March 30, 2015

Be A Producer, Not A Consumer

Good bye lawn.

So much to consume, so little time... and money. Why not concentrate on being a producer instead, like we all used to be at one time.

These days everything a person could want (that money can buy at least) has been prepackaged for our convenience. Music, games, experiences, gadgets, furniture, entertainment and food are all made for you by someone else.

Unfortunately, most of it is crap made by giant companies that don't care about you, your health or your experience. When we buy into this system it robs us of our own abilities to be creators and produce the things we need and want ourselves.

But we can take back our self-reliance and enrich the world, ourselves and our communities in the process. Do It Yourself (DIY) is the way to go. We can do it.

Hello garden - beautiful and foodiful.

I thought of this yesterday when I saw some neighbourhood kids enjoying sliding down a hill on makeshift sleds made out of cardboard. Not a corporate plastic sled in sight, and still lots of fun and laughter.

If you aren't into sledding, or are unfortunate enough to not have heaps of snow at the end of March like we do, there are other good ways to cut out the middlemen and become a producer.

Gardening is great opportunity to shift from consuming to producing. I love the Food Not Lawns movement for this reason. Most lawns are hooked on drugs, and even if they aren't, you can't eat grass.

Why not become a producer and create something beautiful and edible instead?

See more of this Food Not Lawns garden here.

March 27, 2015

Beautiful Resistance

Beautiful resistance is everywhere because it is the natural response to harmful people and practices.

The capitalist consumer model is a monolith that will not easily be brought down. Over a long enough time frame it will be the author of its own demise, but if we wait that long we are sure to be brought down with it. 

I do not expect the collapse of consumerism in my time. It could take several generations for this behemoth to be overcome, or die a natural death. 

But that does not mean we can't chip away at it a little bit each day with every decision we make. Any time we choose to increase our own freedom and self-reliance can be an act of beautiful resistance. 

For me that means living a frugal, enjoyable lifestyle without most of what others take for granted. 

It means cooking all our food from scratch, and only driving when necessary. It means conserving resources, planting a garden and learning new skills. Boycotts and divestment can be personally satisfying and are powerful agents of change. These moments feel good.

Beautiful resistance happens with each decision that removes our support from a harmful system bent on planetary destruction. It is the natural response to harm, and while it may not topple the whole heap tomorrow, it will make it wobble and lurch closer to its ultimate demise. 

What forms of beautiful resistance do you prefer?

March 25, 2015

Take It As It Comes

Take it as it comes.

When the 60s group The Doors performed their song by that name they were reminding us of the importance of taking life simply as it unfolds. In order to do this we have got to slow down. Way down.

We can not evolve past the current consumer materialistic illusion until we achieve stillness and a quiet mind. But how often does that happen in a modern mode where distractions, both pleasant and otherwise, fill our lives to the top?

In stillness our thinking becomes clear, naturally well-ordered and intelligent, and the world clearly needs more of that. With practice our decisions become reasonable, true and certain. We need more of that, too.

Our true freedom will come in what T.S. Eliot calls “the still point of the turning world”, for “at the still point, there the dance is”.

There are preconditions that must exist to tap into this potential.

  • We have to be in the present. 
  • We have to be free of fear. 
  • We have to be free of desire. 
  • We have to be free of anticipation.

Does that sound like the exact opposite of conditions created by the noisy, jangled, in-your-face world of the consumer capitalist system?

Maybe that is the whole idea - it is more profitable to ensure we do not have the preconditions required to overcome our attachment to counterproductive busyness and complexity.

If so, these are the things that must be changed in order for humanity to realize any kind of evolutionary breakthrough. In the meantime, we can choose to live our lives simply, take things as they come, and find the peace and quiet we need to discover our true liberation.

There, at the still point, we will dance together.

March 23, 2015

Appropriate Technology

The simple radio had an up-take greater than almost any other innovation since the invention of fire.

In the era of high-tech everything it is easy to forget that low tech is sometimes the better way to go. The transistor radio is a case in point.

Since the introduction of radios in the 1920s there has never been a consumer up-take quite like it. Adoption in the US was near-instantaneous, and before long nearly every household had one.

While more recent innovations have garnered a quick consumer response, none have been as steep or as complete as the radio. In many parts of the world the radio is still the communication technology of choice.

Last summer when Linda and I crossed Canada we brought two pieces of electronics with us - one high tech (lap top computer), and one low tech (transistor radio). In our mobile situation the low tech option was more useful - we used the radio more.

The solar powered radio - every emergency kit should have one.

