Casaubon's Book

Whenever I talk about going to lower energy usage, a percentage of people shout out something like “But that would mean going back tothe stone age, to lepers walking the streets and people throwing their feces out the window on our heads!!!” I think it is fair to say that variations on the “without power, life would be intolerable” is a common assumption.

Part of the thing that bothers me about it is that I don’t think it is true. I’ve spent a lot of time studying history, and I don’t think the lives of all of those in human history who preceeded us were intolerable. I am extraordinarily fond of useful things like antibiotics and nutritional knowledge, but those are things that can be had in societies where *individuals* don’t necessarily have access to high technologies.

I’ve met a lot of people who lived all or much of their lives with very little power, and seen their homes, and I have ample visual evidence that often life can be quite graciously lived with little or no gas, electricity, and other inputs. The critical difference between a life lived graciously with little, and one without is the realm of how resources – whether land or fossil fuels or whatever – are used collectively. Thus, I’d like to propose what I think is an important and useful distinction – between public use of energy and resources and private use of energy resources. The former, I would argue, is essential to maintaining a good life, the latter is not.

People who have access to neither private resource nor public resources tend to be at a distinct disadvantage in terms of significant quality of life issues. Without public energy for things like clinics, the transport of food and goods, the importation of medicines, etc… life can be highly functional, but often is very vulnerable to disaster, either personal (disease, injury, loss of land or income), or public.

On the other hand, people who have few private energy, technonogy or natural resources, but have access to public ones often have extremely high quality of life, assuming that natural resources enable them to feed themselves and produce some tradable extras. There are parts of India, Cuba, Georgia, etc… where there is power for public buildings (some schools, hospitals, etc…), collective transportation (buses, trains, communally owned cars and taxis) and where energy is expended wisely on importing or making certain energy intensive goods that require (or are much eased by) the use of fossil fuels – but only on the ones that are demonstrably and significantly a public good. For example, money and energy are spent on power to pump water for the community well, or on vaccinations, but not the subsidy of personal transport or private electrification, generally speaking.

It is no accident that the places where a high quality of life and low levels of personal energy consumption coexist are often former or present Marxist cultures and economies, with strong cultural incentives towards the creation of a collective good. That said, however, it is not impossible for capitalist economies to also determine that personal good and collective good are the same – we have done so in time of exigency in the US, for example. What is required to do so is a fundamental belief in the value of cooperation – the idea that enriching your neighbor, even at the cost of one’s private wealth, makes you richer, not poorer. And of course, this is true, although we rarely believe it as a first thought.

It is lovely, of course, to have private energy resources, assuming that they are sustainable, but it generally isn’t necessary for high quality of life. In quality of life evaluations, people in Kerala or Vanuatu were generally about as happy with their status, possessions and lifestyle than most Americans were, even though most of the people of Kerala or Vanuatu many lived at extremely low levels of consumption. There are some exceptions, of course, but neither life-span nor happiness seem to correlate all that closely with private energy consumption – that is, we know that we can be both happy and live decent lives with very low levels of personal energy consumption. We also know that radically lowered levels of energy and resource consumption can be terribly stressful – if there are no public supports to prevent people from being cast onto their own resources.

The last century has represented the vast degradation and abandonment of the commons and of public resources in the developed world in favor of private resources. While theorists like Garrett Hardin have attempted to portray this as natural and inevitable, other social critics have argued that in fact this is a consequence of intensive natural resource consumption and the privatization of most resources – as Vandana Shiva points out, the tragedy of the commons is in many ways the tragedy of private property. Only when most people rely on their own, private resources, and only the poorest people are left to make use of the commons does no one have an investment in managing and protecting the commons.

Fossil fuels and the notion of infinite resources have done more to damage the public sphere than anything else. The laundromat, the water fountain, the public library and the idea that cold beer lives at the pub down the road have been, in many respects, abandoned – and are now held in contempt. But the future of reduced energy consumption involves a radical reconsideration of what must be held privately – because we will lack the time, energy and resources to provide every household with private renewable energy sources – this has been established. We cannot survive on a planet where everyone has a private car – we know this.

