Thursday, December 31, 2009

14 Benefits Of Simplicity That Lead To A Good Life

simple beauty A simple life is a good life.  Voluntary simplicity is the act of consciously choosing to live with enough, but without excess.  Simplicity is not about depriving oneself or living in ultra-sparse conditions.  Living simply is about reducing the clutter and narrowing down one’s possessions, engagements, and thoughts to something more manageable.  It is about eliminating the noise to find the essence of the good life.
“In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The benefits of simplicity in seeking a good life

People aim to simplify their lives for a number of reasons.  Generally, they get fed up with the hustle and bustle of the modern day. 
Let’s face it.  Our lives today can be overwhelming.  We are constantly bombarded with inducements to get us to buy more, do more, and learn more.  By simplifying, we can overcome this, get back to something more basic, and life a better life. 
Here are some of the benefits of simplicity:

1.  Simplicity unclutters our lives

Daily living becomes jammed with stuff, activities, urgent tasks, chores, appointments, responsibilities and information.  When we simplify, we choose to eliminate a lot of this.  An uncluttered life is an unfettered life.  Simplicity gives us back the life we have given up to all the clutter.

2.  A simpler life gives us more time to relax

By eliminating much of the excess in our lives, we have more time to relax.  Our possessions no longer require so much of our time.  We don’t have to work as hard to maintain our lifestyle which gives us more time to unwind.  A relaxed mind is more creative and effective.  Simplicity frees us up to do what we want instead of what we have to do.

3.  Living simply costs less

The less you buy, the less you spend.  This is simple enough, isn’t it?  Of course, the fewer things you own means the less maintenance and upkeep you have to pay.  A smaller, more modest home requires less money to heat and cool.  Avoiding buying things on credit saves you the interest.  There are so many ways that a simpler life saves you money!

4.  You achieve better life balance with simplicity

Balancing your time between work, home and other responsibilities gets much easier when you choose to eliminate some things.  The choices you need to make are easier because fewer things are competing for your time.  This is a challenge that many of us face and where we can gain benefit by simplifying.

5.  Simple living makes you green

Your footprint on the environment is lighter when you live a less complicated existence.  By consuming less, you discard less.  You also emit fewer harmful substances into the environment.  If everyone took this approach, then maybe we wouldn’t be facing some of the challenges out there today.

6.  Less cleaning and maintenance required

Big possessions like cars, boats, hot tubs, and pools often require cleaning and maintenance.  By simplifying, you can eliminate the time and expense required by these things.  We often become a slave to the things we own.  Instead of enjoying these items, we end up having to spend what would be our leisure time taking care of them.

7.  A simpler life means fewer interruptions

The phone rings less often.  There are fewer knocks on the door.  We have time to have a conversation.  All our activities and engagements are constantly tugging us away from quiet time with those that matter the most to us.  In the end, how much of what we are doing is going to matter?  It is usually the least important things that force us to put the truly important on the back burner.

8.  Simplicity allows us to focus

Narrowing our field of view allows us to focus on what is really important.  Things creep into our life until it is so crowded that we can’t decide where we should apply our attention.  It takes effort and some difficult choices to simplify, but it is worth it because simplification will allow you to accomplish more on what really matters.

9.  You will be more organized and able to locate things faster

The less stuff you own and the fewer things you attempt to do will make it easier for you to get organized.  Once you are organized much of the confusion, frustration, and wasted time will disappear.  You will actually be able to find something when you need it.  Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

10.  A simple life has less entanglements

The more that is crammed into our day, the more complicated things become.  We often get entangled in the web of back-to-back appointments, activities, commitments, and engagements we have.  Are the good things in your life robbing you of the great things?  Simplifying will untangle your life and give you back control.

11.  Lowers stress and worry

We have less to worry about with a simpler life.  It is trying to maintain everything that freaks us out.  Once we voluntarily give it up, then we eliminate the source of much of our anxiety.  Let it go!

12.  Reduces busyness

Busyness is activity with no real purpose.  It seems we have a lot of this nowadays.  By consciously choosing to live a simple life, we start to recognize things we do that have no value.  This gives us the opportunity to cut these things from our lives.  Life goes by too quickly to waste time on busyness.

13.  Simplicity challenges us to be more creative

How can you make do in the upcoming circumstance with what you already have?  Answering this question regularly will challenge your creativity.  It will help you to start using your brain again to solve problems instead of just using your pocketbook to try to buy your way out.

14.  A simpler life helps us to appreciate classic beauty

Extravagance is often gaudy.  We overfill our homes and our lives with so much clutter that it robs us of our ability to appreciate true beauty.  Simplifying our surroundings allows us to see the classic elegance of nature.  It gives us a new lens through which we view the world.  A simpler life is just plain pretty!
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

A good life is waiting on the other side of simplicity

These benefits are available to all of us.  All we have to do is make a choice to live a simpler life.  It isn’t an easy decision and quite frankly most people won’t choose it.  However, for some, simplicity is their path to a good life.  They will choose to simplify because they know deep inside that there is no other way for them to go.
Have you simplified?  What benefits have you enjoyed?

Back to Basics: Reduce

Cutting back on the things you use and the amount you consume is perhaps one of the most effective way to reduce your footprint. It’s more than just turning off the water while brushing your teeth of switching off the light when you leave the house.

While we love the small steps, turning it up a notch makes a monumental difference. Reducing your impact involves a completely different way of thinking. It is about changing daily wasteful habits and seeing opportunities for savings in even the smallest of places. Here are our top 15 tips for reducing your usage of energy, water and products.

According to ENERGY STAR, CFLs use 75 percent less energy and last about 10 times longer than an incandescent bulb. Photo: Amanda Wills,
According to ENERGY STAR, CFLs use 75 percent less energy and last about 10 times longer than an incandescent bulb. Photo: Amanda Wills,

Energy You Consume

1. Check for air leaks in your home.
Studies show that homeowners received dramatically reduced electricity bills after their homes were weatherized. On average, electricity usage was reduced by 12-18 percent each month. Basic measures include weatherstripping, window caulking, attic insulation and switching to energy-efficient light bulbs.

2. Turn down the heat.
Adjusting the thermostat by just two degrees is the equivalent of 2,000 pounds of carbon emissions annually and almost $100 in energy costs. That’s the equivalent of driving a car more than 3,000 miles!

