specific arrangements for food. No picnic works without food. This could easily grow into a huge "pot-luck" affair- but particularly the first few times, the organizers need to be SURE there are good marshmallows- and sticks - and a fire. Eventually folks could bring a sample of their favorite "green" food- of whatever kind. But no exclusions.

7) Don't forget the world is not a safe place. And you want this picnic to BE safe. Be sure you've got enough folks to handle any obnoxious types that show up- if the local cops can come; fantastic. Be careful about drinking- etc. Just try to get folks to understand, at every stage- "This is a G-Rated Event- we've got little kids, babies, pregnant women - so just be cool, man." I've never actually had a problem of any kind; but somebody will. Let the cops know it's going on regardless; ask them to check in. You may need legal permits, in some places, remember.

8) People need things to sit on- blankets for the young, chairs for the geezers.
9) People need toilets- they ain't staying long if their innards are in pain.

10) Arrange some kind of activities. I listed a bunch in the previous posts. Here's the original conversation with Deenykini-

Crunchy - "The one last question I have, is what did you envision would occur for this no hair-shirt party? I think you'd want some sort of activities or recommended activities for people to get involved in."

Greenpa- " Dancing in the moonlight- homemade music- toasted marshmallows, hide and seek; "Statues" there's a whole children's culture of after dark games that have almost disappeared. Storytelling; ghost stories.

- summer solstice is the longest day of the year; the shortest night- should have the parties in places where there are NO artificial lights, maybe just candles and a small wood fire for the weenies (hey, nobody's taking my weenies.). Some youngsters make it a point to stay up all night; watch the sunrise on the other side of the year.

I've done basically this for 15 years; and people love it. Of course- not to hide anything- the big feature for that event for me is a HUGE bonfire. I've got a vast amount of "waste wood" that comes out of my operation, and I NEED to get rid of it (or it will rot and go to methane; can't have that) - so we revived the old solstice bonfire. That might be tricky to recommend; though it can be appropriate in some places. It's a very ancient and primal celebration. People come 150 miles for ours.

We could build a NEW holiday - specifically NON- denominational, but which in fact borrows from EVERY religion we can think of. The solstice of course is universal religion- far predating the Book. The Big Party, likewise. We could borrow from the Hindu festival of lights(?) I'm not at all sure I've got that right- but they have this festival where they throw dye all over each other- blue- GREEN - yellow, etc. Could be a harmless hoot, I think- kids would totally love it. And anything else anyone can think of . A Universal Earth holiday."

Squirt-gun tag? Kites, definitely. Do you know someone in the community who's fond of some lawn game? Invite them; get them to teach. Volleyball.

Home-made music is fantastic. Sing really dumb old campfire songs (I wish I was a fishy in a bowl...) Let the kids run. And shout.

You won't have to force it. You know what good folks do when they're sitting around and nobody's shoving them to do stuff? They talk. Assuming they can hear each other. No loud music, I think; either canned or over loudspeakers. I leave those places, myself.

11) A bunch of folks will want to help clean up- let them. Have somebody in charge, though, and make sure it's cleaned up.

12) Holler "See you next year!" to everyone as they leave.

13) Follow through with the next week- give something up, Lent fashion. It's just a one week commitment- everybody CAN do it. The folks who come to the party will either DO it, or THINK about it, all week. Invite them one and all to call you and check on how you're doing- with no car, or no refrigerator, or whatever.

14) DO write it up for the local papers afterwards. And publish the plans for next year; right away.

Ok. There's my thinking. Also in the previous two posts. There's supposed to be a poll at the end of this week, hosted on Crunchy Chiquita - not that we have to choose "either- or", really- but to get an idea of which kind of event folks think will get the best participation- and have the best effects.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Earth-Lent; and the Planet Picnic

Yes, I know, "Lent" is an emotionally loaded word for lots of folks. Maybe we'll go with something else- but I kind of like the universal recognition it has; and it may help if you realize the word just means "Spring"-

Trying to explain what I hope this Party will be- has kind of got me stymied. It CAN be made very complex; with tons of explanations, justifications, etc.

A big point to it, though, is that we need an event for everyone. Not just the heavy thinkers. One of the big hazards we face is over-intellectualizing bloody everything. It turns folks off, and actually I'm kind of on their side.

A brand new parable I acquired yesterday. Talking on the phone with a distant close friend, we were hitting some of the Big Topics, as we tend to. Some years ago he had the great good fortune to be free to kick around in New Guinea for a while. He's one of those people who has his eyes open, all the time.

