Thursday, June 22, 2017

Too much of nothing...

I wake up daily to the marvel of this world full of possibilities, miracles really, like the chestnut tree blooming in the back yard and scenting the entire yard with it's utterly natural perfume.

That's wonderful, but a question haunts me, and I suspect it haunts many people when not distracted from everything I write about below. What is all this distraction with growth and stuff? I like stuff... and have too much stuff, but I'm talking about commerce, economics, the world of products and choices. More products are being added to stores, more techniques to entice shoppers to buy little pickup items they don't need, more 'styles', more 'NEW!' slogans, more claims of improvement, more smaller portions in more packaging, and more solutions to problems we don't have, like fidget spinners. Imagine a time before there were 12 brands of pasta sauce and 12 choices of flavors for each brand. And the problem I have with all of this is three-fold:

One - we have more distractions in our lives - more stuff to store, to discard when it breaks, to feel bad about knowing we did not need it, to feel bad about the minute it breaks and we realize we were kind of duped into buying a piece of junk, to just plain think about. This is not to pretend that we don't have free will, but that we are a part of a ginormous system that makes it all seem OK to continually make, consume/buy, discard. It is not OK.

Two - we're increasing demand for raw materials, creating jobs and industries that should not exist, and we're perpetuating a nightmare of disposal problems that are as-yet unresolved - because they can't be. The amount of trash produced is still increasing, because populations continue to grow, and production and consumption continue to increase.

Three - increasing production, increasing wealth, increasing, increasing, increasing..., cannot continue. The thought that we might stop economic growth frighten's economists and politicians alike, but the plain truth is that we are surrounded by a finite resource, and literally 100's of millions of people work daily to use that resource up by literally using what's under ground to make stuff, and by using more of the surface of the planet for increasingly more destructive purposes.

Perhaps the problem that haunts us is the interplay between our discomfort with the knowledge that we can't continue to 'increase' while also sustaining the planet. Because this is obvious, it is troubling, like dumping chemicals in a stream, it is bound to have affects that we can't readily see - and yet some people continue to dump chemicals, with their fingers in their ears whenever the suggestion of this eventual destruction is raised.

Social scientists call it 'cognitive dissonance' and while the small scale of this is exemplified by justifying stealing paper clips from work because co-workers are doing it, the much more profound and greater example is the continuation of growth at the expense of our own health and the health of the planet, because that is the system we've believed in for millennia. We continue on a trajectory that will clearly destroy the planet one day, heedless of the acknowledgment of this truth, because nearly every system we live under currently forces this agenda forward.

I try to solve problems by going to their roots. My most profound related question to my opening question is, 'how did we get stuck in belief systems that perpetuate the fallacy that perpetual growth is OK?' Religions have typically 'blessed' increasing the flock, for example. 'Markets' panic if growth falls below a certain level. Politicians can't get elected if they campaign on making a community stronger by halting growth. Companies lose shareholders and value if they don't increase their production or grow their bottom line. And yet if we all stopped growing, invested in better, healthier living, disposed with the rules that demand growth, fostered new understandings of our humble reliance on a limited resource, created corporations that provide the products and services we need, rather than inventing needs we don't have, wouldn't we grow happier? If the population decreased a little bit, wouldn't that leave more of everything for everyone? I say this not as a proponent of eugenics or even communism, but of a more conscientious approach to procreation, to production, to growth.

It seems obvious that all but a few of us are stuck in the system that forces us to scramble, to buy to survive. Mortgages, unsatisfying work, 'keeping up with the Jones' ', insurance that increasingly doesn't serve our needs, politicians dividing us up like tasks, and corporations keeping it complicated to continue to grow. I've seen jobs where no job should exist, brokers between brokers and makers, employees in place, it seems, to create more paperwork and confusion, to maintain the need for their jobs, professional obfuscaters, frivolous law suits... where does it end? Can a person be happy and live as a conservationist? Many believe those who live in ways that address these problems are happier. I would agree.

Overcoming the education system that has taught everyone that growth is good is the only answer to this problem. In countries where conservation is treated more seriously and legislated, they have found it provides better lives to their citizens. These countries are more efficient, less violent, and in some cases have zero waste. If it works for one country, it can work for all countries.

In the US we not only have religion encouraging us to grow, but we have the religion of antiquated economic theories that demand growth to function. Growth as an economic goal should have long ago been relegated to the dustbin. Instead it remains strong, a huge plank in every political platform for nearly all countries on Earth. Our economy should be based on human beings, not on products and services.

