Monday, June 30, 2008

What is the ecological cost of air travel and is it worth it?

Part of my family lives nearby. Another part of my family lives in another state, and the rest are scattered all over tarnation. I fly periodically to visit family. One year, I flew almost once a month. I knew that air travel was a heavy contributor to greenhouse gases, but I had a new grandchild four hundred miles away and aging parents six hundred miles the other direction. I chose to spend time with them, and that meant flying.

Because I need to visit my distant relatives regularly, and since it is unlikely I will have big blocks of time to travel by car, bus or train, it is likely I will continue to fly. To help me make decisions about how best to compensate for heavy carbon-emitting activities, I use tools like the carbon footprint calculator to assess my personal contributions to global warming. This page has good tips for reducing my footprint as well, including offsetting my air travel by avoiding cars and taking buses and trains at home, which I have been doing for several years.

Still, when you consider that most climate scientists believe we are very near the irreversible "tipping point" in global warming, air travel may be a dangerous luxury. For the past two years, conscious of the cost in CO2 emissions, I have flown less, but I miss my peeps.

People in the world of Ordinary like to visit distant relatives and friends as well. How should they get there? Are high speed trains the answer? If you nail a track across the landscape for thousands of miles this way and that, what is the cost to habitat? Can you lay the track in such a way as to account for animal needs to traverse the countryside in search of food and water, or perhaps simply to patrol their territory?

In the world of Ordinary, perhaps far less than our world today--where we crowd out wild animals to the point of extinction--trains might be a good solution. More to come on that.

Weigh in on this one, will you please?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Work as pleasure--What is your true Work?

I'm feeling frustrated and discouraged. I have so much research and writing to do--work I crave and love. My body aches when I'm not doing it. Yet some weeks there is so little time even to check e-mail and respond, let alone return to the work of Ordinary. Last week, at my paying job, I worked 47 hours in four days. The fifth day I got to spend with our precious new grandchild and her mama--a joyful respite.

Yesterday was my monthly Saturday to work on the whales website. Five or six years ago I made a pledge in sacred space to build a web site about whales for kids. At that time, I had basic HTML down and felt confident in my ability to build a site, but the web was changing. Websites were becoming more dynamic, with lots of interactive features, and the old, static ways of putting up information simply couldn't compete in this vibrant, new virtual world. I knew I would have to learn how to build a glitzier, bigger website than I had ever dreamed.

For most of those years, I gave at least one Saturday a month to the project, a woefully inadequate amount of time. I don't retain information like I used to, and I found myself constantly training and retraining. No sooner would I learn one way of building a site, than it was obsolete. Soon, I was hopelessly behind. The web evolved a language of its own, and I wasn't learning it.

A few months ago, I found Lorenzi Davide's Dynamic HTML Editor. It claimed to build CSS, PHP, and W3C compliant web sites all in a WYSIWYG editor. Glory be, that's exactly what it does.

For the first time in five years, I feel confident I can finish and maintain the whales website myself. I am ecstatic.

It's going to take a lot of time to finish the writing and and to find enough images in the public domain, maybe five more years if I can only give it a Saturday a month, and I need to hire an attorney to assure I'm getting the legal stuff right, which means finding the money somewhere. The exciting thing today, though, is that the design is down, the basic pages are established, and it's looking fantastic.

In the first paragraph of this post, I confessed to feelings of frustration and discouragement. That's because of the time and energy factors. At sixty, I may not have many years left to research and clarify the vision of Ordinary, to continue to write the story of Rose, Cheyenne, Ruby and their friends in the Village and beyond. Then, working the long hours I do, how will I finish the web site? Once it's up and running, how will I find the time to respond to questions and do the site maintenance? A web site is never really done, you know. It changes constantly, and I've planned a lot of change for this one--keeping it fresh so children and teens who care about whales and want to do something to help them will return again and again.

So I feel discouraged, gearing up for another week at the office. I love my job. My contribution is fun for me and critical to the success of the company, but the truth is I'd rather focus all my energy on these creative projects--Ordinary, the whales website, my Squidoo lenses--so many in the planning and drafting stages!--and another website with a totally different theme, but just as important to building a world more like the Village of Ordinary than this one.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if every person on earth could spend our time doing what we most loved, that our contributions were rightly rewarded, and that we all felt cared for and supported in our work?

I hope you are finding ways to live your dreams and to do work that gives you pleasure and feels like your Work, not simply work-for-paycheck. I welcome your comments and hope you'll take the time to share your thoughts here.

