Category Archives: conservation

On Fire or the Dinosaurs Died So That We Can Drive SUVs

Prometheus stole the sacred fire for mankind and we can’t live without it.

The Industrial Revolution replaced the ancient external fires with the internal fires of machines. The dirty desire for energy increased. The world’s insatiable demand for fire pollutes, which is good for making machines chug along, but bad for living things.

Some essential fires we have become addicted to:

  • Wood → Early mankind kindled open fires for warmth, protection, and food. All this, depending on who you consult, was a primary cause of global warming. The emissions from burning wood contain carbon monoxide and soot. The EPA says wood burning stoves are responsible for 5% of the smallest, deadliest particles emitted into the air in the U.S.
  • Coal → One of fossil fuels that powered the Industrial Revolution, it is the leading cause of pollutants such as smog, acid rain, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, mercury, arsenic, and lead. Coal mining disrupts the ecology and endangers the lives of miners daily.
  • Oil → Another fossil fuel that fueled the Industrial Revolution is a non-renewable, energy rich hydrocarbon. Burning oil pollutes with carbon dioxide, sulfates, and nitrates. Oil drilling and extraction disturbs the water and land. Accidental spills at the drill site or during land and water transport disrupts ecology. The disposal of products made from oil, such as plastics, creates more waste problems.
  • Water → Fire from water, one of the oldest ways to produce energy. Water wheels, mills, and dams alter the habitats of fish and restricts water passage. Water power pollutes less, but to be effective,  great quantities of water and land are necessary and that comes at a great financial cost.
  • Geothermal → While drilling for geothermal energy, harmful gas can escape from deep within the earth. Also after the expense that comes with building a geothermal plant, the heat within the earth can stop providing heated water for years at a time, making this an undependable form of energy.
  • Natural Gas → Natural gas is odorless and colorless and mostly consists of methane. It burns cleaner than coal and oil. It releases 45% less carbon dioxide than coal and 30% less than oil. It burns with no soot or sulfur dioxide and is widely available. It is lighter than air so when leaks occur it can dissipate with a lower chance of explosion. Still it is a non-renewable fossil fuel. Other drawbacks are transportation problems whether through pipelines, tankers, or barges. If used in cars and trucks, the mileage is lower than gasoline.
  • Nuclear → The newest and possibly most controversial of all energy sources. Will it provide safe, abundant energy for years to come or kill us all? Patrick Moor, an early member of Greenpeace, protested against U.S. nuclear testing in 1971. After 15 years with Greenpeace he left and became an advocate for some of his prior environmental targets. He now believes that nuclear energy is the only technology besides fossil fuels that is a reliable energy source. Nuclear energy proponents tout the safety record of the industry. They say Chernobyl was an anomaly and the rest of the would uses safer methods. Natural disasters care nothing for risk management methods as Japan came to understand. Besides, some nuclear waste lives practically forever. We can barely handle landfill toxins, how will nuclear waste play out?
  • Solar → Gathering solar energy with solar panels creates little pollution in itself aside from the manufacture and shipping of the panels. It is a quiet source of energy and can be used easier and cheaper in remote locations. The installation of solar panels can cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for a house.  The energy savings payback can take years. Cloudy weather and pollution can hinder solar cell efficiency. In the deserts of the American west, people oppose solar energy farms since they spoil the desert scenery.
  • Wind → At last, windmills must be our salvation. Yet people complain that they too spoil the scenery of the land and sea where they take root. People living near windmills claim that the turbines are a visual and auditory threat. Some people insist that the noisy whirling blades cause them great stress. A wind farm on the horizon reduces tourism and lowers home values in the areas they go up.  Wind turbines must exist in areas with the strongest winds which are often the same places that birds migrate and nest. The eagle that tore into the liver of Prometheus each day, now gets torn apart by the blades of our modern-day windmills.

The fires we need for basic survival and to feed the machinery that we love come with destructive forces. Perhaps Prometheus and not Pandora unleashed the real evils in this world.

Without fire and the technology it unleashed, humankind may have failed to thrive and died with a very different history. Certainly the planet would be cleaner today.

I know a 24-year-old nurse that gives her time to Doctors Without Borders and cares about the health of the planet. One time she surprised me with an offhand comment. She mentioned that she is tired of her human legs and arms which are so weak. She wants the strength of a machine, a bionic women of sorts I guess.

