This blog is dedicated to low-footprint living. I am out to promote a #GrassrootsGreenMobilization. Can you imagine what would happen if millions of people voluntarily reduced their carbon footprint? by 90%, 50%, or even just 10%? The impact would be similar to that of the household austerity measures imposed during World War II, except that this time we’d be doing it voluntarily. And instead of channeling our time, money, and energy toward a war effort, we’d be working toward a shared global aim of restoring the earth’s ecosystems to health, and preserving our life and wellbeing on this beautiful planet.
Does living at a fraction of the average U.S. footprint sound unrealistic or uncomfortable to you? The truth is, lots of us are already doing it, or are well on our way. And in the process of reducing our footprints, we’re putting money in our pockets, and freeing up our time and energy for the things that give life meaning (which of course differ from one person to the next).
And not only is it not uncomfortable (beyond a bit of manageable discomfort here and there), it’s fun!
At its root, a low-footprint lifestyle is a great way to improve your quality of life, even if planetary concerns were not a factor. In this blog I share a wealth of tips and resources to help you design your own version of a low-footprint lifestyle, or, if you’re already on this path, to go further than you’ve ever gone before.
Again, thank you for being here!
P.S. On this page (and on my Facebook page Deep Green Book by Jenny Nazak), I explore at leisurely length, and in no particular order, a variety of threads related to sustainable living. If you also want a handy, compact, ordered guide that contains in condensed form the basic principles for designing your own low-footprint lifestyle, get yourself a copy of my book Deep Green! I am offering it by direct sale only; see purchase link/info on this site.
We teach people how to treat us, by how we present ourselves; how we carry ourselves. It’s true of people, and it’s also true of cities.
I love that my city is welcoming to large numbers of visitors. (It’s one of the things that drew me here: that spirit of acceptance and hospitality; that tolerant urban vibe as opposed to provincial snooty beach-hamlet vibe.) What I don’t like is that we have made ourselves dependent on mass crowds and large special events. It makes for a fragile economy. And it makes for a community that’ll put up with anything (be it a sprawl development or a noxious crowd) in exchange for the almighty dollar it (supposedly) brings.
A young people’s “invade Daytona” event yesterday started out seeming like just a fun party, but ended up with multiple shootings! And a whole lot of garbage on the beach.
By presenting ourselves as a wide-open place where anything goes, and by conveying our neediness, we invite things like this. If we raise our expectations, people will feel it.
On an individual level … “We teach people how to treat us” also translates into our employers, and the businesses we buy goods and services from. We teach them how to treat us, by what we are willing to put up with in exchange for that almighty thing we feel we can’t do without, be it a dollar or a gadget or what have you.
Reducing our dependency on people and institutions that treat us and/or the planet with disregard, is something any of us can do. And it’s an ongoing process.
In a few minutes, I’ll walk down the street to the Daytona Beach Boardwalk, where super-stellar community activist Rell Black of the Community Healing Project has called all interested folks to meet for a cleanup. Rell was born and raised in Daytona Beach, and he never stops working to make it better. I swear he works in his sleep!
If you want to teach the world how to treat you and your community better, my advice is: Find people like Rell, and support their efforts! Oh, and you can also connect with the Community Healing Project on Facebook.
If you happen to be reading this before 1pm EST Sunday May 24, and are in the area and want to join the cleanup, bring your mask, gloves, and trash bags to the Boardwalk at 1!
By coming together as a community, we teach the world that we respect our place and each other. We say, “Visitors, we welcome you, but you need to show respect. Our place is too good to be a raucous party dump! Anyway, we would rather make friends with you.”
(This post started out as just some musings inspired by a Facebook convo yesterday/this morn with an old friend.)
A dear old friend of mine wrote a post addressed to all of us, her Facebook community: “I wish all good things for you – peace, enough money to pay your bills and buy chocolate, health OMG do I ever wish you health, happiness, friendship and food, and a working car.”
I wished the same back at her, but with the caveat, “Except don’t wish any kind of car on me, working or otherwise.”
She responded, “OK, no car for Jenny!” (She knows how I am.)
[Special note to you longtime readers who are already more than familiar with my “car”-guments: You might want to skip down this page to where it says TL;DR. Actually you might want to skip there anyway, since 1) I can be rambly (though I have at times aspired to be the Seth Godin of the green movement, as I so admire his gemlike posts that offer endless depths of wisdom and generous attribution in a tidy little package); and 2) the real prize of this post lies in the TL; DR paragraphs at the end. Unless you just get a kick out of hearing me spiral off yet again about the joys of automobile non-ownership, in which case, come on along for the “ride”! Read on, and thanks for your stalwart support.]
OK, so — You might ask, why would I say don’t wish a car on me? Why would I not want a car even if someone gave it to me?
Why? Because there are so many other things I would rather do with that $8,000 a year than spend it on a car. (I remember reading somewhere that’s how much a typical car owner has to spend every year, between insurance, repairs, regular maintenance, yadda yadda.)
But let’s say you’ve got a paid-for car, and your expenses are just $100 a month for insurance and $100 a month for gas. That’s still $2,400 a year! And of course, that $2,400 a year doesn’t include routine maintenance, or unexpected repairs.
My bicycle costs me a couple hundred a year in tubes and repairs, and I probably shell out another $100-200 a year in Uber fees, or paying a neighbor for rides. And once in a while I’ll rent a car. In 2018 I rented a car to drive up north for family reasons. For a person who likes to make $12k to 15k a year (and that’s before taxes), I live a lavish life, and part of what makes it possible is that I don’t have to deal with a car.
“Yeah, but!!” — I can hear people saying. “The car allows me to have a job and earn money, which makes the expense worthwhile.” That response usually shuts down argument. Not for me though.
