Tag Archives: Conservation

Apple and the environment

If you’ve read this blog for long you may have picked up that I’m a bit of an Apple fan. But it’s also true that I have, since around 1990, I have oriented the way I live my life around the question, “Is this good for the health of the Earth?” Those that know me would probably agree with the suggestion that I’m a bit extreme in that regard. The way I look at it is that it is, fundamentally, a question lived ethics and survival. What we do everyday impacts not only our future survival but the survival of countless other species with which we share the planet. Our choices thus far have been leading us to the extinction of other species and quite possibly our own. Our time on this planet does have an expiration date. One day humans will no longer exist on this planet. That’s a given. But will we end our time here prematurely due to poor behavior? Increasingly it looks as though we will.

I have long argued (as many have) that capitalism is incompatible with the longterm health of the planet. As an economic system it is focused on profit and specifically short-term profit. Corporations have demonstrated time and time again that they don’t do well when it concerns the environment and questions of human social justice. In the past ten years Apple has begun to demonstrate that it is possible continue making a profit even as it undergoes a dramatic shift in it’s social and environmental impact from a negative to a positive. Apple isn’t just minimizing its negative impact but is attempting and succeeding at creating a significant positive impact.

In recent years as it makes these changes it has made an effort to communicate to the public what it is doing. On the face of it it’s pretty easy to dismiss as the usual greenwashing that many companies engage in when they care about that aspect of how they appear to the public. In other words, marketing. But here’s the thing, Apple has gone so far in changing the way it operates that it no longer appears to be trying to convince the public that it is a good corporate “citizen”. They have seemingly made it a part of their mission to set the bar of conduct at a new level. This is a sustained effort to shift the fundamentals of the company from one that prioritizes profit to one which puts environmental impact on an equal footing.

In the lead-up to Earth Day 2017 we’ve seen a push by Apple to share what it’s been doing in these areas. In past years they have done the same but with each passing year as the scope of their commitment deepens it seems to be a shift from corporate marketing to one in which Apple sees a “teachable moment” and is educating the public not for it’s own benefit but for the public good. They are setting an example not just for corporations but even for citizens and governments. They aren’t just meeting the too-low requirements and goals set out by governments. They are exceeding them and raising the bar and not just by a little. And then they are saying to the world, do better. Do much better.

A day or so ago John Gruber of Daring Fireball and The Talk Show published an interview with Lisa Jackson, Apple’s VP of Environmental Policy. I remember when Lisa Jackson moved over to Apple having served 4 years as head of the EPA under Obama. At the time I just figured, oh, the usual high-level corporate/government revolving door. I didn’t pay much attention to her. But listening to that interview I can only say that I am really impressed. She’s a fantastic asset to Apple as well as an excellent STEM role model who also addresses the connection between STEM and our social and ecological problems and needs. I’ve listened to it twice and might give it a third go. She offers some fascinating details about how Apple operates in relation to resources.

As an activist who protested Nike in the late 90s for it’s overseas labor policies I was keenly aware that Apple was having it’s own labor issues in the early 2000s (and probably before). I began paying attention then to both the labor and environmental practices of my favorite technology company with some hope that they would “Think Different” in their dealings with the world around them. They have not disappointed. While progress was made when Jobs was at the helm their move towards greater social and environmental responsibility really increased when Tim Cook took over. The focus on the social and environmental responsibility has intensified greatly over the past 5 years. This interview is an excellent summary of those changes. But what is truly breathtaking is the scope and depth to which they have gone.

It’s easy these days to become mired in a mix of hopelessness, despair, frustration and disgust. Our political system seems equal parts corrupt, inept, and circus. On the issue of climate change the U.S. has proven largely ineffectual and confused. From the public to government to business, we’ve made little progress at far too slow a rate. It seems very likely that we are past the point of no return and that all there is to do now is adapt and attempt to minimize what now seems to be inevitable. But I listen to this interview and not only am I inspired but I’m embarrassed that it is a company… a capitalist enterprise that is actually leading the way, that is setting the best possible example not only for other companies but for citizens. As someone who has long considered himself an activist (of sorts) I suddenly feel a bit ashamed of my despair. That might not be exactly it or quite the best way to put it but it’s close.

Also, Apple has put together four videos for Earth Day 2017. Good stuff.

