Climate forum draws hundreds

Could the average American household cut its energy use in half? This reduction might seem drastic, but it would put us on a par with Europe and Japan, and still leave us way above the world’s average.

climate-change-in-time-of-crisis-posterThis message was delivered to hundreds of people at a forum called “Climate Action in a Time of Crisis” Saturday in Northampton. Anxiety over the new President may have contributed to the overflow crowd at the massive First Churches sanctuary.

solomon-goldstein-roseSolomon Goldstein-Rose, Amherst’s new 23-year-old state representative, was one of the speakers. With the federal government going backwards on climate change, “Massachusetts has to solve the problem on our own,” he said.

The only solution is to develop clean energy that is cheaper than fossil fuels, he said. That means the development of better storage capacity and batteries. Clean energy can be “safer, cheaper, cleaner and healthier,” he said.

nathanael__fortune_cropNat Fortune, a professor at Smith College, said, “Our children’s children’s survival is not assured.” A physicist, Fortune explained that even if we stop burning carbon now, the planet will continue warming for at least 100 years — and possibly 1,000 years.

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has jumped to 400 parts per million. If it continues to 500, “Beacon Hill could become an island,” Fortune said. At 550, Arctic ice sheets would melt, creating an irreversible feedback loop that could endanger all human life.

marty-nathanMarty Nathan, a physician and activist, compared the threat to nuclear weapons. Lifestyle changes alone won’t address the problem, and she urged everyone to take to the streets to “break the stranglehold the fossil-fuel industry has on Congress” and start organizing for the elections of 2018.

“This is the fight of our lives, folks,” she said. Meanwhile, Massachusetts’ development of clean energy could become a model for the country and the world, she said.

stan-rosenberg-photoState Sen. Stan Rosenberg of Amherst said the state is already first in the nation in solar energy. He predicted that the largest offshore wind farm could be in operation off the state’s coast in three to five years.

Rosenberg, who filed the first bills on the “greenhouse effect” 30 years ago, said that “everything else is moot unless we tame the carbon beast.” The status quo is a “path to failure,” and if we continue on the same path for the next 10 years, the warming will be irreversible, he said.

The forum got me thinking about what else we can do to cut our energy consumption. We own one car, a Prius that we drive only 8,000 miles a year, and I use a bicycle to get around town. We don’t use airplanes and get heat from a wood stove and passive solar. We buy local food, grow vegetables, and use LED lighting. Betsy’s been making  and installing “winserts” to insulate our windows. Still, our carbon footprint is way above the world average.

Maybe the next thing to do is to lobby for a statewide carbon tax. I believe that it must not increase the total tax burden if it’s going to be acceptable to most voters. Despite all the warnings about our children’s children’s lives, maybe the only way to influence most people’s behaviors is through their pocketbooks.

New readers of this blog can click here for a quick summary of over 150 past posts, divided into categories such as frugality, simple living, gardening and living without. To read all the past posts on climate change, hover on “Index” above and click on “climate change.”


Respectful disagreement

When Gabor Lukacs and I gave each other big hugs after the public meeting ended, the 20 people in the room may have been surprised. After all, we had just expressed opposite opinions on a controversial subject.

As a member of a commission considering reforms to our town’s government, I favor a major change, while Gabor supports minor tweaks. We also disagree on our town’s biggest issue this month: whether to accept $34 million in state money to build two new elementary schools.

But Gabor and I are friends. We both ride bicycles and grow vegetables, and we are among our town’s lowest carbon emitters. I have written blog posts about his urban homestead and why he lives the simple life.

IMG_20141220_152701164_HDRWhen Gabor and I embraced each other after the meeting, I hadn’t seen him since we started an email dialogue three weeks earlier. It has now grown to 23 lengthy emails, and we joke that it will come out in book form next year.

We haven’t held back. I’ve been completely open about the problems I see with our town’s governmental system, and he’s told me what he’s afraid of if we change it. Both of us have thought carefully about what the other has written, and I feel he has broadened my perspective.

We need more civil conversation about the challenges we face, both local and national. Too often, we communicate only with people we agree with. We tend to emphasize our differences with political opponents rather than seeking common ground. This narrow thinking can lead to a belief that our problems are simple when they are actually complex.