First of all: For people making $8 or $10 an hour, which is a surprising number of people in the USA (at least people I know), a car ends up being a big trap. You need a car to get to your job, and you need your job to pay your car expenses (and of course, repair expenses go way up, on the kind of car you can afford at $8 or $10 an hour). One breakdown and you’re in the hole financially (and possibly in trouble with your boss for arriving late, needing to take time off, etc.). Better to just get a job you can walk or cycle to, or even better yet, create a home-based business you can really enjoy. Even if it’s less money than you’d be able to make at that job, you might end up with the same amount of disposable income, or even more. But even if it’s less — hey, you get to work at home, or close to home. Cutting out the commute: Priceless!
And second: Even if I were making far more than that $8 or $10 an hour (which I’m not, because I can have everything I want on $12k to 15k, and would rather have free time than more money), I would still always be able to find better uses for my money. (I have actually lived on 7K some years, but it wasn’t by choice, and I didn’t get to have everything I wanted/needed — though I lived much better than one might expect).
“Yeah, but!!!” I can hear some people saying: “Who would want to live on 12 or 15 thousand dollars a year?”
To which I have three answers: my personal answer; my answer for society as a whole; and my answer for you, the person who wants to live large, with the freedom to play and explore and do the work that makes your soul sing.
My personal answer: I want to, because that’s all I need to live a lavish life; and also because I have come to believe, through much reading of brilliant expert sources, and from my own direct observation, that extreme income disparities create too much ecological pressure on the earth, and financial hardship on people. By the way, in case you are curious, I am a libertarian, politically/fiscally speaking.
My answer for society: Although they may not want to, many many people are living on 12 to 15k right now, or far less than that. Yes, I am talking about people right here in the USA. And this was BEFORE the pandemic. Now, there are even more in that boat. In fact, layoffs in the USA have now soared to 39 million! That is a tenth of the U.S. population! People basically suddenly forced to live on zero. If you (or your family or friends) find yourself in these circumstances, the best thing you can do is learn how to be among the happy minority who can comfortably live on this. Because there are signs that it may become the new normal. And, as Henry David Thoreau put it, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”
My answer for you, the person who wants to live large, with the freedom to play and explore, and do the work that makes your soul sing: The less you can live on, the more you can afford (both time-wise and money-wise) to play and explore. With your overhead expenses radically lowered, making a living at your own cool little cottage business suddenly isn’t out of reach. Or attending a month-long French-language intensive in Paris, starting a Dada raga thrash band just for the heck of it, walking across America, publishing your manifesto on astrological composting, or whatever other aspiration you feel you don’t have money/time to fulfill.
(On that note: Earlier this week I purchased a garden box from a local couple who have started a business doing that. They advertise in the For Sale section on NextDoor. I paid $40 for a beautiful sturdy wooden box made to my exact dimensional specifications, and delivered to my door within three hours. From what I hear, this is just a hobby for them, but if they had to, they could probably turn it into a steady enough livelihood, if they lived by DEEP GREEN eco-thrifty living principles. They delivered it to my door for no extra charge. BTW the delivery vehicle they used was their car, but the box could just as easily have been delivered by a person with a large sturdy bicycle-towed cargo trailer — yet another of the micro-business ideas I’m always touting.)
Oh, one more note about cars: As I say in my book and elsewhere on this blog, one form of car ownership that isn’t too hard on your wallet or the planet is shared ownership. With more multigenerational families living under one roof now, car-sharing becomes more feasible. And a group of four or 10 neighbors could just as easily share a car (or pickup truck, van, etc.) and all of its related expenses. Once I even stayed at an eco-village where the whole eco-village (maybe 75 people) shared one vehicle.
TL; DR :
— Enjoy the philosophy behind my blog, but aren’t always up for a rambling soliloquy? Or, want more content, plus interactivity? Join my Facebook community DEEP GREEN BOOK BY JENNY NAZAK to see a steady stream of bite-sized posts (including links to super chewy articles and sometimes vids) and be able to add your comments and meet likeminded people. And buy yourself a copy of my book DEEP GREEN to get a slim, condensed how-to manual (written in my same light chatty style, but much more pared-down to nuts-and-bolts suggestions and numeric benchmarks), to speed your progress on your path to freedom.
— And now as promised, the real prize!!! As I see it, my highest role as a promoter of the “Grassroots Green Mobilization” is not as a writer or speaker per se (though I enjoy doing both those things, and feel pushed to do them). Rather, what I really am is a connector, hooking you up with the best-of-the-best resources for living large with an ultra-low footprint. The appendix of my book is a head-spinningly rich, yet ruthlessly curated, list of the best resources I’ve discovered to date. Today, I’m highlighting two bloggers who are listed there, in the subsection titled “Wizards of Prosperity and Thrift.” These two popular bloggers are financially well-off people, highly successful in mainstream USA-merican terms, who have radically reduced their financial overhead in order to enjoy economic and creative freedom.
1) Mr. Money Mustache: created wealth and financial independence for himself and his family by radically reducing their need for money and material goods, while still maintaining a comfortable lifestyle. His goals: “To make you rich so you can retire early”; “To make you happy so you can properly enjoy your early retirement”; “To save the whole Human Race from destroying itself through overconsumption of its habitat.” “Early retirement through badassity.”
2) Early Retirement Extreme: “a combination of simple living, DIY ethics, self-reliance, and applied capitalism.” He and his wife live on $10-14K a year, combined.
