Let’s Focus on Our Common Cause

DSC_0425smNobody wants to be judged by the way they look, the color of their skin, or the clothes they wear. As a white male, I realize I have benefited from white privilege. I can’t say exactly how, but I’m sure there were doors that were opened for me that I may have found closed, were I a different ethnicity.

Having said that, I never asked for special treatment, and I’ve always felt more at home with the outcasts than with the popular crowd. Growing up, I identified closely with Native Americans. I had an idealized idea of who they were. I wanted to live in harmony with the Earth and I thought the NA community was all about that. I was somewhat disillusioned by some of my subsequent encounters with NA people, but I still believe they understood the importance of a healthy, balanced ecosystem.

_DJT5874smAt the age of 20, I was protesting with the National Toxics Campaign against environmental degradation resulting from toxic chemicals. Now, 30 years later, I am closely allied with three environmental organizations, and my goal is still to live in harmony with nature. The more I learn, the better are my choices. Sometimes those choices aren’t easy or inexpensive. I limit myself to exploring nearby places, so I don’t waste fossil fuels. I bake in a SunOven, heat my water and power part of my home with solar energy, and I use rainwater for all of my outdoor water needs. If you read my blog, you know I’m always counting kilowatts.

_DJT5021smGetting back to the title of this blog entry, I find myself being attacked by people who should be my allies, because I’m white. I will unequivocally admit that I do not understand what it’s like to live someone else’s life; be they African American, Native American, from Louisiana, Canada, the Middle East, handicapped, bipolar, or what have you. Can we all admit that our experience is unique and we all have a somewhat different perspective on things? However, if we only ally ourselves with people who are very much like us, how are we going to make change in a world with seven billion unique people? We are all seeking a better life for ourselves and our descendants. We all have hopes and dreams. We all want to be accepted and loved.

_DJ23558smSpeaking for myself, I want to be accepted and loved. I need people in my life and I prefer people who don’t judge me by the color of my skin, my crooked teeth, or the length of my cutoffs. I am advocating for a cleaner, healthier planet for all of it’s inhabitants, not just people. I thought I might find allies among native people, but they see me and turn away because I can’t understand what it’s like to be them. They’re right. I can’t understand what it’s like to be a Native American, but I can understand what it’s like to be human, and I am working to clean up this mess we’re in. I hate what my ancestors did to minority groups. I hate that we slaughtered the buffalo and polluted the soil and water. I hate that we are still taking land from indigenous peoples and desecrating it. I hate that some police officers shoot first and think later; especially when their target is black. However, hate doesn’t bring solutions; people, working together in large enough numbers, can bring solutions. What I’m asking is simply, don’t look for our differences, but rather focus on what we have in common, and maybe we can bring about a better future.

This May Require Sacrifice

To use an analogy: Your roof has a slow leak. You can’t detect the leak from inside the house, because the water is just soaking into the structural supports and causing them to rot. Fixing the leak is going to cost money, and you don’t have extra money, so you’ll have to give up something to get the leak fixed. Not fixing the leak means, someday, the roof will collapse. You or your family may be injured or killed, and your home will become unlivable.

You may approach with this problem in several ways:

1) You could deny there is a problem and ignore it

2) You could acknowledge the problem and hope it goes away or that the roof holds up long enough that it becomes someone else’s problem (like your children or grand children).

3) You could choose to make some sacrifices to address the problem before it becomes a catastrophe.

Clearly, only choice #3 is a solution. Ignoring a problem is not a solution and kicking the can down the road is just going to make things worse for future generations.

This is my analogy for anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Every time I read about a proposal to address AGW or climate change, I hear someone complain that it might slow the economy, make us less competitive in world markets, increase unemployment, etc. Before I address those points, because I don’t believe those things will necessarily happen, I want to return to my analogy for a second. If we do need to make sacrifices to save our home and protect the future of our children and grand children, that’s what we must do. This isn’t a game we’re playing where we can rewrite the rules. If we continue as we are, our world is going to change for the worse and things could get pretty ugly. The only thing that is unclear about the science is exactly what is going to happen and when. We’ve already had a taste of the future, with extreme droughts in some places, flooding in others, tropical diseases moving northward, catastrophic wind events, etc. Do we really need a detailed map to see that where we’re heading is not where we want to be?

Getting back to the claims of economic gloom: Our society will always need energy, whether we get it from fossil fuels or directly from the sun. If jobs go away in the fossil fuel extraction industry, there will be new jobs in the renewable energy sector. Renewable energy is the future. Every country on the planet knows that. The country that innovates and produces the best renewable energy technology is going to be an economic winner, so it pays to be a leader in renewable energy development.

Furthermore, the biggest drain to our current economy is health care. A leading cause of lung problems and cancer is dirty industry. One of the dirtiest, and most dangerous industries is the fossil fuel industry. By moving away from polluting technologies and towards cleaner technologies, we will reduce our health care costs and lessen the drag on our economy.

