January 2010

Monthly Archive

Ecotopia #70 Voluntary Simplicity

Posted by on 25 Jan 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Tonight we’ll be talking with Duane Elgin, author of a new edition of Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life that is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich. We’ll learn how this movement has changed and developed almost 30 years since he wrote this book.

Background on the Voluntary Simplicity Movement

The concept of voluntary simplicity is as old as human recorded history. The roots of simplicity are often seen in the philosophies of asceticism which is associated with a variety of religious practices, according to Wikipedia, in the Shramana traditions of Iron Age India, in Buddhism, and in biblical Nazirites (notably John the Baptist).

Wikipedia claims that “Simple living has traditions that stretch back to the Orient, resonating with leaders such as Zarathustra, Buddha, Lao-Tse and Confucius and was heavily stressed in both Greco-Roman culture and Judeo-Christian ethics.”

The definition of “Epicureanism, based on the teachings of the Athens-based philosopher Epicurus, flourished from about the fourth century BC to the third century AD” is similar to the descriptions of voluntary simplicity one hears today. Its founder, “Epicurus[,] pointed out that troubles entailed by maintaining an extravagant lifestyle tend to outweigh the pleasure of partaking in it. He therefore concluded that what is necessary for happiness, bodily comfort, and life itself should be maintained at minimal cost, while all things beyond what is necessary for these should either be tempered by moderation or completely avoided.”

This tradition has also been carried on by a number of religions and philosophies–Shakers, Mennonites, Amish, Harmony Society, and Quakers. And this philosophical orientation is familiar to many Americans through the writings of Henry David Thoreau, a naturalist and author, who advocated a life of simplicity in his book Walden (1854).

In England, a number of advocates followed the philosophy of simple living–Henry Stephens Salt, Edward Carpenter, William Morris, and the members of “The Fellowship of the New Life.”[7] “C.R. Ashbee and his followers linked simplicity with the Arts and Crafts Movement[8].  In the 1930s John Middleton Murry and Max Plowman practised a simple lifestyle at their Aldephi Centre in Essex.

During the 1920s and 1930s in the United States, the Vanderbilt Agrarians of the Southern United States advocated a lifestyle and culture centered upon traditional and sustainable agrarian values as opposed to the progressive urban industrialism which dominated the Western world at that time.

From the 1920s to the 1960s, a number of modern authors articulated both the theory and practice of living simply, among them Gandhian Richard Gregg, economists Ralph Borsodi and Scott Nearing, anthropologist-poet Gary Snyder, and utopian fiction writer Ernest Callenbach,” who wrote the book Ecotopia, [for which our program has been named.]

[Our guest tonight, Duane Elgin wrote what is considered to be the most highly influential book in the current movement, Voluntary Simplicity, in 1981.]


In September of 1995, Carey Goldberg wrote “Choosing the Joys of a Simplified Life”  for the New York Times. Goldberg reports that in the summer of 1995,

“pollsters announced the striking results of a survey measuring patterns of consumption. From a nationwide cross section of Americans, 28 percent said they had downshifted and had voluntarily cut back on their income in some way over the last five years to reflect changes in priorities.”

“Commissioners of the poll, the Merck Family Fund . . .  said the 800-person focus group and telephone sample also indicated that 82 percent of Americans agreed with the statement ‘We buy and consume far more than we need.’. . .

Many of the downshifters were parents who had cut their consumption to reduce working hours, thereby gaining time with their children. But many were also just responding to the yearning “to reduce stress, get more balance, get a saner life,” said Juliet B. Schor, a Harvard economist who wrote the “The Overworked American” (Basic Books, 1993)

Voluntary Simplicity is an idea more ancient than Ecclesiastes, with stops at Buddha, Jesus, the Puritans and Henry David Thoreau. What is different these days, say those who are charting the trend, is that the seemingly unnatural choice to slow down and cut down shows signs of going broadly mainstream, across age groups and class lines. And, they say, it is taking on new power in light of Americans’ growing environmental awareness.[…]

The Trends Research Institute of Rhinebeck, N.Y., [chose] Voluntary Simplicity as one of its top 10 trends of the 90’s. It predict[ed] that by the end of the decade, 15 percent of America’s 77 million baby boomers [would] be part of a “simplicity” market for things like low-priced durable gardening and home products that are short on slickness and status.[…] Gerald Celente, the director of the institute, [predicted that] youngsters . . . in their early teens . . . [were] going to buy into the idea that we’re overconsuming,” he added. “This is the first group that’s been indoctrinated green.”

