This pre-conference is loosely organized by Doctor Tom Abel and is free for 8th Biennial Emergy Research Conference attendees. Proposed topics below, other topics to be determined via self-organization of the discussion.
Presentation of systems diagrams to illustrate issues
Reports on descent-related conferences attended
Reports on ongoing initiatives on a prosperous way down (PWD)
Reports on strategies for teaching and communicating about PWD
Report community organization and action about PWD
Reporting research on PWD
Preliminary schedule for the 8th Biennial Emergy Conference is posted as a PDF here. It is not too late to escape the polar vortex and come to Florida to warm your toes and learn something new about environmental accounting and energy descent! Registration available here.
For an anthropologist like myself raised on stories of the Nuer and Dinka (and the other tribes in the region), the latest news from the Sudan is jarring. These men fighting each other are not ‘soldiers’, they are warriors. They live in ‘tribes’ or ‘local groups’ ruled by kinship. And they fight each other in terms of historical animosities. But they are now armed (who armed them?), and the big players (the US, China, others) have oil ‘interests’ in the region. So the language has changed, this is a ‘state’, it should follow the ‘rules’ of international law, people can be charged with ‘war crimes’, etc. The US has soldiers stationed nearby to protect ‘facilities’. Thousands of UN ‘peacekeeprs’ as well as ‘attack helicopters’ are coming. All of this, clearly, is not for the building of ‘democracy’ or for some other higher moral purpose, but to create ‘stability’. Continue reading When cow love meets car love
We are in Florida, warming up, visiting family, rehabilitating an old house, and attending the biennial Emergy conference in Gainesville in January. We are taking a break from the house rehab by bike touring from Sarasota to Key West and then back to Gainesville. Touring by bike emphasizes the difference in perspective between human-scaled travel and the machine-powered society that south Florida has adapted to. Continue reading From rails to trails in the Florida Keys
Thanksgiving week in America is a time of celebration of family, and of giving thanks. I feel very privileged to live at a time and in a place that is so entitled in terms of resources, security, culture, and opportunities. One way that I can attempt to live up to that privilege is through this blog, in ways that attempt to change the culture for the better for future generations. And one of the best ways to change culture is to make the alternative more fun. Bike touring is one of the low-energy habits that has become habit-forming for us, as it is inexpensive, it allows us to get out into nature and into new places that might be difficult to get to otherwise.
One photo that has been passed around from this blog is a surprising one. It is a photo of a previous bike trip to Salmon Lake, near Nome Alaska, on a tour with friends several years ago. This photo shows up repeatedly on my website statistics page as having been passed around all over the world–why is that? Are other people planning trips to Nome? Is it the beauty of the place, and the wide-open vistas of the arctic tundra? For Thanksgiving, I would like to share a photo essay of that trip, in appreciation of Alaska’s unspoiled wilderness. I give thanks for having access to one of the most amazing, pristine, unspoiled wildernesses in the world. Continue reading There’s no place like Nome
There have been a flurry of public conversations recently about the importance of protecting the biosphere. We are paying more attention to the environment again, after forty years of neglect. And many people are finding this website after googling a surprising question, “Is ecology good for economies?”
There is a growing recognition of the importance of the environment, but there is still a disconnect in understanding the link between environment and economy, and inertia about how to begin to make changes we need to make. How do we convert the basic cultural assumption or value that what is good for us is good for the world? How do our values and ethics shape our culture for adaptation to a future of energy descent? Are values more important during times of scarcity, and how must our values change if we are to survive?
I recently read Holmgren’s 2002 book, Permaculture; Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability. The developing science of permaculture applies systems ecology principles to a new way of living—a permanent culture that honors the environment. Permaculture respects our energetic limits, as a means of restoring the environment while adapting to our future of less energy. Holmgren begins his book appropriately with a description of the three ethical principles of permaculture: care for the earth, care for people, and fair share. The second and third principles are derived from the first, which is primary. I was going to write a general review of Holmgren’s book, but then realized that I needed to spend an entire post discussing his first ethical principle of Care for the Earth. The review will have to wait until later.
