Adaptation (ad·ap·ta·tion)

Photo by Bogomil Mihaylov on Unsplash

Noun / Biology. a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment.

Whether we recognize it or not, adaptation isn’t a choice for living things; it’s an evolutionary mandate. It is how all life forms — humans very much included – have survived and thrived over the millennia. When, for whatever reason, this process is disrupted (dinosaurs meet asteroid), life ends for those that cannot adapt to the changed circumstances. If adaptation is a successful strategy for continuing, extinction brings it to a halt.

We are in the Sixth Extinction now (see abstract of Elizabeth Kolbert’s book by that name), a culmination of decades of business as usual in the face of louder and more alarming warnings from the scientific community about greenhouse gases, resource depletion (oil, soil, water, forests), and biodiversity loss. Lately, the headlines are starting to catch up with the conclusions of peer-reviewed papers while emboldening the denialist camp (One Million Species Face Extinction). We are, the majority of scientists say, on the brink of societal collapse caused by us.

It is cold comfort indeed to learn that collapse is already occurring in our lifetime, just unevenly distributed. Says Vinay Gupta, software engineer, disaster consultant, global resilience guru, aka, The Man Whose Job It Is to Constantly Imagine the Collapse of Humanity In Order to Save It: “Collapse means living in the same conditions as the people who grow your coffee.”

When you bring to mind the existential struggle of the people of the Marshall Islands and Bangladesh or how sea level rise is redrawing the map of Louisiana (Elizabeth Kolbert: Louisiania’s Disappearing Coast) or watch how prolonged rain and flooding in the Midwest is threatening farmers’ livelihood and our food security (PBS News Hour), surviving to pick coffee for pennies sounds almost bearable.  Of course, coffee (along with chocolate, wines and many other climate sensitive foods) is on the endangered list. Sorry.

Starving for some good (well, somewhat better) news? Check out Leonardo DiCaprio’s HBO documentary Fire on Ice. It follows the trajectory of the previous Years of Living Dangerously documentary series by James Cameron (Avatar) in that it offers a raft of technology solutions. I have two reactions to these approaches 1. Apparently, we are capable of entertaining the most extreme ‘techno-fixes,’ while the real driver of biosphere destruction, that is, corporate capitalism and its bunkmate, consumption, get a free pass, and 2. Even if these solutions manage to keep us below the ‘safe’ PPM level of atmospheric CO2, the best time to have implemented them is, as is said of tree planting, 20 years ago. Further, I fear that films like these tend to do just the opposite of what Greta Thunberg and young people are demanding: urgency, even panic, both of which are commensurate with the facts and timelines.

OK, I’ll be 78 this year and Buddhist teachings about impermanence resonate with me. I am less concerned for my personal survival in an age of climate disruption than for those who will live more deeply into its unfolding, including my own beloveds. My adaptation so far is light on practical details, though relocation from South Florida seems sensible, and more about adapting in a spiritual sense and helping others to do the same. I’ve signed up for an online training in facilitation of Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects. More on that in a future post.

Going Deeper
New Climate Debate: How to Adapt to the End of the World

What To Do About Predictions of Imminent Food Collapse

Living Large with Less

Last week was the kind that provides comics like John Oliver and his merry band of satirists plenty of fodder. First, the Senate passed the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016, which looks like an unusual example of bipartisan agreement until you notice that S.2012 is an odd, something for everyone kind of bill that manages to avoid mention of climate change while including language about energy efficiencies and support for more pipelines and LNG exports. “All the above” revisited, in other words.

I also plan to keep the champagne on ice for now, despite the grand theater of 171 nations coming together at the UN to sign to sign the Paris accord. As you probably realized, the agreement is nonbinding on signees, a kind of letter of intent. In how many ways does Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon have to remind us: We are in a race against time?

