Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò made this lovely remark on a podcast episode:
A lot of these people that we rightly respect and revere in organizing circles were just regular people who had the very unregular thought that they could do something about the world around them. And who just decided to do it.
And it’s stuck with me, so I’m memorializing it here. It’s dead-on.
The most recent time I thought of it was last week, when catching up with a friend at Workantile. He had organized a group buy of solar panels for his neighbors and, in the process, learned that his subdivision’s homeowners association (HOA) bans solar panels that are visible from the street. The reason? They’re aesthetically unpleasing and will damage property values.
He then had the unregular thought that he could do something about that. So he looked into what it would take to get that rule removed. That led him to power mapping, and in particular, the HOA board of directors. And he found that no one has ever been elected to this HOA board. The member meetings never make quorum, so all board vacancies are filled by appointment. By the board. Pretty unhealthy governance.
Now he’s looking at doing something about that. That’s a bigger challenge and a very boring way to fight climate change. But it’s the right thing to do. And it’s possible, with a big enough dose of unregular thinking.
I send love and solidarity to everyone who sees something that could be better and instead of tolerating it, says, I could do something about that. And just decides to do it.
This is a love letter to Ann Arbor’s scrappy little downtown makerspace, All Hands Active. In particular, their weekly Repairsday event, which takes place on Thursdays from 6-8pm. And it’s a vignette of how they helped revive a lovely old keyboard/synthesizer.
All Hands Active is a nonprofit. Their mission is educational. I’d argue it’s political, too, though not in the common sense of the word as it relates to electoral politics or parties. Rather, there’s an ethos that you should be free to modify and repair things, that people should help and teach each other, that consumer culture and its quickly-obsolescent, disposable goods are bad, and that knowledge should be free. (Some of that might be me projecting).
So, Repairsday. Any human can bring in an object they’d like to repair. Volunteer AHA members are on hand to help. That can look like advice, diagnosis, or attempting to fix the item together. Sometimes an item can’t be fixed, but that’s okay too. You learn from taking it apart, and for me, knowing that a thing was unfixable – in my case, a toaster that only heated one of its two slots – put me at ease with discarding it.
Last week, AHA Repairsday helped me fix a classic keyboard, rescuing a valuable object from the landfill and giving it a second life.
Our gas furnace has been loud for a while, and getting louder. We got a furnace check-up this fall and the technician said, that noise is your inducer motor. They fail often on these furnaces and your furnace is old. Sounds like yours is on its way out.
I started researching electric replacements for gas furnaces, i.e., heat pumps. That picked up in early January, when my friend George sent me the hot-off-the-press guide from Rewiring America, Electrify Everything In Your Home.
The day after I started reading it, I woke up to a chilly home. The inducer motor had failed.
I received this piece of mail from Chase and it reminded me to finish this blog post, which I started on Earth Day 2021:
It’s well-established that one of the best ways to fight climate change is by divesting from the big banks that fund fossil fuel projects. HEATED’s list of “How to Move Beyond Recycling” includes “Divest your personal assets from fossil fuels.” The more money you can move away from them, the better, though every account closure is important. Moving money can be tedious, though, since you need to redo all your bill payment information and do lots of paperwork like an adult.
What you can start and finish in a single afternoon is to get your child off to a good start by opening an account for them at a credit union or other institution that does not fund fossil fuel projects. (The HEATED link above has info about how to find one for you, a credit union near you is a good bet.) Then inertia will be on the side of good: the more banking they do at their first institution, the more likely it is that their future earnings will not be used to finance fossil fuel projects that will make their world more ghastly and unsafe. Big banks are wise to how powerful this move is; that’s why they sent me that mailer, hoping to get their hooks into my kids.
I got that mail because I used to bank at Chase and haven’t yet closed my account. JP Morgan Chase is “by far the worst banker of fossil fuels and fossil fuel expansion” (Forbes concurs). I’ve been moving my money away from Chase for years now. In my case, I’ve moved my checking and savings to Lake Trust Credit Union. I’ve also given up my Capital One rewards card for a Lake Trust credit card, and when I refinanced my mortgage I moved from a private bank to Mortgage Center, which is owned by credit unions including Lake Trust.
Lake Trust does not have investors, it does not make a profit, and it does not fund fossil fuel infrastructure (in response to my inquiry, they replied, “The Lake Trust investment portfolio does not hold any corporate bonds in fossil fuel companies.”)
