Sustainable Sunday Links


Sensible Saturday Links

Since Tuesday’s Election Sweep: Cautious Optimism for the Environment

Our beloved Earth: spinning in a new direction?

Our beloved Earth: spinning in a new direction?

As a result of Tuesday’s election here in the States, bloggers and journalists here in the States and around the globe are finding reasons for hope and a new direction regarding Earth’s environment. From Green Clippings in South Africa comes a story with the headline, “Democrat’s victory a step forward for environment and global warming,” in which America’s new direction appears:

“…set to bring energy reform and environmental issues to the forefront of American politics, and ultimately result in more action to curb global warming.”

From Dan Worth, a blogger at the Huffington Post and Executive Director of the National Association of Environmental Law Societies, comes a post in which he asks, “Am I Dreaming?” Deciding to spurn all media on election night only to wake up Wednesday morning to a new world, and realizing that:

“The climate-neutral Governator will be around to make the California renewable energy market less flabby!
Nancy Pelosi, the first female speaker of the house ever is a staunch believer in the new Safe Climate Act!”

Deval Patrick, the Governor of Massachusetts, writes,

“We are often asked to choose between economic development and environmental stewardship. From my experience in the energy industry, I am convinced that this is a false choice. In Massachusetts, I believe we can and must have both.”

From Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, by way of Grist and Muckraker magazines, in How Green Was My Election?:

“This is the first election I can remember in U.S. history that has put such a specific focus on a top-priority environmental issue, which this year has been a clean-energy future.”

The news is good for the environment, surely. I sincerely hope, however, that we can flexibly adapt our American budget away from war and devote it toward the much more important problem – one which the greater global community has noted for a number of years and Dan Worth sums up as:

we urgently need someone to invest $4 billion in somebody or something that can build a new world by 2050 that provides 9 billion people with adequate goods and services without drastically raising the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And we need that investment yesterday.”

Though I would contend that our most pressing problem isn’t war or greenhouse gases but the collective and burgeoning impact of 9 billion people on a stressed and finite Earth, I must agree with much of what he says. But that “someone” he refers to is none other than us.

Dan goes on to quote author Michael Crichton:

“Nothing is more inherently political than our shared physical environment, and nothing is more ill served by allegiance to a single political party. Precisely because the environment is shared, it cannot be managed by one faction according to its own economic or aesthetic preferences. Sooner or later, the opposing faction will take power, and previous policies will be reversed. Stable management of the environment requires recognition that all preferences have their place.”

I would add that the environment was never a subset of the economy; the economy will always be a subset of the environment. After all, if (heaven forbid) economies disappear, there will still be an environment (perhaps not a good one we can live in safely, but an environment is still an environment). But if the environment should go away, no economy will ever exist again.

Nor will anything else.

If we can all work together in bipartisan fashion rather than dictating mindless policies, we’ll be reversing the current myopic course. At least the current administration will no longer be staying the course. For the near term, and perhaps longer, that’s good for the environment.

And what’s good for the environment is good for growing grapes and walking in Nature.


Ignoring safeguards for endangered wildlife and forests

This past Wednesday in San Francisco, a group of environmentalists asked a federal judge to overturn the Bush administration’s rules for managing the country’s 155 national forests, arguing that the regulations illegally weaken protections for wilderness and wildlife.

The Bald Eagle: a truly American bird.

The Bald Eagle: a truly American bird.

The new rules, according to environmental representatives, do not include these safeguards, which are required by federal law. The rules instead allow forest management plans to be revised without environmental studies. The rules also repealed a requirement for forests to maintain “viable” populations of native wildlife.

Additionally, the rules also argued that the administration failed to adequately study the environmental impact of changing forest management practices and did not give the public enough opportunity to comment on the revisions.

As of yet, however, the judge in the case has not ruled on the issue.

It’s another classic case of “here we go again”: the Loathsome Lobbyists pressure the Abject Administration, the Abject Administration receives fat contributions under separate guise and caves in to the Myopic Moneyed Minority, and wilderness populations begin dying due to destruction of habitat. A rather simplistic view, I suppose, but Perception is Truth.

Meanwhile we, the Mute Majority, before we are adequately aware of it, lose another slice of Perishing Prescious Paradise.

If reading this kind of news doesn’t make you spitting mad, then I must suspect that you’ve been hiding in a closet or opiating on too much of someone else’s television reality. But then, apathy has always been the first refuge for those of inchoate conscience.

To my mind, this sad tale really represents a classic Call to Action. And one of the best places to act is in the voting booth. That’s where I’ll be next Tuesday morning.


It’s our fault

Choosing bonehead technology over trees. Where are we headed from here?

Choosing technology over trees.
Where are we headed from here?

I’ve been reading some of the posts on Cutter’s blog. In one of them, Whose fault?, Cutter, with reference to a Nature Conservancy study, examines why there’s been a nine-year decline in visitation to our National Parks. He raises such questions as “Are we distracted too much by toys and technology?” and “Is it a case of today’s generations going soft and lazy?”

