Wednesday, November 24, 2010

300 Years of Fossil-Fueled Addiction in 5 Minutes


I've just seen a brilliant animation: 300 Years of Fossil-Fueled Addiction in 5 Minutes. Presented by the Post Carbon Institute, narrated by Richard Heinberg, and with artwork by an absolute genius at monstrodesign ...

please drop over to to view this animation.

It's incredible to me that someone could have put so much information in something so short and so simple in its images.

best regards to all, Why's Woman

Monday, November 22, 2010

Under Soil Critters We Need

Good morning ... how are you today?

The other day someone asked me some gardening questions. I just sent him an e-mail answer and thought I'd post it ... in case you also wanted a bit of information about vermiculture, low-till gardening, and soil organisms.

Of course, Barbara Pleasant's article (referred to in resources) is probably better than anything I'll put together from browsing around ... but between the stuff below and the article you'll get a bit of info.

*Vermiculture* refers to maintaining worms in contained space, giving them food and bedding, and letting them do the work of changing the food into poop – ‘castings’. The castings are a form of compost, containing many nutrients and trace elements. Mixed in with soil, these castings release their nutrients and trace elements through the magic of many organisms; in turn, these move through a moisture and root interface and into the plants. Usually the term vermiculture is used in regards to worm raising in indoor spaces, like apartment kitchens or school rooms, but if someone were raising worms for bait or for sale to people doing in-home composting, the term vermiculture is correct.

In his book, /Mike McGrath’s Book of Compost/, Mike gives a short overview of how to set up a worm composting bin, with the reliable Red Wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida). His most important advice is to do some reading up on the how-to before just going ahead. Just like raising chickens, or having a pet canary or rabbit, there are things to know for healthy critters. I do not know who/where in London deals in red wigglers or vermicomposting set-up kits.

*Low till gardening/agriculture*
Many articles have been written over the last few years which advocate for no-rototill home gardens and no-till or low-till agriculture. The article I've attached has a reference to this. Concepts addressed during no-rototill home gardening include:
- use of deeper mulch to keep weed seeds from germinating,
- that many weeds reproduce from even small root parts and that tilling only chops and distributes these,
- that there is a special group of fungi (mycorrhizae) that are a go-between between plant roots and soil; their work transfers nutrients to plants; it is best to not disturb soil so that their in-soil parts don't get damaged because this affects their in-root parts

Both Organic Gardening Magazine and Mother Earth News (magazines) are solid sources of information. Both have websites. Any book by Rodale Press is a good book. The Rodale Institute website is also interesting, and extends information about low-till into agriculture and carbon sequestration (and organic agriculture) as a major player in mitigating global warming.

*Soil Organisms*
Big topic!

To paraphrase Barbara Kingsolver … “sit down, I’ll make you a cup of tea, and then get ready for more than two hundred words.’

The article below also mentions these. And both Mother Earth News and Organic Gardening magazines or on-line can be searched. But to scale up ...

There’s a seriously cool book out, that I've mentioned before:Teaming with Microbes: the organic gardener's guide to the soil food web. It has really fascinating photos taken with souped up microscopes and way more information than I’ll ever get through, although each page I manage to get through fascinates me. This book is the text book for us ... imagine what the university level book must be!

The Teaming with Microbes book has chapters on many types of organisms that help in the creation and maintenance of healthy soil, in the transfer of nutrients to plants and ultimately the growth of plants. Bacteria, archaea, fungi, algae and slime molds, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, earthworms, gastropods, reptiles, mammals and birds. It is noteworthy that humans don’t make it into this first section of the book!

Don’t think for a minute that I know what all those things even are! The /Teaming/ authors write that ‘A mere teaspoon of good garden soil, as measured by microbial geneticists, contains a billion invisible bacteria, several yards of equally invisible fungal hyphae, several thousand protozoa, and a few dozen nematodes.’ To me they are all ‘critters’.

As an ensemble – as a whole orchestra – these critters eat and are eaten. They excrete and exude stuff; they incorporate other stuff. They react to what is exuded by plants. Plants react to sunlight and water. All the plants and critters do things for, against and with each other. The interactions are like dozens of spider webs overlaying each other and rotated around and through each other … at least that’s my way of understanding the soil web, which, factoring in time, is really a four-dimensional soil web.

