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Reprinted from Grist in it’s entirety:

Hey, remember the woman threatened with 93 days in jail for growing a garden in her front yard? She could have a cellmate! Dirk Becker of Lantzville, British Columbia turned his scraped-dry gravel pit of a property into a thriving organic farm, so of course he’s facing six months of jail time. Why? Well, the thing is, this farm was full of DIRT. You can’t have dirt in a yard! It’s unsanitary.

The Beckers were cited under Lantzville’s “unsightly premises” bylaw, for having piles of dirt and manure on the property. As the Beckers wryly point out, the letter came on the same day that 8,000 compost bins were distributed to residents in their region. So, to recap: Gravel pit: not unsightly. Beautiful farm with dirt in it: unsightly. Fertilizer in bin in kitchen: civic responsibility. Fertilizer actually out fertilizing: filth!

As it turns out, Lantzville has a bylaw that residentially zoned plots can’t grow food at all — even the no-dirt kind! — whether or not they’re farming commercially. The Beckers’ 2.5-acre property is zoned as residential, so they essentially are not allowed to eat anything that comes out of their garden. Ah, local government, always improving lives.

There’s a particular ironic wrinkle in Becker’s case:

This issue impacts all of us on Vancouver Island. Many of you are aware that only 5% of our food supply is grown on Vancouver Island, thus 95% is imported. It may shock you to know that there is only two days fresh food supply on Vancouver Island. That means, any disruption in ferry service, trucking or problems at the US border (75% of BC’s food comes from California) would have a dramatic and immediate effect on our food supply.

In other words, these garden-hampering bylaws are a terrible idea for more than just the usual reasons. In the event of even a minor emergency, a law-abiding Lantzville could be starved out with a quickness.

This case has been dragging on since 2010.

We each create or confront deceptions of varying magnitudes almost everyday of our lives. Whether it’s an advertisement, a fantasy story, a padded bra, or even just hopeful thinking, things that can’t quite be classified as truth surround us. Which begs the question, is fiction necessarily malevolent? Can it possibly be harmless or even useful?

Personally, I feel a strong physical reaction when thinking about the concept of dishonesty. My body tells me it is unequivocally a bad thing. So it’s a challenge for my head to consider the idea openly and candidly. Never the less, it seems a worthy endeavor given the ubiquitous presence of this grey area.

This is where artists have a vital role to play. Creativity allows some freedom with accuracy. Exploring and interpreting things through art offers the creator a chance to face the truth and fiction of reality without the constraints most of us feel. This is the arena where fiction, which is inherently dishonest no matter how thoughtful or sincere, is clearly useful. It makes for entertainment, drama, excitement, passion, adventure and fantasy. It gives the imagination sovereignty and the freedom to roam. It is easy to love fiction in the art world.

How about the real world? Can we embrace dishonesty through our choices while abhorring it in our minds and hearts? What does this internal opposition translate to for our health and wellbeing? Should we simply embrace the minor dishonesties or is that a slippery slope toward pathology? Things become even more perplexing when you consider that wishful thinking, optimism, hopes and dreams are all concepts that live outside of the truth category.

They are somewhere between. Not exactly true yet, but not a lie. It’s the definition of grey. Are leaders being dishonest when they set high standards of achievement for themselves and their charges? Is charting new territory dishonest?

In asking all these questions, it may seem like I am setting you up for some answers. Alas, I have none. My opinion is that fiction can be a useful way of examining the truth and teasing it out of the deceptions that surround it. Almost any of these subtle dishonesties represent works of imagination. Visioning or dreaming is, in my view, an essential step to actualizing anything and so could never be a bad thing regardless of its relative “truth”.

Ian Leslie in the Economist:

There is a gushing river of verbal creativity in the normal human mind, from which both artistic invention and lying are drawn. We are born storytellers, spinning narrative out of our experience and imagination, straining against the leash that keeps us tethered to reality. This is a wonderful thing; it is what gives us our ability to conceive of alternative futures and different worlds.

