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Solutions & sustainability - June 2

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When caring is kept in the family

Annalisa Barbieri, Guardian
As the population ages, many Britons will end up living with their parents again. Annalisa Barbieri wonders what happens when the parent/child relationship is reversed
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I've long had a dream, which others have laughed at, of living with my parents. This was one of the first signs, to me, that I was different to my English friends. I wanted to live as close to my family as possible, for as long as possible. They all seemed in a rush to live apart.

My parents always made it clear to me that I was welcome in the family home for as long as I needed to be and would always be welcome back. I blanched when I heard some of my friends' parents say things like, "You're eighteen now, we've done our bit, you're on your own". I wondered what would happen when those parents, as elderly people, needed to fall back on the care of their offspring.

In rural Italy, it's not at all unusual to live with your parents for a really long time, and then reverse the roles and build your own house with room in it to move mamma and papa in, way before mamma and papa get old. The furthest apart people tend to go is buying two flats in the same block.

... For the first time since records began, there are now more people aged 65 in Britain than those under the age of 16. This means more people than ever before will end up living with their elderly parents, either because they couldn't afford to move out in the first place or because said elderly parents move in with their children. (And yes, I know that lots of older people are perfectly happy to look after themselves and/or want to go and living in a nursing home when the time comes.)

So what do you do if this is your situation? Well, hopefully, approach it with grace and thought.
(1 June 2009)
Like Annalisa Barbieri, I've found it the idea strange of wanting to get away from family. As an adult, I've lived at different times with my step-father, grandmother, brother and sister. As we grow older, we've talked about living in a "family compound." Living together is a classic way of cutting costs and maintaining a local safety net. -BA



How retiring has made me more resourceful

Christine Hewitt, Guardian
Finding ways to make her money stretch has led pensioner Christine Hewitt to grow her own vegetables, embrace Freecycle and take advantage of free classes
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I'm 62 years old with an income from a state pension and pension credit, and I live in a downstairs flat in Prudhoe, a small rural town in Northumberland.

... It's a whole different world now that I'm properly retired. At £130 a week, my income is considerably lower and I now have all the time in the world.

It's only since retirement that I've had time to make full use of an allotment – I even preserve the excess produce. I buy only food staples that I can't grow, and the garden takes care of all compostable waste – reducing my rubbish output and saving on not having to buy compost for the garden. The allotment also ensures that I cook from scratch, instead of from a packet, as it is cheaper for me to use the produce I grow. A reliable bus service up the steep hill from the allotment, when I'm tired and laden with a heavy bag of goodies, would be very nice.
(1 June 2009)
An emerging story: how the demographic transition will change energy and consumption patterns, as Baby Boomers retire. -BA



Complementary Currencies Are Ushering In a Vibrant Local Economy

Carl Frankel, Chronogram
... Is it end-game time? Yes, if we’re referring to the era of plentiful, cheap oil. But don’t assume a high-tech Dark Ages is upon us. Out of the rubble of the old, a new, postglobal economic arrangement is emerging.

This is bracing in and of itself, and there’s more good news chugging along behind it. Though still very early-stage, this transformation is picking up momentum rapidly, and it has the potential to deliver deep renewal, not just marginal survival. Raise your hands if you prefer community to consumerism, empowerment to infantilization, autonomy to anonymity! I thought so.

The seeds of this next economy are sprouting in the Hudson Valley and a thousand other places, too. Though the particulars vary from region to region, the underlying principles are the same. Focus on local—local businesses, local agriculture, and local energy. Bring heart into the economy by strengthening the networks of connection among people. Do it on a grassroots level—people power!—and do it structurally, through institutions that keep the local system thriving and resilient.

Time = Money

One such institution is the Time Bank. The concept, which was invented by lawyer Edgar Cahn close to three decades ago, is as simple as it is innovative. People volunteer their time, but instead of just giving, they also receive. For every hour of service they provide, they get an hour back. Throw a couple hundred people with a wide variety of skills into the pot, and you can get anything you want at the Time Bank restaurant, maybe including Alice.
(26 May 2009)



What’s Wrong with a 30-Hour Work Week?

Don Fitz, Climate and Capitalism
There is something problematic with advocating a 30-hour work week at the beginning of the 21st century: a 30 hour week is not short enough!
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... The gross domestic product (GDP) is plummeting at the same time that jobs are disappearing. Why should there be any connection between the two? If society produces 10% less, why don’t we all just work 10% less? Didn’t things work like that for hundreds of thousands of years of human existence? When people figured out easier ways to get what they needed, they spent less time doing it.

It’s called “leisure.” Leisure is essential for a democratic society involving people in all aspects of self-government. Instead of working frenetically to produce “stuff” that we don’t have the time to enjoy, wouldn’t we be better off with less “stuff” and more time of our own? Research repeatedly shows that, once important needs are met, additional belongings bring no additional happiness. [1] Yet work is strongly related to stress. [2]

A labor-environment connection?

It’s more than stress to the human nervous system. Manufacturing too much stuff stresses every aspect of the environment. The voracious appetite of corporate growth destroys homes of the wolf and bear in North America. Swiftly disappearing are the last refuges of chimpanzees in Africa and orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra. Mangrove forests give way to beach resorts as long line fishing kills 100 sea animals for every fish eaten by a human.

Vastly more creatures fall prey to the 80-100,000 chemicals spewed into the air, water and land. Countless molecules of chlorine and fluorine go into pesticides and plastics that destroy immune and reproductive systems. Elemental structures of lead, mercury and, of course, radioactive particles are Thanatos to living systems.

The most frequent building block of toxins is oil. With more than 40 hours of labor contained in each gallon, oil is the closest thing to free energy that humanity has ever discovered. [3] A substance that should be used sparingly so that many future generations could use if for medical and other essential products, oil is being squandered at an exponential rate by a corporate culture determined that its descendants will despise it.

... One of the least known flirtations with the 30-hour work week was by the cereal giant, W.K. Kellogg Company. In 1930, the company announced that most of its 1500 employees would go from an 8-hour to a 6-hour work day, which would provide 300 new jobs in Battle Creek. Though the shorter work week involved a pay cut, the overwhelming majority of workers preferred having increased leisure time to spend with their families and community. [16]

New managers who began running Kellogg had no enthusiasm for the shorter work day. They polled workers in 1946 and found that 77% of men and 87% of women would choose a 30-hour week even if it meant lower wages. Disappointed, management began examining which work groups liked money more than leisure and began offering the 40-hour week on a department-by-department basis.

How long did it take them to get rid of the 30-hour week? Almost 40 years! The desire to have more time to themselves was so strong that it was not until 1985 that Kellogg was able to eliminate the 30-hour work week in the last department.

... When US workers struck for the eight hour day in 1886, they were going beyond pay issues and demanding that labor have a role in controlling the process of production. Today, we need a progressive alliance to challenge not only how many hours we work, but the quality, durability and even the necessity of goods we produce. Drastically cutting the hours we work will help save the Earth’s ecology only if it is part of an overarching goal to improve the quality of our lives while reducing the grand mass of manufactured objects.

Don Fitz has been surviving on less than 20 hours work per week since he was forced to retire in 2006. He is editor of Synthesis/Regeneration: A Magazine of Green Social Thought, which is published for members of The Greens/Green Party USA ...
(31 May 2009)

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