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

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

May Showers

The protracted spring that we seem to be having in Northeast Wisconsin serves the many trees we have planted this year well. their rootlets are reestablishing themselves amongst the soils that they will call home and it gives us a chance to reflect on our efforts rather than running helter skelter around the countryside watering our newly planted trees. It seems that nature has taken an interest in out efforts.

When we see birds lighting on the branches of a newly planted tree, or the circle of shade that they cast providing an island of shade under the harsh August sun, we know we are on the right track with our efforts. As with most not-for-profit organizations, we have had a downturn in donations over the past six years or so, but we expect that to change as more and more people become aware of the dire straights that the planet is in. Fixing carbon rather than blowing more into the atmosphere will have to become an art, a science and a way of life that we all take pride in if we are to stop global climate change.

a dear friend David Yarrow has You tube videos about introducing bio-char to garden soils and his results as well as my own confirm that harvests can be enhanced greatly by this simple addition to our garden beds. Here at ECO-Tours, we always remain humble knowing that there is more biomass in a cubic yard of healthy topsoil than in a whole human body. The amoeba, protozoa, algae and bacteria may be small, but these essential life creating elements are the true basis of our recovery, if there is to be one. Those motivated by corporate greed have little to no concern about the plethora of organisms upon which their lives depend, but with a bit of education and a learned sensitivity to the way things actually are, perhaps they can have their minds changed about what the responsibilities of living at the top of the food chain really are.

Shepherding, or facilitating life into niches that are conducive to growth is our specialty here at ECO-Tours and the same is true about our introduction of ideas into the public consciousness. Just as there is no room for violence in the realm of love, there can be no life in the face of the destructive forces that we unleash on the planet. Only sickness and death can result from poisoning the very ground that is meant to support us. Research has shown that the health of people is reflected in the health of the soils that their food is grown on. Surprise, surprise. Learn what the soils are in need of and you will know what to do to leave behind a better world in your wake. Start from a series of hints and work your way toward fully knowing what the Earth needs. Hint #1.) burning fossil fuels of all types leaves a toxic legacy. Hint #2.) There has never been a transportation device more efficient than a bicycle. Hint #3.) Energy, like matter cannot be created or destroyed, (this is like the giant swinging tail of the dragon) only transformed.

We have perturbed the entire envelope that is supposed to contain and constrain life on Earth as we know it. Let us all begin to act more responsibly.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Straining the Limits of The Powers That Be...

Negotiating the twenty-first century and beyond requires a wrenching correction. Putting more and more capital, wealth and power into fewer and fewer hands has not worked and will continue to fail at evermore alarming rates as long as we resist change. Fundamental change, as Thomas Jefferson made clear, needs to occur, even in the best of times, every generation or two. In our case, meaning Western "civilization" generally "we" have been trying the same thing for over five centuries. Curiously, our leaders have been using this method of shape shifting and making up lies about "free markets", a rising tide lifting all boats and the most vile of all, the rags to riches story to inculcate values based on their enrichment at our expense. The lies of the last half dozen or so centuries require us to turn both a blind eye to the truth behind how poverty has been manufactured as well as our backs against the cold insidious pickpocketing that steals, wraith-like fingers, our blood, sweat and tears. This is the modus operandi of the wealthy who pickpocket us with deft and unscrupulous guile, derision and impertinence. Wiser men than I have noticed the self chastisement that our poor feel today, as if we caused our own poverty. The time has come to recognize that we are at the mercy of a much more powerful flow of capital and that our needs do not figure in to the story that the world's rich tell themselves about us.

Many anthropologists have come to understand what is called the myth of increased leisure. Through all of the years, we find that there has been an undercurrent or shadow economy that, though it may not seek to thwart or cripple the dominant one, is a reaction to it. Barter, the thriving co-op movement, buying clubs and cash only economies are just the tip of a massive iceberg. Churches of nearly every size and description functionally launder vast sums of money, making them invisible or at least untouchable by the government. We work harder, the people at the top benefit. The majority lives in service to the capricious whims of our keepers and the constant beating of the drum keeping us in lockstep is the theory that it is well and good for the "job creators" (supposedly the wealthy elites) to decide what is best. Currently there is a very vocal minority of well-funded politicians that advocate turning educational goals, and the making of them over to the business community, assuring that only technical and job-training classes would be required for moving through the system. They sell this idea as a way to assure that graduates would be "job-ready". Explicitly providing the types of skills and knowledge that the future economy needs. Where then will they learn to educate themselves or even ask the right questions? The very nature of the process involves subsidizing the corporate world through the use of publicly funded educational institutions. Perhaps, our technical schools are a good idea, but tailoring University curriculum to feed workers into a human resource chasm, unsupported by real life experience and know-how seems futile to anyone who has seen the writing on the wall.