3. Make the switch to LED.
Jump on the bandwagon! Nearly 75 percent of all Americans made the switch to energy-efficient light bulbs in 2009. The Electric Power Research Institute estimates potential national annual electricity cost savings would exceed $250 million if all seasonal mini-lights were switched to LEDs. LEDs also typically have a longer lifespan than traditional incandescents. Typical incandescent bulbs last only 1,000 to 2,000 hours, with some estimates quoting LED lifespans from 25,000 to 50,000 hours.

4. Unplug or pay up.
Vampire power is the power that your electrical devices use even when they are turned off or in standby mode. In fact, your household bleeds an average of $1,000 every year, as 40 percent of all your electricity use goes to feed these phantoms, according to the Department of Energy. So, unplug electronics when they’re not in use. Use a power strip, and turn it off when your TVs and toys are not in use.

5. Hop on the bus.
Utilize your local public transit system. Light rails, buses, subways and the like are easy ways to avoid crowded parking lots and reduce your impact. In fact, a 10 percent increase in transit ridership nationwide would save 135 million gallons of gasoline a year.

Photo: Amanda Wills,
The Clean Water Act built the basic structure for regulating pollutants in water. But according to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, “We have a long way to go.” Photo: Amanda Wills,

Water You Drink

1. When in doubt, go low-flow.
The average faucet flows at a rate of 2 gallons per minute, and a five-minute shower uses 10 to 25 gallons of water. Consider installing a low-flow showerhead or aerator on your sink. You don’t need a complete bathroom remodel to start saving.

2. Take it outside.
According to the EPA, the typical single-family suburban household uses at least 30 percent of its water outdoors for irrigation. Try watering your lawn in the morning or the evening when it’s cool outside. This will cut down on evaporation due to sunlight and heat.

3. Stop and think before you drink.
Americans consume an estimated 1,500 water bottles per second. However, our tap water systems are regulated for drinking purposes, so fill up your reusable bottle for on-the-go refreshment. You can fill up to five, one-gallon jugs with water from your tap for about one cent.

4. Fix that leak (yes, it makes a difference).
Leaky faucets that drip at the rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water each year. To check for a leak, read your water meter before and after a two-hour period when no water is being used. If the meter does not read exactly the same, you probably have a leak. To tell if your toilet has a leak, place a drop of food coloring in the tank. If the color shows in the bowl without flushing, it’s time to call a plumber!

5. Load it up.
A large percentage of our water is wasted in the laundry room. The average washing machine uses about 41 gallons per load, so always make sure you get the most bang for your buck and fill your clothes to the brim. For extra points, install an ENERGY STAR-certified washer.

Photo: Amanda Wills,
Do you really need that plastic produce bag for your items? Be aware of the items you consume while shopping. Photo: Amanda Wills,

Products You Buy

1. Start with your cart.
When choosing a product, considerations such as organic ingredients and fair trade materials play an important role, but packaging is also an important component of a product’s eco-friendliness. Opt for materials that are recyclable or made from post-consumer materials.

2. Shop online for one shipment.
Order multiple items that can be shipped together in one purchase to decrease packaging material and transportation costs. To have 10 pounds of packages shipped by overnight air uses 40 percent less fuel than driving yourself round-trip to the mall, according to the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions.

3. Reassess what you need inside the store.
We’re all for toting our reusable bags to the grocery store. But let’s take it one step further and be aware of the disposable items we consume while shopping. Do you really need that plastic produce bag for your bananas? Is the small polystyrene cup worth just a sip-size sample of coffee? Opportunities for reduction are everywhere.

4. Go loco for local.
Most produce in the U.S. is picked four to seven days before being placed on supermarket shelves and is shipped for an average of 1,500 miles before being sold. Buying locally grown food means you’re getting the most fresh product, rather than something that was picked almost a week prior. It also cuts down on energy use and supports local farmers.

5. Look for the chasing arrows.
Perhaps one of the most recognizable labels, the universal recycling symbol is used to designate recyclable materials in a product or a product’s packaging. The three chasing arrows symbolize “closing the loop” by recycling and buying recycled products. This makes it important to understand your curbside program or local recycling facilities. Once you have a handle on what is accepted, you can make better purchasing decisions.

Amanda Wills

Amanda Wills

Amanda Wills is the Assistant Editor of

5 Green Resolutions To Make Now to Be Ready for 2010

Forgive me for getting a bit ahead of the season. While I normally abhor promotional season-creep (it's got to be December before I can even slightly stomach Christmas music in stores), I'm going to engage in some.
No need to wait another month to green up your act. Start one of these green resolutions each week between now and the end of the year and you can rest easier knowing that your on a greener path...And can move on to other resolutions like promising to take off the weight you put on this holiday season.

Week One: Green Your Energy Usage

One of the best and easiest things you can do to reduce your personal carbon emissions is to sign up for a renewable energy program with your utility. A few minutes of your time and a few cents more per kilowatt-hour can seriously reduce your personal carbon footprint. The difference between your carbon emissions from your city or state's normal energy mix and all renewable energy varies from place to place, but rest assured that switching to 100% renewable energy is a big improvement from the national stat of about 7%.

Planet Green has covered how to do this before for a few cities, but the US Department of Energy's Green Power Network has a listing for programs available in every state.

Sign up for electronic billing and you've saved 37 pounds of carbon emissions over the year on top of going carbon neutral on your electricity.

Week Two: Pledge to Use Public Transport, Walk or Bike

You've no doubt gotten the message that using your own two feet or a bicycle is probably the best way to get around, in terms of carbon emissions...And using public transportation or carpooling is a far better way to go than sitting by your lonesome in your car.

So walk the talk and use one of these at least one more day a week next year. World Offset estimates that doing this just one day a week will reduce your carbon emissions by nearly 1000 pounds over the course of the year.

Week Three: Reduce or Eliminate Your Consumption of Meat

In terms of carbon emissions, knocking meat off your menu is a significant step you can take to green your lifestyle. Switch to an all vegetarian diet and you can rest assured that your personal carbon emissions are about 2.52 tons less than your carnivorous neighbors. Just setting aside one day a week as a meat-free day would avoid emitting about 720 pounds of carbon emissions over the year.
Don't know where to start? Check out these great vegetarian recipes.

