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...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Community of Life

With all the fearful and sad perspectives in the news, I'm learning to write only about the positive ways of looking at things. There is always a better way to interpret something than to just say it's bad. Here's an example:

There are reports that Earth's average global temperature increase is causing mushrooming quantities of the greenhouse gas methane (natural gas) to be released into the atmosphere. Some scientists (wanting to believe the best, naturally) are minimizing the importance of the data coming from the Arctic, which indicates that exponentially increasing amounts of methane (previously encased in ice) is being released from ocean areas .

Now, I'm not one of those people who think of a new source of natural gas as a good thing; we need to get off of fossil fuels. Those who are excited by warming-caused opening of formerly seasonally frozen shipping lanes are thinking with only one part of their brains; they're not thinking through the causes and effects of what's melting the ice. It's part of the vicious spiral of burning - causing melting - causing increasingly warming oceans due to less ice reflecting the sun - causing more melting. But I am more and more convinced that we humans are - by being increasingly able to access an infinite universal database of knowledge - able if we work together to deal with our mushrooming environmental problems.

Throughout history - and especially in modern times - breathtaking scientific advances have allowed problem after problem to be solved. Now that it's becoming common knowledge that the planet is in an extinction event, we can - by surrendering our habitual ways of thinking - look at the naked facts more clearly. But solving the problems will take changing ourselves, drastically.

Not only we humans, but all life is one community. Each life form, whether you're talking about plants or animals or microbes, works together in the web of life. We have to respect all living things and celebrate diversity. The way to help ourselves is to stop hurting Nature. The way to suppress disease, for example, is not to fight specific diseases (with, for instance, anti-biotics) - but rather to encourage a diversity of microbes via pro-biotics.

Here's a fact we don't often think about: We're arguing about whether humans can change the weather when in fact even microbes can and do affect it. Varieties of life such as bacteria and mold take gases from the air and turn them into other things. And microbes give off gases to the air. The seven plus billion of us humans who use oxygen and give off carbon dioxide when we breathe are doing the same - changing the atmosphere. And, on top of that, we burn stuff, which uses more oxygen and gives off more carbon dioxide.

Being the most powerful species on the planet (at the moment), we have the capacity to do the most harm and the most good; it's our job to do the best we can.

Grow as many and as varied plants as you can. Stop cutting down plants as much as you can. Pull yourself (as much as you can at any one moment) out of the parts of the industrial system that are destroying the ecosystem. Vote for an end to planned obsolescence. Don't participate in financial or military competition for fossil fuels. Open your heart to your human and other neighbors. We're all one family. We're not by any stretch of the imagination the only intelligent or loving species on or off the planet.

Jim McCue
(412) 421-6496

Monday, September 15, 2014

Clean and Green

Clean and green are action words. Nothing stays clean forever, so you have to keep cleaning it. Take midnight dumpers, for instance. Every now and then one or another of our less socially-motivated fellow citizens decides to break the law and dump a pickup truck sized pile of roofing or other waste on the side of the road. If they're not caught, the city or neighbors have to clean it up. Generations of wonderful volunteers have worked their hearts out cleaning up after the dummies. I say find them, fine them, make them clean it up, and publicize them for being bad citizens - maybe that would make for a cleaner Hazelwood.

And how about the businesses that leave behind pollution that stays long after they are gone, like the lead smelter that was at the corner of Path Way and Gloster Street? It closed it's doors some fifty years ago; isn't it about time we stepped up to the plate and cleaned up that mess? Since lead is a pollutant which is now spread throughout our world (though concentrated at certain sites), there has long been discussion of both the cleaning and the greening possibilities for that particular pollutant. Levels of this poison could be reduced from our local environment by: removing it from a site of concentration to the extent possible; covering lead-contaminated soils with organic matter such as wood chips (to make it less likely to come into contact with anyone); and/or adding healthy soil with complex communities of microbes and plants and animals (which make lead less biologically available). So here we could combine cleaning with greening by making wider use of our organic waste streams to both remediate our neighborhoods and literally green them up with more plants.

Among many green technologies being ramped up in the world today are facilities which feed the pollutant carbon dioxide (which by now everybody knows we've way too much of) to algae in fermentation vessels of various shapes which make use of artificial and natural sunlight in greenhouse-like structures. As climate change highlights the need to both drastically reduce our output of CO2 and sequester (absorb) CO2 already in the environment via various processes such as growing algae and other plants, the economics of the situation will create a market demand for any process that either uses this pollutant as an input or lessens the need for it to be produced.

