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Category: "Reduce" - Back to Basics

Category: "Reduce"

Would the Real Terrorist Please Step Forward?

January 15th, 2016
With the world under attack as it has been, we're rightly worried about stopping the terrorists. We may have different opinions on how to do that, but we're unified in that they must be stopped. Dissent comes when we start talking about a craftier terrorist. It lives here, at home. It's been living here for ages. And the terrorist is so cunning, we've been funding its endeavor, sending it money ... regularly ... every month for most of us. This terrorist is the Energy Giant.
I'm not just speaking of the BPs, Enrons, and Exxons of the world. I'm talking about every commercial enterprise that has gotten so fat from sucking the insides out of the earth it cannot roll over and see the warning clouds in the sky. I'm talking about the perpetrators of durable pollution who can't tell a rainbow from the steam plume of nuclear reactor. I'm talking about the generators, distributors, regulators, lawyers, marketers, and spin doctors who steal from under the feet of humanity and then sells it back the loot. I'm talking about an industry that brings such things into my world as NOAA's Gulf Oil Slick Forecast or Limerick Nuclear Generating Station's community-preparedness siren that blares so loudly for so long during its six-month test that I'm sure all the birds that nest nearby are deaf. I'm talking about court cases and backhoes and mudslides and access roads and obliterated mountaintops and wastewater pits and acid mine drainage and exploded bats and cancer clusters. The Giant that covers a desert in mirrors, a vista in turbines, and a riverbank in concrete is the same cold-blooded bully as the one with the fossil straw. Consider that... Isis (today's enemy number one) chops heads off in front of the camera. The Giant hides behind an oversized veil, then administers poison slowly. Isis radicalizes fearmongers to obtain support for its way of thinking. The Giant deceives kind people, making them think it keeps them safe. Isis kills those who might believe differently. The Giant manipulates what everyone believes. Isis launches an extremist jihad. The Giant launches a political career. Now, be sure, I am not making light of the evil in religious terrorism. What I am doing is poking a hole in the curtain so that we might see the dark warning clouds that the Giant has summoned for us. Once we realize how manipulated, beaten down, held back, controlled, and walled in we are by the same people who tell us the impact of their work is worth it for the ravishing benefit of more power, how do we change anything? We can unleash our military on Isis, but what can we do about a virus that has infected every corner of our culture and way of life? What do we do? We make it so that it doesn't matter if the lights go out. We figure out a way -- a dozen, hundred, million ways -- to make it so that it doesn't matter if the lights go out. We build, test, and use every strategy necessary to make it so that it DOESN'T MATTER. Then, we roll up our sleeves and unplug the lights; we tell the Giant to go away. It's not so absurd, you know? Just as unsettled countries have used our military aid, supplies and training against us, colleges and technical school graduates can use their education to pursue a future that deems us independent, not just from foreign oil, but also from The Giant and its Grid lock. As for tactics the military should use against Isis, as I said, we have different opinions. Most importantly though, the enemy has been clearly identified.