Week Four: Eat More Local Food

By now you've probably heard the term 'locavore', and have probably heard about the benefits of eating more locally-sourced food. But what you may not realize is how much resolving to eat more local food can reduce your carbon footprint.

If you resolve to eat just one meal each week comprised of only locally sourced ingredients (or at least the majority...I won't begrudge your spice usage) you could avoid 666 pounds of emissions each time.

I know that this may be more difficult in the winter across large parts of the United States, so start slowly and then really go local later in the year. Even if the full impact of this one isn't felt for a couple of months, start thinking like a locavore: How many food miles got racked up for my meal to get here? Is it in season? Is there a local alternative I could buy? Investigate joining a Community Supported Agriculture Co-op for next summer.

Week Five: Make Your Home More Energy Efficient

By replacing some of the energy sucking items in your house with their more energy sipping alternatives, and engaging in some energy frugality you can make an additional reduction in your personal carbon footprint.
Replacing 4 incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents will avoid 400 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions over the course of the year. Unplugging your computer will knock off another 250 pounds of emissions being sucked out by vampire power next year. Setting your thermostat two degrees cooler in the winter and two degrees warmer in the summer (ditching the AC all together would be even better) will save 1000 pounds of carbon emissions next year. Air drying half of your laundry next year will save about 725 pounds of emissions.
Add these all up, and combined with these other resolutions, and you're really starting to get someplace.

18 Tips for Living Within Your Means

Live a comfortable life, not a wasteful one. Do not spend to impress others. Do not live life trying to fool yourself into thinking wealth is measured in material objects. Manage your money wisely so your money does not manage you. Always live well below your means.

1. Redefine your definition of "rich."
"I remember sitting in a cubicle at my first professional job staring at a picture of an SUV I wanted to buy (and eventually did). Now, I sit in my office and look at the pictures of my kids, and just outside my window I can see the beater I drive sitting in the company parking lot. What a difference a decade makes! To sum things up, my definition of being rich is having enough money to meet my family’s basic needs, a few of our wants, and to be able to give some away to others." via Frugal

2. Borrow and share. Everyone wins!
"We borrowed a DVD from a friend instead of renting or buying and had a little snack from our own fridge! Way cheaper than using gas to drive to the theater/rental place, paying for a movie, and paying for a snack." via

3. Avoid the mall.
"Going to the mall is not entertainment! We used to go when we were bored. Of course, we usually ended up spending money while we were there. If you need clothes, then shop sales or go to stores that offer name-brands at a discount. You can save a ton on these items if you are a smart shopper. Dave Ramsey says, "Never pay retail!" We probably save $15 to $30 per month by staying away from the mall." via

4. Limit your intake of advertisements.
"Advertising sucks. That’s the cold, hard truth. It’s engineered to make you feel like you’re incomplete, that you have an unfulfilled need, that you’re not good enough." via

5. Buy with cash.
"You can’t spend money you don’t have. Many bank accounts provide overdraft protection, so even with a debit card, it’s easier to go over your account balance than you think." via

6. Find a better deal and actually SAVE the difference.
"Regardless of what they sell, if you’ve switched companies for price reasons, save the difference. Think of phone companies, internet access, cell phones, credit cards, and others." via

7. Adhere to a long-term investment strategy.
"I’m a long-term investor. The stock portion of my portfolio is spread over several mutual funds, a few ETFs and a few individual stocks. Each and every one of these holdings was carefully chosen, after thorough research. I believe in these stocks and funds. I consider them as my best bet in growing my money–long term."

8. Curb your consumerism!
"Have you ever watched how a child can play with a cardboard box for hours, and leave the toy that came in it by the wayside? How is it that children can enjoy themselves without a lot of "stuff," but we as adults feel the need to reward ourselves by buying more stuff?" via

9. Stay Healthy! Medical problems drain bank accounts.
"James M. Rippe, M.D is a best-selling author, world-renowned cardiologist, and founder of the Rippe Lifestyle Institute. He explains that if you look at all the risk factors for dying, the one that is most predictive is fitness level. In addition, an older person with high cardiovascular fitness is healthier than a younger person who is physically inactive. By increasing your fitness level, you can actually roll back your biological clock." via

10. Stay in and relax.
"So, think about it the next time you go out. Are you going for with a purpose? Maybe the solution is to not go out at all. Stay home and save! Save up for something you really want or need." via

11. Gradually prepare yourself for a rainy day.
"Even when things are going great, and you feel on top of the world, you must always be prepared for a change. If you take the time and patience to set yourself up properly, then when things to take a turn for the worse, you will be prepared to handle it. If you live above your means, then when the slightest change occurs, you will not be prepared to adapt. Financial flexibility is more important then keeping up with the Jones" via

12. Stop competing. Forget about the Jones altogether.
"If getting rich makes us happy, then why don’t countries as a whole get happier as they grow wealthier? They discovered that as a country gets wealthier there’s no overall increase in happiness. Why? We continually compare our wealth against that of others. We are competitive and envious. Add to that the fact that Western countries encourage people to strive for more and more, and you have a formula that spins many into depression." via

13. Get out of the "easy street" mentality.
"I think there is too much emphasis on the quick fix or the easy option in today’s society. For example taking diet pills to lose weight instead of the "hard option"–exercising and eating well. Money is sometimes being used as a substitute for hard work. Do you think there is an increasing expectation that you can get want you want by throwing money around instead of working hard and "earning" it?"

14. Avoid impulse buying. Buy things you truly need.
"Don’t you just love the excitement you feel after coming home with a new TV? Driving home in a new car? Opening the box on a new pair of shoes? I sure do. But, from watching the behavior of myself and my friends I’ve found that the new quickly becomes just another item. The excitement of novelty passes quickly." via

15. Time is money. Properly manage your time.
"The fewer tasks you have, the less you have to do to organize them. Focus only on those tasks that give you the absolute most return on your time investment, and you will become more productive and have less to do. You will need only the simplest tools and system, and you will be much less stressed. I think that’s a winning combination. Focus always on simplifying, reducing, eliminating. And keep your focus on what’s important. Everything else is easy." via

16. Find ways to give without spending.
"Want a quick, easy and (almost) free way to be guaranteed that you’ll make someone’s day special? Send them a letter. Why not set aside some time this weekend to sit down and write to a few people? If you don’t enjoy writing, try buying some nice postcards of your home town. If you’ve got an artistic streak, why not design your own note cards? You don’t have to write a long letter for it to be effective. It’s the thought that counts and the personal touch that makes it special." via