Gabor and I compliment each other. “I really appreciate that you did your homework and considered both sides of the argument,” I wrote to him. “I want to appreciate you for putting all this energy into trying to make our town government better,” he wrote to me.

There is give and take between us, as in “I give that to you if you’ll also agree…” We have found numerous points on which we see things the same way.

I also appreciate that Gabor, whose first language was not English, is unafraid of verbal jousting with someone who made his living with words. I understand that because Gabor grew up in Hungary during Soviet domination, he has good reason to feel a fierce love of participating in our 240-member Town Meeting.

His wish to be directly involved in the decision-making process has led me to think about ways this could continue within a new government structure. I wouldn’t want to lose his voice, even when I disagree with his positions. And Gabor has agreed with me that Town Meeting would work better if it was much smaller.

We’ve confronted fundamental questions. What does democracy mean? How can you build trust in government? How can elected officials listen to dissenters in a way that makes them feel heard?

As we prepare to inaugurate a new President who casually puts down those who disagree with him, we need more of the kind of respectful dialogue that Gabor and I have maintained.

For new readers of this blog, here’s a quick summary of more than 150 past posts on simple living, radical frugality, living without, gardening, cooking and climate change. Or hover on “Index” above to read all the posts in a particular category.

Home-grown Christmas tree

Our Christmas tree this year did not come from a farm or a department store. We found it in our own yard.

It’s a white pine that was shading some of our plants and dying back at the top due to a disease. Betsy had been eying it for several years as a potential Christmas tree.

img_20161222_211904330So a week before Christmas, we tromped through the snow, saw in hand, to harvest it. We cut the 12-foot-high tree three feet from the bottom, a technique called “coppicing.” We hope the tree will  grow back. Maybe it will provide another Christmas tree in 15 years.

We’ve seen Christmas trees that are so perfectly tapered I’ve felt and smelled them to make sure they are real. No one would mistake our tree for one you’d buy at Wal-Mart.

We had to cut its top off so it would fit in our eight-foot-high living room, and its limbs jut out haphazardly. Its top is a stump that’s lower than many of the branches. We think it’s beautiful.

The joy of real Christmas trees is partly bringing something from nature inside the house. In the presence of our homely tree, we imagine we are actually in the forest.

And this Christmas tree fits in well with the frugal lifestyle we describe in this blog. Part of that lifestyle is making do with what’s available, and seeing it not as deprivation but as an opportunity for creativity.

If our tree is imperfect, that seems to fit in with the Christmas story of a baby being born in a stable and laid in a manger.

And it fits in with a quotation that’s on our refrigerator: “To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury; and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable; and wealthy, not rich…to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common…” (William Henry Channing, American transcendentalist)

 For new readers of this blog, here’s a quick summary of more than 150 past posts, divided into categories such as frugality, simple living, cooking, living without, gardening and climate change.


Safely gathered in

They say this is the season for making merry.  In the Christian year, the four weeks of Advent are a time for waiting and preparing for the Christmas joys ahead.  But so far this year, I haven’t gotten around to celebrating or preparing.

img_20161207_073921054Instead, I am hurrying to finish up the harvest so that, as the Thanksgiving hymn says, “all is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.” We may get our first big snow of the season in a few days, so this week I picked the last of the chard and dug two buckets full of horseradish roots. Now I am processing them.

Nick added some chard and some of our little leeks to an excellent frittata earlier in the week. Then I froze 12 “chard balls,” which will be delicious in lentil and bean soups this winter.  The remainder of the chard leaves got dehydrated to be used in smoothies and soups, and I am planning to slice up the fleshy stems into a batch of kimchi.

img_20161207_073938214But what about those two buckets of horseradish roots, which are direct descendants of ones my great-grandfather grew on a farm in Deerfield? Yes, in contrast to all that merry-happy-jolly stuff, I have been up to my ears in something so strong and pungent that it’s a “sure cure for frivolity.” The thickest roots got buried in a bucket of soil and stored in the root cellar, so we’ll have a supply accessible all winter, and early next spring for Passover. Now I am making two medicines and a condiment.

