Category Archives: Blogging

Nuance, Thoughtfulness, and a Measured Approach

Taborri pic for presentations cropped slightly

I don’t wear a suit all that often; it took me a while to dig up a picture where I looked like a candidate…

Well, it’s official—I’m running for state office; there’s my grainy mug shot above. Local people have asked me to run for a position on the state legislature, and after initially rejecting the idea, I decided that I probably could be of service. I have the background and broad life experience required of a good legislator, and I should do my civic duty. It isn’t like I haven’t thought about these things—I’ve been thinking and writing about public policy for many years.

So, this blog has obviously focused mostly on sustainability, though in these pages are also political topics—musings on economic systems, markets, trade policies, taxes, and the like. Most of my underlying political philosophy is in here, in one place or another. The challenge, though, upon being elected, is that I would be helping to create policy that has real impacts, on real people, both for good and bad. With policy, the devil is nearly always in the details. There are often issues where there is broad general agreement, but where the nitty-gritty is extremely difficult to parse. In our state, the recent failure of a bill that would have legalized marijuana is a case in point—there seemed to be broad general agreement on the matter, but the House and Senate, and members within those bodies, were unable to reach agreement on the details of implementation. So it is and will be with positions that I’ve advocated here. Sure, we can all agree in a general sense that we need to move toward renewable power. But how, and how fast, and in what places? What other areas of policy would be affected by this path or that?

Then, there is the fact that there is much, much more that has to be done by government than to just work on environmental topics, and many of those pressing concerns are competing for the same pool of limited funds. The result is that serving in the legislature would require large measures of nuance and thoughtfulness, and in many cases, measured approaches that might work in the real world, but might also fail to fully satisfy anyone. But, it also seems like a fun and interesting challenge, and should the citizens here deem me fit to be elected, I will work hard to both be their voice, and to help provide leadership, direction, and vision as to where we are going as a state.

On the practical side, I will likely be putting a pause on writing new material here, perhaps until the election in November. I am certainly not stopping permanently, though, and rest assured that sustainability is and will remain something that I will continue to ponder. Without factoring in environmental issues, we have no long-term future.

Best,

tb

Me on TV

Ha, I’m famous! Ok, not really, but I did do an interview segment for the local community television show. It’s not my preferred form of delivery, I’d much rather write, but I suppose it turned out ok. So if you’re interested, here’s my balding head talking to the camera…

(I suspect this link might not stay linked to the right video—the frame below should be for “Middlebury Five-O, Today’s Guest: Taborri Bruhl”. I’ll try to keep an eye on it to keep it linked correctly.)

In other news, I think I’ve made some serious progress with regard to how we should think about economic growth. That post coming within a week…

 

The Once-a-Year-or-So Blog Reflection

My future office, after I quit real life.

My future office, after I quit real life.

Whew. I’ve been crazy-busy lately, with all manner of “normal life” tasks; everything from finishing our unfinished pantry, to running kids to this activity and that, or working with the afterschool clubs at work, etc. Thus, I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking about sustainability, as always, but not that much actual writing. I jot my musings down on scraps of paper, and they end up in a pile on my desk.

Then, in the middle of all of this, I found another blog that I really like, “Wait But Why“, which gives me yet another thing to do. But, their posts about artificial intelligence, and EV’s, and several others are right in line with the topics I write about here, along with a few, like their post on procrastination, that aren’t, but that one does apply to me personally (and is both freakily accurate and humorous). Their main writer, Tim Urban, appears to read, research, and write nearly full-time, while his partner runs the “business side” of their blog, which appears to include ads on their pages, and some sort of sales of retail items related to their topics. Now, I’m pretty envious of this idea, especially as I struggle along with real life and kids and work, when I would dearly, dearly love to sit and read, research, think, and write every day, and play with fruit trees and permaculture swales. BUT, and here’s my main point of the day… Continue reading

A Nice Easy Change

water bottles cropped

The new Styrofoam…

A very quick post here; I’m still travelling, and I’ve been too busy to research or ponder the myriad sustainability topics that are accruing on my mental list, among them soil erosion in Spain, new attitudes about sustainability in Texas, scientific reports on global warming trends, analyses that shows that half of the earth’s biomass is gone, and the problem of mesquite trees, just to name a few. I’ll be back home in a week, and can resume a more normal reading and writing pace. Until then, here’s a quick post about a nice easy change everyone could make—buy and use a stainless-steel water bottle. My wife and I and the kids all picked one up on this trip, because we were tired of creating trash every time we wanted to stop while driving in order to get something to drink. And… it works like a charm. Both of the bottles in the picture are a double-walled insulated type, and they really keep liquids cool or hot. Plus, cold liquids don’t make them sweat on the outside, even on a hot muggy day.

