December 2009

Monthly Archive

#66 A Sustainable Northstate New Year

Posted by on 30 Dec 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

December 29, 2009

Tonight’s topic on Ecotopia is “A Sustainable Northstate New Year,” and we’ll have several guests from the community talking about their Ecotopian visions for the coming year.  First we’ll talk with Chico Mayor Ann Schwab about priorities for the city. Second, we’ll meet with Nicki Schlaishunt and Mary Muchowski of the Butte Environmental Council about their new year’s resolutions.  And then we’ll talk with Gerard Ungerman, Chico filmmaker and the moving force behind a new Green Transition Chico initiative.

Our questions for Ann Schwab:

With us in the studio now is Chico Mayor Ann Schwab, who, among myriad other assignments for the City, is Chair of the Sustainable Task Force.  Welcome, Ann Schwab.

  • We know that you are deeply committed to sustainability issues, but we’d also like to explore some of the economic, social, and other issues that you see as important. Please tell us what you see as the major problems/issues facing Chico in the immediate future.  What’s on the agenda in the next several months that people should know about?
  • Please also tell us about your vision of the longer range future for Chico and the northstate. Megalopolis?  Oasis of sustainability?  Armed camp?
  • Obviously growth is a big issue. What are the Planning Commission’s next problems or issues. Can the “green line” hold?  How can Chico’s infrastructure not only keep up but evolve in sustainable ways?
  • What issues are coming to the Sustainable Task Force in the next year or so?  What will its Climate Action Plan contain?
  • What’s the economic future?  Where will new or alternative jobs come from in Chico?  As with the WalMart case, what kinds of tensions do you see among  jobs, sustainability, and growth?
  • What can Chicoans and Northstaters do to participate fully in the processes of (sustainable) government?

Our questions for Nicki Schlaishunt and Mary Muchowski:

Your topics on the Butte Environmental Council website include:

  • Land use
  • Toxins and health
  • Transportation
  • Water
  • The vernal pools
  • Bidwell Cleanup
  • Endangered Species

And others.  We don’t have time to talk about them all, so please give us some idea of what you see as the major issues and problems coming up next year.

Other issues:

  • Big business and environmental activism—how can you compete?
  • California budget crisis.
  • Federal support for local environmental projects.
  • How can people become involved in the work of BEC?

Our questions for Gerard Ungerman:

One of the most exciting new projects in our part of the world is Green Transition Chico: Their theme is “Chico is our Community; its Sustainability is Up to Us All.  The leader of this project is Gerard Ungerman, filmmaker.  Welcome Gerard.

  • Please tell us something about the Green Transition Chico project.  How did it begin?  What are the goals?  Who is involved?  Who can be involved?
  • How does the website work?
  • What’s your personal vision of a sustainable northstate.  Do we become a gated or armed state and sustain ourselves?  a model for other communities?
  • What’s the link to the global green transition movement generally?
  • Is Green Transition apolitical?  asocial?  What are its links to, say, social, racial, and economic justice?

Playlist for Eco #66: A Sustainable Northstate New Year

1. You’ve Got To Be Strong   4:02  The Dillards     Roots And Branches/Tribute To The American Duck

2, Utopia    4:58  Alanis Morissette    iTunes Originals – Alanis Morissette

3. Worldwide Connected       5:06  The Herbaliser    Something Wicked This Way Comes

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

5. Auld Lang Syne       2:36  Straight No Chaser    Holiday

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

7. Glorious  5:19  MaMuse    All The Way

9. The Road to Utopia  4:54  Utopia   Adventures In Utopia

10. Land of the Future  5:14  Josh Lasden & Synoptic   Futuristic Music EP Part 2

#65 Observing Winter

Posted by on 24 Dec 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

December 22, 2009

As we do at each change of the season, we will devote tonight’s program to poetry, essay, story, and music focusing on the arrival of winter in these, the shortest days of the year.  In previous programs we’ve talked about the science and culture of winter solstice, so tonight we will focus more on what happens in winter, to people, to plants and animals, and to the earth itself.

Global Weather for December 23

We’ll start with the global weather.  What will tomorrow’s weather be around the world?  And depending on where you are, in the southern or the northern hemisphere, will you  be stuck in ice and snow or enjoying a day at the beach?

It’s not good beach weather in Moscow tomorrow.  The high will only 35 degrees farenheit, with and snow changing to rain. The overnight low will be 8 degrees.   The winter sun won’t appear until 8:38 am local time and will set at 3:58 pm, so Muscovites will have only 7 ½ hours of daylight.

In Sydney, Australia the other side of the world, you’ll have a high temperature  of 86 degrees and a balmy low of 68. The sun will come peeking in your bedroom windows at 5:38 am and won’t go down until 8:38 in the evening, giving you about 15 hours of daylight.

In Kabul, Afghanistan, there will be mostly sunny weather, but it’s cold, with a high of 34 degrees and a low of 15.  The sunrise and sunset are a lot like the Northstate, rising a little before 7 am and setting around 5 pm .

