Margit Burgess gave a fascinating talk on Ecological Economics (EE) at TTJ’s Zoom meeting on May 18. A senior at UVM in Community Development and Applied Economics, she is also a board member of Better (not Bigger), promoting steady state economics in Vermont.
Margit cited LA’s clear air and Venice’s clean canals during the pandemic as just two examples of how slowing down and stopping business as usual offers an opportunity to rethink our growth-at-all-costs economic system.
She brought us through the differences between current neoclassic economics, and EE by defining economics: the allocation of limited resources towards desirable ends; in other words, who gets what; when and how? She said the traditional measure, the gross national product (GNP), while lifting up people in the past, doesn’t work in today’s world (except for the one percent!)
Margit stated that the basic problem with neoclassic economics is what it doesn’t ask: where do resources come from; where does waste go? Nature is merely another asset, awaiting liquidation.
EE considers the Earth a finite resource and draws upon the first two laws of thermodynamics: 1) You can’t make something from nothing, and 2) Entropy increases in a closed system. EE promotes a so-called steady state; balancing extraction with regeneration. Wealth is measured by the genuine progress indicator (GPI) which values voluntary work, leisure time, and impact on the environment, among other things.
Margit said the reasons for opposition to steady state economics include: being stuck in the past, fear of loss of choice, and threats to our billionaire class; ending GNP as a measure simply scares people.
Margit sees Vermont, with its progressive community and smallness as being a model state for EE. In 2011, VT adopted the GPI (second state to do so after Maryland). Whether it’s initiating cap and trade, progressive carbon taxes, or taxing the wealthy more, there are many ways to implement EE. People cited Amsterdam with its “circular economy” and France with its four day work week as examples.
During the meeting, breakouts into small groups allowed ideas to flow around peoples’ visioning of what an ecological economy would look like: repair cafes, timebanks, community gardens, to name a few. These things already exist; perhaps they need mainstreaming. Margit said communities need to envision their future and groups like transition towns could be key, she added.
She said she’s never been more optimistic than now. Covid-19 has shown that if we had a better functioning economy, we wouldn’t have been hit as hard with unemployment, mass hunger, etc. Are people ready for a brave new economy? Awareness that all of us at the meeting were at least 50 years old made one thing clear- we need more young people like Margit to take the lead in promoting an economy that works for all!
For more info on steady state economics, check out betternotbiggervt.org
Our first remote TTJ meeting took place on April 13 as Michael Schaal, MSW, guided a discussion of how to manage grief as part of a transition process.
In this important conversation, participants were able to share experiences and express concerns about our current times and how we might transition to a new way of being.
Michael opened with a brief commentary on grief itself, which is often a lonely process. What COVID-19 has brought our world is a collective grieving experience. Members of the group took turns sharing feelings and observations that evening. Here is a sampling:
Feeling frustration, anger that an old, dear friend has tested positive. Feeling helpless.
All situations are compounded by the inability to get close to one another; normally we’d offer a hug to someone who’s hurting. The virus prevents such physically contact.
We are disappointed, even angry, to see that inequality has been a factor in this pandemic, as with everything else. Different infection rates, variable care, depending on one’s race and socio-economic status.
Some folks can’t work. Others must work under dangerous conditions. Pay for many “essential” workers is low. Above all, many of us witness incompetent leadership, which exacerbates the problems COVID-19 has caused.
Fear and sadness. Anticipating that our culture won’t learn the lessons this crisis has to teach us, which we might, if we’d leverage this moment and make lasting changes.
What behavior do we model for children, who have less perspective / fewer expectations?
Amidst the sorrow, how to create expectations that are positive for youth’s sake?
Environmental injustice has led to social injustice. We might respond by carving out a lifestyle that honors nature, ignoring what the mainstream makes of this. “If I do not tell a new story, I cannot truly live.”
Treat every moment as sacred.
We grieve at how we may have contributed to bringing about this plague. How do we decide what to save of our old ways and what to leave behind?
How can we contribute to the well-being of others and renew our own hope?
We want to help those in dire situations but don’t know how.
To stay sane, we must ration news consumption.
We have lost our old routines. We are seeing changes in family relations.
How to create a future we feel good about, after witnessing such widespread helplessness?
What will we say in the future about the pandemic?
Are we too hopeful or in denial as we look toward the future after a vaccine?
Will we go back to sleep, being manipulated by media?
In future years let us be sure to remember and discuss, for example, how we could see the mountains without all the smog. Can we be more aware of how our economy relies on low-wage earners to do the tasks the rest of us won’t? Can we work to address the pollution and inequality we see now once this pandemic is over?
How to bring intention to the way we live, now and then?
The gift of this pandemic is people talking to neighbors for the first time after decades. Cooking at home. Eating better. Exercising more. Shopping locally. Strengthening our local community.
