Smurfs Team Up With US Forest Service

smurfs_ooh

When I saw this ad at a bus stop I thought I had fallen into some kind of post-modern hall of mirrors. At first I could not believe that it was real. Is the Forest Service really pushing our magnificent National Forests with an ad depicting a simulated forest populated by the Belgian version of Hobbits*? How could I begin to write about this?

A look at the website reveals that the Forest Service has entered into a co-branding arrangement with Sony Pictures (who took a break from helping remove our green bike lane). According to the Hollywood Reporter Sony’s work on this campaign was done “pro bono.” Of course, they do have a Smurf movie coming out this summer. The DiscoverTheForest website explains it all:

As inhabitants of the forest, Smurfs are the perfect ambassadors for forest recreation. As these new PSAs remind us, the forest provides benefits such as clean air and fresh water, and provides children with the ability to explore, use their imaginations, discover new wildlife and engage in unstructured and adventurous play. The Smurfs’ enthusiasm for their environment hopes to inspire families to create their own forest adventure and reap the many rewards that nature has to offer.

Are we slipping into a terminal nature estrangement syndrome here? A complete break with reality? Are we so detached from the actual forest that the folks at the Forest Service would think this is a good idea?

On a completely off topic side note–can someone tell me why the Smurfs wear phrygian caps? Are they revolutionaries?

*Mrs. Homegrown would like to register her disagreement re: the hobbit/smurf comparison. Mr. Homegrown has an underdeveloped understanding of magical creature taxonomy.

My New Drug Dealer Phone

TRA_PAC_12_G_155_LG440G

I’m not a fan of cell phones. I don’t like being interrupted when I’m away from home. But good luck finding a pay phone. For that reason cell phones have become somewhat of a necessity in modern life. A few years ago a reader suggested picking up a prepaid phone. We had one for a long time and it worked great, as long as you don’t use it that much. We lost it and I  had to replace it recently. For $20 I picked up the Tracfone 440. It bears a striking resemblance to:

star-trek1

Pay as you go flip phones are used only by old dudes, drug dealers, terrorists and old dude sustainability bloggers.

For the young folks out there let me explain how the flip phone works. Say I’m at Home Depot looking for just the right drip irrigation fitting but forgot to write down how many I need. I “flip” it open and place a call to Kelly:

imagecache.w00t.com

At home she picks up the signal on our “land line”:

uhuraearpeice

There’s one hitch. The only way this type of phone works economically, is if you don’t use it much. No idle chatter. Just, “I’m in a knife fight with a bipedal lizard and got tangled up in the drip line I’m working on. Please send help:”

gorn

The payment plan puts you into the awkward position of telling friends and loved ones that their idle chatter is costing $$$. You have to train people to not call unless they are sending help or are themselves in the middle of a lizard knife fight.

“Texting” on the Tracfone 440 keypad is challenging:

morse

A group of mostly old dudes sending and receiving text messages.

How many of you have embraced a drug dealer phone? How has it worked out for you?

Climate Change and Personal Responsibility

stop waste poster

Erik and I make it a general policy not to engage in politics on this blog. Homesteading is about local and personal change foremost, after all, and it’s a big enough movement to embrace many beliefs. Also, talking politics brings out the trolls, and that’s no fun for anyone.

But.  I’ve got to bring this up. And I hope you’ll go along with me and not see this as sort of support or condemnation of any political party, nor an invitation to bash specific politicians. It is an observation about American culture as a whole.  This observation spins off of President Obama’s recent speech on climate change, and climate change is bigger than political parties, bigger than nation states.

grow-food

While I’m happy to see that we are (finally!) speaking about climate change on a national level, I noticed one striking omission from the President’s speech. He did not make any suggestion that individual Americans might want to pitch in and help mitigate this global crisis through changing their personal habits.

This despite the fact that Americans, per capita, have double the carbon footprint of our comparably well-off neighbors in Europe. Despite the fact that, according to the World Watch Institute, “The United States, with less than 5 % of the global population, uses about a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel resources—burning up nearly 25 % of the coal, 26 % of the oil, and 27 % of the world’s natural gas.”

All our President asks of us, toward the end, is that we add our voices to political discourse on the subject.

Understand this is not just a job for politicians. So I’m going to need all of you to educate your classmates, your colleagues, your parents, your friends. Tell them what’s at stake. Speak up at town halls, church groups, PTA meetings. Push back on misinformation. Speak up for the facts. Broaden the circle of those who are willing to stand up for our future.

Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth. And remind everyone who represents you at every level of government that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote. Make yourself heard on this issue.