Do you ever read something that’s so good and to-the-point, that you are struck mute on the spot, and all you can do is point and sputter, and think to yourself, “THIS!! YES!!! THIS!!” Well, that happens to me quite a lot in the presence of my favorite books and blogs, and these are two of them. Both of them are very famous and have a kabillion followers, and given the quality of their writing and thinking, I assume they are both constantly invited to speak at high-level international conferences and such. So they don’t need me to promote them. But I need to promote them to get the word out to you, because they are a great resource to all of us who are pursuing a life of true abundance with an ultra-low footprint. Go delve into their troves of practical wisdom! The screenshots below will explain my insistence. The fact that I even upload images at all is an indicator of how much I want you to check out these blogs. (As you, my beloved and highly esteemed regular readers, know, I am a bandwidth-cheapskate, who tends to stick to plain text.)
I actually had not read either MMM or ERE for awhile. Definitely not since the pandemic, but even before then. (I stay pretty wrapped up in discovering and sharing resources, and sometimes the virtual pile gets pretty big). Now that I’ve visited their pages to snag the URLs for you, their lists of current posts are calling me with a siren song, and I have a feeling I’m going to be up into the wee hours tonight devouring the latest from two of my favorite Wizards of Thrift! Oh but wait, there’s more!! If you are as goofy thrilled as I am about dwelling in the terrain where eco consciousness intersects with purposeful cheapskatery, you will want to join the MMM-inspired Socially Conscious Mustachians group on Facebook. Hope to see you there!
“The pandemic is proving to be a boon for bike shops, which have seen a surge in demand, with people waiting in line at still-open shops and mechanics struggling to meet the demand. All around the country and the world, bicycles are selling out and officials are trying to take advantage of the growing momentum by expanding bike lanes during the pandemic or widening existing ones to make space for commuters on two wheels.”
Very happy to hear this news, as I am sure that there is also going to be a trend toward more car use this summer, as a lot of people who can afford to do so will be using cars instead of Greyhound or Amtrak for their vacation trips. Hey, but what if we started to see a fad for long-distance bicycle travel!? People traveling long distances in groups for safety and companionship. (My ideal vision of the future has the whole USA crisscrossed with interstate bike paths. I know that long segments of bicycle path are already there in some places. But wouldn’t it be amazing to have a full-on interstate system, with numbered signs just like on the motor interstate highways. And with the bicycle version of “truck stops” for eating and tent-camping!)
If we keep up this level of reduction, it will be enough to get us on track for a much healthier planet — with cleaner air, clearer water, more abundant wildlife — and keep us within the 1.8 celsius rise which scientists seem to agree will ward off the most dire impacts of climate change. Measurements aside: In just the few short weeks of the shutdown, people everywhere began to observe first-hand the environmental benefits. Clearer skies, more birds and other wildlife in their yards, (fill in the blank with whatever you noticed). This is important because what people can observe firsthand, leaves a lasting impression that may be the most powerful motivator to make lasting changes in their behavior.
Alas, with the move to resume “normal” economic activity, scientists have discovered that the emission levels are now heading back up rather quickly.
“That underscores a simple truth,” said a climate scientist quoted in the article. “Individual behavior alone … won’t get us there. We need fundamental structural change.”
Well … Yes and no. The thing is, it was in fact changes in individual behavior that slashed the carbon emissions. It wasn’t a “Green New Deal,” of some environmentalists’ fantasies, where the government snaps its fingers and just mandates an all-out switch to renewables. Or implements a massive cap-and-trade policy; or starts subsidizing the heck out of magic green car factories.
Nope, none of that. The government basically just told the masses to stay home, and what followed was an unintentional experiment in what happens to the environment when billions of people suddenly stop flying in airplanes, drastically reduce their car trips, and quit buying nonessential goods.
The government didn’t tell power companies to slash their production of electricity; didn’t tell gas stations to pump way less gas. Billions of people, in effect, told them that, simply by staying home. (Yes, in many places, bars and certain other businesses were government-ordered to close — but many businesses were moving in that direction anyway as they felt the revenue drop-off from people staying home.)
Granted, the staying-home was by government order. So in that sense, yes, the change was initiated in a top-down way. But the government order was just the “ignition,” so to speak. The actual environmental impact was a bottom-up thing, rippling upward and outward from the personal and household level. And what it showed was that personal and household action (because not driving, not flying, not buying are all still actions) not only makes a difference, but in fact it is enough to get us out of this mess we’ve made.
I have always believed that at the end of the day, it’s everyday people and their wallets who really rule the world. And the past few weeks have shown that. Bureaucratic institutions have retooled themselves (online schooling; big corporations suddenly seeing their way to allow employees to telecommute; even the Supreme Court hearing arguments by telephone). Local food supply lines have emerged. Businesses have devised new ways to deliver their services. All in response to the almighty wallets and shifting circumstances of Joe and Jane Everyday Person.
As for the assertion that we need fundamental structural change — well, that structural change actually was/is starting to happen, as a result of people staying home. Even climate activist Bill McKibben (who asserts that personal change is not enough) gives evidence that the personal changes have been leading to structural change.
In his “Climate Crisis” newsletter for the New Yorker magazine, McKibben mentioned an interview in the Financial Times, with Bernard Looney, the C.E.O. of BP: “Looney noted that as crude prices have plunged, renewable energy projects had been able to attract funding, suggesting the pandemic has weakened the investment case for oil. ‘It’s the model that is increasingly respected and admired by investors as being resilient and having a different risk profile,’ he said.”
This to me is major news. So many of us environmentalists have been stuck in the self-defeating attitude that “There’s no point in changing our personal behavior, as long as (fill in the name of your pet big bad wolf, such as China, the fossil-fuel industry, the plastics industry, the government, the airline industry, banks, whoever/whatever) is doing what it does.”
Actually, it’s the reverse. There’s no incentive for “them” to change their behavior, as long as “we” keep buying their stuff; keep feeding the existing structure. Yes, it takes self-discipline and willpower. Should I jet off to Switzerland or Dubai for the weekend to see my granddaughter’s soccer game just because I can? (Key point: Those of us who have the money and other resources to make such privileged choices, need to work all the harder to rein ourselves in. Yep, good ol’ willpower and self-discipline.) (Note: This is just a hypothetical example; I don’t have a granddaughter. But I hear of this kind of thing, or the equivalent, all the time.)
