July 29, 2019

What Consumers Want vs. What Earth Can Provide

This is what consumers want.

Terrafugia flying car (not yet available).

Cost: $300,000

Purpose: To get from point A to point B.

This is what consumers can get. 

Tesla model S electric car. 

Cost: $80,000

Purpose: To get from point A to point B.

This is what the planet can sustainably provide.

Hammacher Schlemmer solar powered golf cart.

Cost: $9000

Purpose: To get from point A to point B.

This is what will allow the planet to replenish its overdrawn resources and return to health. 

Pedego Electric Assist Tandem Bicycle.

Cost: $4000

Purpose: To get from point A to point B. 

 Using these will heal the Earth more quickly.

Zamberlan Hiking Boots (leg power)

Cost: $400.00

Purpose: To get from point A to point B.

July 26, 2019

The Consumership Question

Remember when we were citizens?

The US is currently having a debate about putting a citizenship question on its upcoming once every 10 year census form. Far from controversial in Canada, we have had a citizenship question on our long form census since 1901. 

We do have different systems, but the whole affair leaves me with a question. In an era in which those in power have decided that citizens don't really exist any more, what does a citizenship question even mean?

Since we have all been downgraded from (active) citizens to (passive) consumers, how long will it be before our census forms quit asking about citizenship, and ask a consumership question instead?

"Do you promise to consume like there is no tomorrow?


You're in. 

Here is your credit card with a low, low 24% interest rate. 


Exercise your consumership, and go shopping." 

July 24, 2019

Technology Limits, Nature Expands

I believe the advance of technology is limiting human potential rather than expanding it. That makes sense as the technology we are using today was not designed to increase our potential, it was designed to increase the potential of corporations to make a profit.

Our technological obsession is having a dehumanizing effect on us. In order to counter this trend, I like to put my technological devices aside and immerse myself in nature. 

We are all born naturalists. As children, our eyes are open to "the glory of the stars, the beauty of the flowers, and the mystery of life". 

That is because, as Alan Watts says, we are not born into this world, we are born out of it, "like a wave from the ocean". We are part of everything we see. We are it, and it is us.

Then we "grow up'. We adopt technology into our lives and are alienated not only from each other and ourselves, but more importantly, from nature. Bad things happen when we are disconnected from our natural surroundings.

In technological societies, the alienation from nature is almost complete. We have allowed ourselves to be limited by our toys, rather than choosing to be expanded by the natural beauty around us. 

Our truth, though, is never far away. Perpetual youth, Emerson observed, can be found in the woods. It really is that easy. When I go to the woods, I rediscover my youth, and I find the magic that has been pushed aside by infinite fake realities.

Technology promises magic, but it is a cheap illusion, as well as a distraction from all that is really important. It is true that technology can aide in our creativity if used properly, but if not, it can also stifle it.

More importantly, how can we save the environment, and develop our potential to be fully human, if we no longer consider the natural world to be an important part of our lives? 

The truth is, we can't. 

If we no longer see the magic, if we don't love Nature as we love our high tech lives, we risk losing everything that makes us human, and life on Earth possible. 

So occasionally I log off of the tech, and log on to my life. I get out into Nature, and feel that youthful magic again, that connection to my larger body, and it is pure joy.

That is what expanding your human potential feels like, and I wish everyone would take the time to experience it on a regular basis.

I am convinced that the result would be healthier humans, and a better world.

“We refuse to turn off our computers, turn off our phone, log off Facebook, and just sit in silence, because in those moments we might actually have to face up to who we really are.” 
Jefferson Bethke

July 21, 2019

Will Our Next Car Be A Bike?

Will this be our next vehicle?

In 2005 Linda and I started our concentrated effort to drive less. Along the way it has radically changed our lives.

In response to calls by scientists for high consumption nations to reduce their carbon footprints, we decided to take action on our changing climate, high energy consumption, and waste. 

We began to ask ourselves hard questions, the central one being, "do we really NEED to be driving as much as we do, considering the considerable impacts of doing so?" 

The answer that kept coming up was, "No."

