Monthly Archives: December 2013

Terra Preta. Who Knew?

Ideas to consider.

Many ideas to consider.

“All the world’s problems can be solved in the garden.” –Geoff Lawton, permaculture pioneer.

I just read “The Biochar Solution”, by Albert Bates. I’m not sure I can fully recommend it, as his argument strikes me as a bit scattered and slightly less than incisive. BUT, that being said, there’s an awful lot to consider here, and an amazing number of things that I’d never heard of before. Terra preta? Salt-water greenhouses that distill fresh water from the air? The UN’s Billion Tree program? Step-harvesting? Pre-Columbian Amazonian cultures that rivaled the Inca and Aztec? So while I don’t feel inclined to uncritically endorse all of his ideas, the topics in the book are fascinating, and they have added some nuance to both my vision of ideal agriculture and to potential solutions to the world’s CO2 problem.

Here’s his idea in a nutshell (it’s kind of hard to summarize, the flip side of good storytelling could be called “rambling”). First, Spanish explorers in the mid-16th century, forced by privation to descend the entire length of the Amazon from the Peru side, encountered tremendous Amazonian civilizations that were built in harmony with nature, and whose farming was based on the intentional improvement of the soil by making a form of charcoal and plowing it into the earth to transform thin Amazonian soils into rich “terra preta” soils, with depths in some places of many feet.

Terra_Preta wikimedia by Rsukiennik

Terra preta, or “dark earth”, soil on the right. Such soils were created through human activity over millennia.

These “garden cities” and the surrounding countryside in Amazonia may have supported a population of 30 million or more, according to Bates. Then came the plague of diseases from the Old World, brought by the Europeans, which decimated American native populations with such rapidity that they lost virtually their entire culture, in addition to 99% or more of their populations. All of that incredibly rich soil, now abandoned, was very rapidly overgrown with jungle trees and vegetation, to such an amazing degree that it sucked so much carbon out of the air that it cause the Little Ice Age of the 17th and 18th century. Bates holds that the Amazonian methods were an exception to the story of agriculture as it has been practiced in virtually every other civilization and time (including our own), whereby the agricultural methods are ultimately so destructive to the soil that the environmental underpinnings of the civilizations fail, causing collapse. (Related post– “An Important Piece of the Puzzle“). He extrapolates further from this, and writes that not only can the methods be revived and used again, but that the intentional “farming” of carbon can actually stabilize or even reverse climate change, if fossil fuel use can be brought under control.

Quite fascinating. All of this is plausible, if not completely proven. Recent scientific inquiry, much of it in just the last few years, seems to concur with his position on pre-Columbian Amazonian civilizations, though there isn’t full consensus on the issue. (A few articles– Scientific American, “Lost Garden Cities: Pre-Columbian Life in the Amazon“, and The Washington Post, “Scientists Find Evidence Discrediting Idea that Amazon was Virtually Unlivable“.) Terra preta soils certainly exist, and apparently, even under the lowest estimates, cover thousands of square miles of Amazonia. Analysis has concluded that these soils were definitely created by human activity. Whether that activity was intentional or not is apparently also debated, some (like Bates) holding that it was clearly intentional, others that it was more an inadvertent result of normal kitchen fires and wastes and varied forms of slash-and-burn agriculture. As to whether reforestation in the Americas helped trigger the Little Ice Age, some researchers do seem to feel that it was a contributing factor, and perhaps a major one. (Stanford article here.) If this was indeed true, then it would lend credence to Bates’ ideas that a concerted effort to sequester carbon—to remove it from the natural carbon cycle—would have a similar effect, and could reverse or stabilize global warming. Again, there are experts in all of these fields who would agree, but there are certainly others who would argue about the particulars.

A 45-minute-long BBC production entitled “The Secret of El Dorado”, that touches on most of the topics in this post. It’s more even-handed than Bates’ book, and fairly convincing—

