Nature and Environment

Because at 160,000 years, the party is just getting started.


4/15/2014

flower gardenGrowing some of one's own food, conserving and generating the home energy supply, being part of a thriving local economy, and other moves toward self-reliance are all important, laudable goals with, as far as I can see, no ill side effects. However, in North America and Europe, there is now a strong trend among progressive thinkers and activists toward dependence on localism as the means of reversing the global ecological crisis and achieving global economic justice. That's just not going to happen.

Recently, on Al Jazeera's opinion page, I attempted to make that case: that as important as it is to improve life locally, such efforts will not work their way up through the world's economy to solve our biggest problems. I argued that retreating into a romanticized vision of the local life means latching onto one of capitalism's symptoms — the eclipsing of local economies and governments by more powerful transnational forces — and treating it as if it's the disease itself.

I cited the 2012 book No Local: Why Small-Scale Alternatives Won't Change the World by Greg Sharzer, which goes into deep detail on the disconnect between local solutions and global problems. In it, Sharzer writes, “The problem with localism is not its anti-corporate politics, but that these politics don't go far enough. It sees the effects of unbridled competition but not the cause.”

Efforts to localize have tackled issues such as promotion of hometown businesses, alternative currencies or barter systems, community-based energy generation, greener transportation, and most prominently, local food systems. The more highly visible, and shallower, forms of localism have concentrated on consumption without acknowledging that it's not in the checkout line but in the workplace that the great chasm opens up between families who live paycheck to paycheck and the more affluent, more powerful business owners who today control the fate of communities.

It's not that local owners are exceptionally greedy or heartless. As Sharzer shows, they simply have no choice but to play by the rules of the regional, national, and global market. Even the most well-intentioned local owners know that if they don't squeeze the greatest productivity out of the smallest payroll, there are plenty of other, more efficient businesses ready to take their place.

Even leaders of the localist movement acknowledge that so far it has had only a very limited sociopolitical reach. Australian Ted Trainer, a leading advocate of economic de-growth, observes, “At this stage, most of these [voluntary local movements] are only implementing reforms within consumer-capitalist society.” (His view is supported by research on one such initiative, the Transition Town movement that originated in Britain and has spread worldwide.)

Less radical efforts have had even more limited impact; the more business-friendly localism advocate and Vanderbilt University sociology professor David Hess admits, “The 'buy local' movement is, at least at present, mostly an alliance of small businesspeople and middle-class shoppers. It is not a poor people's movement.”

If movements to date have faltered in their efforts to resolve local problems, it is hard to imagine how they would address crises in the wider world. Some localists are counting on a mega-disaster—most likely, they say, in the form of oil depletion or runaway climate disruption—to deliver a mortal blow to global capitalism, at which point communities that have become more self-sufficient can show the way to the rest of the world, into a grim future.

A more hopeful vision comes from Greg Sharzer and others who urge local movements to stop avoiding political struggle and trying to create idealized communities; instead, they need to “confront global institutions of capitalist power in local spaces.”

Needless to say, taking that course will be anything but easy. But it's our only way out, and at least it has a lot more appeal than hunkering down and waiting for global catastrophe to hit.



4/14/2014

A cold winter and late-season snow storms in some parts of the country could mean that spring allergy season is especially rough this year. Some trees pollinate in the late winter and early spring, but cold temperatures can delay the timing of flowering and pollen release. That means that the pollen from these trees will be released around the same time that other trees and grasses release pollen later in the spring, resulting in a pollen “explosion” of sorts.

Earth Gauge Viewer Tip: So what’s an allergy sufferer to do? Limiting your exposure to pollen can help manage allergy symptoms.

Watch the weather. Weather and environmental conditions can affect the severity of your allergy symptoms. Pollen moves around less when conditions are rainy, cloudy and still, so your allergy symptoms may be better on these days. Pollen travels more readily on hot, dry and windy days, which can increase allergy symptoms. Exposure to outdoor air pollution like ozone can also increase sensitivity to allergens.

Button up. Keep windows at home and in the car closed to keep pollen from drifting into your living space.

Dry clothes indoors. Avoid hanging clothes outside to dry, where they can collect pollen.

Spend time outside after 10:00 a.m. Pollens are usually emitted in the early morning hours, from 5:00 to 10:00 a.m.

Garden carefully. Mowing and raking can stir up pollen and mold.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has more tips for dealing with outdoor allergens.

Image: American Elm pollen, courtesy of USDA.

Sources

Dennis, B. and Cha, A. E. “Allergy Alert: Tidal wave of pent-up pollen could be headed our way,” Washington Post, April 2, 2014.

