What I love about Annie Leonard is that she makes these concepts so accessible. Sit back and enjoy! Once you're done, send the link on and share the message. This is important stuff--don't keep it to yourself...
Some of it may have to do with the fact that in comparison, trying to graduate from college, finish my thesis, and figure out where we're going to live and how I'm going to find a job is WAY more stressful...
But, here's one reason why our wedding is amazing:
My older sister, who I love so dearly, is over in Japan--an unfortunate side-effect of being married to someone in the Air Force. Well, fortunate in a lot of ways, but it sucks because I never see her. She lives in a pretty rural area close to a lot of beaches where she explores with her dog, Kona.
And these are some of what she collects on the beach. Bottles for my wedding! They're going to be clustered on the indoor tables with a few stems from my future MIL's garden in each. And they're going to look amazing. I'm also pretty pumped, because they will be perfect decoration in our home for years to come. And that may be the best part about wedding decorations. (You can bet I'm saving the bunting for future garden parties, once I actually have a garden. The munting will be perfect for a little boy's birthday party--for everyone who is not me and B, munting is man-bunting, or bunting made from old plaid flannel shirts, and it will be decorating the beer canoe, among other things.)
This is amazing footage of one of my favorite occurrences. Brooks and I woke up a massive nest of ladybugs in the Sangre de Cristo mountains last summer. We had climbed up the now-defunct ski slopes at Hermit Basin to watch the sunrise, and uncovered these marvelous little creatures at the aspen cross. Slowly, they began moving, crawling on top of each other and up blades of tall grass, only to drop off the ends like heavy dew. We were covered--hands, legs, arms. They especially loved my knee-high wool socks. This short clip brings back that memory fresh as ever, though this swarm is a little more impressive, and the baby is just too cute.
I held a young girl’s hands high above her as she wildly stomped and danced her way through a heap of clay, sand, and straw. She shook her braided head back and forth, the plastic beads clacking out percussion as her feet made tiny dents in the earthen pile. She smiled up at me, closed her gleaming eyes, and kept dancing. I tried to ease her off the tarp—other kids wanted a turn—but she just didn’t want to let go, to stop. Later, I was teaching a boy the subtle techniques of cob hurling and pounding. He asked me if he could put his name into the bench we were building. I told him that yes, he could press his name into the red cob, and that we would need to add more of the earthen mixture over it, but his name and his fingerprints would always be inside the bench. He formed his name with more care and deliberation than I had ever witnessed in a signature.
The moments like these, when the connections between us are forged, are essential. Sustainability is not just about carbon dioxide; it’s about life and community. We can thrive without solar panels, but we cannot thrive without happiness and without each other. Shelter is a fundamental human need, and all over the world and the country, people are re-imagining what shelter means and how we go about providing it. What if, at its very core, our shelter supported the health and happiness of all life and every community?
We might not live, work, and play in buildings built from components shipped half-way around the world and full of untested toxins, like the large amounts of Chinese drywall installed in U.S. homes during a post-hurricane housing boom in 2006 that caused constant headaches and nosebleeds for inhabitants, as well as corrosion of metal appliances, plumbing, and wiring (Wayne, 2008). Through our purchasing decisions and lifestyle choices, we also might not subject other communities to the environmental degradation and health risks posed by manufacturing such products. As illustrated by Annie Leonard’s popular video, “The Story of Stuff,” we live in a system that creates distance between the things we buy and the consequences of those purchases. This distance is both geographic and economic, as products or their components are often mined and manufactured in impoverished areas of the world, and as the true costs of these products—including habitat destruction, or healthcare costs related to pollution—are rarely reflected on the price tag (Priggen & Fox, 2005).
The breadth of this distance in American society is best exemplified by our industrial agriculture. Our meat is raised on factory farms and reaches us neatly packaged in layers of plastic. Heavily fertilized fields of corn and soybeans provide filler for our processed foods as their runoff creates dead-zones in the ocean—such as the 6,000 to 7,000 square mile area in the Gulf of Mexico where lack of oxygen in the water stifles all life (Bruckner, 2008). Salt-heavy processed foods rack up hidden expenses, as well. New research reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine indicates that reducing American salt consumption by ten percent would reduce healthcare costs by $32 million per year (Dyess, 2010). And after we’ve eaten all of these packaged foods, our trash is driven to landfills, where we don’t have to see it, but it does not disappear. In addition to living in a system where we are blind to the interconnected nature of life on a finite planet, we have also cut ties with the knowledge to tend to our own needs.
