May 132010

Kurt Hoelting, author, fisherman, wilderness guide and meditation teacher, citizen of Clinton on Whidbey Island and a lifelong resident of the Puget Sound area, discovered to his horror that his carbon footprint was two and a half times that of the average American. He was shocked, among other reasons, because he drove a Prius. Apparently, investment in a hybrid is not enough to save the world from the ravages of climate change. So, Kurt decided to do something about it. He decided he would localize. That is, he would stay home for a year, defining home as an area within a 62 mile (100 kilometer) radius of Clinton. He would forego the use of an automobile and not fly for the entire year traveling only by foot, bicycle, kayak or public (not jet aircraft) transportation. (He alleges in an interview that the idea of writing a book about the experience came only later. We are not here to debate that point, but for an author this seems like a fertile idea for some best-selling non-fiction).

The Circumference of Home is an interesting concept for Transition. Obviously it represents a year of complete energy descent. In Mr. Hoelting’s case, he was motivated by climate change. His experiment gives us a case history for what is possible living locally. Speaking of climate change he says, “If there is a hidden gift embedded in this crisis, it is this potent new motivation to reexamine our lives, to make changes in the direction of more balanced and sustainable living—changes that we have resisted too long. That our overall quality of life may actually benefit from this effort is a prospect often lost in the public rhetoric about anticipated hardship and self-sacrifice that we’ve long associated with such changes.”

When Hoelting drew his radius on the map he discovered that the arc passed “…directly over the summit of Mount Olympus…It swung north to just include the San Juan Islands, before passing directly over the summit of Mount Baker…From there is passed directly over the summit of Glacier Peak…crossed Stevens and Snoqualmie Pass…then swung around to just touch the southern tip of Puget Sound.” This would mark the circumference of home. And a pretty nice territory it is.

Being a locavore can mean more than eating locally. It can meant living locally and taking full advantage of what the circumference of home, however you wish to measure it, has to offer. As Mr. Hoelting astutely points out, “Living on an island in the sound has its advantages. One of them is that you don’t have to wonder where the boundaries of your home terrain are. Walk in any direction, and you hit a clear line of demarcation where land meets water. Head either way down the beach, and you eventually wind up right where you started. It’s a comforting feeling.”

His year living locally, transporting himself primarily with muscle powere dramatizes what a motivated person can do to reduce their use of energy and told from an islander’s point of view.

Hoelting planned several adventures for his year of living locally and low on the energy chain. The first was a 130 mile walk though the Skagit Valley and back onto Whidbey from the north and down its full length. He started his year without a car on the winter solstice by walking four miles in a cold driving rain to the ferry dock.

What he learned will be helpful for anyone attempting to prepare for the future and will be of interest even to those who are not.

May 122010

There are different levels of preparedness. Whether preparing for a Nor’easter or The End of the World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI) we will need food and water. That’s where you start. Short term supplies of water can be stored in plastic jugs or even barrels. But when water sits for a long period of time perhaps in our cistern, storage tank or rain barrel the quality can be questionable. A reliable way to filter water is a necessity.

The concensus of prepper and survivalist sites on the internet is that the best filtering system is the Big Berkey, a light weight, two piece, stainless steel, table top unit with cleanable ceramic filters. For many years I hauled five gallon plastic containers of water from the Bellingham Co-op having a vague fear of well water that collected in our cistern (although I drank it unfiltered often with no short term problems). I bought a Big Berkey as part of my prepper program and it sat on the shelf for a few months while I continued to fill those big jugs in Bellingham until I thought, “This is really stupid.” I unpacked the Big Berkey, sat it up in a few minutes. To get going you run a tank full of water through the filters then toss it out and start drinking the second batch. It’s slow, but if you are diligent in filling the upper tank there is always drinking water on hand.

The best thing about the Big Berkey is the ease of cleaning the filters. There are four and they attach with a big wingnut and are sealed with a rubber gasket. Take them out and clean them quickly with a Scotch Brite pad and put them back in. Takes only a few minutes.

The ceramic filter elements reduce up to 99.99% of particulates, cysts, parasites and pathogenic bacteria including, but not limited to, E. Coli, Cryptosporidium, Giardia and Salmonella Typhi. Additionally, these powerful filters will reduce chlorine, rust, sediment and organic chemicals. Each filter element will provide efficient filtration for 2,600 gallons to 15,000 gallons depending on water quality.

Important for our side of the island, you can buy filters that will remove arsenic. The Big Berkey is great for everyday use and since it’s an “off the grid” device will be most useful in the event of a disaster. Cost for units start at around $200 and go up to the three hundreds depending on capacity and type of filters.