Political action is all well and good, but as we’re always saying, change starts at home. We’re all in this together, and it’s important that we, as individuals, acknowledge the cost of our lifestyle and, if it seems appropriate to us after reflection, take action to alter that lifestyle.

Leaving personal responsibility out of the equation has a two-fold effect. First, it makes the issue abstract. It becomes someone else’s problem and someone else’s fault. Then the blame game begins. Second, it makes us feel disempowered: if the problem is all about politics and industry, it’s too big for any one person to tackle. So why try at all? And this leads to a strange brew of free-floating anxiety and denial.

canning poster

Dear readers, you know all of this. You are taking action. I shouldn’t harangue you. I’m just frustrated.

The last time that I can remember any president asking us to do something other than shop ’til we drop was Jimmy Carter, way back in 1977 when I was just a sprout:

We must face the fact that the energy shortage is permanent. There is no way we can solve it quickly. But if we all cooperate and make modest sacrifices, if we learn to live thriftily and remember the importance of helping our neighbors, then we can find ways to adjust and to make our society more efficient and our own lives more enjoyable and productive. Utility companies must promote conservation and not consumption. Oil and natural gas companies must be honest with all of us about their reserves and profits. We will find out the difference between real shortages and artificial ones. We will ask private companies to sacrifice, just as private citizens must do.

Oh Jimmy, if we’d only started conserving 40 years ago, think how much better off we’d be today.

Ah well. We should have adopted the metric system back then, too, for that matter. When did we become such pampered children? When did sacrifice become a dirty word?

world-war-2-posters-112

I’ve heard it said more than once in the climate change community that the only real chance we have of pulling our collective bacon out of the fire, i.e. limiting global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius (we’re up 1 degree as of now), will be through an international mobilization effort requiring personal sacrifice the likes of which has not been seen since WWII.

Invariably the commenters go on to say that such action is obviously impossible. Politically unfeasible. Unrealistic. And that means we’re inevitably headed for a far more dangerous–really terribly unthinkable–3 or 4 degree rise.

What I want to know is why the possibility of positive change is so easily and cynically dismissed. What’s more scary?:

 Global Catastrophe which will Curse All Life on the Planet Permanently

vs.

Riding the Bus

(or committing to local food or flying less or setting your thermostat low or buying used clothing or whatever equally scary measure you’d like to propose)

It really doesn’t seem like such a hard choice to make.

It may indeed be politically unfeasible. I’ve long stopped looking to the national level for meaningful action or leadership. But we can do a lot on a personal level. We can start a people’s revolution. A Revolution of Reasonableness.

It’s already happening. There’s been so much positive change on this front, even just in the last few years. Urban homesteading, slow food, organics, bikes, car share, DIY, all of it — it’s blossoming. It’s very hopeful.  I’m going to put the next part in italics because it’s so important: The pleasure and satisfaction that we all receive from living this way is the positive counterspell to the dark enchantment of consumer culture.

When we live this way, we become positive examples to others–and though it may not always be obvious, we do influence them. And even if the changes we make in our lifestyle are small, the accumulation of small lifestyle changes by millions of people can have a big impact on both our culture and the environment. Everybody, no matter what their means, can do something to pitch in.

vacation-at-home

What I’ve been pondering lately is how to take it to the next level, how to up the rate of change. Is it possible to engage the famously lazy, self-centered American consumer in this revolution?

Well, I think it is, because “the American consumer” is another unhelpful abstraction, if not a convenient scapegoat. Who is this selfish creature of legend? I’m an American consumer. As are all my family and neighbors. There is no us and them in this fight. We can all do more.

So what do you think? Would you be willing to mobilize and sacrifice on a World War type scale if you knew it would do real good?

I’ve been looking at WWII propaganda posters from the U.S. and Britain, noting that a lot of what they needed to do, we need to do, too.

Any artists out there want to make a new breed of propaganda posters for this cause? I think that would be a swell thing.

And remember:

ride alone

Film Industry Comprimises Safety of Cyclists

Spring-Press-Ride-11Nov21-2386

Photo: LA Streetsblog.

On Tuesday the Los Angeles City Council, under heavy pressure from the film industry, voted to remove most of the green paint from bike lanes on Spring Street. The lanes had been installed two years ago as part of a pilot project to test this type of highly visible bike lane used in other cities such as New York and Chicago. Film industry groups complained from the very beginning, claiming that the lanes screwed up their shots. The lanes, however, were popular with local businesses, the Downtown Neighborhood Council and residents. And a bike count conducted by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition showed an overall 52% increase in bike traffic on Spring Street. There was a 100% increase in women cyclists on weekdays and a 650% increase in women cyclists on the weekend.