There are currently 104 commercial nuclear power reactors operating in the US at 65 separate locations.

That puts One in Three citizens with 50 miles of a nuclear power plant. Which means, you should probably take the time to find out A) whether that means you and then B) what it means to you.

Given what the world is witnessing with the still unfolding disaster at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan, it would be prudent for all of us to understand just a little bit more about the risks and rewards of the energy source that provides about 20% of our power in the US. Whether or not you live in proximity to a plant seems like as good a place to start as any. MSNBC has a fantastic roll over map which should help you answer question number one pretty easily.

Here’s where it gets a little tricky. What are you going to do about it?

I personally live in The Zone. Vermont Yankee, a virtual replica of Fukushima, is my neighbor to the north. One of the more vulnerable designs and aging rapidly to boot, this is a potentially risky situation. I already know I won’t be moving anytime soon. So where does that leave me?

Step One: Education. I start by going through the information I’ve encountered previously, searching for sources and individuals that can tell me more about Yankee or just point me in the right direction. This takes little more than a few rounds on Google. My goals were to learn about this plant in particular, general history of the industry (a la Wikipedia or the like), and the work already in progress among activists about Yankee itself.

At this point, I draw (at least) one conclusion which is that I personally would be much happier if the world did not generate power from nuclear reactions. To me, the risks far outweigh the benefits, not to mention the many other less dangerous ways of generating power available. So I decide that I would feel more secure knowing the Vermont Yankee had a plan to shut down at some point. After all, none of these plants can operate indefinitely, especially not when they insist on adding output from time to time effectively wearing out the mechanics faster.  It’s really only a matter of whether they shut themselves down or melt down.

Step Two: Action. Even trickier than the education phase for me personally. I never relish coming between an industry and their profits. Safely behind my computer, yelling into the abyss of the internet is one thing, linking arms to barricade a power plant is quite another! Besides which, my personal belief in the Net Positive philosophy leads me to believe that resistance is more effective when it’s not made of the same stuff as that against which it struggles.

So no grand gestures or angry mobs for me. At least not for now.

I resolve to find a way to be part of the solution. Increasing awareness among my neighbors, supporting the awareness raising efforts of others, calling for the plant to adopt a safe plan for decommissioning, and avoiding complacency by continually seeking new ways to contribute. My hope is that all of this will one day lead to:

Step Three: Resolution. Which might look something like this: An educated and aware citizenry marshaling their demands into a strength-in-numbers campaign to safely bring the age of nuclear power to an end through a three-fold approach. Demanding a moratorium on new permits and construction, Creating a workable and fair protocol for decommissioning the plants already in existence and Advocating at the Community and State level for the adoption of renewable power incentives which will both work to displace the lost power generation and create jobs to absorb the displaced workforce.

Maybe that’s an overly optimistic, pie-in-the-sky scenario, but we’ve revolutionized the way we do things before and I’m pretty sure we’ll do it again at some point. In fact I was witness to one such revolution two nights ago at my local town meeting. A special meeting was called to vote on a “Green Town” initiative put forth by our state. Towns agreeing to certain levels of energy efficiency in new constructions would be awarded a lump sum of cash (funded by corporate carbon payments and not tax dollars) to be used for updating efficiency throughout public town property. It’s a fledgling win-win policy being tested in a handful of states.

I was filled with pride listening to the honest and thoughtful discourse among my neighbors. There were so many bright and informed people around me empathetically assuaging the concerns of the folks who feared the initiative would cost them financially. In the end we got a majority and passed the measure! We’re a rural, small town full of quintessential Americans, hard-working people with very little free time to spend on “luxuries” like being an environmentalist. Yet, like several of our neighboring towns, clear heads prevailed, democracy worked, and we got one step closer to a healthy and just world.

