Sudden Eco Education Opportunity

Last night we got the word that it was our neighborhood’s turn for City Code Enforcement walks. These are mainly supposed to be targeting absentee owners who let their properties get run-down. But those of us who prefer a landscape centered on native and edible plants sometimes get nervous about code enforcement.

I sometimes forget that just about anything can be turned into an eco education opportunity. And an opportunity to show love for my community. 

Photo 1: Free native wildflower seeds!

Photo 2: Solar oven in action. Even on a mostly overcast morning, it heated up a nice hot pan of dishwashing water.

Cultivating a Conservation Mindset

There’s a lot of great advice available these days for people who want to run a frugal, low-footprint home or workplace. The Journey to Zero-Waste group and the Riot for Austerity group (both linked in the sidebar) are my main go-to’s for crowdsourced wisdom.

But how are you supposed to remember all the great tips so you’ll have them available when you need them? Well, you could write them down. Start a mini “filing cabinet” of your favorites. Use one of those old-school recipe boxes that hold index cards; or use the notepad app on your phone; or start a file on your computer.

But my personal favorite approach is simpler: Cultivate a “conservation mindset.” Your version of “conservation focus” could be saving money, saving fossil fuels, or (maybe my favorite of all) eliminating unnecessary labor.

So, for example, take mopping the floor. When I have guests or housemates, I inevitably spend more time mopping up spills. Recently I have been optimizing the level of water, and amount of soap (or vinegar, essential oil, etc.), to put in the mop bucket, so there is just enough water to get the mopping done, and no water left over in the bucket.

Now, with my water-optimization approach, I may be saving, what, a quart or two of water? In money terms, maybe a penny or two’s worth of water, a nickel’s worth of cleaner? Not much in money terms or water-conservation terms (unless you happen to live in the desert, which I don’t — yet). I do love saving water and resources though.

But the real savings is in labor and brain-energy: Not having a bunch of dirty soapy water to dispose of. Sure, I can dump it on the mulch pile (which I have been known to do). And if the water is not filthy, I can use the leftover soapy water to clean the toilet, which comes in handy. It’s nice to have the choice though! Having no leftover water saves me a step in my cleaning.

By cultivating a conservation mindset, you turn your brain into an endless fountain of creativity, positively gushing with useful tips that are custom-made for your life. It’s simple to cultivate a conservation mindset: Just reflect on how much you enjoy saving money, resources, time, labor, or all of the above. Enjoy!

When to Stay, When to Go

If you love your place, have friends and a livelihood (even if it is modest) and are able to exert some beneficial influence, stay. Unless you are in really dire straits, never move somewhere else just for a better-paying job.

If you have no option other than to leave, go. If the land is dead from abuse; if the tide is rising; if all the jobs are gone; if the people you love have left or are leaving — go. And my heart goes out to you.

If your family lives somewhere else, and you miss them, and you think you could enjoy (and afford) living in the place where they live, go.

If all of your best friends live somewhere else, and you are having trouble making close friendship connections, and you think you could enjoy (and afford) living in a place where your close friends live, go.

If your local area seems to be on a fatally self-destructive path — mowing down forests; infatuated with big shiny development; not interested in resiliency — and you have made your absolute best effort to promote and demonstrate better alternatives, go. If you know of a place where a critical mass of people care about growing food and planting trees (real trees, for shade and food, not just vanity landscaping) and building soil and nurturing small local business, and you can afford to live there, go. (Just look before you leap — never flee to a new place without meeting the people who would be your neighbors.)

If you see the handwriting on the wall in all sorts of ways both specific and vague, and it’s keeping you up nights and you’ve taken time to really get centered and tune in to your intuition and it’s guiding you to go, go.

If, despite all adversity, you love your place and the people and other creatures in it with a fierceness that permeates every fiber of your being and won’t let you turn your back … then stay. Stay, and be a force for good — and thank you.

And how about you? Where are you living now? Are you staying, or going? And what are your deciding factors?

Further Reading

Sometimes You Need To Move (from StrongTowns).

America’s Great Exodus Is Starting in the Florida Keys (from Bloomberg)

The Land Institute website. Wherever you live, city or country, you can’t afford not to take care of the land. The Land Institute is doing great work restoring native prairie land, and their example offers hints for all of us.

Becoming Native to this Place (book of essays by Wes Jackson of The Land Institute).

Becoming Native to this Place (transcript of annual E.F. Schumacher Lecture by Wes Jackson, on CenterForNewEconomics.org).

Becoming a Local Investor – 2

In Part 1 of this post, I point out that our investment choices affect the wellbeing of other people and the planet. This can be for better, or for worse. It struck me awhile back that money invested far away, where the investor can’t truly see what it’s doing, can be as bad for communities and the planet as an oil spill.

To say I’m not an expert in finance would be a great understatement. I’m an everyday person. But the whole point of my book and this blog is that we as everyday people have the power to change the world.

Just as everyday people in their capacity as consumers have the power to change the world with their spending choices, so everyday people in their capacity as investors have the power to change the world by where they put their money. (No money? No problem! We everyday people, in our millions, also have the power to change the world by where we invest our time and attention.)

