Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Self-Sufficiency Handbook - and a Few "Deep Thoughts"

The Self-Sufficiency Handbook: A Complete Guide to Greener Living. Alan and Gill Bridgewater.

As I have said many times before, I truly doubt the existence of a complete self-sufficiency book. While this text boldly proclaims as such in the title, I have not yet been proved wrong. This handbook has a lot of great information, but it is rather thin...and would serve best as only a light introduction to self-sufficiency. It would not be undesirable in a library, but hardly necessary. For those so inclined, I have two superior recommendations here and here. I would not have even written a review, however the opening paragraph struck me, and I want to share it - and my thoughts - with you.

When Gill and I graduated from art school in the 1960s, the whole place was buzzing with a new kind of freedom. Somehow we all felt that we could do it - meaning life - better than previous generations. I remember one evening sitting in a college common room listening to two young, hippy, American lecturers animatedly talking about how very soon we would all be forced by the failure of oil supplies to return to some sort of Amish type self-sufficiency - log cabins maybe, horses rather than cars, communes where groups of like-minded people pulled together to create a better society - and it was very exciting.

As they saw it, and as whole swathes of people saw it, our consumer society was living off the fast shrinking capital resources of the earth. Their thinking was that ever since the start of the industrial revolution we had been taking and dumping: taking the coal and dumping the waste, taking the oil and dumping pollution, taking the goodness from the soil and leaving it barren, cutting down trees, and so on.
The authors continue on, explaining how this shaped their desire to live in a self-sufficient and less ecologically impacting manner. They then spent the next 30-40 years of their lives scrounging around, trying to make ends meet. As I also have stated before, the romanticism of self-sufficiency does not fool me. I don't find it that exciting and I do not think it would be an ideal way to live. Anyway, the introduction instantly struck me in two ways:

1. Maybe there really is no urgent problem
2. Crying wolf...and its ramifications

First off, my gut reaction was, "Man, people really have been screaming, 'The end is nigh!' for a long time." Maybe all the people screaming about it now really are full of it, too. Maybe peak oil and global warming are not that big of a deal...and if they are, maybe they are decades or centuries away from affecting us.

Then, that little seed of doubt creeps back in. Perhaps the hippies back then were right all along, just off in the time frame. My mind continues to file through all the evidence that I have complied during the short amount of time that I have concerned myself with such matters. Yes, peak oil must be real, and the while the time frame is up for debate, the one that I have settled on is definitely within my lifetime, or at least the next generation's.

Global warming is a challenge that I have yet to tackle, and I am not a climatologist. I will have to default to the consensus of current scientific opinion and Al Gore. I fear that it is real, it is man-made, and due to the Tragedy of the Commons, it may be inevitable. The time frame on climate change is very much up for debate as well, due to its extremely complex and variable nature; but if you watch the Discovery Channel, you know it is coming pretty soon - and will not be pretty.

So, the long standing cries from environmentalist and other scientists may have been 'spot on' the entire time. Perhaps it was the relevance time between the earth's geologic clock and the 24-hr news cycle that has caused the disconnect. And ultimately, the fable of the "Boy Who Cried Wolf" seems rather fitting; and rather disturbing, considering the end result.

These are the two extremes I continue to wrestle with. And as I have argued in the past, few things in life are black and white. For my own benefit, (and hopefully yours) I will continue to attempt to search through the gray area. Depending on the source, you can get pretty good (and bad) arguments from both sides. There are folks with full time jobs that research these issues, as well as those that literally devote their entire lives to finding the truth. How can the layman be expected to sort through it all? I suppose all we can do is just continue to plug along; hoping for the best and preparing for some version of the worst.

1 comment:

Alan Bridgewater said...

Congratulations... such a beautiful piece... so smooth, so empty, so very very clever.