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.

January 18, 2009

Sustainability Post #41 – Thought.

Filed under: Philosophy — Topher @ 4:09 pm

I have heard:

“I am doing all I can to be green”

“I am as green as I can afford”

These all ring hollow for me. Yesterday, I found a phrase that really said what I aspire to:

“I will be greener today, than I was yesterday.”

November 25, 2008

Sustainability Post #39 – EPA and CO2.

Filed under: Information, Philosophy — Tags: , , — Topher @ 4:05 pm

Friday is the last day to voice your opinion on whether the EPA — the Environmental Protection Agency — should regulate carbon dioxide pollution, the primary cause of the climate crisis.  This is a big deal.

The EPA is taking public comment before making a ruling.  Send your message in and it will appear on the EPA’s website, and be part of the public record.

Of course, special interests — like the oil and coal lobbies — are working overtime to defeat a positive ruling and have already gotten thousands of comments submitted in opposition.

Submit your public comment to the EPA here:


Here is mine:


The EPA, as the premier overseer of environmental public goods, should understand that carbon dioxide is a important part of breathable air.  The human body regulates breathing through the concentration of Carbon dioxide in the blood stream.  Changes in the the environmental levels of carbon dioxide could have a drastic effect on human health.  As such, even if there is no issue with global warming, the EPA’s mandate would require it to monitor and if necessary regulate the release of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere.

Thank You Kindly,

Topher Belknap

Sustainability Post #38 – Bumper Sticker

Filed under: Philosophy — Tags: , — Topher @ 2:45 pm

“Think Globally, Eat Neighborly”

November 20, 2008

Sustainabilty Post #37 – Quotation

Filed under: Philosophy — Tags: — Topher @ 11:03 am

[From an email from the Rocky Mountain Institute, too good not to share]

The early bioneer Bill McLarney was stirring a vat of algae in his Costa Rica research center when a brassy North American lady strode in.
What, she demanded, was he doing stirring a vat of green goo when what the world really needs is love? “There’s theoretical love,” Bill replied, “and then there’s applied love”—and kept on stirring.

At Rocky Mountain Institute, we stir and strive in the spirit of applied hope. Our people work hard to make the world better, not from some airy theoretical hope, but in the practical and grounded conviction that starting with hope and acting out of hope can cultivate a different kind of world worth being hopeful about, reinforcing itself in a virtuous spiral. Applied hope is not about some vague, far-off future but is expressed and created moment by moment through our choices.

Applied hope is not mere optimism. The optimist treats the future as fate, not choice, and thus fails to take responsibility for making the world we want. Applied hope is a deliberate choice of heart and head. The optimist, says RMI Trustee David Orr, has his feet up on the desk and a satisfied smirk knowing the deck is stacked. The person living in hope has her sleeves rolled up and is fighting hard to change or beat the odds. Optimism can easily mask cowardice. Hope requires fearlessness.

Fear of specific and avoidable dangers has evolutionary value. Nobody has ancestors who weren’t mindful of saber-toothed tigers. But pervasive dread, currently in fashion and sometimes purposely promoted, is numbing and demotivating. When I give a talk, sometimes a questioner details the many bad things happening in the world and asks how dare I propose solutions: isn’t resistance futile? The only response I’ve found is to ask, as gently as I can, “Does feeling that way make you more effective?”

To be sure, mood does matter. The last three decades of the twentieth century reportedly saw 46,000 new psychological papers on despair and grief, but only 400 on joy and happiness. If psychologists want to help people find joy and happiness, they’re looking in the wrong places. Empathy, humor, and reversing both inner and outer poverty are all vital. But the most solid foundation we know for feeling better about the future is to improve it—tangibly, durably, reproducibly, and scalably.

At RMI we’re practitioners, not theorists. We do solutions, not problems. We do transformation, not incrementalism. In a world short of both hope and time, we seek to practice Raymond Williams’s truth that “To be truly radical is to make hope possible, not despair convincing.” Hope becomes possible, practical—even profitable—when advanced resource efficiency turns scarcity into abundance. The glass, then, is neither half empty nor half full; rather, it has a 100 percent design margin, expandable by efficiency.

Cofounder, Chairman, and Chief Scientist

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).

October 1, 2008

Sustainability Post #33 – Quotation.

Filed under: Philosophy — Tags: — Topher @ 6:36 pm

“Inside the gate there is a footpath, and the footpath must be winding. At the turning of the footpath there is an outdoor screen, and the screen must be small. Behind the screen, there is a terrace, and the terrace must be level. On the banks of the terrace there are flowers, and the flowers must be fresh. Beyond the flowers is a wall, and the wall must be low. By the side of the wall there is a pine tree, and the pine tree must be old. At the foot of the pine tree there are rocks, and the rocks must be quaint. Over the rocks there is a pavilion, and the pavilion must be simple. Behind the pavilion are bamboos, and the bamboos must be thin and sparse. At the end of the bamboos there is a house, and the house must be secluded. By the side of the house there is a road, and the road must branch off. At the point where the several roads come together there is a bridge, and the bridge must be tantalizing to cross. At the end of the bridge there are trees, and the trees must be tall. In the shade of the trees there is grass, and the grass must be green. Above the grass plot there is a ditch, and the ditch must be slender. At the top of the ditch there is a spring, and the spring must gurgle. Above the spring there is a hill, and the hill must be deep. Below the hill there is a hall, and the hall must be square. At the corner of the hall there is a vegetable garden, and the vegetable garden must be big. In the vegetable garden there is a stork, and the stork must dance. The stork announces that there is a guest, and the guest must not be vulgar. When the guest arrives, there is wine, and wine must not be declined. During the service of the wine, there is drunkenness, and the drunken guest must not want to go home.”

