More on Walkaways
12/29/2007 11:13:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
I was predicting people staying put in their homes, "walking away" from their obligations:
The first groups truly did leave their home, packing up family and belongings and moving in with relatives and friends, leaving behind empty shells of homes in their wake. It was rumored that in Detroit, 10% of homeowners stopped paying their mortgages in the prior month. In an unwinding clusterfuck, never seen before in this country - financial institutions losing liquidity, stock values plummeting, nest eggs evaporating, even credit unions folding - people began ignoring their obligations, but staying put in their homes. Even families that had the means to make payments stopped doing so, seeing it as a fools errand.
This post puts a different approach/perspective.
I got an agreement of sale today from a realtor looking for a prequal on a shortsale , the buyer lives next door , he has a current mortgage for $800,000 on a home he purchase in 2005 with no money down , the home he has under contact is right across the street from his present home , the offer is for $500,000 and it looks like the bank will accept it

The borrower plans to buy it as a primary , once he moves in , they will stop making payments on the $800,000 loan that they have with CW
He qualifies full doc and has a 770 FICO , he figues letting his credit tank is not a big deal when he is lowering his mortgage debt by $300,000 .
Explanation (via Atrios):
Someone owns a house with a mortgage they either can't afford or don't want to keep paying (maybe it's about to go up, or maybe they just don't want to keep paying it). They plan to buy the now much cheaper house across the street, and since they have good enough credit someone might be happy to lend them the money. After moving to the reduced rate home across the street, they plan to mail the keys of their old house to the bank.
ESF Adds 23 kW Photovoltaic System / Willow Project
12/22/2007 03:39:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
Via WTVH:
It's another feather in SUNY ESF's "green" cap, as one more portion of the campus switches over to solar power. On a chilly Friday morning that reminds us all where we live, the switch was thrown on another chunk of solar panels at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry. This latest 23-kilowatt system is mounted on the side of Baker Laboratory and is part of an overall $29 million rehabilitation project using the latest in green construction practices. This past summer the first photo-voltaic array, a 15-kilowatt system, was installed on the roof of nearby Walters Hall. The flat panels are maintenance-free once installed and do not need full sum to operate efficiently. The 2 systems combine with a fuel cell to provide 20 per cent of campus power needs. It's more than smart business practice at this college. President Neil Murphy says the green technology market is worth about a trillion dollars a year. "It's increasing at a rate of 25 per cent a year," Murphy said. "And so it's important to the institution from an educational standpoint, to meet the needs of that industry, but also to reflect that industry in our practices to the local community," Murphy said. Next on ESF's agenda, possible installation of a geo-thermal system. Raising underground water for heating in winter, and cooling in summer.

Watch the video here: WTVH
I am so happy to attend a school that is walking the talk. Getting 20% of the college's power from renewable energy is no small feat.

I am really interested in their biomass programs. I look forward to learning more about this project. Check this slide out from their Willow program:



And a close up of the three year growth:



Amazing work. I know that my college experience will provide me with a wealth of information, and articles to inform our community. 23 days until I am a "student" again.
Taking Things to the Next Level
12/21/2007 03:58:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
Republished from Groovy Green. (Originally posted 7/3/07)

rainbow_for_article.jpg

After some deliberation and discussion with my friends and family, I've decided to go back to school to pursue my masters degree in environmental science. I have been writing about peak oil and environmental issues since April 2005, and have been making adjustments to my lifestyle, and encouraging others to do the same. Blogging has opened many doors for me, and I have made valuable friends and contacts in the process. The whole process has inspired me to take my informal education via internet, books, and conversation to the formal masters level.

There is no doubt in my mind that we will face a myriad of challenges in the coming years. Climate change, coupled with declining energy supplies, will present a host of problems we have not faced in the past. I believe that these exigent challenges will require leadership and direction, something that I hope to provide to my community and region.

