Muir’s Biblical Reason for Praising Plants

On his 1,000 mile walk from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico, not long after the Civil War ended, John Muir encountered a man who questioned his motive to study plants, or ‘botanize’ as he often put it.

The man said, “You look like a strong-minded man, and surely you are able to do something better than wander the country and look at weeds and blossoms.  These are hard times, and real work is required of every man that is able.  Picking up blossoms doesn’t seem to be a man’s work at all in any kind of times.”

John Muir asked, ” You are a believer in the Bible, are you not?”  The man replied, “Oh, yes.”

Muir then responded, “Well, you know Solomon was a strong-minded man, and he is generally believed to have been the very wisest man the world ever saw, and yet he considered it was worth while to study plants; not only to go and pick them up as I am doing, but to study them; and you know we are told that he wrote a book about plants, not only of the great cedars of Lebanon, but of little bits of things growing in the cracks of the walls.

“Therefore, you see that Solomon differed very much more from you than from me in this matter.  I’ll warrant you he had many a long ramble in the mountains of Judea, and had he been a Yankee he would likely have visited every weed in the land.  And again, do you not remember that Christ told his disciples to ‘consider the lilies how they grow,’ and compared their beauty with Solomon in all his glory?  Now, whose advice am I to take, yours or Christ’s?  Christ says, ‘Consider the lilies.’  You say, ‘Don’t consider them.  It isn’t worth while for any strong-minded man.'”

[Passage from A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf by John Muir]

This is one of many reasons I enjoy John Muir’s work and inspires me to be a steward of Earth.
It is indeed a worthy and prudent cause to understand God’s masterful craftsmanship on this Earth.  Knowing what’s out there is enjoyment in itself. However, benefits to humanity can be gained by studying flora and fauna, which can be used for healing, relaxation, shelter, or nourishment.  Protecting that which we need now, and that which we need for later, seems far wiser than exploiting the world unchecked, unknowing, and unrelenting, without regard for ‘later.’

If we understand what we have, we understand what can be lost.  However this world came to be (whether you wish to debate creation/evolution is irrelevant), it seems appropriate to study and care for it.

[Learn more about Creation Care and Restoring Eden]

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A Call for Candelabra LED Lighting

I’ve recently moved into a place with several ceiling fans.  I think ceiling fans are fantastic for air circulation and important for reducing the need for constant air conditioning.

But now I have a problem with the lighting situation.  In many rooms, these fans also serve as the primary light source.  Unfortunately, all of my fixtures can only use candelabra style bulbs.  What about my cool LEDs?

WHY?  Why can’t I put in my medium-base LED lights into these fixtures in the name of energy conservation?  It turns out Uncle Sam has changed lighting regulations for ceiling fans in an effort to conserve energy (See the Reg Info).  Not all medium-base fixtures are technically banned, but manufacturers are exploiting a loophole by switching to an almost completely candelabra-based ceiling fan market  (See the point of contention).

Short-Lived Compact Fluorescent Candelabra

I understand these regulations were changed for the greater good, but what good are they if they stifle innovation in energy efficient lighting  (i.e., LED technology)?  I’ve posted about LED lighting before (Bright Future in LED Lighting), and the technology is here and improving dramatically.  There are several options out there for several fixtures, including candelabras.  However, most R&D has been devoted to medium-based bulbs (Edison Bulbs, E26 / E27).  These efficient bulbs could easily work with the Wattage restrictions if the medium-base fixtures were reintroduced  en masse.

Please let me know if you’ve found a candelabra that puts out adequate light (at least ‘equivalent’ to a 45 W incandescent).  I have yet to find suitable LEDs or even CFL candelabras that work.  And the few CFL candelabras bright enough for my applications generally have much shorter life spans than would be expected.

Anyway, enough of the fist shakery.  I simply want to enlighten anyone in the LED lighting industry that there is a niche that desperately needs to be filled!

Living Wall Prezi

I recently experimented with the innovative presentation tool called Prezi.  This is an amazing way to visualize presentations, get the bigger picture, and allow for a less linear look.  This is a presentation I made last week outlining the basics about living walls

“Introduction to Living Walls”

Let me know what you think.  If the embed code didn’t work…view it on Prezi.

Getting ‘Sustainably’ Involved in Saint Louis

I like St. Louis, although it’s not my hometown.  I did not grow up here.  I can’t answer ‘the high school question‘ with a name St. Louis natives can readily recognize.  In the name of graduate school at SIUE (studying Environmental Sciences, living walls, green roofs, etc.),  I left my home in southwest Missouri and became a transplant.   Ever since I arrived to the region, I’ve been looking for stuff to do.  I’m not a typical bar fly or a sports nut or a shopping addict.  I prefer more intellectually engaging conversations about interesting topics, like sustainability, green building, environmental issues, ecology, green stuff, conservation, etc.  I also want to be active in some way to promote those ideals.

