Thursday, October 22, 2015

Vermont is a Place

I'm writing this after attending the Burlington City Arts panel conversation, "Of Land and Local: The New Working Landscape: Renewable Energy and the Aesthetics of Vermont" hosted at the Coach Barn in bucolic Shelburne Farms on October 13th. It wasn't quite what I expected, and I came away with altered ideas about renewable energy and place.

My family migrated to Vermont in the summer of 2014 from the Boston area for a number of reasons, many of them related to Vermont's wonderful landscape, from the NEK to the Green Mountains to Lake Champlain and everywhere in between. We want our kids to have easy access to the outdoors, something that's such a part of Vermont's culture. We also appreciate Vermont's progressive energy and environmental policies, something that helps preserve those things that both long-time Vermonters and recent arrivals value.

As a new arrival I'm noticing is that most Vermonters have a deep appreciation for the world around them, and their place in it.

There's a strong desire to protect and preserve while forging ahead with solutions that are right for Vermont. These are sometimes at odds, as the evening's panelists illustrated.

Ryan Walsh, a poet who grew up in West Virginia made the observation that struck me most deeply. As photographs of mountain-top removal mining "from his West Virginia backyard" flickered across the screen, he commented matter-of-factly that worrying about the aesthetics of renewable energy borders on lunacy in the face of ecological damage done elsewhere in the pursuit of fossil fuels. So, we're facing a luxury problem, right?

Nora Mitchell, Director Emerita of the Conservation Study Institute, noted that Vermont's stories are those of the past, and those stories change and whether the pace of change contributes to some folks' discomfort. So, I'm wondering if we're concerned with change as much as we're concerned with renewable energy.

Rick Smardon, studying the psychology and sociology of landscape change noted, what is it that drives acceptance of renewable energy? and that folks tend to think that an impending change will be worse than it is. Typically, when asked after a change is made, they say, "it's not so bad", but the perception is that the change is bad - this is not always so.

Pamela Fraser, artist and Assistant Professor of Studio Art at the University of Vermont commented on the aesthetic impact of power lines and our adjustment to them over time. There were most certainly people that objected to them at some point. She also commented on the use of the word "nostalgia", that it can be a crutch for resisting change. We've adjusted to grain silos, to ski trails hewn out of forested hillsides, highways, power lines, gas stations, etc. These were new technologies (good or bad is another topic) that were at one point resisted - how did we adjust?

Time for the disclosure.

I work in renewable energy with certified BCorp and Vermont Benefit Corporation SunCommon, where we focus our business lens on people, planet, and profit. What made our move to Vermont possible was the creation of renewable energy jobs here in Vermont, which top 16,000 at the moment.  Depending on what you read, we're the demographic needed here, a young family that will help fuel the economy and add to the tax base as we buy homes and our kids enter local schools. Renewable energy helped make that happen.

I'm confident that we can overcome the challenges associated with the current renewable energy debates. We have to. Climate change is happening.

We can do our part to preserve the Vermont environment that generations have appreciated. Maybe, just maybe, the seventh generation of my family will be real Vermonters, and find themselves in a world we helped make better by what we do right here and now.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Dead Children - Something's Wrong.

I'm not sure where to start with this.

I've written about it before, nearly two years ago and ten tears ago. It unleashes frightening emotions.

The image and headline flashed before me in my Facebook feed, posted by an old cycling friend. I tried to ignore it, simply for fear of what I'd feel. My fears were realized. It's right there, I'm sorry, they can not be unseen, but you've probably seen them already.

I wept (I was not alone).

The dead children, washed up in the shore at a Turkish resort, called to me. Their eternally frozen faces struck at me deeply - as a father of two beautiful boys.

What was it?

My inaction in the face of this travesty? The circumstances that drove their parents' desperate attempt to flee in search of a better life? What of the uncounted thousands of children expiring among us, in our world of plenty? What of the children abused right here in my adopted state?

All this feeling only when I drop my guard and let the horror of what's happening creep into my consciousness amid the blah, blah, blah of daily life. I imagine these children barely afloat, clutching with all their tiny might to anything to keep them breathing and alive. Can I even contemplate for a moment that feeling? Then, the last hopeless gasp before all passes into darkness - NO!

My God! The blessings that my children are! The blessing of my family, of the fact that I was born where I was born.

