2014: a Year Full of Choices

To actually stop buying more useless stuff requires a serious shift in consciousness: examining everything we purchase beyond food and shelter and other real necessities. Every dollar we spend on things we don’t need is a dollar that could go to supporting the change we know we need.” ~ Murray Dobbin – Canadian journalist and activist

20130705_080325“Vacation” time (for me, “staycation” as we didn’t go out and have not travelled far since we moved to Canada, back in 2004) is always time for sharing with family and friends, relaxing and sleeping in without regrets, caring for the house (in my case, hard cleaning with natural products, i.e. baking soda and white vinegar, organizing book shelves, and clothes for donation), reading, catching up with blogs, articles and friends from all over the world and reflecting on the ending year and what the New Year may need to be.

From all the things I’ve joined, started or deepened this dying year, some of which I have reported on this or other blogs, the one that may have more significance for the world out there (and my own future) is to study a Permaculture Design course last August at the UBC-Farm (Centre for Sustainable Food Systems )…this single choice I made was in fact a result of earlier choices (such as joining the local Transition group: VS, or joining the local Food Action Coalition, attending the BC Food Systems Network Gathering  and the Intro to Urban Permaculture course with Toby Hemenway) and impacted me so much that I made further decisions, such as attending a second PDC, this time at Gaia Craft , taking a Transition training from the Transition “elders” , accepting the coordination of our recently created community garden (Food for Thought) and becoming a blogger and supporter of OUR Ecovillage .

UBC Farm Permaculture 2013The above experiences, which some cost me money, time and effort, provided me with amazing new friends, extraordinary experiences and moments to treasure forever.

There is no way a “regular” person like me, a person with a full-time job, a family and a mortgage; a person like many of you out there, would go through all these untouched.

The last five months have been a real roller-coaster: what is my next step? Can I do it? What if? Is this the right time?…

It has been a time of choices: choosing the causes I’ll support with my time, money and energy, and those that will need to wait or may not be for me…choosing the challenges carefully, and deciding how 2014 and even 2015 would look like for me and my family has been a 24/7 reflection, an inner transition exercise, sometimes overwhelming and painful, sometimes liberating and exciting, but always emotional.

“Choices” are my pet peeve: when people talk about them, something burns inside me. Do we all really have choices? Let me see…rich people have choices, middle-class people all over the world have less choices, but still have some (all depends on their individual circumstances, such as age, health conditions, debt conditions, family commitments, family status, etc), poor people all over the world have almost zero choices and all the other species whose habitats and livelihoods we are destroying or jeopardizing have zero choice: some of them can’t even move or adapt quickly enough when “developers” cut their houses down (or their lives, in case of entire ecosystems) to make room for bigger houses, industrial farming, resorts and manufacturers, mining, gas or oil projects so “our” economy can “grow”…

So back to choices, where am I? And where are you? We do have some (they may not be easy or not easy on the ones we love and share our life with, more if they are not on the same page with us…), but we still have some…

One of the books I am currently reading (Carbon Detox by George Marshal) talks about how we can “drop” carbons as we may drop excess weight: just analyzing our lifestyles and how we are contributing to the problem and not working towards adapting to the kind of future we will all eventually have to face (a future with less and less resources, less and less “good” jobs, and a more unpredictable weather, more inequality , government and corporations abuse of ecosystems and humans rights, diminished services and benefits, less access to essentials for the majority and a more detached elite with access to all): some have already started (facing this future)…

Another great book I just finished is “Future Scenarios” by David Holmgren, one of the founders of the Permaculture concept and its subsequent free-available eBooks: “Money Vs Fossil Energy”  and “Crash on Demand”  … although Holmgren’s books are darker, I find them very realistic and complex than many visions based on wishful thinking. As a person trained in Emergency Preparedness and Response, I rather see the tunnel, the train and the light at the end of the tunnel…and Holmgren helps me visualize them all and see how I can be of help.

