HOW CHEAPLY COULD WE LIVE WELL?
(Full account; 30 pp.)
This is an attempt to indicate the very low dollar, footprint and energy costs The Simpler Way might achieve. It is based on a combination of the way I live as a homesteader and the literature on Eco-village, Permaculture and other alternative ways. It is a draft; the intention is to improve the numbers over time. However it seems that dollar, energy and footprint costs could be cut to 10% of the present Australian averages… while improving the quality of life. Very frugal ways are assumed, and it might not be necessary to go this far.
The Limits to Growth analysis shows that we must develop ways of life whereby we can live well on far lower per capita resource consumption rates than we have now, in a zero-growth economy. The Simpler Way argument is that we can do this while improving the quality of life…but only if we achieved enormous change from the structures, systems and values of consumer-capitalist society.
The lifestyle and ways I would prefer would probably be much more frugal than those which most people would be willing to accept, and they might be more austere than we will need to accept in future. In other words we might not have to go as far as the following notes indicate.
The conclusion the present analysis generally indicates is that we could live well on something like 5 - 10% of present Australian per capita dollar, energy and footprint costs…while greatly improving the quality of life…and eliminating most global problems.
This claimed reduction will probably seem quite implausible at first sight. It is important not to think in terms of simply reducing consumption or making systems more efficient. The Simpler Way is about new means to new goals in new systems, and therefore about a quite different conception of the good society and of “development”. For instance conventional thinking about Third World development is locked onto the conviction that development has to involve increasing investment of capital, to be able to sell more, to be able to buy more and to spend on developing more capacity to sell, buy and invest. Thus there is thought to be only one dimension underlying development, essentially to do with increasing business turnover or GDP and “living standards”. However the concept of Appropriate development scraps this whole way of thinking and simply focuses on enabling people to use the resources around them to produce for themselves the basic things most likely to solve their problems and raise their quality of life, mostly in cooperative ways, and as far as possible independently of the national monetary economy. Above all it rejects affluence as a development goal.
This different approach immediately liberates communities to achieve miracles, especially in avoiding the astronomical levels of waste, work, insecurity, debt, interest payments, worry, exploitation and overheads (advertising, packaging, consultants, bank fees, insurance, rent…) that the consumer-capitalist way inflicts. In the conventional economy corporations constantly strive to increase the amount you must purchase from them, to add on services, to make you dependent, to then raise prices, to commercialise things that we once did for ourselves, to create needs you didn’t realize you had.
At the end of each section there is an attempt to estimate the dollar and energy cost of a household of two adults and two children living in the style and circumstances I would choose. This yields the above estimate that a 90% reduction might be achievable. Several of these figures are first estimates and quite uncertain. The intention is to improve them in later drafts of this document.
It should be stressed that the ways discussed would not be adopted without enormous change from the outlook and values typical of consumer society. This document is not concerned with describing or explaining the new Simpler Way or how it might be built; it is only concerned with estimating its possible ecological and dollar costs.
This document repeats much of the discussion in
· Chapter 4 of The Transition to a Sustainable and Just World, Envirobook, 2010,
· Chapter 13 of Renewable Energy Cannot Sustain an Energy Intensive Society, Springer, 2007,
· The Alternative Society; The Simpler Way. http://ssis.arts.unsw.edu.au/tsw/
Almost all food could come from home gardens, community gardens, neighbourhood commons, and small farms within and close to settlements, even in the dense suburbs of large cities, at a very low dollar cost and at almost no energy cost.
Output from backyard gardens can be surprisingly high. Blazey (1999) discusses his trials indicating how a family could be fed from an intensively gardened 40 square metre patch, using high yielding heirloom varieties, composting etc., and multiple cropping. Figures on the achievements of urban agriculture in Havana are similarly inspiring. Koont (2009) reports vegetable yields of 21 tonnes per ha per year, without use of oil, machinery or artificial fertilizers or pesticides.
Such figures are partly due to intensive research into organic methods. We would always be trying out new varieties and ways, coordinated by our local formal (but voluntary) committees. The task would be to find those varieties which thrived best in our unique local conditions, yielding the most tasty, pest-resistant, nutritious, drought-resistant fruit, with the best shelf life. My experience suggests that it should not take more than 10 person-hours a week to keep a thriving home garden in good shape (and this would be seen not as work but as top priority leisure activity.) Not everyone would need to be a keen gardener. The average per capita work time put into food production might be 3 hours a week when farms, commons, etc. are take into account; i.e., under 10% of a normal work week.
All household “wastes”, including from flush toilets and animal pens would be recycled, eliminating any need for importation of fertilizers (when use of nitrogen fixing, deep rooted and mulch producing plants are also assumed.) Some nutrients can serve as animal and fish foods, on their way to the soils. Fish can be produced in small cement tanks and local ponds, linked to aquaculture, hydroponics and gardens taking the nutrient rich waste water. Kitchen scraps go to poultry and rabbits. Chickens clear and fertilize ground that is then gardened.
Our settlements would be crammed with community owned and run orchards, nut groves, olives, herb patches, bamboo clumps, woodlots and forests, ponds, dams and tanks. These commons would be on many areas that used to be roads before we dug them up. Committees would organise the maintenance of the commons, and working bees would do the “work”. The produce from trees on private blocks would be included when these produce too much for the family (i.e., it would be “gleaned” by working bees). At least 15 useful trees per household should be possible, on the block and on the (old and dug up) road space in front of it. Many more would be planted on the commons. Every neighbourhood would have many mini-forests, providing mulch, fuel wood, timber, honey, nuts and fruits…and landscape.
Community food-forest gardens would provide a very wide variety of foods as well as being inspiring leisure resources. Imagine your local park densely planted with a wild variety of fruit and nuts, from giant chestnut trees down to strawberries, with creeks, ponds, pergodas and picnic spots throughout.
The commons would also produce many kinds of craft materials and inputs to local firms, including timber, reeds, leaf oils (e.g., eucalyptus), vines and rushes for baskets, and clay and earth for pottery and building. They would also provide grazing areas. The community would build and operate fish tanks, ponds, and processing and storage sheds and greenhouses to enable some production of bananas, winter tomatoes etc. Greenhouses can include warm shelters for poultry and bigger animals in winter. The CO2 they breathe out helps plant growth. Settlements would be planted with many edible “weeds” that would maintain themselves without attention. For instance, New Zealand spinach grows prolifically in the wild around Sydney.
Many farms from small to tiny would produce within and close to (within 2 km) the centre of the town or suburb. Some would be little more than enthusiastic home gardeners selling or swapping surpluses, including vegetables, fruit, eggs, preserves, jams, pickles, dried fruits, garlic, herbs. This produce would go through kitchens with almost no packaging, preserving, marketing, or transport cost, or waste removal and treatment cost (and no advertising). Almost all transport would be via hand baskets, bicycles, and horse and cart. There would be little need for energy intensive storage such as refrigeration, because food would mostly go straight from the gardens to the kitchen when needed. Neighbourhood freezers might be used, eliminating the need for a fridge in every house. The biggest farms would still be very small in today’s terms, mostly highly mixed (these have the highest yields and the most efficient performance). They might share machinery, such as a tractor. Some would be community-owned cooperatives, set up to provide us all with any important items the private firms have difficulty producing. These farms would include mini-dairies, aquaculture, and grain producers. Little food would be exported from the region or imported into it.
A significant amount of grain might have to be imported, ideally from farms within only a few kilometres. We would probably need 90+ square metres per person. (The uncertain assumption here is the equivalent of two loaves of bread per person per week, I kg of flour, produced at 6 tonnes/ha/y.) However flour can be made from corn and trees such as chestnuts and acorns, and indeed potatoes. Very small scale grain production is feasible, including from home gardens. In general grain, dairy and forest lands would be on the edge of the settlement, within 1 km of its centre.
Permaculture principles, such as heavy use of permanent and tree crops, would almost eliminate the need for ploughing, enabling horses, donkeys and oxen to do most of the cultivating and carting needed (given the very short distances), as well as performing leisure functions.
