Thursday, January 26, 2012

Video: 131 years of global warming

From Climate Central...

"From our friends at NASA comes this amazing 26-second video, depicting how temperatures around the globe have warmed since 1880. That year is what scientists call the beginning of the “modern record.” You’ll note an acceleration of those temperatures in the late 1970s as greenhouse gas emissions from energy production increased worldwide and clean air laws reduced emissions of pollutants that had a cooling effect on the climate, and thus were masking some of the global warming signal. The data comes from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, which monitors global surface temperatures. As NASA notes, “in this animation, reds indicate temperatures higher than the average during a baseline period of 1951-1980, while blues indicate lower temperatures than the baseline average.” 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

asparagus-fennel risotto

I had a bulb of fennel lying around and modified the asparagus risotto recipe that I have in the cookbook by substituting the fennel for the onion.  Last nights was also butter free (but I did add some Parmesan cheese).

The fennel added a subtle extra flavor to the asparagus risotto.  Nice.

New mirin salad dressing

Imagine this.  We just ran out of olive oil.


Desperately I looked through the larder for ingredients to make a salad dressing.  How about 1 tsp of dijon mustard, equal parts (about 2-3 Tbs) of mirin and rice vinegar and about 1Tbs of ponzu.  Dressed on an organic spinach and tomato salad.  Yum.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Keystone XL permit denied

I've just read that the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline that will bring tar sand oil down to the US for processing has been denied from the Obama administration.  I (personally) think this is an important issue and the right decision for many reasons (including the facts that it's very 'dirty' oil, that it is wrecking the environment where it is 'mined', that we need to generally use LESS oil and not feed our addiction, etc.).  I wish it were once and for all, but it's a decision that is likely to be revisited (just wait till Iran blocks the Straits of Hormuz!).

However, to take a different perspective getting less oil from a stable neighbor does make us rely more (in the short term) for overseas oil which can be quite volatile and has (arguably) led to wars over oil.  I believe that we must wean ourselves from oil (and other fossil fuels) much sooner rather than later to try to reduce the magnitude of catastrophic climate change. 

Discussion question
How will we bridge the gap and work towards true energy security where much of energy comes from clean and sustainable sources?  What changes will you need to make in your life to facilitate this?  What are the benefits of doing it sooner rather than later?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sustainability in dining halls

I've read about and seen a number of UCLA sustainability initiatives and heard about what the dining halls had been doing but it took me going there to see what a GREAT JOB they're doing.  

I had the pleasure of dining with a number of our undergraduate majors this evening.  While waiting to get in, there were signs talking about meatless Thursdays and WHY they were having meatless Thursdays (now to get them to eliminate cheese on Thursdays!). There were signs all over the place about not using a tray and by doing so saving water and energy required to clean them.  And, the portions were 'reasonable' and food choices healthy.  I had a grilled Tilapia served with polenta, tomato sauce, and spinach (it was really nice) and two helpings of a really nice fresh salad.

I have to say that the campus dining halls are doing such a better job than the campus faculty club!  There are no meatless days there, unsustainable fish are regularly served, and there's apparently no thought about educating faculty about sustainability issues.  Of course by identifying problems this opens the door to solve them.  I guess I have a conversation lined up in my near future.

Is your school, campus, work place engaging in sustainable food practices?  What would it take to get them to do so?

The continuing saga of farmed salmon...

In a thoughtful piece in The High Country NewsStephanie Paige Ogburn describes some of the issues associated with both farmed and genetically modified salmon.  The upshot is that farmed salmon creates clear and present concerns and that we should focus on this (and indeed she implies we can and should do better!) before getting too upset about growing salmon genetically modified for faster growth.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Pirsig and the rigidity of our values

In a very interesting passage of “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”, Robert Pirsig uses a metaphor to describe how the rigidity of our values sometimes can put us in danger:

All kinds of examples from motorcycle maintenance could be given, but the most striking example of value rigidity I can think of is the old South Indian Monkey Trap, which depends on value rigidity for its effectiveness. The trap consists of a hollowed-out coconut chained to a stake. The coconut has some rice inside which can be grabbed through a small hole. The hole is big enough so that the monkey’s hand can go in, but too small for his fist with rice in it to come out. The monkey reaches in and is suddenly trapped – by nothing more than his own value rigidity. He can’t revalue the rice. He cannot see that freedom without rice is more valuable than capture with it. The villagers are coming to get him and take him away. They’re coming closer… closer!... now! What general advice – not specific advice – but what general advice would you give the poor monkey in circumstances like this?

