Conveying an Appropriate Sense of Urgency

One of my criticisms of the mainstream environmental movement has been that people’s everyday living choices often fail to convey a level of urgency that matches the level of urgency expressed in their petitions and protests.

When I first started getting into activism (about 25 years ago, right after moving from Tokyo to Austin), I was surprised to find that most of the other people at the meetings and protests were making lifestyle choices that undermined the very causes we were claiming to stand for.

We protested sprawl development and the relentless march of asphalt, yet most people drove to the meetings, and often in big cars. We protested fossil-fuel dependency and called on the government to “do something,” yet a lot of people lived in big houses equipped with the full arsenal of energy-hogging USAmerican conveniences (clothes dryer, air conditioning, water heater and so on). We petitioned for preservation of wildlife habitat, yet a lot of people kept big lawns.

How could we blame non-environmentalists for living that same way? At least they were acting in accordance with their beliefs!

I have to wonder how much further along we’d be if more of the people who believed there was a state of environmental urgency, had been acting on that belief more. We’d surely have expanded our influence enormously.

No crying over spilt milk; just a good thing to notice from now on. I do notice a lot more people these days going around with their own reusable cups, eating utensils, shopping bags. And more people choosing to reduce their household footprint in various ways, such as downsizing and going car-free or car-lite. More people telecommuting; more people buying local.

On the power of personal daily actions, and the importance of conveying a sense of urgency, I recommend this article in Wired magazine by Leor Hackel and Gregg Sparkman.

Here are just a few tiny bites to tempt your appetite (but please do treat yourself to the whole article):

“As in previous cultural shifts—like those around smoking or drunk driving—more people will need to see fossil fuels as an extreme danger to human health and safety. A powerful way to spread this attitude is to act like it in our own lives, minimizing the fossil fuels we burn.”

“Humans are social animals, and we use social cues to recognize emergencies. People don’t spring into action just because they see smoke; they spring into action because they see others rushing in with water. The same principle applies to personal actions on climate change.”

“Individual acts of conservation—alongside intense political engagement—are what signal an emergency to those around us, which will set larger changes in motion. … With each step, you communicate an emergency that needs all hands on deck.”

Weather Constraints Can Be Liberating

A low-footprint lifestyle can be restrictive sometimes. For example, if your clothes-dryer is a clothesline, you can only do laundry on sunny days. If you choose not to own a car, then some destinations become inaccessible, unless they are on the bus line or you’re willing to pay for a rental car or taxi. (Also, destinations that are a nice walk or bicycle ride away in good weather, can become inaccessible in bad weather.) If you use little or no artificial climate control in your home, then the temperature outdoors will exert a strong influence on what you are willing or able to do that day. Choosing to only eat the produce that’s in season limits the dietary variety that many people, particularly United Statesians, have become used to.

“Bad weather” is a relative term. Usually it’s associated with storms, rain. But, what if the thing you happen to feel like doing on a given day is stay indoors and read a book or watch old movies on TV? Then, for you, a hot blazing sunny day could be bad weather! (Unless you are one of those happy souls who are able to resist the implicit call to activity and industry that “fine” weather makes.)

A day of bad weather can be a welcome treat! (I’ll define bad weather here as “weather that reduces your ability or willingness to go out of your house.”)

There’s something liberating about being weather-constrained. I feel let off the hook for different things at different times. Each new day brings a refreshing variety. The flattened-out quality of modern life, with its constant temperature control and its automated availability of water and dryness, can be (while convenient) monotonous and oddly wearying.

Weather constraints can also be a great aid to decision-making, narrowing down one’s selection of where to work and live; what commitments to take on. I would never live in a place where my body and mind could not endure the prevailing weather. Also, I don’t take on commitments that are beyond my walking or cycling range, unless I’m willing to pay for an Uber should torrential rains and strong winds hit en route.

As for eating in season as much as possible, I love it. It makes me appreciate every fruit and vegetable for the time it’s available.

As I write, the rain that had been teasingly dancing around us for days, always seeming to fall elsewhere (though we got to enjoy the gentle thunder rumbles and tall puffy clouds, and a bit of shade from those clouds) is finally coming down. I’d been planning to go work in a couple of neighbors’ gardens (I’m starting a native & edible landscaping business and am offering free service to my neighbors during the month of August), but it can wait! In the meantime I have plenty of cozy indoor tasks.