I am easily overwhelmed by what I read. So many complicated systems at work, balancing soil ecosystem with root interface with healthy plants! Sometimes I’m afraid to weed out stuff, lest I mess up the root/moisture/nutrient system of nearby plants I want to nurture.

But sometimes, I’ve just got to yank stuff out. Or dig a hole. Or make a new garden bed in a hurry by turning over the soil – flipping 8” cuts so they are soil up – grass down, adding a layer of compost for mulch and just planting right into it … trusting that all the upended critters will figure out their new world and get on with what they do, despite my mistakes and dithering.

I take heart from just the title of chapter 24: /No One Ever Fertilized an //Old// //Growth// //Forest//./ To me, what this comes down to is that, left alone, growing systems reach a balance. So I try to do less, do gently and watch more … in hopes of finding how the garden balance can take care of itself. This is where I’m coming up to the topics of permaculture and forest gardening, topics I’m only just starting to read on ... and which we'll be finding out more about on December 12.

Because I'm an information weinie ... here's an excerpt from Teaming with Microbes that refers to Mycorrhizae fungi. The Mycorrhizae have been getting a lot of press lately.

From Teaming with Microbes

/Soil fungi also form extremely important mutual relationships with plants. The first is the association of certain fungi with green algae, which results in the formation of lichens. Int his symbyotic relationship, the fungus gets food from the alga, which utilizes its photosynthetic powers while the fungal strands make up the thallus, or body, of the lichen, in which the pair lives. Chemicals secreted by the fungus break down the rock and wood upon which the lichens grow. This creates minerals and nutrients for the soil, soil microbes, and plants./

/The second are mycorrhizae (from the Greek for “fungus-root”), symbiotic associations between plant roots and fungi. In return for exudates from plant roots, mycorrhizal fungi seek out water and nutrients and then bring them back to the plant. The plant becomes dependent on the fungi, and the fungi, in turn, cannot live without the plant’s exudates. …/

/Mycorrhizae have been known since 1885, when German scientist Albert Bernhard Frank compared pines grown in sterilized soil to those grown in sterilized soil inoculated with forest fungi. The seedlings in the inoculated soil grew faster and much larger than those in the sterilized soil. Yet iwa s only in the 1990s that the terms mycorrhiza (the symbiotic root-fungus relationship; plural, mycorrhizae) and mycorrhizal (its associated adjective} started to creep into the agricultural industry’s lexicon, much less the home gardeners’s./

/We’re the first to admit that we were blindsided by the subject – and one of us had written a popular garden column every week for 30 years and never once mentioned them out of sheer ignorance, a state shared with most gardeners. We now know the extent of our ignorance: at least 90% of all plants form mycorrhizae, and the percentage is probably 95% and even higher. What is worse, we learned that these relationships began some 450 million years ago, with terrestrial plant evolution: plants started growing on the earth’s surface only after fungi entered into relationship with aquatic plants. Without mycorrhizal fungi, plants do not obtain the quantities and kinds of nutrients needed to perform at their best; we must alter our gardening practices so as not to kill these crucial beneficial fungi./

/Perhaps gardeners lack appreciation for fungi because all soil fungi are very fragile. Too much compaction of soil, and fungal tubes are crushed and the fungi killed. Clearly fungicides, but also pesticides, inorganic fertilizer, and physical alteration of the soil (rototilling, double digging) destroy fungal hyphae. Chemicals do so by sucking the cytoplasm out of the fungal body. Rototilling simply breaks up the hyphae. The fruiting bodies of mycorrhizal fungi even decrease when fungi are exposed to air pollution, particularly that containing nitrogenous substances./

/Mycorrhizal fungi are of two kinds. The first, ectomycorrhizal fungi, grow close to the surface of roots and can form webs around them. Ectomycorrhizal fungi associate with hardwoods and conifers. The second are endomycorrhizal fungi. These actually penetrate and grow inside roots as well as extend outward into the soil. Endomycorrhizal fungi are preferred by most vegetables, annuals, grasses, shrubs, perennials, and softwood trees./

