Tuesday, October 28

Free and cheap things to do in Boulder

A couple weeks ago I ran into a couple on the bus who needed directions to the Boulder International youth hostel. They asked about other things to do in the neighborhood and I thought I'd post my list here. The hostel is located on "The Hill", a residential and light retail area just west of the CU Boulder Campus and I'm only including things that one can get to on foot or with a short bus ride.

Boulder Creek: If you walk downhill to the north from the hostel you'll hit Boulder Creek which runs east/west through the heart of Boulder's downtown. The creek is a destination in itself. There is a wide path next to the creek which runs to several destinations, several park areas for leisurely sitting, wading spots, and in the summer the creek is open to tubing. Boulder Creek also hosts two of the city's largest festivals the Boulder Creek Festival at the beginning of the summer and the Hometown Fair at the end of summer.

Farmer's market: Every Saturday morning (8 am to 2 pm) and Wednesday evening (4 pm to 8 pm) from the beginning of April through the end of October. Fresh food including seasonal veggies, sprouts, bread, homestead cheeses, and products like handmade soap and jellies. There are meals for sale, expect to spend $5 - $7 for pho, noodle bowls, pizza, and burgers (vegitarian options available everywhere).
The farmer's market is more than shopping. There are buskers, you can have knives sharpened, bikes repaired, and find out about local hiking, schools, and much more. It's also a huge outdoor picnic for residents so it's great for kid watching, finding a game of hacky sack, or just starting conversations.

The Hop: The Hop is a circular bus route within Boulder's Community Transit Network. For $1.75 ($2.00 starting in 2009) you can visit all of central Boulder's hotspots without a car. This includes: the Hill, the Pearl Street pedestrian mall, Pearl street, the 29th Street mall (a newly-constructed plaza-type mall featuring Borders, the Apple Store, Macy's, Target, and more), The Dairy Center (with neighboring REI and Circuit City). Ask for a transfer when you get on and you can transfer to other busses in the CTN, including the Hop2Chatauqua during the summer.

International Film Series: The International Film Series screens over 100 films every year, all year long. In general, the films are shown in venues on the CU campus, in walking distance of the hostel. Admission is $5.

BMoCA: The Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art hosts local and international exhibitions of contemporary art. Cost is $5 per adult normally, but admission is free on Saturdays when the Farmer's Market is open.

Boulder Public Library: Just west of Broadway on the Boulder Creek Path (or on Arapahoe) is the main branch of the Boulder Public Library. The branch is made up of two building connected by an enclosed bridge. The southern building contains the library with a spacious magazine reading area. The bridge has a perpetual used book sale and a coffee shop. The north building hosts an ongoing free art exhibition and also has two theaters which host a variety of films, lectures, and music.

Chatauqua: The Colorado Chatauqua was built in 1898 as part of the Chatauqua movement -- programs aimed at increasing the education and culture of adults across America in the days before radio and TV. "Chatauqua" in Boulder means both a park boasting awesome vistas and hiking trails and the historic buildings including a theater and a gourmet restaurant. The flagship events at the theater are part of the concert series which isn't cheap. However there are conversations, films, and smaller concerts weekly which fall in the $4 to $7 range.

The Dairy Center: The Dairy Center for the Arts is a renovated dairy building which has been formated into three performance spaces, a lobby gallery, a photo gallery, an enclosed gallery and classroom spaces. The galleries are generally open to the public whenever events are taking place and they are generally free. Performances range from aerial dance, vocal and instrumental music, comedy, dance, and theater. Prices are set by the groups performing so look for 2-for-1, sliding scale, and name-your-own price events.

The Pearl Street Mall: I hesitate to add a mall to a list of free and cheap things to do... I have trouble "going shopping" without buying and that's not free and often not cheap. However I know there are people with more self-control than I and the Pearl Street Mall is a lovely pedestrian mall with many buskers and public art installations. There are also several used bookstores and a surplus store on the east end of the mall if you have to do some cheap buying. It also hosts several independent coffee shops including the Trident and The Laughing Goat.

The 29th Street Mall: See above for disclaimer. The public art at the 29th street mall includes interactive art from the national labs (NIST, NCAR) located around Boulder. Boulder's only first run theater, the Century, is at the mall. Early bird tickets are $5.50 (seems to be the first showing of any movie.). See the entry on the Hop for more about the mall.

