Oil & Gas Pipeline Closing In On Our Township

oil and gas pipeline through rural areas

No! No! No! 

Pipeline Protest 


Its name is Nexus,

from the Latin

meaning to bind, fasten, tie.

The pipeline, nearly as wide

as a kindergartener is tall,

will cut through

dairy farms and backyards,

hurtling high-pressure

danger for profit. Always profit.


Maybe it’s another wake-up call,

like the one Bush offered

by invading a sovereign nation;

brutalizing the Iraqi people

we claimed to be saving.

Brutalizing ourselves.


Of course we keep hitting

the snooze button.

Waking up isn’t easy.

Birds flounder

in oily waters

and we’re desperate

to sleep a little longer.


Today you and I stand

amidst hand-lettered signs:

Windmills Not Oil Spills,

Eminent Domain=Greed,

Fuck Fracking.

Cold wind brings tears to our eyes.


Fear brings us here. Anger too.

And bone-deep grief

for this lovely lovely planet.

Awakening shows us a million ways

to climb past despair.

I want us to do it for love.


Laura Grace Weldon


Originally published in the Blue Collar Review. Find more poetry in my collection, Tending. 


  • Here’s more about the Nexus pipeline including the route and blast radius in Ohio.
  • Here’s an article I wrote about how fracking might affect my family, and yours.  (First published on Wired.com.)
  • Here’s a glimpse at just how shady the oil and gas industry can be. More than 100 letters sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency (FERC) in support of the pipeline are fakes, using names and addresses of Medina County residents who did not write them or sign them. A FERC project manager said the falsified letters would remain on the docket.
  • Here’s recent disheartening news. An appeals court, using a 65 year old Ohio law meant to facilitate the construction of utility infrastructure after World War II,  has ruled against the rights of property owners. This means pipeline surveyors are free to intrude on the yards and farms of 65 landowners who have actively objected. Yesterday armed security guards stood by as surveyors took measurements on a horse farm just south of the fairgrounds, a farm that’s bordered on three sides by wetlands and park property. As resident Paul Gierosky said in a recent article, “NEXUS is no more a utility than I’m an astronaut. This pipeline is not a public agency designed to service the people along its route. It’s a for-profit company that’s going to sell the gas to a foreign country.”
Image: Garry Knight, CC by 2.0

Image: Garry Knight, CC by 2.0

Be Wary of the Next Great Thing

I tend to be skeptical about praising the Next Great Thing. Maybe that’s because I’m a fan of proven great things like public libraries, holding hands, and peace accords. Or maybe it’s because our house is falling apart.

It seems that back in the late 70’s when the house was built the U.S. began to notice something called an energy crisis. The price of gas had gone from 36 cents to 86 cents (yes, a gallon) in just a few years. Heating oil, natural gas, and electricity cost more. People realized their homes were leaking lots of nice warm air all winter long and suddenly everyone wanted insulation.  The newer the product the better.  Some advertisements practically guaranteed their insulation would seal homeowners in all winter with nothing but each other’s exhale for air. Every product was the Next Great Thing.

I can imagine what happened when the contractor slapped our house together. Surely he (statistically speaking it was a he) promoted the house as featuring the very newest extra thick rigid insulation. But construction workers performing the actual hands-on work didn’t have longer nails or an interest in compensating for that thickness.

Fast forward a few decades. After years of repairing foundation cracks, water damage, and worse we realize that our front and back porches are ready to fall off the house. That’s because in some areas, the beams holding up the porch rails, supports, and roof are only NAILED INTO THE INSULATION. Many nails never quite made it into the actual wood meant to connect porch to house. In fact, the Next Great Thing insulation was applied to the exterior of the house in such a way that it trapped rainwater and rotted the wood. That these porches held up many feet of snow and ice winter after winter is some kind of scientific marvel. That they remained attached to the house at all, another marvel.

So next time you flip past one of those home repair shows, all of which should be subtitled “Look What Money Can Do,” notice that they’re often designed around new products promoted as the Next Great Thing. (You’re basically watching a program-length advertisement.) Composite countertops made from dust epoxied together by hype. Lighting bouncing off reflectors that look like aluminum foil hats worn by the UFO-wary. Heated floorboards with inaccessible heating units. These products may be great. They may not. I think any hairspray host with a tool belt could convince awed homeowners that toilets constructed from celery trimmings are the Next Great Thing and they’d spend thousands on them. Happily.

Fortunately we discovered the porch problem in time. Added to the known blessings of public libraries, holding hands, and peace accords we now add the security that comes with newly sturdy porches.

Throwback post from our farm site, Bit of Earth Farm

34 Ways to Raise Nature-Loving Kids

family outdoor activities

“Man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard.”–– Luther Standing Bear

Kids can’t help but explore when they’re in natural areas. They climb on fallen logs, leap over tiny streams, and wander through tall grasses. Their imaginations are as activated as their senses. These kinds of experiences open new worlds to them.

In Sharing Nature with ChildrenJoseph Cornell writes,

It is very helpful—almost essential—for people at first to have startling, captivating experiences in nature. This kind of first contact extinguishes for a moment the self-enclosing preoccupations and worries that keep us from feeling our identity with other expressions of life. From that release into expanded awareness and concern, love naturally follows. And memories of moments of love and expansion act as reminders of, and incentives to, a more sensitive way of living.

Cornell suggests expanding on outdoor experiences. For example, he describes a unique game of hide and seek. Hiders try to blend in with natural objects to “feel that they are a natural part of the objects around them, and the searchers can try to sense a foreign presence among the rocks and leaves.”

Although time spent in unspoiled areas is vitally important, children can experience nature in their own way and on their own terms every day, even in the smallest city apartment, as they pay attention to the weather, observe insects, grow plants from seed, and watch birds. Children can notice seasonal changes around them in the constellations, nearby trees, and the changing patterns of light falling on surrounding buildings. We are not separate from the ecosystems enfolding us.  Nature is essential for every child’s emotional, physical, and ethical development. (Please, read more about this in Richard Louv’s excellent book, Last Child in the Woods.)

Here are some ways to let our kids experience the lessons generously available to them in every aspect of nature.

