September 2009

Monthly Archive

Ecotopia #52 The Autumn Equinox

Posted by on 21 Sep 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Tonight we celebrate the fall equinox which rolled through the Northstate at 2:19 pm today.  This is the fourth Ecotopia that we have dedicated to the changing of the seasons, and that reminded us that this edition of Ecotopia is #52—so we’re celebrating a year on KZFR community radio as well as one spin of the earth about the sun.

We begin our celebration of fall with a poem by  Emily Dickinson, “Nature XXVII, Autumn”:

The morns are meeker than they were

The nuts are getting brown;

The berry’s cheek is plumper,

The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf,

The field a scarlet gown.

Lest I should be old-fashioned,

I’ll put a trinket on.

So just what is the autumn equinox?  Here’s the technical and scientific skinny from Time and Date. Com

The September equinox occurs at 21:19 […]Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on September 22, 2009 [which translated to 2:19 pm today Northstate Time]. It is also referred to as the autumnal or fall equinox in the northern hemisphere, [and] as the spring or vernal equinox in the southern hemisphere […].

[Regardless of which hemisphere you find yourself in, the September Equinox occurs when] The sun crosses the celestial equator . . . ]. The location on the earth where the sun is directly overhead at solar noon is known as the subsolar point. [. . . .]This is the time when many people believe that the earth experiences 12 hours of day and night. However, this is not exactly the case.

It is important to note that day and night during the September equinox is not exactly equal length. During the time of the September and March equinoxes many regions around the equator have a daylight length of about 12 hours and six-and-a-half minutes. Moreover, the day is slightly longer in places that are further away from the equator and the sun takes longer to rise and set in these locations.

[September solstice dates also jump around on the calendar, coming as early as the 21st and as late as the 24th.]

[…] The varying dates of the equinox are mainly due to the […] Gregorian calendar, which has 365 days in a year, [while the “true” or topical year]  is approximately 365.242199 days, but varies from year to year because of the influence of other planets.   The exact orbital and daily rotational motion of the Earth, such as the “wobble” in the earth’s axis (precession), also contributes to the changing solstice dates.

Of course, such observations are largely Earth-Centric and based on the narcissistic assumption that we humans are the absolute center of the solar system. Since the earth travels around the sun, the sun doesn’t actually “rise” or “set” at all.  Nor in the grand scheme of the solar system and the universe does the sun actually “cross” the equator, even though it might seem to from the perspective of earthlings.

Here’s an autumn poem by Robert Frost, “Gathering Leaves.”

Spades take up leaves

No better than spoons,

And bags full of leaves

Are light as balloons.

I make a great noise

Of rustling all day

Like rabbit and deer

Running away.

But the mountains I raise

Elude my embrace,

Flowing over my arms

And into my face.

I may load and unload

Again and again

Till I fill the whole shed,

And what have I then?

Next to nothing for weight,

And since they grew duller

From contact with earth,

Next to nothing for color.

Next to nothing for use.

But a crop is a crop,

And who’s to say where

The harvest shall stop?

Here is  “Autumn,”by Alice Cary

Shorter and shorter now the twilight clips

The days, as though the sunset gates they crows,

And Summer from her golden collar slips

And strays through stubble-fields, and moans aloud,

Save when by fits the warmer air deceives,

And, stealing hopeful to some sheltered bower,

She lies on pillows of the yellow leaves,

And tries the old tunes over for an hour.

The wind, whose tender whisper in the May

Set all the young blooms listening through th’ grove,

Sits rustling in the faded boughs to-day

And makes his cold and unsuccessful love.

The rose has taken off her tire of red—

The mullein-stalk its yellow stars have lost,

And the proud meadow-pink hangs down her head

Against earth’s chilly bosom, witched with frost.

The robin, that was   busy all the June,

Before the sun had kissed the topmost bough,

Catching our hearts up in his golden tune,

Has given place to the brown cricket now.

The very cock crows lonesomely at morn—

Each flag and fern the shrinking stream divides—

Uneasy cattle low, and lambs forlorn

Creep to their strawy sheds with nettled sides.

Shut up the door: who loves me must not look

Upon the withered world, but haste to bring

His lighted candle, and his story-book,

And live with me the poetry of Spring.

Earlier in the show, we poked fun at the human tendency to see ourselves as being at the center of the solar system, even if we know better. Actually,we have always been amazed at the observations and speculations of astronomers across the milennia. Whether they believed in an earth-centered or sun-centered system, they were incredibly perceptive in observing the apparent movement of the stars:

[The] Greek astronomer and mathematician [,…] Hipparchus, [who lived approximately 190 to120, Before Common Era, is generally credited for]  discovering the precession of the equinoxes, the slow movement among the stars of the two opposite places where the sun crosses the celestial equator. Hipparchus made observations of the equinox and solstice. Astronomers use the spring equinoctial point to define their frame of reference, and the movement of this point implies that the measured position of a star varies with the date of measurement. Hipparchus also compiled a star catalogue, but this has been lost.

The word “equinox” derives from the Latin words meaning “equal night” and refers to the time when the sun crosses the equator. […]The September equinox has been used as a reference point in many calendars in the past, including the French Revolutionary Calendar. Although very little is known about the ancient Macedonian calendar, some believe that the first month began after the atumnal equinox.

That, and other information about constructs of time, date, and seasons are available on line at timeanddate-dot-com. [There you can]

calculate the approximate time and date (according to Coordinated Universal Time) of the March equinox, as well as the June and December solstices and the September equinox.  [You can also] Find out more [using a] Seasons Calculator and links to useful tools, such as the Day and Night World Map, Moon Calculator, Moon Phase Calculator, and Sunrise Calculator.  [And timeanddate dot com has a] World Clock [that] can … be used to find sunrise and sunset times, as well as the current position of the sun in major cities around the world.

