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Jan 2018 Reflections Needs, Wants and the Number Zero

January 7, 2018

First, an update on our driving:

 Miles Driven Year ended 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Krista’s car (’96 Subaru) 7927 6313 7370
My car (’89 Toyota) 5241 2336 4472 4107  1880*
My pickup (’87 Toyota) 1059 2078 1576  966  935  841
Prius (2010) 7318  9756  14139
LEAF (2011)  2910*  4133
Totals  14227  10727  13418 12391 15481  19,113

*sale/purchase mid-year
Prius includes RT to Yellowstone and Oregon Coast and multiple trips to Boise (@600 ea) for Krista’s work and Charter Commission.

I think this is the year to get rid of the pickup truck. See reflections below about “zero.”

Wants and Needs

A rainy day in a hotel watching HGTV gave focus to my musings. The Tiny House show made the confusion between “need” and “want” most evident; turns out people “need” full size appliances and bath tubs in tiny houses. Between eposides the T*Mobile ad suggested a New Year’s resolution to “binge more.”
For the last several years, my end of holiday reflection has focused on my carbon footprint. This year I have been trying to think about the pull of commercialism and its unsustainability. With that in mind, my goal for the season was to focus on “necessary” purchases. But what does that mean?
After Thanksgiving I got new snow tires for my electric car. My car “needs” them after we got a few inches of snow. But stepping back, I “want” to drive my car, which creates the “need” for tires. Further, my “want” makes the city think we “need” wider streets, more bridges and parking everywhere with the associated footprint to construct and maintain.
Awhile back I wrote a letter to the DNews exploring the challenge climate change places on us for “drastic changes soon.” My habit of defining “wants” as “needs” is what I want to explore and try to break in the New Year.
Zero is qualitatively different from other numbers
I’ve also been thinking about the difference between “zero” and “less.” The thing about zero is getting there may be hard, but departing from there is obvious, ask a vegetarian. It’s the reason I’m trying to get to zero natural gas appliances. Zero-car would have a qualitative impact on my needs and behaviors.
I ran across this quote “Other than for the smallest handful of customers — transit, construction, farming, delivery, emergency/first responder — customer use of fossil fuels and other capital is non-remunerative waste, for pleasure-fun, convenience, status, etc.” I think it gives the urgency to get to zero — even driving to work doesn’t create any remunerative outcome. So a way of thinking about getting to zero could be in terms of zero uses that do not provide some direct economic benefit.
As we see in my driving log above, driving “less” is not happening; true, some of the driving is with zero fossil fuel (renewable electricity) but it still has the implicit carbon footprint of tires, streets and parking places. A goal for 2018 is to get rid of the Toyota pickup. I think a trailer hitch on the Prius will meet the limited needs to haul to the dump and other local tasks. Some other vehicle will need to be borrowed/rented for longer hauling. The decrease in carbon emissions may be small. The advantage is I will have zero pickups cluttering my driveway and zero costs on my insurance bill.
Reflection on 2017 goals
I’m not sure what happened in 2017, but I didn’t make progress on the carbon reduction goals I’d set. Didn’t get rid of any natural gas appliances: still have 2 hot water heaters and 1 clothes dryer. I didn’t get the solar hot water pre-heater going, but I did get solar PV on the cookhouse. It does not supply all the electricity used, even in the best month. The solar PV offsets renewable electricity supplied by Avista Utilities’ Buck-a-block, so there is no reduction in carbon emissions from it.
2018 Goals
In Sept I finished a 600 sqft patio south of the Cookhouse. This is going to be a great space for collaborative cooking and just entertaining. One goal is to get the mud oven from 2010 installed along with a BBQ grill. One of my big discoveries in 2017 was the positive impact of building retaining walls on my gardening (Walls were completed after the gardening season 2016). I got an opportunity to rent a trackhoe in Nov 2017 and did the rough-in work for 3 more walls — one of which creates a terrace for a large greenhouse. That work, along with an addition to the Kramer’s cabin will probably be all my budget and back can handle in 2018.