Picture this microcosm: A restaurant that serves a community that employs xx number of people. The community is static - minor population changes over many years. The restaurant serves the same people, employs the same number of people, uses the same amounts of local food, keeps the same number of farmers in business, uses reusable wares, and sustainable products. In our current economy, that restaurant is a threat, that town is considered a failure or an opportunity to exploit. In a smarter economy, that town would be a success, the people employed, everyone would know their role. Some might leave, some might arrive, children will be born, elders will pass away. Sustaining the farms that provide for the community, educating doctors to take care of the community, teachers to teach the community, ensures a place for everyone. Assuming anyone can come or go at any time, people will be happy. This scenario is too often portrayed in dystopian fictions with laws that keep people from being free... these are fictions that defend our current destructive system. The pressure to grow is what upsets that community, and upsets the balance, and adds collective pressure to the planet. And growth is exponentially more frequent than it's counterpart the world over.

We have to change the system that can't function without growth, stop the production of stuff that nobody needs, and educate people to know the difference between happiness and collecting.

Friday, December 20, 2013

SPUG - another great, telling moment in history

This year, my favorite call to counter capitalism came via Treehugger online... It's about a 1912 effort to curb useless giving at Christmas, but you can read all about that at Treehugger... 

Each year, something surfaces in the media about over-consumption at this time of year. Our family has, for the most part, shed gifts, since we're spending the second half of our lives trying to get rid of useless, shiny stuff that nobody wants or ever wanted, but that someone felt compelled to give. I prefer the gift of beauty that arrives unexpected, and that accompanies us every day in our families and friends.

What's eye-opening about this story from Treehugger is that it demonstrates the ability of a few to get a message to a community, then to the nation, and the demonstration of the right of a person to stand up and speak his/her mind and truth, a right we seem to have nearly forgotten. Today with cyber-Monday following black Friday and days of shopping nom-sense meant to attract consumers to retailers, I feel a kind of desperation from the retailers - they know that without them, without their customers filling shelves and stockings and cars and offices with low grade electro-chaff, gag gifts, and the latest blenders and other kitchen conveniences, that the economy will tank. 

Bush II wasn't wrong when he suggested we could shop ourselves out of the recession, but he shouldn't have said it. It's a depressing thought, spending one's savings to help the country regain the bubble. Many of us treated him like a capitalist pig for saying it, and I guess a president, (even if by nefarious means) suggesting it to a country is a bit like telling the nation to go down to the crossroads, make a deal with the devil, and you'll come back singing like Placido. I suppose if you believe capitalism will free your soul or make you happy or fill the stomachs of the poor, if given the chance, you'd be considered naive. But, sadly, our economy doesn't run on good will, and we don't have gross national happiness indexes. What we're left with are importers, wholesalers, middle-persons, marketers, lawyers, retailers, and consumers who mostly make their money by getting a cut of your money at the cost of a great and massive distraction from what is important, living.

Think of this. The USB thingy that charges your phone cost about $.04 to make, and you pay $5 or more for it. 125 times the manufacturing cost, and retailers say they have low margins, so where is that $4.96 going? YEP - it is that crazy. Even building materials come from all over the world and are processed products like squeeze margarine, and the more complicated products get, the less well we feel about our stuff. We lose comprehension of what is around us, where and how it came to be. We CAN'T make things to last, because the economy would collapse. 

So keep this in mind: When you get excited to see your brand of coffee on sale with buy-one-get-one free, don't be fooled. You are paying for the free one each time you buy the regular priced product before and after the sale. Sales, freebies, free gifts, coupons - they're all built into the price of what you buy. And what you might consider is this: My coffee would be cheaper all the time if not for the buy-one-get-one-free deal... and coupons and such tactics. You are just playing the game that the manufacturers and marketers want you to play. We're sheep, easily herded, easily led, and we're distracted by the notion that we're as clever as the retailers. But they're not offering the deals to be clever, they're offering them because we buy more when they do.  

Critical thinking: We do some, but not much, which is why we buy more gifts each year than the year before, which is why the GNP rises annually or we feel like we're falling apart, which is why we still can't see the wall that is the limit of what our planet can handle.
Depressing?  I believe that knowledge is power, so it's encouraging to be 'in the know'.

This holiday season, take to heart the meaning of whatever you believe to be true to your soul/heart/happiness. Is it a 'better deal'? Is it fulfilling the perceived need of a relative to have the latest device? Might it'd be better to simply be happy to be alive, to have relatives and friends, to see snow coming down, to smell and breath clean air, to not worry about where to put the latest appliance, to not give a shit about keeping up with the Jones'? I bought some gifts, and all the time I'm buying gifts, I make sure I'm filling an actual need, solving a problem, otherwise I'm more likely to share a glass of wine over no thing and be happy. 