Holmgren recognizes the increasing importance of environmental protection during the collapse of a society in overshoot. As the culture evolves to fit a lower energy pattern, societies that survive will be those that care for and protect their ecosystems. Too many people with too much technology will put extra pressures on the biosphere. Our growth-oriented values, ethics, and religion will have to evolve over time if we are to survive. What might that look like?
We want to change the world.So we speak, we blog, we tweet.Many academics want to make the world a better place, especially lefty social scientists or earthy ecologists.So they research and they write.And the media, the Fifth Estate(!), they make TV News, write articles, they are supposed to protect us from the worst of us.Your well-meaning Pastor (if you have one) each week does his or her best to paint a picture of a better world.So why is the world so slow to change?Why don’t we have more control, we bloggers, reporters, academics?We’ve said our piece.Why doesn’t the world change?!One answer is that culture is about learning.It’s about evolution.It’s about self-organization.We say our piece, it goes into the world.Now what?Well, according to the paper that is the subject of this post, unless your ideas get picked up, (probably changed), cycled again, and again, and bumped ‘up’, and maybe ‘up’ again, they are done.Say what?
HT Odum explored systems of all types and proposed general principles that apply widely. Earth, sea, land, air, biosphere, universe are all subjects addressed in his process theories of energy self-organization, hierarchy, pulsing,material cycling, and others. Of these subjects of study, the Earth biosphere possesses an energy form that so far has not been found elsewhere in the universe. Generically we call it ‘information’. To be clear, for Odum information was not information theory. He defined information instrumentally. Information is a quality of genetics in life and of culture in humans. Information is that which aids in the persistence of self-organization in time and its sharing in space. Information allows systems to ride-out the many fluctuations in energy sources, to preserve well-tested designs through time, designs in body, in ecosystems, and, with the evolution of humans, in culture.
In Odum’s language, information is a ‘storage’ or concentration—an extremely valuable one to the process of self-organization. It must therefore be preserved against Second Law depreciation. The process by which information is preserved he calls the ‘information cycle’ (sometimes the ‘information circle’). He has given us a few systems diagrams of the information cycle, this one is my favorite (Odum 1996:223). Continue reading Culture in cycles
This is the third and final post in a series revisiting HT Odum’s classic Ambio paper on the 3Es (Ambio, 1973). The article was republished in Mother Earth News, and the reprint is still available online through Minnesotans for Sustainability. The first 15 points are covered in part one and part two of the post series. The final five points, 16-20 of the Ambio paper, are extracted and quoted below, with updated explanations. In this final section of the paper, Odum described relative energy availability during stages of growth and descent, and recommended policies for energy descent. Continue reading Energy, ecology & economics–part III
Why is the movie Gravity so scary to some people, and why are people in both sciences and the humanities discussing the movie in a focused fashion, picking at its details? I would argue that the movie Gravity serves as a metaphor for a shift in world views about what is possible and sustainable in terms of our high-tech society. The discussion here of space travel allows me to continue my fall theme of illustrating emergy principles using science-fiction blockbuster movies. The movie also provides an opportunity to illustrate the emergy basis of space travel, and to suggest a metaphor between the failures of technology in the movie and the unsustainability of our modern civilization. Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the movie Gravity yet, there are spoilers ahead.Continue reading The flap about space travel
This is part two of a three-part series revisiting HT Odum’s classic Ambio paper on the 3Es, which was written 40 years ago for a special issue of the Royal Swedish Academy of Science’s Energy in Society issue (Ambio, 1973). The article was republished in Mother Earth News, and the reprint is still available online through Minnesotans for Sustainability. The first 10 points are covered in part one of the post series. Points 11-15 of the Ambio paper are extracted and quoted below; in this section of the paper Odum described the not-yet named field of ecological engineering, as well as energy quality (transformity), and the net energy of solar and nuclear energy. Continue reading Energy, ecology, & economics — part II