Since the end of the conspicuously consuming 80’s, a striving for simplicity and thrift has been showing up in fields as wide-ranging as construction (architects note a tendency to renovate rather than to build) and physical fitness (witness the growing popularity of walking, a sport that requires nothing but a pair of shoes).”


Our Discussion with Duane Elgin

Duane Elgin, is author of Voluntary Simplicity. The book was first published in 1981 and a revision has recently been released. He’s also author of Promise Ahead, Awakening Earth, and The Living Universe.

1. As we were researching the world of voluntary simplicity, we found references to you all over the web. You’ve been involved in thinking about this for about 30 years. What got you interested in voluntary simplicity?

2. You frequently use the term a “garden of simplicity” to represent the many faces of this movement. What are some of the manifestations of simple living?

3. One of the things we associate with the history of this movement is from some of our friends in the 60s—people who decided to “drop out” or those who decided to move “back to nature.” But you emphasize that simplicity doesn’t mean living in poverty or apart from society. Do people have to give up creature comforts to live simply?

4. How has the movement changed over the past 30 years?

5. Your characterization of voluntary simplicity includes a strong spiritual element. How central is spirituality to voluntary simplicity?

6. In our opening we described forms of simple living over millennia—including Greek philosophers, religious groups in Europe and America, and Henry David Thoreau.. How does our unique moment in time shape new notions of voluntary simplicity?

Voluntary Simplicity in Practice

1. Tell us about some of the inward riches that people discover when they seek voluntary simplicity.

2. You also emphasize community throughout the book. Describe how community and voluntary simplicity work hand in hand.

3. You distinguish between regressive, cosmetic, and deep simple living. Can you explain those?

4. Can you give us more examples of voluntary simplicity? What can we do to get started? And if we have listeners who already have ideas, but need to take that next step toward living simply, what suggests do you have?

Duane Elgin is the author of the recently revised and re-released Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of life that is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich. It’s published by Harper.

Do-It-Yourself Voluntary Simplicity
(Can there be any other kind?)

We want to recommend several websites for those who would like to learn more and DO more (or less)!

One of the most useful websites we found was SimpleLiving.net. Our guest tonight Duane Elgin is a “partner” in this group, which is celebrating its 14th Anniversary. In addition to a list of resources in simple living, green living, gardening, country living, and cooking and food, the site offers  various ways of interacting–Discussion Forums, Study Groups & Circles, Blogs, and Listings for events, workshops, speeches, appearances, announcements, on-line classes, gatherings and more from authors and organizations in the simplicity and sustainability movements.

SimpleLiving.net also has an informative newsletter. It includes suggestions and testimonials, as well as guidance on the various issues those who want to live simply can make use of.  A testimonial by Dan Ryan, a former Mad Man Ad Executive who now works as a full-time artist, discusses his ‘Journey To Financial Integrity.” It began in 1994 after he read, Your Money Or Your Life in 1994. He says:

At the time, I was buried in a large mortgage, credit card debts, student loans, car loan, and house down payment loan to Dad. Needless to say, I was receptive to a new way of thinking and living.

I should have known better — I was part of the whole problem! I was a Senior Creative in the advertising machine. I created the ads which seduced people into a lifestyle of endless consumption. I hated the industry, my job, the hours, and the whole mess!” . . . . Now, he says, “I’m avowed cheapskate and proud of it! My cars are ten years old and will run for another ten if I can make them..” . . . .

There are thousands of people out there living like I was in the ’90s. They are up to their eyeballs in debt, trapped in a lifestyle they resent. They have done nothing wrong. Heck, they were seduced into the idea that Bigger is Better! . . . .

It’s like I tell my son: You can have whatever you like…just pay cash and buy it used.”

A weblogger, Katy Wolk-Stanley writes daily as  “The Non-Consumer Advocate.” In the LivingSimply.net newsletter she writes:

Want to start living the green life?

Retailers would have you believe green living is all about organically grown hemp sheets and sustainably harvested bamboo living room sets.


The best green purchase you can make is the one not taken.”