Locally made beverages would include fruit juices and wines, beer, cider, teas, coffee and coffee etc. substitutes such as carob. Honey would replace much sugar use, reducing the associated transport and the ecological impact of sugar plantations, and improving the pollination of local plants. Hobby bee keepers could easily meet all needs.
We would eat far less meat and this would greatly reduce the volume of produce necessary. (About two-thirds of the food produced in the US is not eaten by humans; it is fed to animals.) Meat would mostly come from small animals such as rabbits, fish and poultry, living within our settlements and recycling food scraps to the soil. Poultry would enjoy free-range conditions. One of their jobs would be to clear, cultivate and fertilise garden beds. Wire netting would be needed but hedges would be grown as fences for many animal paddocks, containing many useful plants and creating habitats for birds and small animals. Thus hedges can make a significant contribution to biodiversity in the settled landscape, as well as providing food and materials..
No food would be eaten out of season (apart from preserves.) Only those varieties yielding locally at a point in time would be harvested and used, eliminating much of the food-transport cost. This also means you look forward to and enjoy the new season varieties.
A committee would continually coordinate community research and trials of plant varieties from other parts of the world to find those that will thrive with a minimum of attention where we live, and they would develop recipes for the use of these, as well as for cheap and nutritious meals from local food sources, including the “weeds” growing locally. The world contains huge numbers of vegetables, fruits, nuts and herbs that will grow well in your neighbourhood but that most of us have never heard about. Our local ag committees would organize the trial plantings.
Wastes going to soils via garbage gas digesters would yield methane gas on the way. Some woodland would be given to production of the small quantities of ethanol needed for transport. Wood would be used wherever possible, not aluminium, steel or plastic, e.g., for tool handles, furniture, building, wagons, barrows, boats… Mostly hand tools rather than machinery would be used in food production, mainly because the small scale enabled home gardening and tiny farm production.
Mulching, tree crops, drip irrigation and selection of the right varieties would minimize water use.
“Waste” water, kitchen scraps, crop wastes and animal manures would go to compost heaps, methane digesters and fish ponds. The ponds would sustain a fishing industry, along with ducks and geese and wetland plant production. Running bamboo would be confined on islands.
Plants would also provide many craft and industrial materials, including inputs to the local factories and refineries processing cellulose and other natural materials into chemicals, medicines, dyes etc., and replacing petroleum sources of plastics. Many oils and waxes for industry, paints and cooking could come from the locality, including peanuts, olives, flax, bees wax, and fish oil. Herb cultivation would also provide sources of various medicines, such as Alovera for ointments, Tea Tree oil for antiseptics. Cheese, olive oil, dyes, paints (milk and lime make whitewash) and soap are among the other items easily made on a small scale from local ingredients. These products would mostly come from small locally-owned firms and cooperatives which gave worthwhile work to many people. Where produce was to be sold much of this could be done without salespeople; just weigh your beans at the roadside stall and leave the money in the tin. (More time and talent saved to apply to more important things.) There will be familiarity and trust in these communities.
Many shops would need to open only one or two days a week. If you will want a new pair of shoes soon you can get them on Tuesdays when the shoe shop opens. That saves a lot of labour.
There would be no need for synthetic pesticides, although natural varieties can be made from plant inputs such a pyrethrum and tobacco, grown locally. There would be fewer pests in the complex Permaculture landscapes. (Monocultures encourage pest build up.)
Relatively little storage, packaging or freezing would be needed because fresh food could be taken from the gardens and fields just before use. Root crops can be left in the ground until needed. Traditional varieties which crop over an extended period enable picking of a few fruit when they are needed, while the rest ripen and store on the vine. (Agribusiness only wants varieties that will all ripen at the same time so the mechanica,l harvester can get them allat once.) Cellars and cool rooms can store fruit and vegetables, and there would be extensive preserving, bottling and drying.
There would be almost no need for energy inputs into the food producing sector of the economy. In conventional agriculture these are enormous. Small farmers and home gardeners are far more energy-efficient than agribusiness. Almost all of the 17% of US energy consumption now going into food supply could be saved. There would be little ploughing, artificial fertilizers and pesticides, harvesting machinery, commercial processing and packaging, freezing, marketing, transport or waste collection and disposal. Households and shops would mostly buy from the local farm gate. The average item of food might travel only about 200 metres, whereas at present in the US the figure is around 2,000,000 metres. We would need almost no trucks, tractors, harvesters, silos, crop dusters, ships, supermarkets, advertising, cold stores, plastic bags, home freezers or garbage disposal. Because the food was produced close to where it was eaten all wastes could go back to the soils, serving as animal feed on the way. We could save vast amounts on food preservation, packaging, tins, bottles, labels, and refrigeration. Food could go straight from gardens and animal pens to the kitchen as it was needed, and from kitchens to animal pens and compost heaps without trucks and sewer pipes. Surpluses would be preserved in re-usable locally-made glass and crockery containers (not tin cans). Damaged fruit and vegetables could be used, whereas at present they are dumped because supermarkets will not buy them.
Obviously those who did not enjoy gardening would not need to engage in it. They would buy what others produced and make their contribution in other spheres, as at present. Home garden surpluses would mostly be swapped, given away or left at the community centre. Committees would keep records and coordinate suburban planting so that all people would more or less know how much of what crops would be needed, what varieties did best last year, etc. Many gardeners would be trying out new varieties all the time.
In communities conscious of the need to make their local economies work well much effort would go into education, R and D, sharing expertise and mutual assistance regarding food production and all other activities. It would not be a matter of isolated householders struggling on their own to grow enough in their backyards to survive. It would be in everyone’s interests to make sure that all were helped to run highly productive gardens, that discoveries and good ideas were shared, that the whole local agricultural system was highly organized and productive, and that people found the community garden working bees enjoyable.
Note the highly integrated and mutually-interdependent nature of the system made possible by local self sufficiency and smallness of scale. Fresh food can go from gardens to tales and then to animals and compost heaps and back to the soils as fertilizers. The system draws almost solely on local water resources and inputs, e.g., the rake handles come from saplings in the forest garden. All crop wastes are used, for animal food, bedding, mulch. The gardens provide rich leisure resources, landscapes, picnic spots. Because users live close by little or no packaging or marketing is required.
As with most of the other domains discussed below there would be many desirable spin-off implications outside the food system, e.g., for health, community, leisure and education. Gardening keeps you fit and for many it would be a major leisure activity. It makes your landscape beautiful and inspiring, especially when much of the effort is going into public spaces. In addition the field days, shows, talks and research activities would provide sources of learning, entertainment and community bonding.
These ways indicate that we could provide ourselves with abundant high quality food and many materials, beautiful landscapes, satisfying livelihoods and a great deal of rewarding leisure time at almost no energy, resource or environmental cost. And we could do it without suits! Most people in the food supply industry today sit at a computer screen in new clothes, and need degrees in accounting, company law, finance, trucking logistics…we would need almost none of that. Worst of all those people do not enjoy farming, and the agribusiness system they staff drive out of business the many people who do.
My probable household budget:
Home gardening sharing/bartering among neighbours, plus “free” food from the commons, might provide all vegetables, fruit, nuts, poultry and fish at no dollar cost. Local small farms might provide 15% of food via cash sale, such as some/most dairy products, grains/flour, soy milk, cheeses, spreads, juices...
Weekly hourehold dollar cost $30?? i.e., $1,500/y, or $375/person/y.
Weekly energy cost. For home gardens and commons almost no running cost, apart from 12 volt irrigation pump electricity. Embodied energy costs would include production of garden tools, wire netting, baskets, preserving containers and equipment, sheds from mud, saplings and tin, cement tanks, earthen dam and pond construction, poly pipe irrigation plus taps, 12 volt pumps…most assumed to last 20-50 years on average…?? GJ/year (to be estimated).
Farm energy costs include shares in small community tractors, electric irrigation pumps, fencing, tank and dam construction, sheds, simple processing machinery, almost no transport cost (horse and cart) or fertilizer or pesticide cost, (carts and slurry pipes take nutrient wastes back to the farms). There would be a running cost for irrigation, tractor and processing machinery. There would probably be considerable use of poly-pipe. Many jobs would be done when the sun is shining or the wind blowing.
