What can I do?

In my last post I used the calendar as a prompt to write about the utility of New Years’ Resolutions and to ask whether or not the mid-point of the year might offer people a chance to assess how well they’ve been sticking with the resolutions they’d made six months ago.

With that in mind I also decided to revisit the archive of John Michael Greer’s 2006 Archdruid Report blog which ran over a decade between May, 2006 and May 2017. Here’s a direct link to it:

It was there Mr. Greer proposed ten resolutions for people interested in in adjusting to a the unfolding reality of life in the years after peak oil, in a context of declining industry, the rise of the so-called ‘service’ economy, and a brave new era of diminishing returns.

For those who have not read Mr. Greer’s original post nor my original blog post from two weeks’ ago — a list which will include just about everyone — I’ll reprint those ten fifteen year old resolutions here followed by my comments:

1. Replace your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents

When I inspected the lighting in the house we moved to in 2018, I was pleased to note that just about every light in every fixture is either a compact fluorescent or an (LED) light, the one exception being the 25 watt incandescent bulb inside our 28 year old refrigerator, and two 100 watt incandescent bulbs Ms. B. uses as her office. Is there more that I should be doing? I notice all kinds of ‘phantom’ loads drawing power from various household appliances that are ‘on’ all of the time. What might we do to limit or eliminate these?

2. Retrofit your home for energy conservation

With the exception of the house we live in now, which, built in 1994 is also the newest house we’ve ever lived in, we’ve always done something to help us conserve energy, to hang onto as much of the heat released through the burning of fossil fuels, or the using hydro electricity. Since moving here in 2018, I haven’t even peeked into the attic to see how much insulation is up there so I guess this is something I’ll be doing fairly soon.

3. Cut back on your gasoline consumption

I’ve been trying to reduce my own gasoline consumption fairly consistently since at least 2005 when we purchased a large crew-cab pickup truck from a dealer in Surrey, British Columbia.

I rationalized the purchase by convincing myself I actually needed it to help me ferry around our teenaged kids and their equipment to a variety of organized sports events and practices, as well as to haul garden soil, compost to the vegetable gardens and other stuff. It was an easy rationalization to make in those days; it seemed affordable and we had enough cash circulating through our household to afford it.

The truck has a large displacement V-8 engine. Though very powerful, gasoline consumption is as high as you might expect it to be with a large vehicle, so I’ve always taken every opportunity to leave the truck parked while seeking out other, less costly forms of transportation. As a consequence, after fifteen years’ of conservative use, the truck’s total mileage is now considered low for its age, and I believe that I’ve finally made the last of the necessary repairs to it to fix the problems I inherited when I first bought it. From here on, I’ll certainly be looking for ways to reduce gasoline consumption as well as the usual wear and tear. New and newer trucks are expensive and I want this truck to perhaps be the last I’ll ever own.

4. Plant an organic vegetable garden

Mr. Greer’a 4th resolution has been the one that I’ve been most consistent with over the years. I’ve attempted to have some form of vegetable garden going every year since the early 1990’s — with varying degrees of success, and where we live now, I’ve been particularly fortunate in having a large plot of level, mainly stone-free ground to work with. It’s across the street from our house and I’ve planted a garden there each Spring since 2018. So far, my attempts have fallen far, far short of what I would have hoped to achieve, but I keep plodding along. Garden work is arduous. It demands much in terms of physical and mental work. It doesn’t take long for idealistic notions of home-grown bounty and bumper-crops to be dashed by an array of accidents and surprises, some caused by the vagaries of the weather, the natural limitations imposed by geography and climate, or mistakes made by the gardener himself of which there have been many.

So far, 2021 has been a very challenging year in terms of garden vegetable production. Our Zone 5B climate with its short growing season, (about 125 frost free days) limits what we are reasonably able to plant grow and harvest. Extremes of hot and cold, intense sun, and desiccating wind have all had their negative effects, but for every challenge presented it has so far been possible to effect a remedy — at least for now. At this writing, the potatoes and corn are growing well, with the Winter Squash not far behind. We may also be rewarded with some tomatoes this year, provided we keep them watered, and the climbing beans are reaching for the strings we’ve installed for them to climb on. There is still time to plant and sow certain Fall crops, and I have an ace up my sleeve for the Fall, something that should effect to bump out the shoulders of our growing season by a few weeks, something I’ll aim to document in a future blog post.

5. Compost your food waste

While reflecting on John Michael Greer’s fifth suggested resolution from 2006, I astonished myself when I realized I’ve been composting food waste more or less continuously ever since the early 1990’s. In the Spring of 2020, with the active help of my son, Mr. T., I built six discrete compost bins, each one big enough to hold more than a cubic meter of garden and food waste. By adding compost to the bins and turning them regularly, and by soliciting and accepting donations of additional garden and food waste from neighbours, I’ve amassed quite a volume of decomposing material and I’ve noticed my pile of finished compost continuing to grow, which means I have more work to do: turning it back into the garden.

I designed these bins to make them labour-intensive and a good source of light, continuous exercise for me. It’s challenging and probably unwise for me to keep going during the extreme heat of the summer, but I have been able to consolidate bins sufficiently well to keep the process moving along.

I wonder: What shape or form might food waste composting take in the unique circumstances we find ourselves, particularly if we are doing it without the support of supplementary energy to move it from one place to another?