Here is “Autumn Fires,” by Robert Louis Stevenson

In the other gardens

And all up the vale,

From the autumn bonfires

See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over

And all the summer flowers,

The red fire blazes,

The grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!

Something bright in all!

Flowers in the summer,

Fires in the fall!

As you can imagine, the equinoxes have linked to many myths, legends, superstitions, festivals, and observations over time.  Here are just a few noted by Time and Date.Com and by Religious Tolerance dot Org  []

For example:

According to Jewish superstition, when Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac at the autumnal equinox, and blood appeared on his knife. Another superstition relating to the four Tekufot, which refers to the equinoxes and solstices, is that during the September equinox a mysterious precipitation poisoned all water, which was not be drawn or drunk.

In Greek mythology autumn begins as the goddess Persephone returns to the underworld to live with her husband Hades. It has also been believed that magically it was a good time to enact rituals for protection and security as well as reflect on successes or failures from the previous months. Animals associated with the autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere are dogs, wolves and birds of prey. Mythical creatures associated with this time of the year include gnomes, minotaurs and the sphinx.

Higan, or Higan-e, is a week of Buddhist services observed in Japan during both the September and March equinoxes when day and night are equal at length. Both equinoxes have been national holidays since the Meiji period (1868-1912). Before World War II, they were known as koreisai, or festivals of the Imperial ancestors. After the war, when the national holidays were renamed, they became simply spring and autumn equinoxes. Higan means the “other shore” and refers to the spirits of the dead reaching Nirvana after crossing the river of existence. It celebrates the spiritual move from the world of suffering to the world of enlightenment and is a time to remember the dead by visiting, cleaning and decorating their graves and reciting sutras. Buddhist prayers, rice balls and sushi are offered. It is a time for the Japanese to worship their imperial ancestors.

The Christian church replaced many early pagan equinox celebrations with Christianized observances over the years. For example, Michaelmas (also known as the Feast of Michael and All Angels), on September 29, fell near the September equinox because it was associated with the beginning of autumn. During the middle ages it was celebrated as a holy day of obligation but the tradition waned in the 18th century. It is still celebrated in some places as the “festival of strong will” during the autumnal equinox.

Neopaganism is a group of [contemporary] religions which are attempted re-creations of ancient Pagan religions. Of these, Wicca is the most popular; it is loosely based on ancient Celtic beliefs, symbols and practices, with the addition of some more recent Masonic and ceremonial magic rituals. [While] Monotheistic religions, like Judaism, Christianity and Islam, tend to view time as linear [, starting] with creation–the world as we know it [and ending] at some time in the future, Aboriginal and Neopagan religions see time as circular and repetitive, with lunar (monthly) and solar (yearly) cycles. Their “…rituals guarantee the continuity of nature’s cycles, which traditional human societies depend on for their sustenance.”  For example, among the Neopagans, Wiccans  recognize eight seasonal days of celebration. Four are minor sabbats and occur at the two solstices and the two equinoxes. The other are major sabbats which happen approximately halfway between an equinox and solstice. Wiccans may celebrate Mabon [(May-bun)] on the evening before, or at sunrise on the morning of the equinox, or at the exact time of fall equinox.  […]  Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary comments: “The Goddess manifests in Her Bountiful Mother aspects. The God emerges as the Corn King and Harvest Lord. Colors are Orange, Dark Red, Yellow, Indigo, and Brown. It is the festival of thanksgiving.”

Here’s a poem entitled Mabon by Akasha

Autumn colors of red and gold

As I close my eyes tonight

Such a wonder to behold

I feel the God/dess hold me tight

Watch leaves turning one by one

Though it grows dark, I shall not fear

Captured bits of Autumn Sun

For Divine Love protects all here

Soon they’ll fall and blow away

Through the night, until the morn

The golden treasures of today

When the shining Sun’s reborn

When the trees are bare

Time to sleep, time to dream

And the ground grows cold

Till warm gold rays upon me stream

These warm memories

I’ll still hold….


In China the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, is celebrated around (but not precisely) the time of the September equinox. This occasion dates back more than 3000 years and occurs around the time of the full moon. It celebrates the abundance of the summer’s harvest and one of the main foods is the mooncake filled with lotus, sesame seeds, a duck egg or dried fruit. This tradition originated from the ancient tradition of making offerings to the sun in the spring and to the moon in the autumn. It is also a time for families to get together and people often travel long distances to be with their loved ones. The streets are decorated with lanterns, incenses are burned and fire dragon dances take place.

Here is a Chinese story about the [full] moon at the time of the Latern Festival.  From

Fish for the Moon in the Well

One evening, the clever man, Huojia went to fetch some water from the well. To his surprise, when he looked into the well, he found the moon sunk in the well shining. “Oh, good Heavens, what a pity! The beautiful moon has dropped into the well!” so he dashed home for a hook, and tied it with the rope for his bucket, then put it into the well to fish for the moon.

After some time of hunting for the moon, Haojia was pleased to find that something was caught by the hook..[…] He pulled hard by the rope. Due to the excessive pulling, the rope broke into apart and Haojia fell flat on his back. Taking the advantage of that post, Haojia saw the moon again high in the sky. He sighed with emotion, “Aha, it finally came back to its place! What a good job! He felt very happy and told whomever he met with about the wonderment….

The month of September also marks the ‘Wine Moon,’ the lunar cycle when grapes are harvested from the arbors, pressed and put away to become wine…The full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox is known as the ‘Harvest Moon,’ since farmers would also harvest their crops during the night with the light of the full moon to aid them.” [Shine on, harvest moon!]

We are observing the September or Autumnal solstice, which took place just a few hours ago, at 2:19 Pacfic Time.  Can you feel the difference?  Perhaps it’s because at the same time, the sun entered the sign of Libra—the constellation of the balance of scales.  Traditionally libras are:

Diplomatic and urbane
Romantic and charming
Easygoing and sociable
Idealistic and peaceable

But they can also be:

Indecisive and changeable
Gullible and easily influenced
Flirtatious and self-indulgent

Happy Equinox, Libras. May your better traits dominate!

