Poor and Environmental Solutions
speaks forthrightly, and becomes the atmosphere for testing our
maturing spirituality. When the reality of life is hidden through
denial, excuse, or escape, spirituality lacks an authenticity, and
keeps us withdrawn from the blessings of the needy and often
forsaken; we have fewer opportunities to offer thanks for the
blessings of the poor that are all around us.
models to pattern our lives. How about looking to the poor? The
poor generally have their feet on the ground when it comes to
essential needs, far more than do affluent people. Because the poor
generally live closer to ravaged areas of environmental degradation,
they have experienced the effects in the form of precarious health
and lower quality of life. Insofar as they endure unhealthy
conditions, they do not always complain about maladies and
discomforts. Others coming from states of greater comfort may
voluntarily take on poverty, become sensitive to needs, and
articulate the chasms between the haves and have-nots. All who
enter or continue in the poverty condition of our world experience
the vulnerability that comes with living among and with the poor.
affluent and the poor have fundamentally different ways of
perceiving the same situation. That is especially true where the
problem areas call for immediate and fundamental conversion and
change. The affluent are blessed with a greater mobility, more
influential connections, and more access to material and
informational resources. However, all of these privileges do not
guarantee eco-success. In part, this is due to lack of sensitivity
(the sin of affluence) to the needs of others, and an unwillingness
to work together as equals in problem-solving.
recent years we have seen the rise of "junk" science, which contains
"findings" paid for by special interest groups. These hack
scientists are hired to say that Earth is not undergoing global
warming, or that some so-called environmental problem is overblown.
Such conclusions generally work to the benefit of
resource-exploiting industries, which do not want further
regulations or critical attention. These organizations and their
wealth work together with affluent colleagues to muster resources to
deny an impending catastrophe; they escape to less threatening
locations; they excuse themselves by saying that the question should
be handled by experts at some future time usually beyond our
Environmental problems call for cooperative action at all economic
levels. Although the poor are handicapped by lack of resources,
they have certain advantages: they know the harm first hand; they
see current situations as life and death struggles; they need to
make a living and thus are quite practical about solutions; they
are confident that God is with them; they are the grassroots; and,
finally, they know history is on their side.
Prayer: Lord, lift up
Witnessing sunset at the end of a beautiful day.
August 2, 2008
People long for a harmony
of water and land, especially in times of drought -- for bubbly
springs, for showers in the fields, and for clear water flowing past
verdant tree-lined shores. Some are blessed with observing from
their home a lake or river or even the ocean; others settle for a
small farm pond or nearby creek; and still many more have no
naturally occurring moving water, but settle for the artificial;
they substitute water circulating in fish tanks or ponds, interior
waterfalls, or water fountains. The gurgling water fountain gives
the appearance of bubbling springs, or the life force coming from
the Earth itself to refresh us. In parts of Europe, where water
flows by gravity down from nearby mountains, residents treasure
centuries-old fountains that furnish water via springs or
aqueducts. The town fountain becomes a gathering place as well as
the essential source for potable water.
Only rarely today is it
possible to have an on-going flow of water from a mountain source.
Interior or exterior fountains with recirculating water are designed
to fulfill the same aesthetic purpose (water sound and sight), but
these are not water sources as such. This modern fountain is
generally located in a protected and enclosed patio where the sound
reverberates from the surrounding walls; the environment stays cool
by means of surrounding vegetation, the shade of which prevents
water evaporation. The soothing sound along with the sight of water
amid potted or in-ground plants produces the atmosphere of a cool
(even tropical) forest. A well-designed fountain has a magic touch
that draws people to congregate, rest, and relax in its vicinity.
It is moving water; it springs as though from the Earth, giving a
sense of abundance, fertility, and release of forces that has been
caught for centuries by poets and artists.
Running a water fountain
need not be wasteful, for the water can be recirculated with a small
expenditure of energy for a solar water pump. Much depends on the
fountain's evaporation potential -- and that can be lessened by
planting vegetation so that increased humidity and protection from a
direct breeze will reduce evaporation immensely. Lower quality
water can be used, provided it has no unpleasant odor. The jets for
the fountain can be adjusted so that the stream flow is reduced or
ultimately turned off during drought. Allowing the water to flow
over rocks or other surfaces may increase evaporation, especially if
in a sunny location. As mentioned, the operation of the small
circulating water pump and accompanying night ornamental lighting
can be achieved using solar energy. The small water pump does not
need much storage capacity, since circulation after dark can be
suspended. Daylight is perfect with fountains though some like the
atmosphere of longer night lighting which they achieve through
storing excess solar energy through additional batteries.
Lord, You are the fountain of life, our treasure. Help us to be
springs of life to others so that your goodness may be better know
A trio of hummingbirds, gracing the summer sky.
by Walt Para, Sunrise Ridge,
August 3, 2008
The one who comes to me
will not go away hungry. (John 6:35)
People need to be fed
spiritually and materially. One cannot expect to do one without the
other, for we need a balance of the spiritual and material. We
could hardly expect a hungry person to give much attention to a
spiritual lecture; nor do we expect the overly sated to beg God for
daily bread. Spirituality means we are concerned about the poor.
Thus sharing of resources is a moral demand, without which there is
no spiritual life. We can hardly receive Communion worthily if we
allow many at our doorstep to go hungry -- and the world is at our
Part of this spiritual
mandate consists in helping to solve pressing human problems. One
of these is the loss of food producing land. We know that urban
sprawl and industrialization are a worldwide phenomena, and prime
agricultural land is in short supply -- and growing shorter as vast
nations like China and India move more to the automobile-based
economy with highways and parking lots. To lose an intensive rice
paddy in Japan or Korea means that valuable productive agricultural
land is being converted with no replacement. On a worldwide
perspective we ask: Can we continue to feed growing populations on
essentially less and less farm land?
Relatively affluent Pacific
Rim lands are experiencing a shocking loss of productive land to the
pressure of new consumer activities and industrialization projects.
Upward economic mobility encourages farmers to use land formerly in
crop production for new types of food (e.g., eggs and meat and
specialty items) that require more land than does pure grain or
edible oil-bearing plants. Today 70% of farmland is used for
livestock and one third of all grain is used as animal feed. Less
grainlands for staples and rising demands for resource intensive
foods in newly affluent lands put essential foods beyond the reach
of the poor. Recall the book: Who will Feed China? by
Lester Brown, Worldwatch Institute, 1998, Washington, DC. Add to
this situation the turning of corn and sugar fields into production
of biofuels and we have a perfect food crisis that has surfaced in
Conservationists seek land
use restrictions because industry and housing are sprawling over
once productive farmlands. The patterns are similar throughout the
world: farmland is ripe for development; its economic value
escalates to the point that the farmer is encouraged to sell and
retire. Governments at different levels must make meaningful land
use restrictions. Conservation easement programs that pay
landholders for leaving land undeveloped are now in place in more
conservation-minded areas. Furthermore, returning land to food
production and subsidizing small farmers with loans and equipment
are part of a comprehensive food production program of which we all
must consider as part of our spiritual mission.
Lord, inspire us to feed the hungry.
The glow of sunset on a mobile home in
2008 Mobile Homes
Earlier this year
the spotlight focused on the thousands of FEMA trailers used for Katrina victims
and others, because their interiors contained worrisome amounts of outgassed
toxic formaldehyde. About forty percent of lower income urban and rural
Americans live in mobile or manufactured homes. These people find these mobile
or manufactured structures more affordable and consider them "instant" homes,
which can be hauled from one place to another and installed in a short time.
However, these housing units have disadvantages that include:
* Purchase of
manufactured homes sends out of the community money that would have gone to
local builders. Bringing in a mobile home causes problems for local drivers,
but that is minor compared to the fact the local construction company loses
another job, and the community has less local spending money, for much of the
money goes for construction at a distant factory.
building associations make a list of certain preferred materials to be used in
housing, and certain materials that are less desirable (plastics and aluminum)
because of resource expenditure, distance from place of construction,
instability under certain climate conditions, or flammability. Some materials
require enormous amounts of energy to obtain, process, manufacture, ship and
store, whereas others, especially local native materials like clay, stone, and
wood have less resource cost.
* The air in new
manufactured homes is perhaps somewhat better now than it was a few years past
when the pronounced smell of the formaldehyde (a volatile chemical found in many
fabric and plastic interior decorations) would escape from the materials to the
surrounding air. The formaldehyde has made the boxed-in effect and lack of air
exchange of insulated mobile homes all the more problematic. These units ought
to be aired out thoroughly, especially when new fabric and plastic furnishing
have been added.
* The inherent
design of mobile homes leads to their being destroyed by heavy winds far more
frequently than stationary homes. Insurance companies know this, and so do
those who buy and sell homes. Generally, the type of construction, the
deterioration of materials, and the inability to maintain them properly, lead to
rapid depreciation. Low-income rural counties experience deteriorating tax
bases due to widespread depreciation of cheap mobile housing. To counter this,
one solution is to convert the mobile home to a stationary one through
additional foundation, siding and new roofing. I directed the covering of a
mobile home's outer walls with cordwood and have since received praise for the
improved looks and for the building's stability. Naturally the value stops
sliding towards total depreciation, and the structure is less susceptible to
Lord, help us champion affordable housing for all, and especially for a billion
people living in poor conditions.
