Deep Green Storm Preps

A green-frugal friend in New Mexico just texted me to ask about my hurricane preps.

“Just saw folks lining up to buy generators. Have you got yours and gallons of fuel? Seriously, am curious about any preparations you are making.”

Good question!

Here is my answer:

– Boarding up windows

– Have 15+ gallons of water on hand — a week’s worth, for cooking and drinking (always keep big jugs full of tapwater on hand for emergencies) — and my total is actually over 100 gal if i count the rainbarrels).

– Have matches & candles (always do).

– Have enough nonperishable food calories to get through a week (always do).

– Have pre-charged charger that gives a charge for my phone (always have that).

– Have a pair of rechargeable lamps my Florida brother CB gave me; they and my little inflatable solar-charged lamp are all charged up (as they always are).

– Have small radio powered by hand-crank.

– Asking neighbors if they need help; keeping a lookout for people that might need help.

I would have no use for a generator. Since we get several days’ warning for a hurricane, I simply eat up all the food in the fridge and unplug the fridge! I guess the other main thing most people buy generators for is to power the air conditioning, which is something I don’t use. (CB informed me just now that actually a generator is not enough to power A/C, unless it is a really huge generator.) Is there some other basic need that motivates people to go out and fight the crowds to purchase generator and gasoline?

Other than that, really the most important thing as far as I’m concerned is companionship. Since I have no housemates at the moment, and other people are hunkered down in their places, I may go to a friend’s house or a shelter just for company. Physically, my house is sturdy and secure, and I have made reasonable preparations, so I’m not too worried about my material stuff and physical needs. Companionship, though — that is REALLY important.

P.S. From a comment thread in one of the Florida permaculture groups I’m in, some advice for gardeners: Make sure nothing in your yard can become a projectile. And, fruit can become projectiles, so go ahead and take fruit off of trees. (Here in Florida, we have green papayas ripening on our trees. But they can be harvested while green, and cooked up as a vegetable. Papaya is the one fruit I’ve heard of that can also be a vegetable in this manner.) Tie supports to things. Lay potted plants on their side. (One person tucked her potted plants into a raised bed and they were fine.)

As always, I’d love to hear about your experiences. Have you ever had to prepare for a hurricane or other potential disaster? If so, how have you prepared? What worked and what didn’t? What, if anything, did you end up needing that you didn’t have? And what did you have on hand that you didn’t end up needing? What things ended up being most important or valuable (to you, or to your community)?

Kudos and Suggestions for a Local Newspaper

One of the newspapers in my city, the Daytona Beach News-Journal, deserves major props for organizing “town hall” type meetings periodically. (Does your local paper do this? If so, thank them profusely! If not, offer it as a suggestion, and maybe also offer to help with organizing and logistics.)

Most of the town hall meetings have been focused on a specific local issue (such as homelessness, or what to do about blight on Main Street), but the gathering I attended today was a “coffee chat” type event in which citizens were invited to air any concerns they had. A good number of people (100, maybe? More? In any case, many more than were expected) packed Steve’s Famous Diner to voice their views.

On that note, thank you to Steve’s for making our community a better place, and to the News-Journal also for choosing this local, family-owned, community-minded business as the venue for today’s forum. (Extra thanks to News-Journal Editor Pat Rice for treating us to coffee/tea; that was above and beyond.)

My fellow citizens offered various criticisms and suggestions. Here are some:

Criticism: A subscription to the paper edition costs $48 per month. (The digital edition is just $4 per month, as I pointed out, but a lot of people are attached to reading a paper paper. Myself, as much as I enjoy reading printed matter on paper, the sheer volume of a daily newspaper weighs on me from an eco-footprint standpoint. Yes, newspaper can be composted and (at least for now) recycled. But I prefer to read the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the New York Times on my smartphone for a total of just $8 per month!)

Criticism: The paper is full of AP newswire stories and national news, relatively few local stories.

Suggestion: Reduce the number of pages in the paper, and just carry local stories (this would address both of the criticisms above, as the slimmer paper would presumably have a lower price tag). From headlining news, to sports, to business and finance, to lifestyle trends, have it all be local.

Criticism (from a retiree): We retirees need Wall Street information, investment information and advice. The paper lacks it.

