Author: livingmyrichlife

Some thoughts on Voluntary Simplicity

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about changing the culture of consumerism. Today I want to take a step backwards from that discussion and talk a little about voluntary simplicity. I started along the path to voluntary simplicity when I finally realised that most of the stress in my life was being caused by the lifestyle I had chosen to live. Voluntary simplicity appealed to me as a philosophy because it is about making a conscious choice to downshift and simplify to create the life that fits me best.

Some people associate voluntary simplicity with frugality, but voluntary simplicity and frugality are two very different concepts. Frugality is a tool that makes the simpler lifestyle possible, but it’s not the end goal. Voluntary simplicity does not mean you have to live in poverty or practice a lifestyle of self-denial. It’s actually quite the opposite. Developing the habit of being frugal where it really counts can leave you with more discretionary money and time, plus the freedom of being able to decide what to do with both.

Despite huge gains in material wealth over the last 60 years, our society’s happiness levels have remained steady. Our culture of consumerism and materialism does not appear to be making us any happier. Constantly seeking further material wealth (i.e. needing more money to pay for more “stuff”) seems to trap people in jobs they hate and lifestyles that leave them feeling dissatisfied and unhappy.

The authors of Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough argue that this addiction to material growth causes over-consumption, “luxury fever”, consumer debt, overwork, waste and harm to the environment. These pressures lead to “psychological disorders, alienation and distress”, causing people to “self-medicate with mood-altering drugs and excessive alcohol consumption”.

Voluntary simplicity provides an alternative. It’s offers the opportunity to find balance in your life, connect with who you really are and create a lifestyle where you wake up each morning feeling a sense of fulfillment and excitement about the day ahead.

Choosing voluntary simplicity does not have to be a complete lifestyle change all at once. Making just a few small changes in your life can make a major difference.

  • Start by limiting unnecessary purchases. Determine if what you are buying is something you really need or if you a going to still want it a few years from now. Buying something on impulse or just because it’s the latest fashion trend may not be the best use of your money. Perhaps the money could be better used for something more aligned to your values.
  • Think carefully about how you are spending your time. Are you rushing around to activities or events that are meaningless to you? Frugality of time is sometimes more important than frugality of money. Start doing things that bring you joy and stop doing some of those things that cause you to feel stressed and unhappy.
  • Appreciate your family life and enjoy the people you love. Spend time with each member of your family and build strong relationships.
  • Do it yourself and become more self-reliant. Learn skills and teach yourself to fix things.
  • Make a connection with nature. Take a short walk, spend some time working in the garden, or just get outdoors and enjoy the beautiful day. You’ll be amazed how much more relaxed you’ll feel.
  • Re-think the way you shop for groceries and the foods you eat. It’s true that “you are what you eat”. Eating REAL food and avoiding preservatives and additives will help make you healthier and happier.
  • Try to find a balance between work and relaxation. Everyone needs some downtime, both physically and emotionally.

Voluntary simplicity is not a limiting lifestyle. Choosing to live consciously and deliberately will give you freedom, more quality time, more discretionary money and more appreciation and enjoyment of every aspect of your life.

Voluntary Simplicity – What is it, and why I want it.

Voluntary Simplicity, Frugality and why all this economic stuff is relevant

Photo by: {Erik}

Advertisements

Perspective

“We have not inherited the earth from our parents;
we have borrowed it from our children.”

I don’t have any children yet, but many of my good friends have recently brought a member of a new generation into the world. I guess we are of that age.

Often when I have the time, I navel-gaze and give some thought to future generations and what history might say about us and how we now live. Some days I think we are all screwed; perhaps it would be a good thing for humans to drive themselves extinct. Why would any sane society pollute drinking water, fill the oceans with plastics or pump so many toxins into the environment that they end up in breast milk?

As supposedly intelligent animals it’s hard to understand how we’ve managed to create a society where we are so far removed from nature that we as individuals can no longer feed ourselves, where few people have enough time to stay home and raise their young, where young girls die because they don’t think they measure up to society’s idea of beauty? What on Earth are we doing? Honestly, how can we hand this life to our kids and say, “This is the best we could do!”

Photo by: JohnB49

Finding our Place – Adapting in the City or Country?

Sharon Astyk wrote a very interesting post a couple of weeks ago about Reconsidering Cities. It got me to thinking about whether the right decision for us is a few acres outside a small country town or a large house block in a medium-sized city. We go back and forth on this question very regularly, so today I’d like to spend some time determining the pro’s and con’s of each option.