We must understand the concept of net energy in order to see the underlying energetic basis for society. Yet net energy is often misunderstood, typically through optimistic measures of valuation that do not address the hidden inputs. Perhaps HT Odum’s clearest, simplest, most understandable paper on the topic was written 40 years ago, in a special issue of the Royal Swedish Academy of Science’s Energy in Society issue of Ambio (1973). The article was republished in Mother Earth News, still available online through Minnesotans for Sustainability. The paper remains as relevant and fundamental to the arguments for net energy today as it did 40 years ago. Each time I read the paper, I find new meaning from it. Perhaps it is time to revisit the principles quoted below from the paper, to update the terms and give modern examples of the interrelationships between the 3Es of energy, ecology, and economics. Some of the terminology and accounting methods have been refined over time, but the general principles remain unchanged–principles that are essential to the energy dialogue. Continue reading Energy, ecology, and economics revisited
The more freedom we enjoy, the greater the responsibility we bear, toward others as well as ourselves. –Oscar Arias Sanchez
It is easy to get distracted when the world appears to be falling down around our heads. This week, the Emergist reports that he has gotten waylaid by intrusions at the personal scale, and relates those intrusions back to the principles of emergy and transformity. Here’s a snippet below from his blog this week about the transformity of his education, his feelings about his competing needs of parenting at the personal scale, and the urge to give to actions at the larger scale, and the relative value and costs of education in our society. The post is warm, funny, and something that I’ve been thinking about this week, too. Go read it, please, and I’ll wait right here while you do.
The Emergist Attacked by Two Toddlers
This blog has gone quiet for sometime, not that I haven’t had anymore topics to blog about, but because my oldest toddler has learned to turn off the computer. I actually have two posts fully thought out and half written. Further complicating the process is that the older one grabs the tip of my nose whenever he wants my attention, which is all the time, while his sister sneak attacks by smearing saliva on the screen with her hands. This all significantly ups the ante to write anything. Continue reading The transformity of personal action
Everything pulses, and pulses maximize the flow of power in systems. I pulsed in a big way this year. After too much time spent thinking, reading, and writing (and sitting in a chair) during the first half of the year, I put down the keyboard and took off on some physical, slow travel adventures for the summer. One of these adventures was a 2,000-mile bike tour, from Bellingham Washington, to Glacier National Park, to Yellowstone National Park, and then ping-ponging around Yellowstone on an event ride, Cycle Greater Yellowstone. We had beautiful, hot, dry weather, and a great trip. I cleared my head, I lost over 15 pounds, and I lived a simple, basic, Spartan life of biking, eating, sleeping (we camped). Touring the national parks by bicycle turned out to be an ideal way to see the crowded parks during summer. Our summer bike tour was purging and restorative, and there was time to think about my life at the personal and the larger scale. Reentry has been a bit disorienting—I feel like a stranger in a strange land. Continue reading Stranger in a strange land
I am writing this while sitting on a very comfortable stack of hay in the small animal barn at the county fairgrounds in Republic, Washington. We have converged on this camping spot along with a very large motorcycle rally that takes place this weekend—it should be an interesting night. We are traveling by bike through small, rural, northwest towns along the Northern Tier route mapped by Adventure Cycling. We left Anchorage almost two weeks ago via the Alaska Marine Highway cross-gulf ferry, the MV Kennicott. We got the boot from Alaska, with 30 mph headwinds, pouring rain, and bugs in Girdwood and Whittier. We landed in Bellingham’s welcoming arms with hot sunny weather and began riding. In the past week, we have had glorious weather, with big tailwinds pushing us over four successive mountain passes.
There are three of us again this summer, my husband Todd, our friend Kathleen Pelkan, and me. Pelk is from Bethel, Alaska, and we’re from Anchorage. My husband dreamed up this trip as a training ride for a big event ride in Yellowstone in August, Cycle Greater Yellowstone. So far the training curve has been fairly steep, with Washington Pass on day number three demanding 5000 feet of climb and a 66-mile day with full panniers. Fortunately there was mixed berry pie and cold beer on the other side of the pass in Mazama to reload calories and cool our cores. One of the advantages of bike touring is that you can eat anything you want, and still lose weight. The motto for this trip? We will stop for pie and beer!
