Ecofeminism, Subsistence Living & Nature Awareness

August 2, 2010

Are We Trapped in Recreational Shopping?

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

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.


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.


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, 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!

July 27, 2009

Sustained Commitment: the Gardener’s Challenge

Filed under: Homestead garden,Paula Mariedaughter,Subsistence Living — Paula Mariedaughter @ 7:49 am

Clematis Among the Eastern White Pine Cones in Paula's Wreath

Spring finds every gardener full of enthusiasm for the turning of the seasons. We want to turn the soil of our gardens and work magic with Mother Nature. We are ready to turn our backs on winter and our faces toward the sun. We gather our seeds, tools and bring our grand hopes to our plantings. The new seedlings and spurts of growth spur us on to get up early and work long days in our grubby garden clothes. As the days get hotter and the insects arrive to torment us and our vegetative friends, we can falter in our efforts to weed, water and pick hornworms. Tim Stark put it this way, ” After twelve years of growing vegetables, I have learned to accept that every [growing] season presents a unique set of conditions that invariably prove to be less than optimal.” Stark wrote this in Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer. Wind, rain, no rain, bugs, heat, cold, and/or animal attacks can overwhelm the most enthusiastic gardener.

I try to look to my successes and minimize a focus on the non-successes. When I started quilting in 1994, my mentor Lila Rostenberg interrupted me when I tried to point out the mistakes in my current project. Lila assured me that there was no need to point out my mistakes. I took Lila’s advice seriously and always pass it on to my quilting students. I also appy it to my garden projects. When I am in my garden I employ the same strategy–it is a strategy you know! I learn what I can about the plants that do not thrive and I keep trying until it becomes clear that my garden is not meant to grow, for example, lovely delphiniums because they cannot tolerate our hot days and hot nights. I look for similar alternative plants. In the case of delphiniums, I found larkspur which do thrive here and even self-seed themselves for next year.

Today I’ve prepared a garden tour of some of our early-season successes starting in our main garden. At the center “grows” a driftwood figure we call our Dancing Goddess! The original was a piece of driftwood we discovered down the mountain along the river after a storm. It took a decade for the first Dancing Goddess to melt back into the earth. The current goddess is formed from part of the root system from an Osage Orange (also called Bodark or Hedge) tree we had to remove twenty years ago. Her outstretched arm holds this pinecone wreath I fashioned from the cones from the Eastern White Pine. I am fascinated by the curvy shapes of these cones. Not pictured, but below the Dancing Goddess, lounge bright red bee balm flowers to entice hummingbirds.


Striper Hunts Bugs Under the Tomatoes

Striper was a howling kitten when Jeanne found him abandoned down by the river. Named for his distinctive bold orange stripes he is posed below the thriving tomatoes. Each morning and evening, Striper also looks for bugs while I scan the tomato stems carefully for the camouflaged hornworms disguised as just another tomato stem. Below Stiper are the basil plants and to the right are sage plants spilling into the path.


Cleome or Spider Flowers Dot the Garden with Color by Mid-Summer

When we expanded our garden this spring I moved these purple coneflowers, the silver lamb’s ear and the cleome to our former visually neglected compost area. We needed the bed space for edibles. I landscaped with large rocks from the river to provide steps in this steep area. In the background you can see that Jeanne has created a huge mound of fresh materials to make fresh compost. The gold flowers are the first blooms of the rambling pumpkin patch. Some of the ten foot vines reached to the fence and the deer pulled on the vines through the fence to consume the tender growth.


Jeanne's Carefully Mounded Compost Pile in the Background with Huge Gourd leaves on the Far Left of the Picture

Our birdhouse gourd vines exhibited exuberant growth up the bamboo trellis I’ve provided. They seem to grow ten inches overnight and the long curling tendrils reach out for support and comfort (or so it seems,)when I walk by. Yesterday I found the first of the delicate white flowers that will transform themselves into foot long gourds in less thatn two months. These miracles of creation draw me back to the garden day after day. I depend on them to renew me. And I depend on these miracles to renew my commitment to hauling water and attending to the other needs of a successful garden–most of which I enjoy.

Gourds large and small were used by native peoples for serving dishes, mixing bowls, plates, dippers, storage and even for heating liquids. Once dried and cured gourds are strong and useful tools. To heat liquids in a gourd, one does not place the gourd over a hot fire. Instead, one heats several small clean rocks on the edge of a fire. Then using wood tongs the heated rocks are carefully dropped into the liquid transferring the heat from the rocks to the liquid.

Birdhouse Gourds in the Background and Lavender in the Foreground

Birdhouse Gourds in the Background and Lavender in the Foreground

Jeanne and I choose to add flowers and herbs to the mix in our vegetable garden. From comfrey and astragalus to foxgloves, coneflowers and morning glories we depend on these to bring pollinaters and to offer spots of color and texture to the garden canvas. This is our most ambitious garden; we are growing strawberries, corn, basil, garlic, cucumbers, yellow squash, carrots, pumpkins, watermelon, three varieties of tomatoes, gourds, several types of beans and a variety of greens. Last fall we planted three apple trees and cleared around a “found” mulberry tree.