I apologise in advance if this is not at all interesting to anyone but me, but it’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a while. If you do happen to have some thoughts that I’ve missed, I’d appreciate if you could leave me a comment.

This thought process is part of our five-year plan. For the next five years we intend to keep working, saving money and maybe starting a family. We also intend to keep working on our self-sufficiency plans and making our vision become a reality. OK…onto the two options I can’t seem to decide upon.

1. Adapting in the City

There is really only one city I’d be interested in living in permanently when I return to Australia. Here are a few statistics to put it in perspective.

  • Population ~320,000
  • 31% of the population are aged between 20-39. Only 14% of the population are aged over 60.
  • Over 40% of the population are working in government administration and defence.
  • 68% travel to work in a car, 6% walk or cycle and 5% catch the bus.
  • Median Household income is $1400 per week.

It’s very much a government town, with much of the population well educated and well paid.

My vision for adapting in the city

We’ll be living in a small house (2-3 bedrooms) which is likely to be a post-war brick or weatherboard ex-government house. We’ll be on a block that’s about 500-600m² (5300-6500ft²) which is in the inner city area (within 7km drive of the city centre). We’ll be within walking distance of local shops, restaurants and cafes and can cycle to most places within the inner core of the city because it’s extremely bike friendly. We’ll have made our property as sustainable as possible given the climatic conditions:

  • By Australian standards, summers are hot and winters are cold (snow is rare although frosts occur 25% of the year). Good insulation is a must, as is an efficient heating source to stop us freezing in the winter.
  • We’ll add solar hot water and solar electricity panels to the roof. It’s a very sunny city, with mean daily sunshine of 7.6 hours/day and completely clear days 27% of the year.
  • The average annual rainfall is 629 mm (25 in) with an average of 108 rain days per year. Rainfall is reasonably evenly distributed throughout the year.  Unfortunately in El Nino years the region is prone to drought and bushfires. We’ll add rainwater tanks and a grey water system to the property to maximise the usage of all available water, but the lack of rainfall is a still a concern to me.

Most people require a car to live here, but the design of the city is such that small ‘townships’ have been developed to cater to residents. Each neighbourhood has at least a local store  and it wouldn’t be too difficult to ‘relocalise’ much of the population. Farmers markets and food co-ops are already up and running and bus transportation is available.

Because it’s a reasonable sized city, I imagine we’ll find plenty of like minded friends in the community and will find many opportunities to get involved with sustainable solutions to the issues of peak oil and environmental degradation. There is a fabulous weekly market where local people can sell their home-made products and home-produced food. There is plenty of culture with fantastic museums, art galleries and theatres. There are a lot of parks and recreational areas throughout the city, making it easy to get out into nature regularly. There are plenty of hiking and mountain biking trails all over the place, making it ideal for us.

Both Brendan and I will be working part-time jobs. I imagine I’ll be working in some type of government agency which deals with the environment or energy. Between us, we will probably be running a couple of home based businesses. With a population of young government workers, the disposable income in this city is likely to remain higher than what could be expected in other parts of the country. This would make this city a good place to operate small service-based businesses with low overheads.

Because of the high cost of living in this city, we’ll have to maintain an income within the real economy to pay for the mortgage, food, transport and services. We will not have a tremendous amount of free time available to become self-reliant, so we’ll be relying more on a large community over an extended area for food and services.

Pros of adapting in the city

  • Access to culture (museums, art galleries, theatres, cafes and restaurants)
  • Potentially a larger group of like minded people.
  • More options for employment. Jobs typically high paying. Better ability to run home-based businesses for income.
  • Lovely natural environment with great hiking and biking trails.
  • More opportunity to influence leaders and people to prepare for a future with less.

Cons of adapting in the city

  • Prone to drought and bushfires.
  • Vast distances to family.
  • Car dependent culture unless able to afford inner-city living.
  • Must keep working to afford the cost of living. (Rent alone would be a minimum of $500 per week for an old house)
  • Expensive housing. Median house prices in a low-priced inner-city suburb are more than 8 times the median income. Prices rose 230% last decade.

2. Adapting in the country

The town we are considering is Brendan’s childhood hometown which is located on a plateau at the top of a mountain range.

  • Population is 2643 including the outlying areas.
  • 25% of residents are over 60. Only 15 % are aged between 20-39. It is a town full of older residents as young people tend to head to the city after school.
  • 28% of the population work in agriculture, forestry & fishing.
  • 48% travel to work in a car, 19% work at home and 10% walk.
  • The median weekly household incomes is about $400-499 (compared with the state median of $800-899 per week).
  • The unemployment rate is double the state average.

