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At the duck pond on the campsite – even better than YouTube!

Venetia Ansell

Ideas, inspiration and ducks: Letter from an Ecologise Camp participant


The camp is a great opportunity to meet people who are trying to make the transition from urban to rural or at least high impact to low impact lifestyles, to find inspiration, role models, ideas and perhaps answers to those questions and challenges that well meaning conventional thinking relatives and friends keep hurling at you.

Venetia Kotamraju, Svarga On Earth

We learnt so much this weekend at the Ecologise camp:

–that electric cars are more polluting than regular ones

–that opening up borders could dramatically decrease energy consumption

–that human excreta, once composted, can be used to grow your vegetables

–that waste is a resource in the wrong place

–that a handful of children can get through a boot-load of watermelon in a matter of hours

I was in and out of the workshop sessions, as were other parents with small children (of which there were many, along with the cows, chickens, ducks, dogs and cats), so won’t attempt to summarise the many important discussions. Instead here are some of the ideas we were introduced to that have really charged us up.

Sagar Dhara, a scholar of energetics who has written many research papers on the topic, talked about civilisational collapse. Britain and America industrialised and urbanised so rapidly in part because they could depend upon their colonies to provide the resources they needed. India seems to be on a similar trajectory in terms of urbanisation and industrialisation but it is simply not possible, he says. Predatory cities require more than rural India can provide. Cities will run out of the food, water and fossil fuels that they need to survive, but don’t themselves produce, and implode leading to a mass exodus for those that have the resources to get out, and starvation for those that can’t.

If this sounds apocalyptic and far too distant to be worried about, peak oil is a better known phenomenon with a clear analogy in Cuba’s ‘Special Period’. In 1989 Russia stopped all supplies of fossil fuels, fertilisers and other essential imports to Cuba. With no food available to buy, and no chemicals to farm with, Cubans had no choice but to turn to small-scale organic farming, assisted by the government. And with no petrol or diesel people were forced to cycle or walk everywhere. And so on. It is this kind of sudden forced change we are looking at if we don’t start to decrease our energy use today, or ‘power down’ as it is called.

We and many others have long been considering moving out of the city for personal reasons – health, both physical and mental; our children; a more meaningful life etc. Security, particularly financial security, is an ever present concern though. How will I pay the school fees (or university fees if we decide to unschool)? How will I support my elderly parents? What happens if I get ill and there’s no health insurance?

To stave off such concerns, we stockpile our earnings, invest in a house in the city because that will always be a safe (and at the moment very profitable) investment, create a pension fund, buy stocks and shares or gold through the new gold scheme, or perhaps a plot in some new residential layout which we can sell for double the price in a couple of years when that area develops. Very sensible say our parents, bank managers, stockbrokers, the media. But if things are turned upside down and the stockmarket collapses, cities empty out and loans turn bad, then all those sources of security will be worth nothing. How many of us keep more than a few thousand rupees at home? It’s all safely in the bank. But in Greece, pensioners’ money was safely in the bank and now they can’t access it at all.

In such a scenario, buying productive land, land where you can grow crops and which may not rise much in price in an overheated market economy but will always remain of high value (price vs. value – important distinction), is perhaps the safest thing of all. And to develop the idea further, perhaps we can see job security – both our own and that of our children – in terms of useful practical skills rather than the kind of abstract, virtual abilities so prized today. Perhaps learning to grow their own food will be as important for our children than learning how to use a computer or pass an exam.

Whether or not you are convinced by such ideas – and to read more about them please do visit the Ecologise website where many useful articles and papers on the subject are available – the camp is a great opportunity to meet like-minded people, most of whom are trying to make the transition from urban to rural or at least high-impact to low-impact lifestyles, and to find inspiration, role models, ideas and perhaps most important answers to all of those questions and challenges that well meaning conventional-thinking relatives and friends keep hurling at you.

The next edition of the workshop is likely to be on a farm near Bangalore in April. Check the site for more details.

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Thank you George and Susheela for a beautiful weekend in such a beautiful setting, and thank you to Vijayendra and the whole Ecologise team for inspiring and energising us.

You can view the original blog post with photographs here

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