Low Carbon Luxury – 1 – Breathe

Personal Context:

About a year ago, I had something of a nervous breakdown.  Worries about politics and global warming, the stress of balancing career and parenting, being constantly on alert because of my daughter’s anaphylactic allergies.  One morning, I awoke to intense chest pains.  My doctor did some tests.  While I awaited results, I wrote exams for my PhD.  A false positive on a treadmill test convinced me I had heart problems and while I waited to see a cardiologist my chest pains got worse and worse.

Believing that I could drop dead and leave my daughter without a father was the slap in the face I needed.  I cancelled meetings, stopped projects, asked friends and family for help with parenting and chores.  Eventually, more testing revealed that my heart was fine…

… but in the mean time…

while I slowed down and watched the world passing me by

I learned a great deal about myself and about meaningful, satisfying experiences.

The most interesting discovery was that the actions I took to reduce my anxiety were good for my carbon footprint and the things I was doing to reduce my carbon footprint helped me cultivate daily habits that were less stressful and more fulfilling.  In a world where anything and everything is right at our finger tips, a long, leisurely pause is an unheard of luxury.

Low Carbon Luxury – How to Live More by Reducing your Fossil Fuel Dependency

Fossil fuels, speed everything up.  But the real luxury is slowing down.  I don’t really have to tell you that, you already know it in your bones.

The very first thing you have to do to build a better life for yourself is to…



Look around you.    A c t u a l l y     l o o k     around you.  Take your eyes off the screen for a second and notice the room you are sitting in, the bus or train you are riding on, the street you are walking along.  Notice the rich colours.  Which colour stands out?

Now take a deep breath.

Think about the past week — how much time did you spend doing things that you enjoyed and how much time did you spend unjamming the photocopier of modern society?

Burning fossil fuels lets us accomplish more things more quickly.  But if we don’t know where we are going, speed is worse than useless – it’s dangerous.  Raising a child without a car means that we can’t do everything.  But limiting our options often results in better decisions.  Sometimes we say no to a birthday party or after-school activity because it’s simply impossible to get there and back in time for bed – but I have never regretted the quiet hours spent with my daughter playing board games or at a park.  This September, almost a year after I began to slow down, we were unable to get our daughter into after-school care.  I decided to start working from home and picking her up at three — slowing my life down even further.  My work on my PhD has suffered — but my relationship with my daughter is getting better and better.  My CV can wait.  My daughter will never be four years old again.


The first tenet of low-carbon luxury is to work less so you can spend more time living.  The second tenet is to live more frugally so that you can afford to work less.  We spend a huge amount of our income on environmentally unsustainable services just to keep our heads above water – we grab fast food at the drive-through, fill our freezers with frozen meals, hire people to mow our lawns.  You might think a car saves you time — but it probably costs you about $500 a month.  How many extra hours are you working just to “save time”?  All of that can go.  Good riddance.

I recognize that working less isn’t possible for everyone – especially in the short term.  If that’s the case for you, you will still benefit from living frugally, paying down debts and building up savings.  You can also look over your schedule and decide which chores and social engagements aren’t really necessary.  I never regret any day when I manage to clear my schedule and spend an afternoon with my wife and daughter puttering around the house, doing whatever we please.

Take another deep breath.  Together, we will find our way home again.


A leaf-blower burns gas and makes an angry, urgent sound in order to accelerate ordinary manual labour into a hurried blur — but working with your hands is rewarding.  More than anything else, digging into the materiality of the world — the smell of soil, the way a nail sinks into wood, the sound of onions sizzling in a pan – is what makes life satisfying.  And yet, we are always trying to make these tasks go more quickly or passing them off to someone else.  If you have a snowblower AND a gym membership you are doing something wrong.  Shovel your own snow.  Watch how the edge of the shovel slides into the fluffy white dough.  Watch how your breath curls and coils in the icy air.  Stop and talk to your neighbours who are also out, huffing and puffing, in the cold.

There’s a Zen Koan that I remember, but cannot retrieve, so I offer this apocryphal recreation:

A young monk asks the Master, “What is Zen?”

The Master tells him to finish raking the leaves before asking such an impertinent question.

The monk goes back to his chore, raking as fast as he can, eager for his chance to ask again.

