Nov 30, 2008

Consumerism Kills: Wal-Mrt Stampede

I have no kind words for the mob that stormed a Wal-Mrt on Long Island this Black Friday, killing a temporary worker in its zealousness for cheap crap. Jdimytai Damour died under the feet of greed as 2,000 people flooded into the store to steal a bargain (from the hands of exploited workers abroad). Way to go Wal-mrt. Keep working consumers into a frenzy for your unethical loads of shit. Create casualties at the endpoint as well as the start.

We're all whining about the credit crunch, capitalist collapse, people goin' broke. But, fuck, if we still have the money to storm the sales at Wal-mrt, killing a man in the process, perhaps we're not hurting at all. Or maybe we're ready to pile a bit more on before we wake up to the emptiness of consumerism.

Run that credit card as high as it will go. Make a resolution on the first. Then stop. Then withdraw from the plastic shit that lines your walls, your handbags and briefcases, the plastic shit that lines your life. Then get the bills for your stuff-lust and start hauling the detritus off to the thrift store or the dump 'cause you never really wanted it anyway. It doesn't make you happy anyway. And you know it going in to this Christmas season. Know it's all pressure and corporate hype, not peace and friendship, but an over-extending exercise in making the rich richer as the poor struggle to breathe under mounds and mounds of shit.

I was going to write about some fun stuff today. I'm still excited about the folks I've met in the past few weeks. Still stoked to work on some new projects. But a few people sent me this story and after a weekend of admittedly debaucherous revelry, I've finally gotten around to reading it. All of my optimism seems drained. I'm feeling sick to my stomach, thinking of death by Wal-Mrt mob.

Hope? Change?

Nov 27, 2008

Climate Security Talk Tonight + RIP Harvey Milk

Tonight I went to a talk on climate security at the Friends House on Euston Road. I saw George Monbiot and Caroline Lucas, among others, speak of not only the realities and solutions, but also immediate actions we can take against climate change.

I should confess that I've been hesitant to focus on climate science to this point. Tonight things were made clear to me that I've been loathe to grasp. I've been made to consider the the loss of birds for wind farms. Not wholesale, but that I'd even consider such energy advances over particular species or habitats is actually a progression for me. I am a landscape motivated individual. I work in habitat. I care for land and creatures. When forced to consider the implications of wider systemic changes, I'm often resistant in favor of the preservation of particular habitats. But tonight I was asked to consider the implication for all habitats if these changes are not enacted. It's grim in the best of scenarios.

And finally, I'm on the climate change bandwagon. I'm ready to do my part in terms of pushing for change. I've resisted. I've thought that there's no Earth worth saving without all its parts. There's no point in conserving a wasteland. Earth will seek a balance, with or without us. We're not saving the planet but our ability to inhabit it. I felt stubbornly that we couldn't just focus on carbon and climate. For a land lover such as myself, it's an annoying distraction and huge question mark when we get on the ground to preserve something physical and beautiful right in front of us. But now I'm more ready to devote my words and activism to climate change because we'll need conservationists to protect actual land if we're to get through this mess with an Earth of diversity, a planetary home that most of us want to enjoy.

We were called to engage tonight by the eloquent speakers at the climate security talk. We engage on the political level to elect people like Caroline Lucas, who defy conventional political will by engaging in actions such as the Climate Rush. We engage on the social level by taking up initiatives against a new runway at Heathrow or the Kingsnorth plant. And we engage on the individual level in every way that we can afford to do.

I'll write more about this talk soon. Or perhaps a friend my course will lend his expertise.

Also wanted to pay some due respect to Harvey Milk tonight. He was assassinated 30 years ago today (still today in SF), but still serves as a notable inspiration to loads of us queers looking to live an honest and open life of public activism. Harvey Milk was out and proud to be the first Californian elected to popular office. I'm proud to have lived in the city that brought him to politics, proud to have walked the streets of the Castro and SF City Hall in his wake. Proud to know that my own potential was extended by his courage. I wasn't alive in his lifetime, but Harvey Milk made my life easier. Thanks, Harvey. SF and all us queers fall back on your radical courage and action.

Buy Nothing Day Part 2

Again, Buy Nothing Day (BND) is this Friday in the US (Black Friday) or this Saturday in the UK. You are encouraged to keep your dollars and pounds in the wallet on these days.

