What I’m Reading: Friday Link Roundup

How bad is email for the environment? – The Washington Post

A story started making the rounds last week about French energy regulators asking companies to cut back on email in order to save energy. It sort of sounds like a satirical piece — it did, in fact, end up in Reddit’s “Not the Onion” subsection — but the suggestion really does come from the French regulator RTE.

Which got us thinking: How do our tech habits affect how much power we use and the environment?

Living world: should natural entities be treated as legal persons? – Resource Insights
An interesting post about where this is happening, and why we should probably want to see more of it.

A New, More Rigorous Study Confirms: The More You Use Facebook, the Worse You Feel – Harvard Business Review
There are so many nails in the FB coffin. And yet, everyone still uses it.

History suggests there is a way to lower inequality. But you’re not going to like it – The Washington Post
No, you’re not going to like it very much at all. But the real world isn’t cute kittens and Dwell centerfolds. The environmentally-inclined still have a chance to become historically literate (most of us are woefully ignorant of anything that happened before the industrial revolution, which is big part of what caused our demise as a mass movement) if only to be able to see how things might likely turn out in the years ahead instead of banking on pipe dreams like transparent solar panels and hydrogen cars, and being caught with our pants down when those things inevitably fizzle out like every other environmentalist pipdream.

Moreover, we need to prepare for the likelihood of violence happening closer to home than we ever thought possible. Peace never lasts, and only the most insulated members of a population ever manage to convince themselves that it’ll always be on somebody else’s doorstep, or that they are somehow a chosen people the ravages of time can’t touch. It becomes very hard to worry about those plastic cups when you’re forced from your home and left wondering how to keep your family alive. (Wide mouth stainless steel or Nalgene bottles are very handy for survival situations, however. I’d recommend single-walled stainless: you can cook in them.)

What I’m Reading: A Friday Link Roundup

The Sustainability Problem of Digital Currencies – No Tech Magazine
The average Bitcoin transaction uses about 4000 times as much energy as a credit card transaction, or enough to drive a Tesla for 300 miles, found the author of this short article. Yikes.

Vietnam’s Low-tech Food System Takes Advantage of Decay – Low Tech Magazine
A very interesting survey of Vietnamese food culture, and the ways that they avoid the costly use of refrigeration by various fermentation methods.

The Dutch love affair with natural gas: A cautionary tale for the United States? – Resource Insights
Kurt Cobb explains the history of natural gas harvesting and use in the Netherlands, and where it’s gone horribly awry. To make a long story short, early projections about the output of the Groningen Gas Field turned out to be far too optimistic. Unfortunately, they”re still obligated to export their rapidly shrinking reserves thanks to long-term deals, and have become a net importer just to keep their own pipes flowing.

Is Facebook a Structural Threat to a Free Society? – Truthhawk
For some time I’ve been urging readers and fellow zero wasters to think critically about their use of social media, and to ditch Facebook in particular. If you haven’t because of it’s convenience and ubiquity, then hopefully this terrifying piece will change your mind. Facebook is bad for the environment, bad for human health, and bad for the future of democracy. Not to spoil anything, but the piece ends with this:

Are we willing to trust one man with:

  • The largest share of wealth on the planet?
  • The biggest trove of private data ever assembled?
  • The greatest control over information flow ever seen?
  • The biggest psychological research facility in history?
  • The most significant influence machine ever?
  • All five?

Zuckerberg is human. As the saying goes, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Don’t forget this is the man who gave us this gem:

Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuck: Just ask
Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
[Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?
Zuck: People just submitted it.
Zuck: I don’t know why.
Zuck: They “trust me”
Zuck: Dumb fucks

February is InCoWriMo!

February is International Correspondence Writing Month, where participants are challenged to write and mail or otherwise deliver one piece of hand-written correspondence a day. Whether it’s a longform letter to a friend or relative far afield, a handful of valentines, a greeting card for a co-worker, or an anonymous note left for a stranger in a public place, it all counts so long as it’s a hand-written piece of writing that winds up in someone else’s possession.

From the official FAQ:

InCoWriMo is the short name for International Correspondence Writing Month, otherwise known as February.

With an obvious nod to NaNoWriMo for the inspiration, InCoWriMo challenges you to hand-write and mail/deliver one letter, card, note or postcard every day during the month of February.