Moving to clean energy is a win-win in the long term. There may be sacrifices we’ll have to make in the short term, but we can’t keep kicking the can down the road. The sooner we get serious about our carbon dioxide emissions and other environment pollution, the better off we’ll be in the not-too-distant future.

I don’t ask anyone to do anything I haven’t already done. I lead by example and I understand that not everyone can do what I do. All I ask is that people advocate for progressive government policy and think about how they can reduce their energy consumption and dependence on non-renewable energy. Combining trips to the store, eating local food, driving a more fuel efficient vehicle or riding a bicycle are all things the average person can do. If everyone does what they can, it will make a difference to our future and the future of our planet.

The Sad State of Yogurt

I’m strongly leaning towards a vegan diet, but I still indulge in foods that are not vegan; often to my detriment. Lately, I’ve had a hankering for some yogurt, and I’ve been scouring the shelves of the grocery stores I frequent for something that would resemble real yogurt.

Every yogurt product I see is either “low fat”, “light”, or “no fat”. I wonder how that is even possible, since yogurt is traditionally made from a fatty product. What’s worse, is that some of them replace the fat with copious amounts of sugar, or artificial sweeteners.

After standing in front of the myriad brands of yogurt on display on several occasions, I finally gave in and purchased some Yoplait light yogurt that was on sale. Sadly, I didn’t look closely at the ingredients before I made my purchase. I noted that it had 10 grams of sugar, vs. 26 grams in some other varieties, and it proudly proclaimed that it contained no Aspartame.

What I didn’t notice was that it contained many unnecessary and unnatural ingredients, including food coloring (Red #40 and Blue #1). Why does yogurt need food coloring? It had potassium sorbate to maintain freshness, and Sucralose! Why? The ingredient list reads like a science experiment.

yoplait-yogurt-containerI’m pretty sure I’ll never buy yogurt, again. I am absolutely sure I’ll never buy another Yoplait product. The packaging is recyclable, but it’s not recycle friendly. The container is difficult to rinse out thoroughly, and you can’t stack them to save space in the recycle bin. What could possibly be the advantage in such a backwards package design?

The fact that there are no natural yogurt products available at any of the stores I frequent tells me that consumers have demanded this bastardization of an otherwise healthy, pro-biotic food. Wake up people! Stop buying over-processed, chemical soup foods that mimic real food in name only. Stop demanding low fat versions of food that are made of fat. Fat is not evil; preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and food dyes are evil. I get headaches from this stuff; literally. I can measure the difference in my performance when I exercise after eating this stuff. I’m pretty sure I’m going to go vegan and eat only whole foods. There was a time when I couldn’t imagine living without meat and dairy products, but that time has passed. I am not a strict vegan, yet, but I do eat vegan for days at a time, and I have more energy and mental acuity during those times than when I’m eating non-vegan or processed foods.

I got up this morning, ready to take on the world. After days of clouds and rain, the sun was breaking through. After eating 6 ounces of Yoplait yogurt, my brain is fuzzy and I can feel the drag on my body. Food isn’t supposed to make you ill. I hope people get smart and demand more wholesome foods. Yogurt doesn’t need a 3 month shelf life and it definitely doesn’t need artificial coloring.

Thanks for reading!

Short Days and Warm Showers

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I use solar to heat the water I use in my home for washing and bathing. It takes about 3 hours of good sun each day to keep up with all of my hot water needs. When we get a few clear days, the water storage gets hot enough that I can go a couple days with heavy overcast conditions.

This time of year, the sun is only effective for heating from about 09:00 AM until about 3:00PM. That’s not a big window, if the day is partly or mostly cloudy. Furthermore, we seem to get a couple of sunny days, followed by 3 or 4 cloudy days. I gave in and turned on my electric water heater for one day in late December. Otherwise, there are days when I have to take a warm shower, instead of a steamy hot one.

For me, this has sort of become a crusade; to try to get by on what the sun provides. It’s not much of a sacrifice. Most of the year, I have more hot water than I can use. However, these short days, combined with overcast conditions, really do test my resolve. Occasionally, in the summer, we get a week of rainy dark weather and I run out of hot water, but it hardly matters, because I take some of my showers outside in the summer, anyway. Hot showers just aren’t as important to me when it’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32C).

I just purchased another photovoltaic panel and a new charge controller so I can add about 300 watts of capacity to my solar electric system. It also suffers a bit when the days are short and overcast. I have batteries to get me through the dark times, but they need time to recharge at least twice a week. I hate to add more batteries, because they have a relatively short lifespan (see my other blog entries on battery woes). I don’t need more photovoltaic capacity in the summer, but I definitely need it in winter. I’ll figure out some way to use the excess power in the summer. I’ve been working up some ideas for a while. One of those ideas is to power the refrigerator off the solar during the day, and let it switch back to the grid at night. That would let me use more energy while the panels are generating it, and not put an additional load on my batteries.

I took the Polar Bear Plunge on January 1st. It’s the 2nd time I’ve done it in North Carolina. It was a good time. The water was 49 degrees Fahrenheit (10C) and the air was about the same. The sun was shining and it wasn’t windy, so it was really a nice day, considering it was January 1st.