Morning Glories

Morning Glories Beginning to Climb the Obelisk

Our yellow crookneck squash are buzzing with bees and beginning to produce the tender squash as the flowers fade to fruit, or in this case vegetables. The leaves are over a foot across and erect like an umbrella. We are seeing unwelcome signs of powdery mildew on the leaves of the squash and the cucumbers. Both of these plants have prickly hairs that irritate the forearms as we pick underneath the leaves searching for young fruit before they become oversized. Some people have a severe reaction to this irritant. Beware.

Squash Plants

Lush Growth on the Squash Plants with many Cleome in the Background

Our end-of-July garden tour of Cedar Hill closes with a closeup picture of the tendrils that tether these luxuriant birdhouse gourd vines to any nearby object. Each tendril has its own agenda as it stretches and twines toward a stationary object. The bamboo is harvested from our own homegrown stand. Our bamboo trellis lifts the vines off the ground and toward the sunlight allowing air to circulate among the leaves. Circulating air minimizes the chance of invasions of unfriendly mildew spores here in the garden as well as indoors if not using air conditioning.

If you look closely you will see that I have used jute to train the vines up the slippery bamboo poles. Gourds too have prickly leaves, but assisting the vines by tying them carefully to the bamboo is part of my ongoing relationship to the summer garden. Cool moist mornings are my favorite time of a day in the garden. The early morning promise is rather like the hopefulness of spring. Sustained commitment to nurturing and harvesting rewards you with snacks of perfect strawberries and tastes of green beans so tender when plucked off the bush that you do not dream of cooking them. Munch them whole while they last. It will be a long wait until next year’s crop.


Tethering Tendrils of the Birdhouse Gourds

July 22, 2009

Rambunctious Canine Meets Rambling Pumpkin

Filed under: Homestead garden,Paula Mariedaughter,Subsistence Living — Paula Mariedaughter @ 9:30 am
Early July Pumpkin Patch

Early July in the Pumpkin Patch

I fell for a warty, peach-colored pumpkin at the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market last fall. The knobby growths and pale color attracted my imagination as the multitude of pumpkins jostled for attention on the long flatbed trailer. The pale color and the unusual texture pleased me in the same manner that I find the nubs seen in raw silk fabric add a pleasing texture to a smooth silk fabric. I circled the display searching for the perfect pumpkin to bring home to Cedar Hill. When I asked the farmer about the name of this variety, he pulled out the catalogue and pointed to Galeuse d’Eysines adding that they are delicious pumpkins encouraging me to steam it and to eat it.

I discovered that my adopted pumpkin was from Eysines, France introduced in 1883. This unique pumpkin, Cucurbita maxima, was also called Warted Sugar Marrow. I was sure my pumpkin was no hybrid with a pedigree like this! I had fantasies of growing my own next spring.

Sugar Marrow Pumpkin

Sugar Marrow Pumpkin from Eysines, France introduced in 1883

I displayed the Galeuse d’Eysines in several spots in the house that fall and winter appraising the personality and charm of this new acquaintance. By early spring, I had moved it to a spot outside near the front bench. As the pumpkin began to sink in on itself, I discovered that Shyla, our youngest adopted mutt, had enjoyed the texture in her own way. Shyla had shredded skin and the inner membranes containing the seeds. I found seeds and membranes scattered near the rock wall that marks our first garden bed. I vaguely hoped some might sprout, but had no expectations.

Today we have three rambling pumpkin vines climbing over and around our former compost area. Circumstantial evidence led me to believe that those wandering pumpkin seeds did sprout! I noticed the small pumpkin plants nestled near the rock wall before the deer did. I quickly transplanted them to a sunny spot below the main garden where they will be able to spread their tendrils far and wide before fall ends their adventure. I do not want to “count my pumpkins before they hatch”, but I am extremely hopeful that this will be the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Some of the immature pumpkins are the size of golfballs–smooth with no warts yet. When I wrote this last week I was convinced that I had the wonderful warty pumpkin growing.

Today I believe that I jumped to conclusions! The pumpkins a bigger, still white, and have no warts. Among my scrapbook items for last fall I found a label for a “White Carving Pumpkin” from Bottomleys Evergreens in North Carolina and a product number to go with that pumpkin. I searched their online catalogue to locate the botanical name of the thirty pumpkins glowing in our garden but found no white pumpkins. I have emailed them about my dilemma and will report any results. Jeanne and I have resolved to buy seed for the Warty Sugar Marrow pumpkin for next year!

Saving seeds from hybrid plants is risky because the seeds are often not true to form. Seeds from non-hybrid plants, or open-pollinated seeds (sometimes called heirloom seeds), are reliable in producing plants and fruit like the parent. We have transformed our garden this year with our sweat and hand tools to make room for more edible plants. All our new seeds will be open-pollinated so we can save our own seeds for the future!

