December 29, 2009

“When we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world.”
– John Muir

I recently had lunch with a colleague who has left telecommunications and entered the world of bio-fuels.  Producing leaner, cleaner fuels to run our cars, trucks, trains and ships.  It’s renewable rather than depleatable like fossil fuels.  It leaves us much less dependant upon OPEC and the Middle East.  

Sounds great right?  I thought so too until we started discussing how much acreage is needed to produce bio fuels.   Bio fuels produced from palm oils would require thousands upon thousands of acres of rain forest to be cleared and planted with palm trees.   Rain forests aren’t just some neat place to vacation every now and then, they are vital to the earth’s ecology by recycling carbon gases into oxygen, helping recycle water from the earth back into the atmosphere to have it fall back down again, which makes them critical for weather patterns.  

Then there are biofuels produced from algae.   But they require a shallow area in the sea so they can get sunlight – an area about the size of Rhode Island.  Imagine how giant floats of algae would alter the ocean ecology. How many species would die from oxygen deprivation due to clusters of algae like the infamous red tide? 

And then my favorite, someone has figured out how to separate the oxygen and hydrogen components of sea water and make it burn.  Imagine, they say…using sea water.  How great, it is not depleatable! ….Or is it?  If we pump billions of gallons of water out a day  or a week or a month, how would that again alter weather patterns?  Would we one day reach the bottom of the well?

The one thing that struck me and struck me hard during that lunch the current American lifestyle is simply not sustainable.  For the sheer fact that, as John Muir states above, when we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to other things.


Reduce Waste

February 14, 2008

Americans consume a lot.  We also waste a lot with enormous landfills and barges sent out to sea with our trash to end up somewhere else, just not here. 

I have one challenge for each of you.  Reduce waste.  Think about what you buy, the packaging it comes in and how you can either do with out it or figure out how to reuse it.

Some ideas:

Find a recycle center in your area.  Our municipal recycling is limited and time consuming.  We use it but we also use a separate recycle center called Ecology Action that accepts far more recyclables with a lot less work.  Our muni recycling will only take 1 & 2 plastic in bottle shapes, Ecology Action will take all 1 & 2 packaging such as the fruit packing berries come in as well as unbound cardboard, newspaper, phone books, cell phones, and pressed cardboard like cereal boxes.   We keep bins in our garage and just throw the stuff in it.  When it is time to make a run, we combine it with another errand in the same area or we use it as an opportunity to go out to lunch and enjoy an afternoon in the city.   My son loves this, he has such a great time sorting the recyclables and making sure everything gets where it needs to go.

Re-use glass jars.  Sure you can recycle glass – it is the most widely accepted recyclable material but it still takes resources through energy to recycle anything.   You can recycle by finding alternative uses for those pickle jars or spaghetti jars.   I like to store beans and rice in them.  They also work well to sort nails, screws and bolts in our garage.  My son uses them to hold treasures like seashells and sand from various beach vacation.   If you have found a jar for every use you can think of, list them on your local Freecycle or Craigslist and send them on to someone who could use them.

Find alternatives to paper.  A tree had died to give you every bit of new paper you use.  If you need “new” paper, buy 100% post-consumer recycled paper.  Wrap gifts in nice bits of fabric or reuse those gift bags that you get.  My family has been passing around the same Christmas gift bags for five years now! 

Spend a little more money to buy quality or look for real wood used furnishings that can be restored.  Quality furniture, hopefully made from wood grown in a sustainably managed forest, will last far longer than cheap particle board wood type furniture and will ultimately reduce what finds its way into a landfill.   I tend to look at garage sales for quality wood furniture that, while not immediately attractive, can be remade into something beautiful.  I have restored a Mission Style Spindle Bed, a few free chairs that were in good shape except the upholstery was ruined, and a few tables.   My sister and I make decorating our homes on the cheap with quality a game and we help each other restoring our finds.  It gives us time spent together and helps us build and maintain our relationship while also creating beautiful homes. 

Reducing waste is definitely a simple life virtue.  First, doing without but also ensuring you use what you buy and leave as little behind as possible.

According to the Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary 2003-2006 Voluntary Simplicity is a lifestyle that is less pressured due to a focus away from accumulation of goods and more toward non-material aspects of life.

It is no longer a theory that the earth is headed on a collision course due to human consumption.  A 2005 report backed by over 1,000 of the world’s leading scientists warned that almost two-thirds of the world’s resources have already been consumed.  That is a frightening thought.  And even more shameful is that the largest portion of the world’s resources is consumed by the United States in our quest for more, quicker, faster, better products.  We glibly throw away containers that cost more than many people in the world make in a month.  We easily toss precious natural resources down the drain and into the sewers or into huge holes in the ground where we bury our unwanted, out of fashion but perfectly workable items.  Or we buy inferior, cheaply made products that have to be replaced time and time again. 

 This quest for bigger, better, faster and newer is the modern American dream.  Instant gratification is the name of the game.  We see advertisements every day that a new living room suite of furniture can be yours with no interest and no payment for three years.  What they don’t tell you is at the end of that three years the interest has compounded, circumstances may change or the furniture may need or want to be replaced again driving you further and further into debt.  Not only is this modern American dream destroying the environment by using resources at liberty without thought to where it comes from or how it is made, but this constant cycle of debt is endangering  the economy, our health, our mental and emotional health, our families and our communities.  People have to work longer and longer hours to continuously purchase items that drastically outpace their income.   Debt has become fashion and workers are tied to the “company store” to repay their lenders.  

Voluntary simplicity is rejecting the modern American dream of consumption, debt and slave to work in order to find more a more meaningful life.   All ages and types of people practice voluntary simplicity.  Many people reduce as a social justice statement.  Others do so to make a political statement.  And others still are simply tired of being tied to a job they once loved but came to resent after years of grinding away getting further and further behind.  Whatever the reason, the movement is growing across the first world and people are actively seeking a different, better way of life; a life where they are in control, not their debt or their employers.   A life that is full, rich in ways that money cannot purchase and socially and environmentally balanced.