Like everyone else on the planet, there are still plenty of aspects of Life that baffle both of us. And he said this; laughing: "You know, if you ask the people living in the bush in New Guinea- trying to understand them- 'so, what is the meaning of Life?' - they'll just look at you like you're crazy. And kind of point around. And say something like.. 'Look! It's a beautiful day.'"

That's quite possibly the best and most profound answer for that question I've ever heard, I said. Laughing, and completely serious.

That's what we want people to leave this party with. Life is good. Laughing.

Not - life is in desperate trouble. We get plenty of that elsewhere. It's true, and we all know it. But "Life is good" is true, too. And we need to remember that, and teach it to our children.

Maybe it will work if I just try to paint a picture of what I see. Picnic, is more where I'm going than Mardi Gras, for sure.

It's late afternoon on a clear early summer day- a little hot, but you can tell you'll need a sweater after dark. In trickles, folks start to show up for it.

It's a park- maybe with a lake nearby. Picnic benches; plenty of grass to run on, some trees for shade. Every little town used to have a town park; lots still do. (ok, I admit I fantasize about Central Park turning into one huge Planet Picnic...)

Inevitably, the picnic organizers show up first- set out some food, some drink; sit down and wait. There are kids- toddlers to teenagers. All kinds, of course, including the irritating ones. Hopefully they'll take long walks in the shrubbery before long. Somebody brought a frisbee. Somebody brought their dog.

As the sun goes down, a couple fires spring up, and folks start to cook fun stuff to keep the kids from starving. Weenies (don't start! nobody's taking my bratwurst!) - marshmallows- s'mores if you're brave enough to cope with the mess.

Crucially- there are some old folks, too. Brought, if they can't make it on their own. They're the ones who remember how to do this. We need our elders back- and everybody who comes to this picnic will leave knowing it. Bring a bus from the Rest Home, if you can.

A couple of people brought guitars- or flutes- or harps or harmonicas. Real homemade music- PLEASE no loud rock. We need to talk to each other. It's easy for the folks who want to dance in the evening to be down at one end of the park, and if the music isn't blaring from loudspeakers, the others can be just a little ways away, talking.

It would be great to have some specific after-dark event, to hold folks. How about a ghost story-telling contest? Dance? Plain story-telling? If the group gets too big to be comfortable- split it off; start another story teller, a little ways off. The old-timers can be fantastic here- antique jokes? Volleyball? Summer Solstice celebrations are very ancient- it would be rather easy to dig up some old customs, and take a run at reviving them.

Fireflies come out- the kids REALLY NEED to be allowed to chase them, and catch a few, and keep them in a jar- just for a while. Frogs, too, if they're in the pond. In the old days, an older kids would show them how- now you may need an elder to get the kids going; show them how to catch things without hurting them; when to let them go; how to hold them. Imagine being a kid who is never allowed to chase a firefly. Awful. "Look what I got, Ma! Lookit, Dad!" Those experiences are critical to feeling like you belong in this world; and increasingly, kids have no opportunities.

Yes, one or two fireflies will get squished. Sad. Won't hurt the child to cry a little. But if you weren't there, those fireflies probably would have been eaten by the frogs, anyway, you know. If they're slow enough for the kids to catch... And the memories in the children will save millions of fireflies, in the years ahead.

Relax. Watch the evening progress; listen to it all. Talk to your neighbors- talk to someone you've never met before. Just once, during the evening, ask someone- "So what are you doing for Earth-Lent?" And tell them what you might do. And once during the evening; ask someone to call you, during the week; to check up on how you're doing. You can check on them, too.

Ok. I want to let that vision soak in just a little; tomorrow I'll post "how". This is very idyllic; bucolic- could we actually do it?

Confession. I've been having solstice parties for 15 years- pretty much like that.

And of course it doesn't have to be JUST like that. There's lots and lots of ways. And of course this is a picture of a picnic in the US Midwest- but it could just as well be in New Zealand, or Africa- just plug into where you are.

Sunday, May 6, 2007


I apologize! All over the place. But the Universe is insisting I write THIS post, not a more sensible one. We're NOT done with the Potty House, I know; we'll get back to it quick. But this has been thrust upon us by circumstance. Sorry! Sorry. It's beyond my control. :-)

I'd been pondering this possibility for some weeks- only to have Ms. Deanna, aka Crunchy Chicken , leap off into the blogosphere with a proposal that is extremely similar. So I think I need to toss this out there now, too, while the conversation is building. At any rate, it has occupied my brain, and I need my brain back; so I've got to get this out.

Crunchy suggested, on Colin aka NIM's blog, having a "Low Impact Week". Look at Colin's "Worms in the Apt." post, and the comments thereafter, it's not hard to find. Deanna got some good responses; so being action oriented, she went ahead. She's got lots to suggest- you should take a look.