/Both types of mycorrhizal fungi can extend the reach as well as the surface area of plant roots; the effective surface area of a tree’s roots, for example, can be increased a fantastic 700 to 1000 times by the association. Mycorrhizal fungi get the carbohydrates they need from the host plant’s exudates and use that energy to extend out into the soil, pumping moisture and mining nutrients from places the plant roots along could not access. These fungi are not lone miners, either. They form intricate webs and sometimes carry water and nutrients to the roots of different plants, not only the one from which they started. It is strange to think of a mycorrhizal fungus in association with one plant helping others at the same time, but this occurs. /

/Finding and bringing back the phosphorus that is so critical to plants seems to be a major function of many mycorrhizal fungi; the acids produced by mycorrhizal fungi can unlock, retrieve, and transport chemically locked-up phosphorus back to the host plant. Mycorrhizal fungi also free up copper, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron for plant use. As always, any nutrient compounds not delivered to the plant roots are locked up in the funge and are released when the fungi die and are decayed./

If you've made it through all the above and the article, give yourself a pat on the back!!

Dream gardens and I hope you have a good day,

Why's Woman

* A few references*

Kingsolver, Barbara. /A Fist in the Eye of God, /an essay contained in the book/ Small Wonder. /HarperCollins Publishers, 2002. [LPL: 814.Kin]

Lowenfels, Jeff and Wayne Lewis. Teaming with Microbes: the organic gardener’s guide to the soil food web. Revised edition. Portland: Tiimber Press, 2010 [LPL: 631.4 Low]

McGrath, Mike.* *Mick McGrath’s book of Compost. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., 2007. [London Public Library system: 631.875 MacG]
Mike is a former editor of Organic Gardening magazine and his bio says he hosts a Public Radio show called You Bet Your Garden, as well as doing other things. I love this guy’s take on things. The Compost book is a fairly fast, easy and /humourous/ read. It even has nifty cartoons. ‘Vermiculture’ is a term Mike dislikes because it sounds like you’re taking rats to the opera.

Mother Earth News:

Organic Gardening Magazine:

Pleasant, Barbara. /Simple Tips for //Better// //Garden// Soil/. Mother Earth News. April/May 2009.

Rodale Institute:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Davis Suzuki Foundation worth looking at

Hello out there,

I almost never sign on-line petitions as they are written. I alter the petition letter and then I sign on. I've just sent off the note below concerning the Canadian senate's killing off a climate change accountability bill. Check out the situation on the David Suzuki Foundation site:

And whether you decide for yourself to send a letter or not, I hope you'll go to see the new documentary about David Suzuki - Force of Nature - which will probably be at a theatre near you. It's a good biography/documentary about a good person.

Best regards,

Why's Woman

On November 16, unelected Conservative senators used a surprise vote to kill Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act. The Act was to have made successive governments accountable for reducing global warming emissions to safe levels.

Four years in the making, Bill C-311 had a lot of momentum. It passed through the House of Commons with a strong majority, thanks in part to the incredible support of Canadians from across the country. Yet it was killed without adequate notice of call to vote; killed without debate in the Senate – something that has rarely happened in our history.

I am deeply disturbed with the way this decision was made. It went against the will of the majority of Members of Parliament - persons elected to represent their constituents' wishes. Also, it did not uphold Canada’s democratic traditions.

Climate change is a primary and critical global problem. It must be addressed by each and every country individually and collectively. Actions must be taken, by every country individually and collectively.

The development of clean - pollutant free - energies is essential. Studies show that Canada will benefit economically by developing new clean energy technologies and related jobs.

But working to slow climate change, fossil fuel use and the collective other damaging things we do to the planet is not just about money.

Creating a world which is safe, healthy and sustainable for Canadians and other world citizens is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. I'm old enough to have believed that Canada is a country that tries to do the right thing. (I have to admit I'm not always sure of humanity's wisdom, but that's not the purpose of this note.)

The Senate’s decision to kill progressive legislation demonstrates the Canadian government’s lack of leadership on the key issues of our global time: environmental health and survival of humanity.

