2/24/2011 10:26:25 AM
When I was a teenager, my friend Spring and I would often drive her Crown Victoria to the local cemetery after school. We would park by the headstones of Mr. Smith and Mrs. Crouch, lay out a blanket to sit on, and talk for an hour, with cottonwood leaves rustling overhead. It was a beautiful spot that had open views of the western sky—an oasis in our blue-collar town.
The idea that cemeteries are valuable public real estate, worthy of use beyond burial and mourning, has been around for centuries. Peter Harnik and Aric Merolli of Landscape Architecture write, “Before there were public parks, cemeteries were the primary manicured and sculpted green spaces within cities.”
Today protocols for the public use of cemetery land are remarkably varied. According to Harnik and Merolli:
Nearly all public cemeteries are open to the public, but they differ widely in the kinds of activities they allow. At the far hallowed end we have the federally owned Arlington National Cemetery, where almost nothing is permitted except walking from grave to grave; jogging and eating are prohibited, and there are virtually no benches. Across the Potomac, in a somewhat gritty part of Washington, D.C., Congressional Cemetery puts out the welcome mat to the community, allowing running, picnicking, sledding, children with balls, and even off-leash dogs.
Unconventional cemetery use is experiencing a resurgence, as a growing number of cemeteries embrace their roles as public spaces. Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford, Connecticut, hosts jazz concerts; Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, holds elaborate puppet shows (one is pictured above); and Wyuka Cemetery in Lincoln, Nebraska, welcomes theatrical performances from Flatwater Shakespeare.
Though family rights can be an issue when deciding how graveyard grounds can be used, most cemetery boards don’t hear negative feedback. Bob Hall, the director of Flatwater Shakespeare, offers his wholehearted approval. Hall’s mother and father are buried at Wyuka, and he often notes, “I asked my parents, and they didn’t say anything.”
Source: Landscape Architecture Magazine(subscription required)
Image by gaelenh, licensed under Creative Commons.
2/17/2011 3:49:43 PM
From The Nation:
Bill McKibben, author and founder of the international environmental organization 350.org, says that without a global campaign to curb climate change, the ecological devastation of our warming climate will make our planet uninhabitable. His appeal to citizens and policy-makers, the seventh video in the series "Peak Oil and a Changing Climate" from The Nation and On The Earth Productions, is a call to action as much as it is a sobering account of the damage we're already doing to our environment.
Bill McKibben was named a 2010 Utne Reader Visionary. You can read an interview with McKibben by Utne senior editor Keith Goetzman here.
Source: The Nation
2/16/2011 4:53:05 PM
Whenever I go to the grocery store and come to the refrigerated-foods aisle, I pick up a box of tofu—pale, waterlogged, and lonely in a vacuum-sealed plastic container. Filled with good intentions of going meatless more often, I often buy it. It’s less often that I use it. Tofu may have its benefits (soy purportedly lowers cholesterol, eases the symptoms of menopause, and promotes heart health), but the fact remains that coagulated bean curd is decidedly not sexy.
John Scharffenberger, CEO of the Hodo Soy Beanery in Oakland, California, hopes to change that.
Scharffenberger is a veteran of the luxury food market. His Scharffenberger Cellars brought critically acclaimed Champagne-like sparkling wine to the masses. His most well-known venture, Scharffen Berger Chocolate, helped steer Americans’ chocolate tastes from sweetly pedestrian to unabashedly dark. Now, Scharffenberger and Minh Tsai of Hodo Soy aim to turn us on to tofu, hippies and foodies alike.
Hodo Soy Beanery is a small tofu factory that uses organic, non-GMO soybeans from Iowa farms to make products including tea-infused soy blocks, braised five-spice nuggets, and yuba strips—crepelike noodles cut from thin sheets of soy. The company has a stylish website, offers public tours of its facility, and just might be the future of tofu.
“The timing is right for tofu,” says California, the magazine of the Cal Alumni Association, “as more people reduce their meat consumption and seek out vegetarian protein sources without sacrificing flavor.” And as the discussion on genetically modified food heats up, non-GMO tofu may get an additional boost.
