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Archive for April, 2008

A green death is the logical successor to a green life and, as more of us become more environmentally-minded (and older!), we can expect the subject to gain more attention.

At the moment though, as an AP story today reminds us, the subject still seems to warrant the ‘those-kooky-greens’ treatment from the mainstream media.

Still, it’s already easy to find resources that can help us achieve a natural death.

And a ‘green death’ is not just a question of eco-vanity.  According to Everett Sizemore at Gaiam.com:

It is estimated that the more than 22,500 cemeteries across the Unites States bury 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid every year. Embalming fluids can include chemicals and additives like formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, phenol, methanol, antibiotics, dyes, anti-edemic chemicals, and disinfectant chemicals.

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What if you want to be an urban farmer, but you don’t have an allotment or even a postage stamp-sized front or back yard to plant?

Well, you can take inspiration from the members of Food Up Front, an urban food-growing non-profit based in Balham, in south London.  Even if all you have is a walkway, a window box or a doorstep, they believe, there’s plenty of food you can grow.

Part of what makes Food Up Front an inspired idea is its membership format.  When you join, you receive a  ‘starter kit’ which includes a container, soil, seeds, a planting guide and details of gatherings where you can meet fellow urban farmers.  Other members will actively help you get farming — answering your emails, visit your planting sites and help you find tools, seeds, good sources of compost etc..

Here’s an article about them and other, similar efforts around the UK.

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as 101 year old American Kathryn Davis proves.

To celebrate her 100th birthday, Davis set up ‘Projects for Peace,’ which supported college students in 100 projects that promoted peace around the globe. It was such a success that she’s just donated another $1 million for a second series.

Davis was educated in a Quaker school. She tells the Christian Science Monitor:

“They didn’t believe in fighting; they would just keep working toward a compromise … And I think that’s what we all have to do,” she says. “Many people are very cynical about peace. They say it’s in man’s nature to fight, and I say, man has to get over that nature because war has become so dangerous.”

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Mental health issues are a bit off-topic for us here at EarthQuaker. But we are interested in ideas that, to quote the Preamble to the US Constitution, ‘promote the general welfare.’

So here’s an interview with Charles Barber, author of the new book Comfortably Numb, which argues that too many American doctors now view mental states that are part of (and essential to) normal life as illnesses to be treated with psychotropic drugs.

When it comes to treating mild depression, Barber recommends following a European model:

The clinical guidelines to the National Health Service for mild depression recommend watchful waiting, diet and exercise, self-help and counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, and then if all those things don’t work, to try antidepressants. Our de facto practice in the United States is pretty much the opposite.

But feelings of unhappiness or mild depression brought on by identifiable life circumstances (divorce, losing a job or moving house) are not, Barber argues, mental conditions at all.

Says Barber,

our American sensibility is to be uncomfortable with unhappy feelings and root them out as quickly as possible. I want to be very clear not to romanticize suffering, but there can be a utility to some difficult emotions.

The right to pursue their own happiness is something that Americans rightly hold dear. And yet that happiness has also proven elusive, despite the nation’s enormous success in building its citizens’ wealth.

We’ve noted elsewhere that shopping doesn’t seem to do much to make people happy. And plenty of researchers have found that happiness fails to keep increasing after we reach a certain level of material comfort.

So is taking drugs the solution? It seems fairly obvious that however much those drugs might keep us ‘comfortably numb,’ they won’t do much to change whatever circumstances limited our happiness in the first place.

More broadly, it might also help to rethink our expectations of what can make us happy. In that context, Barber says, it’s ironic that

if you set happiness to be your primary goal, it tends not to work out very well. The late Canadian novelist Robertson Davies said that happiness is a byproduct, and that you become happy when you’re engaged in productive activity or when you’re in a relationship with someone you love. So this idea that we have to be happy is a highly American thing and highly problematic concept.

If our relationships are poor, and if we find that the activities that motivate our lives are more destructive than constructive, we can choose to stay unhappy and self-medicate for it. Or we can seek to be constructive, and to redefine the relationships we enjoy with our fellow planet-dwellers, and our planet.

Imagining what such a redefined-life might look like — and asking what we can do to achieve it — is very much our topic here.

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We almost decided not to mention this story, since it really amounts to nothing. But in case you missed it, yesterday US President George Bush called for a halt in the growth of US greenhouse gases by 2025. And he said US power plant emissions should peak in the next 10 to 15 years.

And he pretty much left it at that. To quote the SF Chronicle’s Zachary Coile:

But the president proposed no new regulations or legislation to ensure that his new targets are met, and his proposal falls far short of the cuts in greenhouse gases that scientists say are needed to avoid the worst effects of rising temperatures and sea levels.

Call it cynical; call it trying to add to a little burnish to the President’s many reputational tarnishes, or call it, as many Democrats have done, an attempt to undermine an upcoming Senate bill with real regulatory teeth (which calls for emissions to be reduced by 6 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and by 66 percent by 2050) — but it’s certainly not going to be any kind of a force for change. Which is almost certainly the President’s intention.

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Scotland used to have native moose, wild boar, brown bears, lynx and wolves.  Now “landowner Paul Lister aims to bring back long-vanished species to his 23,000 acre Alladale estate, north of Inverness,” the UK’s Independent tells us.

Lister’s already installed the wild boar, but his neighbors are less than excited about the bears, wolves and lynx to come.

Fencing the estate could officially make it a zoo, interestingly, where it would be illegal to put predators and prey together.  Watch for worms and other invertibrate prey to petition for the expulsion of robins from all fenced gardens — er, zoos — in the UK.

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For those of us alarmed by the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder that has wiped out swathes of the American, and now European, honey bee population, here’s a new potential cause: cell phones.

The evidence so far, though, seems slim. Geoffrey Lean and Harriet Shawcross write in this weekend’s Independent on Sunday that “German research has long shown that bees’ behaviour changes near power lines.” Now, they say:

a limited study at Landau University has found that bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. Dr Jochen Kuhn, who carried it out, said this could provide a “hint” to a possible cause.

Dr George Carlo, who headed a massive study by the US government and mobile phone industry of hazards from mobiles in the Nineties, said: “I am convinced the possibility is real.”

That ‘hint’ and ‘possibility’ leave us, unfortunately, still a long way from knowing what’s really been going on.

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