Happy Danes

In the book Thrive, Dan Buettner examines why Denmark has on the whole of one of the happiest societies.  One of the most notable things people mentioned was that in Denmark, everyone feels that they have a say and are listened to.  Families agree on what to have for dinner, students are heard in the classroom, and communities thrive on consensus.  “Lifelong health care is a Danish birthright.  Education is free, and university students are paid to go to school.”  Wow.  Status symbols, such as luxury cars, are disdained in Denmark.  One interviewee said that buying a BMW would make people wonder about your masculinity.  Most people ride bicycles, even in the rain.  Yes, they have long winters, but according to Buettner, the Danes cherish “hygge” which is the concept of transforming the home to a cozy, tranquil, candlelit sanctuary.

Interestingly, Buettner says that over 90% of the Danish population belongs to some club, group, or hobby association.  This seems to be a good antidote to the loneliness that many Americans report

Economically, Danes are wealthy, without being workaholics.  Several interviewees reported that they work less that 40 hours a week, make good salaries, have several weeks of vacation, and can take paid maternity/paternity leave.

The concept of “folk schools” is fascinating.  At these high schools, the focus is on arts and creativity, even if the student is never going to be a professional artist.  The feeling is that arts help “give people an idea of the richness of life,” according to one person.

What an interesting culture!


beyond money

In his book, The Moneyless Man, A Year of Freeconomic Living, author Mark Boyle outlines his adventure of a cash-less life.  The year requires a lot of preparation (no, not stocking cupboards); time spent outlining his values and how to live more effectively in line with them.  He prepares for moral dilemmas and sets rules for himself as far as using computers, phones, and transportation.

Like “No Impact Man”, Boyle takes extreme measures to reduce his footprint and impact on the earth, and live more harmoniously with the environment.  While few of us are going to follow their examples to their level of commitment, both do raise good questions about what we “need” and what we mindlessly consume.

What I really like about Boyle’s approach is his questioning the very existence of money.  Dollars, as we know, are  just paper that we have assigned value to.  Any more, they are often a piece of plastic or even just computers tallies of what we “owe.”  This system is relatively new and is evolving.  Why not, Boyle suggests, move to an economy of giving?  Why can’t people just give of their services and skills, and trust that someone else will provide what they need?  It is a beautiful thought, one that focuses on abundance and sharing and gratitude, rather than hoarding and protecting and worrying.

I am happy that people are starting to imagine possibilities for a different kind of society–more cooperative, compassionate, and meaningful.  We all have everything we need to help each other survive on this planet.  Now….we just have to figure out how to make it happen.

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

I was not prepared for how shocking Zeitoun by Dave Eggers would be.  It is a story about Hurricane Katrina, but it is not shocking in graphic depictions of misery and squalor and death.  Instead, it is the story of a Muslim family where the husband stays behind during the storm to take care of the house.  He takes a canoe through flooded streets, helping stranded people and handing out bottles of water.  He feeds dogs who have been abandoned.  Yet, he ends up being arrested and held in a prison without due process.  Later, we find out he was charged with looting.  Why?  Because he was standing in a house near some stereo equipment.  During his arrest, he was told nothing about what was happening, and was denied a phone call to his wife, arraignment, or medical care.  Conditions at the prison are appalling.  Eventually, he was let out on bail, but not until he has lost weight and his hair has turned gray.  I am outraged that this sort of Guantanamo could happen in the United States.

Todd Gambino had $2,400 confiscated from him when he was arrested in New Orleans.  He spent FIVE MONTHS at the maximum security prison.  The money was never recovered.

Eggers looked into the makeshift construction of this prison at a Greyhound and Amtrak stations, and found that the prison, a complicated project, was erected and run “while residents of New Orleans were trapped in attics and begging for rescue from rooftops and highway overpasses.”

The prison, Eggers noted, had toilets and water and MREs, while the shelters at the Superdome did not.

How on earth could the focus of the disaster have been on arresting people for looting, rather than helping them survive?  My head is still reeling from this book.  I don’t think I will ever be the same.

Sacred Economics

Charles Eisenstein is introducing the concept of a Sacred Economy, where money is not so intertwined with lack and scarcity and fear. It is very perplexing to me that there is so much money and resources in the world, yet so many people are poor, starving, struggling, worried.  There is plenty for everyone; how do we distribute it fairly and efficiently?  What really “generates” this wealth by a few, and is it really necessary to hoard and invest, or can it be shared freely and spread joyfully?  Do basic necessities really still have to be “earned” in this day and age, or can they be a universal staple, so that rather than competing for jobs they don’t like, people could be working together on solving global and universal problems?

