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Sustainability: From Excess to Aesthetics

Lyle K. Grant, Behavior and Social Issues via University of Illinois at Chicago

Sustainability is defined as the operation of a steady-state economy in which natural resource inputs and waste-product outputs are held constant. Key issues in attaining a sustainability are addressing the problems of overconsumption of resource-intensive reinforcers, underconsumption of resource-light reinforcers, and lack of consumption skills that yield an enduring source of intrinsically reinforcing challenges and pleasures. Behavioral impediments to a sustainable society are described together with opportunities to achieve it. Opportunities emphasize sustainable futures people will find appealing rather than austere. These opportunities include a replacement of consumer culture with alternative value systems, embodied in John Stuart Mill’s art of living, Tibor Scitovsky’s cultural reawakening, B. F. Skinner’s arts-based utopia, voluntary simplifiers, and the aesthetically-based values of Bohemian communities.

PDF of complete paper
(July 2010)
About author Lyle K. Grant:

I am professor of psychology at AU (Athabasca University in Alberta, Canada), where I have worked since 1981. I received a Ph.D. in educational psychology from West Virginia University, where I became interested in how people learn from written materials, especially self-instructional exercises.
… I have also become interested in the phenomenon of Peak Oil from a number of different perspectives, including the way in which projected future events function to influence current behavior. This, combined with concerns with public safety, human freedom to have a future, simple living, the environment, and Gustav LeBon’s work (i.e., what might be called group hypnosis), has in part led me to advocate a car-free lifestyle. I’ve written an Open Letter to AU Colleagues advocating telecommuting because of its environmental and energy reduction benefits.

Grant previous paper on peak oil, “Peak Oil as a Behavioral Problem,” is online and was noted in Energy Bulletin.

Bamboo Houses to the Rescue

Elisabeth Best, Miller-McCune
Bamboo houses combat climate change, encourage economic growth and protect the poor from natural disaster. Why aren’t there more of them?

Over time, poor countries don’t experience more natural disasters than rich countries, but poor people — even those living in rich countries — suffer more in a catastrophe. Since the dawn of civilization, infrastructure has played a crucial role in deciding who and what survives a flood, earthquake, tropical cyclone or other natural disaster. And the wealthy really are different from you and me; they have more infrastructure.

Beyond increasing per capita income — the goal of many, if not all, development projects — what can be done to provide better infrastructure and reduce the death toll of natural disasters in developing nations? According to a set of specialized architects and builders, one answer involves permanent bamboo housing. They argue that bamboo cultivation and construction can protect people in disaster-prone areas. History suggests they may be correct.

… But in the age of global warming, bamboo has a benefit beyond construction: Both young and mature bamboo plantations capture more carbon than similar stands of trees.
(6 July 2010)

How to Share Time

Mira Luna, YES! Magazine
When dollars are scarce, timebanks help neighbors swap skills, instead.

During the last two great depressions in the U.S., hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of people organized to meet their basic needs when the mainstream economy and centralized monetary system failed them. Unemployed poor folks got together to create time dollar stores and cooperative mills, farms, health care systems, foundries, repair and recycling facilities, distribution warehouses, and a myriad of other service exchanges.

Many of these were based on the hour as a unit of account, and often everyone’s hour was equal and could either be exchanged for another hour of service or its equivalent in goods.

Modern forms of time exchange, called Timebanks and LETS (Local Employment Trading Systems), have been around since the 1980s. Now, with one in ten Americans unemployed (likely twice that, given recording problems), time exchanges are making a comeback.
(10 July 2010)
Also at Common Dreams.

Six ways to teach kids to value community life

Nicola Baird, The Ecologist
This extract from the new book “Homemade Kids” offers some inspirational ways you and your kids can get stuck back into local life

Being active locally

It’s families – whatever their make-up – that raise children. This allows little ones to absorb, as if by osmosis, life skills such as home cooking, gardening, cleaning, breastfeeding, pet care, repair jobs, etc. (as well as turning on the TV, where to hunt for lost trainers/keys/purse, putting out the recycling, etc.)

But as the well-known Nigerian proverb spells out, mum or dad can’t do it all themselves because ‘it takes a village to raise a child’.

Though few of us have an extended family living nearby, we can create a similar effect by becoming better acquainted with the people who live in our neighbourhood. They may shop at similar stores, visit the same doctor or place of worship, or simply know when the recycling is collected.

That shared experience can be very powerful when it comes to making changes in your neighbourhood.

… 6. Celebrate the good things at a neighbourhood party

A summer fête, winter festival or street party is often a local highlight. It may be that where you live there’s already an event pencilled in, but it could be so much better – or it could be in need of baby-friendly suggestions from a local like you.

Even if you still feel overwhelmed by parenthood you lose nothing by making sure you attend a community event. At the very least you may meet people with children the same age as yours who will wave at you whenever they next see you in the area – at the best you might even make new friends.

‘Helping organise our street party was also a very doable community activity with young children, but best to do it as part of a group – tells you all you’ll ever need to know about street parties.’ – Gaby, 36, with Barney, nine, and Toby, four

CASE STUDY: The village experience

To give your baby the benefit of a village experience, you can try to emulate the way real villagers still integrate their children into every part of their lives. Anna Craven, 68, trained as an anthropologist and spent 20 years living in remote parts of Africa and the Pacific Islands. Her two children, now 31 and 28, were born in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, but when Anna’s marriage broke up she moved back to Yorkshire and there worked out how to recreate the best bits of community life.

‘You pass on life skills subliminally – by creating family habits rather than instructing children what to do as if they were in a classroom. If you think of Inuit or Ghanian village communities the children learn by example. They watch, they imitate, they’re not told.
(8 July 2010)