Dr Ottilie Stolte from the University of Waikato sets the scene for understanding how our households have shifted from productive to consumptive units, and how that affects us as households and as a society in general.
She suggests that neo-liberalism values have led to a shift in how households operate/live: where profit is the measure of success and the market is seen as the best way to achieve profit, there is a push for work that was traditionally outside the market economy to be made into a marketable good or service.
What this has meant is that work that doesn’t contribute to the economy is under-valued, and a lot of this is work carried out by women (and ironically, a lot of this is under-paid even when it has been made into a marketable service – care work, cleaning, and so on).
Here is a media review talking about what can happen when neo-liberalism meets feminism:
The Work-Spend Cycle
The work-and-spend cycle is a phenomenon in which people in affluent nations remain trapped in a pattern of long hours of work and increasing consumption spending that fails to generate lasting improvements in well-being and plays a major role in ecological degradation.
Dale Southerton, Encyclopedia of Consumer Culture
For example, many work long hours and so rely on childcare services, but then need to earn more money to pay for the childcare, and so end up working longer hours.
But how can we break out?
How can we reduce the amount of outsourcing we do?
Can we shift our view of the system, so that money is a means to an end, rather than an end itself?
Can we reclaim some of the jobs, and skills we have outsourced, that we now pay for? (But while reclaiming it, throwing in a bit of gender equality, so that jobs are shared – check out Çiçek Göçkün’s TED talk).
Can we borrow, share and swap more, to reduce our reliance on money exchanges for goods and services? (This post on Alternative Economies has more info.)
Eight Forms of Capital
Ethan Roland of Appleseed Permaculture puts forward the idea of 8 forms of capital, which are often inter-related and can sometimes be exchanged for each other. Working out which we are richer or poorer in can help us identify opportunities to holistically develop/build assets in a variety of different capitals, and also engage us in shifting away from the dominant paradigm that only values financial capital.
Consumption to Production
To be more productive and less consumptive we need time (and skills). Spending more time on home skills means less time to earn money. But it’s OK! Because you don’t need as much money to start with, as you are making things that you would otherwise have to purchase.
And while we are looking at living with less money, you might want to check out the book Frugal Hedonism – a guide to having fun without spending money. Our group of Permaculture Students came up with some of their own ideas and the general consensus was nature, friends, food, drinks, a little risk (fire, mild law-breaking, etc.), or combinations of several/all have the making of an excellent time with very little financial expenditure.
Some good resources for people starting on their homesteading journey are:
How to start an urban homestead – blog article about a family on an urban 1/4 acre plot. It looks at how to begin homesteading, including mind shifts that might need to take place.
Homesteading 101 – for different kinds of homesteading, including in apartments, urban areas, smaller plots, and larger plots.
Bees are a keystone species. Our food systems, environment, and life as we know it is directly dependent on bees. So keeping bees is great for the Earth. And you get honey and more! In fact, read 16 Reasons Why Beekeeping is Awesome for a comprehensive and highly convincing article about why beekeeping is amazing.
Chickens and ducks, on the other hand, offer weeding and waste management services, as well as giving eggs and making (sometimes) very loving pets.
Preservingand fermenting – Common Sense Home have a excellent guide to food preservation for beginners, including cool storage, drying/dehydrating, canning, freezing, fermenting, pickling, and preserving in salt, sugar, alcohol or oil.
Reusable pads – Anne-Marie, if you are reading this, please create a link about the reusable pads you make so that we can share and celebrate the story behind your products that look after the Earth and people. Thank you! 🙂 In the mean time, the How to Make Your Own Reusable Menstrual Pads page on WikiHow will do.
Most of the systems we rely on every day are energy intensive and require large resource inputs; whether it be our food, health, transport or other commodities. We are producing, consuming and discarding resources at an alarming rate, and our current energy generation and consumption behaviours are unsustainable. With ecological and social problems occurring on a global scale, it is important to consider alternative technology and energy options for a more sustainable future.
Energy is the ability to do work and is required or present in pretty much everything at all times. Understanding this, and understanding the different types of energy that exist can help us create energy and technology solutions to different problems and challenges we face. Doing this in a way that considers people and planet helps create technology and energy use options that are more appropriate.