Says Cutter:

“We’ve become afraid of the outdoors. And worse, we have no patience for it. In the process, we’re driving out our natural need to remain connected to the outdoors.”

I have heard — yes, even felt — that siren call of the outdoors for so many years that it’s almost hard for me to grasp that most other people don’t hear it. So Is Cutter’s pronouncement true? Sadly, I feel that it is. Just look at today’s trends — we as a global society tend to admire style over substance, as if being fashion-conscious rates higher than exploring our natural surroundings.

As parents, it’s our fault — we’ve failed to honor the relationship with Nature that we once enjoyed as kids. We’ve failed in our commitment to pay it forward.

Nature giveth. Nature also taketh away. Which is why we need to remain connected to Nature.

But time accelerates. It’s not a case of “need to” — we MUST. We must place less emphasis on our supposed need for toys, set them aside often, and realign ourselves with what’s really real out there. We must honor the real and the tangible (the real rock.) We must continually strengthen our natural connection with our one-and-only Mother Earth, and do it as a matter of course — as part of our educational system, and as part of educating each other, young and old.

It’s either that or hurtle pell-mell toward oblivion because we can’t persuade enough of the next generation that this planet — whether in the macrocosm of global warming or the microcosm of local disappearing species — is worth saving. If we as a society choose to lose our connection to Nature, the consequences are deeply foreboding.

Tell your friends to “go take a hike.” Better yet, take them by the hand, and lead them. I can help


Dropping the eco-ball: camp stove manufacturers

I’ve camped with folks who really love the JetBoil system. Others have endorsed JetBoil’s products online. It’s true that the JetBoil stove can certainly can put a hot steaming mug of caffeinated goodness in one’s hand very quickly on a cold morning.

However, the JetBoil system uses a proprietary propane/iso-butane fuel mix; on their website, they state “we cannot claim safe operation with any canister other than our Jetpower brand of fuel.” A closed, proprietary standard, to be sure.

Strike One.

Their fuel canisters are not refillable, either, being designed only for one-time use. Yes, they are recyclable, but who among us knows off the top of their head where they can go nearby to recycle these canisters? This type of helpful information does not appear to be present on the JetBoil website.

Strike Two.

Landfills: let's not fill 'em up so fast.

Landfills: let’s not fill ’em up so fast.

Years ago I made a commitment to not buy disposable/nonrefillable products if there were alternative products available. Products that are disposable or are not designed to be reused merely clog the landfills and enlarge the aggregate ecological footprint, our per capita impact on the Earth.

Therefore, when recently replacing my trusty old Coleman stove, I did not purchase a JetBoil system.

I wrote to the JetBoil folks and asked the question, “Do you plan to produce a fuel canister that is refillable and/or can the JetBoil connect to a larger fuel distribution system such as a one-gallon propane tank?”

This morning I received the following response from Kristen Headley at JetBoil Customer Service:

“At this time our canisters are not refillable. However the canisters can be recycled anywhere that will recycle steel products. When recycling we do recommend that you puncture the canisters before sending them to be recycled. This can be done with a common can opener.”

Ms. Headley’s response is quite disappointing, if not also shocking. It tells me nothing that I don’t already know, plus it evades my question. Apparently JetBoil does not plan to adopt a universal system that allows for reuse. It is also not clear to me why I should puncture the fuel canister prior to recycling. Quite frankly, the last thing I’m willing to do is to puncture a pressurized fuel canister. In fact, the Northeast Recycling Council, a non-profit organization, advises the public that “The individual consumer should never attempt to puncture, incinerate or otherwise vent [a] fuel canister except through its normal intended use.”

The NERC goes on to state, “…the canister may be recycled in some communities if accepted in the recycling program or at the household hazardous waste collection site.”

Grabbing pine (keeping the bench warm), when we should be on the field.

Grabbing pine (keeping the bench warm), when we should be
on the field.

Strike Three. YOU’RE OUT!!!  (Go grab some pine, meat.)

There’s two big ifs wrapped up in this problem of recycling nonrefillable fuel canisters. Most people will have to drive to one location to buy their proprietary one-size-does-not-fit-all fuel canister, then drive to another location to recycle those same canisters — if they can find one within a reasonable distance and if that recycling location accepts spent fuel canisters. (Only 1 in 6 recycle centers does so within 50 miles of my home.) To say nothing of using more gasoline to accomplish these tasks, most people will, I’m afraid, just throw their spent canisters away, thereby adding to the landfill problem.

Until JetBoil and other campstove manufacturers adopt product policies that incorporate zero waste and a more open design approach to fuel type, canister reuse, and fuel distribution systems, I cannot in good conscience buy or endorse their nonrefillable products.


Why “Leave No Trace”?

Many of us have taken a pine cone or rock, veered off the trail to dodge mud puddles, gotten too close to wildlife, or tossed an apple core into the woods. While these actions may seem harmless at the time, until we learn to reduce our impact, the quality of our outdoor experiences and the recreational resources we enjoy are at critical risk. Also at risk is our continued access to wildlands, [since] land management agencies sometimes take restrictive action to protect the resources they manage. Unless, of course, education catches up with behavior, and we all learn to leave the outdoors as unchanged as possible by our presence.

