Friday, August 17, 2012

Another One Bites the (Coal) Dust

On my way to an Anacostia Riverkeeper event at the unique Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens this morning, I passed by PEPCO's Benning Road power plant in NE DC, which was shut down two months ago. Such closings are part of a national trend: US power generation from coal dropped nearly 20% in just one year, mostly due to cheap natural gas prices (which, unlike "all-of-the-above" boosters, I'm highly ambivelant about, but that's another story).


The plant shut down on June 1, but coal cars are still lined up next to the Minnesota Avenue Metro station:

Burning toxic rocks for energy? How passé.


Of the power plant's lasting legacy, the Sierra Club has this to say:
The big issue is the possible PCB contamination of the soil on this 70-acre site and the leaching of those chemicals into the groundwater and the river it abuts. Many of the homes in this section of the city require sump pumps to remove water from basements flooded by underground creeks. We have recently heard that the water entering these homes comes with odd odors. Though only anecdotal for now, our coalition and local community leaders are beginning to mount an environmental health study to determine if residents are being directly exposed to toxins in the water. 
Via Clean Water Action:
The plant, which only operates ten to fifteen days per year during periods of peak energy demand, will be officially closing in 2012. However, Benning Road will remain a major threat to public health until 100 years of pollutants and toxins are thoroughly mitigated... It will be important for citizens to be active in pressuring the DDOE to complete a timely cleanup. For too long we have accepted that the reality of the Anacostia is pollution and poor health for communities downstream.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Jimmy Stewart Talks Solar Power in 1938

Been on a TCM kick lately. Capra's Oscar-winning 1938 film You Can't Take it With You was on last night. In this clip, Jimmy Stewart's character Tony talks about his longtime dream of harnessing the sun to make energy and his regrets about going into banking. You're ahead of your time, Tony! And with the awesome Jean Arthur, the duo better known for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Wilderness Survival Class

Today I learned some "primitive survival skills" in rural Virginia from outdoor Renaissance man Tim MacWelch (who writes for Outdoor Life here). This class assumes you've been plopped in the woods with no modern tools whatsoever and have to get by on stuff you can gather in nature. We learned how to build a warm shelter of leaves and twigs, make rough stone tools, start a fire with a bow drill and boil water, among other things. Starting a fire was by far the most difficult task, although Tim made it look easy:


Everyone was watching so quietly as Tim sheltered the embers. It really is magical when the fire blooms. Tim completed the whole process in maybe three minutes. It took me about 40 minutes, all of them sweaty and sprinkled with cuss words. The drill kept popping off the rope. Or the drill would slide off the tulip poplar sham. Or the rope wasn't turning the drill properly. Eventually I found a groove with the encouragement of some nice ladies.



Boiling water with hot rocks that had been heated in the fire pit. Ingenious!


Making rope with Dogbane twigs. The woman in the photo, Jen, told us about a Lakota wedding preparation she'd attended where the women of the tribe made Dogbane rope to tie around the hands of the bride and groom during the ceremony:


My Dogbane rope:

I only attended the "crash course". Most of the others stayed for the whole week, sleeping in tents or in the rough shelters we'd made and taking additional classes. At some point I'd like to take some overnight hiking trips. One of the students was a nurse with foraging skills who set up hammocks for her daughter and herself. A hammock under the stars - just added it to my bucket list.