Peak Living

Peak oil is a term used to describe the point at which the rate of oil extraction/production reaches a maximum. After peak oil, the availability of cheap abundant energy will decline unless sufficient alternative energy sources are already in place. (Building resilience to a post-peak oil future is one of the motivations for the Transition Town movement).

As depletion of existing oil sources pushes up the price of oil, the extraction of unconventional sources becomes economically viable. This process will delay peak oil, but it cannot continue indefinitely because a finite planet must contain a finite supply of fossil fuels.

And although the discussion around peak oil typically focuses on the availability (or economic viability) of conventional oil and alternative energy sources, it’s important to emphasise that we cannot burn all of the known fossil fuel reserves without committing to catastrophic climate change. If we burn [the fossil fuels], we burn [the planet].

Much of our current lifestyle relies heavily on the abundance of cheap fossil fuels, so a decline in the availability or usability of conventional oil is clearly a concern. But the concept of peak supply doesn’t just apply to oil. Any resource that is available in a finite quantity on Earth will reach peak production — and if we continue with our reckless use of the earth’s resources, this includes recyclable or naturally regenerating resources like metals, freshwater or soil.

Global prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria may mean we’ve also reached “peak antibiotics”. The increasingly common occurrence of antimicrobial resistance means that common infections will become untreatable. Many New Zealand scientists have provided suggestions for action to delay the move towards a post-antibiotic world, including judicious use of the antibiotics that still work (e.g. not using antibiotics for infections that are likely to be viral), avoiding everyday household products that contain antimicrobial chemicals such as triclosan and triclorban, and eliminating antibiotics in animal feed.

Reading about the threat of antibiotic resistance got me thinking: Have we in the modern western world reached Peak Standard-of-Living? The past century has been characterised by an abundance of cheap fossil fuel-based energy and considerable advances in medical science and healthcare, leading to explosive economic and population growth. In a future without the same access to cheap energy it seems impossible for us to maintain a standard of living that relies so heavily on consuming energy and materials. And in a future without effective antibiotics, death rates from previously treatable infections are likely to skyrocket.

I’m not entirely pessimistic though. In a future where economic growth is constrained by the high cost of scarce energy and materials, we cannot afford to work so hard and we’ll have more time to spend with family and friends, doing things we enjoy and find satisfying. We may experience a decrease in standard of living, but we have the opportunity to increase our quality of life, and that, I suspect, is far more valuable to our perception and enjoyment of life.

The most addictive thing I’ve ever done

I spent the past weekend at an amazing blues dance workshop taught by Lucky Skillen and hosted by Swing Out Central. Spending a whole weekend dancing is such an intense way to learn, and it gave me a huge boost to my confidence, skills and understanding of blues.

The workshop also left me craving more. On Sunday evening at the social wind-down, despite my aching calves and exhausted body, I just did not want to stop dancing! I believe partner dancing is incredibly addictive and incredibly good for you because the combination of listening to music, physical exercise and human touch triggers your brain/body to release feel-good hormones like oxytocin, endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. Some of the many benefits of these chemicals include pain relief, better immune function, feeling happy and increased empathy.

If everybody would dance there would be no war

— Dawn Hampton

Lucky finished the weekend with “micro-blues” workshop. The simplest way to describe micro-blues is this: We hugged! Of course, there was a lot more to it than that. We started by adjusting our breathing to follow the music (when we were leading) or our partner’s breath (when we were following), then gradually added in very small/slow movements.

Here’s the interesting thing about micro-blues. One would normally expect spending 5 minutes hugging a near-stranger to feel exceedingly awkward. Instead the experience was soothing and meditative. Because we had our eyes shut and our attention focused on the music and the subtle movements of our partner’s body, we were able to reap the benefits of human touch without feeling our normal apprehension about prolonged touch.

So if you’ve never tried partner dancing before, give it a go! I’m a big fan of blues and lindy hop, but any partner dancing involves music, exercise and touch, and will give you the same sort of benefits I’ve described here.

