Month: September 2009

I’m stuck in a dust storm + some thoughts on Australia

r440653_2125631Today I was meant to be driving back to Queensland, but we’ve postponed our trip due to gale force winds and a severe dust storm which has spread across the entire state of New South Wales (bigger than Texas). I’ve included some photos taken by some Sydney locals this morning so you can see how strange this weather is. Since I’m stuck inside for the day I thought I’d provide an update on my trip to Australia.

I’ve been back for about 10 days now and have settled back into Australian life. At first it seemed a little surreal because I have obviously become so accustomed to living in the USA.

The most obvious difference has been how relaxed, casual and jovial Australians are on the whole (gross generalisation: some people are just plain grumps). This is particularly obvious on TV and radio where most presenters are having a bit of fun with their audience.  Most people don’t seem to take things too seriously here and even the reaction on TV to this massive dust-storm is quite matter of fact. I know in the US I’ve been scared half to death by storm warnings only to receive a smattering of rain, which demonstrates a major difference between the two cultures. I had noticed that everything becomes sensationalised in the US media, presumably for entertainment value, but perhaps for more sinister reasons. I’ll leave that topic to another day though.

r440638_2125548The food here is just so good. When I first moved to the USA I think I cried for the first six months as we struggled to find real food. After nearly two years there, we now know where to look, but I remember when we first arrived we were overwhelmed by the sheer amount of processed food on supermarket shelves. Even the first ‘yoghurts’ we found contained next to no actual dairy products. I thought I might have been imagining the food to be better in Australia because it’s what I was used to, but having been back in Australia now for 10 days I can safely say the food is sensational. Everything is fresh and flavoursome and even a simple sandwich is a delight to eat. I seriously don’t know why this is other than to suspect that American food is so processed at all levels that something is missing. I also think Australian cuisine has been more influenced by its wide variety of immigrants and we end up with some interesting fusions of tastes that you just dont find in the rest of the world.

r440603_2125296The third most obvious difference we’ve noticed is that life here is much slower than our life in California. In a couple of instances I’ve really missed some of the conveniences of America but it hasn’t taken long to get back into life in the slower lane. The thing I miss the most is being able to pay for petrol (gas) at the pump. It now seems ludicrous that we fill the tank and then go in to line up and pay. I remember some years ago that petrol stations tried to encourage paying at the pump, but I guess it never took. Also, when dining in an Australian cafe or restaurant, most of the time you go up to the counter and pay after the meal. In the US, the wait staff will usually have brought the bill before you’ve even finished eating and I always felt rushed to get out of there. For the first time since leaving Australia in November 2007, I’ve been enjoying chatting over a coffee for hours without feeling the need to rush. The roads here also seem very backwards in comparison. The USA has roughly the same land area as Australia, but has a populations 14 times the size. Australia simply can’t put the same amount of money into the road system, and therefore it seems to take a very long time to get anywhere. The other day I drove from my sister’s place in Brisbane, to my in-laws in Dorrigo. That’s 453km (281 miles) and it took me six hours. I could get from San Diego to Phoenix, Arizona (572 km/356 miles) in less time using the freeways.

Since this post is now getting a little long, I might leave the rest of my thoughts to another day. Given this extraordinary dust storm today, Australian’s thoughts on Climate Change will probably be something I’ll talk about next time.

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Backyard Revolution

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Photo by: Bill Barber

Today, I’m flying back to Australia for a three week visit. After living in the USA for nearly two years, I’m very much looking forward to getting home. I’m also a little nervous about what I’m going to think of my home country from an outsider’s view. I’ve changed so much in the last couple of years and I often wonder if I actually remember Australia honestly, or whether I see it through rose coloured glasses.

So, while I’m flying across the Pacific Ocean and travelling for 24 hours straight, I thought I’d simply share a link I recently discovered. It’s a segment on Australian 60 minutes called Backyard Revolution. It encourages me to see that many Australians are getting behind this very important movement and it gives me hope that I can fit back in when we eventually do call Australia home once again.

