For Food Security

Day Five: For Food Security

I feel more conflicted about this one than I have about my previous gratitude topics. Not that food security is not a marvelous blessing–it truly is, in every sense of the word. 

But I’m aware that all around me–in my community, across my nation, and around the world, there are many, many people who do not share this blessing.

To express public gratitude for it, in the knowledge of such widespread lack, almost feels like gloating. That’s not my intention at all. If I could, I’d extend this blessing to everyone in the world, so that no one anywhere has to go to bed hungry, or wonder where their next meal will come from.

Here in the USA, today is Thanksgiving. Everyone in the country is presumed to be eating their fill, then waddling into the next room to zone out in a “food coma” while watching American football games. However, despite the best efforts of community charities, not everyone will be able to do that. Statesman Jacques Diouf put it well:

Everyone alive should be acknowledged to have a basic human right to adequate, nutritious food. That this is ignored, pushed aside as inconvenient, left to the vaguaries of climate change, governmental style or unregulated capitalism, or even actively subverted so hunger can be used as a weapon is inexcusable. Yes, people have been doing it for millennia; it’s a crime against humanity every single time, in my opinion.

How can persons of conscience work to fight food insecurity? Acknowledging that we who can eat well are blessed, we can make charitable donations on both the local (link to find US agencies) and international (this link: UN) level to help fill immediate shortfalls.

But we also must advocate for longer-range goals: 

Creating systemic improvement is a large, difficult goal, fraught with practical difficulties, cultural pitfalls, and unintended results. It also is desperately necessary, as long as people anywhere are hungry.

Creating changes in public opinion is a way to begin. Funding empirical studies by unbiased researchers is a reasonable step forward. Involving all involved parties in design of solutions is a reasonable, respectful necessity that is likeliest to result in the best solutions. Many initiatives have already begun. We all must work together to bring the best ones to fruition.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. If for some reason You’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post. The “Food security definition” quote by Pattie Baker is from Quozio, via Pinterest; her book Food for My Daughters is available from Amazon Smile and other fine booksellers. The Jacques Diouf quote is identified as sourced from Live58, though I couldn’t find it on their site; I did find it on the website for GRIID (the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy). The quote from Ray Offenheiser of Oxfam America is courtesy of The Huffington Post, via Pinterest. Many thanks to all!

Days of the Dead: Remembering the victims of human-made disasters

What can we do?

Sometimes we tend to look at the state of the world today, and say, “I’m just one person. What can I possibly do that makes any difference?” In yesterday’s All Saints Day post, I invited a pause to remember the amazing and valuable people who have perished in natural disasters this year–then to think about our own best response to those who are left behind. But not all disasters come in the form of storms, fires or earthquakes.

Do you think of all terrorism as local? In every case, it’s local to somebody–and wherever such attacks occur, they’re flat wrong. Here, some of my brothers and sisters in Christ (who happen to live in Egypt) were the target. But no community in any country of the world is invulnerable, and terrorism is always wrong, no matter who does it or why.

On this All Souls Day, it would do the world good to remember that too many disasters–this year and every year–are created by humans. And those human-made disasters routinely kill people and destroy lives in vast numbers.

In response to those, our wisest reaction is very much not to throw up our hands and ask, “What can anybody do?” Our clear call to action in those cases is to sit up, take notice, and ask “What can I do to help?” Because if we are not part of the solution to human-made disasters . . . well, you know how that one ends.

The headlines are full of the opiod epidemic sweeping the world right now–talk about a human-made disaster!–but addictions to alcoholgambling, and many other things abound, while understanding (and appropriate compassion for victims) lags seriously behind.

Terrorismaddictiongun violencehuman traffickinghomicidesdomestic violencesexual harassment and assaulttraffic accidentspollution and environmental degradationcoarsening civil discourse, and the determined efforts of many lawmakers to dismantle social safety nets and leave the poor, the elderly, the disabled and children vulnerable . . . no single human can tackle everything

But every single human can take on something

Just one of myriad examples of environmental degradation: cleanup after an oil spill in Nigeria.

What issues pull at you most strongly? Do you thirst for justice, despite living a class-stratified, discriminatory culture where too many nonviolent offenders are locked up for too long, while all too many better-funded violent offenders seem invulnerable?

Is your passion a yearning for greater kindness and civility in our communities? Compassion for the vulnerable at the hands of oppression? Are you worried over the degrading quality of our natural environment?