Sunday, October 19

Tatsuya Ishida hits one out of the park

I woke up to a nice synchronicity today. Tatsuya Ishida, who draws the webcomic Sinfest, neatly mirrored something I've been thinking a lot about over the past month or so. Namely how in the past 40 years we've come to a place where it's nearly normal to buy everything we need from some corporation or another. Here's the strip.

'nuf said for today. Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, October 7

The Difference Government Can Make

I grew up in a libertarian household that was won over to the Republicans in the age of Reagan's "government is the problem" 80's. I have an innate skepticism about turning to the government for solutions. But in the late 80's I started getting involved in churches and learned a different lesson. In a church, the pastor and the board can set a direction, but people are basically going to do what they're going to do. You don't change people by yelling at them, you change them by offering them experiences that have different outcomes than they expected. What the ministers do is set up the opportunities.

Government really is the same way. People ignore rules that are unjust or impractical or no longer reflect their values, and in time the rules change. This is why my friend Alex could honeymoon with his wife in North Carolina even though their inter-racial marriage was technically illegal. No one cared anymore. So governments can't (shouldn't) make rules about things people don't care about. But governments can provide opportunities.

I live in Boulder county in Colorado. Many folks outside of Boulder refer to the city as, "The people's republic of Boulder", in part because those who live here are willing to use the government to shape a balance between corporate interests and human interests that is different from many other places. In my lifetime, Boulder has been willing to restrict its growth by imposing a greenbelt, it has become one of the most bikeable cities in the nation, and it was among the first cities to sign on to the Kyoto protocols directly, and it was the first city to impose a carbon tax.

These kinds of things can be imposed by higher levels of government, but it turns out that local governments, the kind you and I can get directly involved in, have the power to make significant progress.

Now Boulder county is doing something I am jazzed about. In the fall elections, Boulder county residents will have the ability to set up a bond-issuing authority that will make long-term loans for renewable energy installations to available to residents of the county. This is a great way to get more people to adopt solar, because it removes the barrier of having to come up with $14,000 out of your own pocket for the installation.

These are the kinds of things government can do. If you want change, get involved!

Thursday, October 2

Get educated on the mortgage crisis

I haven't posted here in a while... trying to do more direct activism lately. But I'd like to pass on some excellent sources for understanding what's going on with our finances.

This is an interview (half an hour) from Fresh Air discussing how our current crisis parallels the Great Crash of 1929, which marked the end of the Roaring 20's and the beginning of the Great Depression. What I appreciate about the interview is it covers a number of really practical suggestions for the upcoming regulations. For example, if banks want to qualify for FDIC insurance, they need to keep not only 10% of deposits on hand in cash, but must also have 10% of their investments in infrastructure projects and 10% in green energy projects. In short, this is an opportunity to redirect money from gambling and risk and into the very changes we need to minimize global warming.

And two episodes from This American Life where they discuss the economy:
Giant Pool of Money Originally aired on 5/9/2008. Discusses what credit swaps and sub-prime mortgages are, their job in our economy (soak up some of that giant pool of money and provide an excellent return), and how it went bad.
Another Frightening Show about the Economy 10/3/2008. I haven't heard this yet, but it's the same guys as above talking about how we got here and what could have been done to prevent it. It's on my to-do list for tomorrow night.

If you're angry and you'd like someone to blame, I suggest the July/August '08 Issue of Mother Jones. A warning however, Mother Jones is a partisan magazine and they point fingers at the advisers of a current presidential candidate.

For the mile-high view of trends in our economy and how where we're at is the result of a hundred (or more) years of money policy, Chris Martenson has a 2.5 hour lecture on his website. It's engaging, well presented, has plenty of illustrations to bring the points home, and is scarier than reading a Stephen King novel at 11:50 pm on Halloween. If you, like me, are prone to depression, please handle with care: http://www.chrismartenson.com/crashcourse

Tuesday, June 17

Sustainable Fund Raising

In my real life, I'm active in a vibrant, urban church. In fact, I'm on both the Fundraising Committee and the Board. This after a decade of doing youth and young adult ministry. One of the things I am wrestling with now is how I can do a better job of integrating my concerns about climate change and peak oil into my work at the church.

My concerns are very much influenced by my faith. I think climate change and peak oil have the potential to cause massive human suffering, and therefore I have a responsibility to do what I can to avoid that. I believe that a benevolent and powerful deity exists, but I know that throughout history God has often not prevented human made or natural catastrophes. The Black Plague and the Potato Famine come to mind. In Bible college I developed a passion for the writings of the minor prophets, and over and over again they cry out to the people for the sin of being overweight while others starve. I think we're in a situation where the people who have the money have all the options and the people who don't are going to live or die based on how we spend it.

