|Who needs merchant bankers when the well’s dry?|
We lived for some years in Marin County in California, home of mountain-biking, the hippy movement, organic markets and the Farallones Institute (who converted a suburban house in Berkeley into a fully self-sustaining environment just to prove it could be done).
Surrounded by proponents of “alternative” lifestyles, we began questioning much of what underpins Western consumer culture. Not just the idiotic, unsustainable monetary mechanisms, but the simple, everyday things: water, food, energy, sewerage, household waste, transport.
The provenance of these and what happens after we consume them really started to bug us. Our consumer culture was allowing itself to be trapped in a wholly non-self sustaining dependency: things are grown or made ‘somewhere’, are bought, consumed and the waste goes ‘away’. That made no sense at all, both from the perspective of our planet and its limited resources as well as recently when wondering what our 5-year old will really need to know and learn in order to survive in a future that would certainly no longer be based on a petroleum economy. What really mattered?
Neither of us is the Moses-takkie-bunny-hugging type but we are also definitely not of the pave-the-world ilk either. Somewhere between those two lies a pragmatic balance of technology, common sense and tradition. That became our quest.
The small farm we now have is a far cry from the Midrand suburbia we survived. It’s real, hard and unending work to live. The reality of what goes into ensuring your own (clean) water supply, growing your own food, patching your roof, supplementing your fuel and energy needs, fixing your access road, slaughtering, making compost and the myriad other tasks that need doing just to maintain the most basic infrastructure and lifestyle is initially quite overwhelming.
Eventually we realised that we were battling so much because we were used to an environment where issues are assigned away, like the weekly waste collection, sewerage and electricity. We are so far removed from the natural cycles of things that we assume they obey us.
All of us need to realise that each of these components of a “successful” lifestyle demands a price, and it isn’t money. It’s in the capacity of our Earth to continue to supply our unending demand. It simply can’t, and we’re already beginning to see the results, although most deny it. If we don’t pay it now by our awareness and a more conservative approach to our lifestyle habits, then we and our children will pay the price later.
Each of us needs to do something to make us a little less dependent upon these mechanisms, because sooner or later they will no longer exist in the forms we’ve come to rely upon.
By: Jan Vingerhoets