Last night Cinema Libre screened Manufactured Landscapes at the Library House to stir up some discussion on consumerism and BND. I want to recommend this film to anyone who can get her hands on it. It's a beautiful film that offers little narration, though enough to keep you interested. I won't describe it because I won't do it justice, but check it out and share it with folks.

The film led to a discussion about how we can move the ideas of over-consumption into the societal conversation. I was feeling pretty overwhelmed by the film, myself. But other folks had some great input and ideas, particularly around Buy Nothing Day actions. You can expect to see some mobile free shops in London. And there will be stationary groups of people at a few high density shopping locations to give out free food and propaganda. I'll try to take some pix for posting.

See the previous post for BND activities in SF or London. Come out and have some fun.

Nov 26, 2008


Buy Nothing Day (BND)is this Friday in the US or this Saturday in the UK. Even if you're not a Compact adherent, I challenge you to spend no dollars or pounds, no pennies or pence on your respective BND.

The holiday season is upon us. We're in the midst of a financial crisis, brought on by capitalism run amok, consumerism controlling our lives. Draw back, take stock, and take a stand against more of the same by not engaging in the consumerist clusterfuck. Yes we can, say no to buying more than we can afford. Yes we can consider the ramifications of our consumption. And, yes we can offer alternatives to consumption:

For BND in London, I'm working with some sweet folk on a project to take some free food and other wares to Brixton. We're meeting at the Library House (52 Knatchbull Rd SE5 9QY) at 11 AM to depart on bikes. More info here if you wanna come! More UK BND info here.

In San Francisco, there's the Really Really Free Market on Saturday in Dolores Park from 1-5pm. Or on Friday, join Bay Area Source at 23rd and Valencia for a clothes swap and plant barter.

In other news, I got hit by a white van today in Peckham. Ouch. Technically, it was my fault. I really thought the guy had just nodded at me to make my right turn in front of him since he was creeping along in a line of cars. Guess I misinterpreted him cuz as I was square in front of him, he gassed it into me. I'm fine. I pretty much scrambled onto his bumper/hood as my bike went down. We're both ok, though I think it popped my rear tube.

I was on my way to pick up sheets and pillow cases from a fellow Freecycler. I made it there eventually and am now looking forward to sleeping on brand new, hypoallergenic linen. Thanks, Heather!

Nov 23, 2008

Learning in London

Free from pressing school deadlines, I stepped away from academia this weekend for a bit of Free Skoolin'. Across London there were workshops, skillshares, and art classes for folks open enough to learn from an equal. I've spent about 8 weeks under a flood of expert education. Education imbued with hierarchy and elitism. But Free Skool, like infoshops and other skillshares, gives us a chance to learn about ideas that interest us (climate change, art, music, bike repair, self defense, permaculture) outside of the institutional setting.

Most relevant to this blog, I attended a workshop on Class and Climate Change. Attendees were involved or interested in class struggle or environmental movements at various levels. We discussed the way that climate change will affect different groups of people in the world and at smaller scales. Hurricane Katrina was considered a potential worst case scenario of climate chaos: Poor people being left behind as people with privilege escape the most damaging impacts. Rising food and fuel costs disproportionately affecting the poor was another example considered.

We considered the way that climate change can feel really abstract in your daily life, even if your food and fuel costs are rising. It's tough to pin that on a source. We call it the economy much more readily than calling it scarcity or an environmental issue. I kept thinking about wildfire news. We usually hear about million dollar mansions about to be devoured, or some celebrity who might lose a home. Unless the homes of 500 poor people are wiped out at once. It's not a human interest item unless a bunch of poor people get fucked. Kinda like Katrina, no? I digress (therefore, I blog).

We also talked about what could enhance the immediacy of climate change for people and something pretty fab came up. We kinda started talking about phenology. I find this fab because I've been thinking about ways to do a phenological dissertation that might contribute to the conservation of a species, hopefully one that indicates health of a habitat, while also highlighting the immediacy of climate change. Yeah, phenology is that old naturalist science of recording natural events. Like when butterflies emerge from cocoons or when flowers bloom or whatever natural events tend to coincide with temperature, seasonality, etc.