Cue the sun. A lot of people are putting all or most of their eggs in the technology basket, and it is a tempting sell. Last week also saw the first airing of a stunning presentation on nuclear fusion, the ‘holy grail’ of energy, by VICE, HBO’s investigative series. Click on either link and catch Shane Smith chatting with alternative energy rock stars, Elon Musk and Taylor Wilson, who at age 14, achieved nuclear fusion. In his garage. (VICE, season 4, edition 9). Proponents believe nuclear fusion can supply all the clean energy we need virtually forever.

vice-on-hbo-future-of-energy-trailer-1460395092Not to be a party-pooper, but solving for energy doesn’t address how we will feed a population heading to 10 billion when my teenage grandchildren hit middle age. And then there’s the less sexy subject of waste. Although fusion does not produce waste (and may actually convert it to energy), just about all other human activity does. Fortunately, you don’t need to be a nuclear scientist to cut your own contribution to the North Atlantic garbage patch.  And plenty of people are addressing just this. Here’s a cool list of tips, tools and ideas (my personal skim) to consider:

Gadget upgrade fever is how the Fruit and its Silicon Valley peers stay in business. Your iPhone is meant to be replaced in three years, your Mac in four. Surprise!  But you don’t have to play along.  What if maintenance could be the next, next thing?  What if you could learn to love the ones you’re with.  Keeping your discarded electronic gear out of the waste stream is a biggie for obvious reasons.

How to make waste-free living chic and creative? Advice abounds, well-produced blogs on how to eliminate plastic packaging from your life (cloth bags); where and how to shop, prepare and store food with minimal impact (farmers markets, the bin section of your organic HQ, toting your own containers); how to go vintage and practice upcycling.  Zen and the art of maintaining everything. Have fun checking these out. I did!

Zero Waste Chef — Anne-Marie Bonneau. Start collecting your glass jars! Best sour dough instructions.

Going Zero Waste — Kathryn Kellogg. Making your own natural cosmetics, worm bin composting (once you get past the ew factor).

Trash Is For Tossers – Lauren Singer, also sells green alternatives on her site, also inspired by Zero Waste Home – ‘Guru’ Bea Johnson.

A Small and Delicious Life – homesteading tips by a sustainability and behavior change guru, Ruben Anderson.

No Impact Man Project – what Colin Beavan is up to now that he’s a single dad.

Mr. Money Mustache – Peter Adeney’s wildly successful blog on thrift. Also his piece on a road trip by Tesla.

Ecological wearable art: Trash Fashions, created by Aidana Baldassarre (local) and Zero Waste Fashion (New York Times).  Mostly for the young and skinny, but love those upcycled totes.

Repurposed clothing on Esty. Much more than artfully slashing your old jeans for a new look.

Thrift Shops in Palm Beach County – Google thrift in your area for a similar list.

The Renegade Seamstress – DIY fashions

LifeEdited – DIY Murphy bed is just the beginning. Sign up for the newsletter. One of the few that doesn’t immediately pepper you with unwanted advertising.

Craig’s List How To Nice of them to give us a hand.

Facebook ‘Virtual Garages Sales’ for your area. As long as we keep moving on and up, there will be lightly used furniture and household stuff available.

Finally, here’s a calculator that shows you where you are now and where/how/how much you could lessen your carbon impact. Wish they had considered the EV in their calculations.

Stay Local, My Friends!

My tribe was on the march yesterday, some 400,000 of them in New York City, the biggest climate march in history. I have never been more proud of fellow UUs – 1,500 of them – for being in the forefront of a movement for climate justice. Saturday night, All Souls Unitarian in New York hosted an SRO panel of climate activists; click here for a video of the entire event.

Stay local 3So, I wasn’t physically in New York with Bill and Naomi and Vandana. Somehow burning fossil fuels to attend a climate march seemed, well, unseemly. In Florida, there were a number of marches in solidarity with the Big One. Transition Palm Beaches, and the emerging Transition Town Lake Worth, were well represented at the one in Delray Beach, joining Lake Worth Commissioner, Chris McVoy, the Raging Grannies, and The Sierra Club, among 50 others. We occupied the four corners at Swinton and Atlantic Avenues, held aloft a collection of hand-lettered signs (I wore mine on my back), and waved as supporters walked (mostly drove, sigh) by, horns honking, many showing thumbs up.   We chatted and compared notes on what we were doing, personally. Who came in an EV (we did)? Who is growing food (lots of us)? How to get best mileage from your hybrid? What will it take to get the Sunshine state to capitalize on its greatest energy asset (votes)? You get the picture.