 

A Low-Impact Guide to Christmas Presents

It’s December already, which means Christmas is just around the corner! My childhood love for Christmas has remained intact into adulthood — I love spending time with family, delicious seasonal food, summer holidays by the beach, and even Christmas carols. I also love the excitement of unwrapping gifts, but I don’t love the needless waste that comes with Christmas gift-giving. (Note that gift vouchers are part of this waste. They may provide a bit more choice to the giftee, but ultimately they’re still enforcing the idea that we have to buy more stuff, and typically come from big chain stores rather than local independent retailers).

It started five years ago when I moved out of home for the first time. I had to pack and move boxes upon boxes of accumulated belongings, much of which had been given to me by other people. I’ve moved to a different flat every year since then, and each time I move I think “oh hell, I have so much stuff!

After the first big move, I sent out an email to my aunts, uncles and grandparents requesting that they don’t give me any Christmas presents. I explained that I just don’t need the extra stuff, and if they felt the need to spend money I’d rather it went to a good cause like Oxfam Unwrapped. I’m glad to say that every Christmas since then I’ve received a variety of charity gift cards from my extended family, and no presents more physical than chocolate (and who can say no to chocolate!)

I like to think my request benefited my family too. By letting them spend less time and energy on shopping, they have more time to spend doing other things.

So here are some ideas for reducing the amount of stuff you give this Christmas:

  1. Charity gifts let your money go to those in need. There are plenty of options available, such as Oxfam Unwrapped, Unicef Survival Gifts, CWS Gifted, Greenpeace Giving, Heifer International, WWF Adopt an Animal, and SPCA Give some TLC. If none of these appeal, you can make a donation to any charity of your choice and create your own card telling the recipient which great cause their gift is supporting.
  2. Give the gift of time. For example, you could offer to help with housework, gardening or babysitting, cook them a meal, take them out for a dinner or coffee date, or buy tickets to see a movie, play, comedy show, concert or other event.
  3. Food can be enjoyed once, then it’s gone and doesn’t sit around cluttering up your home. Bonus points if it’s homemade — my partner’s ginger-bread houses went down a treat last year!
  4. Bath products are consumables like food, but use this option with caution: I’ve always struggled to use up all the body washes and moisturisers that I receive so they end up being clutter anyway. You also have to watch out for the nasty chemicals that many products contain, and be aware that many people have sensitive skin.
  5. Ask them what they really need — this is something my immediate family always does and it works well for us, but it takes away the element of surprise so not everyone will appreciate it.

If you can’t move past the idea of giving a lasting physical object, then consider buying something that will have a positive impact on the world. Think fair trade or locally made; carbon neutral; cruelty free; second hand, recycled or upcycled; organically grown; minimally packaged; reusable and built to last; or home made. Great places to start looking include Trade Aid, ecostore, Huckleberry FarmsRed Cross or Mercy Hospice Shops. Or choose a gift that can provide hours of entertainment and social fun, like a board game or a ukulele for indoorsy types, or a soccer ball or frisbee for sporty types.

On the other hand, you could make a joint decision with your family to not give presents at all, and instead appreciate the time spent with loved ones at Christmas. However, I am hesitant to suggest moving away from gift-giving altogether, and not just because I enjoy unwrapping presents! Giving can have personal and social benefits. At a personal level, the Sovereign Wellbeing Index notes that “giving money away tends to make people happier than spending it on themselves.” And many cultures see gift-giving as an integral part of forming and strengthening social bonds. For example, New Zealand historian and author Michael King wrote in Nga Iwi O Te Motu that in Māori culture “aroha and mana gave status to distribution, not to accumulation.” In other words, you would gain prestige and affection from your community by sharing your wealth instead of hoarding it. Perhaps, then, the best way forward is to reorient our modern gift-giving practices to focus on sharing not shopping.