We live in a society of experts. We rely on doctors to fix our bodies, on professors to teach our minds, on contractors to build our houses. In Mexico, as in other areas of the world, there is a difference between a peasant and a farmer. Peasants provide for their own basic needs, while farmers grow products for the market. Peasants grow their food; farmers buy groceries. Peasants build their homes; farmers buy houses. Peasants gather medicinal herbs and treat their medical emergencies; farmers buy medical insurance. Farmers are part of a system that insists they drive to market, pay taxes, buy seeds, use machinery, and maybe even send their children to agricultural college. Peasants spend their time satisfying their own needs, while farmers spend time making money so that they can pay others to satisfy their needs. In these terms, practically all of us in the United States are in the same situation as the farmers (Evans, Smith, & Smiley, 2002). Reliance on a community is not inherently negative, unless that reliance becomes dependence on unsustainable systems that compromise our abilities to respond and adapt to changing circumstances. For example, as a nation, we are dependent on the conventional building industry, even though it has long outlived its usefulness in our communities. We’re locked in to buildings that are expensive to build and maintain, both financially and environmentally, because our abilities to adapt to the circumstances have been compromised by restrictive regulation and financial systems.
Now, when this society of distance and expert-dependence collides with climate change, faltering community, financial crisis, and rising energy costs, we, as individuals and communities, are often left feeling utterly disempowered to instigate change. Beth Terry (2008), a plastic-free blogger and activist, posted a list of eight reasons why personal changes do indeed matter:
Conclusion 1: Personal change matters because when we realize our intimate connection to and impact on the rest of life on the planet, we simply cannot continue to live in a way that causes needless harm. We have no choice but to change…
Conclusion 2: Personal changes are important for our own health and the health of those we love…
Conclusion 3: Personal changes allow us to vote with our wallets and support small, alternative businesses that are doing the right thing…
Conclusion 4: Personal changes help us develop our own ingenuity and creativity and teach us how to be more self-sufficient…
Conclusion 5: Personal changes help us to examine our lives and evaluate what is helpful to our physical and spiritual well being and what is not…
Conclusion 6: Personal changes help us to see the limits to personal change. These limits represent the places where we need to put our energies in asking companies to change…
Conclusion 7: Personal changes help us to realize that personal change is not enough. We see that as hard as we work to green our own lives, the problem is systemic. We must work to change the system. But until we make our own personal changes, we may not have enough investment in the outcome to push for the bigger steps that are necessary…
Conclusion 8: Personal changes set an example for others to follow and to realize that life can be different.
While the challenges and tasks can seem insurmountable, every push toward a more sustainable future helps. From Terry’s successful campaign to prompt Brita to recycle their filters to her monthly tally of all the plastic that she has acquired (roughly 4% of the average U.S. household for 2009), she is an excellent example of what one voice, backed by a supportive community, can do.
Where does natural building fit into this discussion? Natural building is a practical, applicable tool of self and community empowerment. It is a viable, even preferable, alternative to the current practices of the conventional building industry. Natural building is a path to healthy, sustainable communities. To understand the manner in which natural building answers the specific concerns and challenges of our time, we must more fully explore the relevant subjects—energy descent, sustainability, and community.
Bruckner, M. (2008, Oct. 6). The Gulf of Mexico dead zone. Retrieved from http://serc.carleton.edu/microbelife/topics/deadzone/
Dyess, D. (2010, March 4). Salt limitations on processed foods could save lives. Health News. Retrieved from http://www.healthnews.com/nutrition-diet/salt-limitations-on-processed-food-could-save-lives-4126.html
Evans, Ianto, Michael G. Smith, and Linda Smiley. (2002). The hand sculpted house: A practical and philosophical guide to building a cob cottage. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company
Priggen, E. (Producer), & Fox, L. (Director). (2005). The story of stuff. [Short film]. United States: Free Range Studios. Retrieved from http://www.storyofstuff.com
Terry, B. (2008, May 7). 8 Reasons why personal changes matter. Message posted to http://fakeplasticfish.com/2010/01/8-reasons-why-personal-changes-matter/
Wayne, L. (2009, Oct. 7). Thousands of U.S. homeowners blame Chinese drywall for ills. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/08/ business/08drywall.html?pagewanted=1&em
for shortbread cookies a while back.
I'm here to amend it slightly.
Preheat your oven to about 375 degrees F.
For a batch of two dozen,
1 and 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
a couple pinches salt
Blend in 1 cup butter,
and whatever excitement you prefer.
a handful of chocolate chips
a couple heaping spoonfuls of caramel
Shape the dough into small balls with your palms
(they should feel oily/buttery, otherwise they'll be too dry)
and give them a criss-cross pattern with fork tines.
I just pulled my first-ever
salted caramel shortbread
out of the oven.
I only wish I had sea salt to
garnish the tops...