Posts tagged water

Coastal Cleanup Day 2008

If you’re in the Los Angeles area this Saturday September 20, join over 11,000 volunteers in the LA basin alone for California Coastal Cleanup Day 2008, a 24 year tradition that’s become the largest volunteer event in the world. Last year, over 60,000 volunteers picked up almost a million pounds of trash across the state, and this year, the Los Angeles event will pick up its millionth pound.  You’ll find everyone from the corner grocer to celebrities shoulder to shoulder attacking the coastal waste that causes visual blight and environmental danger.  Did you know that the North Pacific Trash Gyre, the large swirling mass of trash floating between Hawaii and Japan is more than twice as large as the state of Texas and is growing faster than even the scientists studying it had feared?  Or that plastics, which break down into little tiny pellets after extended exposure to water, are so prevalent that you could cover the surface of the world’s oceans with a saran wrap coating of the plastics in them? Obviously every bottle you pick up helps stem the tide.

If you’re not able to join everyone in Los Angeles (check out the website, complete with map of locations, here), consider starting a similar event in your area.  After all, waste has a not-so-funny way of wandering toward the sea, even from far inland places.  Or if this Saturday doesn’t work, make any day your cleanup day! With a few fliers and an ad on Craigslist you’re sure to attract a like minded crowd to help get some unwanted trash off the streets.  Often, local parks have cleanup days that offer both benefit and beautiful surroundings in addition to an educational afternoon.  Some of my favorite memories from youth are of going to my local park and cleaning up the riverbanks.  Needless to say, cleaning my room didn’t hold the same appeal.

If you can’t do any of the above… (you didn’t think I was going to let anyone off the hook, did you?)… then sit your butt down on that couch if you’re not already there and get to thinking.   The best way to eliminate waste is to avoid creating it in the first place. Find a way to encourage recycling or to make throwing things in the trash more appealing than tossing it on the ground.  Design a better trash can, out of which waste doesn’t blow away in high winds.  Create a non-toxic biodegradable packaging so that when people do throw their containers down, it’s not creating an everlasting toxic legacy.  There are at least as many ways to help the planet as there are people to try them, so find yours and get started! Hope to see all you locals at the beach!

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Learning From our Youth

From the look of it, Erich Christian has a long career in alternative energy ahead of him. He’s already designed a biofuel manufacturing plant and been given a contract to provide fuel for his local school district. In addition, he was appointed to a governmental committee exploring alternative energy ideas for future implementation. At this rate, by the time he graduates high school, he’ll probably have a few patents! Read the full story here.

It’s so great to see young people, traditionally treated as somehow separate from the world in which we all live, getting into the action with alternative energy. As they say, the beginner has many techniques, the expert few. If we want to find a simple solution to our world’s problems, we will have to trust the power and relative idealism of young minds. I like also the idea of the Aquaduct, created by what appear to be several college students. The bike holds two tanks of water, enough water for a family of four’s daily needs, which are manually filtered by the pedaling action of the bike. This allows women to eliminate hours of walking to water supplies in nations without a reliable water system. Brilliant, simple, elegant. The young women behind BioTour, a vegetable powered school bus that tours the country sharing knowledge about WVO, are barely out of college. In fact it was a college road trip to Burning Man in Southern California that led them to their calling. And some parents don’t think concerts are constructive learning opportunities!

As students, we keep our minds open to the possibility that we do not know. This is what allows us to learn new things. The greatest failing of our corporate system today is that we produce “experts” rather than students. As such, people feel little need to make breakthroughs when they are already supposed to be the final word. Students, on the other hand, have two valuable attributes: they have a lot of unrefined ideas, and they don’t know any better than to think they all might work. Through the fortuitous combination of the two, revolutionary breakthroughs become possible and even occasionally get implemented. Our world’s experts, meanwhile, are often encouraged to focus on what they already “know” to be true.

2008

Personally, I can’t wait to see what the current generation brings to the power debate. Motivated by a sense of financial and environmental urgency, today’s young people are realizing they may have to create the future they need, rather than trust that the current power structure to provide it. A beautiful example of this is happening this week (September 11-13) in Los Angeles. The PeaceJams Conference invites 14 to 25 year old attendees to join six Nobel Peace Prize winners in a brainstorming workshop about the future of our world. The three day event is intensely focused on creating solutions to environmental and social problems, and the only way to get in if you’re over 25 is to bring three age-appropriate people with you. Especially cool is the goal of implementing a billion “acts of peace” in the next ten years as a result of this conference. I never thought I’d wish to be 18 again! Here’s the skinny on the event and how to register.