Way to the north and east of Afghanistan, in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia you won’t see the sun until almost 9 am, with sunset about five.  You’ll experience a mix of sun and clouds, but your high temperature will be a bone chilling 10 degrees and your overnight low minus 13 degrees fahrenheit.

At the other end of the globe, at Base Esperanza, Antarctica, it’s summer, but that means a high of only 37 degrees, low of 30, with rain mixed with snow.  Nevertheless, the sun comes up at 5:30 am and does not set until 2:04 am the next day, giving you almost 20 hours of sunshine.

In South America, you’re also enjoying the long days of summer, where Santiago, Chile, will have a lovely high of 77 degrees, a low of 48.  Rio will be even warmer, with a high of 88 and a low of 70, but you can expect Thundershowers.  One continent to the east, you can also expect thunder showers in Johannesburg, South Africa,  with high of 84 and a low of 62.

Back in the northern hemisphere, Beijing, China can expect cloudy skies, with a high of only 37 degrees and a low of 14.  Closer to the equator, but still in the northern hemisphere, Hanoi, Vietnam will be mostly sunny with a high of 59 and a low of 55.  You’re getting almost 12 hours of sunshine in Hanoi, with the days and nights of just about equal length.

And in Hawaii, USA, you also experience equal days and nights, about 11 ½ hours of sun. And because of its proximity to the equator, Hilo, where Susan’s brother, Mike lives, you’ll utmost in mellowness, a high of 73 and a low of 72, clear skies with a chance of misty rain.

Elsewhere in the United States, in the deep south, Eclectic, Alabama will be partly cloudy with a high of 57 and a low of 53

While in Deadhorse, Alaska, north of the Arctic Circle, where our daughter-in-law’s father works, the temperature is icy cold, with a low of 5 degrees farenheit and a high of only 10. The skies will be partly cloudy, but in terms of sunshine, Larry cannot expect a sunrise until next January 19—it’s dark 24 hours a day in Deadhorse.

You probably know from watching Monday night football that it’s mighty cold on the east coast of the U.S. and in Washington, D.C. they received a record 23 inch snowfall over the weekend.  But in sunny California, San Diego solstice weather is bright and sunny, a bit chilly, perhaps, with a high of 57 and a low of 45, but warming up for the PGA golf tour at Torrey Pines in a few weeks.

And lastly, as we complete our survey of the incredible range of temperatures and sunshine on the planet, here in the Northstate, on the valley floor we can expect sunny weather tomorrow, with an overnight low right at the freezing point, 32 degres, warming to a semi-comfortable 52 degrees by midday.  Of course, just a few miles up the road in the foothills, there is a freeze likely with a low of 28 and a high of 48.  And a few miles beyond that, in Lassen Park,  look for lows between 12 and 22 degrees, northeast winds 10-20 mph, with gusts up to 35.  Tomorrow the high will be 41, but those same winds will make it feel totally brisk.

Prose and Poetry About Winter

We are drawing on a compilation by poet Michael P. Garofalo of Valley Spirit Center, Red Bluff, on his Green Way Blog.

Of the cold and dark of winter, Ruth Stout writes:  “There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you …..  In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself.”

Henry Mitchell says: “Turn down the noise.  Reduce the speed.  Be like the somnolent bears, or those other animals that slow down and almost die in the cold season.  Let it be the way it is.  The  magic is there in its power.”

Dame Edith Sitwell agrees: “Winter is the time for comfort – it is the time for home.”

A 9th Century Irish poem reads:

“The stag bells, winter snows, summer has gone

Wind high and cold, the sun low, short its course

The sea running high.

Deep red the bracken; its shape is lost;

The wild goose has raised its accustomed cry,

Cold has seized the birds’ wings;

Season of ice, this is my news.”

George Meredith writes of the winter night sky:

“Sharp is the night, but stars with frost alive

Leap off the rim of earth across the dome.

It is a night to make the heavens our home

More than the nest whereto apace we strive.

Lengths down our road each fir-tree seems a hive,

In swarms outrushing from the golden comb.

They waken waves of thoughts that burst to foam:

The living throb in me, the dead revive.

Yon mantle clothes us: there, past mortal breath,

Life glistens on the river of the death.

It folds us, flesh and dust; and have we knelt,

Or never knelt, or eyed as kine the springs

Of radiance, the radiance enrings:

And this is the soul’s haven to have felt.”

Winter in the High Sierra has also been a time of mortality. Many of us know a little of the ill fated Donner Party in 1848, but few know the full details.  Here’s the story as retold Warning: This story does describe some of the episodes involving cannibalism, which has brought the Donner Party such infamy. Read the full story at:  We also highly recommend reading the classic history of the Donner Party, George Stewart’s Ordeal by Hunger. It is also well worth a trip to the Donner Lake State Park museum, which documents the Donner party. There you can visit some of the sites where the cabin’s stood and look at a statue commemorating the Donners—that statue has a fourteen-foot base, which is the estimated level of snow at Donner lake that fateful winter of 1846.

