November 28, 2014

White Friday

It's White Friday out there today.

It's White Friday here on the mountain, and wild horses pulling a sleigh-of-plenty couldn't drag me away from my warm and toasty home. Today Linda and I join the 3% of North Americans (or 91% of NBA readers) that will buck the trend and stay home on this most sacred of consumer holidays.

On this day the NBA commercial-free lifeboat floats tranquilly in a quiet corner of the Sea of Consumerism, proving that 'irresistible' deals are in fact quite resistible. We are not buying anything, which is not unusual, but it feels even better on a day like today.

It's White Friday and I am saving 100%. Plus I am not risking life and limb in a car accident on the way to spend money, or worse, in a frenzied stampede of crazed consumers competing for the latest hot deals.

Today is a perfect day to stay home. To celebrate the richness of home life. The simple life. The contented life.

Here is where you will find us on White Friday - right at home next to our wood stove.

We hope you are having a good White Friday, and proceed right on to a great weekend.

Stay warm. Stay strong.

November 26, 2014

Black Friday Creep

Oh, Canada.
Our home on the Native's land.
True consumer love is our dictator's command.
With glowing wallets we compete for thy consumer goods.
The true North, strong and free... to shop for bargains all week and beyond.
Oh, Canada. We stand on guard for thy economy to the detriment of everything else.

- Canada's new national anthem

Did you know that Canada never traditionally had anything called Black Friday until fairly recently? In the past while our American cousins across the border hit the shopping malls this time of year, we tended to look on with a mixture of confusion and curiosity.

Now this celebration of unfettered consumer lust is not only creeping into our country, but it is starting to bloat like an out of control diner at an all you can eat buffet. For the first time I am now seeing "Black Friday Week" advertisements.

Apparently I should be looking forward to a whole week of frenzied, chaotic and competitive debt-fueled shopping. I note that grocery stores don't get into this action, probably because business people don't usually mark down stuff you actually need to survive.

It isn't actually Black Friday Creep, it is that Black Friday Is Creepy. They think we are gullible, out of control consumers and nothing more, wiling to sacrifice everything at the alter of greed and consumer dreams. Why not prove them wrong?

Alternatives To Black Friday Day... Week... Month

  • Only buy things that don't harm people or the environment. That should reduce your shopping list considerably.
  • Realize that you don't need anything They have to offer.
  • Spend the day (or week) repairing clothes and things that you have that can be made useful once again.
  • Go for a Buy Nothing Day hike and enjoy all the free nature out there.
  • If you must shop, shop Main Street rather than Wall Street. Buy from small businesses and local artisans, and get unique goods not available from the mass producers of crap.
  • Give the gift of kindness - that stuff is free and should be shared widely and frequently.
  • Be empowered by not shopping. If you don't like being told what to do by fascist governments and the corporations they support, exercise one of the last freedoms you have left - the freedom NOT TO SHOP. It is empowering to not blindly follow orders from above.
  • Celebrate Buy Nothing Day on November 28 (North America) and November 29 (International). 
  • Or co-opt the creep thing and celebrate Buy Nothing Week, or Month, or Year!

November 24, 2014

Solstice - We Survive

A little Larch loses its leaves.

We are one moon cycle from winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. People all over the northern hemisphere celebrate solstice as it represents the day that the sun starts its return to northern skies.

That was the crux of all celebrations at this time of year before they were co-opted by corporate interests. We celebrated surviving the frightening experience of the sun's heat and light leaving us in the cold and dark.

And then, on winter solstice, the sun returns to us. Thank the solar system and physics - the heat and light return. We just may be fortunate enough to enjoy another year. The green fuse sparks to life.

I was reminded of the greatness of this time of year, and the hope that solstice offers year after year after year, when I stumbled upon a luminescent tiny tree in the forest while on a hike.

You may see a scraggly, little "Charlie Brown Christmas tree", but I saw a magnificent Solstice Tree that was positively radiant in photonic splendour.

Even as its needles turned gold and began to fall, it was already hinting at the warmth that follows the chill winds of winter. Its resplendent display spoke to me, and it said, "See you when the sun returns and we can grow together again."

What could be better than that?

November 21, 2014

Zen And The Art Of Farming

"Observe nature thoroughly rather than labour thoughtlessly."

Masanobu Fukuoka's 1975 book The One-Straw Revolution  has been described as "Zen And The Art Of Farming". In it the Japanese farmer/philosopher lays out his natural farming manifesto which has influenced many a back-to-the-lander.

Fukuoka links the healing of our planet with the ultimate health of the human spirit - the two will improve together. Getting in touch with nature leads us back to ourselves.