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BOOK REVIEW: How to Survive Anywhere

How to Survive Anywhere

I read this book after arriving home from hiking last week, and came away from it feeling like I’d learned some useful tips for future trips.  The most interesting sections I found were the discussions of edible foods, which contained several commonly found entries I’d not heard of being foodstuff, and the discussion of making ropes, which I was able to put into practice immediately using dried palm leaves from the neighborhood and other shreds of string around the house.  It’s kind of addictive, like meditation.

In fact, putting things into practice before you need them could have been the unstated theme of the book.  After all, do you want to be figuring out how to coax fire from a magnifying glass AFTER the disaster when you’re already tired and hungry?  The main focus is on preparing a site, making utensils, tools, and weapons for your later survival. Places to find potable water are discussed, as well as how to purify water that isn’t so palatable.  But once you’re settled in, you’re on your own. There isn’t a lot of discussion about HOW to use things once you make them, but if you follow Mr Nyerges’ experienced advice (he’s a respected teacher who has lived in MANY different improvised and off-grid places) and practice, then you should be all right when the disaster hits.

Recommended especially for people who want to more closely examine the potential for survival in an urban setting, as he covers this topic very well.

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Hope You’re Thirsty!

Water, water everywhere! As you already know, water, the fresh, drinkable kind, is an increasingly scarce resource these days. Which is why you take short showers, water gardens at non-peak sun hours, and put off washing your car every week (at least it’s a great excuse!). But did you know that every 8 oz. cup of joe you slurp down in the morning uses 140 liters of water? Or that every cup of tea uses 35 liters? Better hope you’re thirsty!

Cuppa Joe

You see, the real water use of a product includes not only the eight ounces of H2O that you put into the coffee maker, but also the water used in the growth and processing of the plant that becomes your morning wake-up potion. Even if you make a habit of conserving water directly, your buying habits can make a HUGE difference in the amount of actual water your lifestyle consumes. To find out more about your REAL water consumption, visit www.waterfootprint.org and use their handy water calculator to determine whether that weekly BigMac is using more than it’s fair share of your budget (trust me, it is: 1 lb of beef requires a staggering 8,000 liters of water to produce!).

While you’re there, check out the data on the nations of the world and how they score on their water footprints. Compare the nations’ abilities to limit their consumption to domestic supplies. You’ll probably be surprised.

So next time you’re at the market, consider buying more foods that have a minimal water footprint, rather than water-heavy meats and processed foods. And if you need a jolt in the morning, try tea instead of coffee, or even better, an alternative combination like fresh fruit and a morning walk. After all, with so many of the world’s population literally running out of potable water to drink, it’s one of the most effective ways you can help to share the wealth.

As a parting shot, take a look at this booklet, produced by the World Wildlife Fund, concerning agriculture and the environmental devastation caused by “thirsty crops”.

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Bathing Al Fresco

Ah, nothing like the wilderness to make you reevaluate your relationship to material goods. This past weekend, I arrived on the trail as the clouds and fog lifted from atop the mountains I was entering. A man told me it had been raining for three days… not good news (or so I thought) in the flash-flood prone desert. But it turned out, hiking after the rain was like a hidden secret ritual for many, who avoided the 100+ degree weather by following a storm through the hills. It was beautiful.

Superstitions after Rain

My hiking buddy and I set up camp by a lovely spring-fed stream in the heart of the wilderness. Barely any signs of humans passing through the area in decades, so the water was about as clean and refreshing looking as any can be. I wanted to go for a swim in the natural rock pools and then bathe in the open sun. But when I pulled my shampoo bottle out of my bag, and then looked in the water at the bullfrog tadpoles and other life, I couldn’t bring myself to use any unnatural products in such a pristine place.

Of course, I wouldn’t have thought twice about using that same shampoo at home, though it all ends up in the same water somewhere downstream. Conversely, I wouldn’t have touched water that had a tadpole in it at home, no matter how clearly I could see the bottom. As I said, sometimes it takes a little unfamiliar scenery to make up evaluate our own habits without colored lenses. So I chose to forgo the bath and simply enjoy a swim. Lovely.

When I arrived home, I was determined not to let this happen again, to find myself a potential life-killing polluter in one of the few places not already actively under attack by humankind. So I started researching natural soap, remembering something about “soaproot” from somewhere back in 5th grade when we studied the pioneers crossing the great American plains. Turns out, there are SEVERAL “soaproots”, and had I known what I was doing, there was likely one of them within fifty feet of the proposed bathing locale.