Houses, sheds, small business premises, community centres…
All new buildings would be made of earth, local stone, wood, straw bale, at negligible dollar and resource cost, and built to last hundreds of years. Floors can be made from rammed earth surfaced, e.g., with turpentine and beeswax. . Some roofing would be earth (sod) over timber supports, or domes and vaults from mud bricks, surfaced by a thin layer of cement. Most roofing would eventually be ceramic tiles made from local clay and wood-fuelled kilns. Research would go into the production of durable sealers and paints from local plant and animal sources. For instance earth walls can be sealed with a whitewash made from lime and milk. Most walls would be of earthen colours, (white, yellow, ochre, oxide, dull red), and in general there would be much less painted surface and more natural wood and stone, but we would probably still be able to produce small quantities of modern bright coloured paints
People would have much more time for home-making, and therefore for cooking on wood stoves, with hot water jackets and tanks. A more vegetable based diet would reduce the amount of cooking needed. Rugs mostly made from wool would replace most carpets, eliminating the need for vacuum cleaning. (Take the rugs out and shake them, and sweep and mop the floors.) Matting, seating and screens, as well as baskets and hats, can be woven from local reeds, rushes and willows.
Premises for most local firms, shops and community facilities such as libraries and community centres, could be much the same; mostly tiny, simple, built from mud or straw bale or rammed earth etc. plus locally grown and milled timber. Buildings would be one to three storey in height, eliminating the need for lifts. In general finishes would be rough/rustic, not be slick, e.g., barked saplings, mud walls, unpainted wood…few metal or plastic surfaces. This does not imply drabness; some bright coloured paints, ornaments, rugs, tapestries, furnishings, lead light windows etc. can be used.
These structures can be beautiful, decorated in a wild variety of styles, making the landscape unique and interesting. Our main community buildings could be inspiring, our home-made cathedrals, tributes to the power of our imagination and cooperative power, built by our own hands from our forests, clay pits and eager labour. These projects are much too precious to be given to a contractor.
Remember that we are talking about a stable situation, in which construction only takes the form of maintenance and replacement, not increasing the housing, office or factory stock. In other words most of the present construction industry would not exist and most of the building that was needed could be carried out by hand tools (…because this is more enjoyable.) For many people, slowly designing and building their own home, helped by friends and with the advice of local experts, would be one of life’s most satisfying adventures. No one would want a house and not be able to have one. At present maybe 100,000 Australians are waiting to get one, and large numbers never will because the only kind the market provides are absurdly big, expensive and ecologically unsatisfactory (no eaves, not solar passive, badly insulated, using aluminium and plastic and brick…and in my view often shoddily built.)
These have been construction costs; running costs are dealt with below under energy.
My probable household budget:
Items not included in the above accounting: Gutters, plumbing (steel plus poly pipes, taps), sink, toilet bowl and cistern, cabinet wood, table, chairs, electric lights wires and switches, insulation for roof only (earth walls), bolts etc., 12 volt pump, drum for high tank for shower etc. pressure.
Dollar cost: Earth houses can last hundreds of years. If we assume 100 years the per capita dollar cost for a house twice the size above would be $11,000/(100years x 50 weeks x 4 people) = $55c/week, or $28.60 a year. Many home buyers are paying more than one-third of their income for housing repayments, or rent.
Compare a “normal” house; if $150,000 to build but 4 times as big as mine above, and maybe $400,000 to pay out when bank interest and tax on earnings are added.…i.e., perhaps 35 times as much as a house twice as big as my ideal.
Energy cost: (For my ideal house size.)
Wood; (Attic flooring, 20m2 x 2.5 cm thick = .5m3) +
(roof frames 80 m x 50mm x 65mm hardwood =.3 m3)
= .8 M3.
Assume 1 m3 wood= 1 tonne, and embodied energy cost
of wood =18 GJ, /tonne.
So .8 m3 = 14.4 GJ.
Roof tin: 50 m2 = 160 KG, x 44 MJ/kg = 7.1 GJ
Glass: 18 m2 x 200 MJ/m2 = 3.6 GJ
Cement: Almost no cement in foundations; light structure
set on broken concrete chunks set in trench.
Tank; 8000 litre, 6 m3 concrete + reinforcing rods
and chicken wire = 2.1 GJ ______
27. 2 GJ
Items not included, above; assume these bring
the energy cost to 50 GJ
That would be, for 4 people, an average of 125 MJ/y.
At 2011 retail electricity price this would cost $4.50 p.a.
Would the community buildings in the town, such as library, workshop, craft rooms, sheds, school, premises for firms and aged… care add to the equivalent of 1/3 of the sum for the single house?? Many of these need not be as elaborate as dwellings.
TOOLS, APPLIANCES, HARDWARE.
I would want to work mostly with hand tools, including for house building, furniture and clothes making and food production (often/mostly using machine produced materials), but some use of power tools makes sense. (My workshop runs on 12 volt solar electricity.) Local firms and farms would need some small engines, motors and machinery such as saw benches. Regional factories would make simple robust, repairable, durable, mostly small… stoves, fridges, radios, heaters, tanks, furniture (although much of this would be home made) cutlery, crockery, pots, pans, brooms (I would vote for no vacuum cleaner production; use of rugs and small carpet pieces that can be shaken outside…little or no wall to wall carpet), garden tools…and bulk materials such as cloth, timber, roof tiles.
The national steel works would supply mostly small strip, rod, tube and angle, galvanized iron and wire netting, plus inputs to hardware stores (nails, bolts…) and tool factories. In other words there would be very little production of heavy steel beams, pipes and plate, or castings, because there would be little heavy industry or construction.
Larger tools, such as lathes and drill presses would be available for anyone to use in regional factories, community workshops and small firms.
Thus the scale of manufacture and building would be enormously reduced, and therefore the need for heavy machinery would be much reduced. We would need to produce very few if any skyscrapers, big bridges, tunnels, silos, freeways, aircraft and airports, trucks, cars, ships, cranes, fork lifts and bulldozers. Remember there would be very little need to transport things into highly self-sufficient towns and regions, and very little need to travel far to work or leisure; see below. We would have some buses, a good national and regional rail system, and many bikes (and use of horses for short distance cartage), but very few cars. Because economies would be stable, construction would only be of replacement buildings, windmills, roads etc.
My household budget.
Dollar costs: Assume timber from local hobby saw benches or small firms, much use of saplings and round wood, and stable settlements with no new construction, only replacement and maintenance building. Art and craft materials? Most tools can last a lifetime, especially hand tools. An uncertain guess at an annual household steel, glass, cement, consumption … 30 - 50 kg, costing $200 – 500??. This would not include infrequent major remakes after storm or fire damage.
Energy costs: Appliances such as sinks, toilet bowls and cisterns, showers, (no bath tubs), wash tubs (in general no washing machines, apart from bicycle powered …the exercise is good for you), stoves, and fridges (…if you have one) would be made to last 50+ years, and to be repaired. Art and craft materials?? Energy cost 40 kg x 30 MJ/kg = 1.2 GJ/y, i.e., .3 GJ/person/year.??
Most buildings would be made from earth, straw bales, stone, bamboo and wood. There would be little use of energy-intensive metals and plastics. The reduced quantities of glass, steel, cement and especially of aluminium might be produced regionally by solar and wind generated electricity in those periods when there is surplus supply. There would be intensive research into plant sources for chemicals, adhesives, medicines, paints, lubricants and fiblres and fabrics. Most of the dangerous synthetic chemicals in use today would not be necessary. Design would focus on minimising problematic materials. For instance furniture can be made without metal fasteners, by use of dowelled and pegged joints.
Timber would be a major material, replacing most metals and plastics. It could all be produced within settlements, let alone close by. Timber needs would be low in a stable economy, called on only to maintain stocks of housing and furniture. Some combined heating and cooking would be by woods fires, in well insulated solar-passive houses.
Some materials would be produced in bulk in big regional or national factories, such as fabrics, metals and chemicals, and distributed to many small factories, hardware stores and workshops. Demand for paper would be greatly reduced and might be met from local forests and recycling. Eventually roofing iron would have been slowly replaced by ceramic tiles made from local clay and wood-fired kilns.