Our previous raised beds did not provide room for extreme ramblers like pumpkins, gourds and watermelons–all of which we are trying this year. Each of these varieties displays an affection for hot days and nights. I am energized by the “lust for life” of the cucurbit family. The Miniature White Cucumbers we planted are so prolific that I need to eat one every time I open the refrigerator. Picked at three inches long and chilled in the solar-powered refrigerator they are a perfect summer treat. With a sweet cucumber flavor and skin as tender as an apple, this cucumber is best eaten raw and I do.


Shyla, the Rambunctious Pumpkin Shredder

A great source for open pollinated seeds is Seed Saver’s Exchange, 3094 North Winn Road, Decorah, Iowa 52101, 563-382-5990, All the seeds I have mentioned here were purchased from Seed Savers including:
Birdhouse gourd: Lagenaria siceraria
Watermelon: Crimson Sweet, Citrullus Lantatus
Miniature White Cucumbers, Cucumis sativus

I was challenged to understand which of these might cross-pollinate and produce an undesired, inedible hybrid. Seed Savers recommended The Compleat Squash: A Passionate Grower’s Guide to Pumpkins, Squashes and Gourds by Amy Goldman (2004). The author indicates that squashes will not crossbred with melons and cucumbers. However, squashes in the same species do cross with one another. We have kept it simple this year by growing only one variety of squash.

The squash, watermelon and cucumbers were purchased seed. Our Warted Sugar Marrow pumpkin was planted by a rambunctious canine and nurtured by Mother Nature until Paula discovered it sprouting in deer territory. It has been a team effort with Jeanne carrying water to the pumpkin patch occasionally. All of these are rampant growers with big leaves and curling tendrils reaching for support. Some of the pumpkin vines are twelve feet long and still growing! I have developed an intimate relationship with each plant. I find myself infected by their “lust for life” and energized by their exuberance. Thank you, Shyla, for your part in this story!

July 14, 2009

Subsistence and Resistance

In a recent column in Orion (May-June 2009) Derrick Jensen criticized the “simplicity” movement and what he says is one of its core questions, “If our world is really looking down the barrel of environmental catastrophe, how do I live my life right now?” Jensen’s criticisms of simplicity living are multi-faceted, but the heart of his argument, as I understand it, is that this culture is “killing the planet” and must be stopped, just as a psychopath rampaging through your house and killing your family members would need to be stopped. In light of the severity of the problem (a culture that is killing the planet), lifestyle choices are insignificant and resistance is imperative.

Reform or Revolution?

Yellow squash plant

Lush yellow squash plant

While I agree wholeheartedly that we need to resist and stop the globalized industrial capitalist patriarchy that is killing the planet, those of us living in the “developed” world desperately need to create vastly changed human cultures that live in a way that benefits nature and benefits humans. In many “developing” countries ancient and sustainable subsistence cultures still remain more or less intact outside the cities and land areas taken over by development. But in the developed world the takeover by globalized patriarchy is so complete that almost everyone is dependent on the captor (globalized patriarchy) for their basic means of living – food, shelter, water, clothing, fuel. In subsistence societies where the earth is healthy (as it was prior to patriarchal civilization), basic needs of life can be met by every person either in direct interaction with the earth or with members of their own local community.

The value of individual lifestyle changes depends largely on whether the purpose and effect of the changes are reform or revolutionary change. For example, buying efficient, “green” consumer goods is an act aimed at reform. While the “green” products may be an improvement over older, “legacy” goods in terms of environmental impact, consuming the goods supports continued large scale industry and business almost as usual. Production of the products is far more likely to harm the earth than help her. In contrast, the development of subsistence cultures that benefit the earth and replace globalized patriarchy is revolutionary change. People living in lands now dominated by “developed” nations can take steps toward developing matriarchal, subsistence cultures. When they do, their individual lifestyle changes contribute to revolution. Just as acts of resistance to globalized patriarchy can attempt to reform society (leaving massive industrialization and male dominance in place) or effect radical change, daily living practices can intend and produce reform or revolution (or perpetuate the status quo).

Post-Patriarchal Living

I don’t think that we can “stop this culture from killing the planet” without both resistance and creation of new/old subsistence cultures. We need to both stop the patriarchal earth-destroying culture and create new earth-loving cultures. The devastated earth needs the restoration and caretaking that humans in matriarchal, subsistence societies can provide her. Freeing the earth of possession by patriarchy and seeing nature begin to recover is a big motivation, but people also need to be able to envision and experience post-industrial, post-capitalist, and post-patriarchal ways of living. For most people in “developed” nations an end to globalized industrial capitalist partriarchy would seem like suicide – an end to the basic necessities of life (as well as the treasured frills). By starting to create subsistence cultures now, more people in the developed world can believe that there is a path to take out of globalized patriarchy and industrialization that allows life, including their own, to continue.