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI). “Outdoor Allergens: Tips to Remember.”

McMillan, M. “Spring Allergy Outlook: Can Cold Weather Make Pollen Worse?” WebMD

Weir C, et al “Ambient air pollution and allergic sensitization: results from the National Health and Examination Survey (NHANES) 2005-2006? AAAAI 2012; Abstract 72)



4/7/2014

Nested amongst the skyscrapers and tucked between white-powdery beaches and either the buzz of South Beach or nature preserves in Hollywood are some eco-minded hotels and restaurants offering patrons a taste of local and sustainable cuisine.

This is the final blog in a series that covers some of the highlights of my family’s ecotravel adventures in and around Miami or Fort Lauderdale. My first two posts covered some of the nature-based activities possible both in the ocean and on land.

Green Lodging

Pool Viewing Window Z Ocean

If being in the middle of the historic Art Deco district of Miami Beach, a mere minutes’ walk from the sweeping beaches and the internationally-inspired cornucopia of restaurants, then the eco-chic Z Ocean Hotel has a luxurious guest room for you. With its soothing blue lights and modernist design, plus balconies overlooking either the pool, hopping Ocean Drive or popular Espanola Way, it’s hard to go wrong here.

Their pool features several underwater windows that send flickers of sunlight down to the lower floor and, from the lower floor looking up, a fascinating view of the swimmers above. The boutique hotel’s friendly staff are quick to point out places of interest. When prompted, they’ll confirm that the garbage is sorted and recycled off site -- a true feat (if you’re a regular to Florida, you’ll how hard it can be to recycle a can or bottle in this state). Use of LEDs and florescent lighting and a host of energy efficiency and water conservation practices take place throughout the property. I admit I wished it sported a PV array or solar thermal system on the roof, too – just to drive the point home.

Z Ocean’s spacious rooms, rare in South Beach, are a value for their price. Plus it’s easy to lose the car and walk and bike everywhere. By avoiding a car, you’ll save the $35 you’d have to spend on valet. No bikes, no problem. There are over 1,000 DecoBikes available for rent at 85 locations around town; pay with credit card, unlock a bike and pedal away.

Further up the coast, wedged in a side street of Hollywood’s North Beach is The Desoto Inn, a small eco-minded gem that offers tidy little one bedroom, studio and efficiency units that allow you to prepare your own meals, perhaps with organic ingredients from herbs you can harvest in the lush subtropical gardens right on site, or from Brother’s Farmers Market, also in Hollywood.

Tucked in a short street between the beach and the Intercoastal Waterway with a nature preserve on three sides, this restored 1950s hotel provides complimentary bikes, making a rental car a waste, both of money and fuel. Their tiki huts surrounded by gardens overflowing with native plants provide the perfect refuge after a bike ride, ocean swim or baking in the sun.

Farm- and Ocean-to-Table Feasts

Ceviche Served At Essensia Restaurant

Overlooking a tropical garden and small bamboo forest, Essensia Restaurant and Lounge located in the award-winning Palms Hotel and Spa in Miami fulfills its sustainability promise of delivering delicious and creative farm-to-table cuisine, “inspired by nature.”

Essensia’s Signature Chef Julie Frans tends and harvests fresh herbs, salad greens and other vegetables from her restaurant’s small organic garden on site to be used in her spectacularly creative and tasty appetizers, salads, soups, entrees and, even, their cocktails. For the rest of the produce, Chef Frans sources it from local farmers; poultry, meats and seafood come from sustainable or environmentally-certified suppliers.

As a part of the eco-experience at The Palms Hotel and Spa, weekly edible garden tours led by Chef Frans introduce guests to some of the ingredients that will find their way onto the plate during dinner that evening. Accredited by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Lodging Program, the hotel features numerous energy and water conservation initiatives as well as Aveda products used for the Spa and in-room toiletries.

Miami Culinary Tours

To get a taste of South Beach, we savored Argentinean empanadas and Spanish croissants filled with dulce de leche while we walked and talked, weaving through the Art Deco District on Miami Culinary Tours’ guided South Beach Tour. We sat down for samples of Cuban vaca frita at Polo Norte Restaurant and Floribbean ceviche at the Columbian fusion restaurant, Bolivar. What a way to get a taste of place.