Readers of this blog should be familiar with the comment "gosh, this is interesting, but you know, I'm just not ready..." to take some drastic environmentally beneficial action.

That's entirely understandable; and totally human. Something else that is quite human- it's much easier to do something new and silly/weird/questionable - if a whole bunch of other people are being silly at the same time. We really need a way for people to comfortably be able to try out alternatives. REALLY need it.

Me being a student of history, what I'd come up with was - Lent. Borrowed, adopted, and thoroughly rearranged, from our Catholic friends' version. An ancient community observation, when everyone temporarily "does without" some luxury- all for the common good. Lent. (I highly recommend that link as a guide to the variety of opinion that is possible, too...)

Earth-Lent. Not for 40 days, though; let's just start with a week. There's already a backlash brewing out there- Global Yawning we don't want to become too annoying too fast.

One of the REALLY good things about Lent, the historical one, is that it comes with REALLY BIG PARTY- all built in. Mardi Gras! Hm.....

So, I emailed Crunchy Deanna, and asked if she'd like to collaborate; and laid out my concepts. She was receptive- but it turns out she'd also gone to Catholic School; and Lent had some not so nice connotations for her - "deprivation" came up, never good bait for an event.

We emailed back and forth a bit, and what we came to was, each way has some advantages; and the BIG advantage would be to let YOU choose which way to go. Lay them both out; and see what happens. So that's what we're going to do- you'll have a week to think about it, then Crunchy will host a poll on her website (something she's already adept at) and we'll see where we are.

This is not intended to be a competition; more a way of getting the community involved in the choices. Inevitably; once we have 2 proposals; we'll have 10. That's really ok, in fact; and probably better than just 2- diversity is good. Find what works for you.

Bearing in mind that events go better when they are fun, and "connect" things, here is what I suggest. It's not totally "convenient" - but really- what, that is worthwhile, is?

The Party is a big big part of this. Earth Mardi Gras. Sort of. Yes, I know that Mardi Gras means "fat Tuesday", which is not entirely relevant to anything; but most people on the planet have some concept of Mardi Gras as this really big, really fun, way TOO fun, party.

Now Uncle Conan- he says us environmentalists are party poopers. Prohibitionists at the frat party, is how he put it. Well, poop on that. Let's show 'em. NOT a frat party- the quintessential immature reckless drunken slob mess. But a good, FUN, community party. Emphasis on fun- but responsible, too. Isn't it time grownups got some recognition in our culture? Our US government has been run by 5-year-olds for years now- and it's actually clear that everyone in the country is good and sick of it.

Increasingly, the word "party" seems to denote "drunk and stupid" - what a shame. And what a bad idea. Here's a chance to fight back. "Take Back The Fun!" Now there's a T-shirt. Hm. And it could say "Take Back The Earth!" on the back......

See how this whole thing winds me up? Silly of me, I know.

So what's a good day for a Party? If you've ever tried to organize a big one, you know the answer; as soon as you pick a date, everybody will complain. They can't make it, any of them.

But they do. So- my suggestion is - Summer Solstice.

It's a date that humans have celebrated pretty much forever. And at the moment, it's not a date that's occupied by other entities or celebrations. Christianity occupied the Winter Solstice a good long while ago, but the summer is open.

The half-way point in the year. The longest day; the shortest night, of the year. Earth is doing something, that day; balances shift.

Does it come on a nice 3-day weekend? Well, no, in fact the darn thing moves around from year to year. June 21, this year, Thursday. But- it's REAL. I like that, myself.

Now- before, or after? The rationale for Mardi Gras being before Lent is that it's your last chance to get stupid drunk, laid, and eat til you're sorry, for 40 days. Not such a hot idea anyway- personally, I'd prefer to have the party AFTER the week of "giving things up" for the planet. But we can talk.

If we do it before, the Earth Lent starts on June 15 this year; and includes Father's day, as a nice bonus. Then we have the big Planet Party on Thursday the 21st.

Ok - details...

ha! See?? You're all palpitating to hear about the party!! Ah, how predictable we are. :-)

Tough. Be a grown up, for a minute, and let's talk about the Earth Lent part, first. Deferred gratification is so delightful, anyway.

Here's what you might do. You're someone who's been THINKING about "doing more" for the Earth; but it's just hard to get going. You've talked about it with your friends......

Aha. Get them into it. Promise them a party, afterwards.

So now you've got 3 of your buddies who are going to "do" Earth Lent with you, this year. (We'll do it again next year, you know- a good thing). What do you "do"?

