posts tagged with 'environment'

whining about warmth

It's been startlingly warm here the last couple days. In my incredulous descriptions of the weather I've moved through "spring-like" to "summer-like"—what else could I say about a day like yesterday that saw us playing soccer and riding bikes in t-shirts?

Lijah out on the street in bike helmet and t-shirt

and proud of it!

Most people around here have been just delighted by the pleasant weather. The prevailing sentiment seems to be that it'd be fine—perfect!—if we had a snowless winter with the temperatures never dropping much below 50°F. While I did enjoy all the time we spent outside the first half of the week, I can't agree. If you ask me, winter is broken, and it's a big problem.

On one level the trouble is immediate. Lots of things in our ecosystem here depend on the temperature swings we're supposed to have over the year: bulbs, trees with dormancy periods, hibernating amphibians. Snow on the ground protects dormant plants (like my grass) and slowly replenishes ground water. And cold weather in the winter kills pathogens that could otherwise multiply and damage trees. Even when we do have cold snaps mixed in with warm temperatures it can cause trouble: enough warm days and flowering trees will start to bud. When it gets cold again the buds will die, and that means no apples in the fall.

And then there's the big picture. However we feel about our local climate personally, an ever-warmer planet is bad news for everyone in the long run. You've all heard about sea-level rises, local extinctions and crop failures caused by unusual weather patterns, and ever-stronger storms thanks to the energy all the warmth injects into the atmosphere. "Yes, but!" people tell me. "It's so nice right now!"

It may be that I'm a horrid curmudgeon (probably true). It may be that I secretly or not-so-secretly enjoy it when things are difficult (definitely true). But I would suggest that "nice" is what you make of it, and that there are many pleasant aspects of a bitter cold winter buried under feet of snow. And for people who really can't stand the cold, there are many places in the world—in the United States, even!—where really cold weather is rare or nonexistent. Massachusetts isn't supposed to be one of them, and to damn us all to climate disaster for the fleeting pleasure of a summer day in February is bad policy!

(Alright, I know what you're going to say: we don't have a direct personal input on climate change, so why not enjoy warm weather while it's here? Or more to the point, why not enjoy it without complaining up a storm like me? Because not complaining makes us not change anything. If we think that 57°F after 9:00pm on February 3rd is crazy, we might consider redoubling our own conservation efforts to do what we can to slow global warming. That, or write a whiny blog post about how everyone else is wrong. Every little bit helps!)


on being a crazy person

We're back in the compost business, and this afternoon I went on an errand to pick up a couple full buckets that we had left to sit at a friend's house for far too long. Since I was just going around the corner—maybe a half mile away—I couldn't bring myself to take the car. The blue bike could handle the load fine. It was only as I rode home that I realized how I might appear to the more conventional citizens passing me in their cars on their way home from work: this guy in worn-out carhartts and broken shoes, piloting a ridiculous bicycle loaded down with two open five-gallon buckets of rather fragrant food waste.

In all fairness, I am actually pretty crazy; though I like to think my particular insanity is actually a rational response to the environmental threats our planet is under. So from that point of view I may be saner then the folks down the street who spent the afternoon using an excavator to smash down a perfectly good house (filling two dumpsters full of what, moments before, had been perfectly good building materials) in order to make room for a bigger house (made of newly-cut wood, naturally). For many reasons it might be possible to argue that they're the crazy ones. But they have the numbers on their side, so I get the label. Fair enough.

It could have been worse, actually. On the trip to the pick-up, I was going down a hill when the wind started to lift my cap off my head. I reached a hand up to keep it from flying away just as the front wheel hit a bump, and down I went. It was a pretty hard crash, and I have a bloodied elbow and some serious bruises to show for it. But when the bike went over the only things flying out of it were the empty bucket and an assortment of trash that the kids had left behind. Imagine if I'd been coming home when it happened: ten gallons of slop landing on my back as I hit the ground would have made me feel a lot, lot worse. So all told, I count the outing as a complete success!


driving guilt

We've been driving too much lately. Monday, for example: Leah and the boys went to Lowell for an appointment, then as soon as they got back Harvey, Zion, and I headed right back out to go grocery shopping. Yesterday we drove to the farmers market, rather than cycling—for the third week in a row. The car is convenient. We can get the boys places with a minimum of whining, carry everything we might need instead of having to plan more carefully, and save travel time on busy days. But it doesn't really feel good.

