March 2010

Monthly Archive

Ecotopia #79 Suburban Permaculture

Posted by on 29 Mar 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

23 March 2010

Our guest tonight is Jan Spencer.  Jan is from Eugene, Oregon and  will be visiting Chico, Tuesday, April 6th, at the Quaker Meeting House, 6:30 pm,  as part of a speaking tour called Global Trends-Local Choices: Creating a Safer, More Secure, and Greener Community.”

Our Questions for Jan Spencer

1. Tell us a little bit about the Suburban Permaculture Project in Eugene. You say on your website that your goal was to “remake the house and property with mostly low cost strategies so it could take care of more of my needs from on site assets like rain, soil and sun, plus my own creativity.”

2. You’ve done some pretty major projects on your one-quarter acre property and suburban house. Tell us about some of the projects you’ve done over the past 10 years. What has been the most important? The most challenging? Do you still have projects that you want to accomplish on your land?

3. Why do you do all of this? Why is it important to you?

4. You presented a paper at the Eco Cities World Summit, San Francisco, 2008 about converting a suburban property into a “model of eco logical culture change.” First of all, what do you mean by that term–eco logical culture change–and what did/do you advocate?

5. Can you tell us about some of the other projects you’ve worked on?

6.  Your big project is your “Global Trends–Local Choices” DVD. You say:  “The goal of Global Trends – Local Choices is to encourage people to take an active part in this bold and timely adventure – to find creative, uplifting and peaceful ways to take care of human needs that planet Earth can sustain over the long term.” How did you come to create this DVD? What is your goal, your hopes for this DVD?

7. You say that the DVD is radical and challenging? What do you mean by that?

8. You’ll be starting a tour of Oregon and California next month. Tell us about that.

9. And you’ll be in Chico on April 4 and April 6. Can you give us the details of your visit here? What will you be talking about?

10. How can people reach you to learn more about the DVD and your work?

11. What assets and resources are available to help people make changes to create the kinds of communities you’re talking about?

Playlist for Ecotopia #79

1. Plant a Radish 2:34  Hugh Thomas & William Larsen

The Fantasticks (Soundtrack from the Musical)

2. Nature’s Way  2:40  Spirit

Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus

3. We Share Our Mothers’ Health (Ratatat Remix)    4:02  The Knife

We Share Our Mothers’ Health

4. Mother Nature’s Son 2:48  The Beatles

The Beatles (White Album)

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 Earth (Natural Anthem)  5:11  Neil Young

Ragged Glory

8. Seed      6:25  Afro Celt Sound System        Seed

Ecotopia #78 Genetic Engineering Blowback

Posted by on 29 Mar 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

16 March 2010

Our guest tonight is Paul Achitoff; he’s an attorney with Earthjustice, established by the Sierra Club in 1971 as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund and then became Earthjustice in 1997. We’ll be talking with Paul Achitoff about the case of the organic seed growers and environmentalists of Willamette Valley, Oregon against the USDA and Monsanto.


Last October, we interviewed Frank Morton. Frank Morton is the owner of Wild Garden Seed. Here’s how the website describes the company:

All of our seed is Organically Grown at Gathering Together Farm along the winding Marys River on the edge of Philomath, Oregon. All of this seed is open pollinated, untreated, germ and vigor tested in living soil mix, and well cleaned. . . .

Most stock seed for our crop production has been reselected under stress and disease pressure in our breeding nurseries at GTF and Shoulder to Shoulder Farm, five miles upriver in the colder dry foothills of the Oregon Coast Range. Many of these varieties originated in our on-farm breeding program for organic conditions and improved fresh market quality. . . . Other varieties have come to us over twenty years as heirlooms or reliable commercial standards, now with generations of selection on the farm.

Our ecological approach to plant breeding and crop protection generates superior strains and varieties for farmers who don’t use chemical crop protectants and fertilizers. The small-scale care and authentic fertility of our production fields yield fat seed with exceptional seedling vigor, a key trait for organic crop success.

We first heard of Frank Morton when we became vegetable gardeners, just a few years ago. Our son, an organic farmer, introduced us to a great lettuce collection—Morton’s Secret Mix. It had done well for him in Olympia, Washington where he first farmed, and it did equally well for us here in the foothills above the Sacramento Valley—pretty much year round. We became a fan of Frank Morton’s seed.

