“Why should we reduce … ?” (Part 2)

In part one of this post, I gave the moral and ecological reasons why we should adopt voluntary radical reduction. Or what I call a deep green lifestyle, or low-footprint living.

Here, I will give the secret juice that keeps me doing it. Actually, it shouldn’t be such a secret anymore since I have been talking about it for decades, as are many others who are on a voluntary thrift path.

But, many of my fellow environmentalists still insist on perceiving me as somehow virtuous and making so many sacrifices, so I need to try again here to put that harmful myth to rest.

The truth — what some of you keep missing, that I have been trying to tell you for the better part of two decades now — is that I get IMMENSE personal benefits from my voluntary radical reduction.

And all others I know of who are on the same path, living their own version of a “voluntary radical reduction” lifestyle, also consistently report that they are getting immense intrinsic personal benefits.

Yes, there are some aspects that might technically be considered sacrifices, but the sacrifice aspect is so tiny in comparison with the benefits that it’s almost misleading to even bring it up.

I don’t know if it’s just not getting through to you, or if you are willfully misunderstanding, out of fear that you will somehow be trapped if you try this voluntary radical reduction lifestyle. All I can say at this point is you need to try it yourself to believe how great it is.

Because if, after all this time, you are still looking at me and thinking I am somehow deprived or suffering or a martyr or “so good” or “so virtuous” or “so admirable” (words typically spoken in wistful tones, accompanied by wrung hands and dewy manga-character eyes), you are really not paying attention!

The truth is, I have way, way too much fun, and way, way too much pleasure; more than any human being should be allowed to have(according to the dour, lockdown standpoint of our consumer capitalist society). I mean, I really really have a blast in life. And a blessed life! Everyone else I know who’s embarked on their own version of this path would say the same.

My book and this blog, and my personalized talks and workshops, can help you craft your own personalized version of a “voluntary radical reduction” lifestyle. And once you get into it, it is self-reinforcing because YOU will be getting so many personal benefits. And you will start getting them immediately.

I don’t know how many times I will have to repeat that for some of you to get it, but I will keep repeating it as long I need to. 

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General note: This blog presents topics as they occur to me. Typically in rambling fashion. If you would prefer a more focused, organized document, read my book DEEP GREEN. It’s available to read for free on this site. There are also, at any given time, usually a few print copies available as well. I believe I still have 15 or so copies left from my last micro print run. DEEP GREEN book is available exclusively by ordering direct through me.

Also, I am available to give talks for your neighborhood association, community, church, club, or other group. My talks are by Zoom or equivalent, so I’m available to you wherever you’re located. For more information, click on “talks and appearances” in the menu for this site. Contact me and we’ll set a date!

How we are (unintentionally) glorifying hyper-consumerism

In a recent post (“Why should we reduce, when the rich fatcats are living large?”), I mentioned that we eco Boomer folks are unintentionally glorifying hyperconsumerism.

As a full-time sustainability educator / climate activist (self-employed), I feel a longterm, deep-seated frustration at seeing so many of my fellow concerned environmentalists appearing to become extreme consumers.

Annual European vacations, constant cruises, etc. Big houses with air-conditioning and big cars and all that. Multiple cars per household, even for each of the teenagers. Multiple houses in multiple countries. And posting it all on social media.

I understand that in some cases, the setup of our cities and society forces people into gross consumerism. Being virtually forced to own at least one car per household is a prime example.

But maybe we should be keeping very quiet about it. Or, if we do post about it on social media, maybe we should be talking regretfully about how hard it is to avoid consumption that ultimately adds more to our stress than it does to our quality of life. Even if that consumption, and telling our friends all about it, feels good in the moment.