I like phenology because it has the potential to erode skepticism associated with climate change. Events like Katrina and two years of drought in California are explained away as episodic variations in nature's rythms. Most of us realize that nature isn't blissfully balanced but is in fact capable of terrific displays of unremittent ferocity. So we can pass off intensifying hurricane seasons, prolonged droughts, and mild winters as variations along a vast timeline.

But what happnes when you start talking to people about the lack of snow on a local mountain? Or the way that trees hang on to their leaves into December when they used to drop in late October? I hear people open up and contribute their own anecdotal experiences, even in places like rural Georgia. It's the kind of change that people can be bothered to lament. And I think it's a way to further the discussions of climate change in popular venues. I'm not necessarily talking about convincing people that climate change is real, but more that climate change must be addressed ... NOW.

Is it me or have we reached several thresholds at once? Ecological, Economic, Social... We have an amazing opportunity with the collapse of our economic systems. We can make a new way forward, absent the ultimate global inequality that has brought us to climate chaos and scarcity. I'm not talking about carbon trading, clean fuel, or green consumerism, addressed nicely by CorpWatch here. And I'm not talking about all of us moving to the sticks and going off the grid. There just ain't enough land for 6-9 billion of us to do that. But instead of fully market based solutions, I'm more excited by the Green for All concept pushed by Van Jones. I don't love it when he goes off on the power plant or wind/wave/solar farm ideas, but I do like that he's taken the economic crisis and not only offered a viable solution but one that could affect inequality and climate change and habitat/species loss if enacted responsibly. (Paving California's deserts with solar panels wouldn't help habitat, for example. Instead I favor putting those panels closer to the sources that need them, like on top of buildings and such). I'm not sure that these solutions are as anti-capitalist as I am personally, but I support their exploration as a viable alternative to business as usual.

As much as I love the individual initiatives like the Compact, I recognize that the lifestyle choices of the few will rectify little if we don't make some huge systemic changes. I love challenging myself to be be as carbon neutral as possible, but when I have to turn on the heat, I don't have a lot of good options. Lifestyle purity - if that's your thing - won't spare one the non-discriminating effects of climate change. So we need some bigger solutions. We need bigger but decentralized solutions wherever possible.

So that's what Free Skool did to me this weekend. It reopened my brain. It connected some academic learning to some real life situations and perceptions. It reminded me that we're all experts and no one is an expert. It allowed me to creatively relate my science to my social life, resuscitating a bit of me that's been on life support for the past few months as I've had my head stuck up my transcontinental ass. Oh, and Free Skool exposed me to three awesome autonomous spaces and about 50 radical peops I hope to see again!!! Damn, and I wrote all of this without ever touching the free boxes, People's Republic of Southwark, and the mini-ecofair that holds promise for a monthly Really Really Free Market in London. Next time, then.

Nov 17, 2008


Wow, what a couple of weeks. I was enthralled by the US election while writing two excruciatingly tedious papers for my course. With the second of those behind me, I'm looking forward to spending the rest of the week in the New Forest, where I'll learn about conservation monitoring and take pretty pictures of ponies.

A bit of a round up:

Things Conservationists do continued...
Garden for wildlife!
Feed wildlife?

More Freecycle/Weird Re-use Moments
I'm now on the hunt for some goofy stuff like pillow cases, sheets, and coat hooks. I'm in desperate need of tupperware as the yogurt containers are not suitable for re-use. I find myself hanging on to odd jars (like jalapenos) for spice storage. I was actually trying to figure out if I could funnel soup into a handle bottle of Jim Beam. Determined this was impractical and am currently considering the purchase of processed pasta sauce so I can have the jar.

Food storage is really the smaller of my worries. I got weird about a plastic bag today, partly over OCDish parsimony and partly for sentimental reasons. Yeah, I said it, I got oooey gooey over a plastic bag. It's a Lucca bag. You know, the ravioli on Valencia. Right, so maybe I really like that place right? Nope. I've never ever been in there. I snagged this bag from a recycling spot at Good Life Grocery months ago (seriously, I left SF in August). But it's a good, sturdy bag. And it does remind me of home. So I couldn't put it into the bin for trash collection. Had to hang onto it, hoping to get a few more uses out of it. Weird, I know. Who knows when I'll get rid of that SF Chronicle bag that holds all of my other bags. Probably not until I start walking dogs again. That way the bag ends its functionality covering shit, much as it began its life.

