Kiss the hand that blows the leaf

men using leaf blowers

I've never understood the benefit of a gasoline-powered leaf blower over a rake or a broom -- except to create an ear-splitting whir whose only possible satisfaction must be to make the tool-wielder feel more macho. But yesterday I came to realize that the leaf blower, whose antique two-stroke engine technology enables such a small tool to make such a big noise, is not merely one of the top ten … [Read more...]

Wendell Berry: Forget about big solutions to ecological emergency

Berry and Moyers

"We don’t have a right to ask whether we’re going to succeed or not," Wendell Berry told Bill Moyers in a rare TV interview aired earlier this month. "The only question we have a right to ask is what’s the right thing to do? What does this earth require of us if we want to continue to live on it?" It's easy to get discouraged once you recognize the threat that climate change and the destruction … [Read more...]

Five reasons why government shutdown points to breakup of U.S.

The Union is dissolved poster

Despite all the talk, the federal government shutdown hasn't greatly affected daily life for most Americans so far. Some have been hit hard, especially federal employees, those receiving certain benefit payments, and tourists planning to visit the Smithsonian or a national park. But as apocalypses go, a couple weeks without "non-essential" federal services has been underwhelming for most American … [Read more...]

Living under sentence of death: No time to waste

Keep on Path sign at Zen temple

Last night, I dreamed that a doctor told me I had cancer. Somehow, I knew that all treatment was pointless. I knew that I would die. And since it was lung cancer, I expected that death to be slow, painful and ultimately, to leave me gasping for air. A horrible end. I was afraid. I wanted to shout out "I don't want to die!" Yet, the bad news was also the good news: I had ten years to … [Read more...]

Deserts, non-native species and the Second Genesis

una muerte anunciada

When Zen farmer Masanobu Fukuoka proposed that military bombers of his native Japan be used to drop balls made of seeds for hundreds of plant species over the world's desert areas in order to revegetate them, housewives and children around the country started sending Fukuoka donations of seeds. Though his dream of a vegetation air force has yet to become a reality, Fukuoka's book  Sowing Seeds … [Read more...]

Sustainable farming mania is frustrating me

farm display

I'm certainly no farmer. I work at a computer all day. So it's odd that the books that get me most jazzed up these days are not about the big problems of the day -- the economy or politics or climate and energy. They're about farming. For me, that's a real about face. I used to revel in the skulduggery of the Koch Brothers and scorn the subtleties of heirloom tomatoes. But now I can't get … [Read more...]

Farewell to empire

Vermont independence parade entry

For one of America's smallest states, Vermont has a lot to teach the rest of the country about living locally. It's always had the local democracy of the New England town meeting.  Now Vermont is getting attention for a thriving local food economy of small farms, great farmers markets and food entrepreneurs exporting everything from organic seeds to local tofu. And in the future, the Second … [Read more...]

Could fracking finally kill off rural America?

US fracking map

Gasland 2, the sequel to Josh Fox's documentary about the dangers of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, introduces a frightening image. It's not another money shot of tap water on fire, though the water well hose lit up by the owner of a multimillion dollar home in Parker County, Texas is a wonder. Nor is the most frightening image an internal gas industry memo labeling residents of small … [Read more...]

Hot, broke & crowded: Top 3 reasons to flee big cities

Book of Eli freeway

It's a staple of summer disaster flicks: the scene of a panicked populace trying to get the hell out of Dodge. Or, after the bomb is dropped, a band of bedraggled survivors picking their way out of smoking ruins, hobbling along a shattered freeway littered with dead cars, empty except for the decaying remains of their occupants. It's all good fun in a movie like The Book of Eli. But Escape … [Read more...]

Economics for a finite world

Economist billboard

“Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple," said Woodie Guthrie. Nowhere is this more true than in books about economics, filled as they often are with wishful thinking dressed up in pseudo-scientific jargon. And nobody needs to get off their arrogant high horses and scale down their ambitions in light of peak oil, climate change and other ecological limits … [Read more...]