Friday, March 02, 2007

loan on a dream

The scene is set up: a woman looks harried and tired as she struggles through a crowded street. She is dressed in drab colors of black and grays. She looks to her side and sees something odd - herself in her own dream or future. The woman in the dream is dressed in brightly flowered dress and looks ecstatic. She is purchasing a house.

Another person walks by and sees herself on an exotic vacation - ready to scuba drive. Person after person walks by and sees their own dream in this reflection. Some see education or business futures. The future dream is unique to each person. Only in the dream are they happy.

The Bank of America will provide the dreams to these people through their "Windows of Opportunity."

Here lies the problem. Our dreams are on loan. We can now get a loan to purchase our dreams rapidly. What happened to hard work and saving for our dreams? Yes, there are times for loans (homes, education, emergency), but it seems that almost every dream is open for a loan opportunity. It seems as if everything is for sale - we can purchase almost anything our hearts desire, and with very little time or effort invested.

Again we see this sale of hope and an idea. It is similar to the ad that tells you that if you purchase this new brand of x, you will be happier and sexier. The dream of happiness is being sold, but is it real? Is it achievable and will it make you truly happier?

Once upon a time our grandparents worked and toiled to achieve their comfort and happiness. It was not something that could be bought and sold. There is nothing wrong with waiting and working for that achievement. It is sad that we are being sold a loan to purchase our dreams.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

the answer is?

The UN is asking that the United States becomes a leader in promoting cleaner energies and tackling the problem of global warming. The UN is encouraged by the response to An Inconvenient Truth in that there is now growing awareness of the problem of global warming.

Our local governor is supporting the exploration of biofuels as an alternative fuel source. Many people seem to think that alternative energies are the answer to all of our problems. Are alternative energies a solution?

Energy sources can be divided into renewable and nonrenewable.

Nonrenewable Renewable
Oil sands, heavy oil Wood/other biomass
Natural gas Hydro-electric power2
Coal Solar energy
Shale oil Wind energy
Gas hydrates Wave energy
Nuclear fission Tidal power
Geothermal1 Fusion

Ocean thermal energy conversion

1. Renewable for space heating 2. Not renewable with reservoirs

There are many options for alternative energy, however most of them are not as cheap as oil. There are pluses and minuses for each possible energy source. Some do not store well, some cost more to gather and store than it would to use oil. Some, such a biofuels may cause other problems such as the increased cost of food.

By Mike Meyers Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune
February 8, 2007

"The number of hungry people worldwide could grow by more than 50% by 2020, as corn, sugar and other food staples are increasingly devoted to making fuel here and abroad, according to the projections by C. Ford Runge and Benjamin Senauer.

The same trend would bring much higher food prices to the United States and the rest of the developed world, the economists predict. The sharp increase in world hunger isn't inevitable, however. The economists say increased conservation could do more to wean the United States from foreign oil than all the corn-based ethanol plants now online."

Scientists urge sweeping measures to save world
"The scientists called for dramatic actions ranging from carbon taxes and a ban on conventional coal-fired power plants to an end to all beachfront construction worldwide. The researchers were funded by the non-profit UN Foundation and the research society Sigma Xi.

To meet the scientists' goal, global carbon dioxide emissions must level off by 2015 and then drop by two-thirds by 2100."

So, what is the answer? Perhaps combining technologies will help us. Perhaps using solar, wind, wave, and biomass in combination will help. I do not know. What I do believe, however, is that we need to change how we think about the energy we use. We need to realize that it will not "always be cheap and available." We need to think about how we can make personal changes in our lives to reduce the amount of energy we use. Does this mean trading in a gas guzzler for a more efficient vehicle? Does this mean that we should combine trips and use less gasoline? Should we unplug unused appliances? Should we replace our lightbulbs? The answer is ....

It is up to us. We should find ways to use less energy. Whatever that method is.

I am trying to look around my house and life and think about ways that I can personally reduce our gasoline and electric use - whether it is offset with wind or by buying carbon emissions, using less is better in the long run. I may not be able to trade my vehicle in for a smaller one, but I can choose to walk, bike, or combine trips. I can unplug the toaster when it is no longer in use and shut doors to bedrooms that are not used (why heat an unused room? ). Small actions can make a big change in our energy usage. Of course, any action can also reduce our carbon emissions....

It is up to us. What changes can you make to reduce your reliance on oil, natural gas, and electricity?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Conference on global warming

Last night I attended a conference on global warming. Actually, I had also been invited to have an informational table at the conference. So, I set up a table with my posters, some handouts (a version of the brochures), some flyers, and a sign-up sheet for local people to be notified about classes and get involved in our local community. People signed up!

Wow. It was excited to hear the reaction from people. Most people agreed that this was something that could be done. Reducing our food miles and thus cutting our food emissions is something that most of us can do - by planting our own food, or choosing to shop at the farmer's market or join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). I told people how I have eating within a 100-mile radius, preserved food throughout the summer and am sill eating locally. So many didn't know that it was possible to do this in Minnesota (in the winter). People were enthusiastic about this.

