Monday, March 23, 2009


Good morning! Hope Monday finds everyone hail and hearty and basking in the pre-Spring sunshine. I am still coasting on a post-conference high from this weekend's Leadership Summit and attempting to figure out how to condense the experience into mere words for you.

While I mull it over, I encourage you to peruse the Open Roads website. Much of conference will be available on their site and there are several speakers not to be missed; Catherine Austin Fitts talking about financial permaculture, Micheal Shuman on making local business competitive and sustainable, Debra Rowe on how to be a change agent (I am pretty sure no one has lived to tell Dr. Rowe no, she is a force of nature unto herself).

Also, if you haven't heard of City Fresh spend a minute on their website. Forget about being 'green' or reducing our carbon emissions, let's get real and talk about what counts, our wallets. Local food is of vital economic importance. If NE Ohioans spent 10% of their food budget on local food, that would keep $1 billion dollars in our local economy. For $24 a week during the growing season you can have enough fresh produce for a family of 4 and contribute to a vibrant and sustainable Ohio economy.

Lastly, I believe later this week the Sun paper will be running an interview with me about the upcoming roundtable on world food supply and how it affects Parma.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


I am beyond delighted to announce that I will be attending the Leadership Summit: Community Organization for a Healthy Economy this weekend.  The agenda for the conference is here  and it was pure torture to pick just one breakout session to attend.

However, I believe I've settled on Green Jobs Guaranteed to Grow and Reinventing the Local Economy. I will post copious notes on everything I learn sometime next week.

If you are in Cleveland (or close enough to drive) note that the conference fee has been halved and there are still scholarships available. I was told they are interested in having the Transition Town perspective represented at the conference, so if you are TT consider attending.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


This past weekend, the Ohio Environmental Council hosted a 'game' of Stabilization Wedges. Contrary to what the title might have some of you thinking, this did not involve fraternity style pantsing or whirlies in public toilets. I was relieved. The Greek system was not kind to me in college. One sorority rejected me because of the way I styled my bangs (never mind I wasn't pledging or thinking of pledging) and there was a fraternity hazing incident where a plebe flashed me. (My eyes! My eyes!)

Anyway...luckily the topic tow truck showed up and is ready to haul me out of the off-topic ditch I landed in.

The Stabilization Wedges were developed by Princeton's Carbon Mitigation Intiative and focuses on what we can do--in terms of known technology that is available today--to keep carbon emissions at current levels (detailed info at the link). The game comes into play when teams debate and select the most politically palatable combination of wedges to fight climate change. Think Model UN, but with climate.

Now, when I say 'we' I am not referring to the consumer level 'we' but the policy level 'we', which is actually one of the criticisms I have of the game. It gives a good sense of where the policy wonks and corporate interests are coming from, but it doesn't provide much of a takeaway for local or individual change/action.

Further, some of the 'wedges' are not long-term solutions and maybe not even medium-term solutions, meaning I found the game to be a bit short-sighted in terms of peak energy resources. It sounds great on paper to shift from dirty coal plants to cleaner natural gas plants for electricity generation, however, natural gas reserves are estimated to be a 60 year supply, less if we accelerate use. Given that we need to build 1440 natural gas plants to make up one wedge, the return on investment is prohibitive. We'd likely hit peak almost the second the last plant came online. Not the greatest bang for the environmental buck if you ask me. Nuclear power (another emission reduction wedge) has similar constraints in that the planet only has so much uranium available. So there are some limits that the game does not take into account (which I, personally, found problematic but they may not be an issue for other people).

In addition, one of the wedges seeks to reduce carbon emissions via natural carbon sinks (i.e. forests). Reforestation and land conservation sound like great ideas, but there is a downside. I happen to be reading the book Six Degrees which discusses the fact that stressed plants emit CO2 instead of absorbing it. During the 2003 heat wave, European forests emitted 1/12 of the world's total CO2 in just one short summer. With climate change, heat waves will be more common and more and more CO2 emissions will come from stressed vegetation. We can plant forests, but multiple and likely heat waves can easily make them a problem, not a solution.

