Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Right to Pursue Powerdown: Seeking alternative lifestyles post-peak

Throughout history most societies have spawned groups within them that chose not to follow the norms and dictates of the mainstream society of which they were a part. Very often it is religious differences of some type that set these groups apart, e.g. Quakers, Shakers, Mennonites, Amish, Doukhobors, Acadians, Huguenots, Mormons, Christians in the Roman Empire and more. Mainstream cultures have never been very
tolerant of such so-called "dissidents". Such groups have been subjected to harassment, persecution, legal persecution and prosecution, even attacks and mass murder such as was the case with the Huguenots in France and the Doukhabors in Russia. Rules and laws are often ignored in the zeal to persecute such groups. Very often rules and laws are specifically altered to target such groups, to make it illegal for them to adhere to their own non-mainstream beliefs. In most cases large segments of those religious groups saw no option open to them other than leaving those societies and countries in which they were being persecuted.

Such harassment and persecution, of course, have not been limited to large groups of dissenters. Very often an individual who pursues a belief or practice contrary to the established mainstream will be similarly hounded, harassed and persecuted. Some of these in recent news in Canada include; Michael Schmidt for supplying raw unprocessed milk at the request of his several hundred customers; Percy Schmeiser for his seed saving practices that ran afoul of Monsanto when his crops became contaminated from nearby Monsanto crops; Ghislaine Lanctot for her constant campaigns against the medical establishment and her book The Medical Mafia; Doctor Krop of Toronto who had the audacity to practice environmental medicine and identify household chemicals as the source of patient illnesses and counsel his patients to get the chemical products out of their homes; and many more.

Those unwilling to adhere to the practices and tenets of mainstream society seem invariably to be considered a threat to that society, a threat that must be dealt with harshly. The presumed threat, however, generally exists only in the collective mindset of the mainstream society. Most often the splinter group seeks only to follow their own beliefs and practices in freedom. And almost invariably the mainstream society around them will not accept their right to do so. If existing laws are insufficient to stop such groups from pursuing their beliefs then very often the laws will be changed as required to stop them.

As we approach the global peak in oil production, and most certainly when we have gone beyond that point and start our slide down the depletion downslope, there is a
rapidly growing group of people who want to begin the process of preparing themselves, their homes, their neighbourhoods and communities for the self-sufficient and self-reliant lifestyle that will be necessary when energy decline has torn asunder our heavily energy-dependent global society. They recognize that achieving the required level of post-peak self-sufficiency may take decades and that waiting until we are already past peak and on the downslope means having waited too long. They recognition that such preparation needs to be started now while there is still the resources and energy to do the job.

People who are attempting to do such preparation now, however, are finding in their way roadblocks, hurdles and obstacles just as severe as the groups mentioned above. Many of the past practices that would have been consistent with that preparation are no longer permitted in "developed" societies such as in North America and Europe. One can no longer keep chickens and other food animals within municipal boundaries in most western cities, for example. You cannot turn your front lawn into a vegetable garden. You cannot produce, sell or buy raw milk. In markets of any type in most North American cities one can neither sell nor buy "live" food such as chickens. You cannot put manure on your lawn or urban garden, or even keep manure unless it is in a plastic bag labelled zoo-poo. In most urban jurisdictions in North America you are not allowed to have an outdoor clothesline, maintain a root cellar, put up a wind generator, use grey-water for crop irrigation, keep an open compost, etc. In most municipal jurisdictions you are not allowed to keep or graze large animals like horses, cows, bullocks, or even goats or sheep or geese or ducks or pigs.

All of these things and practices that will be critical for self-sufficiency when we get well down the energy decline slope are viewed today as threats to the aesthetic enjoyment urbanites have for their chemical lawns and GMO flower gardens. If you have ever run afoul of a neighbourhood committee you will have seen this conflict in glorious action.

How are those who have the courage to look ahead to the problems awaiting us ever to benefit from that foresight if they are not allowed to get started on preparation? When the masses begin to wake up to the problems when it becomes impossible to ignore them, who will they turn to for guidance in their preparation? The same politicians and bureaucrats and neighbourhood nazis that are standing in the way of that preparation today? Why is it that some people peacefully exercising a freedom of choice is a threat to mainstream society? Is freedom of choice only permitted when the choices you are allowed to pick come only from a select list of "approved" choices?

