Andy Kenworthy explains it eloquently in this article in which his 20 years of permaculture and eco-village living informs his practical reassessment of permaculture enthusiasts’ claims. I have told many people my lifestyle is well suited to preventing societal and environmental collapse, but not to a post-collapse future. That’s because it lightens the load a lot, but is still very connected to the system.
“It represents the lifestyle we’re all working so hard to avoid”, he says. “A lot of what some environmentalists consider denial or ignorance is really people knowing their options only too well. They have decided that they rather like their affluent industrialized lifestyles. They’re not going ‘back to the land’ until they are forced to by poverty or at the point of a gun, as has already been test-run by autocrats throughout history. “
“My key point is that once we stop grasping for illusory ‘solutions’ we will get better at getting on with reality, with all its complexities and mess.”
I wonder. My lifestyle is hardly the back-breaking, back-to-earth kind he describes out on the land in communities and yet the mainstream people who stay here for months on end typically retain their wasteful habits. In the suburbs, it’s a soft version of living lightly on the planet. For example, I explain the house is fully insulated (walls included) and the best way to control the temperature is to use windows, doors and blinds. Passive home design and sustainability advisors explain how behaviour is a big part of efficient energy use: In summer, open everything up at night (and make use of cross ventilation) and close up in the morning before the heat rises. Do the reverse in winter. In autumn and spring here in Brisbane, there is no need for it. It makes little difference to humidity, but around the summer and winter solstices, it’s truly worth it. Despite repeated explanations and gentle nudges, they resist taking up habits that would make their immediate experience and space more comfortable. That is not to mention the benefits to the environment.
That doesn’t look like getting ‘better at getting on with reality, with all its complexities’ to me.
I’m left wondering why I’m different. It’s too easy to call it ‘laziness’, ‘indifference’ or ‘selfishness’. In some part, it may be a higher threshold for discomfort and even financial expense (if they go over their allotted consumption, which I’ve never monitored or enforced). Here’s what I think is going on. The thing about it is it has to become a habit to be effective – a sort of ritual that occurs dependent on the weather.
We are trained from a very early age to fit into a schedule. From kindergarten to employment, our time is organized for us. For most people, resources are only accessible through the money system. We work hard for the moula and then spend to make life easy. Who wants to open a window or blind after a hard days work when you can throw a switch or two? If the power is included in the rent, it’s (rightly) the owner’s problem and it won’t make much difference to the environment. This goes some way to explaining resistance to beneficial behaviour, but where there’s no air-conditioning, it doesn’t explain foregoing a better temperature.
Inequality in a highly technologized and monetarized system sustains a disconnect between people and Earth. “This place should have aircon – it’d save me some trouble.” Energy and materials are not planetary resources; they are the owners’ belongings. What’s the weather going to be today? “I’m going to work. I don’t have time to check the weather. I’ll be in the office in air-conditioning. Someone else can do it – whoever’s staying home. My room won’t make much difference.”
One way I’ve noticed I’m different is the extent to which I’ve striven for independence and self-reliance. It always seemed important to get to a point where I could give back. Achieving the right distance from the monetary system has been crucial to ensuring it has very little say in what I do and when I do it. Work is a necessary part of everyone’s life – or should be. But not pointless work, such as spruiking property prices. Work that is fundamental, like maintenance, cleaning, production of essential household items, such as food. Simplicity lightens the load on the planet and reduces maintenance, but involves a little extra work. When you’re not caught up in the daily grind of the rat race, that little bit of extra work keeps you fit. It doesn’t wear you out. When your time is your own, you have the time to observe more deeply. Only then might someone notice things here without being told, such as the ground floor has a better year-round temperature than upstairs because its on a concrete slab and upstairs insulates the ground floor. The wet areas have been placed on the western side to insulate the house from afternoon heat.