Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Jubilee Part 3

Jo Hunter Adams

Happy New Year!

I commented yesterday that Zimbabwe and South Africa both offer a lot of insights on redistribution and jubilee. But I had a complete block talking about these, because I strongly believe in redistribution but am completely at a loss on how good redistribution-- redistribution that increases dignity and justice-- could be realized at a governmental level. Although I know some at a personal level when it comes to South Africa and Zim, I actually can't speak to redistribution in really concrete ways, which I think is important.

So I'm going to cop out and say I don't know. I don't think it's enough for us to make individual choices (though that's essential) that involve personal redistribution, but I don't know how we create and sustain governments whose goal is redistribution. At least not in truly unequal societies. I welcome thoughts, insights etc. and in the meantime, I'll be trying out those individual choices...

Jubilee, Part 2

Jo Hunter Adams

This blog seems to be all about thinking out loud. Bear with me as I stay fairly abstract for one more post.

When it comes to distribution and redistribution, the Bible seems to say something very similar to what a lot of post-colonial thinkers say. So I think what's shocking is not the idea of redistribution itself, but that countries with a large Christian population can (and should?) be far more sold on it than they are. It's not just a communist idea, and it's definitely not an idea that needs to be feared and avoided in churches.

The language of Human Rights came in large part after the International Declaration of Human Rights after World War II. Human rights links closely with human dignity. We get a glimpse of the consequences of inequality when we read the great colonial and post-colonial writers (Cesaire, Fanon), and perhaps even when we read Marx. But it's harder to find examples of equality and keeping people in community. Even the example of jubilee in ancient Israel is pretty limited.

But one way that it is helpful is in showing us exactly how bad multi-generational inequality must be, for God had a plan in place to avoid this kind of exclusion.

I think Zimbabwe and South Africa both show, in different ways, how difficult redistribution can be after many generations. In the twenty-first century, participating in society doesn't just take a plot of land; it takes land, education and money. If we try to think about jubilee today, that's what we have to be thinking about.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Jubilee

Jo Hunter Adams

As 2008 comes to a close, I’ve been thinking about the Biblical concept of jubilee (Leviticus 15 & 25). It may be a useful idea to think about, even if you're not someone who looks to the Bible for guidance. This year I've had the opportunity to think with cool, thoughtful people about economic justice in relation to the Bible, and in a lot of ways it was a first for me. On top of that, I got my first proper job, and inevitably having a steady income tests a lot of assumptions about money. The idea of jubilee keeps resonating strongly with me, so I wanted to talk about it a little more.

Considering jubilee lived out in today's world is difficult. Jubilee calls for the redistribution of land every 50 years, for slaves to be set free and elsewhere in Leviticus there is the call for all widows and orphans to be provided for via government. What's interesting here is that it definitely seemed as though a leadership was in charge of carrying out the redistribution. So it's more than generosity and philanthropy; it's not something that we can do as a family unit, or even in community as church (though there's plenty we can do there too).

This redistribution did not mean there was no private property, nor that people deserved total inequality. The reason God wanted jubilee seemed to be based on:
1) The inherent dignity of every person.
2) Acting on the dignity of every individual was ultimately better for society.
3) To remind people that what they owned was ultimately God's provision for them.
Jubilee seemed to be God’s plan B because people’s imperfections—disease, injustice, irresponsibility or greed--lead to inequality. I would like to think that Jubilee was meant to prevent systemic inequality. There's a sense here that people were not supposed to go through several generations of scarcity.

Why? I think that equality is necessary to keep people in community. People who feel different may struggle to be in community with one another (just think of how hard it is to reach out to someone you consider poor). This struggle would surely be compounded over decades of scarcity. Individuals whose land had been returned to them could have the dignity of welcoming people into their homes. Perhaps they could be part of decision making in their community, or just be empowered to make their own decisions.

In the New Testament-- where it's not just the Jewish people anymore, and there's plenty of disempowerment-- there seems to more than equality driving our relationships with one another; people who follow Jesus' can relate on the basis of that commonality. However, there's plenty of danger in focusing only on that commonality and forgetting that material equality is important, has always been important.

There are two dimensions of jubilee today. At one level there is relative wealth that signifies dignity and decision-making power. So, the poor in the United States may be wealthy by global standards, but not have the power they need to participate on equal footing in community. In contrast, someone may be equal to their peers in poor countries, but their basic human dignity is not respected or lived out. It seems there is a strong argument against both kinds of inequality/disempowerment.

When I look at the reasons God seemed to want jubilee, I see colonialism and racism and their impact as one of the biggest arguments for jubilee today. Everyone loses when there are generations upon generations of inequality. More on this in my next post.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Gratitude Economy

Jo Hunter Adams

In the U.S., it’s clear that wealth can be slavery, just as extreme poverty is slavery. Jesus talks about the challenge of wealth constantly. But it’s sometimes hard to think about what counts as wealth, and at what point one becomes enslaved. The Boston Faith and Justice Network put together a panel called The Gratitude Economy, where three people, from very different backgrounds, spoke about gratitude and generosity.

It was clear that there are an infinite number of definitions of wealth, but the point of the panel for me was that:
a) Going against the prevailing U.S. culture when it comes to wealth is super difficult.
b) There’s huge freedom that comes with setting yourself apart in your approach to wealth.

It’s fairly obvious that it's important not to be obsessed or in love with wealth. But I think that kind of attachment to wealth is subtly different from setting yourself apart from an materially inflated culture. It's much harder for me to set myself apart--As a South African in the United States, I don’t think my main struggle has been with loving money. I think my main struggle is in the expectation that one’s standard of living gradually improves. Certain things make it easier: My church and my work don't place huge focus on wealth, or even particular styles of clothing or particular standards of living. There's plenty of socio-economic diversity in both places.

