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This is the time for our species to “Turn21”: to transition from adolescence to responsible adulthood as citizens of the planet. Turn21.org asks that you take the time to understand the human predicament, and on the 21st of every month help spread the word.

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Affordable Housing: The Environmental Crisis That Hits Too Close to Home

Last month, we rallied around the idea of using less stuff and working fewer hours.

Using less stuff is relatively easy. Letting go of excessive consumerism provides fairly instant gratification: your wallet grows fatter, experiences become richer, and time seems to multiply.

But working fewer hours? That can be more challenging, given the ever-increasing cost of living. Fortunately, there are many ways that we can live affordably while also advocating for housing as a human right:

We must champion a housing-for-all campaign.
No one who needs and wants shelter should have to go without—and no one should spend more than 33% of their income on housing. Earnings and expenses may be relative, but exceeding a third cannot be considered affordable. As we work to ensure housing security for everyone, let’s remember to Turn21 by insisting on green and net-zero construction.

We can build affordable housing.
Government agencies aren’t the only ones who can create change. Local citizens, through private organizations like Habitat for Humanity, are already working to create new affordable housing. We can establish new—and strengthen existing—local inclusionary zoning policies that mandate a percentage of new housing to be built affordable. We can demand that new affordable housing be distributed throughout the community, which not only creates a feeling of equality, it also helps thwart the stigma of being on the so-called right or wrong side of the tracks. However, it’s important to remember that new housing isn’t a magic pill: construction projects may move too slowly to make a real impact, available lots may not offer enough land, and critical water and sewer resources may be inadequate to support population increases.

We can convert existing properties into higher-density housing.
Sprawling, car-centric malls are becoming obsolete and rundown. Big-box stores that went bust are still gathering cobwebs. Foreclosed overly-large single-family homes languish in sparse neighborhoods. Making an effort to repurpose and “green” our existing infrastructure—and maintaining what we have—requires the lowest energy investment to see a positive return. This kind of transformation is already becoming a trend, and the oldest shopping mall in the U.S. has become micro-apartments.

We can consider moving to more-affordable areas.
When major cities and coastal hamlets become too pricey, one option may be for some people to relocate to lower-cost areas. It’s true that there may be unequal privilege when it comes to the employment, telecommuting, and financial stability required to move, and we must be aware of community reaction to a sudden influx of newcomers. However, as population growth, climate instability, and resource availability become increasingly volatile, relocating will likely become unavoidable. If nothing else, those of us who don’t necessarily need to live and work in the city can help alleviate housing-supply pressure by reducing demand for the limited amount that exists.

We can build smaller, more-affordable units. Tiny houses, small flats, and cozy cottages are all trending, and the sharing economy is making it unnecessary to own a home that will be mostly empty and unused. Voluntary simplicity and the streamlining of one’s lifestyle are increasingly favored over extravagantly large, stuff-filled properties. These smaller homes are naturally more affordable: not only do they require less time and fewer materials to build them, they also need less maintenance and fewer resources to heat and cool them.

We can buy housing for the purpose of protecting its affordability.
When communities publicly buy up housing stock in an area and create locked-in, deed-restricted affordable units, they’re able to ensure that young people can continue to live in the area in which they were raised—and that more people can live closer to where they work. If each municipality converted even a mere 10% of housing stock to permanently affordable housing, we could see incredible transformations for the better within our local communities.

Remember, as we move forward to a holistic solution, we need to make sure that we’re reducing or limiting the overall growth of the human population, which will ultimately help lower the cost of housing. The reason is simple: we still live in a world with an entire economic and life system predicated on a mathematical impossibility, one that assumes we can enjoy infinite and exponential growth by fueling it with finite, dwindling carbon resources.

Until we can reduce demand, we must work to provide housing to all people who need it—not only because it’s the morally correct thing to do, but also because it keeps us focused on working together to solve our big problems.

Working together, we’ve used science to put a man on the moon, and when called upon in times of scarcity, we’ve grown gardens to put food on the table. Our generation’s greatest challenge will be carbon reduction, and it’s time to help each other change the world—starting right in the comfort of our own home.

The Leisurely Revolution

What is growth? And is it good?

As with most things, growth is relative: some of it is very good, and some of it is, well, very bad. Growing our talents, skills, abilities, and knowledge—these are examples of good growth. But our economy, rooted in consumerism, too often promotes the pursuit of nonessential, single-use, throwaway items. This kind of growth is a mathematical formula for disaster.

