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Use Community: Smaller Footprints, Cooler Stuff and More Cash

Alex Steffen, WorldChanging
If we want to build a society which is both prosperous and sustainable, we’re going to need to innovate ways of delivering the material goods which underpin that prosperity at a small fraction of the ecological cost they exact today. We must learn to live large while leaving tiny ecological footprints.

…First, we must learn to see the damage we already do. Most of the ecological devastation we cause happens in ways and places which are obscured from our eyes. You might say it happens off-stage: when we turn the ignition key, we don’t see the glaciers of Greenland melting; when we throw out our our old television, we don’t see its toxic chemicals and heavy metals seeping from the landfill into the groundwater; when we install a new hardwood floor, we don’t see the rainforest disappearing in a cloud of chainsaw smoke.

But we ought to see these things. We ought to know the backstory. I believe the next decade will see a lot of artists, activists and culture-jammers finding new ways of highlighting the negative backstories of the goods and services we buy (especially when other choices with better stories exist).

…Second, we need to make better things. We can shrink our footprints quite a bit through better design and engineering of the products in our lives, by making things which use no raw materials, function at near-optimal energy efficiency, are non-toxic and can be completely recycled or re-used at the end of their lives.

…Third, we need a revolution in how we think about the things we have. We’ve focused quite a bit here on the concept of product-service systems, and for good reason: transforming one’s relationship with objects from one of ownership to one of use offers perhaps the greatest immediately available leverage point for greening our lives.

…Like many people, I want less clutter and hassle in my life. I already have too much stuff I have to store, too many things I have to maintain and keep track of; I even have, I’ve decided, too much space (despite loving my home, the first I’ve ever owned, I find that I could easily, perhaps even more happily, live in half the square footage). All of these things take up much of the time, energy and money I might otherwise apply to having the experiences I want in my life. I want an institutional tool for owning less and doing more.
(15 Feb 2007)

Relearning how to live as voluntary peasants

John Siman, Culture Change
Just before the Fourth of July, I left my life as a tennis-playing, wine-drinking, spoiled rich white guy to begin this radical eco-odyssey. And in the six months which have ensued, I have watched the sun rise over the Atlantic and set over the Pacific, joined Peak Oil groups in three time zones, and visited ecovillages as far apart as North Carolina and Oregon. Plus I spent a couple of months training with the Permaculture Army in Berkeley. But it is to The Farm, the thirty-six-year-old intentional community in Tennessee, that I keep returning.

I didn’t hear good things about The Farm when I was on my way to visit. I had participated in the Earth First! Rendezvous in the Appalachian Mountains. There I saw former mountains apocalyptically sliced down to nothing to yield up coal which will be called “clean” to perhaps be liquefied for toxic methanol — marketed as something disingenuous to shut Americans up about Peak Oil and Global Climate Chaos. The Farm was beckoning as a bastion of back-to-the-land activism in one of the mountain-top removal states.

…The Farmies have not yet built an ecovillage — this is unhappily true — but they do know how to live in peace and kindness with their neighbors – and they can remind us that it is possible to live as voluntary peasants. When they lived on the equivalent of a dollar fifty a day, they really did abide by the founding principle which they had taken verbatim from the book of Acts: “And all that believed were together and had all things in common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all as every man had need.”

Their experience of voluntary peasantry puts the Farmies on a totally different planet from the rest of America, where the mainstream still, every day, every minute, is made more addicted to their energy-scarfing hyper-consumerism. So when the time comes and the rest of America, having been denied its right to shop, convulses and sickens in the pangs of withdrawal, the planet of voluntary peasantry may well survive Peak Oil and Global Climate Chaos, because the people on it have had some real preparation for life as involuntary peasants.

And, like it or not, that’s what our future seems to hold, and that’s what will force culture change (no matter how much we pray for techno-fixes): the shock of sudden poverty.
(15 Feb 2007)

Escape from America

Joe Bageant
.. Tomorrow I will not worry about losing my ass in the declining real estate market. I will not commute three nerve grinding hours a day, or nervously engorge myself in front of my laptop for hours on end. Nor will I or wake up with the crimes of the empire running like adding machine tape in my head, annotated with all the ways I contributed to those crimes by participating in the American lifestyle. After more than two years of effort, I’m outta the gilded gulag, by damned, and tell myself that I have at last quit being part of the problem — or at least as much as much as anyone can without living stark naked in a Himalayan cave and toasting insects over a dung fire.

When I arrived in Belize a few weeks ago I vowed never to write about this country, mainly because the Americans I write to are more interested in American politics, religion, class issues and the Iraq war. How the hell could anybody with more than an inch of forehead not be anxious over those things?

But the contrast here is so stark it seems unavoidable to write about the view of America from Belize and Hopkins Village this one time. I must say that from down here the Empire does not look much different. No worse, no better. But the stress and stench of the empire is less in this Caribbean breeze and the mark of the beast is sharper from a distance. ..
(12 Feb 2007)