On our trip it was more practical to listen to our radio, and we enjoyed it every day for music, weather, and news. It runs on solar power, or a hand-cranked generator, or batteries. Usually all we had to do to keep it charged was set it in the windshield during the day.

Our computer was significantly more difficult to set up while on the move in our van. We had to buy a special electronic item that allowed us to use the vehicle electrical system to charge and use the high tech electronic computer. It was expensive and a hassle.

We recognized this situation as an example of appropriate technology use. Sometimes low tech is the way to go, and we should never use something more complicated when a simpler solution will suffice.

Advertisers in the age of New and Improved! everything will of course not agree.

March 21, 2015

Gone Fishin'

About a year ago I did a post about the rich man and the fisherman, a story I was familiar with because of a certain cartoon I found while a teenager. When my youthful eyes went over the illustration 30 years ago it made a lot of sense to me and I kept a copy.

Then I found the cartoon that confirmed for me that simple living was the only way to go. After our cross country move intervened the page descended back into a box somewhere. I found it again recently and am posting it like I promised an anonymous commenter a year ago.

Please do show your kids. Perhaps we can save some of them from the consumerism trap and they can focus their lives on more important things. It would be great if they could work more at being free rather than trying to out do the Joneses by collecting more crap than they have.

We should let kids know that it doesn't get any better than being simple and free. Free from wage slavery, free from repressive governments, free from forming our identity through the things we own, free from endless maintenance and storage problems, free from arm-twisting advertisers and marketing campaigns.

“Better to sleep in an uncomfortable bed free, than sleep in a comfortable bed unfree.”

― Jack Kerouac

March 20, 2015

Simple Living Soul Mate

Canoeing and kissing at Matheson Lake near Victoria, BC.

After researching simple living for years I have come to realize that one of the biggest challenges a simple living individual has is meeting someone who is compatible with such a lifestyle. Time after time on websites and blogs I have seen people lamenting the lack of potential mates willing to embark on a life of voluntary simplicity.

I am happy (and relieved) to say that I do not have such a problem.

I first met Linda 28 years ago in a chance encounter at a breakfast with mutual friends. I knew that she was special when on one of our first dates she agreed to go camping with me. Shortly after that we were backpacking through grizzly territory in the Rockies, then through the ancient trees in cougar territory on the west coast.

Anyone that goes camping (and likes it) has already planted the seeds of living simply. Linda was an awesome camper from the start. I quickly learned that she is tough, handling the harshest weather, muddiest trails, and most punishing kayak paddles with determination and good cheer.

At the time I didn't know any other women that enjoyed the kind of extreme camping that we were doing together. I felt very fortunate to have found a simple living soul mate.

We went on to enjoy 2 decades of camping, hiking and paddling together in joyous experiences of an unforgiving simplicity immersed in nature.

Like me, Linda enjoys stripping life to the barest of essentials and living as close as possible to how nature intended, whether in the wilderness or at home.

Today I celebrate not only the first official day of Spring, but also the anniversary of marrying a life partner who willingly chose the challenges of voluntary simplicity with me. What a rare and unique treasure - someone who only wishes to live a beautiful, simple life unencumbered by all the conspicuous consumption and posturing.

With Linda what I saw that first day was what I got. And what I got was a total honesty about living as good a life as one can, without doing harm. Thank you for 28 years of simplicity. I look forward to 28 more.

March 18, 2015

Spring Is Here

More deep snow in the back yard woods after yet another blizzard.

Spring is here. Well, not actually here where I live. While our previous home on the west coast has been enjoying spring like weather since January, here in Nova Scotia spring is being buried by yet another dump of powdery snow.

Today we have been having the second big storm in three days, with strong winds moving the snow into huge drifts up the sides of houses and across the highway. Most of today has been a total white out.

Weather doesn't get much more exciting (or beautiful) than spring snow storms - I can't resist them. So I strapped on the snowshoes and went out to experience the full force of what could be our last big storm of the season.

Crossing the field below my house exposes me to wild winds that gust over the top of our hill, but the margin of the forest is close by.

As soon as I descend down a slope and into the safety of a conifer forest, it is perfectly calm. Even though the wind can be heard howling above, down here snowflakes are gently falling. I continue through a snow-muffled forest looking for evidence that spring is here.

I don't find any.

But as far as storms go, this has been one of the best winters of my life. And spring is here, on the calendar at least.

March 16, 2015

400 PPM CO2

Our atmosphere recently passed the 400 PPM CO2 level. It is a grim climate change milestone that must be addressed.