Each of those causes has an active community of people working to counteract it. I urge you to find one that suits your personality and concerns, then get involved.

You may not be able to solve the problem single-handedly, but you owe it to yourself and your world to do what you can. As long as we have life, that is the job of every moral being.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Casa Bonampak, for the Days of the Dead Papel Picado banner at the top (handy place to buy them); to NewsInfo on Inquirer.net for the photo of the Egyptian church aftermath; to CBC News for the photo of paramedics working on an overdose victim (and a story about how one paramedic copes with his job); to InvestorKing, for the oil spill photo and accompanying article about environmental degradation in Nigeria by oil companies; and to Pinterest for the quote image.

Days of the Dead: Remembering victims of natural disasters

It’s important to remember

This has been a rough year, all over the world. Recent posts in this space have focused on natural disasters in North America, but throughout the world, the lives of everyone who died this year because of natural disasters should matter.

Here is an updated listing of wildfires all over the world in 2017, along with the scope of their devastation, lest we forget.

I will argue that some natural disasters–such as increasingly violent storms driven by rising global temperatures, and wildfires in drought-parched regions–may have been exacerbated by human irresponsibility. But it’s also important to note that humans really don’t control everything. The only thing each of us can truly control is ourselves.

A review of the statistics for Hurricanes HarveyIrma, and Maria is sobering.

Storms, fires, and earthquakes have gone on since the earth began, and they’ll continue till the end. How do we respond to them? While we mourn the dead, how are we responding to those they left behind? That’s an open question until we answer it.

The devastation wrought by the Central Mexican earthquake of 2017 was not limited to Mexico City.

Do we respond with empathy and love? With generosity and support? With creativity and energyEach of us gets to answer that one on our own.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Casa Bonampak, for the Days of the Dead Papel Picado banner at the top (handy place to buy them),  to Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images and CNBC for the photo of the burned-out neighborhood in northern California, to The Daily Wire and Twitter for the photo of a drowned neighborhood in Puerto Rico, and to The Wall Street Journal and Getty Images for the photo from Mexico City in September 2017. Finally, I am grateful to Inspired to Reality for the image and quote.

Seizing the day in Puerto Rico

Puerto Ricans (and residents of other devastated neighboring islands, as well) need everything–RIGHT NOW. There’s no question about that. Lives are at stake.

Certainly looks like a tornado hit: downed power lines in Humacao, PR — photo by Carlos Giusti/AP and CNN

But while FEMA and the Puerto Rican government are leasing power generators and shipping in enormous planes full of food, water, and medicine, I hope the people who will be rebuilding Puerto Rico keep their eyes on the future.

Loading up for Puerto Rico: an industrial size generator. They’ll need a bunch of them! Power is the most critical need.

I’m from Kansas, so when I heard a meteorologist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (who should know what he’s talking about) say of Hurricane Maria, “It was as if a 50- to 60-mile-wide tornado raged across Puerto Rico, like a buzz saw,” I could relate. We Kansans understand about tornadoes.

Hurricane Maria over Puerto Rico (see outline) — image by Joshua Stevens and NASA Earth Observatory, via Vox

One of the things I keep hearing is how antiquated the power grid and other infrastructure on the island are. This stems in large part from the crushing debt crisis that has been plaguing the island’s economy for years, a situation that’s a haunting echo of the history of not-too-far-away Haiti’s economic woes. How did that develop? I like John Oliver’s explanation (note: this video is 21 minutes long, but in my opinion worth the time to watch).

It’s a pretty massive mess, and a disaster on top of it all isn’t helping in the least. But I’m oriented toward thinking about finding opportunities for positive change, even in the worst disaster. The “tornado” comparison led me to wonder if the island could take a page from Greensburg, Kansas’ recovery playbook.

Not Puerto Rico: this is Greensburg, KS, in May, 2007 — Photo by Mike Theiss of UltimateChase.com

No, I’m not suggesting that the “green revolution” that seems to be working moderately well for a small Kansas town of 771 residents could be directly scaled up for a tropical island with a population of 3.4 million! Different climate, different terrain, much larger population–this is definitely not a “one size ought to fit all” suggestion.

All the government buildings over 4,000 sq. ft. in Greensburg today are built to LEED-Platinum standards — Photo by Fred Hunt/New York Times, via SaveOnEnergy.com

But the residents of Greensburg took a direct hit from an EF5 tornado. Those who survived emerged into a landscape of utter devastation. With pretty much nothing left standing except shattered trees and mounds of rubble, they were going to have to either rebuild brand new, or leave.