Here’s a poem by Christina Rosetti’s poem, now the lyrics to a carol:

“In the bleak midwinter

Frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron,

Water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow,

Snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter,

Long ago.”

In this next reading, Alice Walker helps us think about the earth as a whole, a place that humankind has sadly exploited, but a place where a spirit of Ecotopianism can help us not only survive, but live in harmony with nature.  This essay is entitled, “The Universe Responds, Or, How I Learned We Can Have Peace on Earth.” You can find it in At Home on the Earth: Becoming Native to Our Place, edited by David Landis Barnhill (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999, pp. 208-12).

And in the next group of readings, we focus on the Garden in Winter:

Here’s another poem, this about the garden throughout the year, by pre-Raphelite Christina Rosetti

“January cold and desolate;

February dripping wet;

March wind ranges;

April changes;

Birds sing in tune

To flowers of May,

And sunny June

Brings longest day;

In scorched July

The storm-clouds fly,


August bears corn,

September fruit;

In rough October

Earth must disrobe her;

Stars fall and shoot

In keen November;

And night is long

And cold is strong

In bleak December.”

Barbara Winkler reminds us that in December:  “Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a  miracle … a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a  bud straining to unfurl.  And the anticipation nurtures our dream.”

And Winkler’s dream is echoed by Edna O’Brien, who writes:  “In a way Winter is the real Spring – the time when the inner things  happen, the resurgence of nature.”

Romanic poet John Keats writes:

“Shed no tear – O, shed no tear!

The flower will bloom another year.

Weep no more – O, weep no more!

Young buds sleep in the root’s white core.”

While an anonymous poet reminds us that California is different from many places, for:

“Still in bloom–

California flowers dance

to winter song”

Rosalie Muller Wright observes in Sunset Magazine:  “January is the quietest month in the garden.  …  But just because it looks quiet doesn’t mean that nothing is happening.  The soil, open to the sky, absorbs the pure rainfall while microorganisms convert tilled-under fodder into usable nutrients for the next crop of plants.  The feasting earthworms tunnel along,   aerating the soil and preparing it to welcome the seeds and bare roots to come.”

In Maine, Katherine White writes of snowbound times:  “From December to March, there are for many of us three gardens – the garden outdoors, the garden of pots and bowls in the house, and the garden of the mind’s eye.”

Writing in 1895, Canon Ellacombe also spoke of gardents in the memory: “And these memories and associations that our flowers give us are   independent of seasons or of age.  They come to us as well in autumn and winter, in spring and summer; and as to age, the older we get the more, from the very nature of things, do these memories increase and multiply.”

Katherine White talks of another form of mental gardening in winter:  “As I write, snow is falling outside my Maine window, and indoors all around me half a hundred garden catalogues are in bloom.”

And Hal Borland agrees:  “There are two seasonal diversions that can ease the bite of any winter.  One is the January thaw.  The other is the seed catalogues.”

In his book, The Sensuous Garden, Monty Don, explains:  “Winter is the season dominated by bare soil: the whole gardening cycle begins with the care and preparation of the earth during winter   so that it will feed plants the following year.  One of the things I enjoy about digging (and there are lots of things I enjoy about it) is the smell of the earth that is released by the spade cutting in and  lifting clods that have been buried for a year.  Not only does the  soil itself have a real scent, but the roots of the crop or plant – even weed – that has been growing there will also contribute to the  mix, creating something new out of the vague remnants of last season’ garden.

And Ruth Pitter writes of digging in her poetry collection, The Diehards:

“We go, in winter’s biting wind,

On many a short-lived winter day,

With aching back but willing mind

To dig and double dig the clay.”

Shakespeare, too, teaches appreciation of the winter moment:

“At Christmas, I no more desire a rose

Than wish a snow in May’s newfangled mirth;

But like each thing that in season grows.”

And his contemporary, Francis Bacon says:  “There ought to be Gardens for all Months in the year, in which,  severally, things of Beauty may be then in season.”

In his 16th century poem, Ode to the West Wind, John Davies calls on the winter winds to bring us spring:

“O thou,

Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,

Each like a corpse within its grave, until

Thine azure sister of the spring shall blow

Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth.”

And Anne Bradstreet says simply:  “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant.”

And we close our celebration of the winter solstice with this poem by California poet Ernest Trejo, from the California Humanities Council’s anthology: Highway 99: A Literary Journey through California’s Great Central Valley.

Autumn’s End

It begins when the TV mentions the name of my street,

Saying in passing that the woman next door has died.

Yes, the one whose name I never knew, the name

That even now escapes me. I will watch the leaves from her ash trees pile up all winter.

Now deer start to come down from the high country

To a place between snow and this valley lost in fog.

And my shaggy dog scuttles between rooms.

Then there’s the ants. When winter stumbles on them

They go under into their caves, tunnels,

And immense corridors.

And what happened to mosquitoes? Where have they gone with all the blood collected?

Now there’s a long peace in corners and basements

Where we won’t dare to step in,

Black widows nest there with their young.

Outside my window a few leaves hang on.