Science fiction and reality fuse people with machines. What human/machine ratio would cease to view energy-driven pollution as a crisis? Today the ubiquitous phone/computer may as well be embedded within the bodies of my friends and relatives. At some point, no one may care to look out a window to enjoy a Goldfinch perched on a tree branch. The windows to the soul are owned by Microsoft.

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Junk Around the House

Daily Prompt: Clean House
Is there “junk” in your life? What kind? How do you get rid of it?

The junk in my life has few places to hide. I set forth on junk-finding and purging missions constantly. The more stuff I have, the more I feel it controls me somehow. A crowded house is a crowded mind and heart in my viewpoint. I edit at every turn.

The ways I eliminate junk:

Donate
I make a short trip to my local Salvation Army drop off center to donate usable stuff I don’t want. The Vietnam Veterans or Purple Heart trucks also frequently pick up donations in my neighborhood.

Repurpose
I use worn out cotton t-shirts or towels for cleaning rags. I’ve sewn tote bags from old but still useable fabric. Old sheets or shower curtains make a great floor covering during cleaning or painting. That old shower curtain protects the trunk of my car during flower and vegetable planting season.

Throw Out
My city recycling center gets some of the junk. The rest gets thrown out for the garbage men to pick up. Even the trash on the curb attracts garbage pickers that I guess repurpose the junk or try to sell the metal parts off of it.

Sell
The few garage sales I’ve taken part in never seem to make it worthwhile for me. Maybe I can’t talk up the value of the junk on display. It’s a good thing I didn’t have to make my living as a salesman. Although I’ve sold a few things on Craigslist. When all else fails, a posting for anything free on Craigslist is extremely effective. From an ancient 300 pound TV; hundreds of pounds of dead mother-in-law fabric; a pile of rocks, yes, there is a person out there willing to come by and pick up just about anything for free.

Stop Buying Crap
When cute stuff on the store shelves speak to me (like the TV commercials imply they do), I think twice about buying it. Usually that speaking object stays in the store for another consumer. When objects speak, I ask myself: Do I want it, do I need it, and where will I put it? That last question usually kills the desire to buy since I can’t stand the thought of clutter.

Growing up, my mother’s house was an unorganized mess. She never put anything away, in fact nothing had a place of its own. Once she used a pair of scissors, roll of tape, whatever, it got tossed someplace indiscriminately and could not be found the next time she needed it. At that point, the house got torn apart, more disorder, and I was often blamed for losing her stuff. I equate junk in my life as junk from my past that I don’t want to get buried in.

Clearing out junk and, more importantly, never bringing junk into the house, liberates me. I feel more peaceful and happy. The Asian Feng Shui idea suits me better than the one-who-dies-with-the-most-toys-wins idea.

With people like me, the economy will never take off again. Consume less, enjoy life more. Not a catchy slogan for a TV commercial.

Half-Baked Ramblings on Abortion

The Zero Population Growth (ZPG) meeting I attended, circa 1972, had all participants agreeing that the United States needed to control its population growth before natural resources become depleted. Birth control was imperative to this goal. Abortion remained controversial when it was brought up.

This was before abortion became legalized. The people at the ZPG meeting had strong opinions on abortion; some for and some against. It wasn’t a violent division at this point. They decided to talk about it again at another meeting since no resolution could be reached.

ZPG bumper stickers were handed out at this meeting and I plastered one on my old car. I saw one person rant and rave a little when he saw the sticker on my parked car. Maybe others were unaware of the acronym’s meaning.

I owned a copy of Paul Ehrlich’s popular book, The Population Bomb. I wrote a high school report on the subject for a teacher that was strongly in favor of population control and refused to have children. He bickered with another teacher of mine that had five children. I got an A on the pro-Ehrlich report, more due to the subject matter, I believe, than the quality of the paper.

I spent a day volunteering at the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) booth at the State Fair. People from the anti-abortion booth came by to try to convince us of the error of our ways. I was unfazed by the dialog and pictures.

Yet later on, when I tried to imagine what I would do if I needed an abortion for whatever reason, it was heart-wrenching to think of it.

The pro-life movement believes that abortion is murder. Viewed this way, I empathize with their inability to condone it. Yet the inability to obtain a legal abortion, will not stop abortion.

If history can be trusted, women will continue to seek abortions no matter what its legal status is. I don’t want women to die or become injured due to a return of dangerous, back-alley abortions. That, too, is heart-wrenching.

Women comedians joke about wishing they were pregnant just so they could piss off pro-lifers by getting an abortion. Behind the dark humor lies the fear that all abortions will be outlawed by pro-life groups if given a chance. Jokes don’t take the pain out of the issue.

