Why Withdrawal or “Tiny” Living Isn’t a Solution to Sustainability

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Yves here. This post raises more important issues than might be apparent upon a casual reading. The author recommended what would seem to be a very undemanding level of community engagement, as in get to know your neighbors, and got a huge reader backlash. By inference, her audience seems to be composed to a significant degree of people who’d like to be socially and environmentally responsible and have the means to do that to a degree. However, it seems that many think the ideal is living off the land at a remove from other people. The thing I find peculiar about this attitude is that they aren’t proposing to adopt a truly self sufficient lifestyle…because even in the days of Laura Ingalls Wilder or even earlier settlers, people still depended on tools they did not produce, like guns, plows, nails.

But even though the author Umbra Fisk does make that sort of argument, and correctly points out that city dwellers can achieve a lower carbon footprint than most who live in splendid isolation, her argument seems to focus on the idea that this sort of lifestyle is privileged and therefore those who pursue it should give back to the community (not at all well defined) in some way.

Perhaps it’s because Fisk has to tip-toe carefully through the mine-field of reader objections that the piece strikes me not just as defensive but oddly conceived. Perhaps it’s another symptom of the difficulties in America in talking across political and class lines.

By Umbra Fisk. Originally published at Grist

I never expected that the most controversial piece of green living advice I could deliver would be: “Meet your neighbors.” After all, you and your neighbors have so much in common! You share a street, a building stairwell, a bodega where you each buy the exact same flavor of taquitos at 2 a.m.

But when I made that suggestion in my recent 21-Day Apathy Detox — designed to coax people back out into the world after a malaise-inducing election — a significant portion of Grist’s readership yelled into their keyboards. Their objections ranged from claims of being too shy to accusations that yours truly is a “Cheeto follower,” and included the colorful declaration that “my neighbor can go pound sand” (which I had to Google).

I included neighbor-cultivating in the inaugural Ask Umbra civic action guide for a very simple reason: Experts told me that it’s impossible to improve your community without being a part of it. But reader disdain for the idea resurrected a haunting suspicion I first felt when reporting on the tiny, off-the-grid house obsession a few years ago: that the pursuit of a sustainable life has become an exercise in looking inward.

Too often, it seems that the question we seek to answer is: What can you do to be more sustainable and responsible in your own life, within the confines of your own home? This preoccupation with individual actions, which really amount to relatively minor life tweaks, is evident in the queries I get from readers.

It’s certainly appealing to focus on yourself in the face of a deeply polarized culture and polluted planet. But what if turning away from the world makes all of its problems so much worse?

That corresponds to a major theme in investigative journalist Mark Sundeen’s new book, The Unsettlers, coincidentally released within days of Trump’s inauguration (“Bad for America, good for my book,” he quips). Sundeen follows three different families as they chose to go back to the land — to varying degrees — in the name of living more sustainably and more meaningfully.

What Sundeen finds is that “off grid” tends more toward aspiration than reality, even for hardcore homesteaders. “After meeting quite a few of them, I realized that most off-grid people were still enjoying the benefits of the global economy, which is to say they were telecommuting or car commuting,” he tells me. “They still have access to wealth, but they had put themselves in a place where they didn’t have to see any pollution or crowding or any racial inequity.”

Sundeen describes this breed of off-gridder as “a suburbanite with a long driveway.” They’ve escaped the trappings of our insane economy, he says, “but they haven’t actually altered their behavior in a way that makes it better.”

Which leads Sundeen to a surprise conclusion that echoes my own research: “If reducing your carbon footprint is your number one goal,” he says, “you should move to a city and participate in it.” The less glamorous but less expensive class of city — your Boises, your Chattanoogas — where the infrastructure is already in place and “you can build community much more easily.”

This isn’t necessarily prescriptive — not everyone needs to up and move to Des Moines. But Sundeen has a point: What does refusing to participate in our problematic, complicated world really accomplish? If you remove yourself as a stakeholder, can you really change the system?

* * *

When I first interviewed Christopher Smith and Merete Mueller in 2014, they had just released the documentary TINY, which chronicles their experience building a tiny house together in rural Colorado.

Today, though, Smith and Mueller live in Los Angeles and New York, respectively. To the casual observer, this seems like a precipitous change in lifestyle. Of course I wanted to talk with them about it.

The tiny house, it turns out, had been Smith’s dream, moreso than Mueller’s. “It’s just satisfying to know that you can get by on your own, without being reliant on bigger systems and institutions,” he says. Eventually, though, Smith missed the support and companionship of other people, and in 2013 — about a year after filming TINY — he moved the tiny house into Boulder after his relationship with Mueller ended and she moved to New York.

Then, in 2014, Smith made the transition to Los Angeles to pursue a career in documentary filmmaking. Despite their urban relocation, both are still committed to low-impact lifestyles: They live with roommates, use public transportation, and bike. Smith’s house is solar-powered.

Mueller and Smith point to financial independence as a primary reason for many people to go off-grid. The trappings of the conventional American dream are ever-more unaffordable: mortgages, five kinds of insurance, credit card interest.

However, there is an undeniable privilege to even have the option to pursue an alternative to that. Mueller, Smith, and Sundeen all agree on this point — in Mueller’s words: “It’s a privilege to be able to even think about removing myself from a community — to think ‘I’m tired of all this, I’m going to move back to Colorado and have a garden!’”

“It’s a missed opportunity to keep engaging,” she says, “and to try to understand what people are experiencing and how they’re vulnerable, and what is actually needed.”

Smith maintains that living off-grid and “opting out” of society are not necessarily the same thing. You can still be part of the tiny house, tiny footprint movement and make a valuable contribution to your city or town, he says. “We have the right to participate in government or our communities — or not — as much as we want,” he says.

“I do think it’s always a good idea for people to participate, and the more, the better.”

* * *

“This is a really unfashionable conversation, but I do think that we have to start talking about morals again. I feel like the left has become really consumed with this idea of desire: ‘What do you want? ‘What makes you happy?’ Rather than: ‘What is the moral content of my existence?’”

I’m talking with Jessa Crispin, editor-in-chief of the recently closed lit crit periodical Bookslut and author of The Dead Ladies Project, which chronicled her travels around Europe in the couple of years following the 2008 economic crash. More recently, Crispin wrote Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto.

I was struck, when reading The Dead Ladies Project, by the following critique:

Our culture has become obsessed with the I and mapping out our internal qualities, all while arguing that individuation is the first step to becoming a good member of a community … And yet we have not from our little armies of unique individual spirits created a whole universe of equality and harmony and friendliness. We have separated out into our own divisible units, into our own one-and-a-half bedroom apartments, and the only things we seem to share are pictures of what we are eating for dinner.

Crispin blames this self-obsession for today’s perilous political situation. “Not that a 17-year-old girl dreaming of being a doctor is to blame for the Trump administration,” she clarifies. But the real culprit is “the idea that you are the most important person on the planet, your happiness is most important.” The consequences of how you achieve that happiness, the injustices that those consequences might bring to others, become secondary.

In Why I Am Not a Feminist, Crispin argues that the titular term has become meaningless, largely because the feminist movement has been coopted as a means of selling things under the guise of empowerment. Buy this lipstick — it’s a feminist choice, because you’re making it for your own satisfaction. Become CEO of a company, regardless of what its policies and products do for women, because if you’re pursuing your dream, it’s a feminist decision.

You could make the same argument about “sustainability.” What on earth does it mean, now? An infinite slew of products, regardless of how they perpetuate a fossil-fueled economy, are sold as “sustainable.” A package of beef can be marketed as “sustainable” based on marginally-better-than-the-norm land management practices. We want to feel good about continuing to consume things, so we tell ourselves that they are sustainable. A 2010 study actually suggested that purchasing ethically labeled products, perversely, contributed to “less altruistic” behavior. If we’re being good consumers, why bother being good people?

The understanding of “how to be more sustainable” is often framed around what and how and how much to buy — we frequently look to consumer habits, for example, to measure how much we care about environmental or social change. That degree of personal responsibility is a necessary condition for meaningful change, but it is not sufficient. There is little conversation, in the realm of “sustainable lifestyle practices,” that addresses things like: How do you cultivate respectful, meaningful relationships with the people who will help you fight fossil fuel infrastructure?

“We’re so used to thinking of ourselves as an individual that we think of what we can contribute as an individual,” Crispin says. “It’s not that much — it’s one person trying to hold back the ocean. You’re not going to get very far.”

* * *

As a salve to all the “off the grid” naysaying up to this point, please allow me to introduce Shannon Hayes, a woman who said “screw the world,” moved back to the land, and found herself a crucial pillar of the kind of community that many city dwellers have likely never encountered.

At the turn of the millennium, two things happened for Hayes: She completed a PhD in sustainable agriculture and community development from Cornell, and President George W. Bush took office. When Hayes did the math on her job prospects under the new administration, she quickly realized that the future she had planned for herself was simply not going to work out.

“This whole middle-class dream was a farce,” she says she concluded, “and there was nothing to be gained from it.”

So she and her husband moved back to her family’s farm in upstate New York, where they now grow (and sell) their own food and power their home on solar energy. “We checked out,” she says. But in doing so, her family has built what she calls a “subsistence empire.”

By providing for so many of their own needs, rather than purchasing them, Hayes’ family has been able to make some money even in the notoriously difficult agricultural sector (difficult for anyone other than giant agri-conglomerates, that is). They then reinvest those profits in the community, rather than the stock market. It’s the difference between an extractive economy and a “life-serving” one, Hayes explains. The family owns the town’s old post office and firehouse, which has been turned into a sort of community center.

For someone who describes herself as “checked out,” Hayes seems deeply embedded in her community — even if she disagrees with many of her neighbors.

