Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Depletion & Abundance discussion post - Part Four

Depletion and AbundanceHey, we're halfway there! This section only has two chapters, so today's discussion post will be a little shorter than the last one.

So, here's the fourth discussion post for the Depletion and Abundance book club.

Chapter 9: Little House in the Suburbs. Sharon argues in this chapter that not everyone can move out to a rural area to be completely self-sufficient, it just isn't a feasible option. She also doesn't have the same sort of vitriol that Kunstler has for suburbia, but takes the more realistic stance that many people will have to make do with where they are. And for a lot of the population, that's going to be in the suburbs.

Basically, the suburbs cannot be abandoned if we still want to feed people. Since we turned all that arable farmland into tract homes, what better place to dig in and grow food than in the dirt right beneath our feet? This idea of "Little House in the Suburbs" takes the rural lifestyle, but applies it to the burbs: low-energy and sustainable.

A big issue with living in the burbs is the high cost of transportation, but if you can adapt how you get to work and limit your shopping trips (by growing much of your own food), staying put may just very well be the best option. A bigger issue is one of just being able to keep our homes. And here we need to be creative and adaptive in how we not only use our space at home, but how we share it with others, if necessary.

Essentially, your little house in the suburbs would include vegetable and herb gardens, fruit trees, and animals for meat and milk (chickens, goats, rabbits and the like). You would also want to secure a source of water, a supplemental source of heat, food storage, library (for educational materials) and perhaps a dog for protection. Make sure you have or learn additional skills that can be used for your own benefit or others in the informal economy.

How does your little house in the suburbs compare to her recommendations? If you live in a more urban area or an apartment, what are you doing to prepare yourself for being more self-sufficient?

Chapter 10: The Beauty and Necessity of the Low-Energy Home. This chapter addresses how to manage living in a world where an inconsistent energy supply is the norm. Brownouts and rolling blackouts are already common in some areas of the country, so how should you prepare yourself to adapt to this?

For many of us, plunking down $20,000 on a solar panel system isn't a likely option. Nor is setting up your own rooftop wind farm. So, instead, Sharon suggests a $2,000 budget to help you along on being more resilient to energy disruptions. Purchasing items such as insulation, insulating curtains, solar lanterns, a solar battery charger, battery powered lanterns and rechargeable batteries will help keep you comfortable and provide some lighting.

Figuring out your water cachement or how to pump your well water is wise as is alternative energy sources for cooking and heating. Having other options for transportation, such as bikes or even a fancy Extracycle will allow you to still be mobile. Additionally, it would be smart to opt for more human powered means of doing tasks like knowing how to wash your clothes in the tub and line dry.

In other words, think through all that you use that requires some form of energy and figure out how you would adapt to not having that electricity, propane, gas or oil. If you can do without or do it manually, that's great. Now you can focus your attention on the things you rely on so that you are prepared for not having them.

How prepared are you for living a low-energy lifestyle? Do you have alternative ways of heating and cooking in your home (wood, solar)? What about lighting and transportation?


Anonymous said...

We are on our second year of container gardening so we are going to try some seed saving this year now that we know we can successfully sprout seeds and grow them to fruition. We are also learning to cook a lot more from scratch using simple ingredients and making many of our own cleaning and personal care products.

Energy wise we both have bicycles to get around and for christmas we got a solar lantern that we are using each night as our only source of light. We are freezing our buns off as well. When we move we want to look into some sort of alternative energy but that's 5 years down the road at least.

Michelle said...

I have not read this book, but I have read The Long Emergency - I was just thinking the other day that having to make do here in Suburbia would not be that awful - at least we have some land to grow things. How encouraging to hear another person say that - I have to get this book.

I live in a more rural suburb of Minneapolis, where 1 acre lots are the minimum. We have 2 acres, a big garden, a root cellar and a wood buring fireplace that is set up to heat the house. We would have room for small animals. I agree - transportation is the major issue. Our community has long fought businesses or a "main street", one huge disadvantage to living here, but the suburb next door has done a good job and would could ride our bikes there (I would be in a lot better shape for sure!)

I would LOVE to get solar energy panels and have heard rumblings of great tax incentives, but we will have to see - they are expensive. Great ideas, though, about the less expensive options - especially the solar battery charger.

Thanks for the review!

Anonymous said...

