Month: November 2009

I’m just thankful I have a job

Even though I’m in Canada this week, I thought today I should mention something for which I’m thankful for.

I am thankful that I have a job, because an increasing number of people don’t. I read a statistic earlier today which quoted the ‘real’ unemployment rate in the USA is 17.5%! That means that nearly one in five people who want full-time work can’t find it.

Just this morning a work colleague here in Canada was mentioning that our organisation is not offering any promotions this year. I certainly was hardly expecting a promotion myself, but I was extremely surprised about a blanket statement saying that no-one was being promoted this year. In my nearly 15 years with the organisation, that’s never happened before. Not even close. So although Australia has officially escaped recession, is seems like employment prospects in the lucky country might be suffering.

Today I’m sparing a thought for those who are out of work and are finding times hard. I am also giving thanks for the good fortune I find myself in. I guess we should never take anything we have for granted.

Photo by: R Motti

There is something magical about old cities

Photo By: Prof-B

I’d forgotten how much I love old cities. And when I mean old cities, I usually mean European cities, however, given that I’m currently in Montreal, Canada, I can’t be quite so specific. What I mean by old cities is those which retain their core from over one hundred years ago….before the age of the automobile. I love the winding, cobble stoned streets; the people friendly pedestrian nature of lanes where the car is the reluctantly invited guest; the walkable urban environment where living and eating and commerce are all intermingled as part of a community.

We lost something when the new cities were abandoned for the suburbs.

It’s nice to back in a city where you can walk at night and feel safe, where you can hear at least four different languages in ten paces and where you can imagine not so long ago, people living much more sustainble lifestyles.

The French Cafe was replaced by Starbucks

Photo by: Daniel Raphael Cooper

I’m in Montreal for the week and this evening I went out for an evening stroll in search of my favourite French Cafe I discovered during my first visit to Montreal in 2004. I had been anticipating the visit all day….. looking forward to a steaming hot mug of Chai Latte and some sort of delicious, flaky pastry that you just can’t find in the USA. You can imagine my disappointment as I rounded the corner to discover that this quaint, cosy cafe has at some time in the last five years, been replaced by the ubiquitous Starbucks. But it seems the Starbucks is in good company. It’s just down the street from a huge Crocs store and a California Pizza Kitchen. This is not the Montreal I remember. *sigh*

On the plus side, I’ve survived peak hour traffic twice today……Just! I think I’ve already mentioned how thankful I am that I don’t have to commute. Doing it in French is all the more….um….interesting.

I did find a delicious crepe for dinner and as I sit here typing this in the hotel lobby I’m enjoying the antics of a 3 month old Vizla puppy. I’m clucky for puppies. They always make me smile.

And now I have a choice to make. Back to my room to get some much needed sleep, or a leisurely glass or two of wine? Hmmm….

 

A New Machine

Photo by: Vincent Montibus

I have always been here
I have always looked out from behind these eyes
it feels like more than a lifetime
feels like more than a lifetime

Sometimes I get tired of the waiting
sometimes I get tired of being in here
is this the way it has always been?
could it ever have been different?

Do you ever get tired of the waiting?
do you ever get tired of being in there?
don’t worry, nobody lives forever,
nobody lives forever

~ Pink Floyd, A New Machine. Momentary Lapse of Reason

I’m having some trouble writing at the moment. I’m in receiving mode. That means lots of reading, lots of podcasts, lots of blogs and lots of music. I’ll be back when my muse returns. Until then….listen to Pink Floyd…..they are simply awesome.

Independence Days ~ a creative week for me

This week has been full of creative activities. I finally finished my sister’s Wedding Book and I’m pretty happy with how is turned out. I also learned to crochet and am excited to try some new projects in the future.

Brendan spent yesterday volunteering at Mission Trails Regional Park, which is frequented by climbers and hikers. He was helping with some trail maintenance and constructing a rock wall. He’s complaining of a sore muscles after lifting too many heavy rocks all morning, but he’s happy to have gotten out and helped preserve the local area.

Fava Bean seedling

I’ve spent a bit of time in the garden. The three fava beans I planted a couple of weeks ago are going strong. They are so quick to grow which is why I love growing beans. I got these seeds from Seeds @ City Urban Farm so I have no idea what they’ll look like when fully grown.

