Alternative energy means alternative living

On the importance of being grounded in a ‘Place’

The implication of electricity we produce at home from solar, wind or water is that it is an alternative to that produced over the commercial grid. While it is attractive to consider it as an alternative, especially when the public grid blacks-out, it is perhaps more important to consider why there is a grid in the first place. We live in the age of convenience, and in fact in our current western culture we have evolved to spend most of our lives in the mode of intellectualization as we sit behind computers, and produce another scientific publication, another magazine, another report, another computer analysis, another binary something that really has no meaning to the phenomenal world of Nature that is spinning outside our office or home.

The great American environmental sage Gary Snyder, when asked at an international forum what might be the single best thing for an individual to do to conserve the environment, replied: “Stay put”. This is because by staying put in a ‘Place’ we become rooted to its natural resources, we develop a relationship to those resources, and most importantly we learn how to use those resources. Necessity is the greatest teacher. This is the basis of culture — that is, humans becoming attuned and intimate with their surrounding natural environment.

Unique culture manifests in many ways — for example, the generations of families that grew their own vegetables, cut their own firewood, built their own homes and boats in rural Newfoundland, or the phenomenal stepped terraces that grew the food for the Inca in Peru. All of this comes from people having an intimate relationship with the ‘Place’, the land or specifically Nature. There is no Nature in the binary land of computers, whether we are transferring even more information or supposedly “socializing” on Facebook. So in order to become functional in alternative energy requires that we evaluate and evolve how we are living our lives because we will be required to truly interact with Nature in order to develop these means.

The need for self inquiry

In the first article in this series, I implied that people needed to reflect on lifestyle if considerations of alternative energy were to be meaningful. My brother took exception to this, and noted that I shouldn’t be implying how people should be living because everyone was ‘out there’ just trying to do their best. Is this so? In the 1800s, Henry David Thoreau wrote his classic treatise Waldon wherein he espoused that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, …. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind…” He understood that this quiet desperation is the water in which we swim. He saw that we mostly lead our lives blithely unaware of it. We simply don’t see it.

Stephen Cope notes that each of us has our silent War With Reality. And whatever that WWR is, its result is always a pervasive sense of lack, the dissatisfaction with the moment. The mind has been under intensive study by eastern yogis for millennia because of the need to understand why it is so difficult for our minds to rest in the present moment. Their conclusion is that this unhappiness are the forces of grasping, aversion, and delusion buried deep in the psyche. In Yoga these are called the kleshnas or ‘afflictions’. This rolls out in our western culture as the obsession to acquire more and more material things, as if a larger house, a new car, a cottage in the country are somehow going to bring us to a place of happiness. In fact, it is exactly this mode of unconscious behavior that leads us onto the road of ‘quiet desperation’, as we extend our lines of credit and become more hostage to the banks and the day-to-day drudgery of our “jobs” that we really don’t like. The reality is that we cannot truly “stay put” and occupy a Place while conducting these superfluous lifestyles. Alternative energy comes with and through alternative living that requires we ground ourselves into a place.

Being present in a place

When we start to assess our lifestyles, we come to understand means to achieve alternatives to the material madness that is so mainstream these decades. Rather than doing what our neighbour is doing we find that Place to live that doesn’t require a life-long mortgage, we buy used vehicles rather than new ones, we limit our driving, and we start to evolve to Thoreau’s mantra to “Simplify, simplify, simplify”. Cope notes that this is because it transmutes a life of quiet desperation into a life of simple presence.

You might ask, what it is that we are then present to? By being in a place where we are truly living we can fully experience the present moment where we actually are, rather than craving some past experience or notion of retirement and peace in the future. We need to guard against the desires to have everything, all those conveniences that it seems everyone else has in the global economy. Economical and environmental sustainability require that we ground ourselves into a Place. Through such Place, culture and community evolve. It is important that we not sacrifice the rare and unique for the common and mundane. It is the Newfoundland culture that makes this province one of the top coastal destinations in the world. So we could even see Newfoundland culture as a component of alternative living! Why do we love these ‘Pine Clad Hills’? We are here in our Place where the wonders of Nature swirl about us in the Great Mystery of Life. We can choose to enjoy this bliss while we grow our food, watch flowers bloom, and see the wind turbine turn to give another boost to our own battery banks.

Ian Goudie, Ph.D. is President of the Tree Of Life Sustainability Project Inc., a not-for-profit association located in St. Catherines, Salmonier, St. Mary’s Bay, NL.

Editor’s note: If you would like to respond to this or any article on, or if you would like to address an issue we haven’t yet covered, we welcome letters to the editor and consider each of them for publication in our Letters section. You can email yours to: justin at theindependent dot ca. Not all letters will be printed, but all will be read.


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