The Downshifters Guide to a Resilient Future

RetroSuburbia: The Downshifters Guide to a Resilient Future

by David Holmgren

Melliodora (2020)

 

The online version of the book is available for pay-what-you-feel at http://online.retrosuburbia.com/ https://retrosuburbia.com/

With the global economic crash predicted to result from the COVID-19 lockdown, the publication of RetroSuburbia earlier this month is a happy coincidence.

This book is based on the premise that our current globalized economic system is inherently unstable. Although the exact mechanism that will topple global capitalism is impossible to predict, Holmgren believes it will most likely relate to one (our more) of the following three crisis points: 1) major resource depletion (oil, water, topsoil, phosphate, collapsed fishstocks, etc); 2) catastrophic climate change; or 3) the collapse of a massive real estate or share market bubble (as occurred in 2008).

Under any of these scenarios, the vast majority of us will experience a reduced standard of living. As jobs disappear and personal income declines, people will have no choice but to downsize their consumption levels. As it becomes harder and harder to rely on the capitalist system to meet basic needs (food, water, energy, Internet, postal service, health, security, etc), they will need to become more self-sufficient and rely more on family, friends, and neighbors. As they downsize their lifestyles, more extended families and even friends and neighbors will live together in the same households and produce most of their own food.

Holmgren predicts this catastrophic event may occur so suddenly that people will have no time to prepare. Securing a fertile rural homestead won’t be an option for most of us. For the most part, we will be stuck with the land and house we live in now.

In essence, RetroSuburbia is a manual we can use to “retrofit” the space we currently occupy to help us better cope with what he describes as “our energy descent future.”

Holmgren seems to have thought of everything, covering a range of topics, including how to assess a property for optimal food production, heating your home off-grid, water harvesting, gray water systems, recycling human waste, the mechanics of shared living, soil fertility and contamination, seed saving, sustainable transport, managing our own health and security, raising self-reliant resilient children, and conflict resolution.

Holmgren is the co-originator of permaculture* technology, in my view Australia’s most important export.


*Permaculture is a set of design principles centered on whole systems thinking, simulating, or directly utilizing the patterns and resilient features observed in natural ecosystems. It uses these principles in a growing number of fields including regenerative agriculture, rewilding, and community resilience

Why We Want What We Don’t Need

The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need

Consumer Protection Hub (2018)

Film Review

This documentary, narrated by Juliet Schor (author of the 1999 book The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need), examines the political, economic and psychological forces responsible for compulsive consumption in all developed countries.

The most important factors Schor identifies are

1. The movement of women (starting in the 1970s) out of economically homogeneous neighborhoods into the workplace – exposing them to lifestyles¬† (cars, homes, clothes etc) of coworkers across the economic spectrum. This would lead to expansion into the working class of competitive consumption. Previously “keeping up with the Jones’s” was mainly limited to affluent neighborhoods.

2. The rapid increase in income equality that began in the 1970s. Corporations strenuously resisted efforts by workers to benefit (through increased wages and decreased work hours) from widespread productivity gains. Instead Wall Street helped fuel competitive consumption via usurious consumer credit (ie credit cards).

3. The tendency of TV dramas and sitcoms to portray $100,000+ annual incomes as average and normal. Schor offers the portrayal of Bill Cosby’s family as typical African Americans and Friends characters as typical mid-twenties roommates (there’s no way the characters depicted could have afforded Manhattan apartments).

According to Schor, the net effect of these influences has been growing demand for mcmansion-size homes, gas guzzling SUVs, brand name athletic footwear and casual apparel and niche coffee.

Satisfying these cravings has led to massive personal debt levels (approximately 50% of US GDP), grueling work schedules, virtual disappearance of family life and growing unwillingness of voters to be taxed for education, parks, libraries and other public services.

The self-help recommendations Schor gives for curtailing compulsive consumption habits are

1. Controlling your irrational desires by limiting mall visits, surfing Internet shopping sites and exposure to catalogues and fashion magazines.

2. Making a conscious choice to downshift to a lifestyle that reduces your consumption (eg Voluntary Simplicity*).

3. Demanding corporate and regulatory policies that allow people to work shorter hours.

4. Lobbying for a progress consumption tax (aka luxury tax).

5. Learning to recognize and question advertising messaging.

6. Learning to connect with people and community rather than competing with them.


*Voluntary Simplicity, or simple living, is a way of life that rejects the high-consumption, materialistic lifestyles of consumer cultures and affirms what is often just called ‘the simple life’ or ‘downshifting.’