Can anyone gaze on these images and not be moved?

What is our moral responsibility as a member of this global community to act? This is simply not right.

I pray, this godless man prays.

Now, I look for ways to do something - this will not be easy.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Vacation Reflections - Sustainable Tourism?

Well, it happened. We went on a vacation - with members of our extended family. It was long overdue, something that had been talked about for at least a decade. We collectively deferred, as we could not find a common "good time". Well, time marches on, and depending on your point of view, there may never be a "good time". Someone put a line in and the sand and said, "we're going here at this time, who can join us?" We just decided to go, and received gifts to help make it happen, which we were/are incredibly thankful for.

Now, the catch, we went to a resort in the Caribbean. Ack, a manufactured vacation experience carved out of a beautiful place, with all sorts of negative environmental attributes. Despite these assumptions and misgivings about visiting such a place, it was quite nice (once I shut off my cultural/sustainability critic - which one might argue one should not do) and enjoyed the time away with members of our extended family.

Note on parenting: in general, my parental anxiety setting is probably at a 7 on a scale of 1-10, so the thought of traveling with our kids didn't help. Who knows what could happen (I envisioned the worst). Here's where my brain goes - when the flight attendant started reviewing the safety information, and then stopped by with an infant life vest (since we were traveling with a little one), I envisioned the scenario of a water landing. It was terrifying. My mind dramatized a cross between the movie Titanic and Jaws - with a poor outcome. I had to shake my head to change my frame of mind. The good news, nothing bad happened. The kids were great travelers, they did not get sick, and the oldest will (hopefully) fondly remember the time playing with his cousins for a long time to come. So, I think I've successfully knocked my parental anxiety setting down a few notches to a 4 or so.

Back to the whole "vacation resort/sustainability thing".

More on that word resort. I could not help but envision an artificially carved out piece of western culture extracting resources from the local economy through cheap labor - feeding the heaving, sweating, sun-roasted masses gathered there for a respite from wherever they came from. Of course, big-bad investors/owners were from elsewhere, benefiting from the resource extraction - but is that true? Kind of, I guess, but I haven't studied it.

In the first few days there I marveled at the scale of the operation. Arriving at a warm place like this is a bit jarring after about 12 hours of travel with children starting at 3:45 AM in Burlington, VT. I'd never been to a resort before (never mind the terrible one I visited with college friends in Cancun for spring break in 1993ish) and could not help but be surprised by the packaging of the experience. Music followed you along the covered walkways connecting the facilities, piped in through speakers disguised as rocks. I felt a bit like I was in a vacation mall, complete with an extra deluxe food court that you had to make reservations for and an enormous buffet that teemed with people 3x/day. I tried not to notice the plates heaped with food.

A small army of staff made this all possible. There were machete-wielding men hacking at shrubs in the early morning light and the like to keep them in order, innumerable women mopping floors multiple times/day, and countless attendants in the buffet to clear tables and guide exhausted families to their nourishment. Yet, I wondered, how did the resort's jobs affect the local economy and the people? Was this a boon for them? What percentage of the workforce worked there? Did it contribute to their economic well-being in ways that I discounted? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? Assuming that natural resources are undervalued as they typically are in our investment calculus with ecological negatives treated as externalities, I'd have to guess that the benefits do not outweigh the costs.

What about the resource and energy flows to make this all possible? I envisioned the mass flow rate of inputs and outputs with the system boundaries of the resort. Bottled water by the thousands/day. Tons of food. Was laundry done on site or subbed out? How did they treat the pools? Where did the power come from? Oh, and don't forget the energy and associated emissions from the thousands of guests that make it there over the course of the year. Judging from the languages in the communications collateral, the resort owners targeted the US, Russia, France, (and I'm missing a few). But wait! They're Green Globe Certified - oh, that makes it all OK.

Despite my reservations, mostly that voice in my head saying "you're here and therefore contributing to the systemic problems", I'm glad we made the trip - to visit with family and enjoy their company, and knock my parental anxiety scale down a few notches.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

K-Cups, Nukes, AI, and...Parenting?