So the two main messages from the gratitude economy involved a reframing: From feeling short-changed or self-righteous when your lifestyle doesn't keep up with your expectations, to feeling free to pursue everything else that's out there. What is out there? Generosity, gratitude, full use of major material blessings (my ipod touch comes to mind!) and less pressure to work for the paycheck alone.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Heroic Leadership

Jo Hunter Adams

Heroic Leadership by Chris Lowney, has been a book that’s come up in my life several times over the last few months; it focuses on the history and leadership of the Jesuits, a Catholic order that has survived, and at times flourished, for over four hundred years. It is written by a former Jesuit monk who went on to work for major consulting firms.

He asks, how is it that a group that was banned for over forty years by the Catholic church, and has some pretty strict philosophies, managed to survive and thrive into the twenty-first century? What company can make such a boast?

The answers have bearing on the way we think about leadership in our own lives. The Jesuits are well-known for being “doers”, most notably for starting one of the most widespread, egalitarian, and best education systems in the world. They’re also an all-male order, which may be super-important to you, or not.

I wanted to highlight two main take home messages:

1.) Leadership evolves out of who you are as a person, and is made up of the daily tasks of your life, not out of some special or exclusive method, nor reserved for the CEO of a company.

2.) Movements may start out of response to a direct need. In today's world, there’s a fair amount if emphasis on goal-setting and long-term vision. And I’m all for goals. Yet the story of the Jesuits suggests that a massive movement can also evolve out of a localized and well thought-out response to a specific need. The Jesuits did not set out to start the largest education system in the world. Rather, they discovered that the monks that joined that order often did not have the education they needed to be “the best.” The Jesuits created schools in response to that need; their response gradually snowballed into a huge movement.

I think both of these points are meant to be encouraging. It makes a lot of sense to develop character, good habits, discipline, and maturity, rather than solely try to figure out how people work (and how you can get them to follow you). The latter seems impossible and possibly manipulative. The former seems fully applicable in all spheres of life. Even it doesn’t work to elevate me in any part of my life, character development is always a good idea. It’s a good framework.

On the second point: How often do I feel that, in order to bring positive change, I have to know everything (or at least more than most)? And since I know I don’t know everything, I feel paralyzed and may just wait for greater genius to rain down on me at some unknown point in the future.

In public health and behavior change, there’s an idea that if you tell someone to do something that they don’t think they can do (quit smoking overnight, start eating “healthy”, exercise 15 hours a week), they won’t do anything at all, even though even doing a little would be better than nothing (smoking a little less, eating one vegetable there and then, exercising 10 minutes a day). I think the Jesuit’s story is a cheer for those who can’t develop a long-term vision just yet, but can respond to a small problem. Big things, and even great leadership in an entire field, can start small.

For those of you who are interested in the spiritual side, there’s also a whole a lot of anecdotes in the book about Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, and how he seemed to be all about trying things, but trying things with reflection. Unlike orders who believed pretty strongly in being silent and contemplative much of the day, the Jesuits came to believe in doing stuff, with the expectation that God would guide them in the midst of that.

I thought this was one more super-encouraging possibility. It seems like Jesus pushed his disciples to do exactly that—preach, heal people, do church—even though they didn’t necessarily know exactly what they were doing. So the message seems to be “go for it” with the caution “but think about what you’re doing while you’re doing it.”

Friday, November 28, 2008

Saving Space Tip #1: Scanning Documents

I've been looking at tons of pictures (and plans) of tiny houses, and so been thinking about how one actually lives in such a house, particularly as a couple or with children. The more I think about it, the more simplicity seems to require a lot of planning. Our current place is less than 500 square feet, and it's more than adequate right now, but it can be pretty difficult to reduce the number of things in the house.

One of the ways we've reduced (and are still reducing) our paper has been by scanning all our bills, paystubs, receipts, cards and programs, etc. I'm sentimental and so I really like keeping things as reminders of events. I spend most of my day at my work, so I keep a few special cards at work, but otherwise, we're heading towards complete paper-freedom.

You need:
Electronic storage space (aah, the power of virtual space!)
A scanner that's simple enough that you don't dread scanning
A bag for all the paper recycling (some of which may have to be torn up before you throw it away)

We've gone through much of our documents, but there's plenty more to go. Getting to the maintenance stage may be key, because once you're there, you'll just be scanning a few monthly bills or cards once in a while.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Social Responsibility and Thanksgiving

Jo Hunter Adams

This Thanksgiving seemed like a good opportunity to think back on the past year. Although I've thought about the idea of social responsibility in the abstract for a pretty long time, this past year is the first time I've had the opportunity to think concretely about my own resources, and what I want to work towards doing with them.

This past year, I went from having two part time jobs to one full time job. What struck me in that transition was how much I loved and appreciated those I worked with. The job is clearly a gift, much as the previous two jobs were.

I still think about the idea of home a fair amount- although our home is completely my home, it is also absolutely not my home, because my extended family is very far away. Our apartment is a source of huge thanksgiving-- in providing a place for us but also in providing a level of freedom that would be much more difficult if rent were more expensive. Social responsibility is difficult in Boston (and probably anywhere) because the trend is towards focusing on increasing comfort. It's super easy to want to move into a bigger apartment or house, or even to just buy more stuff. Social responsibility and frugality seem to be closely related.

We've had a budget for the first time this year. It's helped us pay back close to half our annual income in student loan debt. It's also meant we've been able to give away several thousand dollars.

As I have learned about the impact of even small choices, I've felt empowered to enjoy and be grateful for the resources I am using up, and also think about how to make changes for the long term so that, over my lifetime, I use up less. As a Christian, there's often a tendency to think about the earth's resources in a pretty fatalistic way-- "God's gonna take care of us"-- but that would mean that whatever we do is just a game, which doesn't ring true. It's much more possible that God wants us to experience abundance through responsible stewardship.

