Monday, May 7, 2012

Being Green

On Beltane, after I published my last post, I went to see a friend in downtown Minneapolis. He lives in a condo, a block from the Mississippi. He had moved, only a block away from his old condo, with it's view of the river, Saint Anthony falls, the lock and dam, the stone arch bridge. His new building is certified green, almost new – but his view is of a parking garage and the condo across the street.

As I was waiting for him outside, I saw the one woman I asked out, when I was managing Monster Halloween last fall. I called her twice but she never called me back. I remember her having her hair pulled flat, but stepping out of that building, her black hair was wild like an amazon. She was wearing a short flower-print dress, and she climbed down the stairs and stepped into a Mercedes Benz. The male driver pulled into the underground parking garage. I'm such a rube, I didn't figure it out until later that night when I was home.

My friend and I toured the lobby and courtyard. He extolled the virtue of the interior wall of hanging plants oxygenating the building, facing the courtyard. I didn't say anything, but they were the sorriest, most unhappy plants I've seen in awhile. Sun would never hit those plants except the lowest of them on the wall, around the winter solstice. He said the previous batch died. Nobody knows why, he said. Too bad, I said.

The courtyard had masseuse cabanas, there was a big gas grill and a sink with running water in an island counter top. There was an indoor/outdoor pool, only four feet deep, and not really outdoor because it was surrounded by glass walls - but there was a glass garage door. My friend told me on the weekend, the courtyard was packed with drunks. He said the mortgages in the condo ranged from 1700 – 3000+. My mortgage is $850.

There was also a workout room, as fancy as any professional gym, and the lobby and hallways were – elaborate, shall we say. Every wall, every floor and ceiling in every transition, had a different material facade, various tiles, ceramic and stone, burnished metals, painted metals, cork, etc. This is how the unattached, successful Gen Xrs and Millennials are living, I thought - in the maw of empirical luxury.

My friend's $1700 condo on the north side of the building is comfortable but dark, and smaller than my house by about a quarter, and my house is only 750 sq ft, finished. I also have a basement and a garage, and a big garden. I asked my friend, how are things, really. Despite the hundred thousand+ he makes, that he can walk to work, that he runs his own business, that he has at least five women vying for his attention, he admitted things kind of sucked. He was looking suave, but he's got the buddha belly with only a little of the mirth, and he drinks nearly every night in the bars, with his fellow yuppies and hipsters. We had a nice visit, I left on my bike, trying to beat the rain.

On the way to my friend's condo, my bike, Fudo Myo, had experienced a semi-catastrophic breakdown, the nut holding the pedal to the bike coming loose. I tightened it with my friend's ratchet set, which he said he hadn't used in a decade. I didn't think to ask to borrow it, for the ride home. It's about four miles, and after about two miles, it was clear, I could pedal maybe a hundred yards before the pedal started falling off, and then it was clear that there was more wrong than just the loose nut. So I walked the bike the rest of the way, in the twilight mist, which was fine, because the weather kept the bike path mostly empty, and then I was singing so loud that my voice was reverberating off the houses across the parkway, and I toned it down, the madman walking his run-down bike in the rain, singing in Swahili (I think).

I told my friend that I had never made more than $28,000 in a year, and not more than $20,000 in any but about six or seven years, of the twenty-plus years of my working life, and not more than $14,000 in any of the last four years. I'm on a pace to make about $4000 this year, maybe. That's not enough to pay for this house – the remodeling of which is keeping apace, which I will be profiling in future posts. There's nothing in my make-up, my education, my up-bringing, my communication skills or my appearance, that would prevent me from living in a condo like my friend, in that condo, and paying for it, if that's what I wanted. Which makes me both a financial basket case, and a fool – which is fine. Because one thing I am sure about, however those folks are living in that fancy condo, most of them aren't prepared at all for what is coming.

That Green building is everything but. It is like the environmental movement, the desire to save the planet, as long as we don't have to change anything meaningful about our standard of living, or question in any meaningful way, the arrangement that has allowed Americans and Westerners generally, to live so extravagantly. That weird, amorphous, almost meaningless word, environment. Environment is where ever you happen to be, indoor or out. Environment as proxy for the earth is the children of empire anesthetized to the vibrant, dynamic, manifold reality of existence, patting themselves on the back because their empirical lifestyle is greener than the average yahoo, for whom the earth is a thing to transform into garbage, and otherwise abuse. Except a typical “green” lifestyle isn't intrinsically any less wasteful, and potentially even more extravagant, and one can consume “green” product without having any meaningful connection to the earth, or living systems that aren't human, or pets.

To be truly green, is to be an active agent in the living systems that envelope us, in a way that is healthy for us and the life surrounding and inside us. In that regard, there are a relative few in America who could truly call themselves green. I am just as beholden to most, to the artificial systems that sustain us. That I know what wild plants are edible and medicinal, doesn't mean I could de-couple from the culture entirely and live year-round in the wilderness. Nor is that a necessity, necessarily, to be that green, though those of my readers who have established a relationship with plants, cultivated and wild and illicit, probably have some idea what I'm getting at. And those who get it are probably further along than most, in the awareness that our treatment of the “environment”, as a species, is very likely to have, shall we say, grave ramifications. Inevitably, really.