Yep. Parenting. It'll make sense (hopefully) in a few minutes

I posted something about K-cups and sustainability on my Facebook feed a few days ago and it sparked a lively conversation about the work Keurig/Green Mountain is doing to make the K-cups recyclable. There have been a few fairly well distributed pieces on the K-cup lately, and I felt the urge to share thoughts about whether we're moving to a place in product development ideation/creation where end-of-life disposition is tackled up front, not after the fact. These comments got me thinking about writing a blog post, which I have not done in...well...a while. Then I see the cover of the latest Economist with a feature on nuclear weapons, and I recalled a recent piece about where the bar is set for war between the USA and Russia. Well, ideas began percolating about how nuclear weapons and K-cups might be connected by some deeply seated economic/philosophical/cultural belief system, and I'd write something about it. Heck, maybe I'd bring AI into the fray, since I fried my brain on that last weekend


The reality is that the idea occurred to me sometime this morning after my 2nd cup of coffee and before my first bout of threenager negotiating and before I was even left alone for the afternoon with both kids. Oh wait! There's the magazine opened to the article just as I left it ~10 hours ago, I can still go read it and formulate a mind-blowing piece that connects it all. Umm. Not so much.

I'm tired and my brain is mush.

Now that the youngest has hit the 6-month mark, I'm a bit less anxious about every little cough and sneeze signifying an impending life-threatening disease. Wait! What?! He sneezed. Is his head still attached? OK. It is. Whew. Dodged that one! That said, the afternoon was spent wiping drool and maneuvering small child whilst keeping the oldest occupied and entertained. Yep. I resorted to some screen time - hopefully lower than what's recommended.

As I relax a bit more (there's a long way to go) I'm starting to accept at a deeper level my role as a father. "Why tam I checking my mobile device when I'm off today for child care!?" When I'm 90, will I look back and say, "what was I thinking?" or "I'm glad I made the most of my time with my kids", even when they're both crying and one just pooped through their outfit for the 2nd time.

So, K-cups, nukes, and AI can wait, I had kids to play with, and I'm tired.

Sunday, February 08, 2015


Erratically falling,
darting through icy air
landing imperceptibly, piling
up, up, up.
Even tempered - whitening
anything and everything
until, cascading
down, down, down
onto whatever lies below.

As the snow cover all but
the warmest things,
so does the stifling
blanket of darkness
that arrives in waves
Minutes, days, hours
lost in blank uncertainty.

Yet, the light returns.
twilight's gaze lingers
in the western sky
hugging old mountains.
Disappearing into the distance.
forever rolling away
with their promise
of longer days.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Parenting Notes to Myself

I'm new at this.

Parenting that is.

What has it been, 3.5 years or something? There was a user's manual, right? Oh yeah, there was that "new parents" class we took a few months before the first baby arrived - and I read some things - probably not enough - about what to expect. What stuck with me the most was the variety in terms of color and consistency of infant poop. I took infant & toddler CPR too - which of course terrified me. Before there was a feeling of competence, another child arrived.  Sure. this is how it's done, right?

I recall thinking that there was a certain amount of inter-generational hazing going on, that certain things that our parents and grandparents experienced (the real tough stuff) just went without saying. There were platitudes like, "oh, you'll figure it out" and such - which was true. Maybe, just maybe, if the real truth about being a parent were known, no one would do it. OK, well, maybe not no one, but fewer. What would that mean? Who knows?

I've realized recently that, most of my parenting activities have been underscored with a sense of anxiety and self-doubt. What does that mean? I suppose it means that I constantly self-talk about the "what if...?" scenarios of what we're doing, and whether I'm doing it wrong. What if he gets sick when we visit the play space? What if I'm somehow giving him a complex because I'm doing potty training "wrong"? What if he pukes in the bed again? What if I'm not making enough money to get them the education they deserve (and need?).

What if I cut myself some slack? As a matter of fact, I'm doing OK with the potty training - at least I can clean up poop pretty well - and if it gets on me, I don't freak out. Oh yeah, and I'm not alone in this whole parenting thing, I have a partner. Maybe I would be well-served by sharing these feelings?

I'm realizing that all the worrying and hand-wringing is counter-productive. It undermines my confidence as a parent because I am pretty much figuring it out as I go along - and I can. Most importantly, my ability to be present with my children is severely hampered. If I'm pre-occupied with internally evaluating and criticizing my parenting activities and worrying about it, how am I "there"?

So, when my son asks, "Daddy, will you come play with me?", the answer can simply be, "yes".