Ecofeminism, Subsistence Living & Nature Awareness

February 3, 2016

Mixed Economy = Subsistence Economy + Capitalism

Filed under: Ecofeminism,Economics,Jeanne Neath,Patriarchy,Subsistence Living — Jeanne Neath @ 2:54 pm

Faye, a 78 year old Inuit woman, was one of three elders left in the village of Wales, Alaska when Gretel Ehrlich visited there in midwinter of 2007. One evening Ehrlich braved the blasting snow and a windchill of 40 degrees below zero for a dinner at Faye’s house. Faye’s son provided the transportation: a snow-go (snowmobile) trip through town. Faye served a dinner of boiled reindeer meat and fermented bearded seal on pieces of cardboard. The beverage was meltwater from a nearby pond served in plastic cups. Dinner might as easily have been walrus or polar bear, year round staples provided by subsistence hunters. Reindeer meat is also a local staple, as domesticated reindeer were introduced to the Inuit by Christian missionaries in the late 1800s. Flounder was another menu possibility for midwinter dining, but Faye would have fished for the flounder herself. She described her fishing technique to Ehrlich. She’d go out onto the ice and build a small igloo to keep the wind off her back, then lay out flat on the ice with her head over a “lead”, an open lane of water, and spear the fish as they passed by. (See Empire of Ice by Gretel Ehrlich.)

Inuit woman ice fishing early 20th century

Inuit woman ice fishing near Nome Alaska in early 20th century

Dinner at Faye’s house, like the rest of Ehrlich’s stay in the Inuit village of Wales, was an odd mixture of Inuit tradition with the U.S. dominant culture, of a subsistence economy with the capitalist mainstream. An expensive gas-guzzling snowmobile delivered Ehrlich to a traditional dinner dish of fermented bearded seal served on throwaway cardboard that must have come from corporate activities in the village. This pattern was repeated throughout the village. The women still pick wild greens and berries and preserve the greens in glass jars filled with seal oil – a classic mix of subsistence and industrial goods. Subsistence hunting is still a major focus for part of the community, but it has become expensive. Hunters need to pay for snowmobiles, four wheelers, outboard motors and gasoline. Only a few dog teams are still used. There were still four full whaling teams that would set out into the Bering Strait for the spring and fall whale migrations, but instead of traditional skin boats, the whalers now used outboard motors. The whaling is more dangerous nowadays, though, because the ice is changing due to climate change. And some whalers speak only English, a language without the words needed to talk about subtleties in the changing ice.

The dominant culture has won out more completely in some sectors. As in other parts of Alaska, airplanes are the principle form of long distance transportation. You can, for example, order a pizza from nearby Nome and have it delivered to Wales by air on a regularly scheduled flight. Since the closest modern health care facilities are in Nome, the women of Wales fly there a month before they are due to give birth and stay until delivery. Midwives used to deliver the babies of Wales at home. The high school in Wales is a modern facility with central heat, flush toilets, computers, moviemaking equipment, a biology lab and art-making facilities. Most of the young people are far more enamored with electronic devices than they are with learning subsistence skills. But, the wealth of the dominant culture does not extend very far into this town of the Far North. There is little food available in the stores. Most homes and buildings are not insulated. Flush toilets are uncommon.

The Inuit peoples had a fully self-sufficient subsistence economy prior to the invasion of westerners. The villages like Wales in the (relatively) low latitudes had particularly rich cultures as life was somewhat warmer and easier there than in the extreme north. Now, the people of Wales live with a very mixed economy: part subsistence economy and part the economy of the dominant culture.

Mixed Economies

The indigenous economies of the Far North are not alone in being a mixture of subsistence and the capitalist market economy. As Rauna Kuokkanen says:

“Today’s indigenous economies often are mixed economies in which subsistence production continues to play a considerable role. Mixed economies are characterized by a mix of activities such as subsistence, commodity production, wage labor, transfers (social assistance, unemployment insurance, welfare, pensions, and other statutory or fiduciary payments), and enterprise.” (Kuokkanen, “Indigenous Economies, Theories of Subsistence and Women: Exploring the Social Economy Model for Indigenous Governance”, p. 221) )

In indigenous societies, the subsistence economy always predates the capitalist one which was inevitably imposed through nefarious means: conquest, colonialism, and “free trade” agreements between nations. The two economies often become well integrated. For example, cash from wage labor may be used to purchase materials and equipment needed for subsistence activities. Or, a hunter might trap and hunt animals for food (a subsistence activity) while simultaneously serving as a paid guide for outsiders (a wage-based activity). On the Upper Missouri River Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara women collect commodity foods and welfare benefits and then redistribute them throughout their communities. Sharing is a key feature of subsistence economies and these Native women continue that practice even though the goods come from the dominating economy.


“Subsistence is often considered the most reliable form of economy in the long run, whereas other forms are usually more short-term and unpredictable.” (Rauna Kuokkanen)


According to Kuokkanen, “subsistence is often considered the most reliable form of economy in the long run, whereas other forms are usually more short-term and unpredictable.” (Kuokkanen, “Indigenous Economies, Theories of Subsistence and Women: Exploring the Social Economy Model for Indigenous Governance”, p. 222) Not surprising! Capitalism’s goal is making a profit, not making sure everyone has their needs taken care of. But, subsistence economies generally provided all the basic needs of communities and a good life for all until capitalism interfered.

Most of the highly industrialized nations that currently dominate the rest of the earth are considered to have capitalist economies, but this is not an accurate belief. A great deal of subsistence activity takes place in every human community, not just amongst indigenous peoples. Even the wealthiest world economies are actually mixed economies and very dependent on subsistence.

What Is the Subsistence Economy, Anyway?

Gardening at Cedar Hill: Our wheelbarrow from the 1970s

Gardening at Cedar Hill, an important subsistence activity. Jeanne got this wheelbarrow in the mid 1970s when she was stabling several of her horses behind her house. We're still using this capitalist-made wheelbarrow in our garden and for hauling wood, water and everything else, in part, because nothing for sale at any of the stores we've looked at can compare. We've done major and minor repairs on it over the years.

As Maria Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen explain, “Subsistence production or production of life includes all work that is expended in the creation, re-creation, and maintenance of immediate life and which has no other purpose.” (The Subsistence Perspective by Maria Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen, p. 20) Subsistence activities include the production of necessities like food, but also the work involved in bearing and raising children and maintaining households. In industrialized societies profit-based enterprises typically take over many or most forms of production and, increasingly, many services (e.g. auto maintenance, hair care, dog boarding). But, even in the wealthiest capitalist economies, household tasks and the work of raising children are usually done in the subsistence economy. You can easily tell whether an activity is subsistence or not. If there is no formal exchange (of money or barter), then an activity is almost certainly subsistence.

Just think about all the work you do to keep yourself and your family functioning and that no one pays you to do! All of these tasks are part of the subsistence economy. You may buy groceries, but if you ever cook a meal at home,then the cooking is a subsistence activity. Other unpaid work you do yourself to keep your household running is likewise subsistence work: housecleaning, yard work, washing clothes, house repairs or improvements, and so on. Like the Inuit, you may at times use technology arising from the capitalist economy while performing subsistence labors (e.g., using a dishwasher or vaccuum).

If you are a woman and become pregnant, all the work associated with your childbearing and nursing is unpaid reproductive work and part of the subsistence economy (though the midwife or doctor you hire to assist in childbirth is part of the dominant economy). You would not be alive at this moment if your mother had not done the subsistence work of birthing you. You may do the many, many tasks associated with raising children: nurturing, feeding, playing, toilet training, teaching skills like catching a ball or knitting, providing transportation, and on and on and on. You may provide care for a family member or friend who is sick, aged or has a disability.

You may plant and tend a vegetable garden and provide fresh food for your household and perhaps even for your friends and larger community. Maybe you sew your own or your children’s clothes. Perhaps you have a “hobby” in which you create useful tools, furniture, quilts or other goods for friends and family. Or you hunt and fish and supply much of the food your family eats. Maybe you forage for wild foods: berries, cattails, acorns, hickory nuts, pawpaws.


Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock, is reported to have asked a group of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, “How productive do you think your work force would be if it was not toilet trained?”


If you work a paying job, you still do plenty of productive and unpaid activities on your time off. Think, what do I do that is outside the capitalist marketplace and that keeps my life and the lives of the people I love working well? Unless you are very wealthy and able to somehow obtain all your needs and desires from servants, employees, prostitutes, and corporate-provided services (a very lonely and dependent existence), your well-being, even your survival, depends on your own and/or someone else’s subsistence work. Some subsistence activities may by repetitious and boring (as are many of the jobs in the capitalist economy), but the work you do for yourself and the people you love can be deeply satisfying.

Relationships within the capitalist economy are always motivated, at least in part, by concerns such as making a profit, making a sale, keeping a job or advancing in the workplace. Only in the subsistence economy, where the only purpose is the creation, re-creation or maintenance of life, can relationships be authentic. This doesn’t mean that relationships are always wonderful in the subsistence economy – many are marred by patriarchy, white supremacy and other forms of domination – but they can be. Sharing and cooperation are central to subsistence and these practices build strong bonds between people and within communities.

Capitalism: The Parasite on the Subsistence Economy

The Subsistence Perspective: Beyond the Globalized Economy

The Subsistence Perspective by Maria Mies and Veronika Benholdt-Thomsen critiques capitalism and argues for an alternative: the subsistence economy and way of life. This is a classic feminist text.

Individuals in any capitalist economy are dependent on the underlying subsistence economy. But, the capitalist economy and the continual economic growth it requires are likewise dependent on the subsistence work of women and peasants and other supposedly “free” resources. In The Subsistence Perspective: Beyond the Globalized Economy, Maria Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen explain this dependence, as I’ll describe over the next several paragraphs.

Marx theorized that capitalism originated following a period of violent acquisition, that this “primitive accumulation of capital” was the pre-condition for capitalism. For Marx, once capitalism was established, capital grew thru the exploitation of wage laboriers. In the 1920s, Rosa Luxemburg argued that Marx’s analysis was inaccurate and that capital accumulation depended not just on wage labor, but on the continual exploitation of non-capitalist resources, specifically peasants and artisans. Once the colonies were established, capitalism became dependent on colonialism.

Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen extended Luxemburg’s ideas further. While Marx accounted for ongoing capital accumulation and economic growth as due to workers being paid only enough to “reproduce their labor power”, and not the full value of their work, he did not take into account all of the life-producing and life-preserving work women did to create and maintain “labor power”. Women’s work appeared to be a free resource to Marx, other economic theorists, capitalists, and the state. Thus, capitalism depends on the “free” labor of women.

Based on their newfound understanding of what they called “housewifization” together with Luxemburg’s insights, Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen went on to develop their “iceberg model” of patriarchal capitalist economies. In the iceberg model, the visible economy of capital and wage labor (GNP) cannot exist without an invisible base of unacknowledged work and resources including: workers without a labor contract (e.g. homeworkers, informal sector, child labor), subsistence peasants’ work, women’s reproduction work and housework, colonies of the global South and North, and nature. Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen called these invisible elements at the base of the iceberg economy the “Colonies of the White Man”, with “white man” signifying the western industrial system. These Colonies of the White Man provided labor and resources free or nearly free of cost. The exploitation of these Colonies of the White Man was the only reason economic growth was possible. Thus, capitalism is only able to accumulate capital and create economic growth by the forceful conquering, acquisition and destruction of traditional subsistence economies and the ongoing exploitation of people’s subsistence work, including everything from housework, childbearing and child rearing to subsistence farming and production of handicrafts. Where would capitalism obtain its workers if women did not bear and raise children? Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen’s analysis makes it clear that capitalism is a patriarchal system. Without the ability to exploit women’s reproductive capacities and other labor, capitalism could not grow or even exist.

Every so-called capitalist economy is a mixed economy, but this does not mean that capitalism and subsistence are two equal economies, peacefully co-existing. Instead the capitalist economy dominates the subsistence economy and exploits subsistence work, but does its best to keep people unaware of the domination and unaware even of the continued existence of the subsistence economy. Capitalism pretends to be the only economy while simultaneously smearing subsistence as dirty, old-fashioned, and able to provide only a bleak, sad, deprived way of living. The strategy is to make people dependent on the capitalist economy and simultaneously unaware of the of how dependent capitalism and everyone in it are on subsistence.


Capitalism pretends to be the only economy while simultaneously smearing subsistence as dirty, old-fashioned, and able to provide only a bleak, sad, deprived way of living. The strategy is to make people dependent on the capitalist economy and simultaneously unaware of the of how dependent capitalism and everyone in it are on subsistence.


Meanwhile capitalism is continually expanding, taking more and more from the subsistence economy, people all over the world, and nature. Capitalism has been effective in its global quest to take land from rural people, forcing them out of their self-sufficient subsistence ways of life and into a life of poverty within the capitalist economy. Even where rural people in former colonies are able to remain on their land, they are often forced or enticed to grow cash crops for the world markets, instead of growing crops to feed their own families and local economies. The growing service economy is an example of capitalism’s tactic of increasing its scope within industrialized societies, this time by luring us into paying for work our parents and grandparents did for themselves. The capitalists want you to eat at McDonald’s instead of cooking your own meals. They want you to pay for a manicure, pay to have a party catered, and pay for your dog to go to Dog Party USA. As the service economy grows, the power of capitalism expands and the economy that produces life, the subsistence economy, diminishes. As capitalism sucks more and more people more and more deeply into its profit-making machinery, it is at the same time chewing up more and more of nature and churning out increasingly short-lasting, barely useful products.

