December 30, 2011
|Will 2012 be a good year to grab bags of beans and rice and head for the hills?|
What we will probably see is a continuation of events triggered by the failure of the capitalist Utopian dream starting in 2008.
What does that mean? Governments at all levels will be cutting services while charging more in taxes and fees. The average person will have less disposable income to... well, throw away.
For example, I just learned that the new year will see my province's health care premiums rise, in addition to increases in the carbon tax on gasoline, the cost of electricity, ferry charges, car insurance, and payroll deductions, if your job hasn't been cut yet.
In some US cash-strapped cities, public works departments are cutting off the lights at night, and although that may make star-gazing more enjoyable, decisions such as these are likely to have other unintended consequences. Some of them, like seeing the glory of the night sky, will be good. Others, not so much.
Things aren't going so well in the Eurozone, either. One of my favourite blogs is talking about the EU drastically changing its configuration in 2012 as banks, and the economies that depend on them, become increasingly wobbly.
Wobbly enough, actually, that forward thinking people are considering the possibility of bank runs (which would trigger bank holidays, rendering your money inaccessible), closed borders, and travel restrictions, while the EU and/or Eurozone collapse.
Did I mention that anti-depressant use is up 25% in the UK since the 2008 global economic meltdown began? The past three years have been a real bummer for millions, and financial uncertainty is believed to be the main cause of the increase in clinically sad people.
Regardless of what the new year brings, it will not be all sad - it never is. There will be many opportunities for change in 2012, and it will be up to us to decide how these changes will impact our lives.
If electricity is more expensive, for example, people will be motivated not to use it wastefully. As for the changes that are less attractive, we can be prepared before hand to help mitigate their impact.
We can be ready for whatever next year brings by doing a few things now. Many of the actions we can take are similar to basic emergency preparedness that we should maintain at all times anyway.
Here are a few that I am working on, and can recommend to you:
- Simplify, simplify, simplify. The more simple your life, the more able you will be to absorb, and react to, the changes that are coming.
- Have some cash at home (in a safe place, obviously) - enough to pay all your expenses for at least a month or two.
- Keep a well-stocked pantry with enough food and water to keep you and your family healthy for up to a week, or more (a minimum of 72 hours).
- Pay off debt. Getting rid of debt is like cutting a dragging anchor. We may need to be mobile and free.
- Enjoy every day as if it were your last, for things are getting strange, and you never know what kind of outrageous shit tomorrow will bring.
In answer the question posed in the caption on the image at the top - Yes, 2012 is looking like a good year to grab bags of beans and rice, head for the hills, and start a new, simple life. But, the simple life is something that can be achieved wherever you are.
All of us at the NBA Blog wish you a simple, free, and happy 2012! May you have plenty of opportunities for positive, sustainable change in the new year.
December 28, 2011
|"A man is rich in proportion to the number of things |
he can agree to let alone." - H.D. Thoreau, Image by M. Thompson
Be inspired by this amazing feat of simplicity that took place 150 years ago in a tiny house in the woods of eastern USA - a house that was smaller than most people's garages today.
Increasingly, people are looking for more gentle ways of living as an alternative to unsustainable modes of production and consumption, and many of them turn to the writings of author, environmentalist, and social critic, Henry David Thoreau.
In 1845 Thoreau built his home and monument to simplicity next to Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts. He used found and recycled materials to keep costs down, and reduce his environmental impact.
To build a replica of his cost-cutting cabin today would only cost about $3000, if you could find a neighborhood willing to accept a home so... sensible. His 150 square foot house would have to be at least 10 times larger to meet the minimum size requirements of today's residential developments where size definitely matters.
|Thoreau's 150 sq. ft. cabin was built by hand from found|
and reclaimed materials
Thoreau's minimal approach did not end when his house was done. He stocked his home with the same eye to keeping his life as simple and carefree as possible, and only kept what added to his basic life, and no more.
Thoreau considered many wealthy people to be little more than the janitors of their possessions, for when did they actually have time to enjoy them? Henry David treasured relationships, nature, and freedom over possessions.
Because he kept his possessions to a minimum, and did without extras like coffee, tea, milk, and meat, Thoreau could choose to work less.
The ideal work schedule for a week on Walden Pond was one day of work, and six days of leisure. He wrote, “The order of things should be somewhat reversed – the seventh should be a man’s day of toil…and the other six his Sabbath…”. This radical plan would amount to six weeks of work per year, a schedule most people would find sufficiently relaxing.
Thoreau's amazing feats of simplicity model for us a way of living that minimizes environmental damage, and maximizes personal freedom, responsibility, and enjoyment.
“Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life," he warned, "are not only not indispensable but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”
|The spartan interior of Thoreau's cabin - all you need.|
"Live simply. Be free." is the lesson Thoreau shares with us in his amazing feats of simplicity.
December 26, 2011
|"Be silly. Be honest. Be kind." - Ralph Waldo Emerson|
Therefore, we give ourselves time to play, to be silly, to let go. We laugh so hard that we are reborn and don't know where or when we are for a moment.
We dance, jump, sing, fly, shout with joy. We are alive now. Best to take advantage of that while we still can.
We don't want to wait for some arbitrary time when it will be alright to be ourselves and live again. A lot of steam can build up while we wait to retire, for example.
This is our safety valve because we know that having time to play is good medicine. Work has its place, and we bend to it with equal joy when needed. But no more than needed, for we are not machines.
We are working to live, not living to work. We are doing the happy dance, and hope you are, too.
December 25, 2011
|How many Christmas presents do you remember?|
If you are like me, when you think about Christmas Past you remember piles of glittery, sparkly, enticing boxes set under the tree.
You may even remember learning about delaying gratification as you painfully waited days to wield an 'open sesame' spell over the presents before you. But do you remember the gifts inside?
|"A box, a box!"|
It makes me think of an old home video of a young boy vigorously unwrapping a large gift on Christmas morning. As soon as he had the wrapping paper off he started yelling with glee, "A box, a box!"
He was so excited about the box that his parents had to explain that the cardboard box wasn't really the gift, and that there was something else inside. Still, the box was more exciting.
When I think back I remember more boxes than their contents.
The majority of presents I have unveiled over the years have long since blended into a massive collage of things that have passed through my life since I was young.
No doubt there were gifts that I was pleased to have received, but these aren't even the things I remember in my Christmas Redux.
Here are some of the things I do remember:
- the excitement of the season with all the lights brightening the cold, long nights
- having more guests in our home than usual, like our loving grandparents
- a sense of good will toward others that was all-pervasive
- the smell of the tree, and candles, and feasts
- eating Mandarin oranges... sometimes too many :)
- smiling, happy people
- the cold and snow outside, and the warmth, love, and security inside
- getting along with my siblings for longer than usual
- playing with empty boxes and big piles of wrapping paper
- sensing that one year was coming to a close, and another just dawning
- and finally, I remember the thought that was behind each and every gift I have had the pleasure of opening - the intentions were honourable and good, and I felt loved. Thank you.
Christmas morning Pro tip: Babies look cute in empty boxes, and cats look funny in them. Dogs... not so much. You can make a robot costume out of empty boxes. Or you can slide down a snowy hill in a box.
December 23, 2011
|This gift will add value, dignity, and respect to the world|
According to the Basic Income Earth Network, a basic income is one that is "unconditionally granted to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement."
The idea of a basic income is one that has been around for a while. For good reason - it is one of the most just and effective ways of battling poverty.
Providing a basic income to all is an effective way to restore balance to our present situation in which global income inequality continues to grow. The World Bank reports that almost half of the people in the world live on under 2 dollars a day and a fifth on less than a dollar a day. Such poverty has devastating consequences.
The average income of the richest 20 countries is thirty-seven times greater than the average in the poorest twenty - a gap that has doubled in the last forty years. Within the richest countries the gap between the richest and poorest is also growing, which is causing great discontent, as it should.
|Inequality is a breeding ground for discontent, misery,|
and potential violence
Often, talk about guaranteed annual income - if it happens at all - is directed at national implementation. Indeed, in Canada it is being discussed as a way to address the fact that 10% of the population struggles below the low-income line.
Both a House of Commons committee on poverty and the Senate have released reports recommending exploring a basic income for certain groups such as the handicapped, or all low-income Canadians. I am heartened by the fact that this discussion is taking place in my homeland.
However, I would like to think big - bigger than the national level. We live in a globalized world, so let's take this thing global. I would like to see this basic benefit extended to all of humanity.
We could consider it each human's share of the bounty provided by the earth's resources, and our own technological advances. I will let the economists figure out exactly where the money will come from.
There is clearly enough cash in the world to make my gift a reality. All we need is the compassion and political will to implement what is perhaps the most just and effective way of eliminating poverty.
I am imagining a world where every human is provided, as a basic right, the means to provide themselves and their families with the necessities, without enduring harsh, judgmental systems designed to support bare survival rather than dignity and growth.
I am imagining a world where we all share in the bounty of the planet. A world where we take care of each other. A world where everyone has enough.
