A few people have replied that the excel survey I linked to yesterday could not be read. This must be some mac/windows issue, since I am able to read the file fine. I'll try another format as soon as I can.
Someone else who could read it replied saying that it was difficult to fill out. I should make note that the official one is distributed on a regular old piece of paper, which is why we used excel to format it... because it prints out nicely.
I'll have to put it in a format more easily filled out. Maybe a web form... but not until I have time. So, if you wanted to answer but found it difficult, just hang in there.
As I wrote before, I hope to go through the strategic thinking for sustainability process we are using for our thesis here on my site as well. If anyone is interested to follow along, please feel free to do so, although you will not be listed as our "official" participants, the process may help you, and any feedback you give us will certainly help to inform our thesis.
The first step is to fill out this questionnaire we will give to all our victims.
Again, since you are not "official" participants, I would ask you to be so kind and download the questionnaire, take a little time to fill out the two worksheets, and also give us feedback on the questionnaire itself. Was there anything you didn't understand? This will give us a chance to edit it before giving it to the "real" subjects (all of whom we are meeting with in person)
So again, if you want to take the time to follow along, please fill out this questionnaire and email it back to me ( email@example.com ).
Looking forward to your feedback and response.
I was procrastinating today so I skimmed some of my recent posts. I felt a little pang of "dang, that doesn't sound like I meant it" regarding several of them. For example:
A few days ago I was entertaining a thought about how people tend to rely on the promise of technology to save us from ourselves. Just as I was thinking about this, I came across an article about how an Austrian ski resort is using big plastic sheets to stop their glaciers from melting. My blog entry that day was not meant as an expression of hatred or disdain for technology, for I believe that without technology we are screwed. Rather, I was thinking about an attitude I come across sometimes whereby people seem to believe that they can continue to live as they please, and that the "free-market" and technological progress will "keep up".
I would just like to clarify that I do believe that if there is any hope at all, it lies in the power of true innovation. One manifestation of true innovation is efficient technologies. However, true innovation also means that we must be creative and innovative in the non-technical aspects of our lives as well. Certainly a hydrogen powered car is an innovative technology that could help make our society more sustainable, but just as innovative is the idea that maybe we don't need a car. Re-inventing our lives based on our needs, being creative in finding ways to satisfy those needs often leads to solutions that require little if any new technologies.
Re-inventing society does not mean to simply create cleaner technologies that allow us to live as we live now, but rather, re-thinking whether or not what we we want to use that technology for is actually needed.
(photos are still from Februrary's Norway trip)
I wonder if "kayaker" is a job.
Maybe I can change my thesis topic to "sustainable kayaking".
Whatever. I feel sorry for anybody reading my site for these next two months. If I keep kayaking every night like this, this type of photo is all you will be seeing.
As I was kayaking home today (amazingly all the ice I had to plow through yesterday is gone today, despite a cold, overcast morning), I was reflecting on how there are many things I have learned this year beyond the type of stuff that school is supposed to teach you. These are things that I learned by testing myself, my limits, and my preconceived notions of what I "need". Some of the tests were on purpose, some where simply because I was lazy. To spare you from too much boring reading, below I present only three lessons I will be leaving with.
note: I am not trying to suggest that these things are especially related to "sustainability", earth-shattering, or even important, nor that what I learned applies to anyone other than myself, rather, I was reflecting on how I learned that some things I thought I did to satisfy some need, were simply a result of some cultural programming.
I don't need central lighting in my apartment.
This may sound like an insignificant thing, and it probably is in terms of how much energy is saved, but in terms of showing me that not everything I assumed was so is so, it is a huge discovery.
In the first week I arrived here, every one of the light-bulbs in my apartment burned out. I lived in the dark for three days. Then, one day I was walking past the home furnishings shop and remembered my problem. I stopped in, but not knowing which bulb would fit into which socket (I had neglected to check all socket sizes, but I did know that the desk lamp and the bed lamp had two different sized sockets, so I bought one small bulb and one large one (energy efficient of course). Sure enough, the desk lamp took a small bulb and the bed lamp took a large bulb. I made note of the fact that the ceiling, central lighting unit too a large bulb.
To make a long story short, every time I was down-town for the first three months, going into the light-bulb shop completely slipped my mind, or, when I did think of it, I was in too big of a hurry to stop. By the time I did make it in, I realized that I had lived without an extra light on in the room for over three months, and had never missed it.
At first this was a little confusing. After all, everybody knows that we need to have the entire room lit up when we are in it. How do we know this? Why, because there is a ceiling light fixture there dummy! Never the less, I decided that I would wait until I really felt that I needed it before I bought it. As you can guess. I don't need it. This was a major learning experience for me.
I don't need a bike.
When I first arrived, I stayed in Lund for a few days at my sister's place. I borrowed her bike to ride through the country to the next village. Her bike had no gears, a rickety old frame that made noises and shook, and very soft tires. I couldn't believe that she would have bought such a bike. I even considered buying her a used mountain-bike so she could get places like a civilized person.
Here in Karlskrona, I live nearby the school, about a ten minute bike ride with my fancy 18 or 15 or 21 (or whatever) speed mountain bike. Some people walked to school from their apartment downtown. I couldn't fathom how this was possible. Why would anyone walk 25 minutes when it only takes 10 minutes to ride. The need a bike. How did I know? Because everyone knows that time is the most valuable thing we have, and that means that everything should be done in the quickest, more efficient manner. Efficiency (or the illusion of it) is what our whole society is based on.
A while back I got a flat tire. I was too lazy to fix it, so I just thought "well, I guess I just wont be going into town until I get it fixed". After all, it's impossible to walk into town, right? Fortunately, that is also when my computer broke, and I was forced to go into town to look for new parts. So, I walked.
A strange thing happened that day. I realized that walking was nice. It took twice as long, but it was more exercise, and I was able to read while I walked, giving me forty extra minutes of reading time each round trip (just try reading as you speed down the street on a bike). I found myself going into town more than usual because I liked the walk. Just today I made the 1.5 hour walk to the nature reserve to pick up my kayak which I left there last night. And guess what? Nothing bad happened. I went against conventional wisdom that says that anything over ten minutes requires a bike or a bus or a car, and I was happier.