Cherry Grape Tomatoes

I pulled out the last of the tomatoes. I’ll be sad to see them go for the year, but we have a freezer full of tomatoes that I stored at the height of summer. Plenty of tasty tomato-based soups in our future I think.

Pea seedlings

Our snow peas are growing well in a sunny part of our garden (above). I planted some in early September in the shade (below) and I wasn’t sure how they would go. They seem to be growing well enough and have put out flowers and fruit, despite no direct sunlight. I guess we’ll have to compare them to the peas in the sun when they are grown.

Pea flower

Here’s my weekly update:

Plant something:

  • I planted the garlic cloves given to us by a friend. We love our garlic, so I can’t wait for the harvest.

Harvest something:

  • More Cayenne Peppers and Jalapenos. I thought the plants were done for the year so I chopped them right back. Since then, they’ve started growing again and have been putting out flowers and more fruit! Gotta love a extended growing season here in Southern California.
  • Leek
  • Oranges
  • Tomatoes. They’re finally done.

Preserve something:

  • Drying the hot peppers

Waste not:

  • Used some unwanted, second hand yarn to crochet a gift for a friend. I’m no longer buying new gifts unless they’ve been handmade.
  • The neighbors were raking leaves and putting them in trash bags. I offered to take the leaves for my compost. They were happy to oblige.

Want not:

  • Can’t think of anything

Preparation and storage:

  • Working on a skills list
  • Learnt how to crochet

Build community food systems:

  • Starting to share seeds and produce with some local friends.

Eat the food:

  • We bought some organic cheese from the farmers market (Pesto Jack). I’ve been eating it all week with the last of our grape tomatoes, either on crackers or Brendan’s fresh made damper.
  • Brendan made crepes for breakfast this morning. He used some new whole-wheat, unbleached flour which made for delicious wholesomeness. Drizzled with fresh squeezed orange juice and sprinkled with a little sugar. Mmmmmm

Staying healthy:

  • Walking Zoe each morning and riding to and from work each day, despite it getting dark so early now.

My first Crochet Project ~ Newborn Teeny Beanie

Crochet Newborn Baby Cap

I’m excited! This week I managed to learn a new skill and then actually produced something that resembles what it was supposed to look like.

Last Sunday I spent an hour with a friend who showed me the basics of crochet and then during the week I watched a bunch of instructional videos. I love how crochet seems to produce such a neat result (when compared to my knitting) and that when I drop a stitch it’s easy to pick it back up. I’m hooked (pardon the pun).

My first project used this Teeny Beanie Crochet Pattern and some yarn I collected from a friend and the thrift store. It’s going to be a gift for one of my friends who is due in a couple of months. I hope she’s not reading, because that will spoil the surprise!

Where in the World? New Hampshire, USA

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I’m rather behind in my travel updates from recent times so I thought I had better include some photos from a recent trip to New England during the Fall. It’s a beautiful region, made even more stunning by the Fall foliage.

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While there were plenty of tourists travelling the most popular routes through the White Mountains, it wasn’t too difficult to get off the main roads and find some tranquility.

5287We were lucky one morning to get up early and have some fantastic light for photos of some gorgeous old covered bridges. I just love slices of history and these beautiful, functional structures just take me back to a time when life was simpler. It seems we’ve lost a lot in the pursuit of efficiency and growth.

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So many historical sites have been preserved throughout the region and we quite happily wandered through small towns steeped with relics of the past. We stumbled across the Littleton Grist Mill which has been lovingly restored by the current owners. It was originally opened for business in 1798 and Brendan and I spent a couple of hours marvelling at the ingenuity of the mill design. 5335

As we departed Littleton we took a wrong turn and found ourselves in an old cemetery on the edge of town. Dark storm clouds loomed in the distance, making for some great photographic oportunities.

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Brendan and I fell in love with the region: the rolling green hills, the multi-hued trees, the small thriving towns. We had a look in the windows of some Real Estate agents and were surprised how affordable prices were compared to what we are used to in Australia. We can only hope that Australian property prices come back down to some reasonable level in the future. It would be lovely to be able to afford a place in a small town when we move back to Oz.