~Go hiking. Before leaving, you might decide what each of you will keep your eyes open to see. Your son might decide to look for things that fly. Your daughter might decide to look for what’s blooming. It’s interesting how much more cued all of you will be to your surroundings when really looking.  You might enjoy Take a City Nature Walk or any in the series of Take A Walk books by Jane Kirkland.

nature-loving kids

~ Appoint a child as the hike navigator when setting off on a nature walk. For safety’s sake note the trail taken and the way back, but encourage your child to pay attention along the way so that he or she can guide your return. If the child is confused, assist by pointing out signs found in nature such as the position of the sun and direction of nearby water flow. Note signpost items like rock outcroppings, elevations, and unusually formed trees.

developing kids' love of nature

~ Build specific memories that encourage children to identify with nature. Go back to the same wilderness area year after year to check out a certain stream where you saw a beaver dam. Remember to notice the growth of a sapling in a nearby park as it matures into a young tree. Casually name places something unique to your family, such as “shoe-tying rock” or “Dad’s-go-no-further bend in the trail.” And let your children find their own special places in your backyard, in the park, and in the creek at the end of the street. This way natural areas become touchstones for your child and your family. They remain distinctly in memory even if the places themselves may eventually no longer exist.

love of nature in kids

~Allow time for solitude in nature. A child’s time alone, even when a parent is within hearing, helps them feel grounded and whole as beings in a world teeming with less meaningful distractions. Given enough time, they will see and hear the natural world with more complexity than they ever could through quick observation.

raising kids and teens who love the outdoors

~Draw attention to the sky. Take time to look up each time you go outdoors. Notice how the sunset and sunrise change on the horizon as the seasons turn.  Whenever possible, lie on the ground and look at the sky from that perspective. Some children like to lie still, watching the sky long enough to claim they can feel the earth’s rotation. You might take photos, sending your favorite cloud photos to The Cloud Appreciation Society.

raising outdoorsy kids

~Play outside after dark.  Make a habit of taking a walk at dusk. See who can be first to notice the first faint sliver of a new moon. Point out constellations to one another. Look for shooting stars. Play games perfect for dusk and beyond. Sing lullabies to animals you imagine settling down to sleep in nests and burrows. Or just go out, hold hands, and enjoy the darkness.

family fun at dusk

~Go on micro level explorations. Closely watch what goes on in a small area of a tide pool. Observe sand, rocks, and water. Look for invertebrates, fish, crustaceans. What actions are they taking? Why? Cover a carton with clear plastic over the bottom in order to see more easily. Or sit on the ground in an overgrown area, even a weedy part of the garden, and observe the same tiny section for fifteen minutes or so. Notice plants, rocks, and soil. Check the effect of wind. Listen to nearby sounds. Watch for insects. Use a magnifying glass. Or don’t make an effort to watch at all. Just lie on your stomach in the grass, in a forested area, or near water and just be.

science-y family activities

~Consider macro viewpoints. Go from the close-up to farther away. Step away from the tide pool to a pier or hill. Get up off the grass and climb a tree. Observe from that vantage point. What conditions might affect the soil, water, and creatures you were watching so intently? Consider a more distant perspective of the habitat you’re in.

kids nature learning activities

~Bike, canoe, walk the dog, swim, sail, surf, climb, go horseback riding, skate, kayak — share with your kids whatever you love to do outside.

outdoor family fun

~Take indoor activities outside. Read books on a swing, play board games or cards on the grass, play with dolls and trucks under a tree, paint plein air, play an instrument. We can’t expect kids to do this unless we eagerly do as well. It’s becoming common for people to meditate, do tai chi, and work on laptops in parks. Simply being outside changes the experience.

~Learn wilderness survival skills. It’s entirely satisfying to know how to start a fire, follow animal tracks, forage for edible plants, and find shelter. The resonance of these ancestral skills haven’t diminished in our today’s world. It’s best to learn directly from others, but if that’s not an option check out these wonderful handbooks: Willy Whitefeather’s Outdoor Survival Handbook for Kids and Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Nature and Survival for Children

~Leave room for silence. Make it a tradition to quiet yourselves, even for a few minutes. Really listen to the wind in the trees, chittering insects, rustling leaves, moving water, and other auditory feasts.

encouraging kids to play outside

~Get involved in bird science. Audubon Society has local chapters that host bird walks, advocacy campaigns, nature outings, and educational programs. Audubon teamed up with the Cornell Ornithology Lab for citizen science programs including the Great Backyard Bird Count.

raising nature lovers

~Welcome dirt. It’s not simply something to scrub off, it is integral to the nourishment we take in every day. Certain bacteria found in soil are even linked to positive mood and enhanced learning.   Let kids play in the mud, run outside in the rain, climb trees, play with sticks, and otherwise indulge in direct sensory experiences outdoors. Perhaps you can designate an area of the yard where kids can play right in the dirt. They might want to use it to build mountains and valleys for their toy dinosaurs, cars, or action figures. They might want to dig holes, perhaps looking for archaeological finds using Hands-On Archaeology: Real-Life Activities for Kids as a guide. For a real mess, give them enough water to make a mud pit. Your status as an epic parent will linger (so will the stains).

raise nature loving kids

~Get involved as a family in pursuits upholding the importance of natural systems. Volunteer with a group to restore a wetlands area or to pull invasive plant species. In your own backyard make sure to leave wild areas so native pollinators, birds and other creatures have access to diverse materials for forage and nesting.  You might create wildlife habitat in your backyard, schoolyard, or church property with tips from the National Wildlife Federation and the Xerces Society.  If you get really involved, check out the President’s Environmental Youth Awards, recognizing youth for environmental projects.

Keep lists. For those who like to log their activities, lists are a great motivator. You might list species you’ve seen or paths you’ve hiked or nature areas you’ve visited. More on keeping unusual lists, check here.

Eat outside. Take your dinner to the park or the beach or far in the back yard. If at all possible, cook some of it outside over a flame. Everything tastes better whether cooked on a grill, over a fire pit, or over a real campfire. Slice a few inches open on an unpeeled banana, stuff in a dollop of peanut butter and a few chocolate chips, then grill till it becomes a warm pudding in its own banana container. Bake brownies or cake inside hollowed out oranges over a fire pit.  Bury baking potatoes in the coals till they’re cooked to roasty goodness. For more ideas check out Campfire CookingScout’s Outdoor Cookbook and Easy Campfire Cooking

Sleep outside. It’s great if you can get away, especially to state or national parks, but you can also say yes to sleeping on an open porch or in a hammock slung between trees or in a backyard tent. If your kids are young, sleep out there with them, maybe just one kid at a time for some special adult-child togetherness. When kids get older, let them do it on their own. My oldest liked to haul a little tent to the back of our yard and settle in. By the time he was 11 he managed to stay out all night!

raise outdoor loving kids

Create a seasonal table.  Many of us enjoy setting a space aside for a nature table. In our home it has always been a simple display of seasonal items, but you can get more elaborate. Some feature folktale scenes with felted figures and wood turnings. It’s a celebratory way of bringing inside a few things from the natural world. More on this here.