May you all be blessed.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

How Ordinary is flying?

In Journey, Rose, Cheyenne and three friends fly to a wedding far to the north. Their plane is a small jet, with limited passenger seats. Though it's not mentioned in the post, the idea is that villagers rarely fly. When they do, they take a light jet.

Last year, Treehugger posted an article about the DayJet, a concept similar to mine in Journey. Nifty, but it doesn't solve the problem of air travel's excessive contribution to global warming. (I encourage you to take the time to read the discussion in the comments section of the post.)

According to Gristmill, flying is responsible for almost ten percent of the greenhouse gases warming the globe today. So far, no one has found a way to keep us all flying and reduce that statistic.

For now, we can stay home, travel by rail, car or ship, or buy carbon offsets when we fly. None of these is a good solution in our gotta-get-there-now world.

How do you address this problem? Help me find a workable, and quite Ordinary, solution.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Aquaduct--The tricycle that purifies water

It is no accident that Anne Roiphe titled her book Water from the Well: Women of the Bible, nor is it surprising that Duke University Professor of Religion Carole Meyers illustrates her website, Making Biblical Women Visible with an ancient water jug. It has always been women who fetch the water. According to water expert James Workman in Fetching Water, 200 million women spend a good portion of their day every day searching ever farther from home for the water they need to sustain life.

So it is with a great deal of hope that I anticipate the move from prototype to full-scale production of the Aquaduct--a tricyle that purifies water while you pedal. If you took the time to read Workman's Fetching Water story about 39 year old Kgaugelo Morale's struggle to fetch and carry water for her household every single day, you'll understand why this tricycle is so promising as one possible solution for improving quality of life for women and their families all over the world.

For more on the prototype and the problems its designers must solve to make it affordable and useful to women in developing countries, visit their blog, The Aquaduct.

Many have said that the next world war will be fought over water, not oil. As the world's freshwater resources dwindle, technology such as the aquaduct will be more important for all of us--whether we live in developed or developing countries.

May we treasure our water supplies, rather than waste, and may the need for an Aquaduct become less and less ordinary all over the world.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Clocking the human-powered car at 80 mph

Take a look.

"This one goes out to everybody in the whole wide world who burns their cars. Any-kind of gas." Based upon automotive technology with a patented bi-directional power interface and BodySteerTM chassis the FM-4 prototype HumanCarĂ‚® has rocked Seattle, Ashland, Portland and canyon roads at our private test facilities at speeds upwards of 60 mph. It is a supercar. No bike parts are used. Let us know when you are ready to alter your perception.
YouTube vlogger thehumancar

Now that will keep the weight off.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Share a bicycle

In Xianne, Rose, Cheyenne and Ruby, accustomed to day-long hikes, walked twelve miles to neighboring Central Village, but they might have enjoyed a bike trek just as much. Bicycles are the perfect vehicle for a rural, village-centered population.

Imagine a phalanx of well-maintained bicycles available in key locations for any villager to pick up and ride away. Sound far-fetched? From Amsterdam to Austin, cities around the globe are doing just that. Take a look at the Big Apple's fledgling bicycle-share program.

From community isolation problems, to obesity, to air pollution, to war, there are so many problems this country has that can be solved if people would just get out of their cars and ride bikes more.

Probably the first U.S. bike-share program was Portland's Yellow Bike, launched in the early Nineties. From that low-tech trust-and-ride to the high-tech Washington, D.C. program launched in April this year and modeled after the Paris Velib (means bicycle freedom), cities seeking answers to congestion, pollution and high energy costs are jumping on the two-wheeled bandwagon and heading out. To learn more, Google "yellow bike." On YouTube, search on "bicycle sharing."

In the wholistic world of Ordinary, the sound of the bicycle bell is likely to become as common as birdsong. Ching-ching!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

$5 a gallon? Driving less? Share a car, beat the pump

With Zipcar, you always have a car around the corner.

Ever thought about giving up your car completely? Like most families, ours once had a vehicle in the driveway for every driver in the household. Twelve or thirteen years ago, our children and their vehicles long departed, my partner and I realized that one of our cars sat unused for days, sometimes weeks at a time. We decided to give it away. We never missed it.

A few years later, we moved to the city and deliberately chose a neighborhood with excellent public transportation, sold our only remaining vehicle and subscribed to City CarShare. Getting downtown by bus or train takes 15 to 20 minutes with no hassles, no driving around for parking, and no parking garage fees. When we need a car, we reserve one online, walk the few blocks to our local CarShare pod, get in and drive away.