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Check out more photos from my travels

Environment#2: Resource Limitations ~ Water

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Photo by: World Bank Photo Collection

 “You don’t know the worth of water, until the well runs dry” ~Ben Franklin

Last week I wrote a post about Human Population Growth and how continued exponential growth is not possible on our finite planet. Of all human needs, number one has to be access to fresh drinking water. We can live without oil and electricity, but water is an absolutely essential human need. Having lived most of my life on the dryest inhabited continent, Australia, the issue of water is near and dear to me.

It’s an issue which garners some media attention but I don’t think the impact of the current situation has fully registered. 1.1 billion people (about one-sixth of the world’s population) lack access to safe drinking water. Aquifers under Beijing, Delhi, Bangkok, and dozens of other rapidly growing urban areas are drying up. The rivers Ganges, Jordan, Nile, and Yangtze — all dwindle to a trickle for much of the year. In the former Soviet Union, the Aral Sea has shrunk to a quarter of its former size, leaving behind a salt-crusted waste.

Water has been a serious issue in the developing world for a long time, but the scarcity of freshwater is no longer a problem restricted to poor countries. Shortages are reaching crisis proportions in even the most highly developed regions, and they’re quickly becoming commonplace in our own backyard. Crops are collapsing, groundwater is disappearing, rivers are failing to reach the sea. To judge from recent media attention, the finite supply of freshwater on Earth has been nearly tapped dry, leading to a natural resource calamity.

Water is Essential to Life

Water is central to survival—without it, plant and animal life would be impossible. Water is a central component of Earth’s ecosystems, providing important controls on the weather and climate. Water is likewise central to economic well-being. We rely on it for agricultural irrigation, forestry, waste processing and hydroelectricity to name only a few. The potential consequences of future climate change (whether natural or anthropogenic), when coupled with population growth and economic development, means that water resources will be of increasing interest and importance for the foreseeable future.

Water is Finite

The same amount of water exists now as when the Earth was formed.  It evaporates, coalesces in clouds, falls as rain, seeps into the earth, and emerges in springs to feed rivers and lakes. Approximately 97 percent of it is in the oceans, where it’s useless unless the salt can be removed — a process that consumes enormous quantities of energy.

usgs_water_cycle

Source

Therefore, only about 3 percent of the world’s water is fit for drinking, irrigation, husbandry, and other human uses. This water can’t always be found where people need it, and it’s heavy and expensive to transport. Like oil, water is not equitably distributed or respectful of political boundaries; about 50 percent of the world’s freshwater lies in a half-dozen lucky countries.

ff_peakwater5_f

Source

Freshwater is the ultimate renewable resource, but humanity is extracting and polluting it faster than it can be replenished. Rampant economic growth (more homes, more businesses, more water-intensive products and processes, a rising standard of living) has simply outstripped the ready supply, especially in historically dry regions. Compounding the problem, the water cycle is growing less predictable as climate change alters established temperature patterns around the globe.

Water Usage is Increasing

Regional water scarcity is a significant and growing problem. If per capita consumption of water resources continues to rise at its current rate, humans could be using over 90% of all available freshwater by the year 2025, leaving just 10% for all other living organisms. By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in regions with absolute water scarcity and two out of three people in the world could be living under conditions of water stress.   

ff_peakwater7_f

 Source

Water Pollution

While water usage continues to increase, water resources continue to be depleted due to increasing pollution. On this basis alone, all water resource estimates may be optimistic. The major sources of intensive pollution of waterways and water bodies are found in the forms of contaminated industrial and municipal wastewater as well as water runoff originating from irrigated areas. This problem can be no more acute than it is in the industrially developed and densely populated regions where relatively little wastewater purification processes take place.

Peak Water?

“It should be obvious from simple arithmetic that population growth is on a direct collision course with increasingly scarce resources.” – Jeremy Grantham

Freshwater shortages could have calamitous consequences for affected regions, worldwide commodity prices, the economic future of nations with water shortages and possible war. The impact of water scarcity can be far-reaching. It can lead to food shortages, famine, and starvation. Many nations, regions and states have mismanaged their water resources, and they will suffer the long-term consequences.