Doubting so many things I wait for winter.

Watergrass is sprouting everywhere, even on the ground where the nameless woman hides from winter.

Playlist for Ecotopia #65 Observing Winter

1. Winter Solstice Night        4:09  Dolmen    Winter Solstice

2. Winter Solstice        3:47  Michele Mclaughlin    Christmas – Plain & Simple

3. In The Winter’s Pale 3:38  Tim Story    Winter’s Solstice VI

4. Carol Of The Bells    2:40  Geshe Michael Roach & Mercedes Bahleda    A Christmas Kirtan

5. The Diamond Cutter Chant        5:00  Mercedes Bahleda    Path To Bliss

6. Michael Silvestri, Solstice Music

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

Ecotopia #64 Climate Change and Ocean Trash

Posted by on 15 Dec 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

December 15, 2009

Tonight we are going to revisit and link two topics that we’ve included in previous Ecotopia programs.

First, we’ll continue our discussion of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, and we’ll talk with Emily Alma, one of the organizers of last week’s Vigil for a Real Deal in Copenhagen held in Chico.

Second,  we’ll talk with Jo Royle, whom we interviewed last summer about her catamaran, the Plastiki, made from recycled soft drink bottles, that will be sailing from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia, as part of a campaign to awaken the world to the amount of trash floating in our oceans and the damage it creates.

Background Commentary:  We the People and Climate Change

Here’s a CNN commentary written shortly before the Copenhagen Conference by David DeRothschild.  He is the founder of Adventure Ecology and the chief mover behind the Plastiki adventure.  As an environmentalist with global vision, David DeRothschild argues that “People Power Can Drive Change.”  He writes

In the run up to what some individuals and media outlets are labeling “the meeting of Humanity’s future” all eyes will be on the 12,000-15,000 official U.N. accredited participants as well as the army of activists, media, business representatives and even skeptics.

As they descend upon Copenhagen they will have to demonstrate their ability to convert this unprecedented momentum and heightened ambition into some kind of organizational framework….

But regardless of how things unfold in Copenhagen there is at least one predictable outcome. Our current trajectory of inaction, unabated consumption of natural resources and unhealthy addiction to dirty energy won’t result in a soft landing. Humanity is teetering on the edge of what I can best describe as a massive global systems failure….

In the last 12 months a global movement of concerned citizens, NGOs, environmentalists, think tanks and specialist advocacy groups have all spawned numerous campaigns, educational outreach programs and direct action. It’s happening with such force that the pendulum appears to be swinging in the direction of individual grass roots movements.

It seems the people power movement is back in the driving seat. And we might be better placed to focus on supporting the grass roots doers who are already testing innovative new models of sustainability that demonstrate a capacity for real world efficacy.

It’s a type of action approach that could bring us closer to a necessary tipping point. With our combined efforts we have an opportunity to compel the powers that be to sit up and realize that accountability — a word so absent from modern politics — should be back on the agenda.

When we look back in years to come, we may view 2009 as the birth of a new age and the start of a new system of open source change makers. People who proved that redirecting our energies towards a more decentralized and highly networked movement could be more resilient, adaptable, creative, and ultimately more sustainable.

In Copenhagen we may not get the deal we’re all hoping for. But in the sliver of time we have left, if we rally around the idea that nobody is as smart as everybody, we can collectively achieve something monumental; and the politicians can catch up in due course.

Our Discussion with Emily Alma

With us in the studio now is Emily Alma, longtime northstate activist.  We had the opportunity to work with her this past week in sponsoring a Learn-In and Vigil for a Real Deal Copenhagn at the Peace and Justice Center and Chico City Plaza.

Questions for Emily:

1) What motivated you to bring North Staters together to focus on the Copenhagen summit?

2) Describe the Learn in and Vigil. What happened there and what do you think you achieved?

3) What are your hopes now for the Summit? (Perhaps give us an update on the discussions.)

4) What ideas do you the future for the future here in the North State?

If listeners are interested in being informed of future northstate activities based on climate change and the Copenhagen conference, please send us an e-mail at and we’ll add you to our list.

Our Discussion with Jo Royle

With us on the phone now from San Francisco is Jo Royles who will skipper a catamaran made from recycled soft drink bottles from San Francisco to Sydney via a place called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. We interviewed Jo last July about the project, and tonight we want to get an update.

Here are the basic questions:

1. Can you give us a little history of the Plastiki Project? What’s the goal?
2. Tell us a little about the boat. What’s it made of? What does it look like? What was the process of construction?
3. Tell us about the exciting day of the launch!
4. What’s next? When do you sail? What do you face? Who will be with you?
5. What’s your first port-o-call? Where else will you go? When do you think you’ll get to Sydney.

