The Pimp My Garden push is starting exceedingly slowly – my Real Job got Real Busy and the Great Potato Harvest is taking most of the free time as we harvest and sell 300#’s a week. Some cool things have happened though, like I was asked to speak on a 30 minute radio show about permaculture a few weeks ago. In preparation for that I re-read Holmgren’s: Permaculture Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability – god is that a great book! And, as usual, its got me thinking.
Early in the book he is talking through some of the comments that his Design students have made about the choices at his homestead. In particular, there is no renewable energy component at the property – at least for electricity production. Anyone that has priced Solar or Wind Power installations knows that to match your current grid power you are looking at $25-50,000 up front, at minimum, for a typical home. That is a lot of coins. We are all struggling to allocate our increasingly limited resources as prudently as possible and I loved Holmgren’s approach of choosing NOT to install the electrical generation. His thinking is this – that $50k would be *much* better spent in other ways. For much less money he installed a gravity driven rain water catchment system to completely satisfy his household, irrigation, and fire control needs (50,000 gallons), installed wood stoves to supply all his heat and cooking needs (as well as tree groves to supply the wood in coppice management), root cellars to reduce his freezing needs, and also installed day lighting to cut his bulb needs. All told, the changes saved a huge amount of money, and cut their total farm use of electricity to 3 kwh a month.
At that level, should the Oil Run Out he could either build a small steam generator or gasifier to meet his small energy needs, or just as likely he wouldn’t miss the 3 kwh or energy if it was gone as it is only powering luxury items like a refrigerator and computer. A recent article in the BBC is claiming that the UK may have rolling blackouts in 6 years and that they need to build more energy plants a the cost of hundreds of millions of pounds. No where in the article do they talk about the critical “nega-watts” of Natural Capitalism fame – the power “created” every time you reduce your consumption as a household, business, or country. Conservation is carbon neutral, critical to our future and is cheaper to boot.
To take my home off grid with Solar would cost over $50k -and we already use less than 70% of the average household in our area. For a third that amount I could install a root cellar, hyper effecient appliances, and a masonry wood stove that would drop my energy use another 50-75%. Switching my desktop to a laptop, ditching the AC and using a whole house fan, and other changes like replacing the carpet with wood floors to ditch the vacuum would be easy and not overly expensive if done as items wear out. Quilts are cheaper than cordwood anyday.
I guess my point is that we are hard wired as a society to BUILD solutions – add power plants, erect wind turbines, etc. When more often than not the solution to our problems is in rethinking the root cause of our problem in the first place. In this case, we don’t need more, we need less. Likely that is the case more often than not. In permaculture speak – the problems that we currently face are due to the poor solutions that we currently have in place. To pepper in the ubiquitous Einstein quote – we need to change our thinking from the mindset that created the problems in the first place if we are to find a workable solution.
Be the change.