During the first discussion of the Personal Permaculture group, after hearing the principles and ethics, people shared their thoughts about the principle of observation and interaction. A couple of things struck me as particularly important areas to pay attention to this month: measurement, tracking and how we talk about sustainability (we personally, and the media in general).
When my household participated in the Three Actions Project, we had to do a lot of measuring to document progress toward our sustainability goals. While the organizers considered measurement the easiest task for each category of action, we found meaningful measurement to be difficult. Sure, I can weigh the garbage each week, but in order to actually reduce the amount of garbage leaving the house I needed to know about it in much more detail so I could devise strategies to avoid it. In the case of measuring our electricity use, I found detailed tracking of time we used each electrical device to be impossible. I needed to take a bigger picture view and I needed broader actions to address it. Group member Curt recommended the book “How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business,” by Douglas Hubbard.
Measuring doesn’t do much good if I don’t actually write things down and then learn from that data. I started the last growing season with the best of intentions but by the end of the season I had yet to write anything down. I vowed to do better this year so I spent a lot of time looking for the perfect garden journal. I think I’ve found it. I downloaded the Garden Planner from Northwest Edible Life. I like that I can choose to print only those sections I need and I can print additional pages when I need them.
As I prepare to expand the garden again this year I need to track sun and shade patterns more closely. Friend Marcie said that she used Google Sketchup to design her yard and it showed her where the sun and shade were throughout the year.
Someone else mentioned that they found it valuable to listen to Jim Gilbert, a naturalist with WCCO radio. Our crazily changing climate is making it hard to know when to plant. But even if we can’t read the signs, there are other parts of the natural system that can. We need to regain the skill of observing nature.
Observing our Personal and Cultural Conversation
Over the past two years I’ve become increasingly aware of the ways in which our public conversation makes the status quo seem inevitable and change seem impossible. It’s particularly distressing when I hear those who are involved in the sustainability movement say things that undermine change.
For example, I have repeatedly heard people say solar power is only for rich people. I’ve even heard people who sell solar say this. STOP IT! There are plenty of middle class people who can afford a trip to Europe, a Caribbean cruise, a masters’ degree or a destination wedding. A lot of people CHOOSE to buy a new car or an ATV or a motorcycle. They could choose to put that money toward a more secure energy future and they might think to do so if we stopped making it sound worse than it is.
Every year people die and some of their relatives inherit money. That’s been the case for many whose parents died in their 70s, 80s and 90s. I understand that fewer boomers expect to leave their children an inheritance, some because the financial downturn of 2008 devastated their retirement.
Most people who receive an inheritance spend it in less than two years, often on wasteful things or risky investments. How tragically short-sighted. Wouldn’t it do your father proud it know that his life’s work had made it possible for his grandchildren to have a future, and for his great grandchildren to be born? And yet our cultural conversation – emblazoned on pricey sweatshirts – whimsically assures us that it’s good to be “spending my children’s inheritance” on whatever we want.
I’m reading “The Handbook of Sustainability Literacy: Skills for a Changing World.” One passage in the introduction hit me hard — it included the phrase, the ‘death of birth.’ Ultimately, this is the future we face unless we can turn things around very, very soon.
One of my goals for this month is to observe the messages I see on Facebook, hear on the radio, and see on television. Following on that observation, I intend to interact with the speaker or writer. Climate change is a reality. It is our present and our future. But some part of our future remains to be created. Let’s be careful about how we talk about it. Let’s give ourselves a chance for success.