The distinction between public and private is important because we have limited resources, and limited time. If we put our resources primarily into lifeboat building (as Richard Heinberg puts it), building independent, free-standing households in which everyone has one of everything they need, we may not have enough resources remaining to be able to afford to build public structures that would fulfill the needs of many more people. If, on the other hand, we begin to think in terms of public requirements and private requirements, we have another tool to help us distinguish between what is necessary and what is pleasant to have. We have a lot of trouble with this distinction.

Given limited time and resources for most of us, the critical question becomes “how can we make our need for X” resolvable in some communal or public way, rather than leaving each of us to find personal solutions. For example, the American model is already pretty much “everyone has their own private water source from a well or resevoir.” In rural areas, where houses are far apart, this may make some sense. In towns and cities, however, much of Africa and Asia gets its water from public wells, pumped with electricity. Doing so is obviously somewhat less convenient than having running water in your house, but a public well in your neighborhood obviates the great problem of power loss in many communities. Even if we aren’t willing to give up the private water supply immediately, the community manual well means you are not waterless in a crisis. One or several communal wells can be pumped by stand alone solar units, and even in hard times, water will be available. Not everyone can afford a solar pump for their well – but most towns can afford one for their public school and at other critical junctures where people could get water in a crisis.

We may not be able to afford to reinsulate all buildings – but we could super-insulate community shelters that would serve people in periods of intense heat and cold when the power was out – and that could also have solar panels or wind generators to allow people to do laundry, have lights, and get together for community activities all the time.

It is a commonplace that most westerners have many more of nearly everything than their community needs – everyone has their own vacuum cleaner, their own lawn mower, their own 2 cars – even if they only need 1 1/2 cars, they don’t share. Even people who want to conserve are often uncomfortable entering into a shared relationship with others, and find negotiating such things intimidating. But public resources are different – they are *for* sharing. And creating them means enabling people to do without in a private sense – that is, as the price of energy rises, those who can’t afford cars or washing machines are least damaged if their needs can, tosome degree, be met through local, public infrastructure, by say, public buses and laundromats.

We’re all going to build our lifeboats to some degree. But thinking in terms of how you can soften the blow by creating public resources, and public energy sources, means prioritizing community based resources that enable both personal conservation and collective security. Public resources provide a safety net, potentially a better, richer community, allow us to allocate scarce resources towards other things. They encourage inclusion, and keep the poor and the disabled, the elderly and the especially vulnerable from being deprived of their most basic needs. Since peak oil means that almost any of us could join the poor, that only makse sense.

Thinking in terms of public energy also enables us to do more, if our governments will not cooperate. In most cases, I suspect those public resources are going to have to come out of our own pockets. And that’s another argument in favor of public resources – 20 of us can put that well pump in, 50 can arrange to have the physician’s assistant come to town one day a week, 150 can fund the volunteer ambulance corp, and can probably continue to do so even if things get rough.

We probably will not be able to do these things if we’re stretching our personal and economic resources thin by trying to maintain our private consumption *and* build public resources – that is, if you are still trying to maintain the personal car, you may not be able to afford to help create the taxi service. While there are exceptions, I think it would behoove most of us, in most cases, to choose public resources over private, even at the expense of some inconvenience to ourselves, and when we think about the importance of power and resources, to distinguish between the two.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Fatima
    May 10, 2011

    My earliest years were spent in a rural community, in an old farmhouse with no running water. We had a cistern and a few ponds to serve the animals. For drinking water, we drove the pickup truck a few miles to a nearby, community shared spring. We dipped water for our needs as did many of our neighbors.
    When a water line came through in 1987, someone bought the spring and built a house there. Since that time, the community building and the volunteer fire department have suffered a slow decline. I wonder what role our increased independence played in the breakdown of the community interdependence we enjoyed.
    Our life was different back then, but good. I’m glad to have running water, but I’m also thankful to know that life can be lived without all the amenities. Currently, we are living without air conditioning and that alone horrifies some of our friends and family. ;)
    The title of my blog, Fur Lined Toilet Seats, came from my outhouse experiences and serves as a reminder to weigh wants and needs very carefully.

