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Archive for the ‘economics’ Category

Times are tough for some of us, less so for others. If you’re fortunate enough to have the opportunity and means to contribute to a 401K account through your employer, you may have topped out your contribution around now. How about putting an extra $25 or $50 of that to work for charity, in time to count for this year’s taxes?

More and more charities have easy monthly sign-up plans now, where you can give $10, $20, or however much per month. That’s like, giving up one latte a week and getting a coffee instead. But over the year, it adds up for the charity you’re helping. Maybe you’d find it’s easier to give up something small to help somebody else than to save it for yourself. Or decide you want to give up two tall mochas a week and buy yourself something nice at the end of the year with the fund from one of them!

Anyways– this is on my mind and I figured I’d blog my own favorites list. I try to add one every year or so, so that I kind of get used to it and can do a bit more. And if you’re not in a position right now to give money, just smile at one more person a day and that will go a long way toward making the world a better place, too.

  • Heifer Project International; Provide farm animals, seeds, honeybees, to people, who then pass on the gift locally. A bootstrap program making a real difference all over the world.
  • Grameen Foundation; Micro-loans that enable small businesses and bring people out of poverty. A $10 – $20 loan can do things like enable a weaving cooperative to market directly from their village, or help people fund a local mill to grind grain.
  • International Foundation of Red Cross and Red Crescent; Humanitarian aid for disaster victims. You know about their efforts for earthquakes, floods, and the like, but did you know they also work locally to do things like house and help families burned out in apartment fires? Note that IFRC is the parent foundation; “National Societies” like the American Red Cross organize the work by country. IFRC has an online directory of National Societies by country.
  • Hesperian Foundation; Publishing books like “Where There is No Doctor” and “Helping Children Who Are Blind” in multiple languages. All of these books are available for download via their site, btw.
  • Electronic Frontier Foundation; Defending digital liberties, fighting vote fraud, and so very much more.
  • Amnesty International; Working to free the unjustly imprisoned worldwide, and providing hope to those who have been shut away in some political oubliette for speaking their mind and trying to change things.
  • Doctors Without Borders; Sending medical help where it is needed, sometimes into great dangers, to help people in need. Volunteer doctors, nurses, EMTs, pilots– but they need gas money for the planes, medical supplies, logistics, etc.
  • Natural Resources Defense Council; Working to protect wilderness, wild areas, animals, plants, biodiversity. Not one of those “don’t touch it, we don’t care if you starve” orgs, NRDC works on transitioning communities to ecotourism, sustainable wild harvesting, and giving people economic incentive to preserve for long-term good rather than destroy for short-term gain.
  • Organic Consumers Association; Promoting sustainability, fighting the dilution of ‘organic’ (eg, factory farm confinement dairies fed on organic corn), working with communities on food safety.

There are a number of other groups I support, but they don’t seem as universal or uncontroversial to me, like MoveOn, VoteSmart, Weston A Price Foundation.

Please comment with some of your favorite charities, it’s always great to hear.

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Remember when nerds ran through the hallways of MIT chanting “The Ringworld is unstable! The Ringworld is unstable!”?  OK, I don’t remember directly, as it was rather before I got there, but my realization today was equally shocking.   Environmentalism isn’t sustainable, not the way it’s practiced currently.  Let me tell you how I got there, and how we can work on getting around the problem.

This evening I read a fascinating post dissecting some environmental myths and affordances over at David Reevely’s “EcoLibertarian”.   Reevely, like my spouse, is apparently a WW2 history buff, and found a very cogent (and relevant) analysis of the Allies’ bombing campaign in Richard Overy’s book “Why the Allies Won”.   Overy makes the point that the West’s strong points were in engineering and management, rather than an ability to shove literally millions of men onto the battlefield.  By leveraging those capacities, what looked like wasteful use of materials and energy actually turned out to save lives in the long run and transform the war from a brute-force context to one of capital and logistics.