And yes, it is frustratingly impossible to be perfect. (I hate how much plastic packaging comes with my food even when I strive so hard to avoid it.) But no one ever said restoring our planet to health would be a cushy gig. We now have numeric AND visually observable evidence that personal behavior is enough to make the shift. As self-appointed environmental leaders, we are the ones who can keep the momentum going, or not.
This blog, and my book by the same name, are based on two main premises: 1) Personal/household actions not only make a difference; they are the only things that really can. And 2) The path of conscious household thrift and the path of low-footprint living are two overlapping paths. If you’re on board with these ideas, now is a great time to really test them out. (“Test them out” because, at the end of the day, I could be wrong. But so could those who say we can’t make a difference without sweeping top-down structural change. And at least my way allows us to take action right now, and see results.)
Now that the government-imposed controls are lifting, we have to supply our own motivations — our own controls — to keep up the momentum. Structural changes will unfold in our wake like a red carpet. (Er, a green red carpet.) Throughout this blog, and my book, are examples of personal, intrinsic motivations you can tap into, and inspire the people around you to tap into.
It occurred to me that there are two ways to “Support Local.”
One is the usual definition we think of: Geographic. Locally owned; locally operated; the proprietor lives in my local area; the product comes from my local area. I consider myself to be “supporting local” when I buy either 1) something that is grown/made in my local area; OR 2) something that is being sold by a business near me that is locally owned; locally operated; the proprietor lives in my local area (even if the product itself came from outside the area). An artisan, musician, Mom & Pop shop, small manufacturing operation, something of that kind. Naturally I get an extra boost of “SupportLocal” joy when I’m able to make a purchase that fulfills BOTH 1) and 2) !
Two is what I might call “local by personal loyalty.” A person or business that is located outside my immediate geographic area, but 1) they ARE a locally focused, locally owned business in their own geographic area; AND 2) I feel some connection to that person or business, and want to support them. It might be because I feel aligned with their mission; it might be because they are a friend; it might be because I love their product.
Examples of the first type of “Support Local”: that I’ve done recently: 1. Purchase a season subscription from a local farm. (By the way, this business model is called CSA: Community Supported Agriculture.) 2. Order seven public-hygiene masks from a local seamstress — and boy did I get great service on top of the bargain price. For $3 per mask (that were extremely well made), I got to pick from a huge selection of fabric colors, and she delivered them to my door the next day — with no delivery charge! Try that with SuperOnlineMegamart. 3. Get takeout from my favorite neighborhood restaurant and leave a generous tip. 4. Switch to a local printer to print my book Deep Green. My book is now printed in Daytona Beach, and is available only direct through me (unless you happen to find a used copy on Amazon — but that would be the old edition, missing some key corrections and layout improvements; and of course none of the money would go to me, if that makes a difference to you).
Recent examples of the second type of “Support Local”: 1. Tuned in, via Facebook Live, to a music performance by Darrin Kobetich, an incredibly talented musician friend of mine who is based in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, and who has taken his shows online since the pandemic shut down his tour season. The show was free, but Darrin included his payment-app information for those of us who chose to leave a tip. 2. Attended a webinar from a Native Plant Society outside my immediate local area; took the option to send a donation. 3. I haven’t done this yet, but I am seriously considering buying one of Flip Solomon‘s super-fashionable masks*, just for fun and to support an incredibly talented artist. She is based in Austin TX, and “I Knew Her Way Back When” we were neighbors at an uber-funky bohemian trailer park nestled among the oaks in South Austin.
(*OK, I just now went ahead and did it! Ordered a mask from Flip. I chose the bee print. At $25 with free shipping, and supporting a local artist, it’s an easy sell. Especially since I still have some of my $1,200 “Covid Stimulus Payment” left, and am determined to spend it all on “Supporting Local”!)
It even occurs to me that we can purchase goods from overseas yet still be Supporting Local. For example, I could buy an embroidered jacket from an artisan in Guatemala or India or the Ukraine. The key is to make a direct connection with the artist, or artists’ cooperative. Online tools and channels make it easy for local people all over the world to connect directly with one another, bypassing intermediaries that take an undue share of the maker’s profit. It can be argued that we live in a golden age, if we choose to take personal responsibility for our purchases, and focus on caring for the planet and her creatures, including our fellow humans.
What are some of your favorite ways to #SupportLocal? By the way, I want to take this opportunity to say THANK YOU to my new visitors/subscribers. And another THANK YOU to those who have been following along for awhile. All of you are the light that guides my writing.
Your comments are always welcome, be it by email or via my Facebook page Deep Green Book by Jenny Nazak. As great a platform as WordPress is for blogging, its comment feature has just never seemed to work well for my readers, so I don’t use it.
As people who care about the Earth and her creatures, we constantly grapple with the pain of finding out that something we’ve been doing (that we thought was beneficial, or at least neutral) is bad for the planet. One example: Many people go vegan, not only to reduce the footprint of their diet but also to reduce animal suffering. (Personal note: I’m omnivore myself–feel healthiest when my diet includes some animal protein–but I’m always challenging myself to increase my percentage of vegetarian and vegan meals for the aforementioned reasons.)
Besides India, the other main source of cashews is Vietnam. Being a richer country, Vietnam has been able to mechanize its industry. The mechanization has reduced overhead costs (the usual reason for mechanization in the first place). This has driven prices down, which in turn is making conditions even tougher for the workers in India. (I imagine also that the mechanization has increased the suffering of Vietnamese workers, because they lost their jobs to machines. The article doesn’t mention that so I’ll have to look into it.)
