Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Rainbow Earth

One of the nicest things about this region is its water. That we have more than our share of misty, moisty mornings is one of the reasons Pittsburgh became a great industrial city. While those living in other places spend great effort securing and conserving water, we have it as a constant backdrop to our daily activities. We're awash in it; we even think of all this rain as a problem, complaining about the lack
of "nice" weather days here. People less blessed with this resource wish they HAD this kind of problem; let's treasure this resource.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Here we are pining to get away to some far-off place for a vacation when we have it all here now, everything we need. Because chambers of commerce and travel agencies emphasize the good side of destinations (while conveniently neglecting their problematical sides), we find ourselves victim of the illusion that we have to go somewhere else to be happy. But, because everything is connected, problems as well as people can travel. Diseases, shortages of healthy food, pollution effects, overpopulation, economic troubles, crime - all stubbornly persist.

We need a re-orienting of our value systems right here in River City. Rather than getting up in the morning with that swift self-kick in the pants administered via caffeine, maybe we should more often slow down and smell the roses. "Wake up and smell the coffee" could become "Arise to the becoming dream of a better, more harmonious world." Working together cooperatively, we could make a heaven on Earth, rather than the human-made hell it is more and more becoming because we're fighting.

This stormy time in our planet's history will pass. Sooner or later we'll agree that we can't pollute our water in the pursuit of natural gas. The 2-d black/white/gray mindset that says we must fight for limited resources will dissipate with the gearing up of many alternative energy sources - accessed via sharing relationships with all types of people. Then we will see a beautiful rainbow of abundance.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Let's get growing!

The word "crisis" - meaning both danger and opportunity - very well describes this moment of Earth's history. Emerging now is the outlines of a wonderful new age, with technological development and harmonious relations between people all over the world. But before that can come we have humanity's biggest emergency yet. Abrupt climate change, ocean acidification, overfishing, industrial pollution, toxics in food, new types of weapons, environmental feedback effects, overpopulation, wars over resources,...No words are too small for the degree of danger we're all in.

Or the beauty of what's possible. If we as a species don't crash and burn we're going to establish an Earth civilization so unfathomably gorgeous we'll forget all the struggle it took to get us there. We have right here in our trembling hands the capacity to solve all of our problems. All we have to do is stop fighting and work together.

Here in Hazelwood we stand on the threshold of some very positive developments . We can benefit both the beauty of our neighborhood and our community nutritional status by making a significant dent in the amount of biodegradable waste that goes to the landfill. At the neighborhood level, plain (non-colored) newspaper, cardboard and paper bag can be immediately - simply and safely - returned to the soil in our gardens and other growing areas. In the meantime, there is a possibility that we can get going projects in which a larger variety of organic wastes are recycled - via enclosed systems of various sizes, designs, and technology levels. The key component of a really successful urban gardening and farming movement is production of soils. Without being able to greatly increase the variety and quantity of organics recycling, we will not have sufficient good soil to service a thriving community greening effort.

Picture 50 new gardens in Hazelwood. Where would you put them?

In some ways our society has been stagnating for a hundred years. Technologically, many of our best ideas have been suppressed by the fear of change of those comfortably in the ranks of the status quo. Our addiction to fossil fuels and nuclear power is a direct result of the stifling of progress by those who would stand to lose financially from alternative ways of providing ourselves with energy and feeding ourselves. Solutions are everywhere - except in some centers of power, where corporate lobbyists have been keeping them at bay.

The one good thing about this world crisis is that it involves absolutely everyone. There is no Planet B; no one gets to run from this intertwined complex of problems. Being all on the same side means we don't have any enemies, so we can all work together.

Here are some helpful websites to get us back on track to sane agriculture and organics waste management:
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Enjoy yer cold

Thriving in Winter

I love winter. One winter (decades ago), during lambing season on a small family farm in West Virginia, I made the mistake of complaining about the cold. "Don't you EVER second-guess the Lord!", my farmer boss reproached me. "For one thing, this cold weather kills the bugs." He knew what climate change experts know - that if temps don't get down below a certain range (different for each different species of insect), then the coming season would have more of that particular bug. In the big picture web of life, insects play an important role (such as food for birds); but they are kept in check by weather, and by being eaten by birds and other creatures.

Now that weather patterns are changing and species of life are going extinct (faster than at any previous time in human history), we need to hold dear all forms of life and protect them whenever possible.