Sorry for the fragmented post-- Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Choosing a New Cell Phone


Our cell phones are about two and a half years old and we're thinking of getting a new (hopefully cheaper) plan. The plan automatically comes with a new cell phone, so I was thinking about simple ways to lessen the impact (financial, social, environmental) of our purchase.

One positive thing we've learned by taking the purchase seriously and slowly is that firstly, we could wait until Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) when there are specials/sales on cell phone plans. Secondly, we learned that we can get a 15% discount on a plan through his work, provided we go with AT&T or Verizon.

Of course, there the option of avoiding buying a cell phone entirely. We probably won't go that route. A second option is to donate or recycle our current cell phones. If you're in the U.S and in a similar position to the one we're in, check out these options for recycling, donating, or even selling your phone:

Donate your cell phone on Wireless Fundraiser
Sell or recycle your phone on Gazelle or Cell for Cash
Knowing these options before we buy our new phones will make it very simple to place our cell phones in the mail right after we set up the new ones. I know that if we leave the old phones lying around for a week, we'll never get the energy or momentum to donate them. I have to act immediately.

We're looking to decrease the overall cost of our phone. And we're bound by what's available with the plan we go with. (or are we?) There are a lot of different options which are likely to come out in the next while, but I think the phone itself-- the amount of energy it took to produce and the amount it will use day-to-day, seems fairly standard across different brands.

Raw Materials
Samsung recently came out with a biodegradable cell phone which, as far as I can tell, is not yet available for purchase.
The Nokia 3110 Evolve is also going to be coming out soon.
Samsung has come out with a concept phone that completely excludes plastics:
SLIQ cell phone


There's clearly a trend towards telephones that are eco-friendly, to the point of being able to function with kinetic energy only. We also seem to be a few years away from that, though. As someone with more than one computer (don't ask how many) in our one bedroom apartment, I am being somewhat hypocritical to imply I'm an Energy Star woman. I'm not. But if I can know my impact a little more, that may be a good first step.

UN Coltan Site
What Is Coltan?
This short Youtube video helped me get a sense of what Coltan is and what it means in the Congo. There has been a massive increase in demand for it, as it is important for capacitors (and therefore many cell phones). As a result, in eastern Congo, geurilla's have been funding their war efforts through the sale of coltan, even when this means the wholesale destruction of forests.

In Eco Facts, Motorola directly confronts the publicity around this mineral. Although I'm sceptical about my own understanding of where coltan sits in the world economy, I do feel that one could argue for lower consumption of technological products in relation the struggle for this, and many other, natural resources. Even though I cannot see the relationship clearly, there is clearly some, not entirely beneficial relationship between our consumption of technology and the resources that have been garnered for that product. The same is true for any product, but I would argue that mined, non-renewable products deserve a special respect.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Naan, in honour of a new era

Jo Hunter Adams

I discovered this amazing recipe on allrecipes.com, and have shared it here. It makes making naan really fun and easy.




INGREDIENTS
2.5 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons salt
4 1/2 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons minced garlic (optional)
1/4 cup butter, melted

DIRECTIONS
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand about 10 minutes, until frothy. Stir in sugar, milk, egg, salt, and enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead for 6 to 8 minutes on a lightly floured surface, or until smooth. Place dough in a well oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside to rise. Let it rise 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in volume.
Punch down dough, and knead in garlic. Pinch off small handfuls of dough about the size of a golf ball. Roll into balls, and place on a tray. Cover with a towel, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
During the second rising, preheat grill to high heat.
At grill side, roll one ball of dough out into a thin circle. Lightly oil grill. Place dough on grill, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until puffy and lightly browned. Brush uncooked side with butter, and turn over. Brush cooked side with butter, and cook until browned, another 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from grill, and continue the process until all the naan has been prepared.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Congratulations Barack Obama

Jo Hunter Adams

Hi everyone.

I paste the text of the November 4th speech of Barack Obama. Right now it feels a lot like everyone's birthday; like anything is possible. I'm really hoping this will prove true in our lives. Most of all it feels as though a new day has dawned!

As a liberal Christian I feel as though Barack Obama can talk about their faith without alienating people or implying that our faith demands a certain political affiliation. I know it's a tough path for a leader to walk (has any leader done it? Nelson Mandela?), but it's also an extremely important path-- both for Christianity and for American politics. After the politicization of the Christian right and all that has meant (polarizing other countries, polarizing America), I am so excited that a new day has dawned.

I miss South Africa in a big way, and although that feeling has not diminished, the experience of being in Boston for this election feels like one of the landmark moments of my life.

Enjoy the speech, if you have not watched it 20 times already...

OBAMA: Hello, Chicago.

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen, by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different, that their voices could be that difference.

It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states.

We are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It's the answer that led those who've been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.

It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment change has come to America.

A little bit earlier this evening, I received an extraordinarily gracious call from Senator McCain.

Senator McCain fought long and hard in this campaign. And he's fought even longer and harder for the country that he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine. We are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader.

I congratulate him; I congratulate Governor Palin for all that they've achieved. And I look forward to working with them to renew this nation's promise in the months ahead.

I want to thank my partner in this journey, a man who campaigned from his heart, and spoke for the men and women he grew up with on the streets of Scranton ... and rode with on the train home to Delaware, the vice president-elect of the United States, Joe Biden.

And I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last 16 years ... the rock of our family, the love of my life, the nation's next first lady ... Michelle Obama.

Sasha and Malia ... I love you both more than you can imagine. And you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us ...to the new White House.

And while she's no longer with us, I know my grandmother's watching, along with the family that made me who I am. I miss them tonight. I know that my debt to them is beyond measure.