So, I drive along when travelling, pull off at a McDonalds, go in and ask for a large unsweetened tea, but I hold up the water bottle and tell the person at the register that I don’t need a cup, because “I’ll just put it in here”. It works like a charm. A bit of ice, a whole bottle of tea, and off I go, no Styrofoam cup or trash. You could do the same thing with soda at most fast-food restaurants, or with water at water fountains anywhere. Anyway, bottom line—it isn’t always convenient or possible to bring drinks with you from home, and this is a nice easy way to avoid all kinds of single-use plastics and trash.

Small changes, but they all add up…

 

The Charges Against Me

excavators cropped

Nature destruction—more and more common the world over.

Very interesting— a person named Dean posted a long comment on the “About the Blog” page the other day. I came close to dismissing it, because it looked strikingly like some of the myriad computer-generated spam that blogs receive and filter out daily. But it wasn’t spam, it was a seemingly heartfelt statement, written in a stream-of-consciousness style over several pages. And, reading between the lines, he was in many ways rather politely calling “bulls#&t” on this blog and its purpose. Feel feel to read the original—I took out a few lines that were ancillary, but the bulk of what he wrote is included as a comment under the “About the Blog” page. But, let me take the liberty of distilling his points for you here, because I don’t entirely disagree. In essence, and at the risk of putting a few words into his mouth, here’s what I believe is a fairly accurate, and shorter, rendition of what he wrote, and it brings up some important points—

Dear Sir,

It’s all well and good for you to go on and on in your blog about sustainability, but what you’re doing here is a bit of a joke. “Sustainability” has become just another buzzword, like “organic”, and has lost much of its meaning. The things that get done in the name of “sustainability”, including your blog, are really just ways to make wealthy liberals feel better about themselves. Electric vehicles, yoga, bike riding, eating kale, and having a few solar panels—these are all just window dressing, all just tokens with no real impact, because all of us, at least all of us Americans, are living far, far beyond our means in terms of living in harmony with the planet. Our very lifestyle, as Americans, is fundamentally unsustainable, and is driven by unsustainable market forces. These forces create over-consumption on one hand, and wealth inequality on the other. This wealth inequality precludes huge numbers of Americans at the lower economic rungs from participating in these feel-good measures. Thus, your blog and other efforts like it are essentially salves for the consciousnesses of liberal, mostly white, mostly wealthy people, to make themselves feel better as they over-consume in ways that are trashing the planet. If you REALLY want to be more sustainable, then advocate living like our grandparents did, in much smaller houses, with much less consumption, and growing and preserving much of our own food. In addition, many people who are espousing these “sustainable” ideas, and exhorting others to join them in the effort, are out of touch, and often living off of trust fund income, and therefore have both money and free time that ordinary working class people do not. If I’m wrong about all of this, please respond and explain your line of thinking to me.

—Dean

Hmmm, where to begin. My first point would be, I suppose, that if Dean were to read much of what I’ve written, that he’d find a great deal to agree with. I’ve written over and over about excessive consumption, and I’ve written several times about wealth inequality, and have consistently held the position that it’s an issue that must be solved. I’ve also explored how the efforts of the wealthy, and of wealthy nations, might differ substantially from the efforts of the less wealthy (post: “Pondering Kant“, from June of 2013).

Next, I’d probably point out that I have a full-time job, as does my wife, and we’re raising three kids as well, so I’m not exactly flush with free time, or out of touch with the challenges that normal, working, bill-paying people face. We are, however, fortunate enough to have what is probably an above-average household income. Thus, it is true that our family has “sustainable” options that some families with lower incomes do not. However, I’m not sure that makes those options any less valuable. With regard to Vermonters who live on “trust fund” income, I’ve heard this charge before, too, and it’s also a bit of a red herring. The fact that someone is living off of savings or retirement funds is probably irrelevant. It is true that retired people sometimes have more free time, but that too is a bit of a side issue. We ALL need to live more sustainably, regardless of our jobs, sources of income, and levels of free time.

