nkosChoice

It’s probably the best weapon we have to make changes, but it’s also the probable cause for many of the problems that we face; I know it’s all a bit philosophical for me and I don’t blame you if you don’t read any further, it’s just another hippy rant; so be warned!

I used to live a pretty comfortable life, earning decent money and owning a third of a successful and flourishing business; I wasn’t rich by any stretch of the imagination, but I was able to afford most of the things that took my fancy. Given the choices available to me I happily spent my money on the latest and greatest technology available, with scant regard for the true cost of an item, i.e. the resources that they consumed in their manufacture and the on-going harm that they may do during their life not to mention in their disposal; my electricity bill was the least of my worries and landfill was something to do with the composition of a photograph! This attitude spread to the model of car I drove and the way I drove it, holidays that I took, my choice of food, furniture, fun and my lifestyle in general; very little was done with regard for anything other than myself. In short given the varied choices made available to me, provided by the clever manufacturers and marketing front men, I often made choices that were based more on style than substances. I was a dream customer because I wanted choice and because of the choices I made.

About eight or nine years ago I decided that it would be nice to have an allotment, grow my own so to speak; the concept was gaining popularity again due to the likes of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and I convinced my aging farming neighbour that I would be able to help him out with his vegetable plot in return for a small patch for myself. My sister also had a great passion for growing things and as she started to live a more sustainable lifestyle in Spain and I became hooked on the concept as I helped out on holidays and planted her fruit trees and dug her garden over to make it more productive.

I made a good choice.

As time went on and after a fantastic first growing season, I started to read a little bit more and with the eighty year advice of my farming friend my little vegetable patch flourished and I started to rush home from work to get on the land; the satisfaction that I got from working with the earth seemed to fill a gap that I was unaware existed. Propagating, planting, weeding, watering and harvesting seemed to take away the everyday stress of my normal working life; I was so successful that I even started to supply work colleagues with the surplus crops as the glut came on; this soon ended up in doorstep deliveries to a wider circle of friends and I was even know to take a bag or two of runner beans and tomatoes to client meetings. All of this was done gratis; I wasn’t doing it for the money, rather the selfish pleasure of feeling good about giving. I have to admit that as my chilli’s did exceptionally well, that and the fact you can only eat so many and cropping was far better than I could have imagined, I sold a few at the local garage.

Meeting Gosia about six years ago spurred me on even more, her Polish background and the simpler life that she was born into inspired me to make even more changes in my life and my past avarice slowly slipped away and the choices I made began to be influenced by something more meaningful than a label, a logo or an advert.

Ok, you’re doing well if you got this far, more than 600 words, way past my norm and no pictures or links! Make yourself a brew and take a break, there is a possibility it may go another 600.

It’s worth pointing out that these changes hadn’t actually cost me anything; in fact I had started to save a bit of money, even if it was at the expense of my time, but time is the one thing that is free to spend and the sense of achievement was far more gratifying than making a quick short term feel good purchase of yet another gadget.

But at the end of the day, even with all the changes we had made, we still had to stay on-board the merry-go-round of modern life; going to work, paying the bills and consuming more than we probably needed to, we even did what every government wants you to do and borrowed some money, although our reason was better intentioned than just buying more things, as we purchased our plot of land in Poland; we may have slowed the fairground ride down, but it still kept turning.

So when, through an unexpected twist of events, the company had to be sold we were given an opportunity to make a really big choice; clear out and try and make a new more sustainable life in Poland, or cash in and improve our lifestyle in the UK, thankfully I didn’t want a new Land Rover, so after taking a year to tie up all the loose ends we headed off Poland bound; another good choice.

As you will imagine this led to a whole host of choices that many people never have in their lives and we consider ourselves lucky and privileged to have the opportunity to make them, so we wanted to make sure that we made the right ones when building the house and straw bale construction, composting toilets, grey water irrigation systems, wood burning boilers, solar water heating and a closed circle method of farming and maintaining the land are all big choices that we made; it has to be said that it’s a lot easier to make these choices when you start from scratch, so hopefully we have made the right ones.

I hadn’t intended this post to be so biographical, it’s just gone in that direction; which probably isn’t such a bad thing, although I suppose I have only really pointed out the big choices and changes we have made. The point I was hoping to make was that we should all consider the choices that we have when they are presented to us in daily life, no matter how small they are.

