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Living Off the Waste of Industrial Society

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon’s Book
…It isn’t that it is bad or wrong to make use of the by products of industrial society. The issue is that we have to start thinking more than 2 steps ahead, and our infrastructure needs to be adapted so that it is neither dependent on cheap energy, high carbon outputs and high consumption, but also so that it isn’t dependent on its waste. That is, there’s nothing wrong with me using other people’s outgrown clothes for my family, but I need to be thinking hard about what happens when the cost of clothing and the economy mean that most people are hanging on to their discards? What happens when more people need to rely on waste, and fewer people can afford to waste things?
(18 Jan 2007)
Another great post over at Casaubon’s Book. -AF

Honour the Elders

Rob Hopkins, Transition Culture
For those of us born in the 1960s when the cheap oil party was in full swing, it is very hard to relate the idea of life with less oil with our own personal experience. Every year of my life (the oil crises of the 70s excepted) has been underpinned by more and more energy. I have no idea of what a more localised society looked like in the UK, the closest I have is how towns were in rural Ireland when I moved there in 1996, the shops all owned by families, the most memorable ones slightly damp smelling with wooden floorboards that sold the most unusual combinations of things (paraffin lamps, boxes of biscuits and aprons) generally run by a couple in their late 60s. There is a great deal that we can learn from those who directly remember the transition to the age of cheap oil, especially the period between 1930 and 1960.

As part of the Transition Town Totnes initiative, we have been doing oral history interviews with older people in the area.

…I find it fascinating to hear peoples’ stories of how they lived then. Most people gardened, it was just what they did. People talk of the sense of community they had. It is fascinating to see, when talking to those who lived through the War years, the sense of thrift and ‘enough’ that people had (those I’ve spoken to anyway). What would it take to rebuild that?
(23 Jan 2007)
Number 9 in Rob’s “10 First Steps for a Transition Town Initiative”. In addition to oral interviews, I might suggest looking at the historical works for your area. Especially interesting are indigenous cultures and pre-industrial farming. In our area (SF Bay Area in California), we find that Silicon Valley used to be called “The Valley of Heart’s Delight,” for the superb soil and climate. The Native American population pre-contact was dense and diverse. -BA

The Despotism of the Image

Dmitry Orlov, Culture Change
Editor’s note: This is the heartiest laugh I’ve had for a long time, and it’s because Orlov zeroes in so well on the dominant culture’s irrational attachment to the images of the car and the suburban house. – JL

The ostensible goal of this Web site, and the small but enthusiastic community that surrounds it, is to change the culture. We all recognize that the contemporary mainstream culture of over-consumption and unbridled growth is toxic on every level — physical, emotional, and cultural — and is accelerating on a collision course with resource depletion, climate disruption, and environmental devastation. We all want to jump off in time, or, perhaps lacking the necessary courage, to find ourselves lucky enough to be thrown clear.

…Appeals to rationality or good sense are futile, because the motive force is a set of indelible, immutable images, which are imprinted on simple minds and at an early age. These images are easy to ridicule, and although ridicule can be powerful, its effectiveness is restricted to those few who have the capacity to understand it.

…A much more promising approach is to create new images, of great seductive power, and still simple enough to leave a deep impression on a simple mind. This is the stuff of dangerous politics and revolutionary change: a path rife with unintended consequences, and certainly one to avoid. All that remains is the possibility of an individual effort to free yourself from the despotism of the image.
(22 Jan 2007)
Although Dmitry writes tongue-in-cheek, this sentence of his encapsulates what I believe:

A much more promising approach is to create new images, of great seductive power, and still simple enough to leave a deep impression on a simple mind.

In 1804 English poet William Blake wrote in a similar vein about the power of vision and imagination:

Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire.

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

(As Wikipedia points out, the poem has set to music and is the “alternative national anthem” of the UK.) -BA

The straight line is the road to hell

Aaron, Village Blog
Last week I participated in an earthbuilding course in Whangarei (pronounced Fahngaray). Other than being our northern most city it’s not considered to be very signifcant – turns out however that it has been at the forefront of a revival in earthbuilding in this country.

… you can test your ‘standard’ earth brick by dropping it onto a hard surface from waist height and seeing how much is chipped off it’s corner. This approach caused a great deal of bewilderment amongst government beauracrats but the earthbuilders fought hard and managed to convince them that expensive laboratories and scientists weren’t required. The thing with earth building is that every patch of earth is diffferent and could, in theory, mean laboratory compression tests would be required for every building job. This fact also meant that the course was more about learning to experiment and less about following specific procedures – an approach that is becoming increasingly rare in the industry (where I used to work) and in society as a whole.

*The title ‘the straight line is the road to hell’ was a kind of catch phrase during the course. The picture above is of a house we visited, it was half constructed but the bedroom where I took this picture was finished. What you can see embedded in the wall are some blue bottles, a microwave dish and a paua (pronounced paawah) shell.
(18 Jan 2007)
More pictures from the course.

Programs Let Homes Produce Green Power

Michael Hil, Associated Press
When the sun shines bright on their home in New York’s Hudson Valley, John and Anna Bagnall live out a homeowner’s fantasy. Their electricity meter runs backward.

Solar panels on their barn roof can often provide enough for all their electricity needs. Sometimes – and this is the best part – their solar setup actually pushes power back into the system. The Bagnalls “net meter,” a state-sanctioned setup that allows homeowners to adopt renewable energy without taking the more radical step of disconnecting from their local electric utility, Central Hudson Gas & Electric.

Net metering essentially allows people to become mini-power producers. Programs vary state to state, but they are typically coupled with financial incentives that make it easier to invest thousands of dollars for photovoltaic panels, windmills or fuel cells. Since sun and wind are intermittent, customers still rely on the grid for steady service. The meter runs backward when more energy is produced than a customer consumes.

“When they first put this in, it ran backward more than forward,” said John Bagnall, standing by a meter on a winter morning. “Even with a hazy sun … we’re producing electricity.”

Advocates see net metering as an environmental twofer: it promotes green energy and reduces the strain on the power grid. But the number of people investing in solar panels or wind turbines has been relatively small so far, despite the selling point of being able to turn the table on electric utilities.
(22 Jan 2007)
When EB first began, articles like this were scarce. Now there are so many, we’ve given up trying to track them. -BA