Biophilia Revisited

Originally posted on Raxa Collective:

 Biophilia, the word, came to our attention several years ago, but the concept has been part of our personal ethos for decades. We’re particularly invigorated by the multi-faceted (pun not actually intended) way the word can be applied to so many concentrations, from the scientific, to the literary, to the artistic, to the spiritual.

The work of American artist Christopher Marley attracts on numerous levels. His new book inspires on the design front. For more images and information to pique the interest read McKenna Stayner’s piece in the New Yorker here.

About the book

Christopher Marley’s art expresses his passionate engagement with the beautiful forms of nature. Beginning with insects and moving on to aquatic life, reptiles, birds, plants, and minerals, Marley has used his skills as a designer, conservator, taxidermist, and environmentally responsible collector to make images and mosaics that produce strong, positive emotional responses in viewers. Marley has a…

View original 104 more words

Money = Carbon Footprint

Zero wasters, I think it’s about time we talked about something that you’ve been avoiding for some time now. It’s been danced around quite a bit, it’s been hinted at, but it’s the elephant in the room for the whole movement, and it’s about time we dragged it out and dealt with it.

There is no better indicator of how much waste someone produces directly or indirectly than how much money they have.

There, I said it.

And I’m not talking about just the mega-rich, here. I’m talking about all of us within the context of the global population, especially you so-called middle-class folk (who are, in reality, mega-rich compared to many people living in the global south).

In the past I’ve talked a little bit about how consumer choices will do absolutely nothing to avert or even delay climate change, water and food shortages, or peak oil. But I want to take this opportunity to drive the point home: an activism that is rooted in our power as consumers is no activism at all. It presupposes the existence of a power that we don’t even have. I like the beginning of this blog post by Ramsin Canon, which really illustrates how much product manufacturers and marketers actually hate the people that buy their crap, and how much we do exactly what they want us to do:

Bless Steve Jobs. I mean, I hate his horrible, anti-competitive company, their fetish-generating products and a corporate policy that seems to suborn inhumane working conditions.

But I love him for at least one thing: he was either so in love with his counterfeit counter-culture persona, or so unawares of the governing philosophy of American capitalism, that he let this gem slip when asked how much “market research was conducted to guide Apple” in its production processes:

“None. It isn’t the consumers’ job to know what they want.”

You can hear the neoliberals and “Solutionist” whackos of Silicon Valley jumping up off their Aerons: Shhhhhh! Shut up Steve! If consumers don’t really have all that much meaningful agency in “directing” corporations on how to act, the entire edifice of post-Friedman economic and governance policy crumbles!

Granted, Jobs was working in a very specialized sub-category of consumer electronics. But Jobs’ point was essentially a correct one: people will consumer what they’re told they need to consumer, whether they need to or not. Hayek’s pithy slogan that profit is just a signal that you’re serving people well is little more than that–a pithy slogan. History is littered with billion dollar industries growing up around essentially useless products solving a “problem” which does not exist. When Lysol began shaming women into poisoning themselves and made a shitload of money, they weren’t “serving” anybody “well”–other than their shareholders, of course. They were manufacturing a need–creating a want–that they were simultaneously satisfying (and even then, not doing so particularly well). That people want and consume products is a perfectly vacuous type of signal.

But I mean, I shouldn’t even have to go into the psychology of marketing or the toxicity of capitalist economics to prove my point. It’s really just home budgeting 101: the more discretionary income you have, the more junk you can afford to buy. If your family makes $15/week, you’re probably not going to have much of anything in the way of pleasure spending. Your clothes will definitely not be new, you’ll make sure your household items (the few that you do have) last as long as physically possible (and then some), and you’ll definitely not be able to afford a motorized vehicle. You may only be able to travel entirely on foot, in all likelihood.

