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Tagged with Get Small

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This town was almost blown off the map — now it’s back, and super green

If I were to tell you this is a story about a tornado in Kansas, it would probably bring to mind a certain doe-eyed girl and her little dog. Well, sometimes tornadoes transport girls and their adorable pets to magical lands. Other times they level entire towns.

That is what happened the night of May 4, 2007, when an EF-5 tornado (for non-Kansans, that’s a really freaking big -- the biggest, in fact) nearly two miles wide hit the town of Greensburg, a farming community in south-central Kansas. Almost all of the 1,383 residents lost their homes, nine died, and the town was left looking like this:

From Grain Elevator May 2007

The destruction was sudden and the rebuilding process was daunting. However, as thoughts on how to rebuild swirled, a number of people thought, “Hey, what if we rebuilt Greensburg with ‘green’ principles? Ha, guys, see what I did there? Do you get it? ... Guys?”

To which many of their neighbors responded with a “yes, we do get it” and a “yeah, we thought of that idea, too.” Even before the tornado hit, the community was shrinking and its population getting older. Greensburg residents knew they needed a new strategy. The tornado, awful as it was, provided a clean slate.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Local schmocal: Why small-scale solutions won’t save the world

I have a confession: I’m a cynic when it comes to living small. I like to garden and ride bikes; I buy local whenever I can. But I don’t think my personal lifestyle choices are going to save the world -- and neither will yours.

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Susie Cagle

I’m not alone. Just ask Greg Sharzer, a frustrated Marxist activist with a PhD in Political Science from York University who also enjoys cycling and Fair Trade coffee. Sharzer’s book No Local: Why Small-Scale Alternatives Won’t Change the World is a bucket of ice water on fresh-faced progressive localism, and an affront to the concept of micro solutions altogether. Localism is a survival strategy, Sharzer writes, not a movement, and not a solution.

Localism says we can change how we act within capitalism. If consumers don’t like a commodity, they can demonstrate their commitment to a better one. Choose to support ethical, small-scale businesses, and little by little the excesses of economic growth will disappear. Community gardening, farmers’ markets, and biodiesel cooperatives will change the entrenched power of agribusiness, for example.

For Sharzer, progressive localism and small acts come from a place of "deep pessimism," a sense that the problems are just too big to tackle. He criticizes lifestyle localism for seeking to model behavior for others while not confronting the powers that made us all oil-addicts in the first place.

It's not that micro solutions are wrong, per se. It's just that they aren't solutions. Buying local organic veggies -- or better yet, growing your own -- is great, but it's not a replacement for fighting for the rights of the people who pick the fields for 10 cents per head of lettuce.

Read more: Living

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Community thrives along a nearly forgotten slice of an urban river

The Bullfrogs.
The Bullfrogs.

On the equinox, March 20, a mostly forgotten sliver of a city neighborhood, where Goldeneyes and Coots fly low and fast along the river, the stalks of last season’s brush still steeped in snow, hummed with the celebration of the season’s unfolding.

They gathered along the water’s banks, cutting back old growth, repairing paths and railings fashioned from tree branches. And when the day’s labor was done, the local chorus, calling themselves the Bullfrogs, sang songs bidding farewell to winter with a rousing cheer to spring.

This is life among the Riverbank Neighbors, ages 0 to 90, so named because of their close proximity to the once-shunned North Branch of the Chicago River and the life they’ve built around it. In one breath, they are both a throwback and the future, recalling a time when community thrived, often centered around the local landscape. Their recapture of life writ small and meaningful makes the art of porch sitting seem regal, a wooden step, a throne.

Read more: Cities, Living

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Writer and local-living maestra Christie Aschwanden chats live with Grist readers

Editor’s note: The chat’s now over, but you can replay it in full.

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JT Thomas

Christie Aschwanden is a prolific magazine writer and author of, among other things, Beautiful Chickens, a coffee-table book packed with glam shots of champion poultry breeds. She is also the daughter of a pilot and a recovering jet setter.

As part of Grist's March theme, "Get Small: Micro solutions to macro problems," Ashwanden wrote about her yearlong experiment in living local. In an effort to reduce her climate footprint, she swore off air travel for 12 months and vowed to stay within a 100-mile radius of her home on a farm in western Colorado.

