Two of the most important issues of our century — clean energy and poverty eradication — are potentially mutually exclusive, if development efforts do not factor in increased consumption that will occur.
Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF between 1995-2005, said towards the end of the last century “The eradication of poverty must be at the center of our development efforts [in] the 21st century.” That the poor should have access to education, clean water, electricity and a decent place to live, has few opponents.
Poverty Eradication vs. Green Energy
Today in the world, there are millions of people working actively in governments, NGOs, and personal efforts to even historically unfair playing fields so that basic human rights — the right to an education, food, cloths and shelter — are not available for the fortunate, but for everyone fortunate enough to find themselves in possession of a life.
But what happens if progress in poverty’s eradication far-outpaces green energy solutions? A quick glance at the numbers seems that this is the scenario we currently face. According to the UN’s numbers, between 1990 and 2015 the proportion of people living on incomes of less than $1.25 a day has been halved since 1990. In 2010, 700 million fewer people lived in poverty than in 1990. The world’s population is growing while poverty levels are decreasing.
Numbers on green energy are far less inspiring. In places like China the poor are rising to the ranks of middle class with through-the-roof growth rates. Incomes have quadrupled since 2004 and been squared since 1980. Reflective of this is China’s building on average three new power stations every week — many of these coal plants. By 2030, it plans to have a power capacity that will be larger than what exists in the US, the UK and Australia today. The graph (see graphic below) shows the increase in China’s coal consumption since 1950. Despite upward trends in renewable energy across the world, these numbers are neither keeping pace with population growth nor development levels. Wealth in this sense is a synonym for consumption and consumption sits shotgun pollution. Numbers seem encouraging in green energy since they are moving in the right direction, but they are being outpaced by progress with the poor becoming un-poor.
Eco-Conscious Habits and the Developing World
Within this problem is also an opportunity. I agree with Bellamy that the eradication of poverty must be the center of our development efforts but would add that at the center of that should be development done in a way that minimizes increased consumption and strain on our ecosystems. Social development programs should operate not with just the goal of eradicating poverty, but doing it in a way that allows those emerging from deprivation to bypass the environmental pitfalls the rest of the world stumbled over during its own development. More than just focusing on government policy and driving down the cost of green energy, families in development programs should be educated and encouraged to adopt green habits.
The Integral Heart Foundation, a charity I’ve done work with over the past four years, works to give children and families and education that will break them out of the cycle of generational poverty, but do so in a way which will make these families as green as the foliage flushed hills around them. While giving them educational and microfinance opportunities, they also install solar units in their homes and teach them about being responsible stewards of their existing resources.
They know that the only way to get impoverished individuals to buy into behavior that benefits the environment is if it makes financial sense. Founder Mick Quin found that the average candle-lit household in Guatemala spends about $250 annually on candles. Instead of linking these families to the grid where they can begin consuming electricity to light their houses at roughly the same cost, they install $240 solar units within their homes to that their light can come from off-grid, green energy. Families make payments on these units and once they are paid off, new units are purchased for other families.
This example of combining educational opportunities coupled with green habits is a an example of grassroots development getting it right. Our world needs sustainable energy solutions. It needs social justice for the marginalized poor. But it also needs to find social justice without environmental harm. This is possible with the right mindset. With the wrong mindset and narrow ideas of development, you solve one problem and create a new one.
Increase in China Coal Consumption Since 1950
Are you resolving to save money in 2014? Efficiency pays off! Check out these tools to help you lower bills by saving energy, water and fuel at home and on the road. Added bonus: you’ll help the environment, too.
Lower Your Energy Bills
Do it yourself: ENERGY STAR’s Home Energy Yardstick provides an easy-to-understand assessment of how your home energy use compares to similar homes. The tool provides a snapshot of how you use energy at home and ideas for improving comfort and lowering your utility bills.
Get help from a professional: A professional home energy audit is a detailed, room-by-room assessment that can help you find ways to save 5-30 percent on your energy bill. Check with your local or state energy/weatherization office or your electric/gas utility for help finding an auditor. Learn more about home energy audits in the Energy.gov infographic below.
Look for incentives: Some states, localities and utilities offer incentives and rebates for performing home energy audits and making improvements. Find out what’s available where you live.
Don’t Send dollars Down the Drain
Calculate your water savings: Want to know how much that water-efficient appliance will really save? Use EPA’s WaterSense calculator to see how much water (and money!) you can save with WaterSense labeled low-flow toilets, faucets and shower heads.