Happy holidays to all, may they be clutter free, mindful, soulful, and devoid of material distractions. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Nectarine juice

You must let the juice drip down your chin at least once. It is quite therapeutic, I think. I find myself neatening up, frustrated when I drop a berry on the floor... 'argh, gotta wipe that up!', and when I am busy, that dust that builds up in so short a time and must be sucked up and away to keep a keen house is just another source of angst.

Today, I was in the middle of a project, but hungry, and saw the nectarines on the counter watching me work. I reached over and grabbed the softer of them, and took a bite. I was doused with sweet juice, my beard now sticky and the window where it squirted eyeing me, waiting for my reaction.

It was a learning experience, a life lesson, and I smiled to myself and to the walls and thought, 'hey baby, let the juice flow.' If you've read my 'other stuff', you are probably wondering what I am on about, but soon you'll nod and know.

Last week I was out returning home from a midweek appointment and decided to take the shortcut past the local orchard and farm store. I needed eggs and milk, so I decided to see if they had both. They did. Both top quality and local. Since I am making a big effort to eliminate plastic from my life - that is, any future plastic, I bought my milk that day in the glass quart bottle, like it used to arrive on our doorstep when I was a child, except this one had a plastic top (grrrrr). I bought eggs in a paper carton, local too, free range, natural ingredient fed (not organic) eggs. And I bought a little paper container of nectarines, yes, one of which doused me only a short while ago.

I went to the counter to pay, and the teenage cashier looked at me and said, "you realize there is a $2.00 deposit on the bottle?" I said I did, and proceeded to get my wallet out. I looked at her and asked, "do people freak out about that?" to which she responded, "Oh yeah, you have no idea!" She was right, I did have no idea. I couldn't imagine people having a problem with paying $2.00 to be sure they brought a bottle back to be reused. And they would either get the $2.00 back or take another bottle away without paying again. But that was the naive me talking - any outlay of money upsets some people, which brings me to sadness 2. Why does the good food have to cost more than the bad food? We all know why - economies of scale and subsidies, but the irony is that huge profits go to corporate leaders who produce that subsidized substitute for good food, while local farms struggle to stay in business producing actual healthy food.

Lately I've been reaping the rewards of my own garden, and of local farmers. I went to The farmer's market, you know, the one Michelle Obama spurred to growth near the Whitehouse, a couple blocks from my office. The peaches I got there a week earlier were perfect, and some had true character.
This guy was yelling from the vendors booth for me to come and get him. I know it's a he... I can just tell. And so he and four others came home with me and I enjoyed them all, then the chipmonk outside enjoyed the pip of one of them as well, the pip I had just planted to see if I could get a whole tree of these beauties some day! Ah well, I'll put a cage around it next time.

So you see, I've been 'working' to buy more local foods, and spent more time preparing my own garden this year too so that I'd have my own food. I have a dozen or more cukes in the fridge ready to pickle one night this week, and I've not bought greens in a month now for all I have in the garden. I made blackberry wine a couple weeks ago, blackberry infused vinegar too, and some simple juice of blackberries that I canned to use at a later date as well. Wild blackberries.

I'm happy because I feel good about being able to support farmers and to grow some of my own food. I want to grow more, want to grow it all, want to be on the land, responsible for it, because it supports me. I'm usually so far removed from all the stuff I eat, that it is dispassionate consumption, a hollow sustenance. This last week, the juice, the fresh produce, the smart and good milk and the determination I've gained have all brought new light to my living, and I encourage you all to give it a try. Hit the brakes (rationally) next time you see a local farm stand. Wash whatever you buy, because even if local, it is usually also sprayed, but it is fresh, and there is nothing better than local and fresh produce.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Easy peasy, saving the world

One bite at a time, I'm saving the planet. In a past blog, I noted some of the rather mundane things I do to save/conserve energy, most of which are just plain old energy saving common sense. Like hanging clothes out. When I can't, I dry them with air - it's the heating element that really soaks up the energy, so put it on low/off and dry with cool air. It works!

This is me gearing up to hang clothes.

I have a 50 gallon drum under one gutter downspout, and the other night, in a single night of combined storms and light rain, it filled that bucket to the brim and overflowed. Today, I dipped a bucket in and watered all my gardens with that water.

Which brings me to my favorite environmental trick. Gardening - not necessarily for show, but for food. With pretty minimal purchases (some organic garden soil) I managed to raise enough lettuce and arugula to have fresh salad whenever I want, while also able to give some away. Cukes started coming two days ago, I've had five picked so far with many to come. Beans didn't do well this year - I ended up with a single string bean plant growing. And today I harvested it's 6 beans, but they were fantastic. There are hundreds of tomatoes ripening, from small through giant, and I hope to be eating those in a week as the first have just begun to blush.
Then there are the wild blackberries on the west side of my yard and the cultivated raspberries and the herbs, dill, basil, oregano, a couple kinds of mints.