Women’s Economy, Core Economy, Subsistence Economy?

Bushmen of Kalahari denied water by Botswana and getting fluids from watermelons

This photo from Survival International is of Bushmen being forced to rely on watermelons for vital fluid because of lack of access to boreholes on their ancestral land. Diamonds have been found on their lands and the Botswana government has done everything it can to keep the Bushmen off the land, including denying access to water. The contrast between a so-called 'primitive' society, the Bushmen, who live by giving gifts and a modern state that is so stingy it won't let the people indigenous to the land have access to water holes is eye-opening. The Survival International web site provides updated information on the status of the Bushmen's struggles and also tells you how you can help.

The subsistence economy has been called by many different names: the women’s economy, gift economy, love economy, and core economy. Each of these names emphasizes a particular aspect of what I call the subsistence economy. The names, gift economy and love economy, let us know that the economic relationships that take place in subsistence economies are based in caring and community, not hierarchy and profit. Gift giving builds goodwill within a close-knit local community, but also between communities. For example, the Ju/wasi (Bushmen) of the Kalahari in southern Africa traditionally gave each other gifts (xaro) to create ties within their own bands but also between different bands who, in times of need, depended on each other’s material support and goodwill. Elizabeth Marshall Thomas explains just how extensive the practice of gift giving was among the Ju/wasi: “With the possible exception of certain articles of clothing (the Ju/wasi did not have spare clothes), almost every object in Nyae Nyae was subject to xaro, received as a gift from someone else, to be given as a gift to another person later.” (The Old Way: A Story of the First People by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, p. 220)

The name, women’s economy, points to the way that capitalist economies typically employ men as workers, or producers of cash crops, while leaving women to carry out their traditional roles inside the subsistence economy – doing the work of the household including child raising, housework and subsistence gardening or farming. This dynamic, used in the capitalist takeover of many different cultures, has put money and power in the hands of men and increased women’s dependence on men, though also, in some instances, freed women to resist capitalism. I like the name, women’s economy, but it is time to end the men’s capitalist economy. Men are going to have to pull their weight in carrying out the work of maintaining Life, of subsistence. Hopefully, as men who are now deeply immersed in the dominant culture become grounded in subsistence economies, they will learn to relate using power-with, not power over, and regain connection to the natural world.

But, the women’s economy is also so-named by feminists because it is an economy of gift giving and nurturance, and nurturance is often the province of women. As Genevieve Vaughan explained in Ms. magazine in 1991,

The present (capitalist) economic system is based in “exchange, which can be described as giving in order to receive. The motivation is self-oriented since what is given returns under a different form to the giver to satisfy her or his need…This seemingly simple human interaction of exchange, since it is done so often, becomes a sort of archetype or magnet for other human interactions, making itself – and whatever looks like it – seem normal, while anything else is crazy… Exchange puts the ego first and allows it to grow and develop in ways that emphasize me-first competitive and hierarchical behavior patterns. The ego is not an intrinsic part of the human being, but is a social product coming from the kinds of human interactions it is involved in… The alternative paradigm … is nurturing and generally other-oriented. It continues to exist because it has a basis in the nature of infants: they are dependent and incapable of giving back to the giver…Since a large percentage of women nurture babies, we are directed toward having an experience outside exchange. This requires orientation toward interest in the other… Our satisfaction comes from her or his growth or happiness, not just from our own.”

Thus, the exchange relationships basic to capitalistm are ego-based and most comfortable to people with a “me-first competitive and hierarchical behavior” pattern – mostly men. An economic system based in gift giving and sharing suits people comfortable with nurturance – mostly women. Capitalism, based in exchange, domination, exploitation, and profit-making is an economic system that could only develop within a male dominated system – patriarchy.

Recently, the name “core economy” has come into common use, popularized by Edgar Cahn, the founder of the Time Bank movement. With his use of the word “core”, Cahn makes it clear that the subsistence economy is not a vestige of an outdated world, but is at the very center of the capitalist economy. According to Cahn, economists estimate that 40-50% of productive economic activities take place outside the market, within the core economy.

The name, “core economy”, obscures the power relationship between the capitalist economy and the subsistence economy. As Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen make so clear, the capitalist economy exploits the workers of the subsistence economy, making the capitalists wealthy at the expense of everyone belonging to capitalism’s invisible base. We need to shrink and then end capitalism, but some reformers in the Left want to find ways to use the “core economy” to help underfunded social services help people within a failing capitalist patriarchy. In Britain, for example, the New Economics Foundation (NEF) promotes “co-production,” a way for social service professionals and “clients” to work together to provide assistance in a community. The “clients” become peer providers. As explained by NEF:

“The need is clear – how to recognize the hidden assets that public service clients represent, and make public services into engines that can release these assets into the neighborhoods around them – and to do so even when public sector budgets are severely constrained whilst avoiding people becoming cynical about the role and motivation of the state.” (Co-Production: A Manifesto for Growing the Core Economy, New Economics Foundation)

The intentions of NEF seem good. They want to help people and strengthen the core economy:

“The idea of co-production points to ways we can rebuild and reinvigorate this core economy and realise its potential, and how public services can play a part in making it happen.” (Co-Production: A Manifesto for Growing the Core Economy, New Economics Foundation)

But, social services and social service professionals, like it or not, are part of the dominant economic system. Within that system, professionals inevitably have power over “clients” and power-with relationships are impossible. Social service workers cannot rebuild the core economy because, at least in their professional roles, they are outside the core economy. The core or subsistence economy can only be rebuilt by grassroots efforts and any efforts to utilize it by professionals may help some individuals, but co-opts subsistence and extends the power of the dominant economy. The dominant economy would like to fool people into thinking it is benevolent. But, we can’t afford to fall for that ploy. We must stop capitalism, not make it a little bit nicer. With the word, subsistence, we aren’t confused, thinking we just have two nice wonderful economies – core and capitalist – and isn’t it nice they can co-exist so well, ignoring the power relationships between the two and the devastation wrought by capitalism.

Subsistence is a word of power! Those of us ensnared in capitalist economies fear subsistence because we have been subjected to a lifetime of propaganda against subsistence. I use the word subsistence because it makes people in the industrialized world uncomfortable. As Starhawk points out in Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex and Politics: “the words we are comfortable with, the words that sound acceptable, rational, scientific, and intellectually sound, are comfortable precisely because they are the language of estrangement.” Estrangement is the consciousness of separation, separation from nature, other people, parts of ourselves. Estrangement is the consciousness that creates and allows domination, power over relationships. The subsistence economy is a gift economy and a women’s economy. These are all excellent names and should be used often. But, at a time when the runaway consumption of a crazed capitalist economy is creating rising seas, deadly droughts and razed mountaintops, a focus on subsistence, on an economics of Life is critical.

Conclusion: Ecofeminist Transformations in Troubled Times

Compost pile

Compost is one of the critical needs of an ecofeminist society. If we want life to continue we need for each of us to do the subsistence work of building the soil. We can caretake the earth, each of us helping to restore small areas of land and eliminating toxic industrial agriculture. The pitchfork is the same vintage as the wheelbarrow pictured earlier.

As Bennholdt-Thomsen explains, “Subsistence is the sum total of everything that humans need to survive: food and drink, protection from cold and heat, caring and company. If subsistence needs are met, life can continue.” The globalized, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy continues to take more and more from our planet, more than she can possibly give, and convinces many people in the middle and even working classes that we each need more and more. We have taken so much that we are now in great danger from climate chaos, deteriorating ecosystems, and a failing economy that can’t be trusted by ordinary people. If you pay any attention to all to the mainstream discussion of climate change, you’ll notice that much of the talk is now about adaptation to climate change, making communities more resilient in the face of an unknowable future of climate disasters and repercussions cascading across the globe. Because most governments in the industrialized world have failed for close to 30 years (and are still failing) to stop use of fossil fuels, the looming question is how do we survive the forces that have been set in motion. We need to focus on survival, not on getting more and more stuff. Meeting survival needs – and meeting them well – is what subsistence economies are made to do.

We are fortunate that we do have mixed economies and aren’t just stuck with capitalism! We don’t have to start from scratch and re-invent a whole new economy. We already have a great base – the subsistence economy – to work from. Margaret Thatcher famously said, “There is no alternative” to neoliberal capitalism. But as Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen tell us, “Subsistence is the alternative.” The task at hand, economically speaking, is to grow our existing subsistence economies and shrink capitalism down to nothing.

We can each of us start right now. We make dozens of choices every day about what we buy and do – and don’t buy and don’t do. We can choose: capitalism or subsistence economy? Capitalism or subsistence economy? What do you want? As individual women we have great power to make changes.

But, that power can be magnified by working together to rebuild our subsistence economies and local communities. A grassroots Transition movement is currently afoot globally to make the shift off of fossil fuels in local communities and pare down consumption. But, we can use ecofeminist values and understanding to create Ecofeminist Transitions that rebuild local communities and restore nature, eliminating domination in all its many forms. Obviously women must take power if we are to eliminate patriarchy. But, the power we take must be that of power-with, not power over, so that the communities we build are liberated from white supremacy, male domination, scarcity and wealth inequality, and all the oppressions we presently suffer. Building the subsistence economy and our ability to survive and survive well is key to the Ecofeminist transformation of society.

January 10, 2016

Subsistence Economy & Culture: Path to Nature Knowledge & Connection

Filed under: Economics,Jeanne Neath,Patriarchy,Subsistence Living — Jeanne Neath @ 9:58 am

As a child of ten Jeannette Armstrong, an Okanagan, learned – perhaps not for the first time – what her elders thought of the “newcomers”, the people of the dominant culture. Armstrong was sitting on a hillside on the reservation with her father and grandmother and they were all looking down at the town in the valley below. A breeze cooled the hill, but the valley was hot and dry with a smoky haze hovering over the town. The trio could hear the grind of the sawmill at the edge of town and cars honking as they crept along the highway below.

Jeannette Armstrong

Jeannette Armstrong honored as the recipient of the 2003 Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Award for her work as a community leader, educator and indigenous rights activist.

Armstrong’s grandmother said (in Okanagan):

“The people down there are dangerous, they are all insane.”

Her father seconded his mother, saying (also in Okanagan):

“It’s because they are wild and scatter anywhere.”

Armstrong tells this story in her essay, “Keepers of the Earth” published in the anthology Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind. She goes on to explain what her grandmother and father meant about the dominant society by their comments, describing the Okanagan view of the self and its integral relationship to community, land and spirit. You’ll want to read Armstrong’s essay to get her full translation and explanation of her grandmother’s and father’s comments.

As one of the “newcomers”, a probably all too “insane” descendent of the European invaders, my comprehension of the Okanagan perspective is certainly limited. But, I’d still like to talk about my understanding of Armstrong’s father’s explanation that the people of the dominant culture are “dangerous” and “insane” because they are “wild and scatter anywhere.” I do so because the Okanagan worldview can be so helpful in giving direction to those of us working to resist, transform, or replace the dominant culture.

Okanagan Worldview

As Armstrong explains, Okanagans are a deeply connected people – to family, community, land and spirit. The individual self is not considered primary and people make choices based on the wellbeing of community and family over self. Belonging to community and family is a given for every Okanagan and to not have community is to be “scattered or falling apart”, incapacitated, not fully human.

Community extends to the land which is not considered to be separate from humans. The human body is the Earth itself:

“…the flesh which is our body is pieces of the land come to us through the things which the land is. The soil, the water, the air, and all other life-forms contributed parts to be our flesh. We are our land/place..” (p. 323)

Even the Okanagan language is intimately related to the land, believed to be the “language of the land”, taught to the people by the land. The great knowledge of the people about the land – the plants, animals, seasons, geography – called forth the construction of the Okanagan language.

Armstrong translates her father’s explanation that people from the dominant culture are “dangerous” and “insane” because they are “wild and scatter anywhere” to mean:

“Their actions have a source, they have displacement panic, they have been pulled apart from themselves as family [generational sense] and place [as land/us/survival].” (p. 319)

Connection to the land is considered essential for survival by the Okanagans and anyone without this embeddedness in place is considered “wild”, “a thing that cannot survive without special protective measures”, compelling “all other life forms to displacement and then ruin.” Without the bonding of individual selves and communal selves to the land, Armstong says:

“…we are not human: we yearn; we are incomplete; we are wild, needing to learn our place as land pieces. We cannot find joy because we need place in this sense to nurture and protect our family/community/self. The thing Okanagans fear worst of all is to be removed from the land that is their life and their spirit.” (p. 323-324)

What does the Okanagan perspective mean for those of us resisting and working to transform or replace the dominant culture? It’s clear that the many band aids we attempt to apply are inadequate. A switchover to renewable energy, for example, will not address the extreme disconnection of most people from long-term community and from the land they live on. Alienation runs deep for those of us whose primary or only culture is the dominant culture. Despite my own deep desires to connect to the earth, I’m not sure I can, even now, fully conceive of my body as the Earth, “pieces of the land.”

No Question, But It’s Displacement and Ruin

Missouri Primrose

What native plant is this? Hint: It is native to the Ozarks and related to Evening Primrose. The flowers measure four inches across.