My vision for adapting in the country

We’ll be living in a small home (2-3 bedrooms) which is likely to be an old weatherboard house. We’ll either be on a large block (1/4 – 3/4 acre) within walking distance of town or we’ll be on a few acres less than 10 km out of town.  If we are in town we’ll be within walking distance of local shops, schools and a couple of restaurants and cafes. We’ll have made our property as sustainable as possible given the climatic conditions:

  • Summers are mild and winters are cool and windy. The town doesn’t receive snow and frosts occur less than 10 days per year. Insulation will be important and a good wood fire will keep us warm on those cold, wet nights.  
  • The average annual rainfall is 1979 mm (78 in), making it the wettest town in the state. In a dry country, this much rain is a rarity. If we live out of town, we will not have to rely on town water at all.
  • Despite all the rain, there is still quite a bit of sun (31% of days throughout the year are clear and sunny). We’ll add solar hot water to the roof and may look to use a combination of solar and wind energy for electricity.

The local community is quite well set up and all the essentials are available for purchase in town. Some of the businesses are resupplied by traveling salesmen, which seems a quaint reference to a bygone era.  If it’s not available in town, we’d have to drive one hour to the coast or one hour inland to a small city. A local bus goes to the coast once per week for the day. The region is extremely fertile and plenty of food is being grown locally, although I’m not sure that a local food movement is up and running formally yet.

It’s a small town and much of the population is elderly. While this may be good for learning skills from our elders, I’m a bit concerned about the viability of a town with such a small proportion of young adults. This situation may change as more people become aware of the need to adapt to a changing world.  On the plus-side, the town at the bottom of the mountain has a thriving cafe and arts scene with many local people already living ‘alternate’ lifestyles. The shire is already part of the transition town movement and I can imagine that we could get involved and bring much of that activity up the mountain.

As you can imagine with all that rain and sunshine, the town is surrounded by green, rolling hills and national parks. The town itself has retained much of its original character and hasn’t suffered too badly from modern times. In fact the local bakery still uses a wood-fired oven and the Gazette is the last Australian newspaper printed by the letterpress method. Apparently it’s the last independent newspaper in Australia.

The town is currently very reliant on vehicles to bring everything in from the coast or via the inland route. Occasionally the mountain will be cut off for a week due to flooding of the waterfalls. The train line closed in 1972, but I imagine it could get back up and running under the right set of circumstances. There is still an active group of residents who are doing some fantastic work to preserve railway vehicles and the equipment of a bygone era.

Because there aren’t many options for employment in town, I imagine Brendan and I will both end up working at a variety of things such as in local businesses, working at home and volunteering in a variety of ways.

We should be able to afford to purchase our home outright and with a small income from investments, we could be financially independent to the point that we can choose the type of work we partake in. We’ll have time to grow some of our own food. We can also get involved in self-sufficiency on a community level.

Pros of adapting in the country

  • Plentiful water and food
  • Close to family
  • More affordable housing
  • More time due to financial independence
  • Beautiful location with access to National Parks, rivers and countryside
  • More opportunity to interact with the local community and make a difference on a more personal level

Cons of adapting in the country

  • Cultural activities different to what I’m used to (local theatre and blues festivals, rather than cafes and museums)
  • Elderly population. Potentially more difficult to make friends our age.
  • Employment opportunities limited.
  • Potentially cut-off from the outside world if car usage has to decline.

I just can’t decide which option is for us

I need some new perspectives. Have you chosen one over the other and regretted it or do you love how you live? What do you see the future becoming, and what would you choose if you were in our position?

Thanks for any comments you wish to provide.

Environment#3: Resource Limitations ~ Food

Photo by: Bern@t

For some background reading on related issues, try these articles first:

Environment#1: The Issue of Human Population Growth

Energy#1: What is Peak Oil

Environment#2: Resource Limitations~ Water

It’s time to start thinking about Food Security

When you think about the factors affecting food production (climate, water, arable land, fertiliser, energy) it’s easy to see how current trends in each of these areas should be making us feel a little nervous about our Food Security (or lack thereof).

Even more than other oil-driven sectors of the global economy, food production is showing signs of strain as it struggles to maintain productivity in the face of rising population, flattening oil production and the depletion of essential resources such as soil fertility and fresh water. According to figures compiled by the Earth Policy Institute, world grain consumption is starting to exceed global production. Global grain reserves have fallen to 57 days from a high of 130 days in 1986.

The production of an adequate food supply is directly dependent on ample fertile land, fresh water and energy. As the human population grows, the requirements for these resources also grow.

