Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gaps in my thinking

Several of the books I've read recently have made me think about my plans for local sustainability in a new light.  The books pointed out some assumptions in my planning that will leave big gaps in the systems.

My goal has been to develop a way of living that meets all of our basic needs from local resources in a sustainable way.  Those basic needs are food, water, and energy.

Here are just a few of the gaps

Food production
  • my system uses unheated hoop houses to extend the growing season throughout the year.  These hoop houses are covered with PLASTIC.  The functional life of the plastic is maybe 5 years.  It's not local, renewable, sustainable, nor is it something I can reasonably learn to make my self. 
  • seeds - many of the seeds I have been using are hybrids.  I can't save seeds from what they produce and expect any kind of  good results.
  • poultry -none of the hens I have now get broody.  If I want to increase my flock from local stock I have to incubate the eggs my self. 
  • Fencing - All my fence is plastic (made in Germany I think...). Functional life maybe 5 years.
  • Food storage - We use the freezer (see energy) and we can a lot.  But all our canning uses flats to seal the jars.  I don't keep that many on hand.  I don't know how to make them.  None of the jars we use now will work without them.

  • All my energy plans (solar, wind, micro-hydro, steam, etc) require storage.  The generation systems are fairly long lived and mostly repairable (except solar which is a mystery to me...) but the batteries don't last long, are made from non-renewables, and are highly toxic.
  • Even my wood heat and possible power generation is presently resting on the back of my gas powered chainsaws.  They don't work all that well without gas...

  • Most of my current water system travels through or is stored in PLASTIC.
  • Most of my water system plans involve some sort of electric powered pump with a battery as part of the system.
The list goes on and on.  I don't intend to be a Luddite, but I do need to address some of these gaps.  Another gap I noticed was the information gap.  If the world changes even a little bit information will be hard to find.  So much is available on the net right now, but crash the grid and it is all inaccessible.  Building a library with the information needed to maintain and create the systems needed to meet your basic needs is important too. 

Medical information, supplies, and skills were another gap pointed out in my reading that I haven't even begun to think about.

What are the gaps in your systems?


Kevin Kossowan said...

I find your information piece one I wouldn't have thought of. How true.

We still have a long way to go, but I really appreciate prodding this thought process along.

Gaps I need to fill are stocking up on local legumes, installing wood heating in our home, and water storage.

Where I've done well is in building a passive root cellar so our garden produce is available through the winter, and I can dry cure meats efficiently now so if our freezer ever tanked, I'd be able to put up a lot of it in dried format.

Leon said...

I've spent some time over the last few years thinking about it and that's the POV I came out with:

100% self-sufficiency on a single homestead just can't be achieved through design only, doing that will require severe cuts in conveniences (for example, since there is no practical way for you to make water pipes yourself, you'd be back to hauling water by bucket). Attempt to achieve it will also reduce the efficiency so much that the system will likely bog down (there is no way one person or even a family can at the same time be librarians, carpenters, blacksmiths etc., ect. Another example - cutting firewood with manual saw all the time will leave less time for anything else). And in a serious crisis it probably wouldn't help you much even if your were 100% self-sufficient anyway - what about your silly unprepared friends and relatives, who will all come and ask you to feed them when SHTF? Not to mention a few other problems you'd have.

Self-sufficiency within a small community is much more practical. That will once again result in a lifestyle that this community had before railroads and highways (cut in conveniences) but this is not necessarily a bad thing. A bigger problem is that this day in this country it's nearly impossible to do because of lack of people who a) willing and b) able to live as a tight community (hell, 90% of the population can't even live under one roof with their own parents and adult children for more than 3 days). If anyone knows of such communities - please let me know. I looked but all I found was either educational/demonstration communities relying on huge amounts of outside inputs, show offs who think that driving hybrids and having bamboo floors makes them sustainable or hippie places with high turn over rate, rarely producing a whole lot more than their own weed.

At this point I began to think that may be the goal is not a 100% long term self-sufficiency but rather a combination of high degree (70%? 80%?) long term self-sufficiency (meaning you still need things from the outside world but not so much and not that often, because changing plastic on your greenhouse every 5 years still is a whole lot more sustainable than buying veggies every week) and 100% short-term self-sufficiency, so for a while you can be completely on your own (in your example that would mean having a manual saw for the firewood and all critical reference info on paper, so you're can survive until the gas/power supply is restored).

This is pretty much the POV I still have. Also, there is a very interesting article on the similar subject here especially the first part.

So, I guess what I'm saying - don't dig too deep :)

Leon said...

Wow ... I think my very long post just got lost in the Internet for some reason... Well, basically I said that after struggling with the same problem for a few years, now I think that may be you're digging too dip and that using plastic and PVC pipes is inevitable unless you're willing to completely reenact a mountain men lifestyle :) It's probably OK to be 80% self-sufficient all the time if you can be 100% self-sufficient for a short time.

Also, the first part of this article may be of interest.

Leon said...

Just looked at the article again and realized that without being in the context of my gone post it kinda doesn't sound relevant. OK, never mind the article :)

Anonymous said...

Wow! Hubby and I are just beginning a walk toward sustainability. Thanks for laying it all our for us.


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