  2. #2 Liz
    May 10, 2011

    It is a commonplace that most westerners have many more of nearly everything than their community needs – everyone has their own vacuum cleaner, their own lawn mower, their own 2 cars – even if they only need 1 1/2 cars, they don’t share. Even people who want to conserve are often uncomfortable entering into a shared relationship with others, and find negotiating such things intimidating.

    The discomfort with negotiating sharing arrangements is a pretty big barrier, and I think that’s why Zipcar’s doing so well. (At least, they keep expanding, and people are using their service – but that might not translate into profit, which is how corporations tend to define doing well.) In addition to setting up an infrastructure that lets you reserve a car online and pay for it by the hour, they also enforce the “share nicely” aspect. If a member goes to pick up a car and finds a problem – the car’s not there on time, it has less than a quarter tank of gas, there’s pet hair all over the seats – it’s easy to call and report. People who violate the requirements will be fined, and may eventually be kicked out if they can’t abide by the rules.

    I like the idea of my apartment building having a couple of vacuum cleaners we could all share – and maybe a stepladder, cordless drill, etc. But then I start wondering, who’ll change the bags in the vacuum cleaner? If someone breaks it by using it incorrectly, will we know who did it and be able to get that person to pay for repairs? What if someone decides to just keep the vacuum and never return it? You could have a system where people sign out a vacuum and have to return it within 24 hours, but then you’ve got to have a volunteer who’ll be available to do that (and has a predictable enough schedule that people know they’ll be able to get the vacuum when they want it).

    None of this is insurmountable, of course, but it makes it understandable that a lot of people would decide that it’s easier to just buy their own machines. If the price jumped dramatically, people might decide it’s worth the effort of setting up some kind of arrangement. But in the meantime, I’d encourage anyone interested in promoting greater sharing to think about how the arranging-and-enforcing function can be simplified – or how the burden can be shifted to someone who’s willing to take it on.

  3. #3 Christie
    May 10, 2011

    I really enjoyed your post. It reminded me of some news that I heard today on thecelebritycafe.com about Microsoft acquiring Skype for 8.5 billion dollars. Its another resource that seems like it wouldn’t be that valuable, but it is. http://thecelebritycafe.com/node/256419

  4. #4 Nicole
    May 10, 2011

    Anyone who has even had roommates understands how difficult it can be to negotiate the sharing of stuff or the purchasing of community property. These are not small hurdles even on a small scale; on a larger scale it requires completely rethinking and internalizing our relationships to people and to property.

    Fundamentally, I agree that building public shared resources is a better use of effort and energy, but again there are huge hurdles, not just in public attitude but in infrastructure. Like most places in the country, we have zilch for public transit here or other non-car transit options. I’d love to support public transit with more of my tax dollars, but the reality is that I can’t choose to not have a car if I’d like to do little things like work for a living or get to the doctor. Getting in a car and driving somewhere to take a shower would definitely not be a positive in terms of energy consumption for many places.

    What we need, I think, is less thinking about building infrastructure and more thinking about REstructure.

    AND we need solid numbers: for example, how many 8 miles round trips to the laundrymat and hours of lost productivity does it take to equal the energy cost of buying and owning a personal washing machine?

    On a personal level, I’ve been trying to farm my personal network to borrow things like tools and equipment when I need them instead of buying, and being willing to lend them out to responsible folks. At the moment, that’s about the best I can do even though it’s barely a start. Our community here has much larger issues to tackle before we get to bike sharing programs.

  5. #5 aimee
    May 10, 2011

    Liz, you took the words out of my mouth. All of the issues you cite are certain to come up again and again. There will always be irresponsible members of any group – there will always be people who can’t afford to buy in, but who have as much need as everyone else. I agree 100% that duplicating necessities a thousand times over is stupid and wasteful, and that communal models must, in one way or another, replace the system we have now. But I think that the “village” model, where each community shares a major resource such as a well, a communal oven, a windmill, etc, is going to be very hard to implement in America, where we have such a strong tradition of owning things individually.

