Why Adapt In Place? And How?

Sharon August 5th, 2008

Welcome to the first day of my Adapting-In-Place class.  The course will focus on what I think may be the biggest question of all - how do we go on where we are with what we have in this new world?  I’m very excited about doing this class - because while I think there will be many relocations and radical changes, most people are going to make the best of the infrastructure we’ve created over the last years, simply because we have no choice. 

I personally think that there is insufficient time to remake our world dramatically.  Now there are people who would argue with me about this - and they may even have a case.  But I think there are compelling reasons to believe that we may not have enough time to take a world created for cheap energy and transform it into one that can handle expensive energy and replace much of that with renewable power.  The idea that we will be able to make a massive societal retrofit occur rapidly depends in large part on, I think, the idea that the current economic crisis is just an unpleasant coincidence that happens to be occurring just as peak oil and climate change are really hitting us.  This, I think is a radical error in reasoning - in fact, as nearly every serious analyst who really grasps peak oil gets, the economic limitations are part and parcel of our present crisis.  That is, our ability to do new things is going to be more and more constrained over time.

Which means that most of us aren’t going to be living in new urbanist walkable communities or in perfect ecovillages - we’re going to be living where we are.  Some projects will be done - but the idea that we’re going to do a full-scale overhaul of our society seems deeply wrong.  Which means that most of us are going to be limited to what we can accomplish ourselves, using our personal resources, what resources are available through family, friends, community and governments of various levels.  Much of our way of life may have been, as Kunstler refers to suburbia, the greatest-misallocation of resources in history, but is how we allocated the resources - we’ve done this build out, and we’re going to be living with the results.

While the current situation has created mobility for some people - those who have already lost jobs and homes, those who know they are in a situation that can’t possibly improve -on the other hand, for many people, the current situation works to keep them in place.  Nothing is selling in their area - so they can’t sell their house and move to another.  Or they are afraid to change jobs, because the loss of seniority would lead to making them easy targets for layoffs in this economy.  It may not be possible any longer to get back what they owe on their house - but it may still make sense to keep paying the mortgage, because they expect extended family to move in, or because they can grow food on the land.  They may be tied down by elderly or disabled family members who can’t be easily moved, by a shared custody agreement, or by need to access to certain kinds of medical care.  Family - biological or chosen - may tie them to an area, as may familiarity with the climate and region.  We may decide that strong community ties make an imperfect area (and all areas are imperfect) enough to keep us there.  Or we may lack the resources to move.

And staying in place isn’t always the best of a bad lot of options - sometimes it is simply the best option.  There’s been a tendency to rhetorically abandon areas we don’t know what to do with - inner cities, exurbs, suburbia - all of these are dismissed sometimes, as though this will magically vacate them.  The fact is that 300 million people in the US or 60 million in Britain cannot simply all go out to the countryside to their own bunkers, unless we wish to create a new suburbia, with barbed-wire, each bunker lined up in the countryside next to its neighbors ;-) .  Nor can we move everyone into cities - there aren’t jobs enough, nor room enough to grow food.  Food alone will mean that the countryside and suburbs (near the city markets, often built on good farmland) will have to be populated - and the cities were usually cities for reasons long before oil - those reasons won’t go away.

More and more, I am advising people to stay put, or at most move to a place fairly near and like the one they live in now.  I don’t think there’s enough time to adapt to new climates and environmental conditions, to retrofit new homes and build communities - now that doesn’t mean some people won’t have to move.  But if you can stay put, I think there are some real advantages for most people - it takes *time* to build community, to build soil, to learn the bus lines, to get into the carpools, to find the cheap produce, to learn about pests and diseases and how to keep cool or warm.  Right now, I think time is in short supply.

That last, I think is the biggest reason I wanted to do this class - because even those who hadn’t planned to face hard times where they are may find themselves stuck there.  And there are a huge number of ways we can adapt and mitigate our situation - but it will be much easier to begin now.


24 Responses to “Why Adapt In Place? And How?”

  1. Verde says:

    For me the climate differance is so important. We went to school in the south and love it - the rain, the mild weather… but we didn’t know how to deal with mold or snakes or what was edible in the woods.

    We are from the southwest, and though it is arid and hard to work with, that is what we know.

    I hope we can stay in our house - we are putting a lot of work into it being a perminant place for us.

    I would have taken this class but we are leaving for a vacation.

  2. Lisa Z says:

    Hear! Hear! You have the most sensible approach to this that I’ve read. I’m looking forward to hearing much more on the subject.

    We are choosing to stay in our small city, surrounded by farmland but in a dense urban neighborhood. Our neighbors are awesome and we have an amazing community of sharing resources and skills and beer, yes beer! (Lots of impromptu get-togethers and it’s really nice to have a professional brewer on the block.)

    I do hope that more people will continue to start small organic farms. I also hope more folks will “urban homestead” as we are. But I know that’s not practical for everyone. As I said, I’ll look forward to your ideas in this series.