The Decline of Fertile Cropland

During the past 40 years nearly one-third of the world’s cropland (1.5 billion hectares) has been abandoned because of soil erosion and degradation. ~ Food, Land, Population and the U.S. Economy, Pimentel and Giampietro

At present, fertile cropland is being lost at an alarming rate. More and more of the world’s cropland has been abandoned because agricultural practices, overgrazing and deforestation have caused the land to become unproductive. This is a long term problem because it takes 500 years to form 25 mm of soil under agricultural conditions. Most replacement of eroded agricultural land is now coming from marginal and forest land.

World cropland per capita has been steadily declining and is now less than 0.23 ha per capita; and down to as little as 0.08 ha in China, the world’s most populous country. To enjoy a diverse diet similar to that of the U.S. and Europe, 0.5 ha per capita of cropland is required. With more of the world desirous of a western diet, it’s obvious that more pressure will be applied to the arable land that remains.

In addition to losses from erosion and other environmental impacts, cropland is also being converted to non-farm uses. This doesn’t just apply to developing nations. One only has to look at the housing developments here in Southern California to witness how much productive cropland is being lost to construction. The number of vehicles in the world also continues to grow, claiming even more cropland for roads, highways, and parking lots. China has recently overtaken the U.S. as the largest vehicle market in the world. If the Chinese market were to keep growing to an ownership rate of one car for every two people, the country would then have a fleet of 650 million motor vehicles, compared with only 35 million today. Since at least 0.4 hectares of land has to be paved for every 20 vehicles added to the fleet, this would require paving nearly 13.3 million hectares of land — an area equal to half the rice fields in China.

The shortage of productive cropland combined with decreasing land productivity is, in part, the cause of current food shortages and associated human malnutrition. When combined with other factors such as political unrest, economic insecurity, and unequal food distribution patterns food shortages are likely to become worse in the future.

Water shortages = Food shortages

Of all the environmental trends that are shrinking the world’s food supplies, the most immediate is water shortages. In a world where 70 percent of all water use is for irrigation, this is not a small issue.

The drilling of millions of irrigation wells has pushed water withdrawal in many countries beyond recharge rates from rainfall, leading to groundwater mining. As a result, water tables are now falling in countries that contain half the world’s people, including the big three grain producers — China, India, and the United States. ~Spiegal Online International

Fossil aquifers which are being use more and more for agricultural irrigation, are not replenishable. When they reach depletion in more arid regions, such as southwestern United States or the Middle East, it can mean the end of agriculture altogether.

In China, the water table under the North China Plain, an area that produces over half of the country’s wheat and a third of its corn, is falling fast. Overpumping has led to the drilling of the region’s non-replenishable deep aquifer, which is dropping at a rate of nearly three meters per year. A World Bank report predicted “catastrophic consequences for future generations” unless water use and supply can quickly be brought back into balance. As water tables fall and irrigation wells go dry, China may soon be importing massive quantities of grain in addition to the soybean imports which now account for nearly 70% of the country’s consumption.

The progressive worldwide depletion of aquifers is making further expansion of food production more difficult. After nearly doubling from 139 million hectares in 1961 to 276 million hectares in 2002, the world’s irrigated area abruptly stopped growing. It seems peak water has arrived.

Source

Industrialized Agriculture relies on Nitrogen-based Fertilisers

Nitrogen-based fertilisers enabled the ‘Green Revolution’ that boosted global food production in the last century, but that benefit came at a cost which we are now going to pay for.

Fossil fuels are needed for the continued production of fertilisers. As those fossil fuels become more expensive or harder-to-obtain, the ready availability of fertilisers is likely to be affected.

Natural gas is a key feedstock (up to 90 percent of the total costs) in the manufacturing of nitrogen fertilizer for which there is no practical substitute… Nitrogen fertilizer prices tend to increase when gas prices increase. ~US GAO report: “Natural Gas: Domestic Nitrogen Fertilizer Production Depends on Natural Gas Availability and Prices”

Between 1950 and 1990, the world’s farmers raised grain yield per hectare by more than two percent a year, exceeding the growth of population. Since then, yield growth has slowed such that the demand from a growing population is rapidly converging with the available food supply.

Source

Expensive Energy = Expensive Food

Here we are, supposedly recovering from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and oil is still trading at more than $80 a barrel. If and when a true recovery gets under way, that price is likely to rise even more, as I discussed in last week’s post on The Economy and Oil. This issue is critical, because our industrialised agricultural system is so reliant on cheap oil for harvesting, processing and transporting food vast distances to the store shelves.