Cement would be a problem, given that it is such a valuable material enabling permanent structures, especially water tanks, yet it is energy-intensive. However the quantities needed would be small in view of the stable infrastructure stock that only needed maintaining, not expanding. When a stable settlement’s infrastructure of tanks and methane digesters had been established there would be little further need to use cement. Little or no cement would be used in the construction of high-rise buildings, big dams, bridges, airports, shipping terminals, roads or freeways. Water can be stored in many small earthen dams along water courses, with grassed spillways. These dams would also enable pumped storage for electricity generation.
Leather might also set difficulties, in view of the quantity of this valuable material that might be required in relation to the much-reduced use of large animals for meat consumption.
My household budget: Dollar and embodied energy costs have been included in the other items discussed.
Almost all the clothes we wear could be simple, tough, cheap and durable, old and much repaired. Few if any of us would need to work in a suit or tie, let alone new clothes. One of my hobbies is darning and repairing the old clothes I wear. (One of my best jumpers lasted 35 years, until a bushfire got it.) We might have a few "nice" things for special occasions, but these need not be expensive. I have one pair of "good" shoes, never wear a tie, and haven't worn a suit for about four decades. Those who were more interested in “nice” clothes than I am could of course make or buy them as they wish but hopefully we would have the sense to scrap any notion of fashion. Some people could specialise in dress making and tailoring as a small business.
Old and worn out clothing items would be recycled, sold via second hand shops or given away. Clothes making and repairing would be much-enjoyed hobbies. A few small local firms might mass produce some basic clothing items, mostly from locally grown fibres, and some basic footwear. Factories would supply local hardware shops and clothing makers with rolls of cloth, mostly of the basic kinds needed to make tough every-day work clothes. Our overall energy budgets would hopefully also allow production of less essential materials for use by those interested in dressmaking etc., along with the many materials hobbyists would wish to use. Some footwear can be made at home via hobby production, especially slippers, sandals and winter Ugh boots. There would be a great deal of that most miraculous art form – knitting, using wool spun from the local sheep.
It is possible that much of the bulk material needed could be produced locally. Wool might take .025 - .030 ha per person, 300 square metres, assuming consumption of 2 kg/person/y, 25 sheep/ha and 3.2 kg clean wool/sheep/year. Again this land would provide other products and services, e.g., play areas, honey, water catchment, timber, orchards… Other fibres including flax, sisal and cotton would add a little to this area, and some of this would be imported.
My household budget:
At present I spend almost nothing on clothing, due to a stock of old items that can be remade, apart from (cheap, light) work shoes/sandals. A guesstimate for me (as distinct from growing children etc.), $80/person/year.
Furniture would be simple, cheap, robust and durable, made from local materials, mostly wood. It would be repairable, and most would be home-made by ordinary people. Some would come from local craft businesses in which people could enjoy making good solid furniture. These pieces might be relatively expensive, but they would last for generations, and cost would not matter since we could in general cover our monetary needs with two days work a week.
Various other items, notably toys, baskets, garden and storage sheds, wheelbarrows, animal houses, carts, and boats would also be mostly made from wood, either via backyard or small firm production. Minimal use of plastics and aliminium. Matting, seating and screens, as well as baskets and hats, can be woven from local reeds, rushes and willows. There would be much use of hand tools because craft production is enjoyable, but light machinery would also be used.
My household budget.
Per capita lifetime dollar and energy costs would be negligible, e.g., bike parts, tyres.
Most manufactured items would be produced in households, neighbourhood workshops and small local firms, and they would be produced in craft ways, not via industrial factories. Crockery provides a good example. It should all be produced by hand in your suburb or town, from local clay, fired by wood grown there, and made by people who love making pottery. How many new plates do you need each year to replace those broken? Again when we recognise that we are talking about a stable population and economy we realise that much of our present production is aimed at increasing stocks and consumption, so in a stable society relatively small volumes of replacement production would suffice. Because people will not need to go out to work for money more than two days a week there would be much time for interesting home and neighbourhood craft productive activity.
Small regional factories (e.g., within 5 – 10 km) would produce bicycles, cutlery, pots and pans, roof tiles, containers (although baskets would by made at the neighbourhood level from rushes, willows and vines), nails, bolts, buckles, hacksaw blades, plate glass, preserving jars, ladders, barrows, needles, tools, brushes, paint (from vegetable and fish oils, milk, lime, earthen colours), beverages (fruit wines, beers and ciders), string and rope from yuccas and sisal, etc. and basic appliances such as stoves, radios and fridges. There would be intensive recycling, and items would be made to last and to be repaired. Only small quantities of items such as electronic devices would need to be imported.
Attention would go into developing excellent designs for all things, especially models that would last, be easily repaired and save resources. Research would go into studying the effectiveness of designs in use and improvements would be cumulative. (At present much design is shoddy, deliberately flimsy and unrepairable. There is too much innovation, for instance of gimmicky trashy products. Things are often designed to look attractive but not be functional. New products often fail to benefit from experience with older models.)
The energy cost of some manufactured items such as stoves and furniture has been included above. There would be many minor items to include in a thorough budget … paper, art materials, linen, cutlery, pottery, torches, batteries, buckets, pipes, taps…
The above discussion of materials, building, tools, manufacturing, furniture and clothing indicates that some but few items and materials would need to be moved into regions. These would include metals, (mostly steel but a little aluminium, copper and zinc for galvanizing, bulk cloth, maybe grains, and some chemical inputs. Items imported long distances or internationally might include high-tech equipment for health, research, electronics, communications, IT, some manufactured products, but very little of these would be needed in everyday life around a suburb or town.
A few sophisticated, specialized and possibly big/centralized factories, e.g., to produce lathes and drill presses, cloth, steel, would be distributed throughout the nation to enable to contribute to national needs and earn export income enabling importing of necessities. International trade would be kept as low as possible, and confined to items that could only be produced locally at great difficulty or cost. Even in a non- predatory global economy trade obviously involves high energy costs, and loss of national independence, self-sufficiency and resilience.
Some/many manufactured items might cost much more than at present, given that production in China is very cheap. This would not be important as not much money would be needed to pay for other items.
There are very few if any things I think I would need for normal day-to-day living that could not be produced within my region, apart from the above inputs such as steel and cloth.
Most of us would go to work for money only one or two days a week, on foot or bicycle to local firms or cooperatives. We would enjoy working with friends, in control of our contribution to meeting local needs, or running our own little shop or farm, knowing we are helping to maintain a happy community. (This assumes considerable collective control over the economy to make sure there is no growth, no significant inequality, no unemployment, no poverty, that all have a worthwhile and respected livelihood, and above all that individual and social needs are met. (For the detail see The New Economy.) These conditions are not possible in consumer-capitalist society.
On the other five days a week we’d be doing a lot of producing of important things, for ourselves in our gardens and hobbies (e.g., knitting, pottery) in craft groups, and for the community via the working bees, committees, organizing concerts, leisure activities and festivals. In other words much of our work time would also be enjoyable leisure time; the work/leisure distinction would largely disappear.
The (negligible) dollar and energy costs of travelling to work are dealt with below under transport. There would be little or no cost in new clothes.
Because the new agriculture would rely heavily on permanent crops, especially trees, and relatively little meat would be consumed, the water demand associated with annual crops would be greatly reduced.
Water would be scrupulously harvested locally, from rooftops, catchments and creeks. There would be maximum recycling and reuse, and therefore different grades (Flush toilets and water for orchard with recycled water.) There would therefore be little need for big dams, mains, large pumping stations, and the bureaucracies to run them. Windmills and small electric pumps would do most of the pumping of fresh and waste water.
All “sewage” would be dealt with at the neighbourhood level, thoroughly recycling all water and nutrients back to local soils, eliminating the need for large systems of mains and pumping stations. Waste water would not contain industrial chemicals. Any of these would be recycled on factory sites. Composting toilets would cut water use and garbage gas units would produce methane for use while both returned nutrients to gardens. Settlements would be landscaped to retain rainfall via earthen bunds, swales and ponds, eliminating the need for concrete sewer and storm water drains and pipes. Storm runoff would be channeled above ground to soak-in areas, where trees were planted. Few if any underground pipes, mains or concrete works would be needed. Above ground systems are easily monitored and repaired, unlike underground systems. Where possible redesign of settlements would catch water on the higher ground, feed it by gravity to houses, then take nutrient-rich waste water further down to orchards, pasture, ponds and farms, reducing the need for pumping energy.