But then Frank Morton came to our attention In another way. He was involved in what has come to be called in various media sources a “David versus Goliath legal battle. When we first talked to him, Frank Morton had, along with a number of other plaintiffs, sued the USDA and its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), because they didn’t file an environmental impact statement (EIS) prior to deregulation of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugar beet plant, as they were required to do. Those suing the USDE and APHIS  were the Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club, and High Mowing Organic Seeds. On September 21, 2009, Judge Jeffrey S. White, of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs—— requiring that APHIS prepare an environmental impact statement. But while the organic seed/environmental groups  won this round, the next round to play out was the remedy phase of the trial, which was scheduled to begin in December of 2009 in order to decide what would happen to Monsanto’s Round-up Ready transgenic crop.

Frank Morton explained in our interview with him last October that his livelihood depends on his ability to produce non-transgenic crops. When Monsanto began planting GMO sugar beet seeds in the Willamette Valley, farms producing organic were at risk of cross-pollination, thus contaminating their seed. In Frank Morton’s case, his red chard and table beets were threatened. And Morton said, “My market doesn’t have any tolerance for this.” Morton sells his seed both nationally and internationally. He explained: “I have to test my seed before I sell it and if I ever get a positive for genetic engineering traits, then my seed crops are worthless.”

The Hines Farm Blog described the win for the plaintiffs this way:

“This ruling marks a resounding renunciation of the USDA/APHIS 2005 decision to deregulate and thus allow the unrestricted commercial development of “Event H7-1”, a Glyphosate tolerant sugar beet engineered by Monsanto and the German company KWS. Deregulation opened the door for transgenic sugar beet production in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, one of the most fertile agricultural regions in the world. The judge ordered that an environmental impact statement be conducted because USDA/APHIS failed to adequately consider the impact on the environment from stated cross contamination concerns, and the socio-economic impacts on consumers (eaters), farmers, and other market participants over the question of the continued availability of non-transgenic sugar beet crops.”

So in the first phase of the lawsuit, Frank Morton’s side won. The judge said that the USDA and APHIS had to do an environmental impact statement. But would the judge rule that Monsanto had to eliminate its crop, get out of Willamette Valley?

Judge White ruled this month on what happens to this year’s crop of genetically engineered sugar beets. And with us tonight is Paul Achitoff, the Earthjustice lawyer who argued the case for Frank Morton and his colleagues.

Our Questions for Paul Achitoff

Paul Achitoff. He’s an Earthjustice attorney and he has been arguing the case of the Willamette Valley environmenalists and organic farmers vs. Monsanto and the USDA.

Welcome Paul Achitoff.

Question for Paul Achitoff

  1. Earlier in the show we discussed phase one of the case of Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club, and High Mowing Organic Seeds against USDA and its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service(APHIS), for failure to require an environmental impact statement (EIS) prior to deregulation of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugar beet plant. On September 21, 2009, Judge White ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, the food safety/organic farmer group, requiring that an EIS must be done by USDA before the deregulation of RR-sugar beets is valid. However, that was just phase one. The second phase is the “remedy” phase of the case. Can you tell us what that means?
  2. When did this phase of the case occur? How long did the hearing take? Who was there?
  3. What were the environmental groups asking for?
  4. What did Monsanto want? Was the USDA/APHIS still involved in this aspect of the case?
  5. And what were the results?
  6. What was Judge White’s rationale for his judgment?
  7. Were you surprised?
  8. What happens next?
  9. The motto of Earthjustice is “because the Earth needs a good lawyer.” What kinds of cases have you dealt with in your office in Hawaii?

Playlist for Ecotopia #78

1. Money Honey      3:36   Delbert McClinton   Room To Breathe

2. Good Health       3:37   The Dixie Hummingbirds    In Good Health

3. Seed         6:25   Afro Celt Sound System     Seed

4. Rain On The Scarecrow  3:46   John Mellencamp     Scarecrow

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

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

7. Life Uncommon   4:57   Jewel  Spirit

8. My Habits Are Killing Me          2:57   John Sheehan         Notes from Suburbia

Ecotopia #77 Recycling

Posted by on 17 Mar 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

16 March 2010

Our guest tonight is Jennifer Arbuckle. She is the Public Outreach Coordinator for Northern Recycling and Waste Services, and we’re going to talk to her about the world of recycling.

