Groundhog Day with Kentucky Family Robinson

So here we are in Louisville, KY in the wee morning hours of Groundhog Day and in the wake of a devastating ice/snow storm that has felled countless massive trees, killed a dozen people, and knocked out power to nearly a million residents of the bluegrass state – some of whom won’t have it restored until mid-February. It just so happens for the past week or two I’ve been editing (or struggling to edit, weather permitting) the short YERT video about, you guessed it, Kentucky. The irony is almost as thick as the sparkling inch of ice coating everything in sight – though I will confess, I love interesting weather and it is certainly reassuring to see winter rear her head in such a memorable way.

Luckier than most of our neighbors, we were only fully without electricity in our house for a little over two days, the second of which we spent at a friend’s house. Still, even twenty-four hours without power in 15 degree weather while in charge of a new baby is enough to make you start to feel a little like Swiss Family Robinson. Ordinarily a massive power failure is a wonderful excuse to turn off the TV, unplug the computer, light a fire and play some cards or some other pastime that calls for actual human interaction. It humbles us before mother nature and reminds us of our shared humanity in a beautiful way. But unfortunately our fireplace here is not functional these days and, for whatever reason, we’ve been a little too stressed to fully appreciate “going camping inside.” So the cards and Pictionary stayed put away and we busted out the hand-cranked LED flashlights and simply tried to stay warm and sleep…and tried to get some work done when we could.

Mostly (almost inevitably) the spectacular beauty and devastation wrought by this ice storm – and it has produced both in spades – has me thinking about how much of this “life without readily accessible power” is in our collective future. Maybe it’s the uncertainty of the current economic climate, or maybe the actual climate climate, or maybe it’s the next door neighbor’s diesel generator running 24/7, but lately every natural disaster that temporarily debilitates our electrical grid feels like a dress rehearsal for the “real thing.” It’s as if nature keeps offering us chances to come face to face with our hypnotic dependence on “cheap and easy power” – to finally snap out of it and overhaul our backward power-hungry “civilization” while we still can – but we’re all too clueless to see it for the wake up call it is. Certainly, it’s been encouraging to witness and experience neighbor looking after neighbor and to know that even during trying circumstances the ability of a community to improvise and muddle through is inspiring. But I do wonder if we’re really ready as a species for the long haul that awaits humanity when most fundamental things that we take for granted start disappearing or falling apart. Is it too much to hope that natural disasters will put us in touch with the boneheaded mistakes we keep making again and again until one day we finally stop banging our head against the wall and learn enough from them to reform our selfish….wait a second, isn’t there a movie like that?

Which brings me to Groundhog Dayone of my favorite movies of all time – and quickly becoming one of my favorite holidays. How can you not love a holiday built around forecasting the remaining length of winter based on a large rodent popping out of its hole (or, these days, being plucked out) and either seeing or not seeing its shadow – with, I might add, 39% historical accuracy (that’s 11% worse than simply guessing)? The forecast calls for clouds tomorrow/today in Punxsutawney, PA. So, what’ll it be, Punxsutawney Phil – an early Spring? These days, that sounds like a blessing…and a curse. Of course, I can take solace in the fact that there’s a 61% chance little Phil is wrong, and winter soldiers on for another six weeks – which, these days, sounds like a curse…and a blessing. For now, it’s time to crawl back into my little Kentucky Family Robinson hole here and try to get some sleep. Power’s back on…for now. Which, these days, sounds like a blessing…and…you know…


Update 1:32pm:
This just in: A baby named “Yert” – yes, YERT – is being born on Groundhog Day as we speak. I kid you not!! Feel free to post congratulations to the lucky couple (Josh and Mary Kate) on their new-parent blog, Procreation Station. What are the odds?

Update 11:04am:
Punxsutawney Phil has officially “seen” his shadow which means we should have six more weeks of winter. That is, there’s a 39% chance that we will have six more weeks of winter…and a 61% chance that we won’t. Oh, whatever.

