In other words, it’s time to guerrilla garden. Where I once simply lobbed wildflower seeds into vacant lots and hoped for the best, now I’ll plant an actual array of botanical delight in a neglected corner of the city.
Guerrilla gardening, for the uninitiated, is all about reclaiming abandoned, underused, or just plain ugly land around you and using it to raise veggies, herbs, flowers, and, depending on your tastes, perhaps the occasional garden gnome. It’s taking a plot of soil you don’t technically have the right to plant and planting it anyway, letting your rebellion against wasted space grow alongside your illicit community tomatoes.
Sounds like fun, right? I sure thought so. I was so overcome with enthusiasm for this next foray into guerrilladom that the other day I very nearly just took off with a bushelful of plants, sure I’d find the perfect site and have my garden growing strong before happy hour. It was only when I realized I don’t actually, ya know, own any gardening tools that I paused to think.
Now that you mention it, I didn’t really know what types of plants would work best, either. And that perfect site? Not all patches of dirt are created equal.
Here's a short, plainspoken video from the Sierra Club that explains why coal sucks:
(Kind of leaves out the role of natural gas in displacing coal, but let's not get picky.)
It was one thing when there were no viable alternatives to coal -- you could make the brute utilitarian argument that all the lost lives, suffering, and ecological destruction were worth it for the benefits of electrification. But now there are alternatives. That means the suffering imposed by coal is a choice. And it's the wrong choice. Phasing out coal entirely is one of the great humanitarian projects of the 21st century.
Bob St. Peter and his wife, Juli Perry, farm four acres in coastal Maine, growing vegetables, herbs, flowers, rabbits, chickens, and sheep to feed their family and their neighbors. They grow food in ways that build rich soil, nurture wildlife, and nourish their community. But “at the end of the day," Bob says, “we’ve been bewildered at how hard it is to produce food to feed people.”
Not because of the intrinsic challenges of weather, pests, or the hard work involved, but because of the colossal wall of systemic market forces stacked against the profession of farming -- and especially against farmers starting from scratch who want not to grow commodity crops or sell vegetables to high-end restaurants, but simply to feed people.
Bob’s not the only one fighting this uphill battle; so, too, are the small-scale dairy farmers wondering if each day milking their 40 cows might be the last; ranchers watching their options for a fair price on their cattle dwindle as meatpackers consolidate; farmworkers making sub-poverty wages for backbreaking work in the fields; and food workers unable to take a sick day without fear of losing their jobs.
“I sell my chicken for $4 a pound -- because that’s what it costs me to produce it,” Bob says. “But people think that’s expensive, because you can get chicken at the grocery down the road for 79 cents a pound.”
When Bob looks at the supply chain leading to 79-cents-a-pound chicken, he sees contract poultry growers deep in debt to huge corporations, chickens pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones, workers with crippling injuries from keeping up on the poultry processing line, and consumers exposed to increasing food-borne disease outbreaks. When food is sold for prices that ignore these external costs, everyone in the line of production suffers -- and those, like Bob, who are trying to produce food in a way that is good for the land, workers, and local economy, can barely survive.
“As a small farmer,” he says, “I’m competing with a system that produces food based on slavery and exploitation.”
Voting with your fork -- buying chicken raised in ways you believe in, or knowing the name and growing practices of your kale farmer -- helps to support the farmers you’re buying from, but it doesn’t change the challenging context in which they’re struggling to make a living. “Wanting access to healthier food,” as so many people do, Bob says, “isn’t the same as creating the infrastructure to provide it.”
Bob points to a “frontline of people who want to feed the world” rebuilding that infrastructure from scratch -- new farmers like himself, farmers and fishers from old families who fear they will be the last to work the land or the sea, farmworkers and food workers putting in long hours to feed their families. They face many of the same problems -- but as often as not, they are divided against each other. Farmers facing rising costs of fertilizer or equipment look for savings by cutting workers’ wages; farmworkers are under such pressure from farm owners to meet a production quota that they feel they cannot take breaks without fear of losing their jobs.
My brother Michael and I stayed in the house for a day and a half after they declared the mandatory evacuation. We watched the fire on the mountains, watched it get closer. We both had come to expect this day. After all, this house had burned before.
Santa Barbara is an affluent town, and our house -- a two-bedroom with a downstairs in-law apartment -- is tucked into one of its nicest neighborhoods, in a canyon just outside the city limits.
