A Secondhand Rose in a Great, Green Town

When Barbra Streisand sang about being a secondhand rose in Funny Girl, she sounded a little blue.

But I think it’s something to celebrate, and Carbondale’s clutch of secondhand stores make it easy to do.

My affection for recycled goods predates my life in Carbondale. When I lived in San Francisco, fab recycled finds regularly rolled down the hill from upscale Ashbury Heights to Haight Street. The same gravitational principle applies here, downvalley from Aspen.

Not long ago, Sopris Sun staffers Will Grandbois and Megan Tackett debated buying locally versus shopping on the internet. I’m with Will. I’m a locavore, and if I can mitigate a product’s carbon footprint by buying it here, rather than having it shipped from Chicago or China, I will.

That said, thrift store shopping requires some open-mindedness.

In early summer, I tossed a pair of dog-eared sandals. The replacements had to be red and conform to certain foibles: Flip-flops are beneath my dignity. I get altitude sickness from heels over two inches high. And I have a princess-and-the-pea syndrome about anything passing between my toes. Beyond that, I was open to serendipity.

When I walked into Back Door Consignment, I found that the place had been oh-so-artfully redesigned. The shoes, grouped by color, were precariously perched atop chairs hung on the wall. Yep, red shoes were easy to find. However, you could scuff a lot of shoe leather looking for a specific size.

During the 15 to 20 minutes I spent searching, I was transported back to Moscow, circa 1975. There, in front of a huge, communist-era department store, I saw dozens of gesticulating people crowding around a heap of footwear. An Intourist guide explained that when footwear became available – a rare event – Muscovites rushed in to buy any shoes they could lay their hands on. While the comrades didn’t fuss about style (there was only one!) their sidewalk swap did relieve the lingering capitalist tendency to prefer some specific size.

I don’t think that would fly in Carbondale. Maybe Back Door reached the same conclusion. Last time I visited, the shoe displays had given way to a bit more practicality.

Back Door has, IMHO, the best selection of recycled furniture in town, along with a good selection of dishes and clothing. But my fave rave these days is the Near New on Main. (A shout-out here to fellow Sopris Sun board member Olivia Pevec, a new volunteer who been a force behind the store’s renaissance.) If you need a pillowcase, a pot lid, a pan for your camp stove or a picture frame – something now missing from Miser’s – Near New is now the place to find it.

I have bought shoes and clothing at Lulu’s, and I favor buying artsy and recycled clothes at Mountain Fair. The Buy Nothing Roaring Fork group on Facebook has helped me recycle furniture while providing a painting easel and a metal headboard that makes a great bean trellis.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also put in a plug for Ragged Mountain Sports. That’s where I found my cross-country skis and the shockingly-pink bike I peddled in June’s Full Moon Bike Ride.

That’s me, cross-country skiing with my friend Kim. My second-hand skiis, boots and poles came from Ragged Mountain Sports. The sweater came from Miser’s Mercantile. The Roaring Fork Valley is just stuffed with recyclable sporting gear.

Now pink is not my color. It’s too girly; too Hello Kitty. I’m short, and to get things to fit, I sometimes buy children’s clothing. In a long-ago team-building meeting, a coworker who was asked to characterize me as an animal likened me to a chipmunk! In my quest to be taken seriously, as a manager and an adult, I wore a lot of black. Pink was poison.

But as I said, thrift shoppers need to be open to surprise. And at my age, I’m no longer cute enough to be chucked under the chin. Even if I do ride a pink bike.

I did find red sandals at Miser’s Mercantile. (Their shoes, like their clothes, are grouped by color, but you don’t have to trot all over to find your size.) I also bought a great second-hand watch at Miser’s. They nicely offered to refund my money if the Fossil turned out to be one, but Miser’s 24-hour time limit expired long before I could find a battery. Turns out that it’s next to impossible to have a watch battery replaced in Carbondale. By the time I located a jeweler (in Glenwood), got an appointment and found time for the 40-minute round trip drive, a week had elapsed!

Still, anytime is the right time for recycling in our green-leaning town. When you’re a secondhand rose wearing secondhand clothes, you’re reducing greenhouse gasses, keeping junk out of landfills, conserving energy and building our local economy. And that looks just great on you.