I love how he questions our current notions of work. He thought that doing too much was what was harmful to our planet, and was very much into labouring efficiently.

This farming master was into doing what needed to be done and no more, and called his methods "Do Nothing Farming".
“I do not particularly like the word 'work.' Human beings are the only animals who have to work, and I think that is the most ridiculous thing in the world.  
Other animals make their livings by living, but people work like crazy, thinking that they have to in order to stay alive. The bigger the job, the greater the challenge, the more wonderful they think it is.  
It would be good to give up that way of thinking and live an easy, comfortable life with plenty of free time. I think that the way animals live in the tropics, stepping outside in the morning and evening to see if there is something to eat, and taking a long nap in the afternoon, must be a wonderful life.  
For human beings, a life of such simplicity would be possible if one worked to produce directly his daily necessities. In such a life, work is not work as people generally think of it, but simply doing what needs to be done.” 
My dad said as much in one of his favourite sayings which I grew up hearing often. When things got busy in his job as a teacher he would say, "Never mind all that - just living is a full time activity".

While he taught for 35 years, I never saw my father happier than in retirement when all he needed to do was what needed to be done. And no more.

November 19, 2014

I Wore The Same Clothes For A Year

"No one has noticed; no one gives a shit."

Talk about simplifying your wardrobe. Image wearing the same thing to work ever day for a year - that is my kind of no-decision-to-be-made morning dressing routine.

Karl Stefanovic, a TV show host, recently revealed to a sometimes shocked public, "I wore the same clothes for a year". His stated goal was to highlight the double standard that exists between male and female TV personalities.

While his female co-hosts are often lambasted for their fashion choices, he says that males in front of the camera are not held up to the same scrutiny. Of his experiment he said, "No one has noticed; no one gives a shit."

But his project seems larger than he even imagined. I love what this might say about fashion and clothing in general for both genders - it is all a farce designed to keep you spending money. No may notice your expensive clothes. Or your inexpensive clothes. Or that you are wearing clothes at all.

While the rich and famous may be under scrutiny from exploitative tabloids and people with nothing better to do, most of us are not.

Who cares what we wear day after day? Why bother with an expensive wardrobe and a new set of clothes for every fashion season? Does anyone even notice?

Better to save a bundle and wear what ever you want, even if it is the same suit of clothes every day for a year. Or longer.

November 17, 2014

Who Wouldn't Want Lots Of Stuff?

Pepe at home on the farm with his beloved three legged dog Manuela and old VW Beetle.
Once while discussing simple living with a family member I was asked, "Who wouldn't want lots of stuff?" It is a good question seeing as an increasingly large group of humans are choosing to participate in the apparent abundance of consumerism.

Why don't we seem able to acknowledge the limits of nature and stop consuming when we achieve the sweet spot of the Goldilocks Zone? Not too much stuff, and not too little - just enough. We seem to like too much everything.

We act as undisciplined children let loose in a candy shop. But not everyone is making those choices. Yes, it may be a small group, but I like to think that it is growing as our ecological awareness grows.

"Who wouldn't want lots of stuff?" Besides myself, I can think of many others. There have always been simple living role models, and they still exist today.

One of my current favourite simple living inspirations is President Jose Mujica of Uruguay, or Pepe as he is affectionately known by his people.

Despite the perks that come with his office, the only vehicle Mujica uses is his old Volkswagen Beetle. He lives in a three room farm house owned by his wife rather than in the cushy presidential palace, and he donates a large part of his salary to charity.

Pepe does not want the consumer lifestyle.

“I slept for many years on a prison floor, and the nights I got a mattress, I was happy. I survived with barely nothing. So I started giving great importance to the small things in life and to the limits of things. 
If I dedicate myself to having a lot of things, I will have to spend a great part of my life taking care of them. And I won’t have time left to spend it on the things I like – in my case, politics. 
“So living light is no sacrifice for me – it’s an affirmation of freedom, of having the greatest amount of time available for what motivates me. It’s the price of my individual freedom. I’m richer this way.”

Having lots of money and things does not mean you are rich, or free. What if the opposite is true?

November 15, 2014

The Consumerism Divestment Movement

“Divestment is a proven strategy that has repeatedly helped bring about positive social change.”
 - Michael Solomon

Growth is a natural part of life. But when growth becomes abnormal it dysregulates the balance of any system, and leads to disease or death.

When unchecked growths happen in the human body we call it cancer. When it happens in the economy we call it a good thing, and ignore the obvious symptoms of disease. What is the prognosis for patient Earth, and what is the recommended course of treatment?