Our modern societies are heavily reliant on fossil carbon energy (let’s stop calling it a fossil fuel, as that means we see it as an energy resource we want to burn), and while access to this energy has transformed our lives in previously unimaginable ways, it does pose some major concerns.
Once concern is that fossil carbons are a non-renewable energy source, and because we will not be accessible indefinitely, the lifestyles and resource use patterns we have become accustomed to are not sustainable.
Another concern is the huge environmental impacts the combustion of fossil carbons is having, because this process releases large volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change.
Humans are creative and resourceful, and we are continually developing and changing our ways of doing things. Here are some interesting things we are doing to try and address our energy and technology challenges…
Technology to harvest and store renewable energy is continuously improving. Renewable energy can be harvested on small and large scales.
This video offers an introduction to renewable energy sources:
Geoengineering ‘Solutions’ (please note the inverted commas!)
Geoengineering is the deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change.
Oxford Geoengineering Programme 2017
There are many different geoengineering techniques, which are usually divided into one of two categories:
Be familiar with the different factors that shape worldviews.
Understand the term ‘dominant social paradigm’ and its role in shaping our worldviews.
Understand the meaning and differences between ‘intrinsic value’ and ‘instrumental value’.
Be familiar with different ideas, philosophies and theories that may foster worldviews more aligned with ecological thinking, including the New Ecological Paradigm, Deep Ecology, and example of some indigenous worldviews.
Be familiar with aspects of Te Ao Māori (Māori world, culture and values), and how it can help describe and develop peoples’ relationships to nature.
Understand your personal worldview, including factors that shape its development, and values that support or create dissonance when trying to develop a way of being that has Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share at its core.
We started the day with a mihi whakatau (a less formal version of a pōwhiri) onto Te Aratiatia Marae, the Marae nestled within Fairfield College. We chose for this Marae to be the location for the workshop as the wharenui in this Marae is unique in that it is a place for the celebration of all religions and spiritualities.
What is a worldview and what are the factors that shape its development?
A worldview can be thought of as the lens that we see the world through. It is shaped by our personal, family, cultural and global experiences, and there are many different influences that develop it.
Factors that shape our worldview include:
Our ideas about higher powers in the universe. Is there a God, or multiple Gods? If there is/are no God/s, what is the ultimate authority in the universe? Is there even one, or are we all autonomous individuals?
Our ideas about the world. Where did it come from, and where is it going? Is time linear, circular, or something else?
Our ideas about humans. What is our purpose? Is there a purpose? What role do we play? Are we essentially good, bad, or neither?
Our values. How we define and determine ‘good’ and ‘bad’.
Our ideas about knowledge. How we define and determine ‘true’ and ‘false’. Science, faith, both?
The Dominant Social Paradigm, and a New Ecological Paradigm.
According to David Suzuki, the Dominant Social Paradigm (DSP – the dominant beliefs that shape the way Western societies function) is comprised of three basic beliefs:
technology will spare the planet, and all things detrimental can be resolved with continued pursuit of industrial advancement;
economic growth and prosperity will resolve any disinterest or dissatisfaction with societal problems; and
political representatives in office are there for the benefit of the people and their country, and that ultimately they, and only they, have the capability to handle policies that effect society as a whole.
One response to this has been the development of the idea of a New Ecological Paradigm (NEP), which is loosely based on three ideas:
environmental protection is possible through limitations on industrial and population growth;
planetary demise is directly correlated with human-influenced interactions with natural ecosystems and landscapes; and
humans are one, usually the major, cause of global environmental deterioration.
The NEP Scale is a set of questions that people can complete to see how far their ideas about the world align with the Dominant Social Paradigm, or the New Ecological Paradigm.
Understanding intrinsic and instrumental value of nature
Intrinsic value is the value that an entity has in itself, for what it is, or as an end.
The contrasting type of value is instrumental value. Instrumental value is the value that something has as a means to a desired or valued end. Instrumental value is always derivative on the value of something else, and it is always conditional.
It is uncontroversial that ecosystems and species possess a wide variety of instrumental values (e.g., cultural value, recreational value, medicinal value, spiritual value, transformational value, natural resource value, and ecosystem services value). What is contested is whether ecosystems and species have non-instrumental value, value as an end, or value in themselves as well (i.e., intrinsic value).
