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Rabbit Holes 🕳 #23
From half-farming-half-x to the kinship worldview, low-rise buildings, consumer engineering, and regenerating forests through community care
Rabbit Holes 🕳
As always, here are five perspective-shifting ideas that I’ve come across recently:
#1 👩🌾 Half-Farming, Half-X (han-nō, han-X)
I posted this already on LinkedIn and it got quite a lot of likes and shares. I think that’s because it connects to many lifestyle movements that have lately become popular (again), and I think rightfully so. I’m talking simple living or frugality, minimalism, entrepreneurship, (urban) gardening, off-grid living, cooking, remote work, craftwork and DIY, and forest/nature bathing.
“An increasing number of people from all age brackets are leaving behind their lives in Japan’s cramped megacities in favor of growing their own food sources, combined with a vocation that reflects their own unique interests and talents. Known as ‘han-nō, han-X’ (‘half-agriculture, half-X’), the concept was coined during the mid-1990s by Naoki Shiomi, who left his Kobe job in 1999 to return to his hometown, the mountainous satoyama region of Ayabe in northern Kyoto Prefecture.”
“‘The concept of han-nō, han-X is rooted in two different issues: the pursuit of sustainability amid the environmental challenges now facing the Earth, and the question of finding one’s own personal mission in life,’ Shiomi tells The Japan Times. ‘I believe that the idea’s greatest significance lies in providing a sense of direction, by encouraging people to shift toward sustainability while also changing their own lifestyles.’”
“Above all else, Shiomi’s concept is flexible. The agricultural portion can be at any level, from growing food on a balcony in an urban apartment to being completely food self-sufficient in the countryside. Meanwhile, the ‘X’ can comprise any income-generating pursuit.”
“‘By inviting people to try growing food while earning a modest income, the magic is that you are likely to realize you don’t need as much money as you thought you did. The agricultural lifestyle brings not only a fair amount of food, but also happiness and fulfillment for free — which you had previously chased by spending money.’”
“‘I spent my time in Tokyo working and craving acceptance from others, but I no longer feel this,’ she adds. ‘Here, I answer only to nature — and she gives back abundantly.’”
#2 🍃 Restoring the Kinship Worldview
We are increasingly realizing the wealth of knowledge of indigenous cultures and how critical is for the future of humanity. The below are excerpts of an interview with researchers Wahinkpe Topa and Darcia Narvaez about their new book Restoring the Kinship Worldview. A lot of the points here link back to earlier newsletter posts of mine such as Seeing Wetiko and Survival Of The Most Symbiotic if you’re interested in this topic.
“Do we believe that every person, including those who are different from us, has intrinsic worth? Do we believe that the animals we love as pets and the ones who live in the wild have intrinsic worth? Do trees, rivers, oceans, mountains have intrinsic worth? If the answer is yes, then what should our actions be towards all these things and towards life itself?”
“The kinship worldview considers the world sacred, unified, and moral […]. It’s a connected partnership worldview that is not about domination or self-centeredness or anthropocentrism, but rather about collaboration and unification across human groups, animal species, plant species, waterways, mountains, everything that’s alive. It’s about a sentient Earth. And now quantum physics and biology are confirming that everything is alive—the cell is the powerhouse of life. So the kinship worldview is getting back to that original understanding.”
“And this worldview is proven sustainable. It worked for most of human history until we moved to a worldview that saw humans separate from nature. The 2019 UN Biodiversity report revealed that the Indigenous worldview is still responsible for preserving biodiversity—and it is no coincidence that 80% of our biodiversity is on the 20% of the land still controlled by traditional indigenous communities. And although the place-based knowledge and language of these communities is unique, they share a common worldview that belongs to all humans.”
#3 🏘️ High-Rise Buildings Are Not the Future of Housing. Low-Rises Are.
I thought this was interesting as I think we are in dire need of more solutions that do not require anything new – whether that’s materials or processes, laws, skills, or any other prerequisites – but actually require less.
“Architect, writer, and Pau Studio founder Vishaan Chakrabarti […] believes that […] there’s one solution that tackles both the housing crisis and the climate crisis that’s hiding in plain sight: high-density, low-rise urban housing. It’s a housing framework that Chakrabarti has dubbed the ‘goldilocks’ model in reference to its capacity to provide high-functioning housing to all that need it using materials and resources already available. Low-rise buildings would require less concrete and thus lower building costs, the installation of electric pumps would provide heating and air conditioning, and extended roof areas mean solar panels can provide more energy than residents use—all the while ensuring buildings maintain cultural relevance on a local basis.”