The prognosis looks bad, but there is still hope. Increasing numbers of people are waking up to the reality of our current condition. I see such people as white blood cells doing battle with the unchecked growth of consumerism's tumours spreading over the land.

One recommended form of intervention is seen in the fossil fuel divestment movement.

"Divestment is just as much a pathway to economic and environmental justice as it as a measure to protect endowments’ value from plummeting when the carbon bubble bursts and redirect funds to build the clean energy future we need to survive on earth." -

Not only are institutions divesting from the cancerous fossil fuel system, individuals are divesting from the whole system that promotes endless growth at the expense of people and the environment.

We could call it the "consumerism divestment movement". Proponents of this movement are pulling back from the flagrant use of fossil fuels and many other trappings of high carbon consumer lifestyles.

For Linda and I this does not only include disinvestment from investments in the fossil fuel industry, but also pharmaceuticals, tobacco, weapons manufacturers and anything else that causes the cancer to grow on our planet.

Divesting from the stuff of consumerism is effective. One only needs to look at other divestment movements, such as what occurred in South Africa, to see the power behind removing our support from the things that are causing harm.

We decide where our money and support go, and with our help we can cure the Earth of the consumer cancer currently crashing systems all over its beautiful body.

It is time to divest from harmful lifestyles.

Perhaps with a more serious name like "The Consumerism Divestment Movement", simple living will catch on in the general public as much as the fossil fuel divestment movement is catching on among conscientious investors.

Then we will see some real change.

November 12, 2014

Aging And Household Spending Conducive To Simple Life

Good news for aging into simple living - it is a natural progression to reduce the amount of shopping you do the older you get. You really aren't getting older - you are getting better. Better at living simply.

Generally household spending peaks between the ages of 45 and 50, and then falls in most every category, dropping about 43% by the age of 75. See? Just by following the natural way of things you will live 43% more simply by age 75 than you were at age 45.

Inquiring minds will want to know why this is. Do we get wiser starting at age 45? Are we more content with what we have? Why slow down the spending after a life of binge shopping?

Whatever the cause, it looks like most people will slowly slip into the simple life whether a conscious decision or not.

Tired of spending hoards of cash on things you don't need? Not to worry - aging will take care of that. Not to say one can't start spending less earlier...

November 11, 2014

Celebrate Peace

The white poppy has been around almost as long as the red, which was first adopted as a symbol of remembrance in 1921. After British pacifists failed to convince the British Legion to print a peace message on the red poppy, the Women's Co-operative Guild began producing white poppies in 1933.

"The white poppy was not intended as an insult to those who died in the First World War - a war in which many of the white poppy supporters lost husbands, brothers, sons and lovers - but a challenge to the continuing drive to war.
War is a crime against humanity. I renounce war, and am therefore determined not to support any kind of war. I am also determined to work for the removal of all causes of war."
- from the British Peace Pledge Union

November 9, 2014

I'm Not Buying War

I'm not buying this thing called war, and admit I don't totally understand it. Personally, I hesitate to kill mosquitoes and house flies. Or cows, chickens and pigs. Years ago I quit fishing because I didn't like to hook and kill such beautiful creatures.

I cherish life and think that it is precious - all of it. That is why I try to do the least amount of harm possible while I am here.

I believe that most people have a peaceful approach to life, including some military personnel. Take for example Smedley Butler. He was a US Marine Corps Major General that became an anti-war activist at the end of his military career.

In 1934, Bulter wrote a book called War is a Racket from which the following quotes were taken.

"War is a racket. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.  
If only more of today's military personnel would realize that they are being used by the owning elites as a publicly subsidized capitalist goon squad. 
I believe in adequate defence at the coastline and nothing else."

He was critical of US corporations and Wall Street bankers and the part they play in waging war.

"I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism."

We have to make things so that waging war is not profitable. That is what Smedley Butler concluded when he said,

“Let the officers and directors of our armament factories, our gun builders and munitions makers and shipbuilders all be conscripted — to get $30 a month, the same wage paid to the lads in the trenches…. Give capital thirty days to think it over and you will learn by that time that there will be no war. 
That will stop the racket—that and nothing else.”

A good start would be to not buy war or much of anything else our global system of orchestrated violence has to offer.   

November 7, 2014

Simple Living In History

“This book highlights how rethinking our attitudes and behaviour toward consumption can be a fruitful pathway to social and ecological harmony.”  - David Holmgren
Simplicity has always been practiced by humanity. For 99% of our existence it has been the preferred mode of living on our finite planet.

It has only been the last few decades that extreme materialism has been touted as the best way to achieve happiness. This in spite of knowing for thousands of years the appropriateness of living simply.

