Saturday, November 29, 2008

Great Reasons Why You Should Bike

By Frederic Premji


I have to say that this is one of my favorite topics to write a post about. I absolutely love biking. I used to bike very often as a kid, and in the past few years, I have rediscovered how much fun it really is, and it is a big reason why I have gotten in much healthier shape. It is currently my favorite outdoor activity to take part in, and the list of beneficial aspects to biking is huge. So I decided to create this list of important reasons why you should consider biking:

I have to say, I have a hard time doing cardio inside of a gym. To me, it’s not very motivating to stare at a wall while running or cycling still. Biking was the perfect solution. It is much more entertaining to roam outside than it is to do cardio inside. Plus, biking doesn’t make you tired as quickly. This is because when you bike, you are not running against the clock. For example, when you do cardio on a stair master let’s say, you will always be tempted to look at how much time is left, because you are doing this activity for cardio. When I bike, I do it for a variety of reasons, which I will point out below, but cardio is just one of the perks, not the main reason why I do it. I don’t time myself when I bike, so the cardio I end up doing is longer, and provides better results. It really makes your cardio routine so much more enjoyable.

Health benefits
There are so many health benefits to biking, that I will probably miss naming out a few. If you want to improve your health, this is the one activity to do that can really transform you back into great shape. I speak from experience. I noticed vast differences in my energy and mood, as well as in my body shape after just a few weeks of biking. Here are some of the health benefits you are looking to gain by biking:

- reduces the cholesterol levels in the blood
- reduces the chances of strokes and heart attacks caused by clotting
- reduces the chances of illnesses caused by high blood pressure
- reduces the chances of diabetes
- helps you gain more energy
- makes you sleep better, helps cure insomnia
- strengthens your bones
- helps with coordination
- reduces the risk of cancer
- lowers your resting heart rate
- reduces body fat
- helps reduce stress & anxiety
- increases mental & emotional well being
- lengthens your life expectancy
- helps get you to your ideal body weight

Makes you drink more water
If you have trouble drinking those recommended glasses of water per day that we all know about, biking will solve that problem easily. I can drink the equivalent of 3-4 glasses of water per 1 hour bike ride. So going for a bike ride daily also provides me with the added benefits that drinking plenty of water has. It’s a win-win situation. Make sure to always carry water with you, as you can get tired much more easily if you are dehydrated. Drink water throughout your ride and you will have more energy and last longer.

Fresh air
Another reason why I prefer this than being indoors in a gym. You get to breathe more fresh air which makes you feel better and puts you in a better mood. If you are concerned about pollution in your city, you should be aware that you inhale more pollution driving a car than you do biking. Fresh air helps clean out your lungs, which helps you breathe deeper and this can result in increased energy and brings greater clarity to the brain. Your brain requires about 20% of the oxygen you breathe in, so the fresher it is (as compared to indoors air which can be full of dust), the better results you will get.

Helps find new places
I can’t tell you how many places I have found while biking, that I was never aware of when driving. Such parks, trails, and areas that you aren’t inclined to notice when you are in a car. These are places that you can go to for picnics, play other sports, read a book, etc. If you ever wondered what’s going on in your neighborhood, take a bike ride, and you will find so much more about where you live.

Meet new people
You will be surprised how many people are biking out there. I know I was in my region. It’s a great way to get to know people that live in your area and that are like-minded. If you are ever looking for a new way to meet people, this a great one, which is not awkward or uncomfortable. Plus you already have something in common to break the ice about.

Maybe I am in the minority here, but I find bikes more convenient than cars for short distances. I find that I have more ways to get somewhere via a bike. Plus, you are never stuck in a traffic jam. Did you know that 40% of trips are within 2 km of home? It would be much more efficient if you used a bike, which along with all other benefits listed in this post, makes it a clear winner for convenience overall in my book. Apparently, the bike is the most efficient form of transportation ever invented.

Saves money
Do I even have to mention the gas prices we have nowadays? With soaring prices that seem to never hit a plateau, and with hybrid cars still in the minority and still relatively more expensive, taking a bike for quick errands here and there within your neighborhood could literally save you hundreds of dollars per year. Think about the parking costs you can save up as well! These can add up enormously, and with the cost of filling up your car near or over $100, I think more people should look at biking, especially for quick trips to the store nearby and the likes.

Environmentally friendly
There are tons of benefits to the environment if you bike. For example, it reduces air pollution. Biking for 4 miles keeps about 15 pounds of pollutants out of the air we breathe. Bikes don’t drip brake fluid, transmission fluid or anti freeze, so there is less water pollution as well. Think about noise pollution! Bikes are quiet and non-obnoxious. Bikes cause less road wear, and thus help prevent the addition of more asphalt and concrete into the environment. If you truly care about your CO2 emissions and its effect on climate changes, taking your bike instead of your car, even for just a few instances, greatly helps in reducing the amount of pollution spread into the atmosphere. We can all do our little part into this global problem, and biking can helps us do just that ;)

Bringing More Joy Into Your Life


The other day I was having a conversation with a friend about how frequently I was biking. I take a bike ride almost every day (although this week has been really bad in terms of weather, and biking in the rain isn’t too fun!), and I have even written a post about 9 Great Reasons Why You Should Bike, that’s how much I believe in this activity.

But the fact that I bike daily wasn’t the point. It’s the response I got when I asked this friend if they biked. The answer I got was “oh I haven’t biked since I was a kid! I’m an adult now, so I don’t bike.” I was taken back a little bit by this response. One, because it made it seem like only kids bike, and that’s not the case at all. But two, it made me think about how many things or activities we stop doing because we “grow up”.

As we become adults, we tend to give up all the silly fun stuff we used to like, and put all our focus on serious, more or less boring matters. We focus on bills, on the mortgage, on getting insurance, on reading about all the serious negative news around the world. Needless to say, this isn’t fun at all.

Why do you think people reminisce about their youth with almost a tear in their eye? Because, back then, things were fun….and now, things just aren’t fun anymore. We’ve lost that edge that made us creative and joyful along the way. We stopped doing the things that made us happy.

In part, it’s because that’s what we think being an adult is all about. We’ve seen our parents as we were growing up…they didn’t have much fun! So right there, we associate being an adult with what we saw our parents do when we were growing up. As well, this is what we see all around us. All we see is adults just working themselves to the bone, doing nothing creative and/or fun, until they can retire 30-40 years later to then do absolutely nothing. No wonder life is labeled as boring.

You will rarely find a kid say that life is boring. This is because kids live in the present moment (you don’t see a 12 year old be all teary-eyed about wanting to be 8 again!) and they do what makes them feel good. As we got older, we’ve stopped doing just that. We’ve given up our creative side, for a more practical one. Problem is, practical equals boring.

The key to bringing more joy into your life as an adult, is to reconnect with your inner child. You need to do things that used to make you happy that you gave up a long time ago because you had to cross to the “other side” into adulthood. My friend had given up riding a bike because it wasn’t what an adult does. However, I can guarantee you that a few hours on a bike, and this person will be having the time of their life!

I had given up biking too as I got into college and then university. I rediscovered it a few years back, and I can honestly tell you that it has made my life much more joyful than before. When I bike, I lose myself completely into the activity. When I go, I do not bring all my “adult problems” with me. It’s just me and the wind. It’s liberating, and it brings me back to when I was a kid and I still feel the same way about it as I did 15 years ago. That’s the power of doing something you enjoy.

What activities have you given up as you got older? I am certain that you can list at least 5 things that you enjoyed to do as a kid that you no longer do. How about you take 1 hour per week (that’s 0.5% of your week, so no excuses about no time for it!) to do what you used to enjoy so much. If you used to dance, how about you enroll in some dance classes once per week? If you used to love video games, why don’t you get yourself a PS3 or a Wii and see if you still got your mad gaming skills?