Okay. So that's the long and short of how an evangelical Christian can get really motivated by Global Warming. What does it mean in practical terms? Well, it means that I can influence a building other than my home. Buildings are estimated to contribute 48% of the CO2 produced on a daily basis, and commercial buildings constitute 17% of that. So everything I do for my home, I should be eager to also do for my church home. That includes paying for CFL and LED lighting and leading a project to change bulbs and continuing to look like a stick in the mud when I resist replacing our swamp coolers with AC.

It means that I can be a voice for less car-dependent congregational life. Home study groups can draw neighbors together instead of asking everyone to drive into church for every event. E-mail lists can allow for planning to happen outside of meetings. Providing secure, supervised bike storage can encourage more bike riding. And planning for public transportation and ride sharing would allow more people to engage those options (and perhaps encourage the bus system to run more buses on Sunday...)

And then there's fund raising. Fund raising is an essential element of most urban churches, just as it is of most school districts. As much as we grooved on the idea of "paying it forward" for a couple of years, we've lost the sense that by investing real money in our communities we are actually paying ourselves forward. We forget we benefit when we have strong schools even when we don't have kids going to them. Our churches compete with our shopping and for many of us, what church we go to and whether we go at all is subject to whims. So the idea of setting a significant chunk of my money aside for something that other people are getting more benefit from than I am is totally foreign.

Fund raising is designed to get organizations enough to survive on by providing you some other good or service you need or want. It puts these organizations back in the mall, obviously arguing for those dollars. So, how do we do that sustainably? At my church, we look for the following opportunities:

  • Events that bring people together. One thing we do is for the summer months we have a barbecue after church on the lawn. We encourage people to buy lunch from us and stick around to have conversations.
  • Re-sell items. We don't have a thrift shop, and I don't think we could get one to fly, but we have two events where we ask people to donate sell-able goods and then throw an event to sell them off.
  • Sell services. We have a service auction where we auction off service donations ranging from haircuts to hotel stays.
  • Events that showcase talents. We have enough musical and performance talent in our church to do concerts to raise money.
  • Events that turn time into money. We have a contract with the local sports arena to staff a booth during season games. It works out to about minimum wage for the folks working, but the church gets the money and the stadium gets a booth full of folks who normally get paid more than minimum wage.
  • Sell value-added items. A few years ago we gave up on the chocolate and wrapping paper sales. On the food side of things, there are many people in our congregation living with diabetes and heart disease. We knew the pool of people who could buy candy in good conscience was much smaller than the pool of people who wanted to give money. We also ran the numbers and hated the margins we were looking at. A $1 candy bar might net fifty cents for the church, but the time and the guilt associated really eroded that. We found a nursery that would sell us plants at wholesale, so we pot them up and get them ready and have a plant sale. We've also designed an attractive necklace we can make from items we buy direct from the cottage industries that make them and sell them, making 90% profit, as long as the labor is donated.
This is our stab at fund raising that supports our community in a holistic way.

Personally, I am urging us to look at some of the following as well:
  • Waste-free events. We don't have a dishwasher or a working kitchen, so this is a little tough right now. But I think it's a good goal to work for.
  • Using our property for power generation. Our buildings are mostly empty during work hours, which would allow us to upload solar and/or wind-generated electricity to the grid during peak use and download it during off hours.
  • Selling home improvement items. I'd love to see us sell compact fluorescents as a fund raiser. I can't find a way to get our cost below what Home Depot sells them for when the local utility is doing their specials though.
  • E-waste collection. One stream is to collect usable items and sell them to a re-seller. This is recent mobile phones and items like that. The other stream is things like CRTs. I think this would take an 'angel' to establish a bounty program. For every CRT donated, the organization gets a couple bucks and the recycling fee is covered.
  • Low carbon fast. I think it would be interesting to get a Sunday School class or whole church to fast beef or most meat for a month and to make a donation to the church for every pound of meat avoided. Perhaps during Lent... Could also work for household improvements. Avoid using lights after 9 pm for a month and give .25 cents to the church for every kilowatt hour saved.
  • Swap-o-Rama-Rama. An event where people come and re-make used items for their own use. Extra items could possibly be sold as a fund raiser.
  • Honey-Do list. Keep a list of personal errands at the church. People who put something on the list add what kind of help they want and how much they're willing to donate for it. People who do the work go and see what's needed. Helps turn talent and time into cash.