Convincing anyone, in this day and age, that we can expect more of the same over the next twenty years is only possible if we have been deluded ourselves. It is laughable to think that people all around the globe are unaware that there has been more change, just in the past twenty years, than we have experienced in the hundred years before that. In the next ten years, we will need to witness more change that has taken place in the last twenty years if we are to merely survive as a species. The rates of destruction, of forests, water, air quality and soil cannot continue to exponentially increase, it is just not mathematically possible. The changes that are coming must be qualitative and thus will be unmeasurable by current metrics. The last several years I have noticed growing numbers of gardens in the neighborhood. I have seen larger and larger numbers of people removing salvageable things from the waste stream. I have spoken with more and more people disillusioned with old ideas of capital, fewer and fewer with dollars to carry around, but with things that are far more rewarding, and oftentimes more valuable than cash in their pockets.

The powers that be are enriched by our borrowing, because of the time value of money. They dupe us regularly to get into "the markets" and fleece us when it hits the fan. Their pockets are so well lined that we often pay for the privilege of letting them control the nature of and rhetoric used in debate about policy. Divestment, simply not buying in to their paradigm is the only way to put them permanently out of business. Spend less, make more. Crafting a new society will take billions of discreet decisions about who we are and how we want to live. The old system has not done well in providing for the vast majority. It is high time that we begin investing in one another, our land and the families and friends that make up our neighborhoods. Not giving our hard-earned money away to those who would poison us for a profit is a great place to start. For an individualized consultation about your own carbon footprint, let us design a personalized ECO-Tour for you.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Continuing to plant trees...

When your history has been planting thousands of seeds each year, hundreds of seedlings, or dozens of larger ones, is what you have been doing for years, the act of digging in a seedling or planting an acorn seem like an everyday activity. Spreading genetic information across a landscape integrates one to nature in ways that the general public has a hard time understanding.  This is what ECO-Tours are all about. We skew perception, often in drastic ways, simply by a sharing our perspective. Try this one on for size.

I come from an area encompassed by several major ecological niches. We have cave and escarpment, cliffs and fissured limestone bedrock, stretching from North to South for over 100 miles to our East, further east, small lakes, rolling hills and river systems, dune communities and Lake Michigan. Within a fun bike ride, we also have cliffs, inland lakes, rolling hills and one of the hardest working rivers in the world. We have microclimates based on remarkably deep peat bogs, thick rich soils, nearly pure sand, hard packed clay and soils so thin that in tens of thousands of years, the bedrock will still be visible. The land I call home is all of this and more. A short day's bicycle ride from here I can see all of these things and more and witness ecotones that have the power to transform each of these basic areas into life giving habitat.  I am truly a bioregionalist, claiming the entire Great Lakes Region as my home. Although I do not get to the far flung parts of this ecological jewel, I have been around all five Great Lakes and know them with an intimacy that few can fathom.

I know in my bones the difficulty created when someone with specific, truncated interests dissects the land for administrative purposes. Defining an edge that cuts through my region and calling one side of the line Illinois or Ohio may have been expedient for them, but it wreaks havoc on the local populations, especially those of us who realize that we, and the land are one. With regard to the tree planting that we do, we make little distinction between public or private land. We want to plant site appropriate trees wherever they will be allowed to grow unmolested by humans. We have chosen to plant native trees and occasionally some from regions lying to our south. In an effort to broaden the appropriateness fo the trees we plant, we strive for communities of trees. A favorite quote from Watership Down is the old rabbit proverb, "One cloud is lonely". It is the same with trees. Like humans, without relationship or contact with other trees in the landscape, most trees do not do well.

When confronting a planting site, we look carefully at slope characteristics, soils, availability of water, shade, and limitations that may be caused by wind or sun. Whether there is abundance of water or lack of water, or the filtered sun of a forest floor or the relentless open space at the knoll of a denuded hillside, there are trees that we can select that have a better chance of survival and those that have no chance at all. Unlike a landscape architect who might allow the property owner to tell them what to plant, we listen to the earth itself. Finding the right tree for the site first and then planting.

We will travel as far as we need to to find the right spot to plant. Once we get the right tree to the right spot, we take the time to care for the tree or seedling, saying a prayer of sorts over the roots, laying them into the dirt in such a way that tries to make them happy. Happy roots lead to happy trees I always say. When we water them in and provide them with protection from hungry deer and critters, we are often rewarded with nearly instant transformation. Bird life has frequently perched upon our newly planted trees within minutes, watching our progress across the landscape.

