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How Removing Asphalt Is Softening Our Cities

How Removing Asphalt Is Softening Our Cities

Greening alleys reclaims public space, reconnects urban dwellers to one another, and invites nature deep into cities.

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Rachel Schutz hated watching the kids play outside, and not because she was a curmudgeon. As director of an after-school program in a Latino neighborhood near ­Portland, Oregon, she likes the outdoors, the piney tang that hangs in the damp air.

But the kids’ shoes would thump on the asphalt, the pounding echoing against metal dumpsters along the alley. That was their play space. When a neighbor’s pine tree shed its needles, she watched the kids sweep them together and build them into a nest or fort. Otherwise, they were limited to games with chalk or a ball hoop.

The kids wanted something different for the Inukai Family Boys and Girls Club’s 5,000 square feet of alleyside space. They talked about a soccer field or a traditional playground—but surprised Schutz by choosing a nature park. They imagined dirt, logs, and boulders to climb on, raised beds to grow flowers and veggies, and hundreds of trees and plants throughout.

Schutz just had to figure out how to remove the pavement.

Doing so introduced her to a soften-our-cities movement in which cities such as Nashville, Tennessee, Montreal, and Detroit are rethinking all that cement. Alleys and alleysides in particular are being effectively reimagined as people-friendly pathways, parks, and lushly planted urban habitat.

Schutz and the kids she serves understand why the idea has been spreading. The day before they strong-armed the asphalt up, one girl asked her, “Miss Rachel, does this mean we get real grass we can touch?”

Some things about alleys

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By Reconnecting With Soil, We Heal the Planet and Ourselves

By Reconnecting With Soil, We Heal the Planet and Ourselves

Enslavement and sharecropping cannot erase thousands of years of Black people’s sacred relationship with the land.

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Dijour Carter refused to get out of the van parked in the gravel driveway at Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, New York. The other teens in his program emerged skeptical, but Dijour lingered in the van with his hood up, headphones on, eyes averted.

There was no way he was going to get mud on his new Jordans and no way he would soil his hands with the dirty work of farming.

I didn’t blame him. Almost without exception, when I ask Black visitors to the farm what they first think of when they see the soil, they respond “slavery” or “plantation.” Our families fled the red clays of Georgia for good reason—the memories of chattel slavery, sharecropping, convict leasing, and lynching were bound up with our relationship to the earth. For many of our ancestors, freedom from terror and separation from the soil were synonymous.

While the adult mentors in Dijour’s summer program were fired up about this field trip to a Black-led farm focused on food justice, Dijour was not on board. I tried to convince him that although the land was the “scene of the crime,” as Chris Bolden Newsome put it, she was never the criminal.

But Dijour was unconvinced. It was only when he saw the group departing on a tour that his fear of being left alone in a forest full of bears overcame his fear of dirt. He joined us, removing his Jordans to protect them from the damp earth and allowing, at last, the soil to make direct contact with the soles of his bare feet.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Fight Climate Change in Your Own Garden

Fight Climate Change in Your Own Garden

Your backyard could be the next front in the war against global warming.
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During World War I, Americans were encouraged to do their part in the war effort by planting, fertilizing, harvesting, and storing their own fruits and vegetables. The food would go to allies in Europe, where there was a food crisis. These so-called “victory gardens” declined when WWI ended but resurged during World War II. By 1944, nearly 20 million victory gardens  produced about 8 million tons of food.

Today, the nonprofit Green America is trying to bring back victory gardens as a way to fight climate change.

That’s according to Jillian Semaan, food campaigns director at Green America, who added that the organization wants “to allow people to understand shifting garden practices towards regenerative agriculture and what it means for reversing climate change and sequestering carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it back into the soil.”