May 112010

At Cascade Cuts, 9am-4pm, 632 Montgomery Road, Bellingham.

Cascade Cuts wholesale nursery opens to the public just once per year, as a fundraiser for Sustainable Connections Food & Farming Program. A rare treat for gardeners, landscapers, and folks looking to save money and support a great local program.

I went last year and it was quite a spectacle. Lots of people and long lines if you don’t arrive quite early. For me it was worth the visit just to see how they make and distribute compost tea to all of their greenhouses via overhead piping.
Compost tea was on sale last year and there were vendors selling interesting garden tools.

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May 102010

One of the mostly forgotten stories of WWII (and WWI, for that matter) is the 20,000,000 Victory Gardens that grew between 40% and 50% of the countries vegetables. With the current resurgence of interest in gardening there is also an increased interest in the Victory Garden. Michelle Obama’s White House vegetable garden is an homage to Eleanor Roosevelt’s WWII garden which greatly disturbed the Department of Agriculture who thought backyard gardens would hurt commercial agriculture.

The Smithsonian has recreated a WWII Victory Garden.  “Throughout the World War II years, millions of victory gardens in all shapes and sizes-from window boxes to community plots-produced abundant food for the folks at home. While the gardens themselves are now gone, posters, seed packets, catalogs, booklets, photos and films, newspaper articles, diaries, and people’s memories still remain to tell the story of victory gardens.”

Heavily promoted by government the Victory Garden movement gained steam but died quickly at the end of the war.

This government film is a fascinating look at a lost era. It’s twenty minutes long and shows a farm family planning a raising a large garden. There’s lots of noxious sprays and chemicals and towards the end almost a horror show of pesky insects. I couldn’t quit watching. (Click link to watch film).

May 082010

Diet is a touchy subject; possibly more controversial than religion or politics. In fact, I think most people are more tolerant of challenges to their faith or voting patterns than they are to their diet. What we eat is a very personal thing. We are particularly protective of our comfort foods.

Food is also the centerpiece of community and family activity. Virtually every social event or holiday focuses on food. Every meeting has its cookie. Sweets are often the high point of any special event or our self-administered personal reward after a long day.

I read William Duffy’s book Sugar Blues back in the 80’s. I tried to give up sugar then but it is so ubiquitous it is very difficult to avoid, especially now that corn fructose syrup appears on every processed food that you can buy. Duffy makes the case that refined sugar is poisonous and addictive. It’s easy to test his thesis scientifically. But to do it, one must give up sugar. Not reduce the amount of sugar you eat, but go cold turkey. Drop it. No chocolate, no cookies, no cakes, no bread with sugar, no soup with sugar, no canned veggies with sugar, no sugar in your coffee. (Reading glasses are required. Check those ingredients. They put sugar in everything).

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May 072010

When Newsweek has a story about modern day survivalists, you know prepping has gone mainstream. People are nervous about the future and with good reason. “They call themselves ‘preppers.’ They are regular people with homes and families. But like the survivalists that came before them, they’re preparing for the worst.”

In recent history, this might have started with 9-11, gained momentum with Katrina and accelerated with the financial crisis. Whatever the motivation, there are lots of people getting ready for something—the unexpected. There is a dawning recognition that we have very little food security, that environmental disaster can strike and that our economy, now in shambles, can continue to decline precipitously. As a result, there is a growing group of people both urban and suburban getting ready, stocking up, learning new skills.

Prepping has, of course, spawned lots of blogs on the subject from Survival Mom to Prepper. org which aggregates the prepper network around the country. Prepper. org will lead you to the Washington Preppers Network All of these blogs offer helpful hints and ideas on getting ready for whatever we are getting ready for.

One neat idea I came across in skimming these blogs was  the Survival Seed Vault from Heirloom Organics in Oregon which provides specially packaged organic, non-GMO seed for long-term storage. Emergency seed, non hybrid, which means that you can use these plants to save seed after you grow them.

Preppers focus on food and water as the highest priority. Then medicine, personal protection, shelter and evacuation.

For many of others, prepping may involve preparing for old age, trying to stay fit and healthy and mentally sharp. This often requires lifestyle changes that aren’t easy to make but will help keep us in the game and ready for emergency or change.

I have to fess up to being a prepper. Here’s a quick inventory of the things our family has done to get ready for the future:
● Started a garden.
● Built extra storage including an insulated pantry.
●Rainwater catchment for irrigation and emergency water.
● Water filter, bulk food, medical kit.
● Adopted natural medicine to avoid reliance on the medical system.
● Long term seed storage. Learning to save my own seed.
● Learning to forage.
● Collected hand tools (as well as power tools).