I relish opportunities to help educate others on ways to reduce their impact on the environment. If I can convince one other person to conserve electricity, eat locally, or reduce their waste, I have effectively doubled my ability to do the same. Groovy Green has allowed me to extend my reach to an even larger audience, and I am thankful for every reader that has read our work.

I realize that helping business and municipalities reduce their impact could allow me to have an exponentially greater impact. Helping readers and friends start composting is a great step towards reducing waste - helping a food processing plant do the same thing is the "next level". Replacing all of the incandescent bulbs in my home with flourescents is a great step towards conserving electricity - helping a municipality roll out a subsidized CFL bulb program that reaches 10,000 area residents is the "next level". Promoting the local farmer's market in the company newsletter helps encourage 50 people to increase their food security - helping an area supermarket chain procure food primarily from local growers could help improve the food security of thousands.

I realize that I want to be up there, on that "next level" making the largest difference that I can make.

When I was considering whether or not I should go back to school, I did a little mental exercise where I pictured what "a day in the life" would be like after I gained employment after school. This essay came about from it:

I ride my bike or take public transportation to work. My office travels with me in the form of a laptop and several paper files. I have an early a.m. meeting with management, where I'll pitch my proposal for the upcoming summer hours-shift and telecommuting. Mid morning there's a meeting scheduled with building maintenance regarding the industrial hyper-recycling program to ensure we are on track to meet our goal of halving our solid waste, and to make sure that we've renegotiated with local recyclers for next years contracts. They'll give me a tour of the new bio-waste digesters under construction, and give me notes on how the non-toxic cleaning solutions have been performing.

I'll check financial statements from our utilities over lunch to see how the conservation methods we've employed are paying off. Later I'll draft an email to the CFO encouraging re-investment of that savings into additional panels for the solar array - now producing a modest 5% of all our energy needs, and providing insurance against rolling brownouts.

Though 7 months away, I've set aside two hours in the afternoon to research heating options for the facility this winter. The biomass pellet boiler seems our best choice, and I need to begin a list of contacts for a supply contract. Perhaps we'll be able to provide delivery to employees if the logistics can be worked out for financing and supply. "Guarenteed Heating" would be a benefit that could attract high caliber workers in the years to come. Our company's investment in the local CSA brought us big dividends last summer when grocery store prices spiked on imported foods. The participation rate is now 60% and growing for the upcoming season. Productivity levels have been running at all time highs, despite stagnant wages. Workers have been less concerned with raises since the economy began slowing - most are happy to be working at all. Instead of taking advantage of the situation, the company providing flex-time employment at full benefits for a larger workforce means workers have more time at home and increased job satisfaction. I must convince the board to approve the guarenteed heating program - we'd become one of the top employers in the city for sure.

My meeting with the city council is next week. I'll be working with them to try to attract a component factory to the area, as the high cost of shipping and import have begun to eat into our budget. Relocalizing component production will add jobs and increase the tax base, both are very needed items as of late. Hell if PILOT programs were approved in the 00's for shopping malls, I think we have a good chance at approval for one for the component factory. I'll have to remind them that we purchase 100% of our power from the municipally owned local hydro station brought back on-line 3 years ago.

Other projects that I have been working on, include the Smart-Jitney program. Despite persistent gas prices in the $5-6 per gallon range, it got off to a slow start. Not all projects have caught on like the ones that I've mentioned previously. I do believe that we can reach a critical mass this summer, allowing the jitney program to become sustainable and financially viable. Too many people still hang on to the "personal freedom" aspect of auto travel, and are willing to devote a large aspect of their dwindling discretionary income to keep driving to work each day. Running a smart jitney program to the suburbs could keep many of these cars off the roads.

