31 December 2011

New Year's Resolutions for a novice subversive

Woodie Guthrie's New Years Rulin's for 1942

I'm not a big resolution maker - even less a resolution keeper, but I thought I would share some of my resolutions this year. While looking for an image for this post, I found this excerpt from Woodie Guthrie's notebook. It turns out that Woodie and I have a lot of overlap in our resolution lists except that I'm already pretty good at number 3 - "Wash teeth if any" so I left it off mine. Here are some others:

1. We've been using credit cards for practically every purchase for years, but this year I'd like to stop giving the credit card company a cut of every transaction. I'm pretty addicted to the convenience, but I'd rather not enrich a huge corporation while at the same time giving them all kinds of information about my spending.

2. On the same theme, this year I'm going to seek out places to do business where credit cards aren't even an option - the farmer's market, freecycle, the local classifieds, the local charity shop etc. I'll be looking for opportunities to support the underground economy through buying used and super-local. I admit, I've been a bit of a tax snob in the past: saying I didn't mind paying taxes because I appreciated the services we received, but now I'm so disgusted with how the government spends money that I will do my best to ensure they don't get any more of my pennies than strictly necessary.

3. I will work harder to grow, prepare and eat local food. This is really a no brainer and there's always room for improvement. I really want to increase the number of calories I produce.  I'm planning to grow a lot more potatoes.

4. I'm going to use my bike a lot more this year. I take the car to run errands because it is easier than riding and it's hard to carry groceries on a bike - but that's a problem that others have solved so not a very good excuse.

I could sum up all of my resolutions in one: I'm going to think a lot more about who benefits and who gets hurt from my activities. And I'm going to be less likely to do something if the one who benefits is a shareholder of a corporation or the one who pays is someone in a sweatshop or someone drinking polluted water or someone vulnerable to extreme weather or someone not yet born. Or, as Woodie so eloquently put it: "Wake up and fight".  This is the year of more undermining and less enabling the incredibly damaging industrial capitalist system we've been told is the only way.

Here's to a happy and rebellious 2012!

26 December 2011

Monday Forest photo: December 26, 2011

2:00pm 1C overcast
It's looking very festive here in Monday Forest. We got several centimetres of snow yesterday, which made for a very pretty Christmas Day, and warmed even my grinchy, several-sizes-too-small heart.

The forest was alive with the song of several dozen robins, along with some chickadees, nuthatches and  a downy woodpecker. I don't recall seeing a robin at this time of year or this many robins congregated ever.

21 December 2011

Longest night

In three hours the northern hemisphere will tilt as far away from the sun as it will get for the year. What a relief. The days will start gradually, but inevitably, to get longer, and the sun will rise higher in the sky every day.

I think I prefer the traditional name midwinter, rather than referring to this as the first day of winter, as we do now. The solstice marks such a turning point and in a few weeks the sun will start behaving much more spring-like, even if the temperatures don't. Mind you, with the weather we've had recently, we've no business calling this midwinter - the freezing rain today is really the first serious weather of the season.

19 December 2011

Monday Forest photo: December 19, 2011

2:00pm 5C overcast
Still no snow here in Monday Forest. We had some pretty cold weather over the weekend and the pond froze hard enough for me to walk on it, but with temperatures well above freezing again, there will be no skating for a while.

Meg found something pretty interesting on our walk today, which you may not want to look at if you are squeamish. I think it is the remains of a mourning dove, though I stand to be corrected. It looks a little angelic.

16 December 2011

DIY economic collapse: no computer hacking or explosive skills required

Some guys living in a shack in the Don Valley in Toronto during the Great Depression. They look a lot better off than the modern homeless ravine dwellers. They have teacups and books.

In my last non-housekeeping or forest photo post, I talked about the brutal truth about climate change. That if we are to limit global warming to 4C (a most dangerous level, but the lowest practical increase from where we already are), we (the world) have to level off carbon emissions soon, then drop them quickly to zero (by about 2050 or sooner). Given the huge inequities in current carbon emissions and the fact that we cannot trust governments to do the right thing, we the people are just going to have to take matters into our own hands. The only thing that has ever resulted in significant year over year reductions in carbon emissions is the fall of the Soviet Union. Therefore, I propose that anyone who is genuinely concerned about the well-being of people in poorer countries in the short term, and their own children and grandchildren in the medium and long term, should be actively working to collapse the current financial system. 