Some of the visitors to my table took materials to share with local groups. I was also invited to present at another conference in April, to get the Victory Gardens involved with the Land Stewardship Project, and to speak with some other groups. Look - one idea can have an impact. One action can make changes. We can all do something to make a healthy change for our environment.

One of the speakers at the conference was a local member of congress. He told us that we are making a difference. When we write to our legislators it does make a difference - they become aware that citizens are demanding change. He told us that global warming is a hot topic in Washington and that as we become active in cutting our emissions and demanding changes be made, that our voices are heard. We need to keep demanding legislation!

It is becoming clear that we can make a difference. We need to use our voices and write letters to the editor, write to legislators, make changes in our own lives. Some of the changes may be uncomfortable, but if we can think about our children and grandchildren and the benefits for them, then the changes can be less painful. I would personally prefer difficult changes now than a world that is difficult to live in in the future.

The problem with the topic of global warming is it is a topic that is "over there." We hear about it and think that it is something that the government has to do something about, or that is something bigger than us. It is big, however we are the individuals who can make a change that will make a difference. Every little change that we make adds up. The climate changes will affect us. Check to see how your local environment could be affected. Let's make a difference.

Friday, February 23, 2007

my population impact

This is a long overdue post. Until now I have rarely spoken about my decision to have children or the fact that I have 5 children. I have received email questions about my decision, comments on posts, and even some angry emails!

As you could guess from what I mentioned before, I was previously married and had children. I am remarried and have had two children with my spouse. My "greening" started less than a year ago. I joined the compact in April 2006 and was later "awakened" to the impact that we have on the earth's resources. I was, however, already pregnant with my 5th child. My decision to have children came after my learning about human impact on the earth.

A friend has one child. This child is the little prince. He gets anything and everything that he wants. This little emperor syndrome may have a greater negative impact on our earth than families with more children. I agree that in many cases having fewer children is better. One child who strives to own everything can be a greater detriment than a few who know how to share and reuse. Of course, this behavior is not the fault of the child, but of those who give children everything they want and desire. The Western lifestyle is extremely damaging in itself.

Due to the fact that I have added to the population of the earth, I have made the conscious decision to modify our lifestyle to lessen our family impact. I attempt to teach and show my children a responsible way to live, to use less, leave less behind, and share more. I also try to share what I have learned with others. Sometimes people may not agree with what I try to do or how I do it, but I hope to be positive for those of us who are trying to change. I think it would be more hypocritical of me to not attempt to lessen our family impact. If I drove an SUV, I could exchange it for a vehicle that uses less gas. However, I can't exchange my 5 children for 1 or exchange a child for another who uses less water, but I can work to lessen the material goods that they consume.

Personally, I have become more passionate about human impact on the planet because of my children. I view how each of my personal decisions will impact my children (and their children). I don't know if I would have done so previously.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Sense of Entitlement

  • We would need four earths if everyone lived the western lifestyle.
  • A child born in North America or England will consume, waste and pollute more in a lifetime than as many as 50 children in a developing country.
  • The industrialized world uses close to 70% of all oil consumed in transport even though they make up only 20% of worlds' population.

My generation (early-mid 30s) is the first to be advertised to from the moment of our birth. We are the first to experience massive credit card debt. We were offered credit cards at the first moment we stepped onto a college campus. We are sold on consumption. We are requested to do our patriotic duty by shopping. This idea that we are meant (and entitled) to consume is dangerous to our moral fiber - we place more importance on our entitlement to consume than the consequences of these actions. Materialism, consumerism, and advertising have joined together to create very high expectations for the good life and a belief that we are all entitled to these expectations.

How many people do we know that have a large SUV and/or truck and refuse to trade down because they feel entitled to this vehicle. The problem is that we don't see the direct ramifications of driving this vehicle. It guzzles a lot of gas? "So what - I can afford it, " is the response. The consequences; carbon emissions and oil depletion - are not even a consideration. If it is something that we can afford, then it is something that we are entitled to.

A while ago, I posted something about the high costs of cashmere. The demand for cheap cashmere sweaters at big box stores has had huge impacts on the environment - the goats which are used to create cashmere are now creating desertification. When we demand so much stuff at a cheap price there are multiple larger costs. So many in our society either don't realize or care about the actions of purchasing a sweater - as the ramifications don't affect us directly. We can afford the sweater and that is what matters to us. The all-pervasive sense of entitlement has entered our western psyche - and is simply reiterated with every commercial and every trip to the store. We are entitled to anything and everything that is affordable. Those items that are not affordable now will be made affordable soon. We can all purchase all that we want.