And finally there's a great group in the Bay Area that I thought I'd mention for readers there. Bay Area Source has a Buy Nothing Day celebration in the off. Check it out!!!! Plants and anti-consumption - What more could you ask for?

Plant Barter, Potluck and Clothes Exchange
Friday, November 28th, 1-4pm
Corner of Valencia and 23rd St.

To honor Buy Nothing Day! and to celebrate gift economies we'll be hosting a sidewalk plant barter, potluck and clothes exchange. Sing us a song, give us some seeds, or figure out another trade for a small plant of your choice (we'll have a wide range, from house plants to edibles to medicinals on hand.) Bring your Thanksgiving leftovers and share a plate with friends and strangers. Bring clothes to swap, or just come by to say hello.

Zine Release Party
Monday, December 8th, 6:30-8:30
Mission Pie, 2901 Mission Street (at 25th)

Come celebrate the release of our 3rd issue at Mission Pie! We'll have local honey to taste, a sauerkraut demo and homemade goods to eat. Our latest zine on urban self-sufficiency will also be available with info on raising chickens in the city, fermenting, canning and more. Bring a jar and bring a friend.


Nov 15, 2008

LA Wildfires

It's hard for me to imagine wildfires as i sit in damp England, but they're raging in LA. I've got several friends in LA, and though I'm not one to freak out over natural disasters, I've been thinking of them lots. California is a hazard zone: wildfires, earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, oh my! While a lot of these events are relatively natural, they're often human influenced, or they have the potential to hurt a lot of people. Or destroy their homes at the least, like today's terribly sad leveling of a mobile home park. Wouldn't it be helpful if the folks living in the FEMA trailers post Katrina all had housing now and we could pass those homes on to the folks in Sylmar who just lost theirs?

I hope that Compactors and like minds in LA can find a way to reach out to these folks. 500 homes, gone. And I shudder to think of how much insurance money one recoups on a mobile home. Will it be enough for folks to relocate, particularly in the current economic disaster?

Normally I wouldn't holler about fire suppression, but as the Santa Ana winds blow the Sylmar fire through the foothills, I wonder what started it and how it's going to move. Our fire suppression techniques have changed the way that fires move, as well as they way that they affect habitat. Suppression can increase the fuel load in a landscape if we don't let wildlands burn on an episodic basis. Then the fires tend to linger, burning more hotly, and deeply into the vegetation, thriving on the increased fuel. So we have bigger fires that do more damage to even fire resilient trees and grasses.

By the time they hit cities, these fires can be huge and forceful. Ad those hot Santa Ana winds at 75 mph and you've got a fierce force of nature to fight. Some of these fires are started by lightning. Some are from cigarettes. Lawn mowing at the wrong time of year has destroyed entire communities. Last year a guy sent up a flare when he got lost hiking.

I'm pondering all of this more than I usually do because I wonder if I'd enjoy working on these lands. Could I help further sensitive techniques that could reduce fuel load and enhance habitat? Would I be comfortable working of prescribed burns? There's a lot at stake, including the emotional investment one makes in a landscape, not to insinuate that all is lost in the habitat sense when these fires rage. But there are some concerns with this one for endangered species.

More than anything, I'm procrastinating on a paper I need to be writing about gloomy, damp dunes in England. As I write about these habitats I think more and more of where I want to work and do my thesis this summer. I know I'm not staying here to do a project, but I'm still feeling out some other habitats. I was nearly sold on wetland restoration ... but not so much now. So I'm back to contemplating the deserts of the west, maybe the SF delta. The world feels really big when I think about these things, makes it hard to narrow my focus.

Back to the dunes for now. And probably some peeks at the fire news as I putter along on this paper.

Nov 11, 2008

Smash Prop 8! This Saturday, 11/15

I said I'd save my Californian disappointment for another day. Well, that day has arrived. California's Proposition 8 asked voters to vote yes or no on the following question: Shall the California Constitution be changed to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry providing that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California?

52% of California voters chose to approve this measure, thus writing discrimination into our state constitution.