I would like us to be posting a lot more about our successes related to thrift and reduction. The joy of seeing live local music on the patio of the restaurant down the block. The unexpected family adventure of deciding to leave the car at home and walk to the store. The unbelievably fun Zoom wedding, or Zoom graduation, that brought together friends and family from multiple states or even multiple countries without the eco-footprint and assorted hassle of air travel and being around lots of people. Praise for our local community college, which is easily accessible by public transport and offers so many good career training programs that more of our kids are deciding to stay in town to learn a trade and then serve the community. Our young friend’s success in her business of hand-making clothing out of old discarded clothing. My wonderful 60th birthday stay-cation a couple years ago, at a cool historic bed-and-breakfast across from the marina that is a picturesque 30-minute walk over the bridge from my house. (The proprietress — and her vintage hats and vintage jewelry, which she encourages people to try on — was as much fun as the building and grounds itself!)

And so on. That kind of thing. You can probably think of all sorts of your own examples. Social media should be flooded with stuff like this.

And definitely, please keep those native plant garden and vegetable garden pictures coming! A lot of you have been posting those, and it is very beneficially contagious.

Also, although the lavish “eco meme” images one sees on social media may be digitally enhanced, I have no problem encouraging people to post them. Visual images are a highly useful tool in helping to reset the default norms of industrial-consumerist society. So go ahead, flood your feed with over-the-top solarpunk images of trees growing on the roofs of skyscrapers and so on.

Background: Even while expressing anguish and upset over the biospheric crisis, many in our cohort (a group which I have come to refer to as “eco Boomers” or “Woodstock Boomers,” plus Boomer-adjacent generations who identify with such) are rationalizing that the big rich fatcats are the ones with the big footprint, so “why should I deprive myself?”

This is a very widespread sentiment.

So, I wrote a post answering that very question. In case the link doesn’t work for you, it’s the post immediately preceding this one. Hope you find it helpful and encouraging!

Why should we reduce, when the rich fatcats are living large?

This post was prompted by a dear old friend and highly dedicated fellow environmentalist, who recently told me she became burned-out; got sick of making sacrifices when she realized that all of her reductions and advocacy work didn’t even offset one week of a rich fatcat’s life.

This is actually very common; turns out there are lots and lots of my fellow Boomer and Boomer-adjacent eco folks who feel this way. It’s become so common and widespread that we are unintentionally legitimizing –even glorifying — the very hyperconsumerism that we lament.

So I wanted to write a post to try to offer some comfort and guidance to the many of you who have been feeling this way.

(I first posted the following paragraphs as a days-later add-on to my post the other week, in regard to the “being forced to eat bugs” question.)

My answer to my friend, and to all others of you who are in despair, knowing that your reductions would not even offset one week of a jetsetter’s high-flying lifestyle, is:

We are NOT setting out to make reductions in order to offset other people’s overconsumption. That would be physically impossible, and no wonder so many of you are getting demoralized if you have been trying to do this.

Rather, the reason why we must make reductions is to reset the norms of what has come, in our hyperconsumerist “first world,” to be defined as a good life.(Basically the norms have been sent by USA American popular culture, and then gone on to infect other wealthy countries.)

It’s not about offsetting; it’s about resetting the norms. It’s about normalizing living within limits. It’s about de-normalizing our culturally instilled sense of entitlement.

Why? 

To bring ourselves in line with the physical ecological limits of the planet. (These have been widely documented by science.) We quite simply have a moral obligation to not take more than our share. We cannot use wealthy mega consumers as a benchmark. We need to use the 2 ton benchmark widely agreed upon by scientists.

It’s already how the global majority lives, by default. What we in the “first world” have a responsibility to do is show how living within Earth’s limits can be done comfortably, with enough to eat, safe clean water, access to healthcare, access to learning, humane livelihoods, comfortable dwellings, treats and enjoyment and recreation for all.

As eco activists we pride ourselves on listening to science, and on being fair and equitable. We must live up to our own awareness of what’s right and fair. We must walk our talk! I cannot emphasize this point enough. We will never be truly happy otherwise — and of course that gnawing dissatisfaction just leads us to more compulsive consumerism.

