Midcoast Green Collaborative Forum

April 11, 2009

North Carolina town prints it own currency

Filed under: Conversation, Information, Philosophy — Tags: — samuelfood @ 12:08 pm

Samuel Kaymen has sent you a story from Democracy Now!, a daily independent radio and TV news program:

We take a look at how one North Carolina town is trying to become more self-sufficient by moving toward being able to feed, fuel and finance itself. The town of Pittsboro houses the nation’s largest biodiesel cooperative, a food co-op, a farmers’ market and, most recently, its own currency, the Pittsboro Plenty. Pittsboro is one of a number of communities across the country printing their own money in an attempt to support local business. [includes rush transcript]

To read, listen to, or watch the whole story:


April 10, 2009

Sustainability Post #43 – Maintenance.

Filed under: Conversation, Philosophy — Tags: , , — Topher @ 10:33 am

[From a discussion on making a house maintenance free, and a comment that humans were the weak link in ensuring energy efficiency]

To my mind, the STRONGEST link is the human. Humans are the best multi-purpose machine yet devised on this planet. By orders of magnitude. An empty house, even without any need to accommodate humans and their needs, is doomed to die in short order. A house loved by humans can potentially last as long as that love lasts.

One of the characteristics of humans is that they get better through practice and repetition. Having a house which needs periodic maintenance trains and encourages the humans to look after it. If a house makes no demands on its humans, they will come to ignore it, and it is doomed. Furthermore, the next house those humans occupy is also in for a hard time.

For example, look at the houses around you, some will be wood, and need paint, some will be mostly ‘maintenance-free’ siding plus some painted trim. Count the percentage of wooden houses which need paint, and compare to the percentage of sided houses which need paint. If your experiences matches mine, the latter will be a larger number, and the condition will be worse.

March 15, 2009

Sustainability Post #42 – Carbon per Dollar

Filed under: Conversation, Information, Philosophy — Tags: , , — Topher @ 10:36 am

Here is an article which examines the carbon footprint as a function of economic production.


February 26, 2009

“The Story of Stuff”

Filed under: Conversation, Philosophy — Tags: , — Topher @ 11:57 am

School board assailed for decision to bar video “The Story of Stuff”
The Missoulian, Wednesday, February 11, 2009
The Missoula County Public Schools board of trustees has been severely
criticized since their decision that a high school teacher violated
school policy by showing “The Story of Stuff,” a video discussing the
true costs of overconsumption and pollution.

February 5, 2009

Blogs, Forums, Bulletin Boards, et al.

Filed under: Conversation, Question — Tags: — Topher @ 8:33 pm

This post is place for members of the Midcoast Green Collaborative to leave their comments on what they would like to see in a communication media for the group. We will continue to use e-mail for urgent or time critical messages.

Some History: I first used what was then called a news system in 1986, compu-serve called them bulletin boards. With the advent of the web in the early nineties, such things started moving over to the web side of things. They have become quite elaborate over the years, but the basic premise remains. Leave a note, have other respond to it, and keep it all for posterity.

I created a community on LiveJournal last year, so that the Collaborative members would have a place to do this for our little group. Many people complained that it was to difficult to use, and insisted that wordpress was far superior. So, I moved everything from the livejournal over to wordpress.

So, now I am being told we need to change again, and so please put your thoughts here.

Thank You Kindly.


January 23, 2009

Request for naming help.

Filed under: Conversation, Question — Tags: , , — Topher @ 12:48 pm

One of the initiatives that the Midcoast Green Collaborative is working on is promoting the idea of growing your own vegetables (in summer and even in winter, under some protection). There are people in Maine who are growing all their own food, all year round, eating fresh greens from the garden in January.

We are looking for a catchy name for this practice, akin to the Victory Gardens during World War II.

Anyone have any suggestions?

November 12, 2008

Sustainability Post #36 – Shitakes.