I learned the cashew thing completely by accident, when someone in the Journey to Zero-Waste group mentioned it in passing as the reason she doesn’t eat cashew butter. I did a Google search and found the Daily Mail article. All too often, this is how it goes. You’re going along thinking this or that choice you’re making is OK, and then BOOM. Suddenly you find out that yet another thing you’re doing is bad for the planet. It can feel like a lost cause; sometimes you feel like, “Why bother!” (I know I feel that way sometimes.) But that’s not the lesson we should take from this. Rather, the invitation is to recognize that we live in a complex world, and we can always only do our best. We can’t help what we didn’t know. And once we know better, we do better.
So what do we do when we find out something we’re buying is causing damage? A traditional activist solution is to boycott the thing in question. But boycotting just leads to another flavor of suffering, as the Indian workers lose their jobs. A humanitarian nonprofit mentioned in the article suggests instead that importers, retailers, and other buyers seek out cashew processing centers that offer humane conditions (such as protecting their workers with gloves). But this will require that consumers be willing to pay more. (Gloves slow down the shelling process, so workers don’t want to wear them, even if they could afford to buy them. Presumably, by consumers being willing to pay more, we’d allow the bosses to ease up their production quotas so the workers could afford to wear gloves.)
Cashews are just one example; variations on this pattern are playing out worldwide, and the solutions will have to include not only paying more for what I refer to in my book as “faraway exotic treats,” but also making a shift to getting the bulk of our food from closer to home, and paying our local farmers the full price of producing food under conditions that are humane to animals, the land, and workers.
This morning in my local paper I stumbled on another piece of food news that turns out to be related to this topic: Supermarket shortages of meat and other food notwithstanding, there’s plenty of meat if you can afford it. (Bloomberg News article by Lydia Mulvany, Deena Shanker, and Kim Chipman; published in the Daytona Beach News-Journal.) Local/organic and artisanal meats continue to be available in abundant supply. On the downside, shortages of cheap factory-farmed meat are exposing the gaps between the Haves and Have-Nots. On the upside: Local and organic farmers are getting more business, from those who can afford to pay. This is building much-needed resilience into local food supply lines. And as this demand persists, it will presumably create more good jobs, not only at existing farms but also by enticing new people into local/organic farming. Over time, prices should become more accessible to all. I know this is no consolation right now to the low-income mother who’s trying to feed her four kids and has come to depend on being able to buy meat for $2.99 a pound, not $6 or $8 or $12.
But really, we have to face up to that $2.99-a-pound meat. Our cushy industrialized consumer life is rotten at the core and deep down we know it. Our food is not priced in keeping with what it’s taking from the earth, and it is raised under brutal conditions. Brutal on the animals, and on the humans who work on the farms and in the processing plants. And yet, the same as with the cashew-shellers, the meat-processing plant workers stand to suffer greatly if their jobs vanish. Again, it’s going to take (among those of us who are able to afford to take this on) a willingness to buy local and pay more. And there are going to be some tectonic agonies as the landscape shifts. I hate that the brunt of it will fall on the lower-income workers who’ve been enduring the brutal conditions to produce our too-cheap food. But it’s a thing we all have to wake up to, and help each other through together.
And another other food-related news item (seems I can’t even get through a blog post without stumbling into yet another article, but in this case it’s my fault for checking in to a Facebook group in the middle of composing a blog post <wink>): Someone in one of my Florida eco groups mentioned that Florida now has a capybara problem (Orlando Weekly, Colin Wolf): The giant rodents native to South America are on a rampage chewing up native trees and other plants.
As a permaculturist (and one concerned about food supply chains, and working conditions), the first thing I did was look up “capybaras edible.” I thought I had heard they were, and my memory was correct. “Capybara are native to South America, where the meat is considered a delicacy. Salt-cured capybara is consumed during Lent in Venezuela, where the popularity of the dish prompted the Vatican to declare that capybara isn’t meat but fish.”
A fellow member of that Florida eco group I mentioned, a gentleman who does some kind of work on wetlands, mentioned that his employees on a project were from Guatemala, and when they found capybaras eating the vegetation, they did the natural thing and cooked them. The guy didn’t join his workers in their feast but said the meat smelled delicious.
Our landscape here in Florida is overrun with feral hogs, escaped pet pythons, and other invasive-but-tasty protein. Where you live, too, there are probably similarly problematic and similarly tasty invasive creatures running around. Surely a part of fixing our food supply chains (not only in logistical terms but also in terms of reducing human and animal suffering) will be to start looking to our locally abundant wild/feral protein.
In the past when I’ve suggested this to likeminded folks, people have said it’s a great idea but there are way too many invasive critters for us to eat. “We’ve never been able to eat our way out of the hog problem,” a friend commented. But things might be different now that the factory-meat supply lines have created shortages of conventionally farmed meat. Sometimes people need a nudge! #NewSupplyLines #EatLocal
On a final note, something that has often kept me awake at nights is what I’m going to call here the “prosperity-to-privation spiral.” This is, in a nutshell: Some part of the world where indigenous people are minding their own business living off the land, suddenly learns they have a crop or other product that is desired by people in some wealthier country(ies). Cashews or coffee or whatever. The external demand initially creates jobs that make the indigenous people prosperous beyond their wildest dreams. They can buy motorbikes, have TVs, send their kids to college, whatever. (I am grossly oversimplifying here but this is the gist.)
But then, from the same rich countries that generated those jobs, comes downward price-pressure (because that is how things go; consumers in wealthy industrialized countries are relentlessly bargain-seeking, and therefore retailers are relentless, and therefore producers are relentless in squeezing more from their workers). So then the conditions for the indigenous workers become more and more brutal. But the jobs are still irresistible to the workers, because they have no better source of income. In many cases the people end up so caught up in the money that they deplete their own land and other resources.