At the root of this entire story is charcoal, or, in the parlance of enthusiasts, “biochar”. (Biochar being charcoal that is contaminant-free and therefore useful as a soil amendment). To make charcoal, woody materials or other biomass is exposed to heat in the absence of oxygen, where they off-gas volatile compounds (“wood gas”) in a process known as pyrolization. The gasses can be burned, and if this off-gassing process is allowed to continue the original fuel remains behind as nearly-pure carbon, or charcoal. Cultures around the world have made charcoal for millennia, and many still do so today for use as fuel, and particularly for use as cooking fuel. But, if that charcoal is added to soil as an amendment, it effectively sequesters the carbon it contains, because the carbon in biochar is chemically “recalcitrant”, or resistant to change (as opposed to “labile” carbon, which is what most of the carbon in soils typically is, in humus and other plant matter). As such, it can remain unchanged in the soil for hundreds or thousands of years (and the existence today of these black soils, 500 years after Columbus, certainly seems to give evidence of this). Combining this form of carbon sequestration with afforestation (planting trees), and the raising of carbon levels in soils as a function of organic farming and/or permaculture could measurably reduce atmospheric carbon. According to Bates and others, the idea of actively sequestering carbon in this way could save humanity from rising global temperatures.

Charcoal vendor, Zambia, 2009. Environmental groups around the world report charcoal production as a major pressure on forests.

Charcoal vendor, Zambia, 2009. Environmental groups around the world report charcoal production as a major pressure on forests.

Bates isn’t alone, apparently there are whole groups that exist to promote biochar and related forms of carbon sequestration, such as the “International Biochar Initiative“. One huge proponent is Nathaniel Mulcahy, founder of WorldStove, (oddly pictorial website here). His organization makes simple pyrolizing cookstoves for poor people around the world (their tagline is “A Million Stoves”). The stoves burn cleanly and help avoid the soot inhalation that kills up to four million people every year, they are efficient, and, they produce biochar. (Apparently their high efficiency makes up for the fact that some of the potential energy in the fuel remains as charcoal). When the charcoal is used as a soil amendment (or better yet, first used in composting toilets and then as a soil amendment) then the use of the stove actually becomes carbon negative, as long as the fuel was sustainably harvested.

Rural outdoor kitchen, of an inefficient design.

Rural outdoor stove, of an inefficient design. Smoke inhalation from such stoves that are used indoors contributes to the death of over 4 million people a year.

If millions used these efficient stoves, they could potentially improve the health, sanitation, and food production of poor people around the world, and sequester carbon at the same time. It’s a pretty bold vision, and Mulcahy and his company are active in poor regions around the world, including Haiti after the earthquake of 2010. Below is a video demonstration of a stove like the ones the company makes. This one is “homemade”; the precision parts of the factory-built stoves burn even cleaner, with a nearly invisible blue flame. Once the stove gets to operating temperature, it is wood-gas that is burning, as the woody fuel pyrolizes—

Not all environmental groups agree with the vision of the biochar proponents. One such group is Biofuelwatch, a UK-based group that opposes most large-scale uses of biofuel, fearing for the safety of both forests and natural areas, and of the rural peoples who live there. Charcoal production already puts pressure on forests around the world, and I can understand their fear of what might happen if biochar as a soil amendment was given international sanction as a measurable carbon offset. Biochar proponents, however, point to the tremendous amounts of agricultural wastes that exist worldwide, such as rice straw, that could be utilized without any negative effect on forests.

In the end, as with everything else, the truth is often nuanced and far from the extremes. IF the source fuel for biochar was gathered sustainably, the use of biochar in agriculture seems to fit in very well with sustainable paths forward. As the world (hopefully) switches to regenerative, sustainable permaculture of the type espoused by Mark Shepard and others, huge amounts of carbon will be captured and stored in the trees and soils of these systems. According to Mark Shepard, these systems also produce more woody biomass, in the form of nut shells, pruned and coppiced wood, etc., than can generally be used. Such waste biomass would be perfectly suited for biochar production, and the resulting amendments could be added to the soil during keyline plowing or during planting operations.

One last video, if you’re interested—small-scale production of biochar. Pretty amazing, note the near absence of smoke once the kiln reaches gasification temperature—

So, I’m not sure that you need to read the book. But, you do need to add the word “biochar” to your vocabulary, and we all need to keep it in mind as perhaps an important part of new permaculture systems, and perhaps even, if Bates is correct, as a carbon sequestration option that might help “save humanity”.

 Terra preta image: Rsukiennik, Wikimedia Commons.
Charcoal vendor image: CIFOR; Creative Commons at http://www.flickr.com/photos/45423546.
Rural kitchen image: CIFOR; Creative Commons at http://www.flickr.com/photos/cifor/8620660813.

Global Warming for the Skeptical

Alpine flowers---earlier every year.

