Monday, 2 February 2009


This week began with a destructive unwanted visitor...

“When I return to my house I find that visitors have been there and left their cards – either a bunch of flowers, or a wreath of evergreen, or a name in pencil on a yellow walnut leaf”
Thoreau, Walden

One thing that Thoreau never talks about in Walden are the hard times. The times when you think ‘Am I completely insane? Is it actually possible to live like this?’

Walden is all about ‘Oh la de da, life is bliss and you’re all stupid for doing day jobs and going to dinner parties’. But I bet there were plenty of times when he thought that he’d got it wrong, and that civilization was industrialising for very good reasons.

When something like this happens, you feel vulnerable. It’s easy to see why humans have tried their best to render nature impotent – it’s higher up the food chain than we are. Unfortunately, and despite the basic vibe of the Bible, and the general direction of science, we can’t render nature impotent. We can only wind it up to the point that it has us for breakfast.

The other option of course is that we realise that we are nature, and nature supports and provides just as much as it threatens and destroys, and we shift paradigms and live in balance and harmony instead of always trying to dominate and contain, like some intellectually challenged school bully who doesn’t realise the kid he’s hassling has a black belt in karate and about 3000 mates just around the corner...

After the wind subsided, the next few hours were spent trying to drag the yurt back into position (my abs are currently pretty sore as a result – it is heavy), re-fitting roof poles, making the stove stable again, and generally getting the place back to some kind of livable. Followed by a little fire in the stove and a nice cup of tea, though this wasn’t particularly relaxing, as I was worried that the stove might not be safe and my ears were acutely aware of the sound of the wind, and wondering if the worst was still to come...

The next day I found out that there had been winds of 120kph. 21 people were killed. Loads of people were without electricity. The news was full of stories of collapsed buildings, overturned lorries, uprooted trees and general mayhem, all caused by the wind. It seems my little yurt is quite robust after all. You can trust Mongolian nomads to design something that’s fairly sturdy I guess.

Anyway, this got me thinking about the concept of ‘security’. Does it really exist?

It seems clear that freak weather conditions are becoming, and will become, more common. The old ideas about security need a makeover. Security cannot be guaranteed by piling up as much money as you can, insuring yourself up to the eyeballs, building a big wall with razor-wire on top and CCTV, a burglar alarm hooked up to the police and a reinforced steel ‘safe room’.

Security (such as it exists in this fragile world, with such fragile bodies as ours) comes from the realisation that we are all inter-connected. If I go, you go. And vice versa. It’s win-win or lose-lose and that’s that. Global warming is now accepted as fact by everyone who knows anything about it, despite what certain Republican politicians might say. And global warming is a group issue. It affects individuals, but it cannot be affected by individuals, except to the extent that those individuals affect the behaviours of the group. So here I am, shooting my mouth off again…

I watched an incredible DVD called ‘Garbage Warrior’ about the architect who invented the ‘Earth ship’. That guy is a genius. I urge you to watch it. Basically he makes these beautiful, well-functioning, totally self-sufficient houses out of rubbish. Old tyres, old plastic bottles, old beer cans. Amazing. These houses don’t require heating or air conditioning. They gather their own water. They sort out their own waste and power. You don’t need to be hooked up to any grid or any pipes.

This is how I am living of course, except these houses look really comfortable and much more in line with how people want to live. Yurts will never take off as a viable solution to the environmental crisis, but these houses really are a viable alternative to our current reliance on fossil fuels, land fill and big business. The ideas are there – we just have to use them!

One interesting point the architect made, given my ‘Death to the City’ post, was that he sees a future where the cities are abandoned because they simply cannot support themselves. People will only go back into the cities to mine their resources, scraping out the scrap, in a very different world...

Until next week



jason palmer said...

Global warming will kill off most humans thus reducing pollution, james lovelock knows more about this.

jason palmer said...

In his 1932 essay "In Praise of Idleness," Bertrand Russell argues in favor of a four-hour working day.

he says...

Above all, there will be happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia. The work exacted will be enough to make leisure delightful, but not enough to produce exhaustion. Since men will not be tired in their spare time, they will not demand only such amusements as are passive and vapid. At least one per cent will probably devote the time not spent in professional work to pursuits of some public importance, and, since they will not depend upon these pursuits for their livelihood, their originality will be unhampered, and there will be no need to conform to the standards set by elderly pundits. But it is not only in these exceptional cases that the advantages of leisure will appear. Ordinary men and women, having the opportunity of a happy life, will become more kindly and less persecuting and less inclined to view others with suspicion. The taste for war will die out, partly for this reason, and partly because it will involve long and severe work for all. Good nature is, of all moral qualities, the one that the world needs most, and good nature is the result of ease and security, not of a life of arduous struggle. Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and starvation for others. Hitherto we have continued to be as energetic as we were before there were machines; in this we have been foolish, but there is no reason to go on being foolish forever.

jason palmer said...

I heard someone mention Aristotle and the 'golden mean' on the radio lastnight, and it reminded me that the remains of delphi have 'know thyself' and 'nothing in excess' carved in them.

I think it is worth remembering that while society will interfere with your freedom, you can take advantage of it, or to be more practical, it is ok if you fancy popping off to buy wine, a roast chicken, get a radio, buy batteries, chill to music etc. etc.

Camping holidays seem more suited to the modern world than attempts at isolationism.

jason palmer said...

A log cabin is environmentally sound. Small is easier and cheaper to heat. WOOD

Where did all the woods go ?

Chopped down

Why ?

More people...the forest growth rate was less than humanity growth.

Population, too many humans, eventually,no resources,people fight,war,reduces population.

War or restrictive breeding INIT