Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday Hope Blogging

Mike Davis has written a terrific article on conservation and deconsumption during World War II. Every word is a sermon in itself, but here's the part I found particularly striking:

Lessing Rosenwald, the chief of the Bureau of Industrial Conservation, called on Americans "to change from an economy of waste - and this country has been notorious for waste - to an economy of conservation." A majority of civilians, some reluctantly but many others enthusiastically, answered the call....

[T]he combination of a world crisis, full employment, and mild austerity seemed to be a tonic for the American character. New York Times columnist Samuel Williamson, for example, monitored the impacts of rationing and restricted auto use on families in commuter suburbs....After noting initial popular dismay and confusion, Williamson was heartened to see suburbanites riding bikes, mending clothes, planting gardens, and spending more time in cooperative endeavors with their neighbors. Without cars, people moved at a slower pace but seemed to accomplish more. Like Welles in The Magnificent Ambersons, Williamson pointed out that American life had been revolutionized in a single generation and many good things seemingly lost forever; the war and the emphasis on conservation were now resurrecting some of the old values."
Who knows how much more we might accomplish in a less convenient world? A young man from Malawi has built an improvised windmill to power his village:
After having to drop out of school due to lack of funds, William Kamkwamba from Malawi decided to learn as much as he could from books that had been donated to his primary school’s library. One of the books detailed how to build a windmill that generated enough electricity.

With much trial and error, some local materials, and an investment of about 16 dollars, William constructed a windmill that could generate enough energy for a few light bulbs and a radio. While a few bulbs might sound insignificant, the difference changed William’s and his family’s life entirely. Instead of using expensive paraffin candles, which produce smoke and irritate the eyes, William and his family now use the energy generated by the wind to light up their house. The engineering youth also hooked up a car battery to his generator to use as a backup in case of a non-windy day.
You can visit William's blog by clicking here.

Inhabitat discusses the use of sun-powered ovens in Darfur and China:
Operation Blessing, a non-profit committed to “breaking the cycle of suffering” has taken the age-old technique of harnessing the sun’s heat to cook food, and turned it into a viable design for off-the-grid, minimal-resource third-world demographics. In the Gansu Province of China, and soon in Darfur camps, the sun-powered parabolic solar oven allows the suffering and hungry to cleanly cook and boil water and without firewood, using only that always-renewable energy source: the sun. The oven’s design is also a great example of using ancient technologies in modern ways to address social problems.
London's vice-mayor has a remarkably ambitious plan to shift the city towards decentralized power:
Of course you are not going to completely replace power stations or the grid. But you do not need to invest as much in new power stations or in an ageing infrastructure if you go for the new infrastructure - which is the energy revolution – which is generating your energy locally.
Read the whole thing; it's fairly staggering. You may also be interested in this account of off-the-grid living in Iowa, and this WaPo article on the eco-kosher movement, which "combines traditional Jewish dietary laws with new concerns about industrial agriculture, global warming and fair treatment of workers," and is allegedly representative of "the greening of American religion."

It's an article of faith among anti-environmental dingbats that a global shift towards organic farming would result in catastrophic worldwide famine. This was never a plausible argument, and there's mounting evidence that precisely the opposite is true.
Organic farming can yield up to three times as much food on individual farms in developing countries, as low-intensive methods on the same land—according to new findings which refute the long-standing claim that organic farming methods cannot produce enough food to feed the global population.
As if that weren't enough, another study shows that organic farming is better at building soil than conventional no-till farming:
Plant physiologist John Teasdale, with the ARS Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory in Beltsville, was surprised to find that organic farming was a better soil builder than no-till. No-till has always been thought to be the best soil builder because it eliminates plowing and minimizes even light tillage to avoid damaging organic matter and exposing the soil to erosion.

Organic farming, despite its emphasis on building organic matter, was thought to actually endanger soil because it relies on tillage and cultivation--instead of herbicides--to kill weeds. But Teasdale's study showed that organic farming's addition of organic matter in manure and cover crops more than offset losses from tillage.
Perhaps the well-known distaste of industry shills for "alarmism" stems from the fact that their own doomsaying is almost always incorrect. In any event, we can expect them to warn us that the EU's ban on mercury thermometers will cause an epidemic of blackwater fever; and that its ban on paraquat will lead to an outbreak of heroin abuse among preschoolers, and eventually force us to live in caves and treat toothaches by smashing our molars with rocks.

