Sludge is a Grosser Word Than Moist

Also, another world is possible!

Hi! I’m Sarah. Minimum Viable Planet is my weeklyish newsletter about climateish stuff, and how to keep it together in a world gone mad. I’m always curious to know what you think.

I’ve been doing a daily video club to keep my kids sane. Or perhaps to keep myself sane. (Join!) #Doing is a bit of an exaggeration. I basically just made a spreadsheet and a crowd of beautiful humans jumped in to share all sorts of amazing games, knowledge, and creativity (I made the above watercolour wash during a lesson given by my friend’s daughter, Lila, age 12). Yesterday, my city councillor did a Q&A from his backyard, calming parents and kids alike with some helpful guidelines about going outside. In talking about all the things our city has done thus far, he said something which aligned with what I’ve been thinking: “There are things that are possible that we didn’t think possible before.”

Councillor Mike Layton was speaking to the fact that Toronto has opened free, 24-hour childcare centres for essential workers and leased entire hotels to provide housing for the city’s homeless population. Why the heck couldn’t we have done this before? Why the heck can’t it last? From The Intercept

Moreover, if our society can act, finally, to manufacture a million ventilators and a billion protective masks, surely we can within a few years act on a far grander scale to erect, say, a million wind turbines, insulate and solarize a hundred million buildings, carve ribbons of bicycle paths throughout our cities and suburbs, and so on. With the pandemic enforcing a brutal but necessary reset, the NIMBYism that has impeded this kind of progress practically everywhere might be swept into the dustbin for good.

I get that we wouldn’t necessarily want things to proceed at warp speed in regular life. When you move fast and break things, you end up with broken things. But at the same time, so many of these quickly realized solutions are things we’ve been working towards for years, decades even. So many of these efforts have been stymied by unnecessary hurdles, fear, paperwork, apathy.

In one fell swoop, we seem to have gotten rid of what the world’s most hilarious behavioural scientist, Richard Thaler, calls sludge. Sludge is the bureaucratic nonsense that impedes progress, hampers good decision-making, and, at its worst, manipulates and misleads. While randomized vaccine trials aren’t sludge, the finicky red tape of overly prescriptive process that surrounds so much of modern life very much is sludge. Thaler and another fantastic scientist, Sendhil Mullainathan, wrote about how to do away with sludge to help fight coronavirus for the New York Times a few weeks ago. (Here’s a thing I once wrote about design sludge, which is the worst!) 

In some ways it seems we are, all of us, undergoing individualized desludgification. Overly formal work documents...sludge! Fussy recipes...sludge! Pants...absolute sludge! Despite my love of the word Rococo, I have even less patience for the needlessly adorned, the wasteful, or the gratuitous right now. Which may explain my pivot to overalls.

While there’s some evidence that COVID has caused an uptick in envirosludge (generally unscientific impromptu rules around reusables), I’d wager that, on the whole, we’ve reduced some of the bureaucracy that impedes strong environmental action. Want to garden? Just do it. Want to dig for a geothermal heating system on your front lawn? Bylaw officers are otherwise occupied. Just do it.

While I’m not building an unpermitted earth house in my backyard, I have been taking pleasure in the small again, too. As green infrastructure projects jockey for all of our governments’ attention, I’m nursing my own green infrastructure by growing green onions. I’m just kind of making things, figuring out stuff as I go.

The cartoon column I write for Yes! Magazine is called Small Works. It’s all about the importance of doing little things (they catalyze bigger things, they empower us, they help us break larger challenges into discrete pieces, they’re everything!). And yet I need to remind myself of the importance of small, time and time again. I’d never grown anything from seed, because I had neither time nor ability. I usually just buy plants. But that’s not an option right now. And my wonderful friend Gayla sells beautiful seeds. So I got some. And they’re working. When I saw the little green shoots burst forth from the soil, reader, I cried like I was two glasses of red wine into a screening of The Notebook. Like I said, little green things ftw.


Pushing for green development standards? We have a rare opportunity to rethink how we apply development monies. This toolkit may help your municipality. wants Canadians to write to their MPs to help the people, not the powerful.

Take back the streets! (via Treehugger)


What sludge have you gotten rid of/chosen to ignore? Let me know!

LAST WEEK(S): Discounts and #Doingthings and The Quiet

The estimable Bruce Lourie channels my frustration about acting too slowly, too weakly, too late. We discount, and we pay the price.

The quiet

Writes Janet - 

I’m old. I’m sad to see what we hippies, who were supposed to save the earth, have done to this planet. I have always lived the life of what I refer to as a “voluntary peasant “.

Life moves so quickly today. Everything is advertising. Money is worshipped. I belong to a group that held classes in life skills like gardening, canning, cheese making, knitting and bike repair. We quit about 5 years ago because few people showed up.

Writes Dan - 

I've learned to live with doing less (or nothing) since moving to Iowa 4 years ago. It's not new to me. It's just Executive Function dysfunction..ha ha.

Your weekly edition of cute families dancing:

If you’re not Canadian, you may be like “WTF?” but I can’t get enough of this catchy tune that makes our citizenry aware of ‘speaking moistly.’

Thanks for reading. Hope you are safe and cozy.