Monday October 23rd 2017

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‘Inspiration & Solutions’ Archives

A Timely Thought

It has been over a week since my last blog posting.  Hopefully, you noticed and perhaps even lamented the omission.  So, what kept me from writing?  Did I run out of things to say?  Been traveling?  Bed-ridden with illness?

Alas, nothing so major — I just didn’t have time.  I recently started a new job so that has greatly cut into my blogging time.  On Wednesday I traveled to New York do a talk on sustainability (“The American Dream, The World’s Nightmare”) for an organization.  Most of my nights leading up to this event were spent working on adding new slides and revamping the presentation.  So, just not much time.

In our current society most of us are asset rich and time poor.  We have so much stuff in fact that the self-storage industry is one the fastest growing sectors in America.  You know the places, those little sheds that many of us rent each month to hold all the extra stuff that doesn’t fit in our current home.  This is especially ironic given the average house size has grown dramatically during the same time period while average household size has shrunk! (so bigger and bigger houses, with fewer and fewer people in those houses, and we still don’t have enough space for all our stuff)

 To pay for all this stuff Americans work longer hours than workers in just about any other industrialized country.

We work longer hours than the English, the French, and much more than the Germans and the Norwegians.  We take less vacation.  We retire later.  
The more time we spend working the worse the impact on the planet and our souls.  Why?
With rising incomes we have more and more money to buy things.  Bigger homes.  Bigger TVs.  More TVs.  Bigger and fancier cars.  Multiple cars.  More and more clothes.  More gadgets.  You know the drill.
But with all those extra hours at work we have less time for ourselves.  Less time to spend with our families.  Less time to engage with our communities.  Less time for the things that actually make us human.  We are are social beings.  Our well-being, our happiness is fundamentally rooted in our connection to others.  We are becoming more and more isolated, more individualistic, and less connected to others.   Depression rates are 10x higher than 50 years ago.  We have the highest divorce rate in the world.  We have the highest incarceration rate in the world.  Drug use is a constant problem.
To fill the void we consume more.  The buzz is nice, but it soon wears off.  That new ipod will never fill the void left by a disenfranchised family, distant friends, and no sense of belonging to community.  But we keep trying.  “Retail Therapy” anyone? 

In a sustainable world we will be asset poor but time rich.  We will work less, perhaps 20 hours a week.  Maybe 3 days a week.  With less income we will consume much less, reducing our burden on the planet.  Imagine living in a place where you now have time.  Time to really play with your children.  Time to go on a long walk.  Time to walk to the store.  Time for a bubble bath.  Time to actually cook and taste a meal.  Time to plant food and harvest it.  Time to tinker around the house.  Time to read all those books you’ve wanted to read.  Time to, gasp, re-read the same book. Time to learn to play the guitar.  Time to spend with your grandmother.  Time to improve your tennis serve (I need a lot of time for that one).  Time to nap.  Time to help your friends.  Time to volunteer.  Time to sing.  Time to dance. Time to walk the dog.  Time to write your senator.   Time to read great blog posts.  Time to write great blog posts.  Time to do, well, nothing at all.

Time to imagine the world we really want. 

It’s time to make it happen.  Work Less.  Buy Less.  Live More.

Good Deed for the Day: Fight Coal

People often ask me what they can do to create a sustainable society.  It all seems so overwhelming at times.  The issues and forces are so large what can I do as a single person?  Some days I feel that way too, but remember these wise words:

“Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can
change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead

Each week look for a new way to change your life to make the world a bit more sustainable.  Find a way to use a bit less energy.  Buy a bit less stuff.  Talk to a friend and help spread the word about what we can do.  Pick up the phone and call your senator.  Sign a petition.

With email and the internet it is easier than ever to stay connected and learn about issues and spread the word.  I have signed up with a range non-profit organizations that are fighting to make the world a better place.  Many of these organizations send out action alerts on important issues.  They often provide an easy way to send a letter to your elected official or sign a petition that will be used to persuade decision makers.