Alpine flowers—earlier every year.

I saw some hyperbole on a website the other day, warning of sea level rises of 35 meters by the end of the century, due to global warming. I’m not so sure. But, that’s not to say that I think that the planet isn’t warming, because I’m even more unsure about the claims from the other extreme that nothing is happening, or that, if it is, humans don’t have anything to do with it. The truth is somewhere in the middle here—the planet is clearly warming, and human activity is nearly certain to be a major cause.

But while I do have an opinion, I’ve got plenty of friends, relatives, and acquaintances that are confused, misinformed, or misguided about the issue, and often end up not knowing what to think. It’s easy to see why—vested interests have purposely obfuscated the issue, political elements have ignored or ridiculed inconvenient data, and statistics have been used incorrectly by all sides. Worse, the warnings of a few degrees of warming, set to occur over decades, often don’t strike fear into people’s hearts. My post about Mr. X’s devil’s-advocate views (“Mr. X on Global Warming“) sums up the more rational side of this position.

BUT, I think common sense can help us out here. Leaving the graphs and trend lines and statistical margins of error aside, there are quite a few changes in the world that are clear to see and aren’t in doubt, and when taken together shed light on this issue. In no particular order–

— Glaciers are in retreat the world over, at rates that are astounding the scientists that study them. Photography provides clear proof of this. Some images from the US Geological Survey–

Grinnell Glacier USGS cropped

Sperry Glacier USGS cropped

Identical changes are occurring worldwide; many more images can be found at USGS and elsewhere on the web, such as the National Snow and Ice Data Center. And it isn’t some tiny fluke, the melting of glaciers is massive and ongoing.

— Arctic sea ice is melting. Despite the flap the other month instigated by a skewed report in the U.K. by David Rose, the Arctic is melting (see post “Et Tu, Time?”). Many reputable groups expect the Arctic to be nearly ice-free in summer by mid-century, and nations around the polar circle are scrambling to position themselves to take advantage of new oil exploration and shipping opportunities. Articles such as this one from Business Insider, “China Begins Using Arctic Shipping Route that ‘Could Change the Face of World Trade’” are easy to find. It isn’t just number and graphs—it’s reality above the Arctic Circle. Reports that polar bears, notoriously good swimmers, are drowning for lack of sea ice aren’t being fabricated out of thin air.

— Sea levels are rising, the oceans are getting more acidic and warmer, and reefs are dying. It’s occurring to me that this could end up being a very long post if I’m not careful, so I’ll shorten up my explanations. But, none of these things are really in doubt, and information about the topics abounds. Two really good articles about these ocean topics are worth mentioning, though, one on ocean acidification recently in The Economist, “Acid Test: The world’s oceans are becoming more acidic. How much that matters is not yet clear. But it might matter a lot.”, and the cover story in National Geographic in September, “Rising Seas“. Needless to say, carbon dioxide and climate warming are at the root off all four of these ocean problems.

— In North America, days of snow cover are down, spring arrives earlier, and frost occurs later, in trends that go back decades. This effect is large enough that the USDA has reworked their plant hardiness zone maps in ways that reflect about a 5-degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature. (One article of many, this one from the Washington Post, “New USDA Plant Zones Clearly Show Climate Change“). Changes in average snow cover have been extreme enough that they have prompted Porter Fox, an author at Powder Magazine, to write “DEEP: The Story of Skiing and the Future of Snow”. A portion of a review from Outside Magazine–

Deep book cover
“The snowpack in British Columbia has declined by half overall and the ski season in some regions is four to five months shorter than it was 50 years ago,” he writes in DEEP.  “Eastern Canada is even warmer… Computer models show the Northeast ski season shrinking to less than 100 days by 2039. Under other models, the mean snow depth for the Rocky Mountains is predicted to drop to zero by 2100.”

This summer at Solarfest I heard a similar presentation by Dr. Alan Betts of Atmospheric Research in Vermont, where he gave an hour-long presentation, with photographs, of an extremely long list of frost dates and snow cover and plant blooming times, all of which provide near-unmistakable evidence of warming in New England.

The USDA 1990 map---a colder U.S.

The USDA 1990 map—a colder U.S.