A quiet resting place for a hot summer day
2008 Family Reunions
August is an ideal
time for family reunions, for it is vacation time and a new school term has not
yet begun. Those of us from large families know that these reunions can be
difficult to organize and facilitate. I went to the one-hundredth anniversary
of my mother's great grandparents' coming to America from Germany, and at that
occasion we found the family tree had grown to about a thousand descendants and
spouses. I later went to the one hundred and fiftieth of the same group and the
tree was still further expanded to perhaps two thousand people. With such
expanding affairs planners must consider the following points for a successful
1. Have the reunion
infrequently. People find fuel prices too high for frequent trips. Maybe the
bigger, the more infrequent. When it is only two or three generations the
gathering is more manageable. When it goes back to five or more, many of the
descendants simply don't know each other.
2. Select a good
organizer who will accept the work required to plan and call families together
for a reunion. Phone calls, letters, e-mails and persuasive conversation, the
determination of a gathering place, and arrangement of the schedule are
necessary. Much of the work can be reduced by assigning specific duties and
having everyone bring his or her own potluck dish or particular lunch and
sharing with others.
3. Find an adequate
meeting place. Often people want to return to the small house or farm where it
all began. Nice, but the place is not equipped for massive parking or with
toilet facilities. A better suggestion is to go to a nearby public facility
capable of handling the crowd. Visit the simple house as part of the program.
Some guests need air conditioning or ramps for accessibility. Have adequate
drinking water as well.
4. Prepare the
agenda well. Some people will not like specific events: raffles, formal games,
or worship services. Give enough space for variety. Included music and dancing
require special attention as well. Sometimes the informal may prove the most
entertaining and space ought to be allotted for it. However, some people are
not natural mixers and find so many unrecognized guests intimidating. Name tags
are needed even though some people know most people; many have a difficulty
with immediate name recall. Consider prizes for the most distant traveler.
5. Document the
event. Photography is important, as is audio or video history. The charting of
the growing family tree requires a dedicated manager who works for accuracy and
maintenance of current records. Consider a follow-up letter and a sharing of a
web site or e-mail addresses.
Prayer: Help us Lord to hold our
families together even in times of great mobility and family troubles.
A gardener's daylily
is the second time this year we read the Transfiguration narrative. Is this
because the event has many facets: we need to focus once on the glory of the
Lord in high summer; and we need to experience the consolation in approaching
Calvary during Lent.
is recorded in the three synoptic gospels and in the Letter we have from St.
Peter as well. Jesus takes the three disciples up the mountain apart from the
rest; this harkens back to Moses going up Mt. Sinai and receiving the Law.
Jesus talks with Moses and Elijah and is in the center stage, thus showing he is
more than the greatest of the lawgivers and the greatest of the prophets. In
the Transfiguration Jesus' face is radiant and shines like the sun. The event
becomes a consoling moment for Jesus before his impending death, just as the
beauty of the consoling verdant Earth comes at the middle of the growing season
in August's glory. We are consoled both through glory all around and in
personal suffering with others.
Peter's reaction is
to say -- "It is wonderful for us to be here." In our everyday language he
could have said -- let's take a picture or make a videotape. Remember, he does
ask to put up a memorial of stone to remember the great event. "Let us make
three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." The tents allude to
giving the law at the feast of Tabernacles. True to Peter's words, today
memorials adorn the site of this event.
The voice from
heaven tells us that the Father approves of this sacred event, a sanction by God
of what is about to occur. Jesus is God's chosen one, the suffering servant.
Recall Psalm 7 and Isaiah 42. We too need God's approval. The divine nearness
paralyzes the disciples who are not yet strengthened through the grace given at
Pentecost. "Do not be afraid" is said a number of times in the Scriptures, and
is meant for all of us as well. We see in our troubled world a need to be
fearless in the challenges that face us. We too need God's approving word and
we, in turn, must give these words to others who are fearful as well.
event is told with awe and wonder -- a magnificent vision of what is to come.
However, as fellow Jesuit, Walt Bado, points out in his poem, this is also
Hiroshima Day, a time of infamy when a single atomic bomb of blinding light
caused over a hundred thousand casualties. The bombing of Hiroshima and of
Nagasaki were intended to (and perhaps did) shorten World War II. However, the
reasoning has been questioned. The bomb-making project was called "Trinity" and
the delivery plane "Little Babe." What irony -- or blasphemy. We need all the
more to participate in an extended cosmic Transfiguration.
Prayer: Lord, You revealed the
true radiance of Christ in the glory of the transfiguration. Change us into his
image that we may radiate his glory in bring peace to our troubled world.
Abraham Lincoln: Old State Capitol in Springfield, IL.
by Mark Spencer)
August 7, 2008
Nuclear Power Versus Wind
Nuclear power was to
be the panacea of the future, back in the guilt-laden days after World War Two
and the August Hiroshima and Nagasaki episodes. With great fanfare the 1960s
heralded the rise of nuclear power in this country -- and from there the power
fad spread throughout the world with nations such as France receiving major
portions of their energy from that source. Nuclear power experienced a hiatus
after rising environmental concerns in the 1970s and the Three Mile Island
(1979) and Chernobyl (1986) episodes, along with problems related to economics,
waste disposal and health and safety issues. Now with all the talk about carbon
footprints and global warming, nuclear power is being resurrected like the
chained Prometheus being allowed to come to life.
It is urgent that
proponents of clean energy look closely at renewable energy sources and compare
them with the temptation for new billion plus dollar nuclear facilities. On May
20, 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy released the 2007 edition of its "Annual
Report on U.S. Wind Power Installation, Cost, and Performance Trends." This
report states that the U.S. leads the world in wind power growth (third straight
year) with capacity increasing by 46% in 2007, with $9 billion invested. This
renewable source is on the way to becoming a significant contributor to the U.S.
power mix. Now this wind source accounts for 35% of the new 2007 U.S. electric
generating capacity. Production facilities capable of generating a total of
over 200 GW of U.S. wind power are being developed.
Nuclear power is not
carbon-free since massive amounts of coal have been used in the past to generate
the electric power needed to operate nuclear enrichment facilities. Disposal of
nuclear wastes is not solved. Decommissioning of nuclear reactors is costly and
may require governmental subsidies. What about the health risk and toll on
uranium mine workers and nearby residents? Are the tempting soft terrorist
targets of stored spent rods near nuclear powerplants given adequate
consideration by energy policy makers?
In the 1940s nuclear
proponents predicted that nuclear power would to be "too cheap to meter." The
persistent difficulty with nuclear energy is that one mishap could be so massive
that it could endanger large populations and areas of the world. Estimates of a
major nuclear reactor accident are as high as 102,000 first-year deaths, 610,000
injuries and 40,000 long-term cancer death and $314 billion in damages (1982
estimates made by Sandia National Labs for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission).
A previous, less-thorough study in 1975 called WASH-1400 estimated 3,300 early
fatalities, 45,000 injuries, 45,000 latent cancer deaths and property damage of
$14 billion. See our Critical Hour: Three Mile Island, The Nuclear Legacy,
and National Security on this website. With all these persistent
difficulties, why the nuclear option? It is time to wind down nuclear and wind
Lord, teach us to discern prudently and to satisfy our energy needs by using
environmentally benign energy sources.
Clifty Wilderness Area, Red River Gorge, KY
by Harry J. Gensler, S.J.)
August 8, 2008
Solar Hot Water Systems
Today is the
beginning of the Olympic Games and our attention is turned to Beijing.
Observing on television the sweating athletes makes us think about the summer's
solar rays. We hear that even the Chinese hosts are beginning to "think solar"
with a multitude of solar applications, not the least of which is the
tried-and-true solar water heater. Photos of America's 1904 San Francisco
earthquake show damaged house roofs equipped with solar hot water systems,
applications we need to rediscover today.
About one-tenth of
an average household's energy budget is for heating water for showers and
kitchen uses. The cheapest way to heat domestic water is by the most
cost-effective solar application, outside of growing produce using the sun's
rays or drying clothes outdoors. Some solar water heating systems are "active"
varieties (heating with the sun an enclosed liquid which transfers heat to
adjacent water pipes); these are generally more expensive, but efficiency is
improving with time. Homemade "passive" systems (which heat the water directly
in black glass lined metal tanks enclosed in insulated boxes) are also
recommended. The latter have no pumps or extra gadgets except a pressure
Solar heaters need
to be of a size adequate for your water needs. Much depends on the amount of
water used, but energy conservation should always accompany solar energy use.
The length and volume of showers are critical. With this in mind, a new
applicant should install water-conserving showerheads and take shorter showers.
The heater design should be visibly pleasing and in harmony with your building.
A site and device should be near where the water is to be used, and yet
accessible to those who wish to inspect the unit close at hand. In areas of
severe winters the ideal is to have a non-solar back-up system that is also
energy-efficient and of low environmental impact. Instant electric back-up
systems work fine, if the domestic water demand is low and the water pressure
sufficient to allow the flow to move smoothly.
