Archive for February, 2008

Everyone Talks About their Period, but Nobody Does Anything About It…

Sharon February 18th, 2008

…Except Crunchy Chicken. One of the things I like best about Crunchy’s writing is her straightforward bluntness on bodily issues. In fact, she rather puts me to shame - I was once famous for that sort of thing. When I was doing AIDS education, I used to do a “15 ways to put a condom on a banana (or a partner)” demo that managed to embarass almost everyone. But since I’ve become a staid peak oil and climate change writer, I’ve hardly even mentioned bodily fluids or the orifices from which they flow. This is a pity, and must change.

Well, Crunchy has done me one much better - she’s not only talking about menstruation, she’s making change in the world. Millions of young African women miss school because they have no menstrual supplies. Commercial makers of disposables are supplying some of them - and getting a lot of advertising credit for it, but the pads are then burnt, and the free supplies are a temporary measure, designed to create a market for disposable products many poor women and girls can ill afford. Crunchy has started a non-profit, working with aid agencies, to get women to sew or donate reusable pads to these women - and asked me if I’d help. Not only do I want to help, but I can’t say enough how much admire Crunchy’s passion - and her speed. It was less than a week before she had a project up and going.

So I strongly recommend that all of my readers read Crunchy’s posts on this matter:#2008/02/last-monday-i-posted-about-how-i-was.html and #2008/02/using-your-sewing-skills-for-good.html and visit her new website here: http://www.goods4girls.org/ and make a donation, either of your time or money. I will be.

You will also soon be able to donate through this site, but as you all know, I’m a techno-moron, and the addition of something as complex as a donation button to my blog is way, way beyond my skills. So I’m relying on a kind friend to help me.

And, as long as we’re talking bodily fluids here, may I also recommend that everyone think seriously about their own, as well as the menstrual needs of the world’s poor. Disposable menstrual products bite - they aren’t as pleasant or comfortable as the reusable ones, they cost tons more, and they add to landfill waste and used ones produce methane, an greenhouse gas with many times the warming power of carbon. While teenage girls may not yet be ready to carry around used pads (although it is perfectly possible to do so very discreetly), all us grownup women have no excuse.

You have a whole host of choices here - long lasting, very comfortable cups like the Keeper and the Diva Cup (I have a diva):http://www.gladrags.com/category/menstrual-cups, and various cloth pads that can be made: Note, the ppatterns Crunchy is using work well for ourselves too: http://www.goods4girls.org/2008/02/sewing-patterns.html or bought: http://www.moonpads.com/ or some other site - my own come from gladrags, and I’ve been very happy with them:http://www.gladrags.com/ but She Who Must Be Crunched has a list here:http://www.goods4girls.org/2008/02/how-to-donate.html.

While you are doing good in Africa, if you aren’t using reusable menstrual supplies, do good here, for us and the entire planet, and switch over.

And men, I don’t want to hear any whinging about this post. In fact, unless you are gay or celibate and never interact with women under 60, you should be reading this with some interest. Perhaps you have a daughter, a friend, a sister, or a wife who might be interested in this information. There are lots of women out there who might be nervous about doing this because they’ve been taught that menstruation is dirty or bad. It helps to have a husband or friend who deals matter of factly with your period, and who (if the relationship is intimate enough to allow for this) is gently encouraging (without pressure) to make the conversion.

And please, folks, donate to Crunchy’s project. It is such a little thing - and a huge thing - women’s education is enormously important for their political and social status, their reproductive future (education is tightly correlated with birthrates) and their economic and environmental security. It would be easy to underestimate how important this is. Fortunately, Crunchy hasn’t!