I’d have to agree with Jeanette Armstrong that the people of the dominant culture are badly displaced from both land and community. Urbanization, including the movements of vast numbers of people in the global South into urban slums, makes it very difficult for many people to bond with a specific area of land or even connect to nature at all. Alienation from the land is common even in rural communities. For example, in one community in the Sonoran desert (near the U.S. Mexico border) the majority of children had never spent more than a half hour alone in a wild place (58% of O’odham children, 100% Yaqui, 53% Anglo, 61% Hispanic; Survey by Gary Paul Nabhan). When the O’odham and Yaqui children were asked to name 17 local plants and animals in their native language they could name fewer than five, on average. These are children from Native American tribes who many would assume to be closer to nature than many other Americans. These children were far less knowledgeable than their grandparents who named over 15 of the 17 plants and animals correctly, on average. Even the most elementary knowledge about nature is deteriorating from generation to generation.

Community has been lost among people in the industrialized world where the extended family is long gone for many families, and large numbers of children grow up in a home with a single adult. Frequent moves over large distances are considered normal for middle class people, while upper class people commonly have more than one “home.” When you don’t even live in one place your whole life, how can you see yourself as made up of the land and a part of a land-based community? Technological and social changes are occurring so rapidly that new generations of adults often have little in common with their predecessors other than (weakened) family bonds.

People in industrialized societies certainly need “special protective measures” to survive. Where would we be without the corporations, retail stores and utilities that provide us with food, water, electricity, heat, clothing, tools, medicine and all the many luxury items of modern lives. As the “service economy” expands people buy more and more from the capitalist economy and lose ever more survival skills. It’s not uncommon for people in the dominant culture to be completely unable to cook, garden, sew, or even navigate from place to place (without GPS).

I’d also have to agree with the Okanagans that the dominant culture is compelling all forms of life to “ruin”. Climate breakdown, war, industrial agriculture, continued globalization and so-called development are forcing more and more peasants and indigenous peoples off their lands and into fractured lives in refugee camps, factories and urban slums. These same forces destroy the habitats of many plants and animals and are now driving the earth into the sixth major extinction of her long history. Climate change has the potential – eventually – to bring the dominant culture to its knees, a likelihood increasing each year that passes without a significant planetary drop in fossil fuel use.

Tar sands devastation

Tar sands excavation. In Alberta, Canada an area the size of Florida holds deeply buried tar sands, a tarry substance made up of sand, clay and heavy crude oil. To extract this stuff oil companies basically strip everything from the earth over huge areas of land. In the process, waters are poisoned leading to sickness among the local people including a number of First Nations peoples. Wildlife suffers as well: the Beaver Lake Cree First Nation reports that the Cold Like herd of woodland caribou have already declined 74% since 1998, while the Athabasca herd has declined 71% since 1996. Today, just 175 – 275 caribou remain and extinction is on the horizon for these magnificent animals, unless we stop the oil companies and the Canadian government. The tar sands oil requires massive amounts of energy to extract, far more than conventional crude oil. Burning all this unconventional oil would result in so much carbon in the atmosphere that climate change would reach disastrous levels.

Jeannette Armstrong’s perspective, as an indigenous woman, on what ails the dominant culture and the people embedded in that culture takes the discussion on sustainability to important ground. In the industrialized world most of the discussion on climate change assumes that it is desirable for the dominant culture – an industrialized, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchal civilization – to continue more or less in its current form, but with fossil fuels replaced with renewables. But, when you gaze at this dominant culture through an Okanagan worldview you have to wonder. Why in the world would anyone want to continue this civilization that takes from people everything of importance: connection to (extended) family, community, the land, spirit? Most of the people of the dominant culture are – understandably – stuck in their own perspective, a perspective created by a civilization that is doing its best to kill much of life on earth, including perhaps human life. We desperately need to hear the voices of people, like Jeannette Armstrong, who are far enough outside the dominant culture to see that the problems created by that culture are not going to be solved by a quick fix of massive amounts of renewable energy.

Subsistence Economy: The Cure for Displacement

How do we end the “wildness” and ongoing displacements that Armstrong talks about and regain connections to land and community for both people in the dominant culture and indigenous peoples more recently forced from their lands? The answer obviously includes restoration of productive land to people who have been driven or enticed from their lands (or whose ancestors were, as is the case for most of the people of the dominant culture). But, being on the land is not enough. Farming to grow cash crops does not create connection. Only a subsistence-based relationship to the land can regenerate community and an intimate relationship to nature and the land, as we will see.

What is a subsistence economy anyway? Maria Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen explain that:

“Subsistence production or production of life includes all work that is expended in the creation, re-creation, and maintenance of immediate life and which has no other purpose.” (p. 20, The Subsistence Perspective)

Subsistence economies are based in human communities directly interacting with nature and each other to provide for human needs. No profit is involved. In The Subsistence Perspective, Maria Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen agree with Ivan Ilich that:

“[T]he war against subsistence is the real war of capital, not the struggle against unions and their wage demands. Only after people’s capacity to subsist is destroyed, are they totally and unconditionally in the power of capital.” (P. 19, The Subsistence Perspective)

In the industrialized world capital has pretty well won the war against subsistence and almost everyone is dependent on the capitalist economy for survival. In addition, most fully believe the propaganda that tells them that a subsistence economy provides a wretched way of life, filled with deprivation and misery. As Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen tell us:

“For the men and women who profit from the war against subsistence, ‘subsistence’ spells backwardness, poverty, and drudgery. For the victims of this war it means security, ‘the good life’, freedom, autonomy, self-determination, preservation of the economic and ecological base and cultural and biological diversity,” (The Subsistence Perspective, p. 30)

Although people in the developed world resist capitalist patriarchies, most do not want a subsistence economy instead, but rather a nicer, more egalitarian capitalist democracy powered by renewables or maybe even a fully industrialized socialism. The primary exception is in the indigenous peoples of the industrialized world who often have a mixed economic base – part subsistence economy, part capitalism – and have been able to preserve parts of their traditional cultures, developed when their economies were fully based in subsistence.

Protests against Coca Cola bottling factory in India

The photo shows a protest in 2006 of over a thousand villagers protesting at Coca-Cola's north India headquarters in Gurgaon. Indian villagers continue the struggle. In late 2015 eighteen village councils (panchayats) in the immediate vicinity of the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Mehdiganj in Varanasi district in India came together to demand that groundwater use by Coca-Cola be stopped immediately due to the growing water crisis in the area. There are sharp drops in groundwater in the areas surrounding the plant.

The war against subsistence has not (yet) been won in the global South where in some places subsistence economies provide many of the necessities of life. Often the men of a community are purposefully lured by the forces of capitalist patriarchy into growing cash crops or in some other way participating in the capitalist economy, while the women continue growing food to feed their families and carrying out other subsistence work. In many places, women lead the resistance against the invading economy because their work is still primarily done in the subsistence economy and the incursion of capitalism makes that work more difficult. For example, a factory may pollute or use up the water, making the women’s work to collect water much more difficult. The factory is an unmistakable threat and makes resistance imperative. The women are able to resist because their subsistence way of life gives them considerable autonomy and economic self-sufficiency. Their independence from the capitalist, patriarchal economy leaves them free to see what it brings to them – loss of their land, environmental disasters, and “patriarchal, colonial control over women, means of production and the land.” (The quote is from Rauna Kuokkanen, see below.).

In order to regain our connections to the natural world and to human communities and to regain sanity, we must rebuild subsistence economies and cultures in both the global South and the industrialized North. As we build subsistence economies that produce life instead of death, we will gain independence from the dominant economy. This independence will put us in a much better position to accurately see and resist the globalized, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy without feeling that we cannot live without it. As Maria Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen have pointed out, there is an alternative to capitalism: “Subsistence Is the Alternative.”

Subsistence: Far More Than an Economy

Subsistence economies connect people to the land and to each other because the survival of the community and well-being of the people depends on these connections. But, as Rauna Kuokkanen, Associate Professor of Political Science and Aboriginal Studies at the University of Toronto, explains, subsistence is far more than just an economy. In traditional societies subsistence involves a highly integrated economic and social system. For example, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference explains that subsistence is:

“… a highly complex notion that includes vital economic, social, cultural and spiritual dimensions… Subsistence means much more than mere survival or minimum living standards. It enriches and sustains Inuit communities in a manner that promotes cohesiveness, pride and sharing. It also provides an essential link to, and communication with, the natural world of which Inuit are an integral part.”
(Quoted by Kuokkanen “Indigenous Economies, Theories of Subsistence and Women: Exploring the Social Economy Model for Indigenous Governance”, p. 219)

Kuokkanen further explains the centrality of the subsistence economy to indigenous identities and indigenous cultures:

“If indigenous economies are not taken into account, there is a serious danger of losing the very identities that constitute indigenous peoples. Indigenous economies such as household production and subsistence activities extend far beyond the economic sphere: they are at the heart of who people are culturally and socially. These economies, including the practices of sharing, manifest indigenous worldviews characterized by interdependence and reciprocity that extend to all living beings and to the land. In short besides an economic occupation, subsistence activities are an expression of one’s identity, culture, and values.”
(Quoted by Kuokkanen “Indigenous Economies, Theories of Subsistence and Women: Exploring the Social Economy Model for Indigenous Governance”, p. 217-218)

In other words, when a community provides for its physical needs via subsistence activities and a subsistence economy, that economy has far reaching effects on the peoples’ relationships with one another, their cultural practices, identities, and relationship to the land that provides sustenance. These relationships are in no way surprising. Think of the many ways that capitalism impacts the societies that embrace it – mobility, fragmentation of communities, urbanization, exacerbated inequality, destruction of nature and so on. The idea that material conditions and mode of production shape culture is a well established perspective in anthropology and sociology.

Subsistence: The Key to Nature Knowledge and Connection

Indigenous knowledge, including particularly nature knowledge, is acquired and preserved through subsistence activities. As Kuokkanen explains:

“Indigenous economies are thus contingent upon a stable and continuous relationship between the human and natural worlds. Knowledge of taking care of that relationship has traditionally been an integral part of social, economic, as well as spiritual structures and practices. In other words, there is a crucial link between subsistence and indigenous knowledge. Eugene Hunn notes that indigenous or traditional ecological knowledge ‘is a consequence of subsistence-based production’ and that ‘we cannot preserve the one without preserving the other’. Individuals and communities acquired special knowledge, skills, and a complex understanding of the local environment through their various subsistence activities. It is this knowledge that ‘enables the people to live directly from the land.’”
(Quoted by Kuokkanen “Indigenous Economies, Theories of Subsistence and Women: Exploring the Social Economy Model for Indigenous Governance”, p. 219-220)

Kalahari wildlife

The Botswana government does everything it can to prevent the Zhun/twasi from living their subsistence lifestyle. While tourists are allowed to hunt, the Zhun/twasi are greatly restricted from following their traditional lifeways. While a lodge for tourists in the middle of the desert has a swimming pool, the Zhun/twasi are continually fighting in court to have access to a simple water hole. Visit Survival International to find out ways you can help the Zhun/twasi in their ongoing fights with Botswana.

Let’s look at a concrete example of how knowledge of the land is essential to the subsistence and survival of one indigenous group. The Zhun/twasi (Bushmen) of the Kalahari Desert in South Africa lived a gatherer/hunter subsistence lifestyle exclusively well into the 20th century. Deep knowledge of their desert lands was essential for daily survival. In the Dobe area to the north, people knew 85 plant species suitable for food and 54 animal species. In the central Kalahari, pools of rainwater were available for at most two months of the year. Plants were not just needed for food, but as a main source of fluids for much of the year. It was a matter of life or death to know that a particular type of plant could provide water, and even to know and remember the location of individual water-storing plants. There was no guarantee that there would be enough water, enough of the necessary plants; the Zhun/twasi did sometimes die of dehydration. Imagine what skills and knowledge you would need to learn to find and prepare for eating 85 species of native edible plants where you live. The Zhun/twasi knowledge of animal tracking is similarly legendary. Trackers from the U.S. now travel to the Kalahari on ecotours to learn tracking skills from people who track to eat, not as a hobby.

The desert homeland of the Zhun/twasi is a more challenging environment than many places, but when people live by subsistence all of their needs are met by their ability to work with nature and with each other. Just as people in the dominant culture are attuned to their bosses moods, trash pickup times, or due dates for the utility bills in order to obtain their necessities, with subsistence people must connect to natural and human communities. These connections provide the means of survival, but also provide an authenticity and quality of life that eludes people in industrialized societies.

Imagine a life where the people around you are not continually putting themselves first, where community is valued more than the self, and you know that you will always belong to this community, that you will be taken care of if you need help, and that your contributions will be recognized and valued. Imagine slowing down to the speed of nature at “baseline”, noticing every change in the wind, knowing the meaning of the bird calls surrounding you, being so peaceful and quiet in your own mind and body that the animals around you barely notice your presence. (See Part 2 and Part 3 of my blog Power With Nature:Low Energy, Low Consumption, The Good Life.) Imagine knowing the land you live on so well that your community can provide for all of its needs from that land and live well for generations to come.

The Path to Subsistence

Subsistence living is feared by most people in the dominant culture who are dependent on and attached to the way of life they are used to. Meanwhile these same people are missing out on the best life can offer due to their severed connections to Earth and each other. And the dominant culture is threatening the survival of that culture and of life on this earth. “Subsistence is the alternative”, but most people won’t even consider it. What a mess! Is there a way for people to regain knowledge of the earth and connection to her without a return to subsistence and the everyday interdependence with the earth that subsistence living requires? Is there a way to treat the earth carefully and respectfully without that everyday interdependence?

