ECO-Tours only purchases trees and dirt to plant them in...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Donations For Positive Change

Last night, there was an excellent investigative program on Public Television. It related to the Citizens United case that the Supreme Court of the United States of America decided in favor of the idea that money equals speech. Today, I am broke, so I guess I can't "speak" much. The program showed evidence that at least one 501(c)4 organization has been coordinating with campaigns across the country to deny fair elections across the nation. I don't want to go on and on about the injustice of a system that allows the 1% to give unlimited amounts of money for political speech, that is not my goal for this post. Even though our democracy has been purchased out from under us, what I want to point out here is what can be done to create a better world for all of us.

As long as the 1% continues to purchase elections and as long as the government refuses to reign in the powerful interests that hide behind these 501(c)4 organizations, I will personally try to educate and inform folks about the travesty that we still naively call democracy. I will also continue to offer insight into environmental issues that come from the raping of the planet, poisoning the poor and denying rights to the disenfranchised. One of the things that I will continue to do is to teach my readers, our guests and the general public about the systems that allow our species to thrive as well as those that make us sick, contribute to Idiocracy and genetically predispose us to death and disease. The wealthy just want to keep their cash flow alive and will sacrifice the habitability of our planet every time it bumps up against their greedy vision of more.

Ironically, the largest number of donations that ECO-Tours receives are from people who are in the bottom 10% of the earnings scale, not because we tailor our message to them, not because they are swimming in cash and are looking for a tax break. No, they give because they realize that being efficient about spending those precious dollars is our way of getting the biggest bang for the buck. If we receive $1,000, we can turn that into a thousand trees and we will work hard to find enough willing and helpful hands to plant them as quickly as possible in appropriate areas where they can thrive. If those thousand trees are planted in places where they do well, there is the possibility of recreating about three acres of forest when they mature. We have planted thousands of trees again this year and are always happy to accept donations to help us continue our efforts.

The deceptive ads and outright lies that are told by political ad campaigns are expensive. The wealthiest among us feel the need to be allowed to fund these vitriolic falsehoods. They call it democracy, or defend the practice by saying that it is "legal". I, for one, challenge the idea that money is speech. I remember the phrase "put your money where your mouth is", but this state of affairs has become ridiculous. As the vast majority of citizens are squeezed ever more tightly in the pincers of corporate greed and the extractive methods that they bring to capitalism, taking away their voice through poverty is both inhumane and unjust.

What we offer through our ECO-Tours is the very real chance to change our nation from the ground up. We will not waste our dollars lying about anyone, we will not try to influence elections. We will not ask the billionaires to give us money so that we may push their political ideology or buy them politicians. We buy and plant trees. Hundreds of thousands of living creatures, including humans are benefiting from the trees that we have planted already. We ask for donations to keep this work going. Our Paypal account can be found by using the account number We look forward to continuing to plant trees and wish that there were a way to spread the word about the injustice of big money running the political process. As those who were paying attention this week may know, Green Party candidate Jill Stein and her vice presidential running mate were jailed on the night of the second to the last debate for just trying to go onto the campus where the debate was being held. Locked up and locked out of discussions, this third party voice had just as much right to share the stage as the well-heeled, corporately owned, figureheads.

Our efforts are made to build soils, protect water quality, fix carbon and make the planet a little more stable. If these goals are important to you, please donate to our cause.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Avoided Costs

In our rush to produce, we often forget the true cost of doing business. Especially in fields that we describe as competitive, the focus seems to get skewed to the speed at which we can produce, or bring products to market, keeping costs as low as possible or touting features that will give us the "edge" over the competition. Although there are things to be said about all of these demand-side parts of the equation, there are many more aspects of supply-side economics that need to be considered in the mix. As awareness rises about the impact of our decisions in the marketplace, consumers are expanding the list of qualities that they are looking for in the products and services that they use. Many folks who read these posts regularly might think that all commercial interests rub me the wrong way, but that certainly is not the case. I too consume products and services, but with an eye to efficient and sensitive business models that make sense to me.