My advice to readers (which I did not voice): Subscribe to WSJ or New York Times for that information. If you want investment advice locally, read between the lines of our local paper, and see where disinvestment has led to blight, and how that might become an investment opportunity. It seems like so many people are fixated on Wall Street, that our Main Streets are crumbling. Not saying you can’t keep money on Wall Street, but how about also using some of that nest egg (and the wisdom and experience of your years) to make more of a difference here at home.

My advice to the newspaper: Keep on covering stories of local entrepreneurship and courageous investment, such as today’s story of a father-and-son developer team (in another city, but still here in Florida, so local-ish) who are transforming a dilapidated, druggie trailer park into a safe clean community for everyday people.

Criticism: The articles are too long. (Of course, if there were no long articles, someone else would accuse the paper of lacking in-depth coverage. Anyway, the longer articles provide essential coverage of local issues that is available through no other channel.)

My idea for the paper: Solicit short articles from the general public. Offer some modest payment (say, $10 or $20) for a paragraph or three on any local topic. Anything from a local restaurant review to a Little League tournament writeup, to an article about local wildflowers or edible wild plants, to a historical tidbit about how locals used to build their homes in the days before air conditioning … if you publish it, you’ll pay the writer. Also, have a running “wish list” of articles that you are actively seeking someone to write. If someone writes one of those and you publish it, you’d pay the writer a bit more. All of that could get pretty unwieldy to administer. You could just go totally old-school and go back to having more reporters. If you can’t afford employees, use freelancers.

A local newspaper, with residents’ support, can be a major force for economic revitalization, community cohesion, local resilience, bioregional consciousness. Readers of this blog, wherever you live, I hope you have a good local newspaper. If you do, then support it (even if your support has to take the form of constructive criticism). If you don’t, then consider starting one!

Further Reading:

Daytona Times (I referred to the News-Journal as one of my city’s newspapers. We also have the Daytona Times, “East Central Florida’s Black Voice,” which was founded in 1870.)

Ormond Beach Observer (newspaper of our neighbor to the north)

Saving Community Journalism – articulating the vital mission of community newspapers.

Reflections on Living Without a Fridge

One of my favorite green publications, Mother Earth News, just posted an article by someone who sounds like a Deep Green kindred spirit!

Writes Chris Ponzi, “I live in a quilted home of brick walls, mosquito screens, windowless spaces, and a palm leaf roof in northeast Colombia. You may see an iguana munching a mango on my porch. Once you transcend the sheer weirdness and come inside, you may realize something else strange: I have no refrigerator.”

If you are among those of us who are living a lifestyle that is a bit off the beaten track of the mainstream, it can be surprising and energizing to find that there are more of us out there than we think! Living in a wealthy industrialized nation skews one’s perception of what is normal worldwide.

Go here to read the rest of “Reflections on Living Without a Fridge”. Good stuff! Interestingly, Chris (who lives in a climate very similar to what we have in Florida), reached the same solution I have, which is to continue many non-refrigeration practices but utilize the benefits of technology by having a mini fridge for select items. My mini fridge uses what I consider acceptably little electricity (about half of a kWh per day on average), and I get to have yogurt and refrigerate my leftovers.

Successful Businesses

Flipping through a copy of the Old Farmer’s Almanac for 2012 (I’ve found that running a Little Free Library is a great way to guarantee a varied and steady stream of reading material!), I was surprised to find it almost Readers Digest-like in its pithy readability. I always remembered the Almanac as being just packed with tiny-print charts of various kinds, but either it’s changed or my memory is off. There are glossy pages now, with quotable quotes and brief paragraphs about popular trends. (Those plain b/w pages with densely packed charts of moon and weather and tides and all are still in there too, of course.)

Another thing that struck me was the interesting ads for all sorts of homegrown, niche businesses I’ve never seen advertised anywhere else. Without having any direct experience with the businesses, I can tell they are successful. Most of them have been in operation for a long time — one since the 1700’s!

A partial list:

Bennington Potters of Bennington, Vermont, “making pottery locally for 63 years”

Constitution Rugs Inc., a braided-rug factory founded in 1949 in Bristol, Rhode Island

Mt. Caesar Alpacas of Keene, New Hampshire — fair-trade importers of alpaca fiber and clothing

Country Carpenters — post & beam sheds, carriage houses, and barns shipped nationwide from Hebron, Connecticut

Mrs. Nelson’s Candy House — candy factory and store in Chelmsford, Massachusetts for 51 years

Sla-Dust, “the original all-wool dry mop” from Slack Mop Company in Pittsfield, Vermont, “celebrating 100 years 1909-2009”

W.T. Kirkman Lanterns – “Absolutely the best selection of oil lamps, lanterns, and parts in the world!”