Doctor Kermit Gosnell performed legal abortions in dangerous conditions. Can’t we put safeguards on legal abortions without fear of closing down all abortions?

When pressed, even the most pro-life people are often willing to see the necessity of abortion in some cases. And I can’t believe that pro-choice people truly celebrate partial-birth abortions across the board.

Abortion remains controversial. So far, no number of meetings have reached a resolution.

A Skewed Bird’s-Eye View

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.

The Earth seen from Apollo 17. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The concern environmental activists have for planet earth illustrates the egocentricity of human nature.

Earth is special. We are made in the image of God. We must settle on other planets just in case our kind cease to exist here. Human life must continue somewhere, somehow. This is so important since the universe must still revolve around the earth.

If we poison our planet and life dies out, the earth will still go on. It may develop new life forms despite the destruction. If we blow up the planet, there are other planets out there.

If a soul exists, it will merge with the spiritual creator and all will be good. If no soul exists, each particle is still in communion with the whole and all will be good. If none of this is good in our eyes, new cycles and patterns will keep going no matter what we think or want.

I recycle and think it is wrong to be wasteful. But I doubt that recycling will save the planet. Every time I deposit my paper, plastic, glass, or metal in the proper recycling bin, I wonder if the energy and resources needed to reuse this material is, on final tally, worth the process. The best remedy is not to use it in the first place.

Moving backwards, against the tide of progress, may prove impossible. Once you bite the apple, there is no turning back. Until the finite resources are used up and no new ones materialize, people will not willingly stop doing what they do.

A undiscovered source of energy may be out there that can replace oil, coal, and other nasty stuff we depend on today. But most likely it will come with its own demons; knowledge doesn’t come free and clear.

If wind power becomes the only energy source available to keep our cellphones alive, or keep our cars humming, even PETA will look the other way when windmills chop up free-flying birds. Our survival and our desires trump virtue. It’s not easy being green.

My Dead Mother-in-Law Got Me Hooked on Craigslist

If American business relied on Americans buying things that they truly needed, American business would be out of business.

When my mother-in-law died, she left a house full of fabric. It was in the attic, it was in the basement, it was in each bedroom. My unscientific guess (by weighing a few containers) was that she left about 6,000 pounds of sewing fabric. She didn’t sew that much or create crafts. She bought the pretty, bright colored fabric when it went on sale only because it was on sale and the colored patterns caught her eye.

I’m sure fabric stores rely on people like my mother-in-law to keep them afloat. If people only bought what they needed, that would mean 5,995 pounds less fabric for this one woman alone.

Just a small sample of the fabric

Just a small sample of the fabric

And she was not alone. Two weeks after she died, the wife of my manager’s neighbor died. She left a houseful of fabric . . . and 15 sewing machines.

An ad on Craigslist helped us get rid of our fabric. One woman came by after most of it had been snatched up for free by many people. She complained that the fabric smelled musty. Well, it was stored in plastic containers for, in some cases, decades. What did she want for free? Right after coming to our place, she was heading off to another house filled with fabric left by another deceased elderly lady.

Before she left, she still grabbed a good amount of our musty fabric and told us she had buckets and buckets full at home. Note: big fabric giveaway going on at her house after her death. What goes around, comes around.

Virtually every house hunter reality show on television has that woman that complains about the small closets in a house. She says, “That closet will only fit my clothes, my husband is on his own.” Or, “That closet will only fit my shoes.” The older houses have minuscule storage space and that same women is shocked to think about how few things people must have owned back then. Huge shoe collection? Not a thing in the past.

Maybe buying stuff gives people a high. Maybe they keep so much stuff because it might be useful someday. Unfortunately, by the time they need that item, it is lost in the other old junk they saved or new stuff they bought.

I blame ubiquitous advertisements. Can anyone get through the day without an ad overload? Everything we look at or listen to sends us an ad for some product or service. One reason I don’t own an e-reader is because of the ads that pop up on them. Sure you can pay more and not get ads, but I’m sure that someday the ads will still come, outright or in a subliminal manner. My computer is probably sending subliminal ads to me at this moment. Paranoia is a land I’m well acquainted with.

Government, along with business, encourages us to keep mindlessly buying. Buying stuff is good for the economy (and not saving is bad for the economy – go figure).

Both rich and poor overbuy. The less wealthy buy cheaper stuff (i.e., 6,000 pounds of fabric) and the wealthy can buy enough expensive clothes to fill a 1,000 square foot home or more. If we lived a dozen lifetimes, we couldn’t wear out so many clothes or sew with so much fabric.