The more we learn about history the more we realize how liable to change things are. Assuming that things will keep on as they are will get you into all kinds of trouble. If you happen to be frustrated about one thing or another in the world (And who isn't?), don't worry because this too shall pass. The only thing we can be sure of is that things will change. So, as Thoreau said, go confidently in the direction of your dreams. You don't know what will happen, but if you try you can know it'll be something more to your liking.

The peacefulness of winter, like the relative quiet at night, allows for deeper thought, big picture analysis, getting a handle on how you might want to try and do things differently next time. You don't have to feel bad about the things that didn't work out last year. Just look at it from a creative new point of view. I learned in the rooms of recovery not to "stand on the corner singin' my coulda shoulda woulda's". A new growing season is coming, and I'm going to try some new things.

In it's beginning, our first community garden - the Ladora Way Urban Farm - showed how all types of people can enjoy working together to help beautify and feed the immediate neighborhood. If you're feeling some winter doldrums right now, watch this sweet little video-clip about that garden; guaranteed it'll raise your spirits: .

In our part of the world, we have gotten into some very destructive habits. As we rest this winter, it makes sense to calmly consider some of their consequences. And to consider trying some new things. I'm more convinced daily both of the depth of our problems, and of our ability to deal with them. Balance can be maintained by realizing that the human-caused problems are growing in synch with breathtaking scientific advances that - properly applied - can help us solve those problems. We can, literally, create a heaven on earth - if we learn to work harmoniously together.

For my part, I want to serve life by facilitating the safe, proper recycling of various types of organic wastes. We have profoundly torn the web of life. In previous history, when animals or plants died, their bodies returned to feed new plants - not to a landfill. When animals excreted, that organic sector also returned to nourish Earth's web of life. By returning to being a part of a system that nurtures both quantity and diversity of life, we can work as part of the community of life to put our ecosystem back in balance.

We can thrive by recognizing we each have a unique part to play in the universe. With the increasing rate at which climate change is taking place, we need to appreciate the value of cold weather as well as hot - and everything else in between. Enjoy your cold.

Jim McCue (St. Jim the Composter)

composter and biotech researcher

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Green = Green

The color green is in the exact middle of the spectrum visible by humans. I wonder what this says about our species; other species perceive other wavelengths. Green is said to be a healing color. It certainly seems so to me; I find that - especially in the winter or when I'm somewhere where there's not much of it - I'm attracted to what little green there is. Studies have shown that people are healthier, happier and more productive (outdoors and in) when there are either other living things present or at least nature is depicted in photography or art. I wonder if anyone's done a study to find out if just the color green by itself tends to make people happier or healthier or more productive.

Green is one of money's nicknames. Money is an interesting substance. I've had times when I've had it and times when I didn't. I've had times when I had more money than good sense...and I still think about the consequences of the decisions I made at those times. I've had times when I didn't really have enough money, and those times taught me to appreciate that green.
Nowadays, like everyone else, I'd like to be secure in the knowing that I will always have a comfortable income. I'd like that for the whole world. We all know that's not going to happen, but it's a good ideal to work for - sustainable economics for everyone.

Each of the enormous number of plants on Earth each has green somewhere on it. One of the best memories I have from childhood is of looking at the one-celled plant spirogyra under a microscope; the green spiral chloroplasts in each cell link up to form strings. You wonder where this orderly beauty comes from. Now that some scientists are saying that the planet we are a part of functions in some ways as a living being, I'm developing a more spiritual perspective on how all the beauty of living things comes about.

Picture in your mind this incredibly complex planet with all it's activities. One relatively minute part of that unfathomably complex functioning whole is taken up by the human species. Another relatively minute section of the functioning whole Earth system is the world's economy. So a proper perspective on people and money would have a big dose of caution and humility, since we never know what's going to happen in the financial world. And, for that matter, we never know what Nature's going to deliver either (though we can make some - hopefully educated - guesses).

The words "sustainable" and "sustainability" must have been used millions of times by now, and their translations in other languages millions more. Economics thinkers I bet have used the phrase "sustainable economics" thousands of times. Since the world's economy is a subset of it's ecosystem, the best whole system economic analyses will include Earth's ecosystem services - those things that living things do which help such other living things as us humans. From this point of view every butterfly is worth money. And every earthworm, every plant, and so on. So striving towards the best possible cost/benefit analysis of any decision we make means we try to take Nature into account. This is, of course, only an ideal - something we should try to be mindful of. So many of life's decisions have unexpected consequences; all you can do is do the best you can by your own lights.