Further, there is no wedge for the sum total impact of individual actions such as composting instead of throwing food waste into landfills, carpooling, improved community planning (i.e. new urbanism) etc... Maybe because it's hard to predict the impact. A power plant is a known quantity with proven math, whereas people are...well, weird and defy the laws of statistics quite regularly (witness my little Greek flashback or the idea that pants belted around the knees with one's underwear hanging out = high fashion in more than one person's opinion). However, I wish there was a wedge to show the cumulative effect of small actions as it would've provided important education and change incentive.

The big take home point for me was, forget inflation from printing money to deal with the financial crisis, energy prices are going to go through the ROOF on their own steam. The costs to build new plants and implement new technology such as carbon capture and sequestration will all be passed on to the consumer both in terms of our taxes and our energy costs. I suspect we will see a boom in home insulation and other energy renovations that cut heating and cooling costs. We will be doing anything and everything we can to NOT spend the equivalent of a very expensive car payment for heat and light.

Overall, I learned a lot, met some wonderful people, and have a better perspective of where we are going with environmental policy. The nitpicks mentioned here are more indicative of thought provocation than any fatal flaws in the game.

The wedge game would make a good educational activity for schools and other groups (here's a link to a teacher's guide). Although, I would like to adapt it a bit to address some of the issues I've noted here.

I believe the OEC plans to have additional events on the topic of climate change and the policy thereof. If you have time, I encourage you to try and attend. I plan to!

Monday, March 16, 2009


I'm here! I'm here! Sorry. We have relatives visiting so I have very little free time at the moment.

However, relatives = free babysitting so my husband and I did manage to sneak out to an event held by the Ohio Environmental Council (I think I have their name right).  I will do a proper write up in a few days.

Until I have a moment to breathe and fact check to be sure I'm not doing something stupid like Blue City Green Lake, please peruse the following links that I thought were salient and thought provoking. (NOTE: Thought provoking does not mean endorsement or agreement. I'm a broad reader and tend to look at ALL sides of an issue so please don't infer my views based on anything I link to. Sometimes people think I believe something simply because I have read up on it which is not true. Although I do think there's lots of good material here.)


Some thoughts on paradigm shift, which is what I think we are a facing.The writer and philosopher Laurens van der Post, in his memoir of his friendship with Carl Jung, said, "We live not only our own lives but, whether we know it or not, also the life of our time." We are actors in a moment of history, taking part in it, moving it this way or that as we move forward or back. The moment we are living now is a strange one, a disquieting one, a time that seems full of endings.

The End of Suburbia. 1 in 13 houses in Cleveland is empty.  

Op ed from The Boston Globe on 'Surviving the Great Collapse.'

Some truly scary news for the local food movement. Criminalizing seed banks sounds crazy as well as trying to regulate small farmers and markets out of business, but Congress is considering it--one among many anti-local food statues in bill HR875.  I know Sharon Astyk says not to panic, but I do think there is something to be concerned about here and I will be contacting my reps just as soon as I can.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Blue City Green Lake Green City Blue Lake has released their report on sustainability in Cleveland. Check it out here.  I'm still taking it all in. I'm amazed at how much they've done and how much they plan to do and astounded that I never heard of GCBL until I started becoming interested in doing something myself. I happened to find their website with a google search. Up until then, the only time I ever heard the phrase Blue City, Green Lake Green City, Blue Lake was in those Lube Stop commercials about recycling reclaimed oil.

Which I think is indicative of the wide, yawning gap of ignorance we need to bridge in order to bring about effective change. For example, I knew plastic water bottles were an environmental problem so I took steps to eliminate them from my consumption. Yet I had no idea about the environmental impact of the toilet paper industry. None. So I did nothing.

I'm beginning to believe that if someone like myself --who is actively trying to learn and 'green' my life-- can be missing out on key information, it must be that much worse for the people who aren't really paying attention. And the people who aren't paying attention are the ones we need to reach.

We need a broad spectrum marketing initiatives. Similar to what organizations like Peta do. Marketing is how we will reach critical mass in fostering sustainability on a local and global level.