You have no idea how this can seriously transform your habitual, boring existence, into a more enjoyable and fun one. We don’t have to always be serious as adults. Sure, there is a time and place for it. But that was the case growing up too. We had school, where we had to be serious, and then after school was done for the day, we would go and have fun, doing whatever made us feel good. Today, our day in school is now our work day. But once work is done, what are you doing to have more fun?

A happier life is all about doing what gets you all excited. So don’t stop with just that 1 hour per week. Every couple of weeks, add another activity that you gave up a long time ago to your schedule. Perhaps you used to play an instrument? Maybe you used to love swimming? Whatever it is, you can reconnect with the joy it used to bring you as a child and allow it to bring you this joy as an adult.

By the way, don’t waste a second on how others around you may perceive this. So what if they tell you it’s silly? They don’t get it. Let them revel in their own miserable & uninteresting lives. If you want to go outside and skateboard, do it! If you want to build a sand castle when you are at the beach, just do it! Seriously, this is your life. You have this one life. It is your duty to make it as fun and as enjoyable as you can, regardless of what others may think.

I know that creative inner child is somewhere inside of you. You’ve repressed it for so long, but it is key for you to let it resurface once again, if you ever want to experience a joyful existence. Getting older doesn’t have to be depressing and sad. Life isn’t depressing, you make it this way! Life is whatever you want it to be. Do something you enjoy and your life will be enjoyable. That’s the bottom line. Break down the barriers that you put around yourself because you became an adult. Allow that free, fun, and fearless side of you to come out!

Climate safety report

Climate Safety

The Public Interest Research Centre in the UK has just launched a 52-page advocacy report "Climate Safety", based on the Australian book "Climate Code Red".

Download the report at:

What people are saying about "Climate Safety":

“You cannot overstate the importance of this report: it has opened my eyes to levels of climate risk far beyond those of which I was aware. It shows that we have to rethink completely our responses to it. Crisp, clear-headed and profoundly shocking, this report should be read immediately by everyone who cares.”
-- George Monbiot, author and journalist

“A report to keep every policy maker awake at night, this is a devastating and unflinching exposé of the profound gap between the predictions of how climate change will impact on the planet produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the already observable impact of global warming on the ground. We need nothing less than the declaration of a global state of emergency if we are to avoid the worst. Generating the political will to act, which has so far been conspicuous by its absence across the world, is the most urgent task all of us face, so that we can have a chance of creating the social, cultural, and economic circumstances required to deal with the climate crisis.”
-- Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party

“It is becomingly increasingly clear that seeking to limit the effects of climate change to 2 degrees of temperature rise is dangerously optimistic. Climate Safety plainly shows us that we need to inject a sense of urgency into the debate about how we respond to climate change. It’s not about gradually reducing emissions any more, it’s about recognising the risks we face and cutting our emissions to zero as quickly as possible.”
-- Mark Lynas, author of ‘Six Degrees’

“Now is not the time to focus on the long-term. Every day our emissions rise, the risk of destructive climate impacts increases. Reframing the current debate away from 2050 targets to address cumulative emissions through short-term intervention will not only give us a better chance of achieving a more desirable future, but may ground the message in a timeframe within which we see our own futures.”
-- Alice Bows, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

“Climate Safety is a cogent summary of the indisputable case for rapid decarbonisation that recognises that the only obstacle is our capacity to believe in ourselves.”
-- George Marshall, founder of the Climate Outreach Information Network (COIN)

“Every time we peep out from behind the sofa, the horror movie of climate change looks more scary. And this report shows that it is not a movie; it is real life as it will be experienced for generations to come. Unless we act now, tipping points in the climate system are likely to take us into a new world of climatic extreme. Forget polar bears; it is a modern global civilisaion that is at stake.”
-- Fred Pearce, author and journalist, New Scientist

“Finally, the generation who moved from producer to consumer, broke its connection with the land and found by doing so that life was lonelier, less fulfilling and less nourishing, has a mission. That mission is nothing less than an unprecedented effort to creatively prevent runaway climate change. Climate Safety sets out clearly where we find ourselves and what we need to do. Our mission, should we accept it, could be the making of us, revealing a resourcefulness and ingenuity we never would have believed possible.”
-- Rob Hopkins, Transition Network, author of ‘The Transition Handbook’

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Beyond Simplicity

by Al Fritsch, S.J.

One area of discussion is that of the need for, and the nature
of, a simplification process which would open the door to a fairer
distribution of the world's available resources. My own ideas have
changed from that of merely vowing to try to live simply, to placing it
in the context of personal lifestyle, to hoping to demonstrate to
others the need for simplification, and to discover effective ways of
effecting change. While in theory the freedom to choose to live simply
is present, the practical ability to spread the word and to persuade
others of its necessity has many hindrances. Let us look at --

* the need for simplification of life;
* the temptation to view catastrophe as a desired change agent;
* the limited testimony of voluntary simplicity;
* the possibility of revolutionary change; and
* the call for greater simplicity through regulations
and incentives.

The year is 1822, United States of America, a simpler time during the final term of a Democratic/Republican administration in the recently painted White House occupied by a southerner. It is an expansive period immediately after the Second War of Independence, with the burning of forests throughout the southeast for agriculture, the largest export to the Orient being ginseng, and rapid textile and heavy industrialization occurring at the river falls of New England and other parts of the east coast.

Philip Kunhardt, Jr. and associates writes in The American
Presidents about Monroe "the last leader to spring from the revolution
and the first to make politics his life work. He is know for the
Monroe Doctrine ... the American continents are henceforth not to be
considered as subjects for future colonization by any European Powers,
a document that Monroe's friend Thomas Jefferson heralded as the most
momentous pronouncement which has been offered since that of
Independence. Monroe longs to return to his estate, since his second
term is not a happy one. William Cranford, the secretary of the
treasury raises his cane at the president and calls him a scoundrel.
Seizing the tongs from the nearby fireplace, Monroe orders him out of
the White House. Revolutionary War simplicity is already under strain.
Monroe's wife Elizabeth is the first Lady activist, who once helped
free Lafayette's imprisoned wife, about to be guillotined.

The year is 2006, and we have George W. Bush. This year finds --

* an ocean of consumer goods;
* massive advertisement plastered on vehicles and urinals
and school soft drink concessions;
* the unbridled power of large corporations which regard
themselves as persons with all rights and few duties;
* a growing desire to equal the material extravagance of
* a massive four trillion dollar individual
* globalization and environmental degradation; and
* a false sense of patriotism which extols
material consumption as an economic good.

a) Reasons for Simplification

These new trends lead us to pause as much as it caused Lafayette or
Dickens or Emerson to pause one hundred and eighty years ago. Today
we all believe in our heart of hearts that the simple unhurried life of
the 1820s -- ill health, northern factory work conditions, southern
slavery -- is not worth revisiting.

Today, people of all stripes seek more. They generally recognize
the need for good health and nutrition. However, they are also
realizing that striving to gain all possible comforts takes a heavy
toll on one's mental life. A recent issue of Utne Reader has an article on
how much depression is affecting the affluent of our country and world,
especially the younger generation. This occurs even in this time of
immense prosperity and relative peace. An uneasiness comes upon those
with plenty for there is the gnawing feeling that bounty needs to be
shared -- and that it is unpleasant to have the destitute around to
prick our conscience.

The 1820's had their debates on slave trade and the peculiar
institution. Currently we are concerned about global trade, distrust
and breakdown of communal relationships, poor working conditions, AIDS,
and crushing national and personal economic debts. We need to reduce
waste of resources, expect a higher quality of life coming from living
more simply, and share, not hoard, material things -- all good reasons
for simplification of lifestyle.

Furthermore, the trickle-down theory -- that if wealth is created
it will automatically go in some amounts to all -- is wishful and even
dangerous thinking. It does not fit emerging facts or current economic
conditions whether in this country or the world. We hear there were 66
billionaires in 1989 and now 268, and during that decade 31.5 million
Americans living below the poverty level which has now climbed to 34.5
million. Today, the top one percent of American households
have more assets than the entire bottom 95% combined. In the world the
top three billionaires have more money than the entire least developed
portion of the world (600 million people). The growing gap between
rich and poor becomes all the more critical when we realize that mass
communications allows even the destitute to hear about and observe that
conditions are better elsewhere. They know that concentration of
wealth is also concentration of power, and that fragile democracy can
easily become an empty term when big money is involved. How can even
small nations stand up to multi-nationals?

