Financial Resilience As A Community Effort

Today I celebrate a mini milestone in my financial planning. I am lending a neighbor the money for the downpayment to buy the house they’ve been renting! This, for me, is so exciting. It’s a win for my neighborhood (good neighbor becoming a homeowner) as well as for my longterm financial plan (shifting my monetary assets from large financial institutions to what I consider to be solid investments in my local community).

This shift is something I’ve been working on for a long time. I have erred on the side of slowness to avoid putting all my eggs in one basket or investing in endeavors that are well-intentioned but turn out to be unstable.

My finance story is something I’ll be posting about more soon.

For today, my “Scooby Snack” for you is a wonderful piece written by someone else. “Financial Resilience: Lessons from the Peace Corps.” This is a guest post on Laura Oldanie’s blog “Rich and Resilient Living,” which I often link to in my posts, and which you’ll find in my permalinks as well.

Today’s guest post is by Sara Bruya, a friend of Laura’s who was in the Peace Corps in Gabon. Sara’s post is full of valuable insights, and echoes a lot of the advice I have repeatedly shared here, such as the value of building neighborly ties, and the importance of reducing our dependence on government and other large centralized systems. Here’s just a short quote from this juicy post to tantalize you:

Looking around me in Gabon, I saw a different way of living—one that included modern conveniences (internet access, local and international TV channels, supermarkets, cell phones) and innovations (including a very convenient circulating, shared taxi system) but was also resourceful and resilient in the face of adversity and the shifting availability of basic necessities.

I saw a much closer relationship between people and the natural world, from which they were adept at sourcing what they needed to offset the costs of buying staples in farmers’ markets and supermarkets, using skills transmitted through the generations.

We are too removed from the sources of what we depend on in the States. That is probably the single greatest thing I appreciate about living in Gabon. People are the source of their own sustenance.

And:

In the midst of restrictions resulting from the current pandemic, I have realized that my Peace Corps experience prepared me, in many ways, to cope with new social paradigms, prolonged uncertainty, distance from friends and loved ones, disruption to the flow of resources, and limited control over circumstances.

Go read the rest! You don’t want to miss it! It’s another voice, highly articulate and rooted in experience, backing up all the stuff I’m always preaching to you about!

Oh, and if you’re looking for a freelance editor, Sara is one, and here is her business page.

Books Are NOT “Non-Essential”

An article I’m in the middle of reading referred to books as “non-essential” goods that people can’t afford to pay full price for right now.

Books are in fact essential, be they in paper or in digital form. The written word is a low-bandwidth durable medium for preserving and transmitting essential knowledge and skills. (Even fiction is essential; it transmits knowledge, skills, cultural values. It can also serve as a lifeline to people, by letting them know they are not alone in what they’re going through. Speaking from experience here!)

Last week I shelled out $200 (including the $80 shipping from Australia) to order Bill Mollison’s books Introduction to Permaculture and the Permaculture Design Manual. I was happy to be able to order directly from the publisher, Tagari. (The books have become difficult to impossible to get from any seller in the USA.)

Postage is what it is. I regret having years ago donated my first copies of those two books (which only cost me a total of $100 at the time). This time I will keep them; they are essential tools for my teaching — and for my ongoing learning.

Even with what I just paid, I feel I’m getting great value. If I needed to, I’d be happy to skip a month of electricity or a month of dinners or whatever to afford those books. (Well, more like a year of electricity in my case!) I am fortunate at this point of my life not to have to, but I would gladly.

Books are gold. Books are ESSENTIAL. So are authors and publishers of quality books. They deserve to get paid full price for their hard work. Add indie booksellers to that list as well.

Laundry Liberation

Laundry is a subject I often revisit, in my own life as well as in this blog. Why? I think because optimizing this task offers so many opportunities for households to save water, money, and time. (Dishwashing is another operation that keeps me engaged for this reason.)

Manufacturing shutdowns from the pandemic are causing people to have to wait longer for delivery of new appliances such as clothes-washers. People are having to wait for weeks, even a month. This news just gives me one more reason to be glad I don’t own a washer or dryer.

In my book and elsewhere on this blog, I give hand-laundering tips. I’m not saying everyone needs to do laundry by hand and forgo washing-machine ownership. But I will say, knowing how to hand-launder in a resource-efficient manner is incredibly liberating. It means you don’t have to freak out if your machine breaks down (or if your new one is going to take weeks to arrive).

“Resource-efficient” is an important qualifier. If not done mindfully, hand-laundering can use a lot more water and other resources than a washing machine.

Appliances are convenient; no doubt about it. But if we get so we think we can’t function without them, they’re ultimately a source of stress.

Are you without a washing machine but really don’t want to hand-launder? Or have no laundromat nearby? In that case I suggest a laundry service. Many of them offer various eco options. And since they’re a business, they are oftentimes quite resource-efficient. When I’ve had massive piles of other people’s laundry to do, a laundry service has been a lifesaver. And I like supporting a local person’s livelihood.

I do encourage you to also try hand-laundering though. I’ve got lots of tips in my book and elsewhere on this blog.