Some of the fastest growing business start-ups today have to do with green plants, from one-celled algae fermentation processses to huge tree plantations. The advancing biotech sector which nurtures various types of green plants is skyrocketing, partly because there's no shortage (by any stretch) of the plant nutrient carbon dioxide available now. And partly also because too much carbon dioxide is causing climate change and ocean and soil acidification, and so is (aside from it's role in photosynthesis) a pollutant.

It is a tribute to the wise leadership of some of our leaders (including at the city and county level) that Hazelwood is developing in a green way.

We as a city have been blessed by an abundance of water, which is an essential nutrient of every living thing. But we have also been blessed, in the long run, by our challenges - such as the fact that our topography has lots of ups and downs. Those developing cities which started out on flat open ground were uniformly de-vegetated and developed with many straight and perpendicular roads; their trees were pretty much all cut down. But Pittsburgh has always had spaces that were just too steep to build on. And, eventually, we started to realize that those spaces where wildlife still survived had value just to be left alone. That we developed laws against buying and building on what we now call "Greenway" areas (with exemptions possible) has supported Pittsburghers' quality of life and so standard of living. This is one reason Pittsburgh has so often been voted most livable city.

Jim McCue (St. Jim the Composter)

composter and biotech researcher


Monday, November 17, 2014

Growing better

Growing better

A garden should have a name. And a concept, a reason for being. And a design.

I know of a garden place that ought to be called Dante's Paradiso.

A resident has her eye on a certain site for an aromatherapy garden - a place for rest and healing in the ocean of difficulties around us.

There's been a suggestion for a "pizza garden". From a little distance it might look, say, like a pizza with everything - circular beds for pepperoni, flowers laid out in lines to look like slices, maybe with one pizza slice missing as an entrance for the garden. Everything in it would be edible - tomatoes, oregano,...and if it was my pizza garden it would be growing hot peppers, because I'm crazy for hot pepper. And garlic. That would make one helluva pizza.

Everything changes. We can take advantage of this by enjoying imagining good things happening. Later, we'll actually accomplish those happy things by grabbing at each little chance to make them real. A future garden site may be a total wreck right now - filled with rocks and other things you can't see the use of at the moment. But pick that rock up and move it somewhere you like better and your garden's begun. You won't finish today, but little by little all those rocks and other stuff can be carted off or used to build something you want.

When Michelangelo made sculptures he first saw what he wanted, as if it were already in the stone or whatever he was carving; then he chiseled everything else away. This guy Adam Purple in New York City took a community garden in the Lower East Side (which was a slum at the time) and went wild with it. A picture of it was in Newsweek. Seen from the surrounding apartment buildings, the Garden of Eden community garden was absolutely gorgeous, with different color flowers and herbs in each bed, the whole thing laid out in a giant spiral. You can read and watch a video about the Garden of Eden, which is gone now, at
and .
I was there when there was just piles of bricks and railroad ties for garden beds and three huge compost bins. This guy Purple was, "crazy" enough to see something of beauty in a falling down side of Manhattan with terrible problems.

Like creating gardens (one action at a time), community meetings may not seem to be accomplishing much. You'll surely hear skeptical comments by those not yet willing to buy in to future hope. But the good side of knowing that nothing in this world lasts forever is that the essence (if not all the specific details) of your dream CAN become real - IF you keep talking about it and working on it.

One idea that came up at a recent meeting was to build a garden in the shape of a "crop circle". Regardless of whether you believe some of these designs that appear (usually in farm fields) are created by intelligence greater than human (I do), there are thousands of stunningly attractive shapes to choose from.

Our living world is so full of "accidental" beauty. Once you fall in love with a place and start to see all the plants and animals and bugs and birds and other wildlife in and passing through it as family, your garden will already be growing. And you already have a myriad of helpers - all the living things already in the area, most of which can be "tamed" - made friends with...with, of course, a LOT of compromise.

The essence of a great dream can come true, but there's usually no getting there directly. You have to dance around the problems and talk to people and talk to yourself and adapt your ideas to synch with others' and do one thing at a time and...In the end your garden may not look at all like what you had originally envisioned. But it will be beautiful.

Jim McCue

Friday, October 24, 2014

Atmospheric and ocean methane emission positive feedbacks

Go to and type in "farting ice". Note the year - 2007. That's SEVEN YEARS ago. The worst news is not that there's a methane cloud over the fossil fuel industrial complex of the southwestern United States. The fermenting now unfrozen organic areas on land, with this youtube, and the frozen in ice methane under the ocean being released with ocean warming, are yielding exponential speedup of global average temperature rise.

