Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Death Pledge

American's love the idea of owning their home. So much so that their are now approximately 44.5 million Americans with mortgages. At face value this looks like a great concept but when you dig a little deeper and uncover the history of the concept, it begins to look a lot less appealing.
The word "mortgage" comes from Old French : mort, dead and gage, pledge (of Germanic origin).] Essentially a mortgage is a death pledge. Seems fitting.
According to Wikipedia, the great jurist Sir Edward Coke, who lived from 1552 to 1634, explained why the term mortgage comes from the Old French words mort, "dead," and gage, "pledge." It seemed to him that it had to do with the doubtfulness of whether or not the mortgagor will pay the debt. If the mortgagor does not, then the land pledged to the mortgagee as security for the debt "is taken from him for ever, and so dead to him upon condition.
Given the current arrangement it is rarely expected that those who hold a mortgage are ever expected to really pay it off. Till death do we part. Nowadays mortgages are often passed on to future generations for them to deal with.
Perhaps it is time to rethink this death pledge and come up with an arrangement that does not require us to make such a radical promise to a multi-national corporation who is more than happy to evict us from our homes if economic or health related challenges cause us to miss a few payments.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Managing Contraction

Loosely adapted from a monday morning blog written by social critic and curmudgeon profit James Howard Kuntsler. 

Reality is telling us to downscale and get different fast. Quit doing everything possible to prop up the drive-in false utopia and all its accessories. Get local. Tighten up. It looks certain that most folks have no intention of doing that.

We're mismanaging contraction. Further expansion is just not in the cards right now. We can't handle more people on the planet, and we don't have the means to accommodate them. There will be no 'recovery" to "growth" - especially by means of pumping more oil into the system. There is no techno-miracle alt-fuel hiding in the wings to take over from oil. And there is no research-and-development program that will make it happen.
I admit that contraction is a hard reality - but so is the recognition that we don't get to live forever, something every child begins to grapple with around age seven. The inability of our society to face comprehensive contraction will only insure that its side effects are more debilitating and cut deeper.

It is important for our local communities to think about powering down -- how we could accomplish the various aspects of our lives (food, water, clothing, education, etc) with very little or even no oil.  We must also plan for how we will accomplish these with far less money.  Things like local reskilling, local resource base, and local production -- coupled with local bartering networks -- become critical parts of the solution. The six R's of lower consumption are important to keep in mind as well. We can happily manage with far less by reducing, recycling, reusing, repairing, re-finishing, and repurposing.

Make every single purchase count toward preparing you and your community for what lies ahead.  Gain the new skills.  Hook up water barrels, put away vegetable seeds, track down mechanical/power-free tools into your neighborhood. But there is no substitute for real connection with your neighbors. Set up chances to meet one another. As the economy continues to contract, knowing the people who live within 15 minutes of you become your de-facto community. Get to know them, and let them know you. When the Federal Government finally admits it does not have the ability to improve our lives, we will have a local network already in place.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Support Colorado's Solar Rebate Programs

The sneaky move Xcel Energy pulled last week to hurt the solar industry in Colorado is close to criminal. On Feb. 17, 2011, the monopoly – without any advance notice – suspended the solar rebate program.

Xcel abrupt and self-interested move is devastating to Colorado’s 400 solar companies. Suspending the Solar Rewards program could stop all future residential and commercial solar installations and solar leases that were counting on the rebates. The Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA) predicts 2,000 to 3,000 people who work in the solar industry will loose their jobs.

Black Hills Energy in Pueblo pulled a similar move by suspending its solar rebates in October 2010 causing a 90% decrease in solar sales and significant job losses. The current solar rebate program had been working well. Slowly ratcheting down incentives as solar costs decreased, incentives were reduced nearly 50% during the past two years as solar electric costs decreased by 40-50% during the same period.

Citizens, to help reinstate solar rebates at both Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy please take two minutes to express your opinion by filling out the online form at the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. Refer to docket # A-135 E.

Before Xcel pulled the rug out from under the solar industry, rebate changes were predictable, incremental and transparent. Zero notice and eliminating a successful incentive program shows Xcel’s disregard for renewable energy in our state and the environment.

Public citizen support and the passage of Amendment 37, spurred Colorado to become the #2 state in the U.S. for solar jobs with 5,300 people working in the solar industry in our state, and a national leader in reducing CO2 emissions by 30 percent by 2020.

Xcel’s self-interested move makes me further distrust the utility monopoly as a future provider for Boulder’s energy future. As a concerned citizen, now I feel even more drawn to have Boulder take control of our electricity supply. More at

Monday, December 6, 2010

Where Have the Good Jobs Gone?