This condiment, which mixes finely grated horseradish with vinegar and salt, is a familiar companion to meats and other rich foods. It is said to stimulate the gastric secretions, thus helping with digestion.

I found recipes for horseradish syrup and tincture in Richo Cech’s book “Making Plant Medicine.”  Since people in our family get stuffed-up sinuses after colds and as a result of allergies, these remedies may help us to breathe easier. Cech says that horseradish “opens the sinus passages and serves as a potent vascular stimulant, warming the extremities and accelerating the healing process.”

img_20161209_061947226I had to grate the horseradish to make the syrup and the condiment (above). All the instructions I could find advise doing so in a “well-ventilated room” to avoid tear-gas-like conditions.  This late in the season, when outside temperatures are in the 30’s, it didn’t seem like a great idea to open up all the windows in the kitchen. So out I went to the patio, all bundled up, and grated heaps of horseradish on the tarp-covered picnic table.

Then I stuffed the grated root into a quart mason jar and covered it with about a pint and a half of raw local honey.  The directions say to steep for 30 days at room temperature and then strain, pressing through a cheesecloth. Cech says to store in a stoppered bottle out of the light, and take in tablespoon doses as needed for sinusitis, sinus headache, allergies, hoarseness or cough.

img_20161209_062036976The tincture requires ground-up dried root, so I sliced the rest of the roots and am dehydrating.  Later I will grind them to a powder in a coffee grinder and mix, in stages, with water and alcohol, which will extract the active medicinal components.  After straining, the tincture will be ready to use.

So all this harvesting and processing of plants we grow is lots of fun, but in the future it would be better to get all this done earlier, maybe in November, to make straight the way to the Advent experience. No matter what is going on in the world, I always resonate with the longing and hope of this season. Oh yes, and then there are the cookies…..

For new readers of this blog, here’s a quick overview of more than 150 past posts, divided into categories such as frugality, simple living, cooking, living without and climate change. Or hover on “Index” above to read all the posts in a particular category.



Composure amid conflict

The morning after the election, I kept thinking about young girls waking up and crying as they listened to their parents explain that we won’t have a woman President after all.

Later that day, I found myself acting on several delayed plans to do nice things for people I know. And I started a fast on radio and TV news.

By the end of the campaign, I was hitting the mute button whenever the President-elect came on the screen.  I still don’t want to be disturbed by his image or voice, so I’m  giving up NPR and PBS for a while and just reading the New York Times.

The one exception is “Washington Week,” hosted for many years by the magnificent Gwen Ifill, who died of cancer shortly after the election. Her style and grace were so intimate that we spoke of “watching Gwen”every Friday night. Last night, eight journalists spent the full half-hour recalling how special she was.

I didn’t get as upset on Election Day as many people did. That’s partly because I agreed with the outcome of several state and local referendum questions. But it’s mainly because I’m immersed right now in local politics, and an attempt to change our town’s form of government is about to reach a turning point.

And I believe that the President-elect will face serious consequences if he tries to build his wall, or deport 12 million illegal immigrants, or tear up the Iran nuclear deal. I’m more worried about climate change (can Europe increase tariffs on American goods if he abrogates the treaty?) and the Supreme Court (Democrats should tell him they’ll cooperate on appointments ONLY IF the Senate approves Merrick Garland).

But for me personally, I’m trying to say No to Negativity. So I’m looking for a way to express my beliefs without demonizing my opponents, and to retain my composure in a sea of conflict, both local and national. It’s so easy to get caught up in the struggle, but I want to live a peaceful life and avoid making enemies.

One way is to regularly get away from it all. For me, this means engaging in the simple-living activities we’ve described on this blog. Yesterday, I put leaves into a slow compost pile, washed windows and made granola. I looked fondly on my piles of firewood, waiting to help us withstand the worst that winter can throw at us.

I’ll also be praying that the President-elect will remember that he didn’t get a majority of the votes, that I can respect those who disagree with me on local politics, and that I can maintain a sense of serenity in stressful situations.

For new readers of this blog, here’s a quick overview of more than 150 past posts, separated into 12 categories, including frugality, simple living, cooking, living without, and climate change. Or hover on “Index” above to read all the posts in a particular category.