If I see a building with high ceilings, massive north-facing windows, little or no insulation and co-mingled garbage overflowing from their dumpsters, no matter what they offer, I will be looking elsewhere to meet my needs. energy is a major cost of doing business and those facilities that are designed to scream throughput must certainly have to tack those costs on to whatever they sell. Similarly, if I can see that the owners and managers are serious about recycling, that they keep the thermostat down in the winter and allow their buildings to run a little warmer in the summer, it goes a long way to make me feel better about spending my dollars there. Likewise, if the employees seem happy and well-cared for, I assume that working conditions for their laborers are better than places where the workers seem beaten down, depressed and listless.

Especially in competitive markets, running a tight ship and treating employees well mean much more to a growing segment of the market than many larger businesses realize. Two of my pet peeves are Trader Joe's and Whole Foods Market. Just because you offer organic products, won't gain you street cred amongst those of us who detest the Wal-mart business model. Get big or get out has been the mantra for agriculture for decades and the same out-dated refrain is making inroads to every sort of business. In their attempts to grow into top spot amongst their competitors, businesses frequently overlook the simple fact that a penny saved is a penny earned. I work periodically for an exhibition company that used to compete with hundreds of other companies across the country to bring conventions to cities across America. In the old days, they had competition and worked hard to keep costs down. Now, they have bought nearly all of their competitors and without any real threat to their position they have become adept at cost cutting. Oddly, since they now buy virtually all of their materials and equipment from China, virtually everything they use for a show goes in the trash when they are done with it. The wooden tables with steel legs do get reused, the extension cords get re-used and the pipe and drape travels from show to show, but the skirting on the tables, the table covers and even the garbage cans get thrown in the trash. The costs of this behavior are felt most strongly in China, where workers are exposed to hazardous chemicals in production facilities, but here too, we pay the costs with absolutely no benefit in higher taxes and tipping fees, waste handling costs and ultimately having to create new landfills when our current ones fill up more quickly.

The reason that this mind set thrives is because we offer corporate welfare in the form of publicly owned landfills, built with tax dollars, but those who fill them up are not charged the full price according to their use characteristic. In this particular case, the people using the dumpsters are not the people paying to have the waste removed. Miraculously, someone else is forced to cover the costs of bad business decisions. By throwing away all of the table skirts, you can avoid the cost of washing them of handling them in ways that allow re-use to occur, driving down labor costs as well. this means that the company has more money and spends less as well. In their world-view these avoided costs are good for them, but for the workers, it shaves away their income and increases the stress on their personal budget. Sometimes, doing the right thing can benefit both sides of the balance sheet, but the trend seems to be that business only looks to their own pocketbook. I remember learning that even the garbage cans got thrown away. several weeks earlier I had to buy a small garbage can for a friend and it cost just a few dollars, but seeing hundreds stacked up and thrown away I got to thinking. This happen every day, across the country, perhaps hundreds of thousands of perfectly good plastic bins per year make their way to the local landfills across our great nation annually, after just one day's use. The most insidious evil is that on paper, it looks like a good idea. who wouldn't like to send workers home an hour or two earlier and pocket the cash that would be needed to pay them if they had more work?

Well, you see where I'm going with that. Avoided costs mean something completely different to the large corporate interests than they do to you or me. I do not begrudge the Chinese their "work" either, I just hate the idea of them supplying us trash. I did have to rent my own dumpster recently. we did a major home renovation and removed tons of  debris from our home. As much as possible, we saved what could be re-used, burned safely in our fire pit, or recycled. I understand that the time spent sorting our waste added time to the project and I understand that the money we saved by cutting waste removal costs by about half probably would not be "worth" the effort, but it was the right thing to do. Until we find a way to penalize corporations and small businesses for making the wrong decisions, or until all consumers get on the same page about our responsibilities to the marketplace, there will continue to be abuses of the resources of the planet, difficult times for workers and massive subsidies for the worst offenders. I realize that we are all under ever-increasing stress over how we make our living, but the sense of satisfaction that comes when we learn about the industries that we support is truly priceless.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Pipelines Leak