I was a part of a group of cycling advocates who attended the City Council meeting. Before the bike lane issue came up on the agenda, we all had to endure a two hour self-congratulatory tribute to an outgoing, term-limited councilman. When the bike lane agenda item finally came up, councilman Huizar announced that the Council and film industry had reached a “compromise” and that there would be no public comment. So much for democracy.

The “compromise” consists of removing most of the green paint. Here’s the before and after:

la-me-bike-lane-paint-20130619-g

Source: LA Times.

As a pilot project, theses lanes were under evaluation by LA Department of Transportation engineers. The council, essentially, interfered with this experiment at the behest of moneyed interests. It would have been nice to see if these lanes increased safety. Now we won’t know.

After the council approved the compromise, without public comment, Councilman Tom LaBonge came up to me and asked me what I thought. I told him that I thought the council was compromising safety. He told me that the film industry is important here. I asked him if he thought a film is worth a human life. He said, “we’ll have to agree to disagree.”

Stoicism as a Toolkit for Modern Life

bust of Seneca

Lucius Annaeus Seneca ca. 4 BC – AD 65.

This is the first in a series of posts focusing on positive techniques for keeping our heads screwed on straight in troubled times. Growing food, doing stuff with your hands, drinking homebrew with friends–all these kinds of things help keep us grounded and hopeful. But sometimes you need a little more help. Maybe we’ll call these posts “When chickens aren’t enough.”

Whether the world is ending or not, it’s important to have a tool kit for dealing with stress and anxiety. Stoicism, an ancient form of philosophy which has not been too popular of late, but which did have a profound influence on Western thought, and which is refreshingly practical and straightforward, is an excellent addition to your own personal tool kit. I like it so much, I’m calling for a revival!

You might remember this Stoic flowchart below from an earlier post of ours. It’s an oversimplification, of course, but it gives you the gist:

flowchart

Wish we could credit this properly, but we got it off of Boing Boing.

I was introduced to stoicism by Nassim Taleb in his book The Black Swan (nothing to do with the movie!). Taleb says, “My idea of the modern stoic sage is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.” The stoic learns from mistakes and practices tranquility of mind in the face of chaos.

Stoicism originates with the Greek philosopher Zeno around 308 B.C., but its two most readable proponents are Romans: Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. While most contemporary academic philosophers churn out impenetrable, naval gazing prose, the stoics, in contrast, are eminently approachable. Seneca, in particular, is a great read. His Letters From a Stoic and Moral Essays Volumes I and II, are eloquent and practical guides to how to live a rewarding life. And they are a great comfort in times of distress or uncertainty.

Stoicism is often misunderstood as being a cold or glum. This is far from the case. Taleb says,

Recall that epic heroes were judged by their actions, not by the results. No matter how sophisticated our choices, how good we are at dominating the odds, randomness will have the last word…..There is nothing wrong and undignified with emotions—we are cut to have them. What is wrong is not following the heroic or, at least, the dignified path. That is what stoicism truly means. It is the attempt by man to get even with probability…..stoicism has rather little to do with the stiff-upper-lip notion that we believe it means…..The stoic is a person who combines the qualities of wisdom, upright dealing, and courage. The stoic will thus be immune from life’s gyrations as he will be superior to the wounds from some of life’s dirty tricks.

Stoicism is a philosophy not a religion and is, in my opinion, compatible with all faiths (Seneca, in particular, influenced early Christian thought) as well as being suitable for atheists and agnostics. And in some ways stoicism resembles a Western form of Buddhism.

Let’s give the last word on stoicism to Seneca himself. Whether we face a long emergency, sudden collapse or many more years of prosperity, I can think of no better guidance than the wisdom of the stoics. Seneca says,

True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.

In this age of me-centric Facebook updates, we we have a lot to learn from Seneca’s wisdom.

If you live in harmony with nature you will never be poor, if you live according  what others think, you will never be rich.

Suggested Reading
I recommend beginning with Seneca’s Letters From a Stoic-short concise essays that offer a great introduction to stoicism All of Seneca and Marcus Aurelius are available online for free, but I’m partial to the Loeb Classical Library editions. They are beautiful little books which feature the original Latin or Greek on one side and English on the other. I also recommend Seneca’s Moral Essays Volumes I and II.

Philosophy professor William Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy is also a nice introduction to the practical application of stoicism to modern life.