    What I do NOT think would be difficult, however, would be to strengthen our natural neighborly tendencies to share skills and equipment. In other words – to bring back barter. It might be impossible to convince – for example – all the smallholders along a stretch of country road to invest in jointly-owned hay-making machinery, but it might be much easier to convince farmer X to loan out his baler in exchange for farmer Y’s thresher. Few people I can think of want to give up private ownership of what they consider a valuable asset – but they are mostly quite willing to share. Even people without valuable assets to throw into the pot can offer skills or labor.

    In the grand scheme of things, it might be a distinction without a difference, but in the short term, anyway, it’s an important one. Obviously, this already happens all over the place – I loaned out my motorized apple press, for example, to my neighbor, and later that month, he loaned me his flatbed trailer. It wasn’t an explicit tit-for-tat arrangement – it’s just what neighbors do. In every place around the world, the solutions that arise organically will be those that capitalize on already-present systems or traits.

    So go ahead – ask your neighbor to use her pressure canner. Offer to give her back some of the jam. Knock on the other neighbor’s door and explain that your lawnmower broke down and you wonder if you can use his. Offer to mow his lawn too. Bring a dozen eggs over to the lady down the street and ask if you can dig up a few of her raspberry canes.

    This is how it happens./

  6. #6 Jenn
    May 10, 2011

    I’ve been pondering this all dame, and seem to have come to many of the same conclusions as aimee. I think there’s some fundamental trust that we need to have in order to make public resources work, especially when it’s necessary for us to invest in them ourselves. At the same time, we live in a society where that trust usually isn’t embedded or practiced in everyday life, and we’re not used to it. There are also certainly a lot of situations in which it’s simply just difficult to trust those around us because they actively do things that discourage us from entering into some kind of a relationship (in my case, that would be the neighbor who yelled racial slurs at my husband, and the other neighbours who let their dogs use the balcony above us as a bathroom and then sweep it onto our lawn – okay, rant done).

    Without some kind of community and trust, it will be hard to set these systems up. They’re worth doing, of course, and as you suggest, in some cases this might be the only way that we start to get some of the things that we really do need. Now’s a good time to start small in trying to set up some of the relationships on which this kind of public resource can be based. That’s not a guarantee that everyone will eventually be super-awesome and totally dependable, but some kind of commonality can be built, I think. Perhaps I will make that my challenge for the month – be cool to the neighbours even when they’re not so cool and try to build some kind of a relationship.

  7. #7 David
    May 10, 2011

    Great post. Haven’t a lot of us run across that sentiment Sharon mentions in the first paragraph? For instance, whenever someone mentions the possibility that the US and/or US state governments might want to consider building high-speed rail (or just decent-speed rail) passenger service, as a downpayment on a petroleum-free future, someone inevitably shouts, “America is not Europe – the distances are too large for rail – Americans won’t stand for a coast-to-coast trip taking two days.” Totally ignoring the fact that our ancestors managed to hold the country together when that coast-to-coast trip took over a month by clipper ship, and did even better once a transcontinental rail link reduced the time to a week. Looming bigger is the assumption that the airline option will be indefinitely viable – that we’ll have a choice. I’ve heard this line of mis-reasoning so many times that I looked it up, and found that it has a name as logical fallacy, namely “Arguing the Consequence.” Instead of arguing against the premise of the argument (i.e., instead of arguing against the idea that fossil fuels are finite), you argue against the consequence of the premise (we won’t stand for a world where the finiteness of fossil fuels makes us ride wind-powered electric trains at 120 mph instead of jet-fueled planes at 600 mph). As if our wishes could make it true. Does that ring a bell for anyone?

    I’m not sure if I’m doing the right thing, but I have resisted getting a washing machine and dryer and instead lug my clothes about a mile to the laundromat, where some very well-depreciated washing machines and dryers wash my clothes very gently for $5 a week. And I love the idea of a pub – a “Public House” – where the cold beer lives.