There’s a revolution coming. It’s a fightback against the fast-food, pre-packaged, snap-frozen pace of modern life, and it’s happening in our own backyards.

Liz Hayes

Economy #1: How Money is Created

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Photo by: cayusa

This is the first post in my World-Changing Wednesday series. Tune is each Wednesday to read my thoughts on an issue which I think will have a huge impact on how we live our lives in the years to come.

This week, I’m going to talk about how money is created. If you are anything like me, you’ve probably never even given this topic a second thought. In hindsight, this attitude might have been a little crazy given that most of us live our lives in pursuit of money. In our culture we’ve been taught that money buys us happiness. Without consciously choosing to do so, we’ll seek riches as a means of fulfillment and in the process we’ll put the earning of money above all other pursuits.  However once you understand the nature of money, you may think twice about its relative value.

The process by which banks create money is so simple that the mind is repelled ~ John Kenneth Galbraith, Economist

Where does money come from?

printing-money

Most people imagine that the government makes money. Indeed the coins and paper we usually consider to be money are produced by a government agency known as the mint, but the vast majority is created by private corporations known as banks.

Most of us probably think that banks lend out money that they have on deposit from peoples’ savings, but this is not the case. The banks simply create money out of thin air, based on the borrower’s promise to pay. The borrower agrees to pay back the money loaned to them, plus interest and if they don’t they will forfeit their collateral (i.e. car or home).

So, for that big commitment made by the borrower, you’d think there would have to be some sort of large commitment on the banks behalf, wouldn’t you? In fact, all the bank needs to do in this exchange is to conjure out of thin air, the amount of the loan and write it into the borrowers account. So you’re now thinking, ‘Surely this can’t be true?’ But it is.

Money is loaned into existence.

Let me try to explain. If it takes you a couple of reads to get this, don’t worry. I’ve been there. It’s actually a pretty simple process, but it is difficult to accept. The following explanation applies to the process in the USA, but the system is similar in all industrialised nations.

Firstly, let’s imagine that a brand new bank has just opened up in town and it has no depositors yet. To get things started, the bank’s investors have made a reserve deposit of $1111.12 of existing cash money at the Central Bank.

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Screen capture from Money as Debt

Step 1. The bank welcomes their first loan customer who needs $10,000 to buy a car. At the 9:1 reserve ratio required in the USA, the bank’s reserve legally allows it to conjur into existence nine times that amount (9 x $1111.12 = $10,000). This $10,000 is not taken from anywhere. It’s brand new money simply typed into the borrowers account as bank credit. The borrower then writes a cheque (check) against that credit to buy a used car.

Step 2. The seller of the used car then deposits this newly created $10,000 at her bank. Money deposited into commercial banks can then be loaned out on a 9:1 ratio.  So for the $10,000 deposited, $9,000 could be loaned out and the bank would keep $1,000 in reserve.

Step 3. If that $9,000 is then deposited in a bank, that deposit can again be used for a third issue of bank credit, this time for the amount of $8,100. Each new deposit contains the potential for a slightly smaller loan. In all likelihood, this process will repeat over and over until nearly $100,000 of brand new money has been created within the banking system.

All of this new money has been created entirely from debt and the whole process has been legally authorised by the initial reserve deposit of just $1111.12 which is sitting at the Central Bank. So ultimately, the banks initial Central Bank reserve deposit of $1111.12 allows it to collect interest on up to $100,000 that the bank never had.

Banks loan money they DO NOT HAVE!

What’s even more interesting is that the required reserve ratio in Australia, Canada and the UK is 0%. There is no statutory limitation to the amount of artificial money that can be created by the banks.

Now while there are some complex rules I won’t go into, the reality is quite simple. Banks can create as much money as we can borrow.

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Photo by: Martin Kingsley

Despite, the fact that we usually think of money as the physical cash and coins we have in our wallets, Government created money typically accounts for less than 5% of the money in circulation. More than 95% of all money in the world today was loaned into existence. Is this all real money? Sure it is….. especially if it’s in your bank account.