● Financially, tried to avoid incurring debt. Invested in commodities rather than equities. Spread   bank accounts to several banks.
● Bought extra clothing and footwear.
● Joined the Custer Sportsman’s Club.

Next on the list: buy a decent boat. Get into beekeeping.

May 062010

This coming Saturday, May 8 from 10:30 to 12:30, Elisa King, a master composter with the WSU extension service will be at the Community Garden at the Curry Preserve to show gardeners everything you need to know about compost (What you can and can’t compost, compost chemistry,  compost recipes, simple compost systems, how to use compost).

Steve Solomon say this about compost or humus:  “Whatever its varied chemistry, all humus is brown or black, has a fine, crumbly texture, is very light-weight when dry, and smells like fresh earth. It is sponge-like, holding several times its weight in water. Like clay, humus attracts plant nutrients like a magnet so they aren’t so easily washed away by rain or irrigation. Then humus feeds nutrients back to plants. In the words of soil science, this functioning like a storage battery for minerals is called cation exchange capacity.”

“Most important, humus is the last stage in the decomposition of organic matter. Once organic matter has become humus it resists further decomposition. Humus rots slowly. When humus does get broken down by soil microbes it stops being organic matter and changes back to simple inorganic substances. This ultimate destruction of organic matter is often called nitrification because one of the main substances released is nitrate -that vital fertilizer that makes plants grow green and fast.”

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May 052010

Why are you on this island?

Fans of the TV show “Lost” are hoping  for answers as this popular drama comes down to it’s final episodes. For five seasons we’ve been trying to figure out what’s going on. We’re all still mostly lost. It’s beginning to seem that the island where the characters landed after a plane crash is some sort of alternate realty.

Living on an island is a kind of alternate reality in and of itself. It’s possible to block input from the outside world and just be on the island.

But, all  Americans are living in an alternate reality  right now. There is a disconnect between what we believe and what is real. For example, most people feel the housing market is going through a normal cycle and will come back. Housing prices will rise again and the economy will be on the move. This is an alternate reality. The fact is that there are 19 million empty homes in the US and 5 million more in the repo pipeline. It will be years and years before that inventory can be used up.

Speaking of pipelines, our entire way of modern life is based on cheap and available oil. Oil supplies are declining at the same time that demand is increasing. This demand/decline creates a situation where we have exponential or compounded growth and depletion as demonstrated in this graph by blog commenter Harun.

This is the reality. The alternate reality, where most of us reside, is that technology will provide a solution. (We’ll all get electric cars. Problem is that if we all had them and plugged them in the electrical grid would crash. Or, we’ll convert cars to natural gas. There are 254 million autos in the US. The cost to convert a car to NG is $12,000 to $22,000  Do the math. It won’t happen).

Writer Charles Hughes Smith makes this point: “We know that all the contrivances of “modern life” are ultimately the result of one single condition: cheap, abundant oil. Everything–the plays on Broadway, the film industry, the iPods made in China for cheap, the endless Mcmansions in gated exurbs, the grain-fattened, fat-marbled beef, the “cheap” fast-food meals, the Savior State and its Global Empire–is all based on cheap, abundant oil. There is no substitute in the near term.”

The alternate reality is that life will continue the way we’ve known it since WWII. The reality is that there will be drastic changes. We will need to make huge adjustments in lifestyle and learn how to do everything in a sustainable way.

On “Lost” everyone is trying to get off the island. I’m betting that the reality is that in the future an island will be a great place to be. And, not being able to get on (or let people on) whenever we/they want could be a huge advantage.

May 042010

The Transition Town Movement is based on the idea that we have reached Peak Oil or will very soon. Peak Oil is that point in time where we have used half of the world’s available oil. From Peak Oil onward the supply of oil will decline as demand increases. This is not tin foil hat theory. As I pointed out here even the US Military recognizes that Peak Oil is a valid theory. The Joe reports that as early as “2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 million barrels a day”.

In his weekly Monday essays Jim Kunstler points out that our life of “happy motoring” can’t continue. And, he argues that technology won’t find a way out of this conundrum. Our military planners report that Biofuels won’t step up to the plate as they are “unlikely to contribute more than 1% of global energy requirements by the 2030s, however even “that modest achievement could curtail the supply of foodstuffs to the world’s growing population” Nor will renewables, they argue: “Wind and Solar combined are unlikely to account for more than 1% of global energy by 2030.” They argue that nuclear “offers one of the more promising technological possibilities”, although they do note that “the expansion of nuclear plants faces considerable opposition because of public fears, while the disposal of nuclear waste remains politically controversial.” But even if these fears are overcome “ their construction in substantial numbers will take decades.”