The organization is doing that through an educational video and a mapping project. Recently, more than 900 people added their gardens or farms to the Climate Victory Garden map that tracks U.S. agricultural activities that use regenerative practices.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said—and continues to reiterate—that carbon sequestration accounts for a large portion of global agricultural mitigation potential. Globally, agriculture accounts for 11 percent of greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Farming and Food for the Soul

Farming and Food for the Soul

When Cuba’s industrialized agriculture crashed in 1989, women were among the new small-scale farmers who fed the nation.
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Fidel Castro, the ruling leader of the communist state, referred to the economic crisis as El Período Especial, or the Special Period During the Time of Peace. He urged the Cuban population to work resourcefully with the meager supplies they had. Remarkably, people did just that: they began to grow vegetables and herbs in pots and containers on rooftops, to plant avocado and mango pits in their backyards, and to raise smaller, more efficient meat sources such as rabbits and guinea pigs. 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Fierce Urgency of “How”

The Fierce Urgency of “How”

When we have reconsidered the lives we have built, how will we live?
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There is only one pathway to avert the crisis humanity is heading toward, and it is to deeply feel the connection with the ecosystem we are a part of. But understand, this is not an ecological argument, this is not about the climate or other environmental systems.

The latest exposure of the predatory behavior of some men is much closer to the core. I’m talking about the massive weight that has been holding our species frozen in a seemingly intractable structure of power and control.

But it’s melting. The climate is changing. The culture is shifting.

This may take decades, it may take weeks. It took thousands of years to get to this point in time. It may rip people and the planet apart as the future unfolds. Or it may bring us together in some sort of evolution of consciousness. The truth is somewhere in the middle as both extremes play out their respective parts in this latest version of the tale of our species.

In the beginning was the word. And the word was used for naming. And naming was used for possessing. At first, possessing meant survival. And then survival meant power—power to acquire more for more people. It was land first, then animals and slaves.

Of course, before the word, humans were on the planet for roughly 200,000 years. It would be no surprise that those years have left an indelible impression on our collective psyche.

Technology has played a central role in every step along the road of “progress.” Language, fire, mathematics, the printing press. And here we are. At another Gutenberg moment, with infinitely more complex implications not just for humans, but for all life on Earth.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

In the Water-Scarce Southwest, an Ancient Irrigation System Disrupts Big Agriculture

In the Water-Scarce Southwest, an Ancient Irrigation System Disrupts Big Agriculture

In New Mexico and Colorado, the “acequia” is more than just democratic water distribution—it is at the center of Southwest culture.
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Water in the American Southwest has never been abundant. Its availability fluctuates depending on conditions like drought and mountain snowpack that feeds streams and rivers. But experts predict a future of greater extremes: longer and hotter heat waves in the summer, less precipitation, decreased snowpack, and more severe and frequent droughts that will place greater stress on water users.

Experts predict a future of greater extremes.

In New Mexico and Colorado, legal statutes enable an area’s original water users to transfer their portions of the resource, via pipelines, to the highest bidder virtually anywhere in the state. When scarcity hits, industrial mining and agricultural operations can afford to purchase additional water while small-scale farmers and ranchers remain vulnerable; in both states, water use already exceeds availability.

But for over a century, acequias—an ancient form of community water management originating at least 1,000 years ago and now used by small-scale and backyard farmers and ranchers—have resisted the flow of water toward corporations in New Mexico and Colorado. After receiving wider legal protections for self-governance in the 2000s, acequias are disrupting modern agricultural practices by assuring the equitable distribution of water to rural communities.

An ancient system of water management

Acequias appeared in the United States centuries before New Mexico and Colorado were incorporated into the nation: more than a century, in fact, before the United States even existed. Brought by Spanish settlers to Mexican territory in the 16th century (including what is today the American Southwest), acequias were a system perfectly suited to the arid, high-elevation landscape where drought was common and the availability of water varied drastically from season to season and year to year.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

It’s Not Just Nostalgia: “Real Things” and Why They Matter

It’s Not Just Nostalgia: “Real Things” and Why They Matter

In his new book, David Sax explains how giving into the lure of things like vinyl records and paperback books might actually make you happier.
Real Things Matter

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear … I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life …

Henry David Thoreau

Talking with a group of University of California, Santa Cruz, students a few years ago, I asked them how they felt about the digital life—always on their cellphones, always online. Almost without exception, they started telling me everything they disliked. The saddest thing was that they considered themselves addicted, finding it almost impossible to break free.