Another initiative that appears to be gaining steam is the Local-Bucks program. Our company is now the number two purchaser of Local-Bucks, second only to the university. Employee groups voted down options to get a portion of salaries paid in local bucks twice in the past 2 years. We pushed ahead with the program, paying out year end bonuses and increasing incentive pay in L-B's. Those who participate in the carpool program receive 30 L-B per week (a $33 value) to help offset the maintenance and upkeep costs, as well as provide an incentive for participating. Any worker who helps reduce our company's energy costs or waste stream can see bonuses of 100 L-B or more. We also subsidize employee purchases of the local currency, by providing a higher exchange rate, $0.85 per L-B vs. the standard $0.90 per L-B. This encourages employees and managers to keep their spending among local retailers, and increases dollar circulation in the community. Three of the four lunch vendors now take Local-Bucks, and the increased availability of the currency has doubled the number of shops and service providers on our street, revitalizing a previously direlect area of the city. There's rumors that landlords of these buildings have begun to take partial payment of rent in L-B (hey, what's better a vacant store front, or one that is paid for in L-B's?). Hopefully our business will be able to take payment for our goods in L-B's in the near future. This would allow the currency to come full circle. In any case we are proud of our support to the program.

Beyond the expansion of the solar electric panels, some other plans that I'd like to see enacted:

A water catchment system and wetland (a green roof wasn't feasible due to the inability of our roof and walls to handle the increased weight)

A geothermal heating and cooling system (waiting on tax credits and regional pipe manufacture)

The Natural Light project - to increase sunlight penetration into the building (architects and environmental engineers will need to be brought on to move the project forward)

I realize that many of these ideas may be naive, and over generalized. However, this was merely an exercise to look at the potential good that could come from obtaining higher education, and a new career path. I do believe that many of the ideas in the essay are worthy of consideration and implementation.

I welcome your thoughts about continuing education, and my essay above.

BEEF!
12/17/2007 07:51:00 AM | Author: baloghblog
My wonderful friend Meg, who was never the same after I lent her my copy of "The Omnivore's Dilemma", ordered and arranged to pick up a side of local grass-fed beef. We purchased it from the same woman at the farmer's market where we've been getting our local grass fed chicken and beef, and delicious local pork - Sweet Grass Farms.

We split the side of beef among 4 couples. Here are the 3 shares that she took with her after we divvied it up at my place:







Each family got an assortment of steaks, stew beef, ground beef, soup shanks, roasts, and misc. beef parts. 80 lbs. worth. As you can see, the meat is vacuum sealed in freezer bags which should prolong the freezer storage, and each cut is labeled.

We are excited to dig in! Anyone know any good roast or soup recipes?!?
Walkaways
12/12/2007 10:39:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
No one at the top saw it coming. Business leaders, agency heads, fed presidents, nor the US president had a clue. Funny thing, no one at the bottom saw it coming either. Three and a half weeks was all it took, twenty four days. Sure, I guess one could argue that the signs were there - increasing foreclosures, decreasing job creation, stagflation pushing up food, energy, and living expenses, while the housing crisis deflated personal asset values. The election debacle, leaving neither side happy, a congress and presidency destined to do little for the average citizen.

It started in Detroit, though some in Miami and Southern California would disagree. It's tough to define the beginning when a movement has no leaders, no goal, and no direction. Hell, it doesn't even have a "branded" name on the evening news that sticks yet.

As the housing crisis deepened in the fall of '08, many fixes were enacted by the fed and by congress, most helping no one, a few helping to prop up multinational banking institutions enough to keep the earnings cycle rolling along. After ***redacted*** was sworn in on January 20th, and the 111th congress took over the reins, it was clear there would be no more easy answers, no more quick fixes. Discontent ratings were high, but not yet above last years historical ranges. The stock market managed a meandering 8% decline last year. Things were bad, but there began to be a whiff of something stranger in the air. People had been struggling hard to hold on to their homes, working to refinance or join government programs to lock in interest rates. Scrapping to make payments and keep food on the table.

Then the March foreclosure data came in, and all hell broke loose.

A 1000% increase in Detroit, and eleven times more foreclosures in South Florida and in pockets of Southern California. People had stopped struggling. They walked away.

