Scarcity and Abundance

Things have value based on their scarcity. When there is an abundance we assign little value, but when there is scarcity we assign a high value.

In our modern society we live in a superabundance of physical things. In America, even a person of modest means can fill their lives with things to consume; more things than they could possibly use in one lifetime. We are drowning in stuff.

We see evidence of this in our supersized malls, clearance sales, and outlet centers. We flood donation centers with our discarded items trying to make room for new stuff. So much so that the tidal wave of discarded clothing alone overwhelms the tailoring industries of third world countries, with local jobs and prosperity being swept out with the tide.

Time, however, is limited. We only have so much time, so many years of good health, and so much attention that we can devote to pursuing our passions.

Why then do we place such a high value on physical objects, which are abundant beyond belief, and such a low value on scare things like time, attention, and companionship? Why do we spend so much of our resources on that which is abundant and spend so little of our resources on the scare but valuable intangibles?

To me, minimalism is an attempt to correct this imbalance. By purging my life of that which is abundant but worth little, I can devote more time and attention to that which is scarce but infinitely valuable. This attention to what is important not only benefits me, but it creates positive ripples throughout the entire economy.

When I choose to purchase with intentionality, I can afford to pay the true cost of that item. Instead of purchasing 5 shirts made with sweatshop labor, I can purchase 1 shirt made with fairly compensated labor. And grown on a farm that uses sustainable practices. And sold in a store that pays its employees a living wage.

Minimalism is not only beneficial to me, it benefits everyone that I choose to do business with. It is a win/win that flows through every sector of the economy.

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Changing the conversation, solar energy, and paper recycling – the weekly roundup

Former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made headlines this week with his commentary about climate change.  He pointed out that even if we are wrong about climate change, a clean energy future is still preferable from a pollution perspective.

The back and forth about climate change can get pretty nasty at times.  Both sides claim to have science on their side, and often resort to ad hominem attacks on their opponents.  But as a recent Seth Godin post posited, there is another way.  Instead of trying to convince them that they are wrong, move the conversation to writing a different story.  If you can’t agree one issue, is there a related issue where you can find some common ground on instead?

“I was wrong and I will change my mind” said almost no one, ever.  And the harder you try to convince them, they harder they will argue.  But if you can move the conversation forward on something related, you’ll be surprised how often they will eventually change their minds.

 

Next up in the roundup this week is an encouraging update on solar power and the potential impacts on birds.  Preliminary research indicated that mirror-style solar plants in California and Nevada were having devastating impacts in the local bird populations.  The image of birds catching fire in mid-air left a negative impression on the future of this kind of solar energy.  But follow up research is telling a much different, and less dramatic, story.

After conducting a year-long study at the Ivanpah solar facility, bird deaths turned out to be 1/6th of the original estimate.  Furthermore, autopsies of the birds found revealed that more that half of the actual  bird deaths were from unrelated natural causes.

All human activity impacts wildlife; millions of birds are killed in collisions with buildings and cars each year in the U.S.  While we want to minimize the impacts of solar on bird populations, we have to keep in mind that burning fossil fuels also impact bird populations.  Even if we ignore the shifting of habitats due to climate change, soot and mercury and other pollutants also kill birds.  As we evaluate the potential negative impacts of solar power we need to keep in mind the negative impacts of the power sources it is replacing.

Solar energy will play a key role in our shift away from fossil fuels.  New projects like this one in Morocco not only give hope for a low carbon future, but also point to a future where resources are more equitably distributed.   Many countries in the world lack fossil fuel resources, but virtually every country receives enough sunshine to power their economy, if properly harvested.  By investing in solar infrastructure now, we can create a future where poorer countries can stop sending money overseas to purchase fossil fuels and instead invest those funds in their own economy.

 

Last up on the roundup today is a technology piece that is too cool not to talk about, even if it may be impractical.  Epson has devised a new shredding system that takes waste paper and recycles it into brand new paper right there in the office.  No energy wasted transporting waste paper to a central processing facility to be recycled, and no danger of sensitive documents being stolen along the way.  Used paper goes in one end, and freshly made blank paper comes out the other end.  If this story had come out in April I might have suspected an April Fool’s joke!

As cool as this piece of technology sounds, I suspect that this iteration will prove not to be commercially viable.  But I applaud Epson for exploring options to incorporate recycling directly into our office culture.

That’s it for the round up this week! We hope to see you back here on the blog next weekend for another look at the interesting tech and environmental stories from the past week!

