Saturday, August 27, 2011

Loving, Hopeful, and Optimistic

Not my photo. I wish it was, it's great.
If you know who I should ask about using it here, please let me know in the comments.

"My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world." -Jack Layton
What a wonderful approach. For the rest of us, who have a hard time retaining such relentless positivity, it's a wonderful reminder life is what you make it.
We control how we feel and our level of happiness by what we focus on, what we engage in, and which thoughts we allow to fester or grow. If you're happy and you know it, you know what to do.
There are no upsides to anger, fear or despair. These will drag you down. They're tempting, easy feelings, but they accompany misery and defeat. The choice between misery and the fruits of relentless positivity should be a clear one, if you want to be happy.
Positivity is challenging to maintain in a world that's intent on self-destruction while making you feel dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. Don't get caught up in the despair. Instead, look at the world not as something that throws obstacles in your way, but look instead with the wonder and curiosity in the eyes of a child.
Positive attitudes make good situations great, bad situations better, and even if the outlook isn't so good it provides a softer landing.
Let us appreciate what we have, despite differences, hardships, and grievances. Let us rejoice alone, and in the company of family, friends, strangers, and acquaintances.
Let us share the courage and conviction that what is to come is not to be feared, but will instead be wonderful. We create, in a way, what we expect to create.
Let us defeat the cycle of despair, that we will have the wherewithal and strength to overcome any obstacle.
Let us adopt Jack's relentless positivity as our own, so that our lives might be improved, and that we might also improve the lives of others by our presence, actions, and attitude.
We can change the world. You know best where you can contribute. Stay positive. It's better for you, and besides, Jack would want it that way.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Manicured lawn? You can do better.

What does a lawn need? Space, water, sunlight and maintenance. The maintenance takes time, assorted equipment, and sometimes fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides.
All of this is in the service of a plain green background around a house.
A half step forward here is to lay off the fertilizers and the irrigation. You'll still need to maintain it, but if you understand that going brown when there's no water around is actually a survival strategy you'll appreciate the lawn a little better. You might already be doing this. It's a good start.
There are two different next steps here, depending on your objectives.
If you're looking for easy, xeriscape the lawn. Between plants and mulch or rocks, you won't have to mow or fertilize any more. It's a little work up front, but the payoff is huge. You can still plant the plants you want.
To really help keep the weeds down though, you need  layer of cardboard or 8-10 sheets of newsprint under the 4 or so inches of mulch. Don't be stingy with the newsprint or the weeds will find their way through and reduce the low-maintenance benefit of this approach.
If you'd rather have a payoff from your yard, instead of the xeriscape option, look seriously at permaculture. It's a systems design methodology that gets the plants and the landscape working together so that you can grow food without having to put too much effort into it.
By putting the effort into the design of the yard/garden you can let the system do most of the work once you're done. This limits the work you have to do, and you still obtain a yield in exchange for your work tending the system. (You mean I have to pick the berries myself?)
You don't owe your lawn anything. It was a cheap way to cover the dirt when they finished building your house.
Get back your time with a xeriscaped yard, or get paid in food for your time tending the yard. The green carpet you visit only to mow is a drain on your time and energy. Either get clear with a xeriscape concept, or permaculture up your yard and reap the bounty.
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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Who Are We?

Human Identity Uroboros
Not my illustration, but suitable here. Human Identity Uroboros. Credit line: Nina McCurdy.
Thanks to Nancy Abrams and Joel Primack for the image and their inspirational Ted Talk

The answer's different for everyone, and that depends on how far out you can feel.
There's only one you. Whether you're 230 lbs or 115, it counts the same on the census. One. 'Who am I?' is a relatively straightforward question.
The question 'Who are we?' is much more difficult to answer, because the 'we' changes based on context, and is difficult to pin down.
You don't often hear this question asked but it's implicit everywhere. Are you one of us? We're adept at picking up social cues for this sort of thing.
Very few people are so selfish as to only care about themselves. We'll go to great lengths to take care of our families, for example.
The next step up is your tribe or your community. This is the level of loyalty that all cheers for the same hometown hockey team. It's also the reason that, all else being equal, you should shop at stores in your own hometown.
In fact, being loyal to your community would suggest buying from local businesses even if it puts you at a slight disadvantage. If everybody buys their books online, then your community doesn't get a local bookstore.
If you don't support local businesses then you don't get the benefits that they provide, like the business taxes, local jobs, and economic activity that makes a community viable.
Beyond the community, we are a part of our nation or religion. This is what brings the country together for the Olympics or War, or what can spark fundamentalist activities.
Once we look beyond national or religious borders we can see that we're all human. The Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948 is a great example of what being loyal to humanity is like.
Is the 'we' the group of all humans? Is humanity in it for itself? To take care of ourselves, we must also take care of the rest of the life on this planet, both for food, and for the myriad ecological services it provides. So it makes sense for humans, on the whole, to take care of all life and the health of the planet.
When there are violations of this precept, look to see what closer loyalty is being honoured instead. Cutting down rain forest to feed your family can make sense if that's the situation you're in. Watching how others respond when faced with a conflict can help you figure out what groups they most strongly identify with.
It can help you figure out your answer to the 'Who are we?' question too.
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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Setting a good example

Enough with living off the past and the future. Live off current solar income.

We have a series of complementary problems. Peak oil, catastrophic climate change, and now the global debt crisis.
By playing the problems off each other, we can find a solution: We need to relocalize our economies.
Peak oil and climate change come from living too much off the past, in the form of stored solar income - hydrocarbons, taking it out of the ground and pumping it into the skies and the oceans.
The debt crisis arises from living too much off the future, in the form of mortgages, bonds, and various flavours of credit cards.
How do we fix it? By living in the present, off current solar income. By cleaning up our act. We're busy, of course, but the more we put off solving our problems the bigger the problems will get. Tomorrow will bring challenges of its own. There's no sense in compounding the problems we refused to deal with yesterday onto it.
Rapidly constructed coal-fired power plants in China are overwhelming any minor gains the Kyoto might have given us. In addition to our own massive greenhouse gas reductions, we also require geopolitical solutions. We can't solve this on our own any more.
Our best hope lies in setting a good example. The global middle class wants what we have, and will get it the way we got it, unless we demonstrate something else, and give them another story to be in.
Demonstrating our willingness to live in a world where ecological limits are respected is a valuable partial solution, and one that could have an impact beyond our contribution, as others start to emulate our way of life.
Now, one thing that we do really well is capturing the imaginations of people around the world. We have the creativity to build and implement viable solutions to this intractable problem. 
But we all need to eat. Get good at gardening or farming. Farm for your neighbour or your friend. If you don't have access to land, borrow someone's yard and split the produce. Figure out how to grow food now, while there's still time. That's a prime example of producing real value on current solar income.
It's time to set a good example.

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