Search for rebates: Check out the WaterSense Rebate Finder to find money-saving rebate programs for WaterSense labeled products and water conservation services.
Save at the Pump
Save fuel to save money: FuelEconomy.gov offers tips for driving efficiently and keeping your car in top shape to get the best gas mileage possible. Use the My MPG to track your vehicle’s fuel economy and compare it with EPA test ratings.
Weigh your options: In the market for a new car? Compare vehicles side-by-side, view lists of most-efficient and most-popular cars and trucks, and learn about tax incentives for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid cars.
Infographic by Sarah Gerrity, Energy Department
For more Earth Gage tips, go to www.EarthGauge.org.
Our family stepped on the floating platform, wide grins crossing our faces. The Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, Hastings, Lucky and Balla, frolicked in a saltwater lagoon off Duck Key in the Florida Keys. Then Haley Merritt, one of the nine educator-trainers at the Dolphin Connection, motioned for one of the dolphins to swim our way. For the next twenty minutes, we worked alongside her, practicing “target training”, hand signals, even cradling the 500-pound dolphins in the water.
Drawn in by the experience, our son, Liam, interacted with the dolphins as if some magical Harry Potter spell had been cast upon him – allowing him to “speak” to the playful mammals. Truth be told, this was the only way to interact with the dolphins responsibly. Chasing down dolphins from a boat is definitely not the way to go. That Lucky earned its name because he was rescued after being caught in a shrimp net off the coast of Texas brought the experience full circle.
“We’re creating an emotional interaction between our participants and the dolphins,” shares Terran McGinnis, back in the classroom area where we first learned about the dolphins, their behaviors and training. “It’s this emotional experience that forever changes how we think and act toward marine life – and the planet.” While based at Hawks Cay Resort, the Dolphin Connection is open to anyone with an interest in dolphins, offering a range of experiences in addition to being the only dolphin facility in the Keys offering educational displays and a free dolphin viewing area.
Florida Keys Ecotourism
And so began our Florida Keys adventure, filled with iridescent-colored fish flickering in the sunlight on coral reefs, soaring ospreys, gentle Key Deer, and a glimpse of a few fleeting sharks. The more than 1,700 islands that encompass the Florida Keys provide refuge to hundreds of bird species, a spectacular diversity of tropical plants and abundant sea life. In other words, it’s the ultimate place for tropical adventure without leaving the continental US. No passport needed. Since there’s so much to see and do, I’ll cover it in three blogs.
Stretching along the largest living coral reef in North America and the third largest in the world, the Keys are essentially a patchwork of wildlife preserves divided by the Overseas Highway that hops through the string of islands connected by forty-two bridges. From Key Largo, where America’s first underwater preserve was established, to Key West, vast off-shore sections of the Gulf or Atlantic, along with terrestrial areas, are designated as wildlife refuges or marine sanctuaries. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary alone make up the 2,800 square nautical miles of coastal and oceanic waters and submerged lands.
Whether we were atop the water, in the water, or on dry land, nearly everything needed for adventure we found somewhere along the 128 mile highway. But stepping off the pavement, sometimes by hiking less than a few minutes off the main road, we found ourselves lost in a labyrinth of mangroves in the “backcountry” – or bobbing around in a boat in either the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean.
In the Water
“Pool’s open,” invites Captain Ron of the Fury Water Adventures’ Cruzan Cat catamaran. While some of the eleven passengers descended into the warm, turquoise waters from a ladder at the back of the boat, others, like us, jumped off the side, hanging onto our snorkel mask. We coasted along the surface to a patch coral reef known as the Western Dry Rocks, nestled within the Key West National Wildlife Refuge about seven miles from Key West. To get to the reef anywhere in the Keys requires at least a three mile journey off shore.
The sun bathed the rainbow-colored parrotfish and angelfish in light, shimmering off the Fire, Elkhorn and Staghorn coral. Elaborate sea fans waved with the current. Visibility was over 60 feet. Crew member Stephanie not only prepped us prior to us jumping in, she was right there alongside us, pointing out a nurse shark resting on the sandy bottom and confirming our glimpse of a reef shark -- before it sped off. “You’re much too big to be a possible meal for them,” confirms Stephanie, smiling off the encounter.