Listen to the program.

Recent News About Recycling

The Website “How Stuff Works” tells us that recycling is an ancient concept and has been valued when goods were less readily available. “Prior to the industrial age, you couldn’t make goods quickly and cheaply, so virtually everyone practiced recycling in some form. However, large-scale recycling programs were very rare — households predominantly practiced recycling. . . .

“In the 1930s and 40s, conservation and recycling became important in American society and in many other parts of the world. Economic depressions made recycling a necessity for many people to survive, as they couldn’t afford new goods. In the 1940s, goods such as nylon, rubber and many metals were rationed and recycled to help support the war effort. However, the economic boom of the postwar years caused conservationism to fade from the American consciousness [source: Hall]. It wasn’t until the environmental movement of the 1960s and 70s, heralded by the first Earth Day in 1970, that recycling once again became a mainstream idea.”

And from last November’s UK Telegraph, Paul Stokes reports on a springer spaniel who won a civic award for recycling litter. Here’s the story:

A dog who picks up litter from a town’s streets and deposits it for recycling has been officially recognised for his services to the community.

Sonny, a nine year old springer spaniel, has collected rubbish since he was a pup before being taught to dispose of it in recycling bins at his home.

During that time he has recovered hundreds of plastic bottles, cans, wrappers and other refuse dropped in Scunthorpe, Lincs.

The local authority has now included him in its annual environmental awards which honour volunteers who keep their neighbourhood clean.

His owners Sharon Smith and her husband Tony, 52, a steelworker, accompanied him at North Lincolnshire council chamber for the presentation.

Sonny received a framed certificate bearing his name, a special rosette, a bag of plastic toys and dog treats.

Mrs Smith, 48, a specialist community nurse, said: “He is such a scavenger and he’s always picking up rubbish in the hope of finding something edible.

“We taught him to put things in the bin rather than ripping them to pieces and it started to become a bit of a game for him.”. . . .

Ms Smith added: “Every time he goes for a walk he brings back a can, plastic bottle, sandwich wrapper or other bit of litter and when we get home we ask him which bin it goes in and he drops it in the right bin every time – unlike the rest of the family.

“I knew springer spaniels were bright, but the first time he did it we were amazed, so I entered him for the environment awards.”

This report comes from the March 10 edition of CNN Online.  An article entitled “Lack of recycling and water usage are greatest ‘green guilts’” asks this question”:

“What causes the greatest amount of “green guilt” across the globe?”

The answer is provided by a Reader’s Digest poll:

“Not recycling enough was the number one response in 9 out of 15 countries surveyed, followed by wasting water.

A new global “Around the World” poll, conducted by Reader’s Digest and published in all of its 50 April editions worldwide, found that Brazil was the country where the largest number (42 percent) polled said they feel guilty about not recycling enough, followed by Malaysia and Russia (both 40 percent), China and the Netherlands (both 35 percent), and France (31 percent).

The United States and the Philippines (both 30 percent) ranked below them.

The most guilt in the survey was felt by the water-worried Spaniards.

Cosme Ojeda, editor of Reader’s Digest Spain, says, “In our arid country, we are all aware of the lack of water every day.”

India (39 percent) and Italy (30 percent) ranked behind them, but it was also their biggest concern.

Cristian Arratia, 28, of Blue Mountains, Australia, told the magazine, “I do stupid things like running the tap while I brush my teeth.”

The United States, which has the highest number of motor vehicles per capita of any nation on earth (844 per 1,000 people), also felt guilty about driving too much, according to 30 percent of Americans polled.

Fran Musetti, 58, of Clovis, California, said, “Our society has become too rushed, and that’s why we drive everywhere.”

And from the same edition of CNN online there’s a report related to a story we’ve been following over the past year. This article quotes David DeRothschild who is the originator of the Pastiki Project. The article is a helpful reminder:

“(CNN) — Every bit of fully synthetic plastic that’s ever been produced over the past 100 years is somewhere on our planet, a leading environmentalist, David de Rothschild, said Tuesday.

“De Rothschild, who’s about to set sail on a boat made of recycled plastic to highlight pollution in the Pacific Ocean, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour there has been a huge aggregation of small molecular-sized pieces of plastic in our atmosphere, in our oceans, or on our land since plastic was first produced in 1909.