Goods for Girls

And next on the bodily fluids parade: the reusable condom, its engineering and the future of sperm (which isn’t actually a joke - I’ve written about this: http://casaubonsbook.blogspot.com/2006/09/hey-engineers.html)

Cheers,

Sharon

Pleasures

Sharon February 16th, 2008

I confess, until I started rioting, I was one of those people who liked to think in the shower. When you have four children, a shower has magic powers - it makes a cone of silence around you. It warms you when you are cold, it cools you when you are hot. And until I started paying attention to my water usage, I showered a lot - it was a self-indulgent pleasure. While we’re not actually keeping our water usage down to the 90% reduction - we can do it, but we don’t like it and we’re not in a water short place, so we’ve gone up to a more comfortable 70% - there is still the hot water to deal with.

The funny thing is that when I began to cut back to shorter and cooler and less frequent showers, I didn’t mind it that much. The only time I missed long hot showers was on the first day of my cycles, when I could remember how much pleasure I got from hot water against my back, easing my cramps. And for a while, I grumped around for a bit over the fact that I no longer took morning showers, or long hot showers at all.

And then it occurred to me that I could have my first-day-of-the-cycle shower if I wanted - I just had to shorten the other ones. So this month I did that. I skipped one extra shower a week, and shortened my other ones slightly. And a few days ago, I stood in the water in the morning, blissfully contemplating how good it felt that hot water on my back.

But it didn’t just feel good. It felt *GREAT* - all day long I felt wonderful. And it struck me that this is the payback for all the scrimping and conserving we do - the transformation of ordinary comforts into a delight.

We get this too with our small percentage of non-local food. We buy a very few non-local fruits and vegetables each week. And each week, my husband and the children choose carefully - what shall we have? One week it was mangos, and none of us have ever tasted anything so delicious as those juicy, dripping yellow fruits. This week it was avocados, and every molecule of our bowl of guacamole was scraped out and enjoyed with homemade tortilla chips. My sons discuss what special fruit they will choose next week at the coop - and what we should do with it.

But, if these pleasures are so acute, why deny yourself at all? Why not get mangos every week
if we love them so? But when I ate all the tropical fruits I wanted, I never enjoyed a mango like I do now. Would my children take so much pleasure in their selection? Would I, if we had them all the time? Experience suggests to me that we would not. The funny thing is that most of the denial isn’t a hardship - that is, the intensity of the two experiences doesn’t run in parallel. Having fewer showers isn’t awful at all, merely a mild inconvenience - but having an extra one is terrific! Occasionally limits do feel awful, and then we have to rethink “is there a way to make this better?” Usually there is - and often we can get the hardest things down to nothing more than a minor inconvenience - and one, shortly, we become used to and don’t notice at all.

Not all pleasures are diminished by frequency, but as we get accustomed to things, they no longer delight us. Thus, we must find new sources of stimulation, new delights - usually by raising the bar higher and seeking out more and more of what we look for. And more and more gets us into trouble pretty quickly - not only because we consume more and more but because there isn’t always more to be had - so we feel dissatisfied.

I know someone, who, for their child’s fifth birthday, took him and two of his friends to Disney World for the week, including a party with a favorite cartoon character. They spent thousands of dollars, and reported to me how much the child had enjoyed himself. And I have no doubt that that is true. For his fifth birthday, my son had a group of children, lunch, a homemade cake, and enough balloons for each child to have one. And he too, had a glorious birthday. It is possible that the child who went to Disney World had exponentially more pleasure, perhaps thousands of times more pleasure, but I doubt it. At the end of the day, Simon told me, “That was a great birthday.” What would he have said if we’d taken him to Disney World “That was a super-duper great birthday?” How big is the difference, if it never even occurred to you that Disney was an option (I’m not totally clear that my kids know Disney World exists yet, which is fine with me.)

I am by nature no ascetic - I like my pleasures - I like to eat, have sex, giggle with my family, be warm, be comfortable. My children are like all children - they love treats, sweets and anything special or new. If there is a difference between us and other people it is this - we try as hard as we can (with varying degrees of success) to keep the bar for happiness low. In fact, we consciously try and move it backwards as often as possible - not because we like to sacrifice, but because we enjoy the sheer intensity of the pleasures that come with it. We’re not ascetics, we’re sensualists - and the most sensual pleasures are available to you when you work at avoiding becoming jaded.