Many prefer to save
money and make their own solar water heater. A homemade solar water heater is
straight-forward and can be built by enclosing a used water tank hooked to a
gravity-fed water system. Water is collected in a solar-absorbing black-painted
water tank; the enclosure resembles a glass-covered open-sided snug-fitting
insulated coffin (made with weather-protected wood). Six-inch fiberglass
insulation batts are covered with aluminum flashing to keep solar-heated water
warm through the night. This solar heater is mounted at the selected location
and angled toward the sun. Some designers install an insulated door over the
glassed opening to be closed after the sun goes down. If properly insulated in
an average temperate climate, passive solar heaters will furnish 100 degree F
water for about eight months while active systems go all year.
Lord, help us to benefit from your solar gift.
A grandmother's "plum-granny" plant. Cucumis melo var.
August 9, 2008
Over and over people
mention that those who lived through the Great Depression are better experienced
to help introduce younger people to the possibly permanent food crisis now
besetting our planet. One way to improve our lot is to grow "freedom gardens"
(see July 15 and 16). How about elders teaming up with younger (youth or
middle-aged) folks to launch their own gardening enterprise? The work, while
not overly burdensome, does involve some exertion, which will demand use of
muscles and exposure to the summer sun's rays unless undertaken in the early
morning or evening. We have entire generations that lack some basic skills
including cooking and gardening -- and while older folks have experience, they
may lack physical energy to complete the tasks. Here teamwork is essential.
The art of gardening
seems fairly manageable even to those with slight infirmities. However, turning
over the soil along with actual planting may take extra effort, and with proper
instruction novice gardeners can excel. The waning physical stamina of elders
is an open invitation to seek cooperative work from more energetic and younger
budding gardeners, though someone else may have to be the networking person for
such intergenerational programs. Seniors have a store of knowledge and pleasant
experiences that deserve to be passed to the inexperienced. All can benefit.
does not have to be a summer activity alone; some of the summer herbs and
vegetables can be potted for indoor storage and use by either party in winter.
Potted plants can be cared for even by those with unsure knees, arthritic hands,
and aching backs and they have other benefits: the potted plant gives a sense of
color, purifies the air, often furnishes a good scent, can be edible when an
herb, and affords the opportunity to have something to do in winter.
Older folks can
garden in or out of a greenhouse with an adjustable growing table or with
permanent super-raised beds or trellises. Some crops can be easily tended by
people with disabilities or those who are more confined, e.g., a variety of
greens, strawberries, certain vines and root crops. On the other hand, corn,
squash, watermelons, pumpkins, okra or pole beans may be impossible for the
physically impaired to reach and harvest because of the plants' height or
extensive space considerations. Again, the experienced and the able-bodied work
together. Successful gardening is a sophisticated process and requires planning
and proper seed variety selection. The gardener/artist knows that design is
necessary to execute a mind's eye vision onto stone or canvas or a longer
blooming landscape. The garden becomes our canvas and, through pictures taken
at a definite location for each growing month, gardeners show their artistic
progress to others along with their gardening experience.
Lord teach us to work together, to transfer the wisdom of the senior to the
younger, and do so as a blessing.
Plants of a central Kentucky old field.
August 10, 2004
Spiritual Versus Material Security
Lord, tell me to
come to you across the water. (Matthew 14:28)
We know the
consequences of a Perfect Storm, one where all the conditions combine to
make a massive natural disaster. At the shoreline at Gloucester, Massachusetts
is a monument to all the fishermen who lost their lives at sea. Much like the
apostles the Gloucester folks know something about storms at sea.
We Americans can be
tempted to seek extraordinary security at the expense of other demands in life.
One would expect that the materially endowed would find this less a problem, but
the paradox is that often the greater the material possessions, the less the
security -- for their things can be more easily stolen and need more protective
maintenance. Young people in affluent homes have difficulty sharing, and so do
the old and the middle aged now involved in rat races to seize prestige or
positions. Senior citizens are not immune, for they can grip tightly to that
with which they know unconsciously they will soon have to part company.
accompanies affluence and is a warning sign that something is lacking in life.
To possess much means to hold on to much and to hold on tightly; this creates an
insensitivity to everything that is not being gripped. Of course, the less well
off are not free of insecurities but often know how to cope with them better.
However, some clutching to hard earned possessions and overlooking the need to
share with the less fortunate through a creeping insensitivity can infiltrate
all ranks of people, economic groups, cultural bodies and even churches. What
may be taken away demands an absolute protection plan. Is the insurance
beyond the individual. Homes are often racked by dissention and back-biting and
need the healing calm of Christ's presence to bring peace. Communities must
pull together and support those who need special care and attention. The Church
must reform and pray. Our nation requires the security that does not come with
greater military buildup, but with radical sharing of resources with those who
are destitute. Does one billion dollars in weapons give the security that could
be obtained by assisting the global poor? Should we rethink our domestic policy
of national security? An earthquake can occur or a meteor strike us -- though
highly unlikely; in some cases ultimate security cannot be obtained and
ultimately it is in God we trust. We can only prepare so much for natural
disasters, possible accidents or terrorist attacks. However we know that
over-dwelling on possibilities is not healthy. Through sharing we are fortified
for whatever comes our way, and maybe that will make us more sensitive to the
needs of others.
Lord draw our attention to our national motto "In God we trust." Help us pause
a moment and make a deeper reflection both individually and collectively, for in
God and only God do we find our true security.
Thorns on honey
locust tree (Gleditsia triacanthos)
August 11, 2008
Plan an Autumn Garden
Why choose early
August for a fall garden when autumn is over a month away? There are several
reasons: autumn success depends on early planning and work; much more depends
on the hot and often drier weather of late summer and fall; and the types of
selections are based both on experience and on the normal climate. When I first
considered this theme two decades ago, I listed lettuce for autumn, but over
time too many hot and dry late Kentucky summers persuaded me to leave this
spring delicacy off the list. However, even here, where shade reduces late
summer temperatures, endive is a good replacement as it seems to be in Alsace
and other places.
in planning for fall crops is that autumn vegetables compete for space with
winter cover crops. One answer is to be attentive to what is grown. I used to
follow a practice learned in my early days on the farm of broadcasting
(scattering seed) turnips, kale and mustard over a given area. The crops turned
out well in many growing seasons. However, in dry times autumn row cropping
takes far less water to irrigate, especially if one is constrained by little
space and less water.
Autumns will turn to
winter sooner than we think, but we prepare for this inevitability by extending
the growing season using proper protection. Cold frames are coverings of
cotton, Reemay or other plastic gauze, which can be stretched loosely to
allow air flow and rain penetration and yet reduce the loss of heat from the sun
during cooler nights. Most fall crops thrive by simply being covered on frosty
nights or embedded with leaves or straw to protect them. Through these simple
covers such crops as spring-planted garlic, beets, carrots and onions
can last through much of the winter. Some autumn crops, such as Swiss chard,
collards, and broccoli (if started early or has survived the
summer heat and bugs), do not need protection from early frosts. The chard can
be transplanted to the greenhouse together with younger tommy toes, parsley,
and celery. Many other summer grown crops do not thrive in greenhouses
because of transfer shock.
Besides all the
vegetables just mentioned except tomatoes (which have set blooms at or below 40
Fahrenheit), other candidates for fall crops include: turnips, daikon
radishes, spinach, Chinese cabbage, endive, kale, mustard, pak choi,
and several other types of greens. You can border autumn crops with extra straw
or other mulch materials. With careful planting, the space between rows can be
sowed with hairy vetch or allowed to remain in clover as a winter mulch and
source of nitrogen. Leave winter yielding crops such a horseradish, salsify,
parsnips, and Jerusalem artichokes undisturbed for winter harvesting. Vacant
hot weather crop areas can be sowed with vetch along with other cover crops such
as Austrian winterpeas or some types of winter grains.
Lord, let us see the autumn of the year or of life as an added opportunity to do
good for others.
The Chaplin River, Washington Co., KY
August 12, 2008
Global and Local Villages
When I think of an
ideal village I think of Dumbach in Alsace, France, where my paternal
grandparents were born -- a quaint village with little to speak about and yet a
real part of the "old world." A gun emplacement of the old Maginot Line sits ten
feet from the Fritsch ancestral grave. However, a village is home if ever so
humble. Let us go beyond our local home of familiar scenes and consider that a
village may be considered in broader terms and even global ones. The former
involves the self-sustainability of the primitive culture with its gardens and
pens, its artisan and craft shops and its meeting places and churches. The
global one requires much more imagination.
comes a sense of our neighborhood extended and enveloping many people of
different races, languages and cultures, some affluent and some in destitution.