17. Don’t let greed and deceit get the best of you.
"According to Stephen R. Covey, if you reach an admirable end through the wrong means it will ultimately turn to dust in your hands. This is due to unintended consequences that are not seen or evident at first. The example he gives in The 8th Habit is: The parent who yells at their kids to clean their rooms will accomplish the end of having a clean room. But this very means has the potential to negatively affect relationships, and it is unlikely the room will stay clean when the parent leaves town for a few days. Now, to return to the topic of wealth, I think it is possible to see much of the world’s current financial problems as stemming from people who wrongly believe the ends justify the means. My advice? It is fine to aspire to wealth, but don’t lose sight of the means to accomplishing it." via

18. Never ever pay retail.
"You can easily save hundreds of dollars a year on clothing purchases by waiting for sales or shopping at discount retailers like Marshalls. Better yet, avoid name brand clothing all together." via

Get tips on saving money and living green in with Eco-nomics


Killing fields: the true cost of Europe's cheap meat

Cheap meat has become a way of life in much of Europe, but the full price is being paid across Latin America as vast soya plantations and their attendant chemicals lead to poisonings and violence

Much of the cheap meat and dairy produce sold in supermarkets across Europe is arriving as a result of serious human rights abuses and environmental damage in one of Latin America's most impoverished countries, according to a new film launched in conjunction with the Ecologist Film Unit.

An investigation in Paraguay has discovered that vast plantations of soy, principally grown for use in intensively-farmed animal feed, are responsible for a catalogue of social and ecological problems, including the forced eviction of rural communities, landlessness, poverty, excessive use of pesticides, deforestation and rising food insecurity.

The film, Killing Fields: the battle to feed factory farms – produced by a coalition of pressure groups including Friends of the Earth, Food and Water Watch and with European coordination by Via Campesina, – documents the experiences of some of those caught up in Paraguay's growing conflict over soy farming and reveals, for the first time, how intensive animal farming across the EU, including the UK, is fuelling the problem.

Campaigners plan to use the film to highlight the 'unsustainable' nature of modern food production, and to spearhead efforts to raise awareness of the largely hidden cost of the factory farming systems supplying much of Europe's cheap meat and dairy produce.

The moves come as international concern over global food insecurity grows, and amid fresh warnings that millions of the world's poorest people face acute hunger in the coming months and years because of the twin threats of climate change – impacting farming in large parts of the developing world – and the ongoing credit crunch which has seen global food aid budgets slashed.

Protein king

Soy is prized for use in animal feed as it provides a cheap source of protein for poultry, pigs and other intensively reared animals that require fast growth in order to produce large meat, egg and milk yealds. The EU ban on the use of bonemeal and other animal by-products in agricultural feed following the BSE crisis has further driven demand for soy as a principal feedstuff.

Globally it has been estimated that as much as 97 per cent of soymeal produced is now used for animal feed.

Attracted by cheap land prices, poor environmental regulations and monitoring, widespread corruption and low taxation on agricultural export commodities, agribusinesses have long viewed Paraguay as an ideal country in which to do business. In recent decades increasing chunks of rural land have been bought up and turned over to export-orientated soy cultivation.

Paraguay is now the world's sixth largest producer of soy, with over 2.6 million hectares of land given over to cultivating the crop, and the fourth largest exporter. Vast quantities are exported to neighbouring Argentina, from where much of the crop is shipped to China to supply the country's growing demand for animal feed.

The EU is the second largest importer of Paraguayan soy, with Germany, Italy and the Netherlands among the biggest customers.

Indigenous people, such as this elder from the Kaiowa tribe, say that their traditional way of life is being eroded by intensive soya farming
Food supplies shrink

The arrival of export-orientated soy production in Paraguay has led to significant swathes of forest being destroyed to make way for crops, according to critics, threatening biodiversity and depleting resources vital for many rural communities.

In testimonies collected by investigators from villages adjacent to soy plantations – and featured in the film – local people complain that there is no longer an abundance of food and other produce:

'We indigenous people used to live from the forests, [from] animals, fruits... now we cannot do that any more because we are surrounded by ranches,' Jose Dolores Berraro, from the Yrbucua community, says. 'It's an invasion because instead of reforesting they come to deplete natural resources and these forests.'

Although new laws have been introduced to protect forested areas following the decimation of the world renowned and ecologically important 'Atlantic Forest' region, campaigners say the rate at which forests elsewhere in Paraguay are being devastated to make way for soy plantations is increasing, with some 500 hectares per day still being lost, according to some estimates.

Families have been displaced by the spread of soya farming. There are reports that those who refuse to sell their land to farmers have their land sprayed with herbicides
Chemical fix

Industrial scale soy production, particularly for genetically modified (GM) crops – some 90 per cent of Paraguay's soy is now thought to be GM – is dependent on the frequent application of powerful pesticides and other agri-chemicals which have been linked to environmental degradation and a host of negative health impacts on people living near to soy farms.

Crop spraying has polluted important water sources in many rural regions, say campaigners, poisoning both domestic and wild animals, threatening plant life, and resulting in a number of health problems in people, including diarrhoea, vomiting, genetic malformations, headaches, loss of sight and even death.

The film contains harrowing testimony from Petrona Villaboa, who lives in Pirapey, whose son Silvano died after being sprayed with toxic chemicals on a soy plantation.

Statistics compiled by pressure groups suggest that as much as 23 million litres of pesticides and herbicides are sprayed in Paraguay each year, including several that have been classified by the World Health Organisation as being 'extremely hazardous'.

Armed response

Paraguay has a long history of land conflict, and the arrival of large scale soy farming has been met with significant resistance from many rural communities. Peasant and indigenous organisations have repeatedly protested against the encroachment of their land – organising protests, blockades, land occupations and actions to prevent pesticide spraying.

But the response from soy farmers, often backed up by police and paramilitary units acting on the orders of the authorities, has been brutal, according to peasant leaders, with violent evictions, frequent shootings and beatings – resulting in numerous injuries and several deaths – as well as arbitrary detentions and frequent disappearances.