Playlist for Ecotopia #64

1. Danger (Global Warming) – Radio Mix 3:35  Brick Casey   Danger (Global Warming)

2. Pollution 4:50  Basskick   Sound Of The Nature – Collection 5

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

4. Pacific Ocean Blues  2:37  Dennis Wilson    Pacific Ocean Blue & Bambu

5. Sail On, Sailor         3:19  The Beach Boys   Greatest Hits Volume 3: The Best Of The Brother Years 1970 – 1986

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

7. Bali H’ai  3:29  Juanita Hall   South Pacific (Original Broadway Cast)

8. Calypso  3:49  John Denver    Earth Songs

Ecotopia #63 The Whole Green Catalog

Posted by on 07 Dec 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

December 8, 2009

This week we’ll be exploring two closely-related topics, consumerism (particularly during the holiday season) and ways we can green up our lives.

Our guest will be Mike Robbins, who is the chief editor for a new book called The Whole Green Catalog: 1000 Best Things for You and the Earth. Like the original Whole Earth Catalog, it is filled with practical tips, resources for investigation, as well as some green products for the environmentally conscious.

(In addition, we will also do a follow-up on last week’s show about the Copenhagen U.N. Climate Change conference and invite you to attend a Copenhagen Learn In and Vigil that will be taking place in Chico this coming Thursday.)

Background on Green Consumerism

In the introduction to The Whole Green Catalog (Rodale 2009), long-time environmentalist Bill McKibben writes:

New technologies are making all kinds of conservation easier. Google, for instance, has just released free technology to let you monitor how much electricity your house is using at any given moment—it’s an enormous incentive to see that when you unplug that flashing phone charger or that unwatched television set, there’s a noticeable dip in the current.

On the road there are of course hybrid cars (and soon plug-in hybrids, a really revolutionary technology).  But just as important, your iPhone now comes with applications that let you easily arrange to share a ride to the grocery story—remember, half as many car trips is the same as driving twice as efficient a vehicle.

Of course, those technologies also cost money, money to buy your iPhone, money to tap into the network, money to buy that fuel-efficient hybrid, and we have wondered about an issue raised by the title of a recent presentation at the “Sustainability Now” Conference: “Can we spend our way to sustainability?”

And the spending season is now upon us, starting with Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, when the big box stores are opening earlier and earlier. Toys R Us now seems to hold the record, opening its doors at midnight, while places like Sears and Target had more restrained opening hours like 4 am or 5 am—get there and buy before the bargains are gone and the sun rises.

Steve recently edited the December issue of Peaceful Action, the newsletter of the Chico Peace and Justice, and want to share a few of the ideas that emerged from that:

“Be glad that you’re greedy; the national economy would collapse if you weren’t.”  writes Mignon McLaughlin.

“You can never get enough of what you don’t need to make you happy,” said Eric Hoffer

And Ghandi observed, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.”

Writing for Peaceful Action, Lin Jensen, who appeared on this program just a few weeks ago, said:

What’s clear to me is that the invariable offspring of consumerism is more consumerism, that wanting engenders wanting, and that no lasting satisfaction is likely to result from getting what I want. Like greed, of which it is an expression, wanting is self-perpetuating until opposed by self-restraint. Twenty-six hundred years ago in India, the Buddha observed that the hunger to possess was a source of dissatisfaction, a characteristic condition of modern industrial societies. We’d get along quite contentedly without the latest high resolution TV if we didn’t give rise to thoughts of its possession. But we do give rise to thoughts of possession and are encouraged to do so by every conceivable marketing device available. And from this circumstance arises a chronic dissatisfaction just as the Buddha said it would. We become restless to spend and own, and once conditioned to seek satisfaction in that manner, we find no end to it.

Writing about Buddhist economics on, Barbara O’Brien notes that there are no easy ways out of the trap of consumerism, for we all live in the world and are a part of it.  Even if we want a green planet, we are also caught up in the machinery that is ungreening the planet at a frightening rate.  She observes:

Much of the world’s economy is fueled by desire and consumption. Because people buy things, things must be manufactured and marketed, which gives people jobs so they have money to buy things. If people stop buying things, there is less demand, and people are laid off their jobs. . . . Even if we are moderate in our own wants, a great many of us depend on other people buying stuff they don’t need for our jobs. Is this “right livelihood”?

Manufacturers cut the cost of products by underpaying and exploiting workers or by cutting corners needed to protect the environment. A more responsible company may not be able to compete with an irresponsible one. As consumers, what do we do about this? It’s not always an easy question to answer.

To live is to want. When we are hungry, we want food. When we are tired, we want rest. We want the company of friends and loved ones. There is even the paradox of wanting enlightenment. Buddhism doesn’t ask us to renounce companionship or the things we need to live.

The challenge is to distinguish between what is wholesome — taking care of our physical and psychological needs — and what is unwholesome….

We don’t have to run screaming from all of life’s pleasures. As practice matures, we learn to distinguish between the wholesome and the unwholesome — what supports our practice and what hinders it. ….The challenge is to live in a material culture without getting snared by it.

It isn’t easy, and we all stumble, but with practice, desire loses its power to jerk us around.

Our Conversation with Michael Robbins

Michael W. Robbins is editor of the Whole Green Catalog: 1,000 Best Things for You and the Eath. He has also been editor-in-chief of Audubon Magazine and has written for Mother Jones, Popular Science, and Discover magazines. Welcome, Michael Robbins.