Communications through cell phones, television and Internet make us one;
transportation by auto or plane makes distance seem compressed; we are becoming
interdependent in many ways and through increased responsibility are becoming
our brothers' and sisters' keepers. Unfortunately a global village also gives
opportunities to the financial and manufacturing interests, and these take
advantage of the reduction of barriers that had separated us in the past.
arise for imitation. Residents in about two thousand localities around the
world have found that they can trade in interest-free Local Autonomous Money
Systems or LAMS. These communities accumulate what they need to live, work,
retire, and thrive in a local credit system. This approach works successfully
at select sites in the world -- each with its own money system. For instance,
it is used in Guernsey, an autonomous British protectorate in the Channel
Islands. By using vouchers, residents boast zero debt, inflation, and
unemployment, and lower prices and taxes with a higher standard of living than
in England. Granted, it may work with certain local exchanges or small tasks,
but what about necessary monetary outlays for non-locally produced materials or
services, e.g., auto purchases or specialized hospitalization?
questions arise when discussing globalization. Is the move to globalization
inevitable, or is the small community or homestead approach to satisfying basic
needs (food, fuel, water and building materials) a more sustainable economy?
Should we permit cheap labor markets and lax environmental laws to produce
specialty products at lower prices? Can globalized, locally sustainable and
non-monetary systems co-exist and thrive to a certain degree? Do local systems
that produce basic food, fuel, water and other bulk goods thrive while we
promote globalized regulation of our commons of air, water, space and wildlife?
Lord teach us to work out some of the answers to basic questions related to
globalization so that all on this planet might benefit in being both
interdependent and self-sustaining.
Study materials for wildflower photography
August 13, 2008
Some people are so
conditioned by the glamour of formal education that they think one can only
learn when in a classroom before a lecturer and taking notes -- a Middle Age
academic practice resulting from a shortage of books and learning materials.
Those who have not had or cannot afford certain advanced formal education feel
deprived. They say to me, "You can talk, with your formal education spanning
from World War II to the Vietnam War." True, but the environmental aspects of
my ministry were self-taught, since such programs are of more recent origin.
Formal education has a rightful purpose of teaching critical thinking and
discipline. However, much can be self-taught if accompanied by proper
motivation, quality time and social interaction.
Degrees from certain
places are overemphasized. We should not forget about the existing amount of
readily available superior educational aids at relatively low prices. Would the
world be better off to invest in work experience and learning on one's free
time? Are they not better than attendance at special schools for lengths of
time? Doesn't learning take natural intelligence, hard work, enthusiasm, a
critical and questioning outlook on what is heard and seen, and a willingness to
experiment on one's own? Doesn't becoming self-taught save money?
Are academic critics
correct in saying that considerable education is glorified baby sitting, and
that degree-collectors are people too slow to take hold of the world and work?
Perhaps there is more to education, even the expensive variety, than these
critics admit. But there are also inexpensive alternatives such as "colleges
without walls," internships with public interest groups, elderhostels, Internet
courses, or "The Great Courses" of The Teaching Company. Yes, a
do-it-yourselfer can learn much and often in a less stress-ridden manner.
Ambitious people including famous lawyers such as Robert H. Jackson, presidents
like Abraham Lincoln, and businessmen such as Bill Gates, were partly or
completely self-taught. Generally, the liberal arts are easier to master on
one's own than courses requiring laboratory exercises.
person acquires an internal self-worth and often projects this when in public.
Today private college tuition often exceeds $40,000 per year, plus the loss of
work experience during that time. People with ordinary jobs could still spend
twenty hours a week studying and acquire the equivalent of a degree in one
decade and meanwhile have saved or earned $300,000. This self-taught person is
not saddled with college debt, and if diligent, can still achieve a livelihood.
Granted current economics undoubtedly favors the formally educated person who
starts high, overcomes indebtedness and reaches a higher salary. However, the
self-taught may enjoy life, experience less stress and even save for a
comfortable old age. Which is better?.
teach us to always be open to learn and to do so with the resources at hand at a
given time and place.
Bluegrass "rock fence". Shakertown (Mercer Co.),
August 14, 2008
Ark of the Covenant
This day before
Mary's Assumption, the liturgy of which contains rich symbolism pertaining to
Mary's title of "Ark of the Covenant." In English, we use "ark" for two Hebrew
words: first, Teba or Noah's ark (box, chest), and second, Aron, a
coffin which measures 45 by 27 by 27 inches, made of acacia wood and later
inlaid with gold, and containing the ten commandments, Aaron's rod and a golden
urn of manna. The Israelite community knows that God is truly present with the
people here. The ark moves with them in the desert, it stands in the middle
when the Jordan River parts, it goes into battle, it is placed by David in a
tent or Tabernacle-- and later in Solomon's Temple in the Holy of Holies, and it
is lost when the nation goes into exile 587-586. Some say Jeremiah rescues the
covenant and hides it on Mount Nebo.
Mary is the Ark of
the New Covenant -- a connection with the coming of the Messiah who dwells
within it. In Mary's womb is Jesus, the Messiah. The Gospel says, it is not
the body parts that are important but rather the one who hears the word of God
and keeps it. This is St. Luke's Gospel, the Gospel of Mary, who says all
generations call her blessed. She is humble because God, not she herself or
other human beings, has done great things for her.
Fiat, "let it
be done to me," is powerful. Mary is the prime person of affirmation, one who
hears the word of God and keeps it. It is a personal decision, a moment that
counters the denials of previous generations starting with our first parents.
Hearing and keeping God's words are the opposite of the words of Eve, who wanted
to be like God through an act of disobedience, and who declared a sort of
independence from God's will. Mary counters in trust and union with the Divine
Eve's distrust and separation.
We must not put Mary
on a pedestal as a distant object of our devotion. Rather let us look upon her
in the atmosphere of trust, confidence, faith and celebration that the Israelite
community places in the Lord through and in the symbol of the ark; their joy
and celebration are of immense dimensions. No one but those of a particular
sacred office are even to touch the ark. Her holy presence is awesome and shows
us the need for reverence -- in the presence of Jesus and during the solemn
celebration of Divine Liturgy. We need a return to reverence, which is so
lacking in our modern world -- for without it we could fail to see what God is
doing for us and through us. We couple traditional reverence with the joy of
tomorrow's celebration. We revere Mary's gifts and role, her assent, her life
and model, and we see her as going ahead of us in a happy death, which has no
sting for the faithful. Her Son has overcome death in the victory of the
resurrection. She enters into his victory in a very special way and is the
first among the blessed.
Lord may this woman clothed with the sun bring Jesus to a waiting world.
Mary in the wild garden
August 15, 2008
Mary: Gentle Woman
stereotypical notions about male/female strength and weakness. Mary does this
better than most. She is strong in affirmation -- a "yes" heard down through
the centuries. When the male disciples fled for the most part, Mary stood
beneath the cross; she is the sinless one; she is ahead of us on the eternal
journey; she is the first of the fallen asleep who is to share in the fruits of
the resurrection of her son; she offers us many opportunities to celebrate on
her feast days. We discover a young maiden who hears the magnificent words of
the annunciation and wants them to sink into her heart; however, she
simultaneously learns that her cousin is with child, and she does not hesitate
to journey to be with her; she does not remain in a rapture in the soft light
of stained glass windows as some painters portray; rather she is riding a
donkey on a dusty road, alone with the God-within. She is first a caregiver who
is also contemplating.
Truly Mary is
blessed, and her humility is in knowing that God has given her great
privileges. We too are blessed people, and must recognize, not our nothingness,
but our somethingness, and that we are truly blessed with gifts we did not earn
by our own efforts. Mary helps us on this road for she gives the first glimmer
that salvation is very near, and so she becomes a gentle herald of this event,
being present at Christmas, Calvary, Resurrection and Pentecost. Mary is here
on major occasions. Mary is at our side even in our passing event -- the hour
Mary's gifts have a
transparency that adds to accessibility, familiarity, and encouragement to us
all. She is a prism through which her gifts radiate out to all. Her joy is
contagious; her pain of being one with Christ strikes her in the heart; a
great mystery unfolds in which she has a central role by God's special favor.
While all is special, it is not exclusive; the blessings to Mary are those she
desires to share with us. We too can be humbled in knowing God gives us favors
as well; we can be enthusiastic in our mission, for God is with us as well. We
too can be God bearers to others by bringing Christ, the ultimate gift, to
others. Mary does not stand apart from us but goes ahead of us in the
Assumption, first in the fruits of the Resurrection.
Mary gives a woman's
touch to the story of redemption, a compassion and a gentleness that we need in
any healing operation. As mother of us all, she gives us a deeper understanding
of the healing needed all around us. She encourages women to make unique
contributions in healing our wounded Earth. Empirically we know that women have
a unique role in healing, an intuitive grasp that incorporates compassion and
personal concern. Is there something inherently womanly, without which the
final task of saving our Earth cannot be achieved? The key may be found in
Mary, please go on ahead of us but not too far ahead, for we need your gentle
touch in our lives. So stay close, for through your intercession we can heal
our wounded Earth.
Wild grapes, excellent food plant for wildlife
August 16, 2008
Global Population: Explosion?
