The 70% challenge

I’m currently reading Molly Scott Cato’s book, The Bioregional Economy. You’re going to be hearing a lot about this, because it’s having a huge impact on my thinking. How I perceive the place of Druidry in the world is shifting. The choices I mean to make in my own life are all being reconsidered, too. In addition to that, I am so inspired by Molly and her vision that I will be investing time and energy in trying to get her work in front of more people. I’m not prone to being so inspired by people that I have to leap into action and do something, but Molly is an exception in so many ways.

We cannot have infinite population growth and infinite economic growth and infinite growth in consumption, given that we start out with finite resources. I’ve known this for years. What I’ve not had before is any sense of how energy use would need to change so that we can viably live within our means. According to The Bioregional Economy, current thinking puts the figure somewhere between a 70 and 90% reduction. That’s a staggering prospect with huge implications, and has really brought home to me the scale of the problem.

Could I cut my energy consumption by 70%? I may not be a good case study here because there’s already a lot of things I don’t have that a great many people take for granted as necessary. I’m living in a small space, with no car, no television, no fridge or freezer, a caravan sized washing machine. We have computers for work, we have a phone and the internet but are otherwise pretty low tech. I can’t cut back much further without being unable to work, and as this is a rented flat, there are things I’m not able to do in terms of getting a more efficient boiler, a water meter, or solar panels.

Most of my scope for cutting energy use depends on better sourcing of that which I consume. This makes me realise that I do not have any idea how the various things I buy contribute to energy use. There is nothing to tell me what the real cost of my food and clothes actually is. Where they were made, how they were produced, how they travelled, how people in that process were treated, and so forth, remain unknown to me. If I could get everything locally and direct from producers, I might be in with a chance of both knowing, and doing better. The costs of that would still be prohibitive for me, although I’m doing what I can.

There is a cost to all the things we are able to source cheaply in supermarkets. Most of that cost is invisible, but it is actually part of the reason why I would struggle to afford the things made by local craftspeople and the produce on the farmers’ markets. We push prices down all the time, and there’s a miss-match between what it is possible to earn, and what it is necessary to be able to spend. To sell my work in the modern market place, I have to charge so little as to push myself out to the margins. We’ll spend more on takeaway food than we are happy paying for printed books. British farmers in the UK struggle to make ends meet, unable to compete with cheap foreign imports. In other countries, people are growing flowers to sell commercially but cannot afford to reliably feed or educate their children. The whole system, is mad.

We keep hanging onto this myth, perpetuated by popular culture, that science will find a magic solution. Star Trek style technology will give us the lifestyle we’ve been sold, at knockdown prices with clean air. That isn’t happening. We keep taking more than the natural systems that support us are able to keep providing, and that plainly isn’t going to work.

A 70% reduction in energy use. That’s a stark and alarming figure. 90% is really rather frightening. What would that leave us? What will life look like when we finally bite the bullet and stop pretending there isn’t a problem? Assuming we get round to that in time. It casts the whole concept of what we might need in such a different way as to challenge every assumption our culture holds right now. That’s probably a good thing. Right now I don’t know how to do it, but I am determined to face that challenge.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

19 responses to “The 70% challenge

  • Rober Leland Hall

    Energy reduction attacks the symptom and not the desease. The desease is population growth —–The ignorant and the religiously extreme have children at unsustainable rates and the educated and the intellectuals like you cut back—-We end up with self imposed–Genicide– Where the Ignorant and the religiously extreme push our culture over the edge—(ie one or two children per couple–WORLD WIDE—Starting yesterday)—–Your commitment is beautiful —-BUT—-I am afraid it leaves many of us tilting at windmills as the Don Quixotes’ of the world—-I admire your sentiments and applaude your efforts.

    • Nimue Brown

      education, birth control, tackling religious attitudes to reproduction…there’s a lot of work to do on this one. Totally agree that we cannot have endless population growth, we need rapid, fair and viable solutions to that, but I don’t rate the odds of it happening..

  • Bish

    I’ll be blunt. I don’t think it’s going to happen. Ultimately, we will do one of two things. We will survive long enough to achieve moderately tolerable solar system space travel, and harvest the resources spinning around Sol to create off world habitats, and continue to populate – but into a larger environment however cramped and vulnerable. And perhaps learn wisdom. Or we will end in internecine warfare driven by population density and resource depletion. And then die as a result of the ever more chaotic climate we have created. The ‘verse will continue, whatever outcome ‘wins’ the battle, and the learning It takes from our relatively tiny and too brief spark of awareness will add something to the journey of self discovery It is on. But cut back on energy and resource usage by 90%? Or control our population growth? Hear the laughter…

    • Nimue Brown

      I’d rather die trying, given the options. I’d rather dare to believe and do everything i can from there, than not because if I give up hope I just won’t make it out of the duvet tomorrow. So, while I think its entirely possible you are right, I refuse point blank to beleive it is so.

  • John

    Oh, my. So much at stake here and so few reasonable voices. I agree with the folks above – overpopulation is the 800 pound gorilla in the room and I also believe that to overcome the staggering ignorance that comes with many belief systems in the world (not just the usual suspects) is a daunting task. I’m torn between the view expressed by John Michael Greer (we enter into a many-decades cycle of gradual decline, but survive as a species) to the more apocalyptic view that the population begins to behave like a cage with too many rats in it as the resources run out. Current political behavior in my country leads me to the darker viewpoint, honestly. However, I will keep doing what I can to mitigate the damage and delay the inevitable because it is what is right.

