The start of a new year offers a physiological rest button, a chance to stop and take stock of your life and resolve to make some changes you think might be needed or useful going forward. The list of standard New Years Resolutions is familiar: "I'll quit smoking, I'll quit drinking, I'll loose weight, I'll get out of debt, I'll exercise more..."
This time though we're facing not just a new year but a new decade and doing so on the heels of a year that introduced many Americans to the financial fallout that's beginning to take shape in conjunction with resource depletion, energy descent and climate change. Times they are a changing and that means adding some less conventional resolutions to the list. Sure it makes even more sense to kick those addictions, become debt-free and adopt a healthy lifestyle. But in the spirit of making real and lasting change might I suggest a few additional resolutions.
1. Create a reading list and work through it. Pick 12 books, one for each month. How much do you really know about climate change? Is a steady state economy a real alternative to growth economics? What is the logic of sufficiency anyway? As a nation we rely way too heavily on tv, radio and the internet for news coverage that barely skims the surface and doesn't focus on some important issues. I'm not going to tell you what to read but make a commitment to your lifelong education by writing down a list of books and then reading them.
2. Investigate your resource use. How much electricity does your entertainment center use when it's "off". How many gallons of water does your family use each month? Do you know how many natural gas therms it takes to heat your house during the month of January? I think part of our national apathy towards reducing energy and resource use is that we don't have any idea how much we really use.
Your utility bills can help show you how much you're using. For $23 you can buy the Kill A Watt Electric Usage Meter and it will tell you exactly how much electricity your appliances are using. Or you can use the high tech version, Google's PowerMeter. Once you know how much you're using you can get to work reducing the amount of energy and resources you use.
3. Localize your diet. Sure your town has a farmers market, but have you ever been? Most people I talk to have no idea how much local food is available to them. They're not eating locally mainly becaues they are uninformed. Well, inform yourself. Start with localharvest.org. Find out where local food is available in your community- farmers markets, grocery stores, farm stands, CSAs, restaurants, etc. and then buy it.
And compliment this with some of your own. Growing food is fun and it tastes better than stuff shipped across the country. Plant your victory garden.
4. Cook. This one goes well with number 3. Buying locally sourced fresh, whole ingredients means you have to do something with them. That's where the fun comes in. For those of us with relatively little cooking experience this can be a challenge but it can also be an adventure. It's cheap entertainment watching a 2 year old kneed bread dough.
Start with one local meal per week and scale up.
5. Get out of your car. Walking or bicycling is an option most people don't consider. Well now is the time to consider it. It will save you money, put you in better shape, improve your sex life, make you feel better and open your senses to the world around you. And in the future you'll get to laugh as you whiz by the lines at the gas station. Seriously make a commitment to ride or walk for a certain type of trip you would have previously made in the car. Commit to a carless commute to work 3 days a week.
6. Plan a backup for your backup. How will you stay warm if an ice storm knocks out the electricity to your home? You'll turn on the kerosene space heater of course but what happens when you run out of kerosene? Just buying a water filter, a sleeping bag and some candles does not mean you're prepared for a sudden downturn of events. Think through your preparedness strategies and imagine what you would do if the resources you're used to became unavailable for extended periods of time. Commit to a utility-free weekend and test your plans.
7. Invite the neighbors over for dinner. You know you've been meaning to do it. Set a date by which you will have walked next door and invited the neighbors over for dinner. Perhaps one neighbor per month until you've shared a local, home-cooked meal with all of them.
8. Volunteer. The strength of our communities, even in the best of times is directly related to the amount of time and energy we're willing to spend on each other. Find a local cause you've been meaning to get involved with and find out how you can volunteer your time. Maybe it's just one hour a week but it will help you better understand the work already being done in your community to make it a better place and it will make you feel good too.
9. Create at least one barter-based relationship. Me, I'm looking for a urologist who's willing to trade a year-long CSA membership for a vasectomy. Seriously though, try it. Try to create one relationship with someone such that you trade skills or goods instead of giving each other money. Maybe your car mechanic needs your skills as a massage therapist or your local bike mechanic will work for home baked bread.
10. Kill your television. It makes you more sedentary and slow. It makes you fat. It misinforms you. It steals your time. If you have one in your bedroom it's shown to result in half as much sex. That alone should be reason enough to take the plunge this year and get rid of the biggest waste of time in your life. Maybe then, in addition to getting twice as much action from your partner, you'll have enough time to accomplish the rest of your 2010 resolutions.
Best of luck,