Wednesday, 8 September 2010

CASE 020 - Self sustainability part 1 (introduction)

The concept of self-sufficiency, so central in the debate about the future of our planet, is as rich and complex as the debate itself. It involves the natural world, human culture, economics of oil and labor, population politics, and much more. But first of all, it involves people.

Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - Growing your own food
Part 3 - Powering your home or entire towns, cities or countries
Part 4 - Water supply
Part 5 - Building self sustained homes, towns or cities

Ways and motivations for self-sufficiency
Being self-sufficient simply means being independent: what one does oneself is sufficient for survival. The first thing that comes to mind upon hearing the word is a particular kind of person:

The urban homesteader growing potatoes and maybe even keeping chickens and a goat.
The innovator installing solar panels on his roof and living “off the grid”.
The family retreating into the wild to prepare for the calamity they expect will follow peak oil.
These are only some ways in which to strive for more self-sufficiency. The aim to be self-sufficient is to divorce oneself from habits like:

Excessive oil-consumption and reliance on exotic foods, which are polluting the planet and creating injustices.
Relying for income on institutions that cannot or will not promise stability.
Blindly believing that the world will just go on the way it has and thus failing to prepare for the worst.
Though to many, “self-sufficiency” brings to mind to mind living with less and self-sacrifice, to those who consciously seek it, it is a positive attitude, a desire for:

personal autonomy
safety and survival
Degrees of self-sufficiency and reciprocity within communities
The above examples reflect the varying degrees to which one can go, but they also demonstrate that self-sufficiency is never 100%. That is, self-sufficiency always involves community.

For one, even the most solitary and independent individual must rely on community for some of his needs. Eeven in a society where self-sufficiency is a goal or a given, reciprocity within the community is unavoidable.

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More importantly, the objective of “self-sufficiency” is only complete if it acknowledges the role of family, local community, country and the entire world-population. For instance:

The family that makes it a point to buy only local food, involves the fate and well-being of local farmers and promotes the self-sufficiency of its community.
The shopper who chooses not to buy an imported product, supports the self-sufficiency of his country.
The president who decides to penalize use of nuclear energy and thereby refrains from dumping nuclear waste on the moon, signs on to increase the self-sufficiency of the planet and all future generations.
Practical self-sufficiency
Like all desire for betterment, the desire for self-sufficiency easily dominoes into ever wider ranges, but of course one’s effectiveness is practically limited. In practice, one could take a lead from John Lozier and propose the following:

At the individual/family level, it is mostly practical to be self-sufficient, say 50%, and the balance might come from local/regional neighbors (40%) and national/international (10%) communities.
At the level of the region-state, one can aim for greater self-sufficiency, say 70%, the balance coming from national (20%) and international (10%) sources.
At the global level, self-sufficiency reaches 100% - unless we do colonize the moon, that is.
Self-sufficiency and self-sustainability
At this point we must introduce the concept of self-sustainability. Self-sustainability is about a wider picture: self-sufficiency is a quality of one’s present state, but self-sustainability applies to the future maintainability of one’s self-sufficiency and indeed one’s existence.

Many believe that more self-sufficiency guarantees more self-sustainability. But just as many oppose this, arguing that in our globalized economy, it is not self-sufficiency that is essential for sustainability, but on the contrary specialization and thus dependence (you grow potatoes, I grow tomatoes).This debate is all about balance: which degrees of self-sufficiency on the one hand, and of dependence or reciprocity on the other, will allow me, my community, my country and the world to continue existing? It won’t be 100% self-sufficiency for everyone, it won’t be 0% self-sufficiency for everyone, but something in between.

Also take a look at CASE 016 - Freeconomy

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