How’s the weather at your place today? What kind of weather makes you feel industrious, and what conditions make you want to laze around indoors?

In case you’ve got time and inclination (and favorable weather) for some extra reading, here are a couple of “Scooby snacks” for you:

Some Like It Cool: The Impact of A/C on the South (on ScienceOfTheSouth.com): How air-conditioning has influenced architecture, industry, and popular culture in the southern United States. (Not always for the better, in the author’s view; a certain charm and grace have faded.)

Lessons from a Car-Free Life (by Leo Babauta on zenhabits.net): The author and his wife and family of six kids went car-free after years of car-lite. “Limitations can be liberating,” he points out — and he mentions weather as one example: “Sometimes the weather isn’t great — but truthfully, I enjoy getting soaked in the rain. My little ones don’t mind either — they love stomping in mud puddles. We are so used to being in our metal-and-glass boxes that we forget how wonderful the rain is. And when the weather is good, cars isolate you from that. You don’t get to feel the sun on your shoulders…”

Household Conservation Habits as a Spiritual Practice

Personal conservation habits can become a spiritual practice, helping us to increase our kindness, compassion, and tolerance, as well as become more effective activists.

This idea came to my attention while I was writing my book DEEP GREEN. I became aware that the small daily actions I do around the house to conserve resources are not only an eco action. They are also, for me, a spiritual practice.

For me, a spiritual practice has two essential components:

1) Inner: Quiets my mind, keeps me grounded and centered, grateful, reverent.

2) Outer: Keeps me energized and motivated to keep going out into the world and help however I can.

Recently I gave a talk at my church (Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ormond Beach) on this topic of eco actions as a spiritual practice. You can listen to the audio recording here.

Money Talk

This post is more about wealth in general than it is about money per se. Just the same, I’ve used the title “Money Talk” as a sort of reminder to myself that I’ve been meaning to do a series of posts about financial sustainability, which is a key aspect of living lightly on the earth.

Today I have been very busy carting away five very heavy trash-bags full of money that one of my neighbors had left at the curbside as garbage. Thanks to my hand-cart, I was able to carry the bags of money to my house. With great effort and patience, I managed to get the very thick and expensive plastic bags untied (they were knotted very tightly!), and now those dollar bills are sitting in a thick layer in one part of my yard, where they will gain value over time.

Now, dear reader, I’m pretty sure that you (being an enthusiast of green living, or a person who has known me for five minutes or longer, or perhaps even both of the above) can guess what was really inside those yard trash bags. Not actual dollar bills, but something equivalent to money. Maybe even something money can’t buy! Yes, my friends, I’m talking about topsoil and yard “waste”. Piles and piles of native “weeds”, dark rich soil built up over time (by the action of rainfall washing organic matter down a sloped sandy yard), and whatever fungi and bacteria are in there performing the fecund mumbo-jumbo on which our life depends.

I’m not kidding when I say this is something money might not be able to buy. (And even if you are able to buy soil, it is quite expensive, and usually does not include the all-essential microbes.) Soil depletion is real and widespread. Depending on where you live, you may be experiencing the consequences up-close and personal already. One of the best investments you can make to boost the resilience of your household and community is to learn how to conserve healthy soil, and how to build it where you don’t have it.

One thing that has really hit home for me lately is that I can’t skimp on the task of building soil. (This is true in some metaphorical ways also. More about that in a future post.)

For me, the days have been flying by lately, even more than usual. Life is packed, and sometimes I really have to get a bit stern with myself about being sure to make the time and effort to sit down and share with you in writing. If I don’t share publicly, in writing, at least some of what I’m learning and experiencing, I feel that I’m not fully doing my job as an educator.

The Permaculture Revolution online summit, which started this past Monday, has been rich beyond my imaginings. I posted about it the other day, and I hope at least a few of you are availing yourselves of this mind-expanding series of interviews with ecological landscapers, natural builders, seed-savers, community-builders, a beekeeper, teachers, farmers, possibly the USA’s foremost expert on rainwater harvesting, a world-leading soil microbiologist, and others who have built their livelihoods around healing the earth and serving humanity.