(A guy in my church discussion group, this morning by Zoom, happened to mention that the people of Thailand are doing this very thing to satisfy the world’s appetite for shrimp. Sacrificing their own land, their own health. He mentioned it in a different context; I had not brought up any of what I’m writing here. Just goes to show you how synchronistic things can be. Also goes to show why some of my blog posts might end up feeling to some of you like an overstuffed closet, because I can’t resist cramming “just one more related tidbit I stumbled on” into a post. <wink again>)
Speaking of cramming in one more thing, I have to mention a book I love. It was assigned reading in one of my college anthropology classes. In recent years I have reread it repeatedly, and gotten much deeper insights from it than I did back in college, probably in large part because I have studied permaculture in the intervening years. That book is The Iban of Sarawak, by Vinson H. Sutlive, who was a professor of anthropology at William & Mary when I was there (though the class where we were assigned the book was taught by a different professor).
One of the ideas from Sutlive’s book that stuck with me is how the land-use would be dictated by external demand, more than by the indigenous people’s immediate nutritional needs. So, for example, if demand for rice went up, banana plantations would get cleared to make rice fields. And vice versa, if demand for bananas went up, they’d clear the rice fields to plant more banana trees. An Iban man quoted in the book (I’m speaking from memory, as I no longer have this book in my possession) talked about “rice eating bananas, or bananas eating rice.” The Goodreads page linked above offers links to stores and libraries where you can get the book. By the way, I have to buy another copy of this book myself, because I have repeatedly bought (used) copies online, then decided I don’t need to keep the book anymore so I put it in the Little Free Library for others to enjoy, but then I end up missing it and wanting it on my shelves again. The book is valuable not only as a fascinating study of one culture at one point in time (it was written back in the 70s), but also as a relatively slim volume that sums up a number of universal patterns (regarding economics, land use, community, and so on).
The prosperity-to-privation cycle is a vicious cycle affecting us all, connecting us with everyone else in the world, and the only way I see out of it is if those of us who have the awareness and economic wherewithal to do so, put our foot down and say, “Enough. The crazy stops here!” And this resolution has to be on multiple levels. Not just with our wallets but with our communication to retailers, government.
For the individual, it’s not a simple path, and requires an unyielding willingness to learn new information and adjust one’s habits. But if you’re here reading a blog called DEEP GREEN, you’re already the kind of person who’s not finding it easy to rest with the status quo we’ve created. And the extra effort offers the prize of knowing we are helping to create a better world for all. At the end of the day, the thing that really keeps us awake at night, more than our own immediate problems, is the suffering we are unintentionally causing others.
So, immediate solutions: If you can afford it, buy as much of your food local and organic, from smaller farms, as possible. And consciously limit “faraway exotic” items to the status of sparingly-consumed treats, which you are willing to pay more for. Also if you can afford it, donate to a food bank in your area, to help that mother who struggles to feed her family even when meat is available at the insanely cheap price of $2.99 a pound, never mind when it’s not.
And if you cannot afford to do these things, please don’t beat yourself up. You are not alone. My best suggestion to you right now is that you act immediately to boost your economic circumstances by pruning overhead costs that are sucking your money, time, and other resources without adding value to your life. I can help you with this, not only via my book Deep Green (which is affordably priced for the value it offers, and which includes a free one-on-one session by phone or Zoom), but also via this blog, which is free to all. (The advantage of my book is that–unlike my wild-and-woolly blog with its many tangents and tendrils–the book is an organized, quick-start guide, ruthlessly and lovingly condensed into a slim hundred pages or so.)
The insider secret of DEEP GREEN is this: The path of low-footprint living and the path of conscious household thrift are overlapping. If you’ve ever had the idea that being an environmentalist is idealistic, expensive, or impractical, now is your chance to shake that misconception once and for all. Your wallet and the planet will thank you.
OK, so it is the first human-occupied space launch in a long time. That’s great. People can get a way better view by watching it on TV or on the internet than they would be able to see in person. And save money on gas, parking hassle, finding a place to sit, and all that.
Before the pandemic, the local government leaders were supposedly expecting a half million people to crowd into their town for this launch. (That’s how many attended the last human launch, which was in 2011.) Crazy huh!??? And a local official was quoted in the article urging people to come on ahead to the upcoming launch — the opposite of NASA’s advice. Well of course: He has an economic stake in drawing large numbers of people to a launch, whereas NASA does not.
Pandemic aside, local areas would be wise to reduce their economic dependence on this kind of huge crowd-gathering. As for the would-be visitors, surely there is plenty of equally wonderful stuff to see in their own backyards.
Watch it on TV. Or better yet tune into the stunning everyday events we often take for granted in our own local areas. Everywhere in the world, every day and night, the heavens offer us a variety of spectacular shows. And nature gives us a chorus of frog, bird, and insect song. #HyperlocalLiving — the more I slow down and zero in on the stuff right around me, the more remarkable it all seems.
And hey, I just thought of this: You could watch your neighborhood kids do a “space launch” of a homemade rocket! If you’re crafty in a science way, maybe you could even help them build it.
A Facebook acquaintance, responding to my post about NASA’s advice, shared a stirring description of her trip to see a shuttle launch. She and her husband stayed in a hotel and viewed it from the second floor. Being close enough to watch the fire burn the white paint off the shuttle; hear the rumble; feel the building shake; and then out of nowhere the crowd spontaneously burst into a chorus of “God Bless America.” No doubt a deeply touching experience and a lifetime memory.