We also need to influence the form of the subsistence societies that will follow globalized patriarchy. Globalized patriarchy is heading toward collapse because it is taking from nature at a rate that exceeds nature’s ability to replenish herself. Subsistence living will follow collapse, but past and present subsistence societies have frequently been patriarchal and harmful to women. As a woman I greatly fear male violence and other attempts to control women during and following societal collapse. Beginning to consciously transition to subsistence now can help create cultures that are matriarchal – egalitarian, based in strong bonds between women and respect for all of life. The end of globalized patriarchy can be a door opening into a far better world, but not if any form of patriarchy continues.

Building Subsistence Cultures

At the heart of any human culture are the ways people relate to the earth to provide for basic needs – shelter, water, food, heating. As members of the “developed” nations turn to subsistence living, new subsistence cultures will develop from humans meeting their basic needs through direct relationship with local nature and local human community. These are “lifestyle changes” that create new subsistence cultures. Subsistence gardening is one activity that begins to build subsistence cultures. As Richard Heinberg has pointed out, without fossil fuels and machinery many more people will need to become involved in growing food. Using techniques such as Ecology Action’s Grow Biointensive (Jeavons, 2002, How To Grow More Vegetables, 7th Edition) people can work with nature to grow more food and more nutritious food on less land. (One person can be fed with the crops grown on as little as 4000 square feet using Grow Biointensive methods while “modern” agriculture requires 15,000-30,000 square feet for the average U.S. diet and much more for heavy meat eaters.) This method of horticulture grows topsoil as well as crops, benefiting nature. With large numbers of people gardening small areas of land, the land can be well cared for and areas of former farmland can be returned to nature. People able to grow their own food (including staples such as grain and potatoes) lose a big chunk of their dependence on globalized patriarchy and become freer to resist.

Sweet corn, oats, comfrey, astragalus

Sweet corn, our first attempt at oats, comfrey, astragalus, sage

Gardening can be more or less an act of building subsistence culture. At Cedar Hill our goal is to help build a subsistence, matriarchal culture, not just to grow a few tomatoes. We are a long way from an ideal of growing most of our diet and using no outside inputs, but we are moving in that direction. We’re growing at least some dietary staples like dried beans, potatoes and, this year, a few oats. We use mostly heirloom and other open pollinated seeds and are saving the seeds. We use hand tools exclusively so the energy used to grow and maintain the garden comes from the sun and human power (though the hand tools are well crafted 20 year old industrial-made tools). We’ve never used chemical fertilizers or pesticides, but we have brought in alfalfa meal, greensand, manure, worm castings and compost produced off site over the years. Now we are getting very serious about the compost pile(s) and planning what crops to grow so we’ll have enough carbon and nitrogen in the residues to create enough compost to fertilize the entire garden. We collect water off our roof into big stock tanks (again industrial-made) and water by hand, so we are trying out plantings that can get by without much irrigation in our very hot summers. We are still trucking in mulch, wonderful ash shavings from a local handle factory, but we did use oak leaves for one potato bed this year with successful results.

Lina Sisco Bird Egg heirloom beans, Tomatoes

Lina Sisco Bird Egg heirloom beans, Tomatoes

The men who sold us industrial society were first rate snake oil salesmen. Regaining our lost connection to nature (and to human community) should make up for many supposed “losses” that come to people in the “developed” world with an end to massive modern industry. Subsistence gardeners begin developing a real relationship with the earth – the smell of her soil, the wildly colorful food crops, the native plants returning to the lands freed from agriculture, the insects chomping their way around the garden, the precious predator insects, bug-snarfing toads, the feel of the rains and winds on their own skin. With connection to nature can also come the directly experienced spirituality that so many people in globalized patriarchy have been futilely searching for. Replace patriarchy with matriarchy and “heaven” comes down to earth!

Stop Globalized Patriarchy Now!

Subsistence and resistance. Resistance and subsistence. We need both. But, practitioners of each need to keep their eye on the ball. Globalized patriarchy is destroying the earth. We don’t need minor adjustments and reformist change. The small cuts in fossil fuel emissions by 2020 promised by the current version of the ACES bill in the U.S. Congress does next to nothing to reverse global warming, a frightening example of the failure of the reformist approach. We likewise can’t afford to get so busy out in the garden that we forget to resist. Subsistence is in some ways easier than resistance as one could co-exist without active opposition to globalized patriarchy (at least until the waters rise, the bug-eating toads go extinct, or cancer strikes home).

On the other hand, a singleminded focus on resistance prioritizes the public (traditionally male) sphere over the “private” (traditionally female) sphere, as Maria Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen (The Subsistence Perspective, 1999) and Sharon Astyk (Depletion and Abundance, 2008) have pointed out. Politics with a capital “P” and economics with a capital “E” characterize male-dominated, large-scale societies, while daily living and the women who typically provide are more important in small-scale subsistence societies. Revolutions in industrial societies have consistently produced only male-controlled, domination-based societies.

