Monthly Archives: May 2014

Rebuilding the Foodshed

Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to create local, sustainable, and secure food systems by Philip Ackerman-Leist (Chelsea Green, 2012).

The author of this book has an unusual combination of perspectives: he is both a college professor and a farmer. That means that his approach to creating locally-based food systems comes from a great deal of practical experience, not just idealistic theory. Ackerman-Leist understands the economics of farming, and the chemicals and energy requirements involved. He devotes a whole chapter to the possibilities of using human excrement as a fertilizer (yes, he went there). He explores the connections between people who lack food security and the organizations that try to help them, such as food banks and soup kitchens. Several times in the book he relates stories about people whose job it is to feed large groups of people (school, hospital and prison food service staff). These organizations, often ignored in sustainability literature, are actually good places to start going local with food supply. This is not the book I was expecting, but it made a lot of excellent points that got me thinking in new ways about our “foodsheds.”

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Filed under Environment, Urban planning

Under the Surface

Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale by Tom Wilbur (Cornell University Press, 2012)

Tom Wilbur was a reporter with the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin when he started reporting about fracking in the Marcellus Shale, and the story turned into a full-length book. Binghamton, New York is a city in southern New York just north of the Pennsylvania border, which you reach if you take I-81 north (as I have done many times) through the Endless Mountains region of northeastern Pennsylvania. I found this book to be very enlightening. Wilbur explains that the Marcellus Shale is a geologic formation underlying the Appalachian Mountains containing a great deal of natural gas. However, retrieving the gas was impossible or unprofitable until very recently, when hydraulic fracturing (fracking for short) began to be employed. Wilbur describes the advent of fracking in northeast Pennsylvania and southern New York from the perspectives of the property owners it affected and the local and state governments who were called upon to regulate it. It is particularly interesting to see how differently the states of New York and Pennsylvania reacted. Wilbur notes that many landowners are thrilled to get the money paid by the gas companies for drilling on their lands, and still feel that the initial problems were insignificant. On the other hand, he points out two major areas of contention between the parties: the secretive and inconsistent manner in which the leases and payments were negotiated, and the environmental issues that resulted in significant loss of property values for some unfortunate landowners. Although I have read of earthquakes being attributed to fracking, that issue was not mentioned by Wilbur. Instead, he focuses on documenting known cases of explosions and methane contamination of ground water, which form an important public record since gas companies often deny that these things occurred.

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Filed under Engineering, Environment

Life Place: Bioregional Thought and Practice

LifePlace: Bioregional Thought and Practice by Robert L. Thayer, Jr. (University of California Press, 2003).

This book is both a memoir of a professor who embraced a new community, and a guidebook for a new way of looking at where you live. You don’t just live in a city or town, you live in a bioregion. Thayer defines a bioregion as “a unique region definable by natural (rather than political) boundaries with a geographic, climatic, hydrological and ecological character capable of supporting unique human and nonhuman living communities.” From Colorado originally, Thayer settled in the Sacramento Valley of northern California as a young professor and raised a family in that bioregion, primarily known for the food that ends up in our grocery stores. Bioregionalism, first named by Allen Van Newkirk in 1975, is a perspective which emphasizes local populations, knowledge, and solutions. “Bioregionalism opposes a globalized, homogeneous economy and consumer culture, preferring consumption of local foods and use of local materials.” In addition to the sustainability angle, bioregional thought and practice also includes understanding the original inhabitants of the place (human and animal) and how they fit into their environment. This can mean embracing local art, poetry and music, and even spiritual practices of native inhabitants. Bioregionalism is better known in the western part of North America, with many adherents in California, the Pacific Northwest, and British Columbia. Thayer is a wonderful guide into a different way of seeing and appreciating your everyday surroundings.

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Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins (Blackstone Audio, 2005)

The title of this book makes it sound like it’s going to be a hilarious romp, with lots of wild and crazy adventures and snarky humor. In fact, Perkins could not be more serious (both about confessing and about being a hit man), yet this is not a dry economics tome, either. It is a memoir of Perkins’ real life as an economic consultant in the many developing countries where American companies operate. It reveals a successful strategy for creating a global capitalist empire so insidious that most of the people who helped make it happen didn’t know they were doing it. Perkins did know, up front; his guilt for what he did eventually made him write this book. The job of an EHM is to convince poor countries to borrow huge amounts of money from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, then give the money to American engineering firms to exploit their natural resources and create modern infrastructure. Just make sure that the countries can never pay the money back, so the “corporatocracy” (a collusion of government, big corporations, and big banks) can continue to control them.
As with all capitalist schemes, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer (often by being forced off their land by big oil or big agriculture), and the environment is destroyed in the process. If the country elects democratic leaders with left-wing ideas (like helping the poor or nationalizing oil companies), the “jackals” are sent in to assassinate the leaders in nasty “accidents” and put right-wing dictators in place. If the jackals don’t succeed, the American armed forces invade and remove the leader who doesn’t want to do the big corporations’ bidding and allow the country to be exploited. This is the true story of the “third” world since World War II, and especially since 1970, which has been hidden from us by the corporate-controlled media – the story of what really happened in places like Indonesia, Panama, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Ecuador. You may not believe me now, but when you have read this book, you will.

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Filed under Engineering, Environment, Social Science

The Vor Game

The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold (Blackstone Audio, 2005)

If you are a science fiction fan, you will enjoy this novel by award-winning author Lois McMaster Bujold. I have read some other titles set in this particular world, which were also good, and reading them in order doesn’t seem to be critical. In this future world, the major galactic empires are controlled by military families. They aren’t evil, but they are focused on gaining political power and commercial control as most empires inevitably are. As the son of the current prime minister of Vor (and personal friend of the young emperor), protagonist Miles Vorkosigan is not your typical recent military academy graduate. He finds his niche in imperial intelligence, as a covert operative who somehow takes control of situations which should be way over his pay grade. My only complaint about this book is that women tend to be relegated to mid-twentieth century type secondary positions, as if this were the Cold War repeated on a galactic level. This is surprising coming from a woman author.

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