Drastic and Soon

November 15, 2017

Appeared in DNews Nov 2017

    Thanks for the Nov 8 editorial about a recent federal report on climate change, you note it calls for “drastic action” “soon.” I decided to explore unpacking those words. I posed the idea for this letter on Facebook and learned that “drastic” is relative to a person’s state of denial.
This spring, in “A roadmap for rapid decarbonization,” Johan Rockström and others provided better definitions of those terms. They proposed that during the decade of the 2020s emissions must be reduced by half, and half again in each subsequent decade thru 2050.
I have been working steadily to reduce my direct burning of carbon, replacing natural gas appliances and two older cars with a Prius and an all-electric Leaf. Avista’s Buck-a-block program sells me wind power, avoiding the fossil fuel component in their fuel mix. None of this feels drastic.
Google found me a graph of U.S. carbon emissions from 1950 to 2015. Emissions under Truman were about half what they are today. In 1950, my newly married parents didn’t own a car. Moscow’s 1950 era houses tell us things were smaller and simpler here, too. 1950 predates the big build-up of the interstate highway system and air travel was limited.
“Drastic” for me would be to have no car, to walk, bike or bus around town. The impact of fewer cars would be less demand for roads and parking, with their many direct and indirect carbon footprints. I’d move closer to Main Street.
Your editorial the day prior suggested it’s time to finish widening U.S. Highway 95. “Drastic” in the eyes of some of our community would be to abandon that project entirely, eliminating the carbon footprint of its construction. “Drastic” would be to abandon the airport realignment which supports more flying.
When will we start to contemplate “drastic” actions?

6 Americas not 2

October 1, 2017

Appeared in Dnews Oct 2017

Regarding two letters from climate denialists Larry Kirkland and Varnell Williams, your readers may know the data from the Yale Program on Climate Change “Global Warming’s Six Americas” indicate there are 6 perspectives: Alarmed (18%), Concerned (34%), Cautious (23%), Disengaged (5%), Doubtful (11%) and Dismissive (9%). Nick Sanyal’s class at the UI repeated the Yale survey finding Moscow numbers agree with the Yale’s results. Further, the dismissive group is a small (but clearly vocal) minority.
The majority of your readers may be interested in a 2015 interactive graphic from Bloomberg, “What’s really warming the world.” For those interested in the success of models, in March of this year, Forbes published “The First Climate Model Turns 50, And Predicted Global Warming Almost Perfectly.” Google provides scholarly articles about modeling success and the frontiers of knowledge still to be conquered.
More interesting, your Nov 17 story about the Idaho Climate Summit quoted Mary DuPree that we needed to be planning for climate migrants coming and the implications they will have, for example Moscow’s water supply.

A year before, on October. 20, the New York Times published “Where can you escape the harshest effects of climate change.” The article named Boise among nine cities in North America. When I see maps of places being impacted by climate change, our region is among the least impacted.

This is not a conversation about foreign refugees or immigrants; it is a the real conversation about “Growth is Moscow” we should have had during the election — American citizens, residing in other parts of the US, where hurricanes, drought, or heat waves are making life increasingly difficult.

The good news is that Moscow’s P&Z has solicited advice from the Sustainable Environment Commission to add a new section to Moscow’s Comprehensive Plan that begins to address local climate change.

Cold Pizza for Breakfast

January 25, 2015

Richard Heinberg just posed a long essay Our Renewable Future (Or, What I’ve Learned in 12 Years Writing about Energy) which is a worthwhile read and something to return to later.

Near the end of section 7 he writes:

[there is only] one meaningful indication of success in all these [renewable energy] efforts, and that would be a decline in society’s overall energy use… What we need is not just to trim energy use here and there so as to save money, but to reconfigure entire systems to dramatically slash consumption while making much of the remaining energy consumption amenable to intermittent inputs. (emphasis mine)

‘Intermittent inputs’ is a reference to the idea that the wind does not always blow nor the sun always shine. He’s suggesting we need to organize ourselves to both make hay when the sun shines and be prepared to do something else when it doesn’t.