A Chilling Waste

August 21st, 2015
I just returned from a weeklong vacation, which included attending the Philadelphia Folk Festival for the 24th time. Besides the music and creative collaboration, one of the most magical features of the event is the way in which each and every person is free to be. The assumed love for one another was a refreshing reprieve from the snobbery and hate most of us are regularly subjected to, and this immediate acceptance of each other renewed my faith in mankind, just as it does every year. You can imagine then my conflicting despair when I watched what was happening at the water fountain. My friend eloguently described this year's weather as "the seven pits of hell." It was hot. Very hot. The scent of nearly smoldering grass mixed with that of sweat, pachouli, and suntan lotion. Held in a farmer's hayfield, with the concert grounds mercilessly sloped at a perfect angle to sun and the camping area layered with heat-trapping tarps and the entire scene filled with 40,000 hard-breathing people, one cannot escape the blazing effects of a cloudless sky. To watch a concert is to endure, and relief only comes with water.
Drinking water. Spraying water. Soaking your feet in water.
Thankfully, the festival is supplied by at least six, high-pressure fountains scattered through the concert area and campground. Yet, my heart ached. Everywhere I looked, throughout this hippified proclamation of peace, love, and connectedness, people abused the precious resource. For instance, the watering holes consist of fountains for drinking as well as downward-facing pipes for filling water jugs. At all the fountains, in all the years I have been going, among all the people who pride themselves in having returned annually to the festival for decades, the pipe has run for a good five seconds after the faucet is turned off. The result is about two cups of water released post-off. Yet never did I see someone hold his or her jug under the pipe until the water ended. They removed it in synergy with the off twist and let the two cups fall to the ground. Every. Single. Person. Children have always played at the fountains, even when it rains. I can't fault them; it's fun to fill a balloon and squirt out the contents and fill the balloon again. But never did I hear a guardian say, "Don't waste the water, dear." Adults came to wet their bandannas at the fountain, wringing the colored cloths and wetting them again to create a cool tonic to wear on the head or neck. I can't fault them; this technique really works. But rarely did I watch someone do this with care. The water flowed so easily and quickly from the faucet, more hit the ground than the cloth. And the longer one held it under the running water, the cooler the material would get, so each bandana wash consumed about one-half gallon of water. Strong men came to the fountain to fill 10-gallon tubs destined for plastic swimming pools, makeshift shower houses, and temporary kitchens. Too heavy to manage, a quarter of the contents sloshed out before they could lift it back on to the wagon for hauling. At one concert, a little girl was happily turning the faucet on and off to help fill everyone's cups and water guns. "I'll do it," she exclaimed with splashing glee. I held my four-cup container under the pipe. As she got halfway through it, I said, "Stop!" With hand still holding open the knob, she starred at me in alarm, her eyes saying "why?" the water overflowing, every one of the 15 waiting people around me looking with same "why?" There was no time to explain; there seemed no point in trying. More water was wasted by my attempt than if I'd remained quiet. I wondered what would happen if the well ran dry. People would be mad. They'd demand correction. They'd blame the farmer or the festival. They'd talk about finding a new location for next year, one that could adequately meet their needs. I wondered about the message of connectedness and friendship, because I felt a continent apart from our friends on the western shore, the ones fighting drought and fire and thirst. Meanwhile, the fact that these faucets exist is a cherished part of the folk festival. How many events can you go to these days where drinking water is free? (Restricted access to water at events is a condition that I advocate should be illegal, but that's a rant for another day.) And frankly, the Old Pool Farm's is the best-tasting well I've ever sampled. In fact, I hated to go home for I miss the deliciousness of what pours from that spigot. At the end of the festival, after the sites were torn down and the garbage piled high, I saw full cases of 12-ounce bottles of water in the piles, left behind either because the owner didn't want to carry them home or because he or she didn't want to risk drinking the plastic that had likely leached into the fluid. The precious, life-dependent liquid, hauled in unnecessarily was now trapped in packaging and headed for the landfill. A few people commented about the senselessness of bringing bottled water to place with such a great and accessible well, but for the most part, no one ever said a word. Even more than the waste though, my judgment of others amidst bliss and friendship saddened me. I know in my heart that my eyes simply did not see the conservationists. They had to be there. They had to notice, too. I thought about sitting by the fountains to watch for them, to see if anyone would try to change the mindset. But I had to look away, had to walk away. And that made me saddest of all.
Back at the concert, I prayed the fallen water would recharge the aquifer. I guzzled what was in my cup, refilled, and turned back to the good time. I was taking measures to survive alongside my fellow festival goers. But my concern couldn't be plugged. This is the painful reality of caring, of seeing what other's do not. Like the knob on the faucet under the little girl's control, some things just refuse to be turned off.

Make Your 4th Red, White, Blue and GREEN

July 2nd, 2015
In typical American style, we sure know how to push a celebration to grandeous proporations. Fireworks, beach trips, picnics, parades, concerts, cookouts, and more. For most of us, this is our big vacation. Moreover, freedom and independence is certainly something to acknowledge, and I applaud a ceremony that honors these liberties, for they shall not to be taken for granted. It's just too bad our traditions have grown to clash with our desire to live in harmony with the earth. In short, our big parties now have a big impact on our environment, and that doesn’t have to be.
There are ways to tread lightly while still making the occasion sparkle. Here are just five ideas: 1.) Grilling. Burgers. Hot Dogs. Ribs. Lobster. This is the holiday to make use of that grill and outdoor dining set. Why not also support your local farmer or butcher at the same time? Consuming small-farm raised, seasonally ripe foods is not only easier on the environment than the other stuff, it deepens your connection to the rhythm of the cycle of summer. Challenge yourself to create a menu that is 70% or more locally sourced. Then, let me know what time I should come for dinner. 2.) Picnic Supplies. Tableclothes, cups, forks, knives, spoon, bowls, plates, decorations and other supplies. I am older than the commonplace use of disposable products. Yet, in my short lifespan, the oceans have formed islands of plastic and the landfills have been stuffed with the burden of short-term thinking. Encourage guests to bring their own cups. Buy colorful, reusable, easy-wash plates. If you cannot avoid disposables, setup recycling stations for guests to separate out their plastics (utensils and cups included) from the trash. And never buy styrofoam. 3.) Helium Balloons. I’ve lost count of how many of these I discovered during hikes to remote, woodland locations, tangled in the trees or mangled on the ground. Decorate instead with flowers and flags. Let the kids make a sign if you need to bring attention to your driveway for guests. As for balloon releases, let burning sage or incense carry your intentions to the skies, without the mylar and latex. 4.) Fireworks. I like a good loud show as much as the next gal. However, the old-fashioned community gathering has turned into a competition to outdo each other. The traffic and smoke and explosions are only destined to grow bigger and bigger, each little township spending thousands of dollars, fields littered with leftover trinkets and glowsticks and trash. Meanwhile, a dead pine tree placed on a glowing campfire can create a fascinating ember show. Emerging fireflies can provoke a sense of wonder and mystery. Create a celebration around nature's displays. When done with intention, they can be far more meaningful than dashing to and from a stranger's pyrotechnic show. 5.) Sing. Parades and concerts are fun, but why not create your own music and pageantry? Host a talent show. Dig out your guitar. Dress up in costume and stage your own block party parade. Participate in creating your own entertainment instead of paying someone else to do it for you. The self expression is not only good for you, it connects you to your own desires and emotions, thus opening the door to a better connection to the natural world. We are a great country because we are free. Don’t let traditions shackle you to consumerism and waste. Party in a style that is in harmony with your intentions, and you will party in a style that is in harmony with the earth. And most of all, have a happy 4th of July.