When I was a child, my mother was into healthy eating. We ate carob brownies (to this day I can’t bear the stuff) and macrobiotic stuffed peppers instead of chocolate ones and hamburger helper. I remember acutely the tragedy I felt it was when my mother informed me that I was going to remain the only one of my peers who never got to have a marshmallow fluff and peanut butter sandwich for a school lunch. But once a year, every year, my mother would tell us “Today we’re not having dinner - we’re having ice cream sundaes.” And we would go out to a local restaurant that was an early leader in the “sundae bar” phenomenon, and make the most elaborate ice cream sundaes imaginable, and my mother would never mention the green vegetables we didn’t eat, and would enjoy her own dessert with ours. I remember every single one of those moments, and remember thinking that I had the best mother in the whole world.

It was only later that I realized how much our delight in those moments depended on the reality that my mother and step-mother provided a healthy dinner with vegetables 364 days of the year, how a life where ice cream was a norm (and of course I had ice cream more than once a year ;-)) would have taken the shine out of that glorious, glorious experience.

We did it for the first time this year. One day over winter break, when it was cold and snowy, the children were told “Today ” - the kids were encourage to spend the whole day in their pajamas. No one had to go anywhere or do any chores, and dinner was all the ice cream sundae, with all the stuff you could possibly want. And the boys kept asking us, “Are we really going to have ice cream for dinner?” Yes, we really were. And we did. And it was great.

Sharon

Seize the Day - Threshold Moments and the Hope for Change

Sharon February 14th, 2008

It is common to respond to plans for radical change by stating that it is impossible to get this or that change enacted. This, of course, is manifestly wrong. We have only to look at historical events to see that it is perfectly possible, for both good and ill, to radically change circumstances in a host of ways that looked completely impossible not very long before.

The question is, how does that happen? And is it possible to imagine that we could, in fact, change things, and for example, bring about a relocalized economy, or 100 million farmers? Is that even feasible? More importantly, could it possibly happen before it has to? That is, we all know that we’d be a lot more secure if the transition to a sustainable agriculture happened a little before we were all out of food. Is that within the realm of possibility? I think so, but it requires a change in our perspective.

Now generally speaking, radical change is enacted one of two ways. The first is by revolution of one sort or another – a violent (not always warlike, but always violent), and deeply disruptive overthrow of what has gone before. In a very short time – the casting off of what has always seemed inviolable – slavery, colonialism, the divine of kings – transforms the landscape.

The problem with revolutions is that the costs are extremely high. Even a non-violent revolution means that large chunks of the existing population in power are simply cast out, and often come back to haunt you (think Cuba’s wealthy landowners, for example). Revolutions are vastly destructive, and anyone who simply isn’t ready, either adapts, or is overrun.

The other option is culture change – the gradual transition of a society from old values to new ones. It starts as a small movement, growing gradually, until ideas permeate the culture. Most of those who resist are given the chance to acclimate, and eventually come to accept, if not like, the dominant culture view. Eventually, cultural norms make it impossible even for those who espoused previous views to acknowledge them or to express them – think, for example, of the American Civil Rights movement. While racism was once a cultural norm in the US, now if you ask around, there are only about 4 people in the US who will admit to ever having expressed racist views.

The difficulty with this method is that it is far too slow for our present purposes – the major advances of the Civil Rights movement, for example, came over a period of 20 years. We simply don’t have 20 years of marching and gradually changing cultural norms.

Now it is necessarily the case that every movement contains elements of both of these – that is, the Civil Rights movement did include revolutionaries, and revolutions often begin with demonstrations. It is impossible for me to describe historical courses in any detail in a five page essay – but most such changes are dominated, either by a moment of overthrow, or by the lack of that moment.

