Thursday, October 25, 2007

Getting a Grip on Democracy

I've been away from blogging for a couple of weeks now. The last week has been tough because of the flu which I've had since Saturday. Feeling tonight like I'm finally getting over it.

I just read Getting A Grip by Frances Moore Lappe of Small Planet Institute. It's a short work in reading but powerful and lasting in ideas. She encourages us to move from our thin democracy to a living democracy where instead of seeing issues, we see entry points. There are so many issues or problems in the world and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Frances suggests finding entry points which can be any way for you to address one of the issues. One of her examples involves a community in Texas that was upset that local businesses were not hiring local Hispanic workers. Rather than simply protest that, the community got to the root cause and discovered that people needed training. So they started a locally-funded program to train and educate citizens for better jobs. There are so many entry points. You just have to look for them. I realized that I wanted to do more as part of my job and in reviewing an internal web site, I discovered that there is a representative from each company location on my employer's charitable giving committee. But not one from the Portland area as we were just acquired this past year. So I volunteered, was accepted onto the committee and am contributing by identifying local organizations that will be recipients of the company's charitable contributions, both in the form of direct contributions and through gift drives.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Young bicyclist killed on W. Burnside

This is tragic. A nineteen-year-old art student, riding in a bike lane, was killed by a truck on West Burnside Street in Portland yesterday. If you've got a bike and live in the Portland area, come to the memorial ride tonight, Friday, at 6:30pm starting at the west side of the Burnside Bridge.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Solar and Sustainable Tour

Maria and I attended the West Linn Solar & Sustainable Tour this past Saturday even though we don't live in the town. There were two interesting presentations, one by Chris Morgan, a resident who has used photo-voltaic cells to generate electricity and heat hot water, and two people from the Clackamas River Water Providers that serves West Linn. Some of the interesting take-aways:

If you have the land, you can get some of your space and water heating done using geothermal heat, i.e., heat in the ground.

Solar electricity is a lot more affordable than it used to be. But you need to take into account the long-term payback; it is not a small investment. Chris' estimates per Kwh for solar electricity was between $7.50 and $9.00. If you use 6000 Khw per year, that is between $45,000 and $54,000. There are a number of ways to calculate the payback, but there are intangibles that go with the investment as well. As Chris put it in a handout:
"Now whenever the sun shines we notice it and smile, and as silly as it may seem, after putting in the panels we both marvel even more at all the beauties of the Earth. There is tremendous satisfaction knowing that you are living in harmony with your world..."

In the world of water, using an ultra low flow toilet can save a typical household between 8,000 and 12,000 gallons of water per year.

Take shorter showers to save water. We picked up a little conservation kit that included something called a "Shower Coach" that is a five-minute hourglass encased in a plastic molding that latches onto a shower stall. I've got my showers down from near ten minutes to five to six minutes with the help of the coach.

It's more fun doing these types of events together than solo. Maria is energized to reduce our footprint and we're talking seriously about bringing solar PV contractors in for estimates.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Tonight's Ecological Footprint class featured a presentation by Charlie Stephens of Adjuvant Consulting. Charlie is a seventeen-year veteran of the Oregon Department of Energy and an expert on energy systems for homes. As someone in the class said to me afterwards, he should be where Al Gore is, giving his presentation to the masses. I learned a bit about heat pumps, phantom energy use, and how much it is going to take for everyone in America to avoid an energy crisis (50% reduction in space heating and cooling in our homes to begin with). A daunting task but something that we must get to work on now. Here is a link to a pdf of a similar presentation that he made.

I was pretty tired when I got home tonight, so I tried to go to bed after taking the dogs out. But I couldn't sleep because I was troubled by the enormity of the task of figuring out what to do to (pick one) (a) save the planet, (b) help starving children, (c) keep more of the kids in the US from being so idle that they turn to crime or drugs...

In my last post I challenged readers to state or to think about what they are or could be doing to give our children hope for the future. So here's my own answer. Although I have some technical skills with computers, the thing that I get most excited about is opening up possibilities for others. This can be in the form of tutoring a student in math, getting neighbors to think about the climate crisis, or contributing money toward the building of a theatre to give young artists in Cambodian villages a stable place to practice their art.

Tonight, after hearing Charlie Stephens describe several ways to enhance existing home hot water heating systems, I raised my hand and explained that this information was great for the twenty-five or so people there in the room who would take this information home and maybe think of applying it, but the real issue is how do we get the larger population motivated to do something about this? It is the answer to that question that motivates me. I can study how to improve my own house's ecological footprint but how do I not only reach a lot of people but actually help move them toward significantly reducing their footprints and embracing renewable resources?

This summer I was exposed to the slow food movement which led Maria and I to subscribing to an organic produce delivery service. Eating local, eating organic, they became a passion (they still are, just more routine now that we have a regular delivery). And I'm pleased with the progress that that switch to eating more local food is also reducing our ecological footprint. Taking this message to others, encouraging others to eat local and organic, is another way to feed the hope of our children. Geez this is almost sounding like one of those tv commercials about giving twenty dollars to feed a hungry child. But it feels real, even if it sounds cliche.

A Healthy Sense of Hope

Here's an inspiring story written by Sonja Waters of about how those of us who are parents (and yes, the non-parents of our generation) have to help our children (and other peoples' children) develop a healthy sense of hope about the future. The story is punctuated with a somewhat humorous dialog between Sonja, her teenage daughter who is having climate nightmares and her mother (the grandmother in the story). There was a lot that our generation (essentially the baby-boomers) have done for clean water, clean air and tolerance of differences in our society, but the gloom and doom of the future exists for our kids. They see big, big problems, melting ice caps, suicide-bombers, the continued proliferation of nuclear weapons, and wonder whether the world will end in their generation.

So what are we doing about giving them a sense of hope? We tell children not to talk to strangers, to avoid fast-food (at least most of the time) and to study really hard to get ahead (ahead of whom?). Are we really preparing them well for the future? I've worked hard for over twenty years in my career, a testament to my children that hard works sort of pays off. Both of my children understand the importance of working hard. But that's not enough. As role models for the young (yes, that's us, not Kobe, certainly not Roger Clemens, maybe, maybe Tom Brady) we should be doing our best to make the world a better place for our children and that requires effort.

So, what are you doing to make the world a better place for our children?