You don't even need to feel that all our driving is responsible for the Syrian refugee crisis to think the car is a bad deal. Kelly at Root Simple wrote a post the other day lamenting the death of a mountain lion, killed by a car while crossing I-5; starting with a look at the obfuscating term "roadkill", she builds to a resolute indictment of car culture and its cost to animals and people alike. One million animals a day killed by cars in the US—and those are the ones people bother to count—and over 30,000 people a year. Not to mention, "climate change, air pollution, noise pollution, light pollution, habitat loss, urban sprawl, songbird harassment—all of the rest of indicators of the unspeakably high cost of the personal automobile."

As it is now, driving the car—or asking other folks to drive to us—helps us stay part of a geographically distributed community. We go to church in Cambridge, Bible study with friends in Arlington, and homeschool coop in Malden. We invite friends over from Lowell and West Roxbury. I don't want to lose any of those connections; but can I talk about changing the system if I can't make sacrifices like that myself?

Right now what we do is try to skip the car when it's easy to do so: when we're making trips in town, when we're not bringing the kids, when extra travel time is built into the schedule. But we're only trying: last week Zion and I took the car less than half a mile up to the library because it was raining. Pretty lame. Any suggestions?


going green? we've already gone

A few days ago the Bedford Patch fake newspaper website thingy published a wonderful piece called 20 Ways to Go Green in 2013, all chock full of great Bedford-specific tips on how to be more environmentally sound. My default writing register is sarcasm, so I need to work extra hard to let you know that I really think this was a good article, and that I'm excited that this sort of conscious-raising has gone mainstream. Sure, I would have been happier had few of the tips involved buying different things than you usually buy, but at least the links in the article are to local stores. The only problem is, we're already doing nearly 75% of the recommended activities, and I still want information on how to improve myself! Isn't there like a challenge level?! Oh wait, there is: it's called blogs, where even I can find people crazier than myself on nearly any subject.

One thing I want to publicly disagree with in the article, though, is number 12:

Got an older house? Install double-pane windows and you’ll see immediate savings on your heating bill.

Yes, you'll see immediate savings; savings of up to several dollars a month, which means it'll only take you 23 years to make those windows pay for themselves! And in the meantime you'll have replaced your beautiful old wood-mullioned windows with, unless you paid extra crazy money, uglier modern replicas. Even worse, in our house the 102-year-old windows (fitted with probably 40-year-old storms) are actually a bit warmer than the replacement windows the previous owner put in on one side of the house in the early 90s sometime, so who knows what you're going to end up with. When we had a home heating consultant in last year (number 19 on the list) he told us that windows are actually a pretty minor component in the heat loss from your house, so I don't know why that issue always gets so much press. Lobbying from the window-industrial complex, no doubt.

But besides that it's a grand list. Check it out, and, if you're not already super-cool environmentalists like us, try out a few of the things that the author suggests! And if you do manage number 1—shopping at Chip-In Farm—we hope you stop by afterwards for a visit, to talk all about gardening and cycling and, you know, low-flow showerheads. Good times!


too bright

I never paid much attention to the issue of light pollution, except maybe when I wanted to do some suburban star-gazing. But ever since we first saw the looming glow that is the new The Edge Athletic Facility it's been on my mind, and now instead of wondering why our street light was burned out for so many months I'm kind of bothered that it's back on. Why do we need a street light, especially one that's on all night?! We have lights on our houses that we can turn on, and flashlights—not to mention the fact that, if you're not accustomed to constant electronic illumination, it's not really all that dark outside at night. It's not like we need the street light to avoid, say, walking into a parked car.

I felt like writing this, not (only) as another sign that I'm going crazy and wanting ever more to retreat from the modern world, but because I came across and article yesterday that proves I'm not the only one thinking like this. Via Root Simple, it's called Turn Down the City Lights and Make Streets Safer. Makes sense to me!


idle hands

This week I've started to enforce the "idle-free zone" that is allegedly in effect at Harrington school, where I work. Really! I've knocked on several car windows and asked folks to shot off their engines if they were going to be waiting in the parking lot. I was motivated to begin this anti-social behavior by watching a woman talking on the phone as she sat in her BMW X6, which is the ugliest and most ridiculous consumer motor vehicle I have ever seen (my opinion; yours may differ if you have no taste, or more money than sense).