I have only used my bike once since I fixed the flat tire a few weeks ago.
I don't need oil to cook.
When I first arrived, I had no olive oil, but the iron frying pan I picked up from the red-cross had to be covered with oil (I found out that this too was false). I borrowed a bit of oil from a neighbor, oiled my pan, and made a mental note to buy olive oil next time I was at the supermarket.
Well, you probably know the outcome. For the longest time I forgot to even look at olive oil. When I finally did, I had gone so long without out, never having missed it, that I couldn't justify buying such a product in such heavy packaging, shipped from so far away, possibly, made with pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
I have gone months now without putting oil in any of my cooking, and I must say, I still manage make some awesome oil-less soups, curry, hummus, bean-delights, breads, etc... often things that need oil. How do I know? Because the recipe says so stupid!
What does this mean?
Does this mean that I will never use a ceiling lamp, cook with olive oil, or own a bike? Not at all, in fact, when I go back to Tokyo I'm sure I will do all three. What it does mean however, is that I am a little more aware of what I really need, and a little more likely to question my reason for buying something that someone else tells me I need .
One last thing...
The last lesson I learned today, is that no matter how hungry you are, it's not a good idea to eat half a kilo of dried appricots in one sitting... unless you like fruity tooty.
Kayaking season is open.
Of course, I had to force it open. The usual thirty-minute paddle to the nearby organic grocer / nature reserve took almost two hours today as I tried to find areas where the ice was weak enough to plow through, and slide myself (while sitting in the kayak) over the areas where it wasn't.
We had a bonfire on the shore (the other came by land), waiting for the full moon to appear. When it did it was almost like day time, so low and bright in the horizon. If it weren't for the places I had to "skooch" over the ice, I would have paddled back under the full moon and it would have probably been one of the best paddles of my life. But, not wanting to get stranded on the ice in the middle of the night, I opted to leave my kayak there and do the return paddle tomorrow when it is full daylight.
Speaking of which, daylight savings is tonight. That means an extra hour of daylight from now on! With the already increasingly longer days (the equinox was last week) I am finding it difficult to stay in and work on thesis or work or whatever society has deemed that productive people should do. Why is it that "productive" things all have to happen inside?
I was skeptical at first. Mostly because I am a skeptic, and partly because it felt too much like a new religion. Think about it. Forty students gathered together with more enthusiasm than the collective enthusiasm of all the classes I had ever taken before then. Everyone hungry for hope, hungry for a sign that something can be done. In walks the sustainability guru/mastermind of the whole program, tall, strong, deep voice, charismatic. It scared me to look around at my fellow classmates as he spoke, their faces fixated on his every gesture, seemingly devoid of critical thinking. Although I too agreed with what he was saying, I did my best to disagree, to disbelieve, and I wanted them to do so also.
In the first weeks, the buy-in seemed to grow, a product of the shared goal, which brought us all here in the first place, the despair which many of us felt, the urgency, our feeding on each others hope. Living in a small Swedish town where everything is within walking distance, where the public policy is more forward thinking than many of us are used to. Being all but isolated from the real world "out there". The hope bubble had been born.
It wasn't until after a while that, I was happy to hear some voices of dissent. People weren't following as blindly as it had first seemed, but for the most part they seemed more convinced than I felt I was.
Now, after the year is almost up, and I have had time to digest much of what has been presented to us, I am ready to sign on. I may be a bit slower than the others, and probably didn't get as much out of the entire course, since, for most of the six months of study of various topics, where they spent their time thinking about how higher level tools and concepts fit in, I spent most of mine thinking about the foundation. I was still asking myself if what we were taught is based on reality or some eco-messiah's dream. I was asking myself how this new idea looked in my life, and if it made sense to me, before I even tried to apply it the rest of the world.
I think, however, that my slowness to adopt new ideas has been more beneficial than not. As I have written before, I don't believe that any of us can truly lead until we first lead ourselves. We spend so much time talking about how to make the world "wake-up", make people start to pay attention to their lives and how they are impacting the eco-system that supports their lives, yet, we rarely think hard enough about our own lives.
As you may know, my thesis is about providing people, the smallest, most basic unit, the driver of our unsustainable society, with a framework for re-inventing their lives in a way that can lead society toward a future where, instead of challenging the very real limitations the earth's natural system imposes on us, we challenge our own cultural limitations, the limitations that keep us from understanding how we can live well (better) by staying within the natural boundaries. It's about helping people to create an alternate ending to the story of us, one in which we do live sustainably into the future.
As I present to others the ideas which I have just now truly bought into, asking them to spend their time to analyze the story they live now, and to start the rewriting process, changing their unsustainable ending to a sustainable never-ending, I realize that I too must make the time for myself to do exactly what I am asking of them.
Part of what we ask, is that they spend the time to take a serious look at the world today, the problems facing us, and how they are directly effected by these problems. As such, I have been spending a great deal of my time these past few days looking into exactly that in terms of my own life, my own needs, and my own desire for a better ending.
I am uncomfortable with the negativity it generates in me, uncomfortable posting so many negative, hopeless posts in a row, but the first step in rewriting is to read what has already been written, the story I/we are currently following. Over the next two months, and for as long as it takes after, I plan to keep this site updated with my progress in the re-write process. I hope that along the way, the negativity will be replaced with a clear, realistic vision of a better future.
I will also be a bit more transparent about what process I am actually going through to re-write my story. The process itself is nothing new, nothing original, nothing revolutionary. What is revolutionary is that people, the people who have agreed to help with our thesis, have agreed to dedicate time to think about it. I hope that by going through it here, in public, a few of my few readers will feel compelled become revolutionaries, to stop and think about it, to take the time to re-write their story as well.
All of this "sustainability" stuff has only been in my radar for a few years, and, judging by the way most people act, it seems so new and ahead of the curve. To think that some people were talking about this decades ago, well before it was "cool"... how amazing they are.
I, on the other hand, always feel so... dumb. I sit here studying what I study, every once in a while I have an a-ha moment. I learn something, thinking "Wow, the world has got to hear about this!". Then I search around a bit, and find so much information already existing about it, I feel like I am the last to know. Many times I will start to write about something for this site, only to stop halfway, realizing that it has all been written about before, only much more eloquently. I can't possibly contribute.