You may not be at the stage of wanting to begin your preparation yet. Just as well. You would find far too many roadblocks in the way. But if the majority of people continue to insist on those roadblocks and there are no dissenting voices
forcing politicians to awaken to the fact that we must begin to change municipal laws to not only allow but facilitate and foster this type of preparation, you will find when you are ready that the roadblocks are still there. Public pressure for change must begin now.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post--thanks! I would like to compile a list of potential legal issues for law students and others to research what the current status is in my state. I have started the list, based on my own brainstorming and this article. Is there anyone who has compiled such a list and would be willing to share it?


Carl in Vermont

Richard Embleton said...

There is an organization called Community Solutions in the US and Canada. One of their SIG groups deals with peak oil issues municipal code and bylaw hurdles. You can find them at www.communitysolutions.com
Richard Embleton,
Richmond Hill, ON

Anonymous said...

As we progress down the road to Olduvai we need to adopt technologies that will be more or less sustainable.

We are finding that age puts up more barriers than the law, as we are in a rural area, here in Oz.

In lieu of animal power we are using an asian walking tractor on our small rural holding. It has a single cylinder engine, and we are hoping it will run well on vegetable oil when diesel becomes prohibitive.


John aka Sololeum

Anonymous said...

I was disappointed by your article "The Right to Pursue Powerdown."

I live in Austin, TX. Many of the things that you listed as proscribed in most cities are quite common here. Ironically, some of the most important things that ARE forbidden are not discussed. Consider mixed use zoning: I have seen very few useful discussions or essays about how to convert land zoned for suburbs to more productive uses. I have seen even fewer that discuss how to do it legally, which can be accomplished under some circumstances.

And comparing a neighborhood committee to religious persecution where villages are ransacked and people are murdered? Yes, society has its mores and can be pretty hostile to rebels. But if you take things out of context, your arguments loose credibility.

Paul Robbins

icurhuman2 said...

America and Europe may have such horribly stupid restrictions but in urban Australia (where I live) I keep chickens and a garden I fertilise with manure anytime I like. Maybe y'all should consider immigration; if you choose a place not too far from a beach you'll always be able to suppliment with seafood that isn't too tainted by pollution or depleted overfishing. Then, of course, there's always the occasional rabbit plague to add to the cooking pot.

Rabbit said...

There are reasons why farming is disallowed in urban settings. Exhibit A: the influenza A (H5N1) virus, which grew directly out of urban farming practices in Asia.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say that I appreciate the correlation that you state between urban neighborhood committees and thinking outside the norm. Fifty years ago such practices as fining home owners for having a clothsline, or allowing daisies to grow in ones yard, or having any livestock on the premises would have been thought of as outrageous. I predict that this will be so in the future as well.

America is going to have to learn the hard way, the value of hard work, and survival. So many of our citizens have turned soft, weak, and practically worthless from a community standpoint.

RanDomino said...

I'm not worried about law getting in the way of pragmatism; after the collapse (which seems to have begun, by the way, with the incipient decline of the dollar), traditional power structures and law enforcement will disappear. At the acme of the collapse, even, the chaos will likely overwhelm these institutions.

Do what you have to do to survive.

homefarm said...

Before you all head this way note we've hit peak water. Water tanks that were illegal on a suburban block 10 years ago are now encouraged and you get a tiny government grant to help with the cost. Things are very dry here which makes me think that I may need to rethink our location. Water has quickly become the high priority here. But yes you can do some things on a suburban block. We had a vege garden in the front yard at our last place. However restrictions come in if you want enough for meat even on a 2-5 acre block in some shires. How sustainable is your chook flock without a rooster? How do you breed your pigs when you're only allowed one? We all have a long way to go but recognising the issues means we are having a go, beginning to prepare and challenging the conventions. from an Aussie Permie

Richard Embleton said...

The roadlocks to powering down will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. There is no possible cookie-cutter approach. The impediments in each area will have to be dealt with in that area. The point is that each area has its favorite form of restrictions. One must begin, wherever you are, finding out what the local restrictions are. Only then are you in a position of being able to begin undoing them. The post-peak future is one where, IMHO, all governance will be local. May a well help the process along now.