We are taught to believe that we have a right to anything and everything that we want - if only we apply ourselves to it (and sometimes applying ourselves is not even necessary). It is a priority. In a consumer society, people have very high expectations for personal gratification. People feel that they are entitled to have all their expectations met. Life should be easy. The good life should be available to all - and easily attainable. People should get out of their way - it is a right. This narcissist behavior is frightening. We have all seen video of people pushing and jumping over each other for certain toys. You would think that these people were starving and pushing for the last grains of rice.

When oil depletes and becomes expensive, what is going to happen to those people who feel entitled to the "good life"? What will happen to those people who feel entitled to drive a gas guzzler? To those who feel entitled to eat strawberries in January? What is going to happen to the fabric of our society? Anger. Anger at the loss of ability to get anything that we want at any time we want it.

We need to change our sense of entitlement to one of appreciation. We need to learn to appreciate what we have rather than increasing desire. We need to understand the ramifications of consuming. We need to understand that our world cannot continue to sustain this mad rush of overabundance and instead enjoy what we have. We need to change the definition of the "good life." We need to make changes in our own lives (which can help change supply and demand). This takes a personal change - we cannot change the mindset of others. As we change ourselves we can show others that the good life may appear different than advertisements lead us to believe.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


I need to vent. I really need to vent. This evening, however, I realized that outside of my husband, I have few friends in this city - and no close friendships. We have lived here for just over a year. The town is basically a professional college town. Over 300 medical residents and fellows move in and out of town every spring. I look around and it seems that every other house has a "for sale" sign in front of it. Of course, there are people here who are not in medicine, but I don't have many peers.

Most of the spouses of my husband stay at home. I am one of the few working resident spouses. I teach college students, thus I am with students all day, and not with peers. There are a few students whom I would love to have as friends. But, they are students. I had friends up north, but I am suddenly feeling lonely. I am realizing why friendship and community is so vital to our well-being. I could (and do) turn to my husband and vent, but there are a number of things that he just doesn't "get." I think that is why female friendship is very important.

When I worked up north (I love that term - up north), every day 3-4 of us would get together at noon and speed walk 2 miles. It was a a wonderful opportunity. We would talk about families, work, relationships, anything. It was a highlight of my day. I always knew that I could turn to these women and learn things from them, gain insight from their experiences, and share my experiences. No judging - just listening and sharing. Tracey and Kim, where are you?

I hope that in my current efforts to build a local sustainable community I can gain some close friendships. People working together for a common goal, sharing experiences and learning from one another.... However, at the moment I still need to vent. Tomorrow will bring another day - and I will look for that silver lining and things will look better.

(this is my venting without telling you what I need to vent about)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Fall of Rome

I am currently teaching th History of Graphic Design. In the history of design we follow the spread of ideas - primarily in the form of written communication.

There is a big time lapse between the study Roman design and the Illuminated manuscripts. When Rome fell, it seems that a lot more than Rome fell. The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization looks like an incredible book which explains the fall and the repercussions of the fall. The fall was important to the entire "known world". The Roman empire was large - spread throughout Europe and into Asia. Parts of Europe were dependent upon the Roman empire for trade, commerce, and technologies. When Rome fell, these items were no longer available. The roads, which had been protected by Rome, were no longer safe. Commerce ceased, the exchange of ideas slowed, and literacy nearly ended. Survival skills which had been necessary were not needed during the occupation of Rome. Pottery was shipped in from Rome, rather than made in England....

The Fall of Rome caused many problems and it took hundreds of years for skills to be redeveloped.

This has made me look at the skills the tools that we have become reliant on. Our houses are a good example. Houses have become larger and larger and more dependent upon natural gas. These houses are harder to heat and dependent upon a non-renewable resource. At one time, homes were smaller and used wood masonry fireplaces (which are extremely efficient). What would we do now without heat? What would we do if Rome fell today?

What skills do we rely on? We gather our food from stores (often prepackaged - so all we have to do is "zap" it in the microwave), we use cars and trucks to move goods (including food) throughout our country, we rely on machinery somewhere else to make our fibers and then to sew our clothing. We use plastic (petroleum based) items to store our food instead of the traditional pottery, baskets, etc.... Do we even have friend or neighbors who have skills? Most of us do not.

We rely on a much larger community than even was relied on during the Roman Empire. Almost everything is machine made and transported long distances. We are also further from self-sufficiency than during the Roman period.

I have decided to build a set of skills. I am looking at everything I own and determining if it is necessary and how I can either do without or make it myself. Can many of us spin, weave, knit, sew, make soap (from ashes), use medicinal herbs, make paper, candles, save seeds, garden, preserve food, cook? Can you share skills with a neighbor?

Any civilization can fall. Some may fall further than others. What will happen if that happens to us? How far will we fall? I don't think of myself as a doom and gloom person, but I want to have skills - even if that means I have to cut out my cuppa joe (yes, I am weaning myself).

There is a spinning class here in April. I plan on going. What skill are you going to develop first?