That is my gift to the human family for this year, and one which I will continue to work toward in the coming months.
December 21, 2011
Happy Winter Solstice! I invite you, on this shortest day of the year, to grab your hot beverage of choice, relax, and take a look at this short 10 minute video about how small actions can inspire great changes.
Each of us holds enormous power to instigate change, and when we share that, it can create a better world for everyone.
Thankfully, no one will ever be able to privatize love, compassion, and kindness. These belong to the commons that we all participate in every day of our lives. They cost us nothing, and are given and received freely, just as the Earth gives freely in its celebration of life.
Celebrate the great and enduring cycles of nature, and the return of the sun and warmth. Practice giving with abandon - smile, embrace, share, cooperate.
That is what will change the world for the better - it is the only thing that ever has.
December 19, 2011
|May we all enjoy peace and contentment in 2012|
"Contentment is a state of grace, a state of peace and happiness, appreciation and enjoyment for what is, right now. Desires, in contrast, can never be satisfied. Once we get what we crave, we soon find it less satisfying than we expected, so we strive for something else. The only escape from this perpetual wheel of want is to discover the contentment and perfection we already have."
- Gillian Stokes
December 18, 2011
|Santa: "This is NOT my idea of Christmas spirit".|
Warning - shopping this time of year can be hazardous to your health. Every year holiday shoppers are injured, and are occasionally trampled and killed. Watch out for competitive shoppers armed with guns, knives, pepper spray, and body armor. It might be best to let them have that last fad toy of the year.
Or better yet - STAY HOME. Consumer Christmas is optional. If you can't afford it, or just are sickened by the whole mess, try a not buying anything Xmas. It is free, it is safe, it is sustainable.
Love, compassion, and caring cost nothing to give, and can be practiced year round.
December 17, 2011
|Xmas is different in India|
Ten years ago I spent the holiday season in Gokarna, India, a small Hindu temple town on the Arabian Sea. It was the least consumer-oriented Christmas I have ever had in my western, Christian-based existence, and I liked it.
The entire season was a non-event, except for one Charlie Brown tree that a shopkeeper set up on a table in the street. Both the shopkeeper and the tree looked slightly green in the wilting heat and red dust.
Gokarna is in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, and it is hot year round. There are no conifers, only lofty palm and coconut trees. Minority Christians in India decorate mango or banana trees, but I did not see any so dressed in this pilgrimage town.
Something that reminded me of the brilliant lights this time of year back home were the small clay oil-burning lamps that many people use. After dark they are set out on steps, flat rooftops, and along the tops of walls, creating a low-tech, festive feeling year round.
Indians are festive people generally, living a life of constant and vigorous celebration. They were like Americans at Christmas, but all the time. Their kindness and generosity, their sense of brotherhood, and their good cheer was evident at all times during my multi-week stay in this amazing country.
We seem to save our best for Sundays, or this time of year, whereas the Indians I met were happy and enthusiastic for living cooperatively every day. Witnessing this completely different ancient culture with its simple ways was one of the best, most enduring gifts I have ever received.
My Christmas in Gokarna was unique in my life - it was stress-free. There was no tree to buy, no decorations to set up, no fighting for parking spaces, no shopping, no wrapping, no special meal, no waste, no accumulating debt. Just plain old enjoying the simplicity of the routines of the day among people that were joyful to be alive, regardless of their material conditions.
This year I am recreating my Indian buy nothing Xmas. With all the craziness going on in the world right now, who needs more stress? And with all the economic hardship, who needs to pile on more debt?
No longer do we need to harbour outdated feelings of obligation toward potentially damaging 'traditional' ways. The high-consumption, wasteful Xmas orgies of the past are unsustainable, and therefore open for modification or elimination.
How about a simple buy nothing celebration? A time for rejoicing in our relationships with each other, and for rejoicing in the ample abundance of our planet. A time for non-commercial down time to clear our heads and remember what is really important in life.
December 15, 2011
This is certainly a time of goodwill and sharing. Instead of running around in a manic state trying to buy loads of stuff no one needs, perhaps we should just stop.
Stop, and give ourselves the gift of enough down time to pause and consider what we are doing, and what our true priorities are.
When we are at peace with ourselves, we can be at peace with others, and with what we have.
Then we can all be content.
December 14, 2011
Experiencing the natural beauty that surrounds me is one reason I enjoy living a deliberately slow, less complicated lifestyle. I like to have time to notice, and appreciate, the efficiency and beauty of nature. The raven's call is a reminder to wake up to the natural splendor.