Our hands down favorite, though, was the hole-in-the-wall Blocks Pizza Deli where business partners Richard Collins and Eugenio Vittoni serve up their pizza by the slice (always fresh baked, never re-heated), calzones and vegetarian Blocks Pockets prepared with locally-sourced, seasonal, organic ingredients. Their 300-year-old recipe using their “mother dough” makes you wonder why you’d ever settle for another slice of pizza any other way. Don’t forget to leave without adding a splash of their infused extra-virgin olive oils to your slice or pocket.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, “9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living”. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine.



4/4/2014

Vandana Shiva

Please join MOTHER EARTH NEWS in welcoming food sovereignty and anti-globalization activist Vandana Shiva to Kansas City, Mo., where she will share her presentation “Cultivating Diversity, Freedom and Hope” at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 17th. Hosted by Cultivate Kansas City and the University of Missouri Kansas City, Shiva’s lecture at the Unity Temple on the Plaza will discuss the imbalance of monoculture, the necessity of social and natural diversity, and the future of seed freedom. Tickets are available at the Eventbrite ticket outlet for $15, student tickets are $5.

Vandana Shiva is a globally recognized defender of civil liberties and environmental resources. Her advocacy of locally owned and self-sufficient food distribution networks supports the progressive food systems that have been developing in the Kansas City area. The author of almost 30 books, Shiva is not only a writer for food freedom, she also established the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, the Navdanya organic seed network, and the worldwide Seed Freedom movement. Since the mid-70s, Shiva has campaigned for the rights of indigenous communities, for the equality of women, and for the sanctity of natural, organic agriculture. Look for an interview with Vandana Shiva in the forthcoming June/July 2014 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

During Shiva’s visit throughout April 17th and 18th, Cultivate KC has organized several free Kansas City events, where farmers and growers can connect, including the first gathering of the Missouri Young Farmers Coalition on Thursday night, and a Seed Savers Kansas City workshop on Friday. Go to this calendar to learn about all the Kansas City events. There is also a dinner on Friday, April 18th with Shiva at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park; tickets are $50, available at Eventbrite. If you have questions about any of these events, or want to add an event of your own, please contact Cultivate KC’s Communications and Outreach Director Ami Freeberg, at 913-944-5639 or ami@cultivatekc.org.

Photo by Kartikey Shiva



4/2/2014

Black Capped Chickadees

Although spring is here, it’s still pretty cold out there in many parts of the country.   In a recent Bird Files segment on my public radio program, The Allegheny Front, Margaret Brittingham, an professor of Wildlife Resources with Penn State University, writes that Blacked-capped chickadees work extra hard to stay warm.  At less than half an ounce, they’re one of the smallest birds to survive in northern areas during the winter.

These tiny birds are frequent visitors to backyard feeders.  They dine on seeds, berries and occasionally fat from animal carcasses.  It’s no wonder - it takes a lot of body fat to keep warm.  Dr. Brittingham says that on cold nights, chickadees drop their body temperature to conserve on fuel.

“This is like you turning down the thermostat in your house at night...they lose about 10 percent of their body weight each night . If you were on the “chickadee diet," you’d go to bed weighing 130 pounds and wake up at a slim 117,” Brittingham writes.

She explains that in the morning, chickadees get back to feeding. By the end of the day, they are bulging with fat to help them make it through another night.

Attracting Chickadees to Your Backyard Bird Feeder

Chickadees are communicators.  According to Brittingham, the number of “dees” in the chick-a-dee-dee call is an indication of danger.

“A predator that is not much of a threat might get a chick-a-dee-dee while a call of chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee, would be a major threat. In the spring,  the “Hey sweetie” song of the male chickadee establishes his territory and invites a female to share it with him,” Brittingham writes.

Her advice: “If you want to invite chickadees into your yard, trees, shrubs, and fallen logs, will provide food and nest sites. Evergreens provide winter cover.”

Photo by Minette Layne



4/1/2014

Did you know that a typical city block generates more than five times as much rainwater runoff as a forested area of the same size?  This is because rooftops and pavement don’t allow water to soak into the ground like forests, wetlands and grasslands do. Instead, rainwater  runs off pavement into the nearest storm drain, where it’s transported to local streams, rivers and eventually the ocean. On its way to the storm drain, rainwater picks up pollutants like oil, antifreeze, pet waste, fertilizers and pesticides. In most places, storm water does not get treated, so all of those pollutants end up in local waters.

Give these tips a try to protect water quality where you live.



3/31/2014

Natural escapes to ecological preserves minutes away by bike in Hollywood, Florida. A vast sawgrass and gator-inhabited wilderness, including the Everglades National Park, found less than an hour’s drive from the Miami skyline. What surprised my family and me the most on our recent ecotourism adventure in the Miami or Fort Lauderdale areas were their accessibility – and beauty.

