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A field guide to the commons

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ALL THAT WE SHARE
A FIELD GUIDE TO THE COMMONS
By Jay Walljasper, with an introduction by Bill McKibben
Published by The New Press, $18.95

The commons were traditionally defined as the elements of the environment -- forests, atmosphere, rivers, fisheries or grazing land -- that are shared, used and enjoyed by all. Today, the commons are also understood within a cultural sphere. These commons include literature, music, arts, design, film, video, television, radio, information, software and sites of heritage. The commons can also include “public goods” such as public space, public education, health and the infrastructure that allows our society to function (such as electricity or water-delivery systems). There also exists the “life commons,” e.g., the human genome.

Life to the fullest: healthy, nutritious and tasty food provided by a local food system

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The Gospel account of the miracle of the loaves and fishes clearly shows Jesus’s awareness of the central place of food in our lives. Listening to him preach created an appetite in his followers, which he satisfied almost as an afterthought. Jesus knew that food is one of our central concerns.

In this country over the last several generations we have seen an amazing transformation in the way food is produced and consumed. I can remember as a kid all the mothers on my block in the summertime would buy lettuce, cucumbers, carrots and cabbage not at a supermarket but from an elderly Italian who parked his pickup truck at the top of the street on Monday afternoons. There were no supermarkets. My mom’s best friend lived with her husband on a small family farm outside of town. We would often spend weekends with these farmers and get up early on Saturday mornings to help feed their chickens and hogs or to ride on the tractor when it was cutting hay in the spring.

ESSC Web site reports on environmental and social justice news from the Phillipines

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ESSC News is a weekly news service of the Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC),a Jesuit organization in the Phillipines that works toward environmental sustainability and social justice.

Using text, images and maps, ESSC News reports on ESSC’s response to
• threatened indigenous land tenure,
• human security needs,
• biodiversity loss,
• human migration and dislocation,
• human distress management
• climate change impact

ESSC is directed by environmental scientist Pedro Walpole, S.J. It works closely with local government, the business sector, religious and academic institutions, people’s organizations and non-governmental organizations across the Philippines.

With these partners it seeks to contribute to a critical and holistic understanding of the dynamic relationship between biophysical and social processes for the appropriate management of the environment for human development.

The Hunger Moon

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February’s full moon which comes tonight is known as the Hunger Moon. The native peoples called it so. That’s because back in the day when most of us were rural dwellers, by February, autumn’s well-stocked larder had been largely depleted. People had only turnips and shrivelled, anemic potatoes in their root cellars, and maybe a squirrel or rabbit for supper and little else. Spring’s promise of new life and a bountiful garden and good hunting had not yet arrived.

As it mounts the icy sky, though, it sets stark patterns of beauty. Nature writer Hal Borland describes it: “Footsteps in the snow become laced traceries of purple shadows. Starless ponds of night sky lay in a meadow’s hollow. Roads become black velvet ribbons with winking frost sequins. Pines become whispering flocks of huge, dark birds. On hilltops and in pastures cedars are black candle flames. Warm-windowed houses and frost-roofed barns are all twins, each with its counterpart beside it on the snow.”

Environmental justice in action: Oakland's Fruitvale Transit Village

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The Fruitvale Transit Village project is the result of a broad-based partnership among public, private, and nonprofit organizations working together to revitalize a community using transit-oriented development. It’s located in California’s Bay Area adjacent to the Fruitvale Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) station in Oakland. Fruitvale, one of Oakland's seven community districts, is a low-income, predominantly minority community experiencing economic stress. This case study focuses on the incorporation of environmental justice principles into the planning and design of the Fruitvale Transit Village.

Evidence of climate change in our own backyards

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Evidence of climate change isn’t always as stark or far away as melting polar ice caps or rising sea temperatures. In fact, says conservation biologist Richard Primack, unmistakable signs of climate change can be seen every day, in every backyard, in towns across America. Primack, a Boston University professor of biology, is working on an award-winning research project to demonstrate the local effects of global climate change. He’s using Concord, Mass., as a living laboratory, and he has teamed with Henry David Thoreau, America’s great 19th-century nature poet and philosopher, who lived in Concord.

Wendell Berry and others interviewed about sit-in in Kentucky governor's office

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Jeff Biggers has interviews with Wendell Berry, Stanley Sturgill, Teri Blanton, and many others from last weekend's sit-in in the Kentucky Governor’s offices to protest mountaintop removal coal mining in Kentucky.

Author Wendell Berry and 13 other environmental activists emerged from the state Capitol on Monday, Feb. 14 to roars of approval and applause, ending their four-day occupation of Gov. Steve Beshear's outer office.

The protesters joined several hundred people on the Capitol steps for the "I Love Mountains" rally, an annual event held to promote "stream saver" legislation that effectively would end mountaintop removal coal mining in Eastern Kentucky. Previous bills died for lack of action; similarly, this year's bills are languishing in committee.

Flocks that turn on a dime -- one of nature's deep mysteries

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We’ve all seen this – even if you live in a city. A flock of starlings consisting of maybe a few hundred or more individual birds turns on a dime all at once. It’s startling. It’s wonderful. How do they do that?

A murmuration – that’s the term for a large flock of starlings – rolls “like a drunken fingerprint across the sky,” as the poet Richard Wilbur wrote, “smudging the dusk horizon with the quickness of a pulsating jellyfish.”

The ancient Romans believed that the gods hinted at their intentions in the way birds flew. Scientists of the last century groped for such mysterious concepts as “natural telepathy” or a “group soul.”

Caring about workers through our food choices

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I wrote a previous blog about how we can opt out of factory farm animal cruelty by becoming a vegan. We can also opt out of cruelty to slaughterhouse workers by this choice. Cruelty may be a strong word, but when you look at the facts, that is truly what it is. In spite of the extreme secretiveness of slaughterhouse practices, the stories and data have leaked out anyway. And as Christians who are taught that what is done to the least of our brothers and sisters is done to Christ, we should care deeply about the welfare of the workers there. And especially when we are benefiting from their exploitation by eating cheap meat.

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July 18-31, 2014

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