Have I ever written anything here that anyone has not known already?
Of course, as dumb as I would feel if I really were the last person to know about this stuff, I really wish I was. No wait... I'm glad I am not, because if everyone already knew everything I I am just now learning, and still went on living the way we live, it would mean that no one even cares... but then again, if I knew that everyone knew but no one cared, it would eliminate the feeling that somehow I have responsibility to share what I am learning, so life would be a bit less stressful for me.
When Tomoe was planning her trip to Sweden earlier this year we had originally thought to go to Switzerland for some skiing in the Alps, something I used to dream about in high-school. Then, partly because I wanted to stay closer to Sweden (which didn't really happen since we went to Belgium as well), we opted to go cross country skiing in the mountains of Norway instead. I'm glad we did. It was amazing and more satisfying than simply riding a lift up, and going down, and riding a lift up, and going down, and ridding a lift up, and .... you get the picture, like eggs on a conveyor belt.
Part of me however is feeling that we should have done both... it may have been our last chance.
Then again, maybe , just maybe , as many people like to believe, people will adapt and technology will save us from the consequences of global warming. Maybe I will still be able to ski in the Alps some day thanks to this wonderful technology they have developed to keep the glaciers from melting.
'Eternal snow' melts as temperatures rise via Howling at a Waning Moon
Vienna - Austrian glacier ski regions are covering parts of their precious ice with sheets of plastic foil during the summer months in an effort to counter increased melting levels causing by rising global temperatures.
'The foil reflects almost all incident radiation. That strongly reduces the melting procedure'
Melting glaciers are disastrous to the environment. The whole water content of a mountain range may be lost with inestimable effects on plant and animal life. Experts predict that by the year 2050, two-thirds of all Alpine glaciers will be gone.
Of course, this also means I should get down there in summer months as well so I can see the views before they are all covered with plastic.
Thank God for our ability to adapt and innovate, solving any problem and eliminating the need for foresight and long term planning!
I cried last night as I was doing some research. I don't cry about this stuff very often, but I can't imagine anyone who would not cry when they really try to comprehend how much damage we doing to the planet in such a short time, how irreversible it is, and how, even if we were to stop today, we would not even see the full extent of the damage for many years or even generations.
I didn't uncover much that I didn't already know, with the exception of some specific facts and figures, but I did spend time thinking about what those facts really mean. I was struck how easy it is to refer to the issues we are facing in broad, generic terms such as "poisoned rivers" or "loss of biodiversity". Talking about it this way makes it seem as though it is not so bad. Sure, if you really think about it, "loss of biodiversity" can't be a good thing, but we hear and refer to it in that way so often, that it has become meaningless. It's old news. "Yeah, yeah, we're loosing biodiversity real fast. I've heard it all before, tell me something new."
Reading past the newspaper headline terminology though, looking at the facts, taking a minute to think about what it all really means for us and after we are gone... I can't imagine anyone who would not cry when they really try to comprehend it.
Will they blame us one thousand years from now (if people somehow manage to survive that long) when cancer is as common as a cold, and two out of three children are born with defects due to the chemicals we manufactured to make our toilet paper white and our frying pan slippery?
What's in you? (via: Gil Friend)
We make perfume from petroleum and preserve food in plastic. Our chances of dying in a building fire are almost nil. We clean bathrooms without scrubbing, spill coffee without worry of a stain.
Yet these modern wonders come with a price. As synthetic chemicals have saturated our lives, so too have they permeated our bodies.
We don't know the effect it has on our health. But scientists do have suspicions.
Autism, once an affliction of 1 in 10,000 children, today is the scourge of 1 in 166.
Childhood asthma rates have similarly exploded. And one in 12 couples of reproductive age in the United States is infertile.
Part of what we are asking people for our thesis is to tell us what they see as social and environmental issues of the day. We give them a few minutes to think about it, brainstorm with their partner, and then we talk about these issues. The respondants tend to give a lot of large issues... global warming, polluted water, overpopulation, etc... but when we ask them to identify how they are directly effected, they have a harder time.
The sad thing for me is that while, given the fact that most of the respondants live in a developed nation, and will not be around when the more obvious effects of the problems appear, one issue that already does effect them, perhaps even more so because they live in a developed nation, goes unmentioned in most cases. Few even seem to know how awash we are in syntehtic persistant chemicals. They haven't thought about what "persistant" means. DDT was outlawed in the 70s... but remember, it's persistant. It doesn't go away. Nature looks at these molecules and says "I didn't make this, it doesn't belong here, and I don't know how to break it down." Yet, we are still pumping out more and more "new and improved" checmicals every day, which, like DDT, don't go away . Think about it. If we already have enough of them in our body now that scientists are concerned, what will it be like in fifty years when none of them have gone away, but we have produced fifty more years worth?
There are organochlorine pesticides such as DDT, the pesticide that launched the modern environmental movement. Banned in the 1970s, they can be found today in our house dust, food and bodies.
PCBs, banned in 1979, similarly plague us. Decades worth of evidence shows these chemicals —predecessors of and close chemical cousins to PBDEs — don't belong in the body.
Tomoe tought me long ago not to microwave my food (especially fatty foods) in a plastic containers which may leech molecules. There is no way to be sure, but why risk it? The sad thing is of course, that this is not really something we can choose protect ourselves from by choosing certain behaviour since there is really no behaviore in today's society that can keep them away from us. (the article does provide a few suggestions)
In Emeryville, Richard Wenning is doing the same thing with chickens, finding no difference in PBDE levels between free-range organic hens and factory-farmed roasters.
The compounds are spread far and wide, in air and dust. They're taken up by plants, eaten by animals. We eat the animals and spread our sewage sludge back on the fields.
Although, suprise suprise, spending less time in front of the computer or TV and more time walking outside may be somewhat of a defense, as is becoming a vegetraian or at least cutting down on fatty foods that store many synthetic chemicals.
PCBs, dioxins, DDT, PBDEs, phthalates all love fat. Which is one reason many stick around so long, sequestered in our waistlines.
So as Jeremiah's fat burned off, so, too, did some of his body burden, doctors surmise. It could explain why his exposures, in many instances, are lower than his children's.