The Question is -- Can we continue in a world two-thirds enslaved
by poverty and indebtedness and one third in affluence? Besides
political health there is growing evidence by epidemiologists around
the world that the greatest danger to public health is inequality of
resources - children going without the simplest vaccinations because
public health programs are curtailed to pay debt service. This growing
inequality also affects our spiritual health and well-being as well,
making people insensitive to the genuine needs of others and more ready
to distance themselves from conditions requiring responsible action.
What about the high price of necessary oil for irrigation pumps when
those with Sport Utility Vehicles may consume as much as their
pocketbooks and their own addictions allow -- a famine in which only
the wealthy can afford the price. One can make an effective case that
actual available resources are limited just as food is limited during
a famine -- and some do not have the means to obtain their fair share.

Abraham Lincoln struggled with his earlier held position that this
could be a nation half-slave and half-free, tolerating the former as
long as the latter could thrive -- and not wanting to extend slavery to
the new territories, e.g., Kansas and Nebraska. In the middle of that
terrible Civil War in the gloom of 1862 he would retreat late at night
into the telegraph office in the Executive Office Building and there
write and rewrite the Emancipation Proclamation. Then he delivered it
first to his Cabinet and then the nation after the Battle of Antietam.
Are we arriving at the same but more universal conclusion through
similar struggles of human suffering and mental anguish that we cannot
continue in a world which is two-thirds hopelessly in debt and one-
third with concentrated and over-bearing affluence?

b) A Catastrophe Model is Simply Unacceptable

The temptation exists even with some learned persons that the
only solution is an unspecified Catastrophe -- a meteor strike,
economic depression, worldwide epidemic, famine, earthquake, or war --
as long as these occur elsewhere. When this daydream ends we realize
that disasters do not work magic -- The Black Death brought out the
worst in some people in their turning toward isolation and failure to
help others; disasters always affect the poorest first and most;
disasters move beyond predictable boundaries; they do not rectify
things; they should never be called Acts of God. Disasters may happen
but this does not excuse us from acting politically in a socially just
manner. The Y2K banter proved over-drawn and turned
some of us away, at least temporarily, from catastrophes.

c) Voluntary Simplicity Model is Restricted

A second route towards simplification which differs considerably
from awaiting disasters is that of voluntary simplicity and has many
good characteristics:

* it champions good healthy food in moderate amounts as well as
lower impact on the environment for use of less resources and less time
consuming practices of upkeep of complex technologies;

* it builds on the solid achievements of the past without
ignoring or belittling them;

* it is basically conservationist in nature and leads to reduced
use of available non-renewable and renewable resources;

* it professes the power of demonstration as a way to show others
what to do and affirms our solidarity with others in the world who try
to get by through an involuntary simple life of poverty;

* it respects the practices of others without directly curbing

* and it affirms the translation of individual proper action
into a grassroots groundswell that is expected to carry the day.

Granted we have witnessed partial success. We see small groups
living simply in various places and communities, namely community land
trusts, eco-villages, religious communities. We read materials which
are long on technique ranging from organic gardening to building solar
greenhouses. I was one of the early proponents of this movement as
lead author of a book entitled 99 Ways to a Simple Lifestyle by
Anchor/Doubleday. The statements in the Simple Lifestyle Calendar which we have produced for 24 years and our 60 issues of the ASPI Technical Paper series, along with many talks and conferences given on conservation would make one conclude that we are committed to voluntary simplicity.

I must share with you emerging doubts -- not about the validity of
the message, but the ability to remove ourselves from the margins that
seemingly triumphant high technologists have relegated us. And the
mass media reinforces this by making the quest for affluence the norm.

Voluntary simplicity is not popular and can be easily
misinterpreted. For individuals the practice has meant much and they
have been able to live healthy, productive lives, and find much
satisfaction with use of renewable energy, organic foods and clean
domestic environments. However, all is not roses. Offspring sometimes
want junk food and designer clothes; quality public education is
lacking; HMOs bring forth insurance officials deciding medical
treatments and those in the non-money economy go without health
insurance altogether.

We have schools which do not teach; medical programs that do not
reach; and churches which do not preach; except the materialism of ever
bigger sports arenas and air conditioned interiors. Our individual
voluntary practices may be tolerated, but it is becoming difficult to
express their health, environmental and social justice values in such
a powerful and covertly oppressive culture, with its rich media and
impoverished democracy.

Choosing simplicity is one thing -- but try biking on a highway
built for the auto, try to get low-cost solar energy when all
governmental subsidies go to the non-renewable ones, or try to discuss
simplicity in a world filled with higher and ever higher technological
innovations with their instantly rich dot com folks. We are
theoretically able, but, practically speaking, we are drowned out.

The SIMPLICITY model is powerful as demonstration: our center's one
twentieth of an acre raised-bed garden, planted on what was a black-
topped parking lot, produces over a half-ton of produce each year and
is well-observed by neighbors. However, such demonstrations take time
to maintain, have limited reach, and are generally not press-worthy.

Voluntary Simplicity is certainly not dead, but it isn't a
popular issue either. We must not abandon our goals and the beauty of
cordwood buildings, dry composting toilets and solar cars. However, we
are now becoming more concerned here about practical implementation and
spreading the word -- advocating for a national and world program of

d) A Revolutionary Model is Hard to Control

Another alternative is for violent change through revolution. In
an ideal world it would be far better that the poor would not attempt
to invade gated communities and take from the wealthy what is
rightfully the poor's, but that the wealthy enter knowingly and, to
some degree, willingly in a grand redistribution. What is at issue is
the powerlessness and disunity of the poor and the gross addictive
behavior of the wealthy who spread their condition to others as well.

Grievances. Democracy was threatened in the last part of the
18th century by the Alien and Sedition Act and the suppression of
dissent during the John Adams Administration. It is just as threatened
today in more liberal times but in far more subtle ways. The power of
corporations is so vast that it overwhelms us. This power has usurped
its so-called right as a person; it has spread its attack to the far
reaches of its realm -- the world; it has trampled on the rights of
small farmers and tradespeople. Our list of grievances is surprising
similar to, but far more far-reaching, than in 1775. However,
affluence has taken its toll on us. We lack --

a shared sense of moral outrage,
a willingness to unite for the good of all, and
a risk of putting ourselves on the line.

The shame is that our lack of simplicity

* has dulled our senses,
* has turned our attention to manage and upkeep our
expensive gadgets, and
* has diverted simplicity from being a tool for change
to becoming a refined time-consuming technique always in need
of further fine-tuning.

The shame is that environmental groups are often at odds over what
constitutes a victory or the need for further work. A prime example is
the recent Kick-66 campaign over a billion dollar 30-mile stretch of
unneeded highway in south central Kentucky.

The shame is that all people do not share the prosperity of the
few who make their billions and retain their six or seven-digit
salaried CEOs -- the latter day King Georges.

The shame is that people do not burn with indignation over what is
happening to the "little ones" around us, and that includes the
threatened plants and animals as well as impoverished people.
The shame is we do not share the spirit of the founders of this
Any revolutionary movement would have to consider simplicity not
as an end, but as a means to a better life.
It would have to use volunteer services for staffing, the
Worldwide Web for communications, and modern training and organizing
techniques for making the movement function better.
It would have to be grassroots-based and thus decentralized in
Its vision could not possibly be totally decentralized, or how
could a new world order control pollution on the oceans or on

A totally decentralized economy espoused by some voluntary
simplicity people is as unrealistic as a totally globalized one which
would become the ultimate triumph of Big Brother. Revolutionaries know
that simple appropriate technology has value and that the Internet can
-- within limits -- be part of it.