Within hours, we can often transform an area from barren and relatively flat, to a three dimensional  space that provides another layer of habitat within which life begins to thrive. Even an overgrown field might only support life for a few inches or feet below ground up to about two feet above the surface. In areas like this we can instantly create islands that are twice as high as the surrounding habitat, welcoming new layers of life that would never have landed there before. Even the shade below our trees offers more hospitable digs for creatures who make their living immersed in nature. A favorite activity of mine is to go back to areas planted with seedlings after a few years and sampling the shade that allows one to lay flat and enjoy the shade on an otherwise open area that would be intolerably hot if not for the tree, casting shade whether I am there to enjoy it or not. I have been engaged in this activity many times and had local wildlife arrive on scene to sit in that same spot, look at me like an oddity and move along in search of another place to rest in shade on a hot and sunny afternoon.

within years and decades, who knows the depth and breadth of transformation that these trees will create? This is of no concern to me, but I do know that my efforts will not be for nothing. Those who busted the sod of the high prairies or grubbed out the stumps of countless acres could not have understood the long term impacts of their activities. My own work planting trees is helping current generations of folks, wildlife, water quality and providing flood control in the most effective way possible. I do not focus on the future, but the now. It feels good to plant a tree and if I die tonight, there will be more of these sentinels, willing to give of themselves for others. That will be the greatest testament to my passing this way that I can imagine.

I am only limited by the money I have to spend on trees, the numbers of seeds that I am able to pick up and the helpful hands that share this experience with me. If you can afford a donation, please send it. If you have time to help, please let us know and we will plan a specific ECO-Tour for you. If you want to plant a few seeds yourself, please share this site with someone you care about and let them know of our efforts. Remember that when Pandora opened her famous box, in spite of the terrible things it contained, the last thing that was buried deep inside was hope.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Kewaunee Nuclear Electric Generating Facility Decomissioning

Dominion Energy, the current owner of the facility has said that they just cannot find a buyer for the nuke "plant". Although many long-term questions cannot be answered, the latest news is that the facility is being taken offline because it is too expensive to operate and the costs exceed the value of electricity that it can produce. They claim that if they had been able to purchase the other two reactors at Point Beach (just a few miles away) that they would have been able to keep both facilities open because of "scale" issues. Now, with Kewaunee not producing power, only about 10-15% of Wisconsin's energy is being produced by nuclear. Still, in spite of this "shut down", there are several facilities that will cost billions to "clean up" and/or threaten future generations with hazardous waste that will be a problem for many centuries. As more and more decisions about nuclear energy are made for economic reasons, health and safety are often the first considerations to go by the wayside.

The high-level nuclear waste at Kewaunee will continue to be held in the reactor core for at least seven years. The entire facility will eventually be left to the local folks to deal with. Dominion has said that the entire facility would be dismantled in about sixty years, but when a corporation has a track record of only doing the right thing when forced, it leads to serious questions that have remained skillfully unanswered. As part of the agreements that led to the building of this facility in the first place, the land on which the reactor sits is still owned by the local township. The land itself is not owned by Dominion. It was agreed that because of the high risk associated with the production of nuclear power, the owners would pay all of the property taxes for the entire township. If you hate paying property taxes, move here they said, the energy they were wanting to produce was supposed to be "too cheap to meter", so sharing the wealth with locals seemed like a good idea. Even so, as one drives through the area, they are struck with the lack of infrastructure, development and homes nearby.

As part of the compensation to local government, the federal government required the original owners of the facility to also pay for a fire department and out of the "goodness" of their heart, the nuke "plant" operators paid for everyone in Two Creeks Township to receive free cable television and a few premium channels. A friend, who has suffered through brain cancer, grew up just down the road from the facility yet still thinks it is a good neighbor. Numbers of employees, the vast majority who live many miles from the facility, range from less than 650 up to 900. Virtually all of these positions will be done for good within the coming month. What has been said about these job losses is that a few people will be given an option to move to one of Dominion's East Coast facilities, but that within a month or two, just a small percentage of them would stay on to babysit the waste and provide security.

The wealth and riches that were supposed to flow from the facility are going away and the waste will remain virtually forever. On the day that Kewaunee was taken off-line, I saw the entire reactor core containment building shrouded in a permanent cloud. This massive release of steam lasted for many hours. The press releases from Dominion said that a "puff" of smoke would be seen around noon and not to worry, that it was a "normal" part of the decommissioning. Like virtually everything we are told about nuclear energy, it is frequently too little too late or just enough to assuage fears and stop people from asking crucial questions about what is really going on behind the security emplacements at the perimeter.