He also — unwittingly — played a dangerous game, Solomon and Miller said. As the fat broke apart, contaminants were freed. Some got trapped by the bile and were eliminated. Some landed in other fat cells. And some likely migrated to nerve cells or the brain.
And for you ladies, you can purdge yourselves of these chemicals quite readily as well...
Breast milk is 4 percent fat. As Michele nursed Mikaela and then Rowan, she drained a life's accumulation of pollutants into her children.
Read more at A Body's Burden: Our Chemical Legacy
I'm afraid that what I write is systematically growing more boring, a little too introspective, looking too much at myself. Maybe that's why my readership is dwindling (or maybe it's simply because there are less photos). It's hard to take a step back and look at the "big picture" because my thesis now is focused on individuals' perceived role and power in creating a sustainable world. The individual I know most intimately is myself, and I keep reverting back to me. Everything I am asking the subjects of our thesis, I am asking myself.
In many ways, I think that my real question, the reason I came here, is less about how we can make a fair, sustainable culture that I can be proud of, and more about how realistic or possible it is. I guess I think that if I can figure out what my role would be in such a world, and how I can meet my needs without screwing everyone else, then I can have hope. If, however, I realize that the only way for me to meet my needs now is to destroy our future, then I don't feel I have any right or reason to ask others to try.
So, do I think it is possible? I really can't say yet. Theoretically, yes it is possible. I can see a vivid image how my life could be totally different, and totally un-reliant on fossil fuels, persistent chemicals, destruction of natural ecosystems, and slavery. Do I think it is possible for me to live that life? The jury is still out. While I can't say I have much hope, I haven't given up yet. But the one thing that is sure is that I can't do it alone.
Sure, if I want to live fossil-fuel free, I can sell my computer and move back to the land and hope I survive. That really wouldn't prove anything though, because if the rest of society is still screwing up, I'm going to be effected because no matter where I go, we, the earth, all people, all species are all connected. And I certainly wouldn't expect everyone to follow suit even if there was enough land to make it realistic. If I want to live a life that does not violate every one of the principles and values I have grown up with, and if I am to do it as a member of society, it has to be a society where living such a life is possible.
That said, I think too many people jump right to the consultant role without trying to consult with themselves first. I am still at a place where I have to prove to myself that it is possible, by doing the things I can realistically do now and still be a part of society, by pushing the boundaries of what I consider realistic. This whole year has been about creating an action plan for myself, and it is almost complete. Maybe soon I will feel ready (or be forced) to try to change others as well. The only thing I can do now is to ask people to think about and test themselves and their own boundaries and beliefs along with me.
Am I becoming a nitpicking radical fundamentalist? And if so, is that a bad thing?
Last week I wrote about a dream I have to eventually no need a computer at home because I can't justify the social and environmental costs. Yesterday I wrote about giving up coffee. This was because I can't logically justify spending money on it considering that I am not sure where the cafe I frequent gets their coffee. Although I am not sure, I can take a good guess at
A simple cup of coffee seems like such a small thing. Why nit-pick? Especially when I am only about 60% confident that I really mean what I wrote. The other 40% was just trying on a new idea, trying to imagine would my life would be like without coffee, checking to see if it was bearable, if I really need the coffee, and if I can think of any alternatives.
But come on, why can't I have a cup of coffee? Is it really that bad? Is it worse than other things that I eat or drink? Probably not, but I suppose one reason it makes it on my black-list is that I know the story behind coffee in general and, being a pessimist, I assume that the coffee at the local cafe is no different. If I knew the same thing about the nacho chips I eat sometimes (truth be told, I can be pretty dang sure they are no friend of the environment either), I suppose I would have to stop that too.
But I'm getting off topic. If I was a reasonable, moderate person, I would say "Some coffee is OK. After all, I can't just drop out of society". But then the fundamentalist in me says "Hey, you idiot! That's the kind of thinking that got us where we are today... thinking that we are all entitled to destroy the earth and other people's lives 'a little bit', because a little bit doesn't matter. But listen here Kevin! It does matter when in addition to you, there are billions of other people destroying the earth as well. Even if it is 'just a little bit.'"
The fundamentalist in me knows that it is physically impossible for the earth to support everyones "right" to drink a cup of coffee transported by fossil fuels from mono-culture plantations on the other side of the earth, plantations which are systematically replacing some of the most biodiverse areas in the world, and polluting the soil and water with poisonous chemicals, all in an effort to support the growing market of people like me who think it is OK if we only do it a "little bit".
The fundamentalist in me knows that any dollar spent supporting the exploitation of less fortunate people is a dollar spent on keeping the status quo. It doesn't make any sense to the fundamentalist in me to sit in the cafe and spend brain power on one cause while my money is working against me.
So, what to do? Just give up coffee? Never leave my apartment? That's one option I suppose. Of course, I can't really handle that psychologically, so I suppose I will have to compromise between the radical fundamentalist and the moderate and make a plan B.
Ahhh... So many possibilities if I just spend the time to think about it. And it's pretty exciting to think about. Problem solving and using my imagination is so much more gratifying than any cup of coffee. I just wish that I didn't have such an urge to do my problem solving and imagining at the cafe with a cup of coffee.
A weak entry to this weeks photofriday, Glow.
Now that the computer is back I am ashamed at how quickly I have fallen back into my old bad habit of using it. Part of it is unavoidable, since I do have responsibilities to clients, but much of it is just me wasting time staring at anything that links. I have found that I am able to get away from it if I leave my apartment, taking a book or two to the local cafe, but that raises other issues. With the exception of the occasional sip of coffee from Tomoe's cup, I had managed to cut coffee out of my diet for over a year. This was partly because I knew that too much caffein was not good for me, but mostly because I had learned where coffee actually came from and didn't want to be responsible for it. Since I arrived here, I somehow started drinking coffee again (for social reasons in the beginning). Now it is to the point where I don't even feel too bad walking into the cafe and having three or four refills as I read.
