A Pagan Community Statement on the Planetary Ecosystem

Happy Mother Earth Day

Today is International Mother Earth Day. Yes, that’s the official name as designated by the United Nations. And isn’t that a more interesting, more compelling, juicier name? I wonder if it will ever catch on in these United States.

I’ve heard it’s the largest secular holiday in the world, but many of us experience the Earth as sacred, which would seem to make it a quasi-religious holiday. Such mysteries are well above my pay-grade.

Not coincidentally, I am also celebrating today the publication of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” I’ve been involved in the drafting of this document over the last six months, though it was very much a group effort, with dozens of people contributing.

It was, as one might imagine, difficult to synthesize many divergent views on such a broad topic into a single coherent and relatively concise statement, but I’m proud of the final product. As of this moment, there are over 400 signatories from around the world, including a number of well-respected organizations.

Please take a moment to read the statement and consider signing on yourself.

Happy Mother Earth Day!

Ten Years of b.rox

Sweetgum Buds 2

Ten years ago today I started writing here at b.rox. I didn’t give much thought to the content of that first post, in terms of setting the tone for the future. I just wrote about what was on my mind at the moment.

I’m fascinated by cycles, including the cycle of seasons.

In retrospect, however, I must say that seems uncannily prescient, foreshadowing a theme which has become so much more prominent in my thoughts, my writing, my practice, my life. Also, the emergence of spring buds as subject is a fine metaphor for beginning a new project.

I don’t really write much here anymore. A chart of the life-cycle of this blog would show a peak around 2006-2007, with some vigor continuing until the autumnal equinox of 2012, followed by a year of intentional silence. (Though I didn’t note it explicitly, that first post was very much about the vernal equinox.) These days mark a sort of senescence, I suppose, as I mostly post links to writings published elsewhere.

One of my primary impulses to write here was the same impulse that motivates my private journal writing: to mark the days as they pass and keep track of the interesting stuff that happens in my life. That. combined with the urge to share. But that act of sharing publicly has ultimately come to feel more like a limiting factor. These days I’m back to writing in my private journals more intensively than ever.

My friend David Bryan has suggested that the writings on this site might make an interesting book, which would include the flooding of the city in 2005 and the process of recovery, from a very personal angle, with the birth of my daughter as a natural ending point for the story. I appreciate this idea, thought I think a better arc might focus on our house, from our purchase in 2002, through the flooding and reconstruction, ending with the sale in 2009. I even have a title in mind: The Wizard of North Salcedo. I often felt like a wizard as I fixed kids bikes on the sidewalk in front of our house.

It’s funny to note that The Wild Hunt began one day later. What a different trajectory that site has taken.

And as a final note, I’m not sure I ever mentioned it, but the tree pictured in that first post did not survive the flood. We cut it down in November of 2005.

Sweetgum Stump

Even the stump is gone now, but we’re still here, and so is this site, even if it’s looking more like a stump itself these days. Thanks for reading, y’all.

Tree Blessing

Nov. 16, 2013: I officiated a civic tree-blessing ceremony on the bayou. We had a real-live fire dancer and Big Chief David Montana led us in singing “Indian Red.” Still can’t believe this really happened. It seems remarkable that someone like me, without any relevant credential, would be invited to do something like this. Many thanks to Jared Zeller et al for pulling this together. And thanks to Michael Homan for taking these photos.
Continue reading Tree Blessing

Epistle to the Ecotopians

I don’t often do this, but here are some words written by someone else. I guess I should add a few words of my own. I read Ecotopia in the late 80s. Written by Ernest Callenbach, it’s an imaginative novel that speculates on what would happen if the west coast of the United States seceded from the union and established a country based on the radical idea of living sustainably. I read it in a class on utopian literature at Indiana University, taught by the amazing Edward Gubar. I loved that class. Incidentally, today I saw that Edward’s ex-wife Susan Gubar is on the front page of the Chronicle of Higher Education. She is also a writer facing her own mortality, just as Ernest Callenbach has done. Callenbach died a few weeks ago, and this letter was found on his computer. It was obviously written as a final statement. Please, please read it. Also, many thanks to TomDispatch.com for first publishing this epistle.
Continue reading Epistle to the Ecotopians

Energy Usage, One Year Later

We’ve been in our new home for 24 months now. Around this time last year, we got our twelfth bill from Entergy at the new place. That meant a year’s worth of accumulated energy consumption data. This was a handy baseline, coming just days before we insulated underneath the house with closed-cell spray foam.