I already live with some intermittent energy supply. We heat the house with a woodstove. My evening ritual involves making sure there is enough fuel and kindling on the porch that I don’t need to make a morning trip to the wood pile in my bathrobe. The morning starts with lighting a fire. It gets stoked or relit periodically during the day/evening, depending on the day’s needs.

Energy storage is a way around intermittent supply, but it comes at a cost. Today I was thinking about what it would mean to my morning routine if I used only intermittent energy to start my day. After the fire, step two is making coffee. I use an electric kettle to boil the water. Since the winter sun is not up, I’d need a battery to power the kettle, or wait for the stove to heat the water. Step three is often making some toast.

Then comes the shower. My explorations at energy reduction have included making the hot water supply intermittent. Right now that involves putting my conventional hot water tank on a timer, its off when we typically don’t use hot water (eg, while we are sleeping or at work). Heinberg has me thinking about what it would mean to have the hot water heater “on” when the sun is shining.  I’d want to time my hot water use for late afternoon, and with an insulated tank, into the early evening. Morning would be the time of tepid water, and maybe not for wake-up showers.

Summer vs. winter is another way to think about periodic inputs. Perhaps I need to think differently about winter hot water, when I can’t count so much on the sun. Do I need two heating systems, the woodstove and a solar collector? Or do I need much more storage for hot water to “make more hay” when the sun does shine?

Perhaps I should I learn to like cold pizza for breakfast.

Local Food Dinner in February

February 23, 2014

Last year my wife and I sold seats for a local food dinner as part of a fund raiser. I picked February for the event, intentionally to make it challenging — and to see what I would learn. The guest list required that the meal be vegetarian, but not vegan.

Lessons & Compromises. The biggest lesson was about storage and volume of our local producers. Ingredients that we know are are grown locally were not available commercially in February. I checked with a couple local farmers, they had already emptied their storehouses. Some ingredients we had stored in our cold cellar (apples, carrots, garlic), others (beets) not. Milk came from Spokane, WA (80 miles); I could not find butter or cream locally. The cow milk feta cheese could have been local, but I could only find Brush Creek’s marinated feta and wanted their fresh. Probably an issue of storage and low sales volume.  Oils — I used olive oil and butter  (as oil) and neither has a local source or a local work-alike.

It took some time and advance planning. The pumpkin puree in the rolls was made the week before– emptying out the last of our stored pie pumpkins. Hydrating and cooking the garbanzo beans took the whole morning the day of the dinner. The rolls are slow rising and they were started about 8am and were rising by the wood stove before 10am. I ended up using commercial vegetable broth for the soup– making broth ahead didn’t happen.

Best Discovery. Mushrooms from Rosalia.


Appetizer: Chili-Lime Roasted Chickpeas  Fresh lime was a compromise, but I understand that citrus historically was shipped long distances and kept well (eg British Navy use of limes to prevent scurvy) so it may be possible to consider a limited amount of citrus if some amount of low-carbon transport is available.

Soup: Roasted Garlic & Potato with Homemade Croutons  I got day old bread from a local bakery. (It did not contain the most local of our whole wheat supplies, but was organic and regional.) Garlic was from our yard. Potatoes and beets could have been very local, but were only in-state. Carrots and onions were local commercial, but I had stored them.

Roll: Pumpkin Dinner Roll No local buttermilk, I made it up from powder. Commercial dry yeast. Same flours as the pie crust. I made the pumpkin puree. Butter was not local, because we lack the dairy processing.

Main Dish: Vegetable Frittata with Corn Bread Crust  The pleasant surprise was grey oyster mushrooms from Rosalia WA. I also used mixed varieties of baby potatoes, carrots, golden beets and previously blanched/frozen local asparagus. I had dried the tomatoes and made the garlic scape & olive oil. (No olives are not local)

Salad: Apple, Beet, Carrot

Dessert: Cherry – Rhubarb Pie with whole wheat crust. Half whole wheat flour from our most local mill, half durham flour from the USDA Wheat Lab at WSU (actual origin and milling unknown). 100% whole wheat makes a crust that my family does not appreciate. Filling from our freezer.

