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Living Large, Off the Land

Michael Tororello, New York Times
KELLY COYNE and Erik Knutzen do not subsist on a diet of lentils and gloom. Yes, the Los Angeles couple proselytize for a more self-reliant household in their new book, “Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World,” just published by Rodale. And to that end, they include in it illustrated directions for making things like homemade dog food and washable sanitary napkins.

… Promoting a do-it-yourself revolution — in the book and on their blog, Root Simple ( — is an unusual occupation. With their olive oil lamps (see page 8 in the book), dental twigs (page 12) and dry toilets (page 237), the couple can seem like historical re-enactors. Or prisoners of “Frontier House” on PBS.

Their 1,000-square-foot bungalow in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, on second thought, might be a junkyard Biosphere2, an experiment in the future of sustainable homemaking. This is the way we all could live if we weren’t working 50 hours a week, sitting in traffic on the way to the mega-mart, burning gasoline at $4 a gallon.

… Ms. Coyne trawls “ancient home-economics books, from the 1880s to 1920 or so,” she said, looking for clues about how women accomplished tasks like conditioning their hair before the chemical age.

… She doesn’t care to fret about national politics, peak oil or the coming zombie apocalypse. “Within our control,” she said, “is what goes in the house, in the backyard, in the neighborhood.”

Without the obligations of a day job, Mr. Knutzen has made himself a fixture at community meetings and municipal hearings. He recently helped win a $350,000 state-sponsored Safe Routes to School grant for the neighborhood elementary school, to encourage walking and biking. This kind of unglamorous activism makes him “tremendously happy,” he said.
(1 June 2011)
Posted by EB contibutor Amanda Kovattana who writes: “Urban Homesteaders after my own heart. Can’t say the New York Times gets why these cultural shifts are significant, though.” -BA

Universal bike lanes: the only way to mass cycling?

Peter Walker, Guardian
Study says vast majority of Britons won’t cycle on urban roads as they are now. So what’s the answer?

A major academic study has spent the past couple of years looking in depth into why people cycle (or don’t cycle) in four English towns. I won’t go into the research too much here, simply as I’ve written a separate news story on it, which will be up soon – I’ll link to it when I can.

But I wanted to consider its main conclusion: the UK will never get anything close to a European-style mass cycling culture without some major (and to me, seemingly unlikely) changes, notably the construction of proper-width, segregated lanes on all main urban roads.

… Now, there’s two main points I can see here. Firstly, are they right? I was considering this as I cycled to work this morning, pondering how my ride would appear to a novice cyclist. The more I thought about it the more I agreed with the academics.

I realise London is not typical – though some might suggest it’s often more bike-friendly than many UK towns and cities – but I was struck by how many situations I faced which, on reflection, required experience, knowledge and not a little nerve. On a 10-mile journey I rode down perhaps 300m of dedicated bike paths. The rest of the time I was continually having to pull wide past parked cars – a few sitting in the more common sort of painted-line cycleways – filter through traffic into different lanes, push hard on the pedals to stay ahead of fast-accelerating traffic, move decisively towards the middle of the road to stop a car squeezing past where it wasn’t safe…. the list goes on.

In a perverse sort of way I’ve grown to almost love this slightly gladiatorial style but I fully understand that to most people it would seem almost absurdly hostile as a cycling culture. Similarly, I feel fairly safe and realise that, statistically, I am. But would I be happy seeing my son (in a fair few years; he’s only little) take to the same streets alone on a bike? Not really.
(3 June 2011)

Sail Transport Network is Unfurling

Jan Lundberg, Culture Change
A sail transport revival is afoot and afloat around the world. As the cheap, easy crude oil has mostly been extracted from the Earth and spewed into the sky and water, the desirability and economics of sail power get stronger.

Sail Transport Network (STN) is an open project for almost anyone to participate in. Most of the inhabited world is coastal or on rivers. STN was put forward originally by Culture Change in 1999. We sail-transport activists envision linking coastal communities, islands, and river communities together sustainably — without the extreme petroleum dependency we have known.

Post-petroleum travel and shipment of goods are about communication and exchange that we might have a hard time doing without. Long distances may be bridged only by sail in the fairly near future. However necessary this might be, sail power will allow any local surpluses to be traded. This helps specialized areas gain diverse sources of needed products, skills, heirloom seeds, etc.

A few years ago sail transport was thought to be off on the distant horizon and impractical in the “real world.” This is changing rapidly.

Without the continuity of affordable oil supplies — a toxic and planet-warming commodity whose use has greatly afflicted the world’s ecosystems and peoples — arrangements to go oil-free need to be made immediately. For in today’s post-peak oil world, millions of people may soon need sail power, along with pedal power transport, for local self-reliance.

Our STN website does not yet tell of the rapidly developing planning for sail transport that excites my colleagues, fellow sailors and me. This report is our latest thinking for you to consider. It is the result of our investigations into opportunities for truly sustainable, renewable wind power and human power for certain products as well as for benefits such as sharing information and enabling education. A look at presently features the Dutch concern Fair Transport, a sail transport group whose schooner recently took a cargo of rum from the Caribbean to Holland. Please check the website’s other projects, news, positive press on STN, and join our listserve for active communication online.
(4 June 2011)

Japanese dreams — peace and happiness in Switzerland
Swiss Info
Yamagishi communities live without money or personal possessions.

Even in rich Switzerland there are still idealists who believe in peace and happiness not based on materialistic values. For example the members of the Yamagishi international movement, which originated in Japan in 1956 and has communities in many countries. (SF Eco –
(27 April 2011)
Suggested by Swiss-American Larry Desmond. -BA