The CHUMASH are a Native American tribe from Southern California. They celebrate their fall equinox sun ceremony during their month of Hutash (September). It takes place “after the harvest is picked, processed and stored….”

Here’s a retelling of the legend of the Rainbow Bridge by 15-year-old Jesse Moon.


The Chumash people have lived for centuries along the California coast between San Luis Obispo and Malibu, whose very name calls forth the memory of the Chumash village Humaliwo, meaning “The Surf Sounds Loudly.” Here they created a special way of life, and while some other California tribes had similar customs, no other Native Americans lived in exactly the same way. Their invention and use of the ocean going redwood plank boat (Tomol), their complex village and religious life and their extraordinary craftsmanship are what make the Chumash unique. Even their language, with eight regional dialects, belongs to the Hokam language family, which is the oldest in California. This suggests that Chumash-speaking peoples were living in this part of California for thousands of years.

According to legend, the First Chumash people were created on Li-Mu Island, which we now call Santa Cruz Island. This island lies off the coast near Santa Barbara. The people were made from the seeds of a magic plant by the Earth Goddess whose name is Hutash.

Hutash is married to the Sky Snake, the Milky Way. He can make lightening bolts with his tongue. One day, he decided to make a gift to the Chumash people, so he sent down a lighting bolt that started a fire. After this, people kept fires burning so that they could cook their food and be warm.

After the Sky Snake gave them fire, the Chumash people lived more comfortably. More babies were born each year, and the villages grew larger and more noisy. The island was growing very crowded and the noise began to bother Hutash, keeping Her awake at night. She finally decided that some of the people would have to leave the island and move to the mainland, where no one lived. Hutash wondered how to get the people across the water to the mainland. Then She had an idea. She built a bridge out of a very long, very high rainbow, which stretched from the tallest mountain on the island all the way to the tall mountains near Carpenteria.

Hutash told the people to go across the Rainbow Bridge, and fill the world with people. So the Chumash people began to cross the bridge. Most got across safely, but some made the mistake of looking down. Far, far below the water shone, and the fog swirled. They got so dizzy that some of them fell off the Rainbow Bridge, down, down, through the fog, into the ocean. Hutash felt terrible about this, for she had told them to cross Her bridge. She did not want them to drown, so She turned them into dolphins. Later, when the Chumash went to sea in their plank Tomol, they always remembered that the dolphins were their brothers. And in September, they honor Hutash with a great Harvest Festival, which is named after Her.

Here’s a poem about Autumn Night by T. E. Hulme

A touch of cold in the Autumn night—

I walked abroad,

And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge

Like a red-faced farmer.

I did not stop to speak, but nodded,

And round about were the wistful stars

With white faces like town children.

This is Ecotopia on KZFR, and we are exploring customs, stories, and poetry about the fall equinox. Here’s an interesting supersition about the fall equinox:

Many people believe that since the equinox is a time of balance where the daylight hours and nighttime hours are equal, that — by some mystical force — one can balance eggs on their end on these days. Some believe that one can only balance an egg within a few hours before or after the exact time of the equinox.

[KZFR listeners: We are still in that time frame! Get an egg and give this a try at home!]

[But] Philip Plait (a.k.a. the Bad Astronomer) [brings us back to annoying reality]:

“Usually you cannot stand a raw egg because the inside of an egg is a very viscous (thick) liquid, and the yolk sits in this liquid. The yolk is usually a bit off-center and rides high in the egg, making it very difficult to balance. The egg falls over. However, with patience, you can usually make an egg stand up.

None of […this, he concludes, has] anything to do with the passage of the seasons. So, a person probably has as much luck standing an egg on its end on the equinox as on any other day of the year.

Autumn is also the time for traditional celebrations. Here’s:


By Harry Behn

Tonight is the night

When dead leaves fly

Like witches on switches

Across the sky,

When elf and sprite

Flit through the night

On a moony sheen.

Tonight is the night

When leaves make a sound

Like a gnome in his home

Under the ground,

When spooks and trolls

Creep out of holes

Mossy and green.

Tonight is the night

When pumpkins stare

Through sheaves and leaves


When ghouls and ghost

And goblin host

Dance round their queen.

It’s Halloween.

Along with Hallowe’en, which has become a global holiday, in late October and early November many observe Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Here’s a poem by Julia Sopetran, a Spanish poet, “Beauty which Departs but Returns to Mixquic”:

The small floating island travels through the canal.

– Open the door, mother! So that we can surprise

that wandering soul who has arrived at our offerings;

the mirrors of the waterways have blinded her…

but she can feel her way, alone, to our house.

Prepare the food. That death may see

that this love of life we offer as a gift

so that she may better understand what the mystery

has bequeathed.

Yes, dear daughter. Our house, clean, welcomes our


Lights. Incense. Tamales. Chairs.

The bed is made with flowers which we bought.

The little floating house is beauty that traverses

by the unparalleled road of all the river banks

we get on and then… Will we return?

Source: Poem found in Mexico City, Mixquic & Morelos- Through the Eyes of the Soul, Day of the Dead in Mexico

And everyone looks forward to Thanksgiving as in this anonymous, “Ode to Thanksgiving”

May your stuffing be tasty

May your turkey plump,

May your potatoes and gravy

Have nary a lump.

May your yams be delicious

And your pies take the prize,

And may your Thanksgiving dinner

Stay off your thighs!