Bad Waffles!

morning-fresh-wafflesWell, this is a deviation from my normal post. As a rule, I avoid processed foods, but I enjoy frozen waffles with my morning eggs, on some mornings. I’ve purchased frozen waffles from Food Lion, Lowes Foods, and Piggly Wiggly. I’ve had no bad experiences with the first two, but the Morning Fresh brand waffles from Piggly Wiggly were so bad, I couldn’t eat them. I tried to eat them, because I hate to waste food. The ones I ate tasted very old and were tough. I didn’t know waffles could be tough. One of them had so much ice on it (similar to one of those pictured, but not quite as bad) that it was soggy after it was heated. Imagine a soggy, old waffle; yes, it was disgusting.

This was the first time I’d purchased the Morning Fresh brand of waffles. I get most of my eggs from local chickens, but I did purchase Morning Fresh eggs, and I found those to be of poor quality, also. Unlike the waffles, they were edible. I’ve purchased other brands of frozen waffles on several occasions and I’ve never experienced anything like this.

I didn’t try to return these waffles, because my time is worth more than the $2.39. I may never shop at Piggly Wiggly again, as this is their store brand, and I’m seriously concerned about the quality of their products. I am sure they have quality produce, but I only get groceries once a week, and I prefer to get everything in one stop.

Bad Caps, Solar Cooking, and the Outdoor Wood Stove

goopWhat’s up with the caps on adhesives? This isn’t the first cap that I’ve broken like this, and I don’t think I’m over tightening them. This isn’t a cheap product. You’d think they could make a cap that would last through a few uses. It seems to be the smaller sized tubes that have this problem. I think I’m going to start saving caps, if they don’t break.

_DJT3504Now that I’ve got that behind me, let’s talk about something much more appetizing. I don’t often eat meat, but I bought some chicken legs so I could bake them in my SunOven, and I was not disappointed. I let them bake for 90 minutes at 300 degrees Fahrenheit. The SunOven is powered 100% by ambient sunlight, so the cost of baking the chicken was zero. The SunOven is a good deal when you have clear, sunny days. I love my SunOven. I use it to bake bread, brownies, energy bars, etc. I use it as a dehydrator, simply by propping the lid open a bit to let the moisture escape.

I don’t know if you remember my outdoor wood stove project. I heated my house with it during the severe winter of 2013-2014, but the design was not optimal. I had a 6″ diameter round duct transferring the hot air from the stove to the house, and that simply wasn’t a big enough pipe. In a nutshell, the outdoor wood stove consists of an insulated box around a combustion chamber that heats the air in the box, which is circulated into the house by a blower. There is a cold air return duct and a hot air duct. The hot air box is sealed and insulated to minimize heat loss, and it is separated from the actual wood fire, so no smoke goes into the house.

_DJT3499I removed the old duct and built a 6″ by 14″ (inside dimensions) rectangular duct that is also insulated and encased in a plywood enclosure. In the photo on the left, you see the outer box around the duct. The wood stove enclosure is on the right and the house is on the left.

_DJT3497The photo on the right is a view, looking down the duct from inside the house. There is a door on the outer box that is open, or it would be dark inside, since the box is completely enclosed in cement board (fireproof).

The old 6″ pipe had approximately 19 square inches for airflow. The new duct has 84 square inches, which is more than 4 times as much capacity. That will not only allow a greater volume of warm air to move into the house, but will also prevent pressure from building up in the outside box. That should cut down on heat loss through air leaks.

I made some additional improvements to the wood stove and I’ve got a lot of wood split and stacked for winter. There are a few more things I’d like to improve on the stove, but they might have to wait until next year. I’m looking forward to sitting by the warm fire and reading a good book on cold winter nights.

Health

I’m pretty sure my health is the most important thing I possess. I am reminded how important it is when it falters. I won’t say that nothing else matters, but I wouldn’t want to be rich if it meant I would have to sacrifice my good health.
Our priorities show in our actions. Because I value my health, and try not to take it for granted, I exercise, watch what I eat, and I care about my environment. Some people might call me a tree hugger. I won’t deny that I have hugged some trees, and I am an environmental activist. That is probably obvious. I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t be.
I’ve heard of people who are so removed from their natural environment that they are afraid of it. I can’t say that it doesn’t pose some hazards; I tangled with some poison ivy on my last outing. However, it also seems obvious to me that we are a product of our environment. An unhealthy environment means unhealthy people. If you’re breathing dirty air, or drinking polluted water, your body will pay the price. Maybe it won’t be immediately noticeable, but the effects can be cumulative.
Many people become environmentalists when industrial pollution moves into their neighborhood and starts making them sick. I would encourage everyone to be more preemptive. Don’t wait until your health begins to fail to take steps to protect it. Go outside, take a walk, breathe the fresh air, and don’t assume it will always be that way. Plant a tree, and watch it grow. That tree will provide oxygen for you and your loved ones, in addition to shade, protection, and carbon storage. You might even want to give it a hug.