I live in a small coastal village of 10,000 transplants, misfits, malcontents, rebels, and revolutionaries. I fit right in. The thing that these self-reliant, hearty souls share is a love of the natural environment. A suit and tie is of little use out here, but if you have a good pair of rubber boots and a thick wool sweater, you are ready.
Out here, on the far western edge of the continent, you know the folly of feeling like an omnipotent, highly evolved organism separate from, or above, your surroundings. In comparison to the vastness of the stormy sea on one side, and the impenetrable, dark, mossy forest on the other, the affairs of humans are mere scurryings of ants.
Here, nature rules, and over the past few long nights it has been the ravens that have been orchestrating the elements from their lofty laboratories in the tree tops. In their black on black cloaks they are the early risers of the rain forest.
Each morning, just as a faint light washes over the sky, I have been woken by the ravens' guttural and commanding call. It carries through the fog, and echos among the cathedral pillars of trees. It celebrates the new day, and the power of nature.
When I lived in the city new days were started with the sounds of revving car engines, squealing tires, and tooting horns.
I much prefer waking to the still and quiet, broken only by the ravens' morning announcements. I enjoy laying in bed and listening to the rain forest rooster's admonishment to rise and acknowledge the magic and the beauty of nature on this very, very day.
December 12, 2011
|"It's 2011 - wake up!"|
The 1% controls billions by denying them what they need.
The rest it controls by giving them everything they want... on credit.
Are developed countries waking from nightmares of excess to embrace simple, sustainable lifestyles?
As we gain an increased awareness of global power structures, and the apartheid they perpetuate, will we make the necessary sacrifices in order to improve equality?
Will the 20% that consume 80% of the planet's resources alter their behaviour in order to aid the 80% trying to get by on the 20% that is left?
We are waking up, and once we know, we can't un-know. I sincerely hope that we take this momentous opportunity to do the right thing.
December 9, 2011
|You don't have to BUY a gift to GIVE a gift|
As Linus, of Peanuts cartoon fame discovered, "Christmas is not only getting too commercial, it's getting too dangerous!" These days you never know when you might get pepper sprayed by a hyper-competitive super shopper lunging for an Xbox.
But personal safety is not the only reason I am opting out of the commercialized craziness.
Here are a few others:
- 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 dollars a day - participating in a high-consumption Christmas does them an injustice.
- because I believe in counter-culture protest, peace activism, as well as human and ecological rights
- it is one way for me to withdraw my support for a corporate-dominated world - corporations are not kings, and I am not a consumer serf
- it is a way to re-assert my political power and take a meaningful action now
- as a way of addressing poverty - traditional Christmas emphasizes caring for those less fortunate during the holiday season, but does little to implement systematic changes that would eliminate the need for charity
- it brings attention to the national and global imbalance of power and wealth
So maybe as we close in on the holiday season we can engage our friends and family in discussions about free-market consumer capitalism, inequality, human rights, and justice, rather than what we are getting each other for Christmas.
Instead of rushing off to compete for parking spots and bargains - and risking a competitive shopping injury - let us brainstorm solutions for our broken planet.
Love and goodwill will reign when we leave the shopping behind.
December 7, 2011
|Consumption has increased, but wages have been left behind|
Simple living is a way of controling your desires so that you can regain control over your life. It is a way to escape the work/spend/work cycle, in order to live consciously and with purpose. It is a lifestyle choice few Americans have been choosing. That may change.
During the period from 1980 to 2008 we enjoyed the largest sustained period of economic growth since the last depression. Everyone felt the illusion of wealth, and it spurred an orgy of consumption such has never been seen before. This rampant consumerism has cost us dearly. We have paid by giving up control over our lives.
We gave up control because for most people the wealth was only an illusion. As it turns out, only the top income earners benefited from the economic upswing.
|Income growth (or lack of it) from 1979 - 2007|
Bottom income earners actually saw their incomes plummet during this period of supposed prosperity. Middle income earner gains stagnated, while the top 1% were laughing all the way to their safety deposit boxes. And that was during good economic times.
Since 2008, and the global breakdown of capitalism, things have gotten decidedly worse. Income inequality is reaching obscene levels in many countries around the world.
So how have so many people outfitted themselves with dream homes, new cars, wide screen home theaters and annual vacations? How is it that Black Friday 2011 set sales records?
How are people funding these excessive lifestyles? For many the answer is: debt. With prices rising, and incomes stagnating, debt has been the only way many people could continue to fund the high-consumption lifestyles that have come to be seen as "normal".