“”We’re seeing them aggregating … and getting into the food chain, which is then transferring toxins back into us through the food we eat,” de Rothschild said.

“”We have this sort of voracious appetite for throwaway, single-use plastics, what I call Dumb Planet 1.0 plastics — the plastic bag, the Styrofoam cup.”

“De Rothschild said he will set sail on his boat, called the Plastiki, some time in the next 10 days, depending on the weather and other factors.

“His catamaran-style boat is made principally of 12,500 reclaimed plastic water bottles, which are designed to keep his vessel afloat, while the main frame is constructed from polyethylene terephthalate — a recyclable plastic material used in food and beverage containers and other products.

“His aim during a 100-day voyage that will take him from San Francisco, California, to Sydney, Australia, is to find the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” between California and Japan — a massive sea of plastic trash that environmentalists say could soon be larger than the continental United States.

“What I think people need to realize is that there are five (patches), not just one”, he added. “We are seeing a convergence zone in our oceans — the North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, and the west coast of Australia.”

He said he has two goals. The first is to raise public awareness of the huge amounts of plastic that are polluting the planet. The second is to get people to “reduce, reuse, recycle, and rethink” those everyday items that people now throw away as garbage.”

The article also includes this eye-opening information:

Former Greenpeace activist Annie Leonard, author of the book “The Story of Stuff,” and host of an online video, said 99 percent of all the materials that flow through the production process becomes trash within six months.

Leonard said she loves “her stuff” as much as anyone. But she wants people to be more aware of where it comes from so everyone can be a little more conscious of all the materials that flow through our lives.

She also said there are great opportunities to help remedy the pollution situation — in the field of green chemistry, for example.

“Chemists are replacing toxic chemicals with brand-new molecules that are actually designed from the very molecular level to be compatible with ecological systems,” she said, “So that we can have glues and dyes and pigments that don’t poison the workers or the communities.” . . . .

Our Questions for Jennifer Arbuckle

Our guest tonight is Jennifer Arbuckle. She’s the Public Outreach Coordinator for Northern Recycling and Waste Services in Paradise. We’ve always had a million questions about recycling, and we’re happy to finally have someone to answer them.

  1. First tell us a little bit about Northern Recycling and Waste Services. What area do they serve? What sorts of recycling materials do they take?
  2. And what does your job of as Public Outreach Coordinator entail?
  3. We’ve come to taking recycling for granted as a regular part of our lives, but can you remind us of the benefits—both economic and ecological—of recycling?
  4. We’ve often been told what can be recycled and what can’t. Maybe you could run down the list of things that can’t be recycled and tell us a bit about why they can’t be recycled.
  5. In recent years here in California, we’ve become accustomed to being able to throw everything into one big bin and send it to the recycling center. I’ve always been curious about what happens to that mass of materials next. Can you describe what happens on the other end of those bins going to a recycling place? Where are those places and what happens there?
  6. Recycling companies have always asked customers to rinse their bottles and cans? Does everybody do that? How does it affect the operation if they don’t wash things?
  7. Can you explain the various kinds of plastic and the numerical rating system? What are the qualities of those different kinds of plastic? What happens to plastic?
  8. Your business doesn’t accept plastic bags or Styrofoam. Why not? What happens to those materials?
  9. What happens to glass? Does it get reused or melted down?
  10. And paper? What happens to it? I see that NRWS accepts juice and milk cartons? Doesn’t the wax or whatever the material that they’re coated in cause problems? And why aren’t paper towels and tissues acceptable?
  11. WeI see on NRWS’s website that there is also a Debris service for people who are doing big projects like house remodeling or other construction work. How does that work?
  12. And NRWS also does special events recycling? Steve also saw on the NRWS website that you’re the contact person for composting information. What does your job entail there?
  13. Steve also saw on the website that it’s possible to tour the recycling facilities. Can you tell us about that?

Playlist for Ecotopia #77: Recycling

1. Rag & Bone  3:48        The White Stripes     Icky Thump

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. Love Etc. 3:32               Pet Shop Boys    Yes

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

7. Life Uncommon      4:57                    Jewel    Spirit

Ecotopia #76 Eco-Housing

Posted by on 12 Mar 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Our guest tonight is Dr. Stuart W. Rose, author of Sustainability: A Personal Journey to a Built Sustainable Community . . . And an Amazing Picture of What Life Will Soon Be Like. Stuart Rose is an architect and structure engineer, and tonight we’ll be talking with him about his “Garden Atriums” project, a pilot project of sustainable housing

Listen to the Show.