When he finishes raking the grounds of the monastery, he asks again:

What is Zen?

The Master says “Zen is raking leaves.”

Instead of rushing through tasks or passing them off to others like hot potatoes, we must learn to soak them in, to engage our senses and notice the miracles all around us.  The gentle rustling of the leaves, the soothing emptiness of a well-swept patch of ground, the pleasant fullness of a heap of raked leaves.  Doing fewer things will give us the space to appreciate the things we are already doing.

The second tenet of low-carbon luxury – to live more frugally – can be difficult, but the path to this lofty goal is drop-dead simple.  Just stop buying things.  You can do it.  You probably have books on your shelf you’ve never read, CDs you haven’t listened to for years.  Just sit down in a chair and start reading.  Listen to one of your favourite CDs from beginning to end.  Invite a friend over and make two cups of that tea in the back of your cupboard.  Cancel your cable.  Downgrade your cellphone plan.  By some dry beans and a bag of rice and learn to cook some cheap, traditional, vegetarian foods.  They will be more satisfying and healthier than anything else you might make.  There are good books on minimalism so I won’t go into much detail here – I will just repeat my brute force rule – whenever you think about buying something or spending money – don’t.

You will be surprised how good it feels to free yourself from things and return to looking, listening and living.

Experiences weigh nothing and you never have to dust them.

The third tenet of low-carbon luxury is to get in touch with our lungs and diaphragms and to keep in touch with them throughout the day.  Our churning, burning, 24-7 society never lets us take a breath.  We keep getting interrupted.

Push notifications.


Extreme heat alerts.

Honking horns.

Leaf blowers.

Your boss just emailed in the middle of dinner.





Low-carbon luxury means tuning out the noise.  It means listening to each breath passing in and out of your body.

Try it with me: put one palm on your chest and one palm on your belly.  As you breathe, the hand on your belly should move more than the hand on your chest.  Once you are breathing from your belly, slow each inhalation and exhalation.  This is called diaphragmatic breathing.  Feel your belly expanding and contracting.  Feel the oxygen enriching your blood.

This is the end of the first installment of the low-carbon luxury series.  Please remain in your seat and continue breathing until your mind’s anxious chatter has come to a complete stop… you can use this video if you like.


Part Two is about Mindfulness and Sensation and it is available here.



Fridays For Future Climate Strike begins December 7

Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg is a fifteen-year-old Swedish girl who stopped going to school on Fridays to demand stronger climate action from her government.  This one simple act has inspired millions of people worldwide and sparked school strikes throughout Europe, in Australia and now in Canada as well.

A Simple Refusal

While many of us are still caught up in the tasks assigned to us by our teachers, supervisors and managers, Greta has seen with piercing clarity that these tasks were designed for a world that no longer exists.

So Greta refused.

And she asks us to look at our own daily lives and consider where our actions are leading us.

When we look at photos of Greta, we can see her desperation, her frustration with the adults who are erasing her future even while they claim to be protecting her, but we can see something else as well.  We see bravery and compassion when she speaks in front of large crowds.  We see kindness as she talks with those who choose to stop and speak with her.  We see tenderness as she sits and reads, waiting patiently for the adults to make things right.



It is this mixture of desperation, bravery, compassion and patience that has inspired so many.  Greta is not the first to ask us to stop and look at what we are doing to our planet — indigenous people have been doing so for decades if not centuries — but she has the loudest, clearest voice at this moment in history and it is imperative that we all stop and listen to her words.

Greta’s voice is now beginning to resonate here in Canada.  Sophia Mathur of Sudbury was the first to protest in Canada — but momentum is gathering and there will be strikes across Ontario beginning on December 7th.

A Low-Carbon Future is a Beautiful Future — So Let’s Celebrate

Greta has asked us to stop and reconsider a social order that is driving us over the edge — but we must also demonstrate that a better world is possible.  As Fridays for Future roll out in Canada, let’s celebrate the beauty of a post-carbon world.  To change a society we must shine a light on injustice, but we must also give people an enticing glimpse of what an alternative world might look like.  The civil rights movement was driven by anger at the injustices of the world, but that anger was tempered by the beauty of the black pride movement.  Black ministers and poets and academics and musicians showed the world how much richer all of our lives would be if we simply accepted what they had to offer.