And it's my plant knowledge, primarily, that is responsible for me not having much anxiety about that. 


I went ahead and published the first chapter of my unfinished novel, Progress Interrupted, on my website (it is actually, but wordpress has hijacked my domain name, requiring a $13 fee.) There is no subscription option as yet, because the Wordpress people never did get back to my webmaster, and he hasn't been able to figure it out - so, as yet, I have nothing for sale, and it might just stay that way, I don't know. I intend on publishing the second chapter in three weeks, with or without the subscription option.  

I haven't any interest in self-promotion, outside of my blog and website, and the few comments I leave on other blogs and websites. If you like what you see, consider offering me a gift, and drop a dime, and/or spread the word. Blessings.


I'm a bit remiss too, that I forgot to mention that when I woke up the morning after I published my books, there was a donation waiting. $250. I let the man know, he increased my capital by a full 50%, that he paid for my new countertops, and food and some beer. Thank the Goddess.


Justin said...

I read your stories and I have some feedback. If you want it, email me. It is critical, but constructive. And much of is just feedback, unvarnished.

I am also publishing a book, in the spirit of feedback I was meaning to get it to you. In the spirit of making it legible, I snapped it into easily digestible installments and with different versions of the installments suited for varying tastes. It will be finished in a few weeks.

I'm running it at
starting here.

William Hunter Duncan said...


I think I sent you an email. If you didn't receive it, send another comment, with a current email. I won't post it.

Jason Heppenstall said...

Hi William,

This post resonated with me. Here in Copenhagen whole areas are being ballyhooed as 'sustainable living zones' - but I just see them as more concrete covering the forests. The people who live there really think they are 'doing their bit for the environment' - yet they still shop in supermarkets, drive cars, take holidays in Thailand etc etc.

The latest monstrosity they are constructing is a huge waste incineration plant with a year-round ski slope on the roof. They say it's 'green energy that holds global warming at bay' (because, er, there is snow on the roof).

Sometimes you just have to shake your head and walk away.

Anyway, I enjoy reading your blog. Hope things pan out okay for you with the choices you have made (which, by the way, seem pretty damned sane) - I'll read your latest story when I have a bit of time.


William Hunter Duncan said...


Thanks for checking in. I've enjoyed your work the last two years, including the comments on the Archdruid Report. That, and I'm turning 39 this summer, and you were my thirty-ninth subscriber. In a post awhile back, I said I'd like to dance in the wheat fields of England this summer, to call down a crop circle - or call out the people who do it, to see it done. It's not looking like that is possible now, but who knows. Keep tabs, and if you're in the home country and I happen to be there on pilgrimage, we should check in.

Sustainable living zones, could be a good thing if there were fruit and nut trees all over the place, and big gardens, and local small scale energy production (not nuclear), and local artisans and craftsman, but I doubt that is what they are really. A ski slope green garbage incinerator? WTF kind of madness...Why not just make a really big pile? Hey, if we make a lot more garbage, and pile it in really big hills, we'll all get to ski more! But I suppose the heat from all that rotting garbage will melt the snow.

Jason Heppenstall @ 22 Billion Energy Slaves - a link on my blog.

Luciddreams said...

this is one of the topics that anger me more than most. IMO the root of the problem is a cultural denial (not that we have a culture in the true sense of the word). It's this denial that is going to enable us to ride an unsustainable and temporary lifestyle straight into a radioactive brick wall.

I love the example JMG uses (I think it's in The Long Descent) about the truck load of food that topples over in a meadow allowing the mice population to plume. We are that, the oil production/discovery graph juxtaposed to the world population says it all. I don't see how you can look at that and still say there is no problem...but then you have the university economists carrying on about substitution.

I think humans go stupid beyond tribal.

William Hunter Duncan said...


Herman Daly, one of the few mainstream economists who get it, said it perfectly, in a piece that just appeared in the Energy Bulletin -

On what prevents economists (most people really) from acknowledging that it is no longer a scarcity of financial capital that is the limiting factor to growth, but an increasing scarcity of natural capital: "An animus against dependence on nature, and a devotion to dominance."

John D. Wheeler said...

I think a fair number of economists do understand what is happening. Economists use a special language, though, which doesn't translate well into common English. For example, when an economist says "demand reduction", substitute "depression" or "collapse" or "massive unemployment". Technically, the economists are right, we will either find substitutes or figure out ways to do without, but they clinically remove all the horror.

As to "green" buildings, etc., conventional buildings take as much energy to build as they use in their entire lifetimes. If a new building must be built, going green is great, but replacing existing buildings with new "green" buildings has energy payback periods measured in decades.

I was at a seminar once where the speaker asked "What did you do for the Earth today?" Every single person who volunteered an answer said how they lessened the damage they did to the natural world.

Myself, the past few weeks I've been sequestering carbon by converting prunings and downed limbs into biochar as much as I could.

William Hunter Duncan said...


There are a great many people in America who are more conscious of their impact on the earth, than we have been as a people the last hundred years. Your perspective is very generous, and kind. You should do a post on bio-char.