So here we are, one year later. As promised, here is the energy use data for the last twelve months.

Energy Usage

Month kWh Used Days Billed Avg. Daily Usage
11/11 571 28 20.4
10/11 673 30 22.4
9/11 1169 29 40.3
8/11 1389 31 44.8
7/11 1362 29 47.0
6/11 1229 30 41.0
5/11 637 32 19.9
4/11 390 28 13.9
3/11 642 31 20.7
2/11 3072 28 109.7
1/11 3042 35 86.9
12/10 2368 32 74.0

Obviously the big question is how this compares to last year’s data. Crunch the numbers yourself if you’re so inclined. I’m simply going to put the average daily use side by side.

Month Avg. Daily Usage
Avg. Daily Usage
11 20.4 23.7
10 22.4 30.1
9 40.3 57.3
8 44.8 68.1
7 47.0 46.4
6 41.0 46.7
5 19.9 18.7
4 13.9 23.5
3 20.7 88.8
2 109.7 92.3
1 86.9 174.9
12 74.0 82.0

On average, we used less energy after the house was insulated. More to the point, if we total up all the kilowatt hours for the respective years, we find we used 23,390 before the insulation and 16,544 after. That’s a drop of almost 7,000 kWh. Even accounting for the freakish cold snap of January 2009, it’s a substantial reduction.

Or so it seems. How much does a kilowatt hour of electricity really cost? It’s complicated. Our bill shows energy charges and fuel charges and lots of stuff I can’t quite figure. I appreciate that Entergy has some tools for analyzing your bill, but I don’t understand why they don’t retain data longer than one year. I do know that our November 2011 bill is $22.97 (31%) lower than our November 2010 bill. I assume our savings more than offset the $2000 we spent on insulation.

Caveats: I talked about energy consumption but this is actually only electrical usage. We have some gas appliances, most notably our upstairs furnace. However, the downstairs furnace and of course the air conditioning system runs on electricity.

Big Fix

We take a break from our regularly scheduled odyssey to promote the following worthy item.

This Friday, the New Orleans Film Festival is hosting the American premiere of the documentary film, The Big Fix, which details the massive government cover-up which has taken place in the wake of the BP oil spill. There will be a press conference at 2 pm at the Contemporary Arts Center before the film is shown. This may be the best chance the Gulf Coast has to raise the country’s awareness to the reality of the condition of the Gulf.

Please share widely. Like the film on Facebook. More at the Zombie.

Smokey Haze

I’d heard there was a marsh fire out east, but we didn’t smell anything until Monday morning. By the time I left for work, I was surprised to see the streets of Mid-City were shrouded in gray smokey haze. It was bad enough that I wore a bandana over my face as I rode to campus.


When I got up to my office on the fifth floor I could see the smoke extended as far as the eye could see.


I guess the wind changed direction or something because it cleared up later in the day. Tuesday morning was also clear, but by mid-day it was smokier than ever.


The smokey haze reminds me of my encounter with Joe Horn last Monday at WWL-TV.

Joe Horn at WWL-TV

He was cooking up something and the studio was filled with a smokey haze. The difference was, his haze smelled good. The smoke from the marsh fire smells nasty. In fact it’s sending people to the hospital.

In this morning’s paper I read that the area on fire is twice the size of City Park, which is mind-boggling to me. City Park is 1300 acres.

I see NOLA Defender beat me to the obligatory Neville Brothers reference but neglected to post a video, so… enjoy.

Freecycling Glass

A couple months ago I expounded on the difficulties of glass recycling. A friend on Facebook suggested selling bottles on Etsy or eBay as craft supplies. That sounded like too much trouble, but it got me thinking. Once I’d accumulated a bin full of marginally interesting empties, I posted to Freecycle New Orleans. Xy was skeptical, but I had four or five people express an interest. It took a few days, but one of these people finally took the bottles off my hands. You can insert your tired cliche about trash and treasure here.

Meanwhile my Freecycle request for a pair of outdoor speakers has sadly gone unanswered.

