Friday, July 17, 2009

The good life 2.0

From the article in the Scottish Left Review (h/t The Oil Drum):
We urgently need to take an evolutionary leap in the way we do things and to design systems from the bottom up in ways that fit this planet’s carrying capacity and we need to do this together, as communities. Web 2.0 is the term that has come to signify the new upgraded internet, which is community based, interactive and user-driven. As the current crisis is too overwhelming for individuals to face alone, I want to propose a ‘Good Life 2.0’ - a response to the challenges of our times based on an upgrade for the 21st century of the ideas of the 1970’s self-sufficiency movement and the values of community plus everything we have learned in the thirty years that have passed.

Do you remember The Good Life, the popular 1970s television sit-com based on the notion of getting out of the rat race and being self-sufficient in suburbia. This was launched just after the first oil shock and amid one of the UK’s worst economic downturns. It was based on the writings of John Seymour, the father of self-sufficiency. His books give a comprehensive introduction to the ‘Good Life’, covering everything from growing your own crops, animal husbandry, wine making, bee keeping, building, renewable energy, and much more. John gained considerable experience living a self-sufficient life, first in Suffolk, then Pembrokeshire, and then Ireland where he established the School of Self-Sufficiency in Co. Wexford. He also travelled around the world and wrote and made films exposing the unsustainability of the global industrial food system. Sadly on the 14th of September 2004 John Seymour died aged 90.

Over the last five years of his life I had an opportunity to spend time with John. We campaigned together to stop the planting of genetically engineered sugar beet, which culminated with seven of us in a New Ross court-house. But that’s another story.

Surprisingly John once told me that he was actually wrong about self-sufficiency. On a visit to his small-holding in Wexford, John shared with me his conclusion that it would be too difficult to sustain the noble effort of living off-grid and providing for all your own needs on your own land. Self sufficiency wasn’t enough. His new thinking was co-sufficiency, self-reliant local communities that could provide the social relationships essential for facing an uncertain future. Seymour predicted that we would need strong connected communities that could work together to meet their needs and make the transition to a post-industrial economy not dependent on fossil fuel.

If Tom and Margo of The Good Life were striving to be self-sufficient now, they would probably have started a community garden or joined their local Transition group and be engaged in the building of food and energy security with their neighbours. That’s The Good Life 2.0,a community approach to building local resilience because, as Richard Heinberg writes in his book ‘Powerdown’, “personal survival depends on community survival”.

By the way, I remember the British sitcom, The Good Life. The series (one of many British comedies that my father turned me on to) was every bit as thought-provoking as it was hilarious. In the US, the series appeared on PBS stations under the title, The Good Neighbors. The series was actually one of those moments in which a pop culture artifact actually had some instructional value. The Goods struggles to live off the grid, and their interactions with suburban neighbors who were none too keen to have the Goods pursuing such a way of life amidst a burgeoning consumer culture made for plenty of laughs. And yet, there seemed to be some lessons that emerged. The notion of self-sufficiency may be a bit much (although the Goods did manage to make their particular set of choices work out for the most part), but given our inclination to be social creatures, co-sufficiency seems considerably more reasonable. The series also lent to some optimism that sustained interaction with those pursuing an alternative way of life could lead others to, if not change their own lifestyles, at least begin the uncomfortable task of challenging their own assumptions. That, is precisely what more of us need to do as a society as we run up against some very tangible limits on available natural resources.

No comments:

Post a Comment