~Garden together. Let each child plant one “crop” in the garden that’s his or hers to tend. Fast-growing plants like sugar snap peas, radishes, and green beans are ideal. Let the kid farmer in charge be the one to check regularly for weeds, watering needs, and harvest times. For more ideas check out Gardening Projects for Kids and for those of you without yards or community garden plots, try Kids’ Container Gardening.  Growing their own foods has been found to inspire children to be more adventurous eaters.

raising nature lovers

~Eat local. Go to pick-your-own farms. Your kids will happily to dig into baskets of blueberries and bags of apples for a taste, but they’re just as likely to be eager to try radishes, endive, broccoli, pecans, and other treats they pick themselves. Join a CSA that encourages members to donate time on the farm.  Find nearby farms through Local Harvest; some have open houses or welcome visitors.

~Cook with the sun. Use a solar oven to cook at home or on campouts using nature’s free energy supply.  Assemble your own solar cooker and make lunch using only the sun’s rays for heat, you can find all sorts of plans here.

raising outdoorsy kids

~Pay attention to subtext. Look behind a promotional campaign or news story to discover more about the situation. How do efforts to control or “help” nature overlook interdependent natural systems? How do corporate and media messages shape our view of nature? There are lots of ways to help kids of all ages become media aware.

 ~Explore recycling. Buying easily recyclable items aids the process of reclamation, but  buying less in the first place leads to fewer items requiring disposal. Find out what happens to recyclable products. Visit an artist who relies on used materials. Call your local recycling, solid waste, or public works department for information, tours, or speakers. If there are items you cannot easily recycle (furniture, batteries, paint) locate organizations that will take them from the resources from Earth911.  Save worn-out sneakers to donate to a recycling program. Heck, start a Stinky Shoe Drive so your family can work toward a goal of 25 pounds of shoes or more. Here are organizations that recycle them.  Enjoy recyclable products too. Toys from Trash provides instructions for making a variety of playthings from repurposed items.

earth-friendly kids

~Bring useful information. Along with water and snacks in your backpacks, you can bring field guides and take-along science ideas. Instructions to measure a slope using a string and jar of water, the methods of testing for rock hardness, charts of constellations are all great to have on hand when the timing is right. Sure, you can look these things up on your phone but kids running off clutching a dust-darkened field guide somehow feels right. There are plenty of guides for kids but my family likes standards like  Peterson guides and Audubon field guides. (Smithsonian guides are appealing, but not durable.) 

~Set off on a search. Brainstorm indications of animal life or other areas of interest, then set out with your list and check off what can be found   Another time, try a nature scavenger hunt. You might have to make tree rubbings, spot a certain bird, collect rocks, and so on. For toddlers, try a color hunt.

outdoor family fun

~Pay close attention to weather. Notice how the air feels different before the storm and how you can “smell” snow coming. Put together a DIY weather station.  Find out if you really predict weather using pinecones. Go out and experience windy days, rainy days, snowy days, all of weather’s moods where you live.

~Ignore inclement weather. There are all sort of things to be learned when you’re snowed in!

nature learning in winter

~Allow kids the allure of hidden places. Explore to find little hideaways or even an afternoon’s hideout made from a sheet draped over a branch. This gives kids a sense of their own place outdoors.

kids who love to play outside

~Let fiction build a love of nature. When I was a kid I loved books told from the perspective of an animal, giving me a compelling glimpse of the lives of other creatures. I still remember reading dusty old library copies of An Otter’s Story Rabbit Hill, and White Fang The most popular from-an-animal’s perspective these days is the delightful book, The Tale of Despereaux.  Here’s a list for younger children and here’s one more appropriate for older kids.

build a love for nature

~Keep a nature journal. This doesn’t have to be anything more than a blank book. Take it along when you go outdoors and set aside time to draw, write observations, or make up stories. Don’t expect kids to use their nature journals if you aren’t avidly using one yourself!

kids nature journal

~Emphasize hands-on fun. Run, climb, roll, and revel in being outdoors. Kids, especially the youngest among us, are great models for our own fun. You can find more ideas in books like  Nature’s Playground: Activities, Crafts, and Games to Encourage Children to Get Outdoors and Go Wild!: 101 Things to Do Outdoors Before You Grow Up.

outdoor family fun

~Focus on one thing over time. Pick out a tree right past your window or a stream nearby. Describe it fully to yourself, perhaps writing about it or drawing it. Spend time regularly observing it. Notice changes in different seasons. Pay attention to everything that’s beautiful, distressing, and hard to understand. As questions arise, look for the answers.

kids who love nature

 ~Stay positive. Simply enjoy and observe. Don’t allow yourself to make dire observations no matter how much you worry about issues affecting our lovely planet. The first step for children is love of the natural world, from that flows the desire to save it. When choosing resources, focus on those which help young people become informed and active in positive ways. Emphasize joy.

love nature to save nature

What activities and resources do you suggest?


Keeping Creativity Alive



“The world is but a canvas to the imagination.”—Henry David Thoreau

Imagination springs from nowhere and brings something new to the world—games, art, inventions, stories, solutions. Childhood is particularly identified with this state, perhaps because creativity in adults is considered to be a trait possessed only by the artistic few.



Nurturing creativity in all its forms recognizes that humans are by nature generative beings. We need to create. The best approach may be to get out of one another’s way and welcome creativity as a life force.



If we are familiar with the process that takes us from vision to expression, we have the tools to use creativity throughout our lives. When we welcome the exuberance young children demonstrate as they dance around the room, talk to invisible friends, sing in the bathtub, and play made-up games we validate the importance of imagination.



When we encourage teens to leave room in their schedules for music or game design or skateboarding or whatever calls to them, we honor their need for self-expression. Young people who are comfortable with creativity can apply the same innovative mindset to their adult lives.



Creativity is necessary when dealing with an architectural dilemma, new recipe, marketing campaign, environmental solution, or personal relationship. In fact, it’s essential.



Imagination and inspiration have fueled human progress throughout time. Creative powers have brought us marvels and continue to expand the boundaries. The energy underlying the creative act is life-sustaining and honors the work of others.



But there’s a caveat. Creativity isn’t always positive, visionaries aren’t always compassionate, and progress isn’t always beneficial. After all, a clever mind is required to craft a conspiracy as well as to negotiate a peace accord.



Creativity is a life force when it arises as a healing impulse, as a truth-telling impulse, as an impulse to approach mystery.



Tomorrow’s possibilities call out to our inventive, imaginative selves. Let’s answer.



Portions of this post were excerpted from Free Range Learning.

I Heckle, You Heckle, Let’s All Heckle

heckle, roots of word heckle, change the world,

I just got back from a workshop teaching us how to research injection wells for a citizen’s audit project. It’s boring and difficult. I’m appalled when I look closely at the data. I don’t want to do it, although I will because we’re currently mired in a struggle over fracking.