Given that the Bush election rocked Hayes’ life plans, I asked how she had reacted to Trump’s: “Sobbing, confusion, despair. And the hard part is that in my community, our family was in the minority. We were outvoted 3-to-1 by our own neighbors.”

But that’s just the reality of having left-leaning values and living in a rural community, she explains. You are going to be surrounded by people who do not share the same political beliefs.

Regardless, she has never felt more engaged than after the Trump election — even when, while attending her local Women’s March on Jan. 21 with her young daughters, the participants got “coal-rolled” by Trump supporters.

Political differences have not historically interfered with the functioning of her community, Hayes says. Community, after all, is built on relationships, not beliefs. “I don’t feel like that’s something that you throw away and walk out of because of what somebody checked on the ballot. I don’t think you bring about change that way — I think you bring it by being kind, compassionate, building a community where people care about each other.”

That’s one thing Trump hasn’t changed. “As the absurdities come forward, our community maintains its integrity,” she says. “There’s too much here, too much that we’ve built.”

It is the people around her — to whom she is committed to as humans, not political counterparts — that have kept Hayes from giving up hope.

* * *

There is no shame in dreaming of retreat, of living a more simple, manageable, sustainable life more free of anxiety and conflict. It is human nature to seek both comfort and control, to construct a shelter in which to protect the things that sustain and nourish you. It is human nature, goes the common argument, to put oneself first.

But people are social creatures. There is comfort, also, in knowing that you are not alone. That there are other humans, by and large, who will sustain and nourish you in ways big and small — when you need them, and when you do not.

If you dream of an ever-tinier life, with fewer distractions and disagreements, also think of how you can — very simply — continue to be there for others. If you build something all by yourself, the structure will likely be very small. It will be beautiful, and it can bring you joy. But it will have no room for anyone else, and it will make no mark on the world.

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  1. doug

    If I am not for myself, who will be
    But if I am only for myself, what am I
    If not now, when

    1. Disturbed Voter

      That worked out so well, for Judah circa 1st century CE ;-( It was the conclusion of the rabbis, after the Great Jewish Revolt of 66 CE … that irrational hatred was the cause of the disaster. Societies develop into self-destructive processes over time, and then the cycle starts over. While corruption leads to the compost pile, it does produce good potting soil.

      In the US, the primary local socializing isn’t at a party HQ, but at a place of worship. Of course sometimes those are mistakenly combined.

      1. Norb

        The other institution that currently is the primary builder of community, albeit short term, is public schools. If the destruction of public schools proceeds along the lines neoliberals wish, building a common resistance to exploitation will be that much harder. The social divisions will be strictly along economic lines. The haves and the have nots.

        Violent revolutionary change will be the only avenue left open- or a totally subdued mass successfully controlled thru drugs and media spectacle. A new empire indeed.

  2. Colin

    No man is an island,
    Entire of itself,
    Every man is a piece of the continent,
    A part of the main.
    If a clod be washed away by the sea,
    Europe is the less.
    As well as if a promontory were.
    As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
    Or of thine own were:
    Any man’s death diminishes me,
    Because I am involved in mankind,
    And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
    It tolls for thee.

    by John Donne

    1. Benjamin Fitzkee

      I first heard those lines in MLK’s speech “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.”

      Here’s the paragraph with the Donne quote:
      “All I’m saying is simply this: that all mankind is tied together; all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be – this is the interrelated structure of reality. John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms: No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main… And then he goes on toward the end to say: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. And by believing this, by living out this fact, we will be able to remain awake through a great revolution.”

      It’s a speech still very appropriate in a time such as this, where we find ourselves on the verge of catastrophic climate change, political disintegration, and enviro-economic collapse. If one has the means, it is tempting to try to avoid all of this in a tiny house parked in the middle of some sparsely populated county in fly-over country. Emerson commented on this idea of escaping ones circumstances through travel in his essay on Self-Reliance: “Travelling is a fool’s paradise. We owe to our first journeys the discovery that place is nothing. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern Fact, the sad self, unrelenting identical that I fled from.”

      So, the sad self will follow you no matter where you go, and you are tied to all of humankind. So stay put and try to make things a little better. I once heard Wendell Berry reply to a question about what someone can do after they had sat through an hour of him telling the audience about how f-ed we find ourselves. His response: “Taking care of those around you and loving your neighbors is a good start.”

      Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution

      Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

      1. WobblyTelomeres

        And the greenest car is one that is never built.

        “But, but, that wouldn’t be a car.” – Mr. Enlightenment

        Why, no, no it wouldn’t. Thanks for pointing that out.

    1. Edward

      I knew someone in college who lived in a cave. He said it was actually quite comfortable.

  3. Moneta

    The back lash is not surprising.

    I tried living in the burbs with only 1 car and 2 kids for a few years and the bus strike did us in… the “we are merging and cutting bus routes to better serve you” did not help.

    The general popular meme and daily choices are still 180 degrees of green.

    If instead of opting for tiny, I decided to network with every owner on my street explaining my views on being green, I would probably get rejected by 97 and connect with 3.

    Hayes’ experience shows how even in rural areas, it’s hard to get political support!

    1. Uahsenaa

      This is where a little socialism goes a long way. In my experience working in and with unions, you can smooth over a lot of political differences if you provide clear and concrete benefits to as many people as possible. To use a green example, it doesn’t matter if your neighbor is a gun-toting, dyed in the wool, “good ole boy,” if the solar/wind farm is structured as an energy co-op that halves his electricity rates. Sure, he might still vote for that Republican congress-critter every two years, but that doesn’t change the fact that you achieve a large degree of carbon clawback by making investing/engaging with sustainable practices worthwhile in one’s community or region.

      Sure, you’ll always have [family blog] who throw steaks at vegans or run their A/C 24/7, but in a democracy, you don’t need to win over everyone, only most. Or, if Nader is to be believed, you only need a vocal 1%. In my community, a couple hundred people shouting outside city hall is enough to turn most things around.

      1. Carla

        Here’s what Nader said:

        “It’s easier than you think to change things, if two conditions operate: 1) If 1 percent of the people become very engaged in civic life. 2) They reflect what Abraham Lincoln called the public sentiment. If that occurs, it becomes a pretty difficult movement to stop by the oligarchs and the plutocrats.”

        If he’s right, all we need is 1 percent of the population to GET ACTIVE on Single Payer. We know they would reflect “the public sentiment.”

        I worked very hard on that issue from 1999 to 2009. Of course, I still support it, and more actively than 99% of the population. But Obama cured me of making it my main issue. And Single Payer has never yet had 1% of the population actively in support.

        Step up, people. First step, join Physicians for a National Health Program: Second step, identify your local or state single payer organization and become actively involved — this means going to protests, attending meetings, organizing, educating. Never, EVER shut up about it. Become a trusted member of the movement by supporting it not only financially, but with your vital presence.

        1. Edward

          Nehru once wrote something similar. He said that timing is important in politics; whether one can successfully champion an issue depends on the public mood.

  4. Kalen

    Another excellent topic Yves, forcing unto people an inconvenient truth about all the environmental-economical “self-sustainability” as suppose solution to ongoing global change. And the truth is that everything is interconnected environment/society/culture/ecology and most importantly nature of governance and economic system being in the core of true issue of self-sustainability of human race on this earth.

    And also that there could be no single solution to the vast and complex issue requiring people of the world to recognize that current global developmental path is a dead-end and agree on alternatives, that encompass in most cases self-sustained self-governed small to medium size communities urbanized or not.

    [I am hearing already some invoking old strawman argument of making small steps into big results and a curse of perfectionism; as of “better is an enemy of good”, one could learn in any school of Sophism, all irrelevant to the real problem of Sisyphus works of futility they all propose with their gradual pretending and extending for a benefit of status quo].

    I do not have to overemphasize the fact that it is a colossal task if we really want to address, not to mention resolve the issue, avoiding upcoming mass extinction events of human and non-human species. Sorry for the alarming tone since it is not intended but reflects true, not to be televised, reality many are facing now.
    Any way you cut it takes massive cultural shift and dramatic change in social consciousness into common consciousness of communities of caring and sharing, not sharing of money but fruits of people labor devoid not only of neoliberal delusions of “global “village but liberal ideals of rampant individualism that feeds unsustainable inequality.

    It time to tell Wall Street and SV moguls: Your disgusting wealth is ecologically and environmentally unsustainable and must be eradicated for the good of the people your pretend to care about. I wonder how their liberal touchy-feely conscience would take what is absolutely required to even begin any real conversation about global sustainability.

    How does this sound easy? Not at all but is doable if we cure ourselves from infection of certain delusions.

    The deadly infection that keep us enslaved, divided and confused is a disease of our “precious” liberalism, fake freedoms that amount to social abandonment and alienation, fake rampant individualism that justifies worshiping of property, capital and money as well as justifies domination and exploitation of one human being by another, fake freedoms funneled into delusions of democracy, a veneer of propaganda put on an abhorrent tyrannical rule, fake legal/civil rights/laws that cover up true mafia-like elitist social system of inborn privileges and social caste we living under and most of all to falsely justify preservation and continuation of this abhorrent oligarchic regime of slavery and death, under immoral, corrupted rule of law that allows or even promotes destruction of natural environment.

    What we have instead is an internal inconsequential quarrel, bickering among those AstroTurf phonies who want, with Wall Street backing, to sell you their own “self-sustainability” dream for dollars meaning their own financial self-sustainability. It is they who want to put you into tiny cargo containers for $ tens of thousands, calling it innovation while getting rich and laughing their guts out all the way to the bank while solving nothing.

    1. MK77

      The deadly infection is the unicorn magic of fiat paper money with no connection to reality. End the Fed and most of what you write will be possible.

    2. HotFlash

      Your disgusting wealth is ecologically and environmentally unsustainable and must be eradicated

      Morally unsustainable, too.

