Practical tactics for living a sustainable life
As we experience the collapse of our unsustainable culture, we must make every effort to build the world we want to see in the future. Here are some practical strategies for healthy, sustainable community building.
Practical rules, strategies, and tactics for building a civilization of
life and love.
How to build a just and sustainable society within the shell of the
collapsing ruins of the old unjust and unsustainable culture of death and
its associated structures of sin and violence. This is a non violent little
way of justice and peace. (2002)
This essay the latest list in a series which began back in 1998, that
considers practical things that people can do to create a more just and
sustainable society, a "civilization of life and love." After this
"Practical Rules" is a compilation of previous thoughts I have had on this
subject and published here and elsewhere, 1996 to date. As nearly always,
my focus is on the domestic household because that's where I think we have
the most control, and also I think that's where fundamental change begins.
It's easy to demand that the government do something, and there are many
political changes we must seek, but even then it still comes down to how
you and your family live your lives and the choices you make.
1. "Where your treasure is, there will also be your heart." Spend less
money in the unsustainable and unjust corporate globalized economy. Spend
more money in the local just and sustainable grassroots economy. Where
practical, spend your money with cooperative, worker owned enterprises and
locally owned sole proprietorships. Avoid the franchises and glo mart chain
stores. When you buy from the glomart economy, not only are you purchasing
a particular item or service, you also may be financing ecological
devastation, destruction of local cultures, dispossession of traditional
peoples, authoritarian regimes, energy waste, corruption, violence against
women and children, political repression, war, and animal cruelty.
2. "Take this job and love it." Consider carefully how and where you earn
your money; aim for earning a "right livelihood". Work with an inner
understanding that you are following an honorable vocation that supports
yourself and your household, be your job mopping floors or composing
symphonies, and thus evade the mind numbing alienation of wage slavery.
Help the enterprise you work for or own, whether it is for profit or not,
to learn and implement just and sustainable principles that help you do
your jobs using less energy and producing less pollution, while being a
good and honest neighbor. If your job involves building nuclear bombs or
raping the environment, find less deadly and destructive ways to make a
living. Consider creating your own job in the grassroots local economy,
either by yourself or as a cooperative business venture with friends. Don't
be afraid to start small, we often start small or we don't start at all.
Earning less money, consistent with your circumstances (in particular the
size of the family and debts), is generally a good discipline to follow.
3. "The borrower is the slave of the lender." The way out of that trap is
to borrow as little money as possible, pay it back as soon as possible, and
live debt free as possible. Don't use a credit or debit card if you can
avoid it, especially with a locally owned business. Never finance
entertainment and materialistic consumption at any interest rate on a
credit card. If you do borrow money, try to do so from a credit union,
avoid the big national chains and finance companies.
4. "There is no place like home." Find a congenial place and put down
roots. Live in a building that you own (by yourself or in conjunction with
others) and that is debt free. If you have a mortgage (literally "death
grip" in Latin), make extra principle payments every month. To achieve this
goal, it may be necessary for you to think outside of the box and learn to
make the most of your circumstances. For example, two families with limited
assets might not be able to afford a single family house, each on its own
resources. But they could buy a duplex together. Or a half dozen young
people could pitch in on the cost of a large older house in a poor
neighborhood. Small towns and rural areas are generally better to live in,
but if circumstances (work or family) tie you to a large city, live in the
less expensive working class neighborhoods that are closest to your job or
business. Consider the ability of the property to produce food (and thus
create wealth and security for your household) as a major factor in your
decision about rural or urban property.
5. "Waste not, want not." Minimize your energy use. Invest in energy
conservation and alternative, renewable energies. Super insulate your
housing consistent with your climate and if you have input at your job,
also your workplace. Don't use conventional high energy air conditioning
(learn other strategies for dealing with the heat and humidity of summer).
For transportation, the goal is to organize your life so you can live car
free or alternatively, to minimize use of a personal vehicle. If you do
drive a car, be economical in its operation. Maintain it properly and keep
to a self imposed speed limit of 55 miles per hour on the highway. Remember
that just because you have a car, you don't have to drive it all the time.
You can ride a bicycle, use public transportation, or walk. Never fly in an
airplane, unless there is no other way to get there. Think twice about
vacations that consume large amounts of energy, look for ways to travel
lightly on the land when you leave your home community for business or
pleasure. Go to local and regional conferences and meetings that don't
require much travel, not to national and international gatherings unless
there is a necessary reason for doing so. Be wary of travel to ecologically
sensitive areas. When you consider the amount of space you need to live in,
remember that "more space" generally translates into "more money and more
energy expense". When you consider buying things such as appliances,
consider not only the energy it costs to operated, but also the energy
embodied in its manufacture and shipping.