To my sister Maya, my sister Alma, all my other brothers and sisters, thank you so much for all the support that you've given me. I am grateful to them.

And to my campaign manager, David Plouffe ... the unsung hero of this campaign, who built the best -- the best political campaign, I think, in the history of the United States of America.

To my chief strategist David Axelrod ... who's been a partner with me every step of the way.

To the best campaign team ever assembled in the history of politics ... you made this happen, and I am forever grateful for what you've sacrificed to get it done.

But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to. It belongs to you. It belongs to you.

I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn't start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington. It began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston. It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give $5 and $10 and $20 to the cause.

It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation's apathy ... who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep.

It drew strength from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on doors of perfect strangers, and from the millions of Americans who volunteered and organized and proved that more than two centuries later a government of the people, by the people, and for the people has not perished from the Earth.

This is your victory.

And I know you didn't do this just to win an election. And I know you didn't do it for me.

You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime -- two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.

Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us.

There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after the children fall asleep and wonder how they'll make the mortgage or pay their doctors' bills or save enough for their child's college education.

There's new energy to harness, new jobs to be created, new schools to build, and threats to meet, alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.

I promise you, we as a people will get there.

AUDIENCE: Yes we can! Yes we can! Yes we can!

OBAMA: There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president. And we know the government can't solve every problem.

But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it's been done in America for 221 years -- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began 21 months ago in the depths of winter cannot end on this autumn night.

This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.

It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.

Let us remember that, if this financial crisis taught us anything, it's that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers.

In this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people. Let's resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.

Let's remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House, a party founded on the values of self-reliance and individual liberty and national unity.

You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime -- two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.

Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us.

There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after the children fall asleep and wonder how they'll make the mortgage or pay their doctors' bills or save enough for their child's college education.

There's new energy to harness, new jobs to be created, new schools to build, and threats to meet, alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.

I promise you, we as a people will get there.

AUDIENCE: Yes we can! Yes we can! Yes we can!

OBAMA: There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president. And we know the government can't solve every problem.

But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it's been done in America for 221 years -- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began 21 months ago in the depths of winter cannot end on this autumn night.

This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.

It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.

Let us remember that, if this financial crisis taught us anything, it's that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers.

In this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people. Let's resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.

Let's remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House, a party founded on the values of self-reliance and individual liberty and national unity.

Those are values that we all share. And while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress.

As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, we are not enemies but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.

And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.

To those -- to those who would tear the world down: We will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security: We support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright: Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.

That's the true genius of America: that America can change. Our union can be perfected. What we've already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that's on my mind tonight's about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She's a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing: Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons -- because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America -- the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when women's voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs, a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

AUDIENCE: Yes we can.

OBAMA: When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

AUDIENCE: Yes we can.

OBAMA: She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that We Shall Overcome. Yes we can.

AUDIENCE: Yes we can.

OBAMA: A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination.

And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.

Yes we can.

AUDIENCE: Yes we can.

OBAMA: America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves -- if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment.

This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.

Thank you. God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bonsai in the Arboretum, Fall, Maine

Hello everyone,
These are some backlogged pictures, enjoy!









Monday, September 29, 2008

Questions of Responsibility: South African and U.S. Politics

I've been thinking about U.S. politics (just listening to NPR on the way to work keeps it in my mind all day!) and, of course, South African politics. I was pondering how politics relates to social responsibility and stewardship (two themes in The Concrete Gardener) and would love to hear your thoughts.

There's the obvious-- the right to vote implies a responsibility.

There's also a lot of ambiguity about what this relationship between social responsibility and politics could, or should be. I know the phrase "social responsibility" means a whole lot of different things, so I guess I should be more specific. I'm thinking about it in the context of consuming carefully, taking care of the environment, and being engaged in issues of injustice. All of which can be pretty time consuming, right? I thought of a few questions around this ambiguity:

1) Is it worth my time?
2) What should I do if my candidate isn't elected?
3) Does it matter? Should I really care about this, if my life has always been the same independent of who is in power?

I think when it comes to people's time, our passions and priorities can be our guide-- but only to an extent. That is, it's silly to get super-engaged in something that doesn't really excite us, just because it seems like it fits with living socially responsible lives. Yet the act of voting should involve some process of truly understanding the candidates. The rest: campaigning, participating in local elections, I think that's what can be based on your passions. So back to the essential: knowing the candidates.

There's a vague idea out there that politics is a dirty business, and therefore engaging at any level is bound to get you dirty. I can relate to this feeling. In particular, if you stand with a particular candidate, you may be standing with him/her despite the fact you disagree strongly on some issues. Putting in my lot with an imperfect leader feels a little dangerous in terms of the person I'm trying to come across as, right? There's often little nuance in politicians messages (because they must deliver sound bytes), yet usually a lot of thought behind our own beliefs.

But it seems like it's better to be engaged, informed and involved than not, even it means voting a more simplistic message than you dreamed of. Even if you turn out to be totally wrong about a candidate, it doesn't mean your politics or your identity need come crashing down. I've often struggled to put my opinions out there for fear that a) I'm wrong and being obnoxious or b) my opinion will be misinterpreted. But I think it's worth putting it out there to be tested.

Related to question 3), I think even if your life personally has not changed significantly under different administrations, don't assume it's all the same. Try to find out why it matters, and to whom. Leadership always changes things. Check out the candidates websites, for a start, and look at fact checking websites to see if they stretch the truth.

I think question 2) is pretty important. My opinion on this is that you should build up the candidate who is elected, by generating conversation about that candidate and in local politics, and by complaining through channels that might just facilitate change. It's just too easy to undermine a candidate in a totally unhelpful way, by attacking him or her in incredibly general terms. This usually just makes me more angry and frustrated. It's a lot more empowering to generate conversation that is specific and complain through channels that may evoke change.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Poverty as the Cause of AIDS?