Those who protest against soya plantations have met with a heavy-handed response, according to campaigners
In one of the worst incidents to date, during the forced eviction of the peasant community at Tekojaja, in Caaguaza, soy farmers – reportedly under the protection of police and soldiers – forcibly removed some 270 people from the village, including children, arrested 130, set fire to crops and bulldozed houses, before shooting dead two inhabitants, Angel Cristaldo and Leopoldo Torres.

In another incident reported by the peasant's movement MCP, in Canindeyu, activist Esteban Hermosilla disappeared from his house and was discovered dead and half buried, on a nearby agricultural estate. His assassins reportedly cut off Hermosillas' ear as proof he had been killed, before sending it to the man who it was later claimed had ordered the murder.

Such cases are far from unique – peasant organisations have compiled a detailed dossier of violent repression linked to the soy industry in Paraguay – and pressure groups are keen to highlight this seldom-reported human cost of intensive farming.

Since the beginning of the soy boom in Paraguay in 1990, it has been estimated that as many as 100,000 small-scale farmers have been forced to migrate to cities – with about 9000 rural families evicted because of soy production annually.

Upon arrival in urban areas, many familes are forced into slums and struggle to adapt. With few employment opportunities and little state assistance, many face a life of poverty.

Andrew Wasley is a journalist with the investigative agency, Eco-Storm

To see an extended version of the film available in 15 languages, and to find out more, visit

Useful links

See also

How to make your own skincare products

DIY skincare can be as easy as grabbing some ingredients from the fridge or kitchen cupboard. Laura Sevier offers recipes and tips from the experts

My philosophy is if you wouldn't eat it, why put it on your skin?
'You smell like a salad,' said a close, concerned friend a couple of years ago.

True, I had just used some of their virgin olive oil to remove makeup. I had run out of my natural, eco-brand cleanser and couldn't get hold of any more in the local shop. Rather than buy any of the petrochemical-based stuff, I decided to raid the kitchen cupboard and improvise with olive oil. My skin felt wonderfully soft afterwards. And, as it was night, there was no risk that I would roast in the sun.

There are plenty of reasons to make your own beauty products. For starters, you know exactly what goes into it. It's like preparing food from scratch. You can avoid ingredients, such as preservatives, that you're allergic to, and choose the best ingredients in terms of quality, purity and sustainability, tailor-making it for how you're feeling or how your skin is.

Making your own can save you money (although some of the ingredients can be quite expensive). You can also use things from the fridge, kitchen cupboard or garden. And, if smelling like a salad isn't your thing, with a choice of oils, essential oils and fresh ingredients you can also choose the aroma. Once you get adept at making salts, oils and scrubs they are great, personalised gifts.

Since my olive oil experience I have experimented here and there with mashed bananas in my hair, yoghurt on my face and sea salt in the bath, but really I haven't made much progress in the recipe department.
So I contacted two experts on natural beauty and asked them for their top tips and favourite easy recipes...

Sherron Holder-Culver - Holistic Beauty Therapist, London

Sherron has worked in the beauty industry for several years and spends much time and energy trying to source organic and natural treatments. ‘My philosophy is: if you wouldn't eat it, why put it on your skin?' she says. ‘Many products are so full of toxic chemicals that the skin suffocates. Making your own products is easy. There are so many things in the kitchen cupboard you can use.'

*Sherron's top tips*

Instant face exfoliator: Buy a bag of cornmeal (about 60p). Take a tablespoon of that and a tablespoon of olive oil and one drop of lavender. Exfoliate your face. Then use a hot flannel to wipe it off.

Sea salt body scrub: Buy a normal jar of sea salt. If it's a bit coarse then grind it down. Add any kind of oil, a drop of lavender and a drop of rose oil. Beforehand dry-skin brush the body, brushing towards the heart.

Face moisturiser: Get hold of some good-quality coconut oil. Add one drop of jasmine and rose oil (for mature skin) to a tablespoon of the coconut oil. You only need a small dab for the entire face.

To remove makeup: Use olive oil. Rub it into your face with your hands, over your eye make-up. Then either use Marseille soap (an olive oil soap available from Neal's Yard Remedies) or soak a flannel in warm water, add a few drops of lavender oil and just wipe it off twice for a deeper cleanse. [NB pick your olive oil carefully – here's why]

Face massage: While taking your make-up off, once it's warm and oily, massage your skin and facial muscles. It's like going to the gym. Work it out. Warm it up. If lazy, like a body, it will become sluggish. Get rid of tension and lactic acid in the neck.

My star product is argan oil. It's so good you can use it for almost anything – on your hair, body and face. You don't even need to add anything extra to it.

For nail polish use Provida nail care. You can't get organic coloured nail polish. If you must use conventional nail polish, then protect your nails with Provida.
For more information go to or email

Emma Thomson - Head of aromatherapy and natural beauty at Neal's Yard Remedies, London

Emma started making her own products when she became an aromatherapist. ‘A lot of my clients had diseases like cancer and it was very important that the products were as pure as possible,' she says. All the ingredients she uses are from Neal's Yard Remedies. ‘I used to be a buyer for them so I know where their shea butter and coconut oil is from, and that it's been sourced sustainably.'

*Emma's top tips*
For sunburned skin: Make a turmeric and cinnamon face pack

Tumeric is traditionally used in Ayuverdic medicine to relieve inflammations and is used in some sunscreens. Simply mix together 1tbsp of plain Greek yoghurt, 1tbsp of clear honey, 1/2 tbsp of cinnamon and 1/2 tbsp of turmeric. Apply to skin and leave for five minutes

Aloe Vera and Lavender cooling after-sun: This is cooling and soothing, perfect for sensitive skin that has been exposed to the sun. Infuse 2tsp lavender flowers and 2tsp of chamomile flowers with 40ml hot water for 10 minutes then strain and add 10ml of organic aloe vera juice, two drops of Roman chamomile essential oil, two drops of lavender essential oil and one drop of patchouli essential oil. Pour it into an atomiser and spray yourself.

Strawberry and Oat exfoliating mask: A gentle exfoliating mask to be made fresh and used at once. Strawberries are packed full of antioxidants and cream contains lactic acid, a natural skin brightener. Mix 20g of organic ground oats, three large ripe organic strawberries, 5ml or 1tbsp of organic light cream (or soya cream) and one drop of organic geranium essential oil. Apply to damp skin and leave for five minutes.