They wanted to be free, though. They sensed that they were missing something.

I think these kids would like the new book by David Sax, The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter. He writes, in a very readable manner, about the growth of analog culture over the past few years—the lure of vinyl records, the almost- reverent use of Moleskine notebooks, the fun of board games. In fact, I went into a bookstore not long ago, and I saw long lines of young people buying books—real books!

This isn’t an effort to turn back the clock and get rid of the digital economy. Sax sees it as an attempt to return to the “real.” So I suspect he and these students would like my favorite Henry David Thoreau quote.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

More Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: This Time, They’re Coming for Your Democracy

More Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: This Time, They’re Coming for Your Democracy

Twelve years ago, John Perkins published his book, “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.” Today, he says “things have just gotten so much worse.”
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John Perkins. Photo by Paul Dunn.

Twelve years ago, John Perkins published his book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, and it rapidly rose up The New York Times’ best-seller list. In it, Perkins describes his career convincing heads of state to adopt economic policies that impoverished their countries and undermined democratic institutions. These policies helped to enrich tiny, local elite groups while padding the pockets of U.S.-based transnational corporations.

I couldn’t help but think about Flint, Michigan, under emergency management as I read The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.

Perkins was recruited, he says, by the National Security Agency (NSA), but he worked for a private consulting company. His job as an undertrained, overpaid economist was to generate reports that justified lucrative contracts for U.S. corporations, while plunging vulnerable nations into debt. Countries that didn’t cooperate saw the screws tightened on their economies. In Chile, for example, President Richard Nixon famously called on the CIA to “make the economy scream” to undermine the prospects of the democratically elected president, Salvador Allende.

If economic pressure and threats didn’t work, Perkins says, the jackals were called to either overthrow or assassinate the noncompliant heads of state. That is, indeed, what happened to Allende, with the backing of the CIA.

Perkins’ book has been controversial, and some have disputed some of his claims, including, for example, that the NSA was involved in activities beyond code making and breaking.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Faced With a Fracking Giant, This Small Town Just Legalized Civil Disobedience

Faced With a Fracking Giant, This Small Town Just Legalized Civil Disobedience

A new first-in-the-nation law will shield residents from arrest as they use direct action to stop fracking-wastewater injection wells.
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Grant Township had seen what happens when people nationwide take to the streets to protest bullying corporations: Arrests. Lots of them.

So Grant Township planned ahead. Two weeks ago, it passed a law that protects its residents from arrest if they protest Pennsylvania General Energy Company’s (PGE) creation of an injection well.

Residents believe this law is the first in the United States to legalize nonviolent civil disobedience against toxic wastewater injection wells. “We’re doing it to safeguard the residents and protect as many people as possible,” Township Supervisor Stacy Long said.

Long said legalizing direct action is a response to the ongoing problem of rural residents seeing their voices excluded from discussions between state governments and big corporations on issues that have local ramifications.

Like so many other people in communities dealing with fracking and its waste, residents worry the injected wastewater will leak into their drinking-water sources.

PGE wants to repurpose an existing well in Grant Township into a Class II disposal well. These wells are used to deposit toxic wastewater deep underground. The wastewater is a byproduct of oil and gas drilling and can contain toxic metals, benzene, and radioactive materials, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates 180,000 Class II injection wells currently operate, injecting more than 2 billion gallons of brine a day. About 20 percent are disposal wells.

 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

100% Renewable Energy: What We Can Do in 10 Years

100% Renewable Energy: What We Can Do in 10 Years

It will take at least three decades to completely leave behind fossil fuels. But we can do it. And the first step is to start with the easy stuff. 
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If our transition to renewable energy is successful, we will achieve savings in the ongoing energy expenditures needed for economic production. We will be rewarded with a quality of life that is acceptable—and, perhaps, preferable to our current one (even though, for most Americans, material consumption will be scaled back from its current unsustainable level). We will have a much more stable climate than would otherwise be the case. And we will see greatly reduced health and environmental impacts from energy production activities.