As Mbeki is forced out of government, I've been thinking about one of the things that made him and his health minister unpopular internationally. He's famous for saying, in 1999, that poverty (and therefore not the HIV virus) was the cause of AIDS. It was deeply unpopular internationally (and at home), because there was a sense that he was undermining the reality that AIDS is caused by the HIV virus, which is transmitted by body fluids, not poverty. It's interesting (I think, in the context of issues of imperialism, colonialism, and racism) that the international community (or at least the media I was exposed to at the time) assumed Mbeki had some sort of weird voodoo/communist belief that they had to counter with a biology lesson, rather than that he was speaking in the political realm, with a political motive that was important to engage and question.

There are three points I would like to propose:

1) Thabo Mbeki knows that HIV is a virus, that HIV is transmitted by body fluids, and that the only way for someone who is HIV + to live well for an extended length of time is through anti-retrovirals.
2) Curb your enthusiasm if you think a new government automatically means better HIV/AIDS policy. Jacob Zuma likely doesn't truly know at least one of the above.
3) Maybe Thabo Mbeki isn't completely wrong.


Going to point (2) first: Jacob Zuma, when on trial for rape a couple of years ago, said that he had consensual sex without a condom with an HIV+ woman, and protecting himself by showering afterwards. This was a major step back for HIV/AIDS education. In resource-limited countries like South Africa, preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS may be even more valuable (because it has potential to become less resource-driven) than finding ways to make ARVs accessible.

1) and 3)
South Africa fought (and won) a battle against big pharmaceuticals to allow South Africans access to cheap drugs. They did this while Mbeki was president.

Nancy Krieger of Harvard school of Public Health has, for decades, posited the ways that poverty is the root cause of many diseases. This is super-intuitive on one hand (look at life expectancies in poor countries, or even amongst certain minorities in the United States), and far less intuitive on the other (wait, what about the bugs/cholesterol/cancer cells?).

Perhaps optimistically, I interpret Mbeki's statements to mean "if it wasn't AIDS, it would be something else. It's poverty and inequality that causes people to die young in our country." I think this is ultimately true.

In public health, there is a powerful move towards understanding the root causes of disease and disability. There’s a tension in this relationship. Pulling hard from one side is the idea that you should tackle what you can handle, as well as the idea of personal agency and responsibility. From the other side, if someone really doesn't have a reasonable choice to live a healthy life, shouldn't we be looking at society? I wonder if we can walk that line where we acknowledge agency while focusing our energy on making good choices real and attractive solutions to age-old problems.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Social Entrepeneurship, Life, and Zuma


Jo Hunter Adams

I recently read a book called "How to Change the World" by David Bernstein. It was a collection of life histories of influential people that the author had interviewed. I wanted to share two things.

Many of the stories were linked to an organization called Ashoka. I was struck by the idea that you can't hire people when it comes to social change. He argued that you can't create a social entrepeneur. This idea really helped me to make sense of my discomfort with many international aid agencies. I'm critical in a limited (and often ignorant) way. On the one hand, "what do I know?!" On the other hand, "something's wrong with this picture!" (particularly, when outside, terribly well-paid professionals are brought in from the outside). There's a positive to be gleaned from this picture. That, in every community there are social entrepeneurs, traders in social change, who international aid agencies can join and share a vision with. I am really excited about that idea, of generating income or support with the understanding that the vision is something bigger that you may not be able to totally get your head around.

The second message I found powerful was that there is no end to what can be achieved by an individual who doesn't care who gets credit. Enough said.

In other news, Zuma.
As many of you know, Mbeki has been given three days to leave government. It's virtually impossible to overestimate the way that this news alters South African politics.

Although I'm not implying that the world will end or that South African life will change day to day, I just think it's a massive turn, because it is a move that is completely based in a vendetta, which is being placed above the good of the nation. My personal opinion is that if an individual (and the ANC as a party) can place personal good this far above collective good, and ignore the political process that has been so essential in holding the country together, there's a lot for us to be worried about. I'm obviously not in South Africa, so if those of you who are would like to speak to this, I invite you to do so.

Thanks everyone.

Giving to Change



Jo Hunter Adams

Giving to Change is now available here!

This is my very first, very short e-book, and is 100% free. I wanted to share some of our experiences this past year, where my spouse and I have been learning how to give financially for personal and social change.

It's a pretty small file, so you shouldn't have a problem downloading it to your computer. I've been trying to work out how to make a pdf freely available and I can't upload it to this site, so I had to use a free hosting site. Once you get to the hosting site, you'll click "download file."

If you don't feel like downloading a file, let me know and I can invite you to view through google docs. I would use google docs exclusively, but unfortunately it requires individual invitations.

Thank you so much for your support!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

It's that time of year again: Basil Pesto and Tomato sauce

Using up the last of the tomatoes and basil before the cold weather comes...


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Fair Trade: Two Dimensions of Meaning

Jo Hunter Adams


I've been reading two books recently, both with the words "Fair Trade" in the title. I've been mulling over these two concepts of Fair Trade. On the one hand, fair trade is a term used to describe the compensation a farmer or group of farmers receive for their products and labour. The implication is that much trade is unfair. On the other hand, fair trade is a term used when economists are looking more broadly at what might be just and profitable at a national and international level. They're deeply interconnected. However, they also bring with them the idea that some trade might not be fair, and that trade at the interpersonal and interstate level is not just about the bottom line, but about what that bottom line might mean for producers and consumers, communities and societies.

Justice and Capitalism
I'm no economist, but something about products-that-don't-make-the-most-profit-they- possibly-can doesn’t ring true. At the micro-level, farmers making relationships and trading directly with buyers (often in other countries) seems to overcome this: they are essentially offering a different product to the consumer. The cost and the profit can be placed on a marginally separate scale.