This is an unavoidable rule. At the very least, at some point the entire pipeline will "run dry" and the residue that will remain in the pipe will be lost to the environment. The equipment that pumps and pressurizes oil and gas, hell, even water, leak. Pipelines leak, that's what they do. When we tipple, or top up, there are fugitive emissions that are toxic and deadly, fluid leaks, that's what it does and the higher the octane, the more releases there are. The history of pipelines is rife with catastrophic releases as well as a burgeoning business in prostitution, alcohol and drugs during the construction phase. The boom in any economy based on raping the earth is at least as ugly as the bust. Currently there are those who advocate creating "jobs" through exploiting Mother Earth's greatest gifts. They call them "resources" and claim that they have no value if they are not exploited. I, as a humble citizen of the planet say, "No." to their claims. We do not yet understand the true value of these reserves. We cannot fathom the purpose of billions of years of evolution of life on our planet. Perhaps, in some way that we do not yet understand, the oil acted as a reservoir for the earth's inner warmth, protecting us not only from the heat generated in the core, but perhaps even ameliorating tectonic movement. Won't we have egg on our faces if the very fluids and gasses that we are tapping out contribute to making the planet habitable? Our collective myopia has stung us badly in the past, why do we expect that with respect to fossil fuel, we have all the answers?

The time has come to re-think the value of oil and gas left in the ground. In the not-too-distant future, if there is any left at all, the price promises to continue to climb. The only way to get beyond this is to trend toward bioregional tribes and local sustainable communities in which energy and food, as well as most commodities are produced locally, if not, regionally. Technologies exist for low cost solutions to such difficulties as short growing seasons, poor soil conditions or inadequate rainfall. What we lack is the will. That is the worst thing about losing so many old-timers so quickly. The true meaning of conservation was to conserve, above all else, spend as little as possible as much of the time as possible. It was my grandfather who told me about the three minute shower, he was a true conservative. In my quest to save water, I have done him one better, reducing both the flow of water in my shower significantly and reducing the time spent there even further.

The ugly flip side of  his beliefs was that, above all else, the company that he worked for had his best interest in mind. He expected that if his boss told him to dump toxic chemicals into the Menominee River as the preferred disposal method, that there was enough water and current in the river to dilute it enough so as not to be a danger. After all, he liked to fish in the river. His first child, a son, was disfigured and an invalid, who blessedly died in his teens. Luckily, his daughters all thrived, though one of their sons, my cousin has had various names for his "condition". Now, the least judgmental term you might use is to say he has autism. My grandmother used chemicals that led to her cancer in her independent dry cleaning business, Grandpa got esophageal cancer from the chemicals that his company exposed him to. The current trend to loosen regulations designed to protect the public from industrial chemicals has got to stop. We need to understand the basic fact that "job creators" care far more about the money than the ultimate effects of their actions on people living nearby, their employees or the environment. The bigger the interests and the further removed from the community they become, the less they care.

The pipeline of history itself has sprung a leak. I will continue to attempt to transfer down to future generations my grandfather's ethic of never spending a penny if you could find a way to make due with what you have. I will fix what I have, get creative with things that cannot be used for their original intended purpose and treat as much of my waste as possible as valueable resources for another process and learn to adapt in ways that minimize waste in all my activities. Distributed abundance is nearly inconceivable under our current economic system. For centuries we have been told that there is a dog eat dog world out there and we have to be tough to survive. We have been told that nature is just a fight for survival in a harsh and dangerous world. My experience has proved to me that these concepts are flat out wrong. In nature, abundance and diversity lead to critters being well supplied and cared for in ways that science can hardly understand. In the area I'm from, everyone had enough if they all shared what they had. Similarly, in nature, whatever is unused by on organism, even the bodies of the dead, are gifts to other organisms that use the "waste" as resources for their life cycles. There is mutual cooperation amongst the species, each one playing a vital part in the cycling of water, nutrients and energy.

 In my experience, we never owned the cabin, but someone close to us always owned a cabin that we could all use. The community was like an egg in flour, it held us together and turned it into more than the parts, we gelled as a community. In "those days", we made many sacrifices, invested our resources in one another and we will have to experience this way of life again if we are to survive as a species. Back then, you might have to sleep on the floor, but having people over to sleep on your floor was the cost of being able to travel at reasonable cost. There was always at least a friend of a friend with a boat or truck if one needed to borrow what they could not afford themselves and the multiple layers of relationship sustained more and more layers of "economic" symbiosis as well. Each one of us had a great deal of say in what we did and who we were friends with. There was an identity regionally and community-wide that seems not to exist today. The biggest and best rewarded wheeler dealers in today's economy are far removed from the places they affect through global financial racketeering. The dollars have a virtually unimpeded flow for the wealthiest, yet the real wages that the vast majority of the population have to make due with continue to shrink.