We close in praise of October, one of the most beautiful months in Northern California:  “October’s Bright Blue Weather” by Helen Hunt Jackson

O sun and skies and clouds of June

And flowers of June together,

Ye cannot rival for one hour

October’s bright blue weather;

When loud the bumblebee makes haste,

Belated, thriftless vagrant,

And goldenrod is dying fast,

And lanes with grapes are fragrant;

When gentians roll their fringes tight,

To save them for the morning,

And chestnuts fall from satin burs

Without a sound of warning;

When on the ground red apples lie

In piles like jewels shining,

And redder still on old stone walls

Are leaves of woodbine twining;

When all the lovely wayside things

Their white-winged seeds are sowing,

And in the fields, still green and fair,

Late aftermaths are growing;

When springs run low, and on the brooks

In idle, golden freighting,

Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush

Of woods, for winter waiting;

When comrades seek sweet country haunt

By twos and twos together,

And count like misers hour by hour

October’s bright blue weather.

O sun and skies and flowers of June,

Count all your boasts together,

Love loveth best of all the year

October’s bright blue weather.

Playlist for Ecotopia #52: Autumn Equinox

1. The Four Seasons: Violin Concerto in F Major, RV 293, “Autumn”: III. Allegro3:12 Candida Thompson, Henk Rubingh, Jan Jansen, Janine Jansen, Julian Rachlin, Liz Kenny, Maarten Jansen & Stacey Watton   Vivaldi: the Four Seasons

2. Les feuilles mortes (Autumn Leaves)  4:49    Andrea Bocelli & Veronica Berti    Amore

3. First Day Of Autumn       5:03    Anne Hills    Bittersweet Street

4. Harvest Moon       5:05    Neil Young     Neil Young: Greatest Hits

5. Shine on Harvest Moon 3:12    Leon Redbone   Double Time

6. Thriller (Single Version) 5:12    Michael Jackson      The Essential Michael Jackson

7. Weave Me the Sunshine           4:28    Peter, Paul And Mary

Ecotopia #51 The 4Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, REFUSE

Posted by on 21 Sep 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

15 September 2009

Tonight we will be working on the dream of reducing waste. Our guest will be Chip Haynes, author of a new book, Wearing Smaller Shoes. He starts with the now familiar 3Rs of Reduce, Recycle, and Reuse, and adds a fourth, Refuse. He has myriad ideas on how we can reduce our ecological footprint right around home.

Does Recycling Work? Some Global Opinions

In preparing for this show, we were curious about an assertion that we have heard from time to time: that recycling is a drop in the environmental bucket, inconsequential, a “feel-good” activity for greenies.  We wondered, “Does recycling work?”

In our research, we learned, first, that there is no easy yes-no answer to that question, and second, that recycling is so complex an issue that one has to search for multiple answers.

Much of the controversy can be traced back to 1996 New York Times Magazine article by John Tierney called “Recycling Is Garbage.” He began the article by following around some third graders who found a lot of trash and learned the point of their teacher’s lesson: that we throw away too much stuff.  But, Tierney also observed that most of what the kids found was not worth recycling and was probably most economically disposed of in landfills.  Tierney then went on to describe what he regarded as the myth of recycling.  He wrote:

Rinsing out tuna cans and tying up newspapers may make you feel virtuous, but recycling could be America’s most wasteful activity.

A grand national experiment [was] begun in 1987 […] back when the Three R’s had nothing to do with garbage. [The new 3Rs became a mantra of environmentalists and journalists: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle]. That year a barge named the Mobro 4000 wandered thousands of miles trying to unload its cargo of Long Islanders’ trash, and its journey had a strange effect on America. The citizens of the richest society in the history of the planet suddenly became obsessed with personally handling their own waste.

Believing that there was no more room in landfills, Americans concluded that recycling was their only option. Their intentions were good and their conclusions seemed plausible. Recycling does sometimes make sense — for some materials in some places at some times. But the simplest and cheapest option is usually to bury garbage in an environmentally safe landfill. And [John Tierney contined] since there’s no shortage of landfill space (the crisis of 1987 was a false alarm), there’s no reason to make recycling a legal or moral imperative. Mandatory recycling programs aren’t good for posterity. They offer mainly short-term benefits to a few groups — politicians, public relations consultants, environmental organizations, waste-handling corporations — while diverting money from genuine social and environmental problems. Recycling may be the most wasteful activity in modern America: a waste of time and money, a waste of human and natural resources.

John Tierney’s article has been rebutted regularly since then by numerous individuals and groups, including the National Resources Defense Council, which marshaled evidence showing that:

  • Recycling conserves natural resources, such as timber, water, and mineral ores, from domestic and imported sources.
  • Recycling prevents pollution caused by manufacturing from virgin resources.
  • Recycling saves energy.
  • Recycling reduces the need for landfilling and incineration and helps avoid the pollution produced by these technologies.
  • Recycling helps protect and expand manufacturing jobs in America.
  • Recycling engenders a sense of community involvement and responsibility.

NRDC also cites recycling milestones going back to 1970.  Their website observes.

People have reused and recycled materials for centuries out of necessity. But recycling legislation and curbside programs in the United States date back only to the 1970s. Here is a brief timeline of how recycling of waste from households, schools and businesses has evolved over the last several decades.

1970 – The first Earth Day brings national attention to the problem of increasing waste and the importance of recycling.

1971 – The first “Bottle Bill” is born: Oregon introduces a refundable deposit (a nickel) on beer and soda bottles as an incentive to recycle.

1973 – Berkeley, California starts the nation’s first curbside recycling program.

1976 – The federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act is enacted to close open dumps, create standards for landfills, incinerators and the disposal of hazardous waste.

1988 – The number of curbside recycling programs increases to about 1,050.

1990 – McDonald’s stops using Styrofoam containers. Earth Day’s 20th anniversary theme is recycling.

1992 – Curbside programs continue to pop up around the country, bringing the total to 5,404.

1996 – The U.S. recycles at a rate of 25 percent; EPA sets a new goal of 35 percent.

2000 – The EPA confirms a link between global warming and waste, showing that reducing our garbage and recycling cut greenhouse gas emissions.d.

2007 – Five states pass laws requiring that unwanted electronics be recycled. San Francisco becomes the first U.S. city to prohibit the distribution of plastic bags by grocery stores.

