Saturday, January 29, 2011

Declaration of Interdependence

Dependence is a taker's mentality. If you take without giving enough back any system will eventually collapse.
Independence is impossible. You can't make it on your own. Nobody can. Even if you live alone in the woods you would still rely heavily on the landscape around you that would provide your food, your shelter, your clothing. It all comes from somewhere.
At the fringes of dependence and independence a viable option emerges. Interdependence. We're all in this together. Noone is an island.
As individuals, we depend on our families and they depend on us. We are stronger together than any of us are alone. We depend on our friends to bail us out of jams from time to time, and we do it gladly because they'd do the same for us. We depend on our adversaries and our competition to keep us from falling into complacency.
We depend on our communities and the rich network of people and services who make it up, and our communities depend on us. Without us it would be diminished.
As communities, we depend on our farms and our supermarkets. We depend on the food they provide, and they depend on us to buy it. We depend on other communities, for other hockey teams to play, and for other places to buy things, and for accommodations when we're far from home. Other communities can depend on being able to come here for things they can't get at home, and on us to do our part for the province and the country.  
As a country, we depend on trade with other countries. We depend on our military and our ambassadors, who depend on us for support and guidance. We depend on friendly countries like we depend on our friends. They depend on us just as we depend on them. You never know when disaster will strike and we'll need to call for help.
As a species, we depend completely on the biosphere. The systems that create and sustain life are generous and plentiful. Now that we've become the dominant force on the planet, the biosphere depends on us too. We need to take care of it like it takes care of us.
We embrace this interdependence, because at every scale, relying on each other is richer and more rewarding than trying to go it alone.
We respond by meeting our responsibilities. We recognize that our rights and our freedoms flow from the interdependence of all life and the interaction of a great many systems. If any part of the system fails or disappears, the system may be resilient enough to carry on, but it impoverishes us all.
With everything that grows or wriggles on this earth, we declare our interdependence. We depend on them, and they depend on us. If we let the system down, it will let us down, to our detriment. This system might not run forever, but we won't let it down. Not on our watch. We're in this together.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Responsible use of resilient systems

Everything on Earth has always been here. Aside from the occasional satellite launch or meteorite strike it always will be. The Earth is a closed system to matter. It just gets moved around.
The Earth is an open system to energy. The planet absorbs energy from the sun at the same rate as it sends it out to the blackness of space, keeping the planet at a comfortable temperature. Plants use that energy to grow.
Animals that eat the plants are living indirectly on solar energy, and so are the predators that eat other animals.
Our species is brilliant and we have learned how to outcompete anything. We do what pleases us. We know how to take advantage of all sorts of resources. Our civilization has become wonderful in a great many ways.
Under normal circumstances the system is in balance. Nature uses any waste products as a source of food. Our way of life makes waste that nature can't use. This feels normal to us, but to the planet these aren't normal circumstances.
Ever since the industrial revolution we've become more and more adept at utilizing non-renewable resources for our short term gain. England was a leader for years because it ran out of wood and had to switch to coal. The US became a leader because it discovered cheap oil relatively early.
Fossil fuels reintroduce substances that have been sequestered out of the stable, resilient, natural balance. It can take a lot of abuse, but the scale on which we're unbalancing the system exceeds the capacity of the earth to absorb it.
As a closed system to matter, everything we put in the atmosphere and the ocean stays there. The natural carbon system is like a full bathtub, where water is being added exactly as fast as it can drain out the overflow. As we start adding more water the balance in the tub is off and we're going to overflow the tub.
As an open system to energy, we've adjusted the atmosphere so it absorbs more energy than it used to, disrupting the weather patterns that we have come to rely on, and everything that goes with it.
You've undoubtedly heard all of this before, and all of it simply is. There's no judgment or vilification of what we've done from on high. It's just the way things are. Physics is immune to argument or morality.
As long as we're living in a resilient system we can outcompete anything and protecting the resilience that's left in the system is in our own self interest. For that matter, exploiting all the resources as fast as we can is in our self interest too. We will do what pleases us. The question that remains is what will please us more.
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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Your City Is Fat