When we started our project our lifestyle was not conducive to meeting our restricted driving goals. So we changed our lifestyle. Our lives began to develop toward a more simple, more local life less driven by perpetually trying to find greener grass somewhere else.

In 2005 we began to voluntarily restrict the number of kilometres we drove by limiting our travel to a 50 km radius from home. Over the years that radius shrunk, and our driving became more and more local, and more and more rare. 

Over 9 years of living on the west coast we managed to eliminate all non-essential driving altogether. Perhaps because we lived on a beautiful beach on the Pacific Ocean, we found we did not miss driving to far away places at all.

View from our west coast home. Who would want to drive away from this?
We learned to love staying close to home here.

Now, 5 years after driving across the continent and moving our simple lives to the east coast, we are driving less than ever. Last year we logged about 500 km in total. 

Because of that, we feel like we are finally ready to go car-free, something we have dreamt about for most of our lives together. Have I mentioned before that I hate the personal motor vehicle? Yes, I have. Many times. 

I want to be free from the chains of vehicle ownership. I do not want to be bothered by registration, inspections, unethical mechanics and costly repairs, driver's licensing, and insurance. 

I don't want to have to buy and burn fossil fuels and oil and other noxious fluids. 

I want to kick the auto habit once and for all.

Strangely enough, today our van broke down (again), but did so in the best possible way. I had just got home from buying groceries, and was pulling into the driveway. As I rolled to a stop, the gear shift linkage failed, and now the van will not shift into drive. Or neutral, or park. 

Now our van will not move, and will require being towed to a shop for repair, something we are loathe to do. 

So Linda and I did the logical thing - we went on line and looked for a bike. And we found one (see above). Such a bicycle (technically a tricycle) is expensive, but we have spent more than the purchase price of the bike in vehicle repairs in the last year alone. 

In the long run, buying the trike instead of repairing our van or buying a new vehicle, would save us a bundle. 

And does it not look like it would be some kind of fun? I want to see Linda on this thing, with a huge smile and bugs in her teeth.

Will this be the year we kill the myth of the vehicle as an unfettered and benign "freedom machine"? We are already enjoying a very local lifestyle, and with my present bike, plus a trike for the two of us, we can do a lot in the right situation.

Going vehicle-free is still frightening, but the thought of it is also exhilarating. 

I am looking forward to many bike adventures, as well as getting legs of steel and a stellar cardiovascular system. All with a low-carbon mode of transportation, and a feeling of doing the right thing for the Earth.

You can't get that with a car.

July 15, 2019

The New Tourism: Self-Propelled

This self-propelled tent trailer is an example of how tourism is changing.

The carbon footprint of international tourism is huge, making it a perfect candidate for elimination as we work on tackling the climate emergency. 

But that doesn't mean travel has to end. 

Aristotle observed that "humans are the most mobile of animals", so our moving about will likely continue in a post-carbon world.

People travelled before the advent of fossil fuels, and people will continue to travel after fossil fuels. It will just require more time, more effort, and less convenience. 

Just ask Brandon Wilson, the man that walked (that's right - walked) from France to Israel as a modern day pilgrim. The route he took ran through eleven countries, and stretched out over 4,223 kilometres (2620 miles). 

From all accounts, he loved every minute of it - the extreme effort, the daily challenges, the many inconveniences, all of it. He even enjoyed the trials and tribulations. 

Who knows? After decades of speeding around the world in jets and missing everything, people may be hankering for a bit of "slow and low (carbon) travel" for a change. 

Just think of all the things you can see, and people you can meet, while moving at a more leisurely and natural rate.

But maybe save the pilgrimage for after a few shorter trips when you have your legs under you. 

July 13, 2019

What Is Your Level Of Concern?

With all the recent reports on the state of the planet, I often wonder how concerned people are about all the unintended consequences to our brutal capitalist system, and our part in it as supporters through our consumeristic activities.

In my experience, the level of public concern ranges from totally concerned and feeling a sense of impending doom, to totally lacking concern due to a total lack of awareness of the enormity of our challenges.