When it comes to countries trading with countries, however, I get a little fuzzy because intuitively, it seems that countries (and their trade negotiators) need to be negotiating on behalf of their country. I can imagine myself: even if ethically and morally I strongly believed that a trade was not fair, I would work within the legal parameters and standards of the system to ensure the best deal for South Africa. That would be my role, as I would not be acting as an individual, but on behalf of others.

That may be one of the most profound challenges of consensus-building in international trade. In Fair Trade for all, Stiglitz and Charlton argue that trade is extremely complicated, and much of the time those making decisions do not understand the full ramifications of their actions. This may be true, but it makes me uncomfortable. The system should not be so complicated that it's all you can keep in your head at one time. Sure, political leaders should have economic advisors; but leaders should also be able to understand the big picture enough make decisions based on their knowledge of their constituents-- the rich and the poor (economists do not, and should not be expected to, have such a relationship with a community or country). Political decision-makers should bring to the table some knowledge of what works on the ground. Instead, Stiglitz argues that this is not the case.

He defines fair trade both in terms of impact and in terms of the process used to reach a decision:

1. Agreements should be assessed in terms of impact on development.
2. Agreement should be fair
3. Agreement should be arrived at fairly
4. Agenda limited to trade related and development friendly issues.

These tenets were not helpful for me to get around the issue of who traders and decision makers are representing when they come to the table. It seems that whoever is invited to the negotiating table is immediately more powerful than those who they represent: in such a situation, how can the interests of small “informal” traders every truly be represented?

He also argues that unfair trade makes poverty everyone's responsibility. At the time of writing, three times as much was lost in trade source restrictions as all the overseas development poor countries receive from all sources. I find this compelling if only to decrease our smugness over helping those “in need”.

Reading “Fair Trade for all” and “Javatrekker” together helped me to conceptualize how one type of fair trade feeds into the other. While fair trade at a macro-level seems to naturally slip towards very complex abstraction, fair trade between farmers speaks concretely to exactly the challenges of bringing small traders and farmers who have been disenfranchised by unfair trade, to the table.

I’m not sure where my readers are in their understanding of fair trade, so bear with me if I’m going over the basics or assuming too much about your knowledge.

Ideally, fair trade of specific products (coffee, chocolate, sugar) bring together ethical buyers and sellers so that they can negotiate a good profit for both parties. Since there is a direct relationship between buyer and seller, the negotiation seems far less abstract, and far less complicated. Such a relational model seems concrete. The challenge here is that buyers (and most sellers) are up against an entire system.

A one minute summary of Fair Trade is as follows:
- Farmers are given a living wage for their products
- Products are farmed using environmentally sustainable methods
- Farmers have the right to unionize
- Fair trade certification is provided by an independent body, which assesses whether or not these standards are being upheld.

I’m not saying anything new here, so perhaps I should break in with a bit of what Dean Cycon wrote in Javatrekker.

“Providing a fair wage is much better than providing charity.” (xv)

Although the book has strong critiques of the mainstream system, I found it compelling that as a Fair Trade business, the writer's "Dean's Beans" was doing extremely well. This in itself, may speak as much to the skill of the businessman, but it also speaks to the possibility of creating profitable, fair trade businesses.

As for the critiques of the system, one of my favourite stories was of a 28 year old non-Kenyan employee of the World Bank. The system was set up so that this individual was in the position to define what an entire industry (the Kenyan coffee trade) needed to do to be successful. The government was essentially held hostage by these recommendations; if the recommendations were not followed, World Bank loans would not flow into the system. Thus, structural adjustment meant that the government has to listen to a 28 yr old, via the world bank. Cycon acknowledges that the 28 year old was super-intelligent. The critique is of one individual, an outsider, whose opinion was valued more than a collective, or of a farmer, etc.

More on this soon...

Arboretum




Sunday, August 31, 2008

Vermicomposting: Results and 4 Quick Lessons



I harvested my first set of compost (castings) today! It's really amazing what ten worms can do in a few weeks (see above).

Some things I have been learning since starting to vermicompost:

(1) Variety is important, particularly if you're adding acidic scraps; don't add too much of one thing.
(2) Make sure it doesn't get to hot for the worms (this summer, that was the main problem at first.
(3) If fruit flies arrive, mix the compost so that their eggs get buried and fruit scraps are not exposed. Don't feed for a while if these little flies are a major problem.
(4) Worms can even eat disposable paper cups-- They will just leave that tiny bit of waxy paper.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Grameen Bank: Part 2

Jo Hunter Adams

Mohammed Yunus' history of the Grameen bank, Banker to the Poor, was written in 1999, and offers some perspective on the movement. I enjoyed it because it faced some of the challenges to the movement head-on, and so made it easier to understand the motivations and ideas that made micro-lending a success in the case of the Grameen Bank.

To recap, the movement started in the 1970s with an encounter with poverty. A woman earned dismal profit (2c) weaving stools every day. Her profit kept her stuck where she was- with nothing. All she needed was the capital to be autonomous. Yunus saw possibility.

The concept of lending without collateral was revolutionary, and in a way, still is. In Bangladesh, only the rich were permitted to get loans. The argument was that filling out and processing forms would make lending to the poor unprofitable. That is, even before thinking about collateral, lending to the poor just didn't seem worthwhile.

Today, the Grameen bank is sustainable. At the time of writing, the standard amount of interest was 20% per year, as compared to 15% per month for other non-bank sources of loans in Bangladesh.

Yunus discovered that one of the main reasons that individuals failed to pay their loans back was the daunting size of the payment at the end of the loan period. Instead, in the Grameen bank the payments are weekly, very small and therefore not too daunting.