Living in cities without regard for where our food and energy come from is no longer an option.
In the same slow wide arc that it takes to turn around an oil tanker, processes for implementing sustainable policies and are emerging.
The structure of our cities is set in concrete and asphalt. We quit setting it in stone years ago, but that concrete and asphalt structure drives everything about modern life. It's the framework in which we make decisions on how to live.
Renovating our neighbourhoods will be an essential part of building our sustainable future. It won't happen by itself. Council can't do it alone. The politics are hairy and for most, too avant garde. But that's what real leadership requires.
Our cities are like children, who ate lots and grew up tall. Then they kept eating, and got wider instead of taller. Now they're in the hospital with complications due to morbid obesity. That wasn't what they had in mind.
The shape of our cities and the health of our neighbourhoods will chart our course for the rest of this century. Continuing to sprawl is like taking someone who's already had two heart attacks to Fatburger every day for the rest of their lives. Not a good idea.
It's time to eat your greens. Literally. Grow your own food if you can. If you already garden, research 'permaculture'. There's a tremendous depth of information there on how to arrange your garden so you won't have to work so hard at it. Then help your neighbours.
Don't be afraid of denser development. That's what makes it possible to walk to the store (or home from the pub). It's also what makes those European cities we dream of visiting (like Paris) so alluring. The only rules saying we can't do that here are the ones we made up: the ones we can change.
Then there's the business angle. Businesses need customers, and if cities are too spread out for people to walk to the store, people will need to get into their (expensive) cars. Once they're driving, it's not that much further to Wal-Mart. Once they're driving, why stop at the small, nearby store? A denser city keeps your customers close by.
The solutions are interlinked, but the capstone of this grand arch that will become a new sustainable world is the shape of the city. We can do better. Ask your neighbours while they're gardening. They think so too.
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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Preparation: the work before the work

These guys show up prepared.

When you drive by any fast food restaurant you know generally what's going on inside. At one, the burgers and fries are hot and ready. At another the bread is coming out of the oven and the sandwich toppings are laid out and ready to go.
You could stop at any of these restaurants, without a reservation, and reasonably expect a meal in five minutes. Or instead you might make a phone call and expect a pizza to show up at your door in thirty minutes or less.
Musicians know the value of preparation too. A concert pianist doesn't just show up, look at the dots on the page and expect music to appear. They've spent years honing their skills and making themselves ready for the performance.
Preparation is the work before the work. It's the trips to the grocery store. It's the slicing the toppings and making the pizza dough. It's the hours of study and rehearsal. It's what makes the five minute meal or the virtuoso performance possible.
There's a difference between planning and preparation. Planning is the strategy, the thinking through the scenarios, ultimately to decide what to do. Preparation is when you put the put the pieces in place so that when it comes time to perform, you can make it look easy. A plan should be part of your preparation, but it's not the whole thing.
Imagine you want to build a brick wall for a garage. If you're like most people you'd go buy some bricks, mix up some mortar and get to it.
A pro would start instead with scaffolding. First they'd build all of the scaffolding, as high as they will need it. Then they will load up the scaffolding with the right number of bricks for that section. This might mean days without laying a single brick.
This is no delay or procrastination. Once the mason is prepared, they can mix the mortar and lay bricks without interruption until the wall is finished. Unprepared, amateurs will run into problems that will cost extra time and money. The pro will get you the garage because he's prepared.
For whatever project you're taking on, consider the preparation carefully, because when it comes time to perform the preparation will pay off.
Corollary: Preparation is wasted if you don't perform when the time is right. Preparation isn't the goal, just a necessary step along the way to accomplishing something.

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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Take control of the now.

Another 31.5 million seconds have ticked by since the last time this unlikely ball of life spun around that sphere of hot fusion we call the sun.
By itself, each second is so small as to be insignificant. The past is over and unchangeable, and the future hasn't happened yet and is untouchable.
Push the past and the future even closer together, and that instant where they meet is all there really is. Which makes it a moment of supreme importance. It'd be a shame to waste it.
Accept that you can only focus your attention on one thing at a time. Now do it on purpose. That flow we experience when consumed by a suitably challenging activity is when we're at our happiest. The challenge isn't too easy, isn't too hard. It's just right.
Don't fool yourself into thinking you can multitask either. Walk and chew gum? Ok. Fine, but don't try to multitask on things that deserve your concentration.
One fight at a time. Task switching is a major drain on your mental resources. If you're broken out of your concentration with an interruption it takes a long time to get back to where you were. If you're interrupting yourself, even to check on something else you're doing, that's self destructive and less productive than you think.
At the very least please turn off that chime that lets you know you have new email.
This is the strange part. When you're doing fewer things you will get more done. The simple act of focusing on something until it's done will lead you to finish more things than multitasking ever will.
This is the time of year people talk about resolutions. Don't count on resolutions. Count on yourself instead. Pick something you want to do and do it. Thoughtfully, intentionally, purposefully do it every day for 30 days. Make it a habit. After the 30 days are up, you can quit if you want. You can keep up anything for 30 days.
Finish what you start. Be selective about what you choose to start, because starting means finishing. If you ingrain that starting means finishing you'll start fewer things, but finish more of them. That's far more satisfying than starting and abandoning lots of things unfinished.
Take control of the now. If you don't you'll find millions more seconds have slipped away.