Weekly Heroes: St. Mary’s Monastery

The Catholic Benedictine Sisters of St. Mary Monastery, Rock Island, Illinois lead beautiful, sustainable lives.

What is sustainable?

1) The monastery is built to minimize energy use.  The building’s temperature is controlled by a geothermal pond.  Large windows funnel sun onto a huge mass to enable passive solar heating.  Their facilities combine form, function, and sustainability.

2) The nuns lead lives of social sustainability.  The monastery used to run a school.  That has, sadly, closed but the nuns today go out into the community to work in education, social services, religious counselling, and other callings.

3) Community is sustainable.  We can all learn from the group reliance these women give each other.

4) They share this sustainability with others with the Benet House Retreat Center.  I have visited there twice to spend time in quiet introspection.  The visit is inexpensive and the nuns provide food and (if wanted) spiritual counselling.

5) Anti-consumerism.  The nuns examine the things they use and do not buy new items unless absolutely necessary.  This is not a privation, they have everything they need.


Visualizing Sustainability

Defining sustainability is one of the most difficult things to do.  And we cannot hope to achieve sustainability until we can define it.  The UN’s definition of meeting the needs for the future and today promises all things to all people.  The Venn diagram of environment, economy, and society is too vague.

Oxfam International has developed a new framework in Kate Raworth’s report “A safe and just space for humanity: can we life within the doughnut”.  This model establishes a baseline, a ceiling, and a good zone.

Too often, humans get ignored in the environmental framework in which sustainability is usually framed.  The doughnut sets a social floor, where poverty and injustice need to be removed in order for true sustainability to exist.  Without education, health, and jobs, society is not sustainable and all people can never share in a sustainable future.

At the same time, through our lifestyles we are overstepping real environmental boundaries.

Including this floor makes one very important (and often ignored) point.  Without these basic necessities, we cannot begin to take care of the environment.  Environmental protection is (largely) the consideration of those in rich countries.  However, growth – the normal solution to end poverty – is not the way to go either.

These envisionings create real possibilities for solutions – sustainability for all people, not just for some.  I know its changed the way I see things, and my students will get this new view next week.

Alienation and control

“Alienation is perhaps the most effective tool of control in America, and every reminder of our real connectedness weakens that tool.” – Tim DeChristopher

I was reading Tim DeChristopher’s sentencing statement today. (DeChristopher is the man who was sentenced to two years in prison for bidding on public lands open to oil and gas leases, when he had no intention of drilling for oil or gas).   Reading this, I was sitting in my little white house not knowing anyone in my neighborhood except Earl and Jan next door.  In fact, I know few people other than my colleagues at work and my students.

Most of us lead lives much like this, cut of from our neighbors, our government, our environment our world.  And through this we give up the very autonomy we are seeking to protect.

We lead our compartmentalized little lives in our own little boxes (out of Ticky Tacky).  I know I do.  This alienation renders us silent.  We see a problem in the world – and need a home that is clean, healthy, and sustainable.  So we do what we can as individuals.  We recycle.  We scale down.  We eat local.  But, as individuals, we will never make change of the scale that is needed.  For that we need to conquer alienation and know the people and world around us.

A community’s worth of actions is needed to create change that can last.  A state’s worth of actions is needed to create something that can do some real goo.  A country’s worth of actions – that that can really start to tackle something big – like climate change or poverty.

So, how do we get from here to there.

Weekly Heroes: Free fuel edition

Earlier, I scoffed at the man doing public service by advocating for cheaper gas.  Today, I praise a similar program.

My town, Normal, IL, has positioned itself as an EVTown (Electronic Vehicle Town).  The city has purchased electric cars for its fleet and encouraged others to do so as well.  They have created incentives for citizens to by EVs, and even arranged for them to be able to get cars from Mitsubishi earlier than anyone else.

The best plan – free vehicle charging around town for the foreseeable future.  That means, if one charged entirely at these stations, “one could expect to save $5,400 over eight years driving a total of 64,000 miles.”  That is an incentive that could get people on board – add this to the $7,500 tax credit and the $29,125 becomes suddenly affordable to own and operate.  This is a perfect second car (in a country where every family owns two cars): one car to drive distances and the other to go to work and the grocery store.