The first groups truly did leave their home, packing up family and belongings and moving in with relatives and friends, leaving behind empty shells of homes in their wake. It was rumored that in Detroit, 10% of homeowners stopped paying their mortgages in the prior month. In an unwinding clusterfuck, never seen before in this country - financial institutions losing liquidity, stock values plummeting, nest eggs evaporating, even credit unions folding - people began ignoring their obligations, but staying put in their homes. Even families that had the means to make payments stopped doing so, seeing it as a fools errand.

The banks weakened further. Amounts over the $100k FDIC limit were another casualty. The dollar fell off a cliff as foreign holders ran for the door. Three and a half weeks later, things had ground to a halt. 75% of mortgages were delinquent according to the following month's report.

"WALKAWAYS!" someone spray painted on the side of a house in an exurban housing development.

An accusation? A curse? A subversive rallying cry?

The great walking away had begun.
Last Years Resolutions
12/11/2007 08:19:00 AM | Author: baloghblog

I was reminded of of this article (by one of our editors), it is my goals for 2007. I figured I'd repost it, and then go back and let you know how things turned out, and how they look for the future.

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Back on the Wagon by Stephen Balogh

12/28/2006

It's so easy to slip.
It's so easy to fall,
And let your memory drift,
And do nothing at all.

(Kibbee, played by Weir)

I have realized just how easily, over the past 6 months. Gone was the urgency I once felt, gone the cloud of doom hanging over my head. Life just became "too busy" again. Too much of the real world got in the way of my post-peak preparations, and sustainability projects. While reflecting on 2006, I became acutely aware of how the rest of the world can drift idly busily by, without considering peak energy, global warming, and other approaching problems. I think that is what we (who write about peak oil) sometimes fail to grasp when we are exasperating about why we cannot convince others that trouble is approaching and preparations need to be made - the world is just too damn busy to deal with these things.

New Years is a time of reflection, a time of redemption and of optimism. We take time to give our thanks for the past years graces at Thanksgiving and overindulge into the end of the holiday season. But, New Years is different. The new year gives us that blank sheet of paper to start writing those resolutions for the next year. Despite the trials, tribulations, and unfullfilled ambitions of the prior year, January 1st allows us to look forward to another year and another chance for us to live the life that we truly want. The writing of goals resolutions helps us sort out all of those random nagging thoughts in our heads, and gives us a framework for moving forward.

Of course I tend to err on the side of optimism for my resolutions: drop 25 lbs., wake up early each morning, give up sweets, and save a substantial amount of money, etc, etc. This years resolution will be slightly different - for me it is not to be "too busy".

Its a conundrum, I know. How to get all of the countless things that need to be done, done, without being "busy". To be not "too busy" to get things done for the future, not "too busy" to make my lifestyle more closly match my ideals. Not too busy to enjoy time with family and loved ones.

This year I realize that time is growing short. How many more New Year's Days will I get filled with the prosperity and promise that I feel now. I fear not too many.

I re-read Kunstler's The Long Emergency over the past week. I read it this time as a much different person than the first time I picked it up, many moons ago. It is still a good kick in the butt and slap up side the head for me. I will not take up your precious time debating what I do and do not agree with in the book, but will say that I am now officially "back on the wagon". The urgency's back, the weather forecasting a few black clouds on the horizon. But, I refuse to give up my optimism while I still possess it. I refuse to give in to doomerism, and inertia. I know that there is plenty that I can do know to make my life much more bearable in the future, no matter what shape it may take.