Most of us are not going to be able to grow close to nature and to each other while living in a society that pulls us apart from one another while grinding up the earth and spitting out dead wildlife, dying ecosystems and embattled indigenous cultures. This is too painful and too difficult. Perhaps certain determined individuals can find a way to truly know and connect to the earth while living in the midst of an earth destroying culture. I do know of people in industrialized societies who have been able to increase their awareness of and love for nature through learning the awareness skills of gatherer/hunters (as taught by schools such as The Tracker and Wilderness Awareness School). And certainly there are an ever-increasing number of dedicated environmental activists emerging as the planet overheats and the theft of lands from indigenous peoples and wildlife escalates. But, the level of change we need cannot be made by individuals alone. Most people are not mavericks and never go very far in testing the bounds of their society. And, anyway, what we need is mass movement and thriving communities.

To move to the kind of deep embeddedness in land and human community that Jeannette Armstrong talks about we need a far different economic and social structure, a very different society than this globalized, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy – and actually many societies to fit into the many bioregions of this Earth. Subsistence is the social/economic arrangement that creates deeply connected human communities that are embedded in nature, and it has done so throughout our time on Earth. Subsistence is not the sole answer we need – subsistence societies can be patriarchal and hierarchical – but we had best figure out how to see past the propaganda against subsistence and instead value its millenia long track record. Short of a complete collapse (certainly a possibility), the dominant culture is not going to suddenly give way to subsistence. But, a turn toward a subsistence economy and culture does not have to be an all or nothing solution, as we will see in the discussion of “mixed economies” in an upcoming blog. There is a path, perhaps even a gentle path, from the devastation of this society to a subsistence way of life where no one will have to say of us, “The people down there are dangerous, they are all insane.”

December 21, 2014

Power With Nature: Low Energy, Low Consumption, The Good Life – Part 2

Red Fox

Red Fox

In 1994, Paula and I traveled to the Pine Barrens in New Jersey to take a week long introductory course in “primitive” survival skills and nature awareness from Tom Brown Jr., “The Tracker”. Tom Brown was well known for his exceptional abilities as a wildlife and human tracker which he had learned, along with many other skills, as a boy and young man from Stalking Wolf, one of the few remaining elders of a band of Southern Lipan Apaches. The class we took covered skills from shelter building, to making tools from rocks, to starting fires with a bow drill, but for me the most eye-opening experiences were all related to learning a way to connect to the natural world without domination. I discovered through this introductory class and several subsequent courses that most of the ways I normally moved through my days both cut me off from nature and had me trampling roughshod over the earth.

Take the simple act of walking, one foot in front of the other. Brown taught us to “fox walk”, to walk slowly feeling the earth through our feet with every step, always perfectly balanced. He brought the lesson home in a later class when he took all his students for a long hike through the New Jersey Pine Barrens wearing blindfolds. We had to search out where to step next, using our feet as sensors and constantly aware of every nuance of the earth we traversed.I discovered that my usual “white man’s walk” was really a matter of lurching from one foot to the next, always out of balance, always assuming that a flattened earth was going to be there to support the next step and that there was no reason to be concerned about what that next step might be doing to the earth underfoot. My “white man’s walk” was perfect for concrete, completely insensitive to the earth, and left me disconnected, unable to feel the ever-changing earth underfoot. Brown told us that by fox walking we could move through the day in a dynamic meditation, a meditation you can live your life in, especially if we also learned to use “wide angle vision”.

Perhaps because the “white man’s walk” is so precarious (unbalanced), I discovered that Tom Brown’s suggestion to look up as we fox walked was good advice. When I observed myself at my usual walk I found that I spent a good deal of the time looking down and seeing the ground, not the living landscape that surrounded me. What’s more, I found myself very busy with my own thoughts when my gaze was directed downward. When I looked up, the internal dialogue blessedly shut up and I was able to engage my senses as I walked along, smelling the damp earth, hearing the bird calls, feeling the wind and seeing the flights of the crows and occasional hawk overhead.

Brown advised us to use what he called “wide angle vision” to take in the entire panorama available if we expanded our view to the full field of vision we were capable of. By not focusing on a particular object or small area we could engage the rods in our eyes and see things more like a deer does; instead of a very clear view of a constricted area or object we would be able to notice any movement occurring anywhere in our entire field of vision and have greatly enhanced night vision as well. Brown said with practice we’d be able to see the blink of a bat’s eye off in the trees (though I have to confess that this I have never achieved). Perhaps most important, the earth came to life with a dance of birds and squirrels moving through the trees, leaves carried by the wind. Instead of seeing an objectified landscape I could begin to feel and become part of the living earth.


By teaching us what amounted to an entirely different way to be in our bodies and minds – walking to feel the earth, fully engaging all of our senses, softening our eyes to view the full field of vision, and quieting the churning of our thinking mind – Brown was providing us with the tools to form a very different kind of relationship to nature than is commonly practiced in the modern world.


By teaching us what amounted to an entirely different way to be in our bodies and minds – walking to feel the earth, fully engaging all of our senses, softening our eyes to view the full field of vision, and quieting the churning of our thinking mind – Brown was providing us with the tools to form a very different kind of relationship to nature than is commonly practiced in the modern world. Although Tom Brown is of European American ancestry the skills he taught came through Brown from his teacher, Stalking Wolf, an Apache who was raised among a band that had evaded capture by American or Mexican forces and lived free in the old ways, shunning any of the technologies of the invaders. Many of the ways of being I learned from Tom Brown must be common to many (perhaps all) gathering/hunting peoples.

It isn’t difficult to intuitively grasp how the quiet, well-balanced fox walk, highly tuned senses, quiet mind, and awareness of the natural world would be essential for people hunting wild game, avoiding predators and needing to know and be able to find dozens, perhaps hundreds, of plants that provide shelter, food, medicines and many of the tools needed for daily life. If you are someone interested in academic documentation (as I am also), Carolyn Merchant’s book, Ecological Revolutions, fully documents the practice of sensory immersion and participatory consciousness in gathering/hunting (and also horticultural) tribes in New England and contrasts Native American consciousness to that of the colonists and, later, the capitalists who took over New England.

Among the many changes that occurred in New England as power and occupation shifted from Native American tribes to colonial farmers and then to market-based capitalism was a great change in the relationship between humans and nature. As Merchant explains:

“Indians constructed nature as a society of equal face to face subjects. Animals, plants, and rocks were alive and could be communicated with directly. For eighteenth-century New England farmers, nature was an animate mother carrying out God’s dictates in the mundane world. Plants and even rocks grew on the earth’s surface, but were created for human use and could be harvested as commodities. Nineteenth-century scientists, industrialists, and market farmers reconstructed them as scientific objects to be analyzed in the laboratory and as natural resources to be extracted for profit.” (p. 23 Ecological Revolutions)

This shift from the Native American relationship between humans and nature as “equal face to face subjects” to the colonial farmers view of nature as created for human use and then the capitalists’ complete objectification of nature is what I consider a shift from power with relations to nature (power sharing between equals) to power over nature (domination).

The relationship of humans to nature in globalized patriarchy is clearly a power over relationship; we bulldoze the land to transform it into cities and roads, fish out and trash the ocean, pollute the earth, burn fossil fuels causing the climate to breakdown, and are bringing about the Sixth extinction of life on earth. When we respond to the environmental crises we cause, our solutions are almost always based in power over, often under the guise of “managing” the earth. In 2008, 28 scientists from three continents met in Sweden and identified nine planetary ecological boundaries they believed we either had already violated (climate change, nitrogen pollution, biodiversity loss) or were in danger of violating with unknown, but likely drastic repercussions (see The God Species: Saving the Planet in the Age of Humans by Mark Lynas). Obviously these scientists were concerned with preserving the earth, but their idea was to keep humanity from not crossing these potentially cataclysmic boundaries, not to end human abuse of nature and truly restore the earth. Their hope was that humans could manage the earth to stay on the right side of these deadly boundaries.

As the outcomes of our power over relationship to the earth become more and more deadly, the power over based “solutions” proposed become more deadly also – and preposterous. The plans of mad scientists to geo-engineer the planet’s climate by various means such as blasting sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere to create sulphur-based aerosols to block sunlight and cool the earth (at a cost of $50 billion annually) are now being taken seriously. We have become so used to living with top down structures and the managers who administer these hierarchies that we think we have become the “God species” capable of managing the complexities of the entire earth. Yet, we can’t even manage the traffic in our cities!


The best model available for re-establishing power with nature comes from the people who for millennia maintained relations based in power with nature, the gathering/hunting bands.


The best model available for re-establishing power with nature comes from the people who for millennia maintained relations based in power with nature, the gathering/hunting bands. Some of these bands survive today, although the pressures placed on them by globalized capitalist patriarchy are extreme – theft of land, forced removals, forced enculturation, and exposure to the diseases of modern societies still continue (See Survival International for more info). Information on the lifeways of hundreds of gathering and hunting peoples are available in the historical and anthropological records and can help us to relearn power with relations to nature and each other. The gatherer/hunter way of life was practiced by all of our ancestors for thousands and thousands of years, far longer than human “civilization” has existed. As “equal face to face subjects” with nature, gatherer/hunters did not view themselves as above nature or as separate from nature. As equals, the animals were important models for gatherer/hunters. In North America, for example, the fox could show people how to walk, the heron how to stalk. Gatherer/hunters survived by knowing nature very well and by fitting in with how nature functions, not by attempting to force nature to their will. For example, as Elizabeth Marshall Thomas has explained about the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa:

“But unlike agricultural and industrial peoples who want to influence the natural world, the hunter-gatherers wanted to join with it and use its powers. This, too, is one of the most profound differences between these hunter-gatherers and the rest of us. During a drought, we might visit a place of worship to pray earnestly for rain, trying to persuade our deity to alter the environment and make it rain. Not the Ju/wasi. They would feel the change in the air, notice the behavior of the clouds that built in the western sky, know that rain was coming, and make themselves ready to join with the oncoming storm and participate in its power. There was a rain song, for instance, and with it, a rain dance. But the dance was not meant to bring rain or make rain. No, it was used to gather the power of the oncoming rain and use that power to help people. (p. 267, The Old Way: A Story of the First People, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas)

Our best hope for restoring the earth and restoring human societies is to practice power with nature and power with relations among humans. We can, through this practice, draw back from the precipice we stand on and re-learn how humans can fit in with nature’s way of doing things. One important way of ensuring survival by fitting in with the natural world is through the practice of energy conservation, a way of life common to all the other animals of the earth, as I discuss in Part 3 of my blog “Power With Nature: Low Energy, Low Consumption, The Good Life”.

October 30, 2014

Power With Nature: Low Energy, Low Consumption, The Good Life – Part I

Chevrolet Volt

Chevrolet Volt achieves 99 miles per gallon equivalent running on electric power.

A man in an environmental group I belong to recently told the group that he had driven to the group meeting in his Chevrolet Volt (a plug-in electric car). The trip was over 50 miles and the car had used only a fraction of a gallon of gas. (According to Consumer Reports the Volt gets 99 mpg equivalent on electric power.) Even more impressive, most of the electricity to run the car had come from the solar array on top of his house. I was curious just how much electricity was required, as according to calculations I’d made, the solar panels at Paula’s and my house could never come close to running a car. I asked how many solar panels they had. Over 50 panels operated his house and two electric cars, with a small percentage of his electricity still coming from the grid. I just had to ask how many watts the 50+ panels provided. The panels weren’t all identical, but were all over 200 watts each. So, over 10,000 watts worth of solar panels!

Izuzu Trooper

Troopers are energy efficient in their own way. Our 1994 and 2000 Troopers were each purchased used and each has travelled over 200,000 miles. That long life means that massive amounts of energy and materials have not been used to manufacture more new vehicles.

I guess there will be no Chevrolet Volts getting charged up here at Cedar Hill where our array of ten mostly antique solar panels range from 35 watts up to the two newish 100 watt panels we bought two summers ago. Our solar budget is around 600 watts (on a sunny day), a tiny fraction of what the 50+ panel guy has. Never mind. A Chevy Volt would not survive a minute on our rough road and our cherished, but elderly, Troopers are energy efficient in their own way – each one has already travelled 200,000 miles and that long life means that massive amounts of energy and materials have not been used to manufacture more new vehicles. We consider ourselves quite fortunate to be able to operate a refrigerator here. We lived without one for eight years when we first moved here and had far fewer solar panels. Most of the year Paula gets to piece her quilts using an electric-powered 1949 Featherweight sewing machine. But, today, right around summer solstice when the days are long and solar power is normally at a yearly high, she’s back on her human-powered 1921 vintage treadle sewing machine thanks to what seems like weeks of endless clouds and rain. (We’re grateful for all the rain, but come on sun goddess!)

Paula's 1921 Singer treadle sewing machine. This sewing machine is entirely woman powered. You can use the foot treadle or add a hand crank - Paula has both options.

We don’t get 90% of our electricity from solar here, but 100%. We’re off the grid and we live on an exact budget determined by the sunshine (though we have resorted to a gas generator on rare occasions, usually when a carpenter required more energy to operate her tools than we could provide). I have a stack of “to do” stuff piled up next to the computer because there is no way we have enough electricity to turn the darn thing on. This electricity shortage is kind of annoying, but I also love it. I get to skip doing all that computer work (for now) plus my life is keyed into the seasons, the weather, in one more way and I’m just a little more disconnected from the mainstream culture, a culture I find more than a little troubling. We’re obviously far from perfect at conserving energy and reducing consumption – just look at those two fossil fuel burners sitting in the driveway – but we are certainly trying.