“The Oil is Not Gone, and Neither Are We”

Cherri Foytlin

This just in from Cherri Foytlin, who will be on the Social Media, Social Justice panel at Rising Tide 6 (register now):

“thanks to all who attended – please read and share the link”

The day before yesterday, on August 4, 2011, one year after the President of our United States stood on national television and said that 75% of the oil that had spewed into our Gulf was gone, I was booked into the New Orleans Parish Police lock-up with the charge of Criminal Trespassing.

The day before, I had been called by the Louisiana State Police Department to come to a meeting with them to discuss the Non-violent Direct Action Protest that myself and a united group consisting of environmentalists, community organizers, fishermen and clean-up workers, had organized in front of the British Petroleum offices, which are on the 13th and 14th floor of 1250 Poydras in NOLA.

At that meeting, I was told that we were allowed on the sidewalk only. That there would be plain clothed officers among us, and that if we crossed a certain line, which runs from the building to the parking lot, we would be arrested. The detectives, very nicely, drew us a map to explain the exact whereabouts of that line.

When we got to the event, which at the beginning had nearly 100 in attendance, I made the announcement that I was going to cross that line. And that I was doing this in protest of the so many lines that BP has crossed, in my mind, concerning the cleaning up of their mess, the spraying of toxic chemicals in our water, the murder of 11 of our energy providers, the disrespect and economical damage to our fishermen and residents, and the denial of and lack of response to health issues and claims since April 20 of last year.

So, I intentionally crossed that invisible line and took their tar balls back to them – a box full that had been picked up our beaches that day, (with no clean-up workers in sight, I might add). At least 15 other people chose to go with me, to complete this task.

As we approached the front door, we were met immediately by a representative of the company, the building and a security guard. Together they refused us any access to the building, citing that all BP workers had been dismissed for the day – a fact I knew to be untrue, because the state police had told me at our previous meeting that although most would be sent home at 4:30 that day, some would be available until 5:30, (at the time that they had told us this, they were trying to facilitate a meeting between us and BP – to which we had said was only an option it Feinberg and Zimmer was in attendance, and to which BP had refused to consider).

Being unable to enter the building, we dropped the tar balls on the sidewalk (in plastic), and sat down directly in front of the doors, where others came to join us.

And that was where we stayed.

In the mean time, kind people from within our group brought us waters and other refreshments in order to make our stay more comfortable. So, naturally, it was not very long before I personally had to urinate.

A very respectful gentleman from the state police had come forward to negotiate, just as he had the day before at the meeting in the SBI offices. I asked him, jokingly, if he thought they would just let me in to pee. He said no and that “They were freaking out in there.”, but pointed out that there were portable toilets just beyond the fence in a nearby hotel construction site.

After a few minutes, I felt it calm enough at that moment – since all BP representatives, building security and police personnel were discussing the issue inside, (excluding the one member of the state police that, at that time, was sitting with us), I could go use the restroom quickly, and come back.

So, I did. I jumped the fence and used the facilities. Upon my return jump, I realized that the BP reps in the building had seen me go and went running to find me, perhaps thinking I had looked for an alternative route into the building.

And that they had taped me jumping the fence and notified the nearby construction site mangers of my trespassing. We believe that they had hoped that the other owners would have had me arrested for trespassing and kept the BP name out of the incident. You see, arresting and charging people for bringing to light their negligence and lack of response sort of blows that whole “making it right” image.

But, the people next door had no interest in arresting me, or anyone else. We have more allies than they, or even we, know – you see?

I then joined the others in sitting, which we continued for over all around 3 hours until a little after 8:00 pm, which is when – after negotiating tirelessly, and being very respectful with us all day, the New Orleans Police Department and the Louisiana State Police gave us one more chance to end the protest and go home before arrests were made.

At that final refusal, NOLA PD, quietly came forth and arrested the 3 of us, who had remained seated.

Truth is, I knew that I personally was going to get arrested if I stayed sitting there, I knew that. And this was a decision that had not been made lightly on my part.

Over the last year and nearly a half I have studied past movements that have worked on different levels. And thanks to those who have come before us, we have a general formula for affecting change.

According to Dr. King, mainly from his letters while he, himself, was sitting in an Alabama jail, he said that the progression includes the following:

– To find out if an injustice exists – without doubt we, the people of the Gulf, have been dealt with very unjustly with regards to this corporation and our governments handling of this event, as well as others across the Gulf.