And yet another bit of Apple and the environment bit of news, Macworld reports that Apple will return heat generated by data center to warm up homes:

Apple is building a new data center in Denmark, and it has some interesting ideas on how to power the data center with renewable energy, while also giving back to the community.

Excess heat generated by the data center will be captured and returned to the local district’s heating system, which will warm up homes in the community.

This is just one example of many that illustrates the scope of commitment that Apple is making to this effort. This is exactly the sort of project that Lisa Jackson is describing in the above linked interview with John Gruber.

Last but not least, Apple is set to move into it’s new headquarters, Apple Park. Much work is still being done but April was to be the month that employees started moving over. To say that I’m impressed with Apple Park would be a huge understatement. From native and edible landscaping to the heating and cooling to the local energy production, it is, by all accounts, the standard for large scale green architecture and landscaping.

It’s up to us

So, Trump won the 2016 election. Yikes. Many are rightly concerned with what he and the Republican controlled congress will do. So many issues, far too many to cover here. No, this is a post about climate change because that’s one that affects us all and it’s the one that in the near and long term is causing significant damage to the ecosystems of our planet to the degree that our very survival is in question. For far, far too long people have looked to government for solutions. To technology and products for easy or even fun fixes. This must stop.

I think the real question is when will we all become the solution for the planet? I understand that laws can help, that federal funding can help. But each and every day every person on the planet makes choices, mostly going with the flow and the flow is harmful. This is especially true in the U.S. and other affluent nations where consumption of energy and goods have been far higher. It’s easier to go with the flow and so we do. We drive. We turn the thermostat to whatever makes us most comfortable. We buy food shipped in from across the country or world. We freeze our food, we refrigerate it. We buy new phones, tablets, and computers, big screen televisions, and huge houses to fill. New cars, new clothes, and the list goes on.

What. Are. We. Waiting. For? Must we really be told by the government how to behave? Forced? I get that corporations need such enforcement. The vast majority of them behave very badly in regards to the environment. But each of us? We can choose to do better. Every day we can choose to harm less but by and large we choose to harm more because its our way of life. Our way of life is based on consumption, comfort and convenience all of which are based on the burning of fossil fuels. That’s it. There’s no magic involved in fixing this.


A list of the things we can do everyday regardless of who is president:

Do the bare minimum in climate control of your home. If it’s cold outside be as cold inside as you can be. It was 30° today at sunrise. My tiny home was 50° because my heat was off. I was cozy because I was wearing warm clothes and was covered with blankets, a dog and a cat. I got up put on a jacket and made some coffee and oatmeal. In the summer I do the same. I do the best I can to deal with the heat. Eventually I turn on the AC just as this winter I will use heat. But I make a choice to cover up and to wear layers. I don’t assume it’s my right to crank my heat up to 70 or 75 or any other temperature.

Don’t drive unless you must. I work from home so it’s easy. I go to town once a week or less. I only go if I must and when I do I combine all my errands. If I forget something it waits until the next trip. When I lived in Memphis I walked and used a bike as much as possible. I did use a car when I needed to… and sometimes when it was convenient. But that’s when I made the wrong choice. Everyday our highways are full of cars most of which have only one person in them. That’s the wrong choice.

Take a train, not a plane. This is a big one. We fly the globe with little consideration of the climate change impact. If you’ve flown in the past year can you also say how much carbon your flight produced? Was it even on your radar? For some it may be but I’d guess that for most it never enters the equation. Why not? If we must travel we should travel by train as it is FAR more efficient.

Buy less. Buy used. Share. Make do. This is pretty straight forward. You don’t buy stuff unless you must. When you do buy you buy used if you can. Borrow first. Fix first. If you replace something and it is still useable (computers and gadgets especially) make sure it goes somewhere where it will be reused. Whether you sell it or donate it, be responsible for it because it’s not waste. It’s a resource with lots of energy bound up in it.

Reuse and recycle as much as possible. I stopped buying trash bags a long time ago. I use canvas bags for shopping but occasionally get the plastic bags that I use for trash. I throw away one of those plastic shopping bags filled with trash once every 2–3 weeks. Almost everything is recycled. When I do visit the dumpster it is always full of mostly recyclable materials that others are too lazy to recycle. Most “trash” isn’t trash at all.

Eat less meat, eat local food if possible. Food takes energy to produce and transport. Some takes more energy, beef and other raised livestock especially. This one can get complicated and probably requires it’s own post.