Filed under: Conversation — Tags: , — Topher @ 9:31 am

It took 2.5 years but it looks like we are finally getting mushrooms from the bit of inocculating we did. My uncle had a large bag of mushroom spore, but no good trees. I, of course, have lots of trees, many in bad shape. So we cut one down; got his truck stuck; (who buys a two wheel drive truck in Maine?); winched it out; and the logs up drilled holes; added mushroom spore; sealed with wax; and ‘planted’. Then we waited. And waited.

Today, I went out and saw a number of mushrooms on one of the logs. The others had similar growths.  a quick sanity check on the Internet confirms that we have shitakes. Woot!

October 6, 2008

Sustainability Post #35 – Apples.

Filed under: Conversation, Question — Tags: , , — Topher @ 12:05 pm

Yesterday, Some of the family came over, and we picked apples.  About 60 gallons of apples, this all off of one tree.  This is a large 150ish year old apple tree that sits up by the road, and it is the first tree labeled (“A”).  I extracted it from a overgrowth of Japanese arrowroot, and B has been pruning it for the last couple years.  We had it checked, and it appears to be a Baldwin, we call him Alec.

We then proceeded to make apple pie (1), apple sauce (13 pints), dried apples (1 bag), J (sister) took about half of the haul away with her, and there are still TONS left.  There are still a number of trees we haven’t even gotten to yet.  Anyone have suggestions for what to do with apples?  (No root cellar yet).

October 5, 2008

Sustainability Post #34 – Shine through day & Rhythms.

Filed under: Conversation, Philosophy — Tags: — Topher @ 11:23 am

Yesterday was ‘Shine Through Day’ here at Hjälmaren (my house).  That is the day when the setting sun shines in the Western windows, though the house, and out the Eastern windows.  It also bounces off the Eastern windows back to the Western ones.  This is a cause for celebration here, as it is so cool.  Sadly, the clouds reduced the full effect, but it was inspirational nontheless.

Also yesterday, the clock stopped.  This is the wind-up clock in the bedroom which chimes the hours.  It needs to be wound once a month.  I often forget.

These two events brought me to thinking about rhythms, and how they affect us in our lives, and how much they are diminished in modern times.  Many people go through their lives without interacting with all but the most blatant of nature’s rhythms.  They have HVAC systems which automatically keep their buildings at a constant temperature with no direct effort (though much work to pay for it).  They get whatever food they want, regardless of season, from worldwide distribution and heated greenhouses.   And so on.  For me, I enjoy the rhythms, and the feel that they are reminders of the passage of time, and exhortation to enjoy that time, as it will be gone only too soon.  And to celebrate them (no excuse too small).

September 9, 2008

Sustainability Post #31 – Building Shape Efficiency.

Filed under: Conversation, Philosophy — Tags: , , — Topher @ 9:57 pm

While looking at a number of local houses, I noticed the degree to which they suffer from inefficient shapes.  Lots of corners, lots of wall surface area, not much enclosed volume.  Thus hard to heat.  I decided that I needed a numerical value for this concept.  Building Shape Efficiency is thus defined as Enclosed area / (Perimeter / 4) ^2.   A good house should have a Building Shape Efficiency of 93% or more.  Some I have done audits on are under 45%.

How does your house shape up?

p.s. I make no claim to being the first to invent this metric.

September 7, 2008

Sustainability Post #30 – Lowering the price of gas and oil

Filed under: Conversation — Tags: , — Topher @ 12:15 pm

There are many people talking about how to lower the price of fossil fuels recently.  The suggestions I have heard range from governmental action, to massive new drilling, to nationalizing oil companies, to converting over to renewable sources on short time scales (10 years or so).

These all have one thing in common, they give the person suggesting them something to complain about, while usually not doing anything themselves.

Well, I have an idea for how to lower the amount that one personally spends on fuels, while at the same helping to lower the price for everyone.  Buy less fuel.  As long as demand is high, prices will keep going up.  The recent small decline in prices was preceded by a reduction in consumption.  If everyone keeps reducing  their fuel usage, the price will not see huge spikes like the ones we recently saw.