More things lead to less meaning

When we desire more things, we have fewer resources to make those things meaningful.

If I have $100 to spend, I could buy 10 cheap shirts, or two really nice shirts. By demanding “more” for my money, we end up with less meaning. And we’ll soon be back at the store looking for more “deals”.

A high price doesn’t necessarily denote better quality, but a low price very often brings low quality along for the ride. If the price seems too good to be true, it is.

Health-Washing, Outrage, and Glaciers – Weekly Roundup

You may have heard the word “green-washing”; i.e. when companies spin a product as being environmentally friendly without making substantive changes.  They layer on a veneer of eco-friendliness to boost sales and justify higher prices.  Companies behave the same way with health, which I like to call “Health-washing”

This week’s example is General Mill’s release of a new product called Protein Cheerios.  The new version contains an impressive 7 grams of protein per serving instead of the original 3 grams.  But less impressive once you see that 3 of the extra 4 grams of protein come from doubling the portion weight.  The one gram of true extra protein comes with 14 extra grams of sugar (17 instead of the original 3).  See this article from the Washington Post for a great analysis.

Of course, “health-washing” is nothing new.  Many companies promote gluten-free versions of products that never contained gluten in the first place.  Potato chips, apple sauce, and beef jerky shouldn’t contain wheat to begin with; labeling them as gluten-free is a blatant attempt to “health-wash” to boost sales/charge more for the same product.

How should we respond to this?  Whenever possible, skip the processed meals and go straight to ingredients you can recognize.  A simple home-cooked meal is cheaper, healthier, and often tastier than the concoctions put together by the major food companies.  If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, you probably don’t want to be eating it.

 

Next up is the shameful behavior we’ve seen this week regarding outrage, and outrage about outrage.  As best I can work out, what actually happened is:

  • One self-proclaimed pastor picked on Starbucks as a way to promote his own YouTube channel
  • Instead of pausing to reflect for 2 seconds and then writing him off as a self-serving nut job we all reacted
  • Then we reacted to the reactions
  • Then we reacted to the reactions about the reactions
  • A week later we all look silly and Scrooge-like

Life is too short to get worked up about things that don’t matter.  If you want to make a difference with your spending, promote businesses you like instead of boycotting those you disagree with.  We wrote about this last year on the blog, and the topic is more relevant than ever.

The sad thing is, the guy who started this got exactly what he wanted. He got his 16 million video views and publicity for his personal brand. I’m not putting a link to his video here, because that is exactly what he would like.

If you somehow missed the whole brouhaha and want to read more, I’d recommend these two posts:

 

Lastly in the weekly roundup is news regarding the Northeast corner of Greenland.  Little attention has been focused on this part of the country because it was assumed these glaciers were stable.  But recent evidence shows that the glaciers here have begun to retreat and thin rapidly.  http://www.climatecentral.org/news/northeast-greenland-glacier-melt-19673

I don’t share this article to be all doom and gloom.  Yes, we are seeing the impacts of dumping carbon pollution in the atmosphere for the past 200 years.  And no, we won’t be able to stop these changes in the short-term.  But we can make changes now that will write a better story for our children and grand-children.  Let’s be the generation that can say: “We saw the impact that our lifestyles were having on the environment and we did something about it.”  It won’t be a perfect solution, and we won’t be able to reverse all the impacts on nature.  But we can write a better story, one small decision at a time.

Every time you fall for clickbait, a kitten cries

Clickbait

When I fall for clickbait, I reward some of the worst internet behavior.  How so?

Websites that publish clickbait take your time and energy and give you nothing in return.  They monetize our attention for their own gain, but provide no value.  It is not quite theft, but it is close.

Clickbait may seem harmless, but it is not.  It drives our attention spans ever shorter.  It drives good journalism from the web and replaces it with mindless drivel.

Help stop the madness.  Don’t click.  Don’t share.  Don’t draw attention to it.

The best way to fight click-bait is to simply ignore it.

For some great commentary on clickbait, and an example of one attempt to talk about it without promoting it, check out this article from the Daily Beast:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/11/04/no-spooning-isn-t-sexist-the-internet-is-just-broken.html

 

Ideas are like birds, they are most beautiful when living uncaged.

Beef, Mementos, and Drive-Throughs: The weekly roundup

First up on the weekly roundup this week is a post from Shrinkthatfootprint comparing the carbon emissions of different dietary choices.  While a vegan lifestyle is definitely the most efficient, I was shocked to learn that simply replacing beef with chicken reduces the carbon footprint of your meals by 25%.