One of my favorites is Green America.  In their own words:

What Makes Green America Unique
  • We focus on economic strategies—economic action to solve social and environmental problems.
  • We mobilize people in their economic roles—as consumers, investors, workers, business leaders.
  • We empower people to take personal and collective action
  • We work on issues of social justice and environmental responsibility.  We see these issues as completely linked in the quest for a sustainable world.  It’s what we mean when we say “green.”
  • We work to stop abusive practices and to create healthy, just and sustainable practice

Their current action is on sending letters to the shareholders of Southern Company — the company that owns the largest, single most-polluting coal plant in the country.  Please follow this link to send a letter voicing your concern.  Shifting away from the burning of coal should be a national priority as the pollution from this dirty energy source kills thousands every year and the carbon dioxide produced from the combustion of coal is the driving force of global warming.

They make it super easy to allow your voice to be heard.  They write the letter for you, though you can personalize the text if you like, and with a few clicks off it goes.  Being an activist has never been easier!
Here a  few screen shots to give you an idea of what it all looks like:

Find groups that you believe in and let them help you stay informed on key issues.  Use them to expand your impact by letting our elected officials and business hear what we expect from them.  You don’t have to make a contribution to join their action alert lists.  (Of course if you believe in the work they do, by all means make a donation — that is how they survive)

At least once a week, commit to signing a petition.  Sending a letter.  Making at least one phone call.  Ask 5 of your friends to do the same.  Before you know it, we’ve got a movement going here….

“Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can
change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead

What if?

The nature of our society can often make it difficult to live a lifestyle that is in balance with nature.  We develop bad habits.  Sometimes we need a jolt to think differently about how we see the world, to imagine a different way.  Most of us are inclined to resist change.  But if we are open to revisiting our assumptions, open to trying a different way, we can often make positive discoveries about ourselves, and the world.  Here is a simple tale, from a real person on the possible.

Making Do Without the Minivan

Why do I love the high price of gas? It’s helped my family stop being so dependent on our cars.
Published Aug 9, 2008
Aug. 18-25, 2008 issue

The gas pump shuts off automatically when you hit $100, or so my sister-in-law tells me. I’m pleased to report I haven’t experienced that problem. However, I hit $66 when I partially filled my Honda Odyssey, and last month our family’s gasoline expenses were well over $400. My husband’s 2006 Ford Explorer gets 13 miles per gallon; my minivan runs at about 16 miles per gallon around town.

As transportation expenses rose, I cut back in other ways: fewer indulgences at the grocery store, not as many trips to Starbucks. We decided not to take a family vacation to Disneyland, although explaining this to our two school-age kids was less than pleasant. We’re opting instead for an in-state trip to visit relatives, assuming gas prices continue to (finally) decrease.

In spite of all this, however, I’ve got to say: I love the high cost of gas. It’s forced our family to rethink our spending habits and our carbon footprint, and we’re finding we can do much more on much less than we thought.

As a working mom with a half-time job, two kids and a busy social life, I spend a lot of time in the car. The minivan is truly our “home away from home.” In the car we eat meals, do homework, make phone calls, watch movies and even change clothes. Last year I read about a prototype “car of the future” equipped with a microwave and laundry facilities, and wondered how soon I could acquire one. Last month, however, I asked myself a different question: how could we reduce our dependence on the minivan we already own?

I challenged the kids to join me in a quest to see how long we could go between tanks of gas. They were surprisingly enthusiastic. Right away we realized that while we’ve always carpooled on the way to school, we’ve never done so on the way home. When I asked my friend if she’d like to carpool in both directions from now on, she eagerly said yes. One small step.

Next up: I told the kids I was no longer providing car rides to swim practice. Yes, I’d still take them, but from now on it would be on foot or bike. I calculated that each round trip to the pool was costing 50 cents, and we often make two to three trips per day. Although their bikes were handy and ready for use, mine was dusty, and I had lost my helmet years ago. So I borrowed an extra helmet from my husband, and off we went. Added benefits: quality time with the kids, plus a decent workout.

Once we started the challenge, there was no stopping us. Why drive downtown for dinner when we have several great restaurants less than a mile from home? When I needed a book to read last week, I almost drove to the bookstore—until I remembered that my neighbor would probably lend me some books. The dog and I took a pleasant walk down the street and came home with a splendid stack of novels.