I'm going to keep my life less busy, using the KISS principle. I've boiled my resolutions down to three sections:


The Essentials

A Roof Over Our Heads:

There are two very different paths that Mrs. B and I are considering taking. Lets start with the most drastic and least likely. That is, attempting to find a house sitting/long term low to no rent situation, and selling our home. This would carry a long list of pros and cons, as well as one big "if". If we could find a long term (6 months to a year) arrangement, it would allow us to pay off our current mortgage with the sale of our home and use the value remaining to put towards our other obligations. It would free us up to tackle our still substantial student loan debt, and could allow us to become debt free with in a short time frame. Keeping that big "if" aside, it would also force us me to pare down my belongings and get rid of much of the clutter in our life. A year or two with slightly less freedom, or should I say security in owning our own home could reap huge dividends in the freedom we could experience owing nothing to no man.

The second and more probable path is hunkering down in our present location (which both do like, but don't love) and becoming more serious about our sustainability efforts. This would include making extra payments in order to own a larger proportion of our home and to pay down (off?) our mortgage as quickly as possible. In this case the student loans would become secondary as making sure that we own where we live takes higher priority. Staying put would also mean a rededication of resources towards projects that we had originally put off for later. #1. A secondary home heating system to be able to weather natural gas price hikes and shortages. #2. Insulating our walls and replacing the remaining first generation windows. #3. Generating some portion of our own electricity with room to expand/scale it up. How we plan to do that has been covered in other posts, and I am sure that I will revisit the topic in more detail if it is the path that we choose.

A Full Pantry and a Means to Fill Our Bellies

What ever the roof over our heads looks like, we have to figure out how we are going to keep the cupboards full. I plan on giving greater emphasis on maintaining our pantry. Starting with a one month's supply of food, that doesn't just consist of pork and beans, soup, and bottled water. We'll strive over the month of January to store a month's worth of good hearty staples - food that can be rotated in and out of the pantry, but maintaining a long shelf life.

Another food related goal that I would like to work on in 2007, is to look beyond the home garden and supermarket for reliable sources of food. Don't get me wrong, I love my garden, and plan on expanding it in the spring, as well as adding fruit trees and bushes as a edible landscape. However, I am realistic that as green as I want my thumb to be, the garden will only be able to provide a small percentage of the food my family will consume. Besides my time should be spent treating patients and earning an income through those means, than spending countless hours trying in vain to be a suburban farmer. So I will be looking beyond the garden, to developing stronger relationships with the local farmers at our Regional Market, and in our immediate area. I have already met a great lady who we get a majority of our meat from, but it wouldn't hurt to find another local source. Finding a local dairy farm is a must, as well as someone we could count on for locally produced potatoes and vegetables. I enjoyed my CSA last year, but it was high on variety - too much for us less adventurous eaters. Perhaps we can find a way to make bulk purchases of organic veggies to share among friends and family and have a more "a la carte" co-op. The goal will be to know these farmers on a first name basis and develop a good bond with them to ensure continued access to healthy local food.

Community

2007 is the year the I'd like to break out of my shell and enter more "in real life" situations in my community. There are many progressive thinkers in my area, and while I enjoy the geographically diverse group of friends and acquaintances I have now on the internet, I look forward to trying to engage some of the people in my neighborhood. I'd like to retool my "relocalization" piece, and get it published in the Syracuse alt-weekly. I am going to resume writing on my local blog and start looking for allies in the local business community.

I will also continue to write for my company's newsletter, and hope to make inroads into management in order to make more broad positive changes in our environmental impact. In writing this small column 1-2 times a month, many people who I assumed had little interest in the environment and sustainability have come up to me and told me how they appreciated my tips and looked forward to them.

In Groovy Green's end of year poll: What Is Your Top Green Resolution for 2007? I voted for "convince others." I believe that this is the most important difference I can make. Yes, "be the change you want to see in the world" is an important mantra. I will be more diligent in 2007 in improving my lifestyle and becoming more sustainable. But as I strive to improve my life, I realize that it is important to share all the tools and tricks with others, for in convincing one other family to do the same I will have made twice as much impact.

Working on these essentials, a roof over my head, a full pantry and expanding my community connections will take up a fair bit of time, but I am determined on not getting "too busy" to lose sight of the finish line and lose focus. Happy New Year everone!