Are those our only choices? That is, are our only options taking up arms, or marching and singing? Both might work or they might not – we may well be able to transition our culture, given enough time or enough will and anger – to a society that can adapt to the new environmental norms. But we do not have multiple decades to make such a transition. James Hansen, for example, notes that most of our environmental changes will have to come rapidly over the next decade. And because almost all our changes take some major lead time, that means that the period we have to change attitudes is very short.

As for revolution, it is simply too destructive, even were it not a bad idea for a host of other reasons. The human costs of radical, sudden transformation are resistance – lots of it. And lots of resistance means either the failure of overall goals or repressive responses that destroy what is created from the inside out.

So are there any other choices between the complete rupture of prior experience and the gradual transition to a new way of thinking? I think there is another option, but it depends upon being prepared to take hold of a moment, and claim it as your own.

The third choice is something I’m calling (for lack of a better term) “threshold moments” – those points at which history intervenes, and something that was unimaginable the day before becomes entirely possible. At those moments, it is possible to make a larger step forward than could previously have been imagined – people are poised for radical change.

Now such moments occur in two ways. The first is when events demand a particular change – for example, as in Cuba when the cutoff of oil supplies demanded a rapid fire deindustrialization of agriculture and the transition to a new economy. In this case, cause and effect are direct – that is, the systemic response to food shortages is the institutionalization of a new system. The bombing of Pearl Harbor leads to a military response and US participation in the World War. While it can never be said that there is no other response possible, the response is the logical, successful addressing of a problem

But there is another kind of threshold moment, one in which we perceive we are at a transitional moment, and at which it is possible to imagine a number of possible responses – where what matters is that the populace is poised for response – and multiple possible successful responses are possible. Here is the moment at which it is possible to advance a new agenda – and possible to override other public agendas by laying claim to that moment and advancing one’s agenda as a logical response.

The obvious example here is 9/11. If you are not American, I think it is hard to understand how desperately Americans were casting around after 9/11 for some way to make their own response match up to the radical change in their world that they experienced. And there is nothing logically contiguous with the event about, say, invading Iraq or going shopping – that is, what was most notable about 9/11 was that people were willing to make massive changes, had they been asked. They were not asked – and no one made a strong attempt to wrest the narrative of 9/11 away from the government – individuals resisted the story we were being told, but there was not a fully formed attempt, say to recast our response to 9/11 in terms of oil and energy, and to use it as a major call for renewable growth. Some attempts were made, but there weren’t enough people working together.

Such threshold moments come around fairly often in history, and are likely to come more often as we enter what has been called “interesting times.” In the last decade, we’ve had large-scale threshold moment, 9/11, and a smaller one in which some significant cultural changes might have been enacted, Hurricane Katrina.

Does that sound strange and unlikely? I think it is true that had Americans been told after 9/11, “We want you to go out and grow a victory garden and cut back on energy usage” the response would have been tremendous – it would absolutely have been possible to harness the anger and pain and frustration of those moments, and a people who desperately wanted something to do. Even after Katrina, it would have been possible for a concerted narrative that ran the pictures from the superdome over and over again saying “And if you never want this to happen again, you must…” Katrina would not have been nearly as effective as 9/11, but a great deal of change could have been made with it, regardless. And making use of the momentum of such events could have enabled us to be that much further along in the adaptation process before a moment comes at which a particular response is truly necessary.

Naomi Klein notes that this is precisely the claim of Milton Friedman’s “Shock Doctrine” which says that at a moment of crisis, you can sweep away the old and transform things utterly. Up until now, such a system has been mostly used for ill, for market reforms that are utterly destructive to our public life. But since such events will be used, it only makes sense for us to use them for good.

Moreover, as Klein points out, the Shock Doctrine’s essential message, overthrowing the past, is destructive to the ordinary people who are victims of a crisis. That is, those who live through such threshold moments in history and are directly affected by them want to cling to what they have of the past, to restore what they have lost. The Shock Doctrine model destroys, rather than reclaims the past.