That may not be your issue but of course there are plenty of others that jab at our consciences. Drone strikes, refugees, melting polar regions and burning rainforests, poisons in our food, toxic tactics wielded by the powerful. The list goes on and on. We feel like screaming in the streets, but there are bills to pay and meals to make.

I haven’t thrown open my window to yell, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.” But I want to affirm the heckling all of us do. These days the word “heckle” has entirely negative connotations. It conjures up images of rude people who interrupt performers and ruin the experience for everyone. Instead, lets hop on a wagon to the past where this word meant much more (as explained by Mark Forsyth in The Etymologicon).

Heckling originally referred to the process of combing sticks, burrs, and knots from sheep’s wool so it could be spun into usable fibers. Sheep tend to ramble around without any concern for fleece-related loveliness, so this is quite a task.  People who did the combing were naturally called hecklers.

Back in the eighteenth century, the wool trade flourished in the town of Dundee, Scotland. Hecklers worked long hours together. In the morning as they set to work heckling, one of their fellow hecklers read aloud from the day’s news.  There was plenty to read, since this was an era when all sorts of publishers put out lots of newspapers, broadsheets, and handbills. The hecklers were thus well-informed in many subjects.

When politicians and power brokers of the day addressed the public, the hecklers combed over their speeches as thoroughly as they combed wool. They raised objections, pointed out contradictory facts, called people to account for their behavior. In other words, they heckled. These hecklers formed what would now be called trade unions, using their collective efforts to bargain for better pay and perks. They also stirred up awareness of worker’s rights while empowering ordinary people to speak up against injustice.

Hecklers were people who were knowledgeable and alert to hypocrisy. They were aware how easily something nasty can snag what’s useful into uselessness until it’s pulled free, no matter how arduous and smelly the process.

Heckling is a potent way to question the powerful. Over the centuries the term implied thoughtful questions from the audience which a speaker would answer before going on. In parliamentary proceedings it remains a method of engaging in open discourse with a speaker by someone who isn’t entitled to the floor.

Nearly everyone I know is actually a heckler. We’re well-informed. We care. We lean toward positive change, willing it into being by our words and thoughts as well as our actions.

The poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti joins other writers and thinkers who claim the masses are sheep, as he does in this evocative poem.

(After Khalil Gibran)

Pity the nation whose people are sheep
and whose shepherds mislead them.
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars,
whose sages are silenced
and whose bigots haunt the airwaves.
Pity the nation that raises not its voice
except  to praise conquerors
and acclaim the bully as hero
and aims to rule the world
by force and by torture.
Pity the nation that knows
no other language but its own
and no other culture but its own.
Pity the nation whose breath is money
and sleeps the sleep of the too well fed.
Pity the nation—oh pity the people
who allow their rights to  erode
and their freedoms to be washed away.
My country, tears of thee
Sweet land of liberty!

With respect to Mr. Ferlinghetti, I disagree. His poem is packed with truth but it doesn’t acknowledge how these exact circumstances also propel people to deeper understanding and stronger commitment to change.

I see eyes opening. I see loving hearts broken by Earth’s sorrows, knitted back together with hope. I see the sort of consciousness rising that wakens more and more people.

We aren’t the sheep. We’re the hecklers.

social change, heckler,

Heckling combs. Image: nimpsu.deviantart.com

What A Cow Taught Us About Free Range Learning

Isabelle. (Photo by Claire Weldon)

Isabelle. (Photo by Claire Weldon)

Look closely at any one thing long enough and you start to see how much more there is to know, stretching your mind (and often your heart) well beyond the supposed “right” answers. You also may notice the way this one thing interconnects with everything else. A cow helped us see that.

Years ago we were only raising chickens and honeybees on our small farm. My daughter researched, did the numbers, and convinced us that keeping a cow would not only provide an amazing learning experience but would be an excellent way to supply our own milk, butter, yogurt, and cheese. That’s why Isabelle, a gentle Guernsey, entered our lives. And every single day since my daughter has worked hard to care for her, without fail.

Isabelle taught us more than we could have imagined about thinking for ourselves, about tenderly raising animals, and much more. When it was time for college, my daughter wrote her entrance essay about this and was awarded an amazing scholarship.

Today Isabelle is 16 years old. She continues to teach us, our vet, and a community of people who participate in a family cow forum. To celebrate her birthday, I’ll be bringing her extra carrots and apples. I invite you to celebrate too by reading about Isabelle’s life on our farm

family cow, homestead dairy,

Isabelle (Photos by Claire Weldon)

100 Companies Selling U.S. Made Products Only

no-sweatshop shopping, US only shopping, US company links, eco-friendly shopping,

The cart stops here.

Shopping is cheaper and more convenient at big box stores. And on that giant site that shares its name with South America’s longest river. But we know more all the time about the environmental and economic impact of our spending choices. Our wallets really do change the marketplace.

Yes, it’s more complicated than making an effort to buy what’s produced in our own country. We live in a globally interdependent world. What we use to communicate, fuel, and enhance our lives is a combination of innovation and resources from around the globe. Yes, I’ve read convincing articles about why people in the developing world need factory jobs to pull their families toward greater prosperity. I just have trouble reconciling that concept with the millions of child laborers still at work today, the grim details about sweatshops turning out electronics and shoes, the conditions at garment factories like those in Bangladesh where over 800 workers recently died in a building fire just one day after owners refused to evacuate when told it was unsafe. Know how much it would cost to afford decent working conditions? About ten cents more per item of clothing.

Besides, that gotta-have outfit on sale doesn’t feel like a great bargain when we look at wages. Most clothes coming to the US are made in China where the minimum wage is 93 cents an hour. Second largest importer is Vietnam, where wages are 52 cents an hour. Third largest is Bangladesh, where it’s 21 cents an hour. Ouch. Gotta have more fairness.

I’m not a fanatic, heck, I buy wonderful imports on purpose, but I’ve also walked out of Bed, Bath, and Beyond when I couldn’t find a single thing on a wedding registry that wasn’t imported from places in the world where working conditions and environmental standards are appalling. And I admit to a personal bias. My husband was unemployed for nearly three and a half years, his job loss related to outsourcing. He’s lucky to be back at work, considering the the US trade deficit set a new record.

In my house, we make our own or repurpose whenever possible. When we can’t, we do our best to buy from artists, craftspeople, and from ethical companies.  We also try to search for products locally as well as in our home country. Buying quality items means we need to purchase fewer goods. It’s a simple effort, really.

