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Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

I had a post lined up about the joys of Christmas, the problems with consumerism and other related issues. Then, in the rush of life just before Christmas and a slump in my energy levels it feel by the wayside.

Today I am back at work, cleaning our inboxes and intrays, doing some filing and catching up on report reading. I came across this article on the wii which made me laugh. It needed to be shared, if only for the final paragraph:

But if the holidays are a time of reflecting on the past and the future, you might as well hang out with your friends and play Guitar Hero on the Wii. After all, donating to cool charities and supporting local artists is something you should be doing all year. You should buy a cute present for your sweetie from Etsy when it strikes your fancy, not just when the capitalist juggernaut tells you to. And, of course, you should never be off-line for a day. That’s just taking things too far.

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I love it when you get the same message from different sources, albeit each with a different part of the puzzle. This has happened quite nicely in the last 48 hours.

A lot of the study and research I’ve been doing recently focuses on sustainability and how we affect change. Some would argue that there are two types of environmentalists, the greens and the browns, where the browns are the people concerned with sustainability in urban environments, rather than the nature conservation focus of the greens. I’d put myself firmly in the first camp, as that is where my interest lies. Not that the other camp isn’t just as valid.

In pondering the problems of urban sustainability I keep returning to consumption as being at the root of the problem, and that there is work and change to be done in this area. The issue is finding out which end of the stick to grasp hold of.

The last 48 hours has landed a bunch of articles in my lap that re-iterate this theme and has given me cause for thought.

The first was the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Consumption Atlas that charts greenhouse emissions, water usage and eco-footprint for each postcode in Australia and charts it against various averages. Burwood area is disturbing. we use 940, 000 L of water per person, per year. The state average is 740, 000 L. If you look at some of the other figures on the site food is the biggest producer of greenhouse gases, consumer of water, and one of the top contributors to our footprint. This got me thinking about my personal food practices, especially as I was in Harris Farm markets, and it was “no meat Thursday”.

The next few pieces in the puzzle came from the following two articles:

Both address the “avoid” and “reduce” part of the avoid, reduce, reuse, recycle waste hierarchy. They question how it is good for the planet to continue to consume masses of stuff, even if it is a “green” product. The compact’s article is a personal story, George Monbiot’s article is a more reflective look at affluence and society and the creation of a new class difference based on eco-consumption. They also explain why I get uncomfortable about the way that eco-shopping is used a sort of feel-good spack filler over the problems we are facing and could address if we didn’t stick our head in the sand so much.

The final one was from No Impact Man on “Why I sometimes drone on about wacky spiritual questions…“. He takes the questions raised by the previous two articles a few steps further and asks about the way that consumption can hide the fact that we are not doing what makes us happy. It’s a challenge, of sorts, to the affluent parts of the world, i.e. us, to work out what would really make us happy, rather than just consuming and irreparably polluting the planet in the process.

None of this is particularly new. It’s just nice to be reminded in a different way, and odd to have so many of these messages hit in 48 hours.

So.

What makes you happy? Is it a shiny new toy? Really? Or is it time spent with friends? Is it walking around your local neighbourhood admiring people’s gardens? Is it the enjoyment of music and dance? Is it the pursuit of knowledge, or curling up on the couch with a good book?Is it the contemplation of the divine (however you define it) and the knowledge that you are loved?

Side stepping these questions slightly is my need to analyse how I am spending money and why, and to examine my food choices. This might have to be the first post in a long time over at the “betterer” blog.

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I gave myself a week to come back to reality after the holiday. A week of sleeping in if I needed it. A week of purchasing breakfast rather than cooking it myself. A week of slowly remembering the details of my job. A week of thinking about cleaning my house. A week of considering where I go from here as the plan to July had now finished.

I came across two articles today that I need to ponder some more, which should kickstart the thoughts for the last part, the where to from here:

1. The wonderful Amanda Kovattana has written an article on the “7 Habits of Highly Subversive People” which is incredibly thought provoking. The habits are quite sensible, but it’s good to have them catalogued and reflected upon. They are, in order:

  • Habit #1. Thinking
  • Habit #2 Understand the big picture, the global supply chain of everything that you touch and then some, the interconnectedness of all things and i don’t mean just the cosmic good stuff between you and the divine. In the beginning there will be no solution to the depressing reality of it all. Get used to it. Between despair and hope lies the motivation to change.
  • Habit #3: Fix, make or bake stuff yourself, because it strengthens your independence of thought from the soul robbing, imagination sucking, corporate production of stuff. Cut off or cover the logos on your bag, shoes, clothes. Repurpose a product and name it after yourself.
  • Habit #4: Know your porn so that you can understand how you are being told what to desire.
  • Habit #5: Seek context. Don’t settle for the easy short answer. Stand for something risky. Make a statement that embodies complete sociopolitical narrations.
  • Habit #6: Start where your audience is
  • Habit #7: Imagine. Disrupt. Disturb. Destabilize. Bite the hand that feeds you.