Sandler, R. (2012) Intrinsic Value, Ecology, and Conservation.
Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):4
If we think about the different values we place on people, animals, plants, and ecosystems, it is often very easy to identify their instrumental uses. It is more challenging to think about how and why we assign intrinsic value, or even the ways we might show it.
For example, plants give us food, fibres, and medicines. We use them for fuel and construction. We value the ecosystem services they provide (such as turning CO2 into oxygen for us to breathe), and the aesthetics they offer (flowers, for example, or what plants contribute to landscapes). Less often we think about their value beyond their use to us (for example, other species depend on them entirely, as well). Less frequently still, do we consider their intrinsic value… and even if we do make this acknowledgement, what are the ways we display this?
In 1973, Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess introduced the phrase “deep ecology” to environmental literature. The deep ecology movement is about recognising the intrinsic value of all living beings, and that humans are part of and inextricably linked to nature.
The Deep Ecology Platform details the key ideas on which the Deep Ecology movement is based, and the movement itself is about using this understanding to shape how we interact with our environment.
The Gaia Hypothesis
The Gaia Hypothesis was developed in the late 1960’s by Dr. James Lovelock, a British Scientist and inventor.
The Gaia hypothesis proposes that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a synergistic, self-regulating, complex system that helps to maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life on the planet. Topics of interest include how the biosphere and the evolution of life forms affect the stability of global temperature, ocean salinity, oxygen in the atmosphere, the maintenance of a hydrosphere of liquid water and other environmental variables that affect the habitability of Earth.
Ngaire Pene shared the Creation Story according to Māori mythology in the form of a guided meditation (which I cannot begin to summarise in any way that could give it justice, though here is a link that begins to explain some of the ideas within it).
The importance and significance of including this story in a discussion about ecological worldviews is because in Māori tradition, just like most indigenous cultures and belief systems, there is great focus on nature, nature-human relationships, and how humans can live within natural systems.
How different religions and spiritualities shape cultures and worldviews
Our personal religions, spiritualities, or atheism help shape our worldviews, as do the dominant and/or historical religions in the culture of our society (wherever we are in the world).
Different religions and spiritualities promote, encourage or (re)inforce different ideas, which help shape the worldview of those that follow it. When looking to understand which ideas different religions/spiritualities foster in terms of human-nature relationships, their Creation story/the-story-of-how-things-started can be a useful place to begin.
In Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), God created the world followed by humans, and put humans in a position to take charge/care of nature. This creates a hierarchy with humans above animals, plants and the rest of nature, and so sets us apart from the rest of the natural world.
Not that this is necessarily a bad idea, but this idea of separation from and dominance over nature has then become a key concept in Western culture (which has been heavily influenced by the then -and probably still- dominant religion of Christianity). Western culture has undeniably led to very destructive practices against nature, and people.
Other religions, spiritualities and faiths have a different understandings of how the world came to be, and the role of humans. They also place worth on different values and ethics. Reflecting on these differences (as well as the many shared ideas that exist) can be helpful in developing an understanding the different worldviews that exist across cultures and countries.
Of course, our individual experiences, as well as our personal interpretations of our religions and cultural norms, means that there is great diversity in worldviews even among people that share the same faith.
Reflecting on our own worldviews
Reflecting on our personal worldviews can help us make sense of our beliefs and behaviours. There are many different worldview tests available, of which my favourite is the Annik de Witt Worldview Test.
To better understand our worldview, it is helpful to think about what the different influences in our lives have been (family values and upbringing, dominant culture and religion, social norms, personal experiences, etc.).
Reflecting on our values (here is a place to start with that) means we can identify which values are important to us, and which values we express but might be creating dissonance between what we do and what we would like to do.