And, I’d have to strongly disagree that small efforts like driving electric vehicles, or biking, or growing a garden are irrelevant. I don’t have the exact numbers, but our household has gone from using thousands of gallons of fossil fuel a year, to nearly zero, through the combination of energy efficiency, electric vehicles, and renewable energy production. That’s not an insignificant change. Likewise for all the other efforts of people in Vermont (and other places, too). I’m currently spending the holidays with relatives in southern Florida, and I’m nearly in shock from how different this state seems to be from Vermont. This appears to be the land of rampant and conspicuous consumption and the bulldozing of nature as if it’s going out of style. I haven’t seen a single solar panel since I arrived in the Sunshine State six days ago. And the reason Vermont is different? Thousands and thousands and thousands of small actions, by individuals. Small actions definitely add up. But small changes, even though they add up, aren’t the end goal. The real end goal, and the raison d’ etre for this blog, is nothing short of wholesale systems change. As Dean points out in his comment, not much about the current American economy is sustainable. We need complete renewable energy systems, cradle-to-cradle recycling and reuse systems, entirely new ways of growing food, and other sustainable systems of all sorts. The smaller steps won’t get us all the way to these systems, but they are necessary first steps.

Then, there’s the fact that I can’t think of any other way to change the world than through individual actions. I’ve written about this before, too, (one such post: “A Potential Path Forward“) but the short version—voting with our dollars is by far our most powerful, and in some cases, only tool. Eventually, eventually, there will be enough people of a certain mindset to make changes through voting (this is certainly already happening in Vermont). But it starts with individual action.

snowy woods

..and this all brings to mind Robert Frost.

In the end, will following the ideas of this blog save the planet? I don’t know for sure, but I know that it can’t hurt. I know that if we all did these things and found the results to be insufficient, that we need to revise our methods and try even harder. And, I know for sure, 100% sure, that if we all live our lives as if the planet didn’t matter it will result in a vastly diminished future for future generations. So, I’m not backing down here, and I’m not changing course. To paraphrase another Vermonter, Robert Frost, we’ve got miles to go before we sleep. And because it’s Christmas day, the entire poem seems fitting— Merry Christmas, everyone.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
By Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though.
He will not see me stopping here,
to watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near.
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake,
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep.
And miles to go before I sleep.

Top image credit: 123RF—Hywit Dimyadi. Image has been cropped.
Snowy evening image credit:123RF— Ivan Kmit.

Getting This Figured Out

 

Prior planning required.

Prior planning required.

(Note: I added a bunch of links, in case anyone wants to use this as a guide to some of the posts on this site.)

I started this blog about seven months ago; a chronicle of my personal effort to figure out where humanity is headed and how we might possibly change course.  And I didn’t begin from scratch in May; this has been a topic I’ve pondered for a decade or more, often bouncing ideas off of Mr. X. And, as I’ve written repeatedly, it’s a tough problem. BUT—I’m getting it figured out. If I had that magic wand I keep talking about, I’d have a pretty good idea about how to wave it around. Problem after problem has yielded; it’s amazing how a week of study and pondering and “sleeping on it” can clarify an issue. As I learn more, the pieces have been falling into place even faster. Of the millions of possible future paths, huge swaths of them can be quickly carved away as unworkable or as dead ends. Mankind isn’t going to colonize the stars, (at least not any time soon) (good Tom Murphy post), we aren’t going to ditch the free-market, we aren’t going to all hold hands together and sing Kum-ba-ya and be able to fix the issues that face us. We can’t go backward and reject technology and efficiency, and yet we have to be careful about going forward, toward ever more consumption and planetary impact. We can’t depend on fusion or fast reactors (and perhaps not fission, either), or vertical farms, or living in the sea. And as we ponder, we have to realize that the entire system is in motion, with incredible momentum. We’re like kayakers in a turbulent, fast-moving river, with limited ability to maneuver; only if we start early enough we can set course toward the spots ahead where we can shoot the rapids and avoid being dashed on the rocks.

So, I’ve written about seventy posts, and I haven’t had to change my mind about much (one big reversal centered around self-sufficiency; clarified thinking here). And, the vision meshes; the ideas all work with one another. The answers to most of our problems exist; we just need to build the world we need. Net-zero houses, permaculture, electric vehicles, renewable energy, reduced consumption, off-shore and onshore wind, stricter building efficiency codes, PV and thermal solar, DC transmission lines, time-of-use pricing, the power of consumer demand and targeted investing, efficiency and conservation, habitat protection, fairer trade systems, shifts away from materialism and moves toward more meaningful lifestyles, the power of millions acting in concert, smart grids, vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology, recycling and circular systems, organic agriculture, pumped hydro and other grid-scale storage, using fossil fuels to transition, reduced meat consumption, the list goes on. The answers are out there, and the path forward is possible.

Many trying to quit wrecking the planet.

Many trying to quit wrecking the planet.