My house is well set up for this type of scenario, but my mother's which is about 12 miles away is much better. It was a farm, it has 3 wells, a stream, a pond, some vernal pools in the pasture for the animals, a huge 300 year old house and barn. We have agreed that in the event of a major long-haul emergency-type living we would load up our essentials (mainly the animals, clothes and our beloved wood stove) and go over there to live. A single mom who lives between us plans to join us, rounding up a few extra horses from her mother's pasture on the way. Plans never hurt :)

Squid Girl said...

A tip about using rechargeable batteries - they can/should be recycled after use. While they'll last up to 1,000 charges, 2-5 years depending on frequency of use, they can be fully recycled at no cost at There are thousands of convenient drop-off locations in your area.

Farmer's Daughter said...

Our home is in a more rural area, but I would still consider it to be suburbs since I have neighbors that I can see from my house. I think if something really bad happened, we'd be okay because my parents' big farm is in walking distance from our house. So anything we can't do to be self-sufficient can be done there. I think the important thing here is to have a contingency plan, as opposed to being totally self-sufficient. While I would like to grow all of our own fruits/veggies and have eggs, I know that my family's farm is right down the street, so I won't have to raise larger animals because I can use them as a resource.

As for transportation, I'm at a loss. There is no public transportation here, and there aren't sidewalks so it's very unsafe to travel the roads. I could certainly get to my family's farm, but other than that, I couldn't go to work or stores, etc.

Farmer's Daughter said...

Forgot to mention fuel... we're burning wood as a supplement right now, but we'd like to get a wood furnace for heat/hot water in the next couple of years (My parents house has used wood for heat/hot water my whole life). I'd also like to build a solar hot water system for hot water in the summer.

As for water, we have a well, so I guess with no electricity we'd have to put in a hand pump. Which is fine, I've used plenty of them on the farm.

Jennie said...

My largest worry is water. I think I could make do without heat, I think even no electricity I could adapt to.
But water? We couldn't even come close to storing enough water to see us through the year. There aren't any creeks nearby. We would have to walk to the Des Moines river, a hike of 3 miles on way, and I'm not certain we could actually drink it.
No, I think if TSHTF we will abandon our little house in the burbs. My backup plan is to join my best friend on her CSA land and build some sort of rammed earth house.

knutty knitter said...

I have thought of the transport thing and then considered the Victorian household. They did not do the shopping themselves - they ordered things which were delivered on a weekly or daily basis. Surely running a delivery van would be heaps more efficient than a whole heap of cars.

Even when I was young things like milk and general groceries were ordered and delivered via the shop vans. daily for milk which was measured out and poured into your own container and weekly for the rest which was ordered over the phone with a list from the week before. The order was always confirmed so that whatever fresh vegetables or fruit that had arrived could be discussed and added or changed for something that was available.

The order always came in a large cardboard box and the one from the previous week was returned along with the new list. You could add or subtract from the order at any time during the week and payments were made once a month.

Surely a variation of this system could be used?

viv in nz

Unknown said...

What people do not think about the suburbs is water, sewer, and electricity or gas. If TSHTF the thing that worries me more is the sewer system. Here where we live, any new house or if you are remodeling your house you have to take out get connected to the city sewer. This is very big problem. Plus, I think people are forgetting about human nature. My neighbors that will not plant and store anything will come to my house to get or steal food for their kids. When you said that you live close to the farm or you have more that 1 acre of land you do not live in what is consider the suburbs and what Kunstler is thinking. We have good neighborhood close to bad ones and I can honestly say that a there are people that many miles away from their work or any farm. People that think that they will be working from home have to forget about that because the finance and service sectors are the ones that are going down. And the only thing that I hope is that this home owner associations and city codes will get abolish so we can start preparing for other things. My husband is Cuban and I always surprised when they tell me that that they do not garden in their house because at the end the neighbors will steal it. The sense of community is a lot bigger than in here and they help each other in everything but they recognize that hunger and the laziness and greediness of human nature is bigger that we recognize. I live thru a big hurricane and the two weeks after the hurricane I meet all my neighbors because my apartment was one of the one that survive. After the power came on somebody stole my clothes from the washer machine and I never talk to my neighbors again. They will not even reply to my good morning. I saw human nature. I live in the suburbs and I am planning to leave.

BarbCohen said...

Please enter me in the giveaway, this looks like a great book.