My household budget:
The tanks, ponds and dams to supply households, community gardens and commons, and small farms would be simple systems so easily maintained at low cost, e.g. by working bees. Stable settlements mean no additional construction, only maintenance and revision of systems. Replacement of metal and poly pipes, after decades of use. Once-off use of cement to construct tanks etc. Electric pumps and windmills would move water, mostly through poly pipe.
TRANSPORT AND TRAVEL.
There would be little need for transport to get people to work, because much less work in offices and factories would be done, and most work places would be localised and accessible by bicycle or on foot. The few large factories would be close to towns and railway stations.
Neighbourhoods would be very leisure-rich, containing many little farms, forests, ponds, factories, windmills, craft producers, drama clubs, libraries, neighbourhood workshops and centres, and leisure facilities. Therefore we would want to travel for leisure, holidays and vacations much less than we do now.
A few cars, trucks and bulldozers would be needed. The vehicles in most use would be bicycles, with some but relatively little use of buses and trains. Horses could be used for some transport, especially carting goods. They consume no oil, refuel themselves, reproduce themselves and do not need spare parts or expensive roads. Most roads and freeways would be dug up and the space used for gardens. The concrete chunks can be recycled as building stone and bitumen lumps can stack as animal pen fences. Railway and bus production would be one of the few activities to take place in large centralised heavier industrial centres.
Very few ships, large trucks or aircraft would be produced because there would be little need for the transport of goods or people over long distances. There would be little international travel, partly because the fuel for that will in future be extremely scarce, and secondly because there would be relatively little need for it. We might ration international travel primarily for educational and cultural exchange purposes, so that you might get one overseas trip in a lifetime. However we could bring back wind ships, so you might study for your degree while on a leisurely trip around the world.
Would the lack of travel be an intolerable deprivation? At present many would think so, given the taken for granted amount of that supremely luxurious self-indulgence that five billion people can’t engage in -- tourism. But if and when petroleum becomes very scarce people will be jolted into understanding the unsustainability of the present levels of travel, transport, trade and tourism.
The main reason why we would not travel much for holidays is because there would be many interesting things to do around the town or neighbourhood, or not far away. Our living places will be enriched as places for spending entertainment, leisure and holiday time. (I never go away for holidays, have never flown anywhere for a holiday, and spend all weekends at home…because there are so many interesting things waiting to be done around the homestead.) The leisure committees would organize events, festivals, concerts, celebrations, picnics, adventures, dances and field days. They would surprise us with especially spectacular adventures and mystery tours. They would work out low-cost options, such as hiring a and a gypsy carriage and horse to go on a plodding tour of a scenic route, stopping at quaint old inns, craft centres, galleries, wildlife-rich camping spots…
My household budget.
Mostly walking, cycling and use of horse/donkey and cart. Assume three person-trips per week by rail or bus to larger town, c. 20 km per capita per trip. Assume rail twice the energy efficiency of cars (which use 9 litres of petrol per 100 km), so 60 person-km travel per household per week, i.e., 15 km per capita, would use .675 litres per person per week, = 29.7 MJ/week, = 1,544 MJ/y.
Transport of goods into town; assume 10 kg per household per week, and 20 km? Negligible energy cost…c. 2 MJ/person/week = 104 MJ/person/y.??
A present large volumes of resources and energy are devoured by pets, most of which are not only rather useless but are ecologically damaging, (e.g., cats kill wildlife). Pets consume large quantities of food that humans could have eaten and take up many of the resources going into veterinary science and services. In our new neighbourhoods there will be many useful animals that can be pets, but there will be fewer cats and dogs.
However cats and dogs do add greatly to leisure etc. resources and some could be among the luxuries our wealth enables. They would not be fed on imported, tinned etc. food. One way to cut the pets per capita ratio is to have community pets, e.g., a dog cared for and enjoyed by a group of households.
…are expensive! There are two ways to cut down on this huge outlay of dollars and resources. The first is to have less of them. A stable world population requires an average of about 2 per family, but in the long run we need to reduce world population significantly.
The second strategy is as for pets above; share them! Seriously. In competitive, individualistic winner take all consumer-capitalist society many people live in isolated circumstances and do not have much access to others or to social activity and support. There is little community so a family is the main source of support, but the only way to enjoy family experience is accept the huge task of setting up your own. Many people do not want to take on the full load but would like to be a part-time granny or aunt or parent. In a stable supportive and cooperative community we would work out various ways in which people could be informally involved in the lives of the children of other people, sharing the work and the ups and downs. This would be much better for children, and for parents who would have others to help out. Then there are the community bonding benefits; remember that it takes a village to raise a child.
HEALTH AND MEDICINE.
The far more healthy circumstances would dramatically reduce the incidence of mental and physical illness, and so the resources that would have to be put into health. The required personnel, time, training, equipment and buildings, would be far less than they are now, saving a lot of energy and environmental impact and freeing productive capacity for other purposes.
To begin with, most people would be much healthier than they are now due to the more labour-intensive lifestyles and the high quality food. Even more important would be the psychological factors, the elimination of insecurity, unemployment, poverty, loneliness and stress, long work and travel times and the worry about housing loan interest rates. Everyone would experience a supportive and cooperative community, a stress-less and relaxed pace yet business on interesting projects, having a sense of purpose and being valued for making a worthwhile contribution. Caring communities would sense when someone is having difficulties and seek to assist and head off crises. (In Ladakh this happens, and some communities have “village elders” with whom one can discuss a problem). How high would be the incidence of drug and alcohol abuse, crime, depression, domestic violence, car accidents, eating disorders and random violence? There would be little or none of the mindless drunken pub violence by young people without worthwhile interests and purposes. There would be few of these problems on indigenous settlements if people there had purposes, productive and hobby activities, and self-respect deriving from being in control of a thriving, supportive and admirable community.
Health and medical services would be mostly localised, but there would be a few centralised and specialised teaching hospitals. Drugs and medical equipment might be among the items still mostly produced far away and transported into regions. Much of the increased R and D effort (below) would go into medical research. Satisfactory health provision by professionals must be organised primarily as a public service, paid for generously by taxation, and geared primarily to prevention, rather than cure.
However the focal level would be the town committees keeping an eye on practices, providing dietary and fitness advice, educating, and thinking about preventative measures and what maximises good physical and mental health. Central on the agenda would be social health; concern with indices of solidarity, morale, conscientiousness, readiness to help and turn up for working bees and concerts. (Can you leave your bike unlocked in the street?)
So, for a number of reasons overall health costs would surely be a tiny fraction of today’s figure.
MEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS.
These too should be largely localised, i.e., providing important local information and facilitating discussion of local issues, while also relaying national and international news and information from a few more centralised sources.
Media would seek to focus attention, thought and discussion on the locality and its processes, events, problems, merits and delights. This should be our cognitive centre of gravity, not the distant national or international arena, let alone the trivia provided by the global corporate media networks.
A local community cannot run well unless there is a great deal of discussion, sharing of ideas, sorting out of the best options and awareness of how arrangements are working out. All this contributes to the gradual movement towards consensus on what’s best for the town. Much of this communication, clarification and learning will take place informally but good local media, especially locally made radio programs, will be important in facilitating the awareness that is crucial for collective decision making and in reinforcing social cohesion. It would also be a powerful educational instrument, constantly presenting informative material on ideas, technical ways and innovations.
Much program material would come from citizens, as distinct from being prepared by a few professionals. Many talks, interviews, and interviews would come from local gardeners, craftspeople, experts and scholars. We would elect the voluntary boards of directors, and be able to observe and feedback on their deliberations. There would be no advertisements, but there would be elaborate ways of conveying information on new ideas, products, events etc. much of the “work” would be voluntary.