Woman Key Mangroves
The reef wasn’t our only stop on the Fury’s six-hour “Island Adventure” eco-trip. Next, our captain took us to Woman Key. To get to a spectacular shallow sandbar off the island, we climbed into sea kayaks and paddled ashore. Stephanie took some of our group to explore the mangroves while the rest of us hung on the sand bar, spotting a bonnethead shark and sea biscuits.
Later in the week during a stretch of calm winds and plentiful sun, we visited another patch reef closer in, aboard Sabago’s catamaran sailboat. This was followed by a trip in Danger Charters’ 65-foot skipjack sailboat, uniquely able to put us in five-foot-deep seagrass meadows, dotted with huge sponges, around which we spotted squid and stingrays.
“There are those captains that admit they’ve run aground and those that have yet to run aground,” laughs Captain Christian, steering Danger’s Prize with one foot while peering over the side at the four-foot-deep waters. “And then, there are the ones who lie about it.” While snorkeling is the most readily accessible way to explore the reef and ocean, for the PADI-certified, thousands of people every year go SCUBA-diving to patch or bank reefs or at the more than 1,000 shipwrecks scattered along the Keys.
My next blog will cover the adventure from on top of the water or on dry land.
Dolphin Photo: Courtesy of Dolphin Connection.
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. Ivanko writes and contributes photography 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.
With frigid temperatures gripping many parts of the U.S., some people are turning to fireplaces and wood-burning stoves for warmth. It may smell good, but wood smoke can impact indoor air quality and your health. Smoke is a mixture of tiny particles and gases produced when wood burns – the fine particles can get into your eyes and lungs, where they may aggravate some health conditions like lung disease, bronchitis and asthma.
Use these “best burn practices” at home to minimize wood smoke and protect your health:Before you burn, make sure your chimney is clean. A clean chimney provides a good draft and reduces the risk of a chimney fire:
Have your chimney inspected by a professional at least once per year and regularly clean ashes from your fireplace or wood-burning stove to increase efficiency.
Only use seasoned wood for burning. Seasoned wood looks darker, has cracks in the ends and sounds hollow if smacked against another piece of wood.
Use newspaper and dry kindling to start a fire. Never use gasoline, kerosene, charcoal starter or propane.
Build hot fires, which are more safe and efficient than smoldering fires.
Never burn garbage or cardboard, coated or painted wood, particle board, plywood or wood with glue on it. Burning these materials can release harmful chemicals into the air inside your home.
If you burn wood at home – even occasionally – install a smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector to keep you and your family safe. If you already have detectors, check the batteries to make sure they are working properly.
(Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Burn Wise: Consumers – Best Burn Practices. http://www.epa.gov/burnwise/bestburn.html) Read more Tips of the Week at www.earthgauge.net.
These tiny Australian spiders are one more example of just how amazing Nature can be. This video shows how these male jumping peacock spiders display the stunning color patterns on their abdomens during their courtship dance.
YouTube video posted by Peacockspiderman
According to Wikipedia:
"The jumping spider family (Salticidae) contains more than 500 described genera (like the Maratus genus, also known as peacock spiders) and about 5,000 described species, making it the largest family of spiders with about 13% of all species. Jumping spiders have some of the best vision among arthropods and use it in courtship, hunting, and navigation. Though they normally move quietly and fairly slowly, most species are capable of very agile jumps, notably when hunting, but sometimes in response to sudden threats. Both their book lungs and the tracheal system are well-developed, and they use both systems (bimodal breathing). Jumping spiders are generally recognized by their eye pattern. All jumping spiders have four pairs of eyes with one pair being their particularly large anterior median eyes.
Jumping spiders range in size from a body length of 1 to 22 mm.
In addition to using their silk for safety lines while jumping, they also build silken "pup tents", where they shelter from bad weather and sleep at night. They molt within these shelters, build and store egg cases within them, and also spend the winter in them.
Jumping spiders are generally diurnal, active hunters. Their well-developed internal hydraulic system extends their limbs by altering the pressure of body fluid (hemolymph) within them. This enables the spiders to jump without having large muscular legs like a grasshopper. Most jumping spiders can jump several times the length of their bodies. When a jumping spider is moving from place to place, and especially just before it jumps, it tethers a filament of silk (or 'dragline') to whatever it is standing on to protect itself if the jump should fail. Should it fall, for example if the prey shakes it off, it climbs back up the silk tether. Some species, such as Portia, will actually let themselves down to attack prey such as a web spider apparently secure in the middle of its web. Like many other spiders that leave practically continuous silk trails, jumping spiders impregnate the silk line with pheromones that play a role in social and reproductive communication, and possibly in navigation.