What is striking is that everything in the structure of the bank is oriented towards long term change. For example, a branch of the bank is not permitted to expand until it has a 100% repayment rate. Its foundation and management has to be really good before it begins to reach more people.

It also tries to prepare borrowers for the long term. Each individual who receives a loan deposits 5% of the loan in a group fund. This group fund is meant to protect the borrowers during hard times. As a result, rather than running away from the loan when severe financial hardship strikes, the borrower is able to ride out the storm.

Criticisms of microlending come from both sides of the political spectrum, and Yunus provides some defense in Banker for the poor. One argument is that the bank depends heavily on the cultural context concerned. Although it is clear that Grameen relies heavily on personal relationships and social pressure, it is not clear why these relationships couldn't exist universally.

Another common criticism of the Grameen Bank is that it diffuses righteous anger around inequality. Therefore the poor, rather than being a constant reminder to the rich, become poor but content. Rather than protesting an unjust system, the poor are thinking about minor entrepeneurial activities. I have heard a similar criticism of Mother Theresa, who, critics argue, didn't change the system itself, but only made the system seem less horrific.

My response is that it is very hard to change a system. Microlending that is repaid does, at some level, actually change the system itself. The poorest of the poor may not be as visible if a bank is truly successful, but this visibility may shift rather than actually disappear. If an individual was struggling to survive, I would also argue that they were not in a good position to protest an unjust system.

People also ask "why is no skills training required to get a loan?" Yunus argues that although skills training is available and important, the very poor in Bangladesh often have immense fear of trainings. It would be an impossible barrier for some people who DO have the skills necessary to manage, repay, and benefit from their loan. Yunus turns the "trickle down effect" upside down; if the poorest of the poor are doing better, he argues, the effect will "bubble up."

Importantly, Grameen is doing all types of other things to show the world that doing business with and for the poor CAN be profitable. They are involved in telecommunications, healthcare, and even fish farming.

The challenge to us may be to look closely at this business model as an alternative to the dependency model still lived out by many aid agencies. There are plenty of ways this type of business model is already lived out in the informal sector, so I am not intending to introduce anything new or revolutionary. I am just thinking about how the informal sector deserves a new name, maybe a name that evokes a little more respect?

Poor Countries in Debt: Part 1

Jo Hunter Adams

“Sometimes in life one has to admit that things just aren’t working. This is one of those times.” p178 The Debt Threat, Noreena Hertz.


Last week I spoke about how Mohammed Yunus and the world bank think of credit as an opportunity for the poor to survive and better themselves. I will also talk more about the Grameen in a post in the next week, but for now I would like to talk about the debt that plagues many of the poorest nations in the world. This post is based on my reading of The Debt Threat by Noreena Hertz. Debt and Credit are two sides of the same coin.

Most of the debt of poor countries did nothing to help them grapple with poverty. Yet today, debt repayment makes poverty more intractable than ever.

"Much of the debt of poor countries is left over from the 1970s - and often arose through reckless or self-interested lending by the rich world." (Noreena Hertz) In the height of the cold war, wealthy countries used their wealth to buy the friendships of other countries. They attempted to win countries over to their political system by implying that system was synonymous with abundant resources. Not surprisingly, lenders were less interested in where the money was spent than on how it served them politically.

Just as quickly, at the end of Cold War, debts were suddenly due. Before reading The Debt Threat, I had not connected the concept of "sustainable development" with the end of the Cold War. Hertz makes this connection. And it's a powerful one! Suddenly, development needed to be sustainable, not based on loans, at the same time that loans were no longer politically necessary. Understanding the origins of the system is really helpful for making sense of why "sustainable development" is generally not terribly sustainable. Hertz is arguing that the driving force behind sustainable development was political; it was not based in the inherent dignity of self-sufficiency.

The impact of debt repayment is dire. Instead of spending money on health care or social infrastructure, funds are spent servicing loans. The argument that many advocated of debt-forgiveness make is that if all debt were to be cancelled, there would be no real negative impact on the countries or institutions who own the loans. The $150 billion would not be missed-- it would not impact stock value, employees, or governments. Yet the payment of the debts has a huge impact. If debt were canceled it would free up money to tackle infectious diseases and maternal and child health.

One could argue that the money used for debt repayment will never be used for infrastructure in countries that have corrupt governments. And many of the governments with the most debt are also the most corrupt. This argument doesn't strike me as reason to hold on to debt. After colonialism (another breeding-ground for corruption), the existence of abundant credit bred corrupt politicians.

Hertz argues that making an entire country meet subjective standards of good governance may not be the job of those holding the debts or advocating for debt forgiveness. It may only be their role to create islands of good governance.

Hertz also provides a framework for the forgiveness of debt. She argues that sovereign debts should be canceled and considered illegitimate if three conditions apply:


1 The regime borrowing money lacked democratic consent.

2 The monies were used in ways that were inimical to the interests of the population

3 The lender knew that monies would be used in such a way

Hertz also argues that a nation should be able to declare bankruptcy, under specific conditions. Her line of reasoning makes sense-- why should one try to draw blood from a stone?

I recommend The Debt Threat because it provides a framework in which to think about when and how to cancel debt without encouraging irresponsibility. I was left wondering how colonialism-imperialism-slavery fitted into this paradigm of debt and indebtedness. It's a relationship I would like to process more fully, and probably could use some help thinking about.

A Few Resources

Jubilee Debt Campaign http://www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk/

Questions and Answers on debt relief http://www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk/?lid=98

Jubilee USA: http://www.jubileeusa.org/

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Grameen Bank: Part 1


Jo Hunter Adams

I've been thinking about how to use The Concrete Gardener as a tool for my own learning, as well as a tool to facilitate other people's learning. One way to do this might be through book-centered topics. Where, ordinarily, I might read a book and then forget about it, here I can share a few key points as I go along, and perhaps be more likely to remember the stories and approaches I convey to you.

