Thursday, 20 June 2013

600 Things

The UN Refugee Agency is promoting it’s World Refugee Day with an image of Magbola Alhadi a mother of three who fled her village with only a cooking pot. They ask us, if you had one minute what would you take from your home? I have everything important packed up in a travel bag, photos, birth certificates, my sons first  drawings, a lock of his hair, the truly precious things, and my laptop of course. But the last few weeks I’ve been contemplating not what I would take but what I would keep. If I could have only 600 things, what would they be?

Paul Hawkins provided the forward for, Hooked, Buddhist writings on greed, desire, and the urge to consume. In it he wrote of a friend, a reformed big banker who has attempted to curb excess in his life by having only 600 things. It means counting every last teaspoon.  If someone gives him a present or he buys something new he has to give away something in order to remain at 600 things.

Once I start counting things I realise if I wish to remain clothed I may need to convert my loaded bookshelves into a slim electronic device, of which only one could hold thousands of books. But I’m not sure I can do that.   I wonder if a pair of socks counts for 1 thing, or 2? I decide it’s a definite 1.
If in my car I have a spare tyre does  that make it one thing or two? I decide it is one thing. The car, complete with its road maps is one thing. Though my glovebox stuffed full of old sunglasses will need to be cleaned out.

I like the zen of it. Paul describes his friend’s house as if it is a small temple, “every object has meaning: nothing is retained unnecessarily.”

But there are three of us, not counting the dog. Does that mean we can have concessions? 600 things each? No, that would be wrong.  My son would then have license for 600 things excluding fridges, pots and pans etc believing they are the sole responsibility of those that put the food on them and give him scope to continue to consume at a far greater rate. Perhaps as a family we could say we have 400 combined things and then 200 additional personal items bringing the total to 1000.  I start counting pairs of jeans unworn for the past three years while I wait for a thigh thinning miracle.

Teaspoons? How did we accumulate so many?  I have a collection of old bottles retrieved from the property where the pigs rooted them out of what must have once been a dump. Do they count? Do the rocks I found at the beach, the dried flowered head of a romanesco broccoli  which hangs in the laundry looking artful against the white limewashed wall? I decide nothing in the garden counts. I have 600 recycled plastic garden pots alone. No this will need to be carried out under the auspice of roofs.

Suddenly everything I touch becomes a loaded question. We preserve our food, we have 300 Vacola jars, this is our food system, do I have to include these? I doubt Paul’s friend did more than eat out and dine in. It seems unfair to have to include our preserving system that is designed to avoid waste and lower our consumption of highly packaged and processed supermarket food.  Then there is every glass jar that ever entered the house, sitting washed and boxed ready for summer jams and chutneys. Can I bear to part from them?   I start looking at the dog sideways, does his collar bring his count to 2, what about his food bowl, his water bucket? My  proliferation of op shop teapots, all my tired pairs of undies, the balls of saved rubberbands, the things I collect for the day the world may suddenly end and I’m left bereft of tampons or boxes of matches.

I’ve always thought my life quite a spare thing, but then I look into the tool shed and despite deciding a box of 1000 nails counts only as one, there’s enough in there to more than double our 600 each concessions.  Trev’s pile of saved scrap metal is anti-consumerist in nature. One day that odd conglomeration of metals will come in handy – obviously. I avoid looking at his vintage collection of AM radios from the '50's. I decide to back out slowly and exclude the tool shed from my configurations. I doubt Paul’s friend built his own house, or needs to repair fence lines, use a chainsaw or welds his own garden tools. But now it all seems like poppycock.

Back in the house I stare at the light fittings, are they separate to the house, or part of of it? I decide they are part of it. My box of tax records for the previous 8 years, should I toss them? The urge is strong, but they remain taking up far too much room on the top shelf.  I start counting teaspoons.  I emerge from the spare parts cupboard draped in long lost cables for phones long deceased and recall the time someone  left their charger on a bus only to have extricated a spare to great hoots of amazement, a rabbit from a hat.  It dawns on me that I’m a hoarder. Every paper bag we’ve bought pepitas or sunflowers in are collected and folded, any plastic bag that actually manages to get through the door is washed, dried and saved for a multitude of repeated uses. I make our own soap, 100 bars of it are curing in an aniseed infused cupboard. This is, clearly, not going to work.

I decide to have a thorough clean of the house. I will give away anything that is clearly extraneous to needs. Hone down on my hoarding, and then, regardless of numbers, I will cap it. Anything new entering the house will need to be resolved with one removal.  If I get to the point that there is not one thing more I can bear to give away, then it will hopefully create the dynamic where the new thing is  considered superfluous anyway.  Now, the big challenge. Enlisting Trev and Caleb, oh the kicking and screaming...


A great article on disgreenimation.