Here are some infographics to illustrate what I’m talking about:

The entire continent of Africa has a carbon footprint roughly equivalent to that of Canada and Mexico. Central America has a carbon footprint roughly equivalent to that of Hong Kong. Oceania, sans Australia, has a footprint roughly equivalent to that of Belgium. Which is doubly ironic, considering these poorer nations are where most of our stuff here in the West is made! Our emissions come almost entirely from consumption. Here’s a couple more:

The graph below illustrates the carbon emissions of various US industries and industrial processes:

Not a whole lot we can do to lessen these emissions as consumers, is there? Industry is gonna industry, and industry, as a whole, serves those with money: commercial and residential developers, homeowners, jet owners, car owners, sailboat and yacht owners, factory owners, server farm owners, business owners. Basically, those able to afford to own things, and especially things that can help them to make money and increase their overall wealth. In other words, it is the producers that are responsible for the majority of waste and emissions in the world, not consumers.

Pie chart of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by economic sector in 2012. 32 percent is from electricity, 28 percent is from transportation, 20 percent is from industry, 10 percent is from commercial and residential, and 10 percent is from agriculture.

Total US greenhouse gas emissions by sector in 2012. Courtesy of http://epa.gov

Not that I’m advocating for us all to become “”takers”” instead of “”makers””, in the immortal words of Paul Ryan. We are all producers in some way or another: our simplest product is work and labor, but many of us produce more than that. We produce delicious food; handmade clothes or knitted hats; works of art or poetry; craft beers as complex and refreshing as any at the store; upcycled furniture or household goods; beautiful and productive gardens; natural cleaning supplies or cosmetics; woodworking and gardening tools; toys and games.

And so much more.

Consumerism is thralldom. Production is power.

But we, as part of a lifestyle movement, need to stop telling people to recycle more and buy less packaging because that will somehow save the planet. It won’t. If tomorrow we halted all the factories, shut all the landfills, walked away from the tar sands and oil rigs, abandoned every gas-powered vehicle where they sat, and turned off the lights, it would still be too little too late.

What if we took the time and energy we might spend on avoiding the occasional paper napkin, and put that toward developing and actualizing strategies for real, concrete change? Change that doesn’t revolve about fretting about how many times a year you take out the garbage, because a world in which there IS no garbage would naturally flow from the bigger solution we’re fighting for? A solution which doesn’t ask the poorest of us to do with even less?

I’m not going to say that money is the problem– but it’s a big part of the problem. It skews perspectives, and quite frankly, the zero waste movement needs a reality check.

How can we begin to hold ourselves accountable in a bigger, more far-reaching way? How do we widen the discourse? What is our relationship to the political, economic, and natural world around us? How to we deal with issues of class? If you own a business, or a piece of property that exists solely to make you money, why? How do you reconcile that with your environmental concerns? What kinds of people are in your social circles? Are they all financially stable? If you don’t associate with any poor people, why is that? If you do, how to you talk to them about eco-friendly lifestyles? What is their reaction? Why do you think they react that way? What are your politics? What systems and institutions do you hold to be good and true, and why?

Consider this a call to action.

I put it out there because I care pretty damn deeply; this is the world I’m due to inherit soon, after all.

What world do you want to leave behind?

Gonna end this with a quote by Murray Bookchin:

All too often we are told by liberal environmentalists, and not a few deep ecologists, that it is ‘we’ as a species or, at least, ‘we’ as an amalgam of ‘anthropocentric’ individuals that are responsible for the breakdown of the web of life. I remember an ‘environmental’ presentation staged by the Museum of Natural History in New York during the 1970s in which the public was exposed to a long series of exhibits, each depicting examples of pollution and ecological disruption. The exhibit which closed the presentation carried a startling sign, ‘The Most Dangerous Animal on Earth.’ It consisted simply of a huge mirror which reflected back the person who stood in front of it. I remember a black child standing in front of that mirror while a white school teacher tried to explain the message which this arrogant exhibit tried to convey. Mind you, there was no exhibit of corporate boards of directors planning to deforest a mountainside or of government officials acting in collusion with them.

The Burden of Too Many Choices

Milo:

My first Throwback Thursday post! This subject is always relevant.