    Lisa in MN

  3. Survivalist News » Casaubon’s Book: Why Adapt In Place? And How? says:

    [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Why Adapt In Place? And How? Welcome to the first day of my Adapting-In-Place class. The course will focus on what I think may be the biggest question of all - how do we go on where we are with what we have in this new world? I’m very excited about doing this class - because while I think there will be many relocations and radical changes, most people are going to make the best of the infrastructure we’ve created over the last years, simply because we have no choice. Be A Survivor: Reading Its Not Just For Entertainment August 5th, 2008 [...]

  4. Kasa says:

    Ack, I think this is going to be depressing, albeit informative, for someone who is (hopefully) going to be moving somewhere brand new for school. But hey, I’ll be able to adapt in place there, right?

  5. madison says:

    Adapting in place is goign to be the most common response to resource depletion and the multiple crises we are facing. Since most people see this as a temporary condition, most will not seek to relocate until it’s prohibitively expensive or will flee only with what they can fit in their car, abandoning their other possessions.

    Adapting in place, to me, means making a house into a micro-homestead along the lines of http://www.pathtofreedom.org. It means replacing systems that rely on electricity or gas/oil with other means. Water, heat, power, transportation, cooking, education, waste, washing etc all need to be revised. Rainwater harvesting and cisterns, wood stoves, daylighting, super-insulation of homes, bicycles and walking and public transportation, cob ovens and rocket stoves, urban livestock, wash boards and mop bucket/wringers & laundry lines, homeschooling, edible landscaping, mini-orcharding, raised bed gardening etc. will all become essential to a micro-homestead. If we were all as self-sufficient as this, we’d be alot better off! And actually, that way of life sounds appealing. Slower, more intimate, more physical, more spiritual. There are some advantages to powering down.

  6. Leila Abu-Saba says:

    I’ve been saying here all along that I’m happy with where we are, Oakland, CA, on a 1/6 acre lot with fruit trees, stream, good sunshine, close to shopping and transit. Walkable urban neighborhood, check. OF course, we live close to a lot of hungry poor people so that could be problematic. But OTOH hungry poor people go to church and school in our neighborhood and why can’t we organize to grow food in the schoolyards, empty lots and yards of our town?

    There are horse stables up the hill and a feed and tack shop two blocks away. Many lots in the neighborhood are quite large, left over from the days when this was planned out as a “garden suburb”. The streetcars were torn up and scrapped 60 years ago but there’s a vestigial network of buses which could be ramped up again. Or we could build out street cars on the wide medians? Or just institute the horse car, a 19th century institution previous to the electric cable or trolley car.

    We have a very active community - 90 events planned for National Night Out tonight, just in my council district. There’s a network of community leaders trained for emergency response through the CORE program. There are rec centers all over that provide useful activities for youth, as well as free lunch in the summer. (I like the bicycle repair classes where kids earn their own used bike by completing the class - I’m seeing lots of youth on bicycles these days, and a subculture has grown up of young people kitting out their bikes with cool add-ons) Schools have kitchens, as do churches. We could feed folks in quantity if we had to. I see the extant school-yard gardens growing and teaching ever more people how to raise their own food.

    I will be reading along with this class. Thanks, Sharon.

  7. homebrewlibrarian says:

    Once I decided I was indigenous to this place, I began to see what it would take to increase my self sufficiency in an inner city neighborhood. This neighborhood used to be on the east edge of town back in the ’50s and was composed of slapped together one bedroom duplexes and quads to house FAA employees working to build up Merrill Field (a small plane airport). Lots are rather small and the neighborhood has maintained its rental majority. Most of my hood mates are in worse financial shape than I am and have many more people living together. We aren’t a very chatty bunch on my block but we do speak to each other when we see each other. In my meanderings through the neighborhood, I haven’t seen anyone else with a kitchen garden even close to the size of what we’ve done here (two 4 x 8 ft raised beds) and the ones I’ve seen are very few.

    But the good news is there’s lots of small chunks of land all over the place that could become garden space. Lots of backyards are currently parking lots but that could change quickly. As people begin their own adaptation to place, I believe the land will get used for food production of some sort. Also, the neighborhood has a small number of home businesses and at least four churches. You can get your hair cut, your car fixed and spiritual renewal all within four square blocks! I expect more small businesses to pop up in time as well.

    Even though I feel like a complete noob about raising my own food, next year I’ll know more than I do now and will know more than my non-food producing neighbors. I’ll be able to share what I know if they decide it’s time to garden.

    We’ll be much better off staying right where we are if we share with each other. And, in a way, I’m looking forward to it!

    Kerri in AK

  8. Leila Abu-Saba says:

    BTW parking lots to gardens - look at the original Alice Waters Edible Schoolyard. A dozen years ago it was asphalt. They were eating food out of it within two years. Of course it took a great deal of imported soil and other inputs, and lots of Chez Panisse money (as well as volunteer and child labor).