New Years Resolution Jan. 2014

January 7, 2014

Analysis of 2013 Resolution and Results

As with 2013 it took me awhile to formulate a resolution. I learned from the last one to be more concise and more specific to help the subsequent assessment.

What is not clear in my previous goal is if a main goal can be met by meeting one of the subgoals (eg. examples) or if the goal required meeting all the subgoals. [Previous resolution is here]

Perhaps my biggest gain was not in meeting my specific goals but sharpening my conceptualization of the problem in this analysis of how I can eliminate my direct carbon footprint.

Review of 2013 goals
Substitution. I did make headway on substituting technologies. I started Avista Buck-a-Block on the house and Barn to use offset renewables in place of fossils for my electricity generation. I’ve been exploring LED lighting and buying sample bulbs from TMart and on eBay. The CREE 60W (equiv) is the best of all of them but at twice the price. I think I have replaced half of the most commonly used bulbs in our house, started on the Barn and committed to making the Cookhouse LED from the start. The biggest wattage gain was finding this 5W LED spotlight to replace some 50W halogens.  I also researched with an electrician swapping out the gas water heater and gas dryer in the Barn for electric ones. Wiring is not in place but the breaker panel has enough capacity and the distances are short. Major de-cluttering of the barn’s basement is required to make the task feasible. I’m not sure I understand what I really intended by the local food substitution goal. I’ve certainly fiddled with that, but it needs to be re-phrased.


Progress — we reduced our total driving by 25% (measured as miles driven) compared to 2012.

2012 miles 2013 miles
Krista’s car (red) 7927 6313
My car (white) 5241 2336
My pickup (blue) 1059 2078
totals  14227  10727

Green Production. I have built a solar air heater in the Cookhouse and its reducing some heating demand. The solar water preheater is still under construction, but its part of the plan. And the Cookhouse itself is all electric with Buck-a-Block in place, so it has carbon offsets for all its utilities. My cooking experiments have been sporadic, but I’m better at using the Crockpot, with several soup recipes that I make as a batch and re-heat for my lunch. The next leap here will come with an installed and easy to use solar cooker to replace the crockpot. That has to wait finishing my current building project. Similarly, the mud oven needs a permanent home and roof to become more than a novelty.

Path to a Steady-state Economy. This was a rosy goal, but I don’t know what it means. Perhaps it was really an overarching goal to the others.

Upgrade my Bike Trailer. I’ve been riding my bike and even using it for some shopping, but my only progress on the trailer was finding a place to buy a better tow bar/hitch.

Resolution for 2014

What I should have named in 2013 was that the Cookhouse would take much of my energy for projects. The goal for 2014 is to: (1) finish the Cookhouse (which means getting a Certificate of Occupancy for at least the lower floor and at least one commercial cooking use); (2) implement the solar water pre-heater, and (3) instrument the building so that I can begin documenting its performance.

Time and energy allowing, another goal is to get the solar water pre-heater on our house finished and a solar air heating system implemented in the Barn. Each of these is partially started and each has run into various hurdles that work on the Cookhouse is informing.

UI job portfolio

December 1, 2013

I’ve applied for a job as an Instructional Designer at the UI and they have asked for a portfolio:

Please send examples highlighting three projects in your portfolio that you are most proud of… Be sure to include why you selected each of the three projects to highlight… these examples can be submitted as various forms of media, including URLs, screen shots, electronic files, etc.

This is my reply, which occasioned an interesting reflection that seemed worth capturing here. In my cover letter I had already provided a sample of my pedagogic philosophy, the 3P’s article written at the founding of the BioQUEST Consortium in the late 80’s. “3Ps” refers to three elements of learning science we believed were critical to understanding science as a scientist in a community of practice: Problem-posing, Problem-solving and Persuasion.