This Saturday there will be demonstrations in San Francisco and across California supporting the repeal of Prop 8. Repurpose some cardboard to make a clever sign and join in the fight for equality under the law. Apparently there will be demos across the country as well. Smash Prop 8!

I know that a lot of people like the ability to legislate through the ballot box, but I personally find the initiative process a perversion of democracy. I've been a detractor for years, not just since Prop H8, as it's become known. Democracy does not mean majority rule. In fact, we have safeguards, such as 2 senators per state and super-majority rules for changing constitutions, to ensure that the majority does not take away the liberties of the minority.

Unfortunately, the initiative process can be used to take away the rights of the minority. And the initiative process requires a highly informed electorate, something we rarely have. I voted on 12 state propositions and 22 San Francisco propositions, plus supervisor, college board, school board, BART board, Congress, local judge, and president. How many people actually do the level of research required to vote intelligently on all of these issues? Not many, I'm guessing.

I realize that it doesn't take a super-informed person to know the difference between right and wrong on the Prop H8 decision. It's one of those issues that I frankly think belongs with the courts, who made a well reasoned decision last spring.

But there are other issues, such as clean energy, that come before us in the initiative, rather than in front of legislators who can negotiate. Once we vote on something like gas tax, "the people have spoken" and it ties the hands of those elected to draft and modify our laws. Initiatives make it more difficult to pass intelligent laws, often binding the state to weird budgets, percent spending, or other parameters. Once the initiative has enough signatures, it's put on the ballot and set in stone. No more room for negotiation, leaving voters with bad choices between passing a law they don't really like or not addressing some issues, like public power, at all.

Prop 8 has really caused a resurgence in my antipathy toward the initiative process. Maybe I'm just super pissed that I can't be involved in any of the demo's this weekend.

If you're wondering what this has to do with not shopping or sustainability, I'll make some tangential connections for you.

First, this writes the religious views of the majority into our state constitution. Our laws separating church and state are clearly meant to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. This precedent gives fodder to other religious intrusions into our laws. Fundamentalist interpretations of religion are often used against science and in favor of the "man over nature" paradigm that has arguably gotten us into the ecological messes we're currently trying to offset, clean up, or reverse.

Anecdotally, conservation and environmental fields are pretty gay in my experience. So how 'bout some rights, California? Treat us equally so we can get back to saving your asses from climate change, vapid consumption, and the monotony of a species-poor-planet. Our co-workers miss our focus. Maybe you can focus your morality on your personal consumption of the resources god gave you. And I can go back to focusing on how best to conserve them.

SMASH the H8!

Things conservationists do ...

As you know, I'm studying conservation at UCL so I'm around other conservationists and reading and talking about envir issues all the time. Makes it redundant to write about it at times. But here's a short list of things, positive and negative, that people do either in the name of conservation, or despite being a "conservationist". Some of these examples include my own conflicting actions, the rest just offer a composite of all the folks I know. (Apreciate that I'm exploring the "mixed bag" metaphor in all aspects of my life right now, if you can.)

I expect I'll add to this list. Maybe you can help me.

carry a personal spoon!
drink bottled water?
pull invasive plants!
pull rare plants for id purposes?
ride bicycles!
fly in planes to talk about conservation?
grow vegetables!
eat loads of meat?
shop second hand!
have used purchases shipped long distances?

Nov 5, 2008

Focusing on the Sweet Bits

As I anticipated, the election results are a mixed bag. Today I'm trying so hard to focus on the sweet bits, leaving the sour behind for days when I feel like fighting.

A short list of wins from my perspective:
Farm Animal Enclosures in Cali (Prop 2) - Passed (rights gained)
Minor Abortion Rights in Cali (Prop 4) - Failed (rights retained)
High Speed Rail SF to LA - (Prop 1) Passed!
Progressive Sweep in SF Board of Supervisor Elections!
Tom Ammiano goes to the State Assembly
Obama goes to the White House

Mostly proud of SF and the U.S. at large.
Saving my disappointment in Cali for another day. A day soon to come when we all remember that voting is the easiest bit of democracy in the U.S.
For now I'll celebrate.