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Originally published in the “Seeking Higher Ground” column in the Sopris Sun on August 15, 2018

Fire in Our Back Yards and Our Children’s Future

I’m doing a slow burn. The Lake Christine Fire — which [as of this writing] has again flared up and prompted evacuation notices — strikes me as an apt metaphor for the reason why.

Our democracy, our shared future and our small planet are all aflame, but it seems that nothing immediate can be done to contain the blaze.

Like the firefighters who have convened to save our homes, we’re constrained: The flames are burning in territory too inaccessible for us to reach. The conditions were set by climactic forces long in play and largely beyond our control. They were sparked by dangerous attitudes. They will burn far too long.

All we can do is to carve out distant firebreaks, wait and tamp down the outbreaks.

Photo of the Lake Christine fire by my friend Jae Gregory. This was taken from her deck!

Appalled as I was by hearing the president toady up to Vladimir Putin and deny (again) that Russia tampered with the 2016 election — a crime now substantiated by 13 criminal indictments and four U.S. security agencies — those treasonous acts pale in comparison with ignoring the climactic conflagration breaking out near and far.

On June 28, Denver tied its all-time high at 105 degrees. On July 2, Montreal recorded its highest temperature ever. On July 5, the planet’s hottest continent reached the highest temperature ever recorded on earth, as the thermometer in Ouragla, Algeria soared to 124.3 degrees.

Global warming is here. It’s visible from my driveway in Carbondale.

I can see smoke from the Lake Christine Fire, which has now burned 12,000 acres, as it continues to consume Basalt Mountain. The pines and pinions there are tinder-dry due to drought. That drought, classified as “moderate” in our neck of the woods and “extreme” in Southern Colorado, came about because our snowpack was the poorest in 30 years.

This year’s skiing was often rocky, our season having shrunk by more than a month since I was a kid. Our views are currently hazy due to wildfires. Our rivers have shrunk, affecting boating and fishing. But we’re the lucky ones.

This month, international diplomats met in New York and Geneva to discuss what to do with a worldwide surge in refugees. There’s no official agreement yet on how to define a “climate refugee.” But since 2008, an average of 24 million people have been displaced by weather disasters every year. Those numbers are growing annually, and rapidly.

In our valley, the fire forced 1,793 people to evacuate. Three families lost their homes. Dozens of Basalt businesses had to close temporarily. The Temporary canceled several concerts, and dozens of flights to the Aspen Airport were scratched.

Those losses and inconveniences are related to global warming.

So are these: 2,300 Puerto Rican families have remained homeless since Hurricane Maria. Two million U.S. homes will be lost to a very-possible six-foot ocean rise by 2020. And climate change will likely displace 143 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America over the next 30 years.

That last number comes from a report entitled “Groundswell — Preparing for Climate Migration,” published by the World Bank early this year. In its introduction, World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva writes, “Increasingly, we are seeing climate change become an engine of migration, forcing individuals, families and even whole communities to seek more viable and less vulnerable places to live.”

The earth is doing a slow burn. But our president is responding as Nero was fabled to have done while Rome burned: The U.S. pulled out of the United Nations-led Global Compact on Migration in December, just as our nation pulled out the Paris agreement on climate change in 2017.

The two issues are interdependent. We have seen that in microcosms since our local fire began (ironically enough) on Independence Day.

Although treasonous statements and refugee children in cages have fanned the current political flames white hot, I fear the worst damage wrought by this administration will come from fiddling away while the earth smolders.

By failing to act, we’re allowing parts of the globe to become uninhabitable. We’re sentencing millions to famine, disease and dislocation. And we’re saddling our “own” children (those of wealthy nations), with a debt of $585 trillion. That’s how much it will cost to mop up the extra CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere and return earth to livability, according to an international team of experts, headed by James Hansen, former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute.

It’s the hottest summer on record, and the feds should be responding to the climate crisis in the same way that local governments have responded to the Lake Christine Fire.

But they aren’t.

I, for one, can’t imagine how to explain this to the children.

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Originally published in the Glenwood Springs Independent on July 26, 2018

There is No “Away” But There is Western Slope Recycling

Our handyman, Tim, warned us we’d have to pay a fee when he took our defunct microwave “away” to the dump.

