Tag Archives: sustainability

Community and Sustainability

feast.jpgI have been trying to figure out how to build community within our self-centered, capitalistic, system. It doesn’t seem like the two go hand-in-hand. I remember I tried to set up a community freelance site for writers and it flopped before I got it done. I think it didn’t work because people don’t want to have to work without cash to get a community system up – they expect to be paid for it. I also tried to set up a community website at a non-profit, and again, the community refused to step up to the plate. People say they are going to be involved but then the majority find ways to excuse themselves from being involved in a community project. It takes up too much of their time and they are simply too busy unless it has a dollar attached to it. But, then, places like Craigslist and Wikipedia are able to set up communities without paying people, however, not eveyone makes a profit either. So, how would you set up a community that is sustainable without engaging in overt greed and profit mongering?

Church Communities

I’ve noticed church communities are great for building sustainable communities, but the wealth is really not spread across its membership. If you give to the church, they take that money and use it to pay their staff and the buildings. Extra doesn’t go back to the membership. Yet, many volunteers donate lots of time to run a church and they don’t get paid for their services. However, we all need to survive in a capitalistic economy, so why aren’t they compensated if they need their services so much? There should be other ways besides money to compensate volunteers. If we are engaged in a capitalistic system, it doesn’t seem fair then to engage free labor. I think it’s this mentality that volunteers are free labor that is killing non-profits. There is a conflict between our economic environment and the needs of the volunteers. It’s hardly a sustainable community if the membership isn’t being supported materially as well as spiritually.

Tribal Communities

When you look at how some of the older tribal communities worked, things were a bit more even and co-operative. If one person had too much wealth, they were expected to share that wealth with others in their village by hosting feasts. It was a privilege to be asked to host a feast because people recognized that you were in God’s favor and had wealth to spare. It also provided a great deal of unity within a village and helped those who were less well off. This type of community isn’t just about supporting a structure or a building, but about taking care of all the villager’s needs. There was some sense of social responsibility that, to put it bluntly, we just don’t have in the United States. Everyone is in it for themselves. Is it a difference in culture or is it just our own self-centeredness and short-sightedness that keeps us from helping others in need? Or is the capitalistic system just set up as a competitive game that will never make it easy to build community within? I wish I knew. I do know that you do have to return something back to the community that gives to you, even if you don’t give it back to the individual. Otherwise, it is not sustainable. Community and sustainability go hand-in-hand, even if they conflict with capitalism right now.

*Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons by ^riza^

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DIY Rain Barrels and Profit Motives

rain-barrel.jpgIf there is one big problem with capitalism it has to be the profit motive. I’ve heard it over and over again: “Well, sure, it’s not “criminal” to charge an exorbitant profit (unless you are a regulated industry).” If it’s not criminal, we’ve certainly learned it is not sustainable. Profit motives are the reason people in starving countries like Argentina in 2002 couldn’t buy the food they produced in their own country. Instead, it was shipped out to other countries where they make a higher profit. Profit motive is why real estate became a speculator’s sport that ended up costing millions of people their homes in the end. Profit motive is the reason gas will never go down and always up, no matter what anyone says about supply and demand. Profit motive is why the pharmaceutical industry will never fund a study on any natural healing products that will undercut their profits in their own drugs, even if they find out they are effective. Profit motive is why people don’t have time to help other people in need, because there’s nothing in it for them. And profit motive is why in a drought a rain barrel would be priced at $150, as if this was not something you could make on your own for cheap. In short, profit motive is just another name for good, old-fashioned, greed when it becomes unsustainable.

Global Warming and Green Products

In one of those astounding synchronicities, I had to pay my water bill and ended up at the Raleigh website. There, to my surprise, I found they were selling rain barrels for only $80 to $90 approximately. Yesterday, I had been wondering how NC State could be doing a civic duty selling rain barrels for $150, and now I think I know they’re not. It’s one of those, “oh look we’re in a drought and people need water. Let’s sell over-priced rain barrels!” deals. And, imagine this! The Raleigh site even showed you how to make your own rain barrel out of an old trash can. There were also links for kits listed with the pre-made rain barrels too. So, now I have a good idea of what a rain barrel costs to do-it-yourself: approximately $16, if you already have an old trash can (like I do). Otherwise, it will cost you more like $45, which is close to the $30 I estimated yesterday.