Johnathan Franzen delivered the commencement address at Kenyon College this year. It was a profound meditation on our relationship to the technological world of our own invention. Almost a Dr. Frankenstein and his monster story, Franzen shines a light on our near-romantic levels of fixation on gadgets and internet alter-egos. The harshness of his condemnation is tempered considerably by the dispassionate accuracy of his assertions.

Somehow Franzen manages to blend spot on critique of the narcissistic nature of a lot of social media:

We click the mouse and a machine confirms our sense of mastery. And, since our technology is really just an extension of ourselves, we don’t have to have contempt for its manipulability in the way we might with actual people. It’s all one big endless loop. We like the mirror and the mirror likes us. To friend a person is merely to include the person in our private hall of flattering mirrors.

With breathtakingly frank observations about fear, pain and love

When you consider the alternative — an anesthetized dream of self-sufficiency, abetted by technology — pain emerges as the natural product and natural indicator of being alive in a resistant world. To go through a life painlessly is to have not lived.

The speech is one of the most thought-provoking investigations into the ramifications of our techno-universe and beyond that I have personally encountered. Every word should be read, savored and possibly read again. As much as I’d like to insert the whole thing here, clinking a link hopefully won’t prove so great a hurdle that you’ll deprive yourself of his brilliance. Franzen adapted his speech into an essay published in the New york Times OpEd pages last month. Do yourself a favor and find a way to follow that link.

If you dedicate your existence to being likable, however, and if you adopt whatever cool persona is necessary to make it happen, it suggests that you’ve despaired of being loved for who you really are.

 

 

 

The economic outlook in a nutshell, by Dimitri Orlov:

Zombie financial institutions, bloated with loans which have gone bad due to a dwindling resource base and a shrinking physical economy, are gorging themselves on free government money, while the governments cannot stop throwing bags of money into their gaping maws for fear of being eaten alive.

 

So brilliant, So true, So tragic

 

 

Shaun Chamberlain, the Brit with the best darn title for a post-industrial blog on the whole darn internet, Dark Optimism, has an important reminder for anyone who thinks that sitting this one out is an option.

We cannot not change the world, whatever any of us choose to do. And as we change it, it changes us. And as it changes us, we change it. We Are All Activists.

Since there’s clearly no use in avoiding it, we might as well examine the options and get proactive with our activism. So here’s Dimitri Orlov on the roads most often traveled to “change”:

Any reform of a complex system, such as our existing one, involves further investment in social complexity through a wide variety of costly initiatives. And here’s the problem: there is no longer either the money or the energy for such initiatives. The default is to just let it collapse, but such an outlook, perfectly reasonable though it is, is generally not regarded as optimistic enough.

During the sustainability movement of the 1970s, optimistic, reform-minded expositions seemed useful; now they are starting to seem like compulsive anxiety coping behaviors: knock three times on wood, throw a pinch of salt over the left shoulder, mention sustainability and renewables.

So where does this leave us? I agree with Orlov on both counts. None of those approaches, incremental change without systemic change, nihilism or blind faith, seem to be producing any results.

If you do believe that there is something decidedly off about our system, what are you supposed to do about it. Emotional responses like fist pounding, ranting and chanting, are often unavoidable, and equally unproductive.

The Net Positive path offers up “Forced Obsolescence” as a profoundly simple yet effective alternative. The idea is to find ways to just Go Around the flailing behemoth of the terminally ill Industrialized-Globalized model of society. Leave them behind as you transition your own life without “asking permission” by wasting time on policy change.

The major problem with expending your energy working for policy change, is that it requires a fair and functional democracy to have an impact or even happen. Between campaigns that cost a billion dollars, $3.5 billion in lobbying last year alone, problematic electronic voting machines, corporations considered people under the law that use cash as their “free speech”, and a disinterested, anesthetized populous, democracy is becoming a fading memory at all but the most local level in this country.

