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I gave away money without knowing if it will do good

Let me start this post with a disclaimer. The intent of writing this blog is not to brag about my charitable donation. (Trust me, it is nothing to brag about and there are plenty of people who donate or volunteer more). Rather, I want to shed some light on a type of charity I strongly believe in. A form of donating that is sometimes frowned upon and remains a bit of a mystery. A type of giving that ask nothing in return from the receiver. And therefore, a type of giving that has the potential to fund people’s drug and alcohol addiction. Yet, also a type of giving that has the potential to eradicate global poverty within our lifetime. In a nutshell, it is the concept of giving money to the poor without any conditions. Let me explain.

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Is blogging even sustainable?

A while ago blogging was announced dead. This proclamation related to the decrease in marketing spending on blogs in favour of other platforms, such as podcasts, Instagram and YouTube. The marketing budgets might have gone down, but the influence bloggers have on their readership is bigger than ever. This is particularly true in the space of the sustainability sector. Lifestyle bloggers all over the world take the complexity of sustainability issues and translate them into simple everyday practices. In fact, the blogosphere has been called the fastest growing source for environmental information. But is it really that simple? Is blogging really a force for good in the fight against environmental degradation. Or are we all just kidding ourselves?

The Good 

As I began to research this topic I wanted to start with the positives. And I was happy to find that the work had been done for me. A 2018 scientific paper explored the positive impacts of personal blogs on environmental communication. (Yes, someone did a scientific study on bloggers!) The study lauded sustainability bloggers on their reinforcement of the individualization of responsibility. These bloggers show us how we can make practical changes in our lives that do good on the environment. From zero-waste bloggers and vegan recipe creators to minimalists and clean beauty guru’s, the blogging sphere has a wealth of knowledge for self-governed sustainability. It is through these blogs that I started my own sustainability journey. And after several university degrees on environmental sustainability I still believe that the small personal changes advocated by bloggers are the most crucial ones for change. So far, so good.

The Bad

The actual content of sustainability blogs is to be encouraged. Their medium is wanting. That medium is of course the internet. We often talk about the internet as ‘a cloud’, as if all the trillions of memes, videos and articles are floating somewhere in space. But in reality, they are stored in massive data centres that use up a whole lot of energy. And on the other side, there are all the internet consumers that use their increasingly smart – but also energy-intensive – devices. In 2018 the amount of global internet users increased by 7%. It was also the first year where the total amount of internet users surpassed the 4 billion mark. Without increased efficiency or a switch to renewable energy by the IT-industry, researchers have estimated the internet could create 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. If that doesn’t sound too bad, it is. When the Gangnam Style video went viral in 2012, it was watched 3 billion times. Those 3 billion views together emitted as much CO2-emmissions as when 313.000 passengers fly from Amsterdam to Bangkok. 14% is bad.

The Solution

The internet is not all bad news. Big internet companies, such as Google, are increasingly using renewable energy to power their data centers. In fact, Google is much more sustainable than the popular sustainability search engine Ecosia. This search engine plants trees for every search people make but is hosted by Bing. Since Bing does not have great sustainability credentials, Ecosia’s net emissions are actually worse than Google’s. Google is really pushing the frontiers of sustainable internet. So step one is too use sustainable internet services. (Check this list for a sustainability ranking of the most used internet services). Bloggers can make their blogs sustainable by using a smart design that features darker colours. (Note to self: redesign the white blog layout.)

We can also become more mindful, both as creators and consumers. As consumers, we can do social media detoxes or shut off our electronic devices entirely for a weekend . Of course, we can also read blogs that push us towards sustainable habits, rather than those that promote heavy consumerism. As creators, we can post only when we feel proud to share our articles rather than spewing out thin content to keep the blog busy. I am not saying these solutions are perfect, but they might help.

The internet is truly a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it has empowered people all over the world by supplying access to knowledge at the tip of our fingers. Sustainability would not have been propagated as much on the personal level if it weren’t for bloggers. On the other hand, the internet is one of the most polluting industries in the world. As with anything in sustainability, the issue is complex. All we can do as users is to become more mindful when and what we create and consume on the internet. Let’s all do our bit!

The weekend that rekindled my love for pottering

If you have been following my blog for a little while, you know that I am a big fan of doing nothing. As a compulsive ‘doer’, I like to carve out time to just let myself be. Not to meditate. No to read. Not to do anything other than simply exist. I have practiced doing nothing for a while now, whenever I have a spare few hours. And I shared my tips on how to do nothing on my blog. But recently I was inspired to take this doing nothing a little further. I turned off all my electronics on Friday evening and did not turn them on again until Monday morning. What was supposed to be a weekend of quiet reflection and stillness brought me back to my beloved childhood activity of pottering about. Let me tell you what happened.

The inspiration that started it all

It all started with an On Being podcast episode with Pico Iyer. The episode explored the urgency of living slow. Iyer is an essayist and novelist who lives in rural Japan. He rarely used electronics by his own account and lives a simple and slow life. In fact, Iyer spends several hours a day doing nothing just to flex his creative muscle. Of course, this type of lifestyle is not sustainable for those of us who are not living of the royalties of previous book publications. But Iyer also offered another possibility during the podcast episode. He mentioned that a few of his friends will switch off all electronics during the weekend. That way they slow down their pace of life at least a few days a week. They fit in the slow wherever is practical and sustainable. Inspired by this practice, I switched off my electronics for a full weekend last December.

An old childhood friend

On Saturday morning I woke and ‘executed’ my ideal morning routine. I worked out, stretched, meditated, journaled and had a slow and mindful breakfast. Then I picked up a book and read for a bit. I savoured the moment and stared out the window a lot. I had nowhere to go and no one to be. And then it happened… I got up and started pottering. A practice I am so familiar with but had long put behind me as frivolous and pointless. When I was a child, I could spend entire days pottering around my room. I would rearrange my belongings, nip in and out of my books, sort through the rubble and move about my space. There was no rhyme and reason to my activity and no purpose. I would simply be active in a room full of wonderful things to (re-)discover.

No purpose

I wonder what ever made me stop pottering. For all its positive effects, I think the spiritual and self-help movements are to blame. As I increased my understanding of different mindfulness techniques, I started to abandon those that had come most natural to me as a child. Pottering about was replaced with meditation and yoga. Even doing absolutely nothing had to become a structured affair with a clear purpose (of unwinding). My natural urge to potter was repressed to the area of my mind that holds my memories. And this is a shame, since pottering is not only deeply familiar to me, but also carries some significant health benefits. Besides being a great way to unwind, researchers have found that the low level of activity brought about by pottering around reduces the build-up of fat around the arteries. This health benefit cannot be replaced by an actual workout. Sitting all day cannot be offset by 60-minute HIIT class. Learning about this fact in preparation for this post cemented my belief that pottering holds some beneficial goodness.

And so, I have started pottering once more. Drawers have become treasure chests to explore. Books have become magazines to flip through. Life has been drawn into the present moment not by some recommended spiritual practice, but by simply turning my focus on what is right on front of me.

Have you ever pottered?