I’m ready to cross my cultural references and throw my shoe at the TV next time someone complains about a “small” 2,000 square foot house with kitchen countertops that are “not granite.”  Then I’ll be in the market for a new TV. I’m part of the problem.

Starbucks in the 1950s

I should have taken my typewriter from 1954 into a Starbucks and started typing. Would the coffee house staff and patrons complain?

I frequently purge my house of junk. If I don’t use it, it takes up space and energy to move it around, it gets tossed. My minimalist point of view wants to edit out extra stuff in each room.

But I have my regrets over my search and destroy junk-finding missions.

I miss my old Royal typewriter which I gave away to the Vietnam Veterans charity truck last year.

My mother bought this typewriter. I don’t know if anyone at the Vietnam Veterans donation site felt the urge to pick it up or not. It may still be lingering around there somewhere. I should have at least taken some pictures of it since I miss it a little bit. I had to search online to find a proper image of the thing to post to this blog.

It had green keys and came with a carrying case. It even had two extra ribbons, top side black, bottom side red, just in case you wanted a pop of color in your document. The long, slender typeface arms rose up from the machine after you vigorously hit the keys. The instruction manual was still intact.

I miss this heap of metal.  Not that I typed on it, I just pulled it out every now and then to look at it.

I put it on Craigslist with no success. No one wanted it for even the rock-bottom price of $10.

Every time I visit a Starbucks at least one person has a laptop in front of them. They may use the coffee shop as a temporary office. Or they may be exploring online sites, emailing friends and enemies, or blogging. Gentle tap, tap, tap on the keyboard, muted lights and colors flying across the screen and over the laptop owner’s faces.

For a retro switch, why didn’t I think of bringing in my old typewriter instead of a laptop? The owner’s manual hyped it as a portable typewriter because of its nifty carrying case. Would the formerly friendly barista throw me out the door when I started up my noisemaker?

I could see it all now. Walk into the store carrying the 20 pound monster, order a coffee, grab a table, set it up, open the case. With a dramatic flourish, pull out a piece of paper and start cranking it into the roller barrel. Loudly flap down the bar that secures the paper onto the barrel. Then start typing.

This 1950s model is energy efficient, it needs no electricity, a green machine in both color and politics.  No glow off of any screen, just a cascade of good old manual machine noise and smell.

Ah, typing when it was practically a sport. You needed some amount of strength and endurance in those fingers to keep those keys clanking up and down. Don’t forget about the return carriage, it also carried some weight (and you needed to carry it after every single line of type).

The sound and the fury! Clackity, clackity, clank, DING. I will never know you again.

No Car With Zip Car

I’d like to kick a couple of cars to the curb. Car ownership is a major financial drain. The insurance costs, standard and unexpected maintenance, and the escalating cost of gas make me cringe when I look over the bills. I noticed that some cities offer car rental by the hour. I visited zipcar.com and discovered an alternative way to drive. Europeans already have a history of this kind of car sharing, ZipCar only started in the U.S. about 10 years ago.

Why own two cars or even one when you can rent one cheaper? After adding up the high cost of car ownership, and considering that a car sits on the street or driveway for many hours or days at a time, renting can make sense.

I’d love a better public transit system where I can ride to the downtown museums, restaurants, or sports arenas and not worry about parking fees or parking availability. I’d love to step off efficient public transit and walk right up to the front door of my destination and not walk too far on those cold, snowy winter nights. If there were other options out there, I’d give up my multiple car household and scale back to one.

But as long as I’m married to my husband, this won’t happen. We own four cars. Or I should say I own one car and my husband owns three. He drives an old model sportscar,  a rusty truck from the mid ’90s, and a four-year old sedan.

I drive a 10 year old car which fits my personality. My main car-shopping priorities: buy a car that starts up when I turn the key and gets me to the places I want to go. I don’t care about the newest design or a luxury brand name.

When I brought up the topic of renting a car by the hour, my husband was completely against it. But I said we could rent a truck for those shopping trips to Lowes. We could rent a sportscar if we feel a desire to drive fast and stylish (that would never be my desire, but just saying if it was). We can rent a second sedan if we both have to drive long distances in separate directions.

This won’t happen. My husband loves the ownership factor. His cars, his decision to drive what and when he wants. Rental is not part of his mindset. No surprise there, he is a child of the Motor City after all.

Also no surprise, Detroit doesn’t offer the rent by the hour car service. We live to drive. I’m just the oddball in the mix.