Do less in a general way. People are always on the go. Stop. Take a nap. Read a book. Take a walk. Just stay out of your car.

Last but not least, choose not to have children. This is another biggy that probably could do with it’s own post. Each human requires a lifetime of resources. There are 7+billion of us on the planet. We probably need to reduce that by lowering the birth rate.

This is just a partial list that covers some of the most obvious choices that also happen to have the most impact. I’ve had a thought in the past day that it would be great if we had a social media that combined aspects of FB, Instagram, Twitter etc but which was focused on making such changes. A website that offered an opportunity to commit to the most important, impactful choices that individuals can make. Such a site would include ways to share and document solutions and efforts. We should celebrate the effort and the change. Our social media hashtags should be about how we’re saving the planet. Our selfies should show our gardens and our produce. Our latest home improvement share should demonstrate practical repairs, re-uses and re-purposes. I think our use of social media has, to now, largely been about ego and status. That should change. It should be about supporting one another’s efforts to make the changes we must make if we are to survive.

Many of us were surprised by the election of 2016. Many upset. There’s much fear about the policies that will be enacted. The fears are valid. But much of the work we have to do would have existed regardless of the election. Especially in regards to the environment, much of what can happen, much of what needs to happen, much of what must happen, is in our own hands. We cannot wait for government to force us. We cannot wait for convenient technological fixes. We cannot wait. Me and you. We each make our choices. We must make better choices for ourselves and encourage others in our lives to do the same.

192 Square Feet: Part 2

This is part two in a series. The first outlined the first seven months of building and living in a 192 square foot house that would be the first of several tiny structures on a property in Missouri.

My first seven months in the cabin felt a bit like camping and they were fantastic! As I went into my first winter I had the essentials: a warm, dry tiny cabin with electricity and wood heat. I did not yet have running water but I did have a sink that drained. For water I filled three 5 gallon tanks at our well 150 feet from my cabin. Most modern-day citizens of the U.S. wouldn’t want to do that for long as we’ve been raised with indoor plumbing which delivers fresh water out of a faucet. I welcomed the experience because I knew it was temporary and because I knew it was giving me a bit of perspective.

There are still some in the U.S. without indoor plumbing, mostly on Indian reservations and in rural areas. According to this story by the Washington Post the number, as of 2014, was 1.6 million Americans. According to a WHO/UNICEF 2010 report “3.8 billion people, or 57 per cent of the world’s population, get their drinking water from a piped connection that provides running water in their homes or compound.” If I needed to live for a year or so without water coming into my home I might get just a brief taste of what many others live without not by choice but by circumstance. But there’s more. Many of those that do not have a water line into their home also don’t have the convenience of a private, powered well with clean source of water just 150 feet away. I considered myself very fortunate.

In October and November I put the garden to bed with planted garlic bulbs and lots of mulch all over. Mostly I used cardboard and straw. I mulched over paths as well as beds and areas of grass that were to be expanded garden beds in the spring. An unlooked for but happily discovered fall crop was the Autumn Olive! We have many of them in the area and the bushes not only smell wonderful in the spring but bear huge amounts of tiny red fruit that are not only edible but a real treat once fully ripe!

Heating with wood that first winter worked pretty well but in a small space even a smallish woodstove can be difficult for full time heating. What I discovered was that it was very easy to waste wood because it was very easy to heat the cabin too much. With so little thermal mass the cabin would heat quickly and cool quickly. I would put a couple logs in at the start of the day and every couple of hours add another log or two. If I was very careful I could moderate it but the slightest miscalculation meant the cabin was suddenly 85 or 90 at which point I could suffer through it so as to not waste the heat or I could open a window or take a walk, either way I was “wasting” the heat and wood. At bedtime I would put a log or two in and know that I would need to get up in two or three hours to put in more. If it wasn’t too cold I could let the fire go out and start fresh in the morning. I woke up many days to my inside thermometer reading between 45 and 55. Certainly tolerable but not very cozy. This would be an issue I would have to deal with in the future.

That first winter I also experienced the joy of uninsulated floors! Cold. Too late to do much about it I put down some carpeting and wore slippers. Future plans would include reducing airflow under the cabin as well as increased layers of carpeting. I did come up with a quick fix to slow the airflow on the west side of the cabin which included some salvaged garden timbers already assembled to the right height supplemented by a few bales of hay. The west side was the most vulnerable not only because it had the greatest gap but also because the greatest incoming wind, often over a frozen lake, was from the west. My cabin takes the full force as there aren’t that many trees on that side and those that are there are, of course, without leaves in the winter!

