why i’m a luddite techno-optimist simple-living cornucopian community survivalist.

February 26, 2011

when my oldest son was three, i first discovered both the idea that global hydrocarbon production would someday peak (and possibly soon; and whenever it happened, without lots of society wide preparation, it would be bad), or, in common parlance, “peak oil.” i also became increasingly concerned about climate change, as i read reliable, responsible  people (like James Hansen) expressing that nothing short of not only reducing our climate warming emissions but (as became apparent with time) actually becoming a carbon neutral or, better yet, carbon negative society was necessary to maintain the health of our planet (here used as a euphemism for saving our own skins and killing off a smaller portion of the biosphere than we otherwise would). It hadn’t come out yet, but the book Six Degrees, by Mark Lynas, is a neat (and tragic! and horrifying!) summary of all the doom that will ensue with each degree Celsius of global average temperature rise: the stuff i was reading about from a variety of sources (some scholarly, some decidedly less so). Here is a summary of that summary, for those who like to keep their gloom and doom brief: Six Degrees.

reading all of this while loving and raising a charming, smart, funny, joyful child and planning to have a second child produced a several reactions in me. i vascillated between three basic states: intense fear and despondency, followed by denial and a desire to watch KiKi’s Delivery Service and sing along with Rio to our favorite song of the time , and finally a resolve to solve these problems for my son (no big deal, right? and i certainly don’t have any self-confidence problems…;).

part of why i was so enthusiastic about moving to rural Northern California (where my former partner grew up) after my second child was born was that i thought we could be safer there. i also thought we could contribute, a least in our personal lives, to fixing things on this planet of ours: grow more of our own food, commune with nature (isn’t that what “nature” needs? people communing with it? rather than space and time in which to heal from people’s use and abuse?), umm…. grow more of our own food? i said that already, huh? unless we were growing for other people, too, we weren’t likely to be making any net gains for the ecological health of the planet, what with all the driving to see friends, driving to get food we didn’t grow, and driving to… commune with the bits of nature our property wasn’t adjacent too.

with time and experience i realized what many people who go “back to the land” do: it takes a lot of skill to create a self-sufficient life, and if you are isolated geographically from others and have little of value to trade with them and must operate at least partially in a cash economy because you don’t have all the skills Ma and Pa did in the Little House books (and even they bought plows and oxen and seeds and…;) you are going to be economically and socially poor.

whereas, if you live in an urban area and are not isolated geographically from your neighbors, you have

  • people around you who may have different skills than you and may be willing to share them
  • short distances to travel to obtain goods, services, and social opportunities


  • increased opportunities to earn money for things that currently need to be obtained in the cash economy.

in my life, this has allowed me to make a much bigger difference in terms of our energy consumption while still growing food and “communing with nature.”

this doesn’t solve the problem of fear and despair: i am still scared about the direction our society continues to travel, putting more and more carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere each year even as we realize that we have already passed a dangerous threshold.

in my personal life, i strive to limit my use of everything that involves burning fossil fuels (gasoline, heating oil, electricity for this computer and other appliances). i have a tendency towards being spartan in these areas, and if i didn’t have children, i’m sure i would be much more so (i could easily do without a refrigerator, for instance… as it is, i’m planning to downsize to a much smaller, much more efficient, freezer-less model as soon as i can find one used). but i won’t romanticize deelectrifying the country, or never bringing electricity to people who have done without so far.

i want very much for there to be a carbon-neutral or carbon-negative energy breakthrough that would make continued use of widespread electricity non-ecocidal. i think about it very frequently, and read about energy science developments, and i hold out hope that it will happen. we are a clever bunch, humans… if anybody’s going to do it, it will be us! 😉

i think lifestyle changes are enormously important, not just because if we all made enough of them we could be living sustainably now. there are important and large public health and social health reasons to get out of our cars and to spend less time with glowing, humming machines even in the absence of pressing ecological, self-preservation reasons. i ask myself also what my children will think of my actions as they inherit a share of responsibility for their community and their planet. i want to be doing as much as i can to be fair and just in my life, even at the expense of some hardship. i’m an adult… it’s part of the human condition for us to take on some hardship, and to do it consciously for a damn good, noble reason is it’s own kind of icing on an otherwise tough to swallow cupcake.

4 Responses to “why i’m a luddite techno-optimist simple-living cornucopian community survivalist.”

  1. claire b said


    i always find your postings on this topic enlightening. i wonder if you would consider writing more about the specific changes you’ve made, especially as a mama, to decrease your impact… i find myself overwhelmed on by this subject and putting my activist energy elsewhere and would love to follow in your knowledgeable footsteps.

  2. Cheri Riznyk said

    you are the most responsible energy-user of anyone I’ve ever known.I admire you! (for many other things too,of course)

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