It's one of my pet hates. When greenie puritans make being green a competition. I had a rave about it a while back in my 10 Myths about Sustainability too.  I think it was myth 9.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Optimism for a Change!

I have a pile of books by the bedside that I've especially selected in alternate order, dismal and depressing followed by upbeat and optimistic to try give my psyche a chance to recover from 'The Most Dangerous Animal' and other assorted trials by guilt and disillusion.  

First up is Kwame Anthony Appiah a Ghanian philosopher who lives in America. The Honor Code, How Moral Revolutions Happen, is not, to be honest, the most entertaining of reads. What could have been a fascinating book ended up being a perseverance test, albeit a test well worth it. In 1800's Wilberforce was attempting to eliminate slavery in the West Indies sugar trade. According to him time spent appealing to lower class citizens was never wasted as "more than 9 out of 10 families would cheerfully adopt the resolution." (to not consume West Indian sugar.) It was thought to be a result of the 'humbler classes' being able to identify with issues of slavery.   Wilberforce states in capitals, 'SLAVERY COULD NOT LAST A YEAR IF THE MIDDLE CLASSES ONCE EXPRESSED A DECIDED OPINION AGAINST IT'.

I read that and think, if only we can get enough people to stand up and say, 'Enough!' we could even end slavery all over again (there are 27 million people in the world currently being used as slaves, more than at any other time in history, despite it being illegal in every country. Wilberforce would be dismayed. )

Kwame covered historical precedents for change in cultural practices such as footbinding, duelling and slavery and looked at how they became unacceptable.  Very briefly, it's a process of shaming, different in each context, it may be other countries call your practice barbaric (footbinding), which helps, but also a change in the honour system. When lower classes also began to bind their daughters feet the practice was tarnished for the upper classes, who no longer saw the practice as being exclusive to them, and they dropped it. Within a decade or so of a practice that had existed for over 1000 years it had dissipated by 94%.

I wonder how this applies to the environment and our current capitalist culture... do we mock and embarrass poor practice? Bring shame on it? but also build up a new honour code. I'm all for positive reinforcement, so I played around with creating the image above and set it free on Facebook. Not sure if it went anywhere. But as a result of reading the book I often think about how to use these kinds of techniques to shape change. 

Mark Stevenson's book, An Optimist's Tour of the Future was entertainingly written, but after the first two chapters I had difficulty not using it to prop up the leg of a table, or violently stuff cushions with it. The themes were of human evolution of the engineered kind, things like transhumanism, where with technology we bio-engineer humans to live forever. The supposedly logical next step; consider the example provided.

In the past you were deaf, so you used a hearing trumpet, then hearing aides, then cochlear implants. Obviously now we should be going further and regenerating or regrowing our own tissues and even going further in bio-evolving humans so we are better than we were originally designed. 

My anger stemmed from a number of sources, 1. We already have a major population problem and we want to make people live for thousands of years? Doh! 2. The inequality, we still have around 30,000 children dying every day of starvation and disease. 1 child every 45 seconds dies from diarrhea or dysentery. Wouldn't our time be better spent reducing the inequity between average life spans, rather than dramatically increasing the life spans of a select few?   It bought to mind some mindless lifestyle show I saw on Australian TV years ago where a middle aged wealthy woman was discussing the wonders of having a reconstructed vagina so she could enjoy sex more. It was ludicrously expensive and could have saved thousands of lives. I hope she thinks her .... was worth it. Grrr!

In an advanced state of grumpy I skimmed through chapters making disparaging noises till I came to the environmental section and was rewarded. 

I read through the third of the book in which I raced around the world with the author looking at what people are doing to reduce our impact, create alternatives and potentially a vision for a viable future. From an underwater cabinet meeting in the Maldives, to the Zippy Bling and Black Phantom in New Zealand (where incidentally he met up with a heap of very nice people - of course.) To the outback of Australia where farmers were utilizing a grazing method that was substantially increasing their profit margins while radically increasing soil carbon levels (I attended a workshop on this a while back and we're going to implement a similar strategy on our block).  I met, vicariously, Klaus Lackner and his artificial trees that could, with funding and resources, reduce CO2 levels to pre-industrial levels, and nano technology and solar cells, algae fuel...

It seemed as though these incredibly hard working people were able to see a better future than I can in my current state of solastalgia, and for once I closed the book feeling like maybe we do have a chance.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Dead Planet Cake

Got a bit of a theme going here. This is an animation I created for an RMIT Uni unit on Flash. I had lots of fun (and frustration) making this. It certainly made me appreciate the painful process of creating animations.

This is only three or so minutes long and it took me weeks to create. Hope you enjoy it. Trev and I do the voice overs. No, it's not our normal accents :-)  I love it when Trev's character mentions his andromodicular ulcer.

I managed to swing it for a HD on this one.  I'm trying to keep my sense of humour as the ship goes down.

You'll need flashplayer to view the cartoon.