That said, the global demand for fossil fuels is likely to keep increasing, production is unlikely to keep pace, and the supply is strictedly limited.  Prices are on a trend to increase.

August 8, 2008

Sustainability Post #28 — Paying all costs.

Filed under: Conversation, Philosophy — Tags: — Topher @ 1:26 pm

One of the problems which prevents sustainability being the obvious choice, is that many costs are hidden.

One small solution that a friend of mine uses, is to include in the cost of any new electronic devices he buys. the cost of enough photovoltaic panels to run said device.  The money goes in a special account, and when enough accumulates, another PV panel is purchased.

August 1, 2008

Sustainability Post #27 — Attitudes.

Filed under: Conversation, Philosophy — Tags: , — Topher @ 9:00 am

The other day I was driving, and feeling guilty about it.  This made me grumpy.

Then I had an epiphany, here I was using up fossil fuels, adding to the CO2 in the atmosphere and other detrimental effects and it was making me miserable.  That’s crazy.  I resolved to enjoy the time I am driving, to squeeze not only as much efficiency, but also as much happiness out of each gallon of gas.  If I wasn’t going to be happy, I wasn’t going to use fuel to accomplish it.

July 17, 2008

What we can do, to help people get ready for winter.

Filed under: Conversation, Question — Tags: — Topher @ 3:16 pm

This is a continuation of a discussion started in email.

The question is what can we as individuals and as a group do, to help people who are likely to be hard hit by recent increases in the price of heating fuel?

July 13, 2008

Sustainability Post #26 — Questions before photovoltaics

Filed under: Conversation, Information — Tags: , , — Topher @ 3:06 pm

Here are some questions to ask yourself before making the decision to install photovoltaic (PV) panels.

1. Am I sure I don’t have a micro-hydro resource?

If you have a stream which runs all year long, and it drops more then ten feet over your property, you should investigate putting in a micro-hydro generation system rather than PV.  It will save you a lot of money.

2. Am I sure I don’t have a wind resource?

Although not as cheap as hydro, wind is certainly cheaper than PV. You will need a reasonably reliable source of wind, and a tower tall enough to get about 30 feet above obstructions.

3. Have I taken advantage of all solar heat opportunities?

Solar hot water systems can heat much of your domestic hot water needs, and some of your heating needs, in most parts of the U.S.  Solar hot air is another option for heating the house.  Both are about 6 times as efficient as PV and cheaper.

4. Have I reduced my electrical use to the absolute minimum?

Solar photovoltaic panels are not environmental friendly to produce, don’t but any more of them than you absolutely have to to offset your electrical usage.   Replace all lights with CFLs or LEDs.  Improve the efficiency of your appliances or buy new high efficiency ones.  Get your family into the energy saving mindset.  Post the electric bill on the fridge, and reward those who help lower it.   Consider a heat pump to replace electric baseboard heat.

5. Is the place I plan to put them optimal?

If your prospective location is partially shaded, consider looking for another location.  Does your neighbor have a better spot; consider working a deal.  Can you sacrifice a tree or two to improve the solar exposure?

6. Does my state ave a net metering law, or a feed in tariff?

If you are going to connect to the power grid, you should be fairly compensated for the power you produce, otherwise the financial aspects are much less favorable.

7. What are the current tax incentives?

Be careful, some state offer rebates but only fund them for a limited number of applicants.  If you miss out, you get nothing.  The tax situation changes all the time, check on it often.

8. Does the power go out for extended periods of time (especially in the winter)?

Consider having some battery backup, even in a grid tied system.  Put vital systems on a separate circuit connected to the battery backup.