Background on Global Housing Projects

Earth reports that one big trend in eco housing is shipping containers.

In an article entitled “The Hottest Trend in Eco Housing.” Katherine J. Chen wrote in February 2010 that  “Upcycle Living, a Phoenix-based construction firm, provides affordable ecological housing for residential communities around the world. In November 2009, a demonstration project at the Green Street Festival showed off what could be accomplished with four remodeled shipping containers.

“We have many ways that we can treat the exterior, and most of them involve putting an exterior skin on the container and concealing the steel from any direct radiation from the sun and also concealing it from view,” says co-founder Jason Anderson.

The display contained two floors, two bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms, with stylish bamboo cabinets, dual-flush toilets, ENERGY STAR appliances and low-flow showerheads to boot.

“The inspiration for Upcycle Living came from our desire to create a quality housing project that was sustainable yet affordable, durable and mobile in nature,” says Ashton Wolfswinkel, co-founder of Upcycle Living.

As to why shipping containers are his company’s choice of material, he explains, “Shipping containers are very abundant, especially in our country where we import so much more than we export.”

“We thought they would be a great platform for us to start from since they are extremely durable and are designed to be shipped with heavy loads and to withstand the rigors of ocean travel,” he adds. “And because the shipping containers are so plentiful, we are able to get them at a reasonable price, thus allowing us to shift costs, to improve quality and make our homes more sustainable.”

The company’s innovative designs have already attracted a handful of clients throughout Arizona, with one couple now residing in the very first home that Upcycle Living constructed. In addition to these private projects, the firm is currently working on a larger-scale development, which entails providing affordable housing units for a Native American tribe.

Though Upcycle Living is a for-profit organization, Wolfswinkel hopes that once the company becomes a bigger presence in the world of sustainable living, it will be able to pursue nonprofit projects, such as donating housing units to low-income families. . . .

In light of the disaster in Haiti, Upcycle Living has already reached out to a number of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) on what the company can do to help.

“Shipping containers are a very versatile platform which we can convert into almost any type of structure that is needed,” Wolfswinkel says. “From medical operating rooms to basic shelter, we would like to offer our services to design and build structures that would help in the rebuilding of Haiti.”. . . .

A January 2010 International Housing Conference, focused on sustainable housing, had as its keynote speaker the Minister for National Development in Singapore, Mah Bow Tan, talking about efforts being made in Singapore. The Housing and Development Board, sponsors of the conference, are credited for making enormous strides in public housing in Singapore. Mah Bow Tan asserts that public housing has been created that is affordable, sustainable, and supportive of building a cohesive community. Here’s how Mah Bow Tan describes the environmental aspect of the housing sustainability:

Environmental concerns have been a major and constant consideration in the design of HDB towns and flats. This was a journey that started from the planning of the very first HDB towns. These towns are planned comprehensively to include major facilities to create a Work-Live-Learn-Play environment meeting the residents’ daily needs. The holistic town planning approach takes into account various considerations.

First, the optimisation of land use to overcome the constraint of land scarcity. In Singapore, this translates into high-rise high-density buildings, integrated with lush green areas and landscaping, and a network of open spaces within the town to provide visual and spatial relief.

Second, the creation of a work-live-learn-play living environment, guided by the principle of self-sufficiency. Each town contains a comprehensive range of facilities, such as markets, shops, schools and community centres to provide convenience to the resident. It also reduces the need to commute.

Third, we have an efficient transportation network integrated into the land-planning framework to optimise our land-use and resource utilisation as a country.

Besides town planning at the macro level, HDB also developed green strategies for individual buildings. Design guidelines are developed to take into account Singapore’s tropical climate. For example, the orientation of housing blocks, layout and design of dwelling units will need to maximise cross ventilation and minimise heat gain. The choice of materials, design and construction methods are also carefully considered, as they have major bearings on buildability, resource consumption, and future maintenance requirements.

In Singapore, we have a Green Mark Scheme under the Building and Construction Authority. This is a green building rating system, promoting the adoption of green building design and technologies. Under this scheme, buildings are assessed on factors including energy and water efficiency, indoor environmental quality and environmental protection. We have set a target that at least 80 percent of buildings in Singapore should attain Green Mark certification by 2030.