Here’s a list of goods made entirely in the U.S. Please add your own links in the comment section. And don’t forget to bookmark this list!  Continue reading

Engage The Window Box Effect

beauty heals, finding the positive, reversing urban decay, building a neighborhood,

CC 2.0 by ahisgett

When I was in college my professors enjoyed crushing what was left of our youthful optimism with miserable statistics about how bad everything was and how rapidly it was getting worse. (Even their cynicism was too small to envision our current issues.) I remember a semester-long course that had to do with reversing urban blight. After being taught about this dire and growing problem we were introduced to the standard remedies. Our professor scornfully dismissed every effort to reverse urban blight. The worst thing that could be done? Coming in from outside the community to impose a do-gooder solution. The only right thing to do was a vast overhaul of our economic structures. (Those structures are even shakier today.) I wrote sufficiently miserable papers to get an A but was left with quiet despair in my ever-hopeful heart.

Soon after that class I read about one woman’s experience of urban blight. She’d lived in the same house for decades, watching her neighborhood decline. There were few jobs and the ones available paid poorly, with no benefits or job security. She sadly listed the local businesses that had left, leaving her area with no grocery, beauty shop, or movie theater. The only places that remained were bars and corner stores selling little in the way of real food. People lost their homes and landlords took over, rarely keeping up the property. The city lost revenue, doing little to keep up with residents’ complaints. It seemed to her that young people were lost too. They swore in front of tiny children and their elders, hung out all hours on street corners, got into public fights, abused drugs. She was quoted as saying that people complained they got no respect from young people, when really the young people had no respect for themselves.

The reason she was being interviewed? She was credited with beginning a tiny urban renaissance that was evident on her street and slowly spreading through the neighborhood.

Here’s how it happened. She’d been in poor health and adjusting to widowhood. Her home had been well maintained over the years but like many wood-sided homes, it began to look shabby when too much time went by without new paint. After her husband died she didn’t do well keeping up with yard work and because the street had changed she rarely sat on the porch as she used to do in years past, chatting with neighbors and greeting young people by name as they went by. It wasn’t just friendliness. When everyone knows everyone, word of misdeeds travels home quicker than an unruly child can get in the door. And when a child really knows the elders on his or her street, they have many more potential role models to benefit them as they grow up. That’s the proverbial “village” it takes to raise a child.

This woman wanted to do something. All she could afford was a few packets of flower seeds. She got out on a spring day to plant the seeds in her long-unused window boxes. She started sitting on her porch every afternoon after watering them, greeting those who went by even though she didn’t know them. Renters in houses where her friends once lived began talking to her. By the time the flowers were in bloom she noticed a difference on the street. She said that people were sweeping their porches and planting flowers of their own. Because they were trying, she got out there to do her part, attempting to take better care of her lawn, telling people who passed by that it was a good way to get exercise she needed. Every time she couldn’t get her mower to start she’d ask a teenager walking down the street to help her. Then before starting to mow, she’d ask for his or her name, shake hands, and thank that youth for doing a good deed by helping her. She made sure to greet those young people by name every time she saw them afterwards.

That summer one family painted their front door. Someone else cleaned up an empty lot that had been a dumping place for trash. People started sitting on their porches, waving to each other, stopping for conversation. It began to feel like a neighborhood again. Building on what’s positive is powerful indeed.

There are plenty of ways people are revitalizing their communities these days. They’re reclaiming empty lots as gardens or play places for their kids, running micro-businesses out of their homes, starting up tool-shares and neighborhood work groups. They’re using social media to connect and collaborate with each other. They’re mentoring kids in the neighborhood and finding ways to get kids more involved in the larger community.  Studies show that urban gardens and other revitalizing efforts make a difference, reducing the crime rate and fostering all sorts of positive relationships. An old theory, kind of the flip side of what I’m calling the Window Box Effect, was called Broken Windows Theory. It posited that minor examples of breakdown (like a few broken windows) leads to greater disorder, dragging down not only the appearance of an area but also leading to crime and property damage. This has largely been disproven because crime is actually deterred when people know they have the power to affect their communities and benefit from strong networks within those communities.

Sure, we have a lot to work to do rebuilding our sorry infrastructure and easing the ever-widening income gap. But it doesn’t hurt to remember that noticing a little beauty can amplify the greater beauty that’s everywhere, waiting to bloom.

There are plenty of ways to apply the Window Box Effect.

Tell me how the Window Box Effect works in your life.

Will Fracking Affect My Family?

fracking affects your food, fracking affects your air, fracking affects your water,

Equipment arrives at this dairy farm. (Image: fafaohio.org)

Have you heard about fracking? It may seem like it will have no impact on your or your family. But take a look at the facts.

A dairy farm not far from us is the first in our area to begin hydraulic fracturing. This process was developed to extract formerly unattainable gas and oil from rock a mile or more below the surface. Unlike old style wells bored straight down or at a slant, these go down and then proceed horizontally. Using a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals the rock is fractured (hence the name) to release fossil fuels. This is commonly called fracking.

I went to look for myself. The bucolic farm is snuggled along gentle hillsides. An Amish buggy went by as I took in the dissonant sight of Holsteins grazing and huge rigs marked Halliburton parked just off the narrow rural road. Drilling hadn’t started. I wondered if fracking chemicals could possibly affect those cows and wind up in their milk. How many of us know where our yogurt once grazed?

I’m as energy dependent as the next person. But I wanted to know more about fracking, especially how it might affect my family and community, so I started hunting down information.

Sorting through the confusion

fracking chemicals in your food, what frackers don't want you to know,

My husband and I attended a public meeting held to promote leasing by landowners. There were lots of glossy handouts and a power point presentation. The speakers said that 60 years of gas well drilling had never caused a health or safety problem. I found the same reassuring claims by the oil and gas industry in advertising campaigns and online reports. Friends who’ve already signed fracking leases repeat this too.

It seems to me they’re blurring the distinction between decades of experience in vertical drilling methods and the much newer process of fracking. It’s not hard to find incidents around my hometown of older-style wells causing trouble. That includes homes with explosive levels of methane as well as a house explosion linked to inadequate cementing of well casings. Apparently such problems have occurred in both vertically drilled wells and fracked wells.

But technically, assertions that fracking is safe are largely true. That’s because industry and government regulatory agencies use the term “fracking” only as it relates to the actual process of pumping fluids into the ground to break apart rock. So when they make claims about fracking safety, they don’t include what happens while drilling, constructing the well, setting off explosions, dealing with blowouts or well fires, storing waste water in open containment basins, vapors emitted from condensate tanks, open flaring to burn off gasses, transporting waste, injecting waste water into deep disposal wells, or at any point in the future when the wells may leak.