But, moving on toward my point… The 50+ solar panel guy generated a kind of visceral excitement amongst many members of my environmental group when he talked about driving his hundred miles per gallon solar-powered Volt to the meeting. Here was someone in the flesh living the sustainability dream – he could drive where he wanted, live the “normal” American lifestyle, but with fossil-free solar energy. (We won’t think about what energy and materials it took to manufacture that Volt or all those solar panels.) I could almost hear (some) people’s inner thoughts – “Yes! This is what we want! We can still have it all!” This 50+ panel vision for a sustainable future reminds me of the high energy/high consumption renewable energy paradigm that Vandana Shiva talks about in her book, Soil, Not Oil. According to Shiva:

“Most of the discussions and negotiations on climate change have been restricted to the commercial, consumption-oriented energy paradigm rooted in a reductive, mechanistic worldview and consumerist culture. Within this paradigm there are two dominant approaches: the approach of global business, especially the corporations that have promoted the fossil fuel economy, and the approach of those seeking renewable alternatives to support an energy-intensive consumerist society.” (p. 4, Soil, Not Oil)

Shiva offers an alternative to the high energy, high consumption paradigm based on a “people’s perspective in the Global South”. She tells us we must “power down energy and resource consumption” and “power up creative, productive human energy and collective democratic energy to make the necessary transition.” (p.4) In other words, she calls for less energy use period, but more human work and creativity, all taking place through political structures based in decentralized, living democracies that spread social power to ordinary people.

When I talk about my own attempts to live a relatively low energy lifestyle people are often impressed that we have solar electricity and live entirely off the grid. But, when they realize the extent of so-called deprivation that Paula and I live with – no running water, no flush toilets, no rototiller, no lawn mower, no tractor, no air conditioning, and, when it gets too cloudy or the days too short, no computer, no DVDs and sometimes no electric lights – most people (in the U.S) assume that they could never live the way we do. They also typically dismiss our way of life as irrelevant, assuming that so few people would choose a low power way of life that it makes no political difference whatsoever that we choose this way of life. For example, one fellow who was convinced that society needs nuclear energy in order to preserve the lifestyle of people in developed nations told me, “I don’t really see a massive change in lifestyle; if you want to go live off the grid and grow all your own food, etc. good for you, but don’t expect the vast majority of Americans to join you.” Other people say what we are doing is just individual change and not very politically relevant – kind of like changing your lightbulbs from incandescent to compact fluorescent or LED. A good thing to do for the environment, but too small a change to matter. These critics are entirely missing the point; we are engaged in revolutionary change here at Cedar Hill, working to rebuild society from the bottom up.


If you want to create a non-hierarchical, bottom-up society your goal is to do away with the whole power over, top-down power structure and all forms of domination, replacing power over with power with.


As I recently discussed in my blog, “Stuck in the Mud”, many people think that social change can come only by influencing society’s decision-makers to make changes from the top down. People not at the top can influence what happens by applying various sorts of pressure on the top: lobbying, letter writing campaigns, protesting, boycotts, online petitions, civil disobedience and so on. But, if you want to create a non-hierarchical, bottom-up society your goal is to do away with the whole power over, top-down power structure and all forms of domination, replacing power over with power with. Power with is the concept commonly used by feminists (and now others) to denote social relationships where power is shared between equals and people cooperate to create outcomes that benefit everyone involved. Obviously, the top of a top-down structure is not going to be real keen on eliminating its own power altogether, so there isn’t a whole lot of point to pressuring the top.


Obviously, the top of a top-down structure is not going to be real keen on eliminating its own power altogether, so there isn’t a whole lot of point to pressuring the top.


Political work looks different when your goal is creating a power with, nonhierarchical society. You can work to abolish the top-down structures and/or work to build the society you want. Both strategies are essential. Since building a power with society from the bottom up requires that ordinary individuals (the “bottom”) do the building, the work we ordinary individuals do as individuals, as “families”, as communities to build power with, non-hierarchical households and community structures all counts as revolutionary action.


Since building a power with society from the bottom up requires that ordinary individuals (the “bottom”) do the building, the work we ordinary individuals do as individuals, as “families”, as communities to build power with, non-hierarchical households and community structures all counts as revolutionary action.


The revolutionary change called for by this time of environmental devastation includes not just a change in our social relationships, but also changing our relationship with nature from power over to power with. And as we will soon see (in Parts II, III and IV of this blog) a power with relationship to nature requires a low-energy, low consumption way of life. One way or another, by choice or by nature taking her turn at power over, “the vast majority of Americans” are most likely headed toward a low power future. The sooner we abandon the fantasy that we can use renewable energy to continue a high consumption lifestyle, the better off we will be on every dimension. Our attempts to dominate each other, constantly seeking status and material benefits, create great unhappiness. We cannot feel good about ourselves under a power over social system, as power over destroys feelings of genuine self worth for both the people “above” and the people “below”. A life of power with relationships to other people and to nature is the greatest hope for Americans and everyone else on this struggling planet and certainly for our relatives in the natural world.

June 14, 2012

Gumption and Grit Grabs the ONF Board’s Attention!

Filed under: Ecofeminism,Economics,Paula Mariedaughter — Paula Mariedaughter @ 12:12 pm
On strike at ONF, June 11, 2012.

Ozark Natural Foods, our coop, was shut down by striking employees on June 11! Yes the doors are locked on a Monday morning!

“Closed until further notice,” the voice on the answering machine for ONF informed me! The staff of Ozark Natural Foods was on strike demanding the resignation of two of the board members who have in recent months participated in firing Alysen Land, long time general manager, attempted to change bylaws and hired an unscrupulous lawyer. Gumption and grit fueled their actions! Many of the staff had sent letters and signed a petition in support of the general manager, and voiced their opinions at board meetings and owner meetings. Most all of the staff are also vested owners of the coop and believe strongly in the cooperative model of doing business.

These women and men were as frustrated as I have been in trying to communicate our desires to the seven people on the board of directors of ONF. This new board (seated in April, 20012) has been dealing with trying to fix the poor decisions of the previous board. (Note: five of the board members are holdovers; two are newly elected including the president.)

On strike at ONF, June 11, 2012.

Staff members carried signs expressing their demands to the board.

After the last ONF’s owner’s forum on June 2, I wrote this to a friend:
“The board has, in fact, set itself apart from the member/owners. It all feels very patronizing–the board seems to believe they must hoard information and make the decisions for the peasant membership–all the while hiding behind “legal vulnerability”. (Remember the legal system is set up to protect the status quo, and those in power benefit most from the legal system.)Delay, postpone and stall seems to be working! The situation seems very discouraging–unless someone takes up the banner and does protests outside the store or something.”

Bold action!

Well, someone did take a bold move–the staff closed the store! In the letter posted on the ONF website and in the flyer handed out in front of the store, the staff described their frustrations and their demands of the board. Sixty staff voted on Sunday, June 10 to close the store and to hand out information on Monday to all who came to the store (see a copy of this letter below). They announced their intentions to the media on Sunday evening. The interim general manager Mike Anzalone, who worked under Alysen Land as store manager, was one of the strikers.

Monday morning was bright and sunny. The staff erected four ONF tents to shield them from the blazing sun and from the rain predicted later in the day. The tents lent a festive feel to the somber, yet determined, action these women and men chose to take believing they were acting in the long-term best interest of their coop. I agree. Their letter lists no demands for raises or improved working conditions. Arkansas is not a state known to be sympathetic to the needs of employees. And these workers did not even have the protection of a union. Each of the staff took a personal risk because they believed the board was not hearing the voice of the owners and the staff.

Staff explaining their actions to shoppers

Dialogue between ONF staff members and concerned shoppers.


President of the board with staff.

President of the Board of Directors, Joshua Youngblood, (on left) talking to staff members before the Monday afternoon meeting to discuss the demands of the striking workers.

Early Monday when we heard about the strike, Jeanne and I headed to town. We had been to board meetings and owner forums. We created a handout in May and passed it out to other shoppers–one of these is still on the bulletin board. I called everyone I can think of to ask them to email the board. All this seemed futile, until the employees united and made their strong voices heard.

We talked to the strikers and listened to their stories. I also spent about two hours talking to shoppers and owners who came to ONF. I explained that as a long-time owner, I had gone to the meetings, read the previous board minutes for the last year and still felt like I only had a small piece of the puzzle. That’s why you will see me standing with the sign. Most people were supportive and understanding. Some even asked how they could help.

The personal is political and the political is personal!

As an ardent radical lesbian feminist I observed several principles during all this. We know that, “The personal is political, and the political is personal.” I interpret this to mean that each of my personal choices—say to not eat meat—has additional political implications. A vegetarian diet uses far fewer resources to keep this one human alive. Animals will not be mistreated to offer me meat calories. Long-term healthcare costs are generally lower for non-meat eaters, etc. Additionally, all my political choices have personal implications and responsibilities. When I advocate for reducing our carbon footprint as a nation and as a species, it means my personal choices are going to be affected—no more jet plane trips, choosing to live without using air conditioning in my home, etc.

Come sit with us...

Come sit with us.... It was a long, stressful day for ONF staff who tried to make the best of the situation..

Taking a personal risk of losing one’s job because you believe your risk may correct a political situation in a positive way is a powerful statement. Taking personal power is a heady choice as we have seen in those involved with the Arab Spring uprisings. Exercising personal power is a risk. Collective action can change your world!

Positive outcome

The ONF Board of Directors has not taken retaliatory action (although I have heard that some on the board suggested this). In fact, the board by a four to three vote has chosen to rehire Alysen Land as general manager for the next year! I am pleased. The staff is relieved. However, her boss will be this severely divided board of directors. It will not be an easy year, but if feels like a hopeful move on the board of director’s part. I appreciate each of the directors who voted to hire the best person for this job. Their job has not been an easy one. The next few months will present more challenges. We, the owners at ONF are the only “boss” of the board. We need to be informed and involved in order to keep our coop strong.

I believe the board could benefit from radical feminists’ concept of power. We differentiate between “power over” and “power with”. “Power with” is the essential willingness of people to work together to create solutions to all the situations that face humans. “Power with” models depend on consensus decision-making where the voices and concerns of all are heeded as important and valid. The hierarchy that produces more attention to “prominent citizens” and “powerful men/women” is not reinforced. “Power over” models depend on top down rule-making and depends on fear to keep people in line.

Avoiding a discontented minority

We live in a culture where the “majority rules”. Consensus may take more effort to achieve. But those of us who believe in the consensus model are well aware of the damage the dissatisfied minority usually creates in ongoing disputes where the majority attempts to impose their decision on the others. This is my fear about the current situation with a severely divided board of directors. I know that the current president has made determined attempts to have the board “speak with one voice”. I have no easy answers. My observations are that the current methods of decision-making and communication are not working. Spontaneous cooperation is our goal. Let’s brainstorm about what would help make us all more willing to spontaneously cooperate.

On strike at ONF, June 11, 2012.

Paula's first strike experience was in 1971 striking as a flight attendant against Trans World Airlines (TWA)--she needs to keep up her striker credentials!

The staff wrote this letter to the public explaining their actions. The letter was posted on the ONF website and passed out during the strike. Many of you may not have had the chance to read it. I value this letter because it is strong, simple and clear.

Letter from the Coop staff addressed to Co-op owners:

We, the staff of your co-op, Ozark Natural Foods will no longer stand by while your voices and the will of the staff remain ignored.

A group of owners asked for a special meeting in order to discuss the conduct of Linda Ralston and Sue Graham. The owners were denied that meeting. The owners chose to meet anyway. Those owners met quorum; voted to remove both board members, and submitted those results to the board of directors. Linda Ralston and Sue Graham remain seated against the will of the membership.

The majority of the staff wrote letters to the board of directors and overwhelmingly signed a petition for the reinstatement of Alysen Land. That request has not been acknowledged.

We, the staff of Ozark Natural Foods, believe that our co-op is in crisis. We will no longer stand by while we are hushed like children and told to be quiet while the adults in the room decide our fate.

As of the close of business on Sunday, June 10, in the spirit of passive resistance, the doors of the co-op will be locked; and before you we will sit down. We refuse to work under these conditions. We refuse to continue as if nothing is wrong, while the basic tenets of co-operation are being ignored. We will fight for the co-operative principles, for transparency, and for the voices of the ownership and the staff to be respected. Because we insist that the vote of the ownership be respected, we sit before you with a single goal:

We demand the resignation of Linda Ralston and Sue Graham.

We believe that it is impossible for our board of directors to carry on a reasonable relationship with this management team, with the staff, and with our ownership until Linda Ralston and Sue Graham resign. We believe that in their absence, Alysen Land will be returned to her postion as General Manager; that John Eldridge will be removed and an attorney who is willing to defend our bylaws will be hired; that our mortgage will be paid in full as we promised the ownership many months ago. We believe that in the absence of Linda Ralston and Sue Graham, our ownership and our community, rather that personal agendas, will once again become the focus of our board of directors.

We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this will cause to you and to the interruption in your ability to get wholesome food for your families. But we believe that the very nature of co-operation is now in jeopardy. We ask you, our owners, our friends, our family, our community to please sit with us in protest.

We ask that you contact all of our board members and plead for the resignation of Linda Ralston and Sue Graham. We hope for a speedy resolution so we can return to being your community owned co-operative grocery store.