It has become so bad that people are borrowing money to pay debt. Yes, paying debt with debt. Any kid with a lemonade stand knows that this is not an effective way to run a business, or a household.
|Consumer debt 1980 - 2007|
Seven in ten people in Canada own houses, and four in ten have no savings. Many people are expecting, for the first time, to be in debt past age 65. About 70% have no pension. It is hard to see how this kind of bondage can end well.
We have been using debt to live beyond our means for decades, and in the process have lost control of our lives. Debt can be a ball and chain that is easy to put on, but extremely hard to remove.
However, one of the best things you can do is get rid of debt. It is one way the 1% tries to enslave us - by enticing us to borrow their money, to buy their stuff.
Eventually, they plan, we will be so in debt that we will be desperate enough to work for them in their crappy low-paying jobs. Jobs that don't allow us to pay off our debt, but do allow us to at least make the minimum payments. It is more difficult to live consciously and with purpose when you owe the big banks money.
Adopting a simple, low-consumption way of life is one way to bend the bars of the cage of consumerism, and slip away to freedom. It can help you get out of debt, and stay out of debt. The time has come for us to start living within our means, and at the same time, fight for a more equitable world.
Simple living can assist us by providing the drive to control our desires and our spending. It is the best way to retire debt, and regain control over your life.
Live simply - be free.
December 5, 2011
|There is nothing free about fences|
One of the most tragic things we have done to our beautiful planet is to create imaginary boundaries and lines that cut the beauty into artificial, little pieces. Even worse is when we solidify such arbitrary boundaries with fences and closed gates.
Fences and gates say "Mine" and "Keep Out". Boundaries divide people into "Us" and "Them". Borders fuel a dangerous mental illness that makes us feel like we are not all in this together.
I am usually a law abiding citizen, but I have little regard for fences and locked gates. In order to avoid trespassing charges, I tend to gravitate to public land such as parks and conservation areas.
An essential activity in my life has been visiting public spaces where I can walk for days if I want, and not see a single fence or gate. I love having room to roam in wide open spaces, and discovered long ago that it spawns an expansiveness in my thinking and experience.
Without greed-driven, territorial fences limiting me, I am free.
from When The Music's Over
by Jim Morrison
What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences and dragged her down.
We want the world and we want it now.
by Jim Morrison
What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences and dragged her down.
We want the world and we want it now.
December 4, 2011
|What if we created a better world for nothing?|
I apologize to all the activists that have been working hard on guidelines to replace the Kyoto Accord when it expires soon. My government does not represent me, or most clear-thinking Canadians that I know, when it comes to taking action on climate change.
Please ignore our petty, small-minded, anti-science, business as usual bureaucrats, and get on with creating a cleaner, better world without us.
We will get caught up after we vote these climate clowns out of office next election.
December 3, 2011
|More is less, Less is more|
We are led to live large by the advertising industry and social pressure. We want everything. Then we want more of everything. This is not healthy, sustainable, or a good way to achieve lasting happiness.
Just because certain activities are socially acceptable doesn't mean they aren't damaging to yourself, others, and the planet. That is why we need to begin to talk about doing less, having less, and working less, in order to get more.
Often doing less is better for your health, and it is certainly better for the planet. You can save a great amount of money by doing less, and having less.
Exercising some restraint on your desires is also an excellent way to boost your emotional well-being. It feels great to have the self-control required to say NO to the incessant pressure to do more, buy more, have more, and work more.
What could you do less of?
- Driving - driving is expensive and dirty, while riding a bike and walking are good for you
- Eating - most people in developed countries eat more calories than they need
- Shopping - cut out shopping as entertainment
- Eating out - learn to cook favourite dishes, have friends over for potluck dinners
- Traveling - traveling for fun is great, but is frequent travel really worth it?
- Showering - fresh water is at a premium, and frequent showers are unnecessary
- Laundry - it is not necessary to wash every piece of clothing after only one wearing
- Drugs - even legal drugs like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol are expensive
- Fashion - if it weren't for fashion you would only have to shop for clothes every 5 - 10 years, except for socks and underwear, of course
- Watching TV - ditch the cable and take a walk, or get back to your hobby
- Processed foods - these fake-foods are nutrient deficient and expensive
- Fast foods - healthy food is slow food - if it comes through your car window, it is not really food.
- Going out - going out is synonymous with spending money - try staying home and relaxing instead
Pretty soon you wonder why you ever had some of your more deleterious habits. Less becomes more. More money, more free time, more freedom, more good health, more good decisions for ecological integrity.
What are you doing less of these days?