By no means is Scharffenberger the only player in the new tofu renaissance. According to the San Francisco Gate, there are several artisans bolstering tofu’s image:
Bay area chefs are making their own tofu, and local companies are producing it as it is done throughout much of East and Southeast Asia—for daily consumption…. These producers are bringing the noble bean curd back to its handmade roots, showing that it can involve as much craft as cheese or chocolate.
Tofu like cheese or chocolate? I’ll never pass you by in aisle five again.
, San Francisco Gate
Image by cipher, licensed under Creative Commons.
2/2/2011 1:13:31 PM
Chances are you know someone whose home has been foreclosed or is struggling to keep up with their mortgage. The sub-prime bubble dotted American suburbia with massive, empty husks—cookie-cutter houses infamously dubbed McMansions. It’s unsurprising that many, spurned by the American Dream, turned away from this grandiose model of domesticity and sought a smaller way of life. “A hundred feet of space may make some people claustrophobic, but so too can mountains of debt,” writes New Haven Advocate’s Tara Lohan. “For people struggling to pay expensive home loans, the idea of getting a house for only $20,000 or getting the plans for only a few hundred may seem like a breath of fresh air.” The tiny house movement was reborn.
Consumers have many options when downsizing from a Fortress of Solitude to a Bunker of Solitude. Consulting firm Rightsize by Design will help you transition to a space more gazebo-esque. Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, established by Jay Shafer after he found his own 89-square-foot slice of heaven, builds and provides kits for homes with areas less than 500 square feet—and one as small as 65 square feet. Numerous blogs and online message boards are devoted to the movement.
Greg Beato sees a distinctly American moral underpinning to the tiny house movement as well. Not individuality, economic resilience, or frugality, as Shafer or Lohan might maintain, but gross consumerism. “Ever since Henry Thoreau built a 150-square-foot shack for himself at Walden Pond to escape the clutter and distractions of 19th-century America, small homes have been equated with economy and simplicity,” Beato writes for The Smart Set, and claims that they wrongly “seem to provide an escape from the hamster wheel of consumerism.” He’s got some shack-bashing stats to back up his argument, too.
Build [a Tumbleweed] XS-House yourself and it will cost you around $16,000 for the plans and necessary materials. Buy one ready-made, and the cost escalates to $38,997. That puts it at a luxury-priced $599 per square foot, or more than four times the cost of your average Vegas McMansion! Better yet, it’s an instant house, a house to go, and what’s more American than that? Like a 100-calorie snack pack, a tiny house encourages you to splurge.
But if you have less space, you’ll spend less on gizmos, tools, furniture, and cookware, right? Beato speculates that less space actually brings out our most decadent spending habits. “[I]n a tiny house,” he writes,
everything you own is on display and within reach. If you’re looking at your kitchen appliances all day, you have a legitimate need for the most gorgeous kitchen appliances known to man, and a legitimate rationale for purchasing new ones often. If space is at a premium, you can be forgiven for constantly upgrading to the flattest flat-screen TVs, the most compact washer/dryer combos.
So much for guilt-free, sustainable living.
Sources: New Haven Advocate, The Smart Set
, licensed under
2/2/2011 10:12:06 AM
This article was originally published at
New Deal 2.0
Recently Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel-prize-winning economist and Senior Fellow and Chief Economist at the Roosevelt Institute, gave a very interesting speech in South Africa concerning climate change and the global economy. He argued that by implementing policies that help to reverse global warming, we can also reverse the global economic downturn. Although he also pointed out many barriers to doing so, he outlined some interesting policy proposals.
For me, the most interesting part of his speech concerned the use of a Keynesian approach, not just for a single country, as is usually done, but for the entire world economy. Keynes pointed out that when the private sector is unable to generate enough demand in the economy, that is, it is unable generate enough spending from consumption and investment, then the government must step in to kickstart spending. Thus in recessions and depressions many now acknowledge that at some point it may be necessary for the government to spend more than it takes in to get the economy moving again. (See numerous articles from Marshall Auerback on this basic idea.)