The stillness reminded one participant of her own personal meditations. Society has slowed down and become more introspective, perhaps more healthy, aware, and whole.
What if we could be open to a “hospice” view of life: preserving dignity?
Let’s take this unique time to re-connect with ourselves, our partners and families, nature, humanity. And work to carry those connections forward.
Was great to be at yesterday’s town meeting at Mount Mansfield Union High school. I was there with fellow transitioner Dave Clift to table for Transition Town Jericho, to see friends and neighbors and catch bits and pieces of the meeting around the corner in the auditorium.
Tabling at the yearly meeting isn’t as newsworthy as the actual town meeting, yet is energizing for many of us, as it garners conversation around the numerous things happening in Jericho. Town committees like Planning and Conservation are represented there, as well as grassroots groups promoting everything from transition towns to native plants to youth empowerment.
I personally love town meeting as the one day all year you get to see everyone you know in town. Or shall I say, everyone you know in town seems to show up. I talked at length with a young activist from the Montreal area who was there with a group of Canadians. They were observing Vermont’s town meeting as a model for their own communities.
At one point, I poked my head into the meeting in time to join the yays for one of this year’s big items, creating a Conservation Reserve Fund (helping preserve more open space in Jericho). Even though this item seemed to have a lot of support, there was still the discussion, debate (and quibbling!) that seems a necessary part of the process.
At some point people were abuzz over the fact that a New York Times reporter had shown up at the meeting. Later in the day, someone sent me the article:
Gratifying to celebrate our beloved town of Jericho with each other, and the great beyond!
Nice turnout of 33 folks at yesterday’s climate change talk, given by Roger Hill. Roger has been a meteorologist in Vermont since 1987, working mostly as a private forecaster and more recently, much in demand as a speaker on climate change.
Having lived in various places, Roger says that with the varying seasons and changing climate of Vermont, we ‘live the weather’ here. A murmur of agreement was heard from audience. Largely spared from the most dire consequences, Vermonters are nonetheless affected by worldwide patterns; for example, melting arctic ice has contributed to wetter winters; less ice cover in the Great Lakes adds more cloudy days to Vermont via prevailing westerly winds.
Roger began by stating the problem, saying February 2020 is the 421st consecutive month with global above average temperatures. He added we’re presently at 414 ppm carbon dioxide (co2), and if you consider methane and aggregates, we are nearing 500 ppm. Regardless, levels are the highest they’ve been in three million years.
Roger explained that co2 works like a thermostat. Sunlight causes the molecules of co2 to ‘dance’ which creates more heat, causing temperatures to rise. He said as the earth’s atmosphere heats up, it holds more water vapor. Thus when it rains, it rains harder; when it snows, it snows harder. Dry areas such as deserts get drier and wet areas are more prone to serious flooding.
He added that surprisingly, earth would be in a cooling phase right now if it weren’t for human impact. He showed pictures of tar sands and off shore drilling, saying what we know intuitively; we need to stop it at the source! Ironically since 2011, carbon emissions from energy use have been rising at the fastest rate ever, with humans stuck in an ‘anti-change bias’.
Roger stated emphatically that it’s the speed of climate change that’s a major concern; earth’s inhabitants simply can’t adapt quickly enough. Patterns are hard to decipher, he said; climate change is not linear and is more like a staircase. The overall picture is clear; the last five years were the hottest on record, globally.
As far as as solutions go, Roger talked about the oceans (which take in a whopping 94% of earth’s heat) Adding quantities of iron to the water would stimulate more phytoplankton which sequester carbon. Or pulling co2 from the atmosphere, and burying it until it becomes solid and can be used as cement, for example. Frankly, these sounded like pie-in-the-sky solutions; Roger himself promotes electric vehicles, having just purchased his own electric hyundai kona a few days ago!
Asked about his predictions, Roger said Vermont is in a ‘sweet spot’. Through at least 2040, we shouldn’t have too many extremes: expect continued changes in first and last freeze dates, increases in snowfall. He added we should be ready for unexpected variables.
Globally, Roger predicted Greenland could become the next polar vortex once the Arctic completely melts and said places like Australia and California are currently ‘canaries in the mine’ for abrupt climate change.
Dave and Laura, here:
On Monday January 27, Transition Town Jericho welcomed Nancy Patch, Franklin-Grand Isle County Forester, who presented "Creating and Maintaining Resilient Forests in Vermont: Adapting Forests to Climate Change". Nancy shared her vast knowledge of forests, exhibiting a keen passion for her work.
Some of the facts she shared:
• We live in the most intact broadleaf forest in the world, extending from Vermont, New York, Canada, and Maine into New Brunswick and Nova Scotia- overall, a globally significant forest.