I realize I’m exceedingly fortunate to be living in a small rural village where there is not only room for me to establish multiple composting bins: I have six. Not everyone is able or wants to do this. When it comes to composting, what are the unique challenges readers of this blog face? What adjustments, if any do you want to make to the circumstances of your lives, if composting is something you want to take on? I’m not suggestion that individuals erect a 3 bin composting system on the balconies of their high-rise apartment buildings, but what are alternatives to fossil fuel dependant curb-side food-waste pickup do you imagine? Again, don’t be shy about leaving your best thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

6. Take up a handicraft

Unless writing a blog counts as a handicraft, I’m afraid that I’ve not acted on Mr. Greer’s 6th suggested resolution for post peak-oil, post-industrial activity. This is something I’ll have think about, but I am a bit apprehensive. I’m already almost 64 years’ old, too old I’m afraid to make a serious commitment to any new craft, too old to become proficient with it. I’ll think this one over to see if something presents itself to me. Your comments and suggestions are welcome too!

7. Adopt an “obsolete” technology

When I go into schools to work as a teacher on-call one obsolete technology I now realize I’m fairly good at is cursive handwriting. This wasn’t always the case. Starting in grade 1 with the uppercase letter “A” and the lower case “a” We laboriously practiced the fine-motor skills required to print neatly for most of that school year. In grade 2 we extended our skills by copy-printing long passages from the blackboard that our teacher, Mrs. Robinson, (not that Mrs. Robinson), lifted from the Old Testament. In grade 2, “Abraham” was the longest word I was obliged to print until grade 3 Only to be displaced the next year by “Nebuchadnezzar”. In grade we transitioned from printing to cursive writing practice. We also managed to escape from the Old Testament and started copying complete sentences in English. It took years’ of practice to learn how to write using a cursive script but I kept at it and eventually got quite good at it. As far as I can tell, these kinetic skills are not really taught anymore, and there isn’t really a lot of discussion about whether we should revert to learning and practicing these skills again. Will it ever be necessary, profitable, desirable or therapeutic for people to be able to write legibly and well using long-hand script? Again, leave your thoughts in a comment below.

8. Take charge of your own health care

Even in jurisdictions where publicly-funded healthcare is provided to citizens, it’s increasingly evident that there has probably been no better time for individuals to take a larger measure of personal responsibility for maintenance of their own good health. Especially now, in the middle of the second year of the SARS2 Corona Virus pandemic, hospitals are good places to avoid if at all possible. Even if a trip to the hospital is unavoidable due to accident or injury, being able to draw upon an established reserve of strength and good health can be extremely helpful in avoiding further setbacks and speeding a return to good health. What are some of the habits and behaviours that support improving health that you have made a conscious part of your life over the past while? Even if nothing springs to mind, is there anything that you’ve started to think about possibly starting or re-starting? Do share your insights in the comments section below.

9. Help build your local community

In the small village where we live a minor crisis arose a couple of weeks’ ago where a developer from the city arrived and quietly announced his plan to build a multi-storey apartment building on a footprint of land he owned. As is often the case in the chaotic urban context, his plans exceeded those permitted in the Bylaw by a couple of storeys. The project required the approval of the Village council if it was to proceed. In the city, this is a continual and routine process, and proposed developments are routinely approved through a process that very few citizens outside the municipal bureaucracy are rarely aware of. Here, even the soft approach of the developer to council was ultimately noticed by an individual property owner, a neighbour of the proposed new apartment building who raised objections to having over a dozen apartment-dwellers’ windows looking down into his formerly very private back yard.

The concerned neighbour, with the help of a very few others, took small-scale but immediate action to stop what they saw as an end-run around the limits of the existing development bylaw. The project was stopped, but it might just as easily have gone ahead if a sufficient number of citizens hadn’t taken action at the last minute.

This anecdote helps to bring Mr. Greer’s ninth suggested resolution into focus for me, and potentially, for everyone else who lives in a community, whatever the size. What does ‘helping to build local community’ look like?

I have a few ideas about what building local community might look like in the small-village context where we now live, but I’m very interested in how might answer the question, in whichever community you reside.

10. Explore your spirituality

For the Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung, writing in the late 1950’s in his essay, Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth, offers the following perspective on “the dictator State”, which is quoted verbatim below including the gender-restrictive language of those days. I offer it here not as any kind of prescription for those wanting to examine their own spirituality, but as an invitation to a certain self-reflection, however that might arise for you:

It is a fact that in a dictator State the individual is robbed of his freedom, and that we too are threatened by this political fence. Hence the question arises in all urgency: are we going to let ourselves be robbed of our individual freedom, and what can we do to stop it?

Anxiously we look round for collective measures, thereby reinforcing the very mass-mindedness w want to fight against. There is only one remedy for the levelling effect of all collective measures, and that is to emphasize and increase the value of the individual. A fundamental change of attitude (metanoia) is required, a real recognition of the whole man. This can only be the business of the individual and it must begin with the individual in order to be real.

Large political and social organizations must not be ends in themselves, but merely temporary expedients. Just as it was felt necessary in America to break up the great Trusts, so the destruction of huge organizations will eventually prove to be a necessity because, like a cancerous growth, they eat away man’s nature as soon as they become ends in themselves and attain autonomy. From that moment they grow beyond man and escape his control. He becomes their victim and is sacrificed to the madness of an idea that knows no master. All great organizations in which the individual no longer counts are exposed to this danger. There seems to be only one way of countering this threat to our lives, and that is the ‘revaluation’ of the individual. (Collected Works of C.G. Jung, vol. 10, pg. 379-380)

In future blog posts I hope to explore some of the themes identified above in more detail. In the meantime, thank you for reading all the way to the end. I encourage you to leave constructive feedback for me in the comments section, and to share your own perspective on the topics discussed.

By Paul David Steer

Wu wei the live-long day.

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