  8. #8 Glenn
    May 11, 2011

    In short, building community is one of the most important things we can do. It’s tough though. Our neighbors prefer driving 4 miles to the laundrymat rather than accept our offer of the use of our washing machine. They have spoken of the desirabilty of a “communal wash house with showers, washing machine(s) and possibly a hot tub. But strangely, they won’t use ours.

  9. #9 Diane
    May 11, 2011

    Glenn: Ask them for a couple of bucks. I would probably be reluctant to use a neighbor’s expensive equipment, utilities and water on a regular basis unless I felt I was helping them with the costs.

  10. #10 clew
    May 11, 2011

    There are some laundromats that are *also* pubs, which seems very successful with a good publican.

  11. #11 Conchscooter
    May 11, 2011

    In my experience of living without the “middle class” comforts life moves at a much slower pace. Doing the laundry could take all day, and grocery shopping would take a lot longer than just jumping in the car. No lights? to bed with the sun! It would take the ability to adapt which we have not demonstrated in the US.

  12. #12 et
    May 11, 2011

    Top of your page toady:

    Ginseng fed chicken from save on foods?

    Do you really need/support this type of ad?

  13. #13 CB
    May 12, 2011

    I’m afraid I have to agree with Liz that I don’t see it happening, however much I would like things to move in the direction Sharon urges, in the near future.
    I’m in Edinburgh (Scotland, UK) but here, even in the city, the bus service is terrible – one bus an hour, which takes you in to town, where you have to change onto another bus if you want to get across town rather than just in/out of the centre. And the buses are filthy and smelly, and generally full of yobs shouting, swearing and threatening other passengers. Public facilities are routinely vandalised and using them is generally made unpleasant by more yobs hanging about intimidating people. But there is nothing that can be done to stop them – they have their “rights”. In the last 15 years I’ve had my home broken in to 3 times and attempted break ins at least a further 3 times. I’ve had my car vandalised or crashed into or broken into or stolen 6 times just while it was parked outside my house. I’ve had someone crash their car through my garden wall and wreck the garden, and leave without leaving insurance details.
    No, I don’t live on a sink-estate, I live in a relatively “nice” suburban area. But these are the kind of people that make up my neighbours and society – not exactly encouraging anyone to want to start opening up their home and share their resources with people who already treat you with such contempt.
    I sound a bit like a grumpy old woman who hates the “youth of today”. I’m a high school teacher, and on the whole I do like people including teenagers – but I despair of the kind of society we have created and what kind of world the kids I teach now will inherit.

  14. #14 Dunc
    May 12, 2011

    CB: Where the hell in Edinburgh are you, that only gets one bus an hour? I live in Edinburgh and use the bus service daily, and I do not recognise your description of it at all. I haven’t encountered a “filthy and smelly” bus, or one “full of yobs shouting, swearing and threatening other passengers” in the 20 years I’ve lived here – and I have lived in some parts that people would regard as “sink estates”. I travel to / from work by bus, and there’s one every ten minutes or better. And that’s not even one of the best services…

  15. #15 Rather
    May 12, 2011

    reat post. Haven’t a lot of us run across that sentiment Sharon mentions in the first paragraph? For instance, whenever someone mentions the possibility that the US and/or US state governments might want to consider building high-speed rail (or just decent-speed rail) passenger service, as a downpayment on a petroleum-free future, someone inevitably shouts, “America is not Europe – the distances are too large for rail – Americans won’t stand for a coast-to-coast trip taking two days.” Totally ignoring the fact that our ancestors managed to hold the country together when that coast-to-coast trip took over a month by clipper ship, and did even better once a transcontinental rail link reduced the time to a week. Looming bigger is the assumption that the airline option will be indefinitely viable – that we’ll have a choice. I’ve heard this line of mis-reasoning so many times that I looked it up, and found that it has a name as logical fallacy, namely “Arguing the Consequence.” Instead of arguing against the premise of the argument (i.e., instead of arguing against the idea that fossil fuels are finite), you argue against the consequence of the premise (we won’t stand for a world where the finiteness of fossil fuels makes us ride wind-powered electric trains at 120 mph instead of jet-fueled planes at 600 mph). As if our wishes could make it true. Does that ring a bell for anyone?