    3. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      What we have instead is an internal inconsequential quarrel, bickering among those AstroTurf phonies who want, with Wall Street backing, to sell you their own “self-sustainability” dream for dollars meaning their own financial self-sustainability. It is they who want to put you into tiny cargo containers for $ tens of thousands, calling it innovation while getting rich and laughing their guts out all the way to the bank while solving nothing.

      While getting rich and laughing their guts out all the way to the bank while solving nothing, except how to build their own sustainable, safe (protected with security robots and surveillance drones) and comfortable paradise on an island in the Pacific, living actively well past the age of 200, by then, perhaps it’s possible to be immortal.

      1. Kalen

        True. They are [Walls Street cronies, speculators of “Lesser God”) doing something or I should say there is a factory full of slave workers somewhere in China or Vietnam that materialize their childish or adolescent delusions strait from comic books that once saw, into some “cool” looking gadgets while they are selling worthless stocks of bloody unicorns to casino-betting corporates or pension funds desperate for yield.

        But their phony “disruptive altruism” stops when profit stops, either because “magic appeal” evaporates or people are unable to enslave themselves with debt even more to get their overpriced gizmos like $400 juicer factually useless and definitely not self-sustainable.

        Under guise of environmental/energy self-sustainability they are building fortresses/nuke bankers for themselves with their own storage, sources for, food, fuel, water, gas, electrical generators (gas and solar), even their own private firefighters not to mention fully armed security people expecting population picking up pitchforks soon.

        Just look at new Apple corporate Headquarters, a monument to opulence, vanity, tax evasion and environmental devastation it took to erect that monster mausoleum to Jobs, anyone with iPhone will be paying for decades to come while perhaps being allowed to touch it during a 50$ a head, 30 min guided tour.

        It is true we cannot sustain all those thousands of freshly minted billionaires living in thousands of billionaires’ palaces with King Kong size energy footprints that popped up during last 30 years on this planet as well as we cannot sustain all those billions of new hungry and poor slaves whose wealth oligarchs stole.

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          Fancy, gaudy outer-space edifices excite we-need-brioche serfs like the Versailles and the Winter Palace did once.

          It evokes both ruling-from-heaven-above and worlds-in-collision spaceship at once.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        No, if civilization collapses, the shelf life of drugs is 3-4 years and of ammo, 4 years. See how log they live with no antibiotics. Life descends to the Little Home on the Prairie level pretty quickly, particularly with no one around to make tools for you.

        1. Tom

          I’m curious where you got those numbers: I’ve fired off 10+ year-old boxes of ammo, and out of 50 rounds, two failed to fire. After 4 years, the manufacturer may no longer guarantee that 100% of the rounds will fire, but it will take a LOT longer than that for that ammo to become useless (assuming storage under reasonable conditions).

          We may use up the existing stock of ammo and drugs within 3 to 4 years, but I don’t see shelf life being the limiting factor for availability.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            That was the word from someone who works with high-end survivalists, as in the rich guys who are setting up compounds. That advice does seem to be awfully conservative. See:


            The definitive treatment seems to be the Aug 16 10:00 AM comment by Slamfire here:


            The bigger point is that the high grade modern ammo will run out in a survivalist scenario. Then you are stuck with stuff you fabricate somehow which will be less reliable and have a lower shelf life.

            1. kareninca

              The Department of Defense has done some studies re the shelf life of meds. So have some other groups.


              “Far from expiring in the one to five years stated on their labels, many prescription medications may retain their full potency for 10, 20, even 40 years.

              That was underscored in a research letter recently published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine by Lee Cantrell, PharmD, of the California Poison Control System and colleagues. The group tested eight-decades-old prescription medications unearthed in a retail pharmacy and found that 12 of the 14, or 86%, of the compounds tested in the drugs retained at least 90% of their potency 28 to 40 years after their expiration dates.1

              Those results came as no surprise to those involved in the DoD/U.S. Food and Drug Administration Shelf Life Extension Program (SLEP), which has been testing pharmaceuticals for more than 25 years to estimate when drugs actually will lose their potency.

              The medications tested by Cantrell and colleagues contained several common ingredients. Of these, only aspirin and amphetamine had deteriorated below generally recognized minimum acceptable potency. One other, phenacetin, showed a concentration of less than 60% when tested in one medication, but 110% in another. Compounds that maintained full potency included acetaminophen, caffeine, codeine, methaqualone, butalbital, phenobarbital, pentobarbital, secobarbital, meprobamate, hydrocodone and chlorpheniramine.”

              Shelf life depends on the type of drug. Many drugs are good for a very long time. (“In the case of ciprofloxacin, the original expiration date was 1993. With the testing the shelf life has been extended to 2001 and further testing may extend it further.”)(

              Not that I really want to live in a world in which ancient meds are what is available.

    4. different clue

      Regarding your paragraph . . .

      [I am hearing already some invoking old strawman argument of making small steps into big results and a curse of perfectionism; as of “better is an enemy of good”, one could learn in any school of Sophism, all irrelevant to the real problem of Sisyphus works of futility they all propose with their gradual pretending and extending for a benefit of status quo].

      You seem to have been very pre-emptively defensive about what people might say in response to your advice. What do you think of John ” The Archdruid” Greer’s argument that if you wish to have any credibility in order to be listened to when you call for these cultural changes, that you first have to display your own personal daily adherence to modeling these cultural changes in your own life to where all your neighbors can see you doing it?

      1. jrs

        I think that credibility doesn’t necessarily win arguments anyway, as it usually also falls short of absolute perfection, and those who don’t want to listen will point to this, find some blemish as it were, and say it ruins the whole thing.

        I really think a lot of people are just doing it for their own conscience though, which by definition will not, cannot, save the world. There may often be a resignation that a world as evil as this one (more accurately this society is evil) can’t be saved. It’s an entirely different way of looking at it to think people are deluded into thinking their small steps matter, and thinking they are resigned to the world going to hell, and just want to die at peace with themselves. Whether they ought to … oh I don’t know.

      2. Kalen

        You missed my point. I do not ask for any cultural changes in my comment they must come from within, I am asking people to do their math, think for themselves because the apologists for the profit making status quo doing their own math and it does not add up.

        “..Sisyphus works of futility they all propose with their gradual pretending and extending for a benefit of status quo”

        This statement of futility of so far implemented actions is not a grim or pessimistic prediction of a pencil pusher but a hard look to the past, looking at hard results of those actions which are dismal and in fact if reported some successes what’s hidden are side effects like cleaning up this area while polluting another, saving this specie while eradication of another, improving here, destroying there etc.,.

        It is a mainstream scientific assessment that ALL climatic, ecological and social trends worsen in last four decades on a global scale, a result of an unequivocal deliberate “development” or rather regressing process differing only in speed and/or in intensity of the same trends distributed all over the globe.

        Let’s take recycling, California recycles 103% of the recyclables for three decades, more than it consumes while ocean is flooded with trash. People did their job right? Wrong, they paid for profits of global corporation to pollute elsewhere.

        Or if you are concerned with radioactive pollution of the ocean what you gonna do with Fukushima spewing tons of highly radioactive water to the ocean within a year destroying any mitigating efforts of last half of century undertaken by concerned citizen and in Japan there are at least another twenty to fifty similar reactors with big cracks in the containment walls along Japanese coast already dangerous because of the contaminated storage, ready to be restarted?

        What Mrs Smith from Oregon can do about that?
        Small steps?

        That the fallacy I am exposing. Small steps are good only after we make a giant leap into reigning in those few thousands of billionaires who destroy our live sustaining earth for profit.

        The credibility question should be addressed to those so-called environmental self-sustainability apologists’ AstroTurf who promised everything, took our money and delivered nothing but hot air and betrayed us to the oligarchic polluters for profit and as any bureaucracy tied their fortunes to specifically NOT solving anything since that would have compromised their own legitimacy, need and most of all funding.

        1. different clue

          It will take many millions of people making blatantly obvious ” in everybody’s face” small steps for those people to see eachother and connect with eachother into a movement to organize to force big system-level changes.

          It will take the visible fact of those millions of peoples’ millions of small steps not making the big system-wide changes to drive those millions of small steppers to organize to force Big Changes. They will also have the “internal self-credibility” and “fighting spirit” to be able to say to everyone else around them: ” look at all the millions of small steps we millions of small steppers have taken. Behold how even those millions of small steps are not enough to force the Big Changes. So we now arrogate unto ourselves the right to force Big System-Wide Changes upon you-all, ourselves and everybody else.”

          Small steps to grow the culture and then the movement to sustain the Big Systemic Assaults. And in the meantime, some co-ordinated Mass Small Steps Campaigns might be able to torture small corners of the system into changing or dying in the meantime. That would give Small Steppers enough hope and encouragement to Start Stomping Big.

  5. IHateBanks

    I have seen magnificent things created from my own mind and hands. I have also seen projects beyond my wildest imaginings blossom from the hands of many. The devil is in the details and has a lot to do with who and what you go into agreement with.

    Anything involving more than yourself ultimately involves politics, so I tend to be wary of groups of people surrounding any cause or issue. But my “projects” are always open to those who want to come along for the ride. That way they become more than mine, and can benefit more than myself. And huge compost piles get built.

    1. Arizona Slim

      I’m with you.

      Another thing about the cause/issue focus that bothers me: The meetings. Way too much time burned up in them.

      But ask me to be part of a work project and bam! I am there.

  6. sd

    Famillies are incapable of sharing a bathroom today. Everyone wants their own. New houses today have one for every bedroom. What hope is there for increased community engagement when a group who are already tied to each other can’t and won’t share a toilet?

    I feel very dark and pessimistic about the future. And it has absolutely nothing to do with Trump who is just the physical manifestation of the moral corruption that has taken hold in the US. Clinton still remains the worse of the two because she would have been far more effective at grift and destruction.

