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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate


Awhile ago, my brother recommended Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate to me.  I can't remember exactly why now, but I think it was because I had just read another of his recommendations, A Short History of Progress, and he felt that Klein's book would similarly change my outlook on the world. I'm not going to lie, but I've put off reading This Changes Everything for the stupidest of reasons, primarily because the book is big.  It’s 466 pages of text, plus notes and index, which brings it to a whopping 566 pages in total.  566 pages of much denser reading than most fiction.  And even though I won’t be reading a lot of the extras, 466 pages is still the equivalent of two shorter books.  And when I was worried about making my Goodreads reading challenge over the last few years, I was far more worried about quantity than quality.  Heck, even this year, when I pledged to read just 25 books, I still waited until I was finished reading those 25 books before actually starting to read This Changes Everything.  But it's been coming up more and more in the other things I've been reading (I can't remember the exact count, but I know David Suzuki and Ian Hanington mentioned it several times in their text).  So I took This Changes Everything out from the library a second time and actually started reading it.

Of course, after starting I came across a fact in the introduction that said humanity has to get our emissions under control by 2017.  And I knew I should have read this book far sooner.  But such is life; better late than never, right?

This Changes Everything looks at how our current world (specifically the economy) has been set up to be in direct opposition to taking care of the environment.  The economy is built on the idea that humans can take and take from the "machine" that is nature.  It's also built on the idea that humans from one part of the world can take resources from, or basically sacrifice, another part of the world so that the first part of the world lives a richer life.  

But that model of economic thinking is starting to fall apart.  People everywhere are starting to realize that we can't take and take from nature (because nature will start fighting back and humanity WILL NOT WIN).  The sacrifice zones have also started getting bigger and more widespread in the quest to extract as much fossil fuels as possible from the earth, and more people are saying "not in my backyard."  People with diverse backgrounds and beliefs are starting to fight against this extraction together (in what Klein calls "Blockadia").  She believes that people need to fight against big fuel and fundamentally change the economy to make it more cooperative and fair (in a way that movements over the last century or so have been fighting).  This is the last decade where we can halt even more dramatic climate change, so Klein hopes that everyone will be able to rise up together to stop it; otherwise we will lose our shared home due to corporate and billionaire greed.

I will admit, This Changes Everything is a difficult read. For one thing, it is very heavily fact-based, which makes it a bit tough to get through quickly.  But This Changes Everything will also fundamentally upset you at how very unfair the world is (and has actively become over the last few decades).  I was close to tears when I read the first few chapters and discovered that the economy was built in a way to ignore the environment, and that the environment was either ignored in trade agreements or actively taken out of them.  I was furious to hear how people are often beaten down by the lobbyists from fossil fuel industries.  And how our governments have worked hand in hand to lock our countries into fossil fuels through infrastructure decisions (even while the technology has existed and gotten good enough that we could have been working towards switching our societies to clean energy long before now).  But after those first few chapters, the book starts to look up: people in greater and greater numbers are starting to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and change the way things work.  Klein is hopeful that we will not squander this critical mass of people and instead use it to build a better future for everyone.

So while This Changes Everything is in many ways a difficult read, it is still very much worth reading.  It will teach you just how much our current political environment has forced us down this path (even though scientists have long known that global warming was happening and that we needed to change our ways), and will get you thinking about how we can move forward together. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Just Cool It! The Climate Crisis and What We Can Do

Continuing on with the books I've had out from the library for awhile that I was considering returning, here is Just Cool It! The Climate Crisis and What We Can Do by David Suzuki and Ian Hanington.  This one I actually started reading a few weeks ago, but stopped for some reason (I honestly can't remember why).  Then after finishing The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, I decided to restart reading this book.

The climate crisis has been a huge concern of mine for the last while, so I was very interested in reading Just Cool It! when I first encountered it.  I liked the idea that it isn't just doom and gloom about the future, but that it has a game-plan for tackling global warming.  Also, I've read some of Suzuki's articles in the local paper, so I was interested in reading a full book authored by him (and Hanington, who I will admit I have never heard of prior to this book - on Goodreads it says he is the senior editor at the David Suzuki Foundation. Makes sense).

Just Cool It! is split into two parts.  Part one talks about the climate crisis in detail, looking at the science that supports it, the consequences from it, and the many barriers that prevent us as a species from dealing with it.  Part two is all about the many solutions, looking at personal, agricultural, technological, and institutional solutions that are possibilities moving forward.  The book examines the pros and cons of all of the proposed solutions and makes recommendations on which ones offer the best hope for the future (just so you know, the book has a very clear bias towards getting society off of fossil fuels in favour of renewable resources like solar and wind power - this argument is consistently made in the latter half of the book).