Inspiration On The Eve of History…

Here we are on the eve of history, January 19th, 2009, near the stroke of midnight – galvanized and ready to serve! Tomorrow (or today, for some of you reading this) America will officially swear-in its first African-American President and turn a corner that is an inspiration to all of humanity. Hope and vision and compassion are making a comeback in the halls of our nation’s capital tomorrow, and not a moment too soon. The challenges before us as a country are immense, but the groundswell of selfless service and American ingenuity building behind the new leadership in this country is palpable and awe-inspiring. People everywhere are feeling empowered again and tapping into their own inner sense of purpose and passion for a greater good.

One of the clearest voices in this “call to arms” on behalf of the planet and humanity has been the incredible and visionary Van Jones, Director and Founding President of Green For All. We were lucky enough to see him speak at Bioneers in 2007 and were moved by his impassioned presentation of a green “wave” that “lifts all boats.” Here he is, as inspiring as ever, speaking before Congress this past week:

As if Van Jones and an historical inauguration weren’t inspiring enough, for those of you who haven’t seen it already, here’s a fantastic new project by a company called CH2M Hill developing Solar Potential Maps for 25 US Cities – the first of which is for San Francisco and can be found HERE. It’s worth spending some serious time noodling with this map – they’ve done some major leg-work to remove many of the hurdles standing in the way of a solar-powered future by showing just what’s possible and where in an incredibly intuitive way. God bless the power of Googlemaps, CH2M Hill, and the internet. The other 24 cities are: Denver; Houston; Knoxville; Milwaukee; Minneapolis; Orlando; Philadelphia; Sacramento; San Antonio; San Jose; Santa Rosa; Seattle; Ann Arbor; Austin; Berkeley; New York City; Boston; Madison; New Orleans; Pittsburgh; Portland, Oregon; Salt Lake City; San Diego; and Tucson.

Treehugger has a couple great articles on the development of these solar maps HERE and HERE. It’s simply a fantastic idea whose time has certainly come – no surprise, then, that it won the 2008 Renewable Energy Innovation Award.

Finally, we found plenty of inspiration on our YERT travels. Here are a couple samples featuring folks from future YERTpods:

And on today of all days, don’t forget to check out the ultimate inaugural address we caught from our good friend Wes Jackson at the Land Institute here:

Our bank accounts might be taking it on the chin as our national “stuff” hits the fan this year and we face some hard realities, but, who knows, 2009 could be a great year after all!

Happy Inauguration, Mr. President! Here’s to our nation’s future!

-Ben and The YERT Team

PS – For a last tasty morsel of inspiration, check out Mark’s blog about David Korten’s new book below. Best of all, you can pre-order it from the YERT website HERE!

Hot YERT Book Recommendation

One of most notable YERT interviews (for me) that we have yet to share with you was with author and activist David Korten, whose work has been an inspiration to me before, during, and after the YERT road trip. Way back in 2006 I picked up his book, “The Great Turning,” after meeting him during a Green Festival in San Francisco, and was blown away by the way it turned my view of history—and the potential of humanity– upside down. His words cut to the heart of social, environmental, and political issues in an innovative, optimistic, and insightful way that will likely motivate you to engage your neighbors in a discussion of all the wonderful possibilities that he presents.

Recent dramatic failures in the financial industry moved Korten to create a new book that brings a startling new context—and noteworthy solutions—to an otherwise miserable financial meltdown. The book is called “Agenda for a New Economy – From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth – Why Wall Street can’t be fixed and how to replace it.” It has already received praise from another YERT hero (you guessed it!), Van Jones, and I have read enough of Agenda for a New Economy to give it my own personal recommendation as well! This book has been rushed to publication and is available for pre-order from the YERT store (thanks to Amazon ;-), available for delivery after Feb. 3. Please take a look!


Transcription Update!

We’re off to a good start in our transcription efforts– thanks to a small army of dedicated volunteers! 15 active volutneers have transcribed over 10 hours of footage during the last two weeks, requiring about 50 hours of volunteer time. Our most active transcribers are Ange Vesco (PA), with over 200 minutes transcribed, and Dawn Tirschel (NM) logging up over 150 minutes! We have about 490 hours remaining, so if you’ve been hiding your butt-kicking typing skills from us, hide no more! We’d be thrilled to have you join the team– we need 60 active transcribers to meet our goals. Just contact

Cloth Diapering to the Max: We are going to try them all!

