New Economic Model?

I attended and economic update last week.  I attend these from time to time, as it is part of my job to understand what is going on in the economy.  This one featured two economists from a large Canadian bank.  As they were talking about the forecast for the price of oil, gold, silver and copper – my mind started wandering.  The price structure of these commodities can help predict the future strength of the economy, the employment rate, interest rates.  The economist told us that the price of silver was irrationally high, and that there should be a correction.

It left me feeling conflicted.  Why will the price of silver come down?  What is the true cost of silver, the true environmental cost?  When I think of silver and gold now, I don’t see it as pretty sparkling piles.  I think of the mine, the vast amounts of earth that must be moved to pull out tiny portions of precious metals.  I think of the forest destroyed, the water used.  I feel heavy.  Why do we need all this silver and gold anyway?  What is it all used for?

Silver Nevada's nickname is the Silver State

Image via Wikipedia

So the price of silver will come down, perhaps.  Prices for gold, oil, copper, gas, food – these will also fluctuate on the global commodity markets.  But all these things came from somewhere, somewhere from our Earth.  Stuff was disturbed, even destroyed, to get them. I feel like I have an emotional investment in these things now.  I cannot just talk about them nonchalant like this economist does, without thinking about where they came from.  As he was talking, I find myself feeling sad.

He went on to say that the US economy will not be able to fuel global demand for consumer goods in the long term.  Household debt is too high.  Unlimited debt fueled spending is not sustainable.  However, to get out of the recession, that is exactly what US consumers need to do.  They need to start spending.

Sigh. 

I don’t know the answers.  Economists measure a healthy economy by growth in GDP.  But what if we have reached our limits to growth?  If the US cannot spend their way out of the recession, who is going to pick up the slack?  Who is going to buy all the gadgets and gizmos that China makes?

Walking out of that session, I wished I had asked that question.  Are there limits to growth – limits to how much consumers can spend, limits to the ability of the Earth to give up resources?

If there are limits to growth, what does the new economy look like? 

What will be the new economic model?

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Nature in the City

I am normally not much of a poet, but was inspired to write these today.   I think poetry has a lot to do with noticing the world around you.  Observation, then reflection:

Nature in the City

A falcon, flying, coasting in the wind, circling
Over a freeway
Looking for dinner among the asphalt

A robin, singing, calling out his song in the morning,
Sitting atop a spruce tree
Looking down over a suburban neighborhood

Cotton ball clouds floating, against a purple-pink sky
The sun is setting
Behind the tall stacks of the refinery

A jack rabbit sleeping, tucked in under a shrub
He notices us looking
So he hops out of the yard and crosses the street

Tree flowers blooming, looking to propagate
Then falling to the ground
To lie in the curb of the concrete sidewalk

Turdus migratorius American Robin, Cabin Lake ...

Image via Wikipedia

 

Now for reflections on shopping.  I had not been to a mall for a while due to my nothing new challenge, and surprised myself about how different I felt about spending time there:

Mall on a Saturday

People walking, looking
Carrying bags, talking on phones
Standing in checkout lines,
Opening their wallets and purses to pay

Look at this bag, this cute top
I want a new one today
How about some sandals, or a bracelet, a scarf,
Maybe a new fancy phone?

So many choices, so many things
So many labels and brands
So many people
Walking around

The sun shines brightly outside.

Make Your Bed – Part II

The garden beds have been constructed (see Part I) Whew. After long winter months of dreaming where I would put them and what they would look like – they are done.

Now I have to fill them with dirt.

I should mention that I decided to follow the Square Foot Gardening method, developed by Mel Bartholomew. I read several books over the winter on backyard gardening, and this one really stood out. This type of garden takes up less space, is totally organic, doesn’t need much weeding, and produces a relatively large amount of food in a small space.

The idea is that you build a wooden raised bed, 4 feet long and wide, giving you 16 square feet of growing area ( I did a 3 x 5 and a 3 x 7 to fit my spaces). You mark off these square feet using thin strips of wood or string, creating a grid. Within each square you grow a different vegetable. So for example, in one square you can grow 16 carrots or 16 beets or 9 onions or 8 peas or 9 bush beans. So if I designate 3 squares to carrots, I could potentially get 48 carrots out of it. For the larger plants, like peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and potatoes, you grow one plant per square. It saves space because there are no rows between plants. You also never walk on it, so the soil stays light and fluffy. The bed is raised, making them easier to reach.

I like how this system works. I can grow whatever I want in whatever square I want. For some reason, my brain likes the combination of spontaneity, combined with the systematic organization of a grid.

The other thing about Square Foot Gardening is that you use a different type of soil medium. You don’t use dirt from your garden. You make your own dirt. The soil medium is made up of 1/3 peat moss (or its more sustainable counterpart – coir), 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 compost. The peat moss keeps the soil light, the vermiculite holds a tremendous amount of water and also aids with breaking up the density of the soil, and the compost gives your plants all the food they need – organically of course.

I totally bought into this idea. I want my garden to be organic. I want my soil to hold the perfect balance of water and air. I want my plants to have enough water to sustain them. In addition, I won’t have to worry if my soil is too acidic or too alkaline. I won’t have to worry if I have too much clay, sand or silt. I won’t have to worry about all the weed seeds in garden soil.

So, I went on a mission to find my ingredients. Mel says to use at least 3 different types of compost, to ensure that you get a balanced mix. In the end I used about 4 types. The peat was relatively easy to find, but if I could have done it again I would have looked harder to find coir (peat bogs are not very renewable and hold 10% of the world’s fresh water and coir is simply the left over husks from coconuts).