– To negotiate – we, the residents, fishermen, clean-up workers, tourism industry workers, oil workers, community organizers, ect, have negotiated on the local, state and federal levels with the HHS, the CDC, the NOAA, the EPA, the GCERT, the CEQ, the DEQ, the Oil Spill Commission, the Administration, and BP itself for nearly 16 months – to little or no avail.

– Dr. King’s next step was to “self-purify” – each person must take this step alone. Personally, I had first interpreted this step as the ending of bad habits, such as social drinking. But on the walk I realized that he was talking about preparing your mind against egotistical illusions, self-doubt and self-pity.

– The last step is action. And in the successful civil rights movement, as well as the Eastern Indian movement for independence, that meant non-violent action and civil disobedience taken against the oppressors in order to advance the cause of, and bring to light the call for, justice and liberty.

Our being arrested, was just the first step of that last phase.

Now, while I was sitting there I had a good friend of mine, who is very sick from the toxins still in his system and our environment, say to me, “Cherri, it is not worth getting arrested.”. He was begging me not to take that final step. He did that, because he love me, and he did not wish to see me suffer, I understand that – and it warms my heart. But my response to him was, “My friend, you are so worth getting arrested for”.

You see that is what we all must understand. You, my friend, are worth it. Our ecosystem is worth it, our kids are worth it, our future is worth it.. We must understand the value of what we have and be determined in protection of that. We must take up responsibility to, and for, each other now, in these times. Because, we are all worth it.

As we sat there, we repeatedly looked across the crowd and saw testament to that notion; such as, the poster my 9-year-old had made of her depiction of Earth with pollution dotting it, and the eyes of the people who were sick from chemical poisoning and yet had still come out to take a stand, calloused hands of a fishermen, community organizers who we have all seen at events from Texas, to Florida, to D.C. – demanding, begging sometimes, to be heard on behalf of the communities and ecosystem that they love. And we saw grandmothers and grandfathers, daddies and mommies, and sisters and brothers, all united in the simple humanitarian right of clean air and water.

One person in particular, Kimberly Wolf, a warrior woman who I have had the honor of getting to know early on in this fight, and who also has terminal cancer, yet got out of her bed and joined us for as long as she could – strengthened our souls. She is the picture of strength and love in all of this – and in seeing her, I have never been so moved by an example of commitment and perseverance.

That is the epitome of what this event, and our arrest, was about. That there is hope, we have allegiance to each other, that the loss of one does not and will not end the journey of the whole for truth, justice and recompense of the human rights violations that are taking place in our homeland.

There are so many to thank for the success of the day. I would especially like to recognize Kyle Nugent and Noah Learned, who I had not met prior and yet went all the way on behalf of our people and coast. The people who helped in organizational duties, too many to name here – but in particular Karen S, Ada, Devin, Josh, Mary-Margaret, Anne, Elizabeth, Robert – there are so many. And including the people who were at the event(s) of last week, and/or are still working on this issue, or others like it.. you are all my heroes.

I would also like to make clear, that the New Orleans Police Department and the Louisiana State Police Department were very kind in their treatment of us before, during and after our arrest. The first thing I was told after getting in the car was, “Why didn’t you just go home, Miss Cherri? None of us wanted to arrest you.”

They also took the handcuffs off as soon as we arrived at the station, and made sure we were as comfortable as possible under the circumstances.

So, there you have it.

I want you all to know, that we will not stop. We will not stop until our fishermen, our workers, our families, our wildlife, our waters, our region – are made whole again. Because when you love something, when you really do, you will never be silenced in protecting and fighting for it.

There will be further opportunities for those caring souls across the nation to stand with us for justice. Be ready.

You see, THAT is the greatest weapon in our tool box, that is what will win this and so many other battles we have been called to participate in, it’s our LOVE that will carry the day.

On August 4 we took our first stand. Courage, my friends, this is just a beginning.

Yours truly,

Cherri Foytlin

P.S. – BP have a response to the event, which is further proof that we made a wave, I cannot find the link at the moment but will update when I can. They said something like, “we are still here too“. It would be nice if a response was made by you to the author.. And to every journalist, and person, who needs to learn more about the truth of what is happening in America’s Gulf Coast.