Dr. Elliott Campbell will be administering the ProsperousWayDown website for the summer. Elliott recently received his doctorate from the University of Maryland, studying with David Tilley and received a MS degree from the University of Florida under Mark Brown, both of whom studied with H.T. Odum. Elliott’s grandmother is Betty Odum, widow and longtime collaborator of H.T., and father is Daniel Campbell, a senior researcher at the EPA, so it is safe to say ecology is in his blood. He is now a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Maryland. We can look forward to diverse viewpoints on the website this summer, from different regions, generations, and backgrounds.
All this new stuff goes on top turn it over turn it over wait and water down From the dark bottom turn it inside out let it spread through, sift down, even. Watch it sprout.
A mind like compost.
As our world views begin to shift, there will be much discussion about critical thinking. Shifting world views expose flaws in people’s thinking, from the ways we protect our ideas, to inaccurate assumptions, and to the inferences that result. This is in part because fundamental assumptions of our society are beginning to show cracks. There are many descriptions of critical thinking, but most of them do not go far enough in describing the synthesis necessary in describing our global problems. Ecological, macroscopic, and systems-based critical thinking are necessary to ask the proper questions about our global problems. Continue reading A mind like compost?
Anchorage in general is in a sulk. Three or nine inches of snow fell yesterday and today, depending on where you live in the Anchorage bowl. This snowfall gives Anchorage a new record for the longest snow season on record, 232 days long. Bike to Work Day on Friday was rainy and then snowy. The Nenana Ice Classic, Alaska’s biggest guessing game on when the ice goes out in the spring on the Tanana, was the latest breakup in recorded history. Gardeners are frustrated, and even the skiers are tired of winter. We seem to be experiencing a cooling trend for Alaska due to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and changes in the winter ice patterns–more in the Bering Sea and less in the Arctic. Alex DeMarban at Alaska Dispatch summarizes the study: Continue reading Going Local
I’ve stayed away from politics pointedly in posts, because voting for either party is still just voting for growth, with different labels applied. I do not believe that the current corporate giveaway that we call a political system is fixable unless we elect a leader who is ecologically and energetically literate. I doubt that will happen. That said, here is an earth day wish for real servant leadership which would fix our problems. The post is directed at a specific leader, Obama, since the United States is the worst offender in terms of extreme behavior and unsustainability.
As your president, I can set the agenda for what needs to be done, but I am relatively powerless unless I have the backing and the will of the people behind me, to mobilize the other two branches of government–the legislative Congress and the judicial Supreme Court. Increasingly, the checks and balances in this country are creating a stalemate, which only the powerful corporate lobbyists can overcome, and only in their favor. I am asking now for your help in averting a major crisis in this country, one that we have never faced before. Continue reading The speech Obama needed to make
I am working on a policy post, but it is still cooking. So I will instead post a link to the best description of hyperinflation in Weimar Germany that I have ever read, that was written in 1970 when we went off the gold standard for good. Forty-three years later, our currency sins are finally beginning to catch up with us. What will penance for currency abuse look like? Since I have never received an answer to the question, “what would you do if your money becomes worthless,” I’ll ask it again. Dead silence on this topic implies big blind spots.
While inflation in most countries is still manageable, the rate of inflation is increasing. That means that the amount of money relative to the underlying worth of the economy is expanding, through expansion of debt and money printing. Currently the debt in wealthy countries is mostly sequestered in the financial iron triangle loop, with little escaping into general circulation except where corporate salaries and graft trickle down to wealthy managers. At some point the sequestration will end, and the trickle down will turn into a rush. The jockeying that we are seeing now between countries attempting to balance their devaluation with the devaluation in other countries will become a race, and inflation will increase. How will our inflation race play out, and how will it be different from the description of the German Nightmare linked here? Another longer descriptions of the process is linked here. Might we segue into a new currency without pain and defaults for too-big-to-fail entities? Can we escape hyperinflation, given our bankrupt political processes?
Header: Slave Market with Disappearing Bust of Voltaire, Salvador Dalí, 1940; Dalí describes his work on the painting “to make the abnormal look normal and the normal look abnormal.” While Dalí apparently disagreed with Voltaire’s philosophies, Voltaire had several relevant quotes on money that may apply here; “Dont think money does everything or you are going to end up doing everything for money” and “Paper money eventually returns to its intrinsic value — zero.”