Here’s a new tip I just made up today. I usually wash clothes with plain bar-soap and sometimes a touch of baking soda. The bar of soap gets wet (of course). Today, before putting that wet bar of soap back in its resting place, I wiped it off with a DRY hand-towel that was my last item that needed to be washed today. That allowed me to put back the bar of soap in a DRY state rather than wet. (Fussy detail maybe, but I don’t like the goop that forms when a wet bar of soap is returned to the soap dish. Also I think the soap lasts longer if it’s put away dry.)

To wash that last hand-towel, which now had soap in its fibers, I simply dunked it into the washtub, rubbed it, swished it around.

Dare To Be Small

People talk a lot about “daring to be big,” (as in aiming for the stars) but when’s the last time you heard someone say, “Dare to be small”?! It’s a worthy thing though, even being small. Some people struggle with the idea of really going for it and daring to think big, but I think deep down that people have even more trouble with the idea of just being a small player.

I’m not being falsely modest here. My actions are small; no two ways about it. And I’m maybe micro-famous at best, on a good day. So many people I know are doing so much more. Truly.

But, I still make a difference. I’ve shared links and written letters that ended up influencing outcomes.

It’s OK to be just a foot-soldier. Actually it’s a privilege to be a foot-soldier! The revolution might not be YouTubed. Next time I’m thinking how small I am in the scheme of things, how little I do compared with the rockstars and great leaders, I’m going to remind myself to proudly own my smallness!

Some people don’t want to do anything unless they can be the biggest and the best. Not everyone’s egos can handle just being a bit player. But the world can’t afford that attitude! If you’re one of the high-flying bigwigs, and are using your bigness in service of the greater good … that’s wonderful!!

But even if you’re just a small link in the chain, enjoy that! Revel in your role! Dare to be small. Even signing a petition is something. Or thanking the restaurant for having compostable takeout containers.

The flipside of daring to be small is realizing how much you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.

P.S. I just now stumbled on this quote: “Do What You Can.—It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little; but there are men who are always clamoring for immediate and stupendous effects, and that virtue and knowledge are to be increased as a tower or a temple are to be increased . . .” (Attributed to Edmund Burke by some sources.)

The Deadly Middle

No, this isn’t a post about politics (though politics is very much on most people’s minds right now as the U.S. presidential vote count nears its razor’s-edge conclusion).

This is a post about the global environmental crisis, and our response to it. (“Our” meaning environmentalists.)

As I type those words “global environmental crisis” and read them over, they seem thin and flabby, like a popular song that gets too much airplay and loses its power to move people.

So how about I try a different set of words. How about “worldwide state of environmental emergency.” That’s a mouthful, but has a bit more compelling feel to it.

This blog and my book are aimed at a specific audience: people who 1) believe the climate scientists and other experts who say we are in a global state of emergency; and 2) share my belief that we, everyday people, have the power to turn things around. My term for our group is #GrassrootsGreenMobilization, also known as “Deep-Green Troops.”
(A collateral audience of this blog, and of my book, is people who need or want to radically reduce their financial overhead. Also people who want to take their household disaster-resilience to a whole new level. But for this post, I’m just focusing on my original intended audience of “deep-green troops.”)
A term popped into my mind today: The Deadly Middle. It describes a phenomenon I’ve noticed for a long time and sometimes felt hopeless about. The Deadly Middle is the vast mushy terrain between “appropriate response to acute emergency that’s right up in our face” and “appropriate response to non-emergency situation.”

When there’s no emergency, people go about their day in a normal fashion. When there’s an acute, in-your-face emergency, it’s all hands on deck and everyone’s trying to help. Say you were at the beach and a child was drowning. Some people would be diving in to save the kid; others might be calling 911 or running to get the Beach Patrol, and so on. Nobody would be standing around yawning or pointing fingers or sipping umbrella drinks.

The problem is, when it comes to the environment, there is a huge emergency, but it’s not the “child is drowning right here right now” kind. Welcome to the Deadly Middle, where not everyone even agrees there’s an emergency, and even among those who agree, there’s not enough agreement on what’s an appropriate response.
It often feels surreal. People who genuinely believe there’s a state of worldwide environmental emergency are still drinking bottled water; still hopping on airplanes for social and recreational visits; still accepting the car-dependent lifestyle; still (fill in the blank with your favorite everyday eco outrage).

People are good at responding to emergency when the government tells them it’s an emergency. The Covid shutdown was a prime example. People (for the most part) listened and responded in a manner appropriate to a state of emergency.
Granted, not everyone agrees that we are in a worldwide state of environmental emergency. Those who don’t are not the audience for this post; I’m not out to persuade anyone who’s not ready to be persuaded.

The audience for this post is those of us who agree that there is an emergency. Right here right now, and everywhere.

How should we best respond? If the government’s not telling me we have an eco crisis, and I’m doing things like carry around my own reusable spoon and cup, refuse rides that are out of people’s way, go thirsty rather than drink bottled water, do without a fridge to offset the extra electricity consumed by Zoom meetings, sound a bit shrill and rabid when speaking out against harmful landscaping standards, am always standing up opening my mouth about something at a public meeting, shun new clothes for the most part, spend hours writing letters to the editor and my elected officials, etc., don’t I just end up looking like a bozo or outright lunatic and not accomplishing anything?