Was the "I Love You" virus a latter day Boston
Tea Party? Was it a wake up call that says OVER-COMPLEXITY IS
EXTREMELY VULNERABLE? And has this message been heard in Silicon
Valley, the United Nations, and the halls of Congress? Throwing a
monkey wrench at a pony express may hurt a horse or rider; placing it
in the Internet system could paralyze the modern world.

Spouting "revolutionary jargon" will not ensure success.
Revolutions -- American, French, Russian -- involved disorder and
violence. And just the possibility is not going to be a popular
alternative to our comfort-laden and consumer-addicted people.

The threat of Internet viruses of a more widespread and serious
nature is here, but it does not guarantee a better life. In fact, it
may make people call for more repressive regimes and governmental
practices in order to preserve the status quo, which some find quite
comfortable. It brings us to a moment of decision-making --
must we simplify in order to share?
or must we continue as a world of haves and have-nots?

e) Regulatory Redistribution is an Answer

A sustainable decentralized system operating in a world with some
functioning global communications requires the full assent of all the
people. Over-affluence is simply not sustainable, for it is divisive
and encourages dissent by those who regard their only voice to be
violent action. On the other hand, an aroused citizenry can do things
and do them now.

Certain trends such as a standing United Nations police force as
proposed this month by the Belgium Prime Minister would start small and
move rapidly to greater demands of resources, which would call more
heavily on the wealthier nations. The same could be said for a
regulated debt forgiveness program, or for making solar energy
incentives available at least at 1979 levels. In fact, a surer course
of simplification is possible through legislation and reapportionment
of funding for the benefit of more people and the Earth.

Simplicity coupled with a political will would allow us to focus
so that we can --

* refrain from giving tax breaks to the wealthy;
* raise the minimum to a living wage;
* require imported goods from escape industries to meet minimum
environmental, safety, and occupational health standards;
* shunt national military expenditures to world peace projects
such as low-cost decent housing and immunization programs for all
* give as much attention to bike networks as to Superhighways;
* and direct solar and other renewable energy to replace the non-
renewable energy system that is both tottering and polluting.

But these and other measures require legislation and regulations.

We need an old and new vision. In 1822 we had a nation that was
half-slave and half-free. Today, we have an indebted world
which is two-thirds technically enslaved and one-third free. And any
amount of slavery reduces the freedom of the remainder. As promoters
of democracy we know that the lowly must be raised up to levels of
human dignity; but those in high places through clever coverups and
legalisms are consuming most of the world's resources and thereby
denying limited amounts to the destitute. The global challenge is
greater than the challenge facing our nation in 1822. All must be free
-- and that goes beyond national boundaries.
How do we bring up those in low places? Through an awaited
natural disaster, by voluntarily giving up affluence, or a modern day
slave revolt? The first is full of despair, the second is tolerated
but little more, and the third is out of the question right now. What
have we left? Must we impose certain forms of coercion so that those
in high places are brought to lower more healthy and ecologically
viable lifestyles? A Simple life in the new era must be a necessity
and goal for a higher quality of life of our American people and for
the world. And it must be available for the many, not the few. Over-
affluence is anti-democratic and should not be tolerated in a fragile
democracy and can be curbed through governmental regulation.

Recall the issues facing the Republican House founders. Today we
are cowed by materialism and excess consumption. We are marginalized
by a media which does not regard simpler ways as worthy of

Our modern prophetic message is becoming clear -- we cannot have a
better world, a sound environment, or a genuine peace unless we --

* reduce world indebtedness and begin the process of
redistributing the wealth of the world;

* move toward a global renewable energy transition within a
decade, (as recent authors in Nature say in the context of global
warming) "with the urgency of the Manhattan Project;"

* set up alternative networks of safe travel for
pedestrians and bikers as the new greenway from Maine to Florida;

* address our health concerns for all people both on a national
and a global level -- and that includes affordable prescription drugs;

* make a distinction between the paper wealth of money and Wall
Street and the real wealth of human and environmental quality;

* and address all aspects of globalization issues so that no one
gets left out.

In conclusion, simple living is both a worthwhile goal and is the means for us to make a profound change of heart and to become authentic and credible political activists. True as the candidates say "In God we Trust." But we need also go farther than mouthing mottos. We must show we have that trust in the Creator by translating words into deeds of justice for our state, nation and world. It is not enough for the wealthy to give up power, or for the destitute to seize power. The challenge is to bring about a mutual letting go and taking on responsibility through democratic processes. The tough question is whether this can and will occur in this new era.

Global Democracy & Sustainability Literacy Learning: Why they must go hand-in-hand

by Eric Schneider

(This paper was first published at the 1st Virtual Congress on World Citizenship and Global Democratic Governance, July 1-31 2006

are invited and appreciated in this forum.

This is an updated version with additional illustrations, links and resources

"Positive Changemaking is Democracy: co-creating change for the Greater, Common Good."

The author understands democracy not as a goal but as a means of achieving a global, peaceful, just and sustainable civilisation.

The first part of this paper looks at democracy not merely on the level of a particular form of decision-making structures but on the level of "democracy-literate citizens"; citizens that do not understand only the ABC of democracy - legislative bodies, parliaments and voting methods, but more importantly: dialogue and decision-making formats and their contextual adaptation and application on any level of communal interrelation - for co-creative decision-finding and: consequent action. See also "Dialogues and Conversations" Heiner Benking, 2006, Of course, this requires sound awareness of priority issues appropriate of our times: the Greater Common Good.

The second part of the paper looks at what kind of education / learning / experience environments applicable in schools, youth environments and public nurture the creative, active democratic competence and mindset of a Fair Global Citizen.

The third part describes and links to outstanding learning programs / instruments for easy application in schools and public spaces.

Link to the paper:

The New Values of the 21st Century Citizen

Values guide decision making

Values guide decision making. They provide a shorthand to help your mind figure out what actions to take when a decision has to be made.

If you were faced with a choice, for example, between buying a hybrid vehicle or buying an SUV, the decision would be based partly on how much they cost and how much room you needed for groceries, kids, etc. But at least part of the choice is also made based on your values — which is more important to you?

If you are faced with a choice to purchase organic apples versus buying the regular apples, part of the choice is made based on price and taste — but again part of the decision is based on values. How important is eating organic to you compared to eating the normal foods?

Values guide decision making in every part of your life. When you make a decision — even the simple decisions you don’t think about — your values help your brain figure out what to do. Your mind frames the decision against your internal values and makes a decision that’s in line what what’s important to you.

You can tell how much you have in common with other people based on their values. If their values are aligned with yours, that means they would likely make the same decisions as you when faced with certain choices.

The 21st Century Requires New Values

In order to meet the challenges we will all face together in this new century, our values will have to change. Different things will have to become important to us in order to change our behaviors, consumption patterns and the way we solve problems.

The main reasons for this are:

  • Global Warming and other environmental challenges won’t be met without significant changes in individual behavior.
  • The world will face many new challenges that can’t be met by any single country. We will need to work together differently.
  • Governments and corporations can’t be counted on to solve these problems on their own. They have their own agendas.
  • The consumption patterns of people are currently unsustainable.

In order to solve the problems of the 21st century, individual citizens will need to play a more active role. We will need to ask — or more likely push and demand — that governments and corporations take the steps required.

This will require that we as individual citizens make decisions differently. It will require that different things become important to us as individuals. It will require, in other words, that our values change.

The New Values of the 21st Century Citizen

What values will people need in the 21st Century to meet the challenges before us?

People will need to adopt values that allow us to work together and collaborate to resolve our common challenges. This means both changing our consumption patterns and our collaborative problem solving skills.

We’ll need to reduce our consumption of resources. Plus we’ll have to begin making a lot of the things we need in sustainable ways. This will be a challenge. We’ll also have to move faster to resolve problems, as well as solve problems that are big.

Governments can’t move fast enough. Worse, they can’t be trusted to provide solutions that are the best for everyone. Governments can force solutions that are only optimal for certain groups.