I really liked how Just Cool It! was broken down, both in terms of the challenges and the possible solutions, and in terms of looking at the individual proposed solutions.  In a lot of ways I found this book rather inspiring - even though we have waited so long to confront this issue, the fact that globally people are starting to and that there ARE possible solutions helps to lessen the dread I feel for the future somewhat.  That being said though, this book is a bit on the dry side and is rather repetitive, to the point where it felt like paragraphs were copied and pasted from one part of the book into another.  There were also points where something was discussed in a previous section, then mentioned and defined in a later section (I'm looking at you, life cycle analysis - this was mentioned and defined on pg 205, and linked back to the discussion on biofuels on pg 194, where it was mentioned but not defined). Just Cool It! really could have used some better editing. 

All in all, I thought Just Cool It! was a good, comprehensive look at where humanity is at in terms of the climate crisis.  While a little dry and repetitive, it's a relatively short and quick read, so it'll get you up to speed in the crisis in no time!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World

Well, here we are: in finishing Steve Brusatte's The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World, I also finished my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge!  I can't quite remember where I first hears about The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, but I remember it sounding good.  The library had it on order, so I put my name on the list.  I've had it out for quite a while, and was actually thinking about returning it because I just didn't seem to have enough time to read it.  But over the course of the last week I've been a bit sick, and had a bit more reading time.  I actually chose to bring The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs yesterday with me to a walk in clinic (I got through a good third of the book just sitting there waiting!)  So as much as being sick sucks, I can directly thank it for getting through this book (and getting through my Reading Challenge this quickly - I finished 397 Ways to Save Money, and read Worry-Free Money all while at home sick!)

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is an interesting read.  Yes, it goes through dinosaur history from how dinosaurs got their start in the Triassic period (their ancestors evolved prior to this, but the first true dinosaurs didn't appear until the mid to late Triassic), to when they died out 66 million years ago when the asteroid impacted (and Brusatte backs up why the asteroid is the accepted reason why the majority of dinosaurs went extinct).  He tells of the wonderful diversity of dinosaurs, how evolution made some of them possible (like the gigantic sauropods and Tyrannosaurus rex), and even how they evolved flight (and by extension, became birds).  The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs also tells about the people who made these discoveries and how they determined how these animals lived. 

I think some of my favourite sections were the chapter on Tyrannosaurus rex, and the discussion of sauropod lungs (which happen to be the same style of lungs that both the T. rex and modern birds share).  The discovery of feathers and how we can now tell the feather's pigments was super interesting too.  Oh, I'm not going to lie - I found the whole discussion of dinosaurs from their ancestors, the archomorphs, right through until the extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous fascinating.

I did have a bit of a hard time with keeping all the scientists straight though.  Part way through I found myself really wishing Brusatte had included a who is who list somewhere (like a dramatis personae in plays) just to help keep everyone straight.  Actually, I found myself wishing for something like that with the dinosaurs he mentioned, too.  Some of them were easy to keep straight (like different sauropods and theropods), but I kept getting confused with many of the other, less-familiar dinosaurs.  Oh, and I really liked the dinosaur sketches and the random pictures Brusatte included; I would have loved to see more!

I was also happy that he included a brief epilogue about what came after the dinosaurs.  Apparently life sufficiently recovered within about a half-million years after the Cretaceous extinction event.  So that's promising, whatever happens after us (if humans don't manage to stop the horrible extinction-event we've set in motion).

All in all, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs was an entertaining and informative read.  I'm really glad I read it, rather than sending it back to the library unread!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Worry-Free Money: the Guilt-Free Approach to Managing Your Money and Your Life

I can't honestly remember why I took Shannon Lee Simmons' Worry-Free Money: the Guilt-Free Approach to Managing Your Money and Your Life out from the library (it wasn't on that list of top financial books for Canadians, nor was it recommended in Preet Banerjee's book).  Oh well.  Whatever the reason, I finished it today (I started it a little while ago, read a few other books, then went back and started it two days ago, making this a really fast two day read).

Simmons is the founder of the New School of Finance, which I admit to never having heard of prior to reading this book (and which for some reason I thought was in Vancouver; it's not, it's in Toronto). Simmons quit her job on Bay Street to start her own business; here she shares her tips for getting regular people back on track with their finances (and helps shed light on whether or not you can actually afford certain expenses).