Lost Without Recollection

April 17th, 2015
Here comes another attack on technology. I can't help myself; things have gotten absurd. It's not that the tool isn't good. For the right application, it can be very useful. However, like buying a field mower to maintain a center-city plot of grass, our chase for the latest and biggest has as run us right past common sense. GPS. Global positioning systems. The Garmin. The talking dashboard. The I-can't-tell-where-I'm-going-without-her box that, in my opinion, is the new "boob tube," a nickname once reserved for the mind-numbing television set. Yes, if you are a salesperson who must mow a large territory or if you are a scientist who needs to document your remote location via satellite, you should have a GPS. But if you are a parent driving back and forth between local rivalry soccer fields, you do not need a GPS. You need to have a friendly conversation with a live person who can tell you how to get there. You need to look at $5 map instead of programming a $200 machine. Still, to each his or her own. Except that stupidity frightens me. Not only do I fear for my future, I worry about people. And today's overuse of dashboard GPS products is about as stupid as firing up a 70" tractor to pass over a 36" piece of ground. I've heard of stories in which drivers, following the digital instructor, have crashed after turning onto roads that didn't exist. A good friend of mine--an otherwise intelligent and perceptive gal--allowed her GPS to get her lost inside in a very harsh neighborhood, one that was so bad a police officer saw her, came to her aid, and escorted her out of town. Logical intelligence is being traded for gadgetry dependence. Both those examples were hearsay. But last summer I came face-to-face with a nearly tragic example. Were it not for the kindness of a brave bystander, the outcome would have been worse. I was camping in a wooded Pennsylvania State Park with friends. So spread out were the hiking routes that you had to drive to the trail heads if you didn't want to spend more time hiking to them than on them. My friend, Jane, and I set off in her hybrid Ford for a short, late-afternoon excursion to see some of the park's most impressive waterfalls, including one that was 94 feet high.
We climbed the steep trail and oohed and awed and snapped photos and breathed in the lovely scent. Then, we climbed back to the parking lot. The sun was falling toward dusk. Exhilarated, Jane said, "Hey, while we're out here, do you mind if I stop by the payphone to check in at home? There's no cell service out here." (For those who don't know, a pay phone is metal box with a wired handset and buttons numbered zero to nine. You put coin money into a slot so you can place a call.) "Absolutely not," I said. "Sounds like a good idea." The phone hung outside the park office, which was closed since it was after 7pm. Knowing the weather bulletin was accessible in the foyer, I walked inside while she dialed. I snapped a photo of the threat of thunderstorms to report to my friends back at camp. On my way out, I met a young man. Our conversation was a little chaotic, because he was a little panicked. Did I work there? Did I know how to reach a ranger? Could I point out where we were on the map? Isn't there some sort of emergency number to call? The severity of his dilemma came out eventually. He was completely lost and nightfall was coming. The three others with him looked tired. "I'm never going to get my family back to the car before dark," he said hopelessly. "Where is your car parked?" I asked. "It's in the lot where you must cross the road and then there are bridges and then a trail...." None of that sounded familiar to me. I desperately searched my mind so I could help him. By now Jane had finished talking with her family, and she walked up to see what was happening. "They need help and there is no way to reach a ranger," I explained. He repeated his story while his family rested on a wooden bench. The young girl swung her feet, the mom remained calm, sweaty, and collected, and the teenage boy showed no emotion at all. "Well, I can give you ride," Jane said in the same emphatically helpful way she approaches most situations. While I was still trying to picture bridges to a trail, Jane dove right into a carefree and generous solution. It seemed obvious this was not a ploy to hurt us, but it was notable that risk or inconvenience never caused Jane to hesitate. Old-fashioned humanity came first. I wasn't sure how we were going to fit anyone else into a vehicle stuffed with camping gear. Jane quickly determined that the best thing to do was to drive him to his car so that he could come back and pick up his family. "Oh my God; thank you." He looked as if he might cry. "So, where are you parked?" she repeated my earlier question. "I don't know...bridges...cross a road." "Is it the Beech Lot?" "I have no idea." "Hmm. Okay; it's probably the Lakeside Lot. Let's try. We piled in, waved to his slightly worried-looking family on the wooden