The significance of TV would decline markedly. People would find much more worthwhile and interesting things to do with the precious time they now spend watching TV. (The US per capita average is said to be 4 hours a day.) Yet it could have important informing, communicating and educating functions. Elaborate programs on other countries and cultures would help to satisfy some of the present desire for travel.
Use of papers and magazines could be cut dramatically, replaced by electronic sources. Many people could work providing entertainment, arts, documentaries, reports, etc., whereas at present global corporations send a relatively few programs worldwide, employing a relatively few super-stars and creative people. Global media send the same news and information material out to everyone, so can’t deal with the issues that are only of interest to your suburb or town.
All important media would be publicly owned and run, via cooperatives, as distinct from being privately owned. Media provide crucial public services; everything depends on how well informed, thoughtful and caring publics are. It is therefore of the utmost importance that media be seen as our agencies for providing these extremely important public services, and be regulated carefully, be fully visible and accountable, and ultimately run by town meetings etc. It is totally unacceptable that they are allowed to be owned by some obscenely rich individual and run for his profit, let alone giving someone like Murdoch the power to push his opinions and preferences, spin issues, support the candidates and parties he wants to win elections, shape foreign policy and recommend invasions and wars.
What about the IT realm? Doesn’t a sophisticated modern society have to be heavily dependent on computers, complex communications systems, satellites, highly trained scientists and wizard technologists? The Simpler Way would make whatever use of this realm was appropriate, and it would be of importance for many functions, but it would not have anything like the centrality it has today. It would have an important role in research, medicine, data storage, education, etc. but the need for it in business, accounting, media, leisure and everyday life and the management of complex systems would be greatly reduced. Most little firms and farms probably would not even need a computer. Relatively little leisure time would be spent in front of one. If the worst came to the worst and the satellites could not be kept up there or the computer factories could not be maintained, we could get by well without computers. Just reflect on how good life could have been with 1960s technologies, assuming a rational and caring economy. Most of the above listed productive activities such as food and furniture production could take place quite well without any IT. We were able to make beautiful dinners, houses, clothes, furniture, festivals, public buildings, communities and concerts in the 1960s without it (indeed in the 1760s!)
Computers and similar complicated devices would still be made in high tech factories, located in a few places in the world. These products would be among the relatively few things that would need to be traded internationally.
My household budget.
I do not watch TV or use a computer for entertainment. I listen to pocket radio most of the day. I’d like access to a TV set and a computer in the neighbourhood workshop.
Nowhere are the implications of a zero growth and de-developed economy more profound than for the finance industry -- because there would hardly be one. Firstly, if there is to be no economic growth then there can be no interest payments. Sorry, there can be no argument about this. If you have a system in which $1 is lent or invested and as a result $1.10 has to be paid back a year later, this is not possible unless the total volume of production and sales one year later is greater than it was at the start. If however the volume of production is to remain constant then the volume of money in circulation to enable production and consumption must remain constant. If some were still allowed to lend money and get back more than they lent then before long a few would have accumulated most of the fixed volume of money that existed.
In a stable or zero-growth economy the only reason for investment would be to maintain a stable productive capacity as old premises and equipment needed replacing. This could include developing new and better bakeries to replace old ones, and it could involve increasing the number of bakeries while reducing the number of dairies, but the aggregate volume of capital invested would not change over time. Obviously this could not possibly be done well by a free market; it can only be the result of rational community decision making.
So, there goes almost the whole of the finance industry…a huge amount of personnel, premises, equipment, paper etc. that could be saved, allocated to better uses, or to leisure purposes. In one recent year in the US the “finance” industry made 40% of all the corporate profits. Consider the resources involved there, the office space, carpets, electricity, consultants, suits, parking space, skyscrapers and lifts…we could save almost all of this.
The role of banks would be limited to providing a safe deposit site for savings, and making available small amounts of capital for development limited to renewing or revising infrastructures. The bank should be a core public institution within the town, owned by the town and run by elected boards with open public meetings on all important issues, including particular loan proposals. (The Spanish Mondragon bank runs like this.) These would decide what socially desirable purposes our capital would be lent for, referring the important cases to town meetings. (Would you prefer instead that money be lent only to those purposes which distant private banks thought would maximise their global profits?)
In a zero growth economy where any loan would be repaid without any interest, it would be clearly understood that when your community bank gives you a loan to build a house the money is only a way of recording the fact that the community is allowing you to use some of its forests, mud, labour and skill to build the house, (and some of its accumulated capacity to purchase inputs into the town, built up by town exports). The understanding would be that you will repay this value and no more from your contributions and earnings in future. Obviously the bank must be a community-owned and run institution because when it grants loans it is determining what will be done, built, developed in the community. At present that power is in the hands of distant, predatory banks with no interest in developing what’s best for your community.
At present “finance” costs us an enormous amount. Interest for instance feeds into, and compounds, in everything we buy. Kennedy claims interest makes up 35% of every price we pay, on average. On average Australians pay $1000 p.a. each in bank profits alone. In The Simpler Way most goods and services most of us receive would not involve money, and those that did would not involve an interest payment. Our very small earth-built houses would involve almost no loans, or thirty year worry about being able to repay them. Bank charges and fees would only need to meet the cost of providing the services; they would not be opportunities for banks to load up charges to the maximum. Some bank personnel would be employees but many could be voluntary. We might only have elected and voluntary and members of the board.
Similar considerations would apply to insurance. This too should be a community controlled public service, organised to provide security at minimal cost and not to make profits. Because property would be less expensive, houses built of earth are a low fire risk, and far less paid work, especially in dangerous situations like steel works and multi-story building construction, would need to be insured insurance payments would be much lower. The main source of insurance would be, as in any tribe, community solidarity. If the wind blows your roof off everyone will be around immediately to help fix it.
We would thus eliminate just about all the present huge expenditure associated with finance.
RETIREMENT, OLD AGE, INVALIDS.
Older, experienced people would be highly valued contributors to production and more importantly to social functioning, given their wisdom and their knowledge of local people, conditions and history. There would be no compulsory retirement age, and few would retire anyway. People could slowly phase down their level of activity as they wished. Most would want to remain active contributors, rather than cease “working”. This would ensure that the community continued to benefit from that great deal of productive time, expertise and experience that is now wasted, especially the wisdom of the elders who know the town and its history and can provide good advice.
Much of the care of older and invalid people would be carried out by the community via the committees, working bees, rosters and the informal involvement of people. With five days a week to spare many people would drop in frequently to chat and help out. Old people would be able to remain in their homes much longer, there would be little need for retirement “homes” and specialised staff. There would be small local hospitals and nursing facilities close to where people had lived, set within the busiest parts of settlements so people could drop in and so that residents could see and be involved in activities around them. Much of the ordinary work and care would be provided “free” via the community working bees. We might pay some of our town taxes by signing up for rosters.
The experience of old, infirm, mentally and physically disadvantaged, and mentally ill people would be infinitely better than it is now. They would be cared for by familiar people right in the middle of their communities, able to observe and be involved in the everyday activities going on around them. People would be wandering in from the town, especially at morning tea time. Compare the way present society isolates these people in expensive institutions with nothing to do or to be involved in or contribute to. “Inmates” are often intensely bored, lonely and convinced they are worthless burdens. Then we have to pay for expensive professional staff to deal with the consequences. (As with “health” the corporations have pounced on abundant opportunities for lucrative business. In a good community most functions are carried out automatically and without monetary cost, but in consumer-capitalist society these are no longer provided by ordinary people and are commercialized, generating sales and siphoning the savings of aged people into pockets of shareholders in health-provider corporations.)
Old people would have watertight guarantees of life time security, unlike today where one’s fate depends on the skill (and honesty) of one’s retirement fund manager in a predatory financial world that can collapse and eliminate your retirement funds overnight. Communities would have most of the responsibility of looking after all their members, including young, ill, handicapped, mentally unwell, old and infirm. (This was the arrangement in Medieval Europe, before the advent of individualism and market society.) State resources for such functions will be very limited. More importantly, as has been explained, in a zero-growth economy provision for old age cannot come from interest on superannuation investments. (A problem to be worked out would be provision for people who have not lived in the town for long. However settlements would be more stable than at present, with less mobility in and out, reducing the problem somewhat. National accounting and transfers of resources between settlements might be needed. “Superannuation” arrangements making savings transferrable would be needed.)