That worried me, because in environmental terms, there’s no such place as “away.” The earth is a closed loop system. Because so little can get in or out, mankind’s junk isn’t leaving. Check out http://www.stuffin.space and you can see more than 100,000 manmade objects, many defunct, orbiting the earth in real time.

Manmade junk amounts to a huge problem: Mount Everest is littered with thawing fecal matter and discarded climbing gear. The Great Lakes are awash in microfibers from fleece. The Pacific Ocean’s garbage vortex is now twice the size of Texas.

The U.S. exports 80 percent of its old electronics to developing countries. For example, in Agbogbloshie, Ghana, barefoot children mine tons of e-waste at a gargantuan dump locally termed “Sodom and Gomorah.” They’re looking for computers and cellphones so their parents can burn the plastic and drench the circuit boards in cyanide to extract gold. Their efforts may also bring them asthma, pneumonitis, tremors, neuropsychiatric problems, convulsions, coma, even death. Still, as a recent World Bank Group white paper noted, at least 15 million people worldwide survive by recycling dangerous e-waste. “Many poor people, faced with a choice between starving or waste-picking, choose the latter.”

But it’s not just the poor who prowl e-dumps. It’s also thieves. Smart devices that have been sent “away” can come back to haunt us in the form of identity theft. That’s why there’s an old computer lying in the crawl space under my house. It’s nearly impossible to truly scrub personal data off of e-devices.

For personal as well as health and environmental reasons, I don’t want my discarded devices added to some malignant midden in Asia or Africa. So I worried for weeks about where Tim took that microwave.

 

It’s increasingly difficult to send junk away to places like Ghana, India and China.

This January, China enacted a new law barring the import of plastic, mixed paper, old clothing and other materials from American recycling programs. The problem isn’t just that badly sorted recycling often contains toxic waste. It’s also that China, which imported $5.6 billion in U.S. scrap in 2016, is now producing its own electronic products—and its own electronic waste.

The most available choices for dealing with the worldwide trash problem involve local efforts. A good example comes from Mumbai, where about 80 baby Olive Ridley turtles recently scuttled across a beach into the Arabian Sea. Five years ago, they wouldn’t have made it one foot. With garbage piled five feet deep in places, Versova Beach ranked as one the world’s most polluted oceanfronts.

Then, in 2015, Mumbai lawyer Afroz Shah launched recruited volunteers who worked every weekend for two years removing a staggering 5,000 tons of litter in what the U.N. termed the world’s largest beach clean-up.

There might be some good tidings for the Pacific garbage patch. In 2016, Japanese researchers discovered a bacteria that can eat non-biodegradable plastic. This spring, an international research team led by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory — yes, the folks in Boulder — discovered an Ideonella sakaiensis variant that can break down those ubiquitous polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic water bottles. That moves scientists closer to solving the titanic problem of discarded plastics that take centuries to biodegrade.

There might even be hope for e-waste. Manufacturers in China, India and other developing countries are starting to view e-scrap as a valuable commodity. In recent years, the rising demand for, and value of, the “rare earth” elements used in laptops and cellphones has risen, placing the cost of recycling closer to mining. Policies encouraging sustainable “harvesting” of rare and valuable raw materials have already been adopted in Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea.

There’s also some good news about local recycling. It’s growing.

Seven years ago, a recycling professional I met at networking event told me that virtually nothing got recycled on Colorado’s Western Slope. Because we didn’t have local recycling facilities, everything had to be trucked over the passes to Denver. For most of our junk, that’s just too far away to be economical.

Hence my concern about trashing that microwave.

When I asked Tim whether it wound up in what’s euphemistically called a “landfill,” he said, “No.” He took it to Trinity Recycling, which serves the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys from Gypsum and Glenwood Springs. Trinity disassembles appliances, metal sheds and filing cabinets, copper pipes and wires, cars, trucks and even old radiators and recycles the metals locally.

That’s better news than I was expecting, so I think I will just put that rant about why that three-year-old microwave couldn’t be fixed away for another column, another day.

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This column was originally published in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on April 18, 2018.