I have a sense that, on a hugely more massive scale, Puerto Rico is facing a similar scenarioGreensburg lost half its population after the tornado. Puerto Rico’s debt situation had already started that trend, and, like Hurricane Katrina before it, I imagine Puerto Rico will see some migration that becomes permanent after Maria. But the survivors who stayed in Greensburg, KS decided to build for the future.

There’s already some movement in that direction, in Puerto Rico. In the footsteps of solar panel user Eddie Ramirez, the Casa Sol B&B operator in old San Juan profiled above, there are indications that the solar industry might be interested in participating in a transformation of Puerto Rico’s power resources. Certainly if Elon Musk gets involved, some perspectives should change.

If ever a power grid was ready for a fundamental transformation, Puerto Rico’s is! –Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images, via Vox.

I hope they do install many more solar capabilities–but I also hope they don’t stop with only solar power. True resiliency lies in diversity. It seems possible that wind power (maybe not during hurricanes) and perhaps tidal power generation (after all, Puerto Rico is surrounded by ocean) also might be renewable contributions to Puerto Rico’s energy resources.

Example of a wind farm. This one’s located near the Danish city of Grenå.
An artist’s rendering of a tidal fence to harvest tidal energy, based on a design by Energy BC, of British Columbia, Canada.

Building codes should be designed with hurricanes in mind, mandating (and possibly partially subsidizing) more wind-durable homes and similar structuresas well as household and community-level preparedness planning for the next “big one.” I hope to discuss hurricane preparedness more in a future post.

IMAGES: Many thanks to CNN and Carlos Guisti of the AP, for the photo of downed power lines; to Diesel Service and Supply, for the photo of the Puerto-Rico-bound generator on the big rig; to Vox, the NASA Earth Observatory, and Joshua Stevens for the satellite photo of Hurricane Maria; to Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and YouTube for the rather long video about Puerto Rican debt; to Mike Theiss and UltimateChase.com for the photo from Greensburg in 2007; to Fred Hunt/New York Times via SaveOnEnergy.com, for the more recent photo from Greensburg; to YouTube and NBC Nightly News for the video on the power crisis in Puerto Rico; to photographer Mario Tama of Getty Images, via Vox, for the daunting image of the downed power lines in Utuado, PR; to Siemens, for the photo of the Danish wind farm; to Energy BC of British Columbia, for the artist’s rendering of the tidal fence; and to Deltec, for the diagram of the hurricane-resistant house.

Is there a way not to burn? Looking beyond individual solutions

California is still burning, as I write this. Last week’s middle-of-the-week post, inspired by the wildfires in the Western USA, was focused on ways that individual property-owners can mitigate their fire risk.

Santa Rosa, CA, Oct. 9, 2017: Photo by Gabrielle Lurie/San Francisco Chronicle/Polaris via ABC News.

But individuals are not always able to control their surroundings completely enough to take all those steps. Where are your 30- and 100-foot “zones of defensibility” when you live in an apartment building like the one in the photo above, or a densely-spaced neighborhood like the one in the photo below?

With apologies, I grabbed a screen-capture because I wanted to show the contrast in what had originally been published as an interactive graphic from ABC News. To see the original, please go to the article.  Keep scrolling!

Remember, the residents of this community sought out housing they could afford, in an attractive neighborhood that had been safe for years. Here is a mind-blowing, in-depth report by ABC’s Matt Guttman. He talks about the speed with which the fires advanced. He also gives some background on the neighborhood and the people who lived there.

ABC Breaking News | Latest News Videos

With a lovely climate and access to natural beauty all around, it was a desirable place to live, work, and retire. No one expected a wildfire to come through and make it a deathtrap.

But the wildfire did come, and when it did not everyone got out in time, despite  heroic efforts by first responders. Lots of things went wrong (Murphy’s Law strikes again), including with the alert systems.

Community planning is more important than we may think, in all kinds of ways–but disaster preparedness and mitigation is definitely one of them that I hope will get more attention as our environment grows more hazardous in this age of climate change.

Some of the principles I touched on in last week’s post can be scaled up to the community: not only the idea of zones of defensibility noted above, but also concepts such as the fire danger of developments on a slope, and community building codes.