What is money, anyway?  Eisenstein calls it “an abstraction, at most symbols on a piece of paper, but usually mere bits in a computer. It exists in a realm far removed from materiality. In that realm, it is exempt from nature’s most important laws, for it does not decay and return to the soil as all other things do, but is rather preserved, changeless, in its vaults and computer files, even growing with time thanks to interest. It bears the properties of eternal preservation and everlasting increase, both of which are profoundly unnatural. ”

Eisenstein states the original purpose of money was to connect human gifts with human needs, so that we might all live in greater abundance.  “We intuitively recognize the exchange of gifts as a sacred occasion, which is why we instinctively make a ceremony out of gift-giving. Sacred money, then, will be a medium of gifting, a means to recreate the gift economy of a hunter-gatherer or village society on a planetary level. A sacred economy will be an economy of the Gift.”

via Sacred Economics | Reality Sandwich.

Why we tend to think our side is right

The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight « You Are Not So Smart.

This is a great blog entry, and probably an interesting book.  It explains why Democrats and Republicans spend so much time beating up on each other, and why people can become violent at sporting events.

Naive realism, as the author defines it, is believing your thoughts and perceptions are true, accurate and correct.  “Therefore, if someone sees things differently than you or disagrees with you in some way it is the result of a bias or an influence or a shortcoming. You feel like the other person must have been tainted in some way, otherwise they would see the world the way you do – the right way.”   We tend to think of the “other side” as simple and ignorant.

Leading Change

In The Secret Language of Leadership, Stephen Denning says that facts don’t convince anyone.  This explains why all the “facts” about environmental crisis and global warming don’t seem to be motivating people to take and demand action.  A Stanford study showed that given evidence, people interpret the facts to confirm their bias.  Emory University MRI scans showed the pleasure center in the brain lights up when people interpret information to support their position.

So, this blog and others like it may just reinforce climate change naysayers’ belief that they are right.

Denning says the key to leading an endeavor, especially a political one, is to first figure out the story the audience is currently living.  Then, figure out why people don’t see the change ideas as positively as we do.  Within what story do they find themselves cornered?  What artificial walls have they constructed around their current existence so that they don’t see the same future we do?  What imaginary constraints are hampering them from imagining something different?  What  limitations are hobbling their vision?  Which of their most heartfelt dreams are currently unfulfilled?  Stories are ideally suited to capture how a human actor, endowed with consciousness and motivated by intention, enacts desires and beliefs and strives for goals over time and in a social context.

Then, help create a new story.  Narrative intelligence, according to Denning, is understanding the world in narrative terms and seeing narrative in all aspects of human existence.  It is being familiar with the different patterns of stories that exist and knowing which narrative patterns are likely to have what effect in which situation.  “Leadership and change are driven by ordinary people who act and speak in a different way.”

So, if we want to lead the environmental movement, we have to find and publicize stories that motivate people to act, and not just of drowning polar bears.

Is global warming for real?

Groups like the American Petroleum Institute, which have spent tens of million dollars on lobbying, say that global warming is a hoax.  Of course these oil companies want to continue our oil dependence because they are making billions of dollars in profits every year.  Don’t be fooled.  They want to scare us into thinking that clean energy legislation will cost Americans dearly.  However, non-partisan research by agencies such as the EPA and DOE say clean energy legislation will cost the average American household somewhere between 23 and 44 cents a day.  Yes, this can be a lot of money for low-income people, but no more than rising gas prices.

The evidence is overwhelming that there are growing climate problems in the world, such as increased blizzards, hurricanes, droughts, and flooding.  Sure, facts alone can’t persuade you if you want to maintain your beliefs.  But what will be the “rewards” for maintaining this denial?  Keeping the status quo is not creating jobs, making our water cleaner, or improving our health.  Even Shell Oil reportedly admitted that the scientific evidence is now overwhelming that climate change is a serious global threat and demands an urgent worldwide response.  Some oil companies are coming around because they are realizing there are serious profits to be made by researching and developing alternative energy in addition to oil.

President George HW Bush initiated the US Global Change Research Program, which was a  20-year megastudy commissioned by Congress.  It was conducted under two Republican and two Democratic presidents, so it is bipartisan.  The 196-page report states: “Observations show that warming of the climate is unequivocal.”  Unequivocal means “leaving no doubt, open to no misunderstanding.”  The report finds that carbon dioxide emissions have already raised average temperatures by as much as 7 degrees Farenheit in parts of the US, shortening winters, lengthening summers, and raising sea levels and water temperatures in ways that have begun to affect human health, farms, coastal areas, and water supplies

The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming states:  “Global climate change presents one of the gravest threats, not only to our planet’s health, but also to the United States’ economy, national security, and public health.”