Well, yes and no. On the one hand, there are always social penalties for going against mainstream norms. Penalties can range from mild ridicule to full-blown ostracism or even permanent estrangement and loss of livelihood.

But then again: If someone is going around saying there’s an emergency, but their actions don’t match their words, aren’t they the one who looks like a bozo?

Lately I have been getting more comfortable with the phrase “We are in a worldwide state of environmental emergency.” As in: No, I’m not buying this or that product; no, I’m not burning a bunch of gasoline needlessly; no, I’m not donating money to this nonprofit organization that’s a poor steward of resources; no, I’m not investing any of my life savings in Wall Street … because we are in a state of worldwide environmental emergency.

Try it out, and if it helps, use it! To me it’s like having a really big tough friend standing behind me when I’m talking back to the bullies.

And yes, sometimes the bully I’m talking back to is my own self. My own desire, sometimes, to shut off my caring and just be free to consume mindlessly. When I say the thing about the state of worldwide emergency, it weakens my own inner bully and fortifies my caring self.

Lately my approach to dealing with the eco crisis is to ask myself: To what extent am I feeding it? To what extent am I starving it? You may have heard the tale about “Which wolf wins? Whichever wolf I feed.” I’m not perfect but at least I can say that, to the best of my knowledge, my actions are subtracting from the crisis more than adding to it.

Also consider: If we eco folk are going around trying to convince people there’s a state of emergency, and our words are visibly matched by strong actions, other people are far more likely to listen and follow suit. Thus helping to accelerate a shift away from consumerist defaults.

Looking back over the past few decades, I think this has been a weakness of the environmental movement all along: that our actions haven’t matched up to the urgency of our words. I expect the people who believe there’s an emergency to be living their lives a LOT differently from those who don’t believe anything’s wrong.

Climate Accord Blues? No Need!

It’s officially official. As of Wednesday November 4, the U.S. is out of the international climate accord. Our withdrawal is expected to have a strong adverse effect, as our actions ripple out to influence those of other countries. This is disheartening news but we can’t afford to wallow in discouragement.

Our best hope now is individual action. Actually, that’s been our best hope all along. If you don’t believe that individual action — lifestyle shifts on the household level — makes a difference, I understand. But, I do believe it; always have. In fact, I believe it’s the main or even the only thing that might save us in the end. And we saw evidence of the aggregate power of individual action during the pandemic shutdowns, when households curtailed travel and consumption. The positive effect on wildlife and ecosystems of this pandemic-induced reduction of the human footprint was quick and dramatic.

To all who are reading my book, following my blog, and reporting your own struggles and successes, thank you. You are part of a #GrassrootsGreenMobilization

P.S. If Biden gets elected, he plans to get us back into the climate accord the minute he is able. So we may only have a couple months of not being in. Even so, individual and household purchase decisions and other choices are the driver of consumer demand and ultimately of government policies. So keep up your good work, and never underestimate the power of your choices, be it refusing a plastic bag, bottled water, or an unnecessary trip; allowing your yard to revert to meadow; paying a little extra to buy local pastured meat and produce instead of factory-farmed; line-drying your clothes; etc etc etc … the list is endless! So many opportunities; you can find plenty more examples in my book and throughout this blog.

Post-Election Wisdom

“After the elections are over, your neighbors will still be your neighbors. Trump won’t be there to ring up your groceries; your neighbors will. Biden won’t be there to fix your car or help with yardwork; your neighbors will. Both Trump and Biden will still be in their wealthy political world, and the rest of us will be in ours. They’ll both be doing their thing, while you and I live together, work together, learn together, shop together, eat together, worship together, and pump our gas next to one another. We the people are what makes a country great. We are the ones who choose to be decent, loving, caring, and compassionate human beings. Vote for whomever, but always choose kindness.” (Source unknown; from a friend’s Facebook status.)

(By the way, choosing kindness doesn’t mean we let racism or other bad stuff pass unchallenged. We have to call out wrongdoing, and do what we can to correct it. Kindness isn’t kindness if it actually means “Let’s not ever be confrontational or talk about anything difficult.”)

And, from Charles Marohn at StrongTowns.org: “… everything you are passionate about at the national level has a local analog that needs your attention. And not only does it need your attention, your passion and energy is game-changing. The time and effort you put into making your place stronger and more prosperous will make a huge difference in the lives of others. The result of those efforts won’t be ambiguous — show your place love and it will love you back. I promise.
Voting is important, but … it is one of the least impactful things we should be doing over the coming months and years.” Go here to read the rest of Chuck’s article, “It’s All Local Now.”

Like Chuck, I have been a “localist” for a while now. Yes I vote in national elections and yes I care about the results. But at the end of the day, what happens on the local and regional level has more of an impact on our day-to-day lives. I always tell people the neighborhood and the household are the real units of power.