bench, and yelled, "We'll be right back." In the review mirror, I saw them walking toward a water fountain. But as we drove, Dad just kept repeating his description and nothing looked familiar. "Jane, can I have that park map?" I asked. I scoured the 8 1/2 by 11-inch photocopy for other parking lots. "I bet he's parked down on Route 118." I turned to the stranger in the back seat. "Did you come in on 487 or 118?" "I don't know; my wife used GPS and just told me where to turn." "Did you come in from the north or the south?" "I have no idea." "What towns did you pass through? "No idea...GPS." "We gotta' give it a shot; he must be all the way down in that lower lot." Mind you, this was NOT around the corner. He was probably parked on the other side of 13,000 acres. The road would take us six miles down to an elevation that was more than 1,000 feet lower than where we found him. Along the way, he began to recognize things. "We were here," he almost shouted. "This is where we came out of the woods when we knew it was getting dark. We were told the trail would loop back down, but it never did. I had to get my family out of the woods. Then some guy told us to turn around. We should have kept walking." I assured him that it was best he turned around, because we were only about a half-mile into our six-mile journey. "This is going to be a little bit of drive. The road veers away from the park for a bit." The Ford's transmission hummed while the low gear prevented us from flying down the hill. We passed a ranger's truck with no ranger it in it as well as a runaway truck ramp (an uphill clearing onto which a truck that has lost its brakes could make an emergency landing). We passed trees and more trees until we finally got to the bottom, where we turned left in hopes that we were headed to the right parking lot. Still, since he hadn't walked all the way down the mountain, this section once again was unfamiliar. "Let's hope you just came in from the other way," Jane said in a reassuring tone. I think she was trying to ease her own mind even more than the stranger's. People were likely wondering where the heck we were, and we were both in an unspoken thirst for that post-hike beer. The backseat stranger said, "This is not like me. I know how to read a map. I thought this loop would be clearly marked. I've got to keep my family safe. I want to hike the Appalachian Trail soon, but I guess I'm going to have to get better at orienteering. There's no way we would have made it back to the car!" The closer we got, the more he seemed to think this was the correct place. "It should be coming up on the right," I said. "Yes. Yes. This looks like it. Oh my God; I think this is it." "Are you going to kiss your car when you find it?" I joked. "Absolutely," he said. "There it is; that silver Jeep." The next few moments were filled with a flood of sincere gratitude and relief. "How can I get in touch with you? I want to pay you." There was no way Jane would have accepted it; her reward was already received. Heightened by his appreciation, the chance to make a positive difference in a stranger's day was more than enough payback for her. "Do you know how to get back?" "I think so." I began describing the two turns, when Jane simply said, "Just follow us." This time the hybrid complained, unable to exceed 35 mph. “Take your time,” I kept urging her. "You don't want to wreck your transmission over a good deed." We knew the silver Jeep behind us was anxious to get to its destination, but this was a hill that couldn't be rushed. Once at the park office, we waved happily to the family as they climbed into the car, their ordeal finally over. I was proud of my friend. I'm not sure I'd have realized the gravity of their situation as quickly as she did or be as willing to get involved. I was still stuck on getting a ranger's help by the time Jane had clicked her seat belt. But while it was all happiness and gratitude, I couldn't get over how an individual who clearly displayed a love for his family and a respect for his responsibilities as a father could not begin to describe where he had been beyond the scenery he witnessed when he got there. I began to understand why he, when we were looking at the map back at the ranger's office, couldn't figure out where he was. All he knew was that he was far from where he started and that he should probably head downhill. Because Jane had a paper map and because I was familiar with that paper--my guide for the weekend--the three of us are not still driving around looking for a parking lot across the road from a trail with bridges. In a society that continues to invent new tools to find its way, I see that we are becoming increasingly disoriented. Thankfully there are still a few map-reading humans such as Jane and me alive in this world, people who are willing to help when the way-finding computers fall out of reach.

Why Spring Cleaning Does More Than Make Things Look Nice.

April 2nd, 2015
Read more via my latest newsletter, SOS Signal March/April 2015.