Quoted in The Importance of Living” by Lin Yutang.  Original Author unknown (to me).

September 13, 2008

Sustainability Post #32 – Rechargable Batteries in Smoke Detectors?

Filed under: Philosophy, Question — Tags: , — Topher @ 1:43 pm

Today, I was awakened by a smoke detector beeping.  Not, the constant beeping of a fire, just a short beep once a minute or so, for a few minutes.  This is an indicator that the battery needs to be replaced.  Now, I have I think 7 smoke detectors in my house, and can hear all of them from any place within the house.  So, I spent some time looking for which one was beeping.  Since they only beep for a few minutes every hour or so, this was not a easy task.  Meanwhile, I am getting more frustrated.  These are, mind you, AC connected smoke detectors, the battery is just backup should power go out.  But they aren’t rechargeable batteries, nor is the unit designed to recharge them should I put rechargeables in.   How stupid is that?  I suspect many people just disable the whole thing when this happens.

Why can’t I find an AC smoke detector with rechargable batteries, which never need replacing?

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 4, 2008

sustainability Post #29 – Ditty.

Filed under: Philosophy — Tags: , — Topher @ 12:02 pm


If I should die before I wake,
All my bone and sinew take
Put me in the compost pile
To decompose me for a while.

Worms, water, sun will have their way,
Returning me to common clay
All that I am will feed the trees
And little fishes in the seas.

When radishes and corn you munch,
You may be having me for lunch
And then excrete me with a grin,
Chortling, “There goes Lee again.”

‘Twill be my happiest destiny
To die and live eternally.

Words by Lee Hays (1979) Music by Pete Seeger (1979)
© 1981, 1982 by Sanga Music Inc.

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.

June 22, 2008

Sustainability Post #21 — Garbage Disposals

Filed under: Philosophy — Tags: , , — Topher @ 10:48 am

Garbage disposals waste water, energy, composting resources, and most importantly space in you septic tank, and leach field or municipal sewer system. The price for a new leach field is thousands of dollars, and require digging up a (new) section of your lawn. Garbage disposal might reduce the useful life of a leach field by half. Get a compost bucket for the kitchen instead. I have friends in the city who export their compost bucket to friends who have a compost pile (or use one of these composters.)

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.

Sustainability Post #19 — Funerals

Filed under: Philosophy — Tags: , — Topher @ 9:10 am

Most modern methods of dealing with human remains are unsustainable, and break a number of the trash sins from the last post.

Burial in this day and age, is a process of first poisoning the body with formaldehyde, sealing it hermetically in high embodied energy materials and then putting it in the ground and reserving that ground as non-producing for all time. Can you imagine a more prideful and self-centered practice?

Cremation involves burning fossils fuels and emitting mercury fumes (from fillings). And is all that heat used for anything? nope.

Anyone claiming medical reasons for their favorite burial practice had better have clinical evidence that human remains are somehow different from the billions of other dead things which are allowed to go back to the Earth.

Some resources:



June 14, 2008

Sustainability Post #18 — Trash Sins.

Filed under: Philosophy — Tags: , — Topher @ 11:31 pm

In the arguments for and against various recycling efforts, many people lose sight of the big picture.  Here are what I think of as what must be most avoided.

1. Poisoning.  Taking a benign substance and mixing it with a toxic, poisonous, or radioactive substance.  This basically multiples the amount of poisons that need to be contained, and kept away from food, water and other elements of the environment.

2. Dispersal.  Take a pound of gold, grind it into dust and release it out of a plane.   This is taking a valuable thing and spreading it so thinly that getting anymore value out of it is basically impossible.

3. Unpurifying.  A large amount of energy and effort goes into making pure substances.  Mixing those up with other things in ways difficult to reverse, requires that energy to be respent or wastes it entirely.  This is the  problem with crushing cars.

4. Removing from the life cycle.  Life is the food for life.  Taking the remains of a living thing and making such that it will never become life again is a waste.  Note that carbon sequestering is a temporary exception to this rule.

5. Not forward thinking.  Just because we don’t currently have a use for a thing or substance, does not mean that we never will.   There is no such thing as a ‘waste’ product.

With these in mind, dumping stuff into a landfill isn’t inherently bad, only the extent to which the above are present or avoided is what matters.  A landfill can be a poison filled mess, or a stockpile of raw materials depending on how it is done.

May 27, 2008

Sustainability Post #13 — The downsides of mulch

Filed under: Philosophy — Tags: — Topher @ 8:13 pm

It’s springtime and a young gardeners thoughts turn to mulch. Or so it seems. Landscape design currently seems to think that a garden is a tree or a couple of bushes, maybe some stones, surrounded by an ocean of mulch. Often 6-10″ in thickness.

Trouble is, mulch gives off CO2 as it decomposes. When stacked next to a tree it lets damaging organisms get next to the vulnerable lower bark sections of trees (causing rot). And it keeps plants from growing. You know plants, those things which make a garden beautiful, fragrant, a home for wildlife (and incidentally sequester carbon).

— Topher

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