She is part of  “world wide non-consumer group called The Compact. (Buy nothing new.) Since joining in January 2007, “I’ve only bought a few new items here and there.”[…] She advocates that the

next time you’re about to buy a brand-new product, pause a moment to think whether it could be found used.

Or maybe even not bought at all.”

Ann Haebig looks through the sites discussion forums to report on what people are doing in the “do-it-yourself” realm. She says she

was struck by how active our members are. We do a lot of things for ourselves, whether for reasons of frugality, self-sufficiency, or the simple pleasure of a task well done. Here’s a sample of some of the things we’re doing:

* We’re helping the environment by switching from disposable sanitary pads.

* We’re getting healthier by making our own energy bars, granola, and yogurt.

* We’re building our community by figuring out how to meet other simple livers and how to talk to them once we do.

* We’re becoming more self-sufficient by raising chickens for meat, building our own seed starting setups, and growing much of our own food.

  • We’re also cutting our water bills by reusing greywater and making rain barrels.

She concludes: “What a fascinating and dynamic bunch of people! These folks truly are making the changes the world needs. This collection of topics demonstrates how many things we can do that benefit our finances, our health, and the environment.”

If you’re looking for ways to live more simply, you might want to check out this website: LivingSimply.net

Playlist for Ecotopia #70: Voluntary Simplicity

1. Hallelujah       2:57  MaMuse       All The Way

2. Give Me the Simple Life (Live At the Crescendo)   1:54  Ella Fitzgerald      Twelve Nights In Hollywood

3. Life Uncommon       4:57  Jewel       Spirit

4. Simplicity       4:48  Shawn Pander      Memories 4 Sale

5. Rag & Bone    3:48 The White Stripes       Icky Thump

6. Weave Me the Sunshine    4:28  Peter, Paul And Mary       The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

7. Bridge Over Troubled Water      4:51  Simon & Garfunkel       Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits

8. This Life 4:30  Bruce Springsteen      Working On A Dream

9. Life Is a Song Worth Singing      6:03  Johnny Mathis     The Essential Johnny Mathis

11. Garden Song 5:34  MaMuse   All The Way

12. You’ve Got a Friend        4:33  James Taylor     Mud Slide Slim & The Blue Horizon Rock

13. Sunshine On My Shoulders (Digitally Remastered)       5:11  John Denver       Definitive All-Time Greatest Hits

Ecotopia #69 Environmental Literature

Posted by on 25 Jan 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Tonight we’ll be talking with Scott Slovic, professor of English at University of Nevada, Reno. He’ll be talking with us about his field of study—literature and the environment, as well as describing a new project he’s been working on, “The Literature of Sustainability.”

Our Discussion with Scott Slovic

On the phone with us is Scott Slovic, professor of literature and the environment at the University of Nevada, Reno. Thanks for joining us, Scott.

1A. You are a professor of literature and environment. Can you tell us a little more about your field? How long has it been around? What do you study?

1B.  In a recent conversation we had, you argued that the humanities must be seen as an integral part of the world, not as a decorative bauble or mere entertainment.  How does environmental literature engage what some call “the real world?”

2. What approach do you take in teaching literature about the environment? Are courses political? historical? cultural?

3. What is ecocriticism? How does that function in the field of literature and environment?

4. You’re currently teaching, lecturing, and writing a book on the Literature of Sustainability? Could you tell us what your focus is there?

Recommended Readings from Scott Slovic

The Literature of Sustainability

Gore, Al. An Inconvenient Truth. Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2006.

Hersey, John. My Petition for More Space. New York: Knopf, 1974.

Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. 1957. New York: Viking, 1997.

Meloy, Ellen. Raven’s Exile: A Season on the Green River. 1994. Tucson: U of Arizona     P,


Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. 2006. New York: Penguin, 2007.

Powers, Richard. Gain. New York: Picador USA, 1998.

Quammen, David. The Song of the Dodo: Island Biography in an Age of Extinction. 1996. New

York: Pimlico, 1997.

Steingraber, Sandra. Living Downstream: A Scientist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer    and the

Environment. 1997. New York: Vintage, 1998.

Stafford, William. “Maybe Alone on My Bike.” 1964. Smoke’s Way. Minneapolis: Graywolf,

1983. 29.