• Climate data shows a warming trend, and fluctuations are very large; generally, more warming in the winter than in the summer here in Vermont.
• The growing season is increasing, while freezes are shorter. Flowering trees, such as apple, are flowering before the last frost. The frosts are killing the flowers, thus inhibiting healthy fruit harvests.
• Growing zones have changed from zone 3 to zone 4 in northern Vermont
• More frequent, heavier rainfall (increasing 67% compared to the rest of the country) having added impact due to Vermont’s steep slopes and narrow valleys.
• 15-20% increase in rainfall overall (as illustrated in a study Nancy cited, from 1958 to 2007).
Changes we can expect in the short term here in Vermont:
• Longer growing seasons
• Shorter winters
• More summer heat producing potential droughts
• Extreme weather events such as heavy single rain events that cause flash flooding
• Windstorms that are more frequent, sometimes leading to saturated soils will not hold the trees in place.
• Ice Storms – also more frequent and causing more damage.
What we can do to help forests:
• Leave larger trees in place, as they are wind-firm. Big trees sequester and store more carbon than smaller trees, and are better seed producers.
• Stagger tree heights at the edges of fields.
• Encourage age and diversity in the forest so that no single pest or disease can adversely affect the whole forest, ideally mixed sizes and ages with 10-12 species.
• Allow trees to die and be left standing, as that allows the forest floor to supply nutrients to the next generation.
During the Q & A, there was some discussion of deer, how they feed on new growth and thus pose a serious threat to regenerating forests. On the other hand, Nancy called blue jays “climate change heroes“ since their habit of burying acorns is so good for the forest.
Here’s a link to Monday’s event:
Maeve Kim wrote up a wonderful report on the gathering, and you can find a link to it here: (Thanks to Maeve, and Bernie too for the great pics!)
Great to be one amongst a crowd of twenty five plus people at the October 28 Transition Town gathering at the Jericho Community Center. Featured speaker was Fred Wiseman, an ethnobotanist, who started Seeds of Renewal in 2012, same year the four bands of Abenaki obtained official status in the state of Vermont.
Fred states that the mission of Seeds of Renewal is to encourage the Abenaki tradition of seed saving and indigenous gardening by tracking down rare or long lost seeds native to Northern New England.
While most people are aware of the three sisters in native agriculture, corns, beans and squash, the seven sisters of the Abenaki adds sunflower, jerusalem artichoke, ground cherry, and tobacco to the mix. Seven sisters references the Pleiades constellation which reflects nature’s cycles, as it appears at sundown in the fall; harvest time, and appears at sunrise in the spring; planting time.
Fred seems to take as much pleasure in the hunt for seeds as in the findings. He found a source of East Montpelier squash in Orange, Vermont, a variety so prolific “it could feed a village”. Problem is that over time it had cross pollinated with blue hubbard squash. Seeds of Change engaged in a program of selection; having participants eat from the purest ones and saving/planting those seeds. Fred showed pictures of the ‘evolving’ squash, a work in progress.
There seems to be a story around each of the discoveries, such as the white-seeded Morrisville Sunflower, carefully saved by a Mennonite family that had obtained it from natives.
Fred said he often drove his car by a large stand of Jerusalem Artichokes near Morrisville, and decided to trace its origins. With the help of time trials, it was traced back to four hundred years ago. Jerusalem artichoke is still found along many of the riverbeds in Vermont, as it was a great source of starch for the Abenaki.
Once seeds are found, they need to be planted and/or properly conserved. For this purpose, Seeds of Renewal has collaborated with Shelburne Farms, Abenaki Heritage Garden in the Intervale and independent Abenaki gardeners.
All of these efforts have helped to encourage a revival of native ways and ceremonies. For example, in September 2014, Seeds of Renewal collaborated with the Koasek Abenakis in their Green Corn Ceremony and in October 2018, a large intertribal celebration was held in Burlington, complete with ceremony, song and harvest.
Most recently, the Ethan Allen Homestead built a simulated Abenaki village, reconstructed an authentic kitchen and hosted a harvest dinner.
Fred also talked about the “mound on mound” system of Abenaki farming, akin to hugelkultur or raised beds. (Interestingly the Abenaki used fish for fertilizer called “kikomka” or garden fish). He showed pictures of 140 currently maintained mounds in the Abenaki Heritage Garden.
Dave and Irene reporting:
How can humans address global challenges while maintaining a quality standard of living? David Maynard, a homesteader from East Montpelier, looked at this and other questions in “Living With Less: Getting from Here to There.”
On September 23, David presented his philosophy and personal experience living as a homesteader in Vermont.