Corporations can’t be trusted to provide the best solutions to our problems. They work mainly in the interest of their shareholders.

So people will need to work together in collaborative groups to resolve their common problems. And our values will have to change in order for us to do so.

While there are really many, many values that people need — including those that revolve around family, community and faith — here is a set of fundamental values that the 21st Century Citizen will find valuable as we work to face the challenges of this new century:

  1. Reduce, Recycle, Reuse
  2. The Individual is more important than the corporation
  3. Those who make the mess, should clean it up.
  4. Collaboration between people is more important than government efforts. And more effective.
  5. You can make an impact. To magnify your impact, collaborate with others.
  6. Don’t blindly trust your leaders.
  7. Don’t blindly believe the media.

Following is a short discussion of each of the above.

Reduce, Recycle, Reuse

I knew people who had lived through the Great Depression when I was young. Their values with regard to waste, saving and getting by on less were much different than today.

A friend’s grandmother always used less detergent to wash clothes than was recommended on the box. And when the box was empty, she’d rinse water through the box to use any detergent dust that was left.

Reduce, Recycle, Reuse means that we will have to learn to adopt some of these same values.

The Individual is more important than the corporation

Corporations are perfect if you want to efficiently turn an old growth forest into paper and building materials. But if what you want is to preserve it for future generations, corporations don’t work.

There are resources on earth that need to be protected from corporations. They only way to do that is if governments put the needs of people before the desires of corporations. Governments won’t do this unless the people force it to.

It’s critical that one of our fundamental values is the assumption that corporations are subservient to the needs of people.

Those who make the mess, should clean it up.

Once I went to a concert with a friend and we sold lemonaid in the parking lot to help pay our expenses. After we’d sold a dozen or so glasses, I began to see the empty plastic cups we’d sold our lemonaid in blowing through the parking lot. One of our customers told us we should’ve provided a garbage can so people didn’t throw the cups on the ground.

She was right. We should’ve.

And if Walmart is going to sell 100 Million Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs a year, they should somehow enable you to recycle them after they burn out. Each of the bulbs contains mercury that may otherwise end up in local landfills.

The costs for cleaning up the mess should be built into the price. Otherwise, they’re just creating problems that others will have to pay for later.

Collaboration between people is more important than government efforts. And more effective.

Individuals collaborating are more effective than governments for solving many kinds of problems.

The Linux Operating System is one of the best examples of individuals collaborating on a project that changed the world. If corporations or governments had begun a project to develop Linux, they would’ve failed.

Meeting the challenges of the 21st Century will require bringing the best people in the world together in ways that are flexible and that allow them to quickly and easily share and organize information.

The scientific breakthroughs that solve the next flu crisis could come from a team that includes a scientist in China, a corporate researcher in Texas, a government official in Belgium and a university grad student in Buenos Aires. Teams like that can come together quickly and move faster than government sponsored research groups or corporate think tanks.

Problem solving approaches that rely on governments coordinating research are slower and can be subject to political interference.

One of our fundamental values should be that we work to resolve problems through the creation of collaborative groups, rather than wait for or assume that governments will solve problems for us.

You can make an impact. To magnify your impact, collaborate with others.

One of the key components of collaborative problem solving is having individuals who really believe they can make a difference. A small, committed group of individuals can move faster and accomplish more than groups many times their size.

And the truth is, individuals **can** make a difference. But when individuals change the course of history, it’s normally because they banded together with others to address a common problem.

Two people together make a bigger impact than either would by themselves. Three people can make an even bigger impact. Large groups of committed, collaborating individuals can truly change the world.

In fact, I’d propose that there is almost no problem that can’t be solved by a dedicated group of people collaborating — the trick is just to get a large enough group together.

Don’t blindly trust your leaders.

Your leaders have an agenda. That agenda is likely to be influenced by the individuals who support and fund their efforts to stay in office. Also, they may lie to you in order to retain their elected position and their control of power.

This is especially true in societies where corporations or rich individuals can exercise undue influence over government.

It’s critical then that our values reflect a fundamental distrust of government. This fosters healthy skepticism as well as a belief that government won’t solve our problems for us.

Don’t blindly believe the media.

Media is a business. As a business, it’s charter is to maximize the profits of its shareholders. It is the job of the leaders of the media corporations to put their shareholders first.

That is, you and your well-being is not first in the minds of the media. Their corporate profits are.

For example, media companies that count on advertising revenue from Oil companies and Auto manufacturers are likely to have their presentation of global warming data colored by their need to protect that advertising revenue.

As a result, there are times when news presentation is influenced by the desire to protect or increase profits. It is critical that we build into our values a basic distrust of any media source.

To meet the challenges of the 21st Century, we will need good, accurate information on Global Warming and the many other challenges we’ll face. We need to demand this from the media and learn to impact their profits when they don’t provide it.

[When posting this article to delicious, digg or other services, we recommend the tags: VALUES, SOCIETY, RECYCLE, MEDIA]

A simple step you can take: Love Each Other!

Love XOXO, originally uploaded by Pink Sherbet Photography.

A lot of the time blogging (and reading) about environmental issues and global climate change can be depressing. So let’s lighten up today and talk about love.

In the end, it’s love for each other — and those close to us — that will motivate us to make the changes we need to make. It’s love that helps us put the good of others before our own wants and desires. It’s love for future generations (our grandchildren included!) that drives us to leave the world in good shape for them.

So today, focus on love. Focus on being loving and remembering those who love you.

Because when you love other people, you don’t mind so much making changes in your own life to make their lives better.

A New Way of Living

The Problem: Materialism and a Lack of Meaning

Reflections by Mike Seymour

* “The average floor area in a newly built home last year reached an all-time high of 2,434 square feet - up from an average 2,349 square feet in 2004 and just 1,645 square feet in 1975.” Nat’l Assn of Home Builders
* “American consumers owed a grand total of $1.9773 trillion in October 2003, according to the latest statistics on consumer credit from the Federal Reserve. That’s about $18,654 per household, a figure that doesn’t include mortgage debt. The number is up more than 41% from the $1.3999 trillion consumers owed in 1998.” Bureau of Public Debt
* “As of March 16, 2006, the total US public debt is $8,271,005,203,336.67. Republican fiscal mismanagement is responsible for a large portion of this debt. When Reagan entered office, the total public debt was $1,028,729,000,000.00. Taking out Clinton's total increase in debt from the total ($1,263 trillion) leaves $5,980 trillion or 72% of total outstanding US debt resulting from Republican's economic policies.” Bureau of Public Debt
* “…a majority of Americans (56 percent) said that they experienced more stress in 2005 than they did in 2004, according to the "New Year, New You" Study, a national telephone survey of 1,000 U.S. adults sponsored by Brookstone.” International Communications Research (ICR)
* “In a telephone survey of 1,074 adults, 80 percent said that stress is a problem in their lives.” American society of Health system Pharmacists
* “Stress, anxiety and depression on the job affect as many as one in 10 workers worldwide, and costs employers in Europe and the United States more than dollars 120 billion a year, a study by the United Nations shows.” International Herald Tribune October 2006

*The rate of depression has almost doubled over the last 50 years. Nearly 15% of the US population now suffers from depression (which) represents 18 million Americans. 20 million more suffer from anxiety.” Apollo Health
· A *2004 World Health report showed that 27% of Americans had some kind of mental disorder (depression, anxiety, eating disorder, substance) , which was substantially higher than any other country.

A quote from Earth Communications Office (

In the past 46 years, the human race has consumed as many goods and services as all previous generations combined. Unsustainable consumption is quickly becoming the root cause of our planet’s most pressing problems, resulting in global deforestation, depletion of our oceans, loss of biodiversity, and increased pollution from a growing reliance on fossil fuels.

In the past five decades: almost half of the forests that once covered the earth have vanished, and deforestation is expanding and accelerating; 70 percent of the world’s fish stocks are at some stage of deterioration through overfishing and all 15 major fishing areas are close to reaching or have already exceeded their natural limits; and at least 1,000 species go extinct every year.