Wednesday, June 11

Hooray! Lemonade!

Thanks to The Joy of Cooking, I have finally, actually made lemonade at home.

I grew up with the powdered or frozen concentrate kind, and I've found myself buying bottled lemonade, or the kind in a carton, over the last few years. This was frustrating, because my tastebuds tell me it's basically a simple drink, and I've been using more fresh citrus in my cooking.

But my experiements with mixing fine-ground sugar, citrus, and water have been pretty sketchy so far.

Well, tonight while making dinner, I ran across a bag of frozen cranberries my partner and I purchased last fall when we decided to try making our own cranberry lemonade. Curious, I pulled my trusty Joy of Cooking off the shelf.

In the Joy of Cooking version, there are two steps. The first is to make sugar syrup. This is the step I've always tried to weasel around. But we were cooking anyway. So I put the cup of water and two cups of sugar in a pan. A few minutes later, the sugar was completely disolved, and dinner was ready. So I put the cranberries in, turned the temp down and put the lid on, and sat down at the table.

When we were done eating, the cranberries were putting off a lovely sweet/tart aroma. I poured the syrup through a strainer into a bowl.

To turn this into lemonade, I put half a cup of water into a glass. I added two spoons of syrup, and a spoon of lemon juice.

It was terrific! And so simple I feel foolish for settling for sugar and artificial flavors for so long. ;-) Well, that's the name of this project. Try it and figure out whether it makes life simpler and better or not.

Friday, June 6

Ya win some, ya lose some

Two big pieces of news this week, as far as I'm concerned. The first is that it seems the SUV is finally starting to go the way of the tail fin. That's a win.

And then Senate Republicans blocked passage of the first, very tentative, US bill to address global warming. Their argument was that the bill would eliminate jobs and raise gas prices... which seems painfully short-sighted to me.

When it comes to Climate Change, we have two options. We can either adapt now in an effort to prevent the worst or we can adjust to the changing climate by doing more of the same -- more air conditioners for hot weather, more pesticides to make up for soil loss, more habitat destruction for growing more feed stock. But progressively, climate change (and peak oil) will make us change our ways and we'll end up exactly back in the place we're talking about going right now. It's the choice between gorging between Thanksgiving and Easter then signing up for two boot camp classes and Spinning just before swimsuit season starts, or eating moderately and walking 10,000 steps a day all year long. They both end up in the same place, but the second compounds all the delayed self-restraint and turns it into suffering.

Many jobs as we know them may go away. But manufacturing will be re-localized, bringing those jobs back to our neighborhoods. Oil prices will increase, but we will be re-creating neighborhoods so that food, work, and good schools will be in walking distance. If the economy slows down but we each have everything we need, plus more free time, isn't that a net benefit?

Most frustrating to me is that Senator John McCain, who's home state -- Arizona -- gets enough sunshine to power the entire US with existing solar technologies (if only we would upgrade the infrastructure and invest in building the capacity), didn't vote on the bill because it did not contain enough incentives for nuclear-generated power.

Tuesday, June 3

More than a consumer

This week the elements of the stew that is my thoughts contain these: Reaction to reading the books Littleheathens and Affluenza, a good friend of mine calling me a hippie -- a few times, and starting to read Simple Prosperity, a follow-up book to Affluenza, written by one of the Affluenza writers and local guy David Wann.

I don't mind getting called a hippie. Some of my favorite people in my childhood were the "hippies" my parents hung out with. I think I knew even then that there were different kinds of hippies. And that the make your own clothes/eat out of the garden/be kind aesthetic was shared by hippies and non-hippies. My folks never got into the drugs/drinking/mind-blowing side of it all... they were always more engaged by the build-it-yourself and a hands-off government strains.

Likewise, our great-depression neighbors and our Mennonite neighbors, and our Hawaiian neighbors were never hippies per se, but part of my "hippie" ethic comes from thinking about how Mrs. Harvey would use this, or remembering her massive garden, or weaving rugs and playing cards with the Mennonites.

And still, in the middle of all that richness, the thing I wanted was money. I was the kid with the get-rich-quick schemes, who was out on the sidewalk during the house tour selling lemonade.

The argument of Affluenza is that there's an epidemic disease loose in our culture (and world) that affects our brains so that money, and buying things, becomes the most important thing. We start to think of ourselves as consumers rather than citizens.

