Sunday, 21 October 2007

LIghting the Woodstove...

I love fire. My most favorite thing to do when camping (which doesn't happen often) is to make, light and tend the fire. My second favorite thing is to boil water over the campfire to make camping tea, which is for some reason distinctly better than every day tea.

So today was a good day for me: I got to light the woodstove for the first time this year. I've been popping downstairs every half hour or so to make sure it's still burning and/or to throw on another piece of wood. Adjust the damper, put more water in the cast iron kettle, adjust the eco-fan to the most productive angle, and on and on it goes. Tending a fire makes me feel productive and relaxed at the same time, and it just doesn't get any better than that.

Last year I missed out on woodstove season because Winter came so fast we had no wood cut at all. This year we are fortunate to have a virtually unlimited supply of firewood, thanks to our neighbors who have cut down many trees on their property in preparation for building their house. They've been preparing for about three or four years now, so there's quite a supply of seasoned wood available. They have been giving the wood away and offered some to us as well this year. I wish they wouldn't have cut down so many trees, but we can't stop them so at least they are helping keep down our heating and electricity bills with the wood. And of course this helps us greatly as we participate in the "Freeze Yer Buns" Challenge.

Gotta go! I'm sure it's time to throw another log on the fire...

Saturday, 20 October 2007

The Mighty Pansy

I'd like to propose a change to the connotative meaning of the word "pansy." If the little pansies I seeded this Spring are any indication, they are pretty tough little plants! This is a picture I took of a small pot of pansies today, October 20th. They are sitting outside on the staircase going down from the front porch, about 10 feet from the house in any direction. As you can see, they are going strong, with buds still forming! Let me say again, it's October 20th, in the northern half of Alberta, Canada. These little guys have already been through several frosts of -5 C (23 F), and at least one of -10 C (14F). I'll be saving the seed from the most hardy of the bunch, if they ever stop flowering to form seeds, and I'm definitely planting these again next year.

So the next time I get called a pansy, I'm taking it as a compliment!

Friday, 19 October 2007

The "Freeze Yer Buns" Challenge

Crunchy Chicken, despite all of the difficulties her family is facing right now, has launched another eco-challenge. Her last butt-related challenge was a little too challenging for me, but this one I can really get on board with. She is challenging us to turn our thermostats down (or the A/C up for those in southern climes) for the duration of the Winter season.

I've made the commitment to turn down our thermostat to 17C/62.6F in the day and 15C/59F at night. We are pretty good about keeping the temperature low-ish anyway, 18C in the day and 17 C at night, but we have cheated a bit at times and turned the heat up a degree or two if we felt really chilled. Even so, so far this calender year we've reduced our natural gas usage to just 8% of that of the average North American (last year it was 8.4% for the entire 12 months) - so this challenge will help us reduce our consumption even more!

(P.S. - I will be posting an update about our other 90% Reduction Challenge numbers soon - I'm still crunching a few fuel related numbers...)

Monday, 15 October 2007

Blog Action Day!

Today is Blog Action Day, where bloggers world wide write about topics relevant to the environment in some way. I've been thinking about this for a while, and thought I would write about why I have that sentence up there at the top of this page: "One day I woke up and considered myself part of the planet instead of just living on the planet. Now what?"

This shift in my thinking probably took place over about a year or so, but there was a moment where I had this "aha!" experience where it dawned on me that I am not separate from my environment, I am part of it. Everyone is part of it and it is part of everyone and everything. The molecules of which I am composed, compose everything else as well. All things and beings are made of the same cosmic 'stuff' in varying proportions. From this it follows that what I do to the environment, I do to me. I'm not separate from it, I am it. This was, and still is, a realization the likes of which I have never had before, and it changed me, in that instant into someone who wanted to live within the means of the planet, not beyond them, utilizing only my fair share of its resources.

Feeling separate from something or someone is what makes it easier to be not so nice to, or just plain oblivious to that thing or person. But when I feel connected, then I want to be kind, compassionate and take care of the thing or person I feel connected to. So when I feel connected to and part of the environment, I don't want to litter or to disrupt natural ecosystems. I don't want to be wasteful because it took a lot of resources to make that plastic bottle, roll of toilet paper, rubber tire, or to transport that banana for my cereal here all the way from Ecuador.

Feeling like part of the planet also puts me in my proper place in the big scheme of things. I'm no more entitled to a piece of the planetary resource pie than any other person or thing is. My lifestyle shouldn't mean that other beings should have to suffer. This is a truly humbling thought, because I know that my lifestyle does result in others' suffering, every minute of every day. Because I have more, others have less. This is a hard thing to wake up to. I have lived as though I am entitled to more than my fair share for my entire life and not even known I was doing it.

So now I'm into the "Now What?" stage of my life. Now that I've had this "aha!" experience, I'm trying to figure out what I need to do differently, and how best to do it. And this blog is how I'm tracking those changes. Because, like I've written at the bottom of this page, "If you want things to be different, you have to do them differently." And I surely do want them to be different.

Chapter 25 of the Tao Te Ching talks about how all things, formed and formless, actual and potential, are interconnected and cyclical. When I think about it, I get that feeling like I do when I look up at a star or the Northern Lights and feel big and small at the same time:

There is something formlessly created
Born before Heaven and Earth
So silent! So ethereal!
Independent and changeless
Circulating and ceaseless
It can be regarded as the mother of the world

I do not know its name
Identifying it, I call it "Tao"
Forced to describe it, I call it great
Great means passing
Passing means receding
Receding means returning
Therefore the Tao is great
Heaven is great
Earth is great
The sovereign is also great
There are four greats in the universe
And the sovereign occupies one of them
Humans follow the laws of Earth
Earth follows the laws of Heaven
Heaven follows the laws of Tao
Tao follows the laws of nature

TTC Chapter 25 as translated by Derek Lin

Thursday, 11 October 2007

A Letter the Premier of Alberta

Today Gord and I sent the following letter to Ed Stelmach, the Premier of Alberta. We are both in favor of increasing the royalties that the oil companies have to pay to Alberta for the extraction of fossil fuels. Not surprisingly, the oil companies have really been putting the pressure on the government to keep the royalty structure the same, so we thought we'd do the Canadian thing and write a letter. If there are any other Albertans out there reading this, please consider writing a letter yourself.