It’s simple. It’s fun. It’s rewarding.

When you think about it, paper correspondence has a much smaller carbon footprint than digital, though the latter might at first glance seem so clean and compact. While they might perhaps be close to parity at first, the longer your timeline stretches out, the less that becomes so. Once a piece of paper is made, it’s made – digital services, being entirely ephemeral, requires a vast infrastructure of electronics to keep media not just relevant and accessible, but to keep it from winking out of existence altogether. Properly kept, a letter can last centuries or longer. The best digital devices, on the other hand, barely make it to their 5th birthday, let alone 10th, before needing to be replaced. (There’s a reason new hard drives are delivered daily, by the truckload, to server farms the world over.)

So let’s slow things down just a little bit this month. I’m definitely not going to write 28 pieces of correspondence (or who knows, maybe I will), but my husband has a birthday coming up, and I’ve got a good friend who lives just far enough away to make visiting her a big ordeal, so there’s two excuses for me at least.

How about it? Can you commit to sending at least one piece of written correspondence to someone else this month? It’s not even close to meeting the InCoWriMo challenge, but for the sake of a slightly slower, slightly saner, slightly kinder world, I’m sure we could do it.

The Zero Waste History of Kimonos

I found an interesting post on Annekata’s blog about kimonos, and how they were historically made and handled. The excerpt relevant to us is here:

A friend of mine in Cologne took a kimono sewing class and explained to me that when a kimono is washed, the garment is taken apart by removing the thread and the garment re-sewn after drying. I use button hole thread, because I don’t ever have the intention of taking my skirts and shirts apart and certainly not reassembling them. However, the care which goes into a kimono is humbling.

Kimonos are “zero-waste” products as they contain a whole bolt of fabric without cutting. Although the garment uses a lot of fabric, the life of a kimono doesn’t end in a landfill.

Instead, it’s re-used, creating many different items such as children’s kimonos, covers, hand bags and other accessories. Damaged or soiled kimonos were often re-sewn to hide their flaws.Now, if that isn’t green, I don’t know what is.

But it goes even further. Historically, when kimonos were worn out, the silk thread was laboriously removed (can you image the work involved?) and rewoven into a new textile. This weaving method is called saki-ori and was found in rural areas. Not sure, if it’s still done. Below is a fragment of saki-ori fabric.
There’s a few links, a video, and some pictures to accompany the full blog post. I highly recommend checking out the blog as well, if you’re of the textile-minded sort.

PS – I’m claiming a duplicate blog on Blog Lovin with this post, which requires me to post a link code. So feel free to ignore this:

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What I’m Reading: A Friday Link Roundup

Breathe less… or ban cars: cities have radically different responses to pollution – The Guardian
Coming as a surprise to no one, when faced with a choice between continuing to permit the use of cars or allowing residents to breathe freely, many cities would prefer to tell people not to breathe.

The Office Needs a Typewriter Revolution – Low-Tech Magazine
A very thoughtful, thoroughly researched piece on the history of the modern office and office equipment. It makes suggestions on ways in which it might be possible to return to a more analog and mechanical office experience, or at least greatly reduce energy consumption in the information-based workplace.

Smartphone users trust strangers less: New research – Journalist’s Resource
Smartphone use is officially linked with distrust of strangers, neighbors, and people of different backgrounds. Causation is not specifically established, but based on my own anecdotal evidence, it’s likely.

The Embarrassments of Chronocentrism – The Archdruid Report
In this post from a few weeks ago, Greer explains how the myth of liberal progress – that human life is destined to always get better, fairer, and more complex – is a complete fabrication by parties interested in reducing history to a series of caricatures that serves to prop up their vision of an unlikely future. (Read the latest blog post if you want a real kick in the teeth.)

And a sobering quote for the difficult times ahead:

Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury. And the sense of injury depends on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied.

#OptOutside

 

opt-outside

REI started the #OptOutside campaign last year, another addition to the growing number of businesses that want no part of the Black Friday madness that’s invaded Thanksgiving. Not only that, but they’re paying every single one of their employees not to go to work, not to shop somewhere else, to say no to the consumerist mania and go enjoy some nature instead. That’s pretty freakin’ rad.

I won’t be outside, as I work for most of the day unfortunately – but I definitely won’t be doing any shopping after my shift is over. And who knows, I clock out at 3… maybe I can get an early evening walk in before the sun goes down.