Here, sustainability advocates have an enormous advantage in being able to claim the narrative from those who want to overthrow the past. Because ultimately, our propositions are always tied to the past, to previous successful responses to hard times and disaster. We are tying our propositions to what people dreamed of in suburbia, the small slice of personal eden that never was, and saying you can have that thing you once sought, as part of the promise of restoration. Those who claim that we are merely advocating a return to the past are missing the point – it is never possible to go back, but it is feasible to anchor the future in the past, to offer a narrative in which we do not have to give up what we value, but can retain it, and take it with us into a new and radically different world.

To do this, we will have to prepare and watch for the next such threshold moment. The peak oil and climate change movements were simply not organized enough 7 years ago at 9/11, and we mishandled Hurricane Katrina – there were plenty of individual attempts to tie it into climate change, but there was no unified attempt to create a single narrative account of Katrina.
If we are to imagine Relocalization and steady state economics taking over, if it is possible (and I do not say that it is, merely that we cannot fail to try), we must be absolutely prepared for the next threshold moment, and to explain how it is (and it will be, we won’t have to lie) about the oil, about the climate, and how it demands a particular response, not blowing up another country far away, but a change in us.

I have no idea when that moment will come, and neither does anyone else. It could happen tonight, and have us wake up in a changed world. Or it could leave us hanging for years, and the next such threshold we cross could be the transition into a real disaster, one in which our options are limited. But regardless, since it is always possible to fuck things up worse than necessary, sustainability advocates of every kind must be prepared to take one story and echo it back across media and blogs, to tell it and tell it, and teach others to demand a particular kind of response.

One of the things about this that is important is to remember that this doesn’t work in a linear way. That is, the process involves going along making small changes, and adding a few new recruits and tiny incremental alterations for a good long time. At first it seems like you aren’t making any progress at all – that the change is so vast that the little moves can’t get you there. But it is important to remember that you are doing the advance work for something that is likely to alter, not with a gradual building, but in a moment. That is, we’re doing what we can now, so that when the right time comes, we can do vastly more.

Kurt Cobb observed at Community Solutions that the best example of this narrative claiming is the 9/11 Truth Movement – regardless of what you think of their claims, they have been enormously effective in changing the official story about what 9/11 was. There are more of us – Paul Hawken has called the sustainability movement the largest movement on the planet, and that may well be true. There are tens of millions of people all over the world who care about this. And we have to be able to tell the story, the true story, of how climate change and peak oil have created a disaster to which we must now respond.

In the meantime, we grow our victory gardens and build our movement and educate our neighbors and plan and wait. It won’t be too long in coming. And then it will be time – to pass the word, and make our move – to try and take control of the narrative and say “This is what is needed as a response, to make us better.” And everything we do in the meantime, everything we start, every working model we create, every program we start, every change we make in our homes and neighborhoods, gets us that much more ready to seize the day.

Sharon

Thank God I’m a Country Girl! (With Apologies to John Denver)

Sharon February 13th, 2008

This was not what I was supposed to be writing today, but all I can say is that my brain is a strange, strange place sometimes. Had the radio on, caught this song, and couldn’t get it out of my head (it isn’t like I’m even a John Denver fan, but stranger things have happened) until this came out.

If you don’t know the tune, the song is available through Itunes ;-).

Thank God I’m a Country Girl! (With apologies to John Denver)

Well, I was born right here, in these suburbs
Its where I catch my rain and where I grow my herbs
Walk the kids to school, and cross at the curbs
Thank God I’m a Country Girl!

With my husband and kids we’re ridin’ on our bikes
To the farmer’s market, y’know its quite a hike
Littlest one even does it on his trike!
Thank God I’m a Country Girl!

Well, I got me a fine life, got a green plan
I’m cookin’ homegrown in my cast iron pan
I can’t do it all but I’m doing what I can!
Thank God I’m a Country Girl!

I live in an apartment on the fourteenth floor
But you can see I’m green when you open up my door
Never owned no car so my feet get kinda’ sore
Thank God I’m a Country Girl!