May 12, 2012

Cooperative Principles Gone Awry

Filed under: Economics,Paula Mariedaughter — Paula Mariedaughter @ 8:02 am
Rock St

Ozark Natural Foods, our coop, used this location on Rock Street in the 1980s. The house was funky, cramped and cozy.

About Consumer Cooperatives, aka a Coop
Consumer cooperatives are a direct challenge to capitalism. We owners do not receive profits from this business model! We contribute a particular amount of money to become an owner—this is our owner equity in the coop business. Currently it is $140 at ONF which can be paid at $20 per year–and we can withdraw the entire amount later, if we choose. If a cooperative pulls in more money than the cost of goods, services received, and employee salaries, all that money is returned to the owners. This returned money or, as our coop calls it, “patronage refunds” is not profit pulled from employees salaries, extracted from suppliers or the result of selling poor quality goods as many of the big-box retailers operate. This patronage refund returns to owners money they spent at the coop during the last year.

At times, the general manager and the board may choose to keep back part of the owner equity to cover planned expenses or unexpected expenses. The board votes each year on what percentage will be returned. Usually 20% is returned and 80% retained to be returned at a later date. Some coops don’t return the retained. However, during general manager Alysen Land’s watch, the funds have been to returned to owners within 7-10 years after they were first retained. This all depends on the financial health of the coop.

Dickson St

ONF moved downtown to the Dickson Street location in 1993.


current location

ONF moved to this current location in Evelyn Hills Shopping Center in 2000 and has since purchased the building.

About My Coop, Ozark Natural Foods
ONF began as a coop in 1971. I began shopping there in the early 1980s when I first bought land in the area. I became an owner before I even moved to northwest Arkansas. The first place I remember shopping regularly was the cramped house located on Rock Street across from the police station. It was a funky little store with some severe management problems. After a long financial struggle the store recovered. In 1993 ONF moved to a downtown commercial location on Dickson Street. There the store grew, but parking was limited. After the move in 2000 to Evelyn Hills Shopping Center and the financial crises involved that year, the current general manager resigned and Alysen Land was promoted from within to the general manager position.

With the help of a financial consultant and some drastic cuts, the coop struggled to reduce its debt. Within six months the financial picture was improved. ONF, under the leadership of Alysen Land, has gone on to win national awards and now has an excellent credit standing. Recently ONF has purchased the entire building allowing for the possibility of expansion. Current plans project paying off that mortgage by fall of this year! Would you fire a general manager who has accomplished all this? I would not! I would give her a raise!

Firing a Successful General Manager for “No Cause”
On March 22, 2012, the previous board of directors of ONF fired general manager Alysen Land for “no cause” in a four to three vote by the board. We, the owners did not receive any official word of the firing and the employees were warned by the board not to talk about it at the store. Rumors abounded. I was shocked and then outraged the more I looked into the situation. Below is my letter to the board of ONF. This is a board with some new members. I urge you to write your own letter to the board: board@ozarknf.coop

Dear Board Members,
Ozark Natural Foods is one of the main reasons I live in northwest Arkansas! As a member since the early 1980’s I have watched the many transformations that bring us here today. The board is answerable to the owners—that means we need information about important board actions. As one of the owners, I expect to be allowed to attend any meeting of the board when the board is conducting Coop business. I expect the Coop Newsletter to inform me of important Coop news –like the board decision to fire general manager Alysen Land last March. Keeping vital news of board actions from the membership does not serve the owner’s best interest.

I attended the so-called Owner’s Forum last Saturday and was sorely disappointed in the tone and content of the board response to our owner concerns. Many of us care deeply about the ongoing health of Ozark Natural Foods. We have trusted Alysen Land and her leadership team for the last twelve years. The board gave us no information to make an informed judgment about the wisdom of the board’s action to terminate her contract.

In light of your actions to date, I am doing everything in my power to inform owners and other community members of the current situation at ONF and encourage both owners and shoppers to seek out the truth.

I sincerely hope that the board will reinstate Alysen Land at the May 15 meeting and I encourage you to give her an apology for all the previous board has put her through. Additionally, I believe a well-earned raise is in order! I also hope this board will eliminate the restrictions place on discretionary spending imposed by the previous board. I urge you to hire legal counsel who respects coop principles.

Unannounced and secret board meetings serve to heighten suspicion and mistrust. An open meeting policy would go along way to healing the rift the previous board created.

Best regards, Paula Mariedaughter

August 24, 2010

Fracking Brings a Living Hell to Earth!

Filed under: Ecofeminism,Economics,Patriarchy,Paula Mariedaughter — Paula Mariedaughter @ 6:59 am
bale1

Gasland is a documentary movie by Josh Fox who was approached about leasing land near his forest home for gas drilling.

The documentary film Gasland (www.gaslandthemovie.com) introduced me to the people who are living in the earthly hell created by the extreme drilling technique, called fracking, currently favored by the major gas companies who dig 8,000 feet, inject water laced with 596 chemicals (many are very toxic) to pump up natural gas mixed with the water and chemicals. Once the gas is separated, the 7 million gallons of chemicalized water from that one well is a hazard we all have to live with. The closest neighbors to the well—more often multiple wells—will breath the toxic chemical fumes, drink those chemicals in their water. We met those people and heard them describe the severe health effects for themselves, their children, pets and all of nature unfortunate enough to live near polluting gas wells. Endocrine disruption, cancer, asthma and severe headaches are just a few of the results of exposure to the contamination of the air, soil and water caused by the gas drilling industry. Dr. Theo Colborn, a leading expert on this subject has more information available here: http://www.endocrinedisruption.com/chemicals.video.php

My opinion is that this deep drilling technique is fundamentally unsafe because of the chemicals used, the multiple deep underground blasting and the impossibility of obtaining enough water for the process and finally because the trillions of gallons of used water cannot be safely stored or restored as safe water.

No Regulations from Government!George W Bush and Dick Cheney (both oil men) and earlier Richard Nixon convinced congress to exempt the natural gas industry from meaningful regulation. The industry is not covered by:
the 1972 Clean Air Act
1972 Clean Water Act
exempt from Superfund Cleanup
exempt form Safe Drinking Water Act
needs to provide minimal environmental impact statements

The industry is dominated by several big companies (including Halibuton) who have no oversight—the EPA has no authority to regulate drilling. You may not be aware of the scale of the environmental destruction, even if you are aware of some of these problems with gas drilling. Thursday afternoon I was aware of the problem, but unaware of the scale of the problem. By Thursday evening I had seen images of hundreds of square miles stripped of life and dedicated to pulling gas from deep within the earth and destroying peaceful life in the process!!

After viewing the reality, I could not sleep—haunted by those images. And I was haunted by the faces of the people trapped by circumstances! They had been lied to and treated without regard for their health and safety. It could have been any of us. This was not a natural disaster, but an un-natural disaster, a man made disaster. No one protected them. Some were told to hire an attorney and sue if they felt wronged.

In fracking, the blasting creates mini-earthquakes that blast open underground cracks to release the gas. We are told these blasts are harmless, but do we know that? No, this extreme drilling process has only been in wide use for ten years. Can the earth sustain this assault? Will the earth sustain this assault? Our clean water comes from underground aquifers of ancient water, how will these nonrenewable resources be protected?

And where will the water to perform the drilling come from? How will the toxic water be stored safely forever? Each well drilling requires from 1-7 million gallons of water. The same well can be tapped up to eighteen times and will use that much water each time. Using the low estimate of 1 million gallons per drilling, that would be 18 million gallons of water per well. In the Dallas/Ft. Worth area there are 10,000 gas wells. Again, using the low estimate, 18 million gallons of water multiplied by 10,000 wells equals 180,000 million gallons of poisoned water to store and protect. This is only for the wells in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area!

Water shortages are already predicted to be a major concern worldwide. Safe drinking water will be the luxury of the future, if we do not make major changes now!

Your well and my well, could they be next?
My concern is not merely an intellectual concern. Last year the national forest service leased forest land 30 miles or so south of here to a company determined to use fracking to drill for gas in the national forest. The owners of the nearby resort, Mulberry Mountain, called our attention to the situation and arranged for a public meeting with local officials. The process was described and the concerns and protests we offered were ignored. My understanding is that the drilling has begun and soon there will be 1-7 million gallons of toxic water used in the drilling waiting to be disposed of somewhere. Where and how?

water-tank

We collect water from our roof for our garden and store it in these open stock tanks. Even this water can be polluted by the chemicals in the holding ponds of polluted water vaporizing into airborn chemicals and released as acid rain.

The gas companies have a legal strategy called “forced pool” that can deny people to decline drilling on their land! Many of us do not own the mineral rights to our land, or own only a percentage of the mineral rights. Imagine the complications this could bring to a landowner not wanting to lease to gas drilling companies.

We could be next! Several years ago, Jeanne and I were contacted by a gas company representative who told us they wanted to drill on our land. Neither we, nor our neighbors were interested. Fortunately, we have not heard from them in years. We have 40 acres of oak/hickory forest where we built our solar powered house and began our organic gardens twenty-one years ago. We love where we live and have invested heart, mind and soul here. Josh Fox, who created Gasland, began his search to learn more about gas drilling because he lived in a similar rural area in Pennsylvania, where his parents had settled in the 1970s. He grew up in the woods and especially loved the stream that meandered through his homestead. The gas company offered him $100,000 for drilling rights. He wanted to learn more. He sought out landowners who had agreed to lease to the gas companies. Gasland showed us streams near drilling sites that are polluted with gasses from the drilling and have pockets of gas in the stream that can be lighted on fire. Often the deep underground blasts force new seams to appear in the underground rocks sending gas and methane formerly trapped underground into pristine wells, springs and streams. We heard people describe all this in Colorado, Pennsylvania and many other places! His worst fear and our worst fear! These were real people stuck in a living hell.

Foolishness
Don’t be fooled by the PR campaign financed by the natural gas corporations that declare gas to be a “clean” energy source. The 10,00 wells around and in Dallas/Ft. Worth emit 200 tons of toxic emissions per day—more than the automobiles in that metropolitan area emit each day. And, the natural gas pipelines have built-in release valves that we are told are not toxic, but it is gas released into the atmosphere on a regular basis, yes?

We need to educate ourselves, our neighbors and our political representatives about all the consequences of fracking. However, the gas companies are big campaign contributors, so we may have to become more creative in letting the politicians know of our outrage that the gas companies call all the shots and we, the people, are left to fend for ourselves.

Stop using natural gas is another radical possibility! Radical means going to the root of the problem. If there is no market for natural gas, the gas companies have no incentive to drill. Build a clothesline! Gas clothes dryers were not common place in Miami Springs where I grew up in the 1950s. We were a family of six with lots of wet clothes and they were all hung out to dry. Put up a clothesline and hang your wash. Change those ridiculous city regulations that forbid clotheslines if you have such restrictions.

I am not a politician, so I can and will express my unpopular opinion: reduce, reduce, reduce. Conservation of all our natural resource use is the central component in saving our planet from the extreme climate changes we are heading for today. Reduce your consumption of all energy sources: batteries, electricity, oil, gasoline, propane, as well as plastic and water and food. Perhaps we can reverse the consequences of our dependence on unlimited access to energy sources. Walk in the woods. Ride a bike. Grow a garden. As my mama used to say, “Actions speak louder than words”!

fern913

Destroying habitat of millions of plants and animals from Texas to Ohio and from Pennsylvania to Colorado to extract gas to fuel consumer lust for luxury must stop. Our garden reminds me of how plants and people have coexisted for thousands of years, until now.

For more information about the drilling practices of the natural gas industry proceed to these resources provided by Joyce Hale, president of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters. The screening of Gasland in Fayetteville was sponsored by the League of Women Voters, Omni Peace and Justice Center and the local chapter of the Sierra Club.

Learn More about Natural Gas Development and Take ACTION!
SIGN UP FOR FUTURE EMAIL ACTION ALERTS

1. ProPublica online articles
http://www.propublica.org/search/search.php?q=natural+gas&x=10&y=13.
They have intensively developed the topic over the last couple of years. Their investigative reporting is some of the best out there.

2. Become acquainted with everything on the subject at endocrinedisruption.com/. Dr. Theo Colborn is the go-to person for information about the impact of chemicals, particularly on children and the unborn. http://www.endocrinedisruption.com/chemicals.video.php

3. Make sure that any landowner facing the decision to lease is familiar with OGAP (Oil & Gas Accountability Project). Their free manual, Oil and Gas at Your Door, http://www.earthworksaction.org/LOguidechapters.cfm should be the bible of everyone interested in this topic.

4. Blogs will give you local insight and help you connect with where the action is having negative impacts. Check out:
http://www.a4gda.blogspot.com/ (Arkansas)
http://txsharon.blogspot.com/ (Texas)
fwcando.org/ (Texas)

5. Videos are a wonderful way to learn:
a. Split Estate – This documentary about Colorado and New Mexico features the conflict between surface ownership and mineral rights. Health problems are a key part. If you get this video www.splitestate.com, be sure you watch the “extras” in addition to the main feature
b. Gasland – Film maker, Josh Fox, gained a high profile after winning at Sundance Film Festival and became popular guest with national television interviews. There are HBO showings still being scheduled so check the HBO Documentary section for listings. Copies should be available to buy in December. Go to www.gaslandthemovie.com for information.
c. What You Need to Know About Natural Gas Production – An excellent description of the process and chemicals by Dr. Theo Colborn. It is available at her website or they will send you a DVD. http://www.endocrinedisruption.com/chemicals.video.php
d. But MOST IMPORTANT is a MUST WATCH 3-part video by the Cornell Professor Anthony Ingraffea, revealing the true economics and scale of this problem. http://nyrad.org/videos.html This is possibly the most critical thing to be understood, since it is the only argument that will resonate with the political leadership. They must be shown that they have been listening to one side of the economic equation.