Susanka, Sarah. The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live. Newtown, CT:

Taunton, 2001.

The Literature of Energy

Bergon, Frank. The Temptations of St. Ed and Brother S. Reno: U of Nevada P, 1993.

Brower, Kenneth. The Starship and the Canoe. 1978. New York: Harper Perennial, 1983.

Gaines, Susan. Carbon Dreams. Berkeley, CA: The Creative Arts Book Company, 2001. Gelbspan, Ross. Boiling Point: How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists, and Activists

Have Fueled the Climate Crisis—and What We Can Do to Avert Disaster. 2004. New        York: Basic Books, 2005.

McKibben, Bill. The End of Nature. 1989. New York: Anchor, 1997.

McPhee, John. The Curve of Binding Energy. 1973. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994.

Smil, Vaclav. Energy at the Crossroads: Global Perspectives and Uncertainties. 2004.

Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005.

Weisman, Alan. Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea

Green Publishing, 1998.

Food, Sustainability, and American Culture

Andrews, William L., ed. Classic American Autobiographies. New York: Signet Classics, 1992.

Berry, Wendell. Remembering: A Novel. 1990. Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 2008.

Brinkley, Alan. The Unfinished Nation. 1993. Fifth Edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2008.

Crevecoeur, Hector St. John de. Letters from an American Farmer and Sketches of

Eighteenth-Century America. 1782. New York: Penguin Classics, 1981.

Klindienst, Patricia. The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the

Gardens of Ethnic Americans. Boston: Beacon, 2006.

Ozeki, Ruth. All Over Creation. New York: Penguin, 2004.

Nabhan, Gary Paul. Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods. New York: Norton, 2009.

Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. 2006. New York:

Penguin, 2007.

Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005.

Steingraber, Sandra. Having Faith. New York: Berkley, 2003.

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. 1854. New York: Dover, 1995.

Ecocriticism and Theory (with selected samples of environmental literature)

Adamson, Joni, Mei Mei Evans, and Rachel Stein, eds., The Environmental Justice

Reader. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 2002.

Adamson, Joni, and Scott Slovic, eds. Special issue of MELUS 34.2 (Summer 2009).

ISSN: 0163-755x. Contact: melus@uconn.edu

Alaimo, Stacy, and Susan Hekman, eds., Material Feminisms. Bloomington: Indiana UP,


Buell, Lawrence. The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and

Literary Imagination. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.

DeLoughrey, Elizabeth, Renée Gosson, and George Handley, Caribbean Literature and

the Environment: Between Nature and Culture. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P,


Dobrin, Sidney, and Sean Morey, eds., Ecosee: Image, Rhetoric, Nature. Albany: SUNY

P, 2009.

Glotfelty, Cheryll, and Harold Fromm, eds., The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in

Literary Ecology. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1996.

Gore, Al. An Inconvenient Truth. Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2006. ISBN: 1-59486-567-1.

Heise, Ursula. Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the

Global. New York: Oxford UP, 2008.

Hogan, Linda. People of the Whale. New York: Norton, 2008.

Ihimaera, Witi. The Whale Rider. Orlando: Harcourt, 2003.

Lynch, Tom. Xerophilia: Ecocritical Explorations in Southwestern Literature. Lubbock:

Texas Tech UP, 2008.

Nabhan, Gary Paul. Arab/American: Landscape, Culture, and Cuisine in Two Great

Deserts. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 2008.

Sturgeon, Noël. Environmentalism in Popular Culture: Gender, Race, Sexuality, and the

Politics of the Natural. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 2009.

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. 1854. Boston: Beacon, 1997.

Williams, Terry Tempest. Finding Beauty in a Broken World. New York: Vintage, 2008.

Wolfe, Cary. Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and

Posthumanist Theory. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2003.

Ecotopia #68 A Wild and Scenic Film Festival

Posted by on 11 Jan 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

12 January 2010

Tonight our focus is on the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, “Fresh, Local, Wild,” which will be taking place in Nevada City this coming Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  We’ll chat with Kathy Dotson, Director of the Festival, and with three filmmakers whose work will be shown over the weekend.  In addition, our music tonight comes from the film “Back to the Garden,” created by one of our guests.

Our Questions for Kathy Dotson.