    I’m not sure if I’m doing the right thing, but I have resisted getting a washing machine and dryer and instead lug my clothes about a mile to the laundromat, where some very well-depreciated washing machines and dryers wash my clothes very gently for $5 a week. And I love the idea of a pub – a “Public House” – where the cold beer lives.

  16. #16 owlfarmer
    May 12, 2011

    Thanks for this post, Sharon. Your take on some topics I rant about regularly is, as usual, thoughtful and thorough.

    When my students complain about the cost of gas, or electricity, or the slow speed of the internet at school (really slow when bandwidth use is high), I give them a version of my “back in my day” speech to remind them that they’ve got it awfully easy. I lived in Asia as a child, for a while in a house with an out-door toilet and no bathtub (we used communal public baths). My grandparents didn’t have electricity until the ’20s–nor indoor plumbing, for that matter. I’m “only” 63, but I didn’t have a car of my own until I was in my thirties (I shared one with my husband) and needed it to drive to work; used only public transportation when I lived in Chicago for two years, and would happily walk a couple of miles to take a train now if the town south of us would let the tracks go through. In sum, as a culture we’re pretty spoiled, and feel so entitled to our goodies that we won’t even consider other possibilities.

    I would love to see local power grids based on on-roof wind turbines and/or solar panels wherever possible, geothermal heat pumps, and other alternatives to giant grids and huge monolithic power lines. Some of the other solutions you’ve mentioned and some that appear in the comments are also attractive. But Americans (especially those here in Texas) are pretty well stuck in their ways of life, and convinced that settling for less would somehow deprive them of their natural rights.

  17. #17 phil harris
    May 15, 2011

    Dunc / CB
    Edinburgh, Scotland.
    Edinburgh changed a lot when I lived and worked there for 3 decades, and that is a while ago now. When I arrived the city was just emerging from the coal smoke and was mostly still heavily blackened (it had not been called ‘Auld Reekie’ for nothing). Many tenement apartments were ‘low-income’ with no bath, but on the other hand there were still amazing public institutions like ‘steamies’ (laundries) and other gleaming spotless places where you could get a hot bath.

    The worst hit that Edinburgh took in my time was the 1980s recession exacerbated by neo-con’s forced and often incompetent economic restructuring, and the disastrously handled sudden spread of heroin to the newer low-income housing that had been distributed round the periphery of the city.

    The buses though have been a constant, but I noticed by 90s possibly because employment was increasingly outside the city that there were fewer men on the buses (who had the car?). Now I guess out-of-town shopping, and a ring-road means many more people ‘need’ the car?

    Public libraries still work I hope.
    .
    The biggest surprise on the buses came when smoking was finally phased out – I never imagined it was possible! There were always some late-night bus routes that were better avoided – but the British drinking culture has always been a danger in more ways than that.

  18. #18 Logan
    May 16, 2011

    Great article Sharon!

    My partner and I recently enjoyed a great book by Lisa Gansky entitled “The Mesh” that shares a similar perspective as your article above. The Mesh also includes a focus on how businesses can be built to service and facilitate this sharing process in a world of declining resources. Great concepts! Your perspective and Lisa’s examples of resource sharing services really inform our decisions regarding what we plan to build. My partner and I are building a tiny house this summer and we’ve considered taking it “off the grid” for power. However the expense for private renewable energy is enormous. After reading your article I think we can instead aim for contributing to a community power source. Having a huge centralized power grid located throughout an entire region or metropolis still seems like the low resiliency option, yet you make a great point by staying personal/private energy is the opposite extreme. Striking a balance by sharing a power resource based in a smaller neighborhood level seems ideal.

  19. #19 Lonnie Galyean
    May 16, 2011

    Since someone made a snarky comment about the ads, I feel compelled to say they are not a big deal, as long as they aren’t flashing and moving around and load up nicely on my Opera browser (which they weren’t and they did). A site like this has to be paid for somehow and most of us are on a pretty tight budget these days. Keep up the good work.