In a sequel of sorts to my earlier FHB story on text messaging as a protest tool, the Chinese government recently used text messages to warn 150,000 citizens of a flood:
Zhang Xue'an...began to receive messages on his mobile phone on July 3, and was told by local flood control authorities that a flood was only a few days away. He bought biscuits and bottled water, which proved very useful when his home was flooded three days later and water and gas supplies were cut off.
Delaware has struck down its two-year statute of limitations on child sexual abuse:
Because it can often take years for victims of sexual abuse to press charges, the bill will also provide a two-year period for victims to renew claims that were previously barred by the time limit. “Our children are very lucky to be protected,” Minner told The News Journal. “Some states have practically no law at all.”

California was the first state to pass this type of bill in 2002. Approximately a dozen other states have considered pursuing similar legislation, and an initiative in Washington, D.C. looks likely to pass.
Pennsylvania has passed a bill that protects women who breastfeed in public from being harassed:
A new law signed by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell (D) gives women more rights and protections when breastfeeding in public. Governor Rendell signed the bill Monday, ensuring that a woman who breastfeeds in public cannot be accused of obscenity, indecent exposure, sexual conduct, or causing a nuisance.
Interestingly, Republicans dropped their opposition to this bill in part because its language was changed; instead of saying that women have the "right" to breastfeed, it now asserts their "freedom" to do so.

A US company claims to be able to "wash" contamination out of soil.
The two partners said they have developed a method to inject a biodegradable "soap," such as coconut oil, corn oil, soy or citrus oil, into the soil and target the contaminant. Within a few weeks, it breaks up a pollutant, such as petroleum, into tiny pieces - molecules.

Next, they infuse the molecules with oxygen, which reconfigures them through molecular bonding, into two byproducts - carbon dioxide and water, Hoag said.
Not sure what to make of that.

There are plans afoot to turn the former prison on Alcatraz into a learning center for green technology.
The green overhaul comes with a $3.5 million dollar price tag, which includes a new updated audio tour (the previous one was 20 years old), access to areas that were previously closed off to visitors, and replanting of the island gardens which have lain dormant for years. They also plan to make the island more self-sufficient through the generation of potable water, making use of the sewage wasted, and supplementing their sustainable energy resources with biofuel generators, leaving traditional diesel behind.
Portland, Oregon is planning a riverfront building that'll comprise 175,000 squre feet of solar cells. And Florida intends to enact comparatively strict emissions standards:
The rules, which would strengthen existing laws and therefore not need the approval of the legislature, would establish targets for Florida to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2017, to 1990 levels by 2025 and by 80 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050.
Germany, unsurprisingly, has a more ambitious plan:
Germany plans to boost the percentage of electricity generated by renewable resources to 45 percent by 2030 in a bid to curb global warming, environment minister Sigmar Gabriel said Thursday. Gabriel told reporters that a progress report on a renewable energy law passed in 2000 showed that the country had already surpassed the quota of 12.5 percent set for 2010.
If you're upset about the price you're paying for gas, this graphic may put things in perspective (click to enlarge):

The new Harry Potter book will be printed in a deluxe "green" edition; Grist reports that publishers increasingly follow this route, not least because "an Opinion Research Corporation poll revealed that 80% of readers are willing to pay more for books printed on recycled and environmentally responsible paper."

A small portion of the devastated Aral Sea has been restored:
Tastupek and other villages are rejuvenating because an eight mile-long dam now blocks a narrow channel through which water drained freely from the northern sea to the southern. Water that the Syr Darya River delivers into the northern sea is building up, slowly expanding its shores.
I was intrigued, this week, by new software that models the light in ancient buildings. And by BLDGBLOG's gorgeous survey of fossil rivers.

Coudal recommends Deleted Images: The Junkyard of Art. And a nice collection of matchbox labels.

As for me, I recommend that you take the tram from Darwen to Blackburn. Or vice versa.

You might also wish to browse these remarkable Victorian stove ads. Or this collection of glass negatives from the Economic Geology collection at the New York State Museum.

If this involves too much link-clicking for you, you can always chase yourself away from the computer with the sounds of the Cicadas of Michigan.

(Photograph at top: Glass plate negative by unknown photographer, ca. 1905.)


Anonymous said...

One of the reasons I like to get a window seat when I fly is that you can see those fossil river curves as you fly over. The mapping works them out in greater detail, of course, but the complexity is there. The Mississippi is the best for this, but any river, frequently including western dry washes, shows its history this way.


ellroon said...

Thanks for such splendid work, Phila. You find the most amazing sites!

Husband delighted with tram link, thanks!

Phila said...

One of the reasons I like to get a window seat when I fly is that you can see those fossil river curves as you fly over.

Same here. I always bring books, but end up staring out the window the whole time. It seems like an obligation, in a way, given the number of people in past centuries who never had the opportunity to see things from that perspective.

Husband delighted with tram link, thanks!

That's great! I was thinking, "no one's gonna care about this at all..."