It is a shame upon our country that just as Canada prepares to join world leaders at the United Nations climate change negotiations in Mexico, we are once again without any solid plan to reduce the emissions fueling climate change.

I expect you to be responsible and accountable to the Canadian people and our democracy. As soon as possible, and on advice of the other parties and major environment groups, I expect the Government to introduce a similar or stronger bill in the House of Commons.



Marjory LeBreton - Leader of the government in the Senate

Stephen Harper - Prime Minister of Canada

Michael Ignatieff – Leader of the Liberal Party

Gilles Duceppe - Leader of the Bloc Québécois

Jack Layton - Leader of the New Democratic Party

Elizabeth May - Leader of the Green Party of Canada

Sunday, November 14, 2010

film The Bridge as bridge to Peace Activist Tribute

Good morning everyone. This entry will take a long route, through an old movie to a brand new book. If you get bored with the movie synopsis, please skip down to the book note! However, the movie synopsis exemplifies my reason for writing under the name Why’s Woman. Blessings to you all, Why's Woman

All week long I’ve been hearing Remembrance Week reports …

Saturday evening I tuned into TVO’s broadcast of the 1959 film Die Bruke – The Bridge, a West German film by Austrian filmmaker Bernhard Wicki, based on a 1958 novel by Manfred Gregor, who got the story from an actual event recounted by its last survivor.

The Bridge was brilliant.

Apparently, in late 1944, the German government started calling up underage young men and older men to fight – it had no one else to continue the fight for the Fatherland.

The movie is the story of 7 boys, all around 15 and 16 years of age, schoolmates in October 1945. About half the film is spent letting us know who the boys are and showing us the emotional way they left their homes. The latter half of the film shows us their next day.

One by one we see the interactions with their families when their call-up papers arrive.

Siggi’s mother wants him to hide at his aunt’s until the war is over. There is no father in the home. But the mother’s fear of losing her son implied to me her husband had already died fighting. Siggi is the youngest of the seven friends. He has to go, not just because of his friends but because he believes what he has been taught about the rightness of the fight.

Karl does not have a good day. On the day the call-up papers come, he discovers that his father is bedding a young woman he has a crush on. Meeting his friend Klaus shortly after, he makes a nasty remark about his friend Klaus’ girlfriend; Klaus punches him in the nose. At home, Karl argues with his father and leaves his home … spending the night in the recruiting office.

Walter is spending his last night at home, playing records too loudly. His father sends the maid to tell him to turn it down. This father– a civilian of some status in his community because he is leader of the local communist party – is packing to run away from the U.S. onslaught that now seems inevitable, under the guise of going to a communist party meeting. Another argument between father and son here, with Walter’s accusations that his father is having an affair with his secretary and has driven his wife away.

Jurgen wants to be an officer, like his father who was killed in the war. Their family owns a farm – so the family is more well off than the others - and his mother has been left to manage their farm with Polish prisoner labour … but they’ve just run away. His mother is being very calm as they talk about managing things while he’s away and they talk about packing; he tells her he admires the way she keeps her emotions in check. My interpretation of her frozen expression is that she really just wants to scream, and scream and scream.

Klaus spends time with Franziska, oblivious to her want to be his girlfriend. There’s a lovely scene in the train station where he says he wants to ask her something. She leans in, eager, telling him that because he’s going away to the front he can ask her anything. He asks if he can have his watch back, because a watch with a luminous dial could be really useful on night duty. This is perhaps the only bit of humour in the film, and it is countered with the sadness of the girl’s hope.

Hans and Albert are boys 6 and 7. Unfortunately, I missed the part of the movie which has their background.

The morning of the boys’ departure, their teacher asks the company commander – who he knows was a teacher before the war 5 years ago – if there’s some way he can keep the boys out of the fighting. The man replies that he’s only just found out his own son has been killed, and the implication is that there’s nothing he can/will do. The teacher comments that, when the war is over, he does not think he can continue to be a teacher of history, and he leaves. He would probably never know that when the experienced troups and newest recruits are ordered to the front the commander tells a sargeant to take the boys and have them guard the town bridge – figuring the sargeant will dig them all in somewhere safe. He, and the sargeant try to save these boys who have only been at their training camp one day.