Originally posted on Zero Waste Millennial:

My mother is having a milestone birthday this summer, for which she’s organized a weekend-long party at a resort out in the desert, and for which about 50 friends and family have RSVP’d so far. (It’s gonna be nuts.) I decided to take this as an excuse to buy myself a new swimsuit. If part of the zero waste ethos is to invest in good quality things that will last you a while instead of running out to constantly replace crappy things, then having my eyes set on a handmade bikini from a Canadian etsy seller would be ok, right? Instead of forking over for a new Target suit every other year, right?

I had my pieces picked out, and the colors, and everything, but then the unthinkable happened: the seller got swamped with orders and closed the shop until July. But the party was in June!

A sort of…

View original 723 more words

Lunch + A Small Announcement

Greek salad, cheese and crackers, and iced coffee with almond milk. All homemade!

In other news, I am officially in my 13th month of having this blog. I wanted to celebrate my 1-year anniversary by starting up a bi-monthly Throwback Thursday post, so stay tuned for what I dig up this week. :]

Low Carb/Paleo, ZW, and Vegan Pizza Crust (yes, really)

Came up with this on the fly today, and it’s really good! Super-dense and slightly nutty in flavor, but it still gets thin and crispy like traditional pizza dough.

The only problem is… I don’t remember the exact measurements! I eyeballed everything, so I’ll try to approximate…

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c. almond meal
  • 1/2 c. sorghum flour (coconut flour will probably be fine for paleo)
  • 1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 c. flax meal
  • 2 ener-g eggs (or real eggs if paleo)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast (optional)
  • pinch of salt or two

This should make about a 10″ diameter pizza with about 1/4″ thickness. Mix all ingredients until a doughy consistency forms; not too wet, not too dry. It should hold shape when squeezed. If too wet, add more flour/meal. If too wet, at a tiny it of water.

When shaped, toss in the oven at about 400F for a few minutes, or until the edges just start to brown. Pull out, throw on toppings, then put it back in for about 10 or so minutes. Enjoy!

As I’m eating the pizza (yes, I’m finishing it up as I type this), I can see that this would make for killer breadsticks (on the smaller, flatter side), or crackers, or…

The Cost of Paying Attention

Photo courtesy of the New York Times

A FEW years ago, in a supermarket, I swiped my bank card to pay for groceries. I watched the little screen, waiting for its prompts. During the intervals between swiping my card, confirming the amount and entering my PIN, I was shown advertisements. Clearly some genius had realized that a person in this situation is a captive audience.

Attention is a resource; a person has only so much of it. And yet we’ve auctioned off more and more of our public space to private commercial interests, with their constant demands on us to look at the products on display or simply absorb some bit of corporate messaging. Lately, our self-appointed disrupters have opened up a new frontier of capitalism, complete with its own frontier ethic: to boldly dig up and monetize every bit of private head space by appropriating our collective attention. In the process, we’ve sacrificed silence — the condition of not being addressed. And just as clean air makes it possible to breathe, silence makes it possible to think.

What if we saw attention in the same way that we saw air or water, as a valuable resource that we hold in common? Perhaps, if we could envision an “attentional commons,” then we could figure out how to protect it.

[…]

Silence is now offered as a luxury good. In the business-class lounge at Charles de Gaulle Airport, I heard only the occasional tinkling of a spoon against china. I saw no advertisements on the walls. This silence, more than any other feature, is what makes it feel genuinely luxurious. When you step inside and the automatic doors whoosh shut behind you, the difference is nearly tactile, like slipping out of haircloth into satin. Your brow unfurrows, your neck muscles relax; after 20 minutes you no longer feel exhausted.

Outside, in the peon section, is the usual airport cacophony. Because we have allowed our attention to be monetized, if you want yours back you’re going to have to pay for it.

[…]

I think we need to sharpen the conceptually murky right to privacy by supplementing it with a right not to be addressed. This would apply not, of course, to those who address me face to face as individuals, but to those who never show their faces, and treat my mind as a resource to be harvested.

Read the rest from the NYT.

