Category: Simple living
Annie Leonard (“The Story of Stuff”) urges us to stay home on Black Friday, offering us some stunning images in this one-minute video:
What else is there to do? Fifty years ago, people would have thought you were an idiot to even ask this question.
Although I have NEVER shopped on Black Friday, I signed Annie Leonard’s Pledge.
A couple years ago, in response to Arianna Huffington’s “Move your Money” campaign, I moved my money from a regional bank to a non-profit credit union. I wasn’t alone, as the Guardian reports:
In the US . . . from the start of 2009 to mid-2010, 1.5 million members joined credit unions in a year – the number of new members usually expected in a 14-year period. When you examine how credit unions works, it’s easy to see why.
Unlike big banks, credit unions don’t engage in any form of casino finance. When you deposit money into a credit union account, it isn’t invested anywhere or gambled in any way. The only time it is used by the credit union is when it is loaned to other account holders; and even then it is guaranteed by an FSA scheme, meaning that it won’t be lost if the loan repayments aren’t met. Those who join credit unions are not customers, but members – like a co-operative.
Do you need to get away from it all? Do you crave an island of your own? Richie Sowa was in that position. Rather than find an island or buy one, he decided to make his own. The foundation of his island is consists of empty plastic water bottles.
Sowa is now growing his own bananas, coconuts, spinach, almonds and tomatoes. In the video below, he says that he has everything he wants. Although his island is currently in Mexico, he plans to keep increasing the size of the island, until he sets out to sea.
At Orion Magazine, Bill McKibben has noted a trend in energy production, information, health care, banking and (believe it or not) farming:
[W]e’re moving, if we’re lucky, from the world of few and big to the world of small and many. We’ll either head there purposefully or we’ll be dragged kicking, but we’ve reached one of those moments when tides reverse.
This movement to the small and many is a democratic movement, and McKibben’s comment about the “tides revering” refers to the fact that “small and many” will be resisted by those who can profit by confiscating and retaining large-scale control:
In our world, most of those people are not actually persons—we call them corporations. But their power over our democracy is very real, and on the farm and on the trading floor and in the hospital ward they’re doing their very best to block the transitions we need. Their money, earned under the old bigger-is-better paradigm, gives them great power to block change: just look at how skillfully the fossil fuel industry has used the Tea Party to stifle legislation that would speed the transition to renewable energy. Watch Big Ag write the next Farm Bill—it won’t be pretty.
According to this article at MSNBC, the failure of U.S. consumers to spend lots of money has screwed up the U.S. economy:
For the time being, it looks like American consumers are AWOL. And until they come back, don’t expect to see any real recovery in economic growth and the job market. Consumer spending typically accounts for roughly 70 percent of the U.S. economy.
Leonard now offers a free school curriculum based on The Story of Stuff. It is called “Buy, Use, Toss?”
I spent an hour this evening fixing an appliance that I bought at a yard sale many years ago for a coin. Not only that, but I solely and regularly use this appliance for my daily work. You may wonder, how do I use a potpourri crock pot for work? As the heater part of a small double boiler for an etchant that can eat through glass or titanium, of course.
And what can go wrong with a crock pot? Well, this one has been dropped a couple of times. But the crack was dealt with well enough some years ago by a liberal application of Acrylic monomer (Super Glue).
So what was wrong now? The crack had weakened the heating element (the hair-thin Ni-chrome filament) and it finally burned through.
So I took the thing apart and spliced in a bit of brass wire that I had lying around. That delicate job turned out to be the easy part, given strong magnifying goggles, tiny tools, and decades of fix-it experience.
But these diabolical inexpensive units are designed to not-be reassembled. They had actually added an extra part to the design to make reassembly impossible. It took me over a half hour to outwit the designers and get the base re-attached in a manner that would let me take it apart again in the future.
For a dozen tax-deductible dollars I can have a new one delivered to my house via eBay. Why do I regularly chose to repair disposable appliances?
My parents both went through economic times much worse than the U.S. Depression, each losing nearly everything but their lives. They raised me with essential parsimony. Not actual deprivation, mind you. Just a frugal mindset that pervades my being.
But now I have predictable (if meager) income, and no debt. I have money in the bank, and could afford nice things. But it just feels wasteful to throw away something that I can fix. I mentioned this in “How Does a Microwave Work?”
Things I no longer need may end up on eBay. I usually net less than minimum wage for my time on most of these sales. But the widget/parts/book gets a new life with someone who really wants it, and the post office makes some money.
Yet I regularly ask myself, “Is it worth it?”
Annie Leonard has passionately researched and written a book she titles: The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with the Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health-and a Vision for Change (2010).
I haven’t yet finished her book, although I’d like to post on one point she strongly makes early on, a point that is the elephant in the room regarding most discussions of the American way of life. It is a topic not far from the hearts of the many free market fundamentalists out there. The topic is whether it’s time to put capitalism under the microscope. Here’s what Leonard has to say:
[There is no doubt we will reach the planet's carrying capacity; we're heading in that direction now.... a big part of the problem we face today is that our dominant economic system values growth as a goal unto itself, above all else. That's why we use the gross to metric product, or GDP as a standard measure of success....
All right. Are you ready? I'm going to say it: this critique of economic growth is a critique of many aspects of capitalism as it functions in the world today. There. I said the word: "capitalism." It's the Economic-System-That-Must-Not-Be-Named.
When writing the film script of The Story of Stuff, my intent was to describe what I saw in my years on the trail of trash, visiting factories and dumps and learning about how things are made, use, and thrown away around the world. I certainly didn't sit down and figure out how to explain the flaws of capitalism. It was trash, not economics, that was originally on my mind. So at first it took me by surprise that some commentators called the film "an ecological critique of capitalism" or "anti-capitalist."... it turns out that a hard look at how we make and use and throwaway Stuff reveals some pretty deep problems caused by core functions of a specific economic system called capitalism. There's no way around it: capitalism, as it currently functions, is just not sustainable....
Yet, in the United States, were still hesitant to broach this unmentionable subject, fearful of being labeled unpatriotic, unrealistic, or insane. Elsewhere in the world, there's a widespread recognition that some aspects of capitalism aren't working well for the majority of the world's people or for the planet; people talk about it openly....
Can we put capitalism on the table and talk about it with the same intellectual rigor that we welcome for other topics? Can we examine the failures of capitalism without falling into generations-old stereotypes and without being accused of being un-American? Refusing to talk about it doesn't make the problems disappear. I believe the best way to honor our country is to point out when it's going astray, instead of sitting here silently as many economic, environmental, and social indices worsen. Now would be a good time to start looking at what we could do differently, and what we could do better....
The belief that infinite economic growth is the best strategy for making a better world has become like a secular religion in which all our politicians, economists, and media participate; it is seldom debated, since everyone is supposed to just accept it as true.
Why are so few people willing to challenge, or even critically discuss, an economic model that so clearly isn't serving the planet and the majority of its people. I think one reason is that the economic model is nearly invisible to us. ... [W]e tend to forget that were viewing the world through the paradigm, like it’s a pair of contact lenses…. before we can change a paradigm, we need to identify it as a paradigm rather than assume it is truth.
[Starting at page xviii]