This kind of carbon-based, perpetual-growth economy is not only unsustainable, it’s impossible. They say that something is going to give—but it’s already giving. We can either wait until it’s too late and let the inevitable math dictate our behavior, or we can step up and adopt lifestyle changes that help us walk to the beat of a new and better drum.

Let’s start by examining some important assumptions:

  • We must—and will, by choice or by natural selection—reduce the human population
  • We want to live in a state of abundance and peace
  • We know that there are billions of people without enough food, and many lack shelter
  • We see that the resource-heavy US lifestyle is untenable for the world population
  • We benefit from leisure time and opportunities to gain knowledge
  • We believe that it’s healthful to devote time to personal growth

The Industrial Revolution changed everything—but not always in the best way. We owe it to the labor unions and other workers’ rights activists, who fought hard to protect the working class by eliminating child labor, limiting the workweek to 40 hours, creating the concept of a weekend, and increasing workplace safety.

After all their effort, why does it seem like we’re working harder than ever before? Why, with the marvels of automation, are our basic needs harder to meet? Why are fewer “haves” continuing to benefit from unimaginable wealth, while the growing population of “have-nots” is struggling to do more with even less?

The answer to all these questions: the carbon economy is unraveling.

Solutions

We must redefine what it means to be human, and that starts by redefining our needs. Do we really need to rush around buying a lot of things during the holidays? Do we really need to always have the latest gadget or device?

The truth is that we can make do with less stuff. We can share more, buy less, and buy used. With less stuff comes less expense, with a wonderful byproduct of having more leisure time.

We can also work less. What if, instead of a 40-hour workweek, we worked 30 hours a week, or even 21 hours a week? There could be more available work for the unemployed and underemployed. There could be more time for self, community, and family, and more space for personal exploration.

We’re not naive—working less can be challenging to put into action, given how expensive housing and basic necessities have become—and we’ll explore this further next month. Nevertheless, it’s possible with the right trade-offs: instead of valuing having a lot of things, we can value having a lot of low- or no-cost experiences.

Others have already set good examples that we can follow. We can be like most Europeans and take more vacation time each year. Imagine if the world’s population were to spend three months each year to live lightly on the land. Fewer resources would be used, and more art and music would be created. We would talk more, use less energy, and find time to better connect with our fellow humans and Mother Nature.

Imagine this slower-paced life, one in which we aspire to grow in healthful ways—and have the freedom to do so. Would you trade all that superfluous stuff for a life of leisure, personal growth, and knowing that you’re a part of the solution?

Being a part of the solution is as simple as taking time off regularly and using fewer things. This seems like a plan that most people would love to get behind.

So hurry up and relax!

The Story of Solutions

The Story of Solutions, released in October 2013, explores how we can move our economy in a more sustainable and just direction, starting with orienting ourselves toward a new goal. In the current ‘Game of More’, we’re told to cheer a growing economy – more roads, more malls, more Stuff! – even though our health indicators are worsening, income inequality is growing and polar icecaps are melting. But what if we changed the point of the game? What if the goal of our economy wasn’t more, but better – better health, better jobs and a better chance to survive on the planet? Shouldn’t that be what winning means?

Learn more – http://storyofstuff.org/movies/the-story-of-solutions/

Outsourcing morality

We offer only a small thought or ‘re-framing’ this month.

One of the things the modern world has done is to outsource morality to the price system. Because we in the United States can afford to consume 22 barrels of oil a year per capita (plus natural gas, plus coal, plus our share of the fossil carbon inputs in products we import, minus a similar accounting for exports), we assume that it is okay. But it’s not okay: it’s deeply problematic.

We should be honest enough to acknowledge what is happening, even if there is no clear path available for slowing down the runaway train.

 

Coming of age

If you’re fond of English novels of a certain period, you may have encountered the theme of the young man who inherits property while still under the age of 21. Typically, he will not actually assume full control until his coming-of-age: the property itself will be managed by trustees, who will pay him the income while keeping the principal safe. (If the heir is a woman, all too often her property will remain in trust until she marries: sexism at work.)

On turning 21, the heir is supposed to be mature enough to have control of the property, but if he is prudent he will still hold fast to the maxim “Don’t spend principal.” The way to preserve a comfortable middle-class lifestyle is to live within one’s income.

Homo sapiens has inherited (or at least laid claim to) a huge store of carbon and hydrocarbons, the product of many million years of photosynthesis, reduced to concentrated form by geological forces. But we haven’t behaved like prudent heirs. We have squandered this wealth on current consumption that we should have been paying for out of our (solar) income.