And, though I initially felt alone, in the last seven months I’ve realized how many tens of thousands of other people out there are also pushing in these same directions. Some are focused in a little too closely, and sometimes miss the forest for the trees, but their hearts are in the right place. There are permaculture groups and renewable power groups and off-grid-living groups and myriad others, all using social media and spreading the word. And, I get the feeling that for every person out there who is actively involved, there are tens or hundreds that care, and are paying attention.

There are still trouble spots; glitches in the vision. Among them, how zero-growth would work, economically. Other changes ahead are perfectly possible to envision, but getting them to happen might be the difficult part, such as a carbon tax, or the need to dramatically reduce air travel. But, my main point—none of it is really a mystery. So, my plea for today—join the movement. There are a million tiny parts to play, and it’s all work that needs done. I’m something of a generalist, and spend most of my time figuring out how the parts all fit together, but we need the experts, too. So get involved. Plant a nut tree, install a solar panel, ride a bike, take a hike, insulate your house, learn about wildlife or soil or forest conservation efforts in your area, ask your power company about purchasing renewable electricity, get a pellet stove, quit buying factory-farmed meat, and realize that life’s meaning lies in your friends and experiences, and not in material possessions. While you’re at it, pick something and become an expert at it, and share your knowledge with others.

And, keep an eye on the big picture as you do it. I’ll help with that part.

Top image credit: zabelin / 123RF Stock Photo

A Beautiful Thing

DSCN8311 bigThis morning I was standing on a mountain, with trees and grass all around, feeling the fresh breeze in my face, and above me, almost silently except for a slight hum and whoosh, millions of watts of clean, renewable power were being created. And, they will continue to be created, hour after hour, day after day, for decades and decades. No air pollution, no water pollution, no fossil-fuel use, no mining, no waste, no noise to speak of. This is a beautiful thing. The access road is well-designed with water catchments and swales, the gravel pads are clearly permeable, and hardwoods are already sprouting on the new embankments. I have pondered both sides of this, and have concluded that we need more of these, even on beautiful Vermont ridges. As long as the energy is being used carefully and not wasted, the price is worth it.

Blog note: I don’t like the blog running my life, but I don’t like not blogging, either. I think the topic is important. So, I’m going to resume posting, but will try to achieve a middle ground in terms of time input. As such, posts might come at odd intervals from time to time. If checking back regularly for new material is bothersome, put your email address in the notification box on the sidebar; it works really well.

A few of the twenty-one towers.

A few of the twenty-one towers.

A damaged blade, now used as a display. 170 feet in length.

A damaged blade, now used as a display. 170 feet in length.

Continue reading

Ten Ways to Move in the Right Direction

Off for a bit.

One step at a time.

Real life intrudes, and I’m going to take a break from blogging. Summer is winding down, school is starting soon, and my list of things to get accomplished seems to be going in the wrong direction, getting longer instead of shorter. So at least for now, I’m going to quit posting. Here’s a parting thought, though, a list of ten principles that seem to run through what I’ve written—if we all did these things, I think we’d be moving in the right direction. If you’re new to the blog—there are fifty posts here, most of which are related to these ten points. Click on the “Posts Archive” link, at the top of the page, for a list.

1. Demand and use clean, renewable energy. Install it yourself, buy it from your power company, support wind and solar projects.

2. Consume less, minimize your life, recycle. Our friends, family, and experiences are our most valuable things, not our possessions. Use less, recycle more, and compost what you can.

3. Know where your food comes from, and support those that are producing food in sustainable ways. Buy organic food, know the farmer when you can, join a CSA, grow your own garden and fruit and nut trees, and learn to cook with fresh, whole ingredients.

4. Be financially self-disciplined, and then use the money you aren’t wasting in ways that help the planet. Realize that you probably have no greater influence than how you spend your money—vote wisely with your dollars. Then, don’t forget that money you earn and don’t spend is doing something—make sure its saved and invested in ways that help the planet.

5. Don’t underestimate your power-by-example, your power-of-one. Small changes matter, and people do care what other people are doing, and what other people think of them.

6. Read and pay attention. There is a lot of misinformation out there, and the only real antidote is to be informed. Get your information from a wide variety of sources, and realize that the truth is more often grey than black and white.

7. Invest in energy efficiency. Efficiency is the goose that lays the golden egg, and in terms of energy investments, it can also pay off financially in the long run. Weatherize your house, buy vehicles that get better mileage (or better yet, an electric vehicle), install high-efficiency appliances and lighting.

Continue reading

Urban Rooftops

On top of those skyscrapers...

