Do things!

So you are depressed about the politicians in your country and their environmental credentials? I’m not just talking about the US now… things aren’t any better in Australia, the UK or much of Europe. Well, in that case take control. YOU can make a difference and here’s how:

Don’t want fracking and all the associated pollution and greenhouse gas emissions? Then make sure your energy supplier doesn’t support this. In the UK the Big 6 all support fracking, but there are plenty of smaller, green suppliers who don’t, so give your business to them.

Worried about greenhouse gas emissions from transportation? Optimise the use of your car – never drive for a single purpose, always try achieve several goals on each journey. And, if you can, walk, cycle or use public transport instead. Buy local – locally produced goods have not been transported long distances, plus you are keeping your money in your community.

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Our milk is produced using wind to power the milking parlour and refrigeration

Concerned that our governments aren’t providing enough support for renewable energy? Support it yourself – switch energy suppliers, buy a solar charger, install solar panels/a wind turbine, investigate community energy projects, buy from companies who use renewables.

Want to see a reduction in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? Plant a tree (or ten), sow some seeds, get an allotment, dig up your lawn and plant vegetables, share your surplus plants and produce, take some cuttings.

Don’t think that it is expensive to take action – use your money wisely, value the resources you have and make the most of them and never, ever believe anyone who tells you that you can’t make a difference through your actions and choices.

 

Three Things Thursday: 20 October 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Nerd in the Brain (and others) for Three Things Thursday’. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

First, I’m always pleased when a worn-out object can be repaired or have a damaged part replaced. Who would have thought, though, that it would be possible to get a replacement blade for our 15-year-old potato peeler? In fact we were so pleased that we bought a second peeler… those boxes of apples can now be peeled in half the time.

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The joy of peelers

 

Second, money. Now I know that happiness often comes from the little things in life, but let’s face it, being financially secure means we can enjoy the little things rather than constantly worrying about where our next meal is going to come from, how we are going to cover the rent/mortgage and whether we can afford to switch the heating on. Over the past year or so my much-repaired old computer has progressively been failing – broken mouse key, deteriorating keyboard, problem with overheating because of faulty power supply, software so old it is no longer supported, inability to open new format files for work… the list goes on. Anyway, when the power supply connecter came off in my hand yesterday I decided to finally admit defeat and, because we have money, we were able to just go out and buy me a brand new laptop. Hopefully it will last as many years as the old one and I won’t need to spend any more money on technology for a good long time. I still feel a bit guilty that I can’t keep the old one going, but it’s essential for my livelihood, so there really wasn’t an alternative

Third, I made this little chap and I think he’s rather fun. He’s made from yarn oddments and stuffed with organic kapok. He’s going off to Ludlow Library along with the Fair Isle mice from last week… and then possibly on a library tour (lucky bear)

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snug bear

 

So, those are three things making me smile this week – what about you?

 

Finding happiness

What makes you  happy? Buying a new pair of shoes? Going to a restaurant? Walking the dog? Spending the day with friends?

And then how long does that happiness last? Will the shoes bring you happiness for longer than the transient experience of time spent with friends? Well apparently not. According to recent research (Gilovich & Kumar, 2015), the problem with physical objects is that you get used to them. After a while, your shoes become commonplace (however expensive they were) so you don’t continue to derive happiness from them and you have to go out and buy more stuff to top up your happiness. Of course if you didn’t own a pair of shoes in the first place, being able to buy some will increase your happiness, but once your needs are fulfilled the situation changes.

Experiences make you happy

It’s what you do not what you own

A day spent with friends is rather different – although you don’t end up with a physical object at the end of it, you do end up being a different person – a person with memories, shared experiences and stories to tell. Because we are the sum of all our experiences, happy days add to us, to our whole being. And, interestingly, the actual experience does not necessarily have to have been good for it to add to our happiness in the log run. Shared adversity, in retrospect, can be seen in a very positive light and can bring you so much closer to the people with whom you experienced it. One of my most stressful holidays is now regarded with great affection by those of us who were there – it makes us laugh to talk about some of the situations we found ourselves in, we enjoy reminiscing, looking at the photographs and laughing again at some of the jokes we shared. It didn’t feel like it at the time, but overall, it has turned out to be an experience that makes me happy.

