August 30, 2010

No Mischief Monday

When we heard about the hippies, the barely more than boys and girls who decided to try something different ... we laughed at them. We condemned them, our children, for seeking a different future. We hated them for their flowers, for their love, and for their unmistakeable rejection of every hideous, mistaken compromise that we had made throughout our hollow, money-bitten, frightened, adult lives." - June Jordan

Was Goldilocks A Buddhist?

Repeated surveys on human happiness yield the same result - once a person has enough resources to cover the basics, more fails to produce increased happiness. I like to think of it as the Goldilocks Effect.

If our pile of cash is too small we cannot achieve optimum happiness. And although it goes against all we believe, if our pile of cash is too big we may also struggle in the contentedness category. Goldilocks was pursuing the Middle Path. I wonder if she was a Buddhist?

Developing a sense of having "enough" is crucial to simple living. We know that too little money will create hardship. But we must remember that too much can make us unhappy, too. When we are happy with enough we become unfettered. We can work less, and worry less on the middle path of enough.

Enough is being able to cover the basics of life for yourself and your family. And because I am not an ascetic (yet), it is nice to have just a little bit more. How much more are we talking here? More enough to be able to explore our limitless human potential in simple, creative, and wonderful ways. More enough to learn, to play, to laugh, and love.

The amount of money it takes to achieve this elusive "enough" differs from person to person, but would be a modest sum in all cases when compared to what most people live on today in developed countries.

If optimal happiness is gained when we have just enough, and this is a modest sum, then what is all the extra work and money for? Why not just stop at the modest sum that provides enough, and skip all the grief and pressure of always trying to get more?

Not too little, not too much. Enough is just right. It is the Goldilocks Effect, and endless surveys tell us it leads to optimal human happiness.

"Being sated is something people can learn - and it is after they have managed to control their instincts and impulses in the best interests of themselves and society that they are truly free." - Raj Patel

August 28, 2010

Canada Not Buying Anything Containing Bishpenol-A

Last week Statistics Canada reported that 91% of people tested had toxic bisphenol-A in their urine. Disturbingly, the highest concentrations were in children. In 2008 Environment Canada banned BPA-laced baby bottles. Shortly after that France followed suit. Now Canada is ready to declare BPA a toxic substance and ban its use in any consumer products, becoming the first country in the world to do so.

Bisphenol-A is used to harden plastics and is found everywhere, from the plastic linings of tin cans to water bottles, plastic food wrap, and some plastic containers. There are also many non-food uses for BPA plastic such as CDs and DVDs, and sunglasses. Research has linked this all-pervasive chemical to hormonal and neurological issues. It is often identified as #7 plastic, and is associated with diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer, and developmental problems in children's brains and hormonal systems.

The American Chemistry Council is already pleading with Environment Canada not to declare their product toxic, but the Minister of Environment, Jim Prentice, is not being swayed by their pursuit of profit over safety. It is not known exactly when, but the ban will be implemented.

Many are accusing those in the chemical industry of attempting to sabotage the implementation of public policy meant to protect us from the nasty toxic cocktail developed to give us 'better living with chemistry". Some of the tactics being used are: developing blue ribbon panels, constructing studies with pre-conceived outcomes, and publishing white papers in order to convince the public of the safety of controversial chemicals.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported that it would be virtually impossible for the average person to ingest enough BPA to be dangerous. But this finding was discredited when it was discovered that the agency had ignored the advice of its own scientists and allowed representatives of the chemical industry to write significant portions of the final document.
“There are an estimated 85,000 chemicals in the stream of commerce, and very little is known about most of them. The health effects of almost half the major industrial chemicals have not been studied at all. Of those that have been studied, approximately 1,400 chemicals with known links to cancer, birth defects, reproductive impacts and other health problems are still in use today.”

- Californians for a Healthy and Green Economy (CHANGE)
It is good to see that Canada is leading the way to make sure that in the future we will not be buying anything containing toxic BPA. Undoubtedly this will lead the way for more nations to press the chemical industry for the truth about BPA and other products, which will end up making our lives better without chemicals, or at least, better with less harmful chemicals.