Vermiculite was another story. I phoned around to almost every greenhouse, garden centre, hardware store in my area. Most did not carry it. If they did carry it was only in small 20 litre bags. I needed 550 litres! I found one supplier that carried it in 110 litre bags, so I bought up 5 huge bags. It turned out it was the wrong type – fine grain instead of medium or coarse grain, which according to Mel is a very important distinction. So I returned those and purchased 25 of the 20 litre bags. I purchased 18 bags of compost and 4 bales of peat moss. Here is what a few bags of it looked like before I got started:

With the ingredients finally in hand I set out to make dirt. The idea is that you dump equal amounts of peat moss, compost and vermiculite onto a tarp, and then roll it around.

It helps to have a helper, preferably an adult. However, my 5 year-old boy was ready and willing to get the job done, so help he did! He dumped the vermiculite (it is really light), watered the pile to get it moist, and held up two ends of the tarp while I held the other two ends and tugged and pulled and kicked it until it was mixed.

I did this 12 times, and made 12 batches of dirt. I hauled each one over to my garden beds and pushed and heaved the tarp until the dirt was deposited within.

For the container garden we filled each of the six bins with a pail, scoop by scoop. We got our hands really, really dirty.

The neighbours came by and asked what we were up to. “We are making homemade dirt!” my son told them. “It has compost, vermiculite and feet moss!”

At last it was done. My driveway was a complete disaster, dirt remnants everywhere. Every muscle ached. But it was a good thing. I felt good. My body felt good.  I set out to accomplish something that weekend, to create garden beds in my tiny yard, and I made it happen.

Now look:

Stay tuned for Part III – planting!

Green Canada?

The landscape of Canadian politics changed last night.

For me, the results are mixed.  As I have said before, my number one issue is the environment, and most specifically – action on climate change.  We have such a limited window of time to reduce our emissions, we have to act now.  We don’t have the luxury of decades to wait, to finish up our squabbling and arguing, we have to get going on this right here right now, today, within the next few years for sure.  Every moment counts.  Every country must participate. Canada is no longer immune.

So far, action on climate change in Canada has been slow, and some might say – nonexistent.  As a result, some municipalities and provinces are taking the bull by the horns and implementing policies and programs on their own.  However, there is no national leadership, no national plan, no national will to act.

In this context, I watched the election results roll in with hope and optimism and anxiety.

First the good news –Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, was elected in her riding on Vancouver Island.  This is a historic achievement for the Green Party, as they will now have a voice in parliament.  It may only be one voice out of 308 seats, but a voice for change and a voice for action on climate change it will be.  I hope that this small foothold will grow, and that more and more people will consider the Green Party as a voice they want to send to parliament.  Change is possible!

Second piece of good news – the candidate in my riding, Linda Duncan of the NDP, won her seat.  Linda is the environmental critic for the NDP, and is a long time defender of the environment.  I know she will work hard, so I voted for her, and even had her sign on my lawn.  She was the only NDP elected in Alberta, amongst a sea of Conservatives.

Thirdly – the NDP won over 100 seats, giving them the title of official opposition, a historical first for the party.  The NDP is the only party other than the Green Party that had a strong position on climate change and transitioning to a clean, green economy.  This boost in seats will give them a bigger base on which to carry out their message.  Hopefully the governing party will listen.

This leads me to the not so great news for the environment.  The Conservatives won their long-coveted majority government.  They have been operating as a minority government for years now, and have often complained that a minority situation makes it difficult to get things done.  With a minority, they have to co-operate with the other parties to get things passed, they have to make concessions.  It is a longer process, and perhaps not as efficient, but at least with a minority, the voices of the other parties are part of the discussion.  They have input into policies and programs, compromises are made. 

With a majority, the voices of the other parties are not worked into new legislation. The governing party can pass every bill it wants, no adjustments are necessary.  It is more efficient, yes.

But it is also scarier.  Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have never had this much power before.  What will they do?  What will they cut? 

By far my biggest concern though, is that it will be 4 long years before there is any hope of action climate change.  We know Stephen Harper’s stance to date – do nothing and hope that the rest of the world does not notice.  How can we expect any change, especially if he does not need to consider the opinions of the other parties, who have a much more reasonable stance on climate change?

All this had me feeling very worried last night.  Worried for the future of my children, worried for our world, worried that nothing will change and nothing will get done, despite the efforts of so many.  I felt deflated.  I felt frustrated.  Everyday I live my life with the hope on reducing my footprint, the hope of inspiring others, the hope that we are moving in the right direction.  This is not just some dream, it is a desperate requirement.  Climate change is coming, it is marching towards us, and we are just standing around picking flowers.  How will we ever wakeup from this ignorant bliss, if climate change is not even an election issue in Canada? 

The situation seems more desperate than ever.  It seems even less likely now, with a Conservative majority that any action on climate change will happen.  I hope that the NDP will have some influence, I hope Elizabeth May’s Green Party voice will be heard.  But I am not sure.

Instead of give up hope, I must press on.  Without hope, we have already lost.  I cannot give up on a bright future for my children; I cannot give up on a sustainable future for the children of this world.  It is so big, so seemingly insurmountable, and I am but one small voice.  Yet I must try.  To look up at this massive problem and do nothing – that would be a greater failure.  I want to be able to look my kids in the eyes one day and say that I tried my best.

And so – the letter writing will continue.  The blog writing will continue.  The eating locally and the growing of vegetables in my own garden will continue.  The measured use of electricity and fuel will continue.  The reduction of the consumption of needless stuff will continue.

I must hold on to hope, for my babies.