98% of climate scientists, every major scientific body in the world and increasingly the general public agree that human greenhouse gas emissions are changing the climate.

Continuing to push the concentration of CO2 higher and higher is a very risky path to follow.

Increasing energy efficiency and renewable energy supply are good ways to lower levels of greenhouse gas production. More important, though, will be changes that lead to simple lifestyles with dramatically lower ecological footprints.

Civilization may depend on how we choose to live right now. We should not be planning for extinction, which is what doing nothing will result in eventually.

March 14, 2015

Who Are The Real Terrorists?

From Amnesty International:
Dear Government of Canada: 
I believe my government should protect Canadians from threats including terrorism. But not at any cost. 
I am concerned that the widely expanded powers and new criminal offences in Bill C-51 put our human rights at risk. I urge you to withdraw Bill C-51. National security reforms must meet Canada’s human rights obligations. 
Human rights should not be seen as obstacles or impediments to security, but rather as the very key and roadmap to security. 
I further urge you to:

  • Adopt a legislated human rights framework for Canada’s national security program. 
  • Carry out and make public a full assessment of past cases and existing laws, tools and resources in the area of national security before considering expanded powers and other reforms. 
  • Establish robust oversight and effective review of agencies and departments engaged in national security activities.

Sign the petition here.

March 13, 2015

Too Much Meat

Eating excessive amounts of meat may be easy and tasty, but it is not efficient, sustainable, nutritionally necessary, or good for human health.

“If 22 bushels (1,300 pounds) of rice and 22 bushels of winter grain are harvested from a quarter acre field, then the field will support five to ten people each investing an average of less than one hour of labour per day.  
But if the field were turned over to pasturage, or if the grain were fed to cattle, only one person could be supported per quarter acre.  
Meat becomes a luxury food when its production requires land which could provide food directly for human consumption. This has been shown clearly and definitely.  
Each person should ponder seriously how much hardship they are causing by indulging in food so expensively produced.”
- Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution

And yet global meat consumption is increasing.

But where do you get your protein if you are eating less meat? There are many tasty alternatives including yummy vegetables like broccoli, kale, spinach and edamame.

Eating less meat is healthier, and it frees up land and food that will be available to feed people directly instead of feeding animals to be used to feed people. Reducing meat consumption will also help expand your home cookery into new and tasty places. 

Here's to more meatless meals, and better personal and environmental health. 

March 11, 2015

Climate Change Performance Index - 2014 Results

Canada sucks. How is your country doing?

What do Canada, Australia, Kazakhstan, Iran and Saudi Arabia have in common? All compete for last place in the 2014 Climate Performance Index, which ranks countries on their climate change performance.

My own country, Canada, ranks a dismal 58th out of the 61 countries listed, in between Iran and Australia. Our rating was "very poor" which does not surprise me since our current petro-government is now considering anyone for clean air and against fossil fuels as a "threat to national security".

"As in the previous year, Canada still shows no intention of moving forward with climate policy and therefore remains the worst performer of all industrialised countries."

Just because our federal government prides itself on being climate change knuckle-draggers doesn't mean that we all have to be as backwards about how we treat our environment as we fuel our every day activities.

Here are a few ways you can help your country shoot for one of the three empty top spots (a "very good" rating) on the index. Or for Canada, just a move into the "poor" category would be a major improvement.

Improving Your Personal Climate Change Performance

  • take public transportation
  • unless it's an emergency, don't fly
  • heat your home with wood, preferably from the waste stream (wood pellets are made from waste saw dust, for example)
  • sign up for renewable grid energy if it is available in your area
  • drive less, walk and bike more
  • when buying new appliances make sure they are energy efficient
  • use hand tools/kitchen aides
  • go off grid - generate your own power (solar, wind, micro-hydro)
  • be an energy miser and never, ever waste energy
  • write to your political representatives to tell them you resent being labelled an "anti-petroleum terrorist", and prefer being called a "pro-clean energy advocate", or simply a "human who cares"
  • join marches, demonstrations, sit-ins, forums, and pro-clean energy celebrations and show your support for renewable energy policies
  • don't work for them, and don't buy their products (as much as this is possible)
  • ask the nice lady (or man) at the bank if any of your investments are in the dirty energy sector, and if so, divest and tell her or him why you are doing so
  • when researching who to vote for, ask all political candidates about their position on climate change policies - tell them you will not vote for candidates that are anti-environment petroleum activists 

I hate to say it, but my homeland currently sucks badly with its dismal leadership at the highest level on so many fronts, especially in reducing our impact on global climate change.