Here is the link mentioned in the above paragraph.

Photo cropped from original: Adam Thomas and Cherri Foytlin / Linh Do / CC BY 2.0

Wounded Tree

The wounded tree that stands at the end of Bayou St. John is even more wounded now.


What happened here? Bark is scattered all around the base of the tree. The biggest shards are immediately evident, but smaller pieces make a complete circle.

For as long as I can remember, the side of this tree that faces the bayou has looked as if a big section was sheared off many years ago, but it seemed to thrive nonetheless. Now, it looks like whatever happened so many years ago has happened again, but I’ll be damned if I can figure what it is. Lightning would be my first suspect, except I’d have thought lightning would char the wood. I don’t see any evidence of carbonization. So then I thought maybe a truck hit it. Trucks don’t normally drive there, but Bayou Boogalooo did take place recently. However, the damage doesn’t seem consistent with that either. The sheared part goes straight into the ground. I don’t think a truck would strike so low.

It makes me very sad to see this. I like trees in general but this one is very special to me and my family. This is where my daughter got her name. I try to stop by there whenever my routine allows and spend a quiet moment. I often do a brief Wind Horse meditation I learned at the Contemplative Academy last year. Sometimes I just look at the tree and admire its beauty and enjoy its shade.

I saw the damage Friday. It must have happened recently. I called Parks & Parkways. I called Parkway Partners. I exchanged messages with the guy who runs the Dying Oaks blog. I’m not sure what more I can or should do.

Amazingly, just as I’m typing the above words, my phone rings. It’s a guy named Troy from the New Orleans Levee Board — calling back about the tree. I didn’t know the Levee Board was responsible for the bayou. Anyhow he is planning to take a look this afternoon and make a determination on the overall health of the tree. Parks & Parkways must have passed my contact information on to him.

I hope this tree is around with us for a long time.



I’ve been hoarding glass bottles for a while now. Maybe a year. Not everything — just the big ones. Plenty of beer bottles have ended up in the trash. In fact, plenty of wine bottle got trashed too. But there’s something about a liquor bottle. It tends to hang around longer. I build up a relationship with a liquor bottle. It becomes like an old friend. Surely it deserves something better than the landfill.

Eventually I had a tub full of glass. It was so heavy I could barely lift it, and and when I did I worried the plastic tub itself might crack. But I managed to get it into the car and haul it off to Target in Metairie. There’s a recycling center right it front, in Customer Services. I practically filled up an entire grocery cart.

Target Takes Glass

I try not to make a fetish out of recycling. To me, recycling is like voting. It is a civic duty, but it’s not the greatest duty. More like the least. Yes, I recycle. Yes, I vote. I don’t give myself airs that I’m saving the planet or society by these actions. Recycling became a habit for me in 1986 when I was living in Sweden, in a town called Kalix. We recycled just about everything and had very little trash leftover, and that seemed like a positive. I have tried to avoid obsessing about it like my friend Eric, who used to pick up every scrap he found on the streets and stuff it in his pocket to recycle later. I found that behavior charming but kind of overkill. I wonder if he still does that.

The City of New Orleans discontinued its recycling program after the flood of ’05. Since 2007 we’ve been paying Phoenix Recycling $14 per month to pick up our recyclable materials every other week. The base charge was $15 with a one-dollar discount for members of neighborhood organizations. They said they’d lower the price if they got enough subscribers, but that never happened. I didn’t like the system, but Phoenix provided excellent service, and we stuck with them, even when money was tight, because it seemed like the right thing to do.

That all ended last month. The City of New Orleans has (re)launched its curbside recycling program. I’d hoped Phoenix would get a piece of the action, but I guess they didn’t. Here’s a snippet from the last e-mail they sent me.

We’ve appreciated your support over the years. Ours is a niche business and the size changes constantly. You’ve made the decision to pay for something you deem important – together, we recycled over 20 million pounds in 3 years.

Back to glass. Phoenix stopped taking glass in late 2008, and the City of New Orleans doesn’t take glass either.

The authoritative resource on recycling here in New Orleans would appear to be Village Green from our public library. Download the “New Orleans Area Recycling Guide” for a 21-page booklet on the subject. They list three places that take glass, only two of which are available to private citizens: Target, and of course the Tulane Newcomb Art Department. But Newcomb takes only clear glass.