My entire mission is about helping fellow eco folks walk our talk. My book, this blog, my talks & consults, my house which I have turned into a low-footprint lifestyle demonstration laboratory, visible from the sidewalk and partly open to the public. I am here to serve you! Please make use of the growing body of resources that I have been offering for close to two decades now.

You are not alone. There are many, many more of us than you might think. Take heart! And please don’t give up. We simply can’t afford to give up. We have an obligation to our children and to all other children on the planet.

PS. Just now thought of this! If we’re going to think of our reductions as offsetting anything, I suggest we think of them as offsetting, at least in part, our own past choices. The choices each of us made before we knew better, or had better ways available to us.

In part 2 of this post, I reveal the real secret about what keeps me doing voluntary radical reduction.

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This blog presents topics as they occur to me. Typically in rambling fashion. If you would prefer a more focused, organized document, read my book DEEP GREEN. It’s available to read for free on this site. There are also, at any given time, usually a few print copies available as well. I believe I still have 15 or so copies left from my last micro print run. DEEP GREEN book is available exclusively by ordering direct through me.

Also, I am available to give talks for your neighborhood association, community, church, club, or other group. My talks are by Zoom or equivalent, so I’m available to you wherever you’re located. For more information, click on “talks and appearances” in the menu for this site. Contact me and we’ll set a date!

What if I’m wrong?

About all this climate stuff. At the end of the day, what if we’re wrong? Maybe there’s no problem at all. Some people don’t seem to think there is.

Well, I’m a big fan of the precautionary principle, and the “theory of anyway” (as Sharon Astyk puts it — doing things because it’s the right thing to do anyway, regardless of whether or not there’s an eco crisis).

My new theory of anyway is that I do it anyway because I hate ugliness in the world. I also hate unnecessary work. So basically, I’m just an artistically minded person who is also very lazy.

Along these lines, I also don’t like to think very hard to get dressed in the morning. So even if there’s not a climate crisis, I’m going to keep aiming for a capsule wardrobe (albeit sort of a wacky boho version), eschewing trashy-looking single-use plastic cups, resisting the burden of car ownership, and so on.

And, environment aside, I am very likely to continue my participation in government, particularly local government and neighborhood governments. The reason being that human ergonomics are at stake. Livable human settlements. Oh, yes, and beauty also. Maybe I really do need to ramp up the aesthetically offended artist identity ha ha. People seem to listen when I talk about how this or that is tacky and ugly.

People might also say, well, if you’re wrong, haven’t you’ve been wasting your time all these years? Writing a book, writing this blog, showing up at city commission meetings, all that nonsense.

And my answer would be no. Because I have always found multiple benefits in whatever I am advocating and whatever I’m doing. And showing people how they too can get multiple benefits from everyday lifestyle choices related to the environment.

I would actually love to be wrong about some of the stuff I am reading and hearing. It’s really horrific. Supposedly even plants are starting to die out. Like, from not being able to deal with the environment we’ve created.

I checked in on Twitter early this morning for the first time in a while, and one of the first threads I stumbled on was a very grim thread about climate stuff. Definitely would love to be wrong about it. But, I can’t just dismiss it either.

It’s healthy to not be too rigid about our beliefs. Passion and conviction are good, but need to be tempered with mental flexibility.

That said, I’m going to share some of the links I saw in the Twitter thread. (Yes, Twitter is known as X now. I miss the little birdie, and think Twitter was a much better name.)

Here’s the thread itself, from Aashis Joshi. “Three recent pieces of research show that climate change has gone beyond any hope for control. Ecosystems are facing utter ruin & with them, our societies & civilization. We need to be aware to prepare ourselves, at least psychologically, at least to some extent.”

• One of the articles screenshot says that trees are struggling to “breathe” and store CO2 as the climate warms (Eric Ralls; earth.com).

• The other two bits of grim news are that extreme wildfires are increasing (Guardian); and that the climate is more sensitive to greenhouse gases that had been thought.

• And I concur with Lobo’s comment, and continue to take the same approach: “The only hope for preventing runaway global heating, and also collapse from other forms of ecological overshoot, has been deep societal austerity, a kin to the ‘home efforts’ of World War II. If any hope remains, the same approaches are the only rational path.”