Each time we invest in sustainability, we stem the flow of wealth going into the pipeline that leads to the rich man's pocket. Each time we take a step in the right direction, we keep more dollars in our community, the local environment, simultaneously, we reduce the harm done to the planet and enrich our neighbors. I filled the fuel tank in my car about a month ago. It is still nearly half full. While many folks bemoan the fact that fuel has more than doubled in cost over the last four years, I wish it were not subsidized. I would pay triple the current cost happily if we could produce it without the environmental catastrophes that we have become numb to. Even as I teeter at the edge of poverty, I am wealthy in friends, cared for better than most folks in the world and give thanks for the abundance of the world around me. The culture of capitalism claims to run a tight ship and to thrive on efficiency but anyone who has participated in corporate culture will recognize that throughput, energy and materials that are wasted in the process of production are the rule rather than the exception. Even in the pipeline that brings goods and services to the market, objects and energy leak out. When we look more closely into the corporate culture of greed, we will find the seeds of our own destruction already sown and sprouted. These sprouts are well-rooted and fed a constant diet of nutrients derived from manure in the form of lies. The idea that we can basically roast the Earth, as they do when exploiting tar sands, and capture enough energy to offset the billions of kiloquads of energy required to extract the oil is a bit like the designs for perpetual motion machines.

We need to look to the past to orient ourselves to the future. in 1950, the cost of producing oil was two dollars per barrel. Gasoline was $0.18/gallon. (approx. 4 liters) It was basically free. The oil industry has always been the most profitable industry ever conceived by humans. By 2000, the cost of production had risen to 20-25 dollars per barrel. Gasoline was ten times as expensive as well. The costs of production continues to rise and the last two peaks in production costs were $60/barrel (in Aug. 2005) and eighty dollars per barrel (in Aug. 2008) This, as it happens, may have been the ultimate peak in peak oil. Human beings were extracting around 75 million barrels of oil each day. Unless we spend much larger amounts of money extracting the hard to get oil that is left, our world-wide production will continue to fall, prices will continue to rise and supply will dwindle. Peak oil used to be a concept, now it has become historical reality. Pipelines will not "solve" our problem. Only true conservation will change the rules of the game. Waking up to these important facts sooner, rather than later is the only way to save our communities and lessen the stress that we all face in the future. Organizing on the principle of lack, dissolution and fighting over "scarce" resources has to be supplanted with distributed abundance or we will continue to face mounting environmental damage, increased challenges to our health, threaten our own security, as well as the security of our planetary neighbors and continue to put the whole planet and her ecosystems in jeopardy.

ECO-Tours remains committed to teaching sustainability and sharing with our guests and readers the truth about our ecological impact as individuals, communities and cultures. We have an entire curriculum based on leaving the planet and her people better off and simultaneously producing abundance where Corporate America has created lack. To better understand these ideas, get out in nature, plant a tree, sit with the critters that inhabit the landscape, learn to understand their part in making the planet hospitable to humans. only then can you begin to see the stark contrast between sustainability and rape of the planet. Only then will you begin to know the value of leaving the planet a little better off by our passing. we used to teach orienteering, but as we are finding now, orienting ourselves to the whole of our planetary ecosystem is even more important than finding our way in the woods.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Driving With Sun Power

The Midwest Renewable Energy Association, of Custer, Wisconsin hosts an annual tour of solar homes. Today. I am going on an ECO-Tour of a home that uses the sun to charge their Nissan Leaf, allowing them to drive every mile with sun power! I will try to post some pictures once I see it. I only rode a few mile in a leaf so far, but the experience was sublime. The cost per mile is less than one fifth the cost of internal combustion vehicles and although the range is limited, it has more than enough range for most folks' commute.

We all use sun power, it is just that traditional cars and trucks require fossil fuel and electric vehicles allow direct conversion of sunshine to electricity, thus liberating us from the fossil fuel addiction.