The twentieth century
witnessed a vast increase in human population on this planet, from about one to
over six billion people. This gigantic increase has been due both to plummeting
death rates (in great measure from reductions in infant mortality) and to
continued high birth rates. Over the century birth rates and, more so death
rates, have declined. That pattern has been somewhat altered by the AIDS
epidemic when over thirty million deaths changed the situation in a number of
African and other nations; more recently declines in birth rates in much of
Europe and Japan are also affecting the growth rate equation. Our own country
has moderate to low birth rates but high immigration rates.
environmentalists have expressed fears that this recent population increase
would continue unabated and result in "no standing room" on the planet. The
Deep Ecology platform says that a (qualitative) flourishing of human population
is compatible with a substantial (quantitative) decrease in the human
population. For these people, the Earth's carrying capacity is nearing
its limit. Their pessimism is based on selective indicators of continued
decline in death rates and slower declines in birth rates, especially in the
so-called developing world.
are projected in 45 nations from 2007 to 2050 (2007 PRB World Population Data
Sheet). The highest decline will be in Bulgaria with a 35% decline. Some
28 European nations are to decline, as a combination of aging population and
lower births is occurring. Russia is to decline by 23% and currently has 14
deaths and 8 births per thousand people. One population indicator shows that
death rates in parts of Africa and elsewhere are rising rapidly due to the AIDS
epidemic, which has resulted in HIV infection of almost 60 million people and a
heavy toll in sub-Saharan Africa due to lack of proper treatment; victims are
dying at a rate of about ten thousand persons per day. Botswana, where high
birth rates a few years ago led to predictions of doubling of the population in
about two or three decades, now with 36% adult HIV infection rate, and is
expecting population declines in the next two or so decades. Zimbabwe, which
was projected to double in population in 69 years, is now expecting a decline of
people from 11.343 million in mid-2000 to 9.481 million in 2025; South Africa
will decline from 43.421 million to 35.109 million.
Will there be other
dramatic population trends in the coming years? China's one-child policy has
certainly decreased population. Many so-called developing countries are in slow
decline in birth rates as social and economic stability improves -- the surest
way to meet reasonable population growth. Maybe we hear less because
over-population prophets seek to de-emphasize increasing consumption rates by
richer people (a real environmental degradation indicator).
Lord teach us to be reasonable and ethical in all things, even our population
growth and stabilization.
Fresh pie, made from locally-gathered wild berries
2008 Humility and Faith
Woman, you have
great faith! Your wish will come to pass.
We have all
experienced moments when we thought all was going well and we would win the
great prize -- and then it slipped out of our hands to someone who was
completely ignored and overlooked. Where did that fellow come from? The same
applies when triumph seems so near at hand for our community, school or nation,
and then a setback suddenly occurs and puts us down, deep down in spirit. Why?
Could the good Lord be affording us an opportunity by gently teaching us through
this defeat or humiliation? Maybe this is a teaching moment like the one that
Jesus affords the Canaanite woman calling for pity. We recall that we are from
and to dust, for humility is derived from humus or soil. God gives us, even our
time to achieve -- and our efforts follow from this gift. Our time is from God
and for the Lord. Teach us to count how few days we have and so gain wisdom
of heart (Psalm 90: 12).
As we perceive the
shortness of our time we find that our own dreams and great expectations somehow
miss the mark. We are not able to be or to do what we thought was so easy to be
or to do in the time we have. We are unable to fulfill glorious dreams, whether
a good job or a lofty position or heaven knows what. The dreams are so much
easier than reality itself. The more and broader the unrealistic dreams, the
greater the plummet when they fail to mature. On the other hand, accepting who
we are is humbling. "We've done the best; what more can be done?"
Humble people have a
power beyond themselves, for they tell a story in just being who they are.
Humble people are approachable; they seem satisfied and thankful for what they
have; they hesitate to ask for more for that would be an unearned gift. For
instance, a humble attempt to have a productive garden will give the fruit of
the labor for all to see in good times and in drought and storm. Garden work is
hot, tedious, demanding, and yet rewarding and truly a form of recreation.
While stressful at times, still in knowing we have done our best, it is a work
of human hands and a beauty in its own right. When we realize our own domestic
or professional life's work is the product of honest means we can say we tried.
We are like an old dog, always faithful, always caring.
Humility has a way
of providing the foundation for a spirituality that allows us to know ourselves
for who we are -- and that gives a certain energy to others to do the same.
Through humility there arises an emerging integrity permitting us to accept our
current condition in life and to speak, through satisfied living, to the
goodness of the Provider of all gifts. Humility strengthens our psychological
health and peace of soul; we thank God for helping us take comfort in knowing
who we are.
God, our protector, keep us in mind; always give strength to your people. For
if we can be with you even one day, it is better than a thousand without you.
Reflections on a blue late-summer sky
August 18, 2008
Conflict Resolution and Ecological Concerns
As I get older, I do
not relish conflicts as I did in my more pugnacious youth. In fact, I wish that
every conflict with oppressive polluters would cease on this Earth -- but that
wish does not make them go away. Resolving conflicts is always a good thing,
especially when all conflicting parties are present and willing to cooperate as
equal or near-equal partners (brothers, wife and husband, employer and
employee). In discussing environmental threats, some emphasize the primacy of
removing conflict through compromise, but is this really the proper procedure?
An effort to tone down or silence debate over ecological threats does not
involve the partners (Earth and inhabitants) but rather the threat and a
spokesperson for the one threatened, namely, Earth. Not all actual parties are
represented and maybe not properly.
fabricated non-struggle among so-called opposing parties may be a license for
business-as-usual and a way to reduce the effectiveness of environmental
advocacy. Advocates may say they represent the Earth, but forget that no one
can be a perfect Earth spokesperson. In fact, the victim is the voiceless
peaceful planet, which does not shout or scream with each tear in its fabric.
The Earth is a sufferer and may react, but its reaction time is generally so
slow that the exploiter has time to do damage and get away without paying, long
before the actual damage is verified. At times a spirited argument is most
necessary to emphasize the seriousness of the damage done to the Earth. When
advocates choose to be or remain silent, there is actually no conflict
resolution, only a false tranquility while injustice continues. Advocacy is
compromised in the name of being nice and chummy to various parties. This works
to the advantage of the exploiting party and to the detriment of effective
radically different method exists, which emphasizes that conflict already exists
between those who assault the environment and the victim, and it is necessary to
expose the actual conflict before resolving so-called differences. Lessening
the heat of the discussion does not actually remove the problem, but only
diverts attention from the activities of the culprit. The prophet must convince
outside onlookers that advocacy does not mean that the prophet is truly a
spokesperson for silent Earth, only an imperfect supporter or champion. This
person has no authority to speak for the Earth, though he or she speaks openly,
forcefully, and in a spirited manner.
parties may strike agreements to cease and desist in practices that affect the
Earth, and to make restitution for damages done. Advocates for the Earth may
regard the agreement as resolutions of conflicts. Really? Or do all think they
have gained some victory? What if it is not the best resolution but only
short-term solutions -- and Earth continues to suffer?
Lord, help us to confront the conflicts we face.
"Keep Out" sign on old treehouse
August 19, 2008
Common Lands and Private Property Rights
tradition of land ownership has a long and varied history. Much of our English
law tradition is based on perceiving land as something we have an absolute right
to, once we possess the legal title. Other cultures and even much of the Native
American understanding differ somewhat. For them, more is held in common and
less is held in an individual possessive manner. Some experts like Eugene
Hargrove trace the American land attitudes to our Saxon heritage and further
back to the ancient Teutonic origins of land use. Unfortunately we cling tightly
to such concepts of land ownership that omit the commons possessed by all.
Most traditions hold
that some parts of the environment are held as commons, e.g., air, oceans,
space, fragile zones, air waves, and Antarctica. Other traditions are still
more expansive and accept common grazing land, mountains, forests, lakes,
seashores and on and on. This common heritage of humankind can easily be
coopted by those who discover that through some legal mechanism, a proprietary
"right" to the property or a license to perform certain acts of ownership may be
allowed with a physical force to back up the "theft." Since our government was
influenced by money interests from very early times, an individualized
definition of "property" found an opportunity to lay claim to more of the
commons. This approach had an historic precedent in the seventeenth century
when common grazing lands in England were enclosed and taken over by influential
persons and groups. In recent years the movement to codify a "Law of the Seas"
ran into major American opposition because some saw this as an appeal to a
higher authority than a government that allows some to exploit sea resources.
It is a small step
from absolute property attitudes, to enclosure of the commons, and then to use
of land for polluting activities. If we own it, we need not get permission from
anyone; we make the decisions on how the land is to be used, and what
constitutes "development." With this progression, one can see where the "right"
to exploit and even damage one's owned or leased property arises. Should not
the commons be expanded not contracted at the whim of the privileged few?
Shouldn't it include forests, surface mining resources, greenspace, wetlands and
ultra-conservative group seeks to superimpose property rights over the rights of
government to regulate land use in some fragile environmental areas. This group
argues that they as "owners" ought to be repaid for lost opportunities to profit
from the development of their environmentally fragile land. For instance, a
requirement not to build on fragile seacoast in the south Atlantic states means
that potential resort area property values are depressed. Takings (lost
economic value) due to governmental environmental restrictions could become
financial opportunities if developers win law suits for losses.
Lord, teach us to share in common what You give us.