That’s convenient, because a University of Texas study found that these are the activities actually contaminating air, water, and soil. So both sides are “right” in the fracking debate. The industry is correct when they say that fracking is largely safe because of their limited definition of the word. People concerned about the environmental and health consequences lump all activities associated with the process under the term “fracking,” making their claims of risk correct too.

Maybe this is one reason why media coverage of fracking is so confusing. For example, the standard fracking-related practice of disposing of waste in deep injection wells has been linked to earthquakes inColoradoOklahomaTexas, and Arkansas according to a U.S. Geological Survey study. In my home state of Ohio earthquakes have also been linked to this disposal method, although the state continues to accept fracking waste brought in from other states. Last year Ohio injected 12 million barrels of waste deep below her surface. But plenty of media outlets, quoting the same studies, run reassuring headlines like “Don’t worry much about quakes and ‘fracking’” and “earthquake rise, fracking not to blame“ even if farther down in the article it’s noted that earthquakes are associated with deep injection wells used to dispose of fracking waste.

I think it’s time we developed a new word or phrase to discuss the issue more clearly. For now I’ll use “fracking-related activity.”

Disclosure and rights

fracking and water shortages, fracking chemicals evaporate into the air,

Those of us who live in areas said to be rich in shale oil are being romanced. Industry representatives hold open houses. Lawyers eager to get a share of leasing money by selling pooled rights do too. I’ve paid close attention at these meetings. The emphasis is mostly on how much money can be made. We’re told that those who get their land drilled first will have the highest yields and the most money. One speaker demonstrated with a straw and a cup of soda, showing that wherever drillers (his straw) first pierced would have access to the most gas (soda) below. He slurped loudly, then asked if anyone thought he’d leave much behind for those who leased their land later.

Many participants eagerly signed up. Any concerns raised were quickly soothed. At a meeting held in a rural church we were told that landowners would be left with trees, grass, and a single wellhead providing substantial income for 30 or more years. Big money, restored land–sounds good, right?

The promise of a hefty income rising from the ground well below our feet comes at a time when many Americans are reeling from unemployment, poor housing prices, and debt. And all over the country, property owners like small to medium dairy farms are losing their livestock and often their land because they can’t turn a profit. Fracking seems like a life line.

But when I talk to people who have already signed a lease many are upset, believing they haven’t gotten as much money as they deserved. Others believe they’ve been lied to about the environmental impact. Surely there are happy lease-holders out there, I just keep running into those who feel they’ve been deceived.

At an open house meeting last fall, a conversation between an Ohio property owner and industry representatives was tape recorded. The property owner asked about chemicals used in fracking. He was told, “We don’t put any chemicals down in the ground. We just use regular, fresh water.” Another industry representative coming into the room later said the process uses household chemicals like dish washing detergent.

These are common claims. At one meeting we were told that fracking chemicals are no more dangerous than cleaning products in the average home. Cheerful articles online tell us that the same chemicals using in fracking can be found in hand sanitizer, fabric softener, even hot dogs. (I’ll take a brief look at why that’s not the whole story in a bit.)

And leases may be misleading. A New York Times review of 111,000 documents showed that most homeowners aren’t aware what rights the industry takes.

  • A majority of leases do not require companies to compensate landowners for water contamination or damages to the land.
  • Even if state regulations force industry to replace contaminated drinking water, not all costs are covered nor are needs of crops or livestock included.
  • Many consumer protection laws do not apply.
  • Some leases deduct costs such as hauling to or from the site.
  • Energy companies can use the property to build roads, store chemicals, cut down trees, run equipment 24 hours a day, and build containment ponds (in some instances covering them with dirt rather than hauling away the waste).
  • Few landowners are fully aware that their property becomes, in essence, an industrial site.
  • Some homeowners’ insurance policies will not cover problems related to fracking.
  • They also may not be aware of a potential loss in property value.

But local citizens have very little control over fracking. Depending where they live, fracking may occur under cemeteries and in state parks. Some cities as well as colleges are considering lease offers. Despite regulations that normally zone residential areas apart from industrial areas, drilling can take place near homes and schools. Residents in ColoradoTexasWest Virginia, and elsewhere are advocating for stronger regulations to protect schoolchildren from the noise and dust generated by these sites. In some areas drilling sites are only required to be 350 feet from schools and 200 feet from homes. (In New Mexico, one school playground is 150 feet from a well.) No matter how vehemently citizens object, the ability to pass local ordinances regulating gas and oil producers can be superseded by state or federal regulations. This provides the industry rights normally not allowed under the law.

For example, in 38 states you can’t say no to fracking on your land if others in your area have already signed leases. It’s called by all sorts of names such as “mandatory pooling” or “compulsory integration.” This means a horizontal drilling line can run under your property whether you want it there or not. It’s really eminent domain by private enterprise. Such laws make it easy for gas and oil representatives to tell people they might as well sign up, because underground reserves will be extracted anyway. That’s the reason people we know are signing leases. That there’s no legal recourse shocks some homeowners when drilling begins.

For many of us, fracking operations (called “plays”) seem like a distant threat. But they’re taking place not only in rural areas but cities, suburbs, and park lands with several hundred thousand new wells scheduled for drilling in the next few years.

Will your area be fracked?


fracking the next economic bubble,

We also heard lots of talk about how much good this gas and oil will do to boost the local economy and help our nation to get back national energy independence. These are laudable goals. I’m not sure they’re more than optimistic projections.

Any talk of jobs is likely to generate enthusiasm in our still flagging economy. Those of us living in shale oil areas have been told that an employment boom is around the corner. In Ohio we’re assured that our state will see 65,000 jobs and $3.3 billion in wages within two years. But analysis of data from states already experiencing a fracking boom finds only a modest rise in employment, even when factoring in supply chain jobs and increased spending by workers and landowners. Looking more closely at the numbers, it’s clear that the majority of the energy paychecks are going to out-of-state contract workers who handle drilling and hauling.

They don’t have the most enviable jobs. Oil field workers are exempt from certain safety rules, leading to a higher rate of accidents than other industries. In one state alone, police found that 40 percent of the 2,200 oil and gas industry trucks inspected were in such serious disrepair they were taken off the road. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that fatality rates for oil workers are seven times the national average.

Fracking-related activity actually places a heavy burden on municipalities. The industry estimates over 200,000 new wells will be fracked across the U.S. in the next decade. Each one requires 500 to 1,500 truck trips to haul equipment, water, and waste. Massively increased traffic brought by these heavy rigs is likely to hasten the deterioration of roads and bridges. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) puts out regular report cards on the country’s infrastructure. They note that bridges are normally built to last 50 years. The average U.S. bridge is now 43 years old. Overall, the ASCE gives U.S. infrastructure (including roads, bridges, and water supply) a grade of  ”D.”