Note, you don’t have to listen to the interviews at a certain time! They get posted every morning, and will remain up on the page for at least a short time after the summit ends. So you have plenty of time to watch them. Today is Day 6, and since there are a total of 20 or so interviews, with two interviews posted each day, I think we have four or five days to go at least. And it’s free! So go for it.

And if you do, let me know what you think! On the original subject I brought up in this post — money — I’ll be posting more in the near future. May your day be rich!

Right Livelihood

If you look into permaculture, you will sooner or later encounter the phrase “Right Livelihood.”

Right livelihood is an occupation that fits your skills, and fulfills you, while also helping the planet.

Some Appalachian coal miners who are out of work are getting retrained as beekeepers, reports this article by Sara Burrows on ReturnToNow.net that is getting thousands of Likes on Facebook.

And here is what a friend and permaculture colleague of mine wrote as a Facebook comment in response to the article:

“For the record, people should look into how profitable beekeeping is. I know a number of people making a good living keeping bees in cities, while owning minimal land or none at all (and using other people’s yards, city land, etc). It is one of the most profitable methods of farming – far more profitable than raising chickens for instance, for the work and expense involved in most operations. And you don’t get black lung disease from it either – bonus! (disclosure, my grandpa died of black lung and it is a really horrible way to go). Some say bee stings are therapeutic if you’re not allergic.”

(A promising hint on a right livelihood, from Koreen Brennan of Grow Permaculture. Koreen and her associates teach workshops in permaculture design, gardening, and other topics related to living well and creating a regenerative culture. They also offer permaculture design services. Visit the Grow Permaculture website to read about all the learning opportunities, including internships, that they offer.)

Koreen’s comment inspired me to google “beekeeping profitability” and I found this article on how to make money from beekeeping. It’s from a website called The Balance Careers, which offers career information broken down by category. Beekeeping is in the “Animal Careers” category.

There are so many possible right livelihoods out there for you. Is it time to think about a career change? Have you been assuming you could never earn a living at the work that really calls to you? Low-footprint living, which among other things can drastically reduce your financial footprint, can help with that! Never underestimate the possibilities that become available when you reduce your financial and energy overhead.

Here’s a list I started off the top of my head, of livelihoods which build community while serving nature:

  • composting
  • community toolshed (rental, or membership fee)
  • herb shop (dried herbs, essential oils, etc., from local plants)
  • herbal healer, acupuncturist, reiki practitioner
  • charcoal making
  • basket weaving, thatch making, fence making using local native grasses
  • bicycle-based delivery service, errand service, food delivery
  • producer of cleaning products from local native plants
  • neighborhood seed bank, plant nursery
  • community canning kitchen
  • jelly & candy maker
  • tea maker
  • baker
  • miller
  • brewer, distiller
  • bicycle cargo-trailer maker
  • neighborhood micro dairy (small goats? also doubles as lawn-mowing service; fertilizer source)
  • small welding shop to make and repair durable essential tools
  • weaver, stitcher
  • raising worms & grubs (for bait, chicken feed, etc)
  • native plant landscaping installation & education
  • firewood
  • ink-making from local materials
  • neighborhood-based childcare, eldercare, pet sitting
  • counseling (psychological or spiritual)
  • animal therapy
  • low-tech printing
  • neighborhood solar charger station
  • eco cleaning service
  • laundry/mending service
  • forager (wildcrafting educator)
  • artist
  • musician
  • knife sharpener
  • small machine repair: sewing-machine mechanic, etc.

Many of these essentials are barred from neighborhoods by codes and zoning. That is another frontier of our work: seeing what might need to be tweaked to build resilience back into communities.

What else would you add to this list? What do you love, what does your community need, and how might you turn that into a livelihood?

I once asked a high-powered corporate office manager I know and love, “Where would your dream workplace be?” I expected her to say “CEO of an international company,” or something.

But her answer was, “In a barn!” (With horses. She was a horseback-riding champion as a kid, and she loves horses and all animals.) I hope she goes for it, I really do. She has the heart, the skills, and the inner determination to succeed.