Worry-Free Money is split into three parts.  Part 1, Stop Feeling Broke, asks you to look at your life checklist (which you usually mentally compile to keep up with your friends and family - the people you identify with, who Simmons refers to as your Joneses).  It also explains how social media can easily exasperate this because you scroll through curated pictures that highlight your Joneses lifes (and which can make you feel envious in a "oh if they can afford that, why can't I?" kind of way).  Finally, she makes the case of why you shouldn't compare yourself to anyone - you don't know what their financial situation is like.  To go on the trips, get the home renos, etc, your Joneses may be in debt to their eyeballs, or came into an inheritance; you just don't know.

I'm not going to lie: I had a bit of a hard time relating to the first section.  I feel like I'm in a point in my life that I'm not quite sure where I'm going, so I don't necessarily have a life checklist.  Nor do I feel like I compare myself to other people on social media.  It was an enlightening part of the book, but yeah, just not very relevant to me.

But that's okay; part 2, Stop Budgeting, Start Living, and Get Control, is where the fun of the book begins!  Simmons advocates getting rid of a budget because budgets set you up to fail, and make you feel bad about every one of your purchases (especially if you come close to or surpass the arbitrary limit you put on each area of your spending).  In Simmons' view, life is unexpected and we don't know that we'll spend the same amount on everything each month; some months will have higher expenses in one area than the other.  So instead of a budget, Simmons advocates splitting your expenses up into Fixed Expenses (these are your mortgage, utilities, gym memberships, minimum debt payments, etc; basically all of your recurring fees.  This should not be more than 55% of your after-tax income), Meaningful Savings (this is where you put more money towards debts, or save for retirement, etc), Short-Term Savings (these are for short term goals like a vacation fund, and buffers for things like car repairs and home renos), and finally your Spending Money/Hard Limit (which includes groceries, gas, entertainment, and all the rest of your expenses).  Simmons says you can spend your spending money on whatever you want/however you want to, but do not go above your Hard Limit.

To make things easier, she says it's best to have two accounts: one where you put your Spending Money into, and the other to deal with everything else.  Then you can spend your Spending Money down to zero and not be worried about dipping into your other expenses. 

Part 2 has tons of examples of how all of this breaks down (using true stories, with permission, from Simmons' clients), talks about how to figure out whether you can afford a Lifestyle Upgrade (this is something bigger that will change your Fixed Expenses permanently, like a bigger house). Part 2 also explains Happy Spending (which is spending that you feel good about both now and in the future) and how your purchases need to both feel good and be affordable.  Then she goes into detail about saying no to overspending, and not feeling guilty about saying no to things (and to help you not feel guilty, she advocates about being honest about your finances with other people when you say no; according to Simmons, money is a taboo subject and she thinks that if we change that and start talking about it without judging, the world will be a better place for all).

Part 3, The Future is Financially Friendly (I Promise), has a few chapters about making and adapting to changes in your life (basically you can either spend less or earn more), making the best of a situation when life hands you lemons (when you're dealing with lemons, you may need to look at your life checklist and see if you can make a change so you will be financially safe and so in the long term happier), being realistic about how uncertain life can be (spoiler: have an emergency savings fund that is easy, but not too easy, to access), dealing with financial regrets (you made the best decision at the time that you could with all the information at the time; if you compare yourself to other people, often you forget to factor in their luck), and finally talking about money with your people (without judgement!)

While I wasn't sure about it in the beginning, I honestly really liked reading Worry-Free Money.  I liked how Simmons was able to illustrate her points with so many different case studies.  Her method is relatively simple.  And while I wasn't super fond of her fancy terms at the beginning (Fixed Spending vs Meaningful Savings, that kind of thing), by the end of the book I was fine with it.  Oh, and I was really, really thankful that she didn't throw acronyms out all over the place; the only one I can think of was EROI, or Emotional Return on Investment.  Simmons' tone is very conversational, which I think worked in a book about financial planning (I don't think Worry-Free Money would work nearly as well if it was written in a formal academic tone, for example - that would be very off-putting to people, myself included). 

And by the time I finished reading Worry-Free Money, I had actually busted out some spreadsheets to figure out where I was at financially.  Was I spending more than 55% of my income on Fixed Expenses?  How much spending money do I really have per month?  Can I cut back anywhere to get some short term savings going?  (I think that last question is going to require me tracking my spending for a few months).  So needless to say, Worry-Free Money is a very inspiring book; I recommend it for everyone who has worried about their spending habits (which I'm sure is most people), or for people trying to figure out if they can REALLY afford something.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

397 Ways to Save Money: Spend Smarter and Live Well


397 Ways to Save Money: Spend Smarter and Live Well on Less by Kerry K. Taylor was one of the books recommended by Preet Banerjee in Stop Over-thinking Your Money! I was happy to see that the library had it, so I snagged it as soon as I could.  Taylor is the creator of Squawkfox.com, which is a blog about frugal living; it makes sense that she decided to share her tips in a book.