In the meantime, you can reduce exposure to BPA in the following ways:
  • limit your use of foods packaged in plastic lined cans (canned pasta and soups appear to have the highest levels of BPA)
  • use a stainless steel water bottle (without a liner)
  • do not heat food in plastic containers in the microwave
  • use powdered baby formula instead of pre-mixed liquids (liquid formula contains more BPA)
  • buy products in glass bottles or non-plastic lined containers
  • do not use BPA plastic baby bottles
  • do not use #7 polycarbonite (PC) bottles for hot liquids
  • #1, 2, and 4 plastics do NOT contain BPA
  • avoid using old, scratched water bottles

August 21, 2010

Cars And Shopping Carts Are Making Us Fat

And in the "well, duh" category, another study that links driving with obesity. It found that people that walked, biked, and used transit were less likely to be overweight. I think I know why. It has something to do with high capacity shopping carts and convenient consumerism, as well as big cars and cheap oil.

In 1937, Sylvan Nathan Goldman invented the shopping cart. Besides being an inventor, he was also a grocery store owner interested in helping shoppers buy more of his wares. His early shopping cart allowed his customers to load up like never before, and sales increased. Probably waistlines started to increase as well.

Modern shopping carts are different than the initial design, but mostly they are just a lot bigger. The ease of loading up a giant shopping cart must be held largely responsible for increased consumption. Pair that with cars, and you've got unlimited power to haul stuff home. This has proven to be a dangerously effective combo.

People with cars can load them up with cart-loads of groceries, whereas individuals practicing more active transportation alternatives are limited to what they can carry. Aside from the obvious health benefits of active modes of travel, perhaps our unlimited power to haul food home has something to do with our gluttony. And it's not just food. It's all of our consumption that is being aided by cars, cheap oil, and shopping carts.

Stores like Target and Home Depot that use shopping carts have had booming sales, while cart-less stores like J.C. Penny and Sears have seen merchandise being carried out of stores at a slower rate. I would be willing to bet that Europeans use smaller shopping carts, if they are used at all. At least one place has banned shopping carts in order to discourage large grocery orders that could not be carried away.

Walk, ride, and take transit softly, and carry a small basket. It could be the answer to both the obesity epidemic and the problems of convenient consumerism.

August 19, 2010

5 Keys To A Not Buying Anything Life

When Linda and I realized that consumerism had permanently taken over North Americans' previously happy lives, we had to take action. We saw people around us, good honest folks, get lead into the sucking vortex of materialism and narcissistic experiences. The Good Life is mighty alluring - it is not surprising it appeals to so many - but in the end it kills everything it touches.

We were touched by the vortex ourselves, but were thrown a rope from shore by simple living folks, historical, and contemporary. They worked in unison to help us escape.

The following 5 keys helped us embark on our quest to live better with less. These have been our guiding principles for building a simple, more sustainable life based on creativity, freedom, and the time to live slowly, and completely.
  1. Live somewhere you love. Stay home, and keep your life local, and simple. Reduce your eco-footprint. Save money.
  2. Work to live rather than live to work. Consider part-time, contract, and casual work. Have multiple income streams - a little bit of cash coming from many different places. Decide how much money is 'enough'. Then enjoy the extra time off to do what you want.
  3. Live an active, healthy lifestyle. Eat well, sleep well, run and play in nature. Be present, live and love with joy. Spend time doing nothing and abiding in your natural state (just being YOU).
  4. Get rid of clutter, mental and physical. Clutter is the enemy of clarity. We can not be free with cluttered homes and minds. As Thoreau said, "Simplify, simplify, simplify!" Be ruthless - cast off those golden shackles. Don't worry. Quit shopping. Be happy.
  5. Honour your priorities. 'Live your passion' is more than a platitude - it is the way to peace, happiness, and contentment.
Has consumerism permanently taken over your favorite couch? Take action now. Simple living can help to remove that irritant and free up some space. Try one or all of the 5 keys to a not buying anything life. Any one of them has the power to radically change you, and our planet.