On the subject of right livelihood, “The Permaculture Revolution Interview Series: How To Find Your Purpose and Heal the Earth” (which I introduced in my previous blog post) starts today. I encourage you to sign up for this free online series by David Kincaid, AKA PermaDave. I am one of the 20+ permaculture leaders who were invited to be interviewed for this series. You’ll be able to see my interview some time in the next 20 days.

The first interview you’ll hear is with Elaine Ingham, an internationally recognized expert on the soil-food-web. Others include Brad Lancaster “Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands” and Morag Gamble “Our Permaculture Magazine.”

Besides experts sharing a wealth of practical knowledge, I also suspect this series will turn out to be a gallery or menu of potential “right livelihoods” for you to consider.

Register here, and enjoy!

Permaculture Revolution Interview Series: How to Find Your Purpose and Heal the Earth (free online video series)

Dear Friends/Readers! I have some exciting news. Recently I had the great honor of being invited to be part of this interview series, “The Permaculture Revolution Interview Series: How to Find Your Purpose and Heal the Earth!”

The series will be launched this coming Monday July 22. Visit the link below to sign up (it’s free and open to all).

Whether you aspire to live off-grid, transform your urban neighborhood into a resilient eco-oasis, or simply live a life more connected with nature … or just see videos of me and 20 other leaders of the permaculture-design movement offering various ideas on “What is permaculture about, and how can it enrich you and your community?” … I encourage you to sign up for this free online series.

I definitely plan to tune in — can’t wait to watch the interviews of Brad Lancaster (Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond), Morag Gamble (Our Permaculture Life), and the other world-class permaculturists in the series. I am humbled to be in such company!

The series is ably and graciously hosted by David “PermaDave” Kincaid, who you can read about on the signup page.

Register here for the free series.

Climate Despair

As a reader of this blog, you may not be at all surprised to hear that climate despair is prompting some people to give up on life. You may even have experienced such despair at times; I know I have. After reading Jem Bendell’s article linked above, I decided to start a new section of my sidebar: Practical Tips and Emotional Support for the Possibility of Societal Collapse. I hope you will find these resources helpful.

In his article, Prof. Bendell quotes George Monbiot (the climate activist and journalist who prompted the emergence of the Riot for Austerity movement, which in turn led me to write my book):

“…British writer and climate activist George Monbiot sees succumbing to despair as a moral failure. ‘By throwing up our hands about the calamities that could one day afflict us, we disguise and distance them, converting concrete choices into indecipherable dread,’ Monbiot wrote in April. ‘We might relieve ourselves of moral agency by claiming that it’s already too late to act, but in doing so we condemn others to destitution or death.'”

The phrase “moral failure” might sound like a harsh condemnation to some. After all, who among us hasn’t felt this kind of despair at one time or another? As I see it, the despair itself is not a moral failure; it is what we do with it. There is an invitation to process our feelings and then reach out and care for others as best we can. Community care is an essential piece which is largely missing from our frayed social fabric. Grassroots movements such as Kristin Schell – The Turquoise Table and home vegetable gardening/food-sharing have a crucial role to play in rebuilding trust and nurturance into our society. Online communities, too (such as Riot for Austerity and Journey to Zero-Waste) are essential in that they provide emotional support to people who have chosen a path of awareness, resource-reverence, and care of the earth. All of us, no matter how shattered and overwhelmed we may feel sometimes, are powerful beings. We can extend person-to-person, everyday compassion. We can look out for our brothers and sisters, comfort them in their despair, acknowledge the validity of their feelings even while we are doing the same for ourselves.

More from Jem Bendell (this is from his Deep Adaptation website, which I have also permalinked in my sidebar): “Everyone engaging with our climate predicament will have their own emotional journey. None will be easy. The question of how to engage people is a huge one for me. It is why I have focused on how people who are awake to our predicament can help each other. My main suggestion is that we engage and talk with others who do not think that we are confused, depressed, or irresponsible to have concluded that climate change now threatens societal collapse. In those connections and conversations, we find solidarity, joy and pathways for how to be and what to do in future. If you do not yet have that in your life, or want more, then I recommend reaching out through one of the networks I list here.”