Unfortunately, I seldom find enough time to read and write, so please bear with me as I try to figure out the minimum amount of time needed to produce good quality content. My wager is that I'll get better with experience.

After I learned about the Green Belt Movement at the end of last month, I wanted to learn more about really large community based movements that seem to work. An obvious choice was the Grameen bank. I first read The Price of a Dream by David Bornstein, and am currently starting Banker to the Poor by Mohammed Yunus himself. I wanted to write one article before encountering what Yunus has to say about his "own" movement.

Laying the Foundation
The word "Grameen" comes from the Bangla word gram, or village. As I learned about the origins of the movement, I was struck by how long it took before The Grameen Bank really became a bank, or really began at all. Mohammed Yunus spent five years in a small, extremely poor village in Bangladesh (Jobra), walking and talking with long-time residents, and learning about their needs and priorities. Although he was from Bangladesh, he was an extremely well-educated professor and so belonged, quite literally, to a completely different world. I thought about what this would mean, both in terms of the way that 6 month- 2 year contracts work in the Development/NGO industry, and in terms of my own life trajectory. Either way, five years is a long time. Reading about the process, however, these five years seemed to be one of the most important keys to the success of the Grameen Bank. The Bank has been such a success because it started as something people wanted. It might also have been a success because it suited a specific geographic context, and foundations had been carefully laid in the place where the first branches were built.

What is the Grameen Bank?
In short, the students of Yunus, and Yunus himself, determined that small, short-term credit could make the difference between extreme poverty and progress. The response to this need became the Grameen Bank.

The Bank challenged the notion that only credit that requires collateral is credit that works. Rather, they said, lending to the very poor can be sustainable. In order to receive a loan, a prospective member must join a group of five individuals, who pay back a portion of their loan during their weekly meeting. The five individuals are responsible for all the loans within the group. This allows for a degree of self-supervision. Loans generally start small enough to be paid within one year.

The idea behind this strategy is that poverty reduction can best be achieved through the creation of assets. In opposition to the trickle down effect, The Grameen Bank model argues that wealth can bubble, or trickle, up.


***
I think one of the most important questions Yunus, and The Grameen Bank, raise, is the question "Is Credit a Human Right?" Thinking about the bank from a position of very limited knowledge, I can't help but think that the world's common approach to credit is all wrong. In the United States, much individual (and perhaps even national) debt seems to lead to time poverty, a lack of career choices, stress and fear. In the coming weeks, I will be talking about Third World Debt, another kind of credit that has lead to absurd and pernicious decisions that affect the health and livelihoods of millions. Yet credit has tremendous potential for the poor, for whom it can mean increased freedom and decision making power.

Other Organizations/Banks involved in Microfinance
Accion International
Kenyan Rural Enterprise Program
Kiva

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Green Roofs

Jo Hunter Adams


As some of you might remember, last year I described the beautiful garden on the roof of BMC, administered by The Food Project. Since then, I've been learning about Green Roofs overall. And so, it seems, has Boston, even the Natick mall is onboard with plans for a green roof well underway.

In places with extreme temperatures, green roofs generally mean less cooling is needed in the summer, and less heating is needed in the winter. If set up correctly, they actually lengthen the lifetime of the roof significantly. And if you can't afford to formally set up the entire space as a green roof, you can also use large pots, or even kid's paddling pools, as a means of creating a green space on top of the world. It seems elegantly simple: the heat that used to make summer unbearable is now used for photosynthesis. It's essentially turned into heat that you can eat.

Wellesley grads/current students, have you ever ventured to the roof of the science center? I keep on thinking about that space and how it could be used for growth. Of course, Wellesley does not have the same space issues that the city of Boston has, but with all the incredible scientists (and plant physiologists) there seems to be an opportunity to turn an energy disaster (how much must it cost to heat all that empty space in the Focus?!) into a space of innovation and research.

Planting Green Roofs and Living Walls by Nigel Dunnett and Noel Kingsbury is a great resource for thinking about how to plant and green your lives. They explain Green roofs without focusing on food production, but rather on creating architecture that is consistent with an existing landscape, rather than in opposition to it. It gives wonderful technical insight into how you could actually do this in a way that keeps your plants alive for the long term, and keeps your roof strong.

As for me, though, I'm really interested in roofs as a potential space for food production. In American cities, the poor (and, to an extent, the rich) eat food that is damaging to their health. I can attest to the fact that produce just doesn't taste the same in the U.S., as compared to South Africa. Empowering individuals in apartments in even the most urban of urban areas means that food production is no longer outside of the hands of the people who want to eat well. Having food in spaces that are accessible and safe (on the rooftops of residents' buildings, for example) means that gardening does not need to be an elite leisure activity. Here's a great link to the potential of rooftop spaces as spaces of food production.

When one enters New York city, the first thing one sees is the Bronx-- seemingly never-ending high rise buildings in the polluted haze that's the result of being a main corridor into Manhattan for ever type of truck and commuter. I wonder what it would be like to have good, fresh food growing in accessible places in the Bronx?

(Picture from "American Wick Drain")

Some of the Benefits of Green Urban Roofs
(From Urban Design Tools)
Reduce city “heat island” effect
Reduce CO2 impact
Reduce summer air conditioning cost
Reduce winter heat demand
Potentially lengthen roof life 2 to 3 times
Treat nitrogen pollution in rain
Negate acid rain effect
Help reduce volume and peak rates of stormwater


Links
Grow Boston Greener
Boston's Urban Forest Coalition

Monday, August 4, 2008

7: Arnold Arboretum






I got close to a butterfly yesterday.


Friday, August 1, 2008

Day 6 Arboretum




A whole ecosystem in a tree.


I managed to find a bee laden with pollen. Amazing.

Day 5, Arnold Arboretum