I started the book Friday evening, and by Saturday, I was interested in trying to spend a day observing when I was in consumer mode and when I was in citizen mode. I grabbed one of my roommates and we took the recycling to the yard and headed in to the Farmer's market. I bought a couple things I need for the week, then we sat down on the grass with lunch. We sketched and talked about the tuba/accordion duo playing in the distance and after an hour or so, walked a few blocks over and visited the surplus store and a used book store.

I did manage to have some conversations I wouldn't have been open to in the past -- I asked the duo if they could play "The Ma-nah-ma-nah Song"... which they didn't know, but they did do a very playful rendition of the Sesame Street theme. And I found someone who could help me fix a brake cable on my bike. And I talked about my "cool mattress" idea for summer sleeping with a guy who sells the hammocks he makes at a kiosk in the plaza. I think in those ways, I was a citizen -- open to new experiences with people. But I also saw myself defaulting to consumer behaviors. "Oh that's cute, I want one." "Oh I don't have any thing to do -- let's go shopping." "Oh I have this thing I've been thinking about. Let's see if we can find one."

That exercise has extended into the week. I'm fighting the urge to go buy CDs. I'm not listening to CDs at work or in the car, and only rarely at home. I do love my NPR station and the music they play is plenty. But I keep trying to "own" the things I enjoy. As if "owning" them would make the experience of enjoying them last forever. (Baca Beyond is currently delighting my ears.)

So, I have affluenza. And I think I've had it since childhood.

The next wave of thinking is that here we are now, with Colin over at No Impact Man and a hundred other voices in the public square calling for real change in our lives. Ten years ago we had Elaine St. James and "Living the Simple Life." 20 years ago we had Your Money or Your Life. 30 years ago we had Diet for a New America. Is it really taking this long to build up a head of steam? Or are these waves and each time a wave hits, do more of us escape the boat?

Okay, I can't afford to worry about what everyone else is doing. I have to work on my sphere of control (40% energy savings last month over May of last year!), and my spheres of influence (a sit-down dinner last night, with Zombie Fluxx from Looney Labs, with both of my roommates).

And this is where Simple Prosperity comes in. It's argument is that once you know you've caught affluenza, one way you get well is to value the non-financial wealth you have. Social ties, for example. Getting into a flow state with your hobbies and your life outside of them.

I expect to comment further as I read more, but one more story. In high school, I was assigned an essay on "What makes me happy." As part of the course work around that, we learned that Aristotle said you couldn't truly know if you were happy until you had a worthy life to look back on. Wann includes the whole quote in his book:

Happiness consists of a blend of moderation, gentleness, modesty, friendlieness, and self-expression.
I can live with that definition. ;-)

Tuesday, May 13

The Negawatt

Good article in The Economist last week exploring the reasons why energy efficiency is not pursued more vigorously as an avenue for investment. The bottom line reasons why it should:

  • It returns 10% to 17% annually. (The S&P 500 historically gets 12%.)
  • It requires reduces carbon emissions.
The reasons why it hasn't been more actively pursued by individuals:
  • Individuals tend to demand a return on investment in the neighborhood of 30%.
  • When individuals have a seemingly endless supply of cheap fuels they put off efficiency measures.
  • Individuals get overwhelmed with their options.

It has been increasingly pursued by corporations as an avenue for cost-cutting and social capital. Corporations are also more enthusiastic about a 10% annual ROI.

One player in the game has been surprisingly reticent. Power companies in most places profit by selling more power, not by encouraging people to conserve. This is starting to change for a number of reasons including these:
  • Providing peak power is increasingly expensive.
  • Some states are exploring decoupling profit from units of power sold.
  • Mandates that require a portion of the power portfolio to come from renewable sources.

There's a discussion of carbon taxes and how they might shift the game farther, but I'm going to need to take a bit longer than my lunch break to read through that.

Monday, May 12

HB 1270

I'd heard that Colorado HB 1270 -- which would prevent HOA's from restricting solar installation, shades designed to lower energy costs, installation of attic fans and vents, and from installing clothelines -- had passed the House, but I didn't hear through the same grapevines what had resulted.

I did some poking around today, and found articles on a number of HOA sites that suggested there would be an involved process of getting the Senate and House versions trued up and the earliest it would be signed was August.

Guess again.

Summarized History for Bill Number HB08-1270
(The date the bill passed to the committee of the whole reflects the date the bill passed out of committee.)