397 Ways to Save Money is split into four parts.  Part one covers buying big ticket items, like choosing whether to rent or buy a home.  Part two looks at saving money in home management, including maintenance, energy efficiencies, and cleaning.  Part three goes through the entire house and suggests ways you can save room-by-room.  And part four has a few extra ways to save, looking at things like vacations and pets. 

A lot of Taylor’s  suggestions, particularly in parts two and three, are surprisingly eco-friendly.  She advocates cleaning the way our grandparents and great-grandparents did using common household items like vinegar and baking soda.  Cleaning in this way will save you money on more expensive cleaners AND keep more chemicals out of your home.  I also like that she includes recipes to make cleaners and even things like laundry soap throughout the book.

Going room-by-room in part three was also pretty interesting.  Taylor had a number of cost-saving ideas that would never have occurred to me, like adding a bit of water to extend the life of your liquid soaps and shampoos, or saving money by buying dried beans in bulk for cooking (although I admit I probably won’t be using that last tip too much right now – I’ve been buying beans in cans and they last me quite a long time because I’m single and living alone – I actually struggle a bit more right now with accidentally wasting food I’ve bought or prepared and failed to eat). 

A major pro of the book in my opinion is that it is Canadian; Taylor gives Canadian resources and talks about benefits the Canadian government can provide for you (and sometimes some provincial benefits, too).  The major con of the book is that it is a bit out of date (it was published in 2009).  So some of the facts she uses (like her assumption on the price of gasoline) are out of date.  Plus a lot of her resources are websites, so some of the sites may no longer be available/relevant.

Overall though, I really liked this book.  A lot of Taylor’s tips are pretty common sense and easy to implement.  If you’re an experienced frugalista, you probably won’t get a whole lot of new information out of this book.  But for beginners, 397 Ways to Save Money is a fantastic book, full of all kinds of easy tips to get you started. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Norse Mythology

I wanted to read Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology back when it came out a year ago.  I read a bunch of Norse mythology back in school (it's hard to believe, but it's been eight years since I read The Poetic Edda and The Prose Edda!) and enjoyed it.  So I was interested to see what Neil Gaiman brought to the table.  I started reading Norse Mythology last night and finished it a few minutes ago; it's a super easy and enjoyable read.  It also felt like going back to an old friend because, after reading the two Eddas, all the stories in Norse Mythology were very familiar to me.

Gaiman's Norse Mythology is a retelling of the old Norse myths.  In the introduction he says he took bits and pieces of stories from both of the Eddas to create his versions.  His stories start with the beginning of the universe and how the worlds were created, give us some fun adventures of Thor, Loki, and the other gods, then end with Ragnarok and a glimpse of what happens afterwards.  Most of the stories start with some trickery by Loki, who then has to make things right afterwards.  Most of the stories are rather light romps (although they often end with the death of a bunch of giants because of course that's how stories with Thor will end), but the end few are much darker in tone.  Gaiman has modernized the tales a bit in his retellings (particularly the dialogue); in his introduction he said he tried to imagine himself back a long time ago in the lands where these stories were first told, but often the dialogue is much more modern than you would expect from that (like in "The Master Builder," Freya says to Loki "You talked these idiots into it" - that phrase sounds really modern). I don't think that this takes away from the retelling, but I did want to point out that it is there.

Overall, Norse Mythology is a quick and fun read if you are interested in or enjoy mythology (particularly Norse mythology).  I can see why everyone loved it when it first came out last February. :)

Monday, June 18, 2018

You Grow Girl

I remember reading about Gayla Trail's You Grow Girl years ago in a magazine.  I had to get it.  And while I've flipped through it many times over the years, this was my first time reading it from cover to cover.

You Grow Girl is very much a gardening book for beginners.  And that's okay!  That makes it a great all-around reference book.  It covers activities in a typical gardening year, from planning your garden, planting your plants, growing them all season long, harvesting, and preparing for winter.  Along with some great advice on a variety of topics (I learned all about mulching's benefits!), it's also got some fun gardening related craft projects that you can make. 

My major criticism is that this book really is not meant to be read cover to cover (even though Trail tells you that you can in the introduction).  It was really slow going (I started this book on May 29th; I've read two books in the meantime because I had a hard time motivating myself to continue reading it).  If you do manage to read it cover to cover, it'll give you a great overview of what you should be doing in your garden all year.  But rather than slog through, I recommend flipping through and reading the parts that you find interesting or need help with.  You Grow Girl is much more enjoyable that way.