 — The Snowshoe Hare, the Canada Lynx, and trees in the Rockies have been clearly impacted by a warmer planet. Just to start with the trees, the headlines are pretty self-explanatory— “Study: US Trees Dying at Alarming Rate” (Time), “How the Pine Beetle is Destoying Colorado Forests” (Newsweek), “What’s Killing the Aspen” (Smithsonian), “What’s Killing the Great Forests of the American West?” (Yale.edu)… The root of the problem—a warmer climate, which stresses trees and allows insect populations to mushroom to previously unheard-of levels.

Canada Lynx.

Canada Lynx.

Related is a huge shift in the populations of the Canada Lynx, pushed out of thousands of square miles of range due to reduced snowfall levels and the unfortunate demise of many of its primary prey, the snowshoe hare, itself a victim of often being the wrong color in a changing world. (One article of many—“Canada Lynx and Climate Change: Rising Temperature and Declining Snow Fall Spell Trouble for Canada Lynx.”). None of this is exclusive to the US—similar situations can be found worldwide.

I could go on, but I suppose my main point is this—you don’t have to be a scientist in some esoteric field to see that the earth is getting warmer—evidence abounds. Now, some would argue that yes, the world is warming, but that human activity isn’t a factor. This argument seems equally untenable; the science behind how greenhouse gasses work has been understood for a century, and the rise in CO2 has almost exactly mirrored both warming and human industrial development (post, “A Matter of Limits“). In 2012 the world emitted 30,000 million tons of CO2, and we’ve been emitting similar amounts every year for decades. You just don’t have to be a rocket scientist to put two and two together here.

The problem, or one of the problems, is that all of this change, while extremely rapid on a geologic scale, seems to be occurring just slowly enough to be beyond the natural human threshold for arousing fear and alarm. We’re like the proverbial frogs in the boiling pot—the water’s getting hotter, but we aren’t jumping out. (Interesting Psychology Today article—“Climate Change: A Psychological Problem“).

Now, don’t get me wrong. As I’ve said before, I would like nothing more than for future data to show that we were all wrong about human-induced climate change, it would be a huge blessing for mankind. I’m not some zealot in a new secular religion of climate alarm, proselytizing to the unfaithful. But, reason and common sense militate against the idea that nothing is happening, or that humans are uninvolved. So, don’t be confused, and don’t let this or that extremist keep you from seeing the forest for the trees. It is a near-certainty that the planet is warming, that humans are causing it, that the change is rapid in the broad view of things, and that it’s a dangerous path for all of nature, which ultimately includes we humans.

29 Jan 2013: A link to a 15-second NASA video that is an excellent visual representation of all this.

 Top image credit: “Flowers on the Edge”, by Bryant Olsen, Creative Commons, at http://www.flickr.com/photos/22837563. Image has been cropped.
Grinnell and Sperry Glaciers– USGS Repeat Project, photographers listed in graphics.
1990 Hardiness map– USDA.
Lynx photo– USFWS.

 

Not Sexy

La Bastilla Ecolodge cropped

Off-grid or grid-tied—that is the question. La Bastilla Ecolodge, Nicaragua. Hmmm, there’s no ice there…

Something’s become more and more apparent to me lately as I ponder our off-grid setup—being grid-tied is inherently more efficient than being off-grid. I know, nothing too sexy here with this technical point, but it’s an important realization, and it has implications for the larger systems that nations need to be working toward.

In my case, as I add generation to approach net-zero, each additional kilowatt of capacity will be needed less and less. Some numbers to illustrate—we are off-grid, and have about 3 kw of solar PV installed in two large arrays. On a sunny day in the summer, when the days are long and the sun is high, the system can produce over 20 kwh’s of power. We tend to use about 7 kwh a day, which means that in the summer we’re often making about three times the amount that we use or can effectively store. The batteries tend to be full by 10:30 in the morning on such days, and then the panels do very little for the rest of the day. In December, however, it’s quite the opposite, with much shorter days and a lower sun angle. At that time of year we only average about 4 or 5 kwh’s of generation each day, which is a bit shy of what we need, and so we run the gas-powered generator off and on, especially in November and December. Usually by mid-January the skies are clearer and the days start lengthening a bit, and we start breaking even again, and continue that way for the next ten months.