I’ve been privvy, in some way or another, to this for years. I grew up in a second or third-generation suburb where everything was quiet, businesses were very small, and billboards far between. On top of having hypersensitive hearing, I just liked the quietude. But then I got the bright idea to go to college in New York City. In many ways, it was a big mistake.

I moved back home 5 years later, cherishing every tiny drop of delicious silence I could get. I sit and listen to the birds now, and to my cats’ faint snoring as they nap. I can hear the gardener raking leaves on the other side of the condo complex. But I consider all this rehabilitation, and it’s a slow process: 3 years I’ve been at this, healing the physical and psychological damage that living in such a loud, fast-paced, personal-space-deprived city caused me. I’m in the middle of healing my adrenal glands, shot from stressing out over too much overstimulation for too long.

And in the culture I, as a USian, live in, it’s an uphill battle. We are a country where TV commercials are louder than the programming, where we print advertisements on our goddamn eggs. It’s hard to find silence anymore, to find a space where you can get away from “being addressed”, as the article’s author so aptly defines it.

While boycotts are not a great tactic for broad, lasting change, I think it’s definitely viable as a method of staying sane. Boycott marketing, inasmuch as you can figure out how to do that. Reclaim your time. Turn off the TV, use ad-blocking software on your computer (Disconnect, a favorite of mine, develops software to make you invisible to ads that track your movements online, among others that accomplish similar and important things), pay in cash whenever possible so analytics algorithms can’t track your spending habits, and just, y’know, try to avoid centers of high density marketing and consumerism whenever possible. You never know what kinds of tracking technology any given space is equipped with, anyway.

How do you avoid advertising and media overload?

Laundering a Small Wardrobe

I’ve been wondering this myself, especially sine I rarely ever use the washer and dryer anymore. (I think I’ve used the washer once in the past 6 months, and the dryer maybe 3 times.) How to keep such a small wardrobe from wearing out faster with such repeat wearing? Well, it’s easy, you just have to change about the way you think about your clothes. With the advent of disposable clothing stores like Forever 21, H&M, and Target, USians have become conditioned to believe the idea that our clothes aren’t meant to last all that long, that it’s normal for garments to be worn out after a few washes, and that it’s no big deal to toss something you no longer like after the first year or two. I mean, it was so cheap, wasn’t it? What’s the big deal?

When I first gave up the washer and dryer thanks to my breathing hand washer system, it took a little adjusting in my thinking. How often did my clothes really need to be laundered? How clean was “clean”? How fresh was “fresh”? I’ve since adopted this blogger’s approach to laundry: do it when you really need to. If something smells fine and isn’t dirty (or in my case, isn’t noticeably dirty lol), wear it again.

I also started questioning the necessity of laundering products: detergent, dryer sheets, fabric softener, optical brighteners, and so on and so forth. I’d taken these things as a given my whole life–and boy do I wish I could have started questioning this back in college when I could barely afford detergent–but when I started the DIY masterlist, I realized that maybe this stuff wasn’t even close to a necessity, and that it would probably be counter-intuitive to include it. Maybe it couldn’t even be called a luxury… do they even do what they claim to do?

You actually need very little to clean an average load of laundry. The water and agitation is actually what does most of the work. So unless I have heavily soiled clothing to wash, or am concerned about bacteria, a teaspoon or less of liquid castille soap is all I currently use, and sometimes with a little vinegar with the rinse. Fabric softener is also more or less a sham, I discovered after some research. The stuff originally had a reason to exist– at the turn of the 20th century, fabrics were a bit coarser than we’re accustomed to today, and so fabric softener was invented to actually lubricate the fibers to make them less abrasive. Modern textiles just don’t suffer from this problem hardly at all, so fabric softener as a product is a redundant, in my opinion. And what about that other stuff, like optical brighteners, stain removers, and the like? It’s all toxic crap and unnecessary, really. Natural stain removers exist if you really need em, and we all have access to a free, natural optical brightener anyways: the sun!