*Emma's top 10 ingredients for DIY skincare*
Lavender essential oil: Works in every blend to relax both mind and body, can be used dilutes or neat.

Sweet almond base oil: Great for all skin types, use in a face or body oil and to make balms.

Calendual macerated base oil: A plant oil that has captured the healing qualities of marigold, great for dry cracked, irritated skin, add a capful to your base oil, lotion or use on its own for dry patches.

Beeswax: Thickens balms and creams naturally.

Shea nut butter: A natural fat obtained from the fruit of the tree, it melts easily and is solid at room temperature. Makes a great natural balm.

Stellaria herb: This common garden weed has a cooling action on the body tissues. Use an infusion on itchy skin or add to creams and washes.

Chamomile herb and essential oil: Incredibly useful as a tea, an infusion or in the bath as it calms and cools. Add to a balm or cream and it treats allergies, cramps, skin irritation and sensitivities.

Aloe vera: A great first-aid plant that grows easily on your window sill. Break off a piece to relieve a burn or buy in the liquid form and use in cooling sprays and creams to relieve itching.

Oats: Soften and nourish the skin. Excellent as a mild exfoliant, especially for sensitive skins.

Unperfumed organic lotion base: Lotions can be hard to make as the emulsification process is often hit-and-miss at home. Buy a good unperfumed cream and add essential oils to it to suit your mood.

Dead sea salts: Add to the bath with a drop of essential oil to relieve aching muscles and help heal skin conditions, or add to a base oil to make a great salt scrub.

Resources: Books, courses and ingredients
The Holistic Beauty Book by Star Khechara (Green Books, £12.95) has more than 100 natural recipes. Star, based in Devon, also runs practical workshops. Find out more at
Recipes for Natural Beauty by Romy Fraser, the founder of Neal's Yard Remedies, (Haldane Mason Ltd, £9.99) is a make-your-own classic
Skin Deep by Pat Thomas (Rodale, £7.99) contains tips and recipes for making your own toiletries and cosmetics.
Aromantic Ltd based in Findhorn, Scotland, offers courses in London, Scotland and the US. It's also a one-stop ingredients shop with a catalogue of more than 1,000 items.
Neal's Yard Remedies in London runs a one-day 'Recipes for Natural Beauty' course for beginners. You'll also be able to buy ingredients from Neal's Yard stores and website.
Neoils and Phytobotanica specialise in UK-grown and distilled essential oils and flower waters.
The Organic Herb Trading Company supplies organically certified raw materials including herbs, flowers, flower waters, plant oil and cosmetic ingredients such as cocoa butter and clay.

The Botany of Desire

lesson plans

Sweetness: The Taste of Apples

What is sweetness, and how do we define it? In this lesson, students measure and compare the sweetness of different kinds of apples and some common artificial sweeteners.  They also discuss the role that our desire for sweetness may have played in the apple's proliferation and popularity.
View the lesson plan & video clips | Download PDF

Beauty: Patterns in Nature

People have long seen beauty in the geometric shapes and patterns found in tulips and other flowers. In this lesson, students will observe and categorize these shapes, and discuss how tulips, by appealing to our desire for beauty, have spread themselves around the world.
View the lesson plan & video clips | Download PDF

Intoxication: In the Arms of Morpheus

In this lesson, students will explore the history and use of mind-altering plants as well as the science behind them. They will learn about the molecular structures and physiological effects of several of the drugs derived from plants. The lesson provides an opportunity and a forum for students to consider the consequences of intoxication.
View the lesson plan & video clips | Download PDF

Control: Far Afield

This lesson prompts thought and discussion on controversial human efforts to alter plants, most recently by means of genetic engineering.  As we increasingly grow single crop varieties for food, are we jeopardizing the genetic diversity that's so critical to plant survival in the natural world?
View the lesson plan & video clips | Download PDF

Random House Teacher's Guide

The Botany of Desire lends itself well to a wide diversity of subjects. While its content is most specifically about ecology and the natural sciences, Pollan's ability to argue an original, complicated idea in a convincing way makes it a perfect text for writing or journalism students. Philosophy students will find a springboard for examining the place of humans in the natural world.
Reproduced from BOTANY OF DESIRE by Michael Pollan.
© 2002 by Michael Pollan. Reprinted with permission of the Random House Publishing Group.

Download PDF

A dream house in crisis times… and forever!

Today when to get a bank loan for a house seems to be almost unreal, it is good to know about other possibilities of building one`s own house with little money and much fun. A dream? Interestingly, no!

Apparently the best houses existed long ago, but along with industrialisation we lost this possibility to live in homes that would really make our life both comfortable and naturally enjoyable.

Let`s think why do we build square houses? A square form does not exist in the nature and in fact everybody hates corners :) Normally people try to put a plant or a piece of furniture in the corner in order to “round ” the place. You may suggest that obviously to built a square house is technically much easier than any other form. But this is not true!! Just see what a wonder exists on this Earth and that already for a long time:

A Cob House

What is cob? Cob is a building material composed of clay, sand, and straw. Cob has been a traditional building process for millennia, even in rainy and windy climates like the British Isles, where many cob buildings still serve as family homes after hundreds of years. Many old cob buildings can be found in Africa, the Middle East, Wales, Devon, Ireland, Cornwall, Brittany and some parts of the eastern United States.
A Cob Cottage might be the ultimate expression of ecological design, a structure attuned to its surroundings  like “an ecstatic house”. Cob (the word comes from an Old English root, meaning “lump”) is a mixture of non-toxic, recyclable, and often free materials. Building with cob requires no forms, no cement, and no machinery of any kind.

Isn`t is lovely? I would immediately move in!

What fascinates me about cob houses:
  • Cob is very durable and requires little upkeep. They say: ”It won’t burn, bugs won’t eat it, and it’s dirt cheap.” Additionally, it’s non-toxic, creates no waste, and requires minimal tools to construct.
  •  cob building is not about mud huts and primitivity. It is sophisticated technology to break free of the financial trap and general insanity of today’s wasteful McHouses.
  • Builders sculpt their structures by hand: Instead of creating uniform blocks to build with, cob is normally applied by hand in large gobs (or cobs) which can be tossed from one person to another during the building process.
  • It is amazing that literary everyone can built such a  house, with very little training  – and even children and elderly people can contribute as no heavy work is involved! The traditional way of mixing the clay/sand/straw is with the bare feet; for this reason, it is fairly labor intensive.
  • The building process is very meditative and working with clay has a healing effect (people report getting cured from allergies only by working on such a house because of such clay-therapy)
  • Apparently a small house can be built within one year at a coast of 5.000  (!) Dollars.
What I like the most about this idea is not only the natural origin and look of it, but also the possibility to create some rounded  furniture with my own hands! -it  feels expremely cosy and cute:

Another great point is that cob houses are not only compatible with their surroundings, they are their surroundings, literally rising up from the earth. They are full of light, energy-efficient, and cozy, with curved walls and built-in, whimsical touches.