Anyways, I would have felt that I was picking on this poor taste-bereft woman had I not similarly asked other idlers to turn off their stupid cars, so I did. I'm not sure why they didn't shut off their engines unasked, truth be told; the outside temperature was very pleasant, so neither air conditioning or heat could have been called for, and I understand that the radios in modern cars work even when the motor is not running. A while ago listening to baseball on the radio we heard one of those silly "just one thing" environmental tokenism PSAs about not idling your car, and both Leah and I thought it was ridiculous. "If everyone reduces their idling time by five minutes"?! Who could even do that? Unless I'm sitting in traffic I don't idle my car that much in an entire year! (not counting warming up the engine in the winter—which I don't even have to do that much, thanks to the bicycle!). I guess we were wrong; the message is needed.

So yeah, I'm totally smugger-than-thou on this issue and cannot understand why anyone would leave their engine running a second longer than necessary with gasoline at three-and-a-half dollars a gallon. Then again, I can't understand why anyone would buy a SUV-sports car "crossover" either, and yet they continue to be made and purchased, so my views are clearly not universally held. Which I suppose already knew. But at least I saved the world three, maybe even four minutes of pointless automobile exhaust and wasted fossil fuels. And that's only this week: maybe next week I can make it five!



We're being a little more conscientious than usual about spring cleaning in the garden (got to impress potential donors, you know) and in the process I've turned up quite a number of old plant tags.

plastic plant tags

rather fresher than daisies

Very old: I don't think we've put in a plant from a store with tags like that in three or four years. And yet there they are, looking as good as new. The plants themselves are long gone, and wood garden structures built when we put the plants in are starting to decay, but the tags live on. Not that they're in perfect shape: the years out in the sun have turned the plastic much more brittle than it was when it came out of the factory, so if you handle them much they start to break. But each piece still looks as shiny and new as the day it was made.

I'm not against plastic in general. I love the big tubs where we store our off-season clothes, the molded body of my camera, and even black trays that I use to hold my seedlings and indoor herbs. In all of those cases I want something that's going to last forever. But plant tags don't need to last forever, nor do grocery bags or those stupid stickers they put on fruits and vegetables (I absolutely hate those stickers). Therefore, they should not be made of a material that will take longer than a human lifestyle to degrade even to the point where the item can't be recognized for what it was originally—never mind biodegrading entirely.

So yeah. Bring your bags to the grocery store and start your own seeds or get plants from friends (we've got lots, just ask Leah!). And I don't know what to do about those stickers.


where's our local Lorax?!

Bedford is—as you can't help noticing when you drive into town, thanks to the signs at every major border crossing—a "Tree City USA" community. That means that we're fans of trees, I suppose, but you'd never know it from how much folks seem to enjoy chopping them down.

deforestation around Hanscom Field


Mostly we see it in our neighbors, but the latest anti-tree atrocity was inflicted upon the patch of woods—the Jordan Conservation Area, if you want to get fancy—abutting our local "airport", Hanscom Field. You can see the results above. In this case it wasn't local Bedfordians who were to blame but MassPort, who claimed that the clear-cutting was necessary for safety reasons. Never fear, though, they figure we probably won't even notice! To quote Stewart Dalzell, Massport’s departmental director of environmental planning and permitting:

Nothing we’re doing is changing the use of that property. We’re replacing vegetation with other vegetation that doesn’t grow so high. Certainly it will look different, but ultimately, the area in question is a passive recreation area. When we get done, all of its uses will still be the same.

Yes. Except for the uses of providing animal habitat, restraining runoff, and not looking like ass. (You'll noteby the way that by "replacing" our Stew means cutting down what's there and waiting for something else to grow.)

stumps at Hanscom Field

we need you, Lorax!

In the interest of fairness, I am obliged to note that at the same time they're cutting down roadside trees the fine folks at Hanscom are also contributing to beautifying the town by abandoning the trailer park which used to house base personnel. Thanks to the grass seed they through down where the trailers used to be and the many flowering trees that grace the neighborhood, the area is now in a fair way towards becoming a charming little piece of parkland.

lawns and flowering trees

once a trailer park, now just a park

Certainly, the squibix family boys—that's Harvey, Rascal, and I—enjoyed it on our walk the other day; but so did we enjoy, when it comes to that, walking through the clear-cut area. It was very interesting: the observant eye notices for the first time the shape of the landscape, the view beyond the hill, and the fact that the cutting zone is in no way in line with either of the runways. Oh well, I suppose planes do sometimes run off-course. And not quite everything was cut down... even bulldozers have hearts, perhaps.

blossoms on a tree

beauty amidst the devestation... :'(