Part I:   Tips for Going Green

  1. Can you begin by describing the Catalog? What does it contain? What is its purpose? (Talk about the various subsections.) Who is your target audience?
  2. To illustrate the catalog for our listeners, please describe one or several of your personal favorite entries.
  3. There are 20 or so people who contributed to the catalog. Can you tell us something about how they worked and what they did?
  4. What were your criteria for selecting entries for the catalog? (What’s the rationale for the various subjections that are included?)
  5. How do you define “greenwashing”? What did you do to avoid including products or services or suggestions that are simply re-packaging of old ideas or products that masquerade as green?
  6. What emphasis does “reduce, reuse, recycle” have in the catalog? How did you balance concerns for reduced consumerism with highlighting new products?
  7. One of the claims of the catalog is that going green doesn’t have to be expensive. Tell us about that. At the same time, some of the items in the catalog are a bit pricey—is “being green” something that is limited people in the higher income brackets?

Part II: The Whole Green Catalog

  1. There are lots of different kinds of entries in the catalog. Some are products, some are historical or scientific facts, some are tips of various sorts. Can you tell us more about the different kinds of entries?
  2. How do you imagine people using the catalog in their daily lives?
  3. With the holidays coming up, let’s do some virtual shopping for people looking for gifts.
    • We know several people who are having babies in the next few months. What tips and products are available for babies and parents?
    • We’re big travelers and we’ve begun to worry about the carbon footprint produced by travel. What suggestions does the catalog have for green travelers?
    • We’re holiday shopping for a conservative family member who thinks climate change is a bunch of hoohaa. What could we find in the catalog to slip in his stocking subversively to help him be green?

Update on the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference

Last week on Ecotopia we talked about the U.N. Copenhagen Climate Change conference, the most important environmental conference of this century.  We talked with Alexander Ochs of the Worldwatch Institute and have been following his briefings from Copenhagen this week.  And if you are a listener to Democracy Now on KZFR, you know that Amy Goodman has been broadcasting from Copenhagen all this week.

We’d like to invite listeners to Ecotopia to an event that will take place this Thursday in Chico that will focus on Copenhagen.  It’s called “A Learn-In and Vigil for a Real Deal at Copenhagen,” and it will start at 6 pm this Thursday at the Chico Peace and Justice Center, 526 Broadway.

We’ll begin with the “Learn In” at 6 pm where we’ll fire up the laptop and video projector and look at some of the news stories and videos that have been emanating from Copenhagen this week. What’s the news?  What’s the politics?  What are the hopes for a serious climate change treating coming from the conference?

Then at 7, we’ll go over to City Plaza for a candlelight vigil, where people will also have a chance to talk about the wishes and hopes, not only for global treaties, but for enviornmental stewardship here in the northstate.

Both these events are linked to a larger global movement sponsored by Azzaz, an international organization that aims to get the voice of the people to world leaders. There will be vigils all over the globe, and at our vigil, you’ll have a chance to sign a petition by Azzaz that will be delivered to Copenhagen delegates calling for a treaty that is that is ambitious enough to leave the planet safe for us all, fair for the poorest countries that did not cause climate change but are suffering from it, and binding, with real targets that can be legally monitored and enforced.”  You join nine million other global citizens in signing a letter to our leaders saying that “The World is Ready” for a serious climate change treaty.

So please plan to join us:  That’s Thursday evening, December 10, 6 pm, at the Peace and Justice Center, 526 Broadway.  You can also see details at the Center’s website,

Playlist for Ecotopia #63: The Whole Green Catalog

1. Shop ‘Til Ya Drop       7:34   Rockthrow    Big Hits of Big Lever Brought to You By Bosso

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

3. Buy Me Stuff for Christmas 3:26  The Hellblinki Sextet     Xmas from Hellblinki (Four Years of the Hellblinki Sextet and the 12 Bands of Christmas)

4. Love Etc. 3:32   Pet Shop Boys     Yes (Bonus Track Version)

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

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

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

8. Powerhouse      2:56   Don Byron   Bug Music

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

10. Salute Your Solution         3:00   The Raconteurs   Consolers Of The Lonely

Ecotopia #62 Wonderful Copenhagen

Posted by on 04 Dec 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

December 1, 2009

Tonight we are focusing on the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. It runs from the 7th to the 18th of this month with the aim of creating a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires next year.  The scientific and political issues surrounding the conference are complex, and to help us understand them more fully, we’ll have as our guest later in the program Alexander Ochs, Director of the Worldwatch Institute’s climate and energy program, who will be participating in the conference.  We’ll also give you a description of various activist activities that are planned for Copenhagen, including a harbor shutdown and a mass bicycle ride.

Listen to the show.