The more success we had, the more we wanted. This was getting fun. Why drive to the gym and get on the treadmill when I could go for a run in my own neighborhood? Why drive to meet my friend for coffee on Monday when I would be near her house on Tuesday and could easily stop in to see her? Why take two cars to church when we could all ride together if we coordinated departure times a bit better?

We’re only beginning the adventure, but already the payoff has been huge. Gasoline usage for the minivan is down by 50 percent. I’ve lost nearly five pounds. The dog is happier and getting more exercise. I’m having great conversations with the kids as we walk and bike together. Perhaps best of all, life feels simpler. All along I thought my car was an essential tool for navigating my busy life; it turns out that hopping in the car every time I wanted something was making my schedule more complicated. Eliminating a few trips around town, and replacing them with a walk or run, has reduced my stress immeasurably.

Do I still need my minivan? Of course. I want to visit my grandmother 10 miles away, and I can’t carry a week’s worth of groceries on my bike. When the rainy season begins in earnest I’m sure I’ll find the car more pleasant than the bike. Still, we’re making permanent changes in our transportation habits. The high cost of gas has been nothing but good for our family.

Perrow lives in Seattle.
Find this article at

Give Earth a Hand

What do we really want?

If you like this video, consider supporting the creators.

This Story Will Put Wind in Your Sails

Creating a sustainable society will require many things. At the broadest level it will require us to stop doing those things that are killing us, and begin doing those things that will allow us to prosper for generation after generation. The burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of global warming and we need to shift away from these technologies urgently. What does that mean?

Means never building another coal plant starting today.

Means telling your elected officials to end the dozens of tax breaks and incentives still offered to the oil industry. Why are tax payers subsidizing the wealthiest corporations in the world?

Means stop driving cars. Means bringing public transportation to towns and cities all across the country. Means changing zoning laws so we can integrate our communities so we can walk or bike to school, to work, to the store, or wherever we need to go.

Means investing in renewable energy. Tax incentives for people like you and me to add solar panels to our homes. Tax breaks to encourage investors to expand the wind energy industry

A sustainable society will be powered on solar and wind and some geothermal.Sound crazy? Did you know that if we built a solar farm in Nevada that was 100 miles by 100 miles it would create enough electricity to power the entire country? You math types will think wow, but that is 10,000 square miles, that is huge. It is big, but it would only cover about 10% of the surface area of Nevada (really big desert out there). Now, no one is seriously proposing such a massive farm but it does give you a sense of perspective. Actually, if we tapped into all the solar potential found in our country, we could produce 7X all the amount of electricity we use now. Same for wind power. If we tapped into all the reasonable sites, we could produce another 7X all the power we currently use.

All those farms would be in the United States, creating American jobs. One windmill turbine has 6,000 parts. All those parts could be made in America….think of how many manufacturing jobs that would create. At the moment most of those parts are made elsewhere. Why?

I have only scratched the tip of a huge energy iceberg of options that are out there. And what are we doing as a country about this. Virtually nothing. Big oil has too much power and keeps our leaders in grid lock.

We need to transform our entire energy infrastructure. We need to change our lives and the demands we place on the planet. We need imagination and ingenuity. Our country has a wealth of both, but at the moment much of it seems to be wildly misplaced in developing credit default swaps and other soul and earth destroying ventures.

Check out the article below. It is about the potential offered by wind energy, well only in the smallest of ways. But more importantly it is a story about what we can achieve when we dare to dream and see our world in a different way. About what can happen when we simply get on with it, not aware that what we are attempting is impossible. It is one of the most inspirational stories I have read in a long time. A great way to start the weekend…

William Kamkwamba up one of his windmills
William Kamkwamba educated himself in his local library

By Jude Sheerin
BBC News

The extraordinary true story of a Malawian teenager who transformed his village by building electric windmills out of junk is the subject of a new book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.
Self-taught William Kamkwamba has been feted by climate change campaigners like Al Gore and business leaders the world over.
His against-all-odds achievements are all the more remarkable considering he was forced to quit school aged 14 because his family could no longer afford the $80-a-year (£50) fees.
When he returned to his parents’ small plot of farmland in the central Malawian village of Masitala, his future seemed limited.
But this was not another tale of African potential thwarted by poverty.
Defence against hunger
The teenager had a dream of bringing electricity and running water to his village.