Another example of how we are failing to market the 'green' message, mommy blogs. Per the Today Show this morning, there are something like 32 million moms online. 26 million of them use social media such as Facebook or Myspace or blogging. Currently, there is huge corporate interest in advertising with these moms. Companies whisk prominent mommy bloggers away for swag-filled spa weekends. They gift the moms with iphones and Wiis and free samples and advertising dollars. However, the thing I notice is the distinct lack of green perspective in both the content this demographic produces and from the advertisers.

Moms are not going green. At least not on any large scale I can discern. If you've read the 'big' mommy bloggers, tell me the last time they talked about the environment or vented about the lack of green products or in any way engaged the topic of sustainability? I can think of one 'big' mommy blogger who went to cloth diapers. There was a marketing push for the 'green' generation of household cleaners that distributed free samples, but lacking an overall theme of sustainability, the brand was marketed without the core message.

Being a mom myself, and, at times, a mommy blogger, I'm sort of confused as to why moms aren't pushing green. The future of our children is of immediate concern and instead of using our collective power (which is considerable) to do something about it, we decant our power into determining Advil's commercials are offensive. In other words, the politics of mommy bloggers tend to be, in my opinion, superficial and short term as opposed to focusing on the issues that matter.

Again, I think this all goes back to marketing and outreach. While going green tends not to rely on the mass consumerism driving most of mommy blogger advertising revunue, there are green products (like toilet paper!) that could be leveraged into a comprehensive green campaign to raise awareness and bring about change. So why isn't it being done?

Monday, March 9, 2009


Good morning, Parma! Hope Monday is treating everyone well. I have a hodge-podge of things to share today.

First, Earthbound Farm Organics is offering free lettuce seeds.  If you buy organic lettuce at the store, you are probably buying Earthbound's lettuce. The idea is to reuse the plastic container to grow your lettuce.

Second, did you know toilet paper is terrible for the environment? Apparently, they cut down lots of virgin forest to give us soft-on-the-tushie paper. I had no idea.  You can read more about it here.  And Greenpeace has an environmentally friendly toilet paper shopping guide here

According to Greenpeace Americans could save more than 400,000 trees if each family bought a roll of recycled toilet paper—just once.

Recycled tissue products help protect ancient forests, clean water, and wildlife habitat. It's easier on the Earth to make tissues from paper instead of trees.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Today was our first TT Parma event at the local library. We screened the documentary 'End of Suburbia' and discussed the implications of Peak Oil for Parma.

Unfortunately, when I say 'we' I refer to my father (the skeptic) and one other brave soul.

It was not quite the turnout I expected! However, onward and upward. I will be more vigorous in promoting events in the future. I sort of went at the schedule backwards; setting up events without really allowing for enough lead time for newspapers and whatnot.

Anyway, the documentary can be summed up thusly:  Suburbia is wholly dependent on cheap oil for its existence. Remove either cheap or oil from that equation and Suburbia, we have a problem.

Now, where things get interesting is when we look at Parma in the context of climate change and peak oil. You know, Parma is sometimes maligned. In High School, my Geography teacher used pictures of Parma to illustrate how souless the suburbs were. I remember being horrified at the houses lined up like soldiers and thinking I would never want to live in a cookie cutter.

And, well, here I am! Actually, Parma is a great place to live and I believe, in the context of Peak Oil and Climate Change, we are a diamond in the rough. Peak Oil means proximity to city centers is going to be important and Parma is the perfect distance from Cleveland. Climate change means water will be important and we have Lake Erie. Further, Cleveland will continue to be a vital juncture between Chicago and New York and thrive itself. Ohio, in general, is going to thrive post-peak simply because we have water.

I do not believe that we will see people fleeing from Parma. I think the opposite will occur, people will want to join our community.  The challenge will be in absorbing all the people who will flock to Parma and ramping up infrastructure (roads, older home upkeep) and city services to support an increased population. Street cars or a light rail system connecting Parma and Cleveland (in addition to the Brookpark station) will make Parma as close as you can get to a Post-Oil Utopia.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


I am sometimes asked why I talk about the economy and the current financial situation in the same breath as Peak Oil. There is a perception that the economy and Peak Oil are not inter-related when they are actually in a lovely co-dependent relationship that would make Jerry Springer producers drool if the economy and Peak Oil were people. (I'll let you decide which one is cross-dressing and which one is from the trailer park*.)