But ours wasn't the first house to stand in this spot. The original one, which belonged to my grandmother, burned to the foundation in the 1977 Sycamore Canyon blaze. Sparked by a guy and his girlfriend whose kite struck a power line, a raging late July firestorm whipped through the canyon, burning more than 200 homes. It took only about seven hours.
My father was living with my grandmother at the time. They got out safely but lost everything, except some family photos and the dog.
My grandmother rebuilt, and after she died in 2001 and left my father the house, he moved back in. But on Nov. 13, 2008, a fire in the same hills looked ready to take this house out, too.
Michael was 18 and home alone.
"I got home from school and I went into the house, and I remember two things being very out of place," he tells me now, years later. "There was kind of this faint smell of burning wood. And then the other one was a lady running down the street screaming, 'Fire!'"
Michael remembers thinking about that 1977 conflagration as he watched the the Tea Fire, as they called it, sizzle toward the house a little more than 31 years later.
Astrid Schanz-Garbassi. Picture 10 spry undergraduates pedaling their quads into a burn on a set of stationary bikes. An 11th student leads the spin class from a bike in front, yelling that none of them need their glutes, anyway, while Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” thumps through their eardrums. Now imagine we could actually do something with all that energy they’re using to go nowhere. Like keep the lights on, for example. That’s the idea behind YouPower, a bike room that opened last April on the Vermont campus of Middlebury College. It’s the brainchild of Astrid Schanz-Garbassi, who graduated in …
The U.S. electricity system is fun and fascinating! The beatings will continue until everyone agrees.
In my last two posts, I have argued that electrical utilities in the U.S. are not well-suited to contemporary circumstances. In the first, I explained that the "regulatory compact" governing utilities was designed for an era of rapid electrification; it discourages innovation and encourages perpetual expansion. In the second, I explained that utilities are structured to treat electricity as a commodity, produced in central power plants and delivered to consumers over long distances in a one-way transaction, with price and reliability of supply the sole concerns.
None of that is working anymore. Lots of forces are conspiring to put the current arrangement under stress, but the most important, in my mind, is a wave of innovation on the "distribution edge" of the grid. (I stole the term from an eLab report that I'll discuss in a later post.) The distribution edge includes the point where customers interface with the grid, typically a meter, and everything on the customer side of it, "behind the meter."
So what exactly do I mean by innovation on the distribution edge? This post will explore that a bit, to offer a sense of the kind of things coming down the pike, the stuff utilities will have to deal with in five to 10 years.
Someone in the Bloomberg administration must have finally made the right occult sacrifice to a powerful, ancient weather god: After a streak of hot, muggy days borrowed from July and a couple of cold ones leftover from early April, New York City's bikeshare program launched on a perfect, sun-soaked Memorial Day. There were probably other pagan gods involved, too: Almost a year behind schedule, the much-awaited bikeshare withstood attacks from tribes as diverse as the New York Post and historic-district-living car owners.
Yesterday, on their first day of existence, the bright blue, corporate-branded Citi Bikes bore riders a total of 13,768 miles. Trips averaged about 2.2 miles (my calculation) and 20.48 minutes (Citi Bike's). Bike-sharing reporters beat subway-riding and taxi-hailing competitors in test races. “Rode up! Zomg so fun,” one friend texted me after his first spin. “It's going to be a big success.”
Today, it rained.
Today is the type of day that only dedicated riders will bike through -- wet, soggy, puddly. I walked by the station that was the most popular in the city yesterday, at 17th St. and Broadway on the north side of Union Square. With a number of bike slots open and the available bikes stashed irregularly down the line, the station didn't look totally lifeless. But I've yet to see a bright blue bike head on down the street.
Lizanne Falsetto knew two years ago that she had to change how her company, thinkThin, made Crunch snack bars. Her largest buyer, Whole Foods Market, wanted more products without genetically engineered ingredients -- and her bars had them. Ms. Falsetto did not know how difficult it would be to acquire non-GMO ingredients.
Despite some well-intentioned efforts to brew and sell organic beer, the overall reaction from both consumers and brewers has been pretty meh.
It was the "meh" that launched a load of comments, a few angry emails, and even a phone call to my editor. I had to wonder: Did I "meh" too quickly? I decided to investigate further to find out.
"Organic" beer: Now actually organic
Until January 2013, the major difference between organic and non-organic beer was the organic barley. Brewers weren’t required to use organic hops (an ingredient that makes up less than 5 percent of a typical brew) largely because they simply weren’t readily available. But in 2010, the National Organic Standards Board announced a change that would take effect three years later: The hops in organic beer would now need to be organic, too.