    • Nimue Brown

      I’ve also come to the conclusion that cultures, or smaller communities, even households that step up have a better chance. If you’ve got renewables, if you aren’t wholly dependent on fossil fuels, if you are more locally based for sourcing basic necessities… in the event of a meltdown, you’re a lot more survivable. Even if it comes to a worst case scenario, there are still a lot of sound, practical reasons for making the changes on a personal level.

  • Troy Young

    What an awesome challenge and way of thinking about things. I have been a fan of countering the culture of consumerism and Affluentia in our society for some time but this looking at it from an energy consumption standpoint sheds a very different light on things indeed. Thank you for sharing!

  • corvusrouge

    And here’s the paradox for you. It costs money to reduce. Change your light bulbs to LED’s, they use one tenth of the electrical consumption of standard bulbs and around half the power of the energy saving ones, plus they light up instantly unlike the energy saving ones and if you go for the cool light ones as opposed to the warm light ones, they are indistinguishable from traditional bulbs. They last for around 20 years plus. The catch? Go check out the prices. Electrical appliances, for years I have been a “data-plate” lurker ( I was always checking out the data plates on the TV’s and the like on display at the likes of Comet (when they were still around) and Currys.). The more expensive ones, 9 times out of ten, use far less energy. This pattern is the usual one. I am not at all convinced that my ethical choices ( I am fortunate enough to be in a position whereas I can, and do, choose on ethics more and price less) are going to change the world. The only thing that will change the world is if there is enough people willing to direct their spending power on ethically sourced goods and are willing, even for the short-term, to forsake a certain amount of comfort. With the mentality I witness in the general pubic with whom I engage with everyday through my work, I remain sceptical.
    Saying that, I do believe there is merit, even if it is only through personal satisfaction, in engaging with this sort of stuff.

    • Nimue Brown

      I do also think that in the event of meltdown, people who have gone lower tech, made sounder choices… will be better resourced to deal with the consequences. If you can do things from scratch, you’re a lot more survivable.

  • Troy Young

    I see your paradox and raise you a think outside the box. Rather than spend bunches of moolah on the latest gee-wizz-bang technology to save energy what about looking at the ways our ancestors did things. Are there areas in your home where you can better utilize daylight during the daytime hours? What about a strategically placed mirror to reflect light into places it is needed? Instead of a new fangled energy efficient dryer how about a clothes drying rack. I bought an indoor fold away model for $20 over a year ago that easily holds an entire load of laundry and is easier on your clothes than a machine is too. Just think about some of the things you do now and what low tech ways your grandparents might have approached them. Oftentimes there is an answer to be found there somewhere.

    • Nimue Brown

      I’ve been doing them for years, I hand wash, dry outside I cook from scratch, I walk and cycle as transport, I make do and mend, I forrage, I make my own wine, I reuse jars making jams and chutneys… in terms of lifestyle I am closer to my great grandmother than I am to most modern folk. Most of my impact lies in the points where I have to access distribution chains, and I have less control there. I can’t afford the land to grow my own food, currently.

      • Troy Young

        You are truly an inspiration then Nimue. I wish that I could get as offgrid as you but, alas, the other members of my household aren’t as onboard with it as I would like so I have to make compromises.

    • corvusrouge

      I am fortunate enough to be employed and that employment and the practical nature of my work means that I can usually engineer my own solutions, an instance being the ongoing solar array on the side of our house, currently at 1.6Kw but with the potential for 2.8kw which will be realised in the next year. As a society, I fear we are now marketing led at the minute, delegating our responsibilities to the companies providing goods and services that are no longer just appropriate but more and more “incredible value (read 5% off), class leading ( not many competitors), life changing (ordinary), etc, etc”.

      • Troy Young

        OK, I’m not quite sure what employment status or how huge one’s solar array is has to do with what I said about looking for low tech solutions where one can. But since you chose to whip yours out for whatever reason I suppose I will say for the record that I too am gainfully employed and have been for nearly 30 years now. While you certainly have a longer solar array than I it is true that I set my wife’s art studio up to run solely on solar power if need be a few years ago. I still submit that consumerism and spending our way out of our problems isn’t always the answer nor would I discount my grandparents abilities to engineer their way out of some pretty sticky situations themselves. 😉

  • Nimue Brown

    I did the pretty much off grid thing for a couple of years with the boat, and it is not an easy way to live. But, I’m finding that living in a small space, keeping the tech minimal and using the habits of my ancestors, I can keep the use pretty low. One thing at a time, is my suggestion. It’s easier to get one change past people, and then when that’s familiar and comfortable, you go for the next one, starting with whatever looks easy and obvious and working gently towards the hard core crazy stuff 🙂 Worked for me.

  • corvusrouge

    It is our recent relatives ability, to a certain degree, of engineering themselves out of these sticky situations that I was intending to highlight as such. This mindset is one that I have been fortunate enough to have inherited and one that I think could be beneficial. It doesn’t have to lead to consumerism as such but a more developed sense of our impact on our immediate environment. Apologies if my reference to my solar array was seen as some sort of “one-upman-ship”, it wasn’t intended to.

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