Therein lies the problem and the solution. We still have our local communities, bastions of resilience in a world run amok. It is here that we can take our stand and walk right past the corporatocracy. It will require an open mind, a willingness to see change as a scenario where things improve rather than one of loss. It will require us to back away from our screens once in a while and actually interact with each other, on the ground, in the flesh, at the town hall or the farmers market. Forced Obsolescence means voluntarily relinquishing our addictions to the unsustainable outputs of our industrialized production model in order to make them disappear.

But we won’t even really see them disappear. We’ll already be facing forward, partnering with each other, walking into the human-scale future of our own design. We’ve done it before!

Take the “vote-with-your-$$” to the next level and vote with your life. And don’t waste too much time worrying about whether your own little choices in your own little life really even matter to the giant problems of the world. Not only are they effective, they are the only thing in the world you can actually control.

Sometimes it’s a lot easier to oppose injustice by signing a petition, screaming your head off at a rally, or otherwise bemoaning the horrible atrocities perpetrated by banks, corporations and governments every day than it is to change something, anything in your own life.

Don’t forget that there is no such thing as a passive, Net Neutral life. Every activity equates to an energy transaction with the world at large. Your very existence has an effect on the world whether you agree or not. So if you’re not helping the situation, you are by definition hurting it. It is the height of hypocrisy to practice arm-chair activism, preach to your friends and whine to your lover if you’re not willing to stop contributing to injustice with your own lifestyle choices. But if you’re not willing to translate your feelings, values, hopes and fears into actions, you need to question whether they really truly matter to you at all.

Thanks Iceland!

“I believe this is the first time a constitution is being drafted basically on the internet,” said Thorvaldur Gylfason, member of Iceland’s constitutional council.

The tiny island nation who was hit so hard in 2008 is using adversity to create opportunity. They are re-drafting their Constitution. And when I say they, I literally mean the people of Iceland themselves.

Using every social media outlet imaginable, from a youtube channel chronicling each discussion to a facebook forum and even a flicker account with photos of the representatives in action, the government has created maximum transparency and participation from their constituents. The people themselves have actually created the documents themselves, and what’s more

If the committee has its way the draft bill, due to be ready at the end of July, will be put to a referendum without any changes imposed by parliament – so it will genuinely be a document by the people, for the people.

Mob Rule at its best!

Photo: fotothing.com

Former Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt has something very important to say…to President Obama. He delivered a rally cry from the National Press Club podium on Wednesday challenging the President to stand up to the radically anti-environmental policy dominating The Congress these days, while also managing to offer actionable solutions. His speech is so powerful and so constructive it’s really worth a read in its entirety. It’s all too rare to hear this level of candor and actual information from the mouth of a politician these days. Here’s an excerpt of some of the juicy bits!

More than a hundred years ago, Rep. John Lacey (R-Iowa), made this observation: “The immensity of man’s power to destroy imposes a responsibility to preserve.”

It is now more than ten years since I left public office. I am returning to the public stage today because I believe that this Congress, in its assaults on our environment, has embarked on the most radical course in our history. Congress, led by the House of Representatives, has declared war on our land, water and natural resources. And it is time for those of us who support our conservation tradition to raise our voices on behalf of the American people.

As these attacks escalate the urgent question for those of us who support and advocate for our conservation tradition is how to respond.

One alternative is to lie low, hoping that this storm will soon pass by without too much lasting damage.

Failure to respond, however, is a form of appeasement that has not worked in the past and it will not work this time. Our adversaries prefer to operate in the shadows, outside the sunshine generated by public knowledge and participation. For our opponents know that when anti-environmentalism becomes a public issue they will lose. They know that American support for our environmental heritage is wide and deep.

There is no issue as lasting or as worthy as the preservation of our natural and cultural heritage. Theodore Roosevelt, more than a hundred years ago, put it this way: “We have fallen heir to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”

Wow, finally an exponential chart that doesn’t terrify me!

Thanks Think Progress!