    1. From Cold Mountain

      I am with you on your dark pessimism. To help me through it, I see it as the dark of the Dao, a great imbalance, that will not last long.

    2. lyman alpha blob

      Famillies are incapable of sharing a bathroom today.

      I grew up in a one bathroom house and bought another that my family lives in now and we have no problem with it but I realize we are the exception rather than the norm. It’s an old city though and a good portion of the houses here were built when one bathroom or none at all was the standard (our bathroom was added sometime after the original construction) so that doesn’t seem deter home sales too much since there aren’t many other options, for the time being anyway.

      Everyone living apart from each other off the grid is not a solution. If everybody here started doing that tomorrow, our forests wouldn’t be around very long. One thing I heard someone mention recently was renting a cheap dormitory style apartment with shared kitchens and that seemed to make a lot of sense to me. Not only would it conserve resources, but it would seem to build a sense of community when you have to meet your neighbors if you’re going to be eating at home.

      If we are going to survive in the long term with any semblance of civilization, there are going to have to be fewer of us and we’re going to have to get by using fewer resources which is doable if we can all learn to share. Not particularly sanguine that we’re wise enough as a species to pull that off.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        everyone living apart from each other off the grid is not a solution. If everybody here started doing that tomorrow, our forests wouldn’t be around very long. One thing I heard someone mention recently was renting a cheap dormitory style apartment with shared kitchens and that seemed to make a lot of sense to me. Not only would it conserve resources, but it would seem to build a sense of community when you have to meet your neighbors if you’re going to be eating at home.

        1 When every human wants to go back to Nature, she is not likely to be able to take it. It’s the attitude, the mental baggage we bring with us…the software aspect.

        2. Dorm style housing sounds a step in the right direction. Again, if people are not mentally prepared for it, but only because it’s cheaper, how does the community handle those only staying until something better comes along? Will children born or grow up there rebel against it? That housing is hardware. We still need software to run it, and the Propaganda Ministry is key.

    3. perpetualWAR

      I, too, have a dark pessimism.

      I have fought the banks for almost a decade. When I began, I thought surely I could get the support of the thousands of people being displaced! Boy, was I wrong! Many were content to pack up and leave in the middle of the night. Most never told their neighbors or their families what was happening to them.

      I’ve lost virtually all my old “friends.” The lack of support is what has been so shocking. This abandonment by both “friends” and community have changed me. I tend to be a hermit now, and very wary of other humans, unfortunately.

      It has been quite the lesson in sociology.

    4. Olivier

      @sd People may have shared toilets more in the past but did it work? The late Bette Davis once said that the reason number one why marriages fail is not sex and it’s not money either: it’s having only one bathroom. Perhaps we are merely wealthier and more realistic.

  7. WeakenedSquire

    When community delivers something to people that they actually need to survive, they’ll return to it. And many won’t be happy about it; after all, “hell is others.” Individual freedom is a luxury, whether enjoyed in a city apartment, a suburban manse, or some remote farmstead. (Not to mention, the promise of withdrawing from community is actually the main psychological reason that drives many people of means to immigrate to the US.)

    1. Moneta

      This probably explains why the Americas were found in the first place… nomads preferring the dire living conditions on their sail boats to the communities from which they came.

      1. jrs

        especially if they were the oppressed minority in the communities from which they came or nearer to the bottom of the hierarchical economic system in the communities from which they came, of course.

      2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        They could either stay back home and be persecuted (at least a few) or go forth to a new world and try to get along with strangers (guarantee of not killing them or not being killed by them – intentionally or accidentally via new diseases).

        Looking back, we can perhaps ask, should they have stayed and fought for a better old world?

        The same question persists today – Why vacation in far away places? Why bother with opening new businesses in new markets? Why all the travelling? Beauty is in our own backyard.

      3. HBE

        The idea that the Americas were founded by persecuted segments of Europe’s populations is largely a myth (they did exist, but as a sideshow). The Americas were largely founded on what amounted to corporate investment colonies.

        It’s foundation is based on resource extraction as investment, not a safe haven for the persecuted.

      1. Laughingsong

        Not mine. I have the great privilege of having a history of sorts from my great-grandfather, who was born in St. Louis shortly after the family arrived in the US. After a few years there they went west to settle. The first years are hardship, but it’s made very clear that as more families arrive, the community builds and starts to prosper. The idea of a rugged individualist or mountain man is not in this story. I think that latter meme is the one that’s been aggrandized. But I don’t think it’s how most experiences went in the early US.

    2. tony

      Because you belong to a community. Being a member of a community means duties towards the community. That is why communities are valuable for survival, because it also means other people have duties towards you and why communities are inherently oppressive.

  8. From Cold Mountain

    White Flight 2.0

    Great article. I see this insular action in a lot of my friends. They want to stay home in their own little castle and rarely interact with the world that they do not have to interact with.

  9. Dirk77

    The post seemed all over the place. But that’s the case for philosophies, societies or just lives in non-gradual transition. I think the principle the author is grasping for is the Middle Way (or Golden Mean). And I agree that it will be an element in better philosophies, societies or just lives. It is a term that is danced around in so many articles I read now, yet it is mentioned explicitly so rarely.

    1. hemeantwell

      Right. The article is good, but that impression relies on allowing yourself to float away in its limited frame. When I think of environmental degradation and its impact on us I become impatient with an argument that isn’t willing to talk about imperatives that we are facing. However nice and non-coercive and market-compatible they are, remedies depending on ethical diffusion from behavioral exemplars are not going to cut it. The exemplars may help to get the resistant to swallow necessity a little more readily — “see, they’re happy living minimally, so don’t get your gun” — but I don’t think we have the time. Sure, talk to your neighbors, but in a way that somehow gets them to accept that necessary consumption changes are going to have to be imposed in some form, and in the near future.

  10. HotFlash

    Put me down as a meet-the-neighbours fan. I couldn’t live in the country, or even in a rural town or village, b/c I don’t own (and don’t want too own) a car or truck. Horses need a 7/24 care, bikes don’t work so well on dirt roads. I am not handy enough or young enough to do all that needs to be done on a homestead. I chose urban community over back-to-the-land 35 years ago (figuring that I *might* get old) and have worked hard at it ever since. Mind you, I do have a rural bolt-hole, purchased 40 yrs ago, but here in the city is where I have invested my efforts. Realistically, any event so catastrophic as to make me flee the city would probably render moot my ability to defend my rural place. Deeds are merely pieces of paper, after all.

    I live downtown, own a small house in an older residential neighbourhood, belong to an autoshare outfit, ride my bike everywhere that I don’t have to haul big stuff. I have made it a project for the last 20 years, quite consciously, to get to know my near neighbours. I have developed several good ‘pickup’ lines over the years: “What a handsome/beautiful/unusual (choose one) child/garden/lawn/house/car/plant/birdbath/fill-in-the-blank!” Another good conversation starter is, “So, how did you meet your spouse/partner?” And finally, Ben Franklin’s advice to gaining a patron, ask them for a favour. “I love seeing your snowdrops in the spring, it makes me believe that spring will come. I wonder, if you are ever thinning them out, if you could …”

    I am involved in several community organizations, which in turn connect me to more people in my neighbourhood and across this biggish city. After nearly 25 years I am on good enough terms with all but one of my contiguous neighbours to consider a joint geothermal heating project. Later this summer we will have our street yard sale, and inaugurate our monthly breakfasts wherein we can report on the meetings and events we attended to other interested parties who couldn’t attend, and hear about the meetings we couldn’t get to.

    Another friend and I have lined up a venue and 5 or 6 speakers to hold neighbourhood chats. The speakers so far include a couple who have solar hot water, two neighbours who have PV arrays on their roofs, a local amateur historian who knows about everthing there is to know about our local amusement park — first heated outdoor swimming pool in *the world*! — and a woman who is an expert in rainwater management and xeriscaping with native and/or edible plants ie, using the water that falls out of the sky instead of sprinkling laboratory-grade water on (useless) grass. Really looking forward to that one, yumm, edible front yards!

    Our newly-formed local land trust is exploring setting up some way — a mutual aid society or commonwealth or concierge service — to allow our older neighbours to stay in their houses until the end, and younger people to have affordable housing and good work.

    Thought about it long and hard. I like the city, and if/when Barbarian Hordes from the south come up here on lashed-together rafts, crazed by hunger, my only and last defense will be my neighbours. So it will be important that I know them and they know me, and we are already working as a team.

    In author Fisk’s defense, though, perhaps the anti-neighbour people are apartment dwellers? My one and only foray into hi-rise living was pretty unpleasant. I heard my neighbours all the time — casual conversations, fights and toilet flushes. I smelled their dinners and squished against their bodies on the elevator. My windows wouldn’t open (fire regs), and I didn’t even know the weather until I got down to the ground and outside, sometimes had to go back up and change.

    I felt crowded in past my personal space requirements and the easiest way to defend against that was to ignore my neighbours totally, perhaps into extinction. Or at least sand pounding.

    1. For_Christ's_Sake

      Thought about it long and hard. I like the city, and if/when Barbarian Hordes from the south come up here on lashed-together rafts, crazed by hunger, my only and last defense will be my neighbours

      They were your neighbors in the past who got overlooked and were forced to move south for economic opportunity.
      They weren’t ‘pretty’ enough to be included in a Gilmore Girl’s type of existence.

      1. HotFlash

        Whut? What is a Gilmore Girl? If I cared more I would search, if you cared more you would use plain language. I live in Canada, we did a lot of things pretty well here, and you, I suspect, are south of me and one of the people I am worried about.

    2. jrs

      I thought a lot about it and got very involved in trying to build communities in some ways (though maybe not entirely meeting neighbors as it was a somewhat more select group) at one point … but I think living in this society just overwhelmed me and I gave up at that point.

