cornucopia
The Permacultivator - Journal of Cool Climate Permaculture
Back to the
Journal Index

21st Century

Jill Cockram discusses 'The Simpler Way' for the Southern Highlands.

No, not a dissertation on the Y2K bug, but an article prompted by a snippet by Mac Cott in his column OUT OF CONTEXT published in the Southern Highlands News on April 16th 1999, and I quote:

"Another millennium thing is Agenda 21 and this weekend, Council’s Paul Curley will be at Living Expo 99 to man their exhibit. The theme is "Moving towards a sustainable future" and Council is one of a few in NSW to get out of the blocks. Waste reduction and recycling are on the go, an environmentally sustainable building for the East Bowral community is planned and energy rating for new buildings is in the pipeline. That’s all very clean as well as being green. But the question is asked, what about when someone wants to put solar panels on a mudbrick cottage at East Bowral (or Renwick) with a big rainwater tank at the side and a chook shed up the back? Using "grey water" from bath and washing machine to irrigate the permaculture jungle?

Think it through and be prepared to put your money where your mouth is on this one because these are things residents (and Council) may have to face as the 21st Century begins to unfold."

Well, congratulations to Mac Cott for being so forward thinking in his approach to the 21st Century. Indeed, I agree that the above-mentioned environmental principles of renewable energy use, solar passive housing, rainwater harvesting, recycling of waste and wastewater, use of biological resources (chooks) and gardening self reliance are issues requiring discussion and adoption into Council legislation and national building codes. These principles and aesthetics are not necessarily mutually exclusive concepts; for instance, recent models of colour co-ordinated rainwater tanks are not ugly. Perhaps we need a change of perspective from "keeping up appearances" to sustainability.

Ted Trainer, a man who "puts his money where his mouth is", and who has been campaigning for years against the current ethic of economic growth and globalisation at any cost, has developed a philosophy called "The Alternative: The Simpler Way" based on environmental and social responsibility, co-operation and community-based living. Let’s see how it can apply to the Southern Highlands towns and villages. The following is a precis of his ideas (with apologies to Ted) and the extent of the changes we need to make simply to survive as a species and avoid the situation where our natural resources run out or the environment fails.

1. "MATERIAL LIVING STANDARDS MUST BE MUCH LESS AFFLUENT. IN A SUSTAINABLE SOCIETY, PER CAPITA RATES OF USE OF RESOURCES MUST BE A SMALL FRACTION OF THOSE IN AUSTRALIA TODAY."

This doesn’t mean suffering deprivation or hardship - rather that we re-assess our material needs (as opposed to ‘wants’) and derive satisfaction not from resource expensive goods so much as from living more frugally, recycling, composting, growing food, repairing where necessary, bottling fruit, making items last and making things at home instead of buying. The less we need, the less unnecessary work, production, resource use and environmental impact we create. So, we are basically living more at home and using renewable resources like mind (creating & fixing) and muscle (building and gardening)!

Do we really need that new house, that new car .......?

2. "THERE MUST BE SMALL-SCALE HIGHLY SELF-SUFFICIENT LOCAL ECONOMIES."

We need to convert our presently barren suburbs into thriving regional economies which use local resources to produce most of our local needs, resulting in greater national self-sufficiency and hence less international trade and globalisation. This would greatly lower pollution caused by road and air transport and packaging of goods, reduce resource use in road maintenance and make the roads a safer place to be. Currently, the Highlands could be described as a dormitory suburb of Sydney, and I’m certain that there are lots of commuters who’d love NOT to have to travel 200 miles each day just to earn a living. We would be working close to home and hence use much less fossil fuel, especially if we can walk or cycle to work.

Households and backyard businesses/industries would provide things like honey, eggs, crockery, bricks, vegies, furniture, fruit, fish and poultry. Within the suburbs, fallow land by railways etc. could be turned into community market gardens for high density populations lacking backyard space. Parklands and derelict land could be partly set aside for community woodlots and fruit and nut orchards providing free resources to the local community.

Even a neighbourhood bank could be set up to keep our capital local, where it can supply finance for firms and projects that will improve and enrich the town itself (note the Maleny Credit Union success story and possibly the Berrima District Credit Union.)

3. "THERE MUST BE MOSTLY CO-OPERATIVE AND PARTICIPATORY LOCAL SYSTEMS WHEREBY SMALL COMMUNITIES CONTROL THEIR OWN AFFAIRS, INDEPENDENT OF THE INTERNATIONAL AND GLOBAL ECONOMIES."

When we eliminate all unnecessary production and move to backyard and local small businesses and cooperatives it will become possible to live well on a very low cash income. There would be a neighbourhood workshop based on the same principle as a library, where communal resources and tools such as mowers, ladders and drills are available on loan, limiting the need for every household to have to own these occasionally used, portable resources.

The alternative neighbourhood would become a leisure-rich environment with a sense of community as we would know our neighbours via work in a local industry, sport, craft and leisure activities or local committees. People would be involved in community activities such as aged care, child minding, nursing and basic education via voluntary rosters, working bees and committees. This happens already in areas such as school canteen rosters, sporting groups and volunteer fire brigades. Council business would be carried out by elected non-paid committees via genuine participatory democracy (ie rate-payers voting on each important issue), developing and implementing appropriate local policies and programs. Centralised governments would have limited areas of responsibility whilst local and bioregional councils would take care of day-to-day business.

In such a neighbourhood it is likely that social problems would greatly decrease since people know and support each other, and hence it would be a happier, healthier and safer place to live for youth and aged alike. Unemployment and youth suicide would not be the issues they currently are in our local area.

4. "A SUSTAINABLE SOCIETY CANNOT HAVE A GROWTH ECONOMY."

At the moment, market forces and profit motive are the major determinants of economic affairs and consequently we see the governmental push for increased growth each year. Ted points out in his paper that if our current rate of population growth is maintained and the push for 3%or 4% economic growth were to be sustained, both the damage to the environment and the rapid consumption of remaining natural resources would drive us to desperate straits by the middle of the 21st century. Our only hope is to stop over-consuming and change to an ethos of quality of life for all in order to create a real future for the planet and its people.

We should apply the available productive capacity to producing what all people need for a good life. Much of the economy could remain as a form of private enterprise carried out by small firms, households and co-operatives within a regulated non-growth sector based on needs. There would be enough work for all (part-time by today’s standards) - perhaps two days per week earning monetary income, with a more equal share of leisure time as well! Life at a more relaxed pace - yes please!

5. "A VERY DIFFERENT ECONOMIC SYSTEM MUST BE DEVELOPED."

"Voluntary simplicity!" This will no doubt be the difficult hurdle - the change from affluent, consumer living standards to living more simply and self-sufficiently. This is not to say that we turn into Luddites. We are encouraged to retain the technologies we have developed thus far. In fact, Ted asserts that we would have more resources available for science and research, education and the arts, once we have stopped producing unnecessary things (weapons for instance). And getting on with the business of learning to live together without undue conflict - like the people involved in the Global Ecovillage Movement (Crystal Waters, etc).

Could we do it in the Highlands? Do we have a choice? Can we learn from our great/grandparents, who had to live through a global depression and were perhaps living Ted Trainer’s "Simpler Way" before it was invented? You know, the backyard vege garden, water tank and chooks, with nothing being wasted and plenty of recycling and repairing.

BACK TO THE FUTURE!!!!

References: "The Simpler Way: We Must Move to a Sustainable Society" (Paper) Ted Trainer, Faculty of Arts, University of N.S.W.

J26 Winter 99