We have to live during and after the revolution and the living could even be the revolution if only everyone, including the power holders, walked out on patriarchy. There isn’t much sign that most people in the developed nations are leaving their modern gadgets (and the rest of globalized industrial patriarchy) behind, so we need resistance and subsistence. As Jensen argues, we need to stop this culture from killing the planet.

June 24, 2009

Brooms are ancient and useful tools!

Filed under: Paula Mariedaughter,Subsistence Living — Paula Mariedaughter @ 2:57 pm
Kitchen Broom from Henson Brooms

Kitchen Broom from Henson Brooms

Brooms are ancient and useful tools! A well crafted broom made with natural broom corn works well on either our hardwood floors or on the section of the house floored with river rocks. Brooms are quiet and consume no electricity! But, well-made brooms of natural materials are hard to find. I don’t want plastic brooms and I cannot tolerate the roar of vacuum cleaners. In the 1970s I found a horsehair hand broom at a thrift store that I use with a vintage metal dust pan. My horsehair broom may be fifty years old and it is still performing well. These three tools are all I need to sweep dog hair and debris from the floor. When I went looking to replace our current broom after five years of use, I could not find a local source that met my standards. No one in northwest Arkansas carried a broom to meet these standards!

We know from family lore in Jeanne’s family that one of her Dad’s first sales jobs in the 1940s was to sell the new household cleaning tool–the vacuum cleaner. Of course he approached his extended family first to try his sales pitch and to try to make his first sale. Despite his persuasive personality there was a problem with selling vacuum cleaners. Most people did not have carpeting! In fact, a well made broom still did the best job sweeping up debris on bare floors. Brooms are portable, easily stored, not heavy or noisy. Not until carpeting became the norm did vacuum cleaners become ubiquitous.

Jeanne and I have an ancient vacuum in a storage area far from the house, but I dragged it out yesterday because I need to suck up as much dust as possible because we were having part of the ceramic tile entrance area replaced. Vacuum cleaners are superior for this task. We had plenty of sunshine, so I did not have to be concerned about the pull of electricity required from our solar energy system.

Ideally, I would be growing broom corn and learning to make my own brooms or trading my skills with someone locally who made brooms. Instead, I bought this Kitchen Broom from a family business called Henson Broom shop in Kentucky ( and paid to have it shipped to Arkansas. Our new broom performs well and is a pleasure to use.

I feel good about bringing this product into my home. Often I have mixed feeling about the things I choose to buy and use–from my favorite yoguart because it is packaged in plastic containers, to the electronic devices I use to make a living like our computers and the printer/scanner.

Brooms do not require nuclear energy or coal to produce the electricity to move them. Brooms are not noisy. I find that vacuums drown out thought! In most parts of the world, wall-to-wall carpeting is uncommon and homes have tile or hardwood floors, which are easily swept, wiped, or mopped.

Is it cool to use a broom? What urban hipster knows how to make one? Try this trick when you are next looking for a good broom: five years ago a Kentucky broom maker told me that a good broom will stand up on its own and proceeded to demonstate the fact that his brooms will do so. Do you have a broom well balanced enough to stand alone? Do you have a broom story?

May 25, 2009

Sustainable or Business Almost As Usual? (III)

My mother and father moved into a suburban house with a large yard in the late 1960s, after living many years in more constricted living arrangements. The yard seemed to call for a dog and for my father’s 54th birthday I bought him a six week old Dalmatian puppy. My father went with me to pick out the puppy, but we did not consult with my mother ahead of time. When we arrived home, puppy in arms, my mother opened the garage door, screamed “Oh no” at the sight of the puppy, and slammed the door in our faces. Within a day or so mother was completely enchanted with the puppy and she dearly loved him until his death at age 17.

I eventually found out that part of her reaction to seeing the new puppy came from the loss of her family’s dog when she was in high school. Her family had recently moved to Kansas City due to the failure of my grandfather’s trucking company in the Great Depression. Their dog was out in the residential street in front of the house when a group of young males gunned their car right at the dog and purposefully ran him over. They had attempted to run the dog over before and were jubilant that this time they succeeded in killing him, loudly exclaiming “Got it”. Over thirty years later my mother did not want to risk loving another dog.

This story of male cruelty and violence is one among millions that women have told during the centuries of worldwide feminist resistance to patriarchy. Feminists have called western patriarchy a death-loving culture in part because of its long history of violence and bloodshed including, but not limited to, rape, war, cruelty to animals, sexual degradation, lynching, racism, incest, slavery, and environmental destruction. Feminists have already had plenty of evidence of the death orientation of western patriarchy, but by now everyone else should be wondering too.

A consensus has emerged among the scientific elite that industrialized society is creating dangerous climate change that, unless stopped soon, will put as many as 30% or more of the world’s species at risk of extinction. What does it mean that this society has acted in a way that endangers a third or more of earth’s life forms? What does it mean that most of the concern about global warming focuses on its effects on human societies, not other forms of life? Global warming provides indisputable evidence that globalized, capitalist patriarchy is a powerful life-destroying force. The fact that many feminists, indigenous peoples, and other resistors have known for a long time is now the province of everyone in the developed world: something is terribly, terribly wrong here!