      Or specifically what made me give up entirely was being unemployed in the Great Recession and realizing all such community would NOT keep me from destitution, not from homelessness or anything else. Would all this community take me in if I was destitute? NO. And I think you’ll find that is true of most people’s “communities” however they define them, they aren’t going to be there for one in real need, the homeless are not homeless because they failed to build community. One can say this is the government’s job anyway which is ok, but it’s the U.S. and so that job is largely undone.

      I didn’t qualify for unemployment insurance (I have no beefs with unemployment insurance at all as I’ve used it other times, it has certain rules and is what it is). As for who would help me if I was destitute, although she might if truly pressed, my own mom was pretty much “no way!” when asked. Luckily I found work and got the American religion and realized any true salvation was in jobs and money. But the requirements of most jobs and commutes are so exhausting, there isn’t much else left to give most of the time anyway, it seems.

      1. perpetualWAR

        My same story…..except for family response……my sis said, “mi casa is su casa.” For which I am grateful.

        This society’s a hard one.

      2. kareninca

        “Or specifically what made me give up entirely was being unemployed in the Great Recession and realizing all such community would NOT keep me from destitution, not from homelessness or anything else. Would all this community take me in if I was destitute? NO. ”

        That is what I see. The people I know here in Silicon Valley who live in their cars or RVs are sociable (not surprisingly, since I know them) and have a lot of connections with other people. They grew up here. But no-one is offering to take them in; no-one at all. And their food comes from the food closet or the government or the dumpsters.

        I have seen parents in other parts of the country take their adult kids in. That’s about it. So much for the “community.” I have a friend who was homeless for two years here, and then moved to CT, and almost immediately was placed in a group home; things are falling apart in CT but it is still civilized. I’d rather depend on the tender mercies of the government, than depend on friends; it’s an infinitely better bet.

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      Aside from many apartments being cheaply constructed so that your neighbors are often too close for comfort, another problem in most cities is high turnover. There aren’t many cities like NYC and SF where lots of people rent and the housing regs are somewhat (in NYC, considerably) tenant-friendly, so that many renters will stay in the same apartment for many years.

  11. TG

    “Sustainability” is, by definition, stupid. It will occur regardless. If populations continue to be increased, and we either ruin the climate or reach the point of diminishing returns of our current technology, misery and poverty (not, in general, outright famine) will ensure that everyone alive has, perhaps barely, enough to eat. If all we are willing to settle for is the minimum necessary for life, that’s automatic. And no, it’s not a high standard of living that is pushing us to this point, it’s the numbers. There is almost no standard of living so high that it cannot be maintained with a moderate population and some intelligence in the use of resources. There is no standard of living so low that, with enough billions upon billions, the land will be stripped bare, the rivers run with filth and the sky choked with soot. Compare Canada with India and tell me I’m wrong.

    Using fewer resources per capita only so that the rich can jam in more people, does the environment no good.

    “Sustainability” is a hoax, to distract us from more important matters, and perhaps to convince us to love the steadily declining standards of living to come.

    1. PhilM

      This, exactly this. The whole premise of the article is based on the assumption that the tragedy of the commons has a solution; as are most of the comments in response.

      It doesn’t. Get used to it. One way to get used to it is to buy a nice place in the country and grow stuff that is good enough to eat. That is not a statement of a solution for everybody; it is a statement of a solution for you, and your family, for a while. In the long run, everyone is dead. Live as you please now. If that means a degree in agriculture lets you have a delightful farmstead, go for it.

      By the way, the author of the OP needs to go back and look up what “moral” means, because she thinks that personal happiness is somehow not part of that framework. Seeking happiness in moderation without harm to others is, by many definitions, the essence of morality; as in Epicureanism among other hedonic philosophies–and hence also in utilitarianism. In systems like this, the “inevitable redistribution of wealth” is managed by price discovery in the marketplace. Blah blah blah liberalism; whine, think your tiny efforts might make it better, whatever: you still will not have eliminated the natural drive of competition for scarce resources, and the outcomes of that process for every species are well known and inevitable.

      Most writing that is founding in contemporary thinking based on buzzwords can be piped to nul. This article is a great example of that.

      1. Harold

        The epicureans believed in withdrawal. It was the Stoics who believed in engagement and living temperately. Stoicism is the rational response to a corrupt, oppressive, and inadequate government.

  12. WorkerPleb

    Speaking as someone who has no faith whatsoever in modern society, its present direction, leadership, ethos, and especially its outrageously corrupt institutions, I admit that I fantasize about going if not “off the grid”, at least to a country shack out, far, far, far away from our Brazilified/Sovietified urban centers. Increasingly there is not one jot of real benefit for me in living in a tiny, overpriced flat, working a meaningless financialised job, for poor pay and poorer living conditions, principally for the benefit of a class which has not only indifference, but increasingly contempt for the vast majority of society. I sense things are going to get very much worse before they are even in a place where they can get better and I want to be as far away from the inevitable ground zero as possible.

    I don’t want to live in cities. Look at the history of Black Americans who moved from rural to urban. Yes they did well, for a time. But look at their communities now. The rest of us are only slowly being lead by neoliberalism down the very same road.

    I don’t want to waste time pretending I can fix it anymore. The ruling class are mendacious manipulators, upheld by cynical and corrupt institutions like the media. They have no interest whatsoever in changing their ways, and are adept only at stringing along reformers until they give up or give in. I don’t like saying it but I understand now why so many historically have preferred revolution over reform — the latter may well be impossible.

    I want no more part of whatever “solutions” people want to come up with. Let it burn.

    1. Disturbed Voter

      We are still in the Vietnam War era unfortunately. As in Vietnam, the only way to save America is to destroy it. That is why “creative destruction” capitalism is such a successful ideology. Yes, America must burn. As in slash & burn agriculture. As per Gospel, the only way for a seed to propagate, is for it to be planted, and die. Then new life comes up. The status quo is always a futile fight against this. This is why millionaires want immortality.

    2. Louis

      Look at the history of Black Americans who moved from rural to urban. Yes they did well, for a time. But look at their communities now. The rest of us are only slowly being lead by neoliberalism down the very same road.

      Many zoning and planning laws, especially things like minimum-lot size requirements and restrictions on building anything other than single-family homes originated from attempts designed to keep them out of the “right” part of town. These same restrictions hinder sustainability–tiny homes are illegal in a lot of places because of minimum-lot size requirements.

      All too often, when somebody tries to build anything other than single-family homes, even if it’s market rate, the yuppies come out with their pitchforks screaming about how it’s going to hurt their property values.

      It’s the classic NIMBY mindset: you can build more density or a bus stop–just as long as it’s not near them. Until this NIMBY mindset can be overcome, not a lot is going to change.

      1. cm

        Zoning is the solution to affordable housing, but no one in authority wants to permit it. If we honestly wanted a solution to affordable housing we would allow tiny houses. Eliminate restrictions on minimum lot size & minimum house size.

        Honestly, what is the downside? What are the objections?

        1. kareninca

          The downside is traffic. It is so bad now here in Silicon Valley that ambulances get stuck. I was driving on El Camino a couple of weeks ago and the other side was clogged and an ambulance was just sitting there, its siren blasting; it couldn’t move and it couldn’t get over to the other side to drive the wrong way. People can’t get out of their driveways because their streets are clogged with traffic taking detours. The more housing you build, the more people will move in, and most of them own cars.

          The answer is to have the jobs spread out across the country, not all in one tiny space.

  13. Susan the other

    This is a great topic. Where idealism meets reality. I agree with the author that small towns (she said Boise-sized towns) are effective. There’s a good synergy in them. I just wish that radical change, the kind we need, was not so frightening. There is an economics prof. (can’t remember his name) at the U of U who made the observation that civilization itself causes global warming – that is, even if we eliminated fossil fuels we’d still have a big problem. The IEEE has also told us that “sustainable” energy isn’t any more sustainable for the planet than gas and oil because making electricity to manufacture wind and solar pollutes massively. We all know we have overpopulated the planet, and all the construction to sustain a growing world population is destroying the environment but we just turn our backs on the devastation. And we are insanely caught up in a consumer mindset which magnifies our problems to the point that they are insurmountable unless we get away from this stupid consumption economy. Underneath the good intentions we all have there is this one big imperative: we have to control ourselves. Pontificating won’t work.

    1. FluffytheObeseCat

      Solar panels, inverters and wind turbines would only take fossil fuel energy to build until power production from renewable energy sources overtakes fossil fuel sourced production. At that point, the input power would be as renewable as the power eventually produced by the new panels, inverters, etc.

      Whether this will actually happen or not is besides the point. The entire argument is mendacious, because it relies on (promoting) the belief that fossil fuels are always, inevitably, the dominant source of base load electric power. This is not true even now. I.e. France runs an advanced industrial economy more on nuclear power than fossil fuels. If you were to site a wind turbine production plant in certain regions of France today, all production coming out of it would be ‘carbon’ free already. Right now. I suspect much of the wind turbine and blade production from Danish production facilities is already fueled more by renewables than fossil fuels. Right now.

      Any time you see an argument implying that renewable power production is no good/impure/bogus because the physical infrastructure was built with fossil fuel sourced power, you are reading the script of an oil industry shill. There are so many layers of lie in this thesis that I doubt it even rises to the level of “bullshit”.

      1. HBE

        The “green” and renewableness of solar is based on two very poorly done studies by alsema all underlying research on the the carbon footprint and payback period of solar is based on his two studies that use extremely dubious methodology. These studies then form the foundation for all those articles describing the wondrous renewableness of solar, so we really have no idea on how much carbon it takes to produce a panel (when externalities are included). Thus we have no idea what the payback period is or if they are green (and wind is definently not carbon neutral).

        Solar and wind provide energy diversification, they are not a renewable pancea, furthermore they cannot deal with shifting energy requirements based on seasonality.