A young praying mantis, a gardener's helper
August 20, 2008
Domestic Indoor Environment
The home is America's
most unregulated place, the space where many especially the very young and the
elderly spend the most time, and sometimes with masked harmful atmospheres and
with levels of toxic substances and smoke exceeding those allowed in a public
work place. The free flow of air in drafty older homes is not the case in more
modern ones with insulated space to reduce loss of heated or cooled air.
Addressing the indoor domestic environment becomes one of the emerging
challenges for advocates of clean environment. In addition to the contamination
of modern closed indoor space, one must include the population's growing
Our home is our
castle, a sacrosanct space that others may enter and regulate only with
permission or warrant. We do not want to be subject to the invasion of this
space by energy monitors, as has happened in certain European countries with
"energy police" entering to check thermostats. But is domestic space beyond the
pale of inspection, if all our citizens need to be properly protected? Should
regulatory agencies (e.g., Consumer Product Safety Commission) determine what is
permissible or intolerable for domestic environments? Today we have more
domestic chemicals than an average 1850s laboratory. Consider the following
obvious and more hidden causes of indoor air pollution: arts and hobbies using
paint solvents or firing unvented pottery kilns; cleaners of a large number of
types and varieties, and all with pungent scents to mask the chemical odors;
kerosene heaters in winter or grills with fumes entering the house; oven
cleaners; radioactive materials in soils that infiltrate homes; pesticides and
automotive products left in store rooms the fumes filtering into the house;
building materials -- glues, caulks, and solvents and asbestos in older homes;
and laundry soaps and cleaners with their scents.
Of all the domestic
problems, the most preventable and controllable ought to be smoking -- but that
is not always the case. One-fifth of American adults still smoke and many do so
at home. Many spouses and children suffer from secondary smoking affects and
may have asthma or other breathing problems. The smoking adult often denies
that his or her habit is harmful to others. And it is more than tobacco smoke.
Wood smoke-related problems arise in developing countries that use wood fires
for cooking in poorly vented kitchens, a common practice that could be
eliminated by the use of solar cookers and ovens.
occasionally needs a housecleaning, but few realize that part of the cleaning
process is making the home free of air pollutants. Merely scenting the place
with deodorizers exacerbates the problems, for it only anesthetizes the nose and
keeps us from knowing what is really going on. Let's discover the offending
materials and remove them; then let's resolve and work to always keep the air
Lord, protect our home and make us aware that we must do the same for our own
sakes and those of others who live here.
Passionflower, Passiflora incarnata
August 21, 2008
Toxic Chemicals: A Social Justice Advocacy Issue
Toxic chemicals have
been known since the advent of poisons, though many like hemlock are natural
products; some are inaccessible to most people; and some require sophisticated
extractive procedures. Dupont's slogan stated, "Better things for better living
through chemistry." However, the industrial chemical record is not perfect, for
toxic substances can be used well, overused or misused, and the results can be
vast improvements in health, or deterioration over a long period of slow
poisoning. Modern chemical production sites can offer promises of jobs and
perils of pollution. Take Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, which hosts fifty-three
chemical plants, some of which emit into the water and air the toxic dioxin (a
by-product in chemical production).
We see the value of
petrochemical production, and resulting life-saving substances. However,
workers, local inhabitants and consumers can bear yet undiscovered costs.
Consumer "demand" means consumer preferences that require certain raw and
processed materials, and that includes many toxic chemicals in high volume.
Workers see jobs first and never regard toxic substance dangers until it's too
late. Occupational hazards have existed from the advent of the chemical
industry and many cases of lung and liver cancer and other maladies have either
been identified or are part of the anecdotal picture, which awaits the difficult
verification through scientific investigation. The very poor and especially
minorities have been forced to live near chemical plants such as in the
Mississippi Delta and other heavily industrialized parts. The same applies in
so-called developing lands to which runaway industries have fled to escape lands
with tighter chemical pollution rules. Remember Bhopal in India!
considers all aspects of a balanced life. A consumer inadvertently buys a
product, which does a good job in killing a pest or cleaning a sink, but it may
harm the user if precautions are not taken. However, many do not take the
precautions on labels. Thus consumers and laborers become guinea pigs, and
injuries and deaths result. As increasing numbers of chemicals assault our
lives, the general population is becoming more chemically sensitive in ways
never before imagined. Do we believe sufferers, especially the very young, when
they complain, while others in the same household show no ill effects?
Certainly "right-to-know" legislation has helped residents and workers to
discover the toxic effects of chemicals from a nearby chemical plant or dump.
All environmental protection and occupational health agencies have reduced the
blatant abuses of an earlier industrial era. Like smoking chimneys, which were
sure signs of employment, an operating chemical plant is welcome to otherwise
unemployed workers. Health costs and shortened lives are not immediate
considerations. But they ought to be!
Lord, help us to understand the potent materials we use and to learn to treat
them with great respect that includes keeping them out of the general
Flexible solar cells to power lighting for home
August 22, 2008
cells" have been known for decades to generate electricity directly when exposed
to sunlight. These solar systems can light homes, roads and paths, power
appliances, charge solar electric cars, operate traffic signals (especially in
remote places), pump water, and run ventilation fans. The first generation of
solar units was a single-crystal silicon variety.
We observe those
beautiful arrays of shiny multi-colored (in sunlight) silicon cells on roofs of
homes and commercial buildings. These allow a solar electricity source without
the need for coal-fueled powerplants and all the accompanying pollution and land
disturbance. The energy can be generated where it is immediately used, or the
surplus transferred to an existing electric grid, or it can be stored in
batteries for night time.
A second generation
of photovoltaics uses chemical coatings, which cost less and are more
versatile. Researchers have developed coatings on roofing materials, which can
be applied directly on new construction or retrofitted on existing buildings,
and which require no additional frames like those used for holding solar
arrays. The research is being conducted right now and results are just
beginning to reach the commercial stages where wonders are being realized.
However, solar energy systems have suffered from lack of consistent tax
incentives and clear governmental policies even with such salutary efforts as
the US Department of Energy's Million Solar Roof Program. That program
recognized a mix of solar sources not just power companies.
When the summer sun
shines down the air conditioners work overtime. This often means that the
fossil-fueled powerplants are working at peak capacity, and at this precise time
solar energy will be most able to make its maximum contribution to the utility
mix of fuel sources. On the hottest days, solar-powered photovoltaics will
generating extra energy to feed back into the system, and thus will reduce the
need for electricity generated by powerplants. This is the reasoning behind
integrated utility systems with "net metering" that use decentralized solar
systems. Your solar home system will not only have enough energy for local
demands, but will run your meter in reverse when producing a surplus. Utilities
prefer to buy electricity at wholesale rather than retail rates in order to meet
grid maintenance costs.
While solar energy
is ready, it is not complete in itself. Cloudy days make auxiliary energy
sources necessary. Solar devices do not work well in a wasteful society for
they demand energy conservation measures. It takes resources to bring solar
energy on line, and it takes care to maintain the solar systems. As Ken Bossong,
the founder of "Sun Day," says: "A transition to a solar society will not be
much of an achievement, if it is not guided by a clearly articulated set of
principles and values." We agree.
Lord, help us to value the sunlight all around us and to use it to the benefit
A lovely summer daylily
August 23, 2008
The Decentralist Dilemma
Think and act
locally so that we can think and act globally.
My mother's maiden
name was Schumacher but that is a common German name; whether we are distantly
related to E.F. Schumacher the author of Small is Beautiful (also from
the Rhineland) is still undetermined. However, EFS's philosophy resonates with
me and enters into many of my works. For me, the world would be better if we
de-emphasized some of the high-technology fixes and concentrated more on simple
techniques, which are decentralized, lower cost, easier to maintain and
conducive to community formation. No one, in our way of conceiving the world,
should overlook the importance of simple, grassroots methods and the simple way
of doing things. However, to think only small is not enough in our complex
decentralist would argue that all environmental problems can be solved at the
local level. Some question author Kirkridge Sales for seemingly defending such
an approach, but he refutes the accusation. Any radical decentralist position
needs further clarification. I prefer to take a more middling position between
those who champion the utter superiority of the local, and those who think all
good things come from on top and filter down to the lowly peons through
regulations. Maybe we need various levels of operation that work in harmony
with each other.
Numerous groups take
a wider view of environmental problems, for the globe's oceans can easily be
exploited and polluted, the fragile commons (especially Antarctica) is being
overrun, and outer space is being polluted with junk. How do we regulate the
distant places, the unoccupied zones, the areas beyond the attention of even a
hard-pressed national state? Decentralists may not have answers for these
questions because they become so distracted by their local problems that they
fail to see the broader picture. Thank heavens for global groups, for social
justice and human rights folks, for popes and world religious leaders, for
opponents of land mines and nuclear proliferation, for Greenpeace and Children's
Relief and Doctors without Borders, and for the United Nations. Yes, it is good
that those who think and act globally or locally can work together for a better
Air and water are
more mobile and thus deserving of broader-ranging areas of regulation and
regulatory agencies. The European Union is worried about forest death due to
air pollutants; many nations are concerned about acid rain and global warming
caused by the heavy energy consuming nations. The world's potable water is now
becoming scarce and polluted. Do rigid decentralist solutions address global
pollution problems? Don't we need global agencies to regulate the purity and
equitable distribution of water? See Reclaiming the Commons: What Believers
Can Do on this website.