“‘The idea is not a one-size-fits-all model. What we’ve developed is a prototype framework. For example: goldilocks-style housing in New York would be made from wood as it has a certain characteristic that’s well known to people. But in Calcutta, the houses would be made from brick because of monsoons. You could generate carbon negativity while housing a lot of people near mass transit in walkable green neighborhoods for very low cost in both latitudes. That’s the problem that we’re trying to solve with the model.’”
#4 🛍️ Consumer Engineering & Bad-Quality Stuff
It’s crazy how a plan to stimulate the economy after the Great Depression is at the root of our consume-and-throw-away culture and has subsequently led to so many other ideas and systems of ‘consumer engineering’.
“All manner of things we wear, plus kitchen appliances, personal tech devices, and construction tools, are among the objects that have been stunted by a concerted effort to simultaneously expedite the rate of production while making it more difficult to easily repair what we already own, experts say.”
“We buy, buy, buy, and we’ve been tricked — for far longer than the last decade — into believing that buying more stuff, new stuff is the way. By swapping out slightly used items so frequently, we’re barely pausing to consider if the replacement items are an upgrade, or if we even have the option to repair what we already have. Worse yet, we’re playing into corporate narratives that undercut the labor that makes our items worth keeping.”
“The Great Depression […] changed the very nature of consumerism. The economy desperately needed stimulation — and consumer goods were one way to do it. It was around this period that advertising heavyweight Earnest Elmo Calkins laid out a selling strategy that came to define purchasing habits for the next century: ‘consumer engineering,’ or how advertisers and designers could artificially create demand, often by making older objects seem undesirable. Real estate broker Bernard London is often credited with coining this process as ‘planned obsolescence’ through his 1932 paper that suggested the government put a lease on products’ life. ‘That’s when manufactured products started to be sort of done in season for the cycles and fashion’[…].”
“Fast-forward a handful of decades, and now several generations of people are conditioned to buy the new thing and to keep replacing it. Companies, in turn, amp up production accordingly. It’s less so that objects are intended to break — functional planned obsolescence, if you will — but rather that consumer mindsets are oriented around finding the better object. But ‘better’ doesn’t always mean long-lasting when companies are incentivized to produce faster and faster and faster.”
“‘There is an entire generation of consumers at this point that doesn’t actually know what high-quality clothing feels like and looks like.’ […] Design has shifted more toward manufacturability and appearance than functionality, when it should be a balance of all three.”
#5 🌳 How Nepal Regenerated Its Forests
This is a nice analogy to what I think we’ll see become a solution in many other domains that are in need of ‘regeneration’ in a broader sense: a combination of community-led stewardship.
“In the 1970s, Nepal was facing an environmental crisis. Forests in Nepal’s hillsides were being degraded due to livestock grazing and fuelwood harvesting, which led to increased flooding and landslides. Without large-scale reforestation programs, a 1979 World Bank report warned, forests in the country’s hills would be largely gone by 1990.”
“In the 1980s and 1990s, Nepal’s government began to reassess its national-level forest management practices, which led to a pivotal forestry act in 1993. This legislation allowed Nepal’s forest rangers to hand over national forests to community forest groups. The result of this community-led management, recent NASA-funded research has found, was a near-doubling of forest cover in the small mountainous country.”
“Under community forest management, local forest rangers worked with the community groups to develop plans outlining how they could develop and manage the forests. People were able to extract resources from the forests (fruits, medicine, fodder) and sell forest products, but the groups often restricted grazing and tree cutting, and they limited fuelwood harvests. Community members also actively patrolled forests to ensure they were being protected.”
“Today, community forests occupy nearly 2.3 million hectares—about a third of Nepal’s forest cover—and are managed by over 22,000 community forest groups comprising 3 million households.”
🤨 Interesting Stuff
📚 Care-Centered Politics by Robert Gottlieb: Why a care economy and care-centered politics can influence and reorient such issues as health, the environment, climate, race, inequality, gender, and immigration.
🎓 Roundup of highlights from research published in 2022, on capitalism, imperialism, degrowth and decolonization.
🧑🏽💼 31 inspiring social entrepreneurs to watch out for in 2023
🔨 List of amazing resources for shared ownership models
📰 The first four copies of LESS a journal of degrowth, radical sufficiency and decolonization are available to download for free
🐔 Free Chickens = No Food Waste = No Industrial Egg Industry
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That’s it for this week!