So, our house is close to net-zero, but I’d like to completely eliminate those hours where we need to run the gas-powered generator. If I added 2 more kw’s of PV capacity, I’d probably get really close. BUT—that investment (probably $4,000 if I did it myself) would only be needed for about two months a year. Thus, for about 80% of the year it would just sit there essentially unused, which would equate to hundreds of kwh’s of uncollected, and therefore lost, power. In short, the closer I approach being fully net-zero in the off-grid setup, the less efficient the total system becomes. Needless to say, this isn’t good—in addition to the expense, everything has environmental costs when produced, even technology that we need more of like solar PV, so it seems like it would be a case of not using our resources wisely.

If our house was grid-tied (which it never has been, due to the potential expense, because we’re something like 1,500 feet from the power lines), the story would be dramatically different. All those hundreds of kwh’s that I currently am forced to waste would flow into the grid, which would enable to power company to generate less. At other times, when our demand exceeded our production, I would draw these “banked” hours back from the grid. This is actually another of those win/win/win situations. It would be more efficient—it would keep my solar production from being wasted, the losses incurred by transforming power to and from a chemical state in the batteries would be avoided, and when generation is required, it would be done by the power company’s much-more-efficient stationary natural gas plants, or by grid-scale wind or hydro.

Yet another win/win---power companies on both the Canadian and U.S. sides of Niagara Falls generate 4.4 gigawatts of hydroelectric power, without destroying the beauty of the falls.

Yet another win/win situation—power companies on both the Canadian and U.S. sides of Niagara Falls use the river to generate 4.4 gigawatts of hydroelectric power, without destroying the beauty of the falls. This is the equivalent of about four nuclear power plants.

The power company benefits as well—peak solar hours often overlap with peak grid demand, so grid-tied solar inputs tend to reduce peak demand on the grid. The opposite tends to be true when grid-tied homes are pulling from the grid, say, in the middle of the night to charge EV’s, during times of very low demand. The net effect is that grid-tied systems help level the grid. Many power companies, like Green Mountain Power (GMP) here in Vermont, seem to be embracing distributed generation for another reason—taking the long view, they seem to recognize that the role of power companies is and will be changing, away from the old idea of generating power and distributing it in one direction for a single price, and to the model of the power company as a manager of a complex grid that buys power from many sources and distributes it, as needed, in all directions, perhaps with time-of-use (TOU) pricing. (See earlier post “Cloudy Day Pause” for more about how grids might function in the future.)

Remarkably, being grid-tied would probably be a better choice even if I had to use a power company, like some in the Midwest, that rely nearly 100% on coal. Being grid-tied does not change the total amount of fossil fuel that is burned—the companies burn less when grid-tied homes are feeding power in, and then burn more later, when such homes are pulling power out.

Now, while being grid-tied is more efficient when viewed system-wide, what would happen if everyone was grid-tied, in a future situation where fossil fuels might be nearly totally phased out? It’s easy enough to see how the grid can work as a virtual (and unlimited) “battery” for a small proportion of customers, but where is the upper limit? The short version—we’re not quite sure. One thing is for sure, though—U.S. power companies are nowhere close to this limit. In Vermont the electric utilities are currently allowed by law to have up to 4% of their generation from grid-tied systems, but that number was established somewhat arbitrarily in years past, and the legislature is currently expected to soon raise it to 15%, a move that is being welcomed by most of the power companies. A better case study of high RE penetration would be the situation in Germany, though it’s complicated enough that the topic really warrants its own post. Short version—their solar feed-in is around 35% on sunny days, and due to vagaries in the international coal market (coal has become cheaper due to plentiful supplies of natural gas in the U.S.) it has caused disruption in the business models of German power companies, which has had economic costs and, as of yet, fewer than expected CO2 reductions (see Economist article, “How to Lose Half a Trillion Euros“. I personally think The Economist is quite one-sided in this article, but that, again, would probably be a whole other post.) Eventually grids worldwide will need to move toward 100% RE generation as we phase out fossil fuels, and much of this will be distributed generation from point sources. But, 1) we’re not even close enough to worry about it now, at least in the U.S., and 2) power companies will change their business models over time. Indeed, companies like GMP have already started. Fortunately, moving to a smarter grid isn’t an all-or-nothing propostion, but rather evolutionary change over time. (Again, previous post “Cloudy Day Pause” discusses some of this in more detail).