01/31/2008 Introduced In House - Assigned to Transportation & Energy
02/19/2008 House Committee on Transportation & Energy Pass Amended to House Committee of the Whole
02/22/2008 House Second Reading Laid Over
02/25/2008 House Second Reading Passed with Amendments
02/26/2008 House Third Reading Laid Over
02/27/2008 House Third Reading Passed
03/03/2008 Introduced In Senate - Assigned to Local Government
03/20/2008 Senate Committee on Local Government Pass Amended to Senate Committee of the Whole
03/27/2008 Senate Second Reading Laid Over
03/28/2008 Senate Second Reading Passed with Amendments
03/31/2008 Senate Third Reading Passed with Amendments
04/02/2008 House Considered Senate Amendments - Result was to Laid Over Daily04/02/2008
04/03/2008 House Considered Senate Amendments - Result was to Laid Over Daily04/03/2008
04/04/2008 House Considered Senate Amendments - Result was to Laid Over Daily04/04/2008
04/07/2008 House Considered Senate Amendments - Result was to Laid Over Daily04/07/2008
04/08/2008 House Considered Senate Amendments - Result was to Laid Over Daily04/08/2008
04/09/2008 House Considered Senate Amendments - Result was to Laid Over Daily04/09/2008
04/10/2008 House Considered Senate Amendments - Result was to Laid Over Daily04/10/2008
04/11/2008 House Considered Senate Amendments - Result was to Laid Over Daily04/11/2008
04/14/2008 House Considered Senate Amendments - Result was to Laid Over Daily04/14/2008
04/15/2008 House Considered Senate Amendments - Result was to Concur - Repass
04/15/2008 House Considered Senate Amendments - Result was to Laid Over Daily04/15/2008
04/17/2008 Signed by the President of the Senate
04/17/2008 Signed by the Speaker of the House
04/17/2008 Sent to the Governor
04/24/2008 Governor Action - Signed

That's a pretty good, if belated, Earth Day present.

Here's a pdf of the bill, for those interested.

Monday, May 5


The AP is reporting that up to 10,000 people may be dead in Myanmar as a result of a cyclone there.

I feel like stopping there. One second of silence for every person would be 2 1/2 hours of silence.

When 3000 people died on 9/11, the US mobilized it's armed forces for a massive response. This is 3 times that number. We are a nation that talks about the value of the life of every human being... so much so that we no longer fund birth control information for people who want it.

Why did so many people die? Rising oceans and more ferocious storms. In other words, another global warming storm.

It's not "coming", it's here.

And we need to change our lives. We can't wait until global warming means more than fewer days to ski and more days to tan. For 10,000 unique souls global warming came home on Saturday.

Friday, May 2

Energy Update

I now have 17 months of energy-use data stored in a Google Docs Spreadsheet for easy viewing from whatever computer I happen to be at. The results are very satisfying.

In the months of February, March, and April 2007 -- when I started blogging -- I was using more than 800 kWh of electricity a month (892, 814, 826). By changing all the incandescent bulbs to fluorescent, replacing four light fixtures that required incandescents to ones that could accept fluorescents, and banishing halogen lamps, that number has dropped by about 400 kWh per month (495, 420, 356). I still have three adults living in the house, but they're different adults. And one way this affects my power use is that my other roommate is actually happier sleeping on the couch on cold nights than she is figuring out the space heater.

I've applied for a subsidized energy audit to help me prioritize my next changes.

I'm watching a bill working its way through the statehouse that would keep HOAs from prohibiting exterior shades -- mine currently prohibits this and I have a south-facing patio door I want to put shadecloth over in the summer. The bill also allows clotheslines. I think I can do that anyway on my back patio, so that's less of an issue, but still of interest.

Also of interest is signatures are now being collected for a ballot measure in the fall that will place a small surcharge on the cost of electricity and natural gas (about 3%) and use the funds generated by that to create programs to help people upgrade to EnergyStar appliances, insulate, replace windows and the like. A program like this has been in place in the city of Boulder for several years and the amount saved by homeowners has more than offset the additional cost of energy while lowering carbon produced by the city. If you are a Colorado resident and you're interested in learning more (they also need signature collectors), check out the proposal here.

Wednesday, April 23

Happy Earth Day!

Well, I'm gainfully employed again. At least for three months. I'm mostly doing data analysis, but I get to help the company I'm working for "go green" for a few hours a week. It's nice to be in a company that needs to tell employees to use the recycling they're already providing instead of being in one that says "no, you can't take the cardboard to the recycling center because recycling just makes a mess." Huh?

