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Cognitive Dissonance in the Age of Cheap

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Photo by: henri ismail

“We rail against exploitation of low-paid workers in Asia as we drive twenty minutes to the Big Box to save three bucks on tube socks and a dollar on underpants. We fume over the mistreatment of animals by agribusiness but freak out at an uptick in food prices. We lecture our kids on social responsibility and then buy them toys assembled by destitute child workers on some far flung foreign shore. The Age of Cheap has raised cognitive dissonance to a societal norm.” ~ Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture

Cognitive Dissonance: A condition of conflict or anxiety resulting from inconsistency between one’s beliefs and one’s actions.

World Food Day ’09- Achieving Food Security in Times of Crisis

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Photo by: Bernat

“In the next 50 years we will need to produce as much food as has been consumed over our entire human history. That means in the working life of my children, more grain than ever produced since the Egyptians, more fish than eaten to date, more milk than from all the cows that have ever been milked on every frosty morning humankind has ever known.”

~Megan Clark – head of Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, (CSIRO).

Since 1981, World Food Day has adopted a different theme each year in order to highlight areas needed for action and provide a common focus. This year’s theme is:  

Achieving Food Security in Times of Crisis.

At a time when the global economic crisis dominates the news, the world needs to be reminded that not everyone works in offices and factories. The crisis is stalking the small-scale farms and rural areas of the world, where 70 percent of the world’s hungry live and work.

With an estimated increase of 105 million hungry people in 2009, there are now 1.02 billion malnourished people in the world, meaning that almost one sixth of all humanity is suffering from hunger.

~ Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

I’m not sure how aware most people are when it comes to food security, mostly because people in wealthy nations see food as trivial, something that is available on supermarket shelves in large quantities and resupplied on a regular basis. Unlike previous generations, most of us are no longer participants in the production of our own food. We are relying on an increasingly industrialised model of food production which leaves us with little redundancy if anything should go wrong. Personally, I can see many areas in which things could go wrong, particularly when you consider environmental degradation (water, topsoil) and increasing energy prices (oil, natural gas).

I intend to dedicate a World-Changing Wednesday post to food in the near future, but I couldn’t let World Food Day pass without mention.

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.

Home

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Brendan and I watch a lot of documentaries, but last night we watched what I consider to be the best documentary I’ve ever seen. Home takes viewers on a ride around an Earth put in dire peril by its most adaptable life form, humanity.

The shot-from-above cinematography is simply stunning. French photographer Yann Arthus-Betrand has managed to turn the most dismally wasted landscapes into abstractions of color and form. One of the disturbing discoveries of “Home” is that there is beauty to be found even in environmental devastation, if you film it from far enough away. As a photographer I found the entire movie one of the most visually beautiful productions I’ve ever seen. The cinematography is second to none.

Anyone who appreciates beautiful and stirring music will also love the soundtrack. It’s extremely emotive. The script is exceptionally well written and powerful. It is narrated by Glenn Close.

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A review from Change.org

Hopping quickly over the first four billion of the Earth’s Arcadian human-free early years, we arrive at the latter 200,000. Humans hunt and gather, discover agriculture, build cities, burn fossil fuels for energy, fill dismally dusty feedlots with corn-fattened beef cattle, over-consume resources, shatter the food chain with pesticides. They waste their minds on television, isolate themselves in suburbia, create sterile monuments to modernity, overfish the oceans, desertify the plains, deplete fresh water supplies, promote a wrongheaded “western model of development,” use up most of the oil, and refuse to own up to any of it.

And that’s just the first hour.

By the time we arrive at film’s end, where the narration exhorts us that “it’s too late to be a pessimist,” we’ve also depleted the soil, chopped down tropical forests for palm oil plantations, triggered the Sixth Great Extinction of animals and plants in the Earth’s history, hoarded wealth, built crowded megacities, left most of the swelling human population of six billion plus in poverty and environmental injustice, and tipped the climate’s delicate balance toward runaway global warming.

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Throughout the movie I had goosebumps and by the end I had tears in my eyes. Not just from the message but from the beautiful way it is portrayed. This movie is simply a masterpiece. Please set aside a quiet hour or two to watch it. You will not regret it.

This is the world we live in

I thought this short video was rather appropriate after spending a day yesterday living on the equivalent of UN World Food Fund daily rations. To be honest I didn’t find myself too hungry throughout the day, but the worst part was the cravings. I wanted sweet stuff and I desperately wanted coffee. Brendan cooking and eating some delicious smelling dinner in front of me did not help much either. Surprisingly, in the end, I couldn’t even eat all the rice. It almost became a chore. Perhaps if I tried to live on these rations for longer I would get hungry enough to get more of an appetite for it. Anyway, it was an interesting experiment for the day.

Strangely enough I felt really great this morning. I think my food intolerance’s are still at work and a day of eating bland food obviously agrees with me. I might even start doing this every so often just to give my body a break.

Living on rations for the day

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My friend George recently had an epiphany about food.

This past Sunday Frederic and I were having lunch at Boston Market. I was having this new country fried steak with cream sauce. After the first bite I realized that the cream wasn’t very creamy at all! It was runny and bland, something more suitable for a hospital cafeteria than a Boston Market. As I scarf down the first bite, I quickly take my fork and prepare a second bite this time with a healthy dose of salt for good measure. Still bland but now salty! I put my fork down and get ready for my usual “this f&*king sucks” tirade when out of the clear blue it hits me: “We are very lucky to have this.” For those who know me, yes I was just as shocked as you are reading this!

“What?” Frederic replied, most likely wondering if this was the beginning of one of my jokes.

“We are lucky to have this.” I repeated.

“What makes you say that?” he said.

“I don’t know. It just hit me. We ARE lucky to be sitting here eating this meal. How many people in the world are starving or wish they could have what I am eating now?” I said, still processing in my mind what was going on. Wondering where this sudden wave of concern and guilt was coming from.

God bless me, but if it doesn’t happen in my little universe, it doesn’t exist! I’ve lived my whole life worrying about myself and my close friends. Not once has it occurred to me that people around the world might be suffering. Sad to say, I am one of the millions of people who simply turn the other cheek. I suppose giving the occasional handout to a street person or participating in fundraisers gave me a fools confidence that I was doing my part.

George has decided that tomorrow will be the day that he will see what it’s like to live on the rations provided by the United Nations World Food Program. Being the good friend that I am I have decided to lend my support and do the same. Here’s my ration for tomorrow:

  • One and half cups of rice or flour,
  • a tablespoon of beans or lentils,
  • a spoonful of oil, and
  • a pinch of salt.

I’ll be sure to provide an update to see how we both fared.