This has to stop. I could just walk around town reading all day, which I have found to be much more enjoyable here than in Tokyo, but I may have to actually have a table to write at sometimes. If you see me drinking coffee, smack me. (but not so hard that I spill hot coffee on myself)
I feel excited, hopeful, frustrated and disappointed with the progress of our thesis. I feel this way because I feel like I need to see more immediate value coming from it. I also feel this way because what we have done so far has whetted my appetite to go further... but we had not planned to go further. I wonder if my partners, and the advisors would be willing to make the shift. I wonder also if the people who are the subjects, or prospective subjects of this project would be willing to dedicate even more time than they have.
I assume that you, the reader, are feeling confused and bored because I have neglected to provide you with the proper background for what I just wrote about. Maybe you are hoping that I will. Yes, I will.
So, originally, the plan was to present/interview as many people as possible with some of the sustainability related ideas, as well as a framework for thinking strategically about their own lives, and what they can do. I first wanted to interview "lots" of people. This fell apart when we quickly saw that we needed at least five hours with the subject. Not many people are willing to give up five hours of their life, even if they agree with the cause. (and something that has come out of some of the interviews that we have done is a pervasive idea that "sustainability" is our job... people are glad we are thinking about it for them). Still, we have been quite busy talking to a few people for many hours about how the topic relates to their life.
At first we saw people coming up with new ideas... a few "ah-ha" moments. It was satisfying. Maybe too much so, in that it made me thirsty for more. I am learning a great deal about how to present the ideas to people in a way that they understand, but now that I am no longer so focused on just asking the right questions, and more focused on the answers, I am feeling that the answers we are getting are much more superficial than I had really hoped. I know there is more buried in the subject's heart, but there is just not enough time to dig it out. Five hours will no longer do... I need 10, 15, 20 hours per subject.
Another factor in the superficial nature of the questions, is that we have been overly (in my opinion) worried about not "influencing" the subjects answers. This has led us to pussy-foot around glaring issues, not asking "why didn't you mention XYZ as one of the major factors in your decision making process?" when we know that if we bring it up they will have another "ah-ha" moment.
My new goal for the project is still to talk to as many people as possible, but the "as possible" phrase is key. I would be ecstatic to find as few as three or four people who would donate 15 - 20 hours over the period of a month to really go through this process, to really analyze their life, to really think about what they want for the future, and why they want it. I would love to follow them around for a day (understanding that they would act differently) and ask them questions along the way. I would die to be able to look into their cup-boards and ask them to comment on the contents.
Is it doable? Is there anyone that would really donate 20 hours in a month? What if we were to compensate them? How much is appropriate? (the money is from our own pockets.) Is there anyone out there who has 10 - 20 hours they could spend in Skype or chat taking part in our "survey" in the month of March?
Anyway, I was just checking-in... letting you know what was on my mind, now that the computer is alive again. There are other things on my mind as well. Such as...
If you are a regular long-time reader, you would know that in high-school (12 years ago) I had a girlfriend from Sweden. While not a direct factor in my decision to come to Sweden to study now, without her influence I would not have ventured to Japan where I eventually met Tomoe, who eventually got me into the whole "sustainability" thing, which eventually led me here to Sweden to study. So now it has come full circle.
Anyway, before coming here I knew I would look her up to see if she was still in Sweden. (although a part of me wants to keep it a mystery...). I had planned to learn Swedish first, but that plan proved to be impractical given all the other things I had to do (and my laziness and inefficiency).
Last week or so I finally bit the bullet, admitted to myself that I would not learn Swedish before I contacted her, and wrote an email to her sister whose email address I got from the high-school alumni page.
I told her to pass on my email and web address to Maria, letting her know that I am in Sweden and if she would like to meet, to please write to me. I didn't want to force her. The only thing is... after I sent the email, my sever crashed. I thought "no problem. I'll just write to her sister again and explain that I had email troubles so I wasn't sure if she replied." So I did that. Then today I find out from other people that emails they have sent me over the past week have been returned... so I don't know if she might have tried to reply a second time as well.
If she did try to reply, at best it makes me look like an incompetent boob. But if she didn't try to reply and I send yet another email saying "Just checking to see if you got the last two emails" I am suddenly a psycho that has been stalking her for the past twelve years..
I feel anxiety and fear and shame about that.
If you have read this far, you may have recognized that I am using the phrase "I feel ..." quite often. If you are a regular reader, you may have picked up on the fact that I mention empathy sometimes as one of my goals (to become more empathetic).
Today I caught the last half of a talk a fellow student was giving on "Compassionate Communication". I wish I would have been there for the entire discussion. She introduced some basic ideas from the Center for Nonviolent Communication .
When I say basic, I mean really basic. Probably, nothing in here that people didn't already "know", but as far as really "knowing" it and putting it into practice... this may be the my greatest "find" of the year. Although I missed most of the session, what I saw on the board when I walked into the room was mind-blowing to me and really says it all...
- Honesty: When I see _______, I feel ___________, because I need _________. Would you be willing to ________ ?
- Empathy: Are you feeling _____________ because you are needing ___________? Would you like ______________?
When I see that I feel excited because I need people to understand what I really want to express, and I need to be able to understand what other people are feeling in order to reach a mutual agreement. Who would have thought that just filling in the blanks could be so eye-opening?
Of course there is more to it, but I guess I have to read some books to find out.
Finally, I am feeling incredibly hopeful because my thesis partners and I went to a local grade school today to "interview" some of the students for our project. (The reason I missed the first half of the compassionate communication session was that I was taking a nap due to grade school starting at 8 am! Did you know that!?!!?)
They were incredibly well-informed and knowledgeable about the topics we wanted to discuss. Namely, the systematic nature of the earth and the ecosystem. They were able to explain things about how the natural cycles work that I don't even remember learning until a few years ago. They were able to list more "potential actions" that they could take to move toward sustainability than the adults. The only problem is that many of the actions they mentioned were not those that they themselves can take now , instead, they were actions that the adults around them should take. I would have loved to have more time to explore what they think they can do.
Living on Earth asks How much is a mahogany tree worth?
By the side of the water in the upper Jingo watershed it's probably worth five to 20 dollars depending on how big it is, which would usually be paid for in sugar and gasoline to whichever farmer or poor person cut it down. By the time it gets to a sawmill, it's worth a couple thousand dollars. When it's cut into boards and shipped down to one of the great port cities like Manaos or Belém, it's worth probably a hundred thousand dollars. By the time it gets to a furniture showroom on Madison Avenue in New York, I've seen mahogany sideboards priced at 25 thousand dollars apiece. So that tree, in the end, could be worth a million dollars.