Pirsig would tell the monkey to reconsider his values (in this case, as fast as possible), removing the value rigidity that rates rice above freedom. Perhaps the monkey could get released from the trap with a small amount of rice among his fingers, if he weren’t too greedy and tried to get all the food inside the coconut.

The metaphor of the monkey trap can teach us interesting aspects of many things, including about the exploration of resources in our planet. Instead of a coconut, a monkey and some rice, the real situation is composed by seven billion people “trapped” in the same planet, sharing common resources and having lives that are linked in a certain way. All of us are trying to take some rice, but the amount of food is limited, and we must be intelligent in using it. If we get stuck, worried about taking the biggest quantity of rice we can, we run the risk of dying in the trap.

If we know that the things we do and the way we consume things can be harmful to other people and to the environment, the question is: are we able to reconsider some of our values? If not, why?

video of moving and retreating glaciers

The CBC has a nice news piece that shows time lapse photography of both surging and retreating glaciers. Since glaciers are often a very important source of agricultural and drinking water for many areas, not to mention the importance of the Greenland ice sheet in holding water that would otherwise contribute to sea level rise. Anyway, here's something to look at and discuss.  Sometimes images really make something (like global warming) immediate and compelling.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Carl Pope on reducing corporate influence in elections...

I think that corporate support of elections (which has been fully legalized by Citizen's United) is one of the more dangerous challenges to American democracy.  Carl Pope, the former director of the Sierra Club (now a blogger for the Huffington Post) suggests that we could create two classes of corporations--one that gets a tax break for not being involved in politics, and a second that pays higher taxes for having the option to get involved in politics.  What an interesting idea!  And one that would allow citizens, not corporations, support the politics that influence their lives.   I was sent this and can't find the original source, but I'm posting this as I received it (I've bolded a key paragraph about his proposal below).  Regardless of your political bent, I hope that (if you're an American citizen) you'll think about this idea and bring it up at your next dinner party.

Taking the Initiative
January 11, 2012

'Citizens United' or Not, We Aren't Helpless

San Francisco -- However much pleasure President Obama's supporters
may gleefully derive from watching his Republican adversaries
carpet-bomb each other through their "Super-PACs," what is far more
revealing than whether Santorum or Gingrich is eventually the last
opponent left standing up to Mitt Romney is how they are going to get
there. If our previous campaign financing system was, effectively, an
oligarchy of the 1%, the new one is an oligarchy of the .01% -- the
people who really control American politics today are the fewer than
10,000 people able to control closely held corporate assets. This is
an oligarchy smaller by far than that which governed George III's
England, reminiscent more of a state like Pakistan with its 22 families.

The respective fates of Rick Perry and Ron Paul do show that
mega-money is not everything in today's politics. And it may be that
a sitting incumbent president can raise enough money for his own
campaign to remain competitive when he combines those funds with the
significant resources of incumbency -- so I am not predicting that
the wave of Super-PAC funds Obama will face is going to determine the
presidential outcome.

But any highly ambitious American politician, whatever their original
motivation, values, or ideology, now understands that the path to
high office lies in cultivating super-wealthy supporters with strong
corporate power bases.

Clearly, this is terrifying many people, on both sides of the
ideological divide, and perhaps in private angering them. But it's
surprising how little real energy has gathered to fix the problem --
perhaps because the conventional narrative is that nothing short of a
constitutional amendment can fix the problem.

A constitutional amendment, of course, is the best solution -- and
groundwork is being done.  But while congressional leaders like
Senators Tom Udall and
Sanders, Representative Donna Edwards, and organizations like Common
Cause are pushing for one, they are not getting the public tailwind
they need -- even though polls show the idea is wildly popular. The
road to an amendment lies through either Congress or state
legislatures, both of which seem controlled by the plutocracy the
Supreme Court has created, and there is certainly no short-term fix
through an amendment.

But there are other things that can be done -- quickly, and
effectively -- that can create the groundswell that an eventual
amendment will need. An important one took place last month, when
Montana Supreme Court basically said to the U.S. Supreme Court,
your Citizens United opinion and shove it."