Taylor Manufacturing Company of Moutlrie, Georgia — maker of bean-shelling equipment

Cape Cod Cupola Co. of North Dartmouth, Massachusetts — weathervanes and cupolas

The Old Farmers Almanac itself, which apparently has been in publication since the 1700’s!

The ads convey a sense of pride but no hype.

These companies are successful in my book because they have identified a need in the world that fits their talents and passions, and they seem to know what they are about and not feel they have to chase every new thing. Also, at least some of them have been around for a long time, building intergenerational wealth.

See any ideas that appeal to you? What kind of business would you start right now if you felt you could? And what is it that makes you feel you can’t?

Home Office Bonus

The Riot for Austerity target numbers don’t differentiate between people who work from a home office, and those whose workplace is outside the home.

(For those of you who may be newcomers to this blog, the Riot for Austerity — also known as the 90 Percent Reduction Challenge — is the grassroots eco-footprint-reduction movement that sparked this blog, and my book DEEP GREEN. You can learn more about it in my book, in this blog, and via the online community linked in the sidebar.)

Anyway, back to what I was saying. The Riot for Austerity target numbers don’t differentiate between people who work from home and those who work outside the home. Therefore, if you have a home office, and work there most of the day, you might find (for example) that it’s a bit more of a challenge to meet the targets for electricity usage, home heating, and other house-based metrics than it would be if you worked in some outside place where you would not have to count your consumption.

Accordingly, this morning it occurred to me to propose a “Home Office Bonus” (analogous to the IRS’s Home Office Deduction, but related to eco footprint rather than financial expenditure).

I don’t have any numeric values for this “bonus,” but let’s just say you get an extra gold star for making the targets if your consumption also includes a home office. And regardless, if you’re reading this, give yourself an extra gold star today just for caring about your eco footprint.

Clinging Precariously To Middle-Class Status

Middle-class people are going into ever-deeper debt to hang on to their position, says this article by AnnaMaria Andriotis, Ken Brown, and Shane Shifflett in the Wall Street Journal. (Note, you will probably encounter a paywall but I wanted to provide the link for proper attribution. The WSJ is offering a “12 weeks for $12” special, which I signed up for because I wanted to read the article and support a good publication.)

Prices of cars, college, housing, and medical care have skyrocketed, while incomes have budged little. Unsecured personal loans are filling the gap between what people earn and what they spend.

The WSJ article authors say that people’s willingness to borrow money for living expenses indicates that they feel optimistic about their future incomes. But I suspect that for at least some people, something other than optimism is at work. That “something” is fear and denial about losing their middle-class status. I think a lot of people know deep down that this lifestyle is unsustainable. And the denial is causing them to dig in their heels.

It would be great if we could adjust our definition of being well-off, so that it does not have to include (for example) big houses, and every single person feeling they have to own their own car. Why couldn’t the definition of “well-off, comfortably middle-class” instead include being able to walk to work, and not having a huge house to maintain? Why can’t it include being free of college debt because people saw the writing on the wall and either found a way to do it without big loans, or went to trade school or community college? (Plumbers and electricians and sewing-machine repair people and engine mechanics are in high demand. Now those are some folks who have economic security.)

When I see people of modest means spending half their income on car payments and other expenses of car ownership, the feeling I get is like watching clueless characters in a horror movie start walking down the long dark hall that everyone knows they shouldn’t walk down. “For Goddess sake, turn back, ditch the car,” I want to scream.

People new to this blog might be tempted to conclude that I’m just a crank who hates lawns and cars. What I hate is things that suck too much time and money for too little benefit.

Personally, I favor Henry David Thoreau’s take on wealth: “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.” — Thoreau

If you find yourself having to take on debt in order just to meet your living expenses, I sympathize. A lot of stuff has gotten insanely expensive. (The charts in the article show just how dramatically the costs of medical care, cars, and college have outpaced income growth.) But instead of digging in your heels (and digging yourself further into the hole), take it as an invitation to make some changes that will really boost your position in the long run. It could be something as simple as getting a roommate (or an additional roommate if you already have one), or living with a family member and sharing a car. You might be surprised at how such changes can end up not only being less burdensome than anticipated, but actually adding to your quality of life. (It can help make student-loan payments, if you have them, more manageable too.)