The cars are clean, fueled and well-maintained. Our only responsibility is to return them on time with at least half a tank of gas and as clean as we find them. City CarShare takes care of the insurance, oil changes, tire pressure checks, and pays for all of the gas we use. We pay a low monthly fee, mileage and a set rate for each hour we use a vehicle.

Last weekend we checked out a Prius hybrid overnight and visited our daughter and her family seventy miles away. The weekend before, we checked out a larger vehicle with a fold-down back seat and brought home an eight-foot ficus. Our plans this weekend don't require a personal vehicle. In fact, we may not need a car again for weeks or months.

Interested in finding a car-share service near you? CarSharing Net has a list. Some orgs are non-profit, like City CarShare. Others, like ZipCar are entrepreneurial and for profit. If you don't find a car share in your city, start one, like David Brook did in Portland, Oregon.

Sharing resources is one way we can work together to build Ordinary. What are folks doing in your town?

Next: Bicycle sharing abroad and here at home

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Putt-putt--Sustainable vehicles in the world of Ordinary

In Where I'm going--Short term I listed, in no particular order, some of the foundation issues I've been researching for Village of Ordinary. The second of those is a three-parter: How much do the people of Ordinary rely on vehicles, what kind of vehicles do they use, and how do they power them? One thing for sure: any vehicles in the world of Ordinary must be sustainable.

I'd like some help with this one. Please join the discussion. It's a big subject and one I haven't had much time to research. So far we have seen villagers utilize a truck, a small car and an airplane.

Broad-picture questions to answer:
  1. What types of vehicles do people in the world of Ordinary employ? (e.g., planes, trains, ships, trucks, cars, motorcycles)
  2. How are the vehicles fueled?
  3. Are all vehicles fueled in the same manner?
  4. For what purposes do villagers use vehicles?
  5. What other forms of transportation do they use?
Vehicle musts:
  1. Sustainable, local fuel sources
  2. Non-polluting
  3. Long operating life (no more planned obsolescence!)
  4. Shared
What questions/musts am I missing? You are invited and encouraged to share your thoughts.

Tomorrow: City Car-Share and ZipCar, two options for urbanites who need a car occasionally.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Matt and Jessica Flannery--Changing lives one loan at a time

Mrs. Regina Odije is a 56-year-old woman with six children. She trades in food items. She lives in an urban area of Benin City in Edo State of Nigeria.

Jessica Flannery phoned home. A bride working in Africa, half a world from her husband in San Francisco, Jessica couldn't wait to tell Matt what she had learned about the way tiny loans from the Village Enterprise Fund, were changing lives. Loans of as little as $100 helped villagers start and build businesses. They were growing oranges, making baskets, forging recycled metal into farm tools. They drew on centuries of tradition, promoting ancient customs and crafts, while providing a better standard of living for themselves, their families and quite often their communities.

Matt joined Jessica for the last two weeks of her work in Africa, and soon found he was as passionate as she to find a way to match micro-lenders to entrepreneurs. Together they built Kiva, an online community of people like you and me who loan money directly to small business owners in developing countries. Read their story.
(Images courtesy Kiva.)

Learn how you can help someone turn a profit and put food on the table with a $25 loan. You pick the entrepreneur. You decide how much of their loan request you want to fund. Don't worry. Plenty of other people are filling in the gaps--at least two people loaned their tax stimulus checks to Kiva. Take a few minutes to learn how the system works, how Kiva helps you assess the risks and due diligence, and some fun facts.

Then come back and tell us all what you think about this project, helping people help themselves to a more Ordinary lifestyle.

Note: This is the third and last in our series responding to Anonymous' request for examples of people in her hometown of San Francisco who are making the world a little bit more Ordinary.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Mimi Silbert and the bottom two percent

One of the most hope-inspiring organizations is the Delancey Street Foundation. It is run by Mimi Silbert, President and CEO, who is the second person featured in our three-part series of Ordinary San Francisco people. (Recall that at last post, we were looking at the first of three people in response to a comment by Anonymous, who asked for examples of individuals making a difference in her home town.)

To get a feel for the work--and miracles--of Delancey Street, watch this video. You'll be as amazed and inspired as I am.

If you have more time, watch this longer Discovery Channel video and get an in-depth look at Mimi Silbert's lifework, but more importantly, understand what her work means to the people whom she and Delancey Street serve. Learn how they do more than turn their lives around. Learn how they gain an understanding of what they've cost society. Learn especially, how they choose to give back.

There's not much more ordinary than that.