Background on the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference

Tonight we are discussing the upcoming Copehagen Climate Change conference, also known as COP 15. That acronymn stands for the Fifteenth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the Climate Change Convention, or the Kyoto Accords,

As you probably know, the United States was the only major country in the world not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, while 187 states have signed on.  The Protocol was initially adopted in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan when 37 industrialized countries committed themselves to a reduction of four greenhouse gases  (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride) and two groups of gases (hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons). The Kyoto protocol officially expires in 2013, and Copenhagen is an effort by the U.N. to create an updated treaty that will more comprehensively work to solve global climate change.  Reference:

The website for COP 15 has published a statement by Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. He sees four essential questions for the Copenhagen discussions:

1. How much are the industrialized countries willing to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases?

2. How much are major developing countries such as China and India willing to do to limit the growth of their emissions?

3. How is the help needed by developing countries to engage in reducing their emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change going to be financed?

4. How is that money going to be managed?

“If Copenhagen can deliver on those four points I’d be happy,” says Yvo de Boer.


There is, in fact, a great deal of skepticism over whether Copenhagen can accomplish any of its aims, especially with both China and the U.S. having said in advance that they don’t plan to sign the new treaty.

However, both China and the US made moves last week intended to show a willingness to cooperate:

President Obama finally announced that he will attend Copenhagen during his trip to Oslo to pick up his Nobel Prize. But he will only attend the opening days of the conference, while many world leaders will be staying for the entire two weeks.  The President also announced that the U.S. would commit to a 17-20% reduction of carbon emissions, 17 percent below 2005 levels, by 2020, or 3 percent below 1990 levels. That’s the approximate level passed by the U.S. House of representatives in its climate change bill and currently stalled in the U.S. Senate.

Obviously, Obama can’t deliver any more the Congress will approve, but even so, Reuters has quoted Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Michael Somare as saying,  “…President Obama’s offer appears grossly irresponsible and kills all hope for Copenhagen.”


China responded to President Obama’s statement by saying that it will enact a 40-45% reduction in “carbon intensity,” which is a measure of carbon dioxide emissions keyed to gross domestic product.

However, Mridul Chadha in the Red Green and Blue environmental web site says that, for China, this is “more like business as usual”, since China’s economic growth will be so much in coming years that it could cut “intensity” levels but still be pouring ever more C02 into the environment.


Not only is there some skepticism about the outcomes of the Copenhagen conference, some critics argue that it may already be too late to affect climate change. Writing in the U.K.Guardian last week, Paul Kingsnorth said that: “A climate deal is like trying to halt the rains in Cumbria” [a notoriously rainy part of England].  He writes that recently in Cumbria:

“it looked as if things might be returning to normal. The road outside my house, which had become a stream bed, reverted to asphalt. The waters which had coursed through nearby homes were falling back. The roads were and still are closed, the bridges still down, the fields still lakes, but it seemed the worst was over.

Only now it’s raining again in Cumbria, and everybody is waiting to see when it will stop and what it will leave behind.

I have no idea whether the extreme weather raging outside my window has anything to do with climate change, but I do know … that there is a standard response to a situation like this which, as an environmentalist, I might be expected to follow. It is to say that these floods are a warning of what will happen if we can’t urgently reduce global emissions. It is to say that next month’s Copenhagen conference is a turning point, and that we urgently need a deal to stop climate change.

But I find I can’t say this stuff anymore; not because I have stopped believing in climate change, but because I have stopped believing we can prevent it. As the politicians prepare to fly to Copenhagen, I can’t help thinking of [Neville] Chamberlain’s trip to Munich in 1938. Everyone could see, then, what the future held: it was there in Hitler’s speeches and in the ferocious aggression emanating from Germany. But still, Chamberlain hoped for the best. He came back with a worthless agreement, and everyone cheered. We forget now how the public loved Munich. They desperately wanted to believe peace was possible, precisely because it was obvious that it wasn’t….

Perhaps when Copenhagen fails, it will help us to accept that our visions of the future are also skewed by false hope….

We have pushed back the forests, denuded the oceans, exhausted the soil, tipped other species into extinction, expanded our population to the point where we can barely feed ourselves, and changed the chemical composition of the atmosphere.… An economy predicated on constant growth cannot be the gine of a change that urgently demands less of it….

[This] is not to say that the End Times are here. One of the other problems with the climate change narrative is that it offers only two futures: Saving the World, or Apocalypse Now. We will probably get neither. More realistic is that we will experience what most previous human societies experienced – a painful decline after a period of over-expansion….

The world is not going to be as we once believed it would be, and if failure at Copenhagen brings that reality nearer, then it could be of some use. It might help us to understand that windfarms and green consumerism are not harbingers of a “sustainable future” but the last gasps of a wounded beast. We have less chance, now, of keeping this show on the road than we in Cumbria have of stopping the rain. In both cases, we are going to have to learn to live with what comes from the sky. Reference:

Our Questions for Alexander Ochs

Alexander Ochs is the Climate and Energy Program Director for Worldwatch Institute. He was formerly director of international policy at the Center for Clean Air Policy and has a long history of involvement  in international climate change issues. He will be heading off to Copenhagen to participate in the climate change conference next week.