10 kcalories of exosomatic energy are spent in the U.S. food system per calorie of food eaten by the consumer. Put another way, the (US) food system consumes ten times more energy than it provides to society in food energy. ~The Tightening Conflict: Population, Energy Use, and the Ecology of Agriculture”

Oil is a finite, natural resource and we are fast approaching the end of cheap oil. When oil is more expensive, food is more expensive too.

Source

Climate Change

Whether you believe in human-caused climate change or not, it’s clear to most people that something is up with the weather. Many agricultural regions around the world are experiencing stronger heat waves, more drought or more extreme rainfall. It’s starting to affect the harvests we are relying on to keep us all fed. Droughts aren’t good for crops, but neither are record wet spells. Extremely wet conditions in the U.S. Midwest last fall delayed harvests to the point that some 30 per cent of North Dakota’s corn remained in the fields by the time a Christmas blizzard put an end to harvest time completely.

Agriculture as it exists today was shaped by a climate system that has remained remarkably stable over farming’s 11,000-year history. Since crops were developed to maximize yields in this long-standing climate regime, climate change means agriculture will be increasingly out of sync with its natural environment.

Population Growth and Food Scarcity

And finally there’s still population growth to consider.

World food production must increase by 70 percent by 2050, to nourish a human population then likely to be 9.1 billion ~UN Food and Agriculture Organisation

It appears that crop yields are moving closer to the inherent limits of the Earth. This limit establishes the upper bounds of the earth’s human carrying capacity. The question is not whether the world grain harvest will continue to expand, but will it expand fast enough to keep pace with rapidly growing demand? If we continue down the current path it is not likely to do so, which means that food supplies will tighten further. There is a real risk that we could soon face civilization-threatening food shortages.

Geo-Political issues

It’s easy to dismiss this issue as something that will only affect poor nations, but we now live in a truly global world. There are many ways that food scarcity can become very political and start impacting our lives in ways we never imagined. Since that’s a huge topic in its own right, I might leave that topic to another week.

This post is part of my World-Changing Wednesday series. Tune in 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.

Independence Days – Loving the rain and howling wind

Photo By: The Yarn Chick @ Etsy

It’s a gloomy, rainy day and I’m loving it. Southern California gets so little rain, so when it does come I do a little rain dance and then stare out the window and watch my garden soak it all up. We usually drip irrigate the vegetables every couple of days because we are on water restrictions (not that you’d know it to look at the neighbours lawns). When we get even a little rain followed by a couple of days of lovely sun, the vegetables literally grow before our eyes.

It’s also been a great day to stay inside a get some projects done. I recently got a new crochet pattern from The Yarn Chick on Etsy so I’ve spent countless hours this weekend making hats for who knows who. I just love the act of crocheting, so I keep making hats. It’s kind of like meditation for me. Brendan is probably going to be sick of the growing pile of hats soon, so I might have to start shipping them out to anyone in a cold enough climate to make use of them.

We also spent a few hours this week cleaning out a few cabinets in the bathroom and living areas. We are on the countdown to moving back to Australia now, with 11 months to go. It’s amazing how much clutter we’ve accumulated, so we are working on gradually clearing it out in preparation for uplifting our life and moving overseas again.

Here’s my update for the week, based on my post about Independence, Self-Sufficiency and Lifestyle Planning.

Preparedness

  • My fitness regime is going really well. I’ve had no problems with motivation at all this week, so I hope that continues. I lift weights three days a week and then do intervals/light resistance training/yoga twice a week. I allow myself two rest days which I’ve been pretty flexible with. A couple of days this week I’ve just been too exhausted so I let those be my rest days. It’s worked well so far. I also walked Zoe the dog in the mornings and then rode to work and back for four days. I am already feeling the difference so I’m determined to make this a long-term change in my daily schedule.
  • Last week I wrote about preparing for an Earthquake because other than a house fire, it’s the most likely disaster to affect us where we live. Since then, Brendan and I have discussed our evacuation plans and prioritised what we would take out of the house in the event of emergency. We’ve come to the conclusion that we need to put together some dedicated emergency kits, so that will be the next thing we’ll be looking into.

Reducing Debt

Grow some food

  • This week I put in some more onion and leek seeds. We eat onion or leek in almost every meal, so it makes sense to keep growing it.

Reduce Energy Dependence

  • I rode to work four days this week, which I was happy with after my three near-misses last week. It’s already starting to get easier now that I’m back into it. My legs, heart and lungs are just that little bit stronger this week.