So, next time you receive a bonus from work or have a little bit of money that you want to use for a treat, go and do something that will create memories… they will be with you and a part of you and make you smile long after your Jimmy Choos have been relegated to the back of the cupboard.

How does this sextant work?

Shared experiences make us who we are

Gilovich, T., & Kumar, A. (2015). We’ll always have Paris: The Hedonic Payoff from Experiential and Material Investments. In M.P. Zanna and J.M. Olson (Eds.), Advances in experimental social psychology, Vol. 51, (pps. 147-187), AESP, UK: Academic Press.

Money talks

Fairtrade fabric

Fairtrade fabric

I am thinking a lot at the moment about purchasing choices. I have heard it said that if we don’t buy goods produced by exploited people then we are causing them even more suffering – depriving them of the small income that they do have. But, to me, this feels like a bit of a cop-out. One of the most powerful things we have at our disposal in the UK is money – how we spend it has a major influence on individuals, our local area, our country and the world as a whole. You may not have the opportunity to directly influence your government’s choices, but your use of money  (apart from various taxes) is up to you. I do not feel that I am helping people who work in a sweatshop by continuing to make it profitable for the owners of such enterprises to run them. My money can do good… and can support production that does not rely on exploitation of people and the planet.

I can choose to buy goods that support ethical businesses… and this choice does not necessarily mean I have to spend more. Logically, you might assume that the more you pay for an item, the more money is going to the workers, but this simply is not the case. Many ‘designer’ brands, associated with high price tags, have poor records as regards workers’ rights, not to mention sustainability and the environment. Ethical Consumer’s report Style over Substance makes rather depressing reading on this subject, but their website in general is a great resource if you want to examine your purchasing choices.

But what about the people at the beginning of the line? My friend Linda wrote the following that gives some perspective on the the workers’ side of the argument:

Satish Kumar gave a talk locally a few years ago now and explored the idea that buying things from ‘poor’ countries helped by giving people jobs. He was impassioned, to put it mildly, making it clear that ‘poor’ people did not need to be given jobs but have their dignity and self-respect returned to them. He said it was corporations creating the problems and that their jobs did nothing to increase the health, wealth or well-being of those people who had previously owned enough land (often compulsorily purchased for infrastructure/corporate building etc i.e. taken away from them), water (now polluted and/or used by industrial processing i.e. taken away from them) and their family/village seed collection (now replaced by bought seed requiring bought fertilizers and chemicals – i.e. yet another resource taken away from them). So these ‘poor’ people had gone from being largely self-sufficient for housing, food and clothing to not having enough money to buy housing, food and clothing and working ridiculously long hours in appalling conditions so the ‘rich’ people can buy cheap goods and clothes.

Linda went on to say:

The way we allow ourselves to be manipulated into buying more and more ‘cheap’ stuff is understandable, but as soon as anyone wakes up to it, the way ahead is clear! There’s not much stuff that is ACTUALLY cheaper than it used to be but nowadays its other people and the environment paying the true cost, often out of sight so that we don’t have to think about it.

So, there you have it: buy less (leaving resources to the people who need them); buy thoughtfully (support ethical businesses and buy direct where possible); avoid big corporations; and speak with your money… it really can shout loud!

Living in the future

On Saturday morning we went out shopping and to do some chores. All the latter were related to reuse or recycling: glass bottles to be recycled, polystyrene packaging taken to the Post Office to be sent back to the company it originally came from for reuse; and a bag of clothes and box of knick-knacks taken to a charity shop (finally those never-used wine decanters are out of the house).

Local cheese from Simply Caws - mileage specified

Local cheese from Simply Caws at the People’s Market- mileage specified

It appears that, in recent years, shopping has become a form of entertainment and this was certainly the case for us this weekend, although it wasn’t the goods that we purchased that provided the instant gratification, but the people we met. All our purchases were practical: nuts and bolts, ingredients for granola, local cheese, hand made bread… so we weren’t really supporting the consumer society. We are never going to be the people responsible for ‘spending our way out of recession’, but we might spend our way to a robust and sustainable local economy.