Anyway. In celebration of Earth day, I did some reflecting on what the last year held for me:

  • I got rid of the car that got 22 mpg and replaced it with a car that gets 34 mpg.
  • My driving was under 8,000 miles for the year vs the US average of 12,000 and my former 14,000. (When I went in to do my annual registration, my agent was surprised by the odometer reading... a 14 year old car with only 100,000 miles on it? :-) )
  • I bought one bag of disposable pads, which is still more than half full.
  • I have replaced nearly every incandescent light bulb in the house with a fluorescent bulb.
  • I cut my winter electrical use from 800 kwh to 400 kwh per month.
  • I used to use a box of tissues a month. I don't think I've used a whole box in the last year. Which means my handkerchiefs have paid for themselves.

The initial guideline that came out of the Bali meeting was that everyone needs to cut their emissions by at least 2% per year for the next thirty years, reaching an overall decline of 80% by 2050. (The Sierra club is pushing this number through their Two Percent Solution campaign.) So, what are my 2% plans for the upcoming year?
  • Initially, I am driving even less this year than last year. I am carpooling at least three days a week.
  • I think this is the year for replacing the fridge. Since my kilowatt hour use is down near 400, saving 20 kwh per month is a 5% savings.
  • I may do the tankless waterheater this year as well. I can't find my research right now, but this NREL study says that a low-use home can save about 21% going tankless over an electric water heater. I have gas, and I might not be a low-use home, but I think that might be another 5%.
  • I'm also going to look at composting options that will work for my dirt-less town-house.
  • And then, if the stars line up and everything is terrific, I still have two aluminum-framed patio doors and one single-pane aluminum-framed basement window that need replacement.
And then my long-term goals are to get solar installed on the roof of my townhouse and to put an electric engine in my Toyota Corolla.

Actually, that's just the personal side. Other goals are to get my church to replace some, and maybe all, of the decorative incandescent bulbs we have in the sanctuary with fluorescent bulbs, and to get secure, sheltered bike storage into the renovation plans. I also want to prepare and give some Sunday School classes on environmental stewardship, and maybe find a way to distribute the materials to others.

And I'd like to get my HOA to do recycling!

Okay, so the wish list is constantly growing. ;-) But I can't help being in love with the reality that there are so many really good things to want, and how huge the change is from 25 years ago, when I could barely go camping because all the really practical camping equipment was wool or down.

Friday, February 15

Consumerism and Alternatives

Another point raised in The 11th hour is that our economy is based on consumer transactions. We buy things, consume them, and trash them. We create money at the purchase point of that transaction, and that's what we base our national performance numbers on. So when Dick Cheney says that responding seriously to global warming will harm the economy, he's talking about this kind of economy.

As the movie puts it, the problem with this is that it is an expanding system dependent on a finite resource.

An alternative economy might recognize the value created by personal interactions. In this case, we might go to a store that stocks used and re-made clothes. We know the individuals who own the store, we know that the clothes are well cared for and we're going to walk out with a great outfit. We've had the experience of being seen, being cared for, and that's what creates the value. An economy like this would use far fewer resources than even organically grown new cotton, but it would create less in the GDP scale.

The question is, can you pay the bills in one economy while earning your money in the other?

Thursday, February 14

So What?

I don't think a person who doubts that the climate is changing or who doubts that the observed change is human-controlled or who believes that Earth can recover from anything we do to her is in the same boat as a holocaust denier. So I don't want to call them Climate Change Deniers.... but I'm struggling for a phrase for folks who are less convinced because I'm going to talk about them today.

My family covers the spectrum on all things climate-related, with my Dad being the person who is most strongly against the idea that humans could permanently cause the Earth's climate to change. But one thing I love about my dad is that if we jump over the ontological argument, he's really fun to brainstorm with. He's an inventor/physicist/engineer who keeps a finger in all the pots he can manage. So while he wouldn't advocate putting solar on the roof of every building in the US for climate reasons, he'd get out and help install a system for the geek factor of it. I think what will work long-term for changing our lifestyle is arguing for this "so what" factor. We have really good reasons to believe that global warming is real, is human influenced, and that by reducing the human component of warming we can enjoy better lives. But there are hundreds of practical things we can do that we will benefit from whether it avoids global warming or not.

For example, we all benefit when there is less coal, Diesel, and gasoline residue in the air. We benefit when there is less sulfuric acid in the rain and when there is less cyanide in the water. We benefit when there are green places near our homes and offices because we need oxygen to live. We benefit when we walk more and ride in individual vehicles less. We benefit when we eat more fruits, veggies, and whole grains; and less meat and dairy. We benefit when we spend time with people instead of money on things.