Cool and Touristy

Unfortunately, I found it extremely difficult to find out about green events, at first.  Google searches brought up events from months and years ago.   Eventually, though, I started to find groups with an internet presence, as well as online sources for all things green.  Now, it seems, I’m finally making it to events as they happen.  Hopefully I can get more involved with the planning and promoting of future events!

So, this is for anyone out there with an interest in green things around STL but clueless about where to begin.  The following is a (by no means complete) list of helpful websites.  Some websites are for organizations, and others mainly promote certain events.

One of the primary sources for all things green is St. Louis Green.  This site lists various sustainable businesses, events, job and career opportunities, educational institutions, recycling opportunities, and teaching tools for various grade levels.

Another excellent website represents the Eastern Missouri Group of the Sierra Club.  This is an active chapter with several educational events, nature outings, volunteer opportunities, and networking activities.  On the Illinois side of the river, the Piasa Palisades Group is also recommended.

OK, so when I said I wasn’t a bar fly, I didn’t mean that local brews were out of the question.  I discovered the St. Louis Chapter of an organization called Green Drinks.  This website is helpful in reminding you about their monthly gathering to learn something, network, make friends, and maybe have an adult beverage or two.

Are you looking to learn more about environmental damage and progress in Missouri?  Consider the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.  There is a lot of information on events, Missouri-related goingson, and political issues.

There is an excellent sustainability-minded group called the EarthWays Center, affiliated with the Missouri Botanical Garden.  Their website offers lots of educational tools and various information on events and other sustainability-centered organizations.  These folks host the annual Green Homes and Great Health Festival on the last Saturday in September.  The event features a Green Marketplace, various workshops, solar car races, electric vehicles on display, live music, and exhibitors from several groups and businesses.  I had the pleasure of volunteering with on of the recycling booths last year, helping folks sort recyclables.

Electric VehicleDid your ears perk up when I said electric vehicles?  If they did, check out the Gateway Electric Vehicle Club.  They showcase their projects, help one another, and educate others about the pros and cons of unconventional automobiles. (If you still prefer your internal combustion engine, you can learn about other things you can do to save on gas in an older post.)

Are you interested in sustainable building design and engineering or LEED certification and credentialing?  Consider checking out the USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter.  This is a very active chapter of the US Green Building Council.  They have regular events like the Lunch n LEED program.  Update 01/13:  I took an excellent exam prep course through this chapter.  I’m now a LEED Green Associate!

Are you interested in urban watershed conservation and restoration?  Consider checking out the Deer Creek Watershed Alliance.  Learn about stormwater issues and management, water quality concerns and solutions, rain gardens, RainScaping Rebates, and nature in the St. Louis area.

If you’re big into hiking, the Ozarks offers plenty of terrain for you.  Visit the Ozark Trail, learn about activities and events, and consider volunteering to maintain or build trails.  I know it’s a bit out of St. Louis proper, but volunteer groups from St. Louis (like the Sierra Club) regularly help out on these trails.

Do you want to learn about native landscaping, gardening, urban farming, etc.?  Check out the Sustainable Backyard Tour.  This is an annual event put on by residents who are happy to showcase their yards and to try to inspire us to rethink the standard, boring, American lawn.

One large example of native and natural landscaping lies just outside of St. Louis in Gray Summit.  Shaw Nature Reserve, encompassing over 2,400 acres,  has examples of home gardening, rain gardens, wetlands, prairies, and woodlands.  There are also miles of relaxing trail to hike.  Update:  I volunteer out here once a week, learning more about native plants and natural landscaping!!

Anywho, there is a lot more, but I’m out of steam for now.  Happy hunting!

Please comment if you are aware of other regional green things.

Honeysuckle of Doom!

We certainly love quick fixes.  We like things that take care of themselves.  Unfortunately, in the landscaping and agricultural world that can include  introducing non-native species into the environment without restraint or consideration of the consequences.  Luckily, many species cannot survive without human care.  But a few species can thrive without our care, and without natural predators; they become exotic, invasive, destructive species out of their ecological context.

I give you the Bush Honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii).  Bush Honeysuckle is ALL OVER urban St. Louis, often as a planted privacy screen, or for erosion control.  I suppose people like the smell of their flowers, though I’m fairly certain I’m allergic to invasives.  Unfortunately, Honeysuckle profusely produces berries that propagate everywhere (the forest, your yard, your neighbors yard).  They can even tolerant enough to shade out native trees and plants in forest understories.  They are allelopathic, too, meaning they produce chemicals that inhibit growth of other plants in their vicinity.

White/yellow flowers fill the understory.

The red berries they produce can feed birds.  Unfortunately, the berries are not as nutritious as that of many native berry producers.  In the end, birds get junky bird food and Honeysuckle seeds get a free ride.

WANTED:  DEAD OR ALIVE!

Many people battle honeysuckle, but removal can be difficult.  You must generally remove the entire plant and root system or cut the plant back to the stump, immediately paint it with glyphosate, and pray it doesn’t resprout.  I’ve found the removal of Honeysuckle to be very gratifying.  Something is therapeutic about stopping these evildoers with shovels, saws, and a little stump killer.  If it’s in your yard, just remember to replace it with something native to increase biodiversity, bird food, habitat, AND to help keep honeysuckle from returning.