Choosing glass over plastic, paper or cloth bags over polythene, water from the tap rather than the bottle, flushing the toilet only when required, using more eco friendly cleaning products, choosing items on merit rather than marketing, buying local instead of driving to the supermarkets (I’m talking about your butcher and baker rather than the local Spar), making food from scratch and dropping your reliance on fast food, composting everything you can (you will be surprised what you can add to the pile), walking or cycling instead of driving and when you do drive then doing so in a more sensible and therefore economical way, buying second hand clothes and furniture (or antiques if that sits better with you), turning lights off when they are not in use, filling the kettle only as required and trying to resist the urge and impulse to buy something new unless you actually need it; OK I’ll stop!

If we stop to think, just for a moment, then we can ultimately make very big changes collectively by making very small choices; we can also change the way that things are sold and marketed to us. Believe me if the manufacturers see a change in the way that we purchase then they will change their strategy to meet that demand, you only have to look at the plethora of green, environmentally friendly products that are available now; because one thing’s for certain and that is that the world will keep on turning with money as its fuel, I’d just like to see a change in how we spend it to power the rotation.

Ok that’s it, you will be pleased to know that my little rant is over and if you got this far I owe you a beer, served out of a returnable glass bottle:)

One last thing, I would like to say thank you to the shape of things to come who planted the seed in my head to write this post in the first place, that and my urge to provide a wider explanation to why I keep going on about plastic bottles, although I feel she puts it far better than I do.

Posted in Composting Toilet, Food, Life in Poland, Save the world, self sufficiency, Straw Bale House, water and tagged , , , .

14 Comments

  1. Good on you! I’m not going to get into the discussion, for a start I’m having problems finding the time to just read the people I follow at the moment let alone writing something, but as one dreadful supermarket says ‘Every little helps’, or something like that, so if all of us can adopt just a bit of what you are doing – what we can manage – there might be hope.

  2. Thoughtful and well-written post, but if I may make a few observations.

    Throughout human history, what you are doing was done by countless others, and countless others will likely make the same choices.

    However, it only works on a very small scale. A thousand years ago, or even a few hundred years ago, there were no gadgets, plastic, chemicals, etc. etc., and humans did farm and grow their food just as you are doing now, and yet they too destroyed their environments. If not destroyed them (which they arguably did), at the very least altered them significantly.

    For example, one can bemoan the loss of trees and natural environments to a parking lot just as well as to a field. Either way, there are less trees. Multiply that by the number of people in the world, and one can make the argument that leveraging the growing and processing of food is actually quite environmentally friendly as opposed to the alternative of everyone growing their own food. (advancements in farming altered the course of history more than anything else we can point to)

    Then one must consider implements, material for houses, sheds, silos, storage of food. All those use up materials as well.

    I could go on, but you can probably see where I am going with this.

    I don’t think the problem is our consumerism, or our consumer society. The problem is so many people.

    You also speak to the enjoyment you get from growing your own food, working the land, going to the butcher (who feeds the butcher and his cows?), but what about art, knowledge, discovery, understanding of the universe we inhabit, and the very curiosity of man to “know”? Who pays for them to have time to produce art?

    Finally, in previous posts you mentioned having to earn some money . . . as long as that is still a requirement, what you envision, sustainability, is threatened. The earning of money implies all sorts of things that lead, inevitably to the system we have.

    And . . . gadgets . . . do I really want to get rid of my computer? My camera? the car that carries me to see wonders I would otherwise never hear about? Aeroplanes which let me hop oceans to see new lands and meed people from those lands?

    It could be argued the very act of interacting with people the world over (internet and travel) resulted in less wars, more awareness, more progress in justice and equal rights for all. It most certainly helped reduce the number of wars (Europe used to have a war every ten years or so). As we get to know other people, they cease to to be “others”, and start being “us”.

    So, many of us long for the simpler times . . . simpler ways . . . but we forget the hidden costs they carried. Likewise, embracing that lifestyle these days ignores the conditions which make it possible for some to embrace it. For one, you bought a place with little worry that Russia will invade, or hordes of barbarians will come over the hills and burn it down. The opportunity to do what you are doing is in part a result of the trappings and associated benefits of a modern society.

    Just saying . . . it’s never simple as “just doing something”.

    • I want to stress . . . I am not criticizing. Just saying that what you take on for yourself might not work if translated into a grander scale. I don’t really know, but I got to thinking about it.

    • Some interesting points, many of which I disagree with, but it’s always good for the discussion.
      True, man has always changed the landscape to suite his needs, unfortunately we now change the chemical balance not just the shape; the poisons we now use in the name of progress do nothing more than line the pockets of the petrochemical industry; rendering land unusable over time and destroying many of natures ecosystems. The very fact that America has to ship in bees from Australia to pollinate its crops is testimony to that; admittedly the reliance on organophosphates has spread throughout the world, but there is a growing consensus that organic cultivation can in fact out yield chemically dependent crops as they can better deal with the environmental changes that we have caused. I’m not against large scale farming, it’s probably the only way that the world can be fed, it just needs to be done in a more thoughtful way. Mans belief that we can reengineer something that nature have taking millions of years to perfect is very short sighted and egotistical.
      Houses will always need to be built, but yet again this can be done in a more sustainable way, of course some modern materials are required; however this need is normally a requirement set down by draconian building regulations, not necessity.
      Of course population growth is a big problem, but it’s a much harder one to solve than curbing our excessive consumerist need and greed. I’m not suggesting that we get rid of the things we have, simply that we consider more carefully the next purchase that we make. Unfortunately the west has set a benchmark that the rest of the world wants to follow, but if you asked a starving child if he wants food or a mobile phone I’m pretty certain of the answer.
      You are right; we will still have to conform to the laws of the land which means that we will still need money; which I have accepted. As I said it is only a result of making enough in the first place that we are now in the privileged position that we are. Take a look at this article by Stonehead http://stoneheadcroft.com/2007/02/08/abolish-debt-abolish-money/ this goes some way into explaining what we are trying to achieve; a debt free life and existence. If I could barter the paying of my social security and compulsory land tax then I would 🙂
      I agree that technology has played a great part in making the world a safer place and will ultimately solve many of the problems that we face, but that does not mean that all technology is good.
      I will of course go back to my original point, it is about choice, it’s just a matter of which direction your compass points when you make them and if I can slip in an environmentally friendly, sustainable manufactured magnet to influence the needle just a tiny bit then I feel that I’m doing the right thing.
      Peace brother 🙂

      • Perhaps . . . but then we can read about loss of trees before coal (although it was also for housing), the incredible pollution of coal before oil and gas (if I remember correctly, there was at least one moth in England that over the course of 50 years evolved a new camouflage coloring adapting to the soot that covered everything), etc.

        Everything I know about organic farming and farming in general points to an overly optimistic claim that it could replace out current methods. For one, the land requirements are higher for equivalent yield. For another, they still use pesticides (different kinds, but they are still used), and often it has higher water requirements (something which to me is much more of a concern than most anything anyone cares to mention). We decry pesticides, fertilizers, etc. but, for instance, read the Little House on the Prairie books, and read about insect infestation, losing crops, droughts, harsh winters, etc.

        Again, I want to stress no criticism implied or given. I mentions some of these things because I too worry about some of these things. I certainly do not like the economic model we have, and it pisses me off that I can hardly go any place without seeing candy-wrappers, and other human garbage. Very little of what we consider “unspoiled” beauty is actually unspoiled.

        I worry about resources, and all the issues associated with pressure put on said resources.

        Personally, I’ve been debt-free since 1986, and I’ve had no loans since, except for the monthly credit card bill, which is paid in full every month. And I am conscientious about how I live . . . to a point. I don’t aim to change the world; not any more. I aim to survive it, and it needs to do so for another 20-25 years, if I am lucky.

        In a way, I am looking to change as well, but not in the same way. I want to find a place where I can go live so as to minimize the consequences of humanity’s past choices. So far, I’ve not had any luck.

        I have no illusion where we are going as a species . . . history is a good teacher.