Lord, teach us to discern the needs of all and be willing to work both at the
local and the global levels for their solution.
Home workshop, lighting powered by flexible solar panels
August 24, 2008
Keys to the Kingdom and Responsibility
Peter is the rock
but what does this mean? Like a promontory this rock is visible and seen from a
distance; it stands through the storms; it is precious in that it gives
orientation and direction to the traveler; it is of service to the wandering
soul. Peter stands in this stormy world and are not some and all of us like
Peter in various ways? In the light of this passage in Matthew's Gospel we
struggle to understand the way to be of service to all others. Today's rock
must be approachable, familiar, awesome but respectful, and open to what the
Spirit directs. Who the rock is today depends on one's viewpoint:
1. Visibility to
the People of God -- To the broader world, the rock has a certain
building-stone quality as part of the conscience of our community of nations.
Our Pope speaks for some but in a broad way he speaks for all people in our
basic unity as human brothers and sisters. When one person is in dire need of
the essentials of life, we must call out for helping hands, no matter what the
religious belief of the destitute person is.
2. Tranquility to
the People of the Book -- Here the Pope must speak in a more particular
manner, for God is God to all, and Abraham is our joint father in the faith. To
bring together warring factions so that all can live at peace in the Holy Land
and enjoy the fruits of pilgrimage to holy sites is a common yearning in our
hearts -- whether we wear different clothes or speak in Hebrew, Arabic or a
3. Integrity to
the People of the Word -- All Christians need to have a common voice in
speaking for the voiceless in prisons or under persecution in various lands.
With a platform on the world stage, our Pope speaks for those who are hindered
or whose voices are muffled -- for all Christians share a common bond of Baptism
in the Lord and need to speak with one voice.
4. Clarity to the
People of the Creed -- Many Christians profess the common creed from the
time of the Apostles and the Council of Nicea in 325. What we envision of a
spokesperson is one of service like Christ in the Trinitarian image of spreading
the creating, redeeming and inspiring news to an anxious world. Here the unity
of ecumenism becomes paramount and every effort must be made to bring about this
deepening unity in Faith, and the Pope has a special role to play by leading the
5. Joy to the
People of the Liturgy -- Faith involves believing that Jesus is truly
present with us in our celebration, and that some effort must be made in order
that all who celebrate will be of one accord. Bringing about this accord is
the work of the Pope within the Catholic communion. And he is bishop to the
people of Rome with all that this entails.
Lord teach us to recognize that you gave keys and not a single key. Give us the
means to grow in faith together.
Northern Mockingbird or Mimus polyglottos
by Trisha Shears -
August 25, 2008
Our wildlife feature
of the month, the mockingbird, gives me pure elation upon hearing it. The
Northern Mockingbird or Mimus polyglottos is quite plentiful in our
Appalachian region. However, these are the last weeks before this energetic and
vocal bird takes a well-earned vacation for a number of weeks in late summer.
What a joy this year to go outside, especially early in the morning, and hear
and then observe it perched in the higher reaches of the nearby sycamore tree,
the maple on the other side of the house, or on the utility pole up near the
transformer box. The mockingbird serenades the country side with enthusiasm and
fills us early risers with utter joy.
In former years, I
would finish my jogging early at about sunrise, get my breath, and then to the
best of my ability attempt to insert a bob white call into the mockingbird's
repertoire of bird sounds. Occasionally after numerous other calls the
mockingbird would mock me, and that always "made my day." This bird is the best
mocker in North America, knows it, and even takes an encore after a performance
by turning what looks like a somersault -- and then going back to mocking. The
mocking calls are really not systematically repetitive but more at will.
Birders tell us that male birds may have repertoires of one hundred or more
calls -- good luck in the counting process! So much for this bird's agility and
creativity, though it is known to imitate certain birds better than others.
"northern," our mockingbird is only northern in relation to the Latin American
lands of this hemisphere. In fact, we in the United States regard this as a
southern bird. It is found most often in the U.S. Southeast and the border
regions of Mexico, but the summer range extends up the Mid-Atlantic coast and
even reaches to the coast of southern Maine. We are truly blessed by this not
so colorful but brightly sounding specimen of wildlife.
I observe the way
our local mockingbird goes along the lawn into my garden area with the wings
somewhat outstretched and showing the white of its underbelly -- either to put
the insect prey off guard or to mark territory. It is aggressive for I have
seen it attack pets -- and it is known to battle human beings too close to its
nest. Nothing like that has occurred to this birdwatcher, and I am glad or else
I would lose a dear friend.
The amazing thing is
that the mockingbird is my call to prayer for when I feel very disgruntled and
distracted, this bird has a way of recalling me to the more important things in
life -- God's blessings to us all. The bird seems to say, "Just stop, rest,
open your ears and hear the collective sounds of all creation as a way of
realizing that the face of God shines up through all creation."
Thank you Lord for blessing us with mockingbirds. May they always be with us.
2008 Hands-On Work Experience
Many people do not
have the experience of working with their hands, or seeing the product of their
labors reach fruition. This is the reason why trail-building, Habitat for
Humanity work or reforestation projects are such valuable experiences for
youth. Youthful volunteers have an opportunity to work with their own hands,
see the fruit of their labor, know the fruit will endure, so they can return
later in life and observe the work they performed.
Gardening, as a form
of outdoor work, can be performed by a variety of people looking for work
experience. Near Amsterdam in the Netherlands I observed an entire school class
engaged in planting seedlings in a school plot -- and they were quite
enthusiastic about what they were doing as they touched the soil with their own
hands. Some learn cooperative outdoor projects through Eagle Scouts or through
summer outdoor work. The skills gained may differ, but all have the opportunity
to contribute -- and that gives a sense of self-esteem and worth. Ideally, all
learners have their own individual work assignments and are held accountable for
seeing the project through to completion is a major lesson taught through work
experience. Gardening is always difficult for youth, who like the planting
operation but become impatient, for plants grow slowly. They must be reminded
that good results come slowly and often after a painstaking process. Some see
things through to completion better than others do. If we are measuring
something, it has to be checked and rechecked to make sure we make no mistakes;
we have to focus and give attention to what we are doing. We are judged, for
better or worse, on what we do with our time. Not everyone has the patience to
learn easily or to teach slow learners. Many gardeners are insensitive to the
way people learn, how one must start with basic tools and learn how they are
used, the need for a little experimentation where damage can be limited, and
then the progression to more complex tasks.
kids are quite insensitive to what city folks know and can do. The same holds
for urban kids who can maneuver through urban traffic, or for those who cook
meals or care for a lawn. People who seldom teach find it difficult to remember
what it was like to learn. A Chicago youth minister called, wanting to come to
our nature center and to bring youngsters to teach Appalachians how to garden.
Think about the bias! I asked whether the kids had gardening experience and the
organizer said they didn't, but could learn quickly. I assured him that so
could most Appalachians, and we could not afford to teach more than those in our
region right now. Work experience is highly undervalued. How many regard this
as proper for a resume or a college application? They ought to.
Lord teach us to see the nobility of working with our hands not only in skilled
crafts and art, but in the everyday things of life, and to regard this as
experience worth treasuring.
A deer crossing sign along a rural road
2008 Animal "Rights"
Animals have a right
to be treated with respect. A celebrated case of road rage a few years back
occurred in San Jose, California. This involved an angry driver berating a
woman in a fender bender incident; the irate aggrieved party reached into the
woman's car, grabbed her pet dog and tossed it out into the ongoing traffic.
The woman was horrified, for she said she loved the animal like a family
member. At the subsequent trial, the dog-tossing angry driver got three years
in prison during which he had ample time to gain respect for animals.
People cannot go out
and shoot stray animals, an exercise we thought merciful for the starving pups
dropped at our homestead three decades ago. Today agencies exist to handle such
strays and, if necessary, to "put these away" in supposedly humane manners.
Part of the changing climate is due to seeing animals as beings deserving
respect, which need not be shown weeds or invasive plant species. We do not
subject animals to meaningless cruelty; we respect their basic right to exist
and flourish; we resolve to protect their traditional habitat. When
proliferating to a high degree, these animals need to be controlled in humane
understanding is that rights come along with responsibilities, and that in a
strict sense non-rational creatures can't have rights because they are not
"responsible" for their individual actions. Perhaps such rights language is too
restricted, but it does have its rightful place in legal history and our
civilization. We do speak of the "right to" free speech, worship, and to basics
of life. But that last area is shared with other creatures on this planet. The
species' "right" to respect, a decent living, and fair treatment may extend to
an individual creature, at least with more complex species. The right of a pest
to exist is harder to justify and this needs some distinctions.
questions arise: how are we to treat animals that find incarceration quite
difficult? I am distressed seeing caged orangutans facing the wall because they
apparently find the zoo spectators more than they can handle; equally
disturbing is seeing a badger pacing back and forth almost crazed by
confinement. Should we capture and confine wild animals, use them for pets or
consign them to scientific research projects? Are animal parks less stressful
alternatives, and can they help preserve certain endangered species? Should
animals be killed for meat or raised for other animal products? Are the hog,
cattle and chicken corporate farms and ultimate butchering processes forms of
tolerated animal abuse? Does this give birth to a doctrinaire vegetarianism?