I have started a short list of ideas for local investment. If you have money stored somewhere that is tied to Wall Street, and would like to shift part or all of that money to investing in your local community, here are some ideas.

– Buy a commercial building (store front) and either rent it out, or run a store there yourself. You could do this with a group of friends/neighbors or via a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT).

– Buy an apartment building or rental house, be a landlord

– Carry the note for a friend who wants to buy a house

– Be the money partner for a friend or neighbor who wants to start a business

– (This one is for people who own a business and are getting ready to retire): Instead of selling the business, taking your cash and parking it on Wall Street, keep your money in the business and let your junior associates/employees run it.

– Become an investor in local agriculture. (The nonprofit Slow Money offers opportunities to support local agriculture by donating money for low-interest loans, but there could also be other channels, which allow people to actually earn income while doing good by extending low-interest loans to farmers.)

– And of course, you could start a business of your own. (In a subsequent post in this series, I’ll share some of my ideas for businesses you could start to earn yourself an income, while also helping your community become more vibrant and resilient.)

– Own a home, and rent out your spare rooms to housemates. And, if you are able to own your place free and clear, that’s a bonus because more of your money is staying in the community rather than getting sent away to pay off mortgage interest.

As I think of more ideas, I will come back and add to this list. And please drop me a line to share any ideas you would add!

A question that comes up in just about any conversation I’ve had on the topic of local investment is, “What about the return on investment? How can it be as good as what I’m getting on Wall Street (=stock market, mutual funds, etc.)?”

This article by Marco Vangelisti, “What Returns Could We Expect from Local Investing?”, brings up the very important point that while your return on local investment may not be as high in percentage terms, that does not necessarily matter, because when it comes to investing in your own place, there are some very compelling factors other than financial return.

Vangelista, who calls himself an “angel DIvestor” (as opposed to “angel investor”), invested in a local co-op that was not in his neighborhood, simply because he did not want any part of his home city to be a food desert.

A friend of mine is buying rental houses in her neighborhood to provide herself with retirement income. It’s a win-win because she is a caring landlord who is providing her tenants with a clean, safe, stable home.

When an investment gives a net benefit to communities and/or ecosystems, we permaculturists call it a “regenerative investment.” Regenerative is a step above just “sustainable.”

There are “green” and “sustainable” investment funds, of course. I think there are quite a few more of them than there used to be. But if you want to see up-close what your money is doing, and maximize the benefit to the community you call home, I suggest you explore options for becoming a local investor.

I realize that a lot of the ideas I mention above require you to place your trust in friends and other people. That can be scary; you could end up losing your money. To this I would say don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Also, I think we really have to face up to the fact that much of our “remote investing” has had a damaging effect on people, communities, and ecosystems around the world. Not only that, but the withholding of financial capital from our local areas is surely keeping them from flourishing as much as they could. Next time you see a developer destroy a forest or neighborhood in your community, ask yourself if your money, invested locally, might help steer things in more of a direction you’d like to see. Do we want to keep hiding our heads in the sand and expecting passive income on financial instruments as our birthright, or do we want to start bringing more of our money home to our communities?

(Note to readers in other countries: I realize this post is very USA-centric. And I would be interested to hear how things are in other countries, in terms of investment patterns of everyday people.)

This topic is something I’ve been thinking about for some years now, but have only recently begun attempting to articulate publicly. I hope this post has furnished you with some helpful ideas.

Further Reading

For more about the concept of regenerative investment, read this post by Laura Oldanie, on her “Triple Bottom Line FI” blog. In this post, Laura also offers rich detail about her low-footprint lifestyle, and tips for achieving “multi-capital abundance” and personal resilience. By the way, my fellow Floridian (and fellow permaculturist) Laura is going to be our keynote speaker at the Florida Permaculture Convergence in December. She’ll be speaking about financial permaculture and the various forms of capital. I can’t wait! For those of you not lucky enough to be in Florida to hear Laura speak in person, she has speaking engagements in other parts of the country too. And her blog is excellent. Enjoy!

New addition 10/2/19: Laura Oldanie featured in CNBC! Article on How To Put Cash into Socially Responsible Investments and Still Make Money.

When Plants “Take Over”

It’s a common complaint: “That plant just takes over my yard.” “I wouldn’t plant that plant … It takes over.”

To which I respond, “Great! Free organic matter, stormwater absorption, and temperature buffer!” (And depending on the vegetation, could also be noise buffer, visual privacy screen, wildlife habitat and more.)

Usually the person making this lament isn’t referring to an invasive per se; just a plant that grows prolifically.

My favorite method for dealing with prolific vegetation — a method I learned in permaculture design courses — is to “chop and drop”: Leave the plant alive, but cut it back and use the trimmings as mulch. We want little to no bare ground, anywhere. And having living plants — living roots in the soil — is preferable to just having mulch. The living plants feed sugars to beneficial fungi living in the soil, and those fungi in turn channel essential minerals to plants.

Even when unwanted plants sprout up in my pots of veggies and herbs, oftentimes I will “chop and drop” rather than pulling up the unwanted grass or other so-called “weed.”