But the sargeant is shot by other German soldiers who mistake him for a deserter.

The boys are left to defend the bridge that leads to their town on a dark, fog-shrouded night … to defend the Fatherland in the way there were taught is right. They will act upon what they were told was true about bravery and staying on duty, and the other side being the enemy and deserving of death.

At dawn, tanks are heard in the distance. In a scene given far more time than any contemporary film would spend, we hear the tanks and scan the distant road into the town, alternating with the faces and actions of the waiting, frightened, nervous boys. Tanks are loud. Waiting is physical.

Walter has been waiting in a trench, grenade launcher at his shoulder. To the amazement and joy of the boys his first shot at a tank hits it and it explodes into flame.

They are emboldened, and one by one these boys do brave things … and die.

Siggi is first. He has just been teased by his friends because he ‘hit the dirt’ when a U.S. plane flew over. He stands determinedly in place at the next pass. The plane drops a bomb at what seems to be quite a distance away, but somehow Siggi is dead .. hit by some flying object. His friends cry out the first question of war: Why him? Why did he have to die?

Jurgen has climbed a tree and is shooting at U.S. soldiers who are themselves shooting from the second floor windows of a house they took over. He does shoot one. But, in a scene that may have inspired Alfred Hitchcock, we see the boy targeted in the mirror/site of the U.S. soldier’s gun and we see his body jerk and fall to the ground; even without the sound, we hear the impact of his broken body.

Walter has taken his grenade launcher and made his way across the yards to the house where the US soldiers are. As he is ready to take aim at a tank right outside the house he is confronted by a soldier who – horrified that a boy so young is involved in war – shouts at him to put down the weapon. As Walter turns to the soldier the tank fires through the house. Walter is really killed twice: torn apart by the bullets and crushed by the toppling wall.

I think it is this same U.S. soldier who, shortly after, is running outside, darting from shelter to shelter of vehicles. He sees the boys and comes towards them, muttering about children in war, calling to them to get out, to start. The only English word the boys understand is kinder – child – to them an insult. Klaus shoots the soldier, but he continues to advance … ripped apart in the gut, screaming. Karl is himself screaming to his friend to shoot the man to stop his pain. And somehow, from bullets from elsewhere there are two deaths: the compassionate soldier and the compassionate boy, Karl.

Klaus tries desperately to bring him Karl back, calling to him, apologizing for punching him in the nose for a nasty remark he’d made, begging him to get up and return the punch.

Klaus is killed too.

Hans and Albert are left on the bridge. By whatever decision, the U.S. tanks have retreated. German soldiers from the town come along to blow up the bridge as per their orders. One mocks the boys for playing hero. Probably both boys are crazed with the pain, horror and despair of seeing their friends’ awful deaths. It is Hans who aims his gun at the soldier, telling him they have their duty and won’t leave. The soldier raises his gun toward Hans … and is shot from behind by Albert.

Finally realizing they are not dealing with children at play, the two other German soldiers retreat to their vehicle to return to the town … firing shots. Hans drops to the bridge. Only Albert is left, screaming, dragging his friend by one limp arm from the centre of the bridge … until he realizes the futility and the reality and proceeds alone … off the bridge and towards us shocked viewers … and is gone.

Black smoke roils up to cover the bridge and the bodies.

And the film ends … just ends … with text that comes up and says 'This event occurred on April 27, 1945. It was so unimportant that it was never mentioned in any war communique.'

Unimportant. Children’s lives. German and American soldiers. The families of all of these. Unimportant.

The ending shocked me … as it was meant to. I desperately wanted assurance that on that morning Albert did at least get home.

In case you have not figured this out from my summary, this was an anti war film. I’m not much of a political historian, but I have no doubt that the film was hugely controversial when it came out. The good thing is that it won awards, including four at the German film awards in 1960.

And where is this leading? Aside from my absolutely physical imperative to write down this film and be clear about it for myself?

There’s a new book out about Muriel Duckworth, who passed away in her 101st year in the summer of 2009.