The items I’ve included in this portfolio expand on aspects of the 3Ps with my more modern understanding of Internet as a tool for learning: my work at WSU on portfolios and assessment. The third item is two short courses I designed for elementary students.

1. Portfolios. This entry turned into a reflection on how I understand electronic portfolios of and for learning, and their relationship to a resume and the credentialing of learning.  For this piece I set out to share some of my blogging, which was done following my philosophic stance on portfolios, “work in public,” which I learned from George Hotz. Hotz was the teenager who was the first to “jail break” the iPhone. He quit a team working in secret to hack the iPhone and instead chose to work in public. At CTLT we followed his trials and requests for help in his blog.

Hotz served as an encouragement to create the WSUCTLT blog on WordPress. We (my CTLT colleagues and I) sought a place to do our work in public that did not involve the traditional academic publishing cycle. When I went looking for our experiments and reflections on portfolios, I found that the blog was missing.  I had since moved our collaborative blogging away from the WSU brand where this post which summarizes much of that work, Not your father’s Portfolio, can be found.

An electronic portfolio is both more durable and more tenuous than its paper predecessor. Its also more powerful. Its not a thing or a place, its a practice.

It was a prescient insight. Parts of my portfolio from the middle 2000’s have vanished, but my practice of portfolio building has not. Since leaving WSU in 2011 I have not added to the corpus of work related to learning and its assessment appearing in our blog, CommunityLearning, but I have continued the practices we espoused. In 2010 I reflected on my CV and its utility for the new directions I sought:

I need a way to create a CV that converts my experiences into credentials that a new community values.

My work for the last three years has been an exploration of how to help Moscow become more resilient in the face of climate change. The lesson we learned from Margo Tamez (see father’s portfolio link) was to work in the media and places appropriate to your community. Consequently, I have blogged less here, and focused my work in Facebook (login required) and ItCouldBeLocal, a catalog of my exploration of recipes for local eating in Moscow, Idaho. There are three threads to the work: food security, understanding climate change, and urban planning. I seek to learn from, and provide insight to, my community of “friends.”

2. Assessment. This work began with CTLT’s efforts to assist WSU in developing more robust systems of assessment because “[a]ccreditors repeatedly remind classroom faculty that accountability expectations are changing, and that grades, if they ever were, are not now sufficient for meeting accountability requirements. It is a caution that is in part recognition that the isolated perceptions of any single group—even a group of expert educators—will not satisfy the many stakeholders invested in higher education.” This video summarizes our 2009 NUTN award winning article “Engaging Employers in Assessment.” The work is based on our ideas about online portfolios and students “working in public,” and adds the idea of attaching a rubric to gather feedback from an audience. We called this concept the “Harvesting Gradebook;”  most of the details of the Harvesting Gradebook’s development have been lost with the demise of our WSUCTLT blog/portfolio. CTLT, after its reorganization into OAI, used the “harvesting” ideas to gather evidence of the success of WSU’s undergraduate programs as part of the WSU’s 2009 NWCCU re-accreditation. This Prezi  supports a webinar on rolling up student level assessment in support of university accreditation.

3. Course Design. The work in items 1 & 2 above was done over multiple years in collaboration with CTLT colleagues. During the 2000’s my University-level course design work was done as consultant to WSU Course Designers and faculty. One interesting example Meriem Chida’s course, subject of the video above. My personal course design work was in WSU’s College of Education during the 90’s and none of that has survives from my pre-online portfolio days. However, in 2010 and 2011 I created and led two short courses at Palouse Prairie School in a program they called Community-Led Learning. Children signed up to participate in an 8 week course led by a community member each Wednesday afternoon for 90 minutes. The first course I created explored Wikipedia and the collaborative creation of knowledge. It was an experiment to test with students some of the ideas I was exploring regarding Web 2.0 learning. The second CLL course was on making bread, the beginning of my post-WSU foray into sustainability.