Ever found yourself in a similar bind? Here’s the skinny on natural soap:

Soaproot2

Indian Soaproot, Bouncing Bet, Soapwort

“Wherever Poison Oak grows chances are you will find Soap Root growing. You can harvest Soap Root anytime of the year and it looks the same year round, except for having tall flowering stalks in the spring. The part to use is the bulbous root, so you will need to dig it up. Usually one bulb is all you will need. Peel off the brown, furry outer covering until the white layer underneath is exposed. While using, keep it in a plastic bag to keep from drying out.” – naturalfamilyhome.com

This is the most commonly known of the soap-producing plants. It produces a nice lather for washing both body and clothes, and according to legend, it was also used by the Apaches to catch fish by putting it in the water. It has the most “bang for the buck” of lathering plants.

Yucca

The yucca plant comes in a wide variety of species, but all share the potential for lather. Some people recommend using the root for bathing, but using the root kills the plant. For a small task like bathing, you can simply pull off one leaf from the plant, shred the leaf into strips, and rub them back and forth in your hands with water until a lather forms. (Incidentally, this is also the first step in making yucca twine, another useful thing to know in an emergency!) Use this mix like a pre-soaped washcloth. This plant is so common in the Southwest, you can find it everywhere from ornamental gardens to the untouched National Parks. If I had known, I’d have had a yucca bath that day.

Wood Ashes as Cleaning Agent

Wood Ashes

In an emergency situation, you can wash your skin or pots and pans, etc with ashes from a campfire. It’s important to use clean ashes and not to leave them on your skin too long… ashes are caustic, as they contain lye, an ingredient used in making store-bought soaps.

Buffalo/Missouri Gourd, Mock Orange, Callabacilla

Small triangular leaves and a very spreading habit, this vine has small, orange shaped and sized gourds and a thick taproot that can be up to five feet long. The gourds can also be used as sponges. There is less lather in this plant than others.

Soapberry Trees

These grow in the Southeastern and MidAtlantic states, and are one of three varieties. They have small berries which lather when crushed in water.

Wild Lilac, Myrtle, Buck Brush

Grows in the Western states, covering the land with blue and white flowers in the Spring. The flowers can be used as soap, and are very fragrant, leaving the body perfumed.

Southern Buckeye

A Southeastern plant that is best for washing clothes and fabrics. Like the soapwort, it can stun fish when thrown in water, though this is illegal and should be reserved for survival situations.

Read more about soap plants here

Survival outline that includes a few more saponin-containing plants

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Rogue Waves: Putting it in Motion

There is a phenomenon in the oceans known as a rogue wave. For reasons until recently unfathomable, occasionally, a single ENORMOUS wave would arise from its surrounding brethren and cause devastation to anything whose path it crossed. Sort of like a 90 foot tsunami without the underlying earthquake, and out at sea. According to the History Channel, recent advances in marine science have allowed us a better glimpse into possible causes. They theorize that these waves, defined by being more than twice the size of any surrounding wave, are caused by undercurrents which slow down the wave and basically cause water to pile up high. Other waves also overtake this slowed wave and add to its strength and content, pushing it forward with great power. Here’s my oversimplified diagram:

To me, this seems like the perfect analogy for changes in your life. We are all just flowing along like waves, each on our own “wavelength” but still in accordance with the greater tide. Occasionally, we are slowed down by currents flowing in another direction, currents which underly our own existence and form the foundation of our own flows. History, media, physical laws. These base currents are traveling in their own wave pattern, and so they interact with each wavelength, or individual, differently depending upon where in their period the two collide.

Obstacles in life be they physical, emotional, or intellectual can cause us to literally slow our roll here on earth. It can be frustrating. What I like about this analogy is that when you slow down, your momentum and that of others actually catches up with you and feeds you force and strength. What you might perceive as a breakdown in the flow is actually a period of recharge for you to gain whatever strength you require. If you are trying to get your landlord to let you install drought-friendly landscaping, and he or she insists on calling you that “garden nut” no matter how many good reasons you supply about how much money this will save their business, you can either be frustrated or you can use that to your advantage. After all, now you have a big folder of solid reasons that xeriscaping makes sense at your disposal. A folder that you can take to local businesses at which you already shop and show them why it is in their interest to consider such installations at their storefront. You can start a business that outsources the work of it, and you make money and the world gets a little more responsibly beautiful BECAUSE your landlord frustrated you by asking for fifteen sources and still saying no.