This is a repost from TheEmergist on April 21, 2013. Brian runs the twice-monthly blog The Emergist. He is a stay-at-home dad of two young children and one very young six-acre forest garden. He became enthralled with HT Odum’s theories after reading Environment, Power, and Society in the 21st Century (EPS) and uses his blog as an outlet for the strange stream of consciousness that EPS induces in its readers.
What are the reasons civilization maybe more prone to frequent collapse? Cancer? Complexity? Something else?
What do models of autism tell us about the “disorder”?
How should/has humanity combat/ed autism?
H/T to Mary and Jan for helping me parse this post out. I don’t think they necessarily agree with this idea, but their resistance helped make it much better. Further, I apologize if anyone takes issue with my usage of the term pathology or autism. They just happen to be most succinct words I can think of for this topic.
From David M. at Integral Permaculture; “Howard Odum was of the opinion that all systems on all scales pulse. Storages gradually accumulate, consumers consume and develop, and eventually decline, and then dispersing materials that will be used in the next pulse.” And if “energy flows, storages, transformations, feedbacks, and sinks” are central to any system, man-made or otherwise, we can see that the peaking of world oil production is going to have a huge effect.”
Also from David’s post, a quote from Holmgren; “…If there is a single most important insight for permaculture from Odum’s work it is that solar energy and its derivatives are our only sustainable source of life. Forestry and agriculture are the primary (and potentially self-supporting) systems of solar energy harvesting available. Technological development will not change this basic fact. It should be possible to design land use systems which approach the solar energy harvesting capacities of natural systems while providing humanity with its needs. This was the original premise of the permaculture concept. While available solar energy may represent some sort of ultimate limit to productivity it is other factors which primarily limit it.”
“El socialismo puede llegar solo en bicicleta” (Socialism will only arrive by bike) —José Antonio Viera-Gallo, Assistant Secretary of Justice in the government of Salvador Allende (from Illich, Energy & Equity, 1973)
What is the relationship between social justice and resource sustainability? Many authors have tackled this subject from many directions, including Illich (1973), and O’Riordan (1976). In the developed world, freedom includes emancipation from nature, where freedom does not occur until we escape our limits. The spiritual is separate from the material, and energetic limits are not a consideration. Adequate society means that everyone else attains the first world countries’ level of development (Mies & Shiva, 1993).
Various authors have attempted to categorize environmental ethical thought. In a recent issue of Green European Journal, Boulanger included a useful figure adapted from Hopwood, Mellor & O’Brien (2005) that places various groups within a framework of two different criteria; how focused are we on the importance of equality versus our orientation towards environmental concerns? The implied question Boulanger is asking is, what are the proper politics for a world that is reaching its limits, and where do your values fit within this spectrum? Is this the best way to view the issue of social justice, and is the diagram inclusive enough in considering our limits? Can we have our equality cake and our environment too? Continue reading Social justice and solar equity
The empire was an amazing time to be alive, dearie. I was what they call a professor. That meant that when I got up in the morning, I would take a hot shower, drink coffee that had been automatically brewed, get in a car that was parked in a heated garage, and drive through traffic for half an hour to a building in the middle of the city. Sometimes I would ride my bike instead, but I was considered a great renegade for doing so. There, I would park, and go in to an office, which was a series of rooms with fancy furniture and lots of computers and telephones. And there I would sit, in a room by myself with my computer, and write things in response to others’ messages. Continue reading What did you do in the empire, grandmother?
International School on Emergy Accounting, Venice Italy, 17-21 June 2013
The International School on Emergy Accounting is organized by the Department of Molecular Sciences and Nanosystems together with the Department of Economics of Ca’ Foscari University, and in collaboration with Parthenope University of Naples. Aimed at building unifying perspectives for effective analysis of complex systems through the concept of Emergy, it is open to PhD and postdoctoral students. In particular, it will focus on the potential of emergy accounting in problems related to sustainability, offering a unique opportunity to merge scientific and economic aspects within research.