Ok….How’s your brain doing?

I’m afraid that the ordinary citizen will not like to be told that banks can and do create money …. And they who control the credit of the nation direct the policy of Governments and hold in the hollow of their hands the destiny of the people. ~ Reginald McKenna, past Chairman of the Board, Midlands Bank of England.

Now that you know all this, give some thought to what might happen if everyone who had money in the bank walked in and tried to take all their money out at once. Remember, depending on your country, the banks have been holding somewhere between 0-10% of your deposit in reserve. How many people will receive their deposits back before the bank has to close it’s doors because it’s run out of money?

Also give some thought to what happens when people default on their loans. This system works great while people are able to keep making their payments, but what happens to the money when loans don’t get repaid?

You may also have noticed that we haven’t really touched on an important aspect of this whole system……. Interest. Where does the money come from to pay the interest on all the loans? If all the loans are paid back without interest, we can undo the entire string of transactions, but when we factor in interest, there suddenly isn’t enough money to pay back all the loans.

This issue is addressed in a follow-up article: The Debt Trap (Our Economic System is Not Sustainable)

Ok, I think I’ve written enough for today, so I’m going to leave the next part of this discussion to another day. It’s a lot to digest all at once, so as long as you come away from today understanding that all money is loaned into existence you’ll have a good basis for understanding why this might create problems within our society.

Please note that I am not an economics expert. I’m simply an ordinary gal trying to make sense of a complex world. I urge you to do your own reading on this subject. Here’s some good places to get started:

The Story of Money – Comic book from the Federal Reserve

Money Creation – Crash Course Chapter 7

Wikipedia.org – Explanation of Money

Read more from me:

Economy#2: Is a housing bubble looming in Australia?

Economy#3: How the Credit Crisis Happened

Economy#4: The Debt Trap (Our Economic System is Not Sustainable)

Energy#1: What is Peak Oil?

Energy#2: The Economy and Oil (The Long Decline)

Independence Days – Off to Australia

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Hooray! I’m leaving for Australia this week. I’ve been looking forward to the trip so much, and with Brendan already there I’m eager to hurry up and get there. Of course, before that happens, there seems to be a million and one things to do around here. Thankfully it’s the Labor Day long weekend here so I’ve had an extra day off work to get organised. Here’s my Independence Days update:

Planted: I couldn’t help myself. I went and ordered more seeds. This time I tried Freedom Seeds which is run by the Dervaes family in Pasadena, CA. They have the most inspiring Urban Homestead and I wanted to give my business to them rather than some faceless seed grower. A couple of days ago I sowed the Snow Pea and Collard seeds. After only a couple of days they are already up. I’ve certainly improved my seed starting techniques in the last 6 months.

Harvested: Bell Peppers (Capsicum), Broccoli, Squash, Jalapenos, Cayenne Pepper, Tomatoes and Basil.

Preserved: I decided to try freezing tomatoes. I simply blanched them in hot water, removed their skins and packed them into serving-sized freezer bags. With my limited time it was the quickest way I could think of for dealing with my tomato glut. More Jalapenos were hung up to dry. More batches of Pesto were made from the Basil. Today I’m going to roast some Bell Peppers and freeze them.

Reduce Waste: I’m still adding to compost. We’ll be needing that for the fall garden which we’ll start planting when we return from Australia in October.

Work on Community Food Systems: While I’m away in Australia I have a couple of friends who’ll be coming around to harvest from the garden and make sure all our hard work doesn’t go to waste with food rotting on the ground and bolting broccoli. I hope they enjoy our garden as much as we do.

Cook Something New: With Brendan away I’ve been doing all the cooking. I’m not the cook that he is, so my meals have been mostly stir fries, omelets and fried rice to eat up as many of the veges I can before I leave. Aside from some fruit from the Farmer’s Market, I’ve only had to go shopping once for bread and milk. It’s fun trying to make do with the food I have in the house and what I get from the garden.