Efforts at abating global warming focus on lower carbon use, more renewable energy, and reduced waste and pollution. But there has been so much delay and resistance by the developed countries in initiating these changes on a large scale that even a lower carbon “developed” lifestyle cannot extend to 7 or 9 billion people. Extreme and immediate cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are now needed. A “developed” lifestyle cannot safely be extended to developing countries, nor can the U.S. continue with anything remotely resembling “the American way of life.” We must face up to this reality honestly and scale back our society in a purposeful way, eliminating much while reconstructing institutions that can be of real value such as education, health care, or disability supports (see The other options, denial or Business Almost As Usual (BAAU – see Part I and Part II of this blog) are a catastrophe for humans and for huge number of species likely to become extinct if temperatures rise much further.

Global warming has reached an emergency level with temperatures rising and ice sheets melting at far faster rates than projected by the most recent IPCC reports issued in 2007 (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report, 2007). The IPCC operates using a form of consensus that results in assessments that are overly influenced by conservative forces such as the OPEC nations and the former Bush administration. Most of the research (118 scenarios) included in the latest IPCC report focused on what will happen if CO2 levels reach 485-570 parts per million (ppm – 560 ppm is double preindustrial levels). The IPCC barely studied scenarios of a world that put more serious limits on greenhouse gases: just six scenarios studied projected CO2 levels of 350-400 ppm. Even these lowest studied CO2 levels are predicted to increase global temperature 2.0-2.4°C over pre-industrial times.

Many nations, including the European Union, view a 2°C change in temperature over pre-industrial times as a maximum for preventing “dangerous climate change.” Increasing numbers of scientists and non-governmental organizations now call for limiting temperature even further, with some suggesting 1°C over pre-industrial as the long term goal (see Worldwatch’s 2009 State of the World for a summary). However, we are already at .7°C (387 ppm) and there is a time lag, which means that even if no more fossil fuels were burned, temperatures will continue to rise to well above 1°C over preindustrial.

The earth requires an immediate lowering of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet emissions have continued to rise despite the Kyoto treaty and escalating worldwide concern. Although there are some hopeful signs from the Obama administration such as the decision that the EPA will regulate CO2 as a pollutant, both the Obama administration and the proposed American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) legislation propose much smaller cuts in greenhouse gas emissions than the European Union advocates. [The EU calls for emissions 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020. The Obama administration wants to skip the 25-40% cut and return to 1990 levels by 2020. (Kansas City Star March 29, 2009 and New York Times March 31, 2009.) ACES confuses the issue by calling for 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. Of course, 2005 levels were much higher than 1990.] If there is any hope of reaching any of the lower goals for greenhouse gas concentrations, emissions must peak by 2015 and begin a rapid decline.

The BAAU plans are running out of time, have probably already run out of time. Ross Gelbspan, the Pulitzer prize winning author who has written two books on global warming, says that we have waited too long to make the necessary changes and there is no hope now of stopping the rising temperatures at a safe level ( The Worldwatch 2009 State of the World report recognized the need to limit temperature rise to 1°C, but could not project a way to reach this goal without relying on carbon capture and storage, a technology that has been used only on a small scale trial basis. The safety of carbon capture and storage, which buries CO2 captured from power plants (or even from the atmosphere) underground, is highly questionable. Imagine an earthquake and the earth burping out massive quantities of carbon unsafely stored underground. This is not a comic book fantasy. A similar event happened 55 million years ago when a natural methane “burp” released over a trillion tons of methane from the ocean floor and sent temperatures soaring by 18°F causing mass extinctions. (See Fred Pearce’s book, With Speed and Violence:Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change.) Technological solutions, like carbon capture and storage or far more science fiction type possibilities, are the wave of the future if BAAU plans are followed and are likely to cause far more problems than they solve.

We must instead begin to realize that BAAU plans won’t limit climate change adequately or create equity among the peoples of the world. But, there is still a way to turn climate change around and end world poverty and inequity by making radical, not BAAU, changes. Radical change is change that goes to the root of the problem.

First, we must recognize that industrialization on the enormous scale it is currently practiced must be severely curtailed. I don’t know if there is a safe way to use limited industrial production or not, but at the very least we need to reduce industry to producing essential and very efficient, durable goods that help take care of the basic needs of all the billions of people on earth. Perhaps any industry is so destructive of nature and of our human nature that it will best be eliminated altogether.

Second, we must address the root of our problems by bringing an end to the social system of globalized, capitalist patriarchy (and other forms of patriarchy as well). Economically, as Maria Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen (see their book The Subsistence Perspective: Beyond the Globalised Economy) have explained “Subsistence is the Alternative”. Politically, Matriarchy is the Alternative. By matriarchy I mean an egalitarian society that is strongly based in bonds between women, similar to many of the matrilineal, matrifocal societies that exist now or that have been described by anthropologists in the past. By turning to subsistence and matriarchy, societies can develop that are able to meet the needs and hopes of people in a way that globalized capitalist patriarchy never even attempted. The time for change is right now, before each of us in developed countries becomes responsible for the extinction of many of the earth’s species and the creation of a world that will give all of the earth’s children and grandchildren a life no one wants for them.