Whatever you want, really just like in Lent Lent; the choice is up to you. You've thought about a LOT of things- "I might do this; or that, but..." Ok- so pick the one you've thought about the most- and commit to do it; for ONE WEEK. With your buddies, so you can commiserate about it the whole time.

Sounds like fun to me!

If you NEED suggestions for what to do; Crunchy Dee has a bunch of 'em.

ok, NOW, the party....

In the next post. Very soon.

Meanwhile- tell me what you think. Add your suggestions. Tell Crunchy what you think. And send this to all your enviro buddies, and get them thinking. And names. Name for the Party? Lent?

One party thought- do you think we could get Arnold Schwarzenegger to come to the party?

Are you kidding? He'd be there in a heartbeat- and the press with him. I don't live in CA- so somebody out there would have to do it......

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Thinking is good. Numbers are good.

I'm seriously jammed for time in my other life right now; luckily there are two excellent quickies available for me.

One - readers will know that I sometimes toss out calculations for someone to do- someone did! In a very early post I asked someone to just quickly figure out how much gasoline is used, worldwide, just to run the airconditioners in the car- every day.

Brian West did take a quick run just today- outstanding! Do please take a look at the original post and his comment # 2; Unthinkable.

The number he gets is pretty scary- actually, there were 2 factors he left out (understandable in quick/dirty first tries) that would make a pretty large difference- that's the number of cars that actually HAVE airconditioning; and, the percentage of time the airconditioners are actually running. I think that would make a big difference it the final number.

Here's his calculation:

"Using some Very Rough assumptions:

cars worldwide = 600,000,000

average daily car mileage = 40m

average car fuel consumption = 27.5mpg

average increase in fuel consumption when using air con = 7.5% (the figures I found varied from 2%-18%)

...656, 250, 000 gallons

or for us more metric antipodeans, that's 2, 483, 906, 250 litres, or enough fuel for quite a road trip.."


Now- I DO think that's going to turn out high- there are a lot of cars out there without a/c, or with a/c that doesn't work. At this point it's a wild guess- but let's guess it's only 1/5 of the cars out there that have working AC - that would make it a mere 131 Million gallons/day.

Then, too- nobody runs their AC all the time; but then there are some that DO - like everyone in TX, FL, AZ - so let's say half again. That gets us to a mere 65 Million gallons/day.

Or - 23 BILLION gallons/year. And that estimate is brutally short of Brian's original - which would be 237 billion... ??

boy, that seems pretty high.... Something else we're missing, so we can do a quick check on whether these numbers make any sense at all - what's the stated dail/annual global gasoline consumption? Somebody's got that number. I tried a quick google, and hit the reason why I ask others to to this; it's a tangled mess, and the only stats I could find quick were "total petroleum products" - in barrels. uh. what?


a) Doing these kinds of calculations is pretty EASY - don't leave them to the experts- use your own brain and your own googling ability.

b) Is 23 billion gallons/year- and climbing- worth talking about? or 237 BILLION, if Brian's number is closer? (I'll bet mine is actually low- other corrections might well move it back towards The West Number.)

c) Boy, you better check your numbers before publishing....... :-) I put up like 3 different versions here this morning; because... I'm jammed for time..... haste makes waste..... had to do it over and over... and it's probably STILL not right. No time.

d) Regardless; all those little tiny individual actions- that don't make any difference-

Ok, item 2 - this blog has been given an Award!
Thinking Blogger

:-) Gollyjeepers.

Thanks, More Deliberately. I am honored, humbled, etc. And vastly amused that you think I "probably won't appreciate the recognition..." I'll be chuckling about that a good while. Hey, my crusty grandpa act is working! No- I'm human. A pat on the back feels good. Thanks. And, of course, I'm TOTALLY tickled that I'm #3, and Colin is #4. HA! :-)

(that's intended as purely silly juvenile humor, Colin- nothing more. ) :-)

gotta zoom off for the day-

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Why it's worse than they thought-

This is important, so I'm going to repeat it; good story today from the BBC; Arctic Melting Faster Than Predicted. "This is the third time in the last few months that studies have suggested the IPCC's latest major global climate analysis, the Fourth Assessment Report, is too conservative."

You'll hear that refrain frequently now. The crux of this particular story is the heavyweight climate modelers are saying they're puzzled about why their intensely careful models are always UNDER estimating the problems.

Here; at least in part, is WHY; and this is NOT a factor they recognize, or are dealing with. And it's quite serious.
Not Refrigerators

The relevant bit starts about in the middle of the post.

For all the training our PhD's go through (and I've been through) - there are very few who are trained in genuine "oversight" of other researchers' thought processes. Very few indeed.