How is your country doing in its transition to a renewable future?

March 9, 2015

From Snowdrops To Snowdrifts

We enjoyed snowdrops every February for the past 9 years living in Victoria, BC.

In a shocking state of affairs, Linda and I are realizing that we moved from snowdrops to snowdrifts when we shifted our home base from the west coast of Canada to its eastern shores. Weather wise it could not have happened in a more contrasting time than this past winter.

While the west coast has been basking in record high temperatures this winter, the east coast has been the exact opposite. Locals in Nova Scotia tell us they haven't seen a cold and snowy winter like this for decades.

This was our February this year near Digby, NS.

Meteorologists confirm the local knowledge - this has been a record-breaking winter in Nova Scotia. The area has had colder temperatures and deeper drifts than any time since records have been kept out here. But it's not all bad.

This eastern record-smashing winter has been an excellent excuse to hunker down and do some serious hibernating in our new location. When we haven't been under the covers we have been huddling by the wood fire, something we have only been able to enjoy previously while camping.

Our house has felt like a back country cabin, the kind that we used to have to drive to the mountains and cross country ski to over long trails in order to enjoy. And I have had one of the best winters of my life for snowshoeing.

Our winter has been similar to our shift to simpler living - some of the changes can be difficult to make, but an improved quality of life is the result. Before long you come to love it.

Having said that, we are ready for spring. So ready. I want to see flowers in the ground, not in a vase.

March 6, 2015

Unlearning Consumerism

The beginning of the end. Television offered an injection of consumerism directly into the home,
whether we realized it or not.

For those of us who have spent most of our lives in a shopping-based culture, it is hard to conceive of an entire population whose main focus in life was something other than buying more stuff. What did people do before shopping became the favourite recreational activity?

While consumerism was well under way by the time I came into the world (the year Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space), "consumers" (we called them citizens back then) were not yet as well trained as they are today.

In fact, my parents were such terrible consumers that for most of my childhood we didn't even have a TV, colour or black and white. When we did have a TV in the house, we never, ever had cable. We called it "peasant vision", showing that we were making an important transition that no one even knew was taking place.

What I remember of shopping as a kid is going out only when things were needed - really needed. Like shopping for groceries. Or for new clothes before the start of a school year. Or for a car once every decade or more. Other than that, and a few trips to the hardware store or pharmacy, we didn't go shopping.

By the time I was a teenager "going to the mall" had become something to do. From the crowds there it seems like other people also found something they were looking for in the mall. It might even have been something they needed. Or maybe malls were becoming like a public square, a meeting place, except they were on private property.

Now consumer culture is all-pervasive, as if there is nothing else to do but shop and spend money. But while we are doing that, we are missing out on all the things people did instead in pre-shopping times. Things that made us happier than we are today.

Things like visiting with neighbours. Like playing board games at home with the whole family. Like playing in nature. Like volunteering in our communities. Like walking to the corner store for milk or bread (a store that was owned by a local family). Like meeting in the laundromat. Like joining a club or organization.

Advertisers and the makers of crap want us to believe that we were all unhappy for the tens of thousands of years while waiting for an expensive, soulless way to fill our time. Life in their version of history was nasty, brutish, short and boring right up until the 1950s consumer revolution brought us unlimited shopping fun.

It's fun buying as many material goods as you can, and it doesn't matter that most of it actually makes our lives worse. Fun, fun, fun to work and spend. Borrow and shop. Repeat and repeat over and over and over till you go bankrupt or die.

But fewer and fewer are being fooled here at the end of this little dream of fulfillment by shopping. We are beginning to see that we left the good life behind after we bought in to consumer culture. We are unlearning all the training via advertising over the past decades, and returning to better, more sensible and sustainable ways of living.

It is time to become better at living, and not as adept at mindlessly consuming. Like my parents, we have to become bad consumers. We shop when we NEED to, and enjoy life the rest of the time.

March 2, 2015

Top 10 Possessions We Don't Miss

In preparation for our cross country move last summer, we rid ourselves of many of our possessions over the preceding months. I would have to say that we don't miss any of it.

Things that come to mind that we enjoy not missing are:

  1. TV
  2. Microwave
  3. Toaster oven
  4. Vacuum cleaner
  5. Bedroom furniture (dresser, night tables, lamps)
  6. Old print photos
  7. Computer printer
  8. Jewellery
  9. Gaming system
  10. Film camera 

Is there something that you used to have (and may have thought to be essential to a "good" life), don't have any more, and enjoy not missing?