August 14, 2010

This Is Where I Work

"It is more important to live the life one wishes to live... than to live more profitably but less happily." -Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

When many people move their move is based on where they can get work. The actual location is secondary, if it is considered at all. Sacrifices are made for money. Living where one wants is usually saved until after retirement. Being a contrarian, when I last moved I based my move completely on location. I could worry about work later, but at least I would be where I wanted to be.

When Linda and I left Edmonton, Alberta we discussed the best case scenario for us: waterfront on the Pacific Ocean. It was a dream we did not expect to fulfill since house prices on the coast are completely stratospheric. But as we found out, there's more than one way to manifest your dreams.

After a few weeks of wandering, and living out of our truck, we found a condo to rent in Sooke, BC. It is in a waterfront location on the Pacific Ocean. We could not believe our good fortune. Nature and beauty are all around. So much so that we quit taking vacations. We have been away twice in five years and couldn't wait to get back home. This has saved us a great deal of money, and has simplified out lives. But what about work?

Linda found work in the public library, and through her job met many people from town. One day one of the patrons told Linda he needed some help with his grounds keeping company. And that is how I found work.

I always thought that if I moved to where I wanted to be, the work would follow. This is what has happened, and now instead of working in an institution with asbestos in the ceiling, I work out in the sun and fresh air. The best part is that I can walk to work in about 5 minutes. Much nicer than the 40 minute drive to school I had to do in the city.

Not that everything is perfect in NBA Land. Linda's work in the library was on a casual basis so she never really knew when she would be working. Often it was a long time between shifts. And although I have an awesome view when I go to work, it is not as frequent as my bank account requires. But I would rather make sacrifices to be in this place than make sacrifices to make more money in the city.

This is where I work. How about you? Do you live and work in a place you love? Send me a photo and I will share it in a future post.

August 11, 2010

After Reaching Peak Speed We're Slowing Down

Some container ships today have cut their speed by half, matching the speed of the Cutty Sark 

After decades of racing faster and faster, the planet is beginning to slow down. Of course it had to, because we can not increase our pace of life infinitely. Eventually we will hit a wall, and slowing down will be the only option. It is an option that is increasingly recommended for the chronically busy, fast-paced global culture.

Slow food, slow parenting, slow money, slow travel, the slow life - the rebellion against relentless speed has begun. Keeping with this trend is the practice of slow shipping. Global shipping giant Maersk has seen the light and say, “Going at full throttle is economically and ecologically questionable.”

Cargo ships are now steaming half speed ahead, a response to the high cost of fuel, and the desire to cut carbon emissions. These modern ships are now traveling at the same speed as the Cutty Sark and other clipper ships sailed in the 1800s. Instead of container ships throttling along at breakneck speeds they are adding another week to their ocean crossing times.

Making things faster only increases our productivity and happiness to a point, beyond which we garner fewer and fewer benefits, and more and more problems. We have reached that point already. And as we were allowing ourselves to be wound up we found that along with the cottage, second car and cappuccino maker came stress, burnout, broken families, and depression.

If speed is the problem, then slowing down is the answer. Here's to peak relaxation and contentment.

“For fast-acting relief try slowing down.”
~ Lily Tomlin

August 9, 2010

No Mischief Monday

The 'not buying anything' 1 square foot of beans continues to thrive. First there were flowers, and now - bean pods!

Sure we threw the handful of kidney beans from the kitchen into the soil late, and will be fortunate to harvest any dried beans. Although, here on the coast the growing season is long.

Still, I am having as much fun as my grade four students used to growing beans for science experiments. Like them, I marvel at the miracle, and beauty of life. In one square foot.

Weather means more when you have a garden. There's nothing like listening to a shower and thinking how it is soaking in around your green beans.

- Marcelene Cox

Ask Not What You Can Do, But What You Can Stop Doing

Photo: 400,000 cell phones are disposed of every day.

