When people ask me what they should do personally to prepare for the coming changes, I offer a simple (and I think, catchy) acronym: I HELP. Here’s what it stands for:
I: Involve Yourself
Here is how it
in local environmental and social justice groups. Find
a cause (or more than one) that resonates with your
values and will have some impact on your community, and join a local
champions it. This kind of involvement
is especially powerful, as you will become part of an enormous,
decentralized, global social movement. Estimates of the worldwide
number of such groups run as
high as three million. Each one has its own local concerns or
issues, but all work toward the same general goal: to make the world a
place to live.
Although it is un-coordinated, grass-roots and leaderless, it
has been called “the biggest social movement the world has ever seen,”
second superpower.” Because it is
decentralized and the individual groups are largely unconnected with
each other, it is extremely resilient and unstoppable.
Governments do not control these groups, and propaganda has little
their hundreds of millions of volunteer members. These
groups exist in every nation on the
face of the planet, and one or more exists in every city. There
are many near you, and they are easy to find when you start
Joining such a group will allow you to contribute to important environmental and social efforts that make your community a better place to live. These groups also give you access to networks of people and resources that will help you do the next thing on the list:
Expand and strengthen your social networks. Make new friends and strengthen ties with existing ones. You can do this purely socially (organize a street BBQ, host an Amnesty International “Taste for Justice” dinner, start a babysitting circle, or start a book review or discussion club for example), or you can do it by joining one of the many environmental or social justice groups I described above.
The key is that friendships add pleasure to good times, and security to bad times. Friends will share your joys and help you in times of trouble. You just can’t lose by making more and better friends.
Reduce the amount of “stuff” and energy you need to support your quality of life. Reduce, reuse, recycle, repair.
This is where most of the environmental “advice action” is these days. We have all heard the advice: reduce, reuse and recycle; put in low-energy light bulbs; improve your home’s insulation; turn down your heating and air conditioning a bit; switch to a more efficient car; walk, bike or bus instead of driving; join (or start) a carpool; eat less meat; reduce your airplane travel. There are hundreds of web sites with lists of suggestions.
These actions will pay off in three ways. First, they will reduce your daily living expenses, so you may have more money available for other activities. Done carefully, they can even lower your expenses while improving your quality of life. Second, they will provide you a measure of security by positioning you to weather any unexpected downturns in the economy. Third, they will give you a feeling of great satisfaction and make you a guide for others in our common quest to walk more lightly on the planet.
Reduce the amount of travel required in your life. This means reducing the amount of personal travelling you do as well as reducing the distance the things you need must cover to get to you. You might be able to reduce personal travel by moving closer to work, or working from your home, for example.
Localizing your consumption is where the big payoff is, however. Buy as many goods and services as you can from local manufacturers and providers. Patronize local shops and local small and home businesses. Avoid large multinational retail chains wherever possible. The few extra dollars you might spend as a result will stay in your local area and benefit other local businesses. Doing this also strengthens your human networks as you get to know more of the local businesspeople.
Above all, localize your food consumption. The average calorie of food we eat contains 7 to 10 “ghost calories” from the fossil fuels used in the production and transportation of the food. In order to minimize those ghost calories, buy local organic produce that used less fertilizer and pesticide in its production and didn’t have to travel so far to land on your plate.
To help in doing this you could adopt the “Hundred Mile Diet,” a diet that consists as much as possible of food grown within one hundred miles of your home. If you have children (or are a child yourself), make a shopping game of finding out where foods come from and picking those that come from closest to your home.
You could also join a CSA cooperative. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Community Supported Agriculture consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Typically, members of the cooperative pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer's salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm's bounty throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land and participating directly in food production. Members also share in the risks of farming, including poor harvests due to unfavorable weather or pests. By direct sales to community members, who have provided the farmer with working capital in advance, growers receive better prices for their crops, gain some financial security, and are relieved of much of the burden of marketing. We already say "my doctor", "my dentist", "my accountant" and "my lawyer". Now we can say "my farmer" as well.
The last key to I HELP is to produce as much as you can of your own food and energy. This could involve starting your own back yard garden. My partner and I practice “edible landscaping” around our little urban bungalow. This involves using nothing but edible plants (herbs, fruits, vegetables and flowers) as both food and decoration. Purely ornamental plants have been displaced by more utilitarian species. It goes without saying that compost provides the fertilizer, no pesticides are used and collected rain water is used for irrigation.
Producing some of your personal energy is a bit more difficult for those of us who live in the city. The well-publicized technologies of solar panels and wind turbines are still too expensive and may run afoul of city bylaws. You could install a solar water heater, though, and use it to pre-heat the water in your hot water tank to cut down the energy needed for hot showers and dishes.
You can also sign up with a “green electricity” company. These companies invest in green electricity production on your behalf, and feed it into the grid. You continue to draw your power from the grid normally. While such an arrangement doesn’t protect you from grid crashes, it does give you the satisfaction of knowing that your bit of electricity in the grid did not release any greenhouse gases in its production. For an example, look at the company I use, Bullfrog Power.
For something a little more exotic, you could try brewing your own biodiesel to use in the diesel car you bought when you were economizing. Many people are doing it, and it’s a very useful skill to have.
There are many ways we can prepare ourselves for the coming effects of Peak Oil, Global Warming, rising food and energy costs and the social instability that may follow in their wake. The things we each choose to do will be governed by our individual circumstances and preferences. But when someone asks us what we do to prepare ourselves and those we love for the changes on the horizon, we must all be able to say:
© Copyright 2007, Paul Chefurka
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