August 2015

Earth Day Every Day: August

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Originally posted August 26, 2015 written by Emily van Lidth de Jeude

The aphids, having sensed the weakening plants on a cool evening, have arrived. You might not notice them at first, as you pick a few beautifully green leaves of kale out of the garden, but turn the leaves over or peek between the deep green folds and you may find little pockets of grey and white: aphids gathering en masse. They will stretch their hair-thin legs and stand tall before becoming motionless on the spot, to live or die with the group, according to your whim. It’s gathering time.

Brush the aphids off or cast the leaf aside and choose another. Bring in that beautiful verdant bouquet to chop up with freshly-dug potatoes, toss with lemon and chives, or blend into your smoothie. It’s gathering time for all of us.

Now that the nights are cooler I find myself more often sitting with friends enjoying a hot cup of tea and a sweater in the evening. My husband’s warm embrace is comforting instead of stifling, and I feel like making stew, collecting up my friends for a chat, and my children for evening snuggles.

In the grocery store lineup I see people pile small mountains of vegetables on the counter, and I realize how lucky I am. For most of the summer, I eat from my garden. Having space and time and desire to grow our own food is not just a great gift, but a privilege. The ability to wander into the woods, pick salal, oregon grape or mushrooms, and sit silently listening only to the rustle of wind in the leaves is almost unheard of for many people.

This week I’ll begin teaching in the city. The program I run happens mostly in the open wilderness here at home, but city bylaws and necessity for urban convenience mean that it will happen in a small forested park, there. Most of the forest floor in this park is bare, and littered with dog and horse poop, along with human refuse. We can’t go into the creek because of course in such a small but densely populated location, our impact would cause damage to the bit of remaining natural creek. This is perhaps the downside of gathering: There are just too many of us, and when we get together we overwhelm the earth’s ability to renew.

This year we reached Earth Overshoot Day on August 13th. Overshootday.org states that “Global overshoot occurs when humanity’s annual demand for the goods and services that our land and seas can provide—fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, wood, cotton for clothing, and carbon dioxide absorption—exceeds what Earth’s ecosystems can renew in a year. Overshoot means we are drawing down the planet’s principal rather than living off its annual interest. This overshoot leads to a depletion of Earth’s life-supporting natural capital and a buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.” So we’ve been going further into resource debt each year for the past forty, and where are we going to turn when the well runs dry?

Our well ran dry this year – in the way wells do on these rainforest hillsides: it’s a shallow well dug into a small underground stream and the water level dropped below what we need to sustain our household’s daily usage. So when I say it ran dry, that means one day the pump hit air, and our family panicked a little. At the end of the day the well fills up again, but to a lower-than-average level. We can still use water, but one load of laundry means no more toilet-flushing for 8 hours; we haul water around to fill the small pots we’ve planted beside some shrubs and veggies and a new pump was bought and put into the pond to water the vegetable gardens; we save laundry and bathing for later, and save even the hand-washing water to feed to our garden. This extreme attention to water usage has meant an adjustment in our thinking, and although it was certainly easier when the water flowed carelessly, I’m glad for having to learn this lesson.

I think the solution to our global over-consumption lies in awareness. Not the kind of arms-length awareness we get from reading the news or signing petitions, but the kind of awareness we get from having our own little wells run dry; from having to shake the aphids off of our own home-grown kale, and feeling remorse at seeing the ravens take our prized blueberries. It’s those small, but sometimes desperately important details that we become aware of when we trade some city conveniences for the great privilege of connecting with the land. This recognition may enable us to enjoy consuming less; to live for what we do have instead of what we can have, and to gather in our hearts and community, for everything that we hold is dear.

– Emily van Lidth de Jeude

When is Water Wasted?

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Originally posted on August 12, 2015 written by Wynn Nielsen

I have been meaning to write about this for some time now. As a gardener, I am reminded every day.
We all are experiencing, first hand, the effects of warming and associated drought along with the rest of world, however unlike many others we still have drinking water, water to wash ourselves and to grow food. We are just beginning to be alarmed at the longer term consequences of a drying world.
Yes, we waste a lot of drinkable water, no question. Our water consumption, even when restricted for a few months in the summer, is generous compared to many other regions of the world. But I think we are mistaken, in some respects, in our understanding and definition of “wasted water”.
When is water wasted? We can argue that it is wasted in large and small ways but is it wasted when it’s plentiful or only in the dry summer months when less plentiful and expensive? Is it wasted by our building regulation and infrastructure practices that allows rainfall to roar off roofs and through drains and culverts into the sea rather than permeating the ground to nourish plants and replenish aquifers? I think so. California certainly knows the effect of ever diminishing aquifers and reserves. We absolutely need better building and landscaping practices in a drying world. I would also argue that using clean, especially treated water, for power washing buildings or cleaning cars and decks is a use that should probably be reexamined in today’s world. And then, the main purpose of this letter, is it being wasteful to share water with our living landscapes and creatures. I would argue that it is not. Keeping our tended and wild landscapes alive and healthy is of the utmost importance – as it creates and maintains a livable world for us all.
What is the antidote for dry and hot; it is moist and cool. You know that feeling you get when you leave the heat of the asphalt road or cement parking lot and plunge into the adjacent forest? The ambient temperature immediately drops what feels like several degrees, you can suddenly breathe easily as moist air fills your lungs, it smells earthy and cool. Ahhh, relief.  That’s what our personal gardens, community parks, ponds, lakes and natural areas bring to us. Rescue and respite from our hot urban deserts. Yes plants consume water. They also transpire continuously, releasing that water into the air as moisture that, in turn, cools and dampens the air around us. They are our air conditioning.
When I hear people discussing whether to bother planting a garden, to water that thirsty tree or, worse, to pull up existing landscaping in response to drought and water restrictions, I almost despair. The solution is not to let landscapes die. The solution is to plant more tree canopy and shrub layers for permanent ground protecting shade and to plant barren eroding ground with a living surface that holds and filters clean water back into aquifers. The solution is to protect and increase our native forests, wetlands and lakes as a counter balance to a drying climate and urbanization; to mitigate, not reduce and diminish it.  The solution is to “green” our buildings, streets and urban spaces, create significant public parks, collect rain water and use ground permeable landscaping and green roofs for cooler cities. As we lose the green, our world turns brown and dry, not just our lawns.
Garden trees and shrubs suffering repeated near-death experiences every summer with no or shallow watering are never going to develop deep, drought resistant roots. They need deep watering, less often. A timed trickling hose or focused “spot” sprinkler does a good job, also tree “water bags”. After a few years of sufficient watering there may not be a need to water these hard stemmed plants at all. Hand spraying, unless done properly, is often less effective than a tree waterbag, a focused spot sprinkler (NOT the wide/high spraying ones) and mulching. And may not use less water in the end. Ask, research, educate yourself and talk to neighbours about the best practices. Your garden will reward you.
We need to be pre-emptive, innovative and smart about water, not reactive and panicked. And that goes for municipalities and Boards as well. Get on with changing the big stuff, e.g., obsolete building practices, grey water systems, mandatory cisterns, collection reservoirs, permeable landscaping, greening urban spaces, metering, public education, creating parks, protecting our green “air conditioning”. We citizens will take care of the small, but vital stuff.
And, lastly but so importantly, flora and fauna need and are entitled to have water to live, too. We need to share — it’s not just all about us.

– Wynn Nielsen

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