Clean Energy Common Sense :  An American Call to Action on Global Climate Change by Frances Beinecke.   Published 2010 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.  Lanham, Maryland


Greed to Green by Charles Derber

In Greed to Green by Charles Derber,  scientists are quoted who make a disturbing argument that unless drastic changes occur very quickly in cutting our CO2 emissions, global “weirding” may not be reversible. Ever. While I am hopeful that enough people will come up with technology to save the planet, perhaps the situation is more dire than I anticipated.

I fully support the notion that by pursuing green technology, we can create jobs that can help end the recession.  A “two-fer” as he calls it.  I don’t understand anyone’s resistance to pursuing alternative energy.  Someone argued with me that reliance on green jobs has wrecked Europe’s economy.  There is little evidence of this.  Yes, Europe is also experiencing a recession, but it is not because of going “green.”  Besides, what alternative do we have?  Manufacturing jobs have moved to developing countries and they are not going to come back.  The dot-com bubble has made internet jobs slow down, and the housing bubble has shown us that we can’t all get rich on real estate.  Teaching and government jobs are being cut,  The only real option seems to be to create companies.  Rather than create a company that produces stuff we don’t really need and will end up in the landfill, why not create a company that tries to help the environment and our reliance on fossil fuels?

People want jobs, and there are certainly oil-drilling jobs to be had if we drill more.  But those jobs are short-term.  Look at all the abandoned oil fields in Venezuela and other places.  Oil is not infinite, and we have to figure out how to ration it, not just go after all of it in a gluttonous frenzy.  “Get it now” has been the mentality of pacific fishermen, who have utilized disastrous fishing methods:  gillnets, longlining, dynamite fishing.  It is clear that the oceans are becoming overfished, but still the aggressive fishing continues.  The same pattern seems to be true for oil.  When will we learn?

Derber advocates swiftly replacing our corporate regime with a green one and says “In a green regime, growth as the ultimate economic aim has to be replaced with sufficiency, a quality of life sufficient to sustain social well-being but not marked by our current excess promoting the tragedy of the commons.”

How to approach climate change?  Many people I know are fanatical about recycling or not using plastic wrap.  These are admirable steps, but are not even a drop in the bucket when we need world-wide policy and energy change.  Derber explains:  “These micro and personalized approaches cannot stop climate change. But the lifestyle changes and the neighborhood groups people are joining in large numbers nurture a more collective political consciousness and activism.”  Reduce, re-use and recycle is the first step, perhaps.  Derber asserts that when a person starts recycling, she is becoming more personally committed to the larger green struggle.  The challenge is to realize that these small action aren’t enough, and that we need to organize together to demand and initiate lasting and meaningful change.

Share This

I read Share This:  How YOU will change the world with social networking by Deanna Zandt.  She says:  “How we share information, find community, and both connect and disconnect will give us unprecedented influence over our place in the world.”  She points out that the internet is an opportunity for voices to be heard that have previously been marginalized—women, gays, and minorities.

Zandt argues that when we share our personal stories (not just what we had for lunch) “we create bonds of trust and empathy that lead us away from that apathy that’s glazed over our eyeballs for at least a century.”  She argues that social technology will only bring serious social change if diversity is represented.  Otherwise, it’s same old, same old.  Storytelling, she says “has been the most powerful building block for social change since the beginning of time.”

Empathy, Zandt argues, may change people’s minds a lot better than facts or rational arguments.  As someone with a degree in rhetoric, I found this a little hard to swallow.  Why bother sharing? I wondered.  So far, few people have read this blog other than poetry entries.  But, I realized, every blog has to start somewhere.   Zandt makes a compelling argument that we need to “share information with each other, rather than simply receiving information passively from sources outside of our personal relationships.”  This is an opportunity for all of us little people to get our stories told, especially if we work together.

“You are sharing your story to benefit those who come after you,” Zandt says.   The danger, of course, is that sometimes by signing an online petition or forwarding an email, people feel they have done enough for a cause, when in fact they’ve not accomplished anything substantial.  A term has been coined for this:  “slacktivism.”    Zandt notes that “awareness is not enough; we must build movement infrastructure that supports full-on campaigns and utilizes social technologies to effect tangible social change.”

I highly recommend reading this book.  Even though I am staunchly opposed to Facebook’s (lack of) privacy policy and will not re-join, I think there is potential for other social networks, and in fact have started one to address issues in Carlsbad:  http://cbadaction.ning.com.  Join the conversation!

Zandt’s website:  http://www.sharethischange.com

Belief Works book notes

Belief Works

By Ray Dodd

Step off the island of the known

track your reactions as the Hunter of Beliefs

disagree with the voices of the First Dream

Ask the questions of disbelief

silence the interpreter

embrace the act of forgiveness

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