It's not shocking, yet, although it's not something I can say I "knew", I can't say I didn't have some sort of idea. I suppose an economist would try to explain to me how the raw material, as an important part of the quickly vanishing ecosystems which make our lives possible, and the labor it takes to get it, is worth only a pile of sugar, but that carved up into a simple piece of furniture, it is worth a million dollars. I still don't think I would understand.
I come across little factoids like this all the time, and like any good little consumer, I am very efficient when it comes to ignoring information about how my actions don't seem to jive with what I want to think are my moral values. Maybe this story stood out because I relate it to an interview I was having with someone for my thesis last week. The subject told me how he felt that it is usually possible to tell how far a product traveled by the price... if it has traveled a long way to get to the store, it must cost more because it used more fuel and labor to get there.
That would make sense... if only it were true. Like with the crazy pricing of an invaluable tree, I can't fit my brain around why things produced locally, often with much less negative impact on the earth and everyone involved in getting it to me, would be more expensive than something that does so much damage in it's production and transport to my table.
Maybe I'm just too simple-minded. I guess I don't deserve to be getting my degree in August... I should stay in school longer so I can get nice and smart and understand such things.
Tonight my thesis partners and I had a short meeting with one partner's aunt and uncle visiting from Oregon. We jumped at the chance to use them as a resource for our thesis, which is officially aimed at understanding how people can be helped by a strategic thinking process for a sustainable future. Unofficially, it is an opportunity to 1) challenge our own understanding of the concepts we have been learning about, 2) practice presenting them and discussing them with others, and 3) learning how other people synthesize the information and concepts and how it fits into their lives and value system, leading to a higher level of empathy in ourselves.
It was an inspiring meeting to say the least. The partner's aunt and uncle are regular people, nearing retirement age -one is a grade school teacher. Yet they are far from regular people in terms of their tremendous vision of a sustainable future, and enthusiasm with which they go about making positive change. I can only hope that I grow to be half as enthusiastic as they are. It started out as a meeting where we had intended to lead them, but they became the leaders. We had intended to plant the seed of an idea in their mind, but they presented me with multiple ideas to ponder and integrate into my own thinking. While I don't think that we gave them anything that they didn't already know, I hope that at the very least, they can be equally inspired knowing that we are here to pick up the torch that they have kept going for so long.
This brings me (somewhat) to my topic. I am under tremendous pressure recently to produce an essay about leadership. Tonight is the third deadline I will miss, but to prove that I have not simply been neglecting it, I want to present a little proof that I have at least been thinking about it... at least.
And I have been thinking about it. A lot. Yet, for the life of me, I have not been able to identify what leadership really is, nor have I come to any conclusive idea of who has been a leader to me. Below are just some of the random notes I have jotted down in my notebook over the past few weeks. Incredibly unoriginal, yet I am still unable to make any structured essay around them.
A leader does not simply disseminate his or her own message, get people to buy into his or her own vision, rather, a leader understands the followers visions, understands the context with which those visions are derived, and draws the connections between those visions and his or her own vision.
The leader in me is frightened. Afraid to fail, afraid that no one will follow. But the leader in me knows that if I am true, and if I follow my own lead, someone else will find it worth following as well.
"What is a leader" has already been analyzed to death. Taking a look at what would make a leader I would like to follow, on the other hand, has some value to me. Maybe it tells me what kind of a leader I would want to be.
- Awareness (sees the whole picture)
- Flexible (able to see the situation through various viewpoints)
- Sensitive to connections (sees the interdependencies)
- Understands the power of vision and stories
- Can play with different frames of mind
- Long term thinker ... can make the connection to the short term
- Recognizes cause and effects
- Recognizes and can handle unanticipated consequences
- Differentiates the issue from the person / looks to the system instead of assigning blame
- Creates context in which people can explore themselves, in order to lead themselves
- Tries to make herself obsolete. Doesn't try to hang onto the "leader" role, but rather tries to make it unnecessary by making sure everyone has confidence in their own ability to act without obvious leadership.
- Able to translate vision into something that fits and is acceptable to other peoples own vision.
- Understands own frames, and where own thoughts and stories are coming from. Knows self, and constantly strives to know more about self.
- Takes us out of comfort zone while at the same time offering support so our comfort zone grows.
- Forces us to rethink our boundaries, both in terms of limits and impacts.
There is much talk of the characteristics of leaders, some talk of the role of leaders, but little talk of the responsibility of leaders. Has our idea of leadership somehow evolved to be devoid of responsibility? If so, why? And more importantly, what are the responsibilities of a leader?
What makes a leader I would like to follow?
I can be led, but not easily. I will fight it every step of the way, resisting any attempts to fiddle with my mental models. But, if in the end, where the leader is trying to lead me makes sense, I will follow wholeheartedly, or attempt to take a lead myself. What kind of a leader would I follow?
A leader who can lead me.
Present me with a direction I want to follow by showing me how what I want now is related to what the leader wants. Or, alternatively, the would-be leader may opt to try to change my mind outright by presenting me with an entirely new mental model. If it is strong enough I may change, but there is a much greater chance to lead me if the leader can draw the connection with what I already know.
A leader who can lead me is a leader who will not give up when I fight his/her vision tooth and nail. I want to preserve my own way of thinking. I want to believe that I am right. I want to go in my own direction. If someone wants me to change directions, they had better be well versed in my vision, and know how our visions are related.
A leader who can lead me is one who makes sure I have the skills I need to follow. (This does not mean that that leader teaches me him or herself.)
A leader who can lead me is one who gives me incentives. This need not be from his own pocket, rather, it may simply be a matter of showing me how my vision of a desirable future is helped by following her or him.
A leader who can lead me is one who ensures that I have the resources necessary to follow and be productive. This doesn't mean that he provides the resources, but must instill in me the drive to seek out the resources for myself. Without the resources, I will not follow.
A leader who can lead me is one who provides the context I need to make it make sense for my life.