The Singapore Government is taking the lead in embracing the green mark standards for all public sector buildings. For its part, HDB is aiming for the Green Mark Platinum standard, the highest green mark rating, for some important public housing projects.

In June of last year, the US government announced an interagency Partnership of the EPA, DOT, and HUD for Sustainable Communities.  The goal is “to help improve access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs while protecting the environment in communities nationwide. Testifying together at a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing chaired by U.S. Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Secretary LaHood, Secretary Donovan and Administrator Jackson outlined the six guiding ‘livability principles’ they will use to coordinate federal transportation, environmental protection, and housing investments at their respective agencies.

Earlier this year, HUD and DOT announced an unprecedented agreement to implement joint housing and transportation initiatives. With EPA joining the partnership, the three agencies will work together to ensure that these housing and transportation goals are met while simultaneously protecting the environment, promoting equitable development, and helping to address the challenges of climate change.

DOT Secretary LaHood said, “Creating livable communities will result in improved quality of life for all Americans and create a more efficient and more accessible transportation network that services the needs of individual communities. Fostering the concept of livability in transportation projects and programs will help America’s neighborhoods become safer, healthier and more vibrant.”

“As a result of our agencies’ work, I am pleased to join with my DOT and EPA colleagues to announce this statement of livability principles” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “These principles mean that we will all be working off the same playbook to formulate and implement policies and programs. For the first time, the Federal government will speak with one voice on housing, environmental and transportation policy.….

The Partnership for Sustainable Communities established six livability principles that will act as a foundation for interagency coordination:

1. Provide more transportation choices.  Develop safe, reliable and economical transportation choices to decrease household transportation costs, reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote public health.

2. Promote equitable, affordable housing. Expand location- and energy-efficient housing choices for people of all ages, incomes, races and ethnicities to increase mobility and lower the combined cost of housing and transportation.

3. Enhance economic competitiveness. Improve economic competitiveness through reliable and timely access to employment centers, educational opportunities, services and other basic needs by workers as well as expanded business access to markets.

4. Support existing communities.  Target federal funding toward existing communities – through such strategies as transit-oriented, mixed-use development and land recycling – to increase community revitalization, improve the efficiency of public works investments, and safeguard rural landscapes.

5. Coordinate policies and leverage investment. Align federal policies and funding to remove barriers to collaboration, leverage funding and increase the accountability and effectiveness of all levels of government to plan for future growth, including making smart energy choices such as locally generated renewable energy.

6. Value communities and neighborhoods.  Enhance the unique characteristics of all communities by investing in healthy, safe and walkable neighborhoods – rural, urban or suburban.

The government efforts of Singapore and the United States (and other countries) seem to be following a trend that has been popular in private housing for many years.  Wikipedia says this about Ecovillages, which are more recent versions of the commune:

“Ecovillages are intentional communities with the goal of becoming more socially, economically and ecologically sustainable. Some aim for a population of 50-150 individuals because this size is considered to be the maximum social network according to findings from sociology and anthropology.[1] Larger ecovillages of up to 2,000 individuals exist as networks of smaller subcommunities to create an ecovillage model that allows for social networks within a broader foundation of support. . . .

Ecovillage members are united by shared ecological, social-economic and cultural-spiritual values.[2] An ecovillage is often composed of people who have chosen an alternative to centralized electrical, water, and sewage systems. Many see the breakdown of traditional forms of community, wasteful consumerist lifestyles, the destruction of natural habitat, urban sprawl, factory farming, and over-reliance on fossil fuels, as trends that must be changed to avert ecological disaster. They see small-scale communities with minimal ecological impact as an alternative. . . . .

Our Questions for Stuart Rose

Stuart Rose, is author of Sustainability and creator of the Garden Atriums project. He is also an architect and structure engineer and has his graduate degree in organizational development.

We want to talk about the Garden Atriums project, but let’s address some larger issues first.

1. You use two words that carry a lot of meanings and connotations in your book: sustainability and change. As we get started we’d like to know more about what you mean by those words and what import they have for you.    First, what do you mean by sustainability?   Second, how do you view change?

2. The book is organized interestingly–sort of as a journey, and the first-person voice is very strong. What prompted you to write the book in this way?