I liked this post because it drove home the idea that everyone can make an impact even if they make different choices.  As much as I enjoyed the documentary Cowspiracy, there was a major flaw in his argument. The movie insinuated that embracing a full vegan lifestyle is the only way to care about the environment.  Some people aren’t ready to do so, and may never be, but they can still make a big positive impact by simply making a switch from beef to chicken.  Many people making small changes can have a bigger impact than a few people making radical changes.

Next up is an article from the Guardian highlighting the $22 billion dollars Americans spend each year storing stuff. Continue reading

Out of time for watching TV?

Not enough time

We ran out of time to watch TV last week.

It wasn’t intentional.  We didn’t boycott TV or intentionally avoid sitting down in front of the tube.  We just got to the end of the week and realized that we hadn’t watched a single show.

It is fun to occasionally unwind with a show and a cup of tea.  But if watching a show is good, a home cooked meal and conversation around the dinner table is great.  We also took the pups for walks around the neighborhood, read books, and listened to music.  We each spent an evening out with friends.  We ran out of time to watch TV and didn’t miss it a bit.

That’s what minimalism is all about.  Much of what a minimalist gives up aren’t bad things.  They just get in the way of even better things.

If things are getting in the way of spending time with people, always ditch the things in favor of the people.  You’ll never regret the choice to focus on relationships instead of things.

We’re not planning to give up our TV any time soon.  But after realizing that we went a whole week without missing it, we will likely watch less.

What good thing is taking up space in your life that you’d like to devote to even better things?

Some habits can be incredibly hard to break

 Once a habit is established, it can be really hard to change it.  Our brains do a poor job of distinguishing between positive habits and negative ones.   Deep inside your brain, you receive the same hit from successfully completing a good habit as you do from succumbing to a bad habit.

(for more on the science of habit formation, check out this article from the Viewpoint online).

Over the last two years we’ve successfully broken one major bad habit and established a good one.  We gave up eating sugar two years ago, and we started a regular exercise routine one year ago.  In both cases our success came from making a dramatic lifestyle shift.  For sugar we went cold turkey and didn’t allow ourselves a cheat day for two months.  For exercise we jumped in and exercised rain or shine until the habit was formed.

Now that these habits are established we’ve been able to back off a bit without losing the progress.  We can enjoy the occasional sugary treat or skip a workout for a special occasion.  But to break the initial inertia we had to go all in.  Continue reading

Fall spiced tea

We finally got some fall weather down here in San Diego, so it is time to break out the fall recipes!  Here is a recipe for a simple tea to get you in the mood for the upcoming season.

Ingredients:

  • two chunks of fresh ginger root (about the size of your thumb each)
  • one cinnamon stick
  • two pieces of star anise
  • 5-6 pieces of dried lemongrass
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • a splash of vanilla extract

What to do:

Peel the two chunks of ginger root and grate them into a medium sized pot.  Add the cinnamon stick, star anise, and dried lemon grass.  Add 6-8 cups of water and bring to a low boil.  Stir in the honey and vanilla, and simmer for 15 minutes to bring out the flavor.  Serve and enjoy!

Why choose to eat less meat?

I was raised believing that to be healthy, you had to eat meat every day. My parents wanted the best for us, and they thought that you needed to eat meat to get enough protein in your diet, so that’s what they taught us. When you are raised believing something, it can take a lot of evidence to convince you otherwise.

I’ve known vegetarians and vegans who live healthy lives, but there is a difference between intellectually knowing something is true and believing it enough to do it yourself. Like skydiving, it is one thing to believe that parachutes are safe but a whole other thing to jump out of the plane!

We’ve been thinking about the amount of meat we eat because we recently watched the documentary “Cowspiracy”. If you haven’t seen it, the main takeaway was this:

Today there are 7 billion people and 100 billion farm animals on earth. Growing enough food to feed all of the people plus our 100 billion farm animals is pushing our water, soil, and forest resources past the breaking point. Since the human population is continuing to grow, the only reasonable way we can continue to feed everyone without destroying our natural resources is to drastically reduce the number of farm animals we raise. This means greatly reducing the amount of meat we eat, or possibly stop eating meat altogether.

The documentary left quite an impression on me, but the nagging question about protein kept popping into my head. Could I really skip the meat and still stay healthy? So I decided to do some research and prove to myself that it is possible not only to get enough protein, but to get a balanced mix of all of the amino acids.

It has been a while since high school biology, so I had to look up the basics about protein and what makes a protein complete. Here is a quick breakdown: Continue reading