Monday, January 18, 2010

Lessons from Nature for 2010

by Sarah Anne Edwards

The New Year has begun with dire predictions for the future and over half the country believing we’re in a fix that won’t be ending soon. As an ecopsychologist my first thought in contemplating the coming year is to turn to nature and explore there what insights and wisdom might be found there for how we can respond personally in our current circumstances. Having survived and thrived over eons, nature seems to have mastered weathering whatever might come.

Reflecting on my past ten years living so close to nature’s ways in the forest, a number of lessons for the New Year popped quickly to mind:

1. Live with eyes wide. One of the noteworthy characteristics of the many creatures who share this forest is that they are highly alert, ever vigilant. They seem to excel at paying close attention to their present circumstances, intently aware that the events of the moment hold crucial information about welcomed opportunities as well as concerns to be avoided. Replacing any tendency to rely the automatic pilot of past assumptions with an attitude of vigilance could serve us equally well.

2. Live with windows open. Even with our eyes open we won’t see much if we don’t let the world around us in. For example, this summer we waited patiently for our crop of cherries to ripen. Late one afternoon it appeared the time to pick them was near, but being it was late in the day, we decided to wait until morning. Well, by morning, only four of 100’s of plump ripe cherries remained. Of course. The birds live in our yard full-time. We don’t. We missed the moment and learned, once again, that unless we want to settle for leftovers we need to keep our windows to the world open to see what’s going on. That also means being willing to see it as it is, not how it would be most convenient to us.

3. Be out and about. Even with eyes wide and windows open we won’t see everything we need if we don’t venture out into the world. I watch the ducks on the pond in the meadow below our house everyday and without fail they’re always there. There are plenty of bushes and shoreline nooks and crannies where they could tuck themselves away, but they don’t do that. They’re on the pond or waddling along the shore, out where the action is. I know we’re all busy keeping our nose to the grindstone, but not only is being out where the action where we’ll see find new opportunities popping up, it’s also enlivening and energizing even for the weary.

4. The peanuts aren’t always there. As we head out and about we best not depend only on our old familiar haunts. This thought occurred to me while tossing peanuts out on our deck for the birds this morning. It’s something we do often, especially in the winter. But there was nary a bird in sight when I opened the screen door ... not until the peanuts clunked to the floor. As regular as we are at this, the birds seem to know that some days there won’t be peanuts on our deck. So they don’t hang around waiting for us to show up. When we’re there, they’re Johnny on the spot, when we’re not, well, I’m not sure where they are, but obviously they have other places to go. They’re hungry, so they’ll be where to food is. And that’s where we need to be, so to speak. We need to be where we’re needed, doing what’s needed when it’s needed, and that won’t always be the place we’re most accustomed to.

5. Don’t get attached along a rapidly moving stream. At a casual glace, everything in this forest may look pretty much the same from day to day, but actually, just like the rest of life, it’s always changing. Some days it’s cold and windy. Some days it’s warm and still. And every other combination of other possible characteristics. Even non-living things don’t remain the same; the environment changes them too in time. All of nature is forever going with the flow, so to speak, without questioning if it’s where they want to go. It’s where they’re going. We as humans have a tendency to hang on when what we need to do is to let go so we can get where life is taking us. It’s actually a lot easier that way.

6. Find a save place to rest. Every living thing here is in its own way both prey and predator. We all need to eat, so I often wondered how to our fellow creatures find a place that’s safe enough to rest. Quite by accident I’ve discovered a few of the ingenious ways they do that. Looking up, up, up to the top of one of the tallest trees in our yard one day I spotted a huge clump of brush in the branches. For some time a pondered what that clump was. Turns out it’s a nest of multiple-generation of grey squirrels who share our property. When checking a water pipe we had covered and wrapped for winter only, we were surprised to find the wrapping had become the winter home of a hibernating ground squirrel. Surely this is a time for us to be equally ingenious and enterprising in our quest to find a safe haven where we can afford to rest easy, even if like our ground squirrel the place we find is a different from what we’d expect and maybe even a bit non-conventional.

7. Sleep the sleep of a loyal dog. I love to watch our dog sleep. Once he’s assured everyone is settled into their proper places and all around the house is well for the time being, he curls up nearby and drifts into a deep, rhythmically peaceful sleep. No futzing over the details of the day, no fretting over the worries of tomorrow. Aaah. I feel myself relaxing just watching him. Don’t we owe ourselves such deep and peaceful sleep? How can we take on the day, or even make it through the day, unless we are adequately rested. So once we’ve found our safe place and all is well for the time being, let’s give ourselves a break. Let’s sleep the sound sleep of a loyal dog.

I've been making a place for these simple lessons in guiding my life each day and find them indeed most helpful in keeping me atuned to the new and emerging reality of our New Year.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Our Response to Mad Maxers

by Paul Edwards

At one of the Sustainable Livelihoods seminars Sarah and did recently, three men in the audience were adamant that the future awaiting us will resemble the world of Mad Max. For those of you unfamiliar with the movie on which this scenario is based, it’s a fantasized snapshot of a future characterized by violence, fear, and brutality. In such a world, the three priorities in life will be food, guns, and ammo.

This is not our view of how we need to think about or plan for the future. Here’s why:

You can’t build a wall high enough or have a gun big enough to withstand the kind of weaponry too readily available today. If we want a secure future, our best bet is being part of a sustainable community of people who work together to support each another in providing for our basic needs and well-being, including physical security.