6. "Invest in root stock." Grow some of your own food, with particular
attention to permaculture principles, sustainable/organic production
practices, heirloom varieties, and perennial plants What you don't grow
yourself, buy from local growers or processors. Cook from basic
ingredients; don't buy junk food, make your own snacks and beverages or buy
locally grown and made foods and drinks from neighborhood stores, bakeries,
or brewers. Eat with the season, don't buy fresh produce in the winter
unless it was grown in your area. Never buy meat, eggs, or dairy products
from the "Confined Animal Feeding Operation" agribizness/supermarket
system. If you can't find local, free range meat, dairy, and eggs, become a
vegetarian (this could be an incentive to organize a local food system in
your area). Learn some home food processing skills and depend less on
international commercial food processing corporations.. Stop buying and
eating fish from the sea.
7. "Live simply, that others may simply live." Reduce, reuse, recycle, make
do, do without. Make a personal vow of "material celibacy". Don't even go
into stores that sell new merchandise unless absolutely necessary, instead
patronize the after market (used, thrift shops, flea markets, barter,
garage sales, etc.) If you buy something new, select a locally produced
product and/or look for the "cooperative" or the "union" label. If you buy
imported merchandise, look for goods that have been certified as "fair
trade," that come directly from cooperatives or individual or village
producers, or are union made, especially food items like coffee, bananas,
tea, spices, olive oil, citrus fruit, and also art objects, fabric and
household goods. Avoid the transnational corporations and their products.
8. You are not your wardrobe. Clothing is one of the easiest necessaries to
find in thrift stores and flea markets. If you must have new clothes, make
them yourself or have a local tailor or seamstress make them for you, or at
least only buy clothes with union or cooperative labels. Minimize your
purchases of clothes that require dry cleaning; air and sun dry your
clothes after they're washed. Don't buy clothing that has been produced in
9. "The right tool for the right job." While avoiding mindless material
gratification, you must also consider that you need certain tools to live a
more just and sustainable lifestyle, for example, a small grain mill or
other food processing equipment and some garden tools. It is better to buy
a grain mill from a catalog or store and wheat from a farmer than to buy
balloon bread every week from the supermarket. Be creative, several
families or individuals could share ownership and use of such tools or
civil society organizations such as churches or neighborhood associations
could make them available.
10. "Gather your community." Connect with your local neighbors and friends.
This is not a time when the Lone Ranger will find much success. Be a good
neighbor. Help your neighbors and friends and work with them to make your
community more sustainable and resilient. Be active with civil society
organizations or informal associations that are working for good causes and
goals. If you vote, do so intelligently and with thought about the
consequences. If you have no community, find one or create one.
11. "Be alert and aware." Know what's going on. Search out "sidestream"
media for news and useful information. Tell others what is happening in
your area and be generous in sharing knowledge and skills. Ignore the
prevalent government and corporation propaganda. Don't buy the lie that
"what you do doesn't matter" and avoid procrastination. Kill your
television, or at least grievously wound it. Beware of and resist media
messages that encourage gluttony, waste, and instant gratification, which
are often the source of the excuses you make to yourself that keep you from
doing what you need to do.
12. "Don't let the perfect become the enemy of the good." Do what you can,
with what you have, where you are. If you can't go all the way into
sustainability right away, do small, easy things at first ("pick the low
hanging fruit") and as you get better at those, adopt bigger and more
challenging goals. If you can't do the best, it's OK to be simply better,
or at least good, even "fair to middling." Where your journey is taking you
is important, and if you make some detours along the way and lose some
time, get back on the road when and where you can. To avoid fools, take
13. "Think globally, act locally. " When the going gets rough, nobody gets
thrown to the wolves. This is a basic principle of a civilization of life
and love; we ignore it to our peril. Our first concern is naturally for
those who are closest to us, but that can't be the extent of our
involvement. Our families, friends, and neighborhoods are impacted directly
by world events. The proper response to the globalization of greed and
gluttony, and to the rise of violence in this world, is solidarity, which
must manifest itself in practical actions, not just rhetorical flourishes.
An injury to one indeed is an injury to all: we must make injustice visible
and protect the poor and the powerless. The more solidarity and cooperation
that is present in a society, the more resilient, just, and sustainable it
14. "Love life as it is." Be present to each moment as you go through time
and place. Be open to the wonder of grace that abounds, and be wary of the
demons which prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Do everything
with a heart of generosity and gratitude and with joy and celebration. Pray
Robert Waldrop, Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House, on the fourth of July,
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