Update

Posted November 25, 2009 by Matt M
Categories: Uncategorized

When I first reserved this blog, I misspelled millennium in the domain name by using only one “n” and it has bugged me ever since.

To correct it, I am transferring this blog to the new domain: http://investinthemillennium.wordpress.com.

Newer posts, as well as the old posts, will now be located at http://investinthemillennium.wordpress.com.

The Inversion of Cause

Posted November 22, 2009 by Matt M
Categories: Musings

All too often, the media present problems in a way that disempowers us. As Peter Block points out in Community: The Structure of Belonging, the normal expectation is that we are consumers whose needs are satisfied by others.

Consumers give power away. They believe that their own needs can be best satisfied by the actions of others – whether those others are elected officials, top management, social service providers, or the shopping mall. Consumers also allow others to define their needs.

As a way to recapture our power, Block suggests that we “invert our thinking about what is cause and what is effect.” (This is similar to a creativity technique.) Examples he gives include: the child creates the parent, the subordinate creates the boss, and the student creates the teacher.

This is not to say that the inversion is in fact true but rather it provides a different context for creating a new future rather than solving the same problems.

Inverting our thinking does not change the world, but creates a condition where a shift in the world becomes possible…This inversion challenges conventional wisdom that believes there is one right way.

Next time we are faced with what seems to be an intractable problem, perhaps we should try inverting our thinking.

The value of the invaluable

Posted November 15, 2009 by Matt M
Categories: Musings

Karen Armstrong in her book The Case for God describes how Descartes, father of Rationalism and Modern Philosophy, attained his insights:

As he was journeying to take up his new post [in the army of Maximilian I of Bavaria], a heavy snowfall forced him to put up in a small poêle, a stove-heated room near Ulm on the Danube. For once, he had time for serious, solitary reflection, and it was during this retreat that he devised his [philosophical] method.

What I find most fascinating about this account is that Descartes needed a snowstorm, which required him to take refuge in what was comparable to a Potter County hunting camp, to find the time and solitude to reformulate western philosophy.

In my mind, this points to the real value of the conservation of our natural resources. We often have to justify conservation projects in economic terms such as tourism activity, jobs created, and community investment or cost avoidance (e.g. stormwater control) in order to obtain political and financial support for them. But the true benefit of these natural places is that they provide us the space to slow our busy, distracted lives, and the beauty to reconnect with something larger than ourselves.

I can imagine Descartes, listening to the wind howl across the Danube and watching the fire burn, sipping from a goblet of spiced wine, doubting his very own existence until he discovers: “I think, therefore I am.”

Self-Reliance with Biomass

Posted November 10, 2009 by Matt M
Categories: Biomass

The Keystone Edge has an article on the new biomass combustion system in the Benton School District in Columbia County, PA, and how it will benefit the local economy.

If all goes according to plan, the $1.98-million system will create something of a supply-and-demand loop. The district will buy the fuel it needs in the form of compressed, dried pellets from the farmers who populate the district. The farmers, finally finding an adequate market in an industry that’s been beset in recent years by depressed prices, will then have the money to pay their school taxes, much of which will eventually cycle back to them after the next harvest.

Other places in Pennsylvania with biomass heating installations include Elk Regional Medical Center in St Marys, Kane School District in Kane, and Clearfield Middle School in Clearfield. Smethport is embarking on an ambitious biomass project to provide both heating and electrical generation. In the north central PA region, woodchips provided by the lumber industry is the fuel of choice. The equipment used in Elk Regional Medical Center and Kane School District was locally designed and manufactured by Advanced Recycling in St Marys, PA.

Not only does the use of biomass combustion systems promotes economic sustainability

For [US Department of Agriculture wildlife biologist Scott] Singer, the whole objective is rural sustainability. As the cost of everything increases, he argues, rural communities need to return to self reliance for everything from commerce to energy needs to environmental stewardship. Biomass energy is a great example, he says, because it allows farmers to grow native plants that reduce runoff, lessen fertilizer additions and require less oversight to produce a quality harvest…

It can keep money cycling in the community and eliminate the financial outflow that impoverishes rural areas and causes emigration from generations-old homesteads, not to mention the sale and development of farmlands that leads to suburban sprawl.

“It’s feasible to actually think of this on a full scale for all our fuel-oil needs,” Singer says.

but it also addresses global warming and environmental sustainability by burning carbon neutral fuel (something that natural gas is not). This is the kind of win-win solution I like to support.

If you would like to learn more, the Pocono RC&D Council is sponsoring a Biomass Energy Project Assessment Workshop in Clearfield, PA on December 17-18, 2009.

A blessing or a curse?

Posted November 6, 2009 by Matt M
Categories: Marcellus Shale

NPR aired a story this morning on the “Paradox of Oil,” which discussed the economic disparitybetween foreign oil workers and local people in Angola.

The idea intrigued me. Could the communities in the Marcellus Shale region also be subject to this paradox? Environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing technology such as water contamination and forest fragmentation are already being discussed. But what if the development of Marcellus Shale not only endangers the natural resources of Pennsylvania, but also threatens its long-term economic development?

According to Wikipedia, “the idea that natural resources might be more an economic curse than a blessing began to emerge in the 1980s.”

The resource curse (also known as the paradox of plenty) refers to the paradox that countries and regions with an abundance of natural resources, specifically point-source non-renewable resources like minerals and fuels, tend to have less economic growth and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources

This thesis typically applies to oil-rich, third-world countries. But you can find an example of the resource curse in the coal regions in West Virginia:

How can it be when West Virginia has enjoyed a Century-long abundance of valuable natural resources, it compares so poorly to the rest of the country economically?  How can it be that the counties with the most coal extracted are among the poorest places in the United States?