Obama has one important tool to move the ball as well.
require that federal contractors and their executives disclose
their political giving, not just the smaller gifts to individual
candidate campaigns that federal law currently requires. An executive
order to that effect has been drafted, and there is no legal barrier.

"It's simple -- any company that is paid with taxpayer dollars should
be required to disclose political
said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif, who has pushed for the White House to
issue the order. "With public dollars come public responsibilities,
and I hope President Obama will issue his executive order right away."

A huge swathe of the economy -- most of the major players in
mega-campaign giving -- is dependent in whole or part on federal
dollars. Think about it: Defense contractors, oil companies, computer
and telecommunications firms, highway and transportation contractors,
auto companies, airlines, computer and technology manufacturers, even
paper mills. And what motivates many of these players -- weapons
manufacturers, for example -- to give so heavily in federal elections
is precisely to keep their flow of contracting dollars robust.
Contractors get 15 percent of the federal budget (and an even greater
percentage of the discretionary spending), which amounts to 4 percent
of the total economy.

When Congress has attempted to limit campaign spending -- during the
McCain-Feingold debates for example -- the right-wing response was
invariable, "let sunshine be the disinfectant." Disclose, no more.
But when Congress tried to require disclosure of Super-PAC
Republican leadership mobilized to stop such legislation and last
year even attached legislative riders to ensure that Obama did not
act to require disclosure from contractors. But those riders have now
expired -- nothing but a reluctance to rock-the-boat prevents the
president from acting today. But there's not much organized public
pressure on him to do so. My guess is that even the Tea Party would
welcome a serious demand for contractor disclosure.

But we shouldn't, and needn't, stop with contractors and disclosure.
Congress has the power to fix our campaign finance system, Supreme
Court or no. This Congress won't. But if progressives and the
anti-corruption wing of the Tea Party joined forces this fall to
demand it, the next Congress could.

The solution lies in -- tax cuts.

Non-profit corporations have long paid a substantial tax for the
privilege of engaging in politics. Tax-deductible nonprofits
(charitable c3's) can do nothing to influence an election and can
lobby in only a minimal way. Tax-exempt but not tax-deductible c4
orgs can lobby to an unlimited degree. They also can engage in
politics, as long as it does not become their primary purpose -- but
they face a substantial tax penalty if they do so. So the
constitutional principal is established -- Congress could set
different tax rates for corporations based on their political
involvement or lack thereof.

Why not create two classes of corporations. One, let's call it
"enterprise corporations," would stay out of politics. Not only would
they not give corporate funds to campaign committees like the
Super-PACs, but these corporations also would not use their funds to
create corporate PACs, the other bane of our system. They would not
pay dues to organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, which uses
those dues for politics. They would engage in free enterprise --
business, not politics. And, as a result, they would have a lower
corporate income tax rate than the second group of corporations, call
them "advocacy corporations." These corporations could do all the
things the Supreme Court has guaranteed them over the years --
everything short of explicit bribery of politicians. But, in
exchange, they would pay a significantly higher corporate tax rate
than enterprise corporations.

There would be no need for a confiscatory tax level for influence
corporations. Corporate shareholders would find quite appealing the
idea that they could simultaneously save the money they currently
spend on politics and qualify for a lower tax rate. Yes, truly
closely held entities like Koch Industries might choose to pay the
higher taxes. There would be advocacy corporations. But we would all
know who they were, and they wouldn't be able to hijack the rest of
American business to go along with them through the Chamber of
Commerce. Most major corporations would welcome the chance to get out
of the influence game and focus on their core businesses.

Indeed, the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz. has
a movement of corporations that are going to refuse to give campaign
money even without the tax sweetener that I am proposing.

What I find most appealing about this idea, which was first generated
several years ago by Damon Silvers, a friend of mine, is that it
doesn't require a supermajority in the Congress (well, leaving aside
the usual filibuster problem in the Senate.) It doesn't require
action by two-thirds of the legislatures. It can happen quickly if
during this campaign cycle we generate enough grassroots energy to
make candidates stand up for an end to corporate influence buying.