All these readings, combined with my current “homework” (reading “Permaculture: a designer’s manual” by Bill Mollison  and “Earth’s User Guide to Permaculture” by Rosemary Morrow  as well as Toby Hemenway’s articles: http://www.patternliteracy.com/articles  and my own preparation of a Permaculture intro for community workers)…are leading to one single wish for 2014 and beyond: to use the power of Permaculture to influence my own life changes and “choices” and to support with my changes those who may not have choices at all (or whose choices are terribly diminished by their need to just “survive”)

There are many factors that affect humans’ choices: from where they were born and had to live to when they were born…but a single factor seems to be right in the middle: money and how this money is used. In these times, the more money you have, the more options you can choose from…imagine how difficult it is for a low-income person to pay for a Permaculture course, let aside to decide to leave her enslaving job or grow something in her inexistent backyard…I know people who can’t afford seeds or a community garden plot, and I live in one of the richest countries of the world! This is also a region where we still have more than enough rain and “stable” weather and where almost anything we want we can grow…at the same time in my country of origin (Argentina), more than 800,000 people have been without energy for the last two weeks, in the middle of one of the warmest summers in Buenos Aires (with temperatures reaching up to 40C), a situation has become a chronic illness, on the top of the rampant insecurity and lack of maintenance of all services. In Venezuela, another country where I lived for years, power outages and water cuts have become an everyday issue. Street insecurity is worse than ever and people have to wait for hours, if not days, to buy staples such as rice, toilet paper or milk. Surely they do have a “choice”, as my friend in the Canary Islands (Spain) who can’t access land or soil and has not stable job: you can “accept” these things as “the new normal” and learn to live with them or in spite of them…as it was done by the people in many other countries where all natural things which used to e ownerless are now “commodities” , things such as land, water, seeds….

If you are reading this post, chances are that you, as me, have many real choices:

  • Reduce and simplify your life style: it is not about deprivation or giving up, it is about what is important, what is ethical, what is responsible. In practical terms, for me, this means stop buying, re-thinking everything that implies money (see my next blog-post on this) and exploring alternatives
  • Use the “surplus” (also called “disposable income”) to pay off debts, including mortgage. You’ll be in much better shape when things go bad if you don’t have debts and have paid off your house. If you seriously commit to the above, and you are a “middle-class” person with a full time job, you will have disposable income…no doubt (at least for now, so don’t wait until it is too late)
  • Sell or give away what you don’t use/don’t need
  • Consider selling your house and renting (gives you more mobility in face of climate change impacts, job mobility or other factors).
  • If you don’t like renting, consider buying a smaller house with access to land or to a good community garden
  • If you can’t sell, consider taking another person (or even a family) in your house: not only helps to pay the mortgage and services bills: the more people live together, the less impact in carbon emissions, as you will use more or less the same amount of energy, space, etc. more efficiently to cover the needs of more people
  • Look for creative ways to “share” your things through the sharable economy http://www.shareable.net/ (see more on this in my future blog about the sharing and the gift economies)
  • Invest in learning real skills that can make you, your family and community more resilient towards the difficult times ahead (read more on this in my future blog about real skills learning, how and where). While some of them cost money, many are free…
  • If you have retiring savings or any other type of investment, move them to support causes, organizations and the alternative emerging economy. Be aware of what can happen to your money due to the carbon bubble: beware of the carbon bubble
  • Eat less meat and dairy or drop them for good: read my upcoming post at (OUR Ecovillage’s blog) about why I decided to go vegetarian
  • Consider reducing your working hours, negotiating to work from home a few days a week or change your job for a low-impact job that allows you to pay “needs” and plenty of time to dedicate to other causes, community, family and friends
  • Consider becoming an entrepreneur and providing a service of good that can benefit your community’s resilience and create jobs and/or wellbeing for others
  • Consider having multiple incomes for financial stability: if you lose one, you still have the others…even if each may be a very low one
  • For each thing you buy from now on (including food), each service you pay for, each project you involve in, think about all its impacts and consequences: in your pocket, in your future, in other peoples and ecosystems’ lifestyles and futures….what are the resources involved?, how are people treated and impacted in the process? Consider each step, from when the resources are mined to when you will dispose of the product. Where it comes from? Where will it go?

Start with small steps, small things: my first step (more than two years ago now) was to eliminate paper napkins: the “trauma” lasted two weeks, now everybody at home knows their cloth napkins’ colours and the only “challenge” happens when we have visitors…(we still have to educated the visitors, or change who we invite home!)

Unless. Unless we actually become conscious, anti-consumer warriors, trained in the fine art of resisting every ad we ever see and vigilant in our efforts to live simply so that others may simply live.” ~ Murray Dobbin (2014 – the year of living consciously)

In his book “Carbon Detox” Mr Marshal talks about climate change being faceless, as an unidentified enemy, and how this feature makes it so difficult for people to wake up and react to it (being nothing and no one in particular it is difficult to address or feel it really exists). I would like to close with another quote from the excellent article published today at the Tyee by Murray Dobbin:

And if you feel squeamish about the term enemy, then take a moment to imagine how many people will die from climate change and the rampant inequality being unleashed by consumer capitalism as you read this

May everybody’s 2014 be a year full of choices…

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