I’ve been an avid yard saler for years, and now that the season is once again upon us, I marvel all over again at the benefits offered. In a society so addicted to overconsumption we find, every summer weekend on just about every other block, neighbors getting rid of their useful, sometimes nearly new “stuff” for rock bottom prices. The sales are so close to home that to buy there requires less travel than to go to the nearest store for the same items new.
Of course, overconsumption is what makes yard sales possible. If people weren’t buying more stuff than they need, they wouldn’t have so much to sell. It’s sad to think of the vast amounts of earth’s resources going into the production of goods that buyers are going to practically give away in such a short time. But we who care about the environment can at least avail ourselves of opportunities to purchase secondhand the things we need and thereby make those resource inputs last as long as possible. Continue reading It’s Yard Saling Time Again–An Amazing Way to Save Resources→
Three brief excerpts ( 2-5 minutes each) from an interview I did about my book The Practical Peacemaker are now posted on YouTube. The interview was part of the series “Authors at Douglas County Libraries.” The excerpts are on three topics I discuss in the book that make possible more peaceful living, both personally and in society. Click on photos below to start each of these excerpts.
The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically, by Peter Singer. Yale University Press, 2015.
How fortunate we are to have a practical philosopher as articulate as Peter Singer! He doesn’t just talk idly about doing the most good for the most people, but shows us how, based on solid research on the effectiveness of charities and on the examples of actual people who are living their values. (To “meet” Singer and watch him give an 18-minute summary of the book, I highly recommend this TED talk.)
I especially like that he does not limit the good we can do to helping people, but includes animals as also worthy of our consideration. He points out that we can prevent a great deal of animal suffering for a very low (or no) cost, e.g. switching to a vegetarian diet.
I also like that he encourages simple living in order to have the maximum amount of our income for charitable giving. He’s not suggesting austerity, but we can ask ourselves, when contemplating an unnecessary purchase or trip, whether the value of more stuff or experiences is greater to us than what that same amount of money could do in preventing suffering, or saving lives in developing countries. Continue reading Doing the Most Good→
Keith and I received an e-mail from Micah Parkin, the leader of the Colorado chapter of 350.org, asking for people to submit stories about local action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We submitted our story, which has now been published in their blog, and which we reprint below, with hyperlinks added.
Keith wrote: “My wife and I got solar panels in our backyard, thus generating all of our own electricity, some years ago; and we also massively insulated our house, cutting our heating requirements by nearly 2/3. We also ride our bikes on errands; before we retired, Keith rode the bus and Kate rode her bicycle to work. But the most effective single local action we’ve undertaken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to go vegan. According to an article in WorldWatch magazine, over half of all greenhouse gas emissions are due to livestock agriculture (“Livestock and Climate Change,” November/December 2009). We also encourage others to go vegan. We’ve started a local meetup group, “Denver Vegans” (DenverVegans.org), which helps everyone from people who are just interested in cutting back their consumption of animal products to fully committed vegans. This is about as local as you can get — you can fight climate change three times a day just with your fork.”
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of a still-amazing book, Living the Good Life, by Scott and Helen Nearing. The Nearings left city life in 1932 to homestead rural land in (first) Vermont and (later) Maine. They felt they had discovered the “good life,” and wrote several books both to describe how they lived and to encourage others toward greater simplicity and authenticity. They have been called “the great-grandparents of the back-to-the-land movement” and no doubt inspired many young people in the 1960s and 1970s. When I came to their books later, I was impressed that they were vegetarians and carried on their farming completely without the use of animals. Would that the 21st century homesteading movement would do likewise!
The Nearings’ books overflow with sincerity, compassion, and common sense. Here are examples:
“Ideas of ‘making money’ or ‘getting rich’ have given people a perverted view of economic principles. The object of economic effort is not money, but livelihood. Money cannot feed, clothe, or shelter. Money is a medium of exchange,–a means of securing the items that make up livelihood. It is the necessaries and decencies that are important, not the money which may be exchanged for them. And money must be paid for, like anything else . . .” Continue reading “Not Money, But Livelihood” — Remembering the Nearings→
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. HarperCollins, 2009.
This is the engrossing true story of a bright young boy in Malawi, idled because his family is too poor to pay the required fees to send him to school. He finds old textbooks at the village library that explain how to generate electricity, and with astonishing determination collects the necessary parts. At age 14, he completes a functioning windmill generator. His desire to bring electricity to his family and village persists despite much discouragement, lack of resources, and taunting by friends and relatives who think he’s crazy. If this weren’t enough, the country endures a terrible famine at that time (2002), due to government corruption as much as lack of rain. William’s account of the famine as someone who experienced it is more moving than any account by outsiders could ever be.
Finally his talent is recognized, and he is invited to give a TED talk when he can barely speak English. By the time the book was published in 2009, he was a student at Dartmouth.
This book is for anyone looking for an inspirational story of what can be achieved with persistence and dedication, even without support. It also shows the transformative power of a local public library. My book club loved it.
Short and easy-to-read, but not lightweight. I continue thinking about the issues raised, although it has been several days since I finished reading it. I hadn’t thought about all the small “white” lies most people tell, and whether the effect(s) such lies have on one’s personal relationships is beneficial or detrimental. I’m intrigued by the question: Is it possible in our society to live a completely truthful life?
Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Random House, 1955.
This heartfelt little book was a big bestseller when it was published in 1955 and still resonates today. Who doesn’t need a reminder of the sanity of simple living and occasional solitude? She writes: “We seem so frightened today of being alone that we never let it happen. Even if family, friends, and movies should fail, there is still the radio or television to fill up the void … Even day-dreaming was more creative than this; it demanded something from oneself and it fed the inner life . . . We choke the space with continuous music, chatter, and companionship to which we do not even listen.” In these days of Facebook, Twitter, and other means of constant connectivity which Lindbergh could not have imagined, her words mean even more. And this: “Modern communication loads us with more problems than the human frame can carry.”
She also has thoughtful insights on accepting change, and on women emerging from what we look back on as a very sexist time period.
Enough Is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources , by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013.
I am glad to see a serious and wide-ranging discussion of the need for a steady-state economy–and not a moment too soon to be getting this discussion going! Every day we inch closer to the limits to growth.
I’d have liked more detail about how to implement many of the ideas; for example, if we wanted to launch a local currency, how would we go about it? If we agreed that we need a public works program like the New Deal’s CCC to repair infrastructure and keep people employed, how would we persuade our political representatives to establish it? Give us not just an outline but a guidebook, I say, although in fairness to the authors, there are so many unknowns in implementing many of these ideas that a guidebook may not be possible at this time.
The more people we can get to read and discuss the ideas in this book, the better.
The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? by Jared Diamond. Viking, 2012.
The old notion that pre-literate Stone Age people are “noble savages” has been demolished by current research, cited in detail in Steven Pinker’s excellent Better Angels of Our Nature, and given further weight by this latest from Diamond. Unlike Pinker, however, Diamond has actually spent time living among such societies over a period of years, mostly in New Guinea, so he has personal experience to draw on. A person’s chance of dying of homicide is much greater in a traditional society because without centralized governments, people have great difficulty stopping the cycles of revenge killings that arise from a murder, for example. Other reasons not to romanticize these societies include the dangers of wild animals and infectious diseases. Yet they have other aspects that we might like to re-introduce or strengthen in our own lives. Continue reading The World Until Yesterday→