Monday, 21 November 2011

Here, Have My Job (or how my not being employed will benefit the world)

Just a quick post today to share a point I read on Early Retirement Extreme, a blog about gaining financial independence. Part of what worried me about the idea of homesteading was the thought that I'd not be contributing to society. A point was made on ERE that, especially at the moment, with unemployment so high, removing one's self from the work force actually reduces competition for jobs, so in that sense it's good. This really helped resolve my issue, because I realise I can still be a valuable and productive member of society even if not employed. I can run my own business, volunteer, develop some useful hobbies, focus on the homestead. By not being formally employed, I'd be giving my job to someone else. If I was then running my own business, I could maybe even employ someone else. That's two extra people employed than before!

My gift to someone else.

Also I want to say thank you to all the new readers and followers. Actually I'd like to thank the older ones too.I didn't realise until I had a flick through this blogs stats the other day but there have actually been quite a few folks coming by, including in the first month a lot from Romania and now from Russia apparently. Interesting and hello. Special thanks to Stephen and Phelan for sending people this way.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Green Energy (or how much should we sacrifice for the sake of our values?)

The dilemma: how much should we sacrifice, or ask others to sacrifice for our values? Particularly if the others have different values than our own?

I've been struggling with a decision recently. Not a massive one, but given my current situation a fairly important one. The decision? Whether or not to sign up for green electricity, given the increased cost.

The reason I've struggled with this is that I'm currently unemployed, again, and thanks to stupid depression, that's not likely to change in the near future. The budget is tight, and I'm not the best at sticking with one at the best of times.

While I'm living on minimal income, I've been constantly wavering between going for the cheapest option to make life easier for myself, and picking the slightly more costly option that is commensurate with my values. For several weeks I've gone back and forth depending on my mood and outlook, but finally a couple days ago I settled on doing what I feel is the right thing.

Deciding to go for a green energy scheme, I signed up for Equigas from Ebico and electricity from Good Energy, a 100% renewable energy company.

Now, there were other companies, notably nPower, who also provided certified green energy schemes that would match my electricity usage with 100% renewables and cost a fifth less than Good Energy. So why Good Energy?

nPower are primarily using non-renewable sources for electricity and just topping up with renewable to match my demand.

Good Energy use 100% renewable energy sources and have smaller generators spread throughout the country in hundreds of different areas. Local generators support communities and provide jobs across the country. In addition, Good Energy's hydroelectric power comes from small watermills as opposed to damns which have a questionable environmental impact.

For me, I like the idea of supporting a company that is dedicated to developing green electricity usage and local projects and exclusively uses renewable sources. To paraphrase from their (obviously biased but still valid) literature: it's more like buying from a farmers' market than a supermarket.

As for gas, this is a tough one and still not quite resolved.

I signed up the other day for (non-profit energy provider) Ebico's Equigas. This provides gas at a low flat rate regardless of payment method or usage, which for me as someone using a prepay meter and little gas compared to the national average is very attractive, plus it has a positive social impact by providing more affordable gas. The downside is that there is no mention of the source of the gas on their website, nor of any projects to increase renewable gas production.

Enter Ecotricity. They produce a large volume of their gas from waste products and are developing technology to produce it en masse from natural algae. The downside is the cost is 1.5 times that of Ebico for the amount of gas I would use. Spread over the course of the year that's not the end of the world, and the sums involved wouldn't typically be seen as wallet-busting. However as someone who is striving for financial independence in the long run but who's values drive him to lean towards Ecotricity for it's renewable gas projects, the conflict of ideals is challenging.

My mind is still changeable though. While I am inclined to pick Ecotricity, I am waiting on Equigas to get in touch with me regarding the exact sources of their gas. That will be the clincher either way.

One day I'll be off grid and all this will be a thing of the past. But until then I am struggling to balance my responsibility to the Earth and society, with my responsibility for helping ensure that WIB and I can afford to live while we try to get stable.

Any thoughts, comments and opinions are more than welcome.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Ethics of Homesteading (or will the world fall into chaos if I grow my own food?)


I would just like to point out that I am fully intending to homestead one day and the point of this post is to explore the ethics behind my decision. I am not ragging on homesteading. :)

I’m big on society. Splitting all our essential tasks up and divvying them out between us so that each task is performed by specialists such as farmers, power companies, builders, engineers etc. has allowed humanity to develop into the flourishing, creative and high achieving species that we are today. The formation of societies wherein individuals work together for more than just protection has freed up the time of many to perform non-essential tasks. I guess I should clarify what I mean by essential and non-essential.

Essential tasks are those which cater for our most basic needs. I’m sure most people know what their basic needs for existence are but I’m going to use Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs to illustrate my point:

So according to Maslow, our basic needs are: food, air, drink, shelter, warmth, sleep and sex. While I guess sex is an important biological need, it’s not vital to individual survival so I’m going to ignore it for now. (Although I guess societies have a specialised group of people to cater to that need too).

Straight away it’s easy to see how societies have people to cater for our basic needs. Though initially I was a bit uncertain of how society provides air, I think it’s fair to say that government pollution regulations are now providing that in a sense. Catering for our basic biological needs doesn’t require the whole of the population which frees up plenty of people to fulfil our higher needs, from safety through to self-actualisation. And that’s what makes society so friggin’ awesome.
My issue with homesteading stems from the idea of removing one’s self from society. While I believe people should be able to ‘opt out’ of society, would it be right to do so?

Now I know that many homesteading families have at least one member still in employment and so are still contributing to society in that fashion. However, I question the effect of their reduced economic input. Spending less money on food, which is often a reasonably significant portion of their expenses, means less cash flow. How negative is the impact this would have? Probably not very at all.
But what if a large number of the population decided to homestead? Perhaps the cash flow would simply shift; rather than going to supermarkets and corporations it would move through local markets and farmers, growers and breeders. But it would never be as much as if all food were to be purchased through the supermarkets, due to the nature of homesteading, i.e., seed-saving and breeding your live stock to replenish those slaughtered.

Of course the reality is that only a tiny fraction of the population homesteads, or has the desire to, so the overall economic impact is tiny. Even if there were vast numbers of people looking to homestead, there’s a natural limit due to land availability. Although there is more than enough land for every family to own an acre in the UK, and a few acres in the US, not all of that land is farmable. Even if it were that would deprive us of the space and man power needed to sustain society as we know it, full of the luxuries and benefits that we enjoy and are hardly likely to give up.

Thankfully that’s not going to happen.

So what was the point of this post? Well, it is an introduction to the big-picture impact of homesteading. In coming articles I am going to address aspects of homesteading that include: a more detailed look at economics, energy, responsibility to the less fortunate, responsibility to society, and society’s responsibility to homesteaders.

I apologise for the weird flow and lack of focus in this post, I’ll probably write a more coherent revised version in the future, but for now this will do.
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