In an article on the Past, Present, and Future of Recycling, the National Defense Resources Council identifies current recycling issues and problems, observing:

The amount of material we recycle today — 81 million tons a year — equals the total quantity of garbage the United States produced in 1960. Today, Americans create 250 million tons of municipal waste in a year, and about 15 billion tons a year of all other types of industrial wastes. Experts say that continuing to increase our recycling rates will help pull us out of the garbage heap and reduce global warming emissions. And that a necessary counterpart to that strategy is to cut down on the waste we produce in the first place

[…] Here are some other ways to work towards zero waste:

Keep organics and recyclables out of landfills and incinerators. More than 60 percent of household waste in the United States is recyclable or compostable. But Americans only compost 8 percent of their waste. Composting prepares organic waste like leftover food and lawn trimmings for reuse as fertilizer instead of leaving it to decompose in landfills or to combust in incinerators, which emit greenhouse gases and other air pollutants. Creating more municipal composting programs would boost composting rates. Such programs exist in only a few cities, and they’re outnumbered more than 2 to 1 by curbside recycling programs.

Put trash cans on diets. Much of the waste we dump in our trash cans doesn’t need to be there. Cutting back on product packaging, promoting reusable bags over paper and plastic, using sponges instead of paper towels, and favoring mugs or glasses over disposable containers are just a few ways to reduce waste

Manage electronic waste. Discarded electronics — old computers, broken cell phones, obsolete television sets — form the fastest-growing element of our waste stream. Americans threw out 2 million tons of tech trash in 2005 and only recycled about 380,000 tons. Nine states have laws in place that require the recycling of electronics, and several other states are working on new e-waste laws. NRDC supports laws that put the responsibility on manufacturers to recycle their used products, and for designing less toxic, more recyclable gadgets in the first place.

Expand bottle bills. In 2005, 2 million tons of plastic bottles in the United States ended up in the trash instead of in recycling bins. State container deposit laws, known as “bottle bills”, are long overdue for an upgrade. Container deposit laws have proven to be the most effective approach to collecting bottles and cans. But right now, only 11 states have bottle bills, and most of them include only beer and soda bottles — not water bottles, which accounted for 14 percent of bottled beverages in 2005. A national bill with a higher deposit would give a huge boost to our bottle recycling rates.

Ditch plastic bags. According to the EPA, the United States consumes about 380 billion plastic bags a year and recycles less than 5 percent of them. Getting in the habit of reusing shopping bags — as is common in some other countries — could reduce that number significantly and prevent billions of plastic bags from ending up in landfills (not to mention in the ocean, on trees and floating by your window).

Finally, in discussing whether or not recycling programs are effective, Cecil Adams writes on StraightDope dot Com:

Forget the esoteric arguments about externalities, finite resources, and so on–in the end recycling will (or won’t) work because it is (or isn’t) cheaper than throwing stuff away. This varies with the material being recycled. As a general proposition, any manufactured product that is (a) heavy or expensive in relation to its bulk, (b) homogeneous, and (c) easily separable from the waste stream by consumers can be recycled economicly. Metals, notably steel and aluminum, are the obvious examples; both have high recycling rates. Surprisingly, so does newsprint. The poor candidates, at the moment, are plastics and mixed paper (including magazines). Plastics are too light and heterogeneous, while mixed paper contains too many contaminants. In the end we may conclude that this junk is best consigned to landfills. But given the advance of technology, who knows? We’re in the midst of a great national experiment, and we’d be foolish at this stage to prejudge the results.

Our Questions for Chip Haynes

Our guest tonight is Chip Haynes, author of Wearing Smaller Shoes.

  • What motivated you to write this book?
  • You warn people about greenwashing. What is greenwashing? Can you give some examples? You talk about shopping in other parts of the book. What are some guidelines you would recommend to people when they shop?
  • The three Rs are in pretty common currency, but you recommend the four Rs. What are they? (BTW, we interviewed a vermiculture and recycling expert a couple of weeks ago, and his fourth R was Rot—which is great for composting—both conventional and worm compost.)
  • Can you tell us a little about the process you went through to downsize your footprint? What did you do first? What was the easiest thing you did to simplify your lives? What was the hardest thing you’ve done?
  • You spend a bit of the book talking about oil as a significant impact on your decision to decrease your footprint. Can you explain your thinking on this issue?
  • You also say that you think recycling is less than trendy? Do you think that’s in the process of changing? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • You have lots of tricks for decreasing our use of energy at home. Tell us about some of them. Tell us about what surprise energy users are in our houses? And what exactly do energy star ratings mean?
  • I was a little surprised that you sort of poo-poo solar and power. Why? Are there situations where you support those technologies? What better ways are there for creating electricity?
  • Do you have advice for those of us who do use lots of gadgets for reducing our power use? (huge power used by new TVs, BUT less radiation produced!)
  • So much of what you describe that allows a reduction of the use of power seems tied to living in Florida. How can these ideas be adapted for my friend who live in Michigan? And what about people who don’t have huge shade trees or the best placement of their house for prevailing winds?
  • Tell us about some of your suggestions for saving water. Why is that important?
  • Have you considered getting rid of your grass?
  • You claim early in the book that you and your wife recycle about 95 percent of everything you use. That seems like a lot of recycling! How have you gone about achieving that number? Describe your formal and informal recycling programs.
  • How much time does all your recycling take you? Your process seems very complicated.
  • What do you know about what happens to recycled materials?
  • Tell us how you handle your food waste.
  • How  can we better transport ourselves?

                          The book is Wearing Smaller Shoes: Living Light on the Big Blue Marble, by our guest, Chip Haynes. The book is published by New Society Publishers of British Columbia.