The lady who served us in Mulberry Bush admired my string bag. The lady in the Post Office was devastated that her broadband wasn’t working and so she couldn’t open properly, but was happy to take our Freepost parcel as long as we didn’t need a receipt (we didn’t). LAS, our local recycling company, was busy with folks dropping off all sorts of items, and the man at the charity shop welcomed our contributions with a smile.

Loyalty card and vouchers

Loyalty card and vouchers

Our final port of call was the People’s Market, where they were giving out prizes to the winners of a recent treasure hunt run in conjunction with the Lampter loyalty scheme. Lampeter has recently become the first town in Wales to launch a loyalty card, with 59 businesses currently participating. Every time you spend £3 or more in a business, you get a stamp in one of the slots on your card, but you can only get a stamp from each shop twice on the same card. Once you have 10 stamps, you can drop your card in one of the designated boxes around town. At the end of each month the cards are all be entered into a prize draw. The winner receives £30 in vouchers that can be spent at any of the participating businesses. The businesses involved in the scheme ran the treasure hunt as an additional incentive a couple of weeks ago and a friend of ours won one of the prizes. Because we helped her with some of the answers , she shared her prize with us and so, as well as our shopping, we came home with a couple of vouchers. All this is designed to keep money circulating in local businesses and, so far, it seems to be working.

Finally, I was stopped by a friend who wanted to show me a square she had crocheted – I taught her how to make granny squares a while ago and she has finally got the hang of doing it on her own. She was so pleased, she brought her creation shopping with her in the hope she would bump into me to be able to show it off. I was delighted.

And this, I hope, is the future of shopping – a social activity where we support local people and make our communities a richer place… just like we used to do in the past.

Death and Taxes

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes (Benjamin Franklin, 1706-90)

I have to create my own incentives to sort out my tax

I have to create my own incentives to sort out my tax

Fortunately I haven’t had to deal with the former this weekend, but have been collating all the information that precedes the latter, namely putting together my accounts. I don’t actually fill in my own tax return – there aren’t enough millionaire’s shortbreads (oh, the irony) in the world to numb the pain and and anyway, that’s what accountants are for. But I do have to dig out all the paperwork, and put it into a sensible order prior to handing it over… which is how I have spent much of today.

I don’t object to paying tax – I like the idea that if my house is burning down, a bunch of professionals will turn up to put the flames out and won’t ask me for my credit card (possibly melting in the conflagration) before they do so. I like the idea of healthcare that is open to all – rich or poor. I like the fact that we care for the most vulnerable in society. What I don’t like is that if Benjamin Franklin was writing today, he’d be adding ‘except Amazon and Starbucks’ to the end of that sentence.

Taxation is (generally) a good thing – not fun, I admit, but good*. But it should be equitable. I have no issue with paying taxes, I just have a problem with rich individuals being able to pay clever accountants to help them avoid paying their fair share and large corporations manipulating the system to avoid (in some cases) paying any of their share. Here in the UK our government is determined to have a ‘competitive’ tax system, i.e. one that encourages big business to come here because there are tax advantages. According to David Cameron, our Prime Minister:

Every country sets its own tax rates, but I think in a world of global capital, in a world where we’re competing with each other, in a world where we want to send a message that we want you to build businesses, grow businesses and invest, I think it’s wrong to have completely uncompetitive top rates of tax.

And so, we try to tempt business and the very wealthy with our ‘competitive’ taxes. Meaning that us little guys have to make up the shortfall. Our government would have us believe that it’s worth it: seducing big business is supposed to benefit us all – creating jobs and encouraging investment. But, in fact, it’s small local business who retain wealth within communities. With big business, profits disappear. Work by the New Economics foundation suggests that:

every £1 spent with a local supplier is worth £1.76 to the local economy, and only 36 pence if it is spent out of the area (NEF)

So, small businesses are more valuable to an area although they tend not to get tax breaks. And if we do give tax incentives to big business, does it help the country overall? Evidence suggests that we won’t lose big companies if we don’t have the lowest taxes. NEF analysis shows that

Dramatic differences in taxes as a share of the economy – from 29 percent in Japan to over 55 percent in Denmark – have no obvious impact on growth. As the FT’s Martin Wolf concludes: “Such a spread seems to have no effect on economic performance”

And, furthermore

High-tax countries have been more successful in achieving their social objectives than low-tax countries. They have done so with no economic penalty.