So, back to where I started—it isn’t sexy, but the higher efficiency of grid-tied systems is an important point as we work out our workable vision of the future. We’ll eventually need a smart, flexible grid that efficiently connects renewable generation from million of sources to millions of destinations. In the much shorter term for me, tying to the grid might be the easiest, if not the cheapest, way to achieve net-zero. Much to ponder…

Top image by La Bastilla Ecolodge/Creative Commons at http://www.flickr.com/photos/75904527@N05/6789926688/in/photolist-bm19Dw-bHQZjr-hgdJBV-bBhSJ4, image has been cropped.
Niagara Falls image credit: pierdelune / 123RF Stock Photo

Getting My Feng Shui On

 

There's something to this calm environment thing...

There’s something to this calm environment thing…

“You only truly own what you can carry in two hands at a dead run.”—Anonymous

My life is getting simpler. Since I first heard about “minimalism” (post—“Minimalism and Our Couches“) I’ve made steady progress. Gone is the hay mower, the hay rake, the farm wagon, and the hay baler. Gone too is the Coleman pop-up camper. Then, today I sold my Subaru Impreza, since I don’t really need it since we have the new electric vehicles. That also took a whole set of four snow tires and rims out of the barn. Gone also is the exercise machine that no one uses (we all just exercise outside; a better choice anyway?). Gone are piles of old windows and pallets. And those are just some of the bigger items, I’ve been steadily removing smaller things, too—scrap metal to the recycler, unused toys to Goodwill, magazines to the sharing bin at the Co-op, bags of worthless items to the garbage, old paint to the haz-mat collection site in town, an unused tv to the give-away shed at the transfer station.

And here’s the interesting part—with every material-goods-reduction comes a palpable sense of calm (though I literally danced a jig in the yard when the pop-up camper disappeared over the ridge). Each item gone results in one less thing to move, one less thing to mow around, to maintain, store, or otherwise deal with. And it’s somehow peaceful. I never really understood it before, those calm meditation rooms for yoga practice, those Japanese Zen gardens, all those people with their feng-shui-compliant interiors. But I get it now. Clutter is stressful, it wears you down; it’s like noise pollution for the soul. Material goods also don’t usually bring us joy, and perhaps just the opposite. If we’re not careful, we become slaves to our possessions, working hard to earn money for their storage and maintenance, and spending time dealing with them.

I’ve had a bit of help along the way. Every once and awhile I’ll check in on Joshua Becker’s Becoming Minimalist website for some inspiration. (In an odd coincidence, I think he lives just up the road from me, in Burlington, VT). And, my wife is more than happy to participate in clutter-reduction, I think she was born with the feng-shui gene. And, despite the progress, I’ve got plenty of room to continue. Next on the list—my road bike from my high school and college days that hasn’t been on the road for twenty years, shelves of VHS tapes that I no longer draw upon when making lessons, and the other Subaru gas-mobile…

Two areas stand out as difficult, though. One, books. I really, really like my books. I know that I shouldn’t view them this way, but I really see them as part of my identity. I bought a Kindle the other month after realizing that e-readers come out better in the sustainability arena (post, “My Feminine Side“), but I don’t love it. After looking at a computer screen for much of my working day, I’m ready to be finished with electronic gizmos once I get home. Actually, this is another version of mental clutter for me—a “real” book is pretty darn simple and relaxing compared to the Kindle, with its screens and settings and batteries, etc. Anyway, we have bookshelves all over the house that are overflowing, and clearly in need of some minimalism treatment. And, I suppose I could indeed winnow them down a bit. And, the second difficult area—shop equipment and materials. Simplicity may be all well-and-good for your living room, but it doesn’t work so well in the shop. All those tools, all those odds and ends from former projects, equate to functionality.

But, despite that, the minimalism push strikes me as a good one, on the whole. It’s good for the pocketbook, because when you’re spending time trying to get rid of things, it really, really makes you think twice about purchasing something that is going the other way and coming into the house. And, as I discussed the other month in the post “Identity and Our Belongings“, it’s good for our mental well-being in a variety of ways, and, in keeping with the thrust of this entire site, that reduced consumerism is good for the planet. Taken all together, it’s a win, win, win situation. I read somewhere (in the book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”?) that “Americans are really good at turning their cash into trash”. I see that a lot, and am more than happy to have perhaps hopped off of that train.

In the end, perhaps it’s fitting to close with a quote from Yvon Chouinard, renowned mountaineer and founder of Patagonia sportswear, from a great film that speaks to my soul, “180 Degrees South”— “The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life.” This may well be true, but I have a feeling that such a simplification is worth the effort.

 Image credit: shaiith / 123RF Stock Photo