Thursday, October 9, 2014

Consumerism, Society & Our Ecological Future

We are at UTS to hear Tim Kasser, a visiting professor from Knox College in the US speak about our consumer culture.  I have never been obsessed with consumerism and I hate the frenzy of the end of year season when people seem to go hell bent on buying everything in sight.  The idea of voluntary simplicity intrigues me.  I know that I have often thought to myself that I was happiest when I was travelling the world with just the clothes I carried in my backpack.  I find simple living appealing and I have always wanted to share experiences rather than gifts.

Tim reminds us that after the 9/11 attacks, Bush encouraged the people of the US to go shopping so they could keep their economy growing.  This urging for people to go shopping and messages like “get down to Disney Land” eventually resulted in the US being severely affected by the Global Financial Crisis.  Surveys show there has been an exponential rise in students whose philosophy of life is to be very well off financially.  Unfortunately, results in increased social, personal and ecological costs.  Of course all of us are somewhat materialistic.  It is getting some balance in our lives that Tim is here to inspire us about.
Tim goes on to discuss the notion of eco-attitudes.  He explains that the more materialistic you are, the less concerned you are about the environment.  Your behaviour will result in a larger ecological footprint and your frequency of engaging in eco-behaviours such as re-cycling, using renewable energy sources, composting your waste or taking public transport will be less.  He further explains that our social attitudes will also be impacted by the degree of our materialistic behaviour.  We will have less empathy, we will have a higher racial and ethnic prejudice and we would be more predisposed to a social dominance orientation.  That is a predisposition to a ‘dog eat dog world’, someone would prefer a hierarchical social system than a more egalitarian one.

So what are the causes of materialism?  Often it is as a result of social modelling, where people strive to keep up with the trends promoted on TV and by their peers.  It comes from living in a neo liberal capitalist nation or one that promotes global capitalism at the expense of the public good, social services and exploitation of our natural resources.  Sometimes it is a result of having experienced poverty, a lack of love as a child or feeling confronted by your own mortality.  I find the co-relations quite revealing because I had never really thought about materialism quite like that.  He goes on to explain that less materialistic people would have more intrinsic values such as self acceptance, a sense of community and affiliation. 

Tim also discusses the idea of voluntary simplicity.  It is based on the fact that your lifestyle could be focussed on being “inwardly rich” rather than outwardly wealthy.  It is often associated with accepting a lower level of income and hence a lower level of consumption so that you can find more time to pursue more meaningful things in life.  The things you pursue will vary with each individual but will often include more time with those you love, reading, writing and other creative pursuits, contemplation, meditation, spiritual exploration, a greater focus on your community and sustainable living.  Duane Elgin has defined voluntary simplicity as “ a manner of living that is outwardly simple but inwardly rich…a deliberate choice to live with less in the belief that more life will be returned to us.”

Such a commitment is not about being judgemental of other people’s choices but rather deciding for yourself how much consumption is enough.  It also does not mean that you cut yourself off from society, that you reject the technological advances of today or that you become a monk.  I know from my own periods of living more simply that I have never felt such freedom or been happier.   A recent web article I read from the blog of the Simplicity Collective explains these concepts well.  See:

The blog also explains what Voluntary Simplicity is not.  It is not a glorification or romanticizing of poverty.  Poverty is extremely debilitating and the advocated of voluntary simplicity are not downplaying the plight of those who live lives of deprivation and starvation.  It is more about an empowering expression of freedom, of escaping the gilded cage and making a choice to live with fewer market commodities in the belief that this can result in a better world.

Finally Tim shares 3 thoughts.  He raises the point that even our environmental communication is couched in terms of money.  When advocating for an environmental project, we are encouraged to prove its worth in the terms of a business case, or through a benefit cost ratio rather than talk about the intrinsic values of the project.  The advertising we are bombarded with encourages us to be more materialistic and impacts our sense of wellbeing.  We need to think of alternative business models   
such as benefit co-ops that benefit the whole community rather than a conglomerate.

I come away from the lecture feeling inspired and having learnt a little more about the journey we are on.  I was glad we have made a positive step away from the work-buy-consume-die paradigm that is promoted in the world we live.  It is both a little scary and exciting to be on a journey where we are consciously seeking an alternative lifestyle.  One where we work less, consume less and focus on developing our creativity and our sense of well-being.  Finding time to do the things that we love is refreshing and rewarding.  We have also been reminded about the importance of pursuing intrinsic values—those that are inherently rewarding to pursue, rather than extrinsic values—those that are centred on external approval or rewards. Intrinsic values include social justice, creativity, self acceptance and connection with nature while extrinsic values include wealth, social status, prestige, material success and concern about image. They are not mutually exclusive but we have all of these values to varying degrees at various stages of our life.  I am reminded that my exhibition Fate or Destiny and the ideas I discussed there are also closely related to what we learnt today. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Vist to Narara Ecovillage

We are excited to finally find ourselves at the Narara Ecovillage.  Having visited and volunteered at so many ecovillages in Europe and Asia last year, it is great to find one we can identify with taking shape right on our doorstep.   Narara, in the Gosford Council area, is only an hour’s drive north from our home in Hornsby.  But what is an ecovllage?  Robert Gilman defines it as “ A human-scale, full-featured settlement in which human activities are harmlessly integrated into the natural world in a way that is supportive of healthy human development and can be successfully continued into the indefinite future.  An ecovillage can be constructed in both an urban and rural environment.  What we love about Narara is that it aims to appeal to mainstream Australia, creating a place that is appealing and sustainable, intergenerational and economically viable. 