Even people involved in investment agree that a competitive tax system makes no difference. For example, Warren Buffett is quoted as saying:

I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain.

So, let’s celebrate the good things that we can achieve with taxes and lets apply them fairly. After all, corporations, not being alive, can avoid death, so they shouldn’t get away with the taxes too!

-oOo-

* I don’t always agree with what our taxes are spend on – but that’s a discussion for another post.

 

 

Big choices

I have been thinking about scale… no, not those insects on plants in the greenhouse, nor lime in the kettle, but size. With exposure to more and more global brands and international media, we find ourselves constantly bombarded by messages from large corporations and decision-makers, which make small organisations appear insignificant. The other day I was watching an episode of the TV show Boston Legal and found some of my thoughts on this issue articulated very clearly by one of the characters presenting his arguments in court (in this case in relation to the Democrat presidential selection procedure, but the point could be equally applied to other situations):

Alan Shore: My mother’s friend, Vivian, once told me, “There are only two kinds of people in this world, Alan. Dem that drink Coke. And dem that drink Pepsi.” Vivian got that notion, of course, from Coke and Pepsi. There may have been other colas, but Coke and Pepsi were the giants. Billion dollar behemoths who, in their own advertising, would each refer to the other guy as theonly alternative. Just so long as people keep on gulping down one or the other. Makes you kind of wonder if they’re in cahoots.

… When it comes to presidential elections, we again have only two billion dollar giants in control. The American people might get to vote for Commander in Chief but they only get two choices, Your Honor. Choices selected by two very private organizations who are both in bed with Big Oil, Big Tobacco, Big Pharmaceuticals, Big Banking, every Big you can think of. And as a result we only get the candidates that big business and the two parties decide to favor us with. So where’s the Democracy? The sad fact is it seems that Democracy has lost its way. And as long as we remain a two party system we’ll forever be denied a taste of that delicious RC Cola because Coke and Pepsi have cornered the market

Boston Legal, Indecent Proposals
Season 4, Episode 18
Written By: Craig Turk & Jill Goldsmith & David E.Kelley

And there you have it… should we choose to accept the message delivered to us by big organisations, we can get sucked into the idea that we do only have limited choices, that their alternatives are the only alternatives. And so I invite you to ignore the marketing and the media and think for yourself. Buy ‘that delicious RC Cola’  if that seems the right choice for you, or brew your own, or drink tea! Seek alternatives; be creative; question the limits; and always, always be your own person and don’t get bullied by big business.

Coke or Pepsi? Or you could just have a cup of tea

Coke or Pepsi? Or you could just have a cup of tea

Boots – the world according to Sam Vimes

New boots - I hope they last!

New boots – I hope they last!

Now I know that quite a few of you are Terry Pratchett fans like me (well, perhaps not like me, because you probably don’t name your chickens after characters out of his books), but for those of you who aren’t, I want to recommend that you take a look at his writing. He is generally considered to be a writer of comic fantasy and that is certainly true at the most superficial level. However, in my opinion, he is a remarkably astute social commentator, as well as having what appears to be a vast knowledge of history, philosophy, science and literature. Well, maybe he is just good at research, but he certainly draws on it very elegantly in his writing.

Anyway, I was thinking the other day about the economics of poverty… at least the economics of being poor in an affluent society and remembered the best explanation of this that I have ever read. I should explain that Sam Vimes, the character in this excerpt, is from a very poor background, but  finally marries a very rich woman.

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.

― Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms

And that does seem to be it… over the years I have been lucky enough to be able to afford to buy some good quality items and I can attest to the money that this has saved. In addition, if you can pay for them, it’s possible to choose things that are designed to be repaired… our bamboo flooring in the kitchen can be sanded down and refinished, meaning it will last for many years; on the other hand, cheap laminate flooring has to be replaced once worn because it just can’t be repaired or rejuvenated.

As things stand, this is a difficult cycle to break.Leonard Cohen was right when he wrote

The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

– Leonard Cohen, Everybody Knows

Swapsies

I have some good marketable skills – I can edit (fiction and non-fiction), proofread, conduct ecological surveys, provide advice on land management and habitat creation, I can teach (ecology, conservation, permaculture, statistics), and I can make things (knitted snails, crochet bacteria, felt camera cases). So really, I don’t have a great problem earning a living. But I have this niggling desire to try to do some of my work for payment that isn’t financial… for things that I need or want rather than for money to buy things that I need or want. But, is it possible?

Our LETS (Local Exchange Trading System) died a death some time ago. These systems allow you to avoid direct exchanges, but instead earn some sort of credits that can be used to ‘buy’ from another member. Apparently, in our area, everyone wanted carpenters and plumbers, but most of the offers were for jars of jam and back massages… I over-simplify, but you get the idea. So LETS is not an option here. We already make use of Freecycle, but this is really only useful for physical items and anyway, has nothing to do with exchanges.

No use offering me eggs for barter - I have plenty of those!

Eggs are good for small swaps…

In a small way, we already exchange goods and services – eggs for chicken care, house watching when neighbours are away, swapping seeds and so on, but I want to do something more. The problem is most challenging with big things. The skill that I have that is in greatest demand is (perhaps surprisingly) my expertise as an ecologist. I know lots of people who want advice about managing their land: from enhancing biodiversity to improving their soil; from understanding the vegetation they have growing on their plot to planning a management strategy; from identifying a plant to creating a species-rich meadow; I get asked about all sorts of things. In general, I like to help out, but since this work forms part of my livelihood, I can’t do it for nothing… a girl has to eat (and feed her hens).

... but what is my teaching worth?

… but what is my teaching worth?

So, what constitutes a fair exchange? And what happens if the person who wants my services does not have something I want? As has been pointed out to me, this is where money comes in – it’s a way of keeping score, and something that I can exchange for those things in life that I do need. So, whilst I’d rather you gave me half a lamb for the freezer, hand-spun yarn, or a sack of corn to feed my hens, maybe I will just have to accept that sometimes I have to take a cheque or a bank transfer.

Anyway, I have decided to make a start by compiling two lists: one of what I can offer and one of what I want. This way, next time someone asks for some work from me, we will at least have a starting point for negotiating a fair exchange.

Support your local farmers

Living in rural west Wales, we have an abundance of local farmers and other food-producers around us. This means that there’s a farm shop nearer than a big supermarket, as well as local producers who sell direct.

All produce comes from the farm

All produce comes from the farm

In order to make a significant dent in the great courgette mountain (there’s currently nearly 3kg of them in the fridge and more growing in the garden even as I write) I needed some extra ingredients. For example, tomatoes and onions are required for a great soup-making session (lots of green tomatoes on my plants, but only 100g of red ones awaiting use).

Blaencamel.shop

Blaencamel shop

So today I visited one of our local organic farms: Blaencamel. At the farm they have a shop. Well, I say shop, but they are too busy to serve customers, so it’s actually a shed with produce displayed inside, a notebook for you to record your purchases and a cash box, in which to leave your payment. It seems to work – I suppose there my be people who take things without paying, but I think that’s rare, and the cash box sometimes has an IOU in from a customer who didn’t have enough cash or the right change.

Poytunnels protect some of the crops

Poytunnels protect some of the crops

Everything they sell is from the farm, so it has only travelled a few metres in most cases. The shop is adjacent to their polytunnels and fields full of crops, so you can see exactly how your food is being produced and there is frequently someone around to talk to if you want to ask questions. In addition, you can see their big mounds of composting material – a truly organic approach. I always enjoy buying direct, and it’s particularly satisfying to be supporting the local economy as well as the environment.

Material awaiting composting

Material awaiting composting

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