I feel the same about my memory of seeing the Bicentennial fireworks in Washington DC. (We lived 7 miles away, in northern Virginia.) I remember standing there on the National Mall watching the pyrotechnics with a crowd estimated at two million people. There, on July 4, 1976, at age 13, I vowed that I’d live to be 113 so I could attend the tricentennial in 2076.
But times have changed, and different times call for different ways. Big events are probably not gone forever, but right now is a good time to be very hesitant about traveling long distances or hanging out in big crowds. Concerns about eco footprint, security, and public health, not to mention household finances, are all guiding us in a direction of “smaller and more local.”
Since I live in a beach city that has made itself extremely dependent on tourism and events, a big topic around here is how the hotels have suffered in the shutdown. Now that things are opening up again, the hotels are seeing a resurgence of bookings. But that path will always have its extreme ups and downs. If I were a hotel owner, I would seriously look at turning my hotel into studio apartments. The maximum per-night revenue would drop, but I’d have steady occupancy. No more weather-dependency; no more dead season; no more dependence on special events. If my hotel was one that had a laundry facility on premises, I would offer laundry and dry-cleaning as an extra “boutique” option that would be tacked onto the rent. I might still keep a few units open for occupancy by travelers. Or maybe not; maybe I’d fill them all with fulltime residents.
When July 4, 2076, comes around, you’ll probably find me watching fireworks (or stars) from my own backyard. Actually I hope that by then we’re done with fireworks, and instead get our thrills from watching fireflies. Or making our own super-creative neighborhood light-shows, where everyone participates. Hyper-hyper-local versions of Burningman, adopting that great Burningman motto, “No spectators!”
“Eco-tourism” presentation by Eva Pabón. In this bilingual (Spanish + English) presentation, Ms. Pabón shares some pointers on being a good eco-tourist. It’s as much about supporting local businesses, learning local customs, and making sure local people are getting economic benefit from your visit, as it is about viewing wildlife and plants. My favorite aspect of Ms. Pabón’s talk is that she emphasizes that we don’t have to travel miles to some exotic place; we can be eco-tourists in our own states, counties, and cities, learning about and protecting our local wildlife, plants, and people. This presentation was hosted on Facebook Live by the Cuplet Fern Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society (an exceptionally active chapter that hosts a steady stream of webinars, some by nationally or internationally renowned experts).
One night some years back, an event called Elevate Daytona Beach rocked our city. (Kudos to the organizers, who did a stellar job.) I was one of the speakers, and this post showed up today on my anniversary Facebook feed. My talk, and the post I made about it, is relevant to low-footprint living, and improving quality of life for all, so I offer a transcript of it here. I hope you find it helpful.
ELEVATE is sort of a mini TED TALK event. The talks are 5 minutes long, and are accompanied by slideshows in which the slides automatically advance every 15 seconds. (Whew! It’s quite a breathtaking pace!)
This was Daytona’s inaugural ELEVATE event, and we had 13 speakers on a wide variety of topics including Positivity; how to launch a successful startup firm; and the Dark Side of Chocolate. I was among the speakers. My talk, titled Filling Our Empty Spaces, was about how everyday citizens can revitalize their neighborhoods by filling up vacant buildings and empty lots.
Following is a written version of the talk I gave. Anyone who listened to the actual talk will find that this written version includes a few more points than I was able to fit into the live talk. Whether you live in Daytona Beach or in some other place affected by vacancy blight, I hope you find these ideas useful!
By the way, ELEVATE DAYTONA was held at the News Journal Center, an absolutely beautiful facility located right on the river in downtown Daytona Beach. It’s worth a special trip just to see the landscaping: native plants; wetlands.
ELEVATE DAYTONA attracted a full house, and another one is planned for the fall. Maybe some of my fellow Floridians will attend – as audience members or as speakers!
Technical note: The slides were created using the Google Slides app on my iphone! I thought that was pretty cool, that I could use my iphone. (Especially since my laptop was out of commission at the time I had to create the slideshow.)
Filling Our Empty Spaces: A Grassroots Approach to Urban Renewal
Tonight I’m going to talk to you about things that we, everyday people, can do to bring life back to our neighborhoods that have been blighted by vacancy.
[SLIDE SHOWING IMAGES OF DAYTONA BEACH ICONS: VINTAGE AMERICAN CAR; OCEAN CENTER WITH THE WIZARD COURSE ON THE LED BILLBOARD; HISTORIC MIDTOWN PHOTO EXHIBIT POSTER] I’ve worked and traveled in great cities all over the world, and I’ve loved them all. But the one I loved so much that I decided to adopt it as my hometown, is Daytona Beach. Daytona Beach is working class, Americana – and yet also international. It’s a magic blend. My love of Daytona Beach is what led me to this talk.
[SLIDE SHOWING CHAINLINK FENCE WITH DECREPIT “FOR SALE” SIGN; STREET OF EMPTY BUILDINGS]. As soon as I moved here I was mystified by all the empty spaces. Vacant buildings, empty lots, chainlink fences, places sitting empty. Right next to the Atlantic Ocean! How could this be?
[SLIDE SHOWING BRICK WALL, ACCOMPANIED BY TEXT: “FACTORS BEYOND OUR CONTROL”] There are factors beyond our control. There are hurricanes; economic boom & bust cycles; unintended consequences of policies. There’s human nature: Property owners want to recoup their investment so they leave the place empty for years rather than reduce the rent or sale price by a dollar. And sometimes there’s the profit motive run amok. All of these are factors beyond our control — and they’re not what this talk is about. This talk is about factors that are WITHIN our control.
[SLIDE: PLYWOODED WINDOWS WITH A RED SLASH THROUGH IT, ACCOMPANIED BY TEXT “SOLUTIONS HAPPENING ELSEWHERE”] Some things other cities are doing: Imposing a vacancy tax on empty buildings. City lien forgiveness, to help residents keep their homes. Selling buildings for a nominal price to people who promise to fix them up and put them into productive use. Easing excessive zoning restrictions to attract creatives, neighborhood-based businesses, and other desirable residents. Imposing ordinances against plywooded windows and chain-link fences. Marketing neighborhoods.