Just a quick note to say that, unbeknownst to my dear husband, we are going to try one of every kind of fitted cloth diaper i can find. We have bought gdiapers, used kissaluvs with covers and Fuzzi Bunz “All-in-ones,” all fine, but now I am out to find the diapers that rock mine and baby’s socks off, and are the easiest to use, clean, travel, etc…and stay out of the landfill! Stay tuned for complete review in about a month, when I have secured all our purchases and had a chance to try them out…Moms, feel free to weigh in here…

How Facebook is changing the World one filter at a time…

I confess I don’t really remember when i first joined facebook – was it 2005? – when my NYC agent first “friended” me and I “accepted.” I don’t really remember when i started signing on regularly and enjoying people’s “status” lines changing. All I know is that this thing is a social network with wings and I am happy to climb on board. Today one of the virtual “groups” that i joined sent me an email that hints that it so much more than a social network.

Yes, the YERT group on facebook proved mighty useful during our year on the road – Several times we landed a friendly place to stay just because somebody forwarded our message. My babysteps blog automatically posts, which is a lovely thing. It’s super easy to post photos and videos and thus keep abreast of everyone’s happinesses and growing families and accomplishments. Just recently, high school acquaintances have started popping up in my inbox, and I realize I have the opportunity to kindle relationships with people I had not really known in the hormone-laced haze of high school – who I may only now be able to fully appreciate and only now realize that i have important things in common with.

There are some annoying aspects of the network, like the endless applications that show up and seem to multiply within seconds. (I thought they were fun at first and allowed a “green” application called “Lil Green Patch,” an application which asks you to “help take care of so-and-so’s plot – there’s a deer in their yard – you’ve saved 62 square feet of rainforest…” I presently have 237 “Lil Green Patch” requests and I am unconvinced that any rainforest anywhere is being protected from slashing and burning just bc i am watering my friend’s virtual garden of strawberry shortcakes. Call me a cynic, but I have just stopped watering.)

I am, however, intrigued by the Causes application. Today I was particularly elated to find out that one of the virtual “groups” that i joined has actually made a very REAL difference. It may seem small but it is a brilliant example of how, together, making some noise, we really can initiate change. The group was called Take Back The Filter: Help Convince Clorox to Recycle Brita Filters!” which takes you to this address where people could add their names to a petition asking the manufacturers of Brita filters to take back and recycle their product so that it won’t become more needless landfill. And guess what? It worked!!!
How about that? And probably it wasn’t just facebook – I am sure the website reached many more people in different ways – but that is how I found the petition and added my voice, and I am proud and thrilled to have played a little part. I enjoyed similar satisfaction during YERT when I wrote CamelBak a letter and returned our water bottles due to #7 plastic and BPA and, a few months later, learned that CamelBak was changing its bottles due to consumer requests! We were heard. And heeded.

Ah! My baby is waking up on my lap now so i’ll close but i want to encourage everyone out there that your voice can and DOES make a difference – however you use it – be it a letter, a phone call, your name on an emailed petition, FACEBOOK, what you buy or don’t buy…It’s your VOTE, and it may seem small, but it’s REAL and it’s powerful. Use it!

Oh Yes We Did… Now what do we do?