Wine night with the girls tonight

Wine Time

I always used to hate working out what I was going to take to wine night. It’s a very international group of women…from Spain, France, Germany, Finland, Chile, Canada, Australia and more, so there is always an amazing variety of food and wine. I’m not much of a cook and I refuse to take something pre-made from the store, so this morning while making another batch of Garlic and Basil Pesto it occurred to me to just take some of that. Easy!

So, here’s what I’m taking tonight:

  • Petits Toasts.
  • Homemade pesto made with Basil fresh from the garden.
  • A bottle of Organic Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s from Argentina (not exactly local) but when buying organic wine, one can’t be too choosy about where it’s coming from. The selection is not large.

Birds in our Ecosystem

Well….after yesterday’s little downer I’m going to share some happy news. Our courtyard garden is becoming a real little ecosystem. Over the last six months the number of insect visitors has really increased. While we don’t see many honeybees, we get plenty of native pollinators and quite an assortment of butterflies. The birds soon realised that our garden had become a good place for an easy feast.

House Sparrows come in every day in a flock and pick over all the vegetable plants. I love nothing more that to see them pull off juicy green caterpillars because it means one more I don’t have to remove. Just recently a fledgling joined the flock on a tour of the garden. It’s so cute and fat and I could watch for hours as  it’s parents feed it tasty morsels.

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Photo by: Sheedypj

Another regular is the little Black Phoebe. It likes to perch on the cherry tomato plant and catch the fruit flies hovering near the compost bins. I love that he wags his tail while waiting for his next catch.

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Photo by: herpindiego

The biggest surprise came the other day when a Peregrine Falcon arrived. The smaller birds scattered in time, but I was very excited to find a higher order predator in the yard. You know your little eco-system has come of age when that happens.  The Peregrine Falcon is the fastest animal on the planet, capable of diving to speeds in excess of 200mph (320kph)! Their prey ranges from sparrows to ducks, which may be why it’s sometimes referred to as the “Duck Hawk”.

Because of the use of pesticides, especially DDT, the California Peregrine Falcon population was reduced to just two known productive pairs by 1970. After the banning of DDT, the species recovered enough to be removed from the Endangered Species List in 1999 and numbers are now on the increase.

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Photo by: Bird Friends of San Diego County

Having grown up in Australia, I loved kookaburras, cockatoos, rainbow lorikeets and magpies. I hadn’t really got attached to any American birds, but now having regular visitors to the garden has really made me want to learn more about the creatures I’m sharing my space with.

World-Changing Wednesdays

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Photo by: Norma Desmond

Since I started this blog I’ve really been focusing on what we’ve been doing to live a more self-sufficient and sustainable lifestyle. I have mentioned Voluntary Simplicity and given some broad reasons about why we are changing our life, but today I really want to jump right in and outline some of the big issues I see impacting us in the not too distant future.

In short, I think the world as we know it is coming to an end. I’m not talking the Apocalypse, but I am talking about the way of life enjoyed by the majority of people in the Western World. We simply can not keep living the way we do without coming up against some very finite limits. Each week, I’m going to start addressing one topic which sometimes keeps me awake at night. Because it’s a catchy phrase I’m going to call this series ‘World-Changing Wednesday’s, however I don’t want people to think I’m a complete doomer. I am in fact a very optimistic person, I just choose to see the world as it is and adapt to reality rather than living in fantasy land. I hope you tune in on Wednesday’s to learn a little more about some of the most important issues which will affect us during our lifetime. To quote Dr Chris Martenson, “I believe the next twenty years will be completely unlike the last twenty”.