  20. #20 clew
    May 17, 2011

    Sharing, trust, efficiency: if we get poor enough, it will be worth someone’s time to be the caretaker/renter-out/guardian of the relatively precious tools. Or — unlikely high-tech path — the tools get videotaped on each checkout, and if it fails after your checkout, you get billed. (The carshares deal with dirt and damage this way.)

  21. #21 andrea
    May 18, 2011

    Gee I think they tried the ‘shared community resources’ years ago. They were called communes and they didn’t seem to work. When something breaks few people ever want to own up to it. Nobody used the last of anything. Before any of this will work effectively we need to change the collective consciousness of north americas and most of Europe.
    Communes, community, communism….

  22. #22 Elise Hancock
    May 18, 2011

    Fabulous post, fabulous comments.

    Community sharing could also offer a way to stop participating in the wasteful American cycle of shoddy goods and planned obsolescence. We have better things to do with the water, metal, energy, oil, and labor it takes to manufacture modern appliances, don’t you think? Kitchen and office appliances used to last 20 and 30 years… and they still do, if you buy commercial grade or European. We can pressure the business world to stop wasting precious resources if most people just refuse to buy shoddy. That will require a whole lot of sharing, and also the rebirth of small appliance repair.

    Re communes—the answer might look more like co-housing, a small community in which people maintain their own residences and their own pets and their own children, but share a central library, garden space, tools, a big kitchen for frequent community meals (dinners could go nightly if/when food got scarce—it’s a more efficient way to use edibles). Such a co-op could grow and adapt over time, depending on what people wanted. One can imagine a laundromat, a piano, a big screen, a playroom with sitter (at certain hours), zipcars, shared bikes, a walk-in freezer (each house has a lockbox?), an enormous cistern for rain water, perhaps in time a well and shower facilities… A big solar setup to recharge batteries, maybe a solar oven built into a wall, geothermal heat and cooling… After a while, a nurse-practitioner might set up a mini-infirmary/clinic nearby, and you’d be on your way to recreating a local downtown.

    Co-housing tends to be built for the purpose, but it wouldn’t have to be. Where houses are close—not in most current suburbs, perhaps, but footpaths could be created—a group of people in, say, 20 or 30 houses, could find a way to appropriate some walkably-central empty house and use it as the commons.

    In my present neighborhood, we already share lawnmowers and tools. Just last year, in fact, people on the block chipped in for a big snow-blower, which has been gleefully shared. The secret, I think, is that we know one another. We have an active computer network, an annual community garage sale, a big party with silly tee-shirts on Memorial Day (it starts with a dog and baby parade), knitting clubs, dinner party clubs… and we do help each other, too. So I think it makes a lot of sense for people now to start building community wherever they are, starting with community garage sales and parties and the internet links. The fun lays the groundwork for something more central and needs-driven.

    It would be useful to find out how the old farmer coops were managed. Does anyone know? They worked for many decades, and surely a few still exist.

    Elise
    Callingallgrandparents.org

  23. #23 Auntiegrav
    June 1, 2011

    Thanks again, Sharon. Another well written description of the situations which have come from cheap energy.
    I think much of the resistance to sharing has become entrenched along with the disinformed idea that energy is cheap and available as something an individual acquires with their money (mostly which also seems more valuable than it is). Hidden from them are the costs of war, shipping, and exploration and pollution. Much of the impetus to share comes from the cost of personal living. As long as that cost is hidden in income taxes on others, or paid with debt (stolen from future persons), then the pursuit of personal ‘happiness’ seems easier through personal ‘stuff’. When the real costs are presented at the cash register, many would choose other forms of happiness.

  24. #24 evelyn Arrington
    July 11, 2011

    when I got my bank statement there was a $12.99 charge from you which made my account overdrawn at the cost of $35.00

    On May 21st I told your representative I wanted nothing to do with this program and make sure I WAS NOT CHARGED. He kept saying why to you want to quit. I kept say what part of I’m not interested do you not understand. He said okay but I doubt he paid any attention to me. I DEMAND Immediate return of my $35. + 12.99.
    803-324-5848