Other considerations include ensuring that fire equipment can get to burning buildings, whether permeable paving designed to mitigate runoff can stand up to the weight of fire equipment, and many more. Sometimes even seemingly offbeat solutions can work really well, too. Consider wildfire mitigation via goat-power:

Simply not developing some areas because of their increased risk (see slopes, above), or to use as “fuel breaks requires community planners with the fortitude to stand up to the determined efforts of short-sighted, quick-money interests. Their offers can seem very attractive . . . until the disaster happens. Cool heads and long-term planning are going to matter more and more.

IMAGES: Many thanks to ABC News for the still photos from Santa Rosa, and also for the moving report by Matt Guttman from there. The still photo of the wildfire threatening houses is from Anchorage, Alaska’s web page about community planning for wildfire mitigation, and the goat video is courtesy of YouTube and Denver 7 “The Denver Channel” (ABC again!). Many thanks to all!

This week it’s wildfires–is there a way not to burn?

There must be few more horrifying things than to watch a wildfire come sweeping down a canyon straight toward you and your home. Yet it’s more and more likely all over the world, thanks to global climate change.

That horror is alive and on the march in California this week, both in the wine country of the northern part, and in the Anaheim Hills near Los Angeles. Not so very long ago Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho were dealing with a similar disaster.

Each time the flames go up, we see these horrifying videos, and our hearts go out to the victims. But if you live in a fire-prone area (technically, that is, if you live anywhere, since fires can burn anywhere! But especially in mountainous forests or drought-stricken plains), is there anything you can do to beat back the risks, before you have to beat back actual flames?

Even if your home has a complex roof (multiple surfaces and places where debris may accumulate), keeping burnable debris cleared off can reduce your fire vulnerability.

As it happens–although nothing is foolproof–there are several things that home- and business-owners can do, to make their property less “burnable.” The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) has published guidelines that lay out several strategies to help you fight the fires before they come.

Some strategies require thinking WAY ahead–as in, when you’re planning to build in the first placeChoosing your site is one important thing: building on hilltops or at the top of a steep slope with combustible vegetation downslope is like putting your house at the top of the chimney.

The University of California-Berkeley has created an online Builders Wildfire Mitigation Guide with lots of specific strategies builders can employ, to lessen the vulnerability of buildings to fire.

Flying embers can ignite an otherwise-fire-resistant building if they get inside unprotected vents.

Building for fire-mitigation includes things such as using less-burnable materialsdesigning to avoid collection-points for burnable debris, using vent designs that protect agains flying embers, and employing things such as intumescent coatings, that swell when exposed to fire-condition temperatures to block air flow, insulate against temperature buildup, and/or retard fire access to vulnerable areas.

Fire-rated rolling window shutters don’t have to be ugly. These also offer increased security against burglaries.

Some retrofits also are possible. Flat, tempered-glass skylights resist fire better than domed plastic-glass ones. Fire-resistant shutters can help defend windows that otherwise might blow out under high-heat conditions. Re-shingling or re-siding in more fire-resistant materials is also a smart move.

Debris and brush beside a house: recipe for fire disaster.

But sometimes all it takes are awareness and taking common-sense precautions. How many times have you seen junk or debris piled up around someone’s house, or bushes growing so close they brush the siding? Imagine a fire catching there. How quickly would the house go up?

Sadly, these gorgeous foundation plantings are within the 5-foot area of IBHS’s Zone One. The “before” picture, while less beautiful, was safer from a fire-mitigation point of view! But there are compromises that can still yield a beautiful yard.

Most wildfire safety guides recommend you think of the area around your building in “zones.” IBHS defines Zone One as the first five feet out from your building. IBHS recommends you should have fewer combustibles in that zone. Thus, be careful of too much brush or vegetation in that zone, as well as fences, decks, etc. that are made of combustible materialsMany other guides combine IBHS’s Zones One and Two into a single, 30-ft. Zone One, while still emphasizing the “defensibility” idea.

This diagram clearly shows a nice collection of really smart fire-mitigation ideas.

Especially in ecosystems that have evolved to adapt for fire, many guides recommend planting native species, which are better fire-adapted, especially within your first 30-foot perimeter. Another common-sense precaution is avoiding “fire ladders,” that is, bushes or shrubs under taller trees, that can offer more fuel for fires. Clearing brush and dry materials is not only fire-smart, but it can improve “curb appeal.” Spacing trees and bushes farther apart allows them room to grow, and keeps fire from leaping from one to another.