Fast-forward to the birth of the environmental movement, which, as Reevely points out, arose on quasi-moral grounds, “on the idea that it was intrinsically sinful, in some sense, to consume more than you absolutely needed.”  This was usually expressed as separatism, with individuals and families trying to drop out and provide for all of their own needs.  As Reevely also observes, this meant lifestyle reductions, aka the infamous “do more with less”.

A lot of people still approach environmentalism as “what will I give up today?”   Reevely’s point, which I wholeheartedly endorse, is that there is more to environmentalism than this fundamentally reductionist approach.  Instead of trying to see how many eco-soldiers we can deploy to drop out and give up their goods and services, we should be asking ourselves how to use the momentum, in capital and engineering, that we built up with peak oil in order to create a better way going forward.

A very wise person recently told me that the key to happiness is moving toward pleasure, rather than away from pain.  An endless cycle of giving up things in order to “save the planet” can only go so far.  That’s moving away from pain, not toward something pleasant.   It’s a philosophy that can create some satisfaction, a sense of duty, and a smug “moral high ground”, but it doesn’t inspire or truly lead.   Ironically, a completely reductionist philosophy of environmentalism is ultimately not sustainable!  Dropping out of modern society is of less value, in my opinion, than staying in and calling for moderation and sanity, as well as leading by example.

For my own contribution, here are some approaches to environmentalism that I’ve found valuable in the real world.  I’m still giving up some things, but I’m doing it as part of a managed approach, not as an abnegation of the market system.

  • Using our day-to-day buying power to influence local micro-markets.  Enough of us must have filled out comment cards at Trader Joe’s, as they now have California-produced olive oil along with all the imported stuff.  I still complain about the bottled waters from overseas at least monthly, maybe it will add up to a difference someday.   Talking pleasantly to the folks stocking the produce department sometimes turns up a manager, and we express our appreciation for the local produce being carried, and wish out loud that more things had better area of origin labelling so we could make better choices.  In at least 2 of the 4 stores where I frequently shop, origin info has increased to naming the state, as well as the country.  I’m finding choices I didn’t know I had, e.g. between Tehachapi CA apples and Washington state apples and Australian apples, rather than just Jonathan vs Gala vs Fuji.   BTW, just because it’s not local doesn’t mean it’s bad– for instance, NZ and AU lamb that’s pasture-raised and transported by ship is actually more eco-neutral than local veggies raised with petrochemical fertilizers and irrigation.
  • Making a habit of letting our increasingly-ubiquitous connectivity enable frequent feedback to local, state, and national elected representatives fast and easy.  I keep a letter template on my desktop and laptop computers, and have my senators and representatives, as well as some town and state contacts, in my eFax rolodex.  If I read about something online or in a coffee shop, it’s the work of a few minutes to fire off a polite, focused faxed letter and let my opinion be heard.  Sure, I could email.  But again and again I read that it’s the physical pile of letters and faxes that are weighed more heavily than phone calls and emails, so I’ll spend the piece of paper.  Who knows, they may not even be printing them out.
  • Leveraging the economic and lifestyle surplus of peak-oil-now to invest and invent for future sustainability.  A good example of this is all of us backyard gardeners enjoying a hobby while learning how to actually grow stuff.  It’s a good thing my family doesn’t live or die on the basis of my garden, even though we do pretty well most of the time.   I buy carbon credits for our vehicles, after researching the options, because I want to encourage that practice.   New innovations in manufacturing are letting us build some high-end components like LEDs and solar cells more cleanly and cheaply than ever, but we couldn’t have gotten there without the fuss and waste in the middle.   Increasing numbers of people are finding ways to telecommute part or full time.  Etc.

The overall summary  Don’t drop out and raise llamas in the woods unless you LOVE raising llamas in the woods.     It will just make you bitter, and annoy the llamas.  You want to be Eco, not Emo.   What are you doing to be Eco smarter, not harder?  Y’all are an extremely hoopy set of froods, and smart as new paint– leave a comment and share your approaches, too, please!

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