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Rod Dreher: Time for a stiff slug of forced austerity?

Rod Dreher, Dallas Morning News
… I have a lot of conversations these days involving the word “depression,” and believe me, we’re not talking about the blues. An economist of some note confides that the banks are essentially insolvent and that there’s really no way around a serious and painful reckoning. A college professor friend e-mails of a conference he recently attended at which “very highly placed people with serious government credentials” were extremely worried about the near future.

In my back yard the other night, we sat by the fire, several of us, talking about what we’d do if hard times came and realizing that we have no idea, no idea at all. None of us have serious debt, but we confessed that we’d spent these fat years drinking too much Heineken and saving too little. Who has much in savings, anyway? Old folks like my father, that’s who.

Sometimes you get to thinking that a stiff slug of forced austerity might be good for us all. It would compel us to become more self-reliant, to focus more on our families and communities, and to cultivate simplicity. I’m susceptible to this fantasy, but then I remember how my grandfather had to be away from his wife and kids for four grueling years, on the road trying to make a living. Many nights, if my dad or his brother hadn’t shot any squirrels in the woods that day, there was no meat on the table.

Besides, sudden shattering poverty and the subsequent social unraveling in Weimar Germany didn’t work out so great for the world, did it? Show of hands: Who’s confident that contemporary America, which lacks the social cohesion the nation had in the 1930s, would be able to pull together as it did during the Great Depression?

Still, would it be such a bad thing to emulate the lessons of the Depression generation and learn to live far more frugally than we do? In her must-read new book, Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front, Sharon Astyk says that we have no choice but to live a radically more simple life – and she shows how. This doesn’t mean embracing a freakish level of austerity; it just means learning to want less and to need less. As she writes on her blog:

In 1945 we used 80 percent less energy per household than we do now. Your parents and grandparents lived that way – they heated the rooms they used most often and closed off the other ones, wore sweaters and walked more than they drove. They took the bus. They ate less meat. They grew Victory gardens and ate food grown near them. They shared with their neighbors more, and they worked together on what was then the greatest challenge facing the world – the rise of fascism. What is most needed isn’t a move to the third world – it is a return to a familiar past.

Ms. Astyk was responding to a New York Times article that had implicitly raised questions about the sanity of her and her upstate New York farm family, given their frugal lifestyle. Meanwhile, the U.S. government is trying to restart an economy blown to bits by debt by encouraging Americans drowning in debt to resume spending money that they don’t have for things they don’t need.

You tell me: Who’s crazy here?
(31 October 2008)

Relocalize Newsletter: Democracy in Action

Staff, Post Carbon Institute
With civic and federal elections occupying much of our attention in the US and Canada, we decided this month to focus on democracy and local government.

Read on for resources and ideas on engaging elected officials and incorporating democracy as a framework for community organizing, decision-making, and group development.

  • Democracy in Action

  • Getting Involved in Local Government
  • Vote for Relocalization
  • The Local Quotient
  • Online Resources
  • Global Public Media
  • Upcoming Events

(31 October 2008)

Waste not, want not

Tanis Taylor, The Guardian
Every Tuesday, as a house, we put out two big green boxes of recycling. I say green because a) they literally are and b) the presumption is that by using them, so are we. But wouldn’t it be greener not to put out the recycling – to generate so little waste that, come Tuesday, there is nothing to put in the green box? It is an idealistic notion, but is it practical? I decided to try it for a month to find out. And in doing so, I inadvertently discovered that I’d joined a movement.

Precycling is the practice of reducing waste by attempting to avoid accumulating it in the first place. Precyclers try to cut out as much packaging as possible and, to this end, they think ahead, shop locally, buy things loose and bring their own containers. The benefits are various; from saving money and creating less landfill to reducing food miles and conserving natural resources…
(30 October 2008)

Moving Beyond Sustainability to Environmental Effectiveness

Colin Beavan, Worldchanging

The task at hand — to create a new reality; a new way of living with fewer resources while providing a prosperous life for every member of our growing population — is going to require more than even the best technology that money can buy. It’s going to require imagination, open-mindedness, a willingness to live and to understand life differently. With that significant challenge ahead of us, is “sustainability” the best weapon we can bring to the fight?

To illustrate my point, let me ask: is sustainability an inspiring call to action? Do you dream of a life that’s simply “sustainable?” Or do you hope for something better, say, a happy life? One that’s full of meaning?

(28 October 2008)

Britons dying for green burials

UK residents are increasingly choosing “green” burial plots as their final resting place for ecological reasons and as space in more formal cemeteries fills up, experts say.

Whether in the shade of an oak or in the middle of a flowery meadow, more and more people are planning for a “natural” funeral as they plan their final journey.

“There are more than 200 natural burial grounds in the UK,” said Andy Clayden,
(31 October 2008)