At any rate, here’s hoping that we see the disappearance of Black Friday in our lifetime.

What I’m Reading: A Friday Roundup

Reflections of a Democracy In Crisis – The Archdruid Report
John Micahel Greer looks back on one of the worst elections in US history and reiterates his opinion of where we ought to go from here, how we might avoid civil war, and how, exactly, we wound up with a President Trump.

The Black Belt: How Soil Types Determined The 2008 Election in the Deep South – The Vigorous North
Analysis on how, well, soil types have determined voting patterns in the US, thanks to their historical agricultural usage.

Unprepared – Resource Insights
I’ve only been smartphone-less for about a week, and already I’m being faced with how far down this rabbit hole most of us are. Kurt Cobb describes a society that makes neither plans nor contingency plans any longer, a society that lives on-demand or “just-in-time” lives anymore. But at what cost?

The Details: An Interview with Jan Zwicky – The Dark Mountain Project
An interview with a Canadian poet, philosopher, musician, and writer on the ecology of thought and language, and how to live in a time of ecological destruction. I specifically appreciate this excerpt:

…as part of this meditative work, we recycle, and we walk or take public transit, we don’t waste water, we don’t waste heat we try to act responsibly, that is, responsivelytoward the other beings with whom we cohabit. But we don’t try to ‘fix’ the world. We adapt our desires to what respectful and thoughtful living allows, and in this find joy. Real joy, not some puritanical satisfaction at having ‘done the right thing’. The self widens.

“Animism At The Dinner Table”

As an animist and vegetarian, the subject of food is near and dear to my heart. I can’t stand utilitarian arguments when it comes to food, because plants and ecosystems often get left out of the conversation altogether. How many times have I heard vegans laugh at people who ask about the rights of plants? That’s not a facetious question to me, and it seems that vegans who brush it off as quackery don’t have a very good grasp of what they’re actually fighting for. Talk about speciesism!

Sarah Anne Lawless is an animist who I respect very much, and this is a long blog post from her about how to eat like an animist – that is, eat like someone who believes that everything is alive and intelligent in its own way.

When the world was awash with animism, the people viewed food as sacred and precious. Nature was God and thus food was God. Little berry deities on the bush, succulent root deities in the earth, sweet deity blood as sap running from a tapped birch tree. Animals were deities too, presided over by the wild and fearsome forest gods who could curse or kill those who did not treat their realm with respect. Ancient hunters would ask permission of these wild gods before hunting their deer or boar. Ancient gatherers would ask permission before picking berries or harvesting the soft edible cambium or underbark of trees. All that is left of these beliefs and practices is folklore and prayers from both the Old and New Worlds, collected as anecdotes rather than as a body of living lore.

[…]

The more you do this the more you may start to notice that the natural world responds back. Maybe the forest will reveal its best berry picking and root-digging spots to you after your good treatment of its denizens, its resources. Maybe it will get less and less hard to find deer during hunting season after you’ve consistently asked for permission from the forest. Maybe you’ll end up with more fish from the river than you’ve ever caught before after years of giving it simple offerings, asking respectfully for a good catch, and cleaning up any garbage you find. If you dwell in a more sub/urban area, maybe it will be simply that your vegetable garden flourishes as never before and your chickens lay the best eggs after being treated with love. Perhaps you’ll find an incredibly productive blackberry bush in an unexpected corner of the city away from pollution that yields its fruits to you scratch-free. Whatever they may be, the rewards for your philosophy in action will become apparent and very much real.

[…]

Many people’s solution is to become vegetarian or vegan to stop participating in the industrial machine that treats animals this way. We laud ourselves for being so ethical, but in doing so we can easily forget that plants deserve fair treatment just as much as animals do. We forget to think about the forests and wetlands destroyed so they can be replaced by fields of organic carrot and soy bean monocrops in California.

We forget to think about the environmental footprint of importing fruits, vegetables, and grains over long distances. We forget to think about if our produce has been genetically modified or altered or covered in herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides and what the health effects of such things are upon the land, its waters, the animals that live on it, the bees who pollinate it, the farmers that tend it, and our children who eat its fruits. We forget to think about if the produce was commercially grown on land raped of its nutrients and filled with fertilizers to compensate, leaching into the water supply and contaminating it for animals and humans. Yes, even organic agriculture is guilty of this.

