RE: Lost in Transmission

This was going to be just a comment on a recent blog post by stewardsofearth, but since it was getting to be too long, I just decided to turn it into a post instead. Also, I wanted to link the post here as that blog is good reading for anyone interested in sustainable living.

There’s a high initial cost to sustainable alternatives that some people are unwilling or unable to invest in. E.G. Solar panels, while getting cheaper are still not cheap enough for a lot of people. Same with LED lights vs CFL and plain ‘ol incandescent. It takes foresight and a willingness to take the plunge and, of course, it would help if they don’t just take all the myths about solar at face value.

But, as you say, it does take a combination of sustainable alternatives and a change in lifestyle to make it all work. We’ve just been spoiled for the past few decades by the abundance of… well… everything. Credit, oil, jobs, homes.

If there is any upside to this bad economy, it’s that children who grow up this decade will learn the value of frugality, efficiency and the pitfalls of conspicuous consumption. Keeping up with the Jonses doesn’t make much sense when the Jonses are about to lose their McMansion to foreclosure. Likewise, it doesn’t make sense to waste resources like they’re going out of style… which we’re going out of, just not in style.

There’s another bump in the road to the widespread adoption of sustainability…

The Cult of Me

There’s a particularly insidious and rather socially self-defeating mindset among people who shun alternative energy and a frugal lifestyle. It’s the I have to “sacrifice” this and that, but at the same time the effective end result is insignificant therefore the “sacrifices” are ultimately pointless.

Let’s say I’m in the habit of buying golf tees, whether I go golfing or not, just so I’ll always have a handy supply of the brand I select. Known for using pure cedar rather than biodegradable wood composite, the brand is not as sustainable. When I’m advised by my friend who’s well versed sustainability that there’s virtually no difference with regard to performance and that I’d be helping the environment by switching to composite, I laugh and say that “it’s just a golf tee. What’s the big deal?”

To me in my own I-choose-what-I-choose because that’s what I’ve always chosen mentality and the ingrained idea that this is such a seemingly insignificant thing, it’s a perfectly reasonable response. And perfectly wrong.

What I choose is important to me and simultaneously insignificant. We call that double-think.

The problem isn’t how small the golf tee is to me or how insignificant a choice it is in the grand scheme of things, it’s that there are countless others who think the exact same way. When those countless others do the same thing I did, laugh at the apparently simple change, the company that makes the tee keeps cutting down more cedar.

We’re happy to see things from our own perspective and we always do whenever it’s convenient. But from our perspective — our own narrow perspective — we miss quite a bit of just how large our sphere of influence can be. We also fail to grasp that spheres of influence are cumulative and even an apparently insignificant change, if adopted by many, will have a much larger effect simply because our interdependence.


Small and Common Sense Living

Ever think to yourself how much of what you own is actually making you happy? Or how about whether the house you live in is actually sustainable in terms of budget and the environment? How much of our legal system and social norms force people into houses they don’t need?

What would you really consider to be a home vs just a house?

Jay Shafer talks a little about how we’ve talked, legislated and fooled ourselves into a type of living that’s making most of us fundamentally unhappy and, in many cases, homeless and destitute instead of enjoying life.

Tim Guiles goes into more detail in exploring this what we need vs what we want problem… that shouldn’t really be a problem in the first place. He also goes into the experience of decreasing living space as construction begins only to increase dramatically as the windows are installed. Touching on Jay Shafer’s comments above, it’s the sense of bringing the outside environment indoors.

Whole Earth Catalog: A roadmap to humanity

I found this volume at a tag sale some years ago and thought it was just a curiosity at the time. I bought it for a few dollars and took it home only to forget about it until recently (moving does that to you sometimes).

After getting another chance to go over everything I’ve been missing, I have to say… This is by far one of the best resources on simple living, sustainability and even our own peculiarities (I.E. there is no censorship). The Whole Earth Catalog should be in everyone’s library. If anything it can really open some eyes that are sewn shut with self-centeredness these days.

It’s one of the more revolutionary publications that will sorely be missed today.

Subtitling this "Access to Tools" has to be one of the biggest understatements in publishing. It's oh-so-much-more


The catalog is a year older than me! And it really does cover the Whole Earth!

Published October 1981


The map has changed a bit since this edition, but the topics it covers — vast in breadth and depth — goes from “Understanding Whole Systems” which include Laws of form, Space, Eco-ethics, Evolution, Natural history, Plants as well as “Community” which includes Recycling, Rural emergency, Home nursing Women’s health, Childbirth (in graphic detail), Sex (also in “detail” of sorts), Consumer reports and everything in-between. It’s a who’s who and what’s what of basic and enhanced living.

The list of topics covered is copious as it is astoundingly fascinating.