Most of us are concerned for the environment and our fellow life forms, human and non-human alike. We want to know how to help. But don't ask what you can do for the environment, or the poor, or the hungry. Rather, ask what you can stop doing. We have already "done" enough, don't you think?

We can not shop our way out of our current crises. Green this, and carbon offset that is an excuse to perpetuate business as usual, but this is what has led us into trouble in the first place.

We need a new model where we need to do less, not more. Less shopping, less flying, less driving, less elevating our social standing through the acquisition of stuff. We can not buy our green way out of this, and try as we might, we will not be able to maintain current levels of consumption.

We can all stop doing things that are harmful to the environment. We have such a large impact from all that we are doing that there is enormous opportunity to make headway by stopping doing it.

It is time to make sacrifices for the good of the planet and each other. And ourselves. We, too, will benefit by living with less. Throw off the golden and silver chains of economic obligation. We are more than consumers, and we shine best when we pare life down to the basics.

Ask not what you can do, but what you can stop doing.

August 5, 2010

The Gleaners

I recently watched the wonderful documentary "The Gleaners and I" by French film maker Agnès Varda, and was introduced to an activity eons old, and still going strong. Gleaning is the practice of collecting food from fields, orchards, and vineyards after the official harvest has ended.

Gleaning is mentioned in the Bible, Koran, and Torah, which all support it for the poor and hungry. It was an activity traditionally conducted by the poor, but today many get involved to help minimize the incredible waste that comes with increasing wealth and industrialization.

Varda's 2000 film documents a wide variety of gleaners in rural France. She shows several paintings of gleaners including the one above. I recognized it as the painting that hung in my home when I was in elementary school. I always loved the simplicity and earthiness of this scene, but was not aware of its more controversial components.

French artist Jean-François Millet composed The Gleaners in 1857. When he unveiled it that year it was immediately unpopular with the middle and upper classes. They did not want to be reminded that their wealth was gained by the labour and sacrifice of the common folks. They must have also viewed the vast lifestyle gap depicted as rather distasteful.

Millet's painting celebrates the common people - they are the focus of his work. The three women stoop to their difficult work of gleaning wheat left over after the farm workers finished. Behind the women is a cart piled with the golden harvest. The fortunate landowner watches from his horse on the right.

The painting was completed at a time that French gleaning laws were being made more restrictive. Naturally, the peasants revolted, and the laws were eventually reinstated. They are still on the books today.

One hundred and fifty-three years after Millet's painting was displayed in the Salon, the income gap is wider than ever, and massive waste continues. However, peasant revolts aren't as popular this day and age. I think it has something to do with television and processed food.

Still, gleaning is as popular as ever, and is no longer restricted to the poor. Modern day gleaners are more commonly referred to as freegans, binners, dumpster divers, scroungers, food rescuers, or food salvagers.

There are also many talented artists that glean found objects for their work. Varda considered herself a gleaner of images.

Do a web search for gleaners in your area and something is sure to come up. Both Sooke and Victoria have urban fruit tree gleaning programs that split the haul between the home owner, the pickers, and food banks or other community organizations.

The practice of gleaning is certainly older than any of the religious texts that mention, and protect, it. Converting waste to useful purposes has been around in one form or another for as long as there have been humans. There is a reason that it still exists - because it makes sense to reduce waste.

It is natural that we should maximize on all resources available as global population rises, and as the rich continue to get richer, and the poor, poorer. We need to look out for one another, and gleaning is one efficient way of achieving this without spending vast amounts of money.

Gleaning is about not buying anything - stepping outside of the mainstream money system, and using the power of free. Which reminds me that blackberry season is just beginning...

Good gleaning to you.

August 2, 2010

No Mischief Monday

A month ago I posted about planting some beans from the kitchen. The 1 sq ft of beans has fought off bug and fungal attacks, cool winds and shade, yet continue to grow.


The sacrificial bean plant. The agreement with the bugs is that if they stick to this one plant no one gets hurt. So far, so good.