Bryden Allen's Website

The Benefits of Self-Sufficient Green Communities


The 60 years since the last world war has given us (the Western world) an unprecedented degree of affluence. However, there is a down side to all this in that we are now much more dependent on a global economy and we are working harder and longer. I think many of us now would like to have the option of disentangling ourselves slightly from our rich city environment. Thus we would like to have an association with the country and have the option of moving there if things turn bad i.e. should we get the sack. Hopefully this would be better for our children as well. The purpose of my  “Green Living - book”(pdf) then is to show that, if we use the technological advances over the last century, then a group of people can physically form a fairly self-sufficient community reasonably easily. The difficulties are rather that:-

• One needs to do some fairly careful thinking beforehand.

• One needs to find a group of people who feel the same way as you do.

• One needs to forego a few of our excessive affluent expectations (e.g. big houses and yearly overseas trips).

 

In most of this work I will deal with the fairly precise problem of how a group of about 100 people can become reasonably self-sufficient. Clearly this is quite a difficult problem and most people will be more interested in a less demanding case. I do this for two reasons:-
1)         There are many facets to this problem i.e. water, energy, food, re-cycling, social, building, transport, self-employment, finance and governmental form. There are a myriad of ways of partially solving any of these problems. It is easiest for me to show how all these problems can be solved in a reasonably complete manner. You can then just skip over the bits you are not interested in.
2)         Many of these facets interact with each-other – thus water is rather essential if one wants to become self-sufficient in food. So if you were to miss out one facet then the other facets would become incomplete. Moreover I think it is better for you to feel that you could see a complete solution if you wanted to. So please accept that this booklet might be a bit long and hard - just skip the bits you don’t want.
The solution to this fairly complete case shows that:-
1)         Such a community will use much less land/resources than you would think. Strangely it is easier if you keep everything compact. The advantage of this is that you can now afford to buy expensive land and hence live close to a town or a city. So you needn’t feel isolated.
2)         Such a community will tend to have an excess of time (and hence wealth). This is because a fully recycling, compact community is a very efficient way of living. So we will have a lot of spare time to spend with our children.
3)         The physical work might be easy but you will need to know how a lot of systems work. A fair degree of your spare time may have to be spent on learning these systems.

 

I do spend some time on other cases. On the simpler side, there is the extremely important problem of how people can find other people who will be compatible with them (to form a community of their required type). I naturally deal with this problem in some depth. On the more complex side, there is the problem of how a largish group of people might try to form a fully independent green community (i.e. a state). This would be the ultimate challenge for a group of people dedicated to self-sufficiency - so it is fun to consider how all the various problems might be solved and then how this form could lead us on into a different kind of future.
            So far I should have given you a rough idea of what this work is all about. The remainder of this webpage is now mainly about the detailed advantages and disadvantages of joining a self-sufficient community.

 

To some extent, the search for self-sufficiency lies against the trend of our successful modern civilised world. Thus our current success has depended on the high degree of specialisation that has occurred in our cities throughout the world. This has resulted in great technical advances in materials and products. These things have been produced in cities and then shipped throughout the world. Hence we now mostly live in cities, have increased energy needs and we accept a global market situation.

 

This is what has happened, but it does not necessarily mean that this is quite the best solution. Now I don’t want to argue the current debate between living in country or city or
the debate between self-sufficiency and globalisation too keenly. You can make up your own mind on these matters. However, it is appropriate at this moment to remind you of a few basic facts. These are that:-
1)         Probably less than 20% of our labour force is associated with manufacture and so the majority of people don’t actually need to live in the city.
2)         Energy-wise it is better to live close to your source of food.
3)         Complete recycling of excreta is almost impossible unless one lives close to one’s source of food.
4)         Sunlight and rain (our principal sources of renewable energy and water) lie well distributed throughout the country.
            Thus, if you wish to live efficiently, then it is basically better to live in the country than in the city. This is confirmed throughout the world where the people who live in villages (in the third world) have far smaller footprints than we who live in the western world in cities.

 

Now let’s get down to the main purpose of this webpage, which is to show that there are significant advantages in living in a self-sufficient community that has a very close association with country land. These are:-

 

1)         More Leisure
The excessive amount of work that we indulge in within Western Societies is entirely unnecessary. Remember 30 years ago when there was a slight panic about all the leisure that our forecasters were telling us we were soon to have. This never occurred. However the logic that the people were using then is still true – namely that, if you have a modern society (with all its labour saving devices) in a stable situation (30 years ago we had only just finished dealing with the baby boom and the reconstruction after the second world war), then there should be an excess of leisure. It didn’t occur of course because of the unfortunate infinite truth associated with Parkinson’s Law – “Work will always expand to fill the time available”. However in a self-sufficient community, where this problem is clearly recognised, then it should be reasonably easy to regain our leisure. Besides this (as I shall show later), living in a modern self-sufficient community is a very easy and efficient way of living.

 

2)         Better for Our Children
A less frenetic lifestyle will give us more time to spend with our children (or have more children). Moreover a country lifestyle is usually more healthy for children because they can play where they like. Also, in a small basic community, it is much easier for children to know everyone and learn how everything works.

 

3)         A Safer Situation
An independent community will be safer because:-

4)         An Independent Culture
Within an independent community one can develop a culture that would be less materialistic and would support one’s own concepts of independence, equality and recycling. Hopefully then one’s children might continue with this better lifestyle.

 

5)         The Friendliness of a Community
Most of us live in cities these days without much of a local community, and we can be short of friends. Thus we often get most of our friends through work. Living and working in a community means that your work friends can become permanent friends, and your relation with them will be unbiased by having to play the politics and ‘suck up to the boss’. Thus it provides a much more natural situation for obtaining friends. {Not as good as climbing club of course – but then you can’t have everything.}

 

6)         Doing the Correct Thing
We in Australia are doing a lot of very silly things. Thus:-

In the small self-sufficient recycling community that I am suggesting, there is no way in the world that you will be doing any of these things. In fact an independent community is almost forced to be excessively saintly. This is because it is much easier to support oneself on a small amount of good quality land. To form good quality land, one needs to create organic mass, turn this into humus and then plough this into the land. This process thus automatically increases the quality of land and takes CO2 out of the atmosphere. Moreover there is no way you can afford to put an excess of fertilizer on the land that will be washed out to sea. In general, a full recycle process of all materials is the simplest and easiest option for supporting oneself. Thus we can bask in the glory of doing the absolutely correct thing.

 

These then are the advantages of living in a self-sufficient community. However naturally there will be disadvantages as well - so I had better mention them.

 

1)         Living in the Sticks
This won’t be entirely true – there is no way in the world that I myself could bear to live in the sticks – so I won’t be suggesting this at all. However it is still true that we won’t be able to live in the centre of things quite as much. Also we won’t be able to use all the amenities of a big city, like Sydney, all the time.
            First let me explain why it needn’t be too bad. Firstly, the form I am suggesting will be quite compact so we certainly will be able to afford to live fairly close to a reasonably sized town. Secondly, there is no reason why all our living accommodation need be on our agricultural land. Thus some of the accommodation could be in the city, and so some of our people could, some of the time, live in the city. However, of course, we cannot have it both ways. Thus we can’t claim to be self-sufficient if we are always using big city facilities. Likewise, if we want our children to have the benefits of living in the country, then we cannot be forever dragging them off to the city.

 

2)         A lot of Learning
Being self-sufficient must involve a lot of learning. Thus things like agriculture, building, energy and water management are very complex subjects and they all must be learnt. This learning process will be very natural because it is easy to learn a subject when you are continuously involved with it. However, there is certainly a hell of a lot that needs to be learnt.

 

3)         Less Individual Choice
In the current world, we have a huge degree of choice over consumer items (because we import them from all over the world). In a self-sufficient community, we cannot have too much choice because we will be trying to make such items ourselves. {And, even if we import items, we still can’t have too much choice because we would still like to mend our imported items.} This lack of choice should not restrict our community in any way – but this different situation would take a while to get used to.
            Communities like I am suggesting will in fact add to the variety and choice available in the world. However this is a very complex subject and I talk about it further in section 7.4.
 
4)         A Strict Egalitarian Government
So far we have basked under the benign assumption that our community will run well and everything will be hunky-dory. Alas this is rarely the case. If you think otherwise then you should read the fate of the Paraguay experiment led by Billy Lane in the 1890s. Thus I think we need to think very carefully about our government form before we start, and we need some quite strict rules. Thus I think the following sort of rules must apply:-

• New members must be formally examined to check they know the rules before they start.

• Attendance at a high proportion of general meetings should be compulsory.

• Possible candidates for an office must be examined in their subject before they are elected.

• Voting must be public and recorded (so that checking is possible if bad errors occur).

            To many people, these sort of strict rules will be quite obnoxious and so they won’t join. However I agree with Bernard Shaw “Liberty means responsibility. This is why most people dread it.” I believe that a just egalitarian community is possible – but it ain’t real easy. It is terribly easy to degenerate into a simple autocratic regime.

 

In spite of all the wonderful advantages I have outlined, I think that you will have gathered (or else you intuitively already knew) that forming a good self-sufficient community won’t be real easy. There is no doubt that, if you want to live a normal, simple, easy life, then it is best to go with the flow and put up with the inadequacies of our current life – things aren’t all that bad – particularly if you compare our life with the life people had in previous centuries (or even life in present third world countries). However, if you are like me and believe that at least a little part of our existence on this earth should be spent on working out how to create a better life then – what else can you do? We know that we are doing some very stupid and terrible things to this world - and yet at the same time we are living in absolute luxury. Surely we must try to do something  - admittedly it won’t be all that easy but then it won’t be all that hard as well - particularly if you compare yourselves with other small self-sufficient communities that have existed on this earth in previous ages. Are we simply going to give up and pretend we are incapable of genuine thinking and follow the common horde? However I think we must accept the situation that forming a good self-sufficient community is a very definite challenge – in fact I think it is the best and most magnificent challenge that exists for us in the world today. So some of us at least should try and have a go at solving it.

 

As you may have already surmised, this challenge breaks down into two fairly distinct parts:-
1)         the problem of finding a governmental form which works and is just and fair to all,
2)         the physical problem of being self-sufficient.
Because the physical problem is detailed, large and complex; this subject tends to be covered mostly towards the end of this work. This means that the governmental problem tends to come first. However, I do try to mix things up a bit so that, as you read, you can feel you are progressing towards a complete solution. Neither problem is real easy - but then also neither problem is really hard – all we have to do is to keep working at them.

 

If I wanted to join a self-sufficient community, then the sort of things I would like to know before hand would be: how much it would cost, what the accommodation would be like, how far from the city it would be, what we would live on and how much time would be involved in running it. The only real way of answering these questions is to form a detailed plan of the whole thing (and also decide on a reasonable general diet for everyone). From all this one can then calculate: the total amount of agricultural land needed, the total required water, cost of all the buildings, the total land requirement, the total capital cost and then the daily, total work-load. From this then one can make an estimate of how close one could live to a city (which must partially depend on how much everyone in the community wishes to fork out to begin with). A total plan like this of course isn’t easy to form. But this is precisely what I have tried to do. I really do believe that some of us should knuckle down and show the world that some people can live in a sane, green, self-sufficient manner. And the best thing I, in my declining years, can do to help this happen is to form a detailed model, and so show precisely how it can all be done in practise.
            Of course everyone will disagree about the details – but if a community is to start then the interested people must have something to look at to begin with - and then everyone can change the model as they see fit. But everyone must have a definite plan to start with to fix their ideas on. To make this model as applicable as possible, I have assumed that our community will adjust the agricultural land to make it as productive as possible. {And with modern knowledge and a lot of dedicated work, all land can be made as productive as the available sunlight and water will allow. This means that the model can apply to nearly all terrains to a reasonably good degree.}
I realise that most of my readers will not be interested in this amount of detail - but you can just skip the bits that you are not interested in. It is just that I, the writer, am absolutely dedicated to the idea that self-sufficient communities should start up – and I want to do the most I possibly can to help this happen.

 

At this stage now, it is probably worthwhile if you were to go back and study my contents page in detail. Thus you can then initially only read about your particular area of interest. The rest of the details can wait. There is never any point in learning about anything until you actually want to apply it.

 

If you want to immediately go to the complete book, click on  “Green Living - book”(pdf).

 

 

 

You might now also like to look back at:

either my "Home Page" (which introduces this whole website and lists all my webpages),

or Green Living (which introduces this major set of webpages).

 

My next normal webpage is Who Changes – We or the Climate.

 

Updated on 17/11/2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can click on any of the following pictures and this will send you to the relevant webpage.