Those who know me and my sophisiticated lifestyle will probably hardly belive I would go for building a cob house with my own hands, but I really would! I would probably decorate it in oriental/fairy style, and make a small design-wonder out of it…  But I will definetely built one, together with my family. And then … everyone`s invited! :)

And seriously, if things will get worse with that crisis, the idea of a cob house will apprear as a healthy and probably the only alternative!

Here are some good links to get inspired:

Monday, December 28, 2009

4 principle agendas to transform cities and towns

1) Toward an Architecture of Place - Public institutions such as museums, government buildings, libraries and others can become important anchors for civic activity in every city by assuming a broader role within the community and adapting and evolving their buildings to host a broader range of activities.

2) Building Community through Transportation - The planning and design of transportation networks and streets can be reshaped to encourage economic vitality, civic engagement, human health, and environmental sustainability, in addition to serving peoples' mobility needs.

3) Public Markets and Local Economies - Public markets and farmers markets not only create dynamic community gathering places, but they can spin off a myriad of other community benefits - from revitalizing downtowns, to bringing fresh, healthy food to low income neighborhoods, to creating new business opportunities for immigrant entrepreneurs.

4) Creating Public Multi-use Destinations - In the competitive globalizing economy, great cities are becoming defined more and more by their great public destinations-user friendly, lively squares, waterfronts, great commercial streets, markets or combinations of all of these. Placemaking provides the way for cities to redefine their vision around creating or enhancing these destinations.

Great public spaces require strong leadership groups that make the community vision a reality so that little by little, the public begins to "own" the space. 

Each of these articles tells a part of that story.

"The Biggest Little Park in the World" in Landscape Architecture magazine showcases Discovery Green in Houston, Texas, and builds the case for using a community based vision and program to determine how a space will be used before the design is developed. It also describes the critical role of management in evolving a place once it is built.

"Grand Designs" published in Green Places, a British publication of the Landscape Design Trust, begins with a brief exchange between PPS President Fred Kent and architect Frank Gehry at the Aspen Ideas Festival last summer about the role of iconic design in making good public spaces. But more importantly, the article tries to put forth a different approach to public space planning  not just with  buildings but also landscape design and transportation.

In an article written by  PPS itself in Urban Land entitled "Toward an Architecture of Place", we put forth a program for how architecture can be more effectively used to create places.

Finally we want to share  an article from Momentum Magazine, a bicycle advocacy publication, which discusses how streets can be used as public spaces.

The ways to begin moving toward an architecture that incorporates community, environmental stewardship, and a sense of place include the following:

-Move away from solely iconic solutions and toward a larger vision of an architecture of place.”

- Establish an entirely new field that encompasses design but is not defined exclusively by it—a field broader than architecture, urban planning, urban design, or community development, with a special emphasis on the skills needed to work with communities in creating streets, institutions, and public spaces that improve people’s lives. Within this context, iconic architecture could be a valuable asset, but not the exclusive focus.

- Ask basic questions about a building’s impact before the first sketch is made on any project, large or small, such as the following: How will it generate vibrant public life? How will it honor its context in the community? How will it create a community place and draw on local assets—cultural, historic, social, and economic? How will it bring people together and enhance their lives?

In order to create great cities, attention must be focused on many levels of urban life: livability, local economies, community health, sustainability, civic engagement, and local self-reliance. Good architecture and design should be at the heart of these efforts. When all these goals are aligned, there can be a movement to repair the environment and improve living conditions.

12 minimalist ways to reduce your carbon footprint

In celebration of the Copenhagen conference on climate change, I thought I'd share some ideas in minimalism that can help you reduce your personal carbon footprint.

As I've said before, minimalism is a great way to step more lightly upon this earth. Consuming less is more important than buying green -- though I'd encourage you to do both.

So let's get straight to the tips:

1. Eat less. Wrote about this recently. Less food consumed means less resources used up and pollution used to create the food and get it to you.

2. Eat less meat. Worldwide, beef production contributes more to climate change than the entire transportation sector. Pork and chicken are also big contributors to pollution and carbon emissions, compared to plants.

3. Eat locally. Transporting food from where it's grown or raised to where it's processed and packaged, to your supermarket, has a high environmental cost. Eating locally not only greatly reduces that transportation cost but it supports local farmers instead of corporations. Look for local foods, in season, at farmer's markets near you, or at your supermarket or local health food store, or get involved with a CSA.

4. Drive less. Work from home or telecommute as much as possible. Combine errands to make fewer trips. Move to a place near work and all the things you need. Walk or bike more, or use public transit. It takes time to reduce your driving, but if you're conscious about it, you can make changes a little at a time. Also, you'll get healthier by walking or biking instead of driving.

5. Travel less. Airplane flights are a huge contributor to climate change. Travel less by doing teleconferences, taking vacations close to home, and rethinking your travel needs. I've traveled a couple times in the last couple of years, but before that it had been about 7 years without a flight.

6. Buy less. Buying a lot of things is wasteful. Each item requires a lot of resources and contributes hugely to climate change (see the True Cost of Stuff). So cut back on how much you buy. See if you can borrow an item, check out a book from a library, make what you have last longer, find innovative ways to repurpose what you already have or make an item yourself, or just do without. Many times you'll realize an item wasn't a necessary purchase and you don't miss it in your life.

7. Buy used. This avoids buying a new item and all the resources that go into creating and transporting it. It extends the life of something already bought. Look in thrift shops, consignment shops, used bookstores, eBay and Freecycle. Often you'll find some really cool used stuff.

8. Have a smaller home. Obviously not a change you're going to make this week, but something you can think about for the long term. A smaller home takes fewer resources to create, and requires less power, water, heat, and thus fewer emissions. If you get rid of a lot of your stuff, and rethink your needs, you'll realize you need less space.