    Still it could be replicated with more labor & time and less money.

  9. sealander says:

    Sometimes what is needed is a change of mindset - I spent too long fixated on wishing for a place in the country, before finally realising I could do a lot more with what I had in the city. I found that I do have room for chickens after all, and fruit trees, and a bee hive. If I had bought some land further out I’d now be stuck with a huge mortgage and a rapidly increasing fuel bill, whereas now I can walk most places. Now, if I can just figure out where to squeeze in a milking goat…….

  10. Susan in Los Angeles says:

    We live in Greater Los Angeles, in a bedroom community in the hills north of the city. We’re tenants, but expect to be in this house for the next four years at least (our daughter is starting college nearby). So it makes sense to us to begin learning the skills we will need and especially to start gardening and building soil where we are. My job is 1.6 miles down the street, we have three supermarkets within walking distance, and our physician is four miles away; we don’t need much else.

    I expect this class to be very valuable to me because few of my neighbors practice any of these skills — although I notice vegetable gardens are beginning to appear.

  11. Sally says:

    Hi Everyone.
    This is something that is taking up a lot of space in my head at the moment! Since I was very young I have wanted to live in the wilds and raise all my own food. I married a lovely man who wanted nothing of the sort, however! He has recently come ‘on board’ regarding the whole peak oil/economic meltdown scenario and suddenly announced that we’d do it - we’d sell up and run for the hills. Wow! Now though, when I could actually realise the dream something is telling me not to go. We live in a village surrounded by open countryside. It is chemically farmed now but will still be there when the chemicals run out. We are 7 miles from a market town and 15 from two cities, both with large hospitals. 1 1/2 miles away is a large main road running half the length of England. I thought that we were too near to too many people who - when hungry - would pose a threat, but how safe would we be isolated in the middle of nowhere with no community ties? My husband is an electrician with a business that is mostly local. We envisage that his trade will dwindle slowly as the money runs out. He can reskill into homescale renewables (people are starting to ask him about this) to give him a bit more time. He can fix ANYTHING which means he will always have a trickle of work. If we move though, he will instantly have no customers and have to start again. In a depression? Not a good idea. Obviously I am tempted to grab my last chance at a long held dream but my responsibility is to my three boys and to make choices that give them the best chance. I do think it will be scary here though. We are a very densely populated country (our ‘open country’ probably looks like a roadside verge to you ;) )and the vast majority cannot heat their homes or even make a cup of tea without a steady supply of electricity. There will be a LOT of scared and desperate people.
    Ugh! Decisions. I’m not good at them at the best of times :)

  12. Laney says:

    One more reason for staying put: communities need skilled persons: doctors, nurses, teachers, plumbers, veternarians, engineers, librarians, artisans, farmers, craftsmen, carpenters…. If all those people pull out of our communities and head for the hills, the communities will fall farther, faster. I read somewhere that each of us needs to find a place we like & stay there. I think that is absolutely true — and then we need to work on creating/converting homes that support our families and our communities, and communities that support our families and our homes.

  13. Lisa Z says:

    Sally, you’ve got a hard decision. I always think that if “something” is saying something to you, however, you need to listen carefully. That “something” is usually intuition, gut, still small voice, whatever you call it, and it’s usually on to something right on.

    Good luck. Perhaps Sharon’s class will help you a lot with this…

    Lisa in MN, USA

  14. Sharon says:

    Hi Sally - I think it sounds like staying put may be the right decision for you. I’m going to write more about this today in general, but I think you should go with your gut. Honestly, I’m not sure there’s a lot of time to adapt to a completely new environment at this point.


  15. Amelia says:

    Our plans have changed for a reason Sharon mentions in another post: continued access to medical care.

    I have albinism. The technologies that make my life possible in Salt Lake — prosthetic lenses, laser body scans of suspicious moles and surgery for the precancerous ones; hell, sunscreen — may not be a priority in a post-Peak world. Even if they’re available, if I’d had to come up with $700 for my lenses without insurance I wouldn’t be wearing them right now.

    If we can, we’re moving to a lower altitude with less UV risk for me, preferably somewhere without a lot of temperature variation: if we’re all going to be gardening a lot more, I need to be able to go outside for more than 10 minutes. If we can’t, we’ll convert the garden to square-foot beds and add some solar shade sails so that I can work in the mornings and evenings. There are advantages in either scenario.

  16. Mel says:

    My head has been in turmoil for these past couple of years, regarding the environment, peak oil etc etc. Truthfully I have been worn down to the ground, depressed at the thought of life and what’s around the corner.

    I came across Sharon’s web page here today and have been reading bits and pieces and to be honest it has totally lifted my spirits and reading people’s views on things and the ideas and stuff has given me a positive mental attitude in with to move forward, to accept life for what it is - but at the same time do something.

    I live in Northern Ireland, have a beautiful wife and two kids. From now on i’m thinking of the future, working on the stuff that needs worked on now and thankful for the little I have.


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