                          Playlist for Ecotopia #51:  The 4Rs

                          1. Working On A Dream     3:30    Bruce Springsteen    Working On A Dream

                          2. Recycle Reuse Reduce 2:46    Heidi Howe    Give a Hootenanny!

                          3. reduce, reuse, recycle    3:35    The Junkman (Donald Knaack)    Junk Music 2

                          4. The 3 R’s   2:54    Jack Johnson    Sing-A-Longs & Lullabies For The Film Curious George

                          5. Glorious     5:19    MaMuse    All The Way

                          6. Weave Me the Sunshine           4:28    Peter, Paul And Mary    The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

                          7. Mother Nature’s Son       2:48    The Beatles    The Beatles (White Album

                          8. Beautiful Day       4:08    U2    All That You Can’t Leave Behind

                          Ecotopia #50 Ordinary Injustice

                          Posted by on 21 Sep 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

                          September 8, 2009

                          Tonight we will be looking at a social ecosystem—the American justice system. Our guest will be Amy Bach, an attorney and journalist who has just published a book called Ordinary Injustice: How America Holds Court. She spent five years visiting courtrooms all over the country, and offers a harsh indictment of how justice is dispensed—and that indictment includes just about everyone associated with the system, from judges to prosecutors to defense attorneys. She also has some ideas about how the justice ecosystem can be corrected.

                          Some Global News About “Blind” Justice

                          Wikipedia explains that:

                          Blind Justice is the theory that law should be viewed objectively with the determination of innocence or guilt made without bias or prejudice. It is the idea behind the United States Supreme Court motto “Equal Justice Under Law” and is symbolized by the blindfolded statue of Lady Justice which is the symbol of the judiciary. In ancient times an administrator would hear a charge and dispense the law as written. The Hammurabi code is the oldest and most famous example of what was called lex talionis, or an eye for an eye. The accused would literally sit behind a blind individual and an official would declare a pre-determined punishment without influence of opinion on the individual. […] The [Biblical books of the] Pentateuch, […] also advocate the concept of blind justice: “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” (Lev 19:15, ESV) “You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike.” (Deut 1:17, ESV)

                          Nevertheless, the concept of “impartiality” has been subject to great argument in both classical times and our own.  Writing on just before the confirmation hearings for  Supreme Court Judge Sonja Sotomayor, Susan Estrich argues: You Can’t Blindfold Lady Justice: Judges DO Make Law

                          Don’t tell anyone: This is the season when lawyers left and right cross our fingers behind our backs and solemnly swear that judges don’t make law.

                          Conservatives insist they adhere to original intent. Liberals insist they do no more than apply the commands of a living Constitution. Everyone recognizes that life experience matters, but no one wants to admit how that could be so, because judges [supposedly] don’t make law.

                          […] Nominee Sonia Sotomayor is going to spend at least a few hours of her time before the Senate Judiciary Committee explaining away her comment at Duke a few years ago that the appeals court (as opposed to the trial court) is the place where policy gets made. […]

                          If you have any doubt that it’s true, however, consider the very current and important question of when warrantless wiretapping should be allowed for national security reasons, and whether warrants are required for conversations with foreign nationals suspected of terrorism ties, and if warrants are required, under what standards…

                          Now, consider the provision of the Constitution in which you will find the answers, the Fourth Amendment: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

                          […] About wiretapping, of course, the Founders did not say anything, as telephones had not been invented. The history of eavesdropping was invoked when the court was called upon to determine whether the Fourth Amendment protected a guy talking on a pay phone.

                          […] It’s just that it takes judges — judges you may like, judges I may like, judges whom those on the left and right may unite to support, as I hope will happen here — to apply those enduring principles to technology our Founders couldn’t have dreamed of, in a world facing challenges that couldn’t even be described in their terms.


                          But Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe, disagrees, arguing that President Obama has deliberately removed “Lady Justice’s Blindfold” and turned her into a tool of politics. He writes:

                          [The] obligation to decide cases on the basis of fact and law, without regard to the litigants’ wealth or fame or social status, is a venerable moral principle.

                          [Jacoby cites several of the Biblical passages we quoted earlier along with John Adam’s statement that]  “We live under “a government of laws and not of men.”

                          That is why the judicial oath is so adamant about impartiality. That is why Lady Justice is so frequently depicted — as on the sculpted lampposts outside the US Supreme Court — wearing a blindfold and carrying balanced scales.

                          And that is why President Obama’s “empathy” standard is so disturbing, and has generated so much comment.

                          Time and again, Obama has called for judges who do not put their private political views aside when deciding cases. In choosing a replacement for Justice David Souter, the president says, he will seek not just “excellence and integrity,” but a justice whose “quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles,” would be “an essential ingredient” in his jurisprudence. In an interview last year, he said he would look for judges “sympathetic” to those “on the outside, those who are vulnerable, those who are powerless.”

                          […With such criteria, what would remain of the rule of law? What would happen to “Equal Justice Under Law,” which is carved above the Supreme Court’s entrance? What would be left of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection of the laws” to every citizen?

                          Lady Justice wears a blindfold not because she has no empathy for certain litigants or groups of people, but because there is no role for such empathy in a courtroom. “Our constitution is color-blind,” wrote Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan, in his great dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, “and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.” Harlan had supported slavery; he believed whites were superior to nonwhites. He had his empathies, but he confined his judging to the law.


                          Blindfolded or not, it’s clear that many people think that Lady Justice has done them injustice. We Googled “miscarriage of justice” and came up with 866,000 hits, an extraordinary number of them being individual stories where people feel they did not receive justice.

                          The website, Citizens for Judicial Accountability reviews a book by social worker Karen Huffer, who has:

                          […] found that many victims of the legal system suffer from [what she calls] Legal Abuse Syndrome, brought on by the abusive and protracted litigation, prevalent in our courts. According to Ms. Huffer you may be suffering from Legal Abuse Syndrome if you feel deeply disillusioned and oppressed as a result of your experience with the legal system; if you feel you were frustrated in obtaining justice; if you feel your dreams and plans for your life were torn from you by a system that is supposedly there to protect your rights and property; if you fear that the system will defeat you at every turn and there is nothing you can do about it, and if you feel that you have been victimized several times over, by the perpetrators, by lawyers, judges, bailiffs and other court personnel. As a consequence you may suffer from tension and anxiety, recurring nightmares you may feel emotionally an physically exhausted, numb, disconnected and vulnerable.