Nikki, Jeanne and Chase, Zora, Shyla

Nikki, Jeanne and Chase, Zora, Shyla

Tonight (9 PM) there is a low fire in the woodstove. Paula’s antique irons are heating on top of the stove. We have one 15 watt light on in the center of the house. Women, dogs, and one cat are drawn together to the heat and light. Two flats of tiny seedlings – tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil – are stashed behind the stove keeping warm overnight. I am not at all certain what the future will bring, but tonight I am warm and content, happy to be sharing this 40 year old couch with dreaming dogs. Tomorrow the dogs will go on the run they are dreaming of now (their legs are twitching) and I will take another step toward subsistence.

April 19, 2009

Sustainable or Business Almost As Usual? (II)

Filed under: Ecofeminism,Jeanne Neath,Patriarchy,Subsistence Living — Jeanne Neath @ 12:11 pm

Part 2 of 3

Temporary clothes dryer

Temporary clothes dryer

Today I’m still worried, yet hopeful enough to stick with my subsistence activities and keep writing about my concerns. We don’t have running water on our homestead and do our laundry at a laundromat. This week I skipped using the gas drier and brought my wet clothes home to hang outside, even though it was raining. The weather radio had promised a dry, warmish day for Friday, the next day. My first activity Friday was to get the clothes hanging, but the weather turned out to be quite cold and very damp and felt like it could easily rain. I hung the small stuff inside near the woodstove and put my shirts and pants outside where it turned out they would not dry. Mid-afternoon I brought everything in the house where it did eventually dry, though things were congested around the stove. I’d probably have been better off with a more radical change – washing and drying a smaller amount of clothes entirely at home instead of washing a large amount all at once at the laundromat and assuming the weather was going to cooperate. Apparently Business Almost As Usual (BAAU) does not work so well even on a small scale.

BAAU (Business Almost As Usual) sustainability plans focus on changes in technology and efficiency without changing the root cause of environmental destruction and social inequity: globalized capitalist patriarchy. The BAAU approach to sustainability is so beneficial to powerful people in politics and business that no other possibilities for change are seriously discussed by government, the political class, or mainstream media. Decades of indoctrination against subsistence and rural living have made most of the populace in the developed world both completely dependent on society (e.g. food comes from grocery stores, not the earth) and scornful of rural life. Even environmental organizations like Worldwatch or Earth Policy Institute that are concerned with both environmental damage and social inequity propose BAAU plans to address poverty, global warming, habitat loss, and resource depletion, while failing to realize that their carefully crafted plans cannot and will not be carried out by a globalized, capitalist, patriarchal society whose very basis is oppression and theft from nature, women, and “developing” countries.

The leaders of the western world have been promising for decades that the “developing” world can “catch up” to the western “developed” world and many people in the West believe this promise. (See the book Ecofeminism by Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva.) This “catch up” view ignores the fact that “advancement” in the developed countries is made possible by taking the natural resources, lands, and work of the people in the “developing” world. Who will provide the unpaid for and unaccounted for resources to extend western style abundance to the developing countries?

We are now seeing the answer to this question as several of the large “developing” countries, including China, India, and Brazil, have begun to catch up. Elites and middle classes in developing countries like these are moving to a western lifestyle while people formerly living sustainable subsistence lifestyles are forced off the land and into expanding urban slums. At the same time the inability of our living planet to support the level of pollution (e.g. global warming) and resource depletion (e.g. food and water shortages, diminishing oil supplies) for billions more people living a “developed” lifestyle has become apparent. The earth cannot support a new coal-fired power plant coming on line every week in China on top of all the carbon burning already taking place in the “developed” world. Likewise the earth cannot support a meat-heavy diet expanded to billions more people since livestock produce massive quantities of greenhouse gases as they eat and digest the grain needed to feel billions of people.

The idea that billions of people can catch up and live a western “developed” lifestyle is clearly incorrect. But now that the ecological truths have been revealed, the BAAU plans for sustainability still pretend that with greater efficiency, use of renewable energy, and new technologies billions more people could live a modified, “developed”, yet sustainable, lifestyle, all without changing the social underpinnings of patriarchy, class, racism, and capitalism.

Most people living a “developed” lifestyle have (so far) little interest in returning to a subsistence way of life. On the other hand, people living a subsistence way of life do not voluntarily choose development, but are forced out of subsistence when their land and ability to live are taken by the powers of globalized, capitalist patriarchy (See Ecofeminism by Mies and Shiva). These are not parallel situations. Development is not the all desirable good that people in the developed world have been indoctrinated into believing. People living in developed countries are so dependent on society, that the idea of living through direct exchange with the earth is frightening. We lack the knowledge and skills of our ancestors. Our dependence on globalized capitalist patriarchy is no accident. Most of us have ancestors who were once the peoples forced off our lands for the benefit of patriarchal powers. Think of the enclosure movement in England, the Appalachian farmers forced off the land by the coal companies, the genocide of Native Americans by Europeans taking over the U.S. Dependence on globalized capitalist patriarchy keeps us participating and supporting this undesirable social structure.