There are a couple of fine points to what Keynes was saying, however, that are either often glossed over or challenged. First, he asserted that when demand is low, saving can get in the way of recovery. So — and this is the part that is ignored — since the rich save more than the poor, their excess income gets in the way of recovery. The horrendous implication, from the rich person’s point of view, is that they should be taxed more. The less direct way to put this, which is the way it is discussed even in much of the progressive media, is that an “unequal distribution of wealth” leads to negative economic outcomes. The important statistic for the US is that while in 1970 the top 1% of households pulled in about 10% of total income, now they receive close to 25%. Not good, from a purely Keynesian perspective.
So what does this have to do with climate change? Since he was speaking in South Africa, it was easy for him to point out that the world distribution of wealth is very unequal. Because of this inequality, it will be much harder for developing countries to create less carbon-intensive economies through large-scale investment than for developed countries. In addition, the poorer countries consume more and the richer countries save more. So an obvious policy approach is to tax financial transactions, which moves money from something that (to be charitable) involves savings into consumption and investment by developing countries. The richer countries could also simply give grants to the poorer countries. Stiglitz claimed that about $200 billion per year would be required to help developing countries make the transition to a less carbon-intensive future, which could be financed from a financial tax.
The second implication of Keynes’ ideas is that the economy needs more investment when it is in a downturn. We certainly need a good deal of investment to create less carbon-intensive economies, and it so happens that, according to Keynes, investment, particularly in factories, is the best way to pull economies out of slumps. While he famously suggested that digging holes and filling them up again would also do the trick, he clearly preferred doing something useful with investments on the grounds that investment is generally good for a society and that it is a surer way to speed recovery than consumption.
Stiglitz argued that what we have now is an inadequate level of global aggregate demand, which is to say, there isn’t enough consumption and investment for the entire global economy to pull out of the recession. Thus, he stressed, reversing climate change is an opportunity for the economy, not a drag. We need investment for the good of the climate and we need investment for the good of the economy — therefore what we have is a win-win situation.
But how do we encourage investment? Stiglitz’s answer is to put a price on the emission of carbon, thus stimulating investment into less carbon-intensive technologies. He thinks that eventually carbon will be priced at 80 dollars per ton, which means that it will probably be cheaper to build a wind farm than to build a coal plant. In fact, it might become more economically rational, with a price on carbon, to shut down an existing coal plant and build a new wind farm to replace it. And new wind farms mean new investment, which means increasing global aggregate demand, which means pulling out of the global recession.
Of course, there are roadblocks in the way of this process. For one thing, there is the power of the greatest emitters of carbon, the oil and coal industries, among others. Then there is the expense that a price on carbon would mean for poorer countries — thus the need for the richer part of the world to subsidize the poorer part. Even rich countries, of course, would not take easily to a price for carbon, as we saw in last year’s defeat of lukewarm cap-and-trade legislation. Stiglitz argues that for an international treaty to be effective, it needs to have enforceable sanctions, such as hitting the offending nation’s exports with a price increase. But as the managing editor of South Africa’s largest newspaper argued in a generally favorable response to Stiglitz’s lecture, trade sanctions would mean that developing countries would be hurt, thus requiring some more subsidies in order to equalize the playing field.
In all, I think Stiglitz laid out the foundation of a very workable global economic strategy. I would propose another element: encouraging direct investment and construction of infrastructure on the part of governments. While Stiglitz mentioned the idea of regulation and praised mass transit as an adjunct to the general policy of pricing carbon, it was not a focus of his approach. But here is another possibility for a win-win — if developed countries sold or gave factories to the developing countries to create the wind turbines, electric rail and cars, and solar plants that would allow them to reduce carbon emissions, it would give the developed countries a huge boost economically and the developing countries the capability to become much wealthier in a sustainable way. Think of it as a global Marshall Plan or Works Progress Administration. The developed countries could promise, say, one trillion dollars per year in machinery to the developing countries, which would be a strategic, targeted, Keynesian method for pulling the entire world economy out of its slump. And it would go far to meet what Stiglitz called the greatest challenge we have ever faced: the threat of global climate change.
Jon Rynn is the author of
Manufacturing Green Prosperity: The power to rebuild the American middle class
available from Praeger Press. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the City University of New York.
Source: New Deal 2.0
Image by NASA via wwworks at Creative Commons.
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