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The Great Outdoors: Energy depletion.... and camping!


The Great Outdoors:
A practical approach to learning the skills of energy descent... outdoors!

New web site launches Monday 9th March -- http://www.fraw.org.uk/outdoors/

The Great Outdoors is a initiative by The Free Range Network and Paul Mobbs on the simplest route that people have to learn how to reduce their consumption and practice the skills required for a low impact lifestyle -- living outdoors.

The Great Outdoors arose out of ideas developed from the Free Range Network's Less is a Four Letter Word initiative. We had to solve the problem of communicating the need for change encapsulated in the question, "in a world of excess consumption and luxury, how do you develop a means of teaching people to live simply?"

It's actually quite difficult to communicate these ideas because they represent such a divergent view of the world from the view that dominates our lives today -- that more is better. To find a suitable means to deliver this message in a clear and unambiguous way we've had to be quite inventive in designing a format to get these points across. After much deliberation we hit upon a quite novel approach -- we go camping!

The focus of The Great Outdoors initiative is communicating the most basic of skills that are essential to life -- cooking, making fire, heating water and finding shelter -- so that we can rediscover our potential as 'human animals'; functional beings who can look after their own needs irrespective of what's happening around them. What fifty years of consumerism has done for Britain is de-skill its citizens; if we look at the practical skills possessed by our grandparents or great grandparents, by comparison people today have only the vaguest idea of how to manage without mains services and ready-prepared food.

It's not just that camping offers you a way to learn the skills of simple living by living simply. Camping, or just relaxing on a long walk in the countryside, encourages you to slow down, sit back, and operate at the speed of the natural world rather than that of our 'technological society' -- and this is a far more effective means of reducing energy use and carbon emissions than any gadget that you can buy!

Whilst we might often use the term "simple" to describe this approach, when say "simple" we do not mean easy or painless. What we mean is that, given the various options available, for the average person today their quickest option to explore what skills they have, what skills they lack, and finding a cheap and easy means of addressing these problems is to practice camping -- perhaps conventionally at first but then progressively decreasing the level of input required to support themselves.

There are two sides to the process of transition to a lower energy way of living:

Firstly, we need to reduce our physical demand for energy and resources. The idea of "green consumption", "sustainable consumption" or the "green new deal" is spurious -- present ideas of how we can "go green" whilst keeping our present lifestyle and patterns of consumption are based on principles which not only do not take into account the future problems with energy supply, but purely in physical terms they are technologically unattainable. Instead we must physically reduce consumption and that requires a real-terms change in the way we live our lives. To make this transition we need to re-skill ourselves to support our lives with our own physical "life energies" rather than rely upon highly inefficient external energy sources.

Secondly, we need to change our psychological outlook on how we relate to our lives (as they have been and as they might soon be), society and the natural environment. That's actually quite difficult to do because in the UK we have no comparable, low energy options to contrast our present lifestyles with. Even the present offerings from most mainstream environmental and alternative technology groups are based on the premise of maintaining our present lifestyles, but we merely shift from fossil to non-fossil energy sources (which, for a variety of reasons, is physically not possible). Understanding this concept is difficult in a community hall or front room, but if you live outdoors for a few days -- most importantly, you slow down and disconnect from the large-scale consumption system -- these issues become more perceptible, and hence manageable, so that we can understand how we might adapt our lives and accommodate the changes required.

The most important message from the initiative is this -- We all must realise a fundamental truth, which presently the mainstream environmental movement fails to convey, despite the evidence to support it: You cannot consume your way out of a crisis of consumption!

For the average person, pressured by work (or lack of work) and debt, the simple and cheap option of "going camping" offers the best way to learn not only the simple skills of self-reliance, but also to find the time, space and quietness in order to envision a new way of living for themselves, their family and their community.

There are presently three segments to The Great Outdoors initiative:

  • The 'Great Outdoors' Sheets
    A new series of ten sheets/handouts (three more will be added by June) produced by the Free Range Network on issues related to camping and energy descent. Although the aim of the sheets is to improve your outdoors skills, the focus in the sheets in on the basic skills required to live in a way that utilises less resources. You can find the sheets on the Free Range web site at -- http://www.fraw.org.uk/download/ebo/index.shtml#outdoors
  • The Presentation
    The presentation has been developed with Paul Mobbs (who presents it) and provides the context for why these changes are necessary; in short, get camping or else! The presentation outlines the current stresses in the global, and the UK, energy system, and why energy production is going to be a critical factor in the "recovery" from the present economic recession. It then outlines why going camping is such an excellent physical and psychological tutor of the skills for energy descent, and proposes some methods for how people can use camping to extend their own skills for self-reliance. Details about the presentation (which will be available on-line from around June onwards) can be found on the Free Range web site at -- http://www.fraw.org.uk/outdoors/presentation/
  • The Weekend Workshop
    The experimental "weekend workshop", of which there were a few during 2008, has been the platform where The Great Outdoors concept was developed. The Free Range Network are now offering to assist in organising similar events in order to help groups develop their outdoor skills. Details about the workshop can be found on the Free Range web site at -- http://www.fraw.org.uk/outdoors/workshop/

Over the Summer of 2009 we hope to organise a few events to continue our work on the 'Great Outdoors' theme. It is possible that we may also organise an informal trek sometime in the Autumn. For details of these events see the Free Range events page -- http://www.fraw.org.uk/events/

Finally, there is some outstanding in the work yet to be finalised and published. This new material should be finalised by June 2009, and we'll make it available via the web site.

For an introduction to the issues related to energy descent and peak oil/gas see the Energy Beyond Oil Project's main web site -- http://www.fraw.org.uk/ebo/

For more information on the Free Range Great Outdoors initiative contact: Paul Mobbs -- email mobbsey@gn.apc.org or phone 01295 261864.

Finally, Paul Mobbs and the Free Range Network would like to thank The Green House in Llandeilo for their support in completing and publishing our 'Great Outdoors' research.


Editorial Notes: Author Paul Mobbs writes: Please note that all the Great Outdoors materials are available under an open license for non-commercial use -- feel free to mail the details around to your friends! The background/information to the project are available in PDF form from the web site -- http://www.fraw.org.uk/outdoors/great_outdoors-background.pdf

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