Nov 4, 2008

More Freecycle and Being in Britain on US Election Day

This morning I snagged a toasty blanket from a local Freecycler, bringing my bed to a state of cozy warmth. Susannah gave me the blanket and some tips on cycling routes through the neighborhood. I like how locals here are actually interested in helping new folks. And many locals are well versed in the neighborhoods because they've actually lived in London their whole lives. Unlike San Francisco, where there's bitter, supremacist tension between SF "natives" and transplants, London has a blend of born and raised Londoners and more recent arrivals. There's less overt competition between the two groups, maybe because London's more liveable for families than SF. What do I know, though? I've been here a short time and have no kids, but the presence of so many families makes me think it's just more feasible to raise a family here than in somewhat barren SF. (More dogs than kids ... though that trend is reversing in 'hoods like Maternal Heights and Stroller Valley).

As a newcomer I see less competition between Londoners and recent arrivals. And less competition between myself and other new arrivals. In SF there's a bit of snobbery around learning the city's ins and outs, like there's some right of passage in figuring out that some burritos are inedible and that huge hills can be avoided when traveling through neighborhoods. Maybe people here just realize that the clouds, cold, rain, crappy food, circuitous streets, and constants car traffic are so oppressive as to drive a recent transplant insane if little pieces of life don't fall together. Maybe London's just older and more accustomed to temporary visitors than a relatively young city like SF. Anyway, London's less snobby than SF on some fronts, though certainly not all (attire, table "manners", and societal hierarchies all gross me out here).

My Freecycle experiences have been great so far. Susannah encouraged me to say hi if we run into each other in the neighborhood. And she didn't let me leave without asking if I had voted today. I loved it. Too funny. People here really do care about our U.S. election, even if they don't want to admit it, and some of them definitely don't. My new Freecycle friend had her fingers crossed for Obama.

I guess I've been so panicked about my own situation here that I've forgotten to write about the election. I'm not huge on our weak democracy and I'm not much of a reformer. But I do vote, and I hope that you do, too. I take whatever means afforded to me to affect change where I can.

With 22 propositions on the SF ballot, 12 on the state ballot, a supervisorial election, and the forgone conclusion of a Pelosi victory, today's election results will be bittersweet for many of us. Maybe farm animals will get better conditions, but maybe we'll write discrimination into our state constitution. Maybe my choice for D11 supervisor (Avalos - then Knox, then Ramos: go IRV) will get elected, but PG$E will crush public power again. Grrrrr, I hate the initiative process. I know to some it seems like democracy at it's finest, but with our relatively tuned out electorate, it's just a huge fundraising clusterfuck. Like most races, the props generally go to the side with the most money for tree-killing propaganda. Did I mention grrrrrrrr?

Last week on the field study, a couple of people got bent out of shape because they missed a football game that took place during a lecture. I kinda feel like I'm missing out on my favorite contact sport, being so far from the action. It's like having to go to bed on Christmas when you're a kid: Will I wake up to lumps of coal (and off-shore oil rigs) or a stocking stuffed with public power, space for farm animals, and my rights intact? Dunno!

Below are pix of my Freecycle finds and the view out my window, in case you're interested.

Nov 2, 2008

Bedding from Freecycle!

Hurray, I got a duvet, duvet cover, and a pillow with case today from a fellow Freecycler less than a mile away. I rode over with my rucksack, shoved the duvet in, and rode away. I'm going to look at some blankets tomorrow as well. My room is super drafty. Actually, it's more like the window doesn't close at that top.

I might start looking for curtains next!

Nov 1, 2008

Before You Buy a New Cellphone, Consider Coltan in the Congo

If you haven't heard about the long, raging war in the Demcratic Republic of Congo, then you probably haven't heard of coltan. Neither makes big news, and with things like the U.S. election overshadowing all other worldwide happenings, it's no wonder that most people have never heard of this mineral.

Coltan is in cellphones and other electronics. The vast majority of the mineral deposits are in the (DR) Congo, where men hammer with bare hands to remove it for our fancy phones. You won't be surprised to hear that they're paid shit for work in deplorable conditions. There's a short video about coltan miners and the way the mineral factors into war and multi-national companies at this link. You might also find Consumer International's reports on coltan helpful. In general, Consumer International is a good place to start if you find yourself pressed to buy something new.