Those in positions of authority should be declaring an earthwide state of emergency. All humanity working together with the rest of the living world has the capacity to usher in a new age of heaven on earth. Fighting in fear over "the need for" fossil fuels we don't have a shot.

We need to transition from the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries immediately, to go to electric transportation fueled by methane already escaping (no more fracking or other extraction, only what is already in exponentially increasing amounts escaping) and hydrogen fuel cells (burning methane yields co2, which is a greenhouse gas but not as strong a one as methane), to go to local natural decentralized agriculture harmonizing w/other species rather than fighting them, to stop manufacturing all the stupid things like junk "foods",...And we have to eliminate all legal conflict over patenting of non-combustion energy technologies.

Malcolm Light
research fellow
Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, University College London:
By Malcolm Peter Light – Earth Scientist
The United States administration is now a fossil fuel corporation – bank oligarchy. It is a totally failed democracy. Consequently all decisions made by the present US government are unconstitutional and invalid, further confirmed by the way people are transferred from the US congress to the banks. Consequently the coming Senate election will be a farce. The coming Senate election and all further elections need to be delayed until the US administration changes the rules back and can prove that the United States is once again democratic and represents the will of the people. Please see these sites:-
President Obama must declare a state of Extreme National Emergency and cease orchestrating a war with Russia. He must recall his entire army and navy personnel to the United States to begin a massive conversion of the US energy system to solar and wind power. This conversion must result in all 600 coal power stations and nuclear stations being completely shut down in the next 5 to 10 years. All surface transport, both private and public must be entirely electrified and air transport converted to methane or hydrogen fuel. If this is not done, humanity will be facing total extinction in an Arctic methane firestorm between 2040 and 2050.
The US and Canada must cut their global emissions of carbon dioxide by 90% in the next 10 to 15 years, otherwise they will be become an instrument of mass destruction of the Earth and its entire human population. Recovery of the United States economy from the financial crisis has been very unsoundly based by the present Administration on an extremely hazardous "all of the above" energy policy that has allowed continent wide gas fracking, coal and oil sand oil mining and the return of widespread drilling to the Gulf. Coast. This large amount of fossil fuel has to be transported and sold which has caused extensive spills, explosions and confrontations with US citizens over fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline. Gas fracking is in the process of destroying the entire aquifer systems of the United States and causing widespread earthquakes. The oil spills are doing the same to the surface river run off.
We are now facing a devastating final show down with Mother Nature, which is being massively accelerated by the filthy extraction of fossil fuels by US and Canada by gas fracking, coal and tar sand mining and continent wide bitumen transport. The United States and other developed nations made a fatal mistake by refusing to sign the original Kyoto protocols. The United States and Canada must now cease all their fossil fuel extraction and go entirely onto renewable energy in the next 10 to 15 years otherwise they will be guilty of planetary ecocide - genocide by the 2050's.
The volume transport of the Gulf Stream has increased by three times since the 1940's due to the rising atmospheric pressure difference set up between the polluted, greenhouse gas rich air above North America and the marine Atlantic Air. Recent work shows the giant volume of heat that now has accumulated in the North Atlantic.
The increasingly heated Gulf Stream with its associated high winds and energy rich weather systems then flows NE to Europe where it recently pummeled Great Britain with catastrophic storms. Other branches of the Gulf Stream then enter the Arctic and disassociate the subsea Arctic methane hydrate seals on subsea and deep high - pressure mantle methane reservoirs below the Eurasian Basin- Laptev Sea transition. This is releasing increasing amounts of methane into the atmosphere producing anomalous temperatures, greater than 20 degree C above average. Over very short time periods of a few days to a few months the atmospheric methane has a global warming potential from 1000 to 100 times that of carbon dioxide.
There are such massive reserves of methane in the subsea Arctic methane hydrates, that if only a few percent of them are disassociated, they will lead to a jump in the average temperature of the Earths atmosphere by 10 degrees C and produce a "Permian" style major extinction event which will kill us all. The whole northern hemisphere is now covered by a thickening atmospheric methane global warming veil that is spreading southwards at about 1 km a day and it already totally envelopes the United States. A giant hole in the equatorial ozone layer has also been discovered in the west Pacific which acts like an elevator transferring methane from lower altitudes to the stratosphere where it already forms a dense equatorial global warming stratospheric band that is spreading into the Polar regions.
During the last winter, the high Arctic winter temperatures and pressures have displaced the normal freezing Arctic Air south into Canada and the United States producing never before seen, freezing winter storms and massive power failures. When the Arctic ice cap finally melts towards the end of next year, the Arctic sea will be aggressively heated by the sun and the Gulf Stream. The cold Arctic air will then be confined to the Greenland Ice cap and the hot globally warmed Arctic air with its methane will flow south to the United States to further heat up the Gulf Stream, setting up an anticlockwise circulation around Greenland. Under these circumstances Great Britain and Europe must expect even more catastrophic storm systems, hurricane force winds and massive flooding after the end of next year due to a further acceleration in the energy transport of the Gulf Stream. If this process continues unchecked the mean temperature of the atmosphere will rise a further 8 degrees centigrade and we will be facing global deglaciation, a more than 200 feet rise in sea level rise and a major terminal extinction event by the 2050's.
Jim McCue (St. Jim the Composter)