What I think is important in these portfolio items is the trajectory they illustrate, from the 1980’s pre-Internet pedagogic focus on solving problems as a path to learning thru the 2000’s explorations of student portfolios and methods to assess those portfolios, which culminated in applying the methods to assessing undergraduate student learning across WSU, and then a return to the very intimate scale of exploring how grade school children can learn by working hands-on to solve small problems.

My own current problem-solving involves the homebrew of solar space and water heating in a new building I am constructing. My practice depends on finding and learning from the portfolios (blogs and websites) of other DIY solar enthusiasts and passing on my explorations, such as the first data from my solar air heater.

New Year’s Resolution Jan. 2013

January 5, 2013

My goal is to reduce my carbon footprint with one example of each of the following methods. This article outlines why acting now is so important.

1. Substitution

  • one fuel for another (e.g., replace a fossil fuel use)
  • one technology for an other (e.g. florescent light bulb for incandescent )
  • one local product (e.g., a local food to replace a non-local one)

2. Economization

  • by reduction of use (drive fewer miles [in 2012 we drove: Update on our driving in 2012:
    • Krista’s car (red) 7927 miles
    • My car (white) 5241 miles
    • pickup (blue) 1059 miles)
  • by substitution (e.g., drive a more efficient vehicle, example green cars here)

3. Green production

4. Identify a path to a steady-state economy in one aspect of my life

5. Upgrade my bike trailer and use it in 6 months of the year

Reskill, Retool and Readjust

October 8, 2012

The other night at the Palouse Transition meeting (a group trying to launch a Transition Town for the Palouse Bioregion) there was discussion about Reskilling — the idea of learning skills of our grandparents, such as gardening and canning.

It got me thinking about my experience reskilling with a clothes line. The Peterson Barn Guesthouse needs to launder a steady stream of sheets and towels. About a year ago I hung a clothes line in the greenhouse attached to the Barn and began drying things there. The reskilling amounted to hanging stuff with clothes pins — the clothes line and clothes pins were the (fairly simple) retooling.

The readjusting was the hard part. It takes anywhere from 1 hour to 1 day to dry a load of laundry, depending on the season and clouds (basically how warm the greenhouse gets). Unlike the clothes dryer that gets the job done in a predictable amount of time – and always quickly enough to fit in the rhythm of the rest of the cleaning tasks. Also, towels dried on the line come out wrinkly and stiff, which guests don’t like. So I modified the process to (hopefully) catch things almost dry and toss them in the dryer to finish and soften.

And while I’ve been doing the Barn laundry this way for most of a year, there is no thought of drying the family laundry on a line.  For one thing there are lots more small items, socks, shirts, etc rather than a few towels and sheets. For another, the whole timing thing. And, a big one, the house laundry is not near the clothes line and packing wet laundry to another building just ain’t happening.

I’m now reflecting on these ideas as they apply to our food canning, freezing, and drying work this fall. Again, its more about readjusting how we schedule our lives, make priorities, and what we value as entertainment in an evening at home than it is about the skills or the tools involved.

Local Pizza

September 16, 2012

Pizza ready to bake. The more local half is garlic, tomato, jalapeno, roasted sweet pepper and two kinds of cheese.

I’ve been looking for a new food challenge. My previous one – eating from the garden every month – pushed my gardening, freezing, canning, drying cold-cellaring and my thinking.

My new challenge: by Sept 2013, make a pizza with local ingredients. Bonus, make the pizza with commercial local ingredients. Why pizza? Its popular. It is mainstream. Its flexible with the seasons.

Aiming for using commercial ingredients will demonstrate that our food system is well enough developed to be able provide local pizza ingredients to anyone. It also opens the door for a local pizzeria to make local pizza.

Defining local will be fun — and will perhaps provide some insights. As a first cut, I’ll just track the distance the product travels on the last leg of its journey. But ultimately, the ingredient needs to be local from its origin through any manufacturing. And what is “local?” The real issue I think is more than “food miles” but I’m not sure how to put a handle on it yet.