A world with fewer fossil fuels will be safer, more meaningful and more just.  And the seeds of that world are already growing all around us.  Cities with fewer gas-powered cars and more electric vehicles will be more peaceful and less polluted.  More pedestrians and cyclists means more smiles and nods, healthier hearts and greater connections between neighbours.  A switch to renewable energy will mean safer careers and less deaths due to lung and brain disease.  Local food means tastier fruits and vegetables.  More plant-based meals will mean a healthier, happier population and less cruelty to animals.  Cutting back on unnecessary consumption will mean less plastic crap and more time spent with friends and family.

If you choose to attend a Fridays for future protest, I urge to carry this spirit of celebration with you — bring a guitar or drums, fly a flag on your bicycle, bring jokes and poems and healthy food to share with other brave, desperate, compassionate people.

A Million Simple Acts

Not everyone will be able to take a day off to protest on December 7.  But there are a million ways to show your solidarity.  You could take a long lunch and drop in briefly.  You could stage a smaller protest at a busy intersection near your home or work.   In his work on social movements, Manuel Castells noted that early workers’ movements were most successful when workers also lived in close proximity to one another — this was because protest flowed through the channels of daily life and women were able to take the lead in organizing and supporting the strike.  Women have been the driving force behind most successful social movements.  Luckily, the future is female.  Micro-actions integrated into our daily lives can spread a protest’s message throughout all the networks and circuits of our society and reach people who might never hear about a protest at Queen’s Park or City Hall.

  1. Put up a poster on your front lawn, in the elevator or on the wall of your cubicle.
  2. Share news about the protests with your colleagues and ask for their opinions.
  3. Call your MP or MPP during your lunch break to express support for the strike.
  4. Find like-minded people in your workplace and approach your manager together.  You might say something like “Climate change is an important topic and we want to support these brave young people, but we also know that the work we’re doing is important, especially with such-and-such deadline on the horizon.  Rather than taking a day off to join the protest, we would like to organize a short lunch-and-learn about climate change on December 7.”

If you do decide to organize an event in your workplace, consider using our pledge sheets or online pledge interface to turn your coworkers’ interest into concrete reductions and specific political actions.  You might also want to direct them towards larger climate organizations like Act350 or the Climate Mobilization.

For info on the Climatestrike in Sudbury: 

follow @SophiaMathur on twitter or sign-up at this website: https://www.liveablesudbury.org/fridays_for_a_future .

For info on the Climatestrike in Toronto:

check out this facebook event or just show up at Queen’s Park between 12 pm and 2 pm on December 7.


Update #fridaysforfuture Toronto is growing!  The next major event will be Feb.1 from 12:30 until 2:00.  And Instagram (@fridays4futuretoronto) and twitter (@toclimatefuture) accounts are up and running.

Don’t be fooled — this is an emergency

This is not a drill.  If we don’t act now, we will be hit with devastating climate breakdown in our lifetimes.

We’ve known this for decades — but we’ve done nothing.

Our brains are tricking us into thinking everything is fine.  Because — for now — everything seems fine.

During an interview on the NPR podcast Hidden Brain, the nobel-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman observed that: “If you were to design a problem that our mind is not equipped to deal with climate change would fit the bill. It’s distant. It’s abstract. It’s contested. If there were a comet hurtling toward us — you know, an event that was predictable — within a day, we’d mobilize. It’s not even that it’s distant in time. If it was going to affect our children, we’d mobilize.”


Your brain will also try to tell you that the problem is too big, too complicated, there’s nothing you can do it about it.  But that’s not true.

There are sooo many things you can do. You can call your representatives, switch to RNG or buy an EV.  Mostly though, we have to start talking about the problem.  Each conversation is a chance to shift public discourse.  When a friend mentions the weather, just tell them you’re terrified about climate change.

Send a heartfelt email to all your contacts.

Post a message on your office door.

Do something and do it today.