If we assume, as the Mad Maxers do, that the American population will shrink to about one out of ten of us today, we would have a populous roughly equivalent to the number of inhabitants just before the Civil War – about the time of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. That was a time when more people worked on their own than worked to the rhythm of a machine and when barter was always a choice for trade. We expect to see both these become trends in the emerging new economy we call the Elm Street Economy.

That was also a time when slaves in the South did much of the manual labor in that region. Slavery became unthinkable when just one gallon of gasoline being the equivalent to 500 hours of manual labor. Now automation is on the verge of replacing hand and stoop labor farm workers. But without renewable means of low-cost energy, slavery, indentured servitude and company towns could return. These we most certainly hope will not develop, but a world such as that just might devolve into a Mad Max world.

In a Mad Max world, to defend against nations and terrorists who bear grievances or perceive gains by vanquishing America, the U.S. would need to have a large standing military – something the pre-Civil War U.S. did not have. With only one in ten Americans remaining it is doubtful the population could produce enough wealth and resources to support such a military.

So while there are some who believe there may be enough oil still remaining in the ground to sustain a greatly reduced population for some time, do we want to take that chance? Do we want to risk the emergence of a Mad Max world? Or shall we begin now to build an Elm Street Economy, a resilient local communities based on renewable energies that will enable us to adapt to a declining amount of cheap fossil fuel? For myself, the latter is my choice. In part, because surviving in the social order or disorder of a Mad Max world would not allow me to be the kind of person I am willing to be.

Friday, August 7, 2009

July Summary: Good News Truly Upside Down

The main characteristic we noticed in our News Updates during the past month was a near obsessive drive to make us think the economy is getting better in the sense of heading back to the life we were knew it prior to 2008. We doubt that most people are experiencing personal signs of such a return in their daily lives though.

This kind of cognitive dissonance might lull us into some kind of restless false hopeful expectations, but it doesn't contribute to a real sense of eco-nomic well-being, because it conflicts openly with real life experience.

The most important thing we can do for our eco-nomic well-being right now is to accept that we're not going back and that's a good thing. It won't serve us to go back. Back is what got us here. We need to go forward.

Fortunately the "eco" part of eco-nomic, which is clearly not better, is helping us pay attention to what's really going on. There has been so much news about climate and weather disruption throughout the US that it's pretty hard not to pay attention.

Most of us are experiencing this personally in one dramatic way or another: too much heat or too much cold, serious flooding or serious drought, a pervasive feeling of "Whatever happened to summer?"

We just returned from Phoenix where it was over 110 degrees throughout the week (100 at midnight; 115 one day) and news anchors there were warning folks not to let their animals walk on paved outdoor surfaces.

Our friends in Portland are sweltering too, because they're not used to over 100 degree heat. A colleague in Maine is baffled at the endless rain. Friends in New York are shivering when they're usually sweltering.

Granted if the dire aspects of the financial side of our eco-nomic situation are lessening somewhat that will give us more time to make the changes we need to make to live in a more eco-nomically sustainable way. And in this reguard we continued to see some very promising signs this past month that people are doing just that.

Now, let's just have to keep moving forward in directions like these:

* Money spent at locally owned businesses creates more local business
Tough Times Lead to Local Currencies Daily Time Magazine 7/32
Communities and their residents all fare far better when money spent in local communities stays in the local community. Local currency builds strong local communities. Too bad times have to get bad before we do good things.

* Don't have money, but we've got time; volunteering is on the rise
Economy Low, Generosity High USA Today 7/28
This looks like a snapshot from the future when money has become less important and we do more for ourselves and each other.

* Small scale local farming becoming a national trend

New Generation of Farmers Gong Small Scale Daily Camera 7/26
More evidence that this positive trend is catching on.

* Now that people are experiencing financial distress, they don't want to be alone.
Recession Lesson: Share and Swap Replaces Buy and Grab
Washington Post 7/17
Since being alone will be increasingly difficult in a lower-energy world, it's good that we're instinctively moving in that direction

* Local utility at forefront of the local-is-better movement begins providing 70% of its water from its own backyard
A Utility the Fills Its Own Aquifers LA Times 7/20
Every home and every community needs to be begin collecting its own otherwise wasted water run off.

* Young people find their calling in organic farming
On Tiny Plots a New Generation of Farmers Emerges USA Today 7/14
In his book Peak Everything, Richard Heinberg points out our impending need for 50 million farmers.

* 47% of consumers say they already are living more simply and find life richer living with less!
In Recession, a Simple 'Silver' Lining USA Today 7/9
This is GREAT news that is looking like a long-term shift in fundamental values.

* Belt tightening is underway; savings up, borrowing's down
A Fundamental Shift; Consumers Are Saving Rather than Spending Los Angeles Times 7/9
This is more very good news, but it also hints that the economy will face some difficult times in the short terms as our economy adjusts to living within our means.

* Banks pull back severely on card lending: new cards down 38%
Banks Get Stingy on Credit USA Today 7/7
I know what terrible news this is for many merchants and some customers, but it is a must if we are to begin living within our means. See U.S. Debt Shrinking at a Glacial Pace

* Developers are creating subdivisions around organic farms to attract buyers
Organic Farms as Sub-Division Amenities New York Times 7/1

* Community gardens in urban neighborhoods a source of future food security and much more
Urban Farming Movement Like a Revolution CNN 6/29

* Milestone for consumers as they try to avoid further debt
Consumers Opt for Debit Over Credit Cards NPR 6/29