A leader who can lead me is one who follows his own lead.
A leader who can lead me is one who shares my values.
A leader who can lead me is a leader who knows when to follow.
A leader who can lead me is one that makes me think I am leading myself.
A leader who can lead me is one who will share in the responsibility for our missteps.
A leader who can lead me is one who is afraid with me, but takes me past it.
A leader who can lead me is one who can push me past my fears. But not let me forget why I am afraid.
A leader who can lead me is one who treats me as a colleague.
A leader who can lead me makes me a leader of myself and others, makes his own leadership seemingly obsolete.
A leader who can lead me doesn't let me know he has led me anywhere.
A leader who can lead me doesn't tell me how to follow, or even tell me to follow for that matter. The leader who can lead me makes me want to follow... but not know that I am following.
A leader who can lead me understands everything about me... but doesn't let me know that he understands.
A leader who can lead me will allow me to do what I can do, and push me to do what I don't think I can.
A leader who can not lead me has to lead me someplace I have never been, or show me that I missed something where I was before.
A leader who can lead me shows me / makes me believe that what I do has worth.
A leader who can lead me is harder on himself and his own failure than I am on myself and my failure.
- Which of these traits are REQUIRED for the leader, and which are just additional?
Leadership in context? How much of who is a leader is controlled by the times and the context in which the ideas and vision are presented?
Do leaders really exist? I hope so. Are they rare? I hope not. Does that mean we all sit back and enjoy the ride? No, because the leader is not driving the bus, the leader is showing us how to drive the bus. The leaders are the people who are afraid, who don't know where they are going, but know a little better than I do how to manage that fear. They are a little more comfortable with their fear.
Leaders do exist, and without them, we are all screwed.
Can someone be taught to be a leader? Yes. All leaders are taught to lead... leaders are learners. That is how they become leaders.
Failed attempts to lead me?
Successful attempts to lead me?
Part of being a leader is being a conscious follower, meaning, knowing yourself, and who you do and want to follow, as opposed to following just any charismatic speaker.
What is difference between a leader and someone who sows the seed of an idea? Anybody can present an idea that I may go with, but I will only "follow" someone who epitomizes that idea... but then what is the difference?
But maybe the most important characeteristics of a leader is that they keep their promise to hand in their leadership essay on time...
The photos are more of my "best of" collection, reminders of the life I will soon be returning to in Tokyo.
Only one screw left, and I only broke the keyboard. Fortunatly, I think it is something that can be fixed with a little glue or tape. The good news is I was able to replace my hard drive thanks to this guide (take a look at all the screws and marvel at my acomplishemnt of only having one left over!). What will I do with my new-found stress free life, and all the time I will have now that I don't have to walk all the way to school to use the computer there, and all the time I will save by not having to write things out on paper. I'm going to be so free!!!!
The photos above are more re-runs. I didn't realize I could actually miss Japan, but looking through my Japan gallery, I suddenly see how beautiful Japan really is, and how even the city is beautiful in it's own way. I do believe I am feeling a bit homesick. Of course, much of the reason I feel that way is that the photos are almost all from some walk by the river, or bike trip through the mountains with Tomoe. I wonder if they would look as nice to me if I had just been there alone, or if we had been living here in Sweden would I think the same? Is it the place, the person, or both?
My computer has had a spontaneous revival, but I still don't trust it, so I am not going to download any new images to the drive until I replace it. So, once again at a lack for images, I have decided to use the the bastish way-back machine (the archive links on the left) to see what photos I posted this date a year ago. It's almost scary that I should have decided to do that tonight... Just a few hours ago I was at a dinner party where some of the conversation focused on my obsession with beans and birds, and where the birds pooped when they were out of there cage.
It was a rare day when I posted two posts on the same day, but below is what I was writing about exactly one year ago today...
Just one of the joys of living with Awii and Klee.
Recently I took a stab at making my own natto. The big-beaned natto you see above is my third attempt, and first success. The smaller-beaned natto is the store-bought variety.
It's actually quite easy to make, and though it tastes different than the store-bought, it aint half bad. It does have a little bit of a stronger smell. I guess they add something to the packaged natto to supress the oder.
If your interested to try making it yourself...
Still no luck with the iBook revival. I went to the local IT shop last week and the guy assured me that they would have the hard disk I ordered by Friday or Monday at the latest. When I went in today and it still was not there, I had to force him to call the supplier. The supplier (supposedly the same supplier they called last week to get the esitmate) said that it would be about two weeks and that they have not had iBook hard disks in stock for a month now. I have no idea where they got the idea that it could have been here last Friday. So now I have to shell out the $30 to get a train ticket to the nearest authorized Mac dealer (1.5 hours away). He has also assured me that it will be there by Wednesday...
The thing is, I actually love not having the computer, except for the stress caused by not being able to do some work for my clients in Japan. Without the computer in my room I read much more, I think much more, I have a list of things jotted down on my notebook a mile long. Somehow, the internet has been dumbing me down... all the while I was thinking that I was actually getting smarter by reading lots of information and junk. I think it may have to do with the fact that when I am reading on line, I am reading fast, trying to cram in as much as possible, but when I read a book, I am reading deep, taking my time and thinking about how what I am reading is related to me and the current context I am living in. My thesis partners probably hate this fact, as it causes me to come to school each day pushing for a new direction for the project when the direction was supposed to have been set weeks ago.
In a somewhat related note, I woke up with a flat tire last Saturday. It took me a week to get around to fixing it. Not really because I am lazy, but more because I wanted to see how I fared without it. To my suprise, I like not having the bike. I actually go into town more often now than when I had it, and it is less of a chore. This doesn't seem to make sense, since riding the bike takes about ten minutes compared to the twenty or so it takes to walk. Maybe it has to do with the fact that when I walk the time is more productive. I can look around, take photos, read a book, think a thought. On the bike though, I am concentrating on not getting run over and not running anyone over. I am concentrating on going fast. So, although it takes ten minutes less, it is actually a less efficient use of time.
Perhaps I only go into town more often now though because I don't have a computer anymore. Maybe once I get the computer back, I will be busier and in a bigger hurry. If that happens I will have to start riding the bike more. Strange how having the computer makes me so much less productive.