Francesco Gonella, Dept of Molecular Sciences and Nanosystems, Ca’ Foscari University, Italy
Sergio Ulgiati, Dept of Environmental Sciences, Parthenope University, Naples, Italy
Mark T. Brown, Dept of Environmental Engineering Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, USA
Sergio Ulgiati, Dept of Environmental Sciences, Parthenope University, Naples, Italy
Five day workshop stressing emergy concepts, theory, and principles. Each day is composed of 4 sessions, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. One or two sessions each day is devoted to a case study that includes “hands-on” computation of emergy or simulation of models to reinforce lecture material and extend understanding of systems concepts. Continue reading Emergy Accounting Summer School
An article on the difficulty of building truly green buildings and recent discussions about the healthcare system triggered thoughts about a major transition problem that is occurring over and over again—the problem of a complex hierarchy that demands feeding with extra energy. Previous posts about the added complexity that digitization brings are pertinent here, but this post is about the general problem of how we respond to limits by adding complexity, and what it might take to remove complexity at the top of the hierarchy without collapse. Continue reading Adding and removing complexity
If not a stupid paradigm, then, as previously described, what might a smart paradigm include?
Many people who live in societies that embrace the western industrial dominant social paradigm don’t subscribe to that paradigm in whole or in part. Many realize, or sense, that our current paradigm threatens our ability to survive long-term. Our current paradigm tells us that the economy must continuously grow; that the role of government is to enforce contracts and keep it’s regulatory hands off of business; that technology will save us, particularly from our environmental sins; that humans are the most important forms of life; and that competition is the best way to manage systems and people.
Because this paradigm shapes the way most people think about how the world works and even shapes our living space (for example, with an emphasis on roads and driving) it won’t be easy to change. But since not changing it will clearly impact whether we survive into the future and what future life for our children and grandchildren will look like, changing the paradigm, or trying, is a moral imperative. First we need to consider what a new paradigm should look like. Continue reading What might a smart paradigm include?
The picture above is a metaphor for our contracting society in an era of declining nonrenewable energy. What is the emergy basis of an electric bike powered by a solar power battery that the bike and rider tows? How do we use technology while our horizons of available yet marginal net energy recede? The award-winning bike/solar bob is touted as every environmentalist’s dream, where I can have my cake and eat it too. If I tow a solar panel behind my electric bike, I can boost my power and range to go longer distances at higher speeds. I can even charge electronics and power LED lights. What Is the true value to society of the electric panel towed behind on a bob, and is it worth it? Is the time we save worth the expenditures of energy? Can high-tech boosters augment or be layered on top of human-powered technology in a lower energy world? How much tech is too much? In our struggle to extract usable energy from the surrounding environment to maintain our society based on high-quality fossil fuels, our highly transformed society uses energies of varying qualities in substitution for each other, without an understanding of the Transformity involved in different types of energy. Continue reading A highly transformed society
Recent news about Hanford leaks, a flurry of news surrounding the two-year anniversary of Fukushima, and today’s news about breast cancer rates in the US center my thoughts on blind spots in health research. I will use ionizing radiation again as an illustration of environmental linkages to disease, beginning with the trigger for this post, which was a new World Health Organization (WHO) report. Previous posts about nuclear hazards are linked here and here.