William Kamkwamba and one of his windmills
Many, including my mother, thought I was going crazy – people thought I was smoking marijuana
William Kamkwamba

And he was not prepared to wait for politicians or aid groups to do it for him.
The need for action was even greater in 2002 following one of Malawi’s worst droughts, which killed thousands of people and left his family on the brink of starvation.
Unable to attend school, he kept up his education by using a local library.
Fascinated by science, his life changed one day when he picked up a tattered textbook and saw a picture of a windmill.
Mr Kamkwamba told the BBC News website: “I was very interested when I saw the windmill could make electricity and pump water.
“I thought: ‘That could be a defence against hunger. Maybe I should build one for myself’.”
When not helping his family farm maize, he plugged away at his prototype, working by the light of a paraffin lamp in the evenings.
But his ingenious project met blank looks in his community of about 200 people.
“Many, including my mother, thought I was going crazy,” he recalls. “They had never seen a windmill before.”
Neighbours were further perplexed at the youngster spending so much time scouring rubbish tips.

Al Gore
William Kamkwamba’s achievements with wind energy show what one person, with an inspired idea, can do to tackle the crisis we face
Al Gore

“People thought I was smoking marijuana,” he said. “So I told them I was only making something for juju [magic].’ Then they said: ‘Ah, I see.'”
Mr Kamkwamba, who is now 22 years old, knocked together a turbine from spare bicycle parts, a tractor fan blade and an old shock absorber, and fashioned blades from plastic pipes, flattened by being held over a fire.
“I got a few electric shocks climbing that [windmill],” says Mr Kamkwamba, ruefully recalling his months of painstaking work.
The finished product – a 5-m (16-ft) tall blue-gum-tree wood tower, swaying in the breeze over Masitala – seemed little more than a quixotic tinkerer’s folly.
But his neighbours’ mirth turned to amazement when Mr Kamkwamba scrambled up the windmill and hooked a car light bulb to the turbine.
As the blades began to spin in the breeze, the bulb flickered to life and a crowd of astonished onlookers went wild.
Soon the whiz kid’s 12-watt wonder was pumping power into his family’s mud brick compound.
‘Electric wind’
Out went the paraffin lanterns and in came light bulbs and a circuit breaker, made from nails and magnets off an old stereo speaker, and a light switch cobbled together from bicycle spokes and flip-flop rubber.
Before long, locals were queuing up to charge their mobile phones.

2002: Drought strikes; he leaves school; builds 5m windmill
2006: Daily Times writes article on him; he builds a 12m windmill
2007: Brings solar power to his village and installs solar pump
Mid-2008: Builds Green Machine windmill, pumping well water
Sep 2008: Attends inaugural African Leadership Academy class
Mid-2009: Builds replica of original 5m windmill

Mr Kamkwamba’s story was sent hurtling through the blogosphere when a reporter from the Daily Times newspaper in Blantyre wrote an article about him in November 2006.
Meanwhile, he installed a solar-powered mechanical pump, donated by well-wishers, above a borehole, adding water storage tanks and bringing the first potable water source to the entire region around his village.
He upgraded his original windmill to 48-volts and anchored it in concrete after its wooden base was chewed away by termites.
Then he built a new windmill, dubbed the Green Machine, which turned a water pump to irrigate his family’s field.
Before long, visitors were traipsing from miles around to gawp at the boy prodigy’s magetsi a mphepo – “electric wind”.
As the fame of his renewable energy projects grew, he was invited in mid-2007 to the prestigious Technology Entertainment Design conference in Arusha, Tanzania.
Cheetah generation
He recalls his excitement using a computer for the first time at the event.
“I had never seen the internet, it was amazing,” he says. “I Googled about windmills and found so much information.”
Onstage, the native Chichewa speaker recounted his story in halting English, moving hard-bitten venture capitalists and receiving a standing ovation.