I’m mystified by this state of affairs. For years I have thought glass was the most recyclable of all products. Melt it down and you recapture almost 100% of the material. According to Wikipedia, “Glass recycling uses less energy than manufacturing glass from sand, lime and soda.” But apparently the economics are more complicated than that. They must be, otherwise there would be more of a market for glass. I don’t have faith in markets solving all problems, but it stands to reason that if glass had more value it would be accepted curbside.

Michael Munger makes the case against recycling in general and glass in particular in an article titled “Think Globally, Act Irrationally.” It’s published by the Library of Economics and Liberty, which is supported by the Liberty Fund, which was founded in 1960 by Pierre F. Goodrich in my old stomping grounds of Indianapolis. Small world. I’m not sure I agree with some of their ideological underpinnings, but Munger makes a persuasive argument.

The Billings Gazette would seem to be less ideologically driven, but the message is the same.

The economics of glass recycling have been marginal for some time.

Nationwide, only about 25 percent of glass containers are recycled. That’s compared to 31 percent of plastic containers, 45 percent of aluminum cans and 63 percent of steel cans, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

In northern Idaho, Kootenai County gave up collecting glass last year. In Oregon, which was the first of 11 states to adopt a bottle deposit law in 1971, Deschutes County stockpiled 1,000 tons of glass at its landfill before finally finding a use for it a couple years ago – as fill beneath an area for collecting compost.

Glass also has piled up at the landfill serving Albuquerque, N.M., where officials this year announced that a manufacturer of water-absorbing horticultural stones would eventually use up their stockpiles. New York City gave up glass recycling from 2002 to 2004 because officials decided it was too costly.

In a sense, glass ought to be the perfect commodity to recycle. It can be recycled an infinite number of times. Melting down one glass bottle and making another isn’t particularly complicated or especially costly.

The challenge is that the main ingredient in glass, sand, is plentiful and cheap – often cheaper than cullet, which is glass that has been prepared for recycling.

Used glass must be sorted by color and cleaned before it can be crushed into cullet that is suitable for recycling into new containers. That contributes to much of the cost of recycling glass, said Joe Cattaneo, president of the Glass Packaging Institute in Alexandria, Va.

“It’s not just a glass company buying it from your municipal waste company, or recycling company,” Cattaneo said. “Some entity has to clean it so it meets the specifications of mixing it with sand, soda ash and limestone.”

Another cost is transportation. The farther away a community is from glass processors and container manufacturers, he said, the more expensive it is to recycle it.

Clearly, reduction and reuse are even better than recycling. It’s a shame that we seem to have lost what bottle collection programs we used to have in this country. A friend on Facebook suggested selling bottles on Etsy or eBay as craft supplies. Maybe I will start saving the most interesting bottles and sending the rest to the landfill.

My friend Wendy says Houston takes glass at dropoff centers. Bay St. Louis takes glass as part of their curbside program. Are these communities able to make the economics work, or are they taking a loss on glass to make people feel better about themselves? I have an image of in my mind that we are “recycling our way to oblivion,” worrying about trivialities in the midst of the Holocene extinction. But this is just a feeling. What’s the reality?


Estimated Inundation

It’s been terribly dry here in Southeast Louisiana for a long time. In the midst of this drought, it’s hard to believe that the Mississippi River is riding at historically high levels. All that water is barreling down toward New Orleans. The US Army Corps of Engineers is opening the Bonnet Carré Spillway right now to divert some water into Lake Pontchartrain. More ominously, the Corps is considering opening the Morganza Spillway for the first time in 35 years. That would divert a huge amount of the Mississippi’s flow into the Atchafalaya River basin.

I’ve been wondering about the consequences of this. I understand it would put a lot of farmland under water. It would destroy crops and perhaps even livelihoods. These and other sacrifices are being considered in order to protect Baton Rouge and Louisiana. It must be an awesome responsibility to make a decision like that. I can only hope that all the people in my fair city consider the sacrifice others may have to make on our behalf. How will we conduct ourselves to show that this sacrifice was warranted? Oh wait, this is probably about capital more than human beings. Nevertheless I feel for those people who may be flooded for our benefit.