                          Our Questions for Amy Bach

                          Part I:  The Book, Methodology, Findings

                          • The title of the book is Ordinary Injustice.  Please explain the title for us.
                          • You are both a journalist and an attorney. How did these two fields come together for you in the Ordinary Injustice project?
                          • The book is essentially four case studies of both court systems and individual attorneys (we’re impressed by the depth of these—long-term, not quick studies).  We obviously won’t have time to go into details of each of these stories, but perhaps you can give us an idea about how they fit together:
                            • Robert Surrency—Greene County, Georgia (public defender)
                            • Hank Bauer—Troy, NY (judge who takes the law into his own hands)
                            • Miss Wiggs’s list–Laurence Mellen–Quitman County, Mississippi (prosecution)
                            • Robert Breen—Chicago (prosecuting attorney who changed his mind and helped free innocent people)

                          [Please tell us the story of the Chicago “two-ton contest” and how it represents systemic problems.]

                          • Can you make the case that these four studies are, in fact, representative of problems with How America Holds Court?
                          • One of your premises is that “it takes a community of legal professionals to let a sleeping lawyer sleep.”  That is, one of the problems is a kind of cozy collegiality among attorneys and  judges that lets injustice happen. Please explain.
                          • You also talk about a kind of “blind”[in] justice, where the people within the system “don’t even notice the injustice.” (Prof. Alschuler, p. 115)
                          • What is “confirmation bias” and how does it affect attorneys, judges, and even juries?
                          • What problems do you see with the “adversarial” system generally?  What checks and balances (if any) does it provide?
                          • You write of “substantive justice,” a feeling (shared by many) that despite problems of funding, overwork, and rule bending, the guilty more or less are brought to justice. Is the system really so bad that overhaul is necessary?

                          Part II:  Remedies and Cures

                          • Your major recommendation in the “conclusions” chapter caught us by surprise! Please tell us about your proposal for data gathering and monitoring as a (partial) solution to ordinary injustice. What are the possibilities and pitfalls of this system.
                          • What is the role of nonprofit and other monitoring groups in keeping the justice system aright—e.g., ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, Southern Center for Human Rights.  Do they have a fighting chance?   Are there public versions of these agencies (e.g. Georgia Public Defenders Standards Council) that could successfully monitor the system?
                          • You don’t say much about lawyer’s fees in the book (You chiefly talk about feels in the Greene County chapter on Robert Surrency). But isn’t injustice really all about money? Isn’t it possible that lawyers have created such a high fee system that justice is out of reach for the poor?
                          • We’ve been interested in the “plain English” legal movement.  Hasn’t the legal profession created a linguistic quagmire that bewilders citizens and keeps the legal system in the hands of (high-priced) lawyers?   Can we imagine a legal system where ordinary citizens could read and understand the law or even state their cases without having a lawyer present?
                          • If you were the U.S. or a state attorney general, what immediate steps would you recommend to insure Ordinary Justice?
                          • What’s your next project?

                          The book is Ordinary Injustice: How America Holds Court, and it’s published by Metropolitan Books, a division of Henry Holt and Company.

                          Do-It-Yourself Ordinary Justice

                          • There is the Southern Poverty Law Center, now headed by former New York Times progressive columnist Richard Cohen.  Current projects mentioned on their website include:  documenting discrimination against Latino immigrants, a lawsuit bringing about reforms in a Mississippi juvenile detention center, and an analysis of racisim in the resurgent militia movement.


                          • We are both card carrying members of ACLU which is famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for defending individual rights. ACLU is active nationally, and the Chico Branch just observed its first anniversary, a very productive year.  Their website includes a Civil Rights Submission Form where people can lodge complaints against the justice system, and ACLU will look into it.


                          • Amnesty International has an impressive record of looking into ordinary injustice on a global scale. Current projects for AI are include actions in Nigeria, Honduras, Iran, Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka, and the Sudan, plus a sharply critical analysis of Supreme Court Judge Antonin Scalia.  Amnesty International also invites activism in the form of letter writing, and is currently recruiting 10,000 concerned citizens to participate in its campaign to “free prisoners of conscience from jail and bring brutal human rights abuses to an end.”


                          • The Western States Center in Portland, Oregon, which provides support for activist groups in our region. The Center offers activist training and directly supports the work of a number of social justice organizations throughout the west. Their work also includes a number of environmental issues, including water in the west, air quality, and clean and renewable energy


                          Playlist for Ecotopia #50

                          1. Here Comes the Judge    2:50    The Stuff    Pick It Up, Pig Boy

                          2. Judge and Jury      2:35    Micky Groome    Soul Rider

                          3. Here Comes the Judge    3:44    Peter Tosh    20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection: The Best of Peter Tosh

                          4. Here Comes the Judge    2:35    Shorty Long    The Complete Motown Singles – Vol. 8: 1968

                          5. Lawyers, Guns and Money          3:01    Warren Zevon    A Quiet Normal Life – The Best of Warren Zevon

                          6. Weave Me the Sunshine  4:28    Peter, Paul And Mary    The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

                          7. The Dicty Glide     3:19    Don Byron    Bug Music

                          8. Tobacco Auctioneer         2:36    Don Byron    Bug Music

                          Ecotopia #48 Squirmy Wormy

                          Posted by on 01 Sep 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

                          1 September 2009

                          Tonight we talk with master composter and vermiculturist Ward Habriel. He’ll introduce us to the whys and hows of using worms to improve your soil. We also speak to Jenny Marr of the Chico State Friends of the Herbarium, which is co-sponsoring a workshop with Ward Habriel.