The cost of gas became an issue for me personally a few years ago. At the time, I was driving to Brunswick for a second job, which is about 50 miles round trip. When gas hit $1.75 a gallon, I found that the price of gas didn't make the second job as profitable as I needed it to be. So I quit. Everyone was agog. It just did not compute that gas was too expensive to make it worth the drive.

Fast forward to the current economic crisis and tell me which came first; high gas prices or default on home mortgages? It was the high gas prices that hit our wallets first. In 2008, our SUVs became too expensive to drive.

The American Way for the last several decades has been to live paycheck-to-paycheck and use credit to fill the gap leaving very little breathing room in the budget. Compound this with houses built in areas dependent on cheap gas for access, plus the fact that many people probably couldn't really afford their suburban estates (but which lenders were only too happy to give them money for) and overnight--with just a switch of numbers on gas station marquees-- millions of people literally could not eke out an additional $200 or $300 or however many dollars it took to fill their tanks, heat their homes, and buy food.

Next thing everyone knew, people couldn't meet their bloated financial obligations and oh, hey, look at that, the stock market crashed. Whoops! While the financial crisis has its roots in poor management and while there are certainly other factors at play, I believe the tipping point was high gas prices. Putting gas in the tank ultimately cost people their homes.

Anecdotally, in the past year I have noticed lots of message board chatter from minimum wage families who can no longer afford to work. Gas priced them out of the labor market. They live far from their jobs and were counting on reliably cheap gas to enable their lifestyle.

Well, folks, cheap gas is gone. Probably never to return.

Even more alarming to realize is that gas is only going to become more expensive from here on out. I watched the Today Show this morning while a financial pundit advised we will see higher gas prices when the economy begins to recover. This is because an economic downturn also takes oil demand down with it. Meaning not as much oil will be pumped until demand goes up. Demand, of course, will go up before supply which will drive another price spike until the bottleneck is eased...or rather if the bottleneck can be eased as we may have very well reached world peak oil production in 2008.

The thing that is interesting to me about the Today Show segment is the acceptance of $1.75 or $1.99 per gallon gas like it is not already higher than the $1.29 or $1.19 we used to pay. There seems to be a gag order on the fact that gas prices have remained elevated, as if they are hoping we won't notice. Or that maybe consumers' wallets are made of elastic and we can absorb cost increase after cost increase without any impact on our other finances.

It makes me wonder if they noticed the reports their network did on how salaries, when adjusted for inflation, have gone down, not up. Or the reports on employees taking pay cuts in order to keep their jobs. Or the reports on employees forced into unpaid work furloughs or reduced working hours. Or the reports of price increases in foods and other basic necessities. Our elastic doesn't have far to go before it snaps.

How will we sustain an economic recovery if high gas prices wipe out our wallets faster than we can fill them with money? High oil prices started the economic ball rolling and seem intent on keeping it from going any other direction but down. This is why I talk about Peak Oil and the economic crisis in the same breath, because they are one and the same.

*No offense to cross-dressers or people living in trailer parks, those just seem to be the demographic riffs that Jerry Springer likes to play on.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


This morning I was researching some little green gizmos for door prizes at TT Parma events (first one this Saturday!) and was specifically looking at water conservation. I read site after site espousing all sorts of tips, one of which was all the ways you can water your lawn and conserve water.

But why do we water our lawns?

Oh, I know the standard answer: So it's green and verdant and soft on our toes (although I would bet most of us never really walk on our lawns barefoot). There are city codes and social standards and what the neighbors will think. I believe someone has even written a book about society and lawns. Green grass is that important.

Well, guess what? We never water our lawn. Never. And it looks just as good as the one maintained by our neighbor. A neighbor who agonizes to make every blade perfect. Who fertilizes other people's lawns (including mine) on our street because it is just that important to him to have beautiful grass as far as the eye can see.

He waters. We don't. Our lawns look the same. His is ready for a close up in Better Homes & Gardens while we have a few spots of crab grass and maybe ours browns first at the end of the season or during dry spells, but the overall effect is the same. Well, except for the caveat that we've probably given our neighbor a facial twitch with the way we don't keep up our lawn.

