Communitas

Blabbings about family, community, sustainability and life from Frederick, MD.

Bad News Tuesday June 19, 2007

Filed under: Children,co-housing,Community,devolution,Environment,Sprawl,transit — tobymurdock @ 4:54 pm

Some bummers today in the Washington Post.

First, all of the moron energy convened in Fairfax County yesterday as they decided definitively to have the Metro line in Tyson’s Corner to run above ground.  To the defense of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, I think they would have all preferred a tunnel, but complexities regarding federal-state-local government dynamics (oh, how we need devolution!) prevented it. The end result is that hideous, pedestrian-repellent, ugly, post-modern, unlivable abomination that is Tyson’s today will remain . . . a hideous, pedestrian-repellent, ugly, post-modern, unlivable abomination. It is obvious: the contrasting results of the Orange line in Arlington County (below ground) and Fairfax County (above) is a famous case study.

Anyhow, there is another article in the Post about how the current generation of kids spends so much time indoors that they have no connection with Nature.  Oh Jesus. What could be worse. There’s much one could say here about the need for conservation, open space. That’s the obvious part.

But the more subtle and interesting part is on the parenting side. First is the need to have kids’ lives not so scheduled so that they have the time to experience Nature in an unstructured, spontaneous way (how pathetic to even have to describe it that way). More challenging is the need to have the courage to allow kids to roam about–the neighborhood and in Nature–in an unsupervised way. This takes faith in your kids, instruction, and the development of neighborhoods where everyone is keeping an eye on everyone’s kids: something that is becoming a relic (oh, how we need co-housing!). But it is the only way that kids can get out of their programmed, indoor existence and have a relationship with Nature: remembering that “Nature” is not some other category of life, but rather that it IS life, it is everything we come from, live on, and return to.

Alas.

Photo on Flickr from zuki12

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Kid Camping May 25, 2007

Filed under: Children,Environment,family,frederick,Friends — tobymurdock @ 6:04 pm

On Mother’s Day weekend a number of other dads and I took all of our kids camping in a shelter on the Appalachian Trail in Frederick County.

It was great to be able to get the kids in the outdoors. And great to be able to do so so close to home.

And great, of course, to hang out by the fire after the kids went to bed.

Though it was a long night and a bleary morning.

 

The Book of Our Future April 20, 2007

Deep Economy, Bill McKibben’s new book, does the best job of laying out the social and environmental ills of our day and the path to fixing them. Put another way, it is hard to think of a more important book.

“Social and environmental ills” is a poor phrase. The word “Environment” is often thrown around in the context of political issues, like “Transportation” or “Education.” We’ve become so abstracted from our natural existence that “the Environment” seems to sit appropriately lined up side by side those other “issues.”

However we distance ourselves from it, the reality remains that we are creatures living on a planet, depending upon that planet and one another for our existence. And in that context, the environment and our society is EVERYTHING: it is our lives themselves and the existence of our species and fellow living creatures. And it is at that profound level that McKibben looks at our ills.

McKibben begins by explaining how for all of human existence, MORE has always meant BETTER. More warmth, more shelter, more nourishment, more resources always rightly meant a better life. Humans used their minds to generate MORE, and certain principles of economy, efficiency and capitalism became the best ways to organize and operate to produce MORE.

The invention of the steam engine in 1712, the first industrial use of fossil fuels, marked a profound change in humanity’s ability to produce MORE. The solar energy of eons, stored in fossil fuels, was unlocked for human use.

After three centuries of fossil fuel use, however, things have changed–at least for the industrialized world. For the first time MORE does not necessarily mean BETTER. In fact, no only do we have more than ENOUGH, but MORE is more and more yielding WORSE. Specifically MORE is:

  1. generating more social inequity
  2. destroying our planet and our existence upon it. Global warming is the attention-grabber here, but it goes beyond that. Modernity’s use of fossil fuels and other natural resources is simply unsustainable.
  3. breaking the bonds between one another, hollowing our communities and our humanity. Interdependence is a good thing, and we’ve lost it.

The problem is that the correlation of MORE to BETTER is so deeply ingrained in our collective psyche is it unfathomable to break the connection. So we go on, building houses that are TOO big and TOO far apart, driving our cars TOO much, working TOO much, eating TOO much food that is TOO processed, living in TOO mobile, TOO global of a economy and society. I’ve read many books on the destruction of the environment or on the dearth of community in our day, but I’ve never before read a book that ties the two together so eloquently, tracing it all to the excesses of fossil fuels and the pursuit of MORE.