A recent comment on a CNN Money article asked about the fact that millions of jobs have been lost in this recession and might be gone for good. These jobs are an outward signal that our economy is fundamentally changing. The contraction we are experiencing, is not a typical dip in the road. It is a fundamentally different road than one we have driven down before. In the longer term perspective, this is not unusual. It only feels usual because it has not happened in our lifetimes. But ask any octogenarian and they will tell you about a time when life in American was very different. The Great Depression is called that for a good reason. Daily life was different back then. It was slower, more local, and closer to the bone. People were focused on the basics. Food, water, clothing, shelter, and community.

Over the next decade the kind of job creation we can expect, will be in areas which have not seen growth in decades. As our economy shifts from a global consumerist one, to a much more local community focus, we will see a complex network of local economics re-emerge. I expect to see entire industries flourish based on a relocalization of many of our most basic needs.

Decentralization of the Energy Grid
The current emphasis on renewable energy will grow as more and more as home owners, businesses, local, state, and federal government buildings, military bases, and schools install power generation systems. This is a very good thing for jobs, for grid efficiency, and even for national security. The design, installation, monitoring, and maintenance of these systems will generate millions of jobs

Growing Local Farms
As I write, less than 2% of all Americans grow the food grown in this country. As the cost to transport food from the other side of the planet increases, it will become an economic requirement to grow more of our food in our own soil. Farmers will become our new "rock stars" transforming vacant lots, abandoned suburbs, big box parking lots and city parks and open spaces into productive agricultural farms. America will once again become an agricultural nation where many of us will spent at least some part of our work hours planting, weeding, harvesting, and selling food to one another. We will re-learn the challenges and the delights of growing more of our food close to where we live.

Made in America
America was built on the strength of our manufacturing. But almost all of it has been sent overseas. As the price of oil returns to triple-digit prices we will see a manufacturing renaissance in America. The cost of moving raw materials and finished products around the world will no longer make economic sense. But instead of the containers filled with plastic trinkets we will shift our attention to making the things people need. The consumptive consumerist lifestyle may have seen its last hurrah with the bursting of the housing bubble and the disappearance of trillions of dollars of our savings, home equity, and retirement accounts. Many of us can no longer afford to buy all the "stuff" we had been convinced we needed. 

Second Hand Renaissance
I am convinced that much of the manufacturing jobs will not involve new materials. Out of necessity we are seeing a meteoric rise in industries that reuse, recycle, repair, and refinish things. From clothing, to furniture, building materials, and car parts in almost every town the skills needed to re-build and repair broken or work out items will once again become a popular and necessary.

I close with a quote from Jim Howard Kuntsler,
If you want something like gainful employment in the years ahead, don't rely on the corporations, the government, or anyone with a work station equipped cubicle. Start reading up on gardening and harness repair. Learn how to fix a pair of shoes. Volunteer for EMT duty if you're already out of a paycheck, and learn how to comfort people in medical distress. Jobs of the future will be hands-on and direct. I have no idea what medium of exchange you'll get paid with, but a chicken is a good start.
 Have a great day and go out and learn a new skill. It will be well worth your time.

Monday, November 29, 2010

What Have We Learned?

Americans are smart people. We have the ability to learn from history and our mistakes. When the first energy shocks arrived in the 1970's I remember distinctly how Americans rolled with the punches.

As you can see from the graph to the right American drivers cut back on our driving during the 1973-74 and the 1979-81 recessions. We showed the "Oil Barrons" of OPEC we had enought of their grip on our gasoline prices.

Because of this 4-fold increase in the price of gas, from $0.28 a gallon to a stifling $1.00 a gallon, 2 critically important things happened.

First, American's learned to put gasoline into their own cars! Imagine that. Filling stations were magically transformed into 24 hour "gas and go's." The huge price increases caused filling stations to shutter and those who survived scaled back their staff to a bare minimum. The second culture shaking change was the elimination of that sweet bell which sang out as every galllon of gas poured into our ever thirsty automobiles, trucks and motorcycles.

During those early years American's were shocked to learn that the once gasoline exporter of the world, imported almost 25% of our gas from other countries from around the world. But those days are long gone. Now as we rack up just over 3,000,000,000,000 miles every year (that's trillion folks)  we have certainly learned our lessions. For the most recent calendar year we have only imported 76% of our gasoline from outside this great country with average oil prices at $84 per barrel and average national pump prices for regular gas selling $2.85 a gallon.