The industrialized countries, with only one-fourth of the planet’s population, consume an overwhelming proportion of the planet’s natural resources. The average resident of an industrial country consumes three times as much fresh water, 10 times as much energy, and 19 times as much aluminum as someone in a developing country. Industrialized countries also generate 75 percent of the pollutants and waste.

This “consumer class” counts among its members most North Americans, West Europeans, Japanese, Australians and citizens of Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Middle East. In addition, perhaps half of the people of Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States are in the consumer class as are about one fifth of the people in Latin America, South Africa, and the newly industrializing countries of Asia, such as South Korea.

The United States, with only 5 percent of the planet’s population, consumes nearly 30 percent of the planet’s natural resources. The average American consumes 150 gallons (681 liters) of water, 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg) of food and 15 pounds (6.8 kg) of fossil fuels a day, while producing 120 gallons (546 liters) of sewage, 3.4 pounds (1.5 kg) of garbage and 1.3 pounds (.6 kg) of pollutants.

This overconsumptive American lifestyle is quickly becoming the uncontested global model and consumption levels in developing nations are rising more quickly than those in the industrialized nations. If the level of consumption in the developing world should rise to that of the industrialized nations, we would require two additional earths to meet everyone’s food and timber needs under current technologies.

Does this mean we need to abandon our way of life? Not necessarily. Despite the constraints and tradeoffs we all face, it is possible to become more responsible consumers without giving up any of our quality of life. The following sections will highlight some of the steps we can all take to reduce our impact on the planet. It focuses on the three areas that account for the majority of environmental impacts: transportation, food, and the house. There is also information on changes businesses can make, and tips on what changes can be made by the government to reduce the impact of overconsumption and ease the barriers to responsible consumption.

In the early 1980s I began to notice mega homes popping up in neighborhoods all over Western Washington state where I live. At first they were isolated, and then started to come in whole projects glibly advertised in the Sunday Seattle Times under such titles as “Field of Dreams.”

On Whidbey Island where I live now the biggest and most expensive property to ever be built is listed for sale. It is typical of this trend which, when we think more deeply about what it’s saying, tells us a lot about the situation humanity is in today. So let’s look at what the Windermere Real Estate listing says about this $6,950,000 property on 26 acres:

Once in a lifetime opportunity, arrive to this private gated waterfront estate. Experience walks on the 26 acre arboretum-like grounds, 800 protected waterfront beach with magnificent western exposure, Puget Sound and Olympic views. Entertainers paradise complete with large spaces, 1,100 sq ft extravagant ballroom, and two guest cottages. Enjoy the tennis court, softball field, clam digging, rose garden, tranquil pond and newly constructed steel dock with 27,000 lbs boatlift for year round moorage.

Sounds wonderful, right? Well it’s supposed to. That’s the “great American dream” you and I have been sold. Like so many animals in a Pavlovian experiment, we have learned to salivate when presented with images like this. The many things the commercial world wants to get into our lives are nowhere near as fancy as that big property. But like this property, advertising and packaging for thousands of different products and services are sold similarly on other than just the facts. We buy for convenience, sex appeal, success, prestige, happiness and a range of other motivations that have relatively little to do with the actual material item itself.

It’s all in our perception. Show dream…open pocket book…spend money…be happy…make more money…see another dream….and the cycle continues. It’s about getting what we want—or think will make us happy and feel better.

But it doesn’t exactly work like that, does it? We all know at some level that money doesn’t buy happiness. But why do we keep spending, spending and spending as if it does?

Answering that gets right back to my article Living on Purpose. When people lack deep heart, purpose and meaning on the inside they try to compensate for it with outer things. Get another relationship, a higher paying job, bigger home, a fancier SUV, a bigger boat. Bigger and more is better—or so the saying goes.

To use an analogy, the first one or two Twinkies might taste great. But what if you ate ten? Ugh! You see the hunger from spiritual hollowness that drives us over the top beyond Twinkie number two is an awful and impossible vacuum to fill. Anything other than love and all the other virtues that love makes possible—like community, courage, peace, insight, wisdom and happiness—can’t truly satisfy our deepest yearnings.

There is a story being made here and it has an unhappy ending. At the personal level if we fall into the trap of being owned by stuff and the illusions stuff promises, we grow insensitive to our inner lives and the richness that can only come from within. After the tenth Twinkie, for example, you would probably be pretty bloated and start to fade out from the sugar overload.

Something similar happens when we get bloated on material things. Outer things attract our attention and exert a great pull on our appetites. We move away from being aware of and living from our insides and our hearts. But things don’t give lasting happiness. A cycle of constant buying and owning can lead to an addiction that causes deep unhappiness and—taken to the global level—planetary self-destruction as an exploding world population races toward the so-called good life portrayed in America.

Religions have much to say about this. The Bible (Timothy 6:10) reminds us that the love of money is the root of all evil, while Buddha said that attachment and grasping are the source of all suffering. It is people’s grasping, the urge to reach outward, that’s the problem—because outer things simply can’t meet the deeper needs in humans that make us ultimately content in life.

Can humans have material well-being without getting lost in things? Or are we doomed to becoming trapped into being owned by what we own? And how much, really, is enough?

Bill Mckibben muses on some of these reflections in his recent book Deep Economy. He cites evidence that the United States, despite its increasing wealth since the end of World War II, is no happier:

What’s odd is none of this stuff (our greater wealth) appears to have made us happier. All that material progress—and all the billions of barrels of oil and millions of acres of trees that it took to create it—seems not to have moved the satisfaction meter up an inch. In 1946 the United States was the happiest country in the world among four advanced economies; thirty years later, it was eighth among eleven advanced countries; a decade after that it ranked it ranked tenth among twenty-three nations, many of them third world. (P35)

McKibben says most industrialized countries—like the United Kingdom and Japan—show similar trends. This raises questions about how much is enough and why people have trouble stopping when they have more than enough. One quickly realizes this is a highly relative issue depending on one’s culture and expectations. The San people of the Kalahari desert I write about in The Wisdom of Indigenous Peoples are not even part of the consumer culture as we know it in the developed world. Their idea of the good life would seem like starvation to us. McKibben explores the “enough” question citing some of the recent sociological research on what makes people happy. Folks everywhere mention things like “quality of life,” “family and home life,” “equality and justice,” “health,” “being married.” When the answers are toted up, 71 percent of them were non-materialistic.

Where more money does seem to mean more happiness is among the very poor which represent about half the world’s population, if you take living on $2 per day or less to be poor. If you’re a rice farmer in China and working 14 hour days using hand tools and have no health insurance, a little more cash to automate your farming or store up reserve goods in case of illness really is a big deal. Taking this into consideration, McKibben cites that money consistently buys more happiness up to about the equivalent of $10,000US per person per year, and after that the correlation between money and happiness goes flat.

If you’ve been following the math, you might be tumbling the numbers wondering what’s going to happen to planet Earth when more of those three billion poor people start climbing up the economic ladder and get happier. Well, it’s already beginning to happen in the two most populous countries, China (1.3 billion) and India (1.1 billion), together a third of world population. In her recent book Planet India, Mira Kamdar says there is already a bigger Indian middle class (300 million) than the entire U.S. population, and they are going for the gusto like Americans, buying cars and moving into western-style subdivisions complete with swimming pools.

The prospect of even more exploding consumerism is a huge controversy in multi-national gatherings on the environment and development—especially regarding how to best balance economic opportunity for the developing nations with the need to preserve the environment. Typically the wealthier nations advocate for economic development heavily safeguarding the environment. But this is more expensive and will slow growth, the poorer nations argue. Then they complain the rich countries are playing the colonial game again, denying their poor southern neighbors a fair share of the pie that the north has already been eating from for centuries at the south’s expense.

These are complex issues, and cannot be fully addressed apart from matters of cultural identity, religion and the preservation of values and practices that have nurtured people’s hearts for generations. Beyond environmental issues, future development needs to address the all-important areas of culture, religion and our vision of what a good life is all about.