This year I have lots of mulch (not the bagged kind) and weeper hoses buried in the mulch to keep the ground wet without above ground evaporation. I plan to install a water tank at some point to store water in the future too, and eventually hope to waste very little water. It is an evolving exercise in practicality, and a bit of fun and hard work too.

So you see, it's easy to save the world!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The next blush

It's upon us, the next series of blushes, nature ripening another round of fruits, flower, vegetable...

The tomatoes are showing the first color, the wild blackberries are ripening one at a time, but there are thousands. Look closely, there are large diagonal raindrops in this picture.
The peach lily is blooming as if aroused to a new height this year, perfect weather, rain, sun, balance.

This is one of my favorite flowers of all time, and now, I wait each year for them to bloom. This year they are welcoming July again, right on time.

The cucumbers are coming alive too, dozens of flowers, a few cukes ready for the weekend.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Stepping into the sea

Today I dipped my toes in the Atlantic, at a favorite beach on the National Seashore, Assateague, where the (formerly) wild ponies roam. They're pretty tame, lollygagging around all day, with token jobs. It s a great beach, because you can go there, park, walk to the water's edge, then turn right and walk another 10 miles. About two miles on, there are few people, though they do drive on the sand there, and party and fish too.

I was nearby, picking up a scooter I bought - a 1966 Honda CM91 - it's a fortunate find, as I've been watching Vespas, old Hondas and other brands for a while. Most are either basket-cases, titleless, or too expensive. This one came in with everything I need, except the motorcycle license, and it should get about 60mpg -we'll see. I'm considering converting it to electric... we'll see about that too.

So, I drove the extra 15 minutes to see the ocean that I haven't seen in a while, and it was still there, still beautiful, still drawing me to it. I dipped my toes in.

And as I often do, I discovered something new. Because of where I live, I don't see the little prickly cacti too often. Today, I happened on one in flower, and it's a beautiful flower, and I was happy to have been there to see it.

It was a good day, a long day, a lot of driving today, but I soaked up some of that power of the sea, and brought it home with me, to savor... as long as possible. I'm not likely to vacuum the car for a while, just to have that sand on board a little longer.

And, if you need proof that I was there...and that my beard needs a trim...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Social action

I've been a vegetarian for about 20 years now, and the reasons are the unnatural conditions that meats are raised in, and because I was tired of scrubbing chicken grease off of pans.

Food, Inc. was on my 'never watched, but should' list, and so I watched it last evening.

Yes, I should have watched it by now - produced in 2007, it's old now. But the facts within, are way older. They extend back way before I became a vegetarian, and it seems the cheapening of our food sources has been progressing for decades with little challenge, but a lot of progress. I recently learned that many of the brands I handled as a food coop coordinator are now owned by the likes of Coca Cola and Kraft. I've heard theories that this is a good thing, that the behemoths want into the organic movement, but I disagree that it is good. This type of acquisition still lands control of our food in few hands and even fewer pockets. So far, many of the products don't appear to have been cheapened by their ownership, but I am skeptical that this will last. I am certain that part of the motive of the large companies is to still control the entire industry.

The film moved me. It moved me to consider how I can make my own difference. I've not supported these industries for over 20 years, and I give my opinion openly when asked, and I support legislation that maintains quality standards for all. I'm also growing some of my own food, and have made concerted efforts recently to reduce plastics, so far practically impossible.

I want to note to anyone who reads this that there are two kinds of people on this planet. The first are those like myself, who are willing and able to change. We understand that openness is the only way that problems will be recognized and reversed. The second type of person is the one who believes in a system that includes one's right to capitalize by any legal means. These are the people who trust the government, who believe in status quo, who support the system that often harms them.

Today, it was announced that between 1 of 2 and 1 of 3 children (depending on poverty level) will end up with child-onset diabetes. There is only one reason for this, and it isn't the diabetes, it's the diet. And yet, we react to the diabetes, not the food causing it. We provide medication before changing diet. Coca cola (and other sodas) were once treats. Today they are beverages of choice for unsupervised kids and poor families. Soda is cheaper than the alternatives, including water if bottled. This is an example of a failed system. Our regulatory agencies, our medical profession, our government has failed to respond to a serious nutrition crisis, because it involves many of the largest corporations in the world and their ability to make profits.

In my mind, it is factual to say that our epidemics, our health crises, our debt are all related to poor choices. We have grown the healthcare response to such a proportion as to dwarf nutrition. We treat illness caused by poor nutrition rather than improving nutrition. Period. The treatment develops at a much higher rate than the nutrition, because huge companies sell the drugs and treatments. They don't want people to be healthier, because they need to continue making profits.

Critical thinking.