3. You say you were influenced by John Naisbitt’s book Megatrends. In what way?

4. Tell us about the Garden Atrium home and its design.

5. Tell us the story Poquoson  and the zoning battles and site selection.

6. What materials go into a sustainable house–paint, dye, plywood, etc.?

7. How do you provide heat and light–passive and active solar?

8.  Tell us abut the plants and edible landscapes.

9. How much does this cost? Is sustainability in the reach of the ordinary person?

10. What has been the response to your Atrium Garden homes?

11. What else should people take into consideration if they want to live sustainably?

12. What do you see as the future of sustainable home development?

13.  How did you background in organizational development lead you to doing the work you’re doing?What is organizational development? What were some other influences on the direction you decided to take?
We’ve been talking with Stuart Rose, author of Sustainability: A p|Personal Journey to a Built Sustainable Community. This is an independently published book available through You can also learn more about the atrium project by visiting

Playlist for Ecotopia #76: Eco-Housing

1. A Place Called Home   3:43   PJ Harvey    Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea

2. Isn’t It Nice to Be Home Again  0:55                         James Taylor        Mud Slide Slim & The Blue Horizon

3. Homeless  4:15  Ladysmith Black Mambazo          Long Walk to Freedom

4. Homeward Bound  2:43  Simon & Garfunkel        Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits

5. Home  3:46  Michael Bublé    Home

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

7. House Of Cards       5:28       Radiohead        In Rainbows        From Pennie

8. On The Way Home     3:48         Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young      Four Way Street

Ecotopia #75 Sustainable Costa Rica

Posted by on 02 Mar 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

2 March 2010

Tonight’s program is called “Sustainable Costa Rica.”  We just returned from three weeks in Costa Rica, where we volunteered on a sustainable farm and visited several nature reserves and studied Costa Rica’s efforts at going green. In addition to reviewing some of those efforts (and not ignoring problems and complications), we will play a prerecorded interview with Celina Arragones, co-owner of the farm on which we volunteered.  We’ll also close with announcements of several opportunities that exist in the Northstate to make this region a model for going green.

To listen to the show, click here.

Background on Green Costa Rica

We arrived in Costa Rica during an historic week in which the country elected its first woman president, Laura Chinchilla, who is succeeding Oscar Arias, the Nobel Peace Prize winning president.

Costa Rica has a long history of social and political progressivism that includes social security and universal health care systems that go back almost 100 years. In addition, Costa Rica abolished its military in 1948, and thus for 60 years has enjoyed the benefits of turning spears into ploughshares.

Over a quarter century ago, Costa Rica also figured out the financial as well as ethical benefits of going green.

During that period, Costa Rica has dramatically reforested while placing almost one-third of the country under various forms of environmental protection through public and private reserves. It has also become an ecotourism destination—which, as we’ll explain, has some downsides—but has also allowed the country to reduce some of its dependence on fickle global markets in coffee, cocoa, and bananas.

In 2007, the country established the impressive goal of being carbon neutral by 2021, which establishes it as a global leader. Just compare that goal to the United State’s unwillingness to ratify the Kyoto treaty and legislators’ current waffling and quibbling over climate change legislation that would, at best result in a mere 17-20% reduction in greenhouse gasses by the same date.

We should note that Costa Rica has a head start on that goal through reforestation and from the fact that it already generates more than 90% of its energy needs from renewable resources, mostly hydroelectric power from an artificial lake, Arenal, in the highlands, which also, it should be noted, destroyed some mountain ecosystems and submerged a number of towns.

The commitment to a carbon neutral Costa Rica has been reinforced by the new president and by one of her two vice-president-elects, Alfio Piva, who is, as reported by the Tico Times English language newspaper, “a biologist by profession and a former director of the National Biodiversity Institute.” In an interview with writer Mike McDonald.  Piva said:

Carbon neutrality is a really important goal, and reforestation is a major part of it.[…] If you look at Costa Rica’s land, there is still a great portion that is not forested.[…]There is still space for millions of trees….And as these trees grow, they will be able to capture a great quantity of carbon….If every child in school were to plant 5, 10, or 15 trees, they would carry the idea that caring for the environment is a positive thing.