There would be very little need for legal work compared with present society which is riddled with struggles and disputes generated by competition for markets, development approvals, property, rights, and wealth. The climate would be cooperative, not adversarial. Wealth and property would not be so important to people. The stability of the economy would mean that many legal problems that presently derive from competition for development opportunities would not arise.
Most important is the fact that because all would be provided for, i.e. all would have a livelihood and a productive role, and because there would be no unemployment, exclusion, poverty or disadvantage, then most of the forces generating crime in the present callous winner-take-all society would have been eliminated. For large numbers of people today it is extremely difficult or impossible to get a livelihood, a job or a small business. It is no wonder therefore that many end up stealing cars or mugging people, or selling shonky products, or that many give up hope and take to alcohol or drugs. Large numbers are “excluded”. A civilized society would have as a top priority making sure everyone was provided for, which includes having a worthwhile, enjoyable contribution to make.
The savings The Simpler Way would produce here would be astronomical. How many police, courts, prisons, judges, barristers or parole officers would we need if all people had a role, worthwhile and respected contribution to make in caring communities? How much collateral damage and self destruction would be avoided?
Each town would establish systems of mediation and “village elders”, so that if conflicts began to emerge experienced people could informally help to sort them out (without any fees!) If you have a problem you might go to some of them to chat it over. These are the practices in many Eco-villages and tribal societies.
Would we need as much as 5% of the legal industry we have today?
In The Simpler Way education has very different goals and procedures compared with consumer society. (See ) Education would not be about competing for the credentials that might guarantee jobs and privileges in consumer society. It would be about enabling an enjoyable, meaningful life as a citizen contributing to a good community. The main implication for the present discussion is that there would be a greatly reduced dollar cost, deriving from the fact that most education would take place in the community as children worked with adults performing the important every-day tasks needed to keep the community functioning well. Although much attention would be given to the educational progress of each individual child, involving (a small number of) professional ”teachers”, there might not need to be any schools. The whole community would continually be teachers, (and learners) and it would be the “classroom”. There would probably be important roles for professional educators, but ordinary citizens would do most of the educating.
Education has little to do with training, which is what mostly takes place in schools and universities today. The training of trades and professional people is important and might take place much the same as it does today, but far fewer such people would be needed. With much simpler systems many trade level tasks would be carried out by ordinary handymen (I do all my own plumbing, 12 volt electrical, metal work, carpentry and building etc.), and in an economy with mostly simple technologies and nowhere near as much production, heavy industry, nor as many sophisticated global systems, there would be far less need for highly sophisticated technocrats (let alone lawyers, financial consultants, accountants, security analysts, marketing experts, CEOs…)
Our educational institutions could then focus on Education (as distinct from mere training; see), but this can be organized effectively without expensive plant or systems (….think Wikipedia plus discussion groups, visits, field days, and access to local gurus and craft and art wizards…
Because there would be little or no crime, stress, depression, unemployment or poverty, the incidence of social breakdown and therefore need for “welfare” services would be greatly reduced. In healthy communities most of the needs of those people who do run into difficulties are met spontaneously by ordinary citizens, as distinct from by expensive professionals and institutions.
This is a major cost item in consumer society, and source of savings in the alternative. It has been partly dealt with above, in terms of having leisure-rich communities and a lot of time to pursue leisure interests within them. At present leisure time is mostly spent in the passive consumption of experience produced by corporations or professionals, especially via TV and IT, in travel or consuming goods and services. The quality of most of this material is “spiritually” negligible if not negative, evident in the mindless TV soap operas, game shows and crime dramas, and especially the violence and destruction of computer “games”. Much leisure time and expenditure at present goes into purchasing; shopping is a form of entertainment…including the purchase of expensive luxuries, rock concert tickets, clothes, gladiatorial sporting event tickets...
Simpler way settlements and lifestyles are very leisure-rich. Any town or suburb includes many very talented musicians, singers, storytellers, actors, comedians and playwrights, presently unable to do their thing because the globalised entertainment industry only needs a few super-stars. These people will thrive, having several days a week to practise their art and being appreciated for their (largely unpaid) contributions to the many local gatherings, concerts and festivals. The corporate entertainment industry has taken all the entertaining business (just as the supermarkets have killed off all the little shops), and can provide access to the world’s best performers at the flick of a switch. (This debauches; it reduces appreciation of the very best. Once you would go on a difficult pilgrimage to experience great art, and then really appreciate it.)
Much more leisure time will be spent in creative and social activities, as distinct from the increasingly private involvement in computerised leisure pursuits today. In addition much leisure time will be spent in productive activities, such as gardening, making things and arts and crafts. And much will .be spent reading, thinking and learning, and doing formal courses. We will have the time to work on the issues that are important in our personal development.
The community would be a spontaneous leisure resource. A walk around the town would involve one in conversation, observations of activities in familiar firms, farms and mini-factories, and the enjoyment of a beautifully gardened landscape. Contributing to working bees would be interesting. Then there would be the festivals, celebrations, concerts, visits, field days, and the mystery tours organized by the leisure committee. Obviously media could further enhance leisure etc. resources.
In these new enriched physical and cultural landscapes there would be far less interest in the purchase of leisure or entertainment services. People would be busy with interesting tasks and projects, especially gardening and crafts, and would be involved in many community activities.
We would have leisure and cultural committees working on organizing a rich variety of interesting activities, including the festivals, talks, visits, field days, celebrations, hay rides, hikes, adventure and mystery tours, and the holiday ideas, such as the gypsy cart tour mentioned above. Thus it is likely that there would be far less desire than there is now to purchase leisure and entertainment, or to travel for leisure, let alone to travel overseas.
My household budget.
I do not go away for holidays, I don’t go out on weekends, and rarely go to a restaurant or movie … because I have (too) many interesting jobs and projects to do around the homestead. My circumstances would be greatly enriched if I had a thriving community full of expert craftspeople, artists, scholars… and community activities, concerts, festivals etc. I have a long list of philosophical etc. questions I have been mulling over for a lifetime waiting to find an expert willing to help me sort out. I don’t think I would need to spend any dollars or energy on leisure or entertainment or cultural activities, apart from local library services (and web access if it is still there.)
Clear and confident conclusions on this crucial topic cannot be offered at this stage. Firstly some of the above reasons why energy demand could be greatly reduced will bed summarized.
Far less energy would be required compared with the present. This would firstly be because we would be consuming far less, living in solar passive mud brick houses, recycling, getting to work on a bike, with close access to local sport, cultural and leisure facilities and therefore not traveling much for leisure, and we would be buying little that was imported or transported far. The total volume of production and consumption would be a small fraction of the present amount. Most of our economy would be localised, eliminating most travel to work and most transportation of goods. The reasons why the agricultural sector would use almost no non-renewable energy have been explained above.
Almost all energy would be produced locally, from windmills, watermills, garbage gas digesters, solar panels, and biomass sources of fuel and ethanol for vehicles. These sources would be augmented by some larger scale regional wind farms, PV and solar thermal fields, etc., and much reduced grids. Horses, mainly used for the small amount of ploughing and local carrying, would also provide some recreational functions, in a society where the pace was much more relaxed. Cooking would mostly use wood and biogas fuel from methane digesters taking wastes on their way to the gardens.
Solar passive earth-made buildings would eliminate most of the energy presently needed for heating, cooling and therefore air-conditioning. Stirling heat engines driven by solar reflectors or wood fuel would be power sources for some machinery (e.g., saw mills) and electricity generation. Most of the wood cutting, pumping, electric welding and freezer boosting would be carried out when the sun or wind was high. The many small local dams might enable most of the (much reduced) electricity storage required.
Extensive forests would permeate and surround our settlements, providing some energy including wood-fired electricity and small quantities of ethanol or methanol for transport. Candles and lanterns using bees wax and vegetable oils would meet some lighting needs. (Candles are good light sources, e.g., can be reading lights, when backed by parabolic reflectors made from pieces of broken mirror.)