Bryan Mealer (left) with William Kamkwamba
William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (left) spent a year writing the book

A glowing front-page portrait of him followed in the Wall Street Journal.
He is now on a scholarship at the elite African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Mr Kamkwamba – who has been flown to conferences around the globe to recount his life-story – has the world at his feet, but is determined to return home after his studies.
The home-grown hero aims to finish bringing power, not just to the rest of his village, but to all Malawians, only 2% of whom have electricity.
“I want to help my country and apply the knowledge I’ve learned,” he says. “I feel there’s lots of work to be done.”
Former Associated Press news agency reporter Bryan Mealer had been reporting on conflict across Africa for five years when he heard Mr Kamkwamba’s story.
The incredible tale was the kind of positive story Mealer, from New York, had long hoped to cover.
The author spent a year with Mr Kamkwamba writing The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, which has just been published in the US.
Mealer says Mr Kamkwamba represents Africa’s new “cheetah generation”, young people, energetic and technology-hungry, who are taking control of their own destiny.
“Spending a year with William writing this book reminded me why I fell in love with Africa in the first place,” says Mr Mealer, 34.
“It’s the kind of tale that resonates with every human being and reminds us of our own potential.”
Can it be long before the film rights to the triumph-over-adversity story are snapped up, and William Kamkwamba, the boy who dared to dream, finds himself on the big screen?

To Dire to Inspire?

“The American Dream – The World’s Nightmare” is a presentation I that conduct at high schools, colleges, universities, churches and at just about any venue where people are willing to come to hear me speak.  (If you would like to have me come speak before your group, or want to learn more about this presentation email me at [email protected] )
Before one presentation was about to begin someone asked me if the talk was going to be all “doom and gloom.”  I understand the question.   I get it.  Really.  There is already so much bad news in the world why would someone want to hear my presentation or read these missives?
Many of the postings on this blog, especially in the early days and weeks, may seem to fall into this category.  Lot’s of dire predictions and depressing facts.  Doesn’t seem like a recipe for success does it? (or in this case, wide readership).
And of course, if you speak to anyone who knows anything about teaching, or about social change, or about behavior modification, they will tell you that the way to get someone to take action or change a behavior in their life is to inspire them.  Create a vision of a reality that will pull them in that direction.  Fear rarely works as a motivation force.
Martin Luther King inspired a generation with his “I Have A Dream” speech.  He helped change a nation by enabling people to imagine what America could look like; by pushing the young and old alike to envision what the country could achieve; and by helping people of all walks of life to grasp how America could fulfill its founding essence and promise if it truly enfranchised people of color as equal citizens.   He helped people understand how acknowledging and codifying the rights of African Americans would, in fact, enable us all to be more truly human.
Martin Luther could leap right into the dream part because blacks in America were already living the nightmare — everyday they lived the reality of being a second class citizen.  No need to flesh that part out.
My challenge is quite different.  We are all living the dream while few seem to grasp the full horror of the nightmare that awaits us once awakened.  If I leap into the dream part now, and offer a cascade of “radical” ideas and “solutions” before you buy into the fact there is a problem, before you really begin to grasp the depth of the problem before us, you will simply find this to be the ravings of a mad man.  You will not find the courage to consider the changes we need unless you fully begin to grasp the nightmare head.
I need some time to paint the landscape, to draw the connections and peel away the façade.  Time to explore the facts, figures, and predictions that rarely see the light of day.  But for me it is not about doom and gloom.
Just the opposite, actually.
These insights are essential to allow the birth of a sustainable dream.  They hold the potential for the first step along a path with no ending.  We can only begin to create a new path by first understanding the folly, the insanity, the wretched horror of what awaits us at the end of our current path.
Then, THEN, my friends, we can delve into the nuts and bolts, the wild visions and bold proclamations.  There are solutions for every problem, issue, or predicament that I will present.  There are glorious opportunities for human prosperity, and for creating a world where we can thrive in ways only pondered in our wildest dreams.
Stay tuned, the best is yet to come….if we can just wake up in time.

Note:  This posting was inspired by a much shorter, but not dissimilar discussion found in James Gustave Speth’s book “The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability.”

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