July 10, 2008

Sustainability Post #25 — Composting Toilet

Filed under: Conversation, Information — Tags: , — Topher @ 12:17 pm
Humanure Handbook

Humanure Handbook

I have two composting toilets in my house. The basic method is one advocated in the book at the left.  A book voted most likely to change the planet.  It might at that.  I have purchased 5 copies of this book (including one for the local code enforcement officer, and the local library), and as my lending copy seems not to have returned home, I may need to buy another one.

The basic idea is that wastes are collected and covered with carbonaceous cover material (sawdust is a common material).  This is then moved outside, and allowed to aerobically decompose in a compost pile and produce fertilizer for gardens.  The high temperature of the aerobic decomposition (up to 140ºF) kills all human pathogens.

Outhouses and chamberpots, this is not.

Unique advantages: During power outages, my system just keeps on working.  Neighbors have no water, and no way to flush.  You can buy a camp toilet, a 5 gallon bucket and some sawdust; and keep it in the basement for emergencies.  When a member of my family broke their leg, the hospital wanted to send us home with a commode (basically a tall stand with a pot under it), I told them I would just raise the toilet to the right height (and put it a grab bar).  They looked at me strangely, but after getting home a spare wooden box under the toilet was all I needed.  The need for many gallons of drinking water every day to be contaminated, transported, separated, filtered, poisoned, and released into the environment is gone.  Aerobic decomposition produces carbon dioxide, while anaerobic produces methane (which if released if 20-30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas).

Smell: No really, they don’t smell much (I contend no more than water toilets).  I have far more trouble with the smell from the cats not finding the litter box.  Admittedly, there is a tendency to become desensitized to local smells, so I am heartened by the number of people who comment on how good the house smells when they come in (usually related to the food being prepared).

Work: Yes, This system involves some manual labor moving buckets (I have a yoke for carrying them). Dumping the buckets is an onerous chore by anyone’s measure.  However, this is not a property unique to composting toilets, septic tanks need to be emptied (and they are truly foul, due to anaerobic decomposition), and municipal waste treatment facilities produce waste that no one wants to deal with.   Thus, the difference is that a composting toilet doesn’t currently have a infrastructure for someone else doing the dirty work for you (though, of course, you can hire someone).  I never have to plunge my toilets.  I expect when and if these become accepted, there will be a truck to pick up your buckets, and another to deliver certified organic manure to those that want it.

Cost: My cost was under $50 for 9 buckets with lids, two toilet seats, two toilet structures (made from leftover wood), and three composting bins made from pallets.  On going expenses are negligible, toilet paper being the largest expense, sawdust is obtained from a local lobster trap manufacturer for the cost of a gratuity.  I save money on compost, getting about 2-3 yards worth every year.  The size of the leach field (required by code) was reduced by around $3000.

July 8, 2008

Sustainability Post #24 — Cooling your house.

Filed under: Conversation, Information — Tags: — Topher @ 10:02 am

Ever wondered how our ancestors survived without air conditioning, in (basically) uninsulated houses?  They had a number of techniques, some of which I have adapted for my own use.

1) Proper control of windows:   When spring finally arrives, I start opening windows, a few at a time, whenever it is nicer outside than in.  The next day I start installing screens and killing bugs 🙂  As it gets warmer, I leave the windows open all the time (except for thunderstorms).  When days get hot (as this one threatens to be), I close the windows in the morning to retain all the coolth I collected over the evening, and open them again when it cools off at night.  If it remains hot at night, I just open some top windows (for me that is the attic as it is part of my living space) and some lower windows  to let the stack effect empty out the hottest air.  If there is a wind, the upper windows get opened on the downwind side, and the lower on the upwind side.  (If the lower windows are in the basement make sure you don’t exacerbate a moisture condensation problem).  Stack effect is most aided by having twice as much window area open in the low windows as the high windows.

2) Shutters:  Many modern houses have their shutters nailed or screwed open (or even fake plastic shutters, ick).  What use is that?  Shutters are meant to be closed on hot sunny days to prevent sunlight from entering and to allow cool breezes to enter.  These are especially useful on the west side, where the low afternoon sunlight comes in.   The south side isn’t as much of a concern since the sun is high and most of the window will be shaded by roof overhang or even just as they are.  Skylights are generally the worst offenders, and shuttering them is near impossible.