I am not clear about the amount of electricity that it would make sense to import to the town from the national grid. Space heating and cooking are the problems. I use about .1 kWh of electricity a day, for lights, computer, workshop machinery, water pumps (and could also run a TV for another .05 kWh/d.). I estimate that for a family of four it might be .3 kWh/day, = 1.08 MJ/d = 394 MJ/y = 98 MJ/person/year. This assumes no ironing, electric floor polisher, or washing machine, and it does not include cooking. It does not include a fridge (presently I have a gas fridge but soon will have only an evaporative cooler that does not use artificial energy, for most of the year at least).
In the town sawmilling, water pumping and boosting of community freezers would be carried out when the sun or wind was high. It could be that local solar panels and windmills could provide all electricity needed, although cooking and heat pumps might need more. Local pumped storage and maybe hydrogen storage (which is very inefficient) might be viable. However some dependence on national renewable energy sources coming in to the town via the old grid might be assumed.
Note that the very lows level of energy consumption, flexibility in use (pump or saw when the sun is high), and local sources of biomass, and dams for pumped storage … would mean renewable energy sources could meet demand.
Cooking and heating:
These seem to set the main difficulties and uncertainties which later drafts of this document will seek to clarify. Firstly frugality and good design will make a big difference. We would have efficient wood stoves fitted with water jackets, (and contributing to space heating.) A small quantity of methane for quick convenient kettle boiling could come from community digesters taking biomass and wastes. (Possible quantity is uncertain yet.) Use of wood-fuelled private and communal earth ovens for the bi-weekly bake-up, especially making bread. Reduced meat consumption and increased use of fresh fruit, vegetables and salads would reduce cooking energy demand. Open-fire and slow combustion stove heating can also be used for cooking. Earth buildings are well insulated so will cut space heating demand dramatically.
On the global scale the supply of sufficient wood fuel is a problem, if the goal is provide all heating and cooking energy from it. A very uncertain estimate from my (inefficient) open fire indicates the need for 10 kg of wood per household per winter day, for space heating and all cooking and water heating (i.e., wash up, shower, via water jacket). This would be 45 MJ/person/day, or 16.4 GJ/year, or .9 tonne of wood. (This corresponds to 18 kWh per household per day. For a world of 10 billion this would correspond to 160 EJ/y, or the equivalent of 34% of present total world energy. Given very fast growing trees (wattles where I live), that is assuming 13 tonnes/ha/y growth/harvest, the 8 billion tones of wood would require 680 million ha of land, which is a problem. However much/most of the trees could be grown on areas also used for other purposes, such as grazing, water catchment, protecting shade-needy crops, non-plantation trees dotted into gardens and landscapes. (I can run my fire on wattles that come up here and there.) So that 680 million ha might be feasible given that it largely replaces coal, oil and gas energy and their heavy demands on the environment, and much of it is also serving other purposes.
Note however that we would also want to use biomass for (small quantities of) liquid fuel, and this is a land-hungry fuel. If the world could find 500 million ha for biomass energy production (and it shouldn’t), that might produce 500m x 7 tonnes/ha/y x 7 GJ/t = 25 EJ/y of ethanol = 2.8 GJ/y per capita in a world of 9 billion. Australian total energy use p.a. is nearing 300 GJ/person/y, and transport energy is 60 GJ/person p.a….23 times as much as 500 million ha would permit.
These figures show how difficult the energy problem is, and why it will be necessary to live very frugally.
However the use of electricity from local and distant wind and solar farms via remnant national grids would seem capable of significantly reducing the wood problem. It would seem plausible that if cooking and heat pump heating was largely performed by national and local electricity sources, (private house roof PV + community/public wind farms etc) the need for fuel wood might be cut to maybe one-third of the 16 GJ/person/year figure.?? (To be clarified.) Australia would need enough turbines to produce 5 GJ/person/year, i.e., 100 PJ/y, or 16% of present electricity consumption. This might require 8,500 1.5 MW turbines (averaging 12 TJ/y each.) The capital cost would not be a problem; 8,500 x $3 million over a 25 year turbine life = c. $1 billion pa. (The actual cost would be considerably higher when the formidable storage, intermittency and redundancy issues were dealt with.)
Hydrogen produced from surplus wind and solar energy seems not to be a viable option for very large scale energy supply, but for the settlements we are considering it might be, again keeping in mind the very low need for liquid or gaseous fuel for transport, and the scarcity of wood fuel.
The uncertain interim conclusions arrived at from the above estimates of the few (but major) quantifiable items, for per capita energy use, are:
Embodied energy costs (of quantifiable items) Per Capita
House 125 MJ/y
Tools 400 MJ/y
Running energy costs
Travel 1,648 MJ/y
Lighting etc., 96 MJ/y From the national/regional grid (cooking and heating);
Assume 3kWh/household/day (??) 3,450 MJ/y
Wood 5 GJ/y per household/year 1,250 MJ/y
Many items would need to be added to this total, especially for production of imports to the town and their transport, production of buses, bicycles, railways used, regional and national government…and the within-town items not quantified above, incl. health, law, welfare, pets, education…) So it is not possible to be confident about a final figure. However 2011 Australian per capita average energy consumption is approaching 300,000 MJ/y. So if my all-inclusive per capita total was 15,000 MJ/y, i.e., twice the above total, it would be about 5% of the present national average.
Footprint estimation; A note.
Chapter 4 of The Transition to a Sustainable and Just World details derivation of a footprint figure, for a town of 1000 people, given various assumptions re grain, wool, timber, dairy etc. production and consumption per capita p.a. The figure arrived at is .25 ha per capita. In view of items not included this might be doubled; it would then be about 6% of the present Australian figure of 8 ha.
Dollar cost conclusion.
At this stage an annual per capita dollar cost can’t be estimated at all satisfactorily. However, for the above items it would seem to be well under $100/person/week, or $5,000/person/y. This is under 10% of the average Australian wage. Several significant items would have to be added in a thorough accounting, including health and accidents, insurance, children, rates and taxes, (although these could be paid without money, by additional contributions to working bees) avoiding the need to earn money. Thus some people might be able to live well without earning any money at all. For most people one or two days a week working for money might be the norm.
It might not be necessary to reduce consumption and costs by the amounts indicated above. Of course the level of “austerity” described here would not be acceptable to most people today. But if we raised children in communities of the kind described they would grow up finding these new ways and activities to be sources of interest and enjoyable activity. A major task for us in the transition period is to show that these ways are more rewarding than those the consumer-capitalist rat race promises.
The Simpler Way would make possible enormous reductions in resource consumption. Consider
· The reduced need for effort to fix the damage caused by ecological and social breakdown, including the reduced need for law, health care, courts and prisons, care for mental illness and depression etc. being caused …and weapons given that there would be no need for war to secure your empire!
· The overhead costs presently loaded on everything purchased, for example in the form of advertising, insurance, , outrageous CEO salaries, consultancies, bank fees, products not made to last, lawyers fees… and especially interest on borrowed capital.
· The bureaucracy, systems, professionals, offices, consultancies, computers, suits…we would not need if local networks informally and voluntarily organized provision of many local goods and services, including much food, aged care, nursing, maintenance of energy and water etc. infrastructure, entertainment, R and D…
Also, consider the greatly increased “spiritual” productive capacity that The Simpler Way harnesses (or releases), the enthusiasm, time, energy, conscientiousness, thinking and innovation that comes from happy, secure, cooperative citizens proud of their communities and in control of their situation, eager to join working bees. Again compare with the apathy and TV watching stupification that goes with stressed, competitive individuals isolated in their private houses and having little or nothing to do with their community. Much development, administration, fixing, giving, innovation and cohesion-building would take place with no dollar or resource cost, as committees, working bees and spontaneous discussion and action attended to local tasks, getting a lot of “work” done by human energy.
So there is a case for thinking that we could enjoy idyllic living conditions on around 10% of present per capita dollar costs, footprint area, and energy costs…but only if we accepted transition to very different ways.
Blazey, C., 1999), The Australian Vegetable Garden, Diggers Seeds, Dromana, Victoria.
Koont. S., “The urban food gardens of Havana”, Monthly Review, 60.8 Jan, 2009, 44-63.