Jul 4, 2011 - Podcast    8 Comments

Thriving During Challenging Times

As the metaphorical waves of globalization crash hard upon the beachheads of peak oil, climate change and unsustainable economic growth we need to prepare to be able to thrive during challenging times. Cam Mather is an author and speaker who lives off-the-grid and enjoys “showing others that the best thing for the planet is now the best thing for your bank account”. During the interview with Cam you will learn about the cost and complexity of so-called “alternative” forms of home energy, the delusions and dangers of living a corporately structured lifestyle and why embracing change voluntarily or living locally is a step all of us should be taking to prepare for the challenging times ahead.

Show Notes

Music Notes


  • Aloha! (And take off eh!) —

    It’s nice to become acquainted with your fine podcast effort. Nonetheless, in listening to your guest, I’m compelled to express my incredulity at raps about “off-grid sustainability” and such, that seem obligated to state that we’d best check with our insurance agent, in the quest to have a freezer and to sustain a bourgeois lifestyle. Surely proponents of this stripe of “sustainability” realize that maintaining these levels of energy input (whether its from friggen’ high-tech abundant used-kitty-litter technology or any other energy source) is what furthers inequity in our society. There’s simply no way that everyone is gonna have access to that 100K $ or what not that gets you to your frozen strawberry utopia. Seems to me that its high-time to cut the crap about building code and insurance, and all the other professional rackets out there. Am I missing something?
    Darren (student of the Nearings, Ken Kern, Ivan Illich, and countless others)

    • I agree that it might be too bold to believe that a solar panel on every roof and an electric car in every garage can scale to 7 billion people. That is continuing the belief in what James Howard Kunstler calls techno-grandiosity in the latest episode #279 of C-Realm podcast which your blog says you’ve just discovered. Around 49 minutes in he has a good riff that I think you’ll dig.

      It may only be slightly less unsustainable to maintain an off-grid-but-still-consumerist-driven lifestyle, but that step off the edge in the right direction should lessen some of the impact as we hit rock bottom with our societal addiction to fossil fuels. Maybe we manage to land in a smoldering crater and take a few decades to re-orient ourselves instead of being blown to smithereens?

  • Thanks for your response. I agree that quasi-subsistence paradigms, amounting to less centralization, have got to be a better approach than not. Nonetheless, the sociologist Ivan Illich wrote an essay called Ennergy and Equity whereby he makes a pretty good case for the sheer quanta of energy, beyond a certain threshold, as the crux of inequity — regardless of the source. As with much of his scoops, they are troubling to a lot of accepted beliefs and supposed legitimacy of our status quo. It seems to me there is a memetic quality worthy of our attention in these times of transformation. Here’s a shamelessly dropped url to a condensation of said essay for those interested.


    • As Cam touched on several times during the interview, energy conservation is the single biggest way that one can have a positive impact on their energy consumption today. Being efficient with energy – reducing the amount one uses achieve the desired result – is a step along the path towards reducing the overall amount used and new forms of renewable energy technology play an increasingly important role in that equation.

      I skimmed through the essay from Illich which you link to on your site. He has some well-reasoned positions, particularly about the impact that living in a society which presents many false dichotomies as actual choices has on the population. However, I think I disagree with the general premise that there is an arbitrary point beyond which inequity is destined to occur. Whether at highest-energy consumption levels or the lowest, if a society is not made up of an engaged, empathetic, knowledgeable and articulate
      citizenry, there will probably always be a 1% wanting to dominate the other 99 to serve their own self-interests more than the rest.

      Starting off the section titled ‘Speed-stunned imagination’ Illich suggests that, “Past a certain threshold of energy consumption, the transportation industry dictates the configuration of social space.” But the transportation industry (urban planners, vehicle manufacturers, fuel producers, etc) is just a subset of the global population that we have all let build (or confine) the social spaces into forms that serve their interests more than the rest.

      Illich covers the huge impact that ball-bearings and the wheel have had on the way in which society organizes itself. He characterizes them as the last of the great Neolithic inventions suggesting that, “The invention of the wheel at the dawn of civilization took the load off man’s back and put it onto the barrow”. Fossil fuels as power source and the internal combustion engine increased the performance capabilities of our species further still. But they kept the fundamental equation of consuming finite resources as units of energy the same. Just another advancement along the path that had been transitioning from human, to horse, wood-fired steam in fits and starts before.

      This is why I see the renewables as being so significant and disagree with Illich’s main point about energy and equity into the future. The sources of power for solar, wind, geothermal and hydro-electric are for all intensive purposes limitless. If only we can adapt, alter or eliminate the hierarchical models and systems of control that were built to support a finite resource world view that maximizes profit above all else, we have or are in the process of discovering the technology and knowledge to be able to change that equation of energy equity for everyone.

  • In fairness, I gotta say that my snazzy new “mi-fi” internet rig farted out about 30-some minutes into the show, so I probably missed what I should have listened to before firing off my polemic. (Incidentally, for the first 13 years of this off-grid owner-built homestead, a 10 buck/mo. dial-up had sufficed. While edifying dialogs and other mp3 audio has been the upside — 50 more clams/mo. has undercut one of my mantras : “a reduced need to earn”. Such “development” of more acceleration definitely relates to the current topic; perhaps for another post though.)

    I much appreciate you taking the time to respond. Particularly, in your disagreement with Illich’s premise, you are participating in the dialectical manner that must certainly be part of our needed education in these new paths that we will surely tread.

    Still, I’d add that the “radical monopolies” that he cites, such as in transportation, come about from surpassing thresholds of energy (acceleration) that are far from arbitrary. The actual rate of speed, and the attendant policies, and resultant distances, are what has essentially taken self-powered transit “off the board” for so much of our society (certainly in the states by and large).

    By car, my homestead is 30 minutes from most goods and services and my part-time teaching gig that provides my old friend: cash-flow. Also, the jet/car paradigm is what has allowed me to reach this place and so on. Frankly, an urban paradigm has become more intriguing of late; but is always a mixed bag, yes?

    Still, I’ve got to take issue with your premise that “for all intents and purposes” that renewable energy is limitless, and if we only adopt fairness, everything will be groovy (paraphrased for sure). Equity (fairness) in society is much more that equally consuming energy. The very hierarchy IS generated from the radical monopolies that necessarily result from energy capitalism, if you will. Don’t know if you’ve noticed but the technophillic embrace of information, and the industry behind it, brews up similar social inequity whereby genuine human (unplugged) interaction essentially becomes the biggest threat to information capitalist agenda. When you see that in education, from cradle to grave, it’s pretty spooky. For Illich, at least at that time, he posited politically enacted limits to energy inputs as an approach to tweakage. While it’s hard to imagine that in our current climate, nature has a way of casting its own sublime vote.

    (Jeez, I sort of feel like Count Floyd now — undoubtedly one Canada’s scaaariest exports, heh.)

    Thanks again for engaging and I look forward to further listening (and to complete episodes before sending a comment!) Aloha.

  • […] the last few days I have been engaged in a wonderful comment conversation with Darren, from Island Notes, in response to the podcast episode Thriving During Challenging […]

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