Self-correcting problems; when to let it go & go with the flow

Decades ago, at one of the camping festivals I used to attend back when I was living in Austin, I learned a very happy lesson about self-correcting problems. We were admiring a beautiful fat bumblebee who had flown up underneath one of our tent canopies. Several minutes passed, and we became concerned because Bombus was not finding his or her way back out, but rather, remained focused on the top point of the canopy and seemed to be trying to get out that way, where there was no hole to escape.

Several of us were like, Oh no! Our beloved bee is trapped! Whatever will we do!

Whereupon upon a wiser member of our group pointed out that this was a self-correcting situation. In other words, the bee would fly back out into the open as soon as he or she got tired enough to be forced to to drop down from the closed top point of the canopy and sensed the open air again. And sure enough, in a very short time, that is exactly what happened.

I have carried with me this very wonderful lesson about self-correcting problems. Unfortunately, not all such problems are so short and simple. And some of them have more serious consequences. Still, we have to know when it’s best to let go and let the consequences play out.

One example happened the other day, when, for the umpteenth time, I was inwardly lamenting the industrial human habit of stripping all the vegetation out of drainage canals in a supposed effort to help the flooding situation. From everything I’ve learned, vegetation wicks water and reduces flooding. And denuded sand or soil, besides not absorbing as much water as vegetation, also doesn’t filter out pollutants. And furthermore, the denuded banks will eventually (or quickly) erode and ultimately collapse.

It struck me suddenly, as I was walking past one such canal: Well, this is a self-correcting situation. If the banks of enough denuded canals collapse, various government entities and property stewards will realize we shouldn’t denude canals of vegetation.

(Or — a possibility I’m always open to — I could be wrong. After all, I would rather be wrong about this than be right about terrible consequences.)

But if I’m right, the flooding could be worse this year. A consequence I would hate for my fellow humans to have to endure. And also, I would hate for the dirt and debris carried downstream to even further pollute rivers and oceans, harming all other species as well as us.

But, after talking publicly about the crucial role of vegetation for some years now, through as many channels as I can find, and quoting as many experts as I can find, I realize it’s time to take a seat and just let things play out until such time as I might be able to have a helpful role. And it’s not a spiteful, “I told you so” sort of feeling I’m having. It’s more like a practical compassionate feeling.

And, various consequences give lots of different people a chance to be helpers and heroes. That’s a good thing. It’s nice when we can take turns feeling like we helped solve a problem.

In an even more extreme case, the consequence playing out might be the extinction of human life on earth. But let’s hope we don’t let things come to that.

Don’t count on a “corrective crash”

A lot of us in the Permaculture movement and aligned movements such as Degrowth and Deep Adaptation, have been assuming there would come some sort of “corrective crash” that will “reset” the economy and society.

Many of us are starting to realize that while it may happen, we can’t count on that. A lot of times, what ends up happening is that money and resources get concentrated into fewer hands each time it seems there’s going to be some kind of corrective thing happening with the economy. As one example, the housing market never really seems to crash, such that people at the low rungs can afford to buy a house.

And really, there are lots of examples throughout history. For example, even during the Great Depression, some people got richer even while huge swaths of the population were in dire straits.

And besides, a thing I thought of a few years back is that wanting a crash is basically wishing ill on a lot of people who are not the bad guys. For example, I used to really wish the stock market would crash bigtime. But that would just cause so much suffering among people who are not the culprits of the big problems. Far healthier to wish for a vibrant economy that is beyond the financial sector.

Mike Hoag made a good comment on this thread he started in the Transformative Adventures group. I’m quoting his comment here, and pasting my reply.