Or, if the last scenario seemed too user intensive to you, how about this one? You sit down at your computer, frustrated by the recent response, and you start searching for that perfect source. Along one of the twisted lanes that Google weaves, you discover a chat room of people frustrated just like you. You start talking about what you’d REALLY like to happen in the world. It makes you start thinking a little deeper about it, and you realize how much you love plants. So much, that you might like to get a plot at the community garden. You get one and get to know people there as well as staying in touch with people from the chat room. When a big-city developer comes in and wants to turn your community garden into condos, you rant about it in your chat room, and someone, a lawyer, offers their services to save the garden free of charge. Garden saved. A garden that you weren’t even involved with until your landlord said… NO!

Rogue waves are the result of the interaction of many different energies, just like social progress. It can feel overwhelming to think you are only one wave in a big old ocean, but rest assured, there are other forces at work that you can’t necessarily see, and that just might work to amplify your cause in strange and unpredictable ways. You’ll never know until you put it into motion.

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Water – the flow of life

Well, back to the presses. Out in the wilderness, I had a lot of time to think about the importance of… water. Read up about the good ole frontier days and you’ll surely come across stories of unfortunate souls who trusted their senses to mother Nature and were in turn gravely mistaken. Water is so essential to life, it quickly beats out food as a survival determining factor.

In the mountains, I packed in water this time, but in the past have relied on purification at the source, when I knew such sources to exist year-round. If you are running from the grid, or even just remotely thinking that the world might be headed in a bad direction right now, it would do you well to know a bit about consuming water from nature.

There are, of course, several methods of purification from which to choose, and many devices too. Some opt to boil water, sterilizing it. In a warm sunny climate, you can do this with your solar cooker. Studies have shown that setting water out in the sun even for a few hours can effectively purify it for drinking. So set a windowshade around it and see how fast you can achieve the same effect.

Or you can buy a filtration device that fits onto a standard bottle, designed with campers in mind. While this option is quite effective, you will need to plan ahead and buy some. So don’t wait for doomsday to hit before relying on this tactic. A nice option is the Clear Brook Portable Water Filter Bottle.

Or you could go old-school and purify your water with iodine. Again, buy ahead. The thing to remember about iodine is that you need the kind sold at camping gear stores, not the kind sold in your local drugstore with a TOXIC tag on it. The pharmacist I spoke with couldn’t remember what the difference was, but the vehemance with which he said it convinced me that using the regular kind was not good at all. If you do this, your water will taste funny, or at least a little funnier than the other options. Use orange peels, tang, gatorade powder or something of the like to tint the water and make it tastier. If you’re surviving in the desert, opt for something that replaces electrolytes so you don’t get sick from salt loss in your sweat.

While we’re on that subject, try to minimize water loss by staying in the shade, wearing hats and other protective clothing, and putting on sunscreen of some sort. You WILL get dehydrated if you get overexposed to either heat or cold. Don’t eat snow or drink saltwater, smoke cigarettes, or eat lots of sugary candy.

Where do you find water when you don’t have any? Well, if you have the luxury of a nightfall, you can collect water from the condensation in the morning. Either use a tarp or something that will channel the water into a vessel. Some places recommend dragging your legs with heavy socks on in the morning to collect dew and wringing them out. You can also take advantage of plants’ natural process of emitting water at night by tying a plastic bag around a leafy tree branch overnight. Or you can use creeks, if they are flowing. You can also dig in creek beds that have recent looking covers of algae or places that are more lush than their surroundings. Usually there will be water below. Seek out root vegetables, coconuts, melons, fruits, and other foods that have a high water content. Just be sure to do a little taste test before eating the whole thing if you don’t already know what type of plant it is.

Of course, most of the time, we aren’t running headlong from civilization, we’re inching out there by enjoying what nature has to offer on our terms. When you’re hiking and packing in, bring foods that provide both water and nutrition. I like carrots, because they withstand the beating of being in a pack, they taste good and require no prep, and they retain moisture for a long time without rotting. But other good options are oranges, small apples, fruit cocktail cups, canned meat such as tuna, and things like grapes. Try growing what you will take, if you’re able to plan in advance, or tailor your garden to include such plants.

If you are implementing a hydro collection system for your home, the same principles as above apply. You simply amplify your design to work on a large scale and plan for optimal long-term placement of devices. You’ll either dig, collect, desalinate, divert, or pump your resources. And of course you can also generate power or heat from it! Think long and hard about the quality of water that you consume. Wars are fought over this very issue, and societies have fallen or disappeared in response to changes in water conditions. It is the very building block of life, and becoming self-sufficient in this department will be an enormous step away from the powers that dictate how you occupy your space on earth.

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