There is one group I know of that is so concerned that the word is included in their name. That would be the Union of Concerned Scientists

Since 1969 they have been fulfilling their motto: "Science for a healthy planet, and a safer world." Their 200,000 strong membership consists of both private citizens and professional scientists, and they are one of the best hopes we have for turning this thing around.

What is this group of intelligent and aware people concerned about? Here is a partial list:

  1. nuclear weapons/nuclear war
  2. climate change
  3. government interference in the scientific process
  4. clean energy
  5. toxic waste
  6. nuclear energy
  7. GMO foods
  8. antibiotics in animal feed causing resistance in humans
  9. consumerism

Yup, that is a partial list. There are so many things to be concerned about these days that it makes me wonder one thing.

When will the "Union of Concerned Scientists" be changing their name to the "Union of Very Concerned Scientists", or "Gravely Concerned", or "Seriously Concerned", or "Super-Duper Concerned"?

What, exactly, is their true level of concern in 2019, after a full 50 years of being simply concerned? Perhaps it is time for a name change to reflect the new reality in which things are changing faster and faster, and may require a new concern level.

If at their conception in 1969 they considered themselves to be "concerned", then surely by now they must be "Shitting Their Pants" concerned.

I know I am currently at "Majorly Concerned", and that is subject to an upgrade at any given moment, perhaps to "Wickedly Concerned", or "Unbelievably Concerned".

How concerned do you think the scientists should be?

July 10, 2019

Cost of Smart Speakers Too High

We have a friend that told us that she just set up a smart speaker in her home. 

We told her what we knew about these devices (little of it good), and told her to do some research. The next time we talked to her, she said her smart speaker was back in its box, and stashed under the deck in the back yard. 

Chalk up a victory for freedom and privacy.

Having a "hands-free and easy-to-use interface to interact with computers and accomplish tasks that previously required a display and input devices such as a mouse and keyboard" would be nice for us to have. 

Since Linda does not have the use of her hands for fine motor tasks, such a hands-free device would be appropriate. But at what cost?

These marketing listening devices are called "smart speakers", but does that mean smart for the mega-corps that benefit from mining our data, or smart for the users?

Speaking of users, I'm not sure why people that are fortunate enough to have the use their hands and legs need these, but that is another post. Or rant, I should say. 

I have always been wary of Big Brother listening in on our computer's built-in microphone, and have taken steps to minimize that risk. We also cover our computer's camera. 

“If Amazon and Google and Apple start giving up our personal data to whomever, to government agencies, to private industries, then people will stop buying their products the second they find out.”

- Matthew Rathbun

You aren't paranoid if someone is really after you, and someone really is after you. The state is after your freedom, and the marketers want your money.

These things are like baby monitors, except in this horror story, the state and corporations are the mommy and daddy. And we are becoming the defenceless babies.

These products are always listening. Voice recognition can record and share what you think are private conversations, in some cases. 

Smart tech can also learn. And what it is learning is how to sell you more stuff more efficiently and profitably. Or learning what you do in the privacy of your own home.

One large creepy tech company has already admitted to eavesdropping on their speaker users. Another warns customers that their smart TVs are listening, and you might want to watch what you say while you view them. 

Having noisy consensual sex? Be careful. That smart tech might end up sending the cops to your door thinking that someone is being hurt.

The simplest solution to a problem tends to be the right one, as Ocam's Razor suggests. But I wonder what exactly the problem is that is being solved by these devices? 

Allow me to extrapolate on Ocam and suggest that the simplest lifestyles tend to be the right ones. We should be wary of complicated high tech "solutions", especially the ones that claim to solve manufactured problems. 

As long as I have my mobility I will help Linda myself. I am a "smart caregiver", and I will tend to her needs in the old fashioned way, and with our privacy intact. A smart speaker will not be required, even if it would be convenient and useful. 

Like the rest of consumerism, while the price may be cheap, the cost, for us, is too high.

July 8, 2019

Breaking News: Glorious Sun Rise This Morning

Sunrise from home at 5:46 AM this morning - the proverbial crack of dawn.

A sunrise is a majestic thing to witness. Here it comes! 