I was a big advocate of the Permaculture ‘crash on demand’ strategy (as Holmgren put it.) This was the idea that one of the main mechanisms of Permaculture was leveraging de-consumption to crash some of the most destructive parts of the economy. I’m now re-evaluating my thoughts on this post Covid. We had a major world-wide economic blow and governments borrowed heavily and taxed the common people heavily to avoid a collapse. It worked! And while atmospheric carbon and other forms of pollution took a major short-term hit, the governments heavily subsidized other industries like single-use plastics, to make up the shortfall, and a whole new major pollution problem arose. The sorts of economic corrections that governments allow to happen now are very clearly planned events that shore up the economic status quo, and redistribute ever more money to the ruling classes. After about 25 years of expecting a major economic collapse, I’m not sure it’s the leverage point I once thought.”

— I too have started to notice that some kind of healthy corrective crash never really happens. My version of the constructive crash now is that those of us who are able, we voluntarily start to be able to thrive near the “bottom” so that we minimize the amount of work we have to do in servitude to destructive entities. And maximize the proportion of our work that goes into the land, our neighbors, our communities, restoring planetary cycles & ecosystems.

And actually, in permaculture design class, we did learn a lot about the concept of basically constructing a grassroots parallel economy that was not directly trying to take down the big mainstream economy. And did not need to. I think the more attention we put on this emphasis, the better off we will all be.

Further Reading:

• I highly recommend Mike Hoag’s books, Beauty in Abundance and Growing FREE. (Full disclosure: I am a contributing author to the latter.) And the Transformative Adventures group, of which he is the founder and admin. Visit Mike’s website here; it will lead you to his other platforms as well.

Making our own home places lovable, and livable

Another great post today from one of my favorites, Revitalize or Die:

No one should have to travel to visit beautiful places. We must invest in making our own towns livable and lovable.

YES! And ….
(Warning: Ranty comment ahead, to my fellow “green Boomers”)

And, I would even further go on to say, to my fellow “Woodstock/Earth Day” Boomers, especially those of us who have traveled a lot in our younger years, should STOP the overseas travel, and instead get our thrills from using our resources to make our home places lovable & livable, and support the livelihoods & dreams of the younger generations.

We owe it to them. We are the most-resourced generation in history, and however unintentionally it may have been, we have gotten our wealth and security on the backs of the global majority & the rest of the planet. And borrowed ecological capital from younger generations.

Seeing the social-media posts of fellow eco Boomers, I often feel a heartsick cognitive dissonance. The endless rounds of cruises, annual European vacations, etc.

Does our demographic even notice the irony of us bemoaning the planet burning, but continuing the super-high-end travel habits & other consumerism? How are we any different from the “climate deniers” who we claim are the problem???

All these fellow eco-Boomers’ travel-porn social-media posts like, “what a quaint village, oh I love the public transportation in this country” etc. Sorry but this makes me want to retch.

Maybe if we stayed put in our own country and devoted more of our money and labor to actually changing things here?

I know, I know, a lot of you are going to say how much you do. And I believe you. However, high-end travel habits and other conspicuous consumption totally undermine whatever we do.

Not only undermine our credibility, but also actually undermine whatever political will the leaders might have, because our habits are creating massive demand for fossil fuels and other resources.

— Voting is great and necessary, but it’s not enough.
— Protesting is great and necessary, but it’s not enough.
— Writing letters to corporations is great and necessary, but it’s not enough. Same with showing up to speak at government meetings and so on.
— Running for office is wonderful and downright heroic, for those who manage it, but even that is not always enough.

The missing ingredient is where and how we are continuing to spend our big fat wallets of money. Even if you don’t feel like you have a fat wallet, all of us Boomers have a fat wallet in comparison to pretty much everyone else in the world.

Where and how we spend, or don’t spend, matters! There are so many many of us, and our habits are adding up big time. For better and for worse.

I will say something for the climate-deniers and Magas (and other groups/people who we love to self-righteously contrast our own selves with): At least they are not living in outright contradiction with their beliefs about what’s up with the biosphere!!

To put it another way: If our mouths and our wallets are saying opposite things, guess which one is going to carry more weight in the world. If we keep not matching, we have only ourselves to blame.