The danger today that all developing nations face is one America waged and, many would say, is losing. We got rich at the expense of our souls and at the expense of other people and other life forms on the planet. America doesn’t really have a deep culture of values and traditions that protects us from falling into materialism. Will India, China and the rest of the world go the same way and become disconnected from the land, cultural traditions and spiritual values, thus becoming a spiritual wasteland? Is there some way we in America and the industrialized world can recover a culture of heart and meaning in which possessions don’t become our gods?

Could we imagine America and the richer countries becoming significant world models of peace, restraint, justice, happiness and compassion to those in need, and living more simply so that others may simply live?

To explore this we’ll go back a bit in history to ponder how we got here in the first place.

The Axial Age: Medicine for a Disconnected Peoples

My article The Wisdom of Indigenous Peoples traces humanity’s disconnection from the Earth and peaceful, balanced living when humans went from hunter-gatherers to farmers living in villages. As we started growing our own foods and keeping animals enclosed about 8,000 years ago, we began to live in villages, storing up foods, tools and other goods.

This more stable life style gave way to numerous creative endeavors since humans no longer had the time to go wandering around in bands looking for their next meal. Learning how to make tools, crafts, grow and store food, keep livestock and build sturdy buildings was the stuff out of which civilizations ultimately grew. In short, the agricultural revolution unleashed a level of creativity and human technology not seen before.

The downside was that humans created something others could be envious or fearful of. What if people in the neighboring land had iron blades and you did not? Iron bands could be useful, so you might want to trade with them. Or, those same blades could also give an advantage in a potential conflict. Now there was something to be concerned about.

Not only did the build-up of goods introduce the possibilities for social instability, but the very act of inventing something out of nothing turned out to be a pretty heady thing. After all, inventing is a godlike activity. No longer were people dependent on nature for their sustenance.

Humans started to take over the role nature had played and history shows we became intrigued and prideful about our creative ideas and abilities.

This story is depicted in the Old Testament when Adam and Eve take a bite out of the fruit of knowledge, giving them powers God did not think they could handle. God was right. His punishment was to send them out of the Garden of Eden and toil for their living. Women now had to endure childbirth and men work the fields for food. In short, suffering was born as a punishment for and counterbalance to godlike knowledge.

Most other cultures tell similar narratives in their mythology, or accounts of how the world came into being. The most common symbol for this creative, godlike spark is fire which some mythical figure steals and gives to the humans so they can have better, easier lives. In the Greek myth Prometheus, out of compassion for humans steels fire and brings it to mankind against the orders of the head god, Jupiter. Jupiter’s punishment was to create and send to Prometheus the beautiful Pandora whose magic basket, once opened, unleashes horrible suffering and unhappiness on the world of humans. Jupiter also had Prometheus bound to a rock in chains where an eagle came and ate his liver. This went on forever because Prometheus was also a god and would re-grow his liver, only to have it eaten again—another picture of how suffering came into the world.

We use the word “promethean” today to refer to some person or initiative that is creative and boldly original, like Prometheus. Going back to our Windermere Real Estate ad, notice the language like “gated,” “magnificent,” “paradise,” “extravagant.” This is promethean language and accurately describes a promethean piece of real estate. Contrast that with the bulk of the housing built in Seattle right after the Second World War. Most of these homes were modest 900 square feet to 1,400 square feet properties, as people didn’t have the wealth then to afford “mega homes.” With the wealth increase in the last 60 years since the end of World War II, look at the titanic course humanity has taken as population, wealth, consumption and promethean energies have increased.

What’s the antidote to this god-reaching, towering and proud impulse in humans which, though often having good intentions, goes wrong because of the threads of greed and pride that can creep in? History shows us that the answer is to bring humans to their knees in suffering. Trailing in the wake of humanity’s most joyful and wonderful cultural accomplishments have come hunger, war, oppression and the deepest suffering.

But this cycle is not inevitable. Cures have been found, and they emerged all within one highly significant period in human history after the agricultural revolution blossomed into city states with all their attendant promethean energies and suffering.

Cultural historians call this period the Axial Age, a period from about 800 BC to 200 BC in which most of the greatest thinkers, philosophers and social revolutionaries came into being, and with them the start of the world’s religions. Separately and in all regions of the world there was a response to evils of the day. In China there was Confucianism and Taoism. In India there was the growth of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. In the greater Mediterranean region we see the rise of Zoroastrian religion in what is now Iran, Judaism in Canaan and sophism as well as other classic philosophies in Greece.

One Greek term for the problem needing to be solved is hubris, meaning pride, and over-bearing confidence—our promethean energies at work. Don’t we see this in the current and many prior American administrations—this proud, “we’re going to solve the world’s problems” type of attitude that has been a disguise for the most tragic forms of colonialism our so-called democratic government has unleashed upon the world? Don’t we also have this in ourselves, in our sometimes childish stubbornness to defend our ideas, get what we want and push our agendas?

I heard it once said that the most dangerous people on Earth are those that are absolutely certain about what they believe, leaving no room to see from a different perspective.

This kind of blind hubris found a spiritual medicine in the Axial Age which looked the same all over the world in spite of the great differences of the religious and philosophical vehicles that brought it forth.

Don’t just suffer unconsciously like an animal. Be aware of and embrace your suffering. Jesus put it this way “Take up your cross and follow me.” The Buddha asks us to “cling to absolutely nothing at all,” his summary instruction to a follower who had a short attention span and just wanted the bottom line on his master’s teaching. Observe the illusion of all phenomena, including our desire and hate, arise and pass way. Nothing is permanent. The great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu in his masterful work Tao Te Ching writes in verse three:

If you overesteem great men,

people become powerless.

If you overvalue possessions,

people begin to steal.

The Master leads

by emptying people’s minds

and filling their cores,

by weakening their ambition

and toughening their resolve.

He helps people lose everything

they know, everything they desire,

and creates confusion

in those who think that they know.

Practice not-doing, and everything will fall into place.

The greatest teachers known to humanity all speak as if with one voice. Let go and be mindful, compassionate, humble and courageous in self-sacrifice and, above all, love one another.

A New Way of Living: Some Aspects & Solutions

The new way of living today that I want to talk about is actually not new at all. It is a spiritual revival of prior times where more people lived according to principles of simplicity, restraint, community, balance, and care for nature and one another. All of these values and more informed indigenous societies as well as, in varying degrees, the moral attitudes of the great religions and philosophies. It was the spiritual revival that accompanied and unleashed the 1960s revolution that gave new life to simpler, more meaningful forms of living.

Although the 1960s counter-culture movement has taken a lot of criticism for its self-indulgence, at the core I believe there is purity in the intention for a healthier, simpler and more honest kind of lifestyle. This was expressed most often through communal and modest living arrangements and changes in food habits, including vegetarian diets that did not involve the industrial cycle of meat production and the suffering to animals that production involves. Urban habitats in big cities, as well as communities in natural, mostly rural areas became the seed beds of cultural change as mostly young discontents dreamed of and experimented with a new way of being and living.

At its core, the 1960s revolution furthered a worldwide quest for meaning, recognizing the personal and planetary suffering of a humanity that had gone astray. Over time, scholars in ecology, science, religion and philosophy showed us just how far off base humanity and become, and how deep the transformation would need to be in order to leave behind the fear, greed, envy and violence underlying a civilization in decay.

As an antidote to the fragmentation and suffering in the world, we began to realize that we really are one people, one Earth with a common destiny. The view of Earth from space, the unified field theory of a new physics as well as learning how our cosmos all came from one source, reinforced in many ways the notion that we are all one. The more people began to absorb these truths into their lives, the more articulate and diverse became the language, literature and lifestyle forms of a new way of living.

I’ll spend the rest of this article looking at some of the expressions this new way of living and being takes.