A Legacy of Love: Remembering Muriel Duckworth, Her Later Years, 1996-2009, written by Marion Douglas Kerans.

I knew Muriel when I lived in Halifax in the mid 1980s, when I joined the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace*. I was only 30! To me, all the women were amazing. Muriel - who was only in her mid '70s - was unlike anyone I’d ever met. She took time to listen. She was so smart and so organized, and saw the connections between so many things, and was able to bring people together and get things done without endless meetings. Almost everyone at the meetings knit (I do now knit) … and stuff never seemed to be written down, and we didn’t have computers (we had telephone trees) and we went out of the meeting knowing that everything would get done by someone. And I wish I knew then what I knew now and had known her better.

I am looking forward to knowing her better through the recollections Marion has gathered. I’m ordering the book tomorrow. It will share shelf space with Kerans’ earlier book Muriel Duckworth: a very active pacifist. It will be there for me to refer to often, to think about Muriel and big issues. That shelf within reaching distance, the voices and Voices I need to support me.

From the Groundwood Press blurb:

Muriel Duckworth passed away August 22, 2009 in her one hundred and first year. In the weeks that followed memorial services were held in Austin Quebec, Halifax, Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver. People from across Canada recognized that her passing marked the end of an era and they wanted to not only remember her but to come together to be a part of her ongoing legacy of love. This book brings together stories from Muriel’s family and close friends from the past dozen years of her life. It is a collection of incredible tales of Muriel’s ability to reach out to people, her humour, her deep affection for her family, her ongoing activism and enduring political feistiness, her views on education, religion, death, war and love. The book is richly illustrated with photographs from Muriel’s later years.

The author, Marion Douglas Kerans, is herself an activist, lving in Ottawa. She is the author of Muriel Duckworth: A Very Active Pacifist (Fernwood, 1996).

Fernwood Publishing:

Or ask at your local, independent bookstore.

*Canadian Voice of Women for Peace:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

No Global Warming at the Tea Party

Just a quick update on the last post. I just heard one of the Tea Party reps interviewed on The Current. The official position on Global Warming is that there isn't any and the science isn't in.

I should know at my age that yelling at someone 'you're wrong!' doesn't work. But there are days when I cannot even tell a bus passenger with a loud, leaky walkman that the noise is bothering me. So, where to start with people who dismiss reports of environmental damage, food shortages and forced migration because of weather and environment events?

Talking with one person at a time at our mutual points of fear ... ?

I think I need to phone a friend and talk.

Later guys,

Why's Woman

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Watching US government a bit more

Not just because I was so tired of hearing political commentators did I hope all day Tuesday that their predictions of Republican resurgence in the U.S. was wrong. And here it is Wednesday morning. (the date on this post is wrong because I wrote something late Tuesday and changed it completely Wed. morning)

So, I'll pay more attention to US politics now. See what plays out.

I'd been listening to Michael Enright on CBC's Sunday morning show. He'd been down in the States, in Florida for part of the show anyway, talking with Tea Party people. I admit I haven't been following this stuff at all ... really didn't even know who the Tea Party people are. And I sure don't understand the US political system.

... but I find it interesting and disturbing that the only way the U.S.' interim elections managed to handle a new party (i.e. not of the two traditional, official parties) is to vote in more representatives of one of the traditional parties (Republicans).

Left, liberal and Green as I am, I found myself agreeing with some of the things the Tea Party people said ... because those that Enright interviewed came across as real people with concerns for their future. BUT ... and this is the BIG BUT ... not one of the people interviewed used the words environment, planet, health, or crisis. All conversations were based in that so-called American dream of individuals getting ahead economically without handouts from others - or giving to others. So, as I listened, I was touched by the peoples' real fears for their future and disturbed by their non-community and non-international way of looking at or for solutions.

To me, there need to be really big changes to a lot of structures in the US, in Canada and around the world. More people need to be involved in planning and action and government at municipal, provincial and federal levels. More people need to be 'doing good', not hunkering down just looking out for their own economic security.

I'm not sure how to express this. I've not really had a political happening be enough in my face to make me think through party political things. I'll be learning new things and thinking over the next few years, it looks like.

Best regards to all,

Why's Woman