3) No added heat: Look at your electric bill (for a month without air conditioning), multiply the number of kiloWatt-hours per day by 3412, that is how many BTUs of heat you are adding to your house every day.  If all that heat was just warming the air each kiloWatt-Hour would raise the temperature of your house by roughly 10ºF.  (It heats other things too).  Don’t use electrical appliances unless you absolutely need to, find and unplug any phantom loads (TVs, VCRs, etc. that can be turned on by remote; power supplies with transformers (those heavy block plugs); Things with clocks, that don’t need to have clocks.  Take colder shorter showers (refreshing as well).  If you take them at night they will help cool you down from a long hot day.

4) No added moisture.  Well if it isn’t the heat, it’s the humidity, then quit adding humidity.  Take cool baths instead of showers, or just take a dip.  Cover any pots on the stove (yes, you should be doing this anyway).

5) Wind: Fans can substitute for a bit of wind to get circulation going (see point #1), but generally they are best pointed directly at skin.  Use fans which are directly pointed at humans to help with evaporative cooling.  Ceiling fans should be set to blow air down.

6) Drink:  I am not an advocate of huge amounts of water, but have a cool glass of water next to you at all times, and you will drink enough and be cooler (IMHO).

June 26, 2008

Sustainability Post #22 — Food

Filed under: Conversation — Tags: , — Topher @ 8:15 pm

Here is a website which claims that the best  path for reducing fossil fuel usage is a change in the way we get our food.  The whole website is worth a look.

June 17, 2008

Maine Transport Rant

Filed under: Conversation, Philosophy — Tags: — joanofacre @ 1:18 pm

At a recent meeting that was presented by the Maine Department of Transportation,  they were speaking about planning a by-pass to go around a choke point on Maine’s very own route 1.  Currently the three routes on the table are likely to piss everyone off. This does not come as a surprise.

What does come as surprise is the fact the the DOT has no money in which to do this proposed by-pass.  I was underwhelmed.  So right now, they have an uphill battle with no funding for a project that is likely to be defunct in about 20 years.

I am not understanding why they (the DOT) has not seen the writing on the wall already, as much of the country suffers from oil price sticker shock.  I mean come on. Yes we do want to continue to have the tourist population come visit but we should be focusing on the states health at a time like this.

I realize that a public transportation system is not likely to make money until it is the only option. but we should look at putting something in place now. Before everyone is stuck at home with no work and can’t pay their taxes. and suddenly the state of Maine is trying to bankrupt it’s self trying to fund a network of buses, ferry’s and trains.

It is not like they can’t start small.  A ferry from Bath to Boothbay Harbor.  Rail service that goes up the coast or (shock) across the state to likely destinations.

The sad part is I am not really sure everyone would be willing to use this so called transportation even if it was put into place. We American’s are so fiercely independent and, hey I have a car.  Even in big cities such as New York or Boston.  Places with real systems in place, there is still plenty of traffic, plenty of cars and their owners who will not -willing – give them up.

And I will not even bring the folks in California into this. they are a land of highways and are slowly choking on their own smog.

This is only my opinion.

Public Transportation for Maine part 2

Filed under: Conversation — Tags: — joanofacre @ 1:13 pm

part 2

So far all of the ideas that have been put forth need funding.
Bike paths.
A bus line.
Brunswick-Rockland rail line.
A coastal ferry.
and or Van or taxis service.

So what I would like to do is put together a business plan. I have no idea who would fund it. maybe one of the school bus companies. Maybe the DOT/ Bureau of tourism. (wouldn’t that be nice)

I understand this is not likely something I can get the ball rolling on by myself. (One lone woman)

But I think it is worth it to get some public attention. And I suddenly have a fire under me (ouch!) to get something done.

Get people asking Why?

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