Five Reasons Why This Will Work

Reason #1: It Won’t Work — On it’s Own

Cutting personal consumption is a piece of the puzzle, but it isn’t enough on its own.  If you heard about our pledge system and thought ‘That will never work, the most important thing is cutting fossil fuel subsidies or nuclear power or taming runaway capitalism’ — We hear you.  And we agree.  But there isn’t any one solution to our climate crisis that will get the job done on its own.  It’s time for us to realize that we need ‘both/and’ solutions rather than arguing about ‘either/or’.  We need better politicians, better technology, better urban planning.  But cutting personal consumption does have immediate impact.  It is way faster than building solar power, high density housing, or LEED buildings — and the sooner we cut our carbon output, the more chance the planet has of reaching a safe equilibrium.

Reason #2: Virtuous Circles

You will notice that many of the pledges on our pledge sheet ask you to try a vegan restaurant, test drive an electrical vehicle, or become an early adopter of Renewable Natural GasTalking about new businesses and buying their products helps sustainable businesses grow — and as they grow they will be given more shelf space at the grocery store and have more to spend on marketing and opening new branches.  Even if you aren’t vegan or vegetarian look around at your grocery store for meat and dairy alternatives and try them out.  Some of them taste better than the original and with modern attention to inventory you can bet your local grocery store will take notice.  A&W’s beyond-meat burger patty recently SOLD OUT in Canada, so you can be sure that investors and food companies are paying attention.

Reason #3: Social Norms

We think flying for leisure is a normal and reasonable thing to do because so many people do it — and because it is an activity that appears so often in the media.  As more and more people stand up and say “I won’t fly until global warming is under control” those around us will begin to see that flying is in fact reckless and immoral.  Tweeting pics of your tropical vacation will begin to seem tasteless rather than stylish.  We are already seeing these shifts in other areas — plant-based eating went from fringe to mainstream in just a few years.  Asking for vegan options at restaurants will cause more and more restaurants to take notice and put those options on the menu and once than happens many people who never think about the climate when they select their meal will order them just because they are there and they look tasty.

Reason #4: Global Warming is Solvable

The global economy is massive and varied.  Most of the technologies we need to solve global warming already exist.  These technologies are profitable, they are growing and they are driving job creation.  Yes, some sectors of the economy and regions of the world will face economic contraction as we make the shift — but  economic contraction isn’t the end of the world.

Source: David McCandless, Information is Beautiful https://informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/trillions-what-is-a-trillion-dollars/

According to some estimates the cost of meeting all government obligations under the Paris Agreement is less than the amount of money hidden away in offshore bank accounts.  The Financial Crisis was challenging, but now, a decade later, global economies are running at top speed again.  If we invest our surplus into low-carbon technologies we can beat this problem and wake up in a future that is safe and sustainable — and we will likely be eating healthier food, exercising more and breathing cleaner air as a side-effect.  In many ways, global warming is a bigger crisis than World War II and yet our response has been so modest.  Imagine if we were buying Solar Bonds in the same numbers that our grandparents bought War Bonds!  And where are the Victory Gardens and armies of young men and women rolling up their sleeves and fighting the good fight?  I think of my own grandfather who dropped out of high school, concealed a contraband radio and hid from the Nazis in a hole in the wall of his family home in order to play a role in the Norwegian Underground.  The efforts needed to stop climate change are so much less than the efforts that our ancestors have made again and again in order to build a better world for their descendants.  I don’t believe that we are anymore selfish or lazier than our ancestors — it is just that we haven’t yet realized the scale of this problem and no one has given us the tools with which to fight.  After all, there are no booths at the County Fair where we can sign up to fight climate change and be rapidly whisked away to a training camp.

Reason #5: You

Frankly, we, as a society, have barely even started trying to solve global warming.  I don’t mean to demean the tens of thousands of brilliant and inspiring people who have made solving this problem their lifework.  They are heroes and they are getting so much done.  But the average person has barely even lifted a finger yet.  As soon as we really stand up and take action we will win this fight so quickly.

The Climate Pledge Collective is only as strong as you make it.  Right now, we have no paid employees, no grants, no office space — in fact, it’s mostly just me (Matt Lie-Paehlke) with help from my wife and close friends (some of whom are luckily experts in climate change policy) — but so far, this initiative has been receiving very positive responses.  People want to contribute and they want tools with which they can make a difference.  So please, make a pledge, get a sponsor and start spreading the word so that we can get these big, beautiful virtuous circles rolling towards a lush and sustainable future.