TO REQUEST A PROGRAM ON NATURAL GAS DEVELOPMENT IN ARKANSAS FOR YOUR GROUP OR ORGANIZATION:
Contact JOYCE HALE 479-527-2777 or joycehale43@gmail.com

striper878

Gasland documents severe health problems for people, domesticated animals, and wild animals when exposed to toxic water, fumes and noise related to gas drilling. Children developed asthma, others experienced severe headaches. Endocrine problems were common complaints of those living near drilling sites. Some of the animals lost much of their fur. Striper is one of our seven household animals we are concerned about.

Postscript from Paula: Here at Cedar Hill we heat our 800 square foot house with locally purchased seasoned firewood, and do not use air conditioning. Solar energy collected from eight vintage solar panels located on our roof provides our electricity including the biggest energy hog: refrigeration. (We do use a Sunfrost refrigerator which operates off a 12 volt system like ours and is built to be super energy efficient. We do not have enough solar electricity to operate the freezer unit.) Propane is the energy source we use to cook and bake, although in winter when we have our wood stove burning we heat water and cook some food on the woodstove. We consider this bonus energy! Our 100 gallon propane tank lasts us about nine months. We have had to do some research to find out where and what propane is. Do you know?

Propane is a gas often found with natural gas and even with petroleum deep within the earth. Some sources name it as a by product of processing natural gas and of petroleum refining. The processing of natural gas involves removal of propane and butane from the natural gas, to prevent condensation of these liquids in natural gas pipelines. Additionally, oil refineries produce some propane as a by-product of production of gasoline or heating oil.

Because we want to reduce our use of natural gas to a minimum, this means that one of our goals is to reduce use of propane in every way possible. Instead of heating water on the stove for our showers, we are now depending more on using the sun to heat the water in our solar shower bag for a refreshing hot shower. We will wash our laundry in Fayetteville tomorrow because we are going there to do our grocery shopping at Ozark Natural Foods Coop. To avoid burning all the natural gas it would take to dry our clothes (and the electricity used to turn those large tumblers) in the gas dryers, we will hang everything here in the hot August sun to dry. Actions speak louder than words….

August 2, 2010

Are We Trapped in Recreational Shopping?

Filed under: Ecofeminism,Economics,Subsistence Living — Paula Mariedaughter @ 6:43 am
bale1

This huge bale, or mitumba, of fabric heading out of sight

I shop for treasures in unlikely spots. I enjoy my time browsing through thrift shops and flea markets. As a lifelong admirer of quality fabric, textiles are a weakness for me. I can almost always think of a possible use for an attractive piece of cotton or silk. As a quilter, the range of possible uses for a particular pleasing textile is unlimited. I love fabric—whether it is a richly colored teeshirt, a vibrant plaid, a large scale floral or a swirling batik, I want it in my life! Imagine my shock when I arrived at the parking lot of the local salvation army and saw tons of fabric compressed like junk into two huge bales. Each bale was as large as a railroad car! At first I did not know what I was looking at: it seemed to be new wall beyond the building. I looked closer and grabbed my camera because it was an unbelievable sight. When you look at the pictures I took that day, you will see the fluttering corners of hundreds of white plastic bags among the flattened clothes. I experienced it as a chilling, unworldly sight.

As a regular shopper here, I had never seen such a sight. When I inquired inside, I was told that they ship several bales this size every week. They send it “overseas”. The worker explained that most of the clothes they receive as donations will not be purchased, so they move it on as quickly as possible. In a recent book, Fred Pearce wrote, “On average, each of us buys around 75 pounds of textiles a year. We eventually throw about 65 pounds of that into the landfills and hand over about 10 pounds to charities….” It seems that most of those charities bale up most of their donations and many sell the bales to raise money for their other projects. Often the bales are sold to importers in African nations who then sell the individual items to poor people for a profit (emphasis mine). “In Tanzania, they call old shorts and shirts and skirts and socks mitumba, meaning a bale. That’s how the clothes come, in bales unloaded from shipping containers at the Dar es Salaam dock.” Mitumba is big business in Tanzania where most of the ordinary people wear the Western world’s cast-off clothes. This invisible connection to the consuming lifestyle of most Americans has been traced by Fred Pearce in Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff. The author offers you an extensive research on the life of stuff once it leaves your hands.

bale2

Closeup of the bale with all the flapping plastic bags

Compulsive consuming often involves “recreational shopping”. Recreational shopping was a central part of my girlhood and family life in the 1950s and 1960s. What is recreational shopping? The easy definition I use describes recreational shopping as something to do when you are feeling down, something to do to celebrate an occasion, and something to do if you are just bored and want to get out of the house. Shopping becomes central to existence.

I noticed this recreational shopping phenomenon in my own life only after I became actively involved with the Women’s Liberation Union in Kansas City, MO in the early 1970s. There I learned about the power of capitalism to dominate the lives of us ordinary people. At the same time my mother had been divorced by my father and was struggling financially. She observed, “You can’t go out of the house without spending money!” She was experiencing the limitations of her reduced income, and noticing a phenomenon she had not seen before in her own life. These were the early days of consumerism—credit card use was not yet wide spread. Today we are now consumers rather than citizens or neighbors. We live in markets, not cities or towns. Have you even noticed this change in terminology in the media?

My values and consciousness were changing as I examined many parts of my life. My good friend Kate Kasten wrote a guide to the thrift shops in the Kansas City area in the mid-1970s. We enjoyed searching for “finds” and “necessities” along Main Street’s bargain spots. When each of us purchased vintage houses in downtown KC we shopped for furniture and appliances with a past life. It was great fun for me to search for items that caught my eye and pleased my sensibilities. I was not buying what was being promoted at the furniture and department stores. Often I bought better quality than was available new! I furnished my 1888 Queen Anne Victorian house with style!

Thirty-five years later I still get a thrill looking for unique items at thrift stores and flea markets. Fashion is irrelevant to my life. Quality fabrics and well made furniture and tools draw my attention. I do enjoy shopping, but I avoid any, and every big-box store. The majority of my clothes are treasures I’ve found at thrift shops. One of the advantages of shopping where clothes cost five dollars or less is the freedom to not wear something uncomfortable. One cannot always tell how comfortable a particular item will be until worn in real life. If it doesn’t work out, I can wash it and redonate it to the thrift shop. Many of us have a few things in our closet that have become our favored outfits because we feel good when we are wearing them.

jacket

Paula is outfitted in her second-hand clothes and feeling good.

Here is my favorite outfit. The picture was taken as I stood by the special exhibit I pulled together for our quilt guild’s 2009 quilt show. The blue knit shirt, the cotton slacks and the black and white ikat unlined jacket all came from thrift shops. I have worn the slacks, shirt and the jacket regularly for at least the last eight years. They will not be donated to a thrift shop any time soon. Shoes, underclothes and well-fitting pants are items I generally purchase new. I choose carefully and expect each to last a long time. I stopped wearing fashionable women’s shoes in the 1970s because of the long-term damage such footwear does to women’s feet. At the time I worked as a flight attendant for TWA. The airline required me to carry the doctor’s letter declaring I needed to wear the low heeled, lace-up leather shoes for health reasons. My flying partners sometimes couldn’t resist making comments like, “Those shoes look (long pause) comfortable.” We worked long hours and walked many miles, but fashion trapped many of my women coworkers in uncomfortable shoes.

How did I make drastic changes in my life? Radical means “finding the root” and I was part of a movement of women who looked for the roots of sexism, racism, heterosexism, ableism, colonialism and capitalism. We read, talked, argued, laughed and grew together. I consciously chose to limit my exposure to advertising and to the content of television after reading Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, I gave away my second hand tv in 1974 and I’ve never missed it. Fads, fashion, celebrity gossip, and catchy commercials are not part of my life. However, I still am a consumer on many levels: driving a car, using a telephone, buying food at the farmer’s market or at our local food coop. All these require my participation in the capitalist economy.

Yet, I have successfully limited my participation emotionally and financially in our consumer society. Adrienne Rich clarified my efforts when she wrote, “The most valuable educational experience a woman can have is one which teaches her to identify and analyze—and resist—the conditions in which she lives, the morality she has been taught, the false images of herself received from high art as well as cheap pornography, classic poetry as well as TV commercials.” This is my ongoing effort: to identify and analyze oppression and injustice and to resist. Often I turn to the garden for renewal.

January 24, 2010

My Fair Share

With “developing” and wealthy nations now battling over obtaining their fair share of global carbon emissions, the belief that all people will someday enjoy the standard of living of the wealthy nations has become an unmistakable fantasy. Human societies are already in overshoot, consuming the resources of one and a third earths every year. If everyone on earth were to consume as much as people in the United States, humanity would be consuming the resources of five planet earths and there would soon be little of nature – or us – left. Yet the rising and very numerous middle classes in rapidly industrializing nations such as Brazil, India, and China are joining the shopping spree. Meanwhile one fourth of humanity, 1.4 billion, live on $1.25 or less per day and are unable to meet their basic needs.

The belief that the poor nations and poor people of the earth would eventually catch up and enjoy an abundant standard of living has allowed well-meaning people in the wealthy nations to act as if their own high incomes and consumption were unrelated to the poverty of others. Now that the limits of the earth are at hand the question “What is my fair share?” is getting tough to avoid. I want an answer to this question. I don’t want to participate in destroying nature and I don’t want to be responsible for other people living with hunger. But, I do want to live. How much can I have?

heirloom corn

Stowell's Heirloom Corn from Seed Savers growing behind comfrey, astragulus, and sage plants.

To discover my fair share I started with statistics from the World Bank (World Development Indicators: 2008). The average per capita gross national income for the world in 2008, equalized by “purchasing power parity”, was $10,357. The purchasing power parity correction makes it easy to compare income in different countries, despite the fact that the same amount of money can buy much more in some countries than others. For example, you could buy half a dozen bananas in India for the same amount of money that would get you one banana in New York City (example from Norm Myers and Jennifer Kent in their book The New Consumers). The purchasing power parity correction rate for India is 5.35 (as of 2002). The international standard is the U.S. dollar so the same amount of money goes 5.35 times further in India than in the U.S. In other words if you are in the U.S. you can think of the $10,357 average world income as actual U.S. dollars. If you are in any other country, then you must use the purchasing power parity correction for your country.

But, the figure of $10,357 is the average gross national income, which is not the same as personal income because it includes things like the average amount of money your government spends on infrastructure. In 2008 gross national income in the U.S. was $46,970, but U.S. personal income before taxes was $40,189 and spendable income was $35,486 (Bureau of Economic Analysis, bea.gov). According to Myers and Kent, actual purchasing power for the world in 2002 was 60% of gross national income, corrected for purchasing power parity (and 70% for the U.S.). Let’s say then that my actual purchasing power would be roughly $6500 (somewhere between 60% and 70% of $10,357).

Whoops! What about Carbon?
But, wait! There’s a problem. At current levels of world income humanity is producing such a large quantity of greenhouse gases that we are threatening the continuation of human civilization and much of life on earth. The Global Humanitarian Forum, a think tank directed by former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, estimates that global warming is already causing 300,000 human deaths per year. To reduce greenhouse gases either income and related production must be reduced from the current world average (meaning I’d get less than $6500), world population must drop significantly, or every dollar spent must result in much less carbon entering the stratosphere. Damage to the environment is commonly calculated by multiplying these three factors (i.e. Impact=Population x Affluence x Technology). Both population (.7% per year) and income (1.4% per year) are growing. The most palatable option for the world’s rich is the third option, commonly known as reducing carbon intensity.

Carbon intensity can be decreased by increasing efficiency (producing goods and services with less energy) and by using non-carbon energy sources like solar power. Over the past 25 years carbon intensity has improved by almost 23% worldwide. But, this downward trend has not been consistent over the years. Since the year 2000 carbon intensity has worsened worldwide. With worsening carbon intensity, increasing income, and increasing population the total amount of carbon going into the atmosphere has increased by 3.5% per year since 2000 (up from under 1% in the 1990s). This rate of increase is far higher than the rates assumed in any of the models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in making its predictions of future global warming. Even with the Kyoto Protocol, no part of the world has succeeded in diminishing its carbon emissions.

Prosperity Without Growth, a recent report from the United Kingdom’s Sustainable Development Commission, has calculated the improvements in carbon intensity that would be necessary to offset projected growth in population and income between now and 2050 and still reduce carbon in the atmosphere down to 450 ppm. While in 2007 carbon intensity was at 768 grams of carbon dioxide per dollar we would need to get down to 36 grams per dollar by 2050. In other words carbon intensity would need to improve by 21 times! Remember that 25 years of technological improvements between 1980 and 2005 were only able to improve emissions 1.3 times (from 1000 to 768 grams carbon dioxide per dollar). This projection allows for slow income growth, but no equalization of income between rich and poor countries. If world income were to equalize at current European Union levels by 2050, allowing no income increases in the developed world, carbon intensity would need to diminish to 14 grams carbon dioxide per dollar, 55 times better than today. This last scenario presumes no income growth in the European Union, a loss in income for the U.S., and large gains in income throughout the developing world.