Continue reading »

May 032010

The following is an email from Transition Whatcom on what they are doing following the activities of the Great Unleashing that was held April 11. They have formed many interesting groups and I’m certain would welcome input from Lummi Island:


On Sunday, April 11, about 180 folks gathered at Bellingham High School and created 18 Transition Whatcom work groups.

The initial hub for information sharing as we establish the Transition Whatcom Work Groups:

The purpose of these work groups is to begin to do the actual work of Transition in our communities. Please review the list below to find a group that engages your interest and commitment, and join that group. The folks named have agreed to convene the first meetings. Longer term leadership of each group will be determined by the groups themselves. Links to existing group sites are listed for convenience. Please check out all the groups on this site and join ones that fit for
you. If you want to promote your group on this page, feel free to do so.

For Transition to become meaningful, we need everyone’s contributions.

1. Food and Farming: Kate Clark –

2. Transportation: David Waugh –

3. Post-Isolation/Heart and Soul: Adam Ward

4. Reskilling/Bio energy – Brian Kerkvliet (Inspiration Farm) Ph:360-398-7061

5. Essential Life Skills for Students and Young People: Nancy D’Anna Schaffer –

6. Lights Out/Energy Quantification: Francis Edwards –

7. Composting Toilets: Pete Holcomb –

8. Do-It-Yourself 1st Aid: Rainbow Medicine-Walker 559-1199 (has no email; David Culver is part of group

9. Government & Politics: James Bauckman –

10. Ecological Restoration: Juliet Thompson –

11. Personal Finance: Laura Sellens-

12. Dry Beans & Grains: Krista Rome –

13. Alternative Education/Free Range School: Janaki Kilgore –

14. Reconnecting with the natural world: John DelSignore –

15. Community living: Rhys Faler –

16. Economic Evolution: Frances Ayley – / Lia Ayley –

17. Arts – Tristan Bach –

18. Affordable Housing by Homeowners (ADU) – Rebecca Meloy –

May 012010

This blog started out by recommending that everyone take Chris Martenson’s Crash Course in economics (see tab at the top of the page). I recommend it again for anyone who hasn’t taken the time to read Chris’s arguments as to why we are in such a deep economic pickle that it will take years to recover. There are books and books and multiple articles on the web explaining and analyzing why this happened. I think the simplest answer is that, as a country, we quit making things and fixing things. The “bottom line” became the most important factor in corporate decision making which prioritized short term rather than long term thinking.

Short term thinking affects everyone. This week’s decision by Whatcom County voters to turn down an upgrade of the transit system is a good example. The vote was extremely close but the desire to not pay yet another tax won the day. This is understandable as people are hard pressed to pay their bills. I can’t speak to the arcane details of what WTA had planned but it seems to me that in a world of Peak Everything, we will need stronger systems of public transportation.

Buses primarily serve the young and the poor but in the future we all may need to ride them more frequently if gas prices increase dramatically or shortages occur.

I’d be curious to know what the bus vote was on Lummi Island. One would expect that 100% of islanders would be in favor of buses for Whatcom County citizens. We seem, as a group, to be strongly in favor of public transportation for ourselves so that our “way of life” (ability to go to Bellingham with one person in a private auto any time we please) won’t be affected. Surely, islanders would be willing to pony up a few dollars a year so the way of life of people who don’t have cars won’t be affected either.

The citizens of Whatcom County decided to keep their costs down by not upgrading public transportation. What would happen if they got to vote on the ferry?

I think that Lummi Islanders should be strong proponents of public transportation across the board. And, it may be more important, in the long run, for some carless employee in the suburbs of B’Ham to be able to get to work downtown by bus than for one of us to get to Costco or to work by private auto.

Preston L. Schiller, a former Lummi Island resident, has co-authored a book on sustainable transportation systems that looks very interesting: An Introduction to Sustainable Transportation: Policy, Planning and Implementation. “It addresses the clear differences between what environmentally oriented sustainable transportation comprises in comparison to the conventional or “Business As Usual” approach that dominates most transportation planning and policy—and leads to our current difficult situation. It ranges from walking and bicycling through motorized modes of all types; freight, passenger, on land, sea or air.”

One hopes that the County Council would spend significant amounts of time discussing and planning for sustainable transportation systems. Instead, they are apparently spending considerable time on the issue of where developers might put future developments that we don’t need. (See Weimer’s blog here).