I can't wait to see what we learn next!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Community Input Sought in Boulder's Clean Energy Plan

It’s good to live in a city like Boulder where public officials value transparency of the public process, citizen participation, and reducing carbon emissions.

Boulder has recently embarked on a pioneering process to produce a landmark 2011 Clean Energy Action Plan. The City is seeking input from all stakeholders, including citizens, small business owners, large utility customers, technical experts on renewable energy, and community organizations to shape its Clean Energy Future.
In a public City Council Study Session visioning session on Oct. 12, Mayor Susan Osborne imagined a Boulder 10 years from now that has adopted a clean energy action plan. Osborne likened the City's successful Open Space Program to the City's future clean energy strategy that will "become part of our identify and for which we are known around the world."

To gather stakeholder input about Boulder's Clean Energy Future, the City is hosting a series of public round tables from October 20 through November 10. Called “Boulder Matters,” the meetings are being held throughout Boulder. Organizers say each round table will provide refreshments, offer a raffle, and provide activities for children to make it easier for adults and parents to attend. For example, I just received an email for the Oct. 20 event which will include cider, snacks, and pumpkin painting.

The first two Boulder Matters round tables are:
Weds. Oct. 20, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Fairview High School Cafeteria
Sat. Oct. 24, from 1 to 4 p.m. at Chautauqua Community House

I'm impressed with the website page for Boulder’s Energy Future where agendas, minutes, and background documents are posted from previous City Council Study Sessions. Also on the website are the city's clean energy goals, a newly-created 5-minute video explaining the City process for the Clean Energy Action Plan and near the bottom of the page a place to sign up for an e-group to receive updates, and to post your comments for public record.

Note that City Council Energy Round tables are open to the public and will continue though December 14. Energy Round tables take place every other Tuesday at 5 pm directly before City Council meetings in the lobby of the downtown Municipal Building. The next one is Tuesday, Oct. 26 from 5-6 pm.

Vote YES on 2B
The key that opens the door to a Boulder whose future electricity is sourced by renewable energy rather than fossil fuels is 2B. (Thanks to solar educator Ken Regelson for the key analogy.) All members of City Council, Boulder County Commissioners Will Toor and Ben Pearlman, plus numerous environmentally-conscious Boulder organizations and businesses support 2B. It is now it is up to us citizens to vote YES on 2B to create a "five year utility occupation tax to replace lost franchise fee revenue" (Source Official Ballot for 2010 Boulder County General Election.)

Passing 2B will enable the City to directly collect the $4.1 million per year Xcel currently obtains through its 3 percent franchise fee on your utility bill. The replacement tax will give Boulder direct control over the money for essential City services – with no change to Xcel’s service to Boulder residents and businesses. Passing 2B will empower Boulder to negotiate a contract that will best meet our City's clean energy goals after the current franchise agreement with Xcel expires December 31, 2010. Background on 2B info can be found at and at the Boulder Energy Future website.

Let's Do It!
Boulder - we have an historic opportunity to choose how much of our energy supply comes from renewables. Vote YES on 2B and participate in "Boulder Matters" because these are important matters and your voice matters!

Friday, October 8, 2010

So How Are You Today?

During challenging times most people are working hard to keep up the facade that things are just fine. Here is a conversation I might have overheard at a local coffee shop.

Alec: Heah Bob how are you doing?

Bob: I am well. Thanks for asking.

Alec: Good to hear. You are looking trimmer these days.

Bob: Yea well I have been eating less.

Alec: Good idea. And I see you are sporting a new hair style.

Bob: Yes my daughter has started cutting hair.

Alec: Really. Isn’t she only 11?

Bob: Sure but we encourage our kids to keep expanding their skill set. Why just the other night we had our 12-year-old make dinner.

Alec: Really and how did that turn out.

Bob: Well she really didn’t understand that large flames would trigger the fire sprinkler system.

Alec: Oh my, that sounds like it didn’t turn out so well.

Bob: The real issue is if our homeowners insurance will pay to have the house rebuilt.

Alec: That is why we have insurance.

Bob: Yea but only if you are current on your payments.

Alec: So it sounds like you skipped the homemade meal.

Bob: Oh it just gave us a good reason to go out to eat.

Alec: Good plan. So where did you go?

Bob: Well the first place we usually go had unexpectedtly gone out of business. So we drove across town to our favorite all-you-can eat place.

Alec: Bet that filled you all up.

Bob: Well our credit card was declined when we got to the cashier. But we were able to snack on the stuff on our trays before we found out.

Alec: So it sounds like things are a little challenging right now.

Bob: Yeah I guess so. Do you happen to have $100 I could borrow?