The project at Narara was the dream of Lyndall Parris and her husband Dave.  A couple of years ago, this dream became a reality when they bid for the 100 year-old Gosford Horticultural Institute at Narara.  The chattering of birds accompanies us wherever we walk and we learn there are about a 100 different species of birds here.  A few hawks hover overhead as we walk up the hill to take in the breathtaking views of the bushland on the site that people in Stage 1 will enjoy.  Heritage buildings, a    Vegie beds and the fruit trees in the orchards are already hinting of the promise of this land for eventually achieving food security.  Just on the edges of the land is a pocket of rainforest with bunya pines that seemed to stretch up to the sky—a magical space to reconnect both with yourself and the natural environment. 

Dams, orchards, greenhouses, abandoned offices and heritage homes are all part of the property, so the potential to making this a thriving, vibrant, sustainable place for people to live is huge.

As we listen to a description of what Narara will offer by Toni, a resident here, we learn that all three elements sustainability—social, ecological and economic—are equally important elements in the vision for this model village.  I am excited to hear about their integrated water cycle approach and the fact they have a water supply on the site—a beautiful freshwater dam.  They will have state of the art systems for their black and grey water and also harvesting rainwater as needed.  Part of the site is a floodplain but they plan to use the area for agriculture rather than residential development which is a very sustainable use of such land.

They plan to have solar panels on buildings as well as a solar farm and treat their waste onsite.  Shared cars, a community bus, bikes and parking cars on the periphery of the property are other ideas   In addition, the site is within walking distance from the rail station.  So often we have found ecovillages situated in areas that are completely cut-off from existing infrastructure and towns, so it is exciting to realise the location of Narara is ideal.  
on the agenda.

They also have great ideas for local businesses from cafes and a supply shop to offices that people will be able to lease.  The sense of community has already been created and I get a great vibe from the group.  Yet, it is the human connections that are often hardest to solve.  We learn a little about the system of dynamic governance that they practice here which is different to a democratic process or that of consensus decision-making.  The idea of sociocracy is making sure everyone has a voice and is heard and that the decision that is reached is one that each person can live with. 

For both Steven and me, the current system of living in the suburbs is no longer working.  We are looking forward to living a more simpler life, making connections with like minded people, being resilient to the changes in life that are inevitable because of climate change, peak oil and other global   We want to live a life that has a smaller footprint but at this stage of our life we are also looking to be more mobile. To contribute our skills to far away communities, while living in these places temporarily.  It is exciting to find a community who are taking their destiny into their own hands, working together to achieve a more resilient future without looking toward government for all the solutions.  We have signed up to be part of this network and have already made connections with some of the people we met.  We are looking forward to learning and growing with this ecovillage that is just taking shape and watching the landscape be transformed by a group of thoughtful, motivate people who have made a conscious choice to live differently.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Brooklyn Community

After our author talk at Hornsby, we have been invited to Brooklyn to meet with the local community there.  They are keen for us to present ideas to the Brooklyn Community Association as Hornsby Council is currently involved in the preparation of a master plan for this village.  We are here to meet with a core group of concerned residents and to take a walk around the area to get a sense of the issues.

Brooklyn is an idyllic place, but perhaps a forgotten jewel in the crown of Hornsby Council.  It is a place with great potential given its location on the Hawkesbury River and adjacent bushland.  As Sydney develops, places like Brooklyn provide the space for people to get away from the city and enjoy the recreational sports that proximity to water and bush afford.

Brooklyn truly is a nature lovers paradise but with a number of issues that need resolving, one of which is parking.  The nearby car free Dangar Islanders catch the ferry at Brooklyn and use prime waterfront land to park their cars.  This is one of the issues that the locals here would like resolved so this land can be used more effectively for recreation but the available options are not all attractive to those that use the current parking, adjacent to the ferry.

We meet some of the locals as we walk around and end up back at the Red Fish Café for a coffee and wrap up.  The gallery is a great opportunity for local artist to showcase their work and I have been   We talk about the possibility of exhibiting in January and doing a combined author talk during the time it is here.
invited by Peter and Myff who run the space to bring my own exhibition Fate or Destiny down here.

It is a beautiful spring day and we enjoy some fish and chips before we head home, excited about the possibility of working with a local community.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Exhibition Travels to Wallsend District Library

My exhibition has now travelled up to the Wallsend District Gallery.  It will be here from 15th September to 25th October.  We have made a second trip up to meet with Carol Edmonds who runs the programs in the library to fix a date for our joint author talks and to view the exhibition.  The   We have fixed the date for Wednesday, October 22nd at 5.30 pm.  We are hoping to engage with Council planners and place makers as well as the University students next door.
gallery space in this building is great and we are excited to see it and to plan for our author talk here.

As we were in Newcastle, we met with an old friend of mine Kelly Mulhearn, who I had worked with more than 12 years ago, at Fairfield City Council.  We caught up for morning tea with her and two of her three children at their home.  It was great to reminisce about old times and hear her story and share ours.

We had lunch downtown in a nice café with a great vibe.  We walked around the downtown area and discovered that vacant spaces were also being used for pop ups by the Council here.  There was also a fair bit of street art around and we walked around enjoying the glorious sunshine on a wonderful spring day.  We head back, stopping for a cup of afternoon tea at Toronto, another lovely laid back Australian town on the East Coast.