Spiritual Renewal

Spiritual revivals are nothing new to America or the world but what happened in the 1960s was a more global, secular phenomenon than seen in prior times. First of all, it was a generational phenomena and driven almost entirely by young people disenchanted with the world and lifestyles of the older generation. There was the Jesus movement and the experimentation with Buddhism and Hinduism in both America and Europe but these also seeped out into the general collective consciousness to impact many in mainline churches as well as those outside of any formal religion.

Unlike the more formal religious revivals of the past that happened within established religious structures, the spiritual revival of the 1960s was just as much a cultural revolution as it was spiritual. It centered around distaste for the modern material life and its hypocrisy, as dramatized so well in the movie The Graduate starring Dustin Hoffman. At first the spiritual movement took an oppositional stance—it was about being against the “old” but had not, at first, clearly spelled out what it was for. Later on as the movement seeped into the culture at large, it provoked a great deal of thought by middle class people, academics, pastors, environmentalists, politicians, social activists and more mainstream elements, becoming an intelligible conversation that affected a large segment of modern society.

Personal Growth

A significant part of the modern spiritual revival since the 1960s came from the widespread movement in personal growth. This movement borrowed understanding from the interrelationship between psychological well-being and spiritual health. How could you move toward God and holiness if you had so much unprocessed personal baggage that kept on getting in the way of your attempts to live a pious life? But the personal-growth movement was essentially a secular one that borrowed spiritual and psychological concepts and techniques for the growing numbers of people all over the globe feeling more stress and discontent with their existence

One of the most famous early American centers for personal development was the Esalen Institute at Big Sur on the California coast about 100 miles south of San Francisco ( Esalen became the think tank and personal growth center for a new and emerging world culture, and it inspired many more similar centers around the world. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s ashrn Pune, India was one (, along with the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, (, and many smaller centers like Hollyhock in Canada (

Today there are hundreds of retreat and educational centers all over the world that provide education for the mind, body and soul, and an alternative vision of what a more relaxed, peaceful and meaningful life can be. This is supplemented by a gigantic number of books and videos on virtually every subject from controlling your emotions, getting the love you want, coming out of fear into prosperity, nurturing your soul and finding work that is aligned with your heart’s purpose.

Places like Esalen became laboratories for the development of personal growth programs that put personal change at people’s fingertips in day-long and other more intense programs. One I connected with in the early 1970s was the famous “encounter group” movement based on the Gestalt psychology of Fritz Perls. Probably even more important to Gestalt therapy and the prominence of Esalen was Will Schutz who lived at Esalen for about six years, and under whose leadership encounter groups spread around the United States and the world.

One of the most successful models was Erhard Seminars Training (EST) founded by Werner Erhard. While Gestalt gave people an opportunity to work on their “stuff,” Erhard is credited with introducing the idea that personal “transformation” is possible. EST aims to “transform your ability to experience living so that the problems or situations in life that you are trying to solve or are putting up with will clear up just in the process of life itself.”

Inspired by the tremendous success of EST, a myriad of other programs started that brought personal growth more and more into mainstream society. No longer were attendees at these events just the hip or alternative types, but the movement reached into corporate America and the suburbs. One of the most famous and long-lived of these programs is by Landmark Education ( and its event called The Forum. Benefits from the Forum: “The Landmark Forum is specifically designed to bring about positive and permanent shifts in the quality of your life. These shifts are the direct cause for a new and unique kind of freedom and power. The freedom to be absolutely at ease no matter where you are, who you’re with, or what the circumstance—the power to be in action effectively in those areas that are important to you.”

Voluntary Simplicity

It’s entirely possible, however, for personal and spiritual growth to occur without a change toward a simpler or more socially and environmentally engaged lifestyle. People working on themselves can shed unhappiness and relational conflicts but may still live in the same house and not do much for the needs of the people or nature around them. There has always been a strong current in American and world society that regards individual liberation or salvation as the highest goal, elevating spiritual aims over (and sometimes at the expense of) the needs of the world one is trying to leave behind.

Certainly, many since the 1960s onward began to realize the incompleteness of this vision, if not its outright hypocrisy. Being “so spiritual that you’re no earthly good” sums up the notion that one must walk one’s talk—living out peace and justice as had our greatest world leaders, like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus and the Buddha himself.

More often than not, then, the personal growth people experienced in the last 40 years did involve significant lifestyle and attitude changes, which is probably no better captured and described that what is known as the voluntary simplicity movement. A key figure in that movement happens to be a friend and near neighbor, Vicki Robin, author with Joe Dominguez of the best-selling book Your Money or Your Life ( Vicki’s life and work give us some great insights into what voluntary simplicity is all about.

After a few years of college and disenchanted with society, Vicki and a few friends left Providence, Rhode Island for a rural village in Mexico where they lived communally on very little money, growing their own foods and experimenting with a new way of social relating. This community of four became the seed bed from where the ideas for Your Money or Your Life gave people solutions to their hectic, high consumption lifestyles and a way toward greater simplicity and meaning.

In time, Vicki helped found a number of highly successful organizations—the New Roadmap Foundation ( and The Center for a New American Dream ( The New Roadmap Foundation “seeks to foster a cooperative human community in a diverse yet interconnected world by creating and disseminating practical tools and innovative approaches to personal and cultural change. We promote love and service as routes to personal and social well-being.”

The New Roadmap Foundation promotes new ways of dialoguing with the Conversation Café, a structured group communication process that helps alter people’s social reality and understanding

The Center for the New American Dream has lots of tools for living consciously, wisely and making a difference, especially regarding what and how we purchase. This includes a “back to school” section to help kids and their parents make conscious choices for lots of purchases like backpacks, cell phones, batteries, clothing, computers and snacks. Great links from their site include the Conscious Consumer, Responsible Purchasing Network, Kids and Commercialism, Independence from Junk Mail, Simplify Your Holidays and much more.

I asked Vicki over coffee one morning what personal anecdote from her life might sum up the different strands of her personality: independence of spirit, strong leadership, commitment to the greater good and new ways of relating to one another. I find it interesting that she mentioned going to a camp in Maine starting at five years old. At Blueberry Cove Summer Camp in Tenants Harbor, she explained, she got to mix with a racially diverse group of kids for the first time. They had free access to the natural world around them and were overseen by a loving, visionary couple who really trusted and honored the children, which ultimately helps kids to trust and honor themselves.

Combined with the fact that Vicki comes from a long line of strong women, this mix of circumstances at Blueberry Cove helped shape Vicki into the kind of person who was able to become independent from the “American dream” and set her own course to do good for others and the society at large.

It’s worthwhile keeping portraits like Vicki’s in mind as we ask ourselves how we would educate for a just, sustainable and peaceful world. That schoolhouse would no doubt look a lot like the Blueberry Cove program.

Intentional Communities

As the word implies, the intentional community is different from a standard housing subdivision or an apartment building in that people come together with a specific purpose, as opposed to simply choosing an address to live. Many personal growth centers were also intentional living communities started by people tired of what they saw as the hectic, meaningless rat-race of modern life. Esalen, in fact, was always home to a community of people that lived and worked in Big Sur year around. Many more were primarily places to live that also occasionally gave workshops or open days for others to visit and learn from.

The reasons people formed intentional communities were as varied as the communities themselves. But most have an intention to live more communally, feeling that the growing impersonality of modern life in cities and suburbs was creating a sense of isolation and loss of closeness. Many groups moving into the country also seek an intimacy with nature and practice shared farming to gain more balance working with their hands—not just their minds—and to feel a communion with the trees, skies, rivers and meadows whose appreciation gets lost in a fast-paced modern life. Other communities were primarily spiritually based, or might have been eco-villages oriented on sustainable building materials, off-the-grid energy systems and organic food production. Lots of intentional communities combined many of these features.

The Directory of Intentional Communities ( numbers close to 2,000 communities around the world. This may be well under the actual number, as there likely are many smaller living ventures that spring up and live for a short period of time but are never registered. One of the oldest and best known in the world is Findhorn in Scotland ( and it echoes the description you’ll find in many communities:

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