Grow Native!

Fair Weather Fuel Economy

The best way to save fuel, aside from purchasing a fuel efficient vehicle, is learning to improve fuel economy in your current vehicle by ‘fixing the nut behind the wheel.’  Minimizing fuel consumption takes work and knowing the quirks of your specific vehicle.  Luckily, as the warmer months approach, fuel economy automatically improves (decreased warm up times, warmer air temps, etc.).   But as warm borders on hot, we start using the air conditioning more often.  Cranking up the A/C (or rolling down the windows) can impact your fuel economy (FE), though by how much is debatable and varies by vehicle.   Overall, put windows down at lower speeds, and use A/C at higher speeds. (A good blog over the subject.)  Anyway, here are some tips to keep in mind during warmer weather.

If your vehicle has a recirculation function, use it in conjunction with your A/C to cool your car down faster.  This is known as MAX A/C, which counter-intuitively is more fuel efficient than regular A/C.

Once your car has cooled down to a comfortable level, with recirculation left on, power down your A/C for a while; turn the A/C back on when the air becomes noticeably warm again.  Your A/C really does decrease your fuel economy by 1-5%…so use it sparingly!

In the parking lot, do not linger.  Quickly find a parking spot and shut off your engine.  Park a bit further out and avoid the hassle of searching for a spot up close.  Or park in a central location and walk to nearby places (many stores are in strip malls).  Walking is good for you anyway.  Also, if you can, park somewhere in the shade to keep your car cool.  A shade tree or the side of a building may help.  Next, put up a sun shade to reflect light away from your windshield.  No need to bake your car’s interior and require more  A/C use.

Next, if you’re going inside, bring everyone in the car with you.  Leaving a car on with the A/C cranked in the parking lot gets you ZERO mpg and may put your vehicle at risk for overheating.  If they don’t want to shop (who wants to buy more clothes on a sweltering hot day?), find them a bench in the already air conditioned building.

Also, try to run errands in the morning or late evening when it might be just a little bit cooler.

 

Finally, these tips apply for any time of the year:

  • Coast as much as possible (downhill, yellow/red light, traffic)
  • Learn your routes and your stoplights (figure out light patterns)
  • Anticipate lights changing.
  • Run your errands with the furthest destination first, working your way back home.
  • Keep your tires properly inflated.  (Do not go beyond Max Sidewall Pressure on tire!!  And keep in mind that temperature changes effect your PSI)
  • In general, drive like your brake and gas pedals are hot as lava.  Use them sparingly. Learn how well your vehicle coasts.

For more, check out my slideshow on fuel economy.  Also, visit ecomodder.com for driving tips and learn about ecomodding!

Stewards of Earth

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” ~John Muir

Mr. Muir eloquently puts into words what I hope to instill into the minds of our afflicted, conflicted, and misunderstanding friends on this planet.  The purpose of this blog is to convey stewardship of our intricately intertwined Earth and its resources.  Every action is not without consequence; inaction is not without consequence either.  Our decisions to alter the natural construct always has immediate and long-term, foreseen and unpredictable costs and benefits.

Quite literally, when I pick out a tree root from the ground, I find it hitched to the soil, itself a conglomerate of minerals, moisture, air, microscopic life, and organic material hitched to each other so variously and intricately.  The roots hold the tree fast to the ground, the ground is held fast from erosion, and the nearby stream is not choked with eroded sediment but littered with nutritious detritus (fallen leaves) and teeming with aquatic life.  The roots are connected to the tree trunk, a massive pump that provides life-sustaining water and nutrients throughout the tree.  The hollows in the trunk provide habitat.  The decaying limbs on the ground serve as nourishment for fungi, insects, and understory flora.  The branches still hitched to the trunk are themselves hitched to the leaves.  The leaves are sturdy little solar panels and atmospheric air conditioners; they bring in energy, regulate temperature, and provide shade to underlying leaves.  The tree’s crown greets the wind and stirs it about or perhaps reduces its hurried pace; the tree is connected to the microclimate.  The tree joins with countless woody and herbaceous brethren to contribute to the biosphere.  The flora-sphere fuels the fauna-sphere.  The fungi-sphere patiently waits to cycle the biosphere.  The biosphere interconnects with atmosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere.  The Earth itself is bound gravitationally to the Sun, and is indebted to its solar fuel for almost all activity on Earth.

My undergraduate degree encompassed environmental science, political science, and a bit of economics.  The emphasis was Sustainability.  In addition, I seek to further my faith by being a steward of Earth.  As a result, I tend to evaluate debated issues from multiple perspectives.  After all, life is interdisciplinary; we cannot hide in only one school of thinking, be it the business school, the science building, or the social science department.

If we take the universe, to which we are hitched,  into consideration for more decisions, we just might just make healthful, sustainable progress.