        All this is besides the point that I absolutely hate “green” energy because it makes individuals and societies complacent. “We don’t need to make any changes at all, we’ll just slap up some turbines and panels, it’s all good.”

        “Green energy” as savior is a fantasy that needs to die. If we really want to be sustainable the first thing we need to implement is population controls and planning on a global scale, followed by wealth redistribution and education. The likelyhood of that happening is nil, so we are left with the fantasy of “green energy” as savior.

        1. Art Eclectic

          Green energy is as good as it’s going to get. Population controls are a non-starter, didn’t work in China, won’t work anywhere else. People want to breed, it’s biological. Wealth redistribution is also a non-starter. The wealthy control the armies and political infrastructure. The point to self-generation is independence. It’s a hedge against rising energy costs demanded by utility investors. Self-generation is the only option for the little guy.

          1. jrs

            actually I think it did keep the population in check in China for many years, unfortunately they abandoned what was overall a successful policy.

            1. HBE

              It was effective in stabilizing the population, if it had not been implemented China would likely be in a worse position than India now.

              It’s intent was to reduce the population to 650 million. Unfortunately many rural areas did not follow it, and it was ended after just under 40 years, largely because in the urban areas where it was followed people now tend to naturally limit themselves to one child.

            1. JTMcPhee

              Yah, I think more accurately, “people want to shag.” Usually not the same thing, except by “accident” or “unsheathing.”

              1. jrs

                biological makes it seems like it’s an animal instinct, like shagging. But human desire to reproduce is not on the biological drive on the level of eating or shagging at all, it’s cultural, it’s about expectations, and meaning making, and dealing with morality etc. It’s natural sure enough, but it’s meaning is filtered heavily through human culture.

        2. Louis

          Who, pray tell, decides and enforces these population controls?

          Be careful what you wish for–population control might not work out the way you think (or hope).

          1. HBE

            If it works to reduce and stabilize population I don’t care who enforces it.

            These types of “watch out” comments on the subject annoy me to no end.

            Be careful what you wish for–population control might not work out the way you think (or hope).

            I don’t know what you mean by this. If it works to humanely stabilize and reduce population it works, period.

            But, you go ahead pretending the planets carrying capacity is infinite, because population controls make you uncomfortable.

            Instability, war, and starvation is what you’ll end up with. Is that a preferable outcome?

            1. Louis

              The “do as I say not as I do” mentality gets tiresome: i.e. it’s only other people that shouldn’t have children.

              1. HBE

                I have no children nor do I intend to (24), if it becomes an issue I’ll adopt.

                May I ask do you have 2 or more children? While not always the case I find those most against population control tend to be defending a lifestyle choice they’ve already made. While trying to avoid the fact that’s why they are against control’s.

                1. Moneta

                  So are Louis’ children going to take care of you in your old age? Immigrants? Or robots?

            2. EndCapitalismNow

              Since the U.S., Europe, and Japan use 80% of the world’s resources while only having 16% of the world’s population, killing off that 16% would leave plenty of resources and sustainability for the rest of the world. And since you don’t seem to have a problem enforcing population control where it would make the most sense, please begin by killing yourself. See how easy sustainably can be!

      2. Moneta

        Actually it’s this type of argument that I find most frustrating because it implies that we are not facing limits in energy and resources which means we can keep on increasing our energy consumption.

    2. sunny129

      You pointed at the 800 guerrilla in the room – CONSUMPTION based Economy cannot go on.

      The vested interests are NOT open to any idea of ‘sustainable’ Economy supportive of replenishing the Earth.

    3. Carla

      “Underneath the good intentions we all have there is this one big imperative: we have to control ourselves.”

      Yes, how very true.

      Unfortunately, it seems almost all of us would prefer to control others, and that just doesn’t work.

      1. PhilM

        It is much easier to control others than to control oneself. The evidence is all around you. Why do you doubt it? Or, what do you mean by “it doesn’t work”?

    4. nonsense factory

      Well, this is inaccurate:

      There is an economics prof. (can’t remember his name) at the U of U who made the observation that civilization itself causes global warming – that is, even if we eliminated fossil fuels we’d still have a big problem. The IEEE has also told us that “sustainable” energy isn’t any more sustainable for the planet than gas and oil because making electricity to manufacture wind and solar pollutes massively.

      Fossil CO2 is the global warming driver; if you use solar/wind/storage as the electricity source for manufacturing wind and solar systems then you don’t have the pollution problems of coal and natural gas electricity generation. If you then place a priority on energy efficiency in all aspects of life – such as bicycling or taking public transit rather than driving a car, LEDs vs. incandescents, hang-drying clothes vs. hot-air dryers, etc. than you can have a far, far smaller energy footprint. It’s also healthier (being more active) and less expensive.

  14. For_Christ's_Sake

    No, I really don’t believe it needs ‘moderation’, thank you.

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    and included the colorful declaration that “my neighbor can go pound sand” (which I had to Google).

    You couldn’t just ask your neighbor ??

  15. Lynne

    Christopher Smith’s comment (“We have the right to participate in government or our communities — or not — as much as we want,”) sums up exactly what has gone so wrong. Crisp in comes close, but cannot bring herself to say that we have rights AND duties to others. Very rarely do we hear anyone talk about their duty (to engage, to care for others, to participate in local organizations, including government), and without the open acknowledgement that the social contract carries benefits and obligations. Snark and sarcasm is in, and calling to obligations is too old-fashioned and unpopular. Just saying it to my nieces elicits eye rolls and a tirade about noblesse oblige and old white men exploiting people of color. *sigh*

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      The idea of duties to others is de-emphasized when a kid starts his/her education

      There, it’s ‘do better than others,’ ‘you take the test along, or else, you’re cheating by sharing answers,’ ‘Johnnie is too dumb and we’ll be leaving him behind in the same grade next year.’

      A young mind is a malleable one and those lessons stay forever.

  16. johnnygl

    Toby Hemenway, an excellent permaculturist who recently passed away had given a couple of very good lectures on his move to rural oregon and how he realized his carbon footprint went up because he was stuck driving everywhere. He used that to segway into his book ‘the permaculture city’ where he pointed out how important community building really is and gives examples on how to do it better.

    I’d dig up some youtube links, but i’m on my crappy phone. They aren’t too hard to find, though.

    1. HBE

      Yes if you live in a rural area unfortunately cars are a necessity. Small concentrated (no sprawl) urban centers of around 150,000 to 250,000 are the ideal in my view. At this size public transportation is highly effective and food can come from the region surrounding the urban center.

      This means ripping down the suburbs and turning them back to farm land.

      1. HotFlash

        You don’t have to rip down the *whole* ‘burbs, just return the parts of it now devoted to cars (just think about how much space that is — streets, parking lots, driveways …) to agriculture, and the otherwise-wasted rooftops, and we could be fine.

        1. different clue

          The streets and driveways might be what allow suburbanites to get inputs in and outputs out. The streets and driveways help so many people to be able to live per unit area of suburb over what an equal area of farm could let people live. And all those suburban people would be a large in–place workforce for doing the kind of high precision horticulture ( like biodynamic French Intensive) that can’t be done on a farm.

          And of course roofs are not wasted space. They shed water and it is not the roof’s fault if the roof-owner doesn’t bother to set up the multi-thousand-gallon water collection and storage systems which having a roof makes possible. Also, what if fruit and nut trees were grown all around the house and branches trained to go over the roof intercepting the sunlight otherwise hitting the roof and turning that sunlight into plant-derived product?

          Suburbia could be several times more food-productive-per-unit-area than Farmistan will ever be.

          But in the long run, Darwin will decide. Will the suburbs be carefully torn down for a newer cycle of Big Commercial Farms? Or will the suburbs become sub-rural semi-peasant settlements whose inhabitants will at least have something to eat . . .grown right where they live?

  17. JonnyAppleseed

    Some important sustainability concerns about rural living are raised here. As a long-time fan of NC, a first-time commenter, and an actual denizen of the hinterlands of New England, I agree that the Achilles’ heel of country life is the CO2 footprint of transport. Of course, in the days before the strip malls and highways conquered all, there was usually a functional nearby town or village center, often within walking or biking distance, and possibly an energy-efficient railway line. It will be crucial to re-invigorate those smaller nodes of community in coming days. But let’s not make a false dichotomy between the merits of country vs. city living – we need to improve sustainability across all regions and all efforts to do so should be encouraged, even tiny houses. As to the author’s final sentence, I have to quibble. At this point in history, shouldn’t our goal be to make a very light mark upon the world?

  18. Johnny Pistola

    Moving to a rural area (on or off the grid) is more of a lifestyle choice than a political statement. After a 40 year career in software development, I’m looking forward to retiring and building a cottage for my partner and I in the backwoods of Vancouver Island. The clean air, healthy work, quiet atmosphere, organic food and economic self reliance gained more than justify this decision for me. And yes, the global cultural/political climate has reached such a stage of moral decay that in my view, will likely end in a massive economic and environmental crisis, and I don’t want to be living in a large urban center when the shit flies.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I too fear things will end badly. I sense great amounts of undirected anger building toward flash point. I agree with your assessment that rural areas will probably be safer than the cities. I remember the images of the Rodney King Los Angeles riots on the nightly news and I’ve seen the remains of our urban areas following the riots of the 60’s. The urban remains of decades of destruction of buildings and lives is just an hour’s drive away. Our survival depends on community – but the community of a mob grows too large and far too quickly in a large city.

    2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      What would be needed for protection of the cottage, in case some of us are also thinking about going that route?

      1. different clue

        What do you think you will need to protect the cottage from? Do you literally mean protect your cottage from “your share” of the millions of refugees fleeing the unsustainable urban death-trap cities?