She also discusses the “paper bags” of thought that need to be fought that stop us being aware and questioning what is happening. That stop us being proactive. These are The New Age, the Techno-Fix, the Freedom of Individual Choice and the Democracy papers bags.

It’s a very well written, well thought out article that should stick some needles under your skin and get you thinking. I’d highly recommend reading it.

2. The other article “A Sustainable Footprint” was written in 2004 and republished on Online Opinion in 2006. It lists a number of broad areas that need to be addressed in order to achieve a sustainable society. Nothing that surprising in it, but it is written in an approachable style, and it’s always good to be reminded about WHY you are doing what you are doing.

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I’m having an attack of the zeitgeist. It’s essay season so I am reading many things. The stuff that I need to do my essays, and the stuff that I read to avoid doing my essays. There is a theme emerging which gently smacked me in the head at lunch today.

Some of the items that feed into this theme:

What is the insight that all of these items are giving me? What is the theme? There are a couple of aspects.

There’s the importance of social sustainability as an important part of creating a better lifestyle/livelihood for everyone (post on this later). The realisation that my fundamental beliefs had not been subsumed in recent years and that they are starting to re-emerge. The fact that all of my reactions in the 6 months prior to easter and for the bit just after can actually be explained as part of my theravadan buddhist approach to life (see explanation below). Unabated consumption is the root cause of many of our problems, and simple lack of awareness and thought is perpetuating this problem. Economic growth is a paradigm that needs to be tempered, if not discarded, in the face of a finite planet and with the realisation that society is not getting exponentially happier as we get exponential growth. Finally that these themes are all linked

The actual paragraph that gently smacked me over the head is from E.F. Schumacher’s “Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered”. I have not yet read this book, the quote was from “Pathways to a Green World”.

“[a traditional economist] is used to measuring the “standard of living” by the amount of annual consumption, assuming all the time that a man who consumes more is “better off” than a man who consumes less. A buddhist economist would consider this approach excessively irrational: since consumption is merely a means to human well-being, the aim should be to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption… the less toil there is, the more time and strength is left for artistic creativity. Modern economics, on the other hand, considers consumption to be the sole end and purpose of economic activity” (my emphasis)

The buddhist thing? It’s not been a driving force in recent years, and I thought I’d forgotten it, but it’s now becoming important again. A few years ago if you’d asked me what my religion was the answer would have been theravadan buddhism (the monks in the orange robes, not the red and yellow tibetan ones, or the grey chinese ones). This was the direct result of my experiences in Thailand, where I got to be part of a culture that had used buddhism as the basis of its value system for over a thousand years. I really felt at home there, and the ethos really fit with my sense of justice and the world.

Further reading back at home continued this thought, as well as discussions with Thai expats and attending the wat (temple) in Annandale. I liked that the Buddha is not a god, and that while there is acknowledgement that the gods may or may not exist, in reality they are unlikely to affect your life[1] so get on with living it and being happy/fulfilled. I like that he told his followers to take his teachings and apply them, and any other teaching that they came across, and if that teaching does not give them insight into the reduction of suffering[2] then discard it. I like the concept of non-attachment, i.e not being attached to ideas, objects and emotions that are bad for your well-being. I like the idea of simple happiness. These things I find to be truth and good.

Anyway, there was a point to this post, not just to eulogise about buddhism. The book by Ajarn Brahm was one I wasn’t planning to purchase or read, but was exactly the right book. The first third of the book was full of stories and parables about guilt, anger, relationships and grief. Each time I read one it resonated with my thoughts and actions, something to the effect of “ah, so that’s why I have reacted that way, I was practicing non-attachment” It was fantastic to realise that I’d not stopped being buddhist, just that I’d not given it a label for many years.

“Your money or your life” is the first book I’ve come across that tells you that money is just an idea, a concept. Saving madly and trimming budgets so you can get more stuff is not the solution, rather the solution is to establish what is “enough”. What is it that you need that will create “enough” for you in your life. This is wealth, happiness and abundance, peacefulness and prosperity. Not some bizarre fetishisation of owning as many new shiny big gadgets and items as you possibly can. Happiness is not the next pay rise or the new car, it’s time spent with friends, time spent making things, time spent reading or relaxing.

The other items all talk about aspects of sustainability, some more urgently than others. How we need to be more conscious in our lives and the impacts that we have on the planet. How we need to change things, and some practical ways of doing so.

The ultimate realisation/zeitgeist thingie? It’s all connected, and that paragraph from Schumacher made me realise that. My buddhism, and personal goals to have less impact are tied in with the broader structures of changing the way we live and creating a more sustainable society. Sometimes it’s nice to be gently smacked over the head and know you are on the right track.

Might be time to visit my wat again. le tum boon duay la

[1] I don’t believe in an interventionist god… yay, Nick Cave
[2] It will take forever to explain all the facets of suffering but it’s not just physical, also emotional and mental and existential

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