For example, I created these two tables for myself:
1. Some of the key concepts and values in my worldview that I feel are positive
How I currently express it
How I can increase it
Getting to know my neighbours
Refraining from judgement, and remembering people have different experiences and struggles
Practice being more patient, especially with certain friends
Through caring for friends, family, and people I meet
Be a bit kinder and more loving to myself
Doing what I can to minimise the negative environmental impacts of my life/lifestyle
Own my ‘failings’/errors more, even if it is uncomfortable
2. Some of the key concepts and values in my worldview that I feel create conflict with how I would like to be.
How it manifests in a way that creates dissonance with my ethics
How I can challenge/change this
I have to always be the best
I can focus on always doingmy best, instead of beingthe best.Security
My status/ popularity
I worry a lot about how I am perceived by others, which sometimes leads me to be somewhat deceptive in order to ‘save face’
I can let go of the idea of needing to please everyone, and be more accepting of who I am (including my shortcomings)
Passionate about beliefs
Sometimes I am unnecessarily argumentative and it ruins the conversation
I can be more accepting of the diversity in other people’s opinions and beliefs
Measures of success
I was raised in a culture that valued climbing a career ladder, earning progressively more money, and accumulating wealth
I can pursue work (paid and unpaid) that makes me happy. If I place less importance on material wealth I won’t need to buy so much, which means I don’t need that high-paying career in the first place
I shall finish this post with a video clip that amazed me when I first saw it: it challenges many aspects of our dominant cultural paradigm, and offers more positive alternatives.
A friend of mine, Briar, co-ordinates an after-school club, Kirikiriroa Explorers, which focuses on getting kids in and engaged with nature and our local community. It is pretty grassroots-y, there are several of us that help run it, we sometimes make it up as we go along (with the help of the kids), parents can pay using TimeBank credits, and it is a pretty cool little group I am happy to be quite involved with (plus it gets my daughter out and about, too).
I was the main facilitator for several weeks this term (while Briar was away) and I had a great time sussing out what we would be doing.
One week, we went on a scavenger hunt in our local (and rather stunning) botanical gardens. The next week we went to a conservation project site to plant natives, and visited a community garden. But then the third week was extra fun: we trained the kids in guerrilla gardening, and did some guerrilla planting!
What we did
First, we got everyone ready. We put on ninja, superhero, camouflage and other disguises, and thought up secret names for everyone – just in case we got caught! 😀
Next, it was important to lay down some ground rules and discuss guerrilla gardening etiquette. We stressed the importance of only using unused/underused public land. We covered which plants were suitable, and where (no non-natives in the bush, no invasive weeds, etc.). We showed them this great video covering the top 10 rules for guerrilla gardening:
Then we went out into the field. There were quite a few of us so the kids decided to split into two groups: some people were going to garden, and others were going to keep watch in case of approaching City Council Officials. They even made up code words, alert calls, and a Emergency Plan in case official-looking people looked like they were coming to tell us off (I feel I should add that while guerrilla gardening isn’t really allowed, in reality it is barely/rarely frowned upon, and in my opinion it is possibly one of the most peaceful, positive and beautiful kinds of resistance that we can engage in. Anyway, they had fun!).
We ended up planting 2 plum trees and about 10 edibles in a few of the nearby green spaces (edibles were marked with ribbons, so they don’t get mown).
Then we ‘returned to Base’ and prepared some seed bombs which they could take home and distribute in their own time (again, big focus was placed on where it is OK to throw different kinds of seed bombs).
In July, our household attempts the Plastic Free July challenge. I can’t say the whole house (comprised of myself, my daughter, my partner, and our boarder) embraces the challenge with the same level of enthusiasm or commitment, but we do try.
There are a number of variations of the challenge, with our (ahem… my) goal to be avoiding all single-use plastic. I shall say it straight away – we were not successful. It is darn hard avoiding plastic. It is sneaky and pervasive, and sometimes it seems to just take a moment of distraction for it to find its way in.
Here are some of my reflections from the challenge:
It gets easier with time. This is our third year doing it, and now that many plastic free habits (started in previous years) have become part of our everyday routine, the change required for the July challenge is not as major as before.
There are sometimes ethical compromises. I found that sometimes going for plastic free options conflicted with other ethical factors we take into consideration when purchasing. For example, we usually buy a fair trade organic coffee but it comes in packaging containing plastic. During the challenge we bought a different (non-fair trade, non-organic) brand in a glass bottle, but this is not a change we have kept up beyond the challenge because overall for this product we prefer supporting fair trade and organic over plastic-free-ness. But we find we assess each item/conflict on a case-by-case basis, because there are often multiple considerations to factor in.