  19. Adam Eran

    One of my “conservative” (what on earth are the conserving?) acquaintances heatedly told me that I couldn’t keep him from getting his Lexus. I replied he could have whatever car he wanted, I just wanted to make sure there were roads on which he could drive it.

    The idea of an isolated human is absurd as an isolated ant. Sure, they might have “liberty,” but what choices would present themselves?

    I’ll add one suggestion to the “get to know your neighbors” post that’s worked for me: make a neighborhood contact (phone / email) list. It opens the door to future interactions.

  20. Sandler

    Immigrants such as those here in Brooklyn and Queens know their neighbors and maintain a communal, highly social village tradition. However, as Americanism and materialism infect their culture, they isolate and become less social. I saw this with my parents’ immigrant group. Their liveliness has been crushed in three decades. The new arrivals have a spirit, the old ones have lost it and their kids born here never really had it (mostly ended up stoners, unemployed, Netflix over socializing, with even a suicide sadly).

    My point is there’s something dark and crushing about American culture whether you know your neighbors or not.

    1. polecat

      I have one neighbor, ONE, on my block who’ll chat with me now and again (we both have fruit/vegie gardens … I have, in addition, bees, chickens, and many ornamentals/flowering perennials to attract pollinators and birds) …. the other … ah … ‘neighbors’ are too fucking ‘busy’ to just hang with …. and it’s taken me over a decade to not care anymore! So in a sense, I AM a ‘green’ island … in a sea of ambivalent Jones on Rider-mowers, Yuuuuge Trucks, and ATVs !!

      …. and in their eyes, I’m the freak, cuz I don’t do power equipment and spend most of my time enhancing our little plot of earth … but they take my honey or eggs if offered !

      1. HotFlash

        Goddess bless you, Polecat. You are a seed, and when it all goes pear-shaped, hope you and your knowledge survive.

  21. barefoot charley

    I gave up and moved to the country 20 years ago, and my wife and I have lived off-grid for 15. I think “suburbanite with a long driveway” fairly characterizes me and my back-to-the-land cohort in the Deep North of California. Mrs. barefoot calls our neighborhood “Wilderburbia.”

    Our county planners have always been hostile to humans carving and cluttering up timberlands and ranchlands. But they earned contempt by arguing that our county seat Eureka–half the size of Boise, Idaho–enabled sustainability and small footprints in the same way that San Francisco, one of the most crowded cities in the country, does. It doesn’t. Efficiencies of scale matter, and what matters most is having many places worth walking and biking to, and workable public transit.

    What makes our lifestyle more sustainable is simply sitting still. It also makes us less sociable. I no longer feel that I must discover and model the lifestyle that the rest of the world must follow. Nor do I believe that consumer choices are the critical ones society must make. Pushing Cheato to support the Paris Accords (which themselves won’t save the world, but will let it die more slowly) is far more important than choosing to live in city or country, one bath or two. Also important is supporting people’s freedom to be different, which is to say, people’s freedom. But that’s the problem! I’m too old to have all the answers anymore.

    1. barefoot charley

      I want to note that progress has been very bad for off-grid sustainability. When solar panels and inverters were uncommon and expensive, it was a privilege to have a light to read by, or a radio after dark in the hills. We took for granted that off-grid meant you would use a tiny fraction of the electricity that the people stacked in cities like cordwood needed to brighten their despair. This mindset is almost extinct, as rural living has become a consumer choice, where it once flourished as an anti-consumer choice. I feel like uncivilization has hounded us all the way up the mountain. On the other hand, we just got a dishwasher . . .

      1. sunny 129

        I do have my share of experience living ‘off the grid’ off and on, while growing up in India. As a small town boy, I used to visit my grand parents’ place (bear minimum houses) near a large ( becoming smaller now!) patch of tropical forest in the South-west India. It was more than a couple of weeks at a time.

        I remember vividly the days and the nights WITHOUT electricity, running water, no news paper of any kind, no phones, no radio (forget TV). Deal with little kerosene lamps and flash lights among the infested snakes and occasional tigers roaming around (no man eaters!) I was afraid in the dark even with flash lights unlike my cousins, who cared less! Hot water by burning dried leaves collected in nearby forest. Brush with tooth powder or more likely with cut mango green eaves. Toilets were behind the bushes away from the houses.Never ending Monsoon rains for days! I could go on more, but suffice to say, I very much understand the term ‘off the grid’ living!

      2. cnchal

        . . . On the other hand, we just got a dishwasher . . .

        Isn’t the division of labor . . . grand?

  22. Mac na Michomhairle

    A confused article that does make a useful point about the necessity for engagement, but whose elements don’t support that point very coherently. It seems to be most relevant to people in cities who dream of greener pastures and simpler lives, though I suspect there’s an element of the author’s individual ideological or social process in it, generalized (wanting the urban social experience and jobs without also having to feel guilty that one is not as green as one used to be, or as rural people?)

    No family can support themselves alone, physically or psychically, and I don’t know of many rural places where they could even try that. Like Donne said, we’re necessarily involved, and there will be neighbors down the road, pretty much anywhere. In the country, necessary community is lot more easily escapable than it used to be, but it’s still hard (here anyway) to live your life oblivious to others and their lives.

    Are there really many people who move to the country to try to be self-sufficient? I doubt it. But in the country, you can grow a lot of food, supply a lot of your own fuel and power, and do a lot more for your family and community than does not involve getting and spending money and therefore supporting various aspects of the vampire superstructure that, in the city, will charge you for existing. Yep, you will need to drive, if you’re really in the country, but people help each other, and the last I heard, thousands of subways and buses also impact the world.

    I don’t know much about tiny houses, but I suspect enthusiasm for them owes as much to desire for a place of their own on the part of people who mostly can longer afford that conventionally. There seems to be a nomadic element too, which ,maybe isn’t surprising or a big deal, considering it’s often people in their twenties who are involved.

    Country or city, everyone is necessarily involved with others and with society, but the country (some parts, or rural northern New England, anyway) offers many possibilities for conscious involvement in one’s own and own’s community’s life, that larger population structures do not.

  23. Vatch

    in the days of Laura Ingalls Wilder or even earlier settlers, people still depended on tools they did not produce, like guns, plows, nails.

    Supposedly, when some of the early American settlers were ready to move farther west, they would burn their house down, and scavenge the scarce nails for use at the new house that they would build. I don’t know how common this practice was.

  24. Sluggeaux

    This entire discussion comes under the category of First-World Problems. Global over-population is overtaking all of the solutions discussed by the post and in the comments.

    The population of the planet hit 7.5 Billion just this last month. The UN projects world population to reach 8.5 Billion by 2030 (12 years from now) and 9.7 Billion by 2050 (33 years from now). There is currently a debate over whether India is more populous than China. It will be soon, certainly by 2022 (5 years). India has a population density of 400 people per square kilometer, compared to 277 people per square kilometer in China proper and a mere 32.5 persons per square kilometer in the U.S.

    The population of the Third-World is out of control, and Third-World problems are spilling into Europe and North America as exploited laborers and desperate refugees. They are escaping the horrors of over-crowding but are now impacting the quality of life in the advanced economies, driving down wages, and creating competition for resources from housing and water to education and health care. We seem to be doing nothing to educate and empower women in the Third-World to stop having babies, and those babies have to eat and drink, cook and excrete, inhale and exhale.

    I live in a small city and know my neighbors. It’s very pleasant, but I agree with some of the commenters above that it’s a First-World luxury that probably isn’t going to last — the increasing homeless population in our parks and public spaces is proof. My neighbor just lost his house after being displaced by an Indian H1-B.

    1. sunny 129

      Couldn’t agree any more.

      But in an ironic way, I look these global changes as ‘BLOW BACK’ or should I say ‘KARMA’ for the decades and centuries of colonization & exploitation of these Countries by Western countries.

      Who CREATED and is responsible for the refugee problems in the ME? What are the wars (spending Trillions!) in ME and drone bombings accomplishing since 2001? First World has it’s hands dirty from the very beginning and reaping the consequences, now!

  25. sunny 129

    If one wants ‘sustainable’ Economy, most should consider ‘voluntary down shift’ towards the philosophy and the practice of MINIMALISM!

    Most in America ( 50% or more) lived and are living beyond their means especially after 2000 (after globalization) The standard of LIFE was ‘maintained’ by consumption by DEBT. This started slowly in late ’80s. Remember, there was NO credit card for commons before 1952! The elites and the Banks of those days brought this idea of DEBT/Credit as a means for middle class to ‘maintain their standard of living’ when their labor wage growth started slowing. Now it is stagnant compared to mid 90s!

    DEBT became the ‘panacea’ for all the financial problems both in private and public especially after 2009. Consumption based Economy couldn’t survive with CREDIT growth. CBers and the Govt policies actively encouraged it. HOUSES became modern ATM machines! We are now in the 3rd largest bubble of assets in the 21st century.

    The current Housing bubble has surpassed that of 2007. DEBTS of all kind ( National debt 20T, Household +CC) debt, Auto Credit loans, student debt – all over >1 Trillion or more!) are in record territory!

    Where are we heading in this uncharted water? The great RESET will come, NOT if but when!

    Those who adopted the life style of MINIMALISM (not poverty) have a CHANCE to survive. The rest, will succumb to their own SELF INFLICTED misery. Chaos between Haves and Have-Nots will ensue! NOT a cheery prospect!

  26. Elizabeth Burton

    Wasn’t this separation everyone is discussing the ultimate goal of suburban sprawl and the creation of the “nuclear family” as ideal? Is it really that surprising that all of what others have here described has become the norm when every element of our culture has been designed for the last sixty years to ensure it?

    We aren’t going to cure this infection of I-ism overnight when it’s been festering for that long, and is constantly being reinforced by those who know keeping us isolated from one another is their best defense.

    1. sunny 129

      The replenishing mother Earth can only sustain 2 Billions or less population and NOT 7.3 Billions + growing!