It costs in city services as well. Police have reported increased calls in some areas due to the surge in temporary workers associated with drilling. And first responders such as fire fighters and paramedics may not have the equipment, training, or funds to handle new perils that come with drilling and disposal operations.

Maybe this is the price we have to pay. After all, we’re told that fracking is a reliable means to achieve energy independence. I hear lots of these talking points repeated in meetings and in print, often along with some patriotic fervor tossed in for emphasis, but it isn’t easy to figure out energy facts in all the hubbub. As a concerned parent and citizen, I’m still trying to sort it out.

Here are some things I’m mulling over. The U.S. exports more gasoline than it imports, so energy independence isn’t as simple as the “drill, baby, drill” signs I see in my community. And shale oil, which can be extracted along with natural gas from the fracking process in some areas, is more expensive to extract and refine than crude oil. But most of the energy generated by fracking comes in the form of natural gases and liquid gases such as ethane, propane, and butane.  Over the last ten years this industry has spent 20.5 million dollars on donations to Congress and 726 million dollars on lobbying to continue steering subsidies toward fossil fuel, keep regulation minimal, and boost incentives.  Government policy decisions are locking in tax dollars for years to come on natural gas incentives based on industry and Wall Street speculation about the amount of gas that can be extracted. It will cost 700 billion to convert just some of our coal-fired plants to natural gas, a pricey venture when estimates of these reserves keep dropping.

At the same time, reports from financial and energy sectors indicate such speculation is shaky. Huge investments made in leasing and supplies are not returning profits as projected. The U.K.’s Financial Times called it the next economic bubble, comparing it to the financial disaster caused by real estate financing. For some companies, such as Chesapeake Energy, the bubble may already be bursting.

It’s not just a financial bubble, there’s also a gap between the industry’s wildly optimistic estimates and the realities of extraction. Petroleum engineers note that initial production rates are high but dropping. Although President Obama’s State of the Union address repeated industry claims that we’re sitting on a 100 year supply of natural gas, a week later the Energy Information Administration revised its estimatesof Marcellus Shale gas downward by 66 percent and overall potential U.S. reserves by 40 percent. ASlate report takes a close look at the numbers. The estimated supply actually lumps  ”proved reserves” (meaning it’s known to exist and is recoverable) with those that are “probable,” “possible,” and “speculative.” In other words, most of the so-called surplus of gas may not exist or be recoverable. Only an 11 year supply falls into the “proven” category, and that’s if our usage doesn’t go up. As Slate dryly notes, “By the same logic, you can claim to be a multibillionaire, including all your ‘probable, possible, and speculative resources.’”

Government and industry continue to insist that a boom is on although a well-by-well analysis notes that gas production is much flatter than hyped and “the gold rush is over.”  The number of drill rigs operating in North America continues to fall and production per well, on average, declines by 44 percent per year compared to 23 percent for wells in traditional gas fields.

Some people we know who have leased their property worry that the companies owning their leases are simply speculating in land and will sell those leases to foreign companies. I held up my hand at one meeting and asked an industry representative if any leases might ever be sold to non-U.S. companies. “Absolutely not,” I was told. “This is about American energy independence.”

I came home and looked it up. All sorts of huge foreign companies are buying up rights. For example, the Australian company BHP Billiton bought 4.75 billion worth of shale assets in Arkansas, the French company Total will pay 2.25 billion for shale assets in Texas and 2.32 billion for assets in Ohio, and the Chinese firm, Sinopec, is spending billions to scoop up assets across the U.S. from firms like Devon and Chesapeake. Selling these assets is, of course, the prerogative of any company owning them. Obscuring the truth about it to landowners before they sign the leases doesn’t seem to be a priority.

The fracking boom (or bubble) isn’t limited to the U.S. It’s taking place or about to in CanadaArgentinaChinaMozambiqueRussiaPolandIsraelAustralia, and elsewhere.

Health and environmental considerations

fracking and health, fracked air, fracked water,

We also attended public meetings run by several area groups hastily formed to oppose fracking. They brought speakers in from across the state and beyond. I listened to Joe Logan, a representative of the Ohio Environmental Council, explain how fracking-related activity can affect the food we eat. His charts showed that heavy metals and chemicals migrate into air, soil, and water. These contaminants can diminish crop yield, affect the health of livestock, and imperil organic certification. He noted that current laws are not sufficient to protect the food supply or food producing areas from the effects of fracking.

I listened to Doug Shields, former member of the Pittsburgh City Council, explain how fracking-related activity is exempt from major environmental laws that currently protect the public. The oil and gas industry does not have to comply with key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Superfund Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Environmental Policy Act, or the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act.

A local man stood up with a jug of brown water from his once clear well. Since his land was fracked the water has been foul smelling and murky, although state officials told him it was okay to drink. Another woman said brine was dumped on a road by her house and when she paid to have it tested it was found to contain chemicals associated with fracking, although state officials declined to investigate. I talked to many other people at these meetings: college students, farmers, retirees, mothers with small children living near active fracking sites. The information they shared was alarming. Here’s a little of what I’ve been able to confirm.

Each fracking operation takes 1.2 million gallons to 5 million gallons of water, sometimes more. Each additional time a site is fracked more water is required. Water stress (an imbalance between water use and water resources) is fast becoming an alarming global issue. When water is withdrawn from natural sources for drinking, irrigation, and other typical uses it normally finds its way back into the global water supply. But a substantial portion (15 to 40 percent) of the water used in fracking operations is left deep in the ground. What does come back up (called “flowback” as well as “produced water” which naturally occurs in shale) is often put in deep injection wells for long-term storage. This method not only edges up the potential for earthquakes, it also takes much-needed water out of planetary circulation.

Chemical components make up only about 0.5 percent of fluids used in fracking-related activity, the rest being water and sand. This sounds like a reassuringly small amount, until you multiply the millions of gallons of water used per fracking site with the number of sites being fracked. Some estimate that 20 tons of chemicals are used per million gallons of fracking fluid. (This number does not include drilling fluids and other chemicals that augment fracking-related activity.)

2011 Congressional report lists 750 known fracking chemicals in order of most common usage. Here’s a partial account of those used in highest amounts.

Some of these chemicals are indeed similar to chemicals used around the home. But a 2011 analysis found that 25 percent are carcinogens; 37 percent are endocrine disruptors; more than 40 percent can impair the immune system and nervous system; and three-quarters can irritate the eyes and lungs. It’s important to remember that some chemicals are toxic in concentrations much less than one part-per-million and the synergistic effect of most chemicals is largely unknown.