        Meanwhile, I can appreciate the choice you make, and the reasoning behind it,

        • Thankfully trees can be planted and if managed correctly can become a sustainable resource as is the case in a few European countries; Switzerland for instance produces a surplus. Admittedly it will take a long time to replenish what we have destroyed and you have to take a very long term view on the whole process, but it is quite likely that biomass will become one of the main fuels of our future; after oil and gas reserves are depleted.
          True enough Organic farming, dependant on the laws of the land, can and does use pesticides although they must be derived from natural sources; this does not mean they are any better but their long term impact is less. Personally I tend to go down the permaculture route and use crop rotation and companion planting to combat disease and bump up the yields, add in a bit of biodiversity and nature tends to take care of many of the insect problems.
          As I said before I’m not against large farms as they are the only way we are likely to be able to feed the planet; what I have issue with is the monoculture way that they are produced; lack of biodiversity often results in the massive crop failures as witnessed in the past and recent years. I recently listened to a discussion on the radio that sited many American and UK farmers turning away from a chemically fed agriculture as the developments in organophosphates are now running behind the curve and unable to keep up with the rapidly changing environment, plus the high cost; much in the same way that many human disease have developed a resistance to antibiotics through over prescription. The long term yields of organic farming are in fact comparable with modern methods; if not quite as pretty,and I wish I had my library of books available to point you in the direction of some interesting reading on the subject.
          You do hit on a very major point and that is water, there is only a finite amount available (95 Cubic Miles) and our insistence on poisoning it seems to be one of mans biggest mistakes. I won’t expand on this other than to point you to the humanure handbook , specifically chapter two; you may even be tempted to read the whole book. It’s free to read or download for a small fee and is one of the key influences of my hippy doctrine.
          Self sufficiency has many parallels with the survivalist ethos and I could be accused of being both myself; I aim to make as little impact on the planet as possible and at the same time prepare myself for what I feel is the inevitable.
          Thank you for expanding on the discussion and believe me I don’t take your points as criticism; I have enjoyed the opportunity to explain myself in more detail and reinforce some of the thoughts that I have.
          Cheers
          Eddy

  3. I think a lot of us….only speaking for myself…. say, “It’s too late to do X.” Then we repeat the same thing for project Y & Z. And one day we actually find it is too late to do xyz. lol

    But choices were made to play or pass and choosing to feel regretful about one or the other is not good. I do try to do my best and try to have a good reason for my choices. 🙂

    • You should only ever regret something you haven’t done, so I’ve decided what I’m going to do:)
      Thanks as ever for commenting, feedback is the food of blogging 🙂

  4. Power posting Eddy mate! That spell in the UK must have got you focused. You obviously made the right choice for you and Gosia, and I applaud you for doing that. I do concur, that manufacturers will respond to market forces; unfortunately I fear that you will remain in the great minority for centuries to come, as those market forces are still demanding ever more gizmos, and disposable packaging. Look at the TV shows like Jeremy Kyle. These dreadful people are the next generations en masse, and they are not following even a lime green lifestyle. They are throwing their plastic Tizer bottles out of car windows, and then lobbing the Styrofoam burger cartons out after them. Sadly, they are also teaching their kids how to do the same thing. Build a big wall around Chateau Winko, and keep your head down. It will all be going tits up outside. Well done for having a go though. Someone had to take over from Tom Good now that Briers is dead…Great article mate. Regards as always, Pete.

    • Cheers Pete, I always appreciate your thoughts. I fear that you are correct and the future isn’t so much green as a dull grey, but I’ll keep on trying and as you suggest hide myself away: behind a solar powered electric fence

  5. When we made those choices about 40 years ago, we weren’t coming from good paying jobs. I had just gotten out of the military and my wife had realized her dream of being a nun was not what she wanted. Neither one of us desired riches, just wanted some land to grow what we could eat. We were “back-to-the-landers” of ‘The Mother Earth News’ era. Luckily we still feel that way and feel fortunate that we made that decision way back when.

    I bet you can’t wait to get into your place and start putting all that into action. I’m hoping you’ll have the veggies growing by July or August and your house lit up by October or so. 😉

      • We couldn’t be vegetarians without all the infrastructure. We eat a lot of “poor people’s food”…beans and rice, which must be trucked in…hardly sustainable. You’re way ahead if you raise your own animals without all the antibiotics that grain-fed animals must have plus you have room to ‘grow.’

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