      Apparently the ‘point of NO RETURN’ for sustainability/replenishability for this Earth was crossed last year!

  27. Shane

    My feelings on this are that the power of fossil fuel driven processes are so vastly powerful compared to biological solar based processes that the latter have been driven to the margins in every sphere of life. Their influence is so complete that even people living “sustainable” lifestyles in the west cannot see that their home grown vegetables rely on fertiliser, piping, pumps and machinery and usually seeds from elsewhere and their home raised eggs rely on industrial grain from the feed store and metal housing. That’s before the reliance on driving, off farm incomes, metal fencing and construction etc is considered. And it is also ignoring the lack of staple crops in their skill set, possibly with the exception of potato. In rural zones you cannot go anywhere safely by bicycle so long as the roads are populated with speeding cars, and the roads are made of oil anyway.

    I think the peak oil hypothesis is still very much with us even though the interest in it has waned since the GFC. That leads to a world where the elite still have the benefits of fossil fuels for a while but transport chains start breaking down. If we are lucky and some political center holds then perhaps industrially produced staple crops stay in production and distribution for a few decades. A poor person getting a sack of rice once a month would go from malnutrition to managing if they could supplement some vegetable and protein by their own hands.

    The problem I see is that the foundation for allowing this is badly eroded. Not just in terms of overpopulation (a more critical issue in the developing world than the west, and likely to be dramatically corrected by disease at some point). The landscape in the first world is highly degraded from generations of mismanagement, and very few meaningfully wild places exist as a buffer (traditional agriculturalists have relied on wild places to supplement their diet during hard time since agriculture began). To truly do zero input agriculture is a skill almost entirely lost in the west. Most vegetable gardeners for example rely on getting a truckload of manure to start the season. Productive systems only make sense where the waste of one operation (manure from livestock) is put to work in another layer (vegetable garden).

    Traditionally chickens or pigs were raised as a supplement to a dairy or grain farm to make use of excess or spoiled produce. Raising chickens in isolation from industrial grain is not a sustainable model in the future ahead. To that end then farms or farming communities need a minimal functional scale that allows integration of different operations. I doubt we will see many if any of these units spring up in the future- a loss of areas to wildness is ironically probably a more effective way to create a useful resource for foraging to supplement partial food growing solutions. Dairy goats for example can be used to turn overgrown weed-lots into high value nutrients. The pastoralist model is also looking good for these kinds of lifestyles in the future (if I recall correctly sheep and goat herders have sprung up in the patchwork of abandoned suburbia in Detroit).

  28. craazyman

    The Asteroid Will Hit Any Day Now

    these people sound like lunatics. first, how can you order food delivery if you live hundreds of miles from anybody. even a Chinese dude can’t ride a bicycle for hundreds of miles. second, what if you feel like getting a chi gong massage? duh. If you expect your frontier wife to give you a Chi Gong massage you’re completely insane. She’ll be too busy shucking corn and boiling beans. Third, if you even need a third, what if you want to ride a bus, just for fun. There aren’t any!

    This sounds like hell to me. What a nightmare. If you’ve seen one bird chirping in a tree you’ve see every bird ever. It’s true pigeons don’t chirp but sparrows do. I think they have them here in New York. There’s trees here full of chirping birds.

    There may be a bus from one remote hick town to another but certainly it’s not always there. To be ridden at will. It may be once a week. Can you imagine how awful that would be? It’s almost unimaginable to me, but I only cite it here as an example of the awfulness of this sort of thing described in the Post.

    I won’t even mention going out to dinner at a French restaurant and having, say, a $150 bottle of wine then a few after dinner cognacs until 1 a.m.. But if you’re living in a hole you dug someplace, then you’ll be drinking water and talking to yourself.

    Really. This stuff gets into nutso territory. There should be a warning label “Danger: Taking Nutso Asteroid Wacko Stuff seriously can be damaging to your well being. Read with Caution” LOL.

    OK OK, I’m kdding. This is fiction right? It’s a form of literary expression. Just soemting somebody made up for fun. This is the sort of thing you can talk about after a $150 bottle of wine and a cognac from Napolean era France. No kdding. I think Verlaine and Rimbaud did that, before they shot each other. You have to be careful! No matter what. Nothing worth doing is ever truly easy.

  29. ewmayer

    “I was struck, when reading The Dead Ladies Project, by the following critique:

    Our culture has become obsessed with the I and mapping out our internal qualities, all while arguing that individuation is the first step to becoming a good member of a community … And yet we have not from our little armies of unique individual spirits created a whole universe of equality and harmony and friendliness. We have separated out into our own divisible units, into our own one-and-a-half bedroom apartments, and the only things we seem to share are pictures of what we are eating for dinner.

    Perhaps since this snip closely follows the author mentioning feminism and the above quotee’s manifesto on the subject, the first that came to mind on reading the above was that the “obsessed with the I and mapping out our internal qualities” sounds strikingly like a lifestyle and Weltanschauung metaphor for the quite literal vaginal self-inspection detailed in a very famous feminist manifesto. Self-actualization narcissism as a kind of “culture of vaginal self-inspectors” phenomenon. It’s the new improved navel-gazing! D00d, is yours an innie or an outie?

    “Not that a 17-year-old girl dreaming of being a doctor is to blame for the Trump administration” — No, that would be a 69-year-old girl dreaming of being the first female US warmonger-and-Wall-Street-whore-in-chief. After such a long string of male warmongers-and-Wall-Street-whores-in-chief, to fail (or better, be robbed by The HitlerPutin and his evil minions) and to have some of us lowlives in hoi polloi try to blame her for the election of the Great Orange Satan must be a double blow. Poor Hillary, she’s a victim!

    1. different clue

      He wrote another article getting even more specific about “getting to know your neighbors” and “keeping your political opinions to yourself” and not looking for people to agree with your views, but rather to look for practical allies in sharing survival knowledge. But I can’t find that article.

      One could well think in analogous terms about not insisting that the people you re-engage with in your community share your views on things and stuff. Rather, look for ways in which you and they can co-help eachother co-sustain eachothers’ sustainable survival.

  30. I Have Strange Dreams

    The fact that there is such a lifestyle known as “survivalism” in America tells us that American society is probably not going to survive.

  31. jerry

    This seems like very binary thinking.. either you need to be in a sprawling metropolis with people crawling over you like LA or NYC, or you need to be in a remote cabin in Idaho or something. There’s a ton of middle ground here where people can substantially distance themselves from the over-populated, corporate/consumer driven life where no one really gives a crap about anyone else, yet still be in a large enough community to have the human connection.

      1. Left in Wisconsin

        Yes, my complaint was going to be that she clearly has know idea what she is recommending if she is lumping Boise, Chattanooga and Des Moines into a single group. So jerry might be noticing that big city vibe regardless of the specific advice.

        And Des Moines doesn’t need anyone else moving there. It’s already quite the boom and sprawl town. If she is talking about already built infrastructure, low cost and need for re-infusion of energy, then she really should be recommending cities/towns in the 10-50,000 pop range, of which there are literally hundreds across the Northeast and Midwest (and probably elsewhere), not the 100-500,000 pop range.

        1. jrs

          But of course if everyone one knows is in LA or NYC, such “finding community” entails leaving all one’s existing supports, sometimes lifelong. So how community oriented it really is, shrug. It depends on if everyone has already moved away or most are still there of course.

  32. schultzzz

    The author of this post is part of the problem.

    There’s probably not more than a thousand people who did the ‘tiny house and off grid’ trend, and the author punches down on them, for not being sufficiently pure. That’s a sure-fire way to reduce the number of people trying to live cleaner, not increase it.

    She tells us to reach out to conservatives and good ole’ boys, going incrementally. Yet the author has nothing but scorn and disdain for conservationists who are not hardcore enough.

    Archdruid can get away with that, because he’s pretty self-aware and has a dry wit; this author has a ways to go.

    1. jrs

      Not many did the tiny house thing, of course with city zoning laws, maybe not many people ever could without moving somewhere rural.

    2. different clue

      Good point and good catch. She sneers at people who are changing what they use and how they use it and DON’T HAVE the PRIVILEGE of an already-owned family farm to retreat to . . . or a portable skill-set with which to be able to make money from absolutely anywhere . . . while praising those LUCKY FEW who DO have that privilege and praise themselves for being “such good neighbors” to people with icky beliefs.

      The author also dodges the basic fact that community evolves among people who stay in one place and know eachother for decades and then generations. Most of America’s population is too hypermobile for anyone to know anyone very well.

      Communities are probably going to be communities-of-shared-approach to things and stuff. People interested in conservation living will find ways to get in touch with other people already interested in conservation living.

      Only if you are physically in a place for years among people who are in that place for years will you and they get very far with a “community-concept” based on living in the same place.

  33. Ed

    the word problematic triggers me, how did this become the term used to describe everything people find problematic?

    I think before the last five years or so the only time people used problematic in a conversation was when they were describing their Chrysler

  34. LAS

    I like this essay. It gets at something important.

    The people who truly live off the grid are those excluded by dint of structural racism and exploitation in the dual labor market. Of these persons, there are many. You can learn of their lives by reading books like – for instance -:
    “Evicted” by Mathew Desmond,
    “Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal” by Aviva Chomsky,
    “Trapped in America’s Safety Net: One Family’s Struggle” by Andrea Louise Campbell
    “Remedy and Reaction: The Peculiar American Struggle Over Health Care Reform” by Paul Starr

    Despite their high prevalence, we are distracted with following exploits of the wealthy and we don’t stand up strongly enough for those who are being excluded from the custom of the country. The current POTUS has every intention of exploiting and excluding more Americans than we can yet imagine. Other democratic countries have already decided that every citizen shall have health care. Ours, on the other hand, is manufacturing excuses to make no such commitment and blame the victims.

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