Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Ouch! That hurt. I got a major slap down on my “Oprah for President” blog here on Mother Earth News. Here’s the comment;
"Cam-Really, really sad. No let me reconsider...pathetic. Yes, that's the right word... 'Pathetic.' This is the first time I have read your blog. I can assure you I won't waste another minute of my valuable time in the future. I suggest that the MEN editors not waste ours. Our world is going to heck in a handbasket and all you folks can diddle with is carbon 'offsets', bamboo cutting boards and anthropomorphic gobal climate change. We need to learn how to grow food and survive today! While this clown is bathering on about Oprah (A fine woman and lady I am sure)I am raising eggs and broilers for sale and planting gardens and fields of staples to feed my family and friends. There are 50 million un-employed,very hungry and scared people in America who need the info today and folks like me who need to learn how to do it better. And all you fools are doing is 'fiddling while Rome burns". Let me rephrase my opening comment. It shouldn't be directed at Cam, but at MEN mag itself...Pathetic."
Man, did he tear a strip off of me! (I have no idea the gender of the commenter. For the sake of simplicity I will refer to the commenter as a “he.")
It’s a good thing that I’m not a politician, because when I read something like this my first response is to become defensive and tell the commenter the way things really are. In the numerous meetings I’ve had with politicians over the years what I’ve come to learn is that most of them are really, really bad listeners. Not only are they not listening, and planning what they’re going to say next based on it, they’re just thinking of things they feel like pontificating about. So in my attempt to be the sort of man that Oprah would want me to be, I’m trying to understand this person’s perspective even if it pisses him off that I’m referencing Oprah.
Not only do I understand his response to my Oprah blog, I fully agree with it. But timing in life and in blogs, is everything. If the first blog of mine he read was the subsequent one about getting our chickens, we might have connected. But as fate would have it, he hit the Oprah one. The commenter says, “We need to learn how to grow food and survive today!” Funny thing, I wrote a book called “Thriving During Challenging Times, The Energy, Food and Financial Independence Handbook” about exactly that topic. So if he had spent any time checking me out, I think he might have had a different response.
Most of my blogs are about food and energy independence. I’m obsessed with it. And I’ll even make a challenge to the writer. I’ll bet that if his “worst case scenario” was to hit, i.e. a major disruption to all of the systems that keep our lives stable and our stomachs full, I would fare better than he would. My bet is that he gets his energy from someone else… the electric company, the gas company, the propane company, the fuel oil company. I don’t. I make it all myself. I still buy gasoline for the car but since we work out of the house, we don’t buy much. And in a worst-case scenario, while I’d rather not do without my car, I CAN live without it.
And I would suggest that if the world “went to hell in a hand basket” in the absolute worst way, power grids shut down, energy companies can’t provide propane and oil, the food system collapses, I’ll bet my lifestyle will be impacted far less than the commenter’s life. Yes I’d lose my satellite internet hookup (bad for Michelle who enjoys the internet, great for me,) we’d lose satellite TV (so much for watching Oprah!) but apart from that, our lives would go on unencumbered, basically as they are today. Our home will be warm from our firewood. Our fridge and freezer will keep our food cold, our pump will keep the toilet flushing and water flowing through our taps, and our three sources of hot water (Enerworks Solar Domestic Hot Water Heater, dump load from the PV panels, and the woodstove) will allow us to have lots of rejuvenating showers and baths to deal with the mess the world has become. The house will be bright and well-lit at night, music will fill the air, food will be hot, beer will be cold, and all those great used books we’ve picked up from Value Village will finally get read without squinting by candle light.
I don’t mean to sound cocky, because I’m not. I just mean to suggest that I think I’m as prepared, or more, than anyone in North America. And I think it’s because I live off-the-electricity-grid that I am this prepared. The difference is that I don’t take anything for granted. I know what cheap, abundant energy accomplishes in our lives, and for most people it’s entirely invisible. It’s not until we have a blackout that people clue into just how dependent we’ve become on it. The commenter mentions how many chickens he has. I’ll be he got them as chicks. And if he kept them warm with a 100-Watt light bulb, and he ran it for 24 hours, that would be almost 2.5-kilowatt hours of electricity he’d use. When we first moved off the grid that was half of our total daily electricity use. It’s no big deal if some utility is providing you with that electricity relatively cheaply, but try to make it yourself and you’ll get a whole new perspective on why I evaluate every component of everything we do here from an energy perspective. So I ask him, how did you keep the chicks warm? Did you make the heat yourself?
The one thing that I really hammer away at in my book is that the people who start making these changes to their lifestyles now are going to be better off in a post peak oil, post carbon world, and they are going to be much more resilient to any shocks that happen along the way. This could be a black out, or a hurricane, or it could be a job loss. And I know exactly what these people are going through. While I haven’t been “fired” or “downsized,” our lifestyle has been radically altered by the economic collapse in the U.S. where we sell the bulk of our books. Sales have suffered in a big way and we’ve had a radical reduction in our income. Turns out if you’re underwater on your mortgage, books, even great books, become a luxury. But because we didn’t have debt, and had savings, and have minimized our expenses, and don’t lead lavish lifestyles, and have a pantry full of pasta and a root cellar full of potatoes, we’ve been able to take our own personal economic downturn in stride. I wish I had more money, but I’m making do. It’s bringing out the “inner scrounger” in me. It’s forced me to refine our “anything for a buck” philosophy of earning a living, and as tough as it is, it can be quite invigorating. From adversity comes creativity.
If the commenter is looking for good hands-on information, our books (www.aztext.com) are full of it. I’ve read Mother Earth News for years and it’s a brilliant source of information on all practical topics. Their whole website (except my Oprah blog) is full of great information!
I can’t talk about energy and food and finances all of the time and so from time to time I write light and fluffy blogs. Regardless of how tough these times are, I’ve maintained my sense of humor. Sometimes you just have to laugh. And sometimes a distraction like watching Oprah, or NASCAR, or The Sopranos is really helpful. If I wrote every blog like the world was going to end tomorrow people would tune me out. There are plenty of blogs like James Kunstler’s that have been calling for the end of the world as we know it for years. And yet here we are, still truckin’ along. Things aren’t great for a lot of people, but there’s no rioting in the streets and no robo-cop goon squads trying to keep law and order. Well, other than in Toronto during the G-20 Summit last summer that is, and those were just peaceful protesters they were arresting. And that only cost Canadian taxpayers a bit more than a billion dollars. Chump change baby.
So to the commenter who thinks that I’m just dilly dallying while Rome burns, I quote George Monbiot’s book- “Bring on the apocalypse!” I’m ready! And while it’s all starting to unravel, even if all of North America is blacked out you’ll be able to see my house from space on a satellite because it will be so well lit by our renewable energy system. And if that spy satellite has really good reception you’ll be able to see me on the living room couch, exhausted after a day of growing food in the garden, being thoroughly entertained watching my good friend from New Jersey “Tony Soprano.” I own all 6 seasons of his show on DVD so he can visit just about every night! And I’ll continue to watch guilt free, no apologies, drinking champagne on the deck of the Titanic as it were.