Our democracy is, truly, at stake. And we can no longer hide our
inactivity behind the excuse that "there is nothing to be done."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

wilted spinach, fennel with rice vinegar and ponzu

Here's an emerging recipe:

Half bulb of fennel, sliced super thin
1 lb spinach
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs rice vinegar
2 Tbs ponzu

Place all ingredients in a large frying pan; saute over medium heat.  When the spinach is wilted, it's done.  5 min for a delicious warm salad!

Monday, January 9, 2012

new information about methane...

In a really interesting article in The Daily Climate University of Chicago chemist David Archer writes about his models of the effect of methane being released from the arctic.  I learned that methane doesn't last as long as CO2 once its liberated into the environment; indeed, Archer noted that we should not let concerns about methane make us lose track of the real issue--reducing the emission of CO2.  And, the 'good' take home is that he claims that his models (which I've not looked at directly) suggest that it's not that easy get a sudden huge release of methane as the arctic melts.  So, concerns that I've had based on a catastrophic and sudden release of methane may be unlikely...which is good news. 

the limits of Meyer lemons

I've been fixated on Meyer lemons since I first discovered them a number of years ago, and our friends (as I've previously written about in both the book and blog) have the BEST Meyer lemons I've ever had.  Sweet and tart.  Firm and with a beautiful skin.  We were over there the other night and got a 'fresh shipment' that I'm cooking through.  

I think I've just discovered the first thing that they don't enhance.  Pizza.  Just don't try it,  I figured that buffalo mozzarella might, just might be enhanced with the lemons--I was wrong.  Upon baking, the lemons were simply too bitter with the cheese.  Oh well.  Gota try some strange pairings in order to find the ones that work.

Steak with fresh rosemary butter

While one theme of this blog and cookbook is that meat should be viewed as a condiment, if you're going to have meat, eat small,  high quality portions and treat it very, very well.  Last night I was playing around with flavored butters.  I bought very good filet mignon, washed it, dried it, and seasoned it on both sides with a little kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  I covered it and let it warm to room temperature over the next hour.  To cook it, I first seared it on a hot and lightly oiled iron skillet.  After I flipped it over in the pan, I put a tablespoon of butter into which I mixed in fresh rosemary (from our bush--about 5 'stems' worth of rosemary with about 4 Tbs butter).  Then, into the hot 350°F oven went the 2" thick steaks.  About 15 min later they were ready to serve.  Juicy.  Delicious.

The steak was preceded by an herloom tomato pizza, and pan seared scallops.  The steak was served with mushrooms (2 lbs of mushrooms that I sliced and cooked slowly in a large frying pan in about 1/8th cup of olive oil with half an onion (thinly sliced) and cooked down for about 45 min over low heat).  This was followed by a palate cleaning Meyer lemon sorbet and finished with a pear salad (bosque pairs, mixed with organic greens, and a walnut, wine vinegar and jam dressing).

Friday, January 6, 2012

Paddy Ashdown: The Global Power Shift

This is an important TED talk that can stimulate a lot of conversation.  While I hate to suggest you watch it with your friends, perhaps you can suggest they watch it and then have dinner together and talk about it.

Paddy Ashdown claims that we are living in a moment in history where power is changing in ways it never has before. In a spellbinding talk at TEDxBrussels he outlines the three major global shifts that he sees coming.

Throughout his career, Paddy Ashdown has moved across the international stage. He served as a Royal Marine and an intelligence officer in MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service of the United Kingdom, before becoming a member of Parlaiment. In 1988 he became the first leader of the newly formed Liberal Democrat party. After leaving Parlaiment he served as the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

12 Green New Year’s Resolutions for 2012

12 Green New Year’s Resolutions for 2012

1. Replace single-use batteries in your camera with rechargeables
2. Make the switch to CFLs or LEDs already
3. Replace one grocery item with a local or organic option
4. Install a programmable thermostat
5. Go vegetarian for just one meal this week
6. Download Earth911′s iRecycle app for iPhone or Android
7. Clean out your garage of hazardous waste
8. Start just one DIY reuse project
9. Shop for the materials to start your compost
10. Learn how to hypermile for your commute to work
11. Learn the public transportation routes in your city
12. Make a green resolution for the new year - think about how you can make a difference for the environment in 2012.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

You are here: the oil journey

The Post Carbon Institute has put out a new powerpoint/video that's pretty compelling. It's called You Are Here: The Oil Journey and is about our future with less oil.  Watch it with friends and neighbors and discuss!