M, MJ and Dean at Climate MarchSo, while it has been uplifting to see the crowd numbers come in today and look at all the photos of marchers (thank you, New York Times for covering the event), these conversations and the day-to-day work of learning how to thrive in community while powering down, continues apace. We meet, we plan. Today, I facilitated a loan of a seed ball-making machine from Northwood Greenlife community in West Palm Beach to the historic Osborne School in Lake Worth, where new-minted Garden Manager, Ken Horkavy, is going to plant four fallow acres starting Saturday, with a gala kickoff.   A year ago, I didn’t know a seed ball from a ball of wax, let alone that a machine could make them.

It must be in the water, but everywhere you turn, people are making moves to liberate ourselves from our long addiction to fossil fuels because we know we must. There are MeetUps about walkability forming. Urban alleys will be rehabbed as people-friendly spaces. Next weekend, at the Transition Monthly meeting, we’ll be showcasing how far the movement has come in the eight years since a mild-mannered permaculture teacher named Rob Hopkins decided to apply what he learned from the discipline to the challenges of climate change and resource overshoot.   Also in the works, an alternative gift salon, in time for a saner holiday season. Coming soon, to your neighborhood.

The EV: What’s Not to Like?

Today’s Smart Planet has a take on the EV, which prompts me to reflect on the joys of the Nissan Leaf which we have been driving for a year, and mull about what the future of EV’s could look like.

Eight reasons I love my Leaf:

1. A driving range of 60-69 miles makes you more mindful of your driving habits, and that spills over into other driving you may do with a conventional vehicle.  Fewer trips by planning ahead vs. many short hops means less wear and tear on another energy system: You.

2. The Leaf is very quiet.  In an increasingly noisy world, this is a gift.  The sound system is superb.

3. No oil, so no oil changes, in fact, maintenance is minimal.

4. The Leaf’s dashboard is loaded!   You may be stumped by some of it, but chances are your grandchildren or other young people you know won’t be.   What an opportunity or some instruction and intergenerational bonding.

5. You are not ‘burning’ anything waiting at a light, stop sign, in backed-up traffic, drive-through banking, or car pool.   Zero emission means just that.

6. Next to a free hug, it is a great conversation starter with perfect strangers.  “Really, you plug it in at night, that’s it?”  Next question: effect on the utility bill.  A: Negligible.

7. Looks like a SUV — hatchback and fold-down seats — so you can haul stuff like four dining chairs or several bags of compost.  Not to mention seating for three adults.

8. Although the Leaf handles like a luxury car and is loaded with navigation features, it has frugal, battery-conserving touches like manual seat adjustments.  Makes me nostalgic for my 1972 VW Beetle (and my 1972 self).


Currently, the Nissan Leaf is an attention-getting solo act in our neighborhood, although there has been a proliferation of the 2013 Prius as more folks take advantage of year-end deals.    All good.

On the Walk for Our Grandchildren, we met a couple of dedicated environmentalists who had driven their Chevy Volt from Virginia to D.C., and had mastered the art of the dual fuel.  In their opinion, the Volt was the car of the future.   They may be right.  From the wonderful folks who tried to Kill the EV, comes the latest word on a Volt with a 200-mile range, all electric.   This is encouraging news because Nissan only sold 15,000 Leafs in the U.S.  in 2013, I suspect largely due to its limited driving range. Competition should improve both those numbers.

As a Leaf fan, I’m glad to see that The City of West Palm Beach has added free charging stations at the Clematis Street garage, to support the fleet of Leafs on order, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.   Charge your EV while you shop or dine.  What a concept!  Will more retailers like more environmentally-savvy Kohl’s get on board?  I’m betting on it.

Survival Skills for the 21st Century

My mother was something of a hoarder, an echo of her refugee experiences during and after World War II no doubt. I used to tease her about the boxes of soap, matches, and candles she kept in her linen cupboard, along with extra sheets, towels and bedding, ‘just in case’. She knew a lot about preserving food and would turn a bumper crop of citrus growing around our shared condo in California that most residents ignored, into a marmalade to die for. She kept some of her wealth in gold, too, mostly 18K bangles and neck chains she wore until the day she died. My mother had seen things change quickly, where one moment you had a shelter, clothing and food, and the next moment, you were running for your life.