Tuesday, February 12

The 11th Hour

I got to see Leo DiCaprio's documentary on the environmental crisis posed by global warming -- and what we can do about it -- a couple of weeks ago on campus. When it was in the theaters I was a little too overwhelmed and a little too down to make hearing more bad news a priority. But the film wasn't really about bad news... at least for anyone who's seen An Inconvenient Truth and March of the Penguins and Who Killed the Electric Car.

It was manipulative, and that was sad. There were moments when I was repeating the mantra "All that's happening is I'm hearing drums getting louder" because I felt the impulse to get all caught up in the sound track. But overall the movie is an amazing group of talking heads talking about their perspectives on the crisis and what they're working on in their specialty.

Some of the things I especially loved:

  • Paul Hawken saying that rather than despair over the depth of the crisis, he gets excited about living at one of the fulcrum points of history. In this generation, human beings will change how they live, and we get to play a part in that.
  • Think of yourself as one pixel in a huge digital mosaic. Your responsibility is for your one pixel. Maybe that pixel is to start a non-profit to pursue your passion. Maybe it is to protect one tree. Maybe it is to make one pre-existing house green and to fill it with people.
  • Seeing David Suzuki speak. I love his foundation's site (linked at the right) -- in part because Canada is so close to the US in so many ways, but they are a Kyoto signatory and so must make carbon cuts... so it offers a sensible and accessible template for US residents -- but I haven't seen him in motion before.
  • The green architect who talks about seeing buildings as individual trees in a forest city. If buildings can be made to filter ground water, capture solar energy, provide habitat for wildlife, put off oxygen -- technologies we have but haven't implemented -- then I think there's hope.
All the experts from the film and a few extras are listed on the film's website, under Ideas and Experts. It's good fodder for ideas about what to work on next.

Monday, February 11

The Power of One

It's a common theme on environmental blogs to talk about why one person's behavior makes a difference. I generally stay away from that, believing that folks who care to read blogs like this are looking for things to do and stories about what happened to keep them in the game. However, a couple of weeks ago, I caught a story about the American Airlines pilot's union. (Original story here.)

Here's the deal. In the months after 9/11, most US airlines went into bankruptcy because their business plans didn't have a clause for a sudden, dramatic halt in air travel. One airline that avoided bankruptcy was American, and part of the reason that they were able to was that the pilot's union agreed to pay cuts. In other works, because a whole bunch of individuals took less money, they saved their company.

And also notice that ads are targeted to individuals. Companies trust that if they make a good ad, they will get a whole bunch of individuals purchasing their product.

So, if businesses are convinced of the power of individuals, both as employees and customers, why do we lose heart?

Thursday, February 7

Biking input

A friend of mine reminded me a couple of weeks ago that unemployment is a great time to try out new things without the stress of wondering what bosses and co-workers might think. So I've been scoping out bike/bus options for places within my preferred travel range. I took two buses in to Whole Foods last night and camped out with Grist's "Wake up and smell the planet" and a cup of chai (soy milk) until my grocery-shopping buddy showed up. This test run put me very close to a whole bunch of employment options since there is a transit center nearby.

The other piece of the evaluation is looking at multi-modal travel... i.e. taking a bike on the bus, taking a bike from the bus stop to the destination, and possibly catching a ride home from there. Or, in the case of my summer vacation plans, take the bus to the train, take the train to local major city, and then spend 18 hours on my own until the shuttle shows up. Or, since Amtrak is bike (and especially folding bike) positive... take a bike? I don't know that this will become down the road, but I had a heck of a good time watching the "Gal from down unda"'s series on taking Bike Friday's new tikit folding bike around NYC.

And then I realized I especially appreciated seeing what a real bike commuter wears. There's a difference between when one is talking about it and seeing a whole bunch of vids of that person riding in all kinds of conditions.

Along that line, here's a piece from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune interviewing winter bike commuters.

Unbox Videos


NotSoBigLiving is the story of a woman inspired by Sarah Susanka, Bill McKibben, Airstreams, Tumbleweed houses, Mennonites, Jimmy Carter, hippies, survivalists, Anasazi, Pema Chodron and Joko Beck, Scott Peck, Buckminster Fuller, and Al Gore to see what she can do to reduce her carbon footprint in her mid-80's suburban townhome. Strategies include roommates, alternative travel, organic eating, planting a victory garden, mindfulness, and a belly full of laughter.