Part I: The Need for and Aims of Copenhagen

  • Please tell us a little about your work as Climate and Energy Program director for the Worldwatch Institute. What has the Institute been doing to prepare for Copenhagen?
  • What will you specifically be doing in Copenhagen? (We note that there is a Copenhagen Briefing link on your website—will you [or others] be doing daily briefings?)
  • Except for a few diehards, the world now seems convinced that climate change is “real.”  As you look at the climate change research, what do you see as the greatest needs for a new climate change treaty?  What levels of cutbacks would be required to make a difference?
  • Is the hope to stabilize climate change?  reverse it?  merely slow down the inevitable?
  • A part of the Copenhagen conference will be devoted to the costs of affecting climate change, the costs to developing nations (in particular) for reducing emissions and possible reparations to some countries that are already experiencing damage due to climate change. Please give us some perspective on these costs.  Who would be expected to pay the bill?
  • What is your most optimistic scenario for the outcomes of Copenhagen?

Part II: Politics

  • Both the U.S. and China have said in advance that they won’t be signing a treaty in Copenhagen.  Does that doom the conference from the start?
    • What is your perspective on President Obama’s pledge last week to agree to 17% emissions reductions?
      • What are the prospects for significant climate change legislation passing the Senate next spring?
    • What do you think of China’s “pledge” to reduce “carbon intensity” by 40-45%?
  • The European Union is already ahead of the U.S. in controlling emissions. Great Britain’s Gordon Brown last week called for 10 billion pounds in financial support for developing nations. Can the rest of the world simply proceed doing the right thing and hope that the U.S. and China will follow along?
  • Other forces: Can cap-and-trade successfully limit emissions?   Will (as one of the guests on this program argued) $20/gallon gasoline (and rising petroleum prices generally) drive the economy greenwards?  Can green industry (both clean and that producing alternative energy products) create a new economy to replace oil-and-smoke?
  • We asked for your most optimist scenario for the outcomes of Copenhagen? What are some possible middle-of-the-road or Plan B outcomes?
  • What can our listeners do to participate in the global movement to reverse climate change?

Check out the Worldwatch site for its Copenhagen briefings and other environmental news and causes;

Activism at Copenhagen

We’d like to round out this evening’s discussion of the Copenhagen conference with an overview of what will be happening outside the conference hall, as thousands of activists converge on Copenhagen to lobby for particular environmental concerns.  The website “Activists’ Guide to Copenhagen” writes:

Never mind the boring old delegates at [the]…climate talks in Copenhagen. Nearby at the “alternative people’s summit” Klimaforum 09 and at events and actions around the city, the largest ever gathering of climate activists will take place which aims to create a global network that will take the environment movement forward for the next year and beyond.

“We’re expecting more than 10,000 people a day,” says Richard Steed, one of the organisers of Klimaforum09, which has been funded by the Danish government. “This is about creating a people’s network which will carry on communicating and working together long after the conference is finished. I don’t think Klimaforum is about smashing the state, but we don’t want to see business as usual any more, that isn’t going to solve anything. We’re looking at radical solutions.”

Naomi Klein, George Monbiot and Vandana Shiva have all committed to speak during the two weeks of meetings and workshops on subjects like climate justice, transition towns, capitalism, ecological debt. Groups including Friends of the Earth, Campaign against Climate Change, and the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance all piling in.

The Copenhagen activist calendar includes:

11 December  Climate for Life has organised the Summiteers’ Summit to Save the Himalayas in Copenhagen which will bring 22 Nepali sherpas and Everest summiteers to march through Copenhagen to coincide with International Mountain Day on December 11.

12 December   Friends of the Earth International’s Flood for Climate Justice aims to “flood” the streets of Copenhagen with people calling for a good [financial and climatic] deal for the developing world. And numerous groups will participate in a march on to the city center and the Danish parliament.  Their slogan is “System Change, Not Climate Change”

13 December   Climate Justice Action will be attempting to close Copenhagen harbour for the day to highlight the contribution of trade and travel in man-made global warming, and to call for the inclusion of shipping emissions in a deal at Copenhagen.

14 December No Borders Action! No Climate Refugees! Campaigners highlight the impact of climate change and the displacement of people because of drought and natural disasters.

15 December Resistance is Ripe! Agriculture Action Day is supported by A SEED Europe, La Via Campesina and Reclaim the Fields, among others, and is calling for sustainable farming and land rights.

And that day there will be an Angry Mermaid Award for the company or lobby group that is “doing the most to sabotage effective action on climate change.”

16 December “Reclaim Power! Pushing for Climate Justice”: Negotiations and actions will intensify as ministers and heads of state arrive in the Danish capital to clinch a deal, or at least agree terms of a deal that will be signed next year.

Bike Bloc promises to put mass bike action at the Bella Centre on 16 December that will end with the Peoples’ Assembly for Climate Justice, organised by Climate Justice Action and Climate Justice Now. They will be collecting used bikes, salvaging parts, and  designing and creating a “device of mass transportation and pedal powered resistance machine.” .