Gratitudes

This week I am grateful for …

  • Being physically active: I’ve only gone to the gym three times since joining, but I’m already starting to feel less stiff at the end of a long day sitting at work.
  • Healthy eating: My meals this week have featured quite a few salads. It feels good to eat such light and tasty fare.
  • Exercising different parts of my brain at work: I was asked to perform a simple kinematics calculation, something that I haven’t done in years! Thankfully, google came to the rescue.
  • Playing ukulele: We learned several jaunty strumming patterns at my ukulele beginners class this week, and it made playing along so much more fun than the basic strums we started with a few weeks ago.
  • Summer’s approach: Auckland is having typically fickle spring weather, but I’m making the most of the warm mornings and bursts of sunshine throughout the day.

What are you grateful for?

Gratitudes

Taking note of the things you appreciate in life is great for well-being, as I previously mentioned here.

This week I am thankful for:

  • Meetings: I know a lot of people hate work meetings, but I always appreciate the chance to spend time away from my computer while doing something that still contributes to my work.
  • Blogs: All the beautiful, insightful, inspiring and informative blog posts that help restore my confidence and faith in the world.
  • Friends: The generosity and excitement of my friends when we’re discussing wedding plans.
  • Parents: Having long problem-solving conversations with my mum.
  • Cleaning: The satisfaction of wiping away dust and dirt, leaving behind a clean surface.
  • Proximity: Chance encounters with friends and family who live and work nearby.
  • Compassion: Giving myself the time I need to rest and recover.
  • Movement: Starting a new exercise program, and the optimism that gives me for my future.

What are you grateful for this week?

 

Self care is stepping away from the computer

I made it through nine days of NaBloPoMo. Then I decided to call it quits.

The truth is, I was really enjoying the opportunity to write every day. But at the same time, I value my time away from the computer too. I spend all day on a computer at work, and I’m aware that giving my body the chance to do something different during my time off is important for my physical well-being.

I usually set aside a few nights each week as computer-free time. I thought I could get away with stopping this practice for a month, but I came to the realisation that spending every evening online just doesn’t working for me right now. And writing about well-being while ignoring my own is more than a little hypocritical!

Having said that, I will continue to write and post each week. I may be bowing out of NaBloPoMo, but I certainly have plenty more I’d like to share over the next weeks and months.

And for now…

Time to get fit

Being active is a key part of looking after your well-being (although I hope that isn’t news to anyone).

Not only does exercise improve your physical health, it also makes you happy, improves your memory and cognitive performance, reduces stress, gives you energy, helps you relax, boosts your libido and increases your creativity.*

In the last year my life has been so full to the brim — initially with writing a thesis, then later with work, socialising, moving house, etc. — that I’ve left little time for exercise in my busy schedule. As a result, I’m probably the least fit that I’ve ever been, and I’m very aware I need to change that.

(I’m also the fattest I’ve ever been, which, by any reasonable definition of the word, is still not fat at all. I only mention this because it’s something people seem to relate to. Whenever I comment on my desire to exercise more, people respond with “But you’re already skinny enough!” And I’ll  sigh, because yet another person has equated my statement that “I need the exercise [because my cardiovascular fitness is appalling and my muscle strength is pathetic]” with “I think I’m fat and want to lose weight.” I can understand the confusion. We’re constantly bombarded with messages about body image and weight loss, and even weight loss for the sake of cardiovascular health, but the under-appreciated truth is that cardiovascular exercise is also good for your mental and physical health in its own right.)

But I digress. I’ve finally gotten around to doing something about my lack of exercise: I joined a gym. Now I just have to schedule gym attendance into my calendar and make sure I actually go — that’s the difficult part!

*References:
http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389
http://greatist.com/fitness/13-awesome-mental-health-benefits-exercise

Gratitudes

Cultivating a sense of gratitude is widely acknowledged to be good for us, and many well-being advocates suggest regularly taking note of what you are grateful or thankful for.

I’ve been making daily gratitude lists on and off for several years now (although I must admit my “gratitude” lists tend to have a broader focus, encompassing things that I’ve enjoyed and that have made me happy, as well as things that I am thankful for), and I’ve found it’s a particularly useful practice for getting me in a good frame of mind before bed.

