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Thursday, June 14, 2007

personal economies.

there are some in the U.S. who operate outside of the money system by choice (rather than circumstance.) who live as urban scavengers, subsisting on food saved from dumpsters and turning abandoned buildings into homes and collective squats. there are also a few rural communes that exist as completely self-sustaining communities, living off the electric grid and growing all of their own food. but both of these options require a fair amount of security to begin with. what about those of us who can not afford to completely drop out of this capitalist system (for reasons of finance or efficacy)? how do we circumvent this destructive economy from within?

deciding to buy as little as possible by making, trading, salvaging, and repairing is one way to create less waste. gift economies are another powerful tool. in addition to saving resources by recycling goods and bartering services, they also create
spaces of autonomy and cooperation. gift economies have existed in different forms and in many cultures long before capitalism was practiced, but here are a few ideas that challenge us to move beyond the role of passive consumers, to become active participants in local economies of exchange.

-beyond barter is a skills pool in L.A. when members sign up they list what skills they have to offer and how many hours a week they are available. services such as acupuncture, massage, computer repair and legal help are available. (there is an initial registration charge of $50 and then it's about $8 a month. but hey, if you start one in your city, you wouldn't need to charge a thing.)

-really, really free markets are now active in san francisco, nyc, philadelphia and carrboro, nc. once a month people gather in a central location with whatever they want to give away. everyone is welcome to take. the carrboro organizer's explain it this way:
"Because there's enough for everyone. Because sharing is more fulfilling than owning. Because corporations would rather the landfills overflow than anyone get anything for free. Because scarcity is a myth constructed to keep us at the mercy of the economy. Because a sunny day outside is better than anything money could buy."

-with the motto that we are all learners and we are all teachers, free skools offer a variety of classes for free with an emphasis on skill sharing. free skool santa cruz organizes quarterly classes in homes and public spaces on local plant identification, meditation, canning, bike repair, conversational spanish, internet security and more.

-online, websites such as freecycle and craigslist provide forums for locating, and offering, free goods and services. wikis and software exchanges provide free information and resources. it has even been argued that the internet itself operates as a (threatened) gift economy.

-in your neighborhood free boxes, book exchanges, and babysitting coops can all function as gift economies.

what can you offer? what do you truly need?

more links:
the church of stop shopping (i heart reverend billy)
the compact (a commitment to buy nothing for a year)
bay area gift economy

Sunday, May 27, 2007

on water.

i grew up in southern california during a drought. "if it's yellow let it mellow" was the key phrase and my 3rd grade teacher taught us songs about being "drop-busting" superheros. but as soon as the rains came the push for conservation ended. despite the variable levels of local water tables, we are currently in the midst of a worldwide water crisis. (a crises that has become even more critical due to corporate water privatization.) by becoming more water-efficient in our daily lives we can prevent the construction of new dams, desalinization plants, and other environmentally destructive projects. here are a few water saving ideas.

-toilets compose 40% of residential water use. using water displacement devices in your toilet can save up to a gallon a flush. put bricks or similarly large and dense objects in your tank. (jugs filled with beans, sand or pebbles also work.) and maybe don't flush so often.

-prevent leaks. a helpful guide for detecting and stopping leaks can be found here.

-use greywater for plants. the
greywater guerrillas explain how to use waste water from sinks and showers for garden irrigation.

wash dishes by hand instead of using a dishwasher (the average dishwasher consumes 15 gallons of water per load.) to conserve water soap up all dishes first with a wet sponge and then rinse.

doing laundry by hand also saves on both water and energy (the average washing machine uses 55 gallons of water per load.) if you are using a machine, using the cold setting and drying clothes on the line can still save energy.

-if you live where water is potable, don't buy bottled water. despite public misconception, tap water in the US is generally healthier for you because its contents are regulated and monitored. if you think your water might be sketchy, contact your local water board. they are required to test your tap and confirm its safety.

i know that some of these ideas require time and labor. they also connects us to our own cycles of use and maintenance. and the time spent washing dishes or wringing clothes can provide a space for thought and simplicity within this highly mechanized society.

more info and articles:
bottled water faq's and resources
water privatization
writings on dams and their effects

Friday, May 25, 2007

living local.

food is a highly political matter. and it is an issue that we are all intimately involved with. as organic food becomes more profitable, the industry's practices are beginning to mirror big agribusiness (factory farming, long distance travel, corporate ownership.) "organic" is no longer a mark of sustainability but eating food that is harvested locally supports small farms and businesses, saves energy, and connects you to a local land base (even mainstream media outlets like Time Magazine and NPR have begun to cover the benefits of eating local.) maintaining your own garden, picking up a weekly box of goods from an area farm in the form of a CSA, or buying produce at farmer's markets, you can build your own relationships to food, to seasons, and to location.

and the politics of location are central to this discussion. access to any produce, let alone local produce, is nearly impossible in some urban neighborhoods.
it is also common knowledge that a bag of highly processed and packaged potato chips is cheaper to buy than some fresh potatoes. (the reason for this, as Michael Pollen explains in his excellent NY Times essay You Are What You Grow is farm subsidies. a policy that is rarely debated but has global impacts on labor, the environment and health.) in response to these inequities of social location food justice activists are fighting to bring healthy and affordable food options to their communities through community gardens, CSAs and co-ops.

connection to a local food shed is not mere "consumer activism." it is a matter of security, health and advocacy.

-the 100 Mile Diet website has a guide for getting started
Local Harvest can help you locate farmer's markets and CSA's in your area
-get tips and ideas from the group blog

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


damn. plastic is nasty stuff. off-gassing, "leeching," petroleum based and wasteful. it may be ubiquitous but it's generally unnecessary. here are some less toxic alternatives. they may take more time, or a bit of cash at first, but they are definitely worth it.

-carry your own reusable water bottle. klean kanteens are a lightweight option.

-buy as much as you can from bulk bins. bring your own cotton bags (such as eco bags) for grains and beans. bring glass jars for honey, oil and shampoo bought by the ounce.

- use reusable bags for the vegetables you buy at the store or at a farmer's market. if you dampen
eco bags before putting greens in, they'll stay fresh longer.

-use old glass jars for storing dry bulk foods, leftovers, water, ice tea, etc. consider microwavable glass containers for tupperware.

-as an alternative to ziploc bags, use wax paper bags. these can be found in most natural food stores.

-make your own bread and tortillas. or if you buy them fresh and local they often come in paper wrappers.

-consider making your own hummus, salsa, etc. over buying it prepared in plastic containers.

-composting and recycling automatically reduces the amount you'll have to throw out, reducing the number of trash bags you'll use. compostable bags are ridiculously expensive but then you shouldn't have to buy them very often.

more articles and facts:
-plastics in the marine environment
-san francisco passes resolution against plastic bags
-how green are green plastics?
-advocating for safer sex toys