Archive for January, 2011

Letter to Governor Walker

January 27, 2011

With the new year, our state also received a new governor.  Although he campaigned on the goal of creating 250,000 jobs, he began his term by cancelling a passenger rail project between our two largest cities that was projected to create thousands of jobs.  And despite his vows to create a business-friendly environment, he has proposed new siting guidelines for wind farms that will put an end to the future development of any wind farms in this state. 

The governor and I clearly will not find common ground regarding the importance of building wind farms and passenger rail and I doubt I will be able to impact hisviews on these matters.  Therefore I figured I’d write him a letter urging him to support an industry that he has not yet tried to hinder – solar.

Dear Governor Walker,

I am urging you to support Wisconsin’s burgeoning solar industry.  According to the National Solar Jobs Census of 2010, Wisconsin ranked fifth out of all states in terms of jobs relating to solar power.  The solar industry is expected to grow nationally by 26% in 2011. 

You can ensure that much of this job growth occurs in Wisconsin by promoting or expanding policies such as Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing and renewable energy tariffs or by providing tax-incentives to companies like SunCity and Sungevity to expand their operations into our state.  These companies, based in California, provide solar lease services where they pay the upfront cost of the solar panels and installation and then the home-owner makes a monthly payment to the company.  These companies are both actively expanding into the Mid-Atlantic and New England states but can be lured to Wisconsin by providing the right package of incentives which I am certain your team can offer.  Additionally, Wisconsin has the highest per capita certified solar installers out of all states which indicates that we have a work force ready to serve this industry.

I thank you for your time and look forward to your response.



January 17, 2011

On Friday we received a letter from the City informing us that we had been approved for a low-interest loan for to complete energy-efficiency/building performance projects.  Last year we had a home energy audit which detailed issues and prioritized solutions in terms of feasibility and payback.  Of course, it can cost quite a bit to address these issues so we sat on the report. Then in November we were invited by the City to participate in a pilot program where the City provides low interest loans to homeowners so they can complete these projects.  Ideally, you pay back the loan each month with money you save on your utility bill.  I can guarantee we won’t have our gas bill reduced $89/month (our monthly loan payment) but I still think its a great idea as we are not just saving money every month but will hopefully be making our home significantly more comfortable.

We received two bids for work.  The first contractor came at it with the approach of a remodeling project than a retrofitting  or weatherization project.  I don’t doubt that gutting the house and reconstructing it would be the ideal strategy if money were no object but Tanya and I decided it wasn’t in our best interest to spend $40,000 to $80,000 on our basement.  Especially since some houses on our block aren’t worth 80K. The second contractor gave us a bid of $7000 to seal an area in the basement, replace/upgrade 3 basement windows, replace/upgrade a hot water heater, replace/upgrade a bath fan, and insulate portions of the attic.  If all goes well, we should be eligible for about $1000 from the state energy efficiency foundation.

The ultimate goal, is to get the upstairs bedrooms and the basement warmer.  And to replace the hot water heater before it totally gives out.  Then we can move on to installing draintiles in the basement and reclaiming one floor of livable space!  But first I need to sign some forms and get some guys over here fixing this stuff!

Learn, Write, Adapt, Connect…….and Bike

January 10, 2011

Both days this weekend I went for a bike ride around the lake here.  We started this winter with some good snow and I went cross-country skiing a few times but then we had a melt New Years Eve so skiing is done for now.  The temp was in the 20s but the roads were clear.  I haven’t done much winter biking in the past but as long as the roads are clear, the winds are calm and the sun is bright, why not.

I mention this because this year I hope to track the nunber and types of rides I go on.  Some will be errands, some will be exercise, and some will be meanderings.  All have their own character but one thing they all share is that I do my best thinking on a bike.  Sometimes practical, sometimes philosohical, sometimes something in between.

Today I was thinking about a question posed by a reader of  Ian is a 25 year old with a degree in film-making.  He’s got a job but doesn’t particularly care for it and feels frustatrated that he’s not pouring his energy into fighting to save the planet.  He basically asked CP readers what he should do next.  There are a many thoughtfulresponses here

My thoughts from today’s ride are below and will surely prove to be more beneficial to me than to Ian.


Great question, I thought about it on my very cold bike ride around the lake today.  I would answer with “Learn, Write, Adapt, and Connect”.

Learning.  No matter what you need to continue aggressively learning.  Formally and informally.  Don’t like your job?  Go to grad school where you will be pushed to learn, analyze, and communicate.  There are undoubtedly a number of programs where you can gain greater confidence in your understanding of the science while refining your excellent communications skills.  I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone but you seem like you’d enjoy the challenge and would definitely come out a stronger thinker than you were when you entered.

Writing.  I am 36 and I am still coming to grips with the importance of writing.  The idea that one writes to convey ideas to others is obvious.  The real importance of writing for me at this point in my life is that process of writing strengthens you as a thinker as you are forced to clarify your thoughts.  This year my goal is to use writing to focus my actions as well by blogging weekly on ecological living.  I input non-stop but knowing that I will need to write forces me to concentrate ideas into actions.

Adapting.  You mentioned that you didn’t feel that minimzing your carbon footprint was significantly satisfying but perhaps if you viewed it in terms of skills-learning you might appreciate it more. I don’t expect a dramatic collapse anytime soon but I find it extremely fulfilling to learn to grow food, etc. and move down a path of self-reliance while lessening my footprint.

Connecting.  We all need to continue to connect with our families, friends, communities, and environment.  If we are to succeed in this struggle, our love for humanity and this planet must overwhelm and outlast the fossil-barons’ love for their profits.

If you pursue the activities, you’ll likely find, as I did, that feedback loops are generated and soon you are doing more than you ever could have imagined.  This is empowering and we need empowered people in this struggle for it will be a long one.

Thanks for posing the question.  You have stimulated a terrific exchange of ideas.


New Day, New Decade

January 2, 2011

In 2010 I learned that writing about urban ecology is much easier done in the winter than the spring and summer simply because during late spring and summer I was “too busy” to write.  This is, of course, total bullshit.  There was plenty of time to write, I just didn’t.  In 2011, my goal is to write one post per week and on the first day of January which arrived here with a cold, hard wind, that seems like an easy task. 

My overall goal for 2011 is less ideas, more action.  My mind has fallen into a state of input-addicted, multi-tasking, disarray and I need to fix this by focusing on output via creating, writing, building, and growing.  With any luck, this will help rewire my brain so it functions effectively again.

To recap the last 8 months of 2010, it was hot as shit with horrible mosquitos which are my top two excuses for the garden falling into a greater state of disrepair than I would care but there were some successes.  The tomatos did very well in Liam’s yard. The sorrel came back and looks well established.  The hyssop sprouted and even bloomed and should come back thiicker unless Liam pulls it all out while the converting the old dogrun to a chicken run. The Canada Anemone should be fine and another clump I put in 2 years ago completely overran the English violets which was too bad.  The pole beans did well  but the lettuce was not particularly great as even though it was supposed to be a mixed bag of seeds, 90% of what actually grew was a very peppery. arugula-like green – I’ll need to get a new mix this year.  The biggest disappointment was that no mushrooms whatsover grew.  I think the logs that I drilled the spored dowels into must have dried out which prevented the oysters from growing.  They could still grow this year though.

On the efficiency-front, we got a letter from the city offering us a spot in a pilot program to get a low interest loan from the city for energy efficiency improvements. Using the report from our home energy audit as a guide, we got bids from 2 local contractors for work I’ll detail later if we get approved.