He explained that humans have experienced three distinct paradigm shifts over time: the hunter/gatherer transition to agriculture 10,000 years ago; the transition from agriculture to industrial age, spanning more than 400 years; and the transition from industry to the current computer age, in the last 50 years. He noted these transitions are happening more rapidly and each requires more energy and other resources than the prior way(s) of life.
In more recent years, we have seen an efficiency push that has resulted in a high throughput system. This high throughput system is supported by the ability to find resources, which leads to the building of factories, which in turn, manufacture things. What has not been reconciled in this push to efficiency is the law of diminishing returns: it takes more resources to get less output as resources grow scarce. We are also facing Jevon’s Paradox: when efficiency of production increases, driving down costs, consumption picks up. The exponential growth in population has led to even faster resource depletion.
David has conceived of a new paradigm, which includes teaching the next generation how to understand that living with less can be achieved. His paradigm-changing concepts include:
-How to use the land without releasing carbon from the soil
-How to feed the soil (including adding carbon to it) rather than deplete it of nutrients
-How to use land in ways that promote the land holding the water instead of enhancing runoff
-How to use the science to support heating water with the sun
-How to live with limited resources
David advocates for traveling via bicycle to minimize pollution and attain its health benefits. Learn more about his philosophy and bicycle journeys at lifecycling.net.
At Jericho Community Center’s quarterly Board meeting on August 13, Eric Bachman was invited to speak about Repair Cafes. Transition towners here know Eric from his talk in July ‘17 on timebanks; specifically, the Onion River Exchange in Montpelier.
Eric compared a Repair Cafe to matchmaking, in that repair people are paired with people who need repairs. He simplified the process of organizing a Repair Cafe, saying you first look for people who like to repair, find a location, then plan for some Saturday afternoon to run it.
Of course many organizational details followed, and Eric offered himself as an ongoing resource.
No money is exchanged at a Repair Cafe, and the only rule is to bring items you can actually carry in. Torn jeans, clocks, computers, and gadgetry of all kinds may line the tables. The cafe element makes for an enjoyable, social experience and provides food for the volunteers. Donations before and during the event help pay for tools, supplies and food.
The first Repair Cafe was held in the Netherlands in 2009. Other tidbits of its colorful history can be found on repaircafe.org/en. There are now over 1,500 Repair Cafes in at least 33 countries, bringing people together in fun and learning, while making some dents in our throwaway society.
Vermont’s first Repair Cafe was held in Charlotte in 2017, and Charlotte organizers have since thrown three more, including the most recent at Champlain Valley Union High school, with students doing the repairs and being mentored by older fixers.
Central Vermont Solid Waste has helped organize additional Repair Cafes in central Vermont. Taking place in Montpelier, Barre and Hardwick so far, these events support SWMD’s mission of eliminating landfill trash.
C’mon Jericho, we can do it too!
Last weekend four of us friends and organizers of Transition Town Jericho attended Healing Turtle Island at Nibezum Farm, on tribal lands in Passadumkeag, Maine. The event drew over 300 people, including indigenous from around the world.
Brainchild of Penobscot Sherri Mitchell, this was the third annual gathering in a twenty year cycle; future meetings will ultimately take place in the south, west and north. As many indigenous believe we’re now living in a time of prophecy, the east symbolizes birth and creation. The hope is humans will make the choice to return to a more sustainable path of being on the planet.
Indigenous peoples were the leading speakers and the rest of us witnesses; the days were filled with ceremony, ritual and storytelling. A common thread was the struggle to reclaim lost heritage; language and ways of life that contrast profoundly with the modern world.
The learning was as much in the how as the what; we camped out, brought along our own eating utensils and for a few days, tread lightly on the earth. As a free event, the gathering relied on produce and food donations which seemed to be delivered nonstop. Volunteer cooks put together tasty meals and volunteer labor on all levels kept things running smoothly.
Opening night, native peoples were invited to introduce themselves by presenting songs and stories from their culture. Starting with the resident tribal drumming group and progressing to the eye popping Maori troupe to the plaintive song of an Abenaki woman, presenters and attendees alike shed the first of many tears.
The days were filled with sharing knowledge, everything from personal loss to exaltation of earth's riches. Whether standing in line for food, or sitting at the lodge in between ceremonies, attendees were friendly and also swapped life stories and learning. Evening activities included social dancing (fun!), a sweat lodge, a women’s teaching tent and drumming. With hardly any technology apparent, a kind of utopian village was created.
On Sunday morning, as a Mohawk leader and educator was relating a particularly vivid story, there was a crowd murmur as an eagle was sighted, circling overhead; a turkey vulture was soon spotted, even higher in the bright sky. As the eagle and condor together signify unity within native tradition, it seemed a meaningful omen for the gathering.
Back home now, the gathering’s effects are surely unfolding with each participant: how do we tread the earth differently after such an experience?