Doing all of that paperwork and changing all of my billing information has been tedious and slow. I got the idea to change banks during Occupy Wall Street, which began ten years ago this month, and I still need to finish closing my mostly-unused Chase and Capital One accounts.
But opening accounts for my kids at my local credit union? Easy. The kids biked over there, poured a bunch of change into the coin counting machine, and were given stickers and hot chocolate. Now I manage their allowances and purchases through transfers in the Lake Trust app. This was much easier than moving my own money has been, and climate-wise should be a great return on my time.
Open an account for your kid at a credit union now, even if you haven’t moved your own money over yet. That will put inertia on the side of good, while also normalizing for them that they should belong to a credit union. And if you need to open an account for yourself to do so? Bonus! You’ve taken the first step on your own longer but important journey.
(Standard disclaimer that individual actions will not solve the climate crisis on their own, we need systemic change, etc. – of course. This is part of a mass divestment movement and this blog post, my action, and your action are all part of that.)
Update October 2021: I finished divesting from my Capital One credit card and closed it today!
The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is considering possible improvements to I-94, south of Ann Arbor. The timing is lucky: they were still in the study phase when the impact of COVID-19 emerged and there’s time to hit the pause button. For fiscal and environmental reasons, and to meet its stated goals, the state should indefinitely halt any investments in this stretch of highway.
This project would add capacity to the stretch between Ann Arbor-Saline Road and US-23 pictured here:
MDOT’s objectives for this stretch include accommodating an increased volume of traffic. They seek to “reduce recurring peak period congestion along the corridor and improve travel time reliability” as well as “provide reasonable capacity to address existing and 20-year forecasted 2045 traffic demand along the corridor.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the case for spending millions to improve traffic flow on this stretch. We can no longer afford this project, but luckily, we also no longer need it.
“Rates of technological progress far outstrip the rate at which human wisdom matures (in the same way that environmental changes outpace evolutionary adaptation in mass extinction events).” – Marcia Bjornerud, Timefulness
The book has a few threads going at once but the bulk of it is a geological history of the world, in a more layperson-friendly format than a textbook. It’s heavy on the science and I learned a great deal of earth science. For instance:
I saw the documentary “Motherload” in September and meant to write a review. I wish I had done it fresh, but I keep thinking about it, so better late than never.
Motherload connected with me on an emotional level. I teared up as it captured on film and described feelings and moments I’ve had biking with my kids that I’ve never heard anyone articulate. People know I’m the crazy guy on the bike with his kids; this film told my story, our story. In this post I’ll remark on a few parts that stuck with me. Here’s the trailer:
I recently read and enjoyed The Overstory, by Richard Powers. I often miss connections in books & movies that are obvious to others; here I wrestle with one particular line near the end that I noticed is a callback to an earlier chapter.
This post contains spoilers. If you haven’t read the book, you’re better off reading it than this post.
It’s stuck with me since I saw it in the Myrtle Beach airport in July. A young man wore a drawstring backpack printed with the slogan “imagine a world without oil and gas.” Under that it said, “IOGA WV”.
I first read this phrase the way I would if I had uttered it: as an aspirational call to imagine a world without oil and gas. Something like AOC’s “Message from the Future” or the Transition Handbook, whose featured blurb notes that “most of us avoid thinking about what happens when oil runs out (or becomes prohibitively expensive)” [more on this later].
When a search for “IOGA WV” revealed it to be the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, I realized the phrase was meant differently. There aren’t many hits when you Google that sentence, but they mostly come from oil & gas interests. The phrase on the backpack is meant not as a serious call but as a statement of ridicule: life is unimaginable without oil and gas.
The phrase captured my imagination, in part because I’m amused by its Janus word nature: its two meanings are opposites. But also because in the way I first read it, it’s a succinct, elegant clarion call to dream as we must. In the effort to move beyond fossil fuels and preserve a habitable planet, it’s likely that our imagination, not technology, will be the limiting factor.
Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Yellowstone National Park. We drove a lot outside the park, unavoidably. From the airport in Bozeman to the town of West Yellowstone, and to the park entrance every day. We also drove many miles daily in the park. There, we might be able to do better for our visitors (and it is our park) and the park itself.
When we talk about public transit locally, a perennial question is of ridership volume: when do we cross the tipping point where the transit service becomes financially viable and practical for users, even preferential to riding in a car? Yellowstone may be there. Its crowds and traffic are the cost of its success, but a bus system could mitigate these, opening the park to more people while preserving its navigability. And a car-free Yellowstone would be better for the flora and fauna as well.