It’s hard to believe a whole week has passed since America enthusiastically said Yes we can! and elected Barack Obama the 44th President of the United States. This overwhelming vote for change, for Unity, and Peace thrilled most of America to pieces Tuesday night just as it now inspires us for the great hard work we have yet to do. America may be limping, but we just got a new PT and we can do this if we are all ready to walk a bit together. WE must support our new leader by getting off our duffs (apologies to those of us who already don’t spend much time there) and BEING the change we wish to see…there’s so much opportunity here, for our human habitat, for civil rights, for global relations…
So…what exactly do we do? Keep sending money to the Obama team as the new administration? I doubt many people can keep that up. Keep up to date on all the political goings on through our media of choice? Sorry: passive. Keep trying on a personal level to “go green” in our lives? Of course we should, but that won’t be enough. It‘s time for each of us to make some beautiful noise, if we haven’t already: contact our local representatives on a regular basis, go to town meetings, become involved in our communities, and support the new administration in its work by letting government AND corporations know that we want things to change, and how.
We now have THE opportunity to make real change happen. Let’s ride the wave!! Don’t let this opportunity pass us by. Let our policy makers know that we care, we are aware, and we EXPECT new and better laws and protections for ourselves, our children and our environment.
President-Elect Obama said we have a lot of work to do. He’s right. But his election proved to a lot of us that things really CAN change so we can all, as a beautiful woman once said to me in the NYC subway, “Be encouraged.” I, for one, feel recharged. Thank you, America. Let’s pull up our boots together and see what we can do.

Most Important Human Challenge Ever!

Dear YERTians,

What will we discuss today?
– NEW YERT Video
– See YERT in Pittsburgh at Cafe Scientifique on Monday, 11/3.
– YERT Phase 2 Update

Happy Halloween! Today we present you with a special little video, just in time for the election. This one features a single quote by Wes Jackson at the Land Institute, in which he talks about what he would do if elected President. Take a look. Wes is brilliant and the Land Institute was quite possibly the most important spot YERT visited in all 50 states. We’ll be featuring more of him in an upcoming video (editing it right now!). Here’s the clip…

YERT Presents Wes Jackson Presenting the Most Important Human Challenge Ever!

If the embedded video doesn’t work for you… go here:

YERT at Cafe Scientifique! That’s right, Mark, Ben, and Julie will be presenting the YERT story to anybody who would like to show up. The format is great – eat, drink, and talk about cool stuff! We’ll also have all of our garbage on display– from the whole year. Good times all around. It all happens at the Penn Brewery at 7:00 PM on Monday, 11/3. Check out their website for more information: If you’d like YERT to present to your school, college, or community, contact

PHASE 2 UPDATE! If you’re wondering what happened to YERT and our “weekly” videos, fret not! Ben, Julie, Erika, and I are all well, there are videos in the pipeline, and we’re moving as fast as we can to build out “YERT Phase 2,” which includes a feature film, educational curriculum, and eco-presentations all over the place. We’ve been processing hundreds of hours of footage, adjusting the legal structure of YERT, and meeting with folks in the funding community in Pittsburgh and beyond.

In the meantime, we could use a little help in getting to the next stop on this YERT train. We need a little money and some people– cash and warm bodies. YERT is seeking connections to film industry professionals, hungry interns, and volunteers interested in helping out the planet while sharpening their skills on a fun, independent media project with national scope. For more information, please contact Mark Dixon–, 415-672-5537. (We have opportunities for video editors [FCPro in HD:1080p], motion graphics designers, web developers, new media marketing interns, and video watching/logging volunteers! Course credit may also be available for students.)

We particularly need lots of volunteer video watchers– to watch about 500 hours of footage and transcribe every word from the interviews. We’ll credit you in our film and on our website, and you’ll get a chance to see huge chunks of wonderful raw interviews that make up the foundation of YERT. And we’d be eternally grateful. All we ask is that you sign up for chunks of 10 hours, and we’ll help you out with the rest.

About the money – we basically depleted our funds during the course of the trip, but need $3000 for a bit of hardware (a hard drive), software (to support our video watching volunteers), and those legal expenses. It is all integral to the creation of the film and can’t be delayed. Think you can help? Please make a contribution to the project at the YERT Shert Shop. You can also put a little cash into the YERT bank by buying YERT Chico Bags, which make GREAT GIFTS and double as awesome gift wrappers. You’ll be glad you did.

That’s all for today. Have a great scary day and don’t forget to VOTE on Nov. 4!

YERTfully Yours,
Mark (and Ben, Julie, and Erika)


Some words to keep the faith now we’re NOT on the road…(borrowed from Not So Big Blog via no impact man…)

Anne from Not So Big Blog quotes from Edward Abbey, “cranky environmentalist/mystic of the desert southwest”:

“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast… a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here.

“So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space.

“Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.”