composter and biotech researcher

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Feed the People by Feeding the Soil

Last eve's Hazelwood Initiative Planning Committee meeting went swimmingly. We have hazelnuts at the Hazelwood Food Forest. Lisa Kunst Vavro talked with Steve Novotny and others about the Kaboom playground hopefully late spring next year. Jim Richter and Kyle Pattison talked about crowd-sourcing to start Hazelwood Farms. Seth Nyer presented about the food forest, including a long-term hope of building a greenhouse there (though the site has spatial limitations) and Pittsburgh Permaculture using the food forest as a template for replication in other parts of the city. Grow Pittsburgh is providing funding for signage at the food forest. Kris DePietro suggested a mural on an adjacent building. Seth spoke about the permanent agriculture model as a way to rehabilitate abandoned/damaged areas. We talked about aesthetic presentation and using green to attract to the business district. The Hazelwood Food Forest has a facebook page. Dave Brewton referred to Elaine Price's Floriated Interpretations working with the food forest. Hanna Mosca talked about the YMCA-Hazelwood Garden as a resource for the whole community. I mentioned that Alex Bodnar, Matt Peters, Daniel Wade, myself, and a couple of others one year a coupla years ago did make a first attempt at coordinating late winter production of thousands of plant starts in the YMCA greenhouse for distribution in the community. Shelly Danko Day talked about the more than one acre former Blair St. Ballfield (the old "Grove") being available for a community garden. Matt Peters talked about forests, and other community urban farm models that could include chickens, bees, larger-scale composting, vermi-composting, biochar,... The community apiary in Homewood was mentioned. Dianne Shenk referenced permaculture services, training and site installation as a valuable enterprise. Rayden Sorock spoke to Grow Pittsburgh's involvement. Reverend Tim Smith talked about the need for education, and we all talked about permanency/resiliency in view of the differing ownership situations of the various sites. Leasing, sale of land was discussed. Scenarios in which people can securely (without vandalism) work individually and/or in groups to grow with or without sales of plants or produce in mind. Shelly, Tammy Carlini and others discussed dealing with contamination past and continuing from adjacent industrial activity. I brought up vital ecosystem services such as pollinators given the earthwide decline in insect populations.
From Pastor Tim Smith:
You are cordially invited to the premiere screening of the film
NOT FINISHED YET: Hazelwood's Perseverance in the face of food scarcity
a film by
Center of Life
presented by Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center
Join us on October 29, 2014 from 4 to 6 at the Kresge Theatre, College of Fine Arts Building CMU 5000 Forbes Ave. After the film there will be a panel discussion moderated by Just Harvest's Ken Regal, followed by a reception with light refreshments. Seating is limited, please rsvp by 10/22/14 to or call 412-268-2012.
Produced through funding from the Heinz Endowments.
Pittsburgh's Urban Forest One of the Largest in the Country
Living with Disaster: Stories from Northeastern Japan
Thursday, October 23, 4 – 6 p.m. University of Pittsburgh,
Room 3431 Posvar Hall, 230 S. Bouquet St.
"... earthquake and tsunami destroyed communities along 650 km of coastline... in northeastern Japan...Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant meltdowns spread radiation over a wide area, and thousands of people were forced to leave their homes. Three years later, many are still unable to return....stories from the disaster area,...overview of the damage and present situation,...current concerns..."
Saint Misbehavin'
is available from the Carnegie Library system.
The song "Basic Human Needs" by Wavy Gravy
"Wouldn't it be neat if people that you meet
had shoes upon their feet and something to eat?
And wouldn't it be fine if all humankind had shelter?...deep down in the garden, in the garden of your heart...
Jim McCue (St. Jim the Composter)

composter and biotech researcher

Pittsburgh's Urban Forest One of the Largest in the Country
As the colors of autumn entice us to do some foliage watching, many people in...