  • Please give us a brief history of the Festival—which is in its 8th year. (Please also tell us about the grant you’ve received from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.)
  • What are a few of the highlights of this year’s festival?
  • What’s the cost of passes to the festival?
  • Where can people buy passes and learn more about the festivbal program?


Our Questions for Filmmaker Kevin Tomlinson

Kevin is director of Back to the Garden, which will be showing at the Wild and Scenic Festival at 9:38 am Sunday, the 16th.  And our music breaks tonight are performed by Band of Annuals from the soundtrack to that film.

  • Your film is about a bunch of aging hippies who have been searching environmental utopias since a healing gathering in Washington in 1988, and you have a lot of then-and-now footage. Please tell us about how you came to make this film.
  • How did you meet these folks in the first place?
  • How easy or difficult was it to track them down?
  • Please tell us something about their stories.  Did they find what they were looking for?  Are their Ecotopian dreams working out?
  • As a filmmaker, you presumably shoot a lot of film and then winnow it down to your final print.  Please tell us something about that process.  Why did you make the choices you did for the film?  What was left on the cutting room floor?
  • Do you try to send a message?  Or do folks have make meaning for themselves?
  • What other projects do you have in the works at Heaven Scent Films?
  • Tim Cash will be present at the film showing in Grass Velley at 9:38 am on Sunday morning.  Who is Tim and what his connection to your project?

Listeners who would like to learn more about the film can go to http://backtothegardenfilm.com/

Our Questions for Filmmaker Kevin White

One of the filmmakers in attendance at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival will be Kevin White, premiering his film A Simple Question: The Story of Straw.

  • The Story of Straw is about a watershed restoration project launched over twenty years ago by some fourth grade kids and their teacher. The project has grown over the years, and you document that in your film. Please tell us about the film and what it covers.
  • Did you talk with any of the original fourth graders who launched the project?  If so, are these people still involved with the project or, more broadly, with the environmental movement?  Who are the people continuing the project today?
  • We’re interested in how a documentary filmmaker goes about his work.  How much footage did you shoot?  Did you have a pattern or vision in mind before shooting?  Did you have some fortuitous or unplanned events?
  • How do you whittle down all your footage into a coherent package?  Do you try to deliver a specific message?  Or, perhaps do you just let the sound and images work on the viewer?
  • Did you have to leave some great stuff on the cutting room floor?
  • What project(s) are you working on now?

A Simple Question: The Story of Straw will be premiered at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, with two showings, 1:47 pm Saturday and 1:10 pm Sunday.  Interested listeners should also check out the film’s website: www.asimplequestion.org/

Our Questions for Lisa Madison

Lisa Madison, who is the Distribution and Outreach coordinator for a film by Ana Joanescalled, simply Fresh. It is receiving a great deal of praise in the environmental movement as being in the genre of Food, Inc. (which recently showed here in Chico), but with an emphasis on the practical, the do-it-yourself.

  • Please tell us about Fresh and what we can expect when we see it.
  • You have some major names in the alternative food movement in the movie, including Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin. How did your team reach them, and why do you think they wanted to be in the film?
  • The film has also been praised for being optimistic.  What do you see as its optimistic strong points?
  • Does it provide guidance for the individual who wants to eat healthy, local, and safe?
  • Filmmaker Ana Joanes says on your web site that she’d like the film to reach one million people. As distribution and outreach coordinator, you’re probably faced with this daunting goal.  How’s it going?
  • Please tell us a little about your educational discussion guides and other resources for people who want to use the film.
  • Your website also has a petition to the Department of Justice (which we’ve signed) concerning corporate control of ag. Please tell us more about this aspect of your project.
  • Are there other points you’d like to make about FRESH, in particular, or the healthy-local-safe food movement generally?

It will be screened at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival this Friday at 8:31 pm and again Sunday at 2:18 pm.  Listeners can also check out their website, which is http://www.freshthemovie.com/


Our music tonight comes from the soundtrack to Back to the Garden, by Kevin Tomlinson.  The musical group is Band of Annuals from their Let Me Live album.  The cuts include:

“Let Me Live” 3:24
“David’s Country” 3:32
“Don’t Let Me Die” 5:52
“Blood on My Shirt” 3:21

The closing theme, as always, is “Weave Me the Sunshine” by Peter, Paul, and Mary.