The ironic part is that the Mississippi actually wants to flow into the Atchafalaya. It would probably have made the switch a couple decades ago if humans hadn’t intervened. The American Rivers conservation organization posted an article yesterday, The Consequences of Controlling a River Course:

If the Mississippi River were to shift course, the effects would be devastating. Several cities would be inundated and might require relocation. Oil and gas pipelines throughout southern LA would rupture and commerce on the river and in New Orleans would be severely disrupted.

However, in ecological terms, the Louisiana coast would be revitalized. The western part of the Mississippi delta would receive the sediment and freshwater it has been deprived of for decades. Increased sediment distribution would reduce coastal erosion, and provide nutrient-rich sediments for terrestrial and aquatic habitat. Additionally, this would reduce Louisiana coastal wetland loss, which currently occurs at a rate of 1 acre every 38 minutes. The combined effects of these ecological benefits would ultimately increase the sustainability of Gulf Coast fisheries.

Something to think about.

And, while the Corps fiddles with control structures, I suppose there’s always the possibility that control could be lost, and the water will have its way. Who knows what will happen?

Science Fails

IMG_6994 sample image for map stitching - aerial photography -

It’s the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon/Macondo/BP blowout disaster catastrophe oil spill. I don’t know how much coverage it gets outside the Gulf Coast, but oil is still percolating up in marshes here, and it’s very discouraging.

Generally I have supported science and the scientific worldview, but this debacle has shown how science is just a tool to be used and abused by the powerful.

We should know exactly what happened a year ago, and why. We don’t. We should know how much oil flowed out into the Gulf. We don’t. We should know how bad the environmental consequences are. We don’t.

Our ignorance is appalling.

A while back I saw conflicting reports on the safety of seafood from the Gulf. One scientist sounded cautionary notes, while another scientist gave the all clear. They were funded by opposing sides in the ongoing legal battles that have emerged from this catastrophe. The best science money can buy! I wish I’d clipped the article so I could cite it properly now, but at the time I was just too depressed.

Since I can’t even cite my sources, you’d probably do better to look elsewhere for informed commentary. I highly recommend this brand new article by John Clark:

Life in Louisiana, and on Earth, Struggles to Survive

But what, in reality, have the dominant extractive and petrochemical industries, and especially oil, brought to Louisiana? We are one of the poorest states. We are one of the least educated states. We are one of the unhealthiest states. We are one of the states in which government is most abjectly subservient to industry. We are one of the states most scarred by rampant corruption. We are one of the most environmentally devastated states. And now, the oil industry has damaged coastal wetlands and Gulf ecosystems, quite possibly for a considerable period into the future, in the worst marine oil disaster in history.

It’s enough to make anyone crazy mad.

I suppose I should make the connection: It’s stuff like this that fires me up to work on a project like the greenway. Active transportation is one way to reduce consumption of oil. It’s a very small sling against a very big giant. I’m not trying to put myself up on a pedestal; I’m just saying, do something. You’ll feel better, and it might just make a difference.

Oh, and by the way, some of my best friends are scientists.

IMG_6994 sample image for map stitching – aerial photography – / cesar harada / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Cross Reference

Two headlines from today’s news caught my eye. Each is bad enough on its own, but taken together they are exponentially more infuriating.

So we learn a couple things.

Now it’s clear why BP was blocking access and obfuscating all attempts to estimate the flow of oil from their well. They’re on the hook for $4,300 per barrel spilled. Futhermore, we now know where all that spilled oil mysteriously disappeared. It’s at the bottom of the Gulf, and everything is dead there.

Of course, I’m not supposed to complain about any of this for fear a moratorium will further damage the local economy which is so dependent on offshore drilling operations.

Energy Usage

I mentioned last January that we got stuck with a big ($500) utility bill that month. There was no question in my mind that our energy consumption was off the chain because of a record-breaking three-day cold snap. Now that I’ve got a year’s worth of utility bills, this is even more evident.

Here’s a handy chart from Entergy.

Energy Usage

And here’s the detailed breakdown…

Month kWh Used Days Billed Avg. Daily Usage
11/10 711 30 23.7
10/10 874 29 30.1
9/10 1661 29 57.3
8/10 2112 31 68.1
7/10 1393 30 46.4
6/10 1400 30 46.7
5/10 598 32 18.7
4/10 706 30 23.5
3/10 2574 29 88.8
2/10 2955 32 92.3
1/10 5947 34 174.9
12/09 2459 30 82.0

As one can see at a glance, we consumed about twice as much energy in January as we did in the month before or after.