Not using the washer, dryer, and conventional detergents go a long way toward maintaining the health of your wardrobe. (You know all that lint in the lint trap? That’s all little tiny bits of your clothing that ends up in the garbage. ) So that’s the first step. But, as I learned from this short post, there’s even more I could do.

I’ve chatted up the benefits to living with a capsule wardrobe, like finding my style + having more time + having more money + finding more contentment.

But let’s have some #realtalk about the whole “more time” thing. How does this really break down? Specifically with laundry.

carolinejoy-1

Read the rest at Unfancy.

My Father, the Boomer

Photo courtesy of Scripted.com

 

My dad’s an interesting guy. I like him for the most part, but we’ve had our rough spots over the years as any kid would with their folks. But sometimes we end up talking politics (I know, I know); sometimes he initiates, sometimes I do, sometimes it just happens as I try to make small talk about my future as a person who was never issued bootstraps to pick themselves up by. (The Gen X-ers got the last of ’em.)

He doesn’t see this as small talk, though, which is really the fundamental difference between our generations, I think. For a Millennial, chatting about unemployment and being up to our eyeballs in debt is normal and casual conversation. To a Boomer, it’s TMI. I either get pity (instead of sympathy) or I get unwanted advice (often incredulous).

These two broad categories of reactions are expressions of the fundamental experience of being a Boomer. Namely, that they are both extremely hierarchical ways of looking at people and at problems. Pity and sympathy do not mean the same things. I like this explanation from english.stackexchange.com in response to someone wondering what the difference is:

Sympathy and pity have a synonymous convergence, but also diverge in some respects.

In addition to its meaning of pitysympathy can refer to a special kind of understanding that two or more people share.

“I had a special sympathy for Martha’s desire to excel in math, since I too loved math and wanted to see someone from our family do well.”

See? No pity involved. The word actually comes from the Greek for “with feeling”. It means to resonate emotionally with someone else. It can also be an acoustic term. Push down the sostenuto pedal on a piano and make a loud shout, preferably singing. You will hear the piano strings resonate faintly. This is called “sympathetic vibration.” That is a direct physical analogue to the emotional resonance I’m talking about.

That resonance, that quality of similarity and understanding, is key to what sets sympathy and pity apart. You can’t sympathize with someone regarding an experience of theirs that you have never had, but you can definitely pity them for it.

The unwanted advice is, to me, more straightforward. First off, giving advice when it’s not being asked for is just plain rude, especially if someone’s venting to you about their frustrations. What you, in effect, are doing there is disregarding their feelings and focusing on the circumstances of their situation that you position yourself as being better equipped to fix and seeking to validate that feeling. In other words, it’s a self-important reaction to have when someone’s just trying to talk to you as an equal. The uncomfortable stratification this creates is even further emphasized when the advisor is older, more monied, or just benefits from more privileges than the advisee. (F’ex, a white person trying to give a black person advice on how to cope with racism. Not cool, right?) In my case, it’s my extremely financially stable father trying to tell me how easy it is to find work; the implication here is that his assessment of the job market is correct and mine is wrong, so I need to do something different… i.e. not be lazy.

But it’s when we start talking about economics and the environment (they’re completely interdependent, remember?) is when things get kind of funny. And I sometimes find myself, well, pitying him.

Being a Boomer and a conservative (most Boomers are, anyway), he is fully on-board with the “greed is good” doctrine. Yes, he’s a fan of Ayn Rand. To him, a financial system without greed isn’t just impossible, but he literally cannot wrap his head around how such a thing would work even in theory. Greed (monetary gain, to be more specific), as far as he’s concerned, is the only thing that has ever motivated any human being to do anything.

“But people do things for no money all the time.”

He never knows how to respond to this. It’s such an obvious part of existence–doing things because its the ethical thing to do, the pleasurable thing to do, the healthy thing to do, etc–and yet he can’t see it when it’s shoved in his face. Entire non-profit and volunteer organizations cease to exist when he starts talking about this fantasy Rand-land of his. His hobby, too, ceases to exist– after all, nobody pays him to hike up mountains and yet he still does it for some reason?