Plan to own some productive land

  • Sharon Astyk wrote a very interesting post this week about Reconsidering Cities. Once again it got me to thinking about whether the right decision for us is a few acres outside a small country town or a large house block in a medium-sized city. We go back and forth on this question so regularly that my head spins. I think I might dedicate a post to this soon, as I tend to think best when writing my thoughts down.

    7.0 ways you can help Haiti

    Image from: Winking Owl Studios

    Today on Unstuffed’s blog, she links to The Urban Field Guide who lists 7.0 ways you can help Haiti.

    We tried to use the texting method but for some reason it didn’t go through, so I went with option one instead…..shopping.

    If you click on Etsy and enter Haiti, many of the shops are donating all of their sales to varying relief funds. I won’t say what I bought because it’s a gift and I know the recipient reads this blog. To my mind, this was the win-win option: This purchase helps the haitian relief effort, helped the Etsy seller become known to me (I’m likely to be a repeat customer) and helps the person for whom the gift is intended. I don’t shop often, but this type of shopping even I can enjoy.

    Being prepared for an Earthquake (or any other natural disaster)

    By now, we’ve all heard about the terrible earthquake that struck Haiti this week. Living in Southern California I’m no stranger to earthquakes, but until now I’ve been very lucky to not have experienced a big one. This latest disaster has served to remind me that a similar sized quake could happen here….and I simply don’t feel like I’ve adequately prepared for the possibility.

    Scientists predict that California is due for a ‘big one’ along the San Andreas Fault system.

    But the 100-mile (160-kilometer) southern section of the fault, which runs south from San Bernardino to the east of Los Angeles and San Diego, has remained eerily quiet for nearly three centuries. Now, scientists believe, the fault is ready to rumble.

    “It is fully charged for the next big event,” said Yuri Fialko, a geophysicist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. When the event will occur, we cannot tell,” he continued. “It could be tomorrow or 20 years from now, but it appears unlikely the fault can take another few hundred years of slow strain accumulation.”

    ~ Major Earthquake Due to Hit Southern California, Study Says, National Geographic News

    Being Prepared for Natural Disaster

    The real key to surviving an earthquake and reducing risk of injury lies in planning, preparing, and practicing what we will do if it happens. While Earthquake is the most likely natural disaster I might experience in this location, the following suggestions can easily be adapted to preparing for Bushfires/Wildfires, Hurricanes/Cyclones, Floods, Tornadoes etc.

    Practice Drills

    By planning and practicing what to do if an earthquake strikes, we can learn to react automatically when the shaking begins. During an earthquake most deaths and injuries are caused by collapsing building materials and heavy falling objects. I need to learn the safe spots in each room of my home and office.  

    Last year our office undertook an earthquake drill. We all thought it was a bit of fun diving under the desk at the appointed time, but I guess it’s important to automatically know what to do if the real thing happens.

    Here’s what to practice during an earthquake drill:

    • Get under a sturdy table or desk and hold on to it.
    • If not near a table or desk, cover your face and head with your arms; and
      • stand or crouch in a strongly supported doorway OR . . .
      • brace yourself in an inside corner of the house or building.
    • Stay clear of windows or glass that could shatter or objects that could fall on you.
    • If inside, stay inside. Many people are injured at entrances of buildings by falling debris.

    Evacuation Plans

    If an earthquake occurs, we might need to evacuate the area afterwards.  We need to come up with a plan for what we would do for evacuation so we’ll be better prepared to respond quickly to signs of danger or to directions by civil authorities. Here are some suggestions:

    • Take a few minutes to discuss a home evacuation plan. Walk through each room and discuss evacuation details.
    • Plan a second way to exit each room or area, if possible. If you need special equipment, such as a rope ladder, mark where it is located.
    • Know where your emergency food, water, first aid kits, and fire extinguishers are located.
    • Know where the utility switches or valves are located so that they can be turned off, if possible.
    • Determine the location of your family’s emergency outdoor meeting place.  

    Establish Priorities

    Before an earthquake strikes, write an emergency priority list, including:

    • important items to be hand-carried out
    • items to be removed by car if available
    • things to do if time permits, such as locking doors and windows, turning off the utilities, etc.