I am seeing more families these days sharing living space and cars, and all in all I think it’s a positive trend, not only in terms of finances and carbon footprint but also for people’s emotional and spiritual health.

Another thing a family might consider is creating a business together. That’s a good way, which is all too overlooked nowadays, to pool resources and build intergenerational wealth.

On the subject of family businesses, a book I really like is The Lohman Way: Entrepreneur Lowell Lohman’s Story and Strategies for Building Multimillion-Dollar Family Businesses, by E.L. Wilks. The Lohmans have been successful in the funeral-home business and in apartment-building ownership and management, among other arenas.

(I met several of the family members when they came to 1 Million Cups Daytona Beach as the featured presenters. If you have a 1 Million Cups in your area, I strongly recommend you take the opportunity to attend. In a nutshell, it’s entrepreneurial networking, but mere words don’t do it justice. I’ve been bowled over by all I’ve learned there, and the people I’ve met. Kudos to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for its major contribution to helping communities build intellectual and social capital.)

My particular reason for bringing up The Lohman Way book here is to share what I consider its core concept. According to Mr. Lohman, there are just three compelling reasons to go into business with partners (as opposed to solo). One reason is because you need a partner’s money; another is because you need a partner’s experience. And the third? To create a family business, build wealth as a family.

Bit of a long tangent on the original topic of this post, but I felt it was a tangent worth including. Just as sharing cars, homes, and other assets among family members can help people get out from behind the 8-ball of unmanageable overhead expenses, so going into business with one’s family can maximize assets beyond what each individual could do alone.

Just … NO.

In general, I run this blog the way I try to run my life: Focus on solutions rather than complaining about problems. But I think sometimes it’s OK to say a strong “No” to certain things. In fact, it may be necessary to express a little shock and outrage at the status quo to get things moving down the path to solutions. Here’s a list of some of my “No’s”:

  • Idling motor vehicle engines for minutes or hours at a time. Just stop it! Turn off that car or truck when you park. (In some countries, and maybe even in some parts of the USA, people even turn off their engines at a stoplight! So turning off one’s engine while parked is not too much to ask.) As long as anyone can afford to idle their engine while parked, the price of gasoline is not high enough.
  • Bottled water. Companies making money off of us by pumping water from the ground (sometimes basically for free), putting it in single-use plastic bottles, and selling it to us. Whenever someone asks me, “Would you like ‘a’ water?” — as in a plastic bottle of water — my answer has been and is going to be NO. I dream of a world where “water” is restored to its proper status as a non-countable noun. Storing water for emergencies is a good idea. Do it by filling reusable bottles with tapwater. For people who are fussy about the taste of tapwater, there are many great water filters on the market. For people worried about the chemicals in tapwater, why would you think some water bottled and sold to you in a plastic bottle is any better?
  • Leafblowers. Just NO. Use a broom, or relax your fussy standards of neatness. Why do we have to turn the whole great outdoors into our own personal living-room rug?
  • As per the photo — application of pesticides for vanity agriculture in public spaces. NO!! Especially next to a body of water, but really anywhere, as all ground drains to some body of water. Again, we need to stop treating the whole great outdoors as our personal living-room carpet. We create dead “green” spaces that produce nothing (except that deadly human-defined “neatness”), and crowd out wildlife. When I took this picture yesterday, I felt equal parts of hopeless and spitting-mad. This morning it occurred to me that the pesticide application might have an additional purpose: to keep people away. (This photo was taken next to our public library, and homeless people often sit under the trees.) A better solution: If you really don’t want people using a space, plant vegetation there. Shrubs, spiny plants even. Don’t make it look inviting to sit on. Poisoning our world just to keep someone from (God/dess forbid) sitting down might just be the ultimate definition of shooting ourselves in the foot. (If keeping people away is in fact part of the motive.) We need to quit spraying poisons. Or we can keep right on, and eventually we will go extinct, and the rest of nature (including the ants or whatever other creatures were the original target of the pesticide application) will carry on quite nicely without us.

What would you add to this list? What’s on your list of eco “No’s”?