Which is, of course, the argument that conservatives have been using to avoid doing anything. It's just that they love money more than poor people or their grandchildren. And many of them are counting on being raptured before things get too warm anyway. And to supporters of any other political party - we're not going to have a prosperous, green economy, and I wish you'd stop pretending we can.

The current financial system looks ready to collapse under its own weight without any extra help from me, but I'm a pessimist by nature, and I'm not prepared to leave such things to chance. The first thing is to question some basic assumptions about how things ought to be. Like, annual economic growth of 1 - 3% is necessary and good.  Actually, annual economic growth is incompatible with a liveable planet for our kids and grandkids. The conservatives are right - reducing carbon emissions will hurt the economy, but luckily, a collapsing economy will reduce emissions. 

So, what to do. The greenest thing I ever did was quit my high paying job. Our family income dropped by more than half, and so did our spending. Canada's GDP went down accordingly. I could write a book on why I think most families should only have a maximum of one full time job each, but for the purposes of crashing the economy, the drop in family incomes and resultant spending would go a long ways. Why do I suggest quitting your job rather than just spending less? Well, for one thing, I know from experience that you are pretty much guaranteed to spend everything you make plus a little. Even if you save half your income, you have to put it somewhere, and unless it is under your mattress, it's going to be fuelling economic growth in some way. So from an anti-economic perspective it makes a lot more sense to not earn it in the first place. This also results in much lower income tax, which reduces government revenue that will eventually enter the economy.

Please don't have any more kids.  I honestly don't think that if I'd known fifteen years ago what I know now, that I would be a mom today. That would be a terrible loss for me, but my kid, like yours if you're reading this blog, has a much higher carbon footprint than the global average. We don't have enough time to reduce the world's population enough to solve our climate problems, but we can certainly work at preventing the population problem from getting worse. Besides, what sort of world would you be bringing those kids into?

Pay down debt as fast as possible, or default on it entirely. Repaid or defaulted debt takes money out of circulation and frees you from wage slavery. Debt has been the foundation of most of the world's economic growth for the last few years, so whatever you do, don't take on more.

There are major benefits of choosing a low income lifestyle. A perk of voluntarily reducing income is that having less money automatically causes you to question all forms of consumption, and you quite naturally come to the conclusion that you don't need nearly what you thought you did when you had more. All those little decisions you might have had to make about whether or not to spend money on something or other are pretty much made for you, when you don't have much to spare. It's easier to take care of a smaller house and less stuff. Family life is very pleasant indeed when everyone is not always in a rush to get to work and childcare and endless activities. The main advantage to living on less now, though, is that it is pretty much inevitable, with the approaching crises of climate, finance and energy, that very few of  us (save the usual suspects) will be more prosperous in the future than we are now. We might as well get used to living simply, so that our expectations lead rather than trail our circumstances. 

13 December 2011

Blog housekeeping note

Yesterday I noticed that if you tried to access my blog with Chrome, you got a security message saying my site contained content from another site (that I didn't recognize) which is infected. Safari and Firefox did not raise any alarms.

I removed the blogroll, and I no longer receive the security message, so I'm assuming something in it was causing the problem. When I have some time, I'll try to find the specific link that was the problem, but in the meantime, no blogroll. Which is too bad, because I like linking to blog friends and other interesting sites.

I only recently started using Chrome because Madeleine said it was faster - which I haven't observed, but I may switch over to Chrome for it's security-mindedness.

12 December 2011

Monday Forest photo: December 12, 2011

11:45am 5C sunny
Today was a lovely, mild day. The tiny bit of snow that is still on the ground is melting, and the birds are singing and it doesn't seem like winter at all.

It was a lot wintrier last week but still not very snowy. This was the view off the back deck.

Oh, and I know I promised my tips for bringing down the economy - sorry. Next post.

10 December 2011

In which I say stuff you won't like after finding out stuff you don't want to know

The last few weeks have provided lots of food for thought on climate issues and I've arrived at a pretty horrifying conclusion.

First, there was my predictably disappointing meeting with Gordon O'Connor, my Member of Parliament.   I knew he wouldn't say anything other than the official party line, because no Conservative MP does, but I had really hoped that by going, I might leave him with the impression that ordinary people want the government to do something to reduce Canada's disproportionately large carbon emissions. He kept telling me that the government just wasn't getting that kind of vibe from people. I had to point out to him that I am also a person, citizen and voter, even though we both knew I'd never vote for him. Not the right kind of people, apparently.