Burning bushes underneath can doom trees that might otherwise survive.

We can never completely fireproof our homes, and some fires can’t be stopped in time. But wouldn’t we all love to be the “oasis of green” in the charred landscape if the worst happens, and a wildfire comes through? It’s actually possible!

No, it’s not photoshopped. Thinking in terms of defensible space really does save homes and lives.

IMAGES: Many thanks to CBS News for the video about mid-October, 2017 fires in California. I also appreciate the “Fire-Safe Marin” website’s article on roof issues for the photo of the complex roof with burnable debris; Australia’s Parks and Wildlife Service for the diagram of fire behavior on a slope, and the Indiegogo page for Ember Deflector vents, for the photo of embers flying around a gable vent. I am grateful to the Trident roller shutters page, for the photo of the green shutters by the patio; to the Firedawgs brush removal page for the photo of boards and dead bushes by a house; to Houzz website for the photo of the foundation planting; and to Tractor Supply Company’s detailed graphic showing fire defensibility zones around a house. Many thanks to World Atlas for the photo of bushes burning underneath trees, to illustrate “fire laddering,” and to the Ross Valley Fire Department’s excellent article on defensible space, for the “miracle” photo of the unburned home.

We ALL live in a potential disaster zone–but we’re not helpless

Which Disaster Zone do you prefer?

That was the question my Beloved asked, not long after Hurricane Maria finished doing the job on Puerto Rico that Irma had left half-finished, and the central Mexico earthquake had leveled significant portions of the region.

His question caught his co-workers by surprise, but–if you think about it–none of us really should be surprised. So, then, what’s your answer? Where would you rather live?

You could live in a tropical paradise like Barbuda or Puerto Rico, where a hurricane can level your entire island in a few harrowing hours, or where rising sea levels threaten to swamp your home, your livelihood, and your most beloved scenic areas.

Photo of El Capitan rock slide by climber Peter Zabrock.

You could live in a mountainous region with breathtakingly gorgeous peaks, cliff faces that shear off without warning, enormous swaths of drought-parched forests that one careless cigarette butt or lightning-strike can ignite into an inferno that changes the weather and denudes stabilizing plant growth so you get buried in mudslides the next time it rains real hard. (The video that follows is from fires in 2015 but it’s representative.)

You could live in an earthquake zone, where grandfathered-in or shoddily-constructed buildings (or buildings on unstable ground) could collapse on you in seconds, and destroyed infrastructure may very well leave you with no water, no powerimpassable roadsand leaking natural gas.

For more amazing before-and-after Mexico City photos from The New York Times please click the link for the entire article.

You could live within range of a volcano that could turn your neighborhood into a “lunar landscape” of ash and death. I’m looking at you, Ring of Fire–but don’t smirk too hard, Plains States: do you know what lies beneath Yellowstone National Park?

Lava trees–actually the places where trees once stood–after a Hawaiian volcanic eruption.

You could live, as I do, in “Tornado Alley,” where extremes of weather created by our position in the middle of a large continent spawn violent storms during much of the year, and extremes of politics create danger from poorly-regulated toxic materials (think about Picher, OK, or Times Beach, MO), and many other insidious hazards (unfortunately, the NAACP’s travel advisory on Missouri seems all too reasonable, to this Missouri native). To be fair, though, none of the US is all that safe from racismgun violencepollution, and crumbling infrastructure.

An abandoned home in Times Beach, MO.

We can’t do much about some of the risks and hazards that surround us every day–but there are other things we can do, from building wisely for the kinds of environmental hazards our area faces (more on that in future posts) to speaking out and working for a cleaner, safer world where every person, no matter how troubled or disadvantaged, is seen as a being of infinite worth.

IMAGES: Many thanks to The Washington Post, for the video of Utuado, Puerto Rico’s situation after Hurricane Maria. I deeply appreciate climber Peter Zabrock’s photo (via the Associated Press) and The San Francisco Chronicle for the vision of the rockslide on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, and CBS This Morning for the video of the 2015 fires in the San Bernardino area of California. The  amazing before-and-after photos from Mexico city, published by The New York Timesare part of a larger article, featuring many more photos. Many thanks to Amusing Planet’s article, “The Lava Trees of Hawaii,” for the arresting post-eruption image of what used to be a forest. The photo of a ruin in Times Beach, MO, is from a Danish Pinterest board, “Udforsk disse idéer og meget mere!” (Explore these ideas and more).