    Write Down Important Information

    Make a list of important information and put it in a secure location. Include on your list:

    • important telephone numbers, such as police, fire, paramedics, and medical centers
    • the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of your insurance agents, including policy types and numbers
    • the telephone numbers of the electric, gas, and water companies
    • the names and telephone numbers of neighbours
    • the name and telephone number of your landlord or property manager
    • important medical information, such as allergies, regular medications, etc.
    • the vehicle identification number, year, model, and license number of your automobile, boat, RV, etc.
    • your bank’s or credit union’s telephone number, account types, and numbers
    • radio and television broadcast stations to tune to for emergency broadcast information

    Gather and Store Important Documents in a Fire-Proof Safe

    •  Birth certificates
    •  Ownership certificates (automobiles, boats, etc.)
    •  Social Security cards
    •  Insurance policies
    •  Wills
    •  Household inventory

    Emergency Supplies for Earthquake Preparedness

    Stock up now on emergency supplies that can be used after an earthquake. These supplies should include a first aid kit, survival kits for the home, automobile, and workplace, and emergency water and food. Store enough supplies to last at least three days. I’ll write another post soon with some things to consider putting in each of the kits.

    Photo by: Telstar Logistics

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

    After taking a break for the last couple of months, I think it’s high-time I get back into my World-Changing Wednesday series. Each Wednesday I plan to share my thoughts on an issue which I think will have a huge impact on how we live our lives in the years to come.

    For some background reading start here:

    Last year I discussed Peak Oil, which is simply the term used to indicate the point in time when World Oil Production reaches its peak and starts its ineviteble decline. It’s not the end of oil, simply a point in time when oil supplies are unlikely to keep up with demand, hence the end of the era of cheap oil.

    In my post on The Issue of Human Population Growth I demonstrated that the Earth’s carrying capacity has increased through the use of fossil fuels (including oil) and that without continued injections of cheap energy, the current human population is not sustainable.

    And in my post called The Debt Trap (Our Economic System is not Sustainable) I illustrated how and why debt levels have grown exponentially for the last half century and how the perpetual growth of our monetary system is not possible in a world of finite resources.

    Once you understand those concepts, let’s go a bit further.

    We are living in a time of exponential growth in population, in debt and in oil consumption. We can also make a very strong case that both population and our monetary system are utterly dependent on the continued expansion of oil energy. In a finite world, this becomes problematic.

    Source

    What will happen when oil production begins to decline. What will happen to our exponential, debt-based money system during this period? Is it even possible for it to work in a world without constant growth?

    There are plenty of smart people out there who think that the financial instability we are now experiencing is due at least in part to the early stages of this process.

    Oil and the Economy

    Oil is essential to the economy because it’s required for food production, transportation and the manufacturing of almost every commonly used item in our industrialised society. Because of our absolute reliance on the availability of cheap energy, it’s easy to see how a lack of oil might have an adverse impact on the economy.

    Dave Murphy of The Oil Drum shows that when the price of oil goes much above $80 or $85 per barrel in inflation adjusted terms, the economy tends to go into recession. As oil prices once again approach this critical range it will be interesting to see whether it’s enough to tip the economy into what some pundits are calling a ‘double-dip recession’.

    Source

    This observation becomes particularly relevant when we consider that much of the oil that remains is what we call “difficult oil”, meaning that it is expensive to extract. If producing oil at more than $80-85 per barrel has been enough to throw the economy into recessions in the past, then surely a future of much high energy prices will result in a massive predicament if we wanted to continue to run the economy as we now know it.

    Another way to look at the link between oil and the economy is in the following figure from Dave Cohen of ASPO-USA.  This figure shows that growth in global GDP seems to be highly correlated with growth in global oil consumption. This means that if oil production actually starts declining permanently, the world economy as we know it is likely to begin declining permanently as well.

    Source

    Operating the current monetary system in a world of declining energy

    Operating in a world of declining energy is an utterly new prospect for every single political and financial institution. Our current monetary system relies on the very basic assumption that ‘the future will be exponentially bigger than the present’. What if this assumption is incorrect? What are we to expect in the future from a monetary system so reliant on continued growth when this growth becomes impossible?

    What we know

    • Surplus energy has been responsible for all the growth and complexity in our industrialised society.
    • Availability of surplus energy is shrinking.
    • The age of cheap oil is all but over.
    • Oil costs will begin to consume an ever-greater proportion of our total budget.

    Here are the Risks

    • There is the risk that our exponential money system will cease to operate in a world of declining energy surplus. It might simply not be suited to the task.
    • There is the risk that our society will be forced to become less complex.
    • There is the risk that even as oil winds down, the momentum of the money system will create conditions ripe for much economic hardship.