But the transition will entail costs—not just money and regulation, but also changes in our behavior and expectations. It will probably take at least three or four decades, and will fundamentally change the way we live.

Nobody knows how to accomplish the transition in detail, because this has never been done before. Most previous energy transitions were driven by opportunity, not policy. And they were usually additive, with new energy resources piling onto old ones (we still use firewood, even though we’ve added coal, hydro, oil, natural gas, and nuclear to the mix).

Since the renewable energy revolution will require trading our currently dominant energy sources (fossil fuels) for alternative ones (mostly wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, and biomass) that have different characteristics, there are likely to be some hefty challenges along the way.

Therefore, it makes sense to start with the low-hanging fruit and with a plan in place, then revise our plan frequently as we gain practical experience. Several organizations have already formulated plans for transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

If There Are No New Farmers, Who Will Grow Our Food?

If There Are No New Farmers, Who Will Grow Our Food?

Programs across the country are trying to make it easier for new farmers to get started and put down roots. Here’s why: There’s only one farmer under 35 for ever six over 65. By 2030, one-quarter of America’s current farmers will retire.
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Against a backdrop of lush green mountains and swaying papaya trees, La‘amea Lunn readies his crop of carrots, kale, and eggplants for the weekly farmers market. He carefully tends his one-third acre on Oahu, Hawai‘i, preparing produce for a market stall he shares with friends—young farmers like himself, a few of whom he met when they worked neighboring plots on this land owned by the University of Hawai‘i.

At 32, Lunn has an office job with a career in restaurant kitchens behind him. He hopes to own a farm of his own, to be part of the local food movement, and to help transform the industrial food system. But taking that on now is a substantial investment, so Lunn is starting out here, in an agricultural incubator program called GoFarm Hawai‘i, where he can share resources, learn from experts, and, perhaps most importantly, join a community.

GoFarm Hawai‘i and other programs, from California to Maine, aim to soften the start for young growers. By providing access to some or all of the farming fundamentals—capital, acreage, and training—these projects try not only to help the individual farmer, but also to sustain and grow a new generation that will allow the local food movement to flourish.

“Doing it with other people helps you along in the hard times,” Lunn said. “I went into this not just for myself, but to network to help other farmers to make it easier to farm. It was a driving force.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

As We Adapt to Climate Change, Who Gets Left Behind?

As We Adapt to Climate Change, Who Gets Left Behind?

A new documentary shows planning options to mitigate a new climate, but questions about the global South are largely ignored.
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Climate change is a global process that plays out on the ground in dramatically different ways based on where, and how, we live on that globe. How human communities will adapt to global warming’s effects will depend not only on geography, but also—like so many things in the modern world—on money.

The documentary Weather Gone Wild reports on inventive ways officials and ordinary people are adapting to the predictable unpredictability of the more extreme weather we are experiencing—and will continue to experience, more intensely—due to climate change.

The adaptations, both present and planned, that the Canadian film documents range from the mundane (installing backwater valves to protect homes from sewage backup during floods) to the fantastical (floating cities in which people won’t have to worry about being flooded). The film moves from Canadian cities that have seen record floods in recent years, to New York City and the lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy, to the disappearing beaches of South Florida, with a stop in the Netherlands, ground zero for coping with too much water.

It’s only at the end of the film that the narrator reminds viewers that however threatening the effects of wilder weather in the affluent global North, it will be in the poorer global South that the human suffering will be most dramatic. Flooding in Toronto’s streets is a city planning and engineering problem for which we can imagine solutions, but sea-level rise in Bangladesh means large-scale migration and death that we are afraid to imagine.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

As We Adapt to Climate Change, Who Gets Left Behind?

As We Adapt to Climate Change, Who Gets Left Behind?

A new documentary shows planning options to mitigate a new climate, but questions about the global South are largely ignored.
Alberta-snow-in-May650.jpg
Climate change is a global process that plays out on the ground in dramatically different ways based on where, and how, we live on that globe. How human communities will adapt to global warming’s effects will depend not only on geography, but also—like so many things in the modern world—on money.