Prosperity Without Growth concludes that these levels of improvement in carbon intensity are not feasible and that economic growth cannot safely continue. Worldwatch attempted to put similar figures into perspective by pointing out that for everyone on the Earth to live at the EU levels expected in 2050 if “normal” growth continues we would need cars capable of getting 700 or 800 miles per gallon! It looks like even my fair share of $6500 is too much unless a revolution in technology dropped carbon intensity down to nearly nothing. Since new technologies take decades to come into common usage, the hope for such a revolution is just a fantasy, albeit a popular and dangerous one. The only other alternative – and this is just a personal solution – would be for me to find a way to spend my dollars on products and services that emit almost no carbon.

Shrinking Ecological Footprints
Carbon emissions are not the only constraint on growth. Globalized industrial patriarchy has been stripping the earth of every “resource” and is already butting up against other shortages such as water. The resource thieves in the “developed” world, myself included, must cut back their lifestyles. The world average gross income of $10,357 gives us a rough and too high upper limit and a clear message that drastic lifestyle cuts are called for since most people in the developed world have far higher incomes than this. Ideally, entire nations will take up the challenge to quickly dismantle their polluting systems and adopt new ways of life that involve far less consumption. While we as individuals are pressing for the massive social change needed, we can begin the process by changing own way of life and setting an example for others.

But, where to start? Whether setting about change at a national level or an individual level, a measure that quantifies how much different activities take from the earth is necessary. Here’s where calculating national or individual ecological footprints can help. With an ecological footprint analysis, the resources required to produce the specific products and services consumed can be estimated and translated into a land equivalent, measured in square yards, square meters, acres or hectares. For example, a pound of potatoes requires about 33 square yards of land if grown using industrial farming methods. The potato plants themselves use a small growing space, but the chemical input, farm machinery, and transportation to market all contribute to the footprint or land area required to produce the potatoes. Similarly, a kilowatt hour of electricity from the grid uses 31 square yards of land, while the solar equivalent takes under a third of a yard. A full ecological footprint for a nation or an individual is the land equivalent for everything consumed in a year.

In the United States the average ecological footprint for each person is 23 acres. But, if you divide the amount of productive land on the earth (2.8 billion acres excluding polar regions, deserts and deep sea) by the earth’s population of over 6 billion, the bioproductive land available to each person to produce everything consumed would be 5 acres. Therefore, in the U.S. we are each using 18 acres of land more than the earth can spare for us. These figures do not provide land for all the other species on the planet, so each person’s 5 acre allotment must be cut back further.

Jim Merkel’s excellent book, Radical Simplicity, provides detailed instructions for calculating your own ecological footprint, along with tables that show the land equivalent required for a wide range of products and services. As a longtime practitioner of radical simplicity Merkel has lived on $5000 and an ecological footprint of 3 acres of land for many years. His book describes scenarios for a life lived with a 1 acre, 3 acre, or 6 acre ecological footprint.

On 3 acres, an amount that is enough less than the world personal allotment of 5 acres to allow at least some room for wildlife, the sample lifestyle is far removed from that of the typical American. While plenty of veggies, fruit, beans and grains could be eaten, meat, dairy products, juice, and alcohol would be excluded from the diet because they require too many resources. The living space would be quite small (150 square feet or so) in a very energy efficient building such as a straw bale house. A very small allotment of fuel oil or firewood for heating would be possible. Transportation would be largely by bicycle or on foot with 50 miles of bus travel and a couple of gallons of gasoline allotted per month. Air travel would be impossible.

Returning to Traditional Lifeways: The Real Sustainability Revolution
If all of this sounds like returning to a third world way of life, then you are correct. The average ecological footprint of the low income nations is under 2.5 acres. The peoples of both Africa (3.4 acres) and Asia/Pacific (4 acres) consume less than their share of the Earth’s biocapacity while those in Latin America (6 acres) and the Middle East/Central Asia (5.7 acres) slightly exceed their share. People are obviously capable of living on less than a 5 acre footprint. Although some people in the global South have far too few resources, this does not mean that one cannot live well without overdrawing the Earth’s biocapacity. Deprivation results when traditional peoples have their ways of life disrupted by thefts of land, water, or other resources, as has happened to many, thanks to the powerful forces of first colonization and now globalization. Where necessary resources are still available and communities are left intact, traditional and truly sustainable ways of life continue (See Ecofeminism by Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva, 1993). The peasants and indigenous peoples still living largely traditional lives in direct interaction with the Earth and each other are the models that those of us living in the heart of globalized industrial patriarchy need. Although small scale, traditional cultures may (or may not) have problematic patriarchal social structures, these cultures are able to maintain the Earth’s fertility and health and do not require huge amounts of energy from dangerous energy sources.

People immersed in globalized industrial patriarchy view traditional ways of life as inferior because these lifeways have been the target of an enormous smear campaign since the era of European colonization and then the inception of industry. Traditional people (and this includes all our ancestors) leave the land and their traditions when the powerful forces of industrializing, colonizing or globalizing patriarchy take the land and destroy their communities. Forced into cities or other participation in the globalized patriarchy, the propaganda of the dominating culture eventually persuades most displaced people that the old ways of life are inferior or too hard. But, now it is time to reverse this process! We can recognize the value of traditional ways of life linked directly to nature and local communities, dismantle globalized industrial patriarchy, and build new subsistence cultures. The traditional lifeways of indigenous peoples, peasants of the global South, and our own ancestors are our models for sustainability. Many of these small-scale, traditional cultures are also models for equalizing distribution of resources and more equitable social relationships. Some have matriarchal social structures (matrilineal, matrilocal) and these cultures deserve the closest study. Low-tech, modern inventions like bio-intensive gardening and perhaps bicycling can also help us to build subsistence cultures, as can social practices like consensus decision-making and consciousness raising.

In contrast, the vision of “sustainability” put forward by most of the political and educated classes of the industrialized world leaves many of the deadly bases of the dominant society untouched: industrialization, consumerism, capitalism, inequity, domination, patriarchy. Almost all the books, government reports, and even non-governmental organizations proposing solutions to climate change assume that industrialized society must continue. They call for major changes in practice – energy efficiency, recycling, de-carbonizing energy sources, even sometimes for an end to inequity – but do not address the roots of the problem. How can a system based in domination (patriarchy) and greed (capitalism) and therefore dedicated to giving more power and more goodies to some people create equity among people and live in balance with the Earth? Why would a sane people who care for the earth want to gamble that an aberrant way of life can be reined in enough to preserve the climate when there are existing ways of life that have worked for our species for thousands of years? Perhaps there may (or may not) be ways to live with the earth that could include some benefits from modern technology, but revolutionary changes are needed, not a new consumerism and more of the same old patriarchy. Only by getting rid of the social elements that have created the climate crisis, poverty, and ecological overshoot – patriarchy, capitalism, domination, consumerism – will we save the Earth and save our Selves.

Writing about my fair share has not been easy, but the writing is the easy part. How will I ever get my income and ecological footprint down to a level that does not hurt the Earth and steal from much of humanity? One step at a time is my only answer. The largest part of our ecological footprint here at Cedar Hill comes from the miles driven in two four wheel drive vehicles, the firewood burnt for heating the house, and, to a lesser extent, the food we eat. Our automobile usage seems hard to modify at the present moment due to our remote location, rough roads, lack of public transportation and a commitment to eldercare for my mother. We are currently creating window quilts and sealing up the house more effectively to reduce firewood use. We’re also growing more of our food on site and moving away from trucking in garden inputs. Fortunately, reducing income does have a clear upside: less time spent working for money and more time available for fighting patriarchy, spending time in nature, and working and playing on the homestead!

August 17, 2009

Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter: Flora or Smart Economics?

Filed under: Economics,Paula Mariedaughter — Paula Mariedaughter @ 9:17 am

Both. Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter is a unique tomato developed by a man nicknamed Radiator Charlie for his skills at his radiator repair shop. This was Charlie Byles who sold his unique tomato plants for one dollar each in the 1940s and was able to pay off most of his mortgage of $6,000 in six years with this extra income. This story came to me from Amy Goldman in her fabulous book The Heirloom Tomato. She elaborated by writing, “ ‘Mortgage lifter’ is a generic term that refers to a set of big old tomatoes, characteristically pink, from central Appalachia.” This tomato was big and juicy, of a beefsteak shape, often with several lobes. Not good for shipping, but great eating!

foxglove

Homegrown Foxgloves in Bloom

Radiator Charlie understood the oppressive nature of another holding a mortgage on your home or business! This is smart economics to look after your long-term interests. Getting out from under a mortgage was understood to be an important effort in creating stability in one’s life. “Lifting” your mortgage was a life goal. Why would we want to gamble with the home or business that shelters us? In my parents’ generation one did not gamble in this manner unless desperate. Buying a house was a long-term investment.

Not owing a mortgage opens up options and possibilities. Jeanne and I knew this when we considering how we were to make a living in rural northwest Arkansas. This is a guiding principal we used to help us understand our options:

“The less money you need,
the freer you are,
the greater is your choice of jobs
and the less entrapped you are.
There are all sorts of things
we can do for ourselves.
If we have a tiny bit of land,
A small garden,
we can grow things.
We can do all sorts of things ourselves,
instead of buying everything.”

Before we moved to Cedar Hill in 1978, I latched on to this quote from E. F. Schumacker in an East-West Journal article circa 1977. I copied it in my own handwriting and posted it where we would see it every day. (I took the liberty of writing his words in verse form.)You may remember Schumacker as the author of Small Is Beautiful.

“The less money you need the freer you are,” seems an obvious statement today as many people are losing their jobs and, often times, losing their homes too. Home ownership is a precarious undertaking! Most people who loose their homes do so because of unexpected illness or unexpected job loss—who expects these things anyway? (Universal health care would help in this personal and economic disaster.) By buying bigger and fancier homes we gamble that neither illness nor job loss will affect us. With smaller homes and a smaller mortgage we have a better chance of weathering a financial storm. For example, with a smaller mortgage or no mortgage, we should be able to set aside some money each month just in case the “unexpected” happens. Perhaps you could set aside enough to live on for six months to a year should you have to cope with the unexpected.

My birth family lived in a modest house from 1947 until 1979. When the family outgrew the two bedroom house about 1954, my father built an addition of a large bedroom with bath and a family room. With four young children my parents knew the family needed more space; they liked their neighborhood and did not want to move (and could not afford to do so). My father, Paul, built a delightful space for his three daughters. Our room had a hardwood floor, knotty pine walls and we each had a walk-in closet. Dad built this while working full time as a land surveyor. This arrangement worked well for us for decades. With that addition, my family more than doubled our living space and created a multi-use, adaptable house. When the house was sold, I was told that those who purchased it planned to use that space for an ailing parent.

Sometime in the last thirty years the concept of “starter houses” appeared. Realtors encouraged families to keep “upgrading”. A highly mobile workforce also encouraged more buying and selling of homes and mortgages. Each of these developments benefits banks, realtors and other businesses that take a big cut every time a house changes hands. The more expensive the sale, the more those businesses will profit. When we let the industry decide how large a mortgage we can assume, we are engaging in foolish and risky behavior! We must think for ourselves and consider all the risks involved. We cannot let ourselves be seduced by large lots and pretty pools or big-screen TVs. The consequences may be dire. Remember, the less money you need, the freer you are!

Big house, little house, on in between–with someone else holding a mortgage on your home you are vulnerable to loosing the roof over your head if you have money troubles. Isn’t this obvious? And the more money you owe to the mortgage holder the more risk you take. Isn’t this obvious? In my ongoing exploration of both fiction and nonfiction books written by Sandra Dallas, I have been enjoying the book Gingerbread & Gaslights: Colorado’s Historic Houses. Dallas gives a guided tour of castles, mansions, huge ranch houses, and Victorians covered with “gingerbread” trim. When she was writing about these unusual houses in 1965, many had been torn down or abandoned. Some became museums or resorts. But most have not survived the decades. Each was a treasure. In reading the descriptions of the houses, the families that built them, and then the fate of the edifice, I kept thinking of the gambles that life presents to rich and poor. I once owned a large Queen Anne Victorian house at 1718 Summit St. in Kansas City, MO. It was in a poor neighborhood, but the house had been rehabbed by a neighborhood nonprofit. I loved that house. I still love that house. But I could not move it to my forty acres in Arkansas, so I sold it and that sale helped to finance our building our humble home here.

house

We Put Local White Oak Siding on Our 20' x 40' Humble Abode

My closing thoughts about mortgages and the value of “lifting” or avoiding a mortgage (when possible) involves the value of “staying put”. When we “stay put” we make connections—to the land, to friends and family. We care about the environment. For example, we won’t welcome a landfill like the one planned a decade ago near Delaney which the local community successfully stopped. We think about any chemicals we might consider using on our yards or near a stream because we are going to live with the long term consequences of that action. Putting down roots and creating a stable living situation for ourselves and our loved ones means more to me than living in a fancy house with an oppressive mortgage hovering in the background every day.

E.F. Schumacker reminded me that, “We can do all sorts of things ourselves, instead of buying everything.” Home grown food, homegrown entertainment and home-produced electricity are some of the ways we at Cedar Hill do for ourselves. Mostly it feels good. Especially, it feels good when we do not have to wake to an alarm clock! Usually I wake up about six and wander outside in the garden while it is cool. I weed and wake up. Sometimes, like this morning when Jeanne picked a handful of strawberries, and we savored the sweetness of a just-picked berry I believe I have everything I need.

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