My applause to Chris Koos and all the others at City Hall who have worked to create the possibility for real change.

You can find any EV charging stations near you using this Dept. of Energy Map.

Cooperative business structure

Co-ops are back, according to Yes! Magazine.   A cooperative is a business structure where a group of people put their money or resources together and share ownership in a democratic structure.  If you belong to a credit union, you’re part of a co-op.  ACE and True Value Hardware are co-ops, and so is Land o’ Lakes.  We don’t think about them because they are staying quiet and being good businesses.

A standard corporation is charged (by the law) with only one task – to make money for its shareholders.  If it tries to do other things, like establish good working conditions or protect the environment, it can be taken to court and forced to turn back to profits.

“Cooperatives, in their various forms, promote the fullest possible participation in the economic and social development of all people, including women, youth, older persons, persons with disabilities and indigenous peoples, are becoming a major factor of economic and social development and contribute to the eradication of poverty.” – UN Resolution 64/136, 2010

Co-ops have promise not just in the developed world, but in developing countries as well.  They are a way to get people who individually have very small assets to bring them together in order to be able to so something larger – such as a town getting together to roast the coffee beans they grow or process their own cotton.

Today it becomes most important that, cooperatives “are motivated not by profit, but by service-to meet their members’ needs or affordable and high quality goods or services; Exist solely to serve their members.”  They are owned by their members and surplus monies are returned to their members.

Co-ops are one of several potential new business models that can allow people to conduct real business, while staying accountable to their community and world.

Staying warm on a cold indoor day

I am one of those people who is always cold.  Especially in the winter, and especially after I cuddle down on my sofa in the evening.  My husband and I argue over the thermostat, and I am trying my best to find ways to not to crank up the dial.

1) Hot cocoa or hot tea – don’t even drink it, just hold it in your hands and don’t put it down. This is one of the few methods that work for fingers.

2) Cats – this is the other method that works for cold fingers.  You can substitute dog or rat or bunny – whatever warmblooded fuzzy animal you have on hand.

3) Shawls – I cannot go as far as a snuggie, but I have a pile of shawls to keep  my shoulders warm.

Trey is modelling this years fine wrap.

4) Heating pad or hot water bottle – toss it under a shawl or blanket and it works wonders.

5) Double-curtain your window – or use an insulated / thermal curtain.  Even double paned windows can often use some extra help on a cold day.

6) Check for drafts – walk around the room with incense or a candle to trace and the caulk areas where drafts are getting in.

7) Humidifier – dry house air really adds to the feeling of cold.  Raising the humidity level and add a few degrees to your experienced temperature (same as humidity on a summer day).

8) Plants – they also hold humidity, keep them watered so they don’t dry out.

9) Lap blankets – the more the merrier.  I sometimes have so many on my legs on the sofa that I can barely move (just like as a child in bed with all those blankets.)

10) I hate to push a brand – but – Smart Wool Socks.  Yes,  I love them.

11) Comparisons – slip on your shoes and do a quick lap around the outside of the house.  I guarantee the inside will fill much warmer.

12) Red hots candies – they may not work, but then you still have red hots candies.  Sympathetic magic.

Weekly heroes: Double down and plant it edition

How do you help a devastated neighborhood recover from blight?  In New Orleans, Growing Home from the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority has a Good Idea (capitalized just like Winnie the Pooh would).

Image from Growing Home

Hurricane Katrina left many homes destroyed and neighborhoods with dwindling populations facing a scattered pile of overgrown vacant lots.  Growing Home gives homeowners a grant for $10,000 off the price of the lot next door as long as they agree to improve it and plant a garden.  Everybody wins.  The homeowner has a double lot and a higher property value, the community has a lovely garden instead of blight, the city increases tax revenues.

Image from Growing Home

New landowners can grow how they want to: some plant vegetable gardens, some flowers, some create play spaces for children in the neighborhood, and some even open up as community gardens.  Improvements encouraged by the organization include native trees, lot water meters, rain barrels, compost piles, and fences.

Image from Growing Home

If this sounds good, Growing Home has a page full of resources not only for participants in their program, but also those who want to start up programs in other cities.