                          Global News on Worm Composting

                          From ORGANIC (Ltd), a non-profit organisation, promoting organic and sustainable agriculture in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland and the United Kingdom.  Michael Cheang has written “Wriggly Wonder – Culture of the Good Worm”:

                          Most people will squirm at the sight of worms, but one scientist thinks nothing about grabbing a handful of the wriggling creatures. She is on a crusade to clear the bad reputation of worms.  It is easy to locate Dr Hasnah Md Jais’ office in the vast campus of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in Penang. Just ask for the […] (worm) lady and most USM staffers will point you in the right direction.  Since 2000, the associate professor has researched into vermiculture, which is the process of using earthworms to convert organic waste into fertiliser.

                          Malaysians are projected to discard nine million tonnes of waste annually by 2010. Waste disposal and clean-ups will cost more too, in future. Some common disposal methods are landfills, incinerators and composting.  Since almost 65% of our waste is organic stuff, Hasnah believes vermiculture (which is a type of composting method) can be an option – one which produces a valuable product, organic fertiliser. She says vermiculture allows consumers to treat their organic waste at source, thus reducing their reliance on other waste disposal methods.

                          Only 2% of Malaysians compost their waste. So Hasnah [Md Jais]’s goal is to expand the use of vermiculture. ”I hope Malaysians will be more aware of their own waste and treat it at source, because all the materials they need can be obtained from the soil.” For the public’s convenience, she plans to sell a worm-composting bin, together with a supply of worms. With these, people will have the means to manage their own organic waste at home.


                          From the website “Sustainability Matters,” on Aug 20, 2008 is this report that “Vermiculture key to reducing greenhouse emissions”:

                          Researcher Dr Rajiv Sinha said vermiculture had potential to combat climate change by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases that plague current landfill waste management programs.  “Methane and nitrous oxides from landfills are several times worse than CO2 as greenhouse gases,” said Dr Sinha. Dr Sinha has spent the past 25 years in India and now in Australia studying vermiculture practices worldwide.  He is now working to encourage governments, policy makers and landowners in Australia to adopt vermiculture on a commercial scale following the success of his trials in India where it has also enhanced the life of farmers.

                          Two studies in vermiculture published this year in The Environmentalist found worms were also useful in sewage treatment, or ‘vermifiltration’.

                          Worms reduced the biological oxygen demand loads by over 90% and total solids by 90–95%.  [In] an innovative study made at Griffith University [in Australia] researchers learned]:  “There is no ‘sludge formation’ which is a biohazard, unlike conventional sewage treatment plants which need landfill disposal at high cost.”

                          A second study supported the efficiency of worms at removing heavy metals, pesticides and organic micropollutants from soil, a technique know as vermiremediation.

                          “This has significance in Australia as large tracts of arable land are being chemically contaminated due to mining activities, heavy use of agro-chemicals and landfill disposal of toxic substances,” Dr Sinha said. He is currently studying the potential of greenhouse gas emissions from various composting systems with Dr Andrew Chan in a project done by Honours student Richard Middleditch. He is also studying the growth promoting values of earthworms and their vermicompost over conventional compost and chemical fertilisers.

                          From “The Standard” in Hong Kong, Jennifer Lai’s July 2008 article has written about how vermiculture is valuable for dealing with horse manure.

                          A sustainable waste management company is awaiting permission from the Town Planning Board to conduct vermiculture in an agricultural area. Since last year, Sunburst Biotechnology has been carrying out earthworm vermicomposting – the process of breaking down horse manure or other stable waste to produce organic fertilizer.  Sunburst had worked with the Hong Kong Jockey Club to recycle stable waste during the Good Luck Beijing HKSAR 10th Anniversary Cup – a prelude to the Olympic equestrian events – last August.  Sunburst director Tse Chi-kai said they have been in touch with the government since April this year, with the government asking them to submit a proposal for land-use rights at their Yuen Long plant. Asked whether their operation was under fire over land usage, Tse said they wanted the government to clarify whether vermiculture is in line with agricultural land use.


                          Our Questions for Jenny Marr of the Chico State Friends of the Herbarium.

                          • Tell us about the workshops you are co-sponosring with the new Gateway Science Museum.
                          • We’ll be talking with one of your workshop presenters, master composter Ward Habriel in just a few minutes. Would you like to tell us anything about what to expect in his workshop.
                          • And how can people learn more about the workshops or sign up for one?

                          Our Questions for Ward Habriel

                          • So could you start by telling us just what vermiculture is?
                          • What does vermiculture do for your soil? In what ways is vermiculture superior to other forms of composting?
                          • Who can or should use vermiculture? How big a structure do you need for a small garden? For a small farm? (We’ll talk more specifically about how the bins are built and maintained a bit later in the show.)
                          • What sorts of worms do you use and where do you get them?
                          • How widespread is the use of vermiculture? Does it have a long history of use?
                          • How did you get started as a composter and a vermiculturist?
                          • How does this whole process work? What do you put into the worm bins? What do you take out?
                          • How do you keep it thriving and healthy? How might things go wrong?
                          • What advice do you have for someone who wants to get started in vermiculture?

                          Can you tell us a little more about the workshop you’re doing on September 19 for the Chico State Herbarium and the Gateway Science Museum?

                          Playlist for Squirmy Ecotopia #48

                          1. Waiting for the Worms    3:58    Pink Floyd     The Wall

                          2. Worms       1:03    The Pogues     If I Should Fall from Grace With God

                          3. Worms       2:05    Stanley Schwartz    Looking for the Perfect Bagel

                          4. Worms 7:23          Dino O’Dell & the Veloci-Rappers Dino O’Dell & the Veloci-Rappers

                          5. Worms       4:07    Yeasayer      All Hour Cymbals

                          6. Garden Song        5:34    MaMuse         All The Way

                          7. Weave Me the Sunshine           4:28    Peter, Paul And Mary      The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

                          8. Nature’s Way        2:40    Spirit           Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus