Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Stepping Outside of the Comfort Zone

Two amazing things happened to me yesterday that made me pretty sure I've bitten off more than I can chew. As an INFJ, I find things like being in the public eye very difficult. It's one thing to sit here at my computer and talk about my life. It's something wholly different to contemplate standing in front of a group of very influential people at a conference like the upcoming ASPO - Peak Oil and Energy Conference and giving a talk about solutions to the coming challenges that will be a result of our dwindling energy supplies.

I have to come up with something intelligent and witty to say.

My first thought is - I'm just a suburban soccer mom. I'm not sure what I have to offer.

So, I went to the ASPO website, and I found videos of past speakers at previous conferences, and I was excited and thrilled to watch Jeff Vail talk about "Rescuing Suburbia." Throughout his talk, I just kept nodding my head and saying, "That's what I say!" It's so cool to hear your own conclusions validated by some prestigious person at a very prestigious conference.

Certainly, I don't articulate the ideas as well as he does, but we say, essentially, the same things:
  • Whether or not suburbia was a mistake is kind of moot at this point. The fact is that we built them, and now we need to figure out how to live in them in a world without cheap, abundant energy.

  • It is possible to grow a lot of food in a small area (and Mr. Vail gives an example of a suburban farmer on one-sixth of an acre in Tucson, Arizona who grows 50% of the food his family of four eats).

  • The suburbs are uniquely adaptable (in ways that more densely populated urban areas may not be) to being energy self-sufficient (IF they first reduce the amount of energy they use).

He even talks about my pet topic, which is home-based businesses, and the fact that, in the suburbs, we have these large houses (at an average 2000 sq feet as compared to the average 900 sq foot apartment in urban areas) with adequate yard space for growing food, a big roof for power generation equipment, and often with additional "storage" space that could accommodate a business. Mr. Vail mentions that the home-based business, even very technologically advanced businesses (like genetic engineering) are not some new-age futuristic idea. A number of businesses are being operated out of what is, essentially, garage space. He gives the example of Apple computer. My house is only 1500 square feet with no additional storage (no garage, basement or storage shed), and I've been operating a home-business since 1998. Patti Moreno, a.k.a. Garden Girl, operates an independent film studio in her backyard garden shed.

In short, the future of the suburbs that I've been envisioning, and that Mr. Vail discusses in his ASPO talk, isn't too farfetched. It's happening now.

The most interesting point Mr. Vail makes - something I have been trying (and failing) to articulate for some time now - is that, mistake or not, the suburbs have given us, for the first time in history, an egalitarian society. In the suburbs, we all are land owners. We may not own much, but it's ours. This is in contrast to fuedal societies, for instance, in which peasants lived and worked on a "Lord's" land.

In much of the post-apocalyptic literature, and on most of the survivalist blogs, the future is envisioned as returning to a feudal-type of world, with the peasants (most of us) returning to working the land for someone else. Mr. Vail claims that if we start working now to save and transition our suburbs, we could, actually, avoid that kind of scenario, and for the first time in the history of human-kind, develop a totally egalitarian society in which everyone owns a little piece of land and we all work together to build our communities.

And that's the other thing that happened to me yesterday. I attended my first meeting as a member of the Board of Trustees at my local library, and I have been elected as the Secretary of the Board. I think it's an honor just to be asked to serve on the Board, but to also be given a role as one of the officers. It's a little overwhelming.

We're heading into a future of less, less energy, less stuff, perhaps even less food and water ... but it doesn't have to be the horrific post-apocalyptic vision we're being fed. We may not be able to stop this run-away train, but I submit that we can still steer it, and that gives us a lot of control over whether we crash and burn over the cliff or keep it on the tracks until it slows enough to let us get off.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome! I love it! I do home childcare and really enjoy the fact my daily commute consists of walking into the front room to await my clients. When I teach an adult ed class, I plan out the trip so that I also do shopping or other arrands along the way (to or fro) to save on another trip with my car that week.

    I agree that the future will consist more and more of people who work out of the home, at least part of the time. Personally, I see little excuse for every single family to avoid growing at least SOMETHING that they eat - even if it is just a tiny window box full of salad greens! One person's salad greens (for example) could be traded for another person's chicken breast. I think that barter and cooperation can help make our neighborhoods and towns more sustainable and, as you stated, help keep steer the run-away train.

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