First World problems, for sure, but some of what she discovered was a little mind-boggling -- the ability of a single plane trip to negate all of our other good green deeds, for example. Perhaps the most surprising discovery of all, however, was just how happy and content she could be living small.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Want to save the planet? Shrink your habitat — not just your apartment

map with pinA few weeks ago, internet millionaire Graham Hill wrote an essay for The New York Times about the virtues of “living with less.” Hill explained that he has but a scant six shirts and 10 “shallow bowls” in his 420-square foot New York studio -- a lifestyle familiar to many non-millionaires in Manhattan. He raved about how much happier and more simple his life became after he ditched the 3,600-square-foot Seattle residence, the SoHo loft, the turbocharged Volvo, and personal shopper. Thus unencumbered, he traveled the world with Olga, an “Andorran beauty.” His life was full of love and adventure.

As Hamilton Nolan wrote at Gawker, “It's easy not to have material things when you can just buy whatever you need, whenever you need it.” And while Hill tells us that consumerism is “pushing our planet to the brink,” he admits to at least one lingering climate sin -- a not-so-little travel habit.

I’m in no position to scold. I was once a frequent flier too. As the daughter of a pilot, I spent the first 30 years of my life jetting around the globe, never stopping to consider the climate consequences of my travel habit. Then, two years ago, I decided to quit cold turkey during an experiment that turned my world inside out.

My pledge was simple: to spend a year staying put. I swore off air travel and drew a 100-mile radius circle around my little farm in western Colorado. For 365 days, I’d live inside this “100-mile habitat.”

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Mini-mansions are all the rage

get-small-x150Houses come in many shapes, but at Grist, we sure do love 'em tiny. The reasons are obvious: Beyond being just. so. darn. adorable, they promote sustainable living, energy efficiency, and serious envy in your lame McMansion-owning neighbors. And they're hotter than Hansel, as both elite industrial designers and industrious teens alike have engineered marvels of mini to cater to every taste. Here are some of our recent favorites.

Read more: Living

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Climate change is making animals shrink

Humans might adapt to climate change through some mixture of mitigation, adaptation, and suffering (like relocating Coney Island several miles into interior Brooklyn, or saying goodbye to chocolate). But the animal kingdom? Many species are already coping with rising temperatures by physically getting smaller [$ub req].

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The reasons are complex and vary between species, but the CliffsNotes version is this: Animals (especially cold-blooded ones) often develop faster metabolisms in warmer temperatures, so they burn calories more quickly and reach maturity at smaller sizes. Additionally, smaller animals could have a distinct advantage when competing for dwindling food supplies; like Anne Hathaway, they simply need less to survive. There's also Bergmann's rule, which basically amounts to "colder environments support species of larger morphological size BECAUSE I SAID SO."

As part of this month's Get Small theme, we're profiling minimizing mammals, reducing reptiles, itty-bitty insects, and belittled birds the best way we know how: with a bunch of pretty-ass pictures.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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March is ‘Get Small’ month at Grist

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Susie Cagle

Climate change is a Big Problem. Moving our energy economy off fossil fuels is a Big Problem. Transforming our factory food system into something healthier? Remodeling our cities around sustainable models? Protecting our air and water? Big Problems, all.

Sometimes the sheer size of these problems can overwhelm us and leave us listless and passive. Which is one reason we've picked an offbeat theme for our coverage this month: Get Small -- Micro Solutions to Macro Problems.

Can we steer around big obstacles by thinking differently -- diminutively -- about them? Can we tackle big challenges by breaking them down into smaller ones? Do massive, planetary-scale dilemmas look different at eye height?

"Small is beautiful," sure -- that idea has a proud and venerable pedigree. But "small is strong"? "Small wins"? "Small saves the planet"? These are the ideas we're going to kick around.

For example: Did you know that there are entire species of animal that are adapting to climate change by getting smaller? We've got 'em here for you!

We'll look at what climate change looks like up really close -- at the level of dust, snowflakes, and molecules.

We'll explore -- from all sides -- the hypothesis that neighborhoods and local communities may be better positioned to cope with climate-driven change than nations and megalopolises.

We'll take a look at the indomitable online popularity of tiny abodes -- mini-apartments and nano-houses.

And we're planning a contest in which you can help us come up with a better name than "shrinkage" or "downsizing" (or even "rightsizing") for what happens when something gets smaller so it can be better.

We hope you'll stick around and get small with us. And do add your own ideas on this theme in the comments below -- but keep them, you know, brief.