Well a simple kind of life never did me no harm
My community garden is my own tiny farm
Thrift shop clothes have their own kinda charm
Thank God I’m a Country Girl!

Well, I got me a fine life, I got a green plan
I’m cookin’ homegrown in my cast iron pan
I can’t do it all but I’m doing what I can
Thank God I’m a Country Girl!

Its 33 miles to the supermarket
But I’ve no need for goin’, took the car and parked it.
Huntin’ my own and the deer ain’t remarked it
Thank God I’m a Country Girl!

We gone organic when I was just a bride
Now I’m a grandma and we’re riding with the tide
Hard times a’comin’ but folks are on our side
Thank God I’m a Country Girl!

Well, I got me a fine life, I got a green plan
Cookin’ up homegrown in a cast iron pan
I can’t do it all, but I’m doing what I can!
Thank God I’m a Country Girl!

We’re just folks who remember what we’re after
We’re not seeking riches, we’re really chasin’ laughter
Those that think we’re crazy, we know they’re daft-er
Thank God I’m a Country Girl!

Country’s not just a place, it is a state of mind
There’s earth under the feet of folks of every kind
The country and the future they belong to me and mine.
THANK GOD I’M A COUNTRY GIRL!

Sharon, who will be keeping her day job ;-)

Online Food Storage Class Info

Sharon February 12th, 2008

Ok, folks, I’m putting together the online food storage class that there was so much interest in. I thought I’d offer it in four weeks, over the month of March.

There will be four components, and this class will go considerably beyond the talk I’m giving on Saturday, so you don’t need to feel bad if you live too far away to attend ;-).

-A weekly blog post, with discussion on my regular blogs. This will be open to everyone. I’ll also post some recipes from the weekly “how to eat it” section on my blog.

- A set of follow along readings. The list of readings for each week (not required for participation but helpful) will also be available on my blog to anyone who wants to participate.

- A group for registered participants to discuss food storage issues. I’ll be around to answer questions and facilitate discussion. This will also include recipes, additional materials, and suggestions.

-Help setting up an individualized food storage program based on your family, concerns and conditions.

The course will be divided into four week long sections.

Week 1: March 6 and 7: The Basics: Why store food? What kinds? How much? Where to Put it? How long to keep it? How to eat it? How to ensure a nutritious, balanced, good tasting food supply?

Week 2: March 13 and 14: Buying in bulk, finding sustainable sources, cooking with grains and legumes, adapting your diet to “store what you eat, eat what you store,” accoutrements (buckets, grain grinders, etc…), spices and seasonings, food storage on a budget.

Week 3: March 20 and 21: Food storage local - how to base your food storage on homegrown and local sources. Long term food preservation strategies, storing seeds, meat, milk and vegetables, staple produce as a grain substitute. How to eat seasonally from food storage.

Week 4: March 27 and 28: Special Circumstances, special diets, medical issues, appetite fatigue, infants and children. Community food storage ideas, and getting the idea of storing food out in your own community. Setting up your own plan and implementing it gradually.

The classes will be offered on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during March. That is, new posts will go up on Tuesday mornings on my blogs, and new discussion topics and materials on the class discussion group. I’ll be available to comment, offer help, answer questions and help set up plans during Tuesday and Wednesday each week - that way, no one has to be there at a specific time. On Thursday evenings, I’ll post the next week’s reading materials.

The cost for the class will $125 for the course, and for this first time, will be limited to 25 participants, so that everyone gets a fair share of my time. It is free to follow along on the blogs, but since this will represent a large investment of my time, and I hope to be able to offer participants help getting started and setting up their own goals, I do need to cover my costs. I don’t want to exclude anyone, however, so if you need a sliding scale, email me and we’ll talk. My goal is to make this as accessible to as many people as possible.

If you are interested in registering, email me at [email protected], and I’ll follow up with you this week, confirming registrations and sending more details. Please bear with me as I get this organized - I wasn’t expecting quite the enthusiastic response I got to my initial query, so I’m still pulling things together by the seat of my pants ;-).

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