    Some Predictions

    • The status quo economy will be preserved at all costs. Politicians will hide the truth, economic statistics will become even fuzzier, and central banks will continue to throw more and more money at a system that, at its core, is out of tune with reality.
    • Economic pain (hyperinflation, dollar-devaluation or collapse) will result. With western governments stimulating economies all over the world we can reasonably conclude that the future will be filled with ever more dollars. At the same time, declining surplus energy will assure that there are fewer goods floating around. Together, these spell inflation.
    • A logical conclusion from the previous two predictions is that standards of living will decline. (note: even as ones standard of living declines, one’s quality of life can go up!)

    While I’m not suggesting these scenarios are going to happen this year or next, I do think these issues are likely to play out over the next couple of decades. On a larger scale, we need to come up with an economic system which is more in tune with the limitations of Earth’s resources and which does away with the need for constant growth. However on a personal level, we now have the time and opportunity  to adapt to a future of less. If done in a deliberate, voluntary manner we can embrace a lifestyle of less ‘stuff’ which is filled with a more meaningful, joyful experiences. We must not fall into the trap of squandering precious time and remaining energy in a desperate, certainly foolish, and possibly, an ultimately unpleasant bid to preserve the status quo.

    Learn more:

    Exponential Money in a Finite World by Chris Martenson

    Photo by: bitzcelt

    Farewell My Subaru – A Book Review

    Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living by Doug Fine

    In this memoir of mishaps and lessons learned, Fine shares his yearlong trek to turn his newly bought New Mexico ranch into a green and sustainable environment with as little carbon fuel as possible. From using two very lovable goats for his organic food production to transitioning into a biofuel engine for his truck and even installing solar panels, Fine balances the troubling decisions Americans must consider while also revealing a host of unexpected benefits. He advocates that a gradual process, despite having to deal with moments of hypocrisy, is essential for it to work. Fine’s wry narration blends well with his often humorous and sarcastic tone. The energy and enthusiasm of his reading indicates that Fine not only relished the events but is happy to share his experience with listeners. ~ Publishers Weekly

    At only 224 pages this was a a quick and enjoyable read, just perfect for some vacation down time. Even Brendan who never was much of a reader knocked this one over quite quickly with a few chuckles along the way. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and came away more inspired than ever to get my little piece of land somewhere and make a go of living more locally. The message throughout is that we need to take steps, however small, to move to a more sustainable lifestyle. We can’t avoid being hypocrites at some point along our journey, but as long as we are moving in the right direction it’s better than doing nothing at all. I also really enjoyed reading about the journey from a guy’s point of view (as did Brendan). I highly recommend this book (8/10) and had added it to my list of books in the blog’s resource section.

    Who’d have thought line drying clothing was such a subversive act?

    Photo by: alexkess

    In Australia, drying your clothing outdoors on a clothesline known as a Hills Hoist (pictured above) is an institution, an undeniable right and so much of an Aussie icon that the Hills Hoist was featured in the opening ceremony for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Nearly every house, no matter how small the yard, has one and they are so commonplace that the local wildlife (such as this kookaburra) use them regularly as a perch.

    One thing I admit to finding really strange about living in the USA is how much debate there is over the right to line-dry your clothing. We haven’t had a problem since we erected our own line across the back of our rental property, but I’ve read that in other parts of the US, it’s a real issue.

    There is a big movement afoot to “legalize” the line drying of your laundry. Shamefully, it is actually illegal in many places around the U.S. to hang your clothes out to dry. Some people complain that it lowers their property value or it makes them feel as though they live in a ghetto because they occasionally see a few t-shirts blowing in the wind. To those people I say – you need to reassess your priorities or take up a new hobby. ~ The Good Human

    According to Project Laundry list about 5.8 percent of residential electricity use in the USA goes towards the clothes dryer. If everyone used the clothesline or wooden drying racks, the savings would be enough to close several power plants.

    There are plenty of good reasons to air-dry your clothes.

    1. It saves money.

    This is the obvious one. Dryers use up a lot of electricity — almost more than any other household appliance. We really notice the difference when we look at the electricity bill during the months our house-sitter was using the dryer versus the months that we are home and using our clothesline.

    2. It saves your clothes.

    Dryers might make your clothes feel softer, but they also weaken the fabric’s fibers faster than if they had been air-dried. All that lint you find in the dryer is caused by the fabric slowly wearing off your clothes. Clothing doesn’t shrink when hung outside versus forced to dry in a heated tumbler. Using the dryer less will save you money on replacement clothes.

    3. It uses less chemicals.

    The sun is a natural whitener, so there is no need to use bleach. I also understand that people use dryer sheets to stop static cling. You might be shocked by the list of carcinogens found in these innocent looking items.