 “There is more water allocated to each user from the Colorado River than there is water to allocate. As long as some people are willing to sell their water, this isn’t an immediate problem. Chevron’s water rights for its DeBeque, Colo., shale oil project are leased, not sold, to the city of Las Vegas for drinking water. How will Las Vegas replace that in the future when Chevron won’t extend the lease? Many areas are using ground water that will be used up entirely in just a few decades.” ~ Mike Shedlock

Climate Change gets plenty of headlines but unfortunately the future water crisis has stayed well under the radar. As with most looming resource limitations, little if any future thought has been given to the issue of water scarcity. The last few decades have seen debt-financed good times and relatively low prices for all natural resources and commodities. The end of this period of low prices is nigh.

“We must prepare ourselves for waves of higher resource prices and periods of shortages unlike anything we have faced outside of wartime conditions. In fact, I believe we are already several years into this painful transition but are still mostly invested in denying it.”  ~ Jeremy Grantham, investment banker

Water Crises = Food Crises  

ff_peakwater6_f

 Source

A looming future crisis of food shortages and skyrocketing commodity prices is inevitable. Peak water will play a significant role in the crisis. Here what’s happening:

  • Droughts are occurring in key farming belt areas.
  • Less snow pack in the mountains is resulting in less freshwater flows during the growing season.
  • Contamination of freshwater sources by industrial waste in increasing.
  • Soil erosion and depletion of underground aquifers in accelerating.
  • Expansion of bio-fuels as an energy source, means that more land and water is dedicated to the growing of these crops.
  • Worldwide population is growing and developing countries are expanding the diets of their middle class.
  • Water is unable to be transported economically.

War over resources has happened before and it could happen again. The devastating combination of peak oil and peak water will combine to create a commodity crisis that could cause conflict as countries contend for declining resources.

Conclusion

There can be little argument that exponential population growth coupled with an increasing demand for fresh water is resulting in increasing pressures on this valuable resource. In recent times, it has become more clear that human prosperity and prospects for survival vary with the amount and distribution of fresh, unpolluted water. Each year there are millions more humans, but no more water than before. This is going to be one of the biggest issues of our generation.

Watch: Tapped the Movie

More from me:

Environment#1: The issue of Human Population Growth

Energy#1: What is Peak Oil?

Economy#4: The Debt Trap (our Economic System is not Sustainable)

Death to the daily commute

376366737_709f233fe3Photo by: Paul Stevenson

Last night, Brendan and I went to a friend’s place to watch Monday night football. I don’t really watch sports, but there was something of a party going on so we went along to catch up with some of  my work colleagues in a social setting. The trip usually takes about 30 minutes by car, but we managed to find ourselves mired in peak hour traffic and the trip took us about an hour. For close to 20 miles we crawled along in bumper-to-bumper traffic. At that time we became very grateful that we don’t need to participate in this type of crazy commute every day. I really feel for the millions of people who live this nightmare every day.

During my regular reading this morning, I came across a post on Sharon Astyk’s blog about an International Energy Agency (IEA) whistleblower who claims that key oil figures have been distorted because of US government pressure.

The world is much closer to running out of oil than official estimates admit, according to a whistleblower at the International Energy Agency who claims it has been deliberately underplaying a looming shortage for fear of triggering panic buying.

The senior official claims the US has played an influential role in encouraging the watchdog to underplay the rate of decline from existing oil fields while overplaying the chances of finding new reserves. ~ guardian.co.uk

So when people say that the IEA has dramatically understated the concern, it makes my heart rate rise and lends support to my belief that Peak Oil is upon us.  Perhaps the days of a lengthy daily commute will come to an end sooner than many thought.

Would you like some plastic with your produce?

2130466756_75bf1255fbPhoto by: Brian Auer

Scene. Early yesterday morning, I grabbed my green bags and Zoe dog and walked up to the store to get some milk and other items not available at the farmers market. What follows is the dialogue I exchanged with an Albertson’s employee while collecting mushrooms in my reusable produce bag.

Employee: Have you found everything you are looking for today?

Me: Well, there aren’t any white mushrooms left, but that’s OK, I’ll try these brown ones.

Employee: There are white mushrooms here (points to a Styrofoam container wrapped in plastic)

Me: No…that’s Ok. I try not to buy produce in packaging (I indicate my reusable produce bag)

Employee: (Rips open the plastic, and offers to tip them into my bag) Here you go then.

Me: Um……no. But thanks anyway.

Need I say more?