Why don't we water our lawn? Not because we are trying to conserve (which would be the right answer) but because we are lazy and cheap and don't care about our lawn. We water food growing plants or flowers (usually) and that's about it. So please don't think I'm talking from my green high horse here, I'm not. I am green on this issue purely through sheer sinful laziness.

Aside from the fact that you now know sloth is one of my sins, tell me, am I alone here? I googled 'no water lawn' and 'do I have to water my lawn' and all I got back were pages and pages of results with tips and techniques on how to water my lawn. I don't get it.

Do you water your lawn? Have you thought about seeing what would happen if you didn't? Or what if you watered your lawn or garden with harvested rain water? We haven't done the rain water thing yet, but plan to start this year since we will be attempting to really garden this season (versus killing plants by ummm...not watering them. Have I mentioned I'm lazy?).

Edited to add: I did find an article Greener Grass, Less Water on Science Daily that talks about the environmental impact of lawn upkeep. The advice, though, still involves watering grass. Be sure to watch the video accompanying the article which is interesting as well.  And, this is tangential, but I'd just like to say that every single public park I've been to in Arizona (which is, you know, a desert) violates every single one of the article's suggestions for water conversation which makes no sense to me.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


First, there's a good conversation going on over here regarding the New Scientist article I posted yesterday. Check it out if you have time.

As for today's topic...

In case you haven't noticed, it has been super cold in Cleveland this winter. Yesterday, I skipped my coat as I often do and regretted it about two seconds after I stepped outside. Being lazy (or as I like to think of it, an overwhelmed mom to a really active toddler and as long as she is wearing a coat, I figure I'm doing pretty well) I did without, but my hands were numb by the time I loaded the groceries in the car.

These cold temperatures mean I hear a chorus of 'What Global Warming' every time I bring up the topic of climate change. Whenever I hear that refrain, I picture a remake of those old 'Where's the beef' commercials Wendy's used to run.

However, one cold day does not refute all the data we have on climate change and Cleveland's own Micheal Scott, the Plain Dealer's environmental reporter, had a great article on this yesterday. If you don't have time to read the article, the picture below is worth a thousand worse. It's from the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and shows that Cleveland is a cool spot in a world of unusally hot ones.

Monday, March 2, 2009


New Scientist has an article out on what the world will look like with a temperature rise of 4C.

The article is here.

The interactive map showing regional changes is here.

Hot weather never felt so chilling.  Look at who will potentially be growing food on the map vs. who won't. Look at who will be providing energy vs. who won't.  In the twilight of my lifetime and the prime of my daughter's the entire geopolitics of the world will change.In a hundred years it is likely that the US will no longer be the world's breadbasket. If we do not move forward with a green revolution and become green technology leaders, not only does the planet lose,but so does our nation.

In other news, the Dow is currently at 6800 and some change. I believe several financiers have shared their belief that 'bottom' is around 4000. From 14,000 to 4,000. Insane.

If you aren't outraged yet, watch this bit from 60 Minutes about the guy who warned the SEC that Maddoff smelled funny. And nothing was done. Nothing. 

Here is the video (in two parts) from You Tube (if it gets yanked, follow the link above to the 60 minutes site).

Sunday, March 1, 2009


From National Geographic and well worth a read.

Some salient excerpts... (emphasis mine)

The U.S. imports more oil from Canada than from any other nation, about 19 percent of its total foreign supply, and around half of that now comes from the oil sands. Anything that reduces our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, many Americans would say, is a good thing. But clawing and cooking a barrel of crude from the oil sands emits as much as three times more carbon dioxide than letting one gush from the ground in Saudi Arabia. 

The oil sands are still a tiny part of the world's carbon problem—they account for less than a tenth of one percent of global CO2 emissions—but to many environmentalists they are the thin end of the wedge, the first step along a path that could lead to other, even dirtier sources of oil: producing it from oil shale or coal. 

"Oil sands represent a decision point for North America and the world," says Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute, a moderate and widely respected Canadian environmental group. "Are we going to get serious about alternative energy, or are we going to go down the unconventional-oil track? The fact that we're willing to move four tons of earth for a single barrel really shows that the world is running out of easy oil."