The fluid that comes back up also contains ingredients that didn’t go in. This means naturally occurring matter such as heavy metals, volatile organic compounds (including benzene, toluene, xylene), radioactive materials (including lead, arsenic, strontium), even acidic microbes. It also means chemical compounds created by the reactions of chemicals during any stage of the process. Claims of air, ground, and water pollution due to fracking-related activity are often dismissed by industry and government officials because some contaminants are considered “naturally occurring.” And let’s not forget the water’s salinity. Fracking wastewater has two to three times more salt than sea water and more than 180 times the level considered acceptable to drink by the EPA.

Although the industry insists that all chemicals used in fracking are on the record there are still rules in place allowing them to claim chemicals are proprietary or to disclose what’s used only after the drilling has been completed. In several states including Pennsylvania and Ohio, physicians are bound by a “gag rule” which prevents doctors from sharing information about symptoms, diagnoses, and disease clusters related to fracking chemicals even with other doctors and public health officials. Some doctors say they’re not sure if the laws permit them to inform patients either. Frightening stories abound, like the one about a nurse treating a gas field worker whose clothes were drenched in chemicals. She fell ill herself.  While she was in ICU with multiple organ failure the worker’s company refused to identify those chemicals. Turned out that story was true. (Her state of Colorado now has forms to get that information although doctors are still bound by non-disclosure rules.) Limited information hampers the ability ofmedical practitioners to link health problems to environmental contaminants.

How do these and other toxins linked to fracking-related activity get into the environment? Here are a few routes.

  • Leaks and spills during transportation, mixing, or other fracking-related activity. The industry reportsmillions of gallons spilled in one state alone.
  • Liners that leak or burst, spilling fluids into the soil. Birds and other wildlife are known to be affected.
  • Exhaust from diesel trucks and diesel generators running day and night.
  • Flaring of gas (burning into the air), venting of gas (directly releasing into the air), as well as air release via dehydration units and condensate tanks.
  • Evaporating unknown quantities of chemicals into the air from open containment “ponds” of fracking waste. Misters often spray the liquid in the air to speed up the process. This is standard across much of the industry.
  • Contamination of ground water at depths used for drinking water, typically caused by failures of well casings but also possibly due to increased permeability of rock layers.
  • Inadequate treatment of waste water at sewage plants.
  • Use of “treated” fracking waste from water treatment plants mixed with sludge to be spread on parks and farms.
  • Waste water released into surface bodies of water.
  • Spraying treated fracking brine on roads to control dust or melt ice, a method approved by Ohio EPA and used in many other states although the U.S. EPA advises against this practice.

Burning natural gas itself is cleaner than other forms of fossil fuel, as long as larger environmental costs of the energy-intensive and toxic process of fracking aren’t added to the equation. In fact a Cornell study concluded that as much as eight percent of the methane in shale oil leaks into the air due to fracking, twice the amount released by conventional gas production. Since methane is a far more damaging greenhouse gas than CO2, researcher Robert Howarth concluded that shale gas is less “clean” than conventional gas, coal, or oil.  Studies released by the American Petroleum Institute and American Natural Gas Alliance show much lower methane emissions. Reports and research funded by the gas and oil industry tend to find results more favorable to that industry, putting the science itself into question.

There are always risks in fracking, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson said in a recent speech, but he believes the public has been alarmed by “manufactured fear.” As he sees it, the biggest problem is “taking an illiterate public and try to help them understand why we can manage these risks.”

For a variety of fracking perspectives, check out YouTube. You’ll find plenty of videos presenting the industry’s viewpoint, as well as stories of people living near fracking sites, and this quasi-humorous skewering of what’s being called an industry-wide cover-up of fracking dangers. It’s hard to find footage simply showing what a fracking operation looks like, but here’s one filmed by a Penn State extension service.

I went back to take another look at the dairy farm near us, now being fracked. The area was covered with heavy equipment. A few employees outfitted in fire retardant suits, masks, and hard hats worked in the distance. The quiet morning was filled with noise. Gray dust rose in the air and my throat burned.

When I set out to find out all I could about fracking I didn’t anticipate such disturbing information.  I couldn’t have known fracking would soon intrude on our lives. I recently learned that fracking leases have been signed within sight of us to the west, north, and south. I’m concerned about our land where our cows graze and our chickens scratch. I’m concerned about my family’s health. And I’m wondering if you’re concerned too.

fracking waste grows food,

This is what fracking looks like. (Image:fafaohio.org)

First published on Wired.com

Global Village Construction Set

It’s possible to plant 50 trees in one afternoon.

To press 5,000 bricks from the dirt beneath your feet in one day.

To build an affordable tractor in six days.

It’s possible thanks to the members of Open Source Ecology (OSE). They aren’t armchair visionaries. These engineers, farmers, and developers are dedicated to making communities sustainable and self-reliant. They’re taking on scarcity and inequality with open source enthusiasm

OSE got its start when Marcin Jakubowski’s tractor broke.  Well, lets back up a little. After Jakubowski earned a PhD in the physics of fusion energy, he bought a farm in Missouri where he grew fruit trees and raised goats. One day his tractor broke. He didn’t have the hands-on experience to fix it himself. But he hauled out some can-do attitude along with his welder and torch. He realized a tractor is simply a box with wheels, each powered by hydraulic motors.  So he bolted together square steel tubing to make one from scratch. It worked.

This inspired him to look beyond pricey, commercially made machines. He began to come up with versions that were hardy, low-cost, and constructed out of locally sourced or repurposed materials. His posted designs generated lots of enthusiasm and input. Participants began showing up to help build prototypes on project days, becoming OSE collaborators.

The idea evolved. They considered what it takes to build independent, sustainable communities that support farming, construction, small manufacturing,  and power generation. They came up with a list of the 50 machines most important for modern life including a hay baler, bakery oven, laser cutter, drill press, solar concentrator, and truck.  Low cost, industrial strength, DIY versions of these machines became known as the Global Village Construction Set.  The motors, parts, and other fittings of these machines are designed to be interchangeable. All the 3D designs, schematics, and instructional videos are posted on the OSE Wiki.

On average, constructing these machines costs about eight times less than comparable machines made by industrial manufacturers. As Jakubowski explained in his recent TED talk, “Our goal is a repository of published design so clear, so complete, that a single burned DVD is effectively a civilization starter kit. ..The implications are significant: a greater distribution of the means of production, environmentally sound supply chains, and a newly relevant DIY Maker culture can hope to transcend artificial scarcity.”

So often hope seems abstract.  This is tangible hope, made of steel. It puts independence and equality in reach for people in both the developed and developing world.  Welding never seemed so inspiring.

Originally published at Wired.com