This week, the WHO published a preemptive report on Fukushima, only two years after the disaster. The WHO concluded that “for the general population inside and outside of Japan, the predicted risks are low and no observable increases in cancer rates above baseline rates are anticipated.” This conclusion is from the same organization that has been muzzled on the topic of ionizing radiation contamination of our environment since 1959, when they agreed to misinform the public in subordination to the global nuclear governing body, the IAEA, to protect civil and military nuclear interests. If you believe that Fukushima has not increased background risk and there will be no increases in cancer rates, I have a bridge to sell you. Mark Twain’s maxim about lies, damn lies, and statistics can be applied here. The point of this post is to examine western medicine’s epistemology of disease, specifically examining how we select the risk factors that are involved in cancer and other diseases. Continue reading Lies, damn lies, and radiation health
By Austin Johnson, essay written Dec. 2012 for UAA Honors 192 course, Limits to Growth
“There is no business to be done on a dead planet.” The legendary Sierra Club executive director David Brower spoke these words. I have found no quote that ties business and earth together with such profound simplicity. I will use the inspiration from this quote to look at our current system of business and give examples of more sustainable practices. To conclude this UAA Honors course on limits to growth, I revisit my earlier definition of our system as one based solely on the production, consumption and exchange of goods
tied to a free market, whereby anyone can envision, develop and deliver products as long as the end cost is competitive. In the market place, the consideration of “good” or “bad” in products is seldom distinguished. This has led us to a place where missiles and solar panels are evaluated using the same economic metrics. Both items have a purchaser and can be produced competitively within their own markets. Both count as forms of economic growth. Companies playing the economic game continually search for the edge that will maximize profit at other’s expense. We live in a society that constantly reminds us that at the end of the day the person who profits is the “winner”. When profit is of utmost importance, we ignore other values like happiness and spirituality that offer new ways to measure wealth. It is clear that this current economic system has major flaws that render it broken. Continue reading A new definition for economics
But to every mind there openeth,
A way, and way, and away,
A high soul climbs the highway,
And the low soul gropes the low,
And in between on the misty flats,
The rest drift to and fro.
But to every man there openeth,
A high way and a low,
And every mind decideth,
The way his soul shall go.
One ship sails East,
And another West,
By the self-same winds that blow,
‘Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales,
That tells the way we go.
Like the winds of the sea
Are the waves of time,
As we journey along through life,
‘Tis the set of the soul,
That determines the goal,
And not the calm or the strife.
By Mary Logan
We’re sailors. Sailboats have been part of our lives for decades, beginning with my husband Todd’s 17-foot sloop, the AtLast, so titled because his mother finally got her garage back when he finished building the boat in high school. Eventually we sold the small sloop when we developed competing interests such as family, and I refused to help my husband paint the wooden boat, yet again. Ever since then, we’ve had various small boats, from small catamarans, windsurfers and even a sailing canoe, to a snow-kite and an ice boat here in Anchorage. Todd built the ice boat in our garage here in Anchorage in an attempt to accommodate his need to sail in the subarctic winter–I christened it Risk for Injury, because those were the first words on page one of the design plans. The ice boat can hit speeds of up to 60 mph if unencumbered by various limits. Todd is not allowed to take the craft out alone (that’s another story). Sailing on ice in winter does not really feed our fix for sailing, and sailing in the summer up here has to compete with many other interests during a very short summer. We generally wait until we head to warmer climes to sail.
This month, we have burned through many people’s allotments of fossil fuels to come to the cruising grounds of the British Virgin Islands (BVIs) to warm up and to sail. We have done this trip many times before, typically during the off-season in the summer when we lived in Florida, in order to unplug from high-pressure jobs. But I am sensing that traditional vacations where we fly somewhere far away to go sailing may be on the way out. We have some discretionary income this year, and who knows how long it will hold its value/meaning? So this is one last fling in the BVIs, with a flotilla of two boats and thirteen sun-starved Alaskans–the winter has been grim this year in Alaska, with lots of dark but little snow.
Sailing can be a cheap vacation if we rent a boat that we share with friends while provisioning, cooking, and sailing ourselves. Americans often feel that we must buy our own things, but renting a boat for the occasional use is far cheaper than owning. We have watched many friends and family members struggle with boat ownership, and the old maxim, a boat is a hole into the water into which one pours money, is really true. Over the years, the charter boat industry has become a monopolized industry, paralleling the development in many other industries. There are fewer but larger companies to charter from. This year, during high season, the charter docks for those companies were full of boats, and it was easier to find anchorages alone. The charter industry appears to be hurting from the global economic recession.
I’m writing this post organically this time, using pen and paper, sitting with my coffee in the quiet mornings, before the trades freshen for the day in response to the heating sea and land, watching brown boobies and pelicans feed on schools of fish in quiet anchorages. My thoughts circle the idea of sailboats as a slice of life that demonstrates on the small-scale the limits of energies, materials, and wastes, the importance of teamwork, and how technology changes over time as surplus energy continues to flow. Continue reading A sailboat is a microcosm of life