9. Use less power. Even without a smaller home, there are tons of ways to reduce power. Cool and heat your home less. Turn off lights, unplug appliances, hang dry clothes more often.

10. Use less water. Don't take long showers - get wet, turn off water, soap up, turn on water and rinse. Don't water your lawn, and wash your car less (or get rid of the car). Wash clothes less (wear them longer). Conserve water when you wash your hands or dishes.

11. Go paperless. Many offices and even homes use tons of paper, but most of it is unnecessary. Don't print stuff out if you can read it on the computer. File things digitally rather than in folders. Get bills and other documents sent electronically or online rather than via mail. Stop catalogs from being mailed to you. Read newspapers and magazines online rather than buying them. Stop sending faxes for goodness sake.

12. Go vegan. Not a completely necessary step, but one I recommend. Vegan food, contrary to what most people think, can be delicious and satisfying, and it's often healthier (less saturated fats, fewer calories, for example). Most especially, eating no meat or dairy or eggs means withdrawal from industries that are horrible for the environment, and horribly cruel to animals.

Working Together: School-Family-Community Partnerships

A Toolkit for New Mexico School Communities

This Toolkit is designed to support the development of school, family and community partnerships with the ultimate goal of helping all children and youth succeed in school and in life.

Click here to download a full introduction to the Working Together Toolkit

For Teachers and Administrators to strengthen, examine and reflect on their own family involvement practices as well as support strong partnerships between school, home and community.

For parents and community members to guide involvement and the strengthening of partnerships between school and home.

Training modules designed to provide opportunities for understanding the six types of parental involvement, meet challenges towards improvement, and link partnership activities to results.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Copenhagen Climate Exercise

The Copenhagen Climate Exercise is a role-playing climate simulation designed by MIT and Sustainability Institute that gives groups from 10-60 an experience of reaching a global agreement to mitigate climate change.
Developed and developing world delegates

Set up as a highly simplified "Copenhagen-2009-like" U.N. meeting, participants play the role of delegates from three regions of the world and work together to reach a global accord that meets the group's goal for CO2 levels. A ”UN Secretary General” receives pledges from three different "blocs", asks her or his technical staff to simulate them in the "C-ROADS" climate simulation (or its simpler version, "C-Learn"), and informs delegates of results, often sending them back for another round of debate, strategizing, and collaboration.

Exercises run from 1.5-3 hours.

Over the past year, Drew Jones of Sustainability Institute and John Sterman of MIT have run the policy exercise for European business leaders in Greenland, European Union government policymakers, oil executives, the US Forest Service, members of The Climate Group, and students at MIT and the University of North Carolina. The simulation debrief tends to cover multiple areas: international geo-political dynamics, the biogeochemistry of climate (oceans, plants, the carbon cycle, tipping points), cultural barriers to global agreements, managing hope and fear amidst an uncertain future, a "systems" perspective on complex issues, and the technological, legal, and behavioral changes that will help stabilize the climate.

Overall, we've seen the Copenhagen Climate Exercise help people quickly learn the policy-relevant science of climate change, viscerally experience the international dynamics, and succeed at crafting a solution to the challenges, while taking a realistic look at the scale of changes ahead as we shift to a low-carbon global economy.

 The Secretary General Addresses the Delegates

We are running this and other policy exercises in the areas of the UN negotiations and related executive-level strategy development exclusively via SI's and MIT's partnership with the Heinz Center and others as part of the Climate Action Initiative.
Current or potential leaders of the policy exercise can explore our extensive facilitator resources -- we share our slide decks, a facilitator manual, handout sheets, videos of an actual event etc.  Note -- effective delivery requires apprenticeship and practice.

For more information on the policy exercise, see the article on the CCE in MIT's Technology Review.  Read our blog entry on the exercise and its latest appearances. And watch the video of Dr. John Sterman and Kris Wile leading it.

The simulation model at the core of the CCE is called C-ROADS and has been created by Ventana Systems, Sustainability Institute, and MIT’s System Dynamics Group. More information may be found here.

The project blog has a recent explanation of the broader initiative (with MIT, Ventana Systems and others) of which CCE is a part.

Building on the example of the 1994 simulation-based, two party negotiation game Susclime, by Bert de Vries and Tom Fiddaman, this exercise emerged from the classrooms of Andrew Jones at UNC's Kenan Flagler Business School and John Sterman at the MIT Sloan School of Management in 2006. Its approach was then influenced by the Center for a New American Security's 2.5 day "Clout and Climate Change" War Game, by another negotiation exercise -- Climate Diplomat, by Craig Hart (whose materials are often used with CCE), Buckminster Fuller's World Game, and Dana Meadows' column, If the world were a village of 1000 people. The policy exercise has been adapted to meet different purposes and groups by Beth Sawin, Phil Rice, Peter Senge, Sherry Immediato, Chris Soderquist, Michael Goodman, Kim Warren, Kris Wile, and others.

Facilitator Resources

If you plan on running the Copenhagen Climate Exercise, you will find the following materials useful. You can find an annotated list of these materials here. The best place to start is to download and read through the "Facilitator's Guide."

The Facilitator's Guide will lead you through the general concepts of the CCE, the details of the context, the purpose of the exercise, time required and walk you through a version of the exercise. Read this document first. It amounts to the script of the exercise.

A flier format for advertising an event.

Here you will find the Facilitator's Slide Set, which contains background materials and instructions for the exercise participants, as well as slide sets from previous exercise events.

This spreadsheet allows you to easily determine for a given number of participants how to divide them into the different country groupings so they match the global demographics.

Here are three files, one each for the three negotiating blocs in the CCE: Developed Countries, Developing A Countries, and Developing B Countries. These are printed and handed out to participants.

There are multiple groups of participants in the exercise. Each participant group gets a different set of "briefing papers." This document contains instructions for how to distribute the documents to the participants.

This is handed out to participants as part of the briefing portion of the exercise.

This can be handed out to reinforce some of the ideas developed in the slides.

This is a pre- and post-exercise assessment for participants.

Here you can find videos of segments of the CCE live runs as examples of how the exercise has been done.

This is the 3-region version of C-ROADS which is the underlying climate model used to support the CCE. Instructions on its use are available under the "briefing" menu in C-Learn.