While Part 1 in this series of blog posts covers what’s possible just off the coast in the Atlantic Ocean, for this blog we stayed closer to shore.

Stand Up Paddleboarding With Jorge Posada

Stand-Up Paddleboarding through Mangroves in Hollywood

Our guide, Jorge Posada, makes it seem too easy.

“First, kneel on the paddeboard until you’re comfortable and can maintain your balance,” he coaches, just as the early morning light cuts across Dania Beach, with its popular pier for fishing and stretch of sand most popular among high school-aged locals and skim boarders. “Once you have your balance, with one leg first, stand up on your paddleboard.” Within minutes, my son and I were upright and calmly paddling up Whisky Creek, named as such after being used to smuggle booze during prohibition. Today, the pristine mangrove-lined waterways are protected as the John U. Lloyd State Park, just north of Hollywood and south of Fort Lauderdale, sandwiched between the Intercoastal Waterway and Atlantic Ocean.

Gliding across the calm surface of the water on our stand up paddleboard, or SUP for short, we spotted pufferfish darting about and surprised a crab scampering for cover. Being atop the paddleboard, peering down into the water, provides a clear perspective of the aquatic life beneath the waters. Besides offering private paddleboard lessons and tours to Whisky Creek and nearby at the 1,501-acre coastal mangrove wetland area that includes the Anne Kolb Nature Center and West Lake Park, Posada coaches clients on personal fitness and nutrition as a part of his company, FocusFitt. By the end of the hour-long paddle, we felt as nearly at ease on our paddleboard as our guide.

Airboat In Everglades

Airboat Expedition of the Everglades

“Inches deep, but nearly fifty miles wide, the Everglades is America’s slowest moving river,” says Steve Caves, our guide for Airboat in Everglades who coasted to a stop within a couple feet of an 9-foot-plus-long American alligator. “He’s usually here. It’s his beachfront property,” he jokes. As the only ecosystem of its kind on the planet, the Everglades, dubbed “river of grass,” stretches for miles in all directions, interrupted only by a few drainage canals. “Back in the 1940s, they tried to drain it,” explains Caves, a billowing man who could probably wrestle an alligator and come out on top. “Low and behold, it turned out to be a river,” he says with a laugh. “Water overflows Lake Okeechobee and creeps southward to the Gulf of Mexico at the rate of only 2,000 feet per day.”

After spending a few minutes going over the differences between crocodiles and alligators (the Everglades is the only place where both co-exist), our guide fires up the twin prop, 496-horsepower engine and we speed off over the grass, swishing past blue herons, great egrets and an ibis. Wind in our faces and earmuffs over our ears, protecting them from the thundering engine powering our boat, our group of eight sit back for our intimate backcountry tour. By the end of the trip, we saw eight gators and numerous bird species, including the colorful Purple Gallinule.

To continue the adventure on foot or bike inside the 2,357-square-mile Everglades National Park, head to the Bobcat Boardwalk Trail, with its half-mile boardwalk over the water. Pick up the trail behind the Shark Valley Visitor Center. Have a bike? Shark Valley offers avid bicyclists to loop through the sawgrass wilderness on a 15-mile blacktop road with plentiful alligators and crocodiles reminding you to stay on the road. For an extra fee, you can also hop a tram, fueled with biodiesel, for a two-hour guided tour. More than thirty-six species of endangered animals thrive within the park, including the elusive Florida panther.

Biking Hollywood Florida Broadwalk

Car-free in Hollywood

We biked everywhere in Hollywood, saving a bundle by not having to rent a car, acquiring plenty of exercise, and getting around without needing a drop of gasoline. We traveled from our apartment in Hollywood’s North Beach neighborhood to the sandy spot where we put in our paddleboards. And we pedaled to the Yellow Green Market where we picked up local, fresh, and sometimes organic, fruits, vegetables and herbs. But most of all, we coasted along the two-and-a-half-mile-long, brick-lined Hollywood Broadwalk, heralded as one of the most scenic in the United States. We’d nominate it as one of the best on the planet, which may be why so many people from around the world meander along the family-friendly, car-free promenade.

Lined by palm trees and beach on one side and Floridian-style homes and classic 1920s boutique hotels on the other, the terra-cotta-colored pathway seems to connect and celebrate everything that makes Florida such an alluring place to be: sun, sand, surf and active people, out for a stroll, bike or roller-blade. The Donald hasn’t bulldozed paradise for another one of his high-rises here. It’s a place where beach cruisers prevail.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, most recently, “9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living”. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine.












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