It’s time to turn 21, or the last volume of the novel will be seriously depressing.

“Post-truth.”

In 2016, the use of that term spiked—so much so that the Oxford Dictionaries declared it a 2016 word of the year—and it was most commonly seen when describing current politics. “Post-truth” implies that truth is no longer relevant in politics, so our elected leaders no longer need to be held to a standard of truth.

This cynicism about politics is far from new, and hardly surprising in an unprecedented election cycle. Yet it’s disturbing to think that our government officials no longer feel compelled or expected to speak the truth—or worse, that their opinions and beliefs, however baseless, carry more weight and merit than fact.

We must hold government to a standard of truth.

Language is powerful. It matters that we have organizations monitoring current trends in language. By bringing “post-truth” conversations to light, “fake news” was exposed.

These days, we pick and choose our news from countless sources. This isn’t inherently bad. Being open to and learning about different perspectives can broaden our worldview and deepen empathy. However, those sources must be credible or we lose all potential benefit.

The temptation of “fake news” is real: It’s far more comfortable to validate and reinforce our current thinking than to read news that challenges what we assume to be real. We don’t have to go very far on the internet to find someone supporting any point of view, regardless of whether or not it’s true. The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirming one’s existing beliefs or theories is called “confirmation bias,” and it feeds on itself.

We must seek truth to overcome our confirmation bias.

The truth can be uncomfortable. Many people have reported having a physical reaction to current politics. In robotics, the idea of the “uncanny valley” refers to the negative emotional response that some observers experience when interacting with humanoid robots. If a robot looks like a machine, we don’t have a strong empathic response. The more human it looks, the stronger our interactions become. However, as it approaches true human likeness, there’s a point where it’s unsettling and we disconnect emotionally.

That is, the uncanny valley is that point at which things look incredibly real to us, but our instincts tell us otherwise. This can leave us feeling disoriented and even physically ill. The cure is simple: just look away. If today’s political scene is making us nauseated, then we need to turn it off—and find something better to look at. Try looking at how you can take local action for starters!

We must take action locally, where things are real.

Mitigating Oligarchy

Most global citizens are not revolutionaries, so how can we take power from the wealthy without spilling blood in the streets.

In today’s geo-political corporate capitalist world there’s little separation between wealth, power and governance. Global companies exert power and influence well beyond their market share writing legislation to be rubber stamped by politicians they helped place in office. Together they pillage resources from the commons and push the externalities of their profits on land, sea and air. Still these companies and their cronies are the economic engine that bring so many jobs to our communities. What can we do to mitigate the influence of ruling class?

Get involved in government!

First is to learn about your government and politics. You’ll want to know the key officials and how they came to power. Attend local council meetings. Stay informed on legislation and policy, and once you understand an issue, then it’s time to get involved. When you hear about a policy you don’t like reach out to the officials making that policy. Let them know you’re paying attention. When you see something you like – get behind it. You can share what you find with friends and family that might not yet understand the issues. If you’re lucky to find an issue you feel strongly about you can volunteer your time in support. Vote and encourage others to vote.

Make your strongest actions locally!

Think globally, act locally, is a common refrain and a reminder that our local efforts can have the biggest impact. At the local level citizens can meet their government officials face to face and influence policy. Community groups can form and tackle issues that government is unwilling or slow to act on. Just like retail corporations looking for the hottest trends in consumer spending, savvy politicians are tracking the marketplace of ideas. Successful city policies become state initiatives. Be vocal about policies you support.

Vote with your dollar every day!

Where and how you spend your money matters. Supporting locally owned companies keeps more of the money in your community. Use a local bank. Buy locally made products. When local products aren’t available, shop wisely as each dollar you spend is virtual “vote” for the company that made it. Another option is to buy less stuff. These are all market signals that influence future business decisions. 10 years ago organic food was a fringe category, now it’s the fastest growing segment of the food industry. This change in our food system was driven by consumer demand. Invest in the future with conscious spending.

Today is the 21st! It’s our day to take action toward a better future. Share a bit of what you think makes a better future with your community.


“More striking still, it appeared that, if the process of concentration goes on at the same rate, at the end of another century we shall have all American industry controlled by a dozen corporations and run by perhaps a hundred men. Put plainly, we are steering a steady course toward economic oligarchy, if we are not there already.”
~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

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