We forget to think about if our produce was grown with long-term sustainability in mind. Farmers,  animals, and whole ecosystems are dying so we can eat organic soybeans and corn we don’t actually need. How many people have to die and how much more research has to be done before we abandon the Frankenstein that is modern commercial agriculture? Even organic agriculture is not sustainable, not the way we are currently practicing it. How many studies must be done proving plants are intelligent and can feel pain before we start to treat them better and stop splicing their genes and covering them in toxic chemicals? How long until we realize maybe we can’t always do this better than Nature naturally does?

Read the rest at her website. Please do, it’s a very humble, inspiring read!

What I’m Reading: A Friday Link Roundup

War On Cash – The Long and Short
Credit card companies and businesses that have an interest in tracking your spending have declared a war on cash. Here’s what it looks like, and here’s why you should be worried.

Thousands of strange blue lakes are appearing in Antarctica, and it’s very bad news – Science Alert
Meltwater lakes are appearing on the East Antarctica ice shelf, which scientists had previously thought was less susceptable to climate change than the peninsula.

Learning from Failure: A Modest Introduction – The Archdruid Report
A brief survey of the US political landscape as of late, plus reasons why the climate change movement has failed. Interestingly enough, I think this is where the zero waste movement might have a chance – it’s focused, partisan, and small battles are easily won. I don’t wholly agree with his sweeping denunciation of the movement, but I think he’s about 90% on-target. Namely that he thinks environmental incrementalism would have ever done the trick in one breath, and then in the next he maintains that industrial civilization is doomed anyway. To me, we would have needed to start making incremental modifications to our consumption and fossil fuel use since WW2 – though the war was probably one of the things that doomed us anyways – in order to have a chance at maintaining some sort of status quo from the 20th century. Winning battles in the 80’s would have, IMO, still been too little too late. Because of this:

Climate urgency: we’ve locked in more global warming than people realize – The Guardian
“So far humans have caused about 1°C warming of global surface temperatures, but if we were to freeze the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide at today’s levels, the planet would continue warming. Over the coming decades, we’d see about another 0.5°C warming, largely due to what’s called the “thermal inertia” of the oceans (think of the long amount of time it takes to boil a kettle of water). The Earth’s surface would keep warming about another 1.5°C over the ensuing centuries as ice continued to melt, decreasing the planet’s reflectivity.”

Beyond Hope – Orion Magazine
Derrick Jensen talks about how “hope” might actually be detrimental to how environmentalists are prepared – or not – to face the future.

What I’m Reading: A Friday Link Roundup

Enforcing the Law Is Inherently Violent – The Atlantic
“Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter believes that the United States would benefit if the debate about what laws ought to be passed acknowledged the violence inherent in enforcing them.”

Asymmetric accolades: Why preventing a crisis almost never makes you a hero – Resource Insights
“In our thinking we place a premium on the dramatic rescue, the last-minute escape, and the ingenious on-the-fly technical solution. They all make good copy for reporters, and they make good stories for television and movies.” But what about the people behind the scenes who work to make sure situations don’t need heroes?

Shaky Foundations for Offshore Wind Farms – Scitizen
“Offshore wind farms are far more difficult and expensive than developing on-shore wind power. If the UK is serious about providing 25% of its electricity by this means, as a form of carbon-free home-grown electricity by 2020, it will be necessary to build and install 2-3 turbines every day for the next 8 years. There are also issues of how robust this technology is under the harsh conditions that prevail out at sea. Is this a halcyon vision of green energy in a zero-carbon world or a gamble with uncertain technology in an already overstretched economy?”

Public housing residents told to tear up their gardens – Treehugger
A housing project in South Pittsburg is enforcing a ridiculous rule that says residents can’t plant or maintain their own gardens… and this is after many years of happy gardening due to non-enforcement. The reason? Some bogus appeal to “safety”. June 1st was when the mandate was due to be enacted, but there may still be time to get angry.

My four months as a private prison guard. – Mother Jones
Reporter Shane Bauer gets hired as a guard in a for-profit prison in order to find out what conditions are really like. A very long, very sobering account of what it’s like to work as a CO for The Corrections Corporation of America, and second-hand, what it’s like to be a prisoner.