West Virginia suffers from a resource curse. The curse of natural resource wealth is extraction industries extract valuable items from the ground, take the wealth out of communities, and leave behind spent land and spent people.

I’m not saying that the resource curse is inevitable. But to protect ourselves from the curse, we need leaders with the political willpower to represent their local people, not the gas industry.

I do believe that the Marcellus Shale formation can be developed responsibly and in a way that benefits the local residents. But it won’t happen unless we stay informed and stay involved.

Play and Process

Posted October 31, 2009 by Matt M
Categories: Musings

I have been reading Stephen Nachmanovitch’s book Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, which talks about bringing a spirit of play and creativity and improvisation to all areas of life.

One quote jumped out as relevant to the “invest in the millennium” mentality:

If we operate with a belief in the long sweeps of time, we build cathedrals; if we operate from fiscal quarter to fiscal quarter, we build ugly shopping malls.

 This quote demonstrates that we need to be devoted to process rather than product. I may not live to see the West Branch of the Susquehanna become clean of acid mine drainage. Even so, focusing my creativity and time on cleaning up the West Branch is worthwhile and fulfilling and fun in and of itself.

I think this is an important concept to keep in mind, particularly when we get confronted with what looks like overwhelming challenges – such as addressing global warming, eradicating invasives like the wooly adelgid or didymo, or revitalizing our run-down towns.

 To quote Nachmanovitch again:

But if the activity to save the world doesn’t give us joy, what’s the point of having a world, and how will we have the wholeness and energy to carry on?

Or, as my friend Jan from the Cameron County Conservation District signs her emails: “Joy is in the JOURNEY….Not in the Destination!”

Waterdogs to the Rescue

Posted October 29, 2009 by Matt M
Categories: Marcellus Shale

The Pine Creek Headwaters Protection Group is training volunteers to help monitor gas drilling operations. From the Pennsylvania Environmental Digest Daily blog, this training will be held on December 8, 2009 near Wellsboro.

While the Department of Environmental Protection is responsible for permitting and inspecting these Marcellus Shale drilling sites, DEP personnel cannot maintain a watch on the activity of all the people, rigs and trucks contracted and subcontracted to produce the gas. Many contractors and companies brought in from outside the state are not yet familiar with our regulations regarding water usae, erosion and sedimentation, and waste disposal. The region is too large and the resources of the regulators too limited to effectively keep track of the exponential growth taking place. This training will show participants how to document and record important observation information and who to call in the event of environmental harm or public safety issues

This training needs to extend to other regions.

Thanks to Jim Weaver for giving me a heads up on this.

An Exceptional Value

Posted October 20, 2009 by Matt M
Categories: Greenways, Marcellus Shale

 To get ready for a greenways meeting tomorrow in Potter County, PA, I was reviewing the Natural System Corridor Analysis that my consultant prepared. One criterion for natural system greenways is Exceptional Value stream designation. In a hearing back in 2000, Lawrence Tropea described EV waters to the PA Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee as follows:

EV waters are the best or unique quality waters in the Commonwealth.  We estimate that about 2 % of our waters are in this category.

The greenways plan I’m developing covers six counties – Cameron, Clearfield, Elk, Jefferson, McKean, and Potter. In all six counties, there is a total of 108 designated EV streams. Potter County – on its own – has 63 EV streams.

Clearfield, Elk, and Jefferson account for only 17 EV streams combined. The reason these counties have so few EV streams is that they had significant coal mining activity. Potter County has little coal.

But Potter, like the rest of the counties in my area, sits on top the Marcellus Shale formation. And they can’t wait to exploit it.

How many EV streams will remain in Potter County 20 years from now? We can’t rely on the gas drilling companies to monitor themselves, and resources at DEP are being cut. And despite industry claims, chemicals from the drilling process used to extract gas from the shale formation are appearing in water supplies.

It falls on us, the anglers and hunters and hikers and bikers and everyone else who gets outdoors, to keep our eyes open and report anything that looks wrong.  The Marcellus Shale formation may be an incredible resource for some of us – but the best quality waterways in our Commonwealth is an invaluable resource for all of us.

Ask the questions that have no answers.

Posted October 16, 2009 by Matt M
Categories: Musings

Years ago, when I was a chemical engineer, friends and family would asked what I did for my job. I wouldn’t know how to respond. How do you explain urethane-acrylic hybrid polymer dispersions?

Then I changed my career and began to work in community development. I thought it would be easier explaining what I did for a living. But it isn’t.

What does community development mean? Or resource conservation? Sustainability? What even constitutes a resource? Still questions without good answers.

This blog is to help hone in on these issues important to me. And your insights will help as well.

I struggled a long time with the name of this blog. Calling it “Resource Conservation” or “Community Development” seemed too clinical, too dry.

Then I recalled a line from Wendell Berry’s poem Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front:

 Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

That phrase “invest in the millennium” sums up best what resource conservation and sustainability are about. We aren’t looking at a 5 or 10 or even 50 year timeline. We need to look at a 1000 year horizon when we make our decisions on how to plan that community or drill for gas in those forests.

Sometimes though, when the world seems to be going to hell, it’s hard to imagine a 1000 year horizon. But Wendell Berry in his poem  has a response for that too:

Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.

So let’s consider the facts and still be joyful, and keep asking questions that have no anwers.