What about those who deliberately cause endangered plants or animals to become
extinct in order to avoid endangered species regulations? Should activists
liberate captive mink, monkeys or mice? Should they point to bent drumsticks at
fried chicken places, the mark of confinement of non-free ranging fowl?
Lord teach us to extend respect to the animal kingdom.
Tulip poplar flower and leaf, Liriodendron tulipifera
August 28, 2008
A Case for Bilingualism
The number of
Hispanic Americans in the United States has doubled since 1980 and is now over
35 million. Every part of the nation now has Spanish speaking residents. New
York has one million Puerto Ricans along with others; Florida has a heavy
concentration of Cubans; Mexicans and Central Americans are well represented in
the border states of California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico and extending
beyond to Oregon, Nevada, Colorado and eastward to Chicago and even Georgia and
North Carolina. Some note that the heavy concentration of undocumented workers
is Hispanic and that these are most often dedicated construction, service,
agricultural and factory workers. Hispanics and other minorities are becoming
the majority in many urban areas (San Antonio, San Diego, Houston, and Los
Angeles). Does this cause alarm or hope?
De facto, Spanish is
becoming the lingua franca of a large portion of the area bordering Mexico. Why
not make Spanish a "second" language, rather than frown upon its presence or
discourage its use outright? Hispanic radio and television stations abound;
signs are now found in all commercial quarters; Spanish is spoken openly on the
streets. What will the language of ascendancy at the end of this century be?
Spanish-speaking American people see their future as equal partners; maybe we
will come to regard bilingualism as a blessing.
Anglos may feel
threatened but we must realize that this is another immigrant wave -- a process
that has made our nation great. We certainly need new immigration legislation,
and hopefully this will be completed satisfactorily by the end of 2009. Many
Hispanics have been in the United States a long time and more and more want to
stay. A far more positive approach than deportation of the undocumented is
greeting newcomers with a welcome as good as our non-English speaking ancestors
received. There is more. We need to welcome second languages, because so many
Americans have never had the experience of speaking a new tongue.
A second official
language would raise Americans from our cultural isolation and allow us to
converse more easily with Latin Americans. How do we expect others to learn
English, when we English-speakers never learn another tongue? Requiring all
public and private grade schoolers to learn Spanish would have many advantages:
it would open people to new cultures; it would help us to see Hispanics as
neighbors with a different culture; it would tie the continents more closely
together; it would expand the speaking skills of youth at a time when learning a
second language comes easily; and it would allow a growing appreciation of the
wealth of the Hispanic culture.
Lord, allow us to see what is happening in our national life, to welcome change
and to see immigrants as enriching our national and individual lives.
American water-willow, Justicia americana
August 29, 2008
Speaking the Truth: A Prophetic Stance
John the Baptist
was a man of truth; he saw things clearly and he told it exactly how it was at
whatever the cost. And that cost was great for it included his own head at the
end. But for him his entire life was a preparation for the Messiah, and that
meant that the people must honestly make themselves ready for his coming. John
realized that he himself must decrease in importance in order that the one
prepared for would be better known. John's humility was part of a prophetic
stance that seems so appealing until we try to put it into action. It makes us
wonder whether we should take prophetic stances on current issues on an
individual or group level and whether these might cause us to lose readership --
heavens forbid. Here are a few stances we ought to promote:
* The world's
wealth and resources do not belong to the select few; they also belong to the
* Nuclear power
facilities must be phased out.
* If we are to have
Middle East peace Israel must stop building houses in occupied land.
* Every person on
this planet has a right to the resources needed for the essentials of life.
* We must not settle
Iranian difficulties by military action.
* Let us learn to
live simply so others can simply live.
* If the current
struggle in Iraq continues, it will bankrupt us financially and morally.
* Letting a hungry
person die without food in Africa and being insensitive to the circumstances
will condemn our people.
* To convert corn
that could have fed hungry people to biofuels is an abomination.
* Commerce in
tobacco products used by those with an addiction is immoral.
* No one who could
safely do public service work within a community should be imprisoned.
* Giving charity to
those who ought to work is not charity.
* Everyone should
have health insurance.
* Our Earth needs
to be treated as our mother.
Lord, teach us that awesome truth to pray always -- and especially that we pray
for the courage to speak the truth.
Second Life avatars attending a live taping of NPR's "Science
Friday" radio show.
here to see an article and listen to the NPR story about the use of Second
Life in education.
August 30, 2008
The Internet and Global Communications
All cultures and communities thrive on
communication, and that applies as well to our emerging global community. In
the past long distance communication was quite difficult even though some
cultures had smoke signals and the Romans a network of post roads. Not long ago
a letter travelled slowly but was highly treasured for it revealed the health,
lives and deaths of relatives and friends. Today e-mails give us instant news,
cell phones tell a spouse when one is coming home, and television gives news
from the other side of the globe in a matter of hours from its happening. Today
some regard being "unwired" like being naked. For better or worse, instant
connectedness over such long distances is a new phenomenon.
of modern communications should make the protection of planet Earth far easier;
one learns threats far more quickly; one discovers culprits while red-handed;
one can get help from the police -- well maybe. Today, most organizations have
web sites to plan strategy, develop tactics, and monitor operations. Individual
staff members have e-mail addresses or can google sites for like-minded
individuals or groups. "Instant" is the key word for the wired person in
today's world. Together with readily available information, modern
communication allows all of us to recognize our commons and to realize that air,
water, marine life, wildlife, space and forests are all to be shared by all.
Mishaps and threats need not go unnoticed.
occurs when we receive too many emails, calls and periodicals. It is like the
indigestion in information experienced while jogging through a world's fair. We
are left with the dilemma of what to read briefly or thoroughly. Is that
overload on this <earthhealing.info> site
as well? Do all parties have the right to know what is being manufactured,
processed, sprayed, scattered or stored in their vicinity especially at this
time of year? If yes, then when is a company permitted to retain a trade or
operating secret? Maybe never. Since most substances can be detected and
identified through costly analytical means, should not all citizens have access
to analytical data? However, we must also ask whether information makes us
better doers or paralyzed with fright.
Is the current pressure to have the government regulate the Internet the result
of groups trying to exert control over communications? Billions of advertising
dollars are at stake, as we know when Yahoo! or Google talk of expanding or
merging. Are those who are seeking to control the content and manner of
Internet delivery interested in the audience's protection? If you are
concerned, contact the National Conference on Media Reform or Josh Silver at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Are air waves and communication means part of our commons? Are the highways of
communication regulated with caution? Sure, stop the irresponsible ones, but
restrict the traffic cops also.
Lord, teach us to communicate with You and others.
A newly-fallen leaf - a sign of autumn's coming
August 31, 2008
Self-Denial and Vitality
We are to know the
seasons of our lives though some deny that seasons are passing. The signs of
aging include an added ache in the back, overly-frequent birthdays, obits in
which half the people are younger than the reader, museums featuring the tools
we used when farming in our youth, shortness of breath and memory, and increased
time to check if we have all our clothes on. Some say it is salutary to think
about our mortality on occasion --but such occasions come frequently with each
passing death of a friend or loved one. What about thinking occasionally about
vitality or how we can live better with each passing day? In other words how do
we improve the quality of our remaining life? We certainly cannot extend the
quantity of our days in any meaningful manner, but we can improve what we have
Don't count the
days, but rather make the days count no matter at what age. When we past
middle years, we think about how best to conserve our waning energy levels. For
seventy is, as Scripture says, the ordinary length of life, and eighty for those
who are strong. Really, with time survivors get stronger? We can never fully
calculate the seasons of our life until they are over or nearly so, but for the
majority of human beings the seventies are the December of life and the advent
of eternal life. I suspect half the world's people at a given time believe that
they will not taste death. That's as unhealthy as always tasting it. "Cowards
die many times before their death." However, ought those who think of quality
of life also to find ways to improve it? What about taking on a new activity,
giving more time to those in need, finding a way to make another person happy,
involving oneself in civic activities and public interest work. If we prefer
"passing" to dying, how about preferring passing from our old selves to new
creatures of activity and prayer life?
Vitality is part of
being realists, for being more alive means giving life to others as well. As
quantity of remaining time always shortens, we must compensate by improving the
quality of each day so we can get the most out of it. We start to realize that
quality has no limits to growth and our improving life is the best preparation
for eternal life. Hospice workers encourage the terminally ill to make every
day and moment count as special events, for life is to be lived to the full --
and that should improve as we near the end. All life is terminal but not all
life has quality to it. Get the most out of beautiful sunrises, chirping birds,
and verdant meadows, the waxing and waning of the moon, the starry skies and
occasional showers. All good things become more meaningful for us, a mellowing
like good cider. Most of all, improving our own lives improves those of others
teach us to know who we are and how we can live the gift of life better through
denying ourselves for the sake of others. Don't let our "cross" be personal
aches and pains, but the offerings we make for others. Help us to love in
giving to others, self-denial with a particular quality to it.