With that visit fresh in my consciousness, last week I hosted a meeting of several environmentally-minded folks from my community including a town councillor. All of us had expressed a strong concern about the lack of action nationally on climate change and a willingness to take action locally. There was talk of planning a county-wide environmental conference that would educate folks about climate issues while also developing a white paper that would be presented to local governments. A similar conference was held five or six years ago to great praise from the attendees and polite disinterest from the government recipients of the resulting paper.

I said that I thought that there was a high risk that we could go to a huge effort to basically preach to the converted, like a Billy Graham crusade, and it was pointed out to me that most of the residents of my municipality are either ambivalent or climate deniers and needed convincing. There were suggestions of an art contest for kids and skits and maybe a place for "green" retailers to showcase their recycled denim handbags and whatnot. I was not left with any sort of optimistic energy at the conclusion of the meeting - in fact I'm still reeling from it, because I truly believe the time for diddling around with songs and skits and talking about ways to use old milk bags is well behind us.

Then I read an article in Grist magazine called The Brutal Logic of Climate Change. I strongly encourage you to do the same, though it will stretch your powers of cognitive dissonance to read it and carry on with life as though the implications are not pants-shitting scary. The executive summary of the article is this:  If there is to be any hope of avoiding civilization-threatening climate disruption, the U.S. and other nations must act immediately and aggressively on an unprecedented scale. Keeping in mind that there is no hyperbole in the above sentence, the executive summary of that is: We're fucked.

The article is based on a report by Kevin Anderson, a professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester and Deputy Director of The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. He produced a paper with his colleague, Alice Bows, called "Beyond 'dangerous' climate change: emission scenarios for a new world". Mr. Anderson gave a presentation of his paper, with slides, that is available here. He gives a surprisingly engaging talk at a citizen level of detail, which outlines the carbon budgets available for limiting global temperature increases to 2 and 4 degrees Celsius. It would be wonderful if everyone took an hour and listened to this talk, but hardly anyone will, and those of us that have are left with this terrible knowledge and nothing to do with it.

The gist of his talk is that there is a limited amount of carbon that can be dumped into the atmosphere to limit temperature increases. The amount of carbon that can be emitted that would have us stop at 2C is so small we have practically no chance of being able to reduce emissions quickly enough to stay within the budget. The carbon budget for a 4C degree increase is larger, but requires us to peak our emissions in 2020, then decrease by 3.5% per year until we reach zero. Zero, zip, nada, zilch (the good news is that the jet ski industry will disappear long before that). Just for comparison, the collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in 5% reductions per year for a few years. In 2010, we increased emissions by 5.9%, so this could be hard. Oh, and by the way, a 4C degree increase in average global temperatures is, according to Anderson, "incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond 'adaptation', is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable." That might affect your retirement plans.

As I write this article, the world is negotiating yet another climate agreement in Durban, South Africa. Canada once again won the "Colossal Fossil" award for it's appalling behaviour and bad-faith negotiating. In response, Michelle Rempel, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment had this to say: "With regard to the fossil of the year award, the member opposite should know that the real award that counts is that our country sits on top of the G7 with regard to economic growth and job creation." And much cheering and clapping ensued from the Conservative benches. If there are terrorists in this country, they are currently sitting in the House of Commons, actively seeking to destroy the environment that is the foundation of life as we know it.

So if you've stuck with me this far, I wonder if you have arrived at the same horrifying conclusion I have? Since there isn't a global reset button and current governments and industry seem only interested in burning fossil fuels as fast as they can be extracted from the earth, the only way to prevent catastrophic warming is to have a complete and swift global financial collapse that consigns us to pre-industrial levels of energy consumption. Perhaps you haven't, in which case I'd like you to read the article and listen to the talk and then leave a comment with your conclusion.

Luckily, world events seem to be leading us in the direction of global collapse, but in my next post, I'll talk about ways that you and I can act to accelerate bringing down the economy. And it will take a bit more than changing our lightbulbs.

05 December 2011

Monday Forest Photo: December 5, 2011

2:00pm 6C light rain
Another surprisingly warm day today. Normally, if it gets this warm at this time of year, we can expect lots of rain to go along with it, but we've only had a little light rain - mostly just clouds. We have had enough rain in the last couple of weeks to recharge the swamp at the back of Monday Forest. 

Meg figured it was warm enough to have a bit of a splash.


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