[SLIDE: URBAN PARKING-LOT ISLAND PACKED WITH BEAUTIFUL TREES AND GRASSES, ACCOMPANIED BY TEXT “DECIDE THAT EMPTY IS UNACCEPTABLE”] What all of these actions have in common is that they are based on the fundamental decision that EMPTY IS UNACCEPTABLE. Any productive use is better than empty. Nature doesn’t do empty; every cubic inch is teeming with life. We humans are part of nature, and we forget that at our peril.
[SLIDE: IMAGES OF ART, NATURE, LITTLE FREE LIBRARY] It all starts with LOVE. Act out of love for your place. Write letters to the editor; speak at City meetings; make art. Turn your house and yard into a jewel of the neighborhood. Have potlucks. Sit on your porch. Walk around the neighborhood and talk to people. Set up a Little Free Library.
[SLIDE: IMAGE OF THEASTER GATES TED TALK] In Chicago, a potter & activist named Theaster Gates bought a blighted house from the city for a modest price, and turned it into a neighborhood cinema and community center. It sparked the revitalization of his whole neighborhood. I want you to listen to his TED talk for homework.
[SLIDE: IMAGE OF MAIN STREET HISTORIC ICONS, MURAL] Main Street Revival: All over the country, cities are rediscovering the value of their historic Main Streets; those old buildings with good bones. And they’re filling up those vacant buildings. We can do the same.
[SLIDE: BIG EMPTY PARKING LOT] Acres of Parking: Automobiles take up a lot of space. That’s a fact of life. It’s also a fact of life that all those acres of parking lot sit empty most of the time. During the empty times, the community should be allowed to use the space. Swap meets; skill-shares; Maker Faires; neighborhood art shows; maybe a speaker’s corner! Also, to avoid destroying even more buildings and land for parking, we should reduce excessive parking requirements and allow businesses to share parking. We could have a Daytona Beach parking app!
[SLIDE: EMPTY LOT ACCOMPANIED BY TEXT “WHICH CAME FIRST?”] Which came first, the chicken or the egg? To attract more residents, we need a critical mass of businesses. To attract more businesses, we need a critical mass of residents. This line of thinking leads nowhere. The truth is that there’s a reciprocal relationship. Start where your interest lies. If you’re passionate about businesses, start with business; if you’re passionate about the residential end of things, start there.
[SLIDE: EMBROIDERY ARTWORK OF CHICK HATCHING FROM EGG] And speaking of chickens … Backyard chickens are POPULAR! The cities that are attracting a lot of creatives and other desirable residents are the kind of cities that allow backyard chickens; support community gardens; community art; home-based businesses.
[SLIDE: “ALLOW AN INFORMAL ECONOMY TO FLOURISH”. ART VENDING TABLE; GRASSROOTS CAR SHOW] Allow an informal economy to flourish. Allow residents to rent out their garage apartments and granny flats to vacationers and other visitors. Allow residents to offer special event parking in their driveways! Let people set up tables and sell their art or other things. Don’t require permits for each and every little thing. Let residents participate in building the economy. Economic development is NOT just what the big guys do. Residents and small businesses are a major force.
[SLIDE: PICTURE OF WELL-PAINTED BUT EMPTY HOUSE] “Rich Blight” is blight too. A house can be painted nicely and the lawn is buzz-cut to regulation height … but if it sits empty, it’s still blight! We can’t force property owners to fill their spaces but we can incentivize them; approach them; ask them what they would need.
[SLIDE: HEALTHY EDIBLE WEED; DOWNTOWN WALL MURAL] The best way to add life is to ALLOW life. Look at this plant. Most people would call it a weed. But it’s probably more nutritious and delicious than most anything you could buy at the grocery store. Nobody had to cultivate it; it grew because it was allowed to grow. Along the same lines … Art WANTS to happen. Small business WANTS to happen. Community WANTS to happen. All we need to do is get out of its way.
[SLIDE: IMAGE OF NEXTDOOR.COM] The best way to start is connect with your neighbors. Connect face to face, and also use NextDoor.com to connect online. Start talking about things you’re passionate about, and you will quickly recruit allies.
[SLIDE: ICONIC IMAGES OF DAYTONA BEACH; AMERICANA] As we grow and expand, we need to remember our roots. When a person or a city forsakes their roots, they go on the decline. Here in Daytona Beach, our roots are gold. (“Roots” meaning our working-class; middle-class roots.)
[SLIDE: IMAGES OF BOOKS: THE PERMACULTURE WAY; A PATTERN LANGUAGE; THE AVATAR PATH: THE WAY WE CAME] The ideas in this talk are based on the study of permaculture (nature-based design principles for creating livable human settlements), and on the study of how human consciousness operates. Study how nature operates; study how consciousness operates; and get with other people, and you can solve any problem.
[SLIDE: SOLUTION-MIND] The human mind can be a problem-generator or a solution-generator. Whatever you put your attention on grows. Focus on creating a solution rather than dwelling on the obstacles. Working with other people, focus on the common ground rather than the differences. As you walk around, you’ll see things you don’t like and don’t want. Focus less on eliminating what you DON’T want, and more on creating and attracting what you DO want.
[SLIDE: IMAGE OF MY APARTMENT WITH LITTLE FREE LIBRARY OUT FRONT]. Want help? Need direction? Call me! I’m Jenny Nazak: I get up early and I stay up late; and I have yet to meet a problem that WE couldn’t solve.
(P.S. You can also watch my talk on YouTube. I am going to dig up the link for you now. OK, here you go.)