I also learned the importance of monitoring our little well shed. When temperatures dipped to 0 my heating was not nearly enough and the pipes froze. Never again. The key is “heat tape” and a combination of heat lights and/or a heater of some sort. Minimizing the waste of energy also means paying attention to the weather. When the weather warms the heat goes off but of course it is essential to stay on top of things. As soon as temps dip down into the 20s the protective heat has to go right back on.

Ice funnels that form when moisture in grass freezes and expands outward.

But it wasn’t just cold feet I had to get used to. I’d become comfortable using the outhouse during the warmer months. Using an outhouse at 0° is an altogether different experience! Brrrrrrrr. But as with the carrying of water I viewed it as a learning experience and an expansion of my personal perspective. Funny thing really, I got used to it. Not to say it wasn’t cold each time but it just became a part of life. Yes, it was cold but I survived just fine. Truth is it’s probably pretty funny for anyone within earshot of those first moments of my ass meeting toilet seat as my yelping could probably be heard for several hundred feet. Sorta like someone jumping into cold water. I always have a chuckle at myself in those moments.

One of the benefits of the outhouse, summer or winter, spring or fall, was the sense of connection with the outdoors. In an interesting way using an outhouse or just peeing outside reminds one that in the end we are also animals. Yet another benefit is the usage of “wastes” for the enrichment of soil. Eventually the poop is composted and can be safely used for fruit trees. The urine is great for adding nitrogen to compost. What goes in comes out and it’s best to put it to good use.

You may remember that I also did not have an inside shower. I used the outside solar shower until it got cold. I used the shower in Kerry and Greg’s cabin until they turned their water off for the winter. That was probably late November. Now, this is where some of you get grossed out and where I get to share my thoughts on modern bathing habits. You see, for me, this wasn’t a huge problem. And yes, I hear you snicker, but what about the people around me? Might my stink not be a problem for them? Oh, I see a rabbit hole, let’s jump in!

Modern humans of the “developed” world are far too concerned with being “clean”. We’ve got antibacterial soaps and wipes. Women are convinced that they must shave or otherwise remove much of their body hair. So as to limit our body odor we use deodorants and anti-perspirants. Some people shower daily. I’ve known some that shower twice a day regardless of whether they break a sweat during the day. What are we so afraid of? My disdain for too much cleanliness is not just opinion. Oh no, I’ve got science too. Well, to be specific I have preliminary science because as is often the case, science is tentative.

Ever heard of the “hygiene hypothesis“? In short the idea is that we have become too clean. In our war against “germs” we have greatly reduced the helpful bacteria on which we depend. The contention is that we have become more susceptible to asthma and autoimmune problems because we have reduced our body’s exposure to “germs” which it uses to program the immune system. This is especially important for children who’s bodies are most in need of the “programming”. Not only that but our gut and skin biomes have been greatly reduced. Again, these are necessary bacteria (and fungi and archaea) with which we have a symbiotic relationship. We_ need them to survive._ We call this aggregate of microorganisms the human microbiota. Get used to it, your “body” is actually a community with non-human cells outnumbering human cells by 3 to 1. Fantastic!

For a more academic read there is this. There’s a great deal to be said on the subject and I don’t want to go too far down this rabbit hole. For now I’ll conclude by suggesting that I am clean enough. I found ways that first winter to clean-up without a shower. And for the record, while I wouldn’t want to use an anti-perspirant I am happy to use deodorants. Interestingly I’ve been told by family and a few close friends that I have a unique Denny smell. They contend that it’s not a bad body odor but just a unique smell. I’m guessing that for most of human history each person had such a personal odor. It’s only in recent times that we’ve sought to so completely remove it’s traces.

Okay, now that we’ve covered that I’ll bring the tale of the first year to a close. I not only survived the winter but I thoroughly enjoyed it, frozen feet, icey butt cheeks and all. Spring was around the corner and I would soon be very busy with the garden. Tomato and other warm season crops were seed planted in trays and cool season crops such as peas and lettuce were direct seeded into the garden. The plan for the spring included a chicken coop and attached greenhouse as well as a new cabin for Kerry and Greg’s kids. Oh, and honey bees! Lots to do. More to come!