The article “A world made by hand” was picked up and re-posted on Resilence.org. I appreciated all the wonderful discussion by others in their comments to my piece. One person commented that “when ‘stuff’ was made by hand, the world population was around 1 billion. So let’s examine the world of 300 years ago, when if you needed a pot, someone had to make it, if you needed flour, someone had to mill it. Idyllic? Blinkered is a more accurate description.”
My point in writing this article wasn’t that I don’t use appliances or am against technology, but rather, that we need to use our hands more. Or as another person wrote “Many of us have one foot in the modern world and another in the world we think is likely to come”. Exactly! And I have found that doing something by hand turns out to be surprisingly good for my peace of mind. I enjoy reading about human evolution and I often think about how we as a species are changing. I wonder what if anything will survive of our species and culture as we move through this “self” created bottle neck. That is what made me think that maybe we have lost something important when we no longer have the skills to do things with simple tools.
I would like to say something about my own family’s choices. My husband and I both decided more than a decade ago to reduce our home’s carbon foot print. We saw the writing on the wall and felt changes forced upon us won’t be pleasant. I love the phrase “Collapse now, avoid the rush.” I stopped using a clothes dryer and dishwasher, grew more food, and cooked more fresh meals. Being an avid gardener and cook it wasn’t difficult for me to do these things. I still have a clothes washer, a stove, a refrigerator, computers, and T.V., etc. Not too great a lifestyle change!
I found the exercise of evaluating and reducing our home energy use very informative. So few people actually know how much energy their home uses. We planned to add renewable energy to our home and as recommended in the many books we read in preparation to install a solar PV system, we reduced our energy use in order to invest in a smaller sized system. We started with the less expensive but very effective solutions; more attic insulation, water heater blanket, and a programmable thermostat. We added motion sensors to some lights, power strips on electronics, and changed light bulbs to CFLs and then LEDs. Over time we purchased new windows, blinds, and replaced appliances. We were able to reduce our electricity consumption by 35% with investment in technology and rather modest lifestyle changes.
Eventually we added a high efficiency, wood burning fireplace insert and geothermal (a ground source heat pump) allowing us to stop using propane. When our home was all electric we added a 10 KW solar PV energy system, which with wood as supplemental heat supplied about 95% of our energy needs. (I could have added to my article the enjoyment I find in gathering and stacking wood for the winter or sitting next to a cozy fire in the fireplace.) So our “evolution” to reduce our carbon foot print was a combination of new technology and old fashioned skills.
Fifteen years later we bought an earth-bermed home (pictured above) and added solar PV energy. My gardens are a bit smaller, the woods and views are larger. I no longer have chickens and my husband says he’s done putting up fences. My sons have grown up and moved on so I have fewer mouths to feed. Perhaps the most satisfying thing about raising our children with a different mindset, was seeing how they think about the future. One son who is studying engineering technology is interested in learning blacksmithing.
The point made by the person who thought my article was blinkered also wrote “individuals and small groups can and will pursue change for the better—but that the vast majority will have neither the means, intellect or inclination to do so.” Yes, it’s very obvious (and saddening) to me that few people have the resources to make the changes we did. But even more saddening to me is the number of people who do have the means and the intellect but not the inclination. To be honest, living frugal has always been a choice we made. Both my husband and I worked our way through college. We have always saved money and kept debt low. We teach our children that this is the way to live. Will my family’s actions save the world? I am not optimistic, but we can’t let the inaction of others prevent us from taking action.
There was an excellent video presentation posted on Resilience Oct. 6, “The Gordon Goodman Memorial Lecture 2017 – Kevin Anderson.” Kevin Anderson, a climate change scientist, said something in an interview that sums up my position on climate change and peak resources. He was asked “Do you think [humanity] can keep climate change to less than 2 degrees?” He replied “I am not optimistic, but if we do nothing we will certainly fail.” If we do nothing we will certainly fail.
So, yes, I’m changing what I can in my own life, and yes, I still fear for our collective future. But living in fear is no way to live. So along the way to stepping down into a lower carbon lifestyle, I’m finding that the path of change has also brought me unexpected joy and happiness. If a doctor told you you had only six months to live how would you spend that time? Our attitudes toward life make a big difference not only to us but to the people around us.
I loved the piece written earlier by Richard “Getting Down to basics”, about his friend in Puerto Rico who was affected by the recent hurricane. I found his friend’s response incredibly inspirational! She wrote “We have a few bananas and plantains from the remaining trees in the back, some we eat, some we put by, and some we trade with the neighbors for the things they have. It has continued raining often so we have water from the catchment. We are back to the island living that we always had before. No worries. The fishermen are out of luck with lost gear and little fuel but it gives the fish a rest and a chance to recover some…”
What remarkable calmness and acceptance in the face of such devastation to her home, their island! And what a different point of view from what the news media portrays. It seems that when disaster strikes the media only wants to show us people wailing and crying, begging for help. The media wants us to think we are victims, beaten down survivors. They don’t want to portray people who accept what happens and do what they can to help themselves and their neighbors; people who go about doing simple things like gathering plantains and water, with good spirits.
Her words confirmed what I deeply believe; that it isn’t our machines or technology that make humans such a remarkable species. It’s our resilience, tenacity, ingenuity, courage in the face of adversity…and most importantly, our ability to laugh and love.