I’m particularly happy to have this baseline data, because we are getting some insulation underneath our house Monday. As I mentioned in January, there was a study which looked at four different ways of insulating beneath raised homes right here at the Musician’s Village in New Orleans. After some nagging, I finally got Dr. Samuel V. Glass to send me a preview of the study, “Moisture Control in Insulated Raised Floors in Southern Louisiana.” Glass is a research scientist in the little-known field of “Building Moisture and Durability” at the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin. The authors are presenting the research at a conference in December so it’s still not public, but you can view a news-style summary.

The main concern most people in these parts have about insulating underneath relates to moisture accumulation in the warm months. Moisture can lead to termites and mold and other bad things. From what I got out of the study, I think the number one thing that can minimize moisture problems is to just not set one’s thermostat too low in the summer.

Other than that, they seemed to find rigid foam boards and closed-cell spray foam to be the best. We are going with the latter from GreenBean. Closed-cell is purported to be the most expensive option, at least in terms of materials; it is costing us just over $2,000. I think I can also file for some sort of tax break before the end of the year.

So we’ll see what our energy consumption is like over the next year and compare. I’ll get back to you in November 2011.

Dark Green Religion

Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary FutureDark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future by Bron Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here’s a rarity — an academic book that is also a page-turner, at least for me. I couldn’t put it down. This is a broad survey of an emergent global phenomenon which might be called earth worship or nature spirituality or “dark green religion.” Bron Taylor defines religion broadly and looks a range of cultures and subcultures, from radical environmentalism to surfing to Disney films and many more. I was a bit disappointed that contemporary Paganism got such scant coverage — only about two and a half pages plus some scattered references. Perhaps that’s because Taylor seems preoccupied with folks who don’t explicitly consider themselves to be practicing “religion” in the most familiar sense of the word. The term “dark” in the title is supposed to connote a sense of potential peril, but according to the author that mostly seems to be in the eyes of Abrahamic practitioners. He hints early in the book that he might examine the potential dangers of ecofascism, but this is never really explored in depth. I suspect there may be a resonance between racism and “dark green religion,” especially in Europe, that bears a closer look. But I quibble. This is a good one which I recommend to anyone interested in ecology or religion.

View all my reviews

Consume Less

Back in June (if not earlier) Sarah Palin wrote:

Unless government appropriately regulates oil developments and holds oil executives accountable, the public will not trust them to drill, baby, drill. And we must! Or we will be even more beholden to, and controlled by, dangerous foreign regimes that supply much of our energy.

Yet there is another alternative to rapacious consumption. There is an alternative even to “alternative” sources of energy.

I am talking about consuming less. Americans in particular consume a lot of resources, and that takes a lot of energy. It’s my understanding that transporting goods (and people) is the biggest energy hog. xAmericans also have a high rate of obesity. Translation: We eat too much and don’t get enough exercise.

So imagine, just for example, if we ate a little less. Imagine if more of the food we did buy was grown in the local area. Since local food doesn’t have to be transported as far, buying local is a form of consuming less. Imagine if we got around under our own power more often, riding bicycles or even (gasp) walking. We’d get a little more exercise and be healthier while consuming less fuel.

Consuming less saves you money. It has the added benefit of making us less “beholden” to “dangerous foreign regimes that supply much of our energy.”

It annoys me when politicians (of any party) talk about energy and don’t emphasize the benefits of consuming less. It seems to me that, as a nation, we should be on a collective quest to figure out how to consume radically less energy. Imagine if we set a goal of reducing our national energy consumption by half in the next decade. I’m sure we could do it.

The pundits and politicians don’t talk about this. Instead they tell us what we want to hear, or what they think we want to hear. It’s a sad comment that in our current political climate, the message of consuming less seems almost subversive or un-American. That shouldn’t be the case.

This rant was inspired by a quote from Sarah Palin, but I want to make it clear that the failure of leadership is much broader than any single person. There is plenty of blame to go around. It would be nice to hear the “consume less” message coming from the White House, but I haven’t seen that from Brack Obama’s administration. Maybe I missed it.

But leadership can be exercised by anyone. Clearly a movement to consume less will have to come up from the grass roots.