Saturday, September 12, 2009

Marathons Not Required

The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner reports on a quest to find small pockets of extreme human longevity around the world. Dan and his team report on four places - Sardinia, Okinowa, Loma Linda and Costa Rica - where an exceptionally high proportion of the people live into their 90's and 100's.

What I find most interesting about these stories is the things these places have in common, and the things we can incorporate into our own lives to be healthier and happier.

Not surprisingly, there are no marathoners or triathletes among the longevity champions. That's not to say they spent their lives on the sofa searching for sit-com reruns with the remote while snacking on Pringles, but they didn't spend hours and hours working out either. Instead, all the old-timers lived lives that included steady, regular, moderate low-intensity exercise in their day-to-day activities. They walked or cycled to get around. They hiked to pastures to tend sheep. They worked on the farm or in the garden.

Eating habits seem equally important. Blue Zoners ate lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, usually grown or gathered personally. They drank lots of water. While they did eat meat, it was consumed rarely and usually on special occasions. Foods mentioned in the book that I hope to eat more frequently include: tumeric, fava beans, miso soup, tofu, sweet potatoes, ginger, nuts and tomatoes.

Family connections also seem essential to long-term survival. Many of these people live in multi-generational homes. In a tradition that is almost unknown in America today, children, parents and grandparents all live in the same house and support each other. The grandparents have something to do in helping with the children and the children benefit from the wisdom of the ages.

Whether it's watching the grandchildren or volunteering in the community, a reason to live seems extremely important in living a long and happy life. We all need love and companionship, and helping others is a great way to get it.

One That Got Away

Around the time of the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock, an op-ed piece appeared in the Boston Globe extolling progress America has made in civil rights and social freedoms as a result of the spirit of love and peace that arose from the sixties as epitomized by Woodstock.

Not surprisingly, I'm prone to looking at the world around me and wondering: "Where did all those hippies go?". I look at the miles of strip malls, the big-box stores, the ubiquitous Chinese crap, the suburban subdivisions grinding up forest and farmland, the religious right, wall street greed. Human nature being what it is, I'm not really surprised. People want to take the easy way out and do what feels good now without considering long-term impacts or affects on others. So what if shopping at Walmart puts Americans out of work and despoils China? I can save ten dollars on that plastic Santa to put on my brown lawn this year! So what if they pour tons of fungicide on the soil and pump fossil water from hundreds of feet underground? I want to supersize my fries at the drive-through!

I wrote this letter, but it didn't make the paper. I'm not surprised. Online comments show there were many responses to the article. When I told my wife that I wrote yet another letter to the paper, her basic response was: "Get a life. Nobody cares what you think." How can I argue with that?

August 29, 2009

Rene’e Loth goes a little too easy on the Woodstock Generation (“Woodstock pays dividends,” Op-Ed, Aug. 28). If body piercings, flip-flops in the White House and corporate branding of things like Woodstock itself represent progress, then those great leaps forward must be balanced against the accomplishments of the culture that also brought us SUVs, McMansions, lawn care service, high fructose corn syrup, an obesity epidemic, reality TV, NASCAR, cage fighting, liar loans, credit default swaps and the Iraq war. For every boomer that paddles a kayak or pedals a bike to work, there are thousands who drive alone in a car. For every hipster who lives in an integrated urban neighborhood or on a commune, there are scores who lust after gated communities.

We boomers like to pat ourselves on the back, but we had our chance and blew it. We talked about peace, love and harmony, but what we really wanted was just the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. Let’s hope a new generation rises up to foment true revolution.

Photo: "One Minute to Midnight" San Francisco, February 2010

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Burning Our Future Forests

A recent article in the Boston Globe about plans to build wood-fired power plants in Massachusetts made me worry that the voracious appetite these plants have for wood, and the scale of the machinery used to harvest the trees will make wise forest management that has traditionally been focused on high-quality hardwood logs impossible. Back in the 70's I observed one of these operations in New Hampshire. They gave lip service to setting aside quality logs for lumber or veneer, but we watched as one beautiful birch after the other went right into the chipper.

Proponents of these plants often make the claim that forests are renewable and that trees can be re-planted. Well, native New England mixed hardwood forests are never planted. They regenerate naturally after harvest, and to ensure that this regeneration happens properly, a trained forester should be involved to make sure harvesting operations are planned and conducted in a way that allows for good quantity and quality of regeneration. The kind of people that worry about delivering tons of chips to a power plant today are not the kind of people who dream about what a woodlot will look like 50 years from now.

My letter in response to the article appeared in the August 2, 2009 paper:

Beth Daley’s piece on proposed wood-burning power plants in Massachusetts ( “On wood, burning questions,” Boston Sunday Globe, July 26, 2009) prompts concern about the future of our forests. To feed the beast of a biomass-burning power plant, trees will likely be harvested by big, expensive machines on very tight production schedules. The pressure to constantly supply huge quantities of chips will prohibit much discrimination in selecting trees for harvest.

The most valuable trees in Bay State forests are high-quality hardwood sawlogs, typically red oak. Deciduous forests in New England are not planted, they arise from natural regeneration. High densities of quality sawlogs don’t just happen, they are nurtured by careful control of regeneration, species composition and stem quality by professionally-trained college-educated foresters known as silviculturists. This careful woodland culture requires thoughtful care over periods that span decades.

While the increased demand for timber that these power plants create may enhance opportunities for timber stand improvement, professional supervision of forest operations with equipment and techniques that harvest the right trees is essential. Biomass might help supply our future energy needs, but the harvest of that biomass must be done in a way that protects the character and value of our forests for generations to come.