McKibben of course recognizes that capitalism and democracy are the best ways to organize society. In fact, many detractors, hoping to see McKibben as some freakish communist, would be surprised to know McKibben to be a Sunday school teacher (liberalism and Christianity can co-exist; they can even thrive–consider the radical Christ was in his day). The solution that he proposes is “localism” — living in smaller communities, within regional economies, in a life that is somehow a little less competitive and a lot less fossil fuel dependent.

While some Vermont antecdotes paint a nice picture of what localism might look like, how this occurs exactly is a question he does not fully answer–he never gets much beyond the construct of a farmer’s market. It makes me think of latter 20th century Latin American economies that tried to become “localized,” to stay capitalist but be entirely self-sufficient with huge tariffs. That was a huge flop. To turn your back to global competition seems like a bad idea.

So figuring out this balancing act–reducing the scope of our economy, the scope of our lives to something more human in scale, while recognizing that competition and openness are the best drivers of beneficial cooperation in our society–is a question left unanswered. It will continue to be pondered here.

An easy answer is peak oil. The global economy can only function because of cheap, abundant energy. If the supply of fossil fuels tightens and the the prices rises dramatically, getting our TV’s from China (that contains parts shipped in from Holland, Brazil and Indonesia; built by workers fed on food from the U.S., Canada and Russia) no longer works that well. Localism would be forced upon us.

But such a calamity is not to be wished upon the world. Instead of a shock, let’s hope such a transition happens gradually over a long period of time. But while the delay would prevent economic disaster, our souls and environment will continue to rot. Somehow we all need to see the benefits of a more localized society and voluntarily move toward it.

Reading Deep Economy would be a good start. I hope you do it.

 

Red Line to Frederick February 2, 2007

Filed under: Environment,frederick,Sprawl,transit — tobymurdock @ 2:51 am

 

There was an article in the News-Post today about getting the Red Line extended to Frederick. That would be awesome. We need to get our Frederick leadership more focused on this.

 

mason & ruralism November 20, 2006

Filed under: Environment,Friends — tobymurdock @ 8:49 pm

mason–

all right! way to post!

i like what you have to say here. i do think that we are indeed to distanced from nature and need to get closer to it.

then the specific issue you mention on fox hunting in england? to me, that is a rather small point in the big issue of man and nature. as long as foxes aren’t endangered, i have no problem with fox hunting, especially since it is done with dogs instead of guns.

i think the bigger issue there is probably the people of england giving a big “fuck you” to the lingering artistocratic class, no?

anyhow, i like the post. let’s keep the nature stuff going!

 

A Great Day for Frederick November 8, 2006

Filed under: Community,Environment,frederick,Sprawl — tobymurdock @ 2:20 pm

Today 4 smart growth candidates won seats in the 5-member Frederick County Commission. This pushed out a developer-funded majority, and will reverse a trend in the county of out-of-control development. A wonderful day!

One of the victors, Kai Hagen, a friend of mine, took the picture above of Chimney Rock on Catoctin Mountain in Frederick County. Our county is a wonderful place and was in danger of losing its beauty and special way of life. This victory reverses that.

I’ve been very involved in the campaign for over a year. It has been a great experience fo me to be so closely involved: the volunteering is enjoyable and the connection makes the victory all the sweeter. I spent yesterday morning and evening electioneering at the polls. A wonderful thing about local politics are their accessibility. You can so readily get involved and be a part of it. In addition to Kai I’ve gotten to know Jan Gardner and David Gray, two other winners, as well. It will be great to have that personal relationship with them as they now go forward on a majority-controlled board.

My wife thoughts this morning that the day was very affirming for one’s faith in our democracy. Indeed it was.

And it will make for many more great days over the next four years, as this wonerful place, Frederick County, remains beautiful and special, and becomes only more so!

 

Solar at Home Depot October 24, 2006

Filed under: energy,Environment,frederick — tobymurdock @ 7:25 pm

You can now get solar panels at Home Depot. Maybe this is a good sign of things to come?

The product is a partnership with BP Solar, which is based in Frederick.