I'm convinced the key to the future happiness for our species is waking up to the beauty and importance of the rest of the living world.

Jim McCue

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Miracle of Life

The fragility of life has been obvious to me over the years; from childhood friends dying to learning about how destructive World War 2 was, I've always known how easy it is for bad things to happen. But only as I've grown older have I come to appreciate how unfathomably miraculous it is also.

There has been discovered to be a self-organizing principle. The Universe is evolving harmoniously, consciously.

The best proof for me that there is a power of good in the world is how Nature (if allowed and given encouragement) can take a damaged piece of land and turn it into a productive place that's a joy to visit. What was the aftermath of the demolition of a three-story apartment building at the corner of West Elizabeth and Lytle Streets is now a tiny bit of ecosystem whose plants clean the air a little. It has a place to sit and eat what grows there. From a basement foundation full of bricks (covered with sand, leveled off, and some straw and grass seed thrown down) has grown a corner full of living things that are part of the healing of the planet.

By nurturing the widest variety and the greatest quantity of life - and adding organic material such as wood chips, cardboard, leaves, grass clippings, newspaper, kitchen scraps, and manures - the land has been healed and is hosting honeybees and other insects, earthworms, beneficial molds and bacteria, and other living things large and small which work together to biodegrade pollution. Is this not a miracle?

From a government publication called "Compost - New Applications for an Age-Old Technology", which can be found at , it is clear that an enormous amount of good can come of simply changing what we do with the biodegradable sectors of our waste.

All over the world, humankind's increasingly powerful hand has been causing undesirable side effects. And everywhere new applications of ancient scientific/spiritual principles are coming to the fore to restore balance to an Ecosystem clearly in danger of capsizing. We are in an extinction event, and we are one of the species in danger of extinction. We need to respect all life. We are all connected. Love is the answer.
"A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security."
~Albert Einstein (1950)
Jim McCue

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Community gardening

There are so many different ways of looking at things that it's hard to find agreement about how to grow a garden. Some gardeners have stable, set ways of thinking and so pretty much know how they want their efforts to turn out; to them beauty is aligned with simplicity - "I know what I like, case closed." I'm more interested in change myself, and so end up with what may seem a chaos of conflicting desires; gardens I've started have often been blooming jungles of surprises. Do you want beauty or peace or productivity or learning to be the product of your garden? Do you want food or medicine from it? Do you want your garden efforts to result in a friendlier neighborhood?

Maybe you just want a garden to be a place to be alone in and let nature heal with its sounds and smells and comfort. A healing garden might combine medicinal with aromatherapy plants - a place where some can harvest plants to make salves and soothing or invigorating teas while others find the sights, sounds, and smells all the cure they need. Maybe you want a garden that's a place for people to get together, or a place of memories.

Everyone's Garden (at the corner of West Elizabeth and Lytle Streets) is, true to it's name, a little bit of everything, the creation of many people. I used to be strictly a food plant person - only interested in growing something if some part of it was edible; but relationships with other gardeners have opened up my mind and heart a bit. Neighbors planted iris and several other plants I still don't know the name of, but which yearly come back and add to the beauty. People complimenting the garden have led me to more often slow down and smell the roses. Bee balm is in flower inside the little circle of salvaged bricks where Fran Soltesz is remembered.

I yearn to produce great quantities of food, but this garden is ideal only for introducing various food plants to people; real production will have to take place where more controlled conditions are possible. It's a wonderful thing to be able to show children food plants and how to harvest and what parts they can take home to eat; but picking something before it's ready (and sometimes just for kids to throw around in a food fight) just can't be allowed in a working food production garden. Everyone's Garden is a public amenity similar to our parks; it isn't fenced in to keep out either wildlife or wild people. So rabbits and raucous neighbors are free to eat and/or trample plants there. Someone just walked off with our three pairs of hand clippers.

Learning for me has been partly via the School of Hard Knocks, which I notice quite a few others are alumni of. The work-in-progress appearance of Everyone's Garden is the result not only of my learning but also having to consensus with others with other goals and opinions. All in all, I'm grateful for the opportunity to work together with people producing satisfaction and community as best we can.

Jim McCue