Go Green Frugally

There are a lot of experts suggesting that green products and those that deal with environmental or global warming concerns, such as drought, will end up being a large industry as the years move ahead. You can expect people getting into these markets to have profit as their primary motive more than social conscience. If you want to uphold the standards and ethics of green industries, don’t patronize these people. Green isn’t just about taking care of the ecology and environment, it’s also about a sustainable way of life. Sustainability is not about price gouging. So, keep a sharp eye out and remember to pass along free information so others can also help to build a sustainable culture in their back yards for less.

*Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons by gilintx

Are You a Tech Addict? It’ll Cost You!

tech-giving.jpgI’m going to tell you something few people know about me: I have a mechanical engineering degree. You know, with that little secret out you would think that I am a huge tech fan, but it’s quite the opposite! I used to be one of those tech nerds that loved every new gizmo and technology that came out on the market. But, now that I am older and wiser, I have come to the realization that most of our technology is not only costly but also highly unsustainable for the future. So, if it isn’t costing you, it will probably end up costing your children and subsequent generations.

This is not to depress you, but to make you more aware. When I see things like this article on “The 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering,” I have to scoff. The idea behind this is to pick the technological advances that can help us survive on the planet in the future much better. If you really want my opinion, we need less technology and more common sense.

We Live in an Unsustainable Culture

The idea that technology is going to save us from the very survival crisis it has created is ludicrous. Why do we have global warming? Is it because the sun got hotter or because there are more fossil fuels being used on the planet? When we run out of water in our cities is it because of drought or poor water management and over-development? When our farmers don’t produce crops anymore because the government would prefer to pay them not to farm, then how is technology going to resolve a food crisis? If the technology we use for our cars, cell phones, computers, inkjet printers, and more end up in our landfills poisoning our environment, how is more technology supposed to save us?

Why Simplification is the Answer

Yesterday my daughter saw the most useless piece of technology for sale at the supermarket: a device to pull the tabs off the soda cans to open them. I’m surprised it didn’t come battery-operated. My daughter’s comment: You have to be really lazy to use one of those! But, daily we use devices that are supposed to make our lives easier or more exciting: electric toothbrushes, door bells, GPS devices, electric coffeepots, microwave ovens – you name it! These are not really even necessary devices, they tend to break easily and end up in some poor third world countries’ landfills, like China, who didn’t even have the benefit of enjoying them while they were working. The American consumer culture is completely unsustainable and it’s an embarrassment when we use our technology addiction to justify the slow poisoning of our environment, if not our neighbors’ environments. Yes, technology is the gift that keeps on giving – environmental nightmares, that is.

Is it Even Convenient?

The big story line we are handed when one of these devices or technologies comes on the market is that it’ll make our lives easier. And we usually buy it: hook, line, and sinker. As an example, a friend of mine was extolling the virtues of her GPS system to me until she actually had to use it to visit me from Georgia to North Carolina. She spent two hours trying to find my house using the GPS system (once she was actually within my city limits) because she apparently wasn’t able to read a map any longer. The reason for this waste of time? The GPS system can’t tell when two streets that are close together don’t actually meet so all the little “short-cuts” it suggested ended up being dead-ends. Sounds kind of like a metaphor for our ideas about technology. We are so intent on getting to the short-cut we waste tons of time actually getting anything good done. In the end, it’s not a convenience, it’s a distraction. And, really, that’s what all good technology is really meant to do. It’s meant to distract you from the actual condition of your life so you don’t sit up and wonder: Hey? How come my air is dirtier? Why is my city water running out? Why is my food poisoned? Do I actually need to be paying $80/month on cable? Wouldn’t I be happier with less? Couldn’t I simplify my life and do more for my community? Wouldn’t it be great if I spent that money to find some sustainable way to enhance my community instead?

The Digital Picture Frame

If you still don’t believe that technology is going to cost you in the end, think about the newest addition to our air-head technology improvements: The digital picture frame. Now, instead of taking the trouble to change out your paper pictures, you can buy a digital picture frame and download images to it and have it go through them automatically. I think that’s the gist of this newest toy. At any rate, the cost of this baby? You can expect to pay $60 to $100 dollars to buy a picture frame – one picture frame. A picture frame that you could take used popsicle sticks and make one for nothing with more charm. But, that’s not the point. The point is that now you can get multiple digital picture frames and when they fizz out, like all good electronics with limited lifespans do (so you can be sure to go out and buy another), then we can give them to China to make a bigger mess as a show of international camaraderie. I say, just don’t buy one. Make sure the manufacturers of these techno-horrors get the message: We don’t want your techno-trash. Not us. Not our neighbors. Not our children.

*Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons license by CP