Reprint: “A leap into the unknown?”

Old fashioned poster encouraging people to grown their own food at homeIn something of a departure from what you’ll usually find here, I’m republishing a piece that I wrote quite a while ago. The article below appeared in the now defunct Political Review in mid-1993.

A photocopy of the article has been sitting near my computer ever since I became self-employed in 2007. I’ve been meaning to type in the story as I still think it’s relevant.

Talking over a wedge of cake at my son’s shared birthday party last Saturday has prompted me to do the typing. It didn’t take long after I started conversing with Sam to dig into permaculture, swapping garden surpluses, community organising and the like.

When Sam comes to dinner I’ll show him some of the books I’ve acquired over the years on different aspects of social ecology, over-consumption, reimagining cities and mending our ways generally. For now, this article will have to suffice as a sweeping introduction to some thinkers that have helped form my thoughts on ‘sustainability’.

If I decided to re-write this article today, many of the issues raised are still pertinent almost 20 years later. Taking just one example, on my reading list is a new take on Ted Trainor’s arguments: “The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality” (2011) by Richard Heinberg.

I’d be tempted to find out whether Ted Trainor is still so optimistic about neighbourhoods being the locus for social change. My limited involvement in the Brooklyn Transition Towns food group, a variety of organic food co-ops and sundry other practical projects, shows what hard work it takes to get people working together, and the rewards that are possible when things take-off.

I could go on at length, but you might not end up reading the actual article. So, without prolonging the preamble, here’s the full unexpurgated text of “A leap into the unknow?”

A leap into the unknown

A shift to Ted Trainor’s self-sufficient ‘radical conserver’ society requires a bold leap. But as Stephen Blyth discovers, it is not a vision that is completely unknown.

Ted Trainor, Australian social ecologist and activist, has a radical idea about the way we can live. It’s a vision that denies a central role to the market. Instead needs are met locally, people are not exploited nor is the environment. It’s a vision that requires that we “Abandon Affluence”, as the title of his 1985 book suggests.

Although a radical leap, Trainor’s ideas are grounded in values from the past. His vision relies on old time values of thrift and frugality. A more self-sufficient way of living. When Trainor spoke in Christchurch last October he suggested that many in the audience would remember a time of greater self-sufficiency. It was not that long ago.

Read the rest of the article

Photo credit: P J Chmiel