Part 1 of 3
3:45 AM and I am awake and worrying again. During daylight hours I travel between denial, keeping our home business going, contending with my mother’s needs (91 years old and a stroke last year), subsistence work, and other constructive activity. But at night I am often afraid.
Tonight we are having a soft spring rain on and off. The air outside is sweet and warm. A few minutes ago an animal screamed nearby, somewhere behind the house. The rat terriers and one cat were inside and now a second cat has crept in through the cat door, but the third cat is unaccounted for. Three years ago we lost our rat terrier, Taylor, to the coyotes. But, there are other predators about: the barred owls and bobcat, possibly a fox or black bear. Probably it is still too cold for the timber rattlers to be out at night.
That scream did put me on edge, but I am not losing sleep over the animal nightlife around me. I am living in the heartland of the USA and it is human activity that has me squirming. Here in the USA we are using up resources 4.5 times as fast as the earth can regenerate. We are stealing our daily life from the rest of humanity, especially in the “developing” world, and from the other species of earth. I don’t want to participate in this grand theft any more, but the task of changing my own way of life toward subsistence in the midst of a society set up for resource gobbling feels close to overwhelming. I am 57 years old and doing hard physical work like digging garden beds does not come easy, though I can still do the work. My biggest fear is of isolation. As a radical lesbian feminist, ecofeminist, and land dyke I am already far outside the social mainstream. How alone will I be as I cut back on trips to town, eating out occasionally, and talk and live more of a life of subsistence?
Talk of “sustainable living” has reached the mainstream, but most people in the U.S., including our leaders, environmentalists and ordinary citizens, believe that the needed changes are largely in technology and efficiency. The scenario goes something like this. We may have cars run on gasoline now, but soon we will have plug in hybrids or cars run only on electricity (though the electricity may still be largely generated by coal!) The switch to sustainability can be as easy as throwing out your incandescent light bulbs and screwing in compact fluorescent bulbs. These changes will be initiated largely by government and business. As consumers people will do their part by buying the new lower carbon, more efficient products as they become available and, hopefully, affordable. Our former president instructed the nation to shop to combat terrorism and it looks like we may be expected to shop our way out of global warming too. (Not that either strategy is sound.)
This Business Almost as Usual (BAAU) – just make it low carbon and environmentally friendly – vision of sustainability may be comforting to many people, but has come to seem Undesirable, Inadequate and Unlikely to me. The primary problem is that a change in technology will do nothing to remove the real basis of the problem: the patriarchal power structures and capitalist economies that ensure inequity among people and among nations, produce massive pollution as they promote overproduction and overconsumption, and fail to honor the earth and all her creatures.
The globalized capitalist patriarchy that has created worldwide inequity and a depleted planet requires inequity to function. As Maria Mies explained (in her book Patriarchy & Accumulation on a World Scale) capitalist patriarchy cannot function without colonies to provide free or cheap resources and labor. For Mies, “colonies” includes “developing” countries (former colonies), women, and nature. Nature and subsistence economies are the essentials for human life and capitalist economies are like a parasite draining life from their host. For example, women typically bear children, socialize children, maintain home and family, all within the subsistence economy. These activities are essential to human life and to capitalist patriarchy (where would business be without the next generation of workers?), but are unrecognized and unpaid by capitalism. To satisfy its need for continual growth the capitalist economy constantly seeks new human and natural resources to appropriate. Therefore, as long as globalized, capitalist patriarchy continues it will produce poverty and ecological destruction.
Turning to subsistence living is not a cold turkey type of change for me. I’m slowly negotiating the change and can’t fully envision what my life may look like in five or ten years. Cutting back on carbon emissions seems primary because global warming poses such a huge threat. Our homestead uses an odd mix of beneficial and not so great energy practices. Electricity is all solar. We have just eight panels and live very carefully within our means. The house is also passive solar, with huge recycled south windows and is very toasty on sunny winter days. Our only other sources of heat are an energy efficient, low emission Harman Oakwood woodstove and secondarily, for zero degree nights, an antique wood cookstove. So we don’t use fossil fuels except for cooking. Our partially owner built house is small (800 square feet), but not very tightly sealed so one of our major focuses is sealing up the air leaks and figuring out how to keep the heat inside in the cold months. And I’m just not going to get into talking about rural life and automobile dependency right now, other than to say that there is no way eight solar panels will ever run an automobile!