On top of those skyscrapers…

First, I don’t want anyone to think I have been disparaging distributed, rooftop solar in some of my recent posts. Having solar on every roof would be a fantastic thing, and I think it’s a logical first step toward carbon-free power. PV panels are affordable, roof space is already present, and photovoltaic arrays don’t lose efficiency when they’re installed in smaller arrangements. But my point, every time distributed solar comes up, is that even if every rooftop were covered, this wouldn’t produce the amount of renewable power that we will need, and there isn’t enough rooftop space in cities to even begin to produce enough power to meet the demand of the people there. But, this doesn’t doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be worth doing—rooftop space in the sun is rooftop space in the sun. However, in cities, photovoltaics might not be the best use of this valuable real estate.

So, to back up a bit, let me sing some praises for solar hot water. In terms of efficiency, solar hot water collectors dramatically outperform solar photovoltaic panels. Capturing heat from solar insolation is just a fairly efficient process, compared to converting light into electricity. And, until just recently it didn’t make any sense, in terms of price, to install photovoltaics to make electricity that would then used to heat water. In recent years, however, heat pumps have become efficient enough, and PV systems have become cheap enough, that in many situations it might be a better choice to use photovoltaics and a heat pump to make hot water, instead of thermal collectors. (Good article here.)

Evacuated tube collectors for solar hot water.

Evacuated tube collectors for solar hot water.

However, regardless of the price of photovoltaics, it is likely that the best use of rooftops on large, tall buildings in the city will be thermal solar hot water, at least in any building where hot water or space heating is required. Though prices between the two systems are close to equitable today, the higher efficiencies of solar hot water make the physical footprints of such systems much smaller than that of  PV panels. My rough estimate is that the PV panels required to run heat pumps would take up four times the area of modern, evacuated-tube solar hot water collectors.

So, I suppose I have a rather small point to all of this—that down the road, we might need to use rooftops in cities for solar hot water. The footprints of such systems are smaller, and we could maximize gain from that limited rooftop real estate. Electricity can be produced remotely and then brought in on transmission lines; such a task with hot water would be fairly unworkable.

My second point might be that for some people in some situations, that advances in PV systems and heat pumps have made it less of a clear choice whether installing thermal solar hot water systems is the best way to use solar to heat water. But, as I was walking through small-town Vermont last week and pondering the fact that many people in town have quite-limited roof space with appropriate southern exposure, it could be that thermal systems, due to their smaller footprints, might remain a pretty good choice for many, whether they live in the city or not.

Blog note: Welcome, Australia, Canada, and Great Britain! My post about perennial agriculture seems to have been spread all over facebook, and I have been getting hundreds of views from all over the world, with clear groupings from these places. I write about my corner of the United States sometimes, but my focus is always on ideas and systems for the whole world, so it’s great to have you on-board. We’ve got a whole planet to fix, and we’re going to need people from every corner of it to get it done.

Image credit: ssuaphoto / 123RF Stock Photo
Image credit: packshot / 123RF Stock Photo

The Blogosphere

Taking a pause...

Taking a pause…

It’s been about twenty days since I started the blog, and I thought I would pause briefly and reflect. And in the spirit of blogging, I suppose I’ll just reflect publicly.

It’s been truly enjoyable, and I’ve learned a lot in twenty days. I’ve learned about web hosting companies, registering domains, WordPress, and how to modify my code to install Analytics. I’ve learned about blog spam, about plug-ins and backup services and RSS feeds, and about self-hosting. I’ve learned about stock photos, and image rights, and royalty fees, and some nuances of copyright law.

And, I’ve learned a lot about the “blogosphere”, too. I’d certainly read blogs before, but there is much to the blog culture that I didn’t understand. It’s actually quite incestuous, with a huge number of bloggers, all reading and quoting and referencing each other, and scrambling for traffic, scrambling to monetize that traffic, scrambling to sell services, and bending over backwards to get their name or site mentioned somewhere on the web.

So I feel a bit out of place with my non-profit blog, and I can tell that most people, when first exposed to it, just automatically assume that I’m trying to sell them something. But to be honest, I am to some degree—I’m trying to sell an idea that I think is important. So I pay attention to traffic, too, and seem to alternate between the fear of way too many people reading and judging what I’ve written, and the fear of writing for an audience of zero. So far I am happy with what appears to be a bit of middle ground; in the twenty days I’ve had nearly 600 page-views, and it appears that a good many readers return. I’m sure some big web sites do that in an hour, but for me I suppose this is good. Continue reading