Certain species of jumping spiders have been shown by experiment to be capable of learning, recognizing, and remembering colors, and adapting their hunting behavior accordingly."
For more exceptional and colorful pictures, see this article on more species of peacock spiders from Peckhamia.
The MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff has been featured in videos covering topics from seed starting to skin toner. Check out our full collection of wiser living videos on our video page.
Ever curious about the world around me, I picked up some of the rocks on the table in Susanna’s music room and turned one over and over in my hand. Immediately, I began asking Susanna a series of questions: Where did you get these? How are they formed? Can we go get more?
Susanna — herbalist, organic farmer, owner of Raven Crest Botanicals, and the amazing woman who said yes when I asked to volunteer on her organic farm earlier in the year — patiently answered all of my questions in the music room of her house that sits on 250 acres of beautiful farmland in upstate New York.
I learned that the rocks are called concretions and Susanna had visited a woman named Stephanie a few miles down the road from her farm to pick out a few. Susanna and my other friends from the farm, Yoav and Thomas, explained that no one is quite sure how the rocks are formed, and that they are only found in certain parts of the world. Some believe that the energy of each planet is held in place by a mysterious grid and that the concretions mark this grid of energy. Other theories have to do with concretions being fairy stones or serving as the currency of aliens. Clearly, there is a wide spectrum of speculation on the matter.
Susanna and Yoav had brought home dozens of rocks and together we marveled at their simple, yet complex beauty. Before the end of my visit to the farm, I promised myself I would visit Stephanie to pick out my own concretions and hear her thoughts on their existence and formation. A few days later, Thomas, more farm friends Ashley, Peter and Ben, and I went to visit Stephanie who we referred to as “the rock lady.”
We pulled up to her quaint, white house off one of the busier streets near the farm. Stephanie had set up all of her rocks for us on the porch in containers organized by price. I learned that the rocks are monetarily valuable and that Stephanie makes some of her living from selling the concretions to museums and collectors on the internet.
Her passion for the rocks came through in her excited voice and wide eyes. Stephanie explained how the thousands of concretions that she holds dear were found in creek beds of Schoharie Creek tributaries. She would not tell us her secret concretion spot though and explained how some folks are so interested in finding the rocks that they threatened to GPS her location.
Also on her porch were rocks that resembled turtle shells. She said that they are extremely valuable to collectors because of their connection to Native American folklore.
The myth of the “Great Turtle” or “Turtle Island” is believed by Northeastern Woodland tribes including the Lenape and the Iroquois. The Iroquois believe that Sky Woman (also known as Atahensic or Ataensic, who is the sky goddess that was carried down to Earth by the wings of birds at the time of creation) fell down to the earth when it was covered with water. Many animals tried to swim to the bottom of the ocean to bring back dirt to create land. Muskrat succeeded in gathering dirt, which was placed on the back of a turtle, which grew into the land we know today.
I thought the story of the ‘Great Turtle’ was beautiful and I chose a concretion that had a turtle shell pattern on the top from Stephanie’s collection. I was thankful that I had asked so many questions about the concretions and that we all went on a journey to learn more about them and their origins.
In 2014, I resolve to stay curious about the incredible world that we live in and continue to ask plenty of questions each day. I resolve to learn new things and stay informed and aware of global issues. I will write letters, sign petitions, speak at public events, attend rallies, make phone calls and spread the word about problems that need attention. I will advocate for causes I am passionate about: the environment, education, sustainability, real food, organic farming, and social equity. I will volunteer; I feel that I am my best self when I am serving the community. I ask you all to join and make impact on the world we live in. Together, we can make 2014 a year for the books.
If you prefer a geological approach to the formation of concretions click here and for turtle rocks click here.
I wouldn’t consider myself a spiritual person. I wasn’t born in the Amazon jungle or in a tribe of Native Americans on the Great Plains. But there is an idea that originated in many of these ancient cultures that has struck a chord within me: The Plant Ally. I had heard of this term before but it didn’t resonate with me until I listened to an interview with a Brazilian herbal healer. She spoke of asking her plant allies for their assistance in curing one of the villagers’ sick children. She prayed to her plants for protection against the incurable disease the young one suffered from, the same disease that had taken all the other siblings already. This child survived and the healer almost overnight became bigger than Michael Jackson (in her country anyway).