While browsing through this time, I came across an article on Sri Lanka! Specifically the concept of “Shramadana” which is a contraction of Sarvodaya Shamadana Movement in Sri Lanka. The article goes into a specific example at work, however considering this was published before the civil war, I don’t know how many of these people are still around. Hopefully many. Their example will be one of the few things that will keep the country going.

"It does not require oil, gas coal or nukes; it empowers people not machines; it is shramadana. Literally meaning the giving (dana) of human energy (shrama)"


The concept can best be summarized as using human equity toward completing projects for the community. Anyone can grab a tool and participate provided you’re of able body and sound mind. It doesn’t matter what your social status is; a banker and farmer are equals in terms of what they can contribute in human energy.

Habitat for Humanity is probably the closest Western counterpart


What really got me interested are the aspects of environmental consciousness that and examples of “better” and “wiser” living that we could really use right now. It really drives home how much this was ahead of its time as only now are we starting to understand the consequences of our actions.

"The Man Who Planted Trees and Grew Happiness" - Brilliant!


Then there are the creative aspects of what we can actually do about this. The sustainability pointers in this are, I think, invaluable today more than ever.

Building a house using telephone poles as raw material. How creative is that?


The book is full of examples like these for simple, sustainable living as well as creative solutions to real world problems that are oddly still applicable by and large today.

Then there are also aspects of humanity that some of us still wouldn’t dare discuss openly or honestly. It’s amazing testament to how much popular publications censor themselves on real issues while advancing pointless topics. Talk about being hypocritical prudes.

I had to cover the naughty bits. This being a family-friendly blog and all ;)


Did I mention there’s no censorship in this book? Can you imagine a popular publication making mention of something like this today?

And that, boys and girls, is why I keep thinking I was born a few decades too late.

Living in a tiny house

Living large (in a tiny house)

Dee Williams lives in a solar and propane powered house in a friend’s back yard and pays no rent or mortgage. Now that’s what I call living! For someone who’s worked as an investigator for the Washington State Department of Ecology, she has really toned down on excess by focusing on only what she really needs. Puts a whole new perspective on living large.

The 89 Square Foot house tour

This man decided to give up living in an enormous house that was actually taking up more money to just heat and instead built his own little cabin on wheels. The trailer build gets around local building codes, as he points out, contain provisions put in place by the housing and insurance industry lobby.


Is a small company by Jenine Alexander and Amy Hutto that builds tiny houses on trailers. It originally started with Jenine wanting to build a tiny house of her own, which she did on a trailer. You may notice a lot of tiny houses are on trailers for mobility and to get around those pesky redundant codes.

This is Jenine’s house:

A Forgeahead product on display. Turns out, people still react negatively to this even though they’re not harming anyone:

More on the same tiny house. What’s amazing is that each one is absolutely unique (depending on where the materials and supplies came from):

Living small

Larger houses contribute more to greenhouse emissions and polution. This is a short video shows how building small can be more energy efficient and still functional

Icopod : A living dream

If anyone remembers the good ol’ days of TechTV (before it was mauled, regurgitated, re-consumed and finally defecated by G4), there was a wonderful show on called “Invent This“. It showcased the creations and personas of quirky, yet deceptively brilliant, inventors as well as the history that lead them to where they are today.

One of these inventors was Sanford Ponder, a former musician who later went on to create The Icopod or The Pod as it was often referred to. The underlying premise was to create a temporary or semi-permanent shelter for disaster relief, social gatherings or for impoverished settlements from nothing but pre-cut sections of treated cardboard.


Icopod parts awaiting assembly

That’s right… Cardboard. The theory being a lightweight assembly of repeating pieces is the most efficient and elegant way to build shelters that someone would actually want to live in.


All the sections going up

 And is it any wonder why The Pod was a smash hit at the burning man festival.


Looks mighty cozy to me.

On the series, Invent This!, Mr. Ponder goes on to envision an entire village of these pods with much more complex arrangements. The goal being to shed away what he perceives to be distracting end goals which actually detract from the quality of life one could have. I think he may be on to something.

We live in a society where we’re constantly fed our own wants. Wants that eventually become needs if only because they’ve been hammered into our psyche since the day the perception of our own existence was differentiated between “I” and “Not I”. But how much of these wants do we actually need? It’s amazing how much clarity one can achieve when one is forced to live without luxuries.

And why not live without them? How much stuff do we need to fill our lives with? How many “things” do we need to accumulate before realizing that none of it is ever enough and the high is only temporary.

That said, I think there’s a great future for products like The Pod. If they can be made permanent and more durable and safer or if a whole different class of structures can be cheaply made with the same premise, we may finally have the capability to decide what’s really important in our lives. Living in a shelter such as this makes it an absolute necesity to only keep what you need.