I haven't been able to upload any new photos, so those above are re-runs meant to remind us all what we have to look forward to when the snow and ice melts around here. And finally, this last photo is a gift for to Jenifer, the bird-hater, in the hopes that I do not feel her wrath for missing the deadline...
My iBook is officially dead. I hate using the schools computers... no email software, no text-editor, Swedish keyboard. It's like living in a hotel. A new hard drive has been ordered and will be here within the week (I hope that is the problem since i was not able to re-install OS X on the old drive)
In the mean time, if I am slow to respond to email, it's because I can't read it.
Setsunai left a comment on yesterday's post which I feel I should respond to with a new entry, rather than in the comment section, because I am not sure that people actually read the comments. (actually, I'm not so sure that most people even read the entries).
Anyway, he was disagreeing with the ideas I posted yesterday, and I have to admit that I too tend to disagree with myself... sometimes. But then other times, I feel that I was spot on. Something he wrote in his comment made me feel even more confident that my thoughts are correct regarding getting the computer out of my house, and finding something to entertain myself which does not undermine my (hypothetical) children's ability to live in a healthy environment.
It sounds more in the realm of grand self-sacrificial gesture than seriously working from within to bring about change.
The idea of self-sacrifice never crossed my mind actually. I am terrible at sacrifice, and have incredibly low self-control. What I do have, however, is an ability to be flexible and see other alternatives. If going without a computer in my house, and getting rid of the camera would make me miserable, I would never get rid of it. I feel however, that I probably can be happy and fulfilled without them. Sure, I couldn't just throw them out my window now, because they make such a seemingly important part of my identity, but with a few years, I can build my identity around something else, something less destructive. Billions of people now and throughout history have led fulfilling, enjoyable lives without computers and digital cameras... how poor of an imagination would I have to have to believe it was impossible for me to do so as well?
I wrote a few days ago about how Tomoe and I made such a relatively inexpensive three week trip in Europe. To some, this would probably look like sacrifice, but for us it is so natural, so much a part of the story we live, that to spend more on wasteful hotels and restaurants would actually cause us to enjoy the trip less . This is not something we decide after the fact to convince ourselves, rather, it is something we have learned over time. For example, a few years back we decided to go out to a nice dinner on our birthday (yes, same birthday). After wandering around town for hours looking for something that looked better than we could have made at home, we finally settled on a place. Afterwards, we both felt that simply buying more healthy ingredients at the grocer would have been cheaper and more fun to cook and eat at home. Some people would view our cheapness as sacrifice, but it's not. We have simply re-written the story that we live.
Getting back to Setsunai's comment though (by the way, thank you Setsunai, I appreciate your feedback, it helps me think),
How is stopping earning a living, taking photos, running your web-log etc. going to make the world a more sustainable place?
Stopping earning a living wont make the world a better place, but there is no law that says I have to earn a living (actually more than I need to live) while promoting a system which I know can't be sustained, and is, in the long run, causing more harm than good. I am not talking about giving up work, just trying to re-imagine what kind of work I do, and what the outcome of that work is. Again, to make the shift would probably take a long time, so I am not about to get rid of the computer today, but only by keeping it in mind as a goal can I break free from the story I am in now.
You wrote before about the concept of tipping point. Isn't a more realistic option cutting down on unnecessary consumption (use the one camera until it grows old and dies, foregoing of stuff like electric razors or whatever), with "necessary" having a very subjective definition that can include disseminating your personal message, seeking beauty, sustaining your financial situation and whatever else, while working to achieve the tipping point?
That is exactly what I am talking about, cutting down on unnecessary consumption, as well as unnecessary support of industries I think are harmful. Currently, using the computer and a camera is necessary for me, for all the reasons Setsunai mentioned. Yet, at the same time, I know that unless we re-think what we consider necessary, there is no hope for anything to get better. What I have to do is find a way to disseminate my personal message, seek beauty, sustain my financial situation without destroying the future at the same time. I think it is possible, and I think that by finding a way to meet those "needs" through alternative means, there is no sacrifice involved.
To lead by example, which you are already doing, you need to get the message out.
This is the part that I struggle most with. On one hand, yes, that is absolutely correct, but on the other hand, I have little respect for so called "leaders" who can't even follow their own lead. It sounds stupid and arrogant for me to say "I think we can and should find alternatives that can fill our needs without destroying my kids' world... except for me... because the things I do to destroy it is so much more important that what you all are doing."
Again, thanks to Setsunai for forcing me to think and write about this. And don't expect me to just give up my computer tomorrow, because that would be true sacrifice. But, do expect me to be on the lookout for ways that I can satisfy all my needs without adding to the woes of the world.
Despite the fact that my computer woes are far from over, I have decided not to go on about them because looking back at some past posts, I realize I sound too much like one of those... well... web-developer geeks. That may have been me once, but no more. Recently I have been entertaining thoughts of how I can get the computer out of my home. Breaking it as I did last week may be one way, but before I do that I should probably find another way to make money that doesn't rely on having it near me.
Although I have yet to begin any serious plan, I get the feeling that it could be at least a two year project for me... (the camera will take longer) then maybe I will be computer free. Part of me wants to do it just for the challenge. Part of me is sick of being dependent on something that cuts me off so completely (partly my own fault) from the real, physical world which we are really dependent on. The fact that computers (at least as they are manufactured and consumed now) are a physical impossibility in a healthy future is a secondary consideration, but it's there. Knowing that the production and disposal of all my gadgets can not be continued, yet continuing it myself just makes me feel stupid, and, as I have said before, one of the major reasons I am here studying sustainability is that once I have learned how stupid our current system of insatiable consumption is, it is impossible to forget it, and unless I forget it or get on the path to quitting, I am just being stupid. I hate being stupid. Stupidity makes no sense to me. Of course, I have no idea what I would do without the camera, and posting the photos to the site. Then again, if I am being smart, I should be able to find something that interest me, and no one ever said that being less-stupid was easy... just less-stupid.
And who knows... maybe someday someone will develop a computer and the associated gadgets that can be produced and distributed around the world to billions of users without destroying our ecosystem. When that happens I will be the first to pick up the camera again (assuming I am ever smart enough to put it down in the first place).