My growth the past few years has brought countless other similar stories to my attention. At one time I would have dismissed it as “some crazy jungle hippie talking to her herbs” and moved on. But the way this woman spoke about her plants hit me from an angle I never looked at before. She spoke as if this plant was a friend helping her move on Saturday. A friend you pick up from the airport after watching their house and feeding their cat. The more I thought about this old idea and the feelings this woman shared in the interview, the less crazy it sounded to me. We all have plant allies. We just don’t acknowledge them as such.
The Benefits of Plants Throughout the Year
In springtime we all feel the buzz of new life. The grass greens up while the trees start growing leaves and flowers. Tulips pop up from their hibernation and add color to the landscape. Everywhere you turn there’s fresh, new plant growth and it puts a little skip in our step. It makes us feel good. It energizes us by just witnessing everything come alive after a long, cold winter.
Summer arrives and the plants ramp up into high gear its harvests for us to enjoy. Cherries and Peaches start showing up at the farmers markets and grocery stores, and we race down there with our mouths watering. Maybe your own garden is what you look forward to like myself. Picking those first strawberries of the season and eating them up before you can get inside to wash them off. Eating fresh watermelon and cantaloupe during the fourth of July. Waiting patiently for those first ears of corn to be picked and enjoyed. All the joy and excitement that accompanies the bounty of summer on top of the beneficial nutrients and vitamins you receive is more than enough to be thankful for.
Fall creeps in and we drink more teas as the air cools to a crisp. You feel a cold coming on and you eat some raw garlic or swallow Echinacea tablets to help fight it. You pull the carrots and potatoes from the ground and add them to the stew that slow cooks all day, filling the house with its fragrances. Pumpkins are ready during this time, and not just for carving but baking as well. Who goes through Thanksgiving without a Pumpkin pie?
We get joy and comfort, and a whole range of other emotions throughout the year from our plant allies. Studies have shown that touching house plants or spending time gardening can be calming and relieve the anxiety and stress that our plastic, material world creates. Many of our medicines have their origins from plant chemistries, or still contain parts of them in the medicine themselves. Metamucil is marketed as a multi-health fiber that helps lower cholesterol, promotes digestive health and “maintains healthy blood sugar levels”. It does this with only a few ingredients: Sucrose, Psyllium Husk, Citric Acid, Natural and artificial orange flavor, and Yellow 6. So basically its sugar, preservatives, flavoring, coloring and plant material (Psyllium), but without the plant in this mixture you would have nothing useful.
If you look at the latest science and not just the corporate influenced government standards, a plant based diet is gaining strong ground as the best diet for overall health. If you look at the antibiotic-resistant bacterial crises we are racing towards, we can look to plants that have strong antibacterial and antimicrobial properties as a possible savior. Everywhere you look there are plants assisting us with ailments and illnesses, keeping us fed and nourished as well as comforting and energizing us with their presence. But what do we do in return?
Being an Ally Is a Two-Way Street
If anyone in our life did so many of these good things we would do something to repay our thanks. We would want to show our appreciation. Even if our dog does well we give him a treat. But since plants don’t have faces or speak English we sort of just take without asking or use without a thank you. That isn’t being an ally, that’s being an overlord. If you garden then providing a space for them to grow is a big step towards being an ally. You do a little for them; they do a little for you. It’s a two-way street. Many tribal cultures have ceremonies asking for protection from their plant allies or pray for permission to go hunting in the jungle for food, though most of us in the west see this as silly since plants don’t have a brain.
Do a little research on Cleve Backster, who in 1966 discovered with a polygraph that plants respond electrochemically to our emotions or intentions, and you may start to question what’s possible. Even the show “Mythbusters” proved this response when they just imagined setting the plant subject on fire and the polygraph needle went wild.
Like I said before, I don’t consider myself a spiritual person. I don’t feel there is some plant spirit that I need to pray to for healing. But if they are sensitive to negative feelings then maybe they are sensitive to positive feelings as well. What would it hurt to give a little ‘tip of the cap’ to my Chamomile as I pass by it on the way inside the house? What would it hurt if I mentally thanked my potatoes for feeding me and my family while pulling them from the ground? Appreciating something doesn’t take anything more than just acknowledging how good the world is to have them in it.