The documentary Weather Gone Wild reports on inventive ways officials and ordinary people are adapting to the predictable unpredictability of the more extreme weather we are experiencing—and will continue to experience, more intensely—due to climate change.

The adaptations, both present and planned, that the Canadian film documents range from the mundane (installing backwater valves to protect homes from sewage backup during floods) to the fantastical (floating cities in which people won’t have to worry about being flooded). The film moves from Canadian cities that have seen record floods in recent years, to New York City and the lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy, to the disappearing beaches of South Florida, with a stop in the Netherlands, ground zero for coping with too much water.It’s only at the end of the film that the narrator reminds viewers that however threatening the effects of wilder weather in the affluent global North, it will be in the poorer global South that the human suffering will be most dramatic. Flooding in Toronto’s streets is a city planning and engineering problem for which we can imagine solutions, but sea-level rise in Bangladesh means large-scale migration and death that we are afraid to imagine.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Paris Attacks and Climate Change Push Us to Fix a World of Broken Systems

Paris Attacks and Climate Change Push Us to Fix a World of Broken Systems

The rise of ISIS, the “war on terror,” the attack on Paris—these are symptoms of a civilization in its twilight. But the displays of global solidarity show that the seeds of a new paradigm are being planted.
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In much the same way that 9/11 saw the birth of a new era of perpetual war in the Muslim world, the 11/13 Paris attacks are giving rise to a new phase in that perpetual war: a relentless state of emergency, in which citizens are expected, in the words of British Home Secretary Theresa May, to possess “vigilance”—a euphemism for constant paranoia, suspicion, and fear in their everyday dealings with other citizens.

The terror-state did not emerge out of the blue.

This response would make sense if, indeed, ISIS were merely an unfathomable horde of psychopathically evil barbarians that had popped into existence out of the blue.

But as with any psychopathology, one requires a meaningful diagnosis to offer a prescription with a reasonable chance of success. That chance can be found in the grassroots creativity seen in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy: spontaneous calls for solidarity, with people of all faiths and none coming together to condemn the atrocity, mourn the victims, and rebuild bonds of humanity, regardless of official policies.

But first we must understand how this atrocity happened.

While neither the barbaric nature of ISIS nor its puritanical fanaticism is in dispute, the problem is that the terror-state did not suddenly emerge.

President Hollande’s response—bombs away abroad and permanent emergency at home—is premised on the idea that ISIS subsists inexplicably in a sort of barbaric no-man’s land outside the sphere of civilization.

He is wrong. ISIS is a product of civilization, through and through.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why Slower Money Is the Key to a Real Economic Recovery

Why Slower Money Is the Key to a Real Economic Recovery 

An exciting crop of organizations are financing businesses in a way that creates real wealth. Here are a few ways to scale them up so that they can truly challenge Wall Street.
Patient finance illustration by Jennifer Luxton.

There’s a financial fault line that runs through the heart of our economy. Wall Street’s most recent rumblings—which saw the major indices take a dive in response to weak growth in China—are a stark reminder of the danger. If the stocks go tumbling in, so do our businesses, jobs, paychecks, and pensions. The tremors may have subsided for the moment, but if we’re to give the late financial seismologist Charles Kindleberger any credit, the next big one could be right around the corner.

What we really need is a comprehensive rebuild beyond the quake zone.

According to Kindleberger’s classic book Manias, Panics and Crashes, the market sees notable financial quakes or “panics” roughly every seven years or so. The frequency has increased recently, with significant panics occurring in 1989 (Savings and Loan crisis), 1992 (Britain’s Black Wednesday), 1997 (East Asian crisis), 1999 (Tech Bubble), and of course 2007-08. Whether the recent seven-year twitch turns out to be just a minor temblor or a foreshock to something much worse remains to be seen.

But one thing is for certain: If we don’t find a way to shift our increasingly financialized economy to stable ground, the next big crash is inevitable.

The Wall Street formula for disaster is simple: ever-greater money chasing ever-bigger bets with ever -faster payoffs on ever-riskier financial products  equals crashes of seismic proportions. Greater, bigger, faster, riskier. It’s like a twisted Daft Punk song.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai III: Cataclysm
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