While these impacts are widespread and the causes are complex, the solution is simple: change behavior through education, research and partnerships one person at a time.

‘Leave No Trace’ is not a set of rules or regulations. Nor is it simply about remembering exactly what minimum impact skill you can practice in every outdoor situation – how far you should camp from water sources, where to pitch your tent, how to build a minimum impact fire, using no charcoal lighter fluid, or if you should build a fire in the first place. Rather, it is first and foremost a [fundamental] attitude and an [evidentially mandatory] ethic [that we should be teaching all of our children].

‘Leave No Trace’ is about respecting and caring for wildlands and doing your part to protect our limited resources and future recreation opportunities. Once this attitude is adopted and the outdoor ethic is sound, the specific skills and techniques become second nature.

Folks, those are not my words – except for the bracketed embellishments. Nevertheless, I heartily believe in them. They comprise the mission statement of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, a non-profit advocacy and educational group headquartered in Boulder, Colorado.

The following is a list of The Center’s Principles of “Leave No Trace” when spending time in the outdoors.

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

There’s so much wrapped up in these principles. I hadn’t been aware of this organization until recently. And yet I’ve been practicing these principles – to a greater more than lesser degree – ever since I learned them from one of my high school teachers, an avid backpacker named Don Carre, a man whom I wish there could be 10,000 copies of.

As a matter of fact, one doesn’t have to spend time in a campground or natural oasis to practice Leave No Trace principles. It’s quite worthwhile to consider one’s impact when grilling on one’s backyard barbecue. Or driving on the highway. Or walking down the street.

Or tossing a cigarette.

How ethical are you outdoors?

How ethical are you outdoors?

It’s been said that cigarette smokers represent the largest segment of litterers on the planet. I challenge anyone to refute me on that statement with a sound, well-reasoned rebuttal.

Better yet…

I challenge everyone who reads this post to share it with 10 people (or 100) whom they think could stand to be educated about Leave No Trace principles. If those folks have already seen Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” (or the blog), that’ll make your convincing them a whole lot easier.

We still live on one finite planet. It’s the only planet we have. And each of us who lives upon it still has one definitive chance to make their mark by not leaving one.


Connecting People with Wild Lands

Have you observed that most children, by nature, are naturalists? When I’ve watched children, I’ve often noticed that they will pay close attention to the details of the natural world: a little plant or animal, a dandelion, or an ant hill. We adults might say, “Look, an ant hill,” and by naming it, we walk on – we dismiss it from our thoughts.

What would a child do?

What is your link to the inquisitive nature of your childhood?

What is your link to the inquisitive nature of your childhood?

There seems to be a trend today that allows people to believe that scientists will give us all the facts we need to know about Nature. Much of our “environmental” education involves no contact with plants and animals. Students may watch videos, memorize how many legs a spider has, or learn that biological diversity is being lost in some remote rainforest. I know some kids – and no doubt, so do you – who spend more time in front of a computer monitor than in direct contact with Nature. Not to mention adults!

I know, I know – I’m sometimes guilty of it too.

But the spontaneity and unpredictability of the natural world are never communicated to us in this “virtual environment.” What we get is Nature being sold to us as an economic system, as part of a great machine. Regrettably, our links to the land, and to our childhood, become disconnected.

Each of us is capable of making valid observations about how the natural world works. We have all, at one time or another, been inquisitive children. It’s been said by contemporary anthropologists that we need everyone to behave as naturalists, to observe and judge whether the ecological processes around us are working. I have read of Mark Plotkin, an ethnobotanist, who has said, “conservation is too important to leave to scientists alone.”

Our environment is wherever we choose to live. It is not an isolated scientific topic, but a unifying and fundamental theme across all disciplines – from botany to winemaking, from manufacturing to consumer purchase habits. To be aware of how the environment underpins all human pursuits is to learn how the world works and how there are wonderful lives being lived very near us, and all around us, even in our own backyards. It’s time we stepped back outside, into Nature’s living room.

Taking a walk in the wild – even our own backyards – can enrich our lives. It costs very little for the well-being that is gained. Those moments can provide an escape from the craven virtual environment – an escape that can further enrich us when accompanied by an awareness of the place we choose to live. It’s more than knowing the names we give to things – it’s bearing witness to the relationships those things have to us and to each other. In microcosm, it’s about living in, and recognizing our effect on, the present moment in the natural world. In macrocosm, it’s about the legacy our human society will leave to the future.

Our thoughtful stewardship of the land, this Earth we call home, is often perceived to be our fundamental obligation as humans. Why? For the sake of ourselves and our children. And our children’s children.

It is not outside the realm of possibility and imagination to believe that we have the power, collectively, to sustain and perpetuate the quality of life on our planet – our only home – to enrich the lives of our children, and of all species yet unlived.

Take a moment to think about that. How important is it to you?

Be daring! Vow to take the rest of your lifetime to rediscover the child within, and to rediscover your role in the life of Planet Earth. Take that first step to connect, or reconnect, with the wild lands. Take a hike!