This is a scenario that the majority of people in the fortunate part of the world don’t have to face on a daily basis, but as we approach the 400 ppm tipping point, I find myself more interested articles like this one from the current edition of Orion Magazine, 10 Skills to Hone for a Post-Oil Future. In fact, I have added my own suggestion to the list of 10, and over the last hour find myself in an engaging conversation with others who presumably are not taking the status quo where you jump into your car for a quick ride to the supermarket for under ten items, for granted. (My mother would have so enjoyed hearing that hoarding, far from being a pathological behavior in need of remedy, happens to be one of the Ten Skills.)

By the way, post-oil doesn’t necessarily mean that we ‘run out of oil.’ Apparently, we still have plenty of fossil fuel we haven’t tapped, though accessing it means ‘game over’ for Planet Earth, as James Hansen has repeatedly warned. To me, post-oil means we have the wisdom to leave the stuff in the ground and find other, better, more sustainable ways to live without it. Actually, for all but the wealthiest who can insulate themselves against the impacts of global warming, there may not be a choice. We are going to have to wean ourselves from this addiction.

But back to survival skills. In my comment, I agreed with another poster about the shift to multi-generational living, a phenomenon that is already happening with in-law suites and ‘granny flats’ and is bound to accelerate as people realize how much we really need each other, and how much we now duplicate effort, skills and equipment/tools in the nuclear family format. I like my privacy as much as the next person, yet I’m willing to trade it for the security of community. I’m also excited about the idea of learning new things (well, new to ME), so I added foraging as an important survival skill. I’m ready to stalk the wild asparagus a la Euell Gibbons, or if that isn’t available then Spanish Needle, a delicious green widely available in my locale that my friend, Jean, once prepared for me. One person’s weeds is another’s healthy meal. See Eat The Weeds.

Getting Real

After a fruitless couple of hours trying to figure out how to get a playlist from my MacBook Pro into my iPhone so I can use it for my yoga classes tomorrow, I signed up for a One-on-One session at my local Apple store next week. In the meantime, I will have to resort to the old familiar technology of popping a CD into the player. Which reminds me (good word, remind) that I don’t want to ever become so dependent on my electronic tools that I can’t chop wood and carry water should the day arrive that simple tools of survival are necessary.

Along comes a new (and gratis) chapter to Richard Heinberg’s The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality. This Extra gets up close and personal. I plan to read and absorb it, especially the part on what to do with one’s money, and I recommend you do also. Yes, investing in my local community is part of my action plan for the future. Food, done. Energy, next.

Last week, David Bornstein, author of How to Change the World, did an Opinionator piece for The New York Times that offers a lot of information about how Crowdsourcing is making it possible to invest in clean energy. It is worth your attention, whatever your level of income. I have re-quoted the final quote by Billy Parrish of Mosaic elsewhere:

“If we are going to solve this problem (the environment)…We need to build a propositional movement, not just an oppositional movement. We’ll need to tap into people’s enlightened self interest.”


Campus Divestment Campaign for the Rest of Us

Inspired by the Do the Math tour — and the math itself — I thought we might follow the lead of colleges and universities all over the country who are going fossil free. Naively perhaps, I dropped an email on the subject to our portfolio consultant at a well-known brokerage firm. Here’s what I wrote:

Thanks for your recent email and message addressing our concerns about the fiscal cliff and other political issues. Actually, we are far more concerned about climate change as the issue that trumps them all, and we want to make our investments support our values. Please purge our portfolio of fossil fuel and related companies. Here is a list provided by the campaign that has been used for the divestment campaign at universities and colleges across the country:

Easier said than done for the individual investor. After a couple of weeks of research, we got a phone call advising us that there were few mutual funds that met our SRI (socially-responsible investment) criteria. We were given the names and ticker symbols of two, with the caveat that neither fund could be recommended as meeting our overall investment targets. In short, they were more volatile for the conservative investment profile we had helped to create. In other words, we were on our own on this one.

What to do? What would Warren Buffet do? Apparently, he likes solar, healthcare and banks for Berkshire Hathaway, and he has convinced eleven more billionaires to give away half their wealth to charity.

Hmmm, could I take a page out of the Big Dog investment playbook? I was reminded of the conversation we had with a financial advisor a couple of months ago to whom we had come with the same concerns. She thought creating and/or preserving wealth (even in distasteful industries), enables one to fund causes in which one believes. It’s another way.