Heat. Hope. Light. Life. 

Each morning we have an opportunity to welcome a new, fresh day in which anything could happen. The possibilities are infinite. But we need the sun to make it all happen.

A recent solar eclipse made headlines recently, like eclipses always do. But what a dark and foreboding thing, the sun disappearing in the middle of the day. 

Total eclipses aren't even that rare. Approximately once every 18 months (on average) a total solar eclipse is visible from some place on the Earth’s surface. 

Like a sun set, an eclipse is a more somber, cautious moment. They have a hint of dystopia about them.

Sunrises, on the other hand, the moment when the sun comes to us instead of going away, are full of hope and joy. They are utopian. An inhale rather than an exhale.

Imagine a morning the sun didn't rise, or an eclipse that didn't end, and you begin to feel how our ancient ancestors felt about the sun coming up every day. 

A miracle!

Still, sunrises rarely make the headlines, even if they are as striking as this morning's was over my little part of the world in Digby, Nova Scotia, Canada.

I have enjoyed the sun rise over pristine and remote mountain lakes in the Rockies. Sitting on the porch of an Ashram in Rishikesh, India, I watched the rising sun begin to bake the Ganges River valley as the previous night's cremations smoldered on the banks. 

What I have learned over the years, is that there hasn't been a sunrise I haven't felt deeply, and with gratitude. And that goes for watching the sunrise this morning right from the comfort of home.

Have a joyous light-filled day.

July 7, 2019

Humility Is The Medicine Humanity Needs Right Now

"An abiding humility in the face of the Earth’s exuberant multiplicity, wildness, and weirdness is, I believe, a necessary quality of our kind and the best possible medicine for what ails us."

- David Abram

Humanity has an excess of hubris when what we desperately need is a good dose of humility.

The intelligent person bows before Nature, in all her glory. Exposure to Nature melts hubris into humility like nothing else.

You think you are so big? Wander into Nature without your technology and your electricity. Be there without clothes or fire. See what happens.

And yet, all other living things manage just fine.

So humans are the pinnacle of life in the Universe? Wrong. We aren't even the pinnacle of life on this planet. You might not even be the pinnacle of life in your own home.

Spiders, such as those found in every dwelling across the globe (except in Antarctica), have been around in a similar form for at least 380 million years. 

The silk in a spiders web is 5 times stronger than a strand of steel the same thickness. Scientists have been unable to replicate the strength and elasticity of spider silk.

Some spiders can live longer than 40 years.

Indeed, spiders are vital to a healthy ecosystem, and provide many valuable services to the rest of Nature. 

Can the same thing be said of humans?

July 2, 2019

Finding A New Place To Grow

Our search for a place to settle more self-sufficiently (and cheaply) in Nova Scotia is off to a slow start, mostly because we do everything slowly. But that is not the only reason for our leisurely pace.

There are a few other reasons not to rush into making one of the largest purchases of our lives.

1. House prices have been dropping since we got here in 2014, and continue to drop.

2. We planted our garden. We can't leave it now, can we?

3. The rental we are currently living is, in many ways, perfect for our needs. Plus, our new landlords are excellent folks. 

4. We have never bought a home before, and it's a scary commitment. 

The house shown above caught our interest as we continue our research into the market here. 

At 79 sq m (850 sq ft), it was listed at $84,000 one year ago. Since then its price had been reduced to $47,500, and it just sold for $42,000. That is a substantial discount, and shows that rushing right now could cost us more.

This particular house, though, was too far from services, requiring a 30 minute drive to the nearest town. It was on a smaller lot (929 sq m/10,000 sq ft), which was sloped. Not the best for a wheelchair. 

On the plus side, the house was in the size range we are looking for, and came with 4 cords of wood. It also has the historical significance of being on the oldest graded road in Canada. 

Granville Road was established in 1606 by Samuel de Champlain, running from Port-Royal to Digby Cape, NS.

Better than that, how about the view across the street?

In between watering and weeding our garden, we will continue to look for a new place to grow and thrive. Until we discover our special place, we will continue to enjoy where we are here and now.

We hope you are doing the same.