Not being prepared can contribute to plastic sneaking in. A number of occasions when ‘plastic happened’ was when plans changed or I wasn’t prepared. For example: leaving the house without snacks for my daughter; not doing groceries and having to use something containing plastic that was already in the cupboard/fridge from before the challenge. Having said that, I am not one for meal plans and organisation when it comes to food, and mostly I was still successful with the plastic-free lunch boxes and snacks. And even a few take-aways!
Sometimes things are more important than the challenge. For example, I am on medication and it comes in plastic packaging. I need to take the medicine, and my health comes before the challenge. Basta. Another example is one night when my partner prepared a ‘home date night’ for us which involved a film and (plastic wrapped) popcorn: I could have rejected the popcorn and avoided the plastic, but it was more important to accept his gesture. The popcorn was delicious.
During a plastic free challenge is not a great time to get a tattoo. I did try to say I didn’t want to wrap it up, but it was company policy to cover it before I left.
Plastic-free eating seems to lead to healthier eating. By eliminating plastic, suddenly lots of packaged, more processed food is eliminated. We ended up eating a lot more fresh, simple food, with less sugar, salt and other additives. Meat might be the exception to this though, see below!
It can get you thinking outside the box. My partner eats meat but his usual choices weren’t options during the challenge. Yes, there was some compromising on the free-range front 😦 but all in all I was very impressed at what he managed to find!
So how did we actually do? Well, as our boarder and my partner we ‘less actively involved’, I didn’t rigidly monitor their plastic. My daughter and I generated this much:
Yes, there was plastic I could have avoided if I had planned better.
Yes, there was plastic I could have avoided if I had more energy/patience/will power.
Yes, there is plastic I could have avoided if I had more time.
But actually we tried really hard. We did our best at the time. And something I started telling my daughter when she started worrying about any plastic we happen to get, which I now also tell lot of people I meet who ask about ‘living sustainably/ethically’, and I even remind myself on a fairly regular basis:
We do what we can, when we can.
We can only do our best. And sometimes our best-at-that-time is super, and sometimes there is room to improve/learn 🙂
Some of the things I have found relatively easy to do in order to reduce the plastic in my life:
Purchase food in glass, paper, tin or no packaging whenever there is the option.
Not buying food that is in plastic packaging (or only buying the item occasionally).
Not using plastic wrap/Glad Wrap/cling film (beeswax wraps make good alternatives for sandwiches, for covering food I use a tea towel, and if all else fails I use baking paper).
Using a bamboo toothbrush
Using reusable items instead of disposables, for example cloth face wipes, handkerchiefs, menstrual products, and cloth nappies when my daughter was little.
Avoiding disposable items in general and especially ones that are/have plastic (straws, cotton buds, bags, cutlery, bottles, containers). For most items there are plastic-free alternatives.
Bringing my own containers, bags, coffee cup and/or refillable bottle.
Things I changed this July that I will be continuing throughout the year:
Using loose tea instead of tea bags.
Getting homemade soya milk from my colleague (in a glass bottle) whenever I can.
Making my own toothpaste.
Making my own deodorant (which has incidentally been the most effective deodorant I have ever used!).
There are some really great resources for going plastic-free. Some of my favourites are:
Food is important in our household (and indeed in almost every household in the world). I was asked to prepare workshops on sustainable food, which really got me thinking about the concept in a more structured way.
I would say I am already quite aware of the food I buy; constantly trying to find products that reflect my ethics and values, while also trying to make sure the family has a reasonably balanced diet, that food bills don’t break the bank, and that food preparation fits in with my lifestyle (full time work, full time mum, not a very creative or patient cook).
What I discovered
Through preparing for (and running) workshops about sustainable food, I came to understand that for the majority of people, price is one of the strongest deciding factor when it comes to purchasing food (also because it is very easy to compare price, as there are clear labels – other factors such as origin, ingredients, manufacture process, etc may not be as easy to compare).
Through research and running the workshops, here are some of the other factors that can be taken in to consideration when purchasing foodstuffs:
country of origin
distance travelled (affecting greenhouse gas emissions)
packaging (including volume, material source and recyclability)
production method (e.g. use of pesticides and fertilisers)
human welfare (e.g. fair trade, country of origin)