Thanks to Kyle at Green With A Gun in Australia for permitting me to use his summary of the slow absorption/fast emission problem for inclusion in the letter.

Dear Premier Stelmach;

We are writing to you today as two very concerned Alberta citizens. We have a number of concerns, including the prospect of a nuclear power plant being forced on the citizens of Alberta, as well as the rampant progress of industry, and the destruction of rich farmland, wetlands and natural green spaces in the service of urban sprawl. Every day our water becomes more scarce and polluted, our air more foul, and our climate more erratic, all in the name of providing increased profits to industry.

We are writing to you today to remind you that the purpose of a government is to safeguard the interests of the public by protecting public commons: our air, water, land, and all of our natural resources. These things belong to all Albertans, not just to industry. A government is commissioned to be the steward of these resources, on behalf of the people.

We take our own personal stewardship of the planet very seriously, and as such have undertaken the challenge to reduce our household’s energy and commodity consumption, and our resultant greenhouse gas emissions by 90% of that of the average North American household. This is the level of reduction that George Monbiot, in his book “Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning” recommends as a measure everyone will have to undertake if we are going to minimize the now inevitable effects of global warming. We have not yet achieved this goal, but we are working towards it daily.

As persons committed to doing our part, we ask you to do yours: Ensure that industry pays its fair share of royalties to the people of Alberta for the privilege of making a profit from the “trust fund” that is in the ground and belongs to all of us. Fossil fuels were created over hundreds of millions of years. Humanity has been using them up in just a few hundred years. That is, we are burning them one million times faster than they were created. Concomitantly, we are putting carbon into the atmosphere a million times faster than it went into the ground.

If the oil industry has to slow down its extraction of this resource because it is only permitted to make a decent profit instead of an obscene one, this can only be a positive result for Albertans and for the well-being of this one planet we all share.

Thank you for weighing our concerns, ones shared by many Albertans young and old, in your decision-making process.

Picture courtesy this Flickr site

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Thanksgiving and the One Hundred Things

Back in the Summer, Pea at the Mustard Seed Journal wrote a post about what many of the people at the Riot for Austerity 90% Reduction group were doing as part of their efforts to reduce life's excesses. To really examine which possessions are necessary ones. The idea was to come up with a list of 100 versatile belongings, considered essential by that person to live one's life. One of the Rioters proposed some guidelines, and online discussion ensued.

I didn't partake in the discussion (I'm still more of a lurker in the 90% Reduction group, even though I'm also working on the 90% reduction goals), but after reading Pea's article the idea has been in the back of my mind. As Canadian Thanksgiving approaches, it's been much more in the front of my mind. I find myself looking at things here at home and asking myself, "Would that [insert doodad here] be on my list?" Most of the time I can quickly answer, "No."

I have so much stuff. We have so much stuff. Most of this stuff I/we do not need. I have over 100 books, let alone all the other stuff. I have a cozy home, food to eat, clothes to wear, a good job, and a family to love and love me back. For these things I am truly thankful. What do I need with all this other stuff?

As I looked around and saw all the things that wouldn't be on my list, my perspective shifted and suddenly I felt lighter, even relieved somehow. I like these things I have around me, but I don't need them. I became more detached from them, right then, in that moment. I need to find at least some of these things a better home.

I'll ask the same question Pea asked: What would be on your list? And my own question: what wouldn't be?
Chapter 48

Pursue knowledge, daily gain
Pursue Tao, daily loss

Loss and more loss
Until one reaches unattached action
With unattached action, there is nothing one cannot do

Take the world by constantly applying non-interference
The one who interferes is not qualified to take the world

Tao Te Ching, translated by Derek Lin
Image courtesy this flickr site

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

A Tai Chi moment

I was at Tai Chi earlier this week and for a very brief time, maybe the span of about 10 moves, I had the amazing sensation of not thinking. I only realized this in retrospect, when I was thinking again, and it made me smile. I hadn't been trying to concentrate or looking for any sort of profound experience or sensation beforehand, I was just doing the 108-move tai chi set with everyone else in our class. I had no expectations because nothing like this had ever happened before.

For a little while there it was just me and my body, moving in time with everyone else, with no cognitive intrusions of any kind, just a peaceful, contented feeling of movement and being. That's never happened to me before, ever, in anything I've ever done.

I find myself hoping to experience it again, but I know if I chase it, it will never come. It is tricky going back to having no expectations though.
Chapter 47

Without going out the door, know the world
Without peering out the window, see the Heavenly Tao
The further one goes
The less one knows

Therefore the sage
Knows without going
Names without seeing
Achieves without striving

TTC, as translated by Derek Lin

Monday, 1 October 2007

Local Cooling

I came across a neat and simple piece of software some time ago, called Local Cooling. It maximizes your computer's power saving options, and puts a little indicator on your screen to tell you how much energy you've saved since installing the program, in terms of gallons of oil, kiloWatt hours of electricity and trees. It is free software, and I have it installed on both my home and work computers. It's amazing how the energy savings add up over time, and it is neat to see the savings converted to trees - it makes it more meaningful to me in those terms.

By installing this software I've also noticed that my old CRT-monitor at home sure uses more power than my flat screen at work. But I can't really justify buying a new monitor for home when there's nothing wrong with it.