Friday, March 27, 2009

Sustainability vs. Self-reliance.

Let's not confuse the two, as it can lead to sloppy thinking and bad planning.

Let's take the case example--one familiar to me--of preparing a sailing vessel for a voyage. That sailing vessel, it is obvious, needs to be self-reliant. Even a week at sea will shake out a great number of possible problems that must be within the means of the vessel and crew to deal with without outside aid. Both Homesteads and Seasteads need to have the capacity to operate in a self-reliant manner much, if not the majority of the time. Certainly in the context of ocean sailing many of the dangers one may face are pretty transparent and obvious. With homesteading ashore, at least in the context of recent history--many of the dangers are much less well understood. There is a fixation with many with growing food--but as with Seasteading--one can quickly find out that food self-reliance is the easiest thing to achieve. It's the first step, and a critical step, and must be achieved, but there's a hell of a lot else to think about as well.

While Self-Reliance is certainly a value to be sought after--sustainability requires a community. Certainly the more self-reliant one is, the less often one will need to call on the services of the community that one cannot provide for oneself--but it is unrealistic to think that one is going to provide everything. You will need sail cloth, cordage, chain--and while it's possible to consider or fantisize about providing all of those things for yourself--it's a lot more efficent to allow someone in a community that has far more interest in weaving cloth or spinning fiber to take on that task rather than dinking away at it yourself. At the very least, someday, somewhere, you're going to get sick--and unless there's someone to bail you out, your self-reliance will come to an end.


subgenius said...

Jay, this is worth checking out - and possibly putting up on your forum:

BBC: Natural World - A Farm for the Future

Wildlife film maker Rebecca Hosking investigates how to transform her family's farm in Devon into a low energy farm for the future, and discovers that nature holds the key. With her father close to retirement, Rebecca returns to her family's wildlife-friendly farm in Devon, to become the next generation to farm the land. But last year's high fuel prices were a wake-up call for Rebecca. Realising that all food production in the UK is completely dependent on abundant cheap fossil fuel, particularly oil, she sets out to discover just how secure this oil supply is. Alarmed by the answers, she explores ways of farming without using fossil fuel. With the help of pioneering farmers and growers, Rebecca learns that it is actually nature that holds the key to farming in a low-energy future.

Shelley said...

I like this very much! It's a good way of understanding it all too!
I have accepted that we will never be 100% Self-reliant NOR 100% Self Sustained. Im a little softy (I need my A/C and I dont grow my own rabbit food etc). But it's neat to have such a clearly written article!:)

Sunny said...

How very true! "No man is an island unto himself", .... and we weren't meant to be. I do not believe in the "self-sufficiency" attitude, but I do agree with frugal living, doing all you can to provide for your family yourself, and helping one's neighbor who is in need. Thanks for a very well-written post on the matter.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention 'conviviality' as a hallmark of healthy community.

mrostron said...

Keep on in this line of thought and you may just come up with a great idea - civilization!

Zachary Stowasser said...

amen. full self reliance has never happened in human history and may never will - short of a star trek future with magical technology. so a better bet would be to start building up your skills and networking to fill in the gaps! plus it makes life more fun and enjoyable working with other people!