Greed, by its very nature, stratifies. It positions the self at the top and everyone else at the bottom. End of. I tried talking to him about the feasibility of small-scale horizontally structured societies of the like that anarcho-syndicalists talk about, but he was promptly distracted by a strawman. He can’t even imagine a world where there is no top and bottom. It’s a logical fallacy to him, and a debate can’t continue unless this concept ceases to exist even hypothetically.

We talked about developing countries, too, and the worldwide rate of open defecation, which is something close to 50%. “Can you imagine having to poop on the ground outside all the time?” he asked, eyes wide as though he were asking me to imagine something actually fantastical like elves and dragons.

You can tell when someone is completely unequipped to talk about the reality of the near-future where energy is due to become scarce again, like it has been for the vast majority of human history. When you can’t imagine yourself without constant access to running, potable water? I’m sorry, but you’re fucked. If you can’t imagine it, you can’t normalize it. If you can’t normalize it, you’re going to go your whole life trying to stay as far away from it as possible, always to be the reality for someone else. It’s not “no one should have to live like that”, it’s “aren’t we so lucky we aren’t them?” And should you suddenly find yourself to become that someone else, that “them”, it’s a crisis of tremendous magnitude. Not a fact of life.

He kept conflating anarchism with communism, which was very silly, but I asked him what he thought of Revolutionary Catalonia anyways, and he didn’t have an answer. He’d never heard of it.

“It’s just outright collective lunacy to me to think that we could have infinite growth on a finite planet.”

“What do you mean by “infinite growth”?”

“GDP? Debt? Credit? Fiat currency? Inflation?”

“Those things have always been around.” His use of the word “always” here is an obvious misnomer.

“Oh come on. Capitalism as we understand it has been around for barely a century or two. All the world’s previous economies were understood to be made up primarily of goods, not assets.”

He got distracted by a strawman again at that point.

But he also contradicted himself, I can see now. He claimed that the environmental, governmental, and financial problems the world is beginning to run into have always been around; that they are a product of natural societal cycles. But at the same time, he fails to recognize that civilization collapse was also part of those cycles, and somehow believes that capitalism, which has not always existed, is capable of saving us from such a thing. So are we, or are we not, just going ’round the wheel here?

I told him, too, that I want to get to a point in my life where I’m living debt-free. I want to get out of the system, and I want to stay out. I want to see how far cash can take me in life. He couldn’t understand this either, trying to convince me that investing and gambling and making my money “grow” was just the logical, natural, 100% free-range, organic thing to do. I just want to pay off the debt I have right now and never be in over my head ever again, I said. He looked at me like I’d grown another head. Fuck credit, I thought to myself.

That’s my dad, though. Completely unable to comprehend a society without hierarchy, without class, without poverty and crippling debt. After all, somebody’s gotta be in charge, right? And somebody’s gotta be there at the bottom who the rest of us can exploit, right?

I read a blog post the other day, while searching for a little information about the existence and production of organic bananas, written by someone who is ardently anti-organic and pro-big ag. Reading the author’s reasons for avoiding organic produce and hormone-free animal products was like being transported to a dream-world where up is down and 2+2 is 5.  Logic like “America is the best country on earth”, “pesticides are a good thing”, and “rBST is natural”. Who the hell is this person? The daughter of a Kansas cattle rancher, indoctrinated since birth to trust the the government, the GMO lobby, and the beef industry like a blind person with a service dog. The offspring of a midwest conservative Boomer. Point out to me where it says in the bible that God made greed and saw that it was good?

What people like my dad and this random blogger have in common is one very important thing: they are the average USian. Their opinions reflect a starling majority, shaped by decades of propaganda, “rugged individualism”, and blissful apathy. Born in the early 1900’s, they would have been right at home. But it’s 2015, and now they’re just that Looney Tunes character who has run off a cliff, held aloft only by the power of their ignorance.

Maybe someday soon they’ll be forced to look down at the air under their feet and only then will they start to fall.