On the topic of transportation, Alfio Piva said:

We have to consider the possibilities of electric transit, usch as electric cars. We can lower taxes on these cars to make them easier to obtain. We are still very farm from a sufficient electric car market, but I think we can start moving toward this….We have a great advantage in this country in that we generate more than 90 percent of our electricity from renewable resources….But [there is] an education problem….It would require a change in mentality to begin an electrification process.

Piva concluded the interview by acknowledging a number of fiscal problems that are obstacles to Costa Rica’s green future, but added:

Conservation isn’t just for humankind, but for a better equilibrium between man and nature.  Remember that conservation is a human problem. Destruction, that’s man’s doing. Therefore conservation also has to be man’s doing.[…] I believe with a little intelligence, a little bit of will and cooperation, we can make conservation a boon for Costa Rica. My dream is that we can reach a point where conservation is the motor of development for Costa Rica. We can be the first country in the world where conservation drives development.

[ Tico Times, February 12, 2010, pp. 12-13.]

However, we don’t intend to greenwash or romanticize Costa Rica’s role as a model for a country going green. There are not only obstacles to its green revolution, but some clearly contradictory movements.

For example, Costa Rica is in midst of a huge development boom, particularly on the Pacific side, where the climate and low costs are attracting developers, investors, and foreigners who talk the language of green but are chewing up the countryside at a terrific rate.

Note the language from this promotional brochure for a company called “Portasol,” whose slogan is “in partnership with nature.” (The brochure, by the way, was in English only, suggesting that its audience is not native Costa Ricans.) Portasol offers a:

“Rainforest and ocean view community” [that claims to be] “sustainable and socially responsible” in an “eco low density community” that is a “biological reserve” where “83% of the total area is preserved.”

The nonpreserved 2 to 10 acre lots already been developed with water, electricity, and access roads through the forest and the company is building:

“bungalows nestled into the middle of the rainforest. Built on stilts, simulating tree houses, their artisan roofs and decorative verandas create a wonderful space for joy and relaxation. Created for you to experience the Real Costa Rican tropical charm.”

We did not actually visit this resort, but listeners may forgive our skepticism—it’s hard for us to see how such development can make a legitimate claim to being “sustainable.”

[Brochure from Portasol, Portalon, Costa Rica,]

Further, we found the Tico Times to be filled with commentaries and letters arguing  that the developers are “colonizing” Costa Rica and turning the country into “The Next Florida,” while the government has permitted them “to run amok.”

And even ecotourism—of which we were admittedly a part—has its downside, including what one writer characterized as “in your face environmental degradation,” including the national reserves which “have been taken over by tourists” and the native animals have fled to other parts of the rainforest, driven out by the guided tours.

[Tico Times, February 26, 2010,  pp. 10, 11, 14-15]

One place that is not part of the problem is the farm where we worked for two weeks as volunteers. Celina and Janice Arragones purchased 57 hectares of mountain jungle near Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, and are developing an ecofarm and educational center. During our stay, we trimmed banana plants, planted and transplanted pineapples, helped establish a terrace garden, and did some work on the farm’s infrastructure. And we learned an enormous amount about the goals and practices of sustainable farming.

Listen to the show.

Community Announcements

As many listeners will recall, we have been participating in pubic meetings concerning climate change and the Copenhagen climate change conference. These have led a number of community members to become attentive to the excellent work of the Chico Sustainability Task Force.  At its monthly meeting held yesterday, the Task Force responded to expressions of community interest by creating a subcommittee on Outreach and Education, which will be asked “to develop public education and outreach activities to provide the community provide information and increase awareness on climate change and sustainability.”  Many of the Copenhagen vigil participants will serve on the committee, and if you are interested in joining in this work, you should send an e-mail to Mayor Ann Schwab—she’s at .

We also learned of an informal monthly gathering of people interested in sustainability.  It’s called “Green Drinks Chico,” and it meets at Johnnie’s on 4th Street the second Thursday of each month at 5:30. It’s a no-host bar and an opportunity to talk informally with community members who share an interest in greening the planet and our town. The next gathering will be Thursday, March 11. And again, that’s 5:30 at Johnnie’s.

We also encourage you to check out the website of Green Transition Chico, It features a number of postings of community events, including a March workshop on biodiesel, information on nutrition, a new series of community environmental video screenings, and an announcement of the new Butte Freeskool, which will be offering classes in a wide range of environmental and other topics.