Here's the thing though: Sharon Astyk is an exceptional person willing to make great personal changes in her life to do what she thinks is right, up to and including completely altering every facet of her daily existence.
I have to say I admire her dedication immenselyy, but I'm not certain I'm willing to give up my prepackaged Trader Joes Indian food, or use a composting toilet, or farm every square inch of my yard.
Cool? Yes. An assload of work? Also yes.
I know that eventually many things I love will become either unavailable due to shortages or impractical due to rising petroleum prices (Internet, mangoes, car trips, etc) but I really enjoy many of those things, and if at some point soon I suspect/ know they will be taken from me, I plan to (not excessively) enjoy them while I still have them.
My house uses about the average for electricity, maybe a little above- but mostly because there are 5 people living in my home, including four adults. (we rent out the master bedroom to a couple) If I divided it into 2 households, which would be more accurate, or per capita (excluding the baby, of course) it looks pretty good.
Anyway, I enjoy the idea of living simply.
I would like to live a more streamlined, elegant, natural life- less TV, fewer lights, less heating and a/c, more misting bottles of cold water, afternoons gardening, and natural light. But I don't want to do these things because we will soon deplete our worlds natural resources.
I want to do these things because they sound nice.
With nearly seven billion people on this planet, I see depletion as being absolutely inevitable.
We're like an algae bloom- a red tide. We've acquired the ability to extract and utilize massive natural resources, but as they dwindle, so too will we, but not willingly, I think- and probably not gently- algae don't say
"Oh, sorry, there doesn't seem to be enough for all of us anymore so I guess me and my family will just starve and let you chow down. Cheerio, mate!"
Are you gonna eat that?
My best friend (and great mind) Paris said to me, regarding someone who attempts to live a carbon neutral life:
"It's like a fart in a blizzard."
I laughed hysterically when she said this, only partially because of it's crass charm. More than anything, it's so deftly accurate that I think perhaps the saying was coined specifically for this occasion.
I understand the virtue of setting a good example, or consuming less because you feel morally obligated to pick up some of the slack of your energy-obese countrymen. I understand these things, and I see that using less is a good way to prepare for a future of using less, but if this is the last decade I'll ever be able to have my a/c, then by George I'm not going to feel guilty for enjoying a little artificial cooling in the brutal August afternoons.
We are, as a species, going to use up whatever energy and resources we can glom our claws into, and I'm not going to make a dent in that, no matter how much of my amenities I discard.
However, I'm not going to be a conscientious consumer, and I will try to use as little as I comfortably can simply because I aesthetically enjoy simplicity, I prefer organic food, I feel morally better about refurbishing instead of buying new, and the bus is convenient and cheap. There are tons of reasons I have for not going out and just being a resource black hole, but none of them is because we're running low.
Since I wholeheartedly believe that we are headed for a (possibly violent and brutal) collapse of industrialized civilization, and that said collapse is certainly coming within my lifetime, I don't see why the hell I should give up running water now, if I might be forced to do it eventually anyway.
Sharon Astyk argues convincingly that it's a great preparation technique, and that you buffer yourself for inevitable change by not depending on the things that are likely to become scarce, and I do see the merits of this approach, but at least for now I'm not willing to give up my Xbox.
Maybe I'll change my mind at some point soon, but for now. I'm just not willing to dedicate the time and energy to keeping chickens or using a wood stove (though they do sound kind of fun).
I would like to have, or to learn to use all of these things as back-ups, however. I've seriously considered building a simple brick oven in my backyard, learning to can and root cellar produce, etc.
I'm also beginning to try and garden as intensively as my small, shady yard permits, and have just invested in some wonderful blueberry bushes to occupy some of the choicest spots. I would like to make the transition as easy on myself and my family as I comfortably can, the key concept here being comfortably. If and when electricity becomes scarce, I will just have to make do without my fridge and stove. It will suck, truly, and be a really big pain in the ass, but I'll learn to cope.
We all will learn to cope.
We'll have to.
Preparedness is surely valuable- and asceticism is noble, indeed. Depending on as few external inputs as you can is admirable. If I lost my job in the conventional economy my family would likely be up shit creek. We'd be able to scrape by if we canceled netflix, Internet, our phones, and let the car get repoed- but boy, I sure don't want to let go of those things until I have to.
It seems to me that being aware of what's coming provides a huge level of preparedness in and of itself. I can take this time that we have left in this era of plenty to stock up on things like hand tools, re insulate my basement, and learn new skills at my leisure.
It's way too easy to get overwhelmed and stressed out about the future of our world, and may be good for those of us who are immersed in learning about this grim stuff to step back for a minute and take some of the pressure off.
I really admire the folks who do things like set up transition towns or exist on subsistence lifestyles. Maybe I'll get there someday too, but not yet.