There must be a way to wash my clothes without a washing machine!

April 14, 2009

Sustainable or Business Almost As Usual? (I)

Filed under: Ecofeminism,Jeanne Neath,Patriarchy,Subsistence Living — Jeanne Neath @ 9:54 am
Part 1 of 3

3:45 AM and I am awake and worrying again. During daylight hours I travel between denial, keeping our home business going, contending with my mother’s needs (91 years old and a stroke last year), subsistence work, and other constructive activity. But at night I am often afraid.

Tonight we are having a soft spring rain on and off. The air outside is sweet and warm. A few minutes ago an animal screamed nearby, somewhere behind the house. The rat terriers and one cat were inside and now a second cat has crept in through the cat door, but the third cat is unaccounted for. Three years ago we lost our rat terrier, Taylor, to the coyotes. But, there are other predators about: the barred owls and bobcat, possibly a fox or black bear. Probably it is still too cold for the timber rattlers to be out at night.



That scream did put me on edge, but I am not losing sleep over the animal nightlife around me. I am living in the heartland of the USA and it is human activity that has me squirming. Here in the USA we are using up resources 4.5 times as fast as the earth can regenerate. We are stealing our daily life from the rest of humanity, especially in the “developing” world, and from the other species of earth. I don’t want to participate in this grand theft any more, but the task of changing my own way of life toward subsistence in the midst of a society set up for resource gobbling feels close to overwhelming. I am 57 years old and doing hard physical work like digging garden beds does not come easy, though I can still do the work. My biggest fear is of isolation. As a radical lesbian feminist, ecofeminist, and land dyke I am already far outside the social mainstream. How alone will I be as I cut back on trips to town, eating out occasionally, and talk and live more of a life of subsistence?

Talk of “sustainable living” has reached the mainstream, but most people in the U.S., including our leaders, environmentalists and ordinary citizens, believe that the needed changes are largely in technology and efficiency. The scenario goes something like this. We may have cars run on gasoline now, but soon we will have plug in hybrids or cars run only on electricity (though the electricity may still be largely generated by coal!) The switch to sustainability can be as easy as throwing out your incandescent light bulbs and screwing in compact fluorescent bulbs. These changes will be initiated largely by government and business. As consumers people will do their part by buying the new lower carbon, more efficient products as they become available and, hopefully, affordable. Our former president instructed the nation to shop to combat terrorism and it looks like we may be expected to shop our way out of global warming too. (Not that either strategy is sound.)

This Business Almost as Usual (BAAU) – just make it low carbon and environmentally friendly – vision of sustainability may be comforting to many people, but has come to seem Undesirable, Inadequate and Unlikely to me. The primary problem is that a change in technology will do nothing to remove the real basis of the problem: the patriarchal power structures and capitalist economies that ensure inequity among people and among nations, produce massive pollution as they promote overproduction and overconsumption, and fail to honor the earth and all her creatures.

The globalized capitalist patriarchy that has created worldwide inequity and a depleted planet requires inequity to function. As Maria Mies explained (in her book Patriarchy & Accumulation on a World Scale) capitalist patriarchy cannot function without colonies to provide free or cheap resources and labor. For Mies, “colonies” includes “developing” countries (former colonies), women, and nature. Nature and subsistence economies are the essentials for human life and capitalist economies are like a parasite draining life from their host. For example, women typically bear children, socialize children, maintain home and family, all within the subsistence economy. These activities are essential to human life and to capitalist patriarchy (where would business be without the next generation of workers?), but are unrecognized and unpaid by capitalism. To satisfy its need for continual growth the capitalist economy constantly seeks new human and natural resources to appropriate. Therefore, as long as globalized, capitalist patriarchy continues it will produce poverty and ecological destruction.

Turning to subsistence living is not a cold turkey type of change for me. I’m slowly negotiating the change and can’t fully envision what my life may look like in five or ten years. Cutting back on carbon emissions seems primary because global warming poses such a huge threat. Our homestead uses an odd mix of beneficial and not so great energy practices. Electricity is all solar. We have just eight panels and live very carefully within our means. The house is also passive solar, with huge recycled south windows and is very toasty on sunny winter days. Our only other sources of heat are an energy efficient, low emission Harman Oakwood woodstove and secondarily, for zero degree nights, an antique wood cookstove. So we don’t use fossil fuels except for cooking. Our partially owner built house is small (800 square feet), but not very tightly sealed so one of our major focuses is sealing up the air leaks and figuring out how to keep the heat inside in the cold months. And I’m just not going to get into talking about rural life and automobile dependency right now, other than to say that there is no way eight solar panels will ever run an automobile!

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