There are quite a few issues I’m going to discuss and instead of jumping around all over the place, I intend to approach my discussion in three specific areas:

Economy

Firstly, at a high level I’m going to talk about how money comes into existence and outline the fundamentals of the major Western economies. I promise not to make it boring, but having a good understanding of the basis for our way of life is critical to understanding some of the other problems we are starting to see such as recession, increased debt, failure to save, housing bubbles, disappearing retirement benefits, unemployment etc etc. I’m also going to touch on the increasing wealth gap and demographic issues and how this will affect our lives in the years to come.

Economy#1: How Money is Created

Economy#2: Is a housing bubble looming in Australia?

Economy#3: How the Credit Crisis Happened

Economy#4: The Debt Trap (Our Economic System is not Sustainable)

Energy

Energy is the source of all economic activity in our current civilisation. Cheap energy is absolutely fundamental to our current way of living. Continued growth based on ever increasing levels of cheap energy is not possible and when growth can no longer occur, the whole system will be forever changed. I’m going to spend some time discussing Peak Oil and then look as some of the ramifications of reduced energy on our way of living.

Energy#1: What is Peak Oil?

Energy#2: The Economy and Oil (The Long Decline)

Environment

I know climate change gets all the headlines these days but there are so many more environmental issues that need to be discussed. I’ll talk about exponential population growth and how that relates to resource depletion, including food, water and clean air. I also want to touch on pollutions and toxins and how they might affect us and those we love.

Environment#1: The Issue of Human Population Growth

Environment#2: Resource Limitations ~ Water

Environment#3: Resource Limitations ~ Food

All three of these broader issues (The Three E’s) are closely related and stresses in one area will begin to impact the other two. Over the next few months, I hope to show that there is a Perfect Storm brewing. There are a massive set of challenges converging within a short window of time. Any one of these events will be difficult to deal with, but we are starting to see that they will all start impacting us within  the short space of a couple of decades. Given that no real discussion or planning is yet happening at the national and global levels, these will be interesting times indeed. We are going to be living through one of the defining times of human history and it’s going to be one heck of a ride.

Please tune in next Wednesday for the first in the series, and if you have any recommendations for other topics I should discuss, please leave me a comment.

Independence Days – My husband has left me…

….and gone to Australia for the month. Sorry…didn’t mean to scare you all! I’ll be joining him late next week and I can’t wait. For the next couple of weeks I’m going to do my best to preserve as much food as I can and eat up all the rest. I dare say there will be quite a bit of experimenting in the kitchen for the next 10 days. Here’s my weekly update for Independence Days:

Plant Something: We have a couple of spares patches of dirt in the garden where lettuce, beets and squash used to be. I had planned to leave any new planting until I got back from Australia in October, but if I do that it means nothing to harvest until about December. That’s too long to wait, so over the weekend I started some onions and beets. I hope they survive with little care while I’m away.

Harvest Something: I continue to collect about 5 pounds of tomatoes every couple of days. Cayenne Peppers are slowing down, but I still collected more than a dozen this week. Jalapenos are turning red and are still plentiful. A few heads of broccoli needed to be harvested. It’s become a bit of a game to see how long we can leave them before they bolt. So far we’ve been lucky given the extremely hot weather. A bucketful of beautiful smelling Basil. About 15 pounds of oranges. The juice has been welcome during this hot spell. A few longneck yellow squash every couple of days.

Preserve something: Making pesto from our Basil. Spaghetti sauce and sun-dried tomatoes. Freezing squash. Freezing Crabapples. Drying Cayenne Peppers and Jalapenos.

Cook Something New: I tried making Homemade pesto for the first time and I’m happy to say it was a huge success. We’ve used it on homemade pizza, but I plan on trying it in new recipes soon. We also made homemade ginger ale which was a big winner and will be made again.

Reduce Waste: We are being more vigilant with collecting the grey water from the laundry and using it on our front lawn. We don’t give the lawn much water (We think it’s a waste, but since we rent it has to stay), so the laundry water is managing to keep some semblance of green out there.

Learn a New Skill: I’m still working on increasing my skills at preserving food. New this week was pesto and sun-dried tomatoes. Both of these are great because we love Italian flavours in our food.