The accumulated knowledge of appropriate living on Earth was recognized recently when The Simplicity Institute published a book called Simple Living In History: Pioneers of The Deep Future.

After receiving an email from the Institute I previewed the book. The Table of Contents sent me immediately to our public library website to see if it was in the collection. Unfortunately it wasn't, so I will be recommending it to their book buyers.


Preface by the Editors, Samuel Alexander and Amanda McLeod

by David Shi

1. BUDDHA - Peter Doran

2. DIOGENES - William Desmond

3. ARISTOTLE - Jerome Segal

4. EPICURUS - Michael Augustin

5. THE STOICS - Dirk Baltzly

6. JESUS - Simon Ussher


8. THE QUAKERS - Mark Burch

9. THE AMISH - Steven Nolt

10. HENRY THOREAU - Samuel Alexander

11. JOHN RUSKIN - David Craig

12. WILLIAM MORRIS - Sara Wills

13. GANDHI - Whitney Sanford

14. DITCHLING VILLAGE - William Fahey

15. THE AGRARIANS - Allan Carlson

16. THE NEARINGS - Amanda McLeod

17. IVAN ILLICH - Marius de Geus

18. JOHN SEYMOUR - Amanda McLeod


20. RADICAL HOMEMAKING - Shannon Hayes


22. PERMACULTURE - Albert Bates

23. TRANSITION TOWNS - Samuel Alexander and Esther Alloun

24. DEGROWTH - Serge Latouche

25. THE SIMPLER WAY - Ted Trainer

26. MINDFULNESS - Mark Burch

Each chapter of Simple Living In History is an essay about the person or movement indicated. It reflects the recent history (the past couple thousand years) of right living on our fragile planet even though our experience of living simply goes back hundreds of thousands of years to our origins.

Talk about a simple living study list - the Table of Contents alone gets me going. Awesome for future research, but I am going to see if I can get my frugal hands on a volume of this book.

Simplicity has been the way of the past, and will be the way of the future. Therefore a book like Simple Living In History becomes an important collection of applied knowledge to guide us into our sustainable future.

Simple Living in History challenges the mentality of waste and extravagance that defines modern industrial lifestyles, reminding us that the answers we need have been here all along, waiting for us to notice them.”   
- John Michael Greer

November 5, 2014

The Olduvai Theory

While I don't have the answers, I like to ask lots of questions about the way things are, or could be.

For example, I often ask myself what all the resource extraction, fossil fuel burning, and shopping will lead to.

The mainstream media does not talk about limits to growth much, but that doesn't mean other people haven't been thinking about how nature is responding to the demands of industrial lifestyles. The questioning started a long time ago, and has persisted to the present day.

Frequently, the answers are not what we like to hear.

Just recently the UN released a climate change report that included "stark warnings" and a recommendation that carbon emissions go to zero soon to avoid further damage. But similar warnings about the dangers of industrial civilization have been given before.

In 1893 historian Henry Adams could envision the American dream of unlimited opportunity and indefinite progress turning into a waking nightmare of the moral dilemmas of a capitalist society. He saw too that though science was making tremendous advances in the conquest of Nature, the odds were growing that a dehumanized mankind might lose the war.

It seemed probable to Adams that the ultimate result of exploiting new energy systems would be the "apocalyptic end of history itself".

Building on Adams' work and the work of others since, Richard C. Duncan came up with the Olduvai Theory in 1989. It attempted to answer questions about where industrial civilization was heading if it stayed on course.

The Olduvai Theory states that the life expectancy of industrial civilization is approximately 100 years: from about 1930 to about 2030.

Duncan believes that the cause of the collapse of industrial civilization, if and when it occurs, will be that the electric power grids go down and never come back up. He concluded that if we continued down the fossil fuel road, and did not implement sustainable strategies that industrial civilization would collapse.

He says, "The overshoot and collapse of industrial civilization was assured once humanity became dependent on the rapid exploitation of nonrenewable resources on a finite planet. Moreover our insatiable appetite for electric power has accelerated the collapse and steepened the decline."

We may still have time to avert an Olduvai situation from unfolding in a worst case scenario, but it will require massive and immediate action from all of humanity of the sort recently recommended by the UN report.

Some say we have until 2022 to take action. After that it is thought that we will pass the tipping point and nothing we do will be able to reverse the damage.

So what is all this leading to?

Will it be an oily Olduvai dystopia of death, destruction and shopping on our way to a post-industrial stone age, or a sun-driven sustainable simple living sensation that takes humanity into a glorious future?

This is what we should be asking ourselves as well as our elected officials, and we should be asking now.