Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Monthly News Summary: Steps Forward, Steps Back

There have been fewer news stories this month about the negative impact the economic downturn is having on people's lives. Perhaps such stories have become too commonplace now to be "news." Or maybe having so many negative news reports is putting an unwelcomed damper on spending. For whatever reason there have been an increasing number of upbeat proclamations this month about how the signs of downturn are slowing.

Maybe this suffices as good news, but it actually it is misleading news. We should not take glowing reports of slowdowns as a sign of an upturn. It feels more like grasping at straws as more reports confirm that all is not well. You'll find plenty evidence to this effect in the Pathways to Transition News Update Archives for June. Pick any topics of your choice.

But then, if you're reading this blog, you probably don't need to read the headlines to know we are not on the way back to business as usual. Our society is undergoing a massive fundamental restructuring. It is a necessary and unavoidable restructuring, but it is or will be inflicting a lot of pain on us individually, our families and our communities.

If we want to ease the pain, it is vital that we know precisely what's happening, so we won't be too surprised and overwhelmed to respond wisely and urgently as it touches our own lives. It's vital we not be lulled into the complacency of wishful-thinking optimism, even if it is being hawked in the news. This is why we post the Daily New Updates on Pathways to Transition. We track the good, the bad and the ugly there. We know you can tell what's real by checking in with your own life and the lives of those in your communities, but it's always good to see our persepctions validated or, when necessary, awakened by realizing that others see it too.
Despite the on-going evidence that all is not well, there actually is some good news this month.

The good news is that we've seen many more articles and features in the media on the positive steps individuals and communities are taking to respond creatively and intelligently to the massive eco-nomic restructuring that's taking place. Here's a summary of this month's Positive Signs with links where you can read more. Then be sure to read on further for the summary of this month's Steps in the Wrong Direction.
Positive Signs

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

* Household savings hits highest level in 15 yearsSavings Rate Up Amid Slow Spending Denver Post 6/27 This is only good news if it's a sign that Americans are choosing to live within their means and saving for emergency situations so they won't risk being one unexpected crisis away from falling into poverty. Actually often it means that they don't have any other choice except to pay off debts. So it certainly shouldn't be taken as a sign of renewed confidence and well-being, or even that folks have extra money to save. See Debt Deflation in America.

* Young adults talk of not getting enslaved to material goals of their parents' generationRecession Generation? Young Adults Brace for Simpler Lifestyle 6/26

* Number of home schooled children soars Homeschooling Goes Mainstream AFP 6/25 This is most likely the way of the future as we localize and simplify our lives.

* Urban farming takes off.Gardening Goes to Town in Farm City AFP USA Today 6/25 There is a chapter on the Urban Thoreau in our book Middle-Class Lifeboat. It's one of the basic skills we are all be learning.

* Families getting quality beef for $3-$5/lb direct from ranchers.Cow-Pooling: Buying Beef in Mega Bulk New York Times 6/15

* Chick hatcheries can't keep up with urban orders, six-month back orders for household hens.Back Yard Chickens on the Rise, Despite Neighbors' Clucks
Los Angeles Times 6/15

* Rust-belt cities explore plans to shrink as population dwindles Intriguing Plan: Bulldoze Ghost Bergs, Return Them to Nature Alternet 6/13 Related story: Counties turn rural roads they can't afford to repair to gravel. Chicago Tribune 6/12 While this would not appear to be good news; it is because it is a sign the communities are adjusting to the new restructuring reality. It provivdes insight into what will be coming elsewhere soon so we can respond more quickly. Hopefully this land will be restored to a natural condition that will allow for food cultivation.

* Neighborhood and community fruit exchanges grow in popularity. Neighbor, Can You Spare a Plum New York Times 6/9 Many Transition communities are setting up neighborhood fruit tree harvesting exchanges. We're hoping to start one this summer here at Let's Live Local.

* Difficult times call for creative strategies. Cooperatively owned businesses emerged as a democratic, grassroots, Do-It-Yourself response.Worker Co-Ops: Green Jobs You Can Own Organic Consumers Association 6/6 Hope we will see more of this. We have formed both a wood-pellet and organic food coop here at Let's Live Local, which is a non-profit.

* Community groups building local food security Look on the Bright Side Energy Bulletin Today 6/4

* Collaborative solutions making communities resilient Community Kitchens World Changing 6/3

* Stylist low-cost green homes catching Prefab home Now Sprout Green Designs USA Today 6/2

Steps in the Wrong Direction
This year's original song written for the American Idol final competition could be a theme song for this month's Steps in the Wrong Direction. Co-written by Idol judge Kara DioGuardi, the song is entitled "No Boundaries." Here's a sample of it's message: "You can go higher, you can go deeper, there are no boundaries above and beneath you. Break every rule 'cause there's nothing between you and your dreams."
Of course, this is supposed to be an inspiring ditty, but it should be obvious to us all now that there are boundaries. But like two-year-olds with parents who want to be our friends instead of parent us in the ways of the world, we have ignored sensible boundaries for far too long, lived beyond our means. We've broken every rule and now we're paying the piper for our lack of respect. And sadly we're still at it in many circles. Here's three high-publicized examples from this months posts:

* Mood turns optimistic Despite Everything ... More American See Sunny Skies Ahead USA Today 6/23 54% of those polled by USA Today said they are worse off than a year ago, but 59% believe they will be better off a year from now. This may sounds positive, but this is about the worst thing we could be thinking right now. The only way we'll be better off is to realize that "things" are not going to "turn around." We've got to turn around the way we live.

* Construction of new single-family home up Housing Starts Jump 17% USA Today 6/17 While foreclosed homes and housing developments sitting empty across the nation this is not the way to go.

* Faux frugality: the rich welcome the humble abode Burlap Is the New Velvet Los Angeles Times 6/8 Those with $3,600 to spare on a pair of burlap covered upholstered chairs, dial down ostentation so the look may be modest, but the price is not. Shown a limited edition eco-chic lamp $850 Photo by Ken Hively
Be prepared. Check on Pathways to Transition often for the latest updates of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

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