As for invasives — While I don’t advocate deliberately cultivating invasives, if you already happen to have invasive plants growing, it may not be a big problem. “Chop and drop” goes a long way. (And if you are a science-geek, experimental type, why not look into making biofuel from that invasive plant matter! I think it’s an overlooked local industry which could work just about anywhere.)

Plants are almost like a perpetual-motion machine, capable of turning sunlight and carbon dioxide into an endless supply of green matter.

Recently I took an online course about the importance of soil in mitigating carbon. I always knew trees were important, and I donate to reforestation and conservation projects. But, while trees are important and we should plant as many as possible, it turns out the power to mitigate carbon ultimately lies in the soil itself.

The course is called “Soil Is the Climate Solution.” I missed the free promotional period, but the course was well worth the $50 I paid for it. Not only does it teach about the power of soil; it also teaches how you can (if you desire) become a more credible advocate for soil, speaking to others about the simple, often-overlooked solutions to desertification, extreme drought-flood cycles, and other largely human-caused ills that will if left unchecked lead to widespread famine and displacement in the near future.

If this interests you even a little bit, check out the course here: Soil is the Climate Solution – taught by Kiss the Ground’s Finian Makepeace; offered via Commune. With the course, you get to download a slideshow which you are free to personalize so you can go right out into your community and be an advocate.

Mr. Makepeace’s organization, Kiss the Ground, is a nonprofit dedicated to “inspiring participation in global regeneration, starting with the soil.”

The other day at the climate march, I met a woman who said she was exhausted by having to cut the prolific vegetation in her backyard. I suggested (since she doesn’t actually use her backyard) that she just let the vegetation be, and only cut back enough to avoid obstructing the walking path or whatever.

“But I might have to sell the house,” she said, “So I have to keep it cut back.”

I suggested she cross that bridge when she comes to it, and in the meantime, save herself a whole bunch of labor and stress. Anyway, whoever buys the house might actually want to have that vegetation, and have the option of cutting it back according to their needs, rather than inheriting a baked scalped yard where they have to build up the plant life and cool microclimate from scratch.

A final thought: When you see plants “take over” an empty lot, some corner of your yard, a riverbank, or other space, thank them for providing ecosystem services.

#ClimateStrike

Pix from the climate strike here in Daytona Beach.

“In an address to the French parliament, in July, [16-year-old climate activist Greta] Thunberg put it this way: “Maybe you are simply not mature enough to tell it like it is, because even that burden you leave to us children. We become the bad guys who have to tell people these uncomfortable things, because no one else wants to, or dares to.”” (from New Yorker magazine online)

Sustainability Action Plans of Local Government

Does your town, city, county or other local government have a sustainability action plan?

Turns out my home county does, though I didn’t know it til recently, when I was researching the sustainability offices and action plans of other cities and regions. The Sustainability Action Plan for Volusia County (Florida, USA) was published in 2012.

I’m only about a fifth of the way through the 84-page report, but I have read enough to know the goals sound good (reduce driving miles, promote local food, and that sort of thing). What I don’t know is how serious we are about making it happen.

Looking around me, I see a lot of car-dependent housing developments and car-centered commercial developments (the latest new project is a giant gas station that will have 120 pumps!) over what used to be forest and wetland.

And I see destructive landscaping practices which all too often seem to show no regard for native flora and fauna. (Personally, I think no one should be allowed to make a penny doing landscaping until they get at least basic knowledge of the native plants of the region where they are working.)

The destruction of our lush wetlands pains me. We could’ve had a vast nature park along I-95, and that would be visitors’ first glimpse of Daytona Beach. Campgrounds (including “glamping” parks), rustic rental cabins, canoe and kayak rentals, camera safari guide shops, fishing expedition outfits, Old Florida-themed boutique hotels. All of it built to complement and blend in with the natural surroundings rather than stick out garishly. Instead, what visitors driving on I95 see when they get to Daytona Beach is a string of giant car dealerships (brightly lit 24-7), and “factory outlet” type shops. And soon, a mega petroleum tabernacle with 120 gas pumps. It’s a harsh reality, what we humans have chosen.

But I believe in focusing on what can be done, not in crying over spilt milk. Otherwise I would not be able to get out of bed in the morning. So I will be looking into how I might be able to help my region meet its stated sustainability goals.

My next steps are to finish reading the report and to make contact with my county sustainability office. (I have tried calling a couple of times but got a voicemail recording and did not leave a message.)

Eye-opening statistics I’ve learned from the report, about our community’s carbon emissions: Transportation and electricity together account for almost 86 percent of the total! Transportation is 38.8% (of which on-road accounts for 34.6%); electricity 46.9%. Good to know; I tend to see large percentages like this as a sign of low-hanging fruit. The next-highest category, at a very distant third place, is wastewater at 10.5%.

Your homework assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to 1) find out if your local government has a sustainability action plan; 2) read it; and 3) connect with the people in charge of implementing it.

Enjoy, and let me know what you find out! I will keep you posted on my efforts.