Going forward, I plan to share my favourite gratitudes from during the week on this blog. Some of the things I’m grateful for will be big, important things; others will be silly little things. I can warn you in advance that there will be repetition! I am invariably grateful for sunny days, ocean views, and the love of those around me.

So, what am I grateful for this week?

  • Learning that two of my favourite bands will be touring Down Under next year
  • Being forced to put life on pause so that I could rest when I got sick
  • Warmer spring weather that lets me go outside without a jacket
  • Treating myself to chai lattes and hot chocolates
  • Finally getting the motivation I need to start writing regularly!

What are you grateful for this week?

You are stronger than you know

Some days are harder than others. Just getting out of bed is a struggle, and the thought of stepping outside the house makes your soul retreat into the dark and curl in on itself like a baby hedgehog.

But still, you have your obligations: work and family, housekeeping and that damn ukulele course you signed up for. And so you get on with things.

You survive the day at work, making sure to take your lunch break outside in the sunshine where office workers are lounging on the fresh spring grass.

On the way home you’re irritated by the jazz buskers outside the corner bar; nevertheless, you’re grateful that they’re there injecting some life into the city.

You drag yourself along to that ukulele course – and guess what: you have a blast! Even missing your bus home turns out to be fortuitous; while waiting for the next bus you enjoy the most amazing mug of hot chocolate you’ve ever had. It’s decadently frothy and heaped high with fresh chocolate shavings. Delicious.

So do not forget, even on the hardest days the little things will make you smile if you let them. You are stronger than you know.

A brief history of my blogging motivations

By way of (further) introduction, I’d like to regale you with a brief history of my life as it relates to my desire to write…

I’ve always been vaguely interested in the environment. As a child, that interest manifested itself in a wishy-washy, disconnected urbaner sort of way — nature is good, man-made is bad, but god forbid anyone makes me actually go outside.

Around the time I started university, my idealistic brother prompted our family to start buying organic food and eco-friendly household products. It was my first step on a road to a more sustainable lifestyle.

But the moment of truth came a couple of years later when I read Jared Diamond’s Collapse. His book shocked me into the realisation that humanity was in trouble, and we were in trouble now. Published in 2005, Collapse describes the effects of resource scarcity on past civilisations*, followed by a review of the current state of the Earth and the warning that in about ten years we would globally be reaching the point of resource depletion-induced civilisation collapse. That was nine years ago.

Since then, I’ve gradually been educating myself on the problems facing us and exploring some of the solutions available to to help us live more sustainably. And, to be honest, I’m driven much less by a desire to “save the environment” than by a desire to escape the awful life of conflict and hardship foretold by Diamond. The earth will be fine**; it’s us humans that will suffer if we don’t change something soon.

Despite my growing sense of urgency, I was never quite sure how to take environmental action beyond making changes in my personal consumption patterns. I’ve always enjoyed reading and writing, and somewhere along the lines I considered starting a blog to share information on sustainability. The Green Lips was founded a few years ago but I never gained the momentum necessary to really do anything with it at the time.

When I finished my undergraduate studies I made the decision to go on to a PhD in a healthcare related field. However, sustainable living remained my true passion, which meant the PhD was both a blessing and a curse. Being a postgrad student gave me the flexibility to continue exploring environmental issues and solutions, but it also gave me a huge responsibility — that of finishing a PhD…

I spent much of the past year focused solely on writing my thesis and completing the remaining requirements of my PhD. By the time I’d finished, I was broken, with little energy or passion for anything that had interested me before — including sustainability.

It was at this point that I began encountering messages describing the important connection between caring for oneself and caring for the world around us. For, as I had learned first hand, how can you be an activist for positive change when you don’t feel positive about anything?

As the old adage goes, time is a great healer, and I’ve gradually regained a sense of purpose. I